Monday, 30 November 2015

Wasted opportunities will cost us this season

The final nail?

We've now dropped seven points out of nine at a time when we needed to push on. The run of fixtures up to Man City in Christmas week, as I've said here before, was the sort from which Arsenal ought to be taking maximum points if they wanted to genuinely challenge for the Premier League. Consecutive games against the likes of West Brom and Norwich City are the kind that potential Champions do not go dropping points in. More concerning is the fact that, for most of the second-half yesterday, only one team genuinely looked like getting a goal and it wasn't Arsenal. Even more concerning are the injuries that are totally out of control. 
We heard from Arsene Wenger on Thursday that Alexis had a hamstring problem but would probably play at Norwich. This came less than 48 hours after Wenger had left him on the pitch for the full 90 minutes despite the team being 3-0 up with over 20 minutes left to play. Yesterday the inevitable happened after around an hour and Alexis limped off for an extended period in the treatment room. Arsene then tells us that he had asked him if he was fit to play and Alexis said that he was. Of course he did. Alexis is that kind of player. I seem to remember Wenger giving the exact same response when Alexis got injured last season. Since when was it down to the player to say whether or not he was fit? Wenger says Alexis told him he wanted to play. Well, Arsene, so do I but I'm not going to get a game, am I? Having said that, the way the injuries are going it's probably between me and Gunnersaurus for a place on the bench on Saturday. We are also probably unlikely to see Santi Cazorla this weekend after that knee injury he picked up in the first minute of the second-half yesterday. Koscielny had already limped off with a hip injury. Oh, and Kieran Gibbs has a calf problem which is why he was nowhere to be seen yesterday. If someone can please tell me what benefit we've had from employing Shad Forsyth I'd be glad to hear it. It's certainly not nice to see him, to see him nice. 
The game itself saw us start just fine. There were even a few shots at goal and the pressing game saw relentless pressure building up on the Norwich team. Eventually this prompted the error from John Ruddy that Alexis took advantage off to brilliantly play in Ozil for our goal. However, this is where this team has the most frightening mental problem. For some reason they seem to think that once they are ahead they can stop playing properly against lesser teams. They did it at West Brom last weekend, and on numerous occasions in the past. You'd think experience might teach these idiots that they aren't good enough to mess about against anyone. They can't defend, for a start. If anyone was surprised when Norwich equalised they certainly haven't watched Arsenal in recent times. You have to feel sorry for Petr Cech in these circumstances. If it hadn't been for his outstanding ability in the second-half we would have lost 2-1.
We created absolutely nothing after half-time and I can't recall a single save being made by Ruddy. Time and again the ball was worked in to a wide area and then the cross was awful (Oxlade-Chamberlain put in a couple of decent balls when he came on). The state of Arsenal's crosses is really one of the great embarrassments of modern football. It isn't difficult to cross a football. When you have a striker who is good in the air it is criminal to constantly keep hitting the ball along the ground at the nearest defender, or hitting it aerially, but nowhere near him. That's not to say Giroud would have got on the end of them yesterday as he spent the game waving his arms about and throwing himself to the ground whenever a defender made contact - such is the habit he seems to develop when not under pressure for his place in the side.
It had no real bearing on the outcome of the game, but I can't let the assault on Alexis go past without comment. Last season we saw Mathieu Debuchy pushed into the hoardings when already off the pitch against Stoke causing an injury that has effectively ended his Arsenal career. Ryan Bennett's push on Alexis yesterday could have been just as serious had a cameraman not been there to break his fall. Bennett has claimed that he was trying to "stop" Alexis. I kid you not. After all, everyone knows that the best way to stop someone in forward motion is to push them in the back! It summed up what an idiot of a referee Mr Moss is that you actually heard him tell Alexis "you were off the pitch anyway" when he complained. So there you have it, as long as you've crossed the whitewash you can do whatever you like to the opponent.
One final thing - that damn kit! I've often heard the green kit from 1982 referred to as "unloved". What does that make this particular piece of s**t? Why were we even wearing it yesterday? I'll tell you why; it's because Arsenal can't shift it and are trying to boost the Christmas market. It seems that the players might not like it either given the three performances we've seen in it at Sheffield Wednesday, Bayern Munich and Norwich. The simple fact is that it isn't an Arsenal kit and we shouldn't be wearing it. Ever.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Ozil is now heading in the right direction

