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Monday, 28 February 2011

Let down by our own inadequacies again

Jack Wilshere - that's the passion I want to see during/after a Final

Jack Wilshere was sat on the pitch in tears at the end of the match yesterday. Throughout the game, and after it, Wilshere was just about the only Arsenal player to show the sort of passion we should expect from our boys. There was an arrogance to Arsenal yesterday, yet again. The players seemed to largely adopt the idea that turning up was going to be enough, that Birmingham's players had got their day out and that would be enough for them. The way Arsenal ambled on to the pitch, in dribs and drabs, for the second-half (which is something that has irked me more and more in the past couple of years) was indicative of their attitude. Sadly, it was an attitude that seemed to pervade the support as well. I have never known such a quiet bunch at a Final. There was a point in the first-half where there was near silence at the Arsenal end, in stark contrast to the wall of noise from the opposition fans (more of whom below).
The game itself saw too many Arsenal players way below their best. Alex Song played his worst game of the season, while Djourou and Koscielny returned to looking like perfect strangers at the back. Then, of course, there is the fact that Arsenal weren't given the best chance to win that they could have been - by their Manager. What the hell was that team selection all about? I don't know anybody that felt Rosicky was a credible starting option. With Abou Diaby back to fitness I had Rosicky down as the 19th man - the one available player that would miss out on a place in the squad. I just can't understand why Wenger persists with Rosicky in any area of the pitch, but particularly not in place of Cesc Fabregas. To my mind we have a number of players who could possibly play in that position - Nasri, Arshavin, Wilshere, Diaby and Rosicky (in that order). Samir Nasri was shoved out on the right wing and didn't see enough of the ball. On the occasions that he got himself more central (and got Rosicky out of the way) he caused problems for Birmingham - three times he forced Foster to make a save. I don't doubt that the mind is willing for Tomas Rosicky, but his body gave out a long time ago. He simply shouldn't have been on the pitch in the first place.
Then we come to Arsenal's substitutions. Apparently Robin Van Persie was suffering with the knock he picked up in the act of scoring his quite wonderful goal. With the opposition centre-half playing on one leg I would rather have seen RVP soldier on, than be taken off with twenty minutes to go in the hope that he might be fit for Barcelona. Yesterday was the priority, forget about Barcelona until you actually have to play them. Similarly the removal of Arshavin was baffling. Yes, he wasn't tracking back properly, but he was also our only real creative influence, regularly beating his man and getting in behind.
I don't want to dwell too much on the winning goal. In my opinion it was Koscielny's fault. I've watched it back on Sky and you can clearly hear Szczesny shout for the ball. Koscielny should have got out of the way. Having not gotten out of the way he should have belted the ball in to row Z. Unfortunately he did neither and it ended up with us losing a Final. When it happened I said to my brother it was a "Gus Caesar moment" and was corrected by the bloke in front who said "it was worse than that." He was, of course, absolutely right. Mistakes will happen. The thing is that the top players make fewer of them, and they certainly don't make them in the last minute of a Final. One thing that should be said is that, if Manuel Almunia had been involved, I know he would be getting dogs abuse for it, regardless of where the fault lay.
The Birmingham fans, as mentioned above, really got behind their side. But what a horrid group of people they are. Scum doesn't quite cover it. They deserved their celebrations after the game as their side had won, fair and square (let's be honest, we'd have been behind and down to ten men in the first couple of minutes, had the officials not been so poor). But the way they swaggered around, abusing people, and being generally unpleasant sums up the kind of people they are - and that was before the match. This was reflected in the lack of class from their players at the winning goal. Television shows Koscielny being tapped on the back of the head in mock congratulation as he sits in the goalmouth (TV seems to show Beausejour doing it, though I've seen a photograph making it look like Ferguson - which would come as no surprise). I remember John Aldridge ruffling the hair of Brian Laws after his own-goal put Liverpool in the FA Cup Final in 1989. Aldridge got his comeuppance a few weeks later when Michael Thomas won Arsenal the League at Anfield (and who can forget his refusal to shake David O'Leary's hand after the game - that cost him his place with Republic of Ireland, it so disgusted Jack Charlton). Hopefully whichever of the two it was, and the obsequious scumbags that follow Birmingham City, will get theirs in May this year by being relegated from the Premier League. What goes around comes around, and I hope it comes around for Birmingham.
A quick word about the Sky commentator, Alan Parry. On Sky Sports News they played his commentary when showing the opening goal. I am assuming that they managed to get him down from the roof of Wembley in order to continue calling the game after that. I've never heard quite such celebration from a supposedly neutral commentator.

It would be wrong at this time to declare the season as over - the facts of our position in the other three competitions make such statements seem a little ridiculous. However, I would not be surprised if our season was effectively over in a fortnight from now. If that happens I will deliver my own verdict on what the problems are, and who should be held responsible. In the meantime I live in hope.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Arsenal v Birmingham City (Wembley) Carling Cup Final Preview

