Dortmund, Diaby and THAT Dutchman!

November 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League, Premier League

Greetings fellow Gooners!

Up to 7th and within touching distance of the Champions League places again…Crisis? What crisis?!?!

Of course, we all had our doubts at one point or another. We all had to listen to the media screaming about the end of Arsenal. We all had to listen to other “fans” crying out for the head of Arsene Wenger. We even had to sit through protests at the stadium before games (just what is needed when you have a team desperately low on confidence!). But, in the end, that “mentul strengff” that we have heard so much about and has been questioned so very much in seasons past, really has shone through.

1-0 down away to Norwich. Hhmmm. five weeks ago we would have been hoping that we managed to keep the score respectable but when a team is in the kind of form that we are in, when the captain is in a run of games like he is (more on him later!) and when the general levels of confidence around most of the players appear to be sky-high, anything is possible.

And possible it was! Another fantastic showing from van Persie, ably supported in yet another starring role by the also in-form Gervinho and Walcott who in turn are being given a backbone of extreme strength by Arteta, Song and the fabulous Ramsey and before you could say 2-1 to the Arsenal it was, well, 2-1 to the Arsenal!

Another three precious points in the bag on a weekend that saw Chelsea, Aston Villa and Newcastle all lose and BOOM there we are in joint 5th (I know, I know, we are 7th on goal difference, but joint 5th sounds so much nicer!), seven points clear of 8th place and looking straight up the backsides of the Toon and the Lillywhite Shite and toying with the idea of being 3rd when we were being asked if we were in a relegation fight only weeks ago!

On top of all of this exciting news, we could see a few shocks next weekend too with West Brom unlikely to make things easy for the Spuds for their visit to The Hawthorns, Newcastle away to the yet again smash and grabbing, 1-0 winning, lucky feckers United and Liverpool hosting Citeh. With us at home to the currently woeful Fulham, I expect to see us climb to 5th or even 4th by the end of Sunday. Seriously?! Did I just say that the same Arsenal team that lost all of its creativity and its best players in the summer, replaced them with a bunch of unknowns and rejects after being thrashed 8-2 by the eternally indebted, could actually be in the Champions League places with about two-thirds of the season left to play?!

And that is how fickle the football Dennises are and how even more fickle football fans can be.

But that is next weekend and we have the small matter of Dortmund at home in the Champions League first.

Dortmund are actually in great form in the league of late, having dispatched Bundesliga leaders Bayern 1-0 away from home on Saturday to continue an unbeaten run that stretches back to the 18th of September, scoring 20 goals in their last seven outings and conceding only three goals in the process. They do seem unable to replicate anything like the same form in the Champions League though, with only four points from four games scoring three and conceding seven!

So a win is to be expected, but is far from guaranteed. Any team with players in the creative positions like Gotze, Großkreutz and Kagawa are capable of beating anybody on their day. It just seems that their day isn’t, hopefully, destined to be in this seasons Champions League. Another reason that the Germans should be taken very seriously indeed is that, should they fail to get something from this game, they will be out of the competition. They have nothing left to lose and everything left to gain and that is exactly what Jürgen Klopp will be telling his team.

So, with this game offering us the opportunity to guarantee qualification in the event that we win it, or even draw it for that matter, and Dortmund realistically needing a win to stand a chance of advancing in the competition, one expects that Arsene will put out something like his strongest side. With the injury list growing faster than it is shrinking (Rosicky – Thigh, Chamakh – Knee and Miyaichi – Ankle now added to the long-term injuries to Wilshere, Sagna, Jenkinson and Gibbs), I would imagine the team to look something like this:

Predicted Line-Up v Dortmund

OK, I know I have put Arshavin in over Gervinho on about three occasions so far this season only for Wenger to surprise me and leave the Ivorian in and, more surprisingly, the Russian out, but I really do think that this time he will get the nod, if for no other reason than Gervinho is playing a lot of games for us at the moment and is currently in a run of form that would allow him the luxury of this being a rest and not being dropped in favour of Arshavin. If you see what I mean?!

