It’s the wrong trousers, Granit.

Arsenal 2-2 Crystal Palace

With impeccable timing, I was attempting to follow the Arsenal game yesterday on a train. What is it with mobile coverage on trains? You can spend billions shuttling humans at 200kmh between two cities but for the vast majority of the journey my phone had just the one sausage (technical term), rendering even Arsenal.com’s audio coverage impossible. The dulcet half-Paris, half-London accent of Jérémie Aliadière flitted into my ears only intermittently. It’s an amazing thing.

Maybe it was for the best, as it turned out, because just when Emery wanted nothing more than to change the narrative of recent weeks, about a trillion things blew up in his face. It’s now going to be a busy week for the club’s PR crisis management team.

I can’t really comment on the performance for the above-mentioned reasons. By all accounts, it was far from our worst game of the season, though our defence and lack of creativity continue to be insoluble problems for Emery. 

But like the Spurs match last season, which had a contentious penalty and some argy-bargy to light the fuse, this match had VAR, blowing a two-goal lead and a quite astonishing hoo-haa with Xhaka.

No crackers, Granit

The Xhaka thing is the hardest to put back into a box and pretend it never happened. On a human level I feel for him – that kind of vitriol is deeply unpleasant, especially for someone who through no fault of his own is our club captain. It’s not helpful at all, and I’m not sure how its knock-on effects will be anything other than deleterious. 

The bottom line is that he clearly shouldn’t have done what he did, irrespective of the boos that led to it. It was hot-headed and unbecoming of the Arsenal captain. For some, if this kind of reaction leads to him moving on, they’ll maybe consider it a price worth paying, but it would sit uncomfortably with me. I like to think we’re better than that.

VAR from the madding crowd

I support VAR in principle, but if the decision that led to Sokratis’ second goal is the way it’s going to be interpreted, I say cancel the whole experiment now. It was set up as a foolproof way of correcting a referee’s or a linesman’s wrong decision, but while it’s pretty mathematical for things like off-side, for other things it’s still too reliant on opinion. There’s no communication, it takes ages and it’s replacing one subjective assessment with another. It’s simply not accurate or fair enough in its current form and it’s ruining matches for the match-going fan.

Emery bored 

I’m no fan of Emery and I doubt he’ll be here next year. He’s struggling to fix all aspects of our game and the fans know it. Arsenal feels like a suit that’s just a bit ill-fitting for him. All that being said, I’m not sure how much I want us to be the kind of club that moves people on every 18 months. I do value a bit of patience and I try to stand back and see the bigger picture – hard as it may be to do that right now. All of which is perhaps a cack-handed way of saying I’m torn as to the next steps. I suspect though – and this is just a guess – that the board will wait until the summer to see if he can come up with the right formula. 

It’s all-consuming conversation at the moment, though and it’s getting in the way of everything. 

Overall, a bad day at the office for all, I think. Is it good that we’ve got Liverpool so soon after yesterday’s mess? It may be… but only if we win. And that pressure is essentially what Emery’s up against now. He’s being judged on every decision, performance, result, tactical approach, selection, interview. Sometimes fairly, sometimes not, but there’s very little leeway. Maybe that’s the way it should be – or maybe that makes his job to all intents and purposes impossible. 

Get the hell out of stodge

Sheffield Utd 1-0 Arsenal

As Arsenal became less competitive in the second half of the Wenger era, we could at least comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we continued to play football that was incredibly easy on the eye. Yes, we lost some power and became more brittle, but we were still capable of some breathtaking football. 

Towards the end of his reign, that silky football also began to go, and before long, so too did Wenger.

I don’t know what I was expecting with Emery, really. Someone who could strengthen our defence, for sure. Someone who’d re-integrate some the power alongside panache – the calling card that marked Wenger’s early years. (As an aside, if I was given the opportunity to ask Arsène just one question, it would be related to that. Why replace powerful players that struck fear into the opposition with smaller, more technical ones – and why persist with it when it clearly didn’t really work?)