Hopefully it will look just like this by 6 o'clock tomorrow night

So here we go then, our first Final since 2007. It seems amazing really, given the consistent success under Arsene Wenger, that we have waited four years since our last showpiece occasion. The fact that we have had a four year gap between the big games, and six years since actually winning something (did you know it was six years? I don't think it's been mentioned very much by the media *yawn*). will be reflected in the way Arsenal line up tomorrow. Back in 2007 at Cardiff the team was made up of second-choice players, with the exception of Kolo Toure and Cesc Fabregas - this was how we looked: Almunia - Hoyte, Toure, Senderos, Traore - Walcott, Fabregas, Denilson, Diaby - Adebayor, Baptista. Thierry Henry was injured, but probably wouldn't have played anyway, while Gilberto was inexplicably left out of the side despite playing in the previous games, and being Captain all season. Tomorrow we will be missing only the injured pair of Fabregas and Walcott and the rest of the team will be very much the regulars:
Szczesny - Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy - Song, Wilshere, Nasri - Arshavin, Van Persie, Bendtner (there is a possibility that Diaby will come in instead of Bendtner with Nasri moving wide and Wilshere playing in Fabregas' position).
Back in 2007 we dominated Chelsea for the majority of the game. Abou Diaby was simply too good for them right up to the point when he injured his foot by accidentally kicking John Terry in the head. We took the lead but were then undone by a bad linesman, a worse ref (thank you Howard Webb), poor finishing and Didier Drogba. For all that you left the ground that day proud of the boys (because that's what they were, mere lads) you couldn't help but feel the first-choice team would have wiped the floor with a below-par Chelsea. A trophy went begging because Arsene didn't make sure on the big occasion - a mistake repeated a year later in the semi-final at Tottenham. Tomorrow we know we will not die wondering. If Arsenal don't win then it won't be because the best available team is not out there.
Birmingham's players have the opportunity to become immortal in the history of their Club. Alex McLeish will have them more than fired up for the match. He said last week that they would "get in Arsenal's faces" which should come as no surprise. It didn't go unnoticed by me that he wasn't challenged to explain what he meant by that. Given the history of players under his control "getting in Arsenal's faces" it was a disturbing thing to hear for this particular Gooner.
Nikola Zigic has really started to show his form in recent weeks and he will be a huge (literally) handful for Djourou and Koscielny tomorrow. You know that Birmingham will play to his particular strengths - they would be crazy not to - and the match against Stoke on Wednesday might just have been the ideal preparation for Arsenal's back-line. Birmingham also have great delivery from wide with the likes of Seb Larsson particularly dangerous. Lee Bowyer will be his usual nasty self in midfield so I hope Mike Dean gets a handle on things early, and we don't get a repeat of his assaults on Sagna from New Years Day. Barry Ferguson has been a real surprise in midfield for City since his arrival. His previous incarnation as a Premier League player at Blackburn was far from a success, but he is a decent footballer and a more genuine hard-man than Bowyer. Jack Wilshere will have to match the physicality of Ferguson before he can let his feet do the talking. They also have Alex Hleb who might yet be fit - I just hope he sticks to his regular ploy of going round in circles and doesn't influence the game as he might on a big pitch.
I've just been pointed in the direction of today's Sun newspaper where their Midlands correspondent, Dean Scoggins, appears to identify Johan Djourou as Arsenal's weak-link, and says that Birmingham will target the big Swiss. I hope he's right about that - I'd far rather they target Djourou than Koscielny. I know Mr Scoggins personally and will be offering him my opinion on his journalism shortly!
Enough about Birmingham and what they might do. Arsenal have enough in the team tomorrow to beat any side in the country, not least Birmingham City. Robin Van Persie is back and he becomes our leader in the absence of Cesc Fabregas. There can be no doubt that if Wilshere, Nasri and Arshavin provide the service then, if Robin continues his form tomorrow, Arsenal will score goals. I really fancy Van Persie to take to the big occasion. RVP came of age as an Arsenal player in the FA Cup semi-final in 2005 against Blackburn at Cardiff. He came off the bench to score two late goals and ensure our place in the Final. In the Final itself he showed his bottle by stepping up to put his penalty in the top corner. RVP is a big game player, and tomorrow is his stage.
Jack Wilshere is being touted as the main man for Arsenal in the absence of Cesc - not least by Arsene Wenger. I think this is pressure that the young man could well do without, to be quite honest. Cup Final's often overawe younger players, no matter how good they might be. Jack has not scored anything like as many goals for the first-team as we might expect from him. With no Fabregas in the side he will hopefully feel less pressure to pass the ball when well-placed for a shot. Anyone who watched Wilshere score regularly for the Reserves will know he is capable of scoring from almost anywhere - how we'd love a Wembley spectacular from Arsenal Jack.

I have a very excited five year-old in the house looking forward to his first game at Wembley. He's learned all the songs ahead of the game (though his version of the Arshavin song is missing certain expletives) and is singing them endlessly. My first trip there to see Arsenal (I'd been to a couple of schoolboy internationals) was in 1988 versus Luton Town. I had never experienced noise like it when Martin Hayes, and then Alan Smith, scored to put us ahead. Then it all started to go wrong and I had never known such disappointment when we eventually threw it away that day. I hope that my boy gets all the good experiences tomorrow, but none of the disappointment I had that afternoon. I can't wait to get there and buy him his first Wembley flag (I was still using my 1988 vintage when we played Newcastle there in 1998). The fun bus is leaving Dover at 9.30am, packed with Gooners on their way to see the boys hopefully end the silverware drought. We know that we might never get a better opportunity to win something, we just need the players to show they have the temperament to get the job done. I don't care if it's 1-0 with an own-goal in injury-time, or even on penalties, as long as they find a way to win. I have the Sky+ set for the game, and then all the reaction on Sky Sports News - if we win then I'll watch it when I get home, if we lose I'll delete it straight away! I can't wait for tomorrow and I pray that we have a Wembley occasion to remember.

COME ON YOU GUNNERS

Friday, 25 February 2011

Disappointment all round

Stoke fans - where did they all go last night?

Well that was a let down wasn't it? I gave it the big build up in the belief that the Stoke fans would be falling over themselves to give me some abuse on this site last night, but they were nowhere to be seen. I'd keyed myself up for some decent keyboard wars of words with another deluded neanderthal, only to find that they called my bluff. Perhaps there are only so many times anyone can defend Ryan Shawcross before they finally realise they are quite wrong. Never mind, let's move on to something more important.

The news on Cesc Fabregas is another big disappointment for fans and player alike. There is some stuff in the news today that Cesc believes he is fit to play but that Arsenal say otherwise. In a situation like this, where the player is desperate to captain his side in a Wembley showpiece, then we have to accept the dispassionate call being made by Arsenal's medical team. Fabregas may well believe he is ready to play, but he is somewhat biased in his desperation to play in the big game. Arsene Wenger says that Cesc will miss "one or two" games with this latest setback. The timing is awful, of course, with the Carling Cup Final on Sunday, but it really shouldn't matter all that much, should it? Even without Fabregas and Walcott one would expect Arsenal to have enough to win on the day, even against seriously motivated opposition. The trouble is that Cup Final's are different from any other game - just ask Wimbledon's players from 1988, or Swindon Town's from 1969. If missing Sunday means that Fabregas is back for the game next weekend, and/or the second-leg with Barcelona, and he stays fit for the rest of the season, then missing Sunday may not be such a bad thing.

Theo Walcott, says Wenger, is unlikely to play in Barcelona. I think I'll take a wait and see stance on this one. There is no doubt that Barcelona fear the speed of Theo and, in the Nou Camp on its particularly wide pitch, he can find lots of space to use to his advantage. There is no talk of ligament damage or anything like that, merely an ankle sprain. Given that the players get the best treatment, round the clock if necessary, I will be surprised and disappointed if Walcott doesn't line up in Barcelona in eleven days from now.

That's it for today, nice and brief. I will be previewing the Carling Cup Final here tomorrow and the excitement is growing in my household...