Loved this goal

I've had a really busy week that has meant I have had no time to write anything since last Sunday. Just about the only free time I managed all week was when I went to the Zagreb game on Tuesday night. Consequently I've turned down the chance to go to Norwich tomorrow so that I can at least spend some time at home with the family.
Having not been able to get behind the computer all week I've been sitting on some serious praise for Mesut Ozil ever since Tuesday. I have criticised Ozil a lot over the last couple of years. I believe that what I have written is totally justified based on the way he has performed for most of the time he has been at Arsenal. However, in the last couple of months he has produced some magnificent form and is the stand out player in the Arsenal side at this time. There are still occasions when I wonder where he's gone, but he seems more and more involved in the team play and his running actually has a purpose for the team now. On Tuesday evening he was sensational and scored a goal with his head, diving in at the feet of the goalkeeper - I guarantee he would not have been putting himself in that position this time last year - and nearly grabbed a second headed goal late on. When he combines with Alexis they are an absolute joy and privilege to watch.
Arsenal need Ozil to stay fit and to keep up this form. With Francis Coquelin out for months we might need to be scoring more goals to win games. When Ozil is in the mood, as he has been recently, he is close to unplayable with the ball at his feet. I would still like him to run at defenders more, and certainly to be more selfish at times - he talks about wanting to score more goals but too often passes up the opportunity to shoot in order to try and play in someone else. 
There was one moment on Tuesday that really stole my attention and I have been seeing back in my mind ever since. I still can't work out what he did and, having not seen it back on TV, I still can't explain it, assuming it actually came across to the TV viewer in the first place. The moment I'm talking about happened just a moment before the second goal. Ozil was given the ball on the left corner of the penalty-area. My view from the East Upper placed me in a position where I was almost directly behind him as he turned towards goal. Nacho Monreal made a run down the outside and Ozil did something, I know not what it was, whereby the whole of the defence followed Monreal - they were so sure Ozil was about to release the ball to him. It must have been the most imperceptible dummy movement, but at the same time so obvious to the players that they all bought it. Without even touching the ball he sold every opposition defender right out of the game and then swung in a great cross towards the middle. It was one of those indescribable moments (I've just spent an entire paragraph trying to explain it) that you pay your money to watch from great players. Zagreb failed to clear the ball and Nacho won it back and set up Alexis to make it 2-0.
I've waited a long time for Mesut Ozil to show us how good he really is. Long may it continue, and I hope he can add goals to his play, as it is the sort of form that can send you on the kind of winning run that wins Championships - remember what Dennis did in 1997-98? Add goals to what Ozil is doing right now and you might have that kind of influence playing out in front of us once again.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

