Friday, 5 February 2016

The establishment formerly known as Arsenal Football Club

When Arsenal meant "class"

I would have liked to have written this piece this morning as everyone else has done on just about every Arsenal site going. Unfortunately some of us do have to actually work for a living so I've had to wait until now to have my say on the decision of Arsenal to thieve more money from their most loyal supporters.
The quote below is attributed to Herbert Chapman, the man who made Arsenal Football Club in to the biggest and best in the whole World:

"I would be very unhappy if any club neglected the playing side of the game or any club set out to make or hoard money"

Unfortunately our Arsenal is no longer run along those noble lines. We are the plaything of an American businessman who has no interest in either Arsenal or football. We are simply a business investment and a cash cow for a man who married in to money. He couldn't give less of a s*** about the supporters of Arsenal and nor could the man he pays to do his bidding as Chief Executive.
If you're wondering what I'm banging on about then you must have been under a rock since last night. Arsenal have chosen to send an email to all season-ticket holders informing us that, because Barcelona has been deemed Cat A for ticket pricing, we will all have money added to the price of next years season ticket. In short, the so-called price-freeze announced before Christmas is anything but. This at a time when the team is blowing the Premier League and Arsenal are about to take their share of the multi-billion pound TV deal this year. This move will generate in the region of £800,000. For an establishment with about £200m in the bank it is a piffling amount of money. 
The cost to each individual isn't that much - mine is less than £20 - but the principle of this is what matters. What kind of club has Arsenal become where they choose to fleece loyal supporters (my Dad has been a season ticket holder for nearly 45 years) simply because they can? This is nothing but pure greed. Season ticket holders have pre-paid for the first seven home ties in cup competitions (not including the League Cup) in any season. The overall price is based on the cup games being rated as Cat B. Bayern Munich and Barcelona have both been rated as Cat A. Arsenal could have balanced this by making the other five home ties so far as Cat C and done everyone a favour - nobody would have argued, but it's all about Kroenke's bank balance. At least this year he'll be able to tell us exactly what the £3m for services rendered is all about - I wouldn't be surprised to see the cost of his advice go up by, shall we say, £800k?
A football club is nothing without the supporters. We are the people who will always be around. Kroenke, Gazidis, Wenger, whoever it may be, are all transient figures. What they seem to have succeeded in doing with this crass extra charge is uniting the disparate fan groups and individuals in to a common gripe. There are going to be protests at the Leicester game and I will be advertising them heavily on this site, on my Twitter feed and on the Facebook page. Something has to be done in order to show Kroenke that, even though he may be thousands of miles away, the Arsenal supporters have had enough of him. It will probably have no effect on the man - he doesn't care - but the PR own-goal Arsenal have scored here should not be underestimated and the fans have a right to have our voice heard. 
At the same time as Arsenal were announcing their surcharge, the Daily Mail was reporting that they were among the clubs to vote down a proposal to cap away ticket prices at £30 in the Premier League. Arsenal supporters who go to away games, just like Manchester United and Liverpool, pay more to go to those matches than supporters from the likes of Norwich and Villa who have occupied the same seat a few days earlier. Wherever we go we are the big draw and have to pay the price of that. Here was an opportunity for Arsenal to reward those who are dedicated beyond belief in travelling all over Europe to watch them by ensuring a reduction in the cost of attending domestic away games. Instead of this they have been at the forefront of ensuring we all pay more than we should.
When Keith Burkinshaw got given the sack at Spurs he was famously quoted as saying "there used to be a football club over there" as he stood opposite White Hart Lane. I find myself feeling that way about my beloved Arsenal this evening. We used to have a football club, with custodianship (and not ownership) at the forefront of how things were run. The Bracewell-Smith's and the Hill-Wood's understood they were there to run a football club for the supporters. Stan Kroenke is there to see a return on his investment, nothing so romantic as actually developing a successful football team. Before anyone wants to throw David Dein in as the saviour just consider who introduced Kroenke to Arsenal in the first place. If Dein hadn't got greedy then Kroenke wouldn't be there at all.
Arsenal Football Club was a by-word for class. Doing things "The Arsenal Way" used to mean something and we were proud of it. Last night showed that the last vestiges of class have been torn from the heart of Arsenal - the ten years since our move away from the most wonderful football ground in the World has seen this gently eroded, bit by bit, until this final stone was cast - Arsenal has declared war on the most loyal fans. Now they must reap the whirlwind.

