Left-back wings it to save the day

Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham

You wouldn’t have put much money on the cavalry arriving wearing a number three shirt and some underused boots, but Gibbs’ contribution was one of the nicer stories to emerge from a match that was at times pretty tough viewing for Arsenal fans. A gentle reminder from our left-back that it wasn’t that long ago we were all impressed at how he’d kept Monreal frustrated on the bench.

He was also the only British player on the pitch for Arsenal, with our cavalcade of homemade players all out injured or glued to the bench. It’s quite staggering that five of our injured core are British. Coincidence? Probably, but still.

It wasn’t that Joel Campbell played that badly; he fought manfully for the most part, and the fact he could not make a lot happen was not his problem alone. Is he good enough? His position as about seventh choice suggests not, but you can’t fault his workrate and he has proved his value as a squad member over the last four games.

The whole team struggled badly in the first half against an impressively committed and tenacious Spurs side, and that Cech was so impressive (and busy) says it all.

So a point is an excellent result given the circumstances, and focus now must go on getting some of that long line of injured players back within two weeks. There’s no doubt that the Cazorlas and Alexis’ of this world are running on empty – it’s a massive worry. In a perfect world (*sigh*) there’d be scope to rotate a bit when legs get this weary. But we have nothing else in the wardrobe other than Wilshere-shaped mothballs.

The thing is, as has been proven time and again, when we’re talking about Arsenal and injuries there’s no such thing as a perfect world – or if there is, it’s something like ‘only five men are out’.

That’s why we need to strengthen the overall squad in January. We have to accept that we are horribly injury-prone and adjust our thinking accordingly. What happens if, as if by some act of god, we were to buy two players and then everyone miraculously got fit? Surely it’s better to manage players’ frustrations at not playing than to grind the same core of fit ones into the ground.

Over to you Tony Colbert. May the Shad Forsythe be with you.

No place to Jekyll and Hyde

And so to the derby, which gets no less nerve-wracking with the passing of the years. I almost always profess my fear and pessimism prior to the game, which stands me in good stead whatever the result turns out to be.

But I do think it’s going to be a tough one. Under Pocket Tony, Spurs have become a lot better defensively and they’re clearly harder to beat (two things that seem plain wrong to type next to the word ‘Spurs’).

I read yesterday that they’ve ‘only’ let nine goals in, but we’ve only let eight goals in, so we’re no slouches in that regard. On that basis can we expect a low-scorer? Who knows, but I don’t think it will be 5-2.

Our defensive league form seems all the more peculiar given our expert resemblance of a sieve in all other competitions, where we’ve conceded 14 goals in six games. Consistency of back four will have helped in the league, but today we’re definitely without Bellerin and possibly without Koscielny.

I’m not really worried about their replacements. Gabriel didn’t play that well in Munich, but he wasn’t alone. And while the general consensus seems to be that Debuchy is gambolling around like a lamb, I think that’s a bit harsh. He’ll be better for the games and is improving.


It’s a strange thing that in a season where we’re competing very well in the league, we’ve already lost six games overall. The worrying thing for me is that we seem to switching off randomly. All three of our Champions League performances and our final Coca Cola Cup match had whiffs of complacency about them or at the least a lack of concentration (though Munich would have blown most sides away). And in the league, it was the same story on the opening day.

I don’t really understand why, but at least – bar that opening day – we’ve been very solid in the league.

We’ll need to be sharp with the ball today to counter their high pressing and can’t afford to feel sorry for ourselves after Wednesday. Giroud’s mini purple patch will help and he needs to impose himself today.

But now I’m blathering. A sure sign that derby day is upon us.

Come on your rip-roarers!

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick

Oops. Two weeks have zipped past with nary a word. There are mitigating factors, though. Straight after the Blackburn game I took a wrong turn in Chipping Barnet and ended up 6,000 miles away, and as luck wouldn’t have it, it was the middle of the day when we played Bayern and I was in a meeting. I now have an increased admiration for any global lunatics who follow the Arsenal before breakfast, after the pubs have closed or in the middle of the night. They are, to a man or woman, quite crackers.

