After the peasants revolted at the AGM in midweek, following two of the limpest possible defeats, in which we barely mustered a shot on goal, it was a pleasant surprise to find ourselves pacified on Saturday, by the slice of cake that was the long-awaited comeback of Wilshere & Sagna.
Under normal circumstances, Wilshere’s reintroduction to first team football would’ve probably occurred away from the pressure-cooker intensity of the Premiership, in Tuesday’s League Cup encounter, surrounded by the smattering of youngsters that are likely to turn out at Reading. But I suppose Wenger badly needed to find a means of drawing a line under our lackluster recent form and to raise the mood in the camp, both on and off the pitch. In this respect, Jack’s return was just what the doctor ordered.
It might not have resulted in a spectacular display against QPR and for a long time on Saturday, with the visitors’ Brazilian keeper intent on thwarting us with his acrobatics, it felt like it might just be ‘one of those days’. Nevertheless, rarely has there been an encounter where the three points were so much more significant than the performance, as evidenced by the exultant wave of relief that greeted Arteta’s goal.
Appearing down the flanks for the final third of the game, Gervinho and Walcott stretched QPR’s ability to defend the edge of their penalty area in quite such a compact fashion. But ultimately the bottom of the table side beat themselves, with Mbia foolishly inviting the card, to match the colour of his moment of pitch rage.
If Rangers shot themselves in the foot, by substantially improving our prospects of grabbing a late winner, the Gunners were little better, with the somewhat feeble resistance that we subsequently offered to ten-man QPR, and our guests creditable, last-gasp refusal to lie-down. However, having held our breath every time Wilshere hit the deck, all that really mattered was that Jack survived 67 minutes unscathed and that we banked the victory that will temporarily blunt the knives of all the doom merchants in the media. Any other outcome and next Saturday’s trip up the motorway to Man Utd might’ve begun to feel like a funeral procession.
Carl Jenkinson must be feeling hard done by, as he’s certainly not let us down so far this season. Still as much as I adore the fact that the Corporal bleeds red & white, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling reassured by Mr Reliable’s reinstatement at right-back, with Bakari seemingly straight back into the groove, in time for the trip to Old Trafford.
I only wish I could say the same about our left flank and I will be equally relieved by the return of Kieran Gibbs. We all love Andre Santos, but while the Brazilian full-back might be high on entertainment value, unfortunately his unique approach to defending also has the same impact on one’s blood pressure. Mark Hughes obviously targeted Santos’ idiosyncrasies and I will amazed if Fergie doesn’t instruct Utd to do likewise.
It was ironic to hear Cazorla announced as our choice of player of the month before Saturday’s game because after his massive impact early on, Santi seems to have gone right off the boil. Perhaps our opponents have fast cottoned on to the fact that as our principal creative force, if you can cramp Cazorla’s style, you nullify the Arsenal. With Wilshere doubling the creative geniuses in our ranks, hopefully Santi will begin to find more space now that the opposition have more to worry about.
Meanwhile at least our defeat to Schalke means that qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League is no longer a given and my principal “raison d’etre” for travelling to Germany and Greece won’t only be to stock up on cartons of Camel cigarettes. More importantly, achieving the all-important 10-point threshold in the group stages in the past has provided Wenger with the opportunity to rest players in meaningless matches, but where the resulting dip in performance has drained the momentum from our Premiership campaign.
After our abysmal display against Norwich, I don’t think many of us expected to beat Schalke but it was disconcerting that as an attacking force, we struck about as much fear into the Germans as the Maginot Line. Gervinho’s frustrating efforts are fast making him the target of the terrace boo-boys. On Saturday my neighbour posed a pertinent question, comparing the more composed talents of Hoylett to our Ivorian headless chicken.
I’m no less eager than everyone else, for the Gunners to demonstrate some real ambition by spending the £70 million transfer kitty on a couple of marquee signings and thereby proving that our club isn’t merely a “going concern”. Yet on returning home in midweek and watching the laughable results of the £40 odd million Zenit invested in Hulk, this was a sobering reminder that the poker game of net spend is no guarantee of success. Still, in the year-on year diminishment of our squad strength, we’ve endured more than our share of our risk-averse manager’s point blank refusal to play this particular game.
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