Crystal Palace 2-3 Arsenal
I enjoyed that – well, most of that. Reverting to a back three (having previously reverted to a back four having converted to a back three in desperation at the back four not working – do keep up) seemed to give us a bit more attacking oomph, if not any additional defensive prowess.
I’d be complaining had we let in more than we did, but as it happened we pipped it thanks to a couple of dominant performances further up the pitch: in the middle from Jack Wilshere, who’s reaping the benefits of a few consecutive games, and Alexis Sanchez, who appeared to wake up from some form of mental hibernation to wreak mayhem. Combined, it was more than Palace could handle and it made for an entertaining game. That makes it two exciting to watch, if defensively wobbly performances in a row, so excuse me while I go for a lie-down.
At threes and fours
I’m not convinced going back to a back three answered many questions about the general competence of our defensive set-up. Chambers was the wild card, and given he’d not started a Premier League game all season I think he did OK.
People always say “you should grasp your opportunity when it arrives” but it’s easier said than done. I mean, obviously if you trip on your shoelaces, score an own goal then get yourself sent off in the space of 10 minutes then you’re not likely to be asked back. But players need game time to really grasp their opportunity, and that means more than one cameo appearance after six months in the wilderness. So that’s a long-winded way of saying Chambers did just fine, but needs to play more.
One, two, free
Where did I get to? Ah yes, the subject of this post. I know the contractual situations of so many Arsenal players is a boil that Wenger has so far been unable to lance, but it’s becoming quite acute now. In three days, Wilshere, Alexis and Ozil could all negotiate free transfers for the summer. On last night’s performance, that’s essentially our three best players.
We’ve known about them for a very long time. Alexis, despite Wenger saying he wasn’t for sale, was almost sold in the summer. If there was a buyer in January, and a replacement for him that could get us all excited and lay down a bit of a marker of our ambition (you at the back, stop tittering), then much as I’d rather keep him, I wouldn’t rule that one coming to pass in January.
Ozil, I suspect, is happy to stay until the summer then move onto pastures new. And that’s what I expect to happen.
Wilsh he or won’t he?
That leaves Jack, who I suspect is also playing a waiting game. Wenger is making positive noises, but the whole thing is so ludicrously late that Wilshere now holds every single one of the cards. I doubt it’s happened this way by happenstance either – it’s high-stakes for him if he gets another injury, but if he stays fit, waiting to the bitter end opens up his options and his earning capacity. Sometimes, it takes two to not sign a new contract.
So now we’re essentially banking on his love of the club to tie him down to a new deal – on terms that he can largely dictate.
I know he’s a huge risk to any potential buyer, and that he’s only just now reaching the level required to play week in, week out. But on last night’s performance there would be plenty willing to take that risk. Imagine if he left in January, or in the summer, and managed to keep this up? It would be sad to see and it could easily have been avoided.
I’m not the Arsenal bean counter, and I’m also aware you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. But of all the three whose contracts are winding down, is strikes me that his is the one that could have been done. He’s a bit of a talisman for the fans – an Arsenal fan who wears his heart on his sleeves. It was worth a gamble.
Giving him a new long-term deal sooner might have backfired, and it might yet – but I think it would have been worth a punt and the risk involved, and it wouldn’t have bankrupted a cash-rich club like Arsenal. Instead, we’re where we are now.
I hope Wenger’s positivity on this front is justified. Let’s see.