Inadvertently this morning’s playlist might have been titled with yesterday’s Brazil2014 draw, Roy Hodgson might indeed be the Blue Boy. Still he could cheer himself up by listening using Spotify in the right hand sidebar or clicking here.
Whilst England works itself into a lather over Greg Dyke’s apparently humorous cut-throat gesture, – was he signalling a group of death or Hodgson’s future if he doesn’t win the tournament – Premier League football takes centre stage once more. Arsenal face a resurgent Everton tomorrow, their victory at Old Trafford perhaps waking some from their slumber long enough to realise that this might be tougher than was being originally credited. Having won for the first time in two decades at United, they will be looking to end their equally dismal run at Arsenal, their last victory in this fixture coming when Bruce Rioch was in charge. Indeed, it is worse for them at this time of year, their solitary December win over Arsenal came thirty-five years ago; the remaining fourteen games have seen them lose nine times, including a 3 – 1 defeat at Highbury on this day in 1968 with goals from Radford, Court and Graham doing the damage.
Arsène is not worried about such things, concerned more that players integrity is questioned by the current restriction of not facing their parent club whilst on loan. He recalls letting Francis Jeffers score whilst on loan and to be honest, if the football authorities are concerned about that then the only solution is to ban loans within the same division. It is genuinely that simple, it avoids any accusations and stops the preening Mourinho prancing around proclaiming his satisfaction that Lukaku can only help Chelsea’s title bid. The knock-on effect will be to make players question their careers more; after all, had the Belgian known he was going to spend three years on loan, would he have signed for Chelsea in the first place? Perhaps more thought will go into their moves instead of being seduced by the riches on offer? There is no point in complaining about the system and how inherently unfair it appears to be; it is nothing new and Arsenal’s so far sturdy defence will find itself tested in keeping him quiet.
And as we all know, a strong defence is the base upon which title bids are built. Theo Walcott believes the maturity of the squad is the reason for the current confidence and belief,
There is more squad bonding now. Anything that creates a good vibe about the place — we are just doing that a bit more and that is great to see because we haven’t really had that in the past. It is not just Mathieu. Per Mertesacker at the back has got so many caps for Germany, too. I think we have always had the leaders but people are coming out of their shell more this year and not just talking but also showing something on the pitch that lifts the crowd and the other players.
Having been through the Project Youth era, the England international is perhaps best placed to notice the changes over the years. Interestingly, the last time there was a genuine title challenge, there appeared to be a similar vibe away from the pitch with pre-meltdown William Gallas trying to instil the same camaraderie among the players. It is often forgotten that the Frenchman had a positive impact before that afternoon at St Andrews.
Whilst they dare not to mention the ‘t’ word, hope is building,
Everyone wants to see their achievements and records when they’v e finished football. It’ll come for me. The vibe we have got in this team at the moment is probably the best it has ever been since I have been here. The players have got stronger and it is probably the best squad, too. The manager always says that to us, and that belief has come onto the players. I hope this year could be it.
In Walcott’s view, Mesut Özil‘s arrival is key to that. The German international was no doubt helped in settling into a new club by the presence of Podolski and Mertesacker. The contrast between the environments at Real Madrid and Arsenal are marked according to the club’s record signing,
I have played for Real Madrid, which is such a big club and where the pressure is so huge because you have to go and, really, win absolutely every games. There is no game where people don’t expect you to win. So, having played there for three years, pressure is nothing that would scare me. That’s why I don’t really feel the pressure.
The pressure is the same at Arsenal but in a league which is a two-horse race no matter how well others do, it is not hard to see why some players fail with that weight of expectations. It is different here in the sense that Özil is the club’s first foray into the ‘superstar’ market, spending well over double what they had previously on one player. There is a period of adjustment, not just for the player but also for supporters. What can he achieve, what will he do? Probably not what some were expecting. At his fee, I am sure some thought he was going to dazzle every time he is on the pitch, beat a dozen players and score virtuoso goals. He isn’t that kind of player but surely everyone is won over by the passes being picked with regularity. I was going to use the word ‘monotonous’ before that sentence’s end but it hints at a robotic repetition; Özil is anything but that.
That Spanish experience has stood him in good stead, making him a better judge of what it takes to become champions,
I think this really has been the perfect step for me to come and join this club. We have some very talented players here and this is why I think we can achieve something great.
We have to develop further to achieve this, but we can do it.
Özil’s view of development mirrors what many think. On the cusp of something, this season may go south in the months to come; it could equally go on delivering. The tests that irk so many come more from the squad putting pressure on themselves than any media usage of the word. When the players begin to think about winning trophies, of what they can achieve, they place demands upon themselves and delivery of the silverware depends on their ability to handle them, something they aren’t doing too badly at the moment.