Play or get played

It’s been a while; almost 10 months. Not since our 3-2 defeat at home to Olympiacos in last season’s Champions League group stage have I written about The Arsenal. There have been various reasons for the absence, but I thought it time to dust of the quill and have a ramble. A word of warning, it may not be pretty.

What I’m about to say isn’t said easily, nor lightly. Until Arsenal Football Club has a new manager I will struggle to raise my interest and excitement levels in The Arsenal. So much love and admiration for the greatest manager in our club’s history, it makes the end all the more painful. And the worst part of all? It doesn’t have to be this way.

Since day one of the transfer window every Arsenal fan I know has agreed, to a large extent, on what we require. First and foremost, a centre forward. Secondly, defensive reinforcements. Beyond that, a wide forward for the right hand side would also be nice. Then, any young prospects (such as Rob Holding, who are there to bolster the numbers) are always welcome.

Arsene Wenger

Pray (and purchase) a little harder please, Arsene

 

So why can the man closest to it all, with such vast football knowledge and experience, and with such heartfelt love for our club, once again leave the squad going short on numbers and seriously stale? I’m tired of hearing how fans only want £50m signings. Or new signings in every position because ‘new is new’. It simply isn’t true.

What we want is a neglected squad given the TLC it desperately needs, using the resources we quite obviously have at our disposal. New signings, at prices within our means, that will provide some much needed quality and some much needed depth.

With regards to prices, I’m tired of talking about them. When the likes of Crystal Palace can pay £27m for a centre forward there can be no more doubt. Without any question we comfortably have at least double that capability. Our commercial revenue is far greater than theirs. Our match day revenue is the biggest in the league. We have Champions League income on top of the ludicrous new Premier League television money. And yet we keep hearing about money, how there are over 600 staff to pay. Enough, Arsene; we’re not fools.

I’m also tired of hearing the required quality is hard to come by. I cannot believe that in the world of football there isn’t a single player who cannot better the contributions of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Or those of Gabriel and Chambers. Or who could play more minutes than Welbeck and Wilshere. And this is not to attack any of the individuals listed; they all have their strengths and they all have their weaknesses. But to claim a club the size of Arsenal Football Club cannot find better? Or even find players with an equivalent level in order to boost squad depth? I simply cannot believe it. Over ten years of Theo Walcott and we still can’t find better? Please. (Ok, I’ll admit, that one was a targeted attack, on a player for whom my patience has expired!).

Theo Walcott

Oh, Theo (And repeat…)

 

But then comes the real problem. Even if we did sign the required players, would it really make a difference? Would it make securing a top four finish easier? Probably. A good cup run more likely? Sure. A semi decent Champions League run? Possibly. But would it win us the league title we all crave? Unlikely. And why do I think that? Our life sapping style of play.

It’s slow, it’s pedestrian. I cringe every time I hear pundits bring out the cliché that “Arsenal are great to watch, but it’s all about results”. Because let’s not kid ourselves, we’re not even great to watch anymore! I noticed my good friend Simon Rose tweeted before the Leicester game on the weekend that he was happy to see a front three of Alexis, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain as he likes pace. But what good is having all that pace when none of them use it to their advantage?!

What has happened to the fast, scintillating, one and two touch football? Where’s our devastatingly fast counter attacks? Everton away last season saw such a goal. That it was greeted with such astonishment and joy was thoroughly depressing. We’ve become deprived of such a simple beauty that used to be so common. Now we are slow, we are ponderous, and we struggle to breakdown the defensive walls we see week after week. Oh for the days of 4-4-2 and fast, flowing football (not to mention a squad littered with world class players!).

Celebrating one of our great counter attacking goals

Celebrating one of the great counter attack goals!

 

And I don’t think I, or we, are the only ones that are bored. The players look bored too. They too appear ready for fresh ideas, a fresh approach. The problem is that the man in charge does not. Arsene revolutionised not only Arsenal Football Club, but the entire English game. And his morality for how the game should be played, and the confines in which clubs should operate to play it, is to be greatly admired. But sadly, despite being right, he is also wrong. Because the game has once again changed. It may not have changed for the better, which makes Arsene’s predicament all the sadder, but change it has and a certain element of go with the flow is required. Or, in the words of Omar Little: “The game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple.” Sadly, we’re getting played.

arsenal-cannon

What’s The Point?

