Saturday morning, the time for the tingling excitement of matchday. Thankfully after the international break, Arsenal have a 3pm kick-off; there’s no waiting around, casting envious glances wondering why the fates continue to taunt us after a fortnight without a decent match to watch. There’a while to go and this morning’s playlist, Under Cover Volume 2, will keep you company here or on Dad’s Jukebox in the right sidebar.
Hull City arrive at The Emirates for a rerun of last season’s FA Cup Final. Lifting the silverware was supposed to be the stepping stone to future glories and we’ve leapt from the safety of that perch; whether we reach that next one or end up face first in the water remains to be seen. Power, the energy of the jump; extracts from Amy Lawrence’s forthcoming book, Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season, carried in The Guardian underline that concept in the players.
Having reached perfection in footballing terms in that season, Wenger always faced a problem maintaining or even coming close to that level. Entirely changing his perception of what constitutes was challenging and he has not shirked from that; stubbornness or endurance, the definition of his actions depends on where you think the club is at the moment. I can’t shake the feeling that he is the man who, having invented the round wheel is now intent of proving the square one is even better and a more comfortable ride.
He has his work cut out this afternoon and if ever there was a match when the XI need to rediscover their attacking prowess, this is it. Injuries had ravaged the back four, Calum Chambers suspension the final blow. It means a ‘make do and mend’ approach; Arsène either plays Nacho Monreal in the centre or Isaac Hayden is given his chance. A square peg in a round hole or the untested youngster; both will be viewed as the weak point by the visitors and targeted accordingly.
The philosophy for today is very definitely attack and I would personally emphasize that in the team selection. Mikel Arteta’s return proves timely. Whilst Flamini has energy, Arteta has the intelligence that allows Wilshere and Cazorla to float and prompt the attack, crucial today as the makeshift defence is a cause for concern.
If the Spaniard doesn’t start, I would change the shape of the formation with Oxlade-Chamberlain or Rosicky forming a deeper pairing with Wilshere, with the other on the right. Options are limited though, injuries have seen to that.
Better news on that front with Theo Walcott returning to action last night in the Under-21s whilst Aaron Ramsey is expected to be in the squad for the midweek trip to Brussels. It’s better news and Chambers can fill in centrally to allow Laurent Koscielny to recover properly from the tendonitis that currently ails him.With more than two months remaining until Wenger can venture into the transfer market, he has to manage his squad carefully. More options are becoming available – even Abou Diaby managed more than an hour yesterday – it is crucial that the players do not suffer setbacks; we simply do not have the depth at the moment to compensate for any new injuries. The XI today is pretty much going to be playing two games a week for the next fortnight with very few options to rotate.
Disturbingly, Wenger admitted earlier this week that Koscielny’s injury has lingered for some time; it makes the inability to recruit another centre back more baffling but his return is likely to be sporadic at best,
‘If you wait for it to be better, it can be a short time. If you want to get rid of it completely, it is long term. We will monitor him and as soon as he can take enough pain again he will play
The danger is that short-term necessities will cause long-term damage and at the moment, Arsenal cannot afford that to happen. Injuries once more seem to be wreaking havoc with no immediate solution available. The positive from it is that we will see the readiness of the likes of Bellerin, possibly Hayden as well. Looking at the upcoming fixtures, if Bellerin and Chambers work as alternatives at full and centre back respectively, Arsène can afford to give Koscielny a month’s rest. The result today and against Anderlecht will decide that I suspect; win both and the Premier League and Champions League progress is firmly in Arsenal’s control. Defeat in either, especially today, is a real problem with confidence in the back four a likely casualty.
If by now you’re thinking, “Blimey, it’s only Hull“, yes, you’re right, it is only Hull but we are repeating the same mistakes over and over again; it’s not the first time we’ve been caught short with centre backs being injured. It strikes me that having successfully used Bacary Sagna there, Wenger is too laid back about signing sufficient cover. It’s needed, he admitted that on Thursday. It was needed in the summer, the situation hasn’t changed except the warnings which went unheeded, have now become reality with no capability of rectifying the problem.
But you’re right, it is only Hull and they’ve never win at The Emirates or run us hellishly close in a cup final. It’s that kind of arrogance the players can ill-afford today. They have to turn up and they have to win. Defeat is not practical especially after the silly points dropped already this season. Laughing at United is good PR Sir Chips but there is nothing humorous about that shower of mediocrity being above us in the table.
So three points and a good performance Gentlemen, please.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.