The Road to Nowhere?

“I’ve no idea where we’re going…”

Hi. How are you…?

I mean I hope you’re okay.

Me? I feel a bit weird.

Not the “we’ve just been hammered by a super club and weren’t we supposed to become one of those?” type of weird…although you know, we were supposed to be able to compete. Nor is it the “wow, this is a bit of deja-vu; betcha we win the second-leg 3-0 but still go out in the last 16 of the Champions League…again” type weird.

No the weird I’m feeling today is a bit of a mourning, achey, near-hollow weird. And I’ve not felt like this before with Arsenal. In fact I’ve not felt it at all since 1996. That year I felt this similar sort of feeling when England were knocked out of the European Championship. And, I suppose oddly, that year Arsene Wenger arrived at Highbury.

So this feeling then.

I only feel it when I think about Arsenal, and I’m not sure what to do with it. I mean, I’ve spent a good few years now detaching the impact of Arsenal losses and dismal displays from my actual life. And it’s worked a treat: When we win that’s good (obviously), and when we win well I layer that buoyancy upon my mood. Because revel? Yes please. Yet when we lose I habitually feel disappointed for a little bit, disconnect from it and get on with my day.

I love football and I love Arsenal, but it isn’t my whole life. I appreciate that’s a personal view – I’m no longer a season ticket holder an don’t travel overseas – but I decided years ago that generating extreme emotional turmoil from football on a regular basis probably wasn’t great for me. So there we are, each to their own.

Except: last night. That 5-1 loss felt like a fresh, sharp, serious pain. One laced in a gloom that couldn’t easily be tuned out, and one that needs serious attention. It hurt more than Henry, Cesc or van Persie leaving. It hurt more than the 2011 8-2 loss at Old Trafford.

It hurt so deeply I could instantly recall the grief I used to feel at a cup exit or a heavy loss. At the dashing of expectation. At England’s defeat in 1996, when nothing felt like it could be the same after for England or the football-focused world of a 12 year-old.

That 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich? It hurt cumulatively.

What that might mean for Arsenal, for Arsene Wenger, or even for this team  in the next fixture I’ve no idea. Whether Arsene felt the weight of that loss in a more acute way than any other…I’ve no idea. And whether we’ll be saying goodbye to him come the end of the season I’ve no idea.

Making predictions one way or the other seems fruitless. But to me it felt like one heavy defeat too far. One negative mark too many against the legacy of Wenger’s Arsenal. One brittle capitulation too spectacular for my optimism towards the rest of this season.

What comes next? I’ve no idea. Something has to change, it seems. To feel like I felt 21 years is an odd thing. But I don’t know what that means or where we’re going.

I do, though, feel unbelievably sad.

Four things increasingly clear to Arsenal fans

Recent results and the fall from Festive grace have given Arsenal fans more than enough pause for thought. So with uncertainty about Arsene Wenger’s (and his squad’s) ability to now deliver, here are four things increasingly obvious to the concerned observer.

Joel Campbell should start

Not a difficult idea to support, given the Costa-Rican’s steady – if not Bellerin/Coquelin-style – rise to necessity. Campbell was far and away the best player for Arsenal against Swansea; passing, moving, linking and scoring with the easy confidence that comes from wanting to make a difference and deliver on promise.

Does Campbell have the hunger Alexis has claimed is lacking in the squad? It would seem so. He’s clearly enjoying his football. And he’s been given hope by the perpetually plateaued stock of Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as the ineffective wing displays of Theo Walcott. Campbell is a natural right midfielder/winger, and currently Arsenal’s most technically suited player in the role.

Alan Shearer is right on Giroud

Some may scoff at Shearer’s occasionally inflexible, blanket comments wrapped up as Match of the Day insight. However, when the Premier League’s record goalscorer said Giroud should score 20-25 goals in the league in this Arsenal team, he was right. It may not be in the way he intended, but he gets some credit.

