Saturday, December 29, 2012

Arsenal Win 7-3

Arsenal surged to a 7-3 victory over Newcastle at the Emirates after ceding the lead on three separate occasions. Four goals in the final 20 minutes ensured all three points and reaffirmed the club's need to sign Walcott up for the future. It was an important victory that saw us surge to fifth place with a game in hand (though Everton play Chelsea tomorrow). Theo Walcott had a hat trick, Giroud a brace after coming on as a sub and the Ox scored his first of the year. While the frailties at the back continued, it was a confidence building end to the year and may well carry the Gunners back toward the top four.

Walcott starting the scoring in the 19th minute on a nice run and finish from a Podolski pass. He showed the potential he could have to move into the central forward role he so desires. He then blew two opportunities before the half, one in front of Krul and another on a 3 on 2 break, when he should have passed the ball right or left. We paid for that profligacy as a Sagna foul at the edge of the box led to a Demba Ba free kick, which caromed off Wilshire and behind Szczesny. Arsenal dominated most of the first half but saw themselves level at the break. As the second half commenced, Arsenal looked lively and it paid off in the 50th minute as Oxlade-Chamberlain's shot across goal beat Krul, after a nice header by Podolski and pass across the box by Cazorla. Walcott then blew another break with a bad pass and in the 58th Newcastle were level again, as Marveaux tapped in a fine cross from Oberton. Arsenal were back ahead in the 64th minute as Podolski tapped in off the bar after a surging run and cross from Wilshire. But in the 68th, Newcastle tied the game again with a nice finish from Ba. 

All three goals conceded owed something to a very poor game from Sagna, who gave up the free kick for the first, failed to block the cross for the second and allowed the cross that led to the third. He was lethargic from the start and I wonder why Wenger didn't bring Jenkinson in earlier. Gibbs also played a part in the third, by allowing Ba to get in behind him when he really should have been able to clear or at least keep the damage to a corner. But starting in the 72nd minute, those frailties didn't matter as Arsenal started scoring at will. It started with a nice turn and goal from Walcott, after a good cross inside the box from Gibbs. Giroud then came on for the Ox in the 73rd minute and had two goals in less than ten minutes. The first was a header finish of a sublime cross from Walcott (who move out to the wing). The second was a beautiful finish by Giroud after some nice footwork to get around a defender after another strong run from Wilshire. The final goal was a piece of brilliance by Walcott, who dribbled from the left around two defenders, got fouled, jumped up and chipped around Krul. It was a sparkling offensive performance and a great way to end the season.

Takeaways from the game ...

1. Walcott continues to be an enigma at times, with some poor passing and finishing surrounding his hat trick, but he has improved immeasurably this year and leads the team with 13 goals. We need to resign him and this must be clear to Wenger, as he has played him at center forward in three straight games. There is still work to do on making the right choice and finish in tight, but losing Walcott over 10 or 20k pounds a week would be ludicrous.

2. Ox is starting to come into his own. His goal was sublime, cutting across Krul from the edge of the box. He stormed down the right side on several occasions and has improved dramatically. If Walcott does start to take up more time in the middle, that means more starts for Ox. But it also means we need another winger more than ever. Wenger seems to be closing in on Nani and I would like to see him or Zaha signed early in January. We will see.

3. I think this game again showed what I have been arguing all year -- we need a defensive midfielder. It is just too easy for teams to build from the middle or wings and we need another presence in there to break up those attacks. Luckily our finishing was on today, but we really shouldn't have conceded any of the three goals. Sagna was poor and we clearly missed Mertesacker, but Wenger is crazy if he doesn't bring someone in to take up the Song role. Yes Diaby is to be back in training next week ... but how long will he last before yet another injury.