I expected him to make us more competitive and to get us back into the Champions League. He could argue that we’re still well placed to push on and achieve that, and I have no doubt that the board will look at it that way too. But what I wasn’t really expecting when he joined was for us to be playing like we are – to be less sure of what we’re doing, less dangerous and just as watery at the back. Not just occasionally, but more often than not.

Truth be told, it’s hard to see any improvement in our league performances at all, and it’s even harder to get excited by the piecemeal, straightjacket, safety-first football that we too often play under him. While I too have been clinging onto the difference that Bellerin and Tierney might make, I’m not sure it’s fair to expect those two to kick-start a renaissance in how we play as a team. 

I know this sounds spoilt, and maybe we were, for so very long, far too spoilt. But I think it’s a big problem for Emery because while the results have mostly been OK, we’re never far away from tripping up, and the way we’re playing is shapeless, predictable and – yes – dull to watch. We have an excellent squad, in my opinion, significantly remodelled in the summer. They’re capable of playing far better football than this.

I just don’t see where the *click* is going to come from at the moment (in the league – the Uefa and Milk Cups have been oases of calm, albeit against easier opposition). This should be a team high on confidence, but they look as timid as mice. When we do win, it’s tight, and often a bit lucky. A proper thrashing in the Premier League (dished out by us, to be clear) seems far away right now.

Hats off to the Blades by the way – a poor performance is never wholly Arsenal’s fault – who were more aggressive and solid than us, and made the most of their chances. They deserved the win. Good luck to them.

But as for us? Emery has a lot of work to do to convince us all that the team’s heading in the right direction, and not just in terms of results. And if he doesn’t, I suspect he too will be gone in the summer.

Wheezing up to third

Arsenal 1-0 Bournemouth

There’s a subtle difference between doing some pottering around yourself on a Sunday and watching someone else potter around on a Sunday. And by god, did Arsenal potter around in the second half yesterday. Shall I say potter again? Potter.

I’m not sure why. The first half was OK, and Luiz found time to be dangerous at the other end of the pitch by scoring his first goal for Arsenal (“a little flick of those locks,” said the commentator on Arsenal.com). Aubameyang rasped one past the post and Pepe curled one over. 

But the second half? I’m not sure if they ran out of puff, ran out of confidence or ran out of ideas, but it was tough going. And I suppose in that respect it was a good job we were playing Bournemouth. They’re no slouches but you couldn’t help but wonder what a more dangerous side could have done to us in that second half.

Insert Emery musings here

I’m far from the first person to wonder what to make of us under Emery – why we do what we do and what the masterplan is. But think of it from an Arsenal top brass point of view. He has one job this season (a job that will in all likelihood decide his future at the club): getting back into the Champions League. So long as we’re in the running for that, all grumbles about the brand of football will be ignored. There’s no way in the world he’s going anywhere sooner, short of Arsenal collapsing to tenth and looking incapable of competing. But we’re not doing that; far from it. We’re third and he’s fulfilling his brief.

This is especially true as we don’t even have our full squad. Tierney and Bellerin taking over from Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles/Chambers is just a matter of time. The return of Holding and the return to form of Chambers give us options in the centre too and may – may! – help Luiz and Sokratis focus.

So yes, I too wish there was more rampaging, and we were slicing through sides once we’ve got our noses in front, but outside the cups we’re not quite clicking. We’re hanging in there – one point behind City – and from an aesthetic point of view, we just have to hope the right system and the right first XI emerges that takes us up a notch. 

In the meantime, it’s grind-it-out time. We’ve got a great crop of young players, and they’re being given time. We’ve got an increasing amount of options all over the pitch. The ingredients are there. Just… but…. hmmm.

But onto more important matters

Ok, who’s messed with the bloody clocks? Either I’m extraordinarily unobservant (quite possible – actually, very possible) or have the stadium clocks started counting up to 45 minutes rather than down? If so, why? There’s a whole blog post that can be written about this, I suspect. It could be the tip of the iceberg and unearth yet more abuses of football tradition. It could make me as an investigative journalist. 

Or, it might just be that a) the clocks have always counted up and I’m as thick as a brick, or b) that it’s been happening ages and therefore I’m as thick as a brick. 

Read my match report. It’s two days late and still no good.

