2012/13: Arsenal’s Season Blogged

jackgutted

About a year ago I gave a new format a whirl, running through the season as it looked on the blog. As whirl’s go, it was quite nice. A delicious hazelnut whirl as opposed to death by whirlpool. So we’re doing it again.

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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.

Sunderland 0 – 0 Arsenal: Cazorla could be the signing of the season | August 19th 2012
Arteta looks most likely to inherit the ‘Song’ role.
In an unfamiliar-looking central midfield trio of Arteta, Diaby, and Cazorla, it was the more senior Spaniard who played the deepest. With Song on the verge of completing his move to Barcelona, it’s likely Arteta will continue in that role for most of the season.

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.

Arsenal 6 – 1 Southampton: Saints dispatched with Spanish style | 16th September 2012
It was telling that with Arsene giving rests to the likes of Podolski and Gervinho, Cazorla remained on the field. He makes us tick. And yesterday, he made us tiki-taka.

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.

Reading 5 – 7 Arsenal: The game that nearly broke me | October 31st 2012
The first half was abject, then apocalyptic, then embarrassing. The second half was acceptable, then alluring, then astounding. Extra-time was just plain bonkers.

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.

Arsenal 5 – 2 Spurs: History repeats itself | November 18th 2012

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.

Bradford 1 – 1 Arsenal (3 – 2 pens): Something must be done. Nothing will be. | December 13th 2012
Both board and manager are wedded to our existing philosophy. They’re knotted together, each guilty of leading us in this purgatorial fourth-place pursuit.

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.

Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea: Jack Wilshere, Perfect 10 | January 17th 2013
In the last two matches, Wilshere’s development has accelerated dramatically.

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.

Video: One Day More – Deadline Day remix ft. Arsene Wenger | January 30th 2013

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.

WBA 1 – 2 Arsenal: Rosicky the run-in expert to the rescue | April 6th 2013
Tomas Rosicky is a bit like Wigan. Or blossom. Come spring, he comes to life.

Since losing the Derby at Spurs, Arsenal have won four games, scoring ten goals and conceding just two. We have the momentum, and we have Tomas Rosicky.

The omens are good. We just need to keep it going.

Arsenal 3 – 1 Norwich: Arsenal set for sprint finish | April 14th 2013
The cannon is rolling in to position. Time to blow away the opposition.

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 Transfer Requirements 2013/14 | April 23rd 2013
If you’ve played Football Manager or FIFA 13, you might think you know how the transfer window works.You’d be wrong.

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.

Arsenal 0 – 1 Blackburn: The Middle Of The End

jackgutted

Arsenal 0 – 1 Blackburn
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction 

In this game, Arsenal played with such soporific slovenliness that it was as if they were trying to lull us in to such a stupour that the inevitable sucker punch wouldn’t sting quite so much.

To be fair, it worked. When Colin Kazim-Richards ran untracked through the midfield to fire home after Wojciech Szczesny’s feeble parry, I wasn’t surprised. There was a grim inevitability about the whole scene.

When Jack Wilshere fell in a crumpled heap at the final whistle, I felt for him. But any angst on my part was tempered by familiarity. His anguish was fresh, but mine has been dulled by duplication: I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen Cesc Fabregas similarly felled, and Robin van Persie too; great players, folding under the strain of swimming against a tide of mediocrity.

After Bradford and Blackburn, Arsenal now face a cup clash with Bayern Munich. One hardly imagines the Germans are quaking in their boots. A bad result at the Emirates on Tuesday night could all but guarantee us an eighth consecutive campaign without a trophy.

Things could be worse, I know. Whenever he comes under scrutiny, Arsene Wenger is quick to point out that Arsenal are not in a relegation battle. However, I’m afraid that just doesn’t cut it.

It’s about expectation. Reading are very much in a relegation battle, but that doesn’t mean Brian McDermott is under-performing. Equally, Arsenal might be well clear of 18th place, but they are falling below the standards expected of the club.

