Arsenal head into the break with some breathing room after Liverpool Destroy Aston Villa
As we head into the unbearable doldrums of the international break, Arsenal have a put just a little distance between themselves and Aston Villa in the race for fourth place. The two weeks without Arsenal football are made all the more interminable given our current run of form and the momentum we have been building. If you have any lucky charms or superstitions that work, put them to good use this week as we pray for the safe return of our many international participants. On the bright side, we may not play another match without our captain and midfield quarterback, Cesc Fabregas.
If the Stoke match was the beginning of Aston Villa’s decline, then today’s game may well have been the nail in their coffin. Technically, the distance between our two clubs is far from insurmountable, but we appear to be headed in opposite directions. Aston Villa are experiencing a run of form that is more suitable to a relegation battle than a push for champions league qualification. As poor as their performances have been over the past month, today was the first time that the players looked dispirited.
Martin O’Neil doesn’t appear to have the answers and leaving Agbonlahor on the subs bench didn’t do anything to stop Villa from being buried under an avalanche of Liverpool goals. As strong as Villa have looked on the counter attack this season, their defending has been equally repellant. Today, Villa showed a real lack of composure after the second goal went it. Until that point in the match, they put Liverpool under pressure and looked like they could get a result. But after going 2-0 down in poor fashion, they came unglued and, perhaps, self-doubt finally started creeping into the minds of the Villa players. With Manchest United next on the schedule, bearing a massive grudge after two poor losses themselves, they could be in for another pounding. For Villa, the international break couldn’t come soon enough.
As for Arsenal, it’s all in our hands now. Not only do we have a three point cushion over fifth place, but we have an insurmountable 14 goal advantage that effectively grants us an extra half-point over Villa. With the top three still on our fixture list, every advantage is welcome.
Looking at the results of the past few weeks, you can’t help but wonder what could have been this season. Without the injuries, without the run of scoreless draws, could this team have challenged for the league title? It’s worth a moment of thought, but that’s really all it deserves. More than the injuries, our poor finishing during that critical run of nil-nil results eliminated us completely from title contention. Having said that, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are a scant six points behind Chelsea in third, with a home fixture against them remaining on our calendar.
There is a MASSIVE incentive to finish third this season because of the rule change for next season’s Champions League. The draw for qualification next season will be totally unprotected. Therefore, we could just as easily face a team like Roma or Villareal for the right to qualify for the group stage as Aalborg or Dynamo Kiev. I think we will be thrilled to be in the Champions League at all next season, but with third place is still a possibility, Arsenal should be desperate to overhaul Chelsea and rule out a tense qualifier in August. Given the way this season has gone so far, you really must believe that anything is possible.
Arsene Wenger will soon be faced with a genuine selection headache. Until now, “selection headache” has refered to the lack of available bodies to fill the midfield, but all that is about to change. You might be inclined to laugh this off as a luxury, but it’s going to be very difficult deciding who to leave on the bench when this group of players has really started to hit the high notes.
Let’s assume for a moment that the back four remain unchanged. How will Arsene choose from his new found riches in midfield and attack? Arshavin, Nasri, Fabregas, and Walcott will all expect to start. It’s next to impossible to see all of them playing together regardless of how delightful it would be. “Not so soon,” you say. “They could all play,” you say. Maybe you believe they will play together in a five-man midfield featuring Song or Diaby or Denilson in a holding role. That may well be the case, but then you have a similar problem in attack. It seems a shame to pick only one from Van Persie, Adebayor, Eduardo, Bendtner and Vela. So if Wenger decides to pick two of them, probably Ade and RVP, then you’re back to a 4-4-2 and likely sitting one of the midfield stars on the subs bench. If I had to guess, it’s Walcott that misses out on a starting spot. But that doesn’t seem a wise choice because his presence has such a destabilising effect on opposing defenses.
Any way you examine the problem, there may not be an ideal solution. Someone special is left out. I suppose that’s the way it’s supposed to be for a team that expects to challenge for titles on multiple fronts. You need a deep squad to win titles. Injuries happen, as we know all too well, and you must have the players that can step into starting roles without missing a beat. That has been the secret to United’s success this season. Their team is not spectacular, but it is incredibly deep in quality players. If we can reach anything approaching full fitness, we are a much deeper team than most of us have taken the time to consider. Realize, that we could start a team that includes, RVP, Ade, Nasri, Arshavin, Fabregas and Diaby, and still have players like Walcott, Eboue, Song, Denilson, Eduardo, Bendtner and Vela on the bench. That’s a formidable attacking squad. And a young squad as well.
So let’s hope Arsene is faced with this selection problem in two weeks. If he is, it may give us a little glimpse of the potential in store for this team next season. As supporters, it would be a real treat to watch all of our top guns playing together for a change. But in order for that to happen, it’s time to start praying to your diety of choice for an uneventful week of international participation for our players.