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:
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!
Greetings fellow Gooners!
Marseille at home offers us the opportunity to guarantee our place in the knock-out phase of the Champions League. OK, it depends on the result between Dortmund and Olympiacos too, but with two games left to play in the group, it would be a nice touch to add to a fantastic couple of Arsenal weeks!
Having already sneaked a cracking steal the points victory in France two weeks ago, one assumes that our confidence will be high heading into the return home match. Add to that the demolition of Chelsea at the weekend, the fact that we are on a run of 8 wins in 9 games and we are rightly considered favourites heading into this game. However, discount the French at your peril. They are a team that suffered a similarly bad opening to their season as we did but are also a team that appear to be “turning the corner”. Since we last met on that emotional night in Marseille, Didier Deschamps’ side has won three on the bounce, scoring nine goals and conceding only two. On top of that he has reverted the side to a 4-4-2 which seems to be making all the difference in terms of creativity.
So, a lot of what goes on tonight will depend as much on our players ability to keep doing what we have been doing as it will on which tactics Deschamps employs. If he goes for another defensive line-up and performance like the last time out, we may see However, should the French side turn up and play the way they have did in the last match between the two clubs, we may see a fairly similar result although the danger exists that the scoreline could go 1-0 either way under those circumstances. If Marseille come to play the way they have been since the last time the two teams faced each other, we could see a repeat of the weekend’s game against the team from the bus stop in Fulham.
In truth, this result predicting dilemma leaves me a little stuck. Whilst I believe that, on recent evidence at least, we are capable of beating anybody, I also think that confidence plays a big part of that and confidence is something that the French side are also riding a wave of right now. If Deschamp tinkers that confidence may well be lost in some part but if he lets his team go out and play the expressive flowing football that they have been of late, well, we could be in for a cracking match for the neutrals!
So, I have to make a decision, and rather than go with the 1-0 win that my head is telling me, I am going to go with my heart, meaning a 4-2 win to the mighty Arsenal and another European night to remember!
In the pre-match press conference Wenger was asked if he was tempted to stick with the same team that won in such style against Chelsea at the weekend. His response was this:
“I am tempted to do it.
“Sometimes if you take a team on a roll there is no need to change it. You can defend any [decision] but when a team is on a positive experience, why not? That is what I have to decide.
“I [changed players] away from home at Donetsk last season and got punished.
“First we want to qualify of course. But then I did it when we were qualified and we paid a heavy price [by finishing second in the Group]. But you could finish first this season and still play Barca!”
Which is of course all true and valid although I don’t think that getting Barcelona would be quite the disaster that many believe with the team on the high that it currently is and with, I am sure, a fair few players in the team more than willing to put in that little bit extra to show Cesc why he made the wrong choice! I am not entirely sure of the wisdom of Wenger in basically telling the players that we don’t want to play Barcelona either. What if we DO draw them? What will he tell them then? I was just kidding, you can thrash this shower?!
Anyway, back to reality and I think that Wenger will be fairly true to his instincts and so the line up for tonight will probably not change a great deal from the weekend. I think that Jenkinson will return if he is fit enough to play and not just fit enough to train and I think that Arshavin will probably again take the place of Gervinho when he has done little to deserve to do so and I also think that Vermaelen will probably replace either Koscielny or Mertesacker to give him some game time and one of them a rest. In truth the choice of who to leave out has become something of a delicious and very unusual problem for Arsenal with Mertesacker being a simply world class defender now finding his feet a little in the Premier League whilst Koscielny has recently shown why Wenger has so much faith in the lad and turned in some quite stunning shifts, overshadowed only by Robin van Persie in the hunt for man of the match awards.
My gut tells me that the Frenchman will be the one to get a rest tonight and Wenger will give us the chance to see TV5 and PM4 in play together in partnership for the first time. What a mouthwatering prospect that is!
So, the line up should look something like this:
If they keep it sensible whilst attacking with the same intensity and positivity as we did at the weekend and that team is more than capable of taking the three points that guarantee qualification with something to spare. Get all gung-ho up front whilst regressing into that defensively sleepy mode that brought the disasters of the first few weeks of the season and we may well be on the receiving end of a rude awakening.
I do hope not, I personally like the way this side is developing a lot and I don’t think that any of them or us really needs to give “Those Who Shall Not Be Pleased” the chance to boo their displeasure at this exciting new version of Wengerball thus undoing all the good work of the past 9 games.
Diaby Out Again (was he ever in?!)
Abou Diaby has suffered yet another injury setback and will not be back for at least another 3 weeks. In the pre-match press conference Wenger gave us all the gory details…
“You won’t see him for a while, the next three weeks. He will not play for France either. I am worried but I was more worried three months ago. His ankle was not good but the surgery went very well then. Now his balance has changed so he has to adjust his muscular strength. He has had two small muscular concerns and if he can get rid of them in the next two to three weeks he will be ready. It’s a good time to get him right as we have a two-week break after Saturday.”
