Feed on
Posts
Comments

Well that made for a much better day. An afternoon taking in the delights of the South Bank, including a German Christmas market which provided some amusement for wandering Dortmunders, was followed by a leisurely journey to the Tollie to imbibe and chew the fat with friends. The vibes were positive until the team news was announced. “Sanogo? Really?”

Two minutes in and that had changed to a booming chorus of “Yaya Sanogo, he scores when he wants”. Controlling a throw-in from Calum Chambers he found Santi Cazorla with a clever backheel and advanced on goal to take the return pass and slot the ball under Weidenfeller in the Dortmund goal. Just the start needed to settle any nerves that might have been felt on and off the pitch.

What followed was as good a match, and performance, as we have seen in a while. The young Frenchman might have doubled his tally but Ginter recovered to block his effort. Although Arsenal had dominated the opening phase of play the visitors came strongly back and no quarter was asked or given. Subotic and Arteta traded yellow cards, and Mkhitaryan fired high and wide when an equaliser seemed possible. The same player was denied by Emiliano Martinez, making a second winning Champions League appearance of the season.

Both sides impressed with their defensive discipline, so often the undoing of both in their domestic leagues this season. At the start of the second-half Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez traded efforts on goal before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, so impressive on the night, hammered a glorious volley against the crossbar. One sensed that a second goal was both coming and needed. It duly arrived in breathtaking style when Cazorla found Alexis in the inside-left channel and the Chilean curled a delightful shot inside the far post from the edge of the box.

Dortmund introduced Ramos and Kagawa and set about recovering the situation. There were groans followed by sympathetic applause as Mikel Arteta once again broke down and departed injured. For how long, one wonders? We will miss him, and it once again raises the question of an additional defensive midfielder being required in January. The Gunners remained disciplined however. Per Mertesacker took the captain’s armband from Arteta, but it looked from the west lower as though Nacho Monreal had taken charge of the rearguard action. Full marks to him if so.

Subotic for the visitors, and the Ox for Arsenal were both off target as a fascinating match entered the final phase. Gündogan shot straight at Martinez, and so too did Ramos either side of an overhit Santi free-kick. Even at two down the visiting hoardes in the south-east corner of the stadium produced noisy and well-choreographed support for their team. Personally I would have stuck something sharp through the drummer’s instrument, but full marks to them. They never deserted their team when needed.

The result ensures our passage into the knock-out phase of the Champions League, which makes it nine years in a row. Mathematically we could still group but that will require Anderlecht winning in Dortmund. Realistically we should be preparing to draw the likes of Barca or Bayern again. That’s for another day. For now let us savour a couple of days before looking to reproduce this form at West Bromwich on Saturday lunchtime.

Look, as Arsene now seems to preface every statement, three weeks ago we led Anderlecht 3-0 in the Champions League matchday four fixture. It was the last feelgood moment for Arsenal supporters it seems. In the remaining half an hour we managed to turn three points into one, and set in motion a kamikaze approach of throwing bodies into attack with insufficient cover behind. Incomprehensible defeats to Swansea and Manchester United have followed and increased pressure on the manager and his misfiring team.

On Saturday we lost 1-2 to a team that had only one shot on target (only Arsenal could do that, surely?). We can be sure that Dortmund will show more attacking intent on Wednesday night at the Grove. That could be a blessing, but only if we show more discipline, commitment, and confidence, than has been in evidence in those last three weeks. It wouldn’t be easy at the best of times, but the extension to the treatment room was filled on Saturday. Wojciech Szczesny and Jack Wilshere have adjoining couches and miss this match. Danny Welbeck hopes to be allowed out to play but has now finished two matches in a week with a ‘tight hamstring’. His potential absence is made more significant by the absence of Olivier Giroud, not included in the Champions League group phase squad as he wasn’t expected to be recovered from his broken leg before Christmas.

