Our little break from the long mountainous climb to the Premier League summit didn’t last long. A quick kick about on the plateau which is the FA Cup third round with hard working but ultimately out classed, out passed, out manoeuvred and out scored Sunderland and we are back onto the steep slopes. We travel to Anfield to face a Liverpool side against whom, by my calculations, we are two points down. How so? Well I think we did enough to beat them at our place when they last visited and as such a home draw left us smarting. It would be rather nice to get those points back tonight and despite their struggles against Exeter I doubt it will be an easy task.
Liverpool at Anfield is never to be taken lightly whatever their recent form and like many teams they will raise their game when we are in town. There is much being made of the mutual respect between the managers and I’m quite happy about that. Far too much hot air is wasted attempting to raise up the mean minded, low brow abuse and petty school yard insults trotted out by certain coaches. Too much ink spilled trying to convince a gullible public that such pathetic barbs constitute ‘mind games’ or some sort of clever psychology. I’m much happier to hear that Herr Klopp’s opinion of Arsène just keeps going up and up. Much is also being made of the results between the two managers all of which have occurred in Champion’s League matches between Arsenal and Dortmund. I’m not entirely convinced that there is much relevance here as the German side were settled, familiar with their manager’s tactics and style of play and to a large part chosen for their ability to work well within his chosen structure.
Since arriving on Merseyside Jürgen Norbert has faced the usual challenges of jumping into a new set up with new playing staff and with the season already under way. He has also been beset with injury problems exacerbating his desire to get his team playing his preferred brand of heavy metal football. I certainly don’t think it’s fair to judge him until he’s had a lot more time to build his own squad and instil his methodology. Having said all that he was unbeaten in his first six games in charge and under his watchful eye Liverpool have beaten Chelsea and Man City and absolutely hammered Southampton. The Ethiad result was perhaps the most eye catching but in such a topsy turvy unpredictable season who can say? Losing to Watford, Crystal Palace and Newcastle while stuffing the filthy rich Oil City and beating high flying Leicester is kind of par for the course these days.
So as you’ve probably guessed I’m delivering my well worn ‘anything can happen’ sermon on this clear and crisp Wednesday morning.
Despite that horrible and quickly forgotten blemish down at St Mary’s we sit atop the current form table. Taken over the previous six outings there are five green squares all with a nice plump W inside them. Liverpool’s inconsistency is on the other hand more frenetic than ours and laid bare by the same table which shows them losing three, drawing one and winning the remaining two.
If I was a Liverpool fan, and I do know a couple, I’d be most concerned about the defence. King Kolo looked lost when we tore into them at The Emirates last season. Unable to cope with our pace and invention he was, if not actually a liability, then certainly bypassed with ease on more than one occasion. He nearly gifted us a goal in the fifth minute but in fairness responded quickly to clear the danger after his keeper parried Aaron Ramsey’s shot. I highlight Kolo as he is nearly a year older now and pulled up with what looked like cramp recently making him doubtful for this game. If he doesn’t start Liverpool’s new signing Steven Caulker could make his début.
I’d hope either an ageing or makeshift centre back pairing would provide a splendid playground for Theo to dance through and Mesut to weave his magic threads in and around but of course I am not manager of Arsenal and there is no guarantee Theo will even start. With Ox showing signs of getting over his injury lay off and Campbell little short of a revelation our patched up squad has actually played itself into the kind of form where Arsène has, if not selection headaches, then at least selection mild discomfort. Our skipper is back from the dead and back in the mix, Calum Chambers has looked a little raw but has acquitted himself very well in midfield and Mathieu Flamini, much to the chagrin of the transfer junkies and haters, hasn’t put a foot wrong.
Will Arteta and Flamini play at the base of the midfield à la the Santi / Coquelin axis and allow Aaron to reprise his more attacking role starting nominally on the wing but drifting all over the pitch and creating havoc in the opposition defence? If so who misses out? Or has Aaron now convinced Arsène of his credentials running from deep, or does the ‘Ox through the middle’ experiment continue? Isn’t it nice to have such conundrums? Is the plural of conundrum actually conundra? We live in an uncertain world and must learn to accept that there are some things we simply cannot know and much we cannot control.
Speaking of the Lazarus like return of our forgotten heroes, I turned to Arsenal.com in an idle moment yesterday to be greeted by the heart warming sight of a photograph of Tomáš Rosický. The diminutive maestro was in bib and gloves and darting between training mannequins in much the same way as he darts through Spurs defenders. It was a vision for me. There are plenty of arguments among Arsenal fans and one of the myths about this blog is that we discourage and actively stifle debate. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Many is the time we like to argue over who is Arsenal’s best or most creative or most important player. Which was the best goal, who is better in any given position. For me the whole best player debate is a little disingenuous as we aren’t really saying player x is better than player y, we are actually saying player x is my favourite.
Doesn’t matter if Mesut can glide past opposition midfielders as if they’ve been turned to stone and pass better than Koscielny, because he can’t do what Kos can. Similarly stick Mesut in goal and Petr behind the centre forward and we’d be in trouble. So I prefer the debate over who are our favourite players at the club. For me right now it is Tomáš . Has been for years in fact. I love plenty of the others of course but our number seven makes me smile with his audacity, ebullience, enthusiasm, invention and his style. He is at the stage of his career where he has nothing to prove to anybody and has all the experience he needs to draw on for any given situation. I hope he will be back as soon as possible, it’s a shame he isn’t adding to the selection problems this evening, but as he enters the twilight of a cruelly foreshortened Arsenal career he can be absolutely vital to the latter half of our season.
Don’t expect me to be too rational about the club I support, don’t expect me to predict victory every week. Do expect me to turn a blind eye to the mistakes of my favourites and to glory in every little thing they do well. I want those two points back tonight but most of all I want to be around to enjoy a glorious swansong from our own little Mozart.