Frenchmen Under Fire

October 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League

Greetings fellow Gooners!

A terrible start to the season for a team managed by a Frenchman who finds himself under a mountain of pressure, fans screaming for his head and the board telling the world things like this:

“[The manager] is not under threat, he has the keys to this place for the long term.”

And the manager saying things like this:

“I don’t want to be too pessimistic [about our situation]. I’m aware of the difficulties we are facing but we are working on that and we are trying to build some confidence.”

And reading either or both of those statements, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that we were talking about our very own French manager, but we are not. The Frenchman is Didier Deschamps, the manager of Marseille, our next opponents, although the comparisons are more than striking.

Up next, the trip across the channel to Marseille. No easy game for sure, although there cannot be many teams of the size of Marseille that have endured a worse start to their league campaign than us! 10 games played, 9 points gained sees the French side wallowing in 15th place in the Ligue 1 table. All that said, their last Champions League match saw them trounce Borussia Dortmund 3-0 so they have to feel that they are at least in with a chance.

So, two teams with all to play for, both underperforming desperately in their respective leagues, both, rather ironically, unbeaten thus far in the Champions League, both managers recently being given the dreaded vote of confidence and both teams recently seeing a bit of an upturn in form, if not entirely in terms of results. All in all, this one could turn out to be a real humdinger!

Team news is expected with Vermaelen still out until at least the end of the month, Diaby until the weekend but it is more likely that the Carling Cup match will see his latest in a string of comebacks, Wilshere and Sagna are obviously still on the long term injury list. The most recent addition to the treatment room is sadly, once again, Kieran Gibbs. Sadly because he seems to have no luck whatsoever with injuries, this one being a stomach muscle problem, and sadly because he was actually starting to show us why Wenger has stuck with him through all these injuries by playing really quite well indeed!

On a more positive note, Aaron Ramsey has travelled with the squad to France having been back in training and having no reoccurrence of the problems with the tight hamstring that kept him out of Sunday’s 2-1 win. So, Santos will almost certainly start at left-back, Jenkinson will probably continue at right-back in the continued absence of Sagna whilst Walcott and Gervinho will probably keep their places although either or both of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arshavin may well be in with a shout after the former’s last performance against Olympiacos and the latter’s cameo against Sunderland.

So, the team will probably look something like this:

Expected Line-Up v Marseille

And so we begin a two week period that could well define the season, regardless of what has gone before, with the Champions League “double header” sandwiching the visit to the Emirates of Stoke City and the short away trip to the bus stop in Fulham. Throw in the Carling Cup home match against Bolton and we could find ourselves in much better shape in the league or languishing in the bottom half of the table again, as good as in the hat for the knockout phase of the Champions League or all but out of the competition and sailing into the fifth round of the Carling Cup with another win against the “impenetrable” defence of Cahill and co (currently the worst defensive record in the EPL having conceded a fairly impressive 22 goals!) or crashing out of one of the only two competitions that may actually be considered winnable for us this season!

Time will tell, but the most important thing is to get at least a point tomorrow night, preferably all three. I personally believe that we will get the win that we really need and I am going to plump for a 2-0 win.

Let’s all hope that I am right!

Vermaelen Extends Contract Amid Yet More Claims Of Mentul Strengff

Yet again the manager has decided to wield those fatal two words whilst discussing a team that couldn’t possibly have looked frailer and lacking in the aforementioned “strengff” as it has over the past 6 months. Self-destructing our way from the Carling Cup final to the end of an entirely distressing and desperately anti-climactic season which saw go from having the title in our own hands one minute and Champions League qualification the next.

When asked about TV5’s decision to sign a new long-term contract, (thank Dennis for that!) this is what he had to say:

“What is important is that in our environment it gives a different message.

“When you listen to people it looks like an exodus with everybody leaving the Club but we are a happy club. We did not have the start of the season that we wanted but the atmosphere inside the Club is very solid, very united and very positive.

“We want to turn the results round and the fact that some players extend their contract at the moment is a positive sign for us.

“We are unified and that is down to our mental strengths. This club has traditionally shown mental strength under pressure and I would just like to say that we have been under pressure since the start of the season but in the big games we always managed to find the resources to respond well.

“The biggest games have been the qualifiers for the Champions League and certainly recently against Sunderland where we had absolutely to win the game. There is another one we want to win tomorrow.”

