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Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas wishes

Will he deliver what Arsenal want and need?

So here we are again, my annual Christmas Eve post - something I really don't want to miss out on writing. Thankfully I'm not working again until  31st December so I have a few minutes in which to get this down before handing my computer back to the kids to track Father Christmas on Norad. 
Given that there have been close to only half as many posts in the last 12 months there have been 67,000 (1.129 million since I started it) hits on the site in 2016 - that's significantly up, on average, compared to the last couple of years. Maybe the fewer postings has led to more people wanting to read something on a site they don't see too much of. Whatever the reason I am, as ever, delighted to see that anyone takes the time to read the nonsense I write. I've put out a couple of posts during the year in which I've explained the reasons for a decreased output and things will not change in 2017. The site is also part of the Highbury Library though posts getting on to the feed there are a bit hit and miss at the moment - I need to sort that if I can though I'm not remotely IT savvy.
Looking back at this time last year we were flying high in the table having just beaten Manchester City. This year we are probably feeling as though we're looking in the opposite direction having just lost to them. The fact is that it's not been a vintage year for Arsenal. We've had no trophy, obviously, but also the performances have been of a poor standard more often than not. The second half of last season was a car wreck for five months, lifted briefly by the win against Leicester and the last day capitulation of Spurs to make us runners-up in the Premier League once more. We then endured another typical summer transfer window, only to end up spending £70m+ but actually not making a star signing. Mustafi has played most out of the new signings but I'm still not convinced by him, while Xhaka is not the player we might have hoped and Lucas Perez hasn't been given his opportunity.
If I was picking my favourite moment from the year it has to be Danny Welbeck getting the winner against Leicester. The nature of the goal, coming in injury-time, sent the whole stadium in to pandemonium. Goals like that are the kind of things we live for as a football supporter. The noise, the people going mad, bodies flying everywhere, just amazing. At that point nobody cares about anything for a few seconds as football has lifted you to a different level of happiness. The lowest point was a week later at Old Trafford when Wenger and his players threw away the chance they'd given themselves by turning in the sort of performance that has become far too familiar in recent times.
My player of 2016 isn't easy to choose. The obvious person would be, I'm sure, Alexis but his form after Christmas last season was not good at all. So actually my player of 2016 for Arsenal is Laurent Koscielny. Given our lack of defensive nous that might seem a strange choice but, for me, without Koscielny we'd have been knackered well and truly. He has gone from strength to strength really and he is one of our most important players. If he was in a defence that was actually organised to play properly he would be considered as one of the finest central defenders in the game today.
All that remains now is for me to wish you all a very Happy Christmas. I hope Father Christmas delivers all that you want tonight and, for Arsenal, that things can change sufficiently both on and off the pitch for us to be where we should be with the players at our disposal. Have a great time.

Happy Christmas

Monday, 19 December 2016

Knowing our luck Ozil will sign a contract

I wouldn't blame him if he just kept walking

Top of the league to nine points adrift in eight days. Only Arsenal could do that. And they did. Two defeats, both having taken an early lead and been in a position to go on and put the game away. There was no spirit, no fight, no bottle, no desire - all with the notable exceptions of (for me) Alexis, Coquelin and Gabriel. There was one point in the second half yesterday where Alexis ran from one defender, to another, to another in order to close down high up the pitch. When the ball got shifted on to a fourth defender Ozil was stood no more than fifteen yards away, and there he stayed. Sanchez threw his arms up in frustration and disgust. Ozil then had the temerity to start waving his arms at everyone else behind him. 
I don't care how good Mesut Ozil is at football. He is lazy, cowardly, disinterested, frightened and refusing of responsibility. He makes Arshavin look like someone who gave 100% every week. I hope now more people are coming round to seeing the problem with Ozil as they have with Arsene Wenger. It is easy to realise, with the benefit of a few years hindsight, why Real Madrid didn't mind seeing the back of him. He currently has his agent getting Arsenal to bid for him to sign a new contract. I don't want to see him sign a new contract. I want to see him shown the door for as much money as we can rob from Paris St Germain (no German side would touch him) and get him out of the door as soon as possible. Maybe PSG might take him and Wenger as a job-lot.
Alexis was pictured towards the end yesterday crouching and looking beaten down. I don't think you needed to be a master of body-language to see what he felt. I don't know how any professional footballer possessing of just a little personal pride could watch that guy work his backside off all alone yesterday, yet not feel they should be doing the same. It was only when Coquelin would step forward doing likewise that he got any support. Walcott, Iwobi, Xhaka, Bellerin, Monreal, Ozil - where were they? If you were Alexis Sanchez and Real Madrid or Bayern Munich (or Manchester City or Chelsea) came in for you offering the big bucks, would you stay at Arsenal? He isn't a fan, he has no reason to be "loyal" when he sees his mates failing to back up his efforts against a team we are supposed to be rivalling for the Title this season. I wouldn't blame him at all if he left Arsenal.
Our players reaction to the Manchester City equaliser summed up their lack of passion. The goal was offside, simple as that. If Monreal was offside (which he was) for Iwobi's disallowed goal just before half-time then so was Sane for City's first. Yet there was no reaction from the Arsenal players. There was no proper offside appeal. And then when the goal was given there was not one outraged reaction towards the officials. Adams, Keown, Bould, Dixon and Winterburn would have first of all got the decision anyway because the linesman would have known from their arms being up that the guy was offside - make the decision for him as he clearly isn't capable of making it himself. And if by some unfortunate miracle he hadn't put his flag up then their reaction towards him and the referee would have made damn sure he put it up every time the opposition went forward from then on - not least for the second goal where the linesman could have no idea whether De Bruyne was in Cech's eyeline or not. And there's another thing, what was Monreal doing there? My eldest son is 11 and I hammer him for letting people in like that and not making a challenge, yet Monreal is an international full-back, apparently showing a dangerous striker on to the inside in the penalty area! Then Cech was beaten at his near-post having spent the whole game seemingly kicking for touch like a rugby fly-half.
At 1-1 Wenger and Bould just sat there. City were coming forward totally unchecked, just like Man Utd did until they scored at Old Trafford against us. It was as clear as day to anyone watching the game that change was needed. Giroud had to come on for Ozil to give us an outlet up front. Fine, change Iwobi for Oxlade-Chamberlain, but maybe Ox would have been better in place of Xhaka (albeit he went off injured just like at Sheffield Wednesday last year within minutes of coming on - if he didn't warm up properly again then he should also be heading towards the exit door). Then, when Ox went off at 2-1 down, with Lucas Perez on the bench, Wenger brought on the latter day Ray Wilkins in the shape of Elneny. Tactical genius to bring on a defensive midfielder when you're losing. And still we played with just one up front. Still, with Ozil playing the invisible man role we didn't exactly have 11 on the pitch anyway.
I suppose it sounds like I'm picking on Ozil and blaming him for yesterday. I'm not. I totally blame Wenger for it all. However, I expect a "star" player with the ability he has to take this kind of game and win it for us. Bergkamp, Henry, Pires, even Overmars or Vieira used to do just that. Even if Bergkamp was having a bad game you didn't really feel that he was hiding, and he certainly never came across as being scared on a football pitch. Ozil needs the Keown treatment in training that Henry got when he first arrived in order to toughen him up. It's too late for that now. It's also too late for our league season which has come to an abrupt end before we even reach Christmas. 
We shouldn't be that surprised by what has happened at Everton and Man City. First of all it's been happening to Wenger's bottlers for the last ten years. I hated it when the likes of Shearer and Neville banged on about our lack of "leaders" and how we were "flat track bullies". I hate it even more that they are right. Even the unbeaten run this season was pock-marked with awful results like the 0-0 at home to Middlesbrough in a game we should have lost, or lucky last minute goals to beat Burnley and Southampton. Like I say, why should anyone be surprised? With maybe four or five exceptions Arsenal's performances this season have been woeful. It's going to be this way for a long time to come. Even when Wenger finally goes it will take a new manager (and the next one won't get long enough to make the difference) years to clear out the awful mentality that pervades our pampered superstars. If only they all had grown up in a village in Chile where they had nothing - then maybe they'd understand why Alexis Sanchez and his effort is so well appreciated by the supporters. And yet there are still idiots out there singing about Mesut Ozil instead.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Beware the wounded Koeman

