500 And STILL Not Out!

October 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Premier League

Greetings fellow Gooners!

First off, I want to congratulate somebody who achieved an amazing feat for our mighty club today. Not Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott or even John Terry (although a special mention must go to the England captain after he practically gifted us the game today!). No, today’s most amazing feat award goes to none other than the most successful manager in the history of Arsenal Football Club, Arsene Wenger.

Today Arsene Wenger passed the incredible milestone of 500 matches won during his tenure as manager of Arsenal. After being tipped as the first manager to be shown the door this season by almost all bookmakers, Wenger, after eight wins from nine matches, currently sitting atop our Champions League group, in the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup and moving up to 6th place in the league, only three points behind “The Title-less for 50 Years” following today’s fabulous result at “The Bus Stop In Fulham”, has once again confounded both critics and boo-boys alike.

I think that in these somewhat more difficult times, what with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Citeh all more than capable of buying the majority of the trophies on offer as well as the players to go with that desire, Wenger continues to perform nothing less than small miracles. For example, Koscielny after all the abuse, criticism and down-right confidence-destroying performances for us, has been consistently offered the full unequivocal support and unquestioning confidence of “Le Boss” and, it certainly appears, has hurdled the mental and physical barriers that he was so clearly suffering from and is now producing man of the match contender performances game after game.

Robin van Persie is another case in point. So, so many “fans” questioning Wenger’s decision to keep him at the club and not get him off the wage bill after so much time spent in the treatment room and yet can anybody, ANYBODY not registered clinically insane seriously suggest that his decision has been anything other than totally vindicated?

Henry was never the same after he left us. For that matter, nor was Wrighty, Vieira, Petit, Campbell, Overmars and quite a few players more that one could easily add to that list and yet when they were leaving we were told it was the worst decision at the worst time and we would surely not survive.

How many seasons have we had to hear how Wenger is dragging the club down, that we won’t even finish in the top four, that the Spuds will finish above us “this year”? How many times have any of those things actually come to pass?

That’s right…ZERO!

And if there was ever a match that epitomises all things Wenger, today’s defeat of Chelsea, on their own ground, after going behind twice in the game, then I don’t know which game it would be!

The line-up sported a defence of Szczesny, Djourou, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Santos, the flourishing partnership of Song and Arteta in the deeper midfield roles, the attacking midfield roles handed to Ramsey, Gervinho and Walcott again tasked with providing the bullets for the van Persie Gunnergun and Wenger clearly told the players that attacking Chelsea was the order of the day, and attack we did!

A game as breathtaking as any blood and thunder cup-tie saw Chelsea almost score in only the second minute after a poor piece of play from Swiss international Johann Djourou saw Ca$hley with the freedom of the city in which to pick out Torres with his cross. Luckily for Djourou the aforementioned great form of Koscielny continued and a great saving challenge saw the ball cleared for a corner. On five minutes Chelsea had a clear chance to take the lead once more when a pass from the entirely disappointing Sturridge, intended once again for the even less impressive Torres, ended up being nothing more than a sloppy side-foot to the “Pole Between The Poles”. Phew…Again!

At this point the warning signs that a humiliating result or even total demolition could be on the cards were certainly there and the away support, incredible as ever, were almost silent for this short period. Thankfully the mighty Arsenal were to ensure that this was not the norm and the full voice of the best away fans in the league made themselves heard as loud and proud as ever.

On 11 minutes Gervinho, on the receiving end of a fabulous cross from Walcott across the six-yard box that followed a wonderful run that left Ca$hley for dead, contrived to put the ball wide of the goal. One minute later saw an even more unlikely miss as again the highly impressive Walcott whipped a delicious cross into the box only for van Persie to half-volley over the bar from very close range. Very unusual considering the Dutchman’s form of late, well, of the past year, but he was to more than make up for that miss later.

However, before Captain Marvel was able to work his miracles, Chelsea put us through an emotional ringer for 55 long minutes! On 14 minutes a cross of the highest quality from Chelsea’s best player on the day by far, Juan Mata, found Lampard with enough time and space (too much to be fair although the cross caused as much damage as the marking) and his header flew in the bottom right. 1-0 and already those missed chances were starting to look like they may have been the best chances we would get.

On 30 minutes Sturridge made a total pig’s ear of a stunning first-time pass from Lampard from around the half-way line as he totally miscued his shot and a relieved Arsenal defence watched in relief as it trickled harmlessly past the far post. A terrible effort from a player who seemed to be doing all he could to ensure that Drogba comes straight back into the side the moment he is available.

On 36 minutes, a little against the run of play to be fair, a great through ball from a player that is impressing more with each passing game, Aaron Ramsey, saw Gervinho free and clear with only Cech to beat. Just at the point when it seemed he would dispatch the ball to either side of the stranded goalkeeper he chose instead to square the ball to van Persie, totally unmarked and with the entire goal at his mercy. moment of huge unselfishness and perhaps a very big clue as to why things appear to be changing for the better for the club overall…Teamwork.