Since I arrived in Sydney, early September 2012, Champions League coverage has been on the ESPN channels, which are available as part of the Foxtel sports package (Foxtel being the Australian equivalent of Sky for those unaware). I’ve therefore been able to watch every Champions League fixture since my arrival just over three years ago.

BeIN Sports - The New Home of Champions League Football

However, this season coverage has moved to BeIN Sports, a channel which is not included within the Foxtel sports package. So a decision had to be made; do I subscribe to BeIN Sports, or do I go without Champions League coverage? The decision was sadly an easy one – I would not be subscribing to BeIN Sports.

There were two reasons for this decision being an easy one. The first was cost. I cannot justify spending an additional $20 a month; my monthly Foxtel subscription fee is ridiculously high as it is. The second reason is a sad indictment of Arsenal’s Champions League record. I thought, “what’s the point?”.

18 years of Champions League football under Arsene Wenger and what do we have to show for it? One final, one semi-final and, asides from a few magical nights against some true European giants, not a lot else. Our defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos were laughably predictable.

Laughable Predictable

Since we last made a quarter-final appearance, the list of clubs to have successfully made it that far includes: Inter Milan, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Porto, Benfica, Monaco, Schalke, Marseille, Shakhtar Donetsk, Galatasaray, Malaga, APOEL Nicosia and Tottenham Hotspur. Pardon my French, but fuck me. If APOEL Nicosia wasn’t rubbing salt into the wounds then Tottenham Hotspur really is the epitome of kicking a man (very fucking hard) whilst he’s already down.

And here’s the thing. You simply cannot convince me that any of the above teams have had a significantly better team (or squad) than Arsenal whilst achieving their quarter-final appearances. Yes there are some big clubs in that list, with rich histories and some good players, such as the two Milan sides. But are they (or were they at the time of achieving the quarter-final) significantly better than us? And by that I mean would you put them into the Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich category? Certainly not. These are teams we should be more than capable of matching, yet we are not.

I love Arsene, and the many extraordinary things he has done for our great club, immensely. But how can you not question his European record? Even if you exclude the most challenging part of his reign (balancing the books as we transitioned from Highbury to the Emirates) it doesn’t make pretty reading; his two double winning sides and the Invincibles never made it beyond the last eight. To compound matters the second of those double winning sides lost to Valencia, denying them a semi-final place against Leeds United. Whilst the Invincibles suffered that painful second leg defeat at home to Chelsea, denying them a semi-final tie with Monaco and a final against Porto. It says a lot that many Arsenal fans still regard the Invincibles as our biggest near miss when it comes to the Champions League, despite the fact we made the final two years later.

My Worst Night As An Arsenal Fan

Bizarrely the two times we have progressed beyond the quarter-finals came at more challenging times. The first, our final year at Highbury, a campaign in which we scrapped fourth place in the league on the final day, yet remarkably reached the Champions League final thanks to a record (which still exists to this day) of 10 clean sheets in a row, despite playing the majority of those games with a makeshift backline consisting of Eboue, Senderos, and Flamini. The second came during the infamous ‘Project Youth’ era, with eventual defeat in the semi-finals at the hands of United.

But ‘Project Youth’ is no longer in existence. We have a fantastic squad, with some incredible players. There is of course room for improvement, but even with current gaps in the squad we should be capable of beating Zagreb and Olympiacos, and we should certainly have enough in our locker to be matching the exploits of APOEL Nicosia! But we didn’t and we haven’t. So, after 18 years of European failure and a disastrous start to this season’s campaign there is little choice but to question Arsene when it comes to Europe (or in some people’s eyes domestically too).Will Arsenal ever show Champions League progress under Wenger

Our players should be capable of making the last eight more often than not. Beyond the last eight then I admit we’d need a little bit of luck to accompany the squad at our disposal; a kind draw here or there, big clubs knocking each other out, and so forth. Draw permitting, Real, Barca, and Bayern will often take three of the four semi-final spots. But that still leaves a fourth spot up for grabs, and as Juventus proved last season both that fourth semi-final spot and then the final itself are possible if you play your cards right. But sadly we’re not even close.

