Welcome back. So international football is upon us again and as much as I usually hate the interruption of the club game, this particular break is very timely indeed for Arsenal, in that it allows some of our injured players time to recover before we next play.
As yesterday’s draw with Tottenham highlighted, our squad was stretched to it’s limit in certain areas recently, and our available players running on empty, after playing every three days for the last three weeks.
But when we travel to West Brom a week on Saturday for our next game, we could have the likes of Hector Bellerin, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fit and available again, which means not only should our starting XI be strengthened but we’ll also have a far stronger bench for Arsene Wenger to utilise if a game needs changing.
Speaking of substitutes, the man who unexpectedly picked up Olivier Giroud’s goal-scoring slack to secure us a valuable point yesterday, Kieran Gibbs, spoke to the press after the game about his goalscoring, the squad’s disappointment in not capitalizing on dropped points by Manchester City, our recent injury worries and more. He said:
The last time I scored was against Anderlecht away last season but in the Premier League it was a few years ago. We are disappointed obviously, with Manchester City dropping points we had a good oppourunity. It was important not to lose this game but now the international break, we can recover for a few players and they can come back fit and we can push on after. It has been difficult for the boss with options so in the last few games I have been coming on and I knew, looking across the bench that, probably, even though I’m a defender I’m one of the more offensive players on the bench. I was happy to come on in a big game like that and get a goal. The boss has been struggling with options especially in midfield and up front, so I think a few of the boys were tired having played last weekend, midweek and today. It was a chance for me to bring on some fresh legs and do everything I can to try and help the boys. In these types of games you can’t give up when you know what it means to everyone in the club and the fans. I think they were great for us today and spurred us on. You have to come on in those games and give everything you can to try and get the boys going. It feels like we are not disappointed because we didn’t lose, even though Manchester City dropped points so it was a good opportunity for us to get ahead of them. But we are going away in the international break and will come back raring to go again as we have a long way to go.
Of course, the concern whenever our players disperse from London Colney to link up with their respective national sides is that they return in good shape and ready to play but all we can do on that front is hope and pray they come back unscathed.
One man who won’t be going away on international duty is Per Mertesacker of course, who retired after winning the World Cup last year and the big German has been speaking about Arsenal’s title challenge, the draw with Spurs and our squad’s mental maturity, saying:
We want to be involved throughout the season, competing at the top until the last second. We promised ourselves to do better than last season, not to drop a lot of points too early. It’s an interesting position but we still have room for improvement. When you look at the first half we need to manage to play a lot better. We lost our creativity and our way to play a bit, but how we came back shows that we have got a good mentality and level of character in the squad. That’s important for the Christmas period coming up. Santi felt unwell in the first half and that was a bit of a disappointment for us, that he couldn’t continue, but what Mathieu and Kieran gave us when they came on is what we need. It’s really important that, even if we suffer sometimes, we can come back. We showed mental strength. The energy and creativity those players who come on give sets the tone and gives us goals. That’s massively important. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we’ll get more energy because it’s important while having injured players.
It must be said Mertesacker hasn’t been quite at the top of his game recently and in my opinion he was poor in the away games against Sheffield Wednesday and Bayern Munich in particular.
But maybe that’s down to mental and physical fatigue so a fortnight without competitive action might be just what he needs to get back to his best.