Highbury Library Logo

Highbury Library Logo

Monday, 29 April 2013

It's the frustration that's killing me

Should never have been left out

The first half-hour yesterday was enough to get every Arsenal fan out of their seat. It was like the old days watching our midfield completely dominate the plodders that have somehow seen Manchester United saunter to another League Title. Arteta, Ramsey and Rosicky were quicker and stronger at every turn. The work of the players when we didn't have the ball was simply outstanding. The biggest clue that United were in trouble was the way they reverted to type and started kicking Arsenal players up in the air. Like I say, it was like the old days. Having dominated so much we had to take advantage and score more than once. However, aside from a good effort by Cazorla we didn't really test De Gea at all. Good positions were wasted by our insistence on passing the ball rather than someone taking proper responsibility. Aaron Ramsey then chose the wrong option when we broke three-against-two and Podolski saw his shot from a narrow angle comfortably saved. You just got the impression that we had wasted our opportunities because eventually United were always going to get in to the game. It is almost impossible for three players to keep that sort of intensity across midfield for the whole match.
My heart sinks whenever the ball is played to Bacary Sagna in the opposition half. You just know that the move is going to be slowed down before his eventual cross is cleared before reaching the near post. Defensively he has never got to grips with the idea of stopping the opponent crossing the ball in to our penalty area (even when he was playing extremely well). Since coming back in this season (twice he has been unjustifiably recalled ahead of Jenkinson after recovering from injuries) he has looked short of pace. His two broken legs have certainly played a part, and it's no coincidence that his best display of the season came at centre-half against Sunderland. All that aside, I never thought I'd see him do what he did yesterday. As with going forward, our players at the back are programmed to pass, pass, pass. They are unable to think for themselves, and that's why Sagna found himself playing the ball to Van Persie rather than sticking his foot through it and regrouping. United had just missed a couple of sitters yet the warnings hadn't been heeded. To then chase back and tackle the traitor from behind merely compounded the issue. It was amateurish play. With things getting no better (if anything he got worse) for Sagna after half-time it is surely time for him to get the same treatment as Vermaelen and Szczesny (who played very well yesterday, incidentally). At the start of the season we looked good at the back with Gibbs and Jenkinson at full-back. We have to finish the season with those players too. It might be too late.
The second-half was a different sort of game. United had more possession and a few chances. But we also had plenty of opportunities to test De Gea, only to play yet another square pass. I find it so frustrating to watch this Arsenal team. We see the same thing week after week after week. Pass follows pass follows pass as we crab our away across an organised opponent. At least with Rosicky playing the way he did yesterday we had someone willing to beat a player and create that bit of space. Sadly his own shooting was inaccurate while just about everybody else's was simply non-existent. I couldn't understand taking off Rosicky. And when it comes to not shooting the worst culprit is actually Jack Wilshere. Time and time again it opens up for him, on his left foot, and he refuses to pull the trigger. Having seen Jack a lot in his youth and reserve team days I know he can shoot. He used to be a regular goalscorer. from all sorts of angles, because he had an eye for goal. Now he just won't do it. Even The Ox seems to have had the urge to try and score a goal coached out of his game. Frank Lampard has made a career out of hitting a clean strike at goal and seeing it loop off a defender into the corner. Yes, he's had a lot of luck. But he's also bought a ticket for the raffle by taking a punt and trying to actually score. You can't score with a square pass twenty yards from goal, but you can certainly score with a shot every now and again.
Before the game I'd have taken a point so it wasn't a bad result, I suppose. It leaves a nasty taste that Viv Van Stapleton got their goal against us, and even more so that he led the United players to the away fans after the game. Worse than that is the fact that he was allowed in to the Arsenal dressing room after the game by Arsene Wenger. He didn't want to be part of Arsenal so he was sold. He told us (and he wasn't wrong, in fairness) that our players weren't good enough. For Arsene Wenger to allow him in the inner sanctum like that shows a lack of appreciation of the way the supporters feel. I hope one or two of the more vocal players told Van Persie where he could go. As for him being booed, so what? What did the press expect Arsenal fans to do? Were we supposed to applaud him for his achievements since leaving? I don't recall the Spurs fans being panned for their behaviour towards Sol Campbell, but I suppose that was different - he played for Arsenal when they were abusing him and throwing bottles and coins at him and the young Arsenal mascot in 2001. The double standards of the cretinous tabloid journalists are only marginally less frustrating than an unwillingness to shoot that could cost us a Champions League place.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Giroud will be a big miss, AISA strike the right note on Van Persie

