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Friday, 31 August 2012

What the hell is going on?

Sky are lost without this idiot

I said at the start of the week that I expected business to be done by Arsenal this week. I was more than encouraged by Arsene Wenger's unusually candid response about transfer dealings being in the offing. As I write we are approaching the final 10 hours of the transfer window and the press have even stopped making up stories about who we might sign! The obvious deficiencies within the Arsenal squad remain unfilled, as they have for the last six years. At the same time it would seem that the dead wood, if any of them do move on, will be only on loan deals and with wages heavily subsidised by Arsenal.
We have been told time and again that there is money to spend. We have not won a trophy for seven years. We finished miles behind Manchester City last season. Surely if there is money there then someone should be damn well spending it.
When we signed Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla I think most people were very encouraged. Since then we have sold Van Persie and Song, creating holes that were not there before. If Wenger is pinning his hopes on the return of Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky then we might as well give up. I know that at least one prominent blogger is ambivalent to the need for a "defensive midfielder" but to my mind that person is just plain wrong. Every successful side of the past 10-15 years has included an out and out defensive player in its midfield - even Barcelona had Busquets who never crossed the halfway line. On a day when Nigel De Jong has gone to AC Milan for as little as £4m Arsenal's inaction is really quite sickening.
Andy Carroll has gone on loan to West Ham - why weren't we in there trying to buy the man? You can be sure Liverpool would have rather made some money back, given the opportunity. What alternatives do we have to Giroud and Podolski? Surely even Wenger can see the weakness?
Wenger's comments yesterday should have had us worried. The minute he trots out his "if we can find a top, top player" line then you know he is prevaricating. I would have hoped by now that someone at Arsenal would have told Wenger to stop coming out with this rubbish. Surely someone at the Club has noticed that the reaction to it from the supporters is negative in the extreme. Frankly it is taking the p*** out of us to talk such nonsense. The fact is that there is plenty of "top, top quality" if you are on the ball and prepared to make them available to you by offering proper money. Still, I suppose it is a little reassuring to only be in for top players. Let's face it, if we were only in for second-rate performers we'd have people like Squillaci or Park in the Arsenal squad - how embarrassing would that be?
As you may have guessed from the tone of this piece I am angry and frustrated. Once again Arsenal have had our money and seem determined to do nothing with it to reward our support. There is little we can do about it, I'm afraid. I've no doubt some people will propose boycotts and protest marches and other such nonsense if things go wrong, and to show the Club we've had enough. Such actions would, of course, be inconsistent with "supporting" Arsenal. I may be annoyed, and I may want the Manager, the Chief Executive and the owner of Arsenal to leave very quickly, but the men on the pitch in red and white will still get my support week after week.
I suppose there is still time to bring in players, but the fact that even the rumour mill has ground to a halt indicates that nothing impressive is going to happen. As I say, even the dead wood is still here. We were told that lessons had been learned as a result of last year. I would like to hear exactly what Wenger and Gazidis think they learned, because it certainly hasn't been how to get business done in order to build a side capable of challenging. The "agreement" with Theo Walcott sums up the awful approach to business that is prevalent at Arsenal - Walcott will leave for nothing in May, and there is now nothing Arsenal can do about it. Shocking.
If we do some business then I might get a chance to write a piece late tonight in reaction to any signings. Otherwise I will do the usual preview for the Liverpool game tomorrow night, when I come home from work.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Stoke 0 - 0 Arsenal - no panic here

Kieran Gibbs - excellent today

I have no doubt that Arsenal will be hit over the head again with the fact that we drew another blank today, and I suppose that's understandable. However, that would be to overlook the all round performance of the side at a place we find it very difficult. It would also be to overlook the organisation of the back four, with Mikel Arteta outstanding in front of them, as they protected Vito Mannone superbly.
The big Italian had little to do in general, but when he was called upon he didn't put a foot wrong. When I saw that neither Szczesny nor Fabianski were available I was very worried. It is a credit to the coaching staff, I think, for what has clearly been some decent work on the training pitch this week. That being said, I have just heard Arsene Wenger say that Szczesny will be "at least another week". Given that I've heard that before I would be very annoyed if we don't bring in some proper goalkeeping cover this week.
The game itself was as comfortable as any we've played at Stoke since they were promoted. The Arsenal fans were in fine voice, and clearly out shouted the home support from the first whistle (the neanderthals only seemed to come to life when Aaron Ramsey came on - check out the comments section of yesterday's post to see why they are neanderthals). I thought the midfield looked really strong and Cazorla tried to orchestrate things - his willingness to receive the ball in any situation is a joy to watch. Unfortunately we lacked any cutting edge whatsoever. Gervinho was back to the form of last season this afternoon, and I would have given him the hook at half-time and brought on Oxlade-Chamberlain. When The Ox was finally introduced it was to replace Lukas Podolski, who had been prominent in our best moments of the first-half. You can argue that he had not been in the game much after half-time, but he can pop up with the finish you need in such a tight encounter when chances are at a premium. Added to the fact that Abou Diaby was out on his feet by then it was another bizarre Wenger substitution, but we're well used to that by now.
There will be a lot of focus on our lack of goals, as I said at the top of this post. Olivier Giroud will be the man under the microscope, and he again had chances to win the match for Arsenal. I'll start with the positives on him and that would be to highlight his physicality. I mentioned in the preview piece yesterday that I thought Wenger might prefer him in this game due to his size, and that was the case as it turned out. It's fair to say that, when the ball was played up to him (and Arsenal did it a lot before half-time) he was too big and too strong for bully-boy Shawcross. Two or three times the boy who loves his mummy simply bounced of Giroud in the aerial exchanges. It reminded me a lot of Adebayor when he first came up against John Terry and gave him one hell of a tough afternoon in a game at Stamford Bridge (if memory serves me right it was the day Van Persie got a couple of goals early in the second-half of a 2-1 win). The negatives, unfortunately, involved his play when given a sight of goal again. Gary Neville said he should have done better with a Cazorla pass before half-time, but I think that was a harsh assessment as the ball was played slightly behind him. However, I was annoyed when he tried to hit a spectacular volley when presented with a free header from a second-half corner - that was the best chance of the game, really. Then, late on, he went for another spectacular effort (in fairness he nearly pulled it off) when a simple ball to Ramsey would have had him one-on-one with the goalkeeper. As it was we got nil again today. Giroud needs to get a goal soon, or the nay-sayers will be out in force.
Overall I was not disappointed with the performance, much like last week, though the failure to really create was frustrating. It's a tough one as it's difficult to criticise any player. I thought the full-backs played particularly well for Arsenal, with Kieran Gibbs turning in one of his very best performances. When you see Jermaine Pennant being take off then you know that Gibbs has done his job particularly well. The problem we have with drawing again, and not scoring again, is that next week we have to go to Liverpool that little bit more desperate for the points. I suppose it's more a symptom of last weeks home game, than of the match today.
One final comment on the game today is the time-wasting from the home side. How were there only three minutes added at the end? I can understand sides trying to get every little advantage they can away from home, but in front of their own fans? Still, the pundits will praise Stoke's effort, while continuing to lament the fact that England's national side is so workmanlike. They don't do irony.

