From 17th Best To 17th Best!

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

Greetings fellow Gooners!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I digress…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass Exodus or Media Sexing Up?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which all seems pretty sensible really!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get well soon Jack!

It’s Got To Be Per-fect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on you All Leaving The Club In January Goooonnnneeerrrsssss!

I Don’t Know What To Say!

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

Greetings fellow Gooners!

Next up, the visit of Bolton Wanderers to our fine home and whilst Bolton have provided some nasty moments for us over the years, including a 2-1 reversal at the Reebok at the end of last season for some reason I am not expecting that this year. Seriously, I have a strange and, if I am totally honest, slightly uncomfortable sense that things are about to go right for us.

Realistically speaking, this is yet another game that we really should be winning. There aren’t many clubs in the Premier League that can claim a worse start to the season than us, 3 to be exact, and Bolton are one of them, sporting a defence (including Cahill for those who simply defy logic by claiming that signing him would have made all the difference to this dismal start to our season) that has leaked only one goal less than our own.

For this reason, it promises to be a game with goals in it, to say the least, although I am secretly just praying for a clean sheet! (not so secret now eh!? -ed)

In terms of the line-up, we are missing Benayoun with a side strain, Djourou with a hamstring that will, with any luck, keep him out for a while yet and obviously Jack, TV5 and Diaby are still out. We will have the luxury of welcoming back Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Bacary Sagna, the latter of which provides most relief for my money after another generally poor defensive performance from Jenkinson against Shrewsbury on Tuesday.

In truth, I am not sure that Wenger rested Santos on Tuesday expecting anything other than him starting against Bolton but after the performance of Gibbs against Shrewsbury it would be hard and possibly even harsh to leave him out for this one. When a player, especially one in our defensive unit, hits form even for one game, it would seem sensible to keep playing him. All of that said there is no telling what Wenger will do in this respect!

I think that Walcott will still get the nod over Oxlade-Chamberlain. Again, it would again seem that whilst Walcott is struggling for form and The Ox did such a good job in the Carling Cup match then the latter should get another run out, but I think that Wenger is planning a slow easing-in process for him. There is always the possibility that Arshavin will get the left berth and Gervinho the right, but I have a sneaking feeling that the little Russian may finally get dropped for his run, Swansea aside, of poor performances.

I don’t expect any surprises in any other positions and so the line-up will probably look something like this:

Predicted Line-Up Arsenal Bolton

And I think that is a team capable of doing the job.

Interestingly, this very same fixture last season saw us comfortably win 4-1 in the end, although when Bolton equalised just before half-time a wave of worry (the Arsenal version of the Mexican Wave!) went through most Gooners! Thankfully, goals from Koscielny (in THEIR net!), Chamakh, Song and even Vela proved to be more than enough on the day. Oh, and as if to prove how perfectly he would fit in at the club, Cahill, probably undeservedly, got himself a red card after ploughing through the back of Chamakh almost immediately after the Moroccan had scored the goal to put us 2-1 up!

As for this year, as I secretly said earlier, I would settle for a clean sheet (I am sure that the players and management could be forgiven for thinking that is as much the target as actually scoring at the other end) and, for that reason I am going for a 2-0 win with us managing to finish the game with all 11 players on the park!

Yep, 2-0, that’ll do nicely!

A Lucky Escape

Joey Barton has been running his mouth off and the Twitter servers into the ground again with his latest claims that he was actually involved in transfer talks with us and went as far as to say that he would have signed had it not been for the incident with Gervinho which saw our man sent off, probably for not throwing a good enough punch to knock thelittle gobshite out! Firstly speaking to BBC Sport he had this to say:

“If I hadn’t played against Arsenal on the first day, I may have signed for them. There were a couple of conversations [with Wenger] but that’s different to actually signing.

“The Gervinho incident happened and there’s nothing I can do about it now. If it happened again, I’d like to think I’d deal with it differently.

“Things happen for a reason and there’s a lesson to be learned from it. Right now, we sit above Arsenal in the table – hopefully that’s the case in May.”

So many things to discuss here I am not even sure where to start so I will simply plump for “If it happened again, I’d like to think I’d deal with it differently.” HAHAHAHAHA! The odds that Joey Barton will EVER learn a lesson in self-control are so phenomenally remote that I think that they would be better than “Right now, we sit above Arsenal in the table – hopefully that’s the case in May.” actually coming true!

Anyway, in typical fashion Peter Hill-Wood chose to comment on this to the Daily Star:

“It’s not something the board heard about and if it was a serious proposition I certainly would have expected us to [have heard about it].”

