Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Prediction time (for the Big Betting Blog)...

I've recently predicted the final league positions for all teams in the 2011/12 Premier League campaign for the Big Betting Blog. You can see my final prediction by visiting their site here. but as a taster, here's my short summary of where I feel the Arsenal are at, which is also part of their article...

At the time of writing (1st August 2011), my prediction of the Arsenal finishing in fourth actually, absurdly, feels a little bit over optimistic.

This is a massive season for Mr Wenger - the goodwill of the fans having been severely eroded in the calamitous last few months of last season. Changes need to be made and, after Arsené’s promise of a ‘very active’ summer, we’ve had a quiet transfer window thus far. Indeed, much of the focus has been on those who may or may not depart the club rather than on exciting new signings.

While the Cesc Fabregas saga continues and Samir Nasri presses for a big money move, we’re also struggling to move on the ‘dead-wood’ and bring in some quality where it’s needed most. However, there’s still two weeks until the start of the season and I’m trying to stay positive.

If, in addition to the lively looking Gervinho and promising Carl Jenkinson, a quality, experienced centre back arrives along with a creative, goalscoring midfielder to replace either Cesc or Nasri (one of which will surely leave), I think we can be happy with our work this summer. Don’t forget, there is still the nucleus of an excellent, young squad at this club and with the right signings (whenever they may arrive) and some tightening up on the training ground (especially around defending set-pieces), we can still make an impact this year.

I’m not convinced we’ll be winning the league but, as the big four becomes a big (spending) six or seven, we will do very well to stay in touch and finish in a Champions League place for a 15th successive season.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Protests. What do 'Where has our Arsenal gone?' really want?

Protesting has become rather fashionable recently. The Middle East has seen an upsurge in pro-democracy protests, students in the UK took to London's streets to protest against the increases in tuition fees and we're now hearing that teachers are planning to strike, protesting against proposed changes to their pensions.

The world of football has also seen a number of protests. Two recent high profile examples are the Manchester United fans who protested against the mountain of Glazer debt leveraged on their club, and the Liverpool fans who successfully drove out the American owners that nearly took the club to bankruptcy.

Now it seems there are a small number of Arsenal fans who want to join the protest bandwagon, and their preferred method appears to be Liverpool's laughable 'march to a game we were going to anyway' model.

So, what do this group (dramatically titled 'Where has our Arsenal Gone?') want to achieve? The initial call to action on their website was incredibly vague:

"We call for all Arsenal fans who agree with our views and who want to see their Arsenal back, to join us on a walk before the match against Aston Villa on Sunday 15 May."

"Want to see their Arsenal back"? I mean, really, what does this mean? You can't protest against the club on such flimsy, sentimental waffle.

Maybe I'm being thick, but this seems to be implying that things used to be brilliant and now they're shit. What is that all about? I mean, really, it's simply not the case is it? I questioned some of the main supporters of the protest via twitter and got responses such as the one below:

"if the board and/or wenger changes then GOOD!"

Change how, exactly?

I understand that we've come up short this year - once again imploding in the final weeks of the season.  Wenger may need to change his focus and the board may need to spend some money. Both have indicated that this is possible.

So if we agree the club are trying to sort out these on field issues as a matter of course, what is this protest about?

Protests are there for when people in power are doing things against the will of the wider populous. So what are the changes that the board and/or Wenger need to enact for Black Scarf to be happy?

Helpfully, they have now issued a press release, which covers six (yes, that's right SIX) main areas:


1) Season tickets

Basically, they don't want the price of season tickets to go up. None of us do. Nothing ground breaking there. People want to spend as little as possible. No need for protest either - price increases for general season tickets are simply a rumour at the moment.

There's also some unworkable ideas about being able to give up your season ticket for a year if needed, creating the possibility of downgrading your ticket (good idea to be fair) and some tripe about implementing a swap-shop if you want to move seats (this sort of exists - write to the club during the renewal period - unless they mean during the season, in which case, I don't see the point).

