It’s Not Half Bad

The transfer window closed. The international break is done. So tomorrow it’s back to business with a game at home to Stoke City and I can’t help but feel nothing but a win will do.

I wanted to avoid dwelling on our lack of transfer activity; it’s been done to death already elsewhere in the Arsenal sphere. However, my hand is somewhat forced as I firmly believe a lack of three points tomorrow would result in the return of over the top emotional meltdowns we had to endure on deadline day.

With Petr Cech our sole addition, we were the only club in Europe’s top five leagues not to have acquired an outfield player and, like it or not, that is a sentence that will continue to rear its head every time we fail to secure victory between now and the winter window.

Welcome to Arsenal Football Club, Petr Cech

We’ve failed to score in 5 of our last 6 home games. If that becomes 6 out of 7 tomorrow you know exactly what the headlines will be. Equally, if we are opened up too easily in defence, or caught too easily on the counter, then you know questions will be asked about the lack of a new Coq.

It was interesting to read the stats from @Orbinho about the number of forwards across Europe’s top leagues to have scored 20 plus goals last season. The number was 11. The 11 were Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, Aguero, Costa, Kane, Tevez, Toni, Icardi, Bacca, and Griezmann.  If you exclude penalties that number becomes just 5, Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, Aguero, and Griezmann.

Those 5 players, for one reason or another, were simply not realistic targets or realistically obtainable. If you look at the 6 who made the list with penalties included then Costa and Kane would also be deemed unobtainable due to being at rival clubs. So fundamentally there were 4 players in Europe’s top leagues who scored 20 plus goals last season; not exactly a plethora of options! And it’s exactly the reason why a summer in which Arsenal, United, Chelsea, and Liverpool all wanted a ‘new number 9’ ended with the only deals being Falcao, Benteke, Ings, and Martial; three very uninspiring options and a ridiculously expensive gamble on an inexperienced winger.

But to many, including those who write the headlines, the above reason and rhyme will count for nothing if tomorrow does not end in an Arsenal victory. They will argue it’s not our job to identify realistic and obtainable targets. They will argue Arsene is paid handsomely enough, and has a vast scouting network at his disposal, to provide the unexpected answer. Very few knew of Gabriel before his arrival in January, but we knew we needed a centre half and we like what we’ve seen so far. So were there really no defensive midfielders or centre forward equivalents available this window?

Gabriel

That, rightly or wrongly, will be the question raised if three points are not secured. That is the question that will be raised if we fail to score. That will be the question if Mathieu Flamini or Joel Campbell have to be used as desperate last resorts. Not just tomorrow, but every game between now and January.

For me, however, the questions would be different. What I’d like to know is how a team that was functioning so incredibly well in the second half of last season has failed to inspire so far this season. I’d like to know how we can ensure the right balance in our team. I’d like to know (see) how Wenger adjusts his line-up and approach from opponent to opponent, between home fixtures and away.

Signings would have been nice, don’t get me wrong. We’d all love another 30 plus goals a season forward like Henry. We’d all love a player (captain) in the mould of Patrick Vieira dominating proceedings. But people need to remember that Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira (and the others many greats of their era) are the exceptions, not the rule. As such, their greatness should not be used as a stick with which to beat our current squad of players. Their greatness does not automatically mean our current squad is not good enough. Their greatness does not mean certain players, who seem to be the easy scapegoats, are bad players. Granted our current squad may not contain once in a lifetime legends, but it does contain some exceptional players and back to back FA Cup winners, so let’s stop demoting them all into the Kaba Diawarra bucket.

Vieira and Henry

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a long-winded and inarticulate way, is that we have a very good squad of players. If Arsene can get them playing to the level he did last season (December to May) then there is still no reason why we can’t challenge for honours, the league title included.

So, come Saturday 3pm tomorrow, let’s make sure everyone is behind this group of players. Let’s raise the Emirates roof. Let’s get our first home goals of the season. Let’s make sure those goals secure our first home win of the season. And in the unthinkable event it all goes Pete Tong, let’s try to remain positive, after all one man or one signing doesn’t make a team. Up The Arsenal. Victoria Concordia Crescit.

It’s happened again, it’s happened again, top four finish, it’s happened again

ARSENAL 1   WEST BROM 0

Our home campaign came to a close on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion. A top four finish was already guaranteed pre-kick-off, thanks to Man City’s victory at Goodison Park, but none the less it was important to finish our home fixtures on a high.