Just as I begin to regret that the oven here is electric and not gas there is at last some good news. Laurent Koscielny is back in the squad, a welcome addition for a defence under fire but woefully exposed by their somewhat reckless midfield colleagues. Is he fit enough for ninety minutes? If there is any doubt then let’s think of the long term good. Nacho Monreal was only really out of his depth at Swansea and given the lack of form and confidence in those ahead of him he has done as well as we could have expected our second choice left-back to do at centre-back. Emiliano Martinez played in goal in the away win at Anderlecht and will hope for another successful Champions League night as Szczesny’s replacement.

Jack’s absence has provided a midfield opening. Perhaps we will sit Aaron Ramsey alongside Mikel Arteta at the base with instructions to cover Dortmund’s lightning counter-attacks first and foremost.  In the advanced central role the likeliest recall would be for Santi Cazorla, although surely Tomas Rosicky will be seriously considered against his former club. Assuming Alexis and the Ox will be the wide men that leaves the centre forward. Should Welbeck not make it then the boss has a decision to make between Yaya Sanogo and Lukas Podolski. I would go with the latter against his countrymen, but what do I know?

The visitors have their own injury woes. Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, both ironically heavily linked with potential moves to Arsenal, are currently injured thus proving their perfect fit for the Gunners. Given the current atmosphere around the club it is also a night for Jurgen Klopp to impress those who rather prematurely enthuse about him following Arsene into the Arsenal hot-seat. His team have lost seven matches domestically and are hovering painfully around the Bundesliga basement. This matters not, he says.

“We have real pressure, but tonight I cannot change the Bundesliga situation, so it is a little bit like a holiday situation for me, it is only the Champions League. Tomorrow we have a big target, we want to go through in first position.”

They are most certainly favourites to do so. They have four wins out of four in the group to date and will secure top place if they avoid defeat at the Grove. Even if we win we need them to lose at home to Anderlecht on matchday six for us to stand any chance of denying them that berth.

The ‘holic pound

The fact that the draw secures us second place in the group could make us just that little more conscious of defending from the front. Surely though the three points will be targeted while first place is still mathematically possible? A European night, an Arsenal team languishing in mid-table. It is reminiscent of George Graham’s final season with the Gunners. In the hope that lightning can strike twice in the same place (it often does, in fact) I am tempted by the 21/2 available if you shop around on a good old-fashioned 1-0 to the Arsenal.

The Jackson Five

Sang “I’ll Be There”, and rarely for a midweek fixture I will be, the neighbour having been very persuasive, so don’t expect a match report until Thursday. To those also going I look forward to seeing you in the usual place pre-match. I will be making a sharp exit though in order to make the last train home. I look forward to seeing you there.

Have a good one ‘holics, wherever you are watching.

Two excited youngsters are met and whisked off to enjoy a pre-match pizza. Mum asks, “what is your prediction this afternoon?”. I tell her I fancy we have learned our lesson and will win 2-1. “What lesson?” Nearly every time we have played them in recent years they sit back and catch us with one or two lightning breaks, I explain. We can’t be that naive again, surely?

We arrive at the ground early and two wines and a couple of fizzy drinks cost half as much as the feast we have just enjoyed. Snaps are taken as the boys enter Block 26. Wide eyed, and smitten they are. I’m just a bit nervous. I thought the family section was in the corner, not behind the goal. When the match kicks off so does the abuse of van Persie, and Tottenham. That won’t stop, but why are the club selling junior Gunners tickets in this area? Everybody stands, again something I don’t object to, but it means the youngest has to stand on his seat to see the match.

What the boys see in the first half is encouraging. Some of the football from Arsenal is memeric, but the lion is somewhat toothless and clawless. A couple of chances for Danny Welbeck and one for Jack Wilshere came and went before Jack was put clear through on goal. Setting the tone for the afternoon he placed his effort straight at De Gea. A big moment it would prove to be. De Gea had magnetic qualities as far as the ball was concerned. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rounded him but he recovered to block when once again the opening goal seemed imminent. Sanchez too put an effort straight at him.

