Are Arsenal Up For The Cup? You’d hope so.

The magic of the cup, up for the cup, Wemberlee, wearing yellow ribbons – here we are again on third round weekend, and I still love this competition to bits. Wenger Mark I loved it to bits too and was rather good at it – four-times winner of it, and it should have been five given how we were mugged in 2001. But Wenger Mark II, as Goodplaya and Arseblog have pointed out, has a pretty poor record with one semi-final in seven years.

Playing weakened sides in this competition because it pays less than a higher league place, or the Champions League, sums up what I hate most about modern football. It’s the same argument that leads to Wenger saying that fourth is like a trophy, and if I ran a poll now on the blog asking whether the fans would prefer an FA Cup win or coming fourth, I suspect coming fourth would win – meaning plenty of people agree with him. Where has winning for the glory of it gone?

Given how we blew a presentable chance to get to the semi-final of the Milk Cup, and how we continue to veer from decent to dismal, this year’s FA Cup has taken on an importance all of its own.

Trouble is, even with a strong side we have no real idea how Arsenal will approach the game, physically or mentally. If even Wenger is now questioning their desire – I am still slack-jawed at that comment, if I’m honest – then you know that the inconsistency is so ingrained it’s practically tattooed. That it is crucial to the season, and possibly even to Wenger, seems rather clear to me.

In other news, the transfer window has sprung open, and in a classic Wenger bluff, our first moves are not incoming but outgoing. Chamakh has joined West Cham on loan, Djourou looks set for a loan to Hannover, Squillaci has been told he can go (it’ll be a loan, let’s not kid ourselves), and Arshavin is being touted around for a similar arrangement. It weakens the squad in terms of numbers, but not hugely in real terms – those four players have started seven games between them (five in a competition that we are no longer in), and have combined league starts of zero. That’s probably not far short of £200k, even £250k a week going nowhere.

Given how seriously we need to take the FA Cup, they wouldn’t have started in that either, barring a plague of injuries, so freeing up some space in the squad and some money would make sense there, but only assuming that we sign some replacements. Other teams have hit the ground running on the transfer front, long ago identifying needy areas and striking early – but we, characteristically, have hit the ground creeping. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, I dunno. It’s only 5th Jan.

I’m particularly interested to see how Chamakh gets on. Wenger has a long and marvellous history of only selling players when he has got all he can out of them – Vieira, Henry, Overmars, Toure etc – with some obvious exceptions in the shapes of van Persie, Fabregas, Cole. Should Chamakh be equally as poor at West Ham as he has been at Arsenal, nobody would be surprised. But if Allardyce can get something out of him – even 75% of what we saw in late 2010 – then it’s a punt worth taking. My own view is that it depends how much he plays. If you played him ten times in a row, he’d surely get better – something he has not done for years with us (why that is, who knows).

I suspect he is a back-up though, and not much more. Andy Carroll is injured, and Modibo Maiga is off to the ACN, leaving them with Carlton Cole alone (I was reminded – or informed of that by the Times here £). Good luck to him though. A decent spell there and we are more likely to be able to move him on in the summer.

Who knows what will happen. Come on you reds (or blues/purples).

Fourth circle of hell / Seventh heaven

Reading 5-7 Arsenal

I can think of a few bonkers results in this competition over the years – winning 6-2 at Liverpool courtesy of the Beast being one – but in all my years watching Arsenal I can’t ever recall anything with as much bouncebackability as this.

If you’d stumbled upon my Twitter timeline after 45 minutes you’d have marked my card as a depressive. I had motored into sarcasm overdrive, wondering whether we could have a trophy for getting to the third round of the FA Cup and comparing Reading’s impressive Robson-Kanu unfavourably with a hybrid Arsenal player called Stepanovs-Helder. We had been outplayed, outfought and all over the place. “We want our Arsenal back”, sang the massed ranks of masochists in the away end. Then Theo scuttled through to an Arshavin pass and it was 4-1.

Can you throw a dead man a lifeline?

I asked on Twitter.

The start of the second half suggested the answer was no. Reading began it like they left off but then Arsenal edged back into the game and Wenger brought Eisfeld and Giroud on at about 60 minutes. For him to bring subs on at 60 minutes is almost unheard of. It suggests apocalypse. I have scoured the records and the only other time he has dipped into the bench this early (when not forced to by injury) was when JFK was shot.

Theo corner, Giroud header, 4-2. ‘La, la la la-la-la-la, Girooooooud’ sang the increasingly less miserable legions.

