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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2015 - the year of the defensive signing

Undoubtedly the highlight of 2014


Happy New Year to all my readers, near and far. Here's hoping for more silverware in 2015, made possible by splashing the huge amounts of cash available on some defensive reinforcement of a decent squad.
 
Go on Arsene, you know it makes sense.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

An utter cretin, Appearing for Arsenal

Could you be any more anti-Arsenal?


Anyone who sat through Tony Gale's attempt at co-commentary on Sunday will know where this is going. We've had plenty of awful analysts talking with the most vitriolic bias against Arsenal in recent years, but I think Gale took us to a whole new level at West Ham. Let's leave aside his claim that a player dummying the ball in to the net is not interfering with play "because he didn't touch it" (and Gale was not alone with this particular old nonsense) and fast forward to just about everything else he came out with on the day.
I'll start with Andy Carroll's elbow in to the cheekbone of Mathieu Debuchy. Gale couldn't understand why Debuchy was "rolling around" (he wasn't) as it wasn't a "flailing arm" from Carroll. Let's not let the evidence of our eyes get in the way of some anti-Arsenal sentiment, eh Tony? After all, what normal, honest, English full-back would be put on their backside by the pointed elbows of a 6'4" centre-forward who is carrying more weight than a professional footballer should be? You're right, Tony, Debuchy was an utter disgrace getting his face in Carroll's way. These modern footballers "go down far too easily" apparently, though the criticism was less vehement when a West Ham player literally rolled around on the floor just a few minutes later.
Everything Arsenal did was met with some kind of stick from Gale. I'm not sure at what point Arsenal have upset him. He was never so quick to criticise us when earning his money on Capital Gold many years ago. Every free-kick it seemed was unjustified, every tackle apparently out of order. He accused Laurent Koscielny of elbowing one of their players in the second-half, even though Koscielny was actually behind the player and face-on to them at the time. Now I know Koscielny is an exceptional player, but a contortionist he isn't. At least the penalty was such a stick-on that even Gale couldn't argue with it, though Winston Reid clearly felt he could and somehow got away without being at least booked for it.
Gale saved his highlight of the day for the final minutes of the game. When Calum Chambers was coming on we had Gale announcing to viewers all over the World that Arsenal's two substitutions were worth four minutes of injury-time alone! I swear you could actually hear his bottom lip jutting out and trembling as the tears welled up in his eyes at the thought of Arsenal winning the game. His dislike of Arsenal even extended to criticism of West Ham's best player - after all Alex Song played for Arsenal. When Song didn't celebrate his "goal" Gale gave him pelters on the grounds that "he was only at Arsenal for a couple of years". Idiot. Although his getting at Song did provide the comedy that many former footballers provide whenever they try to be clever on TV. Song gave the ball away in the first-half and Gale said "...he's trying to elaborate too much". Oh dear, Tony. I think you might have tried to be a bit over elaborate in your phraseology for someone of such limited intellect. If you want me to elaborate further then leave a comment at the foot of the page. Cretin.
I won't review the game these two days later. Suffice to say I thought Arsenal played very well for most of the match, especially in the second-half, though Arsene Wenger's substitutions were once again utterly crazy in a game we were totally dominating. We held on for a good three points, however, and a draw at Southampton on Thursday will mean a decent Christmas period for us.
 
I've often said that there is no way Arsenal would feature this site on their own website due to the regular criticism I make of the Manager and of the Club itself. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I got a phone-call last night from my Dad to say that "Best Of The Blogs" from Christmas Day was an abridged version of my Christmas Eve piece! It's nice to be recognised by the Club. After all, Arsenal is the very reason for all of this. Further to that, if you buy a programme at the Hull City game on Sunday you will see an article by me for the "Final Word" piece therein. I hope you enjoy it.
 
There will be the briefest of brief posts tomorrow.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Three points for Christmas

The hero and the fool



Three points is all that matters for a good Christmas from an Arsenal point of view. For most of the game yesterday it was accompanied by a very reasonable performance as well. I didn't go to Arsenal yesterday, having managed to sell my seat on the Ticket Exchange - one of Arsenal's better initiatives, even if it grates a little that they take a cut from the sale, thereby profiting twice from the sale of the same ticket. As a result I watched the game on a dodgy stream (or three different ones actually across the 90 minutes) but at least was able to see it despite not being a BT subscriber. Incidentally, playing at 5:30 on Boxing Day is an absolute joke (I don't like playing at all on Boxing Day as it happens).
Arsenal started brightly and QPR seemed in no mood to try and attack, so the familiar pattern developed. Having been awarded a clear penalty things might have opened up a little had Alexis not taken it "Ozil style" and passed the ball back to Robert Green. Once again you have to question the leadership in the side without Mikel Arteta. A few weeks back Alexis won a penalty in a European game against Anderlecht and got quite tetchy when Arteta refused to let him take it himself. For some reason yesterday Cazorla, who has scored two penalties in recent weeks, gave way for the Chilean to step up. We all know that Cazorla is the man on penalties when Arteta isn't in the side, so why didn't Mertesacker step in and deal with it? It was a woeful penalty from our star player.
It's maybe a mark of Alexis' character that missing the penalty didn't affect him at all. The man is a gem of a player. Contrast the way he then decided to take the game by the scruff of the neck, compared to the way Mesut Ozil imploded against Bayern Munich last season. I found it interesting that there was a stat shown on the screen showing 60 passes by Arsenal in the final third, just moments before the opening goal. The reason it was interesting was that we hadn't created a single chance from open play from those 60 passes. That is an indictment, in many ways, on the way Arsenal play their football - there is always too much sideways rubbish across a defence, rather than penetrating forward play.
When the goal did arrive it was finally a great move, with people running beyond the ball and making something happen. Kieran Gibbs got his head up in a wide area for once and picked out an Arsenal player with a lovely cross. Far too often he aimlessly plays the ball straight at the first defender, so I hope he has taken note of the difference it makes. Meanwhile Alexis had come alive in the penalty area at the hint of an opportunity - Traore switched off and the little man scored a nice header past Green. It was a beautiful Arsenal goal and showed that, when they actually play proper football, they can get beyond a defence.
Tomas Rosicky made a massive difference yesterday in midfield. It's no wonder he's been frustrated at not getting a game. The Czech Mozart made his point to Arsene Wenger yesterday, just as Podolski has done on a couple of occasions. Of course, it hasn't done Podolski any favours in terms of getting another game! It was perhaps no surprise that it was TR7 putting the finishing touch to the second goal. Alexis was the man making the difference again with a fine run, committing players and beating them. He and Welbeck drew the defence towards them and gave Rosicky the space to fire in the shot, beating Green via a slight deflection (which actually took it closer to the QPR goalkeeper). It was a fine goal at any time, but with ten men even better.
All of which brings me to Olivier Giroud. What was he doing? You got the feeling it was deliberate, like he fancied a few days off over Christmas so made sure he'd get a ban without doing anything that might actually hurt anyone. This is a man whose usual reaction to being wronged by a  defender is to wave his arms at the referee in protest. Now I'm all for Giroud doing a bit more that might be considered "aggressive" but what he did yesterday was downright stupid. It nearly cost Arsenal the three points and it was refreshing to hear Arsene Wenger publicly admonishing one of his players for a change. What I would like to see now, however, is for the FA to deal with the reactions of a couple of our opponents. Onuoha, the man Giroud pushed his head towards (it wasn't a headbutt by anyone's definition), should be banned for play-acting with the deliberate intention of ensuring Giroud would be sent-off. And then there was Rio Ferdinand grabbing Giroud by the neck. Had Giroud reacted the way Onuoha did then would Ferdinand also have been sent-off? We're forever hearing pundits say "you can't raise your hands" so I trust Ferdinand will be banned in retrospect. No? Of course he won't - he doesn't play for Arsenal.
I cringe at the name of every referee, but Mr Atkinson perhaps inspires more fear than most. The man is beyond incompetent. Having had no choice but to award us a penalty for the foul on Alexis he then refused us one when Welbeck was hauled to the floor. Having red carded Giroud, but ignored Ferdinand, he then booked Hoillett - again he had no choice. But this then saw him go in to fully incompetent mode. Hoillett made a clear foul on Mertesacker that should have seen us get yet another penalty - it was as blatant as Traore's foul on Alexis in the first-half. Of course, he'd have had to send Hoillett off. Less than ten seconds later Hoillett tripped the charging Debuchy and was let off by Atkinson. Something was brewing. And so it was that Hoillett, perfectly well tackled by Debuchy at the other end, went sprawling and the perfectly placed referee chose to give him a penalty. Incompetence? Is it any wonder that I question the honesty of Premier League officials? Put together with Giroud's madness it was a miracle Arsenal held on - especially when Gibbs took out Zamora in the last couple of minutes. It was no surprise to see Match Of The Day show that but ignore our penalties that weren't given.
Given all that had gone on I wouldn't have been blaming Arsene Wenger for once for a capitulation. However, he did manage to give me the option with yet more ridiculous substitutions. He effectively made the same changes that cost us the initiative at Anfield on Sunday (different personnel obviously) but it nearly cost us again yesterday. Why does he do it? Because he is an arrogant old fool who believes he is the only person involved with Arsenal who knows anything about football.
In the end we picked up the three points. Rosicky and Alexis were outstanding, Welbeck never looked like scoring a goal again, and Giroud was an idiot. But, for all of that, a win is a win and that made for an enjoyable Christmas. Now, if we can just work out how Mertesacker is going to play Andy Carroll tomorrow then we might have half a chance.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A Merry Christmas to Arsenal Fans Everywhere - Highlights from 2014

