Ox pinched, Alexis punched, and no returns

After all that hot air, there goes the summer transfer window. In a market where some teams have spent upwards of £200m, we’ve snuck in with a tidy profit of £30m. Now, I know it’s not all about how much you spend, but for a club that has pots of cash already, and is on a downward trajectory, it hardly reeks of ambition, does it?

Yesterday we let Oxlade-Chamberlain go for £40m, which is decent business under the circumstances. He said he wanted to go to Liverpool as it was “right for the next stage in my ongoing development”. He needs a bit of moulding, but Liverpool have got him at the right time, and if I were him I’d have done something similar.

Another player who wanted to leave was Alexis. He didn’t get his wish as Arsenal couldn’t find a replacement. Apparently, we bid an almost ludicrous €92m for Lemar, but Lemar either turned us down, our pursuit was too lukewarm or it was all a bit too late. So Alexis stays.

I’m a little torn about this, though overall I’m happy he stays. I’m mostly torn because we’ve now got a player on our hands who doesn’t want to be here, whose teammates know he doesn’t want to be here and who knows the club was only too happy to offload him at the right price. But overall, I don’t see him downing tools, and we get a 30-goal player – someone all oppositions are genuinely fearful of – for either 4/5 more months or for the whole season.

We let a whole cavalcade of other players go, but in terms who might have actually played, it was only really Gabriel, Gibbs and possibly Lucas. Is our squad severely weakened by this bizarre summer? Not really – Chambers replaces Gabriel as 4th choice centre-back, Kolasinac has replaced Gibbs and we’ve massively upgraded our goalscoring options. Oxlade-Chamberlain was not irreplaceable as he didn’t want to play RWB (or LWB) and was often shoe-horned in anyway.

That being said, it’s never that simple. For me, the perception we have given in the latter stages of this window is of a club that doesn’t know what it wants, and that can be scavenged for talent. Instead of strengthening significantly in the anticipation of a concerted assault for honours – these were the noises being made after Wenger signed his new deal – we’re an unbalanced team with unhappy players and are already on the verge of abandoning the back three that brought us some respite (and a glorious afternoon at Wembley) a few short months ago.

On top of that, we’re still a team capable of the kind of switch-off disaster that we saw at Anfield, and let’s be honest, that’s not going to change either. Not now, not with Wenger.

So where does that leave us? Wenger is already embattled after a dreadful start to the season, the fans are disillusioned once again, and quite what we’re realistically hoping to achieve this season is a mystery. Poor squad management has bitten us hard, there are questions over the board’s input in all this, questions about finances and whiffs of power struggles too.

All this needs to be dispelled and turned round. Coherent tactics and team selection would be a start. Seeing an increased threat from Lacazette and Alexis – backed up by Welbeck, Giroud and Walcott – would soothe the frustration. The midfield marshalling the defence would be a novel and welcome development.

And so to Bournemouth.

For some late night ramblings to try to make (more) sense of it all, check out today’s Arsecast.

Arsenal routed and here we all are again

Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal

How many times has Arsene Wenger stood in front of the cameras after a defeat and pointed out that we were not “at the level requested”? I’ve lost count. Arsenal not being properly prepared or set up for big games is a festering sore that he now cannot fix. You’ve all seen the stats about how often we’ve won away against the top six in recent years, so I’ll spare you it.

Yesterday: well where to start? Bellerin was in the wrong place and Kolasinac was sacrificed, all to squeeze in the Ox, who wants to leave and how it showed. Monreal was in the wrong place because Wenger either doesn’t trust his other central defenders or they don’t want to be here. Holding looked every inch a 21-year old defender plucked for £2m from the Championship, because we didn’t have a midfield to speak of to help him. Ramsey was playing some kind of modernist free-form role – what was that all about? Xhaka was a mess. Our £55m striker was also sacrificed to fit in both Welbeck and Alexis. The former shanked our only presentable chance and the latter’s body language told you everything you needed to know. Ozil was invisible.

“There are some reasons”, said Wenger when pressed on quite how we were so ill-prepared despite not having played all week, “but I don’t think I have too much to come out on that now”. Wise, Arsene – because it doesn’t reflect well on you.

“I’m happy with my squad”, said Wenger a while ago, or words to that effect, and you have to wonder what they’re smoking over at the Emirates. It’s got holes all over it, players want to leave and on yesterday’s evidence it looks to be a pretty unhappy place.

