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

Everton 3 - 0 Arsenal: Is it over?


Is it over? Not the title race. That’s been over for a while. Not the “race for fourth”, either. That’s Read more

Arsenal must find a way to replace Theo Walcott’s goals


It’s rare that a piece of Arsenal news shocks me. We live, lest we forget, in a world where Read more

Video: Arsene Wenger sings Cee-Lo Green hit to Robin van Persie


Alright gang. I've done another one of my silly songs. This time, my slightly strange brain has got Arsene Read more

A tribute to Patrick Vieira, Midfield Colossus

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 1,188 Guns

Hello one and all. Little bit of bonus reading for you today – I wrote the blow piece for former Arsenal player Danny Karbassiyoon’s new website Soccer Without Limits. Be sure to check it out – there are some excellent pieces on a few other Arsenal legends available too.

I’ll be back soon with an FA Cup Preview. Till then.

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.”
William Shakespeare; Julius Caesar; Act I Scene II

It was September 1996. Arsenal were trailing 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday, and midfield dynamo Ray Parlour was struggling with injury. In his stead, caretaker manager Pat Rice turned to a gangly twenty-year old debutant. Before full-time, I had a new favourite Arsenal player.

Patrick Vieira was unlike anyone I’d seen before in an Arsenal shirt. He was tall with a lean build, yet capable of surprising bursts of power. Most strikingly, he was hugely technically accomplished.

His impact at Arsenal was immediate. I remember one of his early starts at Ewood Park when he took Blackburn apart, playing a one-two with Paul Merson and slipping in Ian Wright with a nonchalant swing of his right foot. In the course of that move, Vieira travelled fully 50 yards in a matter of seconds. Arsenal had a player who could defend, attack, and crucially manage the moment of footballing alchemy which allowed him to transition instantaneously between the two.

Arsene Wenger had some idea what he was getting. Prior to taking the reigns at Arsenal, he insisted the club went ahead and bought Vieira from AC Milan, where his career was in danger of stagnation. Wenger had witnessed Vieira’s emergence in the French league, where another of his key qualities had become evident: he was a born leader. Vieira captained Cannes while still in his teens.

It was in summer 1997 that Vieira’s Arsenal career really took off. Arsene brought in Emmanuel Petit from Monaco, and that pair dove-tailed beautifully. I have not seen a better midfield partnership anywhere in football. Both were such complete footballers, able to defend and attack in equal measure. Arsene’s later switch to using three central midfielders is the ultimate compliment to the Vieira-Petit axis: without them, he had to add another player to match their influence.

That season brought the first silverware of Vieira’s time at the club, as the club captured a historic double. They would be the first trophies of many. Vieira’s time at the club is synonymous with glory. He was the figurehead of the first half of Arsene Wenger’s reign. Between his debut in 1996 and his final appearance in 2005 he was a key figure in lifting three Premier League trophies and four FA Cups. Throughout that period, there were many stars: Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell and more. Vieira was the constant. He was the beating heart of the side from the moment he first pulled on the shirt.

And he had so much heart. Vieira was a fighter – sometimes literally. His disciplinary problems became infamous, but they showed an inherent battling spirit. It has become de riguer to lament the modern Arsenal’s lack of leadership and fight on the pitch, but in his day Vieira was a true general.

The driving narrative of the early part of Arsene’s reign was the rivalry with Manchester United, and at the very core of that was the battle between Vieira and Roy Keane. These were two of the great players of their era, both driven by a desire for supremacy that spilled over in to antipathy. When they weren’t scrapping on the pitch, they were scrapping in the tunnel.

It was tense, but it was also hugely entertaining. The Premier League has become a very sterilised environment, but here were two players who plainly didn’t like each other and made absolutely no secret of the fact. Thankfully, these were the days before an enforced handshake before the game.