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Arsenal 1 - 0 Stoke City - a big win, but is it a costly one?

Cesc and Theo - at least one will be missing at Wembley

I have to admit that I'm having a problem with writing this. The trouble with doing a match review is that you really need to have seen the whole game to do it any justice. As I only have Sky's 40 minutes of highlights I don't feel qualified to talk about any particular performance in the match last night. With that being the case I have decided that I will not attempt to review the game but talk about the fallout from it instead.
I can't quite believe some of the stuff I've read so far today. One piece in particular has caught my eye. It is from the BBC website and can be found here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thefootballtacticsblog/2011/02/arsenal_fans_need_to_get.html It's written by a journalist called Alastair MacGowan, who I had always thought was an impressionist famed for a bad David Beckham skit. If he is now doing an impersonation of a football journalist then he needs to work on his act a bit more. What is going on at the BBC? I wrote here last week about the post-Barcelona phone-in on Radio 5 Live turning into a "TalkSport-esque" provocation programme, and now we have this outrageous nonsense. The crux of the piece is that Arsenal fans are a disgrace for not "appreciating" Stoke's style of football, while the booing of Ryan Shawcross (poor, innocent, leg-breaking Ryan Shawcross) is totally unacceptable. I remember when Wimbledon played like Stoke City (only they were better at it) the press fell over themselves to criticise. Now teams like Stoke are seen as the standard-bearers of the good old, in your face, English attitude on the football pitch. Can the press not see that this is why England are rubbish - good technique is not a prerequisite for playing football the way that Stoke do. Instead of criticising supporters for not liking this kind of football, or pillorying a team who likes to pass the ball, perhaps they should get at club's like Stoke. Perhaps if the press put pressure on the club's to aspire to Arsenal's style of football (mimicking Barcelona if you want to put it that way) then the national team would improve. In terms of the article itself it really would be more at home in a tabloid newspaper than on the official website of the BBC. The most galling thing is that, as licence-fee payers, we have actually paid the wages of this cretin so that he can write such drivel. He clearly didn't watch the game at all either - see his comments about Clichy's awful tackle which earned a booking - you know, the one where he played the ball out for a throw-in only to be penalised by the referee (yet another incompetent buffoon).
Back to the game itself and the three points gained are massive. The importance of putting the pressure on to Man Utd, as much as possible, can not be understated. The fact that it was a hard-fought 1-0 win, with a plethora of injuries weakening the side, makes it a very good three points indeed. I was pleased for Squillaci that he should get the winning goal, and then be instrumental in the defensive effort against the aerial onslaught (I was amazed that Pulis didn't bring on Jones until the dying minutes). The win has certain similarities to a 1-0 win around this time in 1998 when a severely weakened (more so than last night) Arsenal beat Crystal Palace at Highbury with a goal from Gilles Grimandi (who was, at the time, a similarly much derided French centre-half struggling in the English game).
I really enjoyed watching the highlights of the last couple of minutes of the match as Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin ran the clock down in the corner of the field - as a cameo of quality football in the face of neanderthal hackers it was a joy to watch (I daresay that particular line will bring the Stoke fans back on to the comments section of the blog, as they were on Tuesday). Arshavin had earlier somehow sidestepped a Shawcross swipe that threatened to put him in row six of the middle-tier. Things did get a bit hairy when Nasri then decided to cross the ball to nobody at all, but we got away with it. Jack Wilshere also looked great on the ball and he, too, had to dodge the flying feet of the Frankenstein lookalike before the game was over.
So what about the injuries? Theo Walcott has been ruled out of the Carling Cup Final already with his ankle injury. I think Whitehead's foul (not given) was clumsy rather than anything else, but if you're not trying to play the ball most of the time then clumsiness will hurt someone in the end. Theo's pace will be missed on Sunday on the wide-open spaces of Wembley - he could have really been the difference on the big occasion, and he has a tremendous record in big matches. Of even more concern is the injury to Cesc Fabregas. At least we can't point a finger at anyone from Stoke City for this one. Another hamstring injury for Fabregas was probably inevitable with his ongoing problems in that area. That it should come now is a major blow to Arsenal, and to Fabregas himself. The choice may well be a stark one for Arsene Wenger - play a half-fit Fabregas in order to try and win the Cup Final and see him out for six weeks, or leave him out for a fortnight to keep him fit for the run-in. If Robin Van Perise is also injured come Sunday then the tie is suddenly very much up for grabs and Birmingham will fancy their chances even more. Arsenal need Fabregas, as much for the effect he has on his own team as for what he does to the opposition. I said on here a couple of weeks ago that Huddersfield Town froze when they saw him come on to the pitch. Last night it seems that Arsenal froze somewhat when he left it - and that really is a worry.

I'm off now to await the inevitable abuse this post will receive from the Stoke fans when they read it on their NewsNow feed. Check back tomorrow to see what depths we plumb.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Six Nations Rugby team come to Arsenal (Stoke City (h) preview)

