Coquing marvellous

Burnley 0-1 Arsenal

Yesterday’s win was a gentle reminder that it’s not every week you fire off a three-goal, eight-minute salvo where all the goals were straight out ‘Dennis Bergkamp’s Little Book of Crackers’.

It was a more prosaic win, a festival of free kicks and half-chances broken up by Ramsey being in the right place at the right time to wrap the points up. Good job he scored, really, because it wasn’t the kind of game where clear-cut chances came easy at either end. In fact, it was when Welbeck came on and the shrugging Giroud came off where the game opened up a bit more to my liking. (Our glorious Gaul has had better games, but with seven goals in six games, that’s alright with me).

If the finish itself owed itself to a string bit of lucky bounces, the build-up was marvellous, with Coquelin like a tambourine clap through pigeons and Sanchez doing his usual impression of being everywhere at once. That one moment was enough, ultimately, against a team (lest we forget) that is battling for its Premier League existence.

With a squad bursting with unseasonal fitness, I was interested to see how we might line up on the bench. None of the most recent returnees were on it, which proves how hard – when you have a settled, winning team – it’s going to be to upset the applecart. I can’t see Arteta or Wilshere, for example, making the starting eleven until we have a game where there’s nothing to play for. The way the season’s panning out, when’s that going to be?

I wouldn’t want to make that decision and massage those precious egos. Which is probably one of the many reasons why Wenger is paid £8m a year and I am on a little bit less than that.

Great win, with the stand-out players being those in the engine room: Coquelin, Ramsey, Cazorla. And of course Sanchez, whose diet of raw fish, Red Bull and Castrol GTX continues to give him jaw-dropping energy levels. Eight wins on the trot, the perfect hors d’oeuvre for an FA Cup semi-final and the visit of Chelsea.

The Poldi effect

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I had a bit of insomnia the other night. When this happens – fortunately not too frequently – I don’t count sheep, of course I don’t. I think of football stats and lineups. For example, counting backwards through FA Cup winners (I always grind to a halt during the years when Chelsea won it a lot) or thinking of various Arsenal starting elevens going back through time.

So there I was at 3.30am thinking of the 1989 title-winning team, and got a bit tripped up by the fact we started three centre-backs. Onwards I moved to the 1998 Cup Final lineup, where I was promptly derailed by the inclusion of Christopher Wreh (I honestly have no recollection of that). My final one was last year’s FA Cup final team, and I blew that one too, mostly because I had completely forgotten that Podolski started it.

He feels like such a footnote now, doesn’t he? At the time he left I was a little anxious about losing his goalscoring prowess, but in hindsight it feels like something of a watershed. We cannot put our upswing in form and performances on his departure, of course we can’t, but it’s pretty obvious that Wenger counts much more now on players who work hard. Who are the stand-out players of the second half of the season? Coquelin, Giroud and Sanchez. All work their socks off. Who also plays where Podolski once played? Welbeck, whose lack of goals doesn’t matter thanks to what he gives to the team in pace, blood and sweat.

Who else seems to have married his innate technical beauty with a tougher attitude? Ozil.

That’s the benchmark now, which might explain why Theo is finding it so hard. With him, I maintain the injury has affected him mentally more than physically. But at the same time, he cannot fail to see the way the wind is blowing.

Podolski could barely get in the team before he left. He’d get nowhere near it now.

That’s me done.

Let the build-up to Wembley begin.

I love the FA Cup.

Bloody love it.

Singing in the rain / signings and the gain


Arsenal 4-0 Coventry City

Has there been a wetter season at the Emirates? Ordinarily it rarely simultaneously rains and blows a gale in a northerly direction during a game, thus rendering the roof entirely incidental where I am sitting (which is near the front of the lower tier, as you can see above). But yet again, for what seemed about the fifth time this season, we were treated to the very best that England could throw at us. If this is global warming then it can stuff itself. I want an umbrella included in my 3% more expensive season ticket next year. Either that or some kind of contraption that extends the roof. Or something Arsenal-branded that keeps me dry. Maybe a Poncho Monreal, a Theo Walcoat, a Lukasz Fabianskijacket or a Ju-Young Parker.

