Monday, 22 August 2016

Insults and abuse - and that's just from Arsene Wenger

Stick with me son

I had a very nice family holiday last week down in Cornwall. We had decent weather during the day which made for a very enjoyable time away. There was just one thing that put a dampener on things and that came on an otherwise glorious Sunday afternoon right at the start. Even that was going okay up until the point that Cech was once again beaten to his right - it was a very good free-kick by Coutinho but Cech has a serious problem going to that side as he doesn't dive properly in that direction. After that it was nothing more than a shambles from Arsenal who, even when getting back to 3-4 in the 75th minute, didn't have a single shot at goal in the last 20 minutes of play! It was unacceptable, but not quite as unacceptable as Wenger claiming the players were not ready in his interview after the game - something in direct contrast to his programme notes before kick-off. The man is a liar and it is proven on an almost weekly basis these days. As a result of that game I got to learn that Liverpool must have won as I haven't seen so many people wearing their shirts in any week since they last won the European Cup.
One thing really irked me badly in the Liverpool game and that is how we somehow stopped taking advantage of the fact that Alberto Moreno was on the pitch for them. Theo Walcott absolutely destroyed him every time he got the ball. This saw us get a penalty (a poor one from Theo which was easily saved), and then a lovely goal from him to make up for it a couple of minutes later. Within seconds of the goal we had another chance to play Walcott in again - he was in the same position he had scored from but Alexis Sanchez looked up, saw him, and turned in the other direction (I haven't even mentioned the one where Ramsey decided he was Pele and shot from the halfway line instead of putting Theo in on goal) - from there on we didn't go down the right for the remainder of the game. What is said at half-time exactly?! 
While I'm on the subject of Theo, and this isn't the popular view, he has been our best player in these opening two games. I have given him fearful stick in the last six months or so, but I always give credit where it is due. He was our ONLY threat at Leicester on Saturday, and an extra 20 minutes of Jack and Ozil on the pitch might have actually saw Theo winning us the match. However, all I have seen online is people going out of their way to smash Walcott. These people ignore the frankly disgraceful performances from Alexis Sanchez in those two games and, let's be honest, Alexis has largely been c**p for most of the last year. Again, not a popular view, but if you actually try and be objective for five minutes you can't really deny it's the truth. Alexis played brilliantly at Leicester last season, and at home to Man Utd. Can you remember any other notable displays from him? Theo is the easy target so people are sticking it to him regardless of how he plays. That sickens me. When Theo plays badly again I will say so, but I will give him credit when it is due every time.
So now we're on to Saturday let me say that Laurent Koscielny was immense and young Holding looked excellent alongside him. You have to wonder how Wenger can go on about the likes of Koscielny, Giroud and Ozil not being ready when you see a performance like that. King Koscielny was nearly undone by Coquelin, who should have been sent-off, and Bellerin's clumsy foul in the penalty area, but Clattenburg was in the mood to be the star of the show and Arsenal got away with it on the day. Anyone questioning what Holding's selection means for Calum Chambers obviously has never watched Chambers play - the goal by Mane last week, where he was too slow even to rugby tackle him, was reason enough to see why Holding got the nod. Obviously the youngster can't play every week and be expected to not make errors, so a new centre-back remains high on the shopping list, but Chambers should really be heading for the door. Debuchy and Monreal can do a better job than him in the centre of defence, and I suspect Carl Jenkinson can do when he gets fit. However, I would seriously stop short of spending £43m on this Mustafi character - I'd rather have Jonny Evans any day, but the fact we didn't even go in for Ashley Williams is totally bizarre. Meanwhile I am yet to be inspired by our one major signing of the summer - Xhaka looks slow and unable to tackle without fouling. Frankly speaking, and it is a very early impression, Mathieu Flamini didn't cost £34m but I'm not seeing much in Xhaka just yet that makes me think he's a better player.
It's the words of Arsene Wenger after the game that form the basis for the title of this piece. The travelling fans were loud in their complaints towards the end of the game. Chants of "spend some f***ing money" have been heard before, but "we want Wenger out" was a new one, especially from the most loyal fans of the club. When asked about the discontent over the lack of spending he came out with some bizarre diatribe about paying the wages of the 600 employees of Arsenal at the end of the month. This man earns in excess of £6m per year from Arsenal yet has the brass neck to plead some kind of poverty on behalf of the fifth richest football club in the world. Is he trying to say that things are bad financially at Arsenal? Are we close to going in to administration? Are Arsenal the new Glasgow Rangers? Does he think we are all totally f***ing stupid? Well the answer to that last question came in his next quote when asked about the fans being unhappy with him. Apparently we are lead by the media. That's right folks, as a football fan you are incapable of coherent thought based on your own feelings and opinions. It's amazing that us football supporters are allowed out without our carers given that we are not capable of cognitive thought without some journalist or broadcaster telling us what it is we really think. This has to be one of the most abusive and insulting things he has ever come out with. It is disgusting that the Arsenal Manager can dismiss the supporters in such a way. He believed we are totally beneath him in every way, but especially intellectually. Of course, this is a man who surrounds himself with "yes men" so the idea that someone can be Neanderthal enough to actually disagree with him means they must be influenced by someone else. The man is not even a caricature of himself anymore and every day that passes simply makes his presence more abhorrent to me. If you don't like that then tough, but at least you're thinking for yourself rather than being influenced by someone else...