STOP PRESS: Arsenal have DROPPED the surcharge! I wonder what caused that. The principle still stands though.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Throwing it all away

Trying to be too clever

This is my 800th post on the site. I would have reached this particular milestone early last week but I have spent most of the last ten days laid out by flu. As a result I've had to pass on writing about a few things that caught my eye, as well as missing the last two home games and having to watch them on whichever foreign TV channels I could find. What I've seen hasn't been altogether inspiring and our challenge for the Premier League is, as far as I'm concerned, dead and buried barring a miracle turnaround. 
Last night was embarrassing. One killer statistic, for me, sums up the way we play football. Arsenal had 21 shots during the game, only one of which was taken from outside the penalty area. If ever you wanted proof that we try to play too much instead of testing the opposition goalkeeper properly then it is there in that stat. It also tells you how amateur our finishing was. Fraser Forster had a very good game, no doubt about that. However, if you shoot directly at a massive lump in the opposition goal then he will most likely keep the ball out of the net. Ozil, Giroud, Walcott (what the hell was that?) Alexis, Ramsey, Koscielny were all guilty of awful finishing during the game. 
I have got to the stage now where I actively dislike Aaron Ramsey. I am fed up of watching this overrated show-pony continually flicking the ball out of play, or straight to the opposition, or trying things he is simply not capable of doing. I have no idea why Ramsey has such a high opinion of his own ability, or why so many Arsenal fans worship him. He has a reputation built on a golden six months and not much else. Brian Marwood had a golden six months in 1988-89 but he wasn't able to live on it and George Graham had replaced him with a better player by the start of 1990-91. Ramsey, for some reason, plays every game and is beyond reproach. I see utter d***heads continuing to slate Mathieu Flamini for any shortcomings in the Arsenal midfield when the weak link in there is the man who thinks he's about one hundred times better than he actually is. Joel Campbell was once again substituted last night, and so was Flamini, while Ramsey was kept on. And while I'm at it, why were Iwobi and Elneny left out last night while Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chambers made the bench? And having been put on the bench, why was The Ox not used by Wenger to try something different in the last ten or fifteen minutes of the game? But then, why would you need to do something different when you've a World star like Aaron Ramsey on the pitch?
I'm not going to go in to the plethora of chances we missed last night. What's the point? I will just point out the one in the photo at the top of this post. When you see it from an angle behind the goal (which I saw on the particularly fine Kosovan channel I found last night) Ozil simply needed to push the ball straight in front of himself (at the angle he was facing) in to the wide open empty goal. Instead of this he tried to flick it over a 6'6" goalkeeper. Why would you need to try and be clever? This is exactly the sort of rubbish I have a pop at Ramsey about. My Dad, who played a high level, always used to tell us that "football is a simple game". The great West Indian cricketer Richie Richardson once told me the same thing applied to cricket. So why do Arsenal's footballers feel the need to complicate something that can be so easy? It has cost us points and goals time and time again. Last night it cost us our place in the race for the Premier League. If you think we can win the Title from here then I suggest you take a look at the fixtures we have left to play. We will finish third at best. Just imagine how different it might have been had Wenger chosen to add some genuine quality when we were top at the beginning of January and strengthened from a position of dominance. Still, it's all okay - we have that dynamic goalscorer Danny Welbeck back in training and he rarely misses chances...

