In last month’s blog I said that by the end of January I hoped to still be top of the league, in the draw for the next round of the cup, recruited a new striker and free of injuries. It’s fair to say we didn’t get all of that but there are still many reasons to be positive about our season so far.
The big FA cup game against Spurs turned out to be a lot easier than many expected. The North London Derby in the last few years have been full of goals, excitement and a roller coaster of emotions but this one was completely different. We controlled the game from start to finish and deservedly were in the next round of the cup where we would face League One’s Coventry.
Unfortunately there was a downside to the victory. When Theo Walcott left the Emirates smiling and mocking the Spurs fan I don’t think many believed that was the last time we would see him this season. It was a real shock and devastating not only for the team but for Theo. He is our most dangerous player and key to making our system fully functional- a massive blow but just imagine how he’s feeling? He will yet again miss the World Cup with England and the title (hopefully) run in with Arsenal. For any footballer that is hard to take and we can only hope he comes back fit and healthy ready to go again in August.
The match at Villa Park ten days later brought the good old English football saying “A game of two halves” back to all Arsenal fans. Having dictated the first period and being two goals up we simply didn’t turn up for the second half. I have previously mentioned how I felt that we have sometimes tried to see the game out too early and we were guilty of this again. Whilst recognising that we don’t have the firepower of a Man City I still think this tactic is inviting too much pressure on the defence who have in all fairness been excellent all season. Thankfully we held on for a 2-1 win but I just hope that this is not going to be something that costs us later on this season.
Last season our home fixture against Fulham was one of my personal lows. Having been outplayed for most of the match we then missed the chance to snatch all three points when Mark Schwarzer saved Arteta’s 94th minute penalty.
The first 45 minutes of this seasons match was very similar. There were no goals but Fulham were the better side.
We started the game very slow and once that happens it can be extremely hard to get out of that mindset. However two second half goals from the much improved, but still not quite at last season’s level, Santi Cazorla gave us a two nil win.
With a new £150 million pound Puma sponsorship deal and transfer speculation rife it was important to concentrate on what was happening on the field. An FA cup tie against Coventry gave us a fantastic opportunity to advance into the next round and score a few more goals, which we had been lacking in recent performances. We didn’t disappoint, comfortably beating the Sky Blues 4-0 with German fan favourite Lukas Podolski scoring twice. A fascinating tie against Liverpool awaits and with Chelsea drawing Man City, a win against the Scousers would significantly increase our chances of a Wembley final.
Of all the league fixtures this month you would have to say that Southampton at St Mary’s was the toughest on paper, yet their sketchy form over the last few weeks gave me confidence in what was my first away trip of the season.
It’s fair to say that we were completely outplayed by Southampton in the first half. With them knowing that we didn’t really have any threat on the counter attack they pressed us high and fully deserved their one nil lead.
As we have so often seen this season we responded in the second half and turned the game on its head with two quick goals. However we let them back into it with some rare poor defending by Bacary Sagna and when Mathieu Flamini foolishly got himself sent off with 15 minutes to go, it was always going to be difficult to get the three points.
Whilst it was obviously frustrating to drop points sometimes you have to give the opposition credit. One of my biggest irritations of last season was that all too often teams were taking points off us without them having to play well but Southampton were very impressive and in the end it could turn out to be a valuable point.
With three days left of the transfer market we were all hoping to see at least one (some of us more) player coming in to the club. Having been strongly linked with Julian Draxler all window Arsene told us early on Friday morning that the forward would be staying at Schalke. Other late loan moves for Salomon Kalou, Miroslav Klose and Mirko Vucinic were rejected. As the day went on it was becoming clearer and clearer that our only arrival was going to be Swedish veteran midfielder Kim Kallstrom on a loan deal. Cue MELTDOWN!
I think Julian Draxler is a player with a lot of quality and having seen him play a few times, I do think whoever buys him in the future will be paying around £35 million for his services. He’s one of the best young players in Germany who would have given us the extra pace and dribbling ability that this team misses. If it was up to me I would have paid the £37.1 million which I believe is the amount Schalke required. On the other hand a few months earlier we signed Mesut Ozil for five million pounds more. A player with greater experience and proven quality. Whilst I wanted us to do the deal it’s not one where I would say I can’t understand what the club was thinking by not completing it. Only time will tell as to whether it was the right decision or not.
The striker situation is a bit different. I was optimistic about bringing someone in but the real negligence of not signing a top number nine in the summer is where our problem lies. A Diego Costa or Radamel Falcao was never coming in this market and a player on a short term deal was realistically the best we could help for. For whatever reason that did not happen and we just have to put all our faith and support in Nicklas Bendtner and Olivier Giroud for the remaining months.
Going into the Crystal Palace game we had been knocked off first position by Man City and added to the disappointment of not bringing anyone in there was a slight negative feeling going around the club. When you consider where many predicted us to be at the start of the season especially after the Aston Villa nightmare then you have to say it does seem rather ridiculous but such is the nature of modern day football.
Thankfully we got the job done on the pitch and it was great to see The OX get some game time and really take it. I felt he could go on to have a big season but the bad injury he got has so far robbed him of that opportunity. He now has a big chance to be a major player for us in the next few weeks.
In Arsene’s press conference yesterday they asked him if it was a three horse race for the title. His reply was: “I wouldn’t go as far as that. Certainly at the end of February you will be able to assess that.”
This time next month there will be ten remaining league fixtures. If we are top of the league or one or two points from the leaders then brace yourselves for one of the most nervy but exciting ends to the season we have had in years. I hope we have learnt from the mistakes we have made in the big games this season and really believe that we can do it. Let’s hope the team do us proud.
Thanks for reading and see you in a month’s time.