Instead I’m left thinking “what’s the point?”. BeIN Sports also provide coverage of the League Cup, the Europa League, the Championship, Scottish football, German football, and Italian football, none of which provide a strong enough interest to lure me into subscribing and handing over $20 a month. It’s rather tragic that I’m now putting Arsenal’s Champions League exploits into the same bucket, a bucket I don’t see them coming out of until there’s a new manager at the helm.

arsenal-cannon

Cannons Must Face Outwards

It’s a good job I shave my hair so short because if it was any longer I’d be tearing it out on a far too frequent basis. Everything about Arsenal right now is painstakingly difficult; it’s a sad state of affairs. For every step forward there is another disaster lurking around the corner to bring us back down to earth with a bang.

On Wednesday night we made it three wins and three clean-sheets on the spin with victory over Southampton. From very early on it appeared a single goal would prove decisive, so it was great to see a measured and assured performance to ensure we’d be the beneficiaries. We controlled the game throughout, restricted the Saints to only one real effort on goal, while working Fraser Forster into a man of the match performance.

Unfortunately for him, but thankfully for us, a goal finally arrived. It was far from Alexis Sanchez’s best performance in an Arsenal shirt, but once again he was tireless and popped up in the right place at the right time to steer home Aaron Ramsey’s cut back for the 1-0 win.

Arsenal v Southampton - Premier League

Fast forward to Saturday and all the good work and promise from those three victories and three clean-sheets was wiped away with a diabolical display at the Britannia Stadium. 1-0 down after 19 seconds. 3-0 down by half-time. And what made it all the more depressing is that at no time did I think Stoke were particularly good or for that matter out-playing us.

Some will say that’s the view through my rose-tinted glasses, combined with my strong hatred for the Potters and their despicable manager. But I honestly feel we gifted them that victory, as opposed to them winning it. I’m certainly no fan of Stoke’s style, but I’ll hold my hands up and admit it’s been effective against us; there’s a reason we only have 1 win in 9 visits since their return to the top flight. But under Hughes their stereotype style has been replaced by an attempt to actually play football, as illustrated by the excellent Bojan.

It made for a more open game, for greater opportunities, for less set pieces being flung into the area. Yet three of the crosses that did make their way into our area led to goals. For the first Chambers should have headed clear, but missed the ball completely. For the second, Ramsey and Flamini inexplicably fail to track the run of Bojan. And the third, from a corner, saw five players challenge for the same header, leaving Walters unmarked at the back post. What was surprising was to hear that it’s Stoke’s first set-piece goal of the season. Not so surprising is that we’re the team who conceded it.

It was another bad day at the Britannia Stadium

The lack of accountability is appalling. Arsene must take responsibility for leaving us ridiculously short of numbers in defence, for having such heavy reliance on Koscielny when he knew he wasn’t fit, and for the lack of midfield muscle. In turn, the players must take responsibility for their performances, the lack of consistency, and for both individual and collective mistakes.

There are far too many defensive errors, which are then compounded by missed opportunities. How did Wilshere fail to score against United? How did Giroud not make it 1-1 on Saturday? Why has it required a penalty for Cazorla to score a goal? This weekend even saw Alexis draw a blank; it’s cruel of me to comment, given how magical our Chilean marksman has been, but I’m still baffled as to how he hit the post after rounding Begovic.

Stoke Brutality

Anthony Taylor gave the most incompetent refereeing performance I’ve seen in a long time. Chambers received two yellows for only two fouls, yet Crouch remained on the pitch despite two forearm smashes and numerous other offences, while Charlie Adam remained on the pitch despite trying to strangle Alexis. Normally such a refereeing performance would be the source of my frustration and blame, but this time we were so woeful ourselves we could have had the world’s greatest referee and would probably have still lost.

I’m usually glass half full. Through all our battles for fourth I’ve been able to see a silver lining or would look to identify why things would be ok. But with every passing game I’m left with more questions and concerns than answers:

Goalkeepers: Szczesny has been questionable on occasion compared to last season’s high standard. Ospina has barely been fit. Martinez is still a rookie.

