Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Long Live The King

Thanks Thierry

Ian Wright broke a near 60 year-old Arsenal record in the Autumn of 1997. As we walked away from that game against Bolton my brother pointed out that we would probably never see another goal scorer like Wrighty in our lifetime. Less than two years later Arsene Wenger replaced Nicolas Anelka (who had already displaced Ian Wright) with Thierry Henry. Within eight years of Wright setting his record, this guy Henry had surpassed him. He became, quite simply, The King of Highbury.
When I got up this morning I did my usual thing of putting on Sky Sports News. I was met with their top story that Thierry Henry has retired as a professional footballer. The last faint hope that he would have one last hurrah as a member of the Arsenal squad was extinguished. Even more disappointingly he is going to be working for Sky Sports as a pundit, rather than in any role at Arsenal (BBC have paid the price for putting him on a panel with Robbie Savage at the World Cup). Now is not the time to go in to the wrongs of that so I'll lay off Wenger for a change. Suffice to say that I felt sad that he was finished as a player and all that's left are memories. The wonderful memories of an Arsenal player second only to Dennis Bergkamp. That they played in the same team, along with Lehmann, Campbell, Cole, Kolo, Lauren, Pires, Vieira, Gilberto, Parlour and Ljungberg tells you why Arsenal were so good at the time. 
Thierry arrived at Arsenal in August 1999 at the same time as Davor Suker. I remember him coming on against Leicester in the second half of the opening game of the season and breaking the net in front of the North Bank with a rocket of a shot. Unfortunately the shot had missed the target and smashed the rope holding the stanchion. That mix of explosive pace and terrible finishing was a feature of his first couple of months. He seemed unable to even control a football at times. He got that elusive first goal with a stunner at The Dell, and followed it up with a goal at Wembley against Solna in the Champions League - a goal he created by mis-controlling the ball and wrong footing the defence and goalkeeper. Nonetheless it broke the shackles a little and I remember Wembley physically shaking under the post-match celebrations of over 70,000 Arsenal supporters. We would still have a to wait a little for him to truly spark, but that arrived with a classy brace at home to Derby County. From there on he never, ever looked back.
Henry carried Arsenal to a European Final in his first season, but he couldn't find the net in Copenhagen as we lost to Galatsaray on penalties. His failure to score in Final's was an anomaly in his greatness that he could never put right for club or country, and was often used as a stick to beat him with by elements of the media. Of course that would overlook his contribution, even without scoring, in those big matches but it gave the media a negative narrative they could use against a genuinely World Class talent. I'm sure it frustrated him as much as it did us, but it shouldn't detract from his achievements. He also went on to win Euro 2000 at the end of his first Arsenal season, adding to his World Cup medal from 1998.
The following season also saw us come away from a Final empty handed after we were mugged in Cardiff by Michael Owen and, more particularly, the referee Steve Dunn. That defeat lit a spark in Thierry and a number of the other Arsenal players, augmented by the signing of Sol Campbell. Thierry's goals, with the major assistance of Bergkamp and Robert Pires, took us on the charge the following season. He won the first of his Golden Boot awards as Arsenal won the Double, though he would miss the coup-de-grace at Old Trafford through injury. By this time he was already moving in to Legend status. That was cemented with another FA Cup win the following year (though his Man Of The Match award in that game was "stolen" from the outstanding Oleg Luzhny in his final game for the Club).