Predictions are tough for this one as with only a point needed to guarantee qualification one would think that a tight defence and a cat and mouse game of counter-attacking would be on the cards. There is, however, the small matter of Marseille playing Olympiacos at home thus almost guaranteed the three points, which would mean that a draw would leave us in 2nd place and hoping for a result away in Greece or Dortmund doing us a favour at home to Marseille in two weeks time, all of which sounds like the hard way to go about things…But this is Arsenal and the hard way IS the Arsenal way!

In truth, the best way to go about this is to get at them early, try to get an early goal and then keep going. Dortmund will be dangerous on the counter, of course, but then again, we are dangerous from just about anywhere right now! And can anybody really see us trying to grab a goal and then sit on it for the remainder of the game?! No, me neither. So, with all that in mind, I am going for a 3-1 win and a good performance to go with it. If Song can put in the kind of shift that he has been of late, we may even see the likes of Gotze struggle for the time and space that his game needs and we could even get away with a clean sheet! Arsenal?! Clean sheet?! Are you MAD?!??!

Come Wednesday, we shall find out! Mad or not, I genuinely believe that this is one of the best Arsenal squads for a few years now and one that has the potential to keep going where others have been found wanting. With players like Miyaichi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Frimpong and Aneke, Ozyakup and Miquel waiting in the wings, this really could be the beginning of something quite special that could last for years rather than the end of Arsenal Football Club as many were predicting only a few weeks ago.

And with Sagna, Jenkinson, Wilshere and Gibbs all still to return, we may even see a season where the all too familiar self-destruction sequence is avoided and a stronger team emerges after Christmas. Only time will tell, but I know that this is, yet again thanks to Arsene Wenger, a wonderful time to be a Gooner!

Diaby Returns AGAIN!

Since having his leg broken for him some 5 years ago by that knuckle-dragging imbecile Dan Smith, his ability to stay fit has been seriously questioned. Strangely he is not particularly popular amongst Arsenal fans even though his playing statistics show a player of some impact. 20 goals and 14 assists in 158 matches for a box-to-box midfielder are not bad statistics at all, although I am aware that these numbers do not speak the whole truth regarding his at times seeming inability to make a decision in time to not lose the ball in the most dangerous of positions, neither do they show how easy it is to reduce your popularity when getting a stupid and unnecessary red card in a game in which we are 4-0 up at Newcastle only to then see the referee basically hand a draw to the Toon with a couple of unspeakably ridiculous penalty awards, a failure to send off one of their players for a headlock/strangulation effort on “the Pole between the poles” and a generally hideous defensive effort. To place all the blame on the midfielder for all of that seems a little unfair but scapegoats will always be found when needed and his was the most obvious place in which to point the finger.

in my opinion his return to fitness (and subsequent inclusion in the squad to face Dortmund), hopefully for more than a handful of games this time, should only be a good thing in terms of squad depth and, if he realises only a fraction of his enormous potential, we could see a great set of midfielders competing for places come January. Imagine this: Wilshere, Ramsey, Arteta, Diaby, Benayoun, Song, Frimpong and Rosicky all competing for three starting places. Competition for places is often overlooked in the bigger picture, but I believe that Walcott, Song, Koscielny, Gibbs and Ramsey are all showing great leaps in class since their places were no longer guaranteed due to the arrivals and emergences of the Ox, Frimpong, Mertesacker, Santos and Wilshere respectively.

As Arsene has recently said, this is a big squad but also a squad with strength in depth and “those who shall not be pleased” who claim otherwise are ignoring the obvious in deference of searching for more reasons to bleat.

Let them bleat, I say!

Van STILL The Man!

Robin van Persie’s incredible run of form since he finally managed to find a run of games without serious injury now sees him with 31 goals in 29 games in 2011, top of the goalscoring charts in the Premier League and a set of statistics that put him up there with the very best players in the world – 13 goals in 12 league games compared with 14 in 12 for Ronaldo and 15 in 12 for Messi.