There are now five days of hard work ahead for Arsene Wenger and business people at the Club. In his interview after the game Wenger has certainly given the impression that we can expect plenty of action this week. We can all see where additions are needed, and we all know who needs to be shipped out. The purchasing side of things should have been taken care of weeks ago, especially as we were told lessons were learned last August. I suspect (and I certainly hope) that we will see a few new squad numbers dished out by Friday night, while waving goodbye to certain others. If we can do some good business this week then there is a chance of success this season. Over to you Arsene and Ivan.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Stoke/Wimbledon RFC (a) preview - football but not as we know it


Arsenal's annual trip to the cabbage patch is upon us. At least it comes early this year, though the downturn in the weather is probably indicative of the fact that we have to play at Stoke this weekend. I've spent the last couple of days in Southend-On-Sea with my family, so I haven't been too in touch with things at Arsenal. I'm not surprised that Nuri Sahin went elsewhere - Arsenal's failure to close a deal is now becoming repetitively embarrassing, but I'll hold fire on any verdict on our transfer dealings until the window closes. Suffice to say I am as frustrated as the next person, and I certainly believe a proper defensive midfield player is required. I just hope Wenger feels the same way and something is done about it this week.

The team news has not been altogether encouraging with Wojciech Szczesny clearly not 100% fit. With the already unreliable Fabianski also not entirely fit we can see just how stark the goalkeeping situation is at the Club. We have failed to ship out Fabianski and Mannone, and the Manager has not brought in any genuine experienced quality to cover for and challenge Szczesny. What would we do if Szczesny got a long term injury? There is quality out there, and Wenger should have gone and got it. The importance of Szczesny tomorrow against Stoke can not be be in any doubt. It's fair to say I'm not his biggest fan, but he is head and shoulders better than the other two. Tomorrow, if he is fit, he must rediscover his willingness to come off his line and dominate the six yard area.
Obviously most of the focus tomorrow will be on the way we defend the high ball. Per Mertesacker must attack the ball in this area of the pitch. I can't criticise the BFG for being a bit on the slow side, but I can certainly criticise a man of his size for not dominating in the air as he should. Tomorrow we are up against one of our nemeses in the shape of freaky Crouch. That being the case I want to see Mertesacker taking charge.
I don't see the rest of the team changing too much from last weekend. We will need the extra height of Abou Diaby, at either end of the pitch, though I suspect his fragile ankles will be a target for Pulis' highly trained henchmen. I expect Podolski to continue up front, though the physical stature of Olivier Giroud might be a better option against Stoke, with Podolski on the left and Gervinho to the right. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain only returning to fitness I would be slightly surprised to see him in from the start, though Arsene might prefer The Ox to little Santi Cazorla so early in the Spaniard's Premier League career.
The thing is with Stoke that you know what to expect. There is no shock to it anymore. For that reason there is no excuse for Arsenal being caught out by them tomorrow. Furthermore, if we play our game properly they will not be able to live with our pace and movement. The fact is that Arsenal are a better side than Stoke. As long as Arsenal play to their ability, and are willing to work as hard as (or harder than) Stoke then we will win the game. There will be the usual level of tackling and foul play from Stoke - I would hope that even the most rabid City fan would accept that they sail close to the wind. Just look at the foul by Shawcross in the last minute at Reading last week and you can see that the line gets crossed. In making that tackle Shawcross was as out of control of himself as he was when breaking Aaron Ramsey's leg. Frankly he's an animal who shouldn't be on the football pitch, even if he does love his Mum.
One more thing for tomorrow is, of course, the baiting of Arsene Wenger that will be in evidence tomorrow. It was highlighted as "comedy" on BBC and Sky last season, so we can expect the Britannia brain-boxes to be at it again, including that fat cow that was sat next to the dugout last time. You can also be sure that Pulis will have done nothing in his programme notes to address the behaviour of the Stoke fans (unlike Ferguson who has called on people to pack it in when we play at Old Trafford). The best way for Arsenal to deal with it, of course, is to go out and show them who they are on the pitch. Alternatively, Steve Bould can spark a touchline bust-up that requires him to knock that stupid cap off Pulis' head.

Match review will be here tomorrow afternoon/evening.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A blank versus Sunderland - Arsenal in crisis! Song gone, Pardew getting away with it

Arsenal FC - Not quite ready for the last rites

As the game neared the end yesterday I said to my Dad "The papers will be full of it tomorrow - No RVP, No Goals will be the headline". It did not shock me this morning to see that The Sun had gone with exactly that. I watched Match Of The Day and Football First, and listened to Sports Report and 6-0-6 on Radio 5, and I honestly don't think I watched the same thing. I even had to check the result to be sure that it was Liverpool that got stuffed 3-0 at West Brom rather than Arsenal. Honestly, how is it that we draw 0-0 at home to a tough Sunderland side and are "in crisis" while Liverpool get hammered in their first game under a new boss and are "a work in progress"? I may be a "glass half empty" kind of person, but even I'm not buying all this crap. The impressive Lukas Podolski has been dismissed as "slow" (I couldn't work out why he was taken off, incidentally) while Liverpool's Joe Allen was "excellent" in their first day thrashing. I'm not picking on Liverpool but theirs is the easiest example to use when showing what nonsense the media are spouting about Arsenal. It is lazy, gutter journalism, of the lowest order.
So what about the game itself? Let's start at the beginning. There was an element of supreme comedy about Theo Walcott's first touch of the season being one where he mis-controlled the ball straight in to touch. I hope I could be forgiven for seeing that as a typically Walcott moment. After that, and one defensive lapse that saw Szczesny make a fine save at his near-post, I thought we were comfortable. My only criticism is that we didn't make enough chances. Mignolet had very few actual saves to make, and the one genuine chance was missed in spectacular fashion by Giroud. The effort was certainly there from the players and the idiots that booed at the final whistle really need to sort their lives out.
I thought Gervinho possibly had his best game for Arsenal yesterday. As usual he was lacking in quality end product, but his running at the defence was something Sunderland never got to grips with. I found it infuriating when he was forced to swap sides with Walcott midway through the first-half - Craig Gardener had no answer to the Ivorian and we wasted the rest of the half as a result of this pointless change. I think Mikel Arteta also played his best game for Arsenal yesterday. The Spaniard was deployed as the defensive midfielder and he was outstanding. It may be different against a side that actually attacks occasionally, but I thought it was a brilliant display from the new vice-skipper. Elsewhere I thought Carl Jenkinson played superbly, and it was no coincidence that he had Per Mertesacker alongside him - all of Jenkinson's best displays have come with the BFG talking him through the game. Lukas Podolski showed how physically strong he is, though I don't know that playing him as the lone striker did us much good. I was impressed with the German, and I was seriously annoyed when we quickly got back to the world of Arsene Wenger substitutions - Walcott should have been the man replaced by Giroud, and Podolski could have gone in to his more familiar role. The star of the show was, again, Santi Cazorla (that's Cazorla, not "Car-zola" TV people). If we keep this guy fit, and get the necessary quality around him on a regular basis, then we can have real success.
Obviously it was disappointing to not win, and not score, yesterday. However, given the changes to the team, and the business of the week, I thought the attitude of the players was spot-on. The failure to genuinely break down Sunderland's organised defence may be brought in to starker focus if we can't get a win or two at Stoke or Liverpool over the next fortnight, but I was fairly neutral after the game yesterday. Yes I was annoyed that Giroud had missed a sitter, but overall I think there was enough to be encouraged about - especially Cazorla, Podolski, Arteta and Gervinho. Bring on the improvement as move forward.