Somewhat fittingly, today is the 6th anniversary of the 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford. “These are all problems of Wenger’s making,” I concluded then, and the same can of course be concluded now. Both teams were set up wrong, played out of position, tactically absent, low on energy, error-riddled, lacking concentration, and were weakened either by recent exits or by players who patently wanted out.

On that note, to have so many players in their last year is not just a huge error of strategic planning, it feels like a bellwether for what the players think about this team’s prospects under Wenger. Ozil, Alexis, Mustafi and Ox don’t want to be here anymore, and other players aren’t so stupid as to not be affected by it. Some of them will be thinking it themselves. I wasn’t keen to get rid of any of them, but seeing those who played go through the motions yesterday makes me care just a little less. I think Ox will go, I think Mustafi will go and I still think Alexis might, too.

So finally, belatedly, onto the man himself – Wenger. The performance yesterday was a slaughter; an embarrassment. It could not be more removed from the exhilaration of taking Chelsea apart in the cup final a few short months ago, when we dominated from beginning to end. But that run at the end of the season, culminating in Wembley, now feels like a blip. Yesterday, while not the norm, is the kind of result that Arsenal are always capable of under Wenger, and have been for seven or eight years, because he simply isn’t the manager he once was. He doesn’t motivate his players like he once did. This side is not set up to challenge for the big prizes in this market of ruthlessness and naked ambition. It’s not set up to win the difficult, big matches away from home. Wenger is still erudite and charming, and his achievements are legion, but in managerial terms he’s yesterday’s man.

Ah, but it’s just one game, don’t go overboard, some of you might say. True enough. It’s one bad game – one very bad game. But it’s symptomatic of so many other things that are wrong and that won’t change until Wenger’s gone. Most fans have seen this for a while; most journalists know it only too well.

Where that leaves us is anyone’s guess.

I just don’t think you understand

Wembley Stadium

Wembley Stadium

Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea

What a day, what a performance, and if anyone over the last few years has ever said to you: ‘Think how good Arsenal could be if they played to their full potential’, simply point them to Wembley Stadium, 27th May 2017.

No shrinking in the face of the big challenge here. In the white heat of a cup final against the champions, a match few expected us to win (not least me), we pulled our best performance of the entire season out of Arsene Wenger’s moth-eaten magic hat. He clearly said, “I’m having that”, and have that he did.

Our motley back line held firm for all but one moment. Our midfield was in control and high-energy, and going forward our pace caused considerable problems.

I’m not going to run through the whole team, because to a man they were magnificent, from the evergreen Mertesacker (an inspiration on and off the pitch) through to the fizzing dynamism of Ramsey and beyond to the irrepressible Alexis.

What got me out of my seat was the way we broke with such menace. For too long (and too often) we’ve watched as Arsenal ping it upfield then get bogged down. But on Saturday, with extraordinary regularity, we went for the jugular with our directness and pace. It was genuinely exciting football, and a reminder of the sheer excitement it can bring when all the elements come together. It hasn’t been like that enough this season. But – ah yes – that’s how it can be.

It was a final that just had it all, to be honest. A hot May day, two big teams contesting it, a bit of controversy right at the beginning, a hatful of chances and a winning goal only several minutes after the equaliser. An embattled manager proving a point against a manager whose stock couldn’t be higher.

And then there was the build-up, with that special tingly pre-cup-final atmosphere that is palpable but hard to explain. Nerves, excitement, anxiety. Fans and friends from far and wide.

It baffles me that some seem so willing to denigrate the FA Cup – the most important domestic cup competition – while simultaneously complaining about clubs celebrating getting into the top four as if it was a trophy.

Let me clear this up. The FA Cup is a trophy; getting into the Champions League is not. I would rather have an FA Cup win over getting a place in the Champions League any day of the week, frankly, and not just because we’re very good at one and very bad at the other.

Anyone who was at Wembley, and all those watching in pubs or at home with friends – feeling the highs and the lows, the swings and the roundabouts, the tantalising prospect of elation and of real success – will surely agree.

And finally to Wenger, the seven-times-FA-Cup-winning elephant in the room. All but the most curmudgeonly will grant Wenger the respect and gratitude he deserves for an unparalleled achievement. The team rose to the occasion and showed us what it can do. He got it right.

I’m well aware this muddies the water for some, myself included. But I suspect it has calcified the thinking of the man who pulls the strings, Stan Kroenke, and for all the recent obfuscation and whiff of power struggle, for all the deflection and uncertainty, I’d still be surprised if Wenger wasn’t here next season.

