From 17th Best To 17th Best!

September 27, 2011 by   Filed under: Arsenal FC, Premier League, Transfers

Greetings fellow Gooners!

I know, you expected something directly after the game against Bolton on Saturday and your hearts were broken when I chose not to write a single word on the topic until now!

The main reason for this is that for the last match report I broke the “golden rule of sports blogging” and wrote whilst I was angry which led me to decide that it was probably just a much a sin to write when I was happy too! In truth, the things I would have splurged onto the page on Saturday would have been much more effusive and unbridled than they will be now and so I believe that this was a good decision, standing accused as I am regards being an Arsene Wenger sycophant, which I am not, but you cannot convince anybody of anything in cyberspace these days!

Also, there are a lot of other things going on surrounding the club at the moment that I felt needed to develop before any reaction and counter-reaction could be brought to bear in a considered manner.

An understandably nervy crowd, given that we started the day in 17th position in the Premier League, one place above Bolton and having conceded a goal more than them, were treated to the news that a certain Mr. Cahill would not be joining us and, I am sure, a breath of relief could be felt all around North London! Not, you understand, because he is the best centre-back in the world and nobody scores against him when he plays, far from it in fact if you look at the stats for the Bolton defence since he has been a regular fixture in it, but because we have a wonderful habit of allowing the most ironic and usually painful coincidences to take place, right when we don’t need it…And Saturday we simply did NOT need a match-winning performance from a player that we have been and continue to be constantly linked with just to prove that “those who shall not be pleased” were right all along and Wenger must go now for signing that rubbishy German twit!

Whilst the Bolton team-sheet sported an early Christmas surprise, the Arsenal team sheet revealed no great surprises. In fact, it was exactly the team that I predicted would start with Gibbs getting the nod over Santos after his excellent performance midweek and Walcott getting the nod over Oxlade-Chamberlain even though The Ox can feel a little aggrieved having put in a performance every bit as deserving of another start as Gibbs.

The fact that the first half was, regardless of your allegiances, one of the drabbest affairs I can remember since the days of George Graham would normally have been worrying, a little bit frightening and a touch depressing even, but not in this case. In fact it was 45 minutes of exactly what we needed. No histrionics, no ridiculous giving away of constant free kicks in dangerous areas, no over-elaborate passing game, no failed offside traps, no own-goals, no penalties and no red cards…A complete success!

In reality, we started a little nervously and the best chance of the half fell to Bolton’s Pratley in the 3rd minute. His volley was matched by a great flying save by “the Pole between the poles” to tip the ball away. Three minutes later and a swift attack saw Gervinho through against the seemingly always impressive against Arsenal Jaaskelainen (I am sure you said the same about Paul Robinson after the Blackburn game and you were right then too! -ed), but a poor touch gave the Bolton keeper the extra yard he needed to collect the ball and clear the danger. Only three minutes later and Van Persie had two attempts in one attack, the first of which required a smart save and the second, after a neat lay-off from the once again industriously impressive Arteta, sailed wide of the post.

Half an hour of basically nothing in particular was to follow until the almost impossible almost happened! Walcott struck from some way out only for the ball to rebound out to Koscielny on the edge of the area. His volley, struck as sweetly as any striker would have been proud of, sailed just wide of the target. His first goal for Arsenal came in this fixture last year and I think we could be forgiven for thinking that given his recent run of luck, including 8-2 thrashings and own goals, he may just have deserved a moment of joy and lighting striking twice. Alas, it was not to be.

This was the beginning of a period of ten or so minutes of Arsenal domination culminating in an effort for Van Persie being blocked by Wheater when he looked certain to score and Walcott cracking a long distance effort that whistled by the outside of the post with Jaaskelainen rooted to the spot able to play nothing more than the role of spectator.

The half-time whistle sounded and an all too familiar feeling was starting to seep in. The majority of possession, few clear-cut chances and no goals. Please no, not again!