Monday, 25 January 2016

Mertesacker done and done for

No contact made

Everything about yesterday was wrong. From Mertesacker handing over the Arsenal captaincy, to Mertesacker being the wrong side of a quick striker, to Mertesacker diving in to a challenge, to Costa diving over said challenge when in on goal, to Clattenburg allowing himself to be fooled (again) by Costa's cheating, to the defending for their winning goal, to the failure to get close to Fabregas whenever he had the ball, to the substitution of Giroud and then Joel Campbell, to the collective failure to put pressure on Clattenburg, to the collective failure to get in the face of Diego Costa, to Flamini being the only man with any desire to get in to a scoring position at 1-0 behind. The only thing that I felt was a positive what that the players certainly tried hard on the day and did everything they could to get something out of the game, but the actions of the Manager severely restricted their chances of doing so.
The major incident is, of course, the sending-off. As the play developed, with Willian moving past Ramsey like a cone on the training ground, I could see what was about to happen. My seat at the stadium gives me a very good view of the pitch, from high enough to see things unfold. I screamed that Mertesacker was the wrong side of Diego Costa. I fail to see how the BFG couldn't recognise this fact. Once Costa was given the pass there was no way Per was ever going to catch him having given a yard start. I've seen Flamini criticised this morning for backing away from Willian as he ran towards the halfway line but all that should have meant was Koscielny (who was outstanding on the day) and Mertesacker drop off themselves to occupy the space in behind. Koscielny was doing that which is why Costa was onside. What happened next was the kind of thing I expect to see from a youngster learning his trade. For a man with over 100 caps to dive in, with no chance whatsoever of reaching the ball, simply defied belief. It was amateurish from the most senior player in the team. What then happened, of course, is all about the kind of person and footballer Diego Costa is. The fact is, and this is indisputable, that Mertesacker didn't touch him. He didn't cause him to stumble or break stride. Costa's first-touch had actually been perfect and put him in to score past Cech. What kind of centre-forward then is the man who would choose to dive? You could argue that it was exceptionally clever as he went on to score the winning goal a few minutes after against a defence that hadn't yet organised itself properly, but that's far from a guaranteed outcome when you've just passed up the opportunity to put your team ahead in order to get someone a red card. When Clattenburg jogged over to the incident I initially thought he was going to book Costa for diving - the rolling and body-popping that was going on as he threw himself towards the penalty-area should have been a bit of a clue to the official in hindsight. And regardless of the red card Clattenburg could still have booked Costa for his blatant play-acting - I'm not holding my breath for the FA to act on it either. Once he had given the free-kick the referee had no other option than to send off Mertesacker. There is one thing that is bothering me, however. Clattenburg took his time, which is good refereeing. But it also would suggest that he wasn't quite 100% sure until he'd thought about it a bit. Now given who the forward was in this incident, and his record with regards to diving, it should surely follow that if you need time to consider whether or not he dived then the chances are that he did. Costa is the boy who cried wolf, but it seems match officials don't know that story. It's actually the case that there should always be enough doubt whenever Costa is involved. None of this excuses Mertesacker, however, who should have been equally aware of who it was he was trying to tackle and that referees seem incapable of dealing with him. As I said, once the decision was made to award a foul, the red card was inevitable.
For me this should mark the beginning of the end of Per Mertesacker's Arsenal career. I've been a fan of the BFG since he arrived. His lack of pace has always been chronic but he reads the game superbly. He is a communicator at the back and the likes of Jenkinson and Bellerin have benefited greatly from his presence alongside them, as has Koscielny who has developed in to a fine player. The pundits have regularly slagged him as not being good enough but this is a man with over 100 caps for Germany - you do not win 100 caps for Germany if you can't play. My biggest criticism of Mertesacker has always been his failure to dominate in the air when he stands at 6'6". He doesn't attack the ball properly for the most part and this has let him and Arsenal down too often. Earlier this season he had a spell out of the team and Gabriel and Koscielny formed a very decent alliance. This came to a head last time we encountered Diego Costa and Wenger seems to have not forgiven the Brazilian. He also relies on Mertesacker as a leader, especially as the actual Captain of Arsenal is either injured or no longer worth a place in the team. This has been totally misguided in my opinion. Mertesacker could still have been a major figure in the squad, even if he isn't actually on the pitch - Arteta certainly is. The other concerning thing