Thursday, January 20, 2022

Ox returns but expectations have to be realistic + Arsecast 299

Happy Friday to you all.

Of course this weekend will seem interminably long because we have to wait until Monday night for our game against Aston Villa. At which point we’ll likely be down the table a bit because there’s no way that either Man City or Chelsea are going to drop points considering the easy fixtures they’ve got. If nothing else it’ll make sure we’re fully focused on what we have to do.

The early team news for the game is that Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs have an outside chance of making it, but considering we’re not short on good alternatives in either case we don’t have any need to take risks. Thomas Vermaelen is a doubt with a knee injury he picked up against Sp*rs, while Olivier Giroud returns after a bout of ankle knack and crumpled quiff.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also back and there’s an odd kind of symmetry to this one: he picked up his cruciate injury against Villa on the opening day of the season, and he could very well make his comeback against them. He got 45 valuable minutes under his belt in an U21 game last night, and by all accounts looked quite bright. Obviously he’s got some work to do to get back to full fitness and sharpness, but with the door to the first team more ajar than it was, he’s got a real chance to kick on.

It’ll be interesting to see how he copes and what spending so long on the sidelines has done to him. He’s still only 20 years of age and with just 60 first team appearances under his belt is quite some way from being experienced despite this being his third season at the club. As Tim Stillman points out this week, players like Ramsey, Szczesny, Gibbs and to a lesser extent Wilshere have all gone past the 100 appearance mark and only then begun to find consistency in their performances.

So, having him back is fantastic, he’ll see a real opportunity to make a mark in the team – even if, as yet, his position in it isn’t anywhere near being fixed – but I think we have to temper our expectations too. Throwing him and Gnabry in at the business end of a title chasing season will undoubtedly be a great education for them; games with intense pressure and tight margins, but I don’t think it’s necessarily realistic for them to make the difference.

I could be wrong, they could spark off each other competitively and flourish straight away, but I don’t think it’s something we should really count on. All that said, it is a good thing to have The Ox back, his versatility could well be an important piece of the puzzle as the season goes on and legs get tired.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger says Walcott’s injury has ‘accelerated his desire‘ to do something in the transfer market, although he did reference both Gnabry and Oxlade-Chamberlain as well as Nicklas Bendtner’s return in a couple of weeks. The question remains: who is the player who can make the difference in January, and do we go for a striker to help out or a winger to replace Walcott?

The short-term deals on offer seem unlikely. A question I put to Philippe Auclair on today’s Arsecast about Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata is whether or not a young, inexperienced Spanish player, who will have to adapt to a new country, language and a new style of football, is the right man for a title scrap. You can put forward Jose Antonio Reyes, I suppose, but he was a star at Sevilla, Morata is struggling to make an impact at the Bernebeu.

Beyond that there have been players of dubious quality undoubtedly linked to us because of agents, it being January, newspapers and all the other vagaries of the window being open – none of them convince as yet. Which isn’t to say there isn’t the right player out there, I’m sure there’s somebody, but it’s a matter of the manager finding them and for that player to be available in January.

No doubt he’ll be pressed about his transfer plans during his press conference today. No doubt he’ll say we’re not close to signing anyone and that if we sign anyone the people at the press conference will be the first to know, but at least we’re aware of his accelerating desire to do business which could well be important for the rest of the season. Although January signings haven’t always worked out in the long-term, some of the ones he’s made in the past have, at least, had a tangible and important impact in the short-term. And that’s something we’d be wise to consider.

Right then, onto this week’s Arsecast and as I mentioned I’m joined by Philippe Auclair to discuss Sp*rs, Theo Walcott, January, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker and more. We have some exclusive press conference footage and the usual waffle throughout.

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 25mb MP3).

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Right, that’s that. All the latest from the press conference and beyond on Arseblog News throughout the day, more here tomorrow.

 

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