Morning all, we head towards a Premier League showdown with Man Utd on Sunday, looking to put the Barcelona game behind us and get down to business again.
The loss on Tuesday brings into sharp focus just how important the league is to our season. There was no other option but to give it everything in the Champions League, approaching a game against Barcelona with any other attitude would result in much worse than we got, and no manager can tell players like this to take it easy in Europe because the domestic league is more important.
What he can tell them is just how much we need three points on Sunday, and although we won there in the cup last season, the last victory in the Premier League came in 2006 when Emmanuel Adebayor scored late to give us the three points. Since then it’s 8 games, 6 losses (including one absolute spanking), and 2 draws.
Early team news suggests that Gabriel could be back in the squad, although whether he’s back in contention for a first team place remains to be seen. If he’s fit enough, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him start. Meanwhile, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s career looks as if it’s going to take another injury hit absence as he was due a scan yesterday, with fears of knee ligament damage after his clash with Javier Mascherano.
What’s very clear is that Arsene Wenger obviously has huge belief in his talent and potential. He returned him to the first team in recent weeks ahead of Joel Campbell, and while the Costa Rican is yet to prove himself as anything more than a pretty decent squad player, in terms of performances and overall contribution he’d done a lot more than the Ox this season.
Yet a start for him against Barcelona was a clear show of faith from the manager. I think he did what he had to do defensively pretty well, but in terms of making a contribution in the final third, it just didn’t happen … and it doesn’t happen more often than not. The missed chance is one thing, but the fact he ended up with an injury due to his own clumsiness on the ball is another.
His willingness to not give up on a heavy touch was the reason he clattered into the Argentine, but the consequence of that is another injury, and I suspect it might be one that leaves him sidelined for quite a while. If that is the case, it’ll just be the latest absence for a player who has been given chance after chance to establish himself, but simply hasn’t been able to do so.
Injuries have played a major part in that, and unfortunately they can shape a player’s career. The talent and the raw ingredients are all there for Oxlade-Chamberlain, but he just can’t channel them effectively and consistently when he’s on the pitch. He feels like a player to whom things happen, rather than one who makes things happen.
Even when he does, there’s usually something that backfires. His brilliant goal in the Champions League against Monaco last season gave us brief hope when the scores were 2-1 in injury time. Seconds later he’d lost the ball on halfway and they came forward to make it 3-1 and to ultimately put the tie out of our reach.
I really thought that this was the season when he was going to take a genuine step forward; instead he’s gone backwards and it’s a real shame to see it. There’s still time on his side to a certain extent, but there comes a point where you have to decide if a player is ever going to take the opportunities handed to him, and if the role you envisage for him in your team couldn’t be better fulfilled by somebody else. I think we’re nearing that point now with him. Hopefully the news on his injury isn’t as bad as feared, we’ll possibly get more on that from the manager at his press conference this morning.
Before we get to the podcast, the FA have finally decided on a date for the FA Cup replay with Hull. The game will take place on Tuesday March 8th, with a 7pm kick-off. Some of the reason is explained in this piece, but basically because there’s Champions League football that night, UEFA had to be consulted.
It’s an unconventional kick off time, and with the 6th round due to take place on the Saturday (if we get through, if not there’s a Premier League game against West Brom), it leaves fans looking on not quite knowing what’s going to happen.
Right then, time now for this week’s Arsecast and I’m joined by Iain Macintosh of The Set Pieces to briefly discuss the midweek game against Barcelona. Moving on swiftly we chat about gamesmanship, Danny Welbeck, the upcoming game against Man Utd on Sunday, FA Cup replays and more. There’s also a tribute to Robert Pires, who retired yesterday, some finance, vintage news, and all the usual waffle.
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We’ll have all the press conference news and stories over on Arseblog News. Check out Tim Stillman’s column on Aaron Ramsey, and because of his retirement yesterday, this tribute to Robert Pires – including a video with all 84 of his Arsenal goals – is an absolute must.
That’s your lot, back tomorrow for some weekend stuff. Until then, have a good Friday.