Needless to say, Rockin’ Reliant Robin calmly side-footed the ball into the empty net and parity was gained.

But Chelsea were certainly not down-heartened by this, in fact, they seemed even more determined to get the result that would keep them within one point of Manchester United. Pushing forward almost in waves, although not entirely without reply, the Arsenal defence were being to repel mounting pressure. On 39 minutes that was almost brought to bear when the quite awful Santos let fellow Brazilian Ramires almost walk past him (again) and the cross delivered low and hard into the six yard box was turned into the net by Sturridge. Thankfully Mertesacker’s “Tony Adams’ Offside Arm” impression was ruled valid and the goal chalked off. It was a close call, but correct nonetheless.

If this was a stern warning, it was not one that the Arsenal defence heeded and on the stroke of half-time the wonderful, brilliant, yummy, handsome and heroically heroic hero John Terry headed home after another poor piece of defending from a set-piece, this time a corner. I have to say, I am starting to actually feel the nerves emanating from the pitch every time the opposition have any kind of set-piece anywhere near our goal, although I am also starting to think that we defend these things far too deeply, creating a mass of bodies in a small space where anything can happen, and usually does! Hhmmm…Maybe I will write to Arsene and save our skins, hair and fingernails!

Anyway, half-time, 2-1 and those missed opportunities looked even more like the ones that got away. Three points seemed to be a distant dream of the past and one could only hope that we could nick a sneaky one and get out with a point.

However, yet again the magical Arsenal oranges did their job and the team came out from the break looking refreshed and motivated and with that dangerous edge that, with the exception of our goal, had gone missing almost entirely in the first half. With only two minutes gone in the second half, Gervinho produced a defence splitting pass of the highest order only for Ramsey to lift the ball over the bar. Another chance gone and the fingernails were really starting to feel the pressure! However, that is where the old Arsenal would fall apart, but this is not the old Arsenal, this is Wengerball 4 and with a spirit that has been lacking for quite some time, the team continued to probe, push forwards and, most importantly, believe.

Only two minutes later that belief paid off as the very off colour Santos found himself on the end of a glorious pass from Song who, after turning the ball in the style of Dennis Bergkamp, then played a pass that the Dutchman himself would have been proud of. The Brazilian was running full steam ahead into a decent amount of space having left Sturridge wandering around looking fairly disinterested somewhere near the halfway line and brought the ball just inside the Chelsea box before slamming it hard and true through the legs of Peter Cech and suddenly the 2-2 scoreline meant that we only had to fight Chelsea off for the remaining 40 minutes or so and we would get out alive and with an unlikely point in the bag to boot.

Obviously the Arsenal players had failed to read the script yet again as Theo Walcott, having literally tripped over his own feet trying to dribble through a crowd of about 5 Chelsea players, got back up, salvaged the ball, dropped his shoulder to leave the amazing, exciting, gorgeous John Terry and a couple of his team mates wondering exactly where the little fella had gone and, as if that wasn’t enough, he then rifled the ball, no, THRASHED the ball into the net at Cech’s near post and before you could say finishing of the highest quality, we had taken the lead! 3-2 and it couldn’t get any better than this, could it?!

Well, for 25 minutes, it didn’t get any better than that. The game pulsated from end to end with both teams refusing to stop trying to score, all the while Chelsea looking that little bit more dangerous when in and around our penalty area than we did near theirs. On 80 minutes they and, in particular, Juan Mata got their reward. A stunning curling shot from about 20 yards after god build up play saw the Spaniard leave Szczesny diving in vain for a ball he could never have reached even if he was 8 feet tall and wore jet-powered boots!

3-3 with ten minutes to go and the draw was looking like a good escape again.

So when van Persie was chasing down the fabulous, wonderful and exciting figure of John Terry who was obviously just going to pass the ball 30 or so yards back to Cech, it did seem a little like wasted energy. But John Terry is no ordinary player. John Terry is yummy. John Terry is the hero of the hour! John Terry inexplicably fell on his great big overpaid arse after turning like a geriatric buffoon trying to collect a back pass from that foul-mouthed, ill-tempered, spoilt little brat Cole and let Robin in at somewhere around the halfway line with only Cech to beat. The Dutchman bore down on goal, Cech came out to narrow the angle but Robin calmly took a touch to knock the ball around him before passing the ball into the empty onion bag! Simply incredible stuff from the Chelsea and England captain and, believe you me, the favour will never be forgotten as long as this Gooner has breath in his body! Thank you John, you squishy little scrum-pot you!

Cue Chelsea pouring forward en-masse looking to get an equaliser and leaving huge gaps all over the park. Huge gaps that we were only to happy to exploit whenever they found the simply magnificent Koscielny standing in their way screaming “None Shall Pass” at the top of his lungs whilst spitting out the bones of each and every fool that tried to cross his line of death!

