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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Arsenal swatting the dross, Avoid the published nonsense

These four were superb in Switzerland


It's been a really good week since we lost to Southampton in the League Cup. The performances at West Ham and Basel have been as good as anything we've seen from Arsenal all season. There's been movement, passing with a purpose, even shots at goal. What there has also been, particularly at West Ham, is pressing higher up the pitch. Winning the ball back in the opposition half, as Coquelin did for the opening goal on Saturday, makes the whole job of beating opponents so much easier. Over the last few years our best performances and results have all been when we've played our football at the right end of the pitch. If our centre-halves aren't seeing too much of the ball when Arsenal are in possession then it means the team is playing well. Five goals on Saturday and another four last night have made for a perfect few days on the road. The opposition haven't been up to much, it must be said, but that hasn't always been reflected by Arsenal hammering them. In the last two games they've got it right and we have to hope that, unlike after Chelsea and Basel a couple of months ago, they keep it up now and get the results in December that we need if we are to challenge at the top.
Winning our group in the Champions League was an added bonus last night. It was totally unexpected after the game at home to Paris St Germain and you have to give credit where it is due. At the start of the campaign the objective had to be to win the group and that's been achieved. If it means we still get unlucky enough to draw Bayern Munich or whoever then there's nothing we can do about that. And if you can't enjoy Arsenal winning 4-1 away from home in Europe then that's your problem.
The way the goals came last night was also very satisfying. A couple of tap-ins for Lucas Perez showed that he might have some of the poachers instinct, followed by a nice right-foot finish across the goalkeeper to give him his hat-trick. After a slow start in terms of his playing time, and coming back from an injury, he will surely get a real boost from scoring his goals. He now has five goals and two assists from his limited appearances for Arsenal, and the hat-trick last night came from playing out of position on the right-wing. The fourth goal, however, is the one that will live in the memory. Ozil made a superb run in behind the defence (he was excellent last night) and the pass chipped over the top by Alexis was incredible. From there Ozil somehow knew exactly where Alex Iwobi was and presented him with a nice easy finish that hopefully gives him some confidence too - Iwobi's performance last night was also one of his better displays this season. All in all it was a very enjoyable way to spend a December night and followed on nicely from the exceptional Alexis-show on Saturday. That, in itself, was one of the best hat-tricks you will ever see and Arsenal must get him to sign a new contract as soon as possible.

The eagle-eyed reader among you will have noticed a new banner at the top of the page, and a new logo down the right. This site is privileged to be included in a new initiative to "cut through the noise" of Arsenal related news and views. The Highbury Library is providing a service that avoids the click-bait headlines and articles that adorn your news feeds and give you links directly to articles you might actually want to read, rather than the latest transfer lies designed exclusively to bring you to a site to read the adverts etc. All the major Arsenal sites are in there, and so am I! I'm grateful to the creators for the opportunity to be a part of this, and also for the creation of the logo that will now give this site it's own hallmark. Make The Highbury Library your first port of call for all your "real" Arsenal news and views.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Get off Carl Jenkinson's back

