There is a strange pressure about being FA Cup favourites…
It’s an unpleasantly familiar sensation, much like the one we found ourselves in at this stage 2011’s Carling Cup.
Surely, the lessons of that disastrous final have been learnt. We’re more experienced, more determined and more professional. We ought to do it. There are no excuses.
I was pleased with the Bayern result and performance…
In my opinion, the tie was effectively dead after the first leg result. If I’m honest, I’d pretty much resigned it as soon as the initial draw was made. However, 1-1 at the Allianz Arena was a creditable result that allowed us to continue our campaign with the semblance of gathering momentum. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was absolutely superb: in the continued absence of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, he must be one of the first names on the team-sheet.
The penalty save felt significant…
Not only did it ensure we left without suffering a dispiriting defeat, but it also felt like the moment that Lukasz Fabianski guaranteed his place in the FA Cup semi-final side. In this form, his departure on a Bosman in the summer feels like a significant loss.
Spurs are on the ropes…
Their fans are as unsettled as they’ve been for some time. Speaking to Spurs supporters, it seems there’s a sense that the club lack direction and purpose. They feel little to no affinity with the players, and are worried they’re trapped in a purgatorial prison. A “negative spiral”, you might say.
However, derby day is a real equaliser. We know only two well how quickly the trajectories of the two north London clubs can be reversed. Arsenal will need to ensure their focus is absolutely right if they’re to come away with three points.
We need those points pretty badly. Although the increased probability of FA Cup success has made that the focus, we still have a good chance of winning the Premier League. It would take an extraordinary run, but then title wins usually do.
I’ve been away…
…in Amsterdam. Working. No, not like that. I did manage to catch all our games while I was there, but given the demands of the job I was doing the Liverpool, Bayern and Sunderland matches had to remain blogless. I’d apologise, but I know that in this day and age you’re spoilt for choice. I’m sure you all got your fix elsewhere.
The Yaya Sanogo thing…
…caught me somewhat off-guard. I was mildly surprised to see him start against Liverpool, and truly shocked that he played against Bayern. It’s clear his opportunity has come about primarily due to non-footballing issues. Giroud’s off-field misdemeanours are well-documented, while Nicklas Bendtner is finally beginning to be frozen out.
Having been thrown in at the deep-end, Sanogo did enough to stay afloat. However, to continue the swimming analogy, I’m not yet convinced he’s the next Ian Thorpe. Nor Eric The Eel. Basically, he’s quite good at swimming. And football.
The criticism of Mesut Ozil…
…was way over the top. Anyone can miss a penalty.
That said, some people are more likely to miss than others. I have to say, I would never choose Ozil as a penalty taker. He simply doesn’t have the requisite ruthlessness in front of goal. He’s now missed two out of two for Arsenal. I’d be surprised if we see him take another.
Nevertheless, you can read about my hopes for his return over at ESPN.
Arsenal were excellent against Sunderland…
…and Tomas Rosicky rightly took plenty of the plaudits. Some argue we look better with just one of Ozil or Santi Cazorla in the team. I’d suggest the truth is that we simply look better because Rosicky is invariably the replacement for either player. We’re better with the Little Mozart in the team. It’s just a shame he’s not ten years younger.
Stoke away doesn’t hold as much fear as it used to…
Given the fixture list we face, this is actually one of our easier games. Three points is a must.
As you’ll know, last weekend Dennis Bergkamp’s statue was unveiled outside the Emirates Stadium. Obviously I can’t start giving away full-size bronze replicas of the non-flying Dutchman. However, thanks to the guys at Canvasartrocks.com, we have got one of these excellent Canvas Prints to give away.
Winning one is pretty simple. All you need to do is Tweet the answer to the following question, including the hashtag #DB10canvas.
Q. Against which club did Dennis Bergkamp score his last Arsenal goal?
The winner will be chosen at random and announced in the weekend’s post-Stoke blog. If you don’t fancy your chances in the competition, you can buy this and many other Arsenal-themed canvases here – use the discount code ‘GUNNERBLOG’ to get yourself 10% off any purchase.
Tonight was a mixed night for most Arsenal fans. We lost 2-0 to Napoli, but managed to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League. However, looking at some of the mewling and moaning going on among Arsenal fans, you’d think we’d been doomed to imprisonment in the EUROPA League. I’m shocked to see so many fans treating this evening’s result as a disaster.
Perhaps it’s just a vocal minority. But it does perturb me.
In my eyes, qualification from such a treacherous group is a pretty significant achievement. Four wins from six games against teams of this quality is not a record to be sniffed at.
I think most sane Arsenal fans appreciate that. I hope so. Getting out of the group was the priority, and winning it merely a bonus. The most important thing is that we have evaded a draining and depressing assault on that Thursday night monstrosity. Instead, Rafael Benitez has been left to continue his bizarre love affair with that particular competition.
The performance wasn’t great, but Arsenal entered the game in something of an awkward position. We knew a draw would be enough to see us through. That’s never particularly conducive to a stirring showing — witness Bayern Munich’s listless display against us back in March.
It’s a blow to miss out on top spot, but it’s not the end of the world. Surely one of the very reasons we bother to qualify for the Champions League is to enjoy hosting the continent’s finest? I can’t wait to welcome one of Barca, Real, Atletico, Bayern or PSG to the Emirates. If you want to watch Maribor, turn on Channel 5ive.
