Taking it a game at a time

Well, that was much more like it. Borussia Dortmund might be struggling in the Bundesliga, but they remain a team packed with individual quality. A 2-0 win is undoubtedly something to celebrate.

A lot was made of the difference between our performance against United and Dortmund. In reality, I think the biggest differentiator was the opening goal. Had we not scored in the first couple of minutes, there’s nothing to say we wouldn’t have gone on to attack with the reckless abandon we did against United. Had we gone behind… well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Nevertheless, it’s still good to focus on the positives, of which there were many. Arsenal’s main stars were the understudies: Emi Martinez and Yaya Sanogo shone in the absence of Wojciech Szczesny, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck. Sanogo’s goal does not thrust him in to regular first-team contention, but it does get both a monkey and the fans off his back.

Arsenal being Arsenal, the elation didn’t last long. Within minutes of the full-time whistle, Arsene Wenger had confirmed injuries to both Sanogo and Mikel Arteta. The following day, news broke that Jack Wilshere had undergone surgery that will see him miss the next 3 months.

It’s hard to feel surprised by a prolonged Wilshere lay-off anymore. It’s like death, taxes or Robbie Savage saying something stupid: it just happens and there appears to be little anyone can do about it. It was a poor challenge from McNair, and few would have survived it unscathed. However, I do wonder if Wilshere’s tendency to hold on to the ball too long invites such clatterings. His bravery on the ball is admirable, but costly. Something for him to contemplate during his lay-off, perhaps.

The Wilshere news rather pulled the rug of positivity out from under our feet. I suspect that’s a feeling we may have to get used to this season.

Personally, I’m just taking it a game at a time. With the Premier League title beyond us, it’s already tempting to view this as season as a write-off. That’s a horribly depressing outlook. I find the only way to avoid that is to embrace the present and try to enjoy the ride. Go from game to game, savour the wins, and keep your eyes on the immediate foreground rather than the horizon. There may not be anything for us in May, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to deliver some memorable moments along the way.

Next up, West Brom.

Arsenal vs. Man City: Back to the beginning

This Saturday, Premier League football returns to the Emirates Stadium. In more than one sense, it feels as if we’re going back to the beginning.

Back to the beginning in that we also opened up the campaign with a match against the Citizens. In the Community Shield at Wembley, Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners. Something tells me it won’t be quite so easy this time round.

Back to the beginning too in that this feels like the start of the season proper. It’s ridiculous that transfer deadline day falls several weeks in to the campaign. Squads are rarely fully assembled until the end of August. Everything that occurs prior to the deadline feels curiously underbaked. Business is not done, teams are in flux – even the Champions League contestants are still to be decided. In truth, those early matches feel like little more than an extension of preseason.

Arsenal’s performances have reflected that mood. It’d be fair to say the Gunners haven’t quite got going yet. We laboured to a win against Palace, scrambled a point at Everton, and scraped past Besiktas in the tightest of two-legged affairs. Our last outing was the dispiriting draw at Leicester.

In time, we might be grateful for that dour draw – not because I expect the KP Stadium to prove a particularly fearsome fortress, but because it probably went a long towards prompting the purchase of Danny Welbeck. Had Yaya Sanogo scored any sort of goal in an Arsenal victory, Arsene Wenger might have been convinced to persist with the fallible Frenchman. Instead, our problems in attack convinced him to move for a new striker.

Welbeck might not have been Wenger’s first choice. The indications are that he made late enquiries for Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao, only to discover he had been beaten to the punch by rivals.

At 7.30am on deadline day, Wenger telephoned a reputable football agency and asked them to help broker a deal with Manchester United and Welbeck’s brother and manager, Chris. Talks began over a £3m loan deal. By the end of the day, amid fierce competition from Spurs, Welbeck had signed a five-year deal with Arsenal for a fee of £16m. It may prove to be a masterstroke.

Anyone unconvinced by Wenger’s decision to bring the athletic Mancunian in should be forced to watch England’s 2-0 victory over Switzerland on Monday night. Welbeck grabbed a brace in an electric display, showing pace, power and a surprising dose of composure.

It’s back to the beginning for Welbeck too. He’s left behind the club of his life for a new start elsewhere. You have to admire his courage. This prodigiously talented son of Manchester has left home to make his fortune.

He couldn’t wish for a better start, facing off against the club he has been raised to regard as rivals. A goal on Saturday would make it a memorable occasion for all involved, and restart the season with a bang.

Good news for Gunners who haven’t got BT Sport

Good news, Gooners: word has reached Gunnerblog that BT is currently offering to pay the cost of cancelling your current broadband contract when you switch your broadband and home phone to BT.

Apparently the deal is only going to be open for a short while, but the timing couldn’t be better: Arsenal’s clash with City is live on BT Sport this Saturday.

This is the first real test of Arsenal’s title challenge this season. We dispatched City pretty impressively in the Community Shield, but that’s little more than a glamorous friendly. With points and pride at stake, City are set to provide a sterner test this time around. It’ll be particularly fascinating to see how Danny Welbeck fares against a side he has been raised to despise. The England striker will be desperate to continue the clinical form he showed on international duty.

Our sources indicate that only way to get this limited offer is to call the following number: 0800 0280048. It goes without saying that it’s only open to fans in the UK!

Hopefully that helps some of you out. Now let’s get behind the Gunners. With the transfer window now closed, it feels like the season is kicking off for real. Don’t miss a minute.

Red, Yellow & Silver: Gunnerblog’s FA Cup Final Preview

We’ve waited nine years for this.

