What’s wrong with defence? No silver bullet

Do you feel like we dodged a bullet by avoiding Balotelli and plumping instead for Welbeck? After Danny notched his fifth of the season, whilst Mad Mario failed repeatedly to get off the mark yesterday, it’s impossible not to breathe a sigh of relief, because I’ll be honest and say I thought he’d have been a great signing at The Arsenal.

Thankfully though we have found ourselves a couple of forwards in Alexis and Welbeck, who look every bit the success so far, so we can only hope that they continue their good run of scoring over the coming months. Because let’s face it, with the rate at which we’re conceding goals, we’re going to need them to keep banging them in just to stay close to the hunt for a top four spot. Which is what leads me to my central point of discussion today:

What has happened to our defence?

This season already we’ve conceded 11 goals in the league. In just eight games. That’s nearly a goal and a half each match and the contrast between the team this season and the one that made a fabulous habit of clean sheets last season is marked. I don’t have a ‘run rate’ of when we’d conceded our 11th goal in the league last season, but I’d expect to find out that we were near the halfway mark in the season when we did. Two goals against Leicester, Everton, Chelski, Dortmund and Hull. The list is mounting and it’s filling me with more trepidation than anything else.

Last seasons success was built on a miserly approach to football matches. We were pragmatic in our play: stay strong and hard to break down at the back, get the lead and never look like giving it away, which was the blueprint for a very good season until March when the injuries and lack of pace up top kicked in. It was the sharp end of the team that derailed our title charge in 13/14, but it’s the defence that has in my opinion, already destroyed our hopes of a first league title in 11 years.

So why are we so different? What has changed about the back four that was there last year but not this? Barring Sagna, it certainly hasn’t been the personnel. Szczesny, Gibbs, Koscienly and Mertesacker have – by and large – been present for most of this season. They were present for a vast bulk of last season too. We all agree (I think) that Debuchy for Sagna was a very close ‘like-for-like’ and whilst he’s been out for a few weeks, it’s hardly been his absence that has caused us to haemorrhage goals with such frequency, has it? And anyhow, our conceding of goals hasn’t all been down the right hand side of our team, so you can’t really point the finger of blame in the direction where Sagna has been.

Most Arsenal fans I know have also been very happy with Chambers too. So why on earth, when individually the players don’t seem to be playing so badly, are we dropping points quicker than a slippery bar of soap? I don’t really understand it. Sure, I have theories, but there isn’t really any kind of insight or evidence to back up my argument. And in football it is very rare that ongoing issues with a team performance come down to one or two key factors.

I don’t believe, for example, that not having a tough-tackling, ball-winning midfielder would have stopped every goal we’ve conceded from going in. As much as the need exists, I don’t think the role of the fabled ‘DM’ played that much part in the second goal for Hull on Saturday. Had our giant German not been caught under the flight of the ball he might have been able to nod that away from Hernandez.

The same goes with another centre half. Had we have kept Vermaelen in the summer, for example, it would still probably have been Per that was caught under the flight of the ball.

So perhaps it is the form of the players? There’s no doubt that Per and Kos haven’t been as effective as last season. Mertesacker was the chief protagonist for goal number two on Saturday in my opinion, but Koscienly has also been guilty of lapses in concentration, like at Leicester (although whether he should have remained on the pitch after his head injury is another question entirely).

When Szczesny suffered his dip in form a few seasons back, many said it was because he was not in competition from any serious number two, a fact I believe he has even alluded to. Is this the case for our two central defenders? Perhaps there’s something in that you know. Both Per and Kos know that their only real competition is a 19-year-old who had made a handful of first team appearances until last season. Thankfully for us, he has hit the ground running and looked a superb centre half, but we all know that when fit, he will step back on to the subs bench.

It’s all very well looking at the problems defensively when injuries set in, but it’s that element of competition that also plays a part in player form, so by refusing to address the defensive issues in the summer, the manager has also made it doubly hard for himself by not providing enough of a stick with which to nudge the central pairing a little when they aren’t quite at their best.