Well played Arsenal. You have made me happy.

*goes off to watch highlights again*

That warmed the Coquelins

Stoke City 1-4 Arsenal

Fourth is on – until it’s off again.

From the rubble of a north London derby no-show, we’ve dusted ourselves down to win three on the bounce and revive our annual race for fourth. What’s more, we’re cranking up the style with yesterday’s thumping of Stoke (it’s been so long since we’ve won there that I think ‘thumping’ passes muster) being our best performance in some time.

Solid as a rock

Ah, fourth, my old friend. As Jonathan Northcroft says in today’s Sunday Times, “If only this team pursued league titles with such a sense of destiny and irrepressible vigour” as it does the final Champions League place.

But you take what comes your way, don’t you, and yesterday was a lovely pre-season-ticket-renewal reminder of what Arsenal can really be all about: solid defending when needed, poise in midfield, some beautiful, carving attacking play and graceful finishing. No, I don’t know what happened to it between December and May either.

Holding out for a hero

So, to yesterday, when the back three worked again, with Holding (better than Cannavaro, don’t you know), Koscielny and Mustafi all good. Is this the back three for next season? Could well be. With respect to Mustafi and Koscielny, Holding’s the exciting one here. He started the season well then disappeared, before Wenger’s desperate change to a back three opened a door for him. How’s he’s grasped it, and it’s always nice to see a young English player plucked from nowhere make a good start to his Arsenal career. Long may it last.

So Nacho

Nacho could have had a goal or two himself, and a bit of game time acted as a dose of WD-40 for Bellerin’s early rustiness too – he got two assists.

Love Xhak

Yesterday, I made an extra effort to study Xhaka, who’s had a lot of recent accolades but who for a long time looked too slow and clumsy to me. It’s funny, because you know how you notice some players more than you notice others when you’re watching a game live? Well he’s not really one of them – but watching him yesterday, you can see him growing into his role. He’s a midfielder in the Steve Williams or Paul Davis mould; quietly effective but not obviously stand-out.

Olivier’s army

Giroud, who I cursed under my breath until he scored, before lauding him to the heavens (sort of sums him up), notched a brace to make it 16 this term. Not bad, let’s be honest, and at 104 minutes per goal, also the most lethal of all our strikers. Statistics, eh.

You can call me Al

Finally to Alexis and Ozil, our stardust players. I’ve been so frustrated with Ozil at times this season, to the point where doubling his wages seems insane (it still does), but when he plays like he played yesterday you’re reminded why he’s so good. In that sense he personifies Arsenal: stylish and lethal when good, a passenger when bad. His goal was calmly taken, and his passing in general was pinpoint.

As for Alexis, what can you say? That pass to Ozil was 100% through-ball-porn, and he finished the game by scoring with his only operational leg, before tapping the crest on his shirt and giving me hope (damn you, hope) that all might not be lost between him and Arsenal.

So overall, a performance that warmed the Coquelins. The cynics among you – says he, deflecting his own cynicism adroitly – will tell you that disappointment is only round the corner in one form or other. It probably is, but playing well is nice and that is all that matters right now.

Superstition

A final thought about how nuts humans are. Take a look at the Arsenal team emerging from the tunnel and you’ll see all manner of nervous, superstitious tics. Coquelin hops on his right leg, Bellerin picks up some grass then crosses himself, Xhaka hops then bounces, before Ozil does his own hop.

Hopping mad, the lot of them.

So are we for investing some much emotion in this nonsense. Damn you, football, you cruel mistress!

Now you see us, now you don’t. Following Arsenal is magic.

Preston 1-2 Arsenal

Ah, hello again mystifying Arsenal. The third round of the FA Cup heralded another performance – the second in a week, now *that’s* consistency – that left me overwhelmed and underwhelmed pretty much simultaneously. Carved open at will in the first half, we improved in the second and nabbed some pride at the end with a goal from the man of the moment, Giroud. And then the same thing happened again yesterday.

Into the valleys of the Ribble rode the 6,000 Arsenal fans, but theirs was not to reason why two distinct Arsenals would turn up once again. All we can say is that it’s a good job Preston didn’t take several of their other presentable chances. But really, why did we play like that? “They surprised us with their commitment,” said Giroud afterwards, a comment that is probably best not dwelled on too long.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter I suppose, because we edged through to the fourth round, despite missing a phalanx of players for one reason or another. But I don’t think anyone’s under any illusions that we can get keep on getting away with being this skittish. This season is already turning out to be fiercely competitive, and any more fits of daydreaming like this will doubtless see us drift further off the pace. Six teams will be squeezing into four (if getting into the Champions League is your thing – it’s been a while since it’s got me fizzing), and who’s your money on right now? Could go anywhere.

