It is like a Hammer House Of Horror movie. The tension levels are rising with the musical accompaniment becoming more sinister as the moments passed, the hysteria whipped from comatose to lassitude. The door has creaked open and the Arsenal delegation is in Germany. It’s led by Dick Law but he has a new assistant, someone else to take the strain when negotiations get too tough; Abraham van Helsing. How else will they capture Count Draxler? Forgive my cynicism but I seem to recall a similar delegation visiting Spain in the summer and look how that turned out. Woah! Time to bang the trays and get excited, hot diggidy dang.
The transfer window had quite passed us by. Not entirely but beyond the initial fervour about Draxler joining the swelling German ranks at Arsenal there wasn’t much going on. The odd loan deal here and there but rather like the Tottenham defence, hype has been noticeable by its absence. With less than three days to go, a kerfuffle has begun with all manner of convoluted methods exposed for a deal to be struck with Schalke. Tottenham apparently hold the key, as the media like to portray they did in the summer. For Gareth Bale, read Lewis Holtby. It hasn’t quite got the same ring to it but for Arsenal, the return of Holtby serves as a distraction, a smokescreen to keep the pressure off in many respects. If the deal falls through, let it be portrayed as Daniel Levy’s moment of glory; God knows after last night’s thumping by Manchester City, he needs it no matter how little basis in fact it has.
Transfer news ramping up was of as little surprise as stories of a long absence for Aaron Ramsey. Even though Arsène denied them immediately after Tuesday’s draw, I wonder if the full extent of his setback was known at that point? There is a week’s rest before the visit to Anfield and that may prove beneficial to all of the players, not just Ramsey. Jack Wilshere will miss Sunday’s match against Palace with ankle more knacked than initially thought but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must be close to match fitness with the number of substitute appearances and reserve matches he has played recently. Equally, Tomas Rosicky is likely to be ready for Palace so options are available.
Mikel Arteta is optimistic about the squad being able to cope with the current stresses,
We had many options but that is one problem we’ve had in the last few weeks: we’ve had a lot of injuries, [such as] losing Theo for a long time, Oxlade-Chamberlain is just coming back, too many. Rosicky as well was out for a couple of weeks with his nose so we are a bit short at the moment but hopefully we can get people back.
That happens and we have to deal with it. The schedule is really busy now – we have some really tough games coming up in the next few weeks and we have to deal with it and do our best.
It puts Mathieu Flamini’s suspension into perspective, it is what makes it so irritating. Numbers are short and Arsène is going to struggle to rotate the likes of Cazorla and Gnabry if they need a rest in the next fortnight; Flamini’s absence exacerbates the problem, leaving the manager at the mercy of the injury gods who frankly seem to have taken an intense dislike to the man this season. It isn’t all down to the fitness regime at the club although the number of absences raises uncomfortable questions; some of these are bad luck, some are not. It is worth remembering that even if Draxler does sign, he is still recovering from injury himself so is not an immediate solution to the problem.
Of course his signature is about improving the quality of the squad as much as giving the manager options. It isn’t about targetting this player or that but the continual building process that should be in place. Something which is probably the hardest part of a manager’s job, certainly after silverware has been landed. In Arsenal’s case, chase the elusive trophy makes the job easier; Arsène knows he has yet to find the winning combination in that sense. When they crossed the rubicon, his job is much harder; he knows the players can deliver and rewards that with his trust in them. At this point, the process should not slow down as standing still rarely proves successful in itself with the factors which make a title or cup-winning season never replicated. In the following nine months, different pressures come to bear and other teams improve their staff.
With a couple of days left in this transfer window, there is still a chance of Arsenal of Vucinc up; time will Tello if it Matuidi’s or not…
If there was an over-reaction to Arsenal’s draw on Tuesday, the hyperbole showed little sign of dimming following City’s win that took them to the top of the table yesterday. Even without the help of the referee, they looked too strong for Tottenham. This morning sees a close title race turned into a procession, according to Martin Samuel. City are certainly romping away, a whole point ahead as the cock crowed. How anyone can possibly catch them with such a commanding lead is unfathomable. At the same time, Chelsea blew the chance to move into second and it was amusing to see Mourinho bemoan the “19th century tactics” he made so fashionable when they were used against him. Welcome to your new home, Mr Mourinho. These are you neighbours, Messrs Pot, Kettle and Black.
Arsenal will be looking to take back first place on Sunday and keep it with City failing to win on Monday at Stamford Bridge. In an ideal draw, a draw would be the best outcome, leaving Chelsea four points adrift. Just as Arsenal are entering a tough run of fixtures, City have theirs at the end of March; in an eighteen day spell they travel to Old Trafford, The Emirates and Anfield. Chelsea by contrast have a relatively easy run-in; Manchester City and Arsenal go to Stamford Bridge with a trip to Anfield their only tough away game. Arsenal may drop points in coming weeks but it is not the end of the campaign; the question is whether there will be enough games to make up any points deficit.
Testing times ahead but it is infinitely more preferable to be thinking of title rivals than wondering how to claw back fourth place.