A week of two tough away games, and four points gained. On the face of it, an excellent haul, and unlikely to be bettered by anyone in these two fixtures all season. Yet there is a lingering sense of disappointment following the draw at Burnley, mainly because of a sense of what might have been.
After a great start, and an unusually early goal from Cesc, who fought valiantly until forced off with a hamstring injury which will keep him out of a Hull game he would have been desperate to play in after last year’s spitting row, we could have put the game to bed with chances for Arshavin and Cesc going begging. Had we done so, we’d most likely be basking in the glow of a perfect week.
But the reality is that we didn’t deserve to win the game. Moreover, we barely deserved to escape with a draw. That isn’t so much a slight on our performance, but more a recognition that Burnley were superb, as they have been at home all season. Even before Cesc’s goal, they caused us real problems, and in the second half, were desperately unlucky not to grab a winner.
By then, they were level, Vermaelen’s poor challenge in the box giving the best penalty taker in the land, Graham Alexander, a freebie. He doesn’t miss.
In truth, Burnley looked to have won the game when Fletcher tapped in at the far post, but he was ruled offside. It looked onside to me, and no-one would have been more relieved than Almunia, who let the ball slip under him – we are getting a howler a match from him at the moment.
So while we could have picked up six points from the two games, we could conceivably have picked up none, had Liverpool not been so awful in the second half at Anfield. All in all, it wasn’t a bad week, especially with the rest dropping so many points.
Our main issue, aside from a lengthy injury list we can do nothing about, is that those that remain are woefully out of form, with a couple of notable exceptions. Walcott, Eduardo, Vela and Diaby all need to step up over Christmas, as all will have important roles. There are mitigating circumstances regarding comebacks from injury for all four, but there is only so long that excuse can be given, and I would hope they can show their ability over the coming weeks. All four have it in them, in my opinion.
Right now, we seem firmly on course for third. A fully fit squad would be right up there with United and Chelsea, I have no doubt of that, and if our luck turns we may well challenge them. But they have a slight edge over us, while we are outperforming everyone below us. I don’t accept the claim made elsewhere that we’re fighting for fourth – I think that’s the ‘privilege’ of Spurs, Villa, City, and Liverpool. Villa look the likeliest right now, but that changes week after week. I see us as comfortably above all four.
Instead, we need to be looking upwards. A return to form of a goalscorer (Eduardo) and a wide player (Walcott, and Nasri to an extent) would give us the attacking potency that negates the defensive issues we’ve faced all season. Then we’ll see how far we can go.
And what better time to rediscover form than against Phil Brown’s Hull? Stick the knife in, lads.