Many Arsenal fans have gone along with Wenger’s hypothesis of sharing goals around the squad. They’ve bought into the possession-based attacking ‘system’ developed over two decades. The system birthed the “play the Arsenal way” slogan, and sharing goals does make some sense. After all, if a star player is injured, a team that can score goals without them can avoid a goal drought.

The issue though is whether sharing goals is an effective strategy. Barcelona certainly share goals, but each of Neymar, Suarez and Messi have scored enough to be considered the main striker at any top European club in their own right.

Yet the last time Arsenal won the league, in 2003-4, goals weren’t shared around nearly as much as we might think they were. Yes there were 15 different goalscorers that season in all competitions, but in the league Robert Pires scored 14, and Ljungberg (4), Bergkamp (4) and Gilberto Silva (4) chipped in.

The main goal threat was of course Thierry Henry, with 30 goals in 37 appearances. Arsenal shared goals, but Henry enabled that team to finish the season champions with a +47 goal difference, ten more than second placed Chelsea.

If we look at how shared goals impact the current season, Leicester are top and it’s mainly through goals from Vardy (19), Mahrez (14), and Okizaki (4). Tottenham, in second, have scored through Harry Kane (16), Alli (7), Eriksen (5) and a smattering of other scorers.

If we compare this to Arsenal, it’s Giroud (12), Sanchez (6), Özil (5), Ramsey (4) and Walcott (4). Goals are being shared in a not dissimilar way to 2003-4, but…Giroud as the main striker needs to score more. Not necessarily the 30 goals of Henry, but keeping pace with Vardy’s conversion rate seems reasonable.

Yet in this Arsenal team, sharing goals around may not even be a bad idea if collective finishing could be considered clinical: This Sky Sports graphic suggests that three of Arsenal’s key attacking threats can all do better.


How “big chances” are qualified is a fair question, but it’s hard to deny that Walcott, Giroud and Sanchez have failed to ignite in front of goal. They’ve so far failed to deliver Kane, Vardy or Mahrez consistency, let alone anything near Henry.

Wenger’s system is stuttering

What Arsene Wenger’s system actually is is a huge topic of debate. Many fans are stumped, and (judging by the team’s performances) it seems that the squad may be too. Players are failing to respond to instruction, or at the very least are failing to find consistency in a season where key absences (Sanchez, Coquelin, Cazorla, Welbeck, and now Cech), may have played a part.

In times of absence, it is the strength of a system and the manager’s ability to instil it which should shine through. But with one of the ‘strongest’ squads in recent times, Arsenal’s system is anything but clear. In fact, it is increasingly hard to work out who Wenger sees as his settled, preferred, line up to deliver regular title-worthy performances. The manager also seems to make what many think of as reactive tactical decisions, and so the frustration grows.

A fine example: the boos when Joel Campbell was taken of against Swansea has served as the peak of this melancholia. Wenger’s defence of this action, suggesting Welbeck could provide more runs in behind the Swansea defence, has largely been railroaded perhaps because Campbell was one of the best-performing technical players on the pitch.

What it comes down to is this: At one time Wenger’s system was clear, and it depended on technique, on crafty possession and technical ball players. It was a system characterised by the types of action Campbell was pulling off in the game, and was a system loved for its fluidity and technical level.

Campbell’s removal had a clear adverse affect on the team’s performance, but perhaps it also marked a desperate deviation from this long-standing system. This is a new thread too, because if Arsenal have previously depended on technical ball players, as Tim Stillman has pointed out, there’s currently a clear lack:

Arsene Wenger’s time may be at an end

For a while now the WOB (Wenger Out Brigade) and WKBs (Wenger Knows Best) have been locked in a semi-aggrandised ideological back and forth. Yet the fact that Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal now seems under threat, comes from many fans failing to see how the manager can turn things around.

With no obvious system or clear response to trailing at home to Swansea, the heat is on to provide a good performance and start from there. Yet in a season where the other ‘big clubs’ have faltered, Arsenal could, and perhaps should, have reached the summit of the Premier League and already be cementing their position as potential champions.