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Premier League Preview 2016-2017

How we want it next May

I nearly didn't get around to writing this so it will be more brief than in past years. I'm going on holiday tomorrow so I will be having to find a TV screen on Sunday afternoon while my nephew makes use of my season ticket for the day. It is going to be a long and hard nine months ahead as we should all be more than aware by now. With the new managers coming in it could be the hardest ever Premier League to win. Given that we couldn't win the easiest one ever last year you'd have to wonder how we can genuinely hope for glory this time - more on that below.

Surprisingly good before Christmas last season when they did the hard work that kept them safe for the rest of the campaign. If their injured players come back firing then they can expect similar this year, but if not then the Cherries could be in real trouble. Relegation battle ahead.

Coming up again they should be better prepared than in their previous Premier League stay. Burnley did the right thing holding on to Sean Dyche but obviously they are going to struggle. A finish in 17th place would be a massive achievement, but they have to be among the favourites to go back down again.

I keep reading how "entertaining" Conte will be on the touchline. Having watched his antics at close quarters when Ireland beat Italy in Lille back in June I can guarantee you the only people being entertained will be the media. Kante, if he can repeat his Leicester performances, will be a massive addition for them but they remain very beatable I reckon - even for Arsenal maybe. Top six.

Crystal Palace
The Eagles' FA Cup run largely masked their awful run-in last season. Andros Townsend could be a good signing if he can consistently show the form he did when he went to Newcastle. Still lacking a striker and maybe Benteke will end up at Selhurst Park. If they can add a goalscorer they should be just about safe. Fail to do so and they will be among a number of teams trying to jump the shark at the bottom.

Toffees fans no doubt hoped to see some proper money spent again with the new billionaire owner. Not so it would seem. Ashley Williams will be a good replacement for Stones, but they surely must hold on to Lukaku if progress is to be made under the new manager. Ronald Koeman worked miracles with Southampton and he might have to do it again at Goodison Park if he's to keep them challenging for Europe and a decent cup run or two.

Hull City
Promoted through the play-offs but with an owner who seems determined to undermine the team. Steve Bruce left and hasn't been replaced, and there has been a lack of signings. Nailed on to finish bottom unless something changes very soon.

Leicester City
Well nobody will underestimate them anymore, that's for certain. They showed they can hold on to some stars when Vardy turned down Arsenal but I reckon he might be regretting that by Christmas. Clearly it would be mad to write them off totally but to cope with the European Cup and maintain a challenge will be so difficult for them this season. You'd have to back them for the top half but I still maintain their fall could be as spectacular as their rise.

Another touchline "entertainer" here in the shape of Klopp. He failed to genuinely turn around Rodgers' no-hopers last season though at least had the excuse of running a squad put together by another manager. Less places to hide this season in a crowded Premier League. I wouldn't back against Klopp because he's been there and done it, but get off to a bad start and the pressure might get on early. Get off to a good start and who knows? Top six, possibly top four.

Manchester City
Can Guardiola's style be successful in the Premier League? Yes, of course it can. Has he got the players to play that at Manchester City? Maybe not yet. City are very vulnerable at the back, and Hart is creaking badly in goal. Most pundits seem to fancy City, purely based on Guardiola's past success at Barcelona and Bayern. The difference at City is that he isn't taking over the best side in Europe. Top four, maybe top two.

Manchester United
I'm going to go out on a limb and call this an ego-trip too far for Mourinho. It's as much a hope as a prediction and few things would give more pleasure than watching him squirm and fail, and watching the Sky and BBC pundits in tears as their hero and their favourite club start to fall apart. I can dream.

