Thursday, 31 March 2011
Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of David Rocastle. It seems inconceivable that it is a decade since we lost the Great Man. If you're too young to know what David Rocastle means to Arsenal fans then watch this and this
Nothing else to say today except to remember Rocky after 7 minutes of Saturday's game, and sing his name loud in memory of an Arsenal legend.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Robin Van Persie has been injured by a bad tackle while playing for Holland last night. Well, there's a shock. Van Persie had given Holland the lead against Hungary (a stormer of a game finished 5-3) before he was caught above the knee by a flying tackle. I don't know who the guy was that fouled him, but he doesn't get within about five yards of the ball. There was clearly no intention to play the ball whatsoever, merely to take RVP out of the game. Bert Van Maarwijk, Holland's boss, has said Van Persie could be fit for Saturday "with a bit of luck." What, exactly, makes him think that Arsenal will have any luck whatsoever when it comes to an injury to one of their star players? Last season Robin was out for five months following a tackle against Italy. It seems that just about every time he plays for his country, he comes back to Arsenal with some injury or other (he missed the start of the season, after the World Cup, remember).
Arsenal's striking options are already limited. Nicklas Bendtner got injured in training for Denmark last week and there has been no follow up news on that, so we are left with Marouane Chamakh and a, possibly, returning Theo Walcott to play up front on Saturday (unless there is some shock good news on RVP). Get down on your knees and pray that Robin is fit for Saturday.
The awards season is approaching in English football and it seems that Samir Nasri is going to miss out on what is rightfully his. You will remember how, in 2002, the PFA voted for Ruud Van Nistelrooy ahead of Robert Pires for their player of the year award. Thankfully Pires did win the "real" award from the Football Writers Association. There will be no such reward for Samir Nasri in 2011. Since Christmas there has been something of a media campaign, led by SkySports, to ensure Gareth Bale wins the awards. It seems that one performance on the big stage (and Spurs even lost that match) is enough to win annual awards these days (of course I'm being harsh on Bale, but Footballer of the Year?)
Samir Nasri has dominated Arsenal's season. In the past few weeks (and only the past few weeks) his impact has been limited thanks to the Manager forcing him to play out wide. Arsenal's best moments over the past two months have all occurred when Nasri has been moved, mid-game, in to the centre - the comeback at West Brom only began when he joined Jack Wilshere in the midfield.
Nasri will win most of the various player awards at Arsenal this season, but his just desserts would be to get reward from the other players, and the press. Arsenal are challenging for the Title thanks, largely, to Samir's contribution. Spurs, meanwhile, will finish in mid-table mediocrity once again (I still think Liverpool will finish ahead of them) so how can one of their players be considered for the major prizes? Having said that, I remember Ginola winning it in a season where the mugs finished in the bottom half of the Premier League - perhaps we should have realised then that the whole thing is an absolute joke.
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Jens Lehmann has returned to an Arsenal team today in the Reserves 2-1 defeat at Wigan. Reading the reports it seems that Jens was very much in the action, particularly after Ignasi Miquel was harshly sent off for a professional foul. It seems that Lehmann mixed the sublime with the ridiculous. He almost saw an own-goal go past him as the ball bobbled over his foot from a back-pass, and he was caught out by trying to dribble past an attacker (why?) There were also one or two pretty good saves, by all accounts, including one from point-blank range. Most encouraging of all, and quite pointed if you ask me, is the report on www.arsenal.com which tells us how Jens was constantly organising his defence - how long since we saw an Arsenal goalkeeper doing that? (Probably May 2008 when Jens played his last game). Sky have got some pictures from the game, and their coverage includes some vintage Lehmann making his point to a forward who unwisely decided to leave his foot in on the German veteran.
I want Jens Lehmann to play against Blackburn on Saturday evening. Almost every Arsenal fan I speak to accepts that Manuel Almunia can not play again - can you imagine the fallout from the stands if he plays and cocks up again on Saturday? I, for one, will be far more confident in our side on Saturday if Jens is between the sticks. With Squillaci and Koscielny continuing at the back we might just see an improvement if there is someone behind them shouting the instructions.
Hopefully we'll be getting some normality back to the blog over the next couple of days, building up towards the weekend. England are playing tonight against Ghana, and it seems likely that Jack Wilshere will be forced to play some part in another pointless match - that is disappointing, but not nearly as disappointing as it will be if he has to play in the Euro U21 Championships this Summer.
More tomorrow afternoon.
Sunday, 27 March 2011
I want to pick up on a theme that's being developed over at www.arseblog.com with regards to the sort of serious injury suffered by Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo. As has been stated by my blogging colleague the injuries will continue to happen like this until someone takes the issue seriously, and realises that the perpetrators of the tackles need to be more seriously dealt with. How can there be justice (or an effective deterrent) if Ryan Shawcross and Martin Taylor get only a three match ban when the person they assaulted is out for over a year? Another reason why we'll continue to see bad injuries as a result of reckless tackles is the fact that it's deemed acceptable among talentless dinosaurs who are somehow cultivating a career in the media. Step forward Chris Coleman and Robbie Savage.
I was in the car before the game yesterday and listening to the build-up on Radio 5. Savage was the "expert" employed to give a Welsh perspective on proceedings. Shortly before the teams emerged from the tunnel he was asked by the presenter, Mark Chapman, what Wales would have to do if they were to get a result against England. Savage's reply (and anyone who has listened to his inane ramblings in 6-0-6 will recognise this patois) was "smash in to them." Now this is right up there with the old English phrase of "let them know you're about." Savage went on to say that when he was at Blackburn Mark Hughes would instruct his players to get out there and "smash in to" the opposition - this would explain Blackburn's tactics in the 2005 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal (lead by the odious Savage they went about assaulting the entire Arsenal team - I particularly remember Cesc Fabregas being welcomed to the game by a foul above the knee from Savage). This sums up the problem. Instead of aspiring to play football like those with a bit more talent, the stock response is to go out and stop them playing by means of physical intimidation. I have heard Savage espouse this "tactic" as the way of beating Arsenal on more than one occasion this season. I can't understand how the BBC can countenance spending licence-payers money on this kind of "expert opinion" (they did, of course, denounce the Dutch team in the World Cup Final for "smashing in to" their media darlings, Spain).
When I got home I watched the game, with Chris Coleman as the co-commentator on Sky. He was asked the same question with regards to how Wales could get a result. Again he responded that violence (not in so many words) was the answer. Given that Coleman himself saw his career ended by a broken leg (albeit from a car accident, rather than on the football pitch) I find this fairly sickening. It was strange, then, to hear Coleman describe a foul by Wayne Rooney as "a bit naughty." I can only deduce from this that it is okay, in Coleman's book, for the less talented to make nasty fouls, but when a quality player goes out and kicks someone then it's rather bad form. It doesn't make Rooney's behaviour right, but it shows the warped thinking of people like Chris Coleman.