Arsenal were becoming nervous, the confidence seemingly draining out of them towards the end of the half, and Di Maria curled an effort just past the far post. This was a warning that United were up to their old tricks against us. We didn’t heed the lesson. At half-time we could at least sit and encourage each other. The beaming grins of pre-match had turned to nervous expressions but we were surely going to win playing like this, weren’t we?

Again De Gea didn’t have to move far to clutch an Alexis effort as Arsenal poured forward. Then the inevitable happened, Wojciech Szczesny and Kieran Gibbs collided as both attempted to deal with a hopeful Fellaini punt and Valencia’s wild effort was deflected into his own goal by the prone Gibbs. Cue a deafening silence at the Clock End for what seemed like a minute before the first obscenities starting gushing forth. The atmosphere deepened further, and the first rumblings of ‘friendly fire’ were heard.

Off went Szczesny, on came Martinez. We poured forward, finding De Gea it seemed with every goalbound effort. Olivier Giroud’s arrival almost brought an instant reward, but his header was too high. As we streamed forward United again countered. Two against one, Di Maria set Rooney free for a second. Shambolic defending for a young central defender and a tiny goalkeeper to witness. Hopefully this (Sunday) morning they don’t do as poorly.

The home support started to dwindle rapidly. We were able to sit again with clear rows in front of us. Eight added on minutes finally saw two young boys cheering when Giroud smashed one high and wide of De Gea into the net. Arsenal being Arsenal there had to be hope, didn’t there? United though ran down the clock and frustrated as tempers frayed on the pitch as well as off it. The frustration was understandable, but the reaction infantile and self-defeating.

Shorn of defensive stability and discipline this current Arsenal team is seeking elusive ruthlessness. The pretty patterns and sharp interplay in and around the box is desperately seeking finishing touches. One gets the feeling that a poorly organised opponent will get terrorised one afternoon soon, but Arsenal need something else against stronger rivals. United, equally hapless at the back came with a tried and trusted gameplan, and it worked.

When will we learn that lesson? When will our luck turn? When will Kos, Mesut, and Theo return? Will they alone solve what ails us? The January transfer window is gaining added significance with every passing poor result. Hopefully when the young defenders return they will see a better example to follow.

Remember when Arsenal v Manchester United fixtures were effectively title deciders? The intensity was all too evident. You could sense the atmosphere building for days beforehand. Vieira and Keane, Keown and van Nistelrooy, battles all over the park, and who can forget the Nevilles assault of Jose Antonio Reyes. They effectively kicked him all the way back to Spain.

It seems strange to be approaching this still huge fixture in the Premier League calendar more as an eliminator for a Champions League place as early as November. Such are the expectations at both clubs that it hurts both to watch Chelsea sailing away into the distance as points are carelessly discarded at the Grove and Old Trafford.

Both sides have a real attacking threat but are struggling defensively right now. Mathieu Debuchy and Laurent Koscielny remain out with injuries which probably means an unchanged back four in front of Wojciech Szczesny. I know many would prefer to see Calum Chambers switched to the centre and Hector Bellerin promoted to right back but that would be a surprise to see Arsene opt for youth against such dangerous opponents.

Mikel Arteta is fit to return and could partner Aaron Ramsey at the base of the midfield, freeing Jack Wilshere to move into the hole behind whoever will be leading the line. With Danny Welbeck falling foul of a tight hamstring in Glasgow on Tuesday there is a chance of an immediate recall for Olivier Giroud, back in training after recovering from a leg break.

I will be in the family enclosure hoping that Alexis can keep his amazing goalscoring run going to secure three valuable points for the grand’holics to boast about at school on Monday. There are obvious threats to that from a team who have thrived against us in recent years playing a fast counter-attacking game. Good job we don’t commit so many players forward these days. What? Oh…

Mata, di Maria,and Rooney, all pose challenges for us to solve, but the one we most want to lock down is the misfiring Robin van Stapleton. He can expect another hostile reception which we must hope is not counter-productive. He has three strikes for his new employers against us. It would make for an ugly atmosphere were another strike by him be allied to a poor performance from us.