2) Seating

This is an odd little section where they bang on about issuing season tickets in the Clock End, moving away fans into the upper tier and put forward an unworkable and pointless experiment of unreserved seating.

Again, this isn't ground breaking and it certainly isn't urgent, requiring a protest! Isn't this type of stuff that the AGM is for?

3) Commercial activity

It's getting weirder by the minute isn't it? Since when have people protested at a football club because they don't believe commercial deals are making enough money for a club? As supporters, it's none of their business - let the new owner sort it out. In fact, there is a rumour that this is actually on his to-do list.

Our away kit should always be yellow. Fair enough - I agree, but I don't see this as an issue that requires an urgent protest. Same with their issue around the club releasing two kits every year - if you don't want them, don't buy them. Seems a bit of a contradiction, they've asked the club to make more commercial revenue, but at the same time want to restrict their shirt sale opportunities. Whatever. Next...

4) Ownership and target markets

Honestly, this is getting dull. Four paragraphs going on about how we place too much emphasis on getting corporate supporters through the door and how this will hurt the club long term.

Look, I hate to say it, but we're following a national trend here - top flight football is more expensive to attend. It's a supply and demand thing - the "loyal, long-term support [that] the club has been built on" attended games during a time when football was unfashionable, Arsenal were a mid-table top flight side and it didn't cost hundreds of millions of pounds per season to keep the club alive. That is all the board are doing - they're not deliberately fleecing fans, they are simply doing what is needed for the club to survive and compete.

It's true that things are more expensive at the Arsenal now. This is also the case at every other top flight club. Yes, we do pay the highest ticket prices in the land, but this is partly a product of supporting a self sustaining club that competes at the top of the league - supporting a club that doesn't have to rely on an owner putting in millions of pounds of their own money as interest free loans - supporting a club that doesn't have to worry about it all collapsing when one individual gets bored. If high ticket prices are needed to sustain this, then I'm all for it - even if it means I need to dip a bit deeper into my pockets.

5) The manager

A couple of paragraphs saying they want him to repeat his successful years at the club (don't we all), and that he should sign a couple of world class players (no protest needed - I'm pretty sure he knows now).

6) The chairman

Mental. "We want our Arsenal back" but we want the immediate removal of the one member of the board who properly represents the tradition and history of the club, because he called some fan's opinions "silly".

By allowing him to remain as Chairman, this gives the message that the Board think it’s acceptable to openly criticise and disrespect the club’s supporters.

Unbelievable - we as supporters are allowed to openly criticise anyone we wish, no matter how crazy or selfish our views are, but god forbid anyone criticises us back.


I'm really just not getting this protest at all. The six points above are just too broad and, I have to admit, after having read the press release there is no way I could summarise their issues into a paragraph. It's all very financially focused, and mainly on issues around the cost of supporting the club for the average fan.

As for the football (which, incidentally, is hardly even mentioned in the press release). People are upset because we haven't won a trophy in six years. SIX years?! It's nothing in the grand scheme of things. Barcelona went six years without a trophy from 99-05, and look where they are now. I'm not saying that we're going to be the new Barcelona, but when teams like West Ham are playing some awful shit and all the while their fans are simply getting behind the team, our protest at 'only' achieving top four finishes, with the odd League and Cup double / unbeatable season / cup final chucked in, just stinks of spoilt entitlement.

My main gripe with the protest however, beyond the complete lack of focus, is the appalling timing.

The timing of the protest, along with the lack of focus and the current media interest in Wenger, means that it can be misinterpreted and misrepresented very easily. It only takes one idiot to start one ill advised chant on the march and that's it... headlines of "ARSENE OUT! - ARSENAL FANS FINALLY TURN ON TROPHY-LESS WENGER" will be just around the corner.