A repeat of this will do tonight

Last year at Christmas Arsenal travelled to Southampton who were in a terrible run of form. What followed was a four goal thrashing for our lot in a game that could have been double figures, we were that bad. Now tonight, twelve days from Christmas again, we face Ronald Koeman's new team Everton who are in a similar run that Saints were this time last year. We have to hope that Arsenal treat this fixture with a little more respect and commitment than we saw at St Mary's last Boxing Day. Our form going in to this game is also comparable to last year - we went to Southampton less than a week after beating Manchester City at home. Over the last ten days the team has put in three superb displays in beating West Ham, Basel and Stoke RFC. I don't like the omens ahead of tonight.
I've been a bit surprised by the lack of success Koeman has had so far at Goodison Park. Having said that, I was also surprised at how little was spent by Everton and their new owner back in the Summer. I think he will turn things round given the opportunity as he proved at Southampton he has the ability to get the best out of a very difficult situation. In Lukaku he has a player who can be unstoppable on his day, and can be a very "streaky" goalscorer in the mould of Kevin Campbell - the fact he scored on Saturday ought to have our defenders on their guard ahead of tonight.
Obviously Arsenal are missing Mustafi tonight following his injury at the weekend. Bellerin being back is a massive boost going towards the Christmas schedule, but Gabriel has never been truly convincing alongside Koscielny. I actually thought he did really well filling in for Bellerin, Debuchy and Jenkinson at full-back and maybe the confidence of a run in the side will serve him well as he will play a good few games in the next few weeks. I don't see too many other changes being made to the Arsenal team. We might see Gibbs come in for Monreal, I suppose, but there's really no point messing about too much given how well they played at the weekend - there is plenty of time between tonight and Sunday afternoon for recovery ahead of the trip to Manchester City.
Four points from the next two difficult matches, both away from home, has to be the realistic target. Winning at Everton would put us in a very decent position to achieve that aim. We have a decent record at Goodison Park, probably much better than most over recent years. There haven't been too many defeats up there, and a good few wins - some of them very convincing. Last season we went there straight after the Barcelona away defeat and put in one of our best performances of the season, with Iwobi and Welbeck to the fore. 
The fact is that Arsenal must go out there this evening and play on the front foot once again. Do our pressing high up the pitch and win the ball in the Everton half. We must put pressure on their midfield as Gareth Barry will not be able to handle that. This is an Everton team that is struggling and we must back them up towards their own penalty area as much as possible. Create that pressure and the chances will come. Then it's up to our front four to exploit that and get us the win. It could be a very big week in our Title challenge.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Arsenal swatting the dross, Avoid the published nonsense

These four were superb in Switzerland

It's been a really good week since we lost to Southampton in the League Cup. The performances at West Ham and Basel have been as good as anything we've seen from Arsenal all season. There's been movement, passing with a purpose, even shots at goal. What there has also been, particularly at West Ham, is pressing higher up the pitch. Winning the ball back in the opposition half, as Coquelin did for the opening goal on Saturday, makes the whole job of beating opponents so much easier. Over the last few years our best performances and results have all been when we've played our football at the right end of the pitch. If our centre-halves aren't seeing too much of the ball when Arsenal are in possession then it means the team is playing well. Five goals on Saturday and another four last night have made for a perfect few days on the road. The opposition haven't been up to much, it must be said, but that hasn't always been reflected by Arsenal hammering them. In the last two games they've got it right and we have to hope that, unlike after Chelsea and Basel a couple of months ago, they keep it up now and get the results in December that we need if we are to challenge at the top.
Winning our group in the Champions League was an added bonus last night. It was totally unexpected after the game at home to Paris St Germain and you have to give credit where it is due. At the start of the campaign the objective had to be to win the group and that's been achieved. If it means we still get unlucky enough to draw Bayern Munich or whoever then there's nothing we can do about that. And if you can't enjoy Arsenal winning 4-1 away from home in Europe then that's your problem.
The way the goals came last night was also very satisfying. A couple of tap-ins for Lucas Perez showed that he might have some of the poachers instinct, followed by a nice right-foot finish across the goalkeeper to give him his hat-trick. After a slow start in terms of his playing time, and coming back from an injury, he will surely get a real boost from scoring his goals. He now has five goals and two assists from his limited appearances for Arsenal, and the hat-trick last night came from playing out of position on the right-wing. The fourth goal, however, is the one that will live in the memory. Ozil made a superb run in behind the defence (he was excellent last night) and the pass chipped over the top by Alexis was incredible. From there Ozil somehow knew exactly where Alex Iwobi was and presented him with a nice easy finish that hopefully gives him some confidence too - Iwobi's performance last night was also one of his better displays this season. All in all it was a very enjoyable way to spend a December night and followed on nicely from the exceptional Alexis-show on Saturday. That, in itself, was one of the best hat-tricks you will ever see and Arsenal must get him to sign a new contract as soon as possible.