Picking out individual highlights for Vieira is difficult. He was the engine in so many fantastic team performances, and was a fundamentally selfless player. Take a look at perhaps the most memorable goal of the last twenty years at Arsenal: Dennis Bergkamp’s pirouette and finish at St. James’ Park. Watch that goal again, and Vieira’s contribution to a sweeping move immediately becomes clear. There is an outstretched left leg to take the ball from his opponent, then an instant burst of acceleration beyond three Newcastle midfielders. Suddenly, Arsenal are in space and have launched an attack.

That was Vieira’s most remarkable gift. The ability to win the ball and begin a counter-attack in the same motion. Arsene Wenger has a habit of talking about Jack Wilshere’s “little burst”. Vieira had a big burst, and it was devastating.

The greatest insult to Vieira’s legacy is that he is remembered by some as purely a destroyer. That’s nonsense: he was as elegant as he was aggressive. Watching Vieira lift the ball over an opposing player’s head, saunter round him and collect it on the other side was an awe-inspiring experience.

Vieira’s reputation is tainted for some by the fact that in several consecutive summers he agitated for a move away from the club. I prefer to remember the fact that he stayed until his peak was past. I saw him play games with his knee strapped and clearly causing him enormous pain, but his determination to win remained absolute. He suffered for the cause.

Vieira joined as just another player, and left as an icon. Like his international colleague Claude Makelele, his name became short-hand for the complete midfielder: any tall athletic midfielder is liable to be labelled as a “Vieira-type”. Such comparisons flatter these players, and yet they persist. One wonders if Arsene Wenger’s continuing patience with the injury-prone Abou Diaby is borne out of a desperate hope that Diaby could be the closest thing to a reincarnation of Vieira’s brilliance.

Any such hopes are false: I don’t think we will ever see the likes of Patrick Vieira again. He was a one-off, and I’m glad I was around to enjoy him.

 

Sunderland 0 – 1 Arsenal: He’s Bac

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 552 Guns

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

This win was absolutely essential…
With Chelsea and Spurs both picking up wins, it was vital that we maintained the pace in the race for Champions League qualification. The next month or so sees us face both Tottenham and Everton, sandwiched by cup ties with Blackburn and Bayern. We are entering the period that will define our season, and momentum is crucial.

In the first half, Arsene’s tactical tweak worked a treat…
I was very surprised to see Lukas Podolski on the bench again, with Aaron Ramsey handed a start. However, Arsenal’s midfield dominated the game, and there was a slightly different shape in evidence too.

Ramsey sat in a deeper role alongside Arteta. Jack was playing as the advanced midfielder, with Cazorla ostensibly starting from the left-wing. In truth, Cazorla spent almost the entire game playing inside, combing with Jack and the strikers. It was a less a midfield three and more of a four, replicating the ‘magic square’ that the Brazil national team have been known to use.

Wilshere’s injury changed the game…
Jack’s combination play with Santi had been mesmerising. When we lost Wilshere, we also lost our way a little bit. It was noticeable too that Sunderland improved significantly when they replaced the thuggish Cattermole with the more technical Larsson.

This game highlighted the gulf between Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson…
I appreciate that Carl only knew he was playing 15 minutes before kick-off. I also appreciate that we came across a referee who seemed only too happy to hand out cards to our players while letting their Sunderland equivalents get away with (attempted) murder.

Despite that, Carl Jenkinson’s sending off was very silly indeed. Having picked up a booking inside the first ten minutes, he was always walking a tight-rope. When walking a tight-rope of any kind, it is not advisable to make any sudden lunges. Unfortunately, Carl did just that at Stephane Sessegnon, and a second yellow duly followed.

By contrast, Bacary Sagna was a rock at centre-back. Like Jenkinson, he didn’t know what role he’d be playing until shortly before kick-off. Unlike Jenkinson, he excelled.

I think some of the criticism aimed at Sagna in recent weeks has been extremely harsh. Yes, his recent performances have fallen below his own impeccable standards, but he remains one of our best players.

The idea that Jenkinson is ready to displace Sagna is nonsense. I for one hope that we keep the Frenchman by giving him the long-term deal he craves. If he leaves this summer, as appears increasingly likely, we’ll need to bring in someone with the requisite experience to fill that spot.