The point I'm trying to illustrate, and the point made over at Arseblog, is that all the time this attitude prevails in the media then the leg-breaking tackle will continue to be made. It is noticeable that the most notorious of these incidents over recent years have involved fouls by English players (Smith, Taylor, Shawcorss), made against non-English players (Diaby, Eduardo, Ramsey). It is surely also no coincidence that they have all involved Arsenal players on the receiving end (see Savage's 6-0-6 remarks). I have to conclude that the only way it will be properly addressed is when an Englishman has his leg snapped in two by a foreigner - just you wait for the fallout from that incident.
Friday, 25 March 2011
Ahead of tomorrow's big match in Cardiff (one of my all time favourite places to watch football) both teams have appointed a new Captain. The man who is wearing the armband for Wales is a rather more palatable choice than England's returning skipper. Leading his side for the first time tomorrow is Arsenal's very own Aaron Ramsey. It's a wonderful reward for Rambo following his year long absence from the Arsenal team, caused by a disgusting, leg-shattering foul by the oafish Ryan Shawcross.
Ramsey's appointment has caused some controversy among Wales followers it seems. Many of the experts on the other side of the Severn Bridge have questioned why a 20 year-old, returning from serious injury, has been chosen ahead of more experienced players like James Collins. It never ceases to amaze me how the mind of the ex-footballer can work. Why would Gary Speed give the honour of leading his Country to a man who was recently fined by his Club for getting drunk and abusive at a team event? Far better, surely, to give the Captaincy to a young tyro, making his way in the game, possessive of exceptional talent, and playing at one of the leading Club's in the World. Gary Speed is on record today describing Aaron as a "leader." I hope he is right, because Arsenal need leaders - if it means that our leaders are aged 20 and 19 (the other being Jack Wilshere) then so be it, just so long as we get some in the side.
For England we know that Jack Wilshere will be in the starting line-up for Capello's team. The contest between the Arsenal boys will give an interest in the fixture that most Gooners would not have had otherwise. I certainly wouldn't have bothered tuning in were it not for Ramsey v Wilshere in midfield. I hope both of the boys excel in the game (Ramsey's previous appearance for Wales v England was in U21 action and he scored a screamer) but most of all I hope they come back to Arsenal without an injury. With Wilshere playing tomorrow he really needs to be rested from England's pointless friendly with Ghana on Wednesday - he is still a boy and playing unnecessary matches only puts him at further risk of injury. The thought that he might have to go and play for England U21 in the Summer is an absolute joke. Hopefully Capello will tell Pearce to leave the boy out - if he doesn't then Arsene Wenger will have to make sure Jack is "injured" at season's end.
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
The briefest of brief posts today, just to throw my weight behind the campaign for the return of standing areas. You can read all about the campaign here
As far as I am concerned there can be no justifiable argument against the introduction of "safe" standing areas. Nobody seriously advocates a return to the way things used to be when football supporters were caged in like animals (something Arsenal steadfastly refused to do, at the cost of being banned from hosting FA Cup semi-finals - and we all know how that ended up), and packed in like sardines. But surely it is time to look at doing things sensibly - more people able to get in, cheaper tickets etc. It works in Germany, so why not England?
It seems the government is willing to hear the case for standing at football. This is very welcome news and should be backed by fans everywhere (even Liverpool). Apart from the fact that like-minded people could gather in the same area, and get the proper atmosphere going inside the big grounds again, it would surely put an end to people getting an obscured view from the seats when people stand in front of them (a completely unnecessary thing to do at most grounds - particularly Arsenal).
Support the campaign and get a bit of the old ways back in to the football watching experience.
Sunday, 20 March 2011
It didn't take long did it? We knew Manuel Almunia was due to make a horrendous blunder, and it arrived yesterday. By my reckoning he is directly responsible for three goals scored by West Brom this season (and four points) - if they stay up they should build a statue of Almunia outside The Hawthorns. I attach no blame for the second goal yesterday to Squillaci. The French defender seemed in complete control of the situation, only to be barged out of the way by his goalkeeper, thirty yards from goal. What was Almunia doing there? Mad dashes from his goal have been a feature of Almunia's Arsenal career going right back to 2005 (I remember a 4-2 home defeat to Man Utd where he followed Ryan Giggs to the wing before conceding a goal). It is arguable that yesterday's latest act of insanity was the most costly of them all. Jens Lehmann sat impassively on the bench, realising that the cameras would be on him, but he must know that he will surely play against Blackburn Rovers in a fortnight - if he doesn't then God help us. I expect at least one hastily arranged game to be played at the Arsenal Training Ground over the next ten days so that Jens gets some match practice.
Having given all that blame to Almunia we should really concede that it's not his fault he was there to make another error. We can cut some slack to Wenger on the grounds that the other three goalkeepers in the squad are all injured. However, if Wenger had gone out and signed a top class stopper in the Summer (or the year before, or the year before that) then we wouldn't be in this situation.
As I've said a few times on here, I write this blog as a form of therapy - my way of getting things off my chest and out of my system. Over the past few weeks, as the season has fallen apart, the writing has only served to make me more upset. The more I write about the avoidable situation in which Arsenal find themselves, the more angry and frustrated I become. I just want to ask, why? Why does Wenger not make the appropriate signings? Why does he persist with this formation when Fabregas is not there? If he must use this formation why does he keep Samir Nasri out on the wing? Why did we get another 45 minutes of Denilson passing either backwards, or to the opposition, yesterday? Why Arsene?
I suppose credit must be given for coming back from two goals down. I don't think it's deserving of the sort of praise the Manager was seeming to bestow upon it after the game, but I guess it shows there is some character in this squad. In many ways though we got back in spite of our own play. With Chamakh, Bendtner and Van Persie all on the pitch we still didn't really try to do anything differently. It was still the same short passing, probing for a non-existent gap in the centre of the defence. It took some individual brilliance from Arshavin to spark Arsenal in to life - sadly it was 70 minutes too late. Brilliant though it was, I would rather see ten goals like Van Persie's bundled effort, than one like Arshavin's, as long as we win the game.
Having got back to 2-2 the boys laid siege to West Brom but didn't really create all that much - you can't really break down a blanket defence with the tippy-tappy rubbish - unfortunately we staunchly refuse to do things the "old fashioned way." Our best opportunity fell to Gael Clichy who saw his last minute shot well saved by Scott Carson. From the resulting corner I have to say we should have had a penalty, for me, when Brunt barged Sagna to the ground. My suspicions that it should have been a spot-kick are not assuaged by the refusal of the BBC or Sky to show the incident again - heaven forbid somebody should be able to claim "unfair" in their pursuit of Manchester United.