On 92 minutes the joy that everybody was simply waiting to see destroyed was only further amplified when the best player in the league by far, Robin van Persie, received an incisive pass from the again excellent Arteta which, from the left hand side of the penalty area, saw him smash the ball past Cech and leave the result on no doubt whatsoever. 5-3 and the first time that Chelsea have conceded five goals at home in Premier League history.

In truth, the scoreline flattered a little, but at the same time it was nothing that we didn’t deserve. Chelsea played well, make no mistake about that, but they didn’t deserve any more than three goals and that is what they got. Arsenal fully deserved their 5 goals for the combination of clear chances created and spirit shown alone, let alone the heart and raw courage to refuse to know when they were supposed to play the part of Premier League also-rans after only 10 league games!

In truth there could not have been a better way or even a better example of Wengerball than today’s performance to mark the 500th win of Wenger’s reign and for it to have taken place at the home of Chelsea, where points are hard to come by at the best of times for any club, it really was a cake well iced!

Overall Santos and Djourou didn’t have the best of games and Mertesacker was decidedly suspect in a couple of moments. Song and Arteta continued to show why Wenger plays them together whenever possible. Szczesny did all that could have been asked of him. Gervinho, Walcott and Ramsey were outstanding whilst Koscielny would have won a man of the match award for his excellent performance today had the captain not put in a 5-star, 3 goal shift.

Special mention should go to the welcome sight of Thomas Vermaelen back on the pitch for a Premier League game too, albeit for only 7 or 8 minutes. How interesting and novel is it that Wenger now has a centre back selection headache that doesn’t involve wondering how he will manage to field two good ones but instead which two of the three excellent players we have in that position will play? Pretty interesting and novel indeed, I would say!

Next up, Marseille and, depending on the results of both group matches on Tuesday night, we could even seal qualification to the knock-out stages with two games still to play.

And to think that they queued up to protest for the removal of Arsene Wenger after only 3 league games had been played!

Silly really when you look back, isn’t it?!

And on that note I bid you farewell.
Come on you Title Challenge Isn’t Totally Off The Cards Yet Goooooonnnnneeerrrrrsssss!

The Kids, The Tommy Gunner And A Defence Better Than United’s!

October 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Carling Cup

Greetings fellow Gooners!

It seems that the squad picked for the Carling Cup 4th round match against Bolton has even less experience than most assumed it would. After seeing a fairly balanced mix of youth and experience turn out for the 3rd round, I think that this change is indicative of the all round changes taking place at the club. A month ago Wenger may have been considering that winning the Carling Cup may have been fast becoming our best and maybe only chance of silverware whereas today sees us 6 wins out of 7 later in all competitions and a team that appears, finally, to be gelling. Maybe Wenger feels, like so many more of us, that we are yet to see the best of this team and, with Vermaelen finally looking to make a comeback, Sagna and Wilshere set to be ready for the New Year (where our seasons have tended to show that certain “collapse factor”) he may well be right.

Van Persie has, of course, earned himself a rest for this one but the list of players who would be currently considered 1st XI in the squad for tonight’s match is pretty slim indeed. Vermaelen and Arshavin will be the only real first-team players involved at all whilst Fabianksi, Squillaci, Frimpong, Benayoun, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Coquelin can all currently be considered “fringe” at best.

Aside from that there is a good chance we will get a look at Ryo, which I am personally very much looking forward to, Park, who has waited patiently since his last run-out against Shrewsbury in this same competition, Watt, armed with his new long-term contract and Ozyakup who, for my money, looks to be one of the classiest looking young midfielders I have seen since a little Spanish lad turned out alongside Patrick Vieira!

I also think it is telling that Chamakh has been left out altogether for this fixture. If we consider him to be anything like in the manager’s thoughts regarding any first team football this season, one assumes that a match like this would be a perfect chance for him to get another 90 minutes under his belt as well as play against what promises to be a second string Bolton team too. The fact that he is not in the squad lends a lot of weight to the feeling that he is likely to be on his way in January and I for one would not mind that one bit, even if it is to put him out of his misery and give him the chance of a fresh start elsewhere.

In terms of team selection, well, it’s anybody’s guess really! There seems to be a general level of uncertainty as to whether TV5 will actually start the match as well as how many of the midfield kids will be on the pitch from the kick-off. The only real “certainties” appear to be Fabianksi, Squillaci, Benayoun, Ox & Park. So, perm any six from 13 for the jackpot!

Bolton seem to be playing a similar strategy to us with as many as nine changes planned from the team that got a last-minute lesson in playing all of the 90 by Sunderland at the weekend. I have to say, there are a couple of the Bolton kids I am looking forward to seeing, namely Gael Kakuta the 20 year old French winger on loan from Chelsea and tipped for a very bright future and a certain Fabrice Muamba who, in my mind, is one of the few young players to have left Arsenal and actually played some consistently decent football elsewhere. Looking at the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey, Ozyakup, Frimpong and Coquelin, it is easy to understand why he and the club felt that his future lay elsewhere, but I am always glad to see him play and play well whenever I get the chance.