If you want to win the trophy, you have to beat the top teams somewhere along the line. Better to face up to it early. If we go through, fantastic. If we go out, we have all the more time to focus on our domestic affairs.
Speaking of which, there’s a very big game with Manchester City coming up on Saturday. Should we lose that, it looks as if some people will go in to some kind of meltdown.
That’d be unwise too. There’s a long, long way to go in the title-race. Saturday will be an indicator, but not a decider.
This was a 2-0 thrashing…
Arsenal had eight attempts on target and should have scored at least two more goals. Mesut Ozil was denied from the penalty spot, while Aaron Ramsey will have been shocked not to have scored from close range. Marseille rested several key players and simply couldn’t keep pace with a dominant Arsenal midfield.
Arsenal showed off their strength-in-depth…
Arsene was able to make three changes to his starting XI without compromising its potency. Monreal, Flamini and Rosicky came in and were every bit as solid as you’d expect. There can’t be many better reserve full-backs in Europe than Monreal, while Rosicky must be the only 33-year old who actually increases the tempo of whatever team he’s picked for. When Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla were introduced from the bench, the mounting options at Wenger’s disposal became starkly apparent.
I like Wilshere on the right…
I saw him make his debut there as a 16-year old. Back then, Wenger pushed him out wide to protect him from the hurly-burly of the middle of the park.
The unfortunate truth is that, given his injury problems, he still benefits from that protection. His future might be as a deep-lying midfielder but at presents he’s best when liberated from the congestion and conflict of the centre.
His goalscoring record at youth level was sensational and typically that returns to a player’s game once they hit their early twenties. Fabregas was exactly the same, and Ramsey is showing signs of emulating that progression. If Wilshere can do so too, Arsenal will have a midfield to reckon with for years to come.
The missed penalty might be the kick up the back-side Ozil needs…
As he stepped up to take the penalty, every fan around me watched on in grim anticipation of what was to come. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a German look less likely to score from the spot.
By his own excellent standards, Ozil came in to the game in the midst of something of a slump. Hopefully that penalty miss was his nadir, and this can be a turning point.
After the spot-kick was saved he immediately looked more energised, buzzing around the penalty area with the bristling resolution of a player determined to make amends.
His assist for Wilshere’s second goal was the sort of telling pass we became accustomed to seeing during Ozil’s first few games for the club. I expect the embarrassment of the penalty miss will spark an upturn in form for the mercurial playmaker.
Arsenal look set to survive the supposed “Group of Death”…
Anything other than a heavy defeat in Naples will see us progress. Given the strength of the group, it’s a remarkable achievement – I’d argue it’s every bit as impressive as our domestic form.
Giroud vs. Lewandowski…
…was an intriguing comparison. In the first half particularly, Lewandowski was imperious. His hold-up play is immaculate.
Giroud’s performance was a little more uncouth, but just as effective. Robbed of the service Lewandowski received, Giroud made his own luck, working the channels tirelessly.
Arsenal have been linked with Lewandowski, but for my money he’s too similar to Giroud to be ideal. Arsenal would be better served signing someone who provides an alternative rather than a replica. Plus, Lewandowski is obviously off to Bayern.
A red card for the Pole would have been harsh…
The elbow Lewandowski swung at Koscielny was certainly reckless. However, according to the laws of the game, a yellow card is the appropriate response for “reckless” behaviour. It is violence or the use of excessive force that warrants a straight red.
Lewandoski’s elbow looked to be dangerous but not deliberate. A yellow seemed about right.
Jack Wilshere struggled again… Anyone hoping that his switch to the right and fabulous goal against Norwich might provoke an immediate upturn in his form will have been sorely disappointed. According to the official UEFA stat-pack handed at the end of the game, Wilshere completed just 15 of 30 attempted passes – a shockingly poor 50%.
By comparison, his replacement Santi Cazorla managed to complete 90% of his passes in his 30 minutes on the field.
There are two ways of interpreting those figures. The first and most lenient reading is that Wilshere was on the field during Arsenal’s poorest spell, hence the skewed numbers. He wasn’t the only player guilty of poor passing in the first half, and Cazorla may have benefited from facing a tiring Dortmund.
The alternative inference is that Wilshere directly contributed to Arsenal’s first half struggles, and that the introduction of Cazorla was actually the catalyst for Arsenal’s improvement.
Arsenal couldn’t get Mesut Ozil in to the game… …until the last 20 minutes. After an anonymous first-half, he spent the second half drifting from flank to flank looking for space. Eventually he found some joy on the right-hand side, and almost created a spectacular goal for Santi Cazorla, who was denied by the crossbar.
Arsenal were guilty of chasing the win…
After last season’s home defeat to Swansea, Wenger told the assembled press conference: “If you can’t win the game, don’t lose it”. He will have been disappointed to be forced to repeat the mantra in the wake of this defeat. Arsenal sensed their growing superiority against a tiring Dortmund and went for the jugular. Unfortunately, the Germans countered with a classic sucker punch.
Qualification will be difficult now…
Arsenal are in the unenviable position of requiring a favour from Marseille to avoid having to win at either Dortmund of Napoli. Given the French side have thus far failed to pick up a point, that seems unlikely.
Unfortunately, Marseille are so far adrift at the bottom of the group that if Arsenal fail to qualify they will more than likely drop in to the energy-sapping Europa League.
That, for me, is the worst case scenario.
But there’s no need for too much negativity…
In Dortmund, Arsenal lost to a side that is better than any they will come up against in the Premier League. What’s more, we were unlucky to lose.