Regulars here will know I am a fan of Alex Song. I do not go along with the criticism that is directed at him. The fact is (and it really is an indisputable one) that without Alex Song we would not have qualified for the European Cup last season. People will point to the goals of Robin Van Persie, and rightly so, but Song carried the midfield last year. He got stick for not being defensive enough, but without his creativity we would have had nothing. In the absence of Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby he really was a one man band as far as I'm concerned.
I've read a lot over the past couple of days about how he has caused some trouble recently behind the scenes, and that his attitude since returning to training has been poor. I don't know anything about that and, I suspect, nor do most of those claiming to have inside information. Having said that, the way this has come about certainly gives the feeling that something has gone wrong somewhere. What has annoyed me is that the transfer fee is around £15m. For the second year in a row we are basically giving a key player to Barcelona. That is the one thing in this Song transfer that I can't get my head around - he has three years left on his contract and yet we have sold him on the cheap.
Many people keep telling me that "we can do better than Alex Song". Okay, I can accept that. But who do these people think we are going to sign? Nuri Sahin seems to be a done deal, but he is not a replacement for Alex Song. Nor is Mikel Arteta. I just don't get the idea of selling Alex Song, when there is no replacement in place. If I was looking for a replacement I would be hoping that we bring in one of Yann M'Villa, Marouane Fellaini or Nigel De Jong (not necessarily in that order). Certainly someone has to come in, no matter what Arsene Wenger says about his midfield options. By the way, given that we are now in profit again on transfers for the Summer, we surely have plenty to spend. Don't we?

Finally, and very briefly, I can't write this piece without saying something about Alan Pardew's behaviour yesterday. Looking around the newspapers and various media it looks like I'm in a minority. In case you missed it, Alan Pardew shoved an official during Newcastle's win over Tottenham. He was, obviously, sent to the stands. Clearly he will get a ban (though it will seemingly be a standard one) from the FA. But where is the condemnation for such out of control actions? Arsenal fans will know this is not the first time Pardew has misbehaved by pushing people around on the touchline. It's also not the first time that someone has laid hands on a match official - the difference is that Paolo Di Canio and David Prutton made front page headlines (and were banned for months) - Pardew isn't even on the back pages.
Alan Pardew is, of course, a bit of a friend of the media. Much like Harry Redknapp, Pardew is always good for a soundbite or two. This is the man who called a press conference the day after Fabio Capello resigned from the England job in order to announce he was not in the frame - what kind of egotist does that?
Can you imagine the furore had Arsene Wenger pushed a linesman? How the hell is Pardew getting away with this? The man should be looking at a massive fine, and a record ban. Instead it is all being swept under the carpet. One journalist actually stated on Twitter that Pardew had "handled the situation well" by "making a bit of a joke out of it in his press conference". So there you have it, as long as you have a smile on your face, and a gag for the football writers, then you can go around thumping whoever you want.

Unless there is a signing made that will be your lot until later in the week. Hopefully this weather will stay with us.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Optimism gives way to defiance, Premier League season preview, Sunderland (h) preview

Many thanks to those who provided feedback on the look of the site after the changes earlier in the week. As you will see I have now removed the classic Arsenal crest from the background. Most people were of the same opinion that it was a distracting element. Now that it has been taken away I hope the experience of reading my drivel is a little less hard on the eyes. 

I had this entire post written at about 6.30pm on Wednesday. Within the next hour I realised it was going to need a serious re-write. This is a long post, even without the changes and additions I’ve had to make. I had intended for this be the annual Premier League preview, and a preview of the Sunderland match tomorrow. The goings on at Arsenal in the meantime mean that I can not possibly go further without talking about what has happened. 
Last Sunday I was mightily impressed by Arsenal in the win at Cologne. The wave of optimism I was feeling was decidedly unusual. What has happened this week has seen much of the optimism wiped away, but it has been replaced by something else. I hope that the defiant feeling I have is something most other Gooners are getting hold of. When we lost players last season it had such an effect on the Club that a bad start was always going to happen. Robin Van Persie’s choice of destination has left me thinking “F*** you. We’re Arsenal. It’s us against everyone, so let’s get out there and show them who we are.”
I am not disappointed that Van Persie has gone. Following his disrespectful statement after Euro 2012 I wanted him out. However, I have a real problem with him joining Manchester United. Make no mistake, this is not about trophies. He has gone there through pure greed, just as Frank Stapleton and Viv Anderson did in the past. The echoes of the Stapleton transfer are really quite haunting, and so will the chants against Van Persie be tomorrow. Van Persie always claimed to have been an Arsenal supporter, and there is the picture of him in his 1998 shirt in his bedroom. How can any true Arsenal fan go and join Manchester United given what has gone on in the last 25 years? Onwards and upwards. We need to replace Van Persie, but I don’t think Wenger will do anything of the sort. We have to go with what we have, and that will not be easy. However, Van Persie was never going to be part of it, even before Wednesday, so we have to hope the necessary work has been done in training.

As you know I will not write about speculation. Arsene’s comments today with regards to Alex Song leave me able to write about his situation. I can’t believe that we are about to sell Song. Even worse, I can’t believe we’re about to sell him to Barcelona for next to nothing. Is Song causing problems behind the scenes? We don’t know, but there is clearly something wrong. I do not agree with Wenger when he almost disregards Song on the grounds that he has a lot of quality midfielders at the Club. Sadly he is overlooking the fact that Song is the only one remotely capable of playing the defensive role. I’m sure we can do better than Song, but that means replacing him. Unless we go and get Nigel De Jong, Marouane Felllaini or Yann M’Villa I don’t really see that happening (loaning a player that couldn’t get near the Real Madrid side does not thrill me at all).
If Song does follow Van Persie through the door then it will be the biggest of kicks in the teeth for Arsene Wenger. No other players at Arsenal owe more to Wenger than those two. Song was the player of less than limited ability that Wenger nurtured in to a strong Premier League player, Van Persie the injury-prone, flawed genius that Wenger refused to abandon. It leaves a nasty taste but, as I said, we’re Arsenal so f*** them.

Premier League Preview

Aston Villa

Paul Lambert coming in as manager should see the Villans move in to safer areas in terms of a final league position. The problem for Lambert is whether or not players will have a great deal of respect for a man who has proven disloyal to his last two clubs (though given what I’ve written above it seems that players really don’t give a toss). Undoubtedly he can organise a team, and get them to play good football. He can also get the best out of individuals – Grant Holt is an obvious example – but the way he has left Colchester and Norwich leaves a bitter taste. Villa’s strike options are increased simply because they don’t have Emile Heskey anymore, though the departures of Carlos Cuellar and James Collins might hurt them at the back. They’ve brought in Feyenord’s Ron Vlaar who had the look of a Stepanovs type defender in Euro 2012. I don’t see them facing a relegation battle this season, but not top half material either.