Happy Christmas Gooners


I could write this morning about Arsene's latest comments and have a go about the ridiculousness of the whole situation. But it's Christmas Eve and negativity is unnecessary today. Instead this will be the usual, brief, traditional Christmas Eve post. I have two little boys desperate to get the laptop back so they can keep an eye on Norad Santa Tracker to check he's actually on his way to them, so brevity is of the essence.
As is traditional I'll start with a thank you to everyone that has read this site and contributed on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the site itself (though maybe not the idiots from Tottenham and Stoke that choose to read it for some reason). As it happens, there have actually been less hits on the site than in previous years. Maybe the writing is getting worse, and maybe the constant moaning about Wenger and the team has driven people away. As I write there have been in the region of 170,000 hits this year, with 973,000+ in total since the site was inaugurated in 2010. There has also been less output from me than in any previous year. Work and family continues to get in the way of trivial stuff like this, more now than ever. There was also an unexpected hiatus during the World Cup. Regular readers will remember that a good friend of mine died suddenly in June and this left me in no mood for writing about football for a few weeks. Hopefully, next year there will be more regular stuff but we'll have to wait and see how it goes. As ever I am humbled that so many people do read what is written here. It remains, as it always will, my opinion on Arsenal. I could garner more hits by making up stupid post titles about Arsenal signing some £50m player but what would be the point in that? I'm writing stuff to let out frustration, or express the most delirious sense of happiness that Arsenal can inspire in their supporters, not for hits on a website that costs me no money and makes me no money. If I ever start dipping in to gossip, rather than fact, then please shoot me.
 
So what were the highlights of 2014? Perhaps it's no surprise that none of them are from this season, and that all of them came from the FA Cup run. Aside from signing Alexis Sanchez there has been precious little to cheer since May.
 
The best feeling in nine years


I suppose the first high point came in the first few days of the year with the smashing of Tottenham in the FA Cup 3rd round. It was 2-0 at the end, but it was as comprehensive a thrashing as you're ever going to see. Tomas Rosicky rolled back the years to dominate the game and Theo Walcott ran their defence ragged. Typically that was the last we saw of Theo. The Cup run was full of special moments, of course, but Podolski's goal against Liverpool was a cracker, and the hammering of Everton to guarantee a place at Wembley had the stadium rocking. Both were great days.
My second highlight of the year was Santi Cazorla's winning penalty in the semi-final shootout against Wigan. Fabianski had played his part with two saves, but Santi sent us wild. Knowing we would play Hull or Sheffield United in the FA Cup Final meant we knew we were never likely to get a better opportunity to win a trophy at last. It was a moment that will probably never be repeated, in that there were well over 50,000 Arsenal fans inside Wembley for the semi-final. The noise, the atmosphere and the celebrations will live long in the memory - even if Roy Keane was offended by them.
The happiest moment was yet to come as we finally ended the drought. We all know how we did it the hard way, but when Aaron Ramsey scored the winner it was what going to football is all about. The picture above, with the massed Gooners in the background, is the best illustration I can find of the unbridled happiness that football can create. Again, there was a sense of relief, but also one that our pride had been restored. Arsenal had won the FA Cup in a classic Wembley final. It really doesn't get much better and it makes you want more and more of it. I've felt it many times, but the distance between 2005 and 2014 maybe amplified things this time. Being there with my son and the other members of my family made it extra special.
 
There's nothing like this


And so to my player of 2014. It would be easy to select Alexis, but he's only been playing for us since August. It has to be a player who has been around all year long and, for me, there are only two contenders. Given that we can't defend you might find it odd that I'm choosing between Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny. Gibbo has progressed so much in the last year, and he is far and away the best English left-back in the Premier League. However, my player of the year has to be King Koscielny. We miss him so much in our side when he isn't there. And he has the habit of scoring the most crucial of goals. In recent years he is the stand out piece of business done by Arsene Wenger - an unknown who has developed in to a top class footballer. His goal at Wembley was the one that got us level and allowed us to go on and win. He can't get fit soon enough as far as I'm concerned. People say we'd be lost without Alexis, but the fact is we are already lost without Koscielny.
 
So that's it. Christmas time is here again. I'll sign off by greeting, in particular, my readers and family friends in Norway, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Italy. You all know who you are and I know we'll see you all soon at Arsenal - all of you are among the truest Gooners I know. It's the time of year for happiness and I hope Arsenal can make us all that little bit more cheery on Boxing Day. Have a great Christmas wherever you are.
 
And also to everyone else reading, from England to Australia, Happy Christmas to you all.
 
 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Mid-Season Review

It all started so well

So after all the feel-good energy injected in to the Club after winning the FA Cup in May it's all gone horribly wrong this season. Hammering Manchester City at Wembley in the Charity Shield proved to be the falsest of dawns for an Arsenal side that has only performed to that level on a handful (or somewhat less than a handful) of occasions since. Warm, silverware laden days at Wembley seem a long time ago as we approach the depths of an English Winter.
Back in July I was as excited about the season ahead as I can remember being in a long time. We had signed Alexis Sanchez for big money, and replaced Bacary Sagna with Mathieu Debuchy. We all knew Vermaelen was leaving, but Arsene had gone and got a young pretender in Calum Chambers who would be backed up by the signing of an experienced, quality centre-back to replace the skipper. We were also going to bring in a monster of a midfield player to shore up the area in front of the defence. Add a goalscorer and a decent goalkeeper and we were set. Oh. And that's where it started to go wrong. Well, actually, I suppose it started before that. It started even before Alexis had been captured. Cesc Fabregas had been allowed to join Chelsea despite Arsenal having the option to buy him on the cheap. In passing up the opportunity Wenger pointed to the fact he has Ozil and the likes of Rosicky, Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere and Diaby. He overlooked the golden rule, of course, that Cesc is an improvement on all of them (Ozil is probably on the same level as Fabregas if only he was actually interested in playing football). The fact that he was then free to sign for Chelsea simply made it worse - by not strengthening Arsenal's squad Wenger had gone and made Chelsea better instead. It was, by any standards, a crazy piece of business.
The rest of the transfer window turned in to an utterly unfunny joke at the expense of the Arsenal fans. Instead of the monster midfielder, promised (by Wenger) centre-half, goal-scorer and decent goalkeeper we got Danny Welbeck (who Wenger admitted he wouldn't have signed had he actually been in the country on deadline day!) and David Ospina to challenge Szczesny - the problem with Ospina is that he signed with a serious injury and hasn't really recovered from it. You would think after the Kallstrom nonsense that Wenger might have learned his lesson, but no. After all, Arsene knows.



The undoubted star of the show

When the football got under way I couldn't wait to see Alexis play. I've not been disappointed by the little man from Chile. There are signs that he might be feeling the pace now, having played more than he has ever done in his career. He is a player who never stops running, and eventually that has to catch up with you. The Christmas schedule must surely see him getting some rest at some point, but he is so important to this side that you can't see how we can afford to lose him. If the other players could display the same attitude to hard work that Alexis has on the pitch then we wouldn't be struggling quite so badly. I make the distinction there about his hard work on the pitch as he certainly doesn't take the warm-up even remotely seriously.
Alexis has been deployed in every attacking position so far this season and he has not been found wanting in any of them. He has also shown that he can score all kinds of goals from long-range stunners to tap-ins, as well as a magnificent header against Burnley. He takes people on, not always successfully, and that is sometimes his weakness. Alexis gives up possession a fair bit, but I would say that he then wins it straight back through his sheer desire more often than not. He has been phenomenal and Wenger leaving him out of the Spurs game is something that puzzles me to this day. It was a crazy decision.