The eagle-eyed reader among you will have noticed a new banner at the top of the page, and a new logo down the right. This site is privileged to be included in a new initiative to "cut through the noise" of Arsenal related news and views. The Highbury Library is providing a service that avoids the click-bait headlines and articles that adorn your news feeds and give you links directly to articles you might actually want to read, rather than the latest transfer lies designed exclusively to bring you to a site to read the adverts etc. All the major Arsenal sites are in there, and so am I! I'm grateful to the creators for the opportunity to be a part of this, and also for the creation of the logo that will now give this site it's own hallmark. Make The Highbury Library your first port of call for all your "real" Arsenal news and views.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Get off Carl Jenkinson's back

The new scapegoat for the clueless

I was able to make a rare appearance at the game last night. Sadly my presence didn't bring the best out of the players in the way it had against Chelsea and Basel. The performance was slow almost from start to finish from Arsenal. There was a ten minute period at the start of the second-half where we moved the ball at pace and genuinely attacked PSG. The fans were up and Arsenal were on top. Then we got the fortunate own-goal, though our attacking play merited some reward, and the team stopped playing again. We sat back, became lethargic, and eventually Paris got a much deserved equaliser. The fact is that they should have won the game, as they should at Parc-des-Princes a couple of months ago. Arsenal's season to this point, while only including one defeat, has largely been succoured by last minute winners against Southampton, Burnley and Ludogorets. Take those away (and you won't score too many last minute winners across the course of the season) and you would have a more accurate reflection of what the performances have actually deserved. The game against Chelsea, the first-halves against Basel and Watford, and the last twenty minutes at Sunderland are about the only examples of this side actually playing well this season. I know they beat Ludogorets heavily at home, but don't forget the saves Ospina had to make in the first-half that night, or the fact that the Bulgarian side were basically a pub team in comparison to Arsenal.
I suppose we're indebted again to Edinson Cavani for the point last night. He might have opened the scoring again but he makes Kaba Diawara look like a finisher at times. We didn't create a proper chance really all night. The penalty looked dubious from where I was, and from only one angle I've seen from TV pictures does it look like the bloke takes Alexis out. Giroud's execution of the penalty, however, was very good. It's a shame that, for the rest of the game, he received nothing even resembling service from his team mates. The Manager sent out a team without wingers to supply Giroud yet again - did he not see what happened when we finally got someone on the pitch who could cross the ball last Saturday? 
That brings me nicely on to the lad pictured at the top of this piece. Jenkinson actually did put a couple of dangerous balls in to the box - one of which led to the own-goal to put us ahead, and one in the first-half that saw only Alexis in there at the time. On the opposite side we had Kieran Gibbs (of whom I'm a huge advocate) failing every single time to get the ball past the closest defender. It is so easy to cross a football but actually Jenkinson is the only full-back we have that can do it. Tell me why, then, he got howls of derision from the crowd the first time he failed to get the ball in? We had watched Alexis put three balls from wide either out of play or straight to the goalkeeper, Gibbs was wasteful as noted, Iwobi a waste of space whenever he got the ball, yet Jenkinson gets the crowd abuse! There was a bloke behind me telling him to "go back to West Ham" and the bloke who sits next to me kept calling him a "donkey". This annoys the hell out of me. There seems to be a move for Jenkinson to be slagged regardless of what he does. Is he good enough to be a regular in the Arsenal side? No. Does he realise that? Of course he does. The Corporal is the reserve player for his position and is in the side because Hector Bellerin is injured. Is that his fault? I really think the issue with Jenkinson is born of jealousy - people envy him because he is the Arsenal supporter who has been able to live the dream we all wanted for ourselves. What he will never lack is effort - unlike our superstar German international who once again did his Invisible Man impression for 90 minutes last night. Scoring the odd goal against rubbish opposition is nice, but how about showing us you're genuinely World Class against a decent team? Give me a Jenkinson heart over an Ozil one any day, thanks very much. And, no, I'm not excusing Jenkinson for losing his man for the equaliser - it was his fault that Lucas (the best player on the pitch by a mile last night) got a free header at our goal. Iwobi obviously lost his bearings completely and took the ball out of Ospina's gloves to score the own-goal, but then he shouldn't have been out there himself if the Manager had picked the right players from the off, or made the sub he'd been waiting five minutes for before the corner was taken!
While I'm on about players getting stick it seems more and more are coming round to my way of thinking where Aaron Ramsey is concerned. Again, his presence in the starting line-up last night was not merited and made little sense. However, I thought he was probably our best player on the night. He kept the fancy stuff to an absolute minimum, covered the ground well, made a number of very good tackles (especially before half-time) and was generally very disciplined in his positional play. I was shocked therefore (I wasn't really) to see him getting so much stick from supporters online after the game. Maybe it looked different on TV, but the things I would normally level at him with regards to slowing the play down and giving the ball away etc were not criticisms you could make of him last night. It was bizarre to read that he was being accused of those very things. I suppose, as Jimmy Greaves used to say, it's a funny old game.
I'm at the game again this Sunday and I have been dismayed by Jack Wilshere stating he "wants Bournemouth to win" as he is currently a Bournemouth player. Big mistake Jack. The correct thing to do in those situations is to not answer the question when it's asked. But then he let himself down the other week when he revealed he had wanted to get away from Arsenal after he was left out of the England squad by Allardyce as he was only a sub in our first two games. Leaving aside that letting him have his wish (as we now know it to be) was damn stupid of Arsenal, he would have been playing by now every week as Santi is out and he is the only player we have who can do the same thing. That being the case, I'd love to see us totally smash Bournemouth at the weekend. It will need a far better performance for that to happen though.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Meeting another Arsenal legend

