Monday, April 5, 2010

Arselona part II: 90 Minutes Behind The Couch

The news today ahead of tomorrow's decisive game is that Song is OUT. This leaves the entire spine of the Arsenal team decimated. Well, we do still have Almunia in goals (ironic cheer) but Vermaelen is robbed of his regular partner. Our key destructive and creative midfielders are both absent. And Robin Van Persie's season effectively ended months ago.

As well as all that, there's no Arshavin. And then some useful back-up players, like Gibbs, Djourou, and of course Ramsey are unavailable. I definitely do not remember any team going into such a huge game with such apparently rotten luck.

Some of this was almost inevitable. Gallas was clearly rushed back for the first leg before he was anywhere near ready. I have to say, I don't think signing a man who cannot even play twice a week constitutes adequate cover at centre-back; this is nothing against Campbell, who has been generally very good. But we all know Gallas is injury prone so as much as it is bad luck to lose him, it is lack of foresight to not have better cover. Perhaps Song would have been playing centre back again but frankly that weakens the midfield more than it strengthens the defence.

When you think about it, Man Utd have Vidic, Ferdinand, Brown, O'Shea, Evans, Gary Neville: the crisis they went through at the back was genuine bad luck. We knew from very early on that Djourou was out for the season, so we started with Silvestre and, theoretically I suppose, Song as back-up options. Wenger signed experience in the shape of Campbell, and to be fair we have patently benefited from his presence, but at the same time the manager says he struggles to play two games in a week, and it also seems he isn't trusted against the best teams. Basically, it takes ONE injury to throw our defensive plans into disarray. When you compare it to what United have at their disposal, it really is a near-miracle that we are challenging to this point. And that is the binary I've been trying to get at with Wenger- it seems he prefers to work the miracles and fall gloriously short rather than go all out to win by giving his team the best possible chance. Is he really working under such constraints that we can now only afford free transfers? He did not bother trying for a blatantly-needed striker, seemingly in the knowledge that Chamakh is likely to come in for free this summer. Does he trade a shot at short-term glory for long-terms stability?

I would not mind if he was a younger man, but he seems unsure over whether to stay on beyond next season. It seems he is acting so that there will be money to spend and a strong foundation to work from for whoever replaces him. We have no way of knowing where the club will go from there. I just hope Wenger has another shot at things, giving himself the best possible opportunity by using the resources at his disposal, resources he has built for the club. It's all very well people saying, look at Man City, look at Spurs, spending guarantees nothing. But to me, NOT spending on this team guarantees ultimate failure. And we should not have to look at the shortcomings of other clubs to validate Arsenal. We should be looking up, not down. Lstly, wouldn't you be confident that Arsene Wenger would spend money well?

Anyway, back to tomorrow. While the centre back situation is something we've asked for, in a way, to lose Song as well as Fabregas just seems cruel. That said, Denilson garnered a bit of praise for the first time in quite a while after coming on in the first leg. In fact, it was noticeable that Barca stopped cutting through Arsenal at will when the Brazilian came on. It might have been a coincidence, tomorrow will tell us more. Diaby will be tasked with holding the fort alongside. They are not two men you would usually want shielding your defence against a team like Barca. Both have casual styles that seem ill-suited to the task. Diaby had an absolute nightmare last week.

Nasri will likely play in the Fabregas role, something I'll be pleased to see again, although he may not get many opportunities to dictate things. Ahead of him, there will be some decisions to be made. It looks like two from Rosicky, Eboue and Walcott to flank Bendtner. The temptation would be to stick Walcott on the right after he turned the first game. I'm not sure that is the right way to go, for a few reasons. Firstly, forgive me, but I don't rate him as a footballer. He does not track back effectively. Also, Barca seemed to have the measure of him by the end of his fleeting cameo. But all these reservations are superseded, in all probability, by the fact of his pace, and how it might, theoretically, stop Barca from pushing up as high as they did and pressuring Arsenal into errors all over the pitch. He's no footballer, but as a device he can be effective. Most of his best moments have come off the bench, and I'd like to think we could use him that way again if things were kept relatively tight into the second half, but then if Wenger leaves him in reserve and we're 4-0 down at half-time, he'll look pretty silly.

Having said all that, I'm not sure any of it matters. I think we will suffer a proper tonking tomorrow night, and might even place a bet to that effect. But the games you lose all hope in are often the most enjoyable...

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