Belief lacking, game plan found wanting

Well we didn’t get spanked like last year, did we? So that’s a plus point. Am I right?

That’s all I’ve got today, because yesterday you like I, will have sat through a performance that was both ‘un-Arsenal’ like and ‘very Arsenal’ like. In the way that we contented ourselves to have the least amount of possession and passing stats it was not like The Arsenal that we’re used to seeing. But the way in which we capitulated at the end of the match with a man advantage was so like modern day Arsenal it’s crippling beyond belief.

Heh, ‘belief’, feels wrong even saying that word today because, let’s face it, this team doesn’t look like it believes in itself. Yesterday was a classic case of a superior Arsenal team on paper, being outplayed by one of the most beatable Liverpool teams in a generation. Heck, we scored two goals with our first two chances on target, but that was more to do with a shocking Liverpool defence than anything else.

In November we ripped apart a United team and lost. Yesterday Liverpool ripped us apart yet, for all of Wenger’s assertions on the belief of this squad and their mental strength, we have once again showed that we are incapable of seeing out a game. Let’s also not forget that this was a Liverpool team so profligate up top that they missed guilt edge chance after guilt edge chance yesterday. They were playing with Sterling up top and until he was moved out wide later in the game, it looked like the same as when we were forced to play Arshavin up top because there was nobody else available. Yet we still managed to gift Liverpool two goals.

The first was a neat finish from Coutinho, but the fact it game because Giroud was trying to be too clever with a first touch in our half is hardly surprising. We all know the pro-Liverpool commentary in this country seem to get mesmerised by the ‘history’ of that club, but when Martin Tyler said they deserved their goal, I doubt there was a Gooner alive that couldn’t disagree.

Thankfully our response was swift and, for as shocking a game Flamini had (I’ll come to that in a second), it was a good leap and head back into a dangerous position for Debuchy to equalise on the stroke of half time.

So, to Flamini, who has deteriorated quicker than I’d ever thought possible. We’ve always known his limitations, but the guy looks like the epitome of a headless chicken in football terms. Gary Neville had called it in commentary, but the amount of times he was out of position and leaving an acre of space in front of our back four, that was really criminal. He’s supposed to be our man protecting our back four, yet he looks increasingly like a player who has no idea what his primary role is in the team. Yesterday I tweeted that I thought defensive midfielder was one of the easiest roles to perform if you have a few basic ingredients. 1) Be able to win a tackle, 2) be disciplined in your positioning, and 3) be ready to distribute the ball instantly to a nearby teammate. It really isn’t rocket science. Yet Flamini seems to be struggling. I have no idea why. Is he operating differently because of instructions from the bench? Which leads me to my next gripe I’m afraid…

Arsène Wenger. I am finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile his actions with any kind of logic I’m afraid. He is a great man. He has given us great highs. He should be respected and appreciated. But what we have seen this season has the hallmarks of a star whose brightness is fading. Yesterday morning I wrote about how Liverpool will look to exploit us by getting players like Sterling and Coutinho on the ball and feed in to Lambert up top. I got the personnel wrong, but the game plan was not and we saw time and time again, Coutinho and Markovic pick the ball up deep and run at our defence. I have never managed a game in my life, I am nowhere near as qualified as Arsène to lead a football team, but if I can see what Liverpool are going to do, why can’t he?

Because he is incapable? I don’t know, but what I do know is we saw a team that were outplayed, out thought and out fought. And it was painful at times. I don’t know if The Ox was too injured to play, but he was terrible, given the ball away, travelling with it too long without passing it (I call it ‘non-injured Diaby syndrome’) before losing it and generally looking out of sorts. Santi faired slightly better, but he was too quiet to be really affective for any length of time. I’ve mentioned Flamini, so all in all that makes a three man midfield that at times, might as well not have been there.

