Arsenal suffer a collective bad hair day

W.B.A. 2-1 Arsenal

I’m not sure whether ‘a bad day at the office’ does this one justice, though Arsenal clearly did lose the document they were working on, said something inopportune to Dave in accounts by the water cooler, before forgetting to submit their timesheet [this metaphor needs more work – Ed].

It was a classic case of Arsenal coming to the party with a chilled six-pack of their greatest weaknesses [now you’re mixing them – Ed]. Dreadful, switched-off defending, a key injury, his replacement having a mare then getting injured, a glaring miss, possession for possession’s sake and finally a lifeline spurned with a ballooned slip-up of a penalty.

It goes without saying that we should never have lost it – Cazorla’s penalty alone should have guaranteed that – but we shot ourselves in the foot with what Wenger called a “nightmare” performance where we “lost a bit of focus” and compounded it with “very, very poor” defending.

Honestly, we have seen it all before. Thankfully a little less frequently in recent times, so maybe it was at least an uncharacteristically characteristic Arsenal performance.

You could argue, in fact, that it’s been a horrible November (and don’t we know about those) because we’ve not played well since winning in Swansea on 31st October. Better to get a blip in form out the way now rather than in February? Yes.

I say that because the other night Sky Sports reminded me, thanks to a bout of insomnia, how competitive we had been in 2013-14 until the rot set in with that 5-1 trousering at Anfield. Our form has plenty of time to pick up. But with so many players injured – yes I am using it as an excuse, because it really is a massive factor – perhaps a loss of form was unavoidable.

To top it off, we lost Coquelin yesterday for time unknown. Please don’t say it’s a classic three-weeker, because ever since our inactive summer his has been the position most people have fretted most about in terms of depth. As Arteta showed yesterday, he’s simply not a DM, and that he’s at the tail end of his career is plain to see. Flamini is a decent squad player, but no match for Coquelin.

Ozil had a fine game but too many of the others didn’t. Bellerin looked rusty, Gibbs did OK (but is no winger), Alexis looked like a man who’s been overplayed and travelled across hemispheres, Campbell missed his one chance and neither of our central defenders were quite there.

To sum up: poor and a bit dispiriting. Much improvement needed and to say we are desperate for some players to come back is an understatement. It will make a massive difference.

Zagreb on Tuesday. At least we’re back in the saddle quickly, but Tony Colbert’s going to need to soak his magic sponge with some of Getafix’s potion.

Looking back, looking forward

I would have been delighted in hindsight for this international break to have been as unremarkable as all those that have come before, but for all the wrong reasons it ended up being the most extraordinary one I can recall.

I don’t know if it’s an overreaction to say that football is going to change in the light of what happened in Paris, but I think – in the short term at least – that’s exactly what will happen. We’ve already been told that security will be stepped up in Premier League games, and to be honest, that’s the right response. The events in Paris (and elsewhere) show that anyone is a target. However hard it is to get your head round or accept, that’s the truth of it.

Whether it will have long-term effects on football is hard to say. The optimist within me hopes not.

But right now the memory is utterly raw and there are some direct knock-on effects for Wenger. Are his French players ready to play? Particularly the ones who were at the game, who would have heard the explosion, felt the fear and watched the events across the city unravel? They weren’t at the races on Tuesday, but nobody really expected them to be.

If I had to guess, I’d say that our entire French contingent, if fit, will want to be out there (and ideally, together). It’s a bit of a cliché but “one for all and all for one”.

As was discussed on the Arsecast, perhaps in the case of Giroud there is no other option anyway. Alexis needs a break and I’d hope he won’t start at WBA tomorrow. But short of Gibbs stepping up to the plate, we might not have any other option. Most of the other mooted returnees are of course not ready to return – a situation with Made in Arsenal stamped all over it – so we are once again light on squad rotation options.

It’s hard enough to hit the ground running after normal international breaks, and this one could be even trickier.

But off we go again, and that’s the way it should be.

Vive les rip-roaring reds!

Left-back wings it to save the day

Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham

You wouldn’t have put much money on the cavalry arriving wearing a number three shirt and some underused boots, but Gibbs’ contribution was one of the nicer stories to emerge from a match that was at times pretty tough viewing for Arsenal fans. A gentle reminder from our left-back that it wasn’t that long ago we were all impressed at how he’d kept Monreal frustrated on the bench.

He was also the only British player on the pitch for Arsenal, with our cavalcade of homemade players all out injured or glued to the bench. It’s quite staggering that five of our injured core are British. Coincidence? Probably, but still.