Oh no. It’s the hope that kills you. 4-2.

I wrote. And the game from a fan’s perspective had in one nod of a Frenchman’s head moved into the next phase: Nerves. Where previously there was a grizzly acceptance there were now the small shoots of hope. Football has a lot to answer for.

We looked like a different team. Energetic, incisive, determined. Why the polar opposites? It’s very Arsenal isn’t it and I couldn’t begin to tell you. Anyway, Old Father Time was scything away at the long grass and it was 89 minutes in. Theo corner, Koscielny header, 4-3. I didn’t tweet at this point, I think mostly because I had just fallen off the sofa.

And then in the 96th minute, fashionably later than the four minutes allotted (maybe because Reading has subbed in injury time? I neither know nor care at this point), Theo stabbed a shot past Federici, and over the line it went. Except the lino didn’t give it, so Corporal Jenkinson hoovered up the rebound to be sure. gives it to Jenkinson, but Theo had the match ball. I’m not sure whether they can rule it was Theo’s after the event, though it was – but I’m not sure. Either way, out came the Twitter and things had all gone a bit Caps Lock.


The amazing turnaround was reaching its dénouement, and extra time belonged to Marouane Chamakh. Yes, I know what I just wrote.

Chamakh! I repeat, Chamakh!

I said after his first. In the end he nabbed two – both from outside the box – to counter Reading’s fifth and it was game over. Delighted for him to be honest, because players who don’t play struggle, as he has done, and this might give him and Wenger pause for thought.

Now look, I’ve missed half the talking points and I’ve largely skated over a first half that made me weep, but that’s alright. Theo was excellent, Giroud and Eisfeld made a difference, Arshavin reminded us of his passing radar and Arsenal dug deep to register a famous win.

It doesn’t matter whether this is the lowest of all in Wenger’s list of trophies (one of which isn’t even a trophy), it’s all about winning. Football is about momentum and morale and confidence, and last night will be the kind of shot in the arm the club needs. Imagine if we’d limped out 4-0, and then remember who we play on Saturday. Though Wenger did of course omit most of our first XI, I’m not sure he has the luxury of choice these days. Let’s go for this: Let’s go for everything. Why would you not?

Feels good, anyway.

Incidentally: The fourth circle of hell according to Dante’s Inferno is reserved for the ‘miserly and spendthrift’. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

XXXXXXX, a half-season wonder

So I took an interlull-esque dip into blogs past, because I was just thinking about Giroud (footballistically), and I emerged with this:


Lose him and we are looking to Carlos ‘Chip It’ Vela or heading back into Arshavin territory. So please, XXXXXXXX – no injury.


XXXXXXXX is a revelation. A willing front man who can toil away happily, holding the ball and distributing it, but who has a real eye for goal, I would wager that Bendtner is now sweating a bit. Why on earth did Wenger scrimp on the £7m by waiting this long to sign him? He could have made a real difference in the back end of last season.


XXXXXXX will surely be holding the line again, but that’s fine – he’s made a good start to his Arsenal career with three goals in eight. He’ll need a break at some point but if we can keep him in one piece until Bendtner or van Persie return, then he’s very much the main man.


Our over-reliance on the ever-willing XXXXXXX has been another of my worries.


As an appendix, my players of the season so far are Nasri (up a massive notch), Fabianski (purely for rising from the ashes), XXXXXXX (better than Bendtner) and Wilshere (staggering talent coming of age).


Fortunately, XXXXXXX eased the nerves with a deft toe-poke.

A quick word about Nasri and XXXXXXX. It is very doubtful had you placed a bet on the opening day of the season that you would have tipped those two to top our scoring approaching Christmas, but with 10 and nine goals respectively, they have exceeded expectations.


Shoehorning van Persie and XXXXXXX into the same team is a glorious headache.


So thank heavens for XXXXXXX’s impressive debut season. Mon chapeau est doffed, as they say in France.


XXXXXXX has been a hit

This is precisely the kind of non-sequitur / fluff piece that interlulls were invented for, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m certain that I also don’t need to tell any of you that XXXXXXX is of course that great Houdini of strikers, Marouane Chamakh. (For a while, he did well in a box). Formerly of Emirates Stadium and now of no fixed abode.

“Where are you going with this?” I hear you ask, and I answer that I’m not entirely sure, only that I recall a player who made his presence felt, could score with the head and the foot and for whom plenty of exuberant words were once written (not least, as you can see, by myself).

