There’ll be no homegrown trolley-dash for Arsène

“I definitely wouldn’t go somewhere just because I’m a homegrown player.”

So said Jack Wilshere in the run-up to England’s match against Slovenia: a reminder, if ever it were needed, of the peculiar cachet of being British and half-decent.

Since then we’ve heard (admittedly unsubstantiated) rumours of Mourinho wanting an English Arsenal player – maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain – in return for Cech. Though we could just as easily put that down to a helping of typical Mourinho opportunism.

Man City would take Wilshere in a heartbeat, according to more rumours, but then again – is that because he’s English or because he’s good?

A bit of both maybe, because they’re short of homegrown players. That explains why they’ve bid a whopping £40m – and would probably go higher – for the admittedly promising Raheem Sterling. According to this chart, they’ve got six homegrown players (though that would be five now Milner’s gone). Chelsea, the same graph says, have three. Things may well have changed for both sides since then, I don’t know exactly – but probably not by much. We, apparently, lie on the borderline with exactly eight.

Of course, Arsène has been stockpiling British players for a while now, so compared to some sides it’s not something we need to overly concern ourselves about. What we do need to be careful about is keeping those we have. Partly because they’re good and partly because they’re homegrown.

The homegrown quota system was designed to bring more British players through the ranks, an aspiration I have no beef with at all. As an Englishman, I like seeing British players making it at Arsenal.

It’s a little complicated, but boiled down, a Premier League side is allowed 25 over 21-year-old players in its squad, and of those 25, eight must be home-grown. (This article from @heisenbergkamp explains it quite well, better than I can).

On top of that, Greg Dyke has vowed to extend those numbers to 12, phased in over several years, starting in 2016, and to make the ‘homegrown’ criteria tougher. I don’t know where we’re at with those proposals – not far, I don’t think – but you can see how even the prospect of this raises the premium on young British players.

| A valuable asset |

So good British players are valuable, and they know it.

That’s why, while I’m not remotely worried about Jack leaving, I do think Wenger has to find a regular slot for him (assuming form and fitness, naturally). Jack is valuable and Jack knows it. He wants to play and he needs to play. There are teams out there who’d bite and bite hard if he made the faintest flutter of the eyelashes.

But will any of our exciting young British crop actually go this summer? Wilshere, Walcott, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Gibbs, The Ox?

Hot air. Wenger would never countenance it and none of them are agitating for it in any way, shape or form. There is no swerving off the road at contract demands that we know of. Recent history says we buy rather than sell.

The only one who has the perfect storm of contract, age, nationality and ability on his side is Theo.

And until he signs, then you never quite know.

Arsenal: Draw specialists

Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham

It’s hard to know what to make of this Arsenal side at the moment. In terms of personnel, we’re stronger than last season. But as a team? It’s just not working properly, as two wins in nine testifies.

All the possession in the world, but what’s the point of that if we lack the means to go for the jugular?

Don’t get me wrong, a point is no disaster, but we’ve been a curious side to watch for much of the season. Generally not bad – apart from in Dortmund, where we were awful – but certainly not quite good enough.

Getting the right system right and bedding new players in is clearly vexing Wenger, as it is with several managers, so I suppose the fact that we are unbeaten in the league is something to draw comfort from. We’re not easy to beat.

But we’re six points off the pace, and should we see the kind of top four away-day Collaps-o-Arsenal of recent years next weekend (I don’t think we will ship six, but it’s a fair question to ask), then we’d be nine points off the top at the beginning of October. Time to get worried, or a bit of perspective required?

The latter, to be honest. I think we’ve got a very strong team, but it’s one that has yet found the groove. New players, World Cup returnees, etc etc – it’s not an excuse but it’s a factor.

As for yesterday, there were good shifts put in by most players. Oxlade-Chamberlain looked strong, Ozil and Welbeck worked hard, Wilshere was always looking to drive forward (and was felled on most occasions). Like I say, curious. We didn’t look bad. We just didn’t look quite capable of knocking the door down.

And to cap it all off, Arteta and Ramsey are now out. Of those, the former is the biggest worry as Flamini didn’t cover himself in glory yesterday. Why we have no other options in that position is of course a question that’s been asked a thousand times before, given our millions in the bank. But there you go – there are only so many times you can say it before it becomes boring.

Ramsey has perhaps epitomised Arsenal this season. Not bad, but just not hitting the heights of last season. Fortunately, it’s one position in the team we have options. If he’s been carrying a knock for a while (and it’s the second time he’s been out this season, so that could well explain something) then it’s probably best that he lets his body mend properly.

Onto the Champions League we go, where we’ve little room for error already. I guess we just have to KBO* until we get the balance right.


Team in red mistaken for Arsenal

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal

“History will be kind to me”, said Winston Churchill, “for I intend to write it”.