We miss this bloke badly

As I wrote above, we simply haven't played well this season. Aside from Galatassaray (only the first-half in the away game though), Newcastle, 85 minutes against Man City,  and an hour at home to Anderlecht this Arsenal team hasn't performed. We got lucky against Crystal Palace on the opening day, though you had the thought that a last minute winner might set us up for a real good go. That thought was shattered before half-time at Everton the following week. The late comeback showed, perhaps, a little fighting spirit but the holes in the team at the back were all too obvious. By the time we were relying on Sanogo to try and get the goals at Leicester you knew we were in all sorts of trouble really. Signing Danny Welbeck gave us a genuine work horse to play in place of the stricken Giroud, but for all his redoubtable footballing qualities, Welbeck is a man actually afraid of the ball when it gets in the penalty area.
Mesut Ozil was having a disastrous season even before his serious knee injury. He wasn't helped by being played out of position so often - he certainly isn't a winger. He put together a couple of decent displays at Villa and at home to Spurs, only to then be shunted out wide again the following week at Chelsea! You wonder what goes through Wenger's mind at times. I can only hope that having a long time out injured can focus Ozil's mind and make him realise that he is supposed to earn his money. Sadly I think he is scared of being hit hard by a tackle and this makes him a complete waste of space in the Premier League. 
This Arsenal team has lacked pace. Take out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and/or Welbeck and there is simply no speed there. Theo Walcott is still not back after virtually a year out with his knee injury. If he comes back and has lost even a yard of his pace then his career is over. And should we really be feeling dependent on a player who is actually pretty limited and has spent almost as much time on the sidelines in his career as Diaby has? What Theo does bring is a threat that opposition defenders are genuinely afraid of. He adds a dimension to our play that we simply don't have when he's absent. We still haven't seen him get a run of games alongside Ozil, and that's the only defence I have for the German - give him a player making those runs in behind and maybe he'll come alive.
We all expected Aaron Ramsey to take up where he left off last season. It hasn't happened. There has been a regression in to the player of two years ago, all fancy flicks and showboating rather than unquestioning hard work which then pays dividends. It was typical of the way things have gone that, just as he finds something approaching some form, he gets a hamstring injury and misses a load of games at the busiest point in the season. However, he has let us down since the start of the season. When the team is playing badly it needs the star players to step up. That hasn't happened with Ramsey. To be fair, it also hasn't happened with Cazorla until the last couple of weeks, but I thought he was totally outstanding at Anfield on Sunday amid a sea of utter dross in Arsenal yellow.
The Anderlecht home game highlighted something I think most of us hadn't quite realised to any great degree. Mikel Arteta has been brilliant when he has played this season, and his on-field leadership is crucial. Arteta seems a quiet and understated kind of guy, but he is not afraid to leave his foot in. He knows when it is "necessary" to make a foul. I could do with him being in the face of the referee a bit more, but that isn't his character. When he went off injured against the Belgians we simply fell apart. There was no leadership, no organisation, no control in midfield. I believe he slows us down unnecessarily at times, and too often goes sideways with his passing. But there are times when that is just what is required. Arteta is, by and large, a calm head when everyone else is in full Arsenal panic mode. It was Arteta who worked out the need to stop Hull getting the high ball to El-Mohammady in the Cup Final and he went and dealt with it, all the while directing his players from behind the skippers armband. As with Gilberto, though not quite on the same level as the Brazilian master, you maybe notice Arteta more when he isn't there. Flamini tries hard, but I'd rather see him concentrate on his own deficiencies than pointing everyone else in to position all the time. Without Arteta there is no screen for that weak defence. His recurring calf problem is a cause for serious concern, but Wenger can alleviate that by doing business in January. Anyone that would object to the idea of bringing back Alex Song at this stage must be crazy.
The defence is woeful as a unit whenever Koscielny is missing. With a chronic Achilles problem that issue is not going to be remedied in the short-term. It could actually be that Koscielny is pretty much finished, such is the effect this injury can have. Debuchy has been superb when he's played, and is very much a fine replacement for Sagna. Kieran Gibbs is the best left-back in the country, but still seemingly unable to string more than about four or five games together without another injury. Monreal has done okay, or even better than that, given that he has played out of position for most of the season. But the problems are with the others. Szczesny is just too error prone and has not improved. We don't have a proper option to replace him because we signed a crock in the transfer window. Calum Chambers looks more and more out of his depth by the week. I know the lad is very young, but Wenger spent serious money on a player who seems to have an inability to learn from the most basic errors, which he continues to make week after week, and he will never get pace - he is slow and that's no good to us at the moment. And then there is Per Mertesacker. When I wrote this piece last year I was effusive about the BFG and all he brings to the team. He wisely retired from the German team after the World Cup, but he also seems to have retired from the Premier League. Yes, he looks so much better when Koscielny is alongside him, but how is that any good to Arsenal? Mertesacker is 6'7" and is constantly beaten in the air because he never gets off the ground. When he does head the ball it is always flicked or cushioned, never headed with authority, and this often puts us in trouble around our own penalty area. You don't win over 100 caps for Germany if you can't play, but right now he is in the team simply because Wenger didn't do proper business in the Summer. He shouldn't be playing.
And amid all this defensive frailty we have a lad on loan at West Ham who is showing himself to be the best right-back England has, and one of the best in the Premier League - loaning out Carl Jenkinson is seriously haunting Arsene Wenger.

You've sorted the zip, now how about some tactics?

So what about the Manager? I would say that most of my output here in the last couple of years has involved having a dig at one thing or another that he has done, or not done. I have long called for him to be replaced. The clamour grows ever stronger with every new capitulation or disaster. Sunday at Liverpool was a microcosm of what Wenger's Arsenal has become. It was obvious to all that we were being over run through the midfield. Arsene sat on the bench and did nothing to address it. Simply dropping Oxlade-Chamberlain alongside the struggling Flamini might have alleviated the issue. Get a foot-hold, get on the ball and build from there. But as usual the players are expected to figure it out for themselves. Now I'm not saying they shouldn't be able to do just that - most of them are experienced internationals, after all. We got lucky to go in at half-time all square, and then played marginally better against a poor opponent, finally putting a move together and getting a fine goal. But you just knew it was going to go wrong because we don't know how to defend. Wenger makes stupid substitutions, and this invites more pressure. We drop deeper and deeper, failing to find that balance between not being gung-ho, but not allowing the opponent freedom to attack at the same time. Meanwhile, Arsene stays rooted to the bench. The players can figure it out, can't they? And what happens? We let in a last minute equaliser through our failure to mark people at set-pieces, and an unwillingness to attack the ball in the air. Everything about it is woeful.
If it was a one-off you could maybe let things go. But this isn't a one-off. It happens week after week, game after game. We play the same way. It's easy for half-decent opponents to defend against, and even easier for any team with good attackers to destroy us at the back. Throughout it all Wenger gets more and more infuriating. He talks nonsense about the players and comes out with the most ridiculous tosh imaginable (Sunday's offering was to blame a hangover from the game at Anfield last season, overlooking the fact that only a third of the team this week actually played in that game!) 
Watching Arsenal under Arsene Wenger is no longer a pleasure. We don't play good football. We don't score enough goals. We concede goals all too easily. There are too many mediocre footballers. And yet he won't change anything, whether it be personnel, formation, style or tactics. How can he continue to insult the likes of Podolski and Rosicky by not giving them a chance in a side that can hardly win a game of football when it matters? 

