At least we could actually win this one
I apologise for the lack of updates over the last eight days. I've had a particularly busy week at work which has not really left me in the mood for more time in front of a computer when I've got home. The need to actually spend some time with my family ahead of this week was also important. It's a shame really as there was a fair bit to have written about last week despite the absence of any football for Arsenal. I'll try to cover the main points as best I can remember.
Let's start with Wojciech Szczesny and his comments about Tottenham last week. What an idiot this boy is. I've long lamented Szczesny's big mouth and how he really shouldn't be chucking stones about with the lack of toughened glass around his six-yard box. The fact is that Szczesny's performances have not backed up his rhetoric. In fairness to him he had really toned down the big-headed public statements in recent months. His end to last season, an horrific Euro 2012, and performances as bad as anything Manuel Almunia (more on him below) produced for Arsenal maybe had him realising he should keep quiet for a while. Last week, in my piece after the QPR game, I praised the young Pole for his last two displays. I thought he was excellent against Manchester United and again at Loftus Road. The trouble is that he obviously thought he'd done pretty well himself. I can see no other reason for him opening his mouth and claiming Tottenham aren't good enough for finish in front of us for a top four place. As soon as I read it I cringed. He got a rise out of Andre Vilas-Boas the following day which no doubt showed a mental weakness in the Spurs Manager - why respond to such nonsense from Szczesny by getting gobby (and getting your facts wrong) yourself? However, since Szczesny's trash talking Tottenham have come back twice to draw at Chelsea and then again to win at Stoke. I'm not saying Szczesny gave them the absolute motivation to go and get those results as Spurs are more than capable of doing that anyway. But my point is, why give them extra motivation? We used to hear Robbie Keane or Clive Allen coming out with stupid statements about how they were better than Arsenal just before we'd give them another tanking in the North London Derby. They were made to look like cretins (which they both are, incidentally). Come Sunday there is every chance that Szczesny will be the inspiration for a new t-shirt down the Tottenham high-road simply because he's a big-headed little clown who has achieved nothing except a reputation for being a rent-a-gob.
On the day that Alex Ferguson announced his retirement (I hate him but can't fail to respect his incredible achievements - you have to make the best of your luck and he more than did that over the past twenty years at Manchester United) Arsenal were widely reported to have signed a mega-bucks deal with Puma. Many of us had been hoping for Adidas shirts (as much for the vintage stuff to re-appear as for any new kits) but it seems it's not to be. Arsenal haven't announced anything officially yet, presumably because of current tie-ups with the Nike contract. However, I am not disappointed with the news. If you can't have Adidas you might as well have his brother. The deal itself is the biggest in English football as Puma seeks to establish itself at the top table. It seems that our connections and support in Africa were a major factor (Puma have long made kits for Cameroon, for example) and the reasons for us trying to play in Nigeria last year are now a bit clearer, I suspect.
I heavily criticised Ivan Gazidis and his team over the renewed deal with Emirates. It is my view that the naming rights for the stadium have effectively been given over free of charge. His contention that other commercial deals will not be done (such as sponsorship of the training kit for example) "out of respect" for Emirates is a joke as far as I'm concerned. Manchester United ditched a shirt sponsor only to re-engage them as sponsors of the training ground. It may seem vulgar to chase the money like that, but this is the modern World. Man Utd have seen the need to open up new sponsorship revenue streams in light of the financial fair play rules. If you can't beat them, join them should be Arsenal's philosophy when it comes to business now. However, I have to give immense credit to Gazidis for the deal with Puma. It has come out of left-field and, if confirmed, will be a massive swelling of the coffers over the next six years or so. If it is matched with some success on the field then the next deal could be even bigger.
Before I go on to talk about Arsenal's situation on the pitch I'd like to congratulate Manuel Almunia for his part in Watford's incredible result yesterday. For those who don't know about it, Almunia saved a last minute penalty, and the point-blank rebound, which then saw Watford break down field and hit the winning goal. It was fairly rare for Almunia to be portrayed as anything approaching a hero in his Arsenal days. Perhaps the Championship (or lower reaches of the Premier League) is more his level, but I am delighted to see him doing so well.
Manuel Almunia is a really nice guy. He gave my brother a signed pair of his gloves, simply because he asked for them, on the pre-season tour to Austria a couple of years back. He could never have been accused to giving any less than his best for Arsenal. The trouble for him was that his best was often not quite good enough for a Club like Arsenal. He was error prone a bit too much for the top level at which we were playing. Arsene Wenger showed too much faith in him at the expense of Jens Lehmann. It cost us at least one Premier League Title. With the errors came fierce criticism from the fans and a loss of confidence that betrayed a fragile mental state for Manuel. He simply wasn't nasty or thick-skinned enough to deal with the brick-bats, unlike Lehmann. Almunia's biggest "crime" at Arsenal was being "good, but not good enough" but I would still take him above any of the idiots still at the Club right now. I hope he gets promoted with Watford. I, for one, will give him a standing ovation if he gets to run towards the North Bank next season.
So the final week of the season is here. Arsenal find themselves playing catch-up after Tottenham's win at Stoke yesterday. Of course we couldn't expect any favours from Pulis and his Orc army, but we shouldn't need to be looking for them in the first place. Over 36 games we are in a position where our destiny is in our own hands, which is good. But the fact is that our own abysmal performances and results, especially before Christmas, mean that we are not already safely ensconced in the Champions League next season.
I really don't see us winning both games this week. We should do, of course, but this is football. Wigan have their Premier League future to fight for - if they beat us tomorrow I think they'll stay up via a home win over Aston Villa on Sunday. Spurs will comfortably dispatch Sunderland at home so it is still all to play for as far as Wigan are concerned. They will be confident after deservedly and spectacularly winning the FA Cup on Saturday (I'd love for Arsenal to form a guard of honour for them tomorrow night). My hope is that they are fatigued from the win over Man City and the celebrations that followed.
I'll preview the game properly tomorrow. Before then I just want to speculate on what sort of week lies ahead of us. If we win tomorrow then we go to Newcastle in front of Tottenham, as they were when going to West Ham on lasagne day in 2006. The wait for Sunday will be interminable and the need for a result annoyingly stressful. If we don't win tomorrow then the recriminations will begin. As I said, I see no way for Sunderland to get a result at Tottenham. Having seen Sunderland's defending yesterday I dread to think what Gareth Bale will do to them with that amount of space to run, create, shoot and score. That being the case Arsene Wenger can expect all manner of hell to rain down upon him if Arsenal don't win against Wigan. Even if we do, he will be in the same position if we don't beat Newcastle. The task couldn't be clearer. I just don't think our players are capable of pulling it off. If there is a silver lining from a failure to finish fourth it would be that the Europa League is a competition we could actually win, rather than just enter. Small, small consolation. Who wants to watch football on a Thursday every other week?
More tomorrow with the Wigan game at the top of a very short list of priorities.