Defenders: why do we have so few? Why is Mertesacker so poor without Koscielny? Gibbs and Monreal pick up injuries too often. Chambers is promising, but will continue to make mistakes. What level will Debuchy be after a significant injury?

Midfielders: where’s our Vieira, our Petit, our Gilberto? Arteta, Wilshere, and Diaby suffer too many injuries. Will Ramsey rekindle last season’s form? Can Özil have more of an impact on his return? Can Cazorla and Chamberlain provide greater consistency and end product?

Forwards: how much longer can Alexis be expected to carry this team? Will Giroud and Welbeck ever be prolific enough? Why are Podolski and Campbell taking up squad spaces and wages if Wenger doesn’t want to use them? When will Walcott return and can he stay fit?

Manager: why does he leave so many holes in an already thin squad? Why does he seem so content with déjà vu?

????????????

And these are just some of the questions regarding the players and the manager, there are many more. You then have questions about the back room staff, the board, club ownership, off field issues such as ticket pricing, and so on. The list of questions and number of doubts seem endless. I’m struggling to find the answers and the light at the end of my tunnel is fading, BUT…

The Arsenal is my club and Arsene is my manager, the greatest in our club’s proud history. So to challenge and question is one thing, but to fight and show disrespect is another. Whether its fans physically fighting amongst themselves or whether it be abuse towards Wenger, neither is acceptable. Call me cliché if you wish, but I believe in Victoria Concordia Crescit. I always have, I always will. The only way we’ll find the answers we’re all looking for is to stand together with our cannon facing out.

arsenal-cannon

Mixed Emotions

It was a weekend of further frustration and disappointment as The Arsenal surrendered another lead, albeit just the one goal this time, as we lost 2-1 away to Swansea. The heavens opened and it’s fair to say the torrential downpour was an apt representation of the Arsenal mood on Sunday afternoon.

It was a wet and miserable afternoon in Swansea

For many seasons the question was whether you’d prefer fourth place and no trophy or fifth place and the FA Cup. My response was to ask why the two must be mutually exclusive, with last season eventually proving to be the perfect illustration that they don’t have to be.

Now we seem to have moved on, just about, with people now seeking clarification as to whether you love Arsene Wenger unconditionally and want him to stay or whether you’ve grown to dislike him and want him replaced. Once again I’m left wondering why the two must be mutually exclusive. Can you not still love Wenger, but also be an advocate of change, whether this be change in Arsene himself or be bringing in a new manager altogether?

For me the former of the two options is unlikely; I just can’t see Arsene changing his ways, his approach to the game, to his ways of working, and so on. Therefore, is it a case of what we have we hold or perhaps what we have we should fold? As the full-time whistle blew on Sunday what I felt was an undeniable feeling of sadness. For the first time in his tenure as Arsenal manager I categorically felt that it is time for Arsene to step aside. This feeling was then overrun with even greater sadness that he had not taken the opportunity to do so gracefully and on a high after our FA Cup triumph in May.

Sometimes in defeat you have to hold your hands up and admit you’ve been beaten by the better team. Other times the focus is on individual players. And it’s also not unheard of to blame external factors, such as the pathetically inept officials we have in the Premier League. But on this occasion, for the first time ever (in memory) I blamed Arsene Wenger. I have too many questions to which I cannot identify the answers or understand the logic behind the answers I am being given.

Victory at Bayern in March 2013 was achieved with a more cautious and defensively intelligent approach, which culminated in a fine run of form. In addition, we achieved seventeen clean sheets last season, a joint league high. Where has this defensive solidity disappeared to? Why have we reverted to being so ridiculously gung-ho? How can we so foolishly overcommit against Anderlecht in the build up to their equaliser and then repeat our mistake just days later? 3-2 up with 1 minute to go and 1-0 up with 15 minutes to go and this is our approach…

How Not To Defend A Lead

It’s absolutely ridiculous. Granted the players have to take some of the responsibility, for they are the ones making the runs forward, but why are Arsene and Steve Bould not stood on the touchline barking orders to hold their shape? Why are they not calling over the full back on the dugout side of the pitch and giving instructions to sit deeper or to pass on the message to the midfield to set up camp in front of the centre backs? That they both sit in the dugout, almost expressionless, as they witness more defensive stupidity is inexcusable to me. Where is the management, the leadership? I know Arsene feels our pain, yet I don’t see it.