This week, I looked back at the blog I wrote after 2005’s FA Cup win over Manchester United. That was the last time Arsenal touched silverware. Think about that: nine years. In the 125-year lifespan of the club, it’s not a massive stretch. However, us fans are only here for threescore and ten. In the course of our own individual lives, it’s a significant period.

Think of what you’ve done in the last nine years. Ponder what’s changed since. 2005 was the year Youtube was launched. Lance Armstrong retired a champion, not a cheat. Twitter didn’t even exist.

Today, Arsenal have a chance to end the wait. It’s a good chance, too. Hull City are a decent team and will play unshackled by expectation, but we are the overwhelming favourites for a reason. Play as we can, and we ought to win.

The same, of course, was true in 2011. I was at Wembley to see Arsenal lose to Birmingham City in that fateful final. It set our on-pitch progress back by several years. Having clawed our way back to this point, we cannot afford to let a trophy slip through our fingers once again.

I haven’t blogged much in the last few weeks of the season. That’s partly because of the demands of other work. It’s also because I’ve felt a bit underwhelmed by it. As Everton fell away, our games ceased to carry much weight. There was a certain ‘end of term’ vibe about the whole thing. Abou Diaby’s cameo at Norwich felt like the football equivalent of when my history teacher used to let us watch Blackadder in the final lesson of the year.

Today, the stakes are cranked right up again. That’s what sports about. Drama and tension; failure and glory. Arsenal need this. The club have spun a story about enduring a difficult period in order to facilitate future glory. We’re supposedly at the turning point, where prudence begins to pay dividends. A trophy would be proof of concept.

I won’t be there today. Other commitments will keep me from Wembley. But wherever you’re watching the final, I hope the team give you a match and a day to savour.

I leave you with this film. I dare you to watch it without feeling sick with nerves and excitement. The players have a remarkable opportunity to write themselves in to folklore today. Who wants to be the next Charlie George, Alan Sunderland or Ray Parlour?

Don’t make us wait another year.

Extra reading:

My interview with Wojciech Szczesny for Bleacher Report

Looking back at the Hammers, ahead to Hull, and up at Liverpool

The win over West Ham was huge. After being put through the wringer in the semi-final, a physical Allardyce team were hardly the ideal opposition. When we fell behind, the collective intake of breath was almost audible.

However, Lukas Podolski’s instant response settled nerves. Goals from Giroud and Podolski again later settled the game. The German’s record is pretty remarkable. His 10 goals this season have come in about 1197 minutes. That’s roughly 13.3 “games”. The figures aren’t distorted by cup goals either. In the Premier League, he boasts a record of six goals in 9.3 games. He is absolutely lethal.

I understand that he doesn’t quite fit in to our system, but our system is hardly pulling up any trees is it? Podolski’s efficiency in the final third is approaching the point whereby it justifies experimenting with a formation that suits him better. It would be intriguing to see how he would get on in a front two, absolved of a degree of defensive responsibility.

A good week got better when Everton lost to Crystal Palace. As an Arsenal fan, it causes me great pain to credit Tony Pulis with a pretty remarkable job down in South London. A positive result away to Hull will put us firmly in the driving seat as far as fourth place is concerned. With Everton still to face the two Manchester clubs, a four-point lead will feel pretty comfortable.

Never mind a four-point lead over fifth: if Liverpool beat Norwich tomorrow, they’ll open up a five-point advantage over the rest of the Premier League.

I can’t be the only Arsenal fan looking at Liverpool and thinking it ought to have been us. If they do go on to win the title, as looks increasingly likely, it will be confirmation that this league was there for the taking. United, City and Chelsea have all had their problems this season. It was a unique opportunity to snatch the big prize, we were in poll position, and we surrendered it.

Yes, they’ve benefited from a lack of European fixtures. But they’ve also built a truly title-challenging team without the lure and financial boon of the Champions League. We had both of those things at our disposal, and yet we’ve failed to match them.

Yes, we’ve had injuries. But we knew about the problems with both Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott well before the close of the January transfer window, and did nothing.

From the first months of the season, it was clear this season presented a unique opportunity for a dark horse to snatch the league. Arsenal fumbled, and Liverpool seem poised to pick it up. We needed to gamble, but in what would become a recurring theme, we lacked the balls.

It’s like Liverpool have been sent to show us what we ought to have done. They’ve invested ambitiously, fought tooth-and-nail to keep hold of their best players, and played with style and courage.

They also, not too long ago, replaced an ageing legend with an upwardly-mobile young manager. Increasingly, I think Arsenal may have to do the same this summer. Regarding Arsene’s future, it suddenly struck me the other day: have we all missed the obvious?

If Arsene is staying, why hasn’t he signed? He’s had ample opportunity to do so throughout the season. If it was a question of PR timing, surely the optimum time to announce a new deal would have been either side of the Christmas period, when Arsenal topped the table?

I can’t remember when it was now, but after one of his contract renewals Arsene spoke about the importance of offering security and certainty to the team. Surely that would have proved beneficial this season, too. And yet the manager has resisted.

A few years back, he spoke about his intention to quit management before retirement age. He’ll be 65 in October. When Arsene said after the semi-final that the result of the final would have no bearing on his future, I immediately felt his mind was already made up. And then much of the above crystallised in a moment of what felt like clarity.

Bacary Sagna hasn’t signed his new deal, and it’s led many of us to conclude that he’s definitely leaving. Apply the same logic to Arsene, and you can only reach one conclusion.

I’m only speculating, and you’re all entitled to point and laugh when Arsene announces his new deal on Monday morning. I just wonder if our heads have been in the sand all season long, when the obvious has been hammering on the ground desperately trying to get our attention.

Anyway. Hull next. Time to tame the Tigers.