The draw for the Champions League takes place this afternoon, with many predicting a Group of Death for Manchester City but that can equally apply to any of the English clubs, Arsenal included. With Dortmund, Napoli, Juventus, Zenit and Leverkusen in the bottom half of the seeds, the likelihood of an easy ride diminishes. As is always the case, Arsenal will have to beat the opposition in front of them and hope that they can produce better performances in the knockout phase than in recent years if they are to progress. The experience of previous seasons will help as it did in successfully negotiating the qualifying round, even if the now-excluded Fenerbahçe were extremely poor opponents.
One cup draw already completed is that for the League Cup Third Round where a trip to The Hawthorns beckons. Having used the competition as a learning ground for the younger players, Arsène does not have that luxury any more with the squad players mostly departed. Reality looks to have hit Nicklas Bendtner in that sense, his move to Hull City Tigers resurrected but like incoming signings, we have been here before. The draw for the cup has opened the tournament for any of the big clubs who want to take it seriously with Arsenal’s tie being one of five all Premier League clashes. Whether Arsène does will be known four weeks time.
Before that he must negotiate the international break and more importantly, this weekends clash with Tottenham. Ahead of that, Theo Walcott has belittled Tottenham’s efforts in the transfer market,
Tottenham is a big test – the biggest test. Definitely. We know about the positives in their team, we know their strengths. We need to make sure we neutralise their weaknesses. They’ve invested well, they’ve got some very good players, a good manager as well.
But we don’t care who we’re playing against, whether they’ve brought in £30million stars, it doesn’t matter. We just want to focus on our game and especially at home I feel that we can win.
In short, whatever Tottenham do, it will never be good enough. It isn’t a belief you should argue with…what are the odds of a third consecutive 5-2 win? Arsenal’s main betting partner has the odds of Tottenham winning at, you’re way ahead of me on that one, aren’t you? You’re not? 5/2.
In anticipation of losing Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, Tottenham have followed the same path Arsenal trod last summer in strengthening their squad before the weakness comes. With incoming deals still happening this week, they may take some time to gel but there is no change from my pre-season feeling that they will be vying with Arsenal for the final Champions League place as things stand at the moment. Signing Mathieu Flamini on a free transfer will not change that outcome. Wenger laid the ground for that deal to happen when he reflected about the versatility he is looking for in his additions. Indeed the cynical might suggest that the manager was referring specifically to a midfielder who can occupy the full back berth on either flank.
Despite a shortage of numbers – the only reason for Flamini’s return if it happens – the players public confidence in themselves has not been hit,
We need to make sure we focus on ourselves, and the way we’re playing at the moment we believe we can beat anyone. I feel that we’re very, very strong. Everyone may say our squad is very, very weak and there are not many of us, but I think we showed we bounced back from such a disappointing result in the opening game and proved a lot of people wrong.
Very few people think that the squad is “very, very, weak” and it is a view that is surely unwarranted. Most of us wish the manager would invest in strengthening it and not signing bodies to make up the numbers.
If Wenger has used this mantra as a way of fostering a siege mentality, it has clearly sunk into the players minds. Recent results and performances are encouraging but not proof that the Villa result will not happen again. It will, we know it, that is the nature of football. The players and manager have to ensure those recurrences are minimised, starting with this weekend. Having recorded their first points in the Premier League and their first home win in midweek, some of the pressure has lifted, leaving the squad to focus on winning. Defeat is not an option; two defeats in the opening three matches of the season will leave them with big obstacles to overcome and the manager no time to rectify them as the players depart immediately for international duty.
Having struggled to add to the squad, little wonder that Wenger is seriously considering Flamini; he is in a position where any player will do at the moment to give some depth to a threadbare substitutes bench at the weekend. He may yet find another body or two to dig up to fill the spaces and has until tomorrow lunchtime to do so. Optimism about that happening is not high.