from Per yesterday was this issue of passing the armband to Theo Walcott. Now there isn't much wrong with Theo being skipper - he's a senior player and he sets the right examples in the way he behaves off the pitch. He is committed to Arsenal and has done the job before in pre-season. However, it is not Per Mertesacker's responsibility to decide on Arsenal having a ceremonial captain. This isn't the NFL for God's sake! It says to me that the attitude is wrong when you're taking time out to give Theo this "gift" instead of thinking about how you motivate those around you in a crucial match when you're trying to win the Premier League. Where is your head at when you've been named as Captain of Arsenal FC an hour before kick-off but you have time to think of passing it on to someone else because you believe he deserves some kind of recognition? As I said at the top, just about everything was wrong yesterday.
When the red card occurred we all knew Arsene Wenger would have to make a change to get Gabriel on to the pitch. I don't believe anyone would have considered that Olivier Giroud would be the man to make way. It was utterly crazy. The reaction of those of us inside the stadium and of Giroud himself spoke volumes. It had to be Walcott or Ramsey as far as I'm concerned. Wenger's claim afterwards that we wanted to go longer and use Theo's pace does not hold water. Since when have we been in the habit of doing that? And for a man who will take every opportunity to remind us of his years in football, while we have no experience, it showed a deep lack of understanding of tactics. What made him think that, with an extra man, Chelsea would start playing a high enough line to let us use Theo in behind them? What we needed was Giroud's height and strength to hold the ball further up the pitch allowing Ozil and co to get on the ball in better positions. Giroud had already dominated Terry and Zouma for the first 20 minutes and we'd created some good chances - Campbell and Flamini both should have scored before the red card. When we really went for it after half-time we got in to some really good positions past the Chelsea full-backs, only to find that there was nobody in the middle because we had taken off our centre-forward and leading goalscorer. It is to Flamini's absolute credit that he twice more got in there during the game, albeit he was unable to score - the one on half-time should have been headed in to the net rather than what he actually tried to do, but I'm not having anyone criticise him as his attitude was second to none on the day. The fact is that we were immediately hamstrung by Wenger's stupid substitution that he then compounded by taking off Joel Campbell ten minutes in to the second-half instead of Waclott who may as well have come and sat next to me in the stand.
I was interested in Wenger's comments after the match, when questioned about the lack of a protest from Mertesacker, that his players will not argue with the referees as this is something they have decided is right. It's a very noble attitude and should be lauded, I suppose. However, it does us no favours. I understand why we are like this as, when we had a team that set about pressuring the officials, the media attacked Arsenal at every opportunity. But look at how the other top teams behave. When Mertesacker dived in yesterday the first player to charge towards the referee was John Terry, as he does every time there is a decision to be made, in order to put pressure on. Manchester United have it with Rooney and others, and used to have it with almost their whole team. Vincent Kompany attempts to act as some kind of pseudo-official every time he takes to the pitch at Manchester City. We do nothing of the sort. When the incident occurred at Chelsea earlier in the season their main protagonists were all in Mike Dean's face - not the least of whom was Fabregas, a man who was constantly in the ear of Clattenburg yesterday. All we are doing is rolling over and making it easy for the officials to find against us. We make it too easy. Do I like people haranguing the referee? Of course not. But the time has come to realise that we can't beat them so we may as well join them. If all these sides are allowed to bully the weak officials then it is time Arsenal's players grew a pair and got involved themselves.
I personally believe that the Premier League is beyond us now. We are only a couple of points behind but we are going backwards at the wrong time. A look at our away fixtures to come means I have no real cause for optimism, unless we bring in a player that will seriously boost all the other players in the way Arshavin and Ozil did with their arrival (I thought Ozil tried his heart out yesterday, by the way). We have signed Elneny yet it seems he has not been signed to be a first-team starter at this point, making me wonder why we bothered. The one bright spot is the reaction of Petr Cech to what happened yesterday. He literally picked Koscielny up off the floor and then went on TV to talk about why we can still be Champions, and did so with the smile and confidence of a man who knows what it takes. That is real leadership. I'm no fan of making a goalkeeper your skipper, but it underlined the importance of Cech to this team in every possible way. I might need to cling to his optimism over the next week or so.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Not a bad point