They way I see it, at best, this protest will have no effect on the club whatsoever, at worst, it will divide the fans even further and destabilise the club at precisely the time we need to be together. If the press coverage is unkind, it could even lose us our manager. Imagine that.

Victory Through Harmony - seems to have been forgotten recently, eh?

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A couple of things that have got to me...

I've kept quiet over these past few weeks.

I'm generally a positive Arsenal fan. I completely understand and agree with what Wenger is trying to achieve. The negativity that the internet seems to breed is too much - I'd probably do something silly if I read all of it - so I've just avoided it almost completely.

The last few weeks have been hard to take even for me - the Carling Cup final loss, that night in Barcelona, going out in the FA Cup quarter final to Utd and the injuries - it's been terrible.

However, I'm still positive about his season - we've 10 cup finals from now to the end of the season and, unlike others, I don't think we even need to win them all to be champions. Just keep going one game at a time, and who knows what will happen? Utd will drop points between now and mid May, that's for sure.

Reflecting on the past couple of weeks however, there are a couple of things I just can't let go.


Cesc's behaviour in the tunnel before the game at the Nou Camp

Say what you want about his overall performance in this game....

  • Was he fit? Who knows? - he didn't look up with the pace of the game at any point, that's for sure, and I hope he hasn't compromised his participation in the rest of the season by playing. 
  • The backheel that gave away the first goal? Stupid, but look, players make mistakes in big games. Hopefully he'll come back stronger from it. thing is for sure though. His behaviour in the tunnel before the game was a fucking disgrace.

This was a MASSIVE MASSIVE game against one of the best teams of all time in one of the biggest and most intimidating stadiums in the world and we were going into it, leading the tie, with an inexperienced first eleven.

It's at times like this you need your captain to be there for you. He's at the front of your line, big, strong, pumped up and ready to lead you out. Maybe he turns to you all, pumps his fist and tells you this is it? Tells you that you can do it and that TOGETHER we can win ('Victory Through Harmony', anyone?).

But no. What did Cesc do? He fucked off. Fucked off to have a chat and a hug with the opposition.

The tunnel at Highbury was extremely narrow. Narrow enough for Vieira to get in the face of Keane (or was it the other way round?!), but also narrow enough for players who knew each other to shake hands quickly - you're essentially standing next to each other. Even then, players would ignore the opposition in favour of concentrating on their game or on their team mates.

The tunnel at the Nou Camp is enormously wide. Cesc broke from our line up, walked 7 or 8 steps away from them and then got all huggy huggy, kissy kissy with the Barca players.

Say what you want, but we'd given ourselves a brilliant chance of beating Barca in their own backyard and here was Cesc, our captain, sending out all the wrong signals before a ball had even been kicked. He'd psychologically put us on the back foot.

I hope he looks back on the pre-game tunnel footage and feels embarrassed. At that moment, the captain was letting all 10 of his players down in a big way. I hope he learns from it.



Come in number 52, your time is up.

Now, before you quickly scroll to the comment section or head over to my twitter to abuse me, hear this... I've always been supportive of "Super Nicky Bendtner".

However, there was always going to be a time when the talking had to stop and he had to step up to the plate in a big game and have a big moment. A moment which would underscore the confidence he has in himself.

In the final couple of minutes at the Nou Camp, that moment came. And went.

Jack Wilshere, who fought all game and was magnificent, somehow managed to win the ball just inside their half. He took a touch, found himself some space and put in a sumptuous ball right into Bendtner's path. That was Jack's big moment in a big game and he did his job perfectly. If I were Jack, I wouldn't be able to look Bendtner in the eye. He's stolen that moment from him.

Anyway... you're goal-side of the defender. The ball has been played into your stride. The pitch is perfect and the keeper is committed. Score and you've won the tie for your team. What do you do?

If Bendtner has a first time shot and misses the target - he'd probably get some stick. People would ask why he didn't take a touch and comment on how he's not an instinctive finisher.