Couple this with the obvious understanding developing quickly between him and Theo Walcott and the constantly improving form of Gervinho, we look like we can score whenever we attack, even if the bulk of those goals are coming from the one man.

Of course, without a new contract signed sealed and delivered, there is the fear that our Dutch talisman could be on his way for a fistful of dollars come the end of the season. Personally I do not put much stock in the relentless rumours of his inevitable departure and believe that a combination of the board, Arsene and the fans will do just as much as the team to convince him to stay as any amount of money could convince him to leave. A player enjoying his football as much as he is would find it difficult to leave any team, but one that actually wins something, which I believe that this team is capable of this season, would, of course, make it even more difficult.

The chance that he may go the way of the likes of Na$ri, AdePayMeMore and Clichy exists until that contract is signed but, as we have seen in recent years, signing a new contract doesn’t guarantee that a player will stay anyway. As fans the very best that we can do is get behind him, the team and the manager and show him and all of our other great players that we are the best fans in the world and that this team is one with a glowing future that he would be mad to leave behind.

So, let’s do our jobs and get behind the team and the manager as well as the captain and let’s make that 12th man truly count.

Come on you League Climbing, Champions League Knock-out Rounds Qualifying Bright Future Gooooooonnnnneeeeerrrrssss!

Frenchmen Under Fire

October 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League

Greetings fellow Gooners!

A terrible start to the season for a team managed by a Frenchman who finds himself under a mountain of pressure, fans screaming for his head and the board telling the world things like this:

“[The manager] is not under threat, he has the keys to this place for the long term.”

And the manager saying things like this:

“I don’t want to be too pessimistic [about our situation]. I’m aware of the difficulties we are facing but we are working on that and we are trying to build some confidence.”

And reading either or both of those statements, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that we were talking about our very own French manager, but we are not. The Frenchman is Didier Deschamps, the manager of Marseille, our next opponents, although the comparisons are more than striking.

Up next, the trip across the channel to Marseille. No easy game for sure, although there cannot be many teams of the size of Marseille that have endured a worse start to their league campaign than us! 10 games played, 9 points gained sees the French side wallowing in 15th place in the Ligue 1 table. All that said, their last Champions League match saw them trounce Borussia Dortmund 3-0 so they have to feel that they are at least in with a chance.

So, two teams with all to play for, both underperforming desperately in their respective leagues, both, rather ironically, unbeaten thus far in the Champions League, both managers recently being given the dreaded vote of confidence and both teams recently seeing a bit of an upturn in form, if not entirely in terms of results. All in all, this one could turn out to be a real humdinger!

Team news is expected with Vermaelen still out until at least the end of the month, Diaby until the weekend but it is more likely that the Carling Cup match will see his latest in a string of comebacks, Wilshere and Sagna are obviously still on the long term injury list. The most recent addition to the treatment room is sadly, once again, Kieran Gibbs. Sadly because he seems to have no luck whatsoever with injuries, this one being a stomach muscle problem, and sadly because he was actually starting to show us why Wenger has stuck with him through all these injuries by playing really quite well indeed!

On a more positive note, Aaron Ramsey has travelled with the squad to France having been back in training and having no reoccurrence of the problems with the tight hamstring that kept him out of Sunday’s 2-1 win. So, Santos will almost certainly start at left-back, Jenkinson will probably continue at right-back in the continued absence of Sagna whilst Walcott and Gervinho will probably keep their places although either or both of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arshavin may well be in with a shout after the former’s last performance against Olympiacos and the latter’s cameo against Sunderland.

So, the team will probably look something like this:

Expected Line-Up v Marseille

And so we begin a two week period that could well define the season, regardless of what has gone before, with the Champions League “double header” sandwiching the visit to the Emirates of Stoke City and the short away trip to the bus stop in Fulham. Throw in the Carling Cup home match against Bolton and we could find ourselves in much better shape in the league or languishing in the bottom half of the table again, as good as in the hat for the knockout phase of the Champions League or all but out of the competition and sailing into the fifth round of the Carling Cup with another win against the “impenetrable” defence of Cahill and co (currently the worst defensive record in the EPL having conceded a fairly impressive 22 goals!) or crashing out of one of the only two competitions that may actually be considered winnable for us this season!