Another concern highlighted more than ever on Sunday was Arsene’s in-game management and tactics or should I say the apparent lack of. I refuse to accept Arsene doesn’t have tactics at all; he quite clearly has pre-match tactics or plans. However, his adaptability to the events that unfold during the course of the game is sometimes shocking. At 1-0 up with 15 minutes to go why stick with an open 4-4-2? Why not switch to 4-5-1 to protect the defence and the lead, especially given events against Anderlecht days earlier? Why not introduce Wilshere and Rosicky, some fresh legs and fighting characters to help sure up the midfield?

And then there was Calum Chambers. Given the round around from the first whistle and on a yellow card, yet where was the tactical readjustment or substitution to offer him more protection? Or better still why wasn’t Chambers replaced himself? I appreciate Bellerin may not have as much experience as his English counterpart, but he couldn’t have done any worse and he certainly has more pace to burn. Every single one of us foresaw a goal coming down Chambers flank, yet nothing was done. Would Ferguson or Mourinho have left Chambers out there like a sitting duck? Not a chance.

Calum Chambers is beaten by Montero again

Players will always shoulder some of the responsibility, and often rightly so, but I’m largely left feeling sorry for some of them on this occasion. Chambers, a top player but who is still young and will make mistakes as he continues to develop, being left to his own devices. Nacho Monreal, beaten in the air by Gomis for the Swansea winner, being asked to play out of position. And why? Because we’re attempting to go through a season with only two centre backs. And if Chambers is regarded as third choice centre back, and Bellerin not trusted enough for deputy right back, then why was Jenkinson allowed to go out on loan?

So many questions, so few understandable answers. If this was a one off I’d perhaps have a little more empathy. But it isn’t; we’re reliving the same games and the same season as we have for the last five or six years. We start well and fade late or we start badly and make a mad dash for fourth at the eleventh hour. And each time it’s because we’re just two or three players short, have one or two unfortunate injuries, or drop points in too many home games when we’ve been unable to break a team down and conceded farcically.

Playing personnel has changed. The assistant manager and coaching staff has changed. Fitness teams and facilities have changed. Even board members have changed. But one thing has not; Arsene Wenger. And the simple fact is he never will.

I’m left with mixed and conflicting emotions. I still love Arsene as much today as ever before, yet wish he had left on a high in May so that his legacy remains strong. And these feelings are compounded by the knowledge that he’s unlikely to change, unlikely to leave, and almost certainly won’t be asked to leave. So for the next two and a half seasons all I can foresee is more of the same. More frustration, more disappointment, more sadness and the strain it will place on Arsene, his legacy, and his relationship with us supporters. I hope I’m wrong, I hope there are more good times to follow, but as things stand all I can see is many more if, buts, and maybes, with a top fourth finish to paper over the cracks.

arsenal-cannon

10,000 Miles Apart, But Forever In Our Hearts

BOREHAM WOOD 0   ARSENAL 2

We kicked off our pre-season fixtures this weekend with a 2-0 victory away to Boreham Wood. The home of Arsenal Ladies had its new stand opened by Arsene Wenger, before we saw a game of two halves, with Arsene fielding two entirely different sets of eleven players in each half. Aaron Ramsey In Action Against Boreham Wood At this stage it’s all about continuing to build core fitness, avoiding injuries, and giving some of our younger players an opportunity to shine, so it was good to see all three boxes ticked with a good work out for all involved, goals for Olsson and Afobe, and an eye catching performance from Akpom. Next up, a certain Thierry Henry as we head across the Atlantic Ocean to face New York Red Bulls.

WELCOME TO THE ARSENAL, DEBUCHY

For the second Friday running those of us based in the land down under woke to news of a shiny new Arsenal player, with the signing of Mathieu Debuchy officially announced. Welcome To The Arsenal, Debuchy A top class international player with Premier League experience, Debuchy has been tasked with the same assignment for Arsenal as he has by the French national team – replace Bacary Sagna. It’s not going to be an easy feat, but I have every confidence he can and will succeed.

