A week that started with us back in the Premiership top three and looking forward with great anticipation ends with yet another bout of navel gazing. Not immune from that I spent a chunk of last evening watching the new Invincibles documentary. In this of all weeks that was probably a mistake.
I make no apology for admitting to dewy eyes as I watched, and listened to, some of the real characters who went an entire League campaign and compiled that astonishing ‘Lost 0′ record. To hear them talk of the pain of missing out on the Champions League that season only serves to emphasise how far the current incarnation are from that holy grail.
I’m not sure we fully appreciated that eleven years ago we were watching a team that could call upon four of the finest players in the world in Vieira, Pires, Henry, and Bergkamp. Football clubs suffer from organisational multiple personality disorder, and it was impossible last night not to compare today’s squad with their forebears.
How many supreme talents do we field today? One could make a case for Alexis being in the top echelon of current footballers. Mesut Ozil is knocking on the door but appears to lack the mental toughness that Alexis exhibits. That mental toughness was in short supply generally on Wednesday as the side imploded so spectacularly against Monaco.
Those who fell in love with the invincibles are now having the depth of their amour tested. My generation fell in love with a ‘Mr Hyde’ version of Arsenal and have learned to live with the fluctuations in fortune that have followed, fully appreciating the years of feast. Those in their twenties and thirties are discovering that ‘Dr Jekyll’ Arsenal is a fickle mistress.
It isn’t easy to deal with the fragility of today’s Arsenal when one sees the side that turned defeats into draws and draws into wins. Both teams have produced simply breathtaking football, although perhaps a little less this season than previously. Yet just six weeks after what had appeared to be a defining victory at Manchester City the soft underbelly that plagues the latest Arsene Wenger creation has been cruelly exposed.
On Sunday once again a response is required when Everton come to town. To be fair the Gunners have responded to defeats well this season. However, the nature of the capitulation on Wednesday raises questions about our ability to handle teams with defensive organisation and swift counter-attacking capability. Those questions require answers before we face Manchester United and Monaco in eight crucial days.
Everton should provide a good test. They are unlikely to be too adventurous, and will have been encouraged by Monaco’s gameplan. So what does Arsene do differently on Sunday?
“For us what is important is to respond well. We are on a strong run in the Premier League and we have to respond to that disappointment in a strong way on Sunday afternoon, that’s all we can do. We are back in the top three in the Premier League, we have an opportunity to stabilise this position and we want to take it. I have not made any decision yet for Sunday’s game. We will have to rotate a little bit, because we play Sunday and Wednesday. There will certainly be some changes.”
The injury situation is little changed. Jack Wilshere will be missing for ‘days not weeks’ after another procedure was carried out on his ankle. Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini are returning to training but are ‘not completely there’. Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Debuchy are still ‘a few weeks away’.
Basically it is Wednesday’s squad but with a bit of a shake up. The first decision Le Boss has to make is who to play in goal. I feel for David Ospina, criticised in some quarters for his performance on Wednesday, but left exposed by the malfunctioning defensive unit in front of him. Talking of which it would not be a surprise to see a Premier League debut for Gabriel, and a recall for Nacho Monreal, a surprising omission in the week.
Santi Cazorla is not being used in his best position as the box to box man and here is an opportunity to get either Tomas Rosicky or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain involved from the start. If anyone expected to see Olivier Giroud rested after his personal nightmare against Monaco then Arsene has given a strong indication that his main striker will retain his place.
“Olivier’s a strong character. Personally I don’t blame him at all. We lost as a team, we fight for each other as a team and he worked hard for the team even on the night. He didn’t miss the chances on purpose. He wanted to score the goals but that can happen.”
Everton come into the fixture guilty of inconsistency, although they have four away wins to their credit this season, including their last trip to Crystal Palace where they scored the only goal. The visitors are languishing in the bottom half of the table, which must be a frustration after they were among the clubs who pushed Arsenal hard for fourth place last season.
The ‘holic pound
I have to believe we will bounce back on Sunday. As stated above we generally do, so I am on 2-0 to the Gunners again in the hope I was just a match early with the same prediction in the week. Paddy Power offers 7/1 against that outcome.
So which Arsenal will we see on Sunday? Sadly the 2004 vintage isn’t an option, but even in this one season we have witnessed both Jekyll and Hyde versions. I love them both, we can’t change that can we, but obviously would prefer Jekyll to eventually triumph. We may be a little short of steel, but we do still have the ability to produce winning performances. Starting Sunday please.
Have a good one, ‘holics.