I do wonder when we have weeks like this – and those like the one before Christmas when we lost to Everton and City – whether this is an excellent Arsenal team prone to switching off, or an average Arsenal team prone to occasional excellence.

Anyway, that all sounds more miserable than it ought to, because there were some positives in the end, quite apart from staying in the FA Cup. Lucas had a decent game topped off with a match-winning assist, and it was good to see Ramsey back on the scoresheet too. Giroud, who for all his frustrations is £10m extremely well spent, continues to be crucial. And I love watching Iwobi ghosting about the place in his languid style.

With Giroud, we are perhaps reaping the rewards of not overcooking him by February, which is something we’ve done on several occasions. When he hits that physical brick wall, boy does he hit it. Having him fit and firing to the end, alongside Welbeck, Alexis and Lucas, is a mouthwatering prospect (if almost entirely implausible – that would require the medical gods to align in spectacular fashion, and this, lest we forget, is Arsenal).

As for what happens next, well we should have Alexis and Ozil back for Saturday’s trip to Swansea, and with any luck both will be a little refreshed. In terms of their futures, I’ve detached myself from it to be honest. It’s just not worth fretting about because there’s so much smoke and mirrors.

Today we read that Ozil is happy and would be happy to sign a new deal, but it depends on Wenger staying. In true Arsenal style, all this really does is muddy the water for our divided fanbase, because for many, ‘Wenger staying’ is part of the problem rather than the key to the solution.

Like I say, I won’t lose much sleep over it. I’d like Alexis and Ozil to stay, of course I would, because losing both would be a big blow, footballistically. It would be damaging in terms of the allure of the club if they left. But players come and go and sometimes it’s as simple as that.

With that flourish of sang-froid, I bid thee goodnight. Here’s to racing out of the blocks at the Liberty, ideally in the first half.

Dead or alive, Alexis spins me right round

Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth

As we tip-toe over the last few yards of November I keep expecting some chaos to unfold, as is longstanding tradition in our neck of the woods.

But with just one game to go, whilst not entirely unscathed, we have not been weighed down by scathing. It’s been two wins, three draws and one uncategorised Rumbelows.

I won’t pretend this month has been that pretty, because it hasn’t. But we’ve still managed to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League and are just three points off the teams everyone is drooling about.

What we were all looking for today of course was a chink of light at the end of the tunnel of plod. And I think at times we got that, with the industry of Alexis, the energy of Theo, the perseverance of the Ox and the tidiness of Xhaka.

‘Even when he looks dead, he’s still alive’ said Wenger of Alexis after the game, and you have to admire the Chilean’s extraordinary work ethic that has rewarded him with ten goals now. Watch and admire.

The Ox, perhaps, was Arsenal in microcosm today. There were a lot of positives, not least in his attitude, but with the feeling that there’s still more to come. It’s there somewhere, we’re pretty sure of that – but just not quite entirely there right now.

After an opening goal on a silver salver for Alexis, poor old Debuchy hobbled off with what could be a ‘severe’ injury after just fifteen minutes. Can you imagine the mental gymnastics Wenger must have to go through when forced to make a substitution before the 67th minute? It must be torture for him.

For Debuchy, what ought to have been a dream move to the biggest club of his career has been one injury after another, sandwiched between the emergence of one of Europe’s great young right-back prospects. I fear, Matthieu, that it was simply never meant to be.

With a soft equalising penalty followed by a header flashed over the bar by Bournemouth, things felt momentarily as if they could head south. The Cherries – dangerous all afternoon – ran the channels well and were intelligent in possession.

But the second half opened up for Arsenal, and we are so much more comfortable when we have space and pace to run, rather than congealing round the edge of the box as we can do.

It brought the rarest of Arsenal moments – a headed goal from Walcott. Stick that in your literal pipe and smoke it, because yes it did actually happen. Cue a rocking baby for the new dad – congratulations all round.

Alexis duly finished it off and while we deserved to win, 3-1 felt a bit flattering. November’s been a bit flattering all over, now that I think about it.