Not to be outdone, Barton then “Twatted”, oops, sorry, “Tweeted”:

“am not going to be drawn on PHW’s comments, he obviously needs to open a dialogue channel with Wenger, Pat Rice and Steve Rowley…..”

Followed by:

“…i feel i made the right move for me, am very happy at QPR and wish Arsenal the best of luck. Everything happens for a reason I believe”

Yes, soothsayer Barton, all things DO happen for a reason. One must assume that the reason this happened is because you are nothing more than a loutish thug and I did not hear one single fan of our great club mention anything remotely like “Ooh, Joey Barton. That’s a good idea. Cracking all-round midfielder that is. Right out of the Wengerball textbook!”

Of course, this has sparked a side debate amongst Gooners as to whether or not Barton actually WAS on Wenger’s radar and the board simply didn’t know about it. The general take appears to be that the “AKN” brigade are incredibly now claiming that Wenger is handling all transfer business and, in true dictatorial fashion, doesn’t even require board approval to approach or even sign players!

Well done Gooners. It is such a joy to see us split so directly in two over all things Wenger! Seriously, I there anybody out there who actually feels like I do, give the man a chance to fix this and gel this new-look side and, if he doesn’t, he obviously has to go. In reality there is no obvious replacement, there is no point in booting him out of the door after completing the new signings that all sides of the debate were crying out for and the chances of Arsenal getting rid of the most successful manager in our history are pretty slim anyway.

Divided & Conquered

I had the “pleasure” of a conversation in the comments yesterday with “ken” who I am certain has in the past spent an inordinate amount of time bleating about us needing experience and not winning anything with kids, then decided to bleat that Arteta is too old and Benayoun hasn’t played enough football lately to be a worthwhile signing. Yes, I know I shouldn’t bother replying to somebody who clearly isn’t actually WATCHING Arsenal games and thus actually seeing Mighty Mik or Yossi actually play for us, but he actually went on to actually claim that Arsene Wenger is actually to blame for Monaco being relegated last season due to his failed youth project there…In 1987-1994!

Seriously folks, is there ANTYHING that Wenger can do to get a break from this rubbish?

Look, the reality is simple; Arsene Wenger didn’t become a bad manager overnight, he just found himself looking for a more financially prudent manner of building teams than before. The fact that he was very involved in the reasons for that financial change in climate at the club, the Emirates Stadium, can of course be thrown at his doorstep as hard as any stroppy adolescent can manage, but sailing off into the nether regions of fantasy with claims like this simply aren’t going to help anybody.

To clarify, I am not an “AKB” nor am I an “AKN”. I am a fan of Arsenal Football Club. I have been a fan of this fine club since I was 7 years old, some 32 years ago now, and I will continue to be long after Wenger has shuffled up the stairs or out of the doors of Highbury House. In all of those years I have never seen anybody involved with the club, including Dennis Bergkamp, change our playing style, our success rate, the standing of the club or the feeling of pride that we had for so many years when replying “Arsenal” to the question “Who do you support?”

For those reasons alone I believe that the manager deserves his shot at getting this right. I do not believe that he will deserve any more chances should this season finish without a trophy once more, but I have a feeling that he will turn this around and that this team, with the returns of Vermaelen and Jack still to come, has the potential to play some great football whilst being a more hardworking version than Wengerball 3.

Only time will tell, but I am pretty certain that screaming until one of your lungs lands on the rug in front of you is not going to see any changes to the current structure at the club and, equally, abusing the players or other Arsenal fans is probably not going to convince either to do their jobs properly.

It is simple really; why not just support the team and give them the chance to succeed. If they fail, then we can start the protesting and the screeching but until then there is literally NOTHING to be gained by spraying gallons of vitriol into the faces of those that feel the same disappointment, pain and concerns as you do when we lose, draw or don’t sign Joey Barton!

Catch my drift?!

The Manager Still Believes

Incredibly in my opinion, there are some Arsenal fans claiming that Wenger has become so arrogant and impassive that he simply doesn’t care that we find ourselves 17th in the Premier League table and even that the problems that we have are “plain to see” and he is simply too stubborn and blind to fix them. I would think that anybody with anything other than a stone for a heart could see that the manager has looked a ghost of himself of late such is the pressure that he is, for the first time in his 14 years at the club, surely feeling. That said, I think that his recent press statements were partly designed to demonstrate that is not the case as well as trying to buoy the team a little ahead of Saturday’s game.

When asked about our current form, our league position and our chances of winning the league title, he had this to say:

“Of course I am worried, it is absolutely not realistic not to be worried when you have a team like Manchester United in front of you.

“But the only thing we can do is focus on our performances, win our games and hope they will drop some points at somestage.

“What is important for us is to give absolutely everything to do it (win the title), but at the moment it is too early to speak about that.

