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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Another shameful embarrassment

Whose fault?

It may seem like I only write stuff when I get the chance to have a go at certain people. I can assure that this is more by chance than design. I haven't been able to go over the Leicester City game as I've been working since Friday and simply didn't get the time to comment on a nice away win. I did say to my Dad (who went to Leicester) that our defensive issues are massive following that game. I really didn't expect those problems to manifest themselves quite so obviously against dross like Olympiacos last night. As I'm now off work until Monday I have plenty of time to get in to the problem at Arsenal and it will come as no surprise to see me directing my anger at one person.
I said after the Zagreb game that I couldn't understand the logic of leaving out Petr Cech. It has never happened in the past that the first-choice goalkeeper was rested from Champions League group matches, unless we were already through/out. The fact that it had happened in the first game made it clear that it was going to happen again last night. It was stupid in Zagreb, and it was shown to be stupid last night. Petr Cech makes mistakes, as we all do, but why tempt providence by playing Ospina? If Ospina was the answer to our woes then there would have been no need to sign Cech in the first place. The arrival of our new goalkeeper was surely an admission that neither Ospina nor Szczesny were up to the job of playing for Arsenal at the top level on anything approaching a regular basis. To hear Wenger say that he basically promised Ospina he would get to play matches sums up what a terrible "leader" our Manager has become. You begin to wonder if maybe Cech wasn't signed by Wenger at all, but by a Board who realised there was a problem that needed sorting out and they could get a top class goalkeeper in at a low price. I read earlier a snippet from the new Gooner fanzine citing the way Arshavin was treated by Wenger having been signed above his head, so to speak - remember him being left out at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final and then being constantly played out of position? I digress.
Clearly David Ospina is going to get some serious stick following the second goal last night, but that is nothing more than scapegoating the goalkeeper. The fact is that Ospina shouldn't have been on the pitch to make that error. He did the exact same thing at Tottenham last week and was fortunate that he happened to be two yards off his line at the time. It wasn't Ospina's fault he was playing. Arsene Wenger sent the team out with Ospina in it. He can't be faulted for being told to go and play last night. It is convenient for those that would choose to defend Wenger to blame one (or more) of his players for letting him down. After all, it's always the referee or the players isn't it? Anyone but their demi-God Arsene. Wenger himself sat there in front of the press refusing to answer questions and then blaming "bad luck" for the defeat. When you start putting these embarrassments down to ill fortune then surely the last of the straws is finally being clutched.
Arsenal have conceded three goals at home in Europe against Anderlecht, Monaco and Olympiacos in the last twelve months. It's hardly a list of the European giants. Each of these games has seen some of the most rank bad defending you will see from an apparently decent football team. How can Steve Bould sit there and continue to take his wages? Either he's not allowed to coach the defence properly, in which case he should have some pride and quit, or he's simply not up to the job. Either way things are not getting any better. As I said at the top the warning signs were there on Saturday (and they have been all season in truth) yet nothing is done about it. Again, I come back to Wenger. Do they do any training on organisation at the back? The answer must clearly be no. You might get away with that domestically when you have Vieira, Gilberto, Pires, Bergkamp and Henry in the side, but even they couldn't get over the line in the Champions League. When you've got Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil (waste of space), Walcott and/or Giroud it doesn't seem quite so high on quality so even the domestic league is something we are incapable of winning. The way things are, Alexis Sanchez will leave Arsenal at the end of this season. I am totally certain of that.
I had a clown on Twitter late last night blaming the fans for this latest capitulation. Apparently the match-going supporters had created a negative atmosphere. Is it any wonder? When you're paying big money the least you are entitled to expect is commitment and basic competence against second-rate opposition. If the Manager and his players don't deliver that then they can't expect the crowd to be happy. Make no mistake, Wenger is to blame.
I'll leave you with the fact that, having gone 3-2 down in the 66th minute, he waited until the 86th minute to introduce Joel Campbell to the pitch. Campbell is a centre-forward (he destroyed Manchester United in the Champions League two years ago) who has never been allowed to play there for Arsenal. Wenger clearly doesn't have any faith in him as a player (he wouldn't have waited that long to bring on Giroud/Walcott, for example), yet apparently he couldn't find anyone in the transfer window that would have been an improvement. Still want to blame the players, the referee, the fans or bad luck?

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The World is a better place this morning thanks to Mathieu Flamini

