Blackburn 4 – 3 Arsenal: Adjust your sights for this season


Yakubu wheels away after exploiting more dreaful defending

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal’s fresh start is already tinged by the familiar odour of decay.  After scraping past Swansea and nicking a point from Dortmund, our shortcomings were once more horribly exposed in a 4-3 defeat to struggling Blackburn.

It was, without doubt, one of the strangest games I’ve seen.  But Arsenal conspire to make the strange familiar, and the impossible plausible.  Only we could twice blow a lead at Ewood Park, conceding four goals to a side that, until today, had managed just the one.  It means that Blackburn, whose manager was the subject of protests calling for his sacking prior to the game, have now moved above us in the league table.

The result is made all the more baffling by our dominant first-half display.  Gervinho and Mikel Arteta both netted impressive first goals for the club, sweeping home after moves which both involved incisive passing from Alex Song.  Song, Arteta and Ramsey were dominating the game, and ahead of them the movement of the Ivorian winger was causing havoc in the Blackburn back line.

The Arsenal strikes sandwiched Blackburn’s first equaliser, which gave warning of what was to follow.  Arsenal, the replays hsowed, had a neat defensive line – unfortunately it was on a diagonal rather than a horizontal, and both Koscielny and debutant Santos were playing Yakubu onside as he raced through to toe-poke brilliantly beyond Szczesny.

That said, we still looked comfortable, and should arguably have gone in at half-time at 3-1 – Gervinho choosing to shoot rather than square to an unmarked RVP after a brilliant burst from an in-form Arshavin.  The news boys were slotting seamlessly in to our swashbuckling style, and I expected us to come out after the break in search of the crucial next goal – the one that would define the pattern of the game.

That goal, as now know, went to Blackburn.  Andrey Arshavin was harshly penalised for a backtracking slide on the left-flank.  When Ruben Rochina clipped the resulting free-kick in to the box, Scott Dann’s flicked header was turned in to his own net by Alex Song.  Arsenal’s new zonal marking system, which had looked ropey in the first half, relies on preventing a Blackburn player from reaching the ball.  It does not, however, legislate for our own men accidentally putting the ball in the net.

Blackburn couldn’t believe their luck, and began to play like a team believing it might be their day.  Within nine minutes, they were ahead.  Another set-piece, a corner this time, found N’Zonzi unmarked at the back-post.  He fired across goal and Yakubu – offside – tapped in.

There was worse to come.  From an Arsenal corner, substitute Martin Olsson broke at breakneck speed, hurdling challenges from Santos and Johan Djourou, who had a nightmare as a replacement for the injured Bacary Sagna, to see his cross turned in to his own net by Koscielny.  Our third own goal of the season – more than we have chalked up in the past two years combined.

In a game as surreal as this, and with the way we had played in the first half, rescuing the tie didn’t seem impossible.  Theo Walcott and Marouane Chamakh were thrown on, and with five minutes to go the latter provided some hope with a thumping header – his first league goal in almost ten months.  We had chances to equalise, too: Mertesacker and Chamakh again spurning presentable opportunities created by crosses from Santos, who unsurprisingly looked better going forward than back.

All that history will record, of course, is the result; the cause of which will surprise no-one: some apocalyptically bad defending.  Today we learnt what most of us already knew: that adding new personnel won’t change the fundamental problems of organisation and coaching that dog our defensive displays.

Arsene seems to admit that we were in dire straits at the back:

“It just looked like we had a lack of focus for what we knew they were good at – corners and free-kicks.

You cannot say you are not worried when you see the performance we put in today. It’s just not defensively solid enough.

At the moment we do not have the capability to focus defensively for 90 minutes to win games. It is important you do not give cheap goals away like we did.”

Staggering admissions from the manager, and one only hopes he has some idea of how to combat the malaise.  Signing Santos and Mertesacker is all very well – although both struggled today – but the one addition many fans were crying out for was someone on the coaching staff to provide a bit of guidance and discipline.  It hasn’t happened, and the likes of Martin Keown will continue to dissect our errors on the sofa of the BBC when they could be doing so on the training ground.

By the end of the weekend we could be eleven points behind the league leaders, after just five games.  We’ve now conceded 14 Premier League goals already – in 1998/99 we conceded 17 in 38 games.  Last season in took us until mid-November to ship that many.

