Regular consumers of online Arsenal news would know that over the past few years, a handful of sites have often had users posting a ‘future starting XI’ consisting of many of their youth prospects, rabbiting on about “Imagine a team with Hoyte, Djourou, Senderos, Clichy,…Vela, Bendtner’, etc. Sure you remember; with any luck, you were probably one of them.
Of course, think back to the dawning of the 2004/05 season. A little midfield tyro had just been purchased, somewhat shadily by Wenger, from UEFA Cup runners up Marseille. A young, scruffy Flamini came blinking into the London limelight – and immediately got thrown into that ‘Future starting XI’. Yup, Flamini was already being unjustifiably hyped to conquer the world in several years time.
Of course, people pretty much lost faith in the midfielder a season or so later – he was not Cesc Fabregas, this was for sure, and Gilberto was discovering a mini-revelation after fans actually realised what a holding-midfielder was.
Even after his starring as a leftback in the Champions League run, the following season saw him fall further down the pecking order, with Hleb and Rosicky having been added to the squad over the seasons. The French midfielder, with the running and energy to compare with the most fit players out there, wanted what any of those types of players would want – first team football.
Prepared to go as far as playing for Birmingham, he duly considered leaving Arsenal before a heart to heart with Wenger changed his mind – Mathieu was going to fight for his place.
Fight he did – Arsenal fans cannot stop waxing lyrical of the hardworking midfielder, ‘the French Gattuso’ (even though he’s now even better than the diving Italian) is the mainstay of a midfield that pressures, harries, and overawes its opposition.
And now…he’s injured! Along with Hleb, van Persie and Fabregas, Arsenal find themselves bereft of their key players over an extended period of time, going into their match at Tyneside.
Wenger has responded to this ‘test of depth’ in his squad, saying:
“At one stage we thought it was congested in midfield, but now it looks bare. But we still have quality players coming in there.“
The loss of these players means Arsenal’s tactic will inevitably become more cautious in approach play: low on risk and interplay, but with even more importance placed on possession football.
Of course, our Newcastle friends are not having the easiest of times, neither. Sam Allardyce, even if he is a rather loathsome manager, is under a disproportionate amount of pressure from fans that compare to Mighty Tottenham Hotspur in delusions of grandeur.
Wenger has made his thoughts known about the pressure Allardyce faces, though the Newcastle fans will probably just resort to dubbing Arsene something obscene and ignore hard truths. And speaking of ‘hard truths’, Wenger is also of the belief that ‘no-one should be dreaming‘ of invincible runs at this early point of the season. The manager astutely observes:
“…we know that at 14 games, there is still a long way to go. The championship is fantastic because it is down to consistency and you get that if you are capable to get your resources together for every single game – that is why we are not dreamers and are realistic people.
We do, of course, think we are capable and we will grab that chance if we can get the best out of our team.“
With typical timing, Alex Ferguson chimes in with his penny-farthing, saying that “Arsenal will slip up, like, for sure, deffo, Dazza.” Alex Ferguson has also been offered a contract at Setanta Sports at an undisclosed fee.
The smaller bits and bobs come in the form of some respectable managers – Birmingham’s McLeish wants Djourou to stay for the whole season, which could run into some conflict with Wenger, as well as Marcello Lippi labelling Arsenal as ‘the team that plays the best football’. Hell, yes. Arsenal FC is also warning against some fraudulent emails being sent out under the club’s name – info can be found on the official site.
Finally – the Katita mystery rolls on. Several sites have reported on a comment that was left on Third-Gen stating that ‘Katita’ was a name given to Wenger by his old Japanese club, Grampus Eight. This, of course, was reported as a hoax by the same member who reported it in the first place. The mystery lives forever more, and shusiyogi oyabe‘s 15 minutes of fame…ends.
Onto the Newcastle preview – as already mentioned, absentees include midfield fulcrum Fabregas, star striker van Persie, midfield dynamo Flamini and dribbling sensation Hleb. Superlative hyperbole remains a mainstay, however. Abou Diaby also remains out of the side with back problems.
Newcastle are in crisis – both off the field and in confidence on it. Their manager, Sam Allardyce, is under enormous pressure, and their form and defence is a shambles.
Which is why this team is so dangerous. The proverbial ‘trip up north’, as improved as this side is, remains a challenge – and the Tyneside crowd will be both acerbic and vociferous. Hopefully, that will be against their own side, as they are want to do.
The team that should face up to Newcastle is as follows: goalie and back-four remain the same, with no real complaints to be had about any of them. Yes, Almunia will always have that little bit of pressure lingering with him even if Lehmann is throwing a sulk, but he should be a mainstay until January at least. Clichy’s performance against Villa should be cause for optimism amongst the fans.
The midfield is where it gets interesting: I’m predicting an honest 4-4-2 to be played at Newcastle, with Rosicky and Eboue siding up on the wing. Gilberto should sit in front of the defence while Diarra uses some of the creative resources he has demonstrated thus far.
Adebayor will continue up front, with – gut instinct, nothing more – Eduardo partnering him in support. This is a game that could suit Eduardo, and it’s high time he started getting on the league scoreboard.
The bench should see Senderos, Bendtner, Walcott and Alex Song, with Fabianski replacing Lehmann. After his antics at half time against Villa, will Wenger send a message out to the sulking German? With so many injuries in the side, the last thing the half-time talk needs is a division caused about a team place in some national side we don’t care about.
As a disclaimer, I always, always want this side to win. My prediction for tonight’s result, however, might err towards a draw – Flamini’s byte will be missed, not to mention Hleb’s retention skills. It is up to the likes of Gallas, Toure and Clichy to provide this team with some emphasis from the baseline; Rosicky and Eduardo to show us what they are made of, and Eboue to pick up where he left off against Villa.
Let’s hope my caution is not necessary, and we run rings around a manager’s team who we would all love to see get the sack. Viva le Gunner…!