Break comes at a bad time amid our shoots of recovery

IT’S a reflection that normalservice has resumed in London N5, now that I’m back to feeling seriously pissed off about another needless interruption next weekend.

When only a few weeks back, perhaps for the first time ever, theprevious break for internationals in the wake of our derby day defeat, came as welcome relief from our woeful start to the season.

However the Arsenal have barely put a foot wrong since that much needed respite and as a result, we could’ve done without the threat of a flurry of international friendlies, putting a spoke in the wheel of our recent fine run of form. We may already be a quarter of the way through this campaign, but in some respects, with the trees shedding all their leaves and the first hint ofwinter drawing nigh, it feels as if the Gunners are only just getting warmed up. Well we’ve at least achieved the minor feat of a positive goal difference for the first time, after our perfunctory disposal of West Brom on Saturday. If I’d been amongst the few thousand fans who travelled down from Birmingham, I’d have been particularly perturbed, as Roy Hodgson’s side were unrecognisable as the same Baggies outfit who put us under the cosh on their previous outing at the Emirates and outplayed us on our own pitch.

The only surprise on Saturday was the complete absence of the all-too-familiar air of anxiety, in an Arsenal win which was never in doubt from the start. The upside to a season of such unpredictability and a schizophrenic Gunners squad, where Dr Jekyll is doing his utmost to contain Mr Hyde’s lunatic tendencies, is that we now go to games never knowing what to expect. Least of all the prospect of being able to sit back and savour a comfortable triumph, devoid of the customary edge of the seat spills and thrills that we’ve come to associate with the Arsenal’s kamikaze football.

But then on the basis that it took Hodgson’s hamstrung Baggies until the 87th minute to force a save from Szczesny, I suppose it would be amistake to use such lame opposition as any sort of litmus test. Nevertheless, considering our defence has been the target for so much derision in recent months, it’s ironic that the biggest bone of contention now concerns the pleasing selection quandary at centre-back. You simply can’t leave a player with Vermaelen’s presence on the sidelines, but on current form,neither Koscielny or Mertesacker deserve to be dropped.

Evidence of the Gunners’ progress is reflected in a more relaxed mood. We’d have been threatening bluemurder for our Brazilian full-back’s tendency to desert his defensive duties earlier in the season. But recent signs of some long-awaited durability and a renewed resolve have resulted in us being able to laugh off Koko the clown’s antics on our left flank, so long asSantos continues to compensate for his unorthodox impression of a full-back, with his attacking prowess.

Perhaps Kieran Gibbs’s glass-like frame will have been strengthened sufficiently in a fortnight’s time and needless to say, all such defensive dilemmas will have been resolved in the meantime, due to those who will doubtless end up crocked whilst playing for their respective countries. But while we Gooners spend the days ahead on our knees, praying for van Persie to be kept out of harm’s way, whilst channel hopping as we endeavour to keep tabs on the remainder of our multi-culturalhotchpotch, in truth there’s only one encounter of any real import. Come on Ireland...

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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