Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Thoughts on Everton, Bolton and Sol.

Perhaps not putting pen to paper - or is that cursor to screen, keyboard to 'new post' - has been useful for me when it comes to looking at the Everton match, which was a staggering ten days ago.

Because whenever you score late, in the aftermath of the match, the result secured takes on a special glow which casts its light far and wide. Like the sun even. But not as far and wide. (I do mean the hot thing in the sky, not the tabloid newspaper, although that does also seem to cast its influence far and wide; its not the best analogy ever).

But while Everton are clearly playing much better of late - they are one of the division's form teams - that does not take away from a very salient point: since August, because of the Champions League qualifying round we played, all the teams around us had played an extra game - we had a perennial game in hand. Anyway, we always counted the difference from Chelsea as being three points less because Bolton at home is a banker.

However, the 'adverse weather conditions' meant that as so many matches got snowed off, the home game against Everton became the perennial game in hand. Herein, lies the issue with the point we gained against Everton last Saturday: suddenly, our game in hand was not easy and having essentially played it, it only gave us an extra point. So when we play Bolton this Wednesday night, even if we win and go top, Chelsea will have a game in hand on us. So not only was it a poor result, it has weakened us psychologically as we are no longer de facto top of the League, to borrow a particularly ugly expression from my brother.

If I were a truly objectionable fellow, I would point out that I predicted we would not beat Everton; but since my ensuing correctness gave me no joy, and I never wrote it on this blog, it would be wrong and disingenuous to use that as proof that I really am Mystic Meg.

Nevertheless, Everton always looked like it would be a difficult game: the poor weather and Everton's return to reform conspired to make it so. In the end, although there are clearly many negatives to that draw, considering the circumstances, as an isolated result it could have been much worse: at risk of stating the obvious, we came within a minute of losing the game and needed Rosicky's deflected shot to keep the momentum up - at the final whistle it felt like a win. Missing both Fabregas and Song - and with Shava strangely anonymous - to get a point from the team which genuinely is the most complete non Big Four side was no terrible thing.

Its often highlighted that we lost the League in 07/08 through a series of draws in February. And strictly speaking this is correct. But it was not each individual result that was bad. Considering the circumstances, the draws at St Andrews and the JJB that season were understandable results. The issue, is draws clustering together and that is what we must try to avoid. We've only drawn three League games this season and that low number is keeping us in the title race - a draw is two thirds of a defeat so it really is crucial to keep on winning.

That's exactly what we did on Sunday when Cesc showed his value to the team. Time and again this season, the captain has driven us forward to picking up important results. His presence is immense and currently it is almost impossible to picture Arsenal without him. He looks a shoo-in for Player of the Year and on current form he is the best player in the world. His scoring record is the envy of many a striker (eat your heart out Emile Heskey) and his passing is still top-draw. As well as working a goal on Sunday when the game threatened to go scrappy, he passed the ball beautifully and is doing his bit to make this team believe they are winners.

If we win nothing this season, Cesc could be on his way. It would be one of the great travesties of justice if Cesc's time at Arsenal was remembered by just one solitary FA Cup. Against Everton, without him, let us pick no bones: we struggled going forward and got some of the luck we have earnt with two own goals. It was no coincidence that with Rosicky and Cesc back in the team was much better going forward.

It shouldn't be overlooked that Bolton had many chances and while the return of Gael Clichy should strengthen us, we still look dodgy defensively - Sunday was a rare clean sheet. Nevertheless, beat Bolton convincingly on Wednesday and we go top for the first time since August. Lets stay there.

In November I wrote in The Gooner that it would be the greatest achievement in the history of modern football if Wenger won the League with a team bought for nothing. With the financial difficulties at Liverpool and United, it would be no surprise to see other teams try and take the Wenger approach.

But what has held us back thus far is the constant injury crisis at the club, with some remarking on Twitter that we have a 'new one-out, one-in policy in the Physio's room. Just out - Fabregas, Clichy. Back in - Nasri, Ramsey'.

Its tempting to suggest this means Wenger should rest players for the Bolton and Stoke games since they are easier matches and the FA Cup is not our priority. But two wins, before the quartet of matches that will define our League campaign begins next Wednesday would be brilliant for momentum.

Also, if we stay in the FA Cup, the manager will be more likely to buy. The acquisition of Sol looks like a good piece of business which we cannot really lose from. All Gooners were worried we would be up sh*t creek if one of our centre backs got injured and this is less of an issue now.

His return also means one of my favourite football-related jokes can return: on North London Derby day walk into any pub in Tottenham and say 'Hi, can I get a Sol.....[extended pause]...or do you give them away for free?

It is very easy to say the manager should buy a world-class centre back as cover. But firstly where do you find another Vermaelen on the cheap? And perhaps more pertinently, why would a player of the calibre of Vermaelen want to bench-warm unless someone gets injured. It makes no sense for the player.

Ultimately, it would be nice to see the manager buy a striker, but the team is a quality one and although I have my doubts, maybe Wenger really will be smiling come May.

Two weeks ago, it seemed that without signings we didn't have a cat in hell's chance. The memory of Spring 2008 is still a fresh wound. But maybe the the manager knows what he is doing?

Keep the faith,