All too familiar

Oh dear, oh dear

The Premier League this season is there for the taking. The very fact that Leicester City are now top of the table, deep in November, tells you that there is a lack of quality there this season. Manchester City spent in the summer but failed to address their obvious weak areas - letting Dzeko go left them with no decent cover for Aguero, while they still lack a decent crop of centre-backs. Now that sounds rather familiar, doesn't it? Arsenal have no genuine cover for Giroud, who isn't exactly Sergio Aguero in the first place. We also lack something in defensive areas. For some reason Mertesacker has been brought back ahead of Gabriel and we have struggled ever since. More frighteningly we never bought any cover for Francis Coquelin. This meant we were always one injury away from potential disaster. Yesterday it all came home to roost.
The performance was nothing we haven't seen before. Too much passing, not enough shooting. The attitude seemed, as it so often does, that we will beat this lot easy because they're not very good. The players and the Manager (especially him) never learn. And now we have no Coquelin. If he is out for any period of time longer than a week or two we are stuffed, especially as we are now about to enter the busiest time of the season. We still managed to miss the chances that should have won us the game, including the penalty, but the self-destruct button that exists within this squad is still frightening. It isn't even the first time we've conspired to lose to a side that ends up with more goals scored than efforts on target. It is depressingly familiar.
When Coquelin got injured I couldn't understand the choice of Arteta to replace him. We had lost our dynamo in midfield and replaced him with a man who, for all his very good qualities when in possession, is simply not able to cover the ground. It's not Arteta's fault, but he isn't up to that job. Flamini is more able to get around the midfield, albeit not as technically gifted as Arteta, so he had to be that man to come on in my opinion. When he did come on Arteta seems to have had one of those days where he was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, as evidenced by him deflecting the ball in to his own goal for the winner. He also has an apparently chronic calf problem which has now plagued him for nearly three years - our medical team is an unfunny joke and they are of no help to the players or the Manager whatsoever. I think now is the time for Mikel to admit defeat and call it a day as that calf simply will not get better. 
The fact that we are still within a couple of points at the top is down to the same reason that Leicester sit in first place - the other teams are also mediocre. We have a squad with some very good players, but we lack depth. We've all known that since before the end of last season. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work that out. Going in to the game yesterday we were entering a run of fixtures where maximum points should have been taken - we don't play a top side until Manchester City in Christmas week. We are now already staring down the barrel when we should be sitting ahead of everyone else and looking to open up some clear daylight. Without Coquelin to protect that fragile defence we are in trouble. But then we knew that would be the case, didn't we?

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Together in football

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite

Regular readers will know I am not a fan of the international breaks in the season. I will only usually watch England if there are number of Arsenal players likely to be involved. Tonight I am making an exception. The decision to play the game between England and France shows the unity and defiance of the people of our two nations amid the most trying of circumstances. I never thought I would see a day where the Wembley crowd would be likely to sing, rather than to boo, La Marseillaise. It will be a special moment and the right thing to do.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Meeting Martin Hayes - a true Arsenal Man (and a dinosaur was there too)

Me and Martin with the quality silverware

It was an honour and a privilege last night to once again compere the Dover Gooners Annual Legends Dinner. Our guest of honour was former Arsenal star, and leading goalscorer from 1986-87 - a hero of Anfield 89, Martin Hayes. There were around 150 Gooners in attendance once again from Dover, the wider Kent area, London, Italy and Bulgaria, and even a pre-historic guest too. It turned out to be another truly memorable evening, mostly thanks to the efforts of Gary (our club secretary and organiser of the event this year) and to Arsenal Football Club (more of which below), as well as Martin Hayes himself.
The purpose of our event is to bring together as many club members as possible for one evening in the year to celebrate our support of The Arsenal. More importantly we do it to raise money for Bob Wilson's Willow Foundation and last night we made £1500 for the charity via the raffle. The prizes included a signed shirt from the first-team squad, a number of exclusive Arsenal themed prints from Willow, other signed photos of ex-players, donated gifts from some of Arsenal's main sponsors, and also prizes donated by Arsenal FC - the most impressive being a giant framed print of the commemorative Nike shirt that was produced to mark the end of their association with Arsenal. The help we receive from Arsenal can not be received more gratefully. Mark Brindle has moved seamlessly in to the considerable shoes of Jill Smith (both she and Mark were there last night) as supporters liaison officer. Without Jill there would not have been a Dover Gooners, and without Mark taking on her role we would not be getting the help we still do. Among the fine gestures of the club was the loaning to us, once again, of the FA Cup and the Charity Shield. You can not begin to imagine how special it is to have dinner with the FA Cup glinting just a few feet away!

