Alexis Sanchez: The Brilliance Without The Biting


The signing of Alexis Sanchez has left me elated, but it shouldn’t leave anyone surprised. Looking back at the Read more

2013/14: Arsenal's Season Blogged - Sagas, songs & a cup


As the enthralling World Cup comes to a close and eyes begin to turn towards next season, I thought Read more

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2014


It’s that time again. Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. The results are in. PLAYER OF THE SEASON In a season Read more

A Party 9 years in the Making


A cup nine years in the winning. A party nine years in the making. A blog nine years in Read more

Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish


I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun. Don’t Read more

Premier League

Examining why Arsene Wenger doesn’t want to buy a striker

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2014-15 Season, Champions League, Match Reports, Premier League |  

Well, here we are. Another season is underway. I initially wrote ‘well and truly underway’, but then deleted it. In truth, this period between the opening fixture and the transfer deadline always feels like an extension of preseason. The window ends, there’s a flurry of late deals, and then club football goes on a two-week break while some dull internationals are played. When we return in mid-September, that’s when it really feels like the campaign has kicked off.

That seems truer this season than most. The fact that a large portion of our squad is still recovering from their exertions in the World Cup means we’ve had an unusually slow start. Our performances have yet to impress, but fortunately the results haven’t suffered too much. We’ve shown fight if not fluency, getting late goals to pick up valuable points against Crystal Palace and Everton.

I’ve been in Edinburgh throughout August, but returned this week to see my first live game of the season. Arsenal got the job done against Besiktas, but it wasn’t easy. Mathieu Debuchy was certainly unlucky to pick up that second booking, but he’d been wobbling uneasily on a disciplinary tight-rope all evening. He must curb his aggressive streak if he’s to avoid more red cards in future.

Watching our side in the flesh, it became apparent to me that we are very much a team in evolution. The midfield, for example, appears to have been slightly restructured over the summer. Last season, Arsenal typically played with two men in a double-pivot, with Mesut Ozil floating ahead. Mikel Arteta would hold with Aaron Ramsey given greater license to break from deep alongside him.

This season, there’s been a slight shift in emphasis. Rather than the customary 4-2-3-1, Arsenal have been employing something more akin to a 4-1-4-1. There is a pure designated holding player, with two dynamic midfielders deployed further ahead.

This system was presumably implemented in part because of the available personnel. Ozil missed the start of the season, and Arsene Wenger had to find a way to accommodate both Jack Wilshere and Ramsey. This formation allows both those players to break forward, secure in the knowledge that an anchor man is on hand at all times to fill in.

However, Ozil’s return has not prompted the expected reversion to last season’s shape. Instead, the German has twice been positioned on the left flank. Against Besiktas, Ozil found himself ousted to the wing, with Santi Cazorla asked to play a busy box-to-box role in the centre. Last season, that deployment would have seemed improbable at best. Throughout 2013-14, Cazorla was routinely used on the flank in order to grant Ozil a free role through the middle.

Perhaps during the international break Arsene will take the opportunity to restructure his midfield once again. However, it’s also possible that he has decided that playing Ozil as a pure number 10 leaves his midfield too exposed. This summer, Ozil played predominantly as a winger for the German national team, and that experiment turned out pretty well for Jogi Low’s side. A hypothetical central midfield three of Arteta, Ramsey and Cazorla certainly has more energy and commitment to the defensive side of the game than one containing Ozil.

The remodelling of the team does not end with the midfield. In the past week, there has been significant evidence that Arsene Wenger plans to renovate his attack too. When Arsenal signed Alexis Sanchez back in July, I said I thought he’d been bought as an alternative to Luis Suarez – the brilliance without the biting. His future, it seemed to me, was as a centre-forward.

However, I did not expect him to be picked there so early on in his Arsenal career. In just Sanchez’s second Premier League game, he was named at the point of the Gunners front-line. That initial experiment failed, but Wenger was forced to repeat it in midweek having lost Giroud to a broken tibia. Against Besiktas, Alexis fared rather better. Not only did he grab the winning goal, but he also showed class and courage to hold the ball up against defenders who towered above him.

With Giroud confirmed as being out until Christmas, many Arsenal fans are incredulous that Arsene Wenger does not deem recruiting a new striker a priority. However, as far as our manager is concerned, he has already bought a £35m striker this window: Alexis.

For more than a year, Wenger has been chasing a mobile forward with a good pressing game. Wenger didn’t buy a striker last summer because he couldn’t get his number one target, Suarez. He didn’t buy a striker in January because a player of the requisite calibre and attributes was not available. This summer, Alexis came on the market, and Wenger moved quickly and efficiently to get his man.

I’m sure that in an ideal world Wenger would like to bed Sanchez in as his centre-forward over a period of several months. Giroud’s injury robs him of that luxury. Alexis’ evolution must be sped up, and the team’s with it. However, Wenger presumably reasons that there’s no point threatening that process by buying the ‘wrong’ type of centre-forward. If he has already decided that Sanchez, rather than Giroud, will be his team’s long-term focal point, why derail things by bringing in another square beg for his newly-carved round hole?

Of course, Alexis can’t play every game. But if our team is being rebuilt to accommodate a slighter, speedier forward, then Arsenal already have an ideal back-up in their ranks. Within a matter of weeks, Theo Walcott will be available for selection. When Alexis needs a rest, he seems the obvious player to step in to the void.

In the meantime, Walcott will flourish on the right flank. Alexis is more of a ‘false nine’ than a true target man. Against Besiktas, it was intriguing how frequently he dropped deep to collect the ball and join up with the midfield. On more than one occasion, I spotted Alexis furiously gesturing at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to dart in behind him. He will find Theo Walcott a far more willing runner. In combination, the pair could be devastating.

The possibility of fielding Walcott as a centre-forward ensures Yaya Sanogo will remain third-choice in the pecking order. What’s more, Wenger has Joel Campbell to consider. Many Arsenal fans spent the summer crying out for Campbell to be given an opportunity at Arsenal. Some of those same fans are now furiously demanding a new striker. You can’t have it both ways.

