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Friday, 29 June 2012

Arsenal interest ends at Euro 2012, Two weeks to go

Podolski - not shown us his best

Italy gave the Germans a bit of a lesson last night. I have to say I was very disappointed with Germany. I picked them as my likely winners before the tournament and, as in South Africa two years ago, they played the most exciting football of any team in the tournament. I thought that, with two years more experience, they would be able to go that extra mile and see off all comers. As it turned out they were afflicted with Bayern Munich syndrome and bottled it on the big occasion. The decision to leave out Thomas Mueller was an odd one, and it certainly didn't work out well. I think the first Italian goal might have been averted had Mertesacker been alongside Badstuber - Hummels was beaten far too easily in the build up to Balotelli's first goal. However, that was the first time the pair had been troubled during the tournament.
With Germany out so Arsenal's interest in Euro 2012 comes to an end. It's fair to say that it hasn't been a vintage tournament for the Arsenal players involved. I think most Gooners were looking forward to getting a good look at Lukas Podolski. As it has turned out our new signing has failed to show his best form. It was no surprise when Joachim Low gave him the hook at half-time last night. He has looked pretty out of sorts in every game. Arsene Wenger claimed last week that Podolski had been playing well in Germany's matches, but I think he was fooling nobody. Hopefully he will now go and get a good holiday and come to Arsenal ready to impress. Per Mertesacker, meanwhile, should come back fighting fit having, effectively, done his pre-season already. I like the BFG a lot, and his lack of pace is unfairly highlighted when put against his excellent reading of the game. If I have a criticism of Mertesacker it is that he fails to attack the ball in the air - something that Steve Bould must get to work on.
As far as the Final of Euro 2012 goes I hope Italy wipe the floor with boring, boring Spain on Sunday. Quite apart from the fact that Spain have a former Arsenal Captain who refused to play for us last Summer, I can't stand the incessant square passing. Football snobs may still rave about the possession play of Spain, but when you pick a team with no centre-forward then your ambition to score goals must be called in to question. If Pirlo continues his form (he is far and away the player of the tournament) and Balotelli is up for it then Italy can win. I'm sure they would be popular victors. Forza Italia!

Two weeks tomorrow sees Arsenal return to action in the Markus Liebherr Cup at Southampton. It is a gentle start, involving two 45 minute games. I was pleased to see that Scottish Third Division side Rangers have been replaced with a European name - RSC Anderlecht. I had decided not to go to Southampton when Rangers were supposed to be there because of the general behaviour of their supporters. The fact that Anderlecht are now in place has changed my mind and I will be there for the start of the campaign after all.
It will be interesting to see who lines up for Arsenal in the two games. A number of people who might not be here after August 31st will be back in training with the Club. We will also have the likes of Thomas Vermaelen available, along with Mikel Arteta, Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos. Aaron Ramsey and Ju Young Park will probably not be around due to Olympic involvement. The main source of excitement, for me, is that Jack Wilshere might put in an appearance, assuming his knee surgery was as minor as Arsenal told us at the time.
With Euro 2012 coming to an end the focus very much switches back to Club football. I am really quite excited already about the thought of watching Arsenal again. Nothing beats it, does it?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Another striker arrives, How English attitudes to Pulis/Allardyce must change

Olivier Giroud - Arsenal's new number 9 (I expect)

Arsene has certainly learned some lessons from last Summer it would seem. This time last year we were all tearing our hair out that obvious deficiencies in the squad were not being addressed. We ended up with that disastrous start to the season and the panic buying that made for an interesting deadline day. This year it looks like things will be different. Leaving aside the continuing problems with defensive frailty, it was widely accepted that Arsenal were relying too heavily on Robin Van Persie last season. With Nicklas Bendtner out on loan for the year there was no credible alternative to RVP in the squad, as the Manager clearly felt unable to trust Chamakh to start Premier League games, while Ju Young Park simply remained this mythical figure allocated the number nine shirt. Bearing all that in mind I am absolutely delighted that we have brought in two new strikers before the end of June. We all know about Lukas Podolski, but Olivier Giroud is much more of a dark horse to English fans.
I have to admit I have only seen Giroud play during his fleeting appearances at Euro 2012. A lack of service meant that we were unable to judge how good he is. Arsene tells us that he is exceptional in the air. That's great as, with Bendtner certain to leave (and Chamakh, too) we are short of a target man. However, it would mean a change in tactics, and a willingness to mix-up our approach play, will be required if we are to see the new man at his best. If Giroud gets to play through the centre, and Van Persie is still at Arsenal, it will mean a whole change of formation. Perhaps the fabled "Plan B" is now ready to be utilised.
I am very pleased that two big signings have been made - Giroud has cost Arsenal serious money (seemingly around the £13m mark) so the Club is showing some ambition. Obviously much of that looks set to be recovered through sales of certain players. I still live in hope that we won't be making a profit through selling Robin Van Persie. If we can add an experienced goalkeeper, a good quality centre-back, and a defensive midfield player, then good business will have been done. I am certainly much more encouraged than I was this time last year.
As ever with a new signing I wish Olivier Giroud all the very best at Arsenal. Let's hope he's a bit more Thierry Henry than Kaba Diawara. Here's to a long and successful stay.

The fall-out from England's Euro campaign continues. Today I have seen Glenn Hoddle adding his tuppence to the debate, and lamenting Hodgson's tactics. As with Graham Taylor, I have heard Hoddle talking about his time as England Manager and how he did things, in such a way as to have you believe he was successful. The last time I looked England got knocked out in the second round of the World Cup in 1998. To listen to Hoddle you'd think he was a tactical genius who took England to glory.
One of the main points being made, and it is certainly a meritous one, is that England's players lacked the ability to play a possession game. It is absolutely true that England's players kicked the ball away in defensive areas, when under pressure, rather than finding a way to play out from the back properly. Such a lack of movement and technical ability is lamentable indeed. However, England's press and pundits can not complain about this when they continue to laud the likes of Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce.
The English media are happy to heap praise on people like Pulis and Allardyce, whose teams play a long-ball game all the time, yet they then complain that the players in the national team can't pass the ball. I am picking on these two as they are the most obvious examples, and I know I am leaving myself open to criticism as none of their players were in the England team, but I hope you take the point I'm making. You can't have it all ways. Either you want a team of players that is capable of passing the ball and keeping it, or you are happy with Manager's in the Premier League who encourage players to do anything but that. Until the likes of Allardyce and Pulis are forced in to the dinosaur graveyard you can forget England having good technical players.
Perhaps if the press criticised Allardyce in the way that West Ham's fans did then he might have to change his ways. I can remember watching Mark Lawrenson on Football Focus having a go at West Ham fans for complaining about the football they were watching, in spite of being top of the table, or thereabouts. This is the same Mark Lawrenson who criticised England for negative play and long balls the other night. All of which brings me back to a point I made yesterday - if England had won the penalty shootout there would be not one word of complaint about how they played. Fact.

