I'll keep this brief as I am severely pushed for time right now. Sadly work and other commitments have no regard for the important stuff in life, such as watching and writing about The Arsenal.
We go in to the game at QPR tomorrow on the back of this magnificent run of victories. On paper we should be walking all over the opposition from beginning to end. But this is Premier League football, and things are simply not that straightforward. Rangers are in real trouble at the bottom end of the table and need to get something, anything, from every game. I've never liked Neil Warnock but I can not understand why he was booted out of Loftus Road earlier this season, especially to be replaced by an utter cretin like Mark Hughes. It has been no surprise to me that QPR have struggled even more since that muppet took over the reins. The team news for Arsenal is that Koscielny "should" be fit. The fact that there is even the remotest note of uncertainty tells me that his problem may be a bit more serious than we were initially led to believe. Abou Diaby has suffered another setback, it would appear, so Arsene says the squad remains as last week - I will assume that means Carl Jenkinson drops back out of the 18 having got a late call-up to the bench against Aston Villa. QPR will be without the suspended Djibril Cisse for the game. However, they will have Bobby Zamora in the side I think. We've faced Zamora twice this season already and, in both games, he gave Thomas Vermaelen and co one hell of a tough time. He dominated Vermaelen in the home fixture, and then popped up with the winner at Craven Cottage. I find it very hard to take as I don't rate Zamora at all. I hope he doesn't shine quite so much tomorrow and that Vermaelen is able to handle him a lot better than he did at our place. Elsewhere in their team I see Joey Barton being recalled to the starting eleven. Barton is a Mark Hughes kind of player and this is the kind of game that they will want his particular "qualities" in the middle of the pitch. Barton will be winding people up and kicking anything that moves, in a similar style to his Manager (though Hughes was more of an elbows man than a kicker). Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky will need their wits about them throughout the game and try to avoid getting involved with the odious Barton. Ultimately if we play our game, and play it well, we will have another win tomorrow. If we have an off day, or allow ourselves to get sucked in to a "fight" we will struggle to get the victory. One other note of caution - the referee is Mike Dean, the man who celebrated Spurs' opening goal against us the other week (look it up on Youtube).
As we head towards the weekend and another important away game I find myself worried about one of our players. As soon as I read that Laurent Koscielny was injured with "tendinitis" last Saturday I immediately thought about Marco Van Basten. The great Dutchman was forced in to an early retirement, before his peak years, by tendinitis in the knee. If it becomes a similarly recurring problem for our French centre-back he could go the same way, I fear. Since the Blackburn debacle earlier in the season, when Koscielny looked as far removed from a Premier League defender as it's possible to be, he has been simply outstanding. He is the most improved player in the Arsenal squad by an absolute country-mile. Aside from Robin Van Persie I believe Koscielny and Alex Song have consistently been our best players this season. His partnership with Thomas Vermaelen has looked excellent in recent weeks, and the Manager was at pains to point it out in his programme notes last weekend (I might also say that Johan Djourou's performance last Saturday shows what a bit of confidence can do for every player in the squad, whether they are playing every week or not). The settled defence of this past month has looked far more of a unit. Almost any defence would be improved by the introduction of Bacary Sagna, and Koscielny looks really comfortable with his French colleague on his right. I hope that the injury he suffered is just a one-off. Arsenal have said that they expect Koscielny to play this Saturday at QPR, but I am more concerned at what it means in the long-term. Fingers crossed that we see a lot more of his burgeoning partnership with Thomas Vermaelen over the next couple of years - we are certainly due an injury-free run in our defence. If they can continue with the form they're showing then they could yet form the backbone of a Title challenge next season.
I'll preview the QPR game tomorrow afternoon, when we should have some team news.
I tried to get this post written and published last night. Unfortunately my broadband provider gives a rubbish service which seems to want to die between 7pm and the early hours. As a result I'm only able to get it done now. I read a report last week that said TalkTalk are the most complained about broadband supplier and, frankly, I'm not surprised.
Why do I support Arsenal Football Club? The answer is simple - my Dad is an Arsenal supporter. I suspect that's true for most football fans as the baton is passed from generation to generation. Perhaps the only surprise is that my Dad is not a Londoner. Like me he has lived all his life in Dover. So how did he come to support Arsenal? I am always at pains to point out to people that Arsenal is Kent's biggest football club, having been formed in Woolwich, but that's not the reason. Dad started to follow the Club for the 1950 FA Cup Final. He had read in the newspaper FA Cup Final special supplement that morning how Arsenal would be wearing a special "old-gold" shirt for the game against Liverpool. Quite rightly he felt that Arsenal must be a very special Club indeed if they were able to wear a gold shirt and he was hooked from there on. He went on to see his first Arsenal game at The Valley in the early 1950's and has now been going to see the boys play for over 60 years. He used to go with his old friend, Bushy (the original Dover Gooner), but he sadly passed on and my eldest brother took his place in the East Upper with Dad. I was very fortunate to be born to a Dad who was, and is, an Arsenal season ticket holder. He took me to my first game thirty years ago this year. Of all the many things my Dad has given me over the years I would suggest that Arsenal is the one I have had the most enjoyment from. Me and my brothers are season ticket holders too and we still travel to matches all together. My Dad boasts a very proud record of having been to see every Arsenal Cup Final since 1968 against Leeds, and then he took my cousin to see us lose to Swindon Town in 1969. He was at Highbury for what he considers its greatest moment when the Fairs Cup was won in 1970. I was sat next to him for my most favourite "in the flesh" moment when Tony Adams sealed the Title in 1998. I was also sat next to him for my saddest, the final day at Highbury, which is when the photo above was taken. Sadly, his friend of many years (and the man who sat next to him in the East Upper for nearly thirty years) Bob Everett was no longer with us by then, and he is missed by Dad to this day. He's taken me to Paris and Copenhagen and Wembley and Old Trafford and Anfield and Hillsborough and the list goes on. Triumph and disappointment with Arsenal, and the emotions that come with them, are all thanks to my Dad and the fact that he chose Arsenal as the team to support. Having gone through those sixty years he certainly couldn't be deemed a glory-hunter, by any means. In recent years he has so enjoyed the Graham era and Wenger era team's, having sat through plenty of dross in the mid-70's and early-80's. He always felt it would take an incredible player to dislodge Brady as the greatest he has seen, and Dennis Bergkamp was that man. In Dad's eyes (and most people who genuinely know their Arsenal history) Dennis is the finest we've signed, and the finest we've watched. Unlike Dennis my Dad has been on Arsenal's European tour over the past twenty years. He's been to all points from Moscow and Kiev in the East, to La Coruna and Madrid in the West. In between he enjoyed his annual trip to Austria for pre-season where he got to meet the players, the Manager, and some of the nicest people he's come across in his sixty years with Arsenal. The likes of the legendary Andreas Kovacs and Teo Scarpellini have become firm family friends. When he finishes the book he's currently writing in his retirement it will be some read, you can be sure. So why am I writing about my Dad today? Well, yesterday (when I was hoping to get this published) he turned 70. I owe a lot to my Dad, from all the usual stuff, to my love of (and former ability to play) cricket, and of course The Arsenal. It's amazing really that he still gets to every home game, and some of the away jaunts (though not as many as he would like!) He now gets to see his Grandsons taking their seat at matches and, once again, it's his following of Arsenal that has given them their names - Freddie, Liam and George. Like I say I owe a lot to my Dad, and so do my brothers. We wouldn't have Arsenal, and that common interest, without him. Happy Birthday Dad, and thanks.
