Why I think Arsenal will win the league!

March 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Premier League

In Gooner terms, to describe the last month as very very bad, would be a desperate understatement. Defeat to Birmingham, Barca and United saw us crash out of three major trophies, not to mention a disappointing draw at home to Sunderland in the league. On top of all this we have taken injury blows to Djourou, Szezny, Walcott, Song and of course our captain, Cesc. Calls in to 5 live have been requesting Arsene to leave as if we have finished in the bottom half of the table, from the outset it seems that the Gooner’s season has been turned upside down. And I think it’s fair to say we’ve hit what one would call ‘a mid-season crisis.’ But in this article I would like to explain why this little crisis shouldn’t, actually, can’t continue to overshadow our season.

Right where to start, ah yes I almost forgot. 15 years ago, Arsenal were the Aston Villa of the Premier league, in ’94 we finished 12th, in ’95 we finished 5th, as Alan Hansen would say ‘It was a mixed bag.’ Our stadium was a 40,000 seater and our fan base barely stretched over the English border. 15 years later, Arsenal are in a very very different place. We finish in the top 4 every year, our stadium capacity has increased by 20,000 and we are the most popular European club in Africa. In finances, Our yearly turnover is near that of Real Madrid and we are emerging from a huge shadow of debt faster than anyone predicted. Now I don’t think there is one person who can tell me that the grass is much greener than it was 15 years ago. To me, this has all been implemented by the success of one man, Arsene Wenger. It was he who came to us in ’96 and picked up our unsettled team from the despotic hands of Bruce Rioche. It was he who brought us the Premier league 3 times and FA Cup 4 times. Mr Wenger transformed Arsenal from top to bottom, inside out, he is behind the youth system, the team philosophy and of course the success. Arsenal is his project, creation almost, and it would be entirely foolish to sweep it out of his control.

The main subject of our criticism over the last month has been our centre midfield, or lack of. Abou Diaby and Denilson have had a fair crack of the whip, but neither of them have made any effect in games against Barca and United. With injuries to Song and Fabregas, we supposedly have a problem in the area. The answer lies with one man/boy: Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey showed us what he’s got in the latter end of last season and after recovering from injury is the perfect man for the job. Ramsey posses strength, pace, vision and determination, by the time he was savagely put out of action by Stoke last season, he was already a well established team member. If that isn’t enough to suggest that he is the obvious alternative to Diaby, Ramsey is known to improve when partnered up with Jack Wilshere who will be starting as many games as possible from now until May. In fact, the pair have already been hailed as the Gooner’s midfield future. Wilshere’s ability to retain possession and use the width of the pitch, mixed with Ramsey’s magic first touch and ability to create something out of nothing make them an irresistible duo. However, while Wilshere shows sure signs of becoming one of the best in the world, there is a small chance that Ramsey will pick up ‘Eduardo Syndrome’ and fail to return to the form which he was on before his terrible injury. This is unlikely as Ramsey has had two loan spells at Cardiff and Nottingham Forest where he has shown the same ability as previously. Ramsey and Wilshere seem like the perfect duo to rush to aid our endangered season, and if deployed, I believe they could be pivotal in the conclusion of our season

Now in terms of tactics, If we are to prevail over every opponent from now until the end of the season I believe Arsene should enforce a strict set of rules regarding selection. One starting XI should be set in concrete, by Saturday Arsene should have found the midfield combination which he wants to stick with until the return of Song and Fabregas. As fixture congestion will not be an issue there will be no need to rest anyone and the team should remain fairly similar from now until May. The team should be heavily disciplined, the victory is not stable until a 4 goal margin. Away games will be key, this weekend we play West Brom in an enormous fixture, I believe we should play away games with a far more defensive and conservative mentality than in the past, score line is utterly irrelevant, what matters is if we concede. Conceding will drain our moral and we must do everything we can to prevent it.

In terms of depth and selection we have only a slight problem, at least two players contest each outfield position, every player in our squad is top quality. I believe we can beat United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Aston Villa with the players available to us, as far off as that may seem in the current moment. Aside from tactics, I believe our main barrier is Mentality. Mentally we have cracked over the past month, the fixture congestion and pressure of big matches became too great a burden causing us to give below par performances. The rest given from only being in one competition should do us a world of good. Not only can the boss revise his strategies for upcoming matches, but the players can have time realise the clear and vital mission which they must complete to define the season. The most important thing is that our players are in positive mindset, from there, given the ability of our players, and without sounding too corny, anything is possible.