Those who criticise the manager are often characterized as pessimists, but it strikes me that there is an optimistic slant to their discontent. They see the potential of the club to be in a far better position than it currently is.

Replacing the manager doesn’t provide an absolute guarantee of positive change. However, an ever-increasing wealth of evidence suggests that keeping the manager absolutely guarantees more of the same.

I’m often asked when I’ll finally join the “Wenger Out!” brigade. Well, the answer is that I almost certainly never will. I’ve no time for brigades, or any other tactical military formations for that matter. Similarly, bandwagons have always struck me as an outmoded form of transport. I’ll make up my own mind on where I stand. I refuse to buy in to the dichotomy that has been imposed on the Arsenal supporter base, splitting us in to “AKB”s and “Doomers”. The reality, and my own position, is far more complex.

I will never chant for the removal of a man who has given me some of my greatest memories. However, I do believe there are certain fundamental issues with the management of the team that will only be resolved by a change of manager. Whether this summer would be the optimum time to do that, I don’t know: it depends on the availability of alternatives.

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.

Blackburn Preview & Betting odds: Return of The Rat King

Clashes between Arsenal and Blackburn are traditionally tasty affairs.  Well, the taste of this one is a little off this morning.  The secret ingredient is, perhaps surprisingly, not horse, but a touch of rat: David Bentley has made a return to Blackburn just in time to be eligible to play at the Emirates.

It’s the return of the prodigal son.  If the prodigal son’s Dad had hated his son, and greeted his return predominantly with boos.

David Bentley is a funny one.  I was there for his remarkable first goal in professional football: a beautiful, Bergkamp-esque chip from the edge of the box.  However, his attitude never quite matched up to his ability, and aged just 28 his career appears to be petering out.  One wonders if he’d shown more patience and remained at Arsenal how things might have turned out.  Football is a game of sliding doors as well as tackles.

As it is, I think Arsenal fans are pretty much united in their hatred of all things Bentley.  It’s everything from his murine appearance to his affiliation with Spurs and preposterously over-gelled hair.  That said, I think we’re all lying if we say we don’t fancy him to stick one in the net against us today.  Were I more of a betting man, I’d put the lives of my imaginary children on it.  He’s got spectacular previous at the Emirates, too.

Whatever Bentley gets up to, Arsenal should have enough to see off Blackburn today.  I expect rests for the likes of Wilshere, Giroud and perhaps even Walcott, but our side will still be strong.  Thomas Vermaelen is likely to play at centre-back, with Nacho Monreal outside him.  Abou Diaby comes in to contention for a midfield berth, and the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho will be hoping to get some much-needed game-time in attacking areas.  I think Gervinho may well get a start at centre-forward, although whatever the odds (5/1 as it happens) I wouldn’t be queueing up to lay money on him to score.

I’m backing us to win this one.  The bookmakers are too, I see (we’re 1.28 to win with https://sports.bwin.com/en/sports/4/betting/football).

Blackburn are not the force they were, and at home we should be far too strong.  However, I’ve said that before and been wrong.

And with The Rat King in their ranks, you just never know.

Brighton 2 – 3 Arsenal: That’s more like it, Olivier

Brighton 2 – 3 Arsenal
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup after an entertaining tie with Brighton, who can consider themselves a little unfortunate not to have earned themselves the payday of a replay of the Emirates.

The back and forth nature of the game was demonstrated as early as the 15th minute. Wojciech Szczesny made a superb save at one end to prevent Brighton taking the lead, yet within seconds it was Arsenal who were in front. A swift counter-attack looked to have petered out when Lukas Podolski dribbled in to the midst of several defenders, but the German managed to lay the ball off to the waiting Giroud, who bent an expert finish in to the top corner from the edge of the box.

Parity was restored, unsurprisingly, from a set piece. Our dreadful zonal marking system allowed Ashley Barnes a free run at Wojciech Szczesny. As inevitably happens in such a situation, the man with the run up won the leap for the ball, and the net bulged. 1-1.

