Indian Summer or Greek Salad?

September 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League

Greetings fellow Gooners!

Next up, Olimpiacos, who despite being a relatively well known Greek side, appear to have less internet column inches or video minutes devoted to them than chipmunks that look a bit “tasty”, or is that a hamster and who really cares anyway?!

So, given the wealth of information regarding the most successful club in Greek history, sporting a trophy cabinet containing no less than 38 league titles, 24 Greek cups and 4 Greek Super Cups, it appears that focusing on our part ot be played in this match is my only real escape route!

Unfortunately, with the number of injuries alone that we are carrying, there is sufficient there to cover the blankest of pages! The list of casualties is again starting to make it look like opening a private hospital may have been a better choice than a shiny new stadium!

Those not avaialable for selection include:

Walcott – Knee
Koscienlny – Ankle
Gervinho – Muscle
Squillaci – Calf
Wilshere – Ankle
Djourou – Muscle
Benyoun – Muscle
Vermaelen – Ankle
Diaby – Ankle

Incredibly our brand new centurion, Rip-Roaring Rocking Reliant Robin, is STILL fit and, with the list above, we are certainly going to need him to continue in his rich vein of form. In terms of a starting XI, a lot of the “selection headaches” that Arsene Wenger surely cannot wait to experience, are currently not even enough to warrant a junior aspirin! Of the players that are available and competing for a place, I expect that Gibbs will continue to get the nod over Santos as he played in the defence that presided over that rarest of occurences at the Emirates of late, a clean sheet! Rosicky, if he is at a sufficient level of match fitness will probably win the battle to “partner” Van Persie leaving the bench-warming to Park and Arteta will probably get moved out to the right being preferred to Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The one big issue is who will partner Mertesacker in the centre of defence, as we currently have 3 centrebacks out injured. The obvious choice would be to put Song in there and throw Frimpong into the defensive midfield berth although there is a slim chance that Wenger could surprise us and go with either Sagna in the centre and Jenkinson at right back or even bring in young Ignasi Miquel. In truth, it may well be a little early for Miquel in general and the careful and necessary “rehabilitation” of Jenkinson after the Manchester debacle will probably continue so I think that Song will start in what could well turn out to be a crucial match once the dust settles on this Champions League group.

So, I think the line-up will look something like this:

Predicted Line-Up vs Olimpiacos

All in all, not a bad side, and further proof that the squad is not as lacking in depth as some quarters would have you believe. That said, we cannot afford to “expect the win” as some are also claiming. Whilst there isn’t a huge amount of interesting informtion regarding the Greek champions, I can tell you that a number of their players in the forward positions can and do score goals regularly and, if we give them too much space or switch off for even a second, we could be severely punished. I can also tell you that Olof Mellberg, the ex-Aston Villa centre-back, is currrently enjoying some good reviews in a defence that is not going to give away too many freebies. Add to this the fact that they were beaten by Marseille at home last week and it is safe to say that they will not be coming to London to make up the numbers as they look to rebuild their Champions League campaign. The obvious defenciency in their team is a general lack of particularly mobile players, especially in central midfield and defence, so if we can get our passing game going we may see them fade quite dramatically the last third of the match.

In terms of our own game-plan, well, that should be fairly straightorward. We will need Song to sit tight in defence, playing as close to Mertesacker as Koscielny did against Bolton and Frimpong will need to do the same job that Song has been doing in terms of breaking up the attacks before they get too close to our penalty box, a job which young Alex appears to be growing into with every passing game and all credit to him for sticking at it and becoming the player that many believed he would never be after a difficult start to his Arsenal career. We will also need Ramsey to pick up where he left off on Saturday during which match he finally started to show glimpses of him ability to produce some delightful defence-splitting passes to go with him phenomenal work-rate.

The real worry for me is that our side also lacks a little pace. To counter this we will need not only a continuation of that direct passing, so effective against Bolton at the weekend, but we will also need to see Arteta and Arshavin getting forward quickly and making runs in behind the defence to providing the outlets for those passes as were Gervinho and, more impressively, Walcott on Saturday.

A little confidence in the defence could go a long way and we can but hope that the clean sheet we kept inspired the defence to put in a few extra hours on the training pitch over the past few days to continue to practice the things that are clearly helping them to go in the right direction.

In terms of a scorline prediction, I will go with the same result that I thought we would see against Bolton, 2-0. Above all I think that a level of patience will be required, both on the pitch and off of it. The Greeks are not going to be throwing caution to the wind and leaving huge holes in their defence and the last thing our players need will be to start feeling the pressure cascading down from the stands. Olimpiacos surely realise this and will undoubtedly set out to stifle our attacking game and maybe even sneak one on the counter. As I eluded to earlier, I believe that the last 20 minutes of this match is where it will be truly decided and the fans will need to understand that and stay behind the team, even if, Dennis forbid, we find ourselves a goal down going into the final third of the match. Should we find ourselves a goal up, the need to calm things down and concentrate on keeping the ball for long periods to wear down the Greek legs will be of massive importance. Three points is the target and another clean sheet would also be nice. Of least importance is the attractiveness of the football that gets us to those targets so let’s just get behind the boys and stay behind them right up until the final whistle.

With the injury list that we have, a twelfth man could be more decisive than ever.

Bad Medicine

The tabloids and some sections of the fanbase have chosen to draw their swords over the Jack Wilshere injury situation, claiming that the Arsenal medical team have “again” bungled a players care. I have to say that I do not agree with this opinion. The decision to let Jack wear the medical boot and to see if the injury would heal naturally was taken to give Jack every chance of recovering without having to have surgery at such a young age. A risk that obviously hasn’t paid off, but I think it was a risk worth taking and all of the absurd conspiracy theories flying around in the wake of this are becoming more and more absurd by the minute.