Why Arsenal can take heart from Barca defeat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bracelona preview – Do we sacrifice or plan ahead

March 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League

It has been an odd couple of weeks for Arsenal. In the space of 14 days Arsene Wenger’s men have lurched from quadruple hopefuls to staring down the barrel of another 6 years without a trophy; from favourites to overturn Manchester United in the title race to no hopers and back again. But there has always been one constant lurking on the horizon, and now it is upon them.

The Champions League 2nd leg tie against Barcelona has permeated every thought of Wenger since that dramatic night 23 days ago, make no mistakes about that. Ask any Arsenal fan if they would prefer to have beaten Birmingham or Barcelona and the answers will no doubt have put the Gunners through to the next round of the Champions League despite that trophy-less run hanging heavy on their minds.

The Catalan club are of a similar mind-set as well. Because this is more than a match to decide the better team on the night, it is a battle to decide the finest purveyors of a type of football most others can only admire from afar – and Wenger more than Guardiola is eager to have his own approach to the game justified, if not with trophies, then with the scalp of the finest club in the world.

With this in mind, both managers have had their thoughts twisted as they attempt to outwit one another off the pitch.

Wenger has included the injured Robin Van Persie in his squad for the trip to the Nou Camp, having previously being advised by the club’s medical staff that he will be unavailable for the match.

The Frenchman pleads his innocence, suggesting he is “very bad” at mind games, but has had his fingers burnt in the past, most notably with Cesc Fabregas, and would only consider such an action for a game of this magnitude. His presence in Barcelona has more than a whiff of psychological warfare to it, especially given the absence of Barcelona’s two first-choice centre backs and the blank drawn against Sunderland last weekend.

“This morning he was unlikely to travel, but he wanted to go, so he had a test and it was quite positive.” He insisted.

“We will not take a gamble in a game of such importance. It will be fit or not fit. Personally I would like him to play if possible, but I will only play him if he is 100% fit.”

If Wenger was busy trying to out-think Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, then the same was happening in Northern Spain – and Guardiola had his sights set on Jack Wilshere.

“We have many types of players like him (Wilshere) in the second team” Said Guardiola.

He is not the type of manager to criticise opponents, let alone single out a member of the opposition, so his comments raised a few eyebrows. Wilshere was excellent at the Emirates against his side and this will not have passed him by. It may have been a fairly innocuous comment about his age, but pressure does funny things to people, and this game is as big as it gets.

Elsewhere for Arsenal Theo Walcott and Alex Song have both already been ruled out, and the loss of the former will be felt most. Lionel Messi described Walcott as “the most dangerous” player Arsenal have prior to the first leg, and while his performance in that game was lacking, he hurt Barcelona last year and would have been hopeful of doing that same again this time around.

Wilshere has managed to shake off a knock he picked up against Sunderland while Fabregas has a “90% chance” of playing against his former side. Place a free bet in the hope that the defensive errors that marred the Carling Cup final will have to be ironed out, and Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny will be at the heart of an Arsenal defence charged with keeping the likes of Pedro, David Villa and Lionel Messi at bay.

With Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol already ruled out, Sergio Busquets and Eric Abidal will likely step into the side who have no other injury worries, aside from their manager who has had treatment on a back complaint but insists he will be in the dugout tonight.

Last season’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona will be at the forefront of Arsenal’s mind as they emerge from the tunnel tonight, and they will have to learn the lessons of the first half display of their opponents from the first leg. Don’t forget those Free bets and be ready for this one, it should be a cracker if the previous three encounters between the two are anything to go by.

They will have to be patient and understand there will be large portions of the game where they will not have the ball, while maintaining a direct attacking edge when they do. If they can, then Wenger can finally put one of his personal demons to bed.

Captain Fabregas looks to guide Gunners to trophy

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, FA Cup

If there is one man who has symbolised Arsenal over the past five years, it is Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard has enjoyed his fair share of highs as well as lows and will now look forward to ending the Gunner’s trophy-less run that extends back to 2005’s FA Cup win.