I am not disappointed that Chelsea have appointed Roberto Di Matteo as boss. Having won the FA Cup and European Cup they had little choice, I suppose, though it looked like he might not get the nod for a while. I don’t believe Di Matteo is a particularly good manager, and he will last as long as Terry and Lampard allow him to. There will no doubt be added confidence from their win in Munich, but don’t forget Chelsea were largely poor in the Premier League last season, even with Di Matteo in charge. Sadly, any of us hoping Abramovich would go now he has won what he always wanted, have been disappointed – the lavishing of £60m+ on four players this Summer shows that he is here for the foreseeable future, and that FFP will not bother Chelsea in the slightest.
Eden Hazard was the highest profile of those signings, but I’m pleased we didn’t get him. The way Hazard conducted himself before joining Chelsea showed me that he will fit in well with Cashley and co, and could be a disruptive type. His arrogance was staggering.
It will be interesting to see what effect is had by losing Didier Drogba. I was a bit surprised when he announced he was on his way to China. In the cup competitions last year he showed that he still had surreal ability when he wanted to play. Do they have strikers capable to replacing him? I doubt it. Certainly Daniel Sturridge is more Jermaine Defoe than Didier Drogba.
Obviously the Chavs will challenge near the top, but I can’t see them threatening the Manchester clubs for the Title. A place in the top four, and maybe another cup or two.


It’s been a bizarre Summer of comings and goings at Everton. David Moyes showed significant loyalty in turning down the lure of Tottenham, and the chance to actually spend some money, in order to stay at Goodison Park. Nikica Jelavic was outstanding after joining in January, and he will once again be supported by Steven Pienaar on his permanent return to Merseyside. I’m not sure about the signing of Steven Naismith from Rangers, but at least he didn’t cost a fee.
The more concerning thing for the Toffees is how they continue to have to sell. I was shocked when Tim Cahill went off to play in America. I suspect he felt time was catching up with him, and a large pay day was something he felt he required. I know he didn’t get his usual amount of goals last season, but his aerial ability was crucial all over the pitch. Jack Rodwell has made a career ending move to Manchester City – at least Everton made good money.
With Cahill gone Everton will be very reliant on Jelavic, Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini. At the back they are usually strong, and the home crowd makes Goodison a tough place to visit. David Moyes would love to get back in to Europe, but I think his best chance of that is in the cups. Top half for Everton, but not top six.

The Cottagers were slow off the mark last year, but recovered to a more than respectable finish. I was surprised at how well they did, but Clint Dempsey’s stellar season was largely responsible. Pavel Pogrebnyak signing elsewhere will have been a blow after his impact when on loan to them. They’ve made some solid signings and I think Mladen Petric will do well. Hugo Rodallega, meanwhile, always fancied himself as a target for the big boys – he has plenty to prove now he’s gone to Fulham.
I was really surprised when Andy Johnson and, especially, Danny Murphy were released. Fulham will  miss Murphy’s leadership, passing and dead ball expertise. I can see them struggling this year. Bottom half, maybe a relegation scrap.


All change at Anfield. Craig Bellamy did well for Liverpool last season, and I’m a bit shocked he has been sold to Cardiff. The transfer of Dirk Kuyt also came as a surprise. Following King Kenny will be a tough ask for Brendan Rodgers, and I think that selling those two, and bringing two blokes he had at Swansea may not convince Kopites of his credentials. If Liverpool make a slow start then Rodgers could be the new Roy Hodgson on Merseyside. Spending £15m on Joe Allen strikes me as being completely crazy, and merely underlines why Wenger buys from abroad most of the time.
On the plus side at Liverpool is the return to fitness of Lucas Leiva. A bit like Gilberto at Arsenal, most Liverpool fans only really appreciated the Brazillian once he was missing. I wonder how different things might have been for Dalglish had Lucas been fit. I also wonder how it might have turned out had he got them playing to Andy Carroll’s strengths earlier.
Rodgers seems to have dismissed Carroll as a target man – that is to under-estimate the big man’s ability. I think he and Suarez could be a dynamite partnership used in the right way. I can’t see Rodgers going down that route though.
Similar to Everton for the red half of scouse-land – top half, maybe a UEFA Cup spot.

Manchester City

All is not well with the Champions. Brian Marwood seems intent on upsetting Roberto Mancini. Taking on the man who is seen as delivering success to City is a brave (suicidal) move by Marwood – the fans will back the Manager. Their only signing has been Jack Rodwell, which is very much a surprise, and appears to be solely to do with keeping up their home player numbers. By the same token, nobody of note has left.  It remains to be seen how long many players will put up with playing second and third fiddle – especially if their international chances start to dwindle. It’s probably just a matter of time before Tevez does something stupid again as well. And then there is the madness of Mario Balotelli.
Obviously City will challenge once again at the top and, as it stands, I would say anyone finishing above them could be Champions come May. Top two/three for City.

Manchester United

The signing of Robin Van Persie has made them the favourites on the eve of the season. You’d have to say, with a fit Rooney and RVP they have the firepower to blow everyone away. The problem is that Van Persie isn’t always fit. For the last eighteen months he’s been flying, but every year before that was the same old thing. I really hope Van Persie returns to his old injured ways – it couldn’t happed to a nicer person.
I was a bit surprised that Ji Sung Park was sold to QPR – he was always involved in big matches, much like Yossi Benayoun was at Arsenal last season. Aside of that the likes of Rio Ferdinand get no younger, or less injured. I remain utterly unconvinced by the clown that plays in goal at Old Trafford – Lindegaard looks so much better than De Gea. I seem to say it every year, and get proved wrong every year, but I believe United are vulnerable. You can’t keep relying on Scholes and Giggs, and I suppose that’s another reason for signing Van Persie – Rooney will now play deeper, possibly in Scholes’ position.
Again you would be mad to bet against United, and I can’t see them falling from the top three. As with City, finish above them and you won’t be far away. If Van Persie stays fit then I make them Champions, which wasn’t what was written here when I originally did it on Wednesday.

Newcastle United

Last season’s surprise package have their work cut out if they are to reproduce such a great campaign. Will Papiss Cisse be as explosive now defenders have had a good look? How long will Demba Ba put up with not playing through the middle? Will their weak defence finally get found out for what it really is?
Alan Pardew, cretin though he is, certainly excelled himself, and made Newcastle a very tough Premier League team. If they can get off to a good start, with Ba and Cisse firing again, then they are a good bet for another top four challenge. In Tiote and Cabaye they have two very fine central midfield players, while Ben Arfa has sublime ability at times. If any of those gets injured though, there is not a lot of strength in depth.
Top six for Newcastle, if they make a good start.

Norwich City

Under Paul Lambert last year they scored enough goals to make up for their leaky defence. Chris Hughton will want to make that back line far more secure. It is unlikely that Grant Holt will reproduce the goals he got last season, and signings from the lower divisions do not breed confidence. Michael Turner has been brought in from Sunderland to play centre-half, but his fitness record will be a major concern, while Steven Whittaker has to make the step up from the Scottish Premier League.
Relegation battle for Norwich, hopefully with a successful outcome.

Queens Park Rangers
Any club that employs Joey Barton deserves to be in a relegation battle. I was amazed they didn’t sack him after his actions on the final day of last season should have seen them back in the Championship, but for results elsewhere going their way.
QPR have made some good signings, replacing Paddy Kenny with Robert Green being just one improvement. Bringing in Fabio and Park from Manchester United could be inspired, while getting Junior Hoillett in from Blackburn was a bit of a coup. Andy Johnson will also improve their chances of scoring some goals.
At the back it’s a slightly different story, with Danny Gabbidon and a number of others released and replaced by Ryan Nelsen. The former Blackburn man was awful in his few games for Spurs, and is among the slowest players I’ve ever seen at this level. Put together with Mark Hughes as Manager and they have a recipe for disaster.
Relegation battle for QPR, possibly going down, but more likely surviving by the skin of their teeth.