4. While this winning streak has certainly restored confidence in our young club, we still need backup to continue pushing forward. AVB has done a good job of instilling faith in Tottenham and I'm not sure they have the usual late season collapse in them this year. We will need to keep winning and without sufficient club strength, the FA Cup and Champions League put us at a distinct disadvantage. One hopes Wenger spends the money wisely to bring in more creative flair and a DM. I also think we could use one more defender who could play in the middle or as left back. Santos is clearly not the answer and may very well go in January. If rumors are to be believed, Chamakh and Arshavin may be on their way out as well, which is great in that it opens up places and salary for new signings. 

5. So what do we need? The emergence of Walcott as a potential striker makes the signings a bit more complex, but I would still like to see us sign another striker and maybe play around with a 4-4-2 on occasion. Henry is working with Walcott right now and we looked incredibly dangerous with both Walcott and Giroud on the pitch. Who should it be? I think Villa would be a great signing, but not sure he is worth the price at 15 million pounds or so. Demba Ba is a great deal and we really should consider him as a top target. We clearly also need a winger and I like Nani or Zaha. I also believe, as I said above, that we need a DM and there are a few options from Capoue and Strootman to Suzu (or maybe M'Villa, though that seems to be dead as an option). Finally, while I don't see it happening, I think we could do with another attacking mid. Ramsey is not up to it at the moment in my mind and we simply can't trust Diaby to not get injured. We are then left with the big three and Rosicky. Chamberlain could move into the  middle but it is unclear who would then play on the wing. The most promising option I see at the moment is Holtby, who looks set to leave Germany now or in the summer. He looked great against us and could certainly be a project for the future. Having watched him play a little, I am confused at why Eisfeld hasn't gotten a few more shots, but on this point I digress. 

So the year ends on a mini-winning streak, which is good news for us Gooners. Let's hope we keep it going in the new year. Lest us forget that a few slip ups last year around this time made our task that much harder. Next up is Southampton on the road, Swansea on the road in the FA Cup and then Man City at the Emirates. Those first two will be key to building momentum for the second half.         

Friday, December 28, 2012

Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

I was just reading end of year reviews of best films and came upon this undiscovered gem; mainly the result of me losing faith in the Hollywood machine this year and seeing fewer films than at any time in recent memory. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) is not an epic film; in fact, little happens. Unless, of course, you consider a cynical man trying to reconnect with an old flame, a geeky college student losing his virginity and a lonely young woman meeting a man she fancies who may very well be a lunatic. Oh and did I mention the possibility of time travel? The film is the sort of early Wes Anderson meets David O. Russell fare some of us just wish there was more of in recent years. Too often films fall back on tired formulas and cheap jokes instead of trusting their actors and writers to be clever in a nuanced way (The Other Guys and 30 Minutes or Less come to mind).

The star here is the quixotic Aubrey Plaza, who plays Seattle Magazine intern Darius (who may or may not be a virgin and/or lesbian). She agrees to accompany writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) and nerdy intern Arnau (Karan Soni) on a short journey to seek out the person who put out an ad for a space travel partner. They soon find the man, Kenneth (Mark Duplass), who is an odd grocery store clerk. Darius meets Kenneth and they start their training for the mission, falling for each other along the way. A lovely mixture of taut humor, imaginative dreaming and budding love then intermingle to create a film that offers much more than most big budget projects these days. The ending is a risky venture for its parred-down ambitions, but it somehow pulls it off, much as I believe Wes Anderson's latest Moonrise Kingdom did earlier this year. Quirky love stories simply fit better with our current affective moment, the hipsters minus the irony providing a space for true interpellative connection to ensue. And it might just launch Plaza to the peak as the new hipster dream girl, a more compelling, empowering and less commodified prospect than aging Zooey Deshanel. 

Why Are Our Heroes So Damn Lonely?

Why are our heroes such loners? They are either uninterested in woman, widowed, unable to consummate with the one they love or scandalous womanizers. Occasionally they do get the woman, but more often that woman changes from sequel to sequel. Sure there is always someone interested in them, but bad things happen when they get together. The most obvious case is Superman II, where marriage and love led to the world being taken over by aliens and Clark Kent getting his ass kicked in a small diner. In Spiderman, "With great power comes great responsibility," in other words, ditch the dream girl or pay the price (he doesn't completely and pays the price of being replaced by a new version). The dazzling new Sherlock finds a star detective very similar to the original book, in other words a virgin who codes gay (accept for the innuendo of a relationship with the allusive Irene Adler -- in the book, she is quickly killed off (as she was at the beginning of the recent movie sequel). The question is why?

