Callow Arsenal ripped to shreds

Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal

‘Will you quit?’, Wenger was asked following Arsenal’s worst league defeat since 1896. That Wenger’s future is now being routinely debated – and he is being asked to his face – tells you all you need to know about the situation at the club.

How has it come to this? Yes, we were missing six of our strongest eleven yesterday, but the threadbare nature of the rest of the squad was clear for all to see months and months ago. Why the relative inaction?

Many of us were in favour of a clear-out this close season, and Wenger to his credit has had one – Clichy, Eboue, Vela, Denilson have gone, Bendtner and Almunia are going. On top of that, in different circumstances, we’ve seen Fabregas and Nasri go. To replace those seven players, we’ve signed one player (Gervinho) with top flight experience – none with Premier League experience. We’ve signed a lot of promising players, and we’ve a few other exciting prospects returning, like Frimpong, but where are the battle-hardened replacements?

Now, to rectify it, Wenger faces three ardous days of negotiating and will have to do the one thing he hates doing above all else – pay over the odds. Do you think Bolton will sell Cahill for less than £17m in light of our defensive travails yesterday? There is only one party in a strong negotiating position and it’s not us.

But there is only so much he can do in such a short period of time. We can all see the positions we are weak in – left-back, centre-back, central midfield, up front. I think we need cover in all four areas (Park Chu-Young would fill one of them). It may be though that we have left it far, far too late.

It’s not just about the personnel though. Nobody can have honestly expected us to win with Jenkinson, Traore, Coquelin all starting. But to then play so openly was asking for a pounding. Even with such callowness in its ranks, a top team should be able to shut the shop and keep the score down. Where was the defensive discipline? Where was the energy? I know we played a crucial match in sultry Udine in midweek – and played well in the second half – but this is the beginning of the season. There should be more in the tank. We were all over the place and Utd could have scored many more. It was a humiliation. Poor Jenkinson was hung, drawn and quartered. That’s no way to break a prospect in. But he wasn’t helped by those around him, or by the way Arsenal had been set up to play.

In the interests of fairness I should also doff my cap to Utd for some of the goals they scored. Too many of them found the top corner. They spotted the holes and exploited them ruthlessly. Ruthlessness – now that’s something we lost the art of some time ago.

These are all problems of Wenger’s making. He now faces three season-defining days to add some steel and experience to the ranks. And after that, he has to find a way to get us back on track, because, remarkably, staggeringly, we still appear to be in the same rut we fell into in February.

Match report: Another Fine Mess

Bolton Wanderers 2-1 Arsenal

And so, with smoke from the funnels of HMS Season Ticket Renewals visible from the quay of the port, Arsenal’s end-of-season implosion continues apace.

It’s now painfully clear that our Laurel-and-Hardy Carling Cup finale was the beginning of the calamitous end as far as this season is concerned. Since then, it’s been one league win in seven games. In all competitions, two wins in ten. It’s been Collaps-o-Arsenal on a macro scale and rather than looking wistfully northwards, we are peering southwards at the great unwashed Champions-League-coveting hordes. It’s a familiar end of season denouement.

As for yesterday, it transpires that when Wenger said the title was “completely open” after the draw against Liverpool, it was a slip of the tongue: he was referring to our defence. Two set pieces, two headed goals conceded. It’s embarrassing how long this weakness has endured. Teams know it’s an achilles heel – it has been for longer than I care to recall – and they exploit it time and again. As well as that we were sliced apart on several occasions yesterday, right through the middle. It was a day to forget for Djourou & Co, though you can spare Szczesny any brickbats. He made two or three excellent saves and to my mind, talk of summer rebuilding can bypass that department.

At least Wenger accepted it in his post-match press conference: “We were too frail defensively during the season”. Why he didn’t address it in January, when he had the chance, is another matter entirely. As he said himself, this was not a tricky run-in, but it’s one we have totally bottled. Mental strength? Spare me.

The rest of the match was Arsenal’s season distilled – or maybe just Arsenal, distilled. Loads of possession, some fine interplay, plenty of good chances to bury the game, all squandered. A glorious period of pressure that gave way to the usual frustrated encampment around the opposition’s D. Undone by poor defending and an inability to kill games off.

As he often does, he laid himself open to criticism, thus exempting his players from the blame. I’m no psychologist, but he’s always been like this and it’s served him well in the past. But their “outstanding attitude” is one thing. Their technical ability as footballers in not in doubt either. It’s the unquantifiable rest that many of us yearn for next season: Concentration, discipline, ruthlessness and a vicious will to win. And that needs to be imported, because it’s not going to happen of its own accord.