For me they are the most likely of the promoted teams to stay up, despite finishing below Burnley last year. The Riverside in winter is not a pleasant place to visit. It's not pleasant at any time, come to that. Near the bottom, obviously, but perhaps not too near to go down.

Losing Koeman and losing Mane must have been a massive blow. Claude Puel is left with a similar job to that faced by Koeman when he arrived. Bottom half, maybe even a struggle near the relegation zone. 

Stoke City
Safe in mid-table. Again.

Got away with it last season, but have lost England's greatest modern day manager to the FA. I didn't see them struggling last season so I really can't call it this time round. I'll go for lower mid-table.

Swansea City
Losing Ashley Williams will be a huge blow. They lack a goalscorer so the signing they made today needs to end up a good one. Without a striker who can put the ball in the net they could really struggle this season. They'll probably still get a result at Arsenal though.

Tottenham Hotspur
I'm still laughing at what happened in May. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Like Bournemouth they did the good work before Christmas last season and had a fine home record in that time. Ighalo's goals dried up, but Deeney and co did just enough. Yet another new boss at Vicarage Road though and you'd have to expect them to struggle again. What could save them is the fact that there are a number of candidates for the bottom three.

West Brom
The Berahino saga goes on but I can't see them genuinely struggling all that much. They won't play much good football - Pulis is still the manager - but they should do just about enough again.

West Ham
First season at the People's Utility Stadium, Stratford. They'll play in front of big crowds, at least to start with, but a lot of those people are sight-seeing and have no interest in West Ham. I can't see it being intimidating like Upton Park and that might affect them. Bilic did really well last year, though, and he ought to fancy pushing them on for Europe and/or a good cup run.

And so to business. But none of it in the transfer market. Just about every year I've been writing this piece I've said that we are going in to the season lacking the couple of players we need, but if we would just sign them we could end up being Champions. There's nothing new to say. We go in hope and we go to support whoever it is that is wearing that red shirt with white sleeves. Whatever happens this season, whether it's Wenger's last one or not, we'll be there and wanting the best for Arsenal FC. Come on Arsenal!

No Champions actually predicted this year. What's the point after last season?

Monday, 8 August 2016

Fail to prepare etc

Anyone got Tony Adams' phone number?

The injury to Gabriel is the sort of thing that Arsenal seem to attract. For all that there are issues (and there are, simple as that) with our medical team you really have to say that Arsenal have no luck with injuries. We don't get the "knock" that keeps someone out for a week or two. We get the serious long-term injury that leaves players needing surgery and/or lengthy rehabilitation. However, it doesn't change the fact that we needed a quality, experienced centre-back even before Mertesacker and Gabriel were banjaxed. That Per got injured two weeks ago and we still haven't even seemingly made an offer for a replacement smacks of the total indifference towards transfers for which Arsene Wenger is becoming known. By playing with fire as he has it should really come as no surprise that Gabriel or Koscielny would get a bad one too. We might now see Koscielny (who is likely to be the next Captain I think - another wrong decision) rushed back following his summer break, and anyone who noticed the heavy strapping he had on his leg towards the end of Euro 2016 will know that he wasn't 100% then either.
The game last night had actually seen Gabriel looking like Stepanovs yet again. He was missing for the first goal, and then just ran away and left Iheanacho (I have no idea if that's spelled right) for no apparent reason for the second - watch the replay and see what Gabriel does. Where is he going?! It's actually the exact same thing he did for Rashford's header at Old Trafford last season so he is clearly not learning from his mistakes. I said the other night that I wouldn't have had him starting but the fact is that, until he got injured yesterday, he most certainly was going to play against Liverpool this Sunday.
The first-half against Man City was so depressingly familiar. Arsenal missed four clear-cut chances to take the lead before City scored with their first shot on target. You couldn't have made it up. When Oxlade-Chamberlain scored with that chip against Lens the other week I said to a couple of people that I didn't like it - you won't score them as often as you miss them. So it proved last night when Xhaka won the ball in midfield and played a perfect pass to put Ox in on goal. I don't ever want to see him trying that ridiculous show-boat finish again. Coquelin failed to beat a defender with the goalkeeper nowhere near his goal, Oxlade-Chamberlain (again) smashed the ball wildly wide with a totally open goal to pass it in to, while Aaron Ramsey tried to be clever with a free-header rather than just nodding the ball down and past Caballero. Anyone who was surprised when Aguero tapped in at the other end obviously hasn't seen Arsenal play in recent years.
In the second-half Arsenal were far more clinical, and took advantage of Joe Hart and his ever more apparent weaknesses. Theo Walcott came on and was outstanding playing from the right wing. He was taking on defenders, using the ball well, hitting good shots at goal, and generally looking a different player to what we'd seen up to now in pre-season. He set up Alex Iwobi for the equaliser, and Alex once again exposed Hart's problem when going low to his left with a well placed shot inside the post. Arsenal went on to dominate with Theo combining brilliantly with Alexis for the goal of the game. Good skill from Walcott, an intelligent one-two with the Chilean, and a beautiful first-time dink over the on-rushing Hart - a truly glorious goal. The third was a tap-in for Chuba Akpom after another Hart mistake under pressure from Santi Cazorla and, actually, Arsenal more than deserved it on the night. Akpom has four goals in four games, all from simple finishes, but being in the right place at the right time is not luck - Akpom seems to be a poacher and he could do no more than score the goals he has done in the hope of getting an opportunity at Arsenal this season.
So the pre-season games are finished but Arsenal seem to have so much work to do with a few days to the start of the Premier League. I can't begin to explain why Wenger seemingly insists on making life so difficult for himself and for Arsenal. He bid for Jamie Vardy in May yet, deep in to August, we still have no new centre-forward. The only defensive addition has been a youngster from the lower divisions. Money has been spent on a strong midfield player and hopefully Xhaka will prove to be a really top player for us. I just don't understand how we can be going in to the new season and still lacking the players we all know are needed. Worse than that we all knew we needed them this time last year. And probably the year before that too. It's madness.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Goals galore but Wenger bursts the bubble immediately

