…This is a knife

Arsenal should be like the single malt I’m currently drinking.

Pure, ready to burn the face off of any weaknesses in those attempting to consume it and, crucially, devilishly effective.

What I mean is, this whisky makes more sense to me than The Arsenal currently does. And though you may be reading this in the AM, it’s all a cunningly constructed ruse – I was secretly working on this hours ago…at a more reasonable whisky imbibing time. A clever trick then; exactly the sort of thing I hope happens with our transfer dealings.

Yes, on February 1st, I want Arsene to strut into his pre-Stoke presser in a full Arsenal tuxedo, flanked by Alex Song, Alvaro Negredo and with Frank Lampard hiding at the back (something old, new and something blue). The wedding march will be blaring out, signifying the marriage and unity of a secret plan, the vows of which remained silent and unbroken ’til the big day.

Then, with a wry smile, Arsene can sit down, wink down the camera, lean back and say.

Your move, media/bitches.

It’s not going to happen though is it? Arsene’s transfer-related comments become more painful and frustrating by the week and, while I appreciate the belief in his players (as a former Sunday league-er who suffered a chronic case of lackofbacking-itis), the reality is we need to add quality and/or options. And I don’t believe neither are out there.

We bought Arteta on the final day of a summer transfer window and Arsene asks if we can find a player of his calibre in two weeks. No disrespect to the class and level of performance Mikel has brought us but, you know Arsene, we could try.  The fact that Arteta’s now out for three weeks and we’re worried about his potential replacements says something, no?

Who will replace him? Diaby, with his limited appearances and questionable long-term fitness? Rosicky, who (bizarrely) didn’t even make the bench against City this weekend? Coquelin, who gets occasional sniffs of first team action but is still raw. Or Rambo, who is in no way experienced enough to pull of the Arteta role in this team. Eisfeld? …Arshavin?

It might be that anyone of them will come in and do a decent job, but to partner who? Santi and Jack? If either of them play in both of our the next two matches it’s three games in one week. Santi is looking a little tired and Jack won’t look tired until he pulls up injured through overuse and is out for weeks himself.

Yes, perhaps any player should be able to come in and perform at this level of the game, but the simple matter is that if you don’t play with people then you don’t click with people.

By the way, Theo up front against against Kompany? I hoped against hope it might work. But reverting to an injured Giroud was at least a better option than an occasionally glorious, in development one. Are there no strikers who can genuinely add to our squad then currently, or does Arsene just refuse to see that the hole that van Persie’s quality left gets bigger with every goal he scores in Manchester red and every fixture we play but fail to offer much of a threat in?

I believe our players will give it their all. Yes, I believe in the system we play. But I also believe the players need help, and it seems we’re doing very little to give it to them.

You know, I’m not even sure where this post is going exactly. But I’m frustrated. I’m sure Arsene and the boys are as well. But when Kos makes a clear mistake that thousands immediately claim is the referee’s fault (even me), and when thousands rage at Dzeko for a lovely message home,  is it just mistakes we’re making as fans, or willful ignorance of the fact that our club is not the power it has been (could be?), all hidden behind an ‘everyone’s against us’ mentality?

It feels very unlike me to be so negative. But it hurts to see us frail and a suspension or injury away from fielding players who apparently aren’t good enough to feature regularly.

It hurts to see van Persie excelling at United while we have a ‘quite complete squad’ incapable of beating Southampton away and with us continually making mistakes or slipping up.

It hurts like a Crocodile Dundee size knife to the aspirations and the gut of a club we all love.

And you know, that is quite at odds with the smooth, sultry delivery of the whisky we should be.

That’s Not a Knife…

Losing two games isn’t a crises, and yet the boos that rang around the Emirates last night would suggest a club in trouble at boardroom level, in the dressing rooms and on the pitch. We’ve lost two games people, we’re not sliding out of control.

It’s not terrible. It’s not great by any means, but one loss came in the league and was more a buzz-kill than a knife in the heart. Last night’s came against a fine Schalke team off the back of a win against a good Dortmund outfit and in a competition we look on track to progress in.

