I was doing some planning for the blog this morning and was shocked to discover that there is only a month left to go this season. Just one month!
Of course, in that month we jam in five Premier League games and the two Champions League matches against Manchester United and maybe the final it we’re lucky, but it is strange to think that Arsenal’s season will be over so soon. A little bit sad, even, given the state of our league campaign and the recent disappointment of missing out on the FA Cup final by one game.
We may have had plenty of ups and downs in a very strange season, but one of the undeniable positives has been the signing of Andrey Arshavin. The little Russian has been nothing short of magnificent since his arrival from St Petersburg and continued his fine start to his Arsenal career with that four-goal haul against Liverpool. However, Arshavin has been quick to downplay his unbelievable effort at Anfield, indicating that there will be much more consistency in his game as he gets used to his new teammates. In his own words:
“If you look at the first half you never saw me except for one moment when I scored. It is difficult for me but I will try and I need time. Everybody else is [used] to playing with each other. I still have to go through pre-season and after that everything will be in a good place.”
If what Arshavin is saying is true then we can expect quite a player next season. Since his very first appearance against Fulham, where he fired a long-range shot narrowly wide and had another fierce effort saved by the keeper, Arshavin has looked the part in English football. It took him a few weeks to get up to full fitness but since then he has become an integral, almost irreplaceable member of our team and his absence from the Champions League squad has become more apparent.
Arshavin’s place in Arsenal history has been assured with his four-goal effort against Liverpool, but it has been his willingness to get involved and above all his obvious character that has made him a fan-favourite so far. Seriously, the guy is so cool! He rarely goes to ground when he can stay on his feet, never talks back to referees or has a bad word to say to any of his teammates. He seems like a genuinely nice guy and every time he makes a contribution he is quick to downplay his effort and speak up for the team. It’s wonderful to see.
As I mentioned before, Arshavin’s ineligibility for the Champions League means he will not be able to play against Manchester United next week. It’s a huge game for the club and although we always knew he would not be eligible, his performance against Liverpool just served to underline what we will be missing.
When you add Arshavin to our list of absentees you realise just how difficult a task our team – and indeed our defence – will have in getting past United. They weren’t particularly impressive in the 2-0 win over Portsmouth but aside from a couple of blips by Patrice Evra, they also never looked too stretched at the back. Contrast that with the shambolic performances of our defensive unit against Liverpool and there is certainly some cause for concern.
If we are to get a result at Old Trafford the defensive performance of the entire side has to improve. That means Mikael Silvestre and Kolo Toure communicating better, Bacary Sagna stepping up and Lukasz Fabianski and Kieran Gibbs maintaining cool heads in a pressure-cooker atmosphere. The midfield needs to press quickly when United are in possession and ensure we get the ball back as soon as we can if we lose it. The team needs to hold their positions, cover for each other and perhaps most importantly, maintain their composure and encourage each other to keep the workrate up.
Despite an admission from Arsene Wenger that the side will be rotated, this style of high-pressure defending is one that needs to be practiced on Sunday against Middlesbrough. We’re not in a position where every single league game matters anymore and pretty much everything we do in the Premier League should be focused on improving our chances of winning the Champions League. As such, I see this week’s game as another opportunity for the defence to get familiar with each other and build some confidence in the lead-up to next week’s game.
Anyway, that’s all I’ll say for today. There will be a full preview of the Middlesbrough game in tomorrow’s blog including any injury news if it comes through. I’ll also have a bit of a word about the the very first Arsenal FC Blog Podcast that will air on Monday next week, so don’t miss it.
Talk to you then.
Have your say on Andrey Arshavin, our dodgy defence or the Middlesbrough game by leaving a comment.