Scoreline prediction? Well, not having the faintest idea what the team will be that will start the game, that is difficult at best! If I have to take a flying leap of faith, based on the team I have roughly in the back of my mind, I would guess that a tough, high energy game is on the cards. Lots of attacking play is unlikely with a midfield likely to be very competitive and congested. Counter-attacks and set-pieces may provide the bulk of the goalscoring opportunities and, with the defence that is likely to line up for us, I expect a very close game!

So, 2-1 or even 1-0 get my vote, although if I am pushed hard enough I will go for the former and say 2-1 to the mighty Gunners!

Let’s hope that I am right as we need to keep this run of form going to keep the mood around the club positive and the players in the 1st XI very much on their toes. Incredibly, after losing such quality players in the summer, we appear to actually have some serious competition for places now, and that is no bad thing. For example, if Vermaelen plays from the start tonight, looks fit and hungry and plays anything like as well as we know he can, who does Wenger pick for the Chelsea game? On the evidence of the past couple of games Koscielny is finally finding some real form and has been Man of the Match or very close to it in each of the past three games. Mertesacker may be getting a general vote of no confidence from some sections of the fans, but I cannot help but wonder why that is when he is doing EXACTLY what it said on the tin! A big, quick-thinking , slow-footed Tony Adams type of player is what we cried out for and it is what we got. Why some people are complaining about his lack of pace is totally beyond me! What did we think we would get? We screamed from the rooftops for 3 seasons for a dirty great hulking centre back and now we have one, did we really think he would outpace somebody like Thierry Henry?!

If you want my honest opinion, I think that there is every chance that, fit or not, brilliant tonight or not, Thomas may find that the bench is his starting place this weekend as Wenger has to seriously weigh up the wisdom of changing a back four that, whilst not perfect, is actually showing some real signs of improvement.

Anyway, over the past 7 games our back four has only let in 6 goals. To put that in perspective Citeh have let in 5 in the same period, the same as Chelsea and, I simply can’t help but throw this one in, United a whopping 11!

OK, with United losing 6-1 to the latest “buying all the toys” club, that statistic could be considered a touch misleading, but the reality is that even if they had only conceded 1 goal at the weekend, their tally over the past 7 games would be the same as ours.

And Sir Alex Ferguson said that a United side “would never let that happen”!

I have to tell you, 6-1 at home with your 1st XI on the pitch is certainly a lot worse than 8-2 big man!

And on that simply joyous note, I bid you farewell.

Come on you Soon To Be In The Carling Cup 5th Round Gooooonnnneeerrrrrssss!

Stoke’s Schizophrenia, Statistics and No Shawcross Redemption

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

Greetings fellow Gooners!

In about an hour’s time we will be watching the return to the Emirates of Stoke City, possibly the most schizophrenic club in Europe right now! With a run of results ranging from a 1-0 home win over Liverpool, a 1-1 draw with Manchester United to a 2-0 loss to Swansea and topping their Europa League group, this really is a team with no real consistency to their results. Hell, they even managed to rid the Carling Cup of the Spuds!

So who or what exactly are Stoke these days? Still the same violent thugs of seasons past? The statistics would suggest not if the Premier League Fair Play table is anything to go by, with the Potters climbing from 20th position, the very bottom, in 2008-09 to 15th the following season, 13th last season and currently find themselves riding high in 8th position. So is Pulis gradually getting rid of the dirty, fouling nature of the club or is it something else entirely?

Well, let’s see how Arsenal have fared in that same period, shall we?

2008-09 saw us finish in 8th position, tied with the “Title-less For Fifty Years” from the brothel down the road. The following season we experienced the giddy heights of 4th position, whilst last season saw us plummet to a filthy, dirty 17th place! This season finds us currently holding the dubious honour of propping up the table in 20th place!

So, aside from demonstrating that the Fair Play league is a not much more than a lot of mumbo-jumbo and statistical absurdity, I think it safe to assume that it is not a particularly good barometer of whether or not a team is “dirty”.

And that really is the key here…The difference between cold statistics and cold reality. When that bumbling oaf and serial twat Shawcross performed his open leg surgery on Ramsey, causing the immediate cancellation of over a year of the young Welshman’s football career, Stoke should have been thrown out the competition altogether. At the very least, I personally would have thrown Shawcross out of professional football, and not just because I am a Gooner either, but because this animal is a serial offender and football, on ANY level, simply doesn’t need idiots like him around.

Those like Pulis and, of all people, Rooney, who come out with the ridiculous claim of “he is not that type of player”, are clearing overlooking a swathe of evidence to the contrary. A few classic Shawcross moments such as the following put things into a little perspective:

Ryan Shawcross Not Being That Kind Of Player

Yes, that was Shawcross almost kicking Scott Parker’s leg off and having the cheek afterwards to try and claim that he got the ball.

