Is This A False Dawn Or The Start Of Something New?
Chelsea’s inability to defend means that the gap to fifth has closed this weekend; OK United had help from their friends but frankly that is of no consequence to Arsenal save that it prevented three points going to West London. It is hard to decide which is the best result in tonight’s match; a win for Liverpool is the least favoured option in that it pushes Arsenal down into seventh once although it means that third place is a small step closer.
The win over Blackburn was excellent; almost cathartic in the first win this year in the League. Almost as cleansing for the soul were the three other goalscorers for Arsenal, the first time that has happened since the drubbing of Wigan at the DW Stadium.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been revelatory in his mini-run in the side over the past fortnight. With plaudits showered on him, hype will no doubt build if he maintains his standard of performance. His manager almost got the ball rolling recently by comparing him to Wayne Rooney at that age. Such matters, I believe, are best left to the gentlemen of the Fourth Estate; hyperbole is never in short supply and with the England squad crying out of youthful zest, perhaps Oxlade-Chamberlain deserves the chance.
However, the cautionary tale of Jack Wilshere is rightly brought to the fore. Arsène noted after Blackburn that Jack had been intended to play 20-25 games, ending up playing 45 plus internationals instead. We reaped what was sown and the manager takes his share of that blame.
Yet that is too simple. Had experienced players been in better form or avoided (dubious) injuries, Jack Wilshere might not have played so many games. Injuries are sometimes unavoidable; form is something that is the responsibility of the player.
It is not hard to envisage a similar situation with Oxlade-Chamberlain. I don’t thinkt that comparisons to other Golden Generation players will particularly faze him; he seems level-headed with a good support network around him. But playing him too much? That is a hard one to judge, especially with each player’s physique being so different. It is a harsh lesson to learn but Arsène no doubt regrets playing Wilshere when the stats told him otherwise.
Players form is transient; a good game rapidly followed by indifferent is not unusual. At this moment, Arsenal can ill-afford prolonged bouts of the latter with points to be made up. However, we must avoid the temptation to rest all hopes onto the youngsters shoulders. His arrival in the summer was met with derision, the manager ridiculed for the signing. Those same are fervent in demands for the player to be an automatic starter.
They will also be top of the queue to deride the manager for any injury that in their worthy opinion, could have been avoided.
There is a sense that the corner has been turned in 2012. The coming weeks hold some tough fixtures starting at in-form Sunderland this weekend. Whilst there is a temptation – unavoidable – to look at the games Chelsea and Tottenham have, it is more important that Arsenal win theirs. Then we can look at others, including Newcastle and Liverpool.
Stringing together a run of wins is all that matters now. Failure to win must be met with failure to lose. A draw is better than nothing. But the situation is such that the team with the strongest form between now and mid-April is likely to put themselves in a position where their destiny is in their own hands. Arsenal have the players who can step up to the plate; time for them to do so.
Today’s Arsenal On This Day is the second and final day of Sir Henry Norris’ legal action against the FA.