There are issues of course. It seems, bizarrely, that we’ve struggled with our central midfield balance since Diaby was re-re-injured, but we’ve had other bright sparks snuffed out as well. Gibbs, as good a left back in the league for his performances was forming a fine partnership with Podolski and was in tune with our offside game.

Jenkinson, a blossoming talent and a stand out performer for sheer heart and determination last night, was linking well with the Ox. That both Gibbs and Ox are injured then undoes that work. Podolski’s English is improving apparently. Great for Gibbs, but how well he and Santos can communicate in Germ-tugese (or, indeed, Santos and the Vermesacker axis for the Schalke non-offside) is another question. And the linking work has to start again.

Ramsey on the right? The Welshman had a tough night. I don’t think he deserved the classless shout from behind me of:

Ramsey, you’re sh*t! F**k off back to Wales, you c**t!

But then, apparently there are fans who think self-combustion and player abuse is conducive to normal motivation (may Bergkamp help their kids). It soured my evening greatly. There was also a section of fans last night singing about how Arsenal were sh*t and  digging out other fans for remaining quiet and not singing non-stop. Unnecessary, antagonistic and equally classless.

On the pitch, confusing was Bould’s reluctance to revert to Giroud up top, and push Gervinho’s frustrating randomness to the right, with the Welshman persisting in fruitless endeavours.

Had Wenger been on the bench last night it might have played out differently, but what’s clear is that we’re a squad struggling for rhythm and perhaps struggling to play to a specific system when our first-choice players aren’t available.

That’s understandable to a point; as is why we can’t win a header from a goal-kick with Gervinho failing to rise for any challenge. Seriously, why on Earth Mannone kept pumping long balls up to him I’ll never know.

Equally bewildering was the apparent refusal to attempt direct and penetrating play, although when Gervinho plays where he feels like playing there’s simply no target man. This was characterised in the first half when Podolski sent a ball across the box to nobody. I don’t think Gervinho was anywhere near it. And yet he’s our top goalscorer.

However, for all our balance and rhythm issues and the undoing of partnerships, it took a little bit of ingenuity from a German teenager to get our first shot on target in the 92nd minute. That’s simply not good enough, and I’m sure (well, I hope) the Boss will be hammering that home in training.

Still, it’s not End Times and we will expect to take all three points from QPR on Saturday. If we don’t, and provide another abject display well…here’s hoping we don’t. Talk is that Jack will be back in the reckoning, and his return to the squad should lift the club a little even if we shouldn’t expect him to move footballing mountains.

Of course today is the club AGM, and with a healthy bank balance I’m sure many will ask why Arsenal FC is turning such a tidy profit without buying quality…etc etc that whole thing. I’ll let the AGM commentators comment on that.

But I can’t help but think that questions might carry a little more bite due to our last two results. It’s funny how two games can make heavy a mood. Let’s just hope the coming games against QPR and Reading will cut back through the cloud-cover and restore some hope and faith.

#COYG!

Following: The Revolution

This week, what with the new MLS season gearing up for kick-off (it’s called “First Kick”, for the uninitiated), I decided to start following a team.

This was in part due to the fact that a friend of mine lives in Charlotte, USA and works on the YouTube Channel Kick, and also because I’m a sucker for a bit of sporting bia…support. No team will ever match The Arsenal obviously, but it makes things interesting, and affiliation is a wonderful thing – when I was at university I attended more Aberystwyth Town matches than I submitted assignments.

In any case, picking a new team is a task riddled with questions, but I normally follow my standard formula:

  1. Am I draw to a team by something obvious other than glory?
  2. Any friends/family already supporting?
  3. Do I have any geographical or cultural affiliation, no matter how tenuous?
  4. Do I get a clear sense of a club ethos I can relate to?
  5. Do I like the kit?

After asking these questions I opted for a team in the Eastern Conference, but was torn between NY Red Bulls (they of Emirates Cup and Thierry Henry fame), and New England Revolution.