Time will tell, but the most important thing is to get at least a point tomorrow night, preferably all three. I personally believe that we will get the win that we really need and I am going to plump for a 2-0 win.

Let’s all hope that I am right!

Vermaelen Extends Contract Amid Yet More Claims Of Mentul Strengff

Yet again the manager has decided to wield those fatal two words whilst discussing a team that couldn’t possibly have looked frailer and lacking in the aforementioned “strengff” as it has over the past 6 months. Self-destructing our way from the Carling Cup final to the end of an entirely distressing and desperately anti-climactic season which saw go from having the title in our own hands one minute and Champions League qualification the next.

When asked about TV5’s decision to sign a new long-term contract, (thank Dennis for that!) this is what he had to say:

“What is important is that in our environment it gives a different message.

“When you listen to people it looks like an exodus with everybody leaving the Club but we are a happy club. We did not have the start of the season that we wanted but the atmosphere inside the Club is very solid, very united and very positive.

“We want to turn the results round and the fact that some players extend their contract at the moment is a positive sign for us.

“We are unified and that is down to our mental strengths. This club has traditionally shown mental strength under pressure and I would just like to say that we have been under pressure since the start of the season but in the big games we always managed to find the resources to respond well.

“The biggest games have been the qualifiers for the Champions League and certainly recently against Sunderland where we had absolutely to win the game. There is another one we want to win tomorrow.”

Plenty there to chew over and spit out, but there is simply no way that “We are unified and that is down to our mental strengths. This club has traditionally shown mental strength under pressure and I would just like to say that we have been under pressure since the start of the season but in the big games we always managed to find the resources to respond well,” can pass by without some sort of critical review.

“…traditionally shown mental strength…” and “…but in the big games we always managed to find the resources to respond well,” strike me as the words of a man who is either a) kidding, b) living in cloud cuckoo-land or c) in such a deep state of denial that he actually believes what he just said!

Seriously, traditionally we fold like a Brighton Beach deck-chair just as you are about to sit in it and as for finding resources for the big games, well, feck me gently with a chainsaw if that isn’t about the most ludicrous things you could even imagine him saying in the same six month period that has seen us gift the Carling Cup to Birmingham City, soon after to be relegated, thrown away the league in a style that left most Spurs fans feeling like they had actually won the league themselves (yeah, keep on dreaming you overrated Lillywhite shite. 50 years and counting!) and if we came up with the resources at Old Trafford then I would hate to see what might have happened if we’d had an off day.

I’m sorry. I like Arsene, I truly do, and I still believe that he is the best man to dig us out of the hole that we find ourselves in, but this sort of blindness/wishful thinking/lunacy (delete as appropriate) simply beggars belief. Surely he isn’t still trying this type of rhetoric to boost the confidence of the players? The truth is that our past 6 years of history confirms that it simply doesn’t work.

Reliable Robin Probably A No-Go
Arsene Wenger was asked about the RvP “situation” (Situation? What situation? Didn’t he tell us that he intends to stay and that we should ignore the rubbish being churned out in the press?!) by the Arsenal supporters club of France. His response was a little “cagier” than one might have expected:

“I don’t think I will lose Robin. But if a player who has a choice of two clubs with the same ambition, they’ll go for the club who pay more. If the players leave it’s not linked to titles. Players don’t go to Manchester City for titles, they go for money.”

Which is fair all enough, if you ignore the obvious fact that Citeh are sitting at the very top of the Premier League, two points clear of neighbours and with a home game against the on Sunday! Surely, unless he is a bigger muppet than even I think he is, Na$ri is not looking over his shoulder thinking “Hhmmm…Wish I had stayed at Arsenal after all and fought to get into the top half of the table instead of coming here and playing for a team that look like genuine contenders for the title. PS – Cha-ching!”