I never tire of seeing these trophies

My role on the evening was largely involved with introducing, and then interviewing, Martin Hayes. What a truly nice man Martin is. The main thing that comes across, as it has from  all the Arsenal legends we've had in Dover over the years, is that he deeply loves our Club. Having come through the youth team he is steeped in the values of Arsenal and he told us that the team of the late 80's, containing other youth products like Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Niall Quinn, Paul Davis, Paul Merson, Gus Caesar and himself all understood what it meant to the supporters. They had a personal ambition to do well for Arsenal as it was here that they had grown up. We got an insight in to how George Graham went about his business - a method that nearly cost Martin his Arsenal career before it had really begun. I know plenty of us found ourselves comparing the reaction of Martin to nearly being sold to how some of the youngsters these days would react in the same circumstances. Suffice it to say that Martin chose to stay in order to try and fight for his Arsenal place and it was a decision that was to pay off within a couple of months. 
I had to ask him to talk us through the semi-final from 1987 at Tottenham. He spoke of the fighting spirit of the players to come back and then he confirmed the oft-told story of Tottenham announcing the ticket details for the final. Martin told us that it was a lesson in how to motivate your opponents as they sat there listening to the announcements and then "Ossie's On His Way To Wembley" blaring over the tannoy. We all know what happened thereafter. We also got to hear how George Graham stopped him taking the penalties after he missed in the semi-final second-leg against Everton the following year - if he'd taken the one against Luton then maybe we wouldn't have been regretting Nigel Winterburn's miss some 27 years later.
It was clear that Martin is, quite rightly, proud of the fact that he got a crucial winning goal the following season at Middlesbrough. By his own admission he struggled that season to get in the team and to produce the goods (though he does rate his goal against France that season as one of his best - watch it on Youtube, it's a corker). Having "not contributed" he felt really good about getting a crucial winning goal to keep us in the hunt. It was, in it's own way, as crucial as Mickey's winner at Anfield.
As I was talking to Martin we had the DVD of the Liverpool game playing on screens behind us. He told us what it was like that night, and how he nearly got Michael Thomas' boot in his face as he went to celebrate with him, totally forgetting his somersault celebration. He also told us, more than a little tongue in cheek, that he wouldn't have minded the ball to have come back off the post as he was right there ready to knock in the rebound! The passion and excitement in his voice as he recalled the events of that night spoke volumes of what it meant to him. As I said at the top, Martin is a real Arsenal Man. Those in the hall enjoyed watching the winning goal too.

Always the star of any Arsenal show

The final guest to appear on the night was Gunnersaurus. My youngest son followed him around the room for the whole time he was there. I was asked by one member (and my brother said he had four asking him the same question) if it was the "real" Gunnersaurus! I am amused that people might think there is more than one giant green dinosaur cavorting around in an Arsenal kit. The adults seemed to enjoy having him there even more than the children and there was a long queue for photos with him - longer than the one for pictures with the FA Cup! Gunnersaurus was leading the sing-song towards the end of the evening and we are indebted to Jerry Quy (another Arsenal stalwart) for "accompanying" Gunnersaurus to Dover.
It was a wonderful evening and the event for next year is already being planned. If it's as good as last night you won't want to miss it.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Debout avec les gens de France

Forget about football and Arsenal this morning. Today I stand together with the people of Paris and the people of France. Our countries face threats from day to day and they will surely be met head on. Vive la France and Rule Britannia. We shall not be destroyed by this indiscriminate evil.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Ozil and Gibbs keep the Tottenham DVD's off the shelves