A final thought about our central midfield. By my reckoning we’ve had six combinations there now, so I think it’s safe to say that Wenger has yet to suss out which one he prefers best – though obviously, part of that is down to Cazorla’s absence. Xhaka and Elneny were decent today, but will it be those two next weekend? Don’t bet your house on it, that’s all I’m saying.

As we move out of November and into the jingle-jangles of the festive season, it has only just dawned on me that, for one reason or another, and a potential home FA Cup tie notwithstanding, I might not be able to make a game until the 22nd January. Not so much of a winter break as a full-blown sabbatical. Even Diaby had shorter lay-offs than that.

What is it with these prawn-sandwich, half-and-half scarf fans like me?

*shakes fist at self*

Holding in and holding out

Leicester 0-0 Arsenal

There was some good and bad to chew on in that performance, an entertaining but low-quality trip to the champions. But it’s not about the points at this stage, more about the performance.

Was there a measurable improvement on that front from last weekend? Well, we didn’t collapse. That’s a bonus. In fact, I thought we defended pretty well, with Holding and the immense Koscielny marshalling the back line very well, ably assisted by a bank of defensive midfielders and by Cech. In tough games, we now have three defensive midfielders to choose from to shore up the rear, and that can only bode well. Xhaka was tough, diligent, neat and tidy, and I really do like the cut of his jib. We need that kind of player.

We were a bit lucky too, with Coquelin about as disciplined as wasp who’d just had a parking ticket, and a late penalty shout that was about as contentious as night following day. Yes, referees are human, but we’d have laminated the hell out of some A4s if that had happened against us.

Further up the pitch: not so very good. I thought it was a bitty performance and without Ozil there was a severe lack of creativity. The Ox started brightly but faded, and while Theo worked hard, had a few shots and put in some muscular recovery tackles, it was a difficult afternoon and he had the kind of invisible touch that takes control and slowly tears you apart.

So too Alexis. His passing was off so often that I wonder if he’s even properly fit. Alexis is many things, but he’s no striker, not on this showing.

So perhaps it was no surprise that we struggled for momentum and for cohesion up front, and that didn’t really improve when Giroud came on as it was pretty late in the day.

The catalyst for our best period was Ozil – devilish little wizard – and how nice it was to see him back. But in the end, we cannot complain too much with the result.

It’s a draw that teaches us nothing we didn’t already know, except perhaps that Wenger has unearthed a good prospect in Holding. I did like Wenger’s tetchy but very apt post-match comment:

“Nobody is speaking about the performance of Rob Holding today. You should be happy; he is English, he is 20 years old, but I’m sorry he didn’t cost £55m, so it cannot be good.”

Proof that for all the maddening things he does and says, he can still throw some pearls out there.

Sadly, he’s up against it pretty much permanently at the moment. There’s disquiet in the stands with chants, banners have started already, and as I mentioned yesterday it’s very difficult to turn this level of feeling round now for him, which is why I feel this season is it for him. The desire for change is embedded and hard to shift, but I’ll tell you what could buy him some leeway…

With rumours about Mustafi persisting, there’s clearly the desire to bolster the squad there. But with desire you need action. Most pressing for me is a striker (if I had to choose), because we looked threadbare up there yesterday. It really is now or never on that front.

Get those two positions sorted and we have a much more complete squad. But getting nobody in is not an option. Not for the squad, not for Wenger and not for the fans.

Meek Arsenal are all at sea

Manchester United 3-2 Arsenal

The baffling thing yesterday was not so much that we lost – because lord knows, name a circumstance and Arsenal can magic up a defeat for it – but that we were, and still are, nominally in the hunt for the title. We look as if someone has poured us into the league table but forgot to say ‘when’.*

Up against an injury-ravaged team suffering from its own existential crisis, we excelled ourselves by bringing all of our own majestic psychological demons to the party.

And what a party it was. As if it wasn’t bad enough to be dishevelled in defence, inadequate in midfield and largely invisible up front, yesterday we simply did not look like a team that believes it can go all the way or has the stomach for the challenge ahead. We were well beaten and we were beaten too easily.

Congratulations to Marcus Rashford, by the way, who looked hungry and direct and fresh – all the things Arsenal weren’t. In two matches over four days he has scored ⅔ of the amount of goals Theo Walcott has scored all season. More on Theo later.

The comparison with the 3-0 at home, when we unleashed the dogs of war and blew United away in the blink of an eye, does not bear making. We’ve been harping on about that, and about City at home and one or two others, but sandwiched between all that has been a lot of stodgy football.

