Time to wipe the slate clean. Not something which can be easily said, especially when the season has already been under way for a couple of weeks. However, that is also precisely the reason why we could regard this upcoming weekend’s match as the start “of the star” of the season for Arsenal Football Club.
8 points behind the league leaders is by no means a mountain to high to climb. And no, I’m also not suggesting that we will certainly win the title now. The season has not begun exactly the way we would’ve preferred. Champions League qualification apart, 1 point from a possible 9 does not sound much of a title challenge. It’s pointless to argue that out of the 3 games we’ve played, 2 of those are against strong teams like Manchester United and Liverpool. To be the best, we have to beat the what’s in front of us.
Injuries, suspensions and lack of transfer activities (well, the coming-ins any way) has hampered our start to the season. Some of those will continue to hinder us in the coming months or more. The biggest worry would of course be Thomas Vermaelen. He has been in outstanding form since the start of the season and his absence was sorely missed, especially felt during that Old Trafford game. Having successfully gone through an operation, if all goes well, we are likely to see him back within 2 months.
In his place, we have a German international. Per Mertesacker will surely be penned in as a starter for Swansea on Saturday. The big central defender understands the expectations of him and has been saying the right things, especially from a fan’s point of view. Given his experience, more so when he has played in some of the world’s biggest games for Germany in major tournament, he is expected to be the calming influence at the back.
Nothing motivates a player like when he feels that his place in the team is under threat. There’s the news I ready today about how Johnny Evans has used the influx of centrebacks and the fear of being pushed out at United to keep his head down and work harder. Hopefully Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou has the same perception on things. That they see the arrival of Mertesacker as one that will make them fight harder to maintain their place in the squad. Heck, who knows if they managed to step up another level and eventually keeps the German out of first team action. Never say never (not a Justin Bieber pun).
Another of the new boy of whom we can’t associate any bad PR with is Mikel Arteta. He could also be the catalyst for a general improvement of the squad. He has played in wide positions before for Everton but will be expected to play centrally for us. That is a direct competition with Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere (when fit). Likewise with the centrebacks scenario, unless a negative outlook are selected by the players, I can only see positive improvements all around.
It was interesting to see Emmanuel Frimpong supposedly choosing to declare his preference to play for Ghana. Now, I’m not questioning the boy’s choice. Neither am I saying Ghana or England has a better chance of winning anything. My points are rather selfish ones and no surprise that they are purely from Arsenal’s point of view.
My concern is because of the Africa Cup of Nations. I get that every player wants to play and win trophies with their respective countries. Problem with this, is that this particular tournament is the timing. It is usually held in at the start of the calendar year, as opposed to the end of a footballing calendar year like the rest of world’s major football tournaments (Asia Cup is another one with timing concern).
Together with another African, Frimpong and Alex Song are our only recognised defensive midfielders. To lose both at the same time would be horrible. What’s more, the tournament will be held in consecutive years in 2012 and 2013 with the latter being organised so close to realign so that it does not clash with the World Cup.
Though at the moment, it looks likely the Cameroon would fail to qualify for next year’s edition and thus allowing Song to remain with us. As it stands, Francis Coquelin could be the back-up during this period but on the longer term, unless the Frenchman matures into a good player, we need to plug that gap in the next transfer window.
Match preview tomorrow.