I was worried when I saw the line-up last night. I didn't like pairing Chambers and Mertesacker at centre-back, while Gibbs and Debuchy had been awful in Zagreb last week. Arteta in midfield worried me again, but the presence of Flamini alongside him meant there was at least somebody who was capable of doing the running. Having been spooked by our own XI it was obvious to anyone that their back-four was there to be destroyed and it is a clue as to how badly Olivier Giroud is playing that we hardly saw him during the game.
Neither team looked like they were capable in the early going. I was impressed by Joel Campbell though and he looked committed and strong - a couple of times Spurs players just bounced off him when he had the ball, and he made his share of tackles too. Maybe he could have given Debuchy a bit more support at times in the first-half, but overall he shouldn't be disappointed with his work last night. Debuchy, meanwhile, put in one of the worst full-back displays I've ever seen from an Arsenal player. Regardless of the protection he may have expected from his winger he was totally out of position for almost the entirety of the game. He looked slow, nervous, and totally out of place. Time and again Spurs came down our right side and Debuchy was in the centre of the pitch leaving acres of space to be attacked. It looks like Bellerin will keep his place for some time still to come.
The rest of the defence I thought played really well. Mertesacker was calm and won the ball in the air whenever it came near him while Kieran Gibbs (my man of the match in terms of an overall performance) was back to his best. Gibbo was everywhere when it mattered, not least on the goal line when Kane hit a volley past Ospina. Following last week in Zagreb he needed to produce a performance and he was Ashley Cole-esque (never forget how good a player he was for Arsenal) on the night. The other defender, Calum Chambers, had his best game in an Arsenal shirt as far as I'm concerned. I know their goal went in off him, but it certainly wasn't that he was at fault for it. He had Kane pretty much in his pocket all night and was dominant in the air and on the ground. Well played indeed.
Further forward we saw Flamini tearing round the pitch, seemingly everywhere. He made his tackles, linked the play effectively and, as ever with Flamini, was never found wanting for effort. If every Arsenal player had the commitment that he does on the pitch (this is a player who has been almost totally frozen out, remember) we would have a much better team. Flamini isn't the finest player in the World but he knows how effort can make up for that. For a player whose transfer history shows a certain mercenary trend he also "gets it" in the same way that a fan does. He knows what it means to beat Tottenham and some of his very best performances have come against them. There was a certain football intelligence to his two goals last night too. He saw the situation that might develop as Oxlade-Chamberlain lined up a shot and followed it in to the box in a way that our centre-forwards rarely do. For the second goal he saw the space that was opening up and, when the ball spiralled in to the air, he was charging forward to fill it. I doubt anyone, even Mathieu himself, genuinely believed he was going to hit a volley like that as it dropped. We can only imagine how good it must have felt to him, especially given that he hasn't had a kick yet this season, when the ball hit the net. It was one of the great North London Derby goals and sealed Flamini's position in eternal folklore as a cult Arsenal hero.
We should have won by more goals in the end but Alexis, Giroud and Walcott (no surprises here) all missed great chances. It is a recurring and worrying theme (the passes from an otherwise fairly anonymous Ramsey for the Alexis and Giroud chances were beautiful) and it has to change quickly if we are to have any genuine success this season. At the end of the day the two Flamini goals were enough and the Totts were sent home (or just out to the High Road) licking their wounds and their windows as they contemplated another defeat to Arsenal.
This morning everything seems that little bit better, despite the fact that it's chucking it down on my day off yet again. We can smile until at least Saturday, safe in the knowledge that the Spuds aren't. I look forward to simply smiling at any Tottenham fan I see in the next few days - words are not necessary, just a smile winds them up something chronic. It's well worth enjoying it when we beat them, regardless of the competition.
A lot is being made of the Arsenal fans that ripped down the signs around the upper tier after the game last night. Of course they shouldn't have done it, and the bans that will surely follow as Arsenal identify them (the idiots that were filming it on their mobiles and then posting the videos to social media have effectively grassed up those involved) will see them regret their actions. However, let's not be too quick to condemn. Firstly, let us point out the damage that the Tottenham supporters have done to the away ends at Highbury and Emirates over the past fifteen to twenty years. Arsenal have had to spend a ton of money in repairs after every visit. It doesn't excuse what happened last night, but it provides some context. And then there is the whole experience that Arsenal fans are subjected to when they visit White Hart Lane. For some inexplicable reason they were locked in by the Met last night for around an hour after the game. Having already run the gauntlet of hate on arrival at Tottenham, the Gooners were then kettled all the way down Tottenham High Road (regardless of where they wanted or needed to go) and, according to some of those who were present, in to a mob of waiting Spurs fans. Again, it doesn't excuse the ripping down of the hoardings, but unless you've experienced the Tottenham supporters you're not qualified to judge. And you know what else? F*** Spurs anyway.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Arsenal must get uglier than Gabriel to be successful