Aaron Ramsey: He's won more than you!

I don't want to make this post all about the abuse that Aaron Ramsey suffers every time we play Stoke City. It's being covered in a big way just about everywhere else after Arsene Wenger, when asked about it, answered with a somewhat more reserved answer than perhaps the situation deserves. Regular readers know that Rambo isn't my favourite Arsenal player by quite some distance. However, he is an Arsenal player and he is getting some of the most vile stick from a bunch of total neanderthal f***wits and taking it all with class to spare. I was pleased to see the likes of Matthew Le Tissier and Ian Wright expressing their disgust yesterday as it puts the issue on the agenda properly. 
What exactly has Ramsey done wrong? Refused to shake the hand of a man who, at the time, seemed like he might have ended an incredibly promising career? What a crook he is, that Welsh charlatan! You only have to read through the sad, pitiful bile that was directed towards me in the comments section on Saturday to see what kind of people they are. I particularly enjoy being abused by someone questioning my education, but who can't tell the difference between "your" and you're". Or there are the clowns that accused me of being an armchair fan because they can't read well enough to see the bit that tells them I'm an Arsenal season ticket holder. I don't doubt there will be more here this evening, spewing their guts over Aaron Ramsey while spitting uncontrollably at the screens on their computers. The best thing I saw yesterday was a cracking Tweet from @DaleyAFC which said this:

"Do Stoke fans stand outside hospitals and boo the ambulances as they bring people in?"

Let's face it, that's effectively what they are doing when they direct their horrible abuse towards Aaron Ramsey. Oh, and by the way, the bloke from the Football Supporters Federation on Sky Sports News today who wants to condone it on the grounds of self-expression and free-speech needs to be removed from his position. 

I hadn't intended to waste so long on that, so let's get on with what happened in the game.

I wasn't disappointed with the point yesterday. I thought it was a solid display and we were pretty strong across midfield. The defence did okay, the goalkeeper did brilliantly, and we missed three very presentable chances. It's still what happened on Wednesday night in injury-time that is irking me. 
I've seen Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain getting plenty of stick since the game but I can't agree with a lot of the criticism. Maybe it's fashionable to get at him right now. Yes, The Ox gave possession away with some poor passing at times, but he wasn't alone - Ramsey, Koscielny, Flamini, Bellerin and Walcott were all equally at fault, and some of them (Theo) far worse than Chamberlain. I liked the hard work from him yesterday in the centre of midfield and the fact that he was able to hold the ball in tight areas and win it back when he had to. No pelters for The Ox from me.
Olivier Giroud had two good chances. The second one was a magnificent save from Butland, but the first one was a bad miss as far as I'm concerned. When you see the angle from behind the goal Butland had actually got himself in the wrong position and left the whole of the far side of the net open. If Giroud had done what we're told strikers should do and put the ball across the goalkeeper he would have scored. Instead of that he hit it to the near-post and Butland was there to keep it out. Joel Campbell (one of our best players again yesterday) also had a great chance late on when he came in on his left foot, only to spoon it high and wide. I also have to give a word of praise to Alex Iwobi who I thought was excellent when he came on for the last 20 minutes. 
At the other end we had Petr Cech to thank again for the clean sheet. Stoke weren't without their opportunities and, in the last minute, Cech made an incredible save with his outstretched left leg, just a second after Aaron Ramsey (take that you mugs!) had cleared off the line. It ensured a deserved point for The Arsenal in an always difficult game.
We might have had another avenue for the three points had the referee been doing his job properly instead of allowing himself to be intimidated by a raucous home crowd. There were two clear penalties for Arsenal in the second-half that he failed to give - Jamie Carragher was made to look the absolute mug that he is by Souness after the game. That's three in a week following the one Giroud didn't get after being flattened against Sunderland in the FA Cup. We also saw a succession of fouls go unpunished by the Stoke players - Pieters the worst offender with foul after foul, especially on Joel Campbell. It's hard enough at Stoke without having to play the officials at the same time (cue the "whingeing cockneys" in the comments).