Me and big John Lukic

I never realised quite how tall John Lukic is. He is officially listed as 6'4" but let me tell you that is a conservative measurement of his height. It is no wonder that he saved so many penalties. I can't imagine anyone standing 12 yards from his goal and being totally confident they were going to find the net. Having met John on Saturday night I can also tell you he is a damn nice bloke too. More than that, he is a proper Arsenal Man and loves the club the way the fans do.
This was the twelfth annual Dover Gooners Legends Dinner and John Lukic was our guest on this occasion. Once again we were raising money for Bob Wilson's Willow Foundation and it was a pleasure for our supporters club to hand over a cheque for £1500 raised by the members via our raffle. Arsenal once again provided a shirt, signed by the first-team squad, and this was won by one of our special Italian supporters from Gunners Bergamo, once again re-iterating the strength of our relationship with those great Arsenal fans in Atalanta.
The original intention was, as in previous recent years, that I would interview John in front of the assembled crowd. However, John Lukic is what you might call a "proper" after-dinner speaker so there was no need for me to be prompting answers to my usual inane questions. Instead of hearing too much of my voice the guests listened intently as Lukey took us through his career from a youngster at Leeds, on to Arsenal, back to Leeds, and finishing once again at Arsenal. Big John is a master of his craft and his speech is clearly well rehearsed. He has some excellent punch-lines on the end of his stories, true or otherwise.
Among the highlights of the speech was, of course, Anfield 89. John talked to us at length about the game that night, confirming once again the way George Graham set out his team-talk before the game and how he had virtually scripted the match down to the late winner. Being the goalkeeper he was able to give us a unique insight in to the events of the game and how he couldn't really celebrate Alan Smith's opening goal as he was in front of the Kop. More than that he went on to tell us that his reaction was one of "what have we done"? Basically, at 0-0 there was no pressure as Arsenal were there to be the sacrificial lamb for Liverpool. At 1-0 up it was a bit different. There were a few in the room who were there at Anfield (not me) and John talked about the atmosphere inside that stadium. Basically it was a wall of noise, and the closer it got to the end the noisier it got. That was until Micky Thomas got the winner and he said it was like somebody had hit the mute button all around him. All that could be heard was the few thousand Arsenal fans in the far corner going utterly mental. It must have really been something to be in the ground. He also made a well known gag about how his throwing the ball out to Lee Dixon, rather than booting it long himself, was the beginning of the expansive passing game that Arsene Wenger went on to "inherit" after Lukey had started things off at Anfield. The way John puts the story across is funny to say the least.
We heard how he never got on with George Graham from the day the new boss arrived. The story of how David Seaman was signed is something that maybe only John can tell so I won't impart it here. Suffice to say that it illustrated to everyone in the room how football worked in that era. It was a shady business and it probably still is among certain bosses, especially the British ones.
Back at Leeds he won the Title of course, and he told us how he wasn't best friends with Eric Cantona. However, he admired Cantona as a brilliant footballer and, particularly, a great professional who was always working hard in training. The parallel with Dennis Bergkamp is an obvious one in that regard and Lukey had told the room early in his speech that Dennis is the best player he had played with. In terms of the guests we've had at Dover each one has named Bergkamp as the greatest. But then I already knew that.
The speech finished with how he came to retire. You might recall that he played a few games out of the blue in 2000 as third choice goalkeeper. The first of them was at Lazio in the Champions League and John said that he knew that night it was time for him to bow out. The pace was quicker, the ball was faster, the technique a higher quality. At that point, aged nearly 40, he knew it was time to go quietly. We also heard him praise David Seaman as the best goalkeeper he had seen when it came to "picking up" the ball early - given the nature of some high profile goals he conceded that is maybe a surprise! (I'm jesting, obviously). There were kind words about David Rocastle and the game at White Hart Lane in 1987, and also a very balanced answer given when an audience member unnecessarily asked him about Arsene Wenger and his future. John Lukic is a fine man and a great speaker. Above all, at the very end of his speech, he spoke about the pride he has in having played for "this great club" and it is clear that he absolutely loves The Arsenal. 
It was a great night and we are grateful to John Lukic for being our guest, and to the members and friends of the Dover Gooners for once again turning out in support of the event. I'm looking forward to next year already.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The full Ozil

I think he knew it was special

I've been waiting to get home from work all day to write this. I couldn't let a goal like Ozil's late winner last night go past without marking it in some way. I have been a fierce critic of Mesut Ozil throughout his time at Arsenal, while always making a point of saying how good he is when he puts in a performance. When he is on it, Ozil is the type of player you pay to watch. Last night he produced a piece of skill and class that almost has even me tempted to compare it to Dennis Bergkamp, such was the level of ability required to make that goal a reality.
I won't talk too much about the game itself. I was annoyed before we even kicked-off when Ramsey was put in the side ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I don't know what the Ox is supposed to do after the last two games in order to get a decent run in the team. To play Ramsey wide on the right in his position was just awful. It was no surprise that the second Ludogorets goal came directly from Ramsey wasting possession around their penalty area with yet another ill-conceived, badly executed fancy flick off his heel. I really can't stand the lad in an Arsenal shirt. He made amends slightly with his cross for Giroud's equaliser, but aside from that he was totally woeful and isn't half the player he thinks he is. As for what happened in the Arsenal defence after Ramsey gave the ball away I have to say it was terrible. Kieran Gibbs had a poor night all round and his attempt at defending one-on-one was Sunday league quality, while Mustafi chose to point Flamini-style at the goalscorer rather than actually go and close the gap himself. Very, very poor.
You have to hand it to the players, I suppose, for coming back and winning the game. Level at half-time I expected us to come out and put it to bed in the second-half. Instead of that we looked lazy and half-hearted, the passing was casual and lacked speed and precision, while Jenkinson started to feel the pace on his side of the pitch - it was a welcome sight when Chamberlain finally came on to add some assistance for him down the right. Xhaka gave away another cheap yellow card because he was too slow to make a proper tackle - he was so high he was lucky the referee never really spotted it. On two occasions it was down to Ospina to bail out his defence yet again as the Bulgarians created the only chances. And then, with three minutes to go, Arsenal suddenly sprang to life...
Olivier Giroud had been very quiet apart from his goal - just about the only header he won all night really. Out of nowhere, however, he appeared inside his own half with a superb crunching tackle to win the ball back against what had all night been a high line of defence from Ludogorets. Ozil had been unlucky to get caught offside a few minutes earlier (and should have buried a chance at 0-0 only to mis-kick the ball as he often does when faced with the goalkeeper). The ball from Elneny, though, was as perfect as the run from Ozil on this occasion - it was, for me, Elneny's best moment in an Arsenal shirt - and I include his goal at Barcelona in that thinking. Having stayed onside what followed was total genius from Ozil. As he went through I wanted him to go round the goalkeeper who had charged in to no-mans-land. The little chip over him was delightful. I then wanted him to hit it before the defender got back. Ozil took a wonderful touch on to his left side and sent the defender sprawling. I wanted him then to slide the ball home, but he dropped a shoulder and left a second defender on his backside and sliding towards the touchline, and then he composed himself enough to roll it home after another controlling touch. Ozil's fairly exuberant celebration (by his standards) was that of a man who knew he had just done something really very special indeed. My words don't really do it justice, and I don't think any words can to be honest. It was a glorious goal by any standard, and at any level of the game. I don't care who you are playing against, the skill and ability he displayed on that goal was just out of this world. The defenders involved might well have to seek counselling to overcome the trauma of being made to look like mugs the way they were.
As I said at the top I give Ozil a lot of stick. But last night, in that moment of scoring the winner, we saw the player we paid £40m+ to sign from Real Madrid. That was the guy who lit up the 2010 World Cup and humiliated the England defence the same way he humiliated Ludogorets last night. Quite often we don't see that player, but when he appears it is usually wondrous. I hope we see him in the next three games as they could really shape our entire season. 