Monday, 25 June 2012

England gone - without shame this time - but only Arsenal matters

Arsenal Football Club - the only football that matters

Its been nearly a week since I posted. Such is the way that my shift pattern pans out this is the way things go from time to time. As a result I didn't get to preview the England game, or speak about the other quarter-finals. I am told that Laurent Koscielny had a decent game in the worst match of the entire tournament on Saturday. The only other Arsenal player on show, in the end, was Theo Walcott. It's England I will concentrate on in today's post below.

So England's bi-annual flirtation with something resembling success has come to an end without actually being beaten. As much as you can point the finger with regards to a lack of bottle where England's record on penalties is concerned, it must be remembered that they have rarely been beaten in the act of being knocked out over the past twenty-odd years. That this year's failure to go beyond the last eight is not being seen as under-performance perhaps means that reality has finally bitten in this country. Maybe, just maybe, the last eight is England's natural position. If you substitute Greece and Czech Republic for Brazil and Argentina (and possibly Portugal for Holland in normal circumstances) you pretty much find England's level among the top eight teams in the World. I have to say I thought this England team would beat Italy in a tight game, but it was not to be.
I've read and heard all the reaction about how England were outplayed last night with the ball. Most observers have accepted that, and that England were set up by Roy Hodgson to allow for their limitations. Roy knew that his best chance of glory was to stop the opposition scoring, before worrying about how to get a goal at the other end. However, there are always some dissenting voices. It was no surprise to me that idiots like Alan Hansen, Chris Waddle and Alan Green were having a pop (though Hansen and Green aren't English and Waddle can't really speak English). However, the worst culprit was Graham Taylor. I have never heard anything like the drivel he was coming out with last night. Taylor chose to criticise Hodgson's tactics and formation. He said that he had learned the need to adapt his tactics and formations against the better sides when he had been England Manager. What? This is the man who decided the best way to beat Norway in a crucial qualifier was to introduce an extra defender, completely throwing his defence into disarray. This is the man who chose to place an England team in to an unfamiliar set-up in an end of season game against USA (when they were still a footballing joke) and oversaw one of the most embarrassing results in England history. How dare he sit there on national radio and castigate the man who has just seen his side get knocked out of the Euros without losing, and without conceding a goal against Italy? Utterly shameful behaviour from Taylor.
There are plenty out there who seem to be lamenting England's seemingly negative play. These are the same people who had no words of criticism for Chelsea over how they won the European Cup. At the end of the day, who cares how Chelsea won it? The fact is that they have the trophy. Had England won the penalty shootout last night then not one of these cretins would be saying what they are now. They are also in cloud cuckoo land if they think England could have been more successful by playing in any other way. If England had tried to really attack the Italians last night they would have lost by three or four goals. Roy Hodgson knew that the England players lack the technical ability to play good enough football to beat the top sides, so he sent them out to play to a system. The players realised the value of that and played to their strengths.
There have been some real bright spots in this tournament for England. The defence has been excellent. I believe that Glen Johnson and Joleon Lescott have really enhanced their reputations. Last night John Terry was at his very best (though he is still utterly loathsome) while the only surprise with Cashley was that he missed his penalty. I thought that Scott Parker was excellent throughout, despite being obviously injured, and Gerrard provided something that has been missing for a long time for England - respected leadership (though the current beatification of Gerrard as some kind of Bobby Moore style skipper is seriously overstepping the mark). Up front I thought Danny Welbeck was brilliant and worked himself in to the ground. If there was a mistake made by Hodgson then it was in taking off Welbeck last night, rather than Rooney. I have to say that Rooney and Ashley Young were awful throughout their time on the pitch. Young should have been dropped after the second group match, in favour of Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox, Theo Walcott and Andy Carroll also did themselves no harm whatsoever in this tournament.
Over all I believe the England players can be proud of their efforts. After the disgraceful showing at the World Cup in South Africa they have restored a bit of faith in the England team. They looked like they wanted to play, and their defensive effort was redoubtable. On another day it might just have gone in England's favour. Alas, it was not to be.

After the game last night I felt no emotion. Regular readers will be well aware that I am not an England "fan". I don't get wrapped up in their results at all. If Arsenal had been done on penalties I would have been utterly distraught for days, maybe weeks even. My reaction (or lack of it) to Italy's win merely served to underline the fact that Arsenal are the only thing that matters. I wanted to see England win because I am English, and because it puts the nation in a great mood. However, I would still get more pleasure from seeing Arsenal win a third round League Cup tie than from watching England win the World Cup.
For what remains of Euro 2012 I will be following Germany most keenly. They have two Arsenal players in their squad and, frankly, they are the most attractive footballing team in the tournament. More and more people are coming round to my way of thinking that Spain are nothing more than boring - as any side playing without a striker would be. I wouldn't say I'll be supporting Germany (there are limits that no Englishman should push) but I would see them as my preferred winner.
I will be writing, hopefully, as we go through this week about the semi-finals. I also hope Arsenal will be formally announcing the signing of at least one French international before the week is out. We are only three weeks away from Arsenal's first pre-season outing, and we all know that Arsenal are all we really care about.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

England v Ukraine preview - why I'd leave Walcott out, A change of seat for me

Theo - I'd still be leaving him out

After his excellent cameo the other night it seems likely that Theo Walcott is to be rewarded with a starting slot on the right-wing for England this evening. I have to say I’m a bit surprised. If Friday night proved anything it is that Theo has the chance to destroy any tiring defence with his searing pace. On his previous starts for England (with the obvious exception of the Croatia game) Walcott has struggled to make any impact whatsoever. I am also surprised on the grounds that Wayne Rooney will be back tonight, and anyone that has watched England this past couple of years can’t have failed to notice that Rooney will simply not pass to Theo. I will be very interested to see how that particular part of a new found team dynamic unfolds for England tonight. Could it be that the return of England’s best player upsets the ethos that has been there to see in Roy Hodgson’s matches so far?
With Rooney back it appears that Andy Carroll will be the man to miss out. Again that’s not a move I would have made. I believe the physicality of Carroll and Rooney together would disrupt any defence in international football. Put simply, they don’t like it up ‘em, and no defence in Poland/Ukraine would relish taking on that pairing. I can see why Hodgson would play Welbeck and Rooney as they developed reasonably well at Manchester United towards the end of the season. However, I think Welbeck could, like Walcott, be even more effective coming off the bench. If I was picking the England team tonight then it would look like this:
Hart – Johnson, Lescott, Terry, Cole – Young, Parker, Gerrard, Oxlade-Chamberlain – Rooney, Carroll.
I can see no point in playing James Milner again, so I would be bringing in The Ox to take over on the right. On form I would drop Ashley Young but, as I said, I think  Theo is a great option from the bench so that’s why Young would keep his place for the time being.
A win tonight sees England in the quarter-final. It is likely that they will finish second in the group and have to play Spain in the next round. If last night showed England anything then it is that Spain can be beaten. Croatia were incredibly unlucky not to beat them. Refereeing decisions again went with the fancied team and the Croats missed a great chance to make it 1-0. Spain’s late goal was not a deserved winner. I may be in a minority but I find Spain’s passing game incredibly frustrating. It is not an exciting way to play the game unless played at pace. If Lionel Messi was Spanish we would see a “Barcelona” style, but Spain do not have Messi. The decision to play large chunks of matches without a centre-forward is not an inspiring tactic. If England do win their group they will play Italy, and they have every chance of winning that one too.

