Jun 132014

First off, I haven’t posted anything since the FA Cup triumph over Hull, so can I just stop for a minute and say:


Thanks. I feel better. A month on, it still feels awesome, particularly given the scores that doubted Wenger would ever lift a trophy again. Screw you, suckers.

Anyway, yesterday was not only the start of the World Cup, but it wasn’t the best of days to be an Arsenal fan. First the news was confirmed that Cesc Fabregas would be joining Chelsea. It is a difficult one to swallow for many reasons – despite leaving under a cloud there was little doubt among many that Cesc really did care for Arsenal, or at least his determined performances and attitude appeared to show it. There will be those that say the move to Chelsea proves he never did, but I see it somewhat differently – had we exercised our ‘first option’ on him, he’d be an Arsenal player now. We didn’t, and he wanted to move to London (for family reasons as much as anything). That left two choices – Chelsea and Spurs – which is bit like being asked to choose between a sandwich made of gnat’s piss or donkey semen. No wonder his smile looks forced.

Ultimately, Barcelona wanted rid, we passed, so he moved to a club we didn’t want him to move to. Not the best of situations, but that was our choice. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit in all of this is that neither of his two club affections wanted him any more.

The other thing that has interested me has been the reaction. I feel that if the same had happened last season, there would have been outright mutiny. With a trophy drought ever extending, and a perceived inability (or unwillingness) to bring in the top players, Wenger would have been lampooned beyond belief to pass on a player of Cesc’s undoubted skills. But the reaction has actually been far calmer – an acknowledgement that Cesc isn’t what we need, due to a combination of Ozil’s signing and Ramsey’s spectacular emergence, and that as long as business is conducted properly in the areas we do need to strengthen in, then this quiet acceptance will continue.

Personally, I feel this has a massive amount to do with the cup final win. With that monkey off our backs, everything feels less urgent, less dramatic, and less poisonous. When you’re not winning anything, the desperation rises, so any available player of any talent not signed is seen as a disaster – there are countless examples in the past five years of players who certainly were not good enough for Arsenal, yet caused ridiculous angst when they were not snapped up. That has now changed.

Twitter is a notoriously angry place. Yet the reaction yesterday, while filled with annoyance, was measured, muted and calm. Cesc is already part of history, and our needs lay elsewhere. Time to move on.

Elsewhere, part of our more recent history also moved on, with Bacary Sagna confirming his departure in classy manner. I have nothing but praise for a man who clearly decided not to sign a new contract long ago, yet gave everything in every minute of every match, where others would have held back a little, mentally wandering and protecting themselves for their last big contract. Sagna cared, and gave his all. I wish him nothing but the best.

I doubt there will be much Arsenal news in the next month, aside from Mikel Arteta coming back to an empty training ground and being filled with World Cup melancholy. The focus is now on the Brazilian showpiece, and with seven games in the next two days, it is about to get crazy. Enjoy.

May 122014

It feels a little strange to set out on anything resembling a seasonal review when there remains the FA Cup Final looming next weekend, but yesterday’s 2-0 canter against Norwich wrapped up the league campaign for another year, and brought to a close one of the most difficult to assess in recent memory. Ultimately, we finished fourth again, but that is about where the similarities to previous domestic campaigns end. Over the last few years, we’ve been forced to accept dropping out of the title race as early as October or November, and playing catch up for fourth against Spurs (and one year, Villa). Strong finishes ensured that dreadful starts did not result in failure to qualify for the Champions League or a lack of St Totteringham’s Days, but early season form brought the lack of (or lateness of) summer action into question.

This season has been entirely different, more so than it appeared it would after the opening day, where a lack of summer activity contributed to a poisonous atmosphere in a home defeat to Villa. That would turn out to be our only league reverse at the Emirates, and a tremendous first half of the season saw us considered genuine title contenders by most, sitting pretty at the league summit for a long time. But huge reverses in big matches, coupled with some daft slip-ups, saw that dream fade a couple of months from the end, with Everton’s form even briefly threatening our top four berth. Five wins on the spin at the end of the season quelled that concern.

Which is better? Which is worse? Or, as one person put it to me, is reversing the ups and downs of the season just a different kind of stagnation? A difficult one to answer without directly comparing the last two seasons.









A six point gain and three more wins suggests clear improvement, as does the comparison of how close we came to those above and below us. In 2012/13, we finished a massive sixteen points behind champions United, and only one ahead of Spurs in fifth. This time, the margin to City was a deficit of only seven, with the same gap separating us from Everton. It isn’t all rosy though, as the goal columns attest – we scored fewer and conceded more than last season, evidence of both the improved ability to win close games and the tendency to lose big on occasion.

Turning to the cups, we had a repeat performance in the Champions League, where a tough group was successfully navigated before falling to Bayern in the first knockout phase, we fell earlier in the League Cup (sorry, I refuse to call it the Johnson’s Dry Cleaning Cup, or whatever it is named these days), but as we know, have reached the FA Cup Final, where we enter as strong favourites.

Put simply, this season will be judged almost entirely on that match. Win, and it has to be considered a successful season – for so many years people have pontificated which is more important – fourth place or a trophy – and we’d have both. But a defeat will consign this season to the ‘fourth but no trophy‘ description that blends it in with too many others. While Wenger’s future appears not to hang on the result as some expected, the summer mood does, and with a 3% ticket price rise being felt as the season ticket renewals are distributed, a painful defeat could bring that into sharp focus. It it big. Really big.

Fourth v Third

There is one other thing to note about coming fourth – the Champions League qualifier. While we have consistently navigated these when required, it has often had a lasting effect on our season. We know the club has had a decent bank balance for a while now, but just how healthy has often not been clear until that hurdle has been successfully cleared. This has had an effect on many of our transfer dealings (most notably the summer of Cesc/Nasri), and while there is a strong argument that it should not have made as much of a difference as it did, it has been an added complication.

It should not be a concern anymore, at least financially. With additional TV and commercial income guaranteed from elsewhere, the Champions League ‘proper’, while still lucrative, is not the be all and end all it has been. The line about us being financially strong even with a season out of Europe’s premier competition is now very much true, and there is absolutely no reason for the summer’s business to be affected by August’s unknown, something that is even more important in World Cup year, where the window for getting things done is so much shorter.

Speaking of the World Cup, it could actually be the biggest problem we face this summer. Our cup final appearance means that the players get one less week to recuperate before the tournament begins, and with the final on July 13th, that leaves precious little time to rest before pre-season and that crucial qualifier rolls around. There will be many clubs turning to non-internationals or early fallers as the domestic season restarts in August, while their triumphant summer stars get the rest they will desperately need.

Anyone playing the cup final, a few warm up games, and a long tournament in sweltering Brazilian conditions in going to need careful management on their return. That is by no means restricted to us – managers up and down the country will have to earn their stripes.

I’ll be back later in the week with a broken down assessment of the best and worst moments of the season, the players that stood out (a certain Welshman may feature…) and a look back at the league as a whole, and where our six point improvement sits against our rivals. Until then, I’m going to watch Ramsey’s stupendous volley once again. What a player.

Apr 152014

Morning all.

After one of the most tense matches in our recent history, Arsenal are in the FA Cup Final. Sounds good, doesn’t it? However laborious the match was, however close we came to being added to Wigan’s long list of cup scalps, we became the first team in two years to knock them out, and as a result find ourselves up against Hull in our first return to the annual showpiece since Vieira’s spot kick won us the trophy in 2005 (or started our trophy drought, depending on who you listen to).

The match was agony, but the result is to be enjoyed, especially after a traumatic couple of weeks in which our title challenge has exploded, the race for fourth has gone from depressingly familiar to deeply concerning, and everyone at the club has been questioned, not least the man who has led the club to the pinnacle and back.

But, of course, there are those that want to rain on our parade, one of a number of things that grated this weekend, so I thought I’d dive into each point and break them down.

1. You can’t celebrate beating Wigan

Actually, Roy Keane, you can. Football, for all the focus on the long-term, the nine month campaigns, the qualifications for future competitions, is actually about the moments. Last minute winners, cup shocks, wonder goals, it is moments that people remember, for good or bad. Cup finals offer many of these moments, from the joy of Andy Linighan and Alan Sunderland’s late winners, to the horrors of Owen’s late turnaround, from the aforementioned shoot-out steal of 2005, to the West Ham disappointment.

All of the above are memorable, for the drama, for the occasion, for the fact we were there. By the time the cup final rolls around, it has everyone’s attention, and too many times in recent years we’ve been watching two sides we despise and trying to figure out which one we want to lose less. Not this year.

But beyond that, we needed this. It wasn’t about playing a Championship side, it was about capitalising on an opportunity to lift a competition we won habitually in the early part of the century, it was about making the most of beating Liverpool, Everton and Spurs to get here (isn’t it remarkable that people say the cup has opened up for us, when it is us who have knocked out most of the big boys?) by finishing the job. Once we went a goal down, it was about survival – in the match, in the cup, and perhaps in the careers of some. It was huge in so many ways.

