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.

Weave your magic, Tony Colbert

Good morning, and as the French say, ‘April Fish’.

Internationals have been and gone, and there seem to have been wall-to-wall matches since Thursday. Uefa changed this a few years ago, it transpires. Was it changed because:

a. We need to think about the fans more
b. To benefit the players
c. To maximise TV coverage and broadcast income

Clue: this is Uefa we are talking about.

Anyway, what do I care. I did watch England dismantle Lithuania. At the start of the game my ‘Eyes on TV to iPhone’ ratio was about 90:10, but after about ten minutes it was about 10:90. Gave me a chance at least to organise the folders on my phone (‘Stuff 1 and Stuff 2 are all over the place) and reinstate my Bergerac ringtone. So all’s well that ends well.

I watched England against Italy too, and quite enjoyed it. It made me feel a bit dirty, but it was nice to see Woy tweak and twang and turn a bit of a dog’s ear of a first half into a second half more akin to a sow’s purse. [How did your idiom training go? – Ed]

I thought Gibbsy did OK, though he did miss a Monreal in the second half, but Walcott was involved far too little. It seems very peculiar to me that he’s been playing centrally so much when it’s patently not where he is at his best. Against Monaco away, when we needed one more goal, he dolloped about in the middle when we could have done with him delivering the shizzle from out wide. He did the same against Italy, as well as playing at No 10, which is a bit like asking Berkgamp to fill in at right back.

I’ve been a big advocate for patience when it comes to Walcott, as he had a stinker of an injury, but he’s very peripheral at the moment. On this kind of form, the question is less “Can we turn down £25m for him” and more “Who would pay £25m for him”, but form changes fast and I’m sure his will improve. I’d still keep him, of course I would, but I am worried about how he’s played since his return, a few well-taken goals aside.

Incidentally, the answer to “Who would pay £25m for him” is still “many teams”. He was our top scorer two seasons ago.

Partly because he can be so much better than this, partly because it’s not a big outlay for an established international and partly because he’s English and so many teams have completely forgotten to buy or bring through English players.

Great to see four of our crocks back too – immaculate timing. As Arseblog says this morning, it will be interesting to see how we can fit them all in, Jack in particular. If Wenger has the nerve to genuinely rotate our midfield, then we might see a fair bit of him. He tends though to go with the same players when they are playing well – which is perfectly logical and reasonable – so Jack might have his work cut out unless we get an injury or two. What are the chances of that happening at Arsenal, I wonder?

Diaby, well let’s not hold our breath. Best case scenario is that he’s fit for a bit and can find himself a new club in the summer rather than having to retire. I suspect the options are that stark.

Saturday still seems some way off, but it’s pivotal. Before then though, it’s the Tony Colbert Magic Sponge Show.

Enjoy OK Wednesday. The starter gun has fired for Not Bad Thursday, then Good Friday. I’m hoping for Excellent Saturday, but if things go a bit sour we might need resurrecting ahead of the FA Cup semi-final.

Don’t worry, I’ve already got my coat and fled.

Getting used to sausages

Wigan 0-1 Arsenal

One-nil to the Arsenal, that old war-cry of a result, forged during an era when we were often dour but brutally effective in defence. It was a long time ago, that. In fact it’s only the second win by that scoreline this season, the other being QPR at home.

Since that era we’ve gone to the other extreme, scoring willy-nilly but defending like a sieve, and now we’ve changed again I suppose: trying to relearn the art of winning ugly. Well it wasn’t easy on the eye yesterday, definitely not a case of ‘everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home’, but it was a backs-to-the-wall effort on a stodgy pitch in the lashing rain against a side that looked a lot better than its league position suggests.

And you know what, there’s a lot to appreciate in the kind of result that you get away with a bit, throwing bodies everywhere, in which some of the players end up with their hair plastered askew on their bonces and with mud caked up their Nikes. Yes, we once ate caviar – but we are all getting used to the taste of sausages again. (As a mild aside, let it be said that sausages are fantastic – Lincolnshire ones are great and I recently had a Polish lunchbox – you at the back stop sniggering – the centrepiece of which was a quite momentous sausage. Well done Poland).

And the stats show that Arsenal were not at their fluid best, having fewer shots than Wigan, less possession, fewer crosses, key passes, and passes attempted – but we won. We won!

And by winning we went third (where we still remain, until this afternoon at least), won our third league game in a row for the first time this season, and winning, as you know, is the elixir of life. It’s the medicine of choice for managers, players and fans alike.