Wenger, sadly, has no such luxury, and when the history books recount the amazing achievement of his 1,000th game, they will also tell of a man whose team put in possibly the most abject display of his entire 18-year tenure.

It was so lamentable as to almost defy words – sloppy, off the pace, too open, horribly naive, toothless and rudderless. And maybe the very worst thing is how easy it was for Chelsea. It was over – much as it had been at Anfield – after seven minutes. It was a cakewalk.

The timing of this performance could not have been any worse. With a pretty decent season behind us, Wenger will have been desperate to lay some kind of marker down. To say: Stick with me, this team is going places, we can compete at the top table. Instead, all the old questions about him and his team came flooding back. They gave up the title fight without so much as a by-your-leave.

For what it’s worth, I do think we have the core of an excellent side. But for us to have been beaten 6-3, 5-1 and 6-0 at our rivals tells you as much as you need to know about the fault lines that still remain unfixed. Until we can overcome that mental hoodoo, and set ourselves up better in these kinds of games, we are never going to make the leap. Those are the kinds of defeats you see once every ten years at a club like Arsenal. It’s happened three times in a season.

I feel sad for Wenger. Mourinho knew exactly what to do to break this team down but Wenger and his team had no answer. Arteta was overrun – why didn’t he play Flamini? Why play such open football, so high? What is going on with Giroud? I know it sounds absurd, but where is Bendtner? How naive do you have to be to try to deflect a ball in the box with your hand? Why has Szczesny started fumbling the ball?

I know we have Walcott, Wilshere, Ozil and Ramsey missing, and god knows they’d have made a difference, but no Arsenal team should be shipping that number of goals, irrespective of the circumstances. That was still a strong XI.

“A nightmare” is what Wenger said, after the game. It’s bad enough having Mourinho preening and peacocking at the best of times, so to feed him this kind of ammunition will have felt desperate for Arsene.

A truly baffling performance.

Now, to send the wrong man off is quite amazing. I’d be more angry had it had a material outcome on the game, but we were already 2-0 down and in full retreat. It is astonishing, none the less, especially so in the face of such vehement admissions and denials from Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Did the referee think they were lying, in front of millions? Where is the common sense here? That said, what was Oxlade-Chamberlain thinking?

Either way, it’s irrelevant. Yesterday was meant to be all about Wenger, and indeed it was. But for all the wrong reasons.

One final thing – I know I’m rambling. Narrow defeats are far easier to bounce back from than poundings like this. Remember how we played against Utd after our thumping at Anfield? We played cautiously, within ourselves and shorn of huge confidence. I imagine the same ‘healing process’ will apply this time round, which makes Tuesday’s game against Swansea harder than it needed to be.

Unhappy 1,000th, Arsene.

Giroud and Ozil show their class as Arsenal head to Wembley

Arsenal 4-1 Everton

And so to our first FA Cup semi-final in five years. Ah yes, Wembley. The stroll up Wembley Way, my Kenny Sansom flat cap, a mixtape by FeverPitch, Alan Sunderland’s megaperm (I swear I do not believe that), Charlie George lying prostrate, Charlie Nicholas’s mullet, Andy Linighan’s bloody-headed header, Overmars bursting through.

(I prefer those memories to Trevor Brooking, Gazza, Winterburn missing a penalty against Luton, overpriced inedible food and a spectacular defensive howler that led to anger and mental scarring in 2011, if that’s alright with you).

I know, I know, it’s not the final – I’d prefer the semi-final to be at a neutral club ground like it always was – but the powers that be need to pay back the mortgage so Wembley it is. Wemberleeeeee.

Let’s be dramatic about it: beating Everton was huge. After the Stoke no-show, it was massive. We’re off the pace in the league, we’ve got to climb Mount Bayern without crampons, so yesterday was so important in so many ways. We’re one game from our first cup final since 2005, for a start. That’s good enough for me, but an excellent win is the kind of confidence boost we needed too. Lose that and the rest of the season would have stared us in the face, gurning. So make no bones about it – that was a big result.

I can say this now we’ve won, but it was an excellent cup tie. My brother said as the game started that he hoped Sanogo would score, as he needed a goal to give him belief. But when the goal did come – nice and early, keep it up Arsenal – it went to another player who needed one arguably even more. Questioned by many, a little off-colour, booed on international week, Ozil popped up and with one deft left foot kicked off an excellent performance that culminated in a delicious assist for Giroud’s second. An excellent performance in the spring sunshine (it’s amazing what a few gamma rays can do).

Sanogo had a shot, The Ox another, and we should really have capitalised on our lead, but the first half ended with Everton playing well and they got a tap in that set up a tense second half. As I say, a good game.