Just to finish on a high note, check out the new Mesut Ozil chant that got its first airing yesterday. Apparently it's been nicked from West Ham but I really couldn't care less to be honest.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Elneny to debut against the rugby team?

Sort your barnet out mate

Let's just put it out there straight away - the current Stoke team plays far more good football than any we've seen in recent years. They have the likes of Bojan and Shaqiri playing some lovely stuff at the top end of the pitch, with Arnautovic looking a better footballer than he did up to now. However, they also still have Ryan Shawcross, Charlie Adam, Arnautovic and Jon Walters. They are not short of kickers and thugs. As a squad they now reflect every facet of Mark Hughes when he was a player - wonderful ability but downright dirty.
I imagine that Stoke's thugs are the thing that is playing most on Arsene Wenger's mind when it comes to giving Mohamed Elneny his Arsenal debut. Is the new boy sufficiently aware of what he might be walking in to if he starts the game tomorrow? It wouldn't surprise me to see the new man starting as a substitute so that he can get a good look at just how hard the game can be in a Premier League midfield. It seems more likely to my eyes that we will see Ramsey and Flamini in midfield again tomorrow and both of them must be more aware of their role than they have been in recent matches. Flamini mustn't move from in front of the defence, and Ramsey simply has to be told that it isn't all about him in the Arsenal team. Yes, he scores the odd goal, but his constant giving up of possession with his insistence on trying to be clever is more than a frustration. The simple fact is that Aaron Ramsey isn't as good a footballer as he thinks he is. He is living on a six-month spell two seasons ago and that isn't enough.
Wenger seems very reluctant to bring in Alexis Sanchez who constantly seems to be on the verge of a comeback. Interestingly, to me at least, is the fact that he hasn't featured in the training photos in the last couple of weeks which tells me he might not actually be in full training after all. Theo Walcott, his goal against Manchester City aside, has failed to impress on a recent run in the side and has been totally outshone by Joel Campbell. If Alexis is back tomorrow it has to be Theo that he replaces as far as I'm concerned. Meanwhile Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks a shadow of the young prospect he was a couple of years ago. What I would say is that he started this season scoring a cracking winner at Wembley in the Charity Shield so he's not so far away from his best form as we maybe think right now. That being said, I don't see a quick way back in to the starting XI for The Ox any time soon.
The draw at Liverpool the other night adds some pressure to our result tomorrow. I suspect most of us would have been happy with four points from six out of these two fixtures going in to them. However, we threw away two of those points on Wednesday night making tomorrow a game that we really have to win. We have failed to take so many opportunities to put daylight between ourselves and Manchester City that we can't afford to drop many more points. As my brother said yesterday, City won't keep dropping these points, and they've played almost all of the more difficult away games in the first half of the season - the total opposite to us. Other big teams have already fallen over at Stoke this season, and we have an abysmal record there, so the omens are not good. All the more reason to get business done and send the zombies back to their slums unhappy.

