If it’s broken, fix it

There we all were, shaking our heads at the sheer misfortune of losing two players before the game had even got going at Hillsborough in the League Cup, and agreeing that in terms of injuries, things had hit Peak Arsenal.

How naive! We still had the fun of the Hawthorns, where Coquelin fizzled out, and his replacement, not to be outdone, also conked out in short order.

But two crocks a game – well that can be improved upon, surely? Of course it can, with Koscielny, Alexis and Cazorla joining the ranks of the bandaged masses at Carrow Road. Peak Arsenal yet? I don’t want to tempt fate. I’d say there’s more fun and games to come on that front.

It’s not really a laughing matter, I know, but there’s no point in letting it tie you up in ligaments. It is what it is, but it’s desperate stuff alright and injuries are clearly affecting our game. We miss those who are out, and we rely too much on those who – somewhat miraculously – are not yet on The (Tony) Colbert Show.

Until the Norwich injuries, I had been imbued with optimism about Olympiakos. Mentally, Arsenal know exactly what they need to do. But Olympiakos? Do they stick or twist? I fancied our chances, but much of my positivity has, perhaps not surprisingly, dissipated. Without the energy and uncertainty of Alexis, and without the metronomic Cazorla, I wonder if we will have enough to get the job done. It was hard before and the mountain is even higher now.

Before then we have Sunderland of course, and I think we’ll have too much for them. We’ve had a week off to recuperate and we’ve probably been licking our metaphorical wounds (if only that helped literally, there’d be an army of Arsenal fans lining up at Colney with tongues dangling).

Of course, what injuries taketh, Forsythe giveth too. Ramsey and Ox are back ( a lot is expected of both), Koscielny might be OK (I’d play Gabriel anyway tomorrow) and Walcott is close. Keeping them fit – well that’s another matter altogether.

What can be done? As mentioned on the Arsecast today, hindsight is a wonderful thing but perhaps we should have thanked Rosicky and Arteta, and bade them farewell in the summer. As it is, they’re still here but I think a little retrograde ruthlessness is required in January. A couple of reinforcements need to be sourced – one at DM, ideally with something to prove and an exemplary injury record – and if that affects one of our injury-prone player’s chances of playing then so be it. There is no room for sentimentality.

We simply cannot afford not to strengthen, and I think we need more than a Kallstrom-esque punt. We need a numbers boost, a physical boost and a psychological boost. If there’s a £10m or £15m premium on a good prospect in January, so what? We have the money and we can’t keep waiting for people to come good. It’s all about this season.

Jam tomorrow can get stuffed.

I like jam now.

Arsenal suffer a collective bad hair day

W.B.A. 2-1 Arsenal

I’m not sure whether ‘a bad day at the office’ does this one justice, though Arsenal clearly did lose the document they were working on, said something inopportune to Dave in accounts by the water cooler, before forgetting to submit their timesheet [this metaphor needs more work – Ed].

It was a classic case of Arsenal coming to the party with a chilled six-pack of their greatest weaknesses [now you’re mixing them – Ed]. Dreadful, switched-off defending, a key injury, his replacement having a mare then getting injured, a glaring miss, possession for possession’s sake and finally a lifeline spurned with a ballooned slip-up of a penalty.

It goes without saying that we should never have lost it – Cazorla’s penalty alone should have guaranteed that – but we shot ourselves in the foot with what Wenger called a “nightmare” performance where we “lost a bit of focus” and compounded it with “very, very poor” defending.

Honestly, we have seen it all before. Thankfully a little less frequently in recent times, so maybe it was at least an uncharacteristically characteristic Arsenal performance.

You could argue, in fact, that it’s been a horrible November (and don’t we know about those) because we’ve not played well since winning in Swansea on 31st October. Better to get a blip in form out the way now rather than in February? Yes.

I say that because the other night Sky Sports reminded me, thanks to a bout of insomnia, how competitive we had been in 2013-14 until the rot set in with that 5-1 trousering at Anfield. Our form has plenty of time to pick up. But with so many players injured – yes I am using it as an excuse, because it really is a massive factor – perhaps a loss of form was unavoidable.

