Friday, 22 May 2015

Arsenal in the FA Cup Final? - you wouldn't know it

Did I see my last of him in Arsenal red?

I would have liked to get this written last night when I got home from watching England v New Zealand at Lord's, but the traffic on the way home made it a late finish for me and I was too knackered to sit down and write. That being the case I've had to save my Arsenal moans until this afternoon.
Wednesday night was my last home game of the season. I can't go on Sunday because of work but I'm actually not that bothered after the season I've sat through. I had mistakenly thought my last home win came before Christmas because I had thought the lamentable display against Leicester had finished in a draw. Upon checking the results I realise that we actually won that game! However, having missed out on the really good football we played to dispatch the likes of Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Stoke and Liverpool it has dawned on me that, with the fact we were so awful before Christmas (when I missed just one or two games at home), I have not actually seen Arsenal play well all season in the flesh. Sitting there on Wednesday I could quite easily have been watching the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas last August as the performance was every bit as pedestrian and uninspiring, and was notable mainly for the missed chances of our opponents.
Having written earlier this week about the empty words of the players it was now Wenger's turn with talk of "no more accidents" ringing in my ears before the game. And yet we saw a virtual carbon-copy of the Swansea game, but lacking in the creativity that at least saw us make chances and the opposition, this time, failing to score a winner. It really was utter dross from Arsenal, with Cazorla and Ozil particularly bad and Giroud particularly disinterested for the most part. Only when Theo Walcott came on did we look like we might do something and he very nearly did it all on his own, taking on and beating defenders and getting a shot or two away. I noted how he went to the stands after the game and I think I've probably seen my last home game involving Theo Walcott as an Arsenal player. Basically Theo, with half the ability, did everything Cazorla and Ozil had failed to even try doing. For me there was only him, Gibbs, Koscielny and Ospina that could take any credit from the match. We were dire and Sunderland had four clear chances to win the game in the second-half. I'll go in to it in more detail next week, but Swansea and Sunderland have provided the blueprint for Aston Villa on how a lesser team goes about beating Arsenal.
The performance of so many of the players the other night is disturbing ahead of the FA Cup Final. Too many seem to feel in the comfort zone. In the absence of Danny Welbeck our centre-forward clearly is in that arena right now. You'd think the criticism Giroud's been getting from Thierry Henry (not all of it totally warranted, but much of it uncalled for from an Arsenal legend) might have stung him in to action in recent games but he seems to have gone the other way. Cazorla is now worryingly out of form. And it seems that when Santi is playing badly then Arsenal play badly too. As for Ozil, well I'm on record for a long time now saying what I think about the lazy waste of space. How can an apparently World Class attacking player so often deliberately control the ball away from the opposition goal, thus taking away any chance that he might beat a player or have a shot at goal? If he was sold this Summer I'd be delighted.
We have a week now for Arsene Wenger to get these players focussed properly and back in to form for Wembley. We haven't actually scored a goal (you can't claim Sunday's goal as having been "scored" by Arsenal) in three matches. If that isn't worrying you ahead of next Saturday then I don't know what would.

How things should look when you go to Wembley

It's not just the players that seem to be disinterested ahead of Wembley next week. Regulars might recall I was annoyed this time last year with the lack of merchandise and souvenirs on sale at Arsenal for the trip to the FA Cup Final. Well this year is equally bad, if not worse. There is virtually no sign at Arsenal that we are in a Final next weekend. Where are the hats, the scarves, the flags, the t-shirts, the badges etc? I went in to both shops at the stadium on Wednesday night to get my away shirt printed with the FA Cup Final badge the players will wear at Wembley. Shockingly, but sadly not surprisingly, I was told that they had "sold out" of the badge printing. This is a recurring theme with Arsenal's merchandise outlets where anything popular sells out and isn't replaced. The simple laws of supply and demand seem to have bypassed Arsenal's business empire and it has ever been thus. I thought this would be one thing the American owners would get right, but alas no.
Most football fans lament the fact that the Football Association has allowed the FA Cup to be devalued in recent years, and the media have been equally culpable. But now the clubs are just as bad. Arsenal can't complain about the FA Cup being less important when they are treating the showpiece occasion with the same apathy. When I was a youngster going to Wembley was massive for Arsenal and, believe it or not, to us fans it still is.
It's not just the Club itself, however. Even the street sellers have no stuff for sale apart from the obligatory half-and-half scarves. Coming away from the game on Wendesday there was one bloke selling Wembley flags, but even they were red and white when we're playing in yellow and blue! Thank God for The Gooner fanzine which has once again produced Cup Final rosettes for the big day. I'll have mine on, that's for sure.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Too much talk and not enough action from Arsenal's players

