I was looking at the photographs of yesterday’s training session on Arsenal.com and it got me to thinking. Shouldn’t the club photographer get a winter break? Is it really fair to expect him to work on Christmas Day, away from his friends and family, missing out on Eastenders and the Queen’s speech? Isn’t there a danger he’ll suffer burn out from too many photocalls in the middle of winter when his fingers are at their coldest and his equipment is vulnerable from the rain and the wind? The ill judged composition of the shot of Calum Chambers with another player’s head seeming to grow from his left shoulder and a poorly placed horizon line breaking the rule of thirds is surely a sign of a photographer taking pictures in the red zone.
From these obvious and serious concerns it was but a small step to realise that bloggers too deserve a break over the festive season. I type with two fingers. That’s perhaps why so often I seem to be saying a massive fuck you to the football establishment, media and referees not to mention many of our fans. Those two fingers are getting worn down and I fear that three matches in a few days is asking far too much of my sadly over exercised digits. How can we expect to attract and keep the best writers in the world if we don’t give them a break when the days are short and the house full of discarded wrapping paper? It makes you think.
The other group of people trying to rouse themselves from their festive torpor today are the players. Arsenal travel to the south coast to face a side they’ve not beaten there since December 29th 2003. Last season we went there on new year’s day and suffered a two nil defeat at the hands of a Southampton side who were in fine fettle and good for their win. This time around Ronald Koeman’s men have not had such a great time of it and it is my fervent Christmas wish that their indifferent form continues for at least one more match.
Today will, I believe, be a test of resilience. A sorely depleted squad desperately in need of big performances from a supporting cast and with just a whiff of a hangover from their stoicism against a resurgent second half Man City will be up against it today. The last thing I’d want to see is another long backs to the wall defence of a slender lead.
If it should come to that of course we can be sure the players will be up for it. The one thing we know for certain about Arsène Wenger’s teams through the ages is that they have guts. Rightly famed for their silky skills and fluid passing his sides have always shown equal measures of fight and determination. Just because the clichéd script of the hacks in the television studios and the chip wrappers refuse to recognise this doesn’t mean it isn’t true. If they can summon the energy for a couple more performances of courage and endurance then we will end the year on a real high and the ludicrous fixture schedule which has blighted the holiday season will suddenly not seem such a stupid idea.
I know it’s traditional and I know that some people look forward to it as the best part of Christmas but I look at the number of games our first eleven is navigating without much respite and I fear for the health and well being of a squad which simply cannot afford any more injuries. On the flip side of that coin Calum and Kieran are getting a bit of game time these days and should be able to slot in more comfortably if called upon so to do. Also, we can expect some of the wounded to return soon, if not soon enough to make a difference to our end of year schedule.
Santi is effectively gone from the equation and the length of time out for Danny and Jack will surely see them eased in very gently when they are fit. I’m picturing a similar scenario to that we witnessed with Theo’s return last season. Maybe one or both will be able to make an impact in one or other of the cup finals but we can’t expect them to play a major role in winning the league.
Still, like that new mountain bike you didn’t get for Christmas there is no point in griping about the things which cannot be changed. Some might suggest the boss and Ivan can alter things in the upcoming transfer window but new faces take time to bed in and it is fanciful or at the very best blindly optimistic to expect anyone bought in to make an immediate impact.
So it’s a case of fingers crossed. Or if you lack the belief in such precautions against the ravages of cruel fate, que sera, sera. Maybe the Saints will be suffering from a surfeit of Christmas pud and come stumbling from the blocks without the panache they showed around this time last year. Maybe Mathieu’s hamstrings can twang on happily for a few weeks yet and Per’s long legs continue to be planted in the right place at the right time without suffering any nasty knocks.
I said during the pre season on these very pages just let Mesut and Aaron remain fit for the duration and we’ll be all right. Well I haven’t been granted that wish with our Welsh wonder already spending time in the MASH tent so I’m going to amend it and ask that they remain in harness for the rest of the campaign.
As Francis and Joel have shown us last season and this help can come from unexpected quarters when most needed. I firmly believe there is enough ability and mental strength left in our squad to keep up with Leicester City’s fabulous start to the season. Whether we will have enough in the tank to overhaul them at the end remains to be seen but if we can just stagger through against the two south coast teams then the Foxes will feel our hot steamy breath on the backs of their necks. This is the hardest pressure of all when there is no one in front of you to aim at and the baying hounds are at your heels. Will they be able to withstand it? If not we need to be in a position to pounce.
Whether I’ll be able to think of anything to write on Monday and how the club photographer will find time to develop his film are other matters all together. At the moment my left index finger is showing signs of a small blister, but I’ll tell you this – if birthday boy Aaron Ramsey can keep running the length of the pitch to the very last whistle then it would be churlish of me to complain so I’ll keep applying the Germolene and just pray that Andy Nic has enough ribbon in his Remington to write another glowing review of another famous victory come Sunday morning.