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...

Friday, 17 June 2016

Arsenal are deliberately cutting off the next generation

It may have totally escaped your attention (it had certainly escaped mine until a few weeks ago) that Arsenal have, in the last couple of years, altered their policy with regards to Junior Gunners once they are too old to be members anymore. Historically (or ever since the new membership levels were brought in) Junior Gunners would go on to join the Cannon Club before automatically being given Silver Membership. Given that Junior Gunners and Cannon Club effectively have the same access to tickets as Silver this made a lot of sense. It also meant that the future match-going core support should be secure for generations to come. I enrolled both my children as Junior Gunners as soon as they were born and I was content that they would have no problems getting to see Arsenal as they grew up and eventually became adults. What Arsenal have done now is to abandon this policy. They have done this, officially, because there are already too many Silver Members to meet demand and the number available is capped. 
The problem Arsenal gave themselves was that they were keeping a Silver level waiting list where people who are on Red would eventually move in to Silver and gain the access to tickets that the higher band brings. Of course, the constant addition of Junior Gunners made this in to a glass ceiling as nobody on the waiting list would ever be likely to move up to Silver. Arsenal, of course, were making money out of this with no chance of that progression being made. Instead of abandoning the waiting list, or at least reducing it, Arsenal has taken the decision to stop Junior Gunners from moving to Silver Membership. In short, once they get to sixteen, former Junior Gunners can join the Red Membership and the waiting list for Silver. This is a scandal.
I first became aware of this via Twitter a few weeks ago. A friend has since sent me an email he received from Arsenal to "explain" why his son would now become a Red Member. I have copied the relevant content below and it makes for the usual Arsenal bull**** reasoning and contains more holes than a Dutch cheese:

I can confirm that XXXX membership has been renewed as a red member as XXXX membership is set up on a direct debit.  XXXX will be sent a new membership card before the start of the new season; therefore, he should amend his address as soon as possible. 
XXXX cannot progress straight to a silver membership due to the terms and conditions of the Junior Gunner/Cannon Club being amended.
A change was implemented two seasons ago to position Cannon Club Members into the Silver Membership Waiting List based on the date they joined rather than their age.  This decision was made following feedback from fans who feel strongly that the club should be rewarding longevity with the Arsenal Membership Scheme.  In 2012, the Membership Terms & Conditions were updated for the new season to reflect this progression for all Junior Gunners (clause 8.4).   All Terms & Conditions thereafter outlined the progression for Junior Gunners. These are updated every season before supporters renew their Membership.  All affected Members renewing into Cannon Club for the first time received a renewal email which pointed them to the Terms & Conditions.
The number of Silver Memberships available is capped.  Spaces within this level of Membership only become available when a current member decides not to renew the following season.  With the fantastic support and following we have from our fans, it is unfortunate that we cannot offer everyone the Membership type they wish and we need to have a fair and robust system designed for all fans. 
By placing Junior Gunners/Cannon Club Members on the Silver Waiting List in chronological date order of when they joined the scheme, alongside Red Members; this ensures the Silver Waiting List remains fair to all Members with no Membership level receiving priority or fast tracking the process.
Those Members who join at a young age will continue to be rewarded ahead of those joining the Membership scheme at an older age due to the number of years on the waiting list they will accrue as a Junior Gunner or Cannon Club Member.
If you have been offered a Red Membership when expecting Silver I can understand the disappointment caused, however I hope I have explained the rationale for this and our intention to make the system fairer for all members at all levels.  If you choose to join Red Membership you will remain on the chronological Silver Membership Waiting List from the date you joined the Arsenal Membership Scheme.  Should you choose not to renew your Membership unfortunately you would lose your place on this waiting list.
Cannon Club members had a very short wait compared to other fans, whereas now they will be treated exactly the same as all other Member types. I would like to reassure you, we very much still value the support of our Junior Gunners and Cannon Club Members and continue to offer a great proposition for our young fans.
Red Membership offers the same great benefits as Silver Membership.  The only difference is the ticket purchasing window. Red Members can purchase one month (instead of two months) prior to a fixture and there are a minimum of 3,500 tickets available for every Premier League home match. Even more tickets are available through our Ticket Exchange Service – last season over 70,000 tickets were made available through this service.
We take our responsibility to our fans and all supporters of the Club very seriously.  It can be a very difficult process and task at times to try and reward all Members support fairly.  Whilst I appreciate this does not change your personal circumstances in this case, I hope it demonstrates we do not take these decisions lightly and consider a wide range of fan views in our review.
Everyone at the Club values all supporters’ commitment to the Club and the Membership scheme and we believe this is the fairest way to ensure that all supporters are rewarded for their longevity as an official Member of The Arsenal.