Pulis - no football to be seen here

So tomorrow night sees our postponed match with Stoke City finally take place. You will recall that this is the match originally scheduled for the Saturday before Christmas, but it fell victim to the heavy December snow. It's interesting to note that we will not be seeing the original referee for this match. Lee Mason has been replaced by Peter Walton tomorrow - whether this would have happened anyway I don't know, but it seems a bit of a coincidence after Mason's decisions during the Everton game a couple of weeks ago.
The visit of Stoke City means that we will be, for the first time this season, playing against a team from another sport. Fabregas may have said that Ipswich played a game more akin to rugby, but they have nothing on this lot. I watched Stoke play Sunderland a couple of weeks ago and, eventually, batter them in to submission at the end of the game. You can't deny that Stoke's "style" is effective, but how anyone could sit and watch that every week must be one of life's great mysteries. The difference in aesthetic quality could not be more stark from last Wednesday to this. The ridiculous thing is that Stoke are even more likely to cause Arsenal major problems than Barcelona.
Arsenal's team news is not encouraging. Robin Van Persie and Laurent Koscielny have both been ruled out of the fixture. RVP has got a hamstring problem while Koscielny has suffered a back injury. This is a major problem. We shouldn't be surprised at Van Persie getting a knock as he's played unhindered for a couple of months, but what a terrible blow it could be. The Dutch striker has been the best striker in the Premier League since Christmas and our current run has no small part to do with his form. Koscielny, meanwhile, has formed a passable partnership with Johan Djourou. We will now have to watch Djourou try and carry Squillaci through a game against the tallest and most physical strike pair in the country - John Carew and Kenwynne Jones. If Diaby was fit and available (he is still suspended...and injured) I would have put Song alongside Djourou, but that option is not available without a change in formation - more of that below.
Stoke will stick with their usual game plan - kick the southern/foreign softies off the pitch and pile as many high balls in to the box as you possibly can. The injuries to RVP (our best header of the ball - he intercepts more than his share of set-pieces at the near-post) and Koscielny could be particularly costly tomorrow night. At the other end they will have the talentless Shawcross making his first appearance against Arsenal since breaking Aaron Ramsey's leg this time last year. I would have fancied Van Persie to take him apart. I expect Bendtner to replace him up front and we will need a repeat performance of his dominant aerial display at the Britannia last year if we are to prosper. I gave Bendtner a slagging on here yesterday, and deservedly so, but if he plays through the middle tomorrow we might just see a different display from him.
Having been forced in to changes, and there being little chance of Chamakh getting another start after Sunday, Wenger's available personnel would lend itself much better to a 4-4-2 formation. With the players at our disposal we would be much better off with a midfield comprising Nasri, Wilshere, Fabregas and Arshavin, supporting a front two of Bendtner/Chamakh with Walcott. This would give the big striker some support, while Shawcross and company could not handle the pace of Theo. It would also free Alex Song to join the back four. Sadly we know Arsene doesn't do tactics, or horses for courses, so here is the team I expect to see:
Szczesny - Sagna, Djourou, Squillaci, Clichy - Song, Wilshere, Fabregas - Nasri, Bendtner, Walcott.
As I said on here last week I am having to miss the game tomorrow thanks to the late change of date - the game was supposed to be tonight - so I will have to make do with Sky's version of the match highlights. I have no doubt that the abridged version of the game will bear little resemblance to the actual play, but my review of the game on Thursday will be largely dependent on it unfortunately. I hope that those lucky enough to be in the stadium will give Ryan Shawcross the abuse he deserves - he is not a footballer, but a licensed thug who shouldn't be anywhere near a football pitch. Such odious characters deserve to know what we feel about them.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Attitude lets Gunners down yet again


Arsene Wenger claimed after yesterday's debacle that the players had played with the right attitude. I can only assume that he was referring to the five minutes after Leyton Orient had equalised. I talked about the magic of the FA Cup in the last post and Orient certainly got their share of it yesterday. I also said how a much changed team had brought Arsenal fans down to earth at Wigan, following the home win over Chelsea at Christmas. Yesterday saw a group of players, roughly the same as those at Wigan, produce a similarly insipid and uninspired performance. All of my fears in Arsenal's approach to the game were realised once again. We all know how good the team is when at full-strength, but when the side is subject to mass change it becomes apparent that the squad players are not good enough as a collective unit. We can handle playing someone like Denilson or Eboue or Bendtner when there are eight or nine "first-choice" players on the pitch. What we can't do is win matches when there are eight or nine squad players on the pitch.
We've now seen this (pretty much) same group of players fail miserably at Wigan, Ipswich and Orient, and at home to Leeds and Huddersfield. Each of those team's should have been put to the sword by any Arsenal line-up, if only the approach of those on the pitch was the right one. With a Cup Final at the end of this week every player (with the exception of Miquel) out there yesterday had the chance to secure their place in the eighteen and, should an injury occur, force their way in to the starting eleven. The only player to have shown any ambition yesterday was Andrey Arshavin - and that is probably quite a surprise to most of us.
There can be no doubt that too many of these second-string players live in the comfort zone. Chief among them are Denilson and Bendtner. Denilson has gone backwards in the past two seasons and has surely now reached the end of the road. Either Aaron Ramsey or Henri Lansbury should be recalled (I think Ramsey is due back shortly in any case) from loan and immediately put in ahead of the Brazillian. Then there is Bendtner. I am among the staunchest supporters of the Dane, but his performance yesterday was a disgrace. Every time Bendtner got the ball yesterday he tried to dribble through (not around) the opposition. It was like watching a Rugby League player simply running at the nearest opposition player and taking the tackle. The attitude seemed to this observer one of arrogance, a belief that he was far too skillful for these third division oiks.
Marouane Chamakh probably played his worse game in an Arsenal shirt yesterday. He missed the best two chances we had in the first-half, but seems to freeze as soon as he gets a sight of the goal. His "shot" yesterday when the ball was laid back to him was an embarrassment for a top-flight centre-forward. Then there is Tomas Rosicky. Yes, he got Arsenal's goal and it proved to be very important. But that must have been the only time he played the ball forward in the entire match.
Arsenal were content at 1-0 to try and play out time in possession of the football. Why? What makes an Arsenal team, or Arsene Wenger, believe they have the ability to see out a 1-0 win? They are always one set-piece away from disaster. When the goal came it was a typically poor piece of weak defending. Tehoue is undoubtedly a big, powerful guy but how the hell did Miquel and Gibbs let him through? Manuel Almunia knows he should probably have saved it, but he was left hopelessly exposed by the incompetent defenders supposed to protect him. I have seen some really awful stuff directed at Almunia on a certain forum today because of the goal - simply because he is the easy target. The clowns that choose to blame Almunia should look at what happened throughout the game, all across the pitch, if they really want to find people to blame - the entire team apart from Andrey being those responsible. A debatable goalkeeping error should have been irrelevant to an Arsenal team playing against a side from the lower reaches of the Football League.
I had to listen to the final twenty minutes on Radio 5 and was disgusted, once again, by the commentary. When the ball hit Squillaci in the face the commentator (I'm afraid I don't know who it was) was literally screaming for a penalty, imploring the referee to give it. When the replay showed it wasn't handball there was no apology to the listening public who had their eardrums assaulted by this outrageous bias. The less said about the celebration by the commentator when the equaliser went in the better.
Arsenal are lucky to have another opportunity to get to the quarter-final. The press keep saying that a replay is "the last thing" Arsenal would have wanted. Utter nonsense - a replay means we are still in the Cup, which is far better than being knocked out. If we do win the replay (the idea of losing it doesn't bear thinking about) we will be away to Manchester United. Remember what happened in 2008 when Wenger fielded the sort of team that played yesterday against a full-strength United? A 4-0 hammering (which would have been far worse without Jens Lehmann) marked the beginning of the end for our season. If Wenger makes the mistake of putting out the players that took the field yesterday if we go to Old Trafford, then there could be another ritual humiliation on the cards. First, though, we will have to overcome Orient.