 His most important Arsenal goal

The following season was the Invincible season. Thirty league goals tells you all you need to know about his contribution. What it doesn't tell you is just how good he was. Quite simply, Thierry Henry was truly unstoppable in 2003-04. No defender in the World could live with him. Just watch how Javier Zanetti was destroyed by him when we beat Inter 5-1 in the San Siro. We would go on to lose the FA Cup semi-final, largely because Thierry was rested for it. The knock-on effect came a few days later when the Invincibles failed to seal their destiny and lost to Chelsea in the Champions League. Three days later the whole season looked set to implode until Henry decided enough was enough. He'd already won Goal Of The Season the previous year with THAT goal against Tottenham. He repeated it on Good Friday 2004 by waltzing past half the Liverpool side and slotting past Dudek. But is wasn't just the quality of the goal. It was what it meant to the season. This was the best player in the World (criminally finishing behind Pavel Nedved in the official voting) stepping up to the plate an scoring a goal that only someone that special could produce. To do it at all was amazing. To do it in the circumstances that were playing out showed you how special Thierry Henry was as an Arsenal player. To me it was the best goal he ever scored for Arsenal (and there was plenty of competition). It was also the most important as it meant that the Invincible season was still on. To be fair, it was never under threat again until after the Title had been won. I think we all knew, as we left that game, that Arsenal were going to be Champions. Henry would go on to produce the most spectacular performance of forward play I have ever witnessed as he almost single-handedly destroyed Leeds United with his pace, power and technique.
An injury kept Henry out of the FA Cup Final against Manchester United in 2005. Somehow we won on penalties after being battered for two hours. What followed for him was the position of Arsenal Captain. He was given it because he was the main man and Wenger clearly hoped this would keep him at the Club. In truth he was never a real Captain in the way of Tony Adams or Patrick Vieira. In some ways I think the responsibility weighed heavily on him. Not only was he having to lead the side, but he was also having to carry it. Wenger had sold Vieira and not replaced him. There were a few mediocre types in the squad by now, compared to two years previously, and Thierry was swimming against the tide. Nonetheless he would take us to Paris for the European Cup Final. On the way he proved he wasn't the big-match choker the media wanted to put down as he scored another of his great solo efforts at Real Madrid. This was the Real Madrid of Galacticos fame, but Henry and his Arsenal team beat them in their own back yard. He showed that he was a Galactico in his own right. In the Final against Barcelona he had the chances to win us the Champions League, but a combination of poor finishing (he was never a "natural" goal scorer, which I know sounds stupid when he scored so many goals) and an inspired Valdes in the Barca goal kept the opponents in the game. I can still see the one-on-one shortly before their equaliser and it still hurts. 
Thierry signed a new contract and took us to the new stadium. I strongly suspect the deal involved him leaving at the end of that first season in the new place all along. But Arsenal couldn't afford to lose him, as well as Bergkamp, Pires, Campbell and Cole in the Summer that they moved to a new home. In truth it was a poor season for Henry. He was injured for most of it and, when he did play, he didn't always look dead pleased to be there. He lacked effort at times, and certainly couldn't hide his frustration at playing with some of the individuals that had replaced the legendary Invincibles. There was one great goal from him though as he provided the first special moment in the new stadium against Manchester United. However, the writing was on the wall and he left for Barcelona in 2007. It was over. Arsenal's greatest ever goal scorer was no longer an Arsenal player. It was another hole that simply could not be filled. To watch him go on and win everything at Barcelona made it even tougher.

The King returns

Of course, it wasn't the end of the story. Having moved to New York Thierry was always at a loose end in the English Winter. He started to train with Arsenal and, with us having nobody other than Van Persie to play up front, Wenger was convinced to sign him on loan in January 2012. What followed was a glorious few weeks where The King was back where he belonged. The night he made his comeback against Leeds will stay with me forever. It was an awful game, with an awful Arsenal performance against a poor side from the lower leagues. And then Thierry came on as a sub. As well as I can picture him missing in Paris, I can see even better his goal that night against Leeds. Special doesn't even begin to cover it. To have been in that stadium and experience that feeling is the reason we go to football. What a noise for a goal in such a game. It was the sort of thing that makes you believe in fate. Clearly it was meant to happen. But also, much as with the Liverpool goal, you have to be special to do that at the very moment it's required. Only truly great footballers have that ability, that composure, that sublime skill.

One last goal

He would go on from there to have a deflected goal taken away from him in a home game with Blackburn Rovers. It still disgusts me to this day that Arsenal accepted the "judgement" on the goal and re-adjusted their official records at the end of the season. Christ, Frank Lampard would have scored about fifty less goals than he has if the same rules had been applied to him!
But Henry wasn't quite finished. He decided there was one more moment. One more special thing to do. Coming on as a late sub at Sunderland for his last ever Premier League appearance he stuck in a last minute winner from a cross by Andrei Arshavin. Fate again? Maybe. It was a particularly special goal for my family as my nephew was Arsenal mascot that day. I was in a hotel room in Southampton jumping up and down and screaming (and gutted that I was working rather than being at the Stadium of Light) at the thought that The King had decided there was one last goal to be scored for Arsenal.
Wenger should have signed Thierry Henry on a permanent deal at that time. He still had plenty to offer in a proper football league. In truth he wasted his final few seasons when he should have been at Arsenal. I am certain that, had he been offered the chance, he would have bitten off Wenger's arm at the prospect of finishing his career at Arsenal. Sadly, it wasn't to be. Chances to bring him in on loan in the next two years were also passed upon by Arsene, and Thierry had played for Arsenal for the final time.


