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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Yennaris and Miquel star for Gunners - Arsenal 6 - 1 Coventry

Lift off for Olivier Giroud

Arsenal's opening League Cup tie of the season has tended to be a highlight for a number of years now. Tonight was no exception. It would be fair to say that the first-half performance from Arsenal lacked the necessary pace to beat the inferior opposition. However, after half-time there was more movement, and the ball was fizzed around quicker to great effect. The scoreline was an accurate reflection of the play - frankly it could (should) have been even more emphatic. Coventry never gave up trying, but the superior quality of Arsenal's players was just too much for them to cope with.
As ever I don't propose to put together a report on the match. You don't need me to describe the goals and the missed chances etc as you can see them on TV any time you want. What I will do is pick out what was good, and what was not, about a few of the Arsenal players.
Theo Walcott will be grabbing the headlines for his two fine goals, especially after his comments in the press this week. His second goal was a magnificent solo effort. I don't like to mention Walcott in the same breath as Thierry Henry as there is simply no comparison. However, on this occasion I would say that, regardless of the opposition, the Great Man would have been pleased to score such a goal. I didn't realise just how much work he had to do on receipt of the ball until I've just watched it back on the BBC highlights show. Theo generally puts the ball on the target when given the opportunity and I see why he wants to be a centre-forward. The trouble is that he is too lightweight to play there in this Arsenal system. He also missed a couple of good chances tonight, incidentally.
There were two players who really stood out tonight for all the right reasons, and they are Nico Yennaris and Ignasi Miquel. Yennaris dominated midfield alongside Francis Coquelin, but Nico is a better ball player than his French team mate. Time and again he stepped in to break up the play before using the ball really well. On two of those occasions it led directly to an Arsenal goal. Having seen Yennaris be impressive at full-back last season it was even more interesting to see how good he can be in his own position. The only problem he has is that there are so many players in front of him. I hope he can make it as the boy is Arsenal through and through, just like Carl Jenkinson. Miquel, meanwhile, looks to have filled out physically. He was dominant in the air and on the ground. Rarely has a first Arsenal goal been as deserved as his this evening. Johan Djourou had a good game, but he was put in the shade by the young Spaniard. I would suggest we have five fairly capable centre-halves at this Club now, as well as Sebastien Squillaci who isn't really as bad as we all make out (or is he?)
Andrey Arshavin is another man who the press might well be full of tomorrow. Arsene Wenger has said tonight how he now believes Arshavin's best position is behind the striker. I suspect most of us could have told him that years ago. Perhaps if he had been played there this time last year then his Arsenal career might have gone somewhat differently. The stats show a goal and a couple of assists for the little Russian. What they don't show is the number of wayward first-time flicks he tried. Therein lies the frustration of watching Arshavin. For all his brilliance, and one run in the second-half where he beat three of four defenders before playing Giroud in behind the defence was magnificent, he remains lazy and inconsistent. It is so very frustrating as, ability wise, he is head and shoulders above Gervinho and Walcott.
Olivier Giroud finally got his first goal for Arsenal, and it was a wonderful finish. If he was feeling the pressure then he certainly didn't show it as he channelled the spirit of Carlos Vela and dinked it over the goalkeeper. He made a lot of good runs tonight and was not given the requisite service from out wide, though he was also done by a linesman when flagged offside incorrectly as he bore down on goal. The missed penalty was very disappointing, and it undid some of the good work done by his goal - unnecessary further questions will be asked about him as a result of his poor spot-kick. However, the contrast with the shot-shy Marouane Chamakh who now seems actively afraid of shooting for goal, was stark in the extreme.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was poor tonight, despite his stunning goal. The goal was the only thing he did all night that genuinely showed his talent. Aside of that I felt he was considering himself a bit too "big time" for the occasion. He seemed to me to be trying all the fancy stuff, and doing far too much show-boating. I am concerned that Chamberlain has had it all far too easy in his Arsenal career so far, especially when put along with his personal success in an England shirt too. I said a couple of weeks ago that I think he might have a tough season this year. Having watched him more closely tonight I think a kick up the backside might be in order - a spell on the bench might do him some good.
Of the other Arsenal players on show tonight Andre Santos was at fault for the Coventry goal as he was out of position again as the ball came down that side. As ever the Brazilian was good going forward, and rarely loses out when faced up by a winger, but he needs to learn when to make those runs forward, and when to show some caution. I suppose at 4-0 up it didn't much matter. In goal I was very impressed with Damian Martinez who showed his preference for actually catching the ball, rather than flapping at it. The big Argentinian could have an equally big future. Martyn Angha made a debut at right-back and, in fairness, was the only player on show who looked a little out of his depth. The young Swiss was often out of position defensively, while his rampaging forays forward too often ended with a cross in to the crowd. Emmanuel Frimpong came on to a rapturous reception from the Twitter Generation in attendance and put in a valuable twenty minute cameo on his return from injury.
There was one more debutant tonight, and that was Serge Gnabry who came on for Chamberlain. It is fair to say that Gnabry impressed everyone. He looks strong, like Chamberlain, as well as being quick, skillful and confident. His first involvement was to beat two defenders and fire in a shot that was deflected inches wide of the post. It is easy to see why Arsene Wenger talked about him possibly being part of things this season. It is also easy to see why there is not too much panic about Theo Walcott's contract. I'm going to stick my neck out and say that everyone in attendance might be able to look back and say "I was there" the night Serge Gnabry made his Arsenal debut.
The draw for the next round has us pitted against Reading, away from home. There is no reason why Arsenal can't go there with a similar side and expect to win. If the second-half tonight can be replicated then these lads can beat far better teams than Coventry City.