The idea that ex-Junior Gunners/Cannon Club members enter the waiting list chronologically based on when they joined The Arsenal seems to be honourable at first look (or as honourable as such a stupidly despicable move could be) but it leaves out an element of truth. Or does it uncover a different lie? When it comes to Cup Final tickets Arsenal tell us that longevity of season ticket holders can not be taken in to account as they don't have the membership records from before the stadium move. However, they claim that the former Junior Gunners/Cannon Club, who may have been members of The Arsenal for 18 years, will join the waiting list based on when they became members. How can they do that if Arsenal's membership records only go back as far as 2006? Either they do hold those records and they are deliberately misleading loyal fans when it comes to going to Wembley, or they don't hold the records and are telling fibs about how ex-Junior Gunners will accede to Silver Membership.
Whichever way you look at this it is a mistake by Arsenal. Junior Gunners, if they are to get a seat in the Family Enclosure, have to be accompanied by a Silver Member. Fair enough in many ways. However, in 15-20 years from now no Junior Gunners will be able to get a seat in the Family Enclosure as their Mum and Dad will still be on the damn waiting list! This is as about as short-sighted in terms of the future of Arsenal's support as you can possibly get. It is crazy and it is stupid. No doubt there is some other underhanded money making initiative at play within all of this - that is the Kroenke way after all. As for the platitudes about valuing our support and Red and Silver having the same benefits they might as well not bother with the lies.
Any football club is only there because of the supporters. Without us the club dies. Arsenal Football Club has taken a decision to cut off a large proportion of its future support. That is a dangerous and contemptuous road to go down. Gazidis and his people should be ashamed for sanctioning such a move.

Does Hodgson know of a player called Jack Wilshere?

Pick your best players!

I've been able to see almost all of the games at Euro 2016 since Monday. There has been plenty of Arsenal involvement, and some very frustrating non-involvement for certain Arsenal players. There have been two or three surprise results, not least the unexpectedly brilliant 2-0 win for Italy over Belgium and Northern Ireland's magnificent victory against Ukraine yesterday. The funniest sight of the tournament, however, was Cristiano Ronaldo's teenage tantrum at Portugal failing to beat Iceland. The Iceland team were outstanding on the night and Ronaldo's lack of respect towards them at the final whistle just about summed the bloke up. The fact is that he and his team weren't good enough on the night to overcome the minnows of the tournament and it was a wonderful achievement for Iceland. Seeing Ronaldo close to tears was just a nice bonus.
France left it late again the other night in their game with an also over-achieving Albania side. France rarely looked like breaking them down, and Giroud missed a couple of chances as well as seeing a fine header come back off the post. Koscielny had a really good game in defence for the French. Their win saw them through before the third group game so I suspect there may be one or two being rested for the final game there - Giroud himself might find he is used from the bench against Switzerland. I watched most of the Swiss game against Romania where Granit Xhaka once again was named man of the match. Like Mohammed Elneny he seems to rarely give the ball away, though I saw more evidence of a man trying to play incisive passes on occasion than we get with the Egyptian. What I am not going to do is get as excited about Xhaka as many were online the other day - when he produces the proper goods, or otherwise, for Arsenal I'll make my mind up as to how good he is.
As for England Roy Hodgson got away with it yesterday, big time. To pick the same team as Saturday was fool-hardy to say the least. That he changed things a lot at half-time was, at least, an admission that he had got things badly wrong, but it was lucky for him that Sturridge got the last minute winner for his side - Hodgson would have been taking some serious flak (and deservedly so) had England not won that game. Joe Hart proved yet again that he isn't as good as he thinks he is - I've said for years he has a problem going low to his left. For a start he was in the wrong position for the free-kick, but he then didn't move his feet and couldn't get across his goal to a ball that was hit from around 35 yards. It was far worse than David Seaman getting caught out by Ronaldinho's mishit cross in 2002. 
England created next to nothing in the 90 minutes yesterday. The only genuine chance created (both goals came out of nothing) by the team was the open goal missed by Raheem Sterling in the first-half. Jamie Vardy was, not for the first time, the man in the right place when it mattered to get the equaliser, while the pace and quality of Sturridge in the penalty area dug them out of a hole in injury time. What England need now is for Hodgson to actually show some courage and make changes from the start. The likes of Sterling, Kane and Alli have been poor. Lallana works hard but has no end product or creativity. England do have one midfield player who can genuinely be dangerous and pick a special pass in a tight game, but he isn't being selected! It was beyond my comprehension that Jack Wilshere never got on the field at all yesterday - bringing Rashford on would have been fine if England had actually gone with two central players up front, but it was a Wenger substitution that didn't lead to a change in formation or approach. If Hodgson puts Wilshere in to that team, with either Vardy or Kane up front, then he will create things for them. I'm not sure Sturridge is able to play from the start of games, but he was certainly dangerous when he came on - an impact sub might be the best thing for him right now.
For Wales I thought Aaron Ramsey was absolutely outstanding yesterday. I am one of his biggest critics but he was the best player on the pitch as far as I'm concerned. Alli tried to rough him up in the first few minutes and Ramsey stood up to the little Tottenham scrote brilliantly. He then spent the rest of the match running rings round him in the midfield as the England team couldn't really get close to him. It was Ramsey's best performance since his golden spell at Arsenal a couple of years ago. When he plays like that he is outstanding, keeping it simple and limiting the fancy rubbish.
I watched Germany as well last night and it was a poor game, the first 0-0 of the tournament. Mesut Ozil seemed to be auditioning for a role in a remake of The Invisible Man for most of the match. In the first-half he was doing a brilliant job of being where the ball wasn't. When Andre Schuurle came on Ozil was suddenly much more involved and was denied a goal by a superb save from Fabianski. However, it was easy to see, once again, why he frustrates me so much and, from what I understand, he is just as annoying to Germany supporters.