This is a bump in the road rather than the end of it.
Kieran Gibbs was a decisive figure at both ends of the field…
Shortly after clearing a miscued Per Mertesacker clearance off the line, Gibbs bounded up the other end of the field to supply the telling cross for Theo Walcott to fire home.
Those few minutes encapsulate a finely-balanced match. Mertesacker’s mistake could so easily have seen Marseille grab the opener, and as Arsene Wenger shrewdly observed in his post-match conference, the first goal is so often crucial in these ties. As it was, Gibbs bailed us out, and it a similarly misjudged header from Marseille full-back Jeremy Morel tipped the balance of power our way.
Gibbs has had a terrific start to the 2013/14 campaign, firmly establishing himself as first-choice left-back ahead of Nacho Monreal. It’s a shame for Gibbs that international recognition remains unlikely – Roy Hodgson seems understandably taken with Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines. However, as an Arsenal fan first and foremost I’m delighted that Gibbs’ brittle body is not being exposed to the rigours of the international schedule.
…has taken an undue amount of stick this season for both Arsenal and England. Although this was his first goal of the season, he has consistently been one of our most dangerous players. And it’s not as if Walcott has been missing open goals. Had Wojciech Szczesny pulled off the saves Kieran Westwood did to deny Walcott at Sunderland we’d be hailing the shot-stopping of our Polish ‘keeper rather than laying in to the opposition forward.
That said, Szczesny is doing pretty well himself…
After an inauspicious start, Wojciech Szczesny has had a very solid start to the season. Were it not for some sloppily conceded penalties, the big Pole would have a couple more clean sheets to his name too. Perhaps the presence of two experienced back-ups in Fabianski and Viviano is helping focus his occasionally wandering mind.
Jack Wilshere outshone Ozil on the night…
It was good to see the young Englishman take the game to Marseille, cutting in from his left-wing position to drive at central defenders and try to make things happen. I know Wilshere himself prefers to play deeper, picking up the ball from the defenders and scooting through the midfield, but I like seeing his acceleration and artistry applied in the final third.
It’s not really a 4-3-3…
Arsenal conventionally line-up in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Right now, things are a little different. With Wilshere drifting infield from his wide starting position, and Theo Walcott playing almost as advanced as Olivier Giroud, Arsenal have adopted a South American style “magic square” in midfield.
It’s something we saw a bit of last season, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey or Santi Cazorla stationed on one flank, with an advanced forward like Walcott or Lukas Podolski on the other.
You can read more about our new tactical system in my latest column for Bleacher Report, here.
Fatigue is the greatest threat against Stoke…
We don’t currently have a squad capable of withstanding rotation, so Arsene will almost certainly have to call upon the same set of players for Sunday’s game at Stoke.
If the players can muster some energy, we should have more than enough to dispatch Mark Hughes’ side. The supposed evolution of Stoke’s game from Stone Age to Bronze Age should play straight in to our hands.
It will be Mesut Ozil’s home debut, and the Emirates should be rocking. I can’t wait.
On the pitch, it’s been a good week…
Three wins in seven days is more than I expected after that disastrous opening day defeat. The performances in Turkey and at Fulham were both wonderfully cohesive displays of counter-attacking. This match had less dynamism. The tie was essentially dead, and despite a spirited first-half performance from Fenerbahce Arsenal were never less than in control.
The club has now qualified for the Champions League for the 16th successive year. It’s both a laudable achievement and the minimum requirement. I’m pleased but not yet satisfied.
Aaron Ramsey has been outstanding…
It’s amazing what a difference confidence can make. The way he took his second goal was the mark of a player who has absolute faith in his ability at the moment. Having gone through a process of simplifying his game and bringing it back to basics, Ramsey is now supplementing his hard work with the flair he patently possesses. His progress is exciting.
Injuries highlight the weakness of our squad…
With Arsenal holding a 3-0 lead, this match was essentially a dead rubber. It would have taken an extraordinary collapse – even by our standards – for Fenerbahce to progress at our expense. Despite this, barely anyone was rested from our first choice XI. Kieran Gibbs was on bench, but was called for as soon as Lukas Podolski’s picked up a hamstring injury early in the second half.
The youthful trio of Emmanuel Frimpong, Ryo Miyaichi and Yaya Sanogo were all on the bench last night. The latter pair were afforded the opportunity to play, and both looked about as raw as you’d expect. Players of that level of inexperience should simply not be called upon in a Champions League qualifier.
If you discount that fledgling trio, and the forgotten pair of Nicklas Bendtner and Park Chu-Young, Arsenal currently have just 12 fit senior outfield players. If you don’t believe me you can count yourself.
It is simply not enough. Arsene can talk all he likes about his faith in the “quality” of his squad, but it’s the quantity that looks set to give us most problems.
The Juan Mata story looks like a non-starter…
The fact that Juan Mata’s father was at the Emirates last night, just 24 hours after Jose Mourinho left the Spanish playmaker out of his starting XI at Old Trafford, has led to stories circulating that Arsenal might be considering a bid for a player they tracked prior to his move to Stamford Bridge.
First things first: Mata’s dad is a professional agent and represents many players other than his son. His presence at the game does not necessarily mean anything. I’m not familiar with his client list but he may simply look after one of the Fenerbahce boys.
Secondly, I can’t see Mourinho allowing Mata to join another English club. His ego wouldn’t run the risk of a decision backfiring so painfully and publicly.