That Arsenal are now part of the chasing pack needs a speedy resolution. One to boost fans and Wenger’s own position. A win against Tottenham could be a start, but right now it’s looking sadly stark.

Let down

In the post-match conference from last night, a defensive Wenger blamed a lack of quality in the team’s “defensive concentration”.

It really is the major reason for conceding three against an Olympiakos team seeing only 30% possession. We did too little with what we had – 18 shots to their 9, 9 on target to their 4. 8 corners to their 4 – but it was errors that cost us.

Arsenal 0-1 Olympiakos

Olympiakos’ first came from a corner. As it’s taken, Pardo is free on the edge of the box. It’s a fairly standard position to be in, but apparently not worthy of picking him up. As the ball swings to the edge of the area, Mesut Özil sort of follows and then gives up on the ball. He doesn’t even appear to look at Pardo, or attempt to engage any player the ball might be going to.


Pardo makes a fairly clean effort which shouldn’t really trouble Ospina, but it deflects off a hapless Ox and finds the net. Oxlade-Chamberlain either realises too late the ball is coming his way, or fails to properly attempt a block of his own.

Either way it’s a poor set of circumstances to concede from. Really poor.

By this point we’d had two good chances. Theo found himself in the box, but failed to adjust his body (use his left-foot) and generate power to get a clean shot away. Chamberlain too found himself in the area and could have made it 1-0, but under pressure put wide from a position to the right of the goal.

The response from Theo was heartening, if a tad fortunate, and we deserved to be on level terms.

Arsenal 1-2 Olympiakos

Olympiakos’ second can be blamed on Ospina, but it’s a clear misjudgement of the kind that can happen (see Ronaldinho against Seaman, WC 2002). Ospina’s strength is in staying on the line, using his reflexes and his reading of an attack as it unfolds. He doesn’t tend to come and dominate the box in a set-piece situation, and here we see why.

In this incident he moves early, the power and height on the corner suggesting it’s a deep, high-hanging ball which he can get up and claim. There’s wicked curl though, and he’s caught out. He jumps back to try and salvage the situation and fails.

We can’t be entirely sure the ball crossed the line, because for some reason there’s no goal-line technology in the UCL. Still, he was punished. Cech may not have made the error, may not have shown this lack of “defensive concentration”, but it’s a moot point if Cech had a slight issue preventing him starting.

Ospina’s played well for us generally, kept a good deal of clean sheets last season, and has incredible reflexes and great on-the-line shot stopping. But yes, it’s clear where he needs to improve.

We equalise again through Sanchez. It’s interesting to note a couple of things here.

Not only is Sanchez apparently back on form, and that’s his second header in as many games, he nearly scores another later. Also the cross for this goal is from Walcott. Theo’s taken up a position just inside the right edge of the 18 yard box, in an area of the pitch more akin to a winger feeding a natural centre forward.

Alexis confidently heads home and it leaves me wondering if, even though Walcott is progressing “game by game”, the better option up top (when without Giroud) is actually Alexis Sanchez – especially against teams sitting back.

Sanchez possesses a clear poaching ability Walcott has yet to muster, and has superior feet and body adjustment in tight spaces.

He also makes up for a lack of size in playing with his back to goal through intelligent movement. His shots closer to goal appear instinctive too…but more on that another time.

 Arsenal 2-3 Olympiakos

Defensive indiscipline again. As we chase to take the lead, de Freita Couto Júnior beats both Ramsey and Bellerin far too easily. At this point Finnbogason is being marked by Gabriel, but as the ball is cut back past Cazorla (somewhere in no-man’s-land) and in-field to Fortounis, Gabriel leaves Finnbogason to charge Fortounis.

The shot is blocked by Mertesacker, but as it comes out to Cambiasso, Ramsey, Cazorla, Mertesacker Gabriel and Gibbs ALL run out towards him. This leaves Pardo and Finnbogason both unmarked on the right in space.ARSvOLY 3

Gibbs tries to adjust his feet and make Cambiasso take the shot, but as Cambiasso chips the ball over his head Gibbs is forced to turn and chase Pardo, while Finnbogason goes square six yards form goal and behind the Arsenal line.

