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.

Screenshot_2.png

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.

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.

…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.

Na na na na – Giroud!

The season is almost upon us. A tour of Asia, has come and gone. Transfer sagas have, like a lingering parp, failed to dissipate quickly, and the worriers are readying their woe.

But while there’s been some bad news in regards to Jack Wilshere, and some trepidation in regards to the return of Abou Diaby (he’s 26…wow), let us not forget we’ve signed two very capable players.

And you know, every good player deserves a good chant or song. So while I ruminate on a Podolski-based version of Agadoo, there’s been some tuneful suggestions doing the rounds on twitter with regards to Olivier Giroud.

So I thought I’d share a Frankenstein’s monster of a version of that ditty with you. After all, what better way to carry on into the new season than with a spring in our collective Gooner steps and a song in our hearts?

Ladies and gentlemen then, here are two verses and the chorus of a much-improved* McCartney classic (also serving to soothe the pain of never being able to give life to my Wings-inspired JET chant).

Kudos to Briggsy (@AFCHymnSheet) for the first verse, and @KeithTheGooner for constant tweet-based renditions. Let’s hear it! Sing, tweet and RT. You know you like it.

Giroud, don’t be afraid. We take a good player and make ’em better. Remember to let uns into your heart, and then we can start to get better!

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!
Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

Giroud, don’t pass the ball. Have a shot and score a cracker. Remember, if you get into the box, you can outfox, ’cause you’re an attacker.

tacker, tacker, tacker, tacker…

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

COYG!

P.S: For those you of you following me on @alltheskill, thank you. This account will be made defunct in the new season though, and this the last post to tweeted there. To keep following me, you’ll need to head over to @KevinPocock

(*Arsenalising things makes them better).

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.

 

The New Reality

First, a quick apology for my absence of late. Work, sleep and illness have all conspired against me. But I’m back, and I’m…<smart comment here>. Anyway to business, and it really does feel business-like such is the enormity of the matters in hand for a follower of The Arsenal these days.

You see during the mauling at Old Trafford (apologies for the memory), a good gooner mate said, although I thought it a little reactionary after, that “this is the new reality”. Having just witnessed and taken scant pleasure from a dominant City team beating Spurs, we ourselves got one hell of a shoeing. The sentiment was easily agreeable at the time. We’d be fighting for the top four if we were lucky, and we had an interlull and, hopefully, new players to come.

After that period we sort of regrouped, sort of got some results and a little bit of Russian luck, and were then unceremoniously body-slammed by a combination of poor refereeing, a lack of belief, and…well, Blackburn. Three wins on the spin were a welcome change, and then there was Spurs. I’ve not posted since the Spurs game for no other reason than I almost resorted to A Clockwork Orange-style eye tactics to actually watch the game. And because the week previously I was barely with it enough to feed myself (exaggerated for sympathy), the work I had to do after the result left me little time to post.

Still, now I am. And now I can say that it wasn’t very good. I suppose we knew that, but I can’t state otherwise. It’s a bit late for a full dissection of a disappointing result (although it’s arguably no worse a result than last season’s home fixture), but when you’re 2-1 down with 20 minutes left you expect far more than we saw. Mertesacker goes up top, and no balls are lofted to him, while a more experienced player going forward in Song, who let’s not forget set up the goal, sits back. It doesn’t make much sense. Injuries and all don’t help in such situations, and neither do decisions that go against you, but at WHL the players’ decisions seem wrong, the spirit seems lacking, the concentration looks absent and fight had gone AWOL. In short, it’s hard to argue we deserved the win.

But it’s bad isn’t it? It’s actually at the point where I look at our next three home games, in cup an league, around an away trip to Marseille and wonder whether we can win them all. Can we even get six points from Sunderland and Stoke? And if not from Sunderland, struggling with a poor start to the season, where does that leave us?

16 Sun Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League H Sunderland 13:30 SS1
19 Wed Add to Calendar UEFA Champions League A Marseille 19:45 Player
23 Sun Add to Calendar Barclays Premier League H Stoke City 13:30 Player
25 Tue Add to Calendar Carling Cup H Bolton Wanderers 19:45

The answer is with an away trip to Chelsea on the 29th Oct, and right now that’s scaring the hell out of me. And yet another answer seems to be doing the rounds on Twitter, coming to my attention via @DarrenArsenal1.

