By Richard Clarke
Perhaps Arsène Wenger should swoop for Rebecca Adlington before the transfer window closes on Monday.
Despite winning three games out of four so far this season, the Arsenal manager feels he is “swimming against the stream” at the moment so Britain’s new double Olympic freestyle champion would surely help.
Arsenal were hit by a tidal wave of negativity after they went down 1-0 at Craven Cottage last Saturday. Wednesday’s 4-0 win against Twente was a welcome fillip and, crucially, gave Wenger’s men Champions League football for another season but they will need to dismiss Newcastle in similar fashion before they can truly poke their heads above water again.
“For me success is consistency,” remarked Wenger at Friday’s pre-match press conference. “I believe that the most important thing to achieve in the game is to be consistent at the top level and move forward in the way you play and with your results.
“Last year we made a big move forward compared to the season before. We got 83 points last year, that would have won the title in the whole of Europe but not here as one team made 87 and another 85. But we were very close.
“At the moment, we have to swim a bit against the stream as we get only negative vibes. But it's a good test, we have to be strong enough to keep our belief even if everyone around our environment does not believe in us.”
The gradual return of Arsenal’s injured players will help them pass the examination. Cesc Fabregas played his first competitive game of the season in midweek and came through with no ill-effects. They same cannot be said of William Gallas (knee), Theo Walcott (knee) and Samir Nasri (sickness). But all have shaken off minor ailments.
Wenger has named the same 18-man squad as Wednesday for the visit of Kevin Keegan’s side but he will rotate a few players between the bench and starting XI.
Despite the clamour for another player before Monday, Arsenal’s squad is undoubtedly classy when fit.
The same can be said of Michael Owen. But the Newcastle striker has still averaged more than one goal every two games for the Magpies and notched in both outings during the past seven days.
“He's an intelligent player and he has quality,” said Wenger. “When I arrived in England, Owen was a young boy, very promising, and he looked absolutely fantastic because he was very quick, sharp and intelligent in front of goal. His career was disturbed a lot by injuries but that's the luck you must take as a great football player. You must have your body on your side and in his case it was disturbed.
“And, as a player, I always think people have been a bit harsh with Owen. He is not just a goalscorer, he can make assists, has good link play and makes runs. But of course his main focus is to score goals.”
You can argue public opinion has been equally severe on Arsenal this week. They were poor at Fulham but four games, three wins and three clean-sheet is hardly the record of also-rans.
Wenger’s men have been dismissed as such on the basis of one, admittedly woeful, 90 minutes.
But then after such early adulation last season perhaps ‘low-key’ is the better path to tread.
To be honest, even a colourless victory would be enough against the black-and-whites on Saturday.
Arsenal have a winning reputation to re-build.