Yule shock as we’re near top of the tree

IN LIGHT of our relatively poor recent form and the ridiculous rash of injuries, I reckon that much like myself, most Gooners will be pleasantly surprised to be sitting down to our turkey with only a two-point deficit on Man Utd and six behind the league leaders, with a game in hand on both.

It is said that the table never lies, nevertheless, it still feels like something of a false representation of the facts because Arsenal have looked anything but genuine contenders in recent weeks. Which is perhaps the biggest wind-up, since with both teams above us seemingly intent on frittering away points like they were going out of fashion, there’s rarely been a better opportunity for a concerted title challenge.

I’d love to optimistically predict that the Gunners are girding their loins for a big title push in the New Year. But as things stand, I’m grateful our decimated squad continue to cling to coattails of the top two.

In spite of the flattering 3-0 scoreline, we looked far from convincing for much of Saturday’s fractious encounter with Hull. The disappointing sight of so many empty seats suggested that this was perhaps the lowest attendance to date for a Premier League game at our new gaff. But we can only speculate on this point, so long as the club continue to brazenly report false figures, by repeatedly announcing a 60,000-plus attendance, which might account for the number of ticket sales but which bore absolutely no relation to the number of bums on seats on Saturday.

The empty seats and a laboured first-half performance contributed to an even more subdued atmosphere than normal. Never mind the media making a mountain out of the Nasri molehill, in my eyes the Frenchman was our unwitting saviour, as the resulting handbags just before half-time igniting the touchpaper on this damp squib of a contest.

Abou Diaby’s second-half display was cause for optimism, as the leggy midfielder’s driving runs into the box provided the momentum missing of late. But there have been instances in the past when Abou’s conjured up the sort of consummate cameo display that’s lead us to wonder whether he might just be the catalyst that will produce the long-awaited explosion of the Wenger boys’ bounty.

Almost a year ago Abou produced a similarly impressive contribution, as we took a two-goal lead up at Villa Park on St Stephen’s Day.

But he needs to reproduce this form once a week, rather than once a season, or these rare glimpses of ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck, only become increasingly frustrating.

We’ll need Abou to step up again in Sunday’s significant encounter, if we’re to restore the natural order of things by beating Villa. Any other result is likely to offer Martin O’Neill’s side further belief in their ability to mount a serious top-four challenge.

With the sale of Richard Dunne, Mark Hughes seemingly swapped the heart and soul of his Man City side, for disruptive egos of the likes of Adebayor. In the meantime, while City were making headlines, O’Neill has gone about the business of building a proper, old-fashioned football team.

We were fortunate last time around, when Villa’s threat to our precious Champions League spot evaporated at the business end of the season. But I wouldn’t want to be relying on a repeat performance because Villa now look far more resilient.

It could be argued the Champions League is likely to be the Gunners’ best bet, as this Arsenal side appear far more suited to performing on the European stage. I would’ve much preferred to have drawn either of the Milan sides. I would’ve been more confident of us running rings around some of the ageing legs of Inter and AC rather than going into a game against a talented Porto team as favourites and being overshadowed by other matches.


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