Sunday, 5 February 2012

Super seven shatters silence...

Quite simply, Arsenal's form in the last six weeks has defied analysis or comment. That's the best explanation/excuse I can offer for the recent period of silence from the The Muzzle. The situation has changed immeasurably in that time – when the Gunners beat Villa on 21st December the team was lying fifth, a single point behind Chelsea and three behind Tottenham. Since then Arsenal have played seven league games, losing three, drawing two, and winning two. Until yesterday's emphatic win against a ten-man Blackburn things were looking grim indeed. The current league table sees us lying sixth, two points behind Newcastle and three behind Chelsea, and ten behind Spurs – a gap that now seems fairly insurmountable.

Also in that New Year period, the January transfer window opened and snapped shut again. The Gunners brought in one living legend and one nineteen-year-old German wunderkind in Thierry Henry and Thomas Eisfeld. The former needed no introduction; the latter is a midfield playmaker with six goals in twelve games this season for Borussia Dortmund's U-19 team (he hasn't actually played for the senior side). In terms of absent players, two more young starlets went out on loan, as Frimpong left to join Wolves (and subsequently got crocked), and Ryo Miyaichi went to Bolton. That leaves the Gunners with an exodus of players crying in the wilderness – we currently have fifteen farmed out to various clubs across the four tiers of English league football as well as others in Spain, Brazil, Scotland and France.

The absence of transfer activity frustrated many Gooners, but realistically Arsene's relative indolence cannot have been altogether unexpected. Basically, we're sticking with what we've got, hoping against hope for a fourth place finish with an outside chance of a decent FA cup run. We're somewhat fortunate to still be in that competition – the script was written against Leeds, and the ever-obliging Thierry Henry duly nabbed the winner – but only the cool head of Robin van Persie rescued Arsenal against Aston Villa. RvP's desperation to win something before he leaves at the end of his contract is palpable.

Still, the Gunners haven't had much luck so far this season and were more than due a bit of 'the rub of the green', as Tony Adams used to like saying in his post-match interviews, once upon a time. If we got it against Villa it certainly didn't last for very long – the news that Jack Wilshere's long-awaited return has been delayed by another injury is a big blow.

There is also the Champions League tie against Milan to consider, which most Gooners were regarding with a mix of trepidation and apprehension.

Until yesterday's result that is. There's nothing like a 7-1 spanking to lift the spirits, particularly when RVP bags a hat-trick and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showed exactly why he deserves a regular starting berth. Even Theo Walcott had a good game. The unsung hero was undoubtedly Mikel Arteta, and his return after three games out is most welcome. In the Ox Arsenal perhaps have a player who could have a big impact on the remainder of the season.

Sterner tests will follow – next up is Martin O'Neill's resurgent Sunderland side – to be followed by the first leg of the Milan tie at the San Siro, then another trip to the north-east to face either Sunderland again or Boro in the FA Cup fifth round. After that there are crunch games against Tottenham, Liverpool, Milan at the Emirates and then Newcastle.

If Arsenal's slump is over and confidence returns once again who knows what can happen. It is unlikely that the win, however emphatic, will be the catalyst that sees the team win at least ten of their remaining fourteen league matches. That's the figure required to reach the 70-point mark likely to secure fourth place, according to The Gooner. Still, three points never hurts, and so a flicker of hope remains as the Gunners head into what must now be make or break time for 2011/12.

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