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!

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!

My Horse, My Ox, My Ass, My Anything

September 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Carling Cup

Greetings fellow Gooners!

So, I settled for the quote in the end. I did spend an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with a clever way of mixing the words “Shrew” and “Ox” after daring to use the obvious reference to “Taming of the Shrew” in my pre-match article but I finally decided it was high time I actually wrote something that you may wish to read rather than something I may wish to forget!

So, there it is, and I have to say that, in hindsight, I think that it works quite well! Other choices included “Shrewd Like An Ox” but, having decided that the average ox probably isn’t particularly famous for its shrewdness, that went by the wayside whilst “Wenger Shrewd With His Ox” didn’t seem too bad until it started to conjure up far too many terrifying images and finally “The Ox Tames The Shrews” was just too much of a literary crowbarring of words!

Ok, I know, I have now spent 2 whole paragraphs discussing the title and STILL haven’t mentioned the game itself! There may of course be a reason for that:

It may be that I, like most other Gooners in the world, didn’t get to actually see the match live and had to make do with radio commentary and Arsenal Player highlights afterwards.

It may be that I am still in shock that we actually went behind, almost 2 behind in reality, and still managed to come back and win.

It may even be because this sudden upwelling of happiness and enthusiasm that I am feeling needs a tight lid kept on it until we actually win more than one in a row and in a manner that convinces anybody that we are not going to concede a hatful in our next match.

It may just be that last year in this same fixture against Spurs we ran riot for the majority of the game, scored 4 goals (admittedly after somehow allowing Spurs to take the game into extra time) and Henri Lansbury looked world class!

Whatever the reason I am loathed to get too excited about last night’s game for fear of the sky opening and the God of injury misery swallowing up the Arsenal careers of a few promising youngsters before they even really get started. So, let me sum it up like this:

The team sheet was as expected apart from the fairly impressive and hard-working Park Ju Young being preferred in the starting line-up to Ryo up front and Gibbs, as predicted could be the case, being chosen at left back in place of Santos who presumably is not in need of any more match fitness and thus was probably in live to start against Bolton on Saturday. Note the use of the words “probably” and “was” in that statement…We will get to that!

We started well enough, if the radio commentary stream is to be believed, anyway, and controlled the ball for the first 10 minutes or so with Chamakh testing Ben Smith in the Shrewsbury goal on a couple of occasions. After a fairly nervy start, the Shrews started to settle and, having hit the post and the side netting in their previous attack, secured a deserved 1-0 lead on 15 minutes through the head of Collins.

Having seen the replay on the Arsenal website, I have to say that, whilst the cross into the box was a decent one, Collins was offered the freedom of the six yard box by the yet again dismal Johan Djourou and, whilst employing a heading technique that could not be described as textbook, the time and space that he had and the close proximity to the goal left Fabianski with no chance.

For the next 18 minutes the ball was kept well, used well and passed well and a treat of flowing attacking football was presented to the ¾ full Emirates Stadium by…the AWAY team! Ok, that may not be entirely accurate as we did put together a few attacking manoeuvres of our own in that time, but anybody hearing the 5,000 travelling Shrewsbury fans chanting “OLE!” as pass after pass reached its intended destination may have been entitled to believe that the game had become very much one way traffic!

On 33 minutes the most improbable occurrence, well, occurred! A good cross from the right by Carl Jenkinson (also in the middle of nowhere for their goal if the truth be known) found Chamakh, under pressure from two defenders but still somehow managing to get the all-important flick on to the far post where an unmarked Kieran Gibbs found a gap between the keeper and his near post and levelled the score.

Seriously, I am not joking, Kieran Gibbs scored for Arsenal!

From then on we dominated the bulk of possession, created a few good openings but mainly looked calm and assured for once and on 58 minutes the reward for our efforts finally came. A patient build-up saw the impressive Frimpong find Oxlade-Chamberlain in 5 yards of space about 25 yards from goal. He took a touch to put the ball in front of him before unleashing a rocket of a shot that flew into the bottom corner. I have heard and read criticism of the keeper and his inability to get down quickly enough to stop the ball, but I have to say, no matter how many times I watch it, it would have been an incredible save had he actually gotten to it. In truth, it was a great goal from our most dangerous and creative player on the pitch. We can expect to see more of him in and around the first team after this performance. Sorry Theo!

More possession followed as Shrewsbury understandably began to tire and for a while it did look as though they may cave in. In truth, they didn’t collapse and instead put up a stout display of backs to the wall defending that would have most Arsenal fans shouting about the passion and fight that has been missing from our defence for the past few years were it our boys doing the same.

