Arsenal Have Competing Demands


Inevitably talk is turning to whether Arsenal can sustain a title challenge as January begins to remove its coat and hang it on the peg, Spring donning her attire ready to face the world. Eyes look forward to March and a fixture list that has trips to Munich, Tottenham and Chelsea before Manchester City visit The Emirates. Optimistically, the club still shows that game followed by the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals. Never say never.

It is a key set of fixtures although the first might be rendered almost irrelevant if Arsenal are caught in the headlights in the first meeting with Bayern. The Premier League fixtures are crucial but have a different stress on them. Far from being must-win games, the encounters with Chelsea and City are must-not-lose matches. Victory is important, it always is, but unless there is a deficit in points to be made up, the key element to the result is to not lose; damage limitation or ideally, no damage sustained to the Premier League campaign. I understand why some might feel winning either of those matches makes a statement, how it sends out a message of intent but frankly if you get to the end of March in contention for the title, that says all that needs to said.

As for Tottenham, the prospect of celebrating St Totteringham’s Day at White Hart Lane ought to be motivation enough. If anyone beyond the supporters cares about that venerable saints day.

For me the bigger test comes in February. It is easy to slouch into arrogance but progress in the FA Cup this week is expected. A potential banana skin? Of course it is. If Arsenal are contemptuous of Coventry City, there is every chance of a bloodied nose. Fortunately, the players are largely unchanged from those who slunk out of the competition last year at the hands of Blackburn Rovers. It is not an experience they will want to repeat. Progress to the Fifth Round and who knows what awaits beyond a game between the home matches of Manchester United and Bayern Munich. This after the trip to Anfield in a fortnight’s time.

The outcome of those fixtures will show a great deal about the progress made. We have enjoyed good form and fortune in recent trips to Liverpool. Our last defeat came as Peter Crouch ran amok through the Arsenal defence. That it was him tells you how long ago our last defeat was at what has traditionally been a ground where we were lucky to come away with the hub caps on the coach wheels let alone a point.  Football is cyclical and Liverpool were on the crest of a wave for decades; Arsenal were not alone in returning home with nothing. Since then, the results have been – more or less – an equal mix of victory, defeat and draws with current form frequently turned on its head. Good Arsenal sides have lost, poor ones have taken three points.

Crucially, Liverpool have their own aspirations to saté. The title is most likely beyond them, six points adrift of third with sixth place a point away. Next week’s Merseyside derby has a touch more spice than usual in those circumstances. Even if they do not win the title, they have a direct influence on the outcome, hosting the top three between now and the end of the season. United, meanwhile, has been a horrible fixture for Arsenal in the past decade; even The Invincibles did not win the home encounter with Ferguson’s men. But he isn’t there any longer and United veer between the abject and the ordinary. When they come to The Emirates, no doubt they will discover the pride which was sorely missing from their performance at Stamford Bridge.

All this talk of Arsenal and not much mention of Chelsea or City’s fixtures. That is because they do not matter; I am not bothered by them at all. It isn’t that their results are irrelevant, of course they are not, but the first order of the day is how Arsenal perform. Then you start worrying about what the pair have or have not done. We have already seen this season that establishing a gap in points is fairly meaningless; they have come and gone with the wind. United are further behind Arsenal now than they were when the final whistle blew at Old Trafford; Liverpool led the table at Christmas and trail by eight points. Lady Luck is fickle this season.

Oh yes, City seduce, goalscoring teams always do and scoring a century of goals this early in the season is impressive but at the moment all it has achieved is a lot of downloads for their end of season review. There are no trophies yet and the first that they can win is double-edged. The price they pay for lifting the League Cup is guaranteeing Manchester United a place in the Europa League next season unless Sunderland can pull off an improbable aggregate victory in the semi-final this week. Is it lucky for a Black Cat to cross your path; David Moyes might know better come Wednesday night.