If he has a touch and misses - he'd take even more stick as, after a good first touch, the goal would have been at his mercy. The keeper would have been committed and a low finish into either corner would have done the job.

But, TO NOT EVEN GET THE BALL UNDER CONTROL? Terrible. Especially for a player who thinks so highly of himself. His brain must be struggling to comprehend it all. "How didn't I score? I'm the best striker in the world."

Sometimes you wonder if managers look at players and make decisions about their futures based upon how they've made them feel during a game? If I was Wenger, I'd be pondering Nick's future after that.


Ah well - feels good that that's all off my chest.

On to West Brom for the first of 10 cup finals. Will Cesc be hungry to make up for Barca? Will he realise that, as a leader, he let us down? Will Bendtner chip in with some much needed goals in tight games?

I bloody hope so in both cases.

Monday, 21 February 2011


Being a goalkeeper myself, I have some pretty strong views about the number one shirt at Arsenal - and what a lot there has been to discuss these past few years. We’ve never really replaced David Seaman with a reliable keeper. Possible solutions have ranged from the mad, to the misfiring to the inept. I’ll leave you to decide who comes under what heading.

In recent months however, I thought things were settling down between the sticks. Lukasz Fabianski was given a starting slot due to yet another ‘confidence-injury’ for Almunia. Installed as the automatic first choice he found some form, showcasing the talent that Arsené Wenger constantly assures us is on display in training week in week out. More recently the youngster Wojciech Szczesny (the man with the name only spelled correctly via copy and paste) came in and made a more than reasonable case to be considered our number one - a natural talent if ever I’ve seen one.

However, the goal conceded at with Leyton Orient on Sunday evening has brought the quality of keepers at Arsenal into the fans’ consciousness once again.

Late on in a game that the Gunners had dominated for 85 minutes, Orient’s ‘super-sub’ Jonathan Tehoue skipped through a static Arsenal back line and fired in a rasping shot from 15 yards to earn the East London side a draw and an unexpected replay.

Now, the paragraph above reads like any dramatic late equaliser. The fresh legs of an attacking substitute getting away from tiring defenders and smashing in the winner. However, when you see the goal you very quickly realise the important role the Arsenal keeper, Manuel Almunia, had in the outcome - the ball flying through his legs.

The shot was hit with venom - hard and true - but it was from a distance of around 15 yards and straight at the unobstructed keeper. A goalkeeper of any pedigree should not be letting the ball pass through his legs from there. Almunia’s view was not blocked, he saw the shot from start to finish and managed somehow not to get anything on it. If I had let that goal in at Hackney Marshes on a Sunday morning I know my team mates would be disappointed with me.

A bad mistake from a keeper that has been poor during the past two seasons.

Almunia’s performances have been erratic and when he plays he looks like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s short of confidence and indecisive. This undoubtedly has an effect on the back four. An in-form keeper can give defenders confidence and enable them to concentrate solely on their game, knowing the man behind them has things under control. A poor, indecisive keeper can have entirely the opposite effect. This is definitely the case with Almuina at Arsenal. Remember last season when Gallas couldn’t even bring himself to look at the Spaniard?!

But look, is it really all that bad? We didn’t go out of the cup, we should win the replay in front of our own fans and I think we have plenty going for us between the sticks.

I listened to 606 on Radio 5live for the first time in years after the Orient game and was astonished to hear Arsenal fans questioning why Wenger didn’t go out and spend big on a keeper either last summer or during the January transfer window. Isn’t it blindingly obvious why not? Have they not been watching the side this season?

We have two brilliant young goalkeepers in the squad.

Whatever has happened in the past, upon being considered the outright number one Fabianski has flourished this season. Before the aforementioned shoulder injury cut his season short, Lukasz was fast becoming a fans favourite and was on course to make a comeback of Eboue proportions (but while being actually quite good - if you see what I mean).