Blimey, eh?

I don’t think I can correctly construct any sentences to match my thoughts on this. No doubt it will be noddingly approved by some, and sicken furious others should it be unfurled at a game (I would sit solemnly fidgeting), but everyone is entitled to opinions on the club they love. I’ve mentioned before that I can’t think that refereeing decisions or injuries can really be the fault of Wenger. Yet he himself has agreed in the past that football is a results business, and it is managers who need to produce those results. If a decision goes against the team, you need to get them back up and going. If your team goes down you need to keep them believing. I think Wenger is still the man to do this, but clearly some do not.

So I don’t know where we are the moment. It’s like I’ve finally gotten some sleep and awoken from a rolling nightmare, only to find myself adrift upon the good ship Arsenal, which has mistakenly sunk a tribal village’s kayaks and has run out of both the necessary fuel to power out of a hostile situation, or the required dialectical knowledge to charm away the danger. Ah, talking ships. I think it’s time for me to call it a day. But not before I reveal my secret weeping over the Arsenal injury list at PhysioRoom. Hang on, Szczesny’s injured?

Well at least there’s the rugb…oh.

AllTheBest.

A Reactionary Error

I think I made an error over the weekend. Not in going to the Gooner friend’s flat from which I am now – hopefully jokingly – barred from watching those games I cannot get to at – and barred because we normally lose or occasionally draw.

My error wasn’t even the optimistic amounts of wine I ‘tasted’ on Saturday night, leading to a terrible headache combined with the recollection of a 4-3 defeat, both of which steadfastly accompanied me throughout  Sunday. The error wasn’t then going to a local bar to watch the Sp*rs vs Liverpool and then ManU vs Chelsea games, and to then wonder how The Arsenal will fare in the reckoning this season.

No, my error was in not keeping my head, my sense of footballing rationality, and bending under the weight of negativity experienced in the wake of a defeat.

I’ve mentioned before that I count myself fortunate to have been supporting Arsenal since a time before it was the norm to assume that we would challenge for anything. Indeed, one year in the not too distant memory we actually finished 10th. TENTH. To steal a line from an Arsenal glory day:

WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT?

Who remembers that first season in the Premier League? Here it is courtesy of ArseWeb:

                              P   W  D  L   F   A   W  D  L   F   A   Pt
Season 1992-93
 1. MANCHESTER UNITED        42  14  5  2  39  14  10  7  4  28  17   84
10. Arsenal                  42   8  6  7  25  20   7  5  9  15  18   56

No doubt the very thought of us finishing 10th this season would send shivers down some Gooner spines, but then there we’d ago again with the psychology of deserving fans, and it wouldn’t be the first time that happened for many of us. Of course we can raise questions as to how our beloved club has fallen in form in the last two, few, or several seasons – indeed as a football fan it is our place to question as well as support our clubs.

But we shouldn’t fail to forget that “Arsenal’s present lack of success is scarcely a drop in the ocean”, as mentioned in an excellent piece by Sam Wallace today for The Independent. Indeed, in terms of Wenger’s record, our current ‘success’ (and we might define that more by fourteen successive Champions League qualifications than the odds-against acquisition of four trophies we consider ourselves as having a shot at) isn’t suffering too badly either.

Those shots at trophies may have gotten longer of late, and our form in the here and now might suggest that some sort of disaster is occurring. Yet, if like me you find yourself uncharacteristically down in the dumps at the moment I’d urge you to re-assess things in terms of a longer perspective (and remember this and this for some light relief). Football seasons are long. Football histories are longer. We’re not in a good way, but let’s not forget that it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. That Arsenal is still here, and that it is so well regarded globally is something we should be thankful for.

We’ve survived and endured as a club, and recently shone thanks to the very man currently in control. If he does go in the not too distant future, and if that is what is ultimately needed to change our trajectory (although I don’t believe it is), let’s not make the error of forgetting the club’s past; the more recent as well as the almost forgotten. And some of the glory in between.

Blackburn 4 – 3 Arsenal – A Game of Moans

Highlights

Well that wasn’t very enjoyable was it? It’s easy to look back on yesterday and think that our club is embroiled in some sort of Shakesperian tragedy set in a tunnel of woe with few glimmers of hope. Rumours of Arsenal’s demise may well – to coin a phrase – be greatly exaggerated, but it’s not exactly happy-go-lucky right now.