But Arsenal’s defence is their strength, the polar opposite of Wenger’s reputation. This weekend’s results mean that the back four is alone as the Premier League’s meanest; Eastlands is fast becoming consigned to the freakish results bin. The change this season makes it seem as if more focus is being put on the basics of the game, perhaps it is but the balance between defence and attack has been redressed. All his successful sides have been formed on the basis of a strong defensive ethic among the team, defending from the front and in Olivier Giroud he has the ideally selfless forward to fulfil that role.

And therein is the biggest weakness. There is nothing unusual in wanting another striker to come in this transfer window to offer depth to the frontline. Vucinic as the flavour of the month seems to have the right attributes but whether anything happens remains to be seen. At the opposite end of the pitch, Per Mertesacker is key. That pair keeping their fitness and form is crucial to Arsenal’s title hopes.

If the season ends with the shelf in the trophy cabinet empty and gathering nothing but more cobwebs, is this season a failure? I am not sure that is the case; progress has been made, the squad is competitive and with the desperate luck on injuries, that is very encouraging. A title is perhaps a step too far but the competitiveness shown is what was wanted. And with the results thus far, is Charles Dickens the only one with Great Expectations?

’til Tomorrow.

129 thoughts on “Arsenal Have Competing Demands

  1. I agree with Bill; Mata can play as wide right forward. He did that often for Chelsea before Mourinho. I am quite sad to see him going to ManUre as we still have to play them and it might help them make it to 4th.

    I see Liverpool starting to fall with the loss of Leiva. They struggled last year without him and frankly without his defensive strength and linking play, even with the goals of Suarez and Sturridge, their weak defense gets much weaker. Basically it is Everton, Spuds and MU. I think Everton might run out of steam and Spuds usually are good for a collapse. So I think MU have a good chance and Mata will enhance it. I’d rather see Spuds get 4th than MU. My favourite situation would be Everton getting 4th with MU, Spuds and Pool in the Europa League next season.

  2. Moyes is way above his station at United. He’ll be gone by next season, should the team replicate this season’s receding form once again. I guess the question their fans are pondering right now is at what stage does recurringly losing games turn into an unshakeable pattern of mediocrity – a la West Ham?

  3. LSG,

    Don’t forget Newcastle. They’re still in with a chance as well. 4th p[lace is still as open as ever, in my opinion, with any of the trailing pack below Chelsea.

  4. @LSG

    I wish Southampton hadn’t run out of steam so early on as I think that they would have had a good chance at 4th.

    I agree on Lucas and Liverpool, without him they are destined to fall apart even if Suarez scored 100 goals(which doesn’t seem that far fetched). Everton will always be kept in matches due to Howard, Lukaku, Miralles and their luck with scoring late goals. Thing with Manure is that I think there defense is the worst and that many of their matches if I recall correctly are going to be on the road. Plus there will be a adaptation period. Spuds are such a shit side and squad that they are going to collapse yet again.

    Damn you Southampton.

  5. joses fucking crazy ive never heard of a plan to sell your best player to help you win the title..

    once felliani rvp and rooney get back with mata pulling the strings UTD will be a different animal and if moyes wins league cup and finishes 4th in his first season he wont be going anywhere..

  6. C

    It will be interesting but Rooney and RVP both need to be playing when they are healthy. Mata will fit in somehow I suspect.

    Regarding creativity, there is more the one way to score goals and they have done very well without creativity from central midfield for many years. Now their wingers have lost form and they lost their best goal scorer. The wingers were poor last year also but an individual goal scorer like RVP along with Rooney as a sidekick solve almost any other attacking problems. Nani has not been very good for 2-3 years. Young was never that good and Valencia who used to be awesome has faded. Perhaps Kagawa is not as good as we thought. Everyone thought Nuri Sahin was better then he is based during his first run at Dortmund and Kagawa may have been similarly overrated. The fact that United have to use an 18 year old as a regular starter says a lot about their options.

  7. @Bill

    I’m not goignt o venture into a discussion with you on the 18 year old(I’ll let MA do that another day). I agree about Young and Valencia as they are both vastly overrated and are shit. Nani I think was never given a real run of matches over the past couple of years as he is just as capable of producing magic as he is driving a Manager to bang his head on his seat.

