A three point turn as the handbrake eases off

Arsenal 2-0 WBA

Back to winning ways and – ahem – it’s all on again!

Given that we couldn’t realistically expect to go from 0mph – Swansea – to 100mph in one week, this was a decent upgrade from standing still, probably around the national speed limit in fact (terrible analogy – Ed).

Some of the fluency came back, there was a lot of energy and commitment, and a stand-out performance from Jack Wilshere who had his best game yet since coming back from his über-injuries. The Opta stats gave us 19 attempts, of which three were on target, which kind of tells you what you saw with your own eyes – namely that we got into a fair amount of encouraging positions in open play, created some good chances, but singularly failed to take any of them. The Gerv created a good one for Wilshere in the first half that Jack really should have scored, and there were a few decent opportunities in the second half too, culminating in Podolski chipping it over the bar from six yards out. Not very deadly but I think there was a bobble. Let’s say there was anyway – it is nearly Christmas, after all.

Gervinho was his usual enigmatic self, zipping up and down the wing relatively well, but he needs smelling salts when he gets anywhere near the goal. There was one total air shot, and a header that boomeranged wide, all of which suggest to me that he needs some kind of elastic belt attached to a zip wire that runs the length of the line, which keeps him within 10 yards of the side of the pitch. Perhaps the lino could use one of those leads that are attached to enthusiastic puppies. It’s just a thought. (To be fair, he has of course scored five goals, including a ripper against Chelsea – you never quite know where you are with him).

I was sitting next to an Ajax fan who has been a fair bit to Arsenal before, but who has never had the pleasure of seeing Gervinho weave his magic. He offered up the reason for Wenger buying him as being simply “because he sounds Brazilian”, which may be a good shout. Although we settled in the end on a different pronunciation of his name, which sums him up rather better – “Gervinh…oh”.

So of course, the game was won by two penalties, both of which could have not come to pass. The first definitely shouldn’t have been – it was a blatant dive by Cazorla – and desperate though we were for a win, I’d rather our players – all players – didn’t do that. I know it’s swings and roundabouts but still. The second was as clear cut a penalty as you will ever see, but on another day The Ox might have been penalised before he won it. Nonetheless, I think we were good value for the win and Arteta was steely enough to place both right down the middle of the goal. Maybe his saved penalty against Fulham prompted that. Or he could just be a cheeky poker-playing devil.

Happy enough with that though, the players were given solid applause and Wilshere came all the way down to clap the fans. Why they don’t all do this more often I don’t know, but it’s always worth it and was well received.

A couple more important things:

1) I came up with a genius marketing plan at half-time yesterday. “A pound a pint a point”. It’s catchy, for starters, as you will doubtless agree. And the essence behind it is that if Arsenal win, we pay £3 a pint. A draw and it’s a quid. Lose and we get a much needed loosener on the house. The small print needs some work maybe, but this seems like an excellent idea in principle to me. Are you listening to the fans, Arsenal?

2) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will never be the player we want him to be – and he wants to be – until he reaches parity of font size on the scoreboards. The poor lad is a couple of sizes down in order to squeeze his double barrels onto the giant screen. I get the sense that this is a sore point in the dressing room and must be hindering his play. As you may have noticed, he is but ‘Chamberlain’ on his shirt, which is a step in the right direction, but he will not truly be unleashed until he’s an Arial 48 point* on the screens, like Squillaci and the rest.

*Typeface keenos – yes, this was a guess. A wrong guess probably.

Match report: Theo Speedwagon

Arsenal 1-1 Leeds United

Cracking cup tie this. I couldn’t make the game yesterday so watched it on HyundaITV while following the mood on Twitter. There was a fair bit of chiding for various facets of Arsenal’s display but Leeds played very well indeed, let’s not forget. It’s the FA Cup – teams from lower leagues are always up for it and that’s what still makes it a great competition. Anyone can play anyone at any point, unlike the Champions League where Uefa do their very best to mollycoddle the big sides through to the knockout stages.

