So it’s nearly over. The colonists have celebrated their annual feast of thankfulness and the retail addicts have fought in the car park of the shopping mall. The dreaded dark month of November of which many were, just a few short weeks ago, so scared, has nearly passed. The disastrous run of unbeaten games which everyone predicted has happened and we have only two fixtures left to get through before we can all sigh with relief and enjoy the downhill toboggan run that is December, January and February.
Sarcasm aside and trying to look at the thing objectively, we dropped two points at home to Spurs, otherwise nothing to be embarrassed about in the other results. A return to winning ways today and the start of another winning streak would of course be the perfect end to Black November and that’s exactly what I expect.
I do not say this from an emotional, hopeful perspective. I expect it because seldom do we go on a long run without a win. As Shotta will no doubt confirm very rarely do we play four games and not win at least one of them. We did once manage six draws on the trot – a club record in fact – but that was way back in 1961. We ended the sequence with an emphatic 4 – 2 defeat of Fulham and in case you were wondering Barnwell and Henderson both scored twice.
I don’t see our recent results as a problem because the squad isn’t suddenly altered in any way just because of a few drawn games. The players are precisely as talented and skilful as ever they were and the manager as wily and experienced as at the start of the season. If I have any sort of concern it would be more about the patchy nature of the performances. This must in some part be down to the ever changing make up our first eleven. Disruption to the line up is seldom ever conducive to consistent displays on the pitch. We have lacked a settled deputy for Santi and have seen several players tried next to Francis Coquelin. Aaron is the latest to attempt not to fill the Spaniard’s boots but to bring his own style to the position.
Like anyone else, and especially given his recent return from injury, he needs time before we can judge him. Personally I prefer to see him there rather than anyone else. He has the ability to tackle, the nous to keep the ball, a range of passes, can run with the ball and is deadly when he does get forward. Is it his best position? I don’t pretend to be sufficiently knowledgeable to answer that one.
We have also rotated on the flanks, at full back and up front. I entirely support the manager in this as only he has all the information on fitness levels, and only he knows his own long term plan for the season. To second guess him on why certain players are rested for certain games is an exercise in futility. You had just as well tell me I should have killed off a character in the first chapter of my book without knowing that he is pivotal to the plot in the final pages.
However I have eyes and they occasionally function reasonably well and I can clearly see that a game built around fast, instinctive, flowing football is disrupted and can stagnate into blunt predictable patterns when players don’t anticipate each other’s movements. I’ve always believed the game is about partnerships all over the pitch. Certain players bond better with some team mates than with others. Also there are some players who have the kind of influence on those around them that can change a game. Gerrard did it famously for Liverpool on many occasions, Vieira has done it for us and I would argue Aaron, when he hits form and confidence is that type of player.
Regardless of the formation or personnel around him he has the ability to take the game to the opposition, to open up space for others and to score important goals. If he gets a run alongside Francis I think we’ll see evidence of this and the weight of expectation on Mesut and Alexis will diminish as a result thus freeing their games to the benefit of everybody on the team.
Today we face Jack Wilshere’s Bournemouth. He has answered the question as to who he wants to win in the only way he could. His team mates would surely look askance at anybody in their own dressing room who publicly called for them to be defeated. Arsène brushed aside the attempt to squeeze some controversy from this and I believe we should do the same.
In any case Jack’s temporary allegiance to his rehabilitation team won’t be subjected to public scrutiny as he can’t play against us today. I might have been blissfully unaware of the ludicrous ‘head to head’ goal rule in the Champion’s League but I’m up to snuff on Premier League loan regulations. It’s section 7.2 of rule M.6 if you’d care to have a look yourself.
Bournemouth like to play the game in what we consider to be the right way. It must have been a factor in Jack’s choice to go there. They are finding it hard going though and while they haven’t endured the kind of Novemberus horribilis which so many were predicting for the Arsenal they did lose to Sunderland and that takes some doing. They sit a mere four points from the relegation zone but this simply illustrates why I care so little for league tables this side of the new year. Four points from the gallows they may be but they’re also only four from sixth place. Given the quality of the five teams above that position it must be the high water mark for every other side in the league.
I’d like to see a settled line up today, yes even the same team that duked it out on Wednesday night, but as I’ve said before I won’t carp whatever team sheet Arsène pins up because he is the only one with sufficient information to understand the decision. Our job isn’t to manage the team it’s to cheer them on. I’d have loved to have been there to do so in person today and thanks to splendid PA regular Steve, that nearly became a reality but circumstances conspired against me. I shall therefore be watching from the armchair and will see you here at a quarter past two. If, like Steve, you are at the match then why not sing a song for the folks back home? I’ll listen out for you.