The new scapegoat for the clueless


I was able to make a rare appearance at the game last night. Sadly my presence didn't bring the best out of the players in the way it had against Chelsea and Basel. The performance was slow almost from start to finish from Arsenal. There was a ten minute period at the start of the second-half where we moved the ball at pace and genuinely attacked PSG. The fans were up and Arsenal were on top. Then we got the fortunate own-goal, though our attacking play merited some reward, and the team stopped playing again. We sat back, became lethargic, and eventually Paris got a much deserved equaliser. The fact is that they should have won the game, as they should at Parc-des-Princes a couple of months ago. Arsenal's season to this point, while only including one defeat, has largely been succoured by last minute winners against Southampton, Burnley and Ludogorets. Take those away (and you won't score too many last minute winners across the course of the season) and you would have a more accurate reflection of what the performances have actually deserved. The game against Chelsea, the first-halves against Basel and Watford, and the last twenty minutes at Sunderland are about the only examples of this side actually playing well this season. I know they beat Ludogorets heavily at home, but don't forget the saves Ospina had to make in the first-half that night, or the fact that the Bulgarian side were basically a pub team in comparison to Arsenal.
I suppose we're indebted again to Edinson Cavani for the point last night. He might have opened the scoring again but he makes Kaba Diawara look like a finisher at times. We didn't create a proper chance really all night. The penalty looked dubious from where I was, and from only one angle I've seen from TV pictures does it look like the bloke takes Alexis out. Giroud's execution of the penalty, however, was very good. It's a shame that, for the rest of the game, he received nothing even resembling service from his team mates. The Manager sent out a team without wingers to supply Giroud yet again - did he not see what happened when we finally got someone on the pitch who could cross the ball last Saturday? 
That brings me nicely on to the lad pictured at the top of this piece. Jenkinson actually did put a couple of dangerous balls in to the box - one of which led to the own-goal to put us ahead, and one in the first-half that saw only Alexis in there at the time. On the opposite side we had Kieran Gibbs (of whom I'm a huge advocate) failing every single time to get the ball past the closest defender. It is so easy to cross a football but actually Jenkinson is the only full-back we have that can do it. Tell me why, then, he got howls of derision from the crowd the first time he failed to get the ball in? We had watched Alexis put three balls from wide either out of play or straight to the goalkeeper, Gibbs was wasteful as noted, Iwobi a waste of space whenever he got the ball, yet Jenkinson gets the crowd abuse! There was a bloke behind me telling him to "go back to West Ham" and the bloke who sits next to me kept calling him a "donkey". This annoys the hell out of me. There seems to be a move for Jenkinson to be slagged regardless of what he does. Is he good enough to be a regular in the Arsenal side? No. Does he realise that? Of course he does. The Corporal is the reserve player for his position and is in the side because Hector Bellerin is injured. Is that his fault? I really think the issue with Jenkinson is born of jealousy - people envy him because he is the Arsenal supporter who has been able to live the dream we all wanted for ourselves. What he will never lack is effort - unlike our superstar German international who once again did his Invisible Man impression for 90 minutes last night. Scoring the odd goal against rubbish opposition is nice, but how about showing us you're genuinely World Class against a decent team? Give me a Jenkinson heart over an Ozil one any day, thanks very much. And, no, I'm not excusing Jenkinson for losing his man for the equaliser - it was his fault that Lucas (the best player on the pitch by a mile last night) got a free header at our goal. Iwobi obviously lost his bearings completely and took the ball out of Ospina's gloves to score the own-goal, but then he shouldn't have been out there himself if the Manager had picked the right players from the off, or made the sub he'd been waiting five minutes for before the corner was taken!
While I'm on about players getting stick it seems more and more are coming round to my way of thinking where Aaron Ramsey is concerned. Again, his presence in the starting line-up last night was not merited and made little sense. However, I thought he was probably our best player on the night. He kept the fancy stuff to an absolute minimum, covered the ground well, made a number of very good tackles (especially before half-time) and was generally very disciplined in his positional play. I was shocked therefore (I wasn't really) to see him getting so much stick from supporters online after the game. Maybe it looked different on TV, but the things I would normally level at him with regards to slowing the play down and giving the ball away etc were not criticisms you could make of him last night. It was bizarre to read that he was being accused of those very things. I suppose, as Jimmy Greaves used to say, it's a funny old game.
I'm at the game again this Sunday and I have been dismayed by Jack Wilshere stating he "wants Bournemouth to win" as he is currently a Bournemouth player. Big mistake Jack. The correct thing to do in those situations is to not answer the question when it's asked. But then he let himself down the other week when he revealed he had wanted to get away from Arsenal after he was left out of the England squad by Allardyce as he was only a sub in our first two games. Leaving aside that letting him have his wish (as we now know it to be) was damn stupid of Arsenal, he would have been playing by now every week as Santi is out and he is the only player we have who can do the same thing. That being the case, I'd love to see us totally smash Bournemouth at the weekend. It will need a far better performance for that to happen though.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Meeting another Arsenal legend