If it were up to me, I’d bring in an experienced frontman who guarantees 10 goals. Loic Remy, for example, is a proven Premier League finisher with an excellent record. I’d recruit someone of that ilk to add depth and experience to our options. If that meant sending one of Sanogo or Campbell out on loan, so be it.

Arsene doesn’t see it that way. Rightly or wrongly, he believes giving playing time to Campbell and Sanogo is a better investment of resource. What’s more, I suspect he envisages a restyled attack modelled around Sanchez and Walcott. Giroud’s injury robs him of a Plan B, but Plan A is still good to go.

I hope Arsenal will be active between now and the end of the transfer window. They still need another centre-back, and a holding midfielder would be handy too. With Giroud out, the first XI could do with an injection of height and power – if only to help them cope at set-pieces.

However, at this stage I’d be surprised to see another attacker arrive. Giroud’s injury doesn’t derail Arsene’s plans, it merely accelerates them.

2013/14: Arsenal’s Season Blogged – Sagas, songs & a cup

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Champions League, FA Cup, Featured, Premier League |  

As the enthralling World Cup comes to a close and eyes begin to turn towards next season, I thought it’d be worth a bit of a retrospective of the saga that was 2013/14. And so, without further ado…

—-

Please, Arsene: Don’t sign Luis Suarez | July 17th 2013
I cannot understand why a manager as ethical and principled as Arsene would go near a player like Suarez. I cannot fathom why our great club would seek to harbour a footballing fugitive. The situation is made all the more bizarre by the apparent availability of the talented and seemingly decent Gonzalo Higuain, who is now edging towards a move to Napoli.

It’s genuinely baffling. Arsenal paying £40m for a player is something I hoped I’d see one day. However, the sight of Luis Suarez in an Arsenal shirt is something I still hope I’ll never see.

Blowing that sum on a player who will be dogged by suspension and controversy is lunacy. What’s more, Suarez has a proven track record of forcing transfers every couple of seasons. If he joins us, he’ll view us merely as an escape raft until he can leverage a move to Real Madrid.

Opening Day Preview: New season – No new faces | August 17th 2013
A new season ought to feel fresh. It ought to be a new start. The manager ought to enter the new campaign free of the pressures of the last. However, Arsenal’s disastrous summer has put Arsene Wenger under considerable strain before a ball has even been kicked in anger.

If Arsenal fail to beat Aston Villa today, the Emirates will resound with the boos from fans who will understandably feel they have been misled. They were promised statements of intent and a change in policy. Instead they’ve suffered more of the same penny-pinching and indecision.

Arsenal 1 – 3 Aston Villa: It was just a mirage | August 19th 2013
I had a vision of a better Arsenal. It was a vision sold to me by Ivan Gazidis, who promised me that after a decade of harsh desert we were approaching an oasis of plenty. It was a vision that sustained me through a summer starved of football.

It was a vision that I, somewhat foolishly, believed in. And it was just a mirage.

The dream evaporated and condensed in to the cold wet reality of a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa. Some dream. Some start.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Fenerbahce: Thoughts on Ramsey, Mata & more | August 28th 2013
Aaron Ramsey has been outstanding…
It’s amazing what a difference confidence can make. The way he took his second goal was the mark of a player who has absolute faith in his ability at the moment. Having gone through a process of simplifying his game and bringing it back to basics, Ramsey is now supplementing his hard work with the flair he patently possesses. His progress is exciting.

The Real Madrid trio would all be incredible signings…
Arsenal are being linked with moves for Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria. All three would add a huge amount to the Arsenal squad, but only the latter seems remotely probable. Madrid seem unlikely to sell Benzema and Higuain in the same window, while Ozil is likely to also be a target for Manchester United. That is not a tug of war I’d fancy us to win.

Thoughts on the Derby & Deadline Day | September 2nd 2013
Ozil would be a game-changing signing. Assuming it goes ahead, it’s massive. I would never have believed that we’d be capable of recruiting a marquee talent of this level.

However, while I hate to gripe on what is a undoubtedly momentous day for the club, I’m staggered that Arsenal are going to go in to the season with Olivier Giroud as the only senior centre-forward. Giroud was superb against Spurs, but by the end of the game was exhausted. It’s a feeling he’ll have to get used to in the coming months.

Mesut Ozil: A perfect signing in a far from perfect window | September 3rd 2013
There’s no doubt it’s a transformative signing, and the most significant since the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp in 1995. When it was announced half an hour before the window’s close last night, Sky’s Geraint Hughes noted that the Arsenal fans’ jubilation was due to the fact they’d waited all day for a signing like this. The reporter were wrong: we’ve waited for more than a decade.

Just a few hundred yards separate Highbury and the Emirates, yet the Ozil deal feels like the completion of an arduous ten-year journey. However, it must be not only an ending, but also a new beginning. This has to be the start of something.

Thoughts on Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal: Ozil glides like Pires, passes like Bergkamp | September 17th 2013
Great players elevate those around them…
…and Mesut Ozil is undoubtedly a great player. Seeing him step out on to the pitch in an Arsenal shirt was both surreal and sublime. His touch was immaculate and his passing incisive. Considering he had barely trained with the team, his immediate rapport with the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey and Walcott was remarkable.

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke: A football match, believe it or not | September 22nd 2013
Confidence is an extraordinary thing. It can do incredible things to a footballer. Ramsey is at the crest of a wave, and I hope he can stay there as long as possible. When he inevitably reverts to somewhere approaching the mean, I still think we’ll still have a very fine footballer on our hands.

Arsenal 4 – 1 Norwich: 700 words on THAT goal | October 21st 2013
The ball arrives on Wilshere’s right foot, and he places a perfect volley in to the far corner. No power is needed. The finish, like the rest of the move, is all guile and grace. When he sees the ball hit the net, he allows himself a roar of exhalation.