Plenty there to chew over and spit out, but there is simply no way that “We are unified and that is down to our mental strengths. This club has traditionally shown mental strength under pressure and I would just like to say that we have been under pressure since the start of the season but in the big games we always managed to find the resources to respond well,” can pass by without some sort of critical review.

“…traditionally shown mental strength…” and “…but in the big games we always managed to find the resources to respond well,” strike me as the words of a man who is either a) kidding, b) living in cloud cuckoo-land or c) in such a deep state of denial that he actually believes what he just said!

Seriously, traditionally we fold like a Brighton Beach deck-chair just as you are about to sit in it and as for finding resources for the big games, well, feck me gently with a chainsaw if that isn’t about the most ludicrous things you could even imagine him saying in the same six month period that has seen us gift the Carling Cup to Birmingham City, soon after to be relegated, thrown away the league in a style that left most Spurs fans feeling like they had actually won the league themselves (yeah, keep on dreaming you overrated Lillywhite shite. 50 years and counting!) and if we came up with the resources at Old Trafford then I would hate to see what might have happened if we’d had an off day.

I’m sorry. I like Arsene, I truly do, and I still believe that he is the best man to dig us out of the hole that we find ourselves in, but this sort of blindness/wishful thinking/lunacy (delete as appropriate) simply beggars belief. Surely he isn’t still trying this type of rhetoric to boost the confidence of the players? The truth is that our past 6 years of history confirms that it simply doesn’t work.

Reliable Robin Probably A No-Go
Arsene Wenger was asked about the RvP “situation” (Situation? What situation? Didn’t he tell us that he intends to stay and that we should ignore the rubbish being churned out in the press?!) by the Arsenal supporters club of France. His response was a little “cagier” than one might have expected:

“I don’t think I will lose Robin. But if a player who has a choice of two clubs with the same ambition, they’ll go for the club who pay more. If the players leave it’s not linked to titles. Players don’t go to Manchester City for titles, they go for money.”

Which is fair all enough, if you ignore the obvious fact that Citeh are sitting at the very top of the Premier League, two points clear of neighbours and with a home game against the on Sunday! Surely, unless he is a bigger muppet than even I think he is, Na$ri is not looking over his shoulder thinking “Hhmmm…Wish I had stayed at Arsenal after all and fought to get into the top half of the table instead of coming here and playing for a team that look like genuine contenders for the title. PS – Cha-ching!”

Aside from that, I was a little frustrated with the un-unequivocalness (I know that isn’t a word, but I kind of like it anyway!) of the Van Persie part of that statement. “I don’t think…” is NOT what we were being led to believe on Sunday after the captain’s programme notes were quite so specific about his desire to stay at Arsenal. Sometimes I actually wonder if Wenger doesn’t go out of his way to ruffle as many feathers as possible, especially the currently suffering supporters of our fine club.

The very last thing we need right now is another upwelling of media speculation regarding the Dutchman, there is already quite enough welling coming up to go around. Surly a better answer would have been something like “I refer you to Robin’s programme notes from Sunday,” and left it at that. Now the media will have their story again and we will have to listen to the endless stream of opinion regarding what we will do when he “inevitably” leaves. Of course, if he does leave, I fully expect the club to close its gates after 125 years of football because we simply won’t be able to carry on.

More Mentul Strengff
In the build-up to today’s Champions League match Arsene was asked the inevitable questions about his time managing Monaco and their fierce rivalry with Marseille and the highs and lows of management in general. He had this to say on the subject:

“A career in management prepares you to fight against adversity, that is for sure.

“When a young manager asks me for advice all you can say is ‘survive disappointments’ because that’s all you can say. You cannot imagine a career of any manager without disappointment. At the end of the day, it is that.

“It makes you stronger or you get out of the job. It is as simple as that. What helps you is that you believe in your passion and mental strength.”

This worries me a little, if I am completely honest. If “all you can say” when asked about the highs and lows of a career in football management is “survive disappointments” then you surely have a fairly negative view of things in general. At a time when we are looking to the team to put a run of good results together and build some confidence, the manager is not exactly presenting them with much in the way of positive, confidence-building input with statements like that. I would have hoped for something a little more “Pacino”. Something like “Squeeze every last drop of everything you have out of every last inch of your body to make sure that you are always playing the very best football that you can and can always hold your head up high knowing that you didn’t let yourself or any of your colleagues down.”
Something like that anyway! Maybe I should apply for a job writing Arsene a few decent sound bites for his press conferences as the less confusing they get, which isn’t always the case, the more perplexing they become, if you catch my drift!

