It’s not a bad day to release the financial results. The day before a match, knowing that the following morning attention will be diverted quite quickly from them to affairs in the West Midlands. I am sure the timing of their release is entirely coincidental and not all planned, just as I am sure that it is pure chance that none of the accompanying blurb mentioned the £54½m increase in cash reserves at the year-end. This morning’s playlist, Money Means Nuthin’ covers it all off as far as I am concerned. You can find it in the right sidebar in Dad’s Jukebox or older ones on the pages of the same name here.
What a difference a week makes. The optimism of last weekend, tinged with the disappointment of two points dropped, was not so much punctured as clubbed into submission and bundled into a leather trunk to be held hostage for the fortune spent. Criticism of Mesut Özil led to a robustly tetchy defence from Arsène; a pity his midfield didn’t do the same in Dortmund. They were tetchy but as robust as a dried twig on the ground.
For Wenger it deflected attention from his woes. A welcome respite even. The paucity of the performance in Germany from most of the team rekindled the awful memories of last season, the rawness of defeats in big away matches still apparent even with the passage of time. Talk of wanting to improve in these matches from players and manager was exposed as a case of the empowers new clothes. It’s the same Arsenal, this time around with under performing players, some of them to crucial to success. I am sure Ramsey and Özil will find their form but they need to do so sooner rather than later.
Today would be a good starting point. The trip to Villa Park was greeted with relief when the Champions League fixtures were planned. Identified as a decent fixture following the trip to Dortmund, how different events have turned out to be. Villa sit second in the Premier League, victorious at Anfield in their last game, today’s hosts will be brimming with confidence and believing they are meeting Arsenal at the right time. It’s a role reversal to the usual trips to the West Midlands where for the most part, Arsenal have started matches as overwhelming favourites.
the onus is on the midfield to refocus themselves and offer more protection to a back four which is likely to have just the option of Calum Chambers as a change from Tuesday. It must be tempting for Wenger to rotate although the temptation may be to stick with the XI that lost so badly, to offer them a swift footballing redemption. That and the League a Cup tie with Southampton will dictate his thinking. There is a temptation for Arsène to do something just to be seen to act, to try to counter the perception of losing his way.
The problem is that he doesn’t have much scope for alteration. Mathieu Flamini was as ineffective against City as Mikel Arteta in Dortmund. The Spaniard had the ‘excuse’ of a lack of match fitness. Wenger could bring in Coquelin or Diaby but potentially faces the same problem. It’s one I think he is aware of. His continued talk of Arsenal being an ‘offensive’ team leads me to believe he knows we are light in the defensive midfield role which makes his failure to act in the summer all the more baffling. Perhaps it’s a recent realisation on his part but I doubt it.
That being the case, I would suggest Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain return to the line-up, Özil witch centrally, Sanchez to the left with Ramsey and Wilshere providing a deeper fulcrum. If the Welsh international is not scoring, he has the energy to cover defensively with the attacking instinct to support adventure.
The line-up would be
It won’t happen of course for having mentioned one player as a scapegoat, Wenger would simply be setting his captain up for the same role. Which offers the chance to make changes. Wilshere and Sanchez are the only two who should be sure of their place in the starting XI and I would return Flamini to the defensive role alongside Arteta. The pair lack pace and their strict instructions would be not to venture forward; leave that to nimbler, youthful colleagues. It would also reshuffle the pack somewhat,
The latter leaves the likes of Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain wondering what they have to do to win a place in the line-up but Arsène seems unlikely to risk dropping Sanchez to make room for the latter and has wilfully backed himself into a corner with Özil so the former isn’t likely to start either. Both will no doubt play against Southampton though.
More than anything, Arsenal need a solid performance. We haven’t done that in the Premier League yet and an unbeaten start sits uncomfortably on the cusp of becoming indifferent. Too many teams above us have lost already, rendering draws at this point harmful. However, come the season’s end we know that may not be the case.
The one thing I would have expected from losing no league matches is confidence and that has been absent aside from the two matches against Manchester City. Last Saturday’s spirit is my one cause for hope, to have some optimism for coming weeks.
Losing twice – count ‘em – since the start of April is not a bad run but like being the best side in a calendar year, it is a meaningless stat as it straddles two seasons. This season is the one that matters, not last. Winning a trophy finished it on a high; surprisingly, we have yet to see the benefit of that on the pitch.
A good time to see that would be now.
From The Vaults
What more can you ask for from these games? Three points, goals galore and an Arsenal win to send you home with the beer in your stomach resting easy. 1983’s 6 – 2 drubbing in the corresponding fixture seems to qualify on all those counts.
Enjoy today’s match wherever you are watching it.