When Gervinho scored in the tenth minute, I smelled goals. A smart pass in behind the Blackburn defence from Song saw Gervinho let the ball run behind him and swerve to get his angles right before rolling the ball beyond Robinson. We looked in the mood, we looked comfortable in possession and we (and he) looked a threat.

Yakubu popped up with a deft finish fifteen minutes later. He was certainly onside, with new boy Santos sitting too deep, and Koscielny appeared to flail an arm suggesting some defensive partner made of thin air should go with his man. The thin air cared not a jot, failed to listen, and it was 1-1.

A defensive lapse, but not disastrous. We went again, and with Rambo sent into the box a lovely cut-back found 94% pass accuracy man (working title), Mikel Arteta. BOOM! Chants of “Who are ya?” could be heard from the away end.

Except who Blackburn were yesterday were a team deservedly at the bottom of the table at the start of play, but who would then find themselves acquiring three goals without reply. Not before Gervinho had the chance to play in RVP for an odds-on goal, but opted to go himself and saw his effort blocked away for a corner. The captain’s glare said it all – 3-1 and you would have fancied we might go on from there.

Our chance of taking the game by the scruff of the neck gone, a combination of poor confidence, poor focus and an almost tangible otherworldly mischievous spirit decided to stick collective oars in and capsize us. Arshavin, having kicked last season’s habitual laziness actually chased back, covering for his left-back. But the game decided to play funny and punish him for such audacity. The free-kick he conceded was a clipped ball in that nobody attacked and got rid of and just bounced off a statuesque Song into the net.

Whether Song could do much about it is arguable, but from then on it was like watching a team familiarly bewitched. Sagna limped off struggling with an earlier curse/challenge, and Djourou came into RB and very quickly got himself booked. A second for Yakubu came as we failed to clear a deep corner, but he was plainly offside as he scored, something I’m stunned an official looking right across the line couldn’t see, but perhaps a decision made harder by Santos – again – being deeper than his defensive partners.

3-2 down, Walcott replaced Arshavin, and with Martin Olsson, a man actually capable of tripping over thin air (and once shamed by Sam Allardyce, such is his character) running down our left, you’d expect an in-form and confident Djourou to take everything into touch. If not, at least a passing ant could probably trip the Swede. But Djourou, whether anxious having already been booked, seemed to falter at the last and missed the ball completely. Once Olsson was in behind – miraculously mastering his centre of balance like a regular everyday person –  Song attempted a weak as you like flail of the leg, and it was the much-maligned Koscielny who then provided another OG, celebrated by Steve Kean like some part of his own master plan.

Horrible, horrible.

Chamakh was called upon, and with five minutes of normal time remaining the Moroccan scored a fine header from an RVP cross. A goal Chamakh and the team needed, and Kean decided not to celebrate this time. Mertesacker and Chamakh then both missed headed chances and RVP had a shot stopped by Robinson and a bizarre and painful game soon came to an end. And then more pain erupted. Twitter is a harsh place to be after a defeat like that.

Gooners claiming the club is now in “freefall”, or that they were “ashamed” to support Arsenal bewildered me. It’s not happy viewing at the moment granted, but yesterday I found myself somewhat taken aback by the outpouring and even more taken aback to be agreeing with Rio Ferdinand:

Talk of “Wenger Out” isn’t for me, but this morning even as someone who errs on the positive side of things I’ve staggered myself by thinking about Rio’s tweet. Some are so “eager to get rid of him…” but…but what?  “How do we change that?” is the question that comes to my mind, and it’s something that needs to be figured out by Wenger, by the players, by the coaching staff and – preferably – quickly. Whether we should separate the end of last season’s form from the start of this is debatable, and we might call this a transitional phase with the new players coming in, but however I package it to myself I have to admit that luck can only be blamed so much. Logically, luck alone won’t put us 15th with 4pts and a -8 goal difference after five games, and we have to admit some failings. Failure to not defend properly. Failure to not take chances to stretch leads. Failure to keep concentration.

Such failures will do more damage in the course of a season than occasional failings of luck, and so they’re failures we can’t afford to keep entertaining.