Szczesny has shown over the past month that he has a natural talent like no other we have seen at the club for years. To my mind he is now the number one and it is up to Fabianski to win his place back next season.

Almunia has had his day and he knows it. If it wasn’t for Fabianski’s unfortunate injury and subsequent surgery, he would have been sold in the January window. If he didn’t have any confidence before, when he was our number one, imagine how he feels now.

However, the fact still remains - if Szczesny gets injured, Almunia, now our third choice keeper, is back in. That must have been on Arsené’s mind when deciding to give him game time at the weekend.

I’m generally against rotating keepers. In the past, we’ve done it in the cups to keep the number two happy. We all know that Almunia is done though - he will be leaving in the summer for sure. Christ - even Almunia knows this. I see no merit in playing him in games such as yesterday. We have nothing to gain and everything to lose from his presence in the side.

Ultimately, if Szczesny is our number one, which his undoubtedly is, he should play in all our games from now to the end of the season. He’s not going to suffer from fatigue, indeed he will benefit from playing in as many games as he can during these formative years of his career, and his presence has a calming effect on the whole of the back four, which in turn positively impacts on the rest of the side.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Arsenal vs. Barcelona... Arsenal can’t lose...

...well, obviously they can, and I imagine most people believe they will.

However, in the context of this Arsenal side’s ongoing development, is it really a bad thing that the draw for the UEFA Champions League has, for the second year running, paired them with FC Barcelona?

It’s a mouth watering tie. FC Barcelona vs. the team that some refer to as ‘Barcelona-lite’.

Both teams are capable of wonderful flowing football. However, in the past few years, only one has converted the aesthetics into silverware. This will be an interesting insight into how far away the Gunners are in their mission to emulate ‘the best team in the world’.

Barcelona are seen as the benchmark for anyone who is interested in ‘The Beautiful Game™’. Their high tempo, possession focused, ‘tiki-taka’ football is a delight to watch and, more importantly, it is sweeping aside all those in front of them. Their dominance in La Liga was on full display earlier this season in the quite terrifying 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid. The control they had in that game was simply outstanding. Madrid barely had the ball - they couldn’t get a kick. Barcelona toyed with their closest rivals and, almost at will, pierced their rearguard with five exquisite goals.

I watched that game, mesmerised, excited and absolutely convinced Arsenal would have to play Barcelona this season. It was one of life’s little inevitabilities - a Robin Van Persie injury, a Sebastian Squillaci mistake, a pointless transfer window signing by Harry Redknapp...

But, look - Barcelona have been on a very specific journey to get where they are today.

You don’t just wake up one morning and find the world’s best team at the training ground. Over the past couple of decades, they’ve invested in youth and hammered home the Barca ethos at every level. Xavi Hernandez testified to this in his quite brilliant interview with the Guardian’s Sid Lowe:

“Some youth academies worry about winning, we worry about education. You see a kid who lifts his head up, who plays the pass first time, pum, and you think, 'Yep, he'll do.' Bring him in, coach him…. It's all about rondos [piggy in the middle]. Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day. It's the best exercise there is. You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball.”

In my opinion, Arsenal are on a similar journey - they’re just a little behind. This tie will be a reasonable marker of just how far behind they are.

Towards the beginning of his tenure at the club, Arsené Wenger said that it would take him 10 years to bring through an English player with the required technical qualities to play at the top level. Well here we are.

In a similar fashion to Barcelona, the Gunners have invested in youth, and Wenger has rigidly stuck to his principles of playing a ‘tiki-taka’ style in a league that traditionally rewards a more direct, physical approach. His greatest trick has been to do this while also financing the construction of a brand new stadium and all the time staying competitive in the Premier League.

Recently, much has been made of Arsenal’s five years without a trophy. However, it’s worth noting that Barcelona themselves had six barren years between 1999 and 2005. In 2005, the current crop of players ‘clicked’, a league title followed and they never looked back. My hope is that Arsenal are now on the cusp of a similar moment.