Long story short, and largely influenced by my very loose loyalty toward the NE Patriots NFL team – and the Red Bulls overt relationship with a terrible drink – I opted for the NE Revolution.

Now, what’s the first thing you do when you decide upon a new team? Or even before you decide? You visit the site, familiarise yourselves with the stars, the stats, the history and culture. So I did. But look at what I found upon visiting the New England Revolution player page:

That is a list of players with official twitter accounts noted right there on the page, right there on the official club website.

Now, you don’t even have to know the first think about the MLS, but we all know how annoying it is to follow @TheRealOfficialTOMASROSICKYlol account to then find out that it’s a fake.

We invest our time in twitter, we invest our opinions in contact – however little – with the professional sportspeople we follow and support. So, wouldn’t it be a good idea if, say, Premier League or indeed all professional clubs had a list of official player accounts like above?

Not for the club to keep tabs on the output, or to censor it in anyway. But just so we know we’re not being misled. All it takes is for @AnOfficialClubAccount to tweet that Player X has joined twitter and add the link to the squad list.

We current supporters will all be in a more informed position, and newcomers won’t have to scrabble around and waste time on an already overcrowded medium, where following fake accounts is at least incredibly frustrating.

What I’m saying is this: I’m now following the Revolution, and I suggest clubs start to follow their example.

Crazies On The North Bank

Well, wow. It’s taken me this long to get my sense of perspective back, but you know what? Sod it. I don’t want any perspective.

Yesterday, on my personal twitter account (i.e, not my AllTheSkill one), I posted the following tweet:

Beautiful day for sport, today. A day for beautiful sport, too.

I accept that beauty is subjective, but for the red half of North London, and all those neutrals partial to the occasional goalfest, what a truly epic day at the Emirates. I’d lost my head before leaving the house. Convinced that the KO was 13:00, I forewent the agreed few pints at the Tolington, hotfooting it to a strangely subdued Emirates to find food and reacquaint myself with my seat.

I couldn’t believe how quiet it was, until it was revealed I’d got the ground a full, 90 minutes before the game was due to start. Rather early than late, I sat brooding over the recent results. It wasn’t good, it really wasn’t. With the lads about me arriving in ones and twos we greeted each other with a knowing look. This was a big day.

A habitual look over my left shoulder revealed the North Bank Boomer was absent. Dear, dear, where would the chants spark from? And a stand-in Emirates announcer? Oh my word, do I not like change. Not on days like this. Le Boss went with Rosícky and Yossi from the start, and although I’m a huge fan of both I dreaded a turn of luck that would see them befall a calamitous OG. Each. In both halves.

By five past two, I was crumpled, bitter and cursing in an upper tier awash with anger. We were wallowing in self-pity, painted a pale shade of dismay. We looked decent going forward but were all at sea at the back. At one point Gareth Bale had enough room to stand 100 clones of himself on the flank, and still manage a free run at Wojciech. Groans seemed to eek from the very seats as we all shuffled uneasily.

A shot deflected wide from RVP, Super Tom was close with a glanced header from a corner and RVP hit the post. It was just then that despite the great sound the Emirates faithful continued to produce in the Boomer’s absence (on days like that, it seems many to take up song), I was readying myself for resignation. And it was at that moment Mr Consistent, Bacary Sagna, caught a left-footed cross plum on his head and fizzed it past Friedel.

Pumped fists, and shouts of “COME ON LADS” abound. Sagna, seeminlgly similarly encouraged grabbed the ball, allowed himself an outpouring and ran back down the pitch. A flash of football and between the bobbing heads of half-standers in the row in front of me RVP had the ball on the edge of the box. Twisting and turning, I waited to see the net ripple and then went absolutely barmy!

The Bear, sat next to me rather than but one as usual, grabbed me in joint celebration. We butted heads in the madness, but spoke nothing of it. This was sheer, unadulterated joy and we, The Arsenal, had pulled ourselves back from the brink. We were back in it and chants rang out.

Some had already left their seats for half-time sustenance, but they needn’t have feared they’d missed the best action (just the best goal). Still, the perceived wisdom was that Theo was having a shocker. AOC might be preferred for the second half.