The only hope for Arsenal is that, having been left out of such an important match, Mata might panic about the amount of game-time he will get this season. It is a World Cup year, and that makes players more jittery than usual. That short-termism is something Arsenal can use to their advantage in what remains of the window: players who would ordinarily be out of our reach might be prepared to come to the Emirates if they are guaranteed playing time.
The Real Madrid trio would all be incredible signings…
Arsenal are being linked with moves for Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria. All three would add a huge amount to the Arsenal squad, but only the latter seems remotely probable. Madrid seem unlikely to sell Benzema and Higuain in the same window, while Ozil is likely to also be a target for Manchester United. That is not a tug of war I’d fancy us to win.
Intriguingly, the BBC are speculating that the delay in Gareth Bale’s move to Madrid might be part of a deliberate ploy to frustrate us. Madrid are unlikely to sanction the sale of any attacking player until their move for Bale is confirmed.
After watching Arsene Wenger’s post-match interview…
…I have never felt less confident about the prospect of us making big signings this summer. I expect we’ll tie up a deal for Mathieu Flamini on a free transfer, and possibly add Yohan Cabaye to the mix, but the marquee attacking player we all crave looks set to elude us.
I’d love to be wrong. We’ll know in less than a week.
You might spot a few teething problems with the site…
We’ve moved over to new hosting and that brings with it a few problems. You’ll notice that the comments are now full of spam – although some would argue they were beforehand too. I’m working on a solution and it should all be up and running properly soon. The good news is that the site should be slightly less likely to fall over every time I write a new blog post.
Cazorla makes more sense than Sahin | August 1st 2012
The need for Cazorla is clear. Despite selling both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer, Arsene’s didn’t buy a direct replacement in the form of an attacking midfielder, choosing instead to rely on Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky across the course of the season, with mixed results. Cazorla would fill that gap and add an extra dimension to the side – and, at a reported £16m, be an absolute bargain.
At first glance, the signing of Sahin would be a little odd. He plays a deeper role than Cazorla, without being a destroyer. It’s an area in which Arsenal are seemingly well-stocked.
For your consideration: Thoughts on Cazorla, RVP & Song | August 11th 2012
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Dutchman intends to leave Arsenal this summer. The recent comments of Alex Ferguson convince me that he has probably arrived at some sort of provisional agreement with Manchester United too – they wouldn’t risk the embarrassment of going public with the bid if they thought there was a chance RVP would reject them.
I made my peace with Van Persie’s probable exit a while ago, but I am a little worried about the reports of Barcelona’s interest in Alex Song. Whilst I admit he has flaws, I’m a big fan of the Cameroon midfielder, and unlike with Van Persie I cannot see an obvious replacement within the squad.
RVP to United is painful but unsurprising | August 17th 2012
What makes this divorce particularly painful is the third party: Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Over the years, Fergie has tried to snare several Arsenal players – most infamously, Patrick Vieira. In the past, such moves seemed improbable. United and Arsenal were simply too close in their rivalry and their status.
Now, for the first time, one of our assets has been prised away to Old Trafford, and it stings. Arsenal fans will claim Van Persie left for the money. They’ll chuckle at the fact he’s ended up at a team that probably wasn’t his first choice. But the uncomfortable truth remains that he’s joined a club where he stands a better chance of winning the trophies that have eluded him for so long.
Cazorla could be the signing of the season. I’m not particularly prone to hyperbole, but this guy has everything. Apart from height. And the ability to fly. I mentioned in a previous blog, but his two-footedness is quite extraordinary. Whether passing or shooting, it is genuinely difficult to tell which foot is stronger (for those who want to know, it’s his right).
We only had one Song | August 20th 2012
Song’s departure also puts a slightly different spin on our summer. A few weeks ago we had brought in Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla, and still had Van Persie. Now we’ve lost the Dutchman and, to most people’s surprise, Song. Earlier in the summer, that trio of signings looked like a considered statement of intent: we were finally loosening the purse strings to improve the squad. By selling Song and Van Persie, we’ve actually covered those costs entirely. Once again, Arsenal head towards the end of the summer in profit. It’s almost as if we planned it like this.
Transfer round-up: Three steps forward, two steps back | September 1st 2012
It’s a case of three steps forward, two steps back. This summer initially looked like one of bold investment. Now we find ourselves back in profit, and with a squad that’s arguably no better than last season’s. I still think we have more than enough quality to finish in the top four, but what’s frustrating is that with one or two additions we had the potential to do so much more than that.
Liverpool 0 – 2 Arsenal: The signs are good | September 3rd 2012
Alongside Diaby, Mikel Arteta was immaculate in the holding role. In fact, our central midfield display was so good that the discourse about our failure to replace Alex Song almost evaporated over the course of the ninety minutes. Had we lost this match, with one-time transfer target Nuri Sahin impressing for Liverpool, the fanbase would be up in arms. As it is, Arteta and Diaby bossed it, Sahin was anonymous, Arsenal victorious, and Song forgotten.
Southampton Preview: Today is about more than Olivier Giroud | September 15th 2012
Olivier Giroud has started just two games for Arsenal. He has had just two noteworthy chances. And yet already there is talk of him being ‘under pressure’. Football has truly never been quite so hysterical and reactionary.
