Let's Be Pottery Smashers!

So this week, the always loquacious and opinionated Andrey Arshavin, still out recovering from injury, and then Bacary Sagna both said that we CAN win the league, but we will need to basically win all of our remaining fixtures. Once again, Saturday is the first day of the rest of our season. I'm sure we would all be more comfortable playing Wigan at home every match, but we don't make those decisions. Is it likely? Not really. Is it possible? Certainly, given that the toughest fixtures we have left are the North London Derby away, City (who don't travel particularly well), and then tomorrow at the Britannia to face Stoke.

We all know about Stoke at this point. They're rough, physical, occasionally dirty, and score a great many of their goals from set pieces. And a great number of these come from their best offensive weapon, the freakishly strong throw-ins of Rory Delap. It is from these that we are most at risk of surrendering goals, and not surprisingly, it is with these throws that I must take issue. I'll explain.

The process that Stoke take whenever they get a throw-in in the opponents' half is a exercise in stealthily bending if not breaking the rules of the game. Firstly, once the ball is out into touch, one player will pick up the ball. This player almost always dicks around with the ball before giving it to another player, who will in turn give it to Delap. By the time this charade completes, Stoke have moved the ball 5-10 yards upfield before taking the throw. Then Delap takes a towel and wipes the ball clean with a towel for about a minute. Then he begins massaging the ball with his shirt, as though the towel didn't do the job. And eventually, after a good 2 minutes of time-wasting and sneakily moving the ball upfield, Delap takes his throw, launching it into the box (and occasionally without his rear foot touching the ground). On Arseblog's Arsecast today, John Cross from the Daily Mirror brought up the potential illegality regarding the rules of the sport of using foreign objects (towel) for each single throw-in. I'm not opposed to players using them when the weather is especially bad, but despite the reputation for consistent rain in England, there is no need for this ritual every time. It wastes time and cheats the fans of actual football.

Now, realistically I don't think we can expect the referees to do anything about it tomorrow, which means we will need to defend these lobs better than we have done. Gallas remains out, and apparently has had a bit of a setback in his recovery from a calf injury, and Sol has had enough rest to recover from his 90 minutes against Porto, so we should be a bit more capable in dealing with those long balls. Gallas is a bit of a worry though. We know his tendency to pick up injuries late in the campaign, and this season seems to be no different. And with him out, we're reduced to musical chairs between Sol and Silvestre, the latter inspiring... what's the opposite of confidence? Yeah, that.

On a positive note, we should have Eduardo back in the side, although most likely on the bench. I would anticipate a starting XI very like the one that faced Sunderland last Saturday. We may see Sagna return at right back, and certainly Sol for Silvestre, but I would expect to see Bendnter up front with Theo (or perhaps Eboue, being that we are away and more likely to stress defense) and Nasri, certainly Cesc and Song in midfield, and while I'm very much in favor of Ramsey in again, I fear the manager might revert to using Denilson again. Almunia will certainly get the start in goal, and since Mannone seems to be out of the question, at least Almunia is preferable to Fabianski. Which isn't saying too much. In all, we should have enough to take all three points, but I've said that before, and the Brittania seems to hold some mystical sway over Arsenal, having lost our last two matches there. Let's hope that we can break that trend. The season is resting on it.

It's official: Pompey have been placed into administration. Having gone through several different ownerships this season alone, and as a last-ditch effort for one last ownership bid fell through, this was really the only option left to them. It's a sad state for any club, let alone one with such long history and one that won the FA Cup a mere two seasons ago. But it also speaks to the value of financial responsibility in football, and we are quite lucky to be supporting a club that is in such wonderful financial shape, especially with the news that Arsenal have reduced the debt on Emirates Stadium by 40% due to sales of the Highbury flats. Even if we do wish the club would spend some of those massive profits on some new, established players. Like a goalkeeper. Or a goalkeeper. Or, even, a goalkeeper.

