Match report: Arsenal relapse and collapse

Newcastle Utd 4-4 Arsenal

Having sailed serenely through the busy shipping lanes of the new year – W4, D1, L0 in the league with just one goal conceded in the process – Arsenal were well and truly depth-charged at Newcastle.

That a team has never before lost a four-goal lead in Premier League history tells you all you need to know about the second 45 minutes yesterday. It was a calamity, a shambles – it was, in fact, a reprisal of our speciality dish, the Collaps-o-Arsenal™. It’s a dish we’re becoming sick of the taste of. I won’t bother twisting the knife reminding you of the gory details, but suffice to say the words ‘Spuds’ and ‘Wigan’ still make my spleen vent. You can now add the word Newcastle to the lexicon.

Alan Shearer described it as his favourite game of all time on Match of the Day last night. You know what Al, I might beg to differ.

The difference between our slickness, dominance and all-round excellence in the first half, and the wheezing wreck that was desperate for the final whistle to blow in order to retain at least a modicum of dignity, was so extreme that there have to have been some catalysts. Well, there were three.

Firstly, Djourou’s knee injury in the 49th minute. He hobbled off to be replaced by Squillaci. Now, whatever you think of Squillaci as a fourth-choice centre-back (some think he’s ok, some look at him with the same vacant, bloodshot eyes with which they viewed Silvestre), it’s pretty clear that he and Koscielny are our least effective centre-back pairing.

Secondly, Diaby’s red card. Barton came thumping in on him, and while he got the ball, he also could have buckled Diaby’s leg. Diaby not surprisingly took offence, handbagged first Dolly Barton and then the Nolan Blister, and promptly received his marching orders. A soft red card in terms of the harshness of the offence, but a red card nonetheless and a slice of idiocy from our number two.

This was the bugle call for a general collapse, and all the ingredients were there. A weaker back line and just as crucially, a weaker defensive shield. Without Song, and now Diaby, it fell to Fabregas and Wilshere to hold the line and it was just too much. Eboue and Rosicky did absolutely nothing of value when they came on. Two players whose days are, I would wager, very much numbered at Arsenal.

Thirdly, the referee, Phil Dowd, who was horrendous. The first penalty he gave was softish but giveable, but for the second one, when we were still 4-2 up, he magicked an offence out of thin air. Barton got away scott-free all afternoon, and when the Nolan Blister put Szczesny in a headlock for getting the ball out of his own net, he booked Szczesny. He had a shocker and when you are up against phantom decisions too, it’s always going to be harder to keep your cool.

After the invisible penalty, events took on an inevitability of their own and when Dolly won a free kick (having flung his arms skywards just to make sure the referee saw it), Tiote lashed the equaliser home from a clearance. In the end, remarkably, we could have lost it but there it ended.

Catalysts notwithstanding, it was far from our finest hour. Or to be precise, our finest forty-five minutes. We simply could not withstand the onslaught – this from a team that had just sold its best striker. All of our cohesion and organisation went out the window, we panicked. It was awful to see. But sadly, not unprecedented.

Mercifully, we actually ended the day clawing a point back off Man Utd, who finally lost, but what will this do to our confidence, just when our tails were up? It was a bitter and embarrassing blow. Wenger was livid aftewards, stonewalling questions with “My opinion is not important”. But he did say:

“Psychologically the damage is bigger tonight because everyone is very disappointed in the dressing room. Only the future will tell.”

We play Barcelona in ten days.

One final thing: East Lower now has a Facebook Page. Do with it what you will. Blog entries should come through via a feed, and I’ve stuck up a photo of some old socks. If that doesn’t entice you in, nothing will.

Squill’s red and Nasri’s blues

Arsenal 2-1 Huddersfield Town

Quick blog ahead of a hectic transfer deadline day, which I’m sure you’ll all want to get back to as soon as you can. A £38m bid here, a £95m transfer package there, and the sound of tumbleweed coming from London Colney. We have spent money in January before (Arshavin, Reyes, Diaby etc) but as ever with Arsenal, you’re better off expecting nothing than sitting glued to Sky Sports News waiting for a 25-year-old wizened European Cup-winning centre-half to pop up up in exchange for £20m.

However, just in case my monstrous cynicism is disproved, I have reserved some space on this blog for any potential signing and will update it during the day.