The ‘holic pound has to be pointed at a home win, however. I have had a good hunch all week about 2-1 and I won’t change my mind now. 17/2 is a decent price for that, and I’m on it. It would certainly ease the tension bubbling under the surface around the club right now.

With the grand’holics in town I shall be swapping pints of Guinness for a glass or two of vino with pizza. Yes, pizza, against Manchester United. What could possibly go wrong?

Have a great one, ‘holics.

Welcome back to book review week on Goonerholic.

I have in my collection Rebels For The Cause and Highbury: The Story of Arsenal in N5, so when Jon Spurling released his latest book, Red Letter Days, I knew it would end up accompanying the others in my Arsenal dominated bookcase. Jon knows what Arsenal supporters want to read about, and writes for his target audience.

Red Letter Days is another well crafted delve into the Gunners past, including the recent past I hasten to add. From Sir Henry Norris to the FA Cup Final victory in May Jon concentrates on fourteen key moments in Arsenal’s history, dissecting the myths and conjecture which surround Arsenal’s epoch-defining moments, including key matches and tactical revolutions, and casts fresh light on the impact of important figures in the club’s history.

Relive or discover the 1930 ‘Zeppelin Final’, the Stoke semi-final in 1971, Anfield ’89, Parma ’94 (oh what a night, as Frankie Valli so astutely observed), and Arsene’s early tussles with Manchester United. Look again at legends such as Norris, Charlie Buchan, Herbert Chapman (genuflects after typing), Joe Mercer, George Graham, Dennis Bergkamp (repeats genuflect), and Patrick Vieira.

Jon pools 25 years worth of interviews with Arsenal stars past and present, and has blended archive research with forensic analysis of crucial events both on and off the pitch to provide a challenging reassessment of Arsenal’s history.

In each chapter I can honestly say I discovered something hitherto unknown to me, or maybe forgotten although I doubt that. It’s clear that Jon has put in the hard hours reaearching another engrossing read. The bibliography at the back of the book tells a tale in itself.

I read it from cover to cover in chronological order, but again this is a book from which you can pick your favourite chapters and read them in isolation. In fact I suspect I will do just that in the coming weeks, so keen am I to enjoy again a number of events that meant so much to me in my life.

As an Arsenal supporter you have a number of recently published Arsenal books to choose from if you are dropping Christmas present hints. It’s not for me to suggest which you opt for if you are on a budget. All I will say is that if you have enjoyed Jon’s work in the past then you will not be disappointed with this.

In the sidebar you will find a link to the book on Amazon, along with the excellent Invincible by Amy Lawrence. Enjoyable reads both. Make sure the family know they’re there. Thank you.

It is becoming quite a year for collectors of Arsenal books, and in the next week  surrounding the Manchester United fixture I have three more to review. Tonight that week is kick-started with a look at an interesting concept, and a special discount for Goonerholic readers.

Did I say interesting? Well, it had to happen really. A popular Twitter account replicated in book form, so not your conventional read by any stretch of the imagination. More it is a book to be picked at when you have a few minutes to spare and don’t want to think too hard about a plot, a previous incident, or indeed acquiring knowledge. This is a book when you want a grin, a chuckle, or even the odd belly laugh.

For those who have tried Twitter and don’t enjoy the format, then you may as well head straight for the drinks and tell us all there. For those who don’t know it (where have you been?) Twitter is a social media site which allows people to communicate with pretty much anyone in posts of 140 characters or less. There are those who post there who have developed a personna, an alter ego if you will, and the author of this tome is one of the most amusing among the army of Arsenal supporters you will find there.

The tweeter known as @wengerknowsbest is followed by over 120,000 people and has become required reading for simply speaking fluent Wenger. Little Bit Silverware captures by way of parody Arsene’s sayings, mannerisms and catchphrases pefectly, and tells the story of Arsenal’s landmark 2013/14 season.