I wouldn't mess with Gabriel
People who read my stuff regularly will know that I am never slow to blame Arsene Wenger or the players in defeat. More often than not, when we lose, I will go on a rant about the failings of Le Boss in whichever area I feel he's done wrong. Today is not one of those days. The defeat at Chelsea was not a result of anything that Arsene Wenger did, or didn't do. I could criticise one or two of our star players who might not have been at the races even before we lost Gabriel, but I don't think it's appropriate today. We lost, but nobody from Arsenal is to blame.
I actually thought we got off to a bright start on Saturday. Alexis was giving Ivanovic a bad time down our left, ably supported by Nacho Monreal, while Coquelin was everywhere in midfield. Theo was working hard up front and running their centre-halves around while Ramsey (who failed when the ball went to his feet from a pass) was breaking up play really well down his side. I read somewhere that Eden Hazard recovered his form of last season the other day - if they mean he was totally over rated then I agree. The fact is that in the first twenty minutes or so we were on top of the game, not really threatening too much, but certainly in control. Arsene had set the team up well and everything was going according to plan.
The first turning point, for me, came with the injury to Coquelin. When you see the slow-motion replay of him landing you see his knee hyper-extend. I dread to think how long he'll be out for with the idiots at Arsenal managing his recovery. With Coquelin subdued it allowed Chelsea to take a hold in midfield. This is where I have one of few criticisms from the other day as the other players chose to stand off Fabregas when he got the ball. With Coquelin less mobile the likes of Cazorla and Ramsey had to get closer to Fabregas to stop him picking his passes. It allowed Chelsea to get on top for the first time. Having said that they didn't really threaten any more than Arsenal had earlier in the game with the defence doing well.
The game ultimately turned for the worse on the stroke of half-time. Ozil made his only contribution to the game as he broke away on the left and played a lovely ball to Ramsey who was coming in at the far-post. Of course Ramsey couldn't resist the chance to try and be clever and lost the ball instead of just smashing it in the net. Chelsea then broke away themselves and Costa assaulted Laurent Koscielny off the ball. When the play broke up he then knocked Koscielny to the ground. This all followed his first minute dive to try and get Coquelin booked, followed up by waving an imaginary card at the referee. Just in these incidents he could (should) have been sent-off for three different offences. To ignore the first was typical Mike Dean. To miss both of the next two (there are four officials remember) shows a seriously flawed group of referees and linesmen. Gabriel then did what we've been crying out for and came to the defence of his mate. Costa, as usual, acted the hurt party in all of this and got way with a yellow card despite the obvious scarring of Gabriel's neck from Costa's fingernails. Gabriel also got booked. As the referee was in the process of booking them both, right in front him, Costa swung a punch at Gabriel. Again Dean ignored it. I think we might be up to five red card offences now (even Howard Webb picked out three during the game).
When the players moved back to the halfway line the referee followed them. It was clear that Costa was talking in Gabriel's ear. Given that I doubt Mr Dean speaks Portuguese I suspect  he couldn't understand what was being said. Gabriel was probably foolish to raise his foot backwards towards Costa, but who knows what insults he was getting? The same officials who had all missed the elbows and punches from Costa managed to see the flick of Gabriel's leg and Dean couldn't wait to show him a red card. From then on we were knackered in terms of the game.
The second-half was fairly predictable as Chelsea won the match. However, we did shoot ourselves in the foot with letting in a goal from a set-piece - that was rank bad defending regardless of how many players you have on the pitch. I would like to ask Mr Dean what the free-kick was for though. Aaron Ramsey simply took the ball off Fabregas, no contact with the treacherous little snake (who was right in Dean's face calling for Gabriel to be sent-off incidentally) and was penalised. If the referee had made the right decision we wouldn't have been 1-0 down.
Dean wasn't finished though. He let Costa off again for a kick out at Oxlade-Chamberlain (more on that below) and then sent-off the dirtiest player on the pitch, Santi Cazorla, for his second foul of the game (Ivanovic made seven fouls for his yellow card). Fabregas was again instrumental in ensuring Cazorla was punished as he rolled around like his leg was in two pieces. I hope all the idiots that applauded Fabregas at our place last season remain totally ashamed of themselves. The second goal was just one of those things. Quite how it's been given to Hazard instead of a Chambers own-goal I really don't know. I must put a word in here for Calum Chambers, a player I've often criticised. I thought he was exceptional on Saturday when he came on and full credit to him for a job well done.
As I said at the top of this article, I am not criticising Arsene Wenger for this one. It was clear to me at the time, and it is clear to me now, that if the officials had done their job properly we would have not lost on Saturday. If Costa had been punished for his misdemeanours then Gabriel would not have needed to intervene. Mike Dean and his linesmen were the reason we lost on Saturday and that can't be right at any level of football. The FA must act and I thought Arsene Wenger gave an exceptional interview after the game, laying it all out - even the media have come out on Arsenal's side (maybe not Sky) over this one which says all you need to know.