A mark of class

Olivier Giroud will miss the next three games after his appeal against his red card at Fulham failed. I said in the match review that I thought it was a little harsh, but after Sidwell had gone off he was always going to get sent-off himself. I wasn't surprised to hear Arsenal were going to appeal. Giroud is the only proper centre-forward in the squad so to miss him for three games at such a crucial stage is huge. I don't subscribe to the idea that some "fans" seem to whereby they're actually happy he won't be playing. Giroud may be a bit more Lee Chapman than Alan Smith, but he is being unfairly compared to the man who went before him. How exactly was he supposed to replace Robin Van Persie? Giroud has 17 goals so far in his first season in English football. That's not a bad return in my view. He plays up front with little support most of the time. In a front two he would look a far better player. The fact is that Giroud is a decent centre-forward. If he was the reserve to a genuinely top class player he would get far less stick from the crowd. Thanks to the Manager not bringing in somebody else in January (or even last Summer) we are now left with a choice of Walcott, Gervinho or Podolski up front on their own. We've been there earlier in the season, and it wasn't wholly successful. Without Giroud we could be a bit toothless.
I suppose we shouldn't have been surprised that the FA chose to uphold the suspension of Giroud. After all, he plays for Arsenal. You might recall that earlier this season Vincent Kompany had a red card at Arsenal overturned because he said he had slipped in making the tackle. Even taking that in to account his challenge was far worse than Giroud's last week. Arsenal mounted a similar defence for Giroud's appeal. There is clear evidence of his standing foot going away from him as he moves towards the ball. For some reason the FA chose to believe that it was still dangerous from Giroud. I find that bizarre but seriously unsurprising. Arsenal could pay a huge price for his suspension over the next few matches.

Why Arsenal must reciprocate 22 years on

Arsenal has long stood for class and tradition. On Sunday we will be visited by the new Champions, Manchester United. As is customary, the Arsenal players will form a guard of honour. Of course this is given greater significance by the possible presence of Robin Van Stapleton. I have to say that, with the Title in the bag, the only reason for Van Persie to even travel to London on Sunday is so that Ferguson can create some spice for the occasion. I feel it would be best all round if the former skipper was to rest his weary bones after only the second season of his career.
I am a little shocked that there has even been discussion as to whether there would be a guard of honour. As I said above, Arsenal is about class, and it would have shown a distinct lack of that were there to be no acknowledgement of Manchester United by the Arsenal players. The supporters will each make their own decision whether or not to applaud. I suspect the majority will be entirely ambivalent to our opposition with little applause, a few turned backs, and a fair bit of booing (especially if he is taking to the pitch with his new friends). I think AISA have captured the mood pretty well, with the following from their Chairperson, Lois Langton:
"I think we have to give the guard of honour, as I don't want us to look as though we are being petty by not giving the guard of honour. For it not to happen would actually boost Robin van Persie's ego. I would rather us just acknowledge them and then get on with the game - otherwise the focus will be on Robin van Persie, rather than the Arsenal team, which is what we are supposed to be going there to support.
Having said that, the reality is he will get a hot reception. Football is a game of passion and emotion, and there are a large amount of supporters who feel very strongly about the circumstances in which Robin van Persie left. We had the seven years of him being injured with us, then he had his one injury-free good season, and at the end of that he decided to leave. The statement he came out with when he left, which I think he felt showed he identified with supporters, actually showed how very far removed he was from supporters. He completely called it wrong, he did not appreciate how Arsenal supporters felt about him and about the club. He alienated himself from supporters by the way in which he brought about his move, that is still felt very strongly by Arsenal supporters and is what is going to generate the response that he is going to get when he comes back on Sunday.
He has also not been terribly respectful towards Arsene Wenger, with the celebration after he scored that penalty (against Stoke), when he ran over to the touchline and embraced Alex Ferguson. It sends out a message that Arsene Wenger has not been the one who brought him to the stage he got to now, recognising who got him to where he is today. When he came to us he was a slight persona non grata in Holland, where he had difficulties at Feyenoord. It was a risk buying him, and without question Arsene Wenger has made him into the player he is today."
Lois goes to just about every game, home and away. It is no surprise that she has spoken the words that probably sum up the way most Arsenal supporters feel about the return of Van Persie and how the guard of honour is a mark of the Club that gives it. Basically, it's a case of "well done on winning the Title, now let's unleash the hounds of hell on that treacherous little scumbag who tried to make out he was one of us". It promises be very interesting if he turns up.  