There’s a lot of rage out there on the internet.  Fuming fans are looking for someone to blame, and inevitably their ire is turned on the manager.  Myself?  I’m more calm.  I’ve taken a lot of stick over on Twitter for being “out of touch” and “in denial”, but I think it comes down to having already adjusted my expectations.

From the moment we lost Cesc Fabregas, we ceased to be title contenders.  Losing Samir Nasri merely compounded that fact.  A clutch of knee-jerk signings on deadline day boosted the squad, but not enough to change our status in an evolving league.  City, Chelsea and United have got the top three sewn up.  We’re part of the scrabble below, hoping to maintain fourth place and our Champions League status.

That’s as high as my sights ago.  We can not and will not win the league, or indeed Champions League.  We might have a stab at a domestic cup, but even the hunt for an overdue trophy has to be below fourth spot in our list of priorities.  As Arsene suggested on Friday, we are at the start of a new cycle.  Whether or not he’ll be here to see the completion and fruition of it, we can’t know.  What we do know is that retaining the financial fillip and elite status provided by Champions League football is essential to help this club get back to the top.  Without it, we genuinely run the risk of slipping in to a period of obscurity.

If you’re insistent that Arsenal must achieve more this season then I suggest you switch off now, because the next eight months will be rather pointless viewing.  The realistic aim, that fourth spot, remains very much on the table.  I believe that come the end of the season, we will be in contention.  In fact, call me crazy, but I still think we’ll get it.

There were, amidst the chaos, positive signs.  In the first half, and right at the end of the second, we played the best football we have mustered this season – possibly since around February last season.  Arteta and Gervinho looked fine additions, and I began to see just how Arsene might manage to pull us out of the fire.

There was misfortune, too, in the goals we conceded.  Any side that wins a game courtesy of two own-goals will hold their hands up and say they were a tad lucky – and therefore, by default, we were a little unlucky.  Yakubu, too, was offside, and Arsenal had a decent shout for a penalty denied in the dying moments.  We had 24 attempts to Blackburn’s 10, and 13 corners to their two.

I can’t sit here and tell you that Arsenal defended anything other than dreadfully.  Nor can I tell you that we’ll turn this round and become title challengers.  What I can tell you is that I saw signs today that we are perfectly capable of finishing fourth in this league.  It will take a lot of work, and a few changes, but it can happen.  And if you care about the future of this club you had better hope it does.

The manager will not walk away.  Nor will he be sacked.  Like it or not, he is here for this season.  You may believe that this mess is of his creation, and I’d probably agree.  However, I still believe he can get us out of it.

Blackburn Preview

With the tumultuous start to the season we’ve had, it’s easy to forget that there are clubs far worse off than us.  Arsenal fans have been so disillusioned that they’ve even forgotten to laugh at Tottenham, who had a nightmarish summer and look all but certain to drop out of the top four.  Today’s opponents, Blackburn Rovers, are even worse off than our neighbours.  Arsenal’s visit today coincides with a march of protest against manager Steve Kean.

Kean was a marked man from the day of his appointment.  Like Roberto Mancini at Man City, he committed the cardinal sin of replacing a manager much-loved by the British media – in this instance Sam Allardyce, rather than Mark Hughes.  He’s also a client of unpopular football agent Jerome Anderson, who since brokering the Venky’s takeover seems to have become the wizard behind the curtain at Blackburn.  His influence extends so far that Blackburn have now added Jerome’s son Myles to the playing staff.

Kean, it seems, is a sacking waiting to happen.  Even the bookies agree.  But his players seem to feel differently, as anyone who watched their spirited draw at Craven Cottage last weekend will know.  Defeat would reportedly have cost Kean his job, and his team ran through walls to earn a point – almost literally in the case of Junior Hoilett, who was flattened by Mark Schwarzer as he chased on to a loose ball.

Hoilett is part of exciting group of young attacking players, along with Mauro Formic and Ruben Rochina.  At the back, they remain sturdy, with the towering Chris Samba now partnered by fellow one-time Arsenal target Scott Dann.  Blackburn’s league position is not representative of their squad.  And, regardless of how they’re faring, they always seem to raise themselves for a game against Arsenal.

There is positive news on the squad front.  Aaron Ramsey training normally on Friday and should be fit to start, whilst Alex Song and Gervinh0 are finally back from the suspensions they carelessly picked up on the opening day.  I expect all three to start, with Ramsey for Benayoun the only likely change from the team in Dortmund.