However, Arsene Wenger must have said something to the players, Pat Rice put something in their half-time oranges or maybe even David Dein payed a visit to the dressing room?! Whatever it was, the results were plain to see. Almost from the moment the whistle signalled the resumption of play, there was a different purpose about the side. Gervinho and Walcott were both pushed out wider dragging their respective markers with them thus giving Van Persie some much needed space to pick up the ball deep and use his wide range of passing. Arteta had clearly been told to get closer to Van Persie and so we had, in effect, a 4-2-4 when we had the ball.

Ramsey and Song were also both pushed slightly further forward to break down the midfield play of Bolton earlier and Koscienly spent most of the second half doing a great and generally unsung job of stepping up to break up any moves that managed to get by the midfield before they got the chance to trouble the defence. I want to say at this point that, without question, this was his best game for some time without Vermaelen at his side and one can only hope that it brings with it some much needed confidence before the Champions League match against Olimpiakos and the Premier League game against the small club from North London.

The nerve-settling, thank Dennis we can breathe a little again, much needed breakthrough came after only 2 minutes of the second half had been played. A fairly rash tackle in the centre of the park on Gervinho saw the ball break loose to the advancing Ramsey and Mark Clattenburg, who had a good game all round, allowed the advantage. Ramsey carried it about 20 yards before passing to Van Persie who, on the edge of the box with his back to goal and a defender either side of him looked certain to pass it back to the Welshman who had continued his run into the box. What actually happened was a moment of sheer beauty that Dennis himself would have been proud of and may not have even attempted with the easy pass to Ramsey ready and waiting. He turned to his right, leaving one of his markers lonely and cold in the centre, span around the edge of the penalty area bringing the ball onto his left foot and, with the defender just throwing out a leg to block and Jaaskelainen covering at his near post, Robin found the only gap that left young Ramsey with nothing else to say except for “Well done captain!” as opposed to “Oi, I was free in the box you greedy fecker!” as he may have said had that gap not been so expertly exploited by a striker so in form it is actually a little bit scary!

The relief inside the stadium was only equalled by that on the pitch as the fear of another fan and media roasting suddenly melted away.

Instantly the infamous Arsenal “handbrake” was released. Less than a minute later Walcott released Van Persie with a defence-splitting pass only for Jussi to prove equal to the task, diving low to his right to deny the Arsenal skipper his 100th goal in the colours of our fine club. Don’t worry, he wasn’t to be denied that pleasure for much longer.

On 54 minutes another great through ball, this time from Ramsey, found Walcott bearing down on the penalty area and Wheater, somewhat inevitably being left behind, took the decision to attempt a sly shirt tug which was enough to give Walcott the chance to go down drawing the free-kick and the even more inevitable red card.

The attacking floodgates were well and truly opened at this point and a performance that Cesc and Na$ri would have been proud to have been part of took place. I have heard many suggest that it was easy as Bolton, down to 10 men, without their best defender and already 1-0 down were bound to fold. To that I say, quite simply, nutsacks! Nobody gave Arsenal any sympathy when a reserve team got murdered 8-2 by a Manchester United side that only had to think about shooting to see the ball end up in the back of the net so why should this be any different? In fact, I have seen so many games over the last couple of years where Arsenal really should have buried a game, failed to do so and then had to hear about how we are a bunch of useless, half-witted kids that cannot hold onto a lead and that Wenger has no tactical knowledge and in so many of those games the sending off would have seen Bolton lock the doors, grab one on the counter and slink out the back doors of the Emirates with a point whilst the fans screamed their disapproval at Wenger, the players, the board, the moon and the sun!

And that is, in essence, the biggest problem we have as a club right now. The division between the fans that I keep referring to causes the disenfranchised to be so determined to stay that way that they simply cannot hold their hands up and accept that sometimes, just sometimes, we seem to be going in the right direction.

Anyway, the old adage stays firm here, you can only beat what is put in front of you…and beat them we did!

Three minutes after the sending off saw Arteta drag his shot wide after a glorious pass from Van Persie that would have had any defence chasing its own shadow. Another three minutes later and Arteta brought another sharp save out of Jaaskelainen who, regardless of seeing his net bulge three times, could well have had a decent case for the Man of the Match award!