Arsenal have finally managed to get me a seat move for next season. I currently sit in row 23 of the upper tier at Ashburton Grove. I sit in line with the edge of the 18 yard box at the North end of the stadium. This is the same line I sat on at Highbury, but that was in row 5! When we moved to the new ground Arsenal gave priority on seat choice to their new season ticket holders. This meant people like me being shunted to the back of the stand, if we wanted to stay with the same kind of view. Being 23 rows back has made watching Arsenal like watching Subbuteo down on the pitch. It is simply too far away as far as I’m concerned. You can always identify your own players, but working out who is on the ball for the opponent is not easy. It is also impossible to see who is warming up to come off the bench on the far side of the pitch. Thankfully a move some 19 rows further forward, on the same line, will make watching the game an altogether more pleasurable experience.
I was going to use this piece to praise Arsenal for getting me the move nearer the front. However, this has taken since we moved in to happen. The fact that we are finally getting a move some six years after leaving Highbury shows how Arsenal are now seeing their “new” fans deserting them. Seven years without a trophy, and selling the best players year on year, has seen a lot of the Johnny-Come-Lately types failing to renew their season tickets. Those of us that have always been around, will always be around I think. Those that bought in to the whole thing because we were winning trophies are starting to move away.However, Arsenal annoy their traditional fans at their peril, because if the likes of us did walk away, there would be nothing left.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Giroud deal agreed for Arsenal, Quick Arsenal Euro 2012 round-up, Stewart Robson, Fixtures announced (sort of)

Start your engines


Saturday's matches at Euro 2012, while providing a massive shock, ended up with very little Arsenal interest whatsoever. With Szczesny dropped by Poland, and Rosicky injured for Czech Republic, I watched the game between those two countries without any real interest. I would have watched Russia v Greece had I realised it was on BBC3 in order to see how Arshavin was getting on. I thought it was incredible for Greece to get through, but this whole head-to-head thing is all a bit odd. Russia beat Czech Republic 4-1 in their opening game, but went out because they lost 1-0 to Greece. I suspect it is designed to keep a struggling team (such as Greece) in with a realistic chance to escape their group, but it does not reward expansive and attacking football. It all seems not quite right to me. Having said that, the fact that there has still not been a 0-0 draw (wait for tonight) tells us that this tournament has knocked South Africa 2010 in to a cocked hat in terms of entertainment.
Last night I watched Holland play Portugal. I did this in order to watch Robin Van Persie, and to feel I was getting some money's worth out of the Holland away shirt I bought before the tournament began. The Dutch have been a disgrace since the off. I think the lacklustre way in which RVP shot wide in the final minute just about summed up the way they have performed as a squad. Clearly the Dutch ego machine came back in to force and wrecked their chances of winning. If you were a Holland football fan you would be feeling robbed. Here was a group of players with a realistic chance to win the European Championships, but their selfish attitudes scuppered it. I feel a bit sorry for the coach, Bert Van Marwijk, as he will get the blame for this, though I doubt it would have mattered who was in charge.
I've seen the highlights of the Germany v Denmark game and, amazingly, the Germans are very lucky to still be involved. It seems that Lukas Podolski had his first half-decent game of the tournament and his right-footed finish for Germany's first goal was emphatic. I hope we get to see plenty of that in the next few years at Arsenal. Nicklas Bendtner's boys, meanwhile, can count themselves robbed. At 1-1 they were on top, hit the post, and then saw the officials rob them of a clear penalty. It seems unthinkable after the first two games, but Germany should have been knocked out last night.
On the subject of Nicklas Bendtner I must pass comment on his UEFA fine and suspension for advertising Paddy Power the other night. If you haven't yet heard I can tell you that Big Nick has been done to the tune of €100,000 and a one match ban. So there you have it, folks. UEFA will not tackle the issues of racism in the European game, with piddling fines handed out to any team/association whose fans misbehave. However, if you dare to advertise a bookies on your pants, they'll throw the book at you! Sadly, this sums up the way muppets like Platini want to run the game. They should be ashamed.

I caught the last half-hour of England v Sweden on a re-run on Eurosport this morning. I was interested because Stewart Robson was commentating, and we all know that Theo Walcott was England's hero. A couple of weeks ago Robson, who is employed by Arsenal to work as a co-commentator/analyst on Arsenal TV Online, chose to go public in slagging Theo and his ability. Robson is also a man who told viewers of Arsenal TV a couple of years back that he is "not an Arsenal fan". Anyone who has heard Robson talk about the Club will know that's certainly the case, which kind of begs the question as to why he gets paid by Arsenal when there are plenty of other ex-players who would love his job.
The commentary from Robson on the England game is quite incredibly laughable. He simply refuses to give Theo any credit. According to Robson, Walcott's goal was "deflected, and that's why it swerved", despite the replay showing quite clearly that it was not. He refused to give Theo prais for the run and cross for Welbeck's winning goal, too. Robson even kept on about how Theo was a "liability" at the back. You could feel his annoyance that Theo was making him look a complete twat for his comments the previous week. I sincerely hope the powers that be at Arsenal have taken note and that the man is sacked from his role at Arsenal TV Online.

The new fixtures are out, and the excitement for the new season can now begin. We get under way at home to Sunderland. It's nice to be at home on the first day. It's been a few years since we had that to look forward to. Unfortunately we will finish the season away from home once again, at Newcastle. The first ten games for Arsenal are tough, with six away matches. We have to play Stoke, Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City in that stretch. However, for the most part the games against the top sides are fairly spread. Apart from one spell in January, when we have consecutive games with Liverpool, City and Chelsea, there is plenty of respite between the big fixtures. Boxing Day brings West Ham to our place, while we go to Southampton to start of 2013. I'm not a fan of Christmas football, so I'm rather hoping the West Ham game gets switched to the day after Boxing Day, though I think that is unlikely.
Of course, the announcement of the fixtures actually means very little. The exact dates of any match (except for the last game of the season) are all subject to change once Sky get their grubby mitts all over them. Apparently we can expect to get the first batch of TV games confirmed in the second week of July. I have no idea why it should take so long. What that means is that those of us who actually go to games have to hold off on arranging work, travel etc until the armchair brigade has been taken care of. That is all very annoying to me.
I always look forward to the announcement of the fixtures as it means we can start to see what there is to come. I quite fancy an away trip, or three, this year but that will depend on work and finances. We have a moderately difficult start, but there is no Champions League qualifier to get distracted by. Arsene Wenger must get the transfer business done quickly now in order to put us in the strongest position possible. It might also prove that certain lessons had been learned from last year. Whatever happens, I can't wait for August to come round. Pre-season training is now just three weeks away!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

