I wouldn’t say that I have spent the last few weeks soul searching, but it is fair to say that I have been in a more reflective mood of late.
This frame of mind, shaped by a sense of loss both global and local, has left me looking at large sections of the Arsenal fanbase and filled with incomprehension by what I have seen.
I don’t say that to criticise anyone. Really, I don’t. I just see a football team who have been riven by injuries and are suffering for it. The response from Arsenal fans, who saw their team begin November joint top of the Premier League but fall a whole two points off the summit at the start of December has been bewildering.
The way some of you have been carrying on over the last couple of weeks, you would think Arsenal were 14th, not 4th.
We know that West Brom and Norwich away should have been winnable games, of course we do. However, as Arsène Wenger himself pointed out, a team at only 80% of their capacity will not get very far in a Premier League match these days. I know I’m bending his words slightly, but I think they still apply here and Arsenal can not be said to be 80% of their capacity at present.
For all that, it has to be said that West Brom somehow managed to beat us 2-1 despite only having one shot on target. For our part, we had one of those days up front where nothing went quite right for us, despite scoring the opening goal.
Eight days later, at Norwich, a bright first half is forgotten as Norwich equalise totally against the run of play. They do so, just moments after they should have been down to ten men – yes, I’m talking about Alexis being, quite deliberately, dumped into the Sarlac Pit.
It’s easy to sit here and say, yeah, well, we should have had the resources to go on and win that game anyway. For me, that ignores the equally easy comeback, which is that we clearly don’t have the resources. Not at the moment.
It ignores the fact that the majority of the team that started Sunday’s game have played three games in just over a week. Some of these guys have had barely a breather all season. It ignores the conditions in Norwich, which would have made life difficult for anyone (I know, same for everyone but probably harder when you’ve played in midweek). It also ignores a referee who seemed intent on ignoring every single Norwich indiscretion. I’m not saying Norwich were Stoke City reborn, but…
I think you’d go a long way to find a Premier League squad capable of coping with the injuries plaguing us at the moment. Just to refresh your memory that’s Koscielny, Coquelin, Cazorla, Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky, Walcott, Welbeck and Alexis. We’ve just welcomed back Aaron Ramsey and the Ox. Is it really reasonable to expect Arsenal to carry on in the manner that saw us smash Manchester United to pieces in October?
I don’t think so.
I guess it might be a little easier to pin the blame on Arsène Wenger for not having a big enough squad to cope with the injuries. It might be, but we’re still managing to get 18 players into a squad every matchday so clearly it’s less a numbers issue and one of quality. Can we then argue that we should have 25 players of absolute quality in the first team squad?
That’s not so unreasonable, I think. However, it does rather ignore the fact that if you have that squad, you will – in all likelihood – have a massive wage bill. More than that, you’ll be paying top $ for players to sit on the bench week in, week out. How do you keep those guys happy?*
There’s another side effect to the massive squad. I think we’ve already seen evidence of it this season. Early sightings of Gabriel Paulista last season confirmed that we had procured excellent back up to the favoured Koscielny/Mertesacker partnership.
This season, he’s barely had a look in and when he has played, we get the Chelsea meltdown, the misjudgement in Munich and the mistake made at Norwich which cost us three points.This has led to comments questioning his quality. As if this is some pub player we’ve brought in. We’ve already seen how good he can be but, like every other professional footballer out there, he needs to play regularly.
So, what do you do?
I don’t have the answer, so I’ll move on. It’s interesting to see Arsène Wenger copping it in the ear from so many armchair managers and physiotherapists on our injury record. The Alexis situation is certainly regrettable, but I don’t think too many of you out there would have rested the Chilean once he said he was okay to play. I can understand anyone who had problems with him playing the 90 minutes in midweek, or in Munich, but ultimately, the man in charge knows more about his players than all of us and made a judgement call. It backfired, it could just as easily not have. On the other hand, the injuries to Cazorla (noooooo, poor Santi!) and Koscielny just seemed unlucky. Incidentally, if you’re one of those pleased that the little Spaniard is injured, kill yourself. You are incapable of experiencing joy and life, surely, has no meaning for you.
Bearing in mind, the fact we have some many attacking players at the club, it’s ironic to me that we have been forced to rely so heavily on Alexis. Unfortunately, most of our wide options have ended up out at the same time. Just as unfortunately, Alexis’ national side place just as much importance on him as we do. A regrettable side effect of the man’s brilliance.
It’s a real gutter that we’ve just entered a 4 month period free of internationals, isn’t it?
*For the record, I know we should definitely have secured a top quality alternative to Coquelin this summer. You don’t need to tell me, I was down at the front shouting for it.