Benny sets the bit-part benchmark

Wolves 0-3 Arsenal

A fine win, but one I followed only via the Opta messages on the notification screen of my phone. I like to experience new matchday experiences, you see. It was a bit underwhelming if I’m honest.

Unlike the game itself, which from an Arsenal perspective at least was entirely whelming. Losing a man for most of the game was the last thing Wolves needed but it did us a favour. I’ve always thought a red card and a penalty is a bit harsh, double-punishing the offending side as it does. So that was 1-0 and once Theo lashed in the second moments later, it was an Everest-sized mountain to climb for Wolves.

Benny’s resurgence is interesting though, isn’t it? Perhaps cocking an eye at the marvellous form of Tomas Rosicky, he’s rolled his sleeves up and his high-energy approach is just what we need. It helps that the team is playing well and it helps that he’s getting minutes on the pitch (two starts in a row), but if we need a bit-part benchmark then Benny fits that bill. He warms the bench a lot and can’t last 90 minutes, but he’s rarely let us down when called upon and never moans.

Plenty of Arsenal fans have remarked over the course of this season about squad depth and the depth of talent behind the first XI, but surely Benayoun is precisely the kind of squad player we need? Experienced and often effective.

A few months ago, if I thought about summer ins and outs (which I like to do from time to time – who doesn’t?), I’d have consigned both Rosicky and Benayoun to the Arsenal scrapheap. The former has already unscrapheaped himself spectacularly, and now I’m increasingly seeing the benefits of Benayoun – Benayfits? – as a more than useful squad player. Would he be prepared to play a lesser role on a permanent basis? He’s started eleven games and come on as a sub in another ten. That’s not bad for someone who will be 32 in a month.

If he is, the boss might just take a punt and sign him full time.

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.

£72m.

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.

Merry Christmas, rip-roarers

Xmas

The Villa win – having not played that well, and right at the death, and thanks to a header (rare), and from a corner (plentiful but rarely fruitful) – was a deeply satisfying result. It’s a game we may well previously have lost, but coming after the loss at Man City, it showed tremendous bouncebackability.

It also cemented, for me, the usefulness of Yossi Benayoun. His signing has been a bit of a slow-burner for me. But the fact that the littlest man in the box could come off the bench, steal in and nab the winner was a big moment. On top of that you could see what it meant to him. He celebrated with real gusto. Hands aloft, followed by him lickety-splitting it out of the box with his mane flowing behind him. Brilliant stuff.

Of our Supermarket Sweep August quintet, the plaudits have obviously gone primarily to those who have played the most – Arteta (quietly brilliant), Mertesacker (who I like a lot) and Santos (slimmed down, spiced up, stretchered off). But I’m confident that we’re going to see a lot more of Benayoun over the rest of the season. With that one strike, he has proved that at the very least he’s got the capacity to be a gamechanger off the bench.

Next up is Wolves, on Boxing Day+1. I’m well aware that moving the match is a pain of the highest magnitude for those coming from far away. But from a selfish perspective, I’m ok with it. Not because I have an aversion to leaving the house on Boxing Day. Mostly, it’s because I have memories of Boxing Day producing some right turgid old numbers. The crowd can be flat, the play can be flat. Our last two Boxing Day encounters were a 2-2 at Villa in 2008 (far from turgid, but we did turn a 2-0 lead into a 2-2 draw), and a 0-0 at Portsmouth in 2007.

Contrast that with our last two games played on 27th December – a 3-1 win against Chelsea in 2010 and a 3-0 win against Villa in 2009.

So you see what I’ve done here: Using shaky statistics, a paucity of reason or logic and hauling long-forgotten games out of my memory, I have written off Boxing Day games as ones to avoid.

Anyway, enough of that. Wherever you are, I hope you’ve got a few days off. Enjoy them, relax, it’s been a pleasure.

Ah, finally – a letter to Santa. I cajoled my 6-yr-old into doing the donkey work. I hope I haven’t confused him.

Santa

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.