Three more goals to come, and three more completely crazy sets of scenes. Rosicky, having an absolute stormer for me picked the ball up and proceeded to run at the Spurs defence. Sagna overlapped, the ball came back, and I had to double check the goalscorer. But before I had the chance all around was jumping men, women and children.

The Bear slapped me on the back, but he and his guest celebrated so hard they both fell into the aisle at the exact time I launched a jumping fist pump. Magic unfolding before us, except it wasn’t. It was very real, and the very Arsenal team was turning Spurs over. SuperTom, I was told, had scored it, and as one of my favourite Arsenal players, I thought to myself, “You deserved that, sir. You bloody deserved it.

The celebrations for Theo’s first I can’t recall, but for after a breathless, jigging bliss, I said rather louder than I meant to:

“Wenger! Get Chamberlain on!” and the few about me that weren’t deaf with joy laughed.

When the fifth went in I’d jumped to my feet, but stood dumb at what had come before us. We were in party mode and the the blues had well and truly vanished to the clear sky above. A beautiful day for those who enjoyed it, and five goals without reply…

Just. Wow.

 

Still For a far better visualisation of the days events than my humble words can muster, check out this vid. A special day, and deserving on a slot in the long-term memeory banks methinks!

OOH TO, OOH TO BE!

Q: When Is A Penalty Not A Penalty? (Or, ‘How To Judge A Ref And The Role Of The Flops’)

Q: When is a penalty not a penalty? A: When it doesn’t look like one.

In these crazy, mixed-up times, even Joey Barton is calling for video technology to be introduced into the English top flight. I agree {shudder}, I’m all for it. But in its absence officials still need to make decisions based upon what they see.

Used to be that what was a freekick outside the box was a penalty inside it. But a combination of the heightened importance of such a decision in providing an unchallenged attempt on goal, changing a game and/or reducing the number of players on a team has completely altered that. These days officials seem unwilling to give penalties unless there is little doubt in their minds. But even when they do, and even with the backing of second, third, fourth (and perhaps not) fifth or sixth match officials they still get things wrong.

Human error has a part to play, but there’s another thing going on here. A cold, hard, case of The Flops. That is attempting to make and official give a penalty by overacting, going down too lightly or just absolutely cheating.

Now I don’t wish to call into question the integrity of many of the football players I watch and some of whom I dearly support, but it’s hardly a revelation to suggest that sometimes some players go down a bit easy. Afterall, if the Lehmann vs Drogba pantomime spectacular told us anything, it was that our professional players have more than an inkling of how to make the most of a bit of contact. They’re not alone either. A couple of years ago, when I still actively played Saturday League, some players actively practised (albeit in jest) dives in training. Equally, type “Gerrard/Rooney/Walcott/Lampard dive” into YouTube and see what you get.

It might be suggested that The Flops goes on quite a lot. And it might be equally refuted. Sitting at home, and even in the stands, it can be hard to have a full appreciation of the sheer speed, and therefore, colliding forces, impact, centres of balance and  – even – the intentions to fall to the ground of our top, top players. Be that as it may, our officials still need to make decisions. Even when not in the best position, and at times further from the incident in question than some fans.

After the defeat against Fulham on Monday, Arsene Wenger responded to whether he agreed if the claim by Gervinho of being fouled by Phillipe Senderos was a penalty:

200%…anyway, we know we don’t get penalties. We had one against…err, at home in the last game against QPR, we had one today and [they’re] never given anyway.

But we (Arsenal) do get penalties. Walcott earned and van Persie converted one against Aston Villa on 21st December. But it was obvious Theo was fouled. Tugged back plain as day, and he didn’t need to hit the deck to make his point. Gervinho was clipped by Senderos, yes. And van Persie was bundled by Senderos…yes. But while in the second situation it’s feasible the referee Lee Probert was unsighted, in the first he may have been “turned off” by Gervinho’s fall.