I was pleased when the Royals came back up to the Premier League. Brian McDermott, quite apart from being a former Arsenal player, has been outstanding since taking the Manager’s job. They play nice football, in a nice stadium (though the pitch is bad from the rugby that gets played on it). Again they’ve made a number of signings, largely from lower divisions. However, the signing of Pogrebnyak is massive as he has the quality to score goals in the Premier League, if they can get the ball to him in the right areas. Signing former skipper Nicky Shorey may also be good business.
Having said all of that it will be a massive struggle for Reading. I find it unlikely that they will find their way out of the congested lower areas of the table. Sadly, I think they will be relegated come next May. I just hope they stick with McDermott and let him build further.


It’s great to see a side like Southampton back in the Premier League. They are a Club who belong at this level, much like Forest and Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds. Having been promoted two seasons in a row to get back here they are very much favourites to go down again.
The signings they’ve made (some of them not so cheap) are not really of Premier League quality. It will be a really tough season at St Mary’s. They have to hope that the home crowd can finally create some Dell-like atmosphere and get a home record that will keep them out of trouble. Somehow I don’t see it happening. I hope that they are not quick to sack the boss, and just accept their fate and build for future promotions. As I said, they belong here.
Relegation for Saints.

Stoke City

Love to see them go down. Won’t happen. Bottom half. No more to say about this mob.

They seem to have been written off before the season begins. It’s strange that their only signings are free-agent Louis Saha and Carlos Cuellar from Villa. Last season they had spent lots and were well fancied, only to struggle badly under Steve Bruce. I suspect the opposite will be true this year under Martin O’Neill.
I’m not a fan of O’Neill, but you can’t deny his record. His teams don’t play a lot of good football, but they are organised and very difficult to beat. He is a boss who knows what he wants from his players and he leaves them in doubt about it. They did well at times after Christmas last season, though injury to Sessegnon in pre-season has put them on the back-foot.
I think that the Sunderland fans that are worried need not be too concerned, despite the fact that they are kicking off at our place on Saturday. Under O’Neill they will do well, and might even get a decent cup run to enjoy.
Top half for Sunderland.

Swansea City

They were the big surprise from last season, and their over-performance has seen their boss get the top job at Liverpool. I don’t know anything about their signings, but the loss of Joe Allen may be keenly felt in midfield.
A number of players at Swansea played above themselves last season, but they still relied heavily on the form of their goalkeeper, Michel Vorm (his only real mistake of note came at Arsenal early on in the season). The vociferous home crowd also saw them pick up a lot of home points.
This season will be a different story in South Wales. I’m not sure about Michael Laudrup as Manager, and I can see him not making it to next May. I think the Championship will beckon for Swansea come the end of the season, and they will join Reading and Southampton in the bottom three.


I think Villas Boas was badly done to at Chelsea. Under ‘Arry I never really feared the Spuds. They fell apart after their thrashing at our place in February, and Redknapp could do nothing about it. Under the new man I think they could have a decent season, especially in Europe. Sigurdsson and Vertonghen look like they could be decent additions, and they’ve lost nobody of note from their own staff. However, they will struggle to replace Adebayor’s goals after his loan finished, and he seems to be pricing himself out of a permanent return to the Lane. The sale of Modric may well see Adebayor back with them, but Modric going will be a bigger loss than Adebayor is able to offset.
I really don’t see Defoe fitting in to Villas-Boas’ style of play, while Van Der Vaart’s hamstrings seem increasingly brittle. Having said that, I can see them really pushing for that top four place this season. Certainly I fancy them to in the top five.

West Bromwich Albion

I’ve said already how the bottom of the table will be congested. In the absence of Roy Hodgson I think that may be the saving grace for West Brom this season. Steve Clarke has been a redoubtable coach, but is he a Manager? Fans at The Hawthorns are about to find out.
I was a bit surprised they released Keith Andrews and Somen Tchoyi, while Paul Scharner will be a big miss as a reliable squad performer. Having said that they have made two fine signings. Securing Ben Foster on a permanent deal could be crucial at the back, while Romelu Lukaku has a point to prove. Having chosen to join Chelsea, ahead of a host of other clubs, he would have expected to play more – now he has the chance to make his point on a season’s loan. Markus Rosenberg is another good signing.
I think West Brom will do enough to avoid the drop, but Clarke may not last as boss.

West Ham

The Hammers have made 8 signings so far, and seen 5 players go out. It’s very much a typical Allardyce close-season. He’s gone for an old faithful goalkeeper in Jussi Jaaskelainen, but anyone who saw him at Bolton last season will know he is long finished at the top level. James Collins will bring good Premier League experience and quality to the back four, if he can keep his mind on football and away from the pub. Mohammed Diame, from Wigan, and Alou Diarra bring real physical presence in the midfield.
As much as I would love to see an Allardyce team struggle I suspect West Ham will be pretty safe. Whether that will be enough for the fans is another matter – there won’t be much good football in evidence at Upton Park again.
I think it will be a very safe and respectable mid-table finish, but expect a “West Ham fans v English press” style battle to develop over Allardyce’s tactics.

Wigan Athletic

I thought this time last year that Wigan were going to break the cycle and end their annual flirtation with the drop. Until the last ten or so games I was wrong. Then they clicked into overdrive and became one of the best sides in the country. Their performance at Arsenal was outstanding and they were well worth the result they got at our place.
I will be watching Wigan keenly this season to see how Ryo Miyaichi gets on and I fully expect Martinez to drag them up the table further this year. I am surprised at how much Victor Moses seems to be interesting Chelsea, and I don’t think he will be such a loss in the circumstances, if he leaves.
Pushing for a top half finish, perhaps.


All of which brings us to the only team that matter. Our signings had me feeling good about our prospects, but the possible departure of Alex Song, and lack of replacement for Robin Van Persie has tempered that somewhat. I feel that the fact we have finally spent a few quid on experienced quality like Podolski and Cazorla put the sort of  buzz around the Club that has not been felt for a while. I just hope the departures don’t burst that bubble.
Defensive deficiencies can still do us real harm this season, and we lack any genuine cover for our goalkeeper. I would still like to see some quality brought in, and time will tell whether Steve Bould has the ability to organise the defenders into a proper unit.
I would still like to see a change in formation and style to protect the back-four better, but I am vaguely optimistic for our chances going in to the new season. This time last year I incorrectly forecast our demise and said we’d finish outside the top six. This year I am more confident and, when I originally wrote this piece I tipped us as potential Champions. Now I think we will finish third, closer to the Manchester clubs than last year, but not close enough.

Sunderland (h) preview

As I said above the natives on Wearside are a  little restless. I was a bit surprised at this until I saw that their signings were so minimal. Without the departed Nicklas Bendtner they do look a little short of numbers up front, and will be relying on a coming of age for Connor Wickham and a real show of ability from Ji Dong Won. Stephane Sessegnon’s injury problems are probably the biggest cause of concern. Having said all of that, O’Neill’s ability to organise a defence and to motivate players should mean no real problems in the long-run. Add one or two players, especially up front, and they could do well.
In terms of the game tomorrow I expect O’Neill to pack his midfield. You can be fairly certain that Lee Cattermole will be appointed kicker in chief and will have the job of making sure our creativity is stemmed by some “agricultural” play. In Mignolet they have a goalkeeper with a growing reputation, and I always fear opposition keepers. There is a seemingly endless list of shot-stoppers who have reserved their best for us, especially when we play at home.
For Arsenal the starting line-up will depend on who has been where and done what in midweek. I had hoped that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be fit, and I have to question our medical staff (again) who allowed him to play on for 20 minutes after he got injured last Sunday. I would be very surprised if Theo Walcott wasn’t playing from the off tomorrow, with Lukas Podolski either on the other flank or playing at centre-forward. Personally I would like to see Giroud up front and scoring a goal or two – what better way to announce yourself in the wake of Van Persie leaving? Santi Cazorla may well be benched for his first taste of the Premier League after flying to Puerto Rico this week for Spain’s latest long-distance jaunt.
The start of the season should always be a time to be hopeful. Last year it was anything but that with the state Arsenal had got itself in to. This season it is different.