And on that note, I bid you farewell!

Come on your never been accused of match-fixing Goooonnnneeeerrrrrssss!

Goals Speak Louder Than Programme Notes

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

Sometimes you just have to come out and say something.

Today Robin Van Persie did just that…

TWICE!

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings fellow Gooners!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for Robin Van Persie:

29 games, 23 goals and 6 assists

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

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

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

Overrated Lillywhite Shite!

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

Spuds, Away, Sunday? Yes Please!

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

Greetings fellow Gooners!

Well, nobody can claim that we haven’t had a tough start to the season. Losing to Liverpool, losing 8-2 to Manchester United, losing 4-3 to Blackburn, losing Cesc, Na$ri and Clichy, Champions League qualifiers against Udinese, 3 red cards, losing Jack Wilshere for most of the season, losing Thomas Vermaelen for something like 10 games in total (more on that developing saga later!) and now, just when we appear to be going in the right direction, the “anything can happen and probably will” North London derby!

It may sound like I am already making excuses and, to be honest, I think I could be forgiven if I were; but I am NOT making excuses, I am stating the facts. The excuses can wait until Sunday night!

This is a match that will offer no hiding place. Not on the pitch for the players nor after the game for the Gooners who will have to go to their workplaces, local pubs, family homes and look into the eyes of Spud’s fans eyes and either hang their heads or walk past singing proudly “One team in London..!”

In some quarters there is talk of this potentially being the end of our season. I understand the sentiment but there is, of course, another edge to that sword. If losing this game is the end of our season, winning it may just be the start of it. Ok, it is not going to be easy by any means. The general feeling is that Twitchy has the small club at the end of the Seven Sisters Road playing well and winning some good games, but their record is not quite as good as some may think. Indulge me for a moment, if you will…

– In the space of two games Arsenal lost to Manchester United 8-2 away and beat Swansea 1-0 at home…A club in crisis.

– In the space of two games the Spuds lost 3-0 to Manchester United away and 5-1 to Citeh at home…A club heading for the top 4!

– We have scored 9 goals thus far this season…Still a club in crisis.

– They have scored 9 goals thus far this season…Still a club heading for the top 4!

– If you discount the freak result at United, we have actually conceded FEWER goals than they have in the same number of games.

– They lost on penalties to Stoke in the Carling Cup. We won 3-1, accepted against a slightly lower standard of opposition, although anybody who has seen Stoke play lately will tell you that the divide is not so big! Nevertheless, we are in the hat and they are not.

– Funnily enough, the league table shows the Spuds in 6th place and us in 13th whilst the home games table shows us in 6th and them in 13th! Obviously we don’t really need to talk about the away table as it is not the least bit pretty!

– We struggled after going a goal down to Shrewsbury Town in the Carling Cup before coming back to win 3-1 whilst they struggled after going a goal down to Shamrock Rovers in some unknown European competition before coming back to win 3-1.

– In fact, if you are spending your time listening to the constant white noise spewing out of the tabloid media this will be the most unbelievable stat of them all: Should we actually win the game, we would go above them in the table!

And there you have it. In the real world we are not a club in a desperate crisis, we are a club that, aside from one particularly absurd result, are in similar form to a club said to be chasing a place in the Champions League! Red-tinted glasses or not, the facts are that simple.

To say that this is a crucial match is the understatement of the century, but I also truly believe that this is the perfect opportunity to make a lot of changes to how the players perceive their situation. I don’t think it would do the fans any harm either. To suddenly leapfrog the title-less for over 50 years would put a little reality back into things and maybe even provide a springboard to move on from this period, leaving the devastation of those horrific events behind us. We have won three matches on the bounce in all competitions, to add a fourth would start to look like form rather than a run of so-called “easy” games and what better team to do it against than the Spuds?!

And that is why I for one am actually pleased that we are going to the hovel on Sunday. Make or break it may well be, but you don’t win titles playing Shrewsbury, Bolton and Olympiacos every week.