This is what we are missing
I've seen people blaming Gabriel for falling in to Costa's "trap" on Saturday. Nonsense. Gabriel did what I want from our players. He saw one of his mates getting done by an opponent and flew in to show Koscielny wasn't on his own. He did what Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Lauren and Patrick Vieira would have done (and did do when required). The only tragedy was that when he was being stitched up himself the rest of the Arsenal players (bar Coquelin) were nowhere to be seen. Our Captain was doing nothing, but at 5'6" he's hardly likely to go getting involved in a dust-up. The fact is that the Arsenal players are largely too nice and too timid. They don't try to look after each other and that's one of the reasons they are not a top side.
Take a look at the photo above. Look at those yellow shirts piling in. They'd just seen Nigel Winterburn getting kicked by Irwin and McLair as he lay prone on the floor. Anders Limpar (not a giant) steamed in and laid a right-hook on McLair's jaw. Tony Adams flew in to the throng, while Thomas, Davis and Rocastle acted as one to protect their mates. This was just a year after a similar brawl at home to Norwich. That Arsenal team was not to be f***ed with in any circumstances. They fought tooth and nail for one another. They ended up as League Champions.
When the players walked off for half-time on Saturday not one Arsenal player was in the face of Diego Costa. That team of 1990, or the Invincibles, would have been all around him. The physical confrontation would have sent out the message that this team isn't going to take the kind of s**t that Costa gives out. His dive in the second-half wouldn't have happened and, if it had, he'd have got a load more from the Arsenal players.
The incident that really annoyed me in the second-half was the one involving Oxlade-Chamberlain. You can see Costa clearly kick out at him. The reaction of The Ox was to basically shrug his shoulders at Costa. He should have been going for him, getting him by the throat, making a serious issue out of it. If nothing else it would have been cute play as even Dean would have had to give Costa another yellow, thus evening numbers up a bit. At the same time, where were the other players? Why were they not all piling in on  Costa? We are simply not nasty enough and not ugly enough as a squad. It just confirms the idea that we're a bit of a soft-touch. The attitude has to change and it has to become one of "us against everyone else" if we are to contend properly. I don't care that "it's not what we want to see on the football field" or whatever other nonsense the media would want to spin. When we were ugly, snarling opponents we were winners and that is all that matters. What we wouldn't give for the fighting attitude of Adams, Keown, Winterburn, Thomas, Davis, Rocastle, Lauren, Bergkamp, Petit and Vieira these days.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Wenger costs Arsenal again

I knew we were in trouble last night as soon as I saw the team that had been announced. I haven't got much of a problem with resting a player or two. The whole rotation thing is the modern way and we should be able to handle the odd player being left out to have a breather (though quite why anyone needs a break in September I have to wonder). To change six players is madness. We've seen this happen before and it has always ended up in a negative result. I remember Arsenal beating Chelsea at our place over Christmas a few years back, only to go to Wigan with a totally different side a few days later and not get the result. Quite simply it is too many changes at once. We are also in to the realms of keeping people happy by playing them - there can be no other explanation for David Ospina getting a game ahead of Petr Cech. Ospina did nothing wrong on the night, but there was no question of playing the "cup" keeper in the Champions League last season. Cech certainly doesn't need a rest.
Olivier Giroud looks like a man carrying the weight of the World on his shoulders. I personally believe his confidence has been shot ever since Thierry Henry opened his mouth about him earlier this year. This set the fans off and he's been struggling ever since. It can't really do you much good when the greatest goal scorer in the history of your club and your country gets on your case for no reason. It all came to a head last night with a ridiculously bad performance (bar one header that was brilliantly saved early on) in which he was clearly not in the mood to play football. I have no complaints over the sending off. The first one was stupid - you don't get away with those kind of histrionics with a European referee, and the second one was a yellow card all day long for a lazy foul. As we were already 1-0 behind by then it bordered on criminal from Giroud. He's probably lucky that the tunnel was about 50 yards in front of the away section so he didn't get the full force of the abuse he deserved from them.
The first goal was a defensive disaster. In the absence of Coquelin we saw an Arsenal back-four totally shorne of their protection. I like Mikel Arteta a lot. He's been a fine servant to Arsenal and is a fine player, but his legs went two years ago. To ask him to play in Coquelin's position is to ask for trouble. He was always a yard behind the play, never in a position to make the tackle. Debuchy followed his winger in to the centre, but then failed to pass him on to Gabriel, which meant he was tucked in too tight behind his centre-back. Gabriel himself had dropped a yard behind the other three defenders, playing (just) the full-back onside as Oxlade-Chamberlain, not for the first time, failed to do his job in tracking the runner. Ospina produced a fine save only to see the ball bounce of the late arriving Ox and in to the net. It was clueless from Arsenal but surely a direct result of changing so many players at the same time.
The second goal was another disaster. Debuchy had rescued us seconds earlier with a stunning block, but then Kieran Gibbs literally ducked out of the way of the corner to allow a free-header at the near post. If Gibbs had simply headed the ball away, which is his job in there, Zagreb wouldn't have scored their second goal. Gibbs is going backwards and he needs to sort himself out quickly.
At 2-0 down nothing changed for another ten minutes! Finally we saw Walcott, Campbell and Coquelin introduced, but still we played with one man in attack. Joel Campbell was again stuck out on the wing and he failed to get in to the game. However, I couldn't believe the stick the lad was getting online as Mesut Ozil played yet another of his anonymous games of football. There we were, on the back foot, and our £40m superstar was nowhere to be seen. Why was he not the man getting on the ball and making something happen? The fact is that he is totally disinterested. As with those who will defend everything Wenger does, there are people who refuse to criticise Ozil and would instead choose to have a pop at a lad who hasn't played football since last season and who Wenger would have sold if he could only have found a buyer. When we did get a goal it was predictably created by the tireless Alexis and put away in good style by Theo Walcott. We got that goal with more than ten minutes to play, plus injury-time, and then never had another shot at goal. Even in injury-time, with the ball wide on the right, we had just Theo on his own in the penalty-area. What was Wenger doing? He was sitting there on the bench watching it all happen. 
There is no doubt the players were poor last night. They played badly and the attitude was wrong. But let's not forget that one man selects those players. The same man is responsible for their attitude on the pitch. If they are not up for it then Arsene Wenger is to blame. If the wrong team is picked then Arsene Wenger is to blame. If there are no tactics then Arsene Wenger is to blame. And yet Wenger comes out afterwards and blames the referee. Embarrassing. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Another European tour begins