I don't know when the next post will be. I hope I can get to preview the Chelsea game, but my shifts this week might prevent that from happening. It may be that I don't get to post again until Sunday.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

League Cup tie more important than you think - Coventry (h) preview - Jack could be back!

Strength in depth?

When you consider that Arsenal have fielded a "weakened" team in the League Cup since 1997 the Club has a quite incredible record in this competition. It has famously become a showcase for Arsenal's younger players, one or two of whom have gone on to become big stars. Many others have seen this be the pinnacle of their football careers, but will always be able to tell people that they played for The Arsenal. Very occasionally we have had such a strong squad that it's almost been difficult to see the join between the League Cup line-ups and those in the Premier League. Back in 2001 we took on Manchester United with the following eleven:
Wright - Grimandi, Stepanovs, Tavlaridis, Luzhny - Parlour, Van Bronckhorst, Edu, Pennant - Wiltord, Kanu.
Those with a half-decent memory will recall that our "fringe" players were far too strong for United's in a 4-0 win. Tomorrow night we will take to the pitch against Coventry with a similarly strong line-up. For me it's the first time we've been able to put out such a strong side of squad players since the glory days of 2001-2005. If we saw a team like this tomorrow it would not surprise me:
Martinez - Yennaris, Djourou, Squillaci/Miquel, Santos - Coquelin, Chamberlain, Arshavin -Walcott, Giroud, Chamberlain.
This would still leave Emmanuel Frimpong, Marouane Chamakh, Craig Eastmond and Tomas Eisfeld among the subs, along with whichever of Squillaci or Miquel is left out (Wenger may choose to play Miquel at left-back with Santos on the wing). I also now expect to see a certain Jack Wilshere knocking about on the bench tomorrow night. The photographs from training today seem to show Jack getting in to things properly in terms of the physical side. I believe it would do no harm to have him on the bench tomorrow. If the game is safe then it would do him good to have a ten minute run around. If the game is tight then you simply don't have to use him. Either way I firmly believe having Wilshere in the squad, and the boost it would give everyone, is a no-lose situation for Arsenal.
Normally the League Cup would provide little for us in terms of telling us about the season we are likely to have. This year it is different. Such is the strength of the players that Wenger has available we have a chance to see if these men are up for the challenge. Are they willing to fight for their opportunities in the first-team? By rights we should be seeing an Arsenal team tomorrow night that will sweep aside League One opposition because they should be right up for the game. If we do get that from this group of players then we will know that Arsenal have real strength in depth. We will know that this is a team capable of fighting it out across a long season. If we don't get that then it will tell us more than we need to know about the character of certain individuals.
I mentioned earlier that we have a fine record in this competition despite the team selection over the years. We have been to the final twice in that time, and lost in the semis a couple more times. What we haven't got is the trophy. This season is 20 years since Steve Morrow won us the League Cup at Wembley. It's high time we put that right. It's been a highly pleasurable experience at times to watch these youngsters getting results when they weren't expected to, but I have long been of the opinion that Wenger has thrown it away too often. Ironically, the one time he went for it, against Birmingham in the 2011 final, we managed to bottle it on the day. In my view things would have worked out a lot differently over the last two years had we beaten Birmingham.
As the much publicised trophy drought continues I can't say how important the League Cup is in my opinion. Manchester United and Chelsea certainly viewed it as important in setting them on the way to more success. With the feel-good factor growing around N5 over the last couple of weeks, and the regulars as optimistic as they've been for a long time, I wouldn't mind a Wembley win in late February to get us off and running. If the attitude is right then we have a real chance in the League Cup this season.
I'll be writing a match review when I get home from the game late tomorrow night.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Rambo and The BFG hit the mark - City 1 - 1 Arsenal

