Sunday, 11 November 2012

Cottagers cross London to claim a point at the Emirates

Yeah, you can't muzzle The Muzzle ... but occasionally there is a prolonged silence. However, after a lengthy hiatus, the blog is back for the 2012/13 season. Sorry readers (if there are any of you left). I will try and update regularly from now on – starting with a look over the Gunners' recent travails, beginning with the latest episode in the drama that is Arsenal Football Club; Saturday's 3-3 home draw against Fulham.

The season so far has been patchy, to say the least. In fact, if we're purely looking at league points, it's even worse than last season, despite the fact that at this point in 2011/12, Arsenal were generally adjudged to be in crisis, having accrued a mere 16 points from 10 games, with some horrible losses including an 8-2 drubbing by Manchester United. And now? Well, a year later, we've got 16 points from 11 games. Not good – in fact, our worst ever start under Wenger, and indeed, the worst opening to a league campaign since 1982/83.

One of the most frustrating things is that Saturday's performance showed that we still can't hold a lead. For the second time in two games, Arsenal struck quickly to put themselves in a commanding position, before throwing it away and ultimately ending up clinging on for a draw. The match was best defined by an uncharacteristically erratic performance from the man who is usually Arsenal's midfield metronome, Mikel Arteta. Our number 8 conceded a penalty to gift Fulham a 3-2 lead, for which he could have atoned in the dying seconds of the match when he stepped up to take our own penalty, fortuitously won by Andrei Arshavin. Alas his spot kick was palmed away by Mark Schwarzer, and as Arteta brought his hands to his face in visible agony, referee Phil Dowd blew for full time.

Positives to take from the game? Well, Olivier Giroud put in his best performance yet in a red-and-white shirt, scoring two good goals. He also hit the post, and really deserved a hat-trick and the match ball. If only he'd stepped up to take that penalty...

It's fair to say that the Gunners need goals. Not least because they're letting in so many at the other end. A defence that Steve Bould initially seemed to have disciplined into some semblance of order is now looking ominously porous – Arsenal have conceded 14 goals in their last 6 games.

Is Giroud the man to save our season in the same way that van Persie did last year? Unfortunately, I think the answer can only be no, not on his own. Despite marked improvement from the ex-Montpellier man, I just can't see it. Then again, perhaps we need to be a little more patient. After all, Arsenal's recent history isn't short of French players who've come across la Manche and taken some time to make an impact. Even Thierry needed time to settle, remember.  And on Saturday Giroud did cause Fulham lots of problems. His aerial ability in the box is something that Arsenal have lacked in recent seasons, and his work-rate is excellent. Indeed, there are few Premier League strikers who look more aggrieved than Giroud when they miss a chance. He always looks absolutely desperate to score, which from a fan's perspective is a good thing. I like both him and Lukas Podolski a lot.

Having said that, I still hope that Wenger buys a forward in January, if only to alleviate the weight on their shoulders. So far, his simple equation that Podolski + Giroud = van Persie hasn't worked out, and so in my view we need a third attacking player to supplement our offensive ability and provide a quick fix. Rumours are flying at the moment, and Fernando Llorente, Adrián López, Robert Lewandowski and Stevan Jovetic have all been mentioned. The latest name is Napoli's Edinson Cavani  – frankly, any of these would be welcome additions, particularly if, as is also likely, Theo Walcott is on his way out.

Midfielders Adel Taarabt and Yoann Gourcuff are also names that have appeared in the press. I would be much more apprehensive about Arsenal signing either of these – the former is occasionally mercurial but more often a liability, while the latter has genuine talent but whose recent career at Lyon has been generally disappointing. 

However, there are twelve games to play until the January window even opens, so an interim solution is needed. The first step has to be to tighten up at the back. In the absence of Kieran Gibbs, Thomas Vermaelen is our best option at left-back, but he is visibly lacking confidence at the moment. He needs support from Mertesacker and from Koscielny, and indeed the back four need to work much better together as a unit to stop leaking goals. The fact that Sagna is fit again is a big plus and hopefully, some continuity in the defensive line-up will help the situation.

Next up? At home to Tottenham – a stern test. But there's nothing like the fire of a North London derby to temper the spirits of the Arsenal team. Let's just hope we can withstand the heat, and that we don't melt in the face of the old enemy.