Plenty to ponder as Arsenal self-destruct

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal

It’s not lost on me that since it all came together so spectacularly against our old friends up the road on 2nd December, cracks have started to appear. Yesterday, those cracks became giant fissures, as all of our failings of yore came back to dance a merry jig.

For all of Liverpool’s excellence (they’re not top and flying by chance), all five of their goals were avoidable from a defensive point of view, and that’s the grim truth of it. I fired off this tweet at the end of the game last night:

No club that considers itself one of those capable of challenging for the big honours should let five goals in. It ought to be a once-a-generation brain freeze, but in seven years (not including the League Cup) we’ve shipped eight goals once, six goals twice and five goals four times (that I can think of – there are probably more). Wenger’s late-era teams were weak, and for it to happen again under a new man suggests to me that a lot of those weaknesses are still there.

I also lobbed this tweet out there too. It wasn’t universally popular – it’s a bit black-and-white / binary I know, so lacks a bit of context – but it did resonate with many:

They’re not be set up / organised properly yet – that seems pretty clear – and solving that would put a different light on some of these players. Some of them would also look better when paired with better players. But even with that, I don’t think any of the above is defensively consistent enough or fit/quick enough (Kolasinac, however, is incredibly dangerous going forward) to get into the teams of any of our rivals, and that’s the essence of the problem. We either need a miracle structural cure, which has not been forthcoming yet, or we need a serious injection of quality if we want to step up.

So fix it, yeah

Easier said than done I’m aware, because we all know Kroenke’s not going to wave a £75m magic wand for a defender – and that might really only get you one exceptional defender these days, however wrong that is – even if there was one available in January.

In the context of this urgent need to improve, some of the other things going down across the club make a bit more sense. Selling Ramsey (again – rightly or wrongly) in January would raise some money, if they can make it happen. I’d wager that some of the defenders above – if there were takers and if there are replacements – should be looking over their shoulder too. Sokratis seems a good squad option and I like his attitude, but Mustafi? It might also explain the Ozil situation, though that’s possibly harder to resolve. Put bluntly, to spend money we need to have money, and that requires some ruthlessness that will be well received by some but not by others.

On the plus side

Some positives, while we’re at it. I thought Maitland-Niles, who’s something of a travelling salesman in this team, made a real impression early on from his berth on the right. Iwobi did well in the early part of the game too. Overall, to have gone 22 games unbeaten is admirable, and I’m enjoying the team edging towards being a team that presses better, stands up for each other and is developing – albeit with glitches in the matrix – more resilience.

But to have let 30 goals in tells you where we can improve the most. Emery knows only too well that his job depends on making rapid improvements, getting into the Champions League, and winning things, and he can’t afford to let transfer windows pass by in the way Wenger could, whose power came from  early success and latter-day patronage. Emery has neither of those things and there’s no time like the present.

So I think some stuff will happen in January. We’re still there or thereabouts, and we need something to help steady the ship and push us on.

Happy Newwww Year to you all

Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle

It being Monday afternoon, I could get done under the trades description act for cataloguing this one as a match report. I did of course have every intention of evacuating my excitement on the blog after the 7-3, but I was crammed next to the can on the train journey returning me to the Fens, and was more concerned with plugging the strong whiff. Then I got home and it was 9pm already, and I hadn’t eaten, and then it was Sunday and the little Lowers were all over me like a rash, and the bottom line – if you’ve haven’t seen through the excuses yet – is that I couldn’t be arsed. But I can be arsed now; now that’s it far too late to say anything more meaningful than ‘coo’ or ‘crikey’.

It was a smorgasbord of goals, but with twenty minutes to go I thought it could still have gone either way. There is something comfortingly Arsenal about that.

As for Theo Walcott, Tony Cascarino in today’s Times pointed out – and he’s probably right – that forget the £100,000 a week we bandy about as the cure-all for signing him up. He could probably get £150,000 a week at a club somewhere, on a Bosman. So if it’s all about money he’s gone. If the heart strings can yet be tugged, then maybe there’s a glimpse of hope on that front. Anyway, enough of him and his Henry-Swivel-Dink hat-trick.

I did get to look round the old Highbury a bit before the game, courtesy of a current resident. I suspect plenty of people have leapfrogged the fence to have a gander at the old memory bank, but I did it all by the book, and though I only sniffed around the marbled halls, and stood on the centre circle (looked like a Christmas tree was there), it did bring back plenty of memories. It was odd to see the apartment bang on the spot where my old plastic chair on the East Lower was, very odd indeed. And overall it’s been very well done, which I don’t need to tell you, and though it doesn’t feel like a football ground, you don’t have to dig into your grey matter too much to imagine it how it was. I did find myself feeling a bit sorry for the bust of Herbert Chapman, just about the only thing not transported to the new stadium. He still stands sentinel over the main entrance, but he cuts a frustrated figure these days – trust me, I stared at him for a bit, and I could tell – forced as he has been into the bust equivalent of retirement, no longer able to oversee the ebb and flow of footballers and staff.

