Happy New Year to you all, let’s hope 2014 is as productive for you, yourselves and Arsenal. A new playlist is here: New Year’s Day Hoedown, accessed via the right-hand sidebar or here. You’ll be relieved to know that there is no German Death Metal Trashcore – or to give it the correct terminology, ‘crap’, included.
Cardiff City arrive at The Emirates and depending on which news outlet you believe nine or eleven first team players are out. The latter from The Heil included Oxlade-Chamberlain and Diaby who frankly had no chance of playing today. One of those mentioned as being doubtful – Thomas Vermaelen – featured in photos on the official website taking part in training so perhaps Arsène was having a joke at the media’s expense or Lazarus has a serious rival for the best comeback of all time.
Quite how much of a problem this is remains to be seen. Aaron Ramsey is out for three weeks whilst Mesut Özil won’t be doing any shoulder-popping for a while. Perhaps he has done and that is why he is seeing a specialist. Olivier Giroud in the meantime is recovering from Mike Williamson’s entirely legitimate stamp on his foot and it was entirely fair that the Frenchman’s boot should be split as was his foot, by an entirely fair passage of play. To be fair. Rosicky, Walcott and Wilshere have fitness tests (keep up, we’re up to 7 so far) with the final doubt over Nacho Monreal suffering from the same virus as Vermaelen. Which is a problem because Kieran Gibbs is definitely out.
All of which, you may wonder, leaves us where exactly. To be honest, this is the sort of fixture you would expect Arsène to rotate the squad (heavily) for. With all due respect to Cardiff, it is a similar scenario to Hull’s visit to The Emirates and, let’s be honest, we expect most of the wounded to be walking onto the turf ahead of kick-off. The line-up I imagine will be something like:
Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Monreal; Wilshere, Rosicky, Arteta; Walcott, Bendtner, Podolski
If Monreal does not recover in time, Wenger has options. Flamini could roll back the years or more likely, Jenkinson would come into the right back slot with Sagna moving to the opposite side. For Rosicky, read Cazorla or Flamini; Walcott, Cazorla or Gnabry. It’s not quite as bad as it seems, is it?
Cardiff meanwhile, if you peel back the layers of magnificent lunacy emanating from Vincent Tan, are struggling; like all bar West Ham in the bottom six, the owner believed it best to change the manager. The Welsh club have won once in the last nine Premier League matches which points to Malky Mackay’s biggest problem beyond Tan’s ego. One win and only five goals scored on their travels is the sort of form that you would expect of teams in the relegation battle. That he had apparently being trying very publicly to remove Mackay from his post for several months suggests it had nothing to do with form. Despite some attempting to do so, Tan is not proof that Stan Kroenke is the model owner; he is just as mad as a hatter.
Arsène faced the press the day before the transfer window opened and hinted that it would be quiet, something most agree on with the World Cup next summer. Being able to cover off the injuries for a short spell – be it one match or more – is part of the aspect of squad depth but if the title challenge Wenger alluded to is to emerge. The crucial test is whether the competition which is evident in other areas of the squad, is replicated in the central striking role. It is not about replacing Giroud, it is about options, about ensuring the player is pushed every week into producing his peak of performance. The Frenchman seems highly self-motivated, perhaps it is the security of his position that drives him, allowing him to play without fear. I wonder if Arsène would have been so patient had he a second striker to choose from? Would he, for example, have been inclined to substitute Giroud if he had a more reliable replacement that Bendtner? It is idle speculation of course and there will be plenty of that in the next month, most – if not all – of it will prove to be untrue.
The best business to my mind – if he is not to sign new players and judging by his comments regarding Yaya Sanogo, a new striker seems highly unlikely – is to ensure that Sagna and Rosicky stay at the club. Of Sagna, Wenger observed that the club and player were apparently close to agreement and that he would “push hard” for a resolution on the matter. He was at pains to make sure that nobody doubted Sagna’s commitment to the club for the remainder of the season whatever the circumstances. Rosicky’s negotiations meanwhile seem low-key by comparison with little in the public domain beyond the player’s wish to stay. Or go to the MSL. And Arsenal wanting him to stay. If he makes 25 appearances. In short, nothing concrete.
It’s a sideshow. Chelsea and Manchester City both have fixtures you would expect them to win, Southampton will be trickier for Mourinho’s men but I am sure he plans to bore them into submission. Swansea meanwhile are a shadow of the side which blazed a trail last season; this time they seem settled into a mid-table run of form and despite City’s indifferent away results, there seems little real expectation of them losing. The outcome of those matches, whilst in no way irrelevant, is secondary to events at The Emirates. Arsenal are in a must-win match because they must win every match; that’s what we want, not pressure which manifests because of circumstance or opposition. It’s simply how every game should be viewed.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.