And… exhale. The Gunners are in the Champions League!  After being in contention with Manchester United for the Premier League through the latter half of last season’s campaign, Arsenal Football Club began facing one of the darkest times in the club’s recent history. The exodus of first-team players and the lack of signings has placed a bulls-eye on Arsene Wenger as a target for ridicule by the media, and even Arsenal fans (as evidenced by comments on this website).  Even the most optimistic Arsenal supporter cannot deny the club is headed in the wrong direction. Thirteen points from the last thirteen games—the worst run at Arsenal in seventeen years and certainly the worst in the Wenger era.

The crisis had placed the club in the unenviable position of protecting a slim 1-0 lead in a high-stakes match against Udinese at the Stadio Friuli with the winner claiming a coveted Champions League spot. Essentially, this match was the last chance to salvage hope and right the ship for the upcoming season.  Qualifying for the Champions League not only guarantees additional revenue (upwards of thirty million Euros last season) that has almost become expected during Wenger’s tenure but the ability to attract top-class talent (crucial given the club’s needs and inflated transfer budget).  Sources have even stated Lille’s Eden Hazard has agreed upon a transfer to the Emirates conditional upon Champions League qualification.

A tumultuous seven day period that began with a dire draw against Newcastle United and was followed by the transfer of the Arsenal captain to Barcelona, ended with a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in the Gunners’ first home fixture of the new Barclay’s Premier League season.  It is the first time Liverpool has won at the Emirates Stadium, and the first time they have beaten Arsenal in the past nine meetings.

Arsenal now face an early season must win fixture next weekend against champions Manchester United, where a loss could see them eight points out of the title race by the end of August.

The Incredible Shrinking Squad

Following their 1-0 defeat of Udinese in the first-leg of their Champion’s League Playoff, Arsenal headed into Saturday’s game with Liverpool hoping to grab their first victory of the domestic season.  With midfielder Alex Song and forward Gervinho suspended due to separate incidents with Newcastle’s Joey Barton, the Gunner’s went into the match at the Emirates boasting a squad looking extremely thin.

Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, John Djourou and Tomas Rosicky missed the contest through injury.  With Arsenal not making any additions to the squad during the past week through the transfer window, young defender Carl Jenkinson and promising midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong got their first Premier League starts.

Incredibly, due to suspensions and injuries, Arsene Wenger was forced to start want away midfielder Samir Nasri, who played the entire 90 minutes.

The scene was set: Wenger’s biggest Champions League qualifier to date. With the fans feeling sceptical with the lack of summer signings, the departure of our captain and the pessimism from a bland performance in our season opener to Newcastle, the team had a second chance against a team wearing black and white. No (new captain) van Persie, no Wilshere, no Cesc, and no Nasri. No hope? Cue Theo Walcott who relieved the fans after just 4 minutes after a great cross by Aaron Ramsey.

Is a centre back what we really need?

Gibbs has gone into the season as first choice left back for Wenger, and whilst he has shown glimpses of potential, there are many things that worry me that was evident last night. Problems rose both directly from Gibbs and of a consequence of Gibbs. First of all his position often comes into question, now I’m not sure who is to blame for this because the only senior player he had to look up to during his development was Clichy, who had similar problems. However, Arsene should address this before it becomes second nature. Secondly, his injury record is poor. He was subbed at half time yesterday which leads to the second problem: depth. Traore would be his replacement but he is also poor and injury prone which meant we had to put Vermaelen at left back, and with Djourou suffering an injury after just 9 minutes it means that if Carl Jenkinson (who looks far more comfortable on the right than on the left) were to get injured it would mean a centre back pairing of Koscielny and Squillaci. The sheer mention of Squillaci sends shivers down Arsenal fans’ spine and besides, Vermaelen is too good of a centre back to be pushed out wide.

A lacklustre afternoon of football ended in acrimony as arguably the Premier League's most troubled sides played out a stalemate at St James's Park. With the buildup to the match mainly based around the personnel issues for both teams; money in the bank to spend but a seeming reluctance to enter the transfer market, neither club could be called a happy ship as they opened their Premier League account.

1st Half

The game opened at a typical English pace, and also typical English quality, with haphazard passing preventing any clear chances. The two new players to these shores, Gervinho & Yohan Cabaye could have been excused for finding it difficult to adapt. But while Cabaye struggled with many of his passes going awry, Gervinho made a stronger impression that his former Lille teammate, often making life difficult for Ryan Taylor & Danny Simpson. However, while Arsenal monopolised the possession, their final ball was dreadful. They'd find an easy path to the penalty area, only to fall short when playing the killer pass. The only exception being a gorgeous through-ball from Andrey Arshavin which played Robin Van Persie clear - which was wasted by the Arsenal captain.

After a disappointing last home game of the season that was greeted with boos and jeers, Arsenal looked to bounce back after their defeat to Villa with 3 points against Fulham that would have given them the slimmest of chances of qualifying for the automatic Champions League spot

1st half

Sidwell opened the scoring for Fulham in what is now becoming a trademark for Arsenal: shambolic defending. Gibbs showed signs of promise at the beginning of the season with some fans calling for him to be given his chance in the starting XI with the poor form of Clichy but his performance, especially in the 1st half, other than a header on target, was poor. Perhaps an indication that the only person he has to learn from is Clichy who himself often makes very poor positional decisions, incidentally Clichy is the only player in the Gunners’ squad that has a Premier League medal (not counting Mad Jens). Fortunately the magnificent van Persie came to save the day yet again with his record equalling 18th goal since January, a feat shared with Arsenal legend Thierry Henry and the most expensive player in the world Cristiano Ronaldo. RvP really has been a revelation since his return to form and in the absence of Cesc fully deserves to wear the captain’s armband.