There will be another blog post very late tonight. I have been planning an article for a couple of weeks on what Arsenal have decided will happen when Junior Gunners memberships expire. This article will not paint Arsenal FC in a good light. It will be on here when you wake up tomorrow morning.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Even the press have worked it out

This could have been another Heysel

I'm starting to type as the Italy v Belgium game is about to kick-off so I have one eye on that while writing - I'm surprised to see Thomas Vermaelen getting a start for the Belgians. I didn't get to write last night as I originally planned. Having driven back from Dorset yesterday, after driving down there Friday and spending Saturday at a family wedding, I didn't feel like it to be honest. I also wanted to see Ozil play for Germany without the distraction of writing a blog. As it turned out, such was the boredom dished out by the Germans in the second-half I might as well have written something after all. Ozil, of course, set up the injury-time clincher for Germany but was as frustrating to watch as ever as far as I'm concerned. I digress.
I watched the France game in my hotel room on Friday night and I was really pleased for Giroud that he got the opening goal. He had missed a couple of good chances before half-time but the goal he got was a really good centre-forward header. The goal by Payet got the tournament off to the right start really as a host nation doing well always makes it more enjoyable all round. Unfortunately by that time on Friday evening the darker side was already emerging in Marseille. I will come on to that towards the bottom of this post as what I want to say needs to be seperate from the football itself.
My Dad, brothers and nephew were able to take advantage of my wedding issues (it was the wife's family) by having my tickets for Switzerland v Albania in Lens on Saturday afternoon. I'm told it was a decent game with lots of missed chances and that Granit Xhaka made a good first impression on my family. Surrounded by Albanian fans my nephew was resplendent in Arsenal shirt with "Xhaka 29" printed on the back and wrapped in a Swiss flag for the day. Hopefully I'll get to see the next Swiss game on the TV and get a decent look at Xhaka myself for the first time.
I watched (very) brief highlights of Wales v Slovakia when I got back to the hotel on Saturday night. I wasn't surprised to see Aaron Ramsey badly at fault for the Slovak equaliser, or missing an open goal with a free header. However, having read that he got the assist for the Welsh winner I was very shocked to see that it wasn't quite how I'd imagined. Instead of a slide-rule pass it was actually yet another show-boating cock-up by Ramsey that saw the ball run loose for Robson-Kanu to mis-kick it past the goalkeeper. Ramsey really does wind me up and that ridiculous hair makes him look an even bigger chump.
As far as England go I was reduced to following it via an intermittent 3G signal giving me access to Twitter. When I saw the starting line-up I couldn't quite believe it. Leaving out Vardy and Wilshere, but selecting Lallana and Sterling, made no sense to me whatsoever. Vardy has played in the warm-up matches and has done well in his England appearances. Sterling has been worse than Walcott all season. As for leaving out Jack I just don't get it. Having got in front, and I'm told created a number of opportunities thanks to Wayne Rooney, it was obviously disappointing to concede a soft equaliser in injury-time. However, you reap what you sew and when you have a back-four including Smalling and the Tottenham full-backs (who are never, ever in position when opponents break forward) you are asking for trouble. Fail to beat Wales and England could be staring down the barrel of yet another early exit - changes are needed against Wales with Bertrand, Wilshere and Vardy just three of the players who really need to come in to the side.
I was home to see all the games yesterday. Croatia were deserved winners in their match, while Northern Ireland simply didn't get the tactics right against Poland. For an hour they tried to do nothing but defend, failing to realise that Lewandowski is really the only genuinely top player Poland have. They didn't put anything like enough pressure on Szczesny at the other end. When Washington was brought on to play alongside Lafferty then Northern Ireland were the better side and should have scored through either Washington or Steven Davies (or both) to force at least a draw. 