Sagna has been one of our most consistent performers since the day he arrived, and that he achieved such consistency whilst effectively undertaking a one man mission to defend our right hand side (given his source of protection was Theo Walcott) speaks for itself. And he was also a very reliable deputy across our back line, providing defensive cover at both centre-half and left-back on various occasions.

But Sagna has chosen pastures new, and I think Debuchy will prove a solid and reliable replacement. He may not be an exciting marquee signing like Özil or Sanchez, but he brings a wealth of experience and, as demonstrated by Arseblog, is a very apt replacement statistically. And, at the age of 28 (soon to be 29), he shouldn’t create too much of a road block to the careers of Jenkinson, Bellerin, or any other up and coming full backs Arsene may be looking at for the long term.

Debuchy will wear the number 2 shirt, with Gibbs taking over Sagna’s number 3, and I must say I’m rather pleased about this. It may seem trivial to many, but I for one am pleased to see a more old school approach being taken to our defensive shirt numbering.

KEEP THEM COMING

More important than shirt numbers though is of course the fact that the signing of Debuchy plugs one of our defensive gaps. The full back areas are now at full quota again and hopefully the goalkeeper situation won’t be too far behind with Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere speaking about a deal for Colombian David Ospina being not too far away.

Ospina had a fantastic World Cup for Colombia, but signings based on a World Cup alone make me somewhat nervous. So I was pleased to hear, from sources who have seen him play far more often than I have, that his form with Nice over the last six seasons has been good, with @1DavidWall providing the rather impressive stat that Ospina was one of only four goalkeepers in Europe’s top leagues last season to save at least 80% of shots faced, with the other three being Buffon, Navas, and Neuer. Not too shabby.

Of course at this stage of the process there are still lots of t’s to be crossed and i’s to be dotted, but at £4m and the [goalkeeping] tender age of 25 he’d provide not only strong back-up to Szczesny, but some bloody fierce competition. So fingers crossed us Aussie based folk awake to more good news this Friday…or earlier, who am I to be picky!

Another reason I’d like to see the goalkeeping situation resolved is so Arsene can give the central area of our defensive platform his full focus. With Sagna gone our centre-half resources are down to just three, one of whom (The BFG) will not return until early August due to his World Cup exploits and one of whom (Vermaelen) seems to be itching for an exit.

Historically Arsene has been known to let a player go for reasons that better suit the needs of the player than those of the club. This cannot be one of those occasions. Looking to sign a centre half with Vermaelen still on our books is not only the safer option, but surely the smarter option too, providing us with a stronger negotiating platform. But sell the Belgian, and I fear Dick Law will find himself sitting at the negotiation table with one arm tied behind his back and asking prices that keep on rising. I trust Arsene will recruit the new centre half (or two) that we require before he considers letting our club captain go.

ARSENAL SYDNEY

Finally for today, I’d like to point you all in the direction of the new Arsenal Sydney website and Facebook page. The level of support in Australia, and in particular Sydney, is exceptional. It’s great to see so many passionate, loyal, and knowledgeable Arsenal fans following our great club and that those of us here in Sydney have the opportunity to be a part of such an excellent supporters club. Arsenal Sydney Supporters Club - NSW & ACT For those of you based in NSW and ACT I fully recommend becoming a member of Arsenal Sydney, which will provide you with lots of great benefits including a top community of fellow Gooners to watch the games with, special Arsenal themed events, and a rather swish membership pack – I can’t wait to receive mine, the t-shirt in particular looks fantastic. And furthermore, you can also receive a discount on your new Arsenal home and away shirts! So what are you waiting for? Get yourself over to Arsenal Sydney now and become a member of the biggest Arsenal supporters group in Australia!

The Arsenal: FA Cup Winners 2014

Thomas Vermaelen Lifts The FA Cup

A belated happy FA Cup Winners 2014 from That Sums It All Up! For various reasons the last few weeks have been flat-out, so I’ve been unable to discuss our comfortable 2-0 end of season victory at Carrow Road against Norwich and of course our FA Cup triumph. But I’m going to take a gamble and say most of you haven’t yet grown tired of celebrating our cup win or reminiscing that great day, so here’s a little bit more for you all to enjoy!