Why do we have these problems in midfield? Is it the managers fault that we have so many injuries? Of course not, but he is the one that should be setting those up who are available, in a way that negates the opposition and plays to our strengths. Did any of us see that yesterday? I certainly didn’t. For that, you have to look at the manager and I’m afraid not for the first time this season, he was found wanting.

Defensively too, we were terrible, with poor old Calum Chambers looking like he was running through treacle at times. He had a torrid afternoon at right back and, whilst I can see Arsène’s logic playing the quicker Debuchy at centre half with Sterling up top, it meant Chambers suffered in a position that looks like it is increasingly more difficult for him to be a success at. Let’s not forget we’ve got Carl Jenkinson out on loan to fourth placed West Ham right now. Hopefully that decision to play Debuchy as a centre half and Chambers on the right is a short term issue and we’ll see the two swap for QPR at home on Boxing Day. But again, we go back to the fact that a lack of depth in the squad – bought on by the managers own inaction in the summer – is forcing square pegs into round holes and we look like we are suffering as a result.

I can’t believe we’re not actually beyond sight of the top four spots. For that we can at least be grateful and look, if we win all of our games over the Christmas and New Year period, we’ll be sat in a good position coming in to 2015. But despite this, does anybody really feel confident we can go into games – especially away games – and get a result? Yesterday I used the word ‘cowards’ to describe the Arsenal players. It’s an extreme word and I did think to myself whether I would regret using it come the next morning. I am a passionate fan and prone to ‘heat of the moment’ style outbursts like we all are, but I’d like to think that my friends recognise I’m not a person who can’t consider any football situation with a bit of reflective logic. So do I still think my phrase ‘cowards’ is relevant? Yes. I saw a group of players yesterday who ‘wanted it’ more and they played in red. That annoys me. It annoys me because it seems to happen too much with Arsenal. Too often we are the technically gifted side who feel we need to turn up to win games, too often we come out of these games with egg on our faces, yesterday was no exception.

I haven’t even mentioned our front three. Probably that’s because we saw little of any of them all afternoon, although I must acknowledge a fine goal from Giroud which should have seen us pick up all of the points. It’s because of that though, and the manner of the last minute goal, that this feels like a defeat and not a draw. Had it been the reverse, that we’d have scored in injury time, I certainly would have more relief this morning, but I would not be able to take any comfort in the performance.

What also really cheeses me off too, is that yesterday we could have gone some way to remove this weight around our necks of not being able to win ‘big’ games away from home. Not only are we failing to do that, again, but we haven’t even been winning at home this season.

Oh, let’s also through some petrol on this sh*t bonfire by finding out The Ox will be out until the New Year too, shouldn’t we?

What a way to start a week of Christmas over indulgence. Still, at least I’ve got enough booze to drown my sorrows over the next few days, I recommend drinking to forget. Then we can pretend we’re not in dire straights right now.

Finally!

Finally! It may have taken us until mid December this season, but we finally have a Premier League game in which we were dominant from start to finish, never really looked like we weren’t in control of the game and got the required number of goals that our performance warranted.

I thought we were brilliant yesterday. From the first minute until the last. We started off with an air of authority and control over a confident Newcastle team that looked like the Arsenal of last season. I feel like a wandering desert nomad who has finally been given a glass of ice cool fresh water. I have been waiting so long to drink from the cup of ‘comfortable Premier League victory’ that i’d almost forgotten the tast. I’ve become accustomed to have a hard afternoon. There was nothing hard about yesterday, unless of course you count trying to understand Lee Mason’s refereeing decisions. He was the only negative on a lovely early evenings football. To my mind, he missed a clear boot to the chest of Alexis by Tiote, a couple of penalty decisions, plus he decided to penalise Danny Welbeck for being too close to Janmaat when a gust of wind knocked him over in the box and Welbeck finished superbly to make it 2-0 within the first 15 minutes. Or at least it should have been. Like I said, that gust of wind was a real doozie and Welbeck’s goal was rubbed from the scoreboard.