Friday, 15 January 2016

New signing needs to be a gap plugger

Defence wasted his work at Anfield

It's been an eventful week since I last wrote anything. Arsenal made reasonably serene progress in the FA Cup against Sunderland, threw away two points (not for the first time) at Liverpool, and signed a new midfield player to boost the squad. 
The Sunderland game maybe gave an indication of what lay ahead to a certain extent. There is seemingly not too much trouble in eventually getting the goals in a game for this Arsenal team, especially when Giroud is on his game. However, the defending is finally being exposed for what it really is at times. Sunderland's goal came from people trying to play their way out near our own penalty area while under pressure from attacking players. The second-half saw Steven Fletcher beating our men in the air and nearly scoring a couple of times. Petr Cech's interventions have papered over many cracks, especially since the midfield shield afforded by Coquelin and Cazorla has been removed by injury. These problems were in evidence at Anfield in a big way, and Cech did not cover himself in glory for once.
I found it so annoying to yet again concede a last minute goal at Anfield. It has happened so often down the years and has cost us points numerous times up there. I realise the football gods probably owed us a bit of badness after 1989 but where does it stop? Did the 2001 FA Cup not redress the balance? I have to say I felt conceding that goal, with the chance to put decent space between ourselves and Manchester City and Tottenham, had more than a whiff of Birmingham 2008 in terms of what it might mean for our season. Joel Campbell and Olivier Giroud had been outstanding and got us in to a position to win a game in which our lack of tactical nous had allowed Liverpool to be on top in most of the early going. A brief look at their midfield would have shown you that a high pressing game was going to be played - that's how Klopp likes to get his team playing. A small adaptation in to going a little longer towards Giroud, rather than the intricate passing in midfield, was surely the way we should have gone. To me it is obvious. 
Arsenal's determination to play their way out was the cause of the first goal. This is particularly frustrating when you see Theo Walcott trying to take on three players on the edge of our own penalty area - this is a man who normally refuses to run past his opposing full-back on the outside when one-on-one with him high up the pitch. Giving the ball away in those areas is ridiculous and will usually lead to a chance for the other team. Cech might have done better with the first shot, and then was wrong-footed when Firmino put it away. It was rank bad play from Arsenal. 
Liverpool's second goal was a great strike. Of course it could have been closed down better, and Cech had a touch of the Peter Shilton's in terms of getting off the ground, but if one of ours had scored it we wouldn't be moaning - Giroud's second goal is similar in that regard; yes, you can pick holes in the way it was defended, but acknowledge the superb play by the attacker in the first instance. 
What irks me more is the third goal and how we got ourselves in the position to concede it. I hate this business when Wenger takes off most of his attacking players and replaces them with sub-standard defensive options. For years it was Cygan who would be thrown in to the fray and it invariably ends up with us under intense pressure and conceding a goal. We can't defend properly so why not just stick to the possession play we're actually quite good at? I always find it crazy when he takes off Theo Walcott in these circumstances as his pace is surely just what we need when the opponent is going to stretch the play. Taking off Joel Campbell and his incredible work-rate is just plain stupid - he wouldn't substitute Alexis Sanchez so why take off the running of Campbell? Even with the changes we don't adapt properly. Anyone could see that Liverpool would be playing aerial passes towards Benteke, so how was he able to get himself on to Nacho Monreal (who didn't do anywhere near enough to put him off) to win the header that led to Allen's equaliser? Where were Mertesacker and Koscielny? Who was organising the team properly? Why was Ramsey not closing down in the same way that Giroud was higher up the pitch? When Benteke headed it across Bellerin was uncharacteristically slow to react, allowing Allen to stab his shot towards goal. Even then, having got to it, Cech should have stopped the ball - it looked a lot like when Richard Wright let Poyet score late on in Sol's first match back at Tottenham in 2001. This long list of cock-ups under pressure is why I felt it had "Birmingham again" written all over it the other night.. Two points dropped in injury-time was really not wanted ahead of a visit to our bogey-ground this Sunday.
I was slightly cheered up yesterday with the announcement of a new signing, albeit that excitement was a bit subdued by the fact that we've taken about three years to get the deal over the line yet again. I know nothing about Mohamed Elneny as a player. I couldn't tell you whether he's a defensive midfielder or an Aaron Ramsey box-to-box type of man. What I hope is that he's the sort of player that can give us what we're missing without Coquelin in the side. If it means he plays alongside Flamini, with Ramsey being dropped, I wouldn't complain. As I said near the top this side can create and score goals. It's at the other end that the problem lies. Once again I find myself crying out for Gabriel to come in to the centre of the defence - for me we looked at our best defensively when he had that run of games alongside Koscielny earlier in the season. If Elneny can add some much needed protection then maybe my thoughts on what happened at Anfield can be quickly forgotten. It's a big two weeks ahead and the dropped points at Anfield see us needing wins at Stoke and at home to Chelsea. I'll try to do a preview for Stoke at some point tomorrow.