Arsenal 2-0 Chelsea

In this era of on-the-whistle posts and hot-off-the-press post-match podcasts, I’ve decided to  develop a niche around commenting fluffily about a game at least two days after it happened. It never harmed people in the olden days when they’d hear of news in far off lands weeks later, and it won’t harm people now. Maybe, just maybe, people scooped up so much simultaneously-published content after the match that it all garbled into one? And that they need a refresher now? That’s what I’m clinging onto.

Anyway, the match. Just when he needed a result, along came a re-invigorated Arsenal and a strikerless Chelsea. Perfect timing! How we needed that.

Fire the starting gun

It’s funny how the first 30 seconds or minute of a game can often tell you all you need to know about the game that’s about to unfold. When the game kicked off the week before, at West Ham, I distinctly remember an Arsenal player getting the ball within seconds and just standing there, almost motionless, not quite knowing what to do and under no pressure to do anything in any rush. Fast forward a week to the game against Chelsea and we were out of the blocks like the clappers. It set the tone for a superb first half that won us the game.

Better and brighter men than me (that doesn’t really narrow it down) will know more about the psychology behind that. How can two performances be so different? Was it the opponent? Some words of admonition from Unai? Change of formation and line-up? All of the above and more? Let’s just hope we don’t go full circle and start so timidly on Friday night, as I’m not entirely sure that will end well.

Laca verging (on the brilliant)

Hands up in the class who likes Lacazette? While I wouldn’t advocate the smattering – counted in the low seconds – of booing that appeared to accompany his substitution, it is a bit baffling, because he really is a hell of a player. Sure, he has fewer goals than Aubameyang, but his range is wider, and when he scores goals that combine silky skills with brute force, as he did on Saturday, my admiration for his overall excellence, hard work and team play goes up a notch or two.

Just be Kos

It was a fabulous performance from Koscielny, who looks like he’s edging back to his imperious best. And with him marshalling things, Sokratis looks more comfortable too. With all my fingers crossed and double-crossed, we really need to keep those two fit until the end of the season. They might not be perfect, and they’re certainly not the long-term solution – the former is in the autumn of his career, and the latter still gets a little too tight to people for my liking – but as a unit, on this performance at least, they’re the best we’ve got. Please stay fit.

Knee bother

I’m not one for conspiracy theories as a rule, but what with the moon landings definitely being fake, and the Earth being as flat as a pancake, I’m beginning to worry about our injuries this year. It seems incredibly bad luck to me to have two substantial knee injuries in one year, especially as both Bellerin and Holding were arguably two of our most improved players this season under Emery. Is it the way we train, or just bad luck? Add Welbz into the mix and you’ve got a rum old situation that’s clearly some kind of government cover-up. But I’m not one for conspiracy theories, as I said. So good luck Bellerin and Holding. Please no more long-term injuries. Thanks.

Not the crackliest

Obviously, all atmosphere analysis now uses the Spurs game as a benchmark, because that was right up there with the best in recent times. So given it was a 5:30 kick-off (some drink tends to help pep up the noise) and a Saturday, I must say I was expecting things to be a bit more raucous than they were. Perhaps there were gnawing nerves given some of our recent performances. There also weren’t the same circumstances that sparked up the derby. But still – just me or was it a bit subdued?

Right, that’s your lot in this first and probably last two-day-old match report.

Solidarity with all the part-time bloggers like me who can’t quite be bothered. Power to the idle.

Plenty to ponder as Arsenal self-destruct

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal

It’s not lost on me that since it all came together so spectacularly against our old friends up the road on 2nd December, cracks have started to appear. Yesterday, those cracks became giant fissures, as all of our failings of yore came back to dance a merry jig.

For all of Liverpool’s excellence (they’re not top and flying by chance), all five of their goals were avoidable from a defensive point of view, and that’s the grim truth of it. I fired off this tweet at the end of the game last night:

No club that considers itself one of those capable of challenging for the big honours should let five goals in. It ought to be a once-a-generation brain freeze, but in seven years (not including the League Cup) we’ve shipped eight goals once, six goals twice and five goals four times (that I can think of – there are probably more). Wenger’s late-era teams were weak, and for it to happen again under a new man suggests to me that a lot of those weaknesses are still there.