So all in all, pretty gloomy stuff I’m afraid. I was positive for as long as I could be, but there’s no glossing over the atrocious end to this season. We’re now playing for pride and an automatic Champions League place.

So I leave you with a quote from my favourite author, PG Wodehouse, which just about sums my thoughts up at the moment:

I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

Match report: The wait goes on

Wembley

Arsenal 1-2 Birmingham City

As a football fan you roll with the highs, but you also have to cope with the lows. Barcelona, a few weeks ago, was as good as it gets. Yesterday, losing in the last minute to an amateur defensive error, was of course the opposite.

You could line up the disappointing aspects of that game and ask them to form an orderly queue, but for me the most frustrating thing was the way we played. We had good, short bursts in each half, and plenty of possession, but overall the Arsenal that we wanted to see just wasn’t there for enough of the game. We did make Ben Foster work at times, and scored a superb equaliser, but we just didn’t do enough. I have no idea why.

Of course, credit to Birmingham. They hustled and harried, knew our weaknesses, played to them well, and it worked. We were undone by bad defending at a set piece and by a freak defensive howler. Had we played better it may not have mattered. But in a tight game like yesterday’s, those mistakes were pivotal. They deserved to win and you can’t begrudge them a first major trophy since 1963. That’s a lot more than a six year wait.

We missed Walcott and Fabregas, but that’s no excuse. Most of our best XI was out there but how many of them can you say played the game of their lives? Wilshere was tireless again but he couldn’t do it all on his own. There’s little point hauling players over the coals but I do look at Rosicky with increasing frustration these days. I don’t think he’s done enough in recent weeks to merit a starting place in a cup final, and he struggled again yesterday. But there you go – he wasn’t the only one.

As for the goals, well both were easily avoidable. It was not the finest hour for Koscielny or Szczesny. I imagine they’re feeling particularly blue this morning.

It was a big test, and we failed it. Wenger desperately wanted to win this to push on and hush the naysayers, but the wait goes on. He’ll be as frustrated as anyone that we did not rise to the occasion. Were we hampered by the ‘need’ to win something? We could debate that until the cows came home.

The fans filing out at the end were pretty mutinous (‘Wenger get your chequebook out’ being a familiar refrain). There’s nothing wrong with letting off steam at the end of a bitter defeat. It was pretty hard to be anything other than downbeat.

I dipped into the interwebs and sure enough, there are already acres of newsprint dedicated to the potential psychological effect of this defeat on our prospects for the rest of the season. Certainly, it will be hard to shake off. But luckily for us we have a very winnable FA Cup replay on Wednesday. Better that way than a ten-day wait to stew on things.

The reaction again the O’s will be interesting. The team Wenger picks will be interesting.

Ah well, onwards and upwards.

Need a pick-me-up? Own an iPhone? Here’s a wallpaper made from the ’92 away shirt to cheer you up.

Holed in the O’s own lair

Confession: I used the above headline as it’s simply too cheesy to let pass, and if I don’t use it now, it will be even later than the too late it already is. [I haven’t seen it elsewhere but if I’m late to the party I’ll be happy to admit it].

In brief though: Having sung the praises of the FA Cup and insisted upon the retention of cup replays, I can have no complaints about the draw at the Orient that forces us to squeeze another match into the jammed schedule. If anything, I tend to agree with the much-aired view that the second string, far from requiring fewer games, could do with more. It certainly reinforced my view that two, three or even four changes from our first XI can be accommodated, but that most of a team revolving in cannot.

Is this a case of a collective lack of drive from the second string? No. It’s not that simplistic. It was a feisty cup tie and an almost completely changed line-up from Wednesday. But more than that, the absent midfield combination of Wilshere, Nasri and Fabregas adds so, so much to the side on so many levels. They are simply far better than the alternatives. Not just from a creative perspective, but collectively their will to win is huge. Can we keep those three fit until the end of the season? It seems unlikely given the fixure list but much could hinge on their availability.

And at the back, we played a defence unused to playing with one another, which included several relative rookies in Gibbs and Miquel and two down-the-pecking-order players in Almunia and Squillaci. We should have created more chances, but overall it wasn’t the world’s biggest surprise. At least it wasn’t to me.

As for it generating another midweek home game… I can’t say I’m too unhappy.

Match preview

Tomorrow night we’re straight back in the saddle, with Stoke City coming to town. It’s a fixture with baggage these days. As much as anything though, it’s a massive clash of styles. We all know how Stoke play; it can be effective – at home in particular, as we have found.

