Out of the frying pan…

The god of fixtures really did get out of bed on the wrong side when he insisted that we should start this season – the one with the biggest change at the club since 1996 – with two of the hardest matches of the season. It’s certainly been a baptism of fire for the new man.

If you pick your team based on form (form after one game – is that form?), then I think we’ll see Lacazette start today, as he really was up for the fight on Sunday. I’d also be inclined to play Lichtsteiner at left-back. We had several undercooked players on Sunday (Xhaka being a good example, but not the only one), so having another in Monreal might be too risky. Our new Swiss spring chicken added a spikiness and nous to the game, even if it came to naught, and personally I’d be happy to see him retain his place.

I think we might see Torreira ahead of Guendouzi too. More caution away from home was largely anathema to Wenger, but Emery is (by all accounts) a more tactical manager, and he may opt for a more cautious approach. Adding Torreira to the midfield may stifle creativity, but it should also tighten us up.

I’m not sure what I expect from this game, other than to see some players come into better form, and to see the system Emery wants a percentage point or two more effective. It’s a tough ask, but this is the very beginning, so expectations, while not lower, may be different.

Patience really is a virtue

I listened to the Arsecast yesterday, in which the issue of early criticism / patience came up. It seems extraordinary to even be talking about it now, but it bears repeating: nothing happens immediately in the aftermath of a wave of the managerial wand. This is especially true given the previous spell lasted 22 years.

I think Emery should be judged after one year at the earliest, at which point we should be able to see if his blueprint is beginning to work. But preferably, he should be judged after two years, at which point the players will be more his, and the plan will be more settled. Anything sooner than that – barring a complete collapse – serves no real purpose.

Being there on Sunday was a salient reminder not only of how good City are (and they really are superb: powerful, quick, organised and ruthless) but also of how much work needs to be done at Arsenal. There’s so much to do. It’s going to be fascinating watching Emery try to make his mark, which is why as well as being a bit heart-in-the-mouth stuff at times, even if playing out the back is as a bit Keystone Cops for several months it’s worth persevering with. We all cried out for something different. That’s what we’re getting, that makes it exciting, and as the players become more comfortable with it, it will become clearer and more natural.

Right, into the fire we go…

 

Up for the Emery era

Like Arsène Wenger, I’ve almost certainly been going on too long, but I’ve convinced myself that I’ll be honest enough to bow out gracefully when I’m no longer delivering the goods. Except here I am, having another tilt at this blogging lark.

Decent metaphor, except that Wenger had a really successful first period, and was one of the greats of the game *checks stats, coughs, shuffles off*.

Well, anyway, here I am again. Blogging season number 16.

Out with the old

This time though, Groundhog Arsenal has been consigned to history – or so we hope. With Emery, we have a fresh start, and whether it turns out to be the start of another golden age or a difficult second album is neither here nor there to some degree. It’s just something different, and something different is good enough for me.

It would have been an interesting A/B test to have started Emery’s first season with exactly the same squad as Wenger’s last, just to see whether what many of us suspected – that things had gone stale and the existing squad was underachieving – was true.

But of course football doesn’t work that way, and with Arsenal last year it wasn’t simply a case of the players underachieving: it was also true that the squad was, man for man, poorer than those that finished above it.

In with the new

Which would explain why instead of standing still – Wenger tried that one summer when only Cech came in, and look what happened there – Arsenal have been busy from the get-go. Cover at right-back, an experienced centre-back, a new keeper, a holding midfielder and a ‘prospect’ in the shape of Gwen Doozy. Who if he goes on the lash is Gwen Doozy’s boozy do. Who if he goes on the lash at a square dance is Gwen Doozy’s boozy do do-se-do. But anyway, I digress.

Where was I? Ah yes, gaps have been filled.

Whether this is enough is of course a moot point, and certainly when you compare it to this summer’s transfer pacesetters Liverpool, you could argue that it’s not. But we’ve also got two £50m strikers whose careers at Arsenal are pretty new, so it’s an ongoing rebuild. And we don’t have £120m from the sale of one of our players burning a hole in our pocket either.

Whilst I’m sanguine about the forthcoming season, I’ve watched pre-season with the required detachment – it just doesn’t mean that much, some players aren’t here, match fitness is short, and overall whether we win or lose it’s hardly a reliable harbinger of things to come. The crunch will come soon enough – just a week now – and we couldn’t ask for a more daunting challenge than Man City.

What do I expect from this season? As I said, just something different. A commitment to ironing out the endemic issues that plagued Arsenal for years. A desire to go head-to-head tactically and beliefistically with the teams above us – against whom we’ve got a poor recent record.