A number of possibilities surfaced in my contemplation of this seemingly foolish consistency. 1) By making the hero lonely at the beginning, it is easier for them to hook up with someone in the end. The problem with this solution is that they too often do not do so. From Dirty Harry to the Terminator, the redemptive hero cannot, or does not, find love. Sure Rocky finds love, but Rambo never does, and Rocky ends up divorced and alone by the time we get to the last foray in the series. This does work in romantic comedies and even romantic dramas, but here we are talking about heroes not mere protagonists, so the answer still seems suspect. But maybe 2) It provides a better entryway into the interpellation so important to film. In other words, lonely people are more apt to watch movies (and particularly to watch television) and the identification with the characters can thus be that much stronger -- fomenting the real power of film, to allow us to essentially live the lives of the characters and narratives on offer. This seems a more reasonable explanation except that so many people go to movies these days that it is a risky strategy. Further, one could argue that female viewers want those lonely men to find love. There is probably some truth here, but it again doesn't seem to offer sufficient explanation. 

A third possibility eliminates any deeper motivation ... 3) Writers are lonely and even if they are married with kids, they have to write alone. It is the lonely vocation and that loneliness manifests itself in film. This seems like a viable argument except that the producers of television and film do take into account the audience and thus while the writers might start writing from this perspective, those buying and selling the script will make sure it can draw the audience in. This leads to a related 4th possibility ... 4) Los Angeles is such a lonely city it is not surprising that the epicenter of film and television would produce lonely characters. This tradition goes back at least as far as Film Noir, the genre that captured the loneliness and alienation of the modern, urban man in the post-war period (as well as his feelings of lost masculinity). The Noir film seemed to speak to the impossibility of modern love and the illusion of the idealic world that Hollywood was otherwise selling. The tension has arguably continued to manifest itself in film and on TV screens, with cynical writers unwilling to fully sell the idyllic dream they know the studios want. This leads to the last possiblity I will consider here: 5) Laziness. Hollywood has increasingly relied on tried and tested formulas for success. Just as Noir had a loose formula it tended to follow (asynchronous, confusing narratives, femme fatales, dark, moody lighting, slippery moral protagonists, etc.), so too do hero films and the happy couple, ala Nick and Nora Charles, is just too tough to sell.

The truth probably lies in the intersection of these five arguments, but it does pose a series of interesting questions about the reception of films and shows based on the lonely hero. What does this tell us about our notion of the hero? What does this mean for democracy? Does this invite us to be heroic ourselves, or rely on others? What kind of role models are we providing for our children? In future posts, I will consider each of these questions in kind. But it does seem telling that so few of our heroes find happiness, even in saving the day (as one last example, Paul Newman in The Verdict -- gets the girl, finds out the girl was a spy, wins the case, refuses to get the girl back). 

Monday, December 24, 2012

W.H. Auden Excerpt

From his epic For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, in the Herod section, a rather prescient argument from the great bard ...

Reason will be replaced by Revelation. Instead of Rational Law, objective truths perceptible to any who will undergo the necessary intellectual discipline, Knowledge will degenerate into a riot of subjective visions... Whole cosmogonies will be created out of some forgotten personal resentment, complete epics written in private languages, the daubs of schoolchildren ranked above the greatest masterpieces. Idealism will be replaced by Materialism. Life after death will be an eternal dinner party where all the guests are 20 years old... Justice will be replaced by Pity as the cardinal human virtue, and all fear of retribution will vanish... The New Aristocracy will consist exclusively of hermits, bums and permanent invalids. The Rough Diamond, the Consumptive Whore, the bandit who is good to his mother, the epileptic girl who has a way with animals will be the heroes and heroines of the New Age, when the general, the statesman, and the philosopher have become the butt of every farce and satire.