This is just getting worse. This kid is either destined to end his career before it even really begins or will take a leaf out of van Persie’s “How To Become A Cult Hero At Arsenal” book and eventually make a comeback that will last more than 2 games and see him play like a contender for World Player of the Year!!!
I do seriously hope that it is the latter as I like Diaby as both a player and a person and genuinely believe that a decent run of fitness would see a totally different player. I am not sure that the Vieira references are necessary or even correct, but I do think that he has something to offer as an attacking midfielder and I personally would enjoy the chance to at least find out.
I think that Wenger’s persistence with van Persie should be a good indicator as to whether or not Diaby has what it takes to make the grade at the top level. How many thought that the injury problems the Dutchman suffered were justification enough to send him packing? Too many in reality. But the manager kept his faith intact, brought Robin back and, be honest, where would we be right now without him? So, if we cannot show some faith in Diaby, we can surely show a little in Arsene, can’t we?
Meet The Muppets
Raphael van der Vaart has decided to let Arsenal players and fans alike what the cheating little fecker thinks of us with a quite hilarious little tirade aimed across North London via the tabloid press!
Seriously, I am not going to devote much space to this, other than to make a point of highlighting the seriously obvious and gaping flaw in the logic here:
“We are better than Arsenal.
“In our last seven games we have won six and drawn once. It’s a long season, but I think we have a bigger and better squad.”
Better than Arsenal?! Bigger and better squad?!!!?! HAHAHA! This muppet has spent way too long listening to the Lillywhite Shite’s fans!
Better than Arsenal involves, for example, actually winning a league title in the past FIFTY YEARS or maybe even an FA Cup in the past TWENTY YEARS!
Cheating by using your arm to control the ball and then NOT getting the bookings you so clearly deserved for the red card you should certainly have been shown to get a win, against the general run of play in your own cack-hole of a ground, is not a solid base from which to start spouting this level of “muppetry” and believe that anybody other than your own agonising blind fanbase will be taking you seriously!
On top of that, one of your half-wit players NOT maiming our right back and putting him out of his job for three months whilst “challenging” for a ball that was almost already off the pitch would probably be a good idea too in the bid to claim bragging rights!
Just wait until we get that Lillywhite Shite at the Emirates in February!
Lest we forget…This is their season. This is the season when they will overtake us and leave us languishing outside of the coveted Champions League places. This is the season where the power struggle in North London will be decided once and for all!
What a load of old pony!!!
And on that note I bid you farewell.
Come on you About To Guarantee Knock Out Phase Champions League Football Yet Again Whilst The Spuds Chase Their Dreams Of Glory In The Europa League Gooooonnnnnneeeerrrrrsssss!!!
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:
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!
Greetings fellow Gooners!
Well, that was a mind-numbingly, toe-curlingly putrid two weeks, wasn’t it?! Not a game worth seeing in sight, (the obvious exception being Oxlade-Chamberlain’s hat-trick for the Ingerlund U21’s of course!) and nothing, literally NOTHING new to read, hear, see or care about regarding our great club.
And when I say nothing new, I mean NOTHING just as much as I mean NEW!
The media has spent the past two weeks telling us the following:
– We made a bid for Gourcuff, but we already knew that weeks ago
– We made a bid for Reina, but we already knew that months ago
– Arshavin has been underperforming, but we already knew that years ago
– Park has to leave us in two years for national service, but we already knew that too!
– Ivan Gazidis claims that we do not need Champions League football to survive, but we already knew that last season when there was a chance we may actually slip out of the top 4 altogether.
– Oh, and Joey Barton is STILL a no-brained, gobshite, half-witted buffoon, but EVERYBODY knows that!
In all honesty, I have spent the past two weeks trying to write something of any real substance and, whilst I could have taken the lead of some far better writers than I, I actually chose not to take a trip down memory lane but instead look for something to say about the here and now. But there was simply nothing worth saying. Nothing that came pouring out of the bile-ridden jaws of the mainstream media or even the dreamy home-style official Arsenal website itself had anything remotely new, interesting or, on any level whatsoever, positive to say at all. And that was the key for me…Positivity. We simply need more of it around our fine club if this is to prove a temporary dip in form rather than a full-blown long-term sack the manager and set fire to the stadium rot setting in crisis!
So, I kept my trap firmly shut, watched Ireland slink miserably out of the Rugby World Cup, (against a Welsh side that admittedly not only deserved their win but may well have the spirit, the youthful enthusiasm and even the raw talent to go on and win the thing) watched Ingerlund slink miserably out of the same tournament (much to my general delight after they did little but disgrace themselves at every given opportunity), watched Rooney doing what only a Manchester United player could be quite so arrogant and stupid enough to do in an Ingerlund shirt AGAIN (yes, yes, I know, 8-2 and all that, but it still doesn’t stop you from being as thick as two short planks, now does it Shrek?!) and I generally tried to steer clear of all things Arsenal wherever possible!