Again, I don’t think that can be attributed as the single reason as to why we are not looking as resolute at the back as we did last season because let’s face it, Per and Kos are professionals and they will be trying their hardest to remain at the peak of their games. I don’t want to accuse both of a lack of incentive, because I don’t think that’s the case, but I do think that sometimes you need as much stick as carrot in any profession.

So is it the formation? Everyone talks about this 4-1-4-1 formation, and how it is costing us games, but the defensive side of the team hasn’t changed shape-wise. We still have a goalkeeper like last season. We still have a back four. And one of our midfielders still sits more deeper lying than the others. There may be questions around the success of the style and change in approach going forward, but defensively we should be the same as we were last season. As much as I am not a fan of the change in style (although I still remain to be convinced that it is 4-1-4-1. It still looks very similar to last season, but with some players playing in positions less familiar to them e.g. Özil), if you imagine that we were as tight defensively as last season, we’d probably have not conceded against the Spuds, City, Hull and Leicester. That’s 12 points instead of four and puts us just a few off the pace of the runaway leaders Chelski.

So to my mind the change in formation hasn’t really affected us defensively. We’ve just not been as good for some reason.

I really can’t work out why we’re so different. Perhaps there is some sort of training regime defensively that isn’t working? I don’t know why we would change a successful formula from last season though. We found something that worked and the manager would surely not have wanted to tinker with that. Would he?

Maybe it’s the World Cup hangover? But Szczesny and Gibbs didn’t go and Koscienly didn’t play all the the way to the final. Chambers wasn’t in the England squad, so it’s only Debuchy and Mertesacker that you could potentially argue have suffered as a result. But again, Debuchy has looked good individually this season, so what, are we putting our defensive frailty down solely to the German and our vice-captain? I certainly don’t think that is the answer and whilst his form hasn’t been amazing, it’s hardly been Rio Ferdinand-esque off the form Richter scale.

I think ultimately what I’m getting at is that there is no silver bullet to explain why we’re all wobbly defensively this season. It’s a combination of factors that aren’t working and as I said in my blog yesterday, it’s just not clicking at the moment. In a way, I wish it was one single factor, because at least then the club can look to isolate, mitigate and minimise the problem as soon as possible. But with so many factors probably contributing, one suspects that we might go through quite a bit more pain this season before we sort ourselves out.

Catch ye’ in the morrow.

Something’s not right

Something isn’t quite right at Arsenal at the moment. Most obviously is the number of draws that we’ve already racked up this season. Everton, Leicester, Moneychester City, the Spuds and Hull have all shared the spoils with us and as a result we find ourselves this morning with only 13 points after the first eight games.

If you want to look into the detail you could argue that going away to Everton and Chelski and playing the Spuds and City at home isn’t the easiest of starts, to which I would certainly agree, but the really great teams take advantage of things like being at home and pick up points where needed. Just look at Moneychester City. They dispatched a pretty average Tottenham team that we huffed and puffed against but still laboured to a draw. I know I probably shouldn’t be comparing us to any oil whoring club, but we’ve had aspirations of an assault on the league title previously, especially after our appetites were wetted following an excellent attempt at it last season. So for me personally, to see us now already miles off the two petro-dollar clubs is a pain that I’d rather not have to experience, as a fan.

I tweeted yesterday that I am coming to accept that our fight is not with the two going for the title, it is with the also-rans of Man United, Totteringham and Liverpool. With every performance like yesterday that appears more and more to be the case. We came up against yet another team in Hull that, Like Palace on day one, knew that what they needed to do was sit deeper, defend in numbers and catch us on the counter. And we once again, like the Spuds game, huffed and puffed in the second half with no real drive or guile to unlock an industrious, but not particularly special, Hull team.

When Danny Welbeck scored the equaliser in stoppage time, I was relieved, but Ben and I (my partner in crime for the day) barely even celebrated. Why should you feel like a last minute goal to avoid the first defeat at home in 14 months is a good thing when the opponents have only had four shots on goal in the whole match? It’s like an old fashioned game of Championsship Manager, but we are the real-life example. Teams don’t need to batter us to pick up points at The Emirates, they just need a set piece or two, or a counter attack. That’s what’s wrong at the moment. We concede with the only chances that our opponents get. It happened with Palace on the opening day, it happened against The Spuds, and now it’s happened against Hull.