He knows it’s special. The Arsenal fans do too, reacting with an upwardly-inflected combination of awe and disbelief. And he keeps going, jogging towards the fans before sliding on his knees in celebration.

Wilshere finally rests. 20.34 seconds, five players, nine passes, and 28 touches have come together to create one masterpiece.

Crystal Palace 0 – 2 Arsenal: Gunners slip past greasy Chamakh | October 26th 2013
Caz-ozil is not yet working as anticipated…
Arsenal fans waited for six weeks to see Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil play together. Thus far, the combination has failed to live up to its understandably starry billing.

Arsenal needed a win today…
Our next four fixtures see us face off against Chelsea, Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United. This clash with Palace was all about getting three points – by any means.It’s often said that winning while playing poorly is the mark of a title-challenging side. I’ll hold off from such proclamations until we are able to assess Arsenal’s performance in the difficult games ahead.
Arsenal face a crucial Champions League tie with Dortmund this week, but I’d gladly swap victory in Germany for three points at Old Trafford next Sunday.

The Premier League campaign feels all-encompassing and all-consuming. The irritation felt at dropping out of the League cup was banished by beating Liverpool.

Arsenal are currently five points clear. There is a growing sense that Arsenal can mount their first serious and sustained title challenge since 2007/08. Nothing – not even European progression – would excite me more.

Man United 1 – 0 Arsenal: Anticlimactic end to a good week | November 10th 2013
RVP is welcome to celebrate…
Do you want his respect? His pity? I know I don’t.

There is no love lost between Robin and Arsenal. Why disguise it? Pretending otherwise is just silly.

United are an interesting case study for the theory that “strikers win games”…
It’s my firm belief that Arsenal had the stronger XI going in to this match. Our midfield compares particularly favourably with United’s.

However, the old adage goes that strikers win games, and so it proved. One moment of combination between Rooney and Van Persie was enough for United to secure the three points.

United’s midfield was also weak last season, but Van Persie was able to bail them out time after time, and they ended up as champions. A world class goal-getter can mask many deficiencies.

As good as Olivier Giroud has been this season, I think we’d be getting ahead of ourselves to suggest he’s in the same bracket as United’s front two. However, that’s not a fixed situation. As Wenger often says, you should never put limits on any player’s potential. If Giroud continues to improve at his current rate, that hierarchy might soon change.

What’s preposterous is that we have so little support for Giroud. Introducing Bendtner at Old Trafford, on the day he has made public his displeasure with Arsenal and Arsene, felt absurd.

Strikers win games. And we don’t have enough.

Cardiff 0 – 3 Arsenal: We’ve Got Our Arsene Back | November 30th 2013
In stoppage time, with Arsenal winning this match by three goals to nil, the cameras caught Arsene Wenger bellowing at an Arsenal player. It  may have seemed unnecessary, but I interpreted it as a sign that his focus is greater than ever

Wenger has always been something of a perfectionist. This season, he has shown he is prepared to be a pragmatist too. His perfectionism is no longer confine to Arsenal’s aesthetic dimension, but seems to encompass a broader appreciation of the games. Whereas once he was cavalier, he is increasingly practical. He seems to take pride in the team’s defending once more. He’ll have been just as satisfied by the clean sheet as the three exquisite goals.

Arsenal 1 – 1 Everton: You can’t win them all, annoyingly | December 8th 2013
Mesut Ozil, the man for the big occasion, delivered…
If anyone looked likely to make the breakthrough for Arsenal it was Ozil. His last three performances have all been right out of the top drawer of football’s tallest cabinet. When he smartly lifted the ball over Tim Howard and in to the roof of the net, it really felt like we might be watching a defining goal in the Premier League season.

The equaliser was gutting…

A buoyant stadium was silenced by a smashing strike from Gerard Deulofeu. Some have criticised Szczesny for failing to stop the shot, but it really was an excellent hit. It flashed past the Pole and evaporated our hopes of that seven-point lead. Gutting, but probably fair.

Man City 6-3 Arsenal: Old habits return as Arsenal die hard | December 14th 2013
Having been roundly trounced by City, it’s tempting to wonder just how costly that Gerard Deulofeu goal last week might prove to be. Arsenal’s cushion has disappeared and our seat at the top of the table suddenly feels a lot less comfortable.

The stark truth is that Arsenal have lost to each of Manchester United, City and Chelsea this season. Beating the likes of Spurs and Liverpool is one thing, but that titanic trio provide the real acid test. Arsenal will need to win their home games against their closest rivals if they are to stand a chance of lasting the pace.

Meeting Thierry | December 19th 2013
I was chatting away to Tim Stillman of Arseblog fame - two fish in unfamiliarly opulent waters. Suddenly, Tim’s eyes lit up. Someone was approaching us – someone Tim recognised and, judging by his widening smile, somewhat liked. I felt a hand on my back. I turned around.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Thierry.”

Arsenal 0 – 0 Chelsea: Stalemate sees Mourinho in his element | December 24th 2013
It’s not so much that Wenger can’t beat Mourinho — it’s that Mourinho is expert at finding ways to stop him. Our boss invariably sends his team out play the same way, whereas Mourinho will select a team specifically designed to nullify the opposition. It’s ugly, but it works. The stats back it up.

“If you can’t win the match, don’t lose” is becoming something a mantra for Wenger. It started as a reaction to the defeat to Swansea last season, and was reinforced after Robert Lewandowski’s late winner for Dortmund a couple of months back.

There was a palpable fear of losing in similar circumstances tonight. The fans cried out for changes, but Wenger stuck with XI he started with, anxious that an unnecessary switch might upset the rhythm and, crucially , the defensive balance of his team.

In some ways it’s commendable, and shows Wenger’s growing pragmatism. However, at some stage Arsenal are going to have to gamble, and accept the risk of defeat. Too many draws could prove costly in such a tightly-contested league.