The Arsenal first team is now predominantly made up of maturing players who have grown up together and all completely understand ‘the Arsenal way’. I’m convinced that now, a year down the line, they are in a position to give a more convincing account of themselves than the performances that saw them go out to Barcelona 6-3 on aggregate last season.

In my opinion the key to Barcelona's success is their midfield three.

The combination of ‘Busquets - Xavi - Iniesta’ is absolutely brilliant. The steel and distribution of Busquets, the movement and vision of Xavi along with the quick feet and creativity Iniesta - it makes for a perfectly balanced middle of the park.

Maybe as an Arsenal fan I'm a little biased, but I think you can make reasonable comparisons with the ‘Song - Fabregas - Wilshere’ combination in terms of balance and roles within the side. Barcelona’s three are obviously more experienced and decorated with top honours, but the Arsenal personnel are extremely talented, younger and still learning. This tie represents a magnificent opportunity for the three to show just how good they can be.

In the final third Barcelona have Lionel Messi - without a doubt the best player in the world right now - whereas Arsenal now have the increasingly influential Samir Nasri to provide that little bit of magic.

News that Nasri may be fit for the first leg on Wednesday is heartening. Not just because I’m an Arsenal fan, but also because I feel that ties such as this deserve to have each team playing their strongest 11.

This wasn’t the case last year, when Arsenal were without Robin Van Persie for either leg, lost Gallas within minutes of the start of the first leg, Arshavin shortly after and then Fabregas and Song for the second leg. Hardly ideal, and I still wonder how things might have turned out if we’d had anywhere near our strongest 11 for the trip to Spain.

I feel this Arsenal side are well equipped to finally win something this year. They’re already in one cup final, have Leyton Orient to come in the fifth round of the FA Cup and are arguably now the only realistic challengers to Manchester Utd in the league.

As we get to the business end of the season, the later stages of European competitions can be a real drain due to the intensity of the games and the travelling involved.

In my view, if Arsenal aren’t going to win the Champions League they will actually be better off going out now and putting everything into the domestic competitions.

In a way, the most important work this week was done on Saturday when Arsenal beat Wolves to ensure they’re still in the title race. They can now go into the Barcelona game knowing that:

1) If they win the tie, beating the hot favourites, they should have the belief that they can go all the way in the Champions League having proved themselves against Europe’s best.


2) If they lose the tie, it’s not the end of the world. The team will have continued their education at the top level and can now put their full concentration into the three remaining domestic competitions.

I really believe the end of Arsenal’s barren spell is nearing and, having followed a similar developmental path as the ‘best team in the world’ - the future is looking brighter than ever, regardless of what happens on Wednesday.

Let’s just sit back, and enjoy the battle of the football purists.

*** This post was also published on the Football Pubcast website ***

Monday, 7 February 2011

The three D's. Diaby, Dowd, Djourou.

Now the dust has settled on ‘that’ 4-4, let's make some coherent points...

1) Losing a 4 goal lead is unacceptable at any level regardless of the referee’s performance. Forget the ref... we were in control of the game and, for various reasons, let it go

2) Once the first Newcastle goal went in, it was like watching an elaborate car crash unfold. I think most Arsenal fans will be with me in saying that you could see what was happening and there seemed to be little that would prevent it. We just couldn’t keep the ball. Maybe Chamakh for Van Persie would have helped us with holding the ball up and slowing the game down? Who knows… Wenger obviously thought not and we have to respect that decision.

3) The result is actually not as bad as everyone is making out. To put it into context - at half time, while 0-4 up, not one of us really thought we'd be making points up on Utd. However, events later in the afternoon meant that we did. It's a good thing. It could have been a better thing, but it's still good.

4) We're still in the title race and Utd have a very difficult run in from here.

Right, let's put some meat on those bones.