I also lobbed this tweet out there too. It wasn’t universally popular – it’s a bit black-and-white / binary I know, so lacks a bit of context – but it did resonate with many:

They’re not be set up / organised properly yet – that seems pretty clear – and solving that would put a different light on some of these players. Some of them would also look better when paired with better players. But even with that, I don’t think any of the above is defensively consistent enough or fit/quick enough (Kolasinac, however, is incredibly dangerous going forward) to get into the teams of any of our rivals, and that’s the essence of the problem. We either need a miracle structural cure, which has not been forthcoming yet, or we need a serious injection of quality if we want to step up.

So fix it, yeah

Easier said than done I’m aware, because we all know Kroenke’s not going to wave a £75m magic wand for a defender – and that might really only get you one exceptional defender these days, however wrong that is – even if there was one available in January.

In the context of this urgent need to improve, some of the other things going down across the club make a bit more sense. Selling Ramsey (again – rightly or wrongly) in January would raise some money, if they can make it happen. I’d wager that some of the defenders above – if there were takers and if there are replacements – should be looking over their shoulder too. Sokratis seems a good squad option and I like his attitude, but Mustafi? It might also explain the Ozil situation, though that’s possibly harder to resolve. Put bluntly, to spend money we need to have money, and that requires some ruthlessness that will be well received by some but not by others.

On the plus side

Some positives, while we’re at it. I thought Maitland-Niles, who’s something of a travelling salesman in this team, made a real impression early on from his berth on the right. Iwobi did well in the early part of the game too. Overall, to have gone 22 games unbeaten is admirable, and I’m enjoying the team edging towards being a team that presses better, stands up for each other and is developing – albeit with glitches in the matrix – more resilience.

But to have let 30 goals in tells you where we can improve the most. Emery knows only too well that his job depends on making rapid improvements, getting into the Champions League, and winning things, and he can’t afford to let transfer windows pass by in the way Wenger could, whose power came from  early success and latter-day patronage. Emery has neither of those things and there’s no time like the present.

So I think some stuff will happen in January. We’re still there or thereabouts, and we need something to help steady the ship and push us on.

Emery fires up Arsenal in demolition derby

Arsenal 4-2 Spurs

What a shot in the arm. I’ve been to many crackling, memorable matches at the Emirates, but there’s not much that’s got close to how yesterday felt. It was breathlessly exciting: absolutely relentless and exhausting. If this is the stamp of Emery, then quite honestly, it’s been worth waiting for. I’m sold.

Not many players grow up near the club they end up playing for these days, which can lead to the accusation they just don’t ‘get’ what a rivalry like this means for the club and fans. As accusations go, it’s always been nonsense, as yesterday proved. It was clear that Emery had wound his team up into a frenzy for his first north London derby, and throughout, they didn’t let up.

We started like a train, and weren’t derailed when two preventable goals turned the tables on us. It’s funny, because while Aubameyang’s equaliser was an obvious turning point as the game swung back into our favour, I actually think the sense of injustice fuelled by the ‘shhh’ and the penalty was the thing that made this game so fierce. We felt slighted, and with that in our mind, helped by two judicious substitutions, we completely blew them away in the second half.

Au-boom-eyang

Aubameyang’s second was the best technical goal by some distance. A beautiful pass from Bellerin, the gentlest of lay-offs from Ramsey, then a first-time, curving rip-snorter of a strike that left their keeper rooted to his spot. Pandemonium on the terraces. An inch-perfect precision strike. With ten goals, he’s the top scorer in the league, and he doesn’t always play in his best position. Not bad…

Lacazette’s was especially fun for dribbling in, but then came my favourite, as man of the match and all-round pocket dynamo Lucas Torreira turned his man and slotted it home. When a football match gives you this kind of emotional high, it’s genuinely like a drug. Just wonderful. Feed me more.