City Preview, Wilshere’s return, & Theo thoughts | 22nd September 2012
If a new deal hasn’t been finalised by then, surely Walcott will be encouraged to leave early for a knock-down fee of £5m or so. In the meantime, his situation has seen him fall behind the developing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and a rejuvenated Gervinho in the pecking order. Until some resolution is found regarding his long-term future, I do not expect that to change.
City 1 – 1 Arsenal: A moral victory, and a victory for morale | 24th September 2012 Mertesacker’s performance was inch-Perfect The big German has been unfairly judged throughout his time in England. He looks ungainly, but his intelligence, cool head, and reading of the game are invaluable. Yesterday was probably his best performance in an Arsenal shirt, but it has been coming – his recent form has been superb. Steve Bould and Arsene Wenger were both centre-backs who didn’t rely on pace in their time, and I wonder if that’s part of why they’ve embraced the BFG so wholeheartedly.
I’m surprised anyone was surprised by Gervinho’s performance Granted he had scored three goals in two games, but that didn’t suddenly make him Thierry Henry. Two of those goals were tap-ins, whilst the other was his first against Southampton – when, frankly, he just decided to put his foot through it. On that day, it flashed in to the net. Yesterday, similarly thoughtless efforts were skewed high and wide. I’m afraid he will always be erratic in front of goal.
Theo should learn from Mikel Arteta | 25th September 2012
When you add it all up, this “big factor” of wanting to play through the middle doesn’t really seem to make any sense, does it? And that’s when it becomes exposed for what it is: a cover story. Another PR spin from ‘camp Walcott’ so that when he refuses to sign a new deal they can protest that it wasn’t about the money. Perhaps I’m wrong and he will stay, but this looks to me a lot like he’s getting his excuses in early.
Arsenal 6 – 1 Coventry: Player-by-player review | 27th September 2012
I’m a fan of Andre Santos. He’s clearly a great personality to have around the club, and going forward he is capable of great things. Tonight, however, he looked plain lazy. He wandered around the pitch, sauntering back and generally looking disinterested. On this evidence Kieran Gibbs is not going to come under serious pressure for the left-back spot anytime soon.
Chelsea Thoughts: Familiar failings & Feeble Fire-power | 30th September 2012
Giroud had to score. The defence “it was a tight angle” is not valid when the angle is only tight because of the strikers touch around the goalie. He had a perfectly good opportunity to strike before that, dallied, and paid the price. I make that three clear one-on-ones and a penalty he’s missed since joining the club. I’m not writing him off, but I am a little concerned. On which note, I won’t pretend to understand why Arsene saw fit to bring off our best finisher, Lukas Podolski, with twenty minutes to play.
Norwich 1 – 0 Arsenal: No fluency, No Excuses, No Points | 21st October 2012
The performance was anomalous in its awfulness. Even in the dreary 0-0 with Sunderland, we created a couple of chances that one could describe as decent. Arsene’s relatively relaxed demeanour throughout suggested a man who had decided relatively early on that this was just ‘one of those days’. I hope, for all our sakes, that he’s right.
Arsenal 0 – 2 Schalke: More of the same | 25th October 2012
Arsenal desperately need to sign a striker. I’m not sure this requires much expansion. In a world in which Demba Ba is available for just £7m, there is no excuse for Arsene not bringing in a reliable front man in January.
AGM: Angst, Grumbles & Moaning | 25th October 2012
If the AGM had been a month or so ago, it might have been a very self-satisfied affair. The new signings looked inspired, we were defensively solid, and being talked about as genuine contenders. That AGM would have been misleading: it would have overlooked some of the crucial issues that it was essential to raise yesterday. But by the same token, a couple of bad results shouldn’t cast an ugly light across the entire club. Arsenal don’t need saving: they just need to get a bit better. Starting tomorrow.
Arsenal 1 – 0 QPR: Accentuating the positives | 29th October 2012
Jack Wilshere was every bit as good as I expected him to be. I’d love to sit here and say, “I’d forgotten how good he was”, or “I did’t expect him to be quite so good quite so quickly”. I’d be lying. I did.
Man Utd 2 – 1 Arsenal: Why Fergie is like Captain Hook | November 5th 2012
I’m not worried about shirt-swapping or referee decisions or anything else: I’m worried about this team. The decline in recent weeks has been alarming. Leaving aside that anomalous League Cup game, the first team have lost three of the last four. On Tuesday night we face an intimidating trip to Schalke, and we’re only a couple of weeks away from a massive North London Derby.
We need to stop the rot. At the moment we have slim trophy hopes and bleating fans. We’re dangerously close to turning in to Liverpool.
Arsenal 3 – 3 Fulham: Giroud’s excellence clouded by defensive incompetence | November 10th 2012
The “Steve Bould has fixed everything” narrative was a myth created by people who wanted to use it as stick to beat Arsene Wenger with. And as for the ‘zonal marking’ on the corner from which Berbatov scored, I have to confess I simply can’t see the logic in leaving opposition players to make untracked, unmarked runs and attack the ball.
Also, I am conscious this may be heresy, but I’m not sure about the validity of keeping Santi Cazorla in the central three. He drops in to wide areas to look for space, which means that the two left behind occasionally look a little isolated.
So there we have it: 5-2 again. Same result; different sensation. Because of the sending off, I feel like this game won’t have the same seismic impact on either of these teams’ seasons as the previous 5-2. Last time, Spurs’ collapse came from a greater position of dominance, and was more complete in its cataclysmic hilarity. This time, they have mitigating circumstances. They can blame Adebayor’s stupidity rather than their own inadequacy. I expect their wheels to wobble, rather than come off entirely.