Understandably, a lot of the focus has fallen on Diaby and Dowd.

Diaby for his part in the defeat.

I've seen a lot of posts on Twitter saying that he should be excused his reaction due to obvious incidents in the past and the fact he doesn't get enough protection from referees.

Two points here…

Firstly, no, he should not be excused his rash and unnecessary reaction to Barton's challenge. My opinion is that the challenge was essentially fair, but at the same time overly strong. Newcastle had been sent out to ‘put it about’ in the second half and see what comes of it. The annoying thing is, with Diaby’s reaction, we’ve made a tactical decision from Pardew bear fruit. Diaby was always going to be sent off for raising his hands and by doing so he let the boys down, put us under a lot of pressure and created the atmosphere that gave Newcastle the belief that something special might be possible. Not good enough.

Secondly, maybe I'm being a bit thick, but I don't understand the whole, "not protected enough by referees" argument. Referees can give fouls and talk to players for bad challenges, give yellows for cynical challenges and send people off for dangerous challenges. What more 'protection' can they afford players? Genuine question. Would be interested to hear people's thoughts. (Twitter is the place for that @viewfromn5).


Terrible performance from the referee. The two disallowed goals should have stood. One for each side so I guess they cancel each other out, however two wrong's certainly don't make a right. Nolan should have been sent off for a similar offence to Diaby's after their first penalty and, most importantly, the second penalty was simply baffling. I still have no clue as to why it was given.

I think the second penalty is an interesting one actually. I'm of the opinion that Dowd was caught up in the moment. The noise of the crowd, the chance of a dramatic comeback, the potential to be involved in a Premier League Classic™. He saw a player go down within a melee of Arsenal players and, I think, reacted all too quickly.

I don’t think we can blame Dowd for the result entirely (most of the blame has to lie with the players), but his performance was poor and I hope will be looked at by the relevant authorities.

The third 'D' - Djourou.

Rather than the sending off, I think Djourou's injury was the main turning point of the match. The reason Newcastle were able to capitalise on the positive atmosphere Diaby’s sending off created.

Put simply, Squillaci is not up to it and his presence in the side creates panic in others.

His bright start at the club is forgotten. I feel the good start may have been a continuation of the late-season form that prompted Wenger to sign him. I fear that it’s only now we’re seeing the real Squillaci and it’s a real concern. He seems more and more likely to be following the path of Silvestre, Cygan et al... and the worrying thing is he drags others down with him. Koscielny is a different man next to Squillaci. Composed and confident with Djourou. Scatty and indecisive next to Squillaci.

Rumours that Djourou might be out for a month or more are worrying in the extreme. It seems Arsene’s centre back gamble may cost us. As long as the right cover is available, I'd probably be in favour of moving Song back in the interim. But who knows what Wenger thinks… we'll just have to wait and see.

Actually thinking about it, this whole business is typical - if there were two players we could not afford to lose for the game against Barcelona, they were Djourou and Nasri. Both out now. It's annoying as I just want us to play the Catalans with a full strength side.

Losing to Barcelona with everyone available is, in my view, somewhat acceptable. However, I still wonder 'what if' after the patched up 11 we had to send to the Camp Nou in the second leg last year...

Anyway - enough of the doom and gloom. The fact still remains that we made up points on Utd this weekend when we didn’t expect to. This can only be a good thing. It could and should have been better, granted, but ultimately it's been a good weekend for us in terms of the table and the title race.

I was positive Utd would lose at some point, and I remain positive that the first defeat will be followed by others.

Utd’s next four league games are against Man City (h), Wigan (a), Chelsea (a) and Liverpool (a). A tough run by anyone's standards. Compare this with our next four league games - Wolves (h), Stoke (h), Sunderland (h) and West Brom (a). All eminently winnable.

How Utd react to their defeat and how we respond to the disappointment of Newcastle over the next three or so weeks has the potential to be season defining.

Come on you reds!