Isn't it just lovely to be winning games of football every week? Isn't it even lovelier to be winning games of football while the Sun is shining and the warmth is beating down on us? In recent years the beginning of Spring has coincided with the end of season capitulation of Arsenal. This season the players have suddenly hit their stride with the flowering of the crocuses. I don't know about you, but it has put me in a damned fine mood. I didn't get to the game on Saturday as I was working all afternoon and evening. As a result my only coverage of the game has been Match Of The Day's "highlights". The combination of work, and not seeing enough of the game, is the reason for there being no preview or report from the match on here. I have to say that the BBC really did set new standards with their round-up on Saturday night. I checked the match stats after the game and I noticed that Villa had three shots in the entire game, and the reports I saw all spoke of the complete dominance of Arsenal. It came as no surprise, therefore, to see all three of those Villa efforts included in the edit. In fact, if you hadn't been there, seen it, or read reports, you could be forgiven for thinking Aston Villa were incredibly unlucky to lose 3-0 in such an evenly matched contest. It's frightening really, but I've come to expect nothing more from the inept fools running Match Of The Day. The other result of interest on Saturday went our way yet again. I don't think I've ever known such a sustained period where things have gone our way so much. As a result we are now three points clear of the mugs from down the road but, more importantly, eight points ahead of Chelsea. If we can avoid defeat in most of our remaining games - in particular the one against Chelsea themselves - then we should finish at least fourth. Concentration is key, and an eighth successive win this weekend is paramount ahead of the visit of Manchester City. If we can win against QPR and then actually beat City then suddenly the runners-up spot could yet come in to play. Having said that, it's best not to get ahead of ourselves just yet - after all, that's what Spurs did and look what happened there. If there is a frustration to be had within the context of our last seven Premier League matches, it is that we are too far adrift to be challenging for the Title. As great as it is to be winning at this time of the year, it's just not the same when you're not pushing for the main prize. In the past when we've got on a run at this stage I've found myself thinking about it all the time. I would just drift off, at school, at work, at home, in the car or wherever, and wonder if it was going to lead to the Title etc. I'd be unable to sleep at night from thinking about Arsenal and the League Title. It really takes me back to the good times when Highbury would be bathed in sunshine while Dennis and Freddie and Thierry and Bobby would be ripping sides apart, or when Rocky and Davo and Micky and Merse and Smudger were doing their stuff. I think it really hit me today that there is just that something missing. The reason it hit me is that I was on a training course and I realised that I was actually listening to what was being said. If we were pushing for the Premier League I would have been so pre-occupied in thinking about Arsenal that the course would have been going on around me. As it is I was taking in every word and, in a way, that's a real shame. Still, I'd rather be winning in Spring than losing, no matter where we are in the League. And the Sun is still shining. More tomorrow.
Arsenal's players turned in another gritty effort last night to get the three points. With this win we have now gone above Tottenham and it feels rather good. We've heard a lot from that mob over the past few months. Their favourite attempt at winding us up came with their "mind the gap" nonsense. Now that there is no gap it has all gone rather quiet. However, I am not comfortable with the way in which a large number of Gooners are now berating the Spurs fans in a similarly premature manner. Last night I think most of us were more than happy to rub their noses in it with regards to the "gap" etc. It's fair to say that, having thought they would win the Premier League, and that they were now far superior to Arsenal, the mugs have brought a little light ribbing upon themselves. There is absolutely no problem with that, and the sport of getting them to bite every time never becomes any less amusing. There is a problem, though, with assuming Arsenal have now done the job. The fact is that there are still nine games to go and our luck (which has been very much in of late) could change back to what it was around Christmas when no decisions, and no results, were going our way at all. The profligacy we show in front of goal, which was prevalent again in the early stages at Everton, could still come back to haunt us. One more thing that is bugging me about the attitude of a lot of Arsenal fans is the fact that they are actively celebrating us being in third place in the Premier League. We are 15 points off the lead for God's sake. This is not something to celebrate in the grand scheme of things. Yes, in the situation we found ourselves after 40 minutes of the Tottenham home game, it seems a quite spectacular achievement to be where we are now, but it really is not to a Club of Arsenal's stature. The day that finishing above Spurs, and maybe scraping a place in the Champions League, is seen as a genuine cause for major celebration is the day that we sink to their level of ambition. Last night on the social networking sites there were a lot of people (most of them annoying student types, Tarquin's, Henrietta's and JCL's) giving off about Wenger, and how he had proved everyone wrong. Apparently those of us who believe he should be moved on "have been made to look stupid." These people fail to grasp the reality that celebrating being third is a symptom of the Club we are becoming. The reason we are so far off the pace in the League is that the Manager failed to do his job properly, and has done for a number of years now. If we do get a top three/four finish it will indeed be a surprise. Everyone wrote us off this season, including me - I couldn't see us finishing any higher than sixth. However, that doesn't excuse the fact that, had proper transfer business been done in recent seasons, we would once again have been waltzing away with the Premier League. If Wenger achieves a Champions League spot with this squad it will show that he is a fine Manager. But I would question why he should choose, therefore, to hamstring himself by not bringing in the sort of quality we need to challenge. If he can do it with this lot, just imagine what he'd have done with a couple more top players at his disposal. What I'm trying to say is that the crowing at the Spurs fans, and the back-biting over the Manager should be put to one side. There are still nine games to go, so let's do our shouting at Tottenham, and our "I'm right and you're wrong about Wenger" arguing until we've secured a decent end to the season. Believe me, an injury or two to the wrong player(s) and Arsenal could just as easily collapse again. There is still a long way to go.