But now it is time to get excited, involved and hopeful again. Sunderland at home is a game that we quite enjoy if recent history is anything to go by. A massive positive note should be that we don’t tend to concede many goals in this fixture with Sunderland scoring precisely none in the last three games against us at the Emirates and to top it all they will be without their star striker, Nicklas Bendtner! On another positive note is we don’t tend to lose this game either with 7 wins and 3 draws in the last 10.
But there is one statistic that may amaze you all…We have kept 9 clean sheets in our last 13 home games! “The worst defence in the league”, as I am sure we have all heard by now, are actually managing to keep a a few clean sheets along the way!
Sunderland are not in the best of form either. Apart from their 4-0 win against the Neanderthals of Stoke City, they are without a win home or away in all competitions, leaving them “languishing” below us in 16th place!
So 15th plays 16th and people still claim we are in a relegation dogfight!
Team news is pretty much as expected before the dire times of the international break with Vermaelen, Wilshere, Sagna and Diaby (seriously, is he STILL an Arsenal player?!) all out whilst we “welcome back” the defensive trio of Djourou, Koscielny and Squillaci! Ok, the sarcasm is probably a little unfair with regard to Kos who has actually looked like he wsa finding a bit of form when playing alongside TV5 and has not struggled playing alongside Mertesacker to anything like the same degree as he did last season when the Belgian was out and he was paired with the hapless Squillaci and the injury and error prone Djourou.
All of this means that Song will surely move back into central midfield, Koscielny back into the centre of defence, Jenkinson will probably take the place of Sagna, out for three long painful months, Gibbs, who somewhat miraculously continues to stay injury-free and also continues to play very well indeed, should fill the left-back slot and Frimpong and Coquelin will probably go back to fighting it out for a spot on the bench. I must say at this point that I am totally stunned by the general lack of any interest whatsoever in the manner in which Sagna broke his leg. The obviously unnecessary and thus idiotic challenge of Assou-Ekotto in the game against the Spuds would have caused absolute outrage had it been an Arsenal player who had done the same. The ball flying out of play, close to the halfway line and the fecker goes and hits him almost waist high, knocking him off balance in mid-air and landing half on the advertising hoardings and half on his right fibula. But maybe it is just me and maybe everybody thinks that sort of tackle is fair and called for in that area of the pitch with zero chance of actually getting to the ball. Ho-hum!
So, the team will probably look like this:
I have to say that the “revelation” that Arshavin has not been playing well may have been a little ruse by the club and the player to give them the chance to drop him for a few games at the same time giving Gervinho the nod in terms of first choice for the position. Maybe a confidence boost is just what is needed for the Ivorian who, in my opinion, has been guilty of nothing more than simply trying far too hard to impress. Not really surprising either, when you look at things. He played brilliantly against Udinese followed by watching Arshavin playing woefully in the next fixture, the 8-2 debacle against United, and well in the next game against Swansea where he scored the winner, came back into the side to play as well as any Arsenal player on the night in the 1-1 draw against Dortmund, scored the opener against Blackburn, played well against Bolton and then watched Arshavin play another 10 minutes out of the 90 against Olympiacos. If anybody has a right to feel a little aggrieved at being left out, it has to be him, especially when the player replacing him doesn’t even appear particularly interested in playing in the first place!
I for one believe that Gervinho is a great signing and will prove to be a top-quality player for us given a little more time to settle in and the chance to get on with his job and stop worrying about whether or not he is doing enough to deserve his place in the face of some pretty week competition.
Another player that doesn’t seem to be getting a fair hearing, this time from the fans and critics rather than the manager, is Per Mertesacker. I actually despair at some of the comments I am hearing coming out of some Arsenal “fans” mouths and keyboards. We have been literally begging Wenger to buy a big, strong, no nonsense centre-back in the style of Tony Adams for about 3 years now and, now that we finally have him, there are complaints that he doesn’t have enough pace, that he is too slow to turn and that he isn’t settling in fast enough! I truly wonder what people thought a Tony Adams replacement was going to be like?! Slow? Check! Big? Check! Strong? Check! No-nonsense style, crashing the ball out of the ground whenever necessary to relieve the pressure? Check! Can turn on a sixpence and take the ball through central midfield with his explosive pace? Come on guys…Who are you trying to kid?!
As far as his settling in goes, I think that he is in the very early days of a fabulous Arsenal career and his reading of the game is second to none. His ability to catch a defender when the quicker centre-back at his side has failed to pick up his man or has let him turn him is not why he is in the side, his ability to be in the right place at the right time and clear the danger is and I truly believe he is doing a fine job of the latter. He may not be perfect but perfect defenders are pretty hard to come by these days and I see a player who is only struggling when his partner is not doing his own job properly. When TV5 returns I believe we will see just how a good a player he really is with a partner that doesn’t drop him in the cack 3 times each half!