Not 1-1 at Newcastle (again) | 29th December 2013
Big points…
Apart from in the Emirates Cup, all wins are worth three points. Some, however, feel a bit special. Maybe it’s because the win put us back on top, maybe it’s because we were under the cosh for so long, or maybe it’s just because it’s Christmas, but these points feel significant. I’ll dip in to my big bag of cliches to state that these are the sort of games that eventual champions win.

Per Mertesacker was a true giant…
I love seeing Mertesacker with the captain’s armband. For me, he is the team’s true leader, and he truly led by example at St. James’ Park with a dominating defensive display.
His performance against Newcastle really cemented his transformation from giant mutant bambi to defensive rock.

2013 has been a pretty good year for Arsenal…
No side won more Premier League points than us. Unfortunately, titles are won between August and May rather than January and December, but it’s a great testament to our consistency.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Cardiff: We have forgotten how to play without a target man | January 1st 2013
Arsene Wenger, the man who signed Mark Hateley for Monaco, has renewed his love affair with the powerful centre-forward. Emmanuel Adebayor, Marouane Chamakh and most recently Giroud have heralded a return to playing with a more traditional type of striker.

And now, Arsenal have become dependent on it. We’ve been blessed to have Giroud fit and firing for most of this season and last, but it’s also made us strategically lazy.

The Arsenal team have been fed a steady diet of Olivier Giroud for 18 months, and it appears to have significantly altered their palette. Give them Luis Suarez, and they’d probably he aiming balls at his head and chest, wondering why he couldn’t bring them down.

Giroud is not just integral to our attacking shape. He practically is the attacking shape.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Spurs: I Sher-Woodn’t want to be a Tottenham fan | Jan 4th 2014
Theo Walcott looked impressive as a target man. His finishing was a little off, but he showed great movement and a willingness to take on the physical elements of the role. On the admittedly limited evidence of the past two games, he’s a far better bet for the position than Lukas Podolski.

Arsenal must find a way to replace Theo Walcott’s goals | Jan 5th 2014
I’ve tried to work out whose injury would hit the team harder. I’ve come up with a list of three: Wojciech Szczesny, Per Mertesacker, and Olivier Giroud. As important as players like Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil might be, we have others capable of doing a similar job. Walcott offers something special: goals.

 The season might be over for Theo, but it’s not for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger must act fast to ensure that the rupture of Walcott’s ligament does not also precipitate the tearing up of Arsenal’s title dreams.

Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t see the Draxler deal happening in the January window. A lot of amateur body language experts have come out of the woodwork to analyse Arsene’s various smirks and batting eyelashes, but I don’t think there’s anything in there to suggest we’re on the verge of a swoop for the prodigiously-talented Draxler.

Southampton 2 – 2 Arsenal: Arsenal guilty of cardinal sins against Saints | January 27th 2014
Apart from a seven minute spell at the start of the second half, we were all over the place. The most worrying development was the return of a genuine sense of chaos in our play. On other occasions when we’ve dropped points this season, the machine has simply failed to function efficiently. Against Southampton, the machine went haywire. Nothing really seemed to work. Conceding a goal immediately after taking the lead is particularly concerning: that sort of sloppiness is unlike the Arsenal defence we’ve come to appreciate in 2013/14.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Crystal Palace: Ox in the box sees off Pulis | February 3rd 2014
This is my first opportunity to talk about the Kallstrom deal. Arsenal really needed a striker in this window, yet Arsene insisted there was no-one of the “super quality” required available. I’m not convinced we necessarily needed a midfielder, and yet he brought in one of dubious calibre who is injured.It’s a funny one. But he’s proved me wrong before. I, like many, has my doubts about the acquisition of Mathieu Flamini. I’d love to be similarly wrong again.

 

Arsenal 0 – 0 Man United: We’ve missed the party | February 13th
I had a more emotional reaction to this game than normal. The reason why is simple: I hate United. I loathe them. Their demise this season has made me cackle like the most perfectly played out slapstick comedy.

And I so wanted us to be in on it. I wanted us to join the party, along with West Brom, Newcastle, Sunderland, and all those other teams. When we went to Old Trafford, I had visions of a cathartic victory. I wanted us to batter them, get a bit drunk, piss on the corner flag, and dance disgracefully on the grave of Fergie’s dugout. I thought we’d be the munchkins in Oz, the Ewoks on Endor, gleefully celebrating the destruction of a once feared nemesis.

The Emirates wasn’t much different. We weren’t dominated by United, but nor did we shed our insecurities. We had an opportunity to put them to the sword, but we looked more worried about dropping our shield. We’re as scared of Fergie’s ghost as David Moyes is.

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Gunners fall to familiar foe | March 1st 2014
In isolation, a draw at Stoke is a decent result. However, this game was not played in isolation. It was played in the context of a title race, and all our other results. A draw would not have been good enough, and a defeat is a disaster.I know Stoke’s not an easy place to go. However, when we dropped points at home to United, it effectively narrowed the margin for potential error. Some hailed that as a good result “in isolation”. I wonder if they still think so now.

Thoughts on FA Cup, Bayern & Spurs | March 15th 2014
There is a strange pressure about being FA Cup favourites…
It’s an unpleasantly familiar sensation, much like the one we found ourselves in at this stage 2011’s Carling Cup.Surely, the lessons of that disastrous final have been learnt. We’re more experienced, more determined and more professional. We ought to do it. There are no excuses.

Spurs beaten & 1000 not out for Arsene | March 20th 2014
I don’t think Arsene is perfect. He’s arrogant, occasionally myopic, and infuriatingly stubborn. He’s human. However, as humans go, he’s pretty special.The longer his contract remains unsigned, the greater the chance of him walking away at the end of the season. Arsenal fans are being made to contemplate the daunting prospect of a team without Wenger at the helm.Let’s enjoy him while he’s here, and honour him as he deserves.

