Sunday, December 10, 2023

Starting on Saturday

After everything, the transfer deadline day, the ups and downs of that, the Interlull and more, it seems like ages since that game at Old Trafford.

I get the feeling that even though we qualified for the Champions League August 2011 is not a month that many Arsenal fans will care to look back on, and if they do, it won’t be with a great deal of fondness. November is our traditional month of despair (although April and May seem to have been added to that in recent seasons) so maybe we’re having November in August.

If there is a sense that season starts now, and that what came before is best left unspoken, there’s a real onus on the manager and the team to build some momentum and keep it going. I haven’t looked once at the league table, until now, and it’s not a pleasant sight. Eight points behind the leaders after three games, languishing in 17th, with only relegation fodder beneath us.

Of course, there are 35 games to go, 105 points to play for, but how we react to August – indeed, if we can react to August – will be absolutely vital. We come out of the Interlull with what should be a relatively straightforward game against newly promoted Swansea. However, I would hope that management and coaching staff will be reminding players this week of games against West Brom and Hull, teams that made the jump up in the not too distant past, came to the Grove and went home with three points after lacklustre Arsenal performances.

What we do have going into this second start to the season is the boost of new players, fresh faces in the squad, more depth than we had, more quality. New players bring a new dynamic to the team, shake up the old routines, smash others out of their comfort zones, and what’s really interesting about our new arrivals is that they’ll couple of the enthusiasm of being at a new club with genuine experience.

You can bring a youngster into a team and they’ll perform well but eventually their inexperience will be a factor. None of our new players should have that problem. Two 26 year olds, a 28 year old, a 29 year old and a 31 year old.  There might well be an adaptation period for those coming from outside of the Premier League but, frankly, I think that’s something which is overplayed. It might be a bit quicker, it might be a bit more physical, but ultimately it’s just a game of football, same as they’ve been playing week in, week out, wherever they’ve come from.

And it’s quite possible most of them will be involved on Saturday. Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky missed their midweek international fixtures with injuries, opening the door for Arteta and Benayoun; Santos could start at left back depending on the fitness of Kieran Gibbs; while Vermaelen’s surgery surely means a start for Per Mertesacker. Swansea, on paper, may not exactly be a baptism of fire, but rarely have the stakes been as high for a game against such callow opposition at this stage of the season.

New boy Mikel Arteta says of the new arrivals:

I think we’ve got some experience there from all of them. We have strength in nearly every position in the team which I think is important because we’re going to be playing in four competitions. Hopefully they can all add something different to the team and get the team performing better.

And better is the starting point. Performing well is where we need to be but for now better will do. You could argue that after Old Trafford pretty much anything is better but there’s no doubt that a win on Saturday, coupled with the augmentation of the squad, would certainly give us reasons to be cheerful. Or if not cheerful, less miserable. There’s a long way to go this season and it’ll be the next few months, not just Saturday, which will show us how long that long is going to feel. If you get me.

It will be interesting to hear from Arsene this Friday at his pre-game press conference. We haven’t heard a peep from anyone at management level since the Old Trafford game and given everything that happened since then his take on things will be fascinating. We know he didn’t spend deadline day at the club, manning the phones and being part of the action. He was in Geneva at some coaches convention. Maybe like the sensible fans he fucked off for the day, ignored everything and kept his fingers crossed that when he turned on Sky Sports News at 11.01pm there was good news.

Does that represent a shift in power, with executive decisions being made to strengthen the squad, or did Arsene hand them a list and say ‘get me what you can’? I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that he had no say whatsoever in who we bought, but the fact that he only spoke to Benayoun after the deal was done, for example, suggests that something has changed. We know how involved he’s been in the past, from talking to players, their families and everything else, and while I don’t expect him to go into the details of deadline day, it’s certainly an interesting angle if anyone can get him to open up about it a bit.

The manager has the backing of the Chairman, which is no surprise at all, and I’d like to believe that the profiles of the new signings are because Arsene realised that the balance of his squad was not right. Heavy on youth, light on the been there, done that factor. I’d like to believe that he’s addressed that via the transfer market, regardless of what motivated the deals, and I’d like to think that a manager as intelligent and experienced as Arsene Wenger can mould this group of players into a team that can do the shirt proud. Let’s see what happens.

The players will trickle back from their international travels today, hopefully there won’t be much in the way of bad news on the injury front, and now we’ve got to get focused on the Arsenal again. There are some painful memories that can only be wiped away with goals and league points.

Starting on Saturday.

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