Monday, 30 August 2010

The audacity of hope. Blackburn match report.

Blackburn Rovers 1 Arsenal 2

At risk of coming across all Barack Obama, it looks like change has come to Arsenal over the summer. And with it, there is now a hope that this could actually be a good season, not the slog that I predicted a few weeks ago.

It's a hope tempered by the fact that as I type there is a little under 18 hours until the transfer window closes. Of which Arsene will probably spend about half asleep. And yet the goalkeeper which every Gooner has demanded over the summer has yet to arrive. I was a little late to the party and yet I pointed out on the 4th of June that it was necessary for us to sign a goalkeeper.

Most disappointing of all, is that if a goalkeeper arrives tomorrow, it will most likely be Mark Schwarzer. Admittedly I'm more of a fan of Almunia than most. But, overlooking the fact that Almunia has been undermined by the speculation all summer, Schwarzer is barely an improvement on Almunia. Sure, most great goalkeepers come good in their 30s. But a man whose career progression has been to play for Middlesbrough for 11 years is not a world-class goalkeeper. Not even close.

And what the Blackburn game showed is that Manuel Almunia is a perfectly decent keeper. He will make some mistakes but by and large he will play solidly. And in this respect, he is no different from Schwarzer.

The hope there is stems from the excellent performances of Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott. Undoubtedly they need to show some consistency, and do this week in, week out. But it seems the improvement stems from playing subtly different positions. Diaby, playing as more of a holding midfield player, has greater positional discipline. He also releases the ball earlier, playing a simple pass, negating the impact of his prolonged dribbling in circles doing nothing. If nothing else, his strong performance probably shows that an Alex Song injury is not the worry it might have been at the beginning of the season.

Last week I was described as Scrooge by a friend for refusing to praise Theo unequivocally. Now he has put in two good performances I am certainly warming to him a little more. But I took no pleasure in criticising him; it was just the truth. Theo proving his critics wrong absolutely delights me. If he continues to make good crosses and make the right runs, rather than straight into defenders, his pace makes him a frighteningly good talent.

The thing about the Blackburn performance was that it was, as Goodplaya noted pre-match, something of a bellwether game. I think the comparison with the fixture in May is a little disingenuous because frankly, I think Arsenal had given up by then so Blackburn beating us was a little moot.

Far more interesting is that we won up north in the rain against a team who plays long-ball which is what we usually struggle against. Sure, the first goal was a thing of beauty but everybody in the country knows Arsenal can play like that.

I was more impressed by Koscielny/Vermaelen dealing with the long balls, with Song and Diaby dropping back as and when was necessary. If the defence can protect the goalkeeper a great deal more, it becomes far less of an issue.

More of an issue is the injury to RVP. As a friend quipped, isn't this supposed to be the most unpredictable season ever? One hopes he recovers quickly and only misses a couple of games. On the other hand, one expects him to return in December only to disappear again with a ruptured sphincter or some other ridiculous injury.

7 points from 9 is a good haul and now it's just a question of sitting, waiting and wishing. But that said, I'd be surprised to see anything happen. It could be an agonising wait till January for some signings or Arsenal could come good. That's the point with this side, I really can't predict what will happen.

Nonetheless, if you're truly fascinated by the deadline day madness I will probably be making bad jokes over on Twitter.

Keep the faith,

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