Aside from that, I was a little frustrated with the un-unequivocalness (I know that isn’t a word, but I kind of like it anyway!) of the Van Persie part of that statement. “I don’t think…” is NOT what we were being led to believe on Sunday after the captain’s programme notes were quite so specific about his desire to stay at Arsenal. Sometimes I actually wonder if Wenger doesn’t go out of his way to ruffle as many feathers as possible, especially the currently suffering supporters of our fine club.

The very last thing we need right now is another upwelling of media speculation regarding the Dutchman, there is already quite enough welling coming up to go around. Surly a better answer would have been something like “I refer you to Robin’s programme notes from Sunday,” and left it at that. Now the media will have their story again and we will have to listen to the endless stream of opinion regarding what we will do when he “inevitably” leaves. Of course, if he does leave, I fully expect the club to close its gates after 125 years of football because we simply won’t be able to carry on.

More Mentul Strengff
In the build-up to today’s Champions League match Arsene was asked the inevitable questions about his time managing Monaco and their fierce rivalry with Marseille and the highs and lows of management in general. He had this to say on the subject:

“A career in management prepares you to fight against adversity, that is for sure.

“When a young manager asks me for advice all you can say is ‘survive disappointments’ because that’s all you can say. You cannot imagine a career of any manager without disappointment. At the end of the day, it is that.

“It makes you stronger or you get out of the job. It is as simple as that. What helps you is that you believe in your passion and mental strength.”

This worries me a little, if I am completely honest. If “all you can say” when asked about the highs and lows of a career in football management is “survive disappointments” then you surely have a fairly negative view of things in general. At a time when we are looking to the team to put a run of good results together and build some confidence, the manager is not exactly presenting them with much in the way of positive, confidence-building input with statements like that. I would have hoped for something a little more “Pacino”. Something like “Squeeze every last drop of everything you have out of every last inch of your body to make sure that you are always playing the very best football that you can and can always hold your head up high knowing that you didn’t let yourself or any of your colleagues down.”
Something like that anyway! Maybe I should apply for a job writing Arsene a few decent sound bites for his press conferences as the less confusing they get, which isn’t always the case, the more perplexing they become, if you catch my drift!

And on that note, I bid you farewell!

Come on your never been accused of match-fixing Goooonnnneeeerrrrrssss!

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!

Tough test awaits, Udinese no walk in the park

August 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League, Transfers

Just few hours from now could really define our season in a nutshell. It hasn’t been a great week for us has it now? It hasn’t been a great summer full stop. Loosing at the weekend has not helped one bit to be honest with you. We saw the last of Nasri then, today he is checking house prices somewhere up north but more on that later.

Tonight we take on Udinese in MASSIVE second leg of our Champions League qualifier to the group stages. We hold a lead which is a slender lead but still gives us that little bit of advantage. In ideal world I would like to go there with a three goal lead and a squad full of world class players, however we all know  that both of these options are somewhat a bit of a fairy tale. In fact our team sheet just got weaker, we finally got rid of Nasri who for me was the only player who could do anything against Liverpool on Saturday and young Jack is now facing a setback on his ankle problem. The only good news for tonight is that Djourou, Traore, Gervinho, Rosicky, Song and Frimpong are back in the squad following injuries and suspensions. Despite our team being paper thin both on paper and on the pitch to me that’s a great boost from Saturday. Frimpong gave us a glance of what a player he could be for us and as much as his inexperience let him down, we definitely have a player with Arsenal DNA in him.

We will need to keep it really tight especially in the middle as this area is mostly weakened we all know what Udinese are capable of, we all saw what they can do at The Grove a week ago. There were moments of scare in the first leg and I’m convinced they will give us even a sterner test at their home turf. They are a decent side who can break on the counter attack in an instant so positioning discipline is a must, Song  please don’t go charging forward like a headless chicken and expose rather inexperienced Frimpong.

