Theo, nothing about signings, and the sound of ambition

I have very little to say about the England game – less than normal, in fact – other than to say that it will have done Theo a world of good to nab some goals. And he’s better on the right, but we know that anyway.

That position has to be back on the table from now, surely? I think we work better with pace on the flanks, and that’s the one thing he guarantees us. Against the massed ranks of defence that are now the norm at the Emirates, is he not a better option buzzing in from the right than trying to lead the line?

It leaves the usual midfield conundrum: who to drop to play him or Ox there? I think the only answer can be rotation, to be honest. Ozil one game, Ramsey another, Cazorla too – there is competition and competition is healthy. A little risky to change a proven system, but the upside is the revolutionary possibility of players staying fresher for longer.

We’re lucky we have options there to be honest. And when Jack returns, we’ll have even more. A glut of attacking midfielders to counter the reliance on Coquelin at the base – but I don’t want to go into that anymore. You could lose years off your life by fretting about our transfer strategy. Here we are and we have what we have. And time will tell us if what we have is enough.

Are we ambitious enough, as a club? And even if we are, are we ever going to be able to bridge that obvious gap between paying our way and accepting the largesse of a foreign owner keener on brand-building for a country than on making a profit? Actually, the Gooner covers that quite nicely here. Food for thought at any rate.

I will leave you with the below as more food for thought, because I’ve been pondering it since I read it a while back, and I’d be interested to know whether others agree or whether I’ve simply misjudged it. It’s something Brian Marwood said as Man City closed in on de Bruyne, and after the Champions League draw:

“We want to get as close to winning it as we possibly can. We’re in it to compete, not just to get through the group stage; it has to be more than that. We haven’t been shy of spending money over the years because we have an ambition to be successful. Last year was a disappointment – that is how we are measured now. We were hurt by not winning [the Premier League] last year and not doing better in the Champions League.”

Why did it stick with me? In one paragraph it sums up a sense of naked ambition and bullishness that, in Champions League terms at least, you don’t hear much from Arsenal (“When we talk about the destination, it’s not winning a Champions League, it’s making fans proud,” Gazidis said back in April). Maybe I missed the memo, and am judging harshly as a result. Five consecutive last-16 knockouts have turned me into the arch-cynic that I now am.

And maybe of course, he speaks like that because he can spend £49m and £58m on two players and not bat an eyelid. With FFP evaporating before our very eyes, it’s a case of ‘To the victors go the spoils’ – at least financially.

Signing Alexis and Ozil and Cech &c is a sign of ambition, right? It is, of course it is, and this squad is as good as we’ve had in perhaps seven years. But do we do enough? Or do we actually do all we can in a market where – rich though we are – we are simply not able to pull the shots when it comes to the top echelon of players?

Maybe it’s just a perception then, but to me it feels like we strive to qualify for the Champions League to keep our seat on the top table and to attract players, but without really thinking we have a chance of winning it.

The Champions League equivalent of the ‘fourth place trophy’…

The Podolski lift?

Just as my own blogging season was in danger of fizzling out, I’ve decided to rouse myself for one last push. Two more blog posts and I might just totter over the line. Why haven’t I sealed this sooner though? I can only think it’s a confidence thing.

Since I last dipped in here we have drawn at Stoke, a result that is far from calamitous at any stage of any season, but coming after a loss and a goalless draw it was a result that hardly kick-started the kind of swashbuckling tone for the rest of the season that I had hoped for. Why have the goals dried up a bit? “Maybe it is linked with belief” said Wenger, which is not really what you want to read, is it? Anyway, here we all are and we are pretty clear what Arsenal need to do to drag themselves over the line.

Of course, you have to assume the worst and expect our rivals to take full points. That makes our task very straightforward, on paper if not on grass – two wins. But depending on results on Wednesday, it could make Norwich on Saturday, and indeed West Brom’s Hodgson valete the following week, far more stressful than you might want.

How we could do with our new signing Lukas Podolski for the last two games. With 18 goals from 28 games this season, plus six assists, we are talking about a man at the top of his game and for Arsenal to sew this one up so soon is admirable business indeed. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect us to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s of our summer business before the Euros – there’ll a lot of shop windowing going on – but this lays down a marker and continues the recent policy of mixing raw youth (Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jenkinson) with proper experience (Mertesacker, Arteta). There’s also plenty of sense in getting as much of your incoming business done soon so that the club can work hard on trimming the squad down.

Podolski will of course be desperate for Arsenal to make the Champions League – he can join the queue, right behind the shuffling army of accountants – and will be forced to look on agonisingly from afar as we complete the season. There isn’t a lot he can do of course, but it would be nice to think that this ambitious early signal from the club might have an effect on the current players as they strive for the sunlit uplands of third – for those who will be competing for places against him, for those whose futures are undecided and for those committed for the long term but ambitious for more.

And on an unrelated note, good luck to Roy Hodgson. A decent man, he’s well travelled and well respected. And whatever happens, surely it can’t be any worse than South Africa in 2010?

All the best, Roy.

Clean sheet, dented goalposts, but no goals

Arsenal 0-0 Manchester City

In the pub beforehand, there wasn’t a single member of our party who envisaged anything other than a home win, and some of us thought we might get three goals (I think I went for 2-1). All I can say in hindsight is it’s a good job none of us are bookmakers by trade. Pre-match exuberance, eh.

It was pretty clear from the off that it would be tight, with City defending diligently and chasing us down off the ball. Nevetheless, the opening 20 minutes were our best period of the game.

I got a few disagreeing tweets last night when I suggested post match that it had been a game of ‘few chances’. Perhaps an overreaction borne of frustration on my part, but it is true that it was a game predominantly of half chances, with a few three-quarter chances thrown in. Nevertheless, in a tight game with a defensively savvy and pretty unambitious opponent, you need to make more of the chances you do get and clearly we were not able to do that.

It might aesthetically be your cup of tea – it’s certainly not mine these days – but there is much to admire in defensive obduracy. I grew up on a diet of George Graham and we would revel in stifling our opponents and nicking goals. City were content to do the same with the odd attempt to forage goalwards.

It’s no wonder they have kept the highest amount of clean sheets; when they choose to, they sit and stifle and they do it very well. I suspect most teams would have struggled to break that down.

I was impressed again with Song and Wilshere, shielding from deep, and Djourou / Koscielny both receive nods of approval. Theirs is clearly the best central defensive partnership we have at the moment. Interesting tweets from the Guardian’s @seaningle this morning:

“Last night was the first time this season that Arsenal have dropped a point in the PL when Johan Djourou has played (P9 W8 D1) …”

“… and think I’m right in saying that Arsenal haven’t lost a PL game with Djourou since 22nd November 2008 v Man City (P21 W18 D3 L0)”

So two successive nil nils against City at home, but this one was not as eye-rollingly dull as the one at the tail end of last season. City were equally cautious then, but the added ingredient was that we were entirely ineffective in May whereas last night we had a lot more to us. It was an intriguing battle in the end – and as Wengerball says, it was a clash of ideologies that made for good viewing.

Sadly, we couldn’t snaffle the three points but c’est la vie.

And on the plus side – Arsenal’s kit lady will have had one less kit to wash. Fabianski’s jersey can go straight back on the peg.