And I suppose that some people compare Olivier Giroud to him. Because he’s from the French league, maybe, a striker and tall – but if you think about it there are big differences, and not just in price. Chamakh started his Arsenal career so well, getting something like 11 goals by Christmas, and then faded away drastically. Giroud has started his career at the club more slowly and has set himself a target of a dozen goals for the season. Chamakh scored 16 goals two years running in France, but Giroud got 25 – a huge difference. But the biggest difference is that Chamakh didn’t really replace anyone, whereas Giroud part-replaced a man who scored 37 goals. That’s where the burden is.

Personally I think that Giroud is a decent player and will prove it, if he’s not doing so already, but then again, I did say that about Chamakh.

But the main conclusions of these rambles are these:

a) There’s really no use in making comparisons or judging a player after ten games. It takes a season before a decent assessment can be made. By Christmas 2010, Chamakh was a big player for Arsenal. By May 2011, he was not. Will Giroud have hit 12 goals by May? I think he’ll get more than that.

b) Chamakh’s decline is not only baffling, but sad.

The Milk Cup of human unkindness

Don’t mention the score

It’s back into the Milk Cup saddle this evening as Bolton roll into town. Despite having despatched Shrewsbury Town already, the merest mention of a Carling Cup tie takes me back to memories of filing out of Wembley in February. It’s hard to forget, even now. They weren’t the kinds of conversations for gentle souls.

Defeat that day, as we know, precipitated our worst run of form for a long, long time – we’re only emerging from it now – but Wenger’s approach last year, to my mind, was the right one. He wanted the team to taste victory, to kick on. It couldn’t have backfired more spectacularly but there you go. Given our start to this season, our form and our brittleness, it still represents one of our best chances for a crack at a trophy so once again he will look to get the balance between youth and experience right. It’s an especially tough call tonight because Bolton, though down on their luck, is a tougher assignment than Shrewsbury and we will need to take that into account, all the while thinking about Saturday’s game.

Part of the reason we have looked stronger in this competition could be that the players we blooded in it are young but now experienced. Others, like Coquelin and Frimpong, are raw but are hardly sitting idle on the sidelines – eight starts between them this season already.

Cor blimey, striker light

One area there is room for rotation in is up front. van Persie’s two-goal cameo on Sunday, delicious though it was, simply reinforced the point that while we have one trigger-happy marksman at the top of his game to fall back on, we have another two marksmen tottering around in the wilderness.

Bit harsh, maybe. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Chamakh’s workrate at the moment but he’s peculiarly devoid of confidence (one goal in 31 appearances, I read somewhere, and no shots on goal on Sunday. Blunt). As for Park – defended yesterday, as you would expect, by Wenger – he’s been banging them in for South Korea but nowhere to be seen at Arsenal.

“Some people judged our players very quickly in a negative way and slowly they changed their mind through their performances. I prefer it that way round than the other” said Wenger. “Some players make you jump off your seat in the early stages and then disappoint you after”, he added, not I imagine consciously referring to Chamakh, “ These players will win over all the sceptical people and Park is one of them.”

Well, he’ll certainly get his chance tonight.

Under the radar

One of the side effects of stumbling from one mucky defensive error to another for months is that we are now commanding less media attention. You’ll have had to stay up into the wee small hours to see us recently on Match of the Day. The column inches are down. Monday’s Times has an excellent 20-page football pullout called The Game. Five of those 20 pages were given over to the Utd v City game, one half of one page to us. I’m not saying that’s the wrong balance but it does mean that despite having now won 6 out of 7, we are operating somewhat under the radar. I prefer it this way.

No doubt this will change as the game at Stamford Bridge edges closer…

Hesitations – not what you need

I’m not convinced I’ve quite mastered the direction of this season. A campaign that has had some impressive highs – six goals scored twice, five goals once and four goals four times – has also seen some of the ropiest home form for a while, and yet here we are at the top of the league. Are we enjoying it? Well yes, of course, how can we not be, but the team is running the home fans through the mixer. It’s been very Arsenal.

There’s no doubt that Nasri and Chamakh deserve plaudits aplenty for their goal hauls this season – both have been excellent and their contributions have been priceless in keeping us in the hunt. They’ve scored 21 goals between them which in bingo terms is the key to the door.

It’s interesting how things have changed in just one year. Last term, our four highest scorers – Fabregas, van Persie, Bendtner and Arshavin – scored 53 goals between them, yet just a few months later only one of those players, Arshavin, is on target to match last season’s haul. Thus far, those four have just 14 goals.