The lead in time has seemed shorter this year due to the publicity of the Olympics, but now football is here to take over again. I hope there are some changes in attitude both from and towards the players. The media, in particular, must stop setting up footballers as something they are not – most of them have achieved nothing compared to our Olympic champions, so let’s remember that as the best lesson to be learnt from London 2012. It’s going to be the usual nine months of triumph and torture. As the long Winter stretches ahead, I intend to enjoy watching football in the sun tomorrow. The start of the season. You can’t beat it. And f*** everyone else!


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A new look for a new season, His name is Ryo and he may be gone for good

Ryo - have we seen the last of him?

As you will see from the evidence staring you in the face I have changed the look of the site ahead of the new season. I've played around with a lot of different looks for It's MY Arsenal Opinion, and this is the one I've gone for. The layout is almost identical to before, but the background and colour-scheme are quite a bit different. Art and design has never been a strong point for me, so I don't know if the aesthetics of the site will be something readers are keen on. I'd be grateful for any feedback you want to give me - if you don't like it then I want to know and I will revert to what we had before. Let me know in the comments section, or on Facebook (It's MY Arsenal Opinion) or on Twitter via @ARSENALDvbrisG. Generally I don't think it hurts to freshen things up a bit, but I drew the line at a purple and black background. It's a shame the Club didn't do the same thing with the new away kit this season.

Yesterday Ryo Miyaichi went off to join Wigan on a season long loan. This follows his spell at Bolton for the second half of last term. The young Japanese started well at Wanderers but, as their situation got more desperate, so he was used less. The need for pragmatism, over inexperienced style, was apparent. I'm sure that Ryo would have been looking to have much more involvement at Arsenal this year. However, he failed to impress in his two appearances on the tour of Asia. In fact he looked like he'd gone backwards from the same stage last pre-season. He had been called up by Japan in May, but was then surprisingly omitted from their Olympic squad. Did this affect his confidence?
Having been left off the list for the first-team trip to Germany it was obvious that Ryo was not in Arsene Wenger's plans for this season. He was effectively replaced in the travelling party by Serge Gnarby, and this was after Thomas Eisfeld had laid down his own marker in Malaysia and Hong Kong. The question for Ryo now is, will he be back? It's fair to say that, if former precedent is anything to go by, then perhaps not.
If there is something to cling to for Miyaichi it is that Arsene has loaned him in to the care of a Manager with very much the same ethos. He has also been loaned to a Club in the Premier League - this puts him a step ahead of the likes of Henri Lansbury, who have been consistently farmed out to lower division sides. If he can have a real impact on the improving Wigan team then the future may yet be bright for Ryo Miyaichi. I certainly hope that's the case. When I saw him make his debut against Bolton I was surprised and excited by his pace. He needs to gain some physical strength to compete at this level, but that is not a surprise given his background before arriving in England. It has been a major step up in quality. This season will be make or break. Good luck Ryo.

I'll be putting up the annual Premier League season preview on Friday evening, along with the preview of the Sunderland game - work will prevent me from doing anything between now and then, regardless of signings or departures. The excitement is building.

Monday, 13 August 2012

A first-half to bring optimism - Koln 0 - 4 Arsenal

Santi Cazorla - the star turn

Arsenal's first-half display in Cologne yesterday was a joy to watch. It may only have been a friendly against pretty average opponents, but the attacking football was of the highest order. Cynics will point to two of the goals coming from dead ball situations, but that would be to ignore the dynamic approach of Arsenal's players.
It was an interesting Arsenal line-up. I was pleased to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain once again used in the centre of midfield. He may only be a youngster, but I believe we'd be wasting his talent if he kept playing out wide. His physical strength makes him more than capable of playing there in the Premier League, while his football ability and pace are a match for anyone. Yesterday he partnered Francis Coquelin, but the young Frenchman had another in and out kind of game. Alex Song's place against Sunderland on Saturday is not under any real threat. It just remains to be seen whether The Ox is fit enough to play, or whether Mikel Arteta or Abou Diaby come in instead (I can only assume that Arteta is carrying a knock at the moment as he was not involved yesterday).
The most impressive feature of yesterday was the combinations between Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard was utterly outstanding on his debut for the Club. If first impressions count for anything then we are in for a treat with Cazorla. Obviously it will be a bit different against Premier League opposition (the trip to Stoke will no doubt see him "welcomed" to England). However, Cazorla showcased his significant talents against Cologne, and I can't wait to see him in action again. I suspect he will find himself on the bench on Saturday as he has to fly half way around the globe to play for Spain in midweek (I thought this particular international friendly week was supposed to have been dropped from this season?) Aaron Ramsey can learn a lot from watching and playing with Cazorla, but the Welshman might well start on Saturday ahead of the new boy.
Up front we got a first look at Olivier Giroud. I was really impressed with the way he got himself in to position in front of goal. I'm sure he would admit that he could, and should, have had one or two goals. If the way Arsenal tried to get crosses in is anything to go by then we will have a new dimension to our play this season. Time will tell whether or not Giroud will be more John Hartson, and less Kaba Diawara (if he turns out to be more like Alan Smith then we're on to a winner). One thing to note here is that certain players must work on their delivery (and I don't mean Walcott for a change). There is no point in Kieran Gibbs bombing forward if he is simply going to scuff his cross against the nearest defender.
The third of our new signings also impressed yesterday. Lukas Podolski scored twice against his former team. The second of his goals was quite brilliant. Podolski started the move with a lovely chipped pass for the onrushing Gibbs, before getting on the end of a perfect final ball from the left-back. The finish from Podolski was unstoppable. As with Cazorla, if he's given us a taste of things to come then the future is bright.
At the back we saw Per Mertesacker dominate the centre of defence. The moments of danger largely stemmed from Thomas Vermaelen dashing off in to midfield and chasing shadows, while Vito Mannone tried his hardest to get the Germans in to the game. I just don't understand why we haven't replaced Mannone and Fabianski with someone even vaguely competent in goal.
At right-back Nico Yennaris got his chance, and I don't see any reason why he shouldn't be playing ahead of Carl Jenkinson until Bacary Sagna is fit to return - one reverse pass to Theo Walcott was sublime, while his defensive play is so much better than Jenkinson.

