Holding in and holding out

Leicester 0-0 Arsenal

There was some good and bad to chew on in that performance, an entertaining but low-quality trip to the champions. But it’s not about the points at this stage, more about the performance.

Was there a measurable improvement on that front from last weekend? Well, we didn’t collapse. That’s a bonus. In fact, I thought we defended pretty well, with Holding and the immense Koscielny marshalling the back line very well, ably assisted by a bank of defensive midfielders and by Cech. In tough games, we now have three defensive midfielders to choose from to shore up the rear, and that can only bode well. Xhaka was tough, diligent, neat and tidy, and I really do like the cut of his jib. We need that kind of player.

We were a bit lucky too, with Coquelin about as disciplined as wasp who’d just had a parking ticket, and a late penalty shout that was about as contentious as night following day. Yes, referees are human, but we’d have laminated the hell out of some A4s if that had happened against us.

Further up the pitch: not so very good. I thought it was a bitty performance and without Ozil there was a severe lack of creativity. The Ox started brightly but faded, and while Theo worked hard, had a few shots and put in some muscular recovery tackles, it was a difficult afternoon and he had the kind of invisible touch that takes control and slowly tears you apart.

So too Alexis. His passing was off so often that I wonder if he’s even properly fit. Alexis is many things, but he’s no striker, not on this showing.

So perhaps it was no surprise that we struggled for momentum and for cohesion up front, and that didn’t really improve when Giroud came on as it was pretty late in the day.

The catalyst for our best period was Ozil – devilish little wizard – and how nice it was to see him back. But in the end, we cannot complain too much with the result.

It’s a draw that teaches us nothing we didn’t already know, except perhaps that Wenger has unearthed a good prospect in Holding. I did like Wenger’s tetchy but very apt post-match comment:

“Nobody is speaking about the performance of Rob Holding today. You should be happy; he is English, he is 20 years old, but I’m sorry he didn’t cost £55m, so it cannot be good.”

Proof that for all the maddening things he does and says, he can still throw some pearls out there.

Sadly, he’s up against it pretty much permanently at the moment. There’s disquiet in the stands with chants, banners have started already, and as I mentioned yesterday it’s very difficult to turn this level of feeling round now for him, which is why I feel this season is it for him. The desire for change is embedded and hard to shift, but I’ll tell you what could buy him some leeway…

With rumours about Mustafi persisting, there’s clearly the desire to bolster the squad there. But with desire you need action. Most pressing for me is a striker (if I had to choose), because we looked threadbare up there yesterday. It really is now or never on that front.

Get those two positions sorted and we have a much more complete squad. But getting nobody in is not an option. Not for the squad, not for Wenger and not for the fans.

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.

Cor blimey, striker light

A very belated hello to the week from me. We’re midwayish between the Hull and Villa games, a hopeless time for blogging as we’re too far past the former and not near enough the latter.

What we are also is a mere eight days away from is the opening of the transfer window. The cynical amongst us – so that’s me then – will therefore conclude that we are exactly 39 days and an awful lot of hot fax paper away from any potential signing actually putting pen to paper.

I do however suspect we’re all in agreement that we need a new striker. Hell, even Wenger says so, though of course he couches any excitement with the usual Wengerish nonchalance.

We’re so much in need of a new striker that the notion of losing Alex Song to the African Nations Cup – the same Alex Song who couldn’t put his left foot past his right one for so many years but is now indispensable – seems to have been swept somewhat under the carpet.

But with van Persie effectively in the garage for essential repairs until the World Cup, Eduardo’s stuttering form, and Walcott and Vela’s continuing growing pains, it leaves us with Bendtner (hardly the finished article himself) and Arshavin (who’s not really a striker anyway).

The question is though, who? Gunnerblog asks the question, more to fire up the debate than anything else I suspect, ‘Should we sign Louis Saha’. To me this neatly sums up the kind of problem Wenger might have in January – simply that there aren’t a lot of top strikers available. It’s probably why the names Chamakh and Dzeko keep on being repeated. And repeated. And repeated.