Me and big John Lukic


I never realised quite how tall John Lukic is. He is officially listed as 6'4" but let me tell you that is a conservative measurement of his height. It is no wonder that he saved so many penalties. I can't imagine anyone standing 12 yards from his goal and being totally confident they were going to find the net. Having met John on Saturday night I can also tell you he is a damn nice bloke too. More than that, he is a proper Arsenal Man and loves the club the way the fans do.
This was the twelfth annual Dover Gooners Legends Dinner and John Lukic was our guest on this occasion. Once again we were raising money for Bob Wilson's Willow Foundation and it was a pleasure for our supporters club to hand over a cheque for £1500 raised by the members via our raffle. Arsenal once again provided a shirt, signed by the first-team squad, and this was won by one of our special Italian supporters from Gunners Bergamo, once again re-iterating the strength of our relationship with those great Arsenal fans in Atalanta.
The original intention was, as in previous recent years, that I would interview John in front of the assembled crowd. However, John Lukic is what you might call a "proper" after-dinner speaker so there was no need for me to be prompting answers to my usual inane questions. Instead of hearing too much of my voice the guests listened intently as Lukey took us through his career from a youngster at Leeds, on to Arsenal, back to Leeds, and finishing once again at Arsenal. Big John is a master of his craft and his speech is clearly well rehearsed. He has some excellent punch-lines on the end of his stories, true or otherwise.
Among the highlights of the speech was, of course, Anfield 89. John talked to us at length about the game that night, confirming once again the way George Graham set out his team-talk before the game and how he had virtually scripted the match down to the late winner. Being the goalkeeper he was able to give us a unique insight in to the events of the game and how he couldn't really celebrate Alan Smith's opening goal as he was in front of the Kop. More than that he went on to tell us that his reaction was one of "what have we done"? Basically, at 0-0 there was no pressure as Arsenal were there to be the sacrificial lamb for Liverpool. At 1-0 up it was a bit different. There were a few in the room who were there at Anfield (not me) and John talked about the atmosphere inside that stadium. Basically it was a wall of noise, and the closer it got to the end the noisier it got. That was until Micky Thomas got the winner and he said it was like somebody had hit the mute button all around him. All that could be heard was the few thousand Arsenal fans in the far corner going utterly mental. It must have really been something to be in the ground. He also made a well known gag about how his throwing the ball out to Lee Dixon, rather than booting it long himself, was the beginning of the expansive passing game that Arsene Wenger went on to "inherit" after Lukey had started things off at Anfield. The way John puts the story across is funny to say the least.
We heard how he never got on with George Graham from the day the new boss arrived. The story of how David Seaman was signed is something that maybe only John can tell so I won't impart it here. Suffice to say that it illustrated to everyone in the room how football worked in that era. It was a shady business and it probably still is among certain bosses, especially the British ones.
Back at Leeds he won the Title of course, and he told us how he wasn't best friends with Eric Cantona. However, he admired Cantona as a brilliant footballer and, particularly, a great professional who was always working hard in training. The parallel with Dennis Bergkamp is an obvious one in that regard and Lukey had told the room early in his speech that Dennis is the best player he had played with. In terms of the guests we've had at Dover each one has named Bergkamp as the greatest. But then I already knew that.
The speech finished with how he came to retire. You might recall that he played a few games out of the blue in 2000 as third choice goalkeeper. The first of them was at Lazio in the Champions League and John said that he knew that night it was time for him to bow out. The pace was quicker, the ball was faster, the technique a higher quality. At that point, aged nearly 40, he knew it was time to go quietly. We also heard him praise David Seaman as the best goalkeeper he had seen when it came to "picking up" the ball early - given the nature of some high profile goals he conceded that is maybe a surprise! (I'm jesting, obviously). There were kind words about David Rocastle and the game at White Hart Lane in 1987, and also a very balanced answer given when an audience member unnecessarily asked him about Arsene Wenger and his future. John Lukic is a fine man and a great speaker. Above all, at the very end of his speech, he spoke about the pride he has in having played for "this great club" and it is clear that he absolutely loves The Arsenal. 
It was a great night and we are grateful to John Lukic for being our guest, and to the members and friends of the Dover Gooners for once again turning out in support of the event. I'm looking forward to next year already.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The full Ozil