Slowly, our season is beginning to move in a positive direction.  It’s essential that momentum isn’t halted today.  Come On You Gunners.

Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea: Substance over style – for now


Mikel Arteta congratulates Andrey Arshavin

Match ReportHighlightsArsene’s reaction

One senses it could all have been rather different.  An early goal would have settled Arsenal nerves and shattered Swansea resolved.  We should have had one, too: inside the first minute, an eager and energetic Mikel Arteta hassled his man off the ball and played in Aaron Ramsey, who slipped when put through on goal.  Had he kept his feet and his composure, Arsenal might have gone on to record a resounding victory.

Doubtless some would still have complained.  There has been much whining about how we failed to put a newly-promoted team to the sword, but I think that shows a lack of respect both for Swansea and our current predicament.  Yesterday, all we needed was a win.  After shifting eight goals in our last game, a clean sheet would have been nice too.  We finsihed with both.  To complain would be churlish and naive.

Arsenal started with two debutants.  Per Mertesacker partnered Laurent Koscielny in front of Wojciech Szczesny, whilst Mikel Arteta formed a midfield trio with Aaron Ramsey and Emmanuel Frimpong.  Gibbs and Sagna supported Arshavin and Walcott on the wings, and Robin van Persie led the line.  The substitutes bench contained remaining new boys Park, Santos and Benayoun – Alex Chamberlain was unlucky to miss out after showing some fine form for the England U-21s.

Aside from Ramsey’s early chance, there were other opportunities – Arsenal were generally better in the first half than the second, and on-loan Spurs defender Caulker had to produce a brilliant goal-line clearance to deny Theo Walcott after he had been played in by Arshavin.

It was the Russian who got the goal, in bizarre circumstances.  Michel Vorm, who had started his career in English football in fine form, collected a loose ball and went to throw it out to his midfielder.  Just as he did so, the improbably named Angel Rangel wandered in to his path.  The ball bounced off the defender, leaving the retreating Arshavin to pass the ball in to an abandoned goal.  The goal was comical in circumstance but brilliant in execution: a left-footed opportunity from such a narrow angle left Andrey with plenty to do.

It was Arshavin’s first goal at the Emirates since the victory over Barcelona – and his best performance in a long-time.  Although nominally playing from the left, he drifted inside to combine with Arteta and Van Persie and looked, for the hour he was on the field, our most dangerous attacker.  The aftermath of the Barca game saw us embark on a dreadful run that has stretched across the summer – perhaps this strike can book-end that spell and start us off on a good foot once again.

The second half was tense – Swansea struck the bar with a free-kick, whilst RVP thrashed a fight-footed effort against the post.  The Welsh side were playing with nothing to lose, whilst Arsenal’s psychological handbrake was firmly on.  In the game’s dying moments, Danny Graham ought to have done better with a volley on the turn from six yards out.  The full-time whistle was greeted a sigh of relief rather than a roar of approval.

But we got there.  We have our first league win of the season, and the smallest of blocks on which to build.  There’s a big week ahead with trips to Dortmund and Blackburn.  Positive results then could change the complexion of our season for the better.  Like Luke Chadwick after a dose of isotretinoin.

This was an unfamiliar-looking Arsenal team – one still learning to appreciate and take advantage of each other’s patterns of play.  I thought Mikel Arteta made a seamless transition in to red-and-white, particularly in the first half, when we was certainly the general of an otherwise inexperienced midfield.  How he’ll relish returning to the grand stage of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Per Mertesacker was steady if not spectacular.  In the first-half Szczesny had to produce a fantastic stop after Graham beat the big German to a cross, but after that he seemed to settle.  His distribution was intelligent, and some of his tackling immaculate.  He’s not the quickest, but seems to have the positional awareness to prevent that being a problem.

Yossi Benayoun made it a hatrick of debuts with a thirty minute cameo as a replacement for Andrey Arshavin, and I thought he did really well (video highlights).  He’s a dynamic, creative player who isn’t afraid to put in a defensive shift too.

There were aspects of our performance which concerned me, certainly.  Emmanuel Frimpong showed that whilst he is undoubtedly promising, he has much to learn in when it comes to his use of the ball.  Kieran Gibbs, too, looked unconvincing.  Perhaps he was bemused by the comically small but effective Nathan Dyer, or suffering from a lack of support from Arshavin, but Swansea certainly had most joy down his flank.