It didn’t seem to matter too much in the end. We had the amusement of the dimmed lights, which was immediately followed by thousands of mobile phone torches. They would have been lighters in the 80s. Matches in the 1950s? And before floodlights, you had to turn up to the game with your own bonfires. Whoever said modern life was rubbish? You can’t tweet with a lighter. Or Instagram with a match. Anyway, I’ve veered somewhat off course.

The Coventry fans made their protests – I thought impressively – and it’s a salutary tale against the nature of modern club ownership and the toothlessness of those who are meant to govern it. An overseas hedge fund that knows nothing about football has run the club into the ground. I wish I knew the solution. Good luck to them in their quest to make it back to Coventry (to an excellent stadium waiting for them, currently sitting idle. The whole thing is insane).

As for the game, the urgency fizzled out for Arsenal after Podolski’s double, which let City back in for a while. The result was never in doubt though. Onto the fifth round and I for one would love a run right to the mucky end of this competition. It was easy to take Wembley or Cardiff visits for granted when we were getting there so frequently – five FA Cup finals in eight years – but we’ve only made one semi-final since 2005. From one extreme to the other.


I’m too experienced at this lark to get carried away by any talk of transfers, especially in January, and I’ve long learned to take Wenger’s utterings on this matter with a pinch of salt. He gives little away, and why would he?

But we all saw what Ozil’s arrival did to Arsenal, just when it was needed. We’re in an amazing position at the moment, but we’re going to need all the help we can get, both in terms of personnel and psychologically. So if there’s a deal that can be done in the next five days or so, it would make so much sense to pull it off. Would it upset the equilibrium? Of course not. It would have the opposite effect.

So go on Le Boss, surprise us all.

Interlull: Good for looking back and looking forward

One of the few benefits of downing tools for weeks on end, as I am increasingly doing, is the ability to view things in splendid hindsight. After the Utd game I was a bit tetchy at the no-show in our midfield, somewhat deflated at not getting at least a point at a place we have in recent times consistenty struggled at.

But looking back at it, no real complaints. It was an excellent performance against Liverpool, followed by a sapping rearguard smash-and-grab against Dortmund. There was just not enough in the tank to make real inroads against Utd.

Our away record finally fizzled out but it’s worth noting for posterity – 16 games unbeaten was the catalyst for 6 months of upturned fortunes. Szczesny, Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna – all have upped their games and are our best defensive unit in ages.

It’s also nice to observe that overall, people have been pretty sanguine about this loss. Compare and contrast with the previous league loss against Villa. So yeah, there’s plenty to be happy about.

Of course, with the transfer window peeking over the brow of the hill, thoughts turn to January. We ought to have both Podolski and Walcott back soon, both of whom could (but don’t tend to, as the team needs a Giroud-type player) play up front, but we still need more attacking options. I’m not saying we need to amass four £30m strikers, because that is patently unrealistic. But there was a time when we could muster one or all of Henry, Wiltord, Kanu and Bergkamp. Sometimes, all at once. We just don’t have that variety to call on.

I don’t know how these things work, but you’d like to think that, if we wanted someone earlier rather than later in January, we’d be doing some legwork now. For me, whether a target is cup-tied in the Champions League makes no odds – the league is probably more important and besides, you have to consider the longer-term picture anyway.

There have been some big names bandied around already (nothing concrete, but still) like Dzeko, Hernandez and Benzema. There’ll be a lot of this stuff over the next month or two but we’ve been here too many times to be anything other than cautious in the extreme. Two points about that: 1) No rival, if we are still there or thereabouts in January, would sell us one of their ‘spare’ strikers in a month of Sundays. Look what happened to the Ba deal when it became clear that the Ozil signing would make us more competitive. Canned straight away. And 2) I think it’s fantastic that we showed the ambition to spend £42.5m on a player, but it’s not the kind of deal we can afford to do often. Not many clubs can. So on that basis, if I had to bet I’d say that any player we bring in in January – if we bring anyone in – will be more in the £10m-£15m bracket, which would rule a Benzema-type player out. Partly because of availability, partly because of cost.

For now, we’re back to fiddling uncomfortably with the Giroud worry beads. In an ideal world we’d be able to rotate him in and out according to his condition. Not an option right now though.