“Let’s come back to a better distance with the top teams before we speak about that. If the team gets momentum, we can be very strong.”

I think it is safe to say that all makes a lot of sense. In fact I would be surprised if the likes of Mancini and Villas-Boa aren’t thinking the majority of that too. Let’s just hope that the players are listening!

So, 2000 or so words later, it turns out I DID know what to say!

And on that note I shall away and buy myself a new keyboard because the fecking “w” on this one needs a sledgehammer to get it so much as out of bed these days! Must be all those times I use it to access!

Come on you Clean Sheet Seeking Gooonnnneeeerrrssss!

Time To Tame The Shrews

September 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Carling Cup

Greetings fellow Gooners!

Yes! Something to get excited about again! One of the few positives about this part of the season is that, given how badly things are going for us recently, the games are coming thick and fast we giving us the chance to turn things around a little. I know, it’s only the Carling Cup 3rd round and we are playing a Shrewsbury Town side that, whilst they will be buoyed by our recent dismal run of results and their own recent run of 6 wins in 7 matches in all competitions, we really, REALLY should be beating.

Another good thing about this period is we get a chance to see some of the next generation playing as well as some of those already staking a claim for a place in the first team and Arsene Wenger has confirmed this will still be the case, despite the quandary we find ourselves in:

“I will be faithful to our policy but I will try to find a good mixture between youth and experience.”

“I had my team in my head before the Blackburn game and it will remain exactly the same.”

“We will have Frimpong, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo, and maybe one or two more. There is an also opportunity to see Park for the first time.”

“Chamakh will also feature. You will also see Jenkinson start in his position. We will try to find a mixture between youth and experience.”

“You will see the likes of Ryo and Oxlade-Chamberlain. You should be excited about Oxlade-Chamberlain because he is a great talent. My target is to develop him so he confirms the expectation I have for him.”

I have to say that I AM excited to see the Ox get a run out but equally excited to see Ryo as, from the games I saw him play in Holland last year, he also looks a really special player. Wenger made some interesting remarks regarding the differences between Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott saying:

“Walcott is a bit more a striker and Oxlade-Chamberlain is more a midfielder. I believe that Oxlade-Chamberlain could be a central midfielder one day and Walcott a central striker one day. That shows the difference between the two players.”

Although it does beg the question as to why on earth we are still seeing the generally dismal Chamakh come on from the bench to play centre forward and NOT seeing Theo get a run in that position. Everybody and his mother seem to think that Walcott is wasted on the wing and would be better off getting a run of games up front and, at 22 years old and 5 years at the club, isn’t it about time he got that chance?

In terms of some of the other new signings, Arteta will more than likely be rested although I expect to see Santos get another game in a bid to improve his match fitness and Yossi Benayoun begin the match in a bid to add an old head to the midfield. Whilst Wenger confirmed that Park Ju Young will probably get a debut, I think that Chamakh will start the game with Wenger hoping that a decent game on the back of scoring against Blackburn may be just what he needs to get himself a bit of much needed confidence back.

The other “Pole between the Poles”, Fabianski, will probably also get a game. Let’s hope he plays a blinder, if needed, to keep Szczesny on his toes. A central defensive partnership of Ignasi Miquel and Johan Djourou would give the former some game time and the latter, hopefully, also some desperately needed confidence. Given that the only other choice is Squillaci

Don’t misunderstand me, I simply don’t believe that Djourou is the answer to our defensive problems any more, even coming from the bench and only when absolutely necessary, but it appears that he is the current third choice and, even when TV5 returns, he will still be our fourth choice. With our injury record I believe it is safe to say he will probably get some games this season. Completing the defence we can expect to see the right back slot filled by Carl Jenkinson, yet another player in need of a confidence boost given the game he had against Manchester United.

The midfield will probably include a central partnership of Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin, very much providing a screen for the defence, whilst creativity will probably be left to Benayoun, with Rosicky probably still out.

So, the line up should look something like this:

Predicted Formation For Carling Cup 3rd Round v Shrewsbury

There is the possibility that Gibbs may start in the left-back role depending on how much match fitness Santos is or is not still lacking and, considering that he would be playing alongside two centre backs who we probably won’t spend too much time with this season, the benefits of playing him if he isn’t lacking match fitness are not immediately obvious. Aside from that, I think that Arsene has given us enough information for there to be few surprises.

As for Shrewsbury, we certainly cannot afford to be complacent. Currently on a decent run in League 2, they have 5 wins 2 draws and 2 losses in their 9 games so far. One thing that could go in our favour is that they have only scored 13 goals thus far and so, with a little luck, if the central midfield partnership does its job properly, our defence shouldn’t be over-occupied, something which, on recent form, would be a huge relief to all concerned. The last thing the players or the fans need is another game of cat and mouse such as Saturday with two teams trading scoring blows as, should heads start to drop, the Shrewsbury players may well get the scent of a giant-killing and then anything could happen!