We need to be on top of our game in all areas in order for us to progress to the group stages, best way is to score an away goal and I really trust us to do just that. The away goal will mean a great deal to us and hopefully will be enough to see us through this tough fixture. Not sure who Arsene will send out tonight but I would go with this selection to start with:




You could possibly argue this line up because it would also be interesting to play Arshavin instead of Walcott and let’s be honest he has tons more experience in European Cup games, on top of that Arshavin will never last 90 minutes so Theo could be used here as a super substitute. Theo comes on quick counter attack, scores a second goal and we are through. Sounds so simple and I know for a fact it won’t be that easy, either way let’s get behind the lads wherever you are.

So Nasri is officially gone, it’s a real shame I liked him as player and I thought he had loads of talent that would blossom under Wenger, however yet again the modern footballer goes for money rather than pride and history, there isn’t a great deal to add what Arsene said:

“We did not want to lose Fabregas, but we were forced into a situation we didn’t want. Nasri is a situation where the player didn’t want to extend his contract with the proposals he had somewhere else. What kind of commitment can you have when the player is not there long-term? That is the question you have to answer.”

Fair play I haven’t got any complaints about him leaving he was after more money after all, neither do I have complaints about Cesc leaving too (being homesick and all that). I do however question how the club has approached this summer transfer window knowing that we will require high quality replacements for the players we have sold. We are a week away before transfer window will shut firmly in our faces and at this very moment it doesn’t look like there is going to be enough time to sign anyone decent. I believe a great deal will depend on the result tonight, we all know quality players want to play in Champions League, so this game could certainly define our season.

I don’t even want to think what will happen if we fail to qualify (rather scary thought), not only we will loose on £25 million from the competition, we may also miss out on any potential new signings. I sincerely hope that once we get through to group stages Arsene and The Board will work overtime to sign suitable players to strengthen areas in our squad that have been depleted by those players who have now left the club. The only way to strengthen, is to buy top quality players and I’m hoping we will not be let down by the club with so little time left on the clock.

I will leave it on that note, I have been very annoyed with the way the transfer window has been dealt with, it has been simply unacceptable for a club like Arsenal. On the positive side let’s look forward to the game tonight and get behind what we have for now.

Come on ARSENAL!

Dig deep, bring home those precious three points!

March 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Premier League

There is not a lot you can add to the title of this post, it’s an absolute must for us to bring home maximum points later on this afternoon. Last three weeks have not been great for us, infact we only managed a draw at home against Sunderland which to me was certainly opportunity missed to get even closer to the Mancs.

No point to dwell on those disappointments now, I suppose,  time to move on we can still challenge for the Premier League tittle so let’s give it our best shot. Injuries are piling up again Abou Diaby will now miss the game with a groin strain which he probably sustained during training, they reckon it’s only short term and it’s a matter of days. Diaby is definitely not having a good season, he failed to impress so far and is out injured again. So it looks like Denilson will play alongside Wilshere. Denilson in definitely not a defensive midfielder we all know that but he hasn’t played a lot of games this season so let’s get behind him even though he hasn’t been that great, perhaps he needs playing time to improve, he certainly doesn’t look like the player from last season. We will definitely miss our backbone of Cesc, Song, Djourou and Walcott but I honestly belive that we have enough in the tank to beat The Baggies and make up for what happened at The Emirates earlier in the season.

I would like for Nasri to start in the middle this time around, he seems less effective on the left, Bendtner out wide with Van Persie in the middle and Arshavin on the right. With this selection Wilshere and Denilson behind Nasri. With Djourou out Squilliaci will pair Koscienly at the center of our defence so it looks like a complete French outlet there with Sanga and Clichy on the flanks.

Baggies will try their best to gain points themselves they are certainly not safe yet, there are two points away from relegation zone, so they will give us a game no doubt. I’m confident though that with our quality we can take all three points and keep our title run very much alive. We know we can go level on points with Man U and hopefully for a change we can take this opportinty and use it to our advantage.

We need to dig deep, no room for error and complacancy, every Priemier Lague game becomes a Cup game now.  I would like to sit down later on tonight with a smile on my face, knowing that we are still strongly in the title race. I’m sure the away fans will get behind whoever runs out onto that pitch in few hours time as always they have been really great this season, hats off to them.  I’ll be doing my bit from home, so let’s get beihind them all and hope for we can bring those prercious three points back home.

