Midfield thoughts + Nigel Winterburn on Arsecast 217

Morning all,

with the job well and truly done in Europe the attention can now turn back to the Premier League and tomorrow’s game against Fulham. The early team news is that we don’t appear to have lost anyone after the game against Dortmund. Koscielny’s withdrawal was due to ‘fatigue’ and beyond the short and long-termers there’s nothing new to report on that front, which is good to hear.

We’ll wait and see until after today’s press conference though, just to be sure. A knock in training might prevent someone from taking part but fingers crossed there’s no bad news. I do wonder if the manager will be tempted to rotate a little bit all the same. Perhaps Benayoun might get a start in place of the misfiring Gervinho. Maybe Arshavin, an unused sub in our last two games, could be given a chance (whether he’s inclined to take it or not remains to be seen).

The return of Diaby to the squad provides another midfield option and, I suspect, a welcome one for the manager. The trio of Song, Arteta and Ramsey have done fantastically well and formed a very effective unit but being able to switch one or two around from time to time is no bad thing either. Whether Diaby can make an impact is another question. His big issue has always been fitness and in recent seasons doesn’t seem to have been able to get any kind of a run of games under his belt.

He’s clearly a player the manager likes a lot and seems more willing to give chances to than he might to others. I wonder if there’s some kind of determination on Arsene’s part not to see a player with so much talent and potential have his career ruined by injuries which all stem from that Dan Smith tackle back in 2006. I get the feeling that if the surgery this summer wasn’t quite last resort, it was something pretty close to it, and I guess it’s now in the hands of the fitness staff, and fate, to see if he can stay fit enough to reach the level he needs to reach to play for Arsenal.

And as is often the way in football the time he’s spent out has allowed others to stake their claim through their performances and reliability. Being available week in, week out makes a huge difference. Maybe Arsene might look at Robin van Persie as a player whose early career was blighted with injury but when fit showed what he was capable of. I think the difference between Diaby and van Persie is that the Dutchman seemed to pick up a series of unrelated, unfortunate injuries whereas Diaby’s shattered ankle has caused 90% of the problems he’s suffered.

Now Diaby has to contend with Aaron Ramsey, who is playing the more forward role in midfield that Arsene likes to use Diaby in, Alex Song as the midfield anchor, while Mikel Arteta operates between them both, the fulcrum who keeps things moving and links the play very intelligently. Arsene says of him:

Mikel is an extremely important player in our team because he has both sides that make a team good. He is consistent going forward, technically fantastic and he works very hard for the team. He is an organiser too and does the job defensively in vital parts. We look solid at the moment and he has to take a big part of the credit because he does both jobs offensively and defensively – with quality.

I’ve spoken about him before, I know, but I’ve been really impressed with Arteta’s influence on the team and the consistency of his performances. He’s not flashy, he’s had to curb a more natural instinct to get forward – something he did at Everton because he was probably the most creative player in that team – and he has added such calmness and composure to the midfield as well as positional intelligence.

There was one moment in the second half against Dortmund when it looked initially as if Song had been left to mark two players as they came into our half. As it happened Song won the ball back but Arteta had dropped back, in front of the back four to cover and provide a defensive option had they managed to work the ball back inside. And it’s things like that which go unnoticed but which have played a big part in our increased defensive solidity. A canny signing and one I wish Arsene had made two seasons ago. Better late than never though.

In other news Alex Song wants to keep the momentum going:

Today we are happy because we want to show everyone is wrong about us and today we did very well and we are happy. We don’t want to stay in the same situation now and just say everything is working and we’ll just keep on like this. We want to push ourselves to try to look forward.

I think there’s still a way to go to prove everyone wrong but you have to say the response has been first class since that defeat at Ewood Park. Compare and contrast the results, they stack up with any other team in the league. While Wojciech Szczesny says while the form is good the players are taking nothing for granted:

For us every game is massive now. We’ve needed to get some points to catch up with the teams at the top of the table. The Fulham game is massive for us and I’m sure we’ll be up for it.

As I said yesterday once the focus and hard work remain in place then things will continue as they have been (although it would be wise to expect the odd blip). We do know that Arsene’s teams have, in recent seasons, had a tendency to lack that focus, to get ahead of themselves and ease off when there’s still work to do but I think, and hope, with the experience we’ve added and the traumatic start to the season still fresh in the memory that it won’t happen this time.

Right, that’s that for the news, time for this week’s Arsecast, and joining me to talk about Arsenal, the Champions League, left backs and more, a man who knows a thing or two about all of them – it’s only Nigel Winterburn. As well as that Internet Joe and Arshavin do their thing, not to mention your chance to win a scarf from Savile Rogue.

You can subscribe to the Arsecast on iTunes by clicking here. Or if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (this is a much better way to do it as you don’t experience the delays from iTunes). To download this week’s Arsecast directly – click here (20mb MP3) or you can listen directly below without leaving this very page.

[audio:http://podcast.arseblog.com/arsecast/arsecast_episode217.mp3]

I should point out that Nigel Winterburn is taking part in the Nivea Great Football Experiment (which isn’t about making footballers’ skin softer). There’s a game between some professionally trained Sunday League players and ex-pros like Nigel taking place this Sunday at Dagenham and Redbridge, kick off 2pm and it’s free, so why not pop along?

Also, if you want to purchase any Savile Rogue scarf, using the code ARSEBLOG11 at checkout gets you £5 off.

Right, Arsene’s presser is later, updates and what have you, throughout the day on Arseblog News. Back tomorrow here with a full preview of the Fulham game.

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