SHAMED

We were always going to lose at Old Trafford today. That’s the thing to keep in mind about this result. We were always going to lose. We didn’t have the players to expect anything else. And if anyone allowed themselves to actually believe we could have won, Wenger included, then they either don’t understand football or they are willfully ignorant. The team that played yesterday could not have beaten Manchester United. Just remember that for a moment, because the tough question comes next.

Why does Arsenal Football Club have such a threadbare squad that an 8-2 result is even possible? That’s the important question. Would we have lost 8-2 with Gervinho, Jack, Song, Sagna and Vermaelen? Probably not. Would we have won? Maybe. I actually think we may have won with that group available. But they weren’t available. And the players that were available were six goals worse than United.

Forget the two goals we scored and the two more we could have had. They’re irrelevant. Because when you have so little concern for defending or ability to defend, it doesn’t matter how many chances you create. We may have troubled United from time to time, but it was clear early-on, that we were going to concede a mountain of goals on Sunday. They scored eight times and could’ve scored more.

We need to stop pretending we are unlucky or cursed. It’s an excuse making mechanism that needs to be put to rest. United’s team was younger. United’s team was arguably missing more first-teamers. I think Alex Ferguson was almost trying to make a point with his starting XI. I think he was saying, “here’s a team filled with my backups and young talent, just so you can’t make any excuses when we whip you.” They didn’t start Chicharito, Valencia, Park, Carrick, Rafael, Vidic or Ferdinand. They did start Wellbeck, Young, Anderson, Cleverley, Smalling, Evans and Jones. And that group just beat our stand-ins by six goals.

When you lose players to injuries and suspensions, it’s expected that there might be a drop in quality. In season’s past we’ve had a horrific injury record. Yet we still produced results that avoided embarrassment. We’ve had to play without RVP, Cesc, Nasri, Theo, Song, Vermaelen and others in the past. But there were relatively competent professionals prepared to take their places. Maybe no world-beaters, but professional footballers ready for the challenge. After the match Wenger said, “we do not have the squad to compete when we have this many players out.” He picked his words perfectly. It’s not that we don’t have the squad to “win,” we don’t have the squad to “compete.” And that is inexcusable.

I have no problem with Arsenal working towards developing young talent for the future. But the balance is out of whack. And I think it’s time to question whether the talent is as good as we always assume. Let’s not forget that Arsenal’s much vaunted reserve team got beaten 10-1 by Aston Villa’s reserves last season. Two of the starters from that game were on the bench at Old Trafford today. Were they going to come on and rescue us?

I’m not suggesting we don’t have brilliant young talent. I’m not suggesting that these players can’t still come good. But they’re not good enough now and Arsenal is not a youth-development program. Arsenal is supposed to be one of the strongest clubs in European football. We are one of the most profitable sports teams in the world. It is beyond ridiculous to field such a weakened squad in any match, let alone a match against the reigning champions on their ground. Again, it’s not because of injuries and suspensions. It’s because the team isn’t strong enough beyond the first XI.

What’s even more disheartening about Sunday’s match is that our most experienced players were some of our worst. Robin van Persie, despite scoring, was terrible. His touch was poor and his missed penalty was an early omen of things to come. What bothers me about his performance is that his body language seems to suggest he was fed up with his team. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to publicly say that the manager should spend some money on quality players, then you need to carry your weight too. Convert your penalty. When a beautiful ball over the top of the defense puts you in on the ‘keeper with all the time in the world, don’t try a difficult volley with your weaker foot. Top players score from those positions. RVP can say we need to strengthen, and he’s most certainly right, but if he had done his part on Sunday, things might have been different. At least a little bit different.

Theo Walcott is another player that annoyed me on Sunday. He seems to think he’s a star now. He’s got a book out. He has scored a couple of good goals. Life is good for Theo. Now he seems to believe that he can berate his teammates at every opportunity. He loves to throw a fit when they don’t get him the ball in the area. Why do you want it Theo? So you can slam it into the ‘keeper like you did in Italy on Wednesday?

One of my favorite moments of the match was when Theo Walcott had a go at Carl Jenkinson for his defending. Where do you even begin with that? Walcott loves to ignore his defensive responsibilities and the penalty he gave away late in the game was sheer immaturity. Jenkinson runs his heart out. He gives his all. It’s not his fault that he was playing in League One last season and isn’t ready to start against United at Old Trafford. He’s just not ready for this yet. It’s honestly not even fair to him.

Lately Arsene Wenger has shown the disturbing willingness to tolerate players who simply aren’t good enough. He did that with Denilson. He did that with Almunia. Now he’s doing it again. I realize that Armonde Traore is not our first choice left-back. He might not be our second choice left-back. But the fact remains that he should never be on a football pitch in an Arsenal shirt. It’s become taboo to speak honestly lately, but let’s get serious. Before the match even started I asked Arseblog how he felt about Arshavin and Traore on the left. He said he was terrified. I agreed. Well guess what? There was every reason to be terrified. Because Manchester United could’ve scored 20 goals on Sunday just by attacking our left side. Traore’s positioning defies common sense and you have to wonder what Arsene Wenger sees in him other than an excuse not to buy another left-back.

It’s a little bit terrifying how much we missed Thomas Vermaelen and Barcary Sagna. They are the glue that holds our defense together. Without them, everyone else looks terrible. Johan Djourou looked almost competent on Wednesday, but I can’t remember seeing a more shocking performance by a center-back than the one he turned in on Sunday. Laurent Koscielny was decent, but couldn’t compensate for Djourou’s display. Basically, when three of your four defenders aren’t Premier League quality, and you’re playing Manchester United at Old Trafford, you’re going to concede some goals.

You could go on and on and on picking out players who had a bad game or quit on their teammates. At one point I honestly believed that Arshavin was trying to get sent off because he’d had enough of the match. Think about it. He intentionally handled the ball when he was on a yellow card. Then he committed a Cattermole-esque tackle when he was miles from getting to the ball. Webb should have sent him off and we should have been down to 10 men much earlier.

But the vast majority of the blame for this match falls on the manager. I’m sorry, but it does. If he’s going to get the accolades and hear the fans sing “one Arsene Wenger” when things go well, then he must take the blame when things go poorly. He said there’s enough quality and belief in this side. He said there was enough mental strength. He was wrong on all counts.

