I’m having terrible trouble getting going this season. After a prolonged summer break recovering from the effects of the interminable internationals I crept from the long grass, blinking in the light of day, just in time to preview a routine victory against Watford. I was then immediately given the bum’s rush and booted back into touch once again. Why did they need to play more internationals so soon? It beats, as our American friends are so fond of saying, me. You might have thought they’d have learned their lesson, especially the English, following their débâcle en France.
It is, as a consequence, with heady sense of déjà vu, that I float the suggestion that our season proper starts today. Actually, I don’t think it is déjà vu because I’m pretty certain I said as much in my previous preview. Although if it were déjà vu I would think that wouldn’t I? Bloody awkward organ the brain.
Never mind all that. What matters as far as the stale and uninspiring football fodder we’ve been served since last we witnessed the real thing, is did our players come through their ordeals unscathed? All I can tell from Arsène’s remarks to the reptiles yesterday is that Ospina and Alexis didn’t get home until late on Thursday night, the implication being that they may be a little groggy still. With a big game on Tuesday evening one might be forgiven for wondering if our Chilean action man may miss out today.
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain champing at the bit to prove himself this season and the Premiership’s most exciting young player, Alex Iwobi, back in the squad we are more than capable of filling the left flank of our attacking triumvirate, but it will still be a shame not to see our diminutive number seven. His first half display against Watford was a joy to watch. He wasn’t just fast, eager and full of running – let’s be fair any moderately healthy and enthusiastic young person can show willing and trot about a bit – but he linked exquisitely with team mates and really terrorised the home defence. Apart from one howler when he chose not to pass with Theo unmarked in the area and the keeper committed his decision making and passing were exemplary. It would have been wonderful to see him build on that, put Southampton to the sword and really make opponents sit up and take notice.
One of the advantages we used to have was players of whom other teams were properly scared. It’s a vital ingredient. I remember Tomáš Rosický scoring a goal against some side from the north. I think they were from the north anyway. They wore red. Possibly. I must confess my memory for the superficial details of life is a little lacking. Blame my great age. Either way my point is the space he created was due in part to the headless chicken act from the opposing defenders as they contemplated a certain French fox in their midst. Henry created room for his mates to exploit simply by being on the pitch. It’s an unmeasurable quality certain people bring to bear on a game often decided by slender margins. Suarez did it for Liverpool and made some fairly good but not spectacular players look very much better for a season. Heck he made Brendan Rodgers look like a half decent manager. Briefly.
I believe Alexis can be that kind of player for us. I think Mesut is the one they really ought to fear but his position on the pitch and his all round game are such that he tends to be the one passing the stiletto rather than sliding it between the ribs. It’s the pugnacious presence of Sanchez which really gets the defender’s attention and when he performs as he did for the first forty five at Vicarage Road they end up chasing shadows or just falling over.
Oops, I’ve done it again. I’ve ignored the laws of The Professional Transfer League and not been talking about the right players have I? No one wants to hear about yesterday’s chip papers when there are new kids on the block. The big question is which, if any, of our recent additions might play today.
Looking back, I think Arsène has a tendency to bung defenders straight onto the grill and see how they sizzle. In contrast I believe he prefers to ease his strikers more carefully into the side. If we take Eduardo as the template he started a lot of cup games but wasn’t the immediate first choice in the league. Of course this is a blog and in common with all other football blogs is based on wild assumption, unsubstantiated guesswork and amateur opinion. If my mind has done me a disservice I apologise. I was simply pulling some vague notions from the dusty, cobwebbed, crumbling back room of my memory to support the hypothesis that while we might see poor Noddy Holding reduced to an also ran despite as good a start to an Arsenal career as one could ever hope to see, I doubt that señor Perez will join Herr Mustafi in the starting line up at 3pm.
I just feel that while we are still bedding in a new midfield linchpin, altering our back five and adjusting to life without Aaron and (potentially) Alexis too, throwing another new face into the mix could only be disruptive and unhelpful. But what on earth do I, you or any of us know about it? Luckily enough, while we fill the hours before kick off with idle speculation, there is a man who makes such decisions for us and all we really need to do is sit back and watch the show.
It needs to be a better show than any we saw against the Saints last season that’s for certain. While their inability to win a league game at the Emirates disqualifies them from being a bona fide bogey team they have been a right royal douleur dans le dos. In fact we’ve only won once in our previous six matches against them in all competitions. The shocking nature of their victory on boxing day when a win would have put us on top of the league still causes me to push my spoon around the mulligatawny in a disconsolate manner (if that match happens to pop into my mind over dinner that is). We simply must do better today. I don’t subscribe to the idea that we can lose too much ground in September but two home defeats on the bounce is seldom title winning form.
I shall not, however, entertain such negative thoughts this morning and I adjure you to abstain from the same. Let us instead anticipate the return of our brave boys from the far flung reaches of the globe, welcome the new faces and eagerly anticipate a similar display to that with which Watford were so comprehensively dismantled. If you’re going to the game I hope you get your money’s worth, if like me you’re confined to the watching on the small screen, I’ll see you here at 3pm.