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Awful display somehow brings three points - not complaining

BFG celebrates a massive goal

In all honesty that was one of our very worst performances of the entire season, and there is plenty of competition in that regard. However, unlike the games at Man Utd, Norwich and Bradford, and at home to Blackburn, we emerged with a win. It wasn't pretty and I'm not entirely sure it was all that effective, but a win is a win is win, and the three points could be huge in a few weeks from now. We've long wished for this side to be able to play badly but scrape a win and today was certainly that. I don't know what the match stats might show but I honestly don't remember Mark Schwarzer making a save in the game. That we scrambled a goal through Per Mertesacker, despite being outplayed by ten men for large periods of the game (especially after half-time) is a massive bonus.
I don't know what was wrong with them today but the players were really lacking. I suppose Arsene might point to them having played three times this week, but that's what they're paid for. It also hasn't been a team without rotation in those three games - only Arteta, Ramsey, Sagna, Cazorla and Giroud have started all three, and only two of those have finished all the matches. We were laboured throughout, while the passing was as bad as you will ever see from an Arsene Wenger team. At times our inability to retain possession during that second-half was nothing short of embarrassing. You really would have been hard pressed to tell which side was down to ten men for 80 minutes.
As far as I'm concerned only two Arsenal players emerge from the match with any credit, and that is the two centre-backs. I suppose it was fitting that they should combine for the only goal with Koscielny's mis-placed header back across the six-yard box nodded home by "sniffer" Mertesacker at the far post. Koscielny won just about everything played in the air, and there was plenty of that from Fulham at times. Mertesacker, meanwhile, shackled Berbatov pretty well and read the danger at just about every turn. Without Mertesacker and Koscielny we wouldn't be celebrating this evening. Nacho Monreal had a really tough day today and most of the problems were coming down his side in the last half-hour. Quite why Cazorla wasn't replaced by Kieran Gibbs with twenty minutes to go I can only wonder - Monreal needed someone in front of him who would help out defensively. In the final minute, however, he made a crucial intervention in the six-yard box to deny Fulham a certain equaliser. These are fine margins, and we stayed just the right side of them today.
The injury that Grant Holt inflicted on Lukasz Fabianski last week (no action taken by the FA) may yet cost us dearly. Szczesny made one of two decent saves, but he was nowhere when we needed our goalkeeper to take the pressure off late on. He was also saved by a correct offside flag when he did his usual of pushing a free-kick straight out in front of the goal for an onrushing forward to score. It happens too often with Szczesny - he simply isn't good enough. By the way, Sian Massey was the linesman (woman) who gave the offside and I honestly don't think there is a better official than her in the Premier League.
The two red cards looked slightly similar. The difference was that Giroud had no malicious intent and his foot rolled over the top of the ball, making it look worse than it was. Sidwell, meanwhile, went in to hurt Mikel Arteta - he had no intention to play the ball whatsoever. His reaction of pretending to be injured himself was that of a man who knew he was about to be sent off. With fouls like that I can see Stoke enquiring as to his availability this Summer. Having sent off Sidwell there was no way Andre Marriner (who I'm convinced had another spray-tan at half-time) was going to let Giroud off. It probably wasn't a red card, but there is no way the FA will let him off on appeal - he plays for the wrong Club.
The three points today puts us in front of Chelsea and five clear of Tottenham. With the games we have left to play that was a big win for us. If Man City can beat Spurs tomorrow they will be in real trouble, especially as they also have to play Chelsea. Our last four games are tough. I know our last three opponents are all near the bottom, but that gives them something to play for against us other than personal pride. Next up it's Manchester United and Frank Stapleton Mark II. It's never easy, is it?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A good man lost to us

The familiar smile of a popular bloke

My intention for the blog today was to reflect on a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Everton, and then to reminisce on the events of 20 years ago today when Steve Morrow gave us one of our greatest days at Wembley. However, this morning I received the awful news that a work colleague, friend, and big Gooner had been killed last night in a car crash. As a result I want to pen my tribute to a top bloke.