Having already beaten Derby County, currently 4th placed in the Championship, 3-2 away in the first round and Swansea 3-1 at home in the second round. Admittedly they played a Swansea side that only featured 3 of the 11 involved against us in our recent Premier League fixture, I don’t think that will make the slightest difference to the Shrews and we underestimate them and, possibly more importantly, overestimate ourselves at our peril.

In terms of a prediction, well, there are trainee minesweepers with safer tasks right now, but I am going to go all out and look forward to a slightly nervy to begin but turning out fine in the end 3-0.

Giving Them The Treatment

There may be a little light appearing at the end of the tunnel regarding the current injury list. Whilst Jack still has 4 weeks left before the protective boot can be removed and a proper test of that ankle can give us some real idea of how he is progressing, it seems that Thomas Vermaelen and Abou Diaby should be fit to return after the international break, putting them in line for selection for the home game against Sunderland on the 16th October. It is a shame that TV5 will probably miss the away game against the Spuds, but I quite like the idea of him being fresh for the return of Bendtner! Tomas Rosicky will face a late fitness test on his knee and I couldn’t care less whether Squillaci never plays for us again so I won’t even bother discussing his “return”!

On The Defensive

Wenger also called for a little more patience regarding the new look defence saying:

“I believe there is a little question of time and timing.”

“Andre Santos and Per Mertesacker are new, but they were not especially guilty on the goals. But maybe as a unit we need more time to work.”

“A lack of concentration, a lack of communication, a lack of coordination and individual urgency [is behind the goals we have conceded]”

“I believe as well when you score an own goal, you have to look at yourself. It’s never, never, never, never, never completely out of reach, or very rarely. Out of 100 own goals there are maybe 5 or 6 where you have no chance at all, all the rest you have to look at yourself.”

Whilst I can only agree wholeheartedly with all of that, there are still questions surrounding the decision to leave the new signings until the last minute thus leaving us in the bind of bedding players in during the season and not beforehand. I understand that the guarantee of Champions League football had to have helped with the Santos signing, the fact that neither Mertesacker nor Arteta were playing for clubs in the Champions League anyway and Benayoun did not look like playing at all at Chelsea, it cannot be used as a be all and end all excuse for the obvious failings in our summer transfer dealings.

All Over The Park

Arsene had some interesting words regarding Park Ju Young’s role for the team:

“Park is good in every area. He is good in the air, good technically, he is mobile and that’s why he is an adaptable striker who can play up front behind the striker. That’s why we went for him. What I like with him is that he is very mobile and that’s the basis of our game.”

This may well confirm my theory that he was signed for a floating role in the style of God. This of course would lead to a reversion to the 4-4-2 which I, along with many others, am desperate to see.

That’s The Spirit

Arsene also commented on the travelling support although I cannot help but suspect that there is also “hint of hinting” in the direction of the boo-boys at The Grove:

“Again on Saturday in Blackburn there were thousands of Arsenal fans and they were fantastic.”

“We need to be united and I am very grateful for their attitude on Saturday. They were absolutely fantastic.”

“The team has a good spirit, a good mentality, a good attitude and that will come out longer term. We have had a bad start but I believe we can bounce back and be very strong this season.”

Whilst I agree with the sentiment and further agree that they are the current benchmark to try and emulate, I am not totally sure that we should actually be United!

And on that far too silly note, I bid you farewell my suffering friends!

Until after the game…

Come on you Shrew-Taming Goooonnnneeerrrrssss!

Don’t Worry, It’s Only Blackburn Rovers!

September 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

Greetings fellow Gooners!

Just a quick one today due to:

a) My being phenomenally late due to some other commitments that the world forgot to warn me about until I had 40 minutes to get there including getting ready and travelling for 30 minutes and;

b) There isn’t a great deal to say that hasn’t been said a thousand and one times and thus that we don’t already know!

Today we play Blackburn Rovers in yet another no-win situation. What could be a potential banana skin for us is exactly that, win lose or draw.

You see, if we win, well, that is exactly how it should be and no special credit will be received. We are the mighty Arsenal FC and they are lowly Blackburn, bottom of the Premier League and in a general state of turmoil. Add to that the fact that their fans are planning a protest prior to kick-off, running an online petition and generally baying for the blood of their manager and of course we should run them out of their own ground.

