Is it just me, or does it feel like Groundhog Day, where we storm ahead in the Group Stages, then take our eye of the ball and end up having to make a bit of a scramble to get into the knockout stages, when we should really have been on cruise control.
We’ve got a tricky game in Portugal next and instead of storming into the last sixteen, we could end up having to play a full strength team against Partizan in the last game because we need a result.
Worst still this defeat could end up taking all the steam out of the momentum we’ve built up these past couple of weeks and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we end up making hard work of the Toon on Sunday as a result.
It seems as if Arsène sets far too much store in the need for rotating players, in order to try and keep them fresh. But there’s very little point in players being fresh, unless we end up involved in those important end of season games which are likely to test their energy levels. Besides which, nothing keeps players fresher than that crucial winning momentum and by the same token, fatigue creeps in a lot quicker with defeat.
See Ancelotti’s Chelsea this evening. He pretty much sent out his strongest XI at home against Spartak Moscow and although it sounded as if they were a long way from their best, they still had more than enough in the tank to roll over the Russians and maintain and build on the head of steam they’ve been building up in the Champions League.
Moreover by sending out a weakened side, Wenger will have only fuelled Shaktar’s determination to prove that we were wrong to take them lightly and it sends out the wrong message to his own dressing room, where flat-footed Gunners think they can get away with giving the ball away cheaply all evening. And the likes of Clichy isn’t sufficiently focused two minutes from half-time to appreciate that he’d be best putting the ball into Row Z, rather than conceding possession in a dangerous area and his midfield team-mates, the likes of Eastmond and Wilshere, complacently believing Clichy will take care of business, don’t bother to track the runners.
And don’t talk to me about Bendtner and Eboué! I had to laugh when one commentator suggested the Dane made a run to distract defenders, allowing Theo room to shoot. If he did, it was about as much running as Nick did all night, as he was sat on his heels all evening and as a lone striker, he was as much use as the proverbial spare penis and only slightly less infuriating for his apathy as Manny Eboué was with his customary headless chicken impersonation.
I’ve always believed that there is very little to be gained in terms of keeping players fresh, if you are forced to send the likes of Chamakh on to chase the game with 15 mins to go, as the French striker will have ended up no less spent than if he’d played the entire 90. In my humble opinion we’d have been better off starting with our strongest possible XI and then taking players off for the latter stages once we’d secured a win, as the players involved would have been no more fatigued for Sunday’s game and psychologically speaking, they’d have come home feeling a whole lot more positive!
Ho hum, two steps forward, one step back! So what else is new. Although it's only slightly more galling this time around, with our friends from the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road crowing like it was going out of fashion. Bring on Spurs in the knockout stages so we can well and truly put a spanner in their glory, glory delusions
Keep the faith