Normally during cup final week I’m a bag of nerves; fearing the worst case scenario, sweating on who might or might not be fit to start, and so forth. However, on this occasion I was as cool as a cucumber. I don’t know if it’s the distance living in Sydney has now given me, the distractingly busy week I was having, or whether I was just subconsciously feeling confident we’d get the job done.

One thing I do know for sure though is that after 8 minutes I was in shock and disbelief. We were 2-0 down to Hull City in an FA Cup final. Through goals from two of their centre backs. After 8 minutes. Surely we weren’t going to face more heartache? If not for a Kieran Gibbs clearance off the line (from Hull’s third centre back!) it might well have been the case.

Thankfully for us Santi Cazorla sparked our revival with a quite sumptuous free-kick into the top corner. Back to 2-1 and with only 16 minutes on the clock. “Come on!” I shouted, with my belief starting to return.

Cazorla Celebrates Getting Us Back Into The Game

There was now only one team really in it; it became a matter of when, not if. The when was eventually the 71st minute as Laurent Koscielny, the man made for the big goal on the big occasion, made it 2-2. “Now let’s win it” I roared, my fiancée sat beside me quite possibly wondering at this stage just who she has agreed to marry!

Arsenal v Hull City - FA Cup Final

For a brief spell the patience game became a ‘what if it’s not going to be our day’ game. Gibbs could and should have won it inside the ninety when be blazed over from close range, Ramsey spent most of the first half of extra time peppering the Hull fans instead of the Hull goal, Giroud thumped a header against the bar, and Lee Probert decided he wasn’t going to give us a penalty no matter how stonewall our four claims were. And then the magic moment arrived.

Sanogo caused some uncoordinated chaos, Giroud picked up the pieces, laid the ball off to Ramsey with a delicate back heel, and the Welshman fired home beautifully with the outside of his right boot. Technique, minimal back-lift, such precision with his placement. A world-class finish made to look so simple.

Ramsey and Gibbs Celebrate The Winner

Fabianski, making his final appearance in an Arsenal shirt, came charging out in a moment of rush-goalie madness after a Mertesacker slip, but thankfully got away with it. Other than that it was a fairly panic free run through to the full-time whistle. Arsene punched the air in delight as Arsenal players fell to their knees behind him.

I have no shame in admitting I was close to tears; there was certainly a lump in my throat. I love Arsene Wenger. What he has done for our great football club is remarkable. Like any manager, or human being for that matter, he has his flaws. He has moments that drive you crazy. But I love him all the same. His Arsenal reign is very much divided into two. 7 trophies in 9 years followed by nine trophyless ‘so close but yet so far’ years, as he fought so hard to keep us at Europe’s top table whilst balancing the books. To see him lift a trophy once more, to see the weight lifting from his shoulders, to see how much he means to the players, it was emotional. Here’s to another three years, Arsene.

Arsenal FA Cup Victory Parade

Many fans and almost all journalists have been beating the same old drums for far too long. We’re a selling club, we can’t or won’t sign big players, we still can’t compete financially, and we haven’t won a trophy for 9 years. But Ivan Gazidis said 2013/14 was the season of truth, one that would bring to an end the Highbury to Emirates transition. And thankfully he was right.

We can now put so many criticisms to bed. The core of our squad has signed new long-term contracts, keeping them at the club for many years to come. We splashed the cash to sign world-class Mesut Özil. We have additional finances thanks to the new commercial deals with Emirates and Puma. We’ve secured a seventeenth successive top four finish. And we’ve won the FA Cup. It’s had its ups and downs, its fair share of what if or if only moments, but fundamentally it’s been a beautiful season.

It may well have been fifteen days since the final whistle blew at Wembley, but I’m still very much revelling in the glory. For nine years we’ve had to listen to so much bollocks and abuse; not any more. Discussions of Sagna, Fabregas, and other summer transfer talk can wait a little while longer. The World Cup can do one. I’m basking in the warm victorious glow of an Arsenal trophy and an Arsene Wenger smile.

FA Cup Winners 2014

Inexcusable, but Victoria Concordia Crescit

CHELSEA 6   ARSENAL 0

Where to begin. The Arsenal went to Stamford Bridge as title contenders, but left in a battle for fourth after an inexcusable and embarrassing 6-0 defeat to the Russians. It is, in my opinion, the most embarrassing defeat of Arsene Wenger’s reign, and that it came on the occasion of his 1,000th game in charge as Arsenal manager, against the opposition and manager that it did, made it all the more painful.