And can we blame him, his officials or colleagues if that’s ever the case? Surely it’s far easier to forgive them for such missed decisions if  they’re not 100% certain a player is impeded or an indiscretion occurred. Even if a foul is committed, overacting it might achieve the reverse of what was hoped for. And even when decisions are given it’s not always clean cut.

Just last night, Man City won 3-0 against Liverpool and were awarded a penalty. Have a look. Can you tell me with 100% certainty that it is or isn’t one? You could argue that a 6’2″ man of about 14st (I’m estimating here, as City’s player page omits Toure’s weight) shouldn’t go down that easy. This might also be called “The Drogba Offence”. You may even speculate that having sprinted the length of the half to get there, Yaya felt it better to go down under any contact and get a penalty to potentially kill off Liverpool.

The alternative is to stay up and shoot from an awkward angle under pressure. With 17 minutes left to play, and his team just down to 10 men. You might equally argue that there was enough – even untintentional – contact from Skrtel at the speed Yaya Toure was travelling to send him tumbling. But you’d have to have a higher grasp of the physics behind such collisions than I.

What you can’t possibly argue is that the referee (who is nowhere near as quick as Yaya Toure, and so further down the pitch), or even the nearest assistant referee, can say with absolute certainty that it was or wasn’t the correct decision. But at full speed, and from a bit of a distance it looks like one. Doesn’t it?

And this is the point. For I think the tide should be changing in Premier League football: In the absence of absolute certainty, or even the degrees of certainty to which video technology would allow us to reach (and which I hope very quickly makes my following comment irrelevant) penalty decisions are all down to whether they appear to be one. In the past players could play to this a little with The Flops: ‘making the best of it’, exaggerating and ‘simulation’. But these days it might be best to try something slightly different. You know, players may actually benefit – like Theo did – from attempting to stay on their feet. And as a result we may lose the terror of The Flops, while maintaining a modicum of sanity.

Mother Hen

Quick blog as the day’s got a bit away from me. Still, as long as it’s longer than a tweet I can justify writing this here, I suppose. So:

But for some resolute defending and an international-worthy display by Wayne Hen(nessey) refusing to let us count goal(den egg)s pinched from his much guarded ne(s)t, we’d have taken the three points yesterday. Frustrating as it is we didn’t. But hay.

What we did do was pretty much dominate possession, but fail to get any reward from plenty of shots and fistfuls of corn(ers). Okay I’ll stop.

In all seriousness though it’s hard to be too critical. Against eleven men we created chances and against ten we just couldn’t find the second. I can’t say too much about Fletcher’s equaliser. It was lucky. From a deflected assist, he was onside and he put it in the only place Szczesny couldn’t have got to it.  I feel a bit silly because before the goal I was about to bemoan the Nervous Ned in front of me who was cursing every mistake (and player making one) like he’d a made a pact to piss me off. But it turns out he was right. That time.

Still, him calling Mertesacker a “pussy” was hard to swallow.

The positives are that Yossi did well in Theo’s position (and was probably knackered when he came off), while Rosicky, The Little Mozart, conducted himself well and hardly played a bum note.

It was his driving run, cut back and pass to Benayoun which enabled Gervinho to look the most assured he did all afternoon and put us one up. It was also Rosicky who – a couple of times – used his trademark feint turn (keep an eye out for that one) to get away form markers in the midfield before driving forward. And he also played some midfield and defence splitting passes before almost, almost, setting up the big German for a headed goal with a beautiful out side of the right boot flicked cross.

Super Tom could be on his way back, and I think Rambo’s got a fight on.

Having said that, the Welsh captain did well when he came on, and added that enthusiasm from the bench that I’ve mentioned we certainly need. More starting with effective, older and more experienced players would be a good thing I think. Let’s make the younger guns work to impress.

Random thoughts on a couple of other players:

Chamakh – I think that was Mauro’s eighth appearance of the season. Scoring one in every four, he now owes us a goal…

Arshavin – Was a pass, pass, passer when he appeared lacking the edge and guile we needed…although his little backlift, snap-shot was a reminder of the ability in those feet. Oh, how I wish it had gone in.

