Another throw of the dice

Arsenal 3-3 Norwich

I would like to tell you with a straight face that I withheld my thoughts on Saturday’s ‘thriller’ because I anticipated yet another twist on Sunday afternoon, but if I did say that I’d be lying the lie of a thousand liars. I honestly expected the Totteringhams to take the gift we had presented them on a platter, once and for all, and put us all out of our misery.

Instead, it looks as if we’re going to have to go through it again though, doesn’t it.

I doubt that I am the only person who has developed an unhealthy dollop of fatalism about the eventual outcome. I mean, if you fail to grasp your chances several times in a row, despite klaxons sounding, who’s to say you’re ever going to grasp it? Wenger couldn’t pinpoint the reason why we stodged through the first 45 minutes – “We have to analyse the reasons why we were not sharp enough in the first half”, he said, “There is no obvious reason because we prepared normally…” before then pinpointing exactly why: “But maybe subconsciously [we thought] we would win it.”

Complacency is a fault line that runs through this side, regrettably. It has been for ages. As Gunnerblog said on the Twisters, most teams have a sticky patch during a season – we have now had three.

Or as my brother said during half-time, “There’s nothing wrong with our players, physically or in terms of technique…. THEY JUST HAVEN’T GOT IT UPSTAIRS”.

Well in that case they have a week to go rummaging around in the attic, don’t they, because to throw away one or two chances to nail this consolation prize is regrettable, but to blow the final chance would be unforgivable.

Luckily, there is a blueprint for success, and it involves a more disciplined approach to defending – throughout the side – combined with the kind of attacking verve that suddenly and belatedly exploded us into life in the second half on Saturday. A verve that even seeped into the pores of Gervinho. Anonymous in the first half, he was like a slippery eel in the second.

Slippery eels – we need more of them.

One further thought: I think it’s probably better that we’re playing our last game away from home. I’ve had a feeling, since we ballsed up the home game at Wigan, that the understandable frustrations of the crowd (long-standing, often just under the surface) would be sensed and mirrored by the players, and maybe that’s another factor in the tepid performances that have followed. Not that I’m trying to defend them, but maybe it’s something to add into the mix.

But anyway, here we still are with a decent shout for third. 47 goals conceded, ten defeats, three points from 12 – and yet, still our destiny is in our hands.

What we need though, to end this on an upbeat note, are some positive stats, not negative ones. So before I bid you a happy bank holiday Monday, I shall leave you with this note of optimism.

THREE GAMES UNBEATEN.

One more thing: My scientific poll has ended, results below. The conclusion: We are all losing our minds.


“When we have to deliver, we can’t”


Ring any bells?

There are several dozen infuriating things about yesterday, all of them still fizzing away in my brain. It might be cathartic for me to list them but it would tip you all so far over the edge that it would be cruel.

But the thing I find most worrying of all, worse than the defeat itself, which had to happen one day, is the continuing seam of mental frailty that runs through this team. We can be brilliant, stubborn, resilient one weekend and we can collapse like a pack of cards the next. I don’t know how many times I have been forced to bring it up on the blog. Far too many.

For the fan – or for me, anyway – not knowing which Arsenal will turn up is the ultimate purgatory. Yesterday we even managed to squeeze both Arsenals into one match.

Technically, physically, these players are all good enough. But collectively there’s something missing and with dismal timing, after an almost faultless first half, the team migrated south at the first sign of a Spuds revival. As soon as Bale made it 2-1, I knew it could happen. There was an air of inevitability about it all.

It doesn’t always rear its head in a game, or even for two or three or four. But at some point it comes back, we switch off, and by the time we switch back on it’s all over.

Yesterday the players thought it was job done at half time, they saw the prize and the hula girls and the martinis and the adulation, and they must have started celebrating a bit in the head. That they switched off for a moment and conceded a goal is fairly normal. That they were unable to stop the rot is not.

Wenger talks about consistency all the time, but when the top of the table looms invitingly, we fail to show it. As he himself said, “What is worrying for me is that we had an opportunity to go to the top of the league and when we have to deliver we can’t.”

We started the season going five games before defeat. The next unbeaten run was three matches long. Then we went on a two-match unbeaten run before losing yesterday.

Despite all this, we are still in a very strong position in the league. But would you bet on us going on the kind of long run required to win it?

Or are we more likely to win three of four before succumbing once again?

Sadly, I know what my money would be on.

I maintain we are not far away. But we need to learn to concentrate, to focus 100% of the time, to cut out the errors, and we are showing no signs of doing that.

Wednesday: forgotten

Random, late Friday night checkin from me. It’s been one of those weeks.

Was I surprised about Wednesday’s result? Not really. But I do think too much can be read into results like that. Part of the problem, I think, lies as ever with the format of the competition we were playing in. We waltzed through the first three games, scoring fourteen goals, needing just one point from the next nine to qualify. You can see how easy it might have been to consider it job done.

One of the following three games was always going to be a dead rubber. Had we won in Donetsk, the game in Portugal could have easily gone the same way. I’m not saying there’s an excuse for complacency but it’s the kind of situation – that’s to say, a situation in which there is still room for error – that is a breeding ground for it.

The good news for the weekend is that no such mental slack-off period exists. We might be second but we are five points adrift and Chelsea are showing little stomach for a cave-in. We need to stay with them.

And the other good news is the return of several players – Fabregas, Denilson, Song and Arshavin. On top of that, van Persie has resumed training, primed for a Dutch recall during which he will no doubt be trodden on innocuously and ruled out for another three months. Joking aside (or am I?) he should never have been called up but I can’t help but wonder whether he himself could not have been a little more understanding. How difficult would it have been to rule himself out? Not very. It’s a friendly, he’s been out for yonks, and he’s not exactly a fringe player in the Dutch squad fighting for his place, Kevin Davis stylee. He knows full well he’ll come back into the side whether he misses this one or not. I know he’s as orange as Phil Brown but the whole thing achieves nothing other than getting Wenger’s heckles up.

Anyway, if you want to hear Wenger in his own words on the injury situation (sad but true fact: talking about injuries is the most crucial and anticipated conversation of the week if you are an Arsenal fan), there’s a free clip below. Enjoy the weekend and here’s to three of your finest points sterling.