Last week, after the disappointing game against Manchester United, there wasn’t too much time to dwell on what happened at Old Trafford.
A Tuesday evening game in the Champions League against Schalke meant the focus switched very quickly, and similarly we had Fulham to look forward to at the weekend in the wake of that particular game. Now, with a series of nonsensical international friendlies to contend with, it means Fulham is going to be replayed and debated all week long, ahead of a game on Saturday which takes on an extra edge.
Of course there’s always something special about the North London derby – who can forget how the game at home last season turned our campaign around and broke Sp*rs? Brilliant stuff. But with both sides going into it on the back of disappointing results, and with Arsenal needing a similar boost again, it’s going to be one which is fairly intense, I’d imagine.
It’s quite amusing this morning to look around the various newspapers and read story after story about who Arsenal are going to sign in January. Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace, Edin Dzeko from Man City, Michel Vorm from Swansea, Fernando Llorente, Adrian Lopez, Pepe Reina blah blah fucking blah blah. Whether it’s speculative stuff from the papers or some PR/spin via some ‘friendly’ journos to try and lighten the mood I just don’t know but, frankly, January is the least of our problems right now and these stories are stupid.
That’s not to say we don’t need to spend in January. Clearly we do. Arsene Wenger complains of lack of options and his players going away;
We have no time to train, because the players go away, and when you play every three days you cannot practise too much. At the moment we cannot rotate too much, so it’s not ideal. I would prefer that the team stays here, and prepares our next game.
The main reason we can’t rotate much is that we don’t really have the players to rotate with. So, there’d be no complaints from me if we went out and bought in January. I’d be inclined to ask why we couldn’t have bought those players in the summer, you know, like normal people, but hey, beggars, choosers and all that. But right now, on November 12th, it’s a smokescreen.
We have 12 fixtures in all competitions before the end of 2012, then another 4 inside the first two weeks of January, so, making the assumption that whatever signings we make aren’t likely to happen the very second the window opens, we’re looking at 16 games before we can realistically add to the squad. My advice? Don’t worry about January and who we might buy in the last seconds before the window closes, worry about the group of players we have now because they’re the ones tasked with winning those 16 games.
The issue isn’t who Arsene Wenger is going to buy, it’s how he gets more out of the players he has at his disposal right now. It won’t be easy, there’s a lack of confidence, a mental fragility that manifests itself in goals conceded and costly individual errors, and a lack of cohesion between the various individual units on the pitch. Plus a manager who is struggling, no doubt about it. So what does he do? Keep faith with players who he obviously has trust and faith in but who fail to deliver, or try something different, something brave? My suggestions:
1 – Bring back Wojciech Szczesny now: The Vito Mannone situation seems uniquely Arsenal. A player who would have been allowed leave on a free because the manager knows he’s not quite good enough has played the majority of our games this season. He’s done his best and you can’t really ask any more than that of a player who doesn’t pick himself for the team.
But you read about Julio Cesar turning us down (obviously because QPR offered more money) and one injury to our number 1 means we’re in stop-gap territory. I think there’s real potential in Szczesny, certainly more than in any other young keeper we’ve had for a long time, but after a disappointing Euros and an untimely injury, it’s time for him to knuckle down, get serious, concentrate on his football and show he’s got what it takes. Some of his personality traits might grate, but if he can back that up with performances we’ll be more solid at the back. I don’t think it’s unrelated that our defensive jitters come when playing with a keeper who doesn’t instill any real trust in his back four.
2 – Keep faith with Giroud/Podolski/Cazorla: After early promise from the Spaniard and the German, they’ve faded somewhat, and the Frenchman, written off after his first few games, has shown why Arsene Wenger paid £12.5m for him. He’s thriving from decent service, enjoying playing with Walcott (not for long, eh?!), and looks to be settled in properly now.
Podolski and Cazorla are experienced players with enough quality to contribute more and maybe they’re finding the going a bit tough from a physical point of view, but I think we need to remember they’ve only been playing together a few months and all of them have long contracts with Arsenal. It can take time to build relationships and understanding on the pitch, we probably need to persevere a bit here.
3 – Shake it up a bit in terms of squad selection: When times are tough it’s difficult to be brave. Most managers will err on the side of caution, choosing experience over youth but when experience doesn’t produce maybe it’s time to look at other options. Injuries have meant that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been underused this season – now that he’s back he needs to be more involved. There’s a reason Andrei Arshavin has been on the sidelines but in his various cameos this season he’s nearly always looked likely to produce something. If he’s not a starter, maybe give him more than a couple of minutes at the end when injury forces the manager’s hand.
The boss might also look at somebody like Thomas Eisfeld. The young German is beginning to, if he hasn’t already, outgrow U21 football. He’s lively, he scores goals and he’s got a touch of the Freddie Ljungberg to him in terms of his movement and timing in and around the box. I’m not advocating him as a starter but maybe as an alternative from the bench he’s somebody who could offer something a little bit different to the team.
4 – Demand better and remind these players who they’re playing for: Of course no player makes a mistake on purpose and form fluctuates, but too many of the goals we concede are just downright stupid. The kind of goals you wouldn’t want your Sunday League team to let in, never mind a Premier League club. As I said yesterday, it’s basics, get those right, and it’ll make the rest a little bit easier.
100% concentration and focus, giving that extra bit when your legs are heavy and doing the simple things right will help improve things. There are standards at this club that have been set by this manager and his teams down the years. Maybe we did take the good times for granted a bit but Arsene has set the bar, and while I think there’s an understanding that this current team is incomparable to the best ones he had, that doesn’t excuse some of the lapses and performances we’ve seen.
12 games before the end of 2012, minimum 16 before we can realistically add to the squad (not forgetting new players taking time to settle and so on), so the most important work we have to do is not in the transfer market, it’s on the training ground and on the pitch come match-day.