Wild Wild West

The NRA has never been mistaken for an organization that suffers from overflowing empathy for gun violence victims and their response to the latest tragedy (which was followed a few days later by another killing in PA) thus wasn't much of a surprise. It wasn't quite on the level of Moses at Columbine ("I'll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands" -- though he actually gave that speech a year later), but many have taken to the air, television, radio and internet waves to decry the statements of Chairman Wayne LaPierre.

What did he say exactly? Well, among other things ... “I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation, and to do it now, to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January. The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” While some might find the first part of the statement reasonable, the second part has gotten a lot more attention. But lets look at each in turn. The first argument might seem reasonable on the surface. Yet do we really want armed security guards roaming the hallways of our elementary schools? And others have even called for arming teachers. While this might lead to less disciplinary issues it is the typical sort of argument we find when dealing with a technology-related issue. Don't actually address the problem with the technology, just get more technology to solve it. 

With guns, it is a more complex issue, but again, I'm not sure teachers and security guards being armed is a terribly good idea. For one, would that be a requirement for teaching in middle school. Most of the teachers I have trained for elementary and middle school over the years are not your typical NRA member. And what about the possibility a teacher could go crazy. It is even more troubling with security guards -- not among the glamor jobs in America today. Arming civilians just never seems like a terribly good idea to me. Just as a counterargument, liquor store owners often have guns and I don't think that has been a great deterrent to them being robbed. And what about all the tragedies involving police officers, who are well-trained on when to use force but have been involved in numerous tragedies where they killed innocent adults or children over the past 20 years. People often say that guns don't kill people, people kill people. But it's a hell of a lot easier with a gun -- particularly an automatic or semi-automatic one. Let's say that same 20-year old went into the school with a knife. How many people could he kill? England has a lot of crime, but the difficulty in getting guns means substantially less murder and gun violence in general. The same would be true here if we started to address the issue of so many having access to guns. 

As to the second argument, the big problem is, of course, who the good people and bad people are exactly. Certainly someone who goes into a school to kill children is a bad person. But what makes a good person? Was George Zimmerman a good person? Was Bernie Goetz? Sure both are heroes to some, but I think many of us agree that it is not right, nor sane, to put guns in the hands of those who might have very different ideas of justice than the law advocates or supports. On top of this is the reality that those with guns in a robbery are actually more likely to be injured or killed. It seems to me only well-trained police officers should be carrying around guns. 

The NRA and many of its most adamant supporters believe that we should return to the wild west, with six shooters on our hips ready to fire at the least provocation. But is that really the world we want to live in? It seems more measured solution makes a lot more sense. Why don't we make it harder for people to attain and carry guns around, have better background checks and ban assault rifles and other weapons that can easily be transformed into semi- or completely automatic? Why not place checks on ammo and limit the amount people can buy over a period of time. I, for one, would much rather see metal detectors in every school then armed policeman or guards roaming the hallways.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Arsenal Win Ugly

Sometimes a team needs an ugly win to get the momentum going. Many of the shortcomings the Gunners have demonstrated all season were apparent in the 1-0 victory over Wigan today. There was also some luck involved. But in a heavy rain on a soaked pitch, the Gunners did just enough to win. Walcott, who otherwise had a below par game, forced a penalty which was ably taken by Arteta to seal the win. Wigan had plenty of chances but there lack of quality in the final third sunk them again. It is our third win in a row and together with a Tottenham draw saw us climb to third place. After all the turmoil of the first half of the season, it is an enviable place to be, though Chelsea has two games in hand to move back into third. Some takeaways from the game:

1. Walcott questions remain: the ongoing saga over whether Walcott will sign a new contract with the Gunners continue to confound as it is unclear if we really want to play him in the central striking role. To be honest, he wasn't spectacular against Reading on Monday and was below average today -- missing a chance to give the Gunners the lead early. His hold up play was average, he is easy to get off the ball and even though his finishing has improved, he still needs to take his chances more if he is to succeed. It seems to me that his best position is as a winger, but if he refuses to play there, maybe it is better if he goes. This leads directly to the second point ...

