Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gunners Holstered, Saving Bullets

Perhaps I'm cynical. Or perhaps I've just gone without health insurance for so many years that I'm terribly reluctant to accept the power of sickness over relatively young and fit men. Regardless of the reason, I don't think what's going around North London is the flu.

Arsenal stars Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie have informed their respective national teams that they are too ill to play in this coming weekend's international friendlies. Instead, they will stay in London ahead of a season-defining stretch for the Gunners.

As an Arsenal supporter, I hope these are red and white lies. I hope that both players are Ferris-full of energy and creativity with just a dash of mischief, and that they are passing on the rigors of mostly meaningless "friendlies" to further marshal their strength for a stretch run that will have them competing in four competitions. Alive for the Premiership title, the FA Cup, the Carling Cup and the Champions League, Arsenal need these two players fit if the club is to win silverware for the first time since the 2005 FA Cup triumph over Manchester United.

Long-departed striker Thierry Henry was the team's leading scorer during that '05 campaign with 33 goals, but he missed the Cup final due to injury. Since the Gunners hoisted that trophy (after edging Man U in penalties), Henry has gone from North London to winning titles with Barcelona in Spain and last month he was training in Waldwick, NJ for the upcoming MLS season. So, yeah, it's been a while.

If Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban owned in a European soccer club then he would be appalled by the fixture congestion. Players are pulled out of the club sides for national duty on the regular and even when the are under a club's control they are asked to play in all manner of cups on top of the league schedule. Cuban doesn't like international tournaments during the offseason and one would imagine that his players would routinely come down with whatever ailment currently bedevils these Gunners. Such a full schedule has been partially responsible for Arsenal's struggles in recent years (along with the refusal to splurge on a few durable and rugged central defenders) as players like Cesc and Van Persie have missed key games year after year.