Back to the Future II.
Are the two longest serving Gaffers in the Premier League great supporters of the Michael J Fox School of Football Management do you think?
I ask because both have shown in the past week a beguiling touch of sentimentality, almost.
Or have they?
Given the re-appearance of Paul Scholes at the Etihad in Utd's FA Cup victory over Citeh last Sunday, when SAF produced him almost as Paul Daniels would pull a rabbit from a top hat, Arsene Wenger followed suit at the Emirates on Monday, when a famous and equal Titan of the game strolled onto the pitch in the 69th minute of their tie with DirtyLeeds, and proceeded to stroke in the winning goal in an eerily familiar fashion.
Thierry Henry, for it was he, was back - and in even his 20 minute cameo showed that a man commemorated by a newly endowed Bronze statue outside the Stadium was able to produce more in that small space of time than Marouane Chamakh had done in the whole game.
The value of each player's contributions, both in the appearances already seen, and the immediate games in the next phase of the PL is surely debatable.
I'll no doubt return to Scholes, and Utd., in future pieces when and where they face us, but with regard to Henry, we Swans will get to see him this very Sunday, when Monsieur le Professeur brings the Gunners to the Liberty for our next fixture.
When we played them earlier in the season Away, they were battling to recover from a poor start to the season, and Arsene Wenger had come under intense and Media, critically led, reprobation.
Having "lost" both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri over the summer, and not replaced them suitably according to many, both within a section of their own fans and the broader football audience, their 1-0 victory over us that day was a halting and stuttering performance, I felt.
Gunnersaurus, the Gooner Mascot, echoed the grumpier of their fans on the day. He, according to a sign I saw displayed in the Home end, needed to convey to the Players something that would "fix you lot".
That performance was, however, effective, and was also the beginning of a run into better form that has carried them back to the upper reaches of the table, to which they are more accustomed, if not quite into a European-qualifying-guaranteed position.
Their form over the last six League games has seen them veer from the sublime - really good performances in both the wins and the battling 1-0 defeat to Man Citeh, to the ridiculous, - the absurd throwing away of the game against Fulham.
The reasons for that are various and we'll talk about some of them here, but one thing we shouldn't forget above all else is that we can guarantee that a side with their reputation and talent will be a marvelously compelling and pleasurable match-up for both the team and us fans.
They will also want to put aside that last game League loss, and perform a little better if only to get their regular Media critics off their backs.
Their squad, much debated, much discussed, is still one that many clubs would envy. Plus, M Wenger has a handle on how to cope with the limitations on age group eligibility etc that permeate PL rules.
Let's have a fleeting look, if we may.
The big Poland No 1 , Wojciech Szczesny, has made the GK spot his own, and has developed into a brave, skillful Keeper. He is having a Season to compare with our own Michel Vorm, said by some. 6ft5in, great shot stopper, good talker/organizer. Tweets regularly and funnily. GK cover comprises = Almunia, Fabiabski, Mannone, and all 3 have fallen down the pecking order, mainly due to his form and performances.
FB has been a real problem for the Gooners of late. Both first choice RB's, Bacary Sagna, Carl Jenkinson, and both first choice LB's, Andre Santos, Kieran Gibbs, are or have been injured, and still likely to be out. Sagna's a maybe according to their Message Boards - we'll see.
Gibbs, who is ostensibly England's cover for Ashley Cole, and Santos, the rotund Brazilian who'd just shown an aptitude for adapting to the Prem, were both unfortunate to pick up knocks at the wrong time.
Similarly, Sagna's bone break and Jenkinson's stress fracture have kept them both sidelined for a while.
Whilst youngsters like Ignasi Miquel have slotted in, this has meant that they have fielded both experienced CB's mainly, but occasional MF's and other adaptable youngsters, to cover - but before you take tissues out to wipe away tears of sympathy please have a look again at the link provided above, which shows the full value of the sheer numbers of pros and scholars a modern, senior top flight side can carry.
Poor them ? You will see that that sympathy should be held in check yet.
The first choice CB's on form would be Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. These 3 CB's seem to me to encapsulate the incessant chat show arguments about The Arse.
At this moment I'm listening to talkSPORT's very own Adrian Durham, a pit-bull (ugly,with a BIG mouth) drone on about AW, and Arsenal having "...lost the plot."
Mertesacker, we are told, despite 79 German Caps, is deemed "not good enough". Coming from a ginger wimp who can't kick a football, but is a "journalist", this seems to me to be a little over the top, but his lack of mobility is enough to condemn him, apparently.
Vermaelen, arguably along with Vincent Kompany, his fellow Belgian at Citeh and one of the stand-out CB's in the Division, is "too injury prone".
And Koscielny, having supplanted Gallas in the full France team, has "not improved enough". The fact that he's probably one of the most "improved" players in the PL over the past year seems to carry little weight.
Oh, I know, I must stop allowing this licensed troll get to me. We hear enough foolishness within our own club.
Btw, talking about pundits, the Guardian's wonderful Jonathan Wilson had this to say when commenting upon Sky's Gary Neville, (hated as a player, winning people round on the box),........."(Gary Neville, somebody at Sky mentioned recently, is apparently determined to be the best pundit on television presumably because he is programmed to work with ferocious discipline to be the best at whatever he does)". I think he's on the money.