We started brightly, zipping the ball about and creating openings, whilst the Baggies seemed happy to sit deep and relinquish possession. And after just 14 minutes it was one-nil to The Arsenal when a Santi Cazorla corner was headed home by Olivier Giroud for his 22nd goal of the season. The Frenchman is far from perfect, but that tally is not too shabby at all.

Giroud Celebrates His Winner Against West Brom

Then the match went into pre-season friendly mode. For us it was a case of being one-nil up, guaranteed fourth place already, and not wanting to go too crazy ahead of an FA Cup final. For West Brom it appeared to be a combination of lack of belief and lack of concern, believing Norwich won’t perform the miracle of all miracles. And so the game fizzled out, with Arsenal comfortably and casually passing the ball around in the North London sunshine, whilst the joyful home crowd sang about a girl who wore a yellow ribbon and about how the yearly inevitable had happened again.

So another home campaign is over and it’s one that has left me feeling a little undecided. Wearing my positivity goggles, if I think back to our opening day 3-1 defeat against Aston Villa when there was no Flamini, no Özil, and a chorus of boos as the players departed the pitch and compare it to now, having gone the remainder of the home campaign unbeaten in the league and with joyous progress in the FA Cup, then I feel it’s been a very good home season in the end.

But if I put on my negativity goggles then I think about how we’ve encountered five draws, all of which were pivotal as they meant not beating direct rivals (Man City, Chelsea, United, and Everton) or dropping points in a late and painful manner (Swansea). I then look beyond the league and FA Cup and see a lacklustre defeat to Chelsea in the League Cup and humbling defeats to Dortmund and Bayern in the Champions League. But for now I will park my review and judgement. To take it any further at this stage would be to tread on the overall season review, for which the vibe will be very much determined by the result at Wembley on May 17th.

In terms of reflecting on individual players, Sagna made what was surely his last appearance in an Arsenal shirt at The New Home of Football. As a kid I had my own surname on the back of my football shirts, with numbers 4, 6, and 17 for Vieira, Adams, and Petit respectively. After years of no names at all I decided I wanted to have names again. The reason? Bacary Sagna. Sagna 3 became the first time I had an actual players surname on my shirt, as opposed to my own. I love Sagna; he’s an excellent defender, his consistency is phenomenal, and his professionalism on and off the pitch is second to none. Finding a replacement will be very very difficult. He’s the best right back in the league, one of the best in Europe, and also provides us cover at centre-half and left back. I’d be over the moon to hear he’s signed a new contract, but we’re now into May so I just don’t see it happening.

Sagna Waves Goodbye To The Emirates

Fabianski is also out of contract this summer. Wenger has said he’d like him to stay and so would I; he’s an excellent back-up to Szczesny. But like Sagna, if he was going to sign then he would have signed by now. If you’re not first choice for an outfield position you may hang about for a little longer, wait for an opportunity or rotation. But for a goalkeeper the chances are much slimmer. The FA Cup has been the only real source of match-time for Fabianski this season and he’ll be hoping he gets another ninety minutes at Wembley. After that I hope he stays, but I very much believe I’ll be wishing him well.

Thomas Vermaelen may also have made his last home appearance for The Arsenal, after coming on as a substitute in what appeared to be a farewell run-out. If we put our foot down then we should see him again next season; he’s our club captain (although I think it should be Mertesacker from next season), a good third choice centre-half, and he’s under contract. But if we’re feeling charitable then Wenger may let him leave for pastures new and the chance for regular first team football. Personally I’d prefer the former, but I’m expecting the later.

Finally for today, I’d like to welcome back Abou Diaby. It makes me angry when people continuously berate and ridicule Diaby for his injuries. In May 2006 I heard few complaints about the Frenchman; in fact I heard many plaudits and people liking what they saw as a potential replacement for Vieira.

Welcome Back Abou Diaby

And then he had his ankle broken and dislocated by a disgraceful challenge. The injury ravaged career that has followed does not warrant such unjustified abuse and constant mockery. It was not a career choice; I’m pretty bloody sure Diaby would rather not have had his ankle snapped and instead would rather have dominated the midfield battle week in week out. It’s something he no doubt dreams of and I for one hope it’s a dream that comes true. Best of luck Abou and welcome back.