Waiting for Guns to fade as Per usua;

We are now in a period of great confusion about Arsenal, as pundits — and many fans — wonder why it hasn’t yet gone wrong for them.

Waiting for Guns   to fade as Per usua;

They might not have long more to wait, judging by the fixture list, but for now the finest minds, and Robbie Savage, are scratching their heads and strapping a lie detector on the league table.

They said Arsenal couldn’t dig it out; but nowadays they pack a healthy portion of ugly as standard with nearly every win. A familiar angst-ridden freefall was prescribed after the hiding by Man City — instead they have won five on the spin.

Gradually, the tests become more creative. “When they do not have their fast, naturally wide players available… Arsenal lack pace and width,” concluded Savage, this week, finally laying the perfect snooker.

Yet it is not too long since it is Arsene Wenger who would have called the table a liar.

At the end of the 2010-11 season, Swiss ‘football observatory’ CIES anointed Arsenal the Premier League’s best team, if you measured all the possessions and shots and dribbles and tackles and headers that made up all the matches. But the table, with its backward three-points-for-a-win metric, had a different impression. It was Arsenal who couldn’t be trusted.

What has changed? Two and a half years ago, this page considered the great Arsenal brain drain. The team had begun 2011-12 in particularly skittish fashion, shipping eight to United and four to Blackburn in a comically silly display.

Everywhere you looked, there was a lack of smarts; Koscielny lunging, Song stamping, Gervinho dashing up blind alleys begging to be mugged.

Into the madness at Ewood Park dashed Johan Djourou, who had a shocker. At the first corner he faced, he looked, wild-eyed, at Per Mertesacker for guidance and Big Per, who’d been bundled into a trolley during that autumn’s last-ditch supermarket sweep, more or less shrugged his shoulders. “Hey, I just got here, pal.”

Back then, I wondered if Mertesacker, once he’d squeezed his legs under the table, could be the man to get them using their heads, in every sense.

We have the arrivals, since, of Ozil and Bould to consider too. Just as Wenger stretched his economic principles to deal with Madrid, he has finally imposed a little austerity on the pitch.

This is a reined-in Arsenal and Big Per is now the ‘Big Fucking German’, beloved of the fans and doing the things nobody was doing before — heading and organising and remonstrating and thinking.

If Vieira or Henry were the symbols of Wenger’s title-winning teams, the BFG might even be the poster boy for these less exuberant pretenders. The usual carousel of ball players now anchored around a big centre-half and a big centre-forward.

If it does end well for them, the season might be defined by that drab scoreless draw with Chelsea that followed the Etihad undressing. The night Arsene settled and wouldn’t be lured into Mourinho’s trap.

Sure, Mertesacker still divides the pundits. Roald Dahl’s BFG had the ability to give people nightmares and Arsenal’s has that in his locker too.

Indeed Per has often divided pundits against themselves, such as when Jamie Redknapp called him a liability but insisted he didn’t mean it as a negative.

In a way, he had a point; Arsenal’s new conservatism is partly insurance against Mertesacker’s lack of pace. But for all the thinking and heading and remonstrating; the BFG has won nothing yet in his career except the German League Cup.

He was remonstrating again last Monday night, when Cazorla made the kind of mistake Arsenal have largely cut out to let Villa back in.

In the end, it was Mertesacker caught out at the back post when Benteke pounced — a reminder that even the clear-headed often come up a little short. That might eventually prove the case with Arsenal too, but at least this season it shouldn’t be lost upstairs.

Keane interest might bring out the Tiger in Long

As the great national obsession with Roy Keane shows no sign of dissolving, we learned a short film is being made about his childhood, depicting him as a “small but demonic 11-year-old who needs to get on the starting 11 for his football club, and nothing is going to get in his way”.

And when Fintan O’Toole found something curious in our water, he turned to Roy’s old definition of stupidity: doing the same thing and expecting different results.

To warm up for ‘Rockmount’, I rewatched the 2002 documentary ‘Roy Keane: As I see it’.

In it, Roy told us how United players had been distracted by Alex Ferguson’s intended retirement; worried they’d have to prove themselves again.

But Roy had no such worries. “A Capello, Lippi, Hitzfeld... to me that would’ve been a great opportunity.”

A man who knew doing the same things would keep getting the right results.

Since every event affecting the nation must now be assessed with some reference to Keane, we come to Shane Long.

Is it the Keano in Long that has overcome all the hurdles to get him this far, to a lucrative career as the footballer who invited Bergkamp comparisons with that startling cameo against Villa two months ago?

Or is it a lack of that demonic drive that prevented him scoring since and ensured his only way out of West Brom was the road to Hull?

Does Long have enough fire burning to do the right things all the time? Perhaps working with Keane for Ireland will help him get to Hull and back.

A worry for Reds if Luis is losing his bite

The goals are still coming for Suarez, but the attentive Liverpool fan will have fretted this week. There was worry anyway since the World Cup draw was made, with the obvious implications.

And sure enough, there are already signs they have got inside his head.

It seems Luis wants to convince them he has changed.

Certainly there may be small increments of personal development Luis could strive for without causing too much alarm. But this was dangerous talk. This was messing with the fundamentals.

“About two weeks ago, when I had an open shot at goal and hit the post, it rebounded close to my hand, and I was about to go for it and then stopped.

“In the past, I would have gone for it. I tell you I am improving my attitude on the pitch because I know I was wrong in the past.”

Of course Luis has a strong record of telling people exactly what they want to hear before doing the opposite, so we must take that into account.

And Liverpool fans must hope that’s what’s happening here. For if Luis ever truly starts thinking about right and wrong when the ball bounces in front of goal, they may as well have taken Arsenal’s pound.



David McNally: “I would prefer death rather than relegation.” When Survival Sunday rolls around, surely Sky can crank up the drama by working in some kind of ultimate forfeit for the Norwich chief executive.


Neil Robertson: Broke sad, stark news this week when he told Eurosport that “snooker is no longer a sport where idle, greedy or lazy can prosper”. As writer Alan Tyers put it on Twitter: “Another career door slammed shut by the brown rice and positive thinking brigade.”

ICC: It was a long shot but the now-scrapped World Test Championship at least stood a chance of reviving the long game.

Sergio Garcia: As the tennis players collapsed in the Melbourne heat, the Spaniard was also furious with the “dangerous” conditions at the HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi. Something about long grass.

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