In the four year period from 2001 to 2005 Arsenal played football in a way that no other English side has ever done. Thierry Henry, under the guidance of Arsene Wenger, was re-inventing the position of striker throughout that time. If you watch Messi and Ronaldo now they are playing in the same role that Henry did - not a striker as such, but without doubt the main goal scorer. To be fair, he was never a centre-forward as we would know it. He wasn't a natural "finisher" in the way that Ian Wright had been. He got better and better in front of goal, of course, but he would never be considered a poacher. Thierry was an athlete, an incredible physical specimen with pace like we'd never seen, with or without the ball. He had skill, touch, technical ability and plenty of temper when he needed it. Moving in off the left hand side he became virtually impossible to mark (just like Ronaldo is now), with unsurpassed movement that only the brilliance of Bergkamp and Pires (and Zidane) could find when he was at his peak. Another reason I would say he wasn't a "proper" centre-forward is that he was too unselfish. Ian Wright would never have even considered squaring the ball to someone when he was in on goal. Henry would actively look for someone if he could, rather than just have a goal for himself. And when you consider how many goals he actually scored, it's incredible to think how many he created, or could have had for himself, were he not such a team man. People can try and compare Alan Shearer of Didier Drogba etc to Thierry Henry all they like. The fact is there is no comparison. Thierry Henry had it all. Not just a World Class striker, he was a World Class footballer, full-stop. He could play off the shoulder of the last man, or he could drop deep to destroy anyone he wanted. He was two-footed, better in the air than he ever allowed himself to show, and had skills to die for. Zidane says he is technically the most gifted player in history. That is high praise indeed, but anyone who had the privilege to watch Henry as often as I did can see what Zidane is talking about. He was a phenomenon. It was an honour to watch and enjoy Thierry Henry play for Arsenal. As with Dennis, we might never see his like again. 

Thanks Thierry. The King.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

So much better than last week

Some finish that was

It seems hard to believe that most of the same players have been involved in Arsenal's last three matches. Defensive frailty remains utterly prevalent and a decent side will probably be too good for us, but the intensity of Arsenal's play in Istanbul and yesterday was in incredibly marked contrast to the game at Stoke. Maybe the close-quarters abuse directed at Wenger and the players at Stoke station last Saturday has had the effect of shocking a few people in to playing properly. 
I would have liked to write after the excellent win in Turkey but I had a long week at work and simply didn't have the time to get down to writing. Let's be clear that very few people fancied Arsenal to get a result in Istanbul from the time the draw was made. Given the way we often play away in Europe, and the fact that the game had effectively become something of a dead rubber, there was little worth being optimistic about before kick-off. However, Lukas Podolski looked more up for the game than I've ever seen him, and I particularly enjoyed the way he was in the ear of the referee whenever Melo was trying to maim someone in a yellow shirt. In front of goal Podolski showed just why he is such a valuable, and criminally under used, player for Arsenal. I'm 100% certain he won't be around next season, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be. He scored two really good goals, hit the bar, and brought a great save from the goalkeeper on Wednesday. When he gets the ball in front of goal I believe he will score, and that is not something I can say about Giroud or Welbeck (and definitely not Sanogo - his lack of quality was summed up just seconds after Podolski's first goal when Ramsey put him in on goal, only for Yaya to trip over the ball as he tried to control it). 
One of the features of the other night, I felt, was the move of Oxlade-Chamberlain in to the centre. Whenever he's played there in the past he has been dominant and Galatasaray had no answer to his pace, power and skill. Ox's ability to carry the ball forward gives us something different in the middle of midfield and he brought the best out of Aaron Ramsey on the night. As for that goal by Ramsey, what can you say? Quite simply it was the goal of the season.
The second-half in Istanbul was much different without Flamini and Ramsey on the pitch, and actually the opposition had plenty of opportunities to give Arsenal a problem. I really wanted to see Chuba Akpom come on up front in place of Sanogo. With the way Ox and Joel Campbell (I thought he had a fine game) were running with the ball we needed a pacy outlet for them to find and stretch the defence. I am convinced Wenger doesn't want to give Akpom his chance as he would show up the difference in class between himself and Sanogo. However, in the shadow of a 4-1 away win in Europe that has to be a relatively small complaint.
It was no surprise to see Ramsey getting injured just as he hits a bit of form. It seems we are forever cursed with the never ending chain of muscle injuries. I don't know how much Arsenal's fitness and conditioning people are paid but it's far too much. Thankfully, following his rest in midweek Santi Cazorla was back yesterday to replace Ramsey. This meant Ox dropped back alongside Flamini and I didn't feel he had such a good game as on Wednesday. With Alexis, Welbeck and Giroud also back we had a very strong front four.
I mentioned earlier the intensity of our game and there was a lot of good closing down yesterday. Having said that, I watched Match Of The Day last night and heard Danny Murphy praising Arsenal for having eight outfield players pushing on to Newcastle from the kick-off. Is this not the same thing that has been criticised when our play breaks down leaving just the two centre-backs within fifty yards of our goal? It just shows what nonsense punditry is on the television.
The first goal was a direct result of good pressure on the ball from Arsenal. Debuchy attacked a header on the halfway line, and then Bellerin stepped in to nick the loose ball as it rebounded forward towards Arsenal's half. From there Giroud linked well with Alexis and I loved seeing a cross that is actually aimed at a big centre-forward for Arsenal for a change. Giroud had the run on his man and leaped high to score, but normally our crosses are aimless or along the ground. With Welbeck and Giroud in the side it really is a weapon Arsenal must learn to use properly. It's really not difficult, which is probably why we concede so many goals from balls crossed into the box. The quality of Alexis made the goal and he really is a diamond in this Arsenal team. Considering he is only a small guy he is brave and tough. Not many players of his diminutive stature would have kept getting on the ball so keenly after the early assault on his chest by Tiote (I bet the FA don't investigate him). 
Danny Welbeck scored a brilliant goal to make it 2-0 but Lee Mason had other ideas. He certainly couldn't be accused of favouring the home team and he seemed almost to apologise for finally awarding Arsenal a penalty in the last couple of minutes. He should be asked why Dummett wasn't red carded for the foul on that occasion as Welbeck was in on goal. Mason's decisions throughout the game were nothing short of bizarre. The inconsistency of the man was wretched and yet again I find myself questioning whether there is a sinister element to the way Premier League games are officiated. There isn't a single referee at the top level in England who is up to the job, and they are slowly ruining the game in the Premier League. Why is it that time and again the headline after a game concerns something the referee has done or not done? That can't be right.
The two goals early in the second-half were glorious. Cazorla showed great balance, and a desire to score, when fouled in the penalty area. His finish from a tight angle was glorious. Santi has struggled for form as much as anyone in this Arsenal side so far during the season, but yesterday he looked sharper. It was another assist for Alexis, but it was Cazorla's individual ability that got the goal. The next from Giroud was also a sublime piece of skill, but it was made by Arsenal playing at pace. Speed kills defences, and Ox and Bellerin combined to destroy Newcastle down Arsenal's right wing. I was impressed by Bellerin's composure in the box as he got his head up and picked the pass to Giroud. The flick from the Frenchman was beautiful in its execution and the young goalkeeper had no chance. Even this struggling Arsenal side still has the ability to excite with their football when they do it at pace. They have to play exactly this way at Liverpool next weekend too.
So it's been a good week following the disaster at Stoke last Saturday. We now have a midweek free for the players to rest and prepare for Anfield. I hope Arsene Wenger is also using his time wisely in the transfer market to get deals done at the earliest point in January - the window for actual signings is closed, but that doesn't mean you can't be doing business. We all know, and Wenger knows too, where we are short handed. He simply must address it, and I don't mean he has to go and sign some Swedish veteran with a broken back.

