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Friday, 28 December 2012

Mid-season review

Highlight of 2012-13 so far

I hope you have all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with family and friends etc. My own Christmas was somewhat spoiled by both of my children being sick with a vomitting bug. As such the celebrations were not exactly as intended this year. Christmas is my favourite time of the whole year so it's been a bit of a tough week in our house. Thankfully Arsenal's game was called off on Boxing Day so the chance for West Ham to spoil the mood even further was taken away.
When I wrote this piece just before Christmas last season I referred to how bad things had been going in to the season with the Fabregas and Nasri sales, followed by the panic buying that had come too late to avoid humiliation at Old Trafford. This year Arsenal made their signings fairly early, but we still went through the annual charade of saying our best player was not for sale, before then selling him to a rival. This year we at least made excellent money on a player who had one year left on his contract. When you consider how much we let Fabregas go for I would say the fee received for Robin Van Persie was astronomical. I'm sure I'm not the only Gooner that was hoping Van Persie would be a "one season wonder" or that he would return to his natural environment in the treatment room. As it turns out he is the main reason for United being seven points clear as I write.
The season didn't start too badly for Arsenal. We should have beaten Sunderland on day one, but a solid draw at Stoke was followed by a great win at Liverpool and a draw at Man City in a game we pretty much dominated. The lack of goals from our new centre-forward, and his regular missing of chances, gave us worries for the season ahead but it had been a very encouraging start.
We had also made a winning start in Europe, and Giroud got off the mark in a Walcott-inspired six-goal win over Coventry in the League Cup. All in all I think most Gooners were pleasantly surprised at our opening to the season. Then Chelsea came to play at our place. What followed was the start of the incresingly frustrating inconsistency and the end of what had seemingly been an improved defence. Thomas Vermaelen's form has dipped alarmingly this season and only the class of Per Mertesacker has saved us on a number of occasions. Personally I would far rather see the Captain left out in favour of Laurent Koscielny.
The Chelsea game was a really poor performance, but probably only after Abou Diaby had limped off after banjaxing himself kicking a ball. Indeed, most of our problems have stemmed from not having Diaby in the side. Without him there was no player in our midfield with the ability to drive at the opposition. A Diaby fit enough to play a game makes Arsenal a far better team. Sadly that is too rare a sight. I see that he is due back in training again next week. That line has filled me with dread. If Diaby is returning to training then I fear Wenger will once again use it as an excuse not to make the necessary signings in January, just as he did in the Summer.
The performances at Norwich, Bradford, Manchester United and Aston Villa were simply unacceptable. As were those at home to Fulham, Schalke and Swansea. When you think about those games it is easy to see why Arsene Wenger's popularity is on the wane with many Gooners.
There has been some quality, of course. The Spurs game, after Adebayor got himself sent off, has provided the high point of the season so far. The Reading game early last week, and the contrasting style of the win at Wigan last Saturday, give encouragement. But you just feel with this Arsenal team that the next "can't be bothered" display is just around the corner.
Despite the home defeat to Schalke the boys still managed to qualify in Europe with a game to spare. The inconsistency of the side, all in one game at Olympiacos, cost us first place in the group. The second-half in Athens was as awful as the first-half had been superb. Without Rosicky after half-time there was nothing there for Arsenal. As a result we are now facing Bayern Munich rather than Galatassaray. Who would you rather be facing - a team with Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, or a team with Emmanuel Eboue?
The League Cup defeat at Bradford, just as Arsene Wenger had seemingly realised the importance of real silverware has probably cost us our best chance of a trophy this season - only Chelsea should have provided a threat to us, to be honest. The players have only themselves to blame for the fact they were outplayed that night. Arsene Wenger completely misread things when he chose to defend the players after the game. There are times when a public dressing down is what the fans want to hear. This was certainly one of them. Now we start with a tough FA Cup tie at Swansea next week, though I fully expect the players to produce in South Wales after the way they were humiliated at home by The Swans a few weeks back. Silverware is still available and we have to hope Arsenal's players can rise to the occasion and get us some.
The Premier League Title is way beyond us already. As such we will be looking to the false economy of "the top four" for some measure of "success". In the absence of a trophy I suppose you have to hope for Champions League qualification, even if you have hardly any chance of actually winning the damn thing. The details released by Emirates last week over the need for Champions League football are stark, and are yet another indictment on Ivan Gazidis and his staff. It would appear that without that qualification the so called £150m sponsorship deal is nowhere near that figure. What kind of idiots are running Arsenal's business side?
The transfer window once again looms and Wenger is already preparing the ground for not getting business done early. Apparently we "don't set the pace" of the transfer window. Well Arsene, I have some news for you - if you offer the requisite money for the player you want, you can sign them at any time you so desire. If he wants David Villa then he should pay Barcelona what they're asking, then Villa could be in the side at Swansea next week. By the same token we are now prevaricating over re-signing Thierry Henry. If you want him then get it done, if you don't then just bloody well say so. The supporters deserve so much more than we are given with this sort of crap being spoken by the Manager.
As well as ins there must also be some outs. If Theo Walcott isn't signing then he must be sold, even if it's just for a couple of million. Andrey Arshavin must be sold, even for next to nothing. Marouane Chamakh and Sebastien Squillaci must be bombed out, even if it's on a free transfer. Three of those four players do not get a game at Arsenal, yet are earning over £200,000 per week between them. Get rid of them. If you have to do it on the cheap in order that a buying club can cover their wages then so be it. Andre Santos is another player who must surely be moved on - his shirt-swapping at Old Trafford really was the final nail in a coffin built around some terrible defending from the Brazillian.
We currently sit in seventh place, and that is way too low. Had we played Boxing Day we well have been fourth, but that too is below acceptable when it is 13 points behind the side in first. Spending money is no guarantee of success, of course. But it sure as hell makes it more likely that you'll have a chance. Jack Wilshere's return to the side has been a bonus as he has pretty much hit the ground running. However, he is more than likely to hit the wall again before we reach May. The need for reinforcements is huge. We need experienced, and capable, cover for Szczesny. We need a decent left-back to cover for Kieran Gibbs, though I would accept the promotion of Jernade Meade in the interim. Cover is required for Mikel Arteta, a replacement for Diaby and also for Walcott is a priority. We also need a centre-forward and I fully expect to see one come in before January ends. To be honest, I'd rather it wasn't Demba Ba - we have enough players with dodgy knees at Arsenal.
It's been a tough first-half to this season, as it was last year. If we are to achieve our minimum aims then Arsenal must be far better after Christmas is over. What we've seen in Autumn has not been good enough. The remainder of Winter and Spring must be ten times better.

More tomorrow morning, I hope, with a preview of the Newcastle game.

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