Arsenal wobble but they don’t fall down

Arsenal 2-1 Olympiacos

Whaddya mean, why can’t Arsenal do things the easy way? When did we ever do things the easy way? No no no, we can’t possibly put the game to bed at the earliest opportunity. Much better to give us all real value for our sky-high ticket prices by keeping the outcome of the game up in the air until the very last minute. It’s the Arsenal way! You know you love it really.

Certainly, we conspired to turn a commanding position into a breathless rearguard action, but we got the three points (leading the way in England on that front) and made it three whole wins in a row. Are we finding our form again? Do you mind if I think about that one and get back to you later?

Joking aside, the result was what mattered and we got it. Special mentions go to Alex Song, Per Mertesacker & Co for keeping the Greeks at bay once we had presented their goal to them on a silver salver with a congratulatory letter from the Queen.

I have no idea whether this Olympiacos side are the best Greek side I’ve seen or whether this Arsenal side have the current altruistic knack of making anyone look good, but the two goal cushion certainly was much needed given what came later.

Who’d have thought, after Santos rifled the second goal in, that by the end of the evening Olympiacos would have had 16 shots on goal to our 13? Our gifted goal gave them the momentum that had threatened to come and it rendered the match wide open and (in hindsight, and certainly for the neutral) hugely enjoyable.

I know everyone else will have mentioned these exact words, only in a different order, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a superb debut. Not only did he take his goal well, but his speed and strength really stood out. Walcott has many strengths but strength is not one of them, and it’s that pace allied with real power makes The Ox in the Box an enticing prospect indeed. It’s safe to say that his contribution this season this season will be anything but a bit-part. Wenger has eased him into the fray thus far but you can’t keep a big talent down and we’re bound to see a lot more of him. Well played that (young) man. He’ll certainly keep Theo on his toes.

Otherwise, the game at my end (so the second half) went in a blur of missed passes and lost possession, with a few missed chances for Arsenal to seal it thrown into the bag. That was the thing that struck me most last night – our inability to hold onto the ball for more than a few passes at a time. It really is a good job we held firm at the back.

Astonishingly, Szczesny has now had eight different back-fours in front of him this season, which might go some way to explaining our general defensive ailments. We have six central defenders – Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Djourou, Squillaci, Koscielny and Miquel, but only one was fit. Song stood in admirably but yet again, we are being skittled by a long injury list. You get the feeling we could have ten centre backs and still have a few games in the season when we’re forced to patch things up by calling upon the services of a midfielder. It’s mind boggling.

Props to Arteta for his extraordinary goal-line clearance too – I had to rub my eyes to check that ball hadn’t gone in.

So a win, a decent position in the group, a bit of a rest for Ramsey & van Persie and onwards we go to Sunday.

Tin hats on…

Concede 8, buy 5: Have you ever known a week like it?

They’re up for grabs now! Wenger, right at the end. An unbelievable climax to the transfer window

I can safely say I can’t recall the like. What began with the low of an abject eight-goal capitulation at Old Trafford has ended with the high of five new faces to bolster the ranks. We may never know whether the late spree was intended all along, or whether it was a direct consequence of the butchering in Manchester, but it’s happened and the result is that we are indubitably stronger this morning than we we were on Monday morning.

We could lament the absurd lateness of the spree (which has lent it an air of desperation), but maybe you have to factor in the departures of Cesc and Nasri into the equation. Both were very, very late exits in the scheme of things. And you also have to accept that a lot of business – rightly or wrongly – gets left this late for all manner of reasons. We could also lament the painful reality that we cannot currently compete for the ‘big names’ (who come with the big wages). In that respect, we are left in the wake of three other teams. It hurts, but it’s a fact.

But, from my perspective at least, the last two days have been refreshing both in their decisiveness and in their honesty. A club that was getting the reputation for dithering about over transfers acted incredibly quickly to bring new faces in. In Arteta’s case, the fax was involved in a photo finish.

Honest, too, because this is as near as we will get to a public admission that the squad was sub-par and that the youth project – such as it ever was – hasn’t worked. All five players are over 26. All experienced. All, given their status for their national teams, have borne responsibility on the field.

Santos, probably, will come straight in as first choice left-back. Mertesacker, too, ought to partner Vermaelen straight away. One of either Arteta or Benayoun can consider themselves worthy of a berth in the middle. Of the five, Park is probably the least likely to start but then again, he’s probably leapt ahead of Chamakh by default. These have been crucial signings.

Despite the clamour from some quarters, we were surely never going to go for a player like Parker. You lose two highly creative players, then you need to replace those players like for like. We have done that. In the hod-carrying midfield position, we now have competition for Song in Frimpong. So the additions of Benayoun and Arteta are sound. (I’ve never been a huge fan of Benayoun, but again, I reserve my judgement. And I’m told he’s been very good in pre-season).

I don’t think we could have done much more under the circumstances and in the time allotted. Criticism, yes, for dithering all summer. That has not shown either Wenger, or the board, or the teams involved in player acquisition, in a good light.

But the fans, and the players, needed this spree badly. van Persie and Walcott have both urged the club to strengthen this summer. Wilshere was positively glowing on Twitter last night. And look at the dropped heads on the pitch after the mauling on Sunday. They needed a lift as much as we did.

It’s certainly had the right effect on me. The squad looks much stronger and better balanced.

Naturally, I can’t wait for the Swansea game.

Santos Dos is coming to town

Open season on Arsenal’s demise continues apace: Smudger gives five reasons why we’re ‘on the slide’, the Guardian’s David Hytner on our transfer shortcomings and Martin Keown offers his blueprint on how to turn us around. The most telling thing from the latter relates to our gameplan, or defending, at Old Trafford: “There is such uncertainty over the basics”. (Lee Dixon touched on the same on MOTD). The Times suggests the pressure on Wenger to spend is now coming not just from the fans, but from the board too. Bit late, isn’t it? But better late than never.

I won’t pretend I’m not concerned, because I really, really am. A tailspin this long hints at deeper problems than poor defending or a lack of real depth to the squad.

That said, a stronger squad could be just the catalyst for re-energising us, and Wenger seems to have located his chequebook just in time. Park Chu-Young, though not announced officially, has joined and will offer another option up front. And no sooner had Armand Traore gone awol at Old Trafford (he wasn’t the only one) than rumour filtered through he was on his way to join Warnock’s revolution at QPR, to be replaced by Fenerbahce’s Andre Santos.

I know nothing about him, but at 28 he fits the right age profile, he’s got Champions League experience and he’s a Brazilian international. Some say he’s good at bombing forward but shakier at the back, and if that’s true then he fits the Arsenal full-back job spec like a glove… though I will of course reserve my judgement.

What’s certain is that the next two days promise to be busy – refreshingly busy. For once, I expect stuff to happen. Hell, it might even be happening whilst I type.

And finally, I’m hoping to be a bit more present on the blog from now on. I took the whole of August off, zipping hither and thither – one of the benefits of redundancy – and seeing that I’m now on the Senator Bob, there’s no excuse to let it fall quite so fallow…

Right, cup of team and NewsNow beckon. Busy morning ahead…


Mertesacker the latest?