As we get closer to Christmas you can expect the usual things on the website. I'll be writing the annual mid-season review at the beginning of next week, between the Liverpool game and Christmas itself, and then I'll be posting a brief piece on Christmas Eve. Hopefully there will be some stuff to write about before we get to the Liverpool match.
The Facebook page ("It's MY Arsenal Opinion") has had a lot of new hits overnight. I don't know why that should be, but welcome to any new readers/followers. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram by searching for @ARSENALDvbrisG - though the language on the Twitter account can often be industrial, so be warned!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Why are people still defending the indefensible?

You're all a disgrace

Let's make it abundantly clear - the result may have been 3-2 but Arsenal were humiliated yet again yesterday. Just add the 3-0 half-time score at Stoke to the first-half embarrassments at Chelsea and Liverpool earlier this year. Straight away we had Mertesacker and Flamini wheeled out by the official website for the "We're sorry" and "We're disappointed with ourselves" interviews. Well shut the f*** up. Do the people at Arsenal really think the fans are still swallowing this bull**** from the players? Every time there's another humiliation (and these are not rare for Wenger's Arsenal these days) we get the same platitudes from whichever player has drawn the short straw. If you're so f***ing sorry then why did you play like utterly useless c***s in the first place? Why, after twenty seconds, had you already shown yourselves to be frightened of the physical challenge of playing Stoke City? Scared, like little boys playing against a team of big men from the local Sunday League.
That first-half was as bad as just about any of the other capitulations of the last twelve months. And as much as I've gone in to one at the players it comes back to the mentality with which they leave the dressing room. What sort of speech had been given by Wenger? They were sent out timid and they played like it. Kieran Gibbs made Jonathan Walters look like some kind of top class winger. Calum Chambers, in that first attack, basically ducked out of the way of the ball and left Bellerin with two men to try and deal with. And where the hell was Per Mertesacker throughout all this disastrous defending? Poor young Hector was then the one given the hook at half-time - but then he was the youngest and that makes him Wenger's easiest target. The only genuine casualties of what happened yesterday will be Bellerin and Martinez, neither of whom will get a look in next Saturday when Newcastle come to town. All the others will be involved. Why? Because the two youngsters are the ones he can take it out on with no confrontation likely to occur.
I've seen the most ardent of the Wengerites trying to blame the referee for the outcome of the game. I'm more than willing to pull out Mr Taylor for the numerous outrageous errors he made (yet again in a match involving Arsenal), most notably the disgraceful failure to send off Charlie Adam for his physical assault on Alexis - he actually chose to tell Alexis to calm down. But to suggest Taylor cost Arsenal the game is a nonsense. Arsenal cost themselves the game by the way they went about the first-half, and the fact that we had a makeshift team on the pitch because Arsene Wenger has been guilty of the most criminal mismanagement of Arsenal FC in thirty years. Stevie Wonder could have seen where Arsenal's problems were going to be this season, long before the transfer window closed. The one man who couldn't see it is the one man we rely upon to ensure we challenge for the top honours. And still people want to blame a referee when you're 3-0 down at half-time against a pub team.
There is no excuse for the state of the Arsenal squad. There is also no excuse for the constant inaction of Wenger during games. And what exactly does Steve Bould do apart from picking up a good wage? Wenger and Bould sat on the bench throughout the whole show yesterday. Where was the instruction? Where were the b******ings? Where was the leadership? With 80 minutes on the clock Joel Campbell appeared on the touchline, stripped and ready to play. And there he stayed until 92 minutes were on the clock. What was Wenger waiting for? Throughout this whole time we still had four at the back, two of whom were Flamini and Ramsey. We still had just Danny Welbeck playing up front on his own. As bad as the players are, what chance are they being given by a Manager who is content to wallow in mediocrity?
I keep hearing people from other clubs saying how us Arsenal supporters are spoiled. Yes, we are. But we are ARSENAL for God's sake! In an era where we are one of the few Clubs equipped financially to compete for the major honours, how is it a bad thing to expect better? One trophy in nine years. Three times a Premier League Title thrown away in that time because Arsene Wenger refused to spend the money on the one or two players that would have made us Champions.