Talking of Torreira, he’s so obviously the blueprint for what Emery is trying to achieve. Tenacious, energetic and technically excellent, he’s pretty much the first man on the teamsheet now. If you can’t play like he plays, which is how Emery wants his team to play, do you have a future at Arsenal? This is not a coded slight to Ozil or indeed anyone else, because everyone is different, but it’s just reality. Some players suit some systems and can adapt, others can’t. I suspect January and next summer will be very, very busy.

You do run, Aaron

Bring in the conciliation teams. Get everyone together in a room with beer. Invite the unions. Provide cake. There’s got to be a way to keep Aaron Ramsey, because yesterday’s performance showed what he gives, and to me, he’s got the energy and guile for this system. Of course he’s a bit injury-prone, but would you want to see him at City, or United, because it’s not impossible and it seems a bit mad to me.

Smoke and standing

I know there are good health and safety reasons for flares not being allowed, just as there are for not standing in seated areas, but both things added to the atmosphere yesterday, which was the best by some distance for some years. It was everything a football atmosphere should be. Nobody sat down for a second at our end, so for me, the sooner we stop pretending that this isn’t happening, and find a solution to it, the better. Sometimes, people want just to stand.

What a great game. Onto Wednesday, though with no Xhaka. Now I never thought that would bother me, but…

 

Arsenal send Arsène off in style

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Arsenal 5-0 Burnley

A perfect ending. The sun set on Wenger’s tenure at the Emirates, with the team on the one hand lashing five past Burnley, and the club on the other getting the tone spot on in a goodbye that gave Le Boss the farewell he’s earned and deserved.

It was an emotional day – one for reflection but also for thanks and for looking forward – and the mood was bubbly and celebratory throughout. “Why can’t the atmosphere be like this every game?”, asked my brother. A fair point – it was certainly raucous for most of the match, with numerous, throaty renditions of ‘One Arsène Wenger’, paeans to Per Mertesacker and plenty of other Wenger-era songs that have been gathering dust in the attic brought out for a Sunday drive.

The match was irrelevant, to some degree, though of course had we ended up seventh we’d have had to start our Europa League campaign about three weeks ago, so it was good to put that piece of time travel to bed. Needless to say, there were some lovely performances and some beautiful goals under the May sunshine. As Wenger said after the match, this team is team is better than many people think, and though there’s plenty of evidence to dispute that, on a day like yesterday you can see that the next man to take to the touchline will have some fantastic tools to work with. It’s a plum job, alright.

Sent off in style

And so to the end. In a sea of red, two floating sausages emerged (no caviar was available, but that’s OK because we haven’t been so used to that recently), one with Wenger’s face draped beneath it, the other with his trophy roll-call, and the party began. Bob Wilson and Pat Rice were the perfect compères, Wenger was awarded the gold Premier League trophy for going unbeaten, he then said some measured but lovely words before lapping up the adulation as he walked round the pitch, and that was that.

As I said, it couldn’t have been better pitched. I took my two boys along, who won’t forget an occasion like that in a hurry, and nor will I. I dread to think how much and how often I’ve thought about Arsène and his teams over the years – every day, repeatedly, is probably the honest answer – but now it’s over, and the next time I go to the Emirates there’ll be a different man on the touchline, almost certainly quite a few new faces on the pitch, and a new era will begin. I’m looking forward to that, and I have been for a while.

But I’m also proud that we saw Wenger off in a way I always knew we would. With class.

 

This time, it really feels like the end

Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City

The thing about saying “it feels like Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal reign has reached its end” is that I’ve definitely said it before, at various points over the last five years. And it never has been the end of Wenger’s reign, because – remarkably – he’s been the one who decides his own fate, and he has always found a way, to date, of changing the narrative or convincing himself he’s still the man for the job.

And that’s the thing: he still thinks he can do it. He said it again last night. After Sunday’s game, he called for “perspective”, but with seven defeats in 2018 already, just three away wins in the league all season, a dismal away record against the top six (just two wins in over 20 games stretching back to 2013-14), and a European record at the knockout stage that over the last seven years has been an embarrassment, the bigger picture tells its own story.