Anyway, what with all the teams around us (bar Spurs) dropping two points, we’ve missed a chance to sneak up the table. But it’s done. Onto QPR, and here’s hoping Paddock Kenny is unable to keep our ball game off of his grass.

COYG!

 
 

All for Toll (And Toll For All)

Well that was absolutely fantastic.

I spent yesterday evening in the Tollington in Holloway, and what an Arsenalsome night. I came out of Finsbury Park underground, my usual exit from all things Gunner-related, and took a stroll towards Holloway and into the unknown.

I’d not been to The Tollington before, but was reliably informed it was a fine place to drink, chat and be a total Gooner. I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Obviously I was there for the So Paddy Got Up book launch and, arriving quite early, asked one of the members of security personnel where said launch would be. Following instructions, I tentatively tiptoed my tall frame to the rear of the pub and (somehow) found myself at the front of two simultaneous queues that would last for a good three and a half hours.

Arseblogger was unmistakable in tone, and was looking relaxed before he gave a fine welcome and introduced his wife (Happy Belated Birthday, Mrs Blogs), and his brother the Mugsmasher. I was lucky to get my copy of the book sorted early, which handily left the rest of the evening for beer and random chats. Unfortunately, my planned strike partner for the evening couldn’t make it, and so I was on my own in playing forward.

But you’re never really on your own in an Arsenal pub as a Gooner…and certainly not with hundreds of others patiently waiting in line and/or drinking, and/or watching Man U and City exit the Champions League. So very soon I was talking and drinking with two regular away fans; Mark and Joseph.

Once I had established they weren’t contributors to So Paddy got Up (and they that I wasn’t either), I took a seat and we proceeded to watch the confusion in the eyes of people who weren’t sure whether they should ask for our signatures.

We perched on the end of what was to become the book’s contributor table, and managed to remain here throughout. We were asked if we should sign books once or twice but we declined, being honest folk, and went about our business of getting rounds in.

While all this was going on the Tolli was bubbling up nicely. As the United and City situations continued to look unfavourable for the Mancunians, I went in hunt of a few more established Arsenal bloggers so as to put names to faces and tweets to tones. I tracked down one half of Gingers4Limpar who was parched from a fair bit of signing, and then had a brief but enjoyable chat with Arse2mouse…and then Arse2mouse and Gingers4Limpar, and then Goodplaya, each of whom were top company. Then a little later on I introduced myself to the very finely-heeled (top shoes, I have to say) SianyMacalarny.

And, do you know, everyone was happy to chat and chew the fat. Meeting some of the people I regularly follow the blogs and tweets of was a very real treat. I’m not always the most forward of chaps, but in such friendly and relaxed surroundings a fine time was had, beer consumed and results and resulting songs enjoyed.

What’s more, I think I’ve found my new pre and post-match Arsenal pub. The Tolli staff were superb. Not content with having a pub rammed full of Gooners chanting “Thursday Night, Channel Five” at the Europa League bound Manchester clubs, the staff actually joined in! All the while delivering beer at the most impressive of speeds, and keeping smiles firmly on faces.

And actually, just thinking of yesterday evening puts the smile right back on mine. Last night it was good to be a Gooner, good to be at the Tolli, and good to enjoy the company of others just there to soak up the atmosphere.

Alas, I didn’t get to chat to many of the other fine people (bloggers or no) who were undoubtedly enjoying their own nights. But perhaps another time. And perhaps with a post-game pint or two.

They Came, They Sang, We Conquered

Staggering Dortmund Support

Having missed out on last season’s home tie against Barcelona in the Champions League, I think yesterday provided the briefest of hints of what a home European tie at the Emirates can be like. Of course Captain Vantastic did the business again, and we’re through to the knockout stage, with a job well done, but something else troubled me early on. And that was how the Dortmund fans out-sang us Gooners for much of the game.

I know away fans are usually loud, but the synchronised lake of yellow and black, was an incredible sight to behold, and more than once distracted me from an uninspiring start by Arsenal. A variety of co-ordinated sing-alongs, and hand claps – including a rendition of what sounded like Roll Out The Barrel – echoed from the corner of the Clock-End and East Bank, reaching us North Bank residents with little in the way of reply.