To top it off, we lost Coquelin yesterday for time unknown. Please don’t say it’s a classic three-weeker, because ever since our inactive summer his has been the position most people have fretted most about in terms of depth. As Arteta showed yesterday, he’s simply not a DM, and that he’s at the tail end of his career is plain to see. Flamini is a decent squad player, but no match for Coquelin.

Ozil had a fine game but too many of the others didn’t. Bellerin looked rusty, Gibbs did OK (but is no winger), Alexis looked like a man who’s been overplayed and travelled across hemispheres, Campbell missed his one chance and neither of our central defenders were quite there.

To sum up: poor and a bit dispiriting. Much improvement needed and to say we are desperate for some players to come back is an understatement. It will make a massive difference.

Zagreb on Tuesday. At least we’re back in the saddle quickly, but Tony Colbert’s going to need to soak his magic sponge with some of Getafix’s potion.

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.

Arsène says Relax: Do it

OK, at last, here we are once more. Arsenal.

I had a scratch of the old noggin and realised – to my dismay but not surprise – that today’s match is my first game since Barcelona, and my first league game since Everton on 1st February. That’s two months off league football, I’ve had: I’m almost hoping to be picked to watch the England U21s over the summer to make up.

I’m champing at the bit, and I want the team to be too.

But we need to start fast. Don’t ask me about the psychological reasons for why we do it, because I’ll look back at you blankly. I simply want us to tear out the blocks today, and put in the same yards from the start that we did in the last 20 minutes against Sunderland and West Brom. Why have we taken so long to get going in some games? It’s not relevant if we don’t do it again. I want early, heavy, sustained pressure against Blackburn and I want it to go on until things are comfortable [that’s 5-0 then – Ed]. [Stop being such a cynic Ed – Big Ed].

The fabled handbrake goes on when the team is nervous or lacking in confidence. So do these players honestly believe – beyond the usual David platitudes – that they can win the title? Then today is the day to show it. We’ve moped our rears off, metaphorically listening to Enya on loop, and it’s time it stopped. Wenger alluded to the pressure when he said: “Let’s enjoy it and go for it”.

I’m also looking for more pace, and with Walcott back we should get that. We have other fast players – Nasri for one. But without Theo Walcott, who is as fast as a butcher’s dog, we are a slower team. For my sins I happened upon the Invincibles DVD in the ‘Lull and the amount of goals we scored by thundering upfield was eye-opening. Patient build-ups work sometimes, being more direct does at other times. We need to mix it up.

I mentioned it on the ‘Cast last week, but for me the benchmark performance this season was Chelsea at home. OK, so they were in a funk but Arsenal that day were everything Arsenal should be – and more pertinently, can be. When we had the ball we went for the jugular and when we didn’t, we hunted to get the ball back. From that point on I hoped we’d cracked the formula but it never quite happened.

Another key to that game was the personnel – we had for the most part our best XI available, Szczesny aside, for that Chelsea game. Today we ought to be strenthened immeasurably with the additions of Fabregas, Walcott and Song.

As ever, the first ten minutes of the game will be interesting.

Come on you rip-roarers.

Time for a mood change

Scrolling down, you have to peer back to February 17th for my last truly upbeat blog post. That’s a month of largely unadulterated misery, and I can only apologise in hindsight if my small oasis of online gloom has added to your desert of Arsenal despondency.

What can you do? This football lark has its ups and downs, and for the last while things have been downtabulous. Since the shot in the arm of Barcelona at home, it’s been seven games – come on, I know you want me to remind you – which have garnered two wins (Orient and Stoke at home), two draws and three pretty gruesome defeats.

Sunday’s tame exit from the FA Cup tipped me into pre-interlull shutdown. I downed tools in order to mope around for a week feeling sorry for myself, and you know something, it’s worked. I have removed the dust covers and things look the same as they ever did, if a little less lustrous.

So how do things look? Well, good and ungood, pretty much.