It all seemed to work yesterday. From back to front we were on it. You only have to look at our first goal, in which the passage of play was started by Hector Bellerin biting in to a tackle and then giving the ball to Giroud. The Frenchman then fed Alexis and took his position in the middle of the box to head home an excellent cross. It was brilliant stuff and no more than we deserved. Before that even big Per was in on the action with a looping header that hit the bar.

We popped the ball around with purpose and poise and how the scoreline was still 1-0 at half time is anybodies guess. I can say it now, because we were comfortable all afternoon, but at half time you’ve always got that worry that we’ll conceded and then end up ‘backs to the wall’-ing it as the opposition fight to come away from The Emirates with a point. But the second half saw us up it another gear and Santi’s little dink over Alnwick to make it 2-0 had the hallmarks of a player in form. He could have even been given a penalty had he not scored, because Coloccini had almost taken him out inside the box. But the diminuitive little Spaniard did what every one wants to see; he stayed on his feet and got the goal that his performance warranted.

Four minutes later it was game over, as Giroud got his second of the night and what a second it was, with the outside of his boot and with the tightest of angles. He really can be quite some players on some games. It’s amazing how we seem to have a player that can blow so hot or cold during the course of a season. But I supposed he is an example of this Arsenal team. They can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of a week.

We’ve now had two 4-1 victories and it’s looking like we’ve recovered a bit of that fragile thing called confidence. Which is just as well really, because next week we return to the location of our humbling last season and face a Liverpool team who will – regardless of what happens today – be massively up for this game and so we need all the help we can get through our levels of confidence and remembering performances like that.

Individually, it was good to see some systems worked. I thought the front three rotated well and were a handful all afternoon. Arsene said in his post match report that we looked dangerous every time we went forward and he’s right. I thought we could have scored every time we went forward and as I reflected afterwards, to friends and family members that would listen, the 4-1 scoreline flattered Newcastle in fairness. The fact that they even scored was a cause for irritation, because the defence probably deserved a clean sheet. Debuchy was good at centre half, although that might have been because he wasn’t troubled as much, but I thought he attacked balls lumped forward well, looked like he was confident, then positionally was assured enough too.

In midfield, The Ox gave a couple of balls away, but in the main he was good with the ball at his feet and he is an able deputy for that box-to-box roll role that Ramsey normally occupies. Santi Cazorla has found his ryhtm too, putting in another great display and getting himself in the goals too. I have seen some people (not Arsenal fans, obviously) who have said he was a little disrespectful with his little dink of a penalty. But if we score every time, we can be as disrespectful as we like as far as I’m concerned, because all I care about is Arsenal scoring goals and winning games. The rest of the football community can ‘do one’.

So that’s it for another weekend. A victory, three points, a good performance, some players looking like they’re hitting form, plus a week to rest and recuperate for when we play Liverpool on Sunday next week.

Come on you reds!

Confidence boost we all needed

Well that was certainly more fun last night, wasn’t it? A 4-1 win, the game all but over in the first half, a dominant display and some great goals to boot. Can’t ask for much more can you?

Now look, I know that there’s a distinct possibility that because there was no pressure on either side, it played into our hands as the better team. And I know that this was one of the worst Galatasaray teams that have graced this competition for some years. But gosh darn-it, it still feels good to see an Arsenal team sweep aside an opponent with such ease.

From the first minute we looked like we had purpose, poise and in Lukas Podolski, a man with a left foot that you wouldn’t want to play in a game of ‘Death Shot Headers and Volleys’. His goal in the third minute was textbook Poldi and, as we have seen already in his cameo appearances this season, there is no other player you’d rather see in that box with the ball dropping to his feet. He’s not an enigma, he’s blindingly obvious in what he brings to the team: end product. No pressing, no dribbling ability, he can’t beat a man, but he can whip in a cross and he can finish. Boy, can he finish.