Theo finally makes a contribution (sort of)

I'll say at the start of this piece that I've only actually seen the final twenty minutes from yesterdays game at Old Trafford. However, from everything I've heard, and everything I've read, it seems clear that the players spent the majority of the game playing with the wrong attitude again. A lack of application from kick-off left us in a position of weakness that, once we started to play, showed we were a better side than the opposition but left us with not enough time to beat them. Frankly, failing to beat this awful Manchester United side in the league this season is a very poor return - their defence is the weakest I've ever seen from a United team, regardless of the results that David De Gea has managed to get them across the whole campaign.
I regret that I wasn't able to get anything written following the home debacle against Swansea last Monday. But the problem with the performance there was exactly the same. If you only start playing properly after 65 minutes then you lessen your chances to win the game. Throw in our customary poor finishing, unwillingness to shoot, and the absolute fact that the opposition will ALWAYS get one chance to score a goal, then you have a recipe for a 1-0 defeat to a team with half your ability. Since the dismantling of Liverpool the Arsenal players have not applied themselves properly from the start of games. The only exception was Burnley away where we scored early through applying pressure high up the pitch, but then spent the last 80 minutes messing about. At Hull City, the only good performance since Liverpool, it took us until the half-hour mark to realise that we had to play properly to win.
I find this whole phenomenon disturbing. Here is a team that went on a great run, primarily because they pressurised opponents within forty yards of their own goal. By doing so we obtained possession of the football high up the pitch and were able to create chances as a result. It isn't rocket science. Work hard and you'll largely get the rewards for it. Home hammerings of Stoke City and Aston Villa, as well as Liverpool, are all the evidence you need.
Despite naming an unchanged side for the last six games (quite incredibly the first time this has happened under Wenger) this downturn in performance has coincided with Aaron Ramsey playing on the right. I've said before that this doesn't work. We lack pace and Ramsey doesn't do the dirty side of the job by helping his full-back out. At the same time Cazorla has been playing well enough to not warrant Ramsey playing in midfield. Again, he doesn't do enough of the hard yards to assist Coquelin properly in that position. But yesterday, when Cazorla was having a terrible game, Ramsey got shifted and took over the game from what I saw. Could it be that being shunted out wide has given him a kick in the backside? Some of his passing was out of the top drawer, with the ball to Theo Walcott that ended up with our goal being an absolute highlight. Cazorla, in truth, has not played at his best for a few weeks. With the FA Cup Final two weeks away this isn't the time to be carrying passengers in midfield. Perhaps Santi is playing himself out of the Wembley starting eleven.
All of that has drifted away from the main point I wanted to make this morning. Something that has really annoyed me over a long period of time is the habit our players have of talking about what they are going to do, and then doing the opposite. This week it has been Bellerin and Mertesacker promising to "make up for Swansea" and saying "we know the importance of finishing third instead of fourth". All very noble comments, and obviously there is space to fill for Arsenal's media arm. But don't run your mouth with this rubbish and then go out and play like it's some kind of training ground exercise. If you really want to make up for a defeat, or ensure you're not going to need a play-off in August, then go out and do it! Don't tell us what you think, because quite clearly it doesn't translate to the pitch. And it happens far too often. Do your talking on the pitch. I'm fed up of the empty statements.
Of course, thanks to some long overdue good fortune at Old Trafford, we have virtually secured that third place. But we should have now been in a position to be putting out League Cup strength sides in the last two games and protecting everyone else from injury (or, more importantly from the referees) ahead of Wembley. Had we played to a proper level from the off against Swansea and/or Manchester United we could have been relaxing and not needing to get some kind of result against a Sunderland side scrapping for Premier League survival.  