Krystian Bielik

So after a competitive first-half in Norway, the second-half became a seven goal Arsenal stroll against Viking Stavanger. Theo Walcott finally got his first goal of the pre-season with a nice finish but the rest of his performance was mostly awful again. One moment just before half-time sadly summed him up over the last year or so, put through on goal by Santi Cazorla he lacked the confidence to go on and score, only to whack the ball out of play with an attempted pass to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. This week has seen Theo finally decide he ought to play on the wing, only for Wenger to suddenly say he sees him as a striker! I think we have all wanted Theo to succeed at Arsenal, perhaps moreso than any other player in the past ten years, but the fans have turned on him now and I don't see how he gets out of this malaise without leaving the club. I still fear that he will go elsewhere and do what we always wanted him to for us, but he's been here over ten years and is now 27. Theo has had his time and he hasn't delivered. Without the support of the fans, and a faith from Arsene Wenger that has actually probably never really existed, there is no future with Arsenal.
Joel Campbell and Santi Cazorla were the most eye-catching attacking players in the first-half last night, despite Santi seeing his penalty saved in the first couple of minutes. However, it was at the back that things were interesting before half-time. David Ospina looked ropey to say the least as the Norwegians put high balls in from set-pieces, but he was brilliantly protected by the ever more impressive Krystian Bielik. The young Pole has been converted from defensive-midfield to centre-back over the last year and he was outstanding again last night. He was strong, quick, always in the right position and, most importantly, dominant in the air. Okay the opposition wasn't exactly Ibrahimovic, Aguero or Kane, for example, but you can only play against the team you're facing. The lad did himself no end of good last night and Wenger really should be taking notice of how both Bielik and Holding have been far more impressive than Chambers and Gabriel - the Brazillian was a liability on his return to action last night.
The second-half, if you haven't seen it, was very much a training exercise. Stavanger have a league game tomorrow so made wholesale changes at half-time. Arsenal punished them heavily with goals for Campbell (who had scored the opener in the first-half), Cazorla, Walcott, Iwobi (2), Akpom and an own-goal. It should have been even more than that with the usual profligacy being prevalent at times. Nevertheless it can't be a bad thing to go and score goals for fun and it was a nice change to see an Arsenal team not deciding to stop going forward at 3 or 4 goals ahead. 
The test tomorrow will be a step up in class from everything we've seen in pre-season so far when we play Manchester City in Sweden. The result shouldn't have too much read in to it either way - we beat City 3-0 in pre-season a few years ago, and then again in the Charity Shield in 2014 - neither scoreline meant a thing when the Premier League got going. The match is live on ITV tomorrow evening.