Pardo finds Finnbogason, who taps the ball past Ospina. Mertesacker gets back but does nothing of note to try and stop the shot other than being right next to Finnbogason.

It’s terrible, and fitting perhaps that such a lack of defensive concentration should result in the winning goal. Olympiakos didn’t deserve the win based on the Arsenal dominance borne out by the stats. But then, we most certainly didn’t deserve it based on the above defensive frailties. Olympiakos for their part were stoic at the back…although we certainly had enough quality to beat them if only we didn’t self-sabotage.

A lack of leadership is one of the louder criticisms being levelled at the squad today. The charge being that strong characters of the likes of Vieira haven’t been seen for some time. Falmini may have offered that had he been on the pitch, but it’s a point worth pondering.

Still, we can’t magic such characters into the squad, and against United on Sunday we’ll likely need it. So here’s at least hoping our quality going forward is matched by a more stable defensive display.

Arsenal ready to put things right…
By Kevin Hackert – Used (unedited) under Creative commons license

A 5-2 win and we couldn’t have asked for much more. Saturday’s victory over unbeaten Leicester saw the wish list perfectly met: three points, a Giroud goal, a rampant Alexis, tamed tempers and a solid balance.

A game of counter attacks was won out by a team displaying superb technical ability (and fitness) and it’s easy to see what the boss meant post-game when he said “we’re coming back our best”.

Conceding two goals clearly isn’t ideal. Yet, without being too school-of-Keegan, if you’re going to score five then the two isn’t usually problematic. We know defensive consistency is something Wenger will be just as keen to work towards as attacking prowess, and clean sheets do breed defensive defiance.

Anyway, more thoughts on various things to come before the weekend, but immediately we’ve tonight to think about.


A home-tie against Olympiakos seems a good way to get back on track in Europe. It really should take some kind of disaster to be as poor as we were in Zagreb – and by know means do I want that. Seemingly even Munich’s Philipp Lahm (according to the Express) found our opening result shocking:

The defeat of Arsenal in Zagreb really surprised me. At first I thought it was a mistake.

Unfortunately not, and it means another must win game against another ‘unbeaten’ team. Olympiakos sit top of the Greek Super League with five wins from five, although the 3-0 UCL Matchday 1 loss to Bayern may sow some doubt in Greek minds. Bayern held 71% possession and had 22 shots at goal, so if we ramp up the pressure we might start to see some similar cracks.

We’ll need to capitalise on those, but just how we’re going to break through the Erythrolefkoi could be telling for the remainder of the season. In the Champions League most teams arrive to play. Undoubtedly Olympiakos will be looking for defensive discipline, and that could make at least Walcott’s night a little tricky.

Against Leicester, Theo found runs in behind a rather high line, making runs off the shoulder; a situation the Foxes seemed happy to accept until we showed second-half dominance. Okazaki came off for King to bolster Leicester’s midfield, and their defence dropped deeper to nullify Walcott’s pace. Giroud still offers a better outlet up top against a sat back four – and was duly sent on at the weekend – but with Frenchman is of course suspended tonight.

Walcott will start then, but his pace may have to be attuned to short sharp bursts of a few yards to gain maximise space away from defenders, with either single touches to set or immediate shots. It’s something the best strikers can call on, and if he wants to develop fully in the role he’ll need nights like tonight to hone his skills.

A lack of striking options means the obvious replacement for Walcott if needed is Sanchez. Few will have issue with that after he lit up the King Power, and needless to say the goalscoring burden isn’t Walcott’s or Sanchez’ alone. An dangerous front four seems much more likely this time out. Özil and Ramsey would love to find the net, and with the Ox still waiting to find true form off the bench, there’s plenty to be hopeful about.

In other areas the whispers are that Ospina will start. Arseblog ponders a Cech injury but, while that could be the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the competition between the Czech and Columbian is a little bit closer than many consider. Gabriel is available, but the only other obvious change to Saturday’s strarting XI can come in midfield. With Arteta and Flamini out, the Coquelin and Cazorla core seems certain.