Where did he go?

Sunday, 30 October 2016

It's going well

The beard is back

It's four weeks this time between posts. I've spoken before on here about how working in front of a computer all day puts me in less of a mind to sit in front of one when I get home, but there is another reason for a lack of output. I write a blog to get things off my chest. I also write it because, as a match-going fan I am giving the view from where I see it actually inside the stadium more often than not. However, this season I am not really a match-going fan. I've been to just two home games all season, Chelsea and Basel. As a result, if I was to write about any particular game I'd only be talking about what I've seen on TV. There's no point in that as 99% of the limited number of people reading it will have also seen the same pictures I've seen. Yes, I would often comment on stuff that goes on outside of actual games being played, but the work thing is what has sapped my motivation to type outside of football matches. 
It is also work (and in the last week a family holiday) that has been in the way of me getting to games in the flesh. Given the results of the team maybe I ought to keep away. I won't be at the Tottenham game next week either thanks to my shifts, so if we win that you can thank my absence for it.
I mention the fact that I comment on here as a match-going fan. The reason I do that is that some of the more prominent sites are written by people who go to very few matches. As such, in my view, what I have to say is usually far more pertinent than anything those people write, however much they may have developed themselves some cosy contacts within Arsenal Football Club. Given that going to football is my (not so) unique selling point I would feel a total charlatan to start spouting off as I do without being at the game. Frankly I've got no interest in a blog written by someone who never goes - they have no insight they can give me, so I can't give an insight to anyone else if I'm not actually attending.
So what of the team itself? The results have been good. Last Saturday's game at home to Middlesbrough was a terrible disappointment as the players, for the most part, simply didn't turn up. It was a throwback to everything that was wrong in the second half of last season. I found it a relief, therefore, that yesterday saw a performance with more movement and pace. Yes the players took it too easy after half-time up until Sunderland equalised, but the way the front four moved about yesterday in the first-half was everything that was missing last week. Alexis Sanchez was simply too good for the Sunderland team (they look like a team resigned to their fate as Aston Villa were this time last year). I was really pleased to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking confident. His play for the first goal was top quality, though a couple of moments from him in the second-half were a bit disappointing - though not as disappointing as seeing him get replaced by the Welsh show-pony.
The most pleasing thing for me about the game yesterday was the impact of Olivier Giroud. From memory he seems to have a great record as a substitute and I think he's going to find himself used that way a lot this season. I am sure he has been on the naughty step since getting sent-off in Paris so it was great to see him get in to the action and show Arsene Wenger he is hungry enough to fight for the team. With Lucas Perez now out injured, and Theo also nursing a predictable knock, we will need Giroud to back up Alexis a lot in the coming weeks. I think his beard could do with a trim but I'm willing to overlook that if he keeps banging in the goals like he did at Sunderland.
We've come through a period in which we ought to have been taking maximum points. Only the one result let us down in that regard. From now on things get harder. There is a European trip to Bulgaria where I'd be happy with a couple of changes to the starting XI just to keep everyone fresh, and then it's Tottenham next week. I see Harry Kane was back in training ahead of schedule last week. This, obviously, has nothing to do with the fact that their biggest game of the season is next Sunday. It has all the echoes of the miraculous recoveries that Darren Anderton always made for derby day. Hopefully he ends up being about as successful as Anderton was. A win against Tottenham next week, following the win against Chelsea a few weeks ago, would mark us out for having a real good go this season. It will still be too early to really tell if we can genuinely challenge, but it might just make one or two others sit up and take notice. 

Until next time, whenever that might be...