In the run-up to Sunday’s game, Arsene Wenger chose to question whether or not the Spuds really are a big club, despite the constant media frenzy:

“At the moment we have been in the Champions League for 14 years and that is all we can say.

“Tottenham is a good side, I agree, and we have to try to be better and that is what we try to do. I believe the consistency has been on our side, but Tottenham has a huge potential. They played Shamrock Rovers on Thursday night and were sold out, so that is a massive potential.

“But we are at the end of September and the season finishes in May. Don’t come to quick conclusions about teams – there is a long way to go.”

And that is, of course, the obvious truth. Whilst the media circus is busy adopting them as their favourite footballing love-children, they are, in reality, no closer to outshining us than they have been in decades. Every season it is the same tired story. Every season is the season that Tottenham will overtake us and move into the top four. And every season they DON’T! A win on Sunday would go a long way to putting both the media and the Spuds back in their rightful place. Reason enough to motivate the team if ever one was needed.

On a more amusing note, I note that the Spuds fans are so desperate for a taste of a trophy, ANY trophy, that they are selling out in the “who cares cup” against Shamrock Rovers!

In terms of the line-up for Sunday, the injury list that looked like it would shorten dramatically has not exactly done so. Koscielny is definitely out even though he was scheduled to return. Djourou is out even though he probably wouldn’t get a game anyway with the form he has been in this season. Squillaci is fit but not match fit so thankfully he probably won’t play! Gervinho is a big doubt although he was scheduled to return. Walcott is a doubt even though he was scheduled to return.

So, adding the above to Jack, TV5 (like I said, more on that later!) and Diaby, we have, as usual, the best part of a Premier League team in the treatment room! With so many uncertainties over fitness it is difficult to say exactly who will play but I think that Gibbs was rested in midweek to get him ready for Sunday so he will likely play ahead of Santos. Song will almost certainly partner Mertesacker again in a central defensive partnership that looked as good as any we have had in quite some time. Sagna and “the Pole between the poles” will make up the rest of the defence.

In midfield Aaron Ramsey should return and will likely partner Frimpong, although I think that Coquelin may be edging his way into a start after Emmanuel had another “iffy” game against the Greeks. In the probable absence of Gervinho I think that Arshavin will get the nod and, should Walcott fail his late fitness test too, I think that we may see Benayoun and Arteta filling the final attacking midfield positions and rotating between them for the wing and central roles. I am sorry to say that I simply cannot see Rosicky getting the nod here. After looking so pedestrian at times against Olympiacos, I don’t see him having the pace to keep up with a blood and thunder match like this one.

Obviously Robin Van Persie will start up front and so the line-up will probably look like this:

Predicted Line-Up v The Spuds

If Walcott plays then I expect Benayoun to move aside. I also think that we may see Arshavin play in the centre behind Van Persie should Walcott not play and Benayoun out wide, although I think with those three starting, positioning would be a fairly fluid affair.

In terms of prediction, well, how on earth do you even start?! Obviously I am not going to go against our boys and the draw is just too easy a cop-out, so I will go for a 3-2 win with some heart-stopping football and even more arresting moments whilst trying to snatch that final goal and get out with all 3 points in the bag! What more could you want?! Even Mystic Meg doesn’t stick her neck out like I do!

The truth of the matter is, win lose or draw, the form book goes out of the window for these games and whilst a win may bring a little more much needed confidence, a draw little consolation and a loss the sky crashing down, this is just one game.

Trouble is, it is THAT one game!

Oh, and just in case any of you were wondering why I hadn’t mentioned that back-stabbing, money-grabbing, club-hopping, football whore AdePayMeMore, it is because I couldn’t give a monkey’s right nut about him. Mertesacker can just put him in his back pocket for 90 minutes or simply kill him in the tunnel for all I care. Whichever of the two he prefers. I will leave that up to him!

Doubtful Thomas

It appears that the phantom injury problems that deprived us of the much-needed talents of Thomas Vermaelen for most of last season are no are back again this year with the news that, after being told he would be out for a few days to begin with which was swiftly changed to not until after the international break are now being revised to 1 or 2 weeks after that. I am unsure exactly what seems to be the problem for Thomas, but the Arsenal medical team are again doing themselves no favour with the press or the fans.