The second-half was less impressive from an almost entirely different team. Gervinho scored himself an excellent solo goal, before showing how bad he can be in front of goal by failing to convert Andrei Arshavin's only moment of brilliance. In terms of action the second-half didn't have all that much going for it. Laurent Koscielny was lucky not to have a penalty given against him for shirt-pulling, while Serge Gnarby put down a marker for League Cup duty this season - the youngster looks strong and quick.
Things got lively, of course, with the introduction of Robin Van Persie. I had spent the second-half looking to see who was wearing the armband. I had assumed it must be Johan Djourou as his was the only arm I hadn't seen properly. Then Van Persie appeared at the touchline and he was the man wearing it. I have to say I was utterly disgusted. Robin Van Persie has stated his differences with Arsenal. I fail to see how the Manager can allow this man to continue to be the Captain of our Club, regardless of whether he stays. What message is it sending to the squad? There is no difference between Van Persie's public statements, and those of William Gallas. Gallas was stripped of the Captaincy, so why not Van Persie?
It's fair to say that not all those Arsenal fans present in Cologne gave Van Persie a warm reception. In fact there was a fair bit of booing. Some of those in attendance are quick to point out that this was mainly from our East European brethren, who are wont to turn up on the Summer jaunts to the Continent. The bulk of regulars treated Van Persie's arrival with the apathy he deserves - their silence at his introduction was far more to my tastes. I do not condone the booing of any player wearing the Arsenal shirt - it is of no good to anybody. However, I will never sing Van Persie's name, nor cheer his presence on the pitch for Arsenal ever again. I will simply choose to ignore him. I will celebrate if he scores, of course, but that would be a goal for Arsenal, not for Robin Van Persie. To anyone who wants to boo him I would say that you should go and watch your football elsewhere.
I notice that The Sun has chosen to concentrate on Van Persie's reception in their report today (Antony Kastrinakis is an Arsenal hating cretin of the highest order). This doesn't surprise me. You can be sure that, had a Manchester United or Liverpool player made a debut like Santi Cazorla or Lukas Podolski then they would have been the main feature of the report. Not so for Arsenal. The Sun has form for this - back in 1995 Dennis Bergkamp got a couple of goals on the first match of a Scandinavian tour (he'd already got a hat-trick in his first friendly at St Albans) but the focus of the piece was Ian Wright being taken off by Bruce Rioch after getting booked. If Podolski or Cazorla go on to be crowd favourites like Bergkamp then nobody will be complaining.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Olympics finishes as Arsenal begin - FC Koln (a) preview

No more of this - down to business

The Olympic Games in London comes to an end tonight. It's been a magnificent two weeks to be British. I was never one of those who disagreed with us hosting the Olympic Games, but I have still been surprised by its success. I was of the opinion that I would never again see it in my lifetime, but such has been the success of London 2012 that I hope there may be another successful bid in the not too distant future. Everything from the stadia to the transport links to the belated presence of the armed forces has been a complete triumph. I hope the rest of the World has been able to see how good this country is at hosting major events. I also hope FIFA's executives realise what they're going to miss out on in their chase of filthy money elsewhere.
The passing of the Olympics comes one week before the Premier League season gets started. The Community Shield takes place today at Villa Park (Wembley is still dressed in its Olympic livery). I have never known less fanfare for the start of a football season, especially since Sky TV came on to the scene. As I wrote the other day, the footballers have been put in the shade by the great achievements and modest pride of the British Olympic champions. Usain Bolt may not be particularly modest, but for me his conceit is laced with the same sort of charm and tongue-in-cheek nature of Brian Clough or, the man he has replaced, Muhammad Ali. That remains in stark contrast to footballers with big egos - when someone like Robbie Savage believes himself to be a star then something is wrong.
Arsenal complete their preparations today with the last friendly of the Summer out in Cologne. Pre-season has not gone well on the pitch for Arsenal. We all know that Arsene Wenger is not keen on the long-distance commercial jaunts, and the cancellation of the game in Nigeria (which was a blessing, in my view) will not have changed his mind. The results and performances on the tour of Asia will also not have pleased the Manager. Some will say that the most important part of pre-season is the fitness aspect, and that results do not matter. To a certain extent that is true, but the way the team defended in those games gives massive cause for concern.
At Cologne we will get our first glimpses of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla as Arsenal players. We might also get our final view of Robin Van Persie. I doubt Van Persie will start the game as Wenger would have to either strip him of the Captaincy or let him continue in the face of his stated desire to leave. I'll be interested to see what reaction the travelling Gooners give to Van Persie is he is involved today. Somehow I reckon it won't be as warm as the one he got at West Brom back in May.
The new signings will be a little bit under-cooked going in to today. I don't expect very much from any of them, and I doubt they will play more than an hour, at the very most. Arsene has a decision to make with his line-up - does he put the team he is planning to use against Sunderland out on the pitch together today? Given that it is likely to include three new players I would see it as important that the group at least have some time getting used to each other.
Today will be a very special day for Lukas Podolski. Our star German is a hero at his boyhood Club. He will get a rousing reception on his return to the Rhein Energie Stadion. I think he could probably be excused if the day passed him by a little. However, the team as a whole need to put down a marker ahead of next week - get people to sit up and take notice. Cologne were relegated last season, despite a stellar campaign from Podolski. That being the case they should not be able to beat Arsenal. Last year we were fairly comfortable against them after two debut goals from Gervinho. I expect to see more of the same this afternoon. Seven days to go.

I'll do a match review tomorrow.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Finally an announcement, Manuel Almunia - once a Gunner...

Not much of a surprise

Arsenal have finally got around to announcing the signing of Santi Cazorla from Malaga. It would be fair to say this wasn't much of a secret. Over the past week it's been announced by everyone except Arsenal that Cazorla had joined. I don't understand why it always takes Arsenal so long to get around to things like this as it takes away all the excitement from a major signing. Having said that, I suppose the important thing is that the deal has been done and that Cazorla is an Arsenal player.
Arsene Wenger has told us that the new man can play out wide on either flank, or in the centre of the midfield. I believe his signing is something of an admission that Jack Wilshere is in trouble with his injuries (and maybe Tomas Rosicky's latest problem has shown the sheer folly of awarding him a two year deal back in the Spring). Less than a fortnight ago we were told by Wenger that midfield was a congested area at the Club. Now we have signed an experienced Spanish international. Cazorla's arrival can have real consequences for some of the players in the squad. Henri Lansbury is almost certainly a goner, while Aaron Ramsey will see his workload significantly reduced, you would think. For Ramsey this will be no bad thing. The Welshman struggled badly after Christmas, and a year of being more of a bit-part squad man might just do him a lot of good.
The man who is set to feel the arrival of Cazorla more keenly than anyone is Theo Walcott. It seems more and more obvious that Walcott and his people are trying to play the same sort of long game with Arsenal that Sol Campbell played with Spurs. There is a lot of kicking cans down roads, but no indication whatsoever that he wants to remain at Arsenal. Despite his limited ability Theo is very marketable in terms of a big signing-on fee in any free transfer. The reaction of the crowds to him when he got the ball out in China and Hong Kong showed that he is still very highly thought of elsewhere - he is a star player, without the ability of one. With Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski knocking about I think Walcott will struggle to get a game at Arsenal this season. It would not surprise me to see Arsenal call his bluff and accept a bid for him before the transfer window closes.
One more observation on the signing of Cazorla before I move on - the new away kit launches this week yet Cazorla, a star signing, has not been given a squad number for youngsters to get his name on their shirts. Heaven forbid Arsenal might make some money through merchandising.