Friday, 8 May 2015

Get "Good Old Arsenal" in to the UK charts for Willow Foundation

Riders Of The Night

No blog post as such today. This is purely to advertise the new unofficial Arsenal FA Cup Final song by The Riders Of The Night (and friends) in aid of Bob Wilson's Willow Foundation. The song is a cover of "Good Old Arsenal" and costs just 79p, available on iTunes. Willow is a worthy cause, supported every year by the Dover Gooners, and the aim is to raise as much money as possible by getting the song in to the UK charts top 40. While you're there you could get yourself the other Riders Of The Night classics like "Eyes Right" and "B'Jesus Said Paddy". Go on, you know it makes sense.

Buy it now!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Selfish "Football Family" and Exter City - Aston Villa fans need to see this too!

No shortage in the Football League

If you were an Arsenal fan on Twitter last night then you'd surely have struggled to avoid the criticism being (quite rightly) directed at Exeter City Football Club. Via their website Exeter were offering "half" of their FA Cup Final allocation to members of their supporters trust - enter a ballot and they can win the "right" to buy tickets for Wembley on 30th May. Half of their allocation, incidentally, is eight pairs of tickets - half at the Arsenal end and half at the Villa end. So Exeter City actually have 32 tickets available to them for the FA Cup Final!!!
Is it any wonder that the two clubs actually involved in the game have such a limited allocation when quite so many are being given to individual clubs in the Premier League and Football League? You can be certain that the bigger clubs in the higher divisions are getting even more than the likes of Exeter. I realise that I'm going over old ground here to a certain extent, but I admit that I never realised just how many tickets were given to clubs. I'd always assumed it was a minimal number per club, which would still be a minimal number too many, but 32 tickets?! Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the other 90 league clubs all get just those 32, then they alone account for 2880 seats that should be split between the competing sides - we can safely assume it's at least 4000 (and the rest!) in reality. Given that each year the two sides who make it complain about the allocations provided to them wouldn't it be nice if the professional clubs all stuck together and made tickets available to genuine supporters? Or would that mean a few of their sponsors and the Chairman's wife not getting a good day out in London Town?
Exeter were very quick to issue a statement last night in an attempt (and I use that word advisedly) to justify their allocation and how they decide to use it. Exeter claim that, if they returned their tickets to the Football Association, they would simply be redistributed to another part of the "football family". I don't know whether that's true so I have to take them at their word. What they don't address, of course, is why they aren't giving 16 pairs of tickets straight back to Arsenal and Aston Villa to give to fans who follow them all season. Exeter City go on to state that a number of the people eligible to apply for their ballot are regulars at both St James' Park and Emirates Stadium. Again, I don't know how true that is, but there is nothing in the qualification criteria for their ballot that states you have to reveal yourself as an Arsenal supporter before applying. As weak arguments for doing the wrong thing go this is really right up there.
The simple fact is that Exeter City and any other club, referees association, local league, corporate partner or any other organisation that is not Arsenal or Aston Villa Football Clubs have no right to those tickets, and they are a disgrace for not offering them straight back to the two clubs. I can say this as someone who already has my Cup Final ticket, but I know many people who genuinely deserve to be there and have the right to be there, but who are relying on being lucky in the ballot at Arsenal tomorrow. It's simply not on.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

