Reading the words of Thomas Vermaelen earlier this week, a defeat in professional football is a lot like falling off a bike. The next match cannot come soon enough for the players to put matters right. Or at least try to. The match itself is the earliest kick-off of the football games today; those attending, remember to be there for the 7.30 kick-off. Hopefully Arsenal will turn up on time as well, purging their systems of their timorous first half on Sunday. I am not sure that Arsenal’s players would necessarily choose a home match for that but at least they are still in the FA Cup.
Arsène was in defiant mood at his pre-match press conference yesterday. The squad moved from being good to very good in a short space of time. I would expect no less a view from Wenger; he has never been short on defending his charges and will continue to do so. And so he should as well. Putting aside any private thoughts he might have on the weaknesses – he admitted there were some – there has never been a successful manager who criticised his players publicly. Not one who had any longevity to their career, anyway.
Ultimately, he has made a bold statement: that this is a very good squad. I would not have used such a definitive statement when it is not able to prove that on anything like a consistent basis. Not too good that it cannot be improved although this will not happen until Theo Walcott’s contract is resolved. That is apparently all consuming, precluding any transfer market activity. You have to hand it to the striker, delaying his signature until the end of the transfer window prevents the club from signing a replacement. In the event he changes his mind, he will still get to play. Or maybe I am just too utterly tired on the whole farce now. It doesn’t take this long to resolve a contract and whilst the club is not fast-paced in its contractual activities, the predominant feeling is that Walcott is stringing this out, waiting to see if someone can top the Arsenal offer.
But the time has come now for the talk to be converted to action, to the squad proving their manager’s faith is not misplaced; the time to deliver. Or challenging for silverware and the options are running out this season; two out of the four trophies on offer have gone by the wayside and we are not yet out of Winter. That is utterly disappointing given the results in August and September. Attention turns to the last domestic trinket on offer, with the visit of Swansea to The Emirates.
A different attitude must prevail tonight, there will be a definitive result. The dreaded penalties loom in the event that the two sides cannot be separated as at The Liberty Stadium. A late Danny Graham equaliser negated the improved Arsenal performance in the second half. More of that attitude being displayed would surely bring about better results? Not the poor defending at the death but the unwillingness to accept defeat in the final minutes, the desire to drive forward and turn the scoreline around. The problems they have are wrongly pinned on being a new squad, unfamiliarity. If they do not know each other by now, something is very seriously wrong with the training regime at Arsenal. It is just not plausible that this is a reason. The issue is psychological; something changed in October, post-international break. Prior to that, results had been good, the defeat at Carrow Road – the performance – is something which signalled the change. And that funk has never been truly shaken.
For tonight’s game, I would expect changes from the weekend, some enforced, some not. Koscielny will drop out, making way for Mertesacker and also in the back four, Sagna rested to give Jenkinson the opportunity. In midfield, Cazorla looks tired, time to give Arshavin the attacking midfield role he craves in the absence of Rosicky whilst Giroud will probably drop in centrally in the strikeforce, Walcott on the bench. The biggest question mark is Diaby. With the visit to Stamford Bridge upcoming, three games in a week is surely too much for a player who has played about a month of football in the past year or so. To play him again from the start must surely be inviting a problem by the manager, one that will manifest in the first match after the transfer window has closed with the way Arsène’s luck goes. That would mean a line-up of:
Szczesny; Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Ramsey, Arshavin, Wilshere; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud, Podolski
Swansea will no doubt fancy their chances having won at The Emirates recently. Whether they will field their strongest line-up is debatable but to be honest, should we even be concerned by that? Arsenal’s primary concern must be Arsenal and their own performance. A good one this evening will go some way to repairing the damage done by Sunday’s defeat, to the collective confidence. Despite that, I still think that the Arsenal line-up (maybe Coquelin for Ramsey) is good enough to achieve the positive need the club needs.
Not much new transfer gossip with a French youngster linked with Arsenal, George-Kevin Nkoudou is the young man in question. At 17, he is a stereotypical player for the club to be linked with and fair play to his Mr20% for managing that. Otherwise, Uruguayan Alcides Ghiggia is a potential target, the right-sided striker presumably a back-up plan if the Walcott deal falls through.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.