Monday 31 October 2011

So, after winning a gunfight at the Bridge, where do we stand?

Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5
Words: 444. Estimated reading time: 1 minute 35 seconds.

What a crazy game. Between a big club and a small club the basketball-like ebb and flow would be surprising but between two of the traditional big four it was just madness. Ultimately very satisfying madness, but still madness.

Back in November 2004 when we beat Spurs 5-4, Jose Mourinho said - if memory serves me right - he didn't need to see the game to know the defending was dreadful. The result this Saturday was one goal different but you could draw pretty much the same conclusion.

But let's try and forget the 'all or nothing' approach each back line opted for and instead revel in winning one of the big away games of the season, something we've only done three times in the seven seasons since the Invincibles.

The tempo we played at, the effort put in and the attacking technique shown was top class - think of Ramsey's through ball to Gervinho for our opening goal, Song's instant turn and pass to set up Santos for his goal or the number of times Arteta nicked possession and moved the ball in the blink of an eye.

And of course there is RVP. At the start of the season I said we had been left Robin-reliant because of our transfer dealings and so it has proved. Thankfully, at present he is also delivering the kind of performances I was hoping for, ones that will be the difference between us winning and losing and that earn him player of the year plaudits.

He isn't the only player hitting top form, though. Gervinho's movement and pluck is making chances, Walcott made two of his finest ever crosses and scored a wonderful solo goal, Ramsey is keeping possession much more regularly and Koscielny has put in a string of solid performances.

Of course we mustn't get carried away. The defensive co-ordination was non-existent for much of the first half and we continue to look vulnerable.

But taking this game as part of a series that runs from Marseille away, through Stoke at home last weekend and Bolton in midweek, the team has shown all the attributes it needs to turn this season around - a conservative, mature 1-0 away win, deservedly overcoming a physical and well-organised team that is happy to take a point from Ashburton Grove, a comeback win and out-scoring the third-favourites for the title.

When I think back to how depressed I was before that set of games and how pessimistic I felt about the rest of our season, Wenger deserves credit for instilling belief into his players and making sure things should remain interesting for the next couple of months at least.

Friday 21 October 2011

After a two-year wait, a 1-0 away win!

Marseille 0 Arsenal 1
271 words. Estimated reading time: 1 minute.

One-nil. It has a special resonance; ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’ sounds even better. Winning by the narrowest, meanest margin provides food for the soul. It is proof that you are capable of going on your travels and do literally just enough to claim victory.

The win over Marseille certainly qualified as doing just enough. Neither team covered themselves in glory in what was a dull game which we nicked in injury time.

But dull is exactly what this team needs at the minute. Looking generally solid at the back, keeping clean sheets and grinding victories out will offer far more of a long-term confidence boost than hammering somebody by four or five.

This sort of win has been conspicuous by its absence throughout Wenger’s reign and none more so than the past couple of years.

Our last 1-0 away win came on September 26, 2009, at Fulham which equates to (by my swift calculations) 59 games. By way of comparison, over the same period Chelsea won 1-0 away twice, Spurs three times and Man Utd six times.

Admittedly, you can argue that we’ve done better than them by winning 2-0 or even 3-0 away when those three have earned victory with only a single goal. But I’d maintain that nothing gives the same psychological nourishment as 1-0.

If we are to achieve anything this season it is performances like these that we’ll have to rely on, at least over the next few months. It came after a similarly hard-earned win against Sunderland on Sunday. We need to keep the momentum going and be happy with a reputation for being conservative.

Monday 3 October 2011

Well, at least it wasn’t embarrassing

Spurs 2 Arsenal 1
Words: 371. Estimated reading time: 1 minute 20 seconds.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a loss to Spurs doesn’t cause pain in my every fibre; we played as well as could be expected in the current circumstances and thankfully our local rivals were out-of-sorts so we avoided a spanking. Be grateful for small mercies…

The effort and commitment was there from our boys but so were the usual defensive frailties and lack of dynamism up front.

Part of me wants desperately for our malaise to be attributable simply to a lack of confidence.

Certainly a win yesterday, no matter how deserved, would have helped to bring a bit of self-belief back into our players that would have helped them continue up the table.

But the flaws in our game are so well ingrained, and our squad lacking in star quality, that no matter what result was gained yesterday our losing streak would have restarted soon enough.

It’s true it didn’t feel like there had been a shift in power or that Spurs can now feel like the undoubted rulers of the north London roost.

But a more pressing concern than preventing them from overtaking us is reversing our dreadful form (P18 W4 Pts19) since the Carling Cup Final defeat.

And as I’ve said before, the longer that goes on, the longer the only option is to replace Wenger.

The Wenger style relies on everyone being in form to overwhelm and bamboozle opponents into submission. The crippling lack of confidence currently cursing our players makes it impossible to think when we will become that ‘well-oiled machine’ again.

Without a defensive foundation on which Wenger can rely and build on I struggle to see the good times returning.

A different manager could change attitudes and style – acknowledging there is a difference between homeand away games would be a good start – and let us stop the rot.

Wenger’s advocates will maintain it is too simple to say a change of manager would reverse things, that he’s had no choice but to be frugal and that given time the silverware will return.

At least now that getting in the Champions League is a distant dream there is nothing to lose in wasting the remaining 31 league games proving them wrong.