Signs Of Life

It is customary, in this bizarre day and age, to base your opinion of any football team on the last 7 or 8 games (or less, in some cases) that they have played. And it’s not just the fans.

Feel free to listen to the “expert” opinions that are poured forth on the BBC’s Monday Night Club on Radio 5 or Match Of The Day – you will hear people who are paid extraordinary amounts of money saying things like “<Team That’s Top Of The League> are playing very well at the moment” and “<Team That’s Near The Bottom> are struggling”. It’s not rocket science.

As a result, these sages of our time have seen fit to place our beloved Arsenal firmly in the category of The Doomed on the basis of our dreadful start to the season.

Despite this we are very slowly but very surely coming back to life, dragged up from the depths of despair by some dogged performances and a certain Mister VP.

A few wins on the spin, split by a poor defeat down the road has seen us move to a loftier position in the table and this, along with other results going our way, means that we are now closer to 2nd top than 2nd bottom. Joy. Rapture. Everything’s alright again. Isn’t it? Well that rather depends.

Those whose opinions are shaped by the ex-players who rely on our income tax for their salary will inevitably come to that conclusion. As I stressed before, the formula is simple. Read the last few results. Easy. We’re brilliant. It is, of course, more complicated than that.

The last two home games – against Sunderland and Stoke City – have shown me enough to assure me that I have absolutely no idea whether we’re any good or not. Yes, we won them both but we could well have lost them both, given a little more bad luck and a little less Dutch and Polish magic and what would Steve Claridge be saying then eh?

It’s such a fine line and we have been treading it for the whole of the season up until now. A goal scored causes a surge of confidence that is a joy to watch – until a silly mistake causes a goal conceded and it all falls apart. Who knows where we will end up by the end? No-one knows and that – right there – is why this season is putting the “go on” back into being a gooner (sorry).

These last few games (bar Sp*rs) have shown us some things that we never knew and now, for your entertainment and information (and because Alan Hansen can’t be bothered to tell you) I will pass my own judgement on them.

Let’s begin right at the very back – the area that contains possibly the most surprising element of all is that of the goalkeeper. This time last year, if someone had told me that the only part of the team that would be settled and make Arsenal fans constantly happy in twelve months time would the man between the sticks, I’d have told them that they were talking about another Arsenal. From the farce of Almunia to the farce of Fabianski via the, errr, farce of bringing back Jens Lehmann we have found stability between the sticks. Where we would be now without Szczesny is not worth thinking about. The man was in the right place at the right time and has already proved his value to the team. Sorted.

The defence that stands in front of him is, for me, as terrifying as a bag of Revels. As someone with an allergy to nuts but who loves Maltesers and Minstrels (bear with me), the humble Revel has the potential to delight and destroy in equal measure. When delving through the Revel bag of the Arsenal team, for every sure-footed, dependable stopper there is a wobbly, nervous idiot waiting to let the ball bounce on the edge of the box and create chances for the opposition, whether they like it or not. This season, Arsenal have taken this theory to new heights with, at times, these two diametrically opposite character traits being displayed by the same player – sometimes even in the same game.

Johann Djourou, Andre Santos and Carl Jenkinson have all done sterling jobs and been found wanting this season and we’re only nine games in! It’s therefore hard to be so sure of their ability as to proclaim them wonderkids or wastes of space. Who knows? Of the three, I think Santos has the best chance as he looks strong and determined – characteristics which have been lacking in recent times.

In my humble opinion, Per Mertesacker looks like a disaster waiting to happen. I was glad when we bought him as I thought he was exactly what we needed. Maybe I should watch more German football because I was clearly wrong. He is as slow as anyone I have seen in an Arsenal shirt and his decision making and ball control skills fall squarely into the sparsely occupied category of Cygan-esque. He may be one of those players who’s struggling to get up to the speed of the English game but he’d better start revving up soon or he is going to get left behind. Vermaelen clearly fits into the dependable mould and is almost fit again and Koscielny has been outstanding for a while now.

Midfield is where the doom and gloom merchants may get their way. Arteta is no replacement for Fabregas, Song is a rich blend of brilliant and awful and Walcott and Arshavin are as anonymous as it’s possible to be when standing on a large patch of grass in front of 60,000 people. However, as with the rest of the team, there are positives. Ramsey looks assured and is growing in confidence and old man Rosicky has been busy and enjoyable to watch this season. At last. But the main reason for optimism here is Gervinho. Yesterday’s Man Of The Match is everything Theo is not at the moment – dynamic, pacey, direct and confident – he is a joy to watch and is yet another superb Wenger purchase.

We all know how good RVP is and there’s no need to jump on the BBC band wagon and gush over him any more. The real problem we’re going to have is keeping him fit and holding the predatory owners of the richer clubs at bay when the time comes. To this end, we need someone else to step in and challenge Robin’s place at the head of the team. Chamakh was given that chance yesterday and he blew it. For some reason, despite not having a run in the team for ages, he seemed unwilling (or unable) to play for his place in the 65 minutes he was given and his withdrawal only served to give credence to the media’s opinion that we are a one man team. Buck up or ship out, Marouane. There are plenty of players at the club who would dearly love to be given an opportunity such as you received yesterday. If you can’t be bothered to take it, leave it for the younger ones to have a go.

Then there is the fact that we still have Wilshere and Sagna on the physio’s table, waiting to come back. Two players who would get into almost any Premier League side.

It’s all very confusing.

So now it’s up to you. Are we great, good, mediocre or terrible? As you can see from the above, I have absolutely no clue what to think. But it’s going to be quite amusing finding out.