September 23, 2012
However much people will warn you against drawing too many conclusions from our first major challenge of the season only five games in, I’m pretty sure the temptation tomorrow will be too great. It’s like warning someone not to touch their plate because it’s hot. Two seconds. Burnt fingers.
Of course this afternoon’s match at Man City won’t define our season. If we win it won’t solidify our status as genuine title challengers any more than if we lose it will signal a false dawn and a long hard season of mid-table slog. But that’s not to say today is not a massive occasion and a tremendous test of just how far we’ve come.
Much of the hope that’s grown over the first few weeks of the season has been based around our newfound defensive solidity, a Steve Bould drilled back four protected by a harder working midfield unit whose only goals conceded thus far have come from a daft penalty and an even dafter goalkeeping mistake. But, no disrespect to the attacking talents of Southampton, Stoke or even Montpellier, this afternoon will be the first time that defensive ability has had a proper, serious examination.
The boss was talking pre-match about the rookies in the team. Carl Jenkinson and Vito Mannone’s inclusion against the champions would have had wet poo running down the leg of even the most confident Gooner only six weeks ago. It’s a measure of how well they’ve started that their starting today will only be causing some moderately bad wind. AW said:
They’ve stood up to the test and I’m very proud of that. I am very happy for them as well because I have faith in them. It’s always nice to see that first of all you are paid back and you were right.
Vito has experience because he is now 24 and he played under pressure at Hull for a long time. He learnt his job here.
As for Carl, he learns from game to game and is a great studier of football. I think he will have a big career because he’s such an immensely motivated boy and he has talent. Of course he wants to learn very quickly, but of course he has jumped from primary school to university in one year. You need some special talent to do that.
It’s one thing to jump from primary school to university but coming up against the likes of Silva, Balotelli, Tevez and possibly Aguero this afternoon will be like sitting your finals the day after Freshers week. It’s a huge test for the boy and the defence as a whole.
In midfield we’ll be needing another big performance from Abou Diaby. He tired very quickly in the second half in midweek, a reminder perhaps that he may not quite be ready to be relied on for 90 minutes week in week out. Today we can’t afford for those lapses of concentration that sometimes creep into his game. At his best this year he’s been compared, and even compared himself to Yaya Toure so it will be fascinating to see whether that comparison is still being made after he comes up against him this afternoon.
Up front is the only position where it feels like Le Boss has a big decision to make. Does he go for the physical presence of Olivier Giroud and hope that today’s the day the Frenchman announces himself to the Premier League? Or does he attempt to bamboozle City’s main apparent weakness, their backline, with the sort of movement we saw against Southampton by putting Gervinho up there?
I fancy us to go with the latter. Gervinho would be a difficult man to drop right now being in the rare position that he’s brimming with confidence and consequently looking very dangerous and I liked the balance that we had with Oxlade playing an impressively conservative role in helping to protect Jenks on the right. I think we’ll line up like this:
Jenks – Per – Verm – Gibbs
Art – Abou
Ox – Caz – Pod
It’s possible today would be a good day to bring Kozzer back into the fold to deal with the trickery on the ground of Carlos Tevez. But I suspect we’ll stick with a unit whose understanding seems to grow from game to game.
As I said, the temptation to draw conclusions from this afternoon’s game will be huge. And while in some ways that’s ridiculous the very fact that it will happen makes today a massive opportunity. A win this afternoon wouldn’t make us a great side overnight. But it would get certain people saying it and that would have a huge impact on the confidence within the squad.
Or as Arsene Wenger put it:
What gives the extra edge at the moment is that the Premier League is very tight. It’s the beginning of the title race and you know that this game can have a big influence on the belief of both teams. Who has the upper hand has a psychological advantage too. So on that front it’s a very exciting game.
It’s very early in the season. But it’s already very important for me.
If You Liked This...
- Jimmy Savile gives Wenger selection dilemma + Rambo dropped as captain
- Markus Liebherr Trophy just elaborate joke at Arsenal’s expense
- New commercial deal ensures playground bragging rights + another star to leave
- Arsenal could break another record today + Le Coq to start?
- Arsène Wenger’s Play Your Cards Right – Gazidis piles pressure on Le Boss