A few signings, a lot of points and the FA Cup please

It has been nothing short of a disastrous first half of the season. Injuries haven't helped, of course, but much of that could have been alleviated with proper transfer business. The appointment of Shad Forsyth certainly hasn't improved the injury situation - if anything it is worse than ever. A favourable draw in the Champions League has given Arsenal hope of a quarter-final place for the first time in a few years, but what is likely to happen if we get there? In the Premier League we have only really fourth place to challenge for. Again. That is just not good enough for fans paying the highest admission prices in football. So all we can really hope to celebrate is an FA Cup win again. We will need Father Christmas to work his magic if that is to happen with this Arsenal team.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Long Live The King

Thanks Thierry



Ian Wright broke a near 60 year-old Arsenal record in the Autumn of 1997. As we walked away from that game against Bolton my brother pointed out that we would probably never see another goal scorer like Wrighty in our lifetime. Less than two years later Arsene Wenger replaced Nicolas Anelka (who had already displaced Ian Wright) with Thierry Henry. Within eight years of Wright setting his record, this guy Henry had surpassed him. He became, quite simply, The King of Highbury.
When I got up this morning I did my usual thing of putting on Sky Sports News. I was met with their top story that Thierry Henry has retired as a professional footballer. The last faint hope that he would have one last hurrah as a member of the Arsenal squad was extinguished. Even more disappointingly he is going to be working for Sky Sports as a pundit, rather than in any role at Arsenal (BBC have paid the price for putting him on a panel with Robbie Savage at the World Cup). Now is not the time to go in to the wrongs of that so I'll lay off Wenger for a change. Suffice to say that I felt sad that he was finished as a player and all that's left are memories. The wonderful memories of an Arsenal player second only to Dennis Bergkamp. That they played in the same team, along with Lehmann, Campbell, Cole, Kolo, Lauren, Pires, Vieira, Gilberto, Parlour and Ljungberg tells you why Arsenal were so good at the time. 
Thierry arrived at Arsenal in August 1999 at the same time as Davor Suker. I remember him coming on against Leicester in the second half of the opening game of the season and breaking the net in front of the North Bank with a rocket of a shot. Unfortunately the shot had missed the target and smashed the rope holding the stanchion. That mix of explosive pace and terrible finishing was a feature of his first couple of months. He seemed unable to even control a football at times. He got that elusive first goal with a stunner at The Dell, and followed it up with a goal at Wembley against Solna in the Champions League - a goal he created by mis-controlling the ball and wrong footing the defence and goalkeeper. Nonetheless it broke the shackles a little and I remember Wembley physically shaking under the post-match celebrations of over 70,000 Arsenal supporters. We would still have a to wait a little for him to truly spark, but that arrived with a classy brace at home to Derby County. From there on he never, ever looked back.
Henry carried Arsenal to a European Final in his first season, but he couldn't find the net in Copenhagen as we lost to Galatsaray on penalties. His failure to score in Final's was an anomaly in his greatness that he could never put right for club or country, and was often used as a stick to beat him with by elements of the media. Of course that would overlook his contribution, even without scoring, in those big matches but it gave the media a negative narrative they could use against a genuinely World Class talent. I'm sure it frustrated him as much as it did us, but it shouldn't detract from his achievements. He also went on to win Euro 2000 at the end of his first Arsenal season, adding to his World Cup medal from 1998.
The following season also saw us come away from a Final empty handed after we were mugged in Cardiff by Michael Owen and, more particularly, the referee Steve Dunn. That defeat lit a spark in Thierry and a number of the other Arsenal players, augmented by the signing of Sol Campbell. Thierry's goals, with the major assistance of Bergkamp and Robert Pires, took us on the charge the following season. He won the first of his Golden Boot awards as Arsenal won the Double, though he would miss the coup-de-grace at Old Trafford through injury. By this time he was already moving in to Legend status. That was cemented with another FA Cup win the following year (though his Man Of The Match award in that game was "stolen" from the outstanding Oleg Luzhny in his final game for the Club).

 His most important Arsenal goal


The following season was the Invincible season. Thirty league goals tells you all you need to know about his contribution. What it doesn't tell you is just how good he was. Quite simply, Thierry Henry was truly unstoppable in 2003-04. No defender in the World could live with him. Just watch how Javier Zanetti was destroyed by him when we beat Inter 5-1 in the San Siro. We would go on to lose the FA Cup semi-final, largely because Thierry was rested for it. The knock-on effect came a few days later when the Invincibles failed to seal their destiny and lost to Chelsea in the Champions League. Three days later the whole season looked set to implode until Henry decided enough was enough. He'd already won Goal Of The Season the previous year with THAT goal against Tottenham. He repeated it on Good Friday 2004 by waltzing past half the Liverpool side and slotting past Dudek. But is wasn't just the quality of the goal. It was what it meant to the season. This was the best player in the World (criminally finishing behind Pavel Nedved in the official voting) stepping up to the plate an scoring a goal that only someone that special could produce. To do it at all was amazing. To do it in the circumstances that were playing out showed you how special Thierry Henry was as an Arsenal player. To me it was the best goal he ever scored for Arsenal (and there was plenty of competition). It was also the most important as it meant that the Invincible season was still on. To be fair, it was never under threat again until after the Title had been won. I think we all knew, as we left that game, that Arsenal were going to be Champions. Henry would go on to produce the most spectacular performance of forward play I have ever witnessed as he almost single-handedly destroyed Leeds United with his pace, power and technique.
An injury kept Henry out of the FA Cup Final against Manchester United in 2005. Somehow we won on penalties after being battered for two hours. What followed for him was the position of Arsenal Captain. He was given it because he was the main man and Wenger clearly hoped this would keep him at the Club. In truth he was never a real Captain in the way of Tony Adams or Patrick Vieira. In some ways I think the responsibility weighed heavily on him. Not only was he having to lead the side, but he was also having to carry it. Wenger had sold Vieira and not replaced him. There were a few mediocre types in the squad by now, compared to two years previously, and Thierry was swimming against the tide. Nonetheless he would take us to Paris for the European Cup Final. On the way he proved he wasn't the big-match choker the media wanted to put down as he scored another of his great solo efforts at Real Madrid. This was the Real Madrid of Galacticos fame, but Henry and his Arsenal team beat them in their own back yard. He showed that he was a Galactico in his own right. In the Final against Barcelona he had the chances to win us the Champions League, but a combination of poor finishing (he was never a "natural" goal scorer, which I know sounds stupid when he scored so many goals) and an inspired Valdes in the Barca goal kept the opponents in the game. I can still see the one-on-one shortly before their equaliser and it still hurts. 
Thierry signed a new contract and took us to the new stadium. I strongly suspect the deal involved him leaving at the end of that first season in the new place all along. But Arsenal couldn't afford to lose him, as well as Bergkamp, Pires, Campbell and Cole in the Summer that they moved to a new home. In truth it was a poor season for Henry. He was injured for most of it and, when he did play, he didn't always look dead pleased to be there. He lacked effort at times, and certainly couldn't hide his frustration at playing with some of the individuals that had replaced the legendary Invincibles. There was one great goal from him though as he provided the first special moment in the new stadium against Manchester United. However, the writing was on the wall and he left for Barcelona in 2007. It was over. Arsenal's greatest ever goal scorer was no longer an Arsenal player. It was another hole that simply could not be filled. To watch him go on and win everything at Barcelona made it even tougher.


The King returns


Of course, it wasn't the end of the story. Having moved to New York Thierry was always at a loose end in the English Winter. He started to train with Arsenal and, with us having nobody other than Van Persie to play up front, Wenger was convinced to sign him on loan in January 2012. What followed was a glorious few weeks where The King was back where he belonged. The night he made his comeback against Leeds will stay with me forever. It was an awful game, with an awful Arsenal performance against a poor side from the lower leagues. And then Thierry came on as a sub. As well as I can picture him missing in Paris, I can see even better his goal that night against Leeds. Special doesn't even begin to cover it. To have been in that stadium and experience that feeling is the reason we go to football. What a noise for a goal in such a game. It was the sort of thing that makes you believe in fate. Clearly it was meant to happen. But also, much as with the Liverpool goal, you have to be special to do that at the very moment it's required. Only truly great footballers have that ability, that composure, that sublime skill.


One last goal


He would go on from there to have a deflected goal taken away from him in a home game with Blackburn Rovers. It still disgusts me to this day that Arsenal accepted the "judgement" on the goal and re-adjusted their official records at the end of the season. Christ, Frank Lampard would have scored about fifty less goals than he has if the same rules had been applied to him!
But Henry wasn't quite finished. He decided there was one more moment. One more special thing to do. Coming on as a late sub at Sunderland for his last ever Premier League appearance he stuck in a last minute winner from a cross by Andrei Arshavin. Fate again? Maybe. It was a particularly special goal for my family as my nephew was Arsenal mascot that day. I was in a hotel room in Southampton jumping up and down and screaming (and gutted that I was working rather than being at the Stadium of Light) at the thought that The King had decided there was one last goal to be scored for Arsenal.
Wenger should have signed Thierry Henry on a permanent deal at that time. He still had plenty to offer in a proper football league. In truth he wasted his final few seasons when he should have been at Arsenal. I am certain that, had he been offered the chance, he would have bitten off Wenger's arm at the prospect of finishing his career at Arsenal. Sadly, it wasn't to be. Chances to bring him in on loan in the next two years were also passed upon by Arsene, and Thierry had played for Arsenal for the final time.