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Arsene Wenger - a celebration from a Wenger Out person

Arsene with the Double

In the week that marks Arsene Wenger's 20 year anniversary as the Arsenal Manager (which, as I'm sure you will now know, is today) it has been fitting that the players have turned in two performances showcasing the kind of football with which his name is synonymous. The game against Chelsea, and the first hour against Basel, were a throwback to the kind of passing, pace and movement that made the first half (at least) of his reign such a pleasure to watch at close quarters. I am an avowed, and long consistent, member of the "Wenger Out" lobby. However, I believe that today is not a day upon which we should be looking at what is wrong with his leadership, but instead to celebrate the many great things that were right about it.
There can be no doubt that Arsene Wenger massively impacted on Arsenal when he arrived. Moreover, the sort of things he introduced were soon adopted by the rest of the English game as the benefits of his ideas on training, recovery, diet and fitness became apparent. Arsene Wenger provided a revolution in English football and every fan of the game in this country, regardless of their club creed, should recognise that as a matter of absolute fact. As far as bringing in these differences at Arsenal is concerned I think he benefited from the presence of David Platt and Dennis Bergkamp. I feel that they were able to champion Wenger's ideas with the rest of the squad - having played abroad previously they were not unfamiliar with this kind of progressive thinking, and maybe their influence was a great assistance to Wenger. I don't know that to be true, obviously, but I'm really not that certain that our grizzled English veterans would have taken much notice of the bespectacled French football philosopher without someone who already had their respect giving them the nod. In terms of getting the fans on side we had already seen Patrick Vieira in action before Arsene arrived and he had made a massive impression on the faithful - as a first signing from a man who hadn't yet been officially appointed it was a great initial impression to create.
Arsene Wenger is a highly intelligent man. He recognised that bringing in his own formation etc on the pitch should not be an immediate process. He straight away got the passing football started, with more freedom for the defenders to play football than before, but wholesale change was not made until the following summer when his feet were well and truly under the table. By that time his methods had the experienced players hooked and Arsenal was ready to move forward. He was also prepared to make big calls, so Paul Merson became the only victim of any big name cull from the previous era - my suspicion is that Merson failed to adapt to Arsene's way of doing things and was pushed through the door. Ever since then Merson has failed to hide a personal bitterness towards Arsenal and Wenger in spite of what the Club did for him over many years.
What followed over the next ten years was a succession of great football, a number of near misses, a good few trophies, a new stadium, and some of the greatest players and the greatest football this country has ever seen. Petit became the perfect partner for the young Vieira, Manninger a fleeting hero that looked set to replace Seaman, Overmars made us forget Merson in double-quick time, with quick being the operative word. Ray Parlour found a role in a team of technical brilliance that many would have been sure was beyond him. Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Adams and Keown all saw their careers extended, and glory that they thought had long passed brought back to them in a way none of us could have foreseen. Ian Wright had an unexpectedly short last hurrah, only to be replaced by the sign of what was to come in the pace, power and goals of Nicolas Anelka. Arsenal won the Double in Arsene Wenger's first full season as the Arsenal Manager.  I wrote a piece a few years ago about the day we beat Newcastle in the FA Cup Final in 1998 - you can read it here. That season also saw my favourite ever day at Highbury when Tony Adams sealed the Title with that stunning run and left-foot volley against Everton - if there is ever a moment that beats that Double for me (in terms of actually being there) then it will be special indeed. A foreigner had come to England and usurped all of the dinosaurs that ran the national game. Only Ferguson could rise to the challenge as he was the only one, despite his hatred for Wenger at the time, that recognised this French guy had something a bit special about him.
Somehow we went four years without a trophy after that. I will always believe that the 1998-99 side was even better than the one that had done the Double the previous year. They were a Dennis Bergkamp missed penalty away from doing it in successive seasons - if he'd scored at Villa Park I am certain it would have happened  for us while the eventual treble Man Utd won would have been a trophyless campaign for them. We managed to be runners-up in the league each season, and also in the 2000 UEFA Cup and 2001 FA Cup. Wenger's boys were becoming known for bottling it and failing to turn superiority in to silverware. Things were about to change again.
After the four year drought Wenger finally decided it was time to shop properly again. Thierry Henry had arrived in 1999 to replace Anelka and was already on his way to challenging Wrighty's record. Arsene brought in Francis Jeffers, Richard Wright and Sol Campbell as three major signings in the summer of 2001. While only Sol would genuinely go on to have a major impact at Arsenal those three big signings meant there was a new mindset and determination. The fans were excited and so were the players. It resulted in another Double for Arsene Wenger with Robert Pires the star turn and player of the year. Bobby won us that Title, make no mistake, although it was left to Freddie Ljungberg to finish it off with the assistance of Bergkamp after Pires wrecked his knee - Overmars had done a similar thing, albeit in just a couple of games, when Dennis himself had his season ended in 1998. They went through the entire season unbeaten away from home. They scored in every Premier League game. Both of these were records. Above all, this Arsenal team played majestic football and seemed destined to dominate. The Title was thrown away the following year amid the physical assault of Allardyce's hatchet job at Bolton late in the season (and the corruption of the FA who suspended Sol Campbell for a wrongly issued red card at home to Man Utd) but the FA Cup was secured again with Bobby getting his own moment with the winning goal against Southampton.
The season that followed in 2003-2004 was, quite simply, the single greatest achievement in domestic English football that there has ever been. I don't need to remind anyone that the league season was completed undefeated, just part of a total of 49 league games without losing (the circumstances of the 50th game will one day be uncovered for the travesty of football corruption that they undoubtedly were). What is easily forgotten is that the Invincible squad also reached the semi-final of both domestic cups, and the quarter-final of the European Cup. The fact is that they should have won all four of those competitions. They deserved to do so. That they did it playing the most unbelievably exciting brand of football that the English game has ever seen is what marks it out as being even more special. Arsene Wenger was the man who devised that style and assembled the group of players capable of producing it, Thierry Henry hitting his very peak at the perfect time. It is often said that he won nothing until 2014 without a George Graham influence but that is a churlish and revisionist viewpoint. The Invincibles squad contained only Ray Parlour from the end of George's reign and he had never been a regular starter until after George departed. The fact is that Wenger had introduced Lehmann, Lauren, Toure, Cole and Gilberto to add to the names I have already mentioned in this piece. The squad players included the likes of Edu, Kanu and Wiltord - the revolution of Arsenal and English football had essentially been completed.
Of course the stadium move has come and gone, and Arsene has only ever come close to winning the European Cup on one occasion - we should have won it but for Henry missing chances and a bad substitution or two by Wenger himself. That is, without doubt, the glaring failure of his twenty year reign as, having been in the competition every year since 1998, only being in one final and one other semi-final is really not good enough. The second half of his tenure has been mostly difficult and, in many recent seasons, a difficult slog where the quality of the playing squad and the football they play has been far lower than Wenger had got us used to. We have had moments and, surprisingly in the end, trophies with the FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015. There have been more near misses too. There has been a fissure in the support of the club caused principally by his continuing presence. However, as I said at the top of this post, today is not the day for that discussion. Today is a day to thank Arsene Wenger for the great memories he gave us, the great players he put on the pitch for us, the great style of football he got those players to produce, and for the great achievements of his trophy wins. Whatever any of us may think of the man and his methods, I think he absolutely believes that what he is doing is right for Arsenal - I don't have to agree with him to respect the man. I will always respect him for what he achieved and for what he won. If the last week can be replicated over a period of months then there may still be glory to be enjoyed. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for Arsene Wenger to prove the likes of me to be wrong and to lead Arsenal to the Title at least one more time by winning it this season. He is a legendary figure at Arsenal Football Club, one of many, and that should not be forgotten.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A nice few weeks

