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A week into the season and the depth of our squad is already being tested to the limit.
Suspensions to Gervinho and Song plus injuries to Wilshere, Gibbs, Rosicky and Djourou mean we face Liverpool, who most people expect to be our closest challengers for fourth, with half a team. We’ve already enjoyed one lucky escape this week by beating Udinese and it’s likely good fortune will need to be relied upon again tomorrow if we are to claim three points.
The circumstances would be ideal for Scott Parker, or at least a player in his mould. Wenger’s teams usually win by being technically better than their opponents – players like Parker use their determination and tactical nous to make up for any footballing superiority their opponents may enjoy (that isn’t to say Parker isn’t a good player, he is). I don’t think we have any such players that revel in being underdogs.
He would have been very useful on Tuesday, as well, when for much of the second half Udinese dominated. It was great credit to our supporters that they stuck behind the team when all they could muster were hopeful clearances and getting into position to repel another attack; it looked like a 10 v 11 at times.
As they had sold three stars since finishing fourth in Serie A, I underestimated Udinese and, by the way we performed, so did Wenger and his players. Their movement and speed caused us far too many problems and showed how premature I was to be reassured by the defensive display at Newcastle.
So despite the 1-0 win the pressure continues to increase on Wenger. Talk of his departure is now considered acceptable in the media who have finally acknowledged problems supporters have been talking about for years are justified. David Dein has now come to the aide of the manager and warned how risky it would be to remove Wenger, or make things so uncomfortable that he chose to walk away. Giving the interview is a sign in itself that things are becoming more perilous.
Even if we lost our next three games (Liverpool, Udinese, Man U) I don’t think the board would take that decision. And quite right they would be too: which manager would want to step into Wenger’s shoes when we’ve sold two of our best players, the transfer window has shut and the team lacks any kind of leadership? The last time we got rid of a manager during a season because of poor performances was Terry O’Neill in 1983 - we just don't do it.
On the other hand, winning those three games probably wouldn’t lift the pressure either, unless new signings were made along the way. The flaws of the team remain the same as they have done for the past five years and need to be addressed by bringing in different, better players. The fear remains that even if the problems could be buried away temporarily, they will spring back to the surface when things really count.