David Showell

As the dust settled on disappointing results, and performances, against Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal fans will be looking to the coming winter months with a feeling of déjà vu. So often promising to take on the world in September, the reality of a harsh winter is regularly accompanied by dropped points and fading dreams.

The timing of the recent injury to Robin van Persie couldn’t have been worse. The Dutchman had been in the form of his life, scoring, and making, goals with apparent ease. But now he faces a reported five months of rest, rehabilitation and watching Countdown. The Gunners have a plethora of ultra-talented midfielders, but very few strikers.

Indeed, playing a 4-5-1 formation is fine when van Persie plays, but Eduardo and Carlos Vela, both given a recent run-out, look better suited to the traditional 4-4-2. The absence of Nicklas Bendtner, a one-time source of muted celebration among some Arsenal fans, hasn’t exactly helped matters.

Arsene Wenger has announced that he’ll be looking to buy, or loan, a striker in January, but if there are many more performances like the one against Chelsea, it will all be too late by then. Qualification for the Champions League has been easier than ever this year, but a difficult tie at West Ham in early 2010 may put paid to their FA Cup hopes.

So, come January, who is likely to be brought in to fill van Persie’s Adidas Predators? Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh has been linked with the Emirates Stadium for some time now, and there have been murmurs recently about Ruud van Nistelrooy.

There’s even talk of Gabriel Agbonlahor, but surely his price tag will put the usually super-thrifty Wenger off. Aston Villa are unlikely to accept a couple of hundred quid, a box of Mars Bars and a second-hand Nintendo Wii.

Either way, someone will surely be arriving. It’s difficult to imagine the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott making dozens of chances with nobody on the end of them. With van Persie out for some time, it could well be the case that Wenger goes back to a 4-4-2 formation very soon.

Apart from the trip to Upton Park, there are some tricky league games coming up, and with Arsenal’s fragile form in recent matches, they look more difficult than they did a month or two ago.

Away games against Liverpool are never easy, even with the Reds showing some horrendous form. Anfield matches are always a big test, and this one will be a tricky hurdle. Gooners may well be making effigies of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, in the hope of continuing their recent injury problems.

A midweek match at Burnley is the last thing Arsenal need right now. The Clarets have had more ups and downs than a lift attendant this season, and have played like Barcelona at home, and Brighton away. A December Wednesday doesn’t look promising for Wenger’s men.

There are also trips to Portsmouth, Bolton and Aston Villa before the end of January as the Gunners stack up the frequent flyer miles. Each of these matches will test the nerves, for varying reasons. Aston Villa will still be craving that almost-mystical fourth place, while Avram Grant’s Portsmouth and Bolton are likely to be desperate for points from now till May.

At home, there are games against Stoke, Hull, Aston Villa (again), Everton and Manchester United to think about. Some of them look easy on paper, but there are no prizes for guessing which one doesn’t. It’s going to be an interesting few weeks, to say the least.

Supporting Arsenal has never been boring, well, not since George Graham left, anyway, partly because it’s not always easy to know which Arsenal are going to turn up. There are three variations of the same team:

Side A: the free-flowing, speedy masters of the game that can destroy a defence in seconds.

Side B: the less-daring but efficient machine that does just enough to roll over the opposition.

Side C: the side that makes few chances, and takes even fewer.

Which one will be there for the winter?

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