Time will tell if Saturday’s result will have any significance regarding our fate in this campaign. Normally one result does not make a season but, as usual, many have suggested that it has signaled a turnaround in our fortunes not least because we now occupy fourth place. However, those who have been following our form closely over the last seven months will have heard it all before!
It would be folly to look forward too much, especially when your next fixtures are Arsenal (tonight) and then Manchester City. Lose both and we are back in the pack chasing fourth place rather than leading it. However let’s not be negative, there was much to take from Saturday. Forget about all the traditional derby day rough and tumble what is more satisfying is that we managed to fashion a win despite being a man down. No going on the defensive to protect what we had, would there have been any point anyway with around an hour to play? Instead we went out, put ourselves into a winning position and then held it? At times it wasn’t pretty but we more than matched Everton and it’s testament to the spirit of the team that we did so when the odds were against us, surely confidence will have increased no end?
A word about Dirk Kuyt who scored his fiftieth goal for us on Saturday. That’s four goals in five games now. Not a return that will rock the world but in the context of our “mini revival”, seven unbeaten with four consecutive clean sheets, a vital contribution and a counter to the argument that without Torres we are nothing? Kuyt’s detractors suggest there is a lack of footballing quality about his play however, the Premiership is chock a bloc with forwards who fail to emit stardust from their boots every time they get the ball yet that doesn’t mean to say they don’t get the job done or are ineffective. Time and time again Kuyt has popped up with vital goals; if you’re sad enough do a bit of surfing and look at the stats, the games and the circumstances. It’s a handy knack to have and while many strikers who possess this seem content to flounce around the penalty area and wait for the ball to be spoon-fed to them, Kuyt also works hard, dam hard. On that basis alone he will do for me thank you very much, and I don’t care what you say, so there!
Despite the last few days there is no time to rest or be complacent. Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard have both mentioned the need to move on and concentrate on the next fixture, Arsenal at the Emirates tonight. Whilst we go into this game in reasonably good shape Arsenal will line up on the back of two straight league defeats, against The Mancs and Chelsea, which many believe ends their title hopes. Of course this is nonsense everyone knows what Arsenal are capable of and if we are not on our game we could easily face a humiliating backlash tonight. As a result of these defeats Arsene Wenger has come in for some predictable, knee jerk criticism this week. Generally this tends to be from quarters where the memory is short and there is no appreciation or understanding of the long term aim or wider picture. Although the individual circumstances and pressures surrounding the two managers are different, perhaps Rafa will still extend a ”welcome to the club” greeting as they shake hands tonight?
Before the Chelsea game Carlo Ancelotti suggested the best way to play Arsenal was hit them on the break. It’s probably a generalisation but the last two games against the Mancs (in the Champions League and The Premiership) suggested there might be something in this, also remember Robbie Keane’s goal at the Emirates last season? With this in mind I’m wondering if Rafa will be tempted to bring in Riera or Babel (or both) to inject some pace whilst dropping Gerrard back into midfield at the expense of Lucas? The increasingly impressive, and against all expectations, Kyrgiakos will be absent for three games due to his red card on Saturday so presumably Srktel will start? Rafa will check on the weather before deciding if Aquilani will start, if it’s chilly or raining he’ll be rested and told to wrap up warm!
Prediction? Danny Baker, on his radio show over the weekend, described Arsenal as “Paper Tigers”. A tad harsh as we have found out to our cost on a number of occasions since Rafa took over the reigns. However we have also had joy, partly because they have still to reconcile their undoubted creativity going forward with a sold, reliable, ugly, mean bast*rd of a defence at the back as seen in the days of George Graham and early Wenger. Although I’d be surprised if he played, enticing Sol Campbell out of his bath chair suggests they are no nearer to sorting this.
Because of this there will always be opportunities against Arsenal. The key will be if we take them and then contain them, (not rocket science is it?) particularly if, in the light of his last two league performances against us, we manage to get Arshavin into a straight jacket! Chances are we won’t be totally successful but I feel quietly confident enough to say that we can still ensure a hard earned draw, 1-1.
Enjoy the game.