It was a bit cold and rainy in Montreal on Sunday; in other words, perfect weather for hanging out in a sports bar with my fellow Göoners and watching the most anticipated game of the month (with apologies to Southampton, who are third in the table). Last-minute news that Per Mertesacker would not be in the lineup due to illness (somebody must have spiked the pizza) dampened our spirits a little bit, but it was a good opportunity for Vermaelen to start his comeback. In other pre-game drama, Nicklas Bendtner didn’t help his case by shooting his mouth off again . He’s had so many chances with other clubs, it’s unbelievable that Wenger didn’t let him leave during the summer. I guess we’ll have to wait for Wenger’s autobiography to get the full story…
The game started as I predicted, with Arsenal hanging back and soaking up the pressure. At one point, Man Utd had 55% possession to Arsenal’s 45%. Early in the game, Rooney was no match for Sagna, so he moved over to the other wing to try his luck against Gibbs. It was a bit risky to throw Vermaelen into the mix for such an important game, but he kept RVP in check and he had Arteta and Flamini in front of him to help out when needed. Everything was unfolding according to plan, but once again we were undone by our own zonal marking in set pieces. RVP had an easy run in and headed the ball into the net to draw first blood at the 27-minute mark. Our offensive midfielders couldn’t come up with any answers, even though we dominated possession in the second half. It was wise to replace Flamini with Wilshere (at the 61-minute mark), but it was just sad to see Bendtner come on for Cazorla at 78 minutes. We simply had no options on the bench. Desperate for a spark, Wenger took out Arteta in favour of Gnabry, but it was too late.
I can’t fault the ref either; Michael Oliver let the players play, only calling the worst tackles (2 yellow cards per team). With the exception of the defensive lapse on the set piece, Arsenal were well-positioned to try to get a draw on the road. Fortunately, Sp**s lost to Newcastle and Man$ity lost to Sunderland; we’re still in the driver’s seat.
So it was another loss at Old Trafford. And yet, I remain cautiously optimistic. The Gunners won two tough games this week (Liverpool and Dortmund) so you would expect our team to be fatigued. Compare that to Man U’s schedule during the same period: Nov 2: Fulham, Nov 5: Real Sociedad. We lost today’s game because of our (lack of) squad depth. We missed the speed of Walcott and/or Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the calming presence of Mertesacker. Özil was a non-factor today, but he needs time to adjust to the rigours of the English game. Next season, he will be unstoppable. Let’s just take a minute of silence to reflect on the stunning acquisition of Özil.
The Gunners can get some much needed rest before they take on Southampton on Nov 23, followed by a home game against Marseille on the 26th. If we can clinch a CL spot in November, then we can give some playing time to our younger players in Napoli in December.
It’s obviously too early to talk about the title; we’ve got a congested schedule in December (six EPL games including Man$tiy and Chelsea). Let’s see where we land before the January transfer window. Unfortunately for Wenger, everybody knows we need another striker to cover for Giroud. If we want to buy a proven player, we’ll have to pay over the odds. Forget about Suárez; Liverpool have CL aspirations and won’t let him go in January. How about another loan for King Henry? ;)
Number crunching time: with 27 games remaining, we would need to take approximately 63 points out of a maximum 81. One possible scenario could be 19 wins, 5 draws, 3 losses (62 points). Less likely would be 18 wins, 8 draws, 1 loss (62 points). I’m not a gambling man, but if I were, I’d take the 7/2 odds of Arsenal winning the league (Sky Bet).
I’m predicting a strong November: 3 wins (Southampton, Marseille, Cardiff). Mertesacker and Rosicky will recover quickly, and Walcott is not far off. Even without Diaby (ahem), we have lots of options in midfield. Giroud will benefit from 13 days’ rest, so hopefully we won’t see Bendtner again.