You’ve got to have hope, haven’t you? If you are a football manager, it has to be part of your natural armoury for as much as you train, practice, drill, there is an element of every Saturday beyond your control. You hope the referee has a good game, you hope your opponents play badly, you hope your players remember everything. Arsène believes the real Arsenal will turn up in November so until then he hopes it will all go as well as it can. They aren’t the team he thought they would be and nor is this morning’s playlist, shared song titles with more famous siblings but they are entirely different. You can find I’m Not The Song You Thought I’d Be here or in the right sidebar on Dad’s Jukebox.
It’s all hope at the moment but for that to materialise into tangible results, Arsène has to use the evidence of his eyes and make the adjustments to the starting line-up that may bear fruit. On Wednesday night, the midfield pairing of Wilshere and Ramsey alongside Flamini robbed Arsenal of any wide threat. Whilst many think Oxlade-Chamberlain has been underperforming, his directness on the right was sorely missed. Too often in Brussels, Alexis Sanchez was the attacking outlet but with Danny Welbeck marshalled tightly by two centre backs, no-one was taking advantage of the space. Swap Sanchez to the left, Cazorla in the middle and Ox on the right; the intent is there.
Some will insist now is the chance to show Joel Campbell to the world; I would argue that time has passed. The team has stuttered and misfired so unless the manager has stubbornly persisted with the same players, it seems to me that he doesn’t believe Campbell is the player he thought he was. With Theo Walcott likely to return to first team action at some point in the next fortnight – Arsène has noted that it will be next week but I suppose that depends on how training goes – the Costa Rican’s chances of breaking into the first team are reducing. And with Lukas Podolski scoring his way back into the manager’s good books, it is harder to see Campbell being given the chance to prove himself. Maybe he expected that and is happy with his bit-part role.
It would leave this afternoon’s XI is:
Speaking to the media, Wenger confirmed that Laurent Koscielny is likely to be out for at least a month. In Arsenal-speak, that’s Christmas if we are lucky. It means the continuation of Nacho Monreal at centre back with Arsène preferring his experience to Calum Chambers in the centre. It might not even be that, it seems more likely that the urge to rush Hector Bellerin into first team action is being suppressed. Admirable as that may be, it’s…no, I’m not going there. It’s a situation that he has to deal with the best he can (and ‘he’ can be the manager or the player; both even) for the club. At least Monreal is playing, the problem comes if Gibbs succumbs to injury which he has form in. I expect Arsenal to make a case to the Premier League soon for an increase in the 25-man squad rule to cope with injuries. Joking aside, it was interesting to note that Victor Valdes has been training with United; have Arsenal tried for a short-term deal with the player to cover Ospina’s injury?
But if I think Arsenal’s problems are big, my mind wanders toward this afternoon’s opponents and I wonder how Gus Poyet has dealt with this week. How do you pull your first team XI through the week after an eight-goal drubbing. As much as I want Arsenal to find form, prove to everyone that the FA Cup was a stepping stone to future glory, Sunderland players have something more to prove to their supporters. It was a decent Southampton side that beat them, one that is confident and playing well but I am pretty sure that no-one expected them to score eight. Eight. Arsène had the excuse after Old Trafford, or at least he used it, of having a makeshift back four on display. And it was United, which made it worse for us, but gave him comfort, if that’s the right word, in the calibre of opposition.
Actually that’s how they got through the week, the same we did. Recriminations, denial that lasts for years (see the above paragraph for proof of that) and more importantly, a determination to regain some pride. Which will start this afternoon. Vito Mannone has additional motivation so expect a mercurial performance from an opposition goalkeeper today. Whether life is that simple I don’t know. Certainly if Arsenal play as badly as they did in Brussels, Sunderland have a good chance of winning. The Premier League is a more unforgiving environment that the Champions League and any expectations of turning up being enough to win ought to be quashed. Professionalism from the players should see them to victory, bring through the quality that makes them Arsenal players and not those who play for…well, Sunderland.
Arsène came as close to admitting performances are bad with his observations about a lack of efficiency. Consistency of performances was expected and we are getting consistent underperformance which seems at odds with his statement about attitude and training being good. I would expect there to be a step-change in performance from the training pitch to crossing the white line on matchday; upwards. Arsenal, it seems, are going backwards between the two. If not, the manager and his staff are not addressing the issue in training which is an incredulous state of affairs. Mind you, his gentle chastisement of Per Mertesacker’s comments about not working hard enough seemed more about image than reality. The truth is that Arsenal’s training has been criticised previously by former players as lacking the intensity of other big clubs so there is probably an element of truth in the BFG’s words. They are more successful big clubs, too.
Anyway, this afternoon is about getting the season back on track domestically. A win is all that matters, we have only won back-to-back games once so far (City and Palace) which is something that has to be put right. Start today, eh chaps?
From The Vaults
Not so far back today, the trip to Wearside in 2005. Arsenal started the day seventh having shared the points in the North London Derby the week before. The start to the season had been more hits than misses, five wins and three defeats in nine, leading us to wish for a couple of draws instead. Same gravy, different sauce but I’ll be quite happy with a 3 – 0 win, won’t you?
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.