On 79 minutes the Shrewsbury defensive lines were finally broken again. A long ball from Miquel found Gibbs on the left side of the final third. He brought the ball down and moved imperiously into the centre of the pitch. (I know, I know, Gibbs and imperiously aren’t words usually found in the same sentence but imperiously actually is the word. Whether it was him keeping his head up looking for the pass, controlling the ball well whilst doing so, just looking a touch languid or even a combination of the three, for a brief moment he actually had me thinking of PV4 at one point! Another position change?! ) Trying a through ball to Ozaykup (on the pitch for 2 minutes replacing Frimpong at this point but already impressing with his energy, technique and general willingness) Gibbs almost split the Town defence in two and would have done but for a tip of the toe touch from a retreating defender. Fortunately for Arsenal the slightness of the touch gave Gibbs the chance to pick the ball up again, pass it to the Ox who pushed it out wide to the still willing Ozaykup who, after having one attempted cross blocked, managed to get his second one into the six yard box finding Benayoun who had enough space to take a touch before cleanly striking the ball into the bottom left hand corner. Game over.

In terms of performances, the highlights have to be Oxlade-Chamberlain for his ability to look dangerous anywhere on the pitch, Gibbs, Frimpong and, in particular, Benayoun for their ability to touch every last blade of grass on it and, in a much more unsung role, Francis Coquelin who I have to admit I have been none too impressed by of late but who put in a performance of calm assured quality tonight and showed many of us why Wenger and many others see so much potential in him.

In the end a good performance which will hopefully provide a couple of selection headaches for Arsene in terms of Gibbs/Santos and Oxlade-Chamberlain/Walcott at least as well as seeing us into the hat for the next round where our youngsters will probably get the chance to test themselves against higher league opposition. Obviously, after suffering the indignity of losing in a penalty shootout after playing 2 hours of energy-sapping football against Stoke City, the Spuds, having fielded a strong team, will not be providing that test!

See, life’s not all that bad after all!

Until the next time,

Come on you Shrew Taming Goonnnnneeeerrrrsssss!

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!!!

What A Difference A Day 5 Signings Makes

September 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

Firstly, an apology. Sorry for not being around this week but, in mitigation, a cleverly placed 20 litre water bottle, a wet, slippery tiled floor and my ribcage got into a bit of a fracas and, well, to put it bluntly, two of my ribs lost…BADLY!

So, a week on the sofa put paid to my desperate desire to write something predicting a resounding thumping of Swansea today…

So, broken ribs and a week of bed rest turned out to be a stroke of luck because now I can now sit here and write about how I just KNEW we would scrape through by the skin of our luckiest hind teeth!

Ah, it appears I may have already given the game away somewhat!

Ok, seriously, what really went on today?!

Well, firstly but of secondary importance to finally leaving a premiership ground with 3 points again, Arteta and Mertesacker made their debuts, Arteta the shining light of our first half performance whilst Mertesacker looked, at times, like EXACTLY what we have needed, cried out for and cried over for the past two or three seasons. Mertesacker didn’t have the best game of his career but he looked pretty solid when it mattered and has only actually been in the UK for about 20 minutes!

Arteta faded in the second half but his first half performance should have been more than enough to close a few unnecessarily whiney mouths plapping on about how he won’t fit in. He fitted in just beautifully in my opinion and RVP looked like he was really enjoying the movement and service going on just behind him that provided a little extra time and space and delivered a few opportunities along the way. To be fair, had Robin hit the sort of goal scoring form that we have almost come to expect of late or Aaron Ramsey found his shooting boots before leaving the dressing room, we could have been 2 or 3 up by half time and probably wrapped up a treat of a win by the end of 90 minutes.

But could haves, would haves and should haves don’t win points, as we all know only too well!

What happened in reality is that Ramsey, after about 2 minutes of the game had passed by, contrived to get himself clean through on goal (on the end of a quite delightful slide-rule pass from the Mighty Mikel Arteta), suddenly looked like a deer caught in the headlights and thrashed it well wide of the target! Two minutes later and Mighty Mik was at it again, playing a neat one-two with RVP leaving the Swansea defence with the usual option of “having” to hack him down on the edge of the box. Mightily stepping up to take the free kick, Arteta obviously decided it would be a whole load more fun to trying to remove the head of Swansea’s Agustien from his shoulders! He came pretty close too with the midfielder looking dazed even after he finally remembered his name!