Regards Thomas Vermaelen, there appears to be another bout of general confusion surrounding his injury again. About 4 weeks ago the club was saying he could return before the international break. Two weeks ago they were saying he would return 2 weeks after the international break. Now they are saying that he should return 2-3 weeks from now, a week AFTER the international break. Most concerning indeed. I think that I speak for all Arsenal fans of sound mind when I say that our season may well take a huge turn in the right direction when the team sheet features his name once again.
Van Persie To Become Another Little Boy Blue?
In a move that has angered a lot of Arsenal fans, myself included, captain Robin Van Persie appears to be refusing to rule out a move to Citeh. In a recent interview in Holland he was asked if he would consider a move to the latest club to be buying all the toys. His response, apparently, went a little like this:
“I do not know.
For one thing, as an indication, when I came to Arsenal we immediately beat City. But in recent years much has happened in England.
Nevertheless, I think the Premier League is still the best league in the world, it gives me everything I want.”
Which, if it is actually what he said at all, is all shamefully obvious really. To put it bluntly, what he really said was:
” I do not know.
“We were much better than Citeh when I first joined, but now they are riding high in the Premier League and we are in 15th place after a disastrous start to the season and playing qualifiers for the Champions League because they beat us by 3 points, having not actually been in the running for the title once all season and failing to take a single point from us in either the 0-0 home draw or the 3-0 humiliation of them away from home.”
“The Premier League is great and with the money that Citeh are pouring into the pockets of all their players, Na$ri and Clichy included, there is no need to look at other countries and I am simply waiting for them to make their offer of £30m in January that the Arsenal board will somehow find very hard to turn down.”
Call me cynical, but I just cannot help seeing it that way. Personally, after that episode, I would strip him of the captaincy and give it to Ramsey immediately. But like I said, maybe I am just being cynical!
Arsenal To Buy All The Players In The World
Somewhat hilariously, the press have been slating Arsene Wenger for penny-pinching again whilst also claiming that we are about to part with about £200m if we buy all of the players that are “coming in the January transfer window”! Five minutes after claiming that we failed to get Jerzy Dudek because the Evil Overlord Wenger refused to pay Feyenoord the £10m asking price, offering a “paltry” £7m (and we are talking about TEN YEARS AGO when £7m for a goalkeeper was STILL a lot of money!) we are being linked with so many players it is actually quite ridiculous! I implore Arsenal fans to stop reading this drivel, but if you must continue to fill your heads with this nonsense, please remember, it IS nonsense! The article entitled “Arsenal’s penny pinching scuppered Jerzy Dudek transfer” has the, in my opinion, thoroughly overrated and generally useless Dudek claiming:
“I was in talks with Wenger. It was basically all agreed. I came back to Feyenoord with hope that the clubs will agree a fee, but Feyenoord wanted £10 million pounds. Wenger was only willing to give £7 million.”
It seems that Wenger is only guilty of refusing to pay a ridiculously high fee of £10m for a goalkeeper who wasn’t even that good. Of course, “Those Who Shall Not Be Pleased” have taken this as a red-rag opportunity to slate the manager whilst at the same time ignoring one particularly important fact…Liverpool paid only £5m for him less than two months later!
Can somebody, ANYBODY, please explain to me why Wenger is penny-pinching when offering to pay £2m MORE than Liverpool, whether we got the player or not?
I give up!
The list of players that we are “buying in January” is becoming nothing less than hilarious! Eden Hazard, Marvin Martin, Gabriel Torje, Omar El Kaddouri, Juan Manuel “Loco” Vargas, Gary Cahill (again!), Alan Dzagoev, Ryad Boudebouz, Marko Marin, Lucho Gonzalez, Raffael (NOT the Ninja Turtle!), Dani Parejo and many, many more are among the latest flops of tomorrow. Obviously we won’t actually be buying ANY of them as Wenger will refuse to stump up the bus fare to the ground for their medicals!
Seriously, I GIVE UP!
And on that note I shall leave you!
Come on you Black Cat crossing your paths and making you lucky Gooooonnnneeerrrssss!
(Or is that supposed to be bad luck?! Never was sure!)
Greetings fellow Gooners!
Well, nobody can claim that we haven’t had a tough start to the season. Losing to Liverpool, losing 8-2 to Manchester United, losing 4-3 to Blackburn, losing Cesc, Na$ri and Clichy, Champions League qualifiers against Udinese, 3 red cards, losing Jack Wilshere for most of the season, losing Thomas Vermaelen for something like 10 games in total (more on that developing saga later!) and now, just when we appear to be going in the right direction, the “anything can happen and probably will” North London derby!
It may sound like I am already making excuses and, to be honest, I think I could be forgiven if I were; but I am NOT making excuses, I am stating the facts. The excuses can wait until Sunday night!
