I need you to do something for me over the next few days. I need you to not get your hopes up too much about United being fatigued when they play us on Sunday. Yes, yes, yes, I know they have a lot of injuries at the moment, which is forcing them in to very little rotation. Yes – I know that their form is pretty patchy if you’re being kind – and that should be cause for optimism. And yes, I know that with the possibility of De Gea missing tonight and this weekend (he won’t – he’ll be fit – mark my words), United have lost a player who has essentially saved them on a few occasions against us in recent past. But you see, we don’t beat United away, so the fates will conspire against us. You know that, right? So just do me a favour: play everything down in the hope that some sort of karma comes around on Sunday, will ya?
Fatigue only ever seems to apply to us. The word ‘jaded’ seems reserved solely for Arsène Wenger, so I’m expecting a spritely United team to run their arses off on Sunday lunchtime.
One person who I suspect definitely won’t be there will be The Ox. That’s probably the big news that will come from Arsène’s update later on today and press conference tomorrow. The rumours are that he will be out with a knee ligament worry, which if true surely means most of his season is over. That’s a shame because I thought we started to show glimpses of some form returning to the Englishman. He’d picked up an assist against Burnley, a goal against Bournemouth and I thought he did ok against Leicester. It’ll be another frustrating time for him, because the last couple of his years at the club have been punctuated by injury, so to miss the run in as the season draws to a close is a blow. There will be some that will argue that this is a good thing, that it forces the manager’s hand somewhat, that we’ll start seeing more of Welbeck on the right, but I’d query anyone’s sanity who could argue that reducing the availability of players in the squad is a good thing. A fit squad brings competition, which breeds better performances and more confidence in players, so Ox being out is of no benefit whatsoever for Arsenal football club.
That right sided forward position does bring up a conundrum though. Not least because Arsène has different choices to make with different players, none of whom have properly staked a claim.
Walcott drifts in and out of games at the best of times, but when he’s played wide right he’s usually leaning towards the ‘out’ part of drifting. He doesn’t affect the play enough, he doesn’t offer enough when another one of his teammates has possession and he can’t beat a man.
Campbell looks a neat and tidy player, but to these untrained eyes, that’s all he really is. He will work hard. He will win the ball back in our defensive third of the pitch. He will get the odd goal and assist. But he doesn’t beat players with the level of confidence you’d expect from somebody who’s goal celebration involves a children’s pacifier being pulled out of his shorts. I can’t quite work out Campbell like I can work out Theo. Walcott is just raw pace and a natural finisher. That’s it. He does little more. So when you can isolate Theo alongside a full back and give him enough space to overlap or underlap a player he can do it and stretch a defence. I get that. But Campbell is not that type of player. He’s got better interlinking of play to his game, but sometimes he gets the ball and I just feel like he should be doing something with it when faced against a full back. A drop of the shoulder, a step over, something to ghost past a defender. But usually he’ll cut inside and play a square ball to Özil or Ramsey. Or he’ll wait for the overlap of Hector. I can’t quite put my finger on Campbell, because I always feel like I’ve seen him able to beat a man, but then when I watch him in the flesh I don’t get to see it. It’s like I’ve dreamt a dream so powerful, so real feeling, that I now apply it to real life. It’s odd.
So with neither of those able to step up, is it Welbeck who will find a regular spot, stepping in with his energy? Perhaps. I’m pleased he’s back and delighted he got his goal. I also think that we’re he to play on Sunday he’ll be extra fired up. But whether or not he’s the regular answer to the right forward position I’m not so sure. Welbeck feels like a bit of a hybrid of Theo and Campbell’s positive attributes. He has more pace than Campbell, less than Theo, but he’ll work back and provide more cover than Walcott, but perhaps less than Campbell. He’s not as good a finisher as Walcott, but we have only seen small glimpses of Campbell’s finishing, so we don’t know if he’s a better finisher than the Costa Rican.
Perhaps just the injection of a new face and a player so desparate just to be back playing will be enough? After all, when you are deprived of doing the thing you love for almost a year, you’re going to be pretty hungry when you do get your opportunity to play. So perhaps that’s the immediate answer. Perhaps Welbeck needs to play in the same way that the arrival of Arshavin meant he needed to play, because it gave a visible boost to the team and enabled us to meet our goals the season the Russian signed.
Whatever Arsène thinks up for this Sunday, it needs to be a decision that brings goals, because they have dried up for Alexis and Giroud and so we need somebody to step in and start contributing. Like, now.
Who would you pick and why?