So thank heavens for Chamakh’s impressive debut season and Nasri’s astonishing vein of form. Mon chapeau est doffed, as they say in France.

But really, we’ve got to lick this home form. Key to any improvement, as Wenger is happy to admit, is a defence that can defend better.

Wenger: “We had some hesitations at the back”

We’ve conceded 10 goals at home – a record bettered by a similar number of Premier League sides, including sieve-like Villa. Away from home, we are passing muster on that front but there’s undeniably room for improvement on the hallowed turf of the home of football.

But you know what? With Nasri fizzing away, Arshavin regaining form, Chamakh doing his thang and Wilshere bursting onto the scene, I know what it’s better to concentrate on.

When we are being attacked with gusto though, I may from now on just put my fingers in my ears and sing “la la la la” until it goes away.

Arsenal’s rotten week ends on a high

Aston Villa 2-4 Arsenal

The sight of Arsenal sitting atop the league table – albeit briefly, until Turkey Rovers twizzled over at Old Trafford – was as much as anything conformation that this is no ordinary season. On Thursday’s Football Weekly podcast we were told that 28 points after 14 matches (which is what Chelsea had yesterday morning) was the lowest points total of the top-placed side since time began. The fact that Arsenal are up there, scrapping away, says a bit about Arsenal but also a bit about the inconsistency – or is that equality – among the top teams this season.

Yesterday’s trip to the Villa was – as most league games seem to be at the moment – crucial for Arsenal. After two truly rotten defeats, a win was much needed to steady the ship. That we got it and went top is, as I mentioned, a bit nuts.

We absolutely deserved it though. In the first half, we were utterly dominant and should really have scored long before Arshavin’s very Arshavinesque right-foot daisycutter. Nasri’s second, from the excellent Russian’s corner, prompted an outpouring of gallows humour on Twitter. Surely we couldn’t keel over like we had done last weekend?

Cue a Villa goal on 51 minutes and some painful memories of the weekend before. It was a lovely finish but the Arsenal defence backed off for so long that Clark had time to stop, do his hair and floss his teeth before letting rip. [A bit harsh perhaps – the goal should never have stood as Carew was offside and interfering with play by blocking Fabianski’s line of sight.]

Fortunately, Chamakh eased the nerves with a deft toe-poke but this being Arsenal, we were pegged back again when Clark rose unmarked in the box and nodded it over the line. After that it was a little bit frantic but Jack Wilshere rounded things off with a headed goal, his first in the Premier League.

Going forward, we were a joy. Arshavin had a superb game, ably helped by Wilshere and Nasri, both of whom were again excellent. But at the back we were less convincing when put under pressure, and the fear when we concede is palpable. I’m not sure I need go into it any more detail. We have not defended very well all season, and if there are any dances or sacrificial beasts that can be offered up to the gods of Achilles heels, I will happily perform them to ensure Vermaelen comes back firing on all cyclinders. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But it also makes the defence defend worse.

A quick word about Nasri and Chamakh. It is very doubtful had you placed a bet on the opening day of the season that you would have tipped those two to top our scoring approaching Christmas, but with 10 and nine goals respectively, they have exceeded expectations. It’s no surprise that in a formation where only one striker starts, van Persie is struggling to get off the bench.

Nasri scored just five goals last season, and even if you’re being conservative you’d now expect him to hit 15 this time round. Some improvement from a player who is comfortably our stand-out performer of the season.

So a very good win sets us up well for three important but very winnable games – Wigan in the Carling, Fulham in the league and Partizan in Europe – and from there it’s a trip to Old Trafford on Monday 13th.

Dear Father Christmas. Please can I have a month of consistent winning. Thanks, bye.

Cool Hand Łukasz

Wolves 0-2 Arsenal

A fine rearguard performance, bookended by two well-taken goals from Chamakh and notable for an exceptional goalkeeping performance from the enigmatic Lukasz Fabianski.

Watching Fabianski is not good for one’s general health, it seems. Recent performances have tended to be steps forward, albeit with a mini step backwards against Newcastle. Last night the lovable Pole laid the ghost of Carroll (not meant to be quite as eerie and sick as it sounds) by putting in a fantastic shift to deny Wolves time and again.

Pick of the bunch came right at the end, while there was still only a goal in it, when he parried away a powerful shot from Berra. When the final whistle blew Fabianski afforded himself a little roar of approval. He was a lion last night.