Forget Arsene’s failure to strengthen the side for a moment. Let’s ignore that. Let’s just look at the tactical decisions instead. He should’ve known we were in for a battering today. It was clear for all the world to see. He could’ve set us up more conservatively in an effort to stifle United. He opted to go for it. And when the match was clearly lost, and a big scoreline was becoming a possibility, he did something I literally cannot explain in any way. He took off our holding midfielder and replaced him with a young attacking midfielder who has never played a game for the club. I realize that in Arsene’s mind there was no difference between losing 3-1 and 8-2. As he said, “we tried desperately to get back but we opened ourselves up and were punished.” That sounds reasonable, but it just shows a stunning lack of common sense. It shows an inability to appreciate reality. Frankly, it smacks of delusion.

Now for the really awful part. Our lack of quality is why we lost on Sunday, but it’s not why we lost 8-2. We were still good enough to keep that game closer. No matter how poor our team was, and no matter how inexperienced some of the players were, there was still enough talent wearing an Arsenal shirt to prevent what happened. You don’t lose 8-2 because you were outclassed. You lose 8-2 because you quit. You lose 8-2 because you have no heart. No guts. No discipline. That’s reality. Think of the awful teams that have been in the Premier League over the past few seasons. How many have United scored 8 against? We’ve seen Wigan concede a similar number, but they’re one of the most destitute sides in England’s top flight and constant relegation fodder.

Do I think that we would’ve gotten a result on Sunday if we played with courage? No. Not by a long shot. Because courage can’t compensate for a lack of quality. But I know for a fact that we could’ve kept it closer. The team wasn’t helped by the manager’s inexplicable decision-making. That kept the snowball rolling down the hill.

What I saw on Sunday was a team that thought it was fun to keep pushing men forward in numbers when they’d already conceded 5 goals. 6 goals. 7 goals. Where’s the discipline? This isn’t a Sunday league match they were playing for fun. Those men are paid huge sums of money to play football and represent Arsenal Football Club. Why are they playing like it’s a testimonial in a Premier League match? Why is Theo giving away penalties out of frustration? Why is the manager putting on more attackers when we are getting taken behind the woodshed? Good questions. No answers.

There will be better times ahead for this team. When players come back from injuries and suspensions we could very well deliver an 8-2 thumping to Swansea. But that’s not the point. The point is that eleven men wearing Arsenal shirts humiliated the club on Sunday. They played without discipline or pride. Arsene Wenger has to ask why. Maybe he’s become too much like the overly permissive parent whose children start to run amok.

If you were a player at Arsenal, how would you behave? You’re surrounded by youngsters with few experienced, older teammates ready to keep you in line. You watch while players who agitate for moves out of the club are indulged by the manager as if they’re heroes or martyrs. You see players like Denilson and Diaby stroll around on defense but continue to get picked. You watch players like Almunia and Squillaci keep their jobs after proving time and again that they’re not good enough.

If I were a player at Arsenal I would believe that I could do what I pleased. Play how I want. Train how I want. Behave how I want. Perform badly. And I would have reason to believe that I could behave that way because I would see evidence of it everywhere I looked. Alex Ferguson isn’t loved by all his players, but he’s feared by all his players. Wenger is loved by all his players and feared by no one.

Unfortunately, the mentality that Wenger has cultivated within the side is all wrong at the moment. There’s little evidence of self-belief. But there’s even less evidence of self-control. We’ve had a red card in every single premier league match we’ve played. Four red cards in three matches if you count Song’s ban for stomping on Barton. And Arshavin really should’ve been sent off early on Sunday as well. It’s not just a coincidence. The discipline within the squad is gone.

There are no repercussions at Arsenal. No consequences. Play badly, you still keep your place in the team. Throw away a lead, you’re told you showed great mental strength. Concede eight goals to the team you’re supposedly challenging for the title, and the manager says it was a good experience. That kind of leadership doesn’t work. Arsenal has become a school without rules, and the students are failing their classes.

Like I said at the beginning, we were always going to lose on Sunday. But the manner in which we lost was preventable. It’s not just down to the dearth of quality in the side. We have to accept that it’s also down to the poor attitude of the players. So much time has been spent by gooners focusing on the players that weren’t available today. But consider who was available for a moment.

There were at least five first-choice players on the pitch today. Arshavin and Rosicky may no longer be first-choice players, but they are two of the more experienced members of the squad. Johan Djourou was a starter for all of last season. So that’s eight of eleven players who started on Sunday that can be considered first-team regulars. Maybe it’s not ideal, but that group shouldn’t be beaten 8-2 unless something is wrong within the squad.

We want new signings. We need new signings. But today, Arsenal didn’t look like a club that many players would be desperate to join. If you played for reigning French champions Lille, and you know that Arsenal don’t pay the best wages, and you see a group of players that don’t look happy to be on the pitch, and you watch those players quit on each other in a big match, how eager would you be to join that club? Not very. Does anyone else think that Juan Mata watched us play on Sunday and felt like he dodged a bullet?

It’s a desperate situation at the moment. There’s a few days left in the transfer window and I still believe that new players will arrive. But now I’m starting to wonder if two or three new players can fix what’s broken. Can we suddenly become a team that’s interested in defending? Will the morale within the side improve? Van Persie doesn’t look happy. Neither does Theo. Cesc was a popular player and now he’s gone. Nasri moved to a side that looks ready to fight for the title and tripled his wages along the way. It has to be depressing for the players left behind. They can’t help but notice these things. Then they talk. They talk to other players at other clubs. And you start to wonder if there’s any reason why someone would choose to come to Arsenal at this point in time. I can only think of one thing.

Here’s the one thing that would make me want to join Arsenal. Here’s the one thing that would make me want to run until my lungs burst for Arsenal. Here’s the one thing that makes me swell with pride at being a gooner. Our supporters. God bless the away supporters. Sitting on my couch, miserable at home, head in my hands, I wanted to reach through the television and hug every Arsenal supporter at Old Trafford. I wanted to be there with them. I wanted to be at that stadium, taking that beating and singing my heart out with them. It’s that kind of support that reminds you what it means to be a gooner. No matter how bad things get, and they’ve gotten really bad, the away support provided an important reminder to us all that

We love you Arsenal,
We do,
We love you Arsenal,
We do,
We love you Arsenal,
We do,
Oh Arsenal we love you!

Over to you Arsene.