It wasn’t that Joel Campbell played that badly; he fought manfully for the most part, and the fact he could not make a lot happen was not his problem alone. Is he good enough? His position as about seventh choice suggests not, but you can’t fault his workrate and he has proved his value as a squad member over the last four games.

The whole team struggled badly in the first half against an impressively committed and tenacious Spurs side, and that Cech was so impressive (and busy) says it all.

So a point is an excellent result given the circumstances, and focus now must go on getting some of that long line of injured players back within two weeks. There’s no doubt that the Cazorlas and Alexis’ of this world are running on empty – it’s a massive worry. In a perfect world (*sigh*) there’d be scope to rotate a bit when legs get this weary. But we have nothing else in the wardrobe other than Wilshere-shaped mothballs.

The thing is, as has been proven time and again, when we’re talking about Arsenal and injuries there’s no such thing as a perfect world – or if there is, it’s something like ‘only five men are out’.

That’s why we need to strengthen the overall squad in January. We have to accept that we are horribly injury-prone and adjust our thinking accordingly. What happens if, as if by some act of god, we were to buy two players and then everyone miraculously got fit? Surely it’s better to manage players’ frustrations at not playing than to grind the same core of fit ones into the ground.

Over to you Tony Colbert. May the Shad Forsythe be with you.

No place to Jekyll and Hyde

And so to the derby, which gets no less nerve-wracking with the passing of the years. I almost always profess my fear and pessimism prior to the game, which stands me in good stead whatever the result turns out to be.

But I do think it’s going to be a tough one. Under Pocket Tony, Spurs have become a lot better defensively and they’re clearly harder to beat (two things that seem plain wrong to type next to the word ‘Spurs’).

I read yesterday that they’ve ‘only’ let nine goals in, but we’ve only let eight goals in, so we’re no slouches in that regard. On that basis can we expect a low-scorer? Who knows, but I don’t think it will be 5-2.

Our defensive league form seems all the more peculiar given our expert resemblance of a sieve in all other competitions, where we’ve conceded 14 goals in six games. Consistency of back four will have helped in the league, but today we’re definitely without Bellerin and possibly without Koscielny.

I’m not really worried about their replacements. Gabriel didn’t play that well in Munich, but he wasn’t alone. And while the general consensus seems to be that Debuchy is gambolling around like a lamb, I think that’s a bit harsh. He’ll be better for the games and is improving.


It’s a strange thing that in a season where we’re competing very well in the league, we’ve already lost six games overall. The worrying thing for me is that we seem to switching off randomly. All three of our Champions League performances and our final Coca Cola Cup match had whiffs of complacency about them or at the least a lack of concentration (though Munich would have blown most sides away). And in the league, it was the same story on the opening day.

I don’t really understand why, but at least – bar that opening day – we’ve been very solid in the league.

We’ll need to be sharp with the ball today to counter their high pressing and can’t afford to feel sorry for ourselves after Wednesday. Giroud’s mini purple patch will help and he needs to impose himself today.

But now I’m blathering. A sure sign that derby day is upon us.

Come on your rip-roarers!

Assisters are doin’ it for themselves

Watford 0-3 Arsenal

At nil nil, as the minutes rolled on with the Hornets going shoulder to shoulder with Arsenal, I began to stew more and more on the FA Cup quarter final defeat in March 1987 when we lost 3-1 at Highbury. We should never have lost that. Bloody Watford! They were our bogey team then and yes – when it comes to Arsenal at least – I am not quick to forgive.

I needn’t have worried. Just when it was required, our resilience turned to ruthlessness and a ten-minute salvo buried the ghost of Barnes. Alexis – who else – hoovered up the ball from Ozil, saving the referee the bother of having to award a penalty. Just the seven in four for his club, or ten in six if you prefer. The man lifts us up by his bootstraps.

Giroud, who whether he likes it or not is becoming an effective supersub, then scored from another Ozil assist before Ramsey got his first of the season from a Bellerin assist.

Hey assister

Ozil created six chances yesterday, and this is Ozil at his finest: the essence of Mesut. Ghosting here and there, stretching defences and performing as a quiet assassin. He’s just so key to Arsenal now. Yes, he still has the odd peripheral game but he’s only human. Mostly, he’s just metronomically good.