Yes, Steve Bruce rightly admitted that their first goal probably shouldn’t have been because of the blatant pull by Diame to win an advantage and get through against Szczesny, but the second goal was a comedy of errors from our perspective.

The really weird thing is, from my perspective when thinking back on the game, I don’t think our defence was that bad in the main. Perhaps that was because we spent very little time doing any actual defending, but I thought Monreal coped admirably, that Gibbs looked good going forward and that Bellerin was not over-awed by the occasion. But we seem to have this amazing ability to play half-decent and still look terrible on one or two moments like the Hernandez goal just after half time. It’s weird and I can’t put my finger on it. Do we just switch off? Are we just unlucky? Is there a soft underbelly to this team that you just need to catch at the moment? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that we will not be getting anywhere near close to the Premier League this season, so let’s start paying more attention to the results of Liverpool, United and the Spuds who, thankfully, all seem to be having their own issues in different areas at the moment.

The first half yesterday actually looked pretty good. We popped the ball around well, Alexis was in sparkling form (he was one of the few that continued that in the second half) and I remarked to Ben at half time that we were unlucky not to be two up and coasting at half time. If The Ox had put away his chance just before Hull scored, we’d probably have been out of sight. But that is the story of yesterday, as we didn’t do enough to put Hull to bed and collect the three points needed to move on to Sunderland next weekend.

The second half was probably the most dire I’ve seen so far this season. After we conceded the early goal we spent five minutes being shell shocked, but after that Hull knew that all they had to do was sit deep, in numbers and waste as much time as possible (Mr East the referee was in no mind to pick up this deliberate tactic) and they would potentially pick up the win. Which they nearly did. It took us until the 86th minute before we even fashioned the first proper chance for the third choice Hull ‘keeper to make and that was a smart header from Alexis. But other than that we had barely mustered a decent ball into the box or a shot in anger. Why we even bother with corners I don’t know, because we are completely redundant whenever the ball is slung into the box. We’d be far better taking the ball short and trying to build from there, because whipping a ball in to an opponents head is hardly worth the trouble we spend. Ben and I joked at one point that we would probably be more likely to concede from one of our corners than score from it.

I’m pleased Danny got another goal though. Both him and Alexis are already racking up a useful tally, which you’d hope would be good enough for us to be winning games, but with your defence looking more like a grandmother made patchwork quilt, it is always going to be a struggle. It was a good assist from Alexis too. He was probably the man-of-the-match I would imagine. But again, it was too late to mount a proper onslaught and go for the win, so we pick up another draw. Have you noticed how I haven’t even mentioned the midfield? That’s probably because I can’t really recall any of them having a particularly good game. Flamini’s role is fairly standard and he had little to do against a Hull team sitting so deep, but Jack didn’t really manage to replicate the Pirloesque form of his England displays last weekend, so there were no threaded balls for the front players to feast upon in the second half. Santi was good in the first but faded in the second half and The Ox mis-placed a number of simple passes throughout the game. That was where the issue was in the second half I feel. The midfield just didn’t click and looked fairly negated by the deep-lying Hull defence. But if you want to be champions you have to overcome obstacles like deep-lying teams and you have to unpick the lock, so-to-speak. That is something we just don’t seem capable of and it is a worry for me for even the top four spots.

So next weekend we travel up to the North east to play a Sunderland team who will be really pumped and desperate to show their fans that their 8-0 thrashing to Southampton was a one off. Before that there’s the small matter of an away trip to Belgium to play Anderlecht and you have to hope that we can pick up the required win in both of those games to start this run of form that we’re all hoping will see us in to Christmas in one of the top four places. We have players coming back from injury at various times and hopefully they can lift the club, but the run simply must start now. We cannot afford any more of these hitches.

See you tomorrow.

No cup final repeat, let’s start a run

Ahh, that sweet, sweet feeling of a Saturday 3pm kick off. There simply aren’t enough of them these days and I for one am always happen when one comes around.