I think that it is safe to say that “those who shall not be pleased” will do anything to find a way to criticise the club right now, but claims that Jack failed a dope test and the FA are enforcing a period of time off rather than an official ban is about as low and ludicrous as this whole absurd saga can possibly get…Isn’t it?

Come on Gooners! Let’s at least try to remember that, at the end of the season, should a trophy find its way into the trophy cabinet and a queue of players forms at Wenger’s door ready to sign their contract extensions, the vast majority of us will be as happy as pigs in poo, claiming to a man that we always knew Arsene would turn it around! Of course, there will be a section, an underwhelming minority, that will be unhappy that they didn’t get to set the manager on fire at the end of the season. For the moment the transfer window is closed, Arsene is the man in the job and changing that right now would surely be a foolish move and the best thing that we can do is to stop the bickering and bleating and just get behind the team.

January will be here soon and, with Tevez reportedly likely to never play for Manchester City again, I am sure that we will have to deal the tabloids spewing out enough Van Persie to Citeh stories to last a lifetime. The last thing we need is to go into that period with players feeling like there is nothing they can do to please the fans. It would just be an added incentive for them to leave and all the blood that the media sharks would need to smell to get the fires burning under this story alone.

You Go Girl(s)!

Arsenal Ladies did the club proud, yet again, by securing an historic treble adding the Continental Cup to their Super League and FA Cup successes beating Birmingham 4-1 on Sunday. Goals from Ellen White and Jaybe Ludlow before half-time and a brace from Ladies Legend Rachel Yankey proving enough to beat Birmingham into the runners-up position as they already did in the inaugural Womens Super League.

Congratulations Ladies and good luck with your Champions League match against FC Bobruchanka of Belarusia on Thursday.

And on that note, I bid you farewell and look forward to being able to write nice shiny positive things after the game today!

Come on you Injury Ravaged Greek Bubble Bursting Gooooonnnnneeeerrrrsssss!

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!

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!

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!!!

Tough test awaits, Udinese no walk in the park

August 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League, Transfers

Just few hours from now could really define our season in a nutshell. It hasn’t been a great week for us has it now? It hasn’t been a great summer full stop. Loosing at the weekend has not helped one bit to be honest with you. We saw the last of Nasri then, today he is checking house prices somewhere up north but more on that later.

Tonight we take on Udinese in MASSIVE second leg of our Champions League qualifier to the group stages. We hold a lead which is a slender lead but still gives us that little bit of advantage. In ideal world I would like to go there with a three goal lead and a squad full of world class players, however we all know  that both of these options are somewhat a bit of a fairy tale. In fact our team sheet just got weaker, we finally got rid of Nasri who for me was the only player who could do anything against Liverpool on Saturday and young Jack is now facing a setback on his ankle problem. The only good news for tonight is that Djourou, Traore, Gervinho, Rosicky, Song and Frimpong are back in the squad following injuries and suspensions. Despite our team being paper thin both on paper and on the pitch to me that’s a great boost from Saturday. Frimpong gave us a glance of what a player he could be for us and as much as his inexperience let him down, we definitely have a player with Arsenal DNA in him.

We will need to keep it really tight especially in the middle as this area is mostly weakened we all know what Udinese are capable of, we all saw what they can do at The Grove a week ago. There were moments of scare in the first leg and I’m convinced they will give us even a sterner test at their home turf. They are a decent side who can break on the counter attack in an instant so positioning discipline is a must, Song  please don’t go charging forward like a headless chicken and expose rather inexperienced Frimpong.

We need to be on top of our game in all areas in order for us to progress to the group stages, best way is to score an away goal and I really trust us to do just that. The away goal will mean a great deal to us and hopefully will be enough to see us through this tough fixture. Not sure who Arsene will send out tonight but I would go with this selection to start with:

You could possibly argue this line up because it would also be interesting to play Arshavin instead of Walcott and let’s be honest he has tons more experience in European Cup games, on top of that Arshavin will never last 90 minutes so Theo could be used here as a super substitute. Theo comes on quick counter attack, scores a second goal and we are through. Sounds so simple and I know for a fact it won’t be that easy, either way let’s get behind the lads wherever you are.

So Nasri is officially gone, it’s a real shame I liked him as player and I thought he had loads of talent that would blossom under Wenger, however yet again the modern footballer goes for money rather than pride and history, there isn’t a great deal to add what Arsene said:

“We did not want to lose Fabregas, but we were forced into a situation we didn’t want. Nasri is a situation where the player didn’t want to extend his contract with the proposals he had somewhere else. What kind of commitment can you have when the player is not there long-term? That is the question you have to answer.”

Fair play I haven’t got any complaints about him leaving he was after more money after all, neither do I have complaints about Cesc leaving too (being homesick and all that). I do however question how the club has approached this summer transfer window knowing that we will require high quality replacements for the players we have sold. We are a week away before transfer window will shut firmly in our faces and at this very moment it doesn’t look like there is going to be enough time to sign anyone decent. I believe a great deal will depend on the result tonight, we all know quality players want to play in Champions League, so this game could certainly define our season.

I don’t even want to think what will happen if we fail to qualify (rather scary thought), not only we will loose on £25 million from the competition, we may also miss out on any potential new signings. I sincerely hope that once we get through to group stages Arsene and The Board will work overtime to sign suitable players to strengthen areas in our squad that have been depleted by those players who have now left the club. The only way to strengthen, is to buy top quality players and I’m hoping we will not be let down by the club with so little time left on the clock.

I will leave it on that note, I have been very annoyed with the way the transfer window has been dealt with, it has been simply unacceptable for a club like Arsenal. On the positive side let’s look forward to the game tonight and get behind what we have for now.

Come on ARSENAL!

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