The ‘Appy ‘Ammers pitch up at the Emirates this weekend with the media focuses on Jack Wilshere’s return to Arsenal sure to ratchet up. That’s if he hasn’t suffered a twang, pang, or Kerrang before then. In the meantime, the medical assessment of our own walking wounded arrived and fair play to the medical team, we’re not talking “six to eight weeks” now, it’s months!
Yes, the treatment room black hole swallowed all those who dared to enter and who knows when they will return. Well, November is the month, according to the update. It’s like Christmas coming early and then having your dad pull a prank on you. Why? Because the players are only “aiming to return to training”; not playing.
“Look Unai, shiny new players, running; are you excited? Ha! Well, you can’t use them in case you break them. Wait until Christmas!”
Not that he will want to play them all. There’s an element of the Almunia’s about Carl Jenkinson. You remember how he disappeared with one injury after the other when we told him to ‘do one’? Nobody’s quite sure about how he got injured but he is. Either that or Ivan’s pulling a flanker to cover up for the failure to get him off the books.
Laurent Koscielny is also back in training in November, which gives Emery headaches ahead of his return to fitness. How long can Shkodran Mustafi stay in the first team requires more than a paracetamol the size of a horse tranquiliser tablet as an answer.
Still, the former German is in my good books today. Ever since I saw the headline about everyone being happy at Arsenal – a quote attributed to Mustafi – I’ve been on something of a Buzzcocks binge and this body is certainly happy nowadays.
Oh, What A Night. Late November…OK, Maybe October.
Anyway, back to Koscielny. His injury is the type which typically cost a player a “yard of pace” in the old days. That’s the sage wisdom passed down through the generations; whether it’s true or not is another matter. At 32, that combined with age is going to make a player rely more on positional sense. It’s a tough ask when you’ve got to cover Sokratis lack of pace or a Mustafi brain fart.
That’s not to say Koscielny has no place in the Arsenal line-up. I’m almost preparing myself for his return not being the panacea for our ills. A solid investment in experienced but quick centre-backs is the only solution which works unless we’re going to throw Mavropanos or Holding in at the deep end.
Which we could do in the next eight games. These are matches from which we expect a good set of results, but they can also a time to get things right defensively; winning and learning on the job aren’t mutually exclusive.
Talking of young players, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is “aiming to return to training in November” after his unfortunate broken fibula suffered against Manchester City. The other left-back knacked is Sead Kolasinac and he is “to return to training in…October.” Just by a way of a change.
All of which brings us round to the next part of today’s post:
Heads Up: My Story by Alan Smith
Alan Smith. If I described him to a younger fan, it would be…imagine Olivier Giroud scoring 20+ league goals a season to win the Golden Boot. Twice. And League Championship winner’s medals.
For fans of a certain age, Smudger holds a special place in our affections. Not just for Anfield; the film ’89’ immortalised the moment of his glanced header, as well as his ‘assist’ for Michael Thomas to score that goal. But he wasn’t just about that night.
Smith endured a rocky start at Highbury, not scoring for the first three or four games. Then Portsmouth rolled into town full of optimism as they returned to the First Division after a thirty-year absence. He ensured the chimes went quiet with three goals in a 6 – 0 win. Which for those of us who caught the Portsmouth train home, was a massive relief.
It’s hard to explain why but his goals for the club stick in my mind, more than other strikers. At Plough Lane in the bright sunshine of the opening day of the 1988/89 season; 5 – 1 it ended. Four against Austria Memphis in the ‘bruised banana’ at Highbury; a brace at Derby the week after Liverpool hit seven – two identical goals; a hat-trick against United as we celebrated the almost-invincible title; at the City Ground, the only goal in Brian Clough’s last time he managed a Forest team against Arsenal at home; a brace at Selhurst Park in the League Cup semi-final; Parma.
Parma. Smith describes it in the book:
“But then a goal came out of nothing in the twentieth minute. Showing for Lee Dixon’s throw-in, the regular drill, I laid the ball back before spinning into space. Lee then tried to find Merse with a swinging left leg, but his attempt fell short and found Lorenzo Minotti instead.
“At this point, any hint of danger should have disappeared. As Parma’s captain, Minotti was a topclass defender, fast and versatile, not one known for making silly mistakes. For some reason, however, he made the wrong choice that night by going for a risky overhead kick that – would you believe it? – headed straight my way.
“There was only one thing for it. Taking the ball on my chest, I had to act fast. With opponents quickly converging, I dared not wait until the bouncing ball dropped to a perfect height, so took it early, jumping to catch it cleanly with my left instep.
“For a second, Bucci’s desperate dive masked my view of the outcome. But when the keeper crashed to the ground I could see the ball had rebounded off the inside of the right-hand post and was happily rolling along in the back of the net.”
Smudger goes onto describe the release of emotions, of the release from the dark days which threatened to engulf his career, that the goal triggered. He says, “In short, it meant a great deal.”
Which is typical of the man; understated on the pitch with just one booking to his name, I think. Was it for time-wasting? Something relatively trivial, I’m sure.
Smudger tells an interesting tale which lays bare football at the time and Arsenal Football Club. And is well worth the read. Anybody who reads his columns across the footballing media will know he is an erudite man whose tale from the bottom to the top of the game is a path rarely followed.
You can buy Heads Up: My Story by Alan Smith here or take your chance to win one of the five signed copies provided by the publishers below!
Win A Signed Copy of Heads Up: My Story by Alan Smith
Alan Smith’s Arsenal career featured 115 goals, but against whom did he score his final goal in a competitive match:
c) Manchester City
Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org with Alan Smith in the subject line, along with your name and address for your chance to win.