Good: We’re in a fantastic position in the league, have jettisoned unnecessary fripperies like the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup (that’s my new positive spin on things), and should be steeled for a juicy run-in. It’s all to play for. It’s also a cliché – but it’s true.

Ungood: We’re a bit broken in the head and have malfunctioned in body. Since Barcelona at home – I’m sorry to keep referring back to it – the squad has taken it upon themselves to lose pretty much a man a game to injury. It’s been like musical chairs. Fabregas and Walcott went first, against Stoke. van Persie and Song were next, against Birmingham. Szczesny departed in the Nou Camp and Djourou in Manchester. van Persie has defied medical science by returning since then but we’re still five men short of our first XI. That’s tough.

Since then, Wenger has been on the defensive a bit, sticking up for the team, its leadership and experience, and trotting out the oft-used line about mental strength. Wenger claimed today that with the exception of the last-minute cup final loss, “in the last three months, what this team has done is absolutely sensational”, but that “it’s important we keep going”. It’s certainly worth remembering that, odd hiccup aside, our league form over that period is pretty good.

Well, as Arseblogger pointed out in his wireless broadcast, for the sake of safeguarding perky Arsenal blog posts across the globe, we simply have to win. Two additional weeks of hand-wringing would await us should we fail to do that. That’s a fairly unpalatable prospect. And if Utd win, an even bigger mountain and tougher climb looms.

But seeing that my negative cap is at the dry cleaners, I’m putting on my positive one. A week off has rendered me more upbeat. Tomorrow is the start of the bit after the last bit. I’ve got the blinkers on and I’m looking forward.

Oh, and Jens is back.

Wednesday: forgotten

Random, late Friday night checkin from me. It’s been one of those weeks.

Was I surprised about Wednesday’s result? Not really. But I do think too much can be read into results like that. Part of the problem, I think, lies as ever with the format of the competition we were playing in. We waltzed through the first three games, scoring fourteen goals, needing just one point from the next nine to qualify. You can see how easy it might have been to consider it job done.

One of the following three games was always going to be a dead rubber. Had we won in Donetsk, the game in Portugal could have easily gone the same way. I’m not saying there’s an excuse for complacency but it’s the kind of situation – that’s to say, a situation in which there is still room for error – that is a breeding ground for it.

The good news for the weekend is that no such mental slack-off period exists. We might be second but we are five points adrift and Chelsea are showing little stomach for a cave-in. We need to stay with them.

And the other good news is the return of several players – Fabregas, Denilson, Song and Arshavin. On top of that, van Persie has resumed training, primed for a Dutch recall during which he will no doubt be trodden on innocuously and ruled out for another three months. Joking aside (or am I?) he should never have been called up but I can’t help but wonder whether he himself could not have been a little more understanding. How difficult would it have been to rule himself out? Not very. It’s a friendly, he’s been out for yonks, and he’s not exactly a fringe player in the Dutch squad fighting for his place, Kevin Davis stylee. He knows full well he’ll come back into the side whether he misses this one or not. I know he’s as orange as Phil Brown but the whole thing achieves nothing other than getting Wenger’s heckles up.

Anyway, if you want to hear Wenger in his own words on the injury situation (sad but true fact: talking about injuries is the most crucial and anticipated conversation of the week if you are an Arsenal fan), there’s a free clip below. Enjoy the weekend and here’s to three of your finest points sterling.

Boss on crocks / Spot-on Tom

So the midweek 5-1 came and went, and what better way could there have been to warm up for the weekend’s visit to Man City? I was planning to write something up after the Shakhtar game but went to the pub instead. I do hope you can forgive me but a man’s not a camel – he needs a drink.

It was AGM time today and while we could be here all night if we went through it all, I was interested to hear what Wenger said about our injury record – something that for a few years now has caused untold slapping of the forehead and wild rolling eyes across the Arsenal diaspora. According to Wenger, his team of crack medical experts are, as you would expect, analysing the reasons why (possibly on a whirring machine with reels, tape and red buttons, deep in the bowels of the stadium – though that’s just a guess) but the bottom line is it’s a combination of bad luck and bad tackling. These were his words:

“Overall, if you look at all the numbers, ours are not much more. What we have more is long-term injuries than others clubs but they are down to bad luck and bad tackling. Or they were picked up with the national team. Also once you have had an injury there are more chances to be injured again. If you pull a hamstring, the more chance you have of injuring your hamstring again.”

