A new playlist this morning Medway To Heaven can be found on the right hand sidebar or by clicking here. It’s better than being midway to Hell, a journey which would be completed with defeat on Monday night. Not because of the preening and intolerable idiocy of Mourinho but the thought of spending a week with a gloating brother-in-law does not sit comfortably this morning. It’s either that or last night’s dinner which is bring forth a caustic mood.
Arsène tried to distract from his appalling record against Mourinho, observing that the meeting was about the two squads and not a managerial ego-fest. That may well be the truth for himself, the same cannot be said of his opposite number or the media, in particular the commentators who will spend hours researching the two clubs history and repeatedly tell us that Wenger has not won any of the nine meetings with the Portugeezer.
Of more concern to Wenger will be recent form. It will have been three weeks since the last win, a draw and two defeats in the three matches since Hull were swept aside. That run of results could see Arsenal fall to fourth place if everyone else wins this weekend; if broken cannons come out when the team is top of the table, what imagery will the media be able to use in that scenario? Wenger obviously believes it will not come to that, confident that morale has not been hit by that sequence of results,
They [recent results] have been disappointing for us. But I don’t think they have affected the morale. We have made good results until now because we have a good solidarity level and a good togetherness in the squad, and I don’t see any sign of that dropping.
I think even more that the players are focused to respond on Monday night. It can happen in a season when sometimes you have a bit of a weaker period. How you respond to this kind of problem is what matters.
The timeliness of the response is also crucial. Such is the paucity of Arsenal’s form in these encounters, Chelsea will be favourites to emerge with three points despite being in questionable form themselves. Last Saturday’s result makes the reaction difficult to predict. The manager’s belief that it will be a positive is not unexpected; of course he wants to believe that to be the case and perhaps the players have been able to compartmentalise the margin of defeat with positive reinforcement of Wenger’s message about the attack being able to score as many as were conceded. If the squad is honest with itself, they know City could – and should – have scored more. But they didn’t and this is the aspect which should be quickly forgotten.
Professional and personal pride ought to have been stung. For some, it will have recalled memories of the eight-goal drubbing at Old Trafford; for others, it would have been an entirely new experience. Has Özil or Cazorla ever been on the wrong end of such a scoreline? Giroud? Mertesacker? The squad is full of players who have been around the footballing block, who should be able to lift themselves from the slough into which they have descended. And having lived near to Slough, it is somewhere that no-one should descend into.
Losing Jack Wilshere takes the spotlight away from the tiresome aspects of the defeat, the return of Lukas Podolski providing the lift the squad needed. Theo Walcott’s brace at City offered some respite to Olivier Giroud in terms of the burden of goalscoring, Podolski offers a different threat for defences to consider. The creativity of Özil and Cazorla puts question marks into defenders minds but they are not considered as much of a scoring threat as those returning to fitness; Walcott and Podolski have more directness in their style. It makes them sound ‘agricultural’ and nothing is further from the truth; just a different attacking prospect and that is perhaps what Arsenal need. The more tactically astute coaches have been able to nullify Arsenal in recent weeks; would a fit Walcott have influenced Everton and Napoli?
Those two games hinted tiredness was creeping in, culminating in Wenger making five changes at Eastlands as injuries influenced selection. That run has seen the side heavily rotated with only three players featuring in all four games, including Hull. Whilst the players ought to be able to cope with dropping in and out of the side, it will have some unsettling effect. Arguably that was Arsenal’s greatest strength in reaching the top of the table; the squad was depleted in places and Wenger was forced into a settled line-ups. The downside caught up with them recently but a week or more of rest ought to have compensated for that.
Aaron Ramsey believes the side will recover quickly from the defeat at Eastlands,
Everyone wants to win. The players are very passionate. They give their all in every game. That’s definitely an area where we have improved over the past couple of seasons. Teams will drop points at City this season, so we can’t get too down about that. And we play them at home later in the season so we need to make sure we beat them then.
I did an interview with Martin Keown not so long ago and he told me the main difference this season is the fact that he can see more leaders on the pitch. He obviously felt there was room for improvement there and he has noticed that. He can see the players are more demanding of each other on the pitch.
Belief; there has been more of that from the players this season and on Monday, they will need to show the leadership their predecessors displayed the last time we played Chelsea at home in a Christmas fixture. Going into that match in December 2010, Arsenal had been well beaten at Old Trafford seven days previously – even if the scoreline did not reflect United’s dominance – and were not expected to win in the London derby. Chelsea were blown away in the first half and three quick goals settled the match either side of half-time. A repeat of that would settle any questions the squad may ask of themselves.