One of the advantages of being in a different time zone – I said, time zone not Twilight Zone dammit! – is that you arrive later on a slow news day than everyone else. When the FA Cup tie with Middlesbrough being moved to the Sunday 4pm kick-off slot is the news, you get to understand how slow the day actually is. It means that barring the draw for the quarter-finals of that competition, Arsenal don’t leave the capital until they catch a flight to Monaco.
Yeah, not too sure where that’s leading myself either. The Premier League games are all eminently winnable and let’s be honest, games we can drop silly points in. As much as it is tempting to proclaim the turning of a corner and there is no denying four consecutive wins is a tremendous about-turn in consistency, it’s still a bit too soon. That said, three more points this weekend and the mood going into the North London Derby will be far more positive than pre-Christmas.
The season remains one of one step at a time. Returning players from injury give the manager options and reports already suggest that Gabriel will bring his angelic style to the squad this weekend. If he is anything more than a spectator though, it will be a surprise and perhaps an indication that Laurent Koscielny is being nursed through still. In an ideal world, I guess Arsène will look to gradually introduce the player, perhaps targeting the FA Cup as a match for his début.
Alongside whom is the question. We expect players to fit in and to build partnerships with any other player. It doesn’t always work that way, as we well know, and sometimes even the obvious complementary pairing fails. Having signed in January, it seems most likely that Wenger has identified the player as one for next season, with any performances this time as part of the ‘bedding in’ process. It’s a luxury, yes, but with the injury situation seemingly lightening, it allows the manager time to take a longer term view than planning one game to the next.
The summer will see remodelling of the squad. The first steps were taken with Mikel Arteta reportedly signing the new one-year deal he was offered a while back. Keeping the Spaniard has two advantages; it relieves some of the pressure to sign a new defensively-minded midfielder in haste. It allows Wenger to sign the player he wants. Midfield is going to be very competitive next season on the rare occasions that everyone is fit with everyone knowing that consistency is expected in their performances or they are going to be out of the side for some time such are the options.
Of course, that depends on the foolish notion that everyone will be fit.
Some will leave. Flamini is llikely to be the loser in the age stakes with a free transfer on the cards; Diaby too, with every passing week seeming to underline he is losing his battle to prove his fitness to the manager. But a new contract can’t be ruled out either.
I suppose Coquelin may ease the problem by not committing to the club, especially if he thinks they are going to sign an internationally experienced player for his role. Considering his future looked bleak as far as Arsenal were concerned, the manner in which he has set about changing his fortunes is impressive. He is a useful squad player to have for this role and with Arteta having just one more year, he has the opportunity to establish himself.
As he has seen this season, none of the senior players can take anything for granted and most likely he will feature in 20+ games per season. Whether that is enough having tasted ‘regular’ first team action and been one the catalysts for a change in fortune, remains to be seen.
It’s certain to be a case of more out of midfield than in next summer. Where this season finishes in terms of positions and silverware may dictate which priorities are addressed first by the manager.