I think a month without blogging is something of a record for me. But I’ve had a lot on my plate this last month. If you’ve missed me, then I apologise; if you haven’t, well then, what are you reading this for?
I jest… On a serious note, I’ve realised some things over the first month of the new year as well, things that have made it difficult to write about Arsenal. The first thing is that I am no longer prepared to pay the money that Arsenal want to get out of me to attend their games. Not the Cat A ones anyway, which are disgustingly expensive. For both the Manchester City and Liverpool games, I was lucky enough to attend as a colleague sold me their season ticket- on in the case of the Liverpool game, their partner’s season ticket. I paid £50 for the City game and then £25 for Liverpool. I was lucky to be able to do that. Someone buying similar seats from the club would have paid £100 each time. Which, aside from the fact that Arsenal failed to win either game, is ridiculous.
And when you charge £100 for a football match, like it or not, you create an expectation. You create a situation where anyone who has stumped up that money to watch a football match wants to see something good. They don’t want to see kamikaze defending from the team they have stumped up hard earned cash to watch; or a team that can only rouse themselves to perform for one half of football. I felt miserable enough after the Manchester City game, but anyone who had paid full whack, lest we forget no ticket cheaper than £62, must have been considering how they could have spent their money a little bit better.
And against that background, the fans who are consistently charged the highest ticket prices in the land to fund the ”socialist” wage structure that sees the manager pocket a cool £7m p/a have had to sit and watch throughout a month as Arsene and the board sit on a transfer kitty estimated at £70m. Okay, so we signed Nacho Monreal yesterday, but would that really have happened without Kieran Gibbs pulling up lame on Wednesday night? This month has been particularly painful as we were comfortably beaten by Manchester City and also fell at Chelsea. That’s right, Chelsea, 3 wins since Rafa Benitez took over and draws with Reading and Brentford Chelsea. And haven’t these games highlighted some serious deficiencies in the squad?
I’m not going to talk about how we keep on failing to start games properly, there’s no evidence that me moaning about it is going to change anything in the side. But how we have arrived at February 1st having shipped out Djourou and Frimpong and not replaced them with anyone, nevermind failing to sign a centre forward to give us some cover is totally beyond me. Vermaelen is, apparently, injured and so we are one more injury- or suspension- away from Sebastien Squilacci. We still have no genuine defensve midfielder, though I am gratified- and in no way surprised- to see that Aaron Ramsey is performing much better now he is restored to central midfield. And what happens when Olivier Giroud gets injured? Or needs a rest? It’s all very well talking up Walcott and Podolski, but Walcott has shown he can only play centre forward in certain situations, whilst Podolski has been out on the left ever since he arrived. And as for Gervais…
What’s done is done and we’ve got the players we have, but it is beyond me how Arsène can talk of a “complete” squad with such glaring holes in it. As we know it is not a question of money anymore, this feels like a real gamble from the manager. And, if we fail to land in the top four come season’s end, it may be the last gamble he takes as Arsenal manager.
I know you aren’t going to believe me now, but I would like to say that I actually enjoyed the Liverpool game. Apart from the defending, obviously. And the feeling that whilst a team only has to bat their lashes at our goal and we’ll somehow concede, we make the art of scoring a goal look like the most complicated science imaginable. As abject as our defending was, our attacking play certainly could have seen us level, or better, at half time. Okay, we could just as easily have been 3-0 down too, but let’s not go there.
The second half was different story though. Once the switch had been flicked- and why did it take the sight of the Liverpool players cavorting around in front of the Clock End following Jordan Henderson’s absurd run through our midfield and defence for that to happen?- we pummelled the Scousers. Giroud’s header sparked us off. I thought it was ironic that Kevin Friend denied us what looked like a clear advantage (the ball had run free to Sagna) to award the free kick from which Giroud scored. He’s obviously noticed Sagna’s crossing is not up to much these days. Walcott’s equaliser, a flashing strike of the kind a former centre forward of ours used to specialise in, after a deft lay off from Giroud had me flying across the seats in celebration. From there on in, you felt like there was only one winner. But where was the crucial substitution to put Liverpool away? That’s right, there was nobody on the bench (despite our “complete” squad) to come and hammer the final nail into Liverpool’s coffin. Cazorla, Walcott and Giroud could all have won it, but couldn’t quite manage it. At the other end, Andre Santos had something of an Eboue, inexplicably giving the ball away about 30 yards from goal and setting off a Liverpool attack that had hearts in mouths across the stadium.
The sight of the players flaked out on the pitch at the end felt as though we had just lost a cup final and there was something of a cup tie feel to much of the second half. It was difficult not to sympathise with them, they gave everything in that second half. But when you’re looking at a team that has only won 10 out of 24 league matches, you also question how often we have to suffer from a bad start before the penny drops with these guys: you can’t just turn up for the second half.
Ironically, if you look at our season as one of two halves of nineteen games each, then that’s exactly what we have to do now. Starting with the visit of Stoke City tomorrow afternoon; and is Nacho in line for some introduction to the Premier League, or what? I just hope Wojciech Szczesny has remembered how to catch a cross by the time we kick off tomorrow.