As for our opponents, it’s a repeat of the cup final in the shape of Hull, but two very different teams from the ones that rocked up at Wembley in May. Hull have made a number of impressive signings in my book, snapping up Hernandez and Diame, whilst Jelavic looks like he’s started to find his goalscoring form. He was cup-tied in May and so we didn’t have to worry about his potential threat in the cup final.

We too are a different side. On paper more potent in attack, but defensively more fragile, today will most likely see an Arsenal side with a new look about it. I think it might even be the first time a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal and Gibbs have ever started together. Two first teamers, one newbie and a full back out of position who admits playing at centre half makes him feel ‘strange’. It’s hardly filling me we comfort, you?

At least in midfield and attack you’d feel we have enough to pick up all three points today. Jack will surely start after two impressive international performances, whilst the decision lies with the manager on who partners him in the more anchored defensive midfield role. Given that Arteta is now back it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s thrust straight back into the team, but with the injury roll call we’ve had so far this season I would also not be averse to seeing the Flamster sitting behind Wilshere.

Santi Cazorla must surely be given a chance in the number 10 ‘free role’, with The Ox on the right and I’d expect Alexis on the left. Welbeck through the middle completes a forward line with enough pace and trickery to cause problems for Hull. And here’s the good thing: Steve Bruce has promised to ‘have a go’ today. If he is true to his word, then that front three might just find plenty of space with which to operate in if Hull press higher up the field, so I’m hoping that Bruce hasn’t fed us a red herring from his pre-match presser.

What we don’t need today is a repeat of the start of the cup final. Hull came out of the blocks quickly and sucker-punched us with two quick goals. We looked punch-drunk and dazed for about ten minutes after that second goal went in, but when we steadied ourselves the dominance and quality kicked in and we were worthy winners in the end. The first 15 minutes will be as important as anything for our back four. If we remain resolute then the confidence at the back will grow and we will begin to assert our dominance going forward. But we have to be strong defensively. It’s a big ask for players like Bellerin and Monreal to be thrown in, but if they show what they are capable of then I would hope we could keep Hull at bay.

After a week of talking – injuries, AGM, ticket prices, etc – it is so jolly nice to get back to the essence of why we’re all interested in this game – the stuff on the pitch that involves a football. This is the first of what a neutral might call a series of ‘winnable games’, but as you and I both know, Arsenal never make things easy and the idea of a run of games in which we experience no heart in mouth moments is a relatively unfamiliar one to us. However, if this team is serious about going for the title (which already feels a long stretch), then this is a game that we need three points from. By hook or by crook.

If we do pick up the win today, then I do feel that it will give us the perfect platform to build some momentum in the run up to Christmas. We may be depleted in numbers, but when you’ve got confidence behind you it always drags you over the line, so we need a bag of it whilst we’re patching up the team right now.

Come on Arsenal, let’s have it!

Defensive worries lead to schoolyard tactics?

With Arsène taking to the stage at both his press conference and the AGM yesterday, there was a veritable feast of soundbitiness from which we can all pour over this Friday before the game against Hull tomorrow.

First and foremost, injuries, to which the news is mixed. In this age of instant information, most of what Le Boss said was common knowledge by the time he said it, but it’s the Koscienly news that was the most worrying for me. The reason I say that is because there was no return date put on his recovery time and availability. Arsène simply explained the prognosis and said that he has to rely on the player who said he is not ready. Reports this morning from the gutter press are that he’ll face around four weeks out and whilst that is unconfirmed, when you have a club like ours who seem to always underestimate recovery times, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that there’s a bit more truth to that figure than we’d all like to believe.

Again, like a broken record, it does baffle you how the club did not address the defensive cover issue. It’s a question that was broached at the AGM yesterday and whilst Sir Chips and Ivan were very clear that there is more money to spend after the summers splurge, Arsène interestingly declined to comment. He was probably still feeling from the admission from Sir Chips that the club back the manager when he has a plan and stay out of it when he doesn’t.

Righto. So there was no plan then? That’s a shocking ‘reading-between-the-lines’ admission from the club and Arsène declining to comment doesn’t really help. But there’s nothing really that we can do about it so we just have to hope that tomorrow’s replacement – Nacho Monreal (who has admitted it has felt strange playing at centre half. Yes kids, I’m scared too) – can quickly adapt and prove himself an able body in the heart of our defence.