[ ____ ]

As for yesterday, well I agree with Goodplaya, Arseblog et al in their assessments of our second string: As an ensemble, not good enough. Catapulted in groups or one or two into the starting XI it works, but a revolving door of a line-up like yesterday does not. I find it hard to criticise though. We all clamour to take the cups seriously – rightly so – but the reality of competing on four fronts is that you are going to get good and bad and mix and match. It’s just a shame that so many players, faced with diminishing opportunities, do not grasp them as you might hope they would.

The biggest downside of yesterday was Nasri’s hamstring, leaving him unavailable for an undetermined number of weeks. We will miss him.

We will miss Squillaci for a game too, at least numerically, after a daft block led to his dismissal. I thought he started brightly enough this season but his form has tailed off and looking at him, it’s clear he is what he was bought as: a fourth-choice centre-half.

Clearly, Fabregas is the model to aspire to and he made a big difference yesterday. I thought Diaby did fine seeing he’s been out for such a long time and I’d also agree that Arshavin, though his shooting was wayward, got stuck in. Bendtner scored one, earned one, and performed a hilarious air-shot: which just about sums him up I suppose. He gave it his all and contributed well.

Anyway, we’re through to face The Orient at Brisbane Road, another cracking FA Cup tie. It might not have gone 100% to plan this season, but you can’t argue that it hasn’t been good viewing. Huddersfield yesterday were excellent and merited a draw. Leeds were impressive too.

Red card, hamstring, dodgy defending and a late penalty.

And yes, there were balloons.

Right, back to the transfer tumbleweed.

Cham’s shimmy seals big three points

Arsenal 2-1 Birmingham City

It is undeniable that after two league defeats, and with a trip to Middle Eastlands looming, a win against Birmingham was not only much needed but also a blessed relief. We did, however, make heavy weather of a game we should have won more easily. We should never have been scrabbling to hold onto the three points in the last few minutes, but scrabbling we were.

Wilshere was the creative fulcrum throughout the game, ruining an otherwise excellent performance with a rash challenge and a red card. He was very contrite but he now needs to learn from it. It wasn’t ‘unfortunate’ or ‘one of those things’ – it was a bad challenge.

To lose such a player for three games is a big blow – which just goes to show how crucial he is becoming. That he is arguably our player of the season so far tells you a lot about his remarkable talent, and also a fair bit about the bitty stop-start way many Arsenal players have begun this campaign.

But what of the performance? MOTD highlights made it look a lot more incisive than it felt from where I was sitting. Faced by a resolute defence, we once again struggled a bit.

You may have noticed they’ve changed the pre-match build-up routine at the Arsenal, restoring Fatboy Slim’s Right Here Right Now to prominence as the song the teams walk out to, and demoting Elvis’ The Wonder of You down the billing. Part of this lengthened countdown to kick-off now includes a montage of famous Arsenal goals – including some of the incisive, direct rapier strikes that were the hallmark of the Henry and Pires era.

Then the match starts and you are quickly reminded how much the style of this side differs to the one of its Invincible predecessors.

The Arsenal of those years was noted for its lightning breaks and defence-splitting passes, more often than not tucked away by the admittedly untouchable Thierry Henry. We were direct, we were fast, we went for the jugular.

We can of course still score goals like that, but I do feel the Arsenal of 2010 seems, at times, to have lost that art. Yesterday was a fine example. Some fabulous build-up play, more often than not orchestrated by the sublime skills of Jack Wilshere, foundered time and again on the rocks of indecision on the edge of the D.

D, incidentally, is for Diaby – a player particularly prone to another word beginning with D – dallying. So much of what he does, outmuscling and outrunning his man and one-twoing hither and thither, is genuinely excellent. And he was at times very good yesterday. When he does go for goal, he can score a belter – remember the ones he scored at Anfield, and Villa Park? So why doesn’t he do it more often?

Maybe I’m being too simplistic. Teams often come to the Emirates with caution, aiming to hit us on the break, knowing that more often than not we will concede. So splitting teams in half is perhaps harder said than done and lord knows, we do not have a player with the speed, strength and skill of Thierry Henry in his pomp.

Nevertheless, the amount of times we get to the edge of the box but look to make that extra pass, or look up and take an extra touch – well, suffice to say we do this too often. Camping outside the opponents’ box will only yield rewards so many times.

That it did yesterday was down to a soft penalty and a wonderful piece of ping-pong between Wilshere and Chamakh.

Maybe this is why, at least in part, we get so excited about Walcott. He’s the most direct player we have, a genuine wing flier, and by running at a defence he can cause terror against tiring opponents.