So despite a massive 8-0 win last night I was angry when I woke up this morning and saw Wenger's latest lies and nonsense about transfers. One of his criteria before spending money is the "resale value" of any major signing. This is why our recruitment of players is fatally flawed. Basically Wenger only wants players whom he can make a profit (or at least not a serious loss) on or he simply will not shell out the money to buy them. I couldn't care less how much a player is worth in four years time. What I care about is signing players that will win us the Premier League. If they do that then it doesn't much matter what you get if and when they leave. Those top players will make your money for you, if that's what your primary objective appears to be, by winning you the major trophies. He then went on to say that if an opportunity comes up to sign the right player Arsenal will take it. This is the kind of pot-luck that gave them the opportunity to sign Ozil, with Real Madrid needing to fund their Gareth Bale transfer. Without Bale leaving Spurs we would not have made a major signing that summer. Ozil fell in to Wenger's lap and certainly had not been pursued as a target. With one week to go before the season starts we sit exactly where we did back in May. Is it any wonder so many supporters are angry?

Monday, 1 August 2016

Ox and Holding lighten my mood

Good goals, awful kit

I didn't write a single post in July. Given that this time coincided with the Euro 2016 climax, the players returning to Arsenal training, and two pre-season friendlies this seems to show I'm losing some interest, or something. Part of that may be true. There is something in which I am losing interest. In fact I lost interest in it a long time ago. What is it? It's anything that Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger come out with regarding transfers. The non-stop lying has taken a toll over the years. My lack of output on the site reflects the apathy I am feeling towards Arsenal's management and their handling of player recruitment. We are less than two weeks from the start of the season and yet we still wait for a top striker to be signed. We still wait for a bull of a centre-back to be signed. We've signed Xhaka for big money and there is no choice other than to trust Wenger's judgement that he is the partner/competition for Cazorla and Coquelin that we've been crying out for. However, we currently sit in a position where Theo Walcott is going to be keeping Chuba Akpom on the bench when we play Liverpool in less than a fortnight. Klopp and his boys must be bricking it.
Now that we've done the doom and gloom - I've said it all on here many times before so I'm not just going to keep repeating the same stuff - how about some positive content? Well there is the signing of Rob Holding from Bolton. Like most Gooners I was not exactly jumping up and down at the signing of another young player with potential (you will notice I've not even mentioned Takuma Asano, a player who I will be surprised should he ever make a Premier League appearance for Arsenal) but in the two games he has played the kid has done very well. He certainly looks a far better player right now than Calum Chambers at centre-back. I've also been impressed by Kristian Bielik. Holding, of course, added to his bright start last night with a first goal in an Arsenal shirt, albeit a new contender for the worst Arsenal shirt ever produced. I like the way Holding seems to be more positionally aware, capable of defending, and even attacking the ball in the air when compared to Chambers. The injury to Mertesacker could, just possibly, open the door to an early opportunity for Holding and I wouldn't mind seeing him getting a bit of a go alongside Koscielny.
Another player that has been a bright spot is young Chris Willock. This kid has pace to burn, is developing physically, is very skilful, and also composed on the ball. Think back to Theo Walcott at 17 to 19 and then tell me who you think looked a better prospect. Walcott was part of the first-team at that age but Willock probably won't be. The difference? Willock didn't cost a massive transfer fee. I would love to see him on the bench early in the season and thrown on a couple of times to run at tiring defenders. Chuba Akpom has scored a couple of goals - the one last night saw him show a strikers instinct and decent strength against the defender (again more than Walcott) but I can't see him making a career as an Arsenal first-team player. The best that can be said, however, is that at least Wenger seems to have finally stopped kidding everyone that Yaya Sanogo is a professional footballer.
The final truly eye-catching performer of pre-season so far is, without a doubt, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He looks fit, a yard quicker, more confident, and his two goals so far have been absolutely top class. At Lens he scored with an exquisite chipped finish over the goalkeeper, while last night his goal was just sensational. Beating two defenders with sublime skill, showing great pace, and passing the ball beyond the goalkeeper in to the far corner. We've been waiting for The Ox to fulfil his undoubted promise as an Arsenal player. If this was to end up being the season for Alex then he could do some serious damage to opposing defenders. First of all he needs to stay fit, and then get a regular start. Fingers crossed for him and for Arsenal.

I aim to get back to something approaching normality now that I've ended the writing drought. A lot of that depends on Arsenal and whether or not they make signings. There are two more pre-season games on Friday and Sunday (live on ITV 4 and ITV respectively, I believe) before the serious business begins. Hopefully there will be two or three signings before then, and maybe even a departure or two. I will try to write the traditional season preview towards the end of next week, but then there will be another gap while I go on holiday with the family. What I will aim to do, as far as I possibly can, is refrain from moaning. It won't happen, but I'll try.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Good one to miss Theo, TA6 is FINALLY back home at Arsenal

How's it going Roy?

