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.

…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!

Fan or fanatic? – There’s more to football than the attitudes of players.

What follows is a long, but personally important post:

Yesterday football returned to the Premier League. And, as with every season, a sort of renewal took place: New supporters, some in new seats, supporting new players in new kits as part of new lineups. New managers on the sidelines supported by new backroom staff, and new club employees doing their jobs at new places of work. New match officials. New programme sellers…All of this for a sport many love.

In some ways, new seasons are refreshing. I attended the Emirates yesterday with two good gooner mates, and en route were joined by a true newcomer. A very amiable American gent, and huge Arsenal fan, in the country just six days and up at 4AM Nebraska time just to by a ticket. He introduced himself at King’s Cross, joined us for our pre-game drinks, bought a shirt, enjoyed his first experience of the Emirates and rejoined us for our after game dissection.

Now, lots has been made, post Olympic wonderment – and hopefully more to come – of the state of the game we love. Gary Neville has today written a fine piece on that particular topic, although reading it does mean visiting the Daily Mail. In it he writes:

I’m delighted that the Olympics were so successful and proud of the sportsmen and women who worked so hard to achieve their goals to win medals for Team GB. But it’s just lazy to use their success as a stick to beat football.

He does well to consider things; looking at the effect on players of media coverage, agents and hangers-on, but it’s not just football or footballers’ attitudes that should be questioned. There’s something a lot of people are missing here, and that’s the attitudes of the fans themselves.

After finishing our pints outside the ground, our posse of four made for London Bridge to watch the remainder of the Newcastle vs Spurs match. There’s a Belushi’s on Borough High St and – with a taste for good burgers and a screen-laden venue in mind – we headed there for the second half.

Upon entering it was obvious there were Spurs fans eager for their team to do well. Only me and our new American friend were in Arsenal shirts, but we got a few looks, and a bit of friendly, tongue-in-cheek chat from one guy standing at the bar. He was obviously out to enjoy the day, drinking but level-headed.

He offered his hand in respect and was nothing but playful in manner.

We ordered our food, got some drinks and sat in the corner. By the bar was a young Liverpool supporter, probably all of 17 and absolutely crestfallen at the 3-0 loss to WBA. Across from us were a couple in their 60s and either their son or daughter with boy or girlfriend.

We watched for a while and then Newcastle scored.

Three of us four, including myself and the American (in Arsenal shirts), gave no reaction except to compliment Ba on a fantastic goal. One of us cheered. Not at anyone, not even provocatively, but cheered. I don’t know exactly why. It was a great goal and goal against against Spurs is never bad – it was in the jokey manner the chap at the bar had welcomed us in.

The middle-aged couple looked over.

Our food arrived.

Spurs fans, of whom their were probably twelve in Belushi’s were urging their team on. We sat quietly, talking about football while taking in the game. Jermaine Defoe equalised and the sequence of events that followed are blurred somewhat both by yesterday’s heat (and possibly alcohol), but also by the intensity.

The bar celebrated, but the gent in his 60s, who up until this point seemed rather respectable, stood up and (aimed directly at the four of us) raised his arms, making offensive gestures and shouting something to the effect of:

Guy: YES! GET IN THERE! HAVE THAT YOU GODDAM F*CKING GOONER C*NTS!

Well over the top and aggressively meant. I was stunned to silence (plus my burger was pretty good). So, obviously, was the American and one of my friends. But the other wasn’t and retorted in a considerably lower volume:

F*ck off mate, what was that for?

No answer came and the situation stalled for a while. We chomped more food and looked at each other disbelieving. Newcastle were in the ascendancy, and I had a thought:

Guys, if Newcastle score again I’m not even going to react. I think we should all just do nothing.

Why did I say that? Partly because I’m not one for confrontations and provokingly stoking a fire, but also because I didn’t want the guy to think his ridiculous display worth reacting to. If Newcastle scored again the goal alone would be a blow enough for him.

To be a frank his was a small-minded reaction to my mate’s cheering of a Newcastle goal. But my mate wasn’t being offensive or over the top, and he wasn’t even wearing an Arsenal shirt.

Regardless, I think the football gods must have been looking down on us at that point, and so spurred Hatem Ben Arfa between the flailing feet of Aaron Lennon and Rafael Van der Vaart for a sure fire penalty. We couldn’t help but smile at the guy’s reaction to a rather obvious penalty. We stopped eating and watched the screen.

A great pen, coolly taken, but then:

Guy: YOU F*CKING CHEATING DIVING C*NT!

Shouted the shouter, and it was too much for my mate who’d earlier retorted. He collapsed laughing at the guy and we couldn’t help but laugh at our mate. Not at the guy but at our mate’s reaction. The shouter said something about “f*cking gooner c*nts” and his (I guess) wife – quite rightfully upset by her man’s self-combustion into an expletive mess – stormed over.

What are you doing in here?! You come in here wearing your Arsenal shirts just to make trouble and stir it up!

Stir what up? Jeez. We drew to Sunderland, this is the first game of the season, we’ve come from the game and we’re watching football (because we like to) with a guy just into the country. And we wanted good burgers! This wasn’t a Spurs pub, but a chain restaurant with helpful staff and a jokey Spurs fan at the bar.

My eyes meet those of the daughter (or son’s girlfriend) and I shake my head and shrug shoulders in disbelief. None of us ‘reacted’.

What are you even doing cheering Newcastle goals?!

She demanded. I replied.

Err *pointing to our dumbstruck American friend* me and him are only two in Arsenal shirts and we’ve not cheered anything.

Lady: *Pointing to Mate A* No, but he has!

Mate A: Yes, I cheered a great goal and I’ll cheer any goal I want. I could be a Newcastle fan – how on earth do you know?

At this point the guy comes over to pull his wife away, and hopefully appreciate the embarrassment he’s more than helped cause. The four leave and me and my two mates are bemused by what’s happened as we attempt to assure our new pal that in our experience this is a very rare occurrence. It wasn’t as if we’d walked in a pub at Seven Sisters and started mouthing off. We were in Southwark, being quiet and appreciating a game.

We weren’t looking for trouble, just food, drink and to watch some football. One irate and incomprehensibly wound-up Spurs ‘fan’ made a mockery of all of that.

And I don’t dislike spurs fans. I don’t really dislike any fans. I don’t generalise my dislikes, nor do I  do anything other than, occasionally, play up to chat about rivalries and such. What Spurs, or any other club do or do not do is of no consequence to me apart from when it affects either the club I support or the game I enjoy.

And yet here was a gent who was sure we were intent on causing trouble and, probably because he thinks it’s how he should act,  was highly offensive to passive supporters of his clubs local rivals. We didn’t really react (“we’re not those kinds of people”), but can you imagine if we did.

So people can say that in the shadow of  the Olympics footballers and football needs to cast relative gazes mirror-bound. But I think it’s safe to say some fans do as well.

Because at the start of a new season, a fresh beginning, one thing we shouldn’t renew is the ugly side of support, and any accompanying belief that blanket dislike of other teams’ supporters is anything but damaging to our game.