To some extent you can see why he should be limited to a substitutes role, but I still think Arsène should give him more than five or 10 minutes in the games that matter. Because really, if we’re all honest, that game never really mattered. We may have halved the goal deficit we were supposed to get to top the group by halftime, but even against a poor Gala team, you’re never going to score six away from home.

Which leaves a tinge of frustration this morning about that Anderlecht result, because we’d have racked up 15 points and looked in a good position, had we not fluffed our lines at home a few weeks back. In hindsight that group was there for the taking and we’ve made life hard for ourselves in the next round by finishing second.

Still, that’s a conversation for another day: next Tuesday no doubt after we learn of our Champions League fate in the next round. For now, we should bask in the glory of victory, most specifically, of some vastly improved performances.

Let’s start with wonder-strike hero Aaron Ramsey, who’s second goal came straight out of the FIFA ‘have a crack’ archives from the Welshman’s left peg. It was a volley of such class that I’ll be astounded if it doesn’t get shortlisted for goal of the competition. Postage stamp too. But that wasn’t his only goal, nor does it sum up his performance, because he was good all over the park yesterday. He was back to Rambo MkII (aka 2013/14 version) and although we can’t really take too many positives from our final Champions League group stage position, we can certainly take heart from his performance.

That’s where yesterday’s game becomes important: the confidence levels. By scoring against Stoke, as well as twice in the game yesterday, I think it will do wonders for his confidence. Arsène has hinted it himself, previously stating that he needs to concentrate on the basics first and then the goals will come. Wenger’s words said to me that Ramsey places a lot of emphasis on goals as a deliverable of how he is performing. If that is the case, then these three goals in a week will be vital for us to see the best from him, so let’s hope he continues his good form on Saturday evening.

The return of Debuchy had an instant impact too. He may have looked shattered on the hour mark, but before that he was the same player that we lost to Moneychester City all those months ago. Getting forward, tracking back, winning headers – Debuchy showed us what we’ve been missing and as long as we keep him, Gibbs, Per and Kos fit and playing together, one hopes that our defensive form will start to pick up. Per had a good game too yesterday which, given how poorly he’s played of late when he hasn’t had Koscienly beside him, this will give him a lot of confidence going into the busy Christmas period.

So what now? I’m certainly not going to be counting my chickens and telling you that we could feasibly go on a run now. We felt the same after dispatching the same team by the same score line a couple of months back, didn’t we? So whilst I’ll be pleased to see a much needed confidence injection for some players, I have to say that it will mean the square root of naff all if we don’t put Newcastle to the sword. A Newcastle team riding high, after helping us out by ensuring Chelski don’t usurp that ‘Invincibles’ tag last weekend, I must remind you. However, this result was just the tonic that the team need and the returning players need to feed that back to those that stayed at home and transmit that confidence at London Colney when they’re all training together from tomorrow.

I feel good again about Arsenal. But that feeling can be fleeting if we revert to type this season. We have four days to find out.

See you tomorrow.

Broken Ford Mondeo under a flash chassis

Yesterday evening before I went to bed I watched Blackadder. I watched the excellent Christmas Carol version where Ebeneezer Blackadder is a kind gentleman who realises that being bad and evil is more more profitable than being good. So when I think back to the comparisons made by myself to the two teams that played yesterday, perhaps we should take a leaf out of Blackadder’s book and just play a bit of roughousing tactics whenever we take to the field? After all, it works for Charlie Adam.

I’m starting off today’s blog by talking about Charlie Adam because I really have nothing else to talk about with regards to The Arsenal. Well, nothing you won’t have heard before, because yesterday’s result was more predictable than an above inflation train season ticket price hike on New Year’s Day. Another year, another defeat to Stoke, another chance for the media to perpetuate the old “they don’t like it up ‘em” nonsense.