It’s hard to know what to do, short of bandaging them in kevlar and giving them lucky rabbits’ feet, but I totally accept that one twang leads to another. Diaby is the perfect example of this (poor chap seems to be cited as a perfect example of all sorts of things). He’s less reliable than the northern line but you can trace all that back to his bad injury at Sunderland. Since then, his injuries have been as regular as clockwork. Is it any surprise he’s something of an enigma?

Finally, I doubt I was the only person who found the words of Tomas Rosicky refreshingly honest. He urged the team to be clinical and has clearly had enough of being labelled ‘unlucky’. Hear hear.

He’s right, too, of course. This team can no longer hide behind the cloak of inexperience. It’s time to perform against the teams we struggled against last year. We were soundly beaten on both of our away trips there and if we have genuine aspirations to compete for the title this year, we need to show it by laying down a marker on Sunday. I’m not saying we have to win it, a draw could be a good result, but we do need to be ruthless with the chances we get. Another defeat like the Chelsea one – neat in possession but ultimately a bit toothless and well beaten – will simply add fuel to the fire of those who think we are locked in a permanent battle for third or fourth.

The options on the pitch are improving too. It looks – the gods of training injuries willing – that Cesc is back, Sagna is back, Theo is back, Bendtner is back. And in Nasri we have a player in seriously good form.

No more excuses.

Injury forecast: Chance of sun on Saturday, chance of rain too

What else is there to do during the international break but worry?

Worry, primarily, for the health of the Arsenal XI currently scattered across the globe being hacked to pieces in the name of glory for their motherland. I am so bored that I have even worked out which of those eleven has had the longest journey. It’s been a close-run and exciting thing, as I’m sure you can imagine, but the winner is Chamakh, who is representing Morocco in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Eboue runs him a close second and is a short hop away in Bujumbura, the magnificently named capital city of Burundi.

Back at the ranch, Wenger is reaping the benefit of his policy of buying brittle players, no doubt allowing himself a small chuckle at how he has cleverly denied a selection of countries their players thanks to them being injured.

One has to jest in these matters, I find, or one will cry.

The good news is that some of the long-termers are approaching fitness again. Fabregas should be back for Birmingham on Saturday, and blow me down if Nicklas Bendtner isn’t also threatening to return to fitness for that game too. Better still, Walcott could be ready and van Persie is not far behind him.

Good timing, that. It’s been immensely frustrating that so early in the season, we have been denied so many players.

It’s been especially true up front, where our over-reliance on the ever-willing Marouane Chamakh has been another of my worries. I think he’s started his Arsenal career really well, but until Bendtner and van Persie come back into the fray he cannot really be afforded a rest, and the longer that situation remains, the more I can panic a bit inside.

On top of that, having more strikers also has the added effect of giving us more options. Talk about stating the bleeding obvious, but you know what I mean. Bendtner, van Persie and Walcott have made a grand total of six appearances all season, with Chamakh being called upon ten times.

All we need is a minor miracle – all players returning, present and correct – and we could go into Saturday’s squad looking forwards rather than backwards in the direction of London Colney.

Now that would be a bit nice. But what are the chances?

Last day thoughts and my last word on losses

Some thoughts on winning

Yes, winning – you remember it. It’s what I’m confident will happen on Sunday. A combination of hot Spuds breath down our necks, Fulham’s pressing engagement in Hamburg and it being a home fixture ought to be enough to lift the players from their black dog days and ensure the season ends on an even keel.

Our injury list, far from shortening, remains stubbornly lengthy though. Denilson, Bendtner, Rosicky and Song join Almunia, Fabregas, Gallas, Ramsey and Vermaelen on the sidelines. Clichy is a doubt.