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Manchester United Preview: Bring Your Boots

Today we travel to Old Trafford looking for our first win there since 2006. Since that time we’ve had our fair share of chances, but foolish errors and predictably biased refereeing decisions have conspired to undermine us. However, today we go there with the most threadbare squad I can ever remember under Arsene Wenger. If you are traveling to Manchester today, and own a pair of football boots, I’d recommend you bring them because there’s a fair chance that Wenger might pick you. Unless you’re a regular reader of the Young Guns website, you will probably see a few faces on the bench today that you’ve never seen before. It’s possible that one or two of them may even start.

However, if the injury situation resolves itself in our favor, we can actually piece together a decent team. Ideal circumstances would allow Wenger to name the following starting XI:

Arshavin, RVP, Walcott

Ramsey, Rosicky

Djourou

Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Jenkinson

Szczesny

It’s far from the lineup we’d like to see against United, but it’s vastly superior to the one we could see if any of those players are unavailable. There are doubts surrounding Vermaelen and Koscielny. There are rumors that Sagna is ill. Rosicky was barely fit for the midweek match, so we shouldn’t assume he can start. If we were to lose all of those players, or even some combination of that group, it would be virtually impossible to name a starting XI using only first team players.

Francis Coquelin is back from the U20 World Cup and there are already indications that he might start today. That could be scary to some fans, but is it really any worse than the alternative? Last season, it would’ve been Denilson playing for the suspended Song and injured Diaby. He might be more experienced than Coquelin, but I’d venture a guess that we’ll see more determination from the young frenchman.

Today might be the day we see Oxlade-Chamberlain make his debut for Arsenal. It sounds strange to suggest that he would see his first action at Old Trafford, but necessity is the mother of invention as they say. Szczesny made his first appearance there, and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas made his one and only appearance in the Premier League last season against Chelsea for some reason. So it’s not beyond Wenger to throw the youngsters in at the deep end.

It’s hard to know who will start for United. In the recent past, Ferguson has played a conservative game-plan against us. He’s packed the midfield, tried to break up our passing game, and attempted to hit us on the counter. To be fair, it’s worked pretty well. But I think he might change his approach today. I’m sure he smells blood in the water and he might be inclined to have a go at us. I’m guessing he’d prefer to send out his most attacking side and this might be the match where he feels he can get away with it. To some extent that could play into our hands. We haven’t been firing on all cylinders offensively this season, but our counter attack still has punch. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be a very open, higher scoring match than anyone expected.

We have two things going for us today: momentum and diminished expectations. Wednesday’s win will have lifted everyone’s spirit and removed some of the tension that has been hanging over Arsenal since the last day of last season when we knew we’d face a Champions League playoff. But maybe more importantly, we face Manchester United today with absolutely no expectation that we can get a result. Almost every match preview that I’ve read has focused on how badly we’ll get beaten. There hasn’t even been a suggestion that we could draw the match, let alone win it. I’m sure the players know that’s the case, and they should be able to play without anxiety.

Last season we beat United at home, but only after our title bid had already fallen short. It was a match that essentially meant nothing to Arsenal and everything to United. We looked relaxed and confident on that day and deserved our victory. Perhaps there will be a similar approach to today’s match. I’m not suggesting that we have nothing riding on the game. Obviously it’s still too early in the season to write off our title chances. But considering the state of the squad, I think we’d be forgiven for coming home having suffered a heavy defeat. Knowing that’s the case, there’s no reason for the player to be fearful.

I think there’s every reason to believe we will lose today. We are missing too many key players. We’re still out of sync offensively. And United looked very impressive last weekend when they destroyed Sp*rs at Old Trafford.

But there are reasons for optimism as well. The defense looks better than we’ve seen in a long time. If Vermaelen and Koscienly start, combined with the growing legend that is Szczesny, I have some confidence that we can keep them out. Our young ‘keeper is proving that he was well worth the hype. United’s new young ‘keeper, on the other hand, has looked far from assured. And that’s another reason for optimism.

If I were Arsene Wenger, I’d be imploring my players to shoot on sight today. We may not be able to get our slick passing game going, but that’s not the only way to score goals. When a ‘keeper is playing without confidence, the best thing to do is test him early and often. We’ve seen it done many times against us in recent seasons. Crowd him on set-pieces. Get the ball out wide and send in plenty of crosses. Shoot every chance you get. If we can rattle De Gea early, maybe he’ll be the one to make the killer mistake that costs his team the points.

I think I’ll actually enjoy today’s game. Since no one expects us to win, we can only be pleasantly surprised. United won’t get any great praise from beating us under the circumstances. But if we manage to get a result against them, combined with the result in midweek, it would be a massive kickstart to our season. Any time you head into a match with nothing to lose and everything to gain it’s usually enjoyable. United might ruin that theory today, but we’ll just wait and see.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a refereeing decision to go our way at Old Trafford. Maybe not.

Here’s to 3 unexpected points.

Come On You Gunners!

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Reinforcements

Arsene Wenger's Transfer Window Gas Station

Quick blog for today in advance of the big match on Sunday. I’m limbering up just in case Arsene calls on me to play in midfield. Is that the sound of you laughing at me? Well at least I’m willing to help. It’s not as if he has many better options?

The big story for today is transfers. But in this case, finally, I think there’s an actual story. Arsene might be sick of talking about potential signings, but it must be better than talking about Cesc and Nasri leaving the club. I’m sure he’d prefer to be talking about football in his pre-match press conferences, but given our current squad situation, I’m afraid he’s got five more days of being harassed about new arrivals.

Several interesting things came out of his press conference yesterday. First, Wenger acknowledged that a bid had been made for Gary Cahill. He didn’t exactly bring it up himself of course. But once he was asked about the supposed £6 million figure being quoted, he was quick to point out that was not the actual figure. One reporter asked, “was it lower?” After everyone had a good laugh over that, Arsene responded, “you know me well.”

All very funny for the manager and the press but Bolton had a hard time seeing the lighter side. Their manager and their chairman took turns berating our club and Arsene Wenger for the “derisory” offer. It seems that Manchester City’s behavior has lead other clubs to believe that their players are worth whatever they want for them regardless of contract status.

Bolton would do well to remember that after Wednesday, the proper figure for acquiring Gary Cahill is precisely zero pounds. Wenger is correct that a club has no reason to be insulted by the amount of an offer. If they don’t like it, they are free to reject it. But going public with your outrage is a fantastic way to kill a deal. Especially with Arsenal.

