You can’t make all seven happy, you know

Here I am again, fleetingly, and now boasting a 50% attendance record at the Arsenal this season (it’s a pass – but must do better).

I’m looking forward to Hull City’s arrival, if only for the novelty of attending an actual football game in the flesh. Reading a bit today about Vermaelen and Monreal and Jenkinson – good players all, but bowing to the solidity of Gimertescielgna – it struck me that there are downsides to every slice of good news.

The good news of course being that we have settled upon a solid defensive partnership for the first time in years. We can swivel the midfield as we please – and have done – but the elixir of success at the back is not something to act the goat with, in Wenger’s view, and I’m inclined to agree with him.

It leaves three good defenders warming the bench, hardly ideal for them in a World Cup year. Or for any ambitious player in any year, if we’re honest. Of those, Jenkinson is probably the least restless, learning as he is, and having an Arsenal lampshade as he does. He should take heart from the fact that a year ago, when Sagna’s form was stodgy, he had a good run in the side and did well. This season he’s had only four starts and it must be hard for a young player to be such a bit part. Tomorrow, with Sagna injured, he is “likely” to get his chance – and if he does you can be sure City will ping some balls his way so he’ll need to be sharp from the off.

As for Vermaelen and Monreal, there’s no doubt they’d prefer to play more. Neither has nearly swerved off the road in disgust, mind you. They might be getting frustrated and if they were who could blame them, but you can be sure Wenger won’t be losing much sleep over it.

Having a settled defence with talent itching to get at a chance in reserve is pretty much the dream of any manager. Gone are the days of Silvestre, The Squill and Eboue. Senderos and Djourou are long banished. Only the ghost of Igors Stepanovs remains. It is said that late at night you can hear his spectral studs rattling on the concourse concrete.

They’re gone I tell you – gone! Instead we have Vermaelen and Monreal and Jenkinson. Result.

Sorry chaps – stiff upper lip. Your time will come.

One nil to the Arsenal²

Sunderland 0-1 Arsenal

Backs-to-the-wall, fighting spirit, riding our luck, throwing our bodies at everything, defiance &c. (And I’ll skate over ‘missing a hatful in the first half’).

Yes, there’s something deeply satisfying about a one-nil away win in these kinds of circumstances, where at the end of the game the shirt colour can be described as ‘off-brown’ and Szczesny’s back has huge bruises on from being patted so hard and so often by his teammates.

The big Pole – who has been a bit skittish of late – pulled off a couple of blinding point-blankers. Such are the fine lines between success and failure that had he not done so we’d this morning have been wailing and caterwauling (Cattermoling?) about more dropped points.

A couple of observations:

The Corporal deserved to be sent off, with two badly-timed lunges, and while it could have been costly I find it hard to be too critical. I’m not sure he’s started in the league since that confidence-sapper at home to Swansea (when to be fair he did make a majestic howler). And yesterday he was drafted in at the last minute, which means he probably wasn’t mentally ready. It just goes to show what a run of games, or a single mistake, can do to your season. Earlier in the autumn he filled in admirably for Sagna, with no complaints. Now he looks rusty. He needs to cut out the wild stuff but he’ll be fine.

The former contract rebel needs to sharpen his arrows a bit, sure, as does Giroud, but overall Theo really is growing into his shoes (abysmal – Ed) and is having a tremendous season. Top scorer with 18 goals, his confidence is right up and he’s a really important cog in the machine just now. Again, autumn seems a long way off – when Wenger wasn’t playing him and a lot of the fans were in two minds about his worth. I don’t doubt there are still plenty who think he engineered a salary above his value, but at 23 he is now maturing lickety-split and can you imagine how sour we’d have felt had he walked away in the summer for free, on this kind of form, to either Chelsea or City or United? Sour as the blazes, that’s what I’d have felt.