MY team of the season

The real footballer of the year

Having seen the PFA manage to totally mess up their so called player and team of the year awards, and in the absence of much Arsenal guff worth talking about, I thought I'd present my own view on the Premier League team of the year. I know I'm biased but, as you can see from the photograph above, Alexis is my player of the year. Anyone that thinks it's Eden Hazard needs their head reading as far as I'm concerned.
Goalkeeper - David de Gea
I considered giving Thibaut Courtois this position in the side and he would have been absolutely deserving of it, playing a key role in his side winning the Premier League at his first attempt. However, when you consider the defence that Manchester United have been fielding since the season started then the performance of de Gea is truly outstanding. He has won points for his side virtually single-handed and has been the dominant goalkeeper in the league, for me. I don't see him being at Old Trafford next season as it seems certain that Real Madrid will come calling very soon.
Right-Back - Cesar Azpilicueta
Pablo Zabaleta has been good enough to keep Bacary Sagna out of the Manchester City side, but to me he hasn't been able to get ahead of Chelsea's right-back this season. Azpilicueta stands head and shoulders above every other full-back in the Premier League and has got better and better since joining Chelsea. He also plays equally well on both sides of the defence.
Left-Back - Nacho Monreal
I make no apologies for Arsenal bias in this decision, but there can be few more improved performers than Nacho this season. He started the season having to carry Per Mertesacker at centre-half, in the absence of King Koscielny, and it seems to have been the making of him. His positional play is better, he looks a yard quicker, he rarely misses a tackle, and he has been really good going forward too. Kieran Gibbs is excellent, but Nacho is rightly keeping him out at the moment.
Centre-Back - John Terry
Yes, it's painful to make this selection. But you have to admit that the old racist has been at his best throughout the season for Chelsea. I felt that he was finished a couple of years back, but he has got back to being the best English centre-back around at the moment. Horrible man though.
Centre-Back - Jose Fonte
The PFA quite ridiculously picked Gary Cahill in this position. Fonte, meanwhile, has lead Southampton through a fantastic season in which he has dominated the defence. Fonte has surprised me with his quality at the top level and he has been one of the quiet stars of this season. It's about time Southampton players got some recognition.
Central Midfield - Morgan Schneiderlin
Another Southampton player who has shone during this campaign. It seemed certain that he was off last Summer amid the great south-coast exodus, and he seemed to be actively forcing a move. Ronald Koeman put his foot down and Southampton have reaped the benefits as Schneiderlin has got his head down and dominated many an opposition midfield. Will he be at Saints next season? I hear the Emirates is a popular place for quality midfield players...
Central Midfield - Esteban Cambiasso
You weren't expecting that, were you? For me he has been truly exceptional at Leicester City, even before they went on their recent winning run. In a side that was struggling Cambiasso emerged as the class of the field and stood out in a mediocre group. When they played at our place earlier this year he dominated the game and he has gone on doing that throughout the season. I'm amazed that his fellow pros have overlooked the contribution of a top class player that could yet rescue his team from the drop.
"Number Ten" - Cesc Fabregas
Another painful selection, but Chelsea won this Title before Christmas when Fabregas was the best midfield player in the league. He created so much for Diego Costa that they were able to build up the lead they needed long before they started to bore the backsides off all of us. How anyone can consider Hazard to be more important to Chelsea than Cesc Fabregas is totally beyond me.
Striker - Harry Kane
I think the boil has been well and truly gone off in recent weeks for Kane, and he may yet turn out to be a total flash in the pan. Certainly his past points to a glorious six months that may be pretty quickly forgotten. Next season we will quickly find out, but you have to admit he deserves his place in a team of the season. If he does do the same next season then it will be the last he plays for Tottenham.
Striker - Sergio Aguero
The best goal scorer in the Premier League, the one attacking player in the Premier League that I would really like to see signing for Arsenal. I think the Argentinian is a wonderful player, unstoppable at his best, and he'd fit in so well in our team. Without him City would be in Spurs or Liverpool territory.
Striker - Alexis
The signing of the season. The player of the season. What an impact he's made at Arsenal. Yes, he sometimes holds on to the ball too much, but he has been truly wonderful for Arsenal. I have rarely seen a player with such ability be prepared to work so hard for his team. For a little man he is incredibly powerful, good in the air, and afraid of nothing. Without a doubt he is my favourite current player at Arsenal.
Manager - Ronald Koeman
Did anyone think Southampton would recover from selling almost all of their best players last Summer? Koeman has showed what a different perspective a top foreign coach can bring, and how their connections in some of the less well known leagues of Europe can see quality players come in for very little money. Okay, Saints won't win a trophy, and may yet miss out on Europe, but what a start he has made. He has surely put himself in the frame as a possible replacement for Arsene Wenger as it stands, and I've been mightily impressed by him.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Arsenal play properly again, Jimmy Greaves