Finally, I'd like to close with one of the most uplifting stories about football that I've come across in some time. As reported by the BBC:

Tottenham Hotspur's preparations for Sunday's Premier league clash with Everton have been hampered after the Spurs dressing room was hit with a virus.

Wilson Palacios and Vedran Corluka have already been suffering from the sickness and diarrhoea bug while several others are believed to be ill.

Following the outbreak Spurs boss Harry Redknapp confirmed that the club had been forced to close its training ground.

"We've closed the training ground. Everything is off limits – the offices and cafeteria. We're just going to train there and that's it," Redknapp said.

That's right, Tottenham have gotten the shits. AGAIN. Ladies and Gentlemen, I expect to hear loud and numerous outbursts of that song on Saturday and throughout the rest of the season. LASAGNA, WHOOOOOOOOAAAAA...

Until next time, mon Arsamis, don't eat the leasagna, and as always, stay classy.

A Pedestrian Three Points, But Three Points All The Same

I had a vision when I got up on Saturday morning, a vision of beautiful attacking football, of crisp finishing and resolute defending, and of generally good officiating. And I was surprised in that this came to pass. However, that was Everton's 3-1 defeat of United that morning. The Arsenal v Sunderland match wasn't quite what I was dreaming of, but in the end it gave us what we needed.

There were two rather significant changes from the squad who faced off against Porto on Wed. night: Silvestre came in for Campbell (who was filling in for Gallas), and Ramsey replaced the injured (shocking, I know) Abou Diaby. I thought Campbell was one of the few bright spots against Porto, so replacing him clearly had more to do with fitness than anything else. This is the problem with Campbell as a backup. Any long term injury (*feverishly knocking wood*) to one of our central defenders will require two players in rotation to play in that place. It's just not sustainable. I understand Sol is 35, but he's also a professional athlete. If you're getting paid to do the job, the least that should be required is that you be fit enough to accomplish the tasks required. I have to say I was glad to see Ramsey given another shot instead of Arsene automatically selecting Denilson. What we got out of Ramsey was energy, tenacity, and pace, three qualities that have been sorely lacking in the Brazilian's efforts of late.

From the start, Sunderland appeared to sit back with the entire team behind the ball and defend. Having dropped as many points as they have in the past few months, and limping into this match like a wounded animal, I can't say as I blame them. But all this really accomplished was to ensure Arsenal dominating possession and thus create more chances. It seems what Steve Bruce was trying to do was try to catch us and hit us on counterattacks like United had done a few weeks ago. However, all necessary respect to Steve Bruce and each of his chins, Sunderland are not United.

What was clear was that for all that possession and all of the chances created, Arsenal still have a very hard time finishing. Bendtner had a great chance in the box where he was one-on-one with the keeper for a moment, and just took too much time setting up his shot, which was blocked by the Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon and bounced off the bar. Eboue, starting at right back, made several forays into the box without doing much until finally, after dancing with the ball for what seemed like minutes and, I can only assume hypnotizing the defenders, slid a pass that may have been a shot directly into the path of the onrushing Bendtner, who finished with ease. It's a goal that will do his confidence a world of good, and him being a confidence-player that can only help us.

Theo Walcott got the start on the right wing and played fairly well considering his recent form. Basically, when he got the ball I found myself screaming for him to run like he was a horse I'd bet on, and he is blazing fast. But he still is clueless as to what to do with the ball when he does get past that last defender. His shots were all quite errant, and his passes, with few exceptions, weren't to anyone in particular. The other issue is that he needs a great deal of space in order to be effective, and the better teams, the Chelseas and Uniteds, do NOT give him that. In fact, this is the first match since he's been back where Theo has had that kind of room to run, which is probably why he was more effective. But as a footballer, he currently leaves a lot to be desired.