If you get a chance to read the match report in today's News Of The World then I urge you to do so. If the guy who wrote it was actually watching the match then I would be amazed. If he isn't a Man Utd fan I would be amazed. His descriptions of Almunia's cock-up and Arshavin's "stunning volley" are so inaccurate that he must have been at a different match (or in the hospitality bar).
I watched the Sunderland v Liverpool match this afternoon. Steve Bruce has bemoaned the fact that Sunderland saw a penalty awarded against them when technology would have proved it was an incorrect decision. Funny that. A couple of weeks ago Bruce found it amusing when Arsenal were denied a penalty and a perfectly good goal by poor decisions from the officials - what goes around comes around (I just wish it would start coming around for Arsenal some time soon - as bad as we've been this past month, there has been no luck going our way whatsoever). Later on in the game the Sunderland goalkeeper (man of the match at our place) was beaten at his near post for Liverpool's second goal - just to rub it in a bit more.
We are in for a long two weeks. There follows an interminable break for international matches which will see boredom reach new levels for fans like me. That being the case there will be some sporadic blogging on this site over the next fourteen days, but most of my sporting attention will switch to the Cricket World Cup - anything to take my mind off the misery of supporting Arsenal right now. Keep your eye on the Twitter feed (@ARSENALDvbrisG) or Facebook group (It's MY Arsenal Opinion) for new posts.
Friday, 18 March 2011
I was already not really looking forward to Arsenal's return to action after an interminable week of reflection and being the butt of Spurs' fans jibes. My sense of anxiety appears to be well placed with Stuart Attwell placed in charge of the match tomorrow. I can't understand how this man is continuing to be allowed to referee in professional football, at any level. For him to be put in charge of a game involving two sides embroiled in the heat of the action, at either end of the Premier League, is beyond comprehension. Attwell seems unable to get through a match without making himself the main story by way of some controversy or other. The one positive thing that can be said about him is that we can be sure of his intergrity - the man is quite simply an incompetent buffoon, rather than a dishonest cheat. Any time you go to a match and hear both sets of fans joining in a chorus aimed at the referee then you know you are seeing one of the very worst - Attwell falls in to that category (just about every week it seems). The only hope you have in a match with Attwell is that his most catastriphic decisions go the way of your team. Tomorrow was already a key game for Arsenal in the context of the season. That our prospects might well be hit by the referee, aside from our own failings, is a very sobering thought indeed (and I don't drink as it is).
The Arsenal team will see Jens Lehmann (given the number 13 shirt) on the bench. I was interested in Wenger's quote from yesterday where he said "if I choose to play him." It struck me that Wenger may yet be tempted to replace Almunia with the veteran at some point before the season ends. On the other hand it might just have been a not so veiled threat to Almunia in order to keep the Spaniard on his toes, and to focus him on the job at hand. Abou Diaby is injured apparently (cue rapturous responses from lots of Arsenal fans, no doubt) so we are even less well represented in midfield. If this means a return for Aaron Ramsey then I am all for it, but I fear it is more likely to prepare a path for Tomas Rosicky to get yet another go at "playing Fabregas."
When West Brom came to our place a few months back they completely outplayed Arsenal and the 3-2 win they achieved was not a fair reflection of their dominance. Arsenal only got going that day when Samir Nasri was moved inside and scored two good goals - take note Arsene. If that game taught the Arsenal players anything then it should be that West Brom should not be taken for granted. With Hodgson in charge they would likely be less of an attacking force, but breaking down a newly organised defence (take note again Arsene) may be quite difficult. If I was picking the Arsenal line-up it would see Ramsey and Wilshere playing behind Nasri in the midfield, and Van Persie supported by Arshavin, from the left, and Eboue from the right. We've seen precious little of Eboue recently, especially on the wing. This seems strange when one considers how, not so long ago, the Manager considered the Ivorian to be a better bet than Theo Walcott in that position. Eboue has been poor, more often than not, this season but I would have him in the side tomorrow with the express instructions that he is to run at his full-back and get the ball across goal at every opportunity. One of the things we have missed recently is pace out wide, and a direct runner who will commit the defence. Unfortunately I can't see Wenger doing anything like that, and this is how I see us lining up:
Almunia - Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy - Denilson, Wilshere, Rosicky - Arshavin, Van Persie, Nasri
As I said earlier, West Brom have players that can hurt Arsenal. They know they can beat Arsenal. We have to hope that our own players have managed to shake off the recent disappointments over the course of this last week. If they have then they are doing far better than me.
I'll review the match on Sunday as I have to work following the game tomorrow. We need to get some confidence back, and tomorrow is when it has to happen.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Judging by the fact that Arsenal are going in to overdrive in talking up Ignasi Miquel over at the official website it is safe to assume that there is no intention to recall Kyle Bartley from Glasgow Rangers. Our centre-back situation is parlous thanks to the refusal of the Club to sign extra cover in January. To anyone with half a brain it was obvious that Thomas Vermaelen wasn't coming back any time soon (possibly never) and it was also clear that we couldn't get through the season relying on Johan Djourou to carry us over the finish line. We've seen Miquel play in the FA Cup games against Leyton Orient and he looked what he is - a young player who is way off the level required for the Premier League at this stage of his career.
Bartley, meanwhile, has been out on loan "gaining experience" at Sheffield United and Rangers. I've seen quite a bit of him in recent weeks and, while it is only in the Scottish Premier League, the youngster has been doing the business. He is a towering individual and is certainly not afraid to put in a tackle or to mix it when necessary - he certainly didn't go missing when things got nasty in the Old Firm matches recently (probably the influence of a thug like Chris Morgan has rubbed off on him from his time in Sheffield).
The point to all of this is that, in our self-imposed crisis, we would be far better off in bringing back Bartley than by promoting an untried Spaniard. Wenger said a couple of weeks ago that he might be forced to recall the likes of Bartley, so why hasn't he done it? What is the point of sending players out to get experience if you then choose to put someone on the bench who has none whatsoever? I just don't understand it.
Elsewhere we're still waiting for Arsenal to confirm Jens Lehmann's return. The man himself has already told the press he is coming back and is happy to help out, sitting on the bench and supporting Manuel Almunia. I would rather see him replacing Almunia, but it seems we'll have to suffer another injury/suspension before we see Jens take to the pitch properly. It never ceases to amaze me how drawn out any transfer to Arsenal seems to be. Other Club's can get a deal done in hours, but with Arsenal it takes bloody ages. It makes the Club look stupid quite frankly. We all know Lehmann is an Arsenal player, the press all know Lehmann is an Arsenal player, yet Arsenal don't confirm it.