Arsenal 2 – 0 Montpellier: Quiet, then Quality, then Qualified | November 22nd 2012
Whatever you think of Arsene, you can’t knock his record in the early stages of European competition. Arsenal have now qualified for the knockout phase for the 13th time in his reign – I believe it’s now twelve years on the trot. With Chelsea and City both set to go out, it shows you just what a feat that is.
Arsenal 0 – 2 Swansea: Arsene’s Swan-song | December 1st 2012
Arsenal fans are often berated by the media for their supposed impatience. The truth is that at any club other than Arsenal, the pressure on Arsene Wenger would be approaching unbearable.
From 15 league games – almost half a season – we have won only five. We’ve lost four; as many as 17th place Sunderland. We’re 15 points behind the league leaders Manchester United. Distressingly, we’re now as close to United as we are to rock-bottom QPR. We’re just one league place ahead of Liverpool; a club whose mid-table mediocrity we are in serious danger of emulating.
Q&A with Philippe Auclair: “I hope Thierry doesn’t return this year” | December 6th 2012
Philippe: “The final chapter was written, and beautifully, last year. There’s no way that a Thierry in his 36th year can do better than what he did eleven months ago, especially when the club has more attacking options than was the case in 2011-12. He would in no case represent a ‘solution’; whereas last year, given the van Persie-dependance, he could make a difference at times.”
Arsenal 2 – 0 WBA: Divers are already retrospectively punished | December 9th 2012 Arsenal are now just two points off fourth spot…
…whilst Chelsea’s mini blip means we’re only five points off third. We’re in the fortunate position of being in direct competition with teams which are as flawed as our own. If we can get it together, Champions League qualification is still very much within our grasp.
I’d love to be proved wrong about that, just as I’d love to be proved wrong about my growing suspicion that the decline of Arsene’s Arsenal is terminal. I’ve waited for so long to see him lift a trophy again, and now I don’t believe I ever will. I want so badly for this club to top up my drink, and make it seem half-full again rather than half-empty. I want something to change, and I’m scared it won’t. Stagnation, it’s worth remembering, leads to rot.
Why I’m not convinced Olivier Giroud is the right striker for Arsenal | December 18th 2012
I’m not saying he’s a bad player. I think he’s a very good one. I’m just not sure he’s the right one. For years, people talked about Arsenal needing a target man as a Plan B. Finally, they have one. Giroud looks twice the player of Chamakh at the moment, and will doubtless become an important part of the squad. There are times when we will need him. But his style is opposed to that of the team. He doesn’t fit Plan A.
Arsenal 7 – 3 Newcastle: Why I’m struggling to enjoy Theo’s excellence | December 30th
Whilst I should have been lost in ecstasy over Walcott’s outstanding display, I was instead consumed with the thought that Theo Walcott might finally be about to explode in to the player he’s long threatened to be, just six months before he walks out of the club on a Bosman free.
As for Demba Ba, if we don’t try to sign him for £7m then it is tantamount to mismanagement. I made a point of watching him carefully from behind the goal, and his power, movement and finishing is outstanding. Walcott and Giroud’s goals were heartening, but we’re still in need of more attacking options, and with Premier League experience and an affordable price tag, Ba fits the bill.
Southampton 1 – 1 Arsenal: Call for the Cavalry | January 1st 2013
The fact that we have Arteta shouldn’t prevent us chasing a defensive midfielder. The fact that we have Cazorla shouldn’t rule out the pursuit of a schemer. And the fact that Theo Walcott has had a handful of decent games through the middle certainly shouldn’t prohibit the signing of a striker. Quality and competition provides flexibility. This was an inflexible Arsenal performance. Signings are the antidote.
Transfer update: Don’t hurry back, Chamakh | January 5th 2013
Chamakh’s departure, as well as Gervinho’s time at the African Cup of Nations, leaves us very light upfront. I considered a striker a priority before the window – now it’s nothing less than a necessity. Worryingly, our options seem to be decreasing all the time: Demba Ba has joined Chelsea, Huntelaar has re-signed at Schalke, and Fernando Llorente is in talks about a Bosman move to Juve. I’ve read the stories about David Villa, but I can’t see that one happening. The obvious signings have all disappeared from the table. That said, Arsene has never really been one for the obvious. Let’s hope he’s got a trick up his sleeve.
Transfer update: Arsene’s inertia could cost Arsenal dear | January 11th 2013
I am merely struggling to understand how an unconvincing draw with Swansea has done so much to erase Arsene’s belief that this team needs reinforcement. Our rivals will doubtless continue to improve around us, so we ought to push on and do the same. If we don’t, there is a very real risk that we will fail to achieve our basic goal for the season: Champions League qualification.If our squad is “complete”, then why are Arsenal sixth?
Arsenal 0 – 2 Man City: Do your job, Arsene | January 13th 2013
All the talk before this game was of the exorbitant prices fans were asked to pay to watch the match. It felt particularly expensive for Arsenal fans when Laurent Koscielny’s red card effectively ended the contest after 10 minutes.
If Arsenal and Arsene continue to neglect their responsibility to improve the squad, Jack will go the way of Cesc. And Van Persie, Nasri, Clichy and Song. Jack’s enthusiasm and love for the club was entirely evident against City, but no player is immune from disillusionment. Years of stagnation and decline will wear that affinity thin. We’ve seen it before. Let’s not let history repeat itself.
