I always understood Sauron to be a formidable opponent. I confess to not being a huge Tolkien fan; ripping yarns, make no mistake – and I understand the obsessive traits he inspires – but surely the author felt he had created a sturdier foe than one who sloped back to his cave – Orc army in tow – at the first sign of hail? Having given the notion serious consideration, it is understood that events at The Britannia Stadium last night have led Peter Jackson to cast his eyes to more talented thespians than Mark Hughes as the lead role in his next installment in the trilogy or whatever number they are up to now.
It feels like there is an international break in full swing; nothing until Monday night and then fixtures come thick and fast. It will be a time when Arsène will want to rotate his squad to the maximum, something the Football Association is desperately keen to ensure does not happen. The gradual erosion of everything we know and hold dear continues unabated with Medicine Head’s assertion that One And One Is One completely undone by Jack Wilshere’s rigid digit. Consternation seeped through the darkened corridors and smoke-filled rooms, with new independent disciplinary panel eager to show they are the real deal and a new zero tolerance regime is in place. Nothing wrong with that at all, particularly since they are using reference points of previous cases in justifying their decisions. Of course, it all goes to pot when they use the wrong case as a reference point and Arsenal seem to have grounds for an appeal. The FA have copied the punishment meted out to Tom Ince for gesticulating at officials and not the more relevant Luis Suarez interaction with the denizens of Craven Cottage.
For Wenger, it is an irritation, topping off an appalling afternoon on the pitch. There is some respite, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski offer different options for a hectic period of fixtures which ends on 4th January with the North London Derby. Arsène will be hoping that injuries and suspensions are avoided – he does at any time of the season – but particularly now. Just as he was beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel with the long-term absentees returning and reports this morning suggest that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is hoping to return for the FA Cup Third Round, Koscielny missing a few games and Wilshere a couple, cause a small stutter.
And that is all it is, a minor interruption. Of the two, Koscielny is the bigger ‘miss’ for the team. He and Mertesacker had built a formidable duo whereas the past has seen Vermaelen not enjoy such contentment. What the reason for that is unclear for he is as capable a defender as the Frenchman but since returning from injury a couple of years ago, the Belgian has perhaps been overly concerned with his own form as well as handling the pressure of the captaincy in a side which has continually struggled for its collective form. The cobwebs were shaken from the squad with Wenger’s enforcement of changes in the early part of 2013 and the momentum was built. It has been knocked a little in the last three games but the manager will want the players to return to form quickly on Monday. With Chelsea being rivals for the top spot in the Premier League, a win would work wonders for confidence and give the media one of their much-loved statements.
The proximity of matches is raising ire but are Arsenal any worse off than their rivals? Manchester City, for example, play Liverpool in the tea-time kick-off on Boxing Day before playing Crystal Palace the following Saturday afternoon. Arsenal have a rest compared to that with the visit to St James Park twenty-four hours later. Chelsea follow the same pattern of matches as Arsenal and it strikes me as much ado about nothing with Arsenal in a strong position going into this period following the eight-day break between games. The clubs are all in the same boat and they have it in their powers to change the fixture list in one very simple way; drop two teams from the Premier League into the Championship. By reducing the number of games, they can insert the much-vaunted Winter Break and spare the players. As it is currently, that would be almost impossible with the League Cup still existing and participation in it being mandatory.
Instead of complaining about the schedule, perhaps we should be looking forward to it instead with wall-to-wall matches. That is after all, what we want. Isn’t it?