Terrible on Saturday
Like most Gooners I was convinced we'd blown it after the 3-3 draw on Saturday. It really was an awful performance all round - and I include Robin Van Persie in that as the chances he missed were easier than those he put away. The attitude was once again all wrong. Yossi Benayoun's magnificent opener should have seen the players pressing home their advantage. Instead they took it as their cue to stop playing. Defensively it was as shambolic as any other this season. Had Norwich been capable of taking their chances (and the referee been worthy of his position) we would have been four goals down at half-time, and five shortly after. The Manager has admitted that the players once again had the wrong mind-set going in to the game. How can this be the case time after time? It is his job to make sure that's not the way the players are approaching any game. If he could see they were underestimating the opponents then why did he do nothing about it? Or is it the case that he is no longer capable of motivating the players appropriately?
I've seen the usual criticism of Alex Song after he gave the ball away, leading to the third goal for Norwich. Fair enough, it was absolutely criminal at a time when keeping it simple was all that was required. Lack of "discipline" in this part of his game has long been a problem with Song, but perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to forget the inch-perfect pass that set up Van Persie for Arsenal's second goal.
There are two players that I really want to examine from Saturday. The first is Thomas Vermaelen. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Koscielny and Djourou had been taking it in turns to carry him defensively. It seems some more people are now noticing that there are some serious deficiencies in the Belgian's play. I mentioned that Song has lacked a certain "discipline" and the same applies to Vermaelen. We can all enjoy him bombing forward when needs must (Newcastle at home being a great example of the positive side to Vermaelen's game), but when you're pegged back to one-one and struggling to defend already, there is no excuse for being 90 yards out of position when your opponents take the lead. His involvement in Norwich's third has also been overlooked by most. Having seen Song give it away on halfway, surely Vermaelen should have been stepping back in, and covering the ball over the top. Instead of that he was charging forward, presumably trying to play the laziest offside in history, thus allowing Morison through on goal. It is an area that Vermaelen must improve on as his ability to score goals is currently masking the problems in doing what he is really being paid for.
I also want to talk about Wojciech Szczesny. Two of the goals on Saturday, despite the defending, should have been prevented by him. The first goal was one of those things that, had it been Fabianski or Almunia, would have seen the vitriol raining down from the stands. He was also at fault (as well as those already mentioned!) for the third goal. Having started to come towards the ball, he should have kept going. At the very least he would have forced Morison wide, rather than giving him a free shot across goal in to an area he couldn't cover having got his bearings all wrong. His all round game on Saturday was not good. Goalkeepers will make mistakes, and the best keepers are the ones who make the fewest errors. There is no doubt in my mind that Szczesny is going to be World-Class. However, at the moment he seems to have a problem in games that really matter. The Carling Cup Final is a case in point, where he had the mix-up with Koscielny that cost us the trophy. There was also the error in the game at White Hart Lane that cost us that match earlier this season. It is something that David Seaman seemed to suffer with in the early part of his Arsenal/England career. If Szczesny can go on to become as successful as Seaman then we can all look forward to exciting times, but I despise the fact that Almunia would have been crucified, while the Pole gets no criticism whatsoever.
Somehow, after Spurs messed it up on Sunday, third place remains in our hands. Quite how we are still in this position I do not know. It should have been wrapped up two weeks ago, and it should have been taken away from us this weekend. Now that we have been let off the hook yet again there can be no excuses at West Brom on Sunday. There is one game left, against a team that shouldn't live with us. If the players can not gather the necessary motivation to want a win more than the opposition this week they should all hang their heads in shame. The equation is a simple one - win the game and finish third. Is it really too much to ask?
Man Utd's new shirt?
Nike have done it again with yet another disastrous Arsenal shirt. The Club is trying to spin the blue hoop on the sleeve of the shirt as being a throwback to Herbert Chapman's hooped socks. I'm all for such tradition, but surely a hooped sock is better commemorated with another hooped sock? The amount of blue on the shirt is distracting. For me the shirt looks more like something Manchester United would wear. They might have got away with it slightly had the neck been white. There is simply too much blue in the shirt. I don't understand what is so damn complicated with designing a red shirt with white sleeves. Adidas were more than capable of producing different designs on the proper theme, so why can't Nike?
If you think the home shirt is bad then just wait for the away shirt. This year Nike have given us purple (redcurrant) and black hoops to wear. Ivan Gazidis informed the Supporters Forum members on Saturday that yellow and blue are "no longer our away colours" as they "do not appeal to the Worldwide fanbase" (apologies if I am misquoting the odd word). That's right folks, as long as people in Nigeria and Malaysia are happy, then stuff those of us who know the importance of a yellow shirt to Arsenal Football Club. No other club has a traditional change strip that can be considered as iconic as its home colours. And how many of these "Worldwide" supporters actually get their shirts exported from Arsenal via online shopping? Why would you spend £70+ on getting the shirt from Arsenal.com when you can head down to the local Bangkok market and buy the same thing for £1.50? Even better you can just get your cousin to bring one home from the factory where it's been made! Once again the heritage of the Club is sold out to people who know nothing of where we have come from, and what history really means to those that go to Arsenal and support the players in the flesh.
Still got no hair
It seems that Steve Bould is set to replace Pat Rice in the seat next to Arsene Wenger next season. Steve Bould scored the first Arsenal away goal I ever saw live. It came at Sheffield Wednesday in late 1991. Bouldie scored the equaliser with a header, right in front of the travelling support. For the last twenty minutes of the game the Gooners who had sold out the Leppings Lane End sang Steve's song over and over again. It was a fantastic atmosphere, and made my first away game a special one to remember. He was part of the "back four" of course and is an Arsenal legend. However, I fear that those who are hoping Bouldie can drill this defence in to some sort of shape may be disappointed. When Arsenal TV was having its brief run on Sky a couple of years back we enjoyed extended highlights of all youth-team games. With Bould as their coach the youngsters had as much of the headless chicken about their defending as the first-team has. I may be doing him a disservice, and I'm certainly not going to judge Bouldie before we've seen the first-team coached by him for couple of months, but he has yet to demonstrate that he can organise a defence accordingly.
It is also believed that Steve will be joined at first-team level by Neil Banfield, promoted from the Reserves. I have to say I don't like the in-house nature of that. One of the biggest criticisms of the Wenger staff in recent years is that they are "yes men". To promote one of them to work even more closely with him (Bould was as detached as you can be working with the youths, but Banfield was not) is a bad move for me. Neil Banfield seems a really nice bloke, and may be a very fine coach, but does he have the sufficient gravitas to work at that level? Time will tell, but I really wanted to see some more of the old-guard involved.
Tony Adams has been spending much more time at Arsenal recently than he has at any time since his retirement as a player. I think most people would baulk at the idea of Tony being installed as Manager of Arsenal. However, I also think most of us would be more than happy to see him coaching the first-team. He has had success as a number two to Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth. As we've seen from Arsene's comments this week the players have a problem with the motivation aspect of football. I somehow suspect no such problem would exist with Tony Adams charging around the dressing-room before kick-off. In my view Arsenal Football Club needs Mr Arsenal to be involved, and Martin Keown should be brought back too. There is a dream coaching line-up to be had here, if only Wenger would do it. If the new "team" fail to improve matters at the back next season, then we will be in a whole lot of trouble come this time next year. I wish Bould and co well, and I sincerely hope my fears are proved to be unwarranted.