    A healthy RvCunt(which this term he hasn’t shown he could be), Rooney and Mata are very formidable but I doubt we will see those 3 on the field for very long if this transfer goes through.

  8. Gents,

    Yes , Mata gives them more options , particularly when they have injuries but I don`t see him as a direct replacement for Valencia, Young or Nani. He doesn`t have the pace or workrate to play on the flanks in the EPL.

    To get him functioning to his potential will require some tinkering of a system their players have been used to playing for a long time. They`ve found it hard to work Kagawa in & I don`t see Mata as being much different.

    Without doubt, he`s a class player but Manure haven`t had a midfield dandy since Veron & we all know how that one worked out.

    I suppose I could be clutching at straws in the hope it all goes tits up but in a way I`d like Moyes to stay a while just to make any recovery all the harder.

  9. I actually thought Moyes would do OK and that he was as good a replacement for Fergie as they could find but I suspect I was wrong. I am still not sure how much if any of the funk they are in now is Moyes’ fault or just related to an aging squad that has lost its motivation. Its hard to maintain that fire in your belly year after year. Its difficult to be repeat champions in many sports which I think is not really related to talent drop off as much as it to natural mental letdown after winning. We see that a lot in most American sports. United is mostly an older squad with nothing to prove individually or collectively which makes it even harder to get motivated game after game. Throw in the injury to RVP and the loss of another step or 2 of pace for Vidic, Evra, Carrick Valencia etc etc and all is this is not hard to understand. Chelsea went through something similar starting the season after their PL title with Ancelloti. They basically mailed in a lot of games for a couple of seasons.

  10. Yogi.

    I am definitely going to give the 1845 another try. Don’t get me wrong, it was very good but I really enjoy the London Porter. It’s probably my current favorite.

  11. Yogi

    The 1845 was very smooth and the alcohol content is high enough for a very subtle buzz after 1 pint which adds to the enjoyment. Another pint would have made it seem even better. 😉

  12. Im still blaffed, its very shortsighted of Chelsea. Yes we did sell RvP but he was 29 and is always injured. Mata is 25 and NEVER injured. He is a game changer. A United in top 4 will rebuild and be back to full strength comes autumn. A full strength united with Mata as one of their most important players. That is not good news for Chelsea. They could have got rid of a competitor, instead they are helping United back on their feet. hmm… there must be something going on behind the scene that nobody knows…

  13. @poodle

    Me thinky that Mourinho is positioning himself once they fire Moyes to be in pole position. He might say ” Well I sold you all Mata when he was wanted by Athletic Madrid.”

  14. id be absolutely astonished if mata is for sale if wengers head isnt turned somewhat..
    mata is a player who we all think is world class and i know wenger likes him because hes already tried to sign him once and failed because of some negotiational procrastination..

    maybe he thinks for 40mil bolllox to that seeing as though he woudlnt pay 20 a few year ago, or maybe chelsea will only sell to utD for a whole host of reasons the most probable is that they are softening up utd for a summer move for rooney…or maybe for 40mil wenger has already mind his mind up who he wants and if you ask me those quotes attributed to the schalke camp sounds an awful lot like what comes out of ours before we sell someone of high importance..

  15. It really is a big surprise to me if mourinho sells him to anyone. Perhaps they are keeping more of an eye on FFP then we think and he is the highest dollar player that is not really part of their regular rotation and ManU is offering the most money.

  16. Apparently front all the reports I’m reading and getting a deal has been confirmed with Mata going from Chavs to Manure for 37M.

  17. Bloody hilarious at Old Trafford, duke!

    Brilliant. Where were Utds senior players when the crunch came. All kids. Hopefully now scarred for life by the experience.

  18. I actually sort of feel sorry for moyes, the players are just not busting a gut for him like they did fergal. He has no luck, the refs are now making up for lost time on utd, but the players and fans, ITV, setanta , glory hunters, utd loving media and ex utd players ….ha ha fuck em all.

  19. Best thing is that they get Europa league and stretch the squad. Truly humiliating for them–senior players uninterested in taking the penalties shows a collapse of morale. Pathetic.

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