It's been a quite couple of weeks, but all that has changed over this weekend. First of all we saw Arsenal taking what could prove to be a crucial point at Stoke (though with better finishing, better refereeing, and a little luck it could have been all three points). This was followed by the hilarious news that Harry Redknapp has not even been contacted by the FA as they are about to appoint Roy Hodgson, and I am delighted for old "Woy" as he is very well qualified, with relevant experience and a good record across Europe (he also took Fulham to a European final, remember). Then today Arsenal have trumped it all with the biggest signing the Club has made since Dennis Bergkamp arrived in 1995. Make no mistake, Lukas Podolski is a World Class player and, at just 26 years old, he should have his best years still ahead of him.
Let's start at Stoke with a brief review. I felt their goal was avoidable had Vermalen and/or Gibbs done more to put Crouch off. As it was he rose (unusually for him) unchallenged and planted a good header past Szczesny. Before and after that the game was largely dominated by Arsenal. Chances came and went as per usual. The goal was made by the best cross of the season by Tomas Rosicky and RVP couldn't miss from there. We should have had a penalty. I don't care that one or two angles make it look "soft" when the main TV camera shows the clear push on Yossi Benayoun. A point at Stoke, given our record there, looks okay on the face of it, but a win would have been so much better for us at this stage. Six points from our final two games are an absolute must now.
What went on off the pitch at Stoke has not had nearly enough publicity. All credit to a couple of the newspapers that have highlighted the outrageous abuse directed at Aaron Ramsey, and Alan Hansen also condemned it on Match Of The Day. However, I have not seen mention of it at all on Sky Sports News. What exactly is Rambo's crime here? How half-witted do you need to be to consider him worthy of abuse for having his leg shattered by Shawcross? I even saw one Stoke fan on Twitter claiming that Ramsey's leg was "clearly broken before Shawcross made contact" with him! Unbelievable. Then we have the xenophobic and disgusting chanting at Arsene Wenger. To their credit Spurs and Man Utd have done their best to stamp this out, and Arsenal have done similar with the Adebayor stuff. Not so in the inbred backwaters like Stoke, however. The constant stick handed out to Wenger culminated in most of the crowd mimicking Le Boss and his protests to the referee on the touchline. That the BBC should choose to show this and give a platform for the fat, ugly, northern cow sitting behind the bench to get on TV is bad enough. For Gary Lineker to then find it so obviously amusing, and then put on his own xenophobic "impersonation" of Wenger at the end of the show was a disgrace. Once again the public service broadcaster has lost sight of its basic tenet of impartiality. What Lineker has done, and I'm sure he knew it, is make sure that Arsene will have to suffer this crap wherever he now goes with Arsenal.
A quick word on Harry Redknapp and the England job. It was no surprise to see Harry being interviewed on Sky, in his car, this morning. Sky must be very relieved as they would have had far too much airtime to fill had he gone to work for the FA. The content of his interview was astounding though. Harry said how he "bears no grudges" that Roy Hodgson looks like he will be given the honour of being England Manager. Why should he have the right to hold a grudge? The FA have confirmed that Hodgson is the only person they have approached. This means he is the only person they want, at this stage. Where does the idea of a grudge come from? It's not as though Hodgson has stolen something that rightfully belonged to Redknapp! I have to say that I think Sky missed a trick with this interview. After his jaw-dropping conversation last Tuesday with Ivanovic I would have preferred them to have dispatched Geoff Shreeves to tell Harry the bad news. That would have made for very fine TV.
It was becoming more obvious that Redknapp was not the man the FA wanted. Let's face it, the media appointed Harry to the job as soon as Capello was sacked, but nobody at the FA gave any sign of agreement. The fact that the FA had made no move for him in the intervening months should have been clue enough that they were looking elsewhere. You would have to say, also, that Tottenham's second half of the season has proved them right. Sadly for Roy the press will be waiting with knives sharpened for England to fail. They will not forgive the FA for not appointing their man, and only winning Euro 2012, or a heroic failure akin to Italia '90 can keep the pressure off Hodgson.
And so to Lukas Podolski. With the England business, and Sky's obsession with the Manchester derby this evening, it's almost slipped under the radar in terms of its "news" value. So let's just look at the facts here. Arsenal Football Club, one of the biggest in Europe, has just signed Lukas Podolski, one of the best footballers in Europe. Podolski has 95 caps and 43 goals for Germany, at the age of just 26. This man is a special player and a unique talent. Such a signing deserves far more of a fanfare than our media are giving it. Podolski also happens to be a very decent guy who gave his FC Cologne warm-up shirt to my nephew (who was Arsenal's mascot) before the friendly there last Summer.
With one year left on his deal at Cologne we have got him on the cheap at just £11m. German TV is reporting a weekly wage of £130k. I find that incredibly encouraging. It surely shows a sign of intent from the Club. The wage structure is being rewritten once again, and we can only hope that Podolski is here to play with Robin Van Persie, rather than in place of him. The high wages for Podolski must now be bettered in any offer to RVP.
I mentioned there that this signing feels like a statement of intent. On the face of it we seem to have changed tack. The Club is, hopefully, now looking to move forward again. The last time there was such a signing, and such a feeling of optimism (for me at least) was when Dennis Bergkamp came to Arsenal. The similarities in the signings, and the merits of the players are incredibly similar. If Podolski can be followed by three or four more very good players, one or two squad players (goalkeepers in particular) and the dead-wood gets shipped out (there's still plenty of it) then next season could be good. Could be.
Tomorrow I hope to write a piece about how I see Arsene Wenger's current policy in terms of who he is apparently looking to recruit, and how this is comparable to the way he did things when he arrived at Arsenal. Look out for it some time late tomorrow evening, or early Wednesday morning (more likely on Wednesday to be honest). I'm signing off now to watch Man City play Man Utd in the most important ever game in English football ever. Never before has such a match ever been played in the history of our game ever. Ever.
Note to Sky TV: There will NEVER be another Anfield 1989, so stop trying to create one.