2016 Champions League Final is at San Siro, Milan
I'm not going to bother writing in depth about Jack Wilshere's latest setback. We all knew it was coming - it always does. The fact is that, yet again, weeks after the injury has been diagnosed the Arsenal medical people have decided it needs to be operated on. You couldn't make it up really. For years now they have been incompetent and it doesn't look like a change will be occurring any time soon. Jack is now heading in to Diaby territory.
Arsenal's European adventure for this season begins tonight in Croatia. Although I'm more than happy that we're involved in the top competition for European clubs I'm lacking in excitement about the prospect of playing. Years ago there was something really special about any European tie. Every match provided the prospect of some kind of exotic spectacle simply because you didn't really know the opposition. When we first qualified for this new version of the European Cup in 1998 it was genuinely exciting to travel to Lens for our first game. Familiarity, however, breeds contempt and I'm sure I wasn't alone in being totally underwhelmed at being drawn against Bayern Munich and Olympiacos yet again this season. Sadly the competition lends itself to such repetition due to the largely closed shop nature of the participants, and the heavily "fixed" draw that cuts down the options of who you can play for a number of reasons. To be honest, the most intriguing fixtures of this Arsenal group are the ones against Zagreb simply because they're more of an unknown to us (or to me, at least).
Arsenal have travelled to Zagreb with an interesting squad in that Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin have not gone out there. I'm not surprised there will be a bit of "rotation" of certain players as we get in to the busy period of games (and one or two could do with actually playing some football ahead of the League Cup tie at Spurs next week) but I am surprised they're not there to be on the bench. Chambers and Flamini have replaced the pair from the 18 that was present on Saturday with Per Mertesacker still not ready to be involved - the BFG must have been really poorly these past few weeks, and he may find it difficult to get back in the side if Gabriel and Koscielny can play well together again this evening.
It remains to be seen whether there will be more changes to the starting line-up. I would expect Oxlade-Chamberlain to replace Ramsey with Debuchy obviously coming in for Bellerin. The other possible changes may be in goal (which would be foolish for me), Kieran Gibbs might play at left-back, but the rest of the side might well be the same (will Giroud get the nod for a tight away game in Europe, ahead of Theo Walcott?) As much as there is a need to keep players a little fresh, there is also the need to not change too many players in one go. In an ideal scenario we'd be able to rest Alexis Sanchez but that really is unlikely to happen until the Spurs game.
Despite the notable away wins in recent years in Munich, Dortmund and Monaco our away performances in Europe are notoriously poor. I fully expect an intimidating atmosphere in Zagreb but the players must remain unfazed and play their football. Last time we played over there Cesc Fabregas orchestrated a fine result in the qualifying round so let's hope Santi can pull the strings in midfield this evening. As it stands I would be reasonably pleased with a draw tonight - Zagreb are on a 41 match unbeaten run domestically - and another draw on Saturday at Chelsea. It is vital that neither game is lost. What we don't want is to be playing catch-up after one game. I'll write a review tomorrow - the road to Milan starts here!