Dip into the pages of this book, for it doesn’t have to be read chronologically, and find revelations, secret discussions with rival managers, and the inside story on why Per Mertesacker is called the ‘BFG’. One of my personal favourites came before the September meeting with Stoke City.

“Do Stoke still play rugby? I don’t know. They use less rucks and mauls now, but still try to avoid forward passes.”

As the Mirror’s John Cross notes in his foreward to the book, “this is not in any way poking fun at Arsene Wenger”. It is however a reflection on the Arsenal manager’s quirky interactions with media, and therefore the club’s supporters, culminating in the FA Cup Final triumph over Hull City and the aftermath of a long overdue triumph.

“Am I still a ‘specialist in failure’? Specialist, no. Is Mourinho now an ‘apprentice in failure’? You have to ask him.”

I mentioned a discount for ‘holics. The deal is 10% off RRP of £9.99, so £9.00 with free P&P to UK addresses. The code to quote is LBS10. Orders will need to be placed by calling GBS on 01206 256101.

Arsenal supporters who remember and enjoyed the Colemanballs books will like this. I suspect a few ‘holics will appreciate it too.

Is it a book of exceptional quality? We don’t know. We don’t want to comment on speculation.

I imagine most who visit here or read my rants on Twitter will know I have a pretty low opinion of the current crop of Premier League referees and assistants. To be fair they do come under the microscope far more than ever before so I have some sympathy for all but the most obviously incompetent. I am indebted to our very own Noosa Gooner for reminding us there is more than one side to the story, and shares with us some of the things he learned with a whistle at the ready. Thanks Noosa.

Holics – everybody thinks they can ref – right?

I was in New Zealand when I stopped playing football at the age of 35 – it was just taking longer and longer to get over the weekly knocks and bruises. However I was still pretty fit, I could still run around ok and was keen to stay involved in the game for a while longer.

I was reminded of an appearance before the disciplinary committee where I had commented upon the general ineptitude of referees. Their response was to suggest that I become a referee when I finished playing and to see if I could do better. So I did.

Work commitments stopped me from refereeing at a national level, although I became qualified to do so, but I enjoyed refereeing, mostly at a regional level for about 8 years before a job transfer meant I had to give it away. I learnt things that I never knew, despite having played the game since I was a kid. I don’t claim to be an expert but thought I could share some observations of the most popular topics from the dark side for your interest.

I was taught that the role of a referee is “to enforce the laws of the game”. I learnt that refereeing is all about correct decision making and good man management, underpinned by a decent level of fitness. Without all three things, you’ll never be a good referee.

Consequently, you must obviously have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the laws of the game. Indeed, you are tested on your knowledge in written, verbal and practical assessments as you work your way up the refereeing ladder and beyond. I was often amazed at how little many players (including myself), coaches and, to be fair, some referees actually knew about the laws – everything from acceptable pitch dimensions to the interpretation of violent conduct. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know.

If the referee is there to enforce the laws, it is the players’ responsibility to stay within those laws. Contrary to what some TV commentators would have you believe, it is not the referee’s job to “make allowances” for poor conditions or heated atmospheres and let poor challenges go unpunished because of that. It is the players who must make those “allowances” and the referee, as always, simply enforces the laws. If a referee tries to alter his decision making because of conditions, then consistency of decision-making goes out the window which is when a ref often loses control and gets (rightly) slated for that.

Similarly, it is not the referee’s job to “try and keep 22 players on the pitch”. We were never coached to think like that. If a player commits a cautionable or dismissible offence then he should be dealt with accordingly, irrespective of playing conditions or the nature of the match. If not, this type of leniency is quickly seen by the players as a sign of weakness which is then played upon and leads to even more refereeing inconsistency. Unfortunately we see this week in and week out.

In a similar vein, how often do we see a player plead that “it’s my first foul” when about to be cautioned – as if everybody is allowed a free whack at somebody before the laws apply to them? Where did this idea come from? I am amazed that some referees seem to let players get away with not just this but also multiple infringements before sanction. Just how do they interpret “persistent misconduct”?