Or maybe we will get a draw. Yes, that should get the boo-boys out of their prams! Obviously a draw at Ewood Park would not be the end of the world, let alone the end of any title aspirations the players and staff may still be harbouring, but it would not be the win that we should so obviously be getting.

Of course, there is another possibility. That unspeakable chance that we come away with nothing thus requiring the thrusting of Wenger out of the back window of the coach home to be left for dead somewhere on the M6 due to the obvious failure of his new look side (some 2 weeks old), his transfer policy of buying experienced players (some 2 weeks old), his obvious delight at selling 3 of our most prized assets after training and nurturing them almost from his own teat and, last but not least, the fact that he obviously hasn’t been able to manage the team since David Dein left.

In fact, let’s get to the truth of the matter;We all know that Dein was not just responsible for buying and selling players and running the entire executive branch of the club but he also took all of the training sessions, picked the team, wrote the match programme, read out the announcements on match day, played centre-forward in a Thierry Henry disguise, cooked all of the players meals and even washed their kits and cleaned their boots with his magical winning dust!

Ok, obviously I am being a touch facetious here…We all know that he can’t cook!

But seriously folks, as I pointed out prior to the Dortmund game, we are smack bang in the middle of a run of seriously winnable games against teams that we really should be beating. I hope that tomorrow sees us walk away with a healthy victory and I am plumping for a 3-1 to the Arsenal with Mertesacker getting his name on the scoreboard as well as putting n a cracking performance to quieten a few errant mouths that, after two perfectly decent performances in a row, seem to be suggesting that he is worse than Squillaci!

In terms of the line-up we welcome back Song, Gervinho and Jenkinson from suspension and may just see Ramsey on the bench depending on a late fitness test. Jack and TV5 are obviously still out, as are Diaby, Rosicky, Squillaci and Miyaichi. With the midweek exploits still fresh in the legs, I would expect Arshavin to replace Benayoun and I think that we may get a peek at Santos so as not to confuse Gibbs by him playing two games in a row and possibly even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as I think that Theo may get a sit down for this one too.

So, the team may well look nothing like this:

Now, I have to say, that looks like a team with goals in it!

In other news:

Cesc claims NOT to have slammed our chances of winning any trophies ever again until the end of time, although anybody reading the comments section of my post on this topic will understand why I still have my doubts, regardless of how much Twittering he gets up to! Truth be told, I was furious yesterday and today I couldn’t really give a rats arse. There the much more important matter of actually winning a game rather than worrying about whether an ex-player thinks we will or not!

Manchester United are the latest club linked with a Middle East buyout, this time it is the Qatari royal family threatening the general wellbeing of football with a reported bid of £1.6bn. I don’t want to get too high up on my horse over this as, so far, it is appears to be rumour and counter-rumour. Not only that, but I cannot help but wonder how the likes of Chelsea, United and Citeh get a “Sugar Daddy” whilst we get the “Gingerbread Man”!

Wenger claims that his experiment with a zonal marking systemfor corners is working so far but nothing concrete has been decided regarding whether or not it is here to stay. Time will tell on that one, but, whilst we haven’t actually conceded from a corner yet this season, our goals conceded record so far leaves a lot to be desired to say the least and so one assumes that the experiment needs to show fruit in other areas too and fast if it to stand a chance. Personally I think that man to man marking at set pieces is too easy to break down for the attacking side unless you have very mobile defenders and so I hope that the lads get past the teething troubles as quickly as possible to give this new system a real chance.

Yossi Benayoun claims that his loan move was not the last minute shock that it appeared to be and that we were finalising the details about a week beforehand. All well and good, but it does beg the obvious question: If we knew we were signing him so long beforehand, how on earth did we end up taking him without a medical?!

Nicklas Bendtner is currently doing the media rounds with his latest Arsenal “revelation”. He claims he won’t be back unless he gets assurances of regular football from the club. First things first, we own you sunbeam and you will come back if we tell you too and you won’t if we don’t want you. Secondly, I hope that you keep your original promise of never coming back and good riddance too. Thirdly, shut your trap for two fecking minutes and give your arse a chance, would you! You might have been played desperately out of position, never really given a fighting chance to prove yourself and even been horribly misquoted over the whole “best player in the world” debacle (I hate to say it, but I saw the original of that interview and another subsequent interview and that “claim” was taken so out of context it was actually a disgrace to journalism, twice!) but has it never occurred to you that the fact that you spend more time talking about playing football than actually playing it might be riddled with all the clues you need?!?!

Still not convinced Nick? Well, try your own words for size:

“I have rented a good house and am probably going to spend most of my time there, as I did in London, and then spend time with my family when I am not playing football, so it’s going to be okay.”

Anybody else starting to think that he has literally zero friends in the entire world?!

