We’re banking on Jack’s loyalty

Crystal Palace 2-3 Arsenal

I enjoyed that – well, most of that. Reverting to a back three (having previously reverted to a back four having converted to a back three in desperation at the back four not working – do keep up) seemed to give us a bit more attacking oomph, if not any additional defensive prowess.

I’d be complaining had we let in more than we did, but as it happened we pipped it thanks to a couple of dominant performances further up the pitch: in the middle from Jack Wilshere, who’s reaping the benefits of a few consecutive games, and Alexis Sanchez, who appeared to wake up from some form of mental hibernation to wreak mayhem. Combined, it was more than Palace could handle and it made for an entertaining game. That makes it two exciting to watch, if defensively wobbly performances in a row, so excuse me while I go for a lie-down.

At threes and fours

I’m not convinced going back to a back three answered many questions about the general competence of our defensive set-up. Chambers was the wild card, and given he’d not started a Premier League game all season I think he did OK.

People always say “you should grasp your opportunity when it arrives” but it’s easier said than done. I mean, obviously if you trip on your shoelaces, score an own goal then get yourself sent off in the space of 10 minutes then you’re not likely to be asked back. But players need game time to really grasp their opportunity, and that means more than one cameo appearance after six months in the wilderness. So that’s a long-winded way of saying Chambers did just fine, but needs to play more.

One, two, free

Where did I get to? Ah yes, the subject of this post. I know the contractual situations of so many Arsenal players is a boil that Wenger has so far been unable to lance, but it’s becoming quite acute now. In three days, Wilshere, Alexis and Ozil could all negotiate free transfers for the summer. On last night’s performance, that’s essentially our three best players.

We’ve known about them for a very long time. Alexis, despite Wenger saying he wasn’t for sale, was almost sold in the summer. If there was a buyer in January, and a replacement for him that could get us all excited and lay down a bit of a marker of our ambition (you at the back, stop tittering), then much as I’d rather keep him, I wouldn’t rule that one coming to pass in January.

Ozil, I suspect, is happy to stay until the summer then move onto pastures new. And that’s what I expect to happen.

Wilsh he or won’t he?

That leaves Jack, who I suspect is also playing a waiting game. Wenger is making positive noises, but the whole thing is so ludicrously late that Wilshere now holds every single one of the cards. I doubt it’s happened this way by happenstance either – it’s high-stakes for him if he gets another injury, but if he stays fit, waiting to the bitter end opens up his options and his earning capacity. Sometimes, it takes two to not sign a new contract.

So now we’re essentially banking on his love of the club to tie him down to a new deal – on terms that he can largely dictate.

I know he’s a huge risk to any potential buyer, and that he’s only just now reaching the level required to play week in, week out. But on last night’s performance there would be plenty willing to take that risk. Imagine if he left in January, or in the summer, and managed to keep this up? It would be sad to see and it could easily have been avoided.

I’m not the Arsenal bean counter, and I’m also aware you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. But of all the three whose contracts are winding down, is strikes me that his is the one that could have been done. He’s a bit of a talisman for the fans – an Arsenal fan who wears his heart on his sleeves. It was worth a gamble.

Giving him a new long-term deal sooner might have backfired, and it might yet – but I think it would have been worth a punt and the risk involved, and it wouldn’t have bankrupted a cash-rich club like Arsenal. Instead, we’re where we are now.

I hope Wenger’s positivity on this front is justified. Let’s see.


It was a game that had it all. Define ‘all’.

Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool

After last night’s game, Wenger joined Kelly Cates and Gary Neville on the grass at the Emirates (maybe the camera-on-a-string had run out of batteries) to chew the fat on a match that had it all. I use the word ‘all’ as it’s sufficiently ambiguous and can be taken to mean ‘zero defending’ or ‘a baffling lack of understanding of what to do’, but I urge you to let your imagination run wild with your own take on what ‘all’ might infer in the context of last night.

He described how our dismal first half performance was ‘psychological’; a hangover from the Utd game (to which as Arseblog says, reasonably and with an admirable lack of beating around the bush, “Get over it”).

He then went on to lament how we were “a little bit naive defensively” to let the third goal in, at which point my eyes rolled round my head like a waltzer, I scratched my beard contemplatively and wondered to myself: where have I heard all this before?

Arsenal in a nutshell

What you have in that one interview is the essence of every Arsenal side since about 2006. Beset, on and off, by psychological issues and serially incapable of taking a grip on a glorious situation.

Add to that the sheer incoherence of what we were doing before that four-minute splurge, and you’ve got it all. Liverpool have a game plan that involves breaking at pace and countering lethally. It really works, though we can be thankful that their defence gives ours a run for its money when it comes to individual errors.