All that said, come the final whistle, we had what we needed.  Dortmund will be a far sterner test, but we’ll be far better prepared with a victory under our belts.  Bring on the big boys.

Premier League Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope


A short time ago in a stadium far, far away, Arsenal were on the receiving end of a defeat so humiliating that it prompted one of the greatest periods of introspection in the club’s recent history.  Since then, a great deal has passed.  Five new players have joined the club, and another five have left.  The club have taken the opportunity provided by the international break to regroup, recoil, and reinforce.

We’re undoubtedly in a stronger position that we were ten days ago.  The addition of established players like Mertesacker, Arteta and Benayoun has provided the squad with a depth it was sorely lacking.  Arsene Wenger has even suggested the squad may be better than it was twelve months ago:

“The squad is stronger. If you look at the squad now and imagine Wilshere and Diaby coming back, plus the players like Vermaelen who will come back soon and I think we have a more mature squad.”

Only time will tell if he’s right.  The loss of Fabregas and Nasri has been a tremendous blow, but if the likes of Mertesacker, Santos and Arteta can make the team more robust, we may see the emergence of an Arsenal side with a different personality.  One with less flair, but more fight.  Mertesacker and Vermaelen should have the ability to bind in to a formidable defensive unit.  Arteta, meanwhile, has “amazed” Arsene with his strength in the tackle – a toughness forged on the battlegrounds of the SPL and the Old Firm Derby.

The new boys in training

We may be lighter on big names.  We may be lighter on creativity.  But we won’t be lighter in the challenge.  It’s important to remember that whilst we’ve lost two lynch-pins of the side, they didn’t lead us to any great success, especially in terms of silverware.  Arsene’s additions this summer have been unusual for him, but isn’t that just what people wanted?  Fans cry out for a departure from the philosophy of signing unheard of youngsters, and then when he does just that, they ask why we didn’t sign players like Hazard and M’Vila – both less than 21 and without any experience of the English game.  I believe Arsenal tried for both – the latter in particular – but right now the likes of Arteta could prove more useful.

It’s our fourth league fixture, our sixth game of the season, and yet Arsenal fans and players alike seem united in the belief that the season starts now.  Winger Theo Walcott says:

“We need to start our season against Swansea. We need to forget about the games against Liverpool and Manchester United.

We need to react in a positive way. We need players to stand up and be counted because, if we’re honest, it wasn’t good enough against Manchester United.”

He’s right.  We need to be positive.  In order to do that, we’ll have to be realistic.  We’re currently in 17th place, already 8 points behind the Manchester clubs.  With that start and the disruption we’ve suffered, winning the league seems improbable at best.  At the moment, our priority has to be overhauling Liverpool and retaining that valuable Champions League spot.  If we can do that this season, as well as have a decent stab at the cups, we’ll all be mightily relieved.

That battle starts today against Swansea.  I suspect a couple of our new signings will be on show: Per Mertesacker is likely to start alongside Laurent Koscielny with Bacary Sagna and the fit-again Kieran Gibbs at full-back.  Andre Santos is not yet fully fit, and will begin on the bench, and Wojciech Szczesny – our player of the month for August – will continue in goal.  In midfield, Emmanuel Frimpong and Aaron Ramsey will be joined by Arteta, whilst captain Van Persie is likely to be flanked by Walcott and Arshavin.  There is the possibility that Yossi Benayoun could be thrown in ahead of the out-of-sorts Russian, but J. Y. Park is unlikely to be involved: as of last night he was still in Paris awaiting clearance on his visa.

I’d love to see Arsenal come back in style and make a real statement, putting four or five behind a newly promoted side.  I don’t anticipate that, however.  Swansea are a decent side and won’t roll over.  We may need to be patient today: the fans as much as the players.

After Swansea, we face Blackburn and Bolton in the league, and have the chance to build some momentum before the North London Derby.  If we can embark upon a winning run, then the Old Trafford debacle will soon seem light years and galaxies away.

It’s time to look ahead.  Or as the marketing folk at Nike would have us say: Forward.

 Come On You Gunners.

8 – 2 : A Post-Mortem



Arsene's lowest ebb?