Our central midfield options have been analysed to the Nth degree, but Cazorla especially benefits from Coquelin alongside him. Coquelin provides more athletic, lateral defensive cover than Flamini and Arteta, and allows the Spaniard greater vertical movement to drive our play up the pitch and away from the defensive third. This was epitomised by the 2-0 against Manchester City in January. Cazorla was the stand-out player, but Coquelin wasn’t far behind.

Focus again then will be heightened as to how we manage our own game, as well as that of our opposition. Honestly I think we can allow ourselves some confidence, just as long as the team has shaken off those zagreb zeds.

Some Chelsea thoughts

How many chances does a guy get?

If you were Diego Costa Saturday, more than deserved. If you were Gabriel, more will come. And if you happen to be the writer of a little-known Arsenal blog, as many as you see fit.

Which is nice.

Anyway, it’s been interesting to see the fall-out from the Chelsea game. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one worried we might face the backlash of a team enlivened by an odds-on win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

Alas the Gunner-virus sent to the Chelsea tactical computer didn’t land this week. And, with an even footing restored, it hardly went well did it?

Worse, we were robbed of a genuinely intriguing tussle. As it turns out, this Arsenal team isn’t as good as Chelsea with first a one player, and then a two player, advantage. We can’t learn much from that which isn’t already obvious. Despite the champions’ prat-fall of a start to the season, they’ve enough about them to overcome a stuttering Arsenal recklessly reduced by dismissals.

Mourinho’s soundbites after the game were infuriating, but he wasn’t all wrong. Not in defending Costa, where he’s surely baiting us all, but in his thinking about emotional control. After all, what has been cast into the limelight is Gabriel’s willingness to ‘mix-it’, and the praise that willingness has drawn. Individual emotional control though, let’s talk about that.

Martin Keown has been vocal in his support for Gabriel, with backing also appearing from other quarters. James McNicholas (aka Gunnerblog) has written this piece about how Gabriel has now shown a welcome edge. This is true.

The piece also highlights the example of Dennis Bergkamp as someone who occasionally made use of an edge, the ‘dark arts’. Of course physicality, edge, ‘dark arts’ or whatever are sometimes needed. As is Gabriel’s ability to “stick up for his fellow defender Laurent Koscielny”. But there are two key considerations.

First, the likes of Dennis Bergkamp would generally employ ‘edge’ in a more intelligent and spread out competitiveness than that shown by Gabriel. For example, over the course of a particularly physical match, and not in reacting with direct violence likely to result in punishment.

Referees, of course, react swiftly to any direct violence or unwarranted aggression on the pitch. Yet what they are unlikely to react to, at any level, is ongoing physicality or a hyped-up non-physical anger matching that which has already been accepted in the game.

Sometimes, as with Keown and his infamous and largely harmless falling chop on Van Nistelrooy, edge can even be more frown-and-wince than dangerous violence.

On Saturday, Mike Dean seemingly accepted Costa and Gabriel’s ‘firm’ mock pats to each other as they were given a talking to. If Mike Dean can accept physicality from Costa, he can accept that to be matched by Gabriel. If physicality is fair, or non-damaging and equal then there’s no problem.

The second thing is that any attempt to exceed ‘fair physicality’ should be dealt with and backed up by video referees. End of discussion…to the point I now feel like I’m wasting words. Events thereafter the Costa and Koscielny clash are spoken about merely as a grotesque necessity borne of the absence of something which would likely have prevented them.

Football needs technology which quickly indentifies and removes anyone uninterested in playing a safe, fair game at the top level. It’s nonsensical that it’s not yet implemented. It’s ludicrous.

The take away is this: Gabriel can learn to be like Dennis Bergkamp and intelligent in his physicality. Perhaps he can learn to be like Martin Keown. But I’m sure he and others in the squad (Giroud, to name one) can can develop intelligent physicality.

That’s individual emotional control.

Players need it. At least while a player behaving like Costa can see acts go unpunished before the match points are unfairly decided.

