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.

Match report: Arsenal step up a gear

Manchester City 0-3 Arsenal

For much of the week just gone I’ve been muttering – sometimes, but not always to myself – that yesterday’s match was pivotal.

Pivotal because, firstly, we’d not beaten either of the Manchesters or Chelsea for something like ten matches, which is a pretty substantial mental block for a team that has title ambitions. Secondly, simple maths tells us that had we lost, we’d have been eight points behind the leaders, leaving us a huge mountain to climb. And thirdly, for me it was a rather simple question: Is this team actually good enough to make that next step from third/fourth to winning trophies? I’ve long had my doubts, and I don’t suppose I am the only one.

Well, we passed with flying colours. And this morning, sitting in my remote northern coastal outpost, I am basking not only in sunshine but also rekindled excitement about the season ahead.

OK, I accept that sounds a bit absurd, given we were already romping our Champions League group and larking about at the top end of the league table, but I really do think yesterday’s win is a milestone – or should that be millstone – overcome.

For a while now not been bullied on the pitch – something we have been justifiably accused of in the past. What we have at times still lacked though is ruthlessness and maturity, and I think we showed more of both those attributes yesterday, particularly in the second half.

Sure, we were helped by the early red card, but it was as clear a red as you’ll ever see – despite Mancini’s protestations. What I feared could then become an attritional battle to get past a blue defensive wall in fact developed into an open, really enjoyable game. Nasri’s one-two with Arshavin was a lovely piece of football and a superb finish – Nasri scoring his seventh goal of the season.

According to today’s Times, Nasri has never scored more than seven goals in a season either for Marseilles or for Arsenal, so for him to hit that at the tail end of October tells you all you need to know about the season he’s having. He should have been man of the match (Cesc: “I missed a penalty – how can I be man of the match?”)

City, to their credit, fought hard and Arsenal racked up the yellows during the remainder of the first half fighting them off. It should have been two, mind you, Fabregas’s penalty well saved by Hart. To have already had 12 penalties in games involving Arsenal is extraordinary. Why is this? Chamakh has earned a fair few of our nine, but not all. Speed of thought and movement? Coincidence?

Fortunately, the yellowed players calmed down in the second, or else we’d have been looking at ten-man parity. When Song scored our second – a rasper – the match was as good as over and it was left to the returning Bendtner to seal it. Three goals scored, clean sheet: Bargain.

Also deserving of credit is MM* Fabianski. His display was pretty much flawless and included two or three very good reflex saves. It’s true that there’s a long way to go before we can unfurl the goalkeeping bunting, but he’s doing everything right at the moment and if there’s going to be any movement in that department in January, it won’t be him doing the moving. Long may it carry on.

With Walcott, Rosicky, Bendtner, Gibbs, Eboue and Koscielny on the bench, Wilshere back in the compound and van Persie edging towards fitness, we have options too. The squad is looking primed.

There’s no doubt there’ll be more learning curves and teething problems to come – but we’re improving and we’re in a good place.

* Much-maligned

A grumpy man’s belated thoughts

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal

I must admit, I haven’t taken this one well. I was exceptionally downbeat after the game on Sunday. As soon as their first goal went in, my mood darkened.

For years, we held the upper hand over Chelsea, and once those things take hold, they can be hard to shift. In recent years it’s swung the other way more than we’d all like it to. But I doubt it’s down to being a jinx or a mental block. The harsh reality is, they remain a better unit than we are, just as we were better than them back then.

Maybe now at times only marginally – Wenger maintains, optimistically, that it’s close – but better than us all the same. More experienced, cannier, more disciplined, more solid and more ruthless.

But let’s scotch one preconception now – we didn’t lose on Sunday because we are by nature shot shy, or as David Pleat put it in the Guardian, “reluctant shooters”. According to @orbinho, we lead the table in terms of shots on goal at 143 (the Telegraph has the stats slightly lower but because they do not include blocked shots). Ordinarily, we have plenty of shots. The trouble yesterday was that we were not able to take any of the presentable or half chances that did come our way. We couldn’t get through and when we did, we fluffed our lines.

Against a team as parsimonious as Chelsea, you have to be ruthless and for a long time, ruthlessness is something we have not been noted for. How many times have we said this now? It’s easy to say of course – but it’s not a tap that can be switched on or off. It can’t be drilled. It comes with experience.

And talking of parsimony, we really need to work more on the defensive side of our game. Yes, I know, as chestnuts go that one is positively antediluvian. But it’s also been true for a long time – I suspect most teams will fancy their chances of nicking a goal against us, and that can’t be right, can it? It is possible to tighten up defensively as a team, but still attack with hammer, tongs and bells ringing.

