Saturday, 18 January 2014

Arsenal vs Fulham: Match Preview

With Chelsea facing Manchester United on Sunday, there is a possibility that they might drop points. However bad Manchester United may be, they always seem to show up in matches like these, and with their top four hopes possibly on the line, they should go for it, giving us a chance to go clear of our London rivals.

We have an easy chance to do that - facing struggling Fulham at the Emirates Stadium today. 3 points should be something of a given for us, even though the phrase "anything can happen in football" can be used as a counter argument. I'm a bit tired of using it though, and would rather say that this is a game very much in our hands to gain 3 points from, and there would be no excuses if we fail.

Not even injuries can be held as a culprit should we fail to win, even though we're a team without Vermaelen, Monreal, Ramsey, Arteta, Rosicky, Walcott and Bendtner for this game. The injury list is skyrocketing now, and our wafer thin squad is being tested to the core. Players like Gnabry and Park Chu Young are inches away from first team action, that's how much we're limping from game to game.

The manager has the opportunity to repair that, what with the transfer window being open and everything. However, recent noises suggest that we are NOT going to buy anyone in this window, whether we like it or not.

"Are we close to signing Draxler? No."

"Have we made any approach to sign Berbatov? No."

"Will we? I don't think so because we have Bendtner who is coming back, we have Yaya Sanogo who is making very good progress in training."

"Yes, you have my signature straight away [on scrapping the transfer market]. It will not be very busy."

People who are desperate to see Wenger buy anybody this month are saying that the smile he made when asked about Draxler was proof that the club are close to a deal with him. I cannot emphasize more as to what a pile of tosh that is. Yes, I have no doubt that Arsenal are interested in him and that Draxler is interested in us. However, I am absolutely certain that Wenger will NOT buy Draxler, at least not in this window. I categorically rule it out.

Is Wenger feigning interest in Draxler to show that he's active in the market? It's a possibility, considering that he did the same thing with Luis Suarez in the summer. However, I think that it's Arsenal fans - desperate to see signs of transfer activity from Wenger - who are making a mountain out of a molehill here. How can a smile possibly be given greater preference over words said from the manager's mouth? "Oh no, it doesn't matter if Wenger said that the Draxler deal isn't close. Why? Because he smiled, that's got to mean something!"

For the record, I'm clarifying again that I do want Arsene Wenger to sign a striker. However, I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that he is close to buying one. In the end, it is cold, hard facts that I use as a guideline to my opinion. The facts are quoted above, CLEARLY suggesting that the club is far from buying any player.

We have crossed the halfway mark of the January transfer window now. There are 14 days left for the window to close, yet we haven't even seen a whiff of activity from Arsenal. I am slowly losing trust in this manager, who is becoming frustratingly blind to glaring issues within the squad. He is making a habit of leaving things as late as possible, even though we could be sitting with a striker right now and on the lookout for a center back.

As day by day passes of inactivity by Wenger, I'm finding myself asking questions more regularly at him. Arsene is a person who gets too much freedom in transfer dealings and in contract situations. He has too much power and gets exclusive authority on financial subjects regarding Arsenal. And he gets £6.5 million salary per year, which would undoubtedly increase when he signs a new contract (not if, WHEN). Yet, a person who is in total control over our transfer dealings is getting completely absolved from transfer blame. Here's an extract from a piece I wrote 9 days ago:

"We have the financial muscle, and we have the incentive. To add to that, we certainly have a manager who can negotiate his way through a difficult deal - witness Mesut Ozil's 12 hour negotiation and his transfer from Real Madrid to Arsenal. While it may not seem so, we actually have a lot of cards in our hands. I'm confident that if we have the willpower, we can get a deal finalized for players like Jackson Martinez, Diego Costa or certainly players like Dimitar Berbatov by 17th January."

If Wenger fails to get in a striker and/or a center back, I shall blame him 100% for the failure that is inevitable to follow. I am clearly in love with the players, a fantastic group of individuals who give their all in every match. However, deep down I know that they are not good enough to maintain the form that they are currently on.  The warning signs are already there, for people who are open minded to view them.

In recent matches, we're finding it more and more difficult to score goals, or more notably, create chances. Even though our defence is rock-solid, our attack is uncharacteristically poor, largely due to the absence of Walcott, Podolski, Ozil's poor form and Santi's mispositioning. Nicklas Bendtner's good run of form doesn't mean that he is going to reproduce it when he returns from injury. Frankly, it's laughable to imagine a title contending side having Nicklas Bendtner as a second choice striker.

Instead of torturing myself by feeding false hopes to me and everyone reading this, I'm resigning myself to the fact that we aren't going to see any transfer activity from Arsenal until 25th January. Actually, I think that Wenger might push his luck a bit more, sporting misleading smiles until transfer deadline day. As of today, I can GUARANTEE that we aren't going to buy any player for the next 10 days.

It's shameful, really. Even if we do not buy anyone (which seems a highly realistic scenario now), the fact remains that the players won't defer from their objective of winning the title, something that will NOT happen if Wenger remains stubbornly inactive. I shall still stand by my beloved Arsenal even if we fail to win the title, but deep down I will be unable to shake off the feeling that we were so close to meeting that objective, yet were thwarted by a person who was on our side.

I realize that I'm predicting a bit long-term here and sounding really pessimistic. The manager might well prove me wrong and sign a player out of genuine ambition, I don't know. I'm not counting on it though - that's what the signs seem to suggest. For now, all I can hope is that our team gets 3 points today, thus continuing our road to the title.

Arsene will doubtless pick the standard back five of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs, and will be forced to choose Flamini with Wilshere in central midfield, owing to the absence of Arteta and Aaron. If I had my way, I would play Cazorla in the central attacking midfield role with The Ox and Podolski on the wings. Ozil's performances have not been up to the mark recently, and he needs a breather anyways, which is why I want him rested. Podolski is raring to start and will perform nicely on the wings, and Santi should also have a good game should he be given his preferred role.

However, this is Wenger we're talking about. A manager who will never stop overplaying Mesut Ozil, and a manager apparently blind to Podolski's frustration on the bench. A manager who will continue playing Cazorla on the wings with mixed results, and a manger who is stretching Olivier Giroud's feet to the limit. My perception of Arsene Wenger has reached such a critical level that I'm sure he'll start Ozil and continue fielding Santi on the left flank again. It remains doubtful if he plays Gnabry or Chambo on the right, but I can unofficially confirm that Podolski will not start today.

My apologies on ending this post on a sad note, but I must admit that Wenger's recent managerial decisions are baffling me. What's even more frustrating is that many Arsenal supporters are failing to notice these decisions, mostly because recent good results are masking the deficiencies in the squad. I am confident that Arsenal are going to find three points tomorrow. However, the ongoing problems in the squad, the manager and the transfer policy need to be solved quickly to halt our trophyless streak of a mammoth 9 years.

For now, let's focus on Matchday, and hope for another routine victory.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )