The top story is: Chelsea’s reserves are better than Arsenal’s reserves…
I’m not sure there has been a squad in Premier League history as grossly bloated with talent as this current Chelsea group.
For this match Jose Mourinho was able to make 10 changes, yet the side he fielded would stand every chance of challenging for major honours. To have the likes of Juan Mata in reserve is beyond luxury and bordering upon absurdity.
The signing of Willian was symbolic of Abramovich and Mourinho’s tendency towards excess. When Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, it was said that the Gunners didn’t “need” the German. Such an argument is plainly nonsense when held up against the Willian deal. Chelsea truly didn’t need the Brazilian. They signed him because they could, and because they feared his acquisition would strengthen a rival.
Wenger would never do that – even if he had the financial resources. He’d worry about congesting his squad, or allocating such a huge proportion of the club’s budget to a player who will not feature frequently.
Mourinho, on the other hand, is too short-termist to care, and Abramovich too rich. They build and build and buy and buy and now they’ve got a squad that contains at least two teams – maybe more. It might not be ethical but it’s pretty effective.
By contrast, Arsenal’s reserves are just that: players who fall a little way short of the standards expected of the first-team. Against Chelsea, it showed.
It would be disingenuous to blame it all on the stand-ins…
Arsenal fielded the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in midfield, and none of those players hit the heights usually expected of them.
However, Carl Jenkinson had a shocker…
The opening goal exposed his major weakness: his aerial ability. First he was indecisive, then ungainly. It was a dreadful mistake to make.
Unfortunately for Jenkinson, even the areas of his game that are consistently positive, such as his crossing, were uncharacteristically poor.
He’s not as bad as he looked last night. However, it’s becoming clear that he may not be as good as he looked in the early part of last season.
Jenkinson’s current ability level lies somewhere in between the two poles: he is a good prospect with plenty to learn. He is not yet close to taking over as Arsenal’s first-choice right-back.
The sooner Bacary Sagna gets a new contract, the better.
Nicklas Bendtner looked as rusty as you’d expect…
Nothing stuck to the big Dane, and he even looked timid in front of goal. Believe it or not, the man with who turned the self-esteem up to 11 in his psychological profiling test looked short of confidence.
However, I refuse to believe he didn’t try. What would he have to gain from that? You’ve got a guy here who knows he’s on his last chance to make it with a big club, and whose contract expires this summer. He has every incentive to do well. Everyone agreed he seemed motivated and energised against Norwich. Now, all of a sudden, he doesn’t care? I don’t buy it.
The simple truth is he lacked service. A conventional target man like Bendtner is dependent upon supply.
Lacking in fitness? Certainly. Lacking in quality? Arguably. But those things, rather than a lack of will, were his principal crimes. And how booing him is supposed to help matters I have no idea.
Ryo Miyaichi is an odd one…
The coaching staff seem convinced he’s a gem, but he always looks more of a perfectly pleasant but inspiring pebble to me. Quick, with decent technique, but nothing special. I’m sure he’ll prove me wrong in time but I do wonder how great a toll all those injuries have taken.
Criticising Wenger’s selection policy is missing the point…
He didn’t have a huge amount of choice.
I’m convinced that had Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem, Yaya Sanogo and Thomas Eisfeld been fit to start they would have been involved tonight. However, the crop of youngsters Wenger considers most appropriate to blood were almost entirely unavailable.
Wenger will have been disappointed that he was forced to use Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla, especially having failed to pick up a positive result. However, he’d gladly trade off Capital One Cup progression for three points against Liverpool on Saturday. That match is taking on more significance by the day.
For further reading follow me on Twitter @gunnerblog. More reaction to come throughout the day.
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.
For a long time now, Arsenal’s fan base has been horribly split. In the bars and pubs surrounding the Emirates, there were some whose pint glass was perennially half full. And then there were another, angrier sort, served up exactly the same stuff week on week, who regarded their glass as half empty, and could really have done with a refill. After Tuesday night’s defeat to Bradford City, I think we’re all agreed that we’re in desperate need of a drink.
In the last few weeks my perspective on the club, team, and manager has shifted considerably, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Recent events have felt significant. After a few wobbly weeks, we reached our nadir at Valley Parade. To lose to a side 64 league places below you is humiliating for everyone associated with the club.
It’s worrying that off the top of my head I can think of several other humiliations in the last few years. It’s a string of traumatic memories that begins with a calamitous Carling Cup Final defeat to Birmingham, encompasses an 8-2 hammering at Old Trafford, and takes in a lifeless 4-0 thumping in the San Siro. In his blog yesterday arseblogger called this current Arsenal side ‘punch drunk’. There’s an argument that ever since Obafemi Martins delivered that knockout blow in February 2011, they’ve been reeling and staggering, occasionally throwing Spurs a decent hook but essentially vulnerable, and heading for the canvas.
Bradford seems to have tipped the scales. I think the fans sensed the opportunity of a trophy. They knew that winning a cup could buy the club credibility, and the manager time. A quarter-final against a League Two team seemed an easy passage. We were three games from Wembley, and four from a modicum of glory. And we let it slip.
Everyone seems to be moving on to the same page now. If there’s one positive to come out of this, it’s that it’s healing some of the rifts between groups of Arsenal fans. What worries me, however, is that the supporters are united in unrest. The atmosphere at the Emirates will become more delicate than ever.
We all seem to be agreed: something must be done. Very few Arsenal fans are happy with where we are right now. There is a yearning for change. Whatever we’re doing right now does not feel satisfactory. It does not feel good. It does not feel healthy.
But here’s the problem. I’m loath to say it out loud, because I feel like it renders all comment and speculation on the subject slightly pointless, but here goes: I don’t think anything will change. Not really. Not for a while.
I love Arsene Wenger. He’s been a great man – let alone manager – for Arsenal. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the fact that the team seems to be going irreparably stale under his supervision. However, I can assure you now, even if we lose to Reading on Monday by six, seven or eight goals: the manager isn’t going anywhere. Not anytime soon. He has never broken a contract in his life, and he has a deal until 2014. The board have neither the will nor the footballing expertise to go about replacing him, and he himself will not want to leave Arsenal on a low point. He will keep pursuing redemption.
The key figures on the board aren’t going to change either. A few unsavoury chants won’t make Ivan Gazidis think about chucking in his exorbitant salary.
The only hope, the only plausible option, is that there is a change of the club’s transfer policy. You’d think that’d make sense, seeing as the policy over the last few years seems to have consisted of selling off the major talent without adequately replacing them, effectively overseeing a gradual decline in the quality of the squad and our chances of challenging for any major trophies. There is money sitting in the bank, and a forthcoming chance to go and spend it – a transfer window of opportunity. Arsenal could make a statement, and buy players of the kind of calibre to ensure that even if we do lose someone like Theo Walcott, the playing side is protected by a depth and wealth of quality talent.
I don’t see it happening. 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.
The first half was abject, then apocalyptic, then embarrassing. The second half was acceptable, then alluring, then astounding. Extra-time was just plain bonkers.
This was a match that defies analysis. I’m not sure I’ll be able to explain quite how bad Arsenal were in the first half, nor what inspired the change that formed the basis of that incredible turnaround. In that first 45, every time Reading went forward they looked like scoring. We simply could not deal with their crosses. Ignasi Miquel and Carl Jenkinson looked exposed and awkward at full-back, whilst Koscielny and Djourou looked anything but international class defenders in the centre.
First Jason Roberts outwitted Koscielny to dart to the back post and prod home. Then, just minutes later, Koscielny’s nightmare half continued as his outstretched leg diverted the ball past Martinez and in to his own net. The Argentine keeper wasn’t helping affairs; his inexperience was clear to see as he flapped at cross after cross. It was his criminal error which led to the third goal. Mikele Leigertwood fired a fairly simple shot at goal; Martinez could probably have caught it where he stood, but instead threw himself up and back in an acrobatic arc, playing for the cameras. How humiliating then that his palm only pushed the ball lamely up in to the air, allowing it to drop in to the net behind him. Twenty minutes gone; three nil to Reading.
Incredibly, it got worse. Another cross drifted in, from the right this time, and Noel Hunt climbed highest to power home. Arsenal were dreadful all over the pitch. In the build up to the game the manager had made it very public just where this competition lies in his list of priorities. Unfortunately, it seems the players took that as their cue to put in an entirely listless display. We were second to every ball, and for the most part you felt glad that the majority of these players are nowhere near the first team.
And then, just before half-time, Arsenal were handed a glimmer of hope. Andrey Arshavin split the defence with a cute through ball which Theo Walcott raced on to before clipping delightfully over the advancing Adam Federici. Ah, Federici: with him, you always have a chance.
From the interviews with the players after the match, we can gleam that Arsene’s half-time team talk pulled no punches: this wasn’t good enough. This was not Arsenal. In the first half, the fans had been chanting “we want our Arsenal back”. In the second, they got it.
The game hinged on the double substitution in the 62nd minute. Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld were introduced for Gnabry and Frimpong, and suddenly Arsenal came to life. Within two minutes of coming on to the field of play, Giroud had got on to the end of a Walcott corner and thumped a brilliant header beyond Federici. Arsenal fans dared to hope.
There then followed a succession of near-misses which I couldn’t help but feel we needed to score to have any chance. If we could get a third before the 80th minute, I reasoned, then we could have a real go at grabbing an equaliser. But the clock ticked on, and no goal came.
Fair play to Arsenal; they kept going. And, in the 89th minute, another Walcott corner found Koscielny, who’s eventful night continued with his second goal of the season.
The board went up, and the situation crystallised: Arsenal had four minutes to score an equaliser. Reading did everything right. They kept the ball in the corners, far away up the other end of the pitch. The four minutes expired. And yet, the whistle didn’t come. Arsenal suddenly found themselves with one last tantalising chance. Eisfeld thumped the ball fifty yards in to the area. Giroud did incredibly well to nod it down towards Theo Walcott, and he stabbed an effort towards goal. And then, panic. Replays showed the ball had crossed the line, but the referee didn’t spot it, instead not blowing his whistle until Carl Jenkinson of all people popped up to make sure and hammer the ball back in to the net. Whoever scored, it didn’t matter. Arsenal had done it: 4-4, in the 96th minute.
Some players thought their work for the night was done. Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin threw their shirts in to the crowd, only to hurriedly retrieve them when they discovered they had to play extra-time. Arsenal had the momentum now, and goal their fifth successive goal to put them ahead when Chamakh played a neat one-two with Giroud and fired low in to the corner from outside the box. I wasn’t sure he had it in him, to be honest.
That, of course, should have been that. This, however, was no ordinary game, and with just four minutes remaining on the clock a deflect cross found it’s way to Pavel Pogrebnyak,who levelled things up at 5-5.
With Martinez in such worrying form, Arsenal didn’t fancy penalties, but time was and tiring legs were against them. That’s why I was so shocked when it was a 120th minute forty yard sprint from Andrey Arshavin that proved the difference. He scooted in to the box and ignored options in the middle to slip the ball under the keeper. This time, Reading did manage to get the ball off the line, but only as far as Walcott, who smashed it in to give us the crucial lead. Alongside Walcott was Laurent Koscielny, who had won the ball at the back and sprinted the length of the pitch in the search for the winner.
There was time for one more. A glacé cherry on this delicious cake of a game. Arsene Wenger was still admonishing Martinez for failing to run down the clock when Walcott launched a long ball forward. Chamakh chased it down and lobbed over the keeper (again from outside the box) to set the seal on the game and make it 7-5.
In the end, we got everything we wanted from the game: a thumping victory, game-time for squad players and promising youngsters, and even a first Arsenal goal for Olivier Giroud.
It was clear inside the first couple of minutes that there was a significant gulf in class between the two sides. Coventry were also playing with a suicidally high line, and were there for the taking. With that in mind, I was pretty frustrated by what was a very lacklustre first-half display, capped off by a solitary goal.
In the second half, however, we were far better. Coventry tired too, and as we pressured them higher up the pitch mistakes began to creep in to their play, and we took full advantage, adding a further five goals to the tally and conceding just the one.
Highlights and a match report are available from the above links, but for those who weren’t able to see the game live I thought I’d give you a run-down on how the individuals involved equipped themselves.
Not a game in which he was hugely tested. He’ll have been disappointed to have conceded, but had no chance on the Coventry goal. One moment that stood out was when he came fully ten yards off his line to claim a deep set piece, dove and caught it cleanly in mid-air. His distribution was good, and all-in-all this was a solid if uneventful display.
Martin Angha arrived at Arsenal as a centre-back, and has spent a good deal of this season playing as a left-back. He started this game on the right side of defence, and whilst he was solid throughout, going forward he looked very much like a centre-half. It was unfortunate because his stamina meant he was constantly available on the overlap, but his dribbling and delivery left a lot to be desired.