The game swerved our way with the penalty. The Ox again, this time running forcefully on the edge of the box right in front of where we sit (he must know this, he perhaps notices us, I like to think he does), was felled by the outstretched leg of Barry Gareth. Penno every day.

Here come the Arteta – he’s the lyrical gangster – and boom, cool as you like he scores. Except he doesn’t because of some perceived infringement by Giroud. What’s that all about? Annoying, because I’d already cheered heartily, pumped my fist at several innocent people and raised my son skywards. Up he comes again though, same coolness, different direction, goal.

Then the denoument, two goals from the excellent Giroud thanks to more good work from Ozil and the energy of Rosicky. It is perhaps an unfair comparison, but seeing Giroud next to Sanogo makes you appreciate the stuff he does that Sanogo cannot yet do. He finds space, holds and distributes the ball, and is deceptively quick-footed. For me, a fit and firing Giroud is key to any kind of momentum for us between now and May. When he’s good, he’s very good (18 goals this season is not too bad at all). Sanogo is willing but not ready. As for Bendtner – I have no idea where he’s got to.

So a great win and a needed shot in the arm. Now for Munich…

As an aside, I took my 5-year-old to his first game yesterday and not surprisingly, he loved it (despite a few wriggles of boredom in the first half). He may be too young to remember it in years to come but I now have the photograhic evidence to prove it… One thing that did make me laugh though is something he whispered in my ear during the ding-dong second half. “Daddy, is it true dodos are extinct?” Kids are so wonderfully random and hard to fathom.

A bit like Arsenal then. But it all came together yesterday and you could see what it meant to fans and players alike.

A bad time to stumble, stutter, splutter

Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal

You can’t really get away with blips or slumps or off days when you hit the final furlong of a season in which you are challenging for something. Look at how we won the league in 2002 – we got 13 straight wins from 10th February. In 1998, 13 wins and a draw between January and clinching the title.

Even last season, it took eight wins and two draws from 16th March to claw our way to the elixir of fourth. Form and momentum.

That’s what makes yesterday so ominous, really. Penalty or no penalty, we were very, very average until right at the end of the game. Two shots on target says it all. We let Stoke out-muscle us, and we let them get to us. We looked very one-paced until right at the end.

That’s now two wins, two draws and two defeats in our last six league games, with our next four being Spurs, Chelsea, Man City and Everton. From where I am standing it looks beyond our capabilities. Our form is too fitful.

True, Stoke have an excellent record against the top sides at home. And true, things might change. There will always be ups and downs. But to claw back those four points will require a phenomenal run-in and the kind of consistency we’ve not shown for a while.

We’ll be fourth if City take two points from their two games in hand. I suppose arriving at fourth having been top is an improvement on arriving at fourth having been sixth…

In all seriousness though, it’ll be interesting to see how Wenger approaches the rest of the season. Last season he tweaked things to improve our defence, and it worked, albeit to the detriment of our attacking play. Now, our defence remains mostly solid. It’s further up the pitch where confidence seems to be sagging. How can he boost us for the next stage of the campaign?

He could start by injecting a bit of pace. Theo, oh woe is me. We do miss his goals and his ability to stretch defences. The nearest we have to him is the Ox, who didn’t start yesterday. His confidence is up, unlike some of our players, and for me he comes straight back into the starting XI for the FA Cup.

Wilshere’s form is worrying too. He had a poor game yesterday following an excellent one against Sunderland – but we can’t afford that. Is he injured? Podolski didn’t offer enough either. But maybe it’s harsh to pick those two out. It was sub-standard stuff, really.

I wouldn’t say the Sunderland performance was a glitch – but they were very accommodating visitors and our next four league games will be anything but accommodating.

What better, then, than an FA Cup quarter final to get things right. What an important game that is turning out to be.

Getting used to sausages

Wigan 0-1 Arsenal

One-nil to the Arsenal, that old war-cry of a result, forged during an era when we were often dour but brutally effective in defence. It was a long time ago, that. In fact it’s only the second win by that scoreline this season, the other being QPR at home.

Since that era we’ve gone to the other extreme, scoring willy-nilly but defending like a sieve, and now we’ve changed again I suppose: trying to relearn the art of winning ugly. Well it wasn’t easy on the eye yesterday, definitely not a case of ‘everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home’, but it was a backs-to-the-wall effort on a stodgy pitch in the lashing rain against a side that looked a lot better than its league position suggests.

And you know what, there’s a lot to appreciate in the kind of result that you get away with a bit, throwing bodies everywhere, in which some of the players end up with their hair plastered askew on their bonces and with mud caked up their Nikes. Yes, we once ate caviar – but we are all getting used to the taste of sausages again. (As a mild aside, let it be said that sausages are fantastic – Lincolnshire ones are great and I recently had a Polish lunchbox – you at the back stop sniggering – the centrepiece of which was a quite momentous sausage. Well done Poland).

