A spoonful of hope on a cereal of improbability

Good morning to you all on a cloudless, plane-free and gorgeous spring London morning. Having no aircraft humming overhead or vapour trails criss-crossing the skies has been as peculiar as it has been welcome. It would have been even nicer yesterday had someone on my road not chosen the enforced tranquillity to fire up a tree-mulching machine – all day. It sounded like a giant having an electric shave.

Yesterday, I was giving some thought to which young players Wenger could feasibly slot in between now and the end of the season, out of necessity or opportunity, given that we are no longer challenging for first.

Then along came yesterday’s string of results, and however unlikely it may still feel, a win at Wigan today would put us three points behind the leaders with three games to go. Hope, however much you try and banish it to the attic, keeps peering his head round the banisters and gurning at you.

Goodplaya – who has been something of a lone voice of optimistic lunacy on Twitter – said yesterday morning, “Am I the only one thinking that if Spurs beat Chels we can draw level before they play again? Unlikely, but wd we feel safe in their shoes?” How right he suddenly is.

How might the Spuds’ result have changed Wenger’s plans? We’ll see today. On Twitter yesterday, there was a groundswell of opinion in favour of giving Eastmond (one league start, two sub appearances) a game in the middle of the park. With Denilson a major doubt – and hardly in the form of his career anyway – I’d take that gamble. I’d also play van Persie from the start, as with a back line of Campbell and Silvestre for the remainder of the season (injuries allowing – ha), attack is going to be our best form of defence.

Some other interesting stuff slewed out of the official website late last night. Wenger in recent days – since the Spuds win in particular – has been on something of a warpath and yesterday not only was he bullish about our chances of matching Chelsea from a financial point of view:

“I think we can overcome [Chelsea]. For a while we were not investing maybe because we had built the stadium but I think our financial situation is now becoming much stronger and we will be capable to buy the players we need to buy.”

But also he talked about transfers:

“We will announce the deals after the league [finishes]. He [Chamakh] is one of the players who has a good chance to join us.”

So good news there – the Chamakh deal sounds close and tantalisingly, he talked about ‘deals’ in plural and of money being available. Now excuse me for clutching at straws, but that’s just what I wanted to hear so clutch at straws I will.

Onto today, and here we go again. I’ve asked Goodplaya for some of his mind-warping optimism-inducing pills and we can take it from there.

One down, three to go

Good result, bad result, two points lost or one gained – we just don’t know yet. I would wager that a draw at Villa is a good result, but ask me again after the next three games and we’ll know more. We were hardly going to go there and waltz it.

The main sensation I had from last night though was that we didn’t play that well. We didn’t lose but we hardly set the pulse racing. That feeling fans can get of an unstoppable head of steam building up – of a team on the verge of take-off – well my own view is we’re still a way off that.

What it does mean though – and don’t tell the marketing men at Sky in case they milk it – is that Sunday’s set-to is undeniably hugely significant. Winning it might put the wind into our sails. Losing it might knock us into the doldrums.

I know Vermaelen and Eduardo succumbed to Arsenal Fever – the former fortunately not breaking a bone – but there is at least some comfort in the knowledge that we’ve got fewer players out now than we’ve had out for a while. Nasri, Song, Eboue, Walcott, Rosicky, Bendtner, Clichy, Sagna, Fabregas – all have had recent injuries of varying severity, or have been away, and all are now back.

I said back at the beginning of the month that to not strengthen the squad at a point where we find ourselves in a healthy league position would be almost criminal. It’s a young squad with some extremely talented players and potential oozing out its pores but there’s surely not a soul on this planet who believes Arsenal could not be strengthened.

So I 100% agree with those who say that buying could only benefit us. How could it not? Look what spending £10m on Vermaelen did. The market, it’s clear, is hugely subdued, so I’m not expecting miracles. But I do still think we might swoop (for that is the only suitable verb to use across all media outlets as Jan 31st edges closer) for someone. It’s not due to some magical intuition or insider knowledge.

It can probably be put down as being nothing more than the eternal optimism of the average football fan.

PS – Comments are totally kaput since I upgraded to the most recent version of WordPress. They’ve disappeared. Can’t post new ones. I have no idea why so if you can help on that front, or know someone who can, I’d appreciate any advice going. You can mail me at eastlower AT googlemail.com or DM me on @eastlower on Twitter. Ta!

Update: Comments are back. Thanks to all who responded to my desperate plea and in particular @arseblog, @jim_aboutaball and @govindraj

A toast to absent friends as Arsenal freeze

Arsenal 2-2 Everton

A point gained or two points dropped? Both; the former for us, and the latter for Everton.

Let’s face it, we were very lucky indeed, scraping a late draw on a day when nothing went right and few people covered themselves in glory. It was a bad day in the office, one to file away in the recesses of the mind. One to forget, and forget it we probably will unless it becomes one of those pivotal games that bookends the start of a great run (or heaven forbid, a bad one).

I know it’s easy to say with hindsight, but I had an uneasy feeling about this game all morning yesterday. Everton have emerged from their early season funk and it showed. They gave us a right fright. All we can hope for (now that we have played them home and away) is that they can maintain their improving form, because they’ve got some big games between now and late February, and we could do with them taking some points off our closest rivals.

Not that I’m really thinking of a title surge at this stage. I think, if anything, the fitful performance yesterday just reminded me – and a few others besides, I should imagine – that we remain something of an outside shot to win the league in May.