I think he knew it was special


I've been waiting to get home from work all day to write this. I couldn't let a goal like Ozil's late winner last night go past without marking it in some way. I have been a fierce critic of Mesut Ozil throughout his time at Arsenal, while always making a point of saying how good he is when he puts in a performance. When he is on it, Ozil is the type of player you pay to watch. Last night he produced a piece of skill and class that almost has even me tempted to compare it to Dennis Bergkamp, such was the level of ability required to make that goal a reality.
I won't talk too much about the game itself. I was annoyed before we even kicked-off when Ramsey was put in the side ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I don't know what the Ox is supposed to do after the last two games in order to get a decent run in the team. To play Ramsey wide on the right in his position was just awful. It was no surprise that the second Ludogorets goal came directly from Ramsey wasting possession around their penalty area with yet another ill-conceived, badly executed fancy flick off his heel. I really can't stand the lad in an Arsenal shirt. He made amends slightly with his cross for Giroud's equaliser, but aside from that he was totally woeful and isn't half the player he thinks he is. As for what happened in the Arsenal defence after Ramsey gave the ball away I have to say it was terrible. Kieran Gibbs had a poor night all round and his attempt at defending one-on-one was Sunday league quality, while Mustafi chose to point Flamini-style at the goalscorer rather than actually go and close the gap himself. Very, very poor.
You have to hand it to the players, I suppose, for coming back and winning the game. Level at half-time I expected us to come out and put it to bed in the second-half. Instead of that we looked lazy and half-hearted, the passing was casual and lacked speed and precision, while Jenkinson started to feel the pace on his side of the pitch - it was a welcome sight when Chamberlain finally came on to add some assistance for him down the right. Xhaka gave away another cheap yellow card because he was too slow to make a proper tackle - he was so high he was lucky the referee never really spotted it. On two occasions it was down to Ospina to bail out his defence yet again as the Bulgarians created the only chances. And then, with three minutes to go, Arsenal suddenly sprang to life...
Olivier Giroud had been very quiet apart from his goal - just about the only header he won all night really. Out of nowhere, however, he appeared inside his own half with a superb crunching tackle to win the ball back against what had all night been a high line of defence from Ludogorets. Ozil had been unlucky to get caught offside a few minutes earlier (and should have buried a chance at 0-0 only to mis-kick the ball as he often does when faced with the goalkeeper). The ball from Elneny, though, was as perfect as the run from Ozil on this occasion - it was, for me, Elneny's best moment in an Arsenal shirt - and I include his goal at Barcelona in that thinking. Having stayed onside what followed was total genius from Ozil. As he went through I wanted him to go round the goalkeeper who had charged in to no-mans-land. The little chip over him was delightful. I then wanted him to hit it before the defender got back. Ozil took a wonderful touch on to his left side and sent the defender sprawling. I wanted him then to slide the ball home, but he dropped a shoulder and left a second defender on his backside and sliding towards the touchline, and then he composed himself enough to roll it home after another controlling touch. Ozil's fairly exuberant celebration (by his standards) was that of a man who knew he had just done something really very special indeed. My words don't really do it justice, and I don't think any words can to be honest. It was a glorious goal by any standard, and at any level of the game. I don't care who you are playing against, the skill and ability he displayed on that goal was just out of this world. The defenders involved might well have to seek counselling to overcome the trauma of being made to look like mugs the way they were.
As I said at the top I give Ozil a lot of stick. But last night, in that moment of scoring the winner, we saw the player we paid £40m+ to sign from Real Madrid. That was the guy who lit up the 2010 World Cup and humiliated the England defence the same way he humiliated Ludogorets last night. Quite often we don't see that player, but when he appears it is usually wondrous. I hope we see him in the next three games as they could really shape our entire season. 

Where did he go?