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal: Bridge of Sighs | March 22nd 2014
This was a dreadful day…
It was sickening but not surprising. Arsenal have collapsed in each of their three games away to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, conceding a remarkable 17 goals along the way. We’ve only conceded 34 goals this season, meaning half that tally has come in our three most important games.

Each of those games was seen as vital in our bid for the title. Each of those games took place at 12.45 on a Saturday. And each of those games saw us effectively surrender in the first quarter. Across the fixtures, we conspired to concede seven goals in the opening 20 minutes.

It can’t be just coincidence. Something is deeply wrong.

We haven’t looked like champions for a while…
Arsenal have now won just three of their last eight games. Three times this season we’ve faced a supposed “Death Run”, and it’s difficult to argue we’ve come out of any of those periods well.

What next for Arsene?
On Friday, Wenger spoke with confidence about the prospect of signing a new deal at Arsenal. One wonders if a result like this might give him cause for reconsideration. On the biggest stages, his team continue to freeze. The spate of new contracts suggest a full recast is unlikely. To continue the theatrical analogy, the simplest thing might be to change the director.

Wenger is intelligent and self-aware. If we can see his problems, the chances are he can too. His last eight years at Arsenal have been characterised by his selfless sense of duty. Perhaps his final selfless act will be to recognise a new man may be required to fix some of the underlying problems in this team.

Ready, Set, Go: The Race for fourth is underway! | March 26th 2014
With Everton making good ground behind us, all focus is on securing a top four finish. It’s a somewhat depressing reality at the end of an exciting season, but fortunately we still have the carrot of a potential FA Cup win dangling ahead of us. Without that, the fans would be in full-blown meltdown.

Everton 3 – 0 Arsenal: Is it over? | April 6th 2014
The operative *it* in this instance is the reign of Arsene Wenger. After this latest capitulation, serious questions have to be asked about his suitability to take the team in to next season — regardless of what happens between now and May. Truth be told, I happen to think we’ll make the top four. Call me crazy, but I still think we’ll win the FA Cup too. But that doesn’t assuage all my fears about the manager.
If Wenger loses the FA Cup semi-final next week, it’s indisputably over. Even if he wins the competition, it may be more of a celebratory send-off than cause for a new contract. It’s not over yet, but it feels like it’s accelerating towards a gloomy conclusion.

I don’t like it. But I’m not as scared of it as some.

Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish | April 13th 2014
I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun.

Let’s focus on the positives: however shoddily, the job got done. A positive result in the final will vanquish any traumatic memories of the painful semi. In recent weeks, Arsenal have been criticised for a failure to grind out results on the big stage. Yesterday, they managed exactly that.

A penalty shootout is a test of technique. However, it’s also a test of nerve. It was to my considerable surprise that Arsenal passed that particular test with flying colours. Settled by the confidence and competence of Lukasz Fabianski, our takers executed their kicks perfectly.

Red, Yellow & Silver: Gunnerblog’s FA Cup Final Preview | May 17th 2014
We’ve waited nine years for this. 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.

A Party 9 years in the Making | May 19th 2014

A cup nine years in the winning. A party nine years in the making. A blog nine years in the writing. The wait is over. Arsenal have a trophy again. And it feels fantastic.

Arsenal is about a lot of things — I’ve already alluded to the amazing community that surrounds our club. However, a look at our story tells you it’s also about glory. It’s about history. It’s about transitory moments of elation that create indelible memories.

That’s what we achieved at Wembley, and it’s what we ought to be constantly chasing. Sometimes, it’s seemed like the board had forgotten what that felt like. Maybe the manager, too. Time — and a shifting of priorities — had dulled their memory of the euphoria victory can invoke. A good deal of the players simply didn’t know any better: it wasn’t a sensation they were familiar with — until now. Now they know what the prize feels like. They know what they’re playing for. They know what it is to be winners.

You can only hope the’ve got the taste for it. I know I have.

So there you have it. Amazing to see how opinion vacillates and optimism waxes and wanes across the season. I’d love to say it’l give me a new sense of dispassionate perspective heading in to 2014/15, but that seems improbable. Bring on another rollercoaster.

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

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Previews, Match Reports, Premier League |  

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.

Everton 3 – 0 Arsenal: Is it over?

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Featured, Match Reports, Premier League |  

Is it over?

Not the title race. That’s been over for a while. Not the “race for fourth”, either. That’s got a good way to go, and looking at the respective fixture lists, I still fancy us to come out on top of Everton.

No: the operative *it* in this instance is the reign of Arsene Wenger. After this latest capitulation, serious questions have to be asked about his suitability to take the team in to next season — regardless of what happens between now and May. Truth be told, I happen to think we’ll make the top four. Call me crazy, but I still think we’ll win the FA Cup too. But that doesn’t assuage all my fears about the manager.

Wenger was comprehensively outmaneuvered by Roberto Martinez at Goodison Park. It started with the team-sheets. We persisted with a midfield that hasn’t really functioned properly for several weeks now. All the evidence suggests we’re better when we employ the pace of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flank, yet Wenger continued with his bizarre policy of selecting both Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky, with neither player seemingly asked to do any defensive work on the right-hand side. In a game in which a point would have been a good result for Arsenal, it’s tempting to call Wenger’s tactics naive. However, considering how long he’s been in the game, one has to revert to an altogether more damning adjective: negligent.

By contrast, Martinez made some bold selections, starting Steven Naismith as a false nine and Romelu Lukaku wide on the right. Naismith frequently dropped in to the area between Arsenal’s defence and midfield, becoming a natural pivot around whom the Belgian pair of Mirallas and Lukaku could buzz effectively. Arsenal didn’t have an answer.

At half-time, Arsenal were 2-0 down and not even in the contest, and yet Arsene Wenger didn’t make a single change. Arsenal needed an act of decisive leadership. Instead, inaction felt like surrender.

My mind cast back to the January transfer window. That was another time when Wenger needed to make a bold decision, and dithered. The consequences have been disastrous.