Ten glorious minutes

In a season dotted with more than its fair share of lacklustre moments and peppered by curiously slow build-up play, the quick-fire four-goal salvo at the beginning of the second half on Wednesday was like music to my ears. So much so that I think I might just bundle the memory up and replay it in my head at whatever point now suits me. I could press play during a quiet patch in a future game to cheer me up, or at work to liven up a dull stretch of breadwinning.

But obviously, if I don’t write those moments down to preserve them, I’m going to forget them in all their detail. I can barely remember the scores of games within a few months and it would sadden me if, in future times, these explosive six-hundred seconds had disappeared off into the ether. So here goes. I should add that this is how I end up remembering all goals.

Giroud, 47

OK, there’s a corner at our end, over to my right. It looks like it might be Theo taking it. I’m craning my neck. “Too bloody low, Theo”, wails my brother in frustration, and then the ball flashes into the net and we’re all cheering. “Top work, Theo” he adds. Who scored it, I ask myself? Might have been Giroud. Nifty move at the near post? It was a bit of a blur.

Cazorla, 53

I’m still a bit agitated, so imagine my surprise when whoosh! Cazorla back-heels it in. My recollection of how he came to be in a position to back-heel the goal is blurred. Anyway, I cheer and as I write this I’m going to look at the goal (I’ve not seen them since).

[looks at goal]

How exactly do I not have that carved into my memory? I wasn’t looking at my phone, given than Vodafone is a matchday deathzone. So it was Podolski to Giroud, who arcs a belter back to Der Hammer, then Cazorla does some magic. Now that I’ve had my memory jogged, I do remember that glorious dinked pass from Giroud. Nice.

Walcott, 54

This I do remember. Podolski thunders down the left wing (I don’t have him down as a thunderer, but by god he was thundering), crosses it on a plate with tassels on for Theo, who obliges. I remember every bit of this. We are high-fouring now.

Giroud, 57

Replace Theo with Giroud and you’ve got the fourth goal, at least that’s how I remember it, or don’t remember it. I mean come on, give me a break, I was a bit befuddled by this point. Four goals in ten minutes – I’m not used to it.

I’ve just seen it again and it wasn’t like that, not exactly. The Podolski bit was, but it was near post not far. Ah well.

That’s that then – I’m glad I have it lasered into the bonce with such clarity. Ten lovely minutes. When you’re at the ground they go by in a blur and you remember them in a blur. At least, I do.

Thank heavens for Arsenal Player. And real match reports. And people who can actually remember live football.

The Mercury is rising

A very good morning to you on a humdinger of an English summer’s day. 30c+ days are like Chamakh goals in this country – we get a few in late summer then nothing at all for the rest of the year. The new season is upon us too, which means we have one of those glorious crossovers of high summer and football. I like those a lot.

Feeding time at the transfer zoo

Quick word on those who’ve left or might: We start the new campaign without van Persie, of course, which is no real surprise. In many ways it’s better it happened before the season started and didn’t Nasri on until the end of the month. I wish he hadn’t gone where he went but as Wenger said, “We had to act, and that is what we did”.* So he has gone. Life’s too short to tie yourself up in knots about these things. He was a terrific player for us, a goalscorer par excellence, and having given eight years of service you cannot say he flitted in and flitted out like a will’o-the-wisp. The end was messy, but last season was serene. £24m represents good business.

*Note to Arsenal: Worth fixing the reasons why this keeps happening, if you can. Thanks.

You could of course apply the same ‘having to act’ financial logic to Walcott’s situation too – I can’t see us letting him run his contract down either so something will have to give there in the next two weeks. Nobody seems quite so worried about this – should we be?

Then there’s Song – that’s an interesting one. For me this came right out of the blue. We don’t need to sell him, but Wenger hardly seems to be standing in his way. If it’s an attitude thing then I’m all for this new-found Wenger ruthlessness – Song is replaceable. And despite a midfield that is in numbers well-stocked, I think Wenger would try to replace him like-for-like as we are short of fit and experienced specialist defensive midfielders.