Team spirit looks strong and genuine

I am really pleased today. It seems slightly unusual to be quite so content following a draw, but such was the performance from Arsenal yesterday that I am seriously enthused now by our prospects for this season. If I have a criticism from yesterday it is that we didn't give  the over rated Joe Hart enough to do, but I felt Arsenal dominated the game pretty much from start to finish. Frankly it would have been an utter injustice for the boys to have left Manchester with nothing to show for such a great display.
Arsene Wenger is becoming adept at springing surprises in his selection. Last week we had Gervinho thrown in as a central striker to great effect. Yesterday it was Aaron Ramsey who came in to play, in theory, on the right of midfield and put in a superb display. Ramsey's inclusion was, if you like, in the Yossi Benayoun role that was used with success in such fixtures late last season. The boyo turned in by far his best performance since having his leg shattered at Stoke. He seemed to find an extra yard of pace yesterday and he strode across the midfield taking people on, making tackles and passing the ball really well. There is no doubt that Rambo's game suffered last year from playing too much football, especially at the front of the midfield in the creative position now given to Cazorla. Yesterday, coming in fresh and not under pressure to provide the key passes, the Welsh wonder relaxed more and produced the sort of form he seemed capable of a couple of years back. With Jack Wilshere's return now imminent the competition for places in Arsenal's midfield is about to get tough. With his performance yesterday Aaron Ramsey served notice that he will not be put in the shade if he can help it.
The other star yesterday, for me, was Per Mertesacker. I have long sung the praises of The BFG on this site and so far this season he has been outstanding. For me he reads the game superbly and, as shown over at Arseblog this morning, he made seven interceptions across the course of the game. His positional sense is generally spot on and he has started to attack the ball properly in the air. It stands to reason that a man of his size should be able to dominate aerially as long as he actually jumps. His height is starting to be important in both penalty areas as we saw for Arsenal's equaliser (more on that below). I believe that the quality of Carl Jenkinson's displays have a lot to do with Mertesacker's influence alongside him, with his excellent communication to the fore (incidentally Jenkinson's improvement should mean there is no automatic selection of Bacary Sagna when he gets fit - his place in the side must now be earned on merit). The fact that Laurent Koscielny was able to slot in seamlessly alongside Mertesacker is also testament to the quality of both players.
Of course there was a negative, and it came in the shape of the Man City goal. The media have concentrated on Arsenal's zonal marking and how it causes its own problems. I'm not a fan myself - space does not score goals - but Lee Dixon is always at pains to point out that the famous back four also used to defend zonally at set-pieces. Vito Mannone obviously came for the ball and didn't get there, and I suppose many were waiting for an error from the Italian, but he went on to make some top saves thereafter. This time last year I reckon Mannone might have gone to pieces after such a mistake, but his confidence has been boosted immeasurably by playing for Hull and this latest run of games for Arsenal. Aside from Vito not getting his hands to the ball there are others who were culpable. Koscielny got himself under the ball, while Lukas Podolski simply didn't attack it, allowing Lescott to get that running jump. Even after the header a goal could have been stopped had Mikel Arteta not walked away from the post he was supposed to be stood next to. The fact is that, had Arteta not wandered off the ball would have hit him and gone clear. It was a bad goal to concede, but then all goals could be defended if you analysed it - what a boring game football would be if that was the case.
Arsenal's goal also came from a corner, albeit one that didn't quite follow the plan exactly. When I did my A-Level in Sports Studies my coursework was all about the old Arsenal near-post corner routine. What I discovered was that it didn't have to work properly to lead to a goalscoring chance. What you need is the right man at the near post to cause enough problems, and a player capable of delivering the ball at the right trajectory and pace to make it difficult to defend. In Mertesacker and Cazorla we have those very people. Of course we also have Steve Bould actually practising set-pieces with the players it would seem. For the first time in years Arsenal have some direction to their free-kicks and corners, thus increasing our chances of scoring from them. For too long Arsenal have turned corners in to short passes in open play, but with the aerial abilities of Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Podolski and Jenkinson (who should also come forward for corners in my opinion) we have a chance to hurt the opposition in their penalty area.
I really enjoyed Arsenal's performance yesterday. We were told by the press that Arsenal hadn't been tested, and that things would be different for our players when we went to Manchester City. I would say that we passed the test with flying colours and, had Gervinho been able to show more composure (the only disappointing thing in his performance yesterday was his finishing - his work rate and link play was exceptional again) we might even have come away with all three points. Ahead of the Chelsea game on Saturday (another test, apparently) it was enough to make you think we might have a chance to get some silverware this season.
Before we get to Saturday there is the start of the League Cup campaign. We have a lot of players who should be itching to make their mark in midweek and show that they want to get a place in the side every week. In theory Arsenal should be fielding a very strong side against Coventry and I hope that is the case. We'll build up to that over the next couple of days. For now I'm happy with a strong start to the season. Let's hope it continues.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Montpellier (a) preview - European tour begins again

