If you’d offered any Gooner the opportunity to be going into the New Year, a mere couple of points off the top of the table, with lowly Ipswich as the only thing between us and a long-awaited trip to our first Wembley final (since the rebuild), most would’ve bitten your hand off. The most frustrating thing for us and fans of every table-topping team, is that it has rarely ever felt as if the Premiership has been there for the taking quite as temptingly as it appears to be this term, with no one outfit as yet, seemingly capable of achieving that relentless consistency required of genuine contenders.
Nevertheless along with most Gooners, I look at our current squad and no matter that we positively exude entertaining, silky skills, I can’t help but wonder if at the end of the day, we are once again going to be found wanting for the backbone and the stamina necessary to endure in the marathon that is the title race.
We’ve witnessed occasional encouraging glimpses of the sort of grit and determination that might hold the promise of a new dawn, on the Groundhog Day of our perennial sojourn in the silverware-starved doldrums. While we’ve good cause to be more than a little cynical about the sincerity of our modern day superstars (when their loyalty is limited by a club’s ability to match the obscene amount of moola on offer elsewhere), both on and off the pitch youngsters like Wilshere and Walcott are making all the right noises and producing the sort of committed displays that could just begin to restore my faith in the prospect of developing that crucial core group of players, who are capable of inspiring less motivated colleagues, with performances that demonstrate a selfless desire to restore some red & white pride.
We badly needed the optimistic shot in the arm of an unequivocal victory against Chelsea. Albeit that pinching points from the bedraggled Blues at present hardly puts us in an exclusive club But after a typically slipshod display at Stamford Bridge and an infuriatingly timid performance at Old Trafford, along with our embarrassing first home defeat to the auld enemy in 17 seasons and inexplicable losses at our place against the Baggies and the Toon, most Gooners were merely grateful that the Gunners continued to feature in the title-chasing frame.
Few, if any seriously believed we were capable of maintaining our elevated status, the moment the competition shook themselves out of their complacent torpor and seriously began to kick on. But the longer the current peculiar status-quo prevails, without any of the challengers finding the customary sort of unfaltering form that would mark them as outright favourites and as the Arsenal finally begin to string a run of decent results together, the harder it becomes to ignore the possibility that, despite the obvious missing vertebrae in the spine of our side, perhaps, just perhaps there's the faintest scent of something more than mere Champions League qualification.
Five-times a day is probably a conservative estimate of the frequency with which we’ve been prostrating ourselves, invoking Sczczesny as the Gunners long-awaited goalkeeping Messiah. But so long as le Prof appears intent on protecting the imperturbable Polish youngster, it feels as if the more dominant of Flappy Handski’s displays are merely an interlude before his next calamitous catastrophe. We can but hope that Clichy will rediscover his Mojo and that the eventual return of Vermaelen will mask our defensive deficiencies. Djourou has the advantage of having not appeared sufficiently often to ruin his burgeoning reputation as a firm terrace favourite. Both he and Koscielny could benefit from playing alongside a more experienced partner. But sadly whenever I watch Squillaci, I can’t help but think that if the aging Frenchman was anything more than a journeyman stand-in, he’d have been picked up by a more illustrious outfit long before qualifying for free bus rides.
Apparently with something to prove, after having been excluded from the debacle of France’s World Cup campaign, Samir Nasri’s been the stand-out talent, in a midfield that includes a surfeit of the beautiful game’s more accomplished advocates. But while the powder-puff likes of Diaby and Denilson are either unable, or unwilling to pull their weight, we remain overly dependent on Alex Song for some steel – especially since Song has begun to believe he’s Dennis Bergkamp!
Although Chamakh has still to convince that he’s blessed with the requisite “je ne sais quoi” to parley his earnest graft into 20 plus Premiership goals, the Moroccan lad’s presence has proved beneficial by adding some much needed variety up front, saving us from the exasperation of our incessant efforts to intricately pass our way through overly congested penalty areas. By providing us with the option to go around, or over the top, mercifully we appear to have nullified our opponents’ formulaic efforts to stifle our one-dimensional “tippy-tappy” football.
As for Cesc Fabregas, if we can negotiate our way past Roy Keane’s East Anglian outfit and provide Cesc with the long-awaited opportunity to lift some silverware, perhaps he’ll rediscover his joie de vivre for the Gunners. It won’t stop him from wanting away, but it might inspire him to try and leave us with a more laudable going away present. If success does indeed breed success, then the Carling Cup might prove the key to the Wengerboys acquiring that unmistakable braggadocio of born winners, just in time to bring down the mighty Barcelona in their own backyard.
Fanciful perhaps, but then to date, the only predictable facet of this campaign is that we can expect the unexpected.
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