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.

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.

Hindsight, transfers and hats.

It still takes me by surprise when the passage of time makes a result different. You’d have thought that 30 years of watching Arsenal in the flesh would have given me the wisdom of Herbert Chapman in these matters.

But there will be no statue outside the Emirates of me in a bowler hat, let me tell you now.

A 1-0 win is always a good win, sure, as all wins are, namely because they are wins and wins are good. But sometimes you get those weekends where the footballing deities conspire to cause havoc, and your win gets elevated beyond all reason. By this evening it was practically a 4-0 win. A winwin. In the absence of new signings, we can perhaps describe it as like a new win (#LANW).

OK, so we’re still missing a hatful of chances (I shall continue manfully with my headwear metaphor, don’t you worry about that), but we’ve at least headed into the international break* with three glorious points tucked into our trilbies. We’re now sixth and primed for a rappel up Mount Second. Now I’m mixing my metaphors, to cap it all off.

All eyes now on the next couple of days, because if Theo’s missed brace and Giroud’s half-arsed prod tell us anything, it’s that we aren’t lethal enough, at least not enough of the time. Owen Goal is our top scorer.

Wenger knows this; he’s said it himself. We’re searching day and night, on earth and across the entire galaxy, or so he tells us. He will not be getting much kippah, he assures us.

It would seem logical to me – he of no resemblance to Herbert Chapman – to have hoovered the business up a month ago, and let everyone else fret the bollocks off the next two days. But that’s not how it works.

On the one hand I understand how hard it is to buy ‘super super quality.’ Unless you’re Man City, where you remain free to inflate the market as you see fit, buying players while simultaneously making it harder for other teams to buy them, then I’m afraid you are behoven to other forces. Don’t like that? It’s a fact. We are rich but we are a rung down. Still don’t like that? Me neither. Thanks Platini.

But on the other hand, I think: surely there is someone we can take a punt on? Someone who may or may not work, but why not try it anyway? We have money. We have plenty of money.

So we shall see. I remain beret unexcited by the next two days – I just don’t see where that deal will come from. But I quite like the manufactured drama of deadline day, if only so I can go Defcon Cynical.

Even without the excitement of blow-up dolls, or fake shagging, transfer deadline is still jam-packed full of hot air, and much as I’d like to despise it, I find it strangely watchable.

So hold onto your hats. Ahem.

*Oh good. Another one.

Arsenal feel like they’re two players short, again

Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool

A weird game in which we should have been one nil up, then two nil down, and could finally have won. It was a defensive horror show in the first half but it became less terrifying as the game went on, but we didn’t have the firepower or the form to blow the doors off.

On the plus side, Cech and Coquelin excelled. Our new keeper found his feet and showed his value – though the amount he had to work probably gave him a sleepless night. He’d have been hoping for something more solid in front of him. Welcome to Arsenal, Petr!

Even with our first choice central defence, this is a creaky unit. With Chambers and Gabriel – little experience, no games so far, last-minute starters – it almost burst at the seams, though there were green shoots as the game wore on.

Loathe as I always am to pass judgement after just three matches, this has been, in Wenger’s own words, an average start with only two goals scored in three games (one by us and one own goal – though maybe Alexis’ header at Palace would have gone in anyway).

Last night, we felt a bit predictable and a bit narrow, and very sloppy, and for me it wasn’t until the Ox glued himself to the line that we stretched Liverpool as much as we needed to.

We need to find our form and we need to find it fast.

The strange thing about this summer of outfield inactivity is that, by not signing anyone, Wenger is relying on our current squad to organically improve by at least 12 points – or perhaps more. That feels to me like a very tall order indeed, and even more so given our start.

Without an addition or two, the forward momentum needed is hard to get or to keep. I like this squad a lot but it seems a risky strategy to me, and very presumptuous.

It feels to me that we are yet again two players short. It’s a sort of permanent Arsenal state of being. Theo is not a reliable striker and nor, at this stage, is Welbeck so we need a striker to ease the burden on Giroud – or to replace him as first choice, depending on who we can get. I know there aren’t many around, but that’s what we need.

We also need a Coquelin Mark 2. He was fabulous last night, if overrun, but he can’t do it all and we have nobody else with his energy. Not Arteta, not Flamini – two players who are in the twilight of their careers.

Are we too late? It’s only too late on September 2nd.

Double OG kick-starts Arsenal’s season

Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal

Well hello, season. Pleased to meet you. I’ve been away and yes thankyou, I’ve had a lovely time. Like Arsenal, I’m late to the party, but here I am at last.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t buy into some of gnashing and wailing that followed the West Ham defeat. It was a complacent start to the season (nervous? Spare me!) and we’ve seen that a few times before from Arsenal. In fact, it was straight from the Arsenal Handbook of Unexpected Losses. Chapter One. Case Study Two. Page 14 after a prologue from Gervinho and a dedication to Emmanuel Eboue.

