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Sagna | ArsenalTalk - Part 2

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!

Goals Speak Louder Than Programme Notes

October 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

Sometimes you just have to come out and say something.

Today Robin Van Persie did just that…

TWICE!

“I want to say something about my commitment to Arsenal because there have been many stories in the media lately.

“I am committed to Arsenal, and that’s how it is, despite people [in the media] making up stories. For example, they said I was selling my house, but that’s nothing recent, I moved house last year.

“I see stories which make me laugh, but I can see how frustrating it is from the fans’ point of view. But I am committed to Arsenal. I am captain, and fans should not believe everything they read.

“As for that house story, the house has been for sale for a while, but I’m not living on the streets or anything, I have found a really nice house, and yes, it’s in London! So I want to put that straight, I am committed, and I will show that on the pitch.

Two wonderful goals later, one of them the fastest goal Arsenal have ever scored in the Premier League, and I think that it is fair to say – and I am thrilled to do so – that many of us got this situation very wrong indeed!

Greetings fellow Gooners!

In a must win game today at the Emirates Stadium which saw, with the exception of Aaron Ramsey being replaced by Tomas Rosicky due to a tight hamstring, the expected first XI take to the pitch, the fans were treated to some interesting comments in the Captain’s programme notes. After a three week period during which the media speculation regarding Robin Van Persie and his “imminent transfer to Citeh” has been cranked up to a Spinal Tap crushing 12, the Dutchman decided that the best way to respond was on the pitch, and respond he did, in the very best way a captain and striker possibly could.

In truth, the comments reputedly made by him during his recent stint with the Dutch national team may have been misquoted, quoted out of context or even just plain made-up, but there needed to be an effort made in some way to put this issue to bed, once and for all. Clearly the programme notes were a step towards that, but a goal in only 29 seconds really put some weight behind his desire to let his commitment show on the pitch!

Sunderland were always going to struggle today, shorn of their star striker through contract obligations, a worse start to the season than us, a record at the Emirates that doesn’t bear much reading and an Arsenal team nd manager with thier backs pressed very firmly against the wall but when a fabulous lobbed pass from Rosicky to Gervinho was quickly squared into the path of Van Persie who took a simple touch with the outside of his left foot before drilling it past Simon Mignolet in the Sunderland goal from 18 yards. 1-0, less than 30 seconds on the clock it appeared that it would be even plainer sailing from here on in than we could have hoped!

It almost was too with Van Persie turning Kieran Richardson and lobbing the ball over Mignolet in the 12th minute, only to see his classy effort come back off the far post. Two minutes later and the Dutchman saw an attempt from the edge of the penalty area flash wide. Another two minutes passed before Gervinho, seemingly playing with a lot more confidence and looking all the better for it, took a long ball from Koscielny, cut inside but saw his shot fly just over the bar.

Had any of those actually gone in, we may well have been home free and looking at redressing some of our goal difference issues. Obviously that would be the easy way of doing things and the easy way simply isn’t our way! Can there be any doubt that we are by far the most dramatic club in the Premier League?! At times I think that there may be grounds for a class-action case against the club for hair loss, fingernail chewing or just general blood-pressure issues due as a direct result of loving our fine club!

With the exception of a slightly wild moment from “the Pole between the poles” which saw him rushing off his line to meet Stephane Sessegnon who, having already beaten the offside trap followed that by beating the young goalkeeper only to find the really rather excellent Alex Song there to intercept his cut back averting further danger, Arsenal spent the first half and hour of this match playing hair-replenishing, fingernail growing, blood pressure-lowering possession football that had glimpses of the “real” Arsenal about it. What a welcome sight she was to all that love her!

Of course, a free-kick and, as always seems the case, an ex-Arsenal player, Sebastian Larsson, were all it took to spoil the party! The Swedish international stepped up and swept the ball over the Arsenal wall and into Szczesny’s top left corner, leaving the keeper no chance whatsoever. A wonderful strike from a player who has proved that not all who leave us end up in a downward spiral.

The immediate effect on the home players and crowd was obvious as the nervousness of recent times came crashing back in. Six minutes later Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole, after good work on the left from Larsson and then the effervescent Sessegnon, found himself with a free header from close range that he really should have scored from, only to see his effort saved brilliantly by Szczesny. A chance missed or an excellent save or both, but the alarm bells were ringing. Surely we were not going to let Sunderland take control of the match and see a repeat of so many performances where we were so obviously in the ascendency only for the opposition to take away the three points?