I don’t think it’s all about the personnel. We used to let goals in with Campbell, Gallas and Toure. Koscielny and Squillaci have both looked good at times this season, but they’ve struggled a bit in recent games and the midfield ahead of them is not helping matters. It’s about defending as a team, and that is something that can very much be addressed on the green fields of Colney.

Positives – yes, the benefit of a day of reflection tells me there were. We put some decent yards in, we had plenty of possession, we matched them physically. An improvement on last year on that front, for sure. Fabianski was solid, Wilshere played well again, and Arshavin at least had his shooting boots on. Sagna showed that his WBA wobble was just that.

But we came up short, again.

As we now head into another international fortnight, we can at least be grateful that injured players do not get called up for duty. We have two weeks to cajole Fabregas, Walcott, Bendtner, Vermaelen and whoever else can be magically hauled off their sick beds back into the first team.

Clear the heads, move on.

Arsenal show bouncebackability in Belgrade

Partizan Belgrade 1-3 Arsenal

I’ve got very little time this morning to chuck something out through the internets, but if I were to lob a couple of observations out there, it would be these:

IF Lukasz Fabanski had been able to choose in advance what kind of night he would have, I have no doubt he’d have picked one of those games that enabled him to pull off a trophy save, but otherwise be little called upon. That’s exactly what he got. He really didn’t have much to do; there was a chance early in the game that he thwarted with his legs, then the first penalty. Not a whole lot else until their second penalty, when he pushed the ball athletically to his right and away to safety. It was a good penalty kick and a very good save. The ‘paper wrists’ Ian Wright spoke of after the Spuds game had been reinforced with glue paste. To cap it all off, he made another good reflex save at the end, diverting a decent shot away past his left-hand post.

That’s not to say he’s a shoo-in for Sunday. Wenger was coy on who he would play against Chelsea, for good reason. I somehow doubt Chelsea will give a fig which of our keepers Wenger plays – history tells us there’s an error hiding somewhere in both of them – but shoots of recovery have to start somewhere, and last night Fabianski did all that was asked of him.

POCKET RUSSIAN Andrey Arshavin was excellent last night – as good as he has been in a while. I mentioned in my previous post that despite looking flat at times this season, he has still been scoring goals. Twitter statman @orbinho (follow him if you don’t already) threw another snippet out there yesterday – “Andrey Arshavin has created more goalscoring chances (20) than any other player in the Premier League so far this season.” He scored another good goal last night and could have had three. That’s five goals in nine appearances. How can you drop him, even when not sparkling? I’m not sure you can.

YOUNG Jack Wilshere continues to astound. Playing in a more advanced role, he was again staggeringly good yesterday. He got more roughhouse treatment but simply got up, again and again, to direct the traffic. The backheel he conjured up for Arshavin’s opening goal was simply sublime. My main worry with Jack Wilshere is not that we’re playing him too much – he’s becoming undroppable – but that the pounding he is getting from the opposition is guaranteed to lead to an injury or two. He gets targeted because of his skill and he also likes to get stuck in. Doubles the chance…

DEFENSIVELY we had our wobbles, but consider this: last night’s central defensive pairing of Squillaci and Djourou was our fifth combination in nine games. It’s a good job we have four central defenders, but we could probably do with a more settled back line too. We’ve also chopped and change at full-back, with Gibbs replacing Clichy last night. He was absolutely excellent and must stand a good chance of retaining his place on Sunday.

OVEWALL, as Wenger would say, it was a good night’s work. The collective footballing amnesia of Saturday had disappeared. We got stuck in, weathered the storm, created some great chances and thoroughly deserved our win.

IT was the perfect result ahead of a titanic showdown.

Belgrade Expectations

Here we go again! It’s time to get back on track, iron out our failings and learn from our mistakes. Simples.

Of course, losing is part of the rich tapestry of football. But losing while seemingly having forgotten the basics is harder to shrug off.

If you fall off a horse, they say, the best thing to do is get straight back in the saddle. Now personally, I wouldn’t know whether this is true or false as I’ve never sat on one. I’m quite probably the most allergic-to-horses man that has even set foot on earth. Many years ago I was invited and went to a horse race thing (rookie error for a townie like me), and despite only setting foot in the beer tent all day, my eyes bulged out like a bug and I developed a good line in loud, uncontrollable dad sneezes. Someone might as well have dipped my head in a beehive.

But the point is this: there’s nothing like a big game to remedy a recent bad one.

