it made a change today, when instead of the piece I'd filed for Wednesday's Irish Examiner being outdated by subsequent news, it seemed as if the disastrous revelation that Jack WIlshere will be absent for 4-6 months, has lent weight to the comment I've made below about the contentions of those concerning the competency of the Gunners' medical team. Perhaps the reluctance to operate on Jack's troublesome ankle was merely a gamble that has gone disastrously wrong. But on the face of it, it seems a major ricket that they didn't opt for surgery sooner, instead of wasting so much time, hoping for Jack to heal while wearing a medical boot.
Whatever the case, the news comes as just another major blow, from which it's likely to prove a mighty task to bounce back. So long as the return of Wilshere and Vermaelen remained somewhere on the horizon, if we could keep plugging away, there was always hope of this bright, shiny light at the end of the dark tunnel we now find ourselves in. But with this being snuffed out by today's news, without Wilshere it's hard not to fear for a long hard winter!
I ran out of room to mention the glimmer of optimism from Oxlade-Chamberlain in last week's Carling Cup win, but this was tempered by my disappointment with the one off-target effort that seemed to be the sum total of Ju Young Park's contribution in our Korean striker's decidedly unimpressive debut. I adore these Carling Cup encounters, where the drastically reduced price tickets makes for an entirely different (more high-pitched) vibe, compared to the aging "audience" at most matches. But personally I prefer to see Wenger select a team full of kids, rather than the mix-and-match of youth and experience that appeared against Shrewsbury.
Perhaps the fact that le Prof wasn't prepared to risk an immature side making a premature exit from the competition is merely a reflection of Arsène's increasing desperation for a glimmer of any silverware whatsoever. But then you are at least guaranteed an enthusiastic and thoroughly committed performance from a side full of kids, who all have something to prove; whereas last Tuesday I couldn't escape this sense of ignominy amongst some of the more senior players, as if being made to perform in this Mickey Mouse tournament was some sort of punishment.
Considering there's an urgent need for this Arsenal side to be able to compensate for the deficit in flair and finesse that we've suffered with the loss of Fabregas, Nasri and now Wilshere (at least for the majority of this season!), we badly need to make up for it in our togetherness and spirit. I was late for Saturday's game because I was watching Man City v Everton and despite the fact that the Toffees lost 2-0, for the first hour or so of this game, I was seriously impressed by the way in which they were prepared to graft like Trojans for one another, closing down Man City's mercenaries in twos and threes all over the park.
Ultimately it proved a disappointing and almost inevitable case of the irresistible force of Mancini's mob eventually shifting Moyes' immovable object, with Man City's almost limitless reinforcements from the bench. But what I would only give for some evidence of just a little of this sort of team spirit, in an Arsenal side, where never mind them all being close friends, there's many an occasion where they appear as if they're only playing with one another on sufferance!
Keep the faith
Come on you Reds
Heading around to Saturday’s game, contemplating the positively unthinkable, looming spectre of finding ourselves rock bottom of the Premiership pile on Saturday night, if we were to lose and the match at the Hawthorns ended in a draw, Owen Coyle’s combative Trotters wouldn’t normally have been top of my list of ideal opposition for a crucial, confidence restoring encounter, in advance of our trip to White Hart Lane. A Derby clash that’ll undoubtedly be billed as the litmus test of any shift in the North London status quo.
However with Bolton having lost in 9 or their last 10 outings, they weren’t exactly brim full of belief and it was a very pleasant surprise that this below-par Bolton proved to be the perfect foil for our bomb damaged Gunners. With Arsène’s side perceived to be on its knees, at present the majority of teams would’ve arrived at the Emirates intent on capitalizing on our current plight, by shattering the brittle shell that’s been so badly cracked in recent weeks.
I fully expected Bolton to attempt to do likewise, by probing all those defensive frailties, which we’ve seen exposed in virtually every match thus far, with a bombardment of high balls into the box. But with our customary nemesis, Kevin Davies, only coming on from the bench after lone front-man Ngog limped off , this typified the limited ambitions of a Bolton side that was principally focused on snuffing out our threat, instead of any gung-ho quest for all three points.
In light of our lamentable recent plight, on paper, a 3-0 win and a clean sheet to boot, looks to be the perfect pick-me-up. Contrary to the 60k full-house crowd stats, there was evidence of empty seats all over the shop. Amongst those Gooners present, I’m sure there’ll be plenty who’ll admit that this result might be somewhat misleading.
The seriously underwhelming form of Dalglish’s Scousers since their first league victory in an epoch at our place, Blackburn’s slapstick defending and the hard work we made of a Swans outfit, who are likely to prove such easy meat for others, all this seems a far more accurate barometer of the Gunners rapid descent towards mid-table mediocrity, than a home win against Owen Coyle’s beleaguered bullies.
If not for Sczczny’s heroics, it might’ve been a different story, as we would’ve been behind before I’d even reached my seat on Saturday - but then at least I wasn’t included amongst all the Emirates tourists, who having stood queuing for halftime refreshments, failed to make it back in time to see the all-important first goal immediately after the restart.
Prior to this we endured a dreadfully disjointed first-half, where, playing in front of our back four, Arteta was easily smothered, causing a disconnect between him and all those in more advanced roles. My neighbour commented “what price the frustrations of pleasing on the eye, ticcy-taccy football, compared to this staccato fare?”
Mercifully it finally seemed as if the Gunner had begun to find their mojo during the second-half. Obviously we were aided by the dismissal of Bolton’s centre-back, but even before this, it felt as if Wenger had found the right buttons to press during the break, to turn on some style.
Although he might lack the control and composure of a more cultured talent, without the millstone of Walcott’s timidity, Gervinho’s willingness to run with the ball is akin to putting a dreadlocked rooster in the opposition’s hen house. On the face of it, the depressing news about Wilshere’s prolonged absence appears to lend weight to the contentions of those who question the competency of our medical team.
Without Wilshere and Vermaelen, an injury-prone Van Persie is arguably the only player left in the current team who’d be coveted by all the cash-rich competition (perhaps along with the unsung Sagna?). Yet with each passing week you can sense the rising frustration in Robin’s demeanour, with his team-mates repeated inability to look up and pass to the unmarked striker. Unless this squad clicks and this situation is rectified pronto, we risk another Arsenal captain requesting his P45, as we can’t expect Van Persie to endure our squad's inadequacies in perpetuity.
Thankfully, on one of Theo's better afternoons, he was able to find Robin on Saturday. But then some might argue that even a broken clock is right twice a day, especially the ever-increasing army of Arsenal fans who are convinced that our misfortunes of late are evidence of the ebb tide of Arsène’s long tenure. Myself I believe Wenger has easily earned the right to prove himself capable of turning the tide. Ask me again after Sunday!
The margins between success and failure are nothing more than the width of a post. If a win against Olympiakos is followed by a famous Derby triumph at White Hart Lane, the clamour will be “crisis, what crisis?” But under the circumstances, rest assured my trepidation is such that I’ll be making the short-hop along the Seven Sisters Road on my motorbike, just so I’ve an excuse to bring my crash helmet.
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