Go assister

Ozil this, Ozil that – but what about Bellerin? If Coquelin was the story of last season then Bellerin is perhaps this season’s classic Wenger development. Last year Bellerin broke through, but Debuchy was nominally the number one. Now, there’s really no argument about who’s our best right back. Yesterday, again, Bellerin’s pace and directness caused havoc and led to a goal.

I heard it mentioned a few times last week, but he’s top of the ‘Clear Cut Chances Created’ list in the entire league this season. Let’s ignore for a second that this chart has clearly been made up. It’s still bloody impressive and in Ozil and Bellerin we have two outlets across the width of the pitch. Happy days.

Soul assister

What’s heartening is that we can now marry resilience with patience and then pounce. Though there were a few hairy moments (BFG and Cech almost conspired to do an Almunia), and had Watford chosen the right club they might have got closer to the green rather than hooking and slicing all over the place, the fact is we didn’t panic and when our chance came we took it.

Go assister

The spectre of Bayern clearly wasn’t looming that large, and the international week did not damage us too much, because it was an impressive second half performance all told. We go to Tuesday in good form, but in terms of qualification, probably with little expectation.

I think that might help us, and in our current form it could be fascinating. It’s an odd one for me, because on the one hand it would be incredible to clonk the unassailable Bavarians on the noggin, but I’ve got used to the concept of being out of it again this year, so I don’t envisage voluminous wailing on my behalf if we lose.

We certainly couldn’t have asked for much more by way of preparation.

Top work!

Going for it | AGM | Superhuman Alexis

The break nearly broke me

I try – lord knows I try – to get enthused by watching England, but unless it’s a whopper of a match I just can’t. This fortnight has been triply hard. Firstly because England have already qualified and could dance a naked jig on the centre circle while waving wet haddocks for all it mattered. Secondly because – big fan of the Baltic republics as I am – it was not a pulse-racing double-header. No pulses were harmed in this instance. And thirdly because we’d just turfed Man Utd right out of the Emirates without so much as a by-your-leave.

Which reminds me…

Was that performance really two weeks ago? I like to record such victories on this blog, but I got a bit waylaid on Sunday evening by, erm – there’s no other way to put this – beer. We had a loosener before the game, then we powered down a beer-flavoured plastic Emirates pint at half time to dry the agitated throats. It all went a bit wrong after that, I confess. We retired to a hostelry after the match to chew the cud of a fantastic performance and to let the crowds dissipate, but we slightly misjudged the whole crowd-dissipation thing and drank too many beers.

It’s not my fault. If we performed like this on a more regular schedule, we wouldn’t need to treat it like New Year’s Eve. But we don’t and we did and well, you know. I went to work on the Monday in the fug of victory and it was worth it. I bet I wasn’t the only one.

But what does it all mean?

Alan Davies on The Tuesday Club said it elegantly, and Wenger has since reiterated it: we have to go for the title. On the one hand it seems absurd to state it, because Arsenal should be ‘going for it’ every year – but football is a fickle mistress. On the other hand, despite the summer transfer stasis and the opening day hoop-la, here we are in mid-October in the thick of it.

Who’s going to take the league by the scruff of the neck? You might scoff at it being us, and to be frank I do too because I’m an epic cynic, but all the contenders have lost twice and the team that is the least ‘work in progress’ is probably us. Consistency of performance is the key here, and that’s where we’ve fallen down in the past. But that Utd game… can they keep it up… it’s the hope that kills you.

The AGM left me with mixed feelings

Two good write-ups from Tim Stillman and Angry of N5. I think the whole £3m fee was obfuscatory in the extreme and the silence from Kroenke was a bit embarrassing. Why bother coming if you don’t engage? You get the feeling he’d scrap it in a flash if he could.

But because he can’t take the club private he can’t do that (I hope I have understood this right). And that’s mostly because of… Alisher Usmanov who owns 30% of the club. Were it not for him Kroenke could and possibly would hoover up everything in his path and do whatever he likes.

Why am I torn? Without Usmanov, maybe even this level of transparency would not happen. But it’s Usmanov. So yeah.

There’s a game on

Of course there is. We’re at Vicarage Road tomorrow and I can’t wait. Superhuman Alexis seems to be fit, which is both baffling and brilliant. He’s scored three in two for Chile, six in three for Arsenal – so nine in five – and all with a dicky groin and a foggy jetlagged head.

Is it any wonder there’s talk of a new contract? I think footballers earn too much (what is it, 71p in every pound of revenue to the player?) but Alexis is so totemic, such a one-man whirligig, that all scruples go out the window. His skill and energy and dedication and sheer bloody-mindedness do not grow on trees. He’s the best player in the Premier League at the moment, and one of the best in the world. Even when neutrals buff off my Arsenal bias I’m not far off the truth in saying that am I? He’s incredible. Where would we be without him?