2. Ox molding back into form: if Walcott leaves, I believe we need another winger to come in. But, Ox is starting to show the quality and speed from last year and is putting in dangerous crosses and getting around defenders with more regularity. He needs to score more (1 in 31 is hardly noteworthy), but many were probably again unhappy to see him come off for Ramsey. The idea is that Ramsey is better defensively, but he looked quite average even in that department late in the game. Ox could be the replacement for Walcott if he does jet off, which to me seems more likely with every passing game.

3. Defensive midfielder: many including announcer Maca, are starting to argue Arsenal don't, in fact, need a strong defensive mid. I fundamentally disagree. If we are to play the high line that we so often do, even in the waning moments of a one goal lead, I think it is important to get cover in front to break up play. Arteta is doing an adequate job, but teams break us apart from the middle to wings far too often. When Arteta gets forward, his mixture of physicality and quality passes really help us open defenses, and I would rather see him further up the pitch. I really hope we take care of this in the transfer window as it is a glaring weakness that could cost us our coveted champions league spot.

4. Formation/Tactics: as has so often been the case, when Cazorla is pressured higher up the pitch, his effectiveness wanes. This has been a problem all season, combed over by teams like Fulham, Tottenham and Reading who tend to play more wide open games. As I've written on several occasions this year, I believe the 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 make more sense for us with our current squad and I hope to see Wenger show some flexibility in this going forward. Another answer would be to get a b-2-b midfielder like the always injured Diaby to release pressure and charge up the pitch. Our attack is far too predictable and this is a problem. I also believe we should attack from the left more often, as was the case against Reading. Gibbs has really improved his crossing and Podolski is almost absent from games when we always play on the right. Cazorla and Ramsey need to recognize how often they play to the right or through the middle. 

5. Striker/Striker/Striker: it is clear, even if Giroud or, ugh, Walcott is to play central striker that we need to pick up a quality second (or first) option in the central role. Recent rumors link us with a surprising swoop for David Villa and I would also take Demba Ba or Huntelaar in that role. Other names like Llorente have been thrown around, but I don't see him coming and am not sure why we would take another player like Giroud, who was starting to show improvement before his niggling injury and then benching the past two games. 

Arsenal, unfortunately, will not be playing against West Ham on Boxing Day because of potential tube troubles but they have a floundering Newcastle at home next weekend. A win at the Emirates Saturday would go a long way to reestablishing some confidence in the team. I hope, though, this mini-run does not stop Wenger from dipping into the transfer window. We need reinforcements, and quality ones, if we are to ensure another top four finish and to provide any resistance to a powerful and impressive Bayern Munich squad (they have ceded but 7 goals in 17 matches in Germany and were impressive in UCL qualifying). But hope springs anew in the cold, wet and long London winter.       

Friday, December 21, 2012

What Americans Want?

A fascinating study from Slate yesterday found somewhat suprising results regarding Americans and the fiscal cliff: Slate. While pols in Washington continue to push "tough but necessary cuts to entitlements," the public would actually rather see higher taxes and lower defense spending. The representative sample of 1,000 Americans were particularly apprehensive of cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- a stalwart component of any GOP "compromise" (a word that has little station on that side of the aisle to begin with). But Obama has been playing along in trying to reach that compromise after announcing that he would let us fall off the cliff very recently. The study, which had respondents find the $900 billion in deficit reduction by 2022, moved beyond simple polls that often have little meaning given their lack of context. Given that context and having to make the tough choices themselves, people generally supported higher taxes, cuts to government services and the military and no changes to Medicare and Social Security. 