Arsenal were gutless against Everton. More worryingly, they were rudderless. Never mind a back-up plan — there didn’t appear to be any plan whatsoever.

I don’t want to diminish the achievements of the first half of the season. However, it could be argued we’ve only been able to stave off this kind of collapse due to vagaries of the fixture-generating system

Much has been made of our improvement. However, the stats show we’re now just four points better off than we were at this stage last season. The back-loaded nature of our fixture list has evened out our points tally, and the relative progress compares poorly with that made by the likes of Liverpool.

We’re fourth in the league, and that’s a pretty fair reflection of our ability. We’re good enough to beat pretty much everyone below us, and not really good enough to beat those above us. Your contentment with the manager largely depends on your acceptance of that status quo.

I’m in the camp that believes another manager could improve upon some of our existing issues. What worries me is that the team’s faults appear to be Arsene’s faults. There is a lack of attention to tactical detail, a chronic absence of depth in key positions, and a question of motivation. Those are all ultimately the manager’s responsibility.

Wenger’s contemporary failings don’t diminish his previous greatness. However, you’re only a revolutionary once, and Le Boss has never felt more replaceable than now.

Whichever way you slice it, he’s going sooner rather than later. Wenger doesn’t have another decade in him. Those who advocate stability have to face the fact that eventually, a change is going to come. With the manager’s contract at the point of expiry, now seems as good a time as any.

Looking back, his stalling tactics on his contract felt like a calculated game of brinkmanship with the fans. If the jeopardy of losing him increased, we might draw him closer to our collective bosom. Around Christmas, it seemed to be working. However, on the back of our recent collapse, the adverse effect has occurred. As the prospect of losing Arsene has moved closer, the idea has become increasingly palatable. Few fans are eager to sign up for three more years of this.

I’ve backed Wenger for a long time. If he chooses to stay on, he’ll retain my support. However, he must be wondering whether it’s time to hang up the sleeping bag/coat that has adorned him in recent years.

If Wenger loses the FA Cup semi-final next week, it’s indisputably over. Even if he wins the competition, it may be more of a celebratory send-off than cause for a new contract. It’s not over yet, but it feels like it’s accelerating towards a gloomy conclusion.

I don’t like it. But I’m not as scared of it as some.

Everton Preview: My glass needs refilling

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Previews, Premier League |  

I’ve seen our draw with Manchester City cited as vindication of our abilities against the top teams. I can see why one might think that: it was a valiant fight-back against a team in rampant form who are still in the thick of the title race.

My glass, however, is half-drained. I’m more inclined to observe that we haven’t beaten either of Manchester City or Chelsea, home or away, all season. The aggregate scores aren’t pretty. We secured draws in the home games, but they were draws the opposition were more than happy to take. The point suited them far more than us.

Those results are ultimately what have knocked us out of title contention and in to a customary battle for a top four finish. Today we face Everton in what is being called a “six pointer”. Arsenal hope to have an FA Cup Final to look forward to, but this is undoubtedly Everton’s cup final. Lose, and they face an unexciting trudge towards the Europa League. Win, and they will believe they can overhaul us and reach the Champions League.

This is undoubtedly a huge game. However, it’s only become a huge game because we failed to win any of the other huge games. Everton are striving to climb the mountain; Arsenal to arrest the slide.

Given Everton’s challenging fixture list, a point would be fine. I think Arsenal might set up more conservatively than usual. If we avoid defeat today, our run-in looks manageable.

Come on you Gunners.

Ready, Set, Go: The Race for fourth is underway!

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

Arsenal 2 – 2 Swansea

Even the most wildly optimistic fan has forgotten about the title now…
With Everton making good ground behind us, all focus is on securing a top four finish. It’s a somewhat depressing reality at the end of an exciting season, but fortunately we still have the carrot of a potential FA Cup win dangling ahead of us. Without that, the fans would be in full-blown meltdown.

The defending on the first goal was far too casual…
Just as at Chelsea, Arsenal just weren’t switched on enough. That said, it was a terrific cross and a great leap from Wilfried Bony.

Watching Bony at close quarters was interesting…
Like Giroud, he lacks pace, but everything he does is done with real power, purpose and intent. He’s not the calibre of striker who could take our team to the next level, but someone of his ilk would definitely have helped bulk out the squad. Watching Olivier Giroud labour around the pitch wasn’t pretty.

Giroud looks drained of both stamina and confidence. Although he added to his goal tally in the second half, this was one of his poorest performances of the season.

At half-time I said on Twitter that Arsenal could win the game if they brought on Podolski…
When the German score and created a goal inside 66 seconds, I thought I might be be awarded a modicum of credit. Swansea’s late equaliser soon put paid to that.

As for Podolski, he is a curious case. He is undoubtedly efficient in the final third. He has a shooting accuracy of 67%, as compared with Giroud’s 41%. Only Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil have been more deadly in front of goal, and Ozil’s stats are somewhat skewed by his steadfast refusal to shoot.

However, defensively he remains something of disaster. From an attacking point of view, we seem to need him. And yet, defensively, we can’t seem to afford him. It’s a paradox, all right.

Bringing Sanogo on seemed strange…
Granted, Giroud was knackered, but I would far rather have seen either Nacho Monreal or Carl Jenkinson introduced. Wenger has employed his “all the full-backs” strategy to good effect on several occasions this season. Giving Sanogo a two minute cameo seemed like an unnecessary concession to Arsene’s latest pet project.

Mathieu Flamini didn’t deserve to score that own goal…
He was one of our better performers. In the second half, he marshalled Bony superbly. His display showed the folly of leaving him out at Stamford Bridge.

To end on a positive…
…Kallstrom looked good! Some commentators observed that he received a “good reception” when coming on for his Arsenal debut – in person, it felt more like the ironic cheers reserved for the likes of Nicklas Bendtner. Nevertheless, his passing was crisp and he showed a willingness to get involved in the physical aspect of the game.