I was at work today so I haven't yet seen anything of the Czech Republic v Spain match. I understand Petr Cech had a great game in goal for his lot, while Tomas Rosicky was all action in helping his defence for most of the game. I also hear that the Czech's might easily have got a result despite being largely outplayed for most of the ninety minutes. That's a shame really as any side with Fabregas in it, but who leave out Santi Cazorla, I would like to see fail. Republic of Ireland missed chances in the first-half that would have given them a great start to the tournament and I'm not sure a point this afternoon will be enough for them to progress ahead of games with Belgium and Italy.

Now, about the trouble in Marseille. I have seen, read and listened to a lot over the last few days. At no point have I heard anything that tells me the trouble was "caused" by England fans other than their mere presence seeing them targeted by local French thugs, Russian fans, and then followed up by a brutal French police. I have become sick of people who have never been to a football match abroad (and in many cases never in England either) telling us what's what with regards the fighting. It is most instructive, I believe, that even the media seem to have realised now that their lambasting of the "English thugs" has been totally misplaced. The football writers in the press corps, to their immense credit, at no point chose to throw criticism the way of the England supporters. Being used to travelling with England they have no doubt seen exactly what has happened down in Marseille. The reaction of public figures, like MP Andy Burnham, was a genuine disgrace - he jumped in with both feet, as did the FA, to condemn the "embarrassing" behaviour before even considering whether or not he had the facts to hand.
I have seen others claiming that the English should have just moved away when bottles and chairs were thrown at them. This is utter tosh. Firstly, where do you move away to? It's easier said than done. Secondly, it is not the English way to run from that provocation. Rightly or wrongly the English fans will stand and fight in those situations and this is always the thing that makes the press, as it did initially this weekend.
What happened on the day of the match, both in the city and in the stadium, was the most scary aspect of the whole thing. The French authorities have now revealed that 150 Russian men were behind the trouble. We are told that they were "highly trained and very organised" in the way they attacked English people - and the attacks were totally indiscriminate. If you were in the wrong place at the wrong time you could have been one of the unfortunate souls to be seriously badly beaten by these animals. The words "trained" and "organised" are the ones that have struck me in this though. And it is also very interesting that not one of these 150 men have been arrested despite the presence close-by of a large amount of police - the same police who have been caught on video hammering stricken England fans while they lay on the ground injured. So 150 "highly trained and very organised" Russian men have run amok in a French city and not one has been nicked. It would come as absolutely no surprise to me if it is revealed in the future that these men are state sponsored by Russia to show some kind of intimidation to the little Englanders. They attacked like an army might. Bit of a coincidence.
The scenes at the end of the game had chilling reminders of Heysel about them. The sight of people sprinting across the terrace and climbing to safety while pursued by the Russian animals was scary to watch. Had that fence not been quite so easy to scale then who knows what injuries would have been suffered by the frightened, and innocent, people (including women and young children) as they attempted to escape.
Taking an England game to Marseille after what happened at France 98 was always a stupid thing to do by UEFA. To take England v Russia there was even worse. The lack of security at all the other grounds is even more alarming. Given the security state in France right now how is anyone able to get a flare or a fire-cracker or, worse still, a flare-gun(!) in to the stadium? A number of games have now seen the flares etc set off - these are essentially small bombs and/or firearms that are getting in to the games. At Lens on Saturday my Dad tells me the security check was a cursory patting-down of pockets at the very entrance to the ground - there was no metal detecting wand or airport style screening that we might have expected. In short the security at Euro 2016 is a joke. Is it any wonder though when you see how the French police handled things in Marseille?