England 3 - 2 Sweden - Theo does the business

Theo celebrates

Arsenal's Euro 2012 involvement really came to life last night thanks to Theo Walcott. It's fair to say that the tournament had been a fairly frustrating watch for Gooners up to this point. The introduction of Theo for the final thirty minutes last night, with England staring at the exit door, was to change all that. I said on this site, before the game against France, that England needed to get pace in to the side. They had been sorely missing it until Walcott was introduced to scare the life out of the Swedish defence. I am among his fiercest critics, but Walcott's display last night was heart warming and utterly memorable. There are many who believe that Walcott is often more effective when entering the fray as a sub against tiring defenders. Last night he certainly fitted the bill in that regard.
England's team selection was as expected, with Theo and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both left out of the team. I was pleased to see Andy Carroll up front with Welbeck. I thought the two were excellent throughout, with Welbeck's tireless running finally rewarded by scoring the winning goal. The thumping header scored by Carroll was vindication for Roy Hodgson and his tactics. Having two proper strikers gave England more options going forward, even if the movemnt of the ball remained pedestrian at times until Walcott was introduced.
A number of England players did well last night, I thought. Apart from those already mentioned I felt that Glen Johnson was superb at right-back, while Joelon Lescott was carrying John Terry at centre-half. In midfield Scott Parker did the work of two men up against the powerful Swedes. The big disappointments for England were the aforementioned Terry (who seemed to play with lead in his boots), Ashley Young (for the second game running), James Milner and Steven Gerrard. I know Gerrard provided the cross for Carroll to score, but apart from that he was largely anonymous, and his selfishness when robbing Chamberlain of a first international goal would have cost England had Sweden been able to grab an equaliser. Sadly it always has to be about "Stevie Me" with Gerrard.
The introduction of Walcott changed the game entirely. Had Gerrard passed to him on a couple of occasions he might have had at least one more goal. While you would have to question the goalkeeper for Theo's goal, it is impossible to argue with the quality of the strike. It is exactly the sort of thing I want to see him do more for Arsenal. The same applies to the run and cross for Welbeck's winner. For once Theo didn't look afraid. He had the confidence to go for it, buoyed by scoring with his second touch of the ball. His performance was truly outstanding, and I hope he gets all the praise going. He has certainly given Roy Hodgson some decisions to make in the final group match.

I told you yesterday how I would be doing some writing at Arsenal Zone. You can read my first post, about Nicklas Bendtner, by following this link . I'll be back here tomorrow with more from Arsenal's players involvement at Euro 2012.

Friday, 15 June 2012

England v Sweden - no Ox and Theo, Roy Keane is utterly shameless, A new venture

Is he for real?

Regular readers will know that I am not a follower of England. To say I have a tepid interest in the side would be fairly accurate. However, when there is an Arsenal player involved I will always sit up and take notice of what is happening. With news this morning that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is likely to be left out by Roy Hodgson tonight, while Theo Walcott again finds himself in the Samir Nasri role on the bench, I will be watching tonight with only a very passing worry over the result (until England have to bring on both of the Arsenal boys to try and recover their place in the tournament).
I said the other day how England need to get Andy Carroll in the side to support Danny Welbeck. It seems that Roy must have been listening as the big man seems certain to start, if the press are to be believed. That this appears to be at the expense of The Ox is more than a minor annoyance. I don't understand why, in a game England must win, James Milner appears likely to continue wide on the right. I am not averse to Ashley Young being moved out wide on the left, but for both Walcott and Chamberlain to miss out seems to be counter-productive.
Whatever happens for England they will have to play a slightly more expansive game tonight. A defeat against Sweden would mean they were in real trouble. A draw puts them in an Italia '90 type scenario of having to win their final game, only this time it will be against the host nation of Ukraine, not the minnows of Egypt. I foresee a scenario tonight where the two Arsenal boys simply have to be brought on in order to try and make something happen.

I watched both matches again yesterday. It was really no surprise to see Ireland getting beaten. The 4-0 scoreline did not flatter Spain, though isn't it nice to see Cesc Fabregas scoring goals, and wanting to play for his team? Unlike Arsenal for whom he refused to take part in pre-season in order to force through his move to Barcelona. As nice as it is to watch Spain passing the ball in to oblivion, I would love to see them getting beaten at some point in the next two weeks. I think Germany will beat them, if and when they meet later in the tournament.
The game last night wasn't the best part of the evening. The highlight for me was listening to Roy Keane after the game. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. In criticising the Irish players he said "they have no character or leadership." This is the man who, when Captain of Ireland in 2002, walked out on the squad a couple of days before the World Cup began. He seems to have no shame. It was an incredible diatribe from Keane, and must have been reminiscent of the way he criticised Mick McCarthy before deserting his country ahead of the biggest tournament in football. Somehow Adrian Chiles sat there and failed to challenge him on his comments. Keane even had a go at the supporters for singing and enjoying themselves in the face of such a chasing from Spain. At least the fans turned up for their team though, eh Roy? Keane is about to join the Cretin List, I think.

As we move towards the start of next season it is likely that the blog will undergo one or two cosmetic changes. There is always room for improvement and I am looking at one or two different layouts for the site. That won't happen until we get to August and the new season. What will be happening in the near future is that I will be writing elsewhere. I have agreed to produce an opinionated column every couple of weeks at www.arsenalzone.com This will not affect the output on It's MY Arsenal Opinion in any way, but I hope by spreading my nonsense in another place that I can get my blog to grow further, and bring in new readers. Arsenal Zone is more of a rolling Arsenal news site, so my opinion-based pieces are adding a different element to what is already there. I hope it's a project that will take off. When I post something on the other site I will link to it from here. Arsenal Zone is also to be added to the list of Arsenal sites down the right of this page. There might be something up there from me by the end of the day.

Back tomorrow with a review of the England game.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

England need pace, Arshavin, Pre-season plans set to change

Pre-season Gooners want some of this

I'm going to keep this as brief as I possibly can as it's late in the evening and I have to be up outrageously early for work in the morning. I can't comment on the Czech Republic game this afternoon as I haven't seen it, though I believe Tomas Rosicky may have suffered an Achilles injury - something for Gooners to worry about.
As far as England go I will make a few observations.

1. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the highlight for England.
2. Joe Hart is proving week after week that he is extremely overrated.
3. Scott Parker is injured and shouldn't be playing.
4. Andy Carroll should have been brought on to help Welbeck as Ashley Young lacks sufficient ability to play through the centre.
5. James Milner is too slow to play out wide in any team.
6. If England are going to play this way they must hit teams on the break with pace - that means bringing in Theo Walcott, or playing Young out wide, and getting Hart to release the ball quickly.

All in all it wasn't such a bad performance from England. It might have lacked excitement from start to finish, but that might just be the way in which England finally get some success. Their next two games will be really tough - they have a bad record against Sweden, and Ukraine served notice last night that they intend to make the most of their own tournament.

I've just watched Russia's second game before sitting down to write this. Once again Arshavin was to the fore through most of the game. However, the Poland goal came directly after he misplaced a lazy pass which might have won the game for Russia had it been played properly. It was more than vaguely reminiscent of many incidents we've seen at Arsenal these past two years.
I've read a lot over the past few days of how Arshavin's performances for Russia are because he gets to play in his preferred position, behind the striker. I would implore every fool writing this nonsense to watch Russia play and see that Arshavin most definitely plays on the left-wing for his country. If he appears to be playing better for them than for us, it is simply that he is trying when he plays for Russia, and not when he plays for Arsenal.

In terms of Arsenal news there is some concern about the plans for pre-season. It now seems likely that the friendly Arsenal announced for Nigeria is about to be cancelled. It always seemed like a ridiculously stupid idea, and now Arsenal have finally caught on to the fact that they will not be playing in Abuja or Lagos after all. There are rumours of a possible game at the Camp Nou against Barcelona, but I would rather we didn't go and play them at all - we owe them nothing whatsoever, so why honour them with our presence in pre-season?
If the Nigeria game doesn't go ahead then we will have a hole in the preparations for next season. A friendly will no doubt be arranged, whether it be in Barcelona or anywhere else, but it will also open up the chance for a trip to Austria, which would certainly be something Arsene Wenger will push for. I know for a fact that any trip to Bad Waltersdorf would be very popular with the pre-season Gooners. I might even pop along myself if I can get some leave.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Dutch trouble, England v France preview

Will the Three Lions roar?

I think the warning signs were there for Holland in the days leading up to their game against Denmark on Saturday. Klaas Jan Huntelaar appears to have been the catalyst for the appearance of some of the old cracks that have dogged the Dutch squad over many years. They seem incapable to playing in a tournament without some kind of row developing. I have to say that Huntelaar's behaviour lacks total respect for the rest of his team, and particularly for Robin Van Persie. That his case seems to have ever growing support says a lot about the fact that Robin seems to be still quite an unpopular character in his homeland.
I watched the whole of the Holland game and it's fair to say they missed some chances. Having said that I thought Denmark were well worth their win. The Danes worked extremely hard, and Nicklas Bendtner was far too strong for the Dutch central defenders. His hold-up play was excellent and it showed that there is more to his game than missing chances. What it also showed, in a more serious comment, is that he is far more effective as a centre-forward than as a right-winger. Those who would seek to defend Arshavin on the grounds of mistreatment by Arsene Wenger would do well, I think, to consider the impact of the Manager on Bendtner's Arsenal career.
Robin Van Persie had chances for the Dutch but seemed to be constantly falling over, not least when he hit an air-shot when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. His best chance in the first-half was wasted because of his refusal to try and control the ball with his right foot. A lot of my Liverpool supporting friends were raving about how Agger had negated Van Persie's threat. The fact is that, on any other day, RVP would have scored at least two goals. The late introduction of the aforementioned Huntelaar merely served to underline the reason he doesn't get in from the start - he is the Dutch Jermain Defoe, whose only intention is to shoot at goal. Huntelaar can not, and will not, link the play. He is incapable of playing a five yard pass, and I fully expect RVP to stay in the side for the next game.
The biggest problem for Holland, as far as I could see, was Arjen Robben. I don't understand why any team would pick this guy. Have you ever seen a more greedy footballer? Robben seems to want his own ball to play with all the time and reminds me of the annoying kid in the playground who would never pass because he thought he was better than everyone else. I'm not surprised that Franck Ribery chinned him at Bayern Munich training a few months back. If I was a Dutch supporter I would want Dirk Kuyt in the team ahead of Robben. Give me a hard working team player over a show-pony like Robben any day.

England get their campaign under way tonight, and it looks as though the two Arsenal players in the squad will start from the bench. It's interesting that the press seem to be fully aware of every move the England Manager makes with his line-ups. I believe it's no coincidence that the inside track on people being dropped by Arsenal has been lost to the newspapers since a certain medical person went to work full-time with the FA. Since then the England team has been known well in advance of its match day announcement.
If the suspected England team is proved to be correct than I have to say I am surprised. Having watched their last two friendlies it has struck me that pace is required out wide in order to hit teams on the break. Defensive organisation has seen the attacking side become more pedestrian than ever for England, so the need to break quickly must surely be more important. Therefore, I can't begin to understand how James Milner is getting a game ahead of Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The only consideration is that Milner will defend better against a marauding Evra/Clichy than Walcott can. Then, of course, is the fact that Stewart Downing is also going to play. I don't know what anyone sees in Downing as, for me, he makes Theo look genuinely top-class, such is the paucity of his play. I'll probably get proved wrong this evening, but Downing is among the very worst players I've ever seen play for England.
If I was picking the England team tonight it would be a genuine 4-4-2 with Young and Walcott/Chamberlain out wide, and Carroll and Welbeck through the centre. I don't believe Young has sufficient quality as a footballer to play behind the main striker. By the same token, I don't believe Welbeck has the physical strength to play as the main man himself. His best performances for Man Utd have come when Wayne Rooney has been the focal point of the attack. There will be a lot of onus on Steven Gerrard to create from deep in this team, as none of the other attacking players have the ability to provide a killer ball.
France have defensive problems that England must try to exploit. Evra's star is very much on the wane with the national team, while Sagna is a big miss for them at right-back. It's the centre of defence, though, that provides the biggest weakness. Laurent Blanc seems reluctant to put Laurent Koscielny in the side, but Mexes and Rami simply aren't good enough as a pair. I have never rated Mexes, and Welbeck's movement might cause him problems. That weakness in the middle is another reason I would have picked Carroll to play - Mexes fancies himself as a tough-guy, but England's big number nine would have been too powerful for him. If England are to get something from the game they must take advantage of the French centre-backs.
In attack it's a different story for France. England will need to keep their discipline in defence, and remain organised, if they are to shut out the French attack. Karim Benzema is among the very best, and he will be too quick for John Terry. Joleon Lescott can be error-prone at times, and if he makes mistakes tonight the French striker will be there to punish him. Ribery's presence (though I think his pace is not what it was) will mean Glen Johnson needing to curb his attacking instincts, all of which will mean Ashley Cole needing to be at his most alert to cover for everyone else at the back. Arsenal have been strongly linked to Olivier Giroud in the past twenty-four hours, so I'll be interested to get a look at him if he gets a game for France.
I don't really see England winning this game, though France's weakness at the back could be exploited with the right kind of play. There is a chance that the two Arsenal men in the England squad will provide an explosive option from the bench in the final twenty-five minutes. Chamberlain is unknown to the European sides, while Walcott remains genuinely feared by them for his hat-trick in Croatia and his performances against AC Milan and Barcelona. Personally, I can see it being the first 0-0 of the tournament as both teams will be keen not to lose before playing the weaker sides in the group. I hope I'm wrong and that it's an exciting game.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Szczesny and Arshavin grab the early headlines