Saturday, 19 February 2011

Leyton Orient (a) preview

Still got the magic

If the FA Cup matches at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford this Saturday have proved anything then it's that the competition is not dead yet. Everton and Crawley Town showed what is possible in the FA Cup as long as you believe. There is nothing more magical in football than the FA Cup and the drama it can produce. That is why Arsenal should approach the game at Leyton Orient tomorrow with plenty of trepidation.
Football has a habit of smacking you right in the teeth just as you think your team is hitting the heights. When we beat Chelsea on 27th December I thought this team was going to go from strength to strength. Just 48 hours later a much changed side threw away three points at ten-man Wigan. Tomorrow we will follow the heights of beating Barcelona by sending out a similarly altered line-up at Brisbane Road. I have no problem with a "weaker" team going on to the pitch tomorrow as we have two far bigger matches to play in the seven days that follow. As long as the right mindset is adopted by those in Arsenal yellow then it really shouldn't matter what players take to the pitch. The problem is that a number of the "second-string" have proved themselves to be lacking in certain areas throughout the past couple of years.
We know that Johan Djourou and Theo Walcott have been passed fit for tomorrow, but I will be annoyed if either of them is in the starting eleven - I'd far rather see them on the bench. The same applies to Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri. I expect to see one, or both, of Wilshere and Song among the subs too (Song may even be involved from the start). Bacary Sagna is back from suspension but I wouldn't dare risk him in this game as he is far too important to the side with Stoke and Birmingham ahead of us. Manuel Almunia will play in goal, I would imagine, and Nicklas Bendtner will be on the opposite flank to Arshavin.
Arsene Wenger has announced that Marouane Chamakh will play. I couldn't (and still don't) understand why Chamakh was left out of the 18 on Wednesday night. For a player who gave his all in the first half of the season to find himself dropped for the biggest of games (especially when the replacement is the ineffective Rosicky - more on him below) it must be very hard to take. Wenger seems to have "gone off" Chamakh for some reason. The boss was happy to tell everyone that he was feeling the pace a bit around Christmas, and understandably so given his workload to that point. The trouble now is that he is surely too well rested - he's hardly set foot on the pitch in the past two months. Bendtner has apparently moved ahead of him in the pecking order, despite Chamakh being (to my eyes at least) a far better footballer. I hope that the Moroccan takes his opportunity tomorrow to guarantee a place in the League Cup Final squad next week. One thing is for certain with him - give him good service from wide areas and Chamakh will score goals with his head.
This is how I think we could see Arsenal line up:
Almunia - Eboue, Squillaci, Koscielny, Gibbs - Denilson, Song, Rosicky - Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner
Tomas Rosicky is 2-1 with the bookies to score a goal tomorrow. These odds are particularly short when you consider that his last goal came when Old Father Time was in short trousers. I would like to see the Czech get back on the scoresheet. He seems a shadow of his former self and I am convinced that he has never really recovered from his long lay-off. Rosicky seems reluctant to ever put his foot through the ball, probably because he fears his hamstring will go again, so we never see any of his trademark long-distance pile drivers. If he did get a goal it might do him the world of good. It can't be denied that Arshavin's goal against Everton a couple of weeks ago has certainly done him some good, maybe it can be the same with Tomas.

Thanks to ESPN and their ridiculous kick-off time I will only get to see the first-half before heading off to work. I'll have to use the Sky+ for the rest and watch it back when I get home. I hope that when I write the match review on Monday we are celebrating a place in the quarter-final of my favourite Cup competition.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Those horrible foreign cads!

Henry Winter, Daily Telegrpah - wouldn't you love to slap this posh fool?


I was thinking of posting about this yesterday, but I wanted to savour the moment instead. I read Wednesday's reaction to the AC Milan v Tottenham match with interest. One article in particular caught my eye and it was written by Steven Howard in The Sun. What I read was a character assassination of the foreign national footballer, and how they had used all their dirty tricks against the mighty English conquerors at the San Siro. Howard basically used his column to say how Milan's style of play was unacceptable. He described how Milan had chosen to stick the boot in on the Spurs players as soon as they realised Tottenham were a better side then themselves (I could have told them that before kick-off when I saw AC Milan's midfield comprised Thiago Silva, Gattusso, Seedorf and Flamini). Obviously there was plenty of commentary on Gattusso's behaviour at the end of the game when he butted Joe Jordan - imagine what we'd be saying if he'd done it to Pat Rice. However, the main thrust of the article was that it is unacceptable to use rough-house tactics simply to stop the opposition from beating you. It was the same stuff he wrote after the World Cup Final when Holland went out to kick the Spanish team. On the face of it you would have to say it's a really quite laudable stance. But then you have to remember two things:

1. The article is basically claiming that the kicking and squabbling is an essentially foreign trait that would not be resorted to by an English team (he also claimed that Flamini's awful tackle on Corluka was a result of the fact that he once played for Arsenal - somehow they always manage to find a reason to implicate us)

2. Mr Howard is one of the many journalists who espouse the virtues of Stoke City's approach to the game. The same man who labels Arsenal as flat-track bullies, who can't handle it when the rough-stuff starts. The same man who praised teams like Bolton and Blackburn Rovers for "getting in the faces" of Arsenal, when Allardyce was their Manager, because "they don't like it up 'em Mr Mainwaring."

If Arsenal lose on Wednesday night at home to Stoke City we will read in The Sun on Thursday how Arsenal once again failed to deal with a "physical approach." Mark my words, that will be the case unless we get the win. I don't know why I read it to be honest as it only winds me up more and more.

Talking of journalists winding people up we had Henry Winter on Radio 5 after the Barcelona game giving his "expert" reaction to the game (I don't recall seeing him play too many games). Winter is a public-school-educated reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Just listening to his voice tells you all you need to know about him - you can be sure he grew up as a rugby playing posh boy. His main wind-up value on Wednesday was his attempt to sound more intelligent than anyone else in the country by constantly referring to Barcelona's home ground as the Camp NOY, or the NOY Camp. Strangely, I didn't hear Cesc Fabregas (from Barcelona) call it that. I think I'll add him to the list of people to give genuine abuse to should I ever get the pleasure of seeing him in the flesh - Michael Parkinson (how the hell did he get a knighthood?) and Teddy Sheringham currently top that list.

I'll do a match preview for the Leyton Orient game late tomorrow night (and I mean late, so don't wait up).