Arsene reiterated that we are short in midfield. Naturally, he wouldn’t name players he’s going after, but rumors surrounding Eden Hazard persist. There’s so much to like about the Belgian, but it sounds like we would need to nearly double our record transfer fee to acquire him. However, unlike other marquee signings, wages wouldn’t be a problem as we can offer him more than he’s currently paid. The strong words from Lille suggesting that we’d have to double Nasri’s price to get Hazard leave me understandably skeptical about his arrival at the Emirates. But he’s just the sort of talent we need.

What surprised me the most about Arsene’s press conference is that he acknowledged, for the first time I can remember, that we definitely need a striker. He pointed out that we will lose Chamakh and Gervinho to the ACN in January and claimed that Bendtner is still likely on his way out of the club. When asked about Joel Campbell he didn’t seem convinced that a work permit would be forthcoming.

It’s unlikely that Wenger would admit we are short at a position unless he genuinely believes that a new player is on the way. Even when we all knew he was trying to get a ‘keeper last summer, he never came out and said that it was a priority or a problem position. By acknowledging that we need a striker he opens himself up to major criticism if he doesn’t sign one. So the fact that he willingly identified striker as a position where we need to strengthen could mean that a deal is close.

Earlier in the summer Arsene rather cleverly observed that there are two types of clubs in the world today. There are clubs that travel on sweat and clubs that travel on petrol. But much like the marauders in the Mad Max movies, we’ve hoarded a little petrol of our own this summer. Now it’s time to use that petrol to get our vehicle moving. (If you’ll pardon the awful continuation of the analogy.)

With the transfer window set to close next week, the only way deals will get done is if most of the ground-work has been laid already. We can’t afford more near-misses like we experienced with Xavi Alonso and Arshavin in past summers. This time, the deals have to get done.

Arsene was asked if it felt like Arsenal’s season actually started now. Considering the anxiety that hung over the team about Champions League qualification and the distraction of the Cesc and Nasri transfer sagas, Arsenal could be forgiven for being less than fully focused for the first few weeks. The manager responded that in many ways, the season did feel like it was finally starting this weekend.

Personally, I’m not so sure. We still have too many injuries, suspensions and holes in the squad to expect much at Old Trafford. I’m prepared to write off one more Premier League fixture and see what happens before the window closes next week. Then, when the players return from the international break, we face Swansea at home. A big win there and a debut for a few new faces could signal the real start of Arsenal’s Premier League campaign.

In local news, it’s been reported that American television network Fox Soccer will air 17 hours of Sky Sports News on transfer deadline day. No longer will Americans be deprived of reporters standing beside Harry Redknapp’s car window all day. There goes the one good thing about being a football fan in America.

Until tomorrow fellow transfer speculators…

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F Is For Forgot … to Bribe UEFA

Lately everyone with a column-inch in a newspaper has been busy predicting the end of Arsenal as a “big club.” Now they’re going to have to wait a little while longer. Thursday we sat back and waited to hear Arsenal’s name called at the UEFA Champions League group stage draw for the 14th straight season. While our ball was sitting in “pot 1,” Manchester City’s was sitting in “pot 3”, Liverpool were playing Exeter in the Carling Cup and Sp*rs were playing Hearts in something called “the Europa League” (whatever that is). So remind me who the “big club” is again? … That’s what I thought.

After failing to properly bribe UEFA officials, Arsenal were drawn into Group F on Thursday, along with Marseille, Olympiakos and Borussia Dortmund. It’s a difficult group, primarily because the team we drew from “pot 4” are the reigning champions of Germany. Compare that with Manchester United’s “pot 4” “opponents,” Otelul Galati (God-bless you).

Our group is certainly more challenging than some of our draws in recent seasons. But we proved last season that it’s possible to make a mess of an easy draw even when it seems the group is won. This season we will need to show more consistency if we want to progress. We can’t afford efforts like the ones we saw at Shakhtar and Braga in particular.

I think there are a few advantages to our draw. First, it’s a wonderful draw for the supporters as it offers three excellent away trips. It should be a pleasure for Arsenal fans to attend any of these fixtures. And the locales also benefit the team. There aren’t any long journeys to far flung lands. We don’t visit any teams that play in freezing temperatures or on plastic pitches. That doesn’t mean we should expect easy wins. But it should mean that the players are sharper. It’s a little easier to be ready for a tuesday match, following a saturday match, if you don’t have a 12-hour flight, a 4-hour time difference and -20 degree temperatures.

The proximity of our opponents isn’t the only thing that gives cause for optimism. While Arsenal will be expected to top the group, the relative parity among the teams could be advantageous. Last season, we had a group with two very weak teams. We mostly beat up on the lesser opposition, but so did Shakhtar Donetsk. As a result, our one poor result at Braga, cost us the chance to finish top.

This season, it’s unlikely that any team will dominate the group. Marseille, Olympiakos and Dortmund will probably take points off each other. That will give us more breathing room to overcome a few disappointments. Even if we were to lose two of our three away fixtures, we could still reasonably expect to top the group by winning at home.

For example, consider a scenario where the other three teams each take 3 points off one another. Then if we were to win our home matches, a lone away-point would win us the group. That’s just one example of how increased competitiveness within the group could be advantageous.

Obviously there are too many possible permutations to discuss them all, but I think that our opponents will do enough damage to one another to clear a path for us. The key to winning this group will be taking maximum points at home and we’ve been excellent at doing that in European competition lately. Last season we dominated our group stage opponents at home and beat mighty Barcelona. (Just in case your forgot.)

Winning our home matches is certainly achievable, but if we want to progress from the group we might have to improve on our poor away form from last season’s Champions League campaign. Thankfully, the fixture computer has been kind to us this term. Our trip to Dortmund is wedged between a home match against newly promoted Swansea and a visit to Ewood Park to face a very weak-looking Blackburn. We travel to the Stade Velodrome in Marseille between home matches with Sunderland and Stoke. And we wrap-up the group stage on December 6 in Greece after playing at Wigan, before Everton come to the Emirates. All things considered, we should be able to set-up our squad in those Premier League matches with one eye on our Champions League responsibilities.

There’s something to be said for tasting success when it’s been earned with sweat. Last season we went straight into the group stages and strolled through our early season fixtures. By the time we faced any hardship, the team looked unprepared. But this season we’ve been under siege from the start. We only reached the Champions League group stage thanks to a heroic effort in our playoff against Udinese. I think the hardship we’ve already experienced could mean that we will see a more focused and hungry side when the group stage begins next month. Since we face our toughest opponent, Dortmund, at their ground in our first match, there will be no opportunity for complacency to take hold. Regardless of the result, that could work to our benefit in the long-run. I don’t expect we’ll see this team take any opposition lightly this time around.