I can accept Arsenal losing games of football. But I can not accept being ritually humiliated. It's bad enough when it happens at Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. But at Stoke City? Wenger has usually referred to these disasters as "accidents". Surely an accident is something that can not be avoided, pure happenstance, rather than something that everyone can see coming. And if these are just accidents then I'd hate to see Wenger's insurance premium. How many more nails have to be put in the coffin of Wenger's reign? It's driving us all to distraction.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Alexis ensures Southampton got what they deserved - nothing

The little fella does it again for Arsenal
I imagine all three of BT Sport's neutral viewers switched off long before Alexis stabbed in the late winner last night. It was a pretty awful game of football, punctuated by Arsenal creating some great chances for Danny Welbeck (that he missed) and one fine header from Giroud, made by the ball of the night from Podolski, which brought a wonderful save from Forster. Certainly there was little to warm up those of us in the stadium on a cold night in North London.
Southampton were a real disappointment. Obviously it isn't incumbent on any visiting side to come out and play at Arsenal (remember Chelsea on 23rd December last year?) but I would be annoyed today if I was a Saints fan. They've had a fine season, and have seemingly played a lot of good football along the way. To come to Arsenal last night with absolutely no intention whatsoever of trying to score a goal was awful. Their only opportunity came when a throw-in was taken quickly, about ten yards further forward than it had gone out, that allowed Tadic the space to create a problem for Arsenal's otherwise impressive defence. Aside from that moment I thought Calum Chambers had Tadic in his pocket pretty much throughout and played his best game for Arsenal so far. I've given Chambers plenty of stick as I think he has been over-hyped but last night the youngster was outstanding. Also credit to Monreal on the other side of the defence.
Back to Southampton and their sole tactic seemed to be get the ball towards Pelle and hope that he could bump in to Koscielny and knock him over. Fortunately for Arsenal the ability of Koscielny was just too much for their main man. However, I will be amazed if Koscielny plays at Stoke City this weekend. He was limping after twenty minutes and somehow got through the game. We really do need him Saturday against Stoke's battering rams so we have to hope a few days in cotton wool can help him recover.
At the other end of the pitch Santi Cazorla was our best player in the first-half, though he faded after that. I thought the little man looked back to his best at times last night and that is very welcome. He was responsible for the first of Danny Welbeck's three clear-cut chances. We have a problem in Welbeck. He gives so much to the team with his work rate, and he makes all the right runs. But his job is to score goals and he simply misses too many chances. In the last few league matches we have had plenty of opportunities to score more goals, and many have fallen to Welbeck. That he has just one goal, from a goalkeeping error, in that time tells us something. Unfortunately Giroud isn't really much better in front of goal - what was that all about when he tried to pass the ball back to a stricken Aaron Ramsey who had put him in on goal, on his left foot, shortly after our goal?
The goal, of course, eventually came from Alexis. I thought the Chilean was poor last night. Maybe he's starting to feel the fatigue a little, and he will certainly need some kind of rest in the next four weeks, but he was on the spot when it mattered. Ramsey had another wretched game, but he did brilliantly to create the goal and maybe he'll get some confidence from that. I don't know how the cretinous Andre Marriner missed a clear handball seconds before we scored, but that could have been costly to Arsenal. Nobody could genuinely argue (though Dietmarr Hamaan did so on Match Of The Day) that Arsenal didn't deserve the win given the way Southampton played, so it was justice when Alexis poked it home.
After the goal, however, the Arsenal players lost the plot again. In to injury-time we had two corners and a free-kick. Did we simply run down the clock with the ball in the corners of the pitch? No! We were putting crosses in to the box and giving the ball back to our opponents. Everyone in the crowd knew what the players needed to do, but these international footballers couldn't work it out. It was utterly crazy. Last night it didn't cost us, but what the hell are they thinking at times?
So another three points, and consecutive 1-0 wins. I'll take that all the way. There's nothing wrong with 1-0.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