Strange Fans (We’ve got Some).

We know how it went on Saturday. We were winning, Theo went down injured near the Tottenham support, got some stick and then responded with a cheeky/rational riposte. Cue the coins and some rather unfortunate stretcher bearers who may well have woken up with some pound-shaped bruises on Sunday.

The thing is, while throwing anything at anyone anywhere in a violent and aggressive manner is generally stupid, I’d like to remind the Arsenal faithful that our own fans can get somewhat…err, animated in a rather impolite way as well. A comment from Captain Obvious maybe, but let the record show I spent the first 10 minutes of the FA Cup tie not enjoying the atmosphere of the on-field battle.

Instead I was actually considering never attending another North London Derby, because I really don’t want to hear people sing chants such as:

“It should have been you, it should have been you, shot in Angola it should have been you.” (Directed at Emmanuel Adebayor).

Neither am I a huge fan of songs about how Tottenham should have burned in the riots, or variations on that theme. It’s ridiculous; the societal problems – lit with elements of opportunism – which caused chaos in London in the Summer of 2011 weren’t anything to do with Tottenham Hotspur FC, and to wish the immolation of other football fans is hardly very classy in jest or not.

Me? I don’t really go in for the “it’s all banter” defence, and I don’t participate in any songs which may be considered offensive to any other football fan or person on the street (there’s a couple regularly sung at the Emirates).

Of course, of course, I’m not saying the same isn’t true of other fans at other grounds – although I do note the Boxing Day fixture at Dartford FC was missing self-important chants casting injury and death respectively upon opposition fans and players.

What I am saying is that throwing coins at a player who is injured is not good at all, but the Tottenham fans who did that deserve to think about their actions as those who sing chants some class as “banter” need to perhaps consider their lyrics.

I love attending the Emirates, I love watching The Arsenal live. I don’t like that one of our players was the target of physical projectiles, but nor do I enjoy the verbal ones some Arsenal fans throw.

The Water Shortage

As much as we can remain positive, this Summer’s sucking like a kryptonite straw, and it’s hard to not think our destiny this year will be affected by signings.

Quite frankly, our plan this Summer – and I find it impossible to believe their isn’t one – is bewildering me.  And last night came quotes from the BBC’s David Ornstein:

“Arsenal still have transfer plans in place. Market not moved liked they’d expected it to.”

Quite what that means I suspect we’ll never know, but when even your North London neighbours are making decent additions then you have to move the market yourself and secure the targets you think are good enough. Surely? The issue:

“Wenger, who is in control of all transfers at Arsenal, won’t pay over his valuations of players.”

I respect Arsene Wenger, I am well and truly ready to eat humble pie come September 3rd, and I don’t mean to demean his principles, but sometimes you need to spend.

If it’s a hot day and I need a drink, I might spend £1.50 for the bottle of water, even if I think it’s only worth £1. I might think I can find the same amount of water for less elsewhere, but given a finite window to buy said water in, and with such water in short supply I’d probably buy it earlier to ensure acquisition and pay a bit more.

The alternative is I go from store to store looking for better valued water while the more expensive stuff is snapped up. I still need water, so surely at some point I’ll take the plunge and buy?

“Arsenal have 3-4 options (other than Suarez), Rooney is one, but club have accepted they might not sign a star striker.”

Surely we need water in this heat. To not find some could be… challenging.

Analogy over, but it’s rather confusing. At the moment I await the Luis Gustavo announcement as some sort of affirmation that any player of top-level experience (no disrespect to Sanogo) is joining the club. However, I half-suspect he’ll be off elsewhere.

And where does this all leave us? 20+ players out, one in and a Columbian triallist who did enough to earn a contract but couldn’t get a visa. Honestly, the players want signings, we fans want signings, and I have to think that at least Arsene does too as he’s admitted we’re ‘thin’.

If we fail to find any quality reinforcements, come September third I may well be singing this little ditty by @GeezyPeas and pondering what might have  Higuain been.