As for David Villa – wishful thinking I’m afraid. He’d cost upwards of £30m, which in Wenger currency is three Wiltords. If Arshavin cost one-and-a-bit Wiltords, I find it hard to envisage Wenger withdrawing three from the Bank of Sylvania to spend on one player.

I wonder also what effect the impending World Cup might have on player recruitment. On the one hand, you might get some players, on the cusps of their national teams, who are itching for a move to enhance their prospects. On the other are the clubs unwilling to sell now, in the hope that the World Cup is the biggest shop window of them all.

So it might just be an interesting January. Our league record since van Persie’s injury is not that bad – W3, D1, L2 – with eight goals scored in six games, but nor is good enough to write home to your mother about.

“Dear Mum,
In this age of email, Twitter and Facebook, you might have noticed that when it comes to writing home, I’m a bit remiss. However, I was so struck by our form since Robin van Persie got injured that I became compelled to dust down my Parker and pen you this missive. Can we score enough to keep up a head of steam? Will Eduardo emerge from the doldrums? Can Walcott pick up a decent lick of form?
Look forward to your reply,
Yours,
Son”

So anyway, at this point I digress.

If I don’t blog again before Christmas – and the chances are remote – then all that remains is for me to wish you all a fabulous break. Thanks for reading, for all your comments, for dribbling away on Twitter with me and for being gooners of the highest calibre.

Happy Christmas, a prosperous new year and a trophy in the cabinet.

Adding height and bite / Milk Cup preview

So Wenger, normally pretty cagey when it comes to issues of the chequebook, came out yesterday and admitted that he was in the market for a striker in January.

This can only, of course, be good news. It’ll boost (and in some cases, spur on) his players, and it will come as welcome news to those Arsenal fans who consider us light in a few departments.

As I mentioned on Arseblogger’s round-table yesterday, given that Wenger’s not in a position to blunderbuss away £100m, and nor would he have the inclination to anyway, he’ll be looking for one or two players at most.

Clearly, a striker is the priority. Bendtner cannot come back soon enough at the moment, just to add a bit of bite, height and variation to the frontline. Some might think it unfair to put add too much responsibility onto the shoulders of a 21-year-old, but if anyone’s got the self-belief to take the challenge on, he has.

Nevertheless, with all the will in the world it will take Bendtner a few more years to gain the experience and guile that Chelsea so patently have in abundance up front. He’s ten years younger than Drogba, a player at the absolute top of his game. So with that in mind, I think Wenger will plump for a striker around the 25-years-old mark.

That might be where the shopping starts and ends. There are of course other areas where strengthening would make sense – keeper, centre-back and defensive midfield – but nothing quite so urgent as a striker.

It’ll be interesting to see what he does about the centre-back position though, as I’d be amazed if Senderos didn’t depart to newer climes in the transfer window. Couple that with the fact that a) the only backup to our main partnership would be Silvestre and b) Gallas appears to be holding out for a summer Bosman, then Wenger’s hand might be forced there too.

Beyond that, I can’t see any movement. I don’t think at this stage we’ll look to reinforce central midfield. Song’s away for a month but there’s still Ramsey, Denilson, Diaby there. Which leads me nicely, if a little loosely, onto Craig Eastmond and tonight’s game.

To those, like me, who don’t pay enough attention to youth and reserve level, Eastmond came from nowhere. He did really well against Liverpool in the last round and he’ll get his chance again tonight – alongside other young players like Wilshere. The full squad gets released on Arsenal.com this morning, so it’s hard to second-guess Wenger before that time. He has said it will be a “team that has a chance to win” – so he’ll want to get the mix between the Eastmonds and the Eduardos of this world right.

“I believe we have a good mixture of experienced players and young players but we will play young players that is for sure. It will be a typical Carling Cup side” he said.

Looking forward to it now – it’s going to be a tough game indeed. Hughes appears to be under a little pressure (ludicrous if true) and will play his big guns, including our old Togolese chum.

So it’s all hands to the pump.

Come on you reds!