With a point against Manchester City, Arsenal effectively secured third place in the Premier League – the apparent highlight between now and the end of the season as Arsenal seem to be winding down for the summer.
Whilst the manager talks publicly of a desire to perform well in their next few games and will urge his players to give their all, it is understandably hard to motivate the group for a somewhat meaningless run-in. The Gunners are left rueing what might have been as in truth, they have very little to play for between now and May 9, with the only achievable goal being third place. Having said this, they must remain focused, as north London rivals Tottenham are still mathematically capable of overtaking them to the final automatic qualifying spot for the Champions League. They took a step closer to this milestone with only their second goalless draw of the season, as the Emirates faithful were entertained, yet ultimately uninspired by proceedings. Pantomime villain Emmanuel Adebayor did not disappoint, despite being restricted to a cameo appearance from the bench. His bright red boots and hair in bunches gave him the demeanour of Court Jester rather than villain, as his entrance and the fans’ subsequent reaction yielded the majority of the entertainment on Saturday evening.
Perhaps rested due to the inevitable uproar his participation would create, a neat contrast was made when Patrick Vieira made way for Adebayor to enter. The cacophony of whistles and boos as the Togolese limbered up paused for an outbreak of applause as the former captain trotted over to the sideline, only for the sonorous din to resume as the substitute entered. Vieira was rightly given a warm reception on only his second competitive return to Arsenal and his first visit to the Emirates and this respect brought about a sense of nostalgia from the manager. He drifted back fondly to 1996 when Vieira was his first signing, remarking on how well he adapted to the physicality of the English game in the mid-90s. This nostalgia almost tempted him into a reunion this summer, but Wenger knew the player that left would not be the same on his return. This policy of ‘never going back’ has served the French tactician well, yet there is one notable exception that proves the rule, as the idiom that is Sol Campbell had another imperious game at the back on Saturday.
Almost as extraordinary as Campbell’s return to the top flight, is the recently released statistic that Campbell is the second fastest player in the Premier League behind teammate Theo Walcott. The survey compared the top speeds of players in England’s top tier and saw the veteran beat both Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba – a remarkable feat indeed. Yet, perhaps the most astonishing feat would be inclusion in England’s World Cup squad, although his reintroduction has been so seamless that this looks like an increasingly viable option. That he is being touted for a place in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad after representing Notts County in League Two as recently as September is bizarre, yet with the current form and injury doubts hanging over the major contenders, it may well happen. Wenger has come out in support of his veteran defender making a rendezvous in South Africa this summer: “I do not say Capello has to take him, I just say you compare him today in the Premier League with the other centre-backs and he doesn’t suffer in the comparison.”
Although an inclusion would be a boon for Wenger’s judgment, Le Professeur may prefer his veteran to be rested and refreshed for another club campaign. Talks appear to be imminent about a one-year deal and Campbell has talked of how the young squad can achieve great things: “You have got to get the right balance. You ensure that things go your way by doing all the things which come before you actually step on the pitch. We have got a lot of that in place here and I am sure that, once everything comes together, there will be no stopping Arsenal winning trophies season after season.”
Campbell talking of squad balance is ironic as his arrival has upset the established order in Wenger’s thinking. Having seen the seasoned campaigner make such a successful return, and also having witnessed his side falter in the big matches this term, Wenger has been prompted into a re-evaluation. Far from the usual reassurances of his faith in the current crop, the manager uncharacteristically remarked: “We do have needs in one or two departments. If we can find some experienced players of course we will do it.” This may serve as the wake-up call that he considers necessary for certain members of the squad, but certainly an intriguing summer lies ahead.
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