Double defender doom + ticket price ire

Midweek Arse to you all and it seems funny not to have a game. As far as I can make out the only time we’ve had seven days between games since the end of December was the week after the 4-4 against Newcastle when we played Wolves at home. Progress in various competitions, a number of times via replay, meant the schedule has been as hectic as it possibly could have been.

I suspect this is a week in which batteries will be recharged, injuries massaged and the manager will try to get the players heads in order for what lies ahead. Regardless of everything else there’s still the Onetuple to play for and we’ve got to lift ourselves up and go for that.

It does appear we’re going to have to do it without any contribution from arguably our two best defenders. The Swiss FA have been rather premature regarding Johan Djourou and the club expect him to miss the rest of the season with the shoulder injury. It’s a big loss, his stats are quite incredible. We lose fewer games when he plays – we haven’t lost in the league with him in the team since 2008 – and we concede fewer goals when he’s in the team as well. It’s typical of the luck our players have with injury that he’s been ruled out after making such an impact this season. We’re still awaiting official confirmation, beyond Arsene’s early diagnosis the other night, so maybe there’s a chance but I think we’re better off steeling ourselves for the worst.

In the meantime Thomas Vermaelen has revealed the extent of his travails this season, saying:

I relapsed six times. Every time I had a goal to come back, but that was then broken again and again. At first they said I would need four or six weeks after the operation. But it soon became apparent that it would last longer.

I feel no trouble in the Achilles tendon itself, but the muscles around it still need to be made stronger. I do not know when I will be back

Maybe it’s just me but it seems like only an Arsenal player could go away, pick up a seemingly innocuous achilles injury, be ruled out for 10 days, and six months later still be on the sidelines. The relapse thing must be incredibly frustrating for him though. A number of times I’ve been told he was close to a comeback only have that news dashed by yet another setback.

Not only has he been missed as a defender but as a character, as someone who shouts and organises, who has that drive and unwillingness to lose that the team appears to have missed on a number of occasions this season. He’s been a loss and will continue to be so. It would be a massive surprise if he were to feature between now and the end of the season, again assuming the worst is probably for the best.

Where that leaves us is with Squiscielny, who have been shaky at times, no doubt about it. While I understand the concern about their partnership I don’t necessarily understand the opprobrium. We’re having to play our 3rd and 4th choice defenders, I think any club would struggle if they had to do that for a sustained period of time. We’ve got to hope they can be more solid in these final ten games but it’s not just down to them either.

If we acknowledge that it’s a bit of a weakness then there’s an onus on the rest of the team to work harder to ensure that weakness doesn’t get exploited. Closing down better higher up the pitch, less standing off, less standing around hands on hips, stopping the supply of crosses etc, will all be crucial as we try to maintain as much defensive stability as possible. Yes, as a pair they need to do better but it’s a team game and everyone needs to pull together for the run-in.

Quite what the options are should one of Squiscielny suffer an injury I just don’t know. I’m trying to find out if a recall of Kyle Bartley is possible but it seems unlikely. Beyond that there’s Alex Song who can play at centre-half, sadly to the detriment of our midfield, and then young Spaniard Ignasi Miquel. Not exactly ideal in these circumstances but needs must. Anyway, while we hold out for a hero perhaps the centre-halves can find themselves on the same wavelength and do the business. Here’s hoping.

Martin Keown on Jens Lehmann:

Jens Lehmann is one of the most professional figures in the game and he will immediately become a father figure in that dressing room. The title race is hotting up – Arsenal are three points behind Manchester United with a game in hand – and it’s really positive having someone like him to help get them over the finishing line.

I know people have concerns about his ability to perform at the top level, should he be required, but you really can’t underestimate how important it is to have characters in the dressing room who know what it’s like to win things. I wonder if we’d had even a couple of them for the Carling Cup final if things would have been different. It’s telling that the only guy who has won something – a European Championship and a World Cup, no less – was absent that day. I’m sure that Jens’ influence will be a positive thing and hopefully a bit of a boost to lift spirits at this moment in time.

Rumours of a rise in season ticket prices are causing serious waves among fans. Understandably too. I’m not in any position to pass comment on this except to say that I’m not sure signings alone would help justify a price rise. Where I would have real concern is whether or not we’re getting proper value from some of the players we have at the moment. Many of them have been handed new deals with the club taking a gamble on potential. This is something Ivan Gazidis has admitted in the past.

I understand the thinking behind it but ‘gambling on potential’ could easily be classed as ‘rewarding failure’. If players are being handed pay rises without achieving success of any kind, then what sort of motivation is that? How can we justify handing Carlos Vela a new deal a little over 12 months ago with hardly playing him and then loaning him out to a team battling relegation? Maybe a Vela playing for a new deal might have been better, maybe not, but it it’s a questionable policy. Sure, the club puts a lot of development work into the young players but are we getting as much out of them as we could/should?

Look at how many ‘long-term’ contracts we’ve handed out over the last 12-18 months. Some of them I understand, some of them I question a great deal, and you really have to ask if we’re getting proper value from them. Their deals and wages are designed to ward off suitors, and I understand why, but if you keep rewarding people without them having done anything to achieve that reward then something is wrong with the system. It will have an impact.

To make it work properly, I think we need to be a bit ruthless and send a message, via transfer dealings, that lack of performance will ultimately mean your time at the club is up, not a pay rise. That’s where I think signings have a role to play. Not marquee, superstar signings, but ones that will increase the quality and depth of the squad and keep players on their toes. The difficulty is that we’ve made it very tough to move some players on because of their wages. It’s difficult to get any player to accept a pay cut and that may well be reflected in the fees we receive for any players we do decide to sell.

Timing is everything and after going out of three cup competitions the club will find it extremely tough to justify a 6% rise in prices for the season ahead. Success on the pitch would have helped, so far the team haven’t been able to help out in that regard.

Some bonus reading: Tim Stillman’s latest column – Beware of the Keeper, while Leopold returns on the real ANR by revealing the inner secrets of Arsenal’s armoury.

Finally for today, if you fancy going to Scotland v Brazil at the Grove, if you use the code BRSCT11 at check-out (on the Arsenal website or with Ticketmaster), £5 of the ticket price will go to the AST – who continue to do excellent work on behalf of the fans.

Right, that’s enough for today. Till tomorrow.

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