Szczesny - it's becoming a problem

Yesterday was the second anniversary of this site. I started writing in the week that the South Africa World Cup began. I'm rather pleased with how it's gone since. I am also pleased that Euro 2012 started yesterday, giving me a subject for the piece this morning.
As I said in Thursday's preview I will be concentrating on the Arsenal players involved in the tournament, and there were plenty of them in the games yesterday with Wojciech Szczesny, Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin all playing on day one. Two of the Arsenal players ended up being among the key men in the opening matches, with very differing fortunes.

I wrote on Thursday that I was worried about Wojciech Szczesny and his record in big games for Arsenal. I questioned how he would perform in the spotlight of Poland's opening match on home soil, with all the attendant pressures that would bring. Szczesny is very young, obviously, but his tendency to be at fault in pressure matches is disturbing. You can take the Carling Cup Final, the North London Derby at Spurs' place last season, or the must-win games against Norwich and West Brom at the end of the campaign. In each of those you will find him at fault for goals. Don't get me wrong, all goalkeepers make mistakes. It's just that the very best ones don't make too many, and they don't often make them when it really matters. Yesterday was a game we can add to Szczesny's growing list of bottle jobs.
I think we all know that Wojciech carries himself off as this confident, probably arrogant, footballer. I am beginning to suspect that the bravado is nothing more than a mask for a very insecure individual. His performance yesterday really betrayed a very nervous disposition. He had nothing to do until early in the second-half. What happened next? He came for a cross and got nowhere near it, allowing the Greeks to equalise. His next action was to foul an opposition striker in the penalty area and get sent-off. It was rash from Szczesny, reminiscent of a dash from goal that he made in the 3-3 draw at Tottenham last year - that also resulted in a penalty. If you want to argue that it is not an issue with his temperament, then I would contend that he has an alternative issue with not learning from his mistakes. Either way, it is a problem Arsenal must address.
The TV people were saying how Szczesny is lucky that his replacement saved the resulting penalty, and that he will be back for the third group game. I'm not so sure he will. If Poland's reserve keeper performs well then Wojciech may be sitting out the rest of the campaign. It might just do him some good. I remember Iker Casillas being dropped by Real Madrid having come through as a very young goalkeeper. He got back in when his replacement went off injured in the European Cup Final at Hampden Park. Casillas has never looked back. Maybe Szczesny needs that kind of treatment too.
In among all of this stuff about Szczesny I have to spare a thought for Lukasz Fabianski. Our other Pole had been outstanding in a warm-up match for Poland, and secured his place as Szczesny's understudy. Two days later he injured his shoulder in training and was ruled out. Had that not happened it would have been him coming on with to face the penalty. He would have had the chance to step out of Szczesny's considerable shadow, and put himself in the shop window for the transfer he wants this Summer away from Arsenal. It's a real shame for Fabianski that he was robbed of his opportunity by injury - just as he was when enjoying his best spell at Arsenal.

In the later game Russia dismantled Czech Republic. I thought Tomas Rosicky was lively enough for the Czech's, but didn't run at people as he has for Arsenal recently. I wonder if he is not really fit having been ruled out of their warm-up matches. He was unlucky with a couple of efforts at goal, but all in all his side were thrashed by the Russians.
The star of the Russian show was a certain Andrey Arshavin. It was a display reminiscent of those four years ago that first brought him to the attention of fans in England. For an Arsenal supporter it was a frustrating illustration of how he wasn't remotely interested in being at the Club over the past two years. Some argue that he is playing in his best position for Russia, so it's not surprising he wants to play better for them. People use that as a stick to beat the Arsenal Manager, on the grounds that he didn't treat Arshavin properly by not playing him where he wants to play. I can understand that, but it doesn't excuse a professional footballer being physically unfit and lazy on the pitch. However much you don't want to play on the wing, you are being paid to put in the necessary effort for the fans.
Arshavin's displays on the big occasion, when he knows there is a massive audience, tell us plenty about his character. We all know he is a World-Class footballer. But there's no point in having him in your team if he only feels like displaying his true talent when he sees the shop window in front of him. The fact that such a limited footballer as Theo Walcott can get in the Arsenal team ahead of a supreme talent like Arshavin is purely down to attitude. Arshavin no longer wanted to make an impression at Arsenal, so he stopped performing - unless we were playing Barcelona, for example. Now he is looking for a transfer away, and the Euros provide him with a perfect stage to showcase his ability. It's not really a surprise that he turned in a virtuoso display, is it?

Today we've got Holland, Denmark, Portugal and Germany in action in THE group of the tournament. There is plenty of Arsenal interest in the shape of Van Persie, Bendtner, Mertesacker and Podolski. Such is the anticipation of this group that we can probably look forward to a disappointing snooze-fest following yesterday's excitement. I'll try and comment on those matches tomorrow evening, as well as previewing England v France. Enjoy the football today.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Ivan speaks but says nothing new, Euro 2012 preview

