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.

The Milk Cup of human unkindness

Don’t mention the score

It’s back into the Milk Cup saddle this evening as Bolton roll into town. Despite having despatched Shrewsbury Town already, the merest mention of a Carling Cup tie takes me back to memories of filing out of Wembley in February. It’s hard to forget, even now. They weren’t the kinds of conversations for gentle souls.

Defeat that day, as we know, precipitated our worst run of form for a long, long time – we’re only emerging from it now – but Wenger’s approach last year, to my mind, was the right one. He wanted the team to taste victory, to kick on. It couldn’t have backfired more spectacularly but there you go. Given our start to this season, our form and our brittleness, it still represents one of our best chances for a crack at a trophy so once again he will look to get the balance between youth and experience right. It’s an especially tough call tonight because Bolton, though down on their luck, is a tougher assignment than Shrewsbury and we will need to take that into account, all the while thinking about Saturday’s game.

Part of the reason we have looked stronger in this competition could be that the players we blooded in it are young but now experienced. Others, like Coquelin and Frimpong, are raw but are hardly sitting idle on the sidelines – eight starts between them this season already.

Cor blimey, striker light

One area there is room for rotation in is up front. van Persie’s two-goal cameo on Sunday, delicious though it was, simply reinforced the point that while we have one trigger-happy marksman at the top of his game to fall back on, we have another two marksmen tottering around in the wilderness.

Bit harsh, maybe. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Chamakh’s workrate at the moment but he’s peculiarly devoid of confidence (one goal in 31 appearances, I read somewhere, and no shots on goal on Sunday. Blunt). As for Park – defended yesterday, as you would expect, by Wenger – he’s been banging them in for South Korea but nowhere to be seen at Arsenal.

“Some people judged our players very quickly in a negative way and slowly they changed their mind through their performances. I prefer it that way round than the other” said Wenger. “Some players make you jump off your seat in the early stages and then disappoint you after”, he added, not I imagine consciously referring to Chamakh, “ These players will win over all the sceptical people and Park is one of them.”

Well, he’ll certainly get his chance tonight.

Under the radar

One of the side effects of stumbling from one mucky defensive error to another for months is that we are now commanding less media attention. You’ll have had to stay up into the wee small hours to see us recently on Match of the Day. The column inches are down. Monday’s Times has an excellent 20-page football pullout called The Game. Five of those 20 pages were given over to the Utd v City game, one half of one page to us. I’m not saying that’s the wrong balance but it does mean that despite having now won 6 out of 7, we are operating somewhat under the radar. I prefer it this way.

No doubt this will change as the game at Stamford Bridge edges closer…

Concede 8, buy 5: Have you ever known a week like it?

They’re up for grabs now! Wenger, right at the end. An unbelievable climax to the transfer window

I can safely say I can’t recall the like. What began with the low of an abject eight-goal capitulation at Old Trafford has ended with the high of five new faces to bolster the ranks. We may never know whether the late spree was intended all along, or whether it was a direct consequence of the butchering in Manchester, but it’s happened and the result is that we are indubitably stronger this morning than we we were on Monday morning.

We could lament the absurd lateness of the spree (which has lent it an air of desperation), but maybe you have to factor in the departures of Cesc and Nasri into the equation. Both were very, very late exits in the scheme of things. And you also have to accept that a lot of business – rightly or wrongly – gets left this late for all manner of reasons. We could also lament the painful reality that we cannot currently compete for the ‘big names’ (who come with the big wages). In that respect, we are left in the wake of three other teams. It hurts, but it’s a fact.

But, from my perspective at least, the last two days have been refreshing both in their decisiveness and in their honesty. A club that was getting the reputation for dithering about over transfers acted incredibly quickly to bring new faces in. In Arteta’s case, the fax was involved in a photo finish.

Honest, too, because this is as near as we will get to a public admission that the squad was sub-par and that the youth project – such as it ever was – hasn’t worked. All five players are over 26. All experienced. All, given their status for their national teams, have borne responsibility on the field.

Santos, probably, will come straight in as first choice left-back. Mertesacker, too, ought to partner Vermaelen straight away. One of either Arteta or Benayoun can consider themselves worthy of a berth in the middle. Of the five, Park is probably the least likely to start but then again, he’s probably leapt ahead of Chamakh by default. These have been crucial signings.

Despite the clamour from some quarters, we were surely never going to go for a player like Parker. You lose two highly creative players, then you need to replace those players like for like. We have done that. In the hod-carrying midfield position, we now have competition for Song in Frimpong. So the additions of Benayoun and Arteta are sound. (I’ve never been a huge fan of Benayoun, but again, I reserve my judgement. And I’m told he’s been very good in pre-season).

I don’t think we could have done much more under the circumstances and in the time allotted. Criticism, yes, for dithering all summer. That has not shown either Wenger, or the board, or the teams involved in player acquisition, in a good light.

But the fans, and the players, needed this spree badly. van Persie and Walcott have both urged the club to strengthen this summer. Wilshere was positively glowing on Twitter last night. And look at the dropped heads on the pitch after the mauling on Sunday. They needed a lift as much as we did.

It’s certainly had the right effect on me. The squad looks much stronger and better balanced.

Naturally, I can’t wait for the Swansea game.