Five alive

Arsenal
Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham

I moan regularly and vocally about the price of my season ticket, but as fellow season ticketer Oxford Matt pointed out after the game yesterday, that glorious win was probably worth about 25% of the cost on its own. I would have parted with £250 for that without so much as a hey nonny nonny. No doubt many in the ground had spent a lot more than that anyway, but I can’t imagine there will be many of red and white persuasion grumbling about value for money this morning.

Honestly, this is what it’s all about. To come back against the old enemy – and swashbucklingly to boot – was just about the furthest thing on my mind when we sat there at 2-0 down.

But you know what – even staring into the abyss of another derby defeat there was not a lot of gruffling in the stands. I know Walcott was getting it in the neck a bit thanks to his opposite-poled magnetic boots, but you couldn’t fault the team for commitment or effort at any point yesterday. From the word go we hustled and harried and pressed and fought. Attributes, I know, that men being remunerated to the tune of £40,000 – £80,000 a week should be offering as a matter of course, but that with this side at least, ebb and flow bafflingly.

This really ought to be the template for how Arsenal play, but I have sat here before on more than one occasion and typed these exact words, only to end up regurgitating them. Chelsea at home, December 2010, was a prime example of this and yesterday we approached the game in a similarly ebullient manner. Why we have not done so more inbetween is one of those questions – like where are all the baby pigeons and why do my iPhone headphones always tangle themselves up – that quite frankly I am not intelligent enough to answer.

Incidentally, watching the goals again this morning, the commentator pointed out that Walcott’s two goals were his first league goals at the Emirates since that day – some 14 months ago. It strikes me that getting Walcott into those kinds of positions – using his pace to go one-on-one – should be high on Wenger’s to-do list, because when he does that he can terrify the opposition.

He’s an enigmatic kind of player but I would chain him to the oak panels until he signs a new deal. Not because he is the finished article – maybe he never will be. But if played to his strengths he can be a magnificent outlet, and maybe that’s what we need to be thinking about more. By and large it is the lot of the winger to drift in and out of games, and Walcott fills that brief magnificently. But we need to be strengthening, not weakening, and for all his frustrating facets, losing him would weaken our team. Anyway that’s my tupp’orth.

So yes, where were we. I think it would be cruel to pick names out when the performance was a team one, but Benayoun and Rosicky really improved as the game went on, and seeing the latter score his first league goal in two years was a picture. He opened his mouth so wide in celebration I feared he might dislocate his jaw.

And at the back, where we had been a shambles at Milan and Sunderland, things started to gel. The stat in today’s Independent is staggering: Wenger has fielded 26 different starting back four combinations in 47 matches, involving 14 different players and nine different centre back pairings, so what we need is stability and to me, a back four of Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Gibbs has a lot of potential. All four were excellent yesterday.

So back in fourth after a mesmerising five goals in 28 minutes – just about the best response you could ask for. More of the same please, Arsenal. It would be criminal not to use this as a springboard. (But then again, I think I might have said that before too…)

There’s nothing quite like winning these ones, is there?

Happy Monday all.

An Eis little surprise

Bright Eis

Did anyone really expect Wenger to burn holes in Arsenal’s chequebook this month? The general climate in football hinted at no, the fact that Arsene is our boss said no, and the apparent need for backup up front or at the back said – haha – no. No no no.

So it was with a modicum of surprise (and a ruffled smile) that I learned we had not bought an experienced striker or defender, but an inexperienced attacking midfielder. It has the stamp of Le Boss all over it.

Not that I wish to disparage it. Welcome to 19-yr-old Thomas Eisfeld, from Borussia Dortmund, who through the prism of my advanced years looks about three.

I have to say, his comment did make me laugh, perhaps – I confess – not intentionally. “It’s a real honour to be team mates with the great players at Arsenal,” he said, before adding hurriedly, “and also training everyday with players like Tomas Rosicky”.

One for the future, clearly – good luck to him.

We must assume therefore that Wenger is happy with what he has for the remainder of season and that is that. It’s an opportunity lost at a tricky time, if you ask me, but only time will tell if that turns out to be true. It’s certainly a good job for us that key personnel are returning – Sagna, Gibbs, Arteta – though keeping them fit will be the usual challenge. Chamakh, too, returns imminently from Africa, no doubt a changed man…

Clearly though the financial situation all over European football has had an effect. Wenger said:

“I don’t know if you have seen the numbers in Europe but there are 1.6bn Euro losses [among football clubs, according to a Uefa report], that’s not debt but losses. That is absolutely amazing. That means tomorrow if you had to stop your activity, half of Europe would be bankrupt. It means that football has to respond and I don’t know if financial fair play will come in, but it looks like economically the whole of Europe is becoming a bit more cautious.”