This is a match that will offer no hiding place. Not on the pitch for the players nor after the game for the Gooners who will have to go to their workplaces, local pubs, family homes and look into the eyes of Spud’s fans eyes and either hang their heads or walk past singing proudly “One team in London..!”
In some quarters there is talk of this potentially being the end of our season. I understand the sentiment but there is, of course, another edge to that sword. If losing this game is the end of our season, winning it may just be the start of it. Ok, it is not going to be easy by any means. The general feeling is that Twitchy has the small club at the end of the Seven Sisters Road playing well and winning some good games, but their record is not quite as good as some may think. Indulge me for a moment, if you will…
– In the space of two games Arsenal lost to Manchester United 8-2 away and beat Swansea 1-0 at home…A club in crisis.
– In the space of two games the Spuds lost 3-0 to Manchester United away and 5-1 to Citeh at home…A club heading for the top 4!
– We have scored 9 goals thus far this season…Still a club in crisis.
– They have scored 9 goals thus far this season…Still a club heading for the top 4!
– If you discount the freak result at United, we have actually conceded FEWER goals than they have in the same number of games.
– They lost on penalties to Stoke in the Carling Cup. We won 3-1, accepted against a slightly lower standard of opposition, although anybody who has seen Stoke play lately will tell you that the divide is not so big! Nevertheless, we are in the hat and they are not.
– Funnily enough, the league table shows the Spuds in 6th place and us in 13th whilst the home games table shows us in 6th and them in 13th! Obviously we don’t really need to talk about the away table as it is not the least bit pretty!
– We struggled after going a goal down to Shrewsbury Town in the Carling Cup before coming back to win 3-1 whilst they struggled after going a goal down to Shamrock Rovers in some unknown European competition before coming back to win 3-1.
– In fact, if you are spending your time listening to the constant white noise spewing out of the tabloid media this will be the most unbelievable stat of them all: Should we actually win the game, we would go above them in the table!
And there you have it. In the real world we are not a club in a desperate crisis, we are a club that, aside from one particularly absurd result, are in similar form to a club said to be chasing a place in the Champions League! Red-tinted glasses or not, the facts are that simple.
To say that this is a crucial match is the understatement of the century, but I also truly believe that this is the perfect opportunity to make a lot of changes to how the players perceive their situation. I don’t think it would do the fans any harm either. To suddenly leapfrog the title-less for over 50 years would put a little reality back into things and maybe even provide a springboard to move on from this period, leaving the devastation of those horrific events behind us. We have won three matches on the bounce in all competitions, to add a fourth would start to look like form rather than a run of so-called “easy” games and what better team to do it against than the Spuds?!
And that is why I for one am actually pleased that we are going to the hovel on Sunday. Make or break it may well be, but you don’t win titles playing Shrewsbury, Bolton and Olympiacos every week.
In the run-up to Sunday’s game, Arsene Wenger chose to question whether or not the Spuds really are a big club, despite the constant media frenzy:
“At the moment we have been in the Champions League for 14 years and that is all we can say.
“Tottenham is a good side, I agree, and we have to try to be better and that is what we try to do. I believe the consistency has been on our side, but Tottenham has a huge potential. They played Shamrock Rovers on Thursday night and were sold out, so that is a massive potential.
“But we are at the end of September and the season finishes in May. Don’t come to quick conclusions about teams – there is a long way to go.”
And that is, of course, the obvious truth. Whilst the media circus is busy adopting them as their favourite footballing love-children, they are, in reality, no closer to outshining us than they have been in decades. Every season it is the same tired story. Every season is the season that Tottenham will overtake us and move into the top four. And every season they DON’T! A win on Sunday would go a long way to putting both the media and the Spuds back in their rightful place. Reason enough to motivate the team if ever one was needed.
On a more amusing note, I note that the Spuds fans are so desperate for a taste of a trophy, ANY trophy, that they are selling out in the “who cares cup” against Shamrock Rovers!
In terms of the line-up for Sunday, the injury list that looked like it would shorten dramatically has not exactly done so. Koscielny is definitely out even though he was scheduled to return. Djourou is out even though he probably wouldn’t get a game anyway with the form he has been in this season. Squillaci is fit but not match fit so thankfully he probably won’t play! Gervinho is a big doubt although he was scheduled to return. Walcott is a doubt even though he was scheduled to return.
So, adding the above to Jack, TV5 (like I said, more on that later!) and Diaby, we have, as usual, the best part of a Premier League team in the treatment room! With so many uncertainties over fitness it is difficult to say exactly who will play but I think that Gibbs was rested in midweek to get him ready for Sunday so he will likely play ahead of Santos. Song will almost certainly partner Mertesacker again in a central defensive partnership that looked as good as any we have had in quite some time. Sagna and “the Pole between the poles” will make up the rest of the defence.