Ram Zamzi* is having a good run of form but for the love of god will someone let him have a goal (and I make this entreaty to the opposition as well as to our players). He had a great opportunity yesterday but was just a bit too close to the keeper. I don’t subscribe to ramseyisnotgoodenough.rss which is why I somewhat desperately want him to get his first league goal of the season.

*Aaron Ramsey to a three-year-old

Super Jack is always going to get rough-housed, I’m afraid. He’s a little terrier and puts himself forward for all encounters. The opposition will go for your best player – it’s a fact. I’d like the refs to bear this in mind, but that won’t stop him getting involved. He’s an incredible little player – already our player of the season. It’s a shoe-in.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I don’t think it will be a case of Bacary Sayonara. I know we are hearing worrying murmurs about his future but it feels to me like the opening salvo in contract negotiations. You know, leak a bit about how you might leave, and let Arsenal take up the slack. Certainly, we’d be insane to let the Bac go. Jenkinson has the ability to take over eventually, but he’s just turned 21 and only has 16 Arsenal starts under his belt. He’s a rookie, albeit one with Arsenal wallpaper, an Arsenal duvet and a Gunners lampshade. Another year or so learning the ropes will do him no harm.

A week off now – I reckon some of those legs need it.

Cazorla, Carzola, Cathorla, Catharsis

West Ham 1-3 Arsenal

A fine win that purged last week’s blues, proved a few points and left the ball bang in the middle of the interlull fairway ready for a crack at the green at Norwich in two weeks [Sort out this metaphor lunacy – Ed].

It doesn’t always compute that if you spend proper money you get a proper footballer (cast your eyes all over the Premier League for evidence to the contrary), but it certainly helps and there can be no disputing that our £16.5m outlay on Santi Cazorla is money well spent.

His goal, which well and truly sealed the three points of an up-one-end, down-the-other kind of game, was the sort of rip-snorter that flounders a goalie so much he doesn’t even bother diving properly. “Shall I extend my arms and pretend?” asks the man between the sticks. “Not much point”, he concludes. Just delicious stuff and the kind of goal that would grace any match.

Yesterday was no doubt a cathartic moment for one of the other prongs of the new signing trident [Did you hear me? – Ed]. Olivier Giroud has missed some gimmes – Sunderland and Chelsea at home, off the top of my head – and despite hard work and some good hold-up play, has not looked much like the kind of man who could get us 20 goals this season. So his expertly-taken goal yesterday will do him wonders (as the celebrations suggested). Started by him and finished beautifully.

When talking about selling van Persie the other day, Wenger confessed that it would always be hard to replace someone in the form of their career who scored 37 goals last season, but he had bought Podolski and Giroud and “That’s 40”. So he replaced one player who got nearly forty with two players who together got 40. A gamble but clearly he was trying to replace goals for goals and so far, I don’t think we’re doing too badly. Van Persie has flown out the blocks and has seven goals; Giroud and Podolski have six and are both still settling in.

And what about the other scorer? Walcott came on in the 61st minute (about as risqué as Wenger gets unless someone is injured) and his directness paid off – Giroud’s lovely pass set him off and his finish for the second was ice-cold. “I want to play for this club and hopefully something can happen very soon,” he said*. Lord knows what to make of that but as I have said many times, he has a lot to give and I hope he stays.

*The more I think about it the more this sounds like something he said a few weeks ago, not yesterday. Anyone see him say this yesterday?

Without looking utterly at ease – we were a Mannone misjudgement and a Nolan skew-wide short of the game potentially having a different outcome – Mertesacker and Vermaelen marshalled things well and we were good value for the three points. The goal we let in, while a lovely finish, left Ramsey a bit red-faced and I’m not quite sure what Per was trying to do by moving away from Diame but there you go. Easy to say when you’ve not got Diame bearing down on you I suppose.

All in all a good day at the office and I leave you with another talking point from Capability Mike.

I bet you ten pounds that Sagna is sold at the end of the season

Jenkinson’s been good, hasn’t he? Really good. Then again Sagna is magnificent. But how long can you keep a Jenkinson down? Yet another tricky but pleasant decision for Wenger to make.