Vito is back in the frame

After his awful errors at Olympiacos last year I imagine Vito Mannone thought his Champions League career had come to an end. Suddenly a combination of Szczesny's injury problems and his own good performances at Stoke and Liverpool have given the man from Bergamo a chance to redeem himself on Arsenal's European stage. I said in yesterdays post how I wouldn't be surprised to see Mannone return in the game at Montpellier. It certainly wasn't a shock to hear that Wojciech Szczesny was not travelling to France today. Mannone has done well when called upon behind this more organised defence, but the memories of his past mistakes are still fresh for many of us. I hope he can continue to look as assured as he has in his last two games until such time as the Manager brings back Szczesny. If Vito gets injured or sent off tomorrow then young, untried James Shea will find himself thrown in at the deep end. I have to say that such a situation shows once again the sheer folly of Wenger failing to add a quality goalkeeper to the squad over the Summer. The players must defend as a team, as they have so far this season, to afford the necessary protection to the big Italian tomorrow night.
Montpellier are the French Champions, though they seem a quite different side to the one that won Ligue 1 last season. For a start we have their leading goalscorer in the Arsenal team. Arsene has been coy this evening on whether Olivier Giroud will start tomorrow night. After Saturday's selection of Gervinho at centre-forward there seems little point in trying to second guess what Wenger will do with his team. Our opponents have struggled so far in their domestic league so a European distraction may be just what they are looking for. Arsenal must be prepared properly and up for a battle. Montpellier may not be on form, but a draw might end up being a decent result for us.
There seems to be a wide school of thought that Arsenal will be much changed tomorrow night. Apparently some players "need to play". Personally I work on the theory that Arsenal "need to get a result" so I don't see the point in change for change sake. I see no reason why Aaron Ramsey or Theo Walcott "need" to get on the pitch. I also see little reason for Andre Santos to get a game at left-back, or to break up the successful Vermalen/Mertesacker axis at centre-half (though it's incredibly hard on Koscielny to be sat on the bench after his impact last season). Each of the players mentioned will get a start next Tuesday at home to Coventry, so what exactly would be the point of throwing them in en masse to an important Champions League match? I'm not saying that Wenger won't make a lot of changes tomorrow, but simply that I don't see how it would be a particularly good idea. I remember a couple of years ago we dismantled Chelsea the day after Boxing Day, only for a much changed side to limp to a poor result at Wigan in the next game. I'm all for rotation of the odd player or two, but to change five or six players from one game to the next is just plain stupid. If I had to make a change then I would consider bringing Abou Diaby back in for Francis Coquelin, but with Man City waiting for us on Sunday I would rather see Diaby held back for that game instead.
I'm hoping that I'll be able to catch the game tomorrow. I'm going to have to try and find somewhere to watch it around Heathrow, so any suggestions for a suitable hostelry are gratefully received. There will be no post match piece on this occasion as I won't be in a position to write again until Thursday. Let's hope we're not ruing a defeat in France by then.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Arsenal 6 - 1 Southampton - Gervinho comes to the party

Gervinho, Lukas and Mikel - the stars of the show

For twenty-five minutes of the first-half yesterday Arsenal clicked into gear in sensational style. The old swagger was back and the passing was fast, accurate and one-touch. Down the left hand side of Arsenal's attack there were some wonderful combinations between Gibbs, Podolski, Gervinho and Cazorla. Best of all was the fact that, more often than not, somebody actually tried to score or create a goal at the end of most of the moves. For too long we've endured endless passing, usually across the front of the opposition defence, with absolutely no prospect of a dangerous pass or shot at goal. Yesterday was, during that short spell, the most exciting football I've seen from Arsenal for a good couple of years.
Arsene certainly sprung a surprise with his line-up. I don't think anybody would have seen Gervinho replacing Olivier Giroud at centre-forward. I have to say I was disappointed that Giroud was left out. Given the way the game panned out I'm sure he'll feel he was robbed of the chance to get on the score sheet for the first time. As the game drifted through most of the second-half I became frustrated that Wenger failed to make his customary substitutions after 60 minutes. You would have to think Giroud was desperate to get out on the pitch and get involved. As it was he got little more than ten minutes playing time, and the ball wouldn't fall his way in the box.
Having said all of that, I can't deny that Wenger got it right with his selection of Gervinho. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was scoffing about Gervinho's finishing ability when we saw him in the middle. Let's be honest here, there has been nothing from Gervinho over the last year to suggest he could play as the lone striker. Yesterday, against the defence he found himself up against, the Ivorian was outstanding. Rather predictably the television pundits chose to pick on bad defending for Gervinho's first goal, but how about the spin in behind? It was a great run, matched by the perfect chip in to his path by Arteta, and then a rocket of a shot. I was also really pleased with the nature of his second goal where he followed in a shot from Ramsey to tap in from close range - a proper centre-forward goal. For me it was far and away the best display we've seen from the man with the massive forehead. He thoroughly deserved his ovation when he was taken off, and I could absolutely understand his disappointment when he saw his number come up - a hat-trick might well have been his for the taking.
Lukas Podolski was also brilliant yesterday. The way he held on to the ball to set up the opening goal was great to watch. The physical strength of the German is a huge feature of his game. He managed to hold off two or three defenders in battling for the ball before striding forward with it. He then had the vision to spot the marauding Kieran Gibbs (who also had another fine game) and play a beautiful weighted pass in to his path. The new number nine also got himself a goal again with a well flighted free-kick, though the goalkeeping for that was utterly abysmal - the ball virtually hit the middle of the net, such was the bad positioning of Kelvin Davis. Podolski is really beginning to look the part, and his burgeoning combination with Gibbs and Cazorla promises much. I have his name and number now printed on my home shirt.
The other star yesterday was, again, Mikel Arteta. I can not overstate the professionalism of Arteta. His discipline in that deep midfield position is outstanding. Since Gilberto was sold (one of Wenger's biggest ever mistakes) we have not had a player who is able to provide the balance required in our midfield. With a fit Diaby or Wilshere (maybe it might happen one day) alongside Arteta we could dominate a lot of  big matches. Next week, at Man City, he will be given the first genuine test in his new position. If he comes through that in similar form we could be looking at a good season ahead of us.
Of course, it wasn't all positive yesterday. I reserve the right to be disappointed about something, and the Southmapton goal was that thing yesterday. First of all I want to "out" Santi Cazorla for bottling a tackle on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area which allowed Saints to regain possession of the ball - I don't ever want to see that again and I hope Wenger/Bould/Banfield will take the little Spaniard in hand over that incident. From there of course there was a bread and butter cross for Szczesny to deal with. I wasn't really surprised when the Pole dropped the ball. Frankly, since February, Szczesny has been making at least one mistake per game leading to opposition chances, and often goals. The guy is nowhere near as good as he clearly thinks he is. My brother compared him to Nicklas Bendtner in terms of his over-inflated sense of his ability and I can't argue with that. His kicking was also a disgrace yesterday. The fact that Vito Mannone spent half-time and most of the second-half doing a proper warm-up would indicate that Szczesny is not fit. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Italian back in action on Tuesday through a combination of Szczesny's fitness and bad form.
Overall it was a great win yesterday and I think there are plenty of us today reflecting on a job well done. Any time you get six goals it is something to be happy about. Going in to the first European Cup game of the season it is a real bonus to see the players finding their form. If we can get a result in France on Tuesday it will be a big boost ahead of the Man City match next Sunday. I'll be previewing the trip to Montpellier tomorrow.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Southampton (h) preview - Giroud under pressure to follow the legends (and Van Persie)