Anyway, I think we should seriously consider playing a 1-1-4-4 formation at the weekend and see if we can’t recreate a school yard kick-about with a 12-10 score line against The Tigers tomorrow. How awesome would that be? As long as Arsène doesn’t tell his boys to pick the ball up and go in for tea after 60 minutes because James Chester has been calling Alexis names. Jack would probably try and deck him anyway.

I’ve found it fascinating how much time and commentary has been apportioned to the Özil injury, which Arsène again felt the need to clarify the situation regarding him playing on at Chelski two weeks ago. I suppose Arsène probably feels he should have kept relatively schtum about the whole thing, because as soon as it came out the whole world jumped on it in exasperation at why he was allowing a player to play on despite injury. I too had a bit of a rant on the blog earlier in the week and so must hold myself as guilty as charged to my furore over the mismanagement of the injury. Wenger and his medical staff are still culpable for not being overly cautious on a players health, but their failure to act is not as extreme as it originally appeared.

There was even a hint that the injury won’t be as long as we thought, but let’s not imagine we’ll be seeing him back to full fitness much before the Christmas period now, eh?

Still, for all the doom and gloom on injuries, at least we have Diaby back. And Arteta. And Ramsey from Monday. And Walcott probably next week too, who will play in an under-21s game tonight and assuming he comes through unscathed, will most likely be involved in some capacity next weekend at Sunderland one would hope.

Arsène also talked us through the issue on racism in football management, the Invincibles and the Champions League coefficient, but if I’m completely honest with you having listened to the full presser this morning, I am less inclined to go into that stuff in more detail. Not because it is not interesting to talk about, but more because the questions put to him felt to me as if they were just designed to get soundbites out of the manager, not to get genuine insight into football matters. So naturally, the managers response is slightly guarded and you never really get much exciting to talk about.

Later in the afternoon, our boss sauntered his way over to The Emirates for the AGM and did his narrative in front of shareholders and members of fanshare, who will be attending the AGM for the last time, as it will be closing shortly, meaning less access for real fans to attend the AGM via the scheme. It’s a shame, but not to be unexpected, and the cynic inside me was always thinking that the board and Stan probably had an extra glass of Dom Pom after the event had concluded, knowing that future AGMs won’t be nearly as potentially spicy.

The event, by the sounds of it, is a watered down affair anyway by the sounds of it. With few questions taken from the floor and almost all most certainly screened beforehand, it’s a bit of a tick box exercise in corporate governance as it is, so anybody expecting to get any real answers out of these kinds of things is always going to be disappointed.

Quality fence panels, not for sitting on

I was thinking about writing something about the news that Mesut Özil might be (emphasis on ‘might’. The club have said it’s too soon to suggest how long he’ll be out for) injured until the new year, but in talking about long-term injuries, I’m starting to bore myself, so I thought I’d let someone else have the blogging soapbox for a day and talk about anything they want to.

Step forward Roy, a family friend who first introduced me to the world of watching Arsenal live and who has been a major influence on igniting my passion, much to the dismay of other family members at times I’m sure!

Roy and I had an exchange yesterday on Twitter and I told him to write a blog. So he did! Here’s his thoughts. Tell me what you think. He certainly has an opinion and is not afraid to be somebody who shares it! The title of today’s blog tries to exemplify his desire not to be seen as vanilla in his thinking, so hopefully you enjoy.