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A great night at The Arsenal Stadium

Koscielny - might have become an Arsenal player last night

One of the more superficial delights of a Champions League night is that Arsenal have to refer to the stadium as The Arsenal Stadium - a name that oozes the class that epitomized Highbury. Since we moved home in 2006 there have been very few "great" memories. Aside from a couple of wins over Spurs and Henry's last minute header against Manchester United in 2007 I can't really think of too many great days/nights since we arrived. Last night certainly qualifies as such a memory. For the neutral, TV viewing public, it must have been a game from Heaven. Europe's two greatest "football" teams (i.e. the teams that play the best passing game) going toe-to-toe and not disappointing anyone in the way they played. It was a great game, with great players, playing great football. And do you know the best thing about it? Arsenal won 2-1! At the end of the day Arsenal winning is all that matters. The fact that it was a bit "backs to the wall" and 1-0 down, 2-1 up only serves to make it even more sweet.
I mention that we were under a bit of pressure from Barcelona. Of course we were - they are the very best right now, possibly ever. Listening to Radio 5 Live on the way home from the game I began to think that Arsenal had been incredibly lucky last night. According to Lee Dixon Arsenal were "smashed" in the first-half. I certainly didn't see it that way. Perhaps the chances missed by Van Persie (twice) and Fabregas (who crossed when he should have shot) were a mirage and I imagined the whole thing. Yes, Barcelona had chances, and they dominated the ball. For a 15 minute spell towards half-time they seemed to have 13 men on the pitch, such was the possession they were enjoying. But to say Arsenal were "smashed" and outplayed throughout is just plain wrong.
I was annoyed enough with Dixon's critique of the match, giving Arsenal no credit whatsoever, but then they started fielding phone-calls from "Arsenal supporters" who had not been at the game yet saw fit to criticise the players last night. Not one of the boys on the field could be faulted for their effort last night. The only player to turn in a below-par performance was, ironically, Fabregas who gave the ball away a lot, only to make one decisive pass that was instrumental in the winning goal (and he also covered 7.8 miles - more than anyone else in red). When an Arsenal fan phoned in to have a go at the "punditry" he was summarily cut-off by Mark Pougatch for deigning to argue with them - this was the publicly funded BBC for God's sake, not some tin-pot TalkSport phone-in. Disgraceful.
I've got away from the business at hand somewhat there, but I hate the fact that an Arsenal legend like Dixon can sit there on national TV and radio and see fit to slag the players on one of the best nights in the Club's recent history. The genuine facts of the night are that Arsenal beat the best team in the World while having to not play their natural game. It is to the eternal credit of the players that they were able to win a game in which they did not enjoy the majority of possession, that they had to play a different type of match, and yet they found a way to win it. It has often been said that Arsenal only know one way of playing and that, when the going gets tough, they aren't good enough to get the win. Last night they did that very thing and they should be getting the credit they deserve. But this is England, the home of mediocrity, where they would rather praise the "tactics" of Stoke City than the pure football we saw last night from Arsenal. This is the country, remember, where Peter Crouch is said to be a top player.
When we beat Chelsea at Christmas the players finally knew they could win a match against a top team. Last night they did it once again. It is only half-time in the tie, of course, but the Arsenal team should take massive confidence from the result they earned last night. I still don't really believe we will go through, but we certainly now have a real chance - a chance most observers (me included) never gave us before the match last night.
I have been vociferous in my criticism of the Manager over a long period. Last night he got just about everything right. At half-time someone clearly got hold of Samir Nasri and told him that he had to help Clichy to defend against Dani Alves - you didn't see Alves in the second-half until Arshavin replaced Nasri and Arsenal really went for broke. The substitutions last night were a bold gamble and I didn't agree with them at the time. I thought taking off Song would be suicide and I felt withdrawing Walcott left us devoid of pace. However, you can't argue with it when the guys who come on are either starting the move that leads to the winning goal, or actually putting it in the net. The first goal was smashed in by Van Persie, but if our goalkeeper had conceded it we would be screaming blue murder at him. The second-goal however was a throwback to the days of Bergkamp, Henry, Pires and co. I remember a goal we scored against Bayer Leverkusen where Pires, Bergkamp and Wiltord all combined from one end of the pitch to the other (all in one-touch passes) to set-up Henry for a goal in front of the North Bank. The winner last night had more than a mild echo of that particular classic. The finish from Arshavin perhaps showed a man returning to his natural level after so long out of form - how many similar chances has he skied this season?
At the back I thought Koscielny and Djourou were fantastic. Koscielny undoubtedly played his best game for the Club last night and it came on the biggest stage, against the best team and the best player in the World. It may be that the young Frenchman has suffered from being thrown in at the deep end at Arsenal this season, so soon after arriving in England. I certainly hope so and that he kicks on from here to produce the goods every week. In midfield Alex Song and Jack Wilshere were utterly immense. That Wilshere should shine in a midfield comprising Fabregas, Nasri, Iniesta and Xavi says it all about his impact last night. How good will he be when he matures as a player?
Finally I have to say something about the crowd. I slagged sections of the home "support" after Saturday. Last night was completely different. The Club got the pre-match stuff just right with the flags, the video montages and the blinding spotlights inside the ground. From then on it was a wall of noise from all four sides. Every player was given their due by the supporters, including Eboue and Bendtner - and rightly so. The noise at the second-goal was surely the loudest we've yet had at the Grove - certainly Arshavin said he had never known it so loud at Arsenal. Truly intimidating is not something that is usually associated with the Arsenal support (often unfairly) but last night was awe-inspiring.
At the end of the day it was an epic atmosphere, an epic performance from both sides, and an epic game of football. A match for the ages, if ever there was one, and it's only half-time!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

FC Barcelona (h) preview

Mes Que Un Club?