As football fans all we can do is wish Thomas the very best and the speediest possible recovery. As Arsenal fans we can only pray that he is back in the centre of defence as soon as possible as, of all the injuries we have right now, and I include Jack in this, his is the most damaging to the team.

Fingers crossed, the next news we get on his injury will be good news.

Over My Cold Dead Body!

Arsene Wenger, whilst discussing his 15 years at Arsenal and how he would happily stay on for another 15, also stated that he would rather die than leave the club! Ok, that may not be EXACTLY what he said! Judge for yourself:

“I am up for [five, 10 or 15 years],” he said. “But it depends first of all on my club. Do they want me to stay?

“Then it depends on my health as well because that is something that you consider when you get to my level. It demands a lot of energy to win football games.”

This is tantamount to the same thing in my book! If the club want me I am here. After that I will worry about my health! Nice to see that, regardless of the vomit-inducing whinging pouring out of some corners, his passion for the club has not dwindled at all. He went on to confirm that not winning things still hurts him, but that he still believes firmly in the club’s plans as a means to ensuring a bright future:

“I miss winning titles. Very much. You only have one way, to fight and win again.

“I feel part of what is very important for us is to transform the club into a top-level club, into a club that has a fantastic future potential with values that we think are very important in the game.

“The style of play, the way we behave to develop young players, to give a chance to people who deserve it in life. That for me is very important in the history of the club. The vision is to make this club the best club in the world, it is as simple as that.”

It has to be said, becoming the best club in the world is a noble and worthy objective, though I wouldn’t mind concentrating on being the best club in England for a little while first, if that is all the same with the boss!

Van’s Still Our Man

As ever, I hate to say I told you so, but again, I DID tell you so…

My exact words were:

“January will be here soon and, with Tevez reportedly likely to never play for Manchester City again, I am sure that we will have to deal the tabloids spewing out enough Van Persie to Citeh stories to last a lifetime.”

Well, as it turned out, they couldn’t even wait until January with pretty much all of the red-tops trolling this one out as early as Friday morning! Wenger was unwilling to even entertain the conversation in his press conference, responding curtly with the following when asked if Van Persie would be leaving in January:

“This is a story created to create a story.

“There is no truth to it. There is nothing to say really.

“Anybody who wants to sign one of our players can call me. Everybody has my phone number.

I don’t know why we are even speaking about transfers. Robin is under contract until 2013.”

I would like to add that, whilst I agree with every word of that statement and do not believe that Robin will do anything other than sign his next contract for Arsenal, the sooner this contract situation gets sorted, the better it will be for all involved. I understand that it is not a good time as we are in the middle of a run of 2 games almost every week, but I also understand that the general levels of concern surrounding the club and, more importantly, the players, do not need extra weight adding to them. Losing our best striker, one of the best players at the club and a 5th captain since Vieira left in 2005, only 6 years ago, is not something that they need even to contemplate!

So, get him signed up and let’s move on to the stories about Walcott leaving for Italy, Arshavin moving to Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus or any of the multitude of clubs he was definitely leaving us for over the past 9 months! Oh, not to forget, Djourou will probably just be moving house when we could actually do with him leaving!

And on that note I bid you farewell.

Come on you Cock-Choking, Title-less Thumping, Neighbour-Annihilating Goooonnnneeerrrrrrssssss!

No Greek Tragedy As Saint Ox and Santos Lead The Way

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

Greetings fellow Gooners!

Well, nobody can say that Arsene Wenger doesn’t know how to pull off a surprise or two after that match, can they?!

The inclusions of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santos and Chamakh were, I have to say, all shocks when the team sheets were announced. The Ox was not the worrying kind of shock in the slightest after he showed against Shrewsbury that he has both the game and the maturity to play in the first XI, but I felt that Wenger would leave it longer before “blooding” him nonetheless, at least until a dead rubber match came up at the end of the group stage. Santos and Chamakh were bigger surprises and, if I am honest, worrying ones to lesser and greater degrees. Surprises aside, Song partnered Mertesacker as expected, filling in at centre-back in the absence of no less than three first XI players in that position which also gave Frimpong the opportunity to continue his steep learning curve in the defensive midfield role.