And the stats show that Arsenal were not at their fluid best, having fewer shots than Wigan, less possession, fewer crosses, key passes, and passes attempted – but we won. We won!

And by winning we went third (where we still remain, until this afternoon at least), won our third league game in a row for the first time this season, and winning, as you know, is the elixir of life. It’s the medicine of choice for managers, players and fans alike.

Talking points:

Walcott is still auditioning for his preferred role as a striker, but obviously had a pivotal role yesterday in the goal. But the contract thing hangs over him everywhere he goes and it’s immensely boring now. His stalling tactics are boring me too, even if he is being polite and professional enough about the whole thing. He originally stated not being selected as a reason not to sign up, (he now is being), he then blamed not playing up front (he now is doing). Both ‘excuses’ are now rather watery so imagine my surprise when yesterday I read in the Times (£ link) that the reason now is that he is a bit miffed with Wenger, for various reasons, and wants assurances about the direction Arsenal are going in. Which could of course be true – views mirrored by many, after all – but it’s the first we’ve heard of it. I think he’ll stay till the summer, and I think we need him to – but he’s a high-profile player and the questions will be asked every single time he does his interviews, and it’s all a bit dull, but there you go – hey ho.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is edging back into form and sliced down the right in the second half to great effect. Like a new player? (*takes poison*)

Coquelin did a great job breaking stuff up and getting stuck in when he came on

Wilshere is going to have to get used to being targeted wherever he goes. Booked for a superb tackle yesterday, he was upended and clattered with regularity. It’s the price he’s paying for being the talent he is, and for being the kind of player who relishes getting stuck in.

You can throw any kind of weather you like at Arteta’s hair, but it will not be bowed.

Overall then a great result to set up the Christmas period – in which we have a mini-break – and the gloom has lifted, for now. How we are third is hard to fathom, but I’ll take it with jingly bells on.

Which is a reasonable way to lead onto my final point: Happy Christmas to you all – or happy holiday if you prefer – or happy days at work if neither of the previous applies. Enjoy the time off, relax, have a rip-roarer.

Prawn sandwich fan / Hip Hip Hooray

Admission: Tuesday came and went and passed me by entirely. For me, it’s a rarety for me not to follow a game in some way. I go to most home games, and watch or listen to most of the others. Those matches I can’t go to, see or hear I will follow via Twitter etc, as many of us do. But on Tuesday, as the match kicked off, I was out meeting football-agnostic friends (they do exist, it seems) in a pub with pleasant steak and kidney pies but no telly, and although I briefly toyed with the time-honoured gadget switch-off so I could play the match as live when I got in, I knew my resolve wouldn’t last and sure enough, it didn’t. Having found out we’d lost 1-0, I opted against pursuing the venture any further when I got home. Fickle? Guilty as charged.

I did sniff round the reaction though, and the goodwill to a) a weakened team and b) a loss was widespread. Partly because we seem to have acquitted ourselves very well, and partly, perhaps, with one eye on last February’s Wembley final, which was the catalyst for a sensational collapse.

Wenger said in his L’Equipe interview that last season, “to try to catch one [trophy], we ran after all the hares”, and that contributed to the dismal season end, but that this year, rather than change approach, “I’ll do the same thing”.

I think he approached it right given the obvious fatigue on Saturday, and while the hunt for a trophy is as important as ever, I get the feeling that things don’t seem to hinge so much on the winning of a cup this year. Maybe expectations are a little bit lower and maybe, after the start we had, this season became as much about turning an underperforming team around – which is happening – as it was about having a genuine tilt at a trophy.

Either way, I don’t see too many – any – dissenters saying we should have played the Persies and the Ramseys and the Walcotts of this world on Tuesday. Chasing four trophies puts an impossible burden on any squad, especially one still scraping off the mud of an early season quagmire. We performed well and as has been pointed out elsewhere in numerous places, it was an opportunity seized for some of our players – Coquelin, Frimpong, Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular.


I wasn’t aware of the exact date, but today is apparently the 125th anniversary of the club. How time flies – I vaguely remember the celebrations around the 100th anniversary and here we are again for another milestone. It feels like a long time but when I worked out I had followed Arsenal for almost 25% of its existence, and that time has disappeared into the ether like a flash, it feels a bit less so.

In those 125 years, Arsenal have won the First Division / Premier League title 13 times. Unlucky for some, but equally, 11 times more than others. That averages out as one title every 9.6 years, which puts our barren trophy run into some perspective and, as I mentioned on Twitter, raises the interesting prospect of our next title coming in 2014 (if stats can be relied on – no comment).

I can’t imagine too many of us would find that too long a wait. I’ll just drop a call to the club and check they’ve booked Islington Town Hall.

Best to be well prepared for these things.