But it was only one defeat, and damaging though they are, you can just as easily be undone by a string of draws.

That said, to stop the massed ranks of the broken crests from storming the ramparts, yesterday’s game at Palace took on the air of a ridiculously early six-pointer. Lose and we’d have been in pole position for Fourth Placed Trophy©, Collaps-o-Arsenal™ or even relegated. Or perhaps somewhere more nuanced.

Well, we staved that calamity off for another week with a hard-fought win. It was comfortable at first and wobbly at the end – which is what one goal leads tend to do to you. There was some sublime passing and crossing from Ozil, while Ramsey and Cazorla did well. Alexis gave us the zing we needed without, yet, the laser vision to get himself a goal. So overall it looked much more like the Arsenal we expected to see last weekend.

Coquelin was a touch possessed and had to be exorcised by being removed for Arteta. A bit of a concern given his importance to the team. I remain to be convinced that Arteta and Flamini are the best alternatives there and would be open to an addition, even if it meant Arsene being uncharacteristically ruthless and discarding one of the latter.

This was my first glimpse of Cech, and it’s fair to say he’s had a baptism of fire. A debut to forget, and could he have done more for Palace’s goal or was it just an unstoppable rasper? If it hadn’t dawned on him before, it probably has by now: Arsenal’s defence will never be as mean-spirited as Chelsea’s (usually is…)

As for the goal we did score, it was a belter. Giroud showed the kind of technical skill that he’s not given enough credit by scooping that out the air. Lovely strike.

Everything at this stage of the season seems absurdly extreme. We’ve gone from bottom of the table to eleventh, a mere three points off the top! We’re terrible! We’re brilliant!

Nobody ever used to give a fig about the league table until at least four or five games in, and that’s the way it should be, but no longer is. I’m not sure they’d even publish it in the paper until about mid-September.

We shouldn’t even look at it yet. All the teams are finding their feet. It’s the middle of August.

Of more concern to me is whether we’ve done enough business to keep things fresh, keep the momentum up, give ourselves the best options in all areas out and send out a statement of intent. I like this squad, but there can be no complacency.

It feels to me that there’ll be a lot of money spent elsewhere between now and September. Some silly money. Will we be partaking?

Where’s Wally? He’s right bloody here, that’s where

Arsenal 4-1 WBA

Walcott’s pootled along this season, slowly recovering his potency – oh so slowly – not always convincing on his infrequent forays off the bench, and nobody would have given him a cat’s chance in hell of making the starting eleven for the cup final on Saturday.

Until yesterday.

As timing things to perfection goes, that was straight from the It’s Up For Grabs Now handbook.

Theo was phenomenal, playing through the middle, causing absolute havoc. If he’d spontaneously combusted towards the end of the first half I don’t think anyone would have been massively surprised. He was that hot.

I’d say the general view is that Giroud will start, but I’m not so sure. Compare and contrast yesterday: when Giroud came on he looked languid and tired, much as he has done for the last handful of games. Walcott was the polar opposite. If you were picking the cup final side on form, you’d have to play Walcott, wouldn’t you?

It reminded me of the game he got injured against the Totts. Almost everything he touched turned to goals – that first one was just outrageous from that angle. It was, as my nephew says, ‘toast and meatballs’.

The second was less Hollywood but more deft, a shimmy then a smart finish, and by this point there was no stopping him.

The third, a tap-in, sealed the deal. I’d like to think I could have scored that one but the reality is I’d have been 50 yards back with my arms on my hips, searching for my inhaler, as red as a beetroot.

Wilshere was equally as convincing, though I’m not sure he has as good a chance of starting as Walcott does for the simple reason that the player he’d need to displace – Ramsey in all likelihood – is himself playing very well. Welsh Jesus hit the bar twice when he came on, a gentle reminder that Wenger is going to need to double-dose on Anadin ahead of picking his midfield.

As for his goal, it was a rising rocket. Vieira v Newcastle in 98. Goals don’t get much better than that.

The second half was a non-event by comparison, but that always happens after first halves that scintillating. Plus, who wants to get injured ahead of the cup final?

Everyone else contributed to the spectacle, with the only worry being the form of Ospina. He did not cover himself in glory either for the Baggies’ goal or for the fumbled long-ranger. Can Szczesny expect a call? I can’t see it. He’d surely have had a warm-up game first. The relationship there is irrevocably broken.