I've read a lot of nonsense in the past few days. That clown Charlie Wyett is revelling in Arsenal's current plight and claimed yesterday that Arsenal fans would be "stunned" and "shocked" by the "desperate" move to sign Lehmann. What a load of old crap. As much as Wenger should have signed a top quality goalkeeper in the past year you can't legislate for three of your 'keepers getting injured at the same time. Surely it is far better to bring in experienced quality than some no-mark who can't get in to his Club side, isn't it? I am delighted at Jens being back at the Club - do not underestimate the influence of a "winner" in the squad. There will be no slacking from certain individuals with Lehmann back in the dressing-room - he simply will not tolerate it.
No blog tomorrow as I am out for the day. I hope all the Irish enjoy their St Patrick's Day tomorrow - try to avoid too much of the black-stuff, and with any luck there will be more Irish winners at Cheltenham too.
Monday, 14 March 2011
It's been 36 hours since I vented my spleen on Saturday evening. There has been no real change in my mood since then. It seems that the major emotion of most Arsenal fans is not one of disappointment, but one of anger. That is certainly the way I feel. I am angry that we are watching our players once again throw away what promised to be a season ending with silverware. The internet blogs and forums are awash now with articles and opinions on the Club and, more particularly, the future of the Manager. Arsene Wenger and the Board need to realise that, when the Premier League challenge finally dies, they are likely to have the sort of dissension in the stands that hasn't been seen for a long time at Arsenal. Something must change, and people will need to see the Manager preparing to make that change, before this season finishes - with the prospect of ticket prices going up next year they might find a lot of season tickets go un-renewed.
Of course the injuries are piling up, but we knew that was likely to happen. Our problems are not so much who isn't available, but who is. According to the official website Alex Song will not be back for Saturday. It seems that he is another one who has picked up some mysterious knock - he played the whole of the Carling Cup Final but hasn't been seen since. Arsenal miss him desperately, but the major issue is that we have nobody in the squad capable of covering for him. I believe that Denilson is his designated understudy, but you'd never know it from performances on the pitch. I think after pre-season Emmanuel Frimpong was set to move up but was scuppered by a cruciate knee injury, but should we really have been looking to rely on another teenager in midfield? Francis Coquelin, the other Arsenal player who is at home in that role, is yet another of our staff playing on loan to other clubs. The other mystery injury is the one to Theo Walcott, whose "sprained ankle" has now kept him out for as long as a hamstring strain - what the hell is going on?
With the goalkeeping situation being parlous it seems that Jens Lehmann might be set for a shock return to the Arsenal squad. Jens has been back at the Club recently doing a bit of coaching as he works towards his qualifications in that role. From my point of view I would love to see the big man occupying the Arsenal goal until the end of the season. Even now he will be a better option than Manuel Almunia. I will always maintain that Wenger's decision to stick with Almunia, at the expense of Jens, in 2008 cost us the Title that season. Lehmann would bring a winners mentality to the dressing room. The likes of Arshavin, Denilson, Diaby, Rosicky etc would not be allowed to slack with him around. Cesc Fabregas would have been physically restrained from all the hugging and kissing in the Nou Camp tunnel before the match last week. Above all, with no Djourou or Vermaelen, Jens would be the talker that the defence requires. Lehmann was constantly barking out the orders when he was in goal at Arsenal, always organising his colleagues. There is an interview with him on the end of season DVD from 2003-2004 in which he talks about the importance of Sol Campbell's vocal leadership in the defence - for my money Lehmann shouldn't underestimate his own contribution in that area.
It's going to be a long week ahead of us with no game until Saturday. The players have five days to regroup and try to rebuild some confidence. I hope that Saturday marks a necessary change in philosophy from everyone involved with the team. We all know what is required - I just hope the Manager can finally see it.
Saturday, 12 March 2011
Manchester United were able to play against Arsenal tonight without bothering to play with a midfield. When I saw the line-ups it was clear that this was Arsenal's opportunity of a lifetime. They will never again play against such a weak Man Utd team. Edwin Van der Sar was awarded the man of the match and, yes, he made some saves - but almost all of them were regulation stops. Arsenal failed to beat him, rather than him making wonder saves. At the other end United made sure with their first two opportunities of the match, both of which were handed to them on a plate by Arsenal.
How many more times will we be forced to watch an Arsenal team that includes Abou Diaby and Denilson? The first goal came because Denilson failed to make a challenge in midfield, and then watched as the player that had run past him applied the finishing touch. This is not the first time we've seen Denilson make the same errors. I am sick of watching it. Diaby, meanwhile, slows down the game every time the ball goes anywhere near him - there is no hope of a quick break with him getting in the way. Having got the ball, and dwelt on it, he always chooses the wrong option so the move breaks down. We've seen all of this time and time and time again. And yet Arsene Wenger fails to see it.
United's second goal was down to Kieran Gibbs and his complete inability to defend. Gibbs spent the first-half making Rafael look like a winger, so badly was he outplayed by him. When he rushed out at Valencia for the second goal he simply opened up the penalty area for Man Utd's attackers. The heroic Djourou stopped Hernandez, but Rooney reacted to it before anyone and left Almunia (outstanding again) with no chance whatsoever. I apologise to Gael Clichy for ever considering that Gibbs should replace him - the boy has been an embarrassment when he has played this season. That crucial second came directly after Koscielny had contrived to miss our best chance of the game.
It's difficult in my current frame of mind to write rationally. I am fed up with what we've witnessed these past two weeks. I wrote on the day after the Carling Cup Final that our season could be over by tonight - and with the serious injury to Johan Djourou it most certainly is. Ultimately, whatever the failings of the likes Denilson, Diaby, Rosicky and co, the blame for Arsenal's situation lies at the feet of Arsene Wenger. For the past four years we have seen our season fall apart around this time. In each of those years he has been implored by the fans to spend in January, and make the signings that would make us strong enough to get over the line. We all know where we are short, even before the injuries begin. Arsene Wenger is too arrogant, and too stubborn, to do anything about it. The man is too powerful, apparently surrounded by yes-men who will do nothing to convince him that he is wrong. He tells us that this is his best squad ever. Does he think we're stupid? Does he honestly believe that any of us are thick enough to fall for such nonsense? You can see what sort of character most of them have when Scholes kicks Nasri and yet only Jack Wilshere and Samir himself are trying to get around him (incidentally how many times over the past twenty years have we seen Scholes half-maim people with disgusting fouls, only to get away with it?)
Wenger has done great things at Arsenal. We have seen our finest players and our finest football during his time. But his time is over. It is time to go. I've had enough of watching this crap. There are only so many times you can watch the same old rubbish, making the same mistakes. Arsene Wenger's legacy will not be the great teams, or the great football. Sadly, it will be what we've seen since we moved to the new stadium. Wenger was behind the move. He told us we had to move in order to compete in the transfer market. We've been there for five years now and we are far worse off in the soulless bowl than we were at Highbury. The experience of going to Arsenal with the people you got to know over years and years is no longer there, and we do not have a team capable of winning trophies - it is all down to Arsene Wenger, and it is becoming unforgivable now. For all those twats who think there is no Arsenal without Wenger they simply need to know that Arsenal were around for long enough before him, and will be around after he has gone.