When I wrote on Sunday I promised to talk about what a nice guy Manuel Almunia must be. In truth, that is probably why he lacked the necessary qualities of a truly top class goalkeeper. There is seemingly nothing ruthless about Manuel. He appears to be a quiet kind of guy, whose confidence can be easily shot - as we found to our considerable cost on occasion. However, it should be noted that he is clearly Arsenal through and through.
When he was dropped from the team (and basically ostracised by the Manager last season) Almunia kept his counsel (as did Jens Lehmann before him). This week Manuel has told us that he thinks Arsenal can have success this season, such is the quality we've brought in. Not for him the unnecessary digs that Fabregas and co had about us after leaving. The sad fact is that, after the way he was treated, Almunia might actually have been within his rights to have a go. Instead of that he has nothing but positive things to say about the Club.
It seems to me that Almunia probably knows (and knew all along) that he wasn't really good enough to be a first-choice goalkeeper at Arsenal. As a result of that he is exceptionally grateful for the chance that he got to play at one of the World's biggest Clubs. It wasn't all mistakes when he was in goal, and he had a couple of very good spells (even spoken about in the press as a possible England player at one point) and some exceptional performances. Sadly he will be remembered as a bit of a joker by many because of some high-profile gaffes. That's a shame for such a genuinely nice guy. Personally I will remember Manuel Almunia as a man who wore the Arsenal shirt with a thankful pride, and as a goalkeeper who was at Premier League level, but not among the big clubs. Good luck to him at Watford - I think he'll do well now he's playing a bit beneath himself.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Football players showed up for what they really are - a different kind of blog post

First Class? You better believe it

When I started this blog I wrote in the very first post that there would be occasions that I didn't write about Arsenal, or even football. This will be once such day. I said in my last post that I would be getting back to normal on the blog this week. I make no apology for the fact that it hasn't worked out that way. I've been back and forward to London on most days this week to watch Olympic events. When I haven't been there I've been glued to the television instead. The last few days have been just incredible for the British sports fan. Yesterday was, in my opinion, the greatest sporting day in the history of Great Britain. The country has been put on a high by the exploits of our Olympians in a way that football can only dream of doing.
Let me start with the whole experience of actually going to the Olympics. On Tuesday I went to watch hockey for the first time in my life. What a great spectator sport. It has everything you would want - pace, physicality, bad refereeing, and an amazing level of skill and bravery. The atmosphere obviously lacks the visceral tribalism that makes watching Arsenal such a thrill, but I suspect it won't be my last visit to a hockey stadium. Apart from that, just going to the Olympic Park was a massive thing for me. There will never be an Olympics in Britain again in my lifetime, though the obvious success this has been should mean that my children will get to see it again later in their lives. There were thousands of people in the Park and you got the feeling that every single person was having a good time. You couldn't not have a good time.
The following day I went to Wembley for Olympic football. I have to say that I don't think football should be in the Olympics (unless it is for amateur players only). However, at one stage it looked like the only way to get tickets to an Olympic event would be by going to football. That's why I was in the crowd for South Korea v Gabon. The game lacked quality and finished 0-0, with a certain Ju Young Park failing to impress in front of goal (I got some serious stick on Twitter from some South Korean people for daring to point out that it was obvious why he couldn't get a game at Arsenal). It was an odd kind of crowd, very much like we get at Emirates Cup matches. Frankly, walking up Wembley Way it was obvious that there weren't many "football supporters" (if I can put it like that) at the game. Having said that, it made for a nice relaxed environment in which to watch a game of football. I was there again yesterday for a much better game between Mexico and Senegal. The crowd was of a similar nature, and the football of a low standard - though I would not be upset to hear that Arsene Wenger had snapped up Mexico's goalkeeper to replace Fabianski and Mannone.
On Friday night I was incredibly lucky to have been given a ticket to see the athletics in the Olympic Stadium. What an experience. The stadium itself is fantastic and, contrary to "reports" you don't feel that far away from what would be the football pitch (certainly no further than the higher areas at our own place). I had always wanted to attend an Olympic Stadium for athletics. The fact that I got to see Jessica Ennis in the first day of her successful heptathlon campaign was a bonus (as was watching Gooner Greg Rutherford qualify for the long-jump final he would go on to win). The noise generated was incredible, louder than a football crowd I would say. My ears were ringing when I left. It was a wonderful atmosphere, but nothing compared to last night, I am certain. I was sitting on the sofa roaring another Gooner, Mo Farah, to golden glory - heaven only knows how good it must have been to be there.
One of the reasons this Olympics is becoming such a success is the triumphs we're seeing from home athletes. I really feel that British sports followers may have had an epiphany. Suddenly football has disappeared off the radar completely. Since Euro 96 football in this country has seen an influx of "soccer watchers." These people, the Tarquin's and Henrietta's, the Jonny Come Lately types, have filled stadia throughout the Premier League as the game has grown in to a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. The success of the Olympic sports could bring it to a juddering halt. Rugby missed its chance to push football to one side in 2003, largely because its star player (Jonny Wilkinson) disappeared for so long through injury. However, the Olympic sports could now take over, and the fashionable days of watching football could genuinely be coming to an end. Such has been the success on the lake, in the velodrome, and now in track and field (even at Wimbledon, for God's sake) that football has a problem. Sky are going to have to go on one hell of a promotional campaign to bring attention back to live football. In the shape of Jessica Ennis athletics (and the Olympic movement in this country) even has its own Beckhamesque icon. There is a new breed of superstar sportsperson in Britain, and not one of them is a footballer. Thank God.
One of the things that has struck me this week is the way in which these sports people carry themselves. In interviews they are intelligent and erudite. They are largely honest in their assessment of their performance, and generous to their opponents. They are incredibly open with their emotions, whether they have won or lost. With only the odd exception (that's you Mark Cavendish) they are able to accept defeat with the utmost dignity. There appears to be nothing tawdry about these people, and their dedication to their sport is beyond comprehension when compared to the champagne fuelled nonsense we see with footballers.
Ashley Cole has given us an example this morning of what I am getting at. He chose to have yet another pop at Arsenal via Twitter. Why does he need to do that? Do you think you'll get Ben Ainslie sniping at people from his past having achieved a fourth gold medal? English football players do nothing but bring shame upon themselves and the game.
Footballers have been shown up as embarrassing little toerags by the absolute dignity of our Olympians. These are people who have set themselves a target and achieved it with little fanfare along the way. England's football players, on the other hand, have been placed on the highest pedestals, and rewarded with the most outrageous trappings of wealth, and yet they have achieved nothing. To take it to another level we can even look at the TV pundits - intelligent expert opinion on everything from swimming to weightlifting. Not a Jamie Redknapp in sight. To illustrate my point I can talk about the BBC employing Sir Steve Redgrave to comment on the rowing (with his five gold medals) but we have Robbie Savage there to talk football - need I say more about the inflated opinion football has of itself?
I saw a comment on Twitter this morning from a journalist who was suggesting that the BBC should take advantage of this surge in interest in "minor" sports. He was saying that Grandstand should return on a Saturday afternoon. I couldn't agree more. I'd far rather watch cycling, amateur boxing, volleyball, archery, handball, swimming etc than put up with the likes of Paul Merson and Garth Crooks failing to put together a coherent sentence in trying to describe the football action. When Arsenal are not about on a Saturday, I'd definitely prefer to be in front of BBC1 just like when I was a child.

Tomorrow I'm off to watch the boxing at Excel, and that completes my personal Olympic days out. It's been a wonderful experience. When I get home tomorrow night I might try and get around to posting about Manuel Almunia (what a nice man he must be) and we might even have a signing to talk about (no breaths to be held though).