I first met Keith Hall when he came to work in the same office. We quickly found we had a common interest in Arsenal and, as with many other people, it was that which would form the starting point of many a conversation. Whenever I would bump in to Keith we would find ourselves discussing the latest results, the way the boys were playing, who we needed to sign etc. It was always a pleasure to talk Arsenal.
Keith was a big man. I suppose he wasn't the sort of bloke you'd fancy upsetting if you could help it, simply because of his size. Indeed, I saw him react a couple of times on the football pitch (we played for the office side together) when someone tackled in a way he didn't like. He meant no malice, he just wanted to get home to the family with his leg in one piece. Keith was also forthright in his opinions - something I certainly appreciate, as you can imagine. If Keith didn't agree then he was definitely not shy in telling you his own view. However, I think most people who came in to contact with him would concede he was really a gentle giant of a man, certainly more smiling than frowning was going on when the big fella was about.
Keith was almost always smiling when you met him, always quick with a joke and a bit of banter. He had a familiar grin and a laugh that everyone would instantly recognise as his. He was also no mean battler at centre-half - not many got past the big man at the back. Affectionately known as "Gatt" (he looked uncannily like Mike Gatting) he was a good player.
When we started the Dover Gooners Keith and his father-in-law, John, soon became members. Keith would always turn up at members events, whether it be the AGM or a social occasion. Keith's face was a regular, friendly and popular one at the annual dinner. The last time I got to speak to him was at last years Legends Dinner. Our work lives have taken divergent paths so I rarely came in to contact with him professionally over the past couple of years. When I spoke to him in October he was the same old Keith, smiling and laughing. On reflection it was a conversation I'm grateful to have had.
Another feature of Keith was that he would always ask after the family. Our wives had become pregnant around the same time and that became another common talking point for us both. We would regularly run in to each other when shopping at the local Tesco and Keith would never let you go until he'd asked after your health, and the kids, and the wife, and The Arsenal. I was privileged to have been to his 40th birthday party a few years ago, and the number of friends there was a testament to the popularity of a genuinely nice family man. The hardest of all this is that he leaves that family and large group of friends behind.
There was a time at work when we were all under a great strain. Things were happening that led to an industrial dispute and, following that, the dismissal of some colleagues. I was proud to stand on the picket lines with Keith. He was always there and it was a genuine privilege to be able to look one another in the eye, knowing that we'd done our bit and stood up for what we believe was right. I won't forget his loyalty and solidarity.
I'll leave you, if I may, by quoting another friend of mine (and regular contributor to the comments section on this site) with his tribute to Keith from today. I hope Malcolm doesn't mind me borrowing these words, but I don't think anyone could possibly put it any better:

"An overused term is gentle giant, but not today. Yes he could be stroppy but aren't we all at times? He said what he thought and was true to himself. Always asked after the family, and had that laugh of his. Remember him with those rosy cheeks and as a family man. Respect."

RIP Keith. You'll be missed.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

