Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Would you calm down already!?

Goodness me. You'd think the trains stopped going to the Emirates and Arsenal were crashing into 13th place.

Allow me to offer a brief preface as I get my ankles wet here. And by the way, yeah, I know ... far too many prefaces given the fantastically sporadic nature of Match Pricks in the last several months. It's like each post needs a mea culpa. He pleads, with his hands up and a knowing if not utterly regretful sideways grin etched across his face, "look, I know, you know, we all know, alright? But hey, it's a start. Gotta get the, what do you call it? Momentum, yeah, momentum, going again somehow or another, don't you?" I don't have a lot to say here this morning. This isn't a treatise that I've been munching on and outlining for days and hours on end. But it's a start. And it's better than nothing, which is, frankly, just about all you've gotten ... save some micro-blogging via the Match Pricks Twitter feed.

Here's the situation ...

Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal's still very young captain, has rounded the corner and is clearly pulling away from the pack. Even considering the substantial amount of time he missed last season, he jumped into the '09 - '10 season with bold vigor and a clear statement for all to recognize - that he is vaulting himself into the conversation as one of the very best in the world. For years, everyone recognized his talent and potential. Yet, to be very honest, I for one was beginning to tap the counter with hidden utterances that followed along the lines of, "ok, Cesc, let's see it then ... start winning games ... " And no, I'm not mad.

But he's been doing just that, winning games. He's been turning games, changing them, adding the all important element of 'exerting his will.' Cesc gathers possession near the center circle and the opposition just about shits themselves. His passing makes the masses groan with adoration as well as the passing hope of 'would you look at that, it's so simple,' and he's got a helluva Street Clothes wardrobe.

Of course, for evidence we need look no further than his display against Aston Villa in what was not only a massive game, it was a game that needed a statement. And he made it.

Cesc is undoubtedly important for the Arsenal's title hopes this season. The team is not simply poised to launch an attack on Chelsea and United for the top two or for the title. They are making an attack for the title. They have been all year. It is not a shock assault for the title. It is not the whispered hope of a bunch of kids oozing with inexperience. This team has been together for many years now. They have been together for many big games ... home, away, in Europe, far from home, in derbies, in rain, sleet and snow, in front of 60,000 and in front of 20,000. They have been tested and they have had answers.

They have lost four matches this season. Sunderland came after an international break and they 'just weren't up for it.' Granted that is an excuse that no longer cuts the mustard when pushing for a title, but it's the situation. Chelsea and Manchester City socked them and socked them good. If there's such a thing as a bogey team(s), they fit it at the moment. It's a hurdle, psychological in the case of City I think, and clearly physical in the case of Chelsea. As for the champions, Manchester United? I may catch some heat for this but we played them off the park at Old Trafford for the majority of the proceedings. Losing that match was a clear case of, 'well, that's football, isn't it?' So as it stands they are five points back of the leaders and hold a game in hand. Not bad, eh? That could well be called, 'right in the thick of it.'

But all that is beside the point. Just a quick glance at the records and the table to show that yeah, Arsenal are in it ... not as darkhorses but as legitimate candidates for the title and they should be recognized as such.

What's making me lurch over the last couple of days is that apparently the final chapter in Arsenal's title assault is being written as we speak. Somewhere in London, Cesc Fabregas, the young man who is performing so brilliantly and is so brilliantly leading the way to what will - either way - be a thrilling April and May, is climbing onto a table to receive a scan on his injured hamstring upon which the fate of the entire team hangs.

You see, after a downright moving first half against Burnley on December 16, Cesc limped off with a bit of niggle in his hamstring. He missed the 3-nil win over Hull that weekend and would only feature on the bench against Villa. All week he was noted as 50/50 to play. Would he have made a difference were he to play? Surely. If he didn't feature, might the Arsenal have found a way to win? Quite possibly yes, the match was very much in the balance, wasn't it? Arsene Wenger, in his stunning and sterling wisdom (that I will never question, no siree), brought him on in the second half. Cesc scored two stunning goals to pave the way to the win. One from an unlikely free kick (he's never been particularly strong in that department) and the second from a gut-busting (and apparently hamstring-busting *cymbal clash*) run and a delightfully gilded pass from Theo Walcott. Sure enough, Cesc limped off with the hamstring barking at him and the game wrapped up for his team. A world-beater performance. A best-in-class performance. A performance that could well cost the team but with such massive points on the table to be picked up against a worthy challenger it was a risk worth taking.

Immediately following the match, Arsene supposed that AT WORST Cesc could miss three weeks. Three weeks, people. That covers Pompey, West Ham in the FA Cup, Everton and Bolton. And now we get passages like this from the article in the Times that I linked to above:

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, predicted a worst-case scenario of “three weeks” out for the midfield player, an absence that would seriously hamper the team’s pursuit of Chelsea and Manchester United at the top of the league.
And we get headlines like this:

Arsenal braced for the worst with Cesc Fabregas set to undergo injury scan
Look, I never expect any level of level-headed self-restraint from the media, much less the football media (bless their little hearts). Still, the man will be fine. Arsenal will be fine. Cesc missing a couple of games will by no means whatsoever derail Arsenal's fine season. In fact, it'll be good to get Diaby, Ramsey or Denilson a little more time and a little more responsibility.

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