As if to repay the faith shown in them, two of those surprises, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santos, got us off to an absolute flier with a goal apiece on 8 and 20 minutes respectively. Oxlade-Chamberlain, after already showing some nice touches, passes and a clean pair of heels to their right-back, chested the ball down to himself on the edge of the penalty area, moved inside his marker who actually got a touch only for the ball to bounce kindly back into the feet of the ex-Southampton man who continued into the box before placing a precise finish through his markers legs into the bottom right hand corner to become the youngest ever English player to score in the Champions League, taking that title from a certain Theo Walcott!

A fantastic start and one that would get even better 12 minutes later when, after good work down the left, Santos crossed the ball to Chamakh in the six-yard box. The Morroccan international didn’t actually get to the ball as it was stolen off his toes by a good challenge from his marker, but it found its way back out to Santos who took a step inside the defender and beat the keeper at his near post. A touch of luck in the build-up to both goals, but it is about time we got a little of that and it was certainly nothing less than both players deserved for their determination alone.

The 12 minutes between the two goals were not entirely without incident. Four minutes after taking the lead, Chamakh, a lonely and hapless looking figure yet again I am sad to say, really should have at least tested the goalkeeper when a corner found him at the far post, but his header from only a few yards out went well wide. Two minutes later and Arteta was called into defensive action, clearing off the line after Djebbour got himself free at the back post from a corner. The rebound fell to him again but he could only manage to hit the side-netting with his follow up. In truth the Algerian really should have scored at the second attempt but all credit to Arteta for an heroic stop.

So, 2-0 up, playing some reasonably tidy football, passing fairly well and it began to look like it was just a matter of how many at this point. On 27 minutes the game was turned on its head in a typical Arsenal self-destructing style. A short corner on the left hand side caught us napping in the box and the overall fairly impressive David Fuster was given the freedom of North London and, with all the time to pick his spot, headed the ball into the net from about 10 yards out. A shocking piece of defending from the 9 Arsenal players in the penalty area and one that I hope Wenger will be ramming down their throats prior to the game against the titleless for over 50 years on Sunday.

A minute later Djebbour tested Szczesny with a rasping shot that the once again excellent “Pole between the poles” did well to tip over showing those reflexes that are threatening to make him an Arsenal legend!

The rest of the half was a story told many times over the past couple of seasons. Poor passing in midfield, mainly from Frimpong, and a seeming inablity to hold the ball up front, mainly the fault of Chamakh, neither of whom had games to remember, saw Olympiacos threatening more and more, albeit mostly on the counter-attack. If not for more excellent goalkeeping from Szczesny and some wonderful reading of the game coupled with some great tackling from the ever-improving Mertesacker, we could well have gone in for the half-time break staring down the barrel of 2-2 or worse. The Grek side could have been forgiven for feeling that they should have found that parity at least.

With Wenger banished to the stands for his final game of his absurd suspension, Pat Rice must again take a reasonable amount of credit for whatever he said during his half-time talk, with the start of the second half seeing us play a much more compact game with less space between the defence and the midfield and the wayward passing apparently also dealt with.

On 50 minutes Oxlade-Chamberlain was released by a nice pass in a rare moment of quality from Chamakh, the young winger getting in behind the full-back Holebas, who, after spending the entire game doing little else but kick any Arsenal player he could find, had finally been booked a minute earlier and was thus unable to kick, tug, drag or barge the flying winger. Bearing down on goal The Ox took what was, in my opinion, one touch too many giving Costanzo in the Olympiacos goal time to settle himself, narrow the angle and beat out the eventual shot. A good save was needed nevertheless and the young man once again justified Wenger’s decision to pick him.

A few minutes later saw Holebas blatantly shove Oxlade-Chamberlain in the back after good work on the wing from the eventual Man of the Match winner. The referee, who up until now had been nothing short of pedantic in his constant use of his whistle, quite simply bottled the decision, waved play on and incredibly the left-back stayed on the pitch. The touch of luck we had enjoyed for the two goals deserting us again. Had he gone, as he should have done, the game would have been the better part of dead and buried, As it transpired, there was still some nail-biting life in it yet.

On 64 minutes Olympiacos captain and right-back Torosidis, their best player on the night, unleashed a curling left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area that crashed against the bar. I think that, had it been the couple of inches lower needed for it to go in, Szczesny had it covered, but I have to admit to being relieved that we didn’t have to find out for certain!

