Greetings again fellow Gooners. You find me bleary eyed from jetlag and more mosquito bite than man. This month I looked the Interlull square in the eyes and aimed a meaty kick in its bread basket, escaping its lurid, neon claws for a sunshine break in Brazil. Well, I didn’t entirely escape the Interlull of course. This is Brazil we’re talking about. In fact, the signs were clear from the start that the pull of the beautiful game would stalk me to this beautiful corner of South America.
On my very first evening there, as my missus and I awaited a connecting domestic flight at Belo Horizonte airport, the entire Atletico Mineiro team turned up at our terminal, the likes of Ronaldinho and ex Manchester City and Everton striker Jo all in tow to mark my arrival. It was a sign. It was a sign that said, “Coming to Brazil and expecting a break from football is like going cold turkey at one of Pete Doherty’s house parties.”
My break did cause me to reflect on my perceptions of international football. At the moment, Brazil are only playing friendlies because they have automatically qualified for the World Cup in 2014 as hosts. Whilst I was there they locked horns with the heavyweights of Iraq and Japan. Yet the whole country still goes into lockdown when the international side play. (I was unceremoniously dragged from my bed at 8.45am on Tuesday to watch the Japan game). On top of this, the Brasileirao programme continues during internationals, so they get a full programme of domestic football too.
This is traditionally because so few players from the Brazilian side play in their domestic league, though this is changing. Neymar for example, played 88 minutes against Japan in Poland on Tuesday morning and then played 90 minutes for Santos in the state that I was staying in on Wednesday evening. The attitude of Brazilians towards the seleção made me reconsider my own indifference to international football. Over there, club rivalries are ushered to one side for the purpose.
You might say that this is because most Brazilian players make their name in Europe and to an extent this is true. This applies to other countries too. The Ivory Coast has provided a hotbed of talent in the last ten years that has never featured in their domestic league, so Ivorian fans deserve the right to see these players in the flesh. Yet even players such as Pele and Jairzinho, who played most of their careers at home, are not at all renowned for their club exploits. (Think about it, can you name the clubs Jairzinho played for?)
Despite being a Santos player of 200 appearances, it means Neymar can become a national hero in the way that Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere won’t be able to because of the tribal nature of club allegiance. It’s a cultural nuance that governs this, for sure. But I guess what I’m saying is that my hostility towards international football has been hitherto parochial and a touch ignorant. (I have previously said I think that the idea of international competition is outdated in today’s global society). The scheduling of internationals is a thorn in the aris, but my outright hostility towards it is cooled. I’m not going to become a chest beating patron of St. George for England games any time soon, but it’s a big, wide world out there.
Away from my flip flop clad journey to enlightenment in Brazil, (a hint, you can find temporary enlightenment very easy to come by after a Cachaça or two) and back to matters of a more Islington bent. Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere have stepped up their quest for fitness. I think the return of both sets the manager some tasty dilemmas (dilemmi? Dilemmoli?). Following his broken leg last October, Sagna was hastily reintroduced to the first team with no lengthy rehabilitation programme nor an appearance at Underhill.
Of course Arsenal were in the grip of the great full back famine at the time, but his very gradual reintroduction this time around is testament to the form of Carl Jenkinson. Does Banger go straight back into the team or is Jenkinson’s progression rewarded? It’s a trickier conundrum than it looks. Most of the time, I’m in favour of sticking with the man in form until such time that he errs significantly. But, as covered on today’s Arsecast, there are many aspects to consider. Which player suits the team’s shape better? Who has the better partnerships in the team? The answer isn’t always necessarily “the player that is in a purple patch.”
However, the good form and progression Jenkinson has shown risks being arrested and his confidence knocked if he is immediately displaced. (I call this, “The Manninger effect”). It’s not just about the two players in question either, Jenkinson and Sagna. It’s about the message transmitted to the rest of the squad. If Jenkinson keeps his spot, it tells the other players that nobody’s place is safe. I’m currently reading Arsenal Ladies striker Kelly Smith’s autobiography. In Euro 2009, Rachel Yankey was surprisingly dropped from the England squad.
Kelly says this initially came as an unpleasant shock to the other players and generated a lot of discussion internally as the England team had a very settled look to it. England got to the final of that tournament, their best ever finals performance. In hindsight, Smith said that the omission of Yankey had lit a fire under some arses because it generated a positive fear. If some of our team look across and see a hangdog looking Bacary twiddling his thumbs on the bench, it could produce the same effect. At least in theory, anyway.
Likewise, the very pleasing regenesis of Wilshere gives the manager questions to keep him tossing and turning at night. On paper, a midfield of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla looks mouth watering. In this era of Spain / Barcelona totality where possession is king, these three might as well turn up with their own ball. But it does rather pose the riddle as to whether that leaves our team looking a little short. I mean that not as a Wengerism (“Diaby has a thigh / calf/ eyelash strain and is a little bit short”) but in terms of inches.
I wouldn’t really fancy any of those three in an aerial challenge and that would leave us potentially vulnerable at set pieces. As it is, this is acknowledged by the fact that Arteta typically takes one of the posts and Cazorla sits on the edge of the area when defending corners. I guess that’s one of the reasons Diaby is a cause celebre for Wenger, because he’s the only midfielder of a tall, powerful build that we have. You’ll recall that this physical riddle was one of the manager’s biggest problems in bleeding Cesc Fabregas into the Arsenal side when Patrick Vieira was first sold.
In a way, that probably opens the way for Olivier Giroud to become a more prominent feature of Arsenal’s starting line up. Though strikers will always be judged on goals to a large degree, Giroud potentially brings a lot more to the table for this Arsenal side. Till next week. LD.
Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA