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.

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Vermaelen Re-signs! / Arsenal 2-1 Sunderland – Match Reflection

One of the worst things about Arsenal’s slow start to the season for myself and fellow American fans is that Arsenal matches are getting bumped to more obscure television channels or not shown live at all. This was the case this week, as only Fox Soccer Plus (which is not a part of my television plan) carriedSunderland@ Arsenal live. The game was not replayed until Monday night, so I was only just able to catch the match in full. As such, my reflection will be both brief and tardy.

Big news of the morning here has nothing to do with Arsenal 2-1 Sunderland, and that news is that Thomas Vermaelen has signed a new long-term deal with the club. Assuming health, which with Vermaelen is a large assumption; this is an important move for Arsenal. Vermaelen, when healthy, has been a top-notch center half, and Arsenal always look a better team with him in the squad than without him. By all accounts he’s also well-liked in the locker room, and a leader at the club, so locking him up long term sends a strong message to other players & fans perhaps wondering about the future of the club. Let’s hope that Vermaelen can convince van Persie to make a similar move, though I don’t expect that to happen until Arsene makes other moves to solidify the club’s position for the future.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Alright, now on to my quick-and-dirty match reflection. Things started as well as anyone could have possibly hoped for, with captain Robin van Persie scoring a mere 29 seconds into the match, the fastest goal scored in the Premier League this season. The good times kept rolling for The Arsenal, who dominated the first 25 minutes of the match. As we have seen so many times, however, Arsenal failed to get the second goal, despite three or four stellar chances (van Persie’s right-footed chip off the post most readily comes to mind, but there were others). During this stretch,Sunderlandlooked completely off the pace, never even threatening the Arsenal defense, and in every way other than the score line the match looked a rout.

As so often happens, Arsenal were punished for failing to pull 2 or 3 goals in front during their period of total dominance when former Gunner Sebastian Larsson tucked in a beautiful free kick from just outside the box in the 31st minute. The equalizer total shifted momentum, and all of the suddenSunderlandnot only were even on the scoreboard, but also took it to Arsenal, who looked shocked to be even again. It took a miracle save from Szczesny (or a terrible point-blank miss from Lee Cattermole) to keep the game level as it went into halftime.

To Arsenal’s credit, they came out and controlled the game again in the second half. Rosicky played as well as I’ve ever seen him play while filling in for Ramsey in the middle. In fact, it was Rosicky and Song who pressed the game in the midfield, as Arteta never seemed to get into the match. Gibbs, predictably, went off with an injury early in the second half, butSantosappointed himself well in emergency fill-in duty. Again, it’s becoming a given that Arsene’s first substitution will be due to injury, which pretty much sums up the season up to this point. After terrible set pieces taken by Santos, Arteta, & Walcott in succession, it van Persie finally earned himself a free kick in a position he fancied and made the most of it. It took until the 82nd minute, but the captain again put the team on his back and put Arsenal ahead with a glorious free kick. The end was shaky, to say the least, as Sunderland threw everything they had at Arsenal’s makeshift defense, but in the end Arsenal got the three points they deserved, and climbed up to 10th in the table in doing so.

In sum, Arsenal were the better team for the vast majority of the match, but again did not respond well to adversity at home. They did respond better in the second half, but it shouldn’t always take 2 goals from van Persie to get all the points. Arsenal will only be able to win consistently if people like Gervinho & Walcott start scoring consistently. The same could be said for Arshavin, who looked good after he came off the bench, but the moral of the story is that production must come from somewhere other than the captain.

And now for the awards…

Man of the Match – Robin van Persie

Honorable Mention – Tomas Rosicky / Alex Song

Gingers Do Have Souls!! – Jack Colback

Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Arsenal – Match Reflection

Ian Kington / AFP / Getty Images

Reality Bites

Let’s get real. It might sting a little bit, and believe me, I want to do this even less than you, but it has to be done. Arsenal are 7 games in to the 2011/12 Premier League campaign, and sit 15th in the table. It’s time to take a look at who this team really is, and what we can realistically expect from them this season. Oh yeah, and they played some little game this weekend against Sp*rs, we should probably talk about that too. The only way I can stomach this match reflection is to break it down, so here’s the good, the bad, and the oh-so ugly from Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane.

The Good

For the second match in a row, Arsenal have had an unproven youngster emerge as one of the best players on the pitch. Mid-week against Olympiakos, it was Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sunday at White Hart Lane, it was the twenty year-old Frenchman Francis Coquelin. I thought it was telling that Frimpong played in the Champion’s League against Olympiakos, a game in which Wenger rested van Persie & Ramsey, and it was Coquelin who got the nod in the North London Darby. I’ve thought Coquelin has appointed himself well whenever given a chance, so I was glad to see him get the call, and as with The OC, he rose to the occasion. To my eyes, Coquelin was Arsenal’s most dynamic player on the pitch against Spurs, and especially in the first half he seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. He looked confident on the ball, covered back well on defense, and even held his own when pressed into duty as both right back (briefly due to Sagna’s injury, before Jenkinson came on) and center half (when Mertesacker moved to center forward in the waning minutes of the match).

Arsenal were the better team in the midfield, and as a result had the lion’s share of possession throughout. For stretches Arsenal put the Spurs defense under consistent pressure. The best stretch of sustained pressure led to Ramsey’s 51st minute equalizer, which was again created by Alex Song, as he drove deep into the box with the ball, and put a nice cross right on to Ramsey’s boot. Song again appointed himself well playing out of position at center half, and kept Adebayor in check all match long.

The Bad

Despite a good finish giving him the only Arsenal goal of the match, Ramsey never seemed to get in the flow of the game. Walcott also never got involved in the game. I’d have thought he’d play with a little more urgency after the performance that Oxlade-Chamberlain made in the Champion’s League.

The team again did not respond well to adversity, and seemed to wilt after van der Vaart’s opening goal. Speaking of van der Vaart’s goal, did he settle that ball with his chest or his arm? It’s no excuse for the poor defending, but that may have been a bad no-call. More on that goal later in the “ugly” section.

Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. It would be nice if just once Wenger didn’t have to burn one or two of his substitutes due to injury. This time it was Sagna who had to be replaced, giving was to the not-ready-for-prime-time-player Carl Jenkinson. It’s not Jenkinson’s fault, as he should have never been in the game, but he looked completely overmatched against Gareth Bale. Bale’s pace was far too much for Jenkinson to handle, exposing him repeatedly on the defensive right side. The worst news was that Sagna fractured his fibula, and will be out for three months. In years past, Jenkinson would not have even sniffed the pitch, except perhaps in the League Cup, but due to injuries and the overall lack of depth, Jenkinson has and will continue to play for the first team.

After the start to the season he has had, it’s a surprise to see Szczesny’s name in the “bad” column of the match report, but his overall strong performance was marred by the soft goal he gave up to Kyle Walker in the 73rd minute, which ultimately proved to be the decisive score. Walker’s strike was strong, but it was from far outside the box, and was a ball that we have come to expect Szczesny to get to. Let me correct myself, he did get to the ball, but it went straight through his hands, and we are right to expect better from the young Pole.

The Ugly

While the match was pretty ugly overall, it was ultimately again the defense that let Arsenal down. Again set pieces and secondary runs were Arsenal’s undoing, but this time Szczesny contributed an uncharacteristic howler for the winning goal. With a defense playing as poorly as Arsenal’s, it doesn’t matter how well Arsenal holds the ball, or how dominant it looks in the middle, because every counter attack looks as if it will produce a goal. This game was a perfect example that possessing the ball means nothing if you cannot finish consistently, and if your defense is a sieve. I think we all realize this by now, but this Arsenal team can concede a goal at any time, out of nowhere, so no one goal lead will ever be safe. What was so ugly about this weekend’s performance against Spurs was that for the large part of the game, Arsenal looked the better team, but they could not finish, and every time their defense was tested, it looked shaky.

Getting Real

The rational fan has now seen enough of this Arsenal team to realize that this is not a top-4 team in the Premier League. This looks to be a middle of the table team, which will do alright at home, struggle on the road, and be frustrating to watch all season long. We can hope for a cup run, and isn’t unforeseeable that this team could make it to the knockout round of the Champion’s League, but to expect anything more out of this year would be foolish. Wenger will again be faced with dire needs after the season, assuming nothing major gets done during the January transfer window. The team is thin all the way around, and to be able to compete in the Premier League, it takes more depth than Arsenal have. They simply cannot weather the injuries that they have had, and that every club has. You can blame it on bad luck to have lost Vermaelen, Wilshere, and now Sagna for long stretches, but I blame the club for not being prepared to weather the inevitable injuries. Again, the international break seems to come at a good time for the club, perhaps allowing Arsenal to get a little healthier, and attempt to shake off what has been an historically bad start to the season. Let’s all hope that we don’t pick up any more injuries over the international break, and get behind our team again on the 16th againstSunderland, because all we can do is keep marching forward.

Man Of The Match – Younes Kaboul (the difference in the match was that Spurs’ fill-in defenders rose to the occasion, while Arsenal’s did not)

He Deserved Better – Francis Coquelin (he was a bright spot, I can’t wait to see more of him, and likely will as he looks to have passed-up Frimpong on the depth chart)

Best New Dad – Jack Wilshere (Big congrats to Jackie Boy, who welcomed his first child into the world on September 29, 2011. Archie Jack Wilshere, a real gooner from the start. Now let’s all hope that the new daddy’s ankle heals quickly, please.)

Arsenal 2-1 Olympiakos – Match Reflection

Andre Santos celebrates his first Arsenal goal

Pat Rice led the Gunners for the third time in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday at home against Greek Champions Olympiakos. With the North London Darby looming on Sunday, Rice (Wenger) decided to rest captain Robin van Persie, and midfielder Aaron Ramsey so they could be fully fit for the weekend. Given the swath of injuries, including Walcott, Gervinho, Diaby, and a quintet of defenders: Vermaelen, Djourou, Squillaci, Koscielny, & Miquel; to say the squad was thin would have been charitable. Alex Song filled in at center half due to the lack a healthy center half to pair with Mertesacker, and did so admirably. That left Song’s usual holding midfield role open, which was filled by Frimpong; Chamakh got the nod in place of RvP, and Rosicky started in the middle in Ramsey’s stead. Before the match I was excited that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got the start, and boy did he not disappoint. Watch for him in the awards section, I bet he pops up.

Speaking of The OC, he opened the scoring in the 8th minute, making a great diagonal run to the top of the box, where Song dropped in a beauty of a long ball, right to his chest. The OC stuck with it, past a defender, and finished calmly in the box. His goal made Oxlade-Chamberlain the youngest English player to ever score in the Champions League. Oxlade-Chamberlain was very involved early, showing up all over the pitch. My only criticism of his game in the first half was that he seemed to get knocked off the ball too easily. Olympiakos should have equalized on a corner (surprise, surprise!) but Arteta bailed the team out with a miracle block on the goal line. Andre Santos made it 2-0 in the 20th minute, scoring his first goal for the club.Santos streaked down the left side, put in on a ball by Rosicky, and delivered a great ball into the box to the feet of Chamakh. A great defensive effort blocked the pass, but when the ball came back to Santos, he cleaned it up with a right-footed finish. At this time, I’ll admit that I already prefer Santos to Gibbs. Both can put themselves out of position with their forward runs, but Santos delivers better balls into the box, and is stronger on the ball. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of Santos after Gibbs’ inevitable long-term injury, but I hope that he gets the lion’s share of the time even before the as-of-yet-undetermined Gibbs injury.

Chamakh should have made it 3-0 when his well-timed run and good service from Arshavin put him one-on-one with the keeper. Even though Chamakh failed to finish, he had a nice game overall, and is showing signs that he may shake his poor form from the end of last season.

