Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. With apologies for my absence for a week due to being “indisposed” as they say in the theatrical profession let’s get straight down to it.
After Sunday’s excellent win against Aston Villa with Cesc Fàbregas making an appearance as a dictionary definition of “impact substitute”, tonight we need to take three points at Fratton Park against relegation threatened Pompey. The next couple of months will be decisive in deciding whether we can challenge for the title this season.
After Sunday’s game against the ‘Appy ‘Ammers at the Boleyn Ground in the FA Cup Alex Song flies off to link up with the Cameroon team for the African Cup of Nations in Angola. Emmanuel Eboué’s Ivory Coast has two friendly matches in Tanzania prior to the tournament and has already left for Africa.
Song particularly will be a big loss. He’s been in excellent form this season. With Denilson’s back apparently playing up again and Cesc having tweaked his hamstring again on Sunday against Villa we’re going to be bit thin in midfield. We could also have to scramble to re-shuffle the pack if Bacary Sagna gets a knock in January. Ivory Coast is in a group with Burkina Faso, Togo and Ghana. Cameroon is in with Gabon, Zambia and Tunisia. On form both should go through to the quarter-finals. If both go through to the semi-finals then we’ll miss both players until the game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday 7 February 2010, as both sides will either be in the ACN final on 31 January in Luanda or the bronze medal match the day before in Benguela.
Many managers whinge mightily at this time every other year when the African Cup of Nations comes around. I for one don’t buy it. If you don’t want these problems, don’t buy African players. It’s not as though the problem is unknown. I think it’s the height of arrogance to complain about this problem. On the other hand I think it would be right to move the African Cup of Nations to a four year cycle like the World Cup, European Championships and AFC Asian Cup. Likewise I think the Copa América and CONCACAF Gold Cup should move to a four year cycle with CAF, CONCACAF and the AFC receiving compensation for the loss of profits from FIFA and UEFA. This would lessen the burden on the top players and cut down on club/country conflicts. It would also make the African, North/Central American and South American events more attractive on the “less is more” principle.
Back to tonight at Fratton Park. It’s likely that Tomáš Rosický will feature at some stage tonight. Let’s hope he can put an injury free run together. He and we deserve some good luck with injuries which have cursed him and us as a club in each of the last three seasons. Just by the law of large numbers our luck has to change in this respect at some stage.
As for our chances in the League this season I’m still relatively sceptical, despite my view that we’re a better side overall than we were last season. I did come across an interesting perspective from outside the Gooner Nation from Manchester United blogger Jez Howard though. Here’s what he had to say, “One thing I have noticed reading the few Arsenal blogs I do is that there seems to be a real clamour for Wenger to go out and buy players. Maybe it is different for an outsider looking in, but when you compare the strength in numbers in the final third then Arsenal have far greater depth. Where we are limited to Rooney, Berbatov, Owen and Valencia,
Wenger has the likes of Arshavin, Eduardo, Walcott, Vela, Van Persie and Bendtner when fit, while the likes of Fàbregas, Diaby and Nasri are always capable of chipping in with goals. The variation in goalscorers is vital in any title push, especially when we and Chelsea are so reliant on one or two players to deliver the goods”
I think he’s essentially right. I do think we still tend to gift too many soft goals at the back though. If we can tighten that up we might, just might, be in with a serious shout at the business end of the season. One period that sticks out in the fixture list is the period from Wednesday 27 January when we visit Villa Park to Wednesday 17 February when we play Porto in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 at the Estádio do Dragão in Oporto. In that period we also have Yoonited and Liverpool at home in the League. Depending on whether we go through against the Hammers in the FA Cup and the subsequent draw(s) we could also have a big FA Cup fourth round replay and/or fifth round tie in that three week period as well. Let’s hope the likely absence of Alex Song at Villa Park and home to United isn’t too crucial.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The only way to digest a fixture list like this is one game at a time. Total focus must be on three points at Fratton Park tonight. We’re on a roll. Let’s keep the momentum up.
On a completely different subject those who read this blog regularly will know I’m of the opinion that top-flight football should follow the move rugby league made nearly four decades ago in 1972 and introduce off-field timekeepers with the referee controlling the clock via signals to the timekeeper. They’re also a feature of gridiron football, basketball and ice hockey in the USA and Canada and Aussie Rules.
To illustrate the point I’ve decided to time all Arsenal matches I actually attend from now until the end of the season using the laws of the game as set down by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to decide time added on for stoppages. To remind ourselves, here’s what they say on this subject in Law 7 (Duration of Play):
Allowance is made in either period for all time lost through:
• substitutions
• assessment of injury to players
• removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment
• wasting time
• any other cause
The allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee.
There is also the following official IFAB guidance to referees contained in an appendix to the laws of the game:
Allowance for time lost
Many stoppages in play are entirely natural (e.g. throw-ins, goal kicks). An
allowance is to be made only when these delays are excessive.
The fourth official indicates the minimum additional time decided by the
referee at the end of the final minute of each period of play.
The announcement of the additional time does not indicate the exact amount
of time left in the match. The time may be increased if the referee considers it
appropriate but never reduced.
The referee must not compensate for a timekeeping error during the first half
by increasing or reducing the length of the second half.
Applying these laws and guidance I timed both halves of the Aston Villa match with a stopwatch, stopping it where I considered appropriate during the game. By my timing referee Phil Dowd was 1 minute 35 seconds long in the first half (one minute added time on the board) and 1 minute 15 seconds short in the second half (four minutes added time on the board.  I shall be interested to see how the pattern builds up. The next game I’ll time will be our Cup game at the Boleyn Ground on Sunday.
Keep the faith!

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