Overall, pretty much the perfect way to end the season, a return to goalscoring form after a mini-drought, and some lovely, lively and convincing auditions for the big one on Saturday.


My mind is racing to Saturday already. Don’t lie to me – yours is too. How would I line up for the final? Based on form (and in Ospina’s case, other factors) I say Ospina, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Bellerin, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez, Ramsey, Walcott.

Sorry Jack, sorry Olivier. Some amazing potential stories in that line-up though, if it came to pass. The rise of Bellerin. Monreal displacing Gibbs. Coquelin the phoenix from the ashes. Walcott coming from nowhere.*

*But what do I know. Plus, I reserve the right to change my mind between now and Saturday.

Arsenal crank things up a gear

Hull City 1-3 Arsenal

There I was with my worry beads, thinking this could have been been a mouldy old banana skin, and here I am now looking a little bit stupid.

Turns out the concentration was fine after all, and if anything, somewhat heightened. So much so that it was one of the more complete performances of the season. I won’t try to compare it with any other matches, mostly because I can’t really remember very far back in any great detail, but have you seen a better display of passing than that? No Sir, I have jolly well not.

Orchestrating it all were three fleet-footed amigos in the shape of Ozil, Ramsey and Cazorla, the latter two in particular competing for the most outrageous defence splitter. Dead heat on that front if you ask me.

Both Ramsey and Cazorla were phenomenal, once again sinking my pre-match fears about a lack of width below the waterline. Pah, what do I know. It’s not like you come here for informed tactical and motivational insight. (It’s not like they come here at all – Ed).

Cazorla was magic again, and I’d hoik his future right up the agenda. There has been hearsay for a while about him leaving this summer (though I’m not sure where the rumours have come from) but right now he’s a stick of fizzing dynamite and we should pull out all the stops to keep him. Who else would have him in Europe? Who wouldn’t.

Jack Wilshere deserves a mention too for an excellent cameo. His direct running literally threw a real cat amongst the actual pigeons. Up for the challenge? We see you Jack, we see you.

Sanchez was brilliant, point-blank refusing to play at anything less than 100%, far better on the night than a strangely lacklustre Giroud. I thought at one point a month or so ago that Giroud would overtake Sanchez in the goalscoring charts, but I can’t see it now. In the league – perhaps. But not overall and 24 goals is an excellent return.

So, great defending and dynamic attacking – with the added bonus being the chiming of the bells of St Totteringham. What’s not to like.

Squeezing into the final, Arsenal style


Reading 1-2 (AET)

So it’s the FA Cup final for the second year running, Arsenal’s 19th of all time – a record. And if we go on to beat the Villa, it’ll be another record – 12 wins. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Still, the grin on my face is only just beginning to subside.

I’ll spare you a match report, given how late in the day this is. Suffice to say, the old pot brought the best out of Reading and made us go all stodgy. It has a habit of doing that, as do Arsenal. We’ll need to play a lot better that on 30th May, or we’ll be filing out of Wembley miserable.

But like Wigan last year, and countless anxiety-riven semi-finals before it, it’s the getting through that counts, and get through we did. Roll on the final – now I just need to strike it lucky getting a ticket.

But the buzz was very much alive and kicking before, as I thought it would be, and that’s the magic of the cup for me. It’s something intangible that lifts a match from the mundane to the special. I loved it all.

It was there in the pub we were in beforehand, it continued on the tube (which ended up being more song-fuelled than the ground was) and it was there as we chased a winner at 1-1.

That said, it was a bit odd where we were in Row 9 behind the goal. I’m not sure if it was the blue and white of the Reading colours, or the sun that bathed the other end of the ground, or whether it was simply because we were low to the pitch, but we couldn’t see a thing happening down the other end. That wouldn’t have mattered if all the goals had been down our end, but they weren’t, and the upside was that when Arsenal scored both their goals, the reaction was for the first few seconds a bit muted. We simply couldn’t see what was happening, and many of us ended up turning backwards to look at the screen. That split second it took to realise made the celebrations a bit muted. Odd.

Then there was the tannoy, and yes, I sound like an old git when I keep banging on about it, but it’s horrific. It’s so loud, so grating and so completely unnecessary that you can barely hear yourself think. I said it on Twitter the other week, but who actually asks for that? Is there a groundswell of opinion that demands it? Are they mimicking other sports in other countries? It genuinely puts me off Wembley, a ground I otherwise don’t mind.

But otherwise, a cracking day. Hats off to Reading, who played out their skin and didn’t deserve to lose it the way they did. But we’re there – and I can’t wait.


And here’s a little something else for you.