This isn’t the Wilshere we remember. This one’s better.
This Jack Wilshere is armoured with months of gym work and a fierce desire to make up for lost time. He is physically and mentally stronger for the ordeal he has suffered, and it shows.
Chelsea Preview: Dawn of the Theo-cracy | January 19th 2013
The truth is that Walcott is the lucky beneficiary of a perfect storm of circumstance. Arsenal could not afford the PR disaster of losing another one of their perceived stars. The club is also under more pressure than ever to show ambition in their expenditure. Every time Walcott produced on the pitch, the likelihood of Arsenal caving to his demands increased significantly.
Chelsea 2 – 1 Arsenal: Another early implosion scuppers Gunners | January 20th 2013
I don’t subscribe to the belief that failing to make the top four could ever be a ‘good thing’. We need to be there, and I still believe we can. However, a couple of additions could make all the difference. The one upside to our poor run is that it comes at a time when it’s possible to do something about it.
I know it’s cold outside, Arsene, but it’s time to open the window.
Brighton 2 – 3 Arsenal: That’s more like it, Olivier | January 26th 2013
Let’s not kid ourselves: however well Giroud played, he’s no Van Persie. However, in the last few days he’s made a convincing case for a prolonged run of games at centre-forward. I still feel we would benefit from a signing in this area, but if someone does arrive they’ll have to oust a Frenchman in form.
Deadline Day Thoughts: He’s Nacho left-back anymore, Malaga | February 1st 2013
Arsene’s relationship with the market seems to have been irrevocably soured by the sages over the likes of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie. Meantime many of his own signings have floundered. In the last few years, transfers have been more hurtful than helpful.
He’s wrong to be dismissive of transfers. People rightly laugh at cheque-book managers, but good recruitment is a skill. There are deficiencies in Arsenal’s squad and a club with our resources ought to be able to correct them. Monreal is a great start.
Sunderland 0 – 1 Arsenal: He’s Bac | February 11th 2013
The idea that Jenkinson is ready to displace Sagna is nonsense. I for one hope that we keep the Frenchman by giving him the long-term deal he craves. If he leaves this summer, as appears increasingly likely, we’ll need to bring in someone with the requisite experience to fill that spot.
On Andre Santos: I can’t help but feel that the infamous shirt swap incident with Robin van Persie was a huge catalyst towards his departure. On that day, he lost the fans, and it’s almost impossible to come back from that – just ask Emmanuel Eboue or Nicklas Bendtner. Every mistake is highlighted; every indiscretion scrutinised. I’m not sure that Santos has been more error-prone than many of our other defenders, but the tide turned against him on that November day.
Arsenal 0 – 1 Blackburn: The middle of the end | February 17th 2013
It’s moot, anyway. Arsene Wenger is no closer to leaving Arsenal today than he was on Friday. Negative results do not edge him closer to the door; only time and the running down of his contract do that. His current deal runs till 2014, and I find it impossible to foresee him leaving before that date. He may even be handed a renewal.
The extrication of Arsene Wenger from Arsenal will be a long and painful process, for both sides. I’d argue it’s a process that is already underway. It began when Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri abandoned Arsene’s project, and will end the day whatever contract he is bound to is allowed to expire.
Ivan Gazidis will not push him. Arsene will not jump. In the meantime, here we are: stuck in the middle of the end.
Arsenal 1 – 3 Bayern: Mullered | February 20th 2013
I didn’t join the chorus of boos at full-time: Arsenal lost fair and square to a better side. I hoped for more, but it would have been madness to expect it. However, the result has compounded the pain of the FA Cup defeat. Within the space of a few days, the focus of our season has narrowed dramatically: it’s suddenly looking like fourth or bust.
Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal: The defending is indefensible | March 3rd 2013
Arsenal’s defensive line looked like it’d been drawn on a spirograph. Playing a high line against the likes of Bale and Lennon is always a risk, but doing so when your defence is bereft of any kind of organisation borders on masochism.
It’s not quite over. Their fixture list gets a lot trickier over the next six weeks, and we also have the possible boon of a Chelsea implosion to look forward to. Arsenal can still make the top four, but if we do it’ll be in spite of our own self-destructive tendencies.
Bayern 0 – 2 Arsenal: A template for the rest of the season | March 14th 2013
Contained within this performance was the DNA of an Arsenal team capable of hauling its way back in to the Champions League. Arsene Wenger must play John Hammond, extract it and bring it back to life before our very eyes, starting this weekend at Swansea.
Arsenal 0 – 0 Everton: Giroud misfires in stalemate | April 16th 2013
Giroud is popular among the fans, but that oughtn’t disguise our need for someone superior. His defenders will point to the 17 goals he has scored, and with some justification, but I’m reminded of Emmanuel Adebayor in 2007/08. The Togolese totem-pole racked up 30 goals, but was rebuffed in most quarters with cries of, “Well how many should he have scored given the chances he’s missed?”.
Arsenal 1 – 1 Man United: Disappointed Love | April 29th 2013
After the game, Arsene Wenger described Arsenal fans’ hostility towards Robin van Persie as “disappointed love”. It strikes me that this explains much of the animosity and in-fighting among our own supporters. We all desperately want the same things, and the strength of that desire spills over in to frustration and anger.