Who are the legends of today to match the Adams’, the Wrights, the Bergkamps, the Vieiras and the Henrys of this world?

We will look back at Alexis in that bracket. You know it.

Let’s corral the jet-setting rabble and get ourselves three points tomorrow.

Because we’ve got to go for it, and that starts tomorrow.

Come on you rip-roarers!

A shrug of the shoulder and a pffft

Arsenal 2-3 Olympiacos

I know it’s the most spoilt thing to say, given how other teams look on at our repeated qualification with envy, but I’ve felt fairly ambivalent about the Champions League for a while now.

Part of it is the familiarity of some of our opponents – Olympiacos being a prime example. Part of it is the seeding (now changed – to our detriment, in all likelihood), which for ages made our group stages a little pedestrian. And there’s an element of knowing the eventual outcome too: one of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich has been in the final every year since 2009.

But mostly, it’s Arsenal’s, and Arsene’s, complete inability to master the nuances of European football that has long ago worn thin. I wrote this tweet after the Zagreb game, but with a few exceptions and a few tweaks, it could have been used many times over the last decade and a half.

I can’t pretend to speak for the majority and wouldn’t even dream of trying, but if the people I sit with week in, week out, and some of the people I converse with over the electronic airwaves are any guide, the apathy about the competition is all too evident.

We lose in Europe, we shrug our shoulders. I was sitting in a different seat last night, but people weren’t tearing their hair out and they weren’t wailing or gnashing their teeth. We’ve seen it all before. We know we can’t win the competition: we aren’t canny enough, we don’t adapt and it’s beyond predictable watching us huff and puff – or simply amble – through it.

I’d love to have a crack at it, a proper go. With the right approach, tactics and a large amount of luck (always needed), there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be competing better than we are and going toe-to-toe with the best in the knockouts. But we’ve stopped doing that, and everyone seems to have got used to it.

Wenger’s defiance is fair enough: we can still make it through. But we’re going to need to change and change fast if that’s going to happen. Based on recent experience, I won’t hold my breath.

Public Flamini Number One

Tottenham 1-2 Arsenal

Sometimes, when a player shows some serious tekkers all you want to do is put the goal on loop, sit back and marvel. When that player is Mathieu ‘Nigel’ Flamini, the eyes bulge that extra bit out of their sockets.

Not once, but twice – our arm-waving, erstwhile ersatz left-back stole the show on a night when we needed someone to rise above the clamour. Normally, he’s the one ploughing into the clamour, arms and legs akimbo, so the whole world seems to have gone a bit nuts.

He deserves it though. I’ve always liked him. When he returned two years ago, he added some energy and bite to a midfield that was too timid at times. He doesn’t always get it right, and he’s no longer first choice, but you can’t argue he wasn’t man of the match last night.

It was a night for Flamini puns, which I particularly enjoyed (and got stuck into myself), though after he had scored his second, when he was on a ‘mat-trick’, it did amuse me when it was suggested that the perfect mat-trick was ‘left foot, right foot, red card.’

He certainly felt like he had a point to prove, and said as much in the post-match interview. I’d not cross him on a dark night after a glass of Pastis, if I’m honest.

The upshot of his renaissance – the phoenix from the Flams, if you will – is that we got one over the old enemy, and that’s pretty satisfying too.

I mentioned yesterday that it might be a night for Gibbs and Debuchy, and so it proved, though only the former really shone. Debuchy must have been watching sad films with Giroud.

Not the most fluid performance, but these events never are. We stopped the two-game rot with a goal worthy of winning any game, beat Spurs, and that’s good enough for me.

Props to you, Nigel.

After the game, Wenger couldn’t have been more effusive:

“We’re only making plans for Nigel,”

He said with a beaming smile.

“We only want what’s best for him.”

Wenger always was the altruist. Fair play.

“We’re only making plans for Nigel,”

He reiterated – not sure why, but he’s good like that.

“Nigel just needs that helping hand.”

That would have been enough, you’d have thought, but Wenger by now had the bit between his teeth:

“And if young Nigel says he’s happy, he must be happy, he must be happy, he must be happy in his work.”

Off Wenger went into the night, muttering something about a future in British Steel, and that was that.