Despite some excellent recent form, and a very healthy league position, the bottom line is that there’s nowhere on the pitch we couldn’t improve. Between the sticks we have an increasingly skittish Almunia. Though he remains a good shot stopper – he prevented Vaughan from making it game over when we were 2-1 down – almost all other aspects of his game have gone to pot. He’s been dropped once this season, and I wouldn’t bet against it happening again. I appreciate the arguments against doing it – it’s pretty much a P45 – but his form is so poor it has to be considered.

In defence, we have a rookie left-back who has done well enough in Clichy’s and Gibbs’ absences but reminds us from time to time why he is our third choice left-back. The rest of our established back line is still motoring along, but needs to tighten up. We are always looking capable of conceding.

We’re missing important players in midfield in Fabregas and Song. We’re missing the pacy outlet that is Walcott. And of course, we’re missing Bendtner and van Persie, leaving us reliant on playing Arshavin out of position and Eduardo without a recognised strike partner.

Taken as a whole, and in that context, we are doing amazingly well at the moment, and it’s hardly a big surprise to see a blip such as yesterday against a very good and committed Everton side.

Of course, Wenger can work on the players he has, and he can hassle the physio to empty London Colney of crocks, but more importantly from a momentum point of view, he can work on bringing in new faces. At the beginning of the month I remember him saying he wanted to do any deals early; well here we are a third of the way through the window and there’s still nothing doing.

I’d frankly be amazed if nobody came in this month, and I was going to stick my neck out I’d say he’ll bring a maximum of two, and that those two would be a central defender and a striker.

As for who or when – over to you, boss.

Snow, hype and the chance to go second

Breaking news: We’ve neither signed nor sold anyone.

I switched on Sky Sports News on about 2nd January and they were already lathering at the chops and reminding us that there were a mere 29 days and 6 hours and 14 minutes or whatever it was remaining before the end of the transfer window. Not so much flogging a dead horse as flogging a newborn foal.

So I’m calm as a millpond, though I will admit I’m intrigued how Wenger will play his cards this month. We’re always told that January is a bad month for buying players, what with them being cup-tied or their clubs unwilling to sell them mid-season and all that, but we’ve actually done some sterling business in previous windows. Reyes, Diaby, Walcott, Arshavin all spring to mind.

Also, when the official site tells us “The Arsenal manager intends to add quality and quantity” then the possibility of more than one incoming signing clearly raises its head. And when the boss himself tells us that “Ideally… you want to act as quickly as possible” then the fact it could be soon, and there could be one, two, or a whole army of new faces, then, then…

OK, I’ll admit it. The hype, while mostly baseless and clearly rather see-through, is good fun too.

The most pressing thing is tomorrow night of course. Snow permitting, and of course result permitting, we could go second, and with every decent performance comes renewed confidence, more belief, and more hope. Two late goals at West Ham can’t have hindered either, even if we struggled a bit before Diaby and Nasri came on. The fact is, we turned it round. It’s a promising sign.

With Denilson back, he will slot straight into a Song-shaped hole against Bolton. I suppose he’s the nearest we’ve got to a replacement, with Diaby more adventurous and the quite excellent Ramsey replacing Fabregas.

Also back is Arshavin, and as we chop and change our squad it’s a considerable light at the end of the tunnel to hear that Clichy returns to training next week, and that Bendtner should resume training soon too.

Right, I’m off to peer out the window and pray for flakes. Not enough to cancel tomorrow night’s game, but enough to make it impossible – simply not feasible – to go into work tomorrow.

(Just kidding, boss).

Meantime – this is always good value for a morning transfer tittle-tattle round-up.

The wonder of you, Cesc Fabregas

Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa

Some thoughts:

• Was it worth risking Fabregas? Two goals and a game-changing performance answers that question. You can only beat the team you are currently pitted against so it has to have been worth the risk.

• Our best 45 minutes of the season? I think it probably was given the opposition. If not the best half, then it was certainly the most inspired substitution of the campaign.

• … and a more fruitful substitution of a substitute than the last time it happened at the Grove – when Eboue’s dismal season hit its low.

• Diaby looks excellent at the moment. He’s played three games in a row now and with each game he has looked better and better. I’m not bold enough to suggest this augurs well because we’ve been here before, but it does prove (as if it needs proving) that when you stay fit, feel good and keep playing, you tend to see the real player.

• Either that or it’s down to his magic moustache.

• The same point applies to Walcott and Eduardo (playing games, not growing moustaches). You simply can’t write a player off until he has settled into a good run of games. Walcott, incidentally, slid in a peach of a pass for the second goal yesterday and with a few more matches under his belt could have a big part to play over the rest of the season.

• When Wenger told us, after we had just been slaughtered by Chelsea, that they were far from infallible and that we had every chance to claw our way back into things, I considered him a lunatic of the first order.

• And yet here we are, right up there. We’ve done exceptionally well to be where we are, I have to say, with the last month in particular being fruitful. And yet I still don’t feel we have the wherewithal to win the league. We’re not being linked to moves for cover at the back, in the middle and up front for nothing.

• Given our position in the table, and the absurd injury list, it would be criminal not to strengthen in January. As Arshavin’s signing proved, a new face here and there can do wonders.

• Given that injury list – eight at the last count – then the news that Alex Song will be available for the next two games comes as a blessed relief.