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.

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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!