Gibbo gets it

We came within about ten minutes of meltdown yesterday. At the same time we should have won the game. All in all I'm not disappointed with a point. I couldn't be there yesterday (again) as I was working. My eldest got his first taste of the North London Derby instead and I think he quite enjoyed himself. I've since watched the game back and, while Tottenham spent a large part of the match on top, the best chances fell to Arsenal, especially in the second-half. On another day Giroud would have buried at least one of those headers and we'd have beaten Tottenham once again - more on that below. The fact that they played so well, while Arsenal were largely poor, and yet still they couldn't beat us should be concerning them far more than it does us. Their obsession with Arsenal remains their biggest bar to success and a lot of their fans that I know were gutted they didn't get the job done yesterday. If Arsenal had turned up before the 70th minute or so we'd have hammered them. No power shifts just yet.
Some things are concerning me right now with regards to our defensive game. I saw a stat yesterday showing that Arsenal have allowed more shots on target than both Watford and Bournemouth in the Premier League this season. If you ever needed proof of what Petr Cech is offering us then it is there for all to see in that particular statistic. The last couple of games in the league I've been annoyed at the absence of Gabriel and all of a sudden Coquelin doesn't seem to be providing the cover he has in the past. Cazorla has also been woefully off form and should never have taken the pitch yesterday given that he was apparently unwell before the game. Koscielny cost us the goal with his ill-advised offside attempt but this isn't the first time that has happened in the last couple of weeks. At Swansea he stepped up and Gomis should have scored. At Bayern it was Gabriel who tried to leave his man offside only to see Lewandowski score, and then yesterday we know what happened. Someone is surely telling the centre-halves to do it, but it can only work when you're properly organised and closing down in the midfield. It could have cost us yesterday.

 Mesut Ozil - he's better than you

We would have lost yesterday without the class of Mesut Ozil. Through sheer weight of creative passes we finally made the breakthrough when Gibbs got on the end of yet another spectacular Ozil ball from wide. It makes me laugh that Alli was given man-of-the-match by ugly boy Neville having watched the majesty of Ozil's display. In the last month, or six weeks, he has been exceptional for us. For the first time since his early Arsenal matches (and the FA Cup Final last season) he is producing the sort of play that we knew he was capable of. I have slagged him mercilessly on this site for the way he has played for us, mostly because I know how good he can be and he simply wasn't getting near to that level. What Arsenal must do now is get the sort of players who can support him by putting away the chances he creates.
Olivier Giroud is our only striker. Even when Theo Walcott is fit, and playing centre-forward, Giroud is still our only real striker. Giroud is a very good player. You can't score the number of goals he has since he arrived at Arsenal if you are not that good. However, the fact remains that he misses too many good chances. Unfortunately they are often in big games like yesterday. I've always felt we don't always play to his strengths by not getting balls in from wide. Ozil simply kept putting them in yesterday and Giroud kept winning them by being too good for Vertonghen (what a joke of  a player that guy is) only to not find the back of the net. It's the difference between being very good and being exceptional. I would put Giroud on the level of Edin Dzeko, for example, which is just below that of someone like Sergio Aguero. Until at least January he is all we've got so I was pleased the fans didn't turn on him yesterday and, in fairness to him, he never stopped trying.
Not being able to see the game live I had to listen to it on Radio 5. John Hartson was the summariser and he got quite excited by our equaliser, but all I'd heard for most of the game was about Kyle Walker and how good he was. It was no surprise to me, and I suspect to most of the Spurs fans, that it was he who lost Kieran Gibbs for the equaliser. I had a little jump about in the office when we scored and spent the next ten minutes pacing the floor and worrying that the now dominant Gunners would get caught on the break. As I said at the top, I wasn't displeased with a draw.
It was important to go in to the international hiatus without losing, especially against that lot. Yes, it was another two home points dropped, but Spurs are a reasonable side and this is their biggest game of the season. Not losing was huge as it meant we lost nothing on Manchester City and, following the chasing we got at Munich, the result steadied the ship a little. Now we have to hope that some of the injured players can regain fitness before we next play. The run of fixtures coming up is full of games we should, and need to, win. The more players we have available for that the better. If I'd been offered our position today following the opening day loss at home to West Ham I would have taken it all day long. Meanwhile the Spurs fans will be continuing to spit their bile at the screen as they read this kind of thing (as many of them are sad enough to read an Arsenal site when they see it on NewsNow or Spurs' own media page) while dribbling uncontrollably. Such is life in the household of the mugs. However, Harry Kane did fulfill a childhood dream yesterday by scoring in front of the North Bank. Gooner.