We couldn’t have started the game better, Chamakh heading in a lovely Sagna cross [correction – it was Song] before a minute was up, but when Arshavin (otherwise very good, I thought) missed a one-on-one, Wolves came back into it and though we had other chances to seal it sooner than we did – Fabregas missed a good one – much of the rest of the game was for marvelling both at Wolves’ dogged refusal to give in and at Arsenal’s for once solid back line. It was only our third clean sheet in 12 league games. Their rarity makes me enjoy them even more.

The inability to put the game to bed sooner did lead to a collective outbreak of heart palpitations on Twitter, with Sunderland and countless other late concessions in mind, but the late counter sealed it.

I must admit, I was impressed by the Wanderers and McCarthy’s exasperation at yet another defeat is understandable. They played very well.

Fabregas’s yellow card gave everyone another talking point. It might have been red on another day and with a different referee, but I think yellow was probably the right call. It was not a good tackle at all. Afterwards, Cesc sought out Ward and apologised, saying it was an accident. That took all the sting out of the situation but it’s interesting that we have now had two such incidents committed by our players this season – Wilshere and now Fabregas. Rightly or wrongly, it’s cannon fodder for critics of Wenger’s stance on bad tackles.

Apologising is a good start, learning from it a wise outcome.


After two very poor performances this was a pivotal test. Lose it and the knives would truly have been out. But we ground out a very good win, and off we go again into happyland. We’re well placed. Let’s keep going.

Cham’s shimmy seals big three points

Arsenal 2-1 Birmingham City

It is undeniable that after two league defeats, and with a trip to Middle Eastlands looming, a win against Birmingham was not only much needed but also a blessed relief. We did, however, make heavy weather of a game we should have won more easily. We should never have been scrabbling to hold onto the three points in the last few minutes, but scrabbling we were.

Wilshere was the creative fulcrum throughout the game, ruining an otherwise excellent performance with a rash challenge and a red card. He was very contrite but he now needs to learn from it. It wasn’t ‘unfortunate’ or ‘one of those things’ – it was a bad challenge.

To lose such a player for three games is a big blow – which just goes to show how crucial he is becoming. That he is arguably our player of the season so far tells you a lot about his remarkable talent, and also a fair bit about the bitty stop-start way many Arsenal players have begun this campaign.

But what of the performance? MOTD highlights made it look a lot more incisive than it felt from where I was sitting. Faced by a resolute defence, we once again struggled a bit.

You may have noticed they’ve changed the pre-match build-up routine at the Arsenal, restoring Fatboy Slim’s Right Here Right Now to prominence as the song the teams walk out to, and demoting Elvis’ The Wonder of You down the billing. Part of this lengthened countdown to kick-off now includes a montage of famous Arsenal goals – including some of the incisive, direct rapier strikes that were the hallmark of the Henry and Pires era.

Then the match starts and you are quickly reminded how much the style of this side differs to the one of its Invincible predecessors.

The Arsenal of those years was noted for its lightning breaks and defence-splitting passes, more often than not tucked away by the admittedly untouchable Thierry Henry. We were direct, we were fast, we went for the jugular.

We can of course still score goals like that, but I do feel the Arsenal of 2010 seems, at times, to have lost that art. Yesterday was a fine example. Some fabulous build-up play, more often than not orchestrated by the sublime skills of Jack Wilshere, foundered time and again on the rocks of indecision on the edge of the D.

D, incidentally, is for Diaby – a player particularly prone to another word beginning with D – dallying. So much of what he does, outmuscling and outrunning his man and one-twoing hither and thither, is genuinely excellent. And he was at times very good yesterday. When he does go for goal, he can score a belter – remember the ones he scored at Anfield, and Villa Park? So why doesn’t he do it more often?

Maybe I’m being too simplistic. Teams often come to the Emirates with caution, aiming to hit us on the break, knowing that more often than not we will concede. So splitting teams in half is perhaps harder said than done and lord knows, we do not have a player with the speed, strength and skill of Thierry Henry in his pomp.

Nevertheless, the amount of times we get to the edge of the box but look to make that extra pass, or look up and take an extra touch – well, suffice to say we do this too often. Camping outside the opponents’ box will only yield rewards so many times.

That it did yesterday was down to a soft penalty and a wonderful piece of ping-pong between Wilshere and Chamakh.

Maybe this is why, at least in part, we get so excited about Walcott. He’s the most direct player we have, a genuine wing flier, and by running at a defence he can cause terror against tiring opponents.