Friday, 10 June 2016

Here we go...

I wanted to write a quick piece regarding what will be seen here over the next month. I won't be saying anything about Jamie Vardy (I don't do the gossip stuff) other than this - if he doesn't want to play for Arsenal then we should forget it immediately. 
There is a very important piece about Arsenal, and the fans who are the future of the club, that I had been hoping to write this week but time and other commitments have caught up with me. In short I have been forwarded an email regarding what now happens when Junior Gunners reach adulthood. I will get around to writing that blog at some point in the next week.
Down to the immediate business and, of course, Euro 2016 begins tonight. Giroud and Koscielny are expected to be in action for France in the opening game. I will be looking to cover the tournament, as usual, from an Arsenal angle. I will also comment from time to time on the home nations, especially England. Tomorrow is a big "Arsenal" day at the tournament with Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all likely to be involved at some point. That being the case, as I am away tonight and tomorrow, the first Euros piece should be up at some point on Sunday evening. That, at least, is the aim. 
Regular readers will know I am not a fan of the international game, especially when it is played in the form of friendlies, or qualifying mismatches with the likes of San Marino, in the middle of the football season. However, when it comes to a tournament it relieves the boredom of the close season and gives us some football to watch. The home nations interest this year, plus Republic of Ireland (I'm going to see them play Italy in Lille) should make for plenty to have more than a passing interest in, and the Arsenal players give us an added incentive to watch the football. I hope it's as good as the last World Cup was as that should see plenty of goals and some really good games. By the time it's over we'll be on the verge of pre-season training and that means getting back to Arsenal as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The long goodbye for Hector Bellerin

Good news for Hector, bad news for Arsenal

I was worried when I read that Hector Bellerin had made his full debut for Spain at the weekend. I'm now even more worried as he has been named in their full squad for Euro 2016. None of this is to say that he doesn't deserve to be there - if he gets in the side then I predict he will be one of the absolute stars of the tournament. The problem is that we've been here before with a superb Arsenal youngster, ex of Barcelona, spending five or six weeks in the company of the total a***holes that play for Barca and Spain.
We all knew that Fabregas would end up back at Barcelona at some point. What we didn't appreciate was that his place in the Spain squad would be used by that cess-pit of a club to tap him up via the likes of Puyol, Pique, Iniesta, Xavi and, for some bizarre reason, Pepe Reina of Liverpool. Every time Fabregas went away with Spain he had the drip, drip, drip of those players in his ear hole telling him how he was wasting his talent at Arsenal and needed to come "home" to the Nou Camp. I still get angry at Fabregas allowing them to place a Barcelona shirt on him at their celebrations of the World Cup win. It was only a matter of time then before Fabregas caused enough strife at Arsenal to force his way out. The fact that his move back to Barcelona wasn't overly successful on a personal level - despite being involved in a number of trophy wins, he never got ahead of the more famous and experienced midfield players there - will not have any bearing on the future of Bellerin.
I will go out on a limb right now and say that, by the time we get to proper pre-season training the Barcelona media machine will be in action dropping stories about Bellerin. Pique and his mates will be on at him throughout the next five weeks or so to unsettle him at Arsenal. A successful tournament will see Hector become a permanent feature of the Spain squad and so it will begin to turn his head. Like Fabregas he is a Barcelona kid. The lure of a return, despite any public protestations to the contrary, is there for him. Spending time with those w*****s from Barcelona will not be good news for Arsenal. If it doesn't happen this Summer, then next year will probably see Bellerin being properly pursued by Barcelona having been continually prodded by their players in the Spanish team. I reckon that Hector Bellerin won't be at Arsenal when the 2017-18 starts, or at least by the end of the 2017 transfer window. The long goodbye begins now. 