Olympiakos pulled one back only seven minutes after Santos’ goal, on a simple short corner play which undid the defense, and left Fuster completely unmarked, and he made an easy finish with his head. Arsenal’s defense immediately gave away two chances after the first Olympiakos deal, again not responding well to adversity, but was ultimately able to hold it together and go in still up 2-1 at half. Despite the score, Olympiakos looked the better squad from the 27th minute until half. I was unimpressed by Arshavin and Rosicky in the first half. Sometimes I don’t think I would recognize Arshavin if he wasn’t standing flat-footed on the pitch.

The second half yielded no goals, and while Olympiakos hit the bar in the 64th minute, that was their only real chance in the half, and Arsenal looked better defensively in the second 45’. The game was wide open for large portions of the second half, with Arsenal having many chances to go up 2 or 3 goals. Chances that come to mind include the 59th minute, when The OC should have had his second of the night, but didn’t take his shot on his first touch. He also should have been able to attack left back Jose Holebas better, as he was on a yellow from the 34th minute on. Overall, Oxlade-Chamberlain played confidently, and really stood out in this Arsenal squad until he was substituted in the 67th minute for Ramsey. I thought Ramsey did well in his limited time, creating two chances immediately after coming on, though neither led to goals. Arshavin woke up from an hour-long nap after the 60th minute, and looked better in the final 30’. Overall, the defense held in the second half, and despite missed opportunities, the team still came out of the match with an important 3 points. It was a great result given the squad that Pat Rice put out there, and despite still looking weak on the back line in the first half, the team pulled together in the second half and played well together for long stretches.

And now for the awards…

Man Of The Match – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Match Savior – Mikel Arteta (that goal would have changed the match)

Jose Oquendo “Secret Weapon” Award – Alex Song (who looked pretty good at center half)

Hottest WAG – Walcott (at least she can console him if Theo loses his job to The OC)

Jim Henson Best Beard Award – Olof Mellberg

Arsenal 3-0 Bolton Wanderers – Match Reflection

Clive Mason / Getty Images

Due to my own schedule constraints this week I was not able to get out a match reflection for the Bolton game in a timely manner. Due to work constraints (surprise Wednesday 2:00 meeting!) & the general plight of being an American who does not get Fox Soccer Plus, I have also not yet been able to watch Wednesday’s Champions League match against Olympiakos. Both those unfortunate things being e case, I’ll give a quick & dirty & horribly tardy reflection on Saturday’s 3-0 Premier League win over Bolton Wanderers.

Coming into the match I expected as easy of a exult as could reasonably be expected from this year’s Arsenal squad. Bolton came in to The Emirates bottom of the table & had the Prem’s worst road record in 2010/11. That being the case, the first half was terribly frustrating, as Arsenal were sloppy & sluggish throughout the first 45′. Bolton seemed content to clog the middle & slow the game down, and Arsenal looked as vulnerable as ever on set pieces. There was a lot of standing around, & even Alex Song, who has been a consistently high level performer this year when not suspended, looked out of sync. 0-0 at half was fair, and that’s what worried me.

Oh captain, my captain! Nearly straight off the second half whistle Robin van Persie put the club on his back & put us up 1-0. Once Gary Cahill’s fill-in was sent off in the 54′ the 3 points were all there For the taking, and for once, this Arsenal team finished an opponent off. RvP scored his 100th goal with the club, set up well by a nice 1-2 between Ramsey & Walcott followed by Theo’s blistering pace & a great cross into the box. Walcott really gave Bolton fits the whole second half, despite picking up a knee injury late that kept him out against Olympiakos. Song finished Bolton off with a truly amazing strike. Honestly you haven’t seen it you need to find the highlight. Song has been in top form this year & thoughts early, I can see this being his best season yet for the Gunners.

Most of all it was nice to get a comfortable win, and to see a dominant squad, if only for a half & with the benefit of a man advantage for most of at half. I was encouraged to see Arsenal finish off the game by getting 2 & ultimately 3 goals clear, as no 1 goal lead seems safe with the current state of our back line.

Now for the (painfully obvious) awards:

Man Of The Match – Robin van Persie (“Mr. Century”)*

*No other Stan’s Army Awards were given for this match so as to not distract from the captain’s truly great accomplishment. Hats off Robin, and please don’t leave us this summer like Those Two Who Must Not Be Named did this past one.

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)