QPR 0 – 1 Arsenal: No point playing the blame game | May 6th 2013
I enjoy the race for fourth, because it provides the illusion of genuine competition. As a supporter, you crave contesting something until the last second of the season. The thrills and spills of that kind of topsy-turvy battle are what make being a fan such an enthralling experience. However, it’s not a real trophy. It’s a surrogate.
Arsenal 4 – 1 Wigan: Our Great Escape is still on | May 15th 2013
There was no ‘Great Escape’ for Wigan, but there may yet be one for Arsenal.Arsenal now know that a win at Newcastle on Sunday will confirm our top four spot. Considering where we were languishing after losing to Spurs a couple of months back, it’s a hell of a turnaround.
I think we’re all agreed that qualifying for the Champions League will never replace the ecstasy of winning a trophy. However, it would enable us to put a conciliatory gloss on what’s otherwise been a painful season.
What’s more, it would allow us to laugh at Tottenham. Again.
Newcastle 0 – 1 Arsenal: Time to shoot for the moon | May 20th 2013
The feat of making the top four for 16 consecutive years is impressive, but hearing Arsene trot that record out with increasing frequency makes me uncomfortable. On the weekend of Alex Ferguson’s retirement, it was telling that among the 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions Leagues, his 22 consecutive top four finishes passed without mention.
If fourth place is any kind of prize, it’s a runners-up medal. For a club of our size, it’s oughtn’t be an aspiration but a conciliatory accessory to failure.
It’s simple, really. Don’t aim for fourth; aim for first, hit fourth if you fail.
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the Champions League’s assembled stars.
So that was that. Looking back over it, the joy of the final day really pales in comparison to some of the earlier angst.
Still, it’s far better that way round – makes the summer far more bearable.
Well how wrong was I. After predicting before the game that Arsene Wenger had all but given up the ghost, Arsenal went on to secure a rousing 2-0 victory and almost pull of the comeback of all comebacks.
It’s very reminiscent of last year’s tie with AC Milan. Just like last year, the damage was done in the first leg. And just like last year, Arsenal escape with their pride soothed and their fixture list lightened. There’s no good way to go out of the Champions League, but this is as close as it gets. Arsenal emerge redeemed and reinvigorated to focus on the all-important task at hand: returning to this stage by reaching the top four.
Contained within this performance was the DNA of an Arsenal team capable of hauling its way back in to the Champions League. Arsene Wenger must play John Hammond, extract it and bring it back to life before our very eyes, starting this weekend at Swansea.
The components are clear:
Disciplined defending – not just from the back four, but the entire team
Efficiency in attack
This was a display that was hugely unlike Arsenal. It was based on a grim determination to keep a clean sheet, and a ruthlessness when occasionally afforded the chance to attack. The two goals Arsenal scored were impressive, but it’s the nil they conceded that marked out a stark improvement.
Intriguingly, Arsenal put together their most cohesive defensive display of the season without their captain, Thomas Vermaelen. Vermaelen’s recent form has not just been questioned, it’s been water-boarded, and after his disastrous display at White Hart Lane he was taken out of the firing line for this match with Bayern. On the strength of Mertesacker and Koscielny’s display, it’s hard to see how he’ll get back in.
All too often this season we’ve seen Vermaelen retain his place on the strength of his status as captain rather than the strength of his performances. For the good of the team, that can not be allowed to continue.
There will be calls to retain Lukas Fabianski too, after the Pole produced a surprisingly composed display in the Allianz Arena. I’d be less hasty to subscribe to propose that. His positive performance is relatively anomalous in his Arsenal career. Szczesny retains my backing – until the summer at least.
I’m glad for Arsenal fans. Particularly for those that travelled to music, but also those watching from afar. Our team gave us reasons to be proud, and reasons to believe. Like Hammond’s dinosaurs, there is life in us yet.
If Arsene Wenger thought Arsenal had any realistic chance of progressing against Bayern Munich, Wojciech Szczesny would be playing tomorrow.
If we had designs on producing a remarkable comeback, surely we’d be selecting the man most likely to keep a clean sheet. Conceding would take the chance of victory from implausible to impossible. And yet we’re preparing to select one of Lukasz Fabianski or Vito Mannone: a pair of keepers not entrusted to play against the likes of Bradford and Blackburn in the domestic cups, with Szczesny “rested” at home.
You don’t “rest” players in the biggest games. The decision suggests that Arsene has declared tomorrow a dead rubber and is focusing attention upon an increasingly important domestic campaign. On balance, it’s hard to argue with that point of view. Even the most optimistic Gooner will struggle to make a case for Arsenal being in the hat for the quarter-final draw.
If the tie were a bit closer, I have no doubt that Szczesny would play. I suspect Lukas Podolski, left at home to nurse a niggling ankle problem, would also be in the side. As thing stand, Arsene is being pragmatic. Reaching the Champions League quarter-finals is less important than being in the group stage next year.
Arsenal don’t need to progress tonight, but they do need to restore a modicum of pride. We travel to Swansea on Saturday for a difficult and crucial league game. Restoring some confidence with a creditable result in Germany would be a huge boost, especially for a squad which will be rattled by the loss of the inspirational Jack Wilshere.
We’ve got a huge battle on between now and the end of the season. My delight at Liverpool’s victory over Spurs at the weekend was tempered by the knowledge that Brendan Rogers’ side are now making significant ground on us. Arsenal need to fight for fourth and yet are in real danger of slipping to sixth.
The Bayern game is about finding reasons to believe, for players and fans alike. Let’s hope we get some.