3 minutes later the “Pole between the poles” decided that Mighty Mik was getting far too much of the limelight and pulled off what can only be described as yet another incredible stop in the fledging career of this soon to be legend. Graham goes clean through and, with everybody in the ground already convinced that the ball was in the net and with almost zero reaction time, our polish cat smelled the impending danger, growled a little growl but did not even stop to preen before he threw himself down to the ground and literally clawed the ball off the line like he was chasing his favourite ball of wool! Seriously folks, how good exactly is this kid?! He just gets better and bigger every time he plays. Honestly, is it just me, or has he actually grown 4 inches since the end of last season alone?!  Not for the first time, Arsene can quite literally claim that “He Knew”!

On ten minutes Mighty Mik was at it again with another defence splitter! Van Persie found himself the lucky recipient but his goal bound effort was blocked by the challenge of the reasonably impressive Caulker. In fact, it was the very same reasonably impressive Caulker that managed to block Theo Walcott’s effort on the line after he had cunningly slipped it under Vorm’s body. In truth, the keeper got a touch on the ball which slowed it down just enough to give Caulker the time to get back. That said, he then threw himself full length to get to the ball, almost taking the goalpost down with him!

At around the half hour mark the strangely impressive Arshavin managed to skip past a few challenges, including a cracker from “I’m No Angel” Rangel that could have only been described as attempted assault, and slip a lovely pass into Van Persie leaving him the choice of only the keeper to beat or a simple pass to Walcott to get the job done. Robin chose to not lob the keeper and not pass to Theo whilst Theo chose to look at Robin like he better keep a good close eye on his secret Dutch biscuit stash for a while at least!

5 minutes later Mertesacker decided he too wanted to impress. Throwing himself, last-ditch Tony Adams-style, in front of Sinclair when it looked like we may have a serious problem from a set piece, he pulled off not only a great block but also showed exactly why he is quite so highly thought of, not only a great defender but a gutsy performer too.

The next five minutes or so were typically nail-biting stuff for us Gooners. Swansea weren’t really creating a great deal, but we didn’t have the ball very much and, well, you know how that tends to go! They knock it around for a while, pick up a couple of corners and a free kick and, wham, bam, thank you ma’am, we are 1-0 down through some sloppy defending from a set piece. Well, that may have been true on another day but not today as, on 40 minutes, the still strangely impressive Arshavin (somewhere along the way I am pretty sure that I caught him covering for Frimpong and actually putting in a fine sliding tackle, but I may have dozed off for a second there!) actually scored a really, proper, meaningful goal in an Arsenal shirt!

This was a goal straight out of the Andre Arshavin School of Advanced Footballing Lunacy too. Vorm tries to roll the ball out and somehow manages to throw it at the back of Rangel’s foot and the ball falls to Arshavin. So, looking at an almost impossibly tight angle and with a list of other options all appearing to be far simpler and far more likely to be productive, what does he do? That right, he smashes the ball, first time, inside the near post of the keeper and produces that moment of magic that only the most gifted and arrogant of players are even capable of! Quite simply a goal of the highest importance as, if the end of the season brings us even a single shiny glint in the cobweb strewn trophy cabinet, it will be hard to look back and say that the season didn’t kick off for us in that very moment.  The relief on the faces of everybody in the ground, including the players themselves, told a story of its own.

This by no means killed the game off as Swansea continued to look dangerous on the break, but the change in attitude of the team was easy to see and even easier to enjoy. Suddenly everybody wanted the ball, everybody wanted to try a killer ball and everybody wanted to do things the Arsenal Way again.

The second half brought about no changes from either side. Incredibly this was a disappointment to those who actually found the need to complain that we had bought all this experience and were just leaving it on the bench. Like I have said before, you can please some of the people, some of the time!

Anyway, almost as quickly as the fairly poor Atwell could blow his whistle to get us underway, Kieran Gibbs did his best to welcome Santos to the club and his position! Clearly demonstrating that he borrowed the Gael Clichy Offside Handbook in the summer, he contrived to play Rangel onside whilst also marking him, no mean feat let me tell you, but thankfully Kos, not having one of his better games as seems to be the norm without TV5 at his side, was on hand to head away the danger.

Benayoun got his first taste of the Arsenal faithful and, if I am brutally honest, looked out of touch with the rest of the team. That said, and considering that there was only about half an hour left on the clock and Swansea were not playing pushovers for anybody, I have seen worse debuts from players with far bigger reputations and far bigger price tags! In fact, I don’t think that Veron or Forlan EVER played that well for United!!!