Finally, there’s one more variable to the equation that could result in Arsenal comfortably reaching the knockout rounds for the 12th consecutive year: new signings. Right now we are contemplating our chances of progression based on the team we currently have. That’s all we can do. But in reality, there will surely be reinforcements arriving before the Champions League gets underway. I think we’re strong enough to get through this group as we’re currently constituted. But we’re going to be an even bigger favorite to top the group after Hazard, Sneijder, Kaka, M’Villa, Martin, Cahill, Baines and Robot-Striker-3000 arrive. That should be just enough to put us over the edge.

One last thing. Yesterday’s blog was on AshburtonGrove.co.uk. It’s about falling in love with Arsenal all over again. If you like that sort of thing, and didn’t see it here, it’s now up on this site. Just click the link below this post and it will take you there.

Enjoy your friday Gooners. With any luck, Cesc won’t win his third trophy with Barca tonight.

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Falling In Love All Over Again

Legend

Today’s blog also appeared on Ashburton Grove.

As a married man I can tell you that marriage is not exactly what I expected. It’s not always a state of bliss. It’s not constant euphoria knowing that you’ve found your soulmate and get to spend the rest of your life with them. Sometimes it’s hard work. Sometimes you’re wildly in love with your spouse. Sometimes you’re less in love with them. Sometimes you leave the toilet seat up. Those are bad days.

Supporting Arsenal is a lot like a marriage. I know I will support the club for the rest of my life, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to love them. Let’s face it, it’s hard to love a team that consistently demonstrates a lack of character. I think we can all identify with the youtube video of Dan Compton losing the plot during last season’s draw at Newcastle. That’s because the video is emblematic of the problem with this team. Often it feels like the games mean more to the supporters than they do to the players. It’s hard to devote yourself to a team that seems unwilling or unable to commit themselves to the cause. As a result, I’ve spent much of the last few seasons rooting for Arsenal, without completely loving the team on the pitch.

If there’s one thing that has really frustrated me about Arsenal in recent seasons, it’s their incredible capacity to choke under pressure. They’ve thrown away leads that seemed insurmountable and found unique ways to push the self-destruct button. Meanwhile, without a hint of irony in his voice, the manager has been telling anyone who will listen that his team possesses tremendous mental-strength, while his players have seemed determined to prove him wrong. And all the while, what rankled most of all, was the seeming lack of passion and commitment within the side. Yes the players were all very nice and chummy with one another. But with few exceptions, it seemed that they were more concerned with calling themselves winners than playing like ones.

Last night against Udinese, that seemed to change. This wasn’t the team I’d watched casually stroll the pitch in previous matches. This wasn’t a group of xbox-playing friends killing time on a Wednesday night. And this wasn’t a team of cowards or chokers. The Arsenal team that qualified for the Champions League last night was a collection of proud warriors who fought for the badge on their chest more than the name on their back.

Under the circumstances, you could almost have forgiven Arsenal for capitulating to their Italian opposition. Yet another big name player had left the club just before kick-off. There were injuries aplenty. And the starting XI was littered with teenagers short on experience. Considering the immense pressure and the general sense of doom surrounding the club, it wouldn’t have surprised me if Arsenal were eliminated. But when this group of players had their backs to the wall, they showed the courage and solidarity that’s so often been missing in seasons past.

You can see the difference in this team all over the pitch. But nowhere is it more evident than in goal. Even this summer, pundits questioned when we would add experience at ‘keeper. But now we have a young Pole who looked more relaxed in Arsenal’s goal than I was in front of my television. His penalty save was the stuff of legends. If this game had happened last season, the story of the match would’ve been about how an unjust penalty decision sent us crashing out of the Champions League. But today we won’t even have to debate that awful decision, because Szczesny mooted it with his brilliance. Last season at this time, we were treated to the comedy stylings of Manuel Almunia. He made us a laughing stock. But with Szczesny in goal, no one is laughing anymore. I think you’ll also find that he cost a little less than United’s wunderkind De Gea.

Last season, Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Eboue were busy playing people onside and giving away stupid penalties. Regardless of the fact that they cost us matches, their “exodus” was supposed to be evidence of our decline. On Wednesday night, we handed a start to a 19-year-old right-back who was playing non-league football six months ago. That should’ve been a sign of our weakness. But this 19-year-old boy is a gooner. He was raised to love the Arsenal. He was prepared to run until his legs gave out if that’s what it took to win this match. And that’s exactly what he did.

Carl Jenkinson was one of only five players in the entire match to cover over 10 kilometers during the 90 minutes. He never switched off. He never lost focus. He was even calm with the ball at his feet, deep in his own half. Gael Clichy could’ve learned a thing or two from watching him last night.

Arsene Wenger often gets criticized for comments he makes in press conferences. There may be no Wengerism more ridiculed than his infamous “like a new signing.” But maybe he’s got a point. Watching Thomas Vermaelen last night was like watching a new signing. It was as though Wenger had splashed the cash on the center-back we’ve been crying out for him to sign.

Vermaelen was confident, self-assured, and never quit. He dominated on set-pieces, turning Arsenal’s achilles heel into our strength. After the match, Wenger admitted that Vermaelen wanted to come off in the second half. But he didn’t come off. He didn’t force the manager to put Miquel in the match with no margin for error. He stayed on the pitch and battled for his teammates. I can think of more than a few former Arsenal players who wouldn’t have shown such determination.

Midfield was supposed to be a problem area for Arsenal last night. An out-of-form Aaron Ramsey partnered Alex Song and a callow teenager with a mohawk. But Aaron Ramsey did something special. He lifted his game for the big occasion. He covered more ground than any other Arsenal player and completed the highest percentage of his passes. He didn’t make the glamorous plays, but he worked hard at both ends of the pitch and kept possession well. This was the area where we were supposed to rue the losses of Nasri and Fabregas. But neither erstwhile gunner was missed. Ramsey did what was needed, and he didn’t back-heel the ball to the opponent on the edge of his own area either.