Chris

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It is time for all fans to stop this Arsène Wenger immortality (including myself as I have always refrained from criticism), because I believe he has been almost negligent in his transfer dealings for a few years – maybe more! This year, in my opinion, I believe he truly has completely lost the plot. Defenders out before we have even started this international window, (I believe we’re now looking at Calum Chambers possibly injured, which is a massive blow to all concerned), one in Debuchy who I must say looked good until his sad injury. But Calum Chambers’ injury is a big setback for us. He is certainly one for our future, but is it right that he’s been so heavily relied on at such an early stage in his career? In such a short space of time he has become more than just a squad play needing to grow and find his feet, but now finds himself as an integral part of the first team and all of the pressure and reliance that comes with it. Arsène Wenger suggests he can cope and the initial signs are good, but what happens when the inevitable drop in form (inconsistency is part of a young footballers game) occurs? This is not how a supposedly ‘top team’ should conduct it’s business I’m afraid. A top business has effective plans, contingencies, works out different scenarios and is ready for all eventualities. When can we say that has happened at The Arsenal? Don’t even get me started on the “we need just two or three more for back up in defence or defensive midfield” argument, for I fear I will never stop!

After many years of supporting Arsenal, watching my first Cup final in 1969 (when a certain Don Rogers inflicted pain on a young heart probably for the first time. Certainly I haven’t had that much pain since…actually I have…17th May 2006, Champions League Cup final in Paris. A horrid night not only for the defeat but the way we were all treated -mno matter how you travelled the whole place shut down if anyone remembers! Almost impossible to find a bar or nice restaurant and cabs all disappeared off the streets and raining. I digress but you get my feeling of hurt) I have lived through some of the barren years at the club. I understand that football has evolved and I’m not naive enough t think we can win everything all of the time, or that winning trophies is something that happens every year. But what I do believe is that you should give yourself every possible chance of success with the resources you have available. Would you say that we have done that?

That feeling of hurt that I described earlier? That’s now been happening for around four years for me. We have become a nearly team and my/our beloved Gunner’s have failed miserably to ease the same pains that those cup finals have inflicted. Why? Because we are so close. It makes it all the more painful to know you are almost there, glory tantalisingly within your grasp, yet your own restrictions caused by your manager are stopping that final step to greatness.

Yes, we papered over the cracks by a Houdini like escape against Hull and this quietened the fans, to which we were totally looking forward to a rebuilding of the team knowing money was available for Le Boss to spend. Even Piers went quiet. Or did he? Can he? Probably not. But from what I can see that is all last season was – papering over the cracks.

We now have some top quality all round with Özil and Sanchez in, our other very good players around them, and yes Ozil is struggling and I am not that qualified to make brash statements, but he is played out of position and this is completely negated in his original purpose. With the quality we have Özil is a luxury we should be able to afford in my opinion. But we need other players to be able to help make him great. That starts with a ball winner. A quality ‘DM’. Who was the last quality DM we had? Gilberto? Always there, doing a job, we certainly new when he was gone. How long ago was it he was at the club? Seven years? SEVEN YEARS???

**Editor** controversial opinion alert…..

I cannot think of worse defence in all the time I have supported the Gunners. I am not saying they are all rubbish as individuals, but collectively they lack the quality to win us the big trophies and in terms of the first team, the lack of defensive quality players, this is the worst. I may be sounding a little bit like Mr Grumpy here, but I love Arsenal and I’m not one of those moaners for moaning sake, I can assure you. I’m just frustrated because I know we are not far away from disaster in defence. One, or dare I say it two, more injuries in defence and we are Donald Ducked.

On finishing this little rant (thank you for reading by the way!), will it be all too little to late when January comes around? its time we stopped wishing for success and found someone to truly come in and give it to us again. Le Boss was a pioneer in the Premier League ten years ago, but all pioneers have to know their limits and every dog has it’s day.

My six-year-old grandson is a Liverpool fan and when we beat them at home 2-0 he said granddad my heart hurts and it is quite unbelievable the passion football can bring out within all ages. That’s what prompted today’s thoughts and after the last few weeks of that feeling I just wanted to share.

I want Arsenal to be great. We’re a great club, great fans and great history. Let’s hope we get back to our best. And soon.

Player psychology is as worrying as injuries

Yesterday I said that I would probably hold off from blogging for a while. I mean, the deflation of the first defeat of the season was bad enough to spark my melancholy, but the additional thought of an international break only added fuel to the fire, regardless of what I said yesterday about it probably being good timing.