The poll resulted in 84% supporting a tax increase for some Americans, 66% a cut in non-defense governmental spending, 64% a reduction in military spending, 58% the end of deductions for state and local taxes and over 50% supporting an end to the home mortgage interest reduction. Maybe most surprising, many supported a 6% national sales tax (50% - though it should be noted this is a regressive tax) and even more a carbon tax (56%). So the narrative provided by the GOP seems at odds with the average American, as the last election clearly showed us. And yet that same GOP bargains from a presumed position of strength, demanding compromises that clearly go against the will of the people. It really only further solidifies the belief that the GOP is, in fact, the party of corporations and the one percent -- the only ones who would support policies that make the lives of average Americans worse while lining the pockets of the few.

Yet even the House GOP realize the dangerous water their treading at the moment, after House Speaker Boehner was unable to rally support for his Plan B (Daily Kos). What did that Plan B comprise? Among other things, cuts to food stamps, cuts to meals on wheels (seriously? will there be an increase in funding for removing dead bodies that die of starvation?), cuts to funding for health exchanges and Medicaid, cuts to Dodd-Frank finance reform bill (to make it easier for banks to get bailouts in the future) and denying the Child Tax Credit to American children with undocumented immigrant parents. It is essentially a "screw the poor" bill that even Republicans were scared to touch and might signal the moment that Boehner went too far. One wonders what his role will be going forward, as it appears Obama has little incentive to truly bargain with a guy who can't get a vote for his own plan. 

As many progressive groups have been arguing for weeks, I would prefer to see us "fall off the cliff" and start over without the pesky Bush tax cuts in the way. Tax cuts only work as a stimulus if they are perceived as short term (something undergraduate econ students used to be taught), and that was the argument when the very unpopular Bush cuts were passed. Right now they are at the heart of the deficit/debt conundrum and one has to believe that the current debate is just a continuation of the past 30 years -- increase spending and cut taxes at the same time, allow the deficit to grow and then call for cuts to services (rather than increases in taxes). It has worked wonders, unless you actually care about schools, health, quality of life and your ability to make a decent salary working 40 or more hours a week. I hope Obama shows the backbone he has often been missing when we get down to the nitty-gritty of hard decision making and not pandering to a party that refuses to compromise no matter what he does. 10 days to lift off!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Arsenal Wins 5-2

An important win follows a terrible run of games for the Gunners, beating bottom of the league Reading on the road. It was a crucial victory that moved Arsenal back to 5th and within two points of third (though Chelsea has a game in hand). The offense was sparkling for the first time since the Tottenham game, but a lazy 10 minutes meant yet another scramble before Walcott sealed the deal with his 11th goal of the season. There were many positives to take from the game, but one must put it in context as Reading is probably the weakest team in the BPL and rarely challenged for the ball. When games are wide open, this squad looks phenomenal, but we still haven't won in recent weeks when pressure is exerted in the middle. A few takeaways from the game:

1.  Walcott and Sagna: two players that could very well leave by the end of the season were among the standouts in this game and unless we really replace them, we could be in trouble. Walcott still lacks some of the qualities of a striker, but he has dramatically improved his finishing (though his 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper went all wrong, when an easy chip would have seen the game out of reach at half time) and his composure on the ball and passing. It would be a shame to sell him unless we bring in another winger and striker. Sagna crossed well and played a solid game from the back forward and Jenkinson does not seem ready to take the reigns quite yet.

2.  Given space, Cazorla is masterful. His problem in recent weeks has been when he is crowded in the middle and unable to move around with and without the ball. The hat trick was lovely and he added an assist. With Rosicky healthy and able to give him the occasional rest, we could be in for a wonderful second half of the season. But getting in a solid defensive mid could move Arteta further up the pitch and take some of the pressure off. 

3.  When Podolski tries, he can really contribute to the team. He is clearly a quality finisher and had some lovely crosses from the left hand side. The issue this year has been his tendency to disappear for large portions of games and one wonders if a little more rest wouldn't help him. But who do we put in in his place? That is a tough question and I really don't think Gervinho is the answer -- though given his contract, maybe he could be an adequate backup for the time being (but please, for the love of god, never again as central  striker). 

