After the football year for Arsenal was generally quite forgettable, 2011 ended well with the win over QPR, meaning that we finished the year in the top four. Considering where we were earlier in the season, to be in the top four going into the New Year is a superb effort by everyone at the club.
We have been helped massively by the weekend’s results, with Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Manchester City all dropping points. As I mentioned after the Aston Villa match, this period of the season is all about results, and of the top clubs, we got the best one at the weekend. It does add a bit more frustration to the Wolves game, as a win there would have put us in an even better position, but it’s hard to complain where we are, given where we’ve had to come from this season.
The QPR match should have been a lot more comfortable than just a 1-0 win, however we learnt our lesson from Wolves and were solid at the back for most of the game. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were both very good, whilst Francis Coquelin gave a good account of himself when asked to play in an unfamiliar left back position.
We were guilty of missing some great opportunities during the game, emphasising the need for another striker to help van Persie with goal scoring. Theo Walcott was guilty of the worst miss as he raced through on goal and pulled his effort horribly wide. The break away for the chance was good, Walcott’s first touch was excellent, but his finish was terrible. With Thierry Henry poised to re-join the club, a quiet lesson for Theo about finishing when one-on-one could be beneficial for everyone. Gervinho also missed a good opportunity from close range. We were fortunate our poor finishing didn’t cost us points.
Talking of finishing, it’s impossible to not mention Thierry Henry. I’m very excited about his return, even if he turns out to be slightly rubbish. I’ll be staggered if there are any Gooners who aren’t excited about seeing Thierry in the red and white again. I honestly don’t think it’ll damage his legacy as fans just need to not expect him to be the player he used to be. We need a short term solution to losing players to the African Cup of Nations, and for two months, I doubt we could have got anyone better than Thierry Henry, regardless of whether he used to play for us. The fact he loves the club and puts on a smile on Arsenal fans’ faces makes him a good signing. If he scores one goal to win a game, signing him will be completely worth it.
With the January transfer window now open, as always, there is a lot of press speculation about who Arsene Wenger will sign. A long term striker has to be a priority, and if the Lukasz Podolski rumours are true, then he’d be a good signing. Hopefully signing Henry won’t make Arsene refuse to sign another striker, because we’ll be in the same limited striker situation in March as we are now when Thierry goes back to America.
The more immediate problem is at full back. We had been doing quite well without any regular full backs for the last few weeks, but now Thomas Vermaelen is out for a couple of weeks, and Ignasi Miquel has mysteriously disappeared from the last few match day squads, we could have another 2006, Mathieu Flamini, situation. Francis Coquelin plugged the gap when Vermaelen went off on Saturday, but there will be a lot of pressure on the Frenchman as opposing teams will target our left hand side as a weakness. Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna might return before the end of the month, however we have some big games before they might come back.
Ideally, we want to bring in a left back who will be able to go straight into the team and won’t have to get up to speed. The only name that’s been mentioned in the press has been Wayne Bridge. He’s barely played any football this season, so he’d need time to regain some match fitness. Added to that, I thought Bridge struggled at West Ham last season, plus Bridge caused one of my worst football moments when he knocked us out of the Champions League in 2004. The problem is that there are very few left backs who’d be good, and available for a loan. I won’t be surprised if we make do with Coquelin for a few weeks and hope Vermaelen, Gibbs or Sagna return soon.
We now have a very quick turnaround for the trip to the banks of the river to face Fulham. They were smashed by Manchester United, but got a good draw at Chelsea, so it’s hard to know which Fulham team will turn up. Having played them relatively recently at the Emirates, the team should be under no illusions about this match being easy.
I initially thought Robin van Persie would be rested for the QPR match, and ultimately it was good that he wasn’t, however I’ll be very surprised if he starts at Craven Cottage. Two matches in three days is tough for most players, but when you’ve got the injury record that van Persie has, it’s a massive risk for him play two sets of 90 minutes in a little over 72 hours. As we’re still waiting for official confirmation of the signing of Thierry Henry, Marouane Chamakh is likely to lead the line. I think he’ll find it difficult against Brede Hangeland, so whilst he probably won’t start, van Persie will have to be on the bench in case of an emergency.
With all of the teams above us in the table playing later in the week, a win would apply some pressure on them before the week off for the FA Cup. It would be a massive shame to waste the great ending to 2011 by starting badly in 2012.