Distilled down, we had a lot of good chances that we didn’t take, gave away a silly penalty and lost all our momentum before bursting back to life right at the death.

Arshavin’s was the best, a one-on-one early in the game that he really should have scored. At the end of the game, Bendtner had several presentable chance that he skewed wide or high. I take no pleasure in seeing those two suffer for form as they did yesterday.

It’s not that they didn’t work hard enough. Arshavin got himself into plenty of decent positions but everything he did went wrong and you can see that his confidence is at rock bottom. The fact that he is now considered to be one of our ‘second XI’ pretty much says it all. He’s completely out of sorts; he knows it, the crowd knows it and it’s a real worry.

Bendtner too. In his case, it could be a combination of many things. He was playing on the wing for starters, hardly his ideal position. It was also only his sixth start of a very stop-start season, and that cannot help any player looking to build up some form and confidence. The catch 22 is that he needs the games, but how is he going to play ahead of Chamakh or van Persie? Funnily enough, yesterday’s draw will probably suit him; it means he will almost certainly start again at Leeds, and also in at least one of the games against Ipswich. He’s a man that needs to play and to win some doubters over.

It was Denilson who unwittingly brought the game to life in the second half with a ridiculously sloppy penalty giveaway. Cesc was surprisingly forthright when interviewed after the game and who can blame him? Denilson made amends of sorts by finding his shooting boots at the end as Arsenal scrabbled for the winner but these kinds of mistakes set his own cause back. Not good enough and Cesc knows it: “At this stage when you are a professional footballer you cannot risk these types of penalties. It’s so easy for them”, he said.

In the end, it was the introductions of Fabregas and Walcott that edged the momentum back in our favour, and the latter was involved in the two main talking points at the end. The first was a penalty shout that was given then not given, and which Walcott later admitted to having dived to try to win. The second, a legitimate and clear penalty despatched by Fabregas. Any defender idiotic enough to try to pull a striker back in the box, however subtly, can have no complaints.

As for the first one – it looked 50-50 but for Walcott to come out and apologise for trying to ‘win’ it is pretty extraordinary, especially as nobody was accusing him of doing that as far as I could see. The official site posted the full apology so it was clearly something Walcott felt very strongly about, and you know what, I rather admire him for it. It may mean he won’t get much sympathy from refs for a while but the fact we are surprised at a player’s jarring honesty says all you need to know about the modern game and its win-at-all-costs mentality. I found it pretty refreshing.

So overall, an thumping cup tie brought back from the dead by a team not playing at its best. Wenger might rue the replay but I don’t. I love the FA Cup. Can’t wait for it.

Window slams shut/Arsenal slam Uefa

In the end, it was a damp squib of a transfer deadline day, hyped to the nines but delivering nothing of interest, and nothing at all for Arsenal.

The whole absurd day, which has become a newspaper-selling website-hitting phenomenon all of its own, with Sky Sports News the very worst culprit, is summed up for me by this one entry from the Guardian’s live transfer deadline day page:

5.02pm One of the most absurdly portentous bits of TV I’ve ever seen: Sky Sports News actually counted down the end of the transfer window with the bongs from Big Ben, like it was New Year’s Eve. On the last bong a voice broke in “we’re just hearing Peter Lovenkrands has signed for Newcastle!” Incredible. History in the making.

It was a day much like the summer, during which England’s bigger clubs did little or no business. In fact, the ‘Big Four’ are £75.3m in the black. Maybe Wenger’s portentous warning about the new 50% tax rate coming in has made buying new players difficult. Or maybe, finally, football is waking up to the recession.

So where does that leave us? I’m with the Goonerholic in thinking that, compared to this time last year we are stronger. We are stronger in defence – Vermaelen, Senderos, Traore and Gibbs all essentially additions to the squad. We are stronger in midfield with Rosicky back, Arshavin here and Song a man transformed. Up front, we are about the same as last year in terms of goalscoring potential – Eduardo replacing Adebayor. Add to that a year’s worth of experience, and we are better off now.