After half-time it was Giroud again who put us in front. Abou Diaby lifted a beautiful pass over the top of the centre-backs; Giroud latched on to it, held off his man, and used an outstretched left leg to thump the ball high in to the goal. It was a really fantastic finish, showcasing the best of Giroud: the movement, the determination and the power.

It only took Brighton five minutes to strike back, and it won’t surprise anyone to know it came from a cross. It also came down our left-flank, where Andre Santos was ambling around with a palpable lack of confidence, desire and positional sense.

The cavalry were called for, and with twenty minutes to go Arsene introduced Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. The latter proved to be the match-winner, meeting a goalkeeper’s punch with a volley that deflected before finding the corner of the net. Cruel on Brighton; crucial for Arsenal.

Walcott now has 17 goals for the season. It’s some record: he’s only made 17 starts.

The star of the show, however, remained Olivier Giroud. Four goals in his last two games have taken his tally to 13, but his performance in this game was about more than statistics. He worked tirelessly, and the finishes he produced were of real quality. It’s no exaggeration to say that Robin van Persie would have been proud of the second – and indeed the chipped through-ball from Abou Diaby made this goal particularly reminiscent of the Song / Van Persie connection of last season.

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.

One lingering criticism of Giroud is that his goals tend to come against weaker opposition. The upcoming Premier League tie with Liverpool would be a perfect time to put that to bed, and put our league campaign firmly back on track.

Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea: Jack Wilshere, Perfect 10

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Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

A few games in to Jack Wilshere’s comeback, I scoffed at those who had suggested it would take him a little time to get back to his best. His first few all-action displays suggested to me that Wilshere had hit the ground running, and was immediately playing at something close to full capacity.

How wrong I was; how right they were. Jack was merely finding his feet. In the last two matches, Wilshere’s development has accelerated dramatically.

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. Against City his courage and resilience saw him emerge as the heartbeat of this Arsenal side. Against Swansea, he took on a different kind of responsibility.

Ever since his return, Jack has worn the hallowed number 10 on his back. This, however, was the first time since his injury we’ve seen him play as a number 10. The position fits him as well as the shirt. Freed of defensive responsibility, he was a constant menace to the Swansea defence, and it was no surprise when his twenty-yard strike proved the difference.

I have no doubt that Wilshere will follow Cesc Fabregas in moving forward from a deeper role to play behind the striker. It may not be immediate, but it will be soon. In his mid-teens, Jack made waves in youth football as a scorer and creator of goals from midfield. The tools he has learnt playing deep will make him a better all-round player, but ultimately his future lines in the attacking third.

Deploying Jack there also seems to give Arsenal better balance. Behind him, the platform of Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin looked relatively secure, and moving Santi Cazorla in to the front three did little to diminish the Spaniard’s influence, and added fluency and creativity to our forward play. Coquelin did particularly well on the night – I was heartened to see the team’s least experienced player cajoling his team-mates back in to position as we hold on to our 1-0 lead.

This was a well deserved victory, which would have been much more comfortable but for some poor finishing from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. Despite the likelihood of the former signing a new deal, and my growing affection for the latter, my one hope for this transfer window is that we bring in a goalscorer. With each passing day, however, that hope diminishes.

This is no time for negativity, though. Arsenal have maneuvered past a difficult draw with Swansea and are still in the cup. What’s more, I saw enough tonight at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge to think that we might be able to give an imploding Chelsea side a very good game on Sunday.

If we do, you can bet that Jack Wilshere will be at the heart of it. Thomas Vermaelen is Arsenal’s captain in name alone. That armband, just like that number 10 role, is Jack’s destiny.

My bet is on him to fulfill the role permanently one day. Are you interested in doing some betting on an upcoming Premier League fixture? Make sure you head over to www.bwin.com and check out their fantastic odds!