How the world seems brighter with Villa’s run of indifferent form continuing last night with their defeat to Manchester City. Rather like the accusations being made about Barcelona at the moment, you wonder if Villa had begun to believe their own hype and felt set fair for a top three spot?
A long way to go but you would fancy Arsenal to have turned fifth into fourth place by the end of March with the way the fixtures have panned out. After that, nerve comes into it and perhaps the lessons of last season will come through. The visit of Chelsea and those to Old Trafford at the tail end of the season may yet prove to be decisive yet curiously they do not provide me with any fear for the squad has shown that they can perform in the big games, it is the run-of-the-mill fixtures that have been problematical.
Bacary Sagna is not taking anything for granted though:
We have not been waiting for this kind of night, we just want to take points and that is it. We have to take everything positive out of the game, think about it but then it is gone. We have to stay focused and we have to work.
Focus is exactly right. With Champions League and FA Cup fixtures to squeeze into this month, as well as the Premier League, the team that plays on Sunday needs to get the job done at the first time of asking. A replay at Turf Moor in a fortnight is not going to be a welcome addition to the fixtures although such an event would be remarkably similar to 2005/06 season. Looking at the draw – Burnley and potentially, Hull City at The Emirates – failure to reach the semi-final would be a criminal waste of this opportunity. To achieve that, Wenger will need to keep his tinkering to a minimum.
Back to Sagna. In a season that has been notable for the failure of the ‘big name forwards’ to live up to their hype, it seems to me that a defender or goalkeeper would be a likely winner of one of the Player of the Year awards. If that is the case, Sagna could stand alongside the United players nominated and not have any worries about being considered inferior. Looking around the Premier League, Sagna is the most consistent right back playing in England at the moment. His attacking forays may be more muted than last season – in keeping with the rest of the side – but he has yet to be given a torrid afternoon or evening by any attacker since joining Arsenal.
The squad is returning to some semblance of order with injured players, excluding Rosicky, expected back by the end of the month. There will be those who drop out for the odd game here and there, such as Kolo Toure whose absence will be confirmed this afternoon, but generally, it will be the first time this season that Wenger has his strongest players available at the same time.
Good news indeed but before full advantage can be taken of their returns, there are some tricky hurdles to overcome in the knockout competitions which present the only realistic opportunity for silverware. Focus, it seems, will be as much a byword as goals.