Arsenal have at times this season not defended set pieces well so it’s not hard to work out where City might plough their furrow.

Wenger though has hit on the solution: keeping the ball. “As long as we have the ball, they cannot be dangerous” he said. That does of course form part of a utopian wish list in any game, and is certainly one I’d like to have employed in the first half against Barcelona, but possession is not necessarily nine tenths of the win. Barcelona discovered this on Wednesday and we did too, on Sunday. As much as anything we need to be ruthless and make our possession count.

We’ll have to do it without van Persie and Koscielny too, both out with small injuries (with any luck not Vermaelen ‘small’) and therefore not risked ahead of Wembley on Sunday. Diaby is out twice – suspended and, of course, injured.

It was looking like a no-go for me, but the gods of football have been generous and I’ll be there.

Here’s to three of your finest points.

Match report: Exhibit A – The Dutch Master

Arsenal 3-0 Wigan

Habsi days are here again

Ordinarily, the post-match pint is accompanied by a dissection of the things that went to plan and the things that went to pot, but there was a general shoulder-shrugging when mention of pots was brought up yesterday. Can we honestly complain that we missed too many chances, or that Theo should never have passed when one-on-one, or that van Persie’s penalty was a howler of the first order? When your bread is buttered on both sides, you should just eat it. [That one needs work – Ed].

It was a very easy win, but a very impressive one. 10 shots on target to nil? Don’t mind if I do. Szczesny could have been wearing a pink tutu for all we would have noticed. I’m fairly sure he spent some of the game counting Wigan fans. Not sure what he did for the other 89 minutes.

It could have been so much more, had it not been for Al Habsi’s fine goalkeeping. He was like Mr Tickle for much of the first half, but it couldn’t last. Sure enough, the defence was sliced open and van Persie administered the medicine.

The only thing that went near to triggering the collective home angst was the sight of both Nasri and Walcott hobbling about looking worried and clutching various limbs within minutes of each other. It’s a bit early for the first hobbles of spring, but as we all know, at Arsenal nothing stands in the way of our players conking out without so much as a by-your-leave, so it was a relief so see them both recovered before too long.

Expectation of injury is built into our very souls. When van Persie scored his second goal – and what a goal it was – the very first thought that entered my head was not ‘oh, well done’, or ‘crikey, that was a bit special’ but ‘When he did that against Man Utd he broke his foot’. I was genuinely surprised to see him get up and trot off as normal.

Robin Red Best

He is a bit special though. When he returned from injury he a looked a tad slow and a soupcon clumsy, but it’s now clear he was merely waiting for all the lubricant to sink down into the sump [Please check sketchy knowledge of combustion engine – Ed].

Not so clumsy now. He’s absolutely exploded, and his hat-trick yesterday, remarkably his first in England, came right out of the Deadly Finisher’s Guidebook. Number one, a bullet. Number two, an exquisite volley and number three, sensational technique.

We simply have nobody else who is so natural a finisher. Without wishing to disparage any of our other players, I’m not sure there’s another man at the club who could have scored that hat-trick. It was very, very good and his overall game was faultless.

Djou diligence

In the league, there’s no doubt we have tightened up defensively. We’ve not let a league goal in this year. Djourou’s made a difference, in my mind Szczesny too, Clichy’s improved, but a strong defensive shield of Song and Wilshere has helped too. It’s a key improvement all round, but we’re still threadbare at centre-half and I do hope this week sees some movement on that front. As much as I would be excited to see another 17-year-old wonderkid arrive, another centre-back would make me much happier. The more centre-backs in the pantry the better, and can only help retain defensive momentum. How do you keep them all happy? Who cares – it’s a nice problem to have.

Anyway – a lovely day at the office. Now to the Carling in midweek. It’s all go.

Clean sheet, dented goalposts, but no goals

Arsenal 0-0 Manchester City

In the pub beforehand, there wasn’t a single member of our party who envisaged anything other than a home win, and some of us thought we might get three goals (I think I went for 2-1). All I can say in hindsight is it’s a good job none of us are bookmakers by trade. Pre-match exuberance, eh.

It was pretty clear from the off that it would be tight, with City defending diligently and chasing us down off the ball. Nevetheless, the opening 20 minutes were our best period of the game.