3 minutes later and Pat Rice made the first of three changes, taking off Oxlade-Chamberlain to a standing ovation and introducing Aaron Ramsey. I said in the pre-match article that the excellent direct passing we saw from Ramsey against Bolton could play a big factor in the result of tonight’s match, and his introduction almost immediately showed us what we had been missing as he released Arshavin on two occasions, the first of which drew a decent save and the second resulting in a cynical barge from Fuster, rightfully earning himself a booking in the process. A good substitution at exactly the right moment from the assistant manager and it was not his last.

On 70 minutes Chamakh was put out of his misery, as were the majority of the Arsenal fans, and our newest centurion, Robin Van Persie, was brought on. The two Olympiacos centre-backs, Mellberg and Marcano, who had looked so comfortable shepherding Chamakh around, suddenly looked stretched due to the intelligent running and general menace of the Dutchman. Preoccupied with him the again excellent and incredibly hard-working Arteta found a lot more space in midfield and used it to great effect to slow the game down and ensure that we kept much better possession of the ball thus helping to tick down the clock.

Again, a good tactical decision from Pat Rice. I know that there are a few out there who think that he should have left the club in the summer and are already celebrating the fact that he will probably retire at the end of this season, but I believe that his role at the club is very much an unsung one and, after 41 years of the last 45 spent serving our fine club and with all of the knowledge and experience that time has surely brought him, he will leave behind a very large pair of shoes to fill. Tonight his experience showed once again and, should we win a trophy this season, I think that his should be the first hands to touch it in deference to his great service.

On 83 minutes, after a period of about ten minutes that saw Olympiacos threaten on a few occasions down our right side, Mr Rice once again made the necessary change and took off Arshavin, who had a quiet game overall, and bring on Kieran Gibbs to play more as a left midfielder than a left winger as the Russian does. The danger was immediately snuffed out and it was just a case of running down the clock and getting the three points that were needed above all else.

Whilst Olympiacos certainly played their part in this match and at times played some neat attacking football which saw them threaten to spoil the night from our point of view, the pairing of Mertesacker and Song looked as solid a partnership as Arsenal have seen at centre-back for quite some time, certainly in the absence of Vermaelen, and all credit to them for rarely looking troubled, showing good reading of the game and in the case of Mertesacker in particular, stepping out at just the right times to put in some great challenges to close the door on attacks before they got a chance to do any real damage.

In terms of the defence, apart from the terrible lapse of concentration that led to their goal and a couple of occasions where Sagna was uncharacteristically caught in possession, Szczesny had little bellowing to do at those in front of him and yet the general criticism coming from the media and “those who shall not be pleased” is of continuing defensive weakness. Whilst we may not have the best defence on earth right now and they may not have been devastatingly impressive tonight, I do think it is fair to say that they were not anything like as bad as is being claimed in some areas and the general direction they are going in is the right one.

With regard to Chamakh, I am at a loss as to what Wenger can do with him next. Chosen ahead of Park, probably in the hope that he may pick up a goal and the confidence boost that goes with that, from the moment his early header went wide he looked totally bereft of any confidence at all. His touch was heavy for most of the evening, his shooting and heading poor, his distribution presenting countless gifts to the Greeks putting us under pressure from the counter-attacking opportunities these provided and generally looking like the hole large enough to actually swallow him up would have taken the stadium with it. Aside from the one good pass to The Ox, nothing went right for him and he became a more and more tragic figure until his exit on 70 minutes. That said, he never hid and never stopped running and, should January see him move on, I for one hope that he finds better fortune elsewhere.

Many a critic has questioned our ability to “win ugly” and yet now we have done just that people want champagne football again! Tonight was no walk in the park, but it was never going to be and the most important thing was the three points. That was achieved and we can now look forward to getting a few players back from injury for the match against the Spuds on Sunday whilst Ramsey and Van Persie got a decent enough rest tonight too. All in all a good night’s work and the corner-turning continues.

And on that note I bid you farewell.

Come on you Spud Peeling Goooonnnneeeerrrrrsssss!

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!

From 17th Best To 17th Best!

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

Greetings fellow Gooners!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I digress…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mass Exodus or Media Sexing Up?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which all seems pretty sensible really!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get well soon Jack!

It’s Got To Be Per-fect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on you All Leaving The Club In January Goooonnnneeerrrsssss!

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