One of the worst things about being out of the cups is that the games don't come thick and fast. While this is a small advantage to Arsenal in that they can keep putting out the first-choice players (fitness permitting) it makes for some very boring times for us supporters. If you're playing twice a week in the Spring it means you're having a very good season. Having not played since last Monday there is no way the Arsenal players should be fatigued tomorrow evening. More on that game below. Since I last wrote there really hasn't been much to say Arsenal-wise. That's why I haven't been writing anything. If there's nothing to give an opinion on then there is no point in writing for the sake of it. Of course there has been some football in the meantime, and my brother and his wife have been blessed with a baby girl, but nothing happening in the World of Arsenal. The main thing to have happened in football is, of course, the dramatic (but thankfully not tragic, we hope) scenes at Spurs on Saturday evening. Football and its followers get a lot of stick, but the reaction of those inside White Hart Lane the other night showed that, despite our obsessions with our Club's, rivalries can be put aside when needs must. Fabrice Muamba is, it seems, improving day by day, and thank God for that. He began at Arsenal, of course, and the reaction on Twitter of his ex-teammates, and those employed by Arsenal that worked with him, shows that Muamba is a genuinely popular young man. Good luck to him in his recovery.
Down to business then and I watched most of the Reserves encounter with Liverpool this afternoon as it was live on Liverpool TV. It was a decent game, marred by a terrible foul on Jernade Meade that could have easily broken his leg. The referee missed it completely (as he did most fouls on Arsenal players throughout the match) and then somehow only booked the assailant when his linesman drew his attention to the foul. Meade was able to continue after some treatment, but he told me on Twitter that he was in a bit of pain on the coach coming home, and not looking forward to how it will feel in the morning. The Arsenal team today was notable for the inclusion of Abou Diaby, making his latest return from injury. Diaby got Arsenal's equaliser in the 1-1 draw with a tap-in from close range. Typically he managed to get kicked on the ankle in the act of scoring, but hopefully has come through his hour on the pitch generally unscathed. If, by some miracle, we could get him fit and keep him fit until the end of the season then Diaby could have a big part to play in the Premier League run-in. At the level he played today he was simply a class above, and Liverpool only got the ball off him when he misplaced the odd pass. With the ball at his feet Diaby was simply too skillful, too quick and too powerful for Liverpool's inexperienced midfielders to contain. But for some missed chances from the also returning Benik Afobe it could have been a deserved three points for the youngsters.
Tomorrow we get back to some real Arsenal action as the boys travel to Everton. We've had a decent record at Goodison Park in recent times, but that counts for very little. We've actually handed out a spanking or two to The Toffees in recent times, yet I still consider a trip to Goodison to be among the toughest fixtures of the season. Their results against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea recently only serve to underline the task ahead of us tomorrow. Frankly, I'd take a draw right now. The team news is that the same squad will be involved as was last Monday against Newcastle. I would think it unlikely that Arsene would look to change the starting line-up, though Andre Santos is knocking heavily on Kieran Gibbs' door. However, Gibbs has played reasonably well of late (though he let Ben Arfa beat him far too easily for the goal last week) and I don't see Wenger leaving him out just yet. Apart from that there's not too much to say about Arsenal's team. The only thing I will say, because I failed to mention it last week, is that I hope Theo Walcott will pick up where he left off last Monday. Against Newcastle I thought he was outstanding. Everything he did was first-rate, from controlling the ball, to running at his man, to his excellent crossing from wide (which led to both Arsenal goals) it was the most complete display of his career. I am one of Theo's biggest critics but if he can play like that on a regular basis then he might yet fulfil his potential. I'd love for Walcott to prove me and many others wrong by showing he is a footballer, and not just a sprinter. Everton rested a lot of players for the Merseyside Derby last midweek, ahead of the FA Cup on Saturday. I was amazed that Moyes would choose to leave out his best players against Liverpool, of all teams. Given that they have to have a replay in the FA Cup I would rather hope he does the same thing tomorrow. If Everton were to field the same players as they did last Wednesday then I would fancy a committed Arsenal to beat them. We will see what happens, but we already know the dangerous Seamus Coleman will not be involved, which should be a slight relief to whoever gets the nod at left-back for Arsenal. I've been impressed (far more than I thought I would be) by Jelavic, while Stracqarlursi (don't know if I've spelt that right) looks the sort of whole-hearted trier that every Club would like to have in their squad. Whoever plays up front for them tomorrow Arsenal's centre-backs will have their work cut out. I expect Arsenal to fall at least three points behind Tottenham again tomorrow. I can see them beating Stoke fairly comfortably at home (though 'Arry might rest a few) while, as I said before, I would take a draw in our game. I'm not concerned if that's the case. However, I would very much like to see Man City beat Chelsea. I don't care which of the Manchester sides wins the Title, but we need Chelsea to drop as many points as possible. If they were to lose tomorrow, and then only draw with Spurs this weekend, it would set them back again. I fear Fernando Torres may have found himself again, and that should worry us, but if we can get away from them over the next ten days then the future looks bright. Whatever happens, Arsenal must make sure of their own performances and results. The rest can then take care of itself.
