It’s Christmas Eve and here I am, in the middle of a Waitrose car park in stockbroker belt Surrey, having just picked up a few provisions ahead of a bit of a pilgrimage to see the in-laws just north of Newcastle. Yet all I can think of is The Arsenal.
Yesterday Arsène gave unto us the gift of information, as he held court in front of the assembled journos, probably grateful of an easy ride given their baying for blood of managers with Mourinho gone and van Gaal the next one with his neck on the chopping block. Come on guys, I know it’s Christmas and he looks a little like a turkey, but it’s the season of good will. There didn’t seem to be too much in that press conference though, did there?
Arsène’s however, seemed to be in decent enough spirits, with the manager saying we’re on the right path to a successful season, to which it’s hard to argue after a win like Monday nights. This time two seasons ago we were flying high and played a Chelski team at home, yet couldn’t break them down as Jose played for a bore draw, so from my perspective it’s nice that we’ve been able to get over the line. A draw on Monday might not have been the worst result in the world, but the benefit of a psychological boost such as we got, may see an extra spring in the step of the players over a very challenging period in the year. We’ll know for sure how the team reacts on Boxing Day night.
What we do know, is that it’s the same group of players that were in the squad on Monday, on account of the fact that there literally is nobody else left in the team. Alexis and Arteta are the ones closest to a return, which Le Boss confirmed when asked yesterday, but they won’t be back until the New Year I fear. That means we’re asking a lot for the players who are starting regularly. Just think about Flamini and Ramsey. Flamini looked tired towards the end of the game on Monday and realistically, can we expect Rambo to continue his lung-busting performances, every two days?
I don’t think so. So it will mean we will see rotation, probably with Chambers getting a shot, but not against Southampton away, I’d suspect. Keep the rotated players for home games, where the support of the home fans can spur them on an extra 10%, I say.
Arsène was also asked about Mesut Özil and Alexis contracts, to which he pretty much dismissed it until the end of the season, but it is something we will need to sort sooner rather than later. We’ve had too many contract rebels in our recent history, so whilst the team is in form, I’d be knocking down the agents door to see if there’s an appetite for a renewal now, despite what Özil said in a recent German paper interview. These two guys have become the lynchpins of the team; a team that has a very good chance of winning the league and if it does (cross everything now, by the way), then you’ve got the added bonus of negotiating with players knowing they can win silverware. That’s really important. I remember Thierry signing a new deal just before the Southampton FA Cup game. He was already one of the star players of the league and him signing a new deal was easy, because he knew the team he’d be playing in would be winning silverware. If we continue to do that with Alexis and Özil, they’ll sign.
So, all we have to do now, is to go on and win the league!
Just before I knock off for the day, I thought I’d pick up on something Arsène said about possession, which I find fascinating, because it marks a mindset shift in the managers thinking. He spoke of how teams don’t get rewarded as much by having possession these days, possibly down to the ability of teams to be in transition from defence to attack, as well as the improved physicality of the modern day game and players. I found this interesting because we have certainly seen a change in strategy from the manager. He’s conceding possession more now through his team’s, than ever before and for a guy who is supposedly so rigid in his thinking and approach to a game, this is quite refreshing. Arsène is portrayed by some as ‘The Great Dictator’ and a man who does not ever change his philosophy. But on Mondaay night, as well as against Bayern, there was a clear change in the way the team was set up and both times the outcome has bore us fruit. I suspect we will see a similar approach when we play Barcelona next year. He’s adapting his style for each game and as a result showing that maybe, just maybe, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Or perhaps the old dog is teaching himself some tricks. Either way, we’re in a better position now than we’ve ever been.
That’s it from me, except for one more thing, which is to pay tribute to Don Howe. I’m not old enough to know enough about the impact he’s had on Arsenal, but I’ve read a few Arsenal history annuals and so I know how important he was to the club. It’s always sad to hear of the passing of an Arsenal favourite from history and whilst I’m sure there isn’t anybody from the Howe family who reads this blog, I shall pass on my condolences to them nonetheless. RIP Don.