Rafa Benitez is obviously a little worried that Karim Benzema’s head is going to be turned by the mighty Arsenal. It’s the only explanation for the repeated denials that he’s going nowhere. But you know Rafa, as Arsène used to find out, sometimes it’s better to let an unhappy player go elsewhere to fulfil his dreams.
Of course I’m being tongue-in-cheek, but that’s just because I’m in a jolly good mood, because at the end of this meaningless, footballess summer we’ve had, there is a light. That light is the Premier League and it starts for us on Sunday at 1.30pm. But there is a little part of me – a really teeny-weeny part – that wonders if there is no smoke without fire here you know. It all feels very much like there are balls in the air and Arsenal are just waiting for them to drop so they can catch one of them.
Right now, Benzema is not for sale, but if after two games he’s not been featuring because Rafa is playing Ronaldo up top, then I just wonder, you know? We had to be patient for Mesut.
Of course I’m also jolly because despite my gaze being averted by clearly a very good footballer being linked, I still firmly believe that we have the squad deep enough to cope with this season on multiple fronts. Nothing has changed my mind. In fact, games like the weekend only serve to enhance my belief. In the pub beforehand I had my colleagues chortling at my expense when I told them I would be ‘Mr Positive’ this season, mainly because that’s not normally my approach pre-game. I can wake up on a Saturday morning feeling confident, but usually by the time I’ve finished my blog and am on the Met Line to the Emirates, I’m a quivering bag of nerves. Regardless of the opposition.
So to hear me extolling the virtues of this team must have made all of my compatriots smile on Sunday. Still, I shall not waver though, because we are good enough to win this league. Don’t let the so-called ‘experts’ tell you Chelski were jaded, we’re not up for it or any other kind of excuse, because you can be damn sure we wouldn’t have got the same, should we have lost. Perhaps they were a little more tired than us, but I don’t buy that as an excuse. When we get to February and we play a team away from home, having just played midweek in the Champions League, do we expect the team not to win? Nope. We have a squad, we have good players and if we play Leicester away having played Dortmund or Lyon in Germany or France a few days earlier, tiredness doesn’t count. At a big club you’re not allowed to be tired. Tiredness doesn’t win trophies.
So that’s the approach I’m taking. The if a player is looking jaded then Arsène has to rotate. Big Per was interviewed after the game at the weekend and said that players will have to get used to not playing because of the size of the squad. Indeed they will. But they will have to get used to being rotated too, then taking their chance when it comes there way, which by all accounts should hopefully mean that we get better performances. If Danny Welbeck gets a chance up top when becomes back from injury, he knows he’s got to take it, or fear losing his place. If Big Per has a shaky game, he needs to look over his shoulder because there will be two players with their arms raised shouting “Me Sir! Me Mr Wenger! Pick me!”. Competition will breed winners. We need winners.
I think Arsène is going to rotate more than ever before this season. I think he’s going to listen to those around him monitoring the data and the fitness levels of his team. But more importantly than ever, as emphasised by the teams approach at the weekend, I think he’s going to pick a side designed to exploit weaknesses in the opposition. He alluded to it when he talked about playing at do ahead of Giroud to get in behind Cahill and Terry. That’s a manager who is finally watching the opponents, even if it’s only in big games, which is fine by me.
But equally important, I think, is that finally the players can be trusted. It has long been a spoken belief that Arsène lets his players make in-game decisions. He sets them up, gives them their instructions, then leaves them to play out the game, hoping that they will be intelligent enough to react to situations. It’s like the anti-Mourinho, who will micro-manage every aspect of the team both pre and post game. The problem Arsène has had historically though, is that you’d have to question whether some of the players were intelligent enough ‘in-game’ to manage the situation.
I believe they are now. I think that has been further evidenced from the weekend. Arsène hinted at it in his post-match commentary, talking about how he felt the team became a little more apprehensive and defensive than normal. Perhaps I’m reading in to it a little too much, but it sounded to me as if the teams natural cautious approach after we’d scored, was one in which he did not instruct. If that truly is the case, then Arsène can be pleased that he has players who are intelligent enough to know the dangers of the opposition and act accordingly. Let’s hope we see no more gung-ho football of seasons past. That type of football doesn’t win leagues.
So all in all I think it’s a good time to be a Gooner. An exciting time. Roll on Sunday.