Let's start by getting something straight. I don't really like Gary Neville. I despise the weasel-faced little scumbag with a passion. When he was on the pitch against Arsenal you knew that his main tactic would involve kicking whichever Arsenal player was up against him and then attempting to referee the game. All of this would be done, throughout his career, without even coming close to a red card against us. I was at Old Trafford the day we were robbed of our long unbeaten run. The way in which Neville and his, even uglier, brother carried out a systematic assault on Jose Antonio Reyes will always live with me. Clearly carrying out a plan made by Ferguson the ugly sisters were permitted by Mike Riley to kick Reyes (the best player in the Premier League at that time) out of the match. Reyes never recovered from the scars of that day. From then on I hated Neville more and more until the day he retired. I always considered him over-rated. I have never understood how he won so many England caps, while Lee Dixon got just 22 of them (his brother even got more than Dixon for God's sake!) Patrick Vieira also hated the horrible little toad and famously pinned him to a wall in the Highbury tunnel before the game in early 2005. He deserved it in every way. Given what I've written above you're probably wondering why I have titled this post in the way I have. The reason is that, since he gave up playing football, Gary Neville has been working on Sky and doing a damn fine job. Frankly he has been knocking spots off all their other pundits all season. Intelligent and erudite, as well as comical on occasion, I actually look forward to hearing what Neville has to say when I watch football on the box. Another positive is that his presence is gradually sidelining that malingering cretin Jamie Redknapp, and that is something for which we can all be grateful. So why is Neville so much better than all the other pundits? In my view there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly he has won everything in the game, so he is in a perfect position to actually give a forthright view on something, and be respected for doing so. I believe it's far easier to come across with credibility if you've been there, done it, and got the medals to prove it (although that clearly doesn't seem to apply in the case of Alan Hansen). The other reason for it, in my opinion, is that he played for a massive Club. Having been Captain of Manchester United, Neville does not suffer from the "jealousy syndrome" that jaundices the likes of Le Tissier, Burley, Townsend, Savage, Waddle and Shearer. These men all won next to nothing (Waddle's European Cup was "bought" by Bernard Tapie at Marseille) in their career, and never played at a genuinely big Club. It comes across in the way they are so spiteful in their assessments of certain players and the team's they play for. Just like the non-league centre-half in the FA Cup 3rd Round wants to kick Robin Van Persie or Wayne Rooney, simply because they're not them, so those mentioned above find any way to possible to criticise, simply because they weren't good enough (or ambitious enough in Le Tissier's case) to play for a big Club. Gary Neville, on the other hand, has no such axe to grind. Some will moan about Gary Neville on TV on the grounds that he is biased towards Manchester United. Personally I haven't got a problem with that. The man is United through and through so you have to accept that he will be very much in their favour. Phil Thompson is the same with Liverpool, and Frank McLintock was the same with Arsenal. Not a problem. Having watched the AC Milan game back on telly from last week I was surprised at how Neville was willing Arsenal to get the job done. Fair play to him for that. I look forward to hearing a lot more from him over the coming years, and a lot less of Jamie Redknapp.
Apologies for not writing a proper match review from another glorious night for Arsenal against Newcastle. I got back to my hotel from the game just after 11:30 on Monday evening, and then was up at 4:30 for work. After getting home yesterday I was absolutely knackered and couldn't bring myself the necessary motivation to write anything. Did Robin Van Persie's behaviour spoil the Arsenal win for you on Monday night? No? Me neither. Yet again I find myself seriously annoyed with the coverage of Sky and the written press yesterday. Instead of glorying in another great finish to a Premier League game, with Arsenal's efforts winning the day over a side who came to waste as much time as possible, we've had to put up with attempts to sully the character of the League's best striker. This would not happen in any other country. Could you imagine the Spanish press going after Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in the same way? Newcastle's football the other night was pretty awful. Their only tactic in the second half was to hit ever longer, and ever higher, hoofed efforts up towards the excellent Demba Ba. It was like watching Stoke without the thuggish behaviour. Put together with the constant time-wasting of Tim Krul (which started after about ten minutes of the game) it made for a pretty ugly spectacle from our visitors. Putting all that together I would have to wonder why our press choose to find an angle that gets at Arsenal in some way. Again, it wouldn't happen with the Spanish press as they would choose to castigate the side that didn't come to play football. Robin Van Persie and Krul were at each other from very early on. I got the distinct impression that there has been some kind of carry over there from the Dutch squad. The pair seemingly do not get on well at all. I read one report yesterday (was it that idiot Charlie Wyett in The Sun?) that said how Van Persie's main contribution after half-time was to moan about the time-wasting. Would it not have been better for the esteemed reporter to lament the time-wasting itself, and also Howard Webb's flat refusal to deal with it in any way. The fact that Krul was made to pay for it in the grand manner with Vermaelen's winning goal should have been the point made. Van Persie obviously wasn't slow in making this clear to Krul after the goal had been scored. I have no problem with him doing that whatsoever. It shows that he really wanted to win the game, and then wanted to make the point that it had got Newcastle nowhere. I remember well Tony Adams giving the two-finger salute at QPR when a late turnaround was made in the face of various donkey-chants and general abuse back in 1990. It showed that Tony cared, and that he wasn't about to let the opposition forget that Arsenal had won the game. If Krul then decided to run forty yards to confront RVP (as the TV replays showed) then that is a problem for him, not Van Persie. All Robin did was keep smiling at him. The rest of the nonsense occurred when Guttierez decided to lay hands on Van Persie (who'd have thought - an Argentinian trying to cause trouble on somebody else's turf). As far as I am concerned the incident at the end of the game showed how Robin Van Persie is developing in to the role of Arsenal Captain. I want that sort of commitment and visible show of passion from whoever has that honoured position. In recent years it is something that has been seriously missing from the men leading our team. In Van Persie and Vermaelen we now have two proper leaders who, through their actions on Monday night, showed they are both fit to wear the armband at Arsenal Football Club. Anybody who disagrees with that clearly wasn't in the ground when TV5 stuck that winner away late on Monday night.
With Tottenham losing yesterday, and Chelsea winning, we are in the unusual position of looking up the table for progress, but knowing we are under real pressure from those immediately below. If the players need something to focus the mind after the past couple of momentous weeks then a look at the Premier League table should suffice. Liverpool's defeat at Sunderland also means that a win over Newcastle will mean just Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea remain to battle it out for two positions in the fabled top four. When placed in to that kind of context this really is another massive, must win game.