I started this site on the eve of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. My first post talked about the "awful" England squad that had been selected. On June 27th that year I wrote a post in which I described the England squad performance as "a national disgrace" following the thrashing they got at the hands of Germany in the second round. I also wrote in the same post that Theo Walcott had not missed out in the circumstances after he had been left out of the squad despite playing a key role in the qualifiers. Now I sit here, six years on, and England have again disgraced themselves at a major tournament and Theo Walcott was once again left out having played a huge part in getting them there. Now I am not so much of a revisionist to start claiming that Theo had played well enough for Arsenal to warrant a place on this occasion. However, given that Hodgson chose to play a system incorporating attacking players in wide areas you'd have to question his decision to leave out both Walcott and Andros Townsend. Instead he chose to employ his best striker, Daniel Sturridge, wide on the right and never did find anyone to play on the left. You could hardly blame Theo if he was sitting at home on Monday night, and really throughout all four England games, with a huge smile on his face. If he is still at Arsenal next season, or even if he has moved on, then Walcott should never have a bigger motivation to perform than he has been given by Hodgson's snub.
Of course there is the usual rubbish being spouted by the journalists and the ex-players, all of whom have been very wise after the event. As is par for the course we find "too many foreign players" being bandied about as a reason for English failure, totally overlooking the fact that England didn't even qualify for the World Cup in 1974 and 1978, and have never come close to winning any tournament outside England except Italia 90. The fact is that, without superior foreign talent in the English game, the product would be absolutely awful. English players are, by and large, bang average at best. Perhaps a more salient point is that, where the top nations have players who have expanded their horizons by playing abroad (and been good enough to do so), we rarely see English players even trying their luck in other leagues, never mind being a success. Steve McManaman certainly did so, and yet he hardly ever got a decent run in the England team. Purely and simply England are not very good. Kevin Keegan, Tony Woodcock, Trevor Francis, Gary Lineker and David Beckham are about the only English players in modern times to have done really well abroad (don't give me any nonsense about Waddle whose success was fixed at Marseilles).
The other British teams, and Ireland, are proud of what they've achieved, and Wales may yet achieve more. Northern Ireland, for whom just being in France was a cause for celebration, ought to have beaten the Welsh on Saturday. They dominated most of the play but paid for their lack of a really good striker to exploit their dominance. Also, for once, their set-piece delivery was severely lacking and it cost them a place in the quarter-final. Wales, and Aaron Ramsey, will have to play a lot better if they are to get anything out of a suddenly far more impressive looking Belgian side on Friday. 
For Republic of Ireland the win over Italy a week ago was the undoubted high point of the campaign. Having said that, they had France on the ropes for a while on Sunday but just fell apart slightly in a five minute spell that Griezmann and Giroud exploited brilliantly. The Irish players were just about out on their feet in the final 15 minutes and France should have scored more, but that would have been supremely harsh on the Ireland team.

Mr Arsenal has returned!

On to more important stuff and things are starting to get going in pre-season at The Arsenal. The under-21 players were back yesterday and sporting the new training gear - it's not particularly nice overall but I might invest in a pair of the shorts. The thing that grabbed me from the training photos is the lack of shin-pads these lads wear. It's the same in first-team training. Given that the way they all train is pretty much "full contact" it beggars belief that the players are allowed to go on to the pitch without shin-pads on. Is this how the likes of Jack Wilshere and Samir Nasri have ended up with broken bones in recent years? You have to wonder.
On a much happier note it has been revealed that Tony Adams is finally once again employed by Arsenal. It seems that the youth development branch of the club is keen to imbue our youngsters with the Arsenal way. As a result the under-18's will be managed by Kwame Ampadu, assisted by Thierry Henry and Tony Adams. Three Arsenal men overseeing the next generation has to be a good thing as far as I'm concerned, though it's a tough job for Kwame to be the boss of two of the greatest players in the history of Arsenal.
It's great to see TA6 back involved where he should be. I'm fairly sure I wouldn't ever want him to be Manager of the first-team, but I would certainly endorse him being added to the backroom staff involved with the senior players. There has, in recent years, been a cowardice and a lack of effort among numerous Arsenal players. The most obvious examples, in my view, have been Arshavin and Ozil, and perhaps Theo Walcott too. Can you imagine Arshavin would have got away with the way he moped about on the pitch had Tony Adams been waiting for him in the dressing room? The fact is that the players would be going out on to the pitch in the first place with a totally different mentality if Mr Arsenal was in there kicking their a***s before matches. What exactly do Neil Banfield and Boro Primorac do? Come to that, what exactly does Steve Bould do? We know Arsene doesn't like confrontation, and he seems to enjoy being surrounded by grateful "yes men", and that kind of explains why people like Adams and Keown and Henry and Vieira and Bergkamp have not been part of the set-up. Hopefully Tony's return to the club, even at a junior level, is a sign that the times are changing. It's wonderful to see.  
The first team players that have not been involved in international tournaments start to return next Monday. Something to really look forward to now!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

