Press conference day today so we get to ask questions about what happened against Anderlecht again. That’ll be fun. We already have some team news with Mikel Arteta confirmed out with the hamstring strain he picked up on Tuesday night, while Jack Wilshere should be back in the squad having missed the last couple of games with a knee knack and a dose of the squits.
There’s an update on Olivier Giroud who is back in full training next week which gives him a couple of weeks to get some fitness under his belt to put himself into contention for a place in the squad to face Manchester United. If there’s a strange feeling about this news it’s because it’s an injured player coming back sooner than expected and that, as we all know, happens about as rarely as Sp*rs winning the title.
Coincidentally, the last time an Arsenal player did return ahead of schedule it was 1961. Flying winger Declan ‘Ulick’ Magee tore his Achilles in a vicious game against Wolverhampton Wanderers and was ruled out for the rest of the season. He was allowed back to Ireland to recuperate and his grandmother, a wizened old crone of a lady who had a face like a freshly mined turnip, used donkey placenta to make a poultice which saw him return to action just two weeks later.
Sadly, that north Tipperary science was flawed and in his first training session his tendon snapped like an old elastic band leaving him writhing on the ground screaming at the holy trinity, and his grandmother, in white-hot agony. Vic Groves brought him to the hospital where he developed a lifelong addiction to ether and never played competitive football again. So good luck Giroud!
There was also some worrying news about Laurent Koscielny, of whom the manager said:
… he has a little chance to be back after the international break.
That doesn’t sound very reassuring to me at all. How can it be that a chronic condition doesn’t simply heal with a couple of weeks of rest? What kind of a world are we living in at all? Unfortunately the impact of his absence is proving to be considerable. You can get away with a makeshift defence for a little while but eventually it catches up with you. I think we saw that the other night, even though you can’t heap all the blame on the back four for letting slip the 3-0 scoreline against Anderlecht.
The fixtures, having been relatively kind of late, start to get more difficult in the coming weeks. Manchester United come to visit just after the Interlull, we’ve got to play high-flying Southampton, then try and get something from Dortmund in the Champions League, before away trips to Galatasaray and Stoke (a difficult place to go at the best of times), followed by Newcastle and Liverpool as we head into the hectic festive schedule.
With all due respect to Monreal, a player I have sympathy with right now, I’m struggling to see how we’re going to cope against some of the better attacking sides. He just isn’t a natural central defender and if there’s criticism it should 100% on the fact that he has to play there rather than of the player himself who is doing his best but finding it, understandably, hard going.
As I mentioned yesterday, the focus then has to be on how the team can better protect the back four. Will the manager accept that the way he’s instructing his team to attack so often is leaving them exposed far too often? There’s no shame in being a little more conservative. I’d much rather win a game 1-0 and be hanging on for dear life at the end than watch us try and get further ahead as if we get bonus points for goals scored or something.
Maybe there’s something to be read into Mathieu Flamini’s interview with the official site in which he talks about the importance of winning the ball back high up the pitch. Now, I’m all for that when it’s appropriate – if you look at how often a chance is created when that happens you can understand why there’s such an emphasis on it (especially with Alexis in the side now) – but maybe just adding a bit of ‘not losing the ball high up the pitch’ wouldn’t go astray either.
Sometimes you need to just get composed, maintain your shape and not get bypassed with too many men ahead of the ball. For a team as susceptible to the counter as we are, we could do with finding more defensive balance and I hope, at least until we’ve got a back four that’s more solid and natural, it becomes a priority. We’ll see (don’t hold your breath though).
Right then, time for this week’s Arsecast and on the show I’m joined by Paolo Bandini of The Guardian to discuss Anderlecht and to try and make some kind of sense of what happened. You can win a t-shirt from Art of Football, there’s a prestigious award for somebody and all the usual waffle.
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We’ll have all the news from the press conference and more over on Arseblog News throughout the day. More from me tomorrow.
Until then, have a good Friday. Don’t work too hard.