Tomorrow Arsenal go up against the best team in the World. There can be no denying that Barcelona are the best there is right now. Does it make them an unbeatable entity? No way. Last season we were destroyed in three-quarters of the tie. At home, in the first-half, only Manuel Almunia kept us in it. In the second-half Arsenal attacked with pace upon the introduction of Theo Walcott. Such was Walcott's impact that Lionel Messi has stated that he is the player Barcelona fear from Arsenal - they do not like to play against Theo's searing pace. The second-leg was a one-man masterclass from Messi. He is the best player in the World and he produced his career performance (to date) in that match. Arsenal, though, should not go in to the tie fearing a repeat from the Argentinian.
Last season the Arsenal team for the second-leg included Silvestre, Denilson, Diaby and Bendtner. This season we will line up with Djourou, Song, Wilshere, Fabregas and Van Persie (okay, Sagna will be replaced by Eboue at right-back for the game tomorrow) so it is undeniable that this Arsenal team is in a different league to last season's incarnation. In the first-leg last year we were scuppered by injury to Gallas and Arshavin, even before Fabregas broke his leg in scoring the equaliser.
I always find it amusing that Barcelona are considered to have great defenders. Daniel Alves can not (and does not) defend to save his life, Puyol and Pique are awful when on the back-foot (and Puyol is to be replaced at centre-half by the severely over-rated Eric Abidal) while Maxwell had no answer to Theo last season, and hopefully won't this year either. Then there is Victor Valdes in goal - third choice in the Spain pecking order. The problem, of course, is getting enough of the ball to get at the weak links at the back.
What Barcelona do better than anyone, apart from their pace and passing being second to none, is work like Trojans when the opposition are in possession. The game at our place last season was an object lesson in how to win the ball back without resorting to Allardyce-type kicking. I think most of the Arsenal fans marvelled at Barcelona's work-ethic even more than their football. There are some rare occasions when one has to accept the opposition are too good, and last season against them was such a moment.
FC Barcelona's motto is Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club). Undoubtedly this is true. As with all major clubs Barcelona is a way of life to its followers. But those guys taking the field for them are just men, capable of being beaten. Arsenal have plenty of their own attacking quality. In the shape of Fabregas, Van Persie, Wilshere, Arshavin, Walcott and Nasri we have the players to beat Barcelona. It will be hard work, and it will NEED hard work, but Arsenal can do it.
Roll on tomorrow night.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The FA determined to destroy the FA Cup, Rooney's goal, Samir back for Barcelona?

Arsenal's 1950 FA Cup winning team
A mark of tradition - the FA want to ruin it


I can't believe the plans the FA apparently have for the FA Cup. The old competition has suffered enough in recent years through team's not fielding proper line-ups (Arsenal get plenty of stick for that, but the finger would be better pointed at the lower Premier League sides who treat the Cup with contempt). In recent years we've seen the introduction of penalty shoot-outs after a replay, the abandonment of replays in the semi-final and final, and all semi-finals now being played at Wembley. For me one of the great days out was always FA Cup semi-final day, converging on a neutral ground for the big match (though getting back from Old Trafford after the Spurs game took an eternity - it was just as well we had won the game). The semi-final replay of 1999 was surely one of the most high-quality games of football ever played in this country - the media go on and on about Giggs' over-rated goal (nobody tried to tackle him) but neglect to mention the overall standard of football that night between the best two sides of that era.
The FA are now looking to end the idea of replays in any round, thus taking away a massive potential revenue stream for the lower division club's that might earn a draw with a top side, hoping to get to play at Arsenal, Man Utd or Liverpool. Also in the frame is a move to put the Final back to 5.30pm - I just don't get the idea behind that one at all. Then there is the biggest, and most ridiculous plan of all. The FA are, apparently, considering seeding the competition. This would almost certainly put an end to small clubs getting anywhere in the competition. It would mean that a team like Dover Athletic would never again get an opportunity to get as far as the third round as they would have been drawn to play the highest-placed team from League One in the first round. Similarly we would never again see a Crawley Town playing at Old Trafford, or a Farnborough playing at Highbury. If the FA Cup becomes seeded then the entire fabric of the tournament will have been ripped apart. It would sound the final death-knell for the FA Cup and that would be a travesty.
The TV companies often lament the fall in stature of the Cup, yet they do nothing to alleviate that fall. When I was a child the FA Cup Final was an all-day television event. These days the build-up begins on TV no more than thirty minutes before kick-off. However much people like Arsene Wenger get pilloried for playing "weakened teams" in Cup games (I think Arsenal's record in the Cup under Wenger speaks for itself), the media is failing to play its role in protecting the prestige of the Cup. Perhaps now they will realise the importance of the Cup, and how important it is to stop the FA from making these changes. I hope the media will campaign properly to prevent them.

Sky have been showing back-to-back coverage of "The Wayne Rooney Wonder Goal" (to give it its official name). Talk about over-the-top. Was it a great goal? Yes, of course it was. Was it the goal of the season? I will be amazed if someone scores a better one. Was it the greatest goal ever (as Sky are trying to portray it)? Do me a favour. One of the great goals, yes. The greatest? I remember a bloke called Maradona beating the entire England team on an awful pitch in Mexico in 1986 which would be a more worthy contender. Then there is Dennis Bergkamp versus Newcastle, Dennis Bergkamp versus Leicester, and Dennis Bergkamp versus Argentina (yes, I am biased). I also recall George Weah picking the ball up in his own penalty area at AC Milan and beating, literally, every player in the opposition before scoring. I know Sky are not really given to perspective wherever Manchester United are concerned, but this one is particularly tiresome.

The build-up to Barcelona has begun. Arsene Wenger has put it to the press that Samir Nasri might be fit to play on Wednesday after all. There isn't an Arsenal fan around that wouldn't like to see Nasri playing against Barcelona, but surely not at the risk of further injury. Arsene has said that he will take no risk with Samir, and I hope he is as good as his word. Arsenal need Samir Nasri for the rest of the season, so to risk him in a game where winning would be a pleasant surprise would surely not be a wise decision. I want to see Samir Nasri playing at Wembley in a fortnight, as we go for a trophy, in a Final. If that means he misses the first-leg against Barca then so be it.

I'll post a proper preview of the Barcelona game at some time tomorrow, probably in the early evening.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

If only they could finish...Theo...Cesc...Robin...Andrey

Alex Song and Jack Wilshere - best friends with the author?