On the stroke of half-time the unthinkable almost happened with Elmohamady crossing for Larsson at the far post who headed down into the path of Colback only to see his volley from close range go flying over the bar. Had he managed to keep his shot down you may well have been reading at a very different match report, but the football Gods may well have decided that we have paid our penance for whatever sins we are deemed to have committed and the score remained at 1-1 as the whistle to signal the end of the first half was welcomed by all in red and white.

In a bid to provide some sort of relief to hair follicles all over the North London area, the second half did not carry on where the first half left off with the Gunners dominating possession although not creating a mass of chances.

A slice of luck came Sunderland’s way on 50 minutes when Walcott turned in the box and slid a low cross into the danger area which took a deflection towards the goal but Mignolet’s quick reactions saw him palm the ball away to safety. Andre Santos entered the fray immediately afterwards as the stomach muscle injury that threatened to keep Kieran Gibbs out of the match altogether proved too much for him to continue. A good decision in all honesty as he had not enjoyed the best of games with Elmohamady getting plenty of joy on the side.

15 minutes later Rosicky found Van Persie open on the left side of the area but his shot from a difficult angle found the boot of the Sunderland keeper and again the danger was cleared. A pass to Gervinho who was free in the centre was probably a better option, but anybody wishing to be critical of our captain’s performance today is more than welcome to take the short trip down the Seven Sisters Road and start supporting the “Title-less For Fifty Years” brigade!

On 67 minutes Steve Bruce made the first of two rather odd substitutions with Larsson, goal-scorer and the focal point of all that was good in Sunderland’s game, being replaced by Ji Dong-Won. A minute later and Arshavin was brought on to replace Gervinho to freshen things up in the final third.

The Russian made a fairly instant impact with an energy and willingness that has been far too often missing from his game for much of the past couple of seasons and on 74 minutes he almost got his reward after a jinking run in the Sunderland penalty area, passing four defenders in the process, saw his toe-poked effort run just wide of the far post with the goalkeeper stranded.

For all the possession, attacking play and chances being created, the game was starting to take on an all too familiar pattern and on 76 minutes Arsene tried to again freshen things up by replacing the tiring but excellent Rosicky with Israel international Yossi Benayoun. Two minutes later Bruce made his second odd change bringing on Connor Wickham for the constantly dangerous Sessegnon. Unless both players were carrying knocks, these two substitutions by Bruce have to be two of the strangest I have seen in years.

With Sunderland’s best two players and most obvious attacking threats on the day now off the pitch, Arsenal enjoyed more freedom to push forward, with excellent performances, and I mean EXCELLENT performances, from Mertesacker and Koscielny providing the “safety net” for Santos and Jenkinson to become more involved with those attacking moves.

On 83 minutes we finally got our just desserts, having dominated so much of the game, defended well when necessary and looking dangerous with almost every attack. Van Persie placed the ball for a free-kick about 25 yards out on the right side of the penalty area. After a slew of terrible free kicks had seen the likes of Walcott and Arteta troubling the 15th to 25th rows of the Arsenal supporters behind the goal, it was high-time the Dutchman had a crack himself.

And crack it he did! Keeping his nerve at the critical moment, he lifted the ball over the wall, under the bar and into the top right hand corner to give Arsenal the goal that was so desperately needed. In that moment Van Persie showed EXACTLY what commitment and captaincy are all about and, as his programme notes said, he let his football do the talking!

Aside from Dong-Won having a goal disallowed for being so far offside it was amazing the linesman didn’t keep his flag down, the game was won and it was a case of simply holding on. And that is what we did. Something we have been horribly guilty of in the past is our inability to stop trying to score more goals when the three points are in the bag. Today showed a difference that was entirely welcome with the likes of Arshavin, Walcott and Arteta guarding the ball for dear life and ensuring that the visitors were not going to steal a late point and spoil the party. There is a still a lot of work to do before we can say that this side is correcting all of the old problems, but today was a huge step in the right direction.

We were not perfect today by any means. Jenkinson did little defensively to convince that he is quite ready for the step up that the injury to Sagna has forced upon him, but a little patience may yet see him come good. Walcott still looks like a blind alley is so high on his list of favourite place that he literally runs into one whenever he gets the chance. Gervinho faded as the game went on and was rightly substituted. Szczesny had his “usual” moment of madness, although most of the truly great keepers appear to do that too! Arteta did not really get hismself into the game as much as he has recently.