I got a few disagreeing tweets last night when I suggested post match that it had been a game of ‘few chances’. Perhaps an overreaction borne of frustration on my part, but it is true that it was a game predominantly of half chances, with a few three-quarter chances thrown in. Nevertheless, in a tight game with a defensively savvy and pretty unambitious opponent, you need to make more of the chances you do get and clearly we were not able to do that.

It might aesthetically be your cup of tea – it’s certainly not mine these days – but there is much to admire in defensive obduracy. I grew up on a diet of George Graham and we would revel in stifling our opponents and nicking goals. City were content to do the same with the odd attempt to forage goalwards.

It’s no wonder they have kept the highest amount of clean sheets; when they choose to, they sit and stifle and they do it very well. I suspect most teams would have struggled to break that down.

I was impressed again with Song and Wilshere, shielding from deep, and Djourou / Koscielny both receive nods of approval. Theirs is clearly the best central defensive partnership we have at the moment. Interesting tweets from the Guardian’s @seaningle this morning:

“Last night was the first time this season that Arsenal have dropped a point in the PL when Johan Djourou has played (P9 W8 D1) …”

“… and think I’m right in saying that Arsenal haven’t lost a PL game with Djourou since 22nd November 2008 v Man City (P21 W18 D3 L0)”

So two successive nil nils against City at home, but this one was not as eye-rollingly dull as the one at the tail end of last season. City were equally cautious then, but the added ingredient was that we were entirely ineffective in May whereas last night we had a lot more to us. It was an intriguing battle in the end – and as Wengerball says, it was a clash of ideologies that made for good viewing.

Sadly, we couldn’t snaffle the three points but c’est la vie.

And on the plus side – Arsenal’s kit lady will have had one less kit to wash. Fabianski’s jersey can go straight back on the peg.

All I want for Christmas is…

The cancellation of the Stoke game appears to have robbed me temporarily of the use of my blogging faculties. There’s just not been a whole lot to get my off my sofa and onto my laptop.

In fairness, Wenger’s since come out with some festive tit-bits, praising loanee Lansbury at Norwich and admitting frustration that the weather means Ramsey has spent more time driving to Nottingham than he has done actually playing for them.

It’s hard to say how much either player might be able to affect the remainder of the Arsenal season. I suspect it could be too early for both of them. The example of Eduardo makes me extremely cautious about Ramsey coming straight back at the level he was at when his leg was snapped, and Lansbury, who has already had his month’s loan extended by another month, might be best served getting more of these games under his belt.

With Christmas now looming, and the transfer window following it, I glanced back at my posts at this stage last season and it’s interesting to note that the three main issues vexing me most back then (and many others) were the injuries, the lack of strikers and the team’s inconsistency.

Well, to be fair two of those issues are not hugely pressing a year on. By some miracle (says he touching wood and wafting special incense), our injuries are clearing up faster than they are occurring, leaving us with a few short-term ones (Fabianski, Gibbs), a few more mystifying ones (Vermaelen, Diaby) and one rather convenient one (Almunia). We certainly can’t use a lack of players as an excuse.

And as for strikers, suffice to say we have not had to call on Arshavin to lead the line this year. Judging by his recent form, that is something of a blessing. Chamakh has been a hit, van Persie and Bendtner are finally fit and Nasri/Walcott are chipping in from the rear. We made next to no inroads against Man Utd but otherwise, we are the league’s second top scorers and if we didn’t dither around so damned much, we might well be the most explosive in terms of goals scored.

Onto infuriating inconsistency, and this is what I said after the 1-1 draw at Burnley on 16th December last year:

“We blow so hot and cold as a side that the fans are getting chill blains. The inability to push on is probably the most infuriating thing for me.”

Well that’s not really gone away, has it? Our league record this year is peppered with two or three wins in a row being followed by a loss or two. We’re lucky that the other sides at the top are showing their own weaknesses (a bad run of form for one, too many draws for another). I just can’t help but think that while it’s the kind of form that seems redeemable right now, the first side that clicks into gear will be in the box seat. It needs to be us.

And while we are well served up front, Vermaelen’s absence has been key and our defending can be added to the list of areas requiring some New Year WD-40. Does it need wholesale changes? Defenders of our defending would point to the fact that only four teams have conceded fewer goals than us but we have let too many soft goals in and four clean sheets in the league tells its own story.

So in short Santa, I’ve been a good boy this year so I want some better defending and more consistency and ruthlessness for Christmas. (PS – the last two things I recall asking for last year but they never came in my stocking. Just a polite reminder).

And if I don’t squeeze another post in – Happy Christmas and holidays one and all.

