I guess it was tempting fate for us all to have mocked Spurs's woes with regard to Dawson's injury the other day. With Theo in such fine form, I was actually watching Friday's England match, expecting him to end up in a crumpled heap at any moment and was relieved to see him substituted. I guess with the current spate of injuries at N5, we should've known it was inevitable that Walcott wouldn't last two consecutive International performances without ending up on a stretcher.
In truth I'm a little relieved, if reports of him only missing a couple of weeks actually prove true, as it would be a disaster to lose Theo for longer. But then we were told Van Persie would only be asbsent for a fortnight and this now turns out to be at least a couple of months :-(
If I'm honest, I was half hoping his replacement Adam Johnstone would have a stormer, scoring a hat-trick and thereby leaving Theo out of the England spotlight for the foreseeable future!
This International break has felt like purgatory and I for one can't wait to get back to some proper football this weekend
There was no disguising Gooner disappointment as the transfer window came and went, without Arsène addressing the Gunners’ much debated goal-keeping situation. Although Mark Schwarzer might've been an improvement, personally I was never convinced that he's the defensive panacea we’ve all been pining for these past few seasons.
Yet even if the Aussie keeper was only intended as a stop-gap solution, from a strictly economic perspective, surely the disparity between the amount the Arsenal were prepared to pay and the figure Fulham were willing to accept, this rumoured half a million quid would’ve seemed a relative pittance, if at the end of the day Schwarzer’s presence proved to be the difference between us fending off the concerted challenge for our highly-prized seat at Europe’s top table, or conceding the goals that could cost us qualification for the Champions League next season?
Moreover le gaffer’s apparent inertia, in the face of incessant media stories linking us with virtually every goalie on the planet, is guaranteed to have some impact on the current incumbent. I must admit to feeling some sympathy for Almunia, as not only have his confidence and self-esteem endured a summer long shellacking, but the pressure upon the Spaniard to perform between the sticks has increased exponentially as a result of all the speculation, to the point where his every action will come under intense scrutiny and poor Manuel’s every mistake will be considered from the point of view of whether his replacement might’ve done better.
Our goalie’s former happy-go-lucky persona certainly wasn’t apparent amidst all the frown lines on his face at Ewood Park and few will have been more relieved to come away with 3 points. While the majority of his team mates contented themselves with a perfunctory clap in the direction of the travelling faithful at the final whistle, as a new alumni from the Manny Eboué charm school, Almunia made a point of coming over to throw his shirt into the crowd.
Perhaps I’m guilty of reading too much into a run-of-the-mill post-match celebration, but observing this scene from the upper tier and in the knowledge that we’d all been hoping for a new improved model, I got the distinct feeling that this was a deliberate effort on Almunia’s part, to try and begin to rebuild some of the faith that he must undoubtedly sense has been lost (although you can’t rebuild something which never existed in the first place!).
Meanwhile there’s little point in us griping about the situation. Getting on our keeper’s back isn’t going to help us win games, nor will it repair his deflated confidence. When you combine Almunia’s insecurity with our skipper's supposed discontent, I can’t help but be perturbed about the potential disunity in the Arsenal dressing room at present.
Goal celebrations are an obvious litmus test of the amount of love in the air and will often offer an inkling as to whether team spirit continues to quell individual ambition in these mercenary modern climes. But as can be seen in the ebullient mood at Stamford Bridge, it’s all too easy to be happy campers when everything is hunky dory. It would be naïve of me to expect a “one for all” attitude to continue to prevail at the highest level nowadays. Nevertheless, there’s no mistaking the signs of a team that’s hungry for success and who are prepared to run their socks off for one another, compared to a collection of individuals who are far more inclined to point the finger of blame.
I guess we’ll have to wait until the Gunners backs are up against the wall, to discover the truth in Arsène’s conviction that his squad have matured into the real deal. To date, we’ve witnessed conflicting evidence in Theo Walcott's fervour and Cesc Fabregas' apparent langour. You’ll have to forgive my skepticism but between the jigs and the reels, it seems to have been forgotten that le Prof actually promised us a trophy last season!
Perhaps what bothers me most, is that in spite of the economic climate and the evidence of empty seats elsewhere, I can't escape the sense that the Arsenal have struck on a formulaic business model, whereby the club can continue to maintain a healthy balance sheet with minimum investment on the pitch. It’s as if we’ve become a business first and a football club second and so long as Wenger manages to work the oracle of Champions League qualification each season, there’s no real incentive to mortgage our future and risk roulette wheel type gambles, merely to satiate the punters desire for silverware.
On the face of it, one might contend that instead of investing in a keeper, the Arsenal chose to spend £4mill on the Club Level redevelopment, offering a guaranteed tangible return from £190 per head diners in the ritzy new restaurants. But while the government (or we the people!) end up paying the tab for obscenely haute cuisine, written off against the tax liability of a privileged few, such sound economic logic leaves the vast majority of us looking at the likes of Joe Hart with our tongues hanging out, starved of nothing more than a team we can truly believe in.