It’s something new, and that’s exciting. The Guardian has us down for fifth, and while I don’t agree with everything the article says (I don’t think there’ll be any people questioning the wisdom of getting rid of Wenger, for example, even if results aren’t what we’d like), I’d say the position is about right. We have new players to bed in, a new manager trying to make changes at somewhere that hasn’t really changed much for years, and we have old players who need teaching new tricks – all  these things need to happen at the same time.

A kick up the chops

But for me, it’s less about the final position and more about reinvigorating a team that had run out of ideas and had become too predictable. And – because of course it’s all about me – it’s also about invigorating myself. I’d got a bit too cynical and a bit too disengaged, and while the fun is as much in the going as it is in the winning, taking a leap into the unknown after 22 years of being cuddled up in the Wenger comfort blanket feels exciting.

I can’t wait for it to begin again and I’m not the kind of reactionary who’ll be all #EmeryOut by September if things don’t work out. These things require patience.

Of course, if things haven’t picked up by October there’ll be hell to pay 🙂

Bring on the new era.

Arsenal send Arsène off in style

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Arsenal 5-0 Burnley

A perfect ending. The sun set on Wenger’s tenure at the Emirates, with the team on the one hand lashing five past Burnley, and the club on the other getting the tone spot on in a goodbye that gave Le Boss the farewell he’s earned and deserved.

It was an emotional day – one for reflection but also for thanks and for looking forward – and the mood was bubbly and celebratory throughout. “Why can’t the atmosphere be like this every game?”, asked my brother. A fair point – it was certainly raucous for most of the match, with numerous, throaty renditions of ‘One Arsène Wenger’, paeans to Per Mertesacker and plenty of other Wenger-era songs that have been gathering dust in the attic brought out for a Sunday drive.

The match was irrelevant, to some degree, though of course had we ended up seventh we’d have had to start our Europa League campaign about three weeks ago, so it was good to put that piece of time travel to bed. Needless to say, there were some lovely performances and some beautiful goals under the May sunshine. As Wenger said after the match, this team is team is better than many people think, and though there’s plenty of evidence to dispute that, on a day like yesterday you can see that the next man to take to the touchline will have some fantastic tools to work with. It’s a plum job, alright.

Sent off in style

And so to the end. In a sea of red, two floating sausages emerged (no caviar was available, but that’s OK because we haven’t been so used to that recently), one with Wenger’s face draped beneath it, the other with his trophy roll-call, and the party began. Bob Wilson and Pat Rice were the perfect compères, Wenger was awarded the gold Premier League trophy for going unbeaten, he then said some measured but lovely words before lapping up the adulation as he walked round the pitch, and that was that.

As I said, it couldn’t have been better pitched. I took my two boys along, who won’t forget an occasion like that in a hurry, and nor will I. I dread to think how much and how often I’ve thought about Arsène and his teams over the years – every day, repeatedly, is probably the honest answer – but now it’s over, and the next time I go to the Emirates there’ll be a different man on the touchline, almost certainly quite a few new faces on the pitch, and a new era will begin. I’m looking forward to that, and I have been for a while.

But I’m also proud that we saw Wenger off in a way I always knew we would. With class.

 

Au revoir Arsène, and thank you

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In the end, the announcement came out of the blue, pushed onto the Arsenal website and social channels with the simple words: Merci Arsène.

That’s it, it’s over. Wenger finally pulled the plug on his 22-year reign with delicately chosen timing. There’s long enough to think, to weigh it all up, and to soak in some of the extraordinary memories he created. There’s time to give him the send-off he deserves, to find someone new, and to focus on ending his final season at Arsenal with a final hurrah in Europe.

So yes, thank you Arsène. Thank you for transforming our club, for building those teams of grace, power and panache, and for going head to head with the best teams in the land, for the biggest trophies there are. Any history of his reign will be nuanced, some would argue chipped around the edges, thanks to the latter half of his tenure, where in league and European terms at least he presided over a slow decline, but as time goes by I have no doubt he’ll be remembered for what he is: one of the best managers, if not the best manager, in Arsenal’s history.

The good, the bad. The mostly good.

Some legacy. The results, trophies and near misses – three titles, seven FA Cups, one Champions League final, one Uefa Cup final, a few League Cup finals and just the one FA Cup final defeat – are just a part of it. Beyond that there are the well-documented changes to things like player nutrition and diet. There’s the rapier-fast, ruthless football that changed Arsenal’s tune completely. There’s his role in the move to the Emirates Stadium, there’s his intelligence, good grace and social conscience. His humour and ability to delve into deeper societal issues. The way he trusts and defends his players, even at times when, quite frankly, they don’t deserve it. OK, in the interest of balance there’s his stubbornness too, and his myopia. But how many managers aren’t a bit like that?