And on that note, all that remains to be said is:

Come on you experienced Blackburn Rovers whipping Gooonnnneeerrrsssss!


Hate To Say I Told You So…

September 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League

…but I did actually tell you so!

So, Borussia Dortmund, the champions of the Bundesliga, proved to be a tougher task than many gave them credit for, keeping possession for long periods, putting a lot of pressure on us when we finally did get the ball and contributing to an interesting game of football regardless of where your loyalties lie.

In truth, aside from dropping Arshavin and replacing him with Benayoun, there were no real surprises in terms of the starting XI either. I have to admit that I did feel Wenger’s decision to drop Arshavin was a rather odd one though when considering the wisdom of selecting Benayoun over him. The reality was that Benayoun was starting his first game for us, away at the German champions, in the Champions League. A tough ask to say the least. It seemed all the more confusing considering that he could have been “blooded” at home, against newly-promoted Swansea, in the Premier League.  Additionally, and as I pointed out in the post-match report for Swansea, Arshavin was strangely impressive on Saturday and, in my opinion for the first time in a long time, genuinely deserved his place in the side. Maybe Wenger is using a kind of reverse psychology with him. You know, play badly for about 18 months whilst bitching about the club, the team, the manager and your fellow players and retain your place in the team week-in, week-out. Play well for the first time in 18 months and receive the full wrath of the boss and a good thorough benching!

To be totally honest, I thought that Benayoun was a better fit for a late throw of the dice should we be struggling to get a desperately needed goaland lacking a bit of legs and creative energy, but notfor the full 90 minutes. As it transpired, it wasn’t such a terrible idea on Wenger’s part. Admittedly Yossi looked a little lost for the opening 15 minutes of the match, struggling to find a way into the game. In fairness, a great deal of his game relies a lot on the quick-thinking and understanding between him and his teammates and with only 2 weeks gone by since he joined the club, it was unlikely that understanding would be entirely established as yet and so it appeared to be proving. Not being a tough tackler or a midfield boss by any means, the decision to play him must surely have been based upon his general work rate and, in hindsight, I think that Wenger got this one right. After about 15 or 20 minutes it was obvious that Yossi was ready, willing and able to run his socks off for the team and he did a great job of that if nothing else. Apart from the immense Alex Song and the “hectic” Arteta, he probably covered as much of the park as anybody else and broke down the flow of Dortmund’s play on more than one occasion. As for the aforementioned Song, I said in the pre-match report that he would need to have an outstanding game if we were to get anything out of this gamer and so it proved as he relentlessly pursued, harried and, for the most part, snuffed out the creative forces of Götze and Kagawa and provided the crucial first line of defence that proved so effective in protecting our centre back pairing.

The first half went pretty much the way one would expect against a team who love the ball, pass it well, attack in numbers and rarely give you a second to think when you do finally dispossess them. They had a LOT of the ball and created a few good chances which, on any other day may have seen us 2 or 3 down by half time. As it happened, a combination of hard work, riding our luck, a decent amount of profligacy on their part and some great goalkeeping by our resident “Pole between the Poles” proved enough to keep them out before the seeminglyimplausible happened. In the 43rd minute Van Persie nicked the ball of a slow to react Kehl with a sliding tackle that Tony Adams would have been pleased with before getting up and continuing his run whilst the altogether more impressive than against Swansea Walcott picked up the ball, slotted the simplest but most perfectly timed ofdefence splitting straight pass into the path of Robin whomade no mistake with the finish, leaving Weidenfeller with no chanceas he calmly placed a curling shot to the keepers right. A finish reminiscent of Henry in many ways and Robin continues to impress and grow with each passing game. One can only imagine what we could have achieved over the past few seasons had he been fit more often.

In the time it takes to say “proper old smash and grab in Europe in the style of one of George Graham’s sides” the scoreboard said 1-0 to the Arsenal, the half-time whistle was blown and we looked like we might just be about to pull off an unlikely result.

The second half saw us getting a lot more possession and Dortmund creating far fewer chances. We still have to work on not giving away a raft of free kicks in and around the box, but thankfully Dortmund seemed hell bent on trying to knock down the wall rather than go over or around it and, when they did manage to get the ball into the danger area, our defence looked organised and solid. As the clock ticked down it became more and more obvious that it was going to take something special to break down a resilient and determined Arsenal, but as it proved, something special was exactly what was coming.