They hate to see us winning

Ramsey - outstanding yesterday

I wouldn't say I enjoyed the game yesterday, as such. But as I always say, as long as Arsenal win then I've had my entertainment. Despite not playing very well I would say it was a deserved win, not least because of the cynical way Norwich went about their business on the day. We struggled up to the point that we introduced two class players from the bench. You can't underestimate the impact of Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Their combination in the build-up to the second goal was simply the sort of football that Gervinho couldn't possibly play, as evidenced by his heavy touch when going past the goalkeeper before half-time. For me they must both start on Tuesday against Everton, in place of Gervinho and Jack Wilshere (who was as bad yesterday as I've ever seen him - clearly he wasn't fit and ready to be on the pitch).
The first-half yesterday was pretty turgid stuff after we'd failed to take advantage of early pressure. Arsenal very quickly ran out of ideas and Wilshere was a passenger in the middle of the pitch. That left Giroud isolated and Cazorla familiarly invisible at times. To say Aaron Ramsey was running the midfield on his own would not be an understatement. I thought Rambo was brilliant yesterday and he never stopped running. He made one incredible tackle on the halfway line where he slid in Vieira-like to win possession back. For me it was his best performance since he got the winner against Manchester United nearly two years ago. For the first time since his broken leg I would say Ramsey is currently in the starting line-up on merit. I have criticised him heavily on this website this season (and last season for that matter) but I have to hand out praise where it's thoroughly merited. It would give me great pleasure to be proved wrong and for Ramsey to go on and become the player we hoped for before Shawcross assaulted him. Arsene Wenger has shown a lot of faith in him, despite the reaction of the crowd at times. Maybe he is still right occasionally.
After half-time it was a lot of more of the same really. We passed the ball back and forward in front of the Norwich defence without ever threatening. It was no surprise when they scored from a set-piece. The officials completely missed the fact that it was a dive from Kamara to win the free-kick in the first place. I'll talk about the media reaction to the officials and their decisions below. When the ball was delivered we saw Turner (who TV showed should have been red carded before half-time for an elbow on Ramsey) move towards it while Koscielny and Sagna moved in the opposite direction. The end result was the proverbial free-header in to the corner. If you ever needed an example of the utter waste of time that is zonal marking then this was it. Steve Bould was famed for the way he attacked the ball in the air. Quite how he can allow his defence to concede so many goals in this way, regardless of any influence from the Manager, is beyond my comprehension.
The Norwich goal was the catalyst for Arsene Wenger to make a couple of good changes. Gervinho and Wilshere went off, and Podolski and Walcott came on. We had one or two opportunities to get in behind that we didn't take advantage of, and Podolski saw an exocet of a shot come back off the bar, via the fingertips of Bunn in the Norwich goal. You began to think it might be one of those days, but then The Ox was also introduced (incidentally, bringing him on and switching Ramsey to right-back was a silly change, but we got away with it as Ramsey forced the corner from which we got the penalty). Oxlade-Chamberlain immediately ran at defenders and tried to make something happen. It put Norwich a couple of yards closer to their goalkeeper when we got the ball and that brought it's own pressure.
When we got the breakthrough it was, apparently, controversial. From my seat in the East Upper it was the most obvious penalty you're ever going to see. That it took the linesman (the only decision he got right all day, by the way) to give it instead of the referee says a lot about Mr Jones and his ability at this level of the game. Throughout the match Kamara had shoved Kieran Gibbs in the back in every aerial challenge and never had a foul given against him. Robert Snodgrass kicked and kicked all day, without censure until injury-time. Bunn produced a Tim Krul kind of display of time wasting which also included some manhandling of the ball boy behind the goal, but again was unpunished by Mr Jones. That he didn't give the penalty himself merely summed up his performance (both of the officials had earlier failed to award a spot-kick after Whittaker fouled the flying Theo Walcott). Arteta just about got the penalty in the net, and we were going for broke from then on.
The second goal, as described above, came from a touch of quality between Chamberlain and Podolski, while the third saw the linesman miss Walcott being offside before Poldi produced a trademark finish. In between those goals Lukasz Fabianski got his defence off the hook with an outstanding save with his right foot. It my be as important come the middle of May as any goal or save we've seen all season.
The media reaction to our win has been predictably negative. There has been nothing about the outstanding nature of the comeback to score three goals in the last six minutes. There has been no condemnation of the niggly play and time-wasting tactics of Norwich. There has been no criticism of Kamara's dive that led to the opening goal. Turner looks like he's going to get away with the elbow on Ramsey. Instead there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the fact that the linesman gave the penalty, despite being further away than the well placed referee. Surely the fact that the correct decision was made is more important than the proximity of the official who gave it? Not so for Tony Gale on Sky or Alan Hansen on the BBC. In fact they both made a case as to why it shouldn't have been a penalty. According to these two cretins it wasn't a penalty because shirt-pulling "happens all the time" in a game. Oh, so that's alright then. It got me thinking back to the last World Cup when the likes of Hansen and the assorted British media moaned and moaned about the way shirt pulling was ruining football. Indeed, it had to be stamped out. If a referee actually gave a foul or two for it then it would stop, we were consistently told. Fast forward to April 13th 2013 and you get this  sort of reaction:

"Arsenal got a penalty, you say? For shirt pulling? Since when has that been penalised? If we're giving penalties for that then we might as well give up on the game."