We stayed at 1-0 up through the bulk of the second half, and the story remained largely the same. In spite of a handful of chances for Sunderland (caused by poor defensive marking and positioning), which would have been goals had it not been for Kenwynne Jones being so crap, Arsenal dominated the possession and had the upper hand throughout. The only other point I would make was the terrible officiating. After the displays on Saturday and Wednesday, it seems that referees have declared open season on Cesc Fabregas. Like Porto, Sunderland fouled our captain without rest or fear of retribution, from either Arsenal players or the referee, Steve Bennett. At one point, Bennett booked Cesc when John Mensah fell over, without contact that I could see in slow motion, and rolled around. Later, Mensah himself made bad tackles on Cesc yet received no mention. And don't even mention Lorik Cana. The Albanian was unpunished after one particularly bad challenge on Eboue, going in studs-up with two feet, and doing so to take the man out. Eboue went down and limped about for a while, and nothing was done to Cana. Crack refereeing there. And by that, I mean you'd have to be on crack not to discipline that sort of thing.

In the end, we finally received our second penalty call since "the Eduardo incident" in August. Cesc took a quick pass from Bendtner into the box, where he was upended on the edge of the area. To my astonishment, Bennett pointed to the spot. Up strode El Capitan Catalan Fantastico, and the penalty was converted. 2-0 secured the points late on, and even though it wasn't the prettiest match, we got what we needed. Does this change the fact that our defense (Silvestre in particular) has a tendency to lose focus and look positively shambolic? No. Nor does this mean that Arsenal's best shooting boots have been anywhere but in the back of the closet for a good long time. Still, we needed a victory after Wednesday's shock defeat at Porto, and we got one. So while questions remain, we picked up three points on United and kept pace with Chelsea. And that is no bad thing.

Next up we revisit our FA Cup loss at Stoke City looking for a bit of revenge, and this time we're bringing our first team (what's left of it). Let's hope we've got enough to do the job this time, but I'll save my thoughts on that for another time. Until then, stay classy, and Keep the Faith.

Weekend Preview: Porto Postmortem, The Mess Between The Sticks

Firstly, apologies for the long layoff between posts. I've been tremendously busy of late and just haven't had the time or energy to put together anything worth posting. I try to make these as frequent as possible, but the real world has a habit of interrupting my Arsenal addiction.

Since last I wrote, we recovered from a double swoon against United and then Chelsea by knocking off Liverpool with a scrappy, if unspectacular performance, the points secured by a second-half Diaby header. Stephen Gerrard got the English press all in a bustle by bleating about a penalty that wasn't given at the death. Yes, the ball on the free kick struck Cesc's arm. He was well outside the box, however, so the most that could have been given was another free kick. And considering that Stevie G won that free kick with a dive (his second of the match) to begin with, his protestations ring more than a little hollow. He comes off a bit like the old woman with a ham under one arm, crying because she's got no bread. I think he's just upset because he hadn't nicked a wallet or punched a deejay for a whole day.

So with that ground-out performance under our belts, we had the weekend off, since we'd already been bounced out of the FA Cup by Stoke. Due to Manuel Almunia's finger injury, the same keeper from the Stoke contest, Lukasz Fabianski, would be in goal for the away leg this past Wednesday of our Champions League tie with FC Porto. With the vast majority of Arsenal fans dreading each appearance in goal by the hapless Almunia, Arsene had talked up the young Pole in the days leading up to the match, comparing him to a young David Seaman and stating that all the young man was missing was experience. Lukasz certainly gained experience in this match, but it's certain to be one that he, and all of us, would much rather forget.

Porto had the better of the opening minutes, pressing our defenders and creating chances early. They did not have to wait long to see the deadlock broken, and in a most unusual way. Ten minutes in, Varela put a cross in from the left side of our box, the ball headed for no one in particular it seems but close to goal. Fabianski had what I can only describe as some sort of nervous fit, flapping about and managing to take what should have been a relatively easy stop and knock the ball into his own net. It was a freakish, costly, and completely stunning misplay, and Porto had an early lead.