However, having sucked every last iota of data juice from my phone plan, I am sat here on a grey and wet Tuesday morning thinking about Arsenal and having no tools with which to deviate from my favourite topic. So whilst I’m here, I might as well do a bit of a brain dump on me blog and at least record another online monologue, so that one day I can reflect on this dark time with good humour. After all, we’d have gone the season unbeaten again, defeated a Jose Mourinho Chelski side 12-0 in the Champions League final and claimed our third consecutive treble by then.

Maybe.

So where are we today? Well, you and I find ourselves still having to deal with the fall out from the defeat on Sunday, with the players having their say on the performance and the defeat. It’s strange not having any data to roam the online world on your phone, because it does indeed deflect you from a lot of the anger and also the scathing attacks from various journos. I’m coupling my enforced online ban with one in hard-copy print too, so I feel quite comfortably cocooned at the moment, realising that I’m not nearly as frustrated as I thought I would be. I guess what it shows is how susceptible I am to being influenced/wound up by others, so perhaps it’s something that I should be looking to replicate next time Arsenal suffer another setback. I’ll ponder that one I think, because the pros i.e. making sensible friends to talk football online with, vastly outweigh the cons.

And anyway, I’m not 100% without online connectivity, as I have my company BlackBerry. Yes, it may be one straight out of the early Y2Ks, but it can still be used to search one site at a time. In a way that has also been a good thing, because my web browsing has been confined to the official site, which has given me quite a mellow Arsenal bubble to reside within. All of the content on the site at the moment focuses on the factual response of the players and avoids any remarks dripping with sarcasm, anger or bitterness. Sure, the players will be frustrated, but any potential extreme views will have been vanillarised by the press team. I’m fine with that at the moment.

So Big Per has spoken about how offensively we weren’t quite on our game, whilst defensively we suffered from two lapses and that cost us, the German asserting that other than that he thought we were good defensively. That seems a bit of a silly comment to me, because removing those lapses completely is what the best teams in the league do. Yet we still seem to have the propensity for a self destruct in every game. Saying “yeah, but we only had one or two” is deflecting the real problem which is that we had any at all. If a fireman dropped a child whilst on his way down from a burning building, he wouldn’t get a chief officer telling him that the way he climbed the ladder and got back down again looked good, so overall it was a seven out of ten mark would he?

There is definitely something that is missing from our back four that was there last season. Last year we embodied good defending as we became known as the ‘2-0 masters’. Was that defensively solidity built on a foundation of squad depth that forced the players to look over their shoulders? I’m not saying that Per and Kos are not trying any more, but subconsciously competition must cause a shift in psychological mindset that nothing else can drive in a human. Just look at Szczesny. His form began to tail off, he was replaced by Fabianski who thankfully found some form, then when he came back in to the side he was a much improved player. Szczesny has that now in Ospina, but what do our centre halves have?

We have Chambers, who will be delighted with his England call up (and congrats to him on that by the way), but he’s our first choice right back at the moment so effectively is ruled out from keeping our two centre halves on their toes.

There are too many bloggers – me included – who have already written far too much about the failure to properly address our defensive options which are now threadbare, so there’s no point in me labouring the point much further, but this failure is already coming back to haunt us without the obvious issue of actually having somebody injured in a position where we can’t replace.

I hope Arsène has got his rabbits foot, four leaf clover, has avoided all ‘three drains’ and ladders in the run up to this international break, because we can ill-afford any bad news from this weekends round of pointless games.

Hang tight Gooners.

See thee tomorrow.

The boring predictability

How boring and predictable yesterday’s result was. The same old story for the same old match up which saw a Chelski team once again collect their three points from Arsenal like a child flipping open a PEZ dispenser and emptying the contents in to their palms.

I know I was overly negative yesterday, more than I’ve been before on this blog, but despite that facade of pessimism you always hope that you are proven wrong. When that doesn’t happen it still hurts to see your side succumb to yet another defeat against a team who, on the day, weren’t lightning years ahead. I’m sure the media will tell you otherwise today though. I won’t know. Mercifully, the Ryder Cup has helps me to avoid both Twitter and the media for the next four days, because I used up all of my data on my phone streaming it live last weekend. It means I can only check my feeds and look at websites when either at home of at work. Thankfully I can do enough other things in my life to avoid football for the next few days. Might take a few off from blogging too actually, as most of what will be said will most likely be in the fallout to the defeat.