I love Carl, but a few good games earlier this season do not make him an international class defender.

The whole defence deserve credit…
Nacho Monreal coped well, Per Mertesacker organised an unfamiliar defence, and Wojciech Szczesny had his best game of the season. Aaron Ramsey also deserves enormous credit for filling in superbly at right-back when required.

Our finishing…
…ought to have been better. Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla both squandered glaring opportunities to seal the game on the counter. Fortunately, we were able to fall back on an outstanding defensive display to get the three points.

Some thoughts on Andre Santos…
As I write this it seems the “false three” is on the verge of joining Gremio on loan. It’s remarkable to think that on the final day of last season, he was preferred to Kieran Gibbs and scored a crucial goal in our ascension to the Champions League places.

His fall since then has been spectacular. I can’t help but feel that the infamous shirt swap incident with Robin van Persie was a huge catalyst towards his departure. On that day, he lost the fans, and it’s almost impossible to come back from that – just ask Emmanuel Eboue or Nicklas Bendtner. Every mistake is highlighted; every indiscretion scrutinised. I’m not sure that Santos has been more error-prone than many of our other defenders, but the tide turned against him on that November day.

I wish him all the best. He seems like a very decent guy, if not a great defender.

I also have to question our policy of continually weakening our squad. When Arsene signed Nacho Monreal, he suggested it was because he needed two left-backs at all times. Why has that changed in the space of ten days?

The fact we’re playing Sagna at centre-back suggests that loaning Djourou out probably wasn’t the smartest move. I hope we don’t pay for allowing other players to leave at a time when it’s impossible to replace them.

Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke: Podolski breaks Stoke hearts, and I laugh

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 653 Guns

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

This wasn’t a great game…
It’s hardly surprising when you consider the opposition.  Stoke are a horrible side, in every respect.  I find their style of play and their character equally repulsive.

Their performance at the Emirates was one of the most negative I’ve ever seen by a Premier League team.  It was a strange tactical decision when you consider our vulnerability at the back.  If Stoke had gone for us, we might just have buckled.

As it was, we simply had to be patient, and the late introduction of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski helped bring about the tipping point.  When Stoke did occasionally venture forward, Mertesacker and Koscielny had more than enough to deal with anything The Potters threw at them.

I’m delighted the goal was scored in ‘controversial’ circumstances…
The brief reprieve provided by the linesman only made the crushing blow of Podolski’s goal all the more profound for Stoke’s players and manager.  It hurt them, and I’m glad it did.

Nacho Gonzalez…
…had a solid if unspectacular debut.  I suspect we’ll accustomed to describing him in that manner: he seems to be a no-nonsense, safety-first kind of player.  That’s fine by me: not enough of our supposed defenders are willing to be defenders first and foremost.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain…
…is having a difficult season.  If only there was a cliche to describe the struggles of a player who made a significant impact in their first season, only to then struggle to replicate that form second time round.  Alas.

Chamberlain has two basic problems.  The first is that the outstanding form of Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski has limited his opportunities.  The second issue is that when he is afforded a chance to start, he invariably tries too hard to impress.  On one occasion on Saturday he beat his man to get to the byline, only to turn back and try to beat him a further two times.  By the time he eventually got his cross away, all the men in the middle were marked.

The Ox could learn something from Podolski: efficiency is key.

One of the most interesting battles took place away from the pitch…
Bizarrely, the Arsenal stewards decided that the second half of this heated game would be the opportune moment to try and convince the singing section of the crowd to break the habit of a lifetime (well, six-and-a-half years) and sit down.  Needless to say, they failed, and gave up after about ten minutes amid chants of, “Stand up if you love Arsenal!”.

On the subject of the Arsenal fans…
I can’t help but chuckle at our continued failure to master the scansion of one of our own chants.  Arsenal fans are fond of singing a certain ditty that implies that the mother of the manager of our local rivals may be seeking employment as a lady of the night.