Coquelin got 15 minutes and, I am sorry to say, entirely failed to impress any more than in previous outings and, future surprises aside, I am still wondering what all the fuss others make about him is actually about. Frimpong is clearly the answer to the question “Who is the obvious backup to Alex Song for the defensive midfield position at The Mighty Arsenal Football Club” for $500. That said, I remember seeing Chamakh play really quite well in an Arsenal shirt once but once again he gave us 10 minutes of absolutely nothing interesting at all today. Well, nothing if you don’t count being open in the box with a free header and failing miserably to put the ball either side of a stunned and stationary Vorm in the Swansea goal. He simply won’t get many better chances than that and every time he fails to convert them he seems to take a step further away from ever succeeding in doing it again. I have to say, having seen what he is/was capable of, I do feel a little sympathy for him. He is clearly desperately low on confidence and every run out he gets just seems to make it worse. All that aside, he does appear to be doing his best to engineer another free transfer!

Swansea managed to pull off a few hearts in mouths moments of their own and credit must go to them for never giving up which, in reality, will be a necessity if they are to have any real chance of repeating their visit to the Emirates next season. The ever busy Sinclair cracking a great free kick against the bar on around 50 minutes which certainly got a few nerves racked and it was Sinclair again almost unlocking the defence in the 92nd minute with a mazy run only to find Sagna ready to throw himself in the way in a “none shall pass” style. A minute later and with a matter of seconds to play, Graham managed to miss a candidate for “Sitter of the Season” in the 93rd minute when, from about 2 feet out, he hammered the ball over the bar when a tap-in would have probably done the job.

In all fairness though, it would have been very harsh had either of those efforts gone in after Robin could well have gone home with the match ball, Theo should have probably bagged a couple and Ramsey will still be wondering how he didn’t manage to put us in front in the opening moments. All in all, we played a reasonable game at the back with a couple of shaky moments, a very good game in midfield with a lot of possession and some great work from Arshavin and Arteta and a fairly poor game in the final third. That is not to say that we are back to our old tricks again already as this was more profligacy than the inability to create any goal scoring chances regardless of possession. On another day it could well have ended 6-2, but it didn’t; it ended our dismal start to the premiership season, it blooded 3 of our 5 new players, it gave us a much nicer feeling than the one we have been carrying around with us for the past couple of weeks and will undoubtedly have lifted a few spirits in the dressing room and around the club along the way.

So, we could have had killed the game off by half time, we would have thrown a goal or two their way from set pieces alone and we should have had about 6 goals by the end of the match.

But this is the Arsenal, home of doing it the hard way. So what I should have said was…

We could have been forgiven for being a little nervous prior to kick off after recent events, we would have taken three points and a 1-0 to the Arsenal prior to kick off and we should have planned for nothing more than a home win, pretty or not.

3 points finally in the bag, a bit of a lift all round, no injuries and a run out for 3 of our 5 shiny new acquisitions…

I’ll take that all day long!

Before I leave I have t mention the home support today. A quite incredible performance by them may well have been the thing that kept us going in those dying moments, maybe even providing the convincing proof, were any needed, for the likes of Sagna to throw himself in front of the ball to ensure those three points went on record as being ours. Truly the twelfth man today and a joy to hear.

Until Dortmund, Well Done You Goooonnnneeerrrrssss!!!

Was it boys against men?

December 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

On Monday, the Arsenal lost a close one to Manchester United 1-0. For some reason, we can’t seem to stop Park Ji-Sung from scoring on us. His header goal was the only point and this was the third game in a row against us that he scored. However, after the game Arsene Wenger was complaining about the pitch being bad and that being the reason the Arsenal won.

He said, “On a very bad pitch, the technical quality of the game suffered and that’s why you have seen unusual technical mistakes. The pitch was so poor in my opinion and the game suffered a lot from it.” Really? Are you really trying to blame the loss on the pitch? That is like blaming online poker losses on your computer. Yes, the pitch can cause problems in one’s game, but the team should have adjusted to compensate. Did the pitch affect the ball coming off of Ji-Sung’s head?

Let’s take a look at the stats. The Arsenal had the edge in time of possession, holding the ball for 54% of the time. Next, they also had the same number of saves as the United with five. The one key stat is shots on goal. The Arsenal had 5 and the United had 6, and in the end, that extra shot was the difference. One glaring stat to me is the number of fouls. The Arsenal committed almost double the fouls of Manchester United and got four yellow cards in the process. Are we going to blame that on the pitch as well?

In the end, this was a hard fought game by two top-tier teams. Is it possible that poor pitch made a difference in the game? Yes. It is also possible for me to clear a poker deposit bonus playing crappy cards too, but not likely. However, it is much more likely that on this day, the bounce just went the United’s way. There is no reason to put the blame on the pitch when your team statistically held their own. Perhaps if you fouled a little less, you might have gotten a couple more shots on goal. The game was so close that another shot or two could have tied, or even won, the game.

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