The double standards displayed are extraordinary. Hansen appears to still be bearing a grudge for Michael Thomas' last minute winner 24 years ago. I don't begin to understand what Tony Gale's problem is but he is getting more and more anti-Arsenal with every TV appearance he makes. Hansen and Lineker even accused Martin Keown of bias towards Arsenal on Match Of The Day last night, shortly followed by Hansen putting 3 Liverpool players in his team of the day (they drew 0-0 with bottom of the league Reading yesterday). Sky's Goals On Sunday programme this morning, presented by that World Class talent Chris Kamara, tried to say that all of our goals should have been disallowed!
All of this rabid anti-Arsenal sentiment is a sure sign that we are winning football matches. The cretinous media personalities can't stand it when we are doing well. George Graham used to use that hatred of us to fire up the players. Wenger and Bould should do the same. They want us to fail. They want us to come up short. It's vital that the players make sure it doesn't happen.
The win yesterday, and the way it came about, put me in mind of a game at QPR in November 1990. We'd struggled to break them down, conceded a goal and everything seemed to be going away from us. The players showed a terrific will to win that day, as yesterday, and came back to win 3-1. For Oxlade-Chamberlain you could read Kevin Campbell's impact on that game in 1990. It was certainly very similar.
There is no doubt we'll have to produce a much improved display against Everton on Tuesday, but the spirit and character on show yesterday will also be crucial over the next month. If we could win our next two games it would be absolutely massive before a difficult finish against four teams who all have something to play for.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Problems of the right kind

No rush this time

It makes a change to be going in to a game and thinking that we actually have plenty of players to choose from. It's been another long and boring week with no midweek football, a symptom of another poor season, but it means we host Norwich tomorrow with a set of fresh players. At this stage of the season I'd rather we were playing twice every week as it would mean we're close to being successful but at least there can be few complaints about fatigue.
The team news ahead of the visit of the struggling Canaries is positive. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott are both in contention after apparently recovering from their recent problems. Personally I see no need to rush either of them back in to the starting line-up. Bizarrely we have done very well without them. The midfield has responded strongly to Jack's absence and that has been a very pleasant turn of events. Meanwhile Gervinho has managed to contribute to the cause in the absence of Theo Walcott. Personally I'd have Walcott, Podolski and Chamberlain all ahead of the Ivorian, but you can't argue with his goals and assists in the last few games. The fact is that we've had three good victories of late and Gervinho has been heavily involved in all of them. Credit where it is due. I suppose the most praise you can heap on the team as a whole is that they haven't missed Wilshere or Walcott in the slightest.
With three games to play in the next eight days Arsene Wenger will probably look at swapping one or two players about at some point. I don't really see the necessity of that as long as we're winning. I remember us beating Chelsea at Christmas a few years back only to go to Wigan three days later with a changed team and fail to get the expected result. Winning players don't get tired unless the Manager tells them they're feeling it. At the moment we have a winning team, so why change things?
Obviously there will be one enforced change from last week with Thomas Vermaelen coming in for the banned Per Mertesacker. I get jittery when Vermaelen and Koscielny are paired with one another. It failed all last season as a partnership and has been poor on the occasions we've seen it this term. You would think it shouldn't be too much of a problem against this Norwich team, but this is Arsenal 2013 we're talking about. I also don't like the fact that Grant Holt is available after the referee failed to punish a certain red card tackle by him last week (he didn't even get booked despite a free-kick being given). Things like that often haunt Arsenal and the two centre-backs have to find a way of playing together to combat the likes of Holt. Vermaelen should certainly be hungry following his omission in recent weeks - he is due a vintage performance and maybe even a trademark Verminator goal. He will certainly have to perform well if he is to keep the BFG out of the side when Everton visit on Tuesday.
We're entering our most crucial week of the season in terms of finishing in those Champions League places. Manchester City's win on Monday night probably puts second place just out of reach, but winning our next three games would see us go seven points clear of Spurs, and further in front of Chelsea, before they next play in the Premier League. It would apply huge pressure to both teams. Arsenal are capable of making it happen provided the right attitude is displayed. It must start tomorrow with a win against Norwich.