Giroud - hope he can slot one home tomorrow

In September 1995 Dennis Bergkamp endured a tough week leading up to a home game with Southampton in the Premier League. He had failed to score in his first few games at Arsenal, and had struggled to make an impact against Hartlepool in the League Cup in midweek. The press were labelling him "Hartle-fool" and were having a field day. That great sage of football Alan Sugar even claimed that he had bought a far better player than Bergkamp in the shape of Chris Armstrong - the press even seemed to agree! We all know what happened when Dennis got on the pitch that Saturday. Olivier Giroud played for France in the week and was booed off by some French fans before getting a fair bit of stick in the French press. He has also yet to score in an Arsenal shirt. If I was a Southampton supporter I would be finding this all rather ominous. Thierry Henry also got his first goal against Southampton after an even longer wait, and even more headlines about his ability. Ian Wright played his first league game for Arsenal against Saints, and he got a hat-trick. Even Robin Van Persie opened his account against them, but I'm willing to forget that in the circumstances. I hope that Giroud is able to take any chance that might drop his way tomorrow. If he does then he will be in exalted company. If he goes on and has a similar career at Arsenal to those mentioned then he can become a real fans favourite.
The team news for Arsenal is that Wojciech Szczesny is fit and ready to play. Vito Mannone has done very well in the two games he has played, and he has surely moved above the "injured" Lukasz Fabianski in the pecking order. However, I would be very surprised to see Szczesny benched in deference to the Italian. Theo Walcott is also due a test following his illness this week. I see no reason to rush Walcott in to the side after a tough week which will have sapped his strength.
The most likely player of note to be absent is Abou Diaby. I suppose it's no surprise that he has picked up an injury after playing four games in a row for Arsenal and France. Arsene Wenger assures us that the knock is a minor one, and I see no reason to risk his fitness further in a match that Arsenal would be expected to win in any case. We have two big games coming up after the Southampton match, with Montpellier and Manchester City. If he has to miss at least one of the next three games then it may as well be at home to a newly promoted side.
Wenger has a decision to make now with regard to who replaces Diaby. He was the main man in the match at Anfield a fortnight ago, and we don't really have a similar player. I suppose Aaron Ramsey would be favourite to come in, though I would prefer Francis Coquelin to play. More than that I would rather see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain moved in to the midfield. He has similar ability to run at people as Diaby, and his tackling is probably better. This would mean a place for Gervinho or Walcott out wide and no pace would be lost from the team. It will be interesting to see what the boss does. Laurent Koscielny is also pushing for a start, and probably needs some time on the pitch.
Southampton have looked really dangerous despite losing their first three matches. They pushed Manchester City all the way, and could probably consider themselves unlucky to come up against Man Utd's one man team before the international break. Lambert has certainly looked the part when faced with a sight of goal, and we are definitely due to concede something at the back. The worrying thing for Saints is that they have been opened up a bit too easily at times. With Cazorla loading the bullets they will need to get tight to Arsenal in midfield. If they turn up tomorrow and play as they did against the two Manchester clubs then we will see a really good game, but it could see Arsenal run riot if they get things right early on.
After four weeks of waiting for our second home match of the season I am quite excited about tomorrow. The last time we went four weeks between games at home the break was book-ended by a pair of 0-0 draws. Having drawn a blank against Sunderland a month ago it will be very disappointing and frustrating if history was to repeat itself.

I'll write the match review on Sunday.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Arsene doesn't want to talk - no problem with that