We did it, we’re in the final – we can celebrate all we like Roy, just like you did when you beat Millwall in the 2004 final. Did you go into the dressing room and stop the champagne flowing because you’d only beaten a third tier side? Of course you didn’t, you pompous prat.

2. The art of the selfie

Ugh. Before I start, I should mention that I hate the word ‘selfie’. It’s a photo. People have been taking photos of themselves for donkey’s years, why is this suddenly a craze?

Anyway, while I hate the term, I cannot understand for a moment why there was such outrage that Ramsey and Cazorla were taking shots of themselves celebrating after the game. And if you think outrage is too strong a term, you should have seen some of the journalists on Twitter actually suggesting sanctions for such behaviour, and not even in jest.

Let’s put this into perspective. How many times have you heard the same journalists cry out at the devaluing of the FA Cup, at ‘foreign players’ (always their fault) not understanding the importance and history of the competition, all while calling it the ‘greatest cup in the world’? Plenty of times, I would guess.

So why, when two players value it highly enough to be taking mementos of the moment, are they vilified? For many, this was their first victory at Wembley, for some it was their first visit at all. Why shouldn’t they savour the moment? Isn’t that exactly what these misty-eyed writers have been looking for, a sign that they really care? Hypocrisy has no limits.

3. Wenger as a laughing stock

Ok, this is where I’m going to lose some of you. I realise that right now the Arsenal fanbase is divided, it has been so for a long time. And while there is much blurring, with some sick of Wenger but wanting him to bow out with a trophy and a legacy, and others who have supported his retention now angling for a change, that is our analytical right as fans – we can love the man yet get frustrated with him, we can support him and despair at some of his decisions, and we can debate his merits and flaws ad nauseam.

Professional broadcasters (journalists, pundits, analysts) are supposed to take the emotion of being a fan out of the debate, to provide a clearer analysis free of bias and predispositions, but increasingly this doesn’t appear to be the case – they prefer instead to go for the extremes, for the Talksport approach of riling up their readers and listeners and allowing their agendas to cloud how they deduce what is in front of them.

This was painfully the case on Saturday, with ITV managing to lower standards yet further (an impressive feat, considering) with their constant barbs, snide jabs and frankly disrespectful comments about Wenger (and, oddly, Arteta, who they seemed to think was the ghost of Denilson past). I’m all for critical analysis, but to reduce a man who has changed the landscape of English football to a clownish caricature was too much. It was truly lowest common denominator stuff.

4. Managing tired legs

Throughout the early phases of extra time, many on Twitter were wondering why we hadn’t made our third and final substitution, with players fading and cramping. I felt (and made the point) that the last change was being reserved for Ramsey, only recently back from long-term injury and highly unlikely to complete 120 minutes. With seven minutes of the added thirty remaining, that came true as Kallstrom replaced him.

Since the game, plenty have been hugely critical of Wenger for allowing Ramsey to play that long. While I can see the argument, this comes back to who knows more about the fitness levels and fatigue of our players – those inside or outside the club.

We have a terrible injury record dating back years – of this there is no doubt. As yet, however, there are no clear answers as to why – our facilities are top-notch, and it isn’t purely a question of numbers – we have a ridiculous amount of midfielders now, which has allowed more rotation than normal, yet they’ve still dropped like flies and by March we’re down to the bare bones once again. You can be sure that the club is trying to find the answer, but I find it remarkable that so many, with so little real knowledge, lambast their decisions based on nothing more than guesswork.

There is one Arsenal fan I trust when it comes to medical issues – an old friend of mine by the name of Tom, who actually has a wealth of medical training and understands sports injuries (and who runs the excellent Running Physio blog). But even he says that these things aren’t simple, and while it is clear that there is an issue, you can’t draw conclusions without a lot more data.

Most of us are far less informed (myself included), so while it is a subject worthy of plenty of debate, it really shouldn’t descend to abuse of those within the club, especially based on the observation that the players ‘looked tired’ in extra time. Newsflash – players are conditioned for 90 minutes, not 120. All the players looked tired, Wigan’s included.

