I can handle a whimper as long as there’s one last bang

When we lost to Swansea ten days ago I detected a whiff of endofseasonitis. We’d already qualified for the Champions League and the title was long gone – dusted, boxed up and packed away. We lost and we weren’t great.

All it takes is for a few percent of the usual performance to evaporate for what we’ve seen over the last three games to occur. Not horrendous, but not very good either. Too predictable and a bit slow of body and mind.

I know that the difference between third and fourth is not to be dismissed, nor is the notion of finishing one place higher than last season something to look down at, but once that Champions League qualification had been reached, maybe a little bit switched off.

Feels that way. I suppose it’s a bit like being a marathon runner. Those last few miles are the hardest. (I don’t know this of course, as I’ve never run one. I have eaten one, but that’s as near as I’ve got).

It explains why teams that are imperious until the point of winning something often end up losing straight afterwards (and it makes Arsenal’s 2004 achievement – to not lose having won the title with four games to spare – all the more admirable).

So all of this, despite my frustration last night, I understand. I just hope that this dip in form – goals are suddenly nightmarishly hard to come by – can be shaken off for the cup final.

I’d like to think our recent appearances there have inured us to such whimsical Wembley form. But ‘Wigan’, ‘Hull’ and ‘Reading’ are three words that will point to another truth: that playing a cup semi-final and final is not remotely predictable. Arsenal don’t do it that way.

All fingers point to it being anyone’s game. But at the very least, we need to find a way of rediscovering some mojo and some of the technical silk that we have seen since the New Year. We look leggy and a bit dulled.

Wenger’s worried we could be fatigued for the final. It’s easy to see why. I get why he’s played the same players, but there’s little to gain from doing that on Sunday. Giroud is dead beat. Alexis is running on empty. Ozil is making weary errors and even the metronomic Cazorla is misplacing passes.

Big changes on Sunday – I’d be amazed if there was anything else. It’s not like the preferred eleven is currently nailing it.

Arsenal report: On the fringe, muscle-wise

Arsenal 1-1 Fulham

So Arsenal’s five-match league winning run comes to a close. Churlish to moan too much, given how – until recently – we’d not strung two league wins together for donkey’s years. And overall, our recent form in all competitions remains nigh-on impeccable.

If you’re one of those glass-totally-overfilling types who still maintain we can catch Man City then yes, we’ve dented that ambition. But if you, like me, expect a challenge for a Champions League place to be a more realistic goal then a draw at home to Fulham is not a terrible result. It is, after all, only November.

I think we could and perhaps should have won it (Ramsey had a great, chance, Djourou and van Persie in a hectic finale too), but at the same time, Fulham played very well and really took the game to us. They no doubt would have felt hard done to have come away with no points at all.

Enough positives too, notably the will to come back into the game having gone 1-0 down after 65 minutes. Naturally, Wenger seized upon this as a reason to be cheerful. “The positive again is that we have shown exceptional spirit, desire and refusal to lose the game”, said le Boss. “We needed to dig deep.”

And the double substitution made all the difference, Diaby & Gervinho coming on for Mertesacker and Ramsey. Both added a dynamism we had lacked a bit, and for Gervinho it was a very decent way to prove his doubters wrong. He might be dithering a bit in front of goal but he caused havoc attacking down the left.

Diaby, in that 20-minute cameo, showed why Wenger still loves him so. I suspect he won’t be kept back for the bench, either, with both Ramsey and Arteta seemingly in need of a breather. Ramsey has played 12 of 13 league games this term: remarkable given his injury, I think.

Redemption in the end for Vermaelen, whose two-goal salvo was not the kind of brace he’d have liked. But it was a delicious cross from Walcott, whose form (particularly his crossing, I think) improves with every passing game. He used to be subbed all the time. Not so much these days.

Overall, a slightly tired performance, no doubt, but a spirited one, especially at the end.

Onwards to Man City on Tuesday. Will Wenger change things around?

“I will have to”.

Dust off the overalls. Off we go again.

Open season on Arsenal, I see. Albeit self-induced. “Fancy a pop? I tell you what then, here’s a penalty and a 101st minute equaliser to chew on. Pop away, interwebs”.

And pop away they have. Former Arsenal players have had their tupp’orth, and now Cesc has opened up a bit too. Have his words been misconstrued? They seem very reasoned to me, and, well, they are hard to disagree with, aren’t they?

In my new found spirit of optimism – ha! – I didn’t fancy murdering our performance against Liverpool here on the blog.

But suffice to say, Arsenal just now remind me of the little girl in the children’s poem:

‘When she was good she was very, very good but when she was bad she was horrid.’

Anyways, two observations:

– We are too easy to defend against when not purring along. Mix things up, go on. And when I suggest mixing things up, I don’t mean ‘put Bendtner on the wing’. At least tonight we know that the Spuds will smell blood and come at us. That might open things up.

– We look tired, collectively. The only remedy for fatigue at this stage of the season though is winning. Ya hear me?

Utd’s draw last night re-opens the rusty door of hope but I for one am not fooled. You’ll have to get up early in the morning to catch me using the t-word.

Put no pressure on and maybe we can play a little bit with the handbrake off.

Right, well I’m off to the beach. I might just bury my head in the sand. Tweet me in the morning.

The Arsenal enigma rolls on

Jewell in the Town

Ipswich Town 1-0 Arsenal

enigma [ɪˈnɪgmə]
n
a person, thing, or situation that is mysterious, puzzling, or ambiguous
[from Latin aenigma, from Greek ainigma, from ainissesthai to speak in riddles, from ainos fable, story]
enigmatic [ˌɛnɪgˈmætɪk], enigmatical adj
enigmatically adv

[Forgive me, positive Arsenal fans, for I am about to moan]

The schizophrenic nature of this season makes blogging very hard indeed. Just when you feel a surge of oomph, along comes an exhalation of gaah. I’ve completely given up anticipating what this team could achieve this season, on the grounds that nobody, from the fans to the pundits to the manager, can possibly know. I’ve taken to shrugging my shoulders, in the finest French tradition. Like this team, it’s able to say everything, and nothing.

In fact, I’m fairly sure I’ve written those exact words, albeit in a different order, several times this season already.

As Mr Mouse says, there’s certainly no point in analysing individual performances – for what is there to say? And as for the team performance, well we’ve seen similar disappointments all season, living cheek by jowl with aggressive, impressive, high-tempo victories. That this performance came with many of our ‘backups’ is neither here nor there – it also contained Fabregas, Wilshere, Arshavin, Walcott, Djourou and Koscielny. It was a strong team. The ability to switch from superb to supine appears to be endemic.

It would be too easy to mark this defeat – our eighth of the season – as just ‘another bad day at the office’. Strictly speaking it was exactly that, but that would be passing the buck. Why are we having so many bad days at the office? That’s the question.

Let it be said that Ipswich, as Leeds before them, played their socks off and deserve all the plaudits coming their way. I thought they were terrific. But we were far off the pace, and no amount of cheerful tweeting on my behalf will change that (it was worth a try).

Let it also be said that we should still make the final. The trouble is, we seem incapable of making things easy for ourselves. Incapable of taking the bit between our teeth more than once in a while. The upshot of last night is that Ipswich have seen a way through us, and beyond that, West Ham or Birmingham will have seen a way through us too.

We’ve been talking about consistency, and momentum, and collective will-to-win all season, yet we only see it in bursts. In fact, we’ve been banging the inconsistency drum for years now.

Here I am, doing it again. I’m tired of it.