Arsene with the family silver

Arsene Wenger had to answer questions about his future today. Ivan Gazidis has unwisely revealed that Arsenal want the boss to stay on beyond his current deal which expires in 2014. This led to Arsene being asked when he would be signing on the dotted line. Le Boss stated that he was not in the right frame of mind to discuss his future at this point, and I have to say I have no problem with him saying that at all. Wenger also said how he has proven he is an Arsenal man etc etc - you won't find me disagreeing with that as the loyalty of the man towards Arsenal should not be questioned. Many times he will have been offered the chance to move elsewhere but he has stuck with us every time.
I mentioned that I felt Gazidis was unwise to reveal plans to extend Arsene's stay. I say this because I think, after seven years (eight this season) without a trophy it's a little silly to talk about him still being the man for the job two years from now. There are many who want Wenger gone now, largely in the hope that his legacy is not tarnished any further. I am one of those people. That is not to say that I don't hope to be proved wrong. There is not much that would please me more than seeing this Arsenal team recapture our former glories. However, if that doesn't happen between now and the end of next season I really don't see how Arsene Wenger could continue as Manager of Arsenal Football Club. I suspect Wenger knows that too. Since winning the Fairs Cup in 1970 Arsenal has not gone more than eight years without a trophy. If we got as far as the end of Arsene's contract we would be nine years down the road since beating Manchester United in Cardiff.
It's probably fair to say that had a player made the comments that Arsene did today with regards their future then most of us would be up in arms. The difference is that most players haven't displayed the long-term loyalty to Arsenal that Arsene Wenger has, as I described above. Also, those with long memories will be aware that Wenger doesn't like to look too far ahead when it comes to agreeing a new deal for himself. It has regularly been the case in his sixteen years in charge that his contract has been formally extended when deep in to its final year. Wenger is also getting no younger, and who knows how he will feel in two years time?
I think Arsene might not be all that happy with Ivan Gazidis over this. He will not have been pleased to find himself having to field such questions ahead of an important Premier League game. Sadly I feel this is another example of the growing incompetence and unsuitability of Mr Gazidis to be running the business of Arsenal FC. In my view he is out of his depth and is nothing more than a PR man.

I'll preview the Southampton game tomorrow. After no home game since week one it will be nice to get back to London and see the boys in action.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Value for money, A cover up of unbelievable magnitude

£10 for Arsenal v Coventry City

Finally the internationals are over and we can start to look forward to some real football this weekend. I've written nothing since the Liverpool game as there has been nothing I've felt compelled to write about. Bacary Sagna and Francis Coquelin opened their mouths in the French press, but that's par for the course in any international break. For what it's worth, I don't really see how Arsenal can negotiate a contract with a player who has had two broken legs in less than a year. As for Coquelin, this is the second time he has said things about his future and he really needs to be taken in hand.

I was struggling for some inspiration until last night. I watched the first ten minutes or so of the England game before turning over to the live paint drying on the other side. The only thing I noticed in the England game that grabbed my attention was the advert the FA was running on the pitch side hoardings for their game against San Marino. Given that at least half of the top tier was empty at Wembley last night I couldn't quite believe that the FA was advertising a cheapest seat of £25 for San Marino. If they couldn't get a decent crowd for the match against Ukraine (the strongest team in the group aside from England) what chance do they think they've got of selling tickets for a match with a Sunday league team? It immediately put me in mind of Arsenal's new pricing policy.
There has been a lot made of the fact that prices for some of the big games at Arsenal this year are now more expensive than ever before. Chelsea fans are apparently complaining (and even planning a boycott) about having to pay £62 for the game at our place in a couple of weeks time - the irony being that Arsenal supporters have been having to pay £60 to sit in the away end at Stamford Bridge for a couple of years. Those that choose to pick up on these high prices seem to overlook the fact that, for a number of other Premier League fixtures, there are tickets available at £25 - the same price the FA are charging for people to see San Marino. One or two of the fan groups have criticised Arsenal for their policy as it prices a lot of "ordinary" fans out of attending the big games. That may be true, but it also maybe gives an opportunity for young children to be taken along to other matches as it has been made just a little bit more affordable. I'm not saying I agree with the high prices - that would be nonsense - but I applaud any move that might allow the next generation of supporters the chance to see the boys play.
One other thing is always overlooked when looking at Arsenal's prices and that is the amount we pay for our League Cup tickets. For some years now, since before we left Highbury, Arsenal have dropped prices in line with the idea that a "first eleven" is not picked for these matches (apart from the semi-final with Spurs when our opposition objected to reduced prices in the interests of maximising their revenue). Arsenal charge £20 (£10 concessions) for upper tier seats and £10 (£5 concessions) for lower tier. This represents the most outstanding value for money available at any Premier League club. Last season Arsenal played Manchester City and kept the prices at this low level. The City fans certainly appreciated it as they sold out their large allocation. I don't recall a League Cup match since we moved where the home sections of the ground have not been sold out. If I went to watch my local side I would pay £12+ to stand for their Conference South fixtures. Last year I went to watch Arsenal v Bolton for a tenner (and Ju Young Park even got a goal!)
I will be buying my Coventry City ticket this week as I have managed to secure the night off work. I don't doubt that the ground will be pretty much full, and I expect Arsenal to actually have a pretty strong team out. I would have thought the FA might have looked at such a policy and implemented something similar for England v San Marino. It's not often that Arsenal get something right, but the League Cup ticket prices have been right for a long time.

