This weekend’s game against Middlesborough is important and the Gunners need to play with the same steel they seem to reserve for the elite teams of the Premier League. It can be argued that our results against Middlesborough last season cost us the title. Last December we lost our first Premier League game of the season when we played Boro up north. In the spring time we only managed a draw when we clearly needed a win. That’s five points we dropped against Boro last season, five points which would have given us the title. This weekend’s game is a must win.
The news about Tomas Rosicky clearly means that Arsene Wenger must consider buying a winger. Theo Walcott is unavailable until late February, Samir Nasri appears to pick up a knock every three weeks, Emmanuel Eboue … well, we don’t know how much his confidence has been dented, and a bevy of youngsters are about all we have. While Wenger sometimes plays Diaby and Denilson on the outside, these are merely stopgap measures. The team desperately needs another player who can play out wide, preferably on both the left and the right. Suggestions? Last year the team was impressed with Tresor Mputu, but they never offered him a contract. There was also talk that Wenger was interested in Nikolai Dimitrov, a young Bulgarian winger. Neither would cost a huge amount, but they would bolster the lineup in the new year. And then there’s Arshavin … but we all know that Wenger’s too cheap.
Every day brings more talk of Arsenal pursuing Xabi Alonso, but I cannot see Liverpool letting him leave. If they sent him to Arsenal and he helped the Gunners overhaul them, Rafa Benitez would lose his job. Needless to say the same goes for Gareth Barry. In the coming weeks look for the same names to pop up on the gossip columns that appeared all summer long: Lorik Cana, Gokhan Inler, Manuel Veloso, Blaise Matuidi, Clement Chantome, Jonathan de Guzman, Alberto Aquilani, Torsten Frings, Stephane M’bia, Steven Defour, Michael Johnson, and Anthony Annan.
Do the Gunners need a holding midfielder? Yes. Will Wenger buy one? I hope so. So far this season’s experiment with Denilson has not been a success. I like Denilson, but he is not physical, not a great defensive midfielder, and his play seems to have brought out the worst in Cesc Fabregas. Alex Song is more physical, a better defender, but not as fast or tenacious. Compare Flamini to both Song and Denilson and you can see what the Gunners have been missing this season. A pit bull. Flamini played with passion, with a snarl, and with an energy they’ve lacked this season.
I don’t think Wenger will buy a central defender as many fans want him to. He’ll only buy one if Gallas leaves, otherwise I think he’s happy with Gallas, Djourou, Silvestre, and Toure. Will Gallas leave? No idea. Wenger would clearly like him to stay till the end of the season rather than have to bring someone else into the squad. Emmanuel Eboue was the subject of a recent rumour as well. Given what happened last weekend one cannot blame him for wanting to move, but Wenger needs him to provide cover at the wing and at right back. I suspect he’ll leave next summer. There has also been a rumour about Kolo Toure leaving for Newcastle. Again, Wenger will want to keep Toure, probably to replace Gallas when he leaves next summer. The other rumour concerns Niklas Bendtner leaving for Russia. With the impending arrival of Eduardo Da Silva and Bendtner’s lack of precision in front of goal, the rumour runs that Bendtner will head to the protective embrace of Michael Laudrup in Russia. Will Wenger weaken his bench and sell his only backup striker with size? Probably not.
The perfect Christmas season would be Arsenal ending the month on a six game winning streak. Will they keep their focus and play against Boro or Portsmouth the way they played against Chelsea and Manchester United? Have they matured through the crisis? Can they at least hang in there until Wenger buys someone new? Will Wenger buy someone new? If there is something new about the Gunners this season it’s the uncertainty surrounding the team. No longer can we take the Gunner’s bright and confident performances for granted. Too often this team has struggled and battled to play up to the level we’ve expected in the past. If they can find a level of consistency maybe they can challenge for the title. If they cannot, the rest of the season will be a rollercoaster ride.