Then the inevitable happened…No, Bolton didn’t actually score, not THAT inevitable, but the increasing pressure at the other end of the pitch and the high lines that we were employing gave Bolton a good chance on the counter attack. A nice pass from Petrov found Eagles with a run on goal but Szczesny was not to be outdone by Jussi and got to the ball in time to snuff out the attack, in truth the only real attack that Bolton would muster in the second half.

After that it was truly one-way traffic with Bolton just trying to keep the scoreline respectable and on 63 minutes their hard-work was almost undone when Gervinho, after some nice work out wide, played the ball into Van Persie whose shot flew inches wide of the target. A minute later and the Dutchman directed a flying header that Jaaskelainen was equal to after a lovely floated cross from Walcott who, amazingly in my opinion, got a fair bit of stick after the game even though he was involved in almost every attacking move including getting an assist that you would believe from the general reaction never even happened. As I keep saying, this divide in the fans is not helping anybody and the quicker we can all get along and start supporting the players instead of fighting amongst ourselves, the better. I honestly believe that so many people have decided that Walcott is not good enough for Arsenal that he could spend the next ten games scoring a goal a game, notch up 20 assists, win eight Man of the Match awards and save four penalties and those same people would STILL be unhappy. In fact, I am starting to believe that there is a contingent in the fanbase at the moment that actually WANT Arsenal to fail so that they can be proved right. That is NOT why we are called SUPPORTERS. Think about that.

If I am honest, I believed that we were destined for some pretty terrible times when we lost 3 of our first XI in the summer and I voiced that opinion in many a forum. I have to say I am thrilled to bits that the players seem to be gradually putting the summer behind them and, with a little more help from some of the fans, I think that they could work through this process much more quickly. Only when they have had the chance to work together both on the training ground and on the pitch for a reasonable amount of time and gel as a team will we truly get a sense of where this new version of Wengerball is going and whether or not it is likely to be successful.

I digress…

5 minutes later and Van Persie AND Walcott got their just rewards. A delightful ball along the floor from around halfway by Ramsey split the difference between two defenders and released Walcott down the right. He left the two defenders for dead and cut into the penalty area. Continuing his run to the byline he sent in an inch-perfect cross to Van Persie who opened up his body and pushed a neat flick past the keeper thus securing his place in the Arsenal history books as the 17th player in our history to have scored 100 goals for the club.

And the first thing that he did after reaching this momentous milestone? Run over to the fans, ripping off his shirt to reveal an “I am the 17th Greatest” t-shirt underneath whilst taking all the plaudits?

No, he turned to Walcott and called him over to share in the praise being poured down from the stands. A true captain’s moment and proof that he is quickly growing into this new role as well as proving that the faith shown in him by Wenger through all his troubled times with injuries was indeed well placed. Class Robin, pure class.

Whilst that was obviously game over and I was quietly confident that my prediction of 2-0 was looking like a fairly safe bet now, a strange thing didn’t happen! Wenger did not take off two attacking players and bring on a centre-forward pretending to be a defensive winger and a defensive midfielder. Arsenal did not start aimlessly passing the ball to Bolton players. Our defence didn’t even thrash the ball into their own net! No, what actually happened was Arsenal continued to push forward effectively and stylishly, continuing in the manner that had been tearing open the Bolton defence for the better part of 40 minutes now.

On 73 minutes Ramsey saw his long range effort saved by Jaaskelainen and 2 minutes later Walcott got himself free after a great pass from Song only for Walcott to hesitate and give the Bolton keeper the chance to close down the angle. In truth, Walcott seemed to be trying to show the keeper to his bottom left whilst actually placing it in the bottom right in true Henry style, but by the time he made the decision he was too close to goal and a relatively simple save was all that was required to keep the score at 2-0.