So that’s Wenger the manager; Wenger the man. But for me, as for most Arsenal fans, it’s more complicated than that. His astonishingly long tenure means there are Arsenal fans out there in their mid-to-late twenties who’ve known nobody else at the helm of their club.

The end of an era

I’m a bit longer in the tooth, but I was 25 when he took over. It’s heading towards half my life ago. I look back at 1996, and it genuinely feels like another time. A different world, a different England and a different me. So as I’ve grown up, moved jobs, got married, had kids and experienced all of life’s peaks and troughs, there’s Arsène Wenger, a constant, there or thereabouts, a big part of my life. And there’s me, there or thereabouts, experiencing all of Wenger’s peaks and troughs with him.

That’s why I’m in a bit of turmoil, because memories blur into one and it’s made me more emotional than I thought it would. I’ve advocated a change for several years now, and I’m glad (for the direction of the club) that it’s happened. It’s the right time. I’m also genuinely excited at what next season and beyond holds. But at the exact same time, I feel sad, a little nostalgic and sentimental.

To all the Arsenal lovers, take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever”.

Well, that tipped me right over.

So thanks Arsène, thanks a million. For a long while you gave us the best football we’re ever likely to see.

Au revoir, and good luck.

Europa League: the last shot at a European trophy for Wenger?

I’m still here, just about – much like Arsenal this season.

Moving on up

Last time I posted here, about a month ago, I pretty much couldn’t see anything other than a summer exit for Wenger. Things felt bleak: it’s been a season that has careered from one statistical zinger to another. The stats still don’t paint a pretty picture, but it comes as no real surprise that things have picked up since then (won four, lost one since sinking in the snow to Man City in a half-empty Emirates).

Why? Well, it was clear we were playing below our capabilities, for starters. But also, this is Wenger: a man who’s mastered the art of conjuring good finales to disappointing seasons. Here he is again, attempting to sing his signature tune – qualification for the Champions League. And he’s five games away from doing it via the back door.

Moving on out

It doesn’t change the fact that many – most – would like him to bow out gracefully in the summer, but it might persuade the majority owner, if indeed he needs persuading, that Wenger’s the man for another year. But anyway, that’s a circular argument nobody is going to win right now. We’ll find out soon enough.

Time to break free

In idle moments, I do wonder how Wenger’s European record will be judged. Accentuating the positives, you’d say perennial qualification for the Champions League was pretty good, and there was one memorable run to the Champions League final – the first time we’d ever been there in our history. There were also two Uefa Cup finals – one with Arsenal and one with Monaco. But on the flipside, the last seven years in Europe’s leading competition have been wasted, and it doesn’t really feel like we ever got to grips with it. We look further away from truly competing in it now than ever.

Nothing can stop me

Wenger’s never won a European trophy. So for a leading coach – and he has been that – his European record is not that great, especially if you judge success by lifting cups, as you should. Nor indeed is Arsenal’s European record that great as a club, to be honest. One Fairs Cup, one Cup Winners’ Cup.

But here Wenger is, facing Moscow in the rarefied atmosphere of a Europa League quarter-final. Of course we have a chance. And how many more chances will Wenger have to win a European trophy? I’d say this is probably his last realistic chance. If he doesn’t win the Europa League this year, it makes the argument for his departure almost impossible to ignore. He could move to another club that offers European football, but he’d only have a few years, in all likelihood, to have another crack at winning in Europe, and that’s a tough ask indeed.

And if he does win it this year and stays at Arsenal, what chance does he have next season – which we can assume really *will* be his last – of winning the Champions League? Given Arsenal’s historical record in it, and given Wenger’s own painful maulings in recent years, I’d say it’s zilch.

So this year’s Europa League really is it. This could be your last realistic chance, Arsene.

 

This time, it really feels like the end

Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City

The thing about saying “it feels like Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal reign has reached its end” is that I’ve definitely said it before, at various points over the last five years. And it never has been the end of Wenger’s reign, because – remarkably – he’s been the one who decides his own fate, and he has always found a way, to date, of changing the narrative or convincing himself he’s still the man for the job.

And that’s the thing: he still thinks he can do it. He said it again last night. After Sunday’s game, he called for “perspective”, but with seven defeats in 2018 already, just three away wins in the league all season, a dismal away record against the top six (just two wins in over 20 games stretching back to 2013-14), and a European record at the knockout stage that over the last seven years has been an embarrassment, the bigger picture tells its own story.