Arsène Wenger can't bear to watch during Arsenal's 6-0 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

I watched two pre-match interviews from Wenger, possibly three. In each one he spoke about the danger Chelsea possess on the counter-attack, how we needed to be mindful of it. The teams were then announced and their line-up included four defenders, protected by Matic and Luiz, re-enforcing their very obvious tactics. And then add to the equation that we got beaten 6-3 and 5-1 in our two previous away games against our direct title rivals.

So, taking all of that into consideration, what on earth were we doing gifting away the ball in the middle of the park, with both full backs and the whole of the midfield ahead of the man losing possession, leaving the two centre-halves exposed to the very same counter-attacks Arsene had warned about twice inside the first eight minutes?!

If Arsene had warned about preventing counter-attacks in all of his interviews you can be sure as hell he stressed about it in his team talk. So how on earth did we manage to concede the first two goals the way we did? Did Arsene not stress the importance of shape and discipline enough? Did the players just not listen or implement the tactics accordingly? Or were the players just rank stupid? And having conceded the first goal in the way that we did, we did Arsene and Steve Bould sit silently in the dug out? Why did they not shout with fury from the touch-line to try to prevent it happening again, as opposed to watching on in disbelief as it did happen again just moments later?

So many questions, to which I could only provide guesses and speculative answers. By the time goals three through to six arrived it was already game over, inside those opening eight minutes, but that doesn’t excuse the pathetic nature of them. Chamberlain inexplicably hand-balling, Koscielny in no mans land for the fourth, Rosicky and Szczesny with a double assist for the fifth, and a ridiculously high line for the sixth. It was disgraceful.

Arsenal Players Look On In Disbelief

We’ve conceded 17 goals away from home against City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. That’s as many as we have in our other 27 league games combined. We won away at Dortmund and have drawn twice at Bayern inside the last 12 months, the two teams who contested last seasons Champions League final. Yet domestically, in the big games away from home, it’s P15 W1 D1 L13 F13 A44 over the last five seasons – including this one – against the three other teams who have made up the top four in each of those five seasons (via @arsestats). Surely it has to be a mental issue?

Our title challenge is over. Even if we win our game in hand tomorrow night against Swansea we will still be four points behind the leaders. And then we face City at home and Everton away, from which I just don’t see us taking six points. If Everton were to win their game in hand over us and beat us at Goodison then they’ll be just two points behind. It’s time to face reality and think about consolidating our top four position.

It’s funny (in a non-humorousness way) that at the start of the season many people wrote us off, including our own fans. We were never title contenders, and were told we’d even struggle for fourth. And in recent seasons there has been the age-old debate as to whether you’d prefer fourth place and no trophy or fifth place and win the FA Cup. Now we’re in a position to get both a top four finish and win the FA Cup, arguably meeting (or for some people exceeding) this seasons expectations, and it’s being deemed a disastrous season to forget.

I think we need to take stock of where we are and where we’ve come from; overall there has been progress. And I also think that it’s no coincidence that our recent form reads only 3 wins in the last 8 when we’re missing the likes of Walcott, Ramsey, Ozil, and Wilshere – with the first two having been absent for far too long.

All that said, please don’t think I’m some naïve fool. I’m not stupid. I understand the goal posts of expectations moved due to our earlier success this season. I understand that to fall out of the title race doesn’t mean having to do it in such a diabolical fashion. I too demand answers and a response from both the manager and the players. I too want to understand why we fall so short and so hard when it comes to facing our title rivals (especially away from home). There is every need for the emergency meeting that has reportedly been called. There is every need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

But I also believe in Victoria Concordia Crescit. I believe that the best thing to do is to aim the cannons outwards. I believe that every fan at the stadium tomorrow night needs to sing loud and proud because bloody hell do our team need us right now. I believe that this team has the character and the ability to secure a top four finish and to win the FA Cup. I know the path from now until season end is fraught with more potential danger and embarrassment. But I’m Arsenal. I believe. Up The Arsenal.

Victoria Concordia Crescit