4.  Ramsey/Gibbs: I don't want to sound like a broken record, but the team plays better when Ramsey is on the bench. Rumor has it that the Ox, Wilshire, Gibbs, Jenkinson and, ugh, Ramsey are about to sign new contracts. Gibbs was a revelation and one hopes he gains confidence from this performance. We clearly need a backup, as he is injury prone, but we are definitely a better team when he is on his game (both in the back and moving forward). Back to Ramsey, I think it would be a good idea to put him out on loan to get his confidence back. He is hurting the team and I don't see him as an impact sub either. Wenger is again showing his tactical stubborness and general stubborness by playing him so much (particularly on the wing). That leads me to five ...

5. Wenger: I love Wenger, but I don't really think this result undermines any of my critiques over recent weeks. Yes he put out a "strong" team versus Bradford, but he played Gervinho up front and Ramsey on the wing -- a recipe for disaster. He also kept out Arteta, which really hurts the Gunners. January is an opportunity for Wenger to finally splash some cash and get the players we need to claim third and maybe make an improbable run at an FA Cup, but I do believe it is time for new blood at the squad. A rumor has surfaced that Pep Guardiola might be itching for a real project (aka Arsenal). If that is the case, I really hope Wenger will step aside or take the PSG or Real jobs (if those rumors are to be believed). At present, he is only tarnishing a well-earned reputation as one of the greatest coaches in EPL history and I don't see him changing that in the next year.

As to the defense, Vermaelen seems to be getting his groove back and blocked an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Mertesacker also played well, but positioned himself poorly on the second goal. The offsides trap was working well though, except that Podolski played offsides for one of the two gaols. We also saw a better performance from the Ox and that is good news after a very average first half so far. So a positive result that can hopefully get us to the New Year on a mini winning streak. Up next is Wigan, who lies in 17th. Anything but a comfortable victory would be unacceptable.

Looking at the transfer window, some new names have popped up and some seem promising. We clearly need strikers and Demba Ba has emerged as another option to the 29-year old Huntelaar. I would take either though Ba has proven himself in the EPL (while many others we have gotten in recent years have not had the same returns outside of England). Llorente also seems a possibility but we are competing with Liverpool and Tottenham (and maybe Chelsea) and there is no guarantee he will be available before the summer. It appears we are close to signing a potential enforcer for the back -- 23-year-old centre-back/defensive midfielder Stoppila Sunzu from TP Mazambe. He could provide cover at the back and fill the shoes Diaby can't seem to run in, but I don't know much about him. If he is the DM we are signing, I do worry that not much has changed with Wenger. Maybe we will also go after another of the names on the list as well -- Wanyama, Capoue or Strootman. We also clearly need a winger and though Zaha looks like a great potential signing, it is unclear whether he will come or sign with Man U -- who are rumoured to be offering to let him stay at Crystal Palace until the end of the year, in their hunt for an EPL promotion. If not, we need someone else, unless Walcott is willing to play there some of the time. As far as Sagna, Dani Alves' name has emerged after he has fallen out of favor at Barca. I would actually love that signing, as he is great going forward and still decent in the back (I think, don't get to see it too much at Barca). And maybe the most exciting name to emerge in the past few days is one of the hottest prospects in Italy -- El Shaaraway, who already has 17 goals this year. Three or four quality signings could go a long way to restoring hope and positivity in the club and maybe get Walcott to rethink his departure (he is finally talking to Wenger again). One does wonder if the decision to bench and/or bring him on as a sub so often this season might backfire if he leaves. 

So a good step in the right direction, but many more will have to follow. In the ongoing "in Wenger we trust" versus "you don't know what you're doing" debate, I still side with the latter. Not because Wenger is a bad guy or clueless, I just think it's time to admit that we need change. A guy can't live on his history forever and the fans are restless. We've suffered long enough for the Emirates move -- time to start giving us something to really cheer about!

P.S. Yes, I was cheering last year when we beat West Brom to take third, but it was a bittersweet victory. The Carling was ours to take, but now that is gone, as it was in 2008 and 2010 when Wenger also made questionable decisions that cost us silverware.