Buy, buy even Abdoulaye Faye, we’ve even started wanting Michu because our glass is so dry. The boards old boys will say ‘hell, we tried’…

…singing September 3rd’ll be the day we all cry…September 3rd’ll be the day we all cry.

I am parched.

A Return To Form

Super ATS

I’m back. I’m not sure where I went but here I am.

Also, here are some things I’ve learned this Summer.

  1. Listening to Twitter ITKs (‘in the knows’, for the uninitiated) is not conducive to optimal mental/emotional health. It’s probably safer to ignore all of them, but I’m taking most things these supposed fonts of knowledge spout with a hefty hill of salt from now on.
  2. We do have a good core of players.
  3. Aaron Ramsey (injured now, of course) is a top professional footballer displaying his true qualities in pre-season. All those who doubted him I understand, but all those who sought to abuse him and spread the ‘try-hard’ narrative explicitly should be eating humble pie. Good work, Aaron.
  4. Footballers can magic themselves into a first-team appearance. See: Sebastian Perez (and also good for him).
  5. I really fail to understand our transfer ‘plan’ if there was one…

That’s it. Short and sweet for now. Come say hi on Twitter.

Arsenal Get What’s Deserved


As a man who writes for a living, that title might be the hardest thing I produce this week. But the truth hurts.

With a poor first half display it was deja vu time, and a second consecutive game seeing us fail to spark early on.

Yet again it was down to a half-time refocusing and – presumably – words from Arsene to get the team back on track. But why we seemingly lacked belief in the first half is bewildering. Is it fear? Fear of silly mistakes and a red card? Poor preparation? Or is it a team needing an injection of fresh faces, ideas and impetus?

This morning George Graham has said to Talksport  “Whatever talk Wenger gave at half time, he should have said before the game started”. And whether that’s on point or not, it’s an insight I suspect many see the sense in.

Yet whatever the answer to our poor starts, a combination of Ramires’ cynicism, refereeing ignorance and Chelsea taking their chances ensured that at half time yesterday we were already up against it. Even if comebacks have become a somewhat necessary part of our repertoire in the last couple of seasons, it’s hard to argue that we didn’t deserve to be trailing.

Giroud misses a great chance and Chelsea score within a minute. Coquelin goes down injured, but Mata is more alert than Sagna to open the scoring. Diaby gives the ball away to allow Ramires the eventual chance of going down easy in the box. And Lampard took that chance with the aplomb you’d expect.

Well, whatever was said at half time seemed to help, and we looked like we were interested again. We took some control and Theo’s finish from a sweet Santi pass had me hoping we might steal a point. But we ran out of steam and, as much as I (dreamland) hoped Arshavin could have made some sort of assist or random multi-deflect goal come about, that we had to bring him on says all we need to know. Even if The Ox and Poldi were fit, what we really needed late on was a second striker. And not Theo.

This morning Arseblog mentions:

When there’s the chance to sign a player like Demba Ba he [AW] says he’s too similar to Giroud, but imagine the second half yesterday with Giroud and Ba side by side.

And it’s a fair point. But even if Wenger’s non-signing of players is bewildering from the outside, let’s not forget that we were willing to let Chamakh, the only other recognised CF at the club, go to West Ham…without any sign of a replacement.

He might not have been first in the pecking 0rder, but you’re not telling me that having no second CF is better than having a backup who may or may not deliver on request? Remember the talk that we might clear some space before bringing players in. We’ve cleared some, and yet where are those players? We need them now, in a January scrap, not in a desperate February hunt.

Let me tell you, if Chamakh plays against us on Wednesday (if he can) and scores, I’m going to sob manfully into my bitter £2 black coffee and hope that the resulting potion conjurs some highly-caffeinated wunder-striker from the ether. Or wonder where my money is going.

Either will do.

It’s obvious by now that we need reinforcements, isn’t it? Yesterday I was yelling at Theo from the comfort of my warm-ish front room to diving header that chance late on before Cahill cleared it away. But he was never going to. Alan Smith might have, Ian Wright too. Henry? Perhaps. Chamakh? *screw face* posssiblyy. But Theo wants to be a centre-forward? It’s not all lightning pace and sweet finishes. At the moment we get goals however we can, and that was a chance.

