My daily journey to and from work takes me through the wilds of North London. Bravely I stopped off at Gillespie Road station one evening this week and sought out the only sane man in the area, Jonathan Chong.
Jon was still searching for Thierry Henry’s detached head, after it was surgically removed from the photos taken to promote the North London nomads new away kit at the start of the season. On interrupting him, I discovered that he spent the remainder of his free time working on the Arsenal-Mania.com website. The opportunity was too good to miss, so I asked him a few questions about the weekend’s biggest game.
Cutting straight to the chase, what do you think of your performances so far this season? Did you really expect to be top in December when Henry had just left?
I think for the most part, and I’m sure most footballing fans will agree, the football the team has played has been extraordinary. When we have all our creative players in the side, we look like we can score goals from each flowing move, and we make it look so easy to execute. And our defence hasn’t been to shabby either, with Almunia proving that he can step into Mad Jens’ shoes when called on. Having said that, we have suffered recently due to the number of sway matches (and hence the travelling) that the players have had to do. Add this to the absence of several key players due to injuries; I’m happy we’re still top in December.
But no, I didn’t expect us to be top or effectively challenging for the title this season. Henry’s departure, and the fact that he was the end point of so many of our moves, meant that this would have had to be a season of transition, anything else being a bonus. I’m glad the team and Le Boss (again!) has proved many of his doubters wrong.
What areas of your squad need strengthening?
I wouldn’t mind if Le Boss dipped into the market for another left-back to deputise for Clichy, we seem to be a bit short in that department. We’re flooded in midfield. It’s a testament to the squad we have that we were able to field an almost completely different team for the lesser competitions, but the gap between these fringe players, although good enough for most teams in the top flight, is still some margin.
Who’s been your form player so far? Who do we need to look out for?
The player who has impressed me most this season has been Francesc Fabregas, but as I’m writing this, I’m not sure if he’s available to play. Gael Clichy has also stepped up another level, and Sagna has proven to be an inspired buy, though he looks like he could use with a rest. Adebayor has been scoring some crucial goals and Hleb (also injured) is beginning to grow into his role as chief lock-picker in the team.
What do you think of Chelsea? Has Grant done better than you thought he would when you heard that Jose had got the boot?
Indeed, he has. I think everyone expected him to fail where Mourinho has succeeded, but the squad you have is a good squad, and with Roman’s roubles, you can never go that wrong. Everyone’s been focusing on Arsenal and Manchester United but no one has really noticed the impressive run that Grant has put together.
Which of our current squad do you most admire?
Grudgingly, I have to say it’s going to be Terry (who almost left to join us apparently), Joe Cole or Drogba. Terry is a real leader at the back and it’s difficult to score against you when he’s playing. Cole is a maverick who I think Wenger could really do wonders with, but needs to be more consistent, which is probably why he’s not consistently in the side. He also needs to track back more and help out in other areas of the pitch, especially his flank partner.
Gallas is now your captain, are you finally beginning to appreciate him after all his injuries?
Yes. I must admit I was one of the few who thought we got conned when we did the swap deal for Ashley Cole at a measly £5 million and an ageing Wiiliam Gallas heading the other way. Cole hasn’t really performed well for you guys, and making Gallas captain seems to have been an inspired move by Le Boss. He never used to score as many goals for you lot either!
What about Diarra? Bargain or liability?
At the moment, we haven’t seen enough of him but he has shown glimpses of being a good transfer.
Will Avram be smiling at the end of the game, or will he be the one making “chin up” gestures?
I’m going to be modest and say that it’s going to be a good match, as long as you play football with us.
How will you deal with Chelsea? Do you stuff the midfield, or will we see a more adventurous line-up?
We hardly ever pack the midfield. Wenger rarely adjusts his team to suit the opposition, preferring to allow the opposition to worry about our fluid 4-4-2 formation. Whenever he’s tweaked this winning formula, for example against United this season, we haven’t always ended up with 3 points. We’ll play against you how we always do – we’ll attack.
Where will you finish this season?
In the top four.
What about Chelsea?
In the top four as well, below Arsenal.
Give us a score prediction.
A goal-scoring draw.
Jon, thank you! With that I left the boy still searching and heading deeper into the tunnels of the Piccadilly line. Let’s hope he finds his way out in time to see us grab all three points on Sunday.