KOs, woes and hammer blows

Hammer blow, Devastating injury blow, Major blow.


Just three ways to cook the same story, namely Vermaelen’s latest crock. It’s an injury that has rocked us, added to our woes and amounts to nothing less than a KO. Well, so we’re told. Maybe it’s not that bad though? He’s off school for another month, and should be back in six weeks. Yes, we’re a bit on the ropes already, but does it amount to a KO? I suspect not.


Before bombarding me with memories of last season’s injury – (I’m just going out, I might be some time) – which morphed from nothing major to a whole eight months of gloom, I merely write this with my positive hat on.

It has been an up-and-down season, though. The lows of the start of the league campaign (punctured by the respite offered by Champions League qualification) gave way to the highs of the five signings, which have since again been tempered by two of our spinal players being skittled for several months.

My guess though is that, despite the injuries, the signings will have really lifted the place. Their benefit will be seen straight away. Barring an unforeseen injury to Mertesacker – now that would be a hammer/major/devastating blow – he will slot straight in. Assuming fitness, we should also see certainly one and possibly both of Arteta and Benayoun. Possibly Santos too.

Will the addition of new players (and the sale of old ones), and the 8-2 defeat, in any way herald a change of approach? Time will tell but it’s a fascinating question. One of the pieces I read (damned if I can find it now) following the Old Trafford debacle and the transfer splurge was about us having lost, over the course of a few seasons, the ability to consistently do some of the fundamentals. So in addition to the obvious – set pieces and other defensive howlers – we had for some time lost the art of tracking back and harrying opposition when not in possession.

It is of course something many people have commented on in the past, but it’s a good point. As well as tightening up defensively, we need to start playing more collectively and upping the tempo of our play. When we do it – Chelsea and Barcelona at home last season were prime examples – it works. We just don’t do it enough.

So yes, I’m hoping that as well as strengthening the team in key areas, the new boys (and the pain of the 8-2) will herald some introspection, some honesty, and some tweaks to our approach. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction. We’ve not defended well for years. Our league form has been poor for months and months.

Add all these things into the mix and Saturday becomes fascinating.

I know I say this before every game, but I can’t wait.

Match preview / Poll results

Morning, trolololo! The sun is once again out, spring has erupted and my miserable mood has evaporated.

Arsenal are at the seaside today and I can’ wait. Wenger’s injury latest – always much anticipated – tells us that Fabregas is definitely back, Ramsey too, but that Walcott, Sagna & Song may not make the grade. (Don’t even get me started on who might be training next week, or not long after – I fear the mere mention of Players A, B and C might jinx things).

As I said before, at this stage it’s almost not about the personnel on the pitch. It’s about the response, the approach and the attitude. That’s what makes this game so fascinating: there’s been a whole week of behind-closed-doors contemplation, and seeing what comes of it is intriguing.

It’s really do or die now. Utd are ten points clear – a huge psychological barrier – and nothing less than a win will do. Apart from anything else, we need to stop the rot of a five-game streak without a win.

Blackpool, luckily for us, are in a rut of their own, having lost 10 or their 14 games since the turn of the year. So it’s two teams desperate to win, though cleartly for different reasons.

Come on Arsenal. No excuses.

BBC preview
Guardian Squad Sheet

FA Cup or Champions League?

In his impassioned press conference on Friday, Wenger asked:

“Would you swap winning the FA Cup for playing in the Champions League? Is it a trophy or not to be in the Champions League? Is it more important to win the FA Cup?”

Arse 2 Mouse put it on record that he’s prefer an actual trophy, an on balance, I too am of the view that winning a prestigious pot – something that gets a permanent spot on the programme masthead and in the record books – gets the nod. Isn’t that what this is all about?

Trouble is, the Champions League distorts everything. Most obviously, money plays a part – a successful run to the end can make the club £40m – but also prestige comes into play, both for club and player. If you’re not in it, it’s hard to keep big players (though Liverpool’s approach has been interesting: they have offloaded a ‘star’ player and bought heavily with the longer-term in mind). And as Wenger says, it’s also a measure of consistency – 13 years or so unbroken in the Champions League is without doubt a feat of its own.

It’s not an honour but it leads to big European nights, which can in some ways be as defining for a club, in terms of progress, as an FA Cup win.

Maybe I would revise my own opinion if an FA Cup win was followed by fallow years of no European Cup football. I’m sure in fact that I would.

So look, maybe the question is simply too black and white. It’s layered with complications. As some people said when I put it to them as a poll on Twitter, why can’t we have both? Fair enough. I was merely interested to know, if you had to, what you would pick.

Anyway, the results were conclusive [see below]. Very much a case of Platini 1-0 Bernstein. There were about 300 votes but I can’t imagine the 75%-25% split would change much if there had been 3,000.