Arsenal’s rotten week ends on a high

Aston Villa 2-4 Arsenal

The sight of Arsenal sitting atop the league table – albeit briefly, until Turkey Rovers twizzled over at Old Trafford – was as much as anything conformation that this is no ordinary season. On Thursday’s Football Weekly podcast we were told that 28 points after 14 matches (which is what Chelsea had yesterday morning) was the lowest points total of the top-placed side since time began. The fact that Arsenal are up there, scrapping away, says a bit about Arsenal but also a bit about the inconsistency – or is that equality – among the top teams this season.

Yesterday’s trip to the Villa was – as most league games seem to be at the moment – crucial for Arsenal. After two truly rotten defeats, a win was much needed to steady the ship. That we got it and went top is, as I mentioned, a bit nuts.

We absolutely deserved it though. In the first half, we were utterly dominant and should really have scored long before Arshavin’s very Arshavinesque right-foot daisycutter. Nasri’s second, from the excellent Russian’s corner, prompted an outpouring of gallows humour on Twitter. Surely we couldn’t keel over like we had done last weekend?

Cue a Villa goal on 51 minutes and some painful memories of the weekend before. It was a lovely finish but the Arsenal defence backed off for so long that Clark had time to stop, do his hair and floss his teeth before letting rip. [A bit harsh perhaps – the goal should never have stood as Carew was offside and interfering with play by blocking Fabianski’s line of sight.]

Fortunately, Chamakh eased the nerves with a deft toe-poke but this being Arsenal, we were pegged back again when Clark rose unmarked in the box and nodded it over the line. After that it was a little bit frantic but Jack Wilshere rounded things off with a headed goal, his first in the Premier League.

Going forward, we were a joy. Arshavin had a superb game, ably helped by Wilshere and Nasri, both of whom were again excellent. But at the back we were less convincing when put under pressure, and the fear when we concede is palpable. I’m not sure I need go into it any more detail. We have not defended very well all season, and if there are any dances or sacrificial beasts that can be offered up to the gods of Achilles heels, I will happily perform them to ensure Vermaelen comes back firing on all cyclinders. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But it also makes the defence defend worse.

A quick word about Nasri and Chamakh. It is very doubtful had you placed a bet on the opening day of the season that you would have tipped those two to top our scoring approaching Christmas, but with 10 and nine goals respectively, they have exceeded expectations. It’s no surprise that in a formation where only one striker starts, van Persie is struggling to get off the bench.

Nasri scored just five goals last season, and even if you’re being conservative you’d now expect him to hit 15 this time round. Some improvement from a player who is comfortably our stand-out performer of the season.

So a very good win sets us up well for three important but very winnable games – Wigan in the Carling, Fulham in the league and Partizan in Europe – and from there it’s a trip to Old Trafford on Monday 13th.

Dear Father Christmas. Please can I have a month of consistent winning. Thanks, bye.

Arsenal show bouncebackability in Belgrade

Partizan Belgrade 1-3 Arsenal

I’ve got very little time this morning to chuck something out through the internets, but if I were to lob a couple of observations out there, it would be these:

IF Lukasz Fabanski had been able to choose in advance what kind of night he would have, I have no doubt he’d have picked one of those games that enabled him to pull off a trophy save, but otherwise be little called upon. That’s exactly what he got. He really didn’t have much to do; there was a chance early in the game that he thwarted with his legs, then the first penalty. Not a whole lot else until their second penalty, when he pushed the ball athletically to his right and away to safety. It was a good penalty kick and a very good save. The ‘paper wrists’ Ian Wright spoke of after the Spuds game had been reinforced with glue paste. To cap it all off, he made another good reflex save at the end, diverting a decent shot away past his left-hand post.

That’s not to say he’s a shoo-in for Sunday. Wenger was coy on who he would play against Chelsea, for good reason. I somehow doubt Chelsea will give a fig which of our keepers Wenger plays – history tells us there’s an error hiding somewhere in both of them – but shoots of recovery have to start somewhere, and last night Fabianski did all that was asked of him.

POCKET RUSSIAN Andrey Arshavin was excellent last night – as good as he has been in a while. I mentioned in my previous post that despite looking flat at times this season, he has still been scoring goals. Twitter statman @orbinho (follow him if you don’t already) threw another snippet out there yesterday – “Andrey Arshavin has created more goalscoring chances (20) than any other player in the Premier League so far this season.” He scored another good goal last night and could have had three. That’s five goals in nine appearances. How can you drop him, even when not sparkling? I’m not sure you can.

