It felt like an incomplete answer. The question put to the manager concerned Mikel Arteta’s fitness ahead of Saturday’s trip to Anfield; “He’s alright,” came the succinct reply. But there seemed to be something missing, some unspoken phrase diminishing the Spaniard’s injury to an insignificance. It seemed that he wanted to add, “He was trying to pull a flanker, he always does. Likes his Monday’s at home with the family, does Mikel. But he couldn’t pull the wool over my eyes.”
And then I remembered, Arsène Wenger manages Arsenal not Harry Redknapp. Is it possible to have a nightmare in daytime when you’re wide awake? I know, I know, Igor Stepanovs had a career of them.
The media have found their angle for Saturday’s match; the immovable object meets the unstoppable force. Mertesacker and Koscielny against SAS. Who thinks of these nicknames. SAS? I thought that was Shearer And Sheringham in Euro96 as England stormed to another failure, albeit gloriously. So where is the equivalent for the Arsenal duo? Mixing their surnames doesn’t work; let’s be honest Kossacker invokes political arguments or sounds like a low-rent, cheap price supermarket vodka, ripping off the Smirnoff label. It is probably more the Arsenal way not to have such a sobriquet. Does it matter; a strikeforce which has scored in all but one game they have played together this season meets the defensive pairing which kept them out. With a bit of help from nine others and the woodwork, granted, but in years to come those incidentals are forgotten.
Inevitable Arsène was asked about the Uruguayan and the summer’s farce. Still in Walker Brothers mode, there are no regrets but a repeat episode this summer is unlikely although when it comes to transfers, the manager is a bit of a Medicine Head; one and one is one. He did put to bed one lie though;
We never wanted to replace Giroud, we always had complete confidence in him.
Whenever discussion turns to the lack of depth, the default position is that Giroud is fine, we don’t need to replace him. But it was never about that, even the manager admits that; it’s about proper cover and options. There is a well-stocked midfield, even if it is being stretched to its limits at the moment. Consider that for one moment. If the same level of injuries or suspension hit the forward line, Giroud and two options to replace him would be out for any number of games. What then? Personally, I don’t want to find out.
Focus is on Arsenal’s squad and the ravages on injuries and suspensions. Flamini still has one match to serve after tomorrow, the FA Cup tie at home to Liverpool a week on Sunday will be that. It means Arsène can begin to rotate, perhaps even this Saturday with Jack Wilshere reportedly fit for selection. How fit will decide whether he starts or returns with a place on the bench. Even so, Wenger does not believe the coming workload will be that much of an issue,
When you’re in a good position to fight for something of course the closer you get to the end the more every game becomes vital. We did fight very hard until now to be in this position so let’s just enjoy it and give our best. I’m sure we will.
Mentally we are prepared and we have shown a great response throughout the season when we had difficulties. Physically we are prepared as well. It depends how many injuries we have because we need to rotate and it’s important that we have as many players available as we can. Big injuries can of course question the end of the season.
There is a smart-arsenal answer to that but that has been argued to death already. It is a crucial phase of the season but it has not arrived as a surprise; the fixtures were announced several months ago and this time was readily identified as a tough spell. The question is how the players will react? They repeatedly tell us that the big games are special to them, they want to do well in them. This season gives the opportunity to show that.
The run of matches gives a hint of how some view a European Super League working. Each week would see the top clubs pitched into battle. It would indeed be a tremendous fixture list, one that every player would want to be involved in. Substitute the likes of Sunderland and Swansea for the likes of Milan, PSG or any other élite club you want. And of course, Tottenham would no longer be a part of the regular footballing calendar; I doubt that the notion of Thursday night football is crossing the minds of the proponents of such a League.
For supporters, it is surely the best of times to see the club face Liverpool, United, Liverpool, Bayern followed by Bayern, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City. Potentially one of Chelsea or City again if Arsenal progress in the FA Cup. It is a tough run of matches and one which will probably wring every emotion out of you. Realism dictates that Arsenal will not win all those matches, or are unlikely to. Even losing in the Premier League and following that with a win is better than two draws in terms of points. What a defeat does to the psyche, I don’t know the players well enough to comment but they need to respond quickly in those circumstances and that is a key reason for enjoying the run.
There is no let-up, there is no respite; it is the opportunity for the players to show their mettle, to throw the cloak of invisibility from their shoulders and face the challenges head-on. It is the time for them to pronounce their own judgement on the season. OK, it is spread over two months and that is a long time which is not necessarily helpful in a notoriously fickle environment. They may veer from being world-beaters one match, to hopeless cast-offs the next. But if at the end of it, they remain top of the Premier League, in the FA Cup and quarter-finalists in the Champions League, no-one would complain. Surely?
That’s the ideal outcome. Now it’s over to the players to make it happen, starting at Anfield.