Whenever the manager changes, so must the chant.  While there is usually a period of adaptation, we are now six months in to Andre Villas Boas’ reign, and still that chant dwindles embarrassing out whenever it reaches that crucial point.

The problem, it would seem, is the sheer number of syllables in Villas Boas’ name.  Might I suggest using the popular acronym ‘AVB’, and that way we can get on with questioning the honour of his mother in the time-honoured tradition.

Deadline Day Thoughts: He’s Nacho left-back anymore, Malaga

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 1,035 Guns

To my immense surprise, Arsenal bought a player yesterday.

And not just any player. Several friends whose opinion I value highly sought me out to tell me just what a good player Arsenal have got. To be fair, his CV speaks for itself: Nacho Monreal is a Spanish international at the peak of his career.

Were it not for an injury to Kieran Gibbs on the eve of the transfer window, I doubt anyone would have arrived. Arsene Wenger revealed in his press conference today that Gibbs could miss as many as eight weeks with a thigh problem, and the prospect of relying on Andre Santos for that crucial period of the season was obviously not something the manage was prepared to face.

It shows you how swiftly a deal can be done when there’s a bit of urgency. I have spent most of this window frustrated with Arsene’s reluctance to enter the market. He seems to have fallen out of love with the entire idea of transfers; his recent quotes suggest he finds them dirty and a bit sordid. He views them as the ugly side of football – a side he would rather not engage with.

His relationship with the market seems to have been irrevocably soured by the sages over the likes of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie. Meantime many of his own signings have floundered. In the last few years, transfers have been more hurtful than helpful.

He’s wrong to be dismissive of transfers. People rightly laugh at cheque-book managers, but good recruitment is a skill. There are deficiencies in Arsenal’s squad and a club with our resources ought to be able to correct them.

Monreal is a great start. I would have liked to have seen him supplemented by a defensive midfielder and a striker, but despite reported bids for Etienne Capoue and David Villa, it wasn’t to be.

We’ve been allowed to get away with it, though. I expected our rivals for fourth place, Spurs and Everton, to make significant additions in this window. Instead, Tottenham only added Lewis Holtby, failing to sign the striker or holding midfielder they plainly need. Everton, meanwhile, got an England U-19 International defender and missed out on ambitious moves for Alvaro Negredo and Leroy Fer.

I expected both clubs to consolidate their strong league position with a few speculative purchases. Instead, they’ve allowed us right back in to the game.

No-one predicted the signing of Monreal. However, as usual with Arsene Wenger, there were clues. A few days ago, he said of the January window:

“It’s a market for me that is a wrong transfer market because the only teams who sell players are teams in financial trouble.”

His sympathy obviously only extends so far, as he returned to the club from whom he stole Santi Cazorla, debt-ridden Malaga, to take another top talent.

It’s unusual for Arsene Wenger to sign a player who provides genuine competition for an established first-team player. His squads usually have quite a rigid hierarchy, with a clear first XI and then a set of reserves. Nacho Monreal breaks that mould: he has not come here to play second fiddle to Kieran Gibbs. Once Gibbs is fit again, there will be a genuine tussle between these those two.

That is how it should be. Competition is healthy, and important. Has the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seen a decline in the form of Theo Walcott? Quite the opposite.

For the first time in a long time, Arsene Wenger may have the option of rotating a member of his defence without significantly weakening the side.

For now, however, Monreal has the left-back slot to himself. He is cup-tied for the European clash with Bayern Munich, but I expect him to slot straight in for tomorrow’s Premier League tie with Stoke.

Let’s just hope the orcs don’t end up feasting on Nacho.

Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool: Another day, another destiny…

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 84 Guns

Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

It strikes me that there are three topics of discussion today.  The positives of last night’s game, the negatives, and the impending transfer deadline.  I’ve decided to hit those one at a time.