Now we have the rest of the League campaign to get through (you'll notice I didn't say "look forward to.") I added a poll to the blog last night asking if we can win the Title with Almunia in goal. It seems an irrelevance now as the absence of Johan Djourou puts an end to any hopes anyway. We will have Squillaci and Koscielny together to the end of the season now, unless Kyle Bartley is brought back from Rangers (assuming he can be recalled). Why is he on loan in the first place when we know we are short of centre-halves? Nicklas Bendtner was "ill" today so missing from the bench - this left us with only a half-fit Robin Van Persie and Marouane Chamakh (another man missing an open goal today - again) as attacking options. Of course we could have had Carlos Vela or Jay Emmanuel-Thomas on the bench, but they are clearly better served by playing for somebody else on loan.
As you might have guessed I am thoroughly p****d off right now. I probably shouldn't have written this just yet, but I don't think the sentiment would be any different later on, or even tomorrow. There will be no blog tomorrow, but I will reflect further on Monday morning.
Friday, 11 March 2011
The big matches continue to come thick and fast for Arsenal. Tomorrow's FA Cup tie at Manchester United has now taken on added importance given the events of the past 13 days. The defeat at Wembley, followed by a home draw in the league and another loss in Barcelona mean that tomorrow is of massive psychological importance for Arsenal's players. It is now, quite simply, the biggest game of the season so far. Both managers must realise that the outcome of this cup-tie could have a huge bearing on the Title run-in. Back in 2008 Arsenal fielded a joke eleven at Old Trafford (with the exception of a magnificent Jens Lehmann) and were summarily dismissed by a near full-strength United. The loss marked the beginning of a terrible spell that ultimately cost us the Premier League that season, having been out in front before the game. It may seem a bit odd to describe an FA Cup tie as being so important to how a League season will finish, but there is even more precedent than the game three years ago. Back in 1999 Dennis Bergkamp missed a last minute penalty against the Mancs at Villa Park - Arsenal missed out on what would have been consecutive "Double's" while Man Utd won everything. On such occasions can seasons turn.
There is no doubt that Arsene Wenger will make some changes tomorrow, but I hope and pray they are kept to a minimum. Some alterations are enforced with the injuries to Szczesny and Fabregas. Robin Van Persie has been declared fit following the Barcelona game and I hope to God that he starts the game. If he doesn't then Marouane Chamakh must get the nod ahead of Nicklas Bendtner. With Vidic expected to return for United we will need someone who is either an exceptional talent (RVP) or physically strong (Chamakh). Whichever way you look at it Nicklas Bendtner can no longer be considered to cut it at this level by anybody (except for himself, perhaps). At the back I expect Squillaci to come in to the starting eleven (I have just seen a rare Twitter entry from him talking about the big game) while Eboue and Gibbs may also start. The absence of Nani would certainly make Gibbs' job a lot more straightforward than it would be otherwise. There is still no Alex Song in midfield. I can't believe Diaby will start again tomorrow so it seems a straight choice between Denilson or Aaron Ramsey, and I think the Brazillian will get the nod. Having been left out so inexplicably in midweek I will be amazed if Andrey Arshavin doesn't start tomorrow (Theo Walcott's mysterious ankle sprain is still keeping him out) but a real measure of Wenger's intent will be whether or not Samir Nasri plays. Given the importance of the outcome tomorrow I would like to see Arsenal's player of the season out there from the start - we will certainly need him.
As I've mentioned Man Utd will have Nemanja Vidic back tomorrow. I don't think you can underestimate his importance to their side - just look at how they played at Anfield without him. I expect Ferguson to play one of his reserve goalkeepers, but the likes of Giggs, Fletcher and Carrick might all be there. I also expect Rooney to play, but it's anybody's guess whether it will be Berbatov or Hernandez with him. One player missing for United, who always plays (and plays well) against Arsenal, is Ji Sung Park. I think Park is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League. It always seems to me that he plays in most of their big games and his work rate is phenomenal. He also has the knack of being in the right place at the right time - usually against us.
To win tomorrow Arsenal will have to buck the trend at Old Trafford. We have a dismal record there in all competitions since the inception of the Premier League (though we are unbeaten there in games not involving Manchester United - the semi-final win there over Spurs being one of my very favourite away trips). We have had our moments there, of course, in 1998, 2002, 2003 (FA Cup) and the infamous draw later the same year, as well as a few other hard-fought draws. There was also a great win in 2006 with a late Adebayor goal but, apart from that, games at that ground have meant a long journey home for the Gooners. The worst defeats have been pretty calamitous, the 6-1 drubbing, the end of the unbeaten run, and the FA Cup tie mentioned above. I would like to have been there tomorrow, but the late kick-off has stopped me from going. I hope that the thousands taking that long trip are able to enjoy the journey back down the M6, safe in the knowledge that we have a team that might still be capable of winning something this season. Incidentally the referee is Chris Foy so don't expect any favours there. I'd love to get back to Wembley at the first available opportunity - a semi-final against Birmingham City would do nicely, thanks very much. To do so the players will have to show their mettle against a big club, in a big game. Can they do it?
The poll closed yesterday with 36 voters believing that the FA are afraid of Manchester United, with only 4 saying otherwise. I didn't really expect any different, to be honest - thought the four "others" were a mild shock (how many times did you vote Pencil?) There will be a new poll later tonight.
I'll review the FA Cup game at some point tomorrow evening.
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Thursday, 10 March 2011
Wojciech Szczesny's injury the other night has put Arsenal in a spot of bother. With Fabianski already out and Vito Mannone injured on loan to Hull we are suddenly very short of numbers. The other goalkeeper involved with a matchday squad this season is young James Shea, currently also on loan, but not really a genuine option for Premier League football. Last season Man City were allowed to make an emergency loan signing of a goalkeeper, outside of the transfer window. With the precedent set, Arsene Wenger confirmed today that he wants to do the same. Wenger has said that he has someone in mind but doesn't want to say who it is. It is obvious that we will not get anybodys first-choice goalkeeper to come to Arsenal, but there is one man out there with unfinished business as far as Arsenal are concerned. Ideally we would be looking for someone with Premier League experience, a winner, and someone who could genuinely challenge Manuel Almunia for his place. With the return to fitness of Gianluigi Buffon there is a goalkeeper currently kicking his heels at Juventus, and he is a man we know well. Thirteen years ago, at about this time of the year, Alex Manninger came in to the Arsenal side to replace the injured David Seaman. When Seaman got fit again he immediately replaced the youngster and a great talent went unfulfilled. For me it was a massive mistake by Wenger. Manninger's performances won Arsenal the Double that season, and he should never have been dropped - however good David Seaman had been he was certainly in decline by 1998 (and somehow he did another five years as Arsenal Number One). I must admit that I don't know what rules govern the emergency loan arrangements. It could be that any loanee has to be from a Club in this country, which would make Manninger ineligible. If it is allowed I would have no qualms with bringing Alex back to Arsenal, and letting him play ahead of Almunia. I thought Manuel was amazing on Tuesday night, but we know his next chronic cock-up is just around the corner - and that is a massive concern as we get to this most crucial phase of the season. Almunia is a good goalkeeper, a fine reserve, but we simply can't rely on him to be consistent.