Emmanuel Frimpong only played the first half, but he threw himself around the pitch. He made important tackles and drove the ball forward well. He and Alex Song showed that Arsenal can no longer be painted as the delicate side that “doesn’t like it up ‘em.” They’re not afraid to make a challenge. Sometimes they’re not afraid to make a reckless challenge. They’re powerful players that can destroy the opposition midfield. In season’s past we watched light-weight players like Denilson and Diaby take their shot at playing the holding role. We watched them amble back on defense. But not last night. Last night we had warriors in the middle of the pitch. And, in Frimpong, we had another young man with Arsenal in his blood. His twitter profile reads, “I love Arsenal FC more than the person that founded it.”

Then there’s the trio of attackers that got us the goals we desperately needed. Captain Robin van Persie opened his account with the goal that sent us through. Is there a better way to lead your team than getting a crucial goal when it matters most? That’s what Robin did for us in Udine.

Theo Walcott got us the goal that killed off the tie. He’s a player that has grown up with Arsenal and taken more abuse from the media than he can possibly deserve. Walcott is the quintessential “nice guy” who stereotypically finishes last. When he missed a gilt-edge chance early in the match, there was a possibility that he would be painted as the goat. But he didn’t go missing. He didn’t hide from responsibility. Samir Nasri played half of last season as an invisible man on the flank. Theo Walcott kept working and was rewarded with a wonderful solo goal.

Finally, there’s Gervinho. He cost half of what Liverpool paid for Stuart Downing. He cost a fraction of what City paid for Nasri. But he gets past defenders every time he touches the ball. He can dribble every bit as well as Nasri but has the unselfishness to keep looking for his teammates. And his engine is fantastic. The Ivorian never looked tired despite running the Udinese back line ragged. He should’ve had a couple of assists last night, but it was his solo run and cut-back for Van Persie that put us into today’s group stage draw. The last few seasons we’ve watch the Arsenal attack slow to a pace would make a snail impatient. With Gervinho in the side, we have our dynamism back.

Maybe the most impressive performance of all came from our beleaguered, battered, brilliant manager. Arsene Wenger picked the right players last night. He didn’t show favoritism or emotion. He didn’t play Traore just because he was fit. He stuck with Jenkinson. He didn’t start Arshavin for his experience over the harder-working, more dynamic Gervinho. He left Vermaelen on the pitch to battle through injury. He wasn’t afraid to play two holding midfielders when we needed to protect an advantage. But then, when the change needed to be made, he didn’t hesitate. In the past, we’ve seen Arsene Wenger wait until it was too late to make his changes. On Wednesday, he needed only 45 minutes. And the decision to bring on Tomas Rosicky won us the match.

For the past few months Arsene has been reminding us that he has signed good new players. At one point during a press conference this summer he said,

“What you forget is we have bought players. We have bought Gervinho, Chamberlain, Jenkinson, Miyaichi and you will see during the season they are top-quality players.”

Many supporters dismissed these comments as paying lip-service to the need for more signings. And while there is still work to be done, last night Gervinho and Jenkinson showed that Wenger was right to believe in their quality. But what will please Arsene most of all, is that his team finally showed the “mental strength” he’s been talking about. They didn’t make him look like a fool. And now that Arsenal are back in the group stages of the Champions League for the 14th consecutive year, the media will be forced to concede that we are still an ambitious club.

It’s easy to say that these feelings are only based on one win. Maybe that’s fair. But even as I watched a woefully understrength, 10-man Arsenal side lose at home to Liverpool on Saturday, I found myself applauding their effort. It was hard to find fault with them on that day. Compare that with embarrassing efforts in last season’s losses at home to Newcastle and WBA. The difference is obvious. This group seems prepared for the battle. That doesn’t mean they’re always going to win, but it undoubtedly makes it more enjoyable to cheer them on.

I don’t know if this Arsenal team is going to win trophies. We are still very young and still need to add players to the squad. But what I do know, is that I like this Arsenal team a lot. I like their fight and their spirit. I like their passion and love for the club. Just reading Jack Wilshere’s tweets today made me swell with Arsenal pride.

Yesterday, in my preview of the match, I wrote this:

“I’m choosing to believe in the players that still wear the Arsenal shirt. They’re the ones that really want to be here. In the past, we have sometimes questioned our team’s commitment. But now we have a team of players with a real love for Arsenal. Some of them were raised as Arsenal supporters themselves. They will give us everything they have. They will bleed for Arsenal tonight. And in the end, I believe they’ll emerge victorious.”

That’s exactly what I saw on Wednesday night. Gone was the laughable goal-keeping, the frailty on set-pieces, the ill-timed loss of concentration, and the excuse-making. Gone were the bottlers, the chokers, the passengers and the fools. Gone was the awful feeling in my stomach that I resented the very team I support. Instead I saw a team under immense pressure stand up and be counted. I saw a team of courageous, proud and committed young men fight for their football club and emerge victorious. And as I watched those men give everything they had for Arsenal, I could feel a wonderful sensation rushing over me. It was like falling in love all over again.

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Udinese Preview: Only The Committed Remain

Tonight is all about the Champions League for Arsenal. But first, we must celebrate the beginning of another journey.

Samir Nasri’s quest for the Ballon D’Or can finally begin. He has completed his move to Manchester City and should be photographed holding his gold-spun shirt this morning. City will pay Arsenal a bazillion pounds, Nasri will earn half-a-bazillion pounds per week, and Nasri’s agent will have his name etched into the moon with a giant laser.

I don’t have the statistics on previous Ballon D’Or winners, but I’d imagine that plenty of them spent half the season on the bench for their respective teams. It’s a real win-win-win-win situation for everyone involved. Next season, when Nasri realizes he prefers to be a regular starter, perhaps City will be kind enough to loan him back to Arsenal and subsidize his wages, like they’re doing for a number of other disgruntled millionaires.

Nasri’s departure means the Arsenal “crisis” stories once are once again making headlines. Those broken-cannon printing presses are working overtime this month. This time, however, it’s Wenger’s own words that are being used as the rod for his back. Predictably, the media have trotted out his line from earlier this summer when the manager said “Imagine the worst situation – we lose Fabregas and Nasri – you cannot convince people you are ambitious after that.” Now that the self-proclaimed “worst situation” has come to fruition, the press are all-too-happy to rub our noses in it.

But it’s pointless dwelling on a sound bite now that the season is underway. Ultimately our results will be the measure of our success. Can we be considered ambitious having lost Nasri and Cesc? Of course we can. One way we can do that is by spending our mountain of cash on some really top quality players and proving to the world that we’re more than a glorified feeder-club. We have seen exceptional players leave the club before and we will see them leave again. All that matters is that we replace them with equal or superior talent.

