Fa­mil­iar form

It’s more of the same with Arse­nal blow­ing hot and cold. While the Gun­ners are still in with a shout, Ever­ton will of­fer a stern test.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOOTBALL - By NANTHA KU­MAR

IT was an ideal week­end for Arse­nal to lessen the gap be­tween them and Premier League pace­set­ters Chelsea, as they took on New­cas­tle United two-anda-half-hours be­fore the Blues vis­ited the venue where they cleared their one fi­nal hur­dle en route to their ti­tle six months ago. An­field again pro­vided the set­ting for Carlo Ancelotti’s men to re­it­er­ate their in­ten­tion to re­tain league hon­ours but the 0-2 re­verse suf­fered on Sun­day only ben­e­fited Manch­ester United.

The sun­nier Arse­nal sup­port­ers felt that it was an op­por­tu­nity lost; the rest be­lieved that the cam­paign is adopt­ing an eerie fa­mil­iar­ity af­ter the Gun­ners fell to their sec­ond home de­feat. In a dis­cour­ag­ing aside to the set­back, the Mag­pies be­came the other pro­moted side to hum­ble the Gun­ners be­fore their own au­di­ence af­ter West Bromwich Al­bion ran off with three points in late Septem­ber.

Arsene Wenger must surely know that his pre­dic­tion of the team’s suit­abil­ity for the crown of cham­pi­ons is about as con­sis­tent as his goal­keep­ers’ dis­plays. The sea­son may be only three months old but we could al­most taste the stal­e­ness that per­vades the Emi­rates Sta­dium, de­spite their tri­umph at Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers. The same fac­tors have been re­gur­gi­tated to ex­plain Arse­nal’s flut­ter: a rear­guard that is not equipped to deal with aerial bom­bard­ment; net­min­ders who are more adept at gath­er­ing dis­mal head­lines than the float­ing ball; Francesc Fabre­gas and Wenger him­self.

The crit­i­cism that is stack­ing up on the French­man is not a sce­nario that he has not been ex­posed in the past. It has be­come the norm for fair-weather fans to flood fo­rums with the cus­tom­ary “sack the man­ager” drivel with­out pro­vid­ing any ed­u­cated so­lu­tions for the con­se­quences aris­ing from such a move. Wenger is used to it – or even im­mune – and there is still an ex­pec­ta­tion that he would go on to com­plete his 15th year at the club next Oc­to­ber.

If we were to deal with the here and now, there are more is­sues than an­swers for Wenger at the moment. On Sun­day, sup­port­ers frowned over his tac­ti­cal for­ma­tion, sub­sti­tu­tions and his trans­fer deal­ings in the sum­mer. The gen­eral con­sen­sus is that the 4-5-1 that Wenger favours is not con­sis­tently bear­ing re­wards. Robin van Per­sie’s re­turn, af­ter an­other long lay-off, should have been post­poned to al­low Nick­las Bendt­ner to bat­ter the New­cas­tle back­line longer while doubts were be­ing raised over Marouane Chamakh, their two-goal hero at Mo­lineux.

Un­for­tu­nately – or for­tu­nately – sup­port­ers tend to fall back on hind­sight in as­sess­ing a sit­u­a­tion, a lux­ury not af­forded to the man in the dugout. Man­agers are use­ful up to the moment their play­ers leave the dress­ing room and once they are out there, the likes of Wenger need to pray that their metic­u­lously pre­pared in­struc­tions are not breached. On this in­stance, it was clear that his mid­field­ers did not have the ap­petite for a bruis­ing evening and no one en­cap­su­lated this de­featist at­ti­tude more than Fabre­gas.

The Spa­niard has had an­other tor­rid pe­riod in the close sea­son han­dling queries on his Barcelona home­com­ing and did not look like the in­spi­ra­tional in­di­vid­ual who steered the Gun­ners past many calami­ties. Wenger has been seared for his loy­alty to Fabre­gas and only he knows what is nib­bling away in his star per­former’s mind, af­ter a hor­ren­dous late tackle on Wolves’ Stephen Ward landed the mid­fielder on the stretcher. The of­fi­cial ex­cuse is that Fabre­gas has been ham­pered by ham­string trou­bles but the player and man­ager must de­ter­mine whether the ques­tion of fit­ness is re­lated to the body or mind.

The more prac­ti­cal Arse­nal loy­al­ists are wait­ing for the day when the team walks out with­out their tal­is­manic cap­tain. Fabre­gas is in pur­suit of mean­ing­ful medals that could sit along­side those that he took home from the World Cup and Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in the last two years. Arse­nal, right now, are in­ca­pable of pro­vid­ing him with the as­sur­ances of glory at club level: weighed down by the debts that were ac­cu­mu­lated as they built the Emi­rates Sta­dium, the Gun­ners have found it im­prac­ti­ca­ble to com­pete for play­ers in a mar­ket in­flated by the fi­nan­cial mus­cles of Manch­ester City and Chelsea.

Wenger needs Fabre­gas more than ever against Ever­ton – which of­fer a sim­i­lar chal­lenge as New­cas­tle in that they are able to blend steel and silk into their game. Come Sun­day at Good­i­son Park, the Tof­fees would be more than glad to roll out the full treat­ment for Arse­nal mid­field­ers and it does not take a tac­ti­cal ge­nius to fig­ure out that their op­po­nents’ de­fence is a pri­mary tar­get. Arse­nal ap­pear light at the back with­out Thomas Ver­mae­len and the con­tin­ued ab­sence of the Bel­gian – out for the last two months – has af­fected their form.

David Moyes is fac­ing an invit­ing chance to post Ever­ton’s first win over the Gun­ners since March 2007. In the last three sea­sons, Arse­nal have blasted 17 goals in six league games past Ever­ton, with 11 of them ar­riv­ing at Good­i­son Park. While this has been a happy hunt­ing ground for the Gun­ners, they no longer ex­ude an air of su­pe­ri­or­ity and the Tof­fees draw con­fi­dence from hav­ing held United to a draw and hum­bling Liver­pool at home in the last two months and their un­beaten streak in the Premier­ship stretched to seven matches af­ter the 1-1 stale­mate with Bolton Wan­der­ers on Wed­nes­day night.

The Tof­fees have yet to taste de­feat in the league since New­cas­tle downed them at home on Sept 18 and an­other su­perb re­sult over one of the big boys would ramp up their con­fi­dence. Moyes dipped into the mar­kets in Por­tu­gal, France and Poland to come up with strik­ers Joao Pe­dro Pereira Silva and Ma­gaye Gu­eye, plus goal-cus­to­dian Jan Mucha be­fore turn­ing to New­cas­tle and Coven­try City to lure mid­fielder Dan Gosling and an­other for­ward, Lu­cas Jutkiewicz. He and Ever­ton are hold­ing on for them to make their im­pact.

The head-to-head statis­tics sug­gest that Arse­nal are bound to pre­vail but a dozen games into the sea­son is not the most ap­pro­pri­ate time to gen­er­ate fore­casts on the destiny of the Premier League tro­phy. Wenger may have cor­rectly pre­dicted that Chelsea would squan­der points at An­field though he could not see that his team are prone to suc­cumb to the same af­flic­tion. There are more ob­sta­cles that lie ahead that would weed out the pre­tenders from the con­tenders for the ti­tle race and it is rash to dis­miss the chal­lenge from the Gun­ners – ly­ing five points adrift of Chelsea – as much as it is fash­ion­able to do so.

Go­ing bonkers: Arse­nal’s Cesc Fabre­gas is strug­gling to com­pre­hend his team’s er­ratic per­for­mances.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.