On the positive side, Rosicky looked excellent and, perhaps more importantly, sharp. Santos and Arshavin both looked very good after coming on as substitutes. Song was an absolute rock today, destroying almost everything that had the cheek to even come close to our half of the park. Koscielny and Mertesacker were absolute rocks in the centre of defence and where the constant criticism of them, Mertesacker especially, is coming from, I simply cannot imagine. Mertesacker again showed how much quicker his brain is than his feet, stepping up to snuff out the danger before it even had a chance to develop on a handful of occasions.

As for Robin Van Persie:

29 games, 23 goals and 6 assists

Those are surely amongst the best stats for any striker in Europe, let alone one who is being played out of position and looking to leave as Robin Van Persie “clearly” is!

Oh, and as I write this an added bonus has just come our way…

The Title-less For Fifty Years have given up the lead twice today and ended up with a 2-2 draw at St. James’ Park!

Overrated Lillywhite Shite!

Come on you top half of the table at last Goooonnnnneeeerrrrsssss!

When Nothing Less Than A Win Will Do

October 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

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:

Line Up v Sunderland

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!)

Would The Real Arsenal F.C. Please Stand Up?

October 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

Greetings fellow Gooners!

Ok, we can whine about handball, and with good reason. We can whine about Van de Vaart (or Van de Fart as Gary Neville hilariously pronounced his name!) even being allowed to stay on the pitch after two obvious yellow card offences, and with good reason. We could even whine about bad luck and even more about the freak goals that the Spuds continue to score against us. In fact, we could just whine because we damned well want to. But in truth, we didn’t get anything out of today’s North London derby because, quite frankly, we didn’t deserve to.

Whilst I spent a lot of the first half feeling slightly smug, believing as I am sure many of us did, that it was only a matter of time before we hit that extra gear and took a Spuds team that didn’t look particularly special in any area of the pitch to the cleaners, we created nothing of any real danger and they had three good chances, all saved by the yet again, apart from one painful mistake, excellent Szczesny. If we are completely honest with ourselves, going in 1-0 down at half-time didn’t look irretrievable, albeit slightly unfair in terms of the run of play and even moreso in terms of the handball that VdV employed to get the ball down and create his goal in the 40th minute.

Half-time oranges were again laced with some magical potion and the response after the break was exactly what was required. Possession was being kept well in and around the Spuds penalty area. We were winning the second ball for the first time in the match, thus creating a spell of pressure that Tottenham looked decidedly uncomfortable with. Pushing men forwards into dangerous positions and, most importantly, getting the ball to them with simple passes into players in space.

Song, filling in at centre-back once again in the absence of any other fit choices, came tearing down the right, received the ball to feet, pushed forward and into the penalty area and drilled a cross that Van Persie and Ramsey were fighting over to get to. Ramsey won the tussle and the merest touch saw the ball rocket into the roof of the onion bag.

1-1 and surely, with the obvious dominance we were showing overall as well as the new attacking mind-set that the half-time team talk had instilled, it was just a case of watching us leave the small club in North London trailing in our wake.

Alas, as is so often the case with this version of Wengerball, the players took their foot off the gas, applied the handbrake and gave the opposition the chance to settle and get into their rhythm again.

In terms of doing the simple things, we failed dismally, and that is where the real downfall was. Handbrake or not, if you cannot simply pass the ball to another player in a red shirt, you are going to struggle. And struggle we did. Our inability to keep the ball was not as a result of some spectacular effort on behalf of the Tottenham players, far from it. It came as a simple result of trying the most complicated or downright brainless option when a perfectly simple ball rolled out wide would have done the job.

In the end we got exactly what we deserved. Kyle Walker picked up the ball about 35 yards out after some scrambling and pinball had gone on in the Arsenal penalty area and taking a touch to push the ball forwards he unleashed nothing more than a hopeful pile driver that Szczesny somehow lost in the air. Moving viciously in the air, as the ball never seems to do when our players strike it, it sailed over his outstretched hand. He should have done a lot better and at least got a hand to it, but it would be hard to slate his performance overall when he did such a good job of keeping us in the match prior to and after that moment.

Yes, we can begrudge them the goal, yet another “wonder goal” to win the derby. We can even begrudge them the win, but until we learn to do the easy things like stay switched on at set pieces, pass the ball from one of our players to another of our players or even to one who isn’t being marked by two or three players at the time, we are simply asking for trouble.