Friday, 5 April 2013

West Brom (a) preview, A comedy picture at Spurs' expense

Tommy - time for his annual goal

Back to Arsenal tomorrow and the trip to West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies have been a bit inconsistent since Christmas but their blistering start to the season has seen them secure in their Premier League future for a while now. They play good football and possess pace and power, especially in the shape of Romelu Lukaku. The big Belgian looks frightening at times, albeit sometimes a bit manic when faced with goal. You can be certain that our centre-backs will be faced with one hell of a test if Lukaku plays tomorrow. I said in my season preview piece that I fancied him to impress while on loan from Chelsea and I think I've been proved right for a change. I certainly expect West Brom to be going for the win. Hopefully that will open up one or two spaces in their half of the pitch that Arsenal might exploit if our players can perform in a similar manner to last week.
The team news doesn't see any fresh injury worries for us. It looks like Wilshere and Walcott might be back next week so I can't see too many changes from the Reading game. Personally I'd bring in Jenkinson, Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the way Arsene Wenger praised Gervinho last week I doubt he will miss out. There may be a case for Podolski coming in to the side with Cazorla moving central and either Ramsey or, more likely, Rosicky dropping to the bench, but I don't see that happening barring a previously undisclosed injury/illness. Rosicky is certainly due a goal and there's no time like the present. If we win 1-0 with a winner from Tommy then I'll be very pleased indeed.
We need to put pressure on those immediately above us, neither of whom play until Sunday. Chelsea will be playing their fourth game in eight days, while Spurs are now showing indifferent form and are without Bale. If we could move ahead of Chelsea, and to within a point of the mugs, with a victory tomorrow then we would really be piling the heat on them. Can they take the pressure? Arsenal need to win games like the one at West Brom if we're to find out.

Before I leave you I have to share a picture that I saw on Twitter first thing this morning. It had me laughing out loud. I didn't watch the Tottenham game last night and I only heard about the diving simian being injured after the match. I suspect the image below wasn't far removed from the television pictures.

Spurs fans aghast as Bale is stretchered off

I'll hopefully get to review the West Brom game at some point on Sunday. Here's hoping we have three points to celebrate.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Twenty years on

Revenge dished out at Wembley

It has been so quiet this week that there has simply been no point in writing anything. I've always said that I won't write merely for the sake of it. Sadly it's a symptom of the fact that we are out of everything already this season. Midweek games are virtually a thing of the past so we have only weekend stuff to look forward to or back on.
As I coudn't get to the game last Saturday through being on nights I had neither the inclination nor the opportunity to preview/review it. What I will say is that it was a nice 4-1 win. Gervinho got one goal and set up two of the others but I'm still at a loss as to why he was starting the game. Credit where it's due, obviously, but I don't understand how Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn't playing from the start as he has looked to be getting back to his best in recent weeks. I also think a midfield of Arteta, Ramsey and Rosicky is not going to do us any good when we come up against Manchester United or Everton (or maybe even West Brom). In the absence of Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby I would prefer to see Francis Coquelin in midfield with his added pace and willingness to tackle. As for Sagna coming straight in ahead of Jenkinson just don't get me started. It didn't escape my notice that Reading's goal came from a cross that Sagna had allowed to come in all too easily as usual.

