Overall, I am sure that Arsène is grateful for the week off. Indeed, over the next two months, it is going to be quite a familiar experience which raises questions over the necessity for three games in close proximity over the Christmas period. Certainly justifying three Premier League matches is hard when, after taking into account potential cup commitments, there are at least four free weeks over the next eight. Money-making traditions die hard.
The draw for the FA Cup fourth round sees Arsenal travel to the South Coast for an encounter with Brighton and Hove Albion. Will the BBC be paying repeat fees given the two sides met in the same round two seasons ago, the last time Arsenal played an FA Cup tie outside of London?
Much was made of the lack of upsets in the last round with the Premier League coming through unscathed in their meetings with clubs from lower divisions. With a stamina sapping five days for Third Round ties to be played over, the footballing calendar is cocked to meet the broadcasters demands.
At least this time we might get matches with the potential for an upset with Arsenal, United, Swansea, West Brom, Stoke and either West Ham or Everton, away from home against ‘lesser’ clubs. Whether the matches are played at convenient times for supporters remains to be seen.
Just 9k turned up at Burnley last night for the visit of fifth-placed Tottenham, an unthinkable attendance in the Premier League and putting the FA’s glee at rising attendances at this stage of the competition over the last thirty-one years, at risk. The romance of the cup has taken something of a battering this weekend and whether it is permanently tarnished remains to be seen.
Szczesny Smokes Without A Fire
This morning’s press makes uncomfortable reading for the club. Having refuted claims attributed to John Jensen over the weekend, this morning’s back pages fleshed out the basis for the reports of Wojciech Szczesny being fined after the defeat at St Mary’s.
The Pole, reports just about everyone – and not denied by the club – was fined for having a crafty fag in the showers at Southampton. George Osborne is probably wondering if the answer to his tax woes is to means test a packet of twenty given Szczesny thought nothing of paying £20k for one drag.
So many questions are raised about the incident it is hard to know where to begin. The incompatibility of a professional athlete smoking is chief among them as well as what manner of sheer stupidity led him to believe that a cigarette would go unnoticed in the confined space of the changing room.
Much was made beforehand of David Ospina playing against Hull. I’d assumed that the Colombian would be our cup goalkeeper this season – if fit – and had no notion that Szczesny would play. It was a small storm being cooked up in a tea-cup before the tie and the reports from Denmark merely fitted a narrative.
Whether Ospina plays on Sunday against Stoke City is now the issue. It’s one hell of an introduction to the Premier League for not the tallest of men if he does. That more than anything may well be Szczesny’s saving grace this week but the warning signs are there.
The Pole has his faults but for me remains the best goalkeeper at the club. His attitude grates with many. The penchant for self-publicity, it seems, is fine when baiting Tottenham supporters but tiresome otherwise. When his form dips, it’s another string to his critics bow.
He isn’t perfect and his development is anything but linear. Mistakes have been costly but the tendency of supporters at every level to blame the goalkeeper for everything conceded, is misplaced. At Southampton, I thought both goals were the result of mistakes from a combination of players, the same who had played well overall at West Ham in the previous match.
To pin everything on one man is conveniently shifting the ground from more familiar targets – Mertesacker – and those deemed to be saviours – Koscielny. To me, the goals were more symptomatic of collective failings throughout the season. There was no apparent basis for the nervousness which was evident from kick-off. Fatigue? Arrogance? Who knows, the club’s public line of the former is certainly plausible.
However, Szczesny’s errors were all too familiar. Fabianski was prone to irregular headstrong rushes off his line and poor decision-making at crosses. Repeating those mistakes suggests something more deep-seated and unresolved on the training ground.
That’s not to absolve the player either.
He is experienced enough to know better but like all of us, is fallible in his job. The atmosphere around him is reminiscent of a couple of years ago when, with Mertesacker, defeat at White Hart Lane proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Arsène. Both were dropped and it took Fabianski’s unfortunate injury against Norwich for the younger Pole to return to the side.
He is still a relatively young player and whilst others are rested (dropped) on an irregular basis, he plays most games beyond the domestic cups. Maybe a spell on the sidelines is necessary now but I can’t shake the feeling that this is the start of a witch hunt or at the very least, a new scapegoat being targeted.
Having disposed of a potential goalscorer in Lukas Podolski, Arsène is looking to strenghten the forward line by releasing Yaya Sanogo on loan to Bordeaux. Or he’s thinking about it. God knows why and the French club don’t understand either, unbelievably having to put a deadline of tomorrow for Arsenal to respond.
Elsewhere, Arsenal’s interest in Loic Perrin has apparently upset Virgil Van Dijk’s plans so much that he has confused the results in the weekend’s cup ties, mistaking the red and white stripes of Sunderland for the red and white stripes of Southampton. An £8m move is imminent. Apparently.
Across London, Sam Allardyce revived the spirit of punk and donned his best mohair jumper to sneer ‘No Future’ when questioned about Winston Reid. Long linked with Arsenal, Reid will no doubt pitch up somewhere else with Wenger deciding we have a full complement of Keystone Cops in defence.
From The Vaults
If the FA can stretch out the Third Round weekend, so can I.
On 6th January 1971, Arsenal travelled to Yeovil and faced the then infamous Huish Park slope which had most famously seen the demise of Sunderland in 1949. There was no repeat this time as Arsenal won at a canter as the first tentative steps toward the FA Cup win which sealed the historic double were taken.
Click to enlarge to view the pictures and report in full size