It’s gang up on Arsenal season these days. The media have been doing it since the dawn of time, but now the rest of the universe is joining in. Even though we’re just three matches into our season, the barbarians are already at the gates, thanks in large part to our underwhelming summer transfer business. Let’s kick-off the Arsenal bashing with Platini’s band of morons.
Leave it to UEFA to bring wounded gooners together. After investigating Arsene Wenger’s behavior during Tuesday’s match against Udinese, the brilliant minds behind Europe’s most prestigious club competition have determined that the Arsenal manager did violate the terms of his ban. As punishment, they have dished out an additional 2 match suspension which will prevent him from managing the team on Wednesday night.
Arsenal intend to appeal the ban which could delay Wenger’s punishment and allow him to be on the touchline for the second leg of the tie. But it is now being reported that UEFA have failed to get Arsenal the necessary documents to appeal the decision in a timely fashion and Arsene could be forced to serve the suspension anyway. It’s all a bit too predictable from UEFA at this point. Let’s just hope Robin van Persie doesn’t get sent off for shooting again.
But UEFA aren’t the only organization giving Arsenal problems at the moment. Manchester City seem to have won the battle of wills with Arsene Wenger. Despite his initial claims that he wouldn’t hesitate to use Samir Nasri on Wednesday, it now appears that the manager has had to change his position. It’s unclear whether the player himself refused to participate, or whether Arsenal simply yielded to Mancini’s demands, but it’s being reported that Nasri will not travel with the team to Udine ahead of the crunch fixture. We should know soon enough if that’s indeed the case.
While that certainly suggests Nasri’s transfer will go through imminently, it also creates a selection problem for Wednesday night. Arsenal should be well equipped to score goals with Gervinho, van Persie and Walcott all likely to start. But the midfield is the real source of concern for the team right now. Nasri’s presence would’ve added much needed experience and prevented the manager from having to make some potentially unpalatable choices.
With Aaron Ramsey in poor form and Tomas Rosicky playing only marginally better and carrying a slight knock, Wenger would probably have preferred to play only one of the two. But now he may have to use both players in midfield, especially if Alex Song is forced to deputize at center-back due to injuries. Either way, Nasri’s absence means there’s less depth in the side for a match where the team simply must get a result. Instead of playing Nasri with Ramsey, and having Rosicky as a substitute, now we’re likely to see Henri Lansbury on the bench. He and Ryo Miyachi were both recently added to the Champions League squad list for this fixture. Quality aside, that’s a big difference in experience.
Arsene Wenger will give his pre-match press conference today and that should give us more insight into how the manager might set-up the team. A lot will obviously depend on the injury news and we’ll just have to hope that Johan Djourou is fit enough to start. I’m sure Wenger will also be forced to answer more questions about Nasri and possible new signings as well.
Meanwhile, Udinese’s chief hit-man has decided to warm up for the second leg by taking shots at Arsenal off the pitch. In case you were worried there wouldn’t be enough drama surrounding Wednesday’s match, Antonio Di Natale raised the stakes with his comments about the current state of Arsenal Football Club. He had this to say about his Champions League opponents,
“We studied Arsenal’s defeat by Liverpool and they have problems in every area. They are playing with doubts spread throughout the side. Any club in a crisis means you are facing a dangerous team but I believe it will be Udinese who will be going through.”
Strong words from the Italian striker. But I have to wonder why Udinese lost and failed to score in the first leg if Arsenal are such a weak side. Does that mean Udinese are an even weaker side? I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow. Di Natale should remember that his team won’t be facing the lumbering, out-of-form Chamakh in the second leg. They’ll be forced to deal with the much more dynamic and clinical van Persie. It’ll also be incumbent upon the home side to take the game to Arsenal. Then we’ll see how well they cope with our counter-attack.
Regardless of the strategies and personnel, Di Natale’s words sting. However, it’s the kind of quote that a manager should love to see. If I were Arsene Wenger, I’d use the comments as a motivational tool for my squad. It’s a chance to change the mentality from pressurized favorites, to battling underdogs. Maybe that’s just the change in psychology the team needs to play without the dreaded “handbrake.”
Back in the Premier League, Manchester United fired a little warning shot of their own by destroying Sp*rs at Old Trafford yesterday. The upside is that it left Sp*rs bottom of the table. Even when we’re reportedly in “crisis,” Sp*rs still find themselves in our shadow. The downside is that United looked irresistible at times. Their new players look well integrated into the team and United didn’t seem to miss their injured starters at all. It’s amazing how a team can gel when you get your transfer business done early in the summer and spend the rest of the time focusing on preparation for the new season. Based on what I saw yesterday, if we arrive at Old Trafford on Sunday with a team that looks anything like the one we put on the pitch against Liverpool, the scoreline could be most unflattering indeed.
Sometimes you get kicked in the gut by something that doesn’t happen. That’ll be the case when Juan Mata is finally announced as a Chelsea player. It’s definitely a case of the one that got away. I’m usually skeptical of media rumors surrounding our transfer business, but it certainly seems there was some fire to go with this smoke. Mata himself has said that Arsenal came with an offer but that the Blues offer was superior.
I’m not suggesting Arsenal are to blame here. Chelsea’s involvement may have proved too much for us to overcome. But there’s no question that Mata’s skill-set fit our needs in midfield at the moment. He’s a player that most fans seemed genuinely excited about and his arrival would’ve helped ease some of the anxiety about the state of our squad. Seeing him play for one of our rivals will only pour salt in an already open wound.
But the best way to really pour salt in our wounds, is to have a former Arsenal great totally undermine the morale at the club. That’s what Ian Wright has contrived to do. Today he’s quoted as saying,
“Any top player would have to think twice about signing for Arsenal right now … Arsenal now in danger of going out of the CL and finishing sixth, seventh or eighth in the Premier League.”
Whether you agree with Wright or not, there’s no question that these kinds of comments are counter productive. It makes the club look bad and shows a total lack of respect for the players currently playing for Arsenal. He’s piling on to serve his own agenda and I find it rather embarrassing for him. I realize he’s free to say whatever is on his mind, but in my opinion, he should be a little more discreet. If he wants Arsenal to recover from this wobble, I don’t see how it helps to have a club legend making such damning statements. Having said that, I really hope he’s wrong.
Let’s cross our fingers for some good news on the injury front today, and worry about signing all our new superstars after we batter Udinese tomorrow. At this point, the universe owes us a favor or two.
Have a good one gooners.