One King coming to Arsenal this Christmas

HE is coming home

Things are looking up a bit after the last couple of games. Good wins (and clean sheets) against Dortmund and West Brom have seen us go in to December feeling quite a bit brighter than we might have thought just a week ago. I was really pleased with the win at West Brom. Yes, we are still missing too many chances, and we can still give away too many opportunities at the other end, but the chances can't keep being missed. Eventually they are going to go in the net and someone is going to take a pasting. I wouldn't mind if that started tomorrow evening against Southampton. Before that, though, is the good news we've known has been coming.
Unfortunately for Thierry Henry his New York Red Bulls lost their play-off tie at the weekend. Thierry signed off with a classic assist in his final MLS game. I can't help thinking that he has utterly wasted these past few years, but he has doubtless been financially rewarded in a big way. But now his time in America is over. And, it being Christmas time, everyone is waiting for the coming of The King. Arsenal supporters are no different, and this particular Arsenal supporter wants to see our King where he belongs.
Yesterday Henry issued a statement to say that he was finished with New York Red Bulls, but not that his playing career was over. Within an hour his official Facebook page had changed its cover photo to a shot of his statue gazing at Arsenal Stadium. Thierry clearly advised his people to show that Arsenal is where he wants to be and he needs to show it to everyone.
Arsene Wenger confirmed today that Henry will return to Arsenal, though he knows not when, or in what role. The key point here is that The King may yet play for us once more. I read a report (and you know I pay no attention to the papers normally) that Thierry Henry wants to sign a contract at Arsenal to the end of the season so that he can retire as an Arsenal player. I hope that this is one of those occasions where the players representatives have planted the story. He may be 37, but just having Henry on the bench and around the squad would be huge. Can you imagine defenders in the opposition line-ups if he was to trot on with fifteen minutes to go? They'd be drawn to him simply because of who he is, and that would create space elsewhere. Add to that his very presence around the strikers and younger players in the squad, as well as the impact on the supporters, and you have a mix that can create a feel-good atmosphere at the Club for a few months.
It is 100% certain that Thierry Henry is coming home. It will happen sooner rather than later. And what I wouldn't give to see him play in that shirt just one more time, score one more goal, and to take my boys to watch him - they'd forever be able to say "I saw Thierry Henry play for Arsenal". Anyone who was there when he scored against Leeds on his comeback will know the impact that Thierry Henry can have on Arsenal. Let's see it one more time, Arsene. Make it happen.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

A sad note to start as Arsenal bring some cheer

RIP Phillip Hughes

I promise that this will develop in to a positive post based on the football from Arsenal last night. However, I have to start on a sad theme. If you read my profile near the bottom of this page you will see that I am a cricket fan. I played the game to a good standard but I'm now more of  a spectator with a tattoo of the England cricket crest on my leg. Cricket is my main sporting passion outside of Arsenal. It is with great sadness that I woke this morning to the news that Phil Hughes had died as a result of being struck on the neck while batting a couple of days ago. 
It's quite frightening that, while completely freak in its nature, is the sort of thing that could actually happen to anybody that sets foot on a cricket pitch. For it to happen to a top level player merely underlines that a cricket ball bowled at your head is a very dangerous thing indeed. It's such a sad, sad thing to happen.

RIP Phil.

