Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

State of Arsenal Heading Into the Festive Period

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It feels like it’s been an awful long time since I’ve written anything about Arsenal. But that definitely hasn’t been because of a lack of things to write about. This season has produced intriguing match after intriguing match. And as Ian Darke would say, more than a million talking points. But by now, so many things have been written about Arsene Wenger or about the defensive frailties that nothing new can really be said. So I’ll steer clear of that for now.

There have been times this season – more than I’d care to admit – when I’ve been completely fed up with the Gunners. I’ve turned off games and I’ve stopped reading my usual slew of British tabloids to stay away from all the terrible aspects of what’s happened this season. I don’t need Michael Owen to tell me that Arsenal don’t look like a Top 4 side. I have eyes.

So considering the way Arsenal invited Liverpool on to score the late tying goal on Sunday, it might come off as odd for me to say this. But I’m really not all that worried about the season anymore. I’d even go so far as to say I’m cautiously optimistic heading into the festive period of games.

That optimism starts with the steady betterment of all of Arsenal’s ailing stars. Olivier Giroud is back and firing. The same goes for Mathieu Debuchy. Theo Walcott might be in the starting eleven on Boxing Day. Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny shouldn’t be out long. And most importantly, Mesut Özil will be back in training in no time.

There’s no way to get around the fact that Arsenal have been unproportionately hit by injuries this year. While there should have been more cover in certain areas, the simple fact of the matter is that Arsenal will be better off when these players return. Yes, Arsene Wenger messed up by not signing another defender in the summer, but that will soon be in the past.

Come January 1, the transfer market reopens and I think Wenger will be eager to open his checkbook for reinforcements. He more than anybody knows how weak Arsenal’s defensive spine is, and I’m confident he’ll spend. I don’t think he’ll bring in a superstar, but he doesn’t need to right now for Arsenal to succeed.

We’ve seen that we can’t rely on Mikel Arteta to be healthy at this stage in his career, and while Wenger might be slightly naïve in thinking Arteta is a strong enough defensive midfielder, he surely knows Mathieu Flamini must be no more than a squad player at this point in his career. Surely, he’ll buy in this area, as he won’t want to start Flamini for any prolonged period. And I think it’s a safe bet he’ll bring in another defender too.

But it isn’t just outside reinforcements that can be difference maker. I still think there is a lot of untapped potential in this side. I really want to see Lukas Podolski given a start in the next three games to see if he can start firing. Younger players like Joel Campbell and Francis Coquelin really haven’t been given a chance either, and I believe they might be more ready for primetime than Wenger thinks. Remember too that Tomas Rosicky has only played a bit part in this campaign. In recent years, he’s been Wenger’s go-to guy in the second half of the season and I don’t expect that to change.

Over the festive period, with four games crunched between now and early January, Wenger will have to rotate his team. I think that’ll ultimately be a good thing, as it will help other players like these ones find a rhythm. Arsenal can’t afford to drop too many points now, but the fixture list is relatively kind over the next couple weeks. Now is a time to begin making ground on the top four. I think Arsenal’s aim should be 10 points over the next four games, as ambitious as that sounds.

When the injuries piled up in September and October, it was always going to be a struggle to get through December. But we’re almost there. Things may not be perfect by any means, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Finishing in the top four is still realistic. And best of all, Monaco looms in the Champions League. Wouldn’t a trip to the quarterfinals or semifinals bring a nice surge of positivity to the Emirates?

As I’ve discussed with many of my fellow Arsenal fans, it’s been a rough few months to be an Arsenal fan. Aside from the brilliance of Alexis Sanchez and perhaps the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamerlain as a reliable midfielder, there hasn’t been much worth writing home about. In fact, I’d like to forget most of it. I really don’t care for watching Cesc Fabregas celebrate with Jose Mourinho, and the image of Bojan Krkic running right through Arsenal’s defense still haunts me in my sleep.

Maybe it’s the Christmas season that’s caused me to lose my recent dose of cynicism. But I’m genuinely looking forward to watching Arsenal play in the coming weeks. To see so many old faces return from injury. To see some new defensive-minded players arrive. To see players like Rosicky being given a chance. I think 2015 will be an exciting time to be a Gooner.

A Merry Christmas to everyone, and let’s celebrate Boxing Day with a victory.

 

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