Happy new year everyone.
It seems to me that Arsenal are destined, this season, to be taking two steps forward and one step back until May. Some of you may feel that it’s actually more like one step forward, two steps back but I’m not so sure that this is the case (although I would totally understand such a view of this season). I think the last time we spoke, Arsenal had just recorded two pretty convincing wins against Newcastle and Galatasary. They then went onto stink Anfield out, somehow get within three minutes of winning the match, only to be pegged back by a ridiculously late equaliser. Continuing this pattern, Christmas week saw two (less than convincing) wins against an awful QPR side and West Ham. And then Southampton happened.
And it’s here I want to start, really. Wojciech Szczesny, it’s fair to say, did not cover himself in glory on either of Southampton’s goals. Whether it was a madcap dash- Almunia styleee- out of his goal for the first one, or the inexplicable pass straight to Tadic for the second, it’s fair to say he had a nightmare. Immediately after the game, rumours began to surface of a huge dressing room bust up post match. These rumours then morphed into a story about how Szczesny was caught Szczmoking (I reckon Jim Carrey could have a catchphrase there) not just in the dressing room, but in the showers. Which doesn’t seem the smartest place to spark up, but there you go.
The reaction to this in many, but not all, quarters has been to vilify the young Pole. And, yes, I will call him young. He’s 24, it doesn’t matter that he’s been our number one for the last 4 years, he is still, basically, a young man. When I turned 24, I celebrated by projectile vomiting a strawberry milkshake all over my white jeans and then attempting to get into a nightclub. I’ll let you decide which was worse, the vomit, the jeans or the nightclub attempt. And whether you can, in fact, projectile vomit a liquid substance. The point here is, everyone reading this has a story to tell about being stupid. The fact that Szczesny is a footballer doesn’t exempt him from these pitfalls, some might say it makes them more likely. Nor is he alone amongst his peers, just ask Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud. It seems, to me, that people don’t like his persona and this incident or, if you prefer, these incidents have become an excuse to berate him. And in the process, forget about the 17 clean sheets in the league last season- a divisional high, or even- more recently- the games at West Ham and Liverpool where he was dominant enough to help his side take 4 points from two tricky away games.
I thought the Arseblogger made a very good point on this week’s Arsecast Extra, do you want a goalkeeper who is cocky- or to use another phrase- self confident, or do you want someone like Manuel Almunia? I know who I’d prefer. Of course, the alternative is no longer Almunia, but Colombia’s David Ospina. And the clamour for him over the last week has grown. He may turn out to be a very good goalkeeper, but I have seen people calling him a better goalkeeper than Szczesny. Based on three games for the club (it is three, I think). To these people I say: get a grip. The only advantage Ospina currently has over Roger Chesney is that he hasn’t had enough time to do anything wrong… yet.
I mean, nobody is calling Francis Coquelin the answer to our defensive midfield conundrum are they? Why not? He hasn’t just played three games for us this season, he’s had three in a row and been very impressive by all accounts. Actually, this is something that doesn’t surprise me. I was actually taken to task earlier this season for suggesting that the young Frenchman might be worth a run in the side. And look, he may not turn out to be the long term answer, but it’s pretty clear to me and a manager who called him “the positive” of the Christmas period that he does have something to offer this team. Particularly if he can cut out the ridiculous tackles seemingly launched from other side of north London. I’m not sure, particularly with der Mesut and Ramsey on the way back and with Santi Cazorla in excellent, player of the month (have that, all you naysayers), form, where Coquelin will fit in. However, it is obvious to all that Matty Flamini doesn’t quite cut it anymore and that Mikel Arteta for all his excellence, both tactically and in possession, is probably on his last legs. There should definitely be a role in this squad for a player who doesn’t mind getting stuck in and is actually pretty decent on the ball. Even in the unlikely event that we sign the big bad Vieira replacement some (most) of us have spent nearly a decade pining for.
Roght, I think that’s me. Before I go though, please spare a thought for my two buddies, Gabs and Jimmy. They are long suffering Brentford fans who saw their team lose to Brighton in the 3rd round of the FA Cup on Saturday. Gabs, in particular, seems to have been itching for Brentford to get a crack at Arsenal for what seems like the last twenty years so the 4th round draw was a cause of some upset for them both. Never mind lads, the way you guys are going, it could very easily happen next season!