TH14



In the four year period from 2001 to 2005 Arsenal played football in a way that no other English side has ever done. Thierry Henry, under the guidance of Arsene Wenger, was re-inventing the position of striker throughout that time. If you watch Messi and Ronaldo now they are playing in the same role that Henry did - not a striker as such, but without doubt the main goal scorer. To be fair, he was never a centre-forward as we would know it. He wasn't a natural "finisher" in the way that Ian Wright had been. He got better and better in front of goal, of course, but he would never be considered a poacher. Thierry was an athlete, an incredible physical specimen with pace like we'd never seen, with or without the ball. He had skill, touch, technical ability and plenty of temper when he needed it. Moving in off the left hand side he became virtually impossible to mark (just like Ronaldo is now), with unsurpassed movement that only the brilliance of Bergkamp and Pires (and Zidane) could find when he was at his peak. Another reason I would say he wasn't a "proper" centre-forward is that he was too unselfish. Ian Wright would never have even considered squaring the ball to someone when he was in on goal. Henry would actively look for someone if he could, rather than just have a goal for himself. And when you consider how many goals he actually scored, it's incredible to think how many he created, or could have had for himself, were he not such a team man. People can try and compare Alan Shearer of Didier Drogba etc to Thierry Henry all they like. The fact is there is no comparison. Thierry Henry had it all. Not just a World Class striker, he was a World Class footballer, full-stop. He could play off the shoulder of the last man, or he could drop deep to destroy anyone he wanted. He was two-footed, better in the air than he ever allowed himself to show, and had skills to die for. Zidane says he is technically the most gifted player in history. That is high praise indeed, but anyone who had the privilege to watch Henry as often as I did can see what Zidane is talking about. He was a phenomenon. It was an honour to watch and enjoy Thierry Henry play for Arsenal. As with Dennis, we might never see his like again. 

Thanks Thierry. The King.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

So much better than last week

Some finish that was


It seems hard to believe that most of the same players have been involved in Arsenal's last three matches. Defensive frailty remains utterly prevalent and a decent side will probably be too good for us, but the intensity of Arsenal's play in Istanbul and yesterday was in incredibly marked contrast to the game at Stoke. Maybe the close-quarters abuse directed at Wenger and the players at Stoke station last Saturday has had the effect of shocking a few people in to playing properly. 
I would have liked to write after the excellent win in Turkey but I had a long week at work and simply didn't have the time to get down to writing. Let's be clear that very few people fancied Arsenal to get a result in Istanbul from the time the draw was made. Given the way we often play away in Europe, and the fact that the game had effectively become something of a dead rubber, there was little worth being optimistic about before kick-off. However, Lukas Podolski looked more up for the game than I've ever seen him, and I particularly enjoyed the way he was in the ear of the referee whenever Melo was trying to maim someone in a yellow shirt. In front of goal Podolski showed just why he is such a valuable, and criminally under used, player for Arsenal. I'm 100% certain he won't be around next season, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be. He scored two really good goals, hit the bar, and brought a great save from the goalkeeper on Wednesday. When he gets the ball in front of goal I believe he will score, and that is not something I can say about Giroud or Welbeck (and definitely not Sanogo - his lack of quality was summed up just seconds after Podolski's first goal when Ramsey put him in on goal, only for Yaya to trip over the ball as he tried to control it). 
One of the features of the other night, I felt, was the move of Oxlade-Chamberlain in to the centre. Whenever he's played there in the past he has been dominant and Galatasaray had no answer to his pace, power and skill. Ox's ability to carry the ball forward gives us something different in the middle of midfield and he brought the best out of Aaron Ramsey on the night. As for that goal by Ramsey, what can you say? Quite simply it was the goal of the season.
The second-half in Istanbul was much different without Flamini and Ramsey on the pitch, and actually the opposition had plenty of opportunities to give Arsenal a problem. I really wanted to see Chuba Akpom come on up front in place of Sanogo. With the way Ox and Joel Campbell (I thought he had a fine game) were running with the ball we needed a pacy outlet for them to find and stretch the defence. I am convinced Wenger doesn't want to give Akpom his chance as he would show up the difference in class between himself and Sanogo. However, in the shadow of a 4-1 away win in Europe that has to be a relatively small complaint.
It was no surprise to see Ramsey getting injured just as he hits a bit of form. It seems we are forever cursed with the never ending chain of muscle injuries. I don't know how much Arsenal's fitness and conditioning people are paid but it's far too much. Thankfully, following his rest in midweek Santi Cazorla was back yesterday to replace Ramsey. This meant Ox dropped back alongside Flamini and I didn't feel he had such a good game as on Wednesday. With Alexis, Welbeck and Giroud also back we had a very strong front four.
I mentioned earlier the intensity of our game and there was a lot of good closing down yesterday. Having said that, I watched Match Of The Day last night and heard Danny Murphy praising Arsenal for having eight outfield players pushing on to Newcastle from the kick-off. Is this not the same thing that has been criticised when our play breaks down leaving just the two centre-backs within fifty yards of our goal? It just shows what nonsense punditry is on the television.
The first goal was a direct result of good pressure on the ball from Arsenal. Debuchy attacked a header on the halfway line, and then Bellerin stepped in to nick the loose ball as it rebounded forward towards Arsenal's half. From there Giroud linked well with Alexis and I loved seeing a cross that is actually aimed at a big centre-forward for Arsenal for a change. Giroud had the run on his man and leaped high to score, but normally our crosses are aimless or along the ground. With Welbeck and Giroud in the side it really is a weapon Arsenal must learn to use properly. It's really not difficult, which is probably why we concede so many goals from balls crossed into the box. The quality of Alexis made the goal and he really is a diamond in this Arsenal team. Considering he is only a small guy he is brave and tough. Not many players of his diminutive stature would have kept getting on the ball so keenly after the early assault on his chest by Tiote (I bet the FA don't investigate him). 
Danny Welbeck scored a brilliant goal to make it 2-0 but Lee Mason had other ideas. He certainly couldn't be accused of favouring the home team and he seemed almost to apologise for finally awarding Arsenal a penalty in the last couple of minutes. He should be asked why Dummett wasn't red carded for the foul on that occasion as Welbeck was in on goal. Mason's decisions throughout the game were nothing short of bizarre. The inconsistency of the man was wretched and yet again I find myself questioning whether there is a sinister element to the way Premier League games are officiated. There isn't a single referee at the top level in England who is up to the job, and they are slowly ruining the game in the Premier League. Why is it that time and again the headline after a game concerns something the referee has done or not done? That can't be right.
The two goals early in the second-half were glorious. Cazorla showed great balance, and a desire to score, when fouled in the penalty area. His finish from a tight angle was glorious. Santi has struggled for form as much as anyone in this Arsenal side so far during the season, but yesterday he looked sharper. It was another assist for Alexis, but it was Cazorla's individual ability that got the goal. The next from Giroud was also a sublime piece of skill, but it was made by Arsenal playing at pace. Speed kills defences, and Ox and Bellerin combined to destroy Newcastle down Arsenal's right wing. I was impressed by Bellerin's composure in the box as he got his head up and picked the pass to Giroud. The flick from the Frenchman was beautiful in its execution and the young goalkeeper had no chance. Even this struggling Arsenal side still has the ability to excite with their football when they do it at pace. They have to play exactly this way at Liverpool next weekend too.
So it's been a good week following the disaster at Stoke last Saturday. We now have a midweek free for the players to rest and prepare for Anfield. I hope Arsene Wenger is also using his time wisely in the transfer market to get deals done at the earliest point in January - the window for actual signings is closed, but that doesn't mean you can't be doing business. We all know, and Wenger knows too, where we are short handed. He simply must address it, and I don't mean he has to go and sign some Swedish veteran with a broken back.

