The Name of the Game is Progress

Greetings and salutations, Arsenaliastas. I hope you're all keeping well as the weather begins to turn back to the bitter cold and desolation of winter. Just think, 7 short months of that and we'll be back to something resembling sunshine and warmth again! But you've not come here to discuss matters meteorological but footballistic, Arsenalistically to be precise.

Since last I wrote, we've seen two results, both ostensibly positive. A 1-0 win over Swansea at the Emirates a week ago wasn't the tonic that a thrashing of the newly promoted side might've been, but certainly no reason to throw one's toys out of the pram. Although a number of Arsenal fans who did just that is astounding. Did any of us honestly, objectively think that this team, still wracked with injuries & suspensions, bedding in 5 new players (two starting the match), and reeling from an 8-2 defeat would come in an decimate Swansea? No, they're not title favorites, but they're in the Premier League for a reason.

The goal we did get was opportunistic on the part of Arshavin, who pounced when the Swansea 'keeper rolled the ball to an unsuspecting defender while well off his line. Andrey pounced on the loose ball and drove it into the net from a tricky angle. Arsenal had threatened several times in the first half, and once or twice in the second, when Swansea, to their credit, pressed us hard and created a few chances. We should have had perhaps three goals, and Szczezzer was called into action to save our bacon a few times. On the whole, 1-0 was a fair result, we got a much needed three points, and it surely wasn't worthy of the scorn poured on it by gooners who seem hell-bent on negativity. It was a move forward, and that surely is no bad thing.

Tuesday saw us in action again away to Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, in what was on paper our most difficult group stage match. I'm still scratching my head how the German champions were placed in Pot 4 for Europe, but that's long over and no need to moan about it. What we faced was a disciplined, attacking team much better than the 1-1 result they ended up with, and a most impressive group of home fans who create an intense atmosphere for their club. The fans who pack the Emirates are shamefully quiet in comparison.

The home side started brightly, making us look fragile at the back as the Koscielny-Mertesacker pairing continued to find its feet. They might've taken a 2-goal advantage in the first 10 minutes were it not for wasteful finishing. Soon enough we began to compose ourselves;the Germans did have more possession and more chances, although the rest of the first half was more even than most have made out. Arsenal did trouble Dortmund a number of times, Gervinho, van Persie both missing out on what looked like good chances. We did take a halftime lead in through qualities that have been sorely missing from Arsenal for quite some time: graft, workrate and opportunism. Van Persie tackled the ball from a defender, and immediately leapt to his feet, sensing a chance. Walcott took the ball and played in RVP with an incisive pass. Van Persie (with his chocolate leg, no less) finished crisply to take the advantage.

That's his 'Dutch Face.'

The second half, however, was all Borussia Dortmund. They rededicated themselves to pressing us high up the pitch to win the ball back, and were successful more often than not. We were on the back foot from start to finish; Arsenal put in an extremely resilient defensive performance however, and there were very few clear chances for the German champions. But in the end, the hosts did equalize near the death. A free kick from about 40 yards out was headed clear of the box, but fell to the foot of Dortmund substitute Ivan Perisic, who struck the ball on the volley about as perfectly as one can, and we watched as it sailed past the helpless Szczesny into the top corner. A good bit of skill and a great deal of luck saw the hosts level, and after a small chance by Lewandowski was denied by Szczesny, the final few minutes saw no winner.

Again, I find it hard to be upset about the result. We walk away with a point from a very tricky away tie in Europe, and despite the lateness of the equalizer and bad feelings that it conjures, if you had offered me a 1-1 result with no further injuries or suspensions before kickoff, I'd have taken it. My guess is that most of you would've done the same.

All credit to the Dortmund fans, who were very impressive. The former Westfalen Stadium is an absolute fortress, and I do envy that team for playing in front of that crowd. I also envy those fans for getting to watch Jurgen Klopp's charges out there each week. This club is clearly talented, but beyond that they are physically fit and extremely well-drilled. If I could poach any manager in the world to replace Wenger when that day comes, Klopp comes to the top of my list. And it doesn't hurt that he might bring Mario Gotze with him... that boy can fucking play.

In terms of Arsenal news, chins are wagging that Arsenal tickets are on general sale for a number of home matches, having gone through the various Member groups unsold. It doesn't take a wizard to have foreseen that the corporate types who have been catered to for so long over the average fan would abandon ship at the first sign of trouble. I can't see this as a bad thing, in the end. As my good friend Rich mentioned on Twitter (@Rich_Euphrates) yesterday, "I'd have rather have a few empties than some whining numpty tbh." Amen to that. Additionally, perhaps this will get the club to stop focusing on the more well-heeled patrons at the Emirates and find a way to fill the seats with people who will sing and cheer. I know that financial difficulties play a part in the tickets being unsold, but I feel that many of these fans aren't exactly dyed-in-the-wool Arsenal. Every once in a while, you need to clear out the dead wood. It's happened within the squad of late, perhaps the stands are getting the old spring cleaning.

The club take on Blackburn tomorrow at BNP Stadium, or Ewood Park. As far as team news, we will finally have Gervinho and Alex Song (who was seriously impressive at Dortmund) back from domestic suspension, and there is a chance that Aaron Ramsey will be fit after missing Tuesday's Euro-action with an ankle injury. Incidentally, I regret writing out Euro-action... it sounds like a phrase used to describe bizarre porn set to crappy techno music. I'd have stricken it from the blog, but I really wanted to get that last bit in there.

But I digress. Blackburn are at home, they've got nothing to lose being bottom of the table, their manager is about to be sacked by the Chicken People, and their fans are all related to one another. These are generally the trap matches that would ensnare Arsenal in recent years, and brutal ones to boot. Yet with the added maturity to this Arsenal side, I'm actually optimistic we'll kick on and win this match, as we ought. Arsene may feel empathy for the embattled Steve Kean, but that doesn't mean we're going to let his side off the hook. And while our football hasn't exactly been flowing of late, we're still an infinitely more talented side than Blackburn, and deeper even with all of our injury problems. I'm not predicting a massive scoreline; we're still taking our first steps with a very new and still molding side. But we've got the fight and the experience necessary to take all three points from a club in greater disarray than our own.

Early kickoff of 7:45am for us here in NYC/East Coast, and 4:45 for those on the left side of the map, and an almost certain all-nighter. I expect some bleary eyes to be opened by breakfast beers and the prospect of an Arsenal win. Til tomorrow, me goons.