It’s a positive, isn’t it? It is, UEFA announced they were dropping charges against Arsenal for failing to search every Galatasaray supporter before they entered the stadium at the recent Champions League match. No doubt paying that fine would have been cited as a reason that the club don’t have as much money to spend in the transfer window as everyone thinks so I guess it’s a huge thanks to Mickey P and his crew for that one; I hope you like the watches I’ve sent you. Bit cheeky but I don’t suppose you could rescind our Polish chappie’s ban as well. Today. Before tomorrow.
Despite being a couple of months away, the transfer window is beginning to creep back up the headlines list; did it ever go away? Every Tom, Dick or Harry is linked with a move to the club in January to the extent that Ivan’s £20m is going to be spread very thin if a tenth of the stories have a shred of truth. Which they don’t, of course. Hopeful agents and wishful thinking is a dangerous combination but it’s got to the point where every headline is greeted in my head with Brian Moore’s elated voice shouting, “He’s up for grabs now! Samiiiiiiii!”
I have got to get out more.
One man whose departure seems ever closer is Lukas Podolski. Ignored as Arsenal sought a point on, well, most Saturday’s, Sunday’s, Monday’s, almost every day, the German international still found time to endear himself to the great unwashed. He predicted that Hell would freeze over before he signed for Tottenham; fair play to the man for a display of populist loyalty when keeping quiet would have been the norm. It will be the second great Ice Age to besiege the Underworld , of course. Satan will be wringing his hands skyward asking, “Why me, God? Why me?!” in a plaintive cry, before Podolski is selected for the Arsenal starting line-up again.
It’s not a problem that will be uppermost on his mind when Arsène steps onto the pitch in Brussels this week. Defence may have occupied his thoughts before the weekend’s visit of Hull City but point against The Tigers meant Arsenal wins remain an endangered species in the Premier League. The Champions League campaign steered itself back on course with the thumping win over Galatasaray; it needs victory tomorrow night to stay there and not be dragged into an unseemly fight for second place. Protecting Emiliano Martinez – the goalkeeper formerly known as Damian (TGFKAD) – is the main priority. When did Damian become Emiliano, or more accurately drop his first name in favour of his second? Is it a rebranding after the horrors of the 7 – 5 win at The Madjeski Stadium?
Tomorrow is a night when you wonder if attack is the best form of defence. The ramshackle back four takes on a more familiar feel with Chambers returning to the side but the Argentine has a lot of question marks hanging over him and in fairness to the player, coming into a dysfunctional team is probably not the ideal return to first team action. It’s a night when Arsène probably wishes he could call on a fully fit Theo Walcott to add some attacking threat and put Anderlecht on the back foot, leave them warier of the counter-attack than they already are. Or perhaps more accurately, we think they are.
Walcott’s return offers Wenger an attacking problem. Quite simply, who does he leave out. Immediately, the answer is softened with Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud absent until the New Year. Either Santi Cazorla or Alexis Sanchez drop to the bench. As if he’s going to do that with a £35m signing on anything like a regular basis. Rotating two into three is relatively straightforward but four, four becomes crowded, especially if it becomes four-four-two as Arsène suggested he might consider when Olivier Giroud returns to fitness. Add Özil into the equation and it is a headache straight out of the bottom of a cheap red wine bottle. It’s unbalanced with three attacking midfielders and two strikers.
It also forgets about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has his own career to look after. Curiously, the England international is a more typical Wenger than the tippy-tappy stereotype that has assumed prominence. Ox is hard-working like Ljungberg and has more in common with the Swede and Ray Parlour than Cazorla or Walcott. The latter is often tied with Ox through the Southampton connection but Walcott is more the heir of Pires than Parlour.
Selection problems which Arsène would probably give his right arm for in defence. Laurent Koscielny will recover, there’s no doubt about that, the timing is open to question but for the longer-term, the short-term pain of his absence is best. I’m not worried about TGFKAD – it’s not going to catch on, it’s quicker to type Martinez – tomorrow night, quite sanguine that he will be confident in his own performance. In any case, there’s nothing that can be done since the alternative is one of the five Academy goalkeepers. They are all players of unrealised promise; young lads at the beginning of their careers. It is a situation that nobody could have foreseen and any demands for deeper cover at goalkeeper should be laughed at; how can Arsenal expect three international goalkeepers to want to be at the club at the same time. I’m still surprised we have two first-choice national goalkeepers and one of them isn’t San Marinese. On paper, it seemed good cover was available but it does highlight how fickle the footballing fates can be.