As we get closer to Christmas you can expect the usual things on the website. I'll be writing the annual mid-season review at the beginning of next week, between the Liverpool game and Christmas itself, and then I'll be posting a brief piece on Christmas Eve. Hopefully there will be some stuff to write about before we get to the Liverpool match.
The Facebook page ("It's MY Arsenal Opinion") has had a lot of new hits overnight. I don't know why that should be, but welcome to any new readers/followers. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram by searching for @ARSENALDvbrisG - though the language on the Twitter account can often be industrial, so be warned!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Why are people still defending the indefensible?

You're all a disgrace


Let's make it abundantly clear - the result may have been 3-2 but Arsenal were humiliated yet again yesterday. Just add the 3-0 half-time score at Stoke to the first-half embarrassments at Chelsea and Liverpool earlier this year. Straight away we had Mertesacker and Flamini wheeled out by the official website for the "We're sorry" and "We're disappointed with ourselves" interviews. Well shut the f*** up. Do the people at Arsenal really think the fans are still swallowing this bull**** from the players? Every time there's another humiliation (and these are not rare for Wenger's Arsenal these days) we get the same platitudes from whichever player has drawn the short straw. If you're so f***ing sorry then why did you play like utterly useless c***s in the first place? Why, after twenty seconds, had you already shown yourselves to be frightened of the physical challenge of playing Stoke City? Scared, like little boys playing against a team of big men from the local Sunday League.
That first-half was as bad as just about any of the other capitulations of the last twelve months. And as much as I've gone in to one at the players it comes back to the mentality with which they leave the dressing room. What sort of speech had been given by Wenger? They were sent out timid and they played like it. Kieran Gibbs made Jonathan Walters look like some kind of top class winger. Calum Chambers, in that first attack, basically ducked out of the way of the ball and left Bellerin with two men to try and deal with. And where the hell was Per Mertesacker throughout all this disastrous defending? Poor young Hector was then the one given the hook at half-time - but then he was the youngest and that makes him Wenger's easiest target. The only genuine casualties of what happened yesterday will be Bellerin and Martinez, neither of whom will get a look in next Saturday when Newcastle come to town. All the others will be involved. Why? Because the two youngsters are the ones he can take it out on with no confrontation likely to occur.
I've seen the most ardent of the Wengerites trying to blame the referee for the outcome of the game. I'm more than willing to pull out Mr Taylor for the numerous outrageous errors he made (yet again in a match involving Arsenal), most notably the disgraceful failure to send off Charlie Adam for his physical assault on Alexis - he actually chose to tell Alexis to calm down. But to suggest Taylor cost Arsenal the game is a nonsense. Arsenal cost themselves the game by the way they went about the first-half, and the fact that we had a makeshift team on the pitch because Arsene Wenger has been guilty of the most criminal mismanagement of Arsenal FC in thirty years. Stevie Wonder could have seen where Arsenal's problems were going to be this season, long before the transfer window closed. The one man who couldn't see it is the one man we rely upon to ensure we challenge for the top honours. And still people want to blame a referee when you're 3-0 down at half-time against a pub team.
There is no excuse for the state of the Arsenal squad. There is also no excuse for the constant inaction of Wenger during games. And what exactly does Steve Bould do apart from picking up a good wage? Wenger and Bould sat on the bench throughout the whole show yesterday. Where was the instruction? Where were the b******ings? Where was the leadership? With 80 minutes on the clock Joel Campbell appeared on the touchline, stripped and ready to play. And there he stayed until 92 minutes were on the clock. What was Wenger waiting for? Throughout this whole time we still had four at the back, two of whom were Flamini and Ramsey. We still had just Danny Welbeck playing up front on his own. As bad as the players are, what chance are they being given by a Manager who is content to wallow in mediocrity?
I keep hearing people from other clubs saying how us Arsenal supporters are spoiled. Yes, we are. But we are ARSENAL for God's sake! In an era where we are one of the few Clubs equipped financially to compete for the major honours, how is it a bad thing to expect better? One trophy in nine years. Three times a Premier League Title thrown away in that time because Arsene Wenger refused to spend the money on the one or two players that would have made us Champions.
I can accept Arsenal losing games of football. But I can not accept being ritually humiliated. It's bad enough when it happens at Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. But at Stoke City? Wenger has usually referred to these disasters as "accidents". Surely an accident is something that can not be avoided, pure happenstance, rather than something that everyone can see coming. And if these are just accidents then I'd hate to see Wenger's insurance premium. How many more nails have to be put in the coffin of Wenger's reign? It's driving us all to distraction.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Alexis ensures Southampton got what they deserved - nothing

The little fella does it again for Arsenal
 
 
I imagine all three of BT Sport's neutral viewers switched off long before Alexis stabbed in the late winner last night. It was a pretty awful game of football, punctuated by Arsenal creating some great chances for Danny Welbeck (that he missed) and one fine header from Giroud, made by the ball of the night from Podolski, which brought a wonderful save from Forster. Certainly there was little to warm up those of us in the stadium on a cold night in North London.
Southampton were a real disappointment. Obviously it isn't incumbent on any visiting side to come out and play at Arsenal (remember Chelsea on 23rd December last year?) but I would be annoyed today if I was a Saints fan. They've had a fine season, and have seemingly played a lot of good football along the way. To come to Arsenal last night with absolutely no intention whatsoever of trying to score a goal was awful. Their only opportunity came when a throw-in was taken quickly, about ten yards further forward than it had gone out, that allowed Tadic the space to create a problem for Arsenal's otherwise impressive defence. Aside from that moment I thought Calum Chambers had Tadic in his pocket pretty much throughout and played his best game for Arsenal so far. I've given Chambers plenty of stick as I think he has been over-hyped but last night the youngster was outstanding. Also credit to Monreal on the other side of the defence.
Back to Southampton and their sole tactic seemed to be get the ball towards Pelle and hope that he could bump in to Koscielny and knock him over. Fortunately for Arsenal the ability of Koscielny was just too much for their main man. However, I will be amazed if Koscielny plays at Stoke City this weekend. He was limping after twenty minutes and somehow got through the game. We really do need him Saturday against Stoke's battering rams so we have to hope a few days in cotton wool can help him recover.
At the other end of the pitch Santi Cazorla was our best player in the first-half, though he faded after that. I thought the little man looked back to his best at times last night and that is very welcome. He was responsible for the first of Danny Welbeck's three clear-cut chances. We have a problem in Welbeck. He gives so much to the team with his work rate, and he makes all the right runs. But his job is to score goals and he simply misses too many chances. In the last few league matches we have had plenty of opportunities to score more goals, and many have fallen to Welbeck. That he has just one goal, from a goalkeeping error, in that time tells us something. Unfortunately Giroud isn't really much better in front of goal - what was that all about when he tried to pass the ball back to a stricken Aaron Ramsey who had put him in on goal, on his left foot, shortly after our goal?
The goal, of course, eventually came from Alexis. I thought the Chilean was poor last night. Maybe he's starting to feel the fatigue a little, and he will certainly need some kind of rest in the next four weeks, but he was on the spot when it mattered. Ramsey had another wretched game, but he did brilliantly to create the goal and maybe he'll get some confidence from that. I don't know how the cretinous Andre Marriner missed a clear handball seconds before we scored, but that could have been costly to Arsenal. Nobody could genuinely argue (though Dietmarr Hamaan did so on Match Of The Day) that Arsenal didn't deserve the win given the way Southampton played, so it was justice when Alexis poked it home.
After the goal, however, the Arsenal players lost the plot again. In to injury-time we had two corners and a free-kick. Did we simply run down the clock with the ball in the corners of the pitch? No! We were putting crosses in to the box and giving the ball back to our opponents. Everyone in the crowd knew what the players needed to do, but these international footballers couldn't work it out. It was utterly crazy. Last night it didn't cost us, but what the hell are they thinking at times?
So another three points, and consecutive 1-0 wins. I'll take that all the way. There's nothing wrong with 1-0.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