5. Refereeing standards

For this last one I’m going to branch away from Arsenal for a moment. I get quite a lot of stick for being critical of referees in Arsenal games, and I’ll be the first to admit that my observations are built on bias, so of course there is a good chance that people may disagree with my viewpoints, particularly when their biases lay elsewhere. That is normal – witness any pair of managerial post match interviews after a contentious decision and you’ll see those biases taken to their natural conclusion.

However, one of the consequences of Arsenal’s league collapse of recent weeks is that I went into the Liverpool-City game on Sunday not giving a jot who won (I just hoped someone did, because I don’t want Chelsea sneaking ahead of both). Yet despite this, I ended up resenting the result because of the staggeringly awful officiating on display. We all know that referees are human, and they make mistakes like the rest of us, but Mark Clattenburg played an enormous part in the destiny of the points, denying City two clear-cut penalties and refusing to give Suarez a second yellow even after he’d spotted the Uruguayan’s obvious dive. Put simply – if he got all the calls right, Liverpool would not have won the game, and in such a pivotal encounter, that could play a big part in the destination of the title.

Credit where it is due – Michael Oliver had an excellent game in our cup semi – admittedly he had few decisions to make, but the fact that you probably had to think for a moment to remember who took the game indicates that his performance was of the required standard. But this is becoming the exception rather than the norm.

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t actually think this is the fault of the referees – much like players who are out of their depth, it is not necessarily a criticism of them that there are none better. They are the best they can be and they can’t help that they are elevated above their abilities by a lack of talented colleagues. I’ll make an exception for Mike Dean because he isn’t just incompetent, he is a showman who likes to have the cameras on him – and that is a choice.

We’ve been told for years that the number of officials is dwindling, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that the standards are fading too. But the cruel accuracy of immediate replays show them up again and again, and surely the time has come to give them some help. We’ve had a couple of instances recently where it appears the fourth official is feeding information to the primary one, and while that has been done in an underhand way, I’m all for making it the norm. Get eyes on cameras, get some information to referees. If you don’t want to stop the game, allow referees to retrospectively punish players once the voice in their ear has told them what really happened.

It is frankly ridiculous that within ten seconds of an incident, the only person who doesn’t know what really happened is the one man who needs to, and that he even has a colleague in the stadium who knows better. As for technology, other sports have shown how much drama can be added with the right sprinkling, and I have wondered for a while whether a country like Qatar could place a more positive spin on their World Cup by paying for such an idea to take place when the world’s eye turns on them. That is, if all their money hasn’t already ended up in brown envelopes.

But until the referees get help, they’ll have their every weakness exposed in seconds, which sullies results and hinders any chance of the Respect campaign working. However much fun it is to poke fun at the man in black, I’m sure we’d rather get the right decisions that chant at them. Unless they’re Mike Dean.


On to brighter things, and we face West Ham tonight in what could be one of our trickier remaining games – they’re on good form and have a spoiler of a manager who knows how to get under our skin. If every a match called for an early goal, this is it. Bring it on.

Dec 152013

The script was written by every pundit that was waiting for us to fall. We can’t beat the big sides, our defence won’t stand up to their threat, we don’t have the firepower up front to challenge the toughest of defences and our lack of squad depth means our legs will go. That was the message.

Well, those ‘analysts’ will be smiling today. Our worst display of the season (coming a few days after our previous worst) against a team that you cannot afford to gift wrap goals to led to a pasting that will sting the squad to the core. Yes, we scored three, and yes, we could have scored more were it not for some quite appalling offside decisions (and a denied penalty), but ultimately we went up to Manchester and presented them with a string of freebies that you can’t recover from. Every time we scored and raised hope again, they went up the other end and snuffed us out. They could have scored more.

When you play the top sides, particularly away from home, you cannot afford to play that carelessly, plain and simple. We worked our socks off and kept fighting from two goals down, desperate to get back into the game, and the players should be praised for that after a tough week, physically and mentally. But equally, it was a big occasion and they pressed the self destruct button again.

Having said all of that, and this will come as no surprise to people who have read my views before and know that I’m someone who tends to see the sunny side of things where possible, I do strongly disagree with the simplistic conclusions that are being drawn from the game. Let’s break them down.

City put down a marker and will now start to steamroller the league, smashing us and everyone else out of their way

City have been doing this to teams all season at the Etihad. They hammered United, put six past Spurs, and seven past Norwich. They’ve won all eight league fixtures they’ve played there. To put it another way, this isn’t the first ‘marker’ they’ve put down.