How about this one:

Ryan Shawcross STILL Not Being That Kind Of Player

That was Shawcross not being that type of player again whilst out on loan at Royal Antwerp.

Or how about this one:

Ryan Shawcross STILL Not Being That Kind Of Player…AGAIN!

OK, I know it’s AdePayMeMore and that automatically offers the temptation to smirk, but we shouldn’t and I won’t! This example of Shawcross not being that type of player took place off the pitch with the Togan going absolutely nowhere with the ball. What is the defence of this tackle? The fact that he didn’t get anywhere near the ball is one thing, the fact that he might claim he was trying is another altogether. Even if he DID get a touch on the ball, which he was clearly never going to do, is the potential danger to the other player involved in the tackle justifiable by the possibility that the dirty fecker who might have broken a players leg over a ball that was out of danger, indeed, out of play?!

Throw in the perfect example of why the footballing authorities felt the need to outlaw the sliding tackle from behind, his tackle on Francis Jeffers that left the forward out of the game for 3 months, and the type of player he is becomes more and more clear by the minute. Aside from the claims of his innocence, the FA themselves do themselves no favours. For example; in the very same month that he destroyed the ligaments in Jeffer’s leg, they awarded him player of the month and the referee, having been given strict instructions by football’s governing bodies to clamp down hard on the tackle from behind, didn’t so much as brandish a card!

It would be funny if it hadn’t been so obvious that young Aaron’s injury was more an inevitability waiting to occur than simply an accident waiting to happen.

Anyway, enough of that neanderthal muppet. To waste any more time on this topic is to take away from the fact that the Mighty Arsenal are at home today, fortress Emirates as it has recently become, and about time too!

Injury news is exactly as described yesterday. After all the furore over whether or not Robin van Persie needs a rest, I have a sneaking feeling that Wenger might just leave him out for this one. Putting him up against the knuckle-dragger with his injury record may simply be considered asking for trouble too! In his absence I am actually a little unsure as to who becomes second choice. Theo Walcott has been begging for the chance to get in the centre, although we also have Park and Chamakh. The former has yet to play for us in the Premier League and whilst the latter has actually been on the pitch, he has basically failed to play for us too! I would like to see Theo get the nod, so I will go with that for the lack of any other obvious options!

Of course, that leaves a little hole on the right hand side of the attack. Will Wenger go with Oxlade-Chamberlain or slip Rosicky out there? Personally I would rest Rosicky for this game too, for much the same reasons as RvP, so The Ox gets on my wish list, even if may not quite make it onto the team sheet!

Santos will continue at left back with the flourishing partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny in the centre and the terrifying proposition of Johan Djourou filling the empty space left by Sagna and Jenkinson’s injuries.

Truth be told, Djourou played well enough against Marseille, although it wasn’t as if the French side were putting any particular pressure on the defence in the second half, and his cross into the box did lead to the winning goal for Ramsey. I am not saying that his name anywhere near an Arsenal team sheet doesn’t make me nervous, just that we should be balanced about these things wherever possible!

In midfield I think we will go for industry over creativity and so Tomas Rosicky will likely start the game on the bench with Ramsey getting the chance to look his attacker in the eye and Gervinho will probably get the nod over Arshavin. That said, the recent Arshavin/Arsene love-in was maybe the manager’s way of explaining that he intends to pick the Russian even though he is clearly one of the most out of form players in the EPL!

So, the team will possibly look like this:

Schitophrenic Stoke, Statisics and No Shawcross Redemption

In terms of a final score prediction, the unpredictability of both teams in recent times makes it hard to get any real Mystic Meg Moment going, such is the vast array of possibilities depending on “which” Arsenal or “which” Stoke turn up on the day. My head says get through this with 3 points, regardless of performance, and that will do us nicely but my heart, as ever, is screaming out for a good win to show that we are still moving forwards and to also exact some sort of justice in light of some bad results and the loss of Ramsey. So, head says 1-0 whilst the heart says a 3-1 win to reverse the result in May that saw the end of our title challenge.

Let’s just hope that Shawcross can keep his feet at least somewhere near the ball and that all 11 of our players finish the 90 minutes unscathed. The last thing we need is another injury to add to the pile!

And on that note, I bid you farewell.

Come on you All Limbs Intact By The End, Pottery Smashing Goooonnnneeerrrrssss!

Right Back Where We Started!

October 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC

Greetings fellow Gooners!

As only the mighty Arsenal can, we have managed to pile yet another defensive body on the pile in the treatment room! Clearly the football Dennises have decided that having Thomas Vermaelen, one of the best centre backs in the league, out for, well, forever, one of the best right backs in the league, Bakary Sagna, out until at least the New Year too, Kieran Gibbs still out with a stomach muscle injury (probably picked up laughing at conceding a goal like Rosicky!) and now Carl Jenkinson, understudy to the aformentioned Sagna, is out with the knee injury that we all hoped was just a “tweak”.

