When winning leagues, Arsenal have often done it as outsiders with a reasonable chance and this is where they currently stand. All proof of that was in the allergic reaction felt by the present squad when Wenger tipped them for honours. It isn’t that Arsenal can’t compete, but you get the impression a stronger challenge will come from this team when under less pressure.
If Wenger is crossing the Premiership playground and sees a heated Ancelotti, Ferguson and Hughes, waving arms and ranting as to why they are most equipped to win the league this season, best advice for Wenger is to ignore the gathering crowds and hit the library. The team needs the education, but not the false control, Pink Floyd would say, sort of.
And the Eton of footballing education can be found in the Champions League. Tonight, Arsenal’s youth have the chance to exert their skill against a veteran European side in Olympiakos, a luxury afforded to Wenger for already topping the group with a game to spare.
He names 10 teenagers in the 18-man party; among them academy starlets Kyle Bartley, Thomas Cruise, Kerrea Gilbert, Luke Ayling, Mark Randall and Giles Sunu. Mikael Silvestre is the only 30-something.
Goodbye blue sky
Footballing education is not just about trying your hand against other technical more experienced sides. Just as important is knowing how to deal with the uncontrollable conditions of a game, and Olympiakos is poised to be an eye-raising affair to see how the Young Guns adjust to hostile surroundings in the Karaiskakis Stadium.
Craig Eastmond, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsay, Jack Wilshere, Fran Merida and Carlos Vela have all featured in the Carling Cup this season, but the green carpet of the Emirates and an encouraging mid-week crowd will be replaced by the continental way of crimson flares, smoke-screens, and deafening Greek roars tonight. Remember, Zico’s team still need a point to qualify so there is some competition rather than an International friendly-style knock-around.
Wenger also claims to name his youngest XI ever in Athens this evening. Concentrating on European games after a flight and over-night stay in a foreign country might come natural to the likes of William Gallas. To Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, the port of Greece’s capital is slightly further than a loan spell on the coast of Blackpool, and for the other teenagers named , it will be a further test of character.
A convincing display then will tell us more about Wenger’s blossoming crop of darlings – the score is irrelevant. For Wenger, it might even single out who can be called upon if Arsenal’s injury list stretches any further.
On January 2nd Arsenal travel to West Ham in the FA Cup third round which Wenger might wish to use as a pit-stop for some regular first-team players. Tonight might present him with some temps, and after all, what’s a few tattoo-wielding East Londoners when you’ve played in Greek cauldrons?
“So I travel with a very young team,” said Wenger before the team flew out on Monday. “And fortunately we have some players who were suspended like Alex Song, or are coming back from injury like Theo Walcott, who will play.
“So we should have a good mixture between young players and experienced players.”
At 20-years old, Walcott looks experienced in tonight’s squad, and with 67 Arsenal games to his name should have started looking like a first team player by now. The truth is he doesn’t. Injuries have blighted Walcott’s permanent run in the team, understandably so, because his slight frame still hasn’t developed to endure Premiership roughness.
Also, like a lazy eye Walcott still has a habit of wandering inside when positioned out wide. More often than not, Walcott finds himself too close to his defender when receiving the ball. The more crafty Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips both know to keep things as broad as possible, finding time and space to run at men.
Walcott’s pace is exceptional, but his game needs to be more rounded. He has shown glimpses of greatness at times, especially in his finishing and assisting, but his career needs more consistency, in quality on the pitch and in playing time.
Let him that would move the world, first move himself – Socrates
Eat a square meal or two – Insider
Arsenal (from) : Fabianski, Mannone, Silvestre, Bartley, Cruise, Eastmond, Gilbert, Ayling, Ramsey, Song, Wilshere, Merida, Coquelin, Randall, Vela, Walcott, Sunu, Emmanuel-Thomas.