I wasn't going to write about Hillsborough. It has nothing to do with Arsenal. However, it has been pointed out to me, correctly, that I write about things non-Arsenal on occasion. Another reason I was not going to write about it is that my views continue to be largely the same, despite the revelations of today, and are not popular with Liverpool supporters.
I'll start by saying that the absolution of blame for ALL Liverpool supporters in attendance is not something I agree with. I will always be convinced that the presence of so many people without tickets attempting to gain entry to the ground was the catalyst for the events that unfolded. The failure of the police to deal effectively with this pressure outside the stadium lead directly to the disaster. That is my opinion, and it will not change. I do not apologise for my view, even in the face of what was said today. I know that many other football fans who go to games, and who were going to games in the 1980s, agree with my viewpoint.
There can also be no doubt that the 96 people who died were innocent and I know of nobody who ever believed otherwise. If there is anyone out there who thought otherwise then they need to take a look at themselves. If this latest decision is some small crumb of comfort to the families then it must be welcomed. There are surely grounds for a new inquest to be opened in to the deaths, such is the weight of evidence now available.
What has been revealed today is one of the biggest scandals of modern times. It is now apparent that the cover-up the families always claimed had occurred had indeed happened. Thatcher's government was complicit in the whole thing, and I suspect swept as much as possible under the carpet to protect senior police officers and politicians. Such illegal behaviour, on such a grand scale, can not have been kept quiet without the hands of people with immense power. The politicians and senior police implicated must be brought to book for this perversion of justice. The magnitude and scale of this deception is beyond my comprehension - it was clearly a deliberate and co-ordinated hiding of the truth.
One other thing to consider, and to bring this slightly round to an Arsenal angle, is the fact that it wouldn't have happened had we not all been caged in to terraces across the country. The pressure of the crush would have been relieved had people been able to get on to the pitch. The FA took a dim view of Arsenal's flat refusal to erect perimeter fencing at Highbury. As a result FA Cup semi-finals were not played there for a number of years. We should be grateful for the fact that Arsenal saw their supporters as human beings, and not as animals who needed to be caged. Had Hillsborough been Highbury the disaster simply would not have occurred.

More tomorrow, hopefully starting to build towards Saturday.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Liverpool 0 - 2 Arsenal - Gunners ease transfer frustrations

Lukas Podolski - this man is top class

The World always seems a brighter place when Arsenal win. When they win away at a ground like Anfield then it's even better. I had to watch the game delayed today as I was at work when it was actually going on. My attempts to avoid the result were in vain, so I was able to enjoy watching the whole game back knowing that we weren't going to throw away our two goal lead. It made for quite a pleasant experience after the annoyances of the past week.
I said in the preview how I wanted Arsenal to silence the home crowd as they did at Stoke last week. I needn't have worried on that score really, as I had forgotten that Anfield's famous atmosphere is as mythical as the one at Newcastle. The travelling Gooners were in strong voice throughout the game. We were treated to the full repertoire of Arsenal songs, and I like the new ones a lot. The scousers were pretty much silent throughout, apart from when they were helping Luis Suarez to appeal for more and more outrageous penalty claims as the game went on. In fairness he might have actually had a case on one occasion, but the constant diving and remonstrations with the officials would leave a referee needing to be very brave to actually award him a spot-kick. I think Suarez is a fine footballer, but the constant cheating and rolling around, and the permanent expression of injustice on the face, is beginning to put him in Van Nistelrooy territory.
It was a magnificent performance from Arsenal today. Our midfield was utterly peerless, and Gerrard hardly got a kick. Meanwhile Joe Allen was more than happy to crab his way across the pitch, and Arsenal were more than happy to let him get on with it. When we got the ball, invariably through Arteta or one of the centre-halves winning it through good close pressure, Cazorla and Diaby and Podolski linked up to great effect. The only disappointing Arsenal player for me today was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. We all know how good he is, but the youngster must learn the importance of finding a pass - he can't just run at the opposition with the ball every time he gets it.
Abou Diaby won the man of the match award from Sky, and it's difficult to argue with that. It was one of Diaby's best games for Arsenal and the closest he has been to Patrick Vieira. I don't know when he last played three games in a row, but if Diaby can stay fit (I know just how big that if is in his case) then he can dominate midfield this season. Mikel Arteta was also outstanding again, and it is a mark of his professionalism that he is making so much of playing the defensive role in such a disciplined fashion. The most welcome, and surprising, aspect of Arteta's play is the way he has been getting his tackles in. The work of Diaby and Arteta is giving Cazorla the room to play, and today we finally saw what happens when he links up with someone.
I've been saying for the past two weeks that I don't mind the criticism (albeit completely unwarranted) that has been directed towards Lukas Podolski. It's been reminiscent of the stick Dennis Bergkamp was getting when he arrived. Any football watcher that has been doubting Podolski really needs to take a look at themselves. You do not get 100+ caps for Germany, with nearly 50 goals, unless you can play a little bit. The way he got his goal today was breathtaking. You could see when the ball came to him from Vermalen, just shy of the half way line, that Podolski knew what he was going to do. The pass to Cazorla allowed the Spaniard to turn in to space, while Poldi then turned on the after burners to out sprint Glenn Johnson (and he is certainly no slouch). When Cazorla provided the perfect through ball we saw the first touch and finish of a quality goalscorer. You would have to say it was reminiscent of Robert Pires in front of goal. The second goal saw the creative side of Podolski, while any error by the cretinous Jose Reina is welcome in my eyes - he's still getting hit by karma for his Barcelona shirt antics with Fabregas.
I'm sure the media will be looking for a negative and you can be certain they will pick on Olivier Giroud. He will be fully aware that he should have scored again today. The chance he missed late in the first half was almost a carbon copy of the one against Sunderland a fortnight ago. My biggest disappointment in that incident, however, was the reaction of Kieran Gibbs who decided to have a go at Giroud, and then shove the Frenchman for his failure to pass the ball. I hope that Steve Bould pinned Gibbs to the dressing room wall at half-time for such ridiculous behaviour. Frankly, if Giroud had passed the ball when faced with a clear shot at goal I would have been deeply unhappy with him. I won't say that I'm not concerned about Giroud's finishing. The pressure will continue to build on him until he does get a goal, but this is definitely not an evening for getting at a player who gave Liverpool's centre-backs a really tough time. I just hope the goals will come in the next game.
I'm off now to bask in the warm glow of Arsenal victory, and I hope that the latest interminable international break will pass quickly and without injurious incidents for Arsenal players.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Explain yourself Wenger, Liverpool (a) preview