So what are we looking for tomorrow? Despite professing to being baffled by his team on Saturday, I suspect the Wenger knows exactly what is required. With Almunia out injured, we know already that Fabianski will get the latest in a long line of chances between the sticks against Belgrade. To say he’s under a lot of pressure to perform would be an understatement. The scrutiny will be immense. But he simply has to have an error-free game.

But even if he had been hypnotised by Gordon Banks and marinaded in the spirit of Lev Yashin he wouldn’t be able to do it on his own. To stand a chance of success, he needs not just his defence, but also the defensive screen in front of them, to remember what their jobs entail.

Whether that means changes in personnel, I’m not so sure. Sagna, despite a rotten game on Saturday, has not become a bad player overnight. He’s easily the best option at right-back. In the absence of Vermaelen and given the rustiness of Djourou, Squillaci and Koscielny are the best bets at centre-half (and besides, both have been largely impressive anyway). If you were going to make any change, you might consider Gibbs at left-back in the place of Clichy, who has not started this season well. If he is 100% fit then I’m all for it. He’s pushing Clichy very hard. But given his injury record, I’d worry about playing him if there was even the smallest chance it might backfire.

There is much more scope for change in the middle. Diaby has not even travelled and I can’t see any sense in using Eboue at all, other than as back-up to Sagna (which let’s face it, is the role that suits him most). Let’s remind Song of his defensive discipline – or else play Denilson. Play Wilshere and Rosicky from the start.

As for Arshavin; it’s clear he has his detractors but for his ability to change a game – conjured, often, from the depths of an average performance – I’d play him. He’s scored four goals in eight appearances (7 starts, 1 sub), let’s not forget. With scoring form like this, even allowing for a goalscoring lull, he is on track to beat his season best of 12 goals.

With Jollygood anonymous since his Braga brace, Chamakh 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.

Overall though we need to concentrate and to iron out the silly stuff, but surely that’s a given. There’s always a positive reaction after this side has let itself down.

The trouble, though, with this team is that there’s often another massive disappointment after the positive reaction.

Now if Wenger can iron that little tic out, we’re onto something…

Busy summer looms as Arsenal’s season crumbles

Blackburn 2-1 Arsenal

Another day, another lifeless defeat.

Our ‘easy run-in’ has turned into a nightmare, with one point from the last 12 and a succession of infuriatingly weak, insipid performances. The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.

A squad that was meant to end the season on a high – albeit just off the pace – has now completely given up the fight and there seems to be nothing whatsoever that Wenger can do about it.

A loss against Fulham, perish the thought, would leave us on 72 points, exactly the same amount as last season. Progress? It doesn’t feel like it.

I didn’t expect Wenger to lambast Flapianski in his post-match interview, but even he must cringe with embarrassment every time he has to defend such a liability. He was clearly at fault for the second goal. Blackburn saw him as the weak spot – they didn’t have to look too hard to find it – and successfully targeted him. Naturally, it worked.

Elsewhere on the pitch, after a fairly bright start we faded badly. Look at the starting XI and at the bench though and you can see part of the problem is simply a lack of quality available. It doesn’t excuse the lack of stomach for the fight but it does go some way to explaining the paucity of some of our play.

We have so many players out and the backups have simply not been good enough.

Let’s break yesterday’s squad of 18 into three groups.

There are at least five players there we simply wouldn’t miss, other than numerically. Not one of Fabianski, Silvestre, Traore, Vela, or Eduardo has improved this season. You can only assume that the new contracts offered to the latter two were given partly to ensure healthy sell-on fees.

Then there are others from yesterday’s 18 who are good squad players, but too inconsistent, immature, or ageing to be considered first-choice material next season. In that category I would put Eboue, Campbell, Walcott, Diaby, Mannone, Djourou, Gibbs, Eastmond and Henderson.

That leaves, as nailed-on starters from that 18, just Sagna, Nasri, Arshavin and van Persie. The form of Nasri and Arshavin has been up and down but to my mind, the quality is there.

So we are missing a lot of players, and in their absence we have seen that the balance is wrong, the collective will to win has been diluted and the quality is lacking. It’s not a good cocktail at all.

On yesterday’s evidence, it will be a busy summer for Wenger, chopping out the deadwood and bringing in players who possess the kind of drive and quality that will rub off on those of the squad who have the most to learn.

Apologies if this is a bit of a ramble but I thought I’d pour it all out and see how it dried.

Bring on the end of the season.

Dragao’s Den: We’re not out yet

Porto Amateur Dramatic Society 2-1 Arsenal

I read somewhere earlier this week that Lukasz Fabianski was becoming frustrated by his lack of opportunities at Arsenal.