Match Report | Highlights Video | Arsene’s reaction

A couple of weeks ago, when Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona and Samir Nasri seemed determined to follow him through the door, I told you that “the night is darkest just before the dawn”.  It’s a turn of phrase I had heard the character of Harvey Dent use in Christopher Nolan’s Batman film, ‘The Dark Knight’.  It’s supposed to engender comfort among troubled souls; to tell them that although things seem bad, they are almost certainly about to get better.

I conveniently forgot to mention that shortly afterwards Dent loses half his face in a fire and becomes a psychopathic killer.  The night, for Gotham, just gets darker.  And so it has proved for Arsenal’s start to the season, as yesterday we reached what we can only hope is our nadir, losing 8-2 to our supposed rivals Manchester United.

8-2.  8-2.  It doesn’t look like a real result.  I believe in the old days of teletext, eight is the point at which they’d spell out the number in letters (eg. Manchester United 8 (E I G H T)) to assure you it wasn’t a typo.  It’s a shocking scoreline, in every sense.

The writing was on the wall as soon as the line-up was announced.  Robbed of Vermaelen and Sagna to injury and illness respectively, the XI took on the look of a Carling Cup team, with Jenkinson, Traore, and Coquelin all involved from the start.  The bench was even more distressing, with names like Chamberlain, Ozyakup, and Sunu all awaiting league debuts.

With such a weak line-up, the relatively experienced heads of Djourou, Koscielny, Rosicky and Arshavin had a duty and responsibility to hold things together and make sure the defence was not exposed.

That, as we all know, is not how it turned out.  The defending was apocalyptically, comically bad.  By the time goals five, six, seven and eight hit the net, I was laughing through the anguish.  Here are our errors, catalogued:

Goal 1: The cracks began to show when Carl Jenkinson was caught way out of position, allowing Patrice Evra to charge in behind.  Theo Walcott did brilliantly to get back and recover the situation, but was even quicker to let Jenkinson know what he thought of his defending, leading to a slanging match between the pair that carried on as we defended the resulting corner.

When the ball was cleared as far as Anderson, more horrors followed.  His wedged pass over the defence should have been cleared, but for a combination of indecision and cowardice that allowed Danny Welbeck to steal in and score.  First Johan Djourou inexplicably allowed the ball to bounce inside his own area, and then Koscielny ducked out of a challenge with the English forward.  A Martin Keown or Sol Campbell would have put his body on the line to prevent a goal.  Koscielny is not that man.

Goal 2: Again came from Wayne Rooney running in behind Jenkinson.  Coquelin could’ve been quicker to close Ashley Young down too, but what a strike nonetheless.

Goal 3: Sorry Carl, but there was another basic positional error from the teenager here.  Young was goal-side and Jenkinson had no choice but to bring him to ground, leading to a sensational free-kick from Wayne Rooney.

Goal 4: Wojciech Szczesny, who made several good saves on the day, made the classic mistake of edging across goal behind his wall and allowing Rooney the space to curl a terrific dead ball in to the far corner.

Goal 5: Goal five exhibited our most spectacularly bad defending.  Andrey Arshavin, who found himself in the left-back position, stepped up alongside Johan Djourou, whilst Traore and Jenkinson were left behind.  This left Nani onside and unmarked to score.

Goal 6: A couple of errors from Johan Djourou here, who dived in on Park, missed his tackle, and then failed to track the Korean when he broke free.

Goal 7: A penalty conceded by Theo Walcott.  No complaints at all from the winger about the award – his trip on Evra seemed to be born as much out of frustration as any realistic attempt to defend.

Goal 8: Another sumptuous finish by young, but again Djourou found himself standing too far off in no-man’s land.

Amidst all the awfulness, there were a couple of goals for Van Persie and Walcott, a missed penalty by the Dutchman, a red card for Jenkinson after another positional error, and several instances in which Andrey Arshavin was lucky not to join him in receiving his marching orders.  If you have lots of time and a similar amount of self-loathing then I suggest you read the match report linked at the top of the page.

I’ve touched on our weakened team.  It’s no excuse.  We had injuries?  So did they.  United were without their first-choice central defensive pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic, as well as key midfielders like Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia.  Our team was young?  Well, on average, United’s was younger.  What we witnessed yesterday was, plainly, inexcusable.