Friday, 27 May 2016

Squad Review Part Four - Strikers, News on a new Arsenal Captain?

The Arsenal goals trust

The final part of the squad review focuses on Arsenal's attacking players. It's fair to say it wasn't a vintage year for any of our main goal scorers, though the most creative player in the group did have a productive season. If only we'd signed a top class centre-forward to actually put away the opportunities on a more regular basis...

Mesut Ozil
He ended up one short of Thierry Henry's record number of "assists" in a season. This, of course, is a Sky Sports created Premier League record which has only become remotely a "thing" since the invention of Fantasy Football. There was a period, however, in mid-season when Ozil was untouchable as a player in the Premier League. Undoubtedly it was his best spell at Arsenal as he dominated games week after week. From that point on it was inconceivable that he wouldn't beat Henry's mark but he regressed to the disinterested image that has been the main feature of his time with us. At the same time he was let down by those he created for at times. For me he doesn't take enough responsibility by taking players on and he certainly doesn't shoot enough or score enough goals. There was talk mid-season about him maybe moving on but that would be a massive shock now.

Olivier Giroud
Giroud scored well in excess of 20 goals again across the season, and that is easily forgotten. The reason it's forgotten is that his form after the Liverpool game in January was absolutely awful. He put in a great display against Huth and Morgan when we beat Leiester at home, but from there on wasn't worth a place in the side until the final two games. He scored a good hat-trick on the final day but it shouldn't cloud what had gone on in the preceding 3 months. At the same time it shouldn't be forgotten that he got another hat-trick at Olympiacos in the magnificent team display that got us through in 
the Champions League and he was flying at that point. With the drying up of his goals went our Premier League challenge. Giroud is a good centre-forward, but he isn't a top one. If he was our reserve striker, mostly deployed from the bench, I would be more than happy with him.

Theo Walcott
What went wrong Theo? He started pre-season really well, picking up where he'd left off the previous campaign, and did well in the early going in the Premier League. The game at home to Man Utd was a demonstration of all that can be good about Theo. His pace and movement destroyed their central defenders and made the room and goals for Alexis and Ozil on the day. Naturally he was injured shortly thereafter and didn't come back until December. Nevertheless he scored a spectacular goal in the win over Manchester City that put us five points clear at Christmas. He then enjoyed another extended run in the side to the end of January but his performances grew more and more woeful. He came on and got the important equaliser at home to Leicester but it was downhill again after that. Things got so bad that he actually had the crowd howling with laughter when he characteristically fell over the ball at home to Palace. His Arsenal career seemed to have come full circle in that moment and it was difficult to differentiate between 2016 Theo and the young boy that made his debut in 2006 on the first day at the new stadium. He has been unluckily left out by England after playing an important part in their qualification for Euro 2016 and he now stands at a crossroads. He signed a new contract last year, but his Arsenal career seems to be going nowhere. We all still want him to succeed, but is he really worth yet another chance?

He appeared knackered in the early going this season having played the Copa America (and he does so again this year) but still had enough to destroy Man Utd in October. His hat-trick at Leicester had seemed to announce he was back at his best. However, he went on a lean run before injury at Norwich kept him out for a while. This should have been just the break he had needed but when he came back in the side he was frustratingly poor, and wasn't working anywhere near as hard as he had in the past. His constant coming inside with the ball became easy to defend against as the opposition now had him well scouted and worked out. His equaliser at Spurs showed he was still the man for the big moments, however, and a move to the right-wing when Iwobi came in to the side gave him a new lease of life. His goal scoring form returned at the end of the season, and the presence of both Coquelin and Cazorla in the final game brought out the best in the little Chilean as he now had more space opened up to him. We need him to come back fit from his exertions in the USA.