London looks good sometimes doesn’t it? I took the photo above on the South Bank yesterday.

We’ve got a lovely Per, Kos goes nuts.

Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal

Now, when Gibbs gave that corner away, the ball wafted over and Joleon Lescott squeezed his dome between two of our players and thudded it past Vito Marooned, the word ‘brilliant’ wouldn’t have been the first one to come to mind.

But compared to how last season started, this one has been brilliant. We’ve only let two goals in, we’re nestled at the right end of the table, we’re unbeaten, but above all, we’re giving off the perceptible whiff of a proper team here. Just look at the bundle pyramid that followed our equaliser and you will see that when Wenger speaks of spirit and belief and togetherness, in this instance it’s not as a means to pep up players who don’t have it. This lot are working for each other. It is a completely different side – a new side.

Sure, the goal could have been avoided but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A renewed effort to defend better as a unit and as a team is hardly going to take just a few games to materialise. Bouldy can’t just click his fingers (or more aptly, raise his arm) to make it happen. But at the moment, we are on the right track on that front. There will be a few moments of uncertainty yet but the general direction is good.

Defensively there were some outstanding performances. Mertesacker was immense, his long bionic legs mopping up through balls like Mr Tickle time and again. Koscielny, overlooked thus far this season, played his part and even found time for a backheel – or was it a Cruyff turn? – out of defence. Gibbs played as an auxiliary winger and Jenkinson – lungs like a whale – was just excellent. I absolutely love it when Wenger plucks a nobody out of thin air and proves everyone wrong, and in Carl Jenkinson he has done just that. As Gary Neville said after the game, he seems like the kind of bloke who would run through a brick wall for you. His progress has been a real delight to see.

The goals are being shared around too: today from defence, but our fluid forward line and midfield is chipping in too, all of which makes Giroud’s lack of goals almost an irrelevance. Of course, should we stop playing so well then things might change, but at the moment it’s not such a big deal.

And we’re stronger behind the first XI. OK, so Diaby and Gervinho did not reach the heights they have done in the early stages of this season, but their presence – and that of the impressive Ramsey – in the first XI gives us a bench that included players like Giroud, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott. We have Wilshere, Rosicky and Frimpong still out, but their return is imminent too.

It was our toughest test yet and we passed it with flying colours, if you ask me. They’ve got the buzz, and you know what, I’ve got the buzz too. As my cousin Capability Mike said in a text, twenty minutes into the game:

Even if we don’t get anything from this game I don’t think it matters. We’re a good team. Really happy with how we’re playing.

Mike said it.

Match review: From Blustered to Unflustered

Red Sky

Arsenal 3-0 West Brom

No perching on the edge of the seat, nails bitten to the quick or hearts a-racing. No early goal for the visitors. No visions of wildebeests surrounded by lions at set pieces. No clinging on to a slim lead for dear life as the clock approaches 90 minutes. Is this the Arsenal we know and love? Well if it is, let me confess that I like it rather a lot.

I’m sure we will soon welcome stronger teams and teams in richer veins of form than the Baggies, but we controlled yesterday’s match from beginning to end and – if you are being uncharitable to West Brom – I always thought there was another gear should another gear be needed.

The timing of the goals was impeccable. A goal on 22 minutes set us up nicely, another on 39 – that morale-sapping period before the first half ends – made the challenge even harder for the visitors, and the final one, on 74, and the game was up. For you, West Brom, ze match is over.