Sunday, 30 October 2016

It's going well

The beard is back


It's four weeks this time between posts. I've spoken before on here about how working in front of a computer all day puts me in less of a mind to sit in front of one when I get home, but there is another reason for a lack of output. I write a blog to get things off my chest. I also write it because, as a match-going fan I am giving the view from where I see it actually inside the stadium more often than not. However, this season I am not really a match-going fan. I've been to just two home games all season, Chelsea and Basel. As a result, if I was to write about any particular game I'd only be talking about what I've seen on TV. There's no point in that as 99% of the limited number of people reading it will have also seen the same pictures I've seen. Yes, I would often comment on stuff that goes on outside of actual games being played, but the work thing is what has sapped my motivation to type outside of football matches. 
It is also work (and in the last week a family holiday) that has been in the way of me getting to games in the flesh. Given the results of the team maybe I ought to keep away. I won't be at the Tottenham game next week either thanks to my shifts, so if we win that you can thank my absence for it.
I mention the fact that I comment on here as a match-going fan. The reason I do that is that some of the more prominent sites are written by people who go to very few matches. As such, in my view, what I have to say is usually far more pertinent than anything those people write, however much they may have developed themselves some cosy contacts within Arsenal Football Club. Given that going to football is my (not so) unique selling point I would feel a total charlatan to start spouting off as I do without being at the game. Frankly I've got no interest in a blog written by someone who never goes - they have no insight they can give me, so I can't give an insight to anyone else if I'm not actually attending.
So what of the team itself? The results have been good. Last Saturday's game at home to Middlesbrough was a terrible disappointment as the players, for the most part, simply didn't turn up. It was a throwback to everything that was wrong in the second half of last season. I found it a relief, therefore, that yesterday saw a performance with more movement and pace. Yes the players took it too easy after half-time up until Sunderland equalised, but the way the front four moved about yesterday in the first-half was everything that was missing last week. Alexis Sanchez was simply too good for the Sunderland team (they look like a team resigned to their fate as Aston Villa were this time last year). I was really pleased to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking confident. His play for the first goal was top quality, though a couple of moments from him in the second-half were a bit disappointing - though not as disappointing as seeing him get replaced by the Welsh show-pony.
The most pleasing thing for me about the game yesterday was the impact of Olivier Giroud. From memory he seems to have a great record as a substitute and I think he's going to find himself used that way a lot this season. I am sure he has been on the naughty step since getting sent-off in Paris so it was great to see him get in to the action and show Arsene Wenger he is hungry enough to fight for the team. With Lucas Perez now out injured, and Theo also nursing a predictable knock, we will need Giroud to back up Alexis a lot in the coming weeks. I think his beard could do with a trim but I'm willing to overlook that if he keeps banging in the goals like he did at Sunderland.
We've come through a period in which we ought to have been taking maximum points. Only the one result let us down in that regard. From now on things get harder. There is a European trip to Bulgaria where I'd be happy with a couple of changes to the starting XI just to keep everyone fresh, and then it's Tottenham next week. I see Harry Kane was back in training ahead of schedule last week. This, obviously, has nothing to do with the fact that their biggest game of the season is next Sunday. It has all the echoes of the miraculous recoveries that Darren Anderton always made for derby day. Hopefully he ends up being about as successful as Anderton was. A win against Tottenham next week, following the win against Chelsea a few weeks ago, would mark us out for having a real good go this season. It will still be too early to really tell if we can genuinely challenge, but it might just make one or two others sit up and take notice. 

Until next time, whenever that might be...

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Arsene Wenger - a celebration from a Wenger Out person