For me, however, the best reaction to Nasri’s transfer came courtesy of twitter. New Arsenal legend Emmanuel Frimpong took the opportunity to slate City’s latest acquisition by tweeting that “money is the root of all evil.” He then admonished Jack Wilshere for wishing Samir well. Very deeench Mr. Frimpong. (See @EmmanuelF4 on twitter for more details.)

As for Arsene Wenger, he had a more pragmatic view of things when he was interviewed for Arsenal.com in what looked like a doctor’s office waiting room. Speaking in advance of our match today, he discussed Nasri’s departure.

“I am a realist so I have no illusions. It’s part of the modern life of a professional football player. It’s not that by coincidence that everybody suddenly lands at Man City.”

Most supporters seemed ready for Nasri to go, but now that it has actually happened, there’s a predictable degree of ambivalence. On the one hand, it’s nice to see an avaricious mercenary leave the club for an inflated fee. On the other hand, there’s very realistic concern about whether the squad has been weakened beyond the breaking point. That possibility hasn’t completely eluded the manager who acknowledged the need to strengthen the midfield. I’m sure we will all hold our collective breath until the new signings arrive.

Now all the attention turns to our Champions League playoff second leg tonight. Italy has been a happy hunting ground for recent Arsenal teams. AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus have all suffered defeat at our hands under Arsene Wenger. However, it would be fair to point out that we had more settled squads on those occasions.

Fortunately, Arsene Wenger will be allowed on the touchline, in advance of UEFA hearing his appeal on Thursday. The squad looks threadbare but there’s no cause for concern. When asked whether tonight’s match was critical or not, he responded that it was “not critical.” Arsene will have to forgive me if I don’t to agree. Perhaps this was a case of his english betraying him. I believe what he meant to say is that this match “is terrifyingly important to an extent that makes me incontinent.” At least that’s how I feel about it.

The team news for the match is mixed. Nicklas Bendtner has been left out of the side. That means we can probably expect yet another player to leave the club before the window shuts. While we might miss his Champions League experience tonight, I’m sure we all remember his failure to eliminate Barcelona last season when he had the chance. He’s another player that wants out of Arsenal, and at this point, I’m happy to open the door and let any like-minded player leave.

There’s good news in defense, where it appears Johan Djourou will be fit enough to start. That means Alex Song can keep his preferred midfield role and the manager won’t be tempted to hand Ignasi Miquel another baptism by fire. (Until the 3rd minute when Djourou goes off with a spleen explosion and Miquel is called on for the remaining 87 minutes.) Armonde Traore has recovered from his knock, but he looked terrible when he played in preseason, and his only recent appearance was for the reserves. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wenger stick with Jenkinson who played well in each of the last two matches.

The really bad news is that Jack Wilshere did not recover in time for this match, and has instead suffered a set-back. He will now miss an additional two to three weeks according to the manager. Frankly, I’d find that pleasantly surprising. He’s still wearing a protective boot and there’s a vague similarity between this injury and the one that cost Thomas Vermaelen an entire season. We can only hope that this doesn’t become another typical Arsenal quagmire. It’s one thing to lose players to long-term injuries, but we have a habit of losing the ones we need the most.

So now there’s not much guesswork about who will start in midfield. Tomas Rosicky is fit enough to play, but it sounds like he will start the match on the bench. Since Arsenal only have four midfielders in the 18-man squad, we can determine which three will start by simple process of elimination. Emmanuel Frimpong will join Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey in a midfield that may lack a little creativity, but should certainly offer plenty of power and determination. However, both Song and Frimpong have shown a propensity to commit silly fouls and with UEFA looking for any opportunity to ruin our Champions League dreams tonight, those two will have to be very careful.

Udinese have to attack us tonight. That should give us the chance to play them on the counter, much like they did at the Emirates. Gervinho, van Persie and Theo give us the potential for a lethal counter attack if the midfield doesn’t disappoint. But counter attacking alone may not be enough. We have to keep possession if possible because I certainly don’t trust this Arsenal side to sit back and defend for 90 minutes. More importantly, I don’t trust my heart to survive that.

What we really need tonight is to score the first goal. If we can manage that, it forces the home side to score 3 to eliminate us. That would calm the nerves and potentially take some of the belief out of the crowd. But if Udinese manage to score first, then it could be a case of experience carrying the day. And that doesn’t favor Arsenal.

At the moment, we are a callow side. Jenkinson and Frimpong, and to some extent Ramsey and Gervinho, will not have experienced this kind of pressure before. But that’s not entirely problematic. You learn a lot about players by how they perform when the stakes are highest. In the recent past, we learned some unflattering things about our players when the pressure was on them. Maybe the new faces will prove to be the difference-makers tonight.

Elimination is nearly unthinkable. While the club could survive the financial ramifications of a season without Champions League football, I’m not sure how the team would respond to such a devastating blow. Couple that with a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday and the season could begin to look like a disaster before it’s really even started. The fans are already a tinder box of frustration waiting to explode. Losing tonight could be the flashpoint for an epic conflagration. So we simply must not lose.

This is the match that none of us wanted. But if the result goes our way, it could be just what the team needs. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot going right for Arsenal at the moment. Morale is low and the Club’s image has taken a beating over the past few months. But a win tonight would send us into the Champions League group stages and remind the footballing world that Arsenal are still a club to be reckoned with. It’s a chance for the players to hear some words of encouragement for the first time this season and start to build belief.

Winning on the road against a strong Italian side would be a feather in their cap, and answer critics that have often accused this team of being bottlers. That could come back to help us the next time the pressure is on. Not to mention that Champions League participation could also help us secure any potential transfer targets that Wenger might be considering. (No, really). But maybe most importantly, it’s an opportunity for this group of players to show that they can win without Cesc and Nasri despite the naysayers. It’s a chance for them to begin to forge a winning identity of their own.

It may only be our fourth match of this campaign, but Arsenal’s season stands very much at a cross-roads. The outcome of tonight’s tie may determine which direction we take for the next ten months. I’m choosing to believe in the players that still wear the Arsenal shirt. They’re the ones that really want to be here. In the past, we have sometimes questioned our team’s commitment. But now we have a team of players with a real love for Arsenal. Some of them were raised as Arsenal supporters themselves. They will give us everything they have. They will bleed for Arsenal tonight. And in the end, I believe they’ll emerge victorious.

Come On You Gunners!

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Attacked From All Sides

Can you guess which animal is Arsenal in this picture?