Prior to the Carling Cup semi-final first leg against Ipswich the Spaniard warned against complacency and said that Ipswich would be a sterner test that most imagined. How right he was proved, not only in the first leg where a Tamas Priskin goal ensured the Tractor Boys had something to defend in the second leg, but also the two thirds of the match at the Emirates where they managed to resist Arsenal’s attractive drives forward.

It was Fabregas, who was at his best on Tuesday,  that helped pull Arsenal through to the final of the competition, and it is Fabregas the club will have to thank if they do indeed break their trophy-less run. His influence coursed throughout the team as he, alongside the immaculate Jack Wilshere, orchestrated an impressive Arsenal win and performance. With Birmingham to play in the final The North London club will surely be installed as favourites by football betting pundits.

Wenger hailed his “maturing” side after the game and it may well prove to be a turning point; emblematic of a season still full of promise. The fact Arsenal have gone without a trophy does play on Wenger’s mind and also that of his team. An interview with the Guardian recently revealed Wenger’s determination to right the wrongs of the past five years and win a trophy this season. But if the club were to fall into the trap of chasing trophies above all else, Wenger’s ethos he has worked so hard to instil over the past decade and a half will be gone. Arsenal are about more than trophies; they are about a style of play, the cultivation of the finest young talent and a financial model most other Premier League clubs would die for. Equally the club need them to survive, and must have their approach validated by the arrival of silverware. Second in the Premier League the club are still within a shout of winning their fourth title under Wenger. If not out-right favourites, most football bets will see them as amongst the front-runners at least.

With Fabregas as club captain the chances of that becoming a reality are vastly improved. Barcelona’s public courting of him has yet to affect his performances and as captain it is unlikely they ever will do. It is a ark of the man that he still gives all to a club he undoubtedly loves when his future most likely lies elsewhere. What a fitting goodbye it would be for one of the best players to wear an Arsenal shirt in the last ten years.

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.

We should be two points behind Chelski!

November 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

Our loss against The Toon army is rather difficult to take as we should have been sitting two points behind Chelsea and level on points with Man U. Yet again this season we have lost at home in front of our own fans and there was zero effort, zero urgency and zero desire to win the game. Take away nothing from Newcastle they were very well organised at the back and made us look very poor at times especially in the midfield.

I couldn’t watch the game from kick off I had to pick up my cousin from Luton Airport, his plane landed just before the game. At about 1:25pm we got back to the car and we headed for the M1 South towards M25, radio was tuned in to Talksport which was painful enough  but this was the best I could at the time. I have thought about this fixture and knew this was going to be a hard one as they would be looking for revenge after we knocked them out in Carling Cup a week ago. Judging from what was being said on Talksport we didn’t look like the Arsenal we all know. The only chance we had in the first half was the Cesc free kick which hit the bar however our passing, fluency and desire just wasn’t there and as soon as they scored I feared it could have been one of those days. The whistle blew, end of first half by that time I was approaching Reading on the M4 so had another 5 minutes on the road, I got to my local and we managed to quickly get a pint each and take a seat in front of the big screen. I didn’t even think for a second I would witness such a abysmal display from our lads it was even more painful to watch it on live TV.

Second half started and still we were pretty much shit to be honest with you, we found it really hard to pass the ball in the midfield, our passing was awful we usually move in triangles and pass the ball well what the hell happened to us I thought? Theo should have scored when he had a chance, Cesc had a decent header but it was straight at their keeper. The only good thing about the second half was when Van Persie came on, Jesus I thought how many lagers have I had already? Is it really him? It was him indeed and it was really good so see him getting back to his best. He’s definitely not match fit  and will need few more games to see the best come out of him. We never looked like scoring in the second half  we pushed forward but it wasn’t working. In dying minutes there was no leadership and Koscienly got a straight red for holding onto Nile Ranger but for me this wasn’t a sending off as it wasn’t a foul.

Fabianski was 100% to blame for the goal but he never really got any help from his defenders. We created bugger all in the second half, Theo should have scored, if he’s a better finisher this season why can’t he do the job when badly needed? Our midfield run out of ideas and as soon as I saw Cesc launching long balls I knew it was going to be one of those days. It’s a funny old game you know we have given away 6 points at home already this season to lesser teams and this is totally unacceptable.

A very HUGE, MASSIVE, GIAGANTIC response is required against Wolves and they seem to have improved as well so it won’t be an easy game now. We have lost our spark and I’m worried it has to be said.

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