Arsenal's best player so far this season

It's been nearly three weeks again since I wrote anything and, to be frank, I think that is going to be a more and more regular thing with my posts on the site. I spend all day (or night sometimes) on a computer at work and the last thing I often feel like doing these days is sitting in front of another one when I get home, even on days off. There will be occasions when I still get to do something on here more regularly but the mood will really have to take me. Enough about that.
It's been an excellent few weeks for Arsenal. Starting with a couple of uninspiring performances, but good results, against Southampton and PSG the team have gone on a little bit of a run. There has been an improvement in the football with pace and proper closing down being added to the performances. You can't argue with a week that sees you win twice away from home by scoring four goals (with two totally different starting XI's) and then hammering Chelsea 3-0 at home with the best team performance in a long time - I would say it was even better than the home win over Manchester United last season and it could have been a much wider margin. Coming away from the game on Saturday evening you got the sense that maybe some of us are starting to have a bit of belief in this squad of players.

Stop press: I'm just interjecting in my own article to laugh at Sam Allardyce being sacked by England according to Sky Sports News. Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke. What an utter cretin. Karma will always come back to haunt you in the end! Too bad, so sad, bye-bye.

Back to Arsenal. The proof of whether or not any newly found faith from the supporters is well placed will come in future fixtures, of course. The way the team played on Saturday must be replicated week after week, starting tomorrow at home to Basel and at Burnley this Sunday. We've had plenty of false dawns in recent years and we have to hope this isn't another. I'm more than willing to wait and see and hope that the feel-good factor from Saturday is a long lasting one. It was nice to be excited by an Arsenal team in a way that has become all too rare of late. Long may it continue.

I want to finish off by offering credit where it is due, and that credit is to Theo Walcott. Again, there have been plenty of times in the past with Theo where we have thought he's finally getting there, only to see him slump or get injured again. However, since the first game of the season against Liverpool he has been superb as far as I'm concerned. The fact is that when Theo is playing well then Arsenal are playing well - his pace scares the life out of the opposition and it opens up space for everyone else once he is being targeted by their defenders. I gave Theo so much stick last season and I was convinced he would be on his way after May. Coming back this season he has already started to win over a crowd that was on his back whenever he did something not quite right. For all that I thought he was finished with us I still like Theo Walcott. I still want to see Theo show us all that he is as good as we had hoped he was going to be when he burst on the scene ten years ago. He is a likeable guy, clean-cut and no trace of arrogance. Maybe that has led to him being used as a bit of a door-mat by fans and England bosses alike over the years. For Arsene Wenger he has clearly always had something about him. If this is Theo's season then I can't wait to sit in the stands and watch it.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

A legendary day


I know it was a few days ago but this is the first chance I've had to actually sit down and type something following the Arsenal Legends v Milan Glorie game on Saturday afternoon. I was extremely disappointed last week that certain names were no longer attending, despite being prominent in the club advertising of the match. I'm sure plenty bought tickets specifically to see Bergkamp and Henry - that was certainly my motivation as I wanted my two boys to be able to say they saw them play. Henry obviously started his new coaching job with Belgium last week, but the absence of Dennis never was explained.
Nevertheless I went to the game with my sons, my Dad, my brothers, my sister-in-law, one nephew and one niece (her first time going to Arsenal). What followed turned out to be a truly special experience for everyone who attended. I really hadn't expected much at all from the day but we were given an absolute treat by all the players and the supporting cast. The most evident thing is the way in which the former players are so full of adoration for Arsenal. Even the ones who are employed to criticise Arsenal on TV are full of love for the footballing institution that is our club. Bob Wilson was interviewed before the game and just listening to him talk about how much he loves Arsenal is enough to get your heart going - he was genuinely emotional about being involved again. Lee Dixon also demonstrated just how pleased he was to be back for the day, albeit unable to still play the game due to a wrecked knee. Liam Brady was also so enthusiastic about being there, even though he sadly admitted he is long past playing.
When the players came out for the kick-off we had David Seaman come towards the North Bank end, as he did for so many years back at Highbury. The reception he got from the crowd really did bring back memories of the old place as the chant of "Seaman, Seaman" went up from just about everyone behind the goal. Seaman reacted to the adulation as he always did in his prime with arms outstretched and thumbs up to the crowd. He wasn't the only one hearing his old song again. Freddie, Robert Pires, Marc Overmars - they all got a moment. 
Overmars showed that everything is relative by demonstrating that his pace later in life is still quicker than whoever his opposition full-back was. If you're too young to have seen Marc Overmars play for Arsenal then just imagine the pace of Theo Walcott, but quicker, and with the ability to destroy a defence all on his own and score goals. The only thing missing from Overmars on Saturday was his obligatory goal, thwarted ultimately by an ageing hamstring as he bore down on Dida in the second-half. 
The defence was the basis for Arsenal winning the game. In Justin Hoyte, Kolo Toure, Pascal Cygan and Nigel Winterburn we had a back-four who were still physically very fit - the only one carrying an ounce of fat was Kolo and he is the one still actually playing at the moment! Both Seaman and Jens Lehmann backed them up with fine saves - big Dave surprised me with his reflexes, while Jens could comfortably still do a squad job at a high level. The penalty save by Lehmann was exceptional in any circumstances. Even better than the defence, however, was the midfield masterclass delivered by Gilberto. My Dad said to me in the first-half that the current defensive midfielders ought to be sat down in front of a film of Saturday's game and told to focus just on what Gilberto does and where he is on the pitch. If ever Wenger let someone go, only to get it seriously wrong, it was Gilberto.
Ray Parlour sadly got himself injured within a couple of minutes, so Gilles Grimandi came on and did Manu Petit's running for him, while the ponytail himself sprayed the passes around from that wand of a left-foot. Freddie Ljungberg buzzed around up front while Robert Pires coasted around the pitch laying the ball off with ease at all times.
Some of the tackles across the pitch were surprisingly committed from both teams. The Italians remain the masters of the cynical trip and/or body-check, while Howard Webb remains the master of failing to know a foul from a decent tackle. Only a cretin like Webb could frustrate me on a day like this.
The game turned with the introduction of Kanu. The man really has not changed since his playing days. He is no slower, really, than he ever was, while his skill on the ball is totally mesmerising. It's easy to overlook just how strong Kanu is and the way he holds people off while in total control of the football is incredible to watch. I was pleased when Lee Dixon mentioned at half-time that one of Kanu's greatest Arsenal performances came when he dropped in to midfield at Anfield just before Christmas 2001 - with Gio Van Bronckhorst sent-off he went on to dominate the game, Liverpool unable to get the ball off him. He scored two good headers on Saturday, and then a penalty to complete a popular hat-trick. I'd still have him in the squad ahead of Sanogo, even though his official age is 40 - there is no way Kanu is only 40!
The highlight of the afternoon came in the shape of the fourth goal. Freddie suddenly burst past the Milan defence to a roar of appreciation from the crowd. Being a quality player he got his head up and played the perfect cross in to the path of an onrushing Bobby to smash the ball in to the net. It was undoubtedly the biggest cheer of the day. There had been a few passing moves that had rolled back the years, still taking the breath away even at a slower pace, but this goal really was the throwback we had been hoping for all day. Robert Pires saluted the crowd as though he had just scored another North London Derby goal and the fans saluted him back. It's fair to say that, even at an advanced age, some of these blokes really have still got it. They might lose some speed, but they don't lose their ability.
Following the total success of the occasion on Saturday I suspect this Arsenal Legends match will become an annual feature, one way or another. The chance to see some of the great AC Milan team of the 90's was also a joy - albeit tempered by not seeing a sadly injured Paolo Maldini. If there is another Arsenal Legends game this time next year I will be doing my best to be there. I'd urge everyone else to take the opportunity to see these greats in the flesh. They won't be able to come back and play forever, so don't miss them while they're still able - in ten years time it might be Denilson and Sanogo...