Oscar at the Chelsea game this season springs to mind. And all the usual suspects. Lucas at Liverpool. Henry at Wolves. Fernhandino at City. And so on. Again, it just seems like weak refereeing to me.

Dissent – Someone (politely) questioning a decision is ok but allowing players to swear at you, confront or surround you, chase you, walk away from you when administering a caution shows that your man management skills have failed and that you have lost the respect that players must afford you. Once that happens, you’ve effectively lost control of the game.

Playing advantage – simply having possession of the ball after an infringement does not automatically represent an advantage, particularly if an attacking player has been taken out of the game and the attack. Too many referees seem not to apply this very well.

In the English Premier League today, I reckon that about half of all throw-ins are illegal – from stealing way too many yards through to incorrect release of the ball. Read the law. I suspect that referees are told to let all but the most blatant go for the sake of continuity but the downside is that if one law (albeit minor) is allowed to be so blatantly ignored then is it really any wonder that so many other laws and decisions are then challenged or misunderstood by players and managers?

Hands on / hands off. It seems to be generally accepted that players should never lay hands on a referee, whatever the circumstances. The reasons are obvious. I am still surprised when I see referees laying hands on players whether moving back a defensive wall or stepping in between players who were squaring up to each other or, as I saw recently, actually pushing a player backwards to avoid a fight with another player. I was coached that respect is a two way street and never to touch a player. If there’s a confrontation or other incendiary incident then watch what happens and then take appropriate action – don’t get involved in that action itself.

That same requirement of respect demands that, during a game, players are not your friends. I am shocked to see so many referees using first name terms and trying to be “matey” with players during matches. There were occasions when I refereed games including my old club and guys I had played with but first names and familiarity quite obviously had to be off limits until after the game. Why do some referees now feel the need to be such an integral part of the show? Funnily enough, this seems to be an English thing – continental refs are much more detached and are usually better for it.

I wish that referees were allowed to explain, post-match, why certain decisions were given. They may not always be right and we may not always agree but I think it would benefit the game and our understanding of the role of the referee.

There are many other things about refs that drive us crazy but ask yourself – how well do you know the laws. Some might say that you need to be crazy to be a referee. The thing is, there wouldn’t be a game without them. Maybe you could be one?

You could be forgiven that the only topic of conversation in Arsenal circles this week concerns the supporters undeniably split opinions on Arsene Wenger’s immediate future. Given that his immediate, and probably medium term future, is remaining in situ I thought I would scour the sports pages for other Arsenal news. Yes, even the speculation I normally avoid like the plague.

First port of call has to be the Guardian, providers of the most sane football coverage for a number of years now. What do I find today. Nothing. Although if you didn’t read Amy Lawrence’s piece yesterday on the mutual grumblings of the disaffected at both North London clubs I suggest you rectify that now. I’ts a rather interesting comparison, hinting at the comfort to be found in the misfortune of others right now, and that is not exclusively them, as a number of Manchester United and Liverpool supporters will surely testify.

Over at the Telegraph Jeremy Wilson runs with Lukas Podolski’s desire to seek clarification of his future with Arsene Wenger. This is hardly surprise news. Lukas has struggled to make the left wing role his own since signing and the arrival of Alexis Sanchez has seen him slip a place further down the pecking order. We have a wealth of attacking riches and although Poldi is a class finisher he probably suffers more than most from the fact that we don’t have the defensive depth that would allow us the luxury of selecting him regularly, purely for his attacking qualities.

Jim van Wijk over at the Standard covers an AS Chile interview with the man of the moment, Alexis Sanchez. One paragraph sticks out. I know there is an expectation for players now to feed the press with positive lines, but the standout Gunner so far this season is even more bullish than you might imagine.

“I tell you seriously: I like what I see so much that I have repeated myself many times, that if we have the required winning mentality, if we are positive and try to win every single game, I know we can win any competition.”