Arsene Wenger gave us a dose of the good stuff on Friday with the team news. The midfield numbers problem has eased somewhat and he now has a selection dilemma. I suspect that Arteta will come back in, but Aaron Ramsey should still be kept out of the side by the in-form Tomas Rosicky. The boyo's presence on the bench, however, will provide the Manager with an option he maybe didn't have against AC Milan last Tuesday. It will be interesting to see what he does with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There is an obvious need for him to be treated with kid gloves. Jack Wilshere's stress-fractures, and the fact that The Ox is likely to go to Euro 2012, mean Arsenal have to be extra cautious with the amount of football he plays. The temptation will be there to play the man in form so it is a difficult one for Wenger to assess. My preference would be for him to play alongside Song again, instead of Arteta, or to replace Gervinho on the left. I can see him being put back on the bench, and maybe used as in impact player in the second-half tomorrow.
More good news on Friday came with the return of Andre Santos. Unlike the mugs on the TV and in The Sun I was really impressed by Santos before his injury. As with other players at Arsenal the media decided he was unable to defend etc, while ignoring the fact that he is rarely beaten in a one-on-one. Yes, he bombs forward a bit at times and gets caught upfield, but I think he was just learning the English game (at a fast rate, too) when he was injured. Given the choice I would have him in the side ahead of Kieran Gibbs. Having said that I think Gibbs has found some fine form of late. After playing a few games he has got better as the weeks have passed. His performance against Spurs was excellent, though fitness worries are still there. I noticed that he was holding his groin after about twenty minutes last Tuesday so it was no surprise to hear that he may be a doubt for tomorrow. I hope he is fit as he would have to start the game, simply because Santos has played no football at all. Having two fit left-backs would indeed be a luxury for Arsenal.
Newcastle have had a season that was far from expected. They may have dropped a little of late, but everything is relative and their start to the campaign was first class. I find it difficult to praise any side managed by Alan Pardew, but credit where it's due I suppose. Pardew really is a mug and he proved it again with his behaviour last Sunday. I couldn't believe it when he claimed to have never done anything like that before - Arsenal fans remember well his time at West Ham and his confrontation with Arsene Wenger. I want Arsenal to destroy any team managed by people like Pardew, and tomorrow night is no exception. At least they've got rid of that cretinous animal Barton.
We played Newcastle on the first day of the season and came away with a battling draw. You might remember that we were denied a stone-wall penalty (the first of many this season) before Barton's antics got a naive Gervinho red-carded. Hopefully the players will remember the injustices of that afternoon (and yes, I know Song should also have been sent-off, but so should Joey Barton!) and put it to good use tomorrow.
When Sky moved the game to Monday I thought I would be missing it due to work. However, thanks to some shift-changes and working in London for the day, I will be able to get across on the Tube and watch the match after all. I'll post a review on Tuesday night when I finally get home from work.
It seems that Tomas Rosicky is about to put pen to paper on a two year contract at Arsenal. I have to say I don't understand why he's being given this deal. Back in the past Arsene had a policy of offering only one year extensions to players of a certain age. As a result the likes of Robert Pires, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Dennis Bergkamp were all working from season to season. These were all legends of the Club. Given the quality of those players, especially Pires and Bergkamp, it was a risky and insulting policy from Arsene Wenger and David Dein. It actually led to Robert Pires and Nigel Winterburn (foolishly, in his case) moving on for some career security. Having said that, the counter-argument is that players over 30 are more likely to be unavailable for whatever reason, and it safeguarded the Club against a large wage liability for a player who was more often on the injured list. The policy changed when we inexplicably signed Mikael Silvestre on a two year deal from Manchester United. This merely served to compound the insult made to those mentioned above. Here was a player way beyond his best being given a contract that he simply was not worthy of. When Silvestre left he was replaced by Sebastien Squillaci, also on a long contract. The less said about how that has gone the better. Now we have the curious case of Little Mozart. In recent weeks (in fairness I think he's played very well all season when called upon) Rosicky has been in the form of his Arsenal career. Coming in to the side for Aaron Ramsey in the past few games he has shown a real turn of pace, an ability to beat his man, an eye for a pass, and a return to some goalscoring form. All in all it is the form of a man deserving to be kept on by Arsenal. However, is it the form of a 30-something midfielder that is deserving of more than a one year deal? Let's not forget that Rosicky spent over a year being paid wages for being unavailable not too long ago. That being the case I would suggest that a two year contract is a risk for Arsenal. Moreover I would have to question how Rosicky deserves a two year deal when those mentioned above were treated as they were. Cynics might even suggest that the form he has been in is more to do with the fact that it is contract time, than it is to do with a late career renaissance. I suppose we'll see how he reacts once he signs on the dotted line. I have to say that, right now, he is very much the man I would be selecting between now and the end of the season to play behind Robin Van Persie, but I wouldn't be extending his Arsenal career quite so readily.
Judging by the back pages of the newspapers this morning it has been decided that now is the time for the press to start the unsettling process for Robin Van Persie. Of course it has nothing to do with Arsenal threatening the position of their beloved Harry at Tottenham and their "certain" top three finish. We all know that Van Persie has yet to sign a contract extension at Arsenal and that, if he doesn't do so, he is likely to be gone this Summer in order for Arsenal to get a fee for him. However, the stuff in the papers this morning is as close to a non-story as you can get. A couple of days ago they tried to trap Roberto Mancini in to saying he would be trying to sign him at Manchester City. Mancini, like most foreign Manager's, is a bit too clever for the average football reporter and failed to rise to their bait. Such things didn't stop the press who then twisted and manipulated his words to fuel their made-up "Van Persie to City" stories yesterday. Going back to Summer 2001 the English press have stirred up problems for Arsenal's best players. It started with Vieira, then moved on to Henry, then Fabregas, and now Van Persie. They never, ever, pick on the players at other teams. This is designed simply to unsettle the player and to hurt Arsenal Football Club. There have been no offers for Robin Van Persie. Man City, or anybody representing them, have not said anything to indicate they will try to sign him this year (that's not to say they won't do so, but simply to show that there is nothing in this story at the moment). The two Spanish club's are not even briefing their press on a move for Van Persie, so I don't understand why our journalists choose to carry on in this way. It really is very poor form indeed. Cretins the lot of them.
