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Monday, 18 December 2006

Poor Old Santa - He Comes Once A Year And That's Down A Chimney!

Officially the Arsenal’s training ground is in Shenley, although as far as I’m concerned it’s located in London Colney, as Shenley has always been synonymous with the dark shadow of the psychiatric institute, which once dominated this Hertforshire suburb. Then again, I could be forgiven for thinking the men in white coats had come for Arsène Wenger on Saturday, when he announced a starting line-up against Pompey that included Aliadière as Van Persie’s strike partner.

I’m all for being patient when it comes to bringing on our young prodigies, but it’s hard to believe that this product of the Clairfontaine Academy has been at the club for seven years and has now become the second longest serving player in the current squad, (behind Freddie Ljungberg), without ever having established himself in the first XI. Admittedly Aliadière was quite impressive when he scored a brace against West Brom, a couple of months back in the Carling Cup. Yet he’s patently failed to make any sort of impact in any of his previous loan spells at Celtic, West Ham or Wolves. So I’ve absolutely no idea what possessed Wenger to think he’d produce the goods against Pompey’s muscular defence.

As far as I’m concerned it should be “Come in no. 30, your time is up” and Aliadière should be given the opportunity of regular first team football elsewhere. His career has become so becalmed at the Arsenal that a complete change of scene might be his only salvation, if Jeremie is ever to recover the required belief in his own ability.

In his programme notes on Saturday, Wenger stated that he has “absolutely no choice” but to rotate the squad. I pictured Arsène sitting at his desk, pouring over the players stats on Friday afternoon and as a result of some physical data, like the white cell count, or the oxygen conversion rate, he came to the conclusion that he needed to rest Adebayor. I agree that some of our players are showing signs of suffering from the relentless physical demands of the game in this country. However as was highlighted at the JJB last Wednesday, we just don’t have the depth of quality in our squad to allow Wenger the luxury of leaving out our most important players.

Cesc Fabregas is one such “untouchable” who’s responsible for conducting the most intricate bars of the Arsenal symphony. As was demonstrated by his timely introduction for the last ten minutes, when Fab picked the lock of the Wigan rearguard with almost his first touch, producing the defence splitting pass, which enabled us to snaffle all three points. Yet while the Spanish youngster has looked a little leg weary in recent games, in his absence we appear all too predictable, lacking that vital creative spark.

Watching Chelsea come from behind twice at Goodison, to eventually grab the winner, only served to remind me of the crucial difference between the two teams. With the likes of Lampard, Drigba, Ballack, Essien etc. unfortunately the Gobby One has at least half a dozen players at his disposal with the ability to pull something special out of the bag when required. Whereas in the absence of an out of form Henry, I’d struggle to name more than a couple of Arsenal players capable of conjuring up the sort of match winning, wonder strikes witnessed on Sunday.

My position on Arsène’s rotation policy is that it’s absolutely pointless attempting to rest Adebayor, if he’s going to be forced to bring him on in the second half, to chase a two goal deficit. Manny played like a man possessed when he did eventually appear, but in running his socks off in his admirable efforts to rescue a point, I’ve no doubt he ended up no less ‘cream crackered’ than those who’d played the entire ninety (if not more so!).

At a time when we’re desperate to try and establish some breathing space between us and the other half a dozen clubs with Champions League aspirations, it’s essential that we start with our best XI. Then if we’re capable of securing an advantage of more than a single goal, Arsène can substitute those players who’d benefit most from an early bath. Moreover the other squad members are most likely to do themselves justice, coming on in a game where everyone is beginning to strut their stuff.

I’m also convinced that we need to establish some consistency before Arsène can consider rotating players. Naturally, a winning team tends to feel a whole lot less fatigued because they don’t need to expend nearly so much energy, chasing down the opposition and winning back possession. What’s more, as we’ve seen in the past, when we’ve been able to establish that winning momentum, then confidence levels in the camp soar, to the point where Wenger has been able to seamlessly drop players into the team and where the only impact has been positive.

With his pragmatic approach, Arsène is probably fretting that if his young charges are suffering already, without the benefit of a breather now, how are they going to cope come the end of the season? However if we keep dropping points at our current inconsistent rate, it won’t matter if they are all on crutches come May, as our season will have long since gone kaput. Whereas I’m certain that all such concerns will evaporate, if only we can re-establish that winning habit.

I was fortunate to attend an open day training session at our new stadium on Monday, where it was good to see that Wenger will have a few more options available to him, with the return to fitness of the likes of Lauren and Rosicky. With the squad split into two groups, it was easy to suss out who’d be lining up against Liverpool. Obviously we need to be patient as far as Baptista is concerned, but I’m afraid it might just be Beast by name rather than nature, as he’s yet to convince me that he has the necessary appetite for the frenetic brand of football played in the Premiership.

Hopefully Julio will have proved me wrong on Tuesday night. Similarly I’m eagerly looking forward to discover whether the likes of Denilson, Randall and Traore are truly capable of challenging for a shirt, thereby bolstering our squad with the sort of quality which could ensure that we Gooners don’t end up baying for Arsène to join the queues of under pressure gaffers on New Years Day, with their deckchairs and flasks, readying themselves for the rush to battle for the best bargains in the January sales.

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