When we last went to press only three weeks ago, Arsenal had enjoyed a mixed bag of performances: great in the cups with wins v Braga, Spurs and Partizan Belgrade, but woeful in the league having picked up one point from nine available, including the dire display against West Brom. Time will tell if Manuel Almunia’s ‘elbow injury’ means he has played his final first team match for the club. It is encouraging to see Wojciech Szczesny appearing in the Carling Cup and on the bench for other matches. What, however, is amazing is that the club are quick enough to secure some questionable squad members on well-paid long term deals, but allow those with genuine potential to wind their contracts down. Szczesny wants to be a first choice keeper and I’ve a feeling in my gut he may be happy to see out this season and move elsewhere to guarantee it. He seems to have the kind of personality that does not sit well with the manager, so I genuinely fear a top quality keeper in the making will be allowed to slip through the net. The club are making noises about a deal being close, and I hope this looks like a lot of worry about nothing by the time you read it. Given a run in the team, current first choice Lukasz Fabianski looks a lot more composed than we have seen him before. Perhaps he has been told that he will get an extended run if he plays to the ability the manager has told us he has. On current form, I could live with him as the number one, but the big test will be how he reacts next time he does make a costly error, which he will inevitably do at some stage due to the nature of the position. The jury is definitely out, but keeping two consecutive clean sheets in the league is almost unheard of these days. Arsène Wenger, when taking questions at the AGM, stated that you cannot concede more than 28 goals in a league campaign and expect to win the title. He spoke at a time when the team had let in ten in their opening eight matches. Chelsea had leaked a total of two. Title winning teams are built on solid defences and it is the reason why Arsenal, in spite of being able to entertain with their free-scoring possession play, will need to improve dramatically when they do not have the ball before a first Premier League trophy is lifted in their new home. Sebastien Squillaci is beginning to look the part and is undoubtedly leading the defensive line. However, even if the keeper is in form and someone is actually pulling the strings in the back four, the team – as a unit – needs to work harder to notch up more precious clean sheets.
The manager has decided on putting an extra body in midfield as a way of assisting this process, but the personnel have to be right on top of their game to consistently make it happen. Chelsea also play three in the middle, but, to my mind, they only really have one player who sits constantly. Mikel is that man while Essien and Lampard seem to be more advanced. The qualities of the personnel available to Wenger mean that if one of his holding midfielders is caught in attack when possession is lost, the team suddenly look very vulnerable. I am afraid Denilson is no match for Mikel. Alex Song certainly is no longer the player to hold back. Yes, it has meant he has started scoring goals, but – in spite of the recent wins – I do feel there is a still a sense of gung ho about the Gunners. The problem is that the attendant lack of focus on defensive duties will, by the law of averages, be punished by some teams. “We are working very hard”, Wenger told the AGM when quizzed about the seeming lack of defensive solidity. Many have called for a new face in the coaching team to actually turn this supposed
2 hard work into consistent results. After West Ham had a free header from a second half corner the day before I am writing these words, with no Arsenal player within five yards of him, I found myself wondering, “Are the players ever sat down in front of videos of their errors?” Because, frankly, the same mistakes do seem to occur on a regular basis, with any opposition set piece likely to result in the opportunity to test the keeper. There are 28 league matches remaining, and by Wenger’s reckoning, the side can afford to ship another 18 goals. I will be generous and reckon that if they let in 30 total, they could still have a chance of the title if they score enough. It is after all total points and not goal difference that wins the crown. However, there are generally a handful of 1-0 wins in there, and games like the narrow victory against West Ham are as significant as the 6-0 romps. It has been a decent recovery since the trio of matches with Sunderland, West Brom and Chelsea. Let us hope that sequence turns out to be a blip in the Gunners’ season and that November is not the difficult month it sometimes proves. Most of all, the players have to get their minds right to ensure they do not relax in games in which they think they only have to turn up to win. It will be a big ask to catch Chelsea, but if the team are switched on and cut out the kind of errors they should not be making at this level, there will be no complaints here if they fall short. You can forgive a lot if you are getting commitment and attitude. At times in recent years, this has been conspicuous by its absence and that is not the Arsenal I know and love.
- Kevin Whitcher
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CONTRIBUTORS Kevin Whitcher, Mike Francis, Phil Wall, Steve Ashford, Mike Slaughter, Warren Swaine, Brian Dawes, Bernard Dowling, Charlie Ashmore, Ian Henry, Simon Rose, Robert Exley, Peter Le Beau, David O’Brien, Howard Lamb, Jeremy Cunnington, Nadim Naaman, Nick Kelsall, Neil Bramall, Ricky Butler, Ian Mills, Mike Hennessy, Dave Carver, Dave Mattinson, Fozzy, Kevin O’Connor & Paul Regan ARTWORK Darren Rackham, Ron Hill, Mike Murphy, The X-Man & Tony Eagle PHOTOS Offside Sports Photography, Professional Sport, Marcia Milnes MATCHDAY SELLERS Dave, Mrs B, Andrew, Rich, Frank, Alex, Griffo, PJ, Marc, David, Paul, Pete & James PRINTERS Regal Litho 01908 270 400,
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