 

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal: Bridge of Sighs

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

This was a dreadful day…
The scoreline equals the 8-2 at Old Trafford as Arsenal’s worst ever Premier League defeat under Arsene Wenger. Speaking personally, I found that match more painful, due to my deep-seated hatred of all things Manchester United.

However, on that occasion there were mitigating circumstances. Arsenal were in the midst of a difficult transfer window and a defensive injury crisis. The team we fielded included Jenkinson, Djourou, Traore and Coquelin. The bench found room for Miquel, Lansbury, Ozyakup, Chamakh and Sunu.

Arsenal have injury problems, but the XI we fielded against Chelsea was still made up of experienced internationals. Our first-choice back four and goalkeeper were all available to play. And yet this game looked more like a mismatched cup tie against a League Two side than an elite clash between two Champions League teams.

It was sickening but not surprising. Arsenal have collapsed in each of their three games away to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, conceding a remarkable 17 goals along the way. We’ve only conceded 34 goals this season, meaning half that tally has come in our three most important games.

Each of those games was seen as vital in our bid for the title. Each of those games took place at 12.45 on a Saturday. And each of those games saw us effectively surrender in the first quarter. Across the fixtures, we conspired to concede seven goals in the opening 20 minutes.

It can’t be just coincidence. Something is deeply wrong.

We haven’t looked like champions for a while…
Arsenal have now won just three of their last eight games. Three times this season we’ve faced a supposed “Death Run”, and it’s difficult to argue we’ve come out of any of those periods well.

The team selection was wrong…
Sticking with the same XI who played at Spurs was a strange decision given our awkward performance at White Hart Lane. After the first meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea in the league, Jose Mourinho boasted that he had stifled Arsenal by suffocating Mikel Arteta. He did exactly the same thing at Stamford Bridge. Perhaps the inclusion of Mathieu Flamini alongside Arteta would have helped the Spaniard cope with Chelsea’s marauding midfield.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain produced one of their worst performances in memory…
He was absolutely atrocious. Wenger is famously reluctant to make early changes – the fact he was withdrawn at half-time speaks volumes. Given his recent form, I must confess I did not see this coming.

Arsene was as frustrated with Giroud as the fans…
Friends at the game tell me he frequently showed his displeasure with the striker’s performance. His frustration mirrored that experienced by the fans at home. Many of our players looked as if they were running through treacle — Giroud looked as if he was running through cement.

However, the fact remains that it was Arsene who put his faith in Giroud, and Arsene who neglected to bring in another striker. Giroud’s flaws have been evident for some time. He certainly isn’t going to become quicker anytime soon.

What next for Arsene?
The manager neglected to turn up for his post-match press conference. Presumably, he didn’t know what to say. When asked by BT Sport if he could have anticipated such a catastrophic result, he said it was “unfortunately unpredictable”.

Arsenal’s capitulations at the Etihad and Anfield suggests he’s wrong about that. Distressingly, every time Arsenal head in to a big match away from home, this kind of humiliation is on the cards. The floodgates opened in August 2011 and Wenger can’t seem to find a way to close them.

It’s not entirely his fault. The players have to take responsibility for their abject performance. However, Arsene is in charge of selecting and preparing them. He is struggling to break the cycle which sees this kind of display occur again and again.

Today will have hurt him. His contempt for Jose Mourinho is clear, and the Portugese’s barbed comments about Wenger’s many “bad moments” prior to the game will have stung. That pain will be amplified by the prophetic nature of Mourinho’s words – this game will surely rank among Wenger’s worst moments as Arsenal manager.

On Friday, Wenger spoke with confidence about the prospect of signing a new deal at Arsenal. One wonders if a result like this might give him cause for reconsideration. On the biggest stages, his team continue to freeze. The spate of new contracts suggest a full recast is unlikely. To continue the theatrical analogy, the simplest thing might be to change the director.

Wenger is intelligent and self-aware. If we can see his problems, the chances are he can too. His last eight years at Arsenal have been characterised by his selfless sense of duty. Perhaps his final selfless act will be to recognise a new man may be required to fix some of the underlying problems in this team.

I don’t know if it’s that simple, in truth. I’m certainly not wishing Wenger in to a hasty retirement. I’m merely articulating my concern at seeing the same issues reoccur again and again. There’s been much to admire about this season, but when you break it down the problems — defeat at Stoke, frailty against the big boys, a failure to invest in the crucial midseason period — remain worryingly familiar.

Given this teams propensity to self-destruct, the FA Cup semi-final currently engenders feelings of anxiety rather than comfort.

Much to ponder — and I’d be fibbing if I said I had the answers. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that Arsene has them either.

Spurs beaten & 1000 not out for Arsene

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

Any kind of derby win is welcome…
In these games, performance is secondary to result. Arsenal may have been on the ropes at times, but ultimately it was our hand that was lifted aloft at full-time.

The truth is that, as they have done all season, Spurs struggled to convert their dominance in to presentable goalscoring opportunities. 70% of their attempts at goal came from outside the box, which is something of an inevitability for a team including the trigger-happy Andros Townsend.

Tottenham’s best chance came from a Wojciech Szczesny error, but Mertesacker and Koscielny were on hand to rescue the Pole. Arsene Wenger has had some great individual defenders, but I’m not sure he’s had such an effective partnership as these two since the 1998 stable of Keown, Bould and Adams.

For more on whether Arsenal can win things playing like they did at Spurs, read my piece in The Mirror. 

Tomas Rosicky is becoming the scourge of Spurs…
He’s not known as much of a goalscorer, but two of this three goals this season have come against our local rivals. This one was a spectacular strike, and the sort of goal we might have imagined him scoring more regularly after watching him during the 2006 World Cup.

Arsenal’s need for a new striker crystallised at White Hart Lane…
With the team pegged back, we desperately needed an outlet up top. A bit of pace would have been invaluable. Sadly, Olivier Giroud does not even have “a bit”. He isn’t one-paced. He’s no-paced.