But it does feel different now. Over the years, Wenger’s made an art of turning things round just when they seemed to be smothering him – those recent FA Cup are a classic example – but even that skill appears to have deserted him now. We’ve had one or two excellent performances this season, but they’re very isolated. The real consistency can be found in the mistakes we keep making: the sames mistakes we’ve made for years.

And many fans see it for what it is: a team that, in league terms, has been at best treading water and at worst in slow decline for a long time.

Last night was just no surprise. A team that is laced with attacking talent will only get so far if you don’t supply it with chances, if it can’t reliably and consistently defend, or if structurally it loses its way mid-match so readily.

The changes haven’t worked

It’s not that he hasn’t tried to do something about it – just that it’s not working. Rather than sticking with what we had, the club twisted in the summer and then again in the January transfer window, breaking our transfer record twice. We offloaded our three top scorers from last season and brought in fresh faces to kick-start something new. Now, I wouldn’t want to equate the quality of our recent transfer moves to the last signings George Graham made (Kiwomya, Hartson) but both cases, it now seems clear, were last throws of the dice.

It didn’t work for George Graham and it looks unlikely to work now for Wenger. The squad is unbalanced and has lost its way. It’s miles off where it needs to be, both in terms of personnel, and when it comes to mentality and organisation. The need for change has been clear for a while, the players needs reinvigorating, the way we play needs a total overhaul and the fans need it too. The empty seats or fans leaving in droves mid-match is a sign that something’s very broken.

And so to the finale

A fairytale ending – as much as there is one – would be for him to announce he’s leaving then for us to go on and win the Europa League. But the prospect of a European trophy seems incredibly remote at the moment, especially as two-legged ties require concentration, tactical maturity and defensive nous. This is not a smooth-running machine, right now.

The sad reality is that, Europa League or not, Wenger’s course is surely now run.

There are people saying he should go now, but I’d hate for it to end that way. I want to send Wenger off as he deserves to be sent off – with respect, and with thanks for a remarkable and at times quite brilliant tenure – at the end of the season.

It’s time for a fresh beginning.

We’re banking on Jack’s loyalty

Crystal Palace 2-3 Arsenal

I enjoyed that – well, most of that. Reverting to a back three (having previously reverted to a back four having converted to a back three in desperation at the back four not working – do keep up) seemed to give us a bit more attacking oomph, if not any additional defensive prowess.

I’d be complaining had we let in more than we did, but as it happened we pipped it thanks to a couple of dominant performances further up the pitch: in the middle from Jack Wilshere, who’s reaping the benefits of a few consecutive games, and Alexis Sanchez, who appeared to wake up from some form of mental hibernation to wreak mayhem. Combined, it was more than Palace could handle and it made for an entertaining game. That makes it two exciting to watch, if defensively wobbly performances in a row, so excuse me while I go for a lie-down.

At threes and fours

I’m not convinced going back to a back three answered many questions about the general competence of our defensive set-up. Chambers was the wild card, and given he’d not started a Premier League game all season I think he did OK.

People always say “you should grasp your opportunity when it arrives” but it’s easier said than done. I mean, obviously if you trip on your shoelaces, score an own goal then get yourself sent off in the space of 10 minutes then you’re not likely to be asked back. But players need game time to really grasp their opportunity, and that means more than one cameo appearance after six months in the wilderness. So that’s a long-winded way of saying Chambers did just fine, but needs to play more.

One, two, free

Where did I get to? Ah yes, the subject of this post. I know the contractual situations of so many Arsenal players is a boil that Wenger has so far been unable to lance, but it’s becoming quite acute now. In three days, Wilshere, Alexis and Ozil could all negotiate free transfers for the summer. On last night’s performance, that’s essentially our three best players.

We’ve known about them for a very long time. Alexis, despite Wenger saying he wasn’t for sale, was almost sold in the summer. If there was a buyer in January, and a replacement for him that could get us all excited and lay down a bit of a marker of our ambition (you at the back, stop tittering), then much as I’d rather keep him, I wouldn’t rule that one coming to pass in January.

Ozil, I suspect, is happy to stay until the summer then move onto pastures new. And that’s what I expect to happen.

Wilsh he or won’t he?