One King coming to Arsenal this Christmas

HE is coming home


Things are looking up a bit after the last couple of games. Good wins (and clean sheets) against Dortmund and West Brom have seen us go in to December feeling quite a bit brighter than we might have thought just a week ago. I was really pleased with the win at West Brom. Yes, we are still missing too many chances, and we can still give away too many opportunities at the other end, but the chances can't keep being missed. Eventually they are going to go in the net and someone is going to take a pasting. I wouldn't mind if that started tomorrow evening against Southampton. Before that, though, is the good news we've known has been coming.
Unfortunately for Thierry Henry his New York Red Bulls lost their play-off tie at the weekend. Thierry signed off with a classic assist in his final MLS game. I can't help thinking that he has utterly wasted these past few years, but he has doubtless been financially rewarded in a big way. But now his time in America is over. And, it being Christmas time, everyone is waiting for the coming of The King. Arsenal supporters are no different, and this particular Arsenal supporter wants to see our King where he belongs.
Yesterday Henry issued a statement to say that he was finished with New York Red Bulls, but not that his playing career was over. Within an hour his official Facebook page had changed its cover photo to a shot of his statue gazing at Arsenal Stadium. Thierry clearly advised his people to show that Arsenal is where he wants to be and he needs to show it to everyone.
Arsene Wenger confirmed today that Henry will return to Arsenal, though he knows not when, or in what role. The key point here is that The King may yet play for us once more. I read a report (and you know I pay no attention to the papers normally) that Thierry Henry wants to sign a contract at Arsenal to the end of the season so that he can retire as an Arsenal player. I hope that this is one of those occasions where the players representatives have planted the story. He may be 37, but just having Henry on the bench and around the squad would be huge. Can you imagine defenders in the opposition line-ups if he was to trot on with fifteen minutes to go? They'd be drawn to him simply because of who he is, and that would create space elsewhere. Add to that his very presence around the strikers and younger players in the squad, as well as the impact on the supporters, and you have a mix that can create a feel-good atmosphere at the Club for a few months.
It is 100% certain that Thierry Henry is coming home. It will happen sooner rather than later. And what I wouldn't give to see him play in that shirt just one more time, score one more goal, and to take my boys to watch him - they'd forever be able to say "I saw Thierry Henry play for Arsenal". Anyone who was there when he scored against Leeds on his comeback will know the impact that Thierry Henry can have on Arsenal. Let's see it one more time, Arsene. Make it happen.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

A sad note to start as Arsenal bring some cheer

RIP Phillip Hughes


I promise that this will develop in to a positive post based on the football from Arsenal last night. However, I have to start on a sad theme. If you read my profile near the bottom of this page you will see that I am a cricket fan. I played the game to a good standard but I'm now more of  a spectator with a tattoo of the England cricket crest on my leg. Cricket is my main sporting passion outside of Arsenal. It is with great sadness that I woke this morning to the news that Phil Hughes had died as a result of being struck on the neck while batting a couple of days ago. 
It's quite frightening that, while completely freak in its nature, is the sort of thing that could actually happen to anybody that sets foot on a cricket pitch. For it to happen to a top level player merely underlines that a cricket ball bowled at your head is a very dangerous thing indeed. It's such a sad, sad thing to happen.

RIP Phil.


A big miss when he's injured


It was a pleasant experience to watch Arsenal play last night. I thought it was a fine all round performance, especially after half-time when we were barely troubled, largely due to a more organised looking defence. I have to say that I thought Nacho Monreal, Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers played really well, while Emiliano Martinez made two very good saves and never looked remotely ruffled. In front of the defence Mikel Arteta was outstanding, and yet another bad calf injury (this is clearly a chronic problem that he has now) means we are going to miss him badly. I have come to realise that, a bit like Gilberto, you notice Arteta more when he isn't around. Flamini lacks the positional discipline, and the ability to keep the ball, that Arteta has. It is testament to the man that Mikel Arteta has re-invented his game and curbed his own redoubtable attacking play to work for the team at Arsenal. Is he as good as Gilberto was? Of course not. But that doesn't mean he isn't extremely influential, as a player and as Arsenal Captain. I hope that Wenger will bring Francis Coquelin back in to the fold now as Flamini simply isn't up to the task.
It was nice to see Yaya Sanogo get a goal at last. I thought he looked offside from the other end of the ground, and TV shows that he was. Maybe that's a payback for Anderlecht's first goal the other week, but it really underlined some pretty bad officiating last night. Just before half-time Mertesacker was beaten by, I think, Aubemyang down in front of me with three officials less than ten yards away as the BFG pushed his man square in the chest - the ref inexplicably waved play-on. Anyway, back to Sanogo, and I thought he did well last night. Obviously he lacks a bit of quality, as was seen when he was put through by Aaron Ramsey and failed to get a decent shot away. However, he worked hard up front on his own and won numerous headers against strong defenders. Sanogo did all that could be asked of him in the circumstances, and hopefully he'll gain much needed confidence from his performance. I still don't believe he should be playing ahead of people like Podolski and Joel Campbell, but the Manager seems to have a lot of faith in him. I loved the "He scores when he wants..." that comically swept round the ground after Sanogo's goal.
I'm running out of things to say about Alexis. His goal last night was stunning. He didn't necessarily have his best match last night, but he still played well. His power and strength is incredible for someone so small, and he allies that to great skill and control of the ball. It seems unbelievable that he couldn't really get a game at Barcelona on a regular basis. I was excited when we signed him and he hasn't let us down. Some players simply have that bit of stardust that sets them apart, and Alexis is certainly one of them. I wish the other Arsenal players would learn from his work rate when we're not in possession, as that kind of thing doesn't even require genuine football ability. What a signing he is proving to be.
The other player who stood out again last night for me was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Following the worst game I've seen him play against Hull the other week he has been outstanding pretty much ever since. He brings direct running and pace on the wing, though I'd like to see him cross the ball more when he's beaten his man on the outside - you have to think that it must be under instruction that we always cut back inside in those situations. He was also desperately unlucky with an outstanding volley that came back off the bar. The Ox is in great form at the moment.
It made a nice change to come home from Arsenal last night in a good mood. Hopefully, with qualification secured now, we can get back to the real business of winning games in the Premier League. December is set to be a tough month, so let's go in to it in a good way with a win on Saturday, setting us up for Southampton next week.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Media latch on to Wenger Out - it's all his own making

The moment it all started to end


BBC 606 tonight went big on Wenger Out. The media bandwagon has had the brake released and that is a very bad thing for Arsene Wenger. Kroenke and Gazidis can find it very easy to ignore the fans, but they won't be able to ignore the media. If there is one thing that's going to be bad for business then it's bad PR. It gives me no pleasure to see the beginning of the end finally going public as it means that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are doing badly. But the beginning of the end it surely is.

What happened yesterday? To be fair I can say that only one Arsenal player had a particularly bad game yesterday and that was Aaron Ramsey. The fact was that we largely outplayed the absolutely worst Manchester United side since the late 1980's. Let's make no mistake about this, that Manchester United team would have been in the relegation zone ten years ago (don't let anyone fool you in to thinking that the Premier League has more quality in it nowadays). And yet Arsenal couldn't beat them. Even worse, Arsenal lost to them. We lost 2-1 to a side that had one shot on target - only Arsenal could manage that.
I believe David De Gea won man of the match. Yes, he made a number of saves from shots on target. But let's be honest here, I reckon most of us could have made those saves, so bad was Arsenal's shooting. Every single effort was straight at De Gea. The one shot that wasn't at him went in the net. Danny Welbeck, for all the good stuff he does, needs five chances to score a goal. Quite simply, he isn't good enough to play in a side that has designs on winning things. It pains me to write this, but Van Gaal was spot on about Welbeck. And then there is Jack Wilshere. What was that "finish" all about? You have the whole of one side of the goal to aim at. All you've got to do is give it the Michael Thomas flick, or even square it to Alexis (though I don't want to see players passing when one-on-one, six yards out) but instead he rolled it straight at the goalkeeper. He even got injured because he over ran the ball when we had a 4 v 3 against what passes for a Man Utd defence these days. Again, it's a simple lack of quality where it matters. Oh, and he should have been sent off.
One man who genuinely didn't deserve to be on the losing side yesterday was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. United had no answer to him, yet we didn't get him enough of the ball in the second-half. Ramsey was too busy being a show-pony while, once Jack went off injured, Mikel Arteta was doing the work of two men. Once Man Utd went 1-0 up it was back to the same old square nonsense across the massed defence. Same, same, same. And yet the players still look surprised when trying to pass through a non-existent gap on the edge of the penalty area doesn't work.
Let's clear up the point that we should have had a free-kick seconds before their first goal. It sums up Fellaini as a player that he would think to foul Gibbs before considering that he might have actually beaten him comfortably had he attacked the ball. It was a foul, and then things went against us with the deflection. But what was Aaron Ramsey doing in the build-up? We cleared our lines well and it came to Ramsey. All he had to do was head the ball further clear, even put it out for a throw-in if necessary (every throw Valencia takes is outside the laws of the game, by the way). Instead he flicked at the ball and gave it away in an area where United could exploit Arsenal's main weakness. He sold the entire team down the river with his self-serving "look at me" show boating. I am sick and tired of seeing Ramsey trying to be clever. Last season was apparently a flash in the pan. Ramsey is back to being as bad as he was two years ago and I'm fed up with it. It's easy to see why someone like Tomas Rosicky is frustrated at not getting a single start, and very rare sub appearances, when he watches crap like Ramsey playing like he has all season. As for any idea of bad luck on the goal, yes it was unlucky, but we should have been taking luck out of the equation yesterday with such dominance of the game.
The second goal came because certain Arsenal players completely lost the plot. For some reason Mertesacker had taken it upon himself to play some kind of advanced midfield role, leaving poor Nacho Monreal on his own with Rooney and Di Maria for company. At one stage Mertesacker was doing his Bambi on ice bit on the left-wing. I couldn't understand it. At the point United made it 2-0 there were five minutes on the clock, but you knew there were at least ten minutes left following the injury stoppages in the second-half. Wenger said he couldn't understand why everyone was up the pitch at that stage. The man is supposed to be the Manager for God's sake! Why wasn't he actually out on the touchline and giving orders to the players to keep their discipline and keep playing their football as they had been? How can he sit in front of the press and come out with this stuff? It gets more embarrassing by the week. Instead of being patient until you really had to go for it he oversaw another disaster of defending. I felt sorry for Monreal and Martinez.
I have to confess at this stage that I joined the exodus when Rooney scored. I haven't walked out of a game early in years. I don't like it. But I've had enough. I'll be there on Wednesday, of course, but yesterday there was only one response appropriate to what I'd witnessed. It's like watching some kind of suicide squad who have no care for their own defences as they pour forward in some forlorn pursuit of glory. 
Where do we go from here? The fact that he picked the same back four again yesterday shows you that Wenger has no desire to change anything. He is convinced, utterly and totally, that he is right and everyone else is wrong. It says it all that we were relying on Olivier Giroud yesterday to be a hero - a player who everyone had already written off as not top class long before he was out injured for three months. How far we have fallen.