It has to be said that Arsenal did respond well, keeping possession and pressing their advantage. Just a few minutes later, having won a corner, a bit of header pinball saw Vermaelen head to the back post to Rosicky, whose header into the box was in turn headed in by Sol Campbell for the equalizer. Nearly four years had elapsed since his last Champions League goal against Barca in the 2006 final. We were back level and had a crucial away goal in this competition. Arsenal continued to press forward, with Bendtner and Rosicky denied, it has to be said, by outstanding keeping from Porto's number 1. We were level at the break and, it cannot be stressed enough, had ourselves a massive away goal.

After the restart, we continued to attack Porto and really did have the better of them. One of many mistakes made by referee Martin Hannson, and one that could certainly come back to haunt us, was his waving on a rather obvious penalty on Rosicky. It was as clear a penalty as you'll see, and we've yet again been disappointed. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but it certainly seems we're being intentionally ignored when fouled in the box since the Eduardo incident at Celtic. In the Champions League qualifying round. In August. We've have one, count 'em, ONE penalty awarded since then, at home against Stoke in December, which was promptly missed by Cesc. I mean, jumped-up-Jeebus-in-a-sidecar, what happened? One diving incident, cetainly not the worst in the world, by a player who has done pretty much fuck-all since, and we're all branded as divers? And don't think other managers and players haven't noticed. Defenders know they have carte-blanche to hack away at our players in the box, because nothing will be called. It's sickening.

And then, disaster struck again, once again in the form of a Polish goalkeeper and a Swedish Ref. Sol Campbell involuntarily but obviously tapped the ball while shielding it away from an attacker, and as it rolled toward Fabianski, he picked it up. I'll repeat this for effect: He. Picked. Up. A. Back. Pass. This is Goalkeeping 101, it's not as though this is a foreign rule, you just don't do it. Then, to compound things, while Sol covered his head in exasperation, Fabianski handed the ball right back to Hannson before any Arsenal players could get back in position to defend. Hannson immediately put the ball down, seemed to shield Campbell from being able to get himself in, and Porto had an easy tap in off the first pass to lead 2-1.

I couldn't believe what had happened, and then was absolutely furious at the way the whole thing was handled by Hannson. While there's no rule against doing what the referee did (to my knowledge), it seems common practice to allow the other team to defend the kick, seeing as it's directly in front of goal and in this case, easier than a penalty. Wenger was spitting mad about the decision to allow the goal after the match, but there's not much he could do about it. Another howler of an error by Fabianski had cost us dearly, and as it turned out, the match. Porto spent the rest of the match laying back defensively and waiting to counter, but as all of our players seemed completely deflated, they didn't have very hard to work.

The score remained 2-1 at the final whistle. We'd been victimized by goalkeeping mistakes so ridiculous that they're positively comical to everyone but Arsenal, and by some plain awful officiating. Porto midfielder Fernando Belluschi had come out in the press before the match and made it clear that they were going to target Cesc, and they certainly did, by fouling the crap out of him at every possible opportunity. Hannson made no attempt to stop the practice, and Porto made certain that it was never the same player to foul, so as to avoid cards... not that any were forthcoming.

"I believe that he is incompetent or dishonest. I prefer that he is incompetent." - Wenger on Referee Martin Hannson.

I can bitch all I like about Hannson and Fabianski, but while they cost us the match, very few players really stood out in a positive way for us. Campbell had a lovely goal and made some fantastic, goal-saving tackles, but on a few occasions it was poor marking or positioning that necessitated them in the first place. Diaby was solid if unspectacular, drove forward a few times but just couldn't make that last bit happen. And Cesc was on his ass too often to make himself much of an overwhelming factor. If he were to actually start thinking of moving on (and I don't think he will, not now), knowing that none of his teammates responded with equal roughness toward Porto in his defense, I'd be inclined to agree from a purely rational standpoint. In spite of all this, while we made a rather pedestrian Porto side look very good, we're still only down 2-1, and have a home leg against a team that simply aren't very good on the road. We can, and should, win by a convincing enough margin to advance when we host the Portuguese in two weeks.