We tried our usual volume, but the Emirates wasn’t taking. Did the Dortmund game go to General Sale? I’m not sure. Perhaps people gave up trying to get to the game due to Underground delays, that accounted for the empty seats and so the lack of noise. Whatever it was, the Arsenal faithful were largely quiet.

Until we scored. Alex Song showed almost unbelievable (and somewhat uncharacteristic) style in passing three Dortmund players, and clipping a smart cross met by an RVP header that proved too powerful for Weidenfeller. And then the songs rang out, quite literally.

  • ONE SONG! We’ve only got ONE SONG!
  • 1-0 To The Arsenal!
  • Robin Van Persie! Robin Van Persie!
To which the Dortmund fans, quite rightly, responded with:
  • Sing When You’re Winning – You Only Sing When Your Winning!
I allowed myself a – perhaps, knowing – chuckle. Jimmy Nail’s hat on his head. Bang on.
Much of the Emirates last night only sang when we were winning. The support before was somewhat lacking, but afterwards you couldn’t shut us up. We went two up and the Dortmund fans kept singing. Then when Borussia pulled one back at the death, I could almost hear the collective gasp. The potential “Oh No” , and the fear we’d let another slip.
I don’t know what it is, but we seem to be progressing so quickly as a team that the fans on a match day (and I’m guilty too) are very quick to moan an complain, while fearing for our footballing sanity at the very slightest of slip ups. The team’s duty is to do its best on the pitch, but isn’t ours duty to do the best off it?
The one thing we need in 60,000 seater is atmosphere and support. Not everyone, but even half would be astonishing. After all, last night proved what 9,000 can do – even if they were wearing yellow and black.

Vindication?

I genuinely wonder what those who want/ed Wenger gone thought about yesterday. Because wasn’t the Frenchman vindicated in a fair amount of ways? I watched the game in S.London and it was surely one of the greatest games of football I’ve ever watched. It’s certainly one of the best starring The Arsenal, and it was probably one of the greatest shows of belief I’ve witnessed.

Twice we went behind, and twice we equalised. Gary Neville was having kittens at half time such was the quality of defence on show, but I cared about one thing only: Winning. That we conceded three goals highlights the issues we know are there. We struggled against crosses and corners, and until we can sing “Guess who’s Bac, Bac again”, Djourou will have to sharpen up at RB to keep young Jenks waiting in the wings. Likewise, ‘The Saint’ needs more of yesterday’s second half than the first if he’s to similarly frustrate a fit Kieran Gibbs. We battled, we pushed, we looked dangerous, and we found a team willing to prove we’ve got more than just a flying Dutchman to hold on tight to.

Ramsey, Arteta and Song grew as the game went on and Koscielny had another stormer, essentially nullifying Fernando Torres. In fact, Kos has such confidence at the moment that at one point he was tracking a player to our byline, got to the free ball first, slid, backheeled the ball against the chasing player, and deflected it out for a throw-in to us. Take note John Terry, that’s how you go to ground.

Theo – although needing to be far more alert to possibilities  in the final third – prowled the right and showed his fleet-footedness in the best way, while Szczesny is a keeper who has confidence enough to physically move our defenders to his preferred positions for set piece defence. Whether the Pole was lucky to be on the pitch after taking down Cashley Cole (not a red for me) is debatable.

But we won. We scored five against Chelsea at their place,  and this was not a considerably weak Chelsea side. Thankfully Drogba’s suspension prevented him from taking his usual delight in rippling our net, but with the Chelsea players on show it was still a fearful test. Our boys never shied away from it, and the jubilation that followed the final whistle was surely echoed millions. In S. London we jumped around like goons to the goals, and when the end of the game arrived a contentedness that has been lacking from supporting the Gunners of late was simply overflowing.

It might have been just one game in the season, but it was our eighth win in nine, puts us back in the hunt for the top four, and surely fills this squad with much needed belief that we can move forward with the players we have, and really make an impact on the season.