But it does feel different now. Over the years, Wenger’s made an art of turning things round just when they seemed to be smothering him – those recent FA Cup are a classic example – but even that skill appears to have deserted him now. We’ve had one or two excellent performances this season, but they’re very isolated. The real consistency can be found in the mistakes we keep making: the sames mistakes we’ve made for years.

And many fans see it for what it is: a team that, in league terms, has been at best treading water and at worst in slow decline for a long time.

Last night was just no surprise. A team that is laced with attacking talent will only get so far if you don’t supply it with chances, if it can’t reliably and consistently defend, or if structurally it loses its way mid-match so readily.

The changes haven’t worked

It’s not that he hasn’t tried to do something about it – just that it’s not working. Rather than sticking with what we had, the club twisted in the summer and then again in the January transfer window, breaking our transfer record twice. We offloaded our three top scorers from last season and brought in fresh faces to kick-start something new. Now, I wouldn’t want to equate the quality of our recent transfer moves to the last signings George Graham made (Kiwomya, Hartson) but both cases, it now seems clear, were last throws of the dice.

It didn’t work for George Graham and it looks unlikely to work now for Wenger. The squad is unbalanced and has lost its way. It’s miles off where it needs to be, both in terms of personnel, and when it comes to mentality and organisation. The need for change has been clear for a while, the players needs reinvigorating, the way we play needs a total overhaul and the fans need it too. The empty seats or fans leaving in droves mid-match is a sign that something’s very broken.

And so to the finale

A fairytale ending – as much as there is one – would be for him to announce he’s leaving then for us to go on and win the Europa League. But the prospect of a European trophy seems incredibly remote at the moment, especially as two-legged ties require concentration, tactical maturity and defensive nous. This is not a smooth-running machine, right now.

The sad reality is that, Europa League or not, Wenger’s course is surely now run.

There are people saying he should go now, but I’d hate for it to end that way. I want to send Wenger off as he deserves to be sent off – with respect, and with thanks for a remarkable and at times quite brilliant tenure – at the end of the season.

It’s time for a fresh beginning.

All change at Emerick’s Stadium

It’s hard to remember a transfer window like it. Two players in, five out, one superstar signed, one sold, another nailed down to a new contract – leaving us with an attacking line-up that has been comprehensively rejigged in a footballing blink of the eye.

I know the goals have dried up this season, but we’ve essentially sold all our goalscorers from last season, bar Ozil, in the hope that their replacements – Lacazette, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan – will spark a change in fortune.

Is it risky? Not so much: we’re bog average for the most part, languishing as we are in sixth, and staleness is all around. Something needs to change, and that won’t happen by tweaking round the edges. Whoever’s pulling the levers of power behind the scenes – and it’s hard to argue now that it’s uniquely Wenger – clearly feels that a harsh wind needs to blow through the club.

Given our astonishing inconsistency – veering from the disciplined (cup semis) to the lazy, disinterested and disjointed (Bournemouth, Swansea – take your pick) – something fundamentally wrong permeates this team and has done for too long.

So starting with the attack, it’s being changed. And I do suspect this is the start – with the rest of the work kicking off in the summer, possibly under a new manager. If you look at it that way, it’s more exciting than seeing it as a month of desperate rearguard action to make up for Alexis wanting out.

Where does this leave Wenger? ‘Gone in the summer’ wouldn’t be an extreme position to take, though with this club being this club, and with Wenger being Wenger, you wouldn’t want to dip into your pockets to back up a claim like that.

The biggest moves of the day for us are of course Aubameyang in, Giroud out and – this blindsided me – Ozil on a new deal.

WOTCHA

Aubameyang is our most expensive signing ever at £56m, who joins us with a phenomenal scoring record. Assuming we can feed him chances – a wild assumption right now – he should throw the cat among our attacking pigeons. Good day to you, Sir!

COR BLIMEY

Mesut Ozil – OK, he’s here already but this is exciting and he’s definitely LANS. I didn’t see this one coming at all, but it just goes to show you what blowing your salary ceiling out the water can do – and what signing some other big players can do to perceptions. I’m really pleased by this. Yes, at times in this side he can feel like an icing-on-the-cake player, but when he purrs he does things nobody else in this side can. And let’s all drool, if we will, at the prospect of him feeding our brand new frontline.