Talking points:

Walcott is still auditioning for his preferred role as a striker, but obviously had a pivotal role yesterday in the goal. But the contract thing hangs over him everywhere he goes and it’s immensely boring now. His stalling tactics are boring me too, even if he is being polite and professional enough about the whole thing. He originally stated not being selected as a reason not to sign up, (he now is being), he then blamed not playing up front (he now is doing). Both ‘excuses’ are now rather watery so imagine my surprise when yesterday I read in the Times (£ link) that the reason now is that he is a bit miffed with Wenger, for various reasons, and wants assurances about the direction Arsenal are going in. Which could of course be true – views mirrored by many, after all – but it’s the first we’ve heard of it. I think he’ll stay till the summer, and I think we need him to – but he’s a high-profile player and the questions will be asked every single time he does his interviews, and it’s all a bit dull, but there you go – hey ho.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is edging back into form and sliced down the right in the second half to great effect. Like a new player? (*takes poison*)

Coquelin did a great job breaking stuff up and getting stuck in when he came on

Wilshere is going to have to get used to being targeted wherever he goes. Booked for a superb tackle yesterday, he was upended and clattered with regularity. It’s the price he’s paying for being the talent he is, and for being the kind of player who relishes getting stuck in.

You can throw any kind of weather you like at Arteta’s hair, but it will not be bowed.

Overall then a great result to set up the Christmas period – in which we have a mini-break – and the gloom has lifted, for now. How we are third is hard to fathom, but I’ll take it with jingly bells on.

Which is a reasonable way to lead onto my final point: Happy Christmas to you all – or happy holiday if you prefer – or happy days at work if neither of the previous applies. Enjoy the time off, relax, have a rip-roarer.

Arteta, we art in heaven

Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City

One-nil to the Arsenal, and as one goal wins go, that one was as sweet as it was deserved.

Sweet because we needed a win and we needed a performance after that baffling foot-off-the-pedal defeat at QPR. Wenger said it was a blip and that yesterday we’d see the real Arsenal back – the one utterly reinvigorated since February – and he was right.

And sweet because, well, it’s Man City isn’t it – the gaudily assembled team who have for several years now covetously eyed our players, and if you believe everything you read, continue to do so.

Toure and Adebayor, Clichy and Nasri – good players all but do we now miss any of them? We do not.


And deserved because only one team made any real running at all. We started and ended the game so hungrily, retaining the ball well, always looking to pass, pass, pass and eager to win it back when we did lose it. Although it looked towards the end that we’d pay the price for hitting the post twice and somehow clearing a nailed-on van Persie goal off our own line, sheer persistence had its reward with Arteta’s late thunderclapping howitzer.

How it remained XI v XI as long as it did shall remain one of life’s mysteries, right up there with Why Do My Headphone Cables Always Entwine Within Five Seconds Of Being In My Pocket. (The status of Where Are All The Baby Pigeons has since been set to: resolved).

Balotelli may well be a nice fella and he’s definitely richly talented, but he’s bafflingly brainless too and his knee-high studs-up tackle on Song was a red card about twice over. (On that subject, I did enjoy Arseblog News’ By the Numbers this morning). That Song – who was magnificent all afternoon – was not badly hurt is a big relief.

There were some impressive performances across the pitch and good though Song was, he wasn’t the only one worth praising. Rosicky and Arteta were excellent, Benayoun was tigerish and defensively we were excellent. It’s a shame that Gibbs retired hurt but Santos is a tidy replacement indeed. The other downside was Koscielny’s yellow, his tenth of the season, which rules him out for a few games.

Back into third we go, two points clear, but the battle for third and fourth remains immense and the difference between all four teams just five points.

There’s a long way to go.

Last-minute snifter

Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa

Here I am again, fashionably late. A little bit like Arteta’s free-kick then, which will have been missed by hordes of Arsenal fans who’d upped sticks and begun their homeward journey already.

Among these I count the remaining members of the merry throng I sit with, including Brother Wimbledon, Snowboard Rob and the Shedman, who had moments earlier slipped away to the pub. The latter is the same man who pre-match had ordered himself an additional pint at seven minutes to three. Well, it was a hot day.

Obviously, leaving early is not the kind of behaviour I countenance (unlike the pint at 2:53pm, which is to be admired), but if you were to offer excuses, it was already a rubber of the deadest proportions. Almost the exact opposite to the previous home game, of course.

The question is: would you prefer nailbiting edge-of-seat late-in-the-day wins or something that draws to a rather more sedate conclusion? I’d take the latter anyday, unless you could magically foretell the future of course, which with the best will in the world, I can’t.

We will of course face far greater tests in our battle to finish the season on a high – something that has eluded us two seasons running – but it was a joy to see such an assured and confident performance. And to see more scorers come out the woodwork – they’re coming from the defence and from the midfield all of a sudden. That’s confidence for you.


Given @arseblog was over for his traditional Arseblog 5-a-side shindig, I had wended my way to the usual watering hole to say hello prior to the game. The sun was out and to say the place was chocker would be the understatement that broke the camel’s back [rework this one – Ed]. The ratio of incomers to those leaving was about fifteen to one, all of which meant I never even got as far as the inner bowels. Instead I loitered aimlessly by the door, though it didn’t stop me from bumping into @gingers4limpar, @gunnerblog and @HayleyWright. Good fun all round and top people all.

“Stop waffling, man”.


