Defeat in Naples on Wednesday evening is fading with attention turning to the trip to Eastlands this weekend. Focus isn’t even on the players, a cottage industry has grown around Arsenal playing Wednesday and then Saturday lunchtime, a full 2¼ hours before the game’s original kick-off time of 3pm, a time coincidentally when Chelsea also play. Maybe there is scientific evidence which shows that timescale does have a significant impact. A quick look at Europe’s other leagues shows Dortmund playing Hoffenheim on Saturday afternoon, Barcelona romping to victory later the same day. The problem is by no means unique to Arsenal and is certainly not the conspiracy against the club which some are bizarrely claiming. Strangely, no-one is complaining about the nine-day rest which follows this match, how unfair it is that Arsenal will have that advantage over Chelsea who play in the middle of next week. There’s a cake in the corner, would you like a slice?
If playing on Sunday is so much of an advantage, it puts the defeat at Old Trafford into a different perspective, making it an even worse result given their recent form. The comments by Wenger and Arteta seem simply to be a preparation for defeat, getting excuses prepared for defeat at Eastlands. Perhaps they are, maybe the bravado hides the knocked confidence from losing to Napoli?
Too much is being made of the contrasting fortunes of City and Arsenal in midweek. There is no denying that beating Bayern is a feather in their cap, no doubt they will try to make the same capital out of that victory that Arsenal did earlier this year when they enjoyed a more comprehensive win in the same stadium, something which is being conveniently overlooked. Both Wenger and Mertesacker noted in midweek Arsenal were below par, fatigue playing a part. It was the same last Sunday for the opening thirty minutes or so and is something no doubt the manager is looking at. Nobody knows why Theo Walcott did not play in Italy and Arsène is certainly being cautious with his return; a hint perhaps that he has not fully recovered from his injury and subsequent bout of illness. The inability to rotate his squad much before now is a bigger problem than the number of games.
A lot hinges on the performance of Mesut Özil. He was not the only player who did perform to the best of his abilities on Wednesday by a long way but found a glowing recommendation coming his way from Thierry Henry,
I would have loved to have played with him, he reminds me of Robert Pires. He will share the ball. He can find a guy who is quick, a target striker. He can play any type of ball. He has the thing you want from a midfielder. He has time. It seems like he is playing on his own in his garden. He brought that composure on the ball that you need. I think he brought that to Arsenal Football Club.
Him coming with his name. You have got to back it up. He did back it up.
It is the latest accolade for the German from an aspiring pundit. Henry will not last long on the pundit’s sofa – he is apparently on Match of the Day this weekend – with positive views on Arsenal players. Özil is quite popular really, isn’t he; everyone likes a bit of Mesut in the morning, don’t they? Well, obviously not the Real Madrid hierarchy, who just can’t let go of his departure, even now.
Henry is not fazed by Arsenal finishing runners-up in the group. The opposition put in front of them is that which Arsenal must beat; it is going to be more difficult than those faced had they finished top but it is what it is. Winning the trophy is hard enough but a round where the opposition is not to the standard of other rivals, makes it a touch easier on paper. But football is not played on paper and Arsenal have made a hash of the opposition when finishing in either of the top two spots in a group. Maybe this year will be different, maybe not. The draw is made on Monday and by the middle of the week, the Champions League is hibernating for winter.