The way I see it - Arsenal v Newcastle United

Last updated : 20 January 2005 By Jason Hogan

However I can honestly say that the only time that I have ever been truly down after a game was when we lost the FA Cup semi-final against the Tiny Totts back in 1991 - Saturday's game at the Reebok changed all that though.

It wasn't the ramifications of our defeat at Bolton or the press and the media euphoria over it all that got me down. No, it was purely the manner in which we were beaten. I thought that we did okay for the first 40 minutes of the game, I really did. In fact to be honest, I thought that we did better at Bolton in the first 40 minutes than we did over the entire 90 at Portsmouth and Newcastle recently. It was just the final ball or shot that was letting us down.

But then we went and conceded a really cheap goal. Now, a lot of people have been pointing fingers exclusively at Almunia over the goal but I blame Campbell first and foremost. There was Campbell shadowing Diouf who had his back to him on the right hand edge of the penalty area facing towards the touchline.

Yet despite having absolutely no right to get in any kind of telling cross from where he was, Diouf, who had a cracking game it must be said, was allowed to do so anyway. And the cross was so good that the smallest chap on the pitch managed to steal in and nod the ball in from close range.

At half time, I sent a text to Gazza saying that there was no way that we deserved to be behind at the break. Gazza didn't entirely agree but I sent him a text back to say that I honestly believed that we were still looking in fairly good shape and that we would turn it around - how wrong I was.

I've seen us put in some woeful displays in Europe over the years but on a domestic level the second half at Bolton proved to be arguably the worst I have seen from an Arsenal side since Wenger took charge.

True, things may have turned out different if Van Persie and Pires had not wasted golden opportunities to equalise but in truth we were simply not at the races, devoid of any cohesion, purpose and, to a large extent, fortitude.

We deserved nothing from the game; we got nothing from the game. And afterwards, when Gazza rang me up and the disconsolate tone to his voice mirrored how I felt. The hardest thing for both Gazza and I to comprehend was how things ever came to this for us. How could a great side like ours suddenly look so bad and so inept?

For me, a large part of the problem, certainly on Saturday night, stemmed from the senior players. The spine of our side was out there (Campbell, Henry and Vieira) and so were Ljungberg and Pires too. None of them (particularly Pires) really came to the party and imposed themselves on the night, did they?

You can't rely on a 17 year-old like Fabregas for example to turn it on week in, week out at this stage in his development however talented he may happen to be and just when he needed help from his more illustrious peers he didn't really get it. Van Persie, though improving in my opinion, is still finding his way at the club and you cannot describe people like young Hoyte as a seasoned pro.

What I'm ultimately driving at is the fact that the strength of our squad has been found out. I know that we haven't had the likes of Edu to call on for one reason or another and I never, ever thought that we would miss Gilberto half as much as we have.

However, what I find baffling and indeed worrying is that Arsene has recently done a U-turn and gone back on what he saying even before we lost Gilberto back in September. I distinctly remember Arsene saying that he was conscious of the fact that a lot of experienced players had left the club and that his intention was to do something about it over the course of the season. Yet, here we are to this very day and there has not been one serious hint of a move being made.

For weeks and weeks I have been saying that our squad needs strengthening and that January 31st. will be the most pivotal day of our season. I don't really need to spell out the situation that we Gooners find ourselves in at the moment in the league and if we have any chance of doing something about it we need to act now. If we fail to act then not only will we expose ourselves to more intense and unwanted scrutiny over our financial strength, we will have gone some way to forfeiting what currently belongs to us.

I'm not saying that we have to break the bank to bring in reinforcements. I think that we need to bring in one or two experienced pros even if it's only on a relatively short-term basis. Some of you may laugh but I would bring someone like Kenny Cunningham of Birmingham at the back for example. I have always rated him because he is a good talker and organiser not to mention an experienced international. I think that he would work pretty well with Campbell and it would allow Wenger to give Kolo a well-earned rest.

And when you bear in mind that Edu is almost certain to be leaving and therefore likely to be out in the cold indefinitely at Arsenal from now on, I think that we also missed a trick as far as Thomas Gravesen is concerned as well.

Gravesen is a lad that can pass, is combative, still in his twenties and if he was good enough to have the likes of AC Milan and his new club Real Madrid courting his services, then you have to ask why (particularly when he was available for £2.5 million) wasn't he good enough to be considered by us?

Of course, recruiting players is not the only area where the club, for whatever reason, seem to be dragged their heels. The situation with Lauren may well have been resolved but why did they offer him such a derisory contract to start off with? And what about Campbell? I thought that the details of Campbell's new deal were sorted well before Christmas barring all the shouting. So why the hell hasn't he officially signed the damn thing? What's the delay? It's beyond me.

My message to Arsene and the board is that we need to start getting one or two things in our own house in order before we start getting involved in tedious slanging matches with Old Purple Nose and the rest of that lot from Old Trafford. What's more important? Listening to the idiotic harangues of some whisky swilling old pillock or making moves to make sure that our season doesn't go completely for a Burton? I know what I would rather concentrate on.

Now it's time to look towards Sunday when Newcastle pay a visit to Highbury. Having spent four months with his hands effectively tied, Graeme Souness has finally been able to make some moves of his own in the transfer market.

Patience proved to be a virtue for Souness when, after some protracted negotiations he finally landed the much-heralded Jean-Alain Boumsong from Rangers.

Boumsong will have fond memories of his last trip to Highbury. He was part of a very sound Auxerre side that turned us over in the Champions League just over two years ago. I remember that night well because both he and central defensive partner, Philipe Mexes, typified what Auxerre were all about in so far as they were always one step ahead of us when beating us 2-1 in the Champions League. It will be interesting to see how he goes in Magpies colours.

Souness has also recently signed Celestine Babayaro from the Phoney Russian Franchise and I think this is a fairly shrewd piece of business because he has effectively killed two birds with one stone. Firstly, he has bought a highly experienced international player who is still only in his mid twenties. Secondly, as a result of buying Baba, it means that Olivier Bernard effectively finds himself in a position where has to put or shut up and stop holding the club to ransom over his future.

It will be highly interesting to see whether Souness opts for a front line pairing on Sunday or goes with a lone striker. If he goes for the former, I would imagine that he would go for Shearer and Bellamy (if he is fit) though earlier on this season Bellamy did express the view that Kluivert was just as effective a partner for him.

On the other hand if he goes for a lone striker then maybe Shola Ameobi will come into the equation. The boy is a little bit of an enigma but he did an excellent job for them when he was pitched in as a lone striker against us just after Christmas.

This is a pretty hard game to read in terms of how it will go. Newcastle can rightly point to an unbeaten run of four games but it does include the cup win over Yeading and a goalless draw at West Brom.

Even so, for every question mark you could place against the current form of the Magpies you can double them where we are concerned.

Although nothing has been decided as far as the title is concerned, contrary to popular opinion, it's one thing saying it, the Arsenal lads have to go some way to proving it. The defeat at the Reebok and the manner of it carried far more worrying overtones for me than any other I can remember in the last few years.

The excuses are running out for us. The club have had the opportunity to strengthen our squad over the last six months and so far they have failed to take it. And on Sunday, if Arsenal play half as badly against Newcastle as they did up at the Reebok then we could also find our time as champions fast running out too.