THE POSITIVES

The fight-back
Perhaps because this side are becoming so accustomed to falling behind, their heads never really dropped, even at 2-0 down.  We clawed our way back in to the game with one of those flurries of goals we seem to have been producing of late – this time it was two in two minutes.  Our goalscoring potential seems to be far greater right now, and that’s down in no small part to the improved form of…

Olivier Giroud
It’s now 5 goals in 3 games for the Frenchman.  His second half display included some of his most convincing moments in an Arsenal shirt.  His goal was the sort of header that is becoming his trademark, while his lay-off assist for Theo was absolutely gorgeous.

Theo Walcott
Even Theo’s biggest doubters must be coming round now.  His volley was a fantastic finish and gave him his 18th goal of the season.  To put that in perspective, that’s more goals than Freddie Ljungberg scored in any season of his fondly-remembered seasons with Arsenal.  It is a massive contribution.

THE NEGATIVES

The defending
Disastrous.  Woeful.  Apocalyptic.  Really, really bad.

Perhaps in years to come we’ll look back upon allowing Jordan Henderson to waltz through our back-line and score as the nadir of our defensive troubles. Jordan Henderson can barely play football, or indeed waltz, and yet we made him look like Lionel Messi.

Kieran Gibbs’ injury
Gibbs is now out for the dreaded “three weeks”.  With Arsenal players, three weeks tends to become three months very quickly indeed.

It’s a big blow because Gibbs has undoubtedly been one of our best players in recent weeks.  It’s also a blow because it means we have to turn to Andre Santos, who is badly lacking both form and fitness.  That said, I’m not comfortable with the level of abuse Santos is receiving.  He might not be very good, but it wasn’t Andre who bought the player and continues to pick him.  It was Arsene.  Which brings me nicely on to…

The substitutions
Arsene Wenger knew after he saw Will Buckley give him the runaround at Brighton that Santos was a liability.  So why bring him on?  He could easily have introduced Laurent Koscielny and shifted Thomas Vermaelen to centre-back, giving the defence a far more solid look.

My other gripe is with the fact that no other substitution was made.  Arsenal needed a win, really, and yet we had no player to whom Arsene felt we could turn to make the difference.  Which brings me nicely on to…

DEADLINE DAY

Even with the injury to Gibbs, I’m not expecting much activity at Arsenal.  It’s increasingly clear we had hoped to make a big push for David Villa, but Barcelona had no interest in selling.

If anyone does come in, it’ll be the hurried signing of a defender, most likely on loan.  However, I wouldn’t bet on it.  I’ve got plenty to say about our potential inactivity, but I’ll hold it for tomorrow.

Finally, for anyone who missed it yesterday, you can watch my take on today’s events below. Thanks for all the kind comments about the video; I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Video: One Day More – Deadline Day Remix ft. Arsene Wenger

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season | 1,004 Guns

Hello one and all.  Transfer Deadline Day is almost upon us.

As it’s traditionally a day of gloom for Arsenal, I’ve decided to put a lighter spin on things.  Some of you may recall the release of Stan a couple of years back.  Well, I’m nothing if not versatile: this time, rather than hip-hop, it’s musical theatre.

Arsene joins an ensemble of Premier League stars to sing a new version of ‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables. If the embed below doesn’t work in your browser you can watch it here.

Hope you like it.

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

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, FA Cup, Match Reports | 1,136 Guns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s not kid ourselves: however well Giroud played, he’s no Van Persie. However, in the last few days he’s made a convincing case for a prolonged run of games at centre-forward. I still feel we would benefit from a signing in this area, but if someone does arrive they’ll have to oust a Frenchman in form.

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

Arsenal 5 – 1 West Ham: Fat Sam, Grand-Slammed

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 182 Guns

Arsenal 5 – 1 West Ham
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This was a match that Arsenal desperately needed to win. To do so in such style was a huge bonus.

Arsene Wenger will have beedn particularly please by the fact that his trio of summer signings – Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud – were at the heart of dismantling the Hammers. Podolski in particular had his most effective game in an Arsenal shirt, racking up a goal and three assists.