Arsene with the Double


In the week that marks Arsene Wenger's 20 year anniversary as the Arsenal Manager (which, as I'm sure you will now know, is today) it has been fitting that the players have turned in two performances showcasing the kind of football with which his name is synonymous. The game against Chelsea, and the first hour against Basel, were a throwback to the kind of passing, pace and movement that made the first half (at least) of his reign such a pleasure to watch at close quarters. I am an avowed, and long consistent, member of the "Wenger Out" lobby. However, I believe that today is not a day upon which we should be looking at what is wrong with his leadership, but instead to celebrate the many great things that were right about it.
There can be no doubt that Arsene Wenger massively impacted on Arsenal when he arrived. Moreover, the sort of things he introduced were soon adopted by the rest of the English game as the benefits of his ideas on training, recovery, diet and fitness became apparent. Arsene Wenger provided a revolution in English football and every fan of the game in this country, regardless of their club creed, should recognise that as a matter of absolute fact. As far as bringing in these differences at Arsenal is concerned I think he benefited from the presence of David Platt and Dennis Bergkamp. I feel that they were able to champion Wenger's ideas with the rest of the squad - having played abroad previously they were not unfamiliar with this kind of progressive thinking, and maybe their influence was a great assistance to Wenger. I don't know that to be true, obviously, but I'm really not that certain that our grizzled English veterans would have taken much notice of the bespectacled French football philosopher without someone who already had their respect giving them the nod. In terms of getting the fans on side we had already seen Patrick Vieira in action before Arsene arrived and he had made a massive impression on the faithful - as a first signing from a man who hadn't yet been officially appointed it was a great initial impression to create.
Arsene Wenger is a highly intelligent man. He recognised that bringing in his own formation etc on the pitch should not be an immediate process. He straight away got the passing football started, with more freedom for the defenders to play football than before, but wholesale change was not made until the following summer when his feet were well and truly under the table. By that time his methods had the experienced players hooked and Arsenal was ready to move forward. He was also prepared to make big calls, so Paul Merson became the only victim of any big name cull from the previous era - my suspicion is that Merson failed to adapt to Arsene's way of doing things and was pushed through the door. Ever since then Merson has failed to hide a personal bitterness towards Arsenal and Wenger in spite of what the Club did for him over many years.
What followed over the next ten years was a succession of great football, a number of near misses, a good few trophies, a new stadium, and some of the greatest players and the greatest football this country has ever seen. Petit became the perfect partner for the young Vieira, Manninger a fleeting hero that looked set to replace Seaman, Overmars made us forget Merson in double-quick time, with quick being the operative word. Ray Parlour found a role in a team of technical brilliance that many would have been sure was beyond him. Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Adams and Keown all saw their careers extended, and glory that they thought had long passed brought back to them in a way none of us could have foreseen. Ian Wright had an unexpectedly short last hurrah, only to be replaced by the sign of what was to come in the pace, power and goals of Nicolas Anelka. Arsenal won the Double in Arsene Wenger's first full season as the Arsenal Manager.  I wrote a piece a few years ago about the day we beat Newcastle in the FA Cup Final in 1998 - you can read it here. That season also saw my favourite ever day at Highbury when Tony Adams sealed the Title with that stunning run and left-foot volley against Everton - if there is ever a moment that beats that Double for me (in terms of actually being there) then it will be special indeed. A foreigner had come to England and usurped all of the dinosaurs that ran the national game. Only Ferguson could rise to the challenge as he was the only one, despite his hatred for Wenger at the time, that recognised this French guy had something a bit special about him.
Somehow we went four years without a trophy after that. I will always believe that the 1998-99 side was even better than the one that had done the Double the previous year. They were a Dennis Bergkamp missed penalty away from doing it in successive seasons - if he'd scored at Villa Park I am certain it would have happened  for us while the eventual treble Man Utd won would have been a trophyless campaign for them. We managed to be runners-up in the league each season, and also in the 2000 UEFA Cup and 2001 FA Cup. Wenger's boys were becoming known for bottling it and failing to turn superiority in to silverware. Things were about to change again.
After the four year drought Wenger finally decided it was time to shop properly again. Thierry Henry had arrived in 1999 to replace Anelka and was already on his way to challenging Wrighty's record. Arsene brought in Francis Jeffers, Richard Wright and Sol Campbell as three major signings in the summer of 2001. While only Sol would genuinely go on to have a major impact at Arsenal those three big signings meant there was a new mindset and determination. The fans were excited and so were the players. It resulted in another Double for Arsene Wenger with Robert Pires the star turn and player of the year. Bobby won us that Title, make no mistake, although it was left to Freddie Ljungberg to finish it off with the assistance of Bergkamp after Pires wrecked his knee - Overmars had done a similar thing, albeit in just a couple of games, when Dennis himself had his season ended in 1998. They went through the entire season unbeaten away from home. They scored in every Premier League game. Both of these were records. Above all, this Arsenal team played majestic football and seemed destined to dominate. The Title was thrown away the following year amid the physical assault of Allardyce's hatchet job at Bolton late in the season (and the corruption of the FA who suspended Sol Campbell for a wrongly issued red card at home to Man Utd) but the FA Cup was secured again with Bobby getting his own moment with the winning goal against Southampton.
The season that followed in 2003-2004 was, quite simply, the single greatest achievement in domestic English football that there has ever been. I don't need to remind anyone that the league season was completed undefeated, just part of a total of 49 league games without losing (the circumstances of the 50th game will one day be uncovered for the travesty of football corruption that they undoubtedly were). What is easily forgotten is that the Invincible squad also reached the semi-final of both domestic cups, and the quarter-final of the European Cup. The fact is that they should have won all four of those competitions. They deserved to do so. That they did it playing the most unbelievably exciting brand of football that the English game has ever seen is what marks it out as being even more special. Arsene Wenger was the man who devised that style and assembled the group of players capable of producing it, Thierry Henry hitting his very peak at the perfect time. It is often said that he won nothing until 2014 without a George Graham influence but that is a churlish and revisionist viewpoint. The Invincibles squad contained only Ray Parlour from the end of George's reign and he had never been a regular starter until after George departed. The fact is that Wenger had introduced Lehmann, Lauren, Toure, Cole and Gilberto to add to the names I have already mentioned in this piece. The squad players included the likes of Edu, Kanu and Wiltord - the revolution of Arsenal and English football had essentially been completed.
Of course the stadium move has come and gone, and Arsene has only ever come close to winning the European Cup on one occasion - we should have won it but for Henry missing chances and a bad substitution or two by Wenger himself. That is, without doubt, the glaring failure of his twenty year reign as, having been in the competition every year since 1998, only being in one final and one other semi-final is really not good enough. The second half of his tenure has been mostly difficult and, in many recent seasons, a difficult slog where the quality of the playing squad and the football they play has been far lower than Wenger had got us used to. We have had moments and, surprisingly in the end, trophies with the FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015. There have been more near misses too. There has been a fissure in the support of the club caused principally by his continuing presence. However, as I said at the top of this post, today is not the day for that discussion. Today is a day to thank Arsene Wenger for the great memories he gave us, the great players he put on the pitch for us, the great style of football he got those players to produce, and for the great achievements of his trophy wins. Whatever any of us may think of the man and his methods, I think he absolutely believes that what he is doing is right for Arsenal - I don't have to agree with him to respect the man. I will always respect him for what he achieved and for what he won. If the last week can be replicated over a period of months then there may still be glory to be enjoyed. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for Arsene Wenger to prove the likes of me to be wrong and to lead Arsenal to the Title at least one more time by winning it this season. He is a legendary figure at Arsenal Football Club, one of many, and that should not be forgotten.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A nice few weeks

