What can we learn in the next three weeks?
As we head into a tricky looking run of fixtures, us Gooners are torn between optimism and fatalism. On the one had Walcott is coming good, the team looks solid, three clean sheets, and the form of the second half of last season looks to be returning. On the other hand, we lost at home to West Ham, we are still short of a striker, our finishing is abysmal, and we are vulnerable to injuries in key positions. On the whole, I am in the optimistic camp (as most AKBs will be). But a string of bad results up to the next interlull will make even me anxious. The fixtures are:
|Man U at||home.||PL||4 Oct|
These games come at the rate of two a week for three weeks, and successive away fixtures like this can be draining. The sequence will certainly test the depth and endurance of our squad. I suspect we will see the wonderful looking Reine-Adelaide at least once. Tottenham is a Carling Cup game, so we may see a reserve/youngsters team. However, defeat in this fixture would be bad for morale. In order not to fall back too far in the Premiership, we would really want a minimum of four points from the three PL fixtures, and this looks far from certain (we got no points from Man U home and Chelsea away last season – we didn’t play Leicester).
So the shape of our season may well become clearer during these three weeks. Football games are wonderful things (hence their popularity). There is so much to see and discover on so many different levels. When I watch Arsenal play, I struggle to see beyond the questions of ‘Are Arsenal going to score?’ and ‘Are the opposition going to score?’ So I have had a little think about the things we should look out for, which will really shape this crucial part of the season:
- Can Coquelin keep it up?
In some ways, this is the most important question of all. If Coquelin continues to be as good as he was last season (and avoids major injury), we have a genuine big time player. Early signs are good this season. If he plays 90% of the season, I feel we will be defensively solid. I am still somewhat mystified by his failure to earn a France call up. Is this because non-flair players are easier to overlook in the short-term? Is his game more suited to the Premiership than international football?
- Will Walcott go prolific?
This is another big one. The most obvious potential weakness in our side is at centre forward. If Theo scores a lot of goals this season, this concern will go away. The signs are very good here:
- Walcott is getting a lot of chances. Actually getting into scoring positions is the real test of a striker’s skill and class – finishing rates can be deceptive or ‘cyclical’ as Arsene has observed
- He has all the attributes of a top class striker: speed, skill, balance, imagination, accurate finishing. He has been a consistent goalscorer for the last three seasons now (despite being massively injury disrupted and generally playing wide).
- He has missed a few sitters this season. If he had scored two or three of these, we would be raving about his exploits. All top class strikers miss sitters, and you shouldn’t read too much into a small number of games. He clearly does not lack the skill or ‘calmness’ to finish sitters, and he doesn’t have a record of doing it, so there is no reason to think that this is a long-term problem.
- Wenger’s record in moving players to new positions has a lot more successes (Henry, RVP, Lauren, Kolo Toure) than failures (Eboue, Song, Wiltord)
- Is Gabriel as good as he looks?
This guy also looks like a big time player. He is beginning to establish himself in the team, and he has all the attributes of a top class defender (yet to prove consistency). If I was an attacker, I wouldn’t fancy my chances of getting past a line-up of Koscielny and Gabriel protected by Le Coq and any combination of our full backs.
I love this player. He has wonderful skills and great stats. However, I still feel there is more to come from him. He doesn’t seem to ‘dominate’ games, but looks capable of doing so. Perhaps he never will, and will always just be a great team player. Instinct however, tells me that he might start overpowering the opposition in the way that Pires, Fabregas, Bergkamp, Viera, and Henry have all done at various times. If he does, then our rivals are in big trouble.
- Is Wenger going to rotate?
Historically our manager is not an enthusiastic rotator. But this squad is deep, and there are a number of positions where the first choice is not much better than the reserve.
Strikers are the most common position to rotate. Walcott in the CL, Giroud in the PL sounds good, but can anyone resist the temptation to play Walcott against Terry? Expect Joel Campbell to get minutes. Full back looks like a good candidate for rotation, with four strong players.
Can Wenger bear to rest Ozil? Can we afford to play Arteta instead of Coquelin? Can we afford to work Coquelin into the ground? Will we try Ramsay in the middle again and give the ageing Cazorla a rest? Will we rotate the top three centre backs? – is it conceivable to rest Bosscielny? Will Wilshere and the Ox be important? Is it possible to rest Sanchez and does he know the meaning of the word?
Or will too much rotation disturb the team? If we don’t see rotation in this series of matches, we can probably look forward to the ‘rotation by injury’ policy that we have enjoyed in the last few years. If we do see rotation, it could be a sign of things to come. The success or failure of that rotation could determine our season.
Of course there are many other important players at Arsenal, and their performances will also make a big difference to the team. Questions of secondary importance, seem to me to be:
- Can Sanchez maintain last seasons form?
- Is this the year that the Ox finally establishes himself?
- Can our fullbacks keep up the good work?
- Will Cech make a real difference?
- Will Koscielny be as good as ever?
- Can Cazorla keep it up in the new position?
- Will we get the 13/14 Ramsay back?
- Will Giroud do well?
- Will our BFG have an Indian summer?
All in all, I expect the next few weeks to start answering some of these questions. We are now into the season proper. There is no more ‘early season form’, and this is our first big test.
- 16 September 1912: Arsenal lost 0-3 at home to Villa, their fourth consecutive defeat from the start of the season. With the word spreading that after waiting for three years to find local buyers from the club, Henry Norris was moving the club, it was not surprising that the crowd was just 6805, although that was not the lowest during this first and only relegation season in the club’s history.
- 16 September 1937: Arsenal v Arsenal Reserves was the first live game ever on TV.
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