Alex Ferguson has been roundly chastised by the press for his refusal to speak to them either side of the Liverpool match. He already chooses to ignore the BBC as we know, but his complete press blackout (and refusal to let any of his staff talk on his behalf) was a big step further. Personally I don't have a problem with Manchester United's stance. Why the hell should Alex Ferguson be EXPECTED to come and talk to a bunch of no-mark reporters, who know nothing about football, only to see what he may or may not say land him in trouble with the FA suits? Why should a press reporter, who may be slagging off players/managers in their column on one day, get the chance to question those same people on the next? There have been many times when I have questioned why Arsenal allow certain reporters access to the training ground for press conferences or, worse still, access to the stadium for matches. An example of the sort of person I'm talking about can be seen in today's Sun newspaper. His name is Antony Kastrinakis and you can read his "piece" here. Mr Kastrinakis is able to get away with this sort of crap, but he will still expect free entry for the next home game (and access to the complimentary sandwiches), and to get to question Arsene Wenger after the game. Why should Wenger have to speak to him? The only people that the likes of Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson are answerable to are the fans and the shareholders/owners. The press have no right to speak to any of them, and I was certainly impressed by Ferguson taking a stand. I just wish Arsenal would do the same - permanently.
I'll post a preview of the Manchester United FA Cup game tomorrow.
Wednesday, 9 March 2011
In any game of football, no matter who is playing, no matter the score, you will always get one chance to score a goal. In the final minutes Arsenal had their chance at the Nou Camp when Wilshere put Nicklas Bendtner through on goal. This was Bendtner's opportunity to finally put his money where his mouth is and prove that he is not all talk. Unfortunately his all too familiar poor first touch let him down and Arsenal's final hope was gone for good. If Robin Van Persie had been the man played through you have to think the outcome would have been somewhat different. That in itself tells you what a difference an eleven aside game could have made last night.
In the second-half Barcelona destroyed Arsenal. But Arsenal spent most of the second-half with one man missing (or four men if you count Fabregas, Rosicky and Diaby).
In the first forty-five minutes our opponents dominated possession, but they didn't create very much at all. I can only remember one chance before the opening goal. The goal itself was all down to Arsenal's Captain. Fabregas was palpably not fit enough last night, but I am not having any excuses made for him. His back-heel was a dereliction of duty and any apology on Twitter is just not going to cut it I'm afraid. His behaviour in the tunnel pre-match, with the hugging and hand-shaking of the Barca players was not becoming of a leader of The Arsenal. Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams, Frank McLintock would never have considered such friendliness before the battle. When the game began Fabregas consistently failed to find a yellow shirt. When the Barcelona players decided to mix it with Robin Van Persie he basically sided with them and ushered RVP away - as the Captain he should have been leading the charge and dragging all of Arsenal's players in with him to back up our Dutch centre-forward. I'm sure I will get slated by some readers for daring to slag off Fabregas but the fact is that had Denilson performed like that last night he would be getting slaughtered for it by every Arsenal fan. There is no reason why Fabregas should get away without a shellacking simply because he is normally so much better. Fit or unfit, he failed to rise to the big occasion - and not for the first time.
Early in the second-half we got our goal, albeit fortuitously. It came after brilliant work from a Trojan-like Samir Nasri, who put in a superb effort last night, down the left and then a fine delivery from the corner. At 1-1, and knowing how Barcelona have faded late on against us in the past, it really was all to play for. The defence was performing manfully, and Jack Wilshere was doing the work of three men in the centre of midfield. Then came the turning point. The referee had already given Arsenal very little, and booked four of our players in the first-half. I thought Van Persie's first yellow card was simply a reaction from the referee to the incident shortly before when Van Persie was attacked by Abidal. Quite frankly he should have made sure he really tagged the odious Dani Alves - after all, if you're going to get booked at least make it worthwhile. The second yellow card was, as Arsene Wenger said afterwards, an embarrassment for football (it comes as no surprise to me that UEFA have charged Wenger and Nasri over comments made to the referee, rather than coming out and castigating the referee for costing the World the opportunity to see a great game of football). What promised to become another modern classic instead became a procession. Manuel Almunia showed just how good he really can be at times with a quite stunning performance. I've read today about the lovely finish by Xavi for their second goal, but a brief glance at it shows it was only a deflection off Sagna that took it past Almunia. Some of Barcelona's football was incredible and, with ten men, simply unstoppable. Give us eleven men and it is a different game. The introduction of Arshavin came about seventy minutes too late - can someone please tell me why Rosicky played ahead of the little Russian? Had Arshavin been coming on, with Van Persie still up top, I really believe Arsenal could have got through last night. As it was we were only one goal away from winning the tie.
I listened to Graeme Souness after the game raving about Barcelona and how well they played in the second-half. However, his assertion that Arsenal having only ten men made no difference at all was complete nonsense (I actually found myself agreeing with Jamie Redknapp for the first time ever). So, too, is the opinion of most of the experts that this team can't be beaten in the European Cup this season. Arsenal came within one goal of knocking them out. I know Real Madrid got destroyed by them before Christmas, but Mourinho won't let that happen again. Similarly Manchester United and Chelsea will not have a midfield that stands off Barca in the way that Arsenal did. Barcelona are magnificent, probably the best football team ever. But Inter Milan showed last season what a bit of physicality and tactical awareness can do. Arsenal have shown twice how a bit of pace and accurate passing (another thing missing from last night) can damage their brittle defence. What you do need is a referee who is willing to show some balls in the heat generated by 95,000 screaming fans.
I noticed that Fabio Capello has today described Gareth Bale as the best player in the World. If that doesn't convince the FA that Capello is not up to the job of England Manager then nothing will. Has he not seen Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo (to name but two of the many players in a different league to Bale)? Capello also compared Bale to Roberto Carlos. I would like to know when Bale last played at left-back - quite some time I would imagine. The praise of Bale seems to be all part of the media campaign to award him Footballer of the Year. The muppets involved would do well to remember that he would have been at Nottingham Forest by now had Spurs not suffered an injury crisis on 31st January last year. Harry is some judge of a player.