Season’s greetings

That’s for the next week or so though – it’s going to be a hectic month. Now though, it’s all about the season’s opener and I’m genuinely excited by what promises to be a forward line with plenty of options. We have an attacking midfield and strikeforce that has the potential to be very flexible, at least in principle – players like Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Cazorla, even Diaby can go wide or central. Arshavin (if he stays), Walcott (in his mind anyway) are to a lesser degree not rooted to one sole role either. In Giroud we have height in the forward line – hopefully a more reliable kind of height than that offered in recent seasons by Bendtner and Chamakh.

Combine those options with a more rigorous attitude to defending and there’s plenty to be excited about. Losing van Persie is a blow to our goalscoring potential and no doubt to our esteem too, but despite the same high-profile departures that we see pretty much every year, this summer’s proactive purchasing has, for me at least, meant there are far more positives than there are negatives.

I won’t even begin to try to predict a starting eleven. That we are not able to is a promising thing, no? We have options.

Here’s to three points and the dawn of a new era.

I can’t wait.

[peers over the wall, squinting]

Morning. I thought I’d check into the old place after what I can assure is the longest I have ever let this blog go fallow – three days short of a calendar month. If I leave it three days longer I’m eligible for CAP subsidies, I think.

It’s not quite like I put the dustsheets on because it wasn’t as planned as that, but I downed tools after the season ended and never felt like picking them up again. Are Google ads ringing on the doorbell with increasingly frantic urgency? I can report that they are not.

I was pretty sure there’d be no actual Arsenal news during the Euros – news of signings, that is – especially as we tied up the Podolski deal so early. And while it’s true that nothing official has wended its way towards the official site, the Giroud column inches seem real enough. Wenger himself has said Giroud’s 90% an Arsenal player, which means the boss is ten percent sticking his neck out, but things do sound promising on that front. Trouble is, that ten percent can be quite useful. Just ask an iceberg.

The irony, I should add, of Wenger remedying his defensive 49-ers by buying two strikers is not lost on me, though you can’t argue that we don’t need more firepower. Clearly, the club is working hard but it might mean there’s going to be one hell of car boot sale on Drayton Park sometime in mid July. Bendtner, Vela, Denilson, Chamakh, Park – hello again, fancy seeing you here. Job lot?

The Euros have far exceeded my expectations and fed my football addiction, and my money has got to be on Germany – which I appreciate is hardly a bold claim seeing that they are now in the semi-finals. As the Twitters pointed out last night, they are a great side to watch. Youthful, skilful, exciting. ITV signed off by saying they were frightening, or terrifying.

Things you could maybe say about England, but in a different way. To be fair, I have admired Hodgson’s approach (and acceptance of the limitations of his resources), and I think England are far from out of contention yet, but thus far it’s safe to say they’ll have hardly had the neutrals purring.

Final thing – it’s always satisfying when you meet someone who has read your blog. Now look, I’m not big-headed enough to think this happens very frequently, but last weekend it did, and completely out of context. I was at a birthday party – a sit-down meal – and I got chatting to a fella to my right. In such scenarios, once the formalities of introducing yourself are over, I find the only way forward is to introduce football into the conversation as quickly as possible. (This actually applies to most of life, come to think of it). Taking this approach, sometimes you crash and burn, other times you hit the jackpot. This time I jackpotted, he was a gooner, and before we knew it we were dissecting the season.

Interestingly enough, he was of the opinion that rather than being desperate for the season to end (as I was, and I wasn’t the only one), he had loved it, and considered it an excellent season for the way we had pulled third out of the fire having been on the ropes (excuse the mixed metaphors).

So then I mentioned I wrote a blog about Arsenal, and mentioned its name (fully expecting blank response), to which I got the following:

“Oh, you’re the man from East Lower!”

We both poured ourselves another beer and proceeded to ignore our wives.

(Of course, that last bit is not true.)

Roll up, roll up! Well, no need to hurry.

There are a fair few players who are surplus to requirements at the club. And there are a few positions we could murder some reinforcements in. I think that both these things are fair to say. Incoming, we already a thoroughbred German with a trillion national caps and a very decent scoring record indeed. (Incidentally, we now have 174 German caps at the club. Beat that, Middle Eastlands!)

Outgoing, Almunia has already been released, but there are strikers who don’t play, defenders past their sell-by date, goalkeepers who want to move on and loan players coming back to the club who need to go straight back round the revolving door. Seeya lads!