I’m a huge fan of the German winger. Although he can go quiet when deprived of service, he is ruthlessly efficient given the opportunity. His goal was a display of the incredible power he has in his left boot, while the three assists showed how effective he can be supplying ammunition from the flank. How Guy Demel must have wished he was still an Arsenal player as he saw Podolski tear at him time after time in that devastating period at the start of the second half.

I call him a winger quite deliberately. Podolski is the best finisher at the club, and there are understandable calls to play him as a central striker. Personally, I think he offers us more from the left. His work-rate is far better than commonly perceived, and his crossing is superb: he now has 10 assists to go with his 11 goals.

Podolski isn’t a flair player. He’s a machine. He finds space, and crosses or shoots. If he shoots, he doesn’t much around with side-foot or swerve: he hits the ball as clean and true as anyone I’ve seen in an Arsenal shirt.

It was he who got Arsenal back in to the game after going behind on, unsurprisingly, a set piece. Olivier Giroud headed a corner away, but Jack Collison was unmarked on the edge of the area and able to volley back in. Crucially, Podolski’s wonder-strike had us level before half-time, and when we came out for the second period we seemed hell-bent on putting West Ham to the sword.

First Arsenal produced a set piece routine of their own, as Olivier Giroud volleyed home from a corner after some clever screening work by Mertesacker. Then Podolski played what is becoming a trade-mark one two with Giroud before squaring to Santi Cazorla to back-heel home. The Spaniard celebrated with such humility that from the crowd I initially thought it had been an own goal. I shouldn’t have doubted him, as the replays confirmed an exquisite flick.

A minute later Podolski was in again, this time playing a ball across the penalty area which Theo Walcott side-footed home with real assuredness. He is now on 16 goals for the season, and it looks increasingly likely that this will be the season when he breaks the 20-goal mark for the first time.

The final goal was another beauty: Jack Wilshere split the defence with a beautiful pass to Podolski, and Olivier Giroud got in front of his man to meet the German’s cross and turn the ball home with the inside of his heel. The contest was over, and the game understandably petered out.

Arsenal need the three points for their league position. What’s more, they needed the injection of confidence the scoreline provides. The six month adaptation period for Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla is now over, and Arsenal need them to produce performances like this on a consistent basis if we’re to claw back Tottenham’s lead.

It wasn’t a perfect evening. The injury to young Dan Potts put a dampener on proceedings, while the introduction of Andre Santos to the front three in place of a tiring Podolski was a startling reminder of the shallowness of our squad.

However, we should grasp a rare opportunity to be positive. Our defence recovered from a shaky start to look relatively secure, Aaron Ramsey excelled in an unfamiliar defensive midfield role, and our attacking game was far more cohesive and clinical than in recent weeks.

Plus, we made Sam Allardyce miserable. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Further reading: Player Ratings for Bleacher Report

Chelsea 2 – 1 Arsenal
: Another early implosion scuppers Gunners

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 1,021 Guns

Chelsea 2 – 1 Arsenal

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This Arsenal side just do not seem to learn their lessons. After last weekend’s defeat by Manchester City, Arsene Wenger said:

“Overall we started too timidly, with not enough authority in a game like that, and we allowed them to dictate from the start. We paid very early from it. We didn’t start with enough confidence or enough authority.”

I’m afraid it’s the same old story all over again.

There’s a temptation to focus on our impressive second half display. However, I’m afraid that my glass, much like Arsenal’s recent performances, is only half-full. All too often we only show up for part of a game. By the time we start putting our foot in, showing a bit of desire, and doing the basics the game is often already gone.

So it was at Stamford Bridge. Yes, refereeing decisions went against us – Coquelin was fouled in the build-up to Mata’s opener, and Ramires produced a clever dive to dupe the referee in to awarding the penalty – but ‘play to the whistle’ is something drilled in to kids from when they first start playing. Just as against City, Arsenal switched off, with Bacary Sagna particularly guilty of going AWOL at the key moments.