Nevertheless, stylistic frustrations aside, it was a good win, hopefully a springboard win, and if you look at the table this evening you will see that, despite having won only 50% of our matches this season, we are third in the table, only five points off the pace. Tablistically, a good day.

Arsenal: Headers and long balls

The Times, recently ensconced behind a paywall, has become pretty inaccessible to the vast army of online football fans used to getting their football news for free. Whatever the rights and wrongs of a paywall, it’s a great shame if you ask me, partly because in Oliver Holt and Patrick Barclay they have two correspondents I agree with more often than not, and partly because on a Monday their excellent football pullout – The Game – lasts me through my entire tube journey to work.

This morning, in lieu of Premier League match reports, the pullout was a little looser round the waist, but one thing it did have was a Statistics centre-spread looking at some of the trends of the early stage of this campaign. Being a fan of the stat, it was intriguing. It’s a bit late to pick up a hard copy by now but it might be online if you fancy negotiating Checkpoint Rupert and paying your £1 due.

I don’t imagine that either of their stats I will relay will surprise you. The first is that of the current top four (Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd and Arsenal), we are the weakest in the air. Man City have won 56% of their aerial duels, while we have won only 44%.

Given that we are one of the better short passing teams, and that when in our stride we retain the ball well, it’s easy to see why some teams prefer to take us on in the air than on the ground. It probably explains why Wenger was so keen to play Diaby at Stamford Bridge (where to be fair, he had one of his better games), but I’d be interested to know whether this lack of height is actually affecting our chances overall. Wenger’s argument, I suppose, could be that we create enough chances through playing our passing game than we concede by losing the odd header here and there. I also wonder whether this stat has been skewed by not having Bendtner available, who for all his failings is as tall as a house.

And at the back, it seems to me that we’re not being beaten for height so much as being caught out from time to time by lapses in concentration and positioning.

The other stat I’m plucking out relates to short ball v long ball. In this regard, we have apparently only hit a long ball 6.6% of the time – or about once every fifteen balls. This is the least amount in the league, and compares to 21.7% of the passes made by Blackburn.

Again, not too surprising. We are chokka with nimble technical attacking players – Arshavin, Rosicky, Walcott, Wilshere, Nasri, Vela etc – none of whom I can envisage having circulation problems when they get out of bed in the morning. We do have aerial outlets up front in the form of Chamakh (6′ 2″) and Bendtner (6′ 5″), but the latter has not yet played this season and the former is still bedding in.

Nevertheless, having both fit might enable us to change things around a bit when necessary – for example when chasing a game, if our usual intricate passing game is not making headway.

Right, is Saturday any nearer yet?

Belgrade Expectations

Here we go again! It’s time to get back on track, iron out our failings and learn from our mistakes. Simples.

Of course, losing is part of the rich tapestry of football. But losing while seemingly having forgotten the basics is harder to shrug off.

If you fall off a horse, they say, the best thing to do is get straight back in the saddle. Now personally, I wouldn’t know whether this is true or false as I’ve never sat on one. I’m quite probably the most allergic-to-horses man that has even set foot on earth. Many years ago I was invited and went to a horse race thing (rookie error for a townie like me), and despite only setting foot in the beer tent all day, my eyes bulged out like a bug and I developed a good line in loud, uncontrollable dad sneezes. Someone might as well have dipped my head in a beehive.

But the point is this: there’s nothing like a big game to remedy a recent bad one.

So what are we looking for tomorrow? Despite professing to being baffled by his team on Saturday, I suspect the Wenger knows exactly what is required. With Almunia out injured, we know already that Fabianski will get the latest in a long line of chances between the sticks against Belgrade. To say he’s under a lot of pressure to perform would be an understatement. The scrutiny will be immense. But he simply has to have an error-free game.

But even if he had been hypnotised by Gordon Banks and marinaded in the spirit of Lev Yashin he wouldn’t be able to do it on his own. To stand a chance of success, he needs not just his defence, but also the defensive screen in front of them, to remember what their jobs entail.

Whether that means changes in personnel, I’m not so sure. Sagna, despite a rotten game on Saturday, has not become a bad player overnight. He’s easily the best option at right-back. In the absence of Vermaelen and given the rustiness of Djourou, Squillaci and Koscielny are the best bets at centre-half (and besides, both have been largely impressive anyway). If you were going to make any change, you might consider Gibbs at left-back in the place of Clichy, who has not started this season well. If he is 100% fit then I’m all for it. He’s pushing Clichy very hard. But given his injury record, I’d worry about playing him if there was even the smallest chance it might backfire.