Arsenal match report: Three refreshing points

Arsenal 1-0 Swansea

Back in the good old days, going one up at Highbury meant you could exhale and start enjoying the afternoon. You might not get much more entertainment but you could be pretty confident that you’d get the win.

No use comparing eras though: times have changed. Arsenal have changed, the game has changed, and 1-0 to Arsenal is never a safe scoreline. It’s a particularly unsafe scoreline when you’re caught in the kind of league rut we find ourselves in.

Nevertheless, despite wobbling in the second half we surfed the late Swansea pressure and eked out the win that we desperately needed. And we really did need this, only our third league win in 15 attempts since beating Stoke on 23rd February.

So given it was the first game after the international week, given we had two new signings in the starting XI and given the inevitable mental baggage following the 8-2 pounding, this was a very good result indeed.

It wasn’t pretty, for the most part. We didn’t put enough pressure on Swansea, or stretch their play enough (not enough crosses like the one Gibbs put in for Chamakh in the 84th minute). We didn’t use our pace enough.

In the second half in particular, the fabled handbrake was back in effect, but there were loads of positives in the game too. Arteta and Mertesacker were calm, steady influences and can be very pleased with their debuts. Benayoun was lively as a sub. You could tell straight away what their experience brings to the side. Elsewhere, Szczesny again made a wonderful save and commanded his box well. Ramsey was neat. Arshavin had an excellent first half and took the goal very coolly (he has Gervinho breathing down his neck. Nothing like a bit of competition, eh).

As Wenger said at the end, “We know that confidence goes quickly and comes back slowly.”

Well this was a first step in the right direction. To that end, an excellent afternoon’s work.

It was my first game of the season too, and it’s always nice to be back. How pleasant it is too to find that some things never change. Coming into the concourse at half time, I was greeted by queues about 20 people deep for beer. Is it any wonder people vacate their seats so early? This stadium has been open for five years now and they still haven’t worked out how to serve people beer, fast. I know it’s a tired old moan but how hard is it? And what difference would it make to the half time exodus? I’ve said it before, but the system they have at the Millennium Stadium shows the way forward. Huge beer-pouring machines dispense a dozen pints at a time, in no time at all. There are queues but I don’t remember them being substantial. Instead, the club have installed new mini shops in the concourse over the summer to sell shirts and other merchandising. I don’t see many people leaving early to get to the front of those queues.

Anyway, moan over. It was a very welcome three points.

Concede 8, buy 5: Have you ever known a week like it?

They’re up for grabs now! Wenger, right at the end. An unbelievable climax to the transfer window

I can safely say I can’t recall the like. What began with the low of an abject eight-goal capitulation at Old Trafford has ended with the high of five new faces to bolster the ranks. We may never know whether the late spree was intended all along, or whether it was a direct consequence of the butchering in Manchester, but it’s happened and the result is that we are indubitably stronger this morning than we we were on Monday morning.

We could lament the absurd lateness of the spree (which has lent it an air of desperation), but maybe you have to factor in the departures of Cesc and Nasri into the equation. Both were very, very late exits in the scheme of things. And you also have to accept that a lot of business – rightly or wrongly – gets left this late for all manner of reasons. We could also lament the painful reality that we cannot currently compete for the ‘big names’ (who come with the big wages). In that respect, we are left in the wake of three other teams. It hurts, but it’s a fact.

But, from my perspective at least, the last two days have been refreshing both in their decisiveness and in their honesty. A club that was getting the reputation for dithering about over transfers acted incredibly quickly to bring new faces in. In Arteta’s case, the fax was involved in a photo finish.

Honest, too, because this is as near as we will get to a public admission that the squad was sub-par and that the youth project – such as it ever was – hasn’t worked. All five players are over 26. All experienced. All, given their status for their national teams, have borne responsibility on the field.

Santos, probably, will come straight in as first choice left-back. Mertesacker, too, ought to partner Vermaelen straight away. One of either Arteta or Benayoun can consider themselves worthy of a berth in the middle. Of the five, Park is probably the least likely to start but then again, he’s probably leapt ahead of Chamakh by default. These have been crucial signings.

Despite the clamour from some quarters, we were surely never going to go for a player like Parker. You lose two highly creative players, then you need to replace those players like for like. We have done that. In the hod-carrying midfield position, we now have competition for Song in Frimpong. So the additions of Benayoun and Arteta are sound. (I’ve never been a huge fan of Benayoun, but again, I reserve my judgement. And I’m told he’s been very good in pre-season).

I don’t think we could have done much more under the circumstances and in the time allotted. Criticism, yes, for dithering all summer. That has not shown either Wenger, or the board, or the teams involved in player acquisition, in a good light.

But the fans, and the players, needed this spree badly. van Persie and Walcott have both urged the club to strengthen this summer. Wilshere was positively glowing on Twitter last night. And look at the dropped heads on the pitch after the mauling on Sunday. They needed a lift as much as we did.

It’s certainly had the right effect on me. The squad looks much stronger and better balanced.

Naturally, I can’t wait for the Swansea game.