What can you say to that? On that performance, it’s some feat for him to have got any time on the pitch as Arsenal’s goalkeeper at all. When push came to shove – or should it be when slip came to slapstick – he once again fell short of what is expected from an Arsenal keeper. And sadly it’s merely the latest in a long line of howlers from him.

I don’t particularly want to make this a witch-hunt for a young keeper but when both conceded goals were at least in part down to him then you have to take him to task. The first goal was a simple slip-through-the-hands error. Awful and, for him, very embarrassing. There were mitigating circumstances in the second, but ignoring the ref’s rapid intervention and the way he seemed to get in the way of Campbell, it was still Fabianski who picked up the back pass and it was Fabianski who gave the ball back to the ref before the Arsenal defence had even sniffed the danger. Really naïve stuff.

There will now be those who wonder whether Fabianski has already sealed his own fate as an Arsenal prospect. Barring more Almunia injury woe, it already seems unlikely that he will play again this season. He does have a few things going for him though; namely Wenger’s patronage and his own youth.

Still, when we start seeing Almunia as some kind of goalkeeping demi-god by comparison, you know things are a bit screwy. Quite how we have assembled such a collection of substandard keepers is another matter entirely.

Enough of the negatives though, for with a better keeper, tonight could and should have ended differently. Although we were sloppy at times (in particular after their second goal), I thought we also showed some real attacking threat. Rosicky was very good on the right (and had a 100% nailed-on penalty waved away by the ref), Diaby was tricky until he faded, and Bendtner fought hard up front, having a few chances of his own.

All this with a pretty extensive injury list. For the return leg we’ll need some of the absentees back – that Song is now oodles better than Denilson is beyond dispute – but above all we’ll somehow, and I sigh a bit when I write this for the ninety billionth time, need to wipe out the incessant errors that have blighted this season.

Fabregas did not mince his words after the game when he said, “When you concede these goals you cannot go anywhere… schoolboy goal”.

So yes, it’s exasperating to have to report on another defeat, and another worrisome goalkeeping performance, but against the Porto side I saw tonight, I’m not trembling in my boots. They looked dangerous at times, but defensively they were like us – basically, porous – and at home, with an away goal, you’d have to say we stand a good chance of making it to the quarter-finals.

Looking beyond that is something of a lottery, but one thing is sure: if we continue to make rudimentary errors (tonight it was Fabianski but he’s hardly the first to have lost concentration this season) then we won’t be setting Madrid alight in May.

Contracts and Keepers


You can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to Arsenal players being offered new contracts, can you? First, misser of two good chances on Tuesday, Charles Vela, earned himself a new deal. And now, talk is of man-of-balsa Thomas Rosickly getting new terms.

Might seem a bit weird to some people.

However, I can see the logic. Charles Vela, as Wenger is keen to point out, has been nurtured for some time, was sent out on loan to Scaramanga – I think it’s in Spain – and is still only 20. We’ve had our fingers burned before by players not being tied down to long deals, most recently with Nigel Flamini and Alex Hleb. Why risk it again?

I doubt Vela is on megabucks, and even if it all goes to pot, so long as he’s on a longish deal then we’re in a better position to get a fair price for him.

It’s a bit different with Rosickly, but the same rules apply. He’s a very talented and hugely experienced player in the last year of deal. OK, so he’s made of polystyrene, but if he gets fit and stays fit and scores goals and generally impresses, then how galling would it be should he waltz off in the summer for the princely sum of zero pounds sterling?

There are those who argue that these kinds of players don’t merit new deals, and while I get the reservations, I still think that it’s marginally wiser to guarantee yourselves a transfer fee than to risk losing them.

Besides, Wenger is hardly likely to offer Rosicky a four-year deal is he? It will be more cautious than that.


I’ve been longing for a keeper battle for some time.

By that I mean a proper challenge for first spot. Lehmann was deposed by Almunia in the former’s final season, and since then Almunia has been largely untouched. Fabianski last season was rather unfairly at times known as Flapianski – so it wasn’t going to happen then.

I’ve always maintained that Almunia, while an excellent shot stopper, is not a world-class keeper in terms of commanding his defence or his area, but he can improve and the best way for any player to improve is to have someone breathing down their neck. It’s healthy stuff.

Several errors and one enforced absence later, and we’ve got an interesting scenario. Mmmm Mannone came in and did well for a young keeper, but really it’s Fabianski or nobody in terms of deposing Almunia.

Yesterday the Pole urged Wenger to pick him at Anfield. I’m not sure that time has come yet, but if Fabianski continues to play well when he gets the chance (and he stays fit – but he plays for Arsenal so there’s clearly no chance of that), then we might see that time sooner rather than later.