Confidence, rotation, goalkeepers

It’s a brand new week, after a very tasty weekend, and we’re hitting that time of the season where there’s little time for reflection due to the fixture list.

The team will travel today to Montpellier for our first Champions League game of the season with the 6-1 win over Southampton fresh in the memory. The mood is good, confidence will be high, but Arsene Wenger says it’s still early days to know whether or not we’re title contenders. He says:

We will know that after 10 games. I think we have a chance. But do we develop well, do we keep our attitude?

I think we have a chance but at the moment I don’t know how strong our opponents are. We’ve not played against any of the title contenders yet. It will be important to see how we do against the bigger teams. It will be interesting.

It’s true that it’s just four games, and we certainly do have bigger tests on the horizon than we’ve faced up until now, but the difference getting off to a good start makes is almost immeasurable. Instead of doubting everything and everyone, there’s belief that this is a team which is capable of, at least, improving on the season we had last time around. This time last season we had just 4 points, we’d scored three goals and conceded 10. There were a host of new players trying to get settled in and the atmosphere around the place was trying, to say the least.

So far this campaign it’s all a lot more encouraging. New players like Podolski and Cazorla have settled in very quickly – due to their age and experience (and quality) – we’re seeing improvement from Gervinho, whose contribution last season was minimal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks like he’s going to become a regular starter thanks in no small part to Theo Walcott’s contract situation, and the team as a whole looks much more solid and balanced.

But Arsene is right in urging some caution. Man City on Sunday is going to be far more difficult than any team we’ve faced thus far, but even last season there was nothing more than a goal between the sides in each Premier League fixture. I thought we more than deserved a point from the game at the Middle Eastlands and Mikel Arteta’s winner at our place was fully merited on the day Balotelli went bonkers. So we’ve shown that we can compete with them, head to head, with a team that probably had more issues than this current one.

Still, our next four league games see us visit City, host Chelsea then we’ve got two away games, at Norwich and West Ham. The first two will show us where we stand in relation to two teams who will be fighting for the title, the second pair are games we really have to go and win if we want to be involved in that fight. So we’ll learn a lot more about the team, and the squad, over the next few weeks.

It’s important to remember that any success we have this season won’t rely solely on this team, but through using the squad as well as possible. I suspect there’ll be some changes for tomorrow night’s game against Montpellier. If we don’t see Koscielny, Santos, Walcott and Ramsey I’d be quite surprised. These guys also need to start games to build some confidence of their own and with the number of games coming up some weary legs will need to be rested. More than anything though it’s about giving minutes to guys who have been working hard and training hard but playing little. There’s a long season ahead and we’re going to need them.

The boss has spoken a little bit about the goalkeeping situation too. After praising Vito Mannone for his clean sheets and giving him some encouragement about a first team place, he’s made it clear that Wojciech Szczesny is the number 1 and as such he won’t be making changes despite his indifferent display against Southampton. He dropped a clanger for their goal and his kicking was decidedly suspect at times, but the boss says he’ll keep faith with the Pole for now:

Wojciech is No 1 unless I change my mind. That is clear. That’s why he came back in goal.

You cannot change a goalkeeper every time he makes a simple mistake, because then you have three bad keepers. The confidence is needed.

No arguments for me on that. I’m happy to give credit to Mannone for his two clean sheets and decent displays against Stoke and Liverpool, but the speed with which people change their minds about players would see them overtake Roadrunner at full pelt. The Italian did well on loan at Hull but even Wenger himself said he’d have been willing to let him go at the start of the season because, let’s face it, at no point has he ever really looked quite good enough to be the Arsenal number 1.

Szczesny’s potential is obvious but equally he has flaws in his game which need to be ironed out. The distribution in particular is something he should be working on a lot. However, he’s still very young in the life of a keeper, mistakes are inevitable but dropping him for one error which wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things is hardly the way to help him develop. I’m sure there’ll be nobody more determined to improve than Szczesny himself and for me he’s the best keeper at the club, by quite a distance. Therefore he starts. It’s up to him to keep his place and the others to try and dislodge him. I don’t think the competition with Mannone, such as it is, will do him any harm either.

Right, that’s about that for this morning. A full preview of the Montpellier game tomorrow and remember, it’ll be Steve Bould in charge for our first three Champions League game this season as Arsene was banned by UEFA for talking at the back of class or something.

Till then.


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