In midfield Aaron Ramsey should return and will likely partner Frimpong, although I think that Coquelin may be edging his way into a start after Emmanuel had another “iffy” game against the Greeks. In the probable absence of Gervinho I think that Arshavin will get the nod and, should Walcott fail his late fitness test too, I think that we may see Benayoun and Arteta filling the final attacking midfield positions and rotating between them for the wing and central roles. I am sorry to say that I simply cannot see Rosicky getting the nod here. After looking so pedestrian at times against Olympiacos, I don’t see him having the pace to keep up with a blood and thunder match like this one.
Obviously Robin Van Persie will start up front and so the line-up will probably look like this:
If Walcott plays then I expect Benayoun to move aside. I also think that we may see Arshavin play in the centre behind Van Persie should Walcott not play and Benayoun out wide, although I think with those three starting, positioning would be a fairly fluid affair.
In terms of prediction, well, how on earth do you even start?! Obviously I am not going to go against our boys and the draw is just too easy a cop-out, so I will go for a 3-2 win with some heart-stopping football and even more arresting moments whilst trying to snatch that final goal and get out with all 3 points in the bag! What more could you want?! Even Mystic Meg doesn’t stick her neck out like I do!
The truth of the matter is, win lose or draw, the form book goes out of the window for these games and whilst a win may bring a little more much needed confidence, a draw little consolation and a loss the sky crashing down, this is just one game.
Trouble is, it is THAT one game!
Oh, and just in case any of you were wondering why I hadn’t mentioned that back-stabbing, money-grabbing, club-hopping, football whore AdePayMeMore, it is because I couldn’t give a monkey’s right nut about him. Mertesacker can just put him in his back pocket for 90 minutes or simply kill him in the tunnel for all I care. Whichever of the two he prefers. I will leave that up to him!
It appears that the phantom injury problems that deprived us of the much-needed talents of Thomas Vermaelen for most of last season are no are back again this year with the news that, after being told he would be out for a few days to begin with which was swiftly changed to not until after the international break are now being revised to 1 or 2 weeks after that. I am unsure exactly what seems to be the problem for Thomas, but the Arsenal medical team are again doing themselves no favour with the press or the fans.
As football fans all we can do is wish Thomas the very best and the speediest possible recovery. As Arsenal fans we can only pray that he is back in the centre of defence as soon as possible as, of all the injuries we have right now, and I include Jack in this, his is the most damaging to the team.
Fingers crossed, the next news we get on his injury will be good news.
Over My Cold Dead Body!
Arsene Wenger, whilst discussing his 15 years at Arsenal and how he would happily stay on for another 15, also stated that he would rather die than leave the club! Ok, that may not be EXACTLY what he said! Judge for yourself:
“I am up for [five, 10 or 15 years],” he said. “But it depends first of all on my club. Do they want me to stay?
“Then it depends on my health as well because that is something that you consider when you get to my level. It demands a lot of energy to win football games.”
This is tantamount to the same thing in my book! If the club want me I am here. After that I will worry about my health! Nice to see that, regardless of the vomit-inducing whinging pouring out of some corners, his passion for the club has not dwindled at all. He went on to confirm that not winning things still hurts him, but that he still believes firmly in the club’s plans as a means to ensuring a bright future:
“I miss winning titles. Very much. You only have one way, to fight and win again.
“I feel part of what is very important for us is to transform the club into a top-level club, into a club that has a fantastic future potential with values that we think are very important in the game.
“The style of play, the way we behave to develop young players, to give a chance to people who deserve it in life. That for me is very important in the history of the club. The vision is to make this club the best club in the world, it is as simple as that.”
It has to be said, becoming the best club in the world is a noble and worthy objective, though I wouldn’t mind concentrating on being the best club in England for a little while first, if that is all the same with the boss!
Van’s Still Our Man
As ever, I hate to say I told you so, but again, I DID tell you so…
My exact words were:
“January will be here soon and, with Tevez reportedly likely to never play for Manchester City again, I am sure that we will have to deal the tabloids spewing out enough Van Persie to Citeh stories to last a lifetime.”
Well, as it turned out, they couldn’t even wait until January with pretty much all of the red-tops trolling this one out as early as Friday morning! Wenger was unwilling to even entertain the conversation in his press conference, responding curtly with the following when asked if Van Persie would be leaving in January:
“This is a story created to create a story.
“There is no truth to it. There is nothing to say really.
“Anybody who wants to sign one of our players can call me. Everybody has my phone number.
I don’t know why we are even speaking about transfers. Robin is under contract until 2013.”
I would like to add that, whilst I agree with every word of that statement and do not believe that Robin will do anything other than sign his next contract for Arsenal, the sooner this contract situation gets sorted, the better it will be for all involved. I understand that it is not a good time as we are in the middle of a run of 2 games almost every week, but I also understand that the general levels of concern surrounding the club and, more importantly, the players, do not need extra weight adding to them. Losing our best striker, one of the best players at the club and a 5th captain since Vieira left in 2005, only 6 years ago, is not something that they need even to contemplate!