The Express not surprisingly pinch a story from the Times (and no, I don’t go behind their paywall) with a tale of Tomas Rosicky’s disenchantment. Reading the interview, even out of context, I don’t get the inference the sub-editor has in headlining the piece.

I looked at the Mail, and decided enough was enough. They have a muckspreading style far better suited to background noise to the Archers.

And if you really want to hear discussion of the topical issues then tomorrow night I will be recording my first, and probably last, appearance on the A Bergkamp Wonderland @AFCPodcast. No pressure, I am only following in the footsteps of Perry Groves, and if you didn’t hear him last week then check it out here.

I wonder if Arsene’s future will crop up?

Well, a ‘not too good’ week turned bad at the Liberty Stadium as Arsenal once again surrendered a lead. Although Anderlecht only recovered a point against us on Tuesday Swansea grabbed all three with two goals in the last fifteen minutes.

Let me give credit to Garry Monk and his team. They were competitive throughout and I thought deserved their win at the death. It could have been worse if Phil Dowd, of all people, had taken a different view of Calum Chambers first half coming together with Bony. Fortunately he had a perfect view of the theatrical plunge made by the latter, but we have all seen soft penalties like that given.

The home side got into their stride quicker at the start of the game, but I hoped that we were attempting a repeat of last season’s performance when we dropped deep, soaked up the pressure, and hit them devastatingly as they tired. With the benefit of hindsight (more of that later) the way we started the match was the way we should perhaps have considered finishing it.

There were clear indications from the start that Montero was proving a handful for Calum Chambers, and the young defender found little in the way of support from his colleagues. The Swans attempted to probe that weakness throughout.

I don’t recall us having a shot until Aaron Ramsey’s blocked effort in the 27th minute, but we did end the half coming out of our shell and could have taken the lead. First Danny Welbeck found himself one on one with Fabianski but the former Gunners ‘keeper saved well. Then Aaron Ramsey saw a well struck volley go inches wide, and Per Mertesacker got up to head narrowly past the other post.

Again with the benefit of hindsight (isn’t that a wonderful thing) one would have expected at half-time for the manager and coach to call for a bit more support for Chambers from those ahead of and alongside him. For the team to keep doing the basics well and if we could nick a goal on the break to regain the shape we had at the start and not throw caution to the wind. Easy to write after the event, I know, and maybe they did say exactly that. We don’t know.

If they didn’t then the problems we are currently experiencing are down to them. If they did then some of these players need to take a long hard look at their contribution. We don’t know the answers, but have to trust the manager, the coaching staff, and the squad to work long and hard at identifying and resolving the defensive issues we have faced for a long time now.

It’s easy to point fingers at just the defence and lay the blame at their door, but we were down to the bare bones going into the season, and injuries to Mathieu Debuchy and Laurent Koscielny have us fielding a makeshift back four with the second-choice left-back at centre-half, and a rookie at right-back. They need shielding, and to an extent got that for half an hour at the start of this match.

That they were exposed so badly in the final quarter of the matches on Tuesday and today (Sunday) tells a sad and sorry tale about the state of our midfield right now. The engine room that made us the best team in the Premier League in the calendar year of 2013, and delivered a trophy at last in May is host to much misfiring presently. The hard work of Alexis and Danny Welbeck when we have the ball, and when we don’t, is in marked contrast to those between them and the back four.

The return of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott won’t fix that, but may just give us a chance of outscoring opponents until we can hopefully find some defensive reinforcements in January. With the skipper missing Mathieu Flamini stomped around the midfield barking instructions to anybody that would listen. Astonishingly in a match of ten yellow cards he was not the recipient of one of them, which tells a tale perhaps.

Alongside him Aaron Ramsey is a shadow of the player rightly lauded last season. It’s a shame that first-half volley didn’t go in because one gets the feeling a goal will cure what ails him and his confidence right now. Santi Cazorla is not selected for his defensive prowess, and is flitting in and out of games. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was always dangerous when we went forward but only too happy to stay up and not help shut off the supply to Montero when we didn’t have the ball.