For the first, it was all about Aaron Ramsey’s sumptuous (and dare I say it, Fabregasesque) pass to Walcott. What a fine talent he is – just think of his chipped pass for Gervinho against Sunderland, and again at Chelsea for Gervinho to set van Persie up on a plate. Just as we know have three strong options in central defence, imagine the potential when Wilshere comes back with Ramsey and Arteta – and Ben-Eye Oon and Rosicky – in the creative positions.

van Persie turned provider – adding another feather to his already feather-riddled cap for numbers two and three, the pick of the bunch being the last one. van Persie, bish. Rosicky, bash. van Persie, bish bash and Arteta bosh*

*This technical analysis is hard to beat, anywhere on the web

Mertesacker was rested, and in his absence Vermaelen and Koscielny made a formidable pair. I have to laugh when I look at Koscielny, because after a season bedding in he’s turning into *yet another* Wenger bargain. What was he, £8 million? He’ll be worth more now. As, you can assume, will the £2.75m van Persie be. On Friday’s Arsecast, the Frenchman was much discussed and it was pointed out – I can’t quite recall whether it was by Philippe Auclair or Arsebl Augger – that for a man who has been lambasted for his defensive signings, this one looks to be turning out alright for Wenger.

Jenkinson will receive some plaudits too. He looked like an Arsenal fan who won a competition to play for his boyhood club in the early stages of the season, but if you didn’t know what Wenger saw in him then, you will do now. Put simply: He can cross.

And boy, can he cross. He must have sliced, curled or powered five or six excellent crosses in yesterday. It was just a shame there was nobody at the end of any of them to finnish them*.

[*Red card – Ed]

It’s a powerful tool to have on the right side of the pitch, for sure, and with a bit more experience under his belt, the defensive side of things should get better, too.

Overall, a straightforward win, but you won’t hear me complaining. We’ve had too many edgy wins, frustrating draws or disappointing defeats over the last year to last a lifetime. Wins like this I hoover up gladly.

Over to you, International Break, you miserable wretch.

Handbrake off, defensive sureness on: Job’s a goodun

It’s been another fortnight of stewing over Arsenal’s weaknesses. The previous international break came right after the pounding at Old Trafford; this one came after the derby defeat. On each occasion the fortnight off has been seen as something of a blessed relief – a time to lick our wounds and work on the basics. I can’t say I’ve missed football an awful lot over the last two weeks, which is a fairly depressing admission.

And on both occasions, the next match has been an eminently winnable home game. We scraped past Swansea last time. A scraping past of Sunderland would be acceptable, of course, though ideally you’d want to see the handbrake, lubed to the max, well and truly off.

There really are reasons to be a bit more positive though. To mitigate against Sagna’s injury, we have a cavalry charge of returning defenders in the shape of Koscielny, Djourou and Squillaci. This lets us slot Song back into midfield, where he is much more effective, and it gives us more aerial dominance at the back. Scoff ye not: Koscielny is our most effective defender at aerial challenges, and Mertesacker, while still finding his feet, is as tall as a house and that alone counts for a bit.

On an ordinary day, I’d like to see Mertesacker paired with Koscielny and take it from there, but there are no such things as ordinary days at Arsenal, and our lack of experience at right-back complicates things. Jenkinson has looked raw – if willing – and while it might be worth blooding him against teams at our level (like Sunderland, haha, ouch, that’s quite enough of that), can you see Wenger playing him at Stamford Bridge at the end of the month? I can’t. And working backwards from that logical conclusion, it might make sense to play Koscielny there now (he’s a trained right-back, it transpires) to get him back up to speed. This would make even more sense given Vermaelen’s imminent return (has that jinxed him?). All of which means it’ll probably be Jenkinson on Sunday.

I confess that I have no idea what Wenger means when he says we were beaten “because the details you need in big games were not on our side”. The fact is, we have struggled on many levels this season. I can’t be bothered to go back over them, it’s not like we don’t all know our failings. Repeating them now would be like teaching you all how to count to ten.

Interesting then to note that in a sea of gloom after the derby defeat, it was none other than David Pleat who spotted signs of progress, both in midfield and with some “flashes of newfound defensive sureness.”

Whether I believe it or not, that’s precisely the kind of positivity I’m in the market for.

PS – Glad to see that Wenger read my ‘5 things to do in the international break‘ piece. He’s found Abou!