Our game plan these days is harder to ascertain. What were we trying to do? Bizarrely, it looked to all intents and purposes that for the first 25 minutes we were firing long balls over the Liverpool midfield. We couldn’t keep hold of the ball for love nor money and how we went in at half time only one down I do not know.

Back from the dead

Then came their second, and it seemed to be all over. Step up our saviour – Mr D. Fensive-Error, who conspired to draw us level (though props to Sanchez for his determination and to Xhaka for firing off that howitzer), before Ozil applied the icing on the least likely cake by chipping it in, via the ground – though it’s so good that even now I can’t quite work out how he did it – to give us the lead.

It was a turnaround in fortune that would have had Lazarus nodding in approval, but did it last? Did it Sheringham.

So 3-3 it ended, a game that couldn’t have been more late-era Wenger’s Arsenal if it stood up, put on a long tubular coat and sang a sea shanty called ‘Too Much in the Wanting Zone’.

Exciting? It was, from beneath my duvet (pre-Christmas flu – joy to the world). For all its faults, and they were manifold, there were goals everywhere, in short bursts and against the run of play, and it was a febrile, Friday-night, Christmas-fuelled atmosphere that reminds you how the Emirates can be when it wants to.

Take it at face level, and it was the kind of game that has the Premier League’s marketing men drooling. No doubt to have been in the crowd during those four minutes will stick in the mind for a very long time. Damn you, Christmas flu.

Just don’t look too objectively at where we are, where we’re going and what that performance says about the general state of things at the club, and we’ll all be fine 🙂

Merry Christmas to you all. I’m off for a stiff lozenge.

Christmas time, Mesut O and Wayne

Arsenal v Newcastle 151217

Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle

Firstly, an apology. After the World Cup of Christmas songs (congratulations to the Pogues for pipping Wham to the post) I had my heart set on inserting a cheesy Christmas song into the title of this blog post.

It’s a terrible pun

Yes, yes, I know. But here’s the pun-manufacturing thought process: Obviously the word ‘Christmas’ would fit the bill here for obvious contextual reasons. Then with Ozil having scored, I was thinking Mesut this, Ozil that (“The Mesut wonderful time of the year?”). And then the Mistletoe and Wine lightbulb went off, and goddam it wouldn’t go away even though I hate that song, though for the life of me I couldn’t make the last bit work. But lo! – manna from heaven! – I read that Wayne Rooney thinks Wenger should have sold Ozil in the summer. So there’s the angle I needed, folks, to make it sort of work – I have nothing to *actually* say about what Wayne Rooney thinks about selling Ozil, because we didn’t, and I’m glad, but I’ve shoehorned it in anyway.

But the goal was good

Onto the game. Let’s start with the tortured subject of the aforementioned tortured blog post title. Because it would be the highlight of any game, let alone one without that many highlights. Beautiful technique, and it was the kind of game that was going to need something special to break the deadlock. Overall, Ozil had a fine game: languid, understated – not exceptional, but very good.

That aside – it was all peak late-era Wenger Arsenal, with the kind of wastefulness we’ve grown used to. Players always looking for the extra pass – you know the drill. Once the goal went in, the win never looked much in danger because Newcastle were so poor, especially in attack, but the inevitable period of nerves duly arrived thanks to only being a goal up. Still, we survived that and scuttle up to fourth in the league.

More oomph needed

A little bit flat, to be honest, and the crowd responded to that lack of intensity by largely keeping shtum. It wasn’t off-your-seat stuff, but then these days it only ever is in short bursts, or for the odd game.

Easy to blame the crowd for sitting there semi-mute, but it takes two to tango, which is why the noise level finally rose when Maitland-Niles (playing very well at left-back) shot off on a mazy run that ended with the side netting rippling. You see, the formula for getting us excited isn’t that hard: take the bull by the horns and put the opposition under some real pressure.

Take a few risks, run at them. Run at them! Play like we did against Spurs! Ozil did something similar later in the game, and the decibels rose again. Look, you can’t boil down the essence of football into one word, because it’s a hundred things at once, but for me going to the ground and getting a buzz of adrenalin from seeing my side assaulting the ramparts of the opposition like a stormy sea against the harbour is one of the things I love the most. And we don’t see that enough at the moment in my humble o. The storms are few and far between.

Up for grabs in the middle

Jack deserves a shout, because he played well and in Ramsey’s absence that slot is his. I’d wager that Xhaka’s the one who needs to worry, because he was his usual lackadaisical self. To that suggestion I will merely say ‘yeah but Wenger’. That’s to say, Jack might deserve to play but second-guessing Arsene is a mug’s game and he remains pretty loyal to Xhaka.

So a win’s a win and there were bright periods, but it was the kind of Arsenal performance that gets us relegated to about fifth on Match of the Day.

A 6/10 kind of a day, with special nods to Ozil for scoring a glorious goal, to Maitland-Niles for being young and being bold and doing well, and to Jack for slowly getting better and doing some simple things well.