Titime to move on / midfield goals

Wallowing in the glory of Henry’s movie-moment comeback was not meant to last all week, but for me it has. The YouTube video I breathlessly uploaded at about midnight on Monday has now had about 37,000 hits (and Analytics tell me 90.3% of those who watched it were male, with 9.7% female – how do they know this I wonder – though my brother did confidently predict that he had watched it “about 28,000 times” so maybe there’s some truth in that). It certainly captured the moment.

But now we’re back to the mundane grind of trying to reach fourth, win the European Cup and bag the FA Cup. On the whole coming fourth thing, I had this blinding-light Eureka moment a few days ago. I swear, it’s genius*. Here it is:

Fourth, we know, is an achievement. It’s got kudos attached, it earns oodles of dough, the players want it to stay and players want it to come. But it’s not a trophy. It doesn’t get listed in the programme masthead and it won’t go into the Rothmans Yearbook. So why not assign it a trophy? Let’s call it the UEFA Champions League Fourth Place Qualifying Cup (CLFQC if that’s too much of a mouthful, though I’m not sure I’m helping my argument here) and the winners can all go on an open bus tour, put it in the cabinet and whack it on the masthead. Job’s a goodun, eh? We’d have had loads of trophies in recent years had this idea been taken up and we could bury the whole ‘six years without…’ thing once and for all.

*It’s not genius, I know.

Of course, we face the fight of our lives to get there first. The main thing troubling me on that note is not the lack of full-backs, which fingers crossed will be imminently easing, but the drying-up of goals. Since beating Wigan 4-0 on 3rd December (the last time incidentally that we did have a recognised full-back – so maybe I should be more worried about it), we have scored just one goal in four of our six league games, none in one and two in the other (Yossi’s late winner at Villa).

Now, it’s very possible that the lack of goals is directly linked to the lack of full-backs, but in these instances we need other areas of the team to step up to the plate. This is where the midfield comes into the equation, and to my mind there haven’t been enough goals from that area. Sure, in those six games Gervinho and Benayoun did both score, but I think the point, if you take the season as a whole, still stands.

Our midfield has scored 21 goals all season – the same as Robin van Persie. That’s eleven players (Gervinho, Walcott, Arteta, Rosicky, Song, Arshavin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Frimpong, Benayoun and Coquelin) who have started games in the midfield. It’s too much to ask some of those players to rattle goals in, but Arshavin, Gervinho and Walcott in particular have chipped in just seven league goals (ten in total).

Of course, how Wenger cajoles more goals out of his midfielders and wingers is the million dollar question, but if he’s happy to stick with van Persie (and Henry for six weeks) rather than twisting and buying a new striker, then he’s going to have to do just that.

Now, when’s Jack back?

Arsenal match report: Too much in the ‘wanting zone’

Arsenal 1-1 Wolves

Twenty-seven attempts on goal, eleven attempts on target, thirteen corners, one goal. Frustrating, to say the least. The goals have dried up again at home (three in three league games – conceding two in the process), giving Wenger a fresh headache to mull over as we head into the New Year.

But as the stats suggest, you can’t really fault us for effort. The thing that struck me most yesterday was that, unlike the Arsenal of old, we didn’t wait until the 75th minute to crank the all-out attack handle. We were at Wolves’ throats from about the 60th minute. The lurid Hennessey happened to swat away everything we threw at him. I lost count of the amount of times I found myself with my head in my hands, practically kneeling, as another goalbound effort pinged off to safety. That’s football I suppose.

One other thing that was very noticeable was our lack of pace and width. Our game relies on our full-backs motoring forward, and pacy outlets on the wing, but didn’t have anything like that yesterday in the starting eleven. Having Vermaelen at left-back is like driving a Ferrari on a farm track. But what can you do? All four of our full-backs have long-term injuries (stress fracture, broken leg, ankle ligament damage and bizarre unhealing groin). Walcott was out ill.

Oxlade-Chamberlain could have supplied some of that but he remained glued to the bench as Arshavin and Chamakh entered fruitlessly into the fray. Neither man was able to make much of a difference, which will not surprise seasoned watchers of the spectacularly out-of-form duo. What does the Ox have to do, one wonders? Well, this one does, anyway.

As for the Wolves goal, we have ourselves to blame. A ruthless team when 1-0 up early in the game should go for the jugular, but yesterday our level seemed to drop. Complacency? Hard to say, but possibly.

Nevertheless, Walcott or no Walcott, full-backs or none, dodgy period after our goal or not, we should have won the game yesterday. It just never quite happened. Wolves were dogged.

It’s easy to suggest we have no plan B, and watching us toil on the edge of the box is pretty frustrating, but without the right balance in our team, it’s bound to have a detrimental effect. And besides, we did genuinely pepper their goal.

Nevertheless, the squad would patently benefit from a few new faces in January. Someone who can score goals when van Persie doesn’t would be a good starting point. Park’s “adaptation period” is apparently over but can we expect miracles from a player who has not been trusted to play a single minute of Premier League football in four months?

We’ve come a long way since our early-season punch-drunkenness, the spirit is good, but a new face or two would lift everyone. Can you imagine Chelsea, Liverpool or Spurs are not thinking along the same lines?

A lot of money was splurged last January – none at Arsenal. It’s not the best time to buy, but it can make a difference. Wenger tried it in 2009 when we need a spike by signing Arshavin – to initial success. I’m not saying buying new faces is the be-all and the end-all but why leave our improvement to chance?

PS – One excellent new addition to the Wenger lexicon. “We were a bit too much in the ‘wanting zone'”.

It’s the new handbrake.