A big miss when he's injured

It was a pleasant experience to watch Arsenal play last night. I thought it was a fine all round performance, especially after half-time when we were barely troubled, largely due to a more organised looking defence. I have to say that I thought Nacho Monreal, Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers played really well, while Emiliano Martinez made two very good saves and never looked remotely ruffled. In front of the defence Mikel Arteta was outstanding, and yet another bad calf injury (this is clearly a chronic problem that he has now) means we are going to miss him badly. I have come to realise that, a bit like Gilberto, you notice Arteta more when he isn't around. Flamini lacks the positional discipline, and the ability to keep the ball, that Arteta has. It is testament to the man that Mikel Arteta has re-invented his game and curbed his own redoubtable attacking play to work for the team at Arsenal. Is he as good as Gilberto was? Of course not. But that doesn't mean he isn't extremely influential, as a player and as Arsenal Captain. I hope that Wenger will bring Francis Coquelin back in to the fold now as Flamini simply isn't up to the task.
It was nice to see Yaya Sanogo get a goal at last. I thought he looked offside from the other end of the ground, and TV shows that he was. Maybe that's a payback for Anderlecht's first goal the other week, but it really underlined some pretty bad officiating last night. Just before half-time Mertesacker was beaten by, I think, Aubemyang down in front of me with three officials less than ten yards away as the BFG pushed his man square in the chest - the ref inexplicably waved play-on. Anyway, back to Sanogo, and I thought he did well last night. Obviously he lacks a bit of quality, as was seen when he was put through by Aaron Ramsey and failed to get a decent shot away. However, he worked hard up front on his own and won numerous headers against strong defenders. Sanogo did all that could be asked of him in the circumstances, and hopefully he'll gain much needed confidence from his performance. I still don't believe he should be playing ahead of people like Podolski and Joel Campbell, but the Manager seems to have a lot of faith in him. I loved the "He scores when he wants..." that comically swept round the ground after Sanogo's goal.
I'm running out of things to say about Alexis. His goal last night was stunning. He didn't necessarily have his best match last night, but he still played well. His power and strength is incredible for someone so small, and he allies that to great skill and control of the ball. It seems unbelievable that he couldn't really get a game at Barcelona on a regular basis. I was excited when we signed him and he hasn't let us down. Some players simply have that bit of stardust that sets them apart, and Alexis is certainly one of them. I wish the other Arsenal players would learn from his work rate when we're not in possession, as that kind of thing doesn't even require genuine football ability. What a signing he is proving to be.
The other player who stood out again last night for me was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Following the worst game I've seen him play against Hull the other week he has been outstanding pretty much ever since. He brings direct running and pace on the wing, though I'd like to see him cross the ball more when he's beaten his man on the outside - you have to think that it must be under instruction that we always cut back inside in those situations. He was also desperately unlucky with an outstanding volley that came back off the bar. The Ox is in great form at the moment.
It made a nice change to come home from Arsenal last night in a good mood. Hopefully, with qualification secured now, we can get back to the real business of winning games in the Premier League. December is set to be a tough month, so let's go in to it in a good way with a win on Saturday, setting us up for Southampton next week.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Media latch on to Wenger Out - it's all his own making

The moment it all started to end

BBC 606 tonight went big on Wenger Out. The media bandwagon has had the brake released and that is a very bad thing for Arsene Wenger. Kroenke and Gazidis can find it very easy to ignore the fans, but they won't be able to ignore the media. If there is one thing that's going to be bad for business then it's bad PR. It gives me no pleasure to see the beginning of the end finally going public as it means that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are doing badly. But the beginning of the end it surely is.