But Arsenal players don’t get “tweaks” do they? They get limbs flying off, blood spilling, career threatening twattings! Ok, that may be a little O.T.T. but you get where I am coming from.

To be totally honest, I am still a little confused regarding TV5’s injury. We seem to get told “two weeks” about, well, every two weeks! Yet again, after being told he would be available two weeks after the international break, we are now being told that he will be back in 10 days to two weeks…Almost two weeks AFTER the international break! I know that he is back in training now, and that is absolutely fantastic news for all concerned, but I think that any more announcements of “two weeks” should be kept to an absolute minimum. In fact, It may be better if the club basically keeps it’s traps shut regarding injuries altogether and just surprises us when there is a name on the team sheet we haven’t seen for far too long!

Diaby, guess what…

“about two weeks”!

Arshavin Defending?! Oops, sorry, DEFENDED!
Arsene Wenger has come out in defence of the little Russian. Speaking to the official Arsenal website he had this to say:

“You would not be surprised that I disagree with that [criticism of Arshavin],” said the Frenchman. “That is opinion. I think he has been great for us and he will still be great in the coming months.

“He is a great player and you have to give him credit for that. He stands up for his performances. I personally respect him highly and I think he’s a great player.

“He works through it [poor form] by keeping his focus in training and what he does well. I like Andrey because he has a great attitude. It was a difficult game for him on Wednesday and for all the players who played up front because Marseille defended, they played for a point.

“There was not a lot of space for the strikers and as long as you don’t find an opening they will not come out, and that is what happened in the game.”

Which would all be well and good if the game against Marseille was the only time he has failed dismally to make any impression of any note, but it isn’t. In reality when Arshavin actually makes an impression on a game it is a welcome surprise, not the norm. If the fact that the opposition were defending and limiting the space available, which in this case is totally true and probably the reason a Smash n’ Grab victory was necessary in the end, how is Van Persie able to shine quite so brightly so often? It isn’t as if we have spent the past few seasons NOT watching the opposition park the bus and play for a draw and yet Van Persie is one of if the most prolific scorers in the world over the past 10 or so months.

The fact that he spends his time in training concentrating on the things that he does well strikes me as a complete mismanagement of the entire situation. That is the equivalent of saying that a terrible plate of food is acceptable because the chef is brilliant at cooking Steak and Kidney pie at home! It just doesn’t make sense. But maybe we are getting close to the crux of a much wider issue here. Is it possible that ALL of the players get off the hook because their performance in training is great? Is it possible that the centre backs have spent the past few seasons being dismal at set pieces because they are great at keepy-uppys?!

Again, possibly a little O.T.T. but, again, you get my point!

Robin Van Passion
Again, speaking to the official Arsenal website RvP has spoken about his delight at receiving a multitude of plaudits this week, mainly from Arsenal fans themselves:

“It’s nice to hear [the praise he’s received this week], I read all the comments – I take the fans very, very seriously and I think they’re great.

“It’s wonderful to know people like what you do. I think people can see that I’m passionate about what I am doing and that I love the game, so it’s a big compliment and I love to hear those things.

“But we still have a long way to go and a lot of things to prove – it’s still early in the season so my aim is just to keep things going and move from strength to strength.”

Let’s hope that this is another sign that he realises the grass is not necessarily greener, even if more expensive, elsewhere!

When No News Was Good News
Marouane Chamakh’s agent has quashed any suggestion of his client leaving Arsenal in the January transfer window after the striker was recently linked with a move to Roma:

“The news about Marouane and Roma is absolutely unfounded.

“My client is happy at Arsenal and will remain here. There is no doubt.”

It never rains, huh?!

New Contracts? Watt?!
Two of the next generation of Arsenal’s “wonderkids”, Conor Henderson and Sanchez Watt, have both signed long-term deals with the club. Henderson, like so many contract renewals that have been carried out recently, has been out injured since July and will likely not return to full training until the New Year whilst Watt has been banging them in for the reserves this season with a tally of 5 goals in 6 games.

In fairness to Henderson he was part of the Arsenal squad that travelled to Germany in pre-season and looked like a great prospect until the inevitable knee injury halted his progress towards first team football.

Watt was in the squad for the Carling Cup match against Shrewsbury and, fitness allowing of course, will probably get another call from the manager for the tie against Bolton next week.

Koscielny and Mertesacker In Love?
Laurent Koscielny has spoken of his true feelings for defensive partner Per Mertesacker recently. In a shock announcement to Arsenal Player he claimed:

“Personally, things are getting better and better with Per.”

Sorry, say that again?!

Ok, ok, I am being facetious! Obviously he was referring to the improvement that both players, the Frenchman especially, have shown in recent games. He continued:

“He is a very experienced player, he is an international player, he knows what the very high level is about.