However, whether we are strong enough is hard to say. ‘Enough’ for me is a side that can challenge for all the major honours – rather than last year, when we did pretty well in the cups (coming up short in the semis) but were out of the equation in the league by November.

There is much more competition this year, but early signs are good. So yes, we could have benefited from a bit more cover in midfield, another striker and another goalkeeper – who wouldn’t? But nobody ever came, our squad is now finalised until January, so that from me is the final word. I see no point in criticising when a) based on early-season form there is nothing currently to criticise and b) all clubs have tightened their belts. Overall, I’m more positive than I am negative.


No surprises perhaps that Uefa have now banned Eduardo for two matches for diving. Arsenal’s official statement is here, as angry an official response as you will ever see.

“…We have been deeply frustrated by the perfunctory and apparently arbitrary process that Uefa has followed in this instance. We believe it is imperative that Uefa’s explanation for its decision provides clear and comprehensive standards that will be consistently enforced. It is also critical that Uefa provides specific details of the processes it plans to adopt in reviewing all games under its jurisdiction.”

It’s not difficult to see why Arsenal are angry. If a player is seen to dive by a referee he gets a yellow card. However, out of the blue Uefa have now ruled that, if the same offence is not seen then it can be reviewed later and a punishment four times as strong can be given. According to Uefa, a red card (two game ban) is now as bad as a dive (two game ban). Does that make sense? I think we know the answer to that.

And will it now be rigorously enforced for all dives not seen by the referee? Who will bring them to Uefa’s attention? What is the process? Is it just in Uefa competitions or is this new rule enforceable in the Premier League?

Also, this rule was brought in in 2006. Why no punishments until now? Why is Eduardo the first?

Lots of questions to answer.

Post-dive pre-match Friday round-up

Champions League draw – Olympiakos, Standard Liege, AZ Alkmaar

I was going to header this morning’s post with a suitably daft play on words such as Eduardo the Confessor or Much Edu About Nothing, but seeing as we’ve yet to hear a peep from our number nine and the issue of diving is not really trivial, I didn’t.

But pah – what a storm. Eduardo deserves opprobrium for his ‘deception’, pretty much all Arsenal fans accept that it was wrong, but judging by the reaction in the press – and Uefa have had a say too – you’d think he was the first footballer ever to dive.

Doesn’t make it right, of course, and I’d support retrospective punishment for diving should it be introduced across the board, and for every blatant tumble, but would it? Interestingly, there is Uefa precedence for punishing divers after the event, following a dive by a Lithuanian in a European Championship qualifying game, and the SFA too have punished a player for diving in recent times.

So I think the chief executive of the SFA is right to ask for a decent discussion about diving to take place. I’d support a European-wide ruling on this, I tentatively support more referees (Platini’s grand plan) and I think video technology should be looked at too.

But quite why Eduardo is the player to have triggered this reaction, not all those who have gone before him, well who knows. I’ll leave the last word(s) to the Telegraph’s Rob Kelly, one of the few in the press to have sniffed the hypocrisy of slamming down Eduardo and ignoring the lightness of foot of some English players.

Onto tomorrow, and Utd away is undoubtedly the sternest test of any season. This year, with our new formation, early season form and the usual batch of injured absentees forcing player shuffling, it’s going to be a particularly interesting game.

Can we persuade Fabregas’s hamstring to take part? Is Rosicky really fit? And what news of Walcott, Ramsey, Diaby. Wenger should reveal all later.

Right, I must away. More from me on the Eduardo issue and more in this morning’s Arsecast. I have a feeling I almost certainly talk as little sense on it as I usually do.

And hopefully, more still over the weekend from me. For all of those of you lucky enough to be celebrating the fact that banks require holidays, have a nice long weekend. For the rest of you – well you’re probably already all lucky enough to be living in hot countries with palm trees and blue skies and things.