There is much more scope for change in the middle. Diaby has not even travelled and I can’t see any sense in using Eboue at all, other than as back-up to Sagna (which let’s face it, is the role that suits him most). Let’s remind Song of his defensive discipline – or else play Denilson. Play Wilshere and Rosicky from the start.

As for Arshavin; it’s clear he has his detractors but for his ability to change a game – conjured, often, from the depths of an average performance – I’d play him. He’s scored four goals in eight appearances (7 starts, 1 sub), let’s not forget. With scoring form like this, even allowing for a goalscoring lull, he is on track to beat his season best of 12 goals.

With Jollygood anonymous since his Braga brace, Chamakh will surely be holding the line again, but that’s fine – he’s made a good start to his Arsenal career with three goals in eight. He’ll need a break at some point but if we can keep him in one piece until Bendtner or van Persie return, then he’s very much the main man.

Overall though we need to concentrate and to iron out the silly stuff, but surely that’s a given. There’s always a positive reaction after this side has let itself down.

The trouble, though, with this team is that there’s often another massive disappointment after the positive reaction.

Now if Wenger can iron that little tic out, we’re onto something…

Home comforts and other stuff

Arsenal have been around almost 125 years now. I’ve been a season ticket holder for the last sixteen of those. In terms of success, I could hardly have chosen a better sixteen years in the club’s history. What Wenger has done for Arsenal is comparable to what Chapman achieved in the 1930s – of that, there is no doubt.

It’s going to be tougher than ever for him to add to that medal haul though. Gone are the days of the late 1990s and early 2000s when Arsenal and Man Utd were the only shows in town. This coming season, there are at least six sides who will fancy their chances of squeezing into the top four.

Clearly, we have been active in the transfer market this summer with two very promising players coming in. But we’ve also let a lot of defensive experience go.

Wenger has no intention of splurging tens of millions on players, preferring to see the current crop improve sufficiently to make the next step – to win us the title.

As mentioned in my last post, Alex Song is the template here – a much derided rough diamond whose development in 2009 and 2010 has been explosive.

For this squad to be the title-winning squad Wenger wants it to be, we need to see similar comings-of-age for players like Diaby, Denilson, Walcott, Vela and Djourou.

Which of these five will we be hailing come May 2011?

Home routines

Lucky pants, new shirts, old watering holes, familiar journeys – the first home game of the new season brings back all the little tics of being a football fan. I absolutely love it.

Unfortunately, my home debut is going to have to wait though. I can’t make the game on Saturday and I’m not sure how near to my laptop I’ll get in the days proceeding it.

Here’s to a thumping home win though.

Before then – may I point towards the Arsecast. My voice is on it this week.

Back in a few days…

Missed chances, dropped points

Birmingham City 1-1 Arsenal

At the risk of repeating myself, a draw yesterday did indeed end up feeling like a ‘hammer blow’. Wenger merely called it a ‘big blow’, but if you squinted you could read the word ‘hammer’ in the furrows of his brow during the post-match interview.

The nature of the draw made it that bit worse too. Had we been the team that equalised in the last minute having been 1-0 down then it would have felt like something had been plucked from the embers. As it was, an avoidable last minute equaliser made it feel almost like a defeat. It was two points dropped with bells on. Twitter was a gloomy place to be at 5pm last night.

We’re now three points behind, but with the goal differences of our rivals disappearing over the horizon, it feels more like four.

Still, I’ve made the mistake of writing us off on more than one occasion this season and I won’t be so stupid as to do it again now. With Utd and the Russians playing next weekend, there is a guarantee of dropped points from at least one, and maybe both of them. The picture changes so fast, even if the room for wiggling is diminishing.

Almunia is the one getting the negative headlines this morning. Despite improved recent form, including that excellent penalty save against West Ham, he retains the ability to take backwards steps right after taking forwards ones. Goodplaya doesn’t blame him for the goal but I think he’s being a bit generous. The Spaniard should have done better.

Almunia’s a lucky boy though, unlike Lehmann before him, because there’s nobody else good enough to give him a run for his money. Someone with more experience and fewer nervous tics than Fabianski would might well have displaced him by now.

Not that his late intervention was the only crack in our armoury. To blame him entirely for the dropped points is too simplistic.