Gazidis - master of old flannel

Last night Arsenal's Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis met with a group of supporters in a "question" and answer session. My man at the meeting has reported back on the events of the evening. I have put the word question in inverted commas for a reason. The fact is that, despite Mr Gazidis' protestations to the contrary, I find it very hard to believe that the so called questions to which he gave answers were not pre-vetted by the Club. Arsenal Football Club will never leave itself open to answering the fans on the real issues. Even the AGM has seen, for the past many years now, the shareholders silenced in the interests of avoiding difficult questions without a rehearsed answer.
The main theme to be taken from last night is that the Club is placing a lot of faith in UEFA and their ability to police the Financial Fair Play rules that are about to kick-in. For me, and many others, this is an incredibly risky and naive policy. Gazidis contends that FFP should work as the Club's are the ones that wanted it. However, there is no way that high-profile rule-breakers will be disciplined properly by the governing body. Let's just say, for example, that Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Man Utd and Man City all go outside the rules. The punishment is supposed to include a ban from UEFA competitions. Can you really see any of those sides being expelled from the Champions League? The money comes from the TV companies. The TV companies want to show Barcelona v Man Utd if they possibly can. They're not going to be so interested in televising Real Zaragoza v Newcastle United, are they? The reason for that is that they will be unable to sell the advertising slots for massive money for those games, as less people will be tuning in.
Even if we accept that UEFA will preside over things properly, there is a problem. Taking the same scenario whereby they expel those listed above, what is then left for the likes of Arsenal? Less revenue from the Champions League renders it pointless. The banned clubs will seek to set up their own European competition. The TV companies will be clambering over themselves to buy the rights. The likes of Arsenal would be forced to resign from UEFA and join the new tournament. Without it they would be able to win nothing - there would be no money.I digress from Ivan's meeting, but I want to force home the point that his stated Arsenal policy of waiting for FFP is potentially flawed in the gravest of manners.
In terms of strategy in the transfer market nothing is about to change from Arsenal. The Board (Stan Kroenke, that is) wish to continue with the self-sustaining model. I would suggest there is largely nothing wrong with that. However, it doesn't explain why our net spend is virtually nil. We do not plough the massive profits of the Club in to building a squad capable of success on the pitch. Even taking account of self-sustainability, there is still a case for speculating to accumulate occasionally. Without building a top-class squad of players, what is the point in a Club like Arsenal? We don't exist, surely, to post good financial results, so investment on the playing side is required. Gazidis told those in attendance that people complain Arsenal's failure to buy a £30m player shows a lack of ambition. Personally I know no Arsenal supporters that particularly want us to pay £30m for a player. What we do want is serious money to be spent on top class talent. You don't have to spend astronomical money on one player to do that. Nobody is asking the Club to bankrupt itself, but we are asking for the money that is available to be spent on obvious areas of weakness.
Ivan explained that Alisher Usmanov will not be invited to join the Board as it could destabilise Arsenal. Whatever anyone might think of the Uzbeki billionaire, he owns 30% of the Club. I don't care that he may have a different vision of where the Club should be going. Now that he owns so many shares he is surely entitled to get his voice heard. I am not in favour of any one person owning Arsenal, and that applies to Kroenke as much as Usmanov. But the fact is that the Board sold their stake in Arsenal Football Club and the reality is that Kroenke is very much a one man band in control of the Club. I'd rather he was being challenged by someone else, whomever it may be.
There was an acknowledgement that the wage structure of the Club is wrong. Mr Gazidis was willing to recognise the fact that star players should earn substantially more than those who are not yet established (or words to that effect). However, there was not really an admission that the likes of Bendtner and Denilson and Diaby and others of that ilk were not worthy of such rewarding contracts, despite not being anywhere near to achieving anything at Arsenal. Ivan said the Club is working on this situation, which I take to mean they are actively trying to offload the deadwood. As much as there is a need to speculate to accumulate, Arsenal may well find they have to bite a few bullets this Summer, and let a few players go for peanuts simply to get rid of them.
The final thing I want to address from the meeting is the problem of the Club kits. We all know what the new away kit is going to look like, even though it hasn't yet been announced officially. For the first time I will not be purchasing an Arsenal shirt, such is the nature of this particular monstrosity. It is now known that the Club told Nike they could design a new away shirt this year "with a disruption factor of 9/10." In other words, the Club instructed their manufacturer to produce something deliberately awful and controversial. It was clearly their intention to move as far away from the heritage of Arsenal as it was possible to get. This has been done with the deliberate intention of upsetting the traditional Arsenal support. Short of putting a cockerel on the shirt it couldn't be more disgusting. During the meeting Ivan animatedly told those in attendance that the people running things could not be accused to not caring. He said we could call them "incompetent" but must "not think they don't care." So how can he reconcile that with the business of the new away kit? They also care so much about the supporters that they guaranteed delivery of the new home shirt today to anyone pre-ordering it. My postman has been and gone five hours since, and yet I still have a six-year old staring out of the window getting upset that his new kit isn't here. They don't care. They just want you to spend.
I think most people in attendance last night would agree with my source that nothing new was said. Nothing is likely to change. Next season will be just as hard, and just as frustrating as the last one. Meanwhile Arsenal will fall further behind the top challengers.

Euro 2012 starts tomorrow, and there is a good bit of interest for Arsenal supporters in the two games on day one. The hosts Poland get under way in the opening match, which means Wojciech Szczesny is going to be in action. We all know that Szczesny is a confident lad, but his record in big matches has been a concern to me. I will be very interested to see how he gets on with the pressure of a nation, and the eyes of Europe, upon him. Starting off against Greece shouldn't mean him having an exceptionally busy day, but Poland's chances to getting out of the group stages might well mean Szczesny having to play out of his skin in the other games.
The second game tomorrow should see both sides captained by Arsenal players. We will see Tomas Rosiscky leading the Czech's (injury permitting) and Andrey Arshavin should lead Russia, if he can be prised away from the pre-match buffet. I can see the Czech's doing pretty well at this tournament, especially if Rosicky can replicate his recent form at Arsenal.
It seems strange for England to be going in to a Championship without the press considering them potential winners. Having said that, I don't doubt for one minute that anything other than a heroic run to at least a semi-final defeat will have the media slagging everyone involved. The England squad is weak. I would have had no problem if Hodgson had kicked out all of the old guard (with the exception of Cole and Rooney). As far as I'm concerned the likes of Lampard, Terry, Gerrard, Ferdinand etc have had their chance and failed. A clean break would have been good. As it is they have been decimated by injury, and Hodgson has called up some pretty mediocre players as replacements - even if you accept not bringing in the likes of Rio Ferdinand there are better players available to have come in. I believe England might struggle to get past the first round but, rather bizarrely, if they remain organised at the back they could surprise plenty. I watched the Belgium game last Saturday and they outplayed England for most of the second-half. However, they didn't once create a clear chance, simply because England defended properly. If they can launch the pace of Young, Walcott, Chamberlain, Welbeck and Rooney they could hit teams on the break very well indeed.
Everybody expects Spain to do well. Having won the last two major tournaments they are the understandable favourites with the bookies. For me, however, they are not going to win this one. I feel that, rather like Barcelona last season, this Spain side has gone past its peak. Nothing lasts forever, and I don't see them making it past the semi-final stage. Without David Villa they lack their best centre-forward, and will be relying on Torres and Llorente to step up to the plate. The loss of Puyol means they will be even weaker at the back, so any team that can get behind their midfield will be in with a chance of success.
A lot of Arsenal fans will be keeping a close eye on Holland, and I fully expect Robin Van Persie to continue where he left off last season with Arsenal. He was the dominant force in their hammering of Northern Ireland on Saturday, and his growing understanding with Affelay could be hard to contain.
Other Gooners will be very keen to watch Germany. We already have interest there with Per Mertesacker, while Lukas Podolski will also be in their team. The Germans might have been beaten by Switzerland the other week, when missing their Bayern Munich players, but I think we'll see a different beast when things get going. I felt the Germans were the up and coming team two years ago at the World Cup. I believe that, over the next few weeks, we will see them fulfil their potential. Germany are very much my pick for Euro 2012, and I think they will be deserved winners (or at least very close to it). I can't wait for it to get started now.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Looking ahead

