There’s a big red button by the side of every sports journalists desk and the plastic cover lifted. The armed guards have entered the room and taken the first of the identification codes. Yes, “The Arsenal Panic” button is close to being depressed. And if it isn’t, The Samaritans are preparing themselves for a deluge of calls from the across the globe as newspaper editors realise that sales will continue to fall and web revenues diminish until the next time.
Injuries are the dominant theme this season with tweaks, twinges and pulls plaguing the squad even at this early stage. Just as Thomas Vermaelen travels to France with reports emerge of early returns for Arteta and Podolski, the silver linings masked a cloud with Olivier Giroud and Mesut Özil are cast as minor doubts for the opening clash in this season’s Champions League group stage. It would be typically Arsenal to spend €50m and then see the player sidelined after one match. Speaking of who he might choose instead of Giroud, Wenger noted that he had not spent much time thinking about any changes and then summed up why. Theo Walcott is not only the obvious choice, he is the only option Wenger has; that doesn’t take much thinking about. Whilst Chuba Akpom set the world on fire in the Far East this summer, it is an entirely different matter for the 17 year-old to lead the line. There isn’t much more that can be said on the striking situation; it is what it is and until January, Arsène has to get on with it.
Some relief was forthcoming with Per Mertesacker likely to return to the side and in that sense, Özil’s absence through illness might be short-lived. Wenger has options to cover in that eventuality, with a five-man midfield featuring Kieran Gibbs on the left in his original role and Nacho Monreal slotting in at full back. It isn’t the end of the world; even Giroud’s absence can be accommodated by that quick reshuffle, without considering the likes of Gnabry coming into the side to maintain some order in defence. Mertesacker offers the chance for Bacary Sagna to revert to right back although the option of giving the elder statesman of the defence a rest following his early season exertions should not be easily dismissed. Much will depend on Thomas Vermaelen’s recovery, not just from his back injury but also his form. Arsène may like to portray the Belgian’s omission from the trip to Munich last season as “technical” but it is just a polite way of saying that he was dropped. Indiscretions such as that committed at Sunderland may see Laurent Koscielny suffer the same fate. This season’s form is following a similar pattern to last, with the mistakes causing him to be dropped as soon as Mertesacker recovered from injury, for the trip to West Ham. It seems from the outside that the Frenchman takes a couple of months to get his concentration together because, as he has shown in previous seasons, he then moves on to become a focal point of the defence.
The fundamental issue was highlighted by the manager. The opening day debacle aside, this is a run of fixtures Arsenal have to win. Quite simply none of the Premier League opposition coming in the next six weeks are difficult; the trip to Swansea is tricky but not one Arsenal should fear. That takes us through to November and December which are tough by comparison. Confidence must be high after the response by the players, especially in the manner of victory; none of the wins have been scaped, all of them merited. The players know the dangers of the autumn with games in all competitions coming thick and fast. With such a small squad, some will feature in a lot of the matches and it is important that their confidence remains high. The mental strength to dig out results when needed featured highly last season following back-to-back defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City. If the nadir was the FA Cup exit to Blackburn, the belief which emerged following Munich was impressive even if not all of the performances which followed, were.
Pivotal to that form and this season’s has been Aaron Ramsey, who some still deride, a state of affairs which beggars belief. Wenger spoke highly of the Welsh international, attributing his improvement to not only the experience he has acquired but also his desire to learn. Having recovered from the assault occasioned by Ryan Shawcross in the Potteries, it is little surprise that Ramsey has made up for lost time, displaying the form that was expected when Arsène caused a hasty redesign of the Manchester United website. His goal at home to Wigan – fittingly, the final of last season at The Emirates – hinted at his capabilities. As much as we needed the summer investment and Özil’s arrival has been a significant addition, the existing players needed to hit the ground running and they have done so, with Ramsey making up for misfiring colleagues.