Spurs did not deserve a win today, not by any stretch of the most fervent imagination, but when players of the quality and technical ability of Arteta, who had a dreadful game basically doing nothing right whatsoever, Ramsey, who apart from his goal looked like he was actually trying to get caught in possession most of the time, Gervinho, guilty of many things, greed being one of them, the inability to pass being another and worst of all an inexcusable miss after Van Persie had given him a shooting opportunity from which he had to at least test the goalkeeper but instead he dragged the ball limply and aimlessly wide of the target and Walcott, who was clearly nowhere near match fit but selected ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain anyway who did not even make the squad, you don’t deserve to win.

The knives will again be out for Arsene Wenger, that is to be expected, but in the real world players getting paid tens of thousands of pounds a week to play football should be at least able to maintain a level of passing consistency and intelligence that one would expect from a half-decent semi-professional side. But, for whatever reason, confidence, form, pressure, lack of preparation, inability to follow basic instructions, it just wasn’t happening today. To blame Wenger solely for this failing is short-sighted and frankly a little ridiculous to say the least.

On the positive side, Mertesacker was generally excellent once again, snuffing out the majority of the Spud’s attacking play around the box rather than inside it. His reading of the game is truly a joy to watch ad something that the likes of Koscienly and Djourou will hopefully benefit from in the long-term. Szczesny, apart from the aberration that let Kyle Walker write his name on the same page of the history books as the likes of Danny Rose, had another excellent game. His progress rate is truly phenomenal and it is easy to forget that he is only 21 years old. Coquelin, preferred as predicted to the recently disappointing Frimpong, was probably the calmest and most sensible of our midfielders, choosing his passes carefully and marshalling Scott Parker into near anonymity for most of the game. Gibbs had another outstanding game, surely leaving Santos wondering why he came to a club that “famously” had no left-back after the sale of Clichy! Ok, he has to keep up this level of performance for a while yet to be totally convincing and to keep the Brazilian out of the reckoning and, more importantly, he has to stay fit, but he is surely the most improved player in this team and going from strength to strength.

Sagna played well enough, although not up to his usual high standards either, until he was brutally removed from the game by a challenge that would have fitted in well enough in a WWF ring. Seriously, was it just me and am I so biased or did everyone think that Assou-Ekotto had no need nor good reason to be hitting Sagna in mid-air at near-on waist height “challenging for a ball” that was sailing out of play near the centre circle?! The sight of him on a stretcher leaving the pitch in obvious and considerable pain was a sad and worrying sight for a team that is, yet again, looking at an injury list that boasts more talent than most bottom half-clubs and some top-half ones too.

But that was about it. Arshavin and Benayoun, substitutes for Gervinho and Walcott, made the best part of zero impact on the game whilst Jenkinson again demonstrated why he was playing non-league football about 5 minutes ago with a performance that made the, certainly up until the loss of Sagna, ordinary-looking Bale look, well, special! Could that be Bale’s secret? Is it possible that he is actually utter shite but better than the majority of the half-arsed right-backs in the country! If that IS the case, what is Theo’s excuse?

I cannot believe that an Arsenal team that showed how easily it could dominate Spurs for a few periods of the game simply didn’t. They just didn’t look like they had the first clue what to do when they got the ball. Hopeful passes into thrice-marked players. Long balls from defence to Friedel, fatter than ever but tested so rarely it didn’t make the blindest bit of difference. Dribbles that did nothing more than go round in circles and, inevitably, end up with a Tottenham foot being enough to steal the ball and launch a counter-attack.

Oh nutsacks. I could go on like this all day!

Put simply, Tottenham in the Champions League next season would, despite Glenn Hoddle’s hilariously biased protestations (which also included “the ball hit him on the apex of the shoulder and chest” when describing the blatant handball!), require a miracle if they play as badly as they did today in more than a handful of matches this season but we didn’t deserve anything from the game and that is what we got. Nothing. Again.

Time to get back to basics Arsenal, or we will be looking down the barrel of the “who gives a shite” cup and not another year of Champions League football. To make matters worse, it may even be the Spuds take that wrest that honour from us and there will be little worth living for next season either.

Down but not out, but with a mountain to climb and the bulk of the team apparently wearing the wrong shoes.

Oh, and in case you give a monkey’s, that gobshite, money-grabbing, shitehole AdePayMeMore was UTTER CACK today!

Spuds, Away, Sunday? Yes Please!

October 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

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:

Predicted Line-Up v The Spuds

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!

Doubtful Thomas

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!

No Greek Tragedy As Saint Ox and Santos Lead The Way

September 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League

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!

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