All green in Lille, all blue for England, Ramsey painting France red

Ireland celebrate last night

As someone who is, at best, cynical about the relevance of international football I am a proper hypocrite once a summer tournament comes around. I firmly believe that international matches should be confined to that part of the season in any case, thereby neither impacting nor lengthening the domestic leagues. Even so, I have been right in to Euro 2016 and I've enjoyed most of it. There may have been some defensive stuff from the smaller nations but when teams do that to Arsenal all I hear from the media is "deal with it" as "they're not just there to roll over for the bigger clubs". For that reason I have sat there in head-shaking disbelief at some of the pundits complaining there has been a lack of attacking intent. This was no more evident than following England's woeful attempt to break down Slovakia the other night. I'll come back to that further down as I first want to deal with the best day the tournament has had, and that was yesterday.

In the ballot for tickets I applied for the game at Lille last night long before I knew who would be playing in it. I was lucky enough to get those tickets. The city of Lille is no more than an hour or so from Calais and, as I live on the Kent coast, it wasn't too much difference in terms of distance to going to Arsenal. That Ireland were drawn to play in the game was even better - I am from Irish stock on my Mum's side and this gives me three teams to "follow" in the tournament - greedy and non-sensical of course, but who cares? That being the case I dressed the car as if for a Wembley day out in Irish colours and took my eldest out of school for a cultural learning visit to France. What a day it turned out to be.
It was baking hot in Lille yesterday, all day long. After a walk around the stadium area - if you ever get the chance to go to the Stade Pierre Mauroy then don't miss the opportunity - we found a bar to sit in and keep as cool as was possible in the intense humidity. The weather forecast was for heavy rain and thunder storms by late afternoon but this never materialised and it remained hot and sunny throughout. We didn't venture in to the city itself and I was told by some Irish fans later on that it was a bit too manic there as the beers flowed - no trouble, just a bit too busy. In the bar we were in were fans of both Ireland and Italy, a fair few from Belgium (the border of which is only a few miles away) and two blokes in England shirts. It was friendly throughout, which is exactly as I had expected it would be.
When we eventually went in to the stadium area - the concourse has been fenced off to create an exclusion zone for security purposes - we were searched twice and I have absolutely no problem with that. Unlike the cursory glance in bags we get at Arsenal this was a proper, thorough turn out of the things you had with you. As a result I was amazed to see a smoke-bomb go off in the official Irish section when they scored. Having booked mid-range tickets behind the goal I expected us to be lower tier so was more than surprised to find we were in the Lille version of Club Level at Arsenal. The air-conditioning and comfortable seats in the areas behind the stand was most welcome as we watched Hungary and Portugal play out an amazing 3-3 draw on the TV screens. Our seats themselves, five rows back in the middle tier and to the right of the penalty area, were brilliant for the price paid. The roof had been closed due to the threat of rain and the already awful state of the pitch and it was very reminiscent of the 2003 FA Cup Final when we beat Southampton. It is a really impressive, atmospheric ground to watch football in.
It was obvious from early in the day that there would be more Irish than Italians in attendance. What I hadn't envisaged was that, in a crowd that must have been close on 50,000, about 45,000 would be Irish fans. The stadium was a sea of green - there were even large numbers of Irish in the official Italian section which was directly below us. Everywhere you looked were Ireland supporters and they/we made one hell of a noise. The roof being shut no doubt added to the decibel level inside the stadium - it certainly added to the heat. The atmosphere during the game, and the support of the Irish fans, was among the very best I have ever experienced. We didn't stop singing or encouraging, even when all seemed lost.
I felt Ireland dominated the game up until about the 75 minutes mark. At that point a few of the players seemed to have run their race having put in such a remarkable effort. There should have been at least one penalty for Ireland - the foul on James McLean was right in front of us and was as stick-on a penalty as you will ever see in any game of football. It was a stunning performance as they pushed the Italians back in defence time and again. Insigne had come off the bench and looked like winning it for Italy before two amazing moments in their penalty area.
When the referee waved play-on for a Bonucci dive, and Wes Hoolahan was suddenly through on goal, everyone was up and waiting for the ball to hit the net. It was unbelievable that he should fluff his lines that badly. With only five minutes to play that was the chance gone. Only Ireland weren't done just yet. Hoolahan himself, just seconds later, put a wonderful ball in to the box where a flying Robbie Brady beat the Italian goalkeeper to the ball and nodded it in to the vacated goal. It was absolute pandemonium in that stadium. A deafening roar and a sea of bodies flying in all directions. My little boy asked me afterwards if that was what it was like when Welbeck scored against Leicester and, if I was comparing it to something similar, then it most definitely was (Ramsey's FA Cup Final winner v Hull was also just like it for the level of the madness of the celebrations). Perhaps it's only right that the Irish hero should be called Brady. As I said at the top of this post I am cynical about international football but Ireland gave me one of my greatest ever moments at a football match last night. The scenes driving away from the stadium were also some of the best you'll ever see. What a night.