I’ll level with you. I didn’t watch yesterday’s game. I was entertaining people and so was keeping track via radio and Twitter occasionally, but what I did hear was nothing new or surprising to me. I will go one step further. I haven’t even watched Match of The Day yet. I don’t even know if I’ll bother actually. What’s the point? I know what I’m going to see. Defensive shambles, offensive nullification (in the first half), some terrible misses from Arsenal players and some woefully inept defending from another makeshift team. A team that is makeshift entirely at the fault of the manager. I’m bored of talking about it, you’re bored of reading about it, we should probably just move on actually. Arsene has proven that he doesn’t have the cojones to do what is needed by fannying around in the summer and his own stupid self belief that he could keep a small core of players injury free like he did last season has ultimately cost us any real dream of even challenging for the league. That went in October.

October!

It’s a damming endictment on a man who has given us so much, has won a place in our hearts for what he has delivered to the club, but is now tarnishing his legacy with every passing moment it feels like at right now. We’ve still got a fight on our hands for fourth, that much is clear and, after both the Spuds and Liverpool both only managed draws at home to Crystal Palace and Sunderland respectively, the only grain of positivity I can take from this wekend is that we haven’t seen our rivals for that fourth start to drift off into the distance. United play Southampton on Sunday in which I think we probably need Southampton to pick up something from the game. I see people worried about West Ham and Southampton but they will fall away as injuries bite into the New Year.

So, despite the fact that it’s December and we’re only a few games away from the midway point in the season, I’m not particularly looking at the table too much. It would probably wind me up even more anyway. I keep telling myself that eventually we’ll put a run of winning games together. We always seem to, after all, but we’ve seen that situation of back-to-back victories happen about six times already, then we see a defensive performance like yesterday and are reminded just how average a team we can be. Especially away from home.

I don’t really know what else to say. I’m deflated. I could probably have a stab at getting more angry about our current predicament, but what’s the point? This Arsenal squad simply isn’t good enough to be where we want to be. Not in terms of the sum of all parts. We’ve got some wonderful players, but what’s the point in having a fabulous chassis on your car when you’ve got an old Ford Mondeo engine under the bonnet? You can’t race a flash car without the whole thing being flash. That’s where we are.

And itr’s entirely of Arsene’s making.

See you tomorrow.

Happy, but feeling a ‘little bit out of jail’

I spent most of yesterday evening – both pre, during and post match, lamenting the poor form of this Arsenal team. So whilst I’m obviously overjoyed that we beat a stubborn Southampton team, I still harbour serious concerns about the capability of Arsenal, version 2014/15.

That the goal came from Alexis was hardly a surprise, but that we had to wait until the last two minutes of what the yanks call ‘regulation time’, perhaps was. There’s no doubt in my mind that we deserved the victory, but there’s always something about a last-gasp victory that always feels a little forged to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing because 99% of the time the opposition doesn’t have a chance to respond, but in my warped mind it feels a bit fraudulent. It’s weird, because had we scored in the first minute or two then I’d probably be telling a different narrative, but such is the manner of timings on goals that it feels like we got a ‘little bit out of jail’.

The reality is that we deserved three points. Southampton rarely threatened and, whilst we were hardly the cutting edge champions elect you’d hope we’d be, we still deserved all the points. Fraser Forster was in particularly inspired form, tipping over a Welbeck header in the first half, plus saving from both Ramsey and Giroud in the second. Perhaps it is such that ‘keepers with lots to do always look better (a topic of discussion with a few Gooners I met before the match and chatted to over a pint), but those were the types of saves that we haven’t seen Szczesny make of late. His replacement however, looks like he is growing with every game he gets in the first team, and I have to be honest and say that with the way he commands his box, you couldn’t be too surprised if Arséne opts to keep him in the team. After all, it was a similar situation that saw Szczesny usurp both Almunia and Fabianski about five years ago, so why not the young Argentine?

I still think Wojciech will return to the team as soon as he is fit, but at least it will give something for Arsène to think about, and I’m all for the ‘thinking’ about stuff you know.