Danny Welbeck
Injured for almost a year until his sensational return to the pitch against Leicester. Welbeck weighed in with a nice few goals, and his partnership with Iwobi was a real breath of fresh air late in the season, but he still misses more than his share - the last minute cock-up in the Watford FA Cup game springs to mind immediately, and he had also missed a couple against Leicester before that last-minute header. He didn't complete a full game at any time, and Wenger was clearly wanting to use him sparingly - Giroud's form made this less possible. Concerningly he was constantly having his injured knee iced immediately after every time he played, before seriously injuring the other knee at City and cruelly missing out on the Euros as a result. Like Giroud he isn't the answer, but he can play in a number of positions across the front-line and is a valuable asset. If only his knees can recover...

Joel Campbell
Surprisingly not transferred before the season started he was an anonymous figure early on. He played in the League Cup game at Spurs where his work ethic was eye-catching, and his willingness to make a tackle particularly impressive. He got a massive slagging for the Sheffield Wednesday game, completely overlooking the fact that he was actually putting in a shift on the night. When he got his Premier League chance at Swansea he took it with both hands, scoring a lovely goal in to the bargain. For some reason he never really got a proper run despite impressing just about every time he played. The Swansea home game saw him score one of our best goals of the season and turn in one of the best individual displays as well. When Wenger took him off the crowd went crazy with derision at the Manager. This seemed to serve for Wenger taking against Campbell even more as he was involved less and less, with Walcott inexplicably continually gaining selection ahead of him. I think Campbell is an excellent player. He works hard, creates goals, scores goals and is perfect as a squad man - and he's done all of this playing out of position on the wing.

Alex Iwobi
The surprise package of the latter part of the season. He actually had a very impressive pre-season campaign and scored in the Emirates Cup win over Lyon. Mostly deployed as understudy to Mesut Ozil for the FA Cup games he got a shock start in Barcelona where he combined to great effect with Danny Welbeck. He did the same again at Everton a few days later and scored a superb goal, before netting his first home goal a week after that. His style in those early games set him apart at a time when the rest of the team looked stale and slow going forward. Alex played in a few different positions as well, including a deep-lying midfield role late on at West Ham where he controlled the game in the last 15 minutes. This boy looks to have a great future ahead of him right now and he has come on incredibly in the last 18 months or so.

Jeff Reine-Adelaide
Signed last Summer he burst on the scene against Lyon in the Emirates Cup with a look of Vieira or Diaby in the way he carried the ball through midfield in to attack. He got his rare first-team appearances playing wide and impressed in doing so - not expected to feature all that much he was an unused Premier League substitute in a number of matches early on in the season. Having watched him play some under-21 and FA Youth Cup games towards the end of the season he was less impressive and I hope he hasn't started to go backwards already. Next season is a big one for the young French player where he must kick on to bang down the door of the first-team squad, and maybe secure a loan deal.

Three of the young strikers in the squad went out on loan for the season. Serge Gnabry went to West Brom and was back at Arsenal by Christmas - Pulis was not the right person to be overseeing the development of anyone from Arsenal. He was back in the under-21 team for the last couple of months without getting another chance in the first-team. I'm not sure what the future is for Serge. Yaya Sanogo went to Ajax where they very quickly worked out he was awful. He, too, returned to Arsenal at Christmas but was then sent to Charlton for the remainder of the season. He scored the luckiest hat-trick I've ever seen while he was there, as well as being sent-off for a heinous elbow (though he was being fouled at the time) resulting in a suspension. He has no future at Arsenal, surely?! Finally Chuba Akpom is at Hull and will be hoping to be in the squad for their play-off final at Wembley tomorrow. Having enjoyed a highly successful pre-season tour with the first-team he has failed to impress enough in the Championship, with questions raised on more than one occasion over his attitude. He was ahead of Alex Iwobi at Arsenal a year ago, but is now firmly behind him. This pre-season, if he is still at Arsenal, will be make of break for Akpom.

In other news Aaron Ramsey has been awarded Mikel Arteta's number 8 shirt at Arsenal. This means he is definitely staying, I would say. However, there is still no number awarded to new £30m+ signing Granit Xhaka - the Arsenal commercial team give with one hand and take away with the other! After all, why try and make loads of money out of a new major signing, eh? 
Pictures have also emerged of Laurent Koscielny wearing the armband at the photo-shoot for the new kit. I've only seen these linked on Facebook so I can't speak for the veracity of them. I can't tell whether they've been doctored to look that way, but he certainly seems favourite to be the new skipper - as I wrote the other day, the Villa game should have given us a big clue.