It might well be that for the want of any other credible challengers, everyone has the Gunners tipped as potential champions. Yet considering we almost had all three points in the bag at Anfield in midweek, two measly points seems scant reward from two exhausting away days.
I’m certainly not moaning, as we’ve managed to negotiate a daunting week, still looking down on the rest of the Premier League. Nevertheless, the mark of Gunners title-winning sides of yesteryear was that we could be deprived of the likes of Bergkamp, Henry, or any of our most influential stars and still retain sufficient guile and gumption to go to grounds like the Britannia and snaffle a crucial win.
However, when I looked at yesterday’s starting line-up, deprived of the likes of Özil, Alexis and Cazorla, it was hard to envisage who would be able to unlock the door.
It’s ironic Aaron Ramsey receives such stick at Stoke, for having the temerity to have his leg shattered by Ryan Shawcross. Yet instead of Ramsey rising to this ridiculous barrage, he seemed to disappear into his shell.
Similarly, Theo Walcott didn’t appear to relish the prospect of getting clattered on a particularly perky afternoon at the Potteries. As evidenced by Arsène choosing to replace Theo with Iwobi for the last 20 mins, when recently it’s usually been the more energetic Joel Campbell gets hooked.
On an afternoon where I feared we might be fatigued by the high-drama of our midweek efforts at Anfield, if we were bereft of the ingenuity to give Butland more of a work-out, there were plenty of positives at the opposite end of the pitch. It’s almost becoming routine, to the point of not being noteworthy, when the serene magnificence of Petr Cech once again comes to our rescue. If Cech’s composure is reminiscent of Seaman in his pomp, there was something equally nostalgic in the sight of the linesman at the Britannia responding, with frequent regularity, to the sight of our back four stepping up in unison with arms raised.
Doubtless, I’m tempting fate for our backline to leave Costa all alone to score against us next Sunday.
It could be said that with so many awkward awaydays to come, the Gunners have wasted an opportunity to firmly establish ourselves as the front runners. But my feeling has always been that if we could ride out our injury woes, while keeping ourselves in the title frame, we will be well placed to use the return of some of our star players, hopefully fresh, fit and raring to go, as a springboard to mount a real charge.
I only hope this begins with the return of Alexis and Ozil for the Blues’ visit next weekend.
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