I also think it’s fair to say that this is a normal state of affairs at a big club – Arsenal is no different to any other.

For simpletons like me, it would be great to wake up tomorrow morning to read that Wenger had offloaded all of his (let’s for the sake of it say eight) unwanted players and was at this very moment wiping down his Departures chalkboard and renaming it Signings. And that two days later, there’d be a triple-signing fest, van Persie and Walcott would sign on the dotted line – at which point the boss would hang a Mission Accomplished banner across the top of the entrance to London Colney. We could all go on holiday, watch a bit of Euro 2012 and come back fresh with an intact squad, no injuries, raring to go. In my world, that’s how I’d like things to be done. That’s how Twitter wants it done too I suspect (though I think NewsNow would take the opposite stance – it would probably approve of letting things rumble along interminably, with no obvious conclusion in sight).

I regret to have to dampen enthusiasm on this front, but I fear it’s not going to come to pass in this fashion. Euro 2012 is coming up, and summer tournaments are notorious dampeners on transfer activity. Wenger will be commentating, and I know for a fact that Gazidis and Dick Law are going on a Yoga retreat to Croatia for a fortnight. So that’s them out the loop. Kroenke is planning to walk the Appalation trail (to find himself, I hear) and Usmanov has enrolled on a C++ introduction module. People have their lives to think about too, you know.

Anyway, just to remind you, here’s how it panned out last year:

08 June – Jenkinson signs
04 July – Clichy leaves
11 July – Gervinho signs
20 July – Denilson leaves on loan
08 August – Oxlade-Chamberlain signs
15 August – Fabregas leaves
17 August – Eboue leaves, Vela leaves on loan
24 August – Na$ri leaves
30 August – Park, Santos sign
31 August – Benayoun, Arteta, Mertesacker sign
31 August – Bendtner leaves on loan

I may have missed one or two here but the point stands: one in June, three in July and eleven in August.

Now look, I know we want stuff done sooner. It needs to be done sooner for reasons I need not go in to. But with the best will in the world, my guess is we’ve got a while to wait yet.

Make yourself a cup of tea, I would.

The Podolski lift?

Just as my own blogging season was in danger of fizzling out, I’ve decided to rouse myself for one last push. Two more blog posts and I might just totter over the line. Why haven’t I sealed this sooner though? I can only think it’s a confidence thing.

Since I last dipped in here we have drawn at Stoke, a result that is far from calamitous at any stage of any season, but coming after a loss and a goalless draw it was a result that hardly kick-started the kind of swashbuckling tone for the rest of the season that I had hoped for. Why have the goals dried up a bit? “Maybe it is linked with belief” said Wenger, which is not really what you want to read, is it? Anyway, here we all are and we are pretty clear what Arsenal need to do to drag themselves over the line.

Of course, you have to assume the worst and expect our rivals to take full points. That makes our task very straightforward, on paper if not on grass – two wins. But depending on results on Wednesday, it could make Norwich on Saturday, and indeed West Brom’s Hodgson valete the following week, far more stressful than you might want.

How we could do with our new signing Lukas Podolski for the last two games. With 18 goals from 28 games this season, plus six assists, we are talking about a man at the top of his game and for Arsenal to sew this one up so soon is admirable business indeed. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect us to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s of our summer business before the Euros – there’ll a lot of shop windowing going on – but this lays down a marker and continues the recent policy of mixing raw youth (Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jenkinson) with proper experience (Mertesacker, Arteta). There’s also plenty of sense in getting as much of your incoming business done soon so that the club can work hard on trimming the squad down.

Podolski will of course be desperate for Arsenal to make the Champions League – he can join the queue, right behind the shuffling army of accountants – and will be forced to look on agonisingly from afar as we complete the season. There isn’t a lot he can do of course, but it would be nice to think that this ambitious early signal from the club might have an effect on the current players as they strive for the sunlit uplands of third – for those who will be competing for places against him, for those whose futures are undecided and for those committed for the long term but ambitious for more.

And on an unrelated note, good luck to Roy Hodgson. A decent man, he’s well travelled and well respected. And whatever happens, surely it can’t be any worse than South Africa in 2010?

All the best, Roy.