Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday April 4 2008
I think something has become really quite evident in the last few weeks, that our squad just doesn`t have sufficient depth at the moment. The likes of Fabregas, Hleb, Clichy and Adebayor have been asked to play so many games and it really is beginning to tell, in performances as well as results. Liverpool are highly likely to rest players for the match tomorrow and, while I would not advocate the kind of wholesale changes that I think they will adopt, it would be nice to have some flexibility amidst this sea of titanic clashes. Yet with the bolser wood van Persie again injured, we really have little choice in terms of rotation. Yet when one examines the injury list, we see Rosicky (even more brittle than van Persie), Eduardo and Sagna. Nobody disputes the talent or importance of these players, but surely a treatment room with only four players in it should not be an insurmountable obstacle for a club chasing glory on two Lucy Pinder sized fronts? Now, I support the fact that Walcott and Bendtner have enjoyed steep learning curves this season, both look to be fine players and we will benefit enormously from their experience this year. I was all for signing Anelka, but once it became clear Chelski and their filthy lucre were in the race, we were never going to be able to compete.
However, our deficiencies on the flanks have been brutally exposed. Rosicky is an excellent player and seems to be an honest professional, but his constant injuries make me wonder how valuable he is to us considering his wage packet. His understudy is effectively Abou Diaby, who clearly does not enjoy the position and is also a regular on the treatment table. This has got me thinking recently, maybe misty eyed nostalgia has impeded my better judgement, maybe the economics of the situation are beyond my knowledge/ comprehension, but am I alone in thinking that we might have held on to Robert Pires? Hindsight is a wonderful thing I guess, and Wenger pretty much always gets it right when it comes to knowing when to let players go. (I am sure I don`t need to list examples). But I have this nagging feeling that Pires could have been a very valuable player for us this season. I know he began his Villarreal career with another cruciate ligament injury. But one must question whether that was destiny or circumstance, the injury occurred in training, who knows if that would have happened at London Colney. As with economics, medicine is not my strong suit, maybe Pires is a little frailer and more predisposed to gaining such an injury. But a look at his current form has seen him oust Villarreal`s apotheosis Juan Roman Riquelme and become the driving force behind the Yellow Submarine`s title charge. It`s a different, slower game in La Liga, but I am not suggesting Pires might have played every game, but I think as a squad player he may have added some real value to us.
Obviously, it`s easy to think in terms of Rosicky`s prolonged injury spells, but Pires could have given us a real option from the bench. A genuine goalscoring threat with an intelligence and subtlety about him to ghost past packed defences. He also has a guile and grace we are all too familiar with which could have paid enormous dividends from the bench. At the moment, Arsenal have too few attacking options from the substitutes when there are one or two injuries. If we get in trouble tomorrow, Bendtner is pretty much the only solution. With Rosicky and van Persie out of the side, too often Hleb has been the lone cog on the edge of the box trying to eek out opportunities. Maybe I am wrong, but I can`t imagine that the rigours of the Premiership would have provided him with too many problems. He was hardly the most battle hungry of warriors and he lost a lot of pace following his cruel injury in March 2002, but adapted with his intelligence.
Arsenal did not cope with being five points clear at the top of the league and have shown a lack of experience in seeing out a title race (though all is not quite lost yet), I think Pires` experience in this scenario may have filled a void. When he eventually left Arsenal in the summer of 2006, unable to accept only a one year contract extension, I couldn`t help wondering why we didn`t just offer him the two he wanted. If it didn`t work out after the first season, surely we could have just said au revoir and maybe commanded a slight fee for him? Like I say, maybe the voodoo economics are more complicated than that, maybe it would not have worked out at all and this is all pointless reverie and speculative nostalgia. Maybe there`s more to the story that we are not aware of. But in the pompous glory of hindsight, I would suggest that a French wizard should probably have departed N5 in the summer of 2006, and that it should have been Henry. Am I being too simplistic in suggesting that, had we retained Pires, we might well still be top of the table?LD.
Date:Friday April 4 2008
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