Belgian Theme: Good, Bad and Ugly
Morning all, it is a bit like a mini international break following home games on Tuesday nights; nothing much happens until the press conference tomorrow when everyone gets all excited about a misinterpretation of what Arsène says. Not that there is anything new in this, Arsenal have been playing home games on a Tuesday night since before I was even a vague spot of light in Mum and Dad’s eyes.
It is a day of the week for introspection, review and what-have-you; if you feel like it of course. It is also thirty years to the day of one of the clubs most embarrassing and shameful defeats. Not that they lost on the night, oh no, a win was achieved but it ended with Arsenal exiting the Uefa Cup at the hands of SK Winterslag of Belgium.
Never heard of them since? No, if memory serves the amateur team is now defunct or been merged but losing 2-1 at Highbury was a high point in their existence for it meant they progressed on away goals rule having won the first leg 1-0. If you look at the team that night, it is not hard to see why they lost. McDermott, Vaessen, Meade, Whyte will not sit in the pantheon of Arsenal greats. OK, Paul Vaessen might for his goal in Turin but that is more likely to be in the pantheon of Arsenal great moments.
Next time Arsène fields a weakened team you’ll get the idea. Except at the time, 1981-82 was not a good vintage; this was almost a full strength side, only Alan Sunderland was missing. That’s how poor we were.
Still we can fast forward to another Belgian team, Standard Liege and remember a 7-0 win en route to winning the European Cup Winners Cup. Why? Because that game took place eighteen years ago tonight and let’s be honest, Eddie McGoldrick’s goal was one of the best ever Arsenal team goals.
It all ties in rather nicely with a distinctly Belgian theme. Thomas Vermaelen is at the forefront, his return to the starting line-up is being hailed in the media as a turning point for the club. I am not sure that it is in the sense that Koscielny and Mertesacker were doing rather nicely as they were. It does give Wenger options in the centre and at full back if injuries arise once more.
Both Koscielny and Vermaelen are capable of deputising in the short term, at the same time if necessary with Djourou filling the gap at the middle. That back four combination might be useful when facing Stoke City Rugby Football Club at The Britannia Stadium later in the season.
The pairing of Vermaelen and Mertesacker did look remarkably comfortable despite not many minutes on the pitch. That is a testament to their abilities and how quickly the German is adapting to the English game. Early days yet but they are a powerful combination with their strengths neatly counterbalancing the other’s weaknesses.
Elsewhere, Eden Hazard’s decision to leave Lille brought the usual links to Arsenal. Gervinho was keen to embellish them with a ‘come and join us’ type comment or two. Frankly I am not sure that Hazard is needed at the moment or to put it another way, a high priority. Of course he is talented and would strengthen the squad, it is just that we have other requirements as well, such as a replacement for Robin van Persie should he come back from the international break with some sort of knack.
Actually, may be that should be goalscoring replacement. Park and Chamakh can make up the numbers on the pitch but they are struggling for goals at the moment. It is a chicken and egg situation; you can’t expect a forward to just run on the pitch and score at will if they are not playing regularly. They won’t play regularly unless they score a lot of goals. And when RvP is scoring for fun, they are not going to play a lot anyway.
It is too soon to write Park off; many have done so but his adaptation process is / has taken longer than he or the club would have wanted. It is more evidence to back up Arsène’s observation some years ago that signing foreign players is best done in January to let them settle in, really ready to contribute in the following season.
Park is certainly a target for unjustified criticism at the moment, too many too quick to jump on the ‘anti’ bandwagon with seeing less than 180 minutes of him in action. OK, we might have been able to see John Hawley lacked ability in that time but Park’s goal against Bolton suggests the opposite.