So tonight is the night when the pressure begins to show. Whether Arsenal will be the ones to feel it or nerves overcome Chelsea remains to be seen. Their bus driver appears to be quite enjoying himself at the moment, Pellegrini well on course to become his Keegan. For Arsenal, at the end of ninety minutes at The Hawthorns, they expect to be four points behind the leaders. West Brom go into a fixture they have won for the past two seasons in abject form. Despite not losing at home in the Premier League for nearly two months, they have won once in 2014 and only twice since drawing 2 – 2 at Stamford Bridge in November. Even in a season which has thrown up some eye-catching results, this is one step too far. Surely?
In a way, it will be good for Arsenal. They know they have to respond to Saturday’s mauling, the players freely admit that. Being two points behind Chelsea or less offers them the prospect of having ‘gotten away with it’; a sense that they have somehow cheated the bear trap of a poor performance. The problem is that I want them to get away with it, life becomes simpler if it is in their own hands and to a certain extent they did with Manchester City dropping points at Carrow Road. You could end up with Marty Feldman eyes looking for too many teams results and working out the various permutations. Title aspirations remain resolutely in Arsenal’s hands; beat both Chelsea and City whilst accumulating more points than them over the rest of the seasons will see silverware lodged in The Emirates trophy room for the first time. But first there is the small matter of winning tomorrow night.
Thankfully Manchester United put in a limited performance on Sunday but like Arsenal, they have a point to prove tomorrow. Arsène will sympathise with David Moyes’ media coverage but it will be a tight affair, even drab. Moyes never sought to entertain when Everton visited, simply to stifle; expect more of the same on Wednesday. It is up to Arsenal to provide the wit to break them down whilst keeping the attack at bay. Moyes won’t care about the chiding his players received for the number of crosses, he will have been more concerned with their lack of imagination and he will have noticed Arsenal’s vulnerability to pace; expect a repeat of his November employment of Antonio Valencia in a wing back role.
Wenger was reportedly furious at half-time although it stirs to mind the Gerald The Gorilla sketch from Not The Nine O’Clock News;
“Of course, Gerald was wild when we caught him.”
“Wild? I was absolutely livid.”
Let’s see if it did any good beyond the second forty-five minutes. That period is dangerous to relate to. Yes, Arsenal were better but by then Liverpool had sewn up the game and were not pushing as hard for goals. It would be easy to fall into the trap of trying to minimise the first half aberration by countering the improvement shown in the second. That shouldn’t happen and rightly, I don’t think the manager is minded to offer respite to the players even if they have “Learned our lesson” and “Will not let it happen again“.
Fortunately for them, the media has been seduced by the strong unbeaten runs that the club embarked on after defeats this season; not yet have they looked to see the upcoming matches and divorce the two notions. Let’s be honest, if Arsenal come through winning their next seven Premier League matches, the authorities can deliver the trophy in April ready for the parade at the season’s end. The difficulty level has ratcheted up and little respite is offered in defeat. Which is no bad thing, players continually tell us that they want to play in big matches; Arsenal can offer that in abundance in the next month. I wouldn’t like to offer a view whether there will be any after this burst until the final whistle tomorrow.
And so to Bacary Sagna. Arsène hinted last week that the French full back had rejected a new contract offer from the club. There is a long way to go until his current deal runs out but news that he has signed for another club would come as no surprise. If it were another player, questions might rightly be asked about commitment over the coming months. Wenger’s recent assertion that there should be no concerns about that resonate with me; Sagna seems to be too professional to be distracted by the future. It might turn out that he re-signs with Arsenal and that should be welcomed for his departure would be a big blow to the squad yet it is going to come at some point, he will gradually lose his place in the side to Jenkinson or whatever young buck comes along to usurp him.
What would be disturbing is if the club has lost an experienced professional over £10k per week. In an era when they are expecting record revenues year after year, there is a commercial naïvety in contract negotiations which fail over small amounts, especially when experienced players who benefit the squad now and in the future are concerned. Equally, deals for Rosicky and Mertesacker seem far less near to completion than the spin had them six weeks ago. News ebbs and flows but right now the club needs to show the same Common Sense that Gilberto Silva speaks so eloquently of in this morning’s Guardian concerning the future of Brazilian club football. Resolving contract issues quickly would be a good start.