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Brazillian Martin Keown

Don't mix it with this guy
With the Champions League group stage starting this week we can truly say the football season is getting going. The long slog from weekend to weekend without Arsenal playing is something I hate about the start and end of any season. We all know we're unlikely to win the European Cup but I'd rather be inside the tent than out, while the very fact we have a game in Zagreb this week means there's something to look forward to, even before we think about the trip to Chelsea on Saturday.
Before we get on to thinking properly about the game in Croatia I have to put some thoughts down from Saturday's encounter with Stoke. I couldn't make the game as I was on a late shift at work, while my eldest (who usually has my ticket when I can't go) was playing in a tournament so he was absent also. That being the case I'd like to thank the Japanese man who took the seat from Ticket Exchange and filled the gap next to my Dad - I trust he enjoyed the Arsenal win.
I've watched the game back in full on Arsenal Player, having seen the highlights on Match Of The Day. It's fair to say that 2-0 was not a true reflection of the balance of the game. Arsenal dominated from the off with Alexis showing that his luck is not changing just yet in front of goal - he, at least, manages to beat the goalkeeper but has hit the woodwork three times already this season. Theo once again, having been given the nod over Giroud, failed to put away a series of chances. His first miss was almost a carbon-copy of the one he put over the bar at Newcastle from about six yards out, while the miss from his header (perfect cross from Bellerin) was close to unforgiveable. Theo, however, is nothing if not an enigma, and put away his hardest chance of the day. It was a fine pass by Ozil but Theo's touch to control the ball as it dropped over his shoulder was excellent, and the finish perfect. Typically he then went on to miss at least another two straightforward chances before Giroud came on for him and missed one himself! A combination of Arsenal's woeful finishing and Butland's excellence kept it a tight game until Giroud nodded in a superb Santi Cazorla free-kick late on. Three points, a pretty dominant display, but serious alarm bells yet again in front of goal.
Arsene no doubt believes that Theo and Giroud getting on the score sheet justifies his decision not to add a striker to the squad. However, the nature of those missed chances should have us all worried. It's not the first time, either. We won't get that number of chances in Zagreb, or at Stamford Bridge. Do we really have the quality finishers in our team that will be able to nick the winner from the only chance that might come their way against other top teams? Giroud has proven so often in the past that he isn't really capable of it. Theo will simply find himself dominated by Chelsea's defensive players if he starts on Saturday. I read on the BBC website a quote from Jermaine Jenas on Saturday saying (roughly) this:
"If Arsenal fans can't be happy after that performance then I don't know what they want. They missed a few chances, but they created so many."
Such a statement misses the point as to why Arsenal fans might be frustrated. Creating chances has rarely been the problem for us, but actually putting them in the net is a different matter - even in the FA Cup Final we'd missed a hatful of opportunities before Theo made the breakthrough. Missing chances is a costly business and a bit more quality up top would have negated that.
At the other end of the pitch it was relatively quiet for our players, but one incident in the second-half really warmed the heart. Arnautovic, who was the cowardly thug that sent Mathieu Debuchy's Arsenal career in to reverse by injuring him last season, clearly fancies himself as bit of a tough customer. His decision to elbow Gabriel was probably not one of his best as the Brazillian just smashed him straight back in the mooey. I have no doubt that Gabriel will now find himself subject to a retrospectively applied red card and face a three match suspension. However, it was great to see one of our players not just accepting being assaulted by a sly opponent. I loved that bit of nastiness. Most of the top players have something of that about their game. Gabriel sent out the message that he isn't to be messed with. It seems we finally have a genuine hard man in the side for the first time since Keown, Lauren and Vieira were at Arsenal. I imagine Keown was looking on proudly at the incident and smiling at the fact that maybe, just maybe, he has finally been replaced by a kindred spirit. A bit of that fight might just translate to a few of the others as Gabriel begins to, hopefully, cement his place in the team.
More tomorrow, I hope, with some team news etc ahead of the game in Zagreb.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The big Arsenal rip-off continues, Some thoughts on Debuchy

Spectacular, but it'll cost you to see it in the flesh

Given that Arsenal failed to spend any money in the transfer window the Club has shown just how much contempt it holds for us all with the announcement that the Bayern Munich home match in October will be charged at "Category A" prices. I suppose that massive amount of money in the bank doesn't just grow itself so Arsenal have decided to cash in further by smashing us in the wallets for a group game in the Champions League. I can just about understand making a quarter-final against one of the European giants a Cat A, but a group match?! It seems that the greed on display in the upper echelons of the Club really does know no bounds.
With it being a Champions League match Arsenal can be fairly assured of the game being a sell-out. Those supporters with a season-ticket have no choice as the game forms part of the seven cup-ties included in the cost, though I'm fairly sure that the additional cost that comes with a Cat A price will be added to the up-front price for next season (assuming there are no refunds due to not playing all seven home cup matches - normally these are Cat B). Thousands of tickets for Champions League matches are given over to the corporate sponsors of the competition, as well as those to UEFA for whomever they are choosing to schmooze - a game involving Bayern Munich in the city of London will not be short of takers there. The Bayern fans are likely to travel in numbers as per usual, though being German they are more than capable of actually organising a boycott based on the prices being charged. Add in the tourists, and the touts who are almost undoubtedly well "in" with the Arsenal Box Office, and you have a perfect recipe for Arsenal to charge whatever they want.
The annoying part of this is that it is all so unnecessary. There seems to be no question asked at Arsenal when it comes to upsetting their own supporters. I suppose we are our own worst enemies in that we will turn up, no matter what. From my point of view I don't agree with boycotting any games as I want to support the players - it isn't their fault. Also, being a season ticket holder, I've paid up front so I would just be throwing good money after bad and cutting off my nose to spite my face by not turning up. But it is clear that as long as the tickets sell then Kroenke's men will keep adding to admission prices whenever they want to. It is, after all, the going rate just so long as people are still paying. If only they would apply the same logic to buying new players whereby the seller is the one whose valuation is all that matters.
I read Mathieu Debuchy whingeing the other day about not being first-choice at right-back, and how he had considered asking to leave. That's not exactly the spirit we might want, is it? As it happens I would rather see Debuchy playing than Bellerin as I believe he still a better defender at the moment. Bellerin's pace can get him out of trouble more often than not, but his lack of positional awareness (which will get better as he learns more) can be exposed by better players, as it was by Coutinho the other week. I also think Debuchy is a decent player on the overlap, as well as being an asset in the air at set-pieces at either end of the pitch. He is also much stronger physically. All in all I think Bellerin could learn a lot from sitting on the bench for a while and watching Debuchy play. However, what sort of character is Debuchy if he wants out at the first sign of a youngster challenging him?
Debuchy was very unlucky last season. He had settled in very well before a freak injury against Manchester City put him out for a couple of months. He then came back and settled in famously once again, only to be put out by one of the more cowardly challenges of last season against Stoke City. When he came back for the FA Cup semi-final he was clearly unfit and had to play 120 minutes at Wembley while appearing completely out of sorts. Meanwhile, after Chambers had failed his audition, Bellerin had been parachuted in to the side and made a great impression, improving immeasurably from his difficult beginning at Dortmund. Unfortunately that kind of bad luck can happen to anyone, and it happened to Debuchy. But I fail to see how he thought he might simply walk back in to the side this season, regardless of me thinking he should be playing.
I want players who will fight for their place, not give up and want to go somewhere else at the first sign of a problem. I fully understand that he needs to play if he is to be sure of a place in the France squad, but he clearly doesn't have much faith in his own ability if he can't see himself getting back in after just a few games. Bellerin is bound to have a dip in form at some point. He might end up getting unlucky with injuries (we play Stoke this weekend, remember) and Debuchy would be back in any case. But if Debuchy doesn't have the heart I'd rather see him ditched, and the sooner the better.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Wenger's lies make his position untenable at Arsenal