The captain was rightly upset afterward, referring to both of Porto's scores as "schoolboy goals," and it's hard to argue that. Fabianski did more for Almunia in one match than Almunia has done all season. He may be as talented as the manager keeps pointing out, but I've yet to see it. When I think Fabianski, I tend to think of all the costly errors he's made in the short time he's had in goal for us, and his skittish, nervous demeanor. He's not exactly confidence-inspiring for a defender or a fan, it has to be said, and you have to wonder how long Arsene can ignore the rather obvious ways in which he's become a liability for us. But then Arsene has always been myopic when it comes to his players' failings, so who knows.

I know that other blogs have been less than complimentary about the performances of Vito Mannone, particularly his showing at Upton park against West Ham, but I've never been in agreement. He cost us two points against the Hammers, but we still got the draw, and he most certainly earned us all three points with his magnificent display in a 1-0 win at Craven Cottage. In all, he allowed 6 goals in his 8-match run this season, and we didn't lose once with him between the posts. Where exactly is the major failing that everyone's banging on about? I'd be shocked if Fabianski were in goal for us against Sunderland on Saturday (despite Arsene doing his best to back the lad), but meanwhile we're rushing back the train-wreck that has been Almunia this season instead of giving Don Vito another shot. I just don't understand it.

As a quick point, the FA has been discussing allowing near-bankrupt Pompey to sell players outside of the transfer window in order to rescue themselves. If this were to occur, Arsene had better be the first one in line and willing to spend the most cash on David James. He's not the greatest in the world, but he's an established international number one, experienced, and at 39 years old, he'll hardly "kill" any of our young keepers (Wojciech Szczesny, having a dynamite loan spell at Brentford, is 19, Fabianski is 24). I can't say I'd be surprised if Arsene decided to stick with what he has, but I'd be more than displeased. Apoplectically angry is probably more fitting. Anyway, since none of this is a real possibility just yet it's no big deal, but still an interesting talking point. What do you all think?

We host Sunderland at the Home of Football on Saturday (10am EST kickoff). The Black Cats beat us at the Stadium of Light in November, but have been in a long tailspin after a bright start to the season. They've had nearly as bad luck with injuries as we have and have been playing midfielders at the back for weeks. While we have plenty of injuries and have been less than stellar of late, we most certainly should be able to win the match. To fail in this task with our rather slim hopes of a league title would be devastating.

We should see Alex Song back, always a welcome sight, although Abou Diaby is out with a knee injury. Shocking, I know. It will be quite interesting to see who Arsene selects to put in goal. Perhaps we'll just pull the keeper like a trailing hockey team and hope for the best. It wouldn't be so much worse than having Wednesday's Fabianski in there, would it?

Sigh. In any event, hopefully you'll all be able to catch the match, be it at the Grove, at Nevadas or wherever you're watching from. And wherever that is, just remember to stay classy, mon Arsamis.

Keep the Faith?

It's getting a bit difficult to do, that's for sure.

With a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge yesterday, Arsenal have most likely thrown away any chance at the Premier League title this season. The reasons for the defeat are many, but certainly not unfamiliar:

1. We started 6 midfielders and no strikers. Again.

Arshavin was up front by himself again yesterday, and though he was certainly up for the match (which makes me wonder what he's doing in matches that aren't considered "big") and for all the talent he possesses (loads), he simply is not cut out to play as a lone striker. Yes, I know people had said the same about Robin van Persie, but Robin isn't 5'4" and trying to outleap tree-topping defenders or futilely muscle out the same. We are short a striker (or several), as all of us have known for some time. That Arsene admitted to trying to sign a player, presumably a forward, in January but didn't... I don't know what that says exactly. Obviously he wanted to address a shortcoming in the squad, but what held him back? Surely, after learning in November that van Persie would be out for months, that Bendtner was out long-term and that Eduardo and Vela are both rather frail, surely Arsene could have had his vast scouting network bring up a suitable number of players to negotiate with? Likewise, with all the time he had, why could a deal not be reached? And why do we always have to take care of transfers at the deadline? Could we not spend some of that time negotiating a price and then pull the trigger, rather than playing financial chicken, waiting for the prospective sellers to blink first? This type of business is costing us year-in, year-out.

