Things Not So ‘Triffic Now, ‘Arry?

For those of you who read yesterdays blog or were up to date on twitter, it will come as no surprise to hear that yesterday was one of the most astonishingly potent hangovers of my entire life. Having somewhat recovered and returned to the land of the living to some extent, I will endeavour to deliver a blog this morning that consists of something other than the utmost profanity.

Yesterday’s football yielded mixed results. These days we find ourselves preoccupied with the results of our two local rivals, Spurs and Chelsea. The news was mixed as the Bob Matthews-led Chelsea side scraped their way to a 1-0 win over Stoke, however on the other hand Spurs went down to their third successive league defeat, beaten as they were 1-0 by Everton, giving rise to a hilariously surly post-match interview by ‘Arry.

The effect of all this on the Champions League qualification is that Chelsea have moved onto the same points tally as us, although we remain ahead on goal difference and hold a game in hand, and Spurs remain only four points ahead and again we hold a game in hand. It was always going to be vital for us to defeat Newcastle tomorrow night, but the situation positively demands it now. A win would restore a three point advantage over Chelsea and would reduce the deficit with Spurs, which stood at over ten points at one stage, to a single point. Pressure, you would have thought, that their hob-nob constitution would be unable to withstand.

Having now managed three very creditable results in a row whilst Spurs have been floundering, we have every reason to feel confident ahead of tomorrow night’s match. Arsenal defender and former star of The Tudors, Thomas Vermaelen, says he’s not worried about whether or not we can finish in the top four. King Henry VIII said,

We had some good results against Tottenham and Liverpool and if we can play the way we did against AC Milan then I am not worried if we will be top four or not, if we play that way then we can beat any team. The thing is you have to be consistent and that is not easy in football.

This season consistency has been an issue for us, although we have put together runs of good form they have perhaps been interrupted too easily and now that we’re really coming down to the serious stuff in the league that’s a problem that cannot be allowed to repeat itself. Things have been looking up for us since Bacary Sagna drove home his header to reduce the arrears in the derby against Spurs. In the remainder of that game, and in the match against Milan we showed the way this Arsenal team should play. Plenty of pace and pressure on the ball, simple but effective passing, and of course incisive striking. Against Liverpool we were a little more fortunate, but we showed a capacity to defend and to hang in there when we were up against it. These are the characteristics that we will need in the weeks to come. We still face massive games at home to Chelsea and Manchester City before the end of the season, games in which we simply cannot afford to be at anything other than our best. Consistency, as Vermaelen says, is very much the key.

One player whom fans will be (rightly or wrongly) expecting an impact from in this crucial stage of the season isAlex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The young man has had a very successful first season at Arsenal so far, quickly rising to become something of a fan favourite. England seem to have him earmarked to go to Euro 2012 and he has excelled in every role he has been asked to perform. He’s had one or two quiet games as well though, which is only to be expected of a teenager at this level, and Arsene Wenger has spoken of the need to be responsible in bringing him through the ranks. The manager says,

“His feet are on the ground but we have to manage him in a responsible way as well, the problem when you have a talented player like that is that everybody wants him to play every single game. If you do that then he will be injured.

“I don’t think he is ready yet to play in a [central midfield] position in a consistent way. I am a great admirer but it is difficult to slow the enthusiasm down on the expectation level.

“Honestly, he is 18 years old. Look anywhere in Europe and there are some talented 18-year-olds who play in the Champions League. He is already ahead because we give him a chance.”

And of course, to see the manager’s point about playing him in every game you need only look at Jack Wilshere who played an incredible number of games for us last season and is yet to appear this season due to the injury that resulted from that. Nonetheless it’s hard to keep the expectations of the Ox down when he has such obvious potential. The fact is he came into the side and was immediately a better option than the lethargic Arshavin, a player with more than a decade more experience than him. He’s been creative and dangerous and, in the final analysis badly needed.

It’s a tough one for the manager because he’s always been cautious, and rightly in most cases, in brining through youngsters not necessarily into the team but certainly into regular action. What has happened with Wilshere must surely be ringing in his head as a warning as well, but on the other hand we have a talented player here that we’re finding it harder and harder to do without. Next season then, it may well be the Year of the Ox. (Sorry)

Arsene Wenger has some interesting things to say about the elimination of three of the four English teams from the Champions League at a relatively early stage this season (with Chelsea also facing an uphill task to go through this week). A few years ago when it was United, Chelsea, ourselves and Liverpool that formed what seemed an unbreakable top four (how quickly that idea disappeared, eh?), English clubs were dominant in Europe, twice I believe, three of the four semi-finalists were English. Now our clubs are finding it more difficult and on the face of it, it’s not all that easy to see why. Certainly the two Spanish teams are great sides, but neither of them eliminated us, or United or City. On the matter, Arsene says of this years exits,

“If you look at the results of Man City and Man United at home this season, you would think that they were the two teams who would manage to go through easily. It is difficult,”

“For any English team it is difficult [if you finish fourth]. Where before it was just a formality to qualify, now it is not. With Udinese we had two hard games, they are a top team in Serie A.”

“We played on Sunday against Tottenham and it was a massive game for us. Then all of the players go away and they play on Wednesday night in their countries,”

“Then they come back on the Friday and you go to Liverpool on Saturday morning. Then on Tuesday night you play a decisive game in Europe. To survive with that is very difficult.

“Maybe because in England every championship game is a complete commitment, we suffer a bit more in the decisive Champions League games.” 

I’m not sure the fixture congestion argument is all that compelling since other European teams cope with that as well. Maybe there is something to the suggestion that English teams face more intense competition at home. Certainly the two Spanish teams routinely face fixtures that are just not as demanding of top quality sides as the ones we contend with. However, other European teams play in competitive league. Indeed it is Italian teams that have knocked out two of England’s representatives and it seems possible that Napoli will also claim Chelsea as well. Perhaps there is a general improvement in the standard of some leagues, and perhaps English teams have now been so high profile for such a long time that European teams are finding answers to playing against us that they hadn’t before.

Whatever the reason, I don’t think any English team is going to look back on this season in Europe with any real affection, there’s some taking stock to do and some planning to do. Next year we’ll have to be ready for the fact that not we (as an association, not just Arsenal) are just not as dominant as we have been in the past. Perhaps a bit of complacency has been in the equation for us as well in Europe because our teams are so used to success and lengthy cup runs.

Anyway, I’m going to leave the pondering there as I have work to do ahead of the arrival of the Leperette later this morning. Have a nice Sunday and I’ll be back soon.

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  • Michael Sheehy  On 11/03/2012 at 1:07 pm

    Someone made a point on TV that there is no way the top Spanish teams would have faced a tough trip to Liverpool like we did only 3 days before a big CL game. There is a train of thought that the fixture list should take into account the CL games for the top sides which would benefit English football.

  • shrek2be  On 11/03/2012 at 1:25 pm

    More important point would be, there is no league cup in Spain. Just La Liga and Copa Del Ray (Spain FA Cup I think). Supercopa De Espana is their version of Community Shield where winners of La Liga and Copa Del Ray play. and its played at the end of the season over 2 legs. Same with Italy. Also they don’t have replays if matches are drawn. They just go into extra time.

  • Leper Messiah  On 12/03/2012 at 8:27 am

    I dunno, I think its the Premier League that has it right in that respect and the other leagues that have it wrong. I don’t think that sort of “protection” of Champions League teams is good for the domestic game, and for that matter its not particularly fair on European opponents either.

    Shrek, surely if the cups are all two legged then since in England the FA Cup and Carling Cup are both one legged then unless you go all the way in both the chances are a team will play less cup games here than in Spain or Italy.

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