13 minutes of total possession, and when I say total possession I mean passing the ball crisply and cleanly from one red shirt to another and rarely, if ever, giving it away and my 2-0 was looking golden! Then Song had to go and spoil it all in the 88th minute with a strike of the highest quality. The ever-involved Ramsey, another player who didn’t get anywhere near the credit that he deserved after the game, picked the ball up about 25 yards out, moved into 5 yards of space and passed out to the right hand side of the penalty area to the onrushing Sagna who, trying to return the favour, pulled it back to Ramsey to finish. The pass was a little too close to Ramsey and came with a little too much pace but found its way to Alex Song on the edge of the penalty area who controlled neatly, dragged the ball inside Pratley, took another touch and then curled the ball cleanly into the top right hand corner leaving Jaaskelainen with no chance whatsoever. A goal of the highest quality from a player who is improving with almost every game.

All in all a good afternoon’s work with some great individual performances, but, more importantly, a very tidy team performance. A clean sheet, three goals, a captain who led from the front, a defence that rarely looked troubled, no tactical disasters and, most importantly of all, three precious points that all the whinging and bleating of “those that shall not be pleased” can never take away from us.

Just what we needed! Now we need to turn this performance into a habit and that starts with a big game against the Greeks on Wednesday. More to come on that match tomorrow in the pre-match report!

Mass Exodus or Media Sexing Up?!

The tabloids had a field day when they realised that 4 Arsenal players ONLY have 2 years left on their contract! Yes, apparently Theo Walcott, Andre Arshavin, Thomas Vermaelen and Robin Van Persie are all leaving the first opportunity they get as is made clear by the fact that they have not signed contract extensions yet!

Oh dear, anything to generate a story with these buffoons!

Seriously, this is just a ludicrous effort to try and stir up a storm over nothing by the media, but that hasn’t stopped certain sections of the Arsenal fans groaning and claiming that the sky will soon fall in!

To put this issue in some perspective, Manchester United have no fewer than 7 players whose contracts expire in LESS THAN ONE YEAR! Park, Giggs, Owen, Berbatov, Kuszczak, Gibson and O’Shea, but nobody appears to give a monkey’s, and rightly so. Contract extensions tend to get sorted out when there is time and, as much as it may not appear to have been obvious to the blinkered masses, the club was a little busy this summer with things like signing 10 players and loaning one, dealing with the Cesc, Na$ri and Clichy sales and the exit by way of sale, termination or loan of no fewer than 19 other players!

This has not stopped the media from already claiming that Citeh, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich are all ready to sign him in January for £30m!

Woah nelly…Hold on a minute…Citeh? Seriously?! Is there a player in the world that Citeh AREN’T going to buy?! They have Dzeko, Tevez, Aguero and Balotelli and tend to play with one striker! Why would Van Persie even think about going there even if he didleave?! It just wouldn’t make any sense. Captain, first name on the team sheet, scoring a goal about every game he plays in, enjoying his best run of form and his best run without injury for years. He just doesn’t strike me as somebody stupid enough to even consider giving that up to warm the bench for 9 games out of ten.

When actually asked for his opinion, days AFTER the media had already informed us that he would be leaving, he had this to say:

“Maybe I’ll leave it because the main thing for me is the team and that we play well.”

“I do believe you have to look for a right moment to sit down and speak about your own stuff.”

“It’s not only about me, it’s about the team. We are not talking now because we are so busy – we have games every three or four days.”

“I don’t think it’s clever to do that during the season.”

“I still have almost two years left here, so for the moment that’s fine. But I don’t know, we will have to look.”

“I’m happy with my contract, I’m good. That’s how it is, I can’t say much more. I can’t look into the future.”

Which all seems pretty sensible really!

Apparently nobody wanted to talk to any of the other three or indeed Johan Djourou whose contract also expires in two years time but the hacks took no notice of him! It’s almost as if running quotes from any of the others would not sell newspapers, isn’t it?!!

Lo-Jacked
Sad news today for Arsenal and England star Jack Wilshere as the club confirmed that, whilst his operation on his fractured ankle had gone well, they were expecting him to be out for up to four or five months.

“Jack Wilshere has this morning undergone ankle surgery at a central London hospital. It is envisaged that Jack’s rehabilitation will take a period of four to five months.”

“Under the care of two world-renowned surgeons, Jack has had the stress fracture of his right ankle repaired.

“The initial indications are that the surgery has been successful and Jack will now undergo a prolonged period of rehabilitation.”