We do suddenly have a bit more depth in defence though, with Gibbs and Djourou fit and presumably eager to contribute in some way before the summer kicks in.

Gibbs is still young, but nevertheless I wonder, when the World Cup squad is announced and he is not in it, whether he will consider it a chance missed. I do honestly think that he could have made the left-back backup place his own had he not had his foot broken against Standard Liege. It’s rank bad luck.

Djourou too will no doubt be keen to play at least a few minutes of Premier League football this season. He’s not kicked a ball in anger. In fact, he’s such a forgotten man he’s not even on the squad stat page.

Personally, I’d be happy to play both of them – though given the sudden importance of the match, I’d be surprised if more than one of them started, and not very surprised if neither did.

Some thoughts about losing

I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but as downers in your heads go, this one has been a belter.

Wenger: “Since we have gone out of the Champions League there was a little downer in our heads, but we have enough pride and quality to finish the season well and to secure the third place.”

I do understand how a shattering 6-3 aggregate defeat can badly affect morale, but you’d think four games is a long time to wallow. One thing that the current team has been accused of is failing to bounce back fast enough after a disappointing result – the above Champions League and its subsequent games being the prime example. After all, one of the signs of a strong side is the ability to rustle up a win after a defeat.

There’s one thing thinking we take too long to recover, but what’s the reality?

Well, we’ve lost nine league games this season, and it’s very interesting to note that not one of them has been an isolated defeat.

Our first league defeat, away at Man Utd on 29th August, was followed by a loss at Man City.

Our third league loss, away at Sunderland on 21st November was followed by reversals against Chelsea and Manchester City (OK, League Cup), albeit with a home win against Standard Liege sandwiched in between.

We then went on a decent unbeaten league run, losing none for almost two months.

However, when we lost again at home to Man Utd on 31st January, we followed it with a defeat at Chelsea.

Then there’s the final, freshest of these funks, two consecutive losses against the Spuds and Wigan, followed with a nil-nil bore draw and another loss at Blackburn.

Now of course, these losing streaks were often against very strong sides, with many of these tricky matches strung one after the other in a peculiarity of the fixture list.

But it’s striking nonetheless.

Bandage them up and wheel them out

This is a short, excitable update ahead of our European Cup quarter-final decider in the Nou Camp.

With the tweets of the gooners already or soon to be in Barcelona beginning to land on my tweetstep, things will only get more giddy from hereon in. Am I jealous of them? What do you reckon. The only things I don’t envy are their mobile phone and bar bills.

It’s almost impossible not to mention the injuries. With Song out, we are now five players short of our best eleven. That’s just about as painful as things can realistically get, short of Vermaelen dropping a bottle of HP Sauce on his foot at breakfast tomorrow morning.

On top of that, Rosicky is 50:50, Campbell is a doubt and cobbling an XI together is becoming a feat of creative accountancy.

As you’d expect, Wenger is bullish and Walcott is too – “There is no point playing within ourselves, we have all got to be at it” he said – but the odds of an Arsenal win, from Arsenal’s very own official partner Paddy Power, are 11/2 and that tells you all you need to know about the size of the challenge ahead.

The point to which Walcott alluded is a good one. For all Barcelona’s mesmeric football in the first leg – and I still maintain it was as good as I have ever seen – if Arsenal start so tentatively tomorrow as they did last week, then the game will not be competitive for very long.

If our lads can learn anything from Barcelona’s approach, it’s that it is equally important to win the ball back when they don’t have it as it is to do fancy stuff with it when they do.

Easier said than done of course in front of 95,000 Catalans on a roomy pitch with half your mainstays in the land of crock.

Walcott’s blistering cameo last time round means he is a weapon Barcelona will fear. Whether he is unleashed from the start, or at a later point, remains to be seen. Personally, I wouldn’t risk keeping him as an impact sub as Arsenal do not have the luxury of time. He needs to start, and like every other man in our unfancied XI, he needs to be on the absolute crest of his game.

Over and out and all that. I am rip-roaringly excited but already entering a state of involuntary trembling.