So what about the rest of the team then? Well, like I said, I’m really not sure at the moment. On the one hand we’ve managed to string together back-to-back-to-back victories. But on the other hand, we’ve laboured to two out of three, so should we be worried? Again, I guess it is all down to the narrative. For example, if that result had happened this time last season, you and I would probably be talking about the resolute defence, ‘never-say-die’ attitude and winning mentality. But because we’ve stuttered all season, we all feel a bit sheepish about the team right now, not really able to make comments like “they’re up and running finally” for fear that we’ll only trip ourselves up in the next game. Which, incidentally, is that horrible annual schlep into Mordor of Stoke at the weekend.

I think I’ve said it before on this blog, but life is not so linear. X plus Y doesn’t always equal Z and our performance this evening doesn’t mean we’ll roll over and have our bellies tickled against Stoke on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting us to swat aside a team with whom we’ve traditionally suffered at on account of their general unpleasentness, but likewise am I thinking that the performance of last nights game will mean a guaranteed loss for us.

The only real thing we should take from tonight’s game is that we’re three points richer come this morning. Plus, the arrival of Olivier Giroud appears to be having a definite impact. As both Billy and I remarked very shortly after his introduction, it’s the impact Giroud has on other players that is so surprising. Ramsey, for example, instantly looked happier and was involved in the build up to our scrappy goal with his cut back to Alexis. It’s fair to say that up until that point it had looked like ‘another one of those days’ for the Welshman, but he has still ended the game with an assist and for that we can all be grateful and appreciate his contribution. Just a few less of those Hollywood balls would be grand Aaron, thanks.

As for the rest of the midfield, it’s hard what to exactly make, again. Flamini did ok, but was never really tested, but then again I’d prefer to always say that he wasn’t tested. Cazorla looked decent enough, whilst never really threatening with any of his attacking play.

Going forward we had The Ox, who was good in patches but surprisingly to Billy and I, Arsène was booed for taking off. He had a few stray passes and as Bilbo pointed out, doesn’t get his head up often enough, so to see him come off for a more direct Giroud was no real surprise to me. And it was the right move from Arsène, with the benefit of hindsight, to back up the argument.

Defensively was probably where we can take most heart. Kos was brilliant and Per looked more assured. Chambers did well enough defensively and actually put in some really good balls in both halves, except there was hardly ever an Arsenal player getting on to the end of them. Monreal looked obviously more comfortable at left back and with that back four having picked up the confidence of three clean sheets, we’re in the best possible position going into a game at The Brittania.

So onwards we plough further into December with another three points tucked under our wings, with the chance to make it four in four on Saturday. If we can beat Stoke, I might even start to believe there is some momentum building.

Catch you tomorrow.

Santi turns lead vocalist at West Brom

It’s a real shame that what was essentially a gritty, hard-fought away win against a dogged West Brom side, was overshadowed somewhat by a banner unfurled at the game by a selection of supporters with an agenda to remove Arsène Wenger as manager.

I believe people are entitled to their opinion and I understand that opinions are divided over the managers’ future, but it’s just a shame that all the papers will focus on today is that banner. Which we’ve all seen before has been in existence for a number of years, but has never really managed to get any of the coverage that the owners would have liked. Until now that is.

I too, find myself questioning whether Arsène is the right man for the job, and one win against the Baggies won’t change that at this stage just yet. But I am a firm believer that you keep your opinions outside the stadium and rely on adrenalin of supporting your team to override any thoughts of the future of the club. Whenever I take my place at whatever ground to watch The Arsenal, the only future I’m ever bothered with is the subsequent 90 minutes. No more, no less.

