Arsenal’s injury fortunes seem set to improve just as the fixture list provides stronger opposition. Latest reports suggest that Cazorla will return this weekend with Sagna, Walcott and Podolski a week later. Norwich City and Crystal Palace are the domestic warm-up acts for an eight-week spell which sees the club pit their wits against all the current top nine sides in the Premier League, bar Tottenham. The small matter of two meetings with Dortmund and return clashes with Napoli and Marseilles means autumn welcomes winter with plenty to occupy Arsenal minds. The League Cup clash with Chelsea is light relief from it all; a rest for some of the squad at least.
The season was always going to pan out this way, we knew that the matches in this quarter of the season would be tough; the fixture list wasn’t hiding behind a tree randomly throwing out opponents for Arsenal to beat. Rather cleverly the FA had it all planned. Or the Premier League, whoever is in charge. Hell, it might have been the Fixture List pixie for all I know. All Arsenal had to do was beat the opposition placed in front of them which for the most part, they duly did with an injury-depleted squad.
Arsène is ready to invest in the squad and having failed to find another centre back in the summer, may be put in the position where he has to come January. His club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, has not hidden his desire to play regularly to increase his chances of appearing for the Belgian national team in next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. With admirable honesty, Vermaelen noted that if he was to force his way into Marc Wilmots starting line-up, he needed to be playing but not before recognising that he does not have a right to be picked for his club,
The team hasn’t lost for a long period and it’s difficult to change, particularly for a player who has been out for three months like me.
The two centre backs ahead of him at club level are going to be determined to hold onto their places for the same reason Vermaelen will assess his own situation in the New Year. It was not the sound of toys being thrown out of a pram by the club captain but a simple recognition of his situation. To leave in January would effectively end his time at the club; Arsenal would have to sign someone to replace him in the squad and it is unlikely that the manager would be in the market for a short-term replacement. Loan deals in and out of the club could happen but it is a lot of effort to maintain the status quo in terms of squad numbers. Even if arranged, it is effectively the prelude to a more permanent departure with the same scenario coming in two years time for the European Championships. Vermaelen’s desire to be in the national team is understandable; for the first time since the mid-80s – as far as I can recall – the Belgians have a good national team and one of an age where they have the potential to do well competitively. Of course he wants to be part of that.
It is a similar situation to Arshavin and one that we as supporters have to get used to. Having a squad full of internationals is necessary to challenge for silverware but it is also going to see a lot of player turnover for those outside of the starting XI. As much as rotation is part of the game, not many players will be happy on the bench every week when they have their own international careers to think of. In season’s such as this with the big prize at the end of it, minds become more focussed.
Transfers were contentious and remain so with revisionism taking hold over the summer’s activity. Arsène observed that “everybody expects the other person to move first so tries to do it as late as possible” which is stretching a point. Arsenal would have done business relatively early had Higuain been signed but the path diverged onto another course. Whilst he is right that they kept ploughing ahead, I am not sure they held their nerve, it was a situation they were forced into. The manager quite rightly has the final say on who joins the club and there was never a point where he was going to be railroaded into signing a player he did not want; it is inconceivable. But I do find myself entirely in agreement with him when asked about activity in January,
I don’t rule it out at all, but saying that I don’t want to encourage more speculation. We have just come out of a transfer market that has been very agitated, so let’s not go into the next one today!
So we’ll leave Evening Standard speculation that Karim Benzema is available for a “cut price” in the winter so that Real Madrid can sign Luis Suarez, well out of today’s proceedings.
Which brings us back to where I started. We will be scanning the news reports tonight for any sign of injuries. It might not take long, very few of the Arsenal players selected for international duty are likely to play. Giroud and Özil will whilst presumably Koscielny will do so if fit but for the most part, the players will be sitting on the benches of the world. Which is better than sleeping on them, I suppose. The matches in the European qualifying phase are for the most part routine. It is only the groups containing England / Ukraine and Bosnia / Greece where top place is to be decided and there are very few surprises in any of the remainder. Iceland may make the play-offs which shows the progress that can be made but predictability is besetting the international game as well the various top flights on the continent. Ideas to improve that scenario are few and far between so perhaps UEFA’s notion of a Nations League has more merit than is being given credit for, particularly if the FA have their hope and face Australia in a Wembley friendly in November. I can see that the fixture may attract a large crowd with the expat community over here but is that going to improve England’s chances of an early flight home from next year’s Finals? The small matter of beating Poland stands in the way of the footballing Ashes.