Walcott did very little. Far too little. City were tough opponents – their home record is there for all to see – and they disrupted our rhythm to good effect. But even taking that into account, we did not get going until the second half – not until Walcott and Rosicky were replaced with Nasri and Arshavin in fact – and had we taken one of our two very good late chances, then this morning we’d still be moaning about Almunia but in the context of a win.

It wasn’t to be of course.

Positives? Of course there were. The spirit is there for all to see. Nasri and Diaby are in the form of their Arsenal careers. We didn’t lose against a decent, committed side.

The great thing of course is there’s no time to dwell, as it’s Barcelona on Wednesday.

Is Iniesta really out? I’ll believe it when I see it.

The form factor

Arsenal 5-0 Porto

24 hours late, this. Just like the old days, when you went abroad, burned in the sun to cinder and had to wait a day for the papers to pitch up from blighty. Cast yourself back to 1985 and it won’t feel so late.

Anyway, we were the first English club through to the European Cup quarter-finals this season, it was the first comeback from a first-leg deficit since Hajduk Split in 1978 and… was it the first goal we’d scored in the first 15 minutes of the first half all season?

I have a thirst for more firsts if they’re anything like that.

5-0 is perhaps more of a thrashing than at times it felt, especially during the first quarter of an hour of the second half when Porto woke up and a single goal would have left things finely balanced, but as soon as Nasri’s unbelievably mazy dribble and tonking tight finish made it three, it was party time at the Grove.

But there were some eye-opening performances, and if there’s ever a good time in a season for three or four players to come into form, that time is now.

The issue of form is always an interesting one, because so much depends on state of mind, confidence and so on. So while only a month ago we were lamenting the form of Clichy, Almunia, Arshavin et al, now we can talk of a quartet of players who have suddenly found theirs.

Clichy and Arshavin, incidentally, are among those who suddenly look menacingly good. We all knew Arshavin was world-class, but playing as the lone frontman seriously curtailed his effectiveness. Freed to play where he is more comfortable, he suddenly looks terrifying. Henry Winter’s line summed it up very well: Arshavin was “a box of fireworks that kept exploding in Porto’s face.”

I’m pleased for Clichy too. Coming back from injury, he was a pale shadow of the Clichy of old. But hard graft and a run of games have turned that round, and last night his workrate was exemplary.

Diaby and Nasri are the other two whose form has been building impressively. The former, to be fair, has been steadily improving for a while, but has been struck down by his usual temporary ailments all too frequently. Nevertheless, he’s looking fantastic at the moment.

Then there’s Nasri, a player whose injury – though I barely need to preface any description of an Arsenal player by mentioning the ‘I’ word, it’s a given – set him back months. It’s all clicking now though, and last night he was superb, scoring a mesmeric goal and creating space all over the pitch.

And I’ve not even mentioned Bendtner.

So form breeds confidence, which creates momentum. As a result we’re fizzing along now.

Arsenal take strength from Ramsey’s agony

Stoke City 1-3 Arsenal

Fortunately for anyone who watches football, the sight of a player screaming in agony with his leg snapped and at the wrong angle is a rarity. I can remember it happening four of five times in all my years watching football. When it happened to Eduardo in 2008, it was too horrible to look at. So yesterday, for it to happen again to Aaron Ramsey was sickening in the extreme, and it has overshadowed everything. I was thinking about it all last night and I’m still thinking about it this morning.

We don’t know how bad it was, or how complicated it will be to heal, but you don’t need to see something like that in any great detail to know he will surely be out of action for a year. It’s doubly depressing to see as he just coming of age for Arsenal. He’s a magnificent little player.

The sad truth is he might find it hard to come back at all. If you look at the list of those who have suffered similar injuries in English football, a fair few had to retire not long after. We can but hope that Ramsey’s leg will heal and he will pick his career up where he left off. I feel desperately sorry for him.

Look at Diaby and Eduardo though, both of whom suffered similar injuries, and you will see two players still ping-ponging between the pitch and the treatment table. It’s a long road back.

I don’t doubt that Ryan Shawcross is a decent lad and meant no malice. The look on his face as he left the pitch tells you as much. But he broke a player’s leg. The tackle was a shocking one, a wild lunge, and three matches out seems absurdly lenient when you consider what Ramsey now faces. To cap it all off, he was called up for England. That was a bad call from a PR perspective if you ask me.

