Nightmare November: Arsenal’s only way out is beating Liverpool
Posted Saturday, November 2 2013 at 02:00
There was a time when Arsenal and November sound like an old, tired joke, but for all Gunners with reason to believe that this season might be different from the last eight there is nothing even remotely funny about the month ahead.
After seeming to ease through the first couple of months, with Mesut Oil at the sail and all else merrily following the wily German’s lead, the Arsenal crew has lately hit some waves that are, potentially, only but a warning of the tsunami ahead.
In fairness only in hindsight do September and October come across as having been smooth sailing, and Arsenal have got to take credit for making it look that way considering that Christian Benteke and Aston Villa appeared to have flipped the boat over in the dock on opening day.
Not too many will care to give them that much should they go ahead to capsize, predictably in retrospect, in what I choose to call ‘Nightmare November’ (I make no apologies for steering clear of the more popular catchphrase ‘Black November’ whose connotations don’t sit well with me).
The month ahead has only become a cause for concern because it brings with it fixtures a lot harder than those they encountered en route to the Premiership’s summit as well as that of their Champions League group.
Recent losses to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea more than suggest that wins will be a lot harder to come by than those which came earlier against the likes of Stoke, Fulham, Sunderland, Norwich and Crystal Palace who account for two thirds of the points-haul that has elevated them to heady heights.
In that light, Nightmare November drags in daunting duels with Liverpool, Man United, Southampton and Cardiff, with Dortmund and Marseille sandwiched therein.
Southampton become a concern too because they represent the kind of confident, organised, technically sound, supposedly lower opposition that the Gunners have already had problems with (twice) in the name of West Brom; Southampton are better and more consistent.
Cardiff, the hypothetically easiest to beat of this lot, have already ambushed Man City in Wales while Man United, not yet anywhere near as good as can be, are always a bogey side for Arsene Wenger’s men no matter their form.
And the load extends well beyond Nightmare November mind, considering that Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea are also tucked into the mix before Christmas.
It resonated like a typical Wenger retort (they are usually blindly defensive and overly optimistic) when he responded to doubts about his squad strength in the wake of the Chelsea defeat Tuesday night by saying “we have players out who would make a difference” in reference to crocked Theo Wlacott, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
In truth though, those three can make a big difference and that Arsenal have won so much they have been virtually forgotten is a tribute to the depth of squad at Wenger’s disposal this time, one that has burgeoned literally and perceptively well beyond the two additions of Ozil and Mathieu Flamini.
Already this early there have been so many different midfield permutations it is like Wenger is trying out the numerous chess approaches of grandmasters Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Kaprov, and it helps that many of the midfielders are so versatile and adaptable they can play each of the different roles of the central three and wide two.
Even the inadequacies of the defensive cover are exaggerated when Thomas Vermaelen, Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson can barely get a kick, and when right back Bacary Sagna has put in some great shifts at centre half.
The only let down is the form and reliability (or lack of) of Niklas Bendtner which piles all the pressure on Olivier Giroud and threatens to burn him out. Comes in handy then that Podolski and Walcott can lead the line when fit, and that in midfielders Aaron Ramsey, Ozil, Santi Carzola and Jack Wilshere they can get goals on a regular basis.
Liverpool the key
All that said, to allay fears of Nightmare November and impending doom, Arsenal have got to make a big statement of intent with the very first of the fixtures, against Liverpool today.
Mathematically it would not be the end of the world if they lost, but because of their mental fragility (perceived and real), they cannot afford to allow the doubts to creep in and their many rivals to smell blood.