With a free kick lofted in from some way out, Gibbs showed real strength winning the header in the face of two onrushing attackers and clearing the ball out of the penalty area. Cue a moment of magic from Dortmund substitute Perisic as he lashed the ball on the volley over the defence and into the far right of the goal. In reality, and I am sure that most players would confirm this, this was a Hail Mary of a shot and 99 times out of 100 it flies over the bar, into one of the 15 or so players in the box, sails wide or straight into the arms of the keeper, but that is not to take away anything from the scorer to whom we must simply doff our hats and move on to the next game thankful to have gained a point in what should really be our toughest match in this group.

In terms of personal performances, Koscielny played with an intensity which I assume is finally being generated by the competition that finally exists for his place and it is actually becoming a joy to watch. He is still sloppy in terms of positioning at times but seems much more willing to put in the effort to retrieve the situation before it is too late.

Gibbs looked his normal self and, whilst the late introduction of Santos gave us a very short glimpse of what our left back position will most likely be filled with once the Brazilian is fully match fit, I am worried that Gibbs is our only other realistic choice at left back. He just doesn’t seem to have the defensive wherewithal to get his job done effectively and crosses as well as you would expect from an Arsenal full back. I personally don’t see what he brings to the team if I am completely honest.

Arteta was busy chasing down every blade of grass on the pitch, second only to Song in terms of work rate and industry. Sagna found himself at sea a couple of times but worked hard and saved the situation on each occasion.

Gervinho showed again what, after only 4 appearances, we have already come to expect of him, looking lively and potentially dangerous almost every time he got near the ball.

Szczesny was assured and commanding and, yet again, appears to be going from strength to strength in the Arsenal goal.

Mertesacker wobbled a couple of times but, in general, looked unhurried and unruffled when dealing with the majority of what Dortmund had to throw at him.

But, and I am sorry to harp on about this but it bears repeating, Song was EXACTLY what we needed him to be. He was energetic, industrious, organized, in position and entirely disruptive to the Dortmund cause. In my opinion he was our man of the match by a long chalk, in fact, he was probably the man of the match overall.

In terms of the group and qualification, Marseille pulling off their own slightly improved version of a European smash and grab with a 1-0 away to Olympiacos puts the underdogs at the top of the group and, in all honesty, we couldn’t have wished for a better result. As wide open as it was before kick-off, the hardest game in the group out of the way and a point in the bag, things look about as good as we could have hoped for after this first round and, given that I expect us to beat the Greeks and for Marseille to grab a sneaky draw at home to Dortmund in the next round, things may well look rosy in our European garden in a couple of weeks.

All in all a good night’s work, as good a result as we could have expected, a good performance and a wonder goal the only difference between winning and coming home with a point. This new team currently in a period of transition – and make no mistake it IS a new team and it IS in a period of transition – is starting to show a lot of the qualities that we have cried out for in the past few seasons: Drive, determination, guts and the will to win in any manner necessary. We may have lost the creative engine room of Cesc and, for three months every three years, Na$ri, but we have gained a few die for the cause blood and thunder players with a wealth of experience and, once they start to gel, I think we will see a tougher and more rounded side that we have not had since those heady days of The Invincibles.

For the relentlessly unhappy among us, this was not a case of Arsenal throwing away yet another win at the death, but more a case of going into the match with a game plan of snatch a goal and hang on defensively and, but for a moment of the highest quality and a slice of luck, we would have pulled it off.

Meanwhile, we will get a chance to see exactly what direction we really are going in in the shorter term with what would,in recent seasons at least, been considered potential banana skinswith Blackburn away, Bolton and Stoke at home and the home game against Olympiacos as well as a chance for “the kids” in our Carling Cup match at home to Shrewsbury. Get through that lot without losing a game and we can genuinely say that we are turning a corner. Get through that lot with 9 league points, 3 Champions League points and our name in the hat for the next round for the Carling Cup and we might even say we have turned that corner.

Time will tell and I for one will be there watching and enjoying this new stage in our fine club’s history.

Come On You Shiny New Look Goooonnnneeerrrrrssssss!!!

Testing Times and Doubtful T(h)omases!

September 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League

I have to say that, in the past three decades at least, I have not witnessed a time when, in the great scheme of things, games could be more meaningless and yet so damned important.

I know that there have been much more important games over that time such as the Champions League final against Farcalona, title run-ins, the odd FA Cup final, even those last few games of the Invincible season when you just knew we were going to throw away the chance to rewrite the history books away with a stunning reversal by Leicester City at Highbury! Conversely, there have been a few much less important games along the way too. The last three of four games of most seasons tend to provide that excruciating feeling of utter pointlessness regardless of how much we looked like we may actually be there fighting for the title until the death in the preceding weeks!