So what about our 90 minutes yesterday? Well, perhaps it’s a measure of the first half that the banner has been given so much coverage, because it was a pretty turgid affair. We started with a trio of Giroud, Welbeck and Alexis up top which gave us an interesting compilation of target man and pacey wide men, but very quickly it showed that rotational positioning was the Soupe du Jour, as Welbeck found himself both central and wide right, as did Giroud and Alexis at times. And we seemed to pop the ball around nicely after the first 15 minutes or so, keeping possession well and testing Foster with a few pot shots, most of which were down his throat. It all felt very ‘Unitedy’ in that respect, which makes for uncomfortable viewing when you know that the Premier League quite often punishes you for not taking your chances.

But we had the return of a familiar face in Koscienly and you could tell that Big Per felt a little more at ease as a result. In some respects perhaps this was the perfect game for him to get back in to the swing of the Premier League, because West Brom played with Berahino up top who never really troubled us too much in the first half. He could have done, had a poor non-offside decision been given, but we got the run of the green for a change and at halftime West Brom hadn’t even racked up a shot on target.

The second half felt very similar to the first actually. As the clock ticked on you wondered where our goal was coming from. Step forward Santi Cazorla. He’d been good all game, but that dinked ball from the byline on to Welbeck’s head was perfectly placed and helped to secure him the man-of-the-match award in a game where quality was at a premium.

I have to say, I was really pleased that it was him that stepped forward and bossed the game, because we haven’t seen enough of that from him over the last year and a half. We know the talent is there, I don’t know about you, but it feels like he’s happy playing second fiddle to some of the other big name players in the team. Two years ago he was the lead vocalist, but it’s almost as if the band got a few more singers and he volunteered backing vocals as a result.

The thing is, he showed yesterday that he can still step up and run a game. So I’m hoping that this gives him the confidence boost he needs to start influencing and dictating the play more. Let’s have more acapella’s Santi, we know you’ve got the pipes for it, so just come out of the shadows and do it man.

It’s also good that a different player shows that he can be an influencer. It always feels a little uncomfortable when you look to one person to drive the team on, so sharing that burden around will give all of us fans a little bit less worry if the rest of the team does put in shifts like that, as opposed to Alexis all the time.

Plus, Welbeck got himself another goal and after going four or five without scoring, it was good to see him on the scoresheet. Arsène has hinted that he will play more on the flanks to accommodate Giroud, but I hope that yesterday’s flexible approach to rotating will give Welbeck more cause for optimism than concern. We don’t play with as natural wingers as he was asked to with United, so hopefully we see more of him popping up all over the pitch.

If that is to be our front three for the foreseeable future, it’s going to take them time to function as a cohesive unit, but I saw signs yesterday that it might just work. We shall see on Wednesday night when Southampton come to town.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Pride restored, defensive brains too, at least for last night

Well that was a bit more like it, wasn’t it now?

A 2-0 home win, safe passage into the knockout stages confirmed through an assertive performance, plus a bit of confidence restored in the players with whom we all looked at and wondered if they had the collective metal to get us out of this quagmire of poor form that we seemed to have waded in to.

I have to say that that I was less than confident before the game, as I ambled my way into the pub to meet a few fellow Gooners to chew the fat with. As I said yesterday, the home defeat to United hit me harder than I thought, so much so that I didn’t really come into the game expecting the team to give any kind of response o the debacle that was last weekend’s result.

I should have a wee bit more faith. Perhaps.

That game last night was exactly what we all needed to restore a bit of faith in the ability of the team to fulfil its potential. Don’t get me wrong; this was a Dortmund side shy of a few players, not needing anything (having qualified from the group already) from the game and languishing in 16th in the Bundesliga, but you could tell from the way they played that they were still up for taking a British scalp. But not yesterday. Yesterday they came up against an Arsenal side which was wounded from a harsh defeat at the weekend.