More tomorrow when the dust will hopefully have settled on another European campaign coming to an end. If any Spurs fans try to give it large because they beat AC Milan then just let them have their moment, and hope that they draw Barca in the quarter-final. Remember, we will always be better than they are because WE ARE THE ARSENAL.
Monday, 7 March 2011
Arsenal have produced a real rabbit from the hat this afternoon with the news that Robin Van Persie might yet play tomorrow at Barcelona. RVP trained today and will travel as part of a 19 man squad for the big game. The fact that Arsenal are taking an extra player (something George Graham always did for every game, but Wenger never does) tells me that they're really not sure on Van Persie. I will be pleasantly surprised if he plays from the start. I hope that we are not seeing a massive gamble that could affect the rest of the season in the Premier League and FA Cup - a further setback for Van Persie could mean curtains for Arsenal's campaign. Whatever happens it seems that Van Persie was not as badly injured as we were being told. If that means he was withdrawn early at Wembley last week, merely as a precaution, then I think it's a disgrace. I sincerely hope that wasn't the case. Joining Robin in the squad is Cesc Fabregas. I don't think there was ever any chance of Fabregas missing out on the Nou Camp for a second season running. It comes as no surprise to hear that the skipper will play tomorrow. I am surprised, however, that a sprained ankle is keeping Theo Walcott out - what happened to a decent strapping and an injection?
The bad news is that Alex Song is not fit. The fact that we have no adequate cover for Song is an indictment on the Manager. Every fan knew how short we were in that area, and the chickens may be coming home to roost. The simple facts are that Denilson and Diaby are not up to the job of covering for Song. With that in mind I wonder if Wenger will simply go for it tomorrow. On the basis that we might as well not bother with Denilson or Diaby I would like to see Nasri sit alongside Wilshere with Fabregas in front of them. This would see Nicklas Bendtner move to the right (not ideal I know) with either Van Persie or Chamakh at centre-forward. I don't think Wenger will do that, and I expect one of the other two to partner Jack - they will need to improve ten-fold from Saturday.
I don't need to comment on Barcelona going forward as they are as close to irresistible as its possible to get at times, and everyone knows how good they are. However, they are not that strong at the back - and even less so tomorrow night without Puyol or Pique. Barcelona are incredibly effective when not in possession of the ball - they hunt in pairs or as a three to win the ball back as soon as possible. However, this can also be their downfall. It stands to reason that when Arsenal get the ball tomorrow, if they can get through three quick passes and keep it, then Barcelona will have their entire midfield out of the game. Arsenal are better equipped than most sides Barca play against because of the technical level of our players. Our second goal in the first-leg was indicative of what I am talking about. In that move Nicklas Bendtner drew three players to him before finding Wilshere, whose first-time ball took two more out of the equation. By the time Fabregas sent Nasri away down the right the entire Barcelona team was caught ahead of the ball in their attempts to win it back straight away. The gaps are there to be exploited, and Arsenal must do just that. The presence of Cesc Fabregas in the team will certainly add to our ability to hurt the opposition tomorrow.
I still don't think we will get the result we need tomorrow night. However, we go there with a lead nobody expected us to have. Last season we were thrashed in Barcelona, but it's easy to forget we were on the end of a one-man masterclass from the World's best footballer. It is beyond comprehension that Messi could perform quite so well again - no matter how good he is. If one or two of their players have an off-night (specifically Villa and Iniesta) then we have a real chance. Arsenal will miss Theo's pace as it scares the Barca defence half to death. The players will have to find a way of compensating for the loss of that pace but, make no mistake, whichever of our strikers plays they have the ability to seriously hurt Barcelona - provided we can get them the service required. It promises to be another potential classic. It would be great to be on the right end of it.
I've been saying for a long time that I am suspicious of a lot of stuff that is going on in football at the top level in England. Manchester United are feeling hard done by after Carragher got away with making Nani cry yesterday (I'm loving the "Smooth Carragher" song), but they conveniently ignore Rapael's own leg-breaker of a challenge on Lucas Leiva (interesting to note that when a United player does that they are "frustrated" - according to Ray Wilkins - rather than petulant and nasty). I read this morning that David Gill apparently confronted referees boss Mike Riley in the Director's Box at Anfield. I believe that rumours of Gill saying "I thought we had an understanding" and "if you can't control these referees we'll get someone else in" are, as yet, unfounded. There is a good article at www.onlinegooner.com on the subject of corruption - you can read it here. You can feel free to ignore the quotes in the article from Jeff Winter - a more arrogant, cheating oaf you would be hard-pushed to find - but the rest of the piece makes very interesting reading, and more than a little sense. I am convinced that some day soon the English game will be rocked by news of corruption on a grand scale - it stands to reason that the richest league, in the richest sport in Europe can not be untouchable. If the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea happened to be at the centre of it I would not be surprised in the slightest.
I'll review the Barcelona game either late tomorrow night, or on Wednesday evening - the timing will probably depend on the outcome and how calm I need to be to write a rational post.
Saturday, 5 March 2011
Firstly let me say this - Arsenal didn't play very well today. Right, that's out of the way. While I no doubt run the risk of being labelled a "whingeing Arsenal fan" I want to point some fingers towards the men masquerading as match officials again today. Since New Year Arsenal have been on the end of a succession of questionable refereeing displays. I say questionable because I am losing faith in the idea that everything in the Premier League is "straight." The odd bad decision here and there is genuinely part of the game but what we have seen in the past two months feels more like an orchestrated campaign against Arsenal. The dodgy offside that kept Szczesny on the pitch last Sunday is the only major decision I can remember recently that has gone our way (people will point to the penalties at home to Leeds and Huddersfield, but a brief look at the replays of those incidents will show the clear fouls). The latest gem to be unearthed within the FA/Ferguson/Abramovich (*delete as appropriate) sponsored academy is Anthony Taylor. I'd neither seen, not heard of, this guy before this afternoon. By 5pm I'd seen more than enough of him and his incompetent friend running the line in front of the East Stand. One has to wonder what is going on. These referees must have been achieving certain standards to reach the Premier League list, so what goes wrong when they get on a pitch with Arsenal? The second-half was littered with unbelievable decisions from a referee who seemed so far out of his depth he was in danger of needing a decompression chamber. We saw Arsenal players being booked for nothing, and free-kicks going Sunderland's way for even less than that. Titus Bramble decided to try and pull Arshavin's arm off when the Russian was through on goal, and then shoved him in the back as he pulled the trigger - no penalty for Arsenal though (the idea that Arshavin may have paid the price for being honest and staying on his feet is really quite galling). Then, of course, there were the offsides. Twice Arshavin was flagged in the second-half, both times he was not even close to being offside. The first was the disallowed goal - ultimately the reason we didn't win the game. When you're not playing well it is important to grind out the result. To all intents and purposes Arsenal did that this afternoon, only to be robbed by a mug with a flag in his right hand.