Nevertheless, stylistic frustrations aside, it was a good win, hopefully a springboard win, and if you look at the table this evening you will see that, despite having won only 50% of our matches this season, we are third in the table, only five points off the pace. Tablistically, a good day.

Arsenal: Headers and long balls

The Times, recently ensconced behind a paywall, has become pretty inaccessible to the vast army of online football fans used to getting their football news for free. Whatever the rights and wrongs of a paywall, it’s a great shame if you ask me, partly because in Oliver Holt and Patrick Barclay they have two correspondents I agree with more often than not, and partly because on a Monday their excellent football pullout – The Game – lasts me through my entire tube journey to work.

This morning, in lieu of Premier League match reports, the pullout was a little looser round the waist, but one thing it did have was a Statistics centre-spread looking at some of the trends of the early stage of this campaign. Being a fan of the stat, it was intriguing. It’s a bit late to pick up a hard copy by now but it might be online if you fancy negotiating Checkpoint Rupert and paying your £1 due.

I don’t imagine that either of their stats I will relay will surprise you. The first is that of the current top four (Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd and Arsenal), we are the weakest in the air. Man City have won 56% of their aerial duels, while we have won only 44%.

Given that we are one of the better short passing teams, and that when in our stride we retain the ball well, it’s easy to see why some teams prefer to take us on in the air than on the ground. It probably explains why Wenger was so keen to play Diaby at Stamford Bridge (where to be fair, he had one of his better games), but I’d be interested to know whether this lack of height is actually affecting our chances overall. Wenger’s argument, I suppose, could be that we create enough chances through playing our passing game than we concede by losing the odd header here and there. I also wonder whether this stat has been skewed by not having Bendtner available, who for all his failings is as tall as a house.

And at the back, it seems to me that we’re not being beaten for height so much as being caught out from time to time by lapses in concentration and positioning.

The other stat I’m plucking out relates to short ball v long ball. In this regard, we have apparently only hit a long ball 6.6% of the time – or about once every fifteen balls. This is the least amount in the league, and compares to 21.7% of the passes made by Blackburn.

Again, not too surprising. We are chokka with nimble technical attacking players – Arshavin, Rosicky, Walcott, Wilshere, Nasri, Vela etc – none of whom I can envisage having circulation problems when they get out of bed in the morning. We do have aerial outlets up front in the form of Chamakh (6′ 2″) and Bendtner (6′ 5″), but the latter has not yet played this season and the former is still bedding in.

Nevertheless, having both fit might enable us to change things around a bit when necessary – for example when chasing a game, if our usual intricate passing game is not making headway.

Right, is Saturday any nearer yet?

Injury forecast: Chance of sun on Saturday, chance of rain too

What else is there to do during the international break but worry?

Worry, primarily, for the health of the Arsenal XI currently scattered across the globe being hacked to pieces in the name of glory for their motherland. I am so bored that I have even worked out which of those eleven has had the longest journey. It’s been a close-run and exciting thing, as I’m sure you can imagine, but the winner is Chamakh, who is representing Morocco in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Eboue runs him a close second and is a short hop away in Bujumbura, the magnificently named capital city of Burundi.

Back at the ranch, Wenger is reaping the benefit of his policy of buying brittle players, no doubt allowing himself a small chuckle at how he has cleverly denied a selection of countries their players thanks to them being injured.

One has to jest in these matters, I find, or one will cry.

The good news is that some of the long-termers are approaching fitness again. Fabregas should be back for Birmingham on Saturday, and blow me down if Nicklas Bendtner isn’t also threatening to return to fitness for that game too. Better still, Walcott could be ready and van Persie is not far behind him.

Good timing, that. It’s been immensely frustrating that so early in the season, we have been denied so many players.

It’s been especially true up front, where our over-reliance on the ever-willing Marouane Chamakh has been another of my worries. I think he’s started his Arsenal career really well, but until Bendtner and van Persie come back into the fray he cannot really be afforded a rest, and the longer that situation remains, the more I can panic a bit inside.

On top of that, having more strikers also has the added effect of giving us more options. Talk about stating the bleeding obvious, but you know what I mean. Bendtner, van Persie and Walcott have made a grand total of six appearances all season, with Chamakh being called upon ten times.

All we need is a minor miracle – all players returning, present and correct – and we could go into Saturday’s squad looking forwards rather than backwards in the direction of London Colney.

Now that would be a bit nice. But what are the chances?