As Wenger and Fabregas both said post-match, for it to happen three times in five years to Arsenal players feels more than mere coincidence. There might be no malice involved, but for years we have been told the way to play Arsenal is to rough them up a bit, to knock them out their stride, and you know what, it’s worked too at times. But perhaps this is the result of that; occasionally, inevitably, there’ll be a badly timed tackle that does something like this.

Fabregas called for more protection but it’s hard to know what can be done against individual acts of stupidity, other than in retrospect. Yesterday, for example, was a rough-and-tumble physical scrap – one in which Arsenal showed magnificent commitment – marred by one dreadful tackle. That’s the way some teams play football; they play to their strengths just as Arsenal play to theirs. It’s hard to legislate against an individual player’s wild, late tackle other than to punish the player himself more harshly once it has happened. The punishment needs to fit the crime. At the moment, it doesn’t at all. Not remotely.

Onto the game. I thought it was a magnificent Arsenal fightback. OK, so our collective defensive amnesia saw us let in yet another goal in from a throw-in, but we matched Stoke’s commitment and showed a fantastic spirit overall.

I was particularly impressed with the way we recovered after Ramsey’s injury. For ten minutes the team was shell-shocked but we drove forward and you could tell what those two late goals meant to the players. The fist-pumping release of emotion after the Verm’s third goal made me proud. I was doing the same thing myself.

Maybe, just maybe, this team came of age yesterday. Fabregas captained the team majectically, scoring one, setting up two, and to see Vermaelen and Campbell roaring at the crowd tells you all you need to know. Anyone doubting the merit of having big Sol yet? He was fantastic. Clichy looked like a man possessed, a completely different player to the error-riddled Clichy of recent times. Alex Song was exceptional.

Three points off the top, with a collective spirit and a will to win forged by Ramsey’s leg break and a decent run-in.

We’re back in this, make no mistake.

Dragao’s Den: We’re not out yet

Porto Amateur Dramatic Society 2-1 Arsenal

I read somewhere earlier this week that Lukasz Fabianski was becoming frustrated by his lack of opportunities at Arsenal.

What can you say to that? On that performance, it’s some feat for him to have got any time on the pitch as Arsenal’s goalkeeper at all. When push came to shove – or should it be when slip came to slapstick – he once again fell short of what is expected from an Arsenal keeper. And sadly it’s merely the latest in a long line of howlers from him.

I don’t particularly want to make this a witch-hunt for a young keeper but when both conceded goals were at least in part down to him then you have to take him to task. The first goal was a simple slip-through-the-hands error. Awful and, for him, very embarrassing. There were mitigating circumstances in the second, but ignoring the ref’s rapid intervention and the way he seemed to get in the way of Campbell, it was still Fabianski who picked up the back pass and it was Fabianski who gave the ball back to the ref before the Arsenal defence had even sniffed the danger. Really naïve stuff.

There will now be those who wonder whether Fabianski has already sealed his own fate as an Arsenal prospect. Barring more Almunia injury woe, it already seems unlikely that he will play again this season. He does have a few things going for him though; namely Wenger’s patronage and his own youth.

Still, when we start seeing Almunia as some kind of goalkeeping demi-god by comparison, you know things are a bit screwy. Quite how we have assembled such a collection of substandard keepers is another matter entirely.

Enough of the negatives though, for with a better keeper, tonight could and should have ended differently. Although we were sloppy at times (in particular after their second goal), I thought we also showed some real attacking threat. Rosicky was very good on the right (and had a 100% nailed-on penalty waved away by the ref), Diaby was tricky until he faded, and Bendtner fought hard up front, having a few chances of his own.

All this with a pretty extensive injury list. For the return leg we’ll need some of the absentees back – that Song is now oodles better than Denilson is beyond dispute – but above all we’ll somehow, and I sigh a bit when I write this for the ninety billionth time, need to wipe out the incessant errors that have blighted this season.

Fabregas did not mince his words after the game when he said, “When you concede these goals you cannot go anywhere… schoolboy goal”.

So yes, it’s exasperating to have to report on another defeat, and another worrisome goalkeeping performance, but against the Porto side I saw tonight, I’m not trembling in my boots. They looked dangerous at times, but defensively they were like us – basically, porous – and at home, with an away goal, you’d have to say we stand a good chance of making it to the quarter-finals.

Looking beyond that is something of a lottery, but one thing is sure: if we continue to make rudimentary errors (tonight it was Fabianski but he’s hardly the first to have lost concentration this season) then we won’t be setting Madrid alight in May.