Yossi-r, You Can Boogie
The Bank Holiday here in the UK last Monday has thrown things out of kilter with realisation that today is Wednesday which means Sunday is a lot closer than it feels. And focus on Sunday, Arsenal must. The visit to West Bromwich Albion is significant on many levels, none of which has to do with the signing (or not) of Yann M’vila or anyone else for that matter.
Third place guarantees qualification for the group phase of the Champions League, the new mantra that this is better than the qualifying round. I am not sure why the trip to The Hawthorns seems to be vexing so many. It is not straightforward in that The Baggies have been playing relatively well and cannot be taken lightly. Yet for a team that has hinted that it is not far away from being able to lodge a title challenge, it is a fixture that ought to be routinely won. Despite the clamouring for gloom, the reality is that Albion have beaten Arsenal just twice in 14 meetings in the 21st century; only one of them was at The Hawthorns and Arsenal have won nine of the remaining twelve clashes. History is not weighing as heavily against Arsenal as some would have you believe.
One reason for optimism is the form of Yossi Benayoun. His goal against Norwich was a cracking finish although I am not sure that Arsenal will pursue any further interest in his services, despite his resurgent form since February. The Israeli was one of the flurry of signings at the end of the summer and appeared to be a curio in amongst it all. His attributes were easy to see: experience at big clubs, experience in big matches. To counter that was the fact that he had never really nailed down a place at Anfield or Stamford Bridge, never really able to make himself an automatic first choice.
He has managed that in the current Arsenal squad although with others coming in and younger players more experienced, I do not think that would be the case next season. His abilities though make him an ideal squad player, someone to bring off the bench when the occasion warrants. It is this characteristic that I wish Andrey Arshavin possessed; being able to switch form on and off. That is the mercurial Russian’s achilles heel. Perhaps Benayoun’s experiences at Chelsea and Liverpool lend him more readily to that situation?
Either way his contribution to this season’s charge, cough and stumble into the Champions League places, should not be underestimated. He has given us his average goal return and the ovations that meet his departure from the pitch show a genuine affection for the player whose efforts are appreciated, his commitment seems to lack the hollowness that normally gets associated with footballers:
Since I came to Arsenal I have always been committed to one club until the last game of the season. The only thing I want is for Arsenal to finish in third place, I don’t care about anything else. When I finish I will have to decide about my future. I am supposed to go back to Chelsea first and then we will see what the future holds.
Nobody can argue with that nor I suspect would anyone argue with his place being retained in next season’s squad.
What shape that squad takes is anyone’s guess. The emphasis on youth is now bearing the fruit of its labour as more players reach majority age in the football world, passing twenty-one and requiring their own berth in the 25 man squad. Headaches of this type are the ones which the manager would prefer, rather than focussing on who is injured.
If you look at the list of players on loan, those who have already played a significant number of games for the first seem unlikely to have a long-term future at the club. A revitalised Arshavin might but he would need to be prepared to be accommodated on an irregular basis – probably ahead of Gervinho in the queue to my mind, if he is back and at his best – but ready to compete with Podolski on the left. The others – Bendtner, Denilson, Vela – I just cannot envisage a future for them at Arsenal where they have voluntarily remained, kicking their heels all season. Maybe a space could be found for the former duo but they would still take a place in the squad that might be better employed by someone else.
That is the shape of this summer. What I cannot fathom is how, for example, the signing of M’vila would lead to the sale of Alex Song. I mean I can fathom it but the assertions that this will definitely happen are baffling. Rumour and conjecture cease their limited entertainment value when passed off as an indisputable fact. That a player may genuinely be able to compete for their place in the squad is apparently inconceivable. That’s the Premier League era for you, neatly encapsulated. And if you need a further contrast, visit Arsenal On This Day to find out about harder and much darker days.