The day’s early kick-off affords Arsenal the opportunity to drop down the chimney of the top three albeit that the stay might be brief with the routine fixtures facing Tottenham and Chelsea this weekend likely to see them reascend to the perches. Whilst putting pressure on the two London clubs is enough motivation, any failure today by Arsenal could see a six point gap emerge by the time kick-off against Newcastle arrives one week today. Postponing the Boxing Day clash with West Ham alleviates some of the pressure that the proximity of the next fixture at this time of year brings, the side-effect of a bad result with no immediate recourse can be damaging, presentationally at least. And with most of Arsenal’s problems this season apparently being inside the heads of the players, adding pressure might not be the best course of action.
For the new members of the squad, the intensity of the festive fixture list must have left them scratching their heads wondering how they were supposed to fit their Winter break into three days. Not that Santi Cazorla was bothered by it,
I do think it [a winter break] is beneficial because you are able to disconnect mentally, psychologically. There are times when you become saturated with games, you are unclear about things, and the break that happens in Spain makes you more relaxed mentally.
But I think that the Premier League overall is already tough with regards to the number of matches that you have to play in a row, so I do not think the month of December is very different from the rest of the months.
You wait until he sees the snow-covered pitches in February. One man who would be able to guide him through that maze is Roberto Martinez, Wigan’s likeable manager, who praised the consistency of his compatriot’s performances. Another who is being praised is Theo Walcott. Damned in equal measure too, The Times this morning quantifying the distance between player and club as £22k in weekly wages. The piece has the appearance of a Team Walcott briefing and backfires somewhat by bringing it down to money. Walcott, if the piece is to be believed, is “disenchanted” with the attempts of Arsène to bounce him into signing a new deal. That’s not in any way, shape or form, the same as a player bullying the club into offering more money. No, you should not read it that way at all. And it pretty much sets out how this negotiation is going to play out.
Walcott is apparently angered by being punished, his – and everyone else’s perception – of being reduced to substitute in the early part of the season. The ploy by the manager worked, the team produced bright performances and results. It backfired when the results and performances faded. Given the chance to prove his exclusion was wrong, Walcott has done so with his reward being a guaranteed return to the first team. Reading offered him the chance to play centrally, his long stated desire, and he did nothing to destroy that ambition. Whether he improved his chances is another matter, the result of that will only be known over time. His speed is certainly suited to playing on the counter-attack, to the extent that you wonder if this time Arsène will play him there in cup-ties, something many of us have wondered in the past?
The style of play is how Wenger sees his legacy as being defined, amongst other things. The infrastructure will probably outlast that, to be honest. Expecting victory in style is always held as being the ‘perfection’ sought by supporters but in modern football, it is not necessarily the case. With the majority owner, it is likely to be more a case of not damaging his increased wealth via the share price that counts for more. Style of play rarely surives a manager. The past clearly indicates this and there is still something in the psyche of older supporters at least, that yearns for a tight defence. Certainly there is enjoyment of the passing game but is The Arsenal Way to have an outstanding back four. It is not unique to Arsenal either; every side which wins a title or trophy is able to defend, to restrict the opposition. Despite Arsène’s attempts, he has proven it is not possible to win the title by attacking football alone.
Reports yesterday suggested Arsenal were to offer him a new deal, something of a surprise although not unusual. His current contract expires in 2014 and the board know from previous experience, an extension to his current tenure will not be resolved quickly. The manager is talking more about what happens when he is gone, something which might unnerve the self-styled custodians in the oak-panelled rooms, but given his age and the current tensions, it is hardly surprising. Wenger has steadfastly maintained that he could not see himself working in football into his 70s but it is an addiction that many at the top are unable to cure themselves of; managers who have nothing left to prove continue on in spite of themselves. Will he do the same? He believes that the younger players must prepare themselves for a new manager, a new ‘father figure’ at the club. Perhaps that is more to do with being stung by a paternal relationship over recent years as a number of complimentary comments are followed with the words “but I want to win trophies” as transfer cheques are banked. Whilst it is utterly naive to believe that Wenger has not sanctioned the sales, it is equally naive to think he is not affected personally by it all. Will he sign a new deal? Right now, I would be inclined to err on the side of a negative answer t0 that question. Rediscover the joy of winning trophies? I don’t think we’ve had an octogenerian manager at the club…
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.