2. We have no answer for Didier Drogba.

Not as if that's something to be incredibly ashamed of. Drogba is one of the best in the business, a rampaging bull in the box who can victimize any defense given enough time on the ball or enough space in which to work. The man owned our defenders, particularly Gael Clichy. I love Gael, and on his day he's a damn good fullback. But he hasn't been on his day in two years, it seems. Yes, he's just come back from injury, but he wasn't so great before he was hurt either. He's having a very bad go of it out there, and the only reason he's still in the side is because Armand Traore was even worse.

3. Manuel Almunia is about as useful in goal as a quadruple amputee.

How the manager can still trot the man out there each week is beyond me. He's no longer just inconsistent, which is bad enough. He's now consistently poor. His displays instill no confidence in me as a fan, and I can imagine how our defenders must feel playing in front of him. Jens Lehmann permanently lost his place to Almunia two seasons ago after a pair of mistakes early in the 2007-2008 season. Bear in mind, Lehmann was Germany's top keeper and a member of the Invincibles in his first season with Arsenal. This season, Almunia has made so many howlers that I can't even count them all up (including a dreadful kick yesterday and simply covering his face when Drogba's free kick came in), yet he's guaranteed a place in the first team. What is it that's allowing this situation to continue? Can Fabianski, shaky enough himself at times, be worse? Or the hero of Craven Cottage, Vito Mannone? As a friend mentioned this weekend, good keepers aren't necessarily expensive. a couple of million, a pittance to a club like Arsenal, could buy you an experienced, talented goalkeeper and sort out the position for seasons to come. You're going to tell me Arsene couldn't find a single affordable goalkeeper in January to take that place? Even when we were winning matches, I was sure that Manuel would cost us if we stayed with him. We stayed and have been punished.

Three seems a nice round number to end on. Frankly, I'm not feeling too well anyway, and the subject matter isn't improving things for me either. Yes, we dominated possession and had a couple of chances yesterday, but we did little with all of that while Chelsea (Drogba) took full advantage and grabbed the points. These are the types of matches that champions win, when you're not on your best form, but you grind out a win anyway. We were found wanting, much as it pains me to say it. I can't rule out any chance of our title challenge, as mathematics won't allow it, but it's not very likely that we can leapfrog both Chelsea and United now.

Next up is Liverpool, who've been on a good run of form lately and are coming off a win in the Merseyside derby. If they've been paying attention at all, they'll know they can likely sit back and wait to hit us on the counter, as Man United and Chelsea have done, and this is one of their strengths. Can we manage to win this and right the ship somewhat? Wednesday will have the answer. One thing I know is that no matter how much possession you have, if you score fewer than the opposition, you lose.

Finally, I think we can all heed the wisdom of Martin Keown, an Invincible, an Arsenal legend, and the coach of our last solid defensive side.

Stay classy, and if you can try to keep the faith, I'll do the same.

Weekend Roundup: Sad But True - The Better Team Won


It's often a comfort after a loss to point out one or two performances that directly contributed to the result. It allows for order and categorization, which, at least to me, means that hope remains (i.e., fix this, then we'll do better! Now who wants ice cream?!). Unfortunately, this occasion does not allow for such comfort.

Manchester United came into our home and figuratively took a shit on our rug and walked out. They dominated the match from start to finish, and while there are a few performances that were more dreadful than others, the effort put forth by Arsenal on Sunday as a team was staggeringly below par. We simply were not up for it and were outplayed for 90 minutes.

That's not to say that every player did poorly. This being a big match, Andrei Arshavin looked energized and interested throughout, which was a welcome change; but being played out of position as a central striker, again, limited his effectiveness. Alex Song put in his usual abov-average performance in the holding role I thought, and god knows how much worse than 3-1 it would have been if he hadn't been in the side. Cesc worked his socks off to track back and to create, but wasn't allowed much space all day, and all credit to United for that. But apart from these three, no one distinguished himself in a positive way.