COME ON YOU REDS…!!!

Why Arsenal can take heart from Barca defeat

March 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League

Barcelona are the best team in the world. We know this because we are told often enough by those in the know.

Some go one further. For me, they are the best team ever Graeme Souness cooed in the post-match fall-out following Arsenals 3-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Tuesday.

Before anything else, something needs to be addressed. Barcelona deserve their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and out-played Arsenal during the second leg.

The first game was one of contrast  the team from Catalonians gentle caress opposition with Arsenal’s bloodied self-belief, this game sadly offered no such juxtaposition to raise the intrigue and heart rates, at least from an Arsenal point of view.

If styles make boxing fights then this one was set up as a classic that never materialised. Endless column inches dedicated to Robin Van Persie’s ludicrous sending off detract from the real issues that emerged from the game Arsenal simply never got going.

That was less down to their own limitations than the success of the Barcelona formula. Dani Alves and Adriano Correia spent more time in Arsenal’s half than any full backs have the right to, meaning both Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky were bound by their defensive responsibilities more than their attacking intents. Without the threat of a counterattack, both were given licence to roam as they wished.

Alves has had the 4th most touches in the opposition half so far in La Liga this season, making a mockery of his positions title.

And devoid of Theo Walcott, and with the shadow of Cesc Fabregas and Van Persie on the pitch as they continued to struggle with injury, Arsenal were shorn of the weapon that would have been so valuable against a team that applies constant pressure. It worked well in the first leg, so why not at the Nou Camp?

Messi, Iniesta and Xavi offered little else other than expected from a team who create angles and movement like no others are able to. It was hypnotising at times as Wenger’s men spirit slowly then more quickly as Van Persie departed – evaporated into the night sky. Betting forum threads wove a pattern as pretty as the home sides passing, alight with praise for a team looking likely to put as many as they wished past another that lives in their shadow.

Despite this, Arsenal still could have won the tie. If Nicklas Bendtner’s first touch from a Jack Wilshere pass had been better, then the mood which engulfs the club currently would have had an all-together different tone. How were Arsenal, who by rights should have been out of contention with ten men against eleven who delight in beautiful torture, allowed to get within a couple of inches of knocking Barcelona out of a competition they covet so much?

The Barcelona model is flawed, and they know it. There 28 chances across both legs resulted in four goals, one of which was a penalty. Even if there Plan A is the most mesmeric strategy in world football, it is just that, a plan A, and it comes without backup. Arsenal were direct at home and racked up two goals in succession, while in Spain their first real foray into opposition territory resulted in an own goal. For once it is Barca who should take note.

Little over 18 months ago, the Catalan club did something strange. They signed a big man up top. A talented big man of course, but a target man for, whisper it quietly, the long ball. The Zlatan Ibrahimovic experiment failed eventually; the Swede was farmed out to AC Milan on loan as Barca proved to be unable to deviate from the groove that has been bored into their psyche, but his signature alone shows their vulnerability.

It is a type of snobbery particular to football that means a club willing to score from a different method  in cricket, for example, Ali Cook is praised as one of England’s finest batsman for his dogged style which emphasises application over ability, while Paul Collingwood is revered for making the most of his talent, but not in football. There is only one way to skin a cat, apparently.

Arsenal now face a defining point in their season. For better or worse, they now play Manchester united at Old Trafford in another different competition with the knowledge of their trophy-less run blurring the lines between a game they must win and why they must win it. Bonus betting may adjudge the Arsenal spirit too broken after two demoralising defeats to set themselves up for another fall again, but this side is made of something more solid than years gone by. Wenger hailed his side as maturing earlier in the season, now we will see if his assertion holds up to the closest of inspections.

But take heart, Arsenal, you were inches away from doing what only a handful of teams have done before. Barcelona are not invincible, and Arsene Wenger knows it.

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