They are likely to end the season as top scorers (their tally of 47 is already 13 more than anyone else’s total), but their problem is at the other end. Even after yesterday, we have a better defensive record than them, and despite having only a knackered striker up front, we scored three and should have had more. That weakness tends to get exposed away from home, and they haven’t found it easy to follow up their ‘markers’ with wins on the road. After putting seven past Norwich, they lost at Chelsea. After hammering United, they drew at Stoke. After trouncing Spurs, they lost at Sunderland.

Like I said in a previous post, winning the big games means little if you follow up those wins by dropping points against the lesser lights. After beating us, United picked up two points from their next four games and disappeared off the radar. Of course it helps to win these big ones, but consistency is more important. So far, City have lacked that.

I had to laugh at one pundit’s assertion that if City replicate their home form away from Manchester, they will win the league. Well, duh. That’s like saying ‘if team X wins all the games they aren’t currently winning, they’ll do well’. These people are paid for that kind of stunning analysis.

Arsenal will now lose to Chelsea and collapse

What I am about to say is not with the benefit of hindsight, because it is something I and many others were saying before yesterday’s game. We were always more likely to get a result from Chelsea than from City. We’re at home, Chelsea are not as good as City (I know Chelsea are ahead in the league, but they won’t be by the end of the season), but more importantly than either of those, we’ll be rested. If the pundits are right about one thing, it is that in certain areas (either end of the pitch), we’re short on numbers, which means we can’t play Everton, Napoli and City in six days without it having a tangible effect. Yesterday, it felt like our defensive aberrations were borne of mental tiredness in particular, and given our excellent prior record at the back, there is reason to believe it was an anomaly.

As for the predicted tailspin, it is worth noting that this Arsenal side is not as prone to wallowing in a bad result as they have previously. We haven’t lost back to back domestic games in nearly two years – you have to go all the way back to January 2012, and defeats to Swansea and Man United for the last time it happened. It is a commonly peddled (and outdated) myth that this team collapses after losing and loses again. Sorry to back my argument up with facts, pundits, but it hasn’t happened in a long time.

As for our domestic defeats this season, we’ve come back hard each time. After losing to Villa, we went on a seven match winning streak. Defeat to Chelsea in the Capital One Cup was followed with a neutering of Suarez and Lewandowski as we beat Liverpool and then Dortmund. Defeat to United was followed with four victories on the spin, all clean sheets. This team is made of sterner stuff than many think.


I’m not going to deny that yesterday was painful. Of course it was. We defended poorly, and saw our lead eroded such that a loss to Chelsea will see us slip off the top spot for Christmas. After everything we’ve achieved already this season, that would hurt. But if Liverpool are being talked up as title candidates because they are ‘up there’, then we have to be taken seriously too.

Bring on Chelsea. We’ll be ready.

Dec 022013

With every passing week, every Arsenal win, every dropped point by a rival strengthening our position at the top of the league, it becomes more curious that the North London title challenge is considered unworthy, temporary and liable to fall apart at any moment. Inconsistency, a poor defence, a friendly fixture list – these arguments have been crushed by impressive results in the most testing period of the season thus far – so instead the focus is placed on the fact we are yet to face our two most likely rivals – Chelsea and Manchester City.

It is a fair point – we haven’t played either team. But how much stock should really be put on the order of the fixture list, when we are only a handful of games from the halfway mark and the point at which everyone has played everyone else? Will the league really be determined by these clashes? It is one of a few myths laid forward by television coverage, which makes sense since they stand to gain the most from the belief that such matches are the ultimate deciders.

Time for a deconstruction.

Myth 1 – The ‘Top 4’ mini league is the deciding factor

In the 2008/09 season, the top four was the (at the time traditional) ‘Big Four’ – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. At the end of the season, their mini-league looked like this:


Well, at least Liverpool have won *a* league in the last 20 years

Liverpool had an exceptional season, and we did pretty well too (except for our defensive record – we lost 4-1 at home to Chelsea and drew 4-4 with Liverpool that year). But who won the league? United, at a canter. Not only that, but they finished a mammoth 18 points ahead of us.

In case you think this is a statistical anomaly, and in that season United lost only against those rivals, think again. They dropped points to Everton, Villa and Spurs (5th, 6th and 8th), and lost to Fulham (7th). West Ham, in ninth, were the top team they did the double over.

So how on earth did they win the league? Simple. Their record against the top eight was appalling, but their record against the bottom twelve was nothing short of extraordinary. After drawing at (eventually relegated) Newcastle on the opening day, they went on to win all 23 of their remaining games against teams who finished 9th-20th. Against the bottom twelve, they picked up an ridiculous 70 points from 72.