It was at that point, when I started feeling sorry for a bronze bust, that I thought I was better off leaving, and so I headed off into the blustery drizzle. That the club found land for a new stadium so close to the old one – meaning Wembley did not have to be pursued, imagine the horror of that for a second – is something for which I am eternally grateful.

So that’s 2012, a year of sporting achievements in London. I’m not sure I would add Arsenal to that compendium of excellence – you don’t get knighted for coming third – but though we find ourselves practically lapped by the league leaders at the mid-way stage, there’s plenty to play for (you have to think that, don’t you, otherwise what’s the point?) and we finish the year with four straight league wins. Next stop, a January when we get linked to everyone and end up signing… no, no I won’t say it.

And that’s that. Happy New Year to you all – I plan to keep the dismal puns ticking over in ’13 (unlucky for some). And maybe the odd blog post, as I approach ten years of doing this lark – ten bloody years in May!

Have a great 2013.


Nil nil, hey hey, kiss it goodbye

Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal
“The thriller at the Villa”

I spent a little while on Saturday morning musing about whether the new sponsorship deal could have an immediate uplifting effect on the club on the pitch as well as off it. You know, give the players something to think about. Spur them onto a barnstorming run with the promise of riches untold and trophies galore. Naïve, eh? Or just a little bit handbrake off on my behalf.

Instead two very good results – one of which secured qualification for the knockouts, and ergo another substantial boost to income – were followed by yesterday’s flat goalless draw. You could say that’s just football. It was a tight game in terrible conditions with tired players against a team fighting hard to get itself out of a rut. But it did feel like a step back after two steps forward, which is pretty much the hallmark of Arsenal in recent years. This would partially account for the subsequent reaction, which is another hallmark of Arsenal in recent seasons.

The boss got it in the neck for leaving Wilshere on the bench, and withdrawing Giroud for Coquelin (essentially protecting the point and not going for the win), and the fan disquiet has had a fair few column inches today. But on Wilshere, I understand the logic – look what happened last time he was overplayed. Regarding Giroud, it seems odd given how little time there was left, but what were the options? Where the hell is Chamakh? We have nobody else and Giroud was maybe tired, certainly ineffectual. The stop-start nature of our performances though is a long-running saga and is very much Wenger’s job to fix. On that basis nobody is above criticism.

A big issue, as many have pointed out, is the paucity of options. Decent first XI when fit and firing, but one that we are over-reliant on. In risk of burn-out. Cazorla will need a rest at some point, as will Giroud, Podolski and Arteta.

Of course, if Wenger goes on a winter splurge then you just never know. When our situation got perilous a few years back he spent £17m on Andrey Arshavin, and it was a catalyst, for a while. The intention was there. This time round, he has the money – quite a lot of it, assuming everything we are told and read in the accounts is correct – but will he spend it? He must know we need to, with only one frontline striker, and a Diabyless midfield (the ghost of Diabys past howls through it). I agree that Henry is not the answer – at least not on his own.

There’s plenty going for this team, and there’s plenty to go for (four trophies – League Cup, FA Cup, European Cup and Fourth Cup). But for it to stand a chance, we patently need to show some ambition in the transfer market in January. Sixth place is a fair reflection of where we are now.

Nice to see Gibbs back, by the way.

Theo today, gone tomorrow?

So our less-than-scintillating but far-from-disastrous start to the season gets puts to one side for the last straight of the madness that is the transfer window. This morning, belatedly if you ask me, it’s all about Theo Walcott who’s apparently turned down an offer of £75k a week.

Now, I haven’t blogged much this summer, partly because I needed a break and partly because the incessant rumour gets my giddy goat, but I did write about Walcott back in July and it pretty much all still stands. £75k a week sounds about right to me for an improving player with lots still to learn but he could get more elsewhere – without a doubt – if it was all about money. Don’t forget also that if he does sign a new deal, and he has a good season, he would in all likelihood be able to renegotiate again in a year (oh to be a footballer, heh).

More worrying would be if it was not all about noses in troughs – and the same goes for the other two high-profile departures – because if it’s because of the direction of the club that they are leaving or dithering then it’s a worry (for what it’s worth I think it’s probably a combination of lots of factors – money is probably the principle one, though).