YOUNG Jack Wilshere continues to astound. Playing in a more advanced role, he was again staggeringly good yesterday. He got more roughhouse treatment but simply got up, again and again, to direct the traffic. The backheel he conjured up for Arshavin’s opening goal was simply sublime. My main worry with Jack Wilshere is not that we’re playing him too much – he’s becoming undroppable – but that the pounding he is getting from the opposition is guaranteed to lead to an injury or two. He gets targeted because of his skill and he also likes to get stuck in. Doubles the chance…

DEFENSIVELY we had our wobbles, but consider this: last night’s central defensive pairing of Squillaci and Djourou was our fifth combination in nine games. It’s a good job we have four central defenders, but we could probably do with a more settled back line too. We’ve also chopped and change at full-back, with Gibbs replacing Clichy last night. He was absolutely excellent and must stand a good chance of retaining his place on Sunday.

OVEWALL, as Wenger would say, it was a good night’s work. The collective footballing amnesia of Saturday had disappeared. We got stuck in, weathered the storm, created some great chances and thoroughly deserved our win.

IT was the perfect result ahead of a titanic showdown.

Arsenal go AWOL

Arsenal 2-3 W.B.A.

I have for a long time inexplicably looked out for West Brom’s results, a footballing peculiarity I can trace back to collecting Panini stickers in 1980, when theirs was the first team I had all the stickers for. At that time, with players like Robson and Regis, they were one of the better sides in the old First Division.

Yesterday they may have won a few more admirers with a display of real craft, commitment and counter-attacking skill. It’s very unusual for Arsenal fans as one to applaud an away side off, but all four corners of the ground did just that yesterday. The Baggies had been brilliant.

But what of Arsenal?

With very few exceptions, we were lifeless, listless and sloppy.

The fact that Wenger was left scratching his head – “I didn’t recognise my team today… many players made massive mistakes… unexplainable” makes any objective judgement on what went wrong pretty tricky.

Something, as Wenger said, wasn’t right from the start. I said to my brother, 15 minutes into the game, that I thought we were going to struggle and he shot me down in flames for being a miserable old git. But I was right; there was a lack of focus and urgency throughout and we got what we deserved.

For a side with title ambitions to find itself 3-0 down to a promoted side, having already conceded a penalty, tells you that it wasn’t all about the excellence of West Brom’s performance.

That lack of focus and urgency, coupled with a pandemic of defensive errors, made it the mess it was.

Between the sticks, Almunia was an absolute disaster. It was he who gave the penalty away, but if you thought his smart save would be the springboard to a commanding second half performance, you couldn’t have been more wrong. He was blameless for the first WBA goal, but erred badly for the second, and ambled unconvincingly out his box, leaving the goal gaping, for the third.

With every error he and his understudy makes, Wenger loses credibility. There is only so long you can defend the indefensible. The simple fact is this: Lehmann was dropped for making two errors. Wenger cannot drop Almunia for his multiple errors because the only other established option is even worse. The situation is risible.

The ironic jeers that then greeted every simple piece of handling will not help his confidence but the fans are not aiming their frustration at him, they are aiming it at Wenger. Like the caller who rang into 606 and called Arsenal a team with a £56m profit but a 56p goalkeeper, they do not understand how this three-year-long experiment has not been shelved.

But let’s be honest, he wasn’t the only one and it would be most unfair to pick on him alone. Watching your defence unravel in front of you in the way it did would have tested the mettle of any goalkeeper.

Sagna at right-back was all over the place, Song and Eboue were sloppy and ineffective. Diaby, Chamakh, Arshavin – the list goes on. Our two new central defenders, having quietly impressed in the season’s opening salvos, looked vulnerable all game.

Of the starters only Nasri, who battled hard all game and deserved his two goals, comes out with credit from yesterday’s mess. Wilshere did OK but he’s no superman.

For me, the most frustrating thing about it was the sense that having taken several steps forward in the early stages of this season, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot with this performance. Two steps forward, one step back.

All the old Arsenal failings – poor goalkeeping, sloppy defensive errors, plenty of possession but no way through, lack of bite and fight – reared their ugly heads again, just when we needed it least.

I accept we played 120 minutes in midweek, and our injury list is very long. But these are not excuses – the players are all experienced, and mostly all internationals. They just never turned up. It worries me that without Fabregas’s effervescence and bloody-minded will to win, we can at times look like a sports car without a driver.

We can but hope it’s a one-off, but it’s a worry, because we’ve been here before in seasons past.

Blip or bubble burst? We’ll know soon enough, with two huge tests next week.