The lead we sought on the break duly arrived just past the hour and a glorious goal it was, ending with Welbeck cutting a ball into the path of Alexis who netted his eighth Premier League goal in just ten appearances. Arsenal, being Arsenal, couldn’t resist committing players forward in search of a killer second. Barrow broke and ran unchallenged through the centre of the pitch until Kieran Gibbs desperate lunge from behind halted him at the expense of a free-kick. Sigurdsson’s excellent effort was unstoppable. Three minutes later the winner was anything but.

For the umpteenth time Montero got the better of Chambers and crossed for Gomis, cleverly on Monreal’s shoulder to head home past a strangely static Szczesny. The reaction? Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere introduced for the final ten minutes, and Yaya Sanogo in injury time. Ramsey, Flamini, and finally Chambers were withdrawn as we attempted to throw everything but the kitchen sink at them, but it wasn’t enough.

The blame game requires scapegoats. They are different for different people. And sad though it is to see the same criticisms of the same people when the chips are down it is totally understandable if expressed without resorting to bile. Arsene did have the money available to strengthen the defensive positions in the summer and it is hard to understand why that didn’t happen. There may be perfectly good reasons why we didn’t but the fact that so many saw that as a problem then leaves the boss open to perfectly valid criticism, if expressed respectfully.

I don’t like to see players singled out, but there are those, particularly in midfield, who are attracting the sort of criticism that erodes already fragile confidence. It doesn’t help them that the outstanding work being done by the summer acquisitions, Alexis and Welbeck, is putting one or two in the shade who should be performing better. It seems we are struggling to find the right balance in midfield, and this may be resolved by the return of Walcott and Ozil. Players currently assured of a place need to respond positively to the threat of a place on the bench when we are back, if ever we will be, to full strength.

Twelve points behind Chelsea after eleven matches doesn’t look good. It isn’t a decisive advantage but it appears ever more likely with each passing week that we are playing for second or third place, and a guaranteed Champions League berth next season. One could argue that would represent progress, but right now it seems a million miles away. It doesn’t help that we face a fortnight of navel gazing thanks to the international break. Never have we needed to get to the January transfer window more.

Swansea away, probably not the ideal fixture to follow Tuesday’s events,  but a happy hunting ground for us last season thanks to a 1-2 success.

Those who would argue that the same side should be offered the opportunity to redeem themselves will have read by now the news of the skippers absence with a hamstring injury. Fit again Jack Wilshere is a likely replacement which may mean either Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Aaron Ramsey is asked to start alongside Mathieu Flamini in the shielding role, and Santi Cazorla is switched back to the flank. Arsene insisted that Theo Walcott is not yet ready to start a fixture, which may frustrate those to see him teamed up with Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welback in a flying front three.

Swansea will field FA Cup winning goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski, facing us for the first time since his summer move to find regular first-team football. He matured during his time with us and that is validated by his five clean sheets this season, a statistic bettered by only one Premiership goalkeeper (and that isn’t Wojciech Szczesny). The Swans would leapfrog us in the table with a win. They have been in decent form this season beating Burnley, West Brom, and Leicester at home following an opening day success at Old Trafford. They have also drawn at Sunderland and Everton as well as at home to Newcastle.

Let’s face it, we haven’t a clue which Arsenal will turn up for this one. I’ve looked long and hard at the odds to decide on the ‘holic pound. The bookies favourite 1-1, followed by 0-1 and 1-2 away wins. I am tempted by the latter, a repeat of last season’s scoreline. A small punt is on at a generous looking 17/2.

Campo Retro Classic Shirts

The Goonerholic exclusive promotion has now finished, but if you missed out don’t fret. There are still deals to be had. This weekend you can remember the year of 91. Adams, Wright, Merson shirts from £20. £10 OFF http://bit.ly/1CIfcnP

Have a good weekend, ‘holics.

Older Posts »