Alexis and Coquelin celebrate

It took the best part of half-an-hour but Arsenal finally got back to form last night. Okay, we haven't lost in any of the games since hammering Liverpool but we certainly haven't played well. The closing down high up the pitch has been absent since the moment Ramsey scored the early winner at Burnley. When it returned last night, with Ozil and Alexis pressuring Huddlestone in to showing his lack of quality, Arsenal were 1-0 up less than a minute later. It's no coincidence that putting pressure on in the final third of the pitch presented us with opportunities to play our football, and we went on to play some of the best we've seen all season at times.
Not for the first time we were starting slowly last night, without really coming under a tremendous threat from our opposition. I must remember one of these days to count how many times one of our attacking midfield players passes the ball back to Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny. There is no more certain sign that we aren't playing properly than the sight of Mertesacker with the ball at his feet every few seconds. It amazes me that the talented attacking footballers we have feel the need to play the ball to their centre-back with quite such regularity. For me there are few things more soul destroying than seeing Mesut Ozil, with all that ability, receive a pass around the halfway line and then look up and decide to pass it ten yards back to the BFG. I don't know what causes us to be like that when it's so obvious that we play so much better once we start to work on harassing opposition players in their own half and/or playing the ball forward and creating some space by attacking people. As Jack Wilshere showed when he came on, and he was looking super sharp, by running at a defender you create openings.
We had some luck with the deflections for the first two goals (I did wonder if Lampard had suddenly joined us) but that showed that actually going for goal might end up with you scoring once or twice. In the second-half there wasn't enough of that and that's one of the reasons we didn't add more goals to the tally. For Aaron Ramsey's goal the finish may have been slightly fortuitous in the way it looped in to the corner (though Alan Parry somehow missed the deflections for both of the first two goals on commentary) but the pass from Cazorla was superb. The control, though, of Ramsey was even better. As first touches go it was truly exceptional and I though he had a much better game last night coming off the right. He then decided to outdo Cazorla with his pass for the third goal that was expertly put away by the wonderful Alexis Sanchez. I would have no argument if Ramsey was to come back to form in the next few weeks ahead of the FA Cup Final, though I'm still very unsure of him on the right of midfield - if The Ox was fit I'd have him back in there straight away, while Ramsey can't play ahead of Cazorla or Ozil in their positions.
At 3-0 up at half-time I wanted us to come out and humiliate Hull in the second-half, hopefully sending out some kind of warning for Aston Villa. However, Wenger's sides all too rarely push on when comfortably in front early in a game and last night was no different. Hull got themselves a goal thanks to Mr Mason somehow missing something approaching a red card tackle that took King Koscielny out of the game momentarily. After that we were never really threatened as such. We could and should have had more goals. Ozil and Cazorla and Wilshere all refused to shoot at times, while Jack was denied two clear penalties by Mason again. Alexis might have passed to Theo in the last minute but chose (rightly, in my view) to try and get his hat-trick. Ultimately it was a nice win, with one of the absolute highlights being an amazing flicked volley by Ozil to send Alexis away down the left in the second-half. When we're like that in a game then we are great to watch.
I just want to say a few words on Jimmy Greaves who has suffered a severe stroke. People of my age grew up with Greavesie on the TV, whether as a co-commentator or studio guest on ITV or on the magnificent Saint & Greavesie show. Jimmy was a real character who oozed a fun personality. He was far removed from the all too serious coverage and punditry of modern TV football. One of ITV's biggest errors when they had the rights to the Premier League was to not bring Saint & Greavesie back - instead of them we had Gabby Logan and Barry Venison on a Saturday lunchtime.
As a player he was most famous for his time at Chelsea and at Tottenham. He was the exceptional goalscorer of his generation and, despite missing the World Cup Final in 1966, a legendary England striker. He would go on to suffer with alcoholism but, unlike certain other former footballers, he worked to fight it and recover from it. Maybe that's why he was able to be so irreverent in his view of football when he was on the TV screen. What a breath of fresh air he'd be now when Roy Keane or Jamie Carragher are bemoaning people having fun.
His autobiography is one of the finest I've ever read with his honesty jumping off the page when he describes his personal problems and the effects of his actions on his family. It takes some kind of person to do that in the public arena.
Jimmy Greaves is also famous for a quote he made about Arsenal whereby he talked of the class of our Club. Even when he was at Spurs, he said, he knew Arsenal was class. Well, Greavesie, as a kid who grew up with you on my TV screen I always felt you were class, and I wish you a full and speedy recovery.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

I'm sick of this boring Arsenal bull****!!!

