Well, this is strange. This poor blog has been so neglected in recent weeks that even sitting down to write feels a little alien. What have I missed? Well, in the time that I have been away, we lost to Spurs, had a two week international break in which I barely looked at Arsenal news (why would you, when everyone is so damn negative?) and then beat Sunderland at the weekend thanks to an inspired Robin Van Persie.
Ah, Robin Van Persie. The same man so many wanted us to get rid of a couple of seasons ago, because he was so injury prone and ‘could not be relied on’. Like Gael Clichy before him, who also suffered a sequence of entirely unrelated serious injuries early in his career, it always felt like it could eventually happen for the Dutchman. After all, most of the injuries were freak occurrences, and one-offs – it was never like Diaby, for example, whose hamstrings and groins have been tweaked and strained a ridiculous number of times. How painful would it have been to see him finally stay fit and perform like this for someone else?
I suspect the voices that called for Van Persie to be sold are the same ones who now criticise the fact we’ve given Vermaelen a new long-term contract, despite his own fitness travails. But the Belgian remains our best defender when fit, and is in the final two years of his contract. We would be mad not to sign him up – he is exactly what we miss when he is absent, and has the best years of his career ahead of him.
But enough of that – there is a rather crucial match tonight, the first of a double header against Champions League group-leading Marseille who, like us, have had an indifferent start to their league campaign, while looking far more impressive in Europe. Either side would happily take four points from this particular pair of matches, and as such I’d gladly take a point tonight.
We come into the game on better form that you might suspect. For all the doom and gloom, we have won four out of our last five matches, and our performances in Europe have been decent. Udinese were a tough nut to crack in the qualifiers, and coming away from Dortmund with anything was a cracking result. Yes, we looked wobbly at home to Olympiakos, but we were still the only English side to win that week, and our position is favourable when compared to that trio.
Tonight could be tough. Marseille appear to be more relaxed away from domestic competition, and as such their league issues are largely irrelevant. We may also rotate a little, with Arshavin likely to start after his impressive cameo at the weekend, while at some point Van Persie needs a rest, and that may come tonight. Chamakh should be comfortable playing in France again, but he is certainly a whole heap less threatening than our recent goalscoring centurion.
What is encouraging is that the defence is just beginning to show signs of promise. Szczesny is miles ahead of the ‘fun’ we had with Almunia and co last season, while Mertesacker had a terrific game at the weekend. Koscielny remains inconsistent, but I still rate him VERY highly, and with the imminent return of Vermaelen, we have a much stronger looking defensive spine. Santos has settled in well at left back, so you suspect the potential weakness is Jenkinson on the other flank, who puts in a devilish cross but needs to work hard on his defensive positioning. That isn’t a criticism – he’s a kid, we cannot expect any more.
Prediction for tonight? 1-1, with both sides pretty happy. Marseille would remain top, we would leapfrog them with a win at the Emirates. Fancy Arshavin to score.
Enjoy the game.