I have to say that there were two things that realy amused me in that statement, saddening as it is. Firstly, that the club chose to emphasise the use of “two World-renowned surgeons”, either preparing for the inevitable backlash from the Bleaters in the Bleachers claiming that we hired in the same team that worked on Hargreaves at Manchester United in a bid to save £23.50 and secondly that they made it clear that he will be out for four to five months. This is amusing when you read Jack’s own “Tweet” on the topic…

“hopefully i will return to action around christmas time. i am in good hands! thanks for your support everyone!”

Hahaha! It appears that, with the benefit of hindsight, Arsenal Football Club may have learned a valuable lesson in predicting the return of injured players! Of course, it is already being spun as a huge conspiracy by “those that shall not be pleased”, but that is to be expected from them really!

Let’s just hope that Jack is as strong and determined a young man as he is a player and that he gets back in time to give us a great little stocking filler!

Get well soon Jack!

It’s Got To Be Per-fect

Arsene Wenger singled out Per Mertesacker for special words of praise after the defensive performance on Saturday saw him looking more settled and relaxed than in previous matches. In response, Mertesacker had this to say to the Arsenal website:

“We had a little bit more time [during the week] because of the Carling Cup match.”

“Some players had a little more rest and we trained a little harder, especially on the way we want to defend. It worked and on Saturday you saw we had a better defence. We were closer together.”

“After the four goals against Blackburn we lost a little bit of confidence but we were very proud of our performance on Saturday. We want to go on with this way of defending.”

“I want to do a good job, especially in the defence. That is my role. If the coach praises me then that is a great thing but I have to go on and keep on working. My performances can improve.”

Well said that man. I think that it is fair to say that after only a handful of appearances for the club and most of those in a defence desperately short of confidence, he is bedding in well. Time will tell whether Per can truly recapture the form that saw him called “the best central defender in Europe” a couple of years back, but, again, getting on his back every time he does make a mistake is not the way to help that process.

I must say that I cannot wait for TV5 to come back and to see the pair play together regularly. I think that with Sagna, TV5 and Mertesacker along with whoever is winning the right to play at left-back – the kind of competition for places that has been seriously lacking at the club for a long time now – we may even get to see a defence of outstanding quality and effectiveness.

In fact, speaking of competition for places, I think that the “battles” between Mertesacker and Koscielny, Santos and Gibbs, Ramsey, Arteta and Wilshere, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho and Arshavin, Van Persie and Park and Benayoun and anybody in the midfield are not only healthy but something we have been desperately lacking since Wengerball 3 was broken up and I am genuinely excited for the possibilities that this holds for the coming months.

And on that note, I bid you farewell. I have a rum and coke, a full packet of black tobacco cigarettes made in the jungles of Peru and a pre-match report for a game against a Greek team that I know very little about to start researching and actually write!

Come on you All Leaving The Club In January Goooonnnneeerrrsssss!

Comments

4 Comments on "From 17th Best To 17th Best!"

  1. kenyangunner on Tue, 27th Sep 2011 4:58 am 

    best blog post i have read in ages.
    thanx mate!

  2. Ik on Tue, 27th Sep 2011 6:09 am 

    Nice one man. The team as a whole did well, they played well together. That is the key,the players have to play for each other all the time, thats the key to victory.

  3. sniper on Tue, 27th Sep 2011 6:13 am 

    Great Article…….WOW!!!! I’m stil very speechless, i wish i have the right words to express how this blog has made me feel, if you could cee me then I’d be on my feet applauding you. WELDONE!

  4. Shaun O'Flaherty on Tue, 27th Sep 2011 6:35 pm 

    @kenyangunner:

    Thank you very much for the compliment. I am genuinely humbled.

    @Ik:

    I couldn’t agree more. When we have our backs to the wall but the handbrake off, we tend to see a side of Arsenal FC That is all too often missing. That spirit needs to be carried into every game like, and I hate to say this, the Utd’s and Barcelona’s of this world.

    @sniper:

    WOW to you too! Thank you so much for the compliments. Totally underserved, I am sure!

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