There was nothing boring about the side that won these
Right, I've had enough of this "boring" business. I'll leave aside Mourinho's nonsense quote about 10 years without a Title being boring - that explains why Stamford Bridge was falling down for the best part of 50 years. I'll also leave aside the fact that Chelsea Football Club sees itself more offended by Arsenal fans singing "boring, boring Chelsea" than it was by clear evidence that their support is still badly infiltrated by overt racists. What I won't leave aside is this utter b******s that Chelsea's current style of play is no different to that which George Graham employed as Arsenal boss.
I've actually seen so called Arsenal fans, at least one of them a multi-published author of very entertaining historical works based on Arsenal (I'm talking to you, Jon Spurling), claim that we were more than happy at the way George's Arsenal won their Football League Championships in 1989 and 1991. Have you ever heard so much nonsense? Let me say at this point that, if George's team had won the league playing that way, I wouldn't care less. If I was a Chelsea fan now I wouldn't care less. They're going to win the Premier League. You can't argue with that. The media, who espouse their desire to see entertaining football however, should be doing more to criticise Mourinho for his style of play rather than trying to use the Arsenal fans reaction on Sunday to make the point - don't forget that "boring, boring Arsenal" was a myth created by the press many years ago. Chelsea are a team with great players, or so we keep being told, yet they are currently playing no football. Eden Hazard (ridiculously) is going to win both player of the year awards - how can that be in a side that doesn't entertain? Frankly there is no need for Mourinho to be bothered, aside from the fact that he has been sacked from Chelsea before for not entertaining Roman Abramovich enough with the football on the pitch. The fact is, however, that George Graham's teams that ended up as Champions were brilliant to watch. Don't let some prats wishing to re-write history tell you any different, whether they're Arsenal fans or not. Things changed after 1992, I will grant you that (none of us cared when the League Cup, FA Cup and Cup Winners Cup came home), but not the sides that won Division One.
Let's dispel this business about George's teams being defensive or purely long-ball. In the seasons of success between 1986 and 1992 George used midfield players and wingers like Steve Williams, Paul Davis, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Brian Marwood, Anders Limpar, Paul Merson and Kevin Richardson. In attack we had Niall Quinn, Martin Hayes, Charlie Nicholas, Alan Smith, Merson (again), Kevin Campbell and Ian Wright. We also had top class attacking full-backs in Kenny Sansom, Viv Anderson, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon. Don't let anyone tell you that we were boring with footballers like that on the pitch. Was Anfield 89 boring? Where we were similar to the current Chelsea side was that we had fine goalkeepers and a well organised defence, marshalled by an exceptionally gifted centre-back and captain. The difference is that our defence allowed the midfield and attack to go and get goals. Yes, Chelsea are the second highest scorers in the division, but they are now content to get by doing just enough. It's good for them, and fair play to them, but it's awful to watch for everyone else. Of course, the press don't want to get on the wrong side of good old Jose as he might stop talking to them.
The worst thing about this Chelsea side is that they are the best in the country at the moment. That makes it even worse that they are playing the way they have done. They will probably go out and spank 5 or 6 goals past Leicester tonight because Mourinho has been pulled up lively by the reaction to Sunday. But it won't change the fact that their success is tarnished by a lack of ambitious play on the pitch. Could you ever have imagined the dominant Liverpool or Manchester United or Arsenal sides since the 1970s ever going in to a game with a rival and playing like that? Manchester City did it at Arsenal a couple of years back and Mancini got dogs abuse for it in the media - but they didn't like Mancini so that was alright as far as they were concerned. As I said above, you can't argue with what Mourinho is doing because it's a results business, but don't ever make out he wins Titles in the way George Graham did. And if you want to know just how good Arsenal were in 1988-89 watch this full season review from Youtube.