Captain for the night, Johan Djourou was quiet but steady. He came close to scoring with a diving header, and played the part of the senior man in defence well. He was, however, outshone by his partner…
I was really impressed with the Spaniard this evening. He has inherited the Vermaelen trait of nicking the ball and early and sprinting onwards up the field, which he did several times to great effect. His goal was a thumping header, and everything he did tonight he did with full commitment. He has the physique, he has the technique. Now he just needs experience. I suspect a loan deal might be on the cards sooner rather than later.
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. In the interest of fairness he is lacking match practise, and I recall that last season it took a run of a few games for him to get going, but on this evidence Kieran Gibbs is not going to come under serious pressure for the left-back spot anytime soon.
Yennaris started in centre-midfield, and was almost anonymous throughout. Sometimes that’s the mark of a good holding midfield display. He didn’t do a great deal wrong – collecting the ball and playing the simple pass. However, I felt at times he could have been a little quicker to close Coventry down in central areas.
Coquelin was his usual busy self. His intervention helped create the first goal, lunging on to a loose Arshavin pass to divert the ball in to Giroud’s path. It’s clear that Coquelin has designs on a first-team spot, but I do worry about just how many opportunities we’ll be able to give him. His impatience may lead him to look elsewhere.
In the first half, Walcott was poor. His touch was off and his movement was often selfish, driving in to the centre when he ought to have stretched the play. In the second half, however, he exploited a ragged Coventry, scoring with two excellent finishes. The headline-writers will have rubbed their hands together: I expect to see a load of stories tomorrow about how Theo “sent a message” to Arsene about his desire to play as a centre-forward. I’d counter with two observations: on top of the two goals, Theo also missed tow clear one-on-one opportunities. Perhaps of even greater significance, all four opportunities came whilst playing in a wide role. It is naive of Theo to believe that playing through the middle will necessarily lead to more scoring opportunities. Receiving the ball in the channels actually enables him to use his pace and get in to dangerous positions.
Arshavin will always divide opinion. Tonight, he did plenty wrong. There were stray passes, inexplicable backheels, and the occasional comical loss of balance. There was also a goal, the winning of a penalty, and two assists. The goal in particular was a lovely take, controlling the ball in mid-air on his toe before poking beyond the keeper. I’ll say this for the Russian: every time he gets the ball, he tries to make something happen. Sometimes it comes off, sometimes it doesn’t. My instinct tells me that there will come a time when we need to gamble with him to unlock a defence this season. When we do, we should deploy him centrally – he’s far better when free of the defensive responsibility that comes with a wide role.
What a goal. The lad absolutely thumped in a thirty yard strike in a manner that won’t be a surprise to anyone who has ever watched this video of him in training. Now he’s pulled it off once, I expect he’ll try it a little more frequently. Just a word of warning, though: in the first half he was prone to a bit of show-boating, trying unnecessary tricks and dribbling when a simple pass was the better option. It’s something I’ve seen creeping in to his game recently, and it was noticeable that after half-time he was much more efficient. Hopefully someone had a stern word.
Finally, the Frenchman is off the mark. It was telling that when the chance came to him, he didn’t panic, carefully clipping the ball over the advancing keeper before looking to the sky with relief. That said, when he stepped up to take the penalty, I didn’t have much confidence: the forward has a bit of a history with spot-kicks. The Coventry keeper’s save was superb, and hopefully the miss won’t dent Giroud’s improved confidence. It was a good sign that shortly afterwards he set up Arshavin when other strikers might have sought to redeem themselves by going for goal. His all-round play was good and improved dramatically after he broke his duck. Hopefully this is the start of a good thing.
The Dench man came off the bench for an uneventful twenty minutes. He got a tremendous reception from the crowd, but like Coquelin I wonder just how many opportunities we’ll be able to grant him. Perhaps he, like Miquel, could soon be heading out on loan.
For those of you who haven’t seen Gnabry play before, the similarities with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are striking. He has a very stocky frame, with big powerful hips and startling acceleration. Even in this short cameo, it was clear to see this is a player with real potential.
I liked what I saw of Chamakh in his brief appearance. I forgot how mobile he is, and his team play remains excellent, even if he offers almost no goalscoring threat. Not a bad player to have quite so far down the pecking order.
All in all, this was a good night. I don’t think any of the players who started tonight will edge ahead of those who faced City in time for the Chelsea game, but the goalscoring form of Giroud, Walcott and Chamberlain certainly gives the manager food for thought after Gervinho’s erratic display in front of goal.