Arsenal's best player so far this season


It's been nearly three weeks again since I wrote anything and, to be frank, I think that is going to be a more and more regular thing with my posts on the site. I spend all day (or night sometimes) on a computer at work and the last thing I often feel like doing these days is sitting in front of another one when I get home, even on days off. There will be occasions when I still get to do something on here more regularly but the mood will really have to take me. Enough about that.
It's been an excellent few weeks for Arsenal. Starting with a couple of uninspiring performances, but good results, against Southampton and PSG the team have gone on a little bit of a run. There has been an improvement in the football with pace and proper closing down being added to the performances. You can't argue with a week that sees you win twice away from home by scoring four goals (with two totally different starting XI's) and then hammering Chelsea 3-0 at home with the best team performance in a long time - I would say it was even better than the home win over Manchester United last season and it could have been a much wider margin. Coming away from the game on Saturday evening you got the sense that maybe some of us are starting to have a bit of belief in this squad of players.

Stop press: I'm just interjecting in my own article to laugh at Sam Allardyce being sacked by England according to Sky Sports News. Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke. What an utter cretin. Karma will always come back to haunt you in the end! Too bad, so sad, bye-bye.

Back to Arsenal. The proof of whether or not any newly found faith from the supporters is well placed will come in future fixtures, of course. The way the team played on Saturday must be replicated week after week, starting tomorrow at home to Basel and at Burnley this Sunday. We've had plenty of false dawns in recent years and we have to hope this isn't another. I'm more than willing to wait and see and hope that the feel-good factor from Saturday is a long lasting one. It was nice to be excited by an Arsenal team in a way that has become all too rare of late. Long may it continue.

I want to finish off by offering credit where it is due, and that credit is to Theo Walcott. Again, there have been plenty of times in the past with Theo where we have thought he's finally getting there, only to see him slump or get injured again. However, since the first game of the season against Liverpool he has been superb as far as I'm concerned. The fact is that when Theo is playing well then Arsenal are playing well - his pace scares the life out of the opposition and it opens up space for everyone else once he is being targeted by their defenders. I gave Theo so much stick last season and I was convinced he would be on his way after May. Coming back this season he has already started to win over a crowd that was on his back whenever he did something not quite right. For all that I thought he was finished with us I still like Theo Walcott. I still want to see Theo show us all that he is as good as we had hoped he was going to be when he burst on the scene ten years ago. He is a likeable guy, clean-cut and no trace of arrogance. Maybe that has led to him being used as a bit of a door-mat by fans and England bosses alike over the years. For Arsene Wenger he has clearly always had something about him. If this is Theo's season then I can't wait to sit in the stands and watch it.