Never trust a man in a sharp suit

If I was disgusted with Wenger and Arsenal yesterday I am apoplectic this evening. What has been revealed this afternoon is totally beyond my comprehension. The actions of Arsene Wenger, in going out and lying to the fans the way he has, make his position as Manager of Arsenal Football Club totally untenable in my view.
Last week Wenger sat in front of the media for his press conference and announced that Danny Welbeck was "progressing well" and would be back "after the international break". He also told us that Jack Wilshere is not far behind him. Today Arsenal FC has released a statement saying that a decision was taken last week to operate on Welbeck's injured knee and that he will be out for a long time still to come. There is no doubt, there can't be, that Arsene Wenger knew how long Welbeck was going to be out and that he sat there and he lied about it. The reason for the lie is obvious as he never had any intention of even trying to buy a striker before the end of the transfer window, but he knew the pressure to do so would be intolerable if this operation had been made public.
The arrogance of Wenger is there now for all to see. Gary Neville, sadly, hit the nail on the head last week with some of his comments about Wenger's personality. How single-minded do you need to be to do what he has now done? We are now playing most of the rest of this season reliant on a man, in Olivier Giroud, who had his leg broken by the ball last year - not the most solid foundation, is it? To sit there and blatantly lie to the fans, the people who invest their time, effort and money in our Club, is beyond anything that is remotely acceptable. If a Government Minister sat there and told such a blatant lie, only to be found out within a week, they would be bombed out. I spent ten years as a Trade Union representative in my workplace and I always told my members not to expect me to defend the indefensible - what Wenger has done is totally indefensible. Leave aside, for a moment, the fact that we have one centre-forward worthy of the name and consider the way that he felt able to sit there and tell bare-faced lies. It is disgusting and it makes me feel physically sick.
None of this is to say that Danny Welbeck is the answer to our prayers. I dealt with the issue of a lack of goal scoring ability in the squad yesterday. Welbeck is a very good footballer but not a top striker. Having said that, we're stronger with him available than we are with him sitting with his knee strapped up. And while I'm on the subject of his knee, how on God's Earth does it take Arsenal's medical department five months to decide he needs an operation? This is a player we were told was "available" for the FA Cup Final (another Wenger lie, no doubt). And this is not the first time. Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere have both sat injured for months on end before it was decided an operation was needed to sort out the problem. Who are these idiots and how much are they being paid? Christ, I'd have had my knee fixed quicker on the NHS!
As you may have guessed I am absolutely livid as I sit here and write this. One thing on Twitter, however, has lightened my mood a little this evening. Until recently I had never seen an image of the outside of the original East Stand at Highbury. Not many people had. I had always assumed it was nothing more than a basic wooden, with a bit of iron support, structure. Below is one of the rarest of Arsenal images showing the original stand and the North London masses turning up to a game against Aston Villa in 1934. As you can see, even the original stand looked magnificent from Avenell Road and was almost as grand as the wonderful art-deco replacement. It is one of my favourite ever Arsenal images. Enjoy.

Nowhere ever had the same class as Arsenal Stadium, Highbury

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Wengerites need not bother reading

Thank God we left here to compete, eh?