So, get him signed up and let’s move on to the stories about Walcott leaving for Italy, Arshavin moving to Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus or any of the multitude of clubs he was definitely leaving us for over the past 9 months! Oh, not to forget, Djourou will probably just be moving house when we could actually do with him leaving!
And on that note I bid you farewell.
Come on you Cock-Choking, Title-less Thumping, Neighbour-Annihilating Goooonnnneeerrrrrrssssss!
Greetings fellow Gooners!
Well, nobody can say that Arsene Wenger doesn’t know how to pull off a surprise or two after that match, can they?!
The inclusions of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santos and Chamakh were, I have to say, all shocks when the team sheets were announced. The Ox was not the worrying kind of shock in the slightest after he showed against Shrewsbury that he has both the game and the maturity to play in the first XI, but I felt that Wenger would leave it longer before “blooding” him nonetheless, at least until a dead rubber match came up at the end of the group stage. Santos and Chamakh were bigger surprises and, if I am honest, worrying ones to lesser and greater degrees. Surprises aside, Song partnered Mertesacker as expected, filling in at centre-back in the absence of no less than three first XI players in that position which also gave Frimpong the opportunity to continue his steep learning curve in the defensive midfield role.
As if to repay the faith shown in them, two of those surprises, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santos, got us off to an absolute flier with a goal apiece on 8 and 20 minutes respectively. Oxlade-Chamberlain, after already showing some nice touches, passes and a clean pair of heels to their right-back, chested the ball down to himself on the edge of the penalty area, moved inside his marker who actually got a touch only for the ball to bounce kindly back into the feet of the ex-Southampton man who continued into the box before placing a precise finish through his markers legs into the bottom right hand corner to become the youngest ever English player to score in the Champions League, taking that title from a certain Theo Walcott!
A fantastic start and one that would get even better 12 minutes later when, after good work down the left, Santos crossed the ball to Chamakh in the six-yard box. The Morroccan international didn’t actually get to the ball as it was stolen off his toes by a good challenge from his marker, but it found its way back out to Santos who took a step inside the defender and beat the keeper at his near post. A touch of luck in the build-up to both goals, but it is about time we got a little of that and it was certainly nothing less than both players deserved for their determination alone.
The 12 minutes between the two goals were not entirely without incident. Four minutes after taking the lead, Chamakh, a lonely and hapless looking figure yet again I am sad to say, really should have at least tested the goalkeeper when a corner found him at the far post, but his header from only a few yards out went well wide. Two minutes later and Arteta was called into defensive action, clearing off the line after Djebbour got himself free at the back post from a corner. The rebound fell to him again but he could only manage to hit the side-netting with his follow up. In truth the Algerian really should have scored at the second attempt but all credit to Arteta for an heroic stop.
So, 2-0 up, playing some reasonably tidy football, passing fairly well and it began to look like it was just a matter of how many at this point. On 27 minutes the game was turned on its head in a typical Arsenal self-destructing style. A short corner on the left hand side caught us napping in the box and the overall fairly impressive David Fuster was given the freedom of North London and, with all the time to pick his spot, headed the ball into the net from about 10 yards out. A shocking piece of defending from the 9 Arsenal players in the penalty area and one that I hope Wenger will be ramming down their throats prior to the game against the titleless for over 50 years on Sunday.
A minute later Djebbour tested Szczesny with a rasping shot that the once again excellent “Pole between the poles” did well to tip over showing those reflexes that are threatening to make him an Arsenal legend!
The rest of the half was a story told many times over the past couple of seasons. Poor passing in midfield, mainly from Frimpong, and a seeming inablity to hold the ball up front, mainly the fault of Chamakh, neither of whom had games to remember, saw Olympiacos threatening more and more, albeit mostly on the counter-attack. If not for more excellent goalkeeping from Szczesny and some wonderful reading of the game coupled with some great tackling from the ever-improving Mertesacker, we could well have gone in for the half-time break staring down the barrel of 2-2 or worse. The Grek side could have been forgiven for feeling that they should have found that parity at least.
With Wenger banished to the stands for his final game of his absurd suspension, Pat Rice must again take a reasonable amount of credit for whatever he said during his half-time talk, with the start of the second half seeing us play a much more compact game with less space between the defence and the midfield and the wayward passing apparently also dealt with.
On 50 minutes Oxlade-Chamberlain was released by a nice pass in a rare moment of quality from Chamakh, the young winger getting in behind the full-back Holebas, who, after spending the entire game doing little else but kick any Arsenal player he could find, had finally been booked a minute earlier and was thus unable to kick, tug, drag or barge the flying winger. Bearing down on goal The Ox took what was, in my opinion, one touch too many giving Costanzo in the Olympiacos goal time to settle himself, narrow the angle and beat out the eventual shot. A good save was needed nevertheless and the young man once again justified Wenger’s decision to pick him.