Lukas Podolski - coming to an Arsenal team near you
I am really pleased with the news that Lukas Podolski is on his way to Arsenal. It seems to be a done deal now that the German international will be an Arsenal player next season. If this is a statement of intent from Arsenal then I am all for it. For too long there has been far too much shilly-shallying in the transfer market. Last season we messed about all Summer in trying to keep players who were leaving, before selling Fabregas at a ridiculously low price. As a result we ended up buying at Lidl on the last day of the sales, rather than picking up Harrods best bargains early on. That's why we got Arteta rather than Mata (we should have had Mata wrapped up two months before Chelsea came on the scene). Podolski is a top class player and he is just the type of man we need to be bringing in. The reports suggest we are getting him for as little as £11m which really is a snip for this kind of quality. There are question marks regarding recent injury troubles, but that kind of price makes this not much of a gamble to be honest. His signing will tick a lot of boxes, not least the one that says he is an improvement on what we have in the squad. It would take a very silly individual to suggest that this man is not better than Chamakh, Park, Gervinho and Walcott. The cynics will, no doubt, suggest that Podolski is the replacement for Van Persie. I am still in the camp that thinks that RVP will be leaving, but this kind of signing is certainly showing some ambition in the transfer market. If he is the first of a few World names to be joining then it should be a message to Robin that Arsenal are now meaning business once again. I am imagining a team that includes Van Persie, Podolski, Chamberlain, Song and Wilshere, backed up by a squad including Ramsey, Arteta, Gervinho, Coquelin etc. Suddenly it looks a lot better, don't you think? Add Gotze and Yann M'Villa and a quality centre-half, and clear out the dead wood like Bendtner, Denilson, Almunia, Fabianski and Squillaci and you might have the basis of a Championship challenge for next season. All in all the signing of Podolski excites me. I would like to see the Club get it announced quickly and tell us that there is more like this to come. We need something to show the likes of Van Persie that they can still achieve their ambitions with Arsenal. Fingers are crossed for a good and busy Summer of ins and outs for our Club.
I'm sure many of you reading this will have read Kevin Whitcher's editorial piece at onlinegooner.com yesterday. If you haven't then I would urge you to do so straight away. You can read it here. The fact that Kevin was arrested for passing on a ticket at face value on Tuesday night is an absolute outrage. We've all passed on a ticket or three in order to not be out of pocket on a game we can't attend, and there really should be nothing wrong with that. It seems that, technically, such things constitute a criminal offence in law. In this case the law is, as ever, an ass. The passing on of a seat for a premium should be illegal, not the sort of thing for which Kevin has been arrested. I walked past Arsenal Station on my way to the ground on Tuesday and the same parasites were there touting tickets. They are there every game, and anyone reading this that goes to games regularly will know to whom I'm referring. These people are parasitic scum, yet the police allow them to conduct their "business" unfettered by the law. It would be so simple for plain-clothed police to mop these idiots up. It would also be very easy for Arsenal to "sting" them and ensure that the memberships being used to procure the tickets are cancelled. It is likely that Kevin Whitcher will have his season ticket confiscated by Arsenal Football Club, and be banned from attending matches. An acquaintance of mine suffered these very consequences when arrested in the same circumstances outside the away end at Middlesbrough a couple of years ago. Arsenal and the police really need to get their priorities right and deal with the touts, not ordinary people trying to make sure they're not out of pocket on a regular basis. It disgusts me.
Firstly I'll apologise if this is a bit brief. I'm having to type it on my iPad as my computer will not load up the appropriate pages at blogger.com for me. As a result there is no picture and no option to alter the size of the text today (NOW EDITED, as you can see). I thought the boys were magnificent last night against Milan. Had Van Persie not missed the easiest chance he's had all season then we would probably have gone through, but to criticise anyone after last night's Herculean efforts would be churlish in the extreme. I said before the game that we were better than AC Milan and we proved it last night. Apart from Robinho they had nothing in their team. Our pace was too much, as predicted. Sadly we paid the price for the disgracefully insipid display in Milan. While feeling great pride that the players did so much to atone last night, it is impossible to not feel frustrated that we had too much to do in the second leg.
The stadium was rocking last night again and the players have been keen to thank the fans for the support we showed last night, in their interviews on the official site and on Twitter. I've always considered the determined "Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal" chant to be synonymous with backs against the wall, all or nothing fixtures. So it was last night with the noise growing with every moment. At half time I was standing there and thinking to myself that, for the first time, I actually felt at home in the new place. The combination of the players showing their pride in the shirt, and the supporters creating such an intimidating atmosphere made for quite the spectacle.
Ultimately, when the heavy legs crept in we didn't have enough on the bench to make the difference. I felt very sorry for Park coming on to play wide left. Chamakh came on and won every header but the system we play negated that tactic a RVP was now dropping deep, rather than running in behind his strike partner. It just wasn't to be, but it was a truly magnificent performance.
Taken in isolation a 3-0 win over AC Milan should be considered one of the greatest in our history. In the circumstances that will not be the case. However, if it gives this group of players the belief in themselves to get better until the end of the season then it will be very important indeed. I also hope it showed Arsene Wenger that we need to play with pace at all times, so that means not picking Arteta and Ramsey unless forced in to doing so. When we play with pace, nobody can live with us.
That will do for now, hopefully a better piece tomorrow.