I rate him a lot despite all his foibles and I want him to stay – a feeling that is strengthened given that Song and van Persie have already set sail. Suggesting we have enough cover there already (as is suggested in this BBC article) doesn’t quite wash for me. Arshavin is peripheral and probably off, Podolski is not a winger as such, Gervinho’s end-product is iffy, Oxlade-Chamberlain is still young and as for Serge Gnabry – I would say he is gnot gnearly ready. If Walcott is and has been happy to stay then why are we flapping around dealing with this now?

The positive me maintains that this side Wenger is putting together has the capacity to be better than the last one that he is clearly dismantling (number of trophies won: zero) and that we should not judge its competitiveness until the morning of the 1st September. We are miles away from the side that got its sandcastle kicked over by toughs at Old Trafford a year ago.

But what seems increasingly possible is that what I thought might be a period of evolution feels more and more like a time of revolution. Our midfield and strikeforce are changing before our eyes. Seven of the starting eleven at Stoke have been at the club a year or less. Wenger is wielding or threatening to wield the axe, even with one arm tied behind his back by the reality of what he is confronted with.

Whether we arrive at the other end weaker or stronger, richer or poorer, well time will tell.

Hold onto your chapeaus.

Arsenal match report: Too much in the ‘wanting zone’

Arsenal 1-1 Wolves

Twenty-seven attempts on goal, eleven attempts on target, thirteen corners, one goal. Frustrating, to say the least. The goals have dried up again at home (three in three league games – conceding two in the process), giving Wenger a fresh headache to mull over as we head into the New Year.

But as the stats suggest, you can’t really fault us for effort. The thing that struck me most yesterday was that, unlike the Arsenal of old, we didn’t wait until the 75th minute to crank the all-out attack handle. We were at Wolves’ throats from about the 60th minute. The lurid Hennessey happened to swat away everything we threw at him. I lost count of the amount of times I found myself with my head in my hands, practically kneeling, as another goalbound effort pinged off to safety. That’s football I suppose.

One other thing that was very noticeable was our lack of pace and width. Our game relies on our full-backs motoring forward, and pacy outlets on the wing, but didn’t have anything like that yesterday in the starting eleven. Having Vermaelen at left-back is like driving a Ferrari on a farm track. But what can you do? All four of our full-backs have long-term injuries (stress fracture, broken leg, ankle ligament damage and bizarre unhealing groin). Walcott was out ill.

Oxlade-Chamberlain could have supplied some of that but he remained glued to the bench as Arshavin and Chamakh entered fruitlessly into the fray. Neither man was able to make much of a difference, which will not surprise seasoned watchers of the spectacularly out-of-form duo. What does the Ox have to do, one wonders? Well, this one does, anyway.

As for the Wolves goal, we have ourselves to blame. A ruthless team when 1-0 up early in the game should go for the jugular, but yesterday our level seemed to drop. Complacency? Hard to say, but possibly.

Nevertheless, Walcott or no Walcott, full-backs or none, dodgy period after our goal or not, we should have won the game yesterday. It just never quite happened. Wolves were dogged.

It’s easy to suggest we have no plan B, and watching us toil on the edge of the box is pretty frustrating, but without the right balance in our team, it’s bound to have a detrimental effect. And besides, we did genuinely pepper their goal.

Nevertheless, the squad would patently benefit from a few new faces in January. Someone who can score goals when van Persie doesn’t would be a good starting point. Park’s “adaptation period” is apparently over but can we expect miracles from a player who has not been trusted to play a single minute of Premier League football in four months?

We’ve come a long way since our early-season punch-drunkenness, the spirit is good, but a new face or two would lift everyone. Can you imagine Chelsea, Liverpool or Spurs are not thinking along the same lines?

A lot of money was splurged last January – none at Arsenal. It’s not the best time to buy, but it can make a difference. Wenger tried it in 2009 when we need a spike by signing Arshavin – to initial success. I’m not saying buying new faces is the be-all and the end-all but why leave our improvement to chance?

PS – One excellent new addition to the Wenger lexicon. “We were a bit too much in the ‘wanting zone'”.

It’s the new handbrake.

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.

Window slams shut/Arsenal slam Uefa

In the end, it was a damp squib of a transfer deadline day, hyped to the nines but delivering nothing of interest, and nothing at all for Arsenal.

The whole absurd day, which has become a newspaper-selling website-hitting phenomenon all of its own, with Sky Sports News the very worst culprit, is summed up for me by this one entry from the Guardian’s live transfer deadline day page:

5.02pm One of the most absurdly portentous bits of TV I’ve ever seen: Sky Sports News actually counted down the end of the transfer window with the bongs from Big Ben, like it was New Year’s Eve. On the last bong a voice broke in “we’re just hearing Peter Lovenkrands has signed for Newcastle!” Incredible. History in the making.