For more on the North London Derby, have a listen to this week’s Arsecast Extra.

Chelsea’s defeat at Villa changes things…
This was a game Arsenal had to win. However, it’s arguably now one we simply mustn’t lose. With that in mind, I expect Mathieu Flamini to come in to shore up the midfield, most likely at the expense of Lukas Podolski.

1000 up for Arsene…
What an incredible achievement. Now seems an appropriate time to share an anecdote from an agent friend of mine who recently went for a meeting with a member of the Arsenal recruitment team at London Colney. Although he didn’t meet Wenger, he was struck by the fact that his presence was evident everywhere. Every inch of that training ground is designed to his specifications.

That influence extends beyond Hertfordshire to North London, where the Emirates Stadium stands as monument to Wenger’s ambition and vision. The agent said his two hours at Colney left him with a deep respect for the remarkable transformation Wenger has enacted in North London. As Arsenal fans, we don’t need to look behind the curtain to understand his importance.

I don’t think Arsene is perfect. He’s arrogant, occasionally myopic, and infuriatingly stubborn. He’s human. However, as humans go, he’s pretty special.

The longer his contract remains unsigned, the greater the chance of him walking away at the end of the season. Arsenal fans are being made to contemplate the daunting prospect of a team without Wenger at the helm.

Let’s enjoy him while he’s here, and honour him as he deserves.

Thoughts on FA Cup, Bayern & Spurs

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Champions League, FA Cup, Premier League |  

There is a strange pressure about being FA Cup favourites…
It’s an unpleasantly familiar sensation, much like the one we found ourselves in at this stage 2011’s Carling Cup.

Surely, the lessons of that disastrous final have been learnt. We’re more experienced, more determined and more professional. We ought to do it. There are no excuses.

I was pleased with the Bayern result and performance…

In my opinion, the tie was effectively dead after the first leg result. If I’m honest, I’d pretty much resigned it as soon as the initial draw was made. However, 1-1 at the Allianz Arena was a creditable result that allowed us to continue our campaign with the semblance of gathering momentum. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was absolutely superb: in the continued absence of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, he must be one of the first names on the team-sheet.

The penalty save felt significant…

Not only did it ensure we left without suffering a dispiriting defeat, but it also felt like the moment that Lukasz Fabianski guaranteed his place in the FA Cup semi-final side. In this form, his departure on a Bosman in the summer feels like a significant loss.

Spurs are on the ropes…

Their fans are as unsettled as they’ve been for some time. Speaking to Spurs supporters, it seems there’s a sense that the club lack direction and purpose. They feel little to no affinity with the players, and are worried they’re trapped in a purgatorial prison. A “negative spiral”, you might say.

However, derby day is a real equaliser. We know only two well how quickly the trajectories of the two north London clubs can be reversed. Arsenal will need to ensure their focus is absolutely right if they’re to come away with three points.

We need those points pretty badly. Although the increased probability of FA Cup success has made that the focus, we still have a good chance of winning the Premier League. It would take an extraordinary run, but then title wins usually do.

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Gunners fall to familiar foe

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

In truth, Arsenal couldn’t really afford to draw this game, let alone lose…
In isolation, a draw at Stoke is a decent result. However, this game was not played in isolation. It was played in the context of a title race, and all our other results. A draw would not have been good enough, and a defeat is a disaster.

There were only so many times we could afford to drop points between now and the end of the season. Given that we face the most difficult fixture list of any of the four title-challengers, this was a game we probably had to win.

I know Stoke’s not an easy place to go. However, when we dropped points at home to United, it effectively narrowed the margin for potential error. Some hailed that as a good result “in isolation”. I wonder if they still think so now.

We have now won just two of our last six Premier League games.

Do I think Chelsea could slip up? Maybe. Do I think that Chelsea, City and Liverpool will pick up less points than us in the run-in, given our respective fixture lists? Probably not.

I know some will consider this an unnecessarily grim assessment. After all, we might go and beat Tottenham, Everton, Chelsea and City in succession. However, given the evidence of our performances against our biggest rivals thus far this season, such a run seems improbable at best.

Our title challenge has been mounted upon our capacity to put away the lesser teams. Today, we failed to do that. It looks costly.

Saying all that, the penalty award was incredibly harsh…
I’m not sure how the referee can possibly give that as a deliberate handball. Still, it seems that The Curse of Laurent Koscielny has struck again. That was the sixth Premier League penalty he’s given away in his time at Arsenal (h/t @OptaJoe). However well he’s playing, he can’t seem to escape those big controversial moments.

You could question the line-up…
I can understand leaving out Mesut Ozil. Tomas Rosicky was outstanding against Sunderland and didn’t really deserve to be dropped.

However, was Jack Wilshere really better equipped than Mathieu Flamini to cope with the tumult of the Britannia’s midfield battle? I’m not sure. This was one of those games in which Wilshere seemed to spend more time on the floor than his feet.

I’m also surprised that Wenger didn’t see the need to start with The Ox. Against Liverpool, he showed that his penetrative running is invaluable to a side desperately missing Theo Walcott. A rest against Sunderland made sense, but there was no reason for him to be left out today.

That late Yaya Sanogo miss felt telling…
When we desperately needed something to rescue the game, we turned to an unproved 21 year-old without a Premier League goal to his name. I’m by no means holding young Sanogo accountable, but he way he scooped that late chance over the bar reminded me of our inexplicable failure to recruit a new attacker.

The priority in January was to find a striker who was better than Bendtner and Sanogo. I refuse to accept that was an impossible task.

The FA Cup feels massive now…
Arsenal are still just three wins away from winning a trophy. I pray that we don’t witness any rotation against Everton. Our league hopes hang by a thread, but the FA Cup remains a very real possibility.

To end on a positive…
Congratulations to @bentayloruk for winning the Bergkamp print - I’ll be in touch shortly about your prize. If you missed out, you can use the discount code ‘GUNNERBLOG’ to get 10% off any Arsenal canvas print.