The baiting of the Tottenham fans in recent days is not sitting well with me. Its great that we've got to within four points of them within a week of looking like we would be thirteen adrift, but we are still behind. There is also no evidence to suggest that this squad of Arsenal players can get the consistent results required to go past Spurs. Having said that, if we get a win on Monday against Newcastle, and Tottenham lose again this weekend, the one point difference would almost certainly see Spurs implode. Chelsea's travails have given us the chance to get a small cushion in fourth, but the demise of Villas-Boas could yet be bad news for us if the players don't achieve the necessary consistency. Arsene claimed yesterday that we have been consistent in our past nineteen games, or so. Sorry, but that is frankly nonsense. The results over Christmas and January do not show a consistent team. Even more so the results in February, where we were good in the Premier League, but awful in the other competitions. I very much enjoyed the aftermath of the win over Tottenham, but you'll excuse me if I don't do my crowing until May when we've made sure of finishing above them. Right now I'd still rather be in their position than ours. If we do finish above them then it will be something to be enjoyed, but let's wait until it happens before we start rubbing their noses in it. On to tonight and we need a repeat of the second-half against Tottenham, right from the kick-off. The injuries we have in midfield will force Arsene to change things around, I think. Given that we have to get at least four goals to have any chance there is no point in playing with only Van Persie up front. We have to attack with pace, so Gervinho, Chamberlain and Walcott must all start the match. If we concede a goal it doesn't really matter as we are all but out anyway. However, if we can start with a proper tempo, and move with speed, we can cause AC Milan all sorts of problems. I still maintain that they are not a good side. An early goal, or two, with a roaring home crowd behind the boys, and anything suddenly becomes possible. If, by some miracle, we can get them in to extra-time, I can only see one winner. At the back Milan are slow and ponderous, and should be cannon-fodder if we play properly. Of course they are very good going forward, but that is assuming that Robinho and Ibrahimovic are in the mood like they were in the San Siro. I know he scored against us in the first-leg, but Kevin Prince Boateng is the sort of mediocre footballer that sums up the state of Italian football these days. Milan will surely look to play deep, and stop Arsenal's attackers from getting in behind. This may mean that Theo will have to think a bit more about how he goes about his business this evening. Personally I would play him through the centre, with Van Persie in the Bergkamp position. I see that Arsene is talking about The Ox playing through the middle instead, and I suppose I can see some logic in that with his extra physicality, and the fact that he is a bit of an unknown quantity for Milan to contend with. It's at times like this that the lack of quality striking options in the Arsenal squad really comes back to haunt us. I expect to see a very attacking bench tonight, albeit with very few goals to their names. With a top four finish still to be fought for I think we Arsenal supporters should prepare ourselves for the chance that we may not see anymore nights like tonight for a long time. The Champions League music will ring out in the stadium tonight for possibly the final time for a few years. If that's the case then I hope the players at least go down fighting tonight. The reason you like European nights is that you get the chance to see the likes of AC Milan coming to your stadium to play something other than a pre-season friendly. Let's hope the boys can make sure we see some more of it next season, even if we don't quite perform the miracle this evening.
Twenty-one years ago today Arsenal went to Anfield and won. The game was notable for the fact that Arsenal were battered for most of the match. Our goalkeeper that day was David Seaman and he turned in the most complete goalkeeping performance I have ever seen. Late in the second-half we raced away and Paul Merson beat Liverpool's defence to score a superb and priceless winner. Fast forward to today and it could almost have been the same game (apart from the fact that we were wearing glorious Arsenal yellow all those years back.) Talk about smash and grab, but I am not complaining one bit. It's about time something went our way a bit, and today it did for a change. As I said yesterday I was relying on Radio Five for my live coverage of the game (I've just finished watching the whole game back on Sky+.) Listening to the game merely served to remind me how much I dislike Alan Green and Robbie Savage. I'll leave aside the fact that our licence fee goes towards the wages of these cretinous idiots but I can't let some of their comments go by. First of all we have the penalty incident where, according to Robbie Savage, "I know it was a dive, but it's a penalty for me." And then, "Mark Halsey hasn't really got a view of it, but he has to give it." You couldn't make up such things. This man is being paid as an "expert" pundit and yet is coming out with such utter garbage. Then we have Alan Green who wanted Szczesny sent off and then decided to recount a conversation he had with Tom Watt at the Spurs game last week. It seems that Watt was defending Per Mertesacker against some tirade from the fat Irish clown by pointing out that the BFG has over 80 caps for Germany. Green, pleased as punch with himself, told him "That doesn't mean he's any good." This phrase was put over the airwaves as if it was a complete matter of fact, that his opinion of Mertesacker was clearly the right one, that successive Germany Manager's obviously have less of a clue as to what Per is capable of. What an absolute mug. Having said that you really must bow down to a man who has such a vast knowledge of the game that he announced Carl Jenkinson was coming on today, rather than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Given that one is white and the other is black it's quite the error, don't you think? Having watched the game I have to say that Szczesny was absolutely outstanding today. He was left exposed too much, as usual, and he produced probably his best display yet. The double-save from the penalty was incredible, and his command of his area was first-class throughout. I felt our problems stemmed from the two full-backs failing to close down properly out wide, and allowing Liverpool time to cross the ball. Having said that they got no support whatsoever from Benayoun and Walcott and, given that Enrique and Kelly were often the men on the ball for Liverpool in that area, that's just not good enough. Overall we lacked the urgency off the ball that characterised the second-half against Tottenham last week, and that's why Liverpool were able to boss the game for the most part. Up front we have Robin Van Persie. What can you say about the man? For me he is now up there with Messi and the fake Ronaldo as the best players in the World. Today he showed how his game has improved as a centre-forward. It was almost as though he thought he'd best prove Dennis Bergkamp right in his comments about him the other day. The way he got the first goal is really what I am talking about. RVP showed strength and a real centre-forward's eye for the opening by holding off Carragher to get across the near post and head the ball in to the net. The second goal showed what he's always had - exceptional ability. The ball came, once again, from that man Alex Song. It was another perfect pass over the top, matched by the run, and the finish was out of this World. You have to celebrate any time you take three points from Anfield, and that's what we should all be doing tonight. We've taken a massive six points from our last two games. Confidence should now be sky high going in to Tuesday when we simply have to go for broke. Who knows what an early couple of goals could do? We can start thinking about that over the next couple of days, once we've finished basking in the glow of beating the Victims in their own back yard. I'll write some more on Monday evening.
I suppose the catastrophe in the European Cup and the embarrassment of the FA Cup has caused us Gooners to forget we've had a pretty decent month where the Premier League is concerned. Starting with a draw at Bolton (a game we should have won comfortably) Arsenal have gone through February unbeaten. We smashed Blackburn for seven, before The King got the winner at Sunderland. The month culminated with the narrow (ha!) win over Tottenham. With all that being the case it shouldn't really be a surprise to hear that Arsene Wenger has been named Premier League Manager Of The Month. As supporters our view of things is naturally skewed by results in the other competitions, but credit where it's due, I suppose. The thing I find most surprising is that this is only the twelfth occasion that Arsene has been given the award in his sixteen years at Arsenal. Just think about that for a second. He has won it, on average, less than once per season. This is a man with three Premier League Titles and who has never finished outside the top four in the division. I would suggest that Wenger has been severely hardly done to by the selection panel for this award over the years. I imagine we must have had the odd run of form in that time, wouldn't you? To illustrate the inescapable fact that Arsene has been seriously overlooked throughout the past sixteen years I have just looked up how many times he won it in season 2003-04. Bearing in mind that Arsenal didn't lose a game that season it is astonishing to learn that Arsene won the award only twice - the same number of times as it was given to Claudio Ranieri and Fat Sam Allardyce (Chelsea were runners-up and Bolton finished eighth!) Still think there's no conspiracy against Arsenal? Congratulations to Arsene Wenger for this one, and let's hope the curse of the award does not strike at Anfield tomorrow.