You shouldn't really complain after such a dominant performance from the boys this afternoon (yesterday afternoon as it's now past midnight). Arsenal were awesome throughout the game, having started with absolutely the correct attitude. When in possession of the ball there was pace to the attacking play, while Wolves were closed down quickly all across the pitch. The half-time score really should have been similar to last Saturday, but Arsenal were as wasteful as ever when it came to actually sticking the ball in the net. Why do all out players feel the need to pass it to somebody else when the goal is gaping in front of them? When we did actually get a shot away after about 15 minutes Robin Van Persie found the net with an exquisite right-foot volley from another inch-perfect Fabregas assist (Fabregas had already been denied a goal by the inept Mr Foy blowing for an earlier free-kick just as Cesc rammed the ball in). It is a credit to RVP how he has improved with his weaker foot (or "chocolate leg" as he christened it). When he arrived it was debatable whether he could even stand on his right foot, but he has now become a consistent scorer with both feet, and with his head. Arsenal continued to dominate and to create chances throughout the first-half, but failed to add another goal. One day, surely, they are going to put most of these opportunities away - today's game should have seen Wolves utterly humiliated by a scoreline more reflective of the play, but Arsenal's profligacy (and every one of those named in the title of this post, including Van Persie, was culpable) let them off the hook.
For the second-half you can pretty much re-read the above paragraph. Arsenal dominated, created chance after chance, and only scored once through Van Persie. Now, as far as I'm concerned Robin was offside for the second goal. I don't think anybody probably understands the rule fully anymore, and the linesman was left so far behind by Walcott that he was in no position to give RVP offside when he got the ball (though he was about five yards off when Fabregas played Theo in behind the defence). As I say, for me it is offside, but as far as the rule goes I am becoming more and more clueless. We should have been so far out of sight by then it shouldn't have mattered. The magnificent (again) Jack Wilshere played Walcott in for a goal my children could have scored, but he somehow shot wide. Theo had a bit of a nightmare today, always promising something really quite good only to then cock it up at the key moment. Chances came and went with regularity and Van Persie should have had his hat-trick quite comfortably. Fabregas, Arshavin and Walcott all wasted further opportunities and I was left with that worried feeling in the final ten minutes as Wolves tried to bluster their way towards a goal. When Wolves did come forward they invariably were repelled by another imperious display from Johan Djourou. How crucial the Swiss has become to Arsenal - if only we could get Thomas Vermaelen fit as well.
As for the other features of today's game I have to give mention to Wolves' striker Kevin Doyle. I like Doyle as a player and I think he has real quality. Unfortunately he is turning in to Kevin Davies. Doyle has, like Davies, mastered the art of barging in to the defender and then hitting the deck in such a way that the weak referees give him a free-kick. Time and again today he managed it and must have spent more time on the ground than Emile Heskey does. On the subject of weak refereeing Mr Foy somehow failed to send off Ronald Zubar for two bookings - he was eventually booked for what should have been his second one, only to get away with a knee-high foul on RVP later on by pretending to have injured himself in the process.
What can I say about the Arsenal crowd? Well, plenty actually. How is it that Theo Walcott can miss chance after chance, fail to get a single cross in to the box, not track his full-back up the pitch and fall over the ball on a regular basis, yet he gets no stick. Enter Nicklas Bendtner and Denilson (the latter of whom did pretty well in defensive areas on his introduction) and their first small error meets with mass derision from the muppets in the crowd. When Bendtner did a couple of good things today there were ironic cheers going around. Who are these pricks? Why do they go to the game? They're almost certainly the same idiots that were "ole-ing" again with fifteen minutes to go. These arseholes make me sick. Then there is the prat behind us today who decided to get vocal at Gael Clichy, who was outstanding again. In the last minute Zubar gets in down the right to set up Wolves' only chance after Theo failed to track the run. This cretin is out of his seat screaming "Is that you AGAIN Clichy - you're f***ing useless." Twat. He clearly knows nothing at all about football and does not deserve to have a match ticket.
The day finished on a real high for me, my Dad and my five-year-old son. Dad had the winning programme on the lucky numbers draw so we went down to the media entrance with it after the game. We were escorted to an area in the bowels of the stadium where Andrey Arshavin came walking past, then Alex Song presented us with the match-ball!! Shortly after that we were introduced to Jack Wilshere and both he and Song posed for pictures with us (taken by Arsenal's photographer, Stuart MacFarlane) which will hopefully be in the programme on Wednesday evening. Just as we were leaving Robin Van Persie came out to meet some people as well, though we didn't get to talk to him. My little boy seemed a bit overawed by meeting the players, and he wasn't the only one if I'm honest. What was a fairly run of the mill 2-0 win has become a day never to be forgotten.

The next post will be on Monday, probably late afternoon/early evening, with the build-up to Barcelona getting under way.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Wolves (h) preview

The Arsenal Invincibles - record safe, thanks to Wolves

It seems strange to reserve some praise for a team that contains the odious Karl Henry, but Wolverhampton Wanderers ensured last week that Arsenal's Invincibles/Arsenal's 49ers (call them what you will) are still unique in English football. Of course the annual celebration of Invincibles Day was tempered rather a lot by our own failings last Saturday but Man Utd being beaten really was a reason for great joy among Gooners. The irony of the situation is that Wolves visit us tomorrow afternoon as we get back to business following the internationals.
On the basis that no news is good news it seems that Arsenal have been rarely blessed in this weeks stealing of players for international friendlies (make no mistake, taking something that doesn't belong to you and using it for your own means is stealing - the fact that the commodity is often returned to its owner in a state of disrepair is all the more annoying). The only team news coming out of www.arsenal.com so far this morning is that Song and Djourou may have recovered from their injuries, which is the best news we could possibly have hoped for. There is a school of thought that one, or both, of them might be held back for Barcelona on Wednesday. My view is that I would rather enhance our chances of winning a game in a competition where we actually have a hope is more favourable than holding back our most important players on the off chance that we might get some kind of result against the best team in the World. There is no news on Fabregas and Van Persie and their respective "illnesses" which perhaps is a sign of just how "sick" they've been. If the pair have been genuinely ill then they should be in no position to play tomorrow, such will be the lack of energy in their body's. I think the only front-line player missing tomorrow is likely to be Samir Nasri, though Arsenal say he should be back within a week which, if true, would be great news indeed.
We know how Wolves will approach the match tomorrow. They are a side that rouses itself for the big games they play and tomorrow will be no exception. I feel we really need Johan Djourou in the side, if possible, as the strength and power of Kevin Doyle will likely be too much for Squillaci/Koscielny. At the back we know Wolves can be a bit suspect, that's why they sit in the bottom three. If Van Persie has been sick, and doesn't make it, I would like to see Chamakh back in the side - remember he was too good for Wolves at Molineux earlier in the season. I suspect, however, that Nicklas Bendtner would be preferred up front as he seems to have moved in front of Chamakh in Wenger's mind recently.
Whatever the team, if Arsenal play the way they did against Everton last midweek then we will be far too strong for the opposition. Obviously the defending must be better than it was on Saturday - God knows it couldn't be much worse. I dreamed last night that we were 8-0 up and Bendtner had just got on the scoresheet. I don't think I'll have a bet on that. My five-year-old is coming to the game tomorrow and is very excited about the whole thing, as usual. I think I might get him to predict the score and have a quid on that instead. I'll write a match review when we get home tomorrow night.