But I digress, as usual, from the main point that I am trying to make here! Sorry to bring this up, but as I am sure you are all keenly aware, the real successes that we have enjoyed in that period were quite some time ago now and a lot has changed since those heady days. Case in point, we were genuinely relieved when we beat Swansea 1-0 at home on Saturday and are all getting a little pre-match tension going before heading off to play Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

In truth, I don’t remember a time when things were, for all the best will in the world, so uncertain in terms of direction, ability, desire or even the chance of us actually winning something. Put simply, we don’t really know how the new boys will fit in, we are unsure of what system Wenger has in mind for the team or even if it will change at all and we are even less sure that he could survive the next couple of months if we do something foolish like troll off to Germany tomorrow and get a good old shoeing! All in all things are a little up in the air and a good thump down to earth is the last thing we need. If there is any team in our Champions League group that can provide that thump, it may well be Borussia Dortmund.

Key players for them include: Sebastian Kehl, captain, a fantastic tackler and very good passer of the ball, Mats Hummel, not just a good central defender but also a real threat from set pieces along with central defensive partner Subotic (if he plays), Robert Lewandowski, a proper handful of a centre forward who, apart from being fairly lethal from short range, long range or with his head, also makes a habit of providing the kind of well-timed, defence-splitting runs which the likes of Mario Götze, clearly amongst the very best young attacking midfielders in Europe right now, simply love to provide defence-splitting passes for him to get on the end of.

There are warning signs here. Our defence will have to be on their toes or the creative attacking midfielders of Dortmund could well do some serious damage. Having watched a fair bit of Dortmund last season, it seems that our defence will have to begin from the front too. The Dortmund midfielders tend to drop deep to get the ball but, in a three behind the front man Farcalona-style setup, they move the ball very quickly from defence or defensive midfield to the penalty area. Make no mistake, this is not going to be an easy fixture, certainly not as easy as we would like it to be given the general state of things right now.

In reality we have never really fared that well against German sides and, whilst they may not have the stature or reputation of the likes of Bayern Munich, this Dortmund side do play fairly attractive, very attack-minded football, a lot like us to be fair. They too come into the game off the back of a dodgy result, losing at home for the first time in 18 games to Hertha Berlin and playing, well, terribly in the process. They are playing in the Champions League for the first time since the 2002-03 season but are doing so as champions of the Bundesliga and, to be fair, are a good side with a lot of young players, all of whom appear to be as technically gifted as our own, with an average age of just 24, one could be excused for thinking that this should be a team for the future and yet here they are, Champions of Germany. Of course, all of this serves to bring yet more unwanted pressure on our own young players to produce the goods on Tuesday night or facing getting “out-kidded”!

In terms of our team, we have the usual mass of bodies queuing up in the treatment room. Rambo Myarse, (sorry, Ramsey) hobbled out of training on Monday with an ankle injury, Jack Wilshere is already out until the end of September at least although word from the club seems to suggest we could be more likely to see him pull on the mighty red shirt sometime around the end of October. Add to this the two T(h)omases who are both still out, Rosicky as usual and Vermaelan, well, as usual too, and then tack on Diaby who, believe it or not, is still actually paid a salary to play football, and we are looking pretty thin on the ground. Jenkinson returns from suspension but did not make Wenger’s 18-man squad whilst all 5 of the new shiny things got seats on the plane although Santos is still lacking match fitness having not played a competitive match since the Copa America almost two months ago and will therefore be unlikely to get a place in the starting lineup.

We will also welcome back the effervescent Gervinho as well as what could well turn out to be a pivotal role in the shape of Alexandre Song. If Dortmund do indeed have a weakness, I believe that it is in their full backs, Piszczek and Löwe. If Gervinho can get at them like he did against the full backs of Udinese, we may well come out of this with a share of the points or even three all of them. Of equal importance will be Song’s ability to stay in position and break up their attacks before we are praying that Kos hasn’t forgotten there is a game going on or Mertesacker finds himself trying to play catch-up with a Dortmund player he probably won’t catch up with!

I think the team is likely to line up in a much more conventional than usual 4-4-2 due to the injuries to Aaron and Jack and thus expect it will look something like this:

We have to hope that Mertesacker’s knowledge of Dortmund will be put to full use and as such we can also hope that he learned as much from his Bremen side getting beaten by them 2-0 away from home last season as he did when Bremen won 2-0 at home.

In truth, this is not the type of game that we as fans or we as a club really need right now. There are clear dangers here and everybody will have to perform well for us to get a result. If we lose concentration we will be punished and if we show the sort of profligacy in front of goal as we did against Swansea, we will be lucky to get out with a point.

All of that said, without precisely this type of game to go and win, how would we rebuild that fragile, shattered confidence?!

On top of that, we have a secret weapon, something cunning and devious, something that they do not have and something that they will not be expecting…


Come On You Champions League Challenging Gooners!!!

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