The Bayern game went as I feared it might, leaving us with no eggs and no baskets, unless you call fourth place a basket, or indeed an egg. Either way it leaves our genuine trophy chances pretty much fried. They were never going to be an over-easy opponent, I suppose, and my guess is that Podolski’s poached – or was it scrambled – effort will not be enough.

A few days later I made a half-hearted attempt to watch the Villa game at breakfast, found a stream, lost a stream, refreshed Twitter with abandon, got cross with buffering. Honestly, following football is a complicated business these days. In the mid eighties (warning: old man’s wistfuI reminiscences incoming) I remember very well coming down to breakfast and opening up the paper to find the score of a match from the night before. If you were really lucky and the game had finished before the copy deadline you might get a small match report. Occasionally there was nothing at all. How would I then find the score? I have asked myself this question many times. I imagine I wrote a letter to Don Howe. Or went to the library. Or phoned someone. The eighties were rubbish for football.

So despite being punched from rope to rope in the cups, we find ourselves on a five-match unbeaten run in the league. There are unbeaten runs and there are unbeaten runs, and I would place this more as an unbeaten saunter. Nevertheless, it’s the kernel of some league form.

Form and confidence – something that has ebbed and flowed throughout this peculiarly fitful season.

It’s hard to disagree with those who argue that tomorrow’s NLD (the Twitters is a wonderful tool but I do resent the way it has forced acronyms into our everyday speech. NB52, ITK, NLD, AVB, JW10 – it doesn’t make me lol at all. In fact the only acronym I like is WWWWW. And anyway that’s not even an acronym. It’s just five Ws in a row. OK, shut up now, man).

I wouldn’t say that losing it rules us out of the holy grail, but our friends from N17 already have form and momentum, and if they win tomorrow they might reasonably be envisaging the hula girls and pina coladas and find themselves humming the Uefa ‘Pyjamas’ theme tune. At this stage of the season, a run of form is priceless. If we lose, we are back to a form square one.

We need to start the game well, play with a real intensity throughout, and take it from there. Another of our lacklustre opening 45s will be hard to bear.

It feels like I finish most of my pre-game posts these days with the words ‘I have no idea what to expect’. Well I think it will be helter-skelter and blood-and-thunder. I’d say that’s a given. But beyond that – who knows.

Scripted to perfection for the second year running

Arsenal 5-2 Totteringhams

Not bad for a team that hadn’t been in control of the game from the first minute to the last, eh, is it, Andre? I especially liked the bit at the end of the first half when we were so not in control that we scored twice and could have scored another. Reminds me a bit of the Churchill quote:

History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it

Granted, they were the better team in the first act of this rousing play. But when Adebayor took centre stage in the second act, it was the kind of script that Arsenal fans could only have dreamed of. Imbecilic wind-up merchant gets himself sent off having scored a goal, at which point his team concedes four times before finding its feet again? Don’t mind if I do. When he exited stage right, the game changed forever and Arsenal took great advantage. It’s precisely what we needed.

I think we can safely ignore the defending that left us behind yet again in a game (two men simultaneously break the offside trap – it’s not good for the heart, let me tell you). Our diminutive midfield did struggle at first with the physical nature of things, but once they found space Wilshere, and Cazorla in particular, were outstanding. The latter can go to Panama more often, as Wenger said.

On the flank, Walcott showed what a bit of pace can achieve. Frankly, I never want to see either him or Oxlade-Chamberlain overlooked in favour of Ramsey in that position again. Not that I think Ramsey isn’t a good player, but he’s no winger, just as Djourou is no right-back and Santos no left-back (the truth has at last outed on that front – he’s an auxiliary left-midfielder, who comes on for tax purposes). I have filled my boots on this blog ranting about the insanity of letting the Theo contract scenario get to this stage. He showed so many good things yesterday that it is plain to see he is an asset to this team. He does seem pretty happy and clearly has mates at the club, but I do fear all that will count for nought now that he is so close to doing one on a Bosman. It’s a madness if you ask me, and just at a time when the very last thing we need is the departure of a form player mid-season. Anyway, let’s hope for the best, eh.