January is never the best time to buy, and even if it was, these things often depend on the domino effect of other clubs buying before they sell. That’s evidently not happening a whole lot. Nevertheless, it does now mean we shall have to carry rabbits’ tails, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes and other powerful amulets in order to keep our 25-goal talisman from Tony Colbert’s door. It feels like a risky strategy to me.

Aston Thriller

It never ceases to amaze me – quite why, given I have been watching Arsenal and football in general for the best part of 30 years – how the smallest things can tip a game on its head. A match can appear to be so fundamentally lost but before you can blink it suddenly is winnable. Blink again and it’s won.

Sometimes the seeds of turnaround can be sown with something as simple as a thumping tackle or a rebounded shot off a post. The psychology of it all, I’m sure, is fascinating, and I’d wax on merrily about it for days on end if only I knew the first thing about it.

So it was on Sunday. 2-0 down at half time and despite some good chances, it seemed a mammoth mountain to climb for Arsenal. But then van Persie apparently gave a rousing speech in the dressing room, and that could have been the catalyst. Maybe it was Mertesacker’s header, cleared off the line, which turned the game. It could have been the first penalty. Perhaps it was all three things combined that built up the unstoppable head of steam.

Who cares though: seven glorious minutes followed when Arsenal shed all inhibitions, players previously misfiring suddenly burst into song and we won through to the fifth round of the FA Cup. The gloom lifted, and here I am again hoping that the season will yet offer up a proper salvage job. I’d love to say that 2-0 down at home to the Villa was a turning point – something we can look back upon and pinpoint – but we won’t know that for a while yet and if the history of this season tells us anything, it’s that Arsenal are not quite as reliable as that. It would be nice if it was a watershed moment though, wouldn’t it?

We might have a better idea at 9.45pm tonight.

Arsenal strike back in epic encounter

Arsenal 2-2 Barcelona

Arsenal v Barcelona flags
North Bank flags

What an unbelievable game of football. My mind is still boggling. I’ve seen some good teams at the Grove in my time and I’ve seem some defiant comebacks too, but both on the same night? As a spectacle, this one was epic.

Let it be said that Barcelona were staggeringly good for the first half an hour or so. This December, I will notch up a quarter of a century of watching Arsenal live and I am struggling to think of a better side than Barcelona in the opening phase of the match last night. Right from the whistle, they came at us. Their passing, movement and ball retention was so good that when I was later told the possession stats had been 71%-29% in their favour, I scratched my head and thought: From where did we get 29%?

@feverpitch told me they completed 274 passes in the first half. We managed 91. What a stat.

It could not have been more lop-sided. It’s hard to say how much Arsenal contributed to Barcelona’s magnificence, but the bottom line is we could not get the ball at all. The big boys would not give it to us.

Time and again, it was the shot-stopping skill of Almunia that saved us. I have no recollection how many times Barcelona hooped one over the bar or had a shot blocked or parried by the Spaniard, but it was a minor miracle that we made it to half time at 0-0.

Then came the second half, as it tends to. Half way to a douze points performance from the British jury, Almunia then immediately contrived to scuttle miles out of his area. Ibrahimovic merely chipped it over the by now retreating keeper. Nul points from the Spaniard and we were 0-1 down.

0-2 followed after, when the giant Swede ran through our static defence and thumped it in. No way back.

Except something changed. That something was the last throw of the dice in the shape of Theo Walcott. What an enigma he can be. Having played his best 45 minutes of the season against Burnley some weeks ago, he has since once again retreated into the shadows. Last night, out he popped again with a performance that immediately got Barca rattled. He was direct, lightning-quick, put in penetrating crosses or passes and changed the dynamic of the game completely with his goal.

We came to life in the last fifteen glorious minutes. All of a sudden, anything looked possible. Fabregas was bundled over – red card for the bloke from Scorpion. Up Fabregas stepped, blasted it in, 2-2.

In doing so, of course, he did something to his leg and although he hobbled on against all odds, it looks to be a bad injury – possibly a broken leg. How do you carry on playing with a broken leg? Let’s hope it’s not that serious.

Shall I talk about the referee? I can’t be bothered but I thought he was hopeless. Five yellow cards? How?

Overall, a gutsy, incredible comeback from an Arsenal side that had been utterly outclassed but never gave up. For all the flaws of this side, our indomitable attitude is fast becoming our hallmark.

We’re still in it, by the hair on our chinny chin chin. Haha!

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