It’s gang up on Arsenal season these days. The media have been doing it since the dawn of time, but now the rest of the universe is joining in. Even though we’re just three matches into our season, the barbarians are already at the gates, thanks in large part to our underwhelming summer transfer business. Let’s kick-off the Arsenal bashing with Platini’s band of morons.

Leave it to UEFA to bring wounded gooners together. After investigating Arsene Wenger’s behavior during Tuesday’s match against Udinese, the brilliant minds behind Europe’s most prestigious club competition have determined that the Arsenal manager did violate the terms of his ban. As punishment, they have dished out an additional 2 match suspension which will prevent him from managing the team on Wednesday night.

Arsenal intend to appeal the ban which could delay Wenger’s punishment and allow him to be on the touchline for the second leg of the tie. But it is now being reported that UEFA have failed to get Arsenal the necessary documents to appeal the decision in a timely fashion and Arsene could be forced to serve the suspension anyway. It’s all a bit too predictable from UEFA at this point. Let’s just hope Robin van Persie doesn’t get sent off for shooting again.

But UEFA aren’t the only organization giving Arsenal problems at the moment. Manchester City seem to have won the battle of wills with Arsene Wenger. Despite his initial claims that he wouldn’t hesitate to use Samir Nasri on Wednesday, it now appears that the manager has had to change his position. It’s unclear whether the player himself refused to participate, or whether Arsenal simply yielded to Mancini’s demands, but it’s being reported that Nasri will not travel with the team to Udine ahead of the crunch fixture. We should know soon enough if that’s indeed the case.

While that certainly suggests Nasri’s transfer will go through imminently, it also creates a selection problem for Wednesday night. Arsenal should be well equipped to score goals with Gervinho, van Persie and Walcott all likely to start. But the midfield is the real source of concern for the team right now. Nasri’s presence would’ve added much needed experience and prevented the manager from having to make some potentially unpalatable choices.

With Aaron Ramsey in poor form and Tomas Rosicky playing only marginally better and carrying a slight knock, Wenger would probably have preferred to play only one of the two. But now he may have to use both players in midfield, especially if Alex Song is forced to deputize at center-back due to injuries. Either way, Nasri’s absence means there’s less depth in the side for a match where the team simply must get a result. Instead of playing Nasri with Ramsey, and having Rosicky as a substitute, now we’re likely to see Henri Lansbury on the bench. He and Ryo Miyachi were both recently added to the Champions League squad list for this fixture. Quality aside, that’s a big difference in experience.

Arsene Wenger will give his pre-match press conference today and that should give us more insight into how the manager might set-up the team. A lot will obviously depend on the injury news and we’ll just have to hope that Johan Djourou is fit enough to start. I’m sure Wenger will also be forced to answer more questions about Nasri and possible new signings as well.

Meanwhile, Udinese’s chief hit-man has decided to warm up for the second leg by taking shots at Arsenal off the pitch. In case you were worried there wouldn’t be enough drama surrounding Wednesday’s match, Antonio Di Natale raised the stakes with his comments about the current state of Arsenal Football Club. He had this to say about his Champions League opponents,

“We studied Arsenal’s defeat by Liverpool and they have problems in every area. They are playing with doubts spread throughout the side. Any club in a crisis means you are facing a dangerous team but I believe it will be Udinese who will be going through.”

Strong words from the Italian striker. But I have to wonder why Udinese lost and failed to score in the first leg if Arsenal are such a weak side. Does that mean Udinese are an even weaker side? I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow. Di Natale should remember that his team won’t be facing the lumbering, out-of-form Chamakh in the second leg. They’ll be forced to deal with the much more dynamic and clinical van Persie. It’ll also be incumbent upon the home side to take the game to Arsenal. Then we’ll see how well they cope with our counter-attack.

Regardless of the strategies and personnel, Di Natale’s words sting. However, it’s the kind of quote that a manager should love to see. If I were Arsene Wenger, I’d use the comments as a motivational tool for my squad. It’s a chance to change the mentality from pressurized favorites, to battling underdogs. Maybe that’s just the change in psychology the team needs to play without the dreaded “handbrake.”

Back in the Premier League, Manchester United fired a little warning shot of their own by destroying Sp*rs at Old Trafford yesterday. The upside is that it left Sp*rs bottom of the table. Even when we’re reportedly in “crisis,” Sp*rs still find themselves in our shadow. The downside is that United looked irresistible at times. Their new players look well integrated into the team and United didn’t seem to miss their injured starters at all. It’s amazing how a team can gel when you get your transfer business done early in the summer and spend the rest of the time focusing on preparation for the new season. Based on what I saw yesterday, if we arrive at Old Trafford on Sunday with a team that looks anything like the one we put on the pitch against Liverpool, the scoreline could be most unflattering indeed.

Sometimes you get kicked in the gut by something that doesn’t happen. That’ll be the case when Juan Mata is finally announced as a Chelsea player. It’s definitely a case of the one that got away. I’m usually skeptical of media rumors surrounding our transfer business, but it certainly seems there was some fire to go with this smoke. Mata himself has said that Arsenal came with an offer but that the Blues offer was superior.

I’m not suggesting Arsenal are to blame here. Chelsea’s involvement may have proved too much for us to overcome. But there’s no question that Mata’s skill-set fit our needs in midfield at the moment. He’s a player that most fans seemed genuinely excited about and his arrival would’ve helped ease some of the anxiety about the state of our squad. Seeing him play for one of our rivals will only pour salt in an already open wound.

But the best way to really pour salt in our wounds, is to have a former Arsenal great totally undermine the morale at the club. That’s what Ian Wright has contrived to do. Today he’s quoted as saying,

“Any top player would have to think twice about signing for Arsenal right now … Arsenal now in danger of going out of the CL and finishing sixth, seventh or eighth in the Premier League.”

Whether you agree with Wright or not, there’s no question that these kinds of comments are counter productive. It makes the club look bad and shows a total lack of respect for the players currently playing for Arsenal. He’s piling on to serve his own agenda and I find it rather embarrassing for him. I realize he’s free to say whatever is on his mind, but in my opinion, he should be a little more discreet. If he wants Arsenal to recover from this wobble, I don’t see how it helps to have a club legend making such damning statements. Having said that, I really hope he’s wrong.

Let’s cross our fingers for some good news on the injury front today, and worry about signing all our new superstars after we batter Udinese tomorrow. At this point, the universe owes us a favor or two.

Have a good one gooners.

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