It didn’t take us long to assert or dominance and perhaps, having been scoffed at during the pre-match brewskis due to his inclusion in the starting 11, it was only fitting that Yaya Sanogo scored his first proper Arsenal goal within a minute or two of kick off. The ball from Santi was composed and the slide under that Weider-fella chap was as composed as any of us could hope for. Isn’t it nice that the monkey in the room that is Sanogo’s whole ‘no goals’ tag has been consigned to the farcical history from whence it came? If you’re an Arsenal fan then there’s no way you want to see any player toil, so to see him notch his first goal was pleasing for all of us to witness.

The rest of the game ticked along as if it was all part of the Arsenal show. Emilio Martinez was called into action with a good save from that bloke who sounds like he’s from the He-Man movie with Dolf Lungren – Mikataryian of Eternia or something – but that aside, we looked to be in control for most of that first half.

The second half was more of the same, accompanied by the now obligatory Alexis goal having been picked out from a good ball by Santi I believe (I’m starting this blog on the way home from the game so forgive me for the sketchy details) and finished with aplomb. The guy is an absolute beast and one only hopes that our form can pick up in the league; if only to prove justice to his overall play. Like in Football Manager, I am simply running out of superlatives. He scores, he dribbles, he chases, he hassles and harries. He is a joy to behold and is the stand out player this year by a country mile. Lord knows what we’d do if he picks up a knock, but at least he looks robust enough to take a tackle, hold on a second whilst I touch some wood.

There were still frustrations from yesterday though. But these frustrations seemed to be born from our own vexation with the players getting things right rather than wrong. For instance: full backs. Pre-game my compatriots and I had a lengthy conflab as to why we essentially play with four wingers. We recounted the halcyon days of the 90s well drilled defence and how they knew the score when it came to covering one another. The old ‘puppet’ description was given by one, who said that it really isn’t rocket science: one sits, whilst the other one pushes forward. It mitigates risk and ensures you have bodies back for when you are caught on the counter like we were for the second goal at the weekend. So why on earth can’t we do that every week? Who knows. More to the point, if lessons have been learned and we see that moving forward, who cares? If we see the same resolute defending away at West Brom at the weekend, I’ll be happy, as will your good self too I’d imagine.

Midfield also had a positive balance I thought. The Ox marked the occasion of his 100th Arsenal appearance with a very fine display and really was deserving of a goal with that lobbed volley on to the bar in the second half. There was a bit of a debate on Twitter that I was involved in that went on yesterday about where he should be playing and whether that is centrally or wide. I’m not sure we got to any kind of resolution, but one things for sure: The Ox is showing more frequent signs of good performances and with some of the injuries we’ve had this season you can see already how important he’s been for us. With the last thing we need being Walcott rushed back into action too early, it is a bit of a blessing that we have somebody like Alex who can give the manager enough leeway to make Theo’s return a gradual one.

Ramsey too, I thought, was better. He is still not the swashbuckling player that upped his game a few notches last season, but he did everything asked of him yesterday night, the simple things. He was always showing for the ball, his distribution was better and his all round game was sans flicks thankfully. He needs to put together a run of four or five games like that, then the confidence will come and we’ll see the player we’re all craving for.

The one sour note of the evening has come once again with the injury to Arteta, who Arsène admitted afterwards that it ‘doesn’t look good’ for the Spaniard. He has been a vital player for us when fit, but therein lies the issue and, if we’re all honest with each other, it’s only going to get worse as he gets older. We need to start thinking about an effective replacement, of which I don’t think many see Flamini as that, so Arsène needs to have his plans in place soon if we’re going to get something out of this season.

So that’s that as far as the Champions League is concerned. Sure, there’s another game, but I really don’t expect to see Anderlecht pick up anything away to Dortmund in a couple of weeks time, so I hope Arsène throws the game in Turkey and focuses all of his attention on our league form. We simply have to start putting together a run of victories. No more draws. No more defeats. The league is well and truly beyond us now, but all of the teams fighting for Champions League spots aren’t, so Arsène needs to get his eyes on the prize of third and go for it.

Happy Thursday unto thee I say.