The main feature this year

We are careering towards the main part of Summer at a rate of knots now. Every two years this time marks the point at which football disappears for a month or so in this country. Fortunately this year we have a Summer international tournament to sit through. As regulars will know I am not a fan of internationals. I believe the standard is generally poor and the game is usually played at a pedestrian pace, far removed from what we're used to seeing in England. It is not something I would generally pay to go and watch, that's for sure. However, when it comes to the prospect of a Summer without football I am more than willing to sit down and enjoy. I also do not follow England as a rule - I can't bring myself to "support" a team with the likes of Wayne Rooney and John Terry in it. However, I really enjoy the fact that everyone gets their St George's flags out and displays some national unity. The feel-good effect of a successful Summer England campaign can not be underestimated. Throw in some good weather and you have a near-perfect cocktail for putting smiles on faces.
So what does all this mean for this blog? Well, quite obviously I am going to make "reporting" on the tournament a major feature over the next few weeks. The plethora of Arsenal players involved with their various teams will not leave us short of relevant interest. I intend to try and preview and review all of England's games in the same way I do Arsenal during the season. As for the rest of the matches, I will tailor the writing to concentrating on those Arsenal players involved. A brief preview of Euro 2012 will form part of tomorrow's piece.
Later on in the Summer is the Olympics and that, too, includes a football tournament. There is every chance that Aaron Ramsey will be involved in the Team GB squad, and possibly Kieran Gibbs too. As such I will be writing the odd piece about that when the time comes. By then we will be close to the start of the season, so it will be very much a sideline., but a decent space-filler nonetheless.
The first-team players are due back in training in the second week of July. From then on there will be a particular concentration back towards Arsenal. The fixtures are out in less than two weeks from now. Once we get in to the pre-season friendlies there will be plenty to write about and we will be able to resume something approaching normal service. Unfortunately there is no trip to Austria this year so I won't have my spies out and about with the touring party. I am concerned about the effect of Arsenal's globe-trotting this Summer, following an international tournament - it should be noted that Barcelona are not flying off around the World this year because of Euro 2012. There will be plenty more on that as the time approaches.
Apart from those core things there will be the usual comment on anything about Arsenal that I believe worthy. If and when signings are made I will have plenty to say about them. Similarly any departures from Arsenal will be written about. What there will not be, as ever, is comment on speculation. Unless the "gossip" has some clear foundation (as with Podolski, Gervinho etc) I will be saying nothing until we make a signing. It's a policy that has kept me sane in the past few transfer windows so I will be sticking to it. I also believe that there is no point in listing the inane rubbish that is made up in the tabloids and on dodgy football gossip sites. We all know it's nonsense, so why bother?
I hope you will enjoy the Summer content as we move towards next season. It will kick off tomorrow with that Euro 2012 preview, and a report from the Ivan Gazidis Q&A tonight with supporters - I have a spy in there who has plenty of questions he wants to ask, if only you were allowed pin Ivan down about things important to the real fans.
For any new (or regular) readers, you can follow the blog on Facebook by joining the group "It's MY Arsenal Opinion" or get regular updates and irreverent comment from me on any number of subjects via Twitter by following my account there - @ARSENALDvbrisG.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Proud to be British

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

When I started this blog I wrote that, on occasion, I might choose to pass comment on stuff that is not Arsenal, or even football, related. Those times are rare, but today marks one such event. I do not apologise for it, and I hope you can all appreciate my pride on this day. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow with a preview of what readers can look forward to (or choose not to read) as the Summer wears on.

It has been a long weekend in Great Britain, for all the right reasons. The vast majority of people in the country have been celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of our reigning Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. My job has meant that I have spent every day working, but that has not managed to dampen my enthusiasm for, nor my enjoyment of, this most magnificently British celebration. I have been able to see large parts of the daytime celebrations via the odd glance at a TV screen, or via the highlights programmes on BBC.
Last year I wrote a piece about the celebrations we had for the wedding of Prince William to Katherine. I didn't think that such a great time would be eclipsed just one year on. We may not have been blessed with nice weather, but we British are famed for our stoicism and resilience in the face of such problems. That being the case, this has been a weekend that has made me more proud of my nation than at any time in my memory.
I mention the weather, and Sunday saw London drenched by torrential rain. Her Majesty, and her family, stood for four hours to greet their people as an incredible river pageant passed by them on the Thames. The spectacular end, which saw the London Philharmonic playing our best and most inspiring patriotic music, made the hairs stand on end. The pride to be had in Her Majesty was truly a great thing. That, though, was simply the beginning.

The Mall at its most inspiring

Yesterday my family got together to enjoy our own part of the Jubilee weekend. It was a fantastic gathering, which finished with the watching of the Jubilee Concert from Buckingham Palace. The picture above shows the massed crowds who had gathered in The Mall to be close to things. The Mall, when dressed in its Union Flags, is always an inspirational sight. Last night, lit-up as it was, against the backdrop of the concert and an incredible light-show on the Palace, took things to a new level. If you couldn't be proud to be British last night then you never will be. Unfortunately, the often maligned Duke of Edinburgh was absent through illness. The reaction of the crowds when Prince Charles spoke about him in his speech showed how highly regarded he really is by the people. With her husband in hospital we saw the very best of Her Majesty as she was still able to wave and to smile to her public, despite the angst she was no doubt feeling. Once again I find myself using that word pride when I describe my feelings last night.
Today the celebrations have come to an end with a glorious State Procession through London, and then Her Majesty taking to the balcony of Buckingham Palace before the adoring crowds once more. The chanting of God Save The Queen by the crowd at St Pauls Cathedral (the crowd were drowning out a tiny group of morons choosing to "protest" against the Monarchy) in the morning was amazing, but the cheers she received upon appearing in the afternoon was even more incredible to me. Once again a wave and a smile was given to the adoring masses, before the Red Arrows gave their signature red. white and blue signal to mark the end of the festivities. Wonderful stuff. No other country can do this with such class and reverence.

A flag to be proud of, not ashamed

Two things have grabbed at me over the course of this weekend. The first is that sense of pride that I keep banging on about. I had often considered that being British was not really for me - I am English, not British. However, the events of this Jubilee have been a uniting force in a country struggling through recession and suffering the hardest of times since the last War. I have, I think, rediscovered my pride in being British first, and English second. The other thing that has been massive for me has been the "recapturing" of the Union Flag. For too often people waving it have been noted by our media as either football hooligans or members of the British National Party. There has been a stigma attached to the Union Flag. This weekend has proved that this is no longer the case. We can wave our flag with pride, knowing that there is nothing to be ashamed about in being British, displaying our colours, and celebrating our heritage. More importantly, we can celebrate our Queen. Long may she reign over Britain and the Commonwealth.

God Save The Queen.