Snow, hype and the chance to go second

Breaking news: We’ve neither signed nor sold anyone.

I switched on Sky Sports News on about 2nd January and they were already lathering at the chops and reminding us that there were a mere 29 days and 6 hours and 14 minutes or whatever it was remaining before the end of the transfer window. Not so much flogging a dead horse as flogging a newborn foal.

So I’m calm as a millpond, though I will admit I’m intrigued how Wenger will play his cards this month. We’re always told that January is a bad month for buying players, what with them being cup-tied or their clubs unwilling to sell them mid-season and all that, but we’ve actually done some sterling business in previous windows. Reyes, Diaby, Walcott, Arshavin all spring to mind.

Also, when the official site tells us “The Arsenal manager intends to add quality and quantity” then the possibility of more than one incoming signing clearly raises its head. And when the boss himself tells us that “Ideally… you want to act as quickly as possible” then the fact it could be soon, and there could be one, two, or a whole army of new faces, then, then…

OK, I’ll admit it. The hype, while mostly baseless and clearly rather see-through, is good fun too.

The most pressing thing is tomorrow night of course. Snow permitting, and of course result permitting, we could go second, and with every decent performance comes renewed confidence, more belief, and more hope. Two late goals at West Ham can’t have hindered either, even if we struggled a bit before Diaby and Nasri came on. The fact is, we turned it round. It’s a promising sign.

With Denilson back, he will slot straight into a Song-shaped hole against Bolton. I suppose he’s the nearest we’ve got to a replacement, with Diaby more adventurous and the quite excellent Ramsey replacing Fabregas.

Also back is Arshavin, and as we chop and change our squad it’s a considerable light at the end of the tunnel to hear that Clichy returns to training next week, and that Bendtner should resume training soon too.

Right, I’m off to peer out the window and pray for flakes. Not enough to cancel tomorrow night’s game, but enough to make it impossible – simply not feasible – to go into work tomorrow.

(Just kidding, boss).

Meantime – this is always good value for a morning transfer tittle-tattle round-up.

So long, Alex Song, and a Happy New Year

Portsmouth 1-4 Arsenal

A thoroughly comfortable win on the south coast saw off 2009 in style and makes the prospect of 2010 more than a little interesting for those of us of red and white persuasion.

I’m oop north at the moment, and without Sky on the TV I watched the game live on my iPhone. Infuriatingly, the stream buffered like the dickens, in particular coming to a shuddering halt right before Nasri’s goal made it 2-0. I like the idea of the Sky app that lets you watch live games without the need for a fat TV-sized monthly wedge, and I think £6 a month is a reasonable price to pay for the privilege, but until they sort out the quality (the stream, as well as buffering, veers between pixel-perfect and fuzzy), then I will pass.

It was an easy win. Certainly, once Nasri rifled in our second, it looked completely over as a contest. Pompey’s fans are getting increasingly militant at the way their club is being tossed around like a plaything by faceless owners – it’s desperate stuff and I feel sorry for them. There are plenty of salutary tales to be told about overspending, bad management, murky ownership and a lack of effective regulation from the game’s hierarchy, but as ever, I am thankful that our club is properly run. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Perhaps fittingly, it was Alex Song – our most improved player of 2009 by some distance – who scored Arsenal’s final league goal of the decade. A quick look online tells me our first goal of the decade, on 3rd January 2000, came in a 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday and was scored by Emmanuel Petit. I can’t remember it to be honest; it feels like a hundred years ago rather than ten.

Song’s current worth to the team can be directly measured by the increased quantity of furrowed brows among fans caused by his forthcoming absence. He’s really grown into that role, and doesn’t have a direct replacement who mops up quite so vigorously. Although our squad is less hit by the call-up of African players than some, there’s no doubt he will be missed (we’ve got him for one more game, the FA Cup tie at West Ham, but not in the league now for the next month).

The pick of the goals though came from another midfielder, Fabregas’s replacement Aaron Ramsey. It was a real gem, as was watching his patience with the ball, and his eye for a pass. One for the future? Not really – with seven starts and 16 sub appearances, he’s one for now but he’s being dropped into things gently, and besides, he has quite a good player ahead of him in the shape of Fabegas. For an 18-year-old, he’s bang on track and getting as much playing time as he could ever have hoped.

As for reinforcements, well when does a football fan ever say no to the possibility of an additional player? In our case, I’m with the 99.9% of Arsenal fans who clamouring for a new pair of legs up front. Wenger gives the game away, despite a bit of water muddying, when he says:

“It’s true that we have problems with our strikers. Even I say that. Everybody tells me to buy strikers, but when I look at the League, nobody has scored more goals than us.

“We have players who move the ball well and everybody gets in dangerous positions. And that’s why, with the confidence high, everyone can score goals. But we are still in the market.”

We are still in the market, that’s the bottom line. As I said in my previous post, it would be verging on the criminal not to make the most of the situation we find ourselves in. With just one experienced striker (and he’s operating on only three cylinders), we cannot hope to outscore our opponents purely from midfield. We’re bang in there at the top. If we brought in a new face or two in January and still faded away, then fine – that can happen. But the chances are, a new recruit could make a huge difference. So let’s go for it.

Finally, a happy New Year to you all. I hope the year brings you all everything you could hope for (a new striker being a good start on that front).

It’s been an all-round pleasure. Thanks for reading my increasingly infrequent posts, for chatting on here (occasionally) and on Twitter (more frequently). Here’s to more of the same in 2010.

Another scalp for the Milk Cup kids

Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool

Another great win in the Milk Cup for the Arsenal thanks to two crackers from Merida and Bendtner.

Though fatigue set in at the end, it was another feather in the cap for Wenger’s second string. It seems to happen every year, yet every year it still surprises me how much potential there is bubbling under the surface at the club.

My own man of the match would have gone to Ramsey for an eye-catching appearance in central midfield, though he wasn’t the only one to shine. Merida scored a great goal, Gibbs and Gilbert were tenacious, Senderos and Silvestre solid and it was good to see Nasri back too.

True to form, there was another chance for another player off the Arsenal production line – Craig Eastmond. He had a very encouraging debut before making way late in the game for Mark Randall.

It was a pretty even game, and certainly very entertaining, and I think Wenger got the balance between experience and inexperience spot on: Senderos, Silvestre, Nasri, Eduardo and Bendtner gave us a solid spine upon which Ramsey, Gibbs, Gilbert, Eastmond and Merida thrived.

Sanchez Watt came on too – to great applause from the same crowd who presumably also saw him slot one past WBA in the last round.

It was at times a hairy last ten minutes for a by-now wearying Arsenal, but it was interesting to note our players taking the ball into dead areas to kill time. It might not be the most elegant way to see a game out, but given the experience of the last two matches, I imagine they were under strict orders from above.

One lead thrown away is careless – two is criminal. What a third might have done ahead of a game that has ‘previous’ for calamitous losses of concentration doesn’t bear thinking about.

So have any of last night’s performances given Wenger food for thought for Saturday? Fabianski probably did enough to think he might get a chance – though with the goalkeeping situation being what it is, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see any one of Fabianski, Mannone and Almunia between the sticks. Take your pick.

Ramsey will certainly have a seat on the bench, but given his exertions tonight I can’t see him starting on Saturday, and the same goes for Nasri. What Wenger said the other day about the young Welshman being ready seems spot on – he offers real competition for Diaby and Denilson and is progressing fast. That can only be a good thing.

One of Bendtner or Eduardo might also get the nod, but otherwise it’s back to the day jobs for most of last night’s XI.

The derby countdown can now begin. The jangling nerves are on hold, but I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep them back.

More on that nearer the time.