Monday, 23 December 2013

Five thoughts pre Arsenal-Chelsea

Jack Wilshere is an idiot
It wasn't so long ago that Arsenal fans were bemoaning Jack Wilshere's prolonged absence, expecting his return to catalyse an often ponderous Arsenal team to improved performances. Certainly Wilshere has suffered from a weight of expectation - not helped by the club giving him the famous number 10 shirt while he was out injured - but to a large extent, he has also just not played at the same level since returning from injury.

This is entirely understandable: although there's a tendency amongst Arsenal fans to always need to have someone to criticise, I think it's natural that a young player coming back from a serious injury would need some time to bed back into the team. With the signings of Ozil, Cazorla and Flamini, as well as the improved performances of Aaron Ramsey, Wilshere's position in the team has gone from assured to under threat.

This lengthy preamble is intended to contextualise Wilshere's place at Arsenal. If you're performing brilliantly, you can get away with picking up a two-match ban for no reason whatsoever a lot more easily. Where once I thought of him as "a cunt but our cunt", now I really don't know what to think of him. I found the response from Arsenal fans to him being banned utterly bizarre. Whether it should be a one-match ban or a two-match ban is irrelevant to the greater issue of why he was behaving in a way that would inevitably see him punished post-hoc. Poor performances I can deal with - the talent is there and has been on show at times this season. So I can cope with how poor Wilshere was against Man City. What I can't abide - and frankly, there should have been a lot more opprobrium thrown towards Wilshere's proverbial door - is getting yourself unnecessarily banned before a series of three matches in five and a half days. The boy needs to learn.

Defeat to Chelsea would not be a disaster
Given Chelsea's patchy form and dodgy defensive record, this is certainly a chance to get an important win in a big game that would also re-enforce Arsenal's emerging confidence. But it is by no means a must-win game.

I've seen it mentioned all over Twitter that defeat would leave Arsenal fourth in the table. What's not been mentioned is that first to fourth would then be separated by one point.

After this game, there'll be 21 games left. Keep up the sensational form in so-called 'smaller' fixtures and it will all be moot.

It's a tough Christmas fixture list
Maybe it's because I've been convinced for a week now that West Ham will beat Arsenal on Boxing Day, but regardless, I'm worried about these Christmas fixtures. I can see Chelsea grinding out a win and going away to Newcastle, one of the most in-form teams in the League will be far from easy.

It's a strange one: there's no necessity to be Chelsea, but the momentum would be very useful before a couple more tough games in very quick succession.

Maybe Tim Sherwood isn't such an idiot after all
I was discussing Spurs' tactics against Southampton with my brother and he convinced me that Tim Sherwood has probably been a victim of a media narrative, or at least has taken unfair stick.

Whether AVB deserved to be sacked or not, it's clear he was trying to pick the best players in the squad, irrespective of whether they had actually gelled into a team, rather than picking players who could play together. Spurs have many players who are probably not quite good enough to propel them to fourth, but are still pretty decent players. Against a Southampton team riddled with injuries, perhaps it makes sense to forgo the defensive solidity of playing a double pivot and attempting to play to the strengths of your side.

It's a little disingenuous to dismiss him as a tactical neanderthal on the basis of one game, where the tactics actually seemed to work out pretty well. I think it's a nonsense to praise him for playing in 'the Spurs way' when this actually just seems to mean scoring goals in big games but ultimately losing, but equally, it's also a nonsense to simply dismiss 4-4-2 out of hand.

Maybe this is me being a simpleton, but I always feel that you pick a team to try and beat your opponents, and as Southampton are riddled with defensive injuries, trying to get at them seems quite a good idea.

For all the merriment and mirth generated by Spurs' heavy defeats to Liverpool and City, they're only six points off the top of the table. Everything is very constrained, and if they can get (some of) their summer signings working effectively, there's a lot to be optimistic about at Spurs. Alas.

The League table has now taken shape
That Spurs remain so close to the top of the table underscores what a tight season this is proving to be. Even so, I'd be shocked if any team currently in the top eight ends up outside the top eight. Beyond that, it's difficult to say what's going to happen.

Chelsea have done okay without performing especially well but I've seen nothing to suggest that they can put together a string of eight wins to go and win the League. They've averaged 70 points over the last two seasons, and it's going to take a considerable improvement on that to win the League.

For the top four, I genuinely do wonder whether United will make it. Suarez is inspiring Liverpool, Spurs aren't at all bad, and City, Chelsea and Arsenal all look to have better teams. One thing's for sure: the standard's the highest it has been for several seasons, and the next few months should prove very exciting.

Keep the faith.

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