But then I temper my anger at a player who’s now the club’s top earner not wanting to put his body on the line and think that there are other strikers out there who might. Who we don’t have. Other options who, if they were on the bench, may have precluded Arshavin from the equation, Walcott from the situation, and might have salvaged a point.

Salvage is a hard thing to write this morning as well. Because the most pessimistic me thinks that’s where this season is now heading. But even if we’re not there quite yet, I’d rather some cavalry for a fighting charge than trying to fight mounted attackers on foot.

You know what I mean. Signings, I’d like some.

Tits, Touch and Targets

There was a moment last night when I was staring at the corner of the Emirates pitch, where the North Bank meets the West Stand.

There sat a happy bunch of coal-tits, in a formation of sorts, perfectly still, quite happy to waggle their tails and to chirp contentedly to each other about the miraculously uniform grass they’d discovered.

I first noticed them during the City game, and passing off the omens that the ancients might derive from such an ornithological display of audacity, I considered them blog-fodder. For as the tits sat, happily ignoring the 22 potential death-bringers elsewhere on the grass, they showed about as much inspiration as The Arsenal did (chortle).

Happily, I recount that as a contrived and malformed comparison, as things turned out rather nicer. But we huffed only a bit, puffed very little and lacked any real tempo or rhythm. The concern was palpable, but the slow-start somewhat understandable.

Having tweaked the line-up to allow Francis Coquelin an appearance – yet still playing Santi and Jack – Diaby was back in again, allowing us a ‘double pivot’. This had Jack at the head of the midfield three, fulfilling the number 10 role his shirts suggests is his in the long-term.

But it didn’t really click. Unsurprising really. Coq, Jack and Diaby is an unfamiliar setup when you consider Santi and Mikel would usually start, but the three two youngsters kept working while Diaby found his feet a little more. At half time there was a feeling we needed a spark, and as Swansea seemed to lack their usual sparkle, it was the introduction of Michu that had those around me taking a short, sharp icy breath.

We needn’t have. Arsene must have had a few words at half time about positioning and the specificity of roles, as in a more disciplined second half we managed to work much of the drive and positive play through Jack. For his part, he looks every bit the potential world class player we’ve lacked since Cesc left, and seemed at home with that responsibility (picking up where he left off on Sunday).

At one point, with four Swansea players about him, he circled looking for a good out. Not panicking, keeping the ball close, he simply decided enough was enough: the best out was himself, he eased the hammer down and simply glided away from the pack with the grace and power only greats of the game can muster. A cute one two with Gibbs ended with us threatening in the Swansea third, and again and again he looked to push us on.

Much should be made of Jack’s goal, and the fact that it’ll probably be one of those in the montage pre-game next season. It was a great moment for him, the fans and everyone connected with the club. A genuinely heart-warming few seconds of Arsenal history, and nothing short. But let’s not forget the touch from Giroud was superb – I didn’t see it in real time, with my view blocked by a Swansea player – and Theo, as frustrating as he can still be – managed at least to work himself into two good positions he failed to convert from.

Giroud played well I thought. As I mentioned before he’s not a world-class striker, but I think he can be a world-class forward if he’s not quite at the level already. He scored 33 in 73 at Montpellier, and while it’d be nice for him (and us) if his goalscoring form was bumped, as long as he works well for a team (in which he can chip in with goals for) then I think talk of his being ‘average’ is harsh in the extreme.

In truth there’s a few positives to take from last night. There’s a few ifs and buts as well, but I think to dissect it too much would be a little unfair. We did the job with an altered, and promising setup, ended the game with 26 shots (that’s 19 in the second half), and came away with a well deserved victory topped with a lovely goal to remember.

We’ve sealed our place in the next round of the FA Cup, and the win will surely breed a bit of confidence.

Now let’s enjoy it and look forward to Chelsea.