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.

Arsenal’s 15 minutes of lame

West Ham 2-2 Arsenal

There are draws that seem like wins, and there are draws that seem like defeats. Today’s was both – depending which team you support.

Deeply frustrating if you’re an Arsenal fan though. Coming back from two goals up might be a theme of the weekend, but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating, does it?

Not being able to knock a game on the head is one of those recurring faults that Arsenal still haven’t banished. Wenger knows it only too well: “We want to learn of course to finish these games off,” he said. “That is basically the most important lesson of the day.”

It’s not the world’s worst result and in general, most of us are pretty happy with the way things are going, but I think that there are still plenty of things we need to sort out if we want to consider ourselves realistic challengers. We’re far from being the finished article.

Clearly, not being able to finish a game off – even when in a position of strength – is one of them. Both goals today were entirely avoidable. For the first, Mannone saved well but palmed it right back across the goal. Really rookie goalkeeping, I’m afraid. And for the second, whether you think it was a harsh penalty or not, Song really didn’t need to make that challenge at all. Cole had his back to goal and was on the edge of the box.

That’s tied into experience, and collective concentration, neither of which are easy to teach. But we’ve been caught out two or three times by lapses this season – perhaps more – and if it hasn’t already been addressed (I’d be amazed if that were the case), then it needs rapid attention.

What of this lack of a killer instinct? Wenger said “when you make a problem of it, it becomes a real problem.” Cryptic as ever.

The second issue that has been bubbling along is the goalkeeping one. Almunia was dropped, for one reason or another, and while Mannone has done well for a 21-year-old, he’s simply not up to the job yet. Do you have faith in Fabianski though? And what about Almunia? Clearly Wenger doesn’t trust him either so we’re in a very precarious position there. It’s ludicrous, to be honest.

So plenty to ponder, but overall, given we have moved into third and we’d be second if we won our game in hand, the garden has hardly been stripped bare of roses.

Luckily for us, many results went our way this weekend. But Wenger will know that we can’t afford to keep on letting points slip like we did today.

It’s a game we should have won.

Building up a head of steam

Arsenal 3-1 Birmingham City

I suppose football is the popular game that it is partly because, while money, good management and history will always bubble to the top over the course of a season, so much still relies on the vagaries of the human mind.

So it was yesterday. We started the game as we meant to carry on, besieging the Birmingham goal, and once van Persie’s opener had been supplemented by Diaby’s smart finish, the game looked to all intents and purposes to be over.

But one error, and the complexion of a game can change entirely. Having been as comfortable as can possibly be, Arsenal were suddenly only a goal away from dropping two points, and despite creating chances, so long as that was the case, then it promised a nervous ending.

While Birmingham equalising would have been larceny on a grand scale (or should it be Larssony?), the fact is that football is not quite as scientific and predictable as all that.

Fortunately for us, Arshavin did finally put the game to bed with a smart, curved right-foot slot-in, but because we spent 30 minutes with just a slender advantage, yesterday’s game never felt quite as safe as it could have been.

The fact is though, we played well, Mannone’s handling error notwithstanding. It’s hard to pick a single performance out, because it wasn’t that kind of game, but of the less cemented starters, Eboue had a fine game, Diaby looked dangerous and Gibbs assured.

Birmingham were better than I thought they would be. Not up front, where they lacked punch, but generally speaking their work ethic was admirable, they defended and passed pretty well and their heads never dropped.

Of course, we’ve been greatly helped by three of our rivals dropping all or most of their points this weekend. It leaves us in a strong position, but intriguingly, the top of the league is looking really competitive. On current form, there are probably seven sides who think they’ve got a chance of being in the top four come May.

It’s certainly building up nicely for what could be a rumbustious north London derby on Hallowe’en.

Data forget

I know this has little to do with footall per se, but it’s a subject close to my heart. Strolling over the north bridge into the ground yesterday, my cousin took his iPhone from his pocket and stated: “First thing I do when coming here is switch 3G off”. I can’t speak for any other networks, but trying to get a data connection via O2 within gargling shot of the Grove is basically a non-starter. Even switching 3G off – the old fail-safe – makes almost no difference anymore.

But yesterday took things to a new level. Not only was web access almost impossible, but I couldn’t listen to voicemail either, and it was a full hour after the game when I got the rat-tat-tat of text messages that had been sent to me during the game, but which had simply never arrived.

I know I’m not the only one who grumbles about this.

Not very good, is it?

From Boy to Mannone

Fulham 0-1 Arsenal

One line from David Walsh’s Times match report yesterday sums up Arsenal at the moment, in many ways:

“..though they always impress you, they don’t always convince you.”

It was definitely thus yesterday; we came away with a hard-fought and hugely creditable 1-0 win, but have a rookie 21-year-old Italian keeper largely to thank.

Fulham made it hard for us, very hard, and the fact they earned nothing from an excellent performance except for plaudits was probably scant consolation indeed.

But what can you say? We didn’t play at our best, yet van Persie’s moment of sublime skill at one end, coupled with an inspired performance from Vito (mmm) Mannone at the other won the game.

We’ve now played twice as many away games as we have home ones, and though we’re hardly looking as if we can take the league by the scruff of its neck, we’re in the right place from a points perspective, it’s early days and there’s ample time to improve further.

The headlines will go to Vito Mannone though, the wobbly 21-year-old who seems about twice as good now as he did against Liege. Some improvement. He must have made four excellent saves, including one double save that included a deflection off the chin. He was so good, in fact, that Wenger was moved to admit “I believe we will give him 10 out of 10 because everything he did was right”.

He’s number three now in the goalie pecking order, but for how long? It’s too early to tell, but he had the game of his nascent career yesterday.

Still some things to iron out generally though. Bendtner’s position on the wing is one – surely he’s better in the middle – and we’ve yet to get the best out of Fabregas and Arshavin this season, (perhaps too harsh, seeing that both have been injured).

Bendtner works hard, but surely we’re better served in the long term with proper wingers on the wing – maybe Rosicky and Walcott, with Arshavin and Nasri the kinds of players who Wenger can put slightly further forward and more central. The fact they can all interchange gives us bags of options, but I’d like to see us stretching flanks and using our pace more.

But we can take plenty of positives too. A clean sheet, a win, a doughty and stubborn display and just what we needed in light of our recent away defeats.

And with Blackburn and Birmingham at home next, then the Hammers away before we come up against Liverpool, we’ve got an excellent chance to push on.

Altogether now: “You are Mannone, Vito Mannone, you make me happy, when skies are grey…”

Right, chicken cooking time.