What happened yesterday? To be fair I can say that only one Arsenal player had a particularly bad game yesterday and that was Aaron Ramsey. The fact was that we largely outplayed the absolutely worst Manchester United side since the late 1980's. Let's make no mistake about this, that Manchester United team would have been in the relegation zone ten years ago (don't let anyone fool you in to thinking that the Premier League has more quality in it nowadays). And yet Arsenal couldn't beat them. Even worse, Arsenal lost to them. We lost 2-1 to a side that had one shot on target - only Arsenal could manage that.
I believe David De Gea won man of the match. Yes, he made a number of saves from shots on target. But let's be honest here, I reckon most of us could have made those saves, so bad was Arsenal's shooting. Every single effort was straight at De Gea. The one shot that wasn't at him went in the net. Danny Welbeck, for all the good stuff he does, needs five chances to score a goal. Quite simply, he isn't good enough to play in a side that has designs on winning things. It pains me to write this, but Van Gaal was spot on about Welbeck. And then there is Jack Wilshere. What was that "finish" all about? You have the whole of one side of the goal to aim at. All you've got to do is give it the Michael Thomas flick, or even square it to Alexis (though I don't want to see players passing when one-on-one, six yards out) but instead he rolled it straight at the goalkeeper. He even got injured because he over ran the ball when we had a 4 v 3 against what passes for a Man Utd defence these days. Again, it's a simple lack of quality where it matters. Oh, and he should have been sent off.
One man who genuinely didn't deserve to be on the losing side yesterday was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. United had no answer to him, yet we didn't get him enough of the ball in the second-half. Ramsey was too busy being a show-pony while, once Jack went off injured, Mikel Arteta was doing the work of two men. Once Man Utd went 1-0 up it was back to the same old square nonsense across the massed defence. Same, same, same. And yet the players still look surprised when trying to pass through a non-existent gap on the edge of the penalty area doesn't work.
Let's clear up the point that we should have had a free-kick seconds before their first goal. It sums up Fellaini as a player that he would think to foul Gibbs before considering that he might have actually beaten him comfortably had he attacked the ball. It was a foul, and then things went against us with the deflection. But what was Aaron Ramsey doing in the build-up? We cleared our lines well and it came to Ramsey. All he had to do was head the ball further clear, even put it out for a throw-in if necessary (every throw Valencia takes is outside the laws of the game, by the way). Instead he flicked at the ball and gave it away in an area where United could exploit Arsenal's main weakness. He sold the entire team down the river with his self-serving "look at me" show boating. I am sick and tired of seeing Ramsey trying to be clever. Last season was apparently a flash in the pan. Ramsey is back to being as bad as he was two years ago and I'm fed up with it. It's easy to see why someone like Tomas Rosicky is frustrated at not getting a single start, and very rare sub appearances, when he watches crap like Ramsey playing like he has all season. As for any idea of bad luck on the goal, yes it was unlucky, but we should have been taking luck out of the equation yesterday with such dominance of the game.
The second goal came because certain Arsenal players completely lost the plot. For some reason Mertesacker had taken it upon himself to play some kind of advanced midfield role, leaving poor Nacho Monreal on his own with Rooney and Di Maria for company. At one stage Mertesacker was doing his Bambi on ice bit on the left-wing. I couldn't understand it. At the point United made it 2-0 there were five minutes on the clock, but you knew there were at least ten minutes left following the injury stoppages in the second-half. Wenger said he couldn't understand why everyone was up the pitch at that stage. The man is supposed to be the Manager for God's sake! Why wasn't he actually out on the touchline and giving orders to the players to keep their discipline and keep playing their football as they had been? How can he sit in front of the press and come out with this stuff? It gets more embarrassing by the week. Instead of being patient until you really had to go for it he oversaw another disaster of defending. I felt sorry for Monreal and Martinez.
I have to confess at this stage that I joined the exodus when Rooney scored. I haven't walked out of a game early in years. I don't like it. But I've had enough. I'll be there on Wednesday, of course, but yesterday there was only one response appropriate to what I'd witnessed. It's like watching some kind of suicide squad who have no care for their own defences as they pour forward in some forlorn pursuit of glory. 
Where do we go from here? The fact that he picked the same back four again yesterday shows you that Wenger has no desire to change anything. He is convinced, utterly and totally, that he is right and everyone else is wrong. It says it all that we were relying on Olivier Giroud yesterday to be a hero - a player who everyone had already written off as not top class long before he was out injured for three months. How far we have fallen.

If you look back, everything started to go wrong the day Patrick Vieira took his final kick of the ball for Arsenal. For some reason Wenger decided to sell him in the one close-season when he seemed absolutely certain to stay. Ever since that day the decisions of Arsene Wenger have cost Arsenal points and trophies. Jens Lehmann was dropped and then forced out. Gilberto was forced out. Ashley Cole, for all that we dislike him for what he did, was let down over a measly five grand a week. Robert Pires was sold in favour of keeping Alexander Hleb as the alternative. Thierry Henry was sold because Wenger had lost the ability to motivate him to play for Arsenal, and who could really blame Henry when he was suddenly surrounded by mediocre players and Cesc Fabregas? The fact is that Arsene Wenger has destroyed everything he created at Arsenal.
How can we go from the Invincibles to what we have now with the same Manager in charge? I can't accept any notion that Wenger was lucky back then with the players he had. He brought in each of those players to the Arsenal side, with the exceptions of Bergkamp and Parlour. The Invincibles was Arsene Wenger's team more than any of the previous successful sides he had at his disposal when Seaman, Adams, Keown, Dixon etc were still in harness (yes, I know Keown was also an Invincible officially, but he played very few minutes that season). The new stadium is used as an excuse for the sale of the top players, but Wenger insisted on moving from Highbury. Nobody can tell me that leaving our home was the right thing to do when you look at a Club suffering it's worst start to a season in 32 years. There appears no way out of the spiral now, just as there wasn't when Terry Neill was sacked, and also when George Graham was sacked. The similarities with the end of those two reigns are so clear, with a squad of players who should be doing far better than they are, but led by a Manager who has lost them and lost the plot.