All three are genuinely good International players. They are backed up by Johan Djourou, the Swiss WC Player, and Sebastien Squillaci, another French International.
It is, of course, possible to criticize any football player. It just seems to me that when it comes to Arsenal, or even Premier League players generally, they cop a quite extraordinary amount of flak which is wholly indicative of the phenomenon of the Premier League era "fan".
Is it a money thing ? Maybe.
In Arsenal's case, this, presumably, is because they haven't won a Major trophy since 2005's FA Cup.They have, qualified and thrilled in the last 14 Champions Leagues. They have managed to finance, build and occupy the fabulous Emirates stadium complex. They have, in that time, entertained and played some of the best football in Britain.
In the modern parlance, they are a genuinely "Big Club".
However, this is not enough for their critics. I reply - Yes, it is. Enough!! - such nonsense.
In Midfield, the sitter is usually Alex Song, the Cameroonian jack of all trades (and master of most), augmented by the Wales captain, Aaron Ramsey. They create through both them and Mikel Arteta, late of Everton. Thomas Rosicky, the Czech schemer too. Another oft criticized player is Andrei Arshavin, still, disappointingly "too Russian" for some.
They have also taken in Yossyi Benayoun from Chelsea, to add guile to the mix.
They use Abou Diaby as well, currently injured, along with the wonderful talent that is England's future, Jack Wilshere (still recovering unfortunately), and Francis Coquelin, although he too, suffered the curse against DirtyLeeds (playing at FB), and had to come off hurt.
Out on loan are Frimpong, Vela, Bendtner, De Nilson and Lansbury. They'll manage, huh.
Up front we will get to see the League's leading scorer, Robin van Persie. The fantastically talented Dutchman is having a season to savor. The best League scorer in the calendar year 2011, his goals are legion in their variety.
A World Class forward , the leader of the line in the Holland team too, started as something different. In his early days he was generally considered to be a wide man, somewhat akin to Arjen Robben, that other Dutch treat, but Wenger's nose for conversion has seen him supplant all other candidates as their go-to man, just as Henry, in a remarkably similar career conversion, had done before him.
Thierry Henry, back temporarily, moved on from Arsenal to Barcelona, and people often forget that he was as influential in his first season there as both Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. He is now at The New York Red Bulls, in USA's expanding MLS.
If Robin van Persie can do the same he will have had some career.
Chamakh, who started brightly enough in his earliest games for the Club, but has faded since, has gone to the African Cup of Nations, which is why they've brought back Henry on a 2 month loan. They are still able to call upon 2 of the better products of Southampton's Youth Academy - England's Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (the ox).
Other attackers of note are Gervinho, imported from Le Championnat winning Lille in Ligue 1,and an excellent dribbler at pace. Chu-Young Park, the South Korean, and Ryo Miyaichi, the highly rated, much sought after Japanese teenager, are available too.
And then there's Henry.
Sporting a non-Gillette full beard on Monday night, he produced another magic moment in scoring the winner in that tie. That was his 227th goal for the Gunners. That is SOME record.
He was and remains one of those very rare players that transcend the League or competition they're playing in. In his prime, he was one of the few who made the price of admission immaterial, you just had to be there to see him. His performances in Arsenal's "Invincibles" Year were regularly game changing. Tim Stillman, a fellow Tweeter, and Arse fan to boot, will tell you all you need to know about him in his amusing blog.
Take a fond farewell look at one of the best ever imports into the Premier League. Some would argue he is the very best. Whatever, it promises to be both a pleasure and a thrill to see him live, here, in our Stadium.
Back to the Future indeed.
I've written before about our early tendencies to be somewhat in our shell when facing these Iconic, as I call them, clubs. To meet Arsene Wenger's Arsenal on Sunday we will need this NOT to be the case.
As our first game back in the League after that encouraging victory at Oakwell we fans can reflect on a demonstrably progressive start to the New Year.
We've seen Gylfi Siggurdsson make his debut, and we've also seen both the Darnell Situ and Rory Donnelly transfers completed and given clearance.
On radio today, I heard Brendan Rodgers confirm that the Josh McEachran move from Chelsea (on Loan) was all but complete. This is a player I would put in the same class as Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, if a little behind because he hasn't benefited from a loan as Wilshere did at Bolton.
He will, and with us.
So, let's briefly consider how we might line up.
Our back 5 seems to be an agreed unit if all are fit and eligible. In other words, the Club's excellent skipper, Gary Monk, will probably go to the bench to enable us to go Vorm, Rangel, Williams, Caulker and Taylor. Solid, proven and confident, I would suggest.
Up top, it would be very surprising to see Danny Graham not start given his form, and the 2 wide men from 3 - Routledge, Dyer and Sinclair - I would be happy to see utilized in any permutation the coaching staff deem to be appropriate. Favourite are probably Nathan and Wayne, with Scott sitting down early, but hey, what do I know?
The middle 3 are always the puzzle. For me, given this game and these opponents, it would be Agustien, Britton and Allen.
Orlandi, Sigurdsson, Dobbie, Moore, Richards and others have all earned their corn, too.
If it's any different, in any way, I really won't mind. Our management have more than earned the respect of my bowing to their choice, and bellowing my support whatever the make up of the personnel.
That's the very least they deserve.
The side is both playing well and successfully. Long may that continue, starting with this Sunday's meeting, and for us Swans, they're the only one.
Onward, Swansea City.