Some of the performances were dire.  You’ll have noticed that Jenkinson’s name crops up repeatedly in the listed litany of mistakes.  He looked very much like a player who has played a handful of games in the Conference and League One – unsurprising, because that’s exactly what he is.  He managed to get through the game against Udinese on Wednesday, but here he was out of his depth, and drowning.  The same could be said for Armand Traore who, with Premier League and Serie A experience on his CV, has less excuses than Jenkinson.  Johan Djourou is going backwards faster than the DeLorean time machine, and on a couple of occasions Laurent Koscielny showed that whilst he is an able defender, he is not willing to get hurt for the sake of stopping a goal.

And yet, for the most part, I don’t really blame the players – especially not kids like Jenkinson.  As I’ve said before: it’s not their fault they’re out there.  It’s the fault of the manager (and quite possibly the board) for failing to strengthen a squad that has simultaneously been stripped of some of its most prized assets.

Bank balance aside, the numbers don’t look good for the manager – and I don’t just mean the glaring ‘8’ on the scoreboard; the first time we’ve conceded that many goals in a game since 1896.

It’s Arsene’s worst ever start to a Premier League season.  Taking in to account our form at the back end of last season, it’s also our worst ever run under him.  Since losing the Carling Cup Final to Birmingham, we’ve won just three league games.  One was against Blackpool.  And, to help matters, we’ve now had a player sent off in each of our three domestic matches this season.  We have more red cards than points.

Yesterday it was made painfully clear how far away our squad is from being able to compete with United.  With no Ferdinand or Vidic, they were still able to call on two centre-backs who both looked more capable than our own.  How it will have stung Arsene to know that Phil Jones rejected his overtures to sign with the Red Devils this summer.  To outsiders, Jones’ choice is easy enough to understand: wouldn’t you rather sign for the club where you can learn from good, experienced defenders, and play for a manager who actually seems to care about the art of keeping clean sheets?

As poor as our defending was, United showcased a real ruthless quality in front of goal.  Much of our attacking talent remained available, but do we have players with the ability (or perhaps more importantly, the confidence) to score the kind of goal that Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney did yesterday?  Just so we’re all clear, Young cost United £16m – £1m more than we’ll end up paying for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who made an unmemorable debut as a substitute.

What sickened me more than anything was to watch this team perform without pride, and without belief.  The players know the squad isn’t good enough to compete.  It was written all over their performances – and some of them have even said as much.  They were caught in a losing battle.  When Van Persie and Walcott were withdrawn to fight another day, they sat down on the bench without so much as a glance at Wenger.  Inside, they will have been fuming.  You can bet that neither are in any mood to open contract negotiations anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the manager sat in the dugout, motionless.  He didn’t even walk to the touchline to cajole his troops.  He just sat there and watched his lambs slaughtered.  You know Arsene is in trouble when he’s receiving pity from his supposed adversary.  After the game, Alex Ferguson said, “we could’ve scored more, but you don’t want to score more against a weakened team like that”.  It’s a comment almost as withering and humiliating as the scoreline.

As I watched at home, I briefly (and, I now realise, irrationally) wondered if Wenger might resign in the aftermath of the game.  What changed my mind was our extraordinary fans, who for much of the second half drowned out the United supporters with a chorus of “We love you Arsenal”.  They will have reminded Arsene of his commitment to this club.  He won’t walk away now.

Nor should he.  This is his mess, and he needs to fix it – a change of manager at this stage would benefit no-one.  The obvious place to start is in the transfer market.  A centre-half and a central midfielder are absolutely vital.  We’d all like business to have been done earlier, but there’s no point moaning about that now: we’ve got three days to do the required repair work on this squad.  Transfers can be done very quickly.  Take the case of Park Chu-Young: Arsenal received news that Joel Campbell’s work permit appeal had been declined on Friday afternoon – by Saturday morning the Korean striker was on his way to London.  That deal should have been completed last night, and will most likely be announced today, leaving Arsene and the board to concentrate on the other reinforcements we urgently require.

A particularly optimistic fan tweeted me last night to say that Feyenoord were once beaten 8-2 by Ajax but went on to lift the title in the same season.  The performances of the two Manchester clubs yesterday, and by contrast our own, shambolic display, have shown us that winning the league is almost certainly impossible.  However, we are perfectly capable of recovering from this to retain our Champions League spot, which has to be the realistic target for this campaign.  Get the transfer business right, and our season could start against Swansea on September 10th.

Either that, or Arsene will lose half his face in a fire and become a psychopathic killer.