Not very good Roy

Of course Jack Wilshere got most of the blame for England being utter rubbish on Monday night - after all, he plays for Arsenal. True it wasn't Jack's greatest game ever but, with the exception of the outstanding Nathaniel Clyne (and maybe Dier) he was in good company. Vardy missed an open goal and then I didn't see him again all night - towards the end when England were camped in the Slovakia half I couldn't work out if he was still on the pitch. Daniel Sturridge was having to come far too deep just to get on the ball and England were totally clueless about how to break down a defence marshaled by Martin Skrtel. Not for the first time an England team stank the place out. To hear the pundits afterwards pining for the chance for England to play against a more attacking opponent was laughable really - a team that actually attacks England might just take advantage of that woeful defence and dodgy goalkeeper they keep fielding. 
The only people I feel sorry for where England are concerned are the large band of loyal match-going fans. Like the Irish last night they never stopped singing and supporting England on Monday. They were creating the sort of atmosphere that any team should be inspired by. The England players, unfortunately, are slow and ponderous. They don't know how to play football in tight areas - Jack never gets the ball passed to him when he isn't in at least ten yards of space, even though he would receive it in far more congested places in an Arsenal shirt. Basically they just aren't very good and it was turgid, uninspiring football just as it was in the first two games to be honest - especially against Wales. They should beat Iceland, of course, but can you really see them beating France if they get through?

Ramsey playing brilliantly

Regular readers will know I am not a huge fan of Aaron Ramsey. I criticised his display in Wales' first game where he was badly at fault for the Slovakia goal. However, against England last week he was truly sensational and he continued that on Monday as Wales thrashed Russia in the final group game. He took his goal brilliantly and played a stunningly good through-ball to the Real Madrid chimpanzee for the third goal. It has certainly been the best play Ramsey has produced since his golden spell a couple of years ago. You have to hand it to him too - on the big stage (albeit "international level" is mostly far below Premier League standard) he is delivering the goods. Wales won the group, which served England right for presenting themselves with the group win after beating them last week, and Rambo has been to the fore in doing that. At the very worst it will add £10m+ to any potential transfer fee. He also knows how to endear himself to Arsenal fans too following his comments comparing England to Spurs yesterday. 
Wales now play my "other" team in the shape of Northern Ireland. They miraculously qualified for the last 16 despite a 1-0 defeat to a Mesut Ozil inspired Germany. Michael McGovern in goal prevented a humiliating thrashing against the Germans. Now they will fancy their chances against the Welsh, and rightly so. Michael O'Neill is an expert at setting up a team to play a particular opponent. If he can nullify Bale and Ramsey, effectively making it 9 v 9, then Northern Ireland have a real chance to make the quarter-final - outside of those two the teams are very similar in terms of comparable quality.
I'll just finish by mentioning that Petr Cech couldn't perform enough miracles to save Czech Republic as they disappointed for all but a 15 minute spell at the end of their game with Croatia. It was both great, and sad, to see Tomas Rosicky bow out of the tournament (and hopefully he will retire from football now) with one more fabulous pass to set up a goal before yet another injury saw Little Mozart leave his last symphony unfinished. On that poetic note...