Do the Gun­ners have the met­tle to han­dle a bit of argy-bargy?

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODWINES -

Like mug­gers steal­ing up on their vic­tims in a dark al­ley, Arse­nal sense a grow­ing threat to their Premier League ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions.

The bril­liant but frag­ile striker Robin van Per­sie wrecks his an­kle lig­a­ments in the Italy v Hol­land friendly in­ter­na­tional and full­back Kieran Gibbs also dam­ages an an­kle in the Eng­land Un­der 21 fix­ture in Lithua­nia. First choice left-back Gael Clichy is al­ready out in­jured with a bad back so it is any­one’s guess who will fill the left-back slot at Sun­der­land this week­end.

But those three are not the only ca­su­al­ties at Arse­nal. Nick­las Bendt­ner and Theo Wal­cott are also side­lined as man­ager Arsene Wenger pre­pares for a tricky as­sign­ment.

Five points be­hind leaders Chelsea but with a game in hand, Arse­nal’s re­cent form has been so im­pe­ri­ous that it has per­suaded some that those days of no­to­ri­ous Arse­nal fragility, a weak­ness ruth­lessly ex­posed by Manch­ester United in par­tic­u­lar in sev­eral re­cent meet­ings, are no more.

But I won­der. Have the Lon­don­ers re­ally now got an in­ner steel that would with­stand even the most fired up and com­pet­i­tive Manch­ester United side ?

Do they have the men­tal for­ti­tude to han­dle sick­en­ing in­juries and keep driv­ing them­selves on to more vic­to­ries ? We may be about to find out.

For all the ge­nius of Cesc Fabre­gas against Tot­ten­ham and the dart­ing, silky skilled touches of van Per­sie in front of him, have Arse­nal re­ally elim­i­nated this weak­ness ?

It may well be that we won’t find out un­til United, filled with Sir Alex Fer­gu­son’s usual fire and brim­stone, meet them.

It is claimed that the grow­ing in­flu­ence of for­mer Ajax Am­s­ter­dam cen­tral de­fender Thomas Ver­mae­len has trans­formed the Gun­ners, es­pe­cially at the back. And un­de­ni­ably, the big de­fender has stiff­ened the rear­guard.

But can you spy a Roy Keane or Graeme Souness lurk­ing in the Arse­nal mid­field, a player will­ing to go in where it hurts and, where nec­es­sary, leave his foot in long enough to cause dam­age.

All the great sides have pos­sessed that type of mid­field tiger. But can you se­ri­ously de­scribe Fabre­gas, Ar­shavin, Di­aby and com­pany in such terms ? Only af­ter a very de­cent night out down the pub, I reckon.

Only when Arse­nal teams have con­fronted the likes of United and shack­led the com­bat­ive Scot Dar­ren Fletcher, only when they’ve com­pletely sub­dued Michael Essien, Michael Bal­lack and Frank Lam­pard in the Chelsea mid­field will we know for sure that times have changed at The Emi­rates, that a new dawn has truly bro­ken.

Sun­der­land this week­end might be an early test for them. Steve Bruce-man­aged teams tend not to lay down and sur­ren­der and Sun­der­land will look upon this week­end as an op­por­tu­nity to ex­am­ine the very cre­den­tials ques­tioned here.

For bet­ter or worse, the word within Premier League cir­cles is still that Arse­nal re­main vul­ner­a­ble to in­tense pres­sure and a heavy phys­i­cal ap­proach.

Stand back and let them play and you will pay the price. But if the boots go in hard, have they re­ally al­tered their psy­che suf­fi­ciently to han­dle it and hit back?

The com­ing weeks may tell us.

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