the good thing about the festive period is that if you stumble you’ve got a chance to make up for it very quickly. The bad thing is that so much football in such a short period of time means the possibility of stumbling is increased. We now have to wait until Monday to play again, this time in the FA Cup, and it’ll be a game in which we’ll as many players as possible rested. We’ll come to that in the days ahead.
Meanwhile, Wojciech Szczesny’s admission that our performance was ‘childish’ on Monday would normally bear some scrutiny but I think most people can see where he’s coming from, even if that isn’t exactly the word they would use. On top of that, he’s made an admission that is, when you look at it, quite telling about the state of our squad.
He was talking about Thierry Henry and going into the usual thing of how he’s still got great quality as a finisher and what a help he’s being to the younger players at the club. Which is par for the course, really. Then he said:
It’s good to have him there and hopefully everything will be confirmed and done as soon as possible because we need him.
I’m sure he’s not trying be disparaging of any of his team-mates and I think we all recognise that Henry’s return is welcome, from the point of view that if the choice is somebody or nobody then somebody wins. And that’s not to be critical of Thierry Henry in any way. But what Szczesny is saying is that our options are so limited at the moment that we need a 34 year old, even if it is for just 6 weeks or so.
Perhaps he’s referencing the fact that Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho will be going to the African Cup of Nations. Perhaps he’s aware that too much of the goalscoring burden is placed on Robin van Persie. Perhaps he’s suggesting that the reason we have yet to see Park play in the Premier League is because Park isn’t up to playing in the Premier League. Or perhaps he realises that the team, which has done well, needs an injection of something for the second half of the season.
Maybe it’s all of those things, but for one of our players to admit so freely that we need help says a lot about where we are. Now, that all makes it sound a bit desperate, I don’t think where we are is that bad at all. We’ve clawed ourselves into a decent enough league position but we know how much a top four finish is worth and what it means for the summer.
We don’t need reminding of Robin van Persie’s contract situation, nobody needs to be told what an effect a finish outside the top four and the Champions League would mean for potential recruitment, and I think what Szczesny is saying is that this second half of the season is so crucial for us we need to ensure we’re in the best possible shape to keep scrapping for the top four.
The reality of our squad at the moment is that we have, for the most part, a first XI and beyond that the manager doesn’t have a great deal of faith in the rest of them to start Premier League games. I know we’ve rotated a bit but that’s more down to injury/tiredness than effectivity. Clearly our lack of full backs is hurting us, as are the lack of goals from any forward other than Robin van Persie.
If the manager has an expectation of more from Walcott, Gervinho, Arshavin etc, then he’s right to do so in my opinion. That they’re not producing as much as he’d expect leaves him with some thinking to do. Does he now hope that they can play through their period of relatively bad form? Let’s face it varies from Arshavin’s – toilet – to Gervinho’s – men’s executive bathroom (for all the frustration he’s still got 4 Premier League goals and 5 assists. Can do better though), and we know he’s got The Ox waiting in the wings.
And while many people, including myself, would love to see Oxlade-Chamberlain see more time on the pitch (I suspect he’ll start the FA Cup game), are we not repeating the cycle of the past where frustration with older players means we build up a youngster and hype him to impossible levels? By the time he does get a game any paucity of performance will have him criticised to kingdom come and the manager will be a twat for not buying an experienced player.
Clearly though, there’s the possibility of balance. The Ox could be blooded more slowly if we had more more options in the final third. But any signing to augment Henry’s arrival is pretty much dependent on somebody else leaving to make room in the squad. Perhaps we could send Park to do his national service early so he can enjoy the peak years of his career on a football pitch somewhere else.
And do we buy a wide forward, to add some depth, or someone who plays in the van Persie role? And if the latter, which player with genuine ambition and quality is going to come and play second fiddle to the captain, knowing that as long as the Dutchman is fit he’s going to start games on the bench. Obviously that’s not my problem to try and sort out, the manager might look to somebody versatile who can play both roles, but the centre-forward position in the formation we play is quite specialist.
Chamakh is the only other player in the squad who naturally suits that role. He can’t play wide, however, and such is his loss of form that he can’t produce at all in the position he likes to play in. Walcott’s desire to play down the middle is made laughable by his miss against Wolves and general lack of phyiscal presence, Gervinho’s away, Park is some kind of money-laundering experiment and whatever he can produce Thierry can only do it for 6 weeks maximum.
It’s worth remembering that we did a lot of business in the summer. We got rid of plenty and brought in Gervinho, The Ox, Arteta, Mertesacker, Benayoun, Santos, Jenkinson, Park (heh), Miyaichi and the man on-loan in France Joel Campbell. Will the manager’s desire to play guys like Miyaichi and Campbell next season mean he’s reluctant to buy players now?
I think it might and if I had to put money on it, I’d say Henry will be the only attacking arrival in January. Obviously I’d like to see more but what I’d like and what Arsene does are two very, very different things. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we did sign someone else to provide something to the team, in the way we signed Arshavin when everyone wanted a centre-half.
We know that Arsene is very much his own man, he doesn’t make decisions based on what fans want or shout for (and ultimately I think that’s the right way for any manager to operate) but I think he’d be wise to listen to his own players, and Szczesny’s admission that we ‘need’ Henry is something I think he should pay attention to.