As it is so quiet, and it being a special anniversary, I thought I'd re-publish the post as I wrote it from this day last year. I hope you enjoy my recollection of the FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham at Wembley - twenty years ago today Tony Adams soared above Ruddock to score and give us all the chance to own a ScumBusters shirt. Lovely. I hope you enjoy it:

On 4th April 1993 we descended on Wembley for another FA Cup semi-final against the mugs from White Hart Lane. After what had happened two years previously we had suffered the clowns from down the road and their "we beat the scum 3-1" nonsense non-stop ever since. This was to be our day of revenge and redemption, we hoped.
Travelling up from Dover meant we were always quite early to games at Wembley, whereas the majority of Gooners (in those days, at least) being fairly local would only get there shortly before the kick-off of matches. That being the case we walked around to see the team coach arrive, even though this was at the Spurs end. Back then, for the most part, there wasn't the evil antagonism from their supporters that there is today. Obviously there was a bitter rivalry, but you could happily walk round their end of Wembley that day in your red and white shirt without having to fear a cuff on the side of your head. I remember that, as we stood there waiting for Arsenal to arrive, there was this short, fat woman with short hair and a Tottenham tracksuit standing opposite us. She was only talking to her companions, but had one of those voices that carried a long way. Frankly she came across as a right mouthy cow and typical of every Tottenham fan you've ever had the misfortune to meet. I took an irrational dislike to this woman and her loud proclamations of how we would be beaten.
When we got in the ground we found that our seats were in the second row behind those awful red "buckets" that used to form the front twenty-odd rows at Wembley (we weren't so lucky a fortnight later at the Coca-Cola Cup Final when we were two rows further forward!) When the game started there was no choice but to stand, much like away games these days. Being only 14 at the time, and quite short for my age back then, I couldn't actually claim to have had a great view.
Thinking back we pretty much controlled the game. Apart from an early shot by Samways (whatever happened to Vinny Samways?) that initially went through Seaman's hands, before he recovered to save, and a pretty lame penalty appeal against Linighan (it was outside the box in any case), we were well in charge. The odious Justin Edinburgh and Nayim combined to get Lee Dixon booked (and eventually sent-off and suspended for the League Cup Final a fortnight after) but we controlled midfield with Parlour, Selley and Hillier. Selley hit a cracking volley about twenty minutes from the end that was well saved by Thorstvedt, who also made a great save from an Ian Wright header.
There was probably some poetic justice in Edinburgh making the foul that led to the winning goal that day. I have a vivid recollection of the goal in my mind's eye. It's one of the few things I saw clearly through the heads of the taller people in front of me on the day. I can see the ball coming over and Adams getting up behind Ruddock. I can see the ball bouncing and then hitting the stanchion in the goal. I can then see the pandemonium erupting all around. I was on the end of a row and the celebrations spilled out, naturally, on to the stairwell. I remember the bloke on the opposite side picking me up in celebration (I may have been short but I wasn't "small" so that was no mean feat!) and I remember my brother throwing his arms round me as I came back. What should have been ten minutes of torture became more than fifteen. From absolutely nowhere the referee Phillip Don somehow found a ridiculous amount of injury-time. I remember, right at the death, a cross was deflected in to the six-yard box right in front of me, but David Seaman dived full length to catch it and relieve the final pressure.
When the final whistle went it was a feeling akin to winning the Cup itself. Perhaps if the winning goal in the Final had not been so dramatic then it would have been even better than winning the Cup. We enjoyed a proper Arsenal sing-song at Wembley that day, and the players enjoyed every minute. After the past two years it was a given that the Tottenham fans would get their "scum" chants thrown back with interest. As we left we realised that a number of the Arsenal Reserves were sat a few rows behind us. Among them was the cup-tied Martin Keown - yet to achieve anything like hero-status with a crowd suspicious of why he had been re-signed by George Graham - who gave me a thumbs-up as I shouted at him on the way past.
From all the highlights of that day, and that they stick so vividly with me some nineteen years later is redolent of the fact that this was the first time I'd seen Arsenal win a competitive game at Wembley (I'd seen them thrash Spurs 4-0 in a pre-season tournament in 1988), there is one that kind of sticks out further than the others. As we stood on Wembley Way among the throng trying to get to the trains etc I glanced to the right and saw that gobby cow from before the game. It must have been fated that she should be so close again among a crowd of nearly 80,000 people. My God was she silent as she stood among the smiling Gooners in her Spurs gear. My Dad turned to me and said "not so bloody mouth now, is she?" I enjoyed that.

I hope you liked that trip down my personal memory lane. I know I did. I must dig out the video of that game and watch it some time soon. Just for a bit of fun, listen to this song recorded by one of the fanzines at the end of that season as part of the celebrations.