A long time ago...

When Alex Song was transferred to the Barcelona subs bench Arsene Wenger was quoted as saying that a replacement would be signed. After the Stoke game last week we were told that players would be coming in. On Thursday he announced that we were still "active" in the transfer market. Lies, lies, lies. I am sick of Wenger's lying. I am sick of the smug look on his face when he's doing it. Most of all I am sick of the fact that he treats the supporters like an inconvenience to whom he has to pay nothing but lip service. Meanwhile the Club has millions of pounds of our money sitting idle in its "player trading account".
Yet again we have reached the end of a transfer window knowing that two or three signings would have made us genuine contenders for the Premier League. Yet again we are one injury away from having no centre-forward. If Olivier Giroud gets injured then we are left with Lukas Podolski playing out of position, or Marouane Chamakh (who we couldn't find anybody to take away from us, even on a loan deal where Arsenal subsidise his wages). Similarly we have been left with Mikel Arteta having to perform the role of a ball-winner in midfield, or the alternatives of an inexperienced Francis Coquelin, or an ill-disciplined Emmanuel Frimpong (when he is fit). We also have the problem of a half-fit Wojciech Szczesny having to play in order that we can keep Fabianski and Mannone out of harms way.
It is my belief that Wenger is not being stopped from spending. He is simply too stubborn to do it. He is determined to turn a profit on players every year. All the time he stays in the top four, and guarantees the Champions League money, then Stan Kroenke will remain blissfully happy with him. The Arsenal Holdings AGM is coming up and I sincerely hope that the shareholders force the Board to turn it in to a proper meeting. The Board, and the Manager, must be held to account and made to explain why the Club is playing the game of Premier League football with one hand constantly tied behind its back. It's bad enough to keep losing our best players, but to not spend the money that is clearly available is criminal negligence of the worst kind. And anyone who backs Wenger's claim that he will only sign top quality, and that such quality has not been available, needs only to look at the players that moved this week (and not all at massive prices, either). How a man that has signed some of the players Wenger has in recent seasons can claim to only buy top quality is completely beyond me.
I fear that Arsenal FC is sinking fast. We are now no different to our next opponents, a once massive Club falling further behind every year. We laugh at Tottenham and their failure to win a Title since 1961. One of my favourite things about ribbing Spurs fans is to say BCMA (Big Club My A***). I now feel that the same legend can and will be applied to Arsenal.

Tomorrow sees our first big game of the season. I suppose that seems an odd statement given what I have written above. However, Arsenal v Liverpool will always be a major date in the Premier League calendar. With the way things are going right now, I would take a draw. Liverpool are a team under pressure, and a win for Arsenal would surely get the Kopites thinking back to Roy Hodgson. The press certainly seem keen for Brendan Rodgers "revolution" to be given time, but I suspect the fans may not be quite so patient, especially after the popular Andy Carroll was dumped by the new boss this week.
Ironically, one of Liverpool's best performances of last season came in their game against us at Anfield, despite Van Persie grabbing us a last minute winner. I doubt we would get that lucky again if Liverpool play well. Arsenal must start the game quickly tomorrow. We need to grab control early, as we did last week at Stoke. The silencing of the crowd was noticeable last Sunday, and it will be important again tomorrow.
I can see Walcott coming back in to the team, and maybe Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will come in for Abou Diaby. Laurent Koscielny is fit again to be part of the squad, but I would be loathe to change the back four after their impressive start. Having said that, Koscielny's extra pace may be required against Luis Suarez, though Koscielny has had a pretty dismal time on his two Anfield appearances so far.
Liverpool will be missing Lucas Leiva in their midfield and that can only be good news for Arsenal. Pepe Reina's form is poor in goal, but we all know how goalkeepers often play out of their skins against us - I hope that his clanger on Thursday does not mean he's due to play a blinder tomorrow.
A lot of focus will be on Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud tomorrow, and the fact that we haven't got a goal yet this season. I fancy Giroud to do well against Liverpool's central defenders, while Podolski's movement could drag Glen Johnson way out of position. If the two new boys can play well then Arsenal have a real chance to get a positive result.
A defeat tomorrow will bring a lot of pressure and a lot of criticism towards Arsene Wenger and the Board for the reasons outlined above. Much of that would be deserved, and the Manager must get his players at their best if he is to avoid that.
One more word of warning - the spectre of Howard Webb's influence looms large...