That leaves Jack, who I suspect is also playing a waiting game. Wenger is making positive noises, but the whole thing is so ludicrously late that Wilshere now holds every single one of the cards. I doubt it’s happened this way by happenstance either – it’s high-stakes for him if he gets another injury, but if he stays fit, waiting to the bitter end opens up his options and his earning capacity. Sometimes, it takes two to not sign a new contract.

So now we’re essentially banking on his love of the club to tie him down to a new deal – on terms that he can largely dictate.

I know he’s a huge risk to any potential buyer, and that he’s only just now reaching the level required to play week in, week out. But on last night’s performance there would be plenty willing to take that risk. Imagine if he left in January, or in the summer, and managed to keep this up? It would be sad to see and it could easily have been avoided.

I’m not the Arsenal bean counter, and I’m also aware you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. But of all the three whose contracts are winding down, is strikes me that his is the one that could have been done. He’s a bit of a talisman for the fans – an Arsenal fan who wears his heart on his sleeves. It was worth a gamble.

Giving him a new long-term deal sooner might have backfired, and it might yet – but I think it would have been worth a punt and the risk involved, and it wouldn’t have bankrupted a cash-rich club like Arsenal. Instead, we’re where we are now.

I hope Wenger’s positivity on this front is justified. Let’s see.

 

It was a game that had it all. Define ‘all’.

Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool

After last night’s game, Wenger joined Kelly Cates and Gary Neville on the grass at the Emirates (maybe the camera-on-a-string had run out of batteries) to chew the fat on a match that had it all. I use the word ‘all’ as it’s sufficiently ambiguous and can be taken to mean ‘zero defending’ or ‘a baffling lack of understanding of what to do’, but I urge you to let your imagination run wild with your own take on what ‘all’ might infer in the context of last night.

He described how our dismal first half performance was ‘psychological’; a hangover from the Utd game (to which as Arseblog says, reasonably and with an admirable lack of beating around the bush, “Get over it”).

He then went on to lament how we were “a little bit naive defensively” to let the third goal in, at which point my eyes rolled round my head like a waltzer, I scratched my beard contemplatively and wondered to myself: where have I heard all this before?

Arsenal in a nutshell

What you have in that one interview is the essence of every Arsenal side since about 2006. Beset, on and off, by psychological issues and serially incapable of taking a grip on a glorious situation.

Add to that the sheer incoherence of what we were doing before that four-minute splurge, and you’ve got it all. Liverpool have a game plan that involves breaking at pace and countering lethally. It really works, though we can be thankful that their defence gives ours a run for its money when it comes to individual errors.

Our game plan these days is harder to ascertain. What were we trying to do? Bizarrely, it looked to all intents and purposes that for the first 25 minutes we were firing long balls over the Liverpool midfield. We couldn’t keep hold of the ball for love nor money and how we went in at half time only one down I do not know.

Back from the dead

Then came their second, and it seemed to be all over. Step up our saviour – Mr D. Fensive-Error, who conspired to draw us level (though props to Sanchez for his determination and to Xhaka for firing off that howitzer), before Ozil applied the icing on the least likely cake by chipping it in, via the ground – though it’s so good that even now I can’t quite work out how he did it – to give us the lead.

It was a turnaround in fortune that would have had Lazarus nodding in approval, but did it last? Did it Sheringham.

So 3-3 it ended, a game that couldn’t have been more late-era Wenger’s Arsenal if it stood up, put on a long tubular coat and sang a sea shanty called ‘Too Much in the Wanting Zone’.

Exciting? It was, from beneath my duvet (pre-Christmas flu – joy to the world). For all its faults, and they were manifold, there were goals everywhere, in short bursts and against the run of play, and it was a febrile, Friday-night, Christmas-fuelled atmosphere that reminds you how the Emirates can be when it wants to.

Take it at face level, and it was the kind of game that has the Premier League’s marketing men drooling. No doubt to have been in the crowd during those four minutes will stick in the mind for a very long time. Damn you, Christmas flu.

Just don’t look too objectively at where we are, where we’re going and what that performance says about the general state of things at the club, and we’ll all be fine 🙂

Merry Christmas to you all. I’m off for a stiff lozenge.