Whilst Martin Atkinson was guilty of some poor decisions, I draw the line at blaming him for the result. Arsenal’s dreadful defending put them in a mess of their own making.  It was an insipid first-half display.

Whatever Arsene Wenger said at half-time clearly had some impact, as Arsenal were immediately more competitive after the break. Santi Cazorla, who had been anonymous until that point, was suddenly able to influence the game, combining with Jack Wilshere to form Arsenal’s creative hub.

It was Cazorla who created our 58th minute goal, sliding an outstanding pass through to Theo Walcott, who finished well for his 15th goal of the season.

Arsenal went on to make most of the running, with Kieran Gibbs an irrepressible outlet on the left-hand side. Elsewhere, Walcott’s goal was the catalyst for threatening display of direct running, giving Ashley Cole a torrid time.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Arsenal’s fight-back may have transformed the dynamic of the game, but it wasn’t enough to reverse the scoreline. Our half of dominance produced only one clear-cut chance, which Walcott confidently dispatched. Chelsea, meanwhile, seemed to create chances at will, particularly in the first 45. Fortunately for us they had selected Fernando Torres, thus handicapping their goalscoring potential. Only a superb Thomas Vermaelen clearance prevented Demba Ba from sealing it late on.

Arsenal struggled to capitalise on their renewed impetus, and weren’t helped by a chronic lack of options from the bench. The illness of Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain meant that when Arsene Wenger sent out three supposed game-changers to warm up, he called on Aaron Ramsey, Andrey Arshavin and Andre Santos. You would struggle to find a trio who inspire less confidence.

Talking of failing to inspire confidence, I’m afraid I have to state my concerns over Olivier Giroud. Before going 2-0 down, Arsenal really ought to have gone 1-0 up: a good move ended with Walcott playing in Giroud, who screwed a very presentable one-on-one wide.

Unfortunately for Giroud, it’s hardly his first costly miss in an Arsenal shirt. I like him very much: he plays with courage and adds a much needed-focal point to the side. However, at the moment, he is not good enough to start regularly for a club expecting to qualify for the Champions League.

I’m not saying he’s not a good player. I’m not saying he won’t adapt and improve and become good enough for a top four side. At the moment, however, he’s not.

It’s not Giroud’s fault that he is the only pure centre-forward in the squad. The likes of Robin van Persie needed similar adaptation periods, but were afforded them by the presence of established figures like Henry and Bergkamp higher up the pecking order. Arsenal have asked Giroud to hit the ground running, and he’s barely broken out of a jog.

Some will say it’s more of a priority that we sort out the defensive side of our game. I’m afraid to say, I’ve pretty much given up on that. The arrival of experienced internationals like Per Mertesacker has failed to shore up the defence, as has the appointment of Steve Bould on the coaching side. There is no evidence to suggest an Arsene Wenger team will ever undergo a dramatic defensive improvement. With that in mind, and added to my belief that the manager isn’t going anywhere until 2014 at the earliest, our only option is to outscore the opposition. To do that, we need better forwards.

Therein lies the major difference between this season and last, and the reason I believe we need a top striker to secure fourth place. Last season, we were even shakier at the back then this time round, but we had a top class finisher to bail us out. This season, we don’t, and the stats back it up. In 2012/13, Van Persie has converted one in four of his chances this season (25%). Giroud’s record is closer to one in ten (13%).

We could do with a midfielder too. Abou Diaby played his third game in a week after a three month absence, and looked well off the pace. It’s hardly his fault – he shouldn’t have to be thrown back in to the fray after such a long spell on the sidelines.

It’s clear Arsene considers his collection of attributes invaluable. Speaking before the game, the manager said:

“Abou Diaby, with the way we have structured the team, he is an important piece of the puzzle because he adds qualities that we need in the middle of the park.”

You know what? I agree. Diaby offers us something that no other player in the squad does. However, he is also seemingly guaranteed to miss several chunks of the season through injury. That means that Arsene is effectively knowingly allowing for us to be without “qualities that we need” for prolonged periods.

