Spend Stan Kroenke’s Money

It's time to WIN...BEN...STEIN'S...MONEY!

I don’t know how many of you watched late afternoon Comedy Central in the late 90s / early 2000s, but if, like me, you did, I imagine you also fondly remember Win Ben Stein’s Money. I’m not quite sure what it was about that show, maybe it was the mano-a-mano “Best of Ten Test of Knowledge” showdown, maybe it was a young Jimmy Kimmel as the host, or maybe it was just Mr. Stein’s dulcet tones, but that show was undeniably magic.

Among the things today that hold my attention as much as Win Ben Stein’s Money did in my younger years, is transfer talk. I know, I know: it’s all a bunch of speculative hooey, but it’s damn interesting speculative hooey, and I love it despite its lack of objective merit (much like The Real Housewives series – Lisa Vanderpump & Kandi Burruss are my homegirls!). That being the case, let’s lay down some ground rules and get to it.

Now that it looks like Stan Kroenke is out of the bidding for the Los Angeles Dodgers, what is he going to do with all that cash he was about to splash on a baseball team? I bet I can think of one of two little things coughMarioGoetzecough! Oh excuse me; I don’t know what came over me, coughEdenHazardcough! Oh dear, it’s happened again, I’m quite sorry. Now that I’m over that little coughing fit, let’s move forward.

For the purposes of this exercise we have to assume Arsenal will be in the Champions League in 2012/13, because without the Champions League to attract players to the club, and without the extra revenue, all of this is wishful thinking. So, if our baseline is somewhere around £50m that Arsenal has to spend, assuming Champions League revenues, let’s go ahead and figure out how best to spend it.

Lukas Podolski for Germany

Again, for the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to assume that the Podolski transfer is happening, and that the reported £11m transfer fee is his actual price. I honestly do believe this will get done, and while I can’t be sure on the money, it does sound about right to me, given that he is (I believe) going into the last year of his current deal. So, we’ve spent £11m of Stan Kroenke’s money, that still leaves us with about £39m. It’s a good start, but there’s much work to be done.

Jan Vertonghen plays for Belgium

There have also been quite a few stories circulating recently that Ajax’s Jan Vertonghen, who will almost assuredly leave for the Premier League this summer, would prefer Arsenal over City or Sp*rs (and who could blame him?). I’m on record as being 100% for this move, and what’s more, it would set up my dream conspiracy theory scenario, but more on that later. The real reason to spend Kroenke’s money on Vertonghen is that while our central defense may seem crowded with Vermaelen, Mertesacker, and Koscielny already established, YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH DEPTH. That’s my mantra, folks. What separates clubs who challenge for trophies from clubs who only challenge to make the Champions League? The answer is depth. Injuries in football are a given, and the clubs who have players ready to step in and keep the team rolling are the clubs who win silverware. Also, depth is necessary for realistically competing and going far in multiple competitions, and you have to be in the competitions to win them. So, if you’re bringing in Vertonghen, what is his price? I haven’t heard anything solid on that front yet, but I’m going to assume his price will be about £10m. It could be £9m or it could be £11m, but 10 is a nice round number, so let’s go with that.

Eden Hazard also plays for Belgium

With £11m for Podolski and £10m for Vertonghen, that still leaves £29m of Kroenke’s money to spend, and we wouldn’t want it to go to waste, so who else could Arsenal buy? Here’s where my conspiracy theory comes in… If Vertonghen really does sign for Arsenal, you had better believe Jan’s former Ajax and current Belgium teammate Thomas Vermaelen will have had a lot to do with bringing him to Arsenal. Do you see where I’m going yet? You will. So now Arsenal have two Belgium Internationals who are excited to be together, and want nothing more than to create a Belgian pipeline to The Arsenal. You know who else is a Belgium International? That’s right, Lille’s Eden Hazard. He’s young, he’s creative, he’s from the French League, and he’s a perfect candidate to play either on the wing or as a creative midfielder in Wenger’s system, and with two of his buddies from Belgium already at Arsenal, it would be a natural choice. Plus, Hazard’s former Lille teammate Gervinho is also at Arsenal, so between Vermaelen, Vertonghen, and Gervinho, Arsenal should feel like home for Hazard. Sure, City are going to offer him stupid money, but money isn’t everything, and since Hazard would feel more comfortable joining his fellow Belgians & former Ligue 1 teammate to play for The Professor at Arsenal, he just might pick Arsenal over ridiculous piles of cash (let’s call this move the “Anti-Nasri Maneuver”). Hazard won’t come cheap, so let’s just assume it takes most if not all of the remaining £29m to get him from Lille. It’s a lot, but hey, it’s not my money.

Matias Suarez playing for Anderlecht

Since we’re already dreaming, let’s add in one last piece to the puzzle, and in the process, make Arsenal younger and more dangerous on the wings. Tim from 7am Kickoff (@7amkickoff) wrote a fascinating article yesterday about Chu-Young Park’s value going up since his mandatory military service has been deferred until 2022, and how Arsenal could send him to Anderlecht in a swap for Mathias Suarez. If this is even a possibility, I say go for it. Park was only purchased as a backup to van Persie, and with the addition of Podolski, he becomes (if it’s possible) even more obsolete than he is currently. The young Argentinian would fit into Wenger’s system much better than Park does, because of his ability to play the wing or through the middle, so he could see time in the squad where Park has not. Again, YOU CAN’T HAVE TOO MUCH DEPTH. Who knows if it’s a realistic move, but if it is, it would be a major coup to get a young talent like Mathias Suarez out of our £4.5m investment in Park last Summer.

Lastly, I think it’s safe to assume that there will be some exits over the summer as well. I’ve got the likes of Bendtner, Arshavin, Denilson, Almunia, Carlos Vela, Squillaci, and Chamakh all tabbed as possible sales. I know Wenger won’t be able to unload all of these guys, but even if he only sells 4 or 5 of the 7 I listed, and even if he sells them at bargain basement prices (as that’s all they’re worth at this point), surely those sales will make the club another £10m or so, which Arsene can put together with whatever is left after the Hazard deal (if there is anything left) and go buy some 18 year-old kid we’ve never heard of, like he does every summer, and everyone’s happy. Arsene gets his youth investment, the fans get the Summer spending spree that they’ve always dreamed of, Stan and the Board get the fans off their backs for never spending, and Arsenal is picked pre-season as a serious contender for silverware. Win-win-win.

I know this won’t all happen, but I do think it is at least fiscally possible. I know Arsenal never spends this way, but just imagine if they did. I don’t expect the purse strings to finally loosen up this Summer, but let this article serve as an argument for what could happen if they did. Seriously, just look at the team Arsenal could put on the pitch in 2012/13 just by playing Spend Stan Kroenke’s Money:

GK: Szczesny, Fabianski

DEF: Sagna, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vertonghen, Gibbs, Santos, Djourou, Miquel

MIDS: Wilshere, Song, Hazard, Rosicky, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby, Ramsey, Frimpong, Coquelin

WINGS: Walcott, Gervinho, Hazard, Podolski, M. Suarez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo

ST: van Persie, Podolski

That team is deep and scary at every position, and a legitimate title contender. In theory, it could happen. It won’t, but it could.

Continue to Pray For Muamba, that man is a fighter and an inspiration.

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How far have Arsenal’s standards actually fallen?

2/15/2012

A friend of mine, who is a Barcelona fan (there are worse things he could be, I guess), recently brought to my attention this article Ben Blackmore wrote for ESPN.com about the declining standards at Arsenal. What I wrote in the email response to my friend ended up almost reading like a blog post, so I’ve made it into one.

For reference, here’s a link to the Blackmore article, titled “Arsenal standards reach dangerous low”: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/feature/_/id/1022668/blackmore:-arsenal-dropping-standards-to-dangerously-low-levels-?cc=5901

Also, for reference, his general point is that the quality of players Arsenal have now has dropped drastically from the last time they won trophies, and that the only players currently on the squad that have the quality to wear the shirt are van Persie, Wilshere, and Vermaelen. That’s the extreme CliffsNotes version at least, read the whole article for more; it’s a little off, but the thrust of it is on target.

Like a lot of people who probably have only watched a handful of Arsenal matches this year, Blackmore has some misconceptions based on things he’s heard but not observed himself (Full disclosure: that’s an assumption I’ve made. I have no idea how many Arsenal matches Blackmore has actually watched this season). I think the overall point is well taken, that the level of quality on this year’s squad is significantly lower than it was last year, and depressingly lower than it was back in the early-to-mid 2000s. That being said, he’s got some things wrong.

Blackmore points out Djourou and Jenkinson as not being good enough to be on the pitch. While I agree with this, they are easy targets. Djourou is his better point, because Jenkinson wouldn’t have sniffed the pitch other than in Carling Cup matches, were it not for injury. So yes, they shouldn’t be out there playing first team football for Arsenal, but if you think about the defense last year as compared to now, it’s not so dire. I wrote a blog about this previously, but just as a short recap: Djourou was actually considered one of our better defenders until he got hurt in that game at Old Trafford last season.

I totally disagree with Blackmore on Mertesacker and Koscielny, and actually (a bit) on Vermaelen too. I think all three of them are leaps-and-bounds ahead of our central defenders last year (which included a very lost-looking Koscielny in his first year in the Prem, and featured the likes of Squillaci and almost no time from Vermaelen). As they are playing now, however, I’ll take all three of them (TV5, Kos, & Per) over, let’s say, Gary Cahill and a whole host of others out there playing central defense in the Prem. Actually, I think Vermaelen (though I love him) has been the worst of the three as of late, and Koscielny has been the best. Sure they get beat sometimes, but what defender never gets beat? In sum, I don’t think central defense is the problem with this Arsenal team.

The other real problem is depth, as we’ve seen. A couple of guys go down, and we’re screwed. You only need to look at the full back situation to understand how that works. See earlier point re: how Jenkinson has been pressed into action too soon. In the article, Blackmore mentions Clichy in the same breath as Cesc & Nasri in speaking of the quality that left in the summer… So yeah, he’s totally overrated Clichy as a player, but whatever. Gibbs and Santos aren’t great (Gibbs looked especially lost against Milan), but they’re not that much of a step down from Clichy, if any as compared to his declining form last season. Blackmore also rips Sagna, who I will defend. Bac is great, but he’s just got back from injury, so playing on that abomination of a pitch at San Siro didn’t suit him. That he didn’t look great yesterday was no shock, but that performance shouldn’t be taken to be representative of his quality.

As for the rest of the squad, I’ll defend Alex Song by saying this: I bet you can’t name five clubs in the whole of Europe that wouldn’t take him, and start him, as a holding midfielder. Challenge issued, take it if you wish. That is all.

As for the rest, Arteta and Ramsey are no Cesc & Nasri. They can’t even lick their boots, and on a team like Arsenal they should probably be complimentary players. Arteta especially has done well to stabilize the club since coming on, but he and Ramsey should be fill-ins and substitutes for an Arsenal squad. So yes, Blackmore has that part right.

He makes a weird move in talking about the wing play, and focuses on Walcott & Arshavin. The little Russian hardly plays for Arsenal right now, so I’m not sure why he’s even mentioned in the article. Blackmore should be talking about Walcott, Gervinho, and Oxlade-Chamberlain if he really wants to get it right. That being said, let’s talk about them: The Ox is young, and I think every other team in the Prem wishes they had him, so there’s that. As for the other two, they’re too inconsistent, and frustratingly so. Gervinho, despite not being able to finish since he got here, is probably better overall, but they could certainly both be upgraded. They’re not awful though, in my view the problem is greater in the midfield.

In sum, Wenger has to buy distributing midfielders with creativity, wingers who don’t disappear, and a decent backup for van Persie (everyone agrees that Chamakh has lost whatever magic he had when he first arrived, and I assume there’s a reason Wenger won’t play Park, but no one can tell what since he never even sniffs the pitch). None of that is at all groundbreaking, but at least it provided a vehicle to assess the team heading into the final stretch of the season. It will be imperative for Arsene to hold on to what he’s got (and add more quality to it in the off season. Arsenal cannot afford to lose more talent, as it’s already behind on replacing what they lost last summer, but we all knew that already. Doesn’t make it any less important though.

Arsenal Faces Make or Break Month

2/11/2012 - Thierry Henry celebrates his later winner against Sunderland (Michael Regan / Getty Images)

It’s a horrible cliché to say that that any one stretch of matches is the most important of the season, especially when there are so many games remaining, but the way the schedule is laid out, I honestly believe that the next month will decide Arsenal’s fate this season.

Let’s take a look at what lies ahead. In the next 30 days, Arsenal have the following fixtures:

February 15 – Away to AC Milan (Champions League Round of 16)

February 18 – Away to Sunderland (FA Cup 5th round)

February 26 – Spurs at Home

March 3 – Away to Liverpool

March 6 – AC Milan at Home (Champions League Round of 16)

March 12 – Newcastle at Home

When the next 30 days have concluded, Arsenal could be still alive in two trophy competitions, and putting a little distance between themselves and the other contenders for 4th place in the Premier League, OR they could be out of everything except the Premier League, and could be looking up at as many as 6 clubs in the table, or, of course, they could be (as is more likely) somewhere in between. Every one of Arsenal’s next 6 matches is of great importance, as even their Premier League schedule includes two of Arsenal’s three main rivals for the 4th spot, oh and some other team from North London too.

Henry will soon be gone, back to New York, but Gervinho will be back (and hopefully without any mental or physical hangover from the ACN), as will Chamakh (of course, whether or not the return of the latter matters at all is a completely separate issue). Even though Mertesacker just picked up an injury at the weekend, it’s good to see Sagna back in the squad, and once Gibbs returns Arsenal will be able to field a squad that includes two center backs and two actual full backs for the first time in over a month. Though the return of Wilshere before season’s end may still be a pipe dream, the squad is nonetheless getting healthier overall, with Jenkinson and Diaby scheduled to return soon. Injuries seem to always be a story for Arsenal, but if Arsenal are to keep their run of Champions League appearances in tact, they have to be able to put injuries aside and get results with the players on the pitch.

It’s no excuses time for this Arsenal club. I don’t expect them to win all of their next 6 matches, but I do not think it unrealistic to expect them to move on in one of either the FA Cup or the Champions League, and to also keep hold of their current 4th position in the table. Let’s be honest, Sp*rs have a hell of a team this season, and are in great form, but Arsenal have them at The Emirates, and it’s not too much to ask for them to scrape a draw. In my view, the most important games will be away to Liverpool and Newcastle at home. Both are very winnable games, and honestly if Arsenal expect to finish the season in the top 4, they have to get 6 or 7 points out of their next three Premier League fixtures. All that’s left now is for Arsenal to go out and get the results they need. They face stiff competition, but if Arsenal want to continue to compete on a level with other top European clubs, and want to hang on to their best players, they have to go out there and win games over crucial stretches like the next month. No excuses.

A defense of Wenger’s defensive signings, that ends up being an indictment of defensive coaching

January 29, 2012

A very common cry of Arsenal observers is that the defense is poor. It has been said a thousand times a day for good reason: it’s true. That being said, the usual call is for Wenger to buy more defenders, and that’s where I believe the majority of observers get it wrong. You see, to the less-than-astute, or it may be more accurate to say lazy, observer it’s a simple solution to a, as they see it, simple problem. As they see it: Arsenal’s defending is poor, so that must mean that their back line players are shit, so get rid of them and get someone new in there. This is where the logic falls apart.

If you, like I, have watched nearly all of Arsenal’s matches over the past couple of seasons, you should notice that while defensive problems have persisted, they have not manifested themselves in the same way this year as they did last. This should be your first clue that the problem with the 2011-12 squad’s defending may not be the same as those of the 2010-11 squad’s.

Let’s take a brief moment to remember the horror show that was Arsenal’s defending in 2010-11. Forget not that the 2010-11 version of Koscielny was not the same as what we’ve seen this season. I like to think of this year’s Laurant as Koscielny 2.0, just don’t let your pleasure with 2.0 erase your memories of all the flaws in Kos 1.0. He took unnecessary cards, and he was often woefully out of position. His early struggles led to a crisis of self-confidence that manifested itself in largely substandard play. We all love Kos now, but in 2010-11, he all held our collective breath every time he was put under pressure. Worse than that, let us not forget how much of Squillaci we had to endure in 2010-11. Remember how upset you were when Djourou went down with an injury against United because he had been arguably our best center half last year? Lean times my friend; how quickly we forget. All that is to say one simple thing: in 2010-11, maybe the problem was largely that Arsenal’s central defenders were poor. I argue that is no longer the case.

Three wonderful things happened to the Arsenal central defense over the summer of 2011: (1) Vermaelen got healthy, (2) Arsene went out and bought Per Mertesacker, and (3) Koscielny either found religion, sold his soul, or simply remembered himself, and turned into a heck of a player in the Premier League. I will argue that those three things have made moot any argument that the problem with Arsenal’s defense is the center backs.

That’s all well and good, but Arsenal still continues to struggle defensively in 2011-12, so if it’s not the players, then what is it? If you’ve stuck with me to this point, good on you, and for your perseverance, I’ll get to my ultimate point. The problem with Arsenal’s defense this season is how poor they are as a unit at chasing the ball. When Arsenal aren’t on the ball, they’re terrible. That means they are particularly susceptible to two types of teams: (1) teams that hold the ball better than they do (and believe me, this version of the Arsenal doesn’t hold the ball as well as they have in years past), and (2) teams that press them aggressively and are good at winning the ball back. If allowed space and the lion’s share of the possession, Arsenal look comfortable and create chances. If they’re pressed, however, they look sloppy with the ball and pitiful at trying to get possession back.

I don’t have a solution to this problem, but I do think it is worth making a point of. Whether it’s tactics or a lack of motivation, there is no excuse for Arsenal to be this poor at chasing the ball. To me, whatever the reason is for Arsenal’s poor defending this season, the problem starts with coaching, whether the players are not told to press aggressively or whether they are simply not being motivated enough to work hard to get the ball back after they give it up. If Arsenal have any delusions of finishing in 4th position this year, they need to address this problem more than any other.

For those of you interested in reading further on the subject, here’s an article from Alan Hansen discussing Sunday’s FA Cup match at Villa Park that touches a bit on the same issues: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/arsenal/9048265/Arsenal-manager-Arsene-Wenger-must-fix-defensive-issues-to-keep-job-following-FA-Cup-defeat-of-Aston-Villa.html

Jump To Conclusions: Arsenal’s New Signings

The Pet Rock was a great idea, the guy made a million dollars!

Arsene Wenger too had an idea once. That idea was to not overpay for players, and never buy anyone older than their mid-twenties. They called it: “The Arsenal Way.” As of late, that idea seems to have been jettisoned in favor of a “holy shit we have to buy now because I buggered the transfer period and now we might be screwed” strategy. Were Arsene’s signings really great ideas, like the Pet Rock; were they the worst ideas I’ve ever heard in my life; or were they somewhere in between? Arsenal have only played four matches since the transfer window closed, but that’s plenty of time for us to get out our Jump To Conclusions Mat and start jumping.

Mikel Arteta

Looking at Arteta as a replacement for Cesc or Nasri is unfair, because he’s not the same player as either of them was for Arsenal. To evaluate him against the recently-departed would be unfair. That being said, Arteta has assumed the playmaking midfielder role, and will be relied-upon to provide creativity in the middle and service in the attacking third. As expected, Arteta has been solid and a stabilizing force for the squad, and showed in the first half against Blackburn that he can finish as well. That being said, especially when paired with Aaron Ramsey in the middle, it is apparent that he lacks a certain, if you’ll excuse the late 90s WB reference, Joshua Jackson quality in the middle. Now I’m not saying Arteta isn’t fit enough, as I hear the ladies are hardly complaining about our new Spanish midfielder; rather, the Arteta-Ramsey pairing just isn’t pacey enough for my taste, and that limits Arsenal’s explosiveness, especially on the counter-attack. That being said, he was a solid signing, and looks to do well with the club.

Per Mertesacker

Speaking of pace, that’s certainly one of the complaints thus far about Arsenal’s new German man in the middle. Yes he’s big, but he’s also slow, meaning he won’t match up so well against the likes of Chicharito or other quick strikers in the Prem. More than that though, after the Blackburn game, I’m worried about his strength. Chris Samba gives up two inches to Mertesacker, but was dominant in the air because of his strength. If Mertesacker is to be successful in the Premier League, he’s got access his inner Olivia Newton-John, and get physical. I’ll withhold judgment until I see him paired with Vermaelen, because TV5 seems to have the ability to elevate the play of his back line partner. I understand that Mertesacker hasn’t been thrown into in an enviable position, but I would like to see him take charge of the back four and make sure they can at least hold a line. I’ll definitely be paying attention to the shape of our back line against Bolton tomorrow.

Yossi Benayoun

The knock on the slight 31 year-old coming in was that he’s always picking up knocks, and he’s already picked up a strain in the game against Shrewsbury that will keep him out of action this weekend. While on the pitch, his work rate has been excellent, he gives max effort all the time, and his goal against Shrewsbury was well-deserved, but he has got to be able to stay on the pitch this season. If he can do that, he can be a valuable role player for this Arsenal squad. As with all the new signings, the jury is still out on the Israeli national, but if he can to prove that he can stay healthy, I could see him bringing valuable energy off the bench as a substitute.

Andre Santos

I guess clichés are clichés for a reason sometimes. Our new Brazilian left back seems very fond of attacking, and serviceable in defense, as the stereotype might suggest. I like his aggressiveness in going toward goal with the ball, and his service to Mertesacker in the box late against Blackburn should have yielded him an assist, but his penchant for attacking can sometimes put him out of position, leaving a central defender covering for him down the left while he retreats back after making a run. He has to be careful when picking his spots going forward, as I don’t exactly trust our 4-man back line right now, so turning them into a 3-man back line is dangerous to say the least. If he can create a few goals, I think we’ll all forgive him if he ends up out of position from time to time. The flip side, of course, is that if he’s not successful in attacking Arsenal supporters will have little patience for his inevitable defensive missteps.

Park Chu-Young

We didn’t get theShrewsburymatch on television here in the States, so I have yet to see him play for Arsenal. The consensus I’ve read on twitter was that he looked promising but rusty. Hopefully he can shake off the rust and be a nice compliment to van Persie, the role Chamakh was supposed to fill until he fell out of form last year. The most intriguing bit from his start against Shrewsbury was Wenger using a 4-4-2 with Park & Chamakh up top. Could we see something like that with Park & RvP in the future? Time will tell.

Gervinho

I do wish he would have really hit Joey Barton firm on the chin. I mean, if you’re going to get a two match ban, at least earn it right? Plus Barton’s face is best described as punchable, don’t you agree? I’ve talked a bit about Gervinho before so I’ll keep it brief: I like his one-on-one ability with the ball, I like his aggressiveness in looking to shoot, but he needs to pick his head up and look for his teammates. Once he gets in attacking mode, he’s going to shoot, or at least try to shoot, even if a teammate (cough… ahem… look at RvP… cough) is standing wide open five yards to his right. Oh, and was his forehead really big or was I looking through a couple of bubbles?

I’ll admit, we don’t know much about Arsenal’s new players yet, but each weekend offers us an opportunity to learn more. Let’s just hope this weekend leaves us feeling uplifted and not downhearted, I think we could all use a change. We love you Arsenal, we do.

Blackburn Rovers 4-3 Arsenal – Match Reflection

September 17, 2011 (Tim Hales / AP)

It’s safe to say that the honeymoon period is over for Arsène Wenger’s new signings, almost before it even began. Sure the Gunners only put one on the board against newly-promoted Swansea last week, but they kept a clean sheet and all 3 points. Perhaps the long North London defensive nightmare was coming to an end! Granted, it wasn’t always pretty against Swansea, and it’s not like our new boy Per Mertesacker got full marks from all who watched, but it was nice to not concede for once!

Whatever optimistic warm and fuzzy feelings that Arsenal supporters may have been harboring since Arsène’s signing day splash have surely dissipated now, after this. Arsenal practically had to cross picket lines to get into Ewood Park on Saturday, as disgruntled Blackburn supporters had staged a march outside the grounds to call for the head of manager Steve Kean. Setting aside the possible merits of calling for a manager’s sacking this early in the season (ridiculous if you ask me), Blackburn were surely a team near crisis, if not in it, as they set bottom of the table after 4 games in the Premier League. In fact, Steve Kean may have been the only manager in the EPL who was under more fire coming into the match than was Wenger. Surely this was a day tailor-made for Arsenal to show it’s quality with nearly the full squad available. Unfortunately, if there is one thing we as Arsenal supporters know from the last year, it is that the most favorable circumstances are often the ones to yield the greatest disappointments.

