Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Rockets, centre-halves and The Unwanted

Morning all,

we’re heading towards the final day of this Premier League season, and it really seems to have flown by. There’s no reason it should have, in fairness. Some of it has been excruciatingly awful and there were Interlulls galore, but here we are. Times flies when you’re having … erm … maybe time just flies.

There’s been a lot of talk about a potential play-off game for third place if results play out a certain way on Sunday, but I think the likelihood of that is pretty slim. And even if it was required it’d be a grand old thing, knowing that we can play with little pressure because we’d have a qualifying round, at least, and if we won we’d avoid that and make Chelsea play another game. I think we just need to concentrate on getting the result we need at the Wonga Manboobs Arena and worry about what the others do after the fact.

Harking back to Tuesday night, and Theo Walcott has revealed that Arsene Wenger gave the team a bit of a going over at the half-time break:

We got a rocket. We’ll keep that in the dressing room,. But it’s great that the manager has that passion and it got a bit more out of the players. We all knew how big it is, not just for the manager but the fans, the players and the club itself. It’s massive to be in the Champions League. The manager gave us a kick up the backside. I felt we did show some good play in the first half but we didn’t manage to take our chances. Thankfully we did in the second.

Certainly Arsenal were more clinical in the second half, taking their chances while Wigan spurned a great opportunity to go ahead. I had visions of the Koscielny miss coming back to haunt us in a big way, but thankfully those further up the pitch spared his blushes and his overall performance wasn’t coloured by that one incident.

He and Per Mertesacker have forged a tremendously consistent partnership over the last few months and, I could be wrong here, but I think we’ve only lost a single game all season in which they’ve both started together at the heart of the defence (Bayern Munich at home). Since the manager dropped Thomas Vermaelen we have improved defensively and I think Koscielny and Mertesacker complement each other extremely well.

It’s funny, if you look at the league table you’ll see that Manchester City (31) are the only club to have conceded fewer goals than Arsenal (37) with United and Chelsea on 38. It suggests that for all the criticisms of our defence – and make no mistake they’ve been valid, for the most part – our biggest problem this season has been up the other end of the pitch.

We had periods in this campaign where we were utterly toothless in the final third. I remember a few consecutive games (I think around the time of the Norwich match) where our first attempts on goal came as the games headed into injury time, and those performances have been costly when it comes down it. When you combine that lack of firepower with silly, individual defensive mistakes it doesn’t do much for your points tally.

It took that thumping by Munich for us to finally come to the conclusion that if scoring was something of a problem, we were exacerbating it with how reliably we were conceding. It’s better late than never, and while it hasn’t made for completely comfortable viewing in the last few weeks, there’s little arguing with the results it’s brought about. We need one more push, one more solid defensively display, and I think we’ve got the goals now to get us where we need to go. All going well, we can find better balance in the transfer market this summer.

Elsewhere, we expect Arsenal to clear the decks once this season is over, and Marouane Chamakh proves himself the master of understatement. Talking about his future, he says of a move this summer:

Yes, this is possible because there is a good chance that I will not stay at Arsenal. If I come back to France, it will be in Bordeaux.

I’d say there’s a very good chance indeed he won’t stay at Arsenal. Having moved to West Ham on loan in January he hasn’t made an appearance since the 30th of that month in 3-1 defeat to Fulham. Those who watched him at Bordeaux, and noted his Champions League scoring record – not to mention his early months at Arsenal – will tell you there was a decent, but limited, player in there somewhere.

People point to the return of van Persie from injury as the killer to his Arsenal career, but this is a bloke who has self-destructed in quite spectacular fashion. I doubt there’s a club in Europe who would pay an actual transfer fee for him at this stage. Maybe, just maybe, we could get something nominal for a guy who has made just a handful of starts in 2 seasons and scored just 1 league goal, but I think it might to be a tough job to even give him away.

While the likes of Arshavin and Squillaci are out of contract and will move on regardless, the transfer fixers still have to work to sort out the situations of Chamakh, Park, Denilson, Santos and Bendtner, none of whom have any future at the club. Maybe we could have sale ‘Buy one Get one free, get one free. Actually, make that two free! Did I say two? I meant ALL.’

Even the great Dick Law and Order might struggle with this one.

Till tomorrow.

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