Sweet and unsavoury

I must confess, I didn’t see Gabriel escaping his ban. I’m happy that he has, of course, as it was a nothing flick of the foot and was clearly provoked by someone with the Corinthian spirit of a piranha.

But I’m not quite sure how Arsenal ‘proved’ that Gabriel didn’t touch Costa (as I have read elsewhere), and even if that were true, does that mean intent is no longer a factor? It appears that Arsenal have tested the latest rules whereby the FA permits clubs to appeal “the legitimacy of the dismissal itself and against the severity of the three-game punishment”. I think it’s a common-sense result, which is the last thing I expected from the FA, but I’m not sure how the process now works if I’m honest.

Nevertheless, combined with a deserved ban for Costa, it’s bound to raise Mourinho’s hackles. Whether the whole unseemly affair ends up motivating Chelsea, or giving us the shot in the arm we need, only time will tell but I have my own suspicions it might benefit them more than us, beyond the obvious three points. You can be sure Mourinho will try to engender a siege mentality. I wouldn’t really blame him – it can work. Just ask George Graham. And Jose Mourinho.

Tonight, we’re back in the saddle after two straight defeats, both of which will have been more mentally than physically sapping. The Zagreb one because we were complacent and predictable, the Chelsea one because yet again we lost to them in the league and our pitiful league record continues.

I’m torn about the line-up. On the one hand beating Spurs should always be a priority, and our form needs reversing pronto, so we should play our strongest side. But on the other hand, I think Debuchy and Gibbs – to take two examples – would benefit from another game now, and will almost certainly be better for a second game in a week.

No reason why that extra rotation couldn’t come round on Saturday rather than tonight, but it doesn’t seem very Wenger to do it that way.

Certainly, we can’t let two defeats become three, then become four. So if we’re still stewing in our frustration, Gabriel’s un-ban hasn’t made a difference to the mood, and the thought of a derby hasn’t got the juices flowing, then we need our heads looking at.

We’ll find out more tonight…

(And for the eagle-eyed, stalwart few, yes, this site looks different. It’s a long story and I need to fix it all again. Joy, oh joy.)

Oli and Wally earn their lolly despite dilly dally

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City

A beautiful early autumn afternoon that saw me shedding layers as the match went on – sort of like a striptease, but without a single modicum of titillation – ended with what we’d all come for: a goal or two at home, and three satisfying points.

I would offer a more thorough match report, but as usual I failed to heed Matt Bianco’s advice and didn’t get out of my lazy bed. Then the day happened and here we are again in the evening. Increasingly, the days have a habit of doing this.

We missed a lot of chances. A lot. Better, I suppose, than not being able to miss chances because they weren’t there, but Stoke – now bottom – were not very impressive and we’ll have tougher assignments than that before too long. Let’s pluck a day out of thin air and call it ‘Saturday’. (Because you can lol all you like about Chelsea’s start to the season but it won’t go on forever, and you know what I’m thinking anyway so I won’t say anymore).

The goal Walcott did score wouldn’t have been scored by Giroud and the goal Giroud scored wouldn’t have been scored by Walcott, so I suppose that indicates perfectly well the benefit of not just having more than one striker, but of having different kinds of strikers. I liked Gabriel and I liked Bellerin and I thought Coquelin was absolutely superb.

Ozil won man of the match – which came as a surprise to me if I’m honest. Of course, his pass to Walcott was inch-perfect, and maybe that’s enough to warrant it. I have since read glowing reports of his contribution and his seven chances created, but from my vantage point at the time, looking at all eleven players a little bit rather than one player a lot, it didn’t really feel that way. He seemed to get a bit bogged down out wide. I guess that’s why Ozil divides opinion, even now: he’s hard to pinpoint at times. He pulls the strings under the radar but a whiff of the hang-dog doesn’t do him any favours.

Anything else? Well, the slither of an away end – I’d say they took about a third of their allocation – seems to be happening more and more these days. I don’t know how much we asked Stoke fans to pay for the away end – certainly not 62 fat ones – but perhaps cost is having more of an effect than we think. Maybe I’m wrong – do Arsenal release stats on away end attendance?

Final thought: we’ve started alright but City are flying. They have so much strength in depth that when Sterling and Silva are both out, they can still keep £28.5m Otamendi and £55m de Bruyne on the bench. We’ve rotated a bit ourselves – only five players have started all five games – but once we have Wilshere back, we’ll have even more flexibility and options in the midfield, and over the course of a gruelling season, we’ll need it.

Talking of gruelling… this headline. But I won’t apologise.