It was a day much like the summer, during which England’s bigger clubs did little or no business. In fact, the ‘Big Four’ are £75.3m in the black. Maybe Wenger’s portentous warning about the new 50% tax rate coming in has made buying new players difficult. Or maybe, finally, football is waking up to the recession.

So where does that leave us? I’m with the Goonerholic in thinking that, compared to this time last year we are stronger. We are stronger in defence – Vermaelen, Senderos, Traore and Gibbs all essentially additions to the squad. We are stronger in midfield with Rosicky back, Arshavin here and Song a man transformed. Up front, we are about the same as last year in terms of goalscoring potential – Eduardo replacing Adebayor. Add to that a year’s worth of experience, and we are better off now.

However, whether we are strong enough is hard to say. ‘Enough’ for me is a side that can challenge for all the major honours – rather than last year, when we did pretty well in the cups (coming up short in the semis) but were out of the equation in the league by November.

There is much more competition this year, but early signs are good. So yes, we could have benefited from a bit more cover in midfield, another striker and another goalkeeper – who wouldn’t? But nobody ever came, our squad is now finalised until January, so that from me is the final word. I see no point in criticising when a) based on early-season form there is nothing currently to criticise and b) all clubs have tightened their belts. Overall, I’m more positive than I am negative.


No surprises perhaps that Uefa have now banned Eduardo for two matches for diving. Arsenal’s official statement is here, as angry an official response as you will ever see.

“…We have been deeply frustrated by the perfunctory and apparently arbitrary process that Uefa has followed in this instance. We believe it is imperative that Uefa’s explanation for its decision provides clear and comprehensive standards that will be consistently enforced. It is also critical that Uefa provides specific details of the processes it plans to adopt in reviewing all games under its jurisdiction.”

It’s not difficult to see why Arsenal are angry. If a player is seen to dive by a referee he gets a yellow card. However, out of the blue Uefa have now ruled that, if the same offence is not seen then it can be reviewed later and a punishment four times as strong can be given. According to Uefa, a red card (two game ban) is now as bad as a dive (two game ban). Does that make sense? I think we know the answer to that.

And will it now be rigorously enforced for all dives not seen by the referee? Who will bring them to Uefa’s attention? What is the process? Is it just in Uefa competitions or is this new rule enforceable in the Premier League?

Also, this rule was brought in in 2006. Why no punishments until now? Why is Eduardo the first?

Lots of questions to answer.

1st June – Silly Season’s Greetings

Evening folks. I’ll keep this one brief for a simple reason: The season is over and the silly season has yet to begin in earnest. But I thought I’d poke my head round the blogging door anyway.

In fact, the transfer window opened today with a whimper – perhaps because it’s precisely now when players and managers head off to their sunbeds, leaving us to devour the titbits offered by the back pages and footballers’ agents. It’s not much to go on.

It’s also deadline day for season ticket holders to renew, a fearsome time when 40,000 people take an unpleasant seasonal financial hit. Was I ever considering not renewing it? Pah! Despite a season of decidedly mixed performances, and it being a hell of a lot of money, going to the football is as fun as it ever was and it’s a very difficult thing to quit when you’ve been doing it, as I have as a season ticket holder, for 15 years. I’ll be there again, of course.

Something of interest though: Some details on the TV and prize money have come out, revealing what we all knew already and explaining perhaps why Arsenal sank £16m into Arshavin’s purchase in January – that the Champions League remains a crucial cash cow for the big four.

The £23.4m we earned from the Champions League is the fundamental difference in TV revenue between us and fifth-placed Everton. That’s a hell of a lot of extra dough.

What is a little odd is that, while Chelsea earned a little more from the Premier League (thanks to finishing a place above us), we earned £3m less than them in the Champions League despite reaching the same stage, and playing an extra qualifying round. It being late in the evening, I’ve yet to work out how that might be. Something to do with coefficients? Seeding? I’m not sure.

It’s also instructive to see how little the Uefa Cup brings in. For a competition that, from next season, could require 19 games to win, the financial rewards are surprisingly feeble. Any surprise that Villa and the Spuds threw the towel in there?

Anyway, here’s hoping we get drawn against Lokomotiv Plovdiv or someone like that in the qualifiers.

Right, that’s it. Who will we be signing tomorrow, eh?


The answer to that last question is clearly ‘nobody’ seeing that I’m a month early. Got slightly ahead of myself there.