I don’t know what’s happened to this side, but something is missing. Welbeck’s late, great winner at Leicester was a moment to savour, but it didn’t spark us back into life as we’d hoped it would.

Our form has simply evaporated since Christmas. The best thing you can say is that we’ve hung in there, but the chance to win the most winnable of leagues is withering before our eyes unless we can engineer the kind of turnaround in form that seems entirely beyond us. Unless we can remove the lead boots.

I know it’s far from impossible, but where’s the belief? Where’s the bloody-mindedness? Who’s driving us forward? We weave pretty enough patterns, but the ruthless end product is absent.

You can’t get away with it when so many players are playing within themselves. Gabriel did not look ready to come back into a game like this, Coquelin struggled, Ramsey was ineffective and up front we basically carried two players. Wenger went top-heavy to generate some attacking momentum, but playing Alexis and Theo through these stormclouds of form is not working at all.

At least with Alexis you can say he never gave up: even if nothing else is working for him he tries to make things happen. But Walcott? I’ve stuck up for Theo many time before, but he was absolutely invisible yesterday. He’s too often invisible.

Three wins in ten does not tell a lie. With an injury list that has eased over the last month, now was meant to be the time to move up through the gears.

United away is always tough because it’s United away. But we wilted too easily against a far from vintage side. I don’t buy the notion that it’s a physical hangover after being ridden roughshod by Barcelona’s possession football, because there were five days between the two games and Utd played on Thursday too.

It’s as much psychological as it is physical – Arsenal’s great Achilles heel, some would say – and Wenger’s got about six days to fix it, via a midweek home game, before our Saturday lunchtime derby delight.

On yesterday’s evidence, I won’t hold my breath. But Arsenal are odd, football is odd and you just never know.

*With the greatest of apologies to P.G.Wodehouse.

If it’s broken, fix it

There we all were, shaking our heads at the sheer misfortune of losing two players before the game had even got going at Hillsborough in the League Cup, and agreeing that in terms of injuries, things had hit Peak Arsenal.

How naive! We still had the fun of the Hawthorns, where Coquelin fizzled out, and his replacement, not to be outdone, also conked out in short order.

But two crocks a game – well that can be improved upon, surely? Of course it can, with Koscielny, Alexis and Cazorla joining the ranks of the bandaged masses at Carrow Road. Peak Arsenal yet? I don’t want to tempt fate. I’d say there’s more fun and games to come on that front.

It’s not really a laughing matter, I know, but there’s no point in letting it tie you up in ligaments. It is what it is, but it’s desperate stuff alright and injuries are clearly affecting our game. We miss those who are out, and we rely too much on those who – somewhat miraculously – are not yet on The (Tony) Colbert Show.

Until the Norwich injuries, I had been imbued with optimism about Olympiakos. Mentally, Arsenal know exactly what they need to do. But Olympiakos? Do they stick or twist? I fancied our chances, but much of my positivity has, perhaps not surprisingly, dissipated. Without the energy and uncertainty of Alexis, and without the metronomic Cazorla, I wonder if we will have enough to get the job done. It was hard before and the mountain is even higher now.

Before then we have Sunderland of course, and I think we’ll have too much for them. We’ve had a week off to recuperate and we’ve probably been licking our metaphorical wounds (if only that helped literally, there’d be an army of Arsenal fans lining up at Colney with tongues dangling).

Of course, what injuries taketh, Forsythe giveth too. Ramsey and Ox are back ( a lot is expected of both), Koscielny might be OK (I’d play Gabriel anyway tomorrow) and Walcott is close. Keeping them fit – well that’s another matter altogether.

What can be done? As mentioned on the Arsecast today, hindsight is a wonderful thing but perhaps we should have thanked Rosicky and Arteta, and bade them farewell in the summer. As it is, they’re still here but I think a little retrograde ruthlessness is required in January. A couple of reinforcements need to be sourced – one at DM, ideally with something to prove and an exemplary injury record – and if that affects one of our injury-prone player’s chances of playing then so be it. There is no room for sentimentality.

We simply cannot afford not to strengthen, and I think we need more than a Kallstrom-esque punt. We need a numbers boost, a physical boost and a psychological boost. If there’s a £10m or £15m premium on a good prospect in January, so what? We have the money and we can’t keep waiting for people to come good. It’s all about this season.

Jam tomorrow can get stuffed.

I like jam now.

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.