Wenger’s numbers don’t come up in Pottery lottery

Stoke City 3-1 Arsenal

I said yesterday that Wenger had little choice but to gamble in today’s FA Cup game. Gamble he did – and he lost.

As expected, he chose a mixture of youth and experience. In the young corner were Emmanuel-Thomas (first team debut), Coquelin (a lick of Milk Cup only) and Eastmond (one Premier League start).

At the other end of the spectrum were Silvestre and Campbell, with the rest – young but in some cases very experienced – making up the XI.

Was it a line-up that was ever going to trouble a physical and experienced team like Stoke? It’s easy to be dismissive in retrospect, but when I saw the line-up I thought we stood a chance if we played to our potential.

Therein lies the rub, though. We never did play to our potential. I accept that the game was fairly even until Stoke’s second, but apart from Denilson’s deflected equaliser, I cannot think of a single time when we made Sorensen earn his money.

Yes, Stoke played very well. Collectively, we could not cope. But too many of our players were off colour too. At the back, Fabianski was dreadful. On today’s performance, it’s easy to see how Almunia – hardly a Spanish Gordon Banks himself – remains unchallenged between the sticks. He punched rather than caught, stuttered on his line; he looked as if he’d won a competition to keep goal. The rest of the defence struggled, with the exception of Sol Campbell who performed admirably given how little football he has played recently. Traore was all over the place, Coquelin got better after a nervy start and Silvestre – well I suppose he tried hard.

In the midfield, I thought Eastmond did OK. In fact, all three rookies – Emmanuel-Thomas, Coquelin, Eastmond – did OK given the circumstances.

We were especially toothless up front though. I am – and remain – a big fan of Theo Walcott but on today’s performance he shouldn’t be worrying about his England place, he should be worrying about getting into the Arsenal side. He was embarrassingly ineffectual. I know it’s not his ideal kind of game and I know he’s been injured to the point of distraction, but he looked lost today. Carlos Vela had a rotten day too. Emmanuel-Thomas intrigues me though. His first touch wasn’t great and as debuts go, it was a tough one, but there’s definitely something there – power, desire, a different tack to the usual Arsenal striker (and he’s not even a striker). I’d like to see more of him.

The triple substitution made little difference.

So overall, it was never going to be a team that could walk the tie without each player playing to his maximum. The performance never arrived. We deserved to lose.

What to make of it? It’s a huge lost opportunity if you ask me. It’s all very well saying we can concentrate on the league and the European Cup, but they’re the hardest ones of all to win.

After the game, Wenger touched again on his reasons for playing the team he played. “Sagna, Vermaelen and Clichy will all be back for Aston Villa and they could have missed it if they had played today” he said.

Perhaps so. Maybe the circumstances – huge injury list and four high-octane games looming – demanded it.

Still out the cup though. Big gamble. Big loss.

Out with the new, in with the Sol at Arsenal

Football, I can report, still has the power to amaze.

After a sabbatical of 3½ years, Sol Campbell’s all set to sign for Arsenal until the end of the season. Amazing because he’s 35, amazing because he’s hardly the age profile of the classic Wenger signing, and amazing because despite having trained for months with the club, nobody really saw it coming.

There’s no doubt we need cover at centre back, with Gallas and Vermaelen having played 56 games between them already this season, but I must say I never expected Wenger to plump for Sol.

But in the cold light of day, the deal makes sense. The January transfer window is not always the best for value, and nor is it the best time to prize away decent defenders. On top of that, we’ve got to bear in mind that Gallas and Vermaelen remain our first choice pairing. So anybody who comes in would probably have to accept it will be as backup. He’s massively experienced. He’s free. It’s a smooth fit on that basis. Welcome back, Sol-man.

On Sky Sports News yesterday – which when still in the first rush of giddy excitement at the news, as it was salivating at the chops, raised the prospect of Sol forcing his way into Capello’s World Cup squad – Alan Smith pointed out that it’s not as if Wenger has gone in blind. Months of training will have told Wenger all he needs to know. Campbell looks fit. And he’s certainly in a good frame of mind if his interview is anything to go by:

“I cannot tell you how much I have missed playing…” he told ESPN, “it’s fantastic, great, marvellous… I’ve missed it and I’ve a gut feeling this is the right move. It’s no longer a hunger to get back – it’s turned into a craving. I am champing at the bit. I’m fresh, I’m raring to go. It’s unbelievable to be back at Arsenal.”

I have to say, after my initial amazement I’ve got a good buzz about this. I always rated Campbell and him having a second chance at the club is a great if improbable story. Any signing gets the place going, and this one definitely has – even if he’s not the long-term solution. That can wait until the summer.

He can sit in the café at Colney and reminisce with Gael Clichy about the Invincibles. More importantly, he can be a steady and experienced hand on the deck both on and off the pitch. Of course, he’s still got to cut it when he plays, and that will be an interesting one to see, but as a free short-term backup deal, I think it’s worth a punt.

It does also mean we will now surely see Senderos leave this window, possibly very soon. I have to say, I feel desperately sorry for Swiss Phil. He’s clearly no part of Wenger’s plans but he can probably thank Djourou’s injury for his extra six months rotting in Arsenal’s reserves. My own view is he is, was, a decent centre back with room to improve and his best years ahead of him, but there’s only so long you can hope a player will grow into his potential and Wenger has seen all he wants to now. He’s simply not been good enough to displace our first-choice pairing, but he wants and needs to play more games. It’s a catch-22. Best now to let him go – and he certainly wants that himself. Despite what must be a deeply frustrating time of things, he’s never moaned in the press or kicked up a storm. I hope he gets his move.

What else? There’s the surreal sight of Adebayor thinking he’s still an Arsenal player, talk of a new 17-year-old signing called Galinda and a pressing need for me to get up and go to work.

Better do that then.

Bye.