“We know that the English league is very different than the other European leagues and there is always time to adapt.

“Soon he will become a key player in this team.”

Whilst I agree completely with almost everything he says there, I take issue with the future tense used regarding the big German’s “keyness” to the team. As far as I am concerned his name would be third on my team sheet after RvP and Szczesny.

And on that note I bid you farewell.

Come on you Oh No, Djourou Is Next In Line To Play Right Back Gooonnnneeeerrrrssss!

Smash n’ Grab – Just What The Professor Ordered!

October 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Arsenal FC, Champions League

Greetings fellow Gooners!

Well, if that wasn’t exactly what was needed I am unsure what was!

Marseille presented tonight’s test and, in truth, they seemed happy to spend most of the match playing very defensive football and hoping to catch us on the break. This is not a new tactic against Arsenal and, as has proved in the past, one that tends to be quite frustrating for our players resulting in heads dropping and lapses in concentration which have a habit of lead to some quite horrible consequences.

Wenger chose Rosicky over Ramsey, probably a choice guided by fitness and experience as much as anything else and Arshavin got the nod over Gervinho, but aside from this, we saw the team that we expected to with Santos and Jenkinson filling the wide berths alongside Mertesacker and Koscielny in the centre of defence, Arteta and Song in the centre of midfield with Walcott and Van Persie completing the line-up.

With the fairly defensive set-up of Marseille, the game was always going to be a testing affair and so it proved with neither side really creating a great deal in the first 45 minutes, although both teams had reason to feel a touch aggrieved after two fairly stand-out penalty claims. One in only the 14th minute when Jenkinson appeared to handle the ball without any real need to do so and plenty of time to get the offending mitt out of the way, and a second shout for Arsenal when, in the 21st minute a corner hit the outstretched hand of Diarra before Van Persie attacked the ball, looping it over the stranded Mandanda in the Marseille goal, only for Diarra to then be the one to clear the ball off the line.

How the referee missed the handball is frankly beyond me as the white ball hitting the black glove of Diarra was surely an easy spot?! But then again, if we had been given that penalty, things might have turned out differently in the end…And that could possibly be the worst thing that could have happened!

What ACTUALLY happened was this…

Arsenal went in at half-time looking frustrated and not a little lacklustre. Marseille had stuck to their task of ensuring that we did not score well as well as looking vaguely dangerous on the counterattack too. Coming out for the second half it was obvious that some magic words had been spoken in the Arsenal dressing room and, not for the first time this season, the break seemed to give us new impetus and an altogether more interesting sense of urgency. There were less of the long hopeful balls to the frontmen that we had seen in the first half and a good degree more purpose and poise in midfield with Rosicky and Arteta really starting to run a tidy shop whilst Song started to push a little further forward. Risky in parts, but effective until the last third of the field where, once again, we flattered to deceive seeing the lion’s share of possession but creating little of note aside from Walcott getting into the box but finding Mandanda up to the task from a tight angle on the edge of the six-yard box.

The old worries began to creep in again and when, in the 62nd minute, we were to be denied any further viewing of the seemingly boundless energy of young Carl Jenkinson (excellently compared to a young Pat Rice by ‘Holic Thanks for that ‘Holic, I actually hadn’t drawn the comparison but you are quite correct 🙂) who went off with a potentially nasty knee injury, hearts must have been fluttering at the sight of Johan Djourou once again on a football pitch in an Arsenal shirt! In fairness to Djourou, he actually stepped up well enough, covering the right hand side of the defence ably enough and getting a yellow card for a challenge that is one of the finest I have ever seen him make!

I have my fingers crossed the injury Jenkinson picked up is not too bad as we can ill afford it with our current injury list and, of equal importance, I am sure we will have to hear from a raft of “supporters” about how Wenger should have bought Richards, Miguel, Alves AND Zambrotta in the transfer window as well as coaxing Gary Neville out of retirement and that his failure to achieve all of the signings is simply an oversight on his part and further proof of his ineptitude and inability to run a football club with any degree of competency! The news coming from the Arsenal camp thus far is that he over-extended his knee and will undergo some tests tomorrow. That said, there doesn’t seem to be the usual panic surrounding this particular injury that we tend to see, so with any luck he will fit and playing again in the very near future.

So, a fairly insipid second half began to unfold, unaided by the french side becoming less and less willing to actually play any sort of attacking football at all. Lots of old habits and worrying habits began to surface. A constant air of impatience from the Arsenal players seeing more and longer balls thrown up towards Van Persie in the hopes that he would pull another magical rabbit out of his shorts coupled with plenty of possession but little end product were compounded by Marseille looking more and more like they would settle for a point thus parking more and more of the bus in front of their goal seemed destined to provide a 0-0 draw and, whilst not a disaster by any means, not the confidence-boosting, spirit-lifting, corner-turning win that we really could have done with. Clearly something needed to be changed if we were going to get the three precious points. Step in Arsene Wenger, the hopeless tactician infamous for having no “Plan B”!