If you look back, everything started to go wrong the day Patrick Vieira took his final kick of the ball for Arsenal. For some reason Wenger decided to sell him in the one close-season when he seemed absolutely certain to stay. Ever since that day the decisions of Arsene Wenger have cost Arsenal points and trophies. Jens Lehmann was dropped and then forced out. Gilberto was forced out. Ashley Cole, for all that we dislike him for what he did, was let down over a measly five grand a week. Robert Pires was sold in favour of keeping Alexander Hleb as the alternative. Thierry Henry was sold because Wenger had lost the ability to motivate him to play for Arsenal, and who could really blame Henry when he was suddenly surrounded by mediocre players and Cesc Fabregas? The fact is that Arsene Wenger has destroyed everything he created at Arsenal.
How can we go from the Invincibles to what we have now with the same Manager in charge? I can't accept any notion that Wenger was lucky back then with the players he had. He brought in each of those players to the Arsenal side, with the exceptions of Bergkamp and Parlour. The Invincibles was Arsene Wenger's team more than any of the previous successful sides he had at his disposal when Seaman, Adams, Keown, Dixon etc were still in harness (yes, I know Keown was also an Invincible officially, but he played very few minutes that season). The new stadium is used as an excuse for the sale of the top players, but Wenger insisted on moving from Highbury. Nobody can tell me that leaving our home was the right thing to do when you look at a Club suffering it's worst start to a season in 32 years. There appears no way out of the spiral now, just as there wasn't when Terry Neill was sacked, and also when George Graham was sacked. The similarities with the end of those two reigns are so clear, with a squad of players who should be doing far better than they are, but led by a Manager who has lost them and lost the plot. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

An evening with two Arsenal legends and two Arsenal trophies

The real star of the show last night


I had the honour, the privilege and the pleasure last night to interview Graham Rix and Brian Talbot, two of the heroes of the 1979 FA Cup Final, at the annual Dover Gooners Legends Dinner. Even more than that, Arsenal Football Club were kind enough to bring to Dover the FA Cup and the Charity Shield. We also had a personal video message from Mathieu Flamini to start the night. It just shows that, for all the moaning many of us indulge in with regards to the Club, and the way they treat the fans, it's not all bad. There are still a good number of people working at Arsenal who are fans themselves, and those people understand what it means to all of us. I can honestly say that having the FA Cup was a highlight for most of the people in the room, and I think the majority took the opportunity to get their picture taken with the trophies. I've met the Cup a few times now, and it never gets any less stunning in close-up - it's also quite heavy, with most of the weight coming from the lid that was damaged by Thomas Vermaelen in May.


Graham Rix and Brian Talbot on their greatest Arsenal day


As I said above, I was able to interview Rixy and Brian in front of the assembled Gooners. I'm not going to give you a full run down of what was said as that's not fair on people who paid to be there! However, what comes over loud and clear from both men, as it does with all the legends we've had down at Dover over the last ten years, is that they love The Arsenal. Brian Talbot was totally effusive about the Club. Brian "confessed" to being an Arsenal supporter and how he had hoped to sign for Arsenal straight after winning the FA Cup in 1978 for Ipswich, but Bobby Robson wouldn't let him. He finally arrived in January of the following year and the rest is history. He surprised me when he said he felt Arsenal were maybe one player short of challenging Liverpool at the time - the more things change the more they stay the same, it would seem. To then see Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton move on within a couple of years must have been a real kick in the teeth.
Rixy told us about his debut (and was serenaded with "We all agree, Rixy is better than Hoddle") and how he scored early on in the game. I ribbed him that David O'Leary outscored him that day and he pointed out that both of those goals were headers from corners delivered by himself! He also talked about the cross he put in for Alan Sunderland's winner in the Cup Final, rather humbly saying that he didn't so much pick Sunderland out (he said he hadn't actually seen him) but how he concentrated on taking the goalkeeper out of the equation, as he'd been coached to do through the years, and then Alan did the rest by making up a lot of ground to poke it home. It seems so simple when you think about it, that the cross wasn't necessarily aimed at the striker, but how it was about defeating the goalkeeper and then the centre-forward doing his own job to attack the ball. It just sums up, for me, that football is a simple game. Maybe the modern Arsenal wide players and forwards could learn from that.
You'll see in the picture above that Graham is wearing a Manchester United shirt. I asked him about it and he told us that it was Martin Buchan's shirt, but Arsenal wore two shirts that day - one in the first-half and one in the second. He has his first-half shirt framed at home as a prized possession, but he hasn't a clue where Buchan's shirt has gone! It was interesting to me that Arsenal wore two seperate kits that day. You might remember that Don Howe did the same thing with his Wimbledon players when coaching there in 1988 in order to freshen them up on a hot Wembley day. Arsenal clearly left nothing to chance in 1979.
The following season saw Brian play over 70 games for Arsenal as the team went on to lose in two Cup Final's in four days. I asked if the long season had just caught up with them at the end, but he would have none of it. He said how West Ham simply got their tactics right on the day at Wembley, while Arsenal played poorly. As for Valencia in Brussels he felt that Arsenal shaded the game, and when you watch that match he's probably right, but they just couldn't get a goal to win it.  
The most poignant part of the evening came when I asked Graham about the penalty miss in the shootout. He pointed out that he was in great company as Brady and Kempes also missed, but it was clear that it hurts him to this day. Rixy was quite emotional recalling the penalty, and how he felt. Some 34 years later it still gets to him. He told us how he cried after missing, then he saw his parents when he got his medal and he cried some more, and then the Arsenal fans sang his name - at this point in his recollection I think he came close to tears last night. As a fan I find it reassuring that a player could feel like that. I don't know if the modern millionaire player might feel quite the same emotions as Graham Rix did, and still does, but it showed me that a man like Rixy simply just "gets it". He felt it, and feels it, like a supporter.
To hear the way both men talked about The Arsenal was wonderful. To them it's the best Club in the whole World. As supporters we can all feel that way, but it's great when you hear the players talk in those terms. It was enlightening to hear Rixy say that every player who left, regardless of who they went to play for, all regretted leaving The Arsenal. That's quite a statement, and it shows just how special Arsenal Football Club really is.

Thanks to my brother Mick for organising another great Dover Gooners Dinner, and thanks to all of those who came to it from near and far. And thanks to Arsenal, of course, for being The Arsenal.

Me and my old mate - it's been too long (poor quality photo)