I wonder if the pundits were writing off their chances that year, based on their inability to produce the goods in The Big Games™? If they did, they ended up with egg on their faces as United’s tally of 90 points hasn’t been matched since.

Consistency is the key. It doesn’t matter if your rivals beat you, if they drop points in matches you win. United and Arsenal are again the perfect example. Only a couple of weeks ago, United won at Old Trafford to close the gap from eight points to five. Fast forward two games, and both teams have played Cardiff and another team in the top half. Arsenal won both, United drew both and the gap is now an even wider nine points. Their victory is a hollow one, as the advantage gained has been eroded almost instantly. That is the most striking thing about United this season – in previous years they would ruthlessly dispatch the lesser lights, but now those teams don’t fear them, stand up to them, and take points from them.

Their malaise brings me neatly to the second myth…

Myth 2 – It is all about the unbeaten runs

You know what really kills title challenges? Too many draws.

I think most people would agree that United are struggling, but did you know that they are on a seven match league unbeaten run? Given our defeat to them just a few short weeks ago, we know that we cannot boast the same, yet our form is more effective because we are not drawing matches.

This was best highlighted a couple of years ago, during our annual “give Spurs a big lead, wait until they are sure it is Their Season™ and start to gloat, before watching them fold like diarrhetic origami as we surge past” trick. The sides played back to back on a Sunday afternoon, and Sky opened their analysis by looking at the form of the pair. The way they did it still sticks in my craw today. Richard Keys (yes, he was still there), said:

“Arsenal have lost three of their last seven, while Spurs are unbeaten in that time.”

I remember that sentence to this day. The implication was clear – their form was a lot better than ours, a conclusion that would be backed up with one look at the respective results. Right?


Spurs’ unbeaten run consisted of two wins and five draws (11 points), while our three losses were offset by four wins (12 points). We had a better points tally for the exact period Sky were talking about. Aside from the rather obvious slant on reality, it was a clear example of pundits not knowing (or not caring) about what actually matters.

It is all about the wins, wins, wins. Ahead of a pair of tough fixtures, I often hear fans declare that they would settle for a pair of draws. I wouldn’t. I’d much rather we won one and lost one, and took the extra point on offer for doing so. Occasional losses are perfectly acceptable when they merely punctuate a winning streak.

The only team that ever won the Premiership with a high number of draws was the Invincibles. Fun fact – eight of the nine winners since actually won more matches – Arsenal’s tally of 26 wins that season is a couple short of what it usually takes. Of course, that is a statistical anomaly because our draws replaced the losses of others, but you have to wonder if that squad could have set record tallies had they taken a few more risks, winning a few more games at the cost of also losing a few. However, had they done so, they wouldn’t have a remarkable and unprecedented (in the modern era) achievement, so it would be a bit churlish to complain.

I'm an optimist. What of it?

I’m an optimist. What of it?

So what are the keys?

  • Don’t settle for a draw – risk losing to give yourself the best chance of winning. Like him or loathe him, Alex Ferguson knew this better than most, and United would rarely settle for draws under him. A point a game saves you from relegation, a draw every other game makes you Everton. This point is why I think Man City are a bigger threat than Chelsea – City attack with abandon and won’t draw many games as a result.
  • Win your home games. I know I’ve mentioned United a lot in this post, but they feature in the perfect example of this. Three seasons ago, they won only five of their nineteen away games, a pretty pathetic record that Blackpool, who finished 19th that season and went down, matched. But they made up for it with a 18-1-0 record at home and won the league by nine points.
  • Keep concentrated at the back. Saturday was the perfect example of a game that could have ended in a disappointing draw, but Szczesny pulled off a remarkable save at 1-0, preserving our lead, and giving us the platform to finish off the game. Chelsea did the same thing under Mourinho (in his first spell) to the extent that teams lost the belief they could ever score. It is a handy trick to have.

Are Arsenal on course?

I’m not going to sit here and say that we are going to win the league. But I am going to say that we can. We aren’t drawing matches (just the one so far), we’ve won ten games already (two more than anyone else), and since that opening day false start against Villa we have an unblemished home record. We have the joint best defensive record and have just gone through an extremely testing month conceding only a single goal, and that from a set piece.

The puzzle is coming together. If the others continue to slip on every banana skin they come across, it won’t matter what they do when they play us. Those matches, like the opinions of Hansen, Shearer and the other bilge merchants out there, will have become an irrelevance.