As I said at the start, Arsenal didn't play well today. We were missing four top players before we started. Unfortunately Denilson and Diaby had me feeling, at times, that we were playing with nine men. Diaby's display was absolutely his worst for Arsenal. By the time he was finally given the hook by the Manager the feeling in certain parts of the crowd was bordering on what Emmanuel Eboue experienced a couple of years ago. However, his removal, and the change it made to the make-up of the team effectively took Arsenal's chances in the game with it. When Denilson was replaced by Chamakh we finally got Samir Nasri in to the "Fabregas" role. For ten minutes Sunderland couldn't handle Arsenal. Then Wenger decided to put Rosicky on in that position and Nasri dropped back alongside Jack Wilshere. At no point did our formation change with Bendtner simply moving from centre-forward to wide-right upon the introduction of Chamakh. Once again we were devoid of any tactics whatsoever, and were indebted to Szczesny for a superb save to deny Welbeck a late winner.
For all that we were poor, Arsenal did have chances. Bendtner couldn't quite get on the end of a Wilshere cross, and the same player forced a superb save from Mignolet with a volley shortly before half-time. Samir Nasri was denied by the goalkeeper from a free-kick, while Chamakh set up Arshavin with his first touch, but the Russian hit his shot straight at the goalkeeper. Finally Chamakh had our best chance of the game when he headed against the crossbar from inside the six-yard box. I've heard the radio reporters after the game saying that Sunderland deserved something from the game. Maybe that's the case but at the same time, despite being poor, Arsenal did enough to have won the match.
The 0-0 result does little for our pursuit of Manchester United and now we really need a favour from Liverpool tomorrow. The players can begin to concentrate on the Barcelona game, but I will still be fuming about the referee and his linesman. I am seriously beginning to get fed up with my weekend being ruined by the ineptitude (or otherwise) of a referee. We keep being told they have a difficult job to do - well so do most people, but if we made the kind of mistakes that cost people thousands of pounds in our jobs we would get the sack. When you see Clattenburg courting controversy again today, after the Rooney business last week, then you know that different rules apply to football officials.
I'll preview the Barcelona game on Monday afternoon/evening. In the meantime get your curly wig and false moustache out and become scouse for the day (if you really want to get in to character dig out your shell-suit and go out stealing hubcaps).
Friday, 4 March 2011
Arsenal's Welsh international makes his return to the first-team squad tomorrow for the visit of Sunderland. We haven't seen Aaron Ramsey on the pitch for Arsenal since February last year when he had his leg broken by Ryan Shawcross (as opposed to breaking his leg against Stoke, as it is usually reported - there is a subtle, yet important, difference). I've expressed a lot of doubts about Ramsey's future on this blog and tomorrow, if he gets on, will provide little, if any, evidence that he has made a genuine recovery. However, his return should at least get the crowd going and I hope it inspires the weakened Arsenal team to a proper home performance against the Mackems. Anyone who was there on the night Eduardo returned against Cardiff City will remember the emotion of the evening, especially when he got his first goal. A repeat tomorrow would be just the ticket. I want Aaron Ramsey to come back and be the player he was looking like being - that would make me a very happy man indeed, though it may take quite a while.
We go into the game in a far worse state with injuries than we have been for a while. Koscielny is back, and should play, but we will be without Fabregas, Walcott, Van Persie and Alex Song. With the exception of Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere and Johan Djourou these four are probably our most effective players of this season. To be without all of them for a big Premier League match is a massive blow. The squad must come in to its own now and prove that the faith shown in them by the Manager has not been misplaced. We played without three of them for most of the early season, but to miss Alex Song too could be huge.
Sunderland are a good side. They lack a certain consistency but their quality is there for all to see. They have a decent goalkeeper in Craig Gordon, while Nedum Onouha has been a shrewd signing on loan from Manchester City. Their obvious weakness lies, on paper, in the centre of defence which is patrolled by Titus Bramble - a player capable of hitting both high and low notes, all in the same game (he's a bit like our defenders if truth be known). Kieran Richardson is becoming a bit of a talisman for the Wearsiders while Jordan Henderson is one of the brightest young midfield players in the country - he will be relishing his battle against our own boy wonder, Jack Wilshere. Up front Sunderland have suffered the blow of losing both Kenwynne Jones and Darren Bent since last season, but in Asamoah Gyan they have a quick and powerful striker, with a tremendous ability to finish. With Danny Welbeck also returning to fitness they have more than enough to cause Arsenal a lot of problems. Unusually for a Steve Bruce team they play a lot of good football. I watched their match with Stoke City a few weeks ago and there was only one team playing with any flair - sadly Stoke's high-ball (and a terrible linesman or two) proved Sunderland's undoing.
The injuries will see a bit of a mix and match Arsenal team tomorrow. I hope to see Samir Nasri return to the centre of the pitch as the deputy for Fabregas. There is no question that Nasri was wasted at Wembley last week with Rosicky playing in that role to no good effect whatsoever (again). I think Arsenal might line up like this:
Szczesny - Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy - Diaby, Wilshere, Nasri - Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner.
With Man Utd facing a daunting trip to Anfield on Sunday a win for Arsenal would put genuine pressure on them for the first time. So far this team has shown an inability to create pressure when the opportunity has presented itself (including losing a four goal lead against Sunderland's local rivals). This could be a pivotal weekend in the Title race, especially with United's own depleted defence potentially facing Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. All thoughts of Barcelona should be a long way from everyone's mind until 5pm tomorrow. I hope they are.
Elsewhere you will have heard about Kolo Toure failing a drugs test. The obligatory "not-guilty" stuff is coming out. I have no interest in whether he is guilty or not but, as my brother pointed out last night, it might just explain his "malaria." What has annoyed me about the whole story is how he is being referred to as "the former Arsenal defender." What the hell has this got do with Arsenal? Kolo Toure plays for Manchester City. He should be referred to as "Manchester City defender, Kolo Toure." It seems that the press need to twist anything they can towards Arsenal in order to make a story, and to get at Arsenal in some way. I wrote an article for the onlinegooner.com on the day England exited the World Cup last year entitled "I blame Arsene Wenger" and posed the question as to how long it would take for England's failure to be blamed on Arsenal and their foreign players. What happened the following day? Arsenal's playing squad was cited as one of the reasons in The Sun, and The Mirror, and The Telegraph, and The Mail (need I go on...?) Kolo is an Arsenal legend, an Invincible. But he is an Arsenal player no longer, so any reference to him as "the former Arsenal defender" is a complete joke.
I'll post a match review at some point tomorrow night.