Now, while the ultimate result was discouraging, that does not mean the the game was devoid of positives. We may have seen the beginning of a fruitful partnership between Gervinho and Sagna on the right side, who linked up well in the first half. Gervinho got his first competitive goal (10′) for the club with a cool finish on the end of a beautiful through-pass by Alex Song. Gervinho again looked dangerous on the ball in the attacking third, bringing a much-needed ability to take on defenders one-on-one. With Cesc & Nasri gone, Arsenal haven’t seen much in the way of breaking down defenders on the ball, so it was nice to see that Gervinho has that ability. While I like Gervinho’s aggressiveness in always going towards the goal, he seems to suffer a bit from tunnel vision when attacking. The instance that comes to mind is of course when he shot instead of making an easy pass to RvP in the box for what would have been a sure goal, but I get the feeling that once he has it in his mind to attack, he does not even look for anyone else.

On the other side, André Santos was eager to push forward and attack in his first appearance for the Gunners. His attacking style differs from Sagna’s, in that Santos seems to favor cutting inside and attacking towards the box, rather than looking to receive the ball out on the wing and cross into the box, as Sagna is oft to do.

Alex Song was a sight for sore eyes in the first half. His physicality was welcome against Blackburn, and his passing set up both first half goals. In addition to assisting on Gervinho’s goal, it was Song’s beautiful ball to Ramsey that started the attack which Arteta finished clinically (34′). Going into half time I had Song as my leader in the clubhouse for man-of-the-match honors, but we all know how that ended so I don’t need to talk about it, right?

Even though we conceded right through the middle of our back line, it was against the run of play in the first half, so I felt good going into the break. Unfortunately, old defensive deficiencies resurfaced in the second half, ultimately leading to a complete collapse and leaving Arsenal on only 4 points after 5 games. Set pieces were a nightmare all day, with Blackburn looking capable of scoring each time they took a free kick in the Arsenal half. Koscielny, who had a nightmare of a day overall, looked especially lost on set pieces, often losing his mark. It was his misjudged header that allowed the pass to (an offside) Yakubu for his second goal, and who can forget the own goal. The back line never looked together, seeming incapable of holding a line, often putting each other in bad positions, and failing to pick up Blackburn players making attacking runs. I don’t want to belabor the point, suffice to say that the back line was not good enough. They were not helped by Sagna having to go off, as Djourou is not a right back and it showed, but the largest problem was still through the middle. Though Mertesacker is a much talked-about 6’6”, it was the 6’4” Samba who was the dominant player in the air. Samba’s strength and power was the difference, and he could have easily netted two headers off set pieces that ended up wide of the mark.

To say Arsenal were unlucky at Blackburn would be true, as a single own goal is uncommon and Yakubu’s second goal was clearly offside, but the truer statement would be that Arsenal weren’t good enough to deserve any better luck than they got. After Koscielny’s own goal (68′) made it 4-2 in favor of the home side, Arsenal looked shell-shocked and played uninspired football for the next fifteen minutes, which they could not afford to do. Chamakh got off the schnide by scoring his first Premier League goal since last November (85′) on a wicked cross from van Persie, and honestly looked the best I have seen him in quite some time, but Paul Robinson was better than was the Gunners’ last flourish and Blackburn hung on to the game and the three points that may have saved their manager’s job for now.

It was a bad result, to put it lightly, but I am not among those who are going to call for Arsène’s head, as it is still early and I think he rightfully enjoys a pretty long rope due to his track record. This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge he has faced as the manager of Arsenal, but I believe he and the team will respond. That being said, this is the Premier League and everyone will be lining up to kick us while we’re down, so the bounce-back needs to be swift or else even the dreams of a 4th place finish will evaporate as quickly as a second half lead. Let’s get well against Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday.

On to the awards:

Man of the Match – Paul Robinson (Yakubu lost points for being offside)

Brian Wilson Best Beard Award – Gaël Givet

Worst Neck Tattoo On A Debut – André Santos

Hard Luck Chuck Award – Wojciech Szczęsny (2 own goals is the definition of hard luck)