On 67 minutes the entrance of Gervinho in place of Walcott who, to be fair, did get kicked to the ground almost every time he got the ball in anything like a dangerous position, although his crossing was an utter disgrace, upstaged totally in this area by Jenkinson, saw the injection of a new dimension to the attacking play. Good close control with the ball and a willingness to run into the channels without it, thus making himself available for a simple pass – something that we had been lacking desperately at times in the previous hour – gave Marseille a little more to think about whilst also spreading the play across to the wings once again, somewhere we had spent little quality time in the hour or so prior to his introduction.

The third substitution and second of a tactical nature came when, on 78 minutes, Arshavin was replaced by Ramsey who, whilst everybody surely expected Rosicky to move out to the left and leave Ramsey in the centre, seemed to have been given a fairly roaming brief, popping up on the edge of the box, the right, the left and in the defensive midfield slot when Song pushed forwards.

And it was the pair of Gervinho and Ramsey that finally broke Marseille’s and Deschamps’ hearts and filled ours with a joy and almost unbelievable relief that has been missing for a while now!

I know that being an Arsenal fan is a dramatic life and I know that sometimes we would all just prefer some run of the mill, old school wins, but in truth there are times when a touch of the extreme is what we really need to give everybody that “jolt” to take things forward.

And that “jolt” is exactly what we got!

With the referee adding a mere 3 minutes of extra time even after 5 substitutions and a decent stoppage for the injury to Jenkinson, it appeared that a point each would be the outcome and probably a fair one at that. In the 91st minute Van Persie found himself free in the penalty area after a lovely through ball from Gervinho, but when Mandanda proved to be up to the task of stopping him, there was an obvious sense that the last chance of the game had gone by…

…but that wouldn’t be very dramatic, very exciting, very ARSENAL, now would it?!

In the 92nd minute Djourou put in a cross from almost the halfway line that, whilst dangerous, whizzed across the back of Van Persie and a little too far behind Gervinho for him to control the ball. However, his inability to get the ball down would provide to be what may turn out to be one of the most important, though accidental, assists of our season as, right on cue and advancing like an unstoppable train in Arshavin’s position on the left of the penalty area appeared Aaron Ramsey. Collecting the ball cleanly he moved into the box unchallenged and, fooling the goalkeeper into believing that his shot was going across him into the far corner, kept his head and rifled it just inside the near post.

A moment of calm in the eye of the storm from a player who many seem to forget is still only 20 years old and has spent a year of his career in the treatment room after being “Shawcrossed”.

To be honest, I almost couldn’t cheer, at least for a few moments, such was the shock of us actually doing the unthinkable…Pulling off a win in the dying seconds rather than throwing away a lead and, above all, proving that we can “win ugly” too!

There are moments in a season at which you can look back and say “that is where it all went wrong” or “that was the moment that turned things around”. It is too soon to claim that we are past the hump or even ready to mount a challenge on any front, but if the lads needed a big old helping of pick me up, this could well have been it.

All in all this was not the bad performance that the media is already presenting it as. We defended well apart from one or two “moments” that happen to most teams in the course of 90 minutes of football. Koscielny put in a standout shift and was my man of the match whilst Mertesacker again looked like he will just continue to improve until he explodes! We controlled the midfield for the most part with Arteta looking lively and available and Rosicky looking fitter with each passing game and continuing to show why Wenger didn’t choose to let him go when so many said that he should. Van Persie was excellent again, causing numerous problems for the Marseille centre back partnership of Diawara and N’Koulou although the service he received, or didn’t in truth, left much to be desired. Most importantly of all, we kept going until the very last minute, literally, and got the reward that deserved.

After the match Arsene Wenger had this to say on the subject of our late, late show:

“We left it very late but we had a difficult start. We lost some balls in the first half due to the fact Marseille pressed us well.

They didn’t find their fluency but in the second half we took over and I don’t think Marseille were dangerous at all [after half-time]. Marseille defended very well but you could see in the last 15 minutes we created some chances and were rewarded because we kept going and got an important victory.

I felt like we needed to be patient and intelligent. You could see our midfield had experience – we didn’t make stupid mistakes and we didn’t play stupid balls. It’s an important win but you take any win away from home in the Champions League.

We lost two points in Dortmund in the last seconds of the game. We lost a Champions League Final in the last part of the game with 10 men. We are not always lucky but when you face good opposition you need to take your chances.

He is, of course, absolutely right on all counts, but I think there is also another important point worth making here – When Manchester United win ugly in the last minute of extra time it is due to their dogged determination and how that is the stuff of champions.

Let’s hope that this provides exactly the boost that was needed to go out against Stoke on Sunday and show them a performance of champions too!

And on that note I bid you farewell!

Come on you top of Champions League Group F Goooonnnnneeerrrrssss!

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!

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