It’s particularly frustrating when you see players capable of offering the same combination of power, acceleration and skill that Diaby promises available at reasonable fees. Moussa Dembele was allowed to join Tottenham unchallenged for around £15m. Momo Diame has a release clause of just £3.5m. And yet we continue to rely on a player who is provenly unreliable.

Our month of inactivity in the transfer market has thus far produced just one league point from the nine available. This weekend, Arsenal fans found themselves in the painful  position of having to be grateful for a Robin van Persie goal against Spurs. Without that, the league table could have looked even more bleak.

I don’t subscribe to the belief that failing to make the top four could ever be a ‘good thing’. We need to be there, and I still believe we can. However, a couple of additions could make all the difference. The one upside to our poor run is that it comes at a time when it’s possible to do something about it.

I know it’s cold outside, Arsene, but it’s time to open the window.

Chelsea Preview: Dawn of the Theo-cracy

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Season, Match Previews, Premier League | 483 Guns

The saga is over and Theo Walcott has signed a new contract with Arsenal Football Club.

It’s undoubtedly good news for Arsenal.  It stems the flow of talent away from the club, and shows a renewed willingness to flex our financial muscle.

It’s arguably even better news for Theo.  Having steadfastly refused to agree to the club’s initial offer of £75k p/week, he’ll now find himself picking up far more than that.  Depending on which red top you read, the weekly salary wages from between £90k to a mammoth £113k.  Either way, it seems he has escaped the binds of Arsene’s “socialist” pay structure, simultaneously superseding Lukas Podolski as the club’s highest paid player.

I never imagined that Theo Walcott would be the man for whom Arsenal would break their strict wage hierarchy.  Granted, he’s having a statistically outstanding season, but he remains far from perfect.  So many more talented players have sought the kind of sums Walcott was demanding, only to find themselves being shown the door to Barcelona or Manchester.

The truth is that Walcott is the lucky beneficiary of a perfect storm of circumstance.  Arsenal could not afford the PR disaster of losing another one of their perceived stars.  The club is also under more pressure than ever to show ambition in their expenditure.  Every time Walcott produced on the pitch, the likelihood of Arsenal caving to his demands increased significantly.

I’m still a little surprised he’s signed.  It’s rare that a player gets within six months of a Bosman move and is able to resist, and I went on record as saying that I didn’t think Arsenal and Theo would ever come to an agreement.  But Walcott knows that Arsenal is a set-up that suits him, and it’s not clear which (if any) elite clubs would be able to offer him the playing time he gets at the Emirates.

He enjoys playing with the likes of Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jack Wilshere.  At the risk of sounding jingoistic, I think the British core the club are building is important.  We are building a group of young players who seem eager to stick together and achieve something.  Keeping Walcott benefits the collective.

It’s now very much a case of “over to you, Theo”.  He’s got the money he wanted; now he has to justify it.  If he doesn’t, at least Arsenal can look to recoup a fee, rather than losing a valuable asset for nothing.

It’s “over to you, Arsene” too.  Having tied up the deal that was his priority for January, he now has a couple of weeks remaining to make an impact in the transfer market.  Talk of someone like Cavani is wildly unrealistic, although I still think it’s imperative that Arsenal bring in a striker.  If we select our first choice front three of Podolski, Giroud and Walcott, we would not have a single forward on the bench.  For a club of our size, that is unforgivable.

In a watershed week for Arsenal, I hope tomorrow’s game with Chelsea is a similarly significant landmark in our season.  It proved so last season, with a 5-3 victory restoring faith in a team that had spent the early months of the season on the ropes.  This fixture at Stamford Bridge could also be pivotal: if we could win there, then against West Ham in midweek, we’d find ourselves just two points behind a Chelsea side who had threatened to pull out of sight.  With Spurs facing of against United, this could be a critical week in the race for the Champions League.

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If you fancy a flutter on tomorrow’s game, check out my betting preview for Unibet, complete with predicted line-ups and top tips.  You can get 8.5 on Theo to celebrate his new contract with the first goal…