Arsene used his press conference today to once again criticise the idea of international friendlies. Obviously he was most peeved by the fact that two injured players, Van Persie and Vermaelen, were forced to play for their national team in midweek. You can't help but understand his frustration, but I would suggest the players concerned should have made far more of the issue themselves and made it clear they were not prepared to risk their fitness in a game of no consequence. Given that both men were training this morning it looks unlikely that the damage done has been too bad. God knows Arsenal will need both of them to be hitting their straps tomorrow. Alex Song is another man seemingly with a niggle of some sort, and we really do need him to be fit with Coquelin and Frimpong both injured. The other big team news for Arsenal is the latest return of Abou Diaby. You get the feeling that, with every failed return, the end is nearing for Diaby. If he plays some part tomorrow, and starts against AC Milan, I think you'd get generous odds at the bookies on him being involved against Newcastle the following Monday. Unfortunately that is the way it has been with Abou ever since his leg was shattered by some horrible little scumbag with no football ability up at Sunderland six years ago. According to Wikipedia Dan Smith, the little waste of space who maimed Diaby, is now playing for Blyth Spartans in the Conference North. I hope he's proud that he ruined the career of one of Europe's most promising young footballers at the end of a game in which his side was already 3-0 down (actually, I don't hope that - I hope that he gets what's coming to him and some other Sunday League no-mark shatters his ankle so that he can't walk for months, and never plays football again.) I really think this is the final time for Diaby. If he can not stay fit then I think it will be coming to an end for him at Arsenal, and possibly with football full-stop. Liverpool have their own problems in the build up to tomorrow. Daniel Agger is definitely out of the game with a rib injury. This should mean that Jamie Carragher comes in for them and I think that is a good thing for Arsenal. Carragher's best years are about six seasons behind him. He wasn't the quickest in the first place, and is positively pedestrian now. Elsewhere Steven Gerrard limped off for England on Wednesday but I would not be surprised to see him fit for tomorrow. I suspect that his "injury" in the week had a certain amount to do with him not being made England Captain (and, frankly, I don't blame him - there was only one candidate for the job, and it wasn't Scott Parker!) We know that any trip to Anfield is a tough game. If offered it now I would take a point tomorrow. Liverpool have the players to hurt anyone and I think, if they used him properly, Andy Carroll could be a trump card against a team like Arsenal. Suarez, meanwhile, is a class player, whatever his personality shortcomings. Going in to tomorrow we have to come down from the euphoria of beating Spurs, and we have to re-produce the form and effort we showed once we went 2-0 down last week. It just proved, once again, that if this team puts in the required effort, on and off the ball, they have the ability to destroy very good football teams. Liverpool will be having to contend with the hangover of having won a trophy last week, and that is a problem I would dearly love for Arsenal to have! It's another big game.
I'm working all day tomorrow, but I'll have the radio with me. I'll watch the game tomorrow night when I get home and do a review after that.
Have you calmed down yet? Have you lost the moronic smirk from your face? Have you deleted the game from your SkyPlus planner? If the answer to all of the above is "no" then you are very much like me. The fact that the only football this week has been on the international scene has allowed Gooners to bask in their own bit of glory since Sunday afternoon. Watching the game back on TV over and over again you begin to watch the crowd as much as the pitch. The reaction of the Arsenal supporters got more intense with each goal, but I didn't appreciate quite how manic we were until I saw it on the box. When Theo Walcott made it five the noise in the stadium was absolutely deafening, and the euphoria all-encompassing. I remember as a child watching from the East Upper as the North Bank celebrated some goals with such abandon. There was no better sight than a packed North Bank bouncing up and down in celebration. My favourite vision of this (sadly I wasn't at this one - my Dad considered me too young for certain fixtures in those days, which was a symptom of the times and the way violence could erupt I suppose) was after McClair missed his penalty in the FA Cup in 1988 - just look at the North Bank as it sails over the bar by watching this video. The reaction in the stands on Sunday afternoon, as the fifth goal hit the net, was exactly like that. The feeling at times like that is simply indescribable, and anyone whose not been in that situation could never understand it. I suppose it's why we go to football because, one day, we might get to feel that way again. The only feeling in football that is better than that is when you win a trophy. Great stuff.
With a massive game at Anfield on Saturday afternoon it is time, sadly, to move on. The international fixtures don't appear to have done a serious amount of damage to our players. Certainly there has been nothing reported by the Club as yet. Given that Robin Van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen were both reported to have suffered knocks on Sunday it was very disappointing to see them involved for their national sides. We will have to wait for tomorrow, and Arsene's pre-match press conference, for the definitive word but fingers crossed for a clean bill of health. Tomas Rosicky missed the Czech game in Dublin and it would be a blow if he were to miss out after such a great display last weekend. I watched most of the England game last night and I was not surprised to see Theo Walcott left out. It kind of sums up Stuart Pearce's managerial ability that he would leave out a player on such a high after his second-half performance on Sunday. At least he should be fresh for the game at Anfield. Before England kicked-off I watched the opening stages of Wales v Costa Rica. I wanted to see a bit of Joel Campbell in action and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Campbell scored a magnificent goal to give his team the win and, by all accounts, was very much the star of the show thereafter. Arsenal signed Campbell last Summer but had to send him to France on loan as he was not granted a work permit. He's been a regular for Levante since he joined them and his goal last night will not have hurt his prospects of gaining employment rights in England if Arsenal decide to re-apply this year. If Campbell's run and finish are anything to go by then Arsene might have unearthed another gem from nowhere. Let's hope so.
I'll be previewing the Liverpool game tomorrow evening. They already have Agger missing from their team, and a doubt over Gerrard. We'll know more about both squads this time tomorrow.