Dismal Arsenal stagger on

Stoke City 3-2 Arsenal

It’s impossible to make any sense of this season, because you have absolutely no idea what Arsenal will do when they step on the pitch. Good luck anyone trying to second guess how we might play. We might make light work of a seemingly hard game (Dortmund), we might throw away winning positions (Swansea) and we might go tight and eke out one-nil wins (WBA and Southampton). Then of course, we might collapse like a pack of cards, as we did yesterday at Stoke.

The 90 minutes was a microcosm of the inconsistency of this, Wenger’s latest and almost certainly last, Arsenal side. So bad it was pathetic in the first half, then a brief, stirring comeback that fell short. But ultimately, we remembered none of the defensive lessons we seemed to have learned over the last three games. It was a dog’s breakfast of a performance.

We started the season by drawing a lot – we didn’t lose for the first six games of the season – but in the subsequent nine games we have lost four times, won four times and drawn once. That is the epitome of inconsistency, right there.

Now obviously, it was always going to be harder because we had three rookies in the back five. But the mistakes the defence made were just basic. When you are lacking in experience, at the very least you should be drilled to within an inch of your life to keep things tight, shut down the opposition, prevent crosses. Too much to ask, clearly, and when you are 1-0 down after 25 seconds, you’re already in trouble.

We “weren’t decisive enough”, “not dominant enough”, “too fragile” – and you can now add “multiple set-piece disease” to the lexicon of failure. However the boss says it, we’ve heard it all too many times before.

With Newcastle coming next in the league, it’s anyone’s guess. Every game is anyone’s guess. We are almost half way through the season and we’ve not yet started.

Wenger can’t seem to change the narrative for long enough for it to make a difference. If you were a betting man or woman, you’d say the most likely outcome for the second half of the season is more of the same. We probably won’t beat one of the teams we measure ourselves against. We’ll win some and we’ll lose some in no particular order and we might be there or thereabouts for the fourth place trophy in May.

We’re stuck in a loop.

Sanchez in, Puma out, Arsenal shake it all about

It was one of those days when the stars aligned and Arsenal fans got a bit giddy. The best of days…

I suspect that Puma riding the crest of the Sanchez wave might not have been that accidental, either. Someone in the Arsenal PR department will be pouring themselves a glass of something cold this evening. There’ll be some schnapps wheeled out at Puma.

The Sanchez deal had been building a head of steam, so signing him wasn’t entirely unexpected – unlike the Ozil one, which came out the blue like a thunderbolt. The price, too, has had less mention than Ozil’s, which can only be a good thing. Last year we nearly fell off our perches when we spent £42.5m on one player. It was so far out of our comfort zone. Now, we’re back shopping in the same luxury outlet. That we can do it more often is a huge relief after years of relative parsimony and a healthy, but often untouched bank balance.

It’s just such a boost. The kind of player with power and speed and goalscoring ability that we really missed last year. 21 goals for Barcelona. It’s a signing that’s really got people going.

He’s even using his first name on the shirt, and has taken the number 17, which has pleased all those with Alex Song shirts. Just a little bit of tweaking and Bob’s your uncle.

And you know, maybe there is a domino effect. Would he have come if Ozil hadn’t come last season? Possibly, but who knows. From selling our best players, which we did for quite a few years, we’re now buying top ones and keeping the ones we want to keep.

It doesn’t feel like the last either. Claude Debussy’s looked like he’s on his way for a while. We’re also being linked to Khedira, the kind of rumour I’d have laughed out the room last summer and not even mentioned. Tough transfer to do? Probably. But not as impossible as it would’ve been in the past.

Exciting times.

And so to Puma, who finally launched their ‘trilogy’ of shirts. There’d been more leaks than a Welsh farm, so again, we knew what was coming, but I think they’ve struck a good balance. Stick with tradition, classic designs home and away, with a cheeky third shirt which also doffs its cap to the past.

Some people are staunch defenders of various brands – Adidas fans, Nike aficianados – but all I care is that they don’t balls around with the designs, and they haven’t. Mind you, if you’ve got a six-pack it’ll help. I’m a middle-aged man with a paunch.

Of course, they’re available all over the place, including here. I know this because JD Sports have sent me a shirt, the little devils. Now I just need to get rid of my wine belly. I need to be ‘buff’, at least that’s what I think it’s called these days.

So, new shirts, new striker. A deal done in the middle of the summer. You’ve changed, Arsenal. You’ve changed.

Prawn sandwich fan / Hip Hip Hooray

Admission: Tuesday came and went and passed me by entirely. For me, it’s a rarety for me not to follow a game in some way. I go to most home games, and watch or listen to most of the others. Those matches I can’t go to, see or hear I will follow via Twitter etc, as many of us do. But on Tuesday, as the match kicked off, I was out meeting football-agnostic friends (they do exist, it seems) in a pub with pleasant steak and kidney pies but no telly, and although I briefly toyed with the time-honoured gadget switch-off so I could play the match as live when I got in, I knew my resolve wouldn’t last and sure enough, it didn’t. Having found out we’d lost 1-0, I opted against pursuing the venture any further when I got home. Fickle? Guilty as charged.

I did sniff round the reaction though, and the goodwill to a) a weakened team and b) a loss was widespread. Partly because we seem to have acquitted ourselves very well, and partly, perhaps, with one eye on last February’s Wembley final, which was the catalyst for a sensational collapse.

Wenger said in his L’Equipe interview that last season, “to try to catch one [trophy], we ran after all the hares”, and that contributed to the dismal season end, but that this year, rather than change approach, “I’ll do the same thing”.

I think he approached it right given the obvious fatigue on Saturday, and while the hunt for a trophy is as important as ever, I get the feeling that things don’t seem to hinge so much on the winning of a cup this year. Maybe expectations are a little bit lower and maybe, after the start we had, this season became as much about turning an underperforming team around – which is happening – as it was about having a genuine tilt at a trophy.

Either way, I don’t see too many – any – dissenters saying we should have played the Persies and the Ramseys and the Walcotts of this world on Tuesday. Chasing four trophies puts an impossible burden on any squad, especially one still scraping off the mud of an early season quagmire. We performed well and as has been pointed out elsewhere in numerous places, it was an opportunity seized for some of our players – Coquelin, Frimpong, Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular.

125

I wasn’t aware of the exact date, but today is apparently the 125th anniversary of the club. How time flies – I vaguely remember the celebrations around the 100th anniversary and here we are again for another milestone. It feels like a long time but when I worked out I had followed Arsenal for almost 25% of its existence, and that time has disappeared into the ether like a flash, it feels a bit less so.

In those 125 years, Arsenal have won the First Division / Premier League title 13 times. Unlucky for some, but equally, 11 times more than others. That averages out as one title every 9.6 years, which puts our barren trophy run into some perspective and, as I mentioned on Twitter, raises the interesting prospect of our next title coming in 2014 (if stats can be relied on – no comment).

I can’t imagine too many of us would find that too long a wait. I’ll just drop a call to the club and check they’ve booked Islington Town Hall.

Best to be well prepared for these things.