Thursday, January 20, 2022

Race for fourth blown open by Goblin King

Well well well, what an interesting set of results that was last night.

Everton, the super coolest team in all of the land with their football genius manager, lost. At home! To Crystal Palace, managed by the Goblin King himself, Tony Pulis. And with Chamakh up front. Blimey.

Roberto Martinez did all his tactics and that, deploying Lukaku as a false-false winger and Deulofeu as an inverted whizz-bang half-back and they still got beaten. He needs to re-invent the pyramid, or something. Meanwhile, super-rich Man City – in the midst of a title challenge and in a game they had to win – only just scraped a draw with bottom of the table Sunderland which leaves their title challenge in pieces.

It’s almost, bear with me here, as if they cracked under the pressure, or something. Both teams knew they had to win, and couldn’t. Maybe what we have is contagious and we secretly coughed on their food. Or, perhaps, it’s just that in this league you can’t take anything for granted otherwise you’ll get beaten.

Either way it’s good for us that Everton lost again after seven straight wins. It means the ‘Race for the top four’©® is well and truly on again and it’s in our hands. Win our final four games and we finish in the top four, it’s as simple as that. Not that it’s a simple thing to achieve, of course, but you know what I mean.

Wojciech Szczesny sums it up well when talking about the West Ham, saying:

I will take four or five more games like that until the end of the season. As long as we get three points, it does not have to be beautiful.

For the sake of everyone’s heart and nerves, it would be nice if we could a) score first b) score more often and c) not let in mental goals, but I do know what he means. This is very familiar territory to us, let’s not forget. There’s plenty of time after the season is over to reflect on how we found ourselves in the middle of another scrap for the top four when a title challenge was on the cards for so long, but until then we just have to concentrate on getting the points we need.

Szczesny has also been talking about the cup final, and how much he wants to play in it. He says:

I would love to play but it’s the manager’s decision. It’s up to the him. I think Lukasz has done really well and he deserves a lot of credit. I’m an Arsenal fan and I just want us to get the trophy. For us, it’s important to get a trophy and hopefully we can appease everyone at the club.

It’s a tough one for Arsene Wenger. I’m half-convinced he sees Fabianski as a kind of lucky charm in the cup this season. All logic tells you that you should pick your number 1 goalkeeper and it’s clear from the fact Szczesny was recalled immediately for the game against West Ham that’s what he is. There’s also the need to look at the future and ask would Szczesny – assuming we can get the right result – not benefit more from playing in the final than a player who is going to leave the club in June when his contract expires? Would it not give him a chance to put those Birmingham demons to bed and allow him to experience winning something (which would also benefit Arsenal in the long-run)?

On the other hand, Fabianski has done little wrong when called upon and was a penalty saving hero against Wigan last weekend. I don’t have any doubts about his professionalism, nor do I think that he’d let the fact he’s leaving consciously affect his performance. Personally though, I would go with Szczesny, but I think Arsene Wenger will pick Fabianski, unless there’s an injury which makes the decision easy for him.

Anyway, that’s a consideration for a bit further down the line, there are, as we know, four more Premier League games for us to take care of first, starting with Hull this Sunday. More on that in the next few days.

Elsewhere, Kim Kallstrom has described his first 90 minutes for the club as ‘fun’, while Arsene Wenger has admitted that he’s tempted by a return to a more traditional system in which he can deploy two strikers. I’d certainly be open to a change like that, but I do think we need to firstly improve our options in terms of strikers, and secondly add something to a midfield which would be mostly affected by the change.

Are Arteta/Flamini enough if we chose to deploy a midfield diamond? And is it wise to change systems at this point of the season? Do the returns of Ramsey and Ozil mean that we have enough to cope without change? All good questions, to which I have very few of the answers, but it’s something to think about on a slow Thursday.

Finally for today, stand by for an announcement later on about the new book. ‘Together: the story of Arsenal’s unbeaten season’ by Andrew Allen and myself will be officially launched in London next month. Date, time and venue will all be confirmed, but without giving too much away if I told you there’s likely to be beer at said venue, you can probably work it out. Anyway, full details later on, and if you haven’t yet seen the cover, feast your eyes on this.

So, until later, and tomorrow when we’ll have an Arsecast for your listening pleasure as we head into a bank holiday weekend.



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