Clichy had one of his worst performances in an Arsenal shirt, if not the worst. Nani tore into him ruthlessly and just owned that side. Almunia had another just plain awful game, although I hesitate to call it his worst, or even among his worst, because he's had so many poor performances; but he did spastically bat a ball into his own net for ANOTHER own goal this season. He's just killing our team and to say he looks mentally fragile back there would be kind indeed. The thought of Denilson in our starting XI right now makes me physically ill, he's been that poor. Not only that, he doesn't even look as though he's trying. We have no strikers to speak of, and the transfer window is now shut with, as expected, not a single player joining the squad (barring Sol, but he'd been training with the squad for months anyway). Surely we could well have done with an addition up front, with van Persie out indefinitely, Bendtner only now just recovering, Eduardo poor in form and now re-injured, and Vela and Walcott so out of form that they don't even warrant mention as options. The money was there, and with the revelation that Arsenal Supporters Trust uncovered a clause in the Ashburton Grove stadium refinancing dictating that 70% of transfer income must be reinvested into players, it needed spending as well.

I realize that with the rash of contract extensions leading up to January, the manager had himself mostly covered should he sign no one (as he did); after all, the signing bonuses for multiple players and the signing on fee for Sol added up to a decent amount, I'm sure. But that never covered the manager on the need to sign players; with our squad's fragility when it comes to injury, and seeming complacency in the performances of a number of players, the depth and increased competition for places desperately required signings. Arsene has ignored this to the detriment of the squad and our chances at winning anything this season.

We do often talk about the importance of doing things the "right way": of not overspending for players so as to keep the club financially stable now and for the future; of "home-growing" players, if you will, in the Arsenal style of football; of thinking long-term about the club's best interest. These are all good things, and Arsenal Football Club and Arsene Wenger should be lauded for sticking with their plan for the future. But there are extremes in either direction, with Chelsea and Man City at the one end of the spectrum, and we on the other. But not to spend anything on new players when the squad so critically and obviously required it just looks like hubris... I've made this very claim about Arsene when it has come to transfers in the past, but this January has solidified it in my mind. Arsene is so dedicated to winning things with "his team" that he has ignored the very thing that may have brought the skill, energy and desire to accomplish that very feat. He has gambled, and as of right now, we look like the losers.

The simple fact is, the squad on display on Sunday was not good enough to beat Manchester United, even a more-beatable side than they've looked in recent seasons. Not only that, but the players available for selection didn't all give 100% effort, and that is inexcusable. It is all well and good to talk about what great financial shape we're in compared with United, but at the end of the day, United are in a title challenge right now, while as of right now, it doesn't appear that Arsenal are.

I'm not going to go in-depth about the match any further than I have already. It was a poor performance, and if we don't step up about three gears higher than we played at against United, then Chelsea are going to bend us over and aim for penetration on Sunday. The question now is less will the team respond, but can they? I desperately hope so.

For all the talk of how we've progressed from the team we were last season, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. United came to the Emirates in the Champions League semifinal last season and convincingly beat us 3-1; yesterday, United came to the Emirates and convincingly beat us 3-1. I'm not some kind of brain scientist or rocket surgeon, but that doesn't sound like progress to me. Last season, we went to Stamford Bridge and walked away 2-1 winners. If we don't get all three points, how far will we have progressed?

We're currently 3rd, 5 points back of leaders Chelsea who, as expected, beat Burnley this weekend, and 4 points back of United. While we're certainly not out of it now (we were 11 points back when Chelsea beat us 3-0 in November), a loss on Sunday will be one more coffin nail in our title dreams. Win and we're still in with a shout, provided we start ripping other teams apart. I'm not ready to admit defeat, no matter how down I feel right now. Let's make everyone nervous and start another nice, long, undefeated run. There's no time like the present, and we can't afford to wait any longer anyway. Come on you Gunners.

Hope you enjoyed the weekend, apart from the result. You stay classy, mon Arsamis.