Some Random Thoughts and Observations Before Our Clash With Burnley
First, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality players returning from injury. I’m sure that all Arsenal fans have been thinking about the very same thing. So it got me wondering; how often have our best attacking players been on the field together this season? Rather than letting this question gnaw at me, I looked back at our matches prior to Walcott’s injury. I checked for fixtures where Wenger started Adebayor, Van Persie, Walcott, Fabregas and Nasri all together. I picked these players because I think every fan would agree that these were our best attacking options at the time. They were certainly our first choice midfield and strike partners. (How that will be impacted by Arshavin’s arrival and the return of Rosicky and Eduardo is a question for another time.) What I discovered surprised me.
Arsenal have started these five key players together in just TWO matches all season. Once in the league and once in the Champions League. In each game we scored four goals. The league match was our devastating 4-4 draw with Sp*rs at the Emirates. However, Nasri, Walcott and Van Persie were all withdrawn with the score still 4-2. The other result was a 4-0 victory at the Emirates against Porto.
In fact, Arsenal’s three key midfielders have started a total of only five games together including the victory over Manchester United and the 5-2 thrashing of Fenerbahce. For those who believe that our midfield is lacking, consider the results when the best available personnel are on the field. Add Arshavin and Rosicky to the mix and our midfield woes don’t seem so severe.
We are all painfully aware that Arsenal are not the same team with players like Song and Eboue in midfield. But the sour taste in our collective mouths from their bad play has drowned out the tastier fact that Arsenal have a quality midfield capable of scoring goals when the right players are available. We can lament the fact that Arsenal are not deeper at the key midfield positions, but does that even make sense. With Cesc, Arshavin, Nasri, Walcott and Rosicky we have quality, creative players. Denilson may well be a satisfactory holding midfielder. Diaby has shown flashes of becoming a top talent. With Ramsey and Wilshire waiting in the wings, perhaps we’re not so far from the golden generation that Wenger has been touting. It’s made even more realistic when you consider a strike force including Adebayor, Van Persie, Eduardo, and emerging talent like Vela and possibly Bendtner. I may be wearing rose colored glasses, but the small sampling of results with our best players on the pitch is encouraging.
On a very unimportant but annoying note; Robin Van Persie was named player of the month for February. Don’t get me wrong, he’s clearly the player of the season for Arsenal. Just staying healthy and introducing us to the term “chocolate leg” should warrant some award. But does it really make sense to name a striker the player of the month during a month when the team scored zero league goals? Granted, he netted against Roma from the penalty spot, and got on the score sheet in the FA Cup rout of Cardiff, but it still seems that a defender or Alumunia deserve the award considering the team did not conceed a solitary goal for the entire month. Just my opinion. (Which is, of course, the entire point of this blog…)
Finally, a quick mention of the FA Cup clash with giant-killing Burnley tomorrow. They’re a tough test at frozen Turf Moor. They proved that all too clearly in a well deserved win over the Arsenal “kids” in the Carling Cup. But playing in the open expanse of the Emirates pitch is quite a different task. With Arshavin unable to play in midweek against Roma, he should feature against Burnley. It would be nice to seem him get the goal he probably deserved against Albion. Walcott and Eduardo will both play a role although I’d be shocked to see them both start. There’s no Adebayor and I think RVP gets the day off to prepare for Wednesday. That means Bendtner up front, possibly playing the lone striker role, with Arshavin supporting in a 4-4-1-1. That’s a pure guess. In reality we could see anything from Wenger tomorrow. The only certainty is that Gibbs replaces Clichy, which is fine with me. Vela could start on the left to rest Nasri, or he could even get a start in his preferred striker role alongside Bendtner. Regardless, it should be enough to see off Burnley. I’ll be very curious to see the team sheet in a few hours.
United and Chelsea breezed into the semifinals today. After tomorrow, we hope to be set for a sixth round clash against Hull City at the Emirates and another chance to repay an earlier setback. Everyone is saying that the FA Cup is Arsenal’s best chance for silverware this season. Who cares? It’s not the trophy it once was. I would be thrilled to see it return to the Emirates, but it pales in significance next to our Champions League and EPL campaigns. Every Arenal fan alive would trade the FA Cup in a nano-second to ensure Champions League qualification or, dare I say it, a Champions League title. So I’ll be rooting as hard as ever for the Gunners to destroy Burnley, but I doubt I’ll be biting my nails as much as I have been lately. Most of all, here’s hoping that we see some great play from Walcott and Eduardo tomorrow.
Come On You Gunners!