SEEYA THOUGH

Olivier Giroud – I was hoping we’d at least get a lap of honour at the end of the season for this goodbye, to be honest, but the gods of transfers decreed him to be the key to unlock the panoply of moves that led to Aubameyang deal. A fine servant, underrated in many respects, with excellent technical ability and a strong line in beards. I wish he hadn’t gone to Chelsea but there you have it. He slowed our game down (even more!) and had clearly fallen out of favour, but he always had a goal in him. Good luck, Oli.

Oh, and Mathieu DebuchyYou still here, blood? Should have left ages ago and had a rotten Arsenal career thanks to circumstances beyond his control. He’s gone to St Etienne, who have gone a bit downhill since Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

We’ve veered from committed to disinterested this season and back again with consistent inconsistency, and we’ve been boring to watch far too often. I’m not sure I really care where this January revolution has come from. All I know is that something needed to change – and changing, it appears to be.

Bring it on.

A new broom is sweeping Arsenal’s attack clean

 

Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace

Thanks to the attacking instincts of our defence, and the brilliant feather-light touch of Ozil, we swatted Palace aside in 22 minutes yesterday – then throttled back and watched the world go by. Stamping our authority on a game – how I’ve missed that.

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our post-Alexis future, though most teams will be less welcoming than Palace. That’s not to put a negative slant on 22 minutes that were fluid, exciting and ruthless – and the rest of the game where we largely kept a shell-shocked Palace at arm’s length – so let’s put that on the record. But trickier assignments will be round the corner.

A 4-1 win in most circumstances would be the talking point for several days, but such is the state of play at Arsenal this January it’s already fading into the background. There’s stuff rumbling along in every nook and cranny if you look hard enough.

Fixing the attack

One of the most interesting changes is what’s happening to our attack. Since the summer we’ve sold Ox, Walcott and now Alexis – with Giroud potentially following them. That’s not just tweaks – it’s a complete clearout.

It’s classic Wenger too (or is it – more on that in a minute). We have a defence that can’t keep clean sheets and, at times, is all over the place. We have a midfield that lacks brute power and numbers – so let’s remodel the attack! It certainly has the stamp of Wenger all over it, but such is the intrigue at the club at the moment that you have to ask yourself how much of this evolution – or is it a revolution? – is coming from elsewhere within the club.

You’d be within your remit to wonder, too, how much of this is blind panic having mismanaged so much of what’s preceded it. Reaction, not proaction. It would be a fair conclusion to draw.

Whatever the cause, things are changing fast this month. Faster off the pitch than on it – and I’m all for it.

While Mkhitaryan gently weeps

We’ve said goodbye to Theo, we’ve waved adieu to Coquelin and now we’d bidden adios to Alexis. On the other side of the revolving door we say ‘Bari galust’ to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who can play behind the striker, or on the wing. Who will he displace? Probably Iwobi at this stage, though your guess is as good as mine.

Whether he’d have come to Arsenal in other circumstances is a moot point, but that’s how football works – circumstances dictate moves – they always have done.

I’m sad to see Alexis go and I will not lie. He’s been a pleasure to watch and was precisely the kind of player Arsenal needed. High intensity, hugely driven and a lethal goalscorer: a real stardust player in a team that hasn’t seen many of those for some years. 80 goals in 3.5 years is very decent indeed. He was a big-game player, with many of his goals coming in big games on big occasions. Yes, nitpick if you want. He was careless with the ball. He was a bit disruptive. But I’d have a player like him in my squad any day.

Of course, reading between the lines, it’s damning that he couldn’t fulfil his ambitions with us, though it’s nothing we haven’t seen with our own eyes. He’s also going to earn eye-watering amounts of money, which only a few clubs can currently do. We aren’t one of them.

Thanks Alexis for all you’ve done – and you’ll forgive me for hoping your best and most productive years were with us, not with your new employer.

Yin and Aubameyang

But that’s not all! Given that Wenger hates the merest whiff of player dissent (Szczesny dropped for having a tab in the shower, and was Walcott ostracised for saying ‘they wanted it more’?), it seems surprising that he’d entertain the thought of signing someone like Aubameyang. There are mixed reports about whether he’s really that bad a character – but he’s no Walcott.

And maybe that’s no bad thing, frankly. This squad could do with different characters. Either way, pitching for him makes sense as we need someone with some of that lost stardust, and he’d definitely provide it. And we need to show our current squad – many of whom are stalling on new deals –  that Arsenal’s relative decline is not inevitable.

Would Giroud go the other way if it happened (still a big if)? It would make some sense – and would complete a huge turnaround in our attacking options.

Even if it’s by accident rather than by design, these are shaping up to be interesting and exciting times.

 

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.