We should be used to this really. There have been few transfer windows since they were brought in that have been good for Arsenal supporters. This one has to be right up there with the very worst though. There have been painful departures in the past, such as Fabregas and Van Persie etc, but normally it's about how we've failed to strengthen. The window of the middle of 2015 has certainly been about failure to add what is required. What we have witnessed is a complete dereliction of duty by Arsene Wenger, Ivan Gazidis and everyone else involved in the management structure of Arsenal Football Club.
Back in 2006 we were told that we were leaving Highbury in order "to compete" with the richest clubs. Now clearly we are not in a position to compete financially with Chelsea and Manchester City (though actually allowing Usmanov to provide transfer funds would make Chelsea look like paupers in comparison). But we are more than capable to competing with Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and any of the Italian clubs. At the end of last season our Chairman, Sir Chips Keswick, gave quotes to the press about our financial capabilities and the inference drawn was that now was the time that the promise of 2006 was to be fulfilled. Following on the back of the FA Cup Final win it was clear that Arsenal were now ready to spend the cash that they undoubtedly have. With most of the stadium debt dealt with (we have habitually been fed lies by Arsenal that there was always money available when the annual finances showed clearly that selling players was the only way profit was forthcoming) and the extra money from PUMA and the TV deals we were back in the big time. Quite clearly we were ready to sign that top centre-forward and top goalkeeper that would provide the missing links in a decent squad. Three months on from those quotes and we have signed a top goalkeeper, largely because Chelsea got charitable to a man who had served them well and wished to stay in London, but no sod else. It is totally unacceptable.
Arsenal supporters pay the highest admission prices in the World. I have no time for Paul Merson, as regular readers will know, but he hit the nail on the head last night on Sky when he said we are being short-changed by the lack of signings. Aside from the pocket of Stan Kroenke (we should find out in the next few weeks how much his company has been paid this year) our money is doing nothing but sitting in the bank, gaining interest and adding to the "value" of Stan's shares - it is worth noting that two Arsenal shares were traded today, purportedly to Kroenke, for the cheapest price in a couple of years (convenient, isn't it?)
Every other club has augmented their squad (I stop short of saying "improved" as time will tell whether their signings have been good) while Arsenal have weakened theirs, at least in terms of numbers. Arsenal currently has 24 first-team players, which has actually seen them put Jeff Reine-Adelaide in the Champions League official list today for UEFA, of which 18 have to be named on any match day. Two of those 24 are goalkeepers (let's hope neither get injured or suspended), Welbeck might be fit soon, Rosicky and Wilshere won't, and Campbell and Flamini are as likely to be actually put on the pitch on merit in the Premier League as I am. A number of youngsters (and Szczesny) have been loaned out despite being needed to appear at different stages last season. On top of that has been the departure of Podolski and Diaby. Those two players alone have freed up around £10m in wages for the year. Just think of the players we should have attracted to Arsenal with nearly £200k per-week knocking about.
At the heart of all of this is Arsene Wenger. Here is a man who tells us he has a "team" of people working "day and night" to bring in new players. As someone who's more than happy to do nothing for hours on end, and would love to work for Arsenal FC, I want to know where I can apply to join this team. Given the lack of transfers we can assume the job description isn't too onerous with regards making an effort to get things done. Whether it be Karim Benzema, Edinson Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gonzalo Higuain, Edin Dzeko, or even Charlie Austin (plenty of Premier League goals in a terrible team last season) it's clear that Wenger's team weren't required to bust a gut to get any of these players to sign for Arsenal. So what have they been doing? I suspect they don't really exist.
We all know that Wenger likes to be an economist. And we also all know that football transfer fees are not the sort of place where an economist might be in a happy mental state. However, this is the way things are and if you can't beat them you sure as anything have to join them. I'm not advocating that we go spending £36m on unknown kids from Monaco, but I am advocating spending whatever it takes to get in the top players. Some Arsenal fans have taken a kind of vicarious pride in Wenger's decisions to keep the money tight and, in fairness, his fine ability to keep us in the European Cup without spending more than we have. Arsenal convinced many of Wenger's disciples that Financial Fair Play was going to level things up. Anyone with more than half a brain could have seen this was b******s and that UEFA would have neither the will, nor the capability, to punish the top European teams. Who in their right mind would think they might expel Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man Utd etc from the Champions League? With FFP now dead we actually have no choice other than to play the game that everyone else is playing. Thanks to the new TV deal and the sponsorship agreements Arsenal have we are actually in a position where we can do it! And yet Wenger has sat on his hands throughout the last three months and watched Arsenal fail to build on last season.
It has been clear since ten minutes in to his debut (missing an open goal at home to Sunderland) that Olivier Giroud is not a top class centre-forward. That is not to have a pop at Giroud who is a player I very much like. He is a good centre-forward and will get you 20-ish goals per season. What we need is a first-choice who will get closer to 30 goals. Yes, Giroud needs to be backed up more by the others - Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Chamberlain, Walcott and Welbeck all fail to get the number of goals they should, but actually bringing in a better striker must have been the best solution. Thierry Henry did Giroud no favours by opening his mouth about him last Spring as he is now a target for the idiot-fringe that follows the Club. However, for all that everyone knew Giroud would make a great back-up striker, Wenger has not done the business. If it wasn't so serious it would be amusing - God knows supporters of most of the other Premier League sides are wetting themselves.
Along with many others I vented my spleen on Twitter last night. Still there are/were those willing to defend Wenger and the Club in spite of the bare facts. The most common refrain was for us to "get behind the team". That's where these clowns let themselves down. It is entirely possible to complain about the Manager and the Board and the owner, but to still back the players whenever they take to the pitch. I've been backing the players for over 30 years. My Dad has been doing so for over 60 years. We'll be there for the Stoke City game in ten days time and applauding and cheering them on to the pitch as per usual. But I absolutely reserve the right to criticise them and, in particular, the Manager if I so wish. The day when he has gone and Arsenal move on and use the cash at their disposal to give themselves a chance can not come soon enough. It is bordering on criminal to not make best use of our resources. More than that, it's actually insanity. Sadly we live in the time of the madness of Arsene Wenger, a once great leader and innovator who has been left standing still by the modern World that has grown around him.