But most importantly, it gives us all belief that this squad of players, and this manager, after a poor start to the season, are capable of producing those special moments that we live for as fans. It’s a glorious memory. One provided by a new squad under the watchful eye of the old master. And one that I hope proves that it’s far from time for Mr Wenger to say goodbye.

 

Let’s get pOXitive

Hopefully you’ll forgive me for not posting yesterday, in the aftermath of what turned out to be a good win for a team that had never played together, provided two full debuts and a spark of light from the boot of Alex ‘The Ox/AOC/Chambo’ Oxlade-Chamberlain. Any post yesterday would have been lacking in any decent content, so today’s is a bit of a roundup of things of the last couple of days.

Starting with the Carling Cup, I decided not to go to the Emirates to watch an Arsenal XI play a competent Shrewsbury first team (a guy needs some money, to eat), but I listened to the whole thing on Arsenal Player, and was subject to the stirring, but slightly ill-placed “Men Will Become Gods” Arsenal advert at half-time…when Arsenal were, arguably, lucky to be level with Shrewsbury Town. We suffered a bit at the back; Djourou was made captain but looked lacking without a confident Szczesny behind him who – no disrespect to Fabianski – would probably have come and claimed a cross that ended in a goal from James Collins.

Still, from the extended highlights, it’s fair to say we rallied, created chances and Gibbs (who was getting a fair amount of stick on Twitter) equalised with a well adjusted and powerful header. Make no mistake, not an easy goal. Of course we had a first look at Park, who played well from what I’m told, another look at the improving Coquelin – who at one point lost the ball in midfield and chased hard back to make a vital interception in our area, and all round decent second half performances. I think Chamakh put a good shift in, and then there was, as Jack Wilshere calls him, “Chambo”.

Thrown into desperate front line duty at Old Trafford, our most expensive summer signing could well have been affected by such an introduction to life at Arsenal. But three things the boy obviously has are heart, confidence and ability. He played as a guy of his age might: not always making the best decision, but with an eye for a pass, the ability to beat a man, and the confidence to try the shot that ended in his goal. Afterwards he said it just opened up for him. On the contrary Alex, you’re being closed down. He’s about 25yrds out and it’s a very good strike. Low, hard, and – quite obviously – worth a go.

I don’t want to pour adulation upon him, but I think we can say he might be a bit of a player. His interview after the game portrayed a guy who loves to play and who wants to play, who isn’t shy and who says of Southampton:

“I couldn’t have asked for more, so I’ve got a lot of time for them and I hope to be able to play there again one day and show my appreciation. I’ll always have a place in my heart for them.”

Good to hear.

There’s calls for him to be included in the first team squad, but if anything I think he’ll be on the bench for a little while. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if he ousts a Theo or an Arshavin. Put the work in guys, there’s a new kid in town.

A few other bits to round up. For those still interested in the life of Francesc Fabregas, an ‘interview’ published in Sport that wasn’t very kind to Arsenal was never anything of the kind. A few misery guts called Cesc’s integrity into question, and it turns out the thing was compiled from old comments, his Barca presentation day and the active imaginations of the Sport editorial staff. Cesc said:

Got the apology and retraction from that magazine that made up an interview about me. Can’t believe some journalists. I will also get damages that I will give to charity. Hope it teaches them a lesson. I would NEVER say a bad word about Arsenal Football Club.

Hope it teaches them a lesson indeed.

Finally a couple of quick recommendations for you. I’m sure if you’re reading this Arsenal-themed blog you’re familiar with Arseblog, but I couldn’t help chuckle at this piece of information from Arseblog News. Also, can I genuinely recommend that you go here and read an interesting little bit from Gingers For Limpar. I’d recommend G4L, even if the wallpaper mesmerises. Perhaps that’s the point.

Anyway, it’s Bolton on Sat and there may be a preview from me before that. Still, in a week where we came from behind to progress in the Carling Cup, discovered that Mr Oxlade-Chamberlain knows where the goal is, and in which Spurs were knocked out of…the Carling cup, it’s not all doom and gloom.

See you.