Arsenal FC - Not quite ready for the last rites
As the game neared the end yesterday I said to my Dad "The papers will be full of it tomorrow - No RVP, No Goals will be the headline". It did not shock me this morning to see that The Sun had gone with exactly that. I watched Match Of The Day and Football First, and listened to Sports Report and 6-0-6 on Radio 5, and I honestly don't think I watched the same thing. I even had to check the result to be sure that it was Liverpool that got stuffed 3-0 at West Brom rather than Arsenal. Honestly, how is it that we draw 0-0 at home to a tough Sunderland side and are "in crisis" while Liverpool get hammered in their first game under a new boss and are "a work in progress"? I may be a "glass half empty" kind of person, but even I'm not buying all this crap. The impressive Lukas Podolski has been dismissed as "slow" (I couldn't work out why he was taken off, incidentally) while Liverpool's Joe Allen was "excellent" in their first day thrashing. I'm not picking on Liverpool but theirs is the easiest example to use when showing what nonsense the media are spouting about Arsenal. It is lazy, gutter journalism, of the lowest order.
So what about the game itself? Let's start at the beginning. There was an element of supreme comedy about Theo Walcott's first touch of the season being one where he mis-controlled the ball straight in to touch. I hope I could be forgiven for seeing that as a typically Walcott moment. After that, and one defensive lapse that saw Szczesny make a fine save at his near-post, I thought we were comfortable. My only criticism is that we didn't make enough chances. Mignolet had very few actual saves to make, and the one genuine chance was missed in spectacular fashion by Giroud. The effort was certainly there from the players and the idiots that booed at the final whistle really need to sort their lives out.
I thought Gervinho possibly had his best game for Arsenal yesterday. As usual he was lacking in quality end product, but his running at the defence was something Sunderland never got to grips with. I found it infuriating when he was forced to swap sides with Walcott midway through the first-half - Craig Gardener had no answer to the Ivorian and we wasted the rest of the half as a result of this pointless change. I think Mikel Arteta also played his best game for Arsenal yesterday. The Spaniard was deployed as the defensive midfielder and he was outstanding. It may be different against a side that actually attacks occasionally, but I thought it was a brilliant display from the new vice-skipper. Elsewhere I thought Carl Jenkinson played superbly, and it was no coincidence that he had Per Mertesacker alongside him - all of Jenkinson's best displays have come with the BFG talking him through the game. Lukas Podolski showed how physically strong he is, though I don't know that playing him as the lone striker did us much good. I was impressed with the German, and I was seriously annoyed when we quickly got back to the world of Arsene Wenger substitutions - Walcott should have been the man replaced by Giroud, and Podolski could have gone in to his more familiar role. The star of the show was, again, Santi Cazorla (that's Cazorla, not "Car-zola" TV people). If we keep this guy fit, and get the necessary quality around him on a regular basis, then we can have real success.
Obviously it was disappointing to not win, and not score, yesterday. However, given the changes to the team, and the business of the week, I thought the attitude of the players was spot-on. The failure to genuinely break down Sunderland's organised defence may be brought in to starker focus if we can't get a win or two at Stoke or Liverpool over the next fortnight, but I was fairly neutral after the game yesterday. Yes I was annoyed that Giroud had missed a sitter, but overall I think there was enough to be encouraged about - especially Cazorla, Podolski, Arteta and Gervinho. Bring on the improvement as move forward.
Regulars here will know I am a fan of Alex Song. I do not go along with the criticism that is directed at him. The fact is (and it really is an indisputable one) that without Alex Song we would not have qualified for the European Cup last season. People will point to the goals of Robin Van Persie, and rightly so, but Song carried the midfield last year. He got stick for not being defensive enough, but without his creativity we would have had nothing. In the absence of Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby he really was a one man band as far as I'm concerned.
I've read a lot over the past couple of days about how he has caused some trouble recently behind the scenes, and that his attitude since returning to training has been poor. I don't know anything about that and, I suspect, nor do most of those claiming to have inside information. Having said that, the way this has come about certainly gives the feeling that something has gone wrong somewhere. What has annoyed me is that the transfer fee is around £15m. For the second year in a row we are basically giving a key player to Barcelona. That is the one thing in this Song transfer that I can't get my head around - he has three years left on his contract and yet we have sold him on the cheap.
Many people keep telling me that "we can do better than Alex Song". Okay, I can accept that. But who do these people think we are going to sign? Nuri Sahin seems to be a done deal, but he is not a replacement for Alex Song. Nor is Mikel Arteta. I just don't get the idea of selling Alex Song, when there is no replacement in place. If I was looking for a replacement I would be hoping that we bring in one of Yann M'Villa, Marouane Fellaini or Nigel De Jong (not necessarily in that order). Certainly someone has to come in, no matter what Arsene Wenger says about his midfield options. By the way, given that we are now in profit again on transfers for the Summer, we surely have plenty to spend. Don't we?
Finally, and very briefly, I can't write this piece without saying something about Alan Pardew's behaviour yesterday. Looking around the newspapers and various media it looks like I'm in a minority. In case you missed it, Alan Pardew shoved an official during Newcastle's win over Tottenham. He was, obviously, sent to the stands. Clearly he will get a ban (though it will seemingly be a standard one) from the FA. But where is the condemnation for such out of control actions? Arsenal fans will know this is not the first time Pardew has misbehaved by pushing people around on the touchline. It's also not the first time that someone has laid hands on a match official - the difference is that Paolo Di Canio and David Prutton made front page headlines (and were banned for months) - Pardew isn't even on the back pages.
Alan Pardew is, of course, a bit of a friend of the media. Much like Harry Redknapp, Pardew is always good for a soundbite or two. This is the man who called a press conference the day after Fabio Capello resigned from the England job in order to announce he was not in the frame - what kind of egotist does that?
Can you imagine the furore had Arsene Wenger pushed a linesman? How the hell is Pardew getting away with this? The man should be looking at a massive fine, and a record ban. Instead it is all being swept under the carpet. One journalist actually stated on Twitter that Pardew had "handled the situation well" by "making a bit of a joke out of it in his press conference". So there you have it, as long as you have a smile on your face, and a gag for the football writers, then you can go around thumping whoever you want.
Unless there is a signing made that will be your lot until later in the week. Hopefully this weather will stay with us.