I suspect the only thing which might top an Arsenal victory for Arsène as a birthday celebration might be a 1960 model Marilyn Monroe breathlessly sighing her way through the traditional song on this day of the year. Might, not would. At the moment, you sense that Arsène might not even be happy with just an Arsenal victory in Brussels. He would, of course, were it to signal the footballing equivalent of a cavalry charge into form but that seems such a remote prospect that to even think it is folly. This season is going to be nothing different from before, a battle for fourth that if won, will be deemed a victory.
It’s Arsène’s birthday and surely the football gods will give him the present on this special day? They will, won’t they? Actually, they have form in being party poopers, Arsenal have lost two of the four played on this day, a 2 – 1 reverse at home to Auxerre in 2002 was repeated last season at home to Dortmund. They have won the domestic games but Champions League? Sorry, Arsène, history suggests this won’t go well.
But tonight will be different, won’t it? It will.
For a start, third choice goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez (TGFKAD) – yes, it’s still quicker for me to type ‘Martinez’ than the acronym – begins the game. Arsène explained to the media the circumstances of David Ospina’s absence, a tale that Brian Rix could no doubt turn in a hugely successful farce. The Colombian was injured at Nice, rushed back, hurt at the World Cup, apparently recovered, didn’t warm up against Galatasaray and succumbed once more, this time he will be out for three months. All the while, the politician’s wife was looking to hide the gardener from her husband who had returned home from the House earlier than expected. More tea, Vicar?
As events go, so far such bad luck. Arsenal had fallen into the same trap as every other football club and pay the price. As the substitutes limber up in front of the crowd, you rarely see the goalkeepers move from the comfort of the bench at any club. It’s surprising given their services are often required at the shortest of notice in a match but the rarity means they are often left to their own devices with stretching and loosening muscles not high on the agenda. It isn’t a scenario unique to Arsenal, it’s complacency throughout the game.
But it doesn’t make it alright, either. It’s no excuse to leave things to luck, not at this level; it’s the sort of tale that would bring derision and abuse upon all involved in a Sunday league team.
It’s such a familiar tale that it is tiresome to rail against the club for such basic mismanagement of players health. The same type of problems recur, over and over again; the lessons are never learned. Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott must be wondering when they are going to break down as part of their recovery such is the familiarity of this pattern.
Despite speaking highly of the new arrivals, ahead of tonight’s match Ramsey wasn’t convincing in his predictions for the remainder of this season,
“We have had some results but been frustrated at not winning some games. I think things are clicking. We have had some tough tests but have come through OK. Last season, we came close to winning the league. If it wasn’t for a few errors… We know we’ve come on a lot last season.
What we have to do is to get results from the big games, not come away losing four, five or six nil. That was quite damaging in the end to our chances of winning the league. We know we have the ability to go on and challenge and to win things. We’re hoping this season that we can deliver.”
The clicking, Aaron, is not the squad coming together, it’s joints popping in and out of place.
As tempting as it might be for Arsène to drop Ramsey back into midfield, a short run-out against Hull hardly offers conclusive proof that the Welsh international is match fit. Hamstrings are notoriously twangy things and can go at the drop of a hat. The problem is that Arsenal are struggling for form and in those situations, managers turn to their star players. Despite being inconsistent himself – and he can’t use the World Cup as an excuse – Ramsey is still a key player.
To make the move from being very good to world-class, justifying the hype, he has to become one who the team turn to when things are bad. Not become lazy or reliant as they were with Cesc or Henry in the past, where youth and lack of mental strength gave way to personality, but the likes of Özil, Sanchez, Ramsey, Walcott, Wilshere, they are the ones who need to take the team by the scruff of the neck and provvide the missing impetus when it is required. The good sides don’t just have one star turn, they have a few. If this really is as good a squad as is predicted, some need to start stepping up to the oche and hitting the treble tops.
Easier said than done in any walk of life, let alone in the public gaze but that is the pressure that comes with the rewards.
With the personnel available, it is hard to see many changes to Saturday. I think Arteta will slot in alongside Wilshere in midfield, Flamini dropping to the bench. Despite some desire for his inclusion, I can’t see Joel Campbell being selected ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain, the England international is harder working in his defensive support, content to run the length of the pitch and back again for the cause. End product helps and I think he is also attuned more to the team, its style of play, in these matches than the Costa Rican.
It leaves the line-up as:
For me, victory is imperative this evening. Dortmund are in mixed form themselves and should they falter, the three point gap which exists is closed. It means Arsenal also assume a position of strength in the group over Galatasaray and Anderlecht. I still think seven more points will be enough to qualify and this is one of the matches where three have been earmarked. Three weeks ago, Dortmund won comfortably in Brussels, there is no reason why Arsenal cannot do the same. But three weeks is a long time in football.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.
From The Vaults
Quelle surprise. It was to me anyway, I had planned to use the match report I found from 1960’s 4 – 1 friendly win in Brussels. Instead, you’ll have to make do with the 1 – 3 Fairs Cup first leg reverse from a decade later…