A few minutes later saw Holebas blatantly shove Oxlade-Chamberlain in the back after good work on the wing from the eventual Man of the Match winner. The referee, who up until now had been nothing short of pedantic in his constant use of his whistle, quite simply bottled the decision, waved play on and incredibly the left-back stayed on the pitch. The touch of luck we had enjoyed for the two goals deserting us again. Had he gone, as he should have done, the game would have been the better part of dead and buried, As it transpired, there was still some nail-biting life in it yet.
On 64 minutes Olympiacos captain and right-back Torosidis, their best player on the night, unleashed a curling left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area that crashed against the bar. I think that, had it been the couple of inches lower needed for it to go in, Szczesny had it covered, but I have to admit to being relieved that we didn’t have to find out for certain!
3 minutes later and Pat Rice made the first of three changes, taking off Oxlade-Chamberlain to a standing ovation and introducing Aaron Ramsey. I said in the pre-match article that the excellent direct passing we saw from Ramsey against Bolton could play a big factor in the result of tonight’s match, and his introduction almost immediately showed us what we had been missing as he released Arshavin on two occasions, the first of which drew a decent save and the second resulting in a cynical barge from Fuster, rightfully earning himself a booking in the process. A good substitution at exactly the right moment from the assistant manager and it was not his last.
On 70 minutes Chamakh was put out of his misery, as were the majority of the Arsenal fans, and our newest centurion, Robin Van Persie, was brought on. The two Olympiacos centre-backs, Mellberg and Marcano, who had looked so comfortable shepherding Chamakh around, suddenly looked stretched due to the intelligent running and general menace of the Dutchman. Preoccupied with him the again excellent and incredibly hard-working Arteta found a lot more space in midfield and used it to great effect to slow the game down and ensure that we kept much better possession of the ball thus helping to tick down the clock.
Again, a good tactical decision from Pat Rice. I know that there are a few out there who think that he should have left the club in the summer and are already celebrating the fact that he will probably retire at the end of this season, but I believe that his role at the club is very much an unsung one and, after 41 years of the last 45 spent serving our fine club and with all of the knowledge and experience that time has surely brought him, he will leave behind a very large pair of shoes to fill. Tonight his experience showed once again and, should we win a trophy this season, I think that his should be the first hands to touch it in deference to his great service.
On 83 minutes, after a period of about ten minutes that saw Olympiacos threaten on a few occasions down our right side, Mr Rice once again made the necessary change and took off Arshavin, who had a quiet game overall, and bring on Kieran Gibbs to play more as a left midfielder than a left winger as the Russian does. The danger was immediately snuffed out and it was just a case of running down the clock and getting the three points that were needed above all else.
Whilst Olympiacos certainly played their part in this match and at times played some neat attacking football which saw them threaten to spoil the night from our point of view, the pairing of Mertesacker and Song looked as solid a partnership as Arsenal have seen at centre-back for quite some time, certainly in the absence of Vermaelen, and all credit to them for rarely looking troubled, showing good reading of the game and in the case of Mertesacker in particular, stepping out at just the right times to put in some great challenges to close the door on attacks before they got a chance to do any real damage.
In terms of the defence, apart from the terrible lapse of concentration that led to their goal and a couple of occasions where Sagna was uncharacteristically caught in possession, Szczesny had little bellowing to do at those in front of him and yet the general criticism coming from the media and “those who shall not be pleased” is of continuing defensive weakness. Whilst we may not have the best defence on earth right now and they may not have been devastatingly impressive tonight, I do think it is fair to say that they were not anything like as bad as is being claimed in some areas and the general direction they are going in is the right one.
With regard to Chamakh, I am at a loss as to what Wenger can do with him next. Chosen ahead of Park, probably in the hope that he may pick up a goal and the confidence boost that goes with that, from the moment his early header went wide he looked totally bereft of any confidence at all. His touch was heavy for most of the evening, his shooting and heading poor, his distribution presenting countless gifts to the Greeks putting us under pressure from the counter-attacking opportunities these provided and generally looking like the hole large enough to actually swallow him up would have taken the stadium with it. Aside from the one good pass to The Ox, nothing went right for him and he became a more and more tragic figure until his exit on 70 minutes. That said, he never hid and never stopped running and, should January see him move on, I for one hope that he finds better fortune elsewhere.
Many a critic has questioned our ability to “win ugly” and yet now we have done just that people want champagne football again! Tonight was no walk in the park, but it was never going to be and the most important thing was the three points. That was achieved and we can now look forward to getting a few players back from injury for the match against the Spuds on Sunday whilst Ramsey and Van Persie got a decent enough rest tonight too. All in all a good night’s work and the corner-turning continues.
And on that note I bid you farewell.
Come on you Spud Peeling Goooonnnneeeerrrrrsssss!