I’m not even mad, angry or disappointed at the performance of the players, so it’s hard to critique where it all went wrong. I’m more disappointed at the Geoundhog Day that we consistently come up against when it comes to that scabby lot each season. I wish I’d have tweeted what I was thinking before the game: “we are either going to get battered or lose, or be the better team and lose, or it will be a really tight game. But we’ll lose”. Like I said: boring and predictable.

Mesut Özil was taking most of the flak in the immediate aftermath of the game, but once again Le Boss persisted with his stubborn belief that starting him out wide is a sensible option to see if we can make the system work. We’ve won four games all season and none of them have seen Özil be successful on the left. Arsène should surely be seeing this, so how long is this experiment going to go on for until he settles us back in to last years style and we start to win games again?

The finger pointing at Özil needs to stop though. Was he responsible for the penalty? Was he the one who let the ball drift over the top of the defenders in the 86th minute for Costa to flick the ball home? Of course he wasn’t. We were undone by magic from Fabregas, Hazard and Costa. Yes, Özil contributed to the toothlessness that was the Arsenal attack yesterday. And yes, he looked off colour when in possession of the ball, but none of our forward players were able to effectively stamp their authority of the game so concentrating our irritation towards one player is folly in my opinion.

As for Arsène’s spat with Jose, the only people who should really care about that are the journos, because it gives them a story to write their gutter-trash reports. It affords them licence to wheel out phrases like ‘Wenger’s lost it’, ‘Arsène lashes out’ and other hyperbolic statements designed for papers to be sold and clicks to be clicked. I don’t give a monkeys what went on or what was said. I only care about what happened on the green stuff yesterday and what happened saw us all realise that when all is said and done, we’re probably not going to get close to either of the oil whoring clubs this season, not with the way we’re playing at the moment in the league.

There are ten ‘big games’ that you’d probably say we have a season (Chelski, Moneychester City, Spuds, Liverpool and Man Utd) and so far we’ve picked up two out of a possible nine. You can win the league without beating all of these sides home and away, but you do need to pick up at least some victories against these sides, which is something that we unfortunately seem incapable of.

As for Arsène’s comments yesterday, it was another master art of deflection from our manager. It would help if the media asked better questions than ‘do you think you set a good example doing that (pushing someone)?’, but still, Arsène probably wouldn’t have answered properly if he’d have been given a decent enough question anyway. For example, did anybody post match bother to ask: Given that Jose deployed Fabregas – his playmaker – centrally, who contributed through an assist for the second goal, do you feel in hindsight that you should have deployed yours in a similar fashion?

Nope. They’re more interested in the soap opera drama stuff than tactical analysis of our team’s repetitive failure against a Chelski side who have the psychological ‘hoo-doo’ over us.

Post match comments from Le Boss about the ‘financial power’ of the Chelski team are again another attempt at deflection. It is true that the players that made the difference yesterday were all £30million+ in value, but when you have a £42million and a £35million player in your team, you can’t cry financial foul play and use it as a reason for the difference between the two sides. It makes you look like you’re clutching at straws. And those particular straws (the financial muscle of the oil whoring clubs) have been sitting in the cupboard for the best part of a decade, so it’s not as if we haven’t seen them before.

I don’t want to be too much doom and gloom though. I thought Wilshere and Cazorla looked on their games yesterday and it’s good to see Jack getting back to his best. There’s an international break too, so we can all look forward to seeing him damage his cruciate knee ligament in a pointless challenge in a pointless match that will rob us of another player for half a season or more. Oh, sorry, I said I wouldn’t go doom and gloom….oh well…

Perhaps this international break has come at a good time. It gives us all a chance to slump back into our comfy chairs and scowl a bit, before realising how much we miss Arsenal when it’s not around, before all getting excited again before the Hull game in just under two weeks time.

Try to have a good day. Avoid all the smirking Chelski ‘fans’ who didn’t even know who Chelski were eight years ago, but are now more happy to remind you now.

See you tomorrow. Maybe.