What else did I like? Podolski scored and created, and it’s hard to ask more than that. But Giroud again caught the eye up front. He’s so eager, like a giant puppy thundering about, but his body strength and aerial prowess are slowly giving us the kind of Plan B we need. As a team, we’ve now scored three headed goals in two games. It now pays to cross into the box at head height, and he’s partly why. He’s got seven goals in eleven starts and seven substitute appearances. Given that he is new and the team has struggled, that’s very decent.

Above all though, some good goals and imposing play brought the fun-factor back. Just listen to this clip, recorded in the half-time beer queue.

Exciting football is the drug we all crave. Give us that and the fans will get behind the side, even forgive weaknesses elsewhere. One of the (many) criticisms of this side is that it no longer plays some of the best football in the league (which was maybe always a burdensome tag). That, when it’s bad, watching Arsenal can be just plain boring. Well yesterday, much of the good stuff flooded back and it’s no wonder we lapped it up.

Enjoy away, gooners. Enjoy away.

Match preview: Nope, I’ve no idea what to expect

I laid down the fountain pen after my last entry some 17 days ago, full of the best intentions to rattle off a post here, another there, and to keep up the forward motion gained from that helter-skelter nut-bag of a win at Reading. “Football is about momentum and morale and confidence,” I said, evidently practically sweating excitement, before adding with what now appears to have been a certain cruelness, “and last night will be the kind of shot in the arm the club needs”.

So off we went to Manchester, never turned up, were totally and depressingly outclassed and the fountain pen remained sealed shut. If it was a shot in the arm, it was a cocktail of sedatives and deadly defensive nightshade. (The antidote is winning, and winning more, and winning more again – it’s a rare elixir.)

We’re unbeaten since then of course, which is the line I’m taking from twice being two goals to the good, but winning on neither occasion.

And those of us who dwell online have been to the ends of the debate and back, with blame for that lifeless effort against Utd being apportioned to Wenger, the players, the training, the board (which is increasingly getting it in the neck for a perceived fourth-is-a-trophy comfort zone.) The truth is hidden away amongst all that, somewhere.

Things are not what we want them to be but I remain wedded to the notion that a team with a defensive unit of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Gibbs (stop fidgeting, you at the back), can defend better than it is doing. And that a midfield with Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla setting the tone should end up reaping more rewards than it has done yet. Up front we are undoubtedly weaker than we were last season but Giroud has scored six goals in eight starts, and had his best game in an Arsenal shirt against Fulham. Theo is playing well.

I’m not burying my head in the sand when I say that; trust me, I’m not enjoying it much either. But those are all very good players. It’s clearly not a squad to win the title but it’s a squad that is better, surely, than it currently looks. And I want to be positive – who doesn’t?

Which leads us neatly onto the north London derby. Two teams out of form, both under pressure, both riotously unpredictable. A fixture that is as splenetic as it has ever been. What could possibly go wrong?

I have given up predicting any game containing Wenger’s Mark IV Arsenal side. It is riddled with weaknesses but contains plenty of strengths. It can score six or seven goals, but is equally capable of not having a single shot on target. It is a side, as Arseblogger said in the Arsecast, that can fight back and win from four-nil down, but which can also end up drawing having been four-nil up. It is utterly and maddeningly inconsistent.

So I’m clinging onto the coat-tails of last year’s 5-2 and taking it from there.

Nil-nil, anyone?

Incidentally, this is the 125th north London derby, and to me it only seems like yesterday that we commemorated the 100th in 1987. I remember buying a special magazine, and on the front were Charlie Nicholas and Glenn Hoddle in old-fashioned clobber. I momentarily considered scanning it and putting it on here, but it’s up in the loft and frankly, I can’t be done with it. Besides, who wants to see a picture of Glenn Hoddle?