Friday, 8 January 2016

On the road to Wembley once again


The thing about cup football is that a defeat means you are out. You can lose the odd league game and it might not matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Lose in the FA Cup and your dream of Wembley is over for another year. We've been dead lucky as Arsenal fans in the last two years as we haven't lost a single game in the FA Cup. As a result we've had a couple of our greatest Wembley days out including what must have been one of the most dominant ever displays in the Cup Final. Indeed, no other club in the history of the World's greatest knockout competition has ever won it as many times as Arsenal. This weekend we start the campaign to win three in a row. The chances of that happening are not great - law of averages says you've got to lose a cup-tie sooner or later - but, whatever happens, I want us to do everything possible to win it again.
Sunderland visit tomorrow and Allardyce has given every indication that he will be putting out a shadow team. He has used the media to attack the FA over scheduling and how they are de-valuing their own competition. I happen to agree with the sentiment - Liverpool will have played Saturday, Tuesday, Friday, Wednesday by the time they play us next week, which is not fair on the fans or the players. There is no doubt the FA has long treated the Cup with almost total contempt, starting with allowing Manchester United to excuse themselves from it back in the day. However, Allardyce has rarely fielded a first-team in the FA Cup almost whatever club he has been in charge of, and regardless of their position in the league. A man like Allardyce should be using the FA Cup to actually achieve something from his managerial career. By doing what he does he is just short-changing the supporters - his failure to take either cup seriously at West Ham was a large factor in his downfall where the Upton Park regulars were concerned. Fans of any team unlikely to challenge in the Premier League live for a decent cup run every now and again. Obviously I won't complain if he does put out a particularly weak team against us tomorrow, but I don't trust him to do it against Arsene Wenger. 
There will be changes for Arsenal tomorrow. The problem is how many. We have such a threadbare squad at the moment that there isn't much scope. Ospina will probably come in, maybe Debuchy, certainly Gibbs and Gabriel. In midfield we could see Chambers and/or Arteta, but then we start to struggle. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Campbell will probably start, but we have little alternative to Walcott or Giroud to play through the centre. We could put Joel in there and get Reine-Adelaide or Iwobi on the wing but this is then moving towards too many changes at once as far as I'm concerned. There is also the small matter of Arsene wanting to give some respite to Ozil ahead of two of the toughest away games of the season in the next week. It is a headache for Wenger that Allardyce could take advantage of if he actually took the game seriously himself. Given that Fat Sam loves nothing better than going after Arsene or Mourinho it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if he was lying about a weakened team.
As holders I want to see Arsenal come out and do a proper job tomorrow. We don't want any of the kind of performance we saw at Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup. That comes down to attitude and how the players apply themselves in the game. I would hope that they have pride in what they've achieved in the FA Cup these past two years and are seeking to do all within their power to defend the trophy again. The Premier League ceases to matter for 90 minutes tomorrow and it's all about the Cup. It belongs to us and I want to see it stay that way.