Not bad for a bloke in his late 50's

Friday, 2 September 2016

Ashley Cole - the odd man out

He'd already spoken to Chelsea...

I'm off to Arsenal tomorrow to watch the Arsenal Legends v Milan Glorie game in aid of the Arsenal Foundation. I've been extremely annoyed all week that, having bought my tickets (along with most others) on the understanding that Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp were going to be playing, neither are going to be there after all. I'm taking my two boys and wanted them to forever be able to say they saw the both of them play. Henry has got his new job with Belgium, having chosen to work for Sky rather than for Arsenal. Dennis, however, is also not going to be there but there has been no explanation as to why. Up until Wednesday (at least) Henry and Bergkamp photos were still forming part of the advertising, although their names were obviously left off the final list of sixteen former Arsenal players to be involved. I can seek solace in the fact that at least Pascal Cygan has been persuaded to play after being left out initially.
When the original advertising for this match was done back in May it seemed to me that maybe there had been a move to get the Invincibles team on the pitch for one last time. Patrick Vieira's new role in New York quickly ruled him out, but all the others were surely on the radar, albeit with one very notable exception - Ashley Cole. It's ten years this week since he left. The fact is that, almost no matter what the circumstances, Cole will never again wear an Arsenal shirt. He was even interviewed recently and stated he would like to work for Chelsea in the future, and not for Arsenal. No surprise, I guess, but it is Cole's determination to always talk negatively when referencing Arsenal that does him no favours.
I wrote in the Jack Wilshere piece the other night that Cole should have been the Arsenal Captain for many years. He had already developed in to the best full-back in the World before he left us, and he got better and better at Chelsea. It pains me to write that but it's true. We all know the feelings of most Arsenal supporters about Cashley, but it shouldn't be used to play down his achievements with us. He is the best left-back I've seen at Arsenal, he won trophies, never gave an inch, and had nerves of steel when taking a penalty. No other full-back has shackled Cristiano Ronaldo the way Cole did, both for club and country, throughout his career. Cole was too good for Ronaldo. Nobody else has been. Cole ought a legendary figure in the history of Arsenal, as are all the Invincibles, and maybe that should be recognised.
The unfortunate thing about Cashley is that he came to embody everything that was wrong about Chelsea and Mourniho. Did Arsenal renege on an "agreement" to pay him £70k per week? I think they probably did. Did that excuse the fact that he had already gone behind the back of Arsenal FC to talk with Mourinho and Chelsea in a move that was totally against the rules? Not in my book. I believe that Cole always knew that he would be forcing his way out of the club that had nurtured him from a small boy, keen to take Chelsea's money at the expense of moral judgement. The trophies he subsequently won with them obviously make an absolute justification for the move he made, but he must understand why Arsenal fans went for him the way we did. After the move he never missed the chance to have a dig at us. He even blamed us for his leaving as we apparently didn't sing his name after the last game at Highbury. Was he that blinkered that he didn't know we idolised him? Ashley Cole was one of us, after all. The thing I can never forgive is the way he chose to "celebrate" the immediate aftermath of winning the European Cup by once again turning on the Arsenal supporters - he couldn't just enjoy his success, but had to take it out on us. That sickened me and still does.
So, there will be no Cashley at Arsenal tomorrow, and there won't be ever again. It shouldn't, as I said above, take away from what he did for us. However, I reserve the right to have no liking for a man who disrespects us so badly as he has. It's a shame as Ashley Cole really should have gone on to be considered alongside the likes of Tony Adams and David O'Leary and George Armstrong - he would have probably beaten O'Leary's appearance record - but he chose another path and now is a footnote remembered for being part of the greatest side we've seen. Like a lot of other things in the last ten years, it just wasn't meant to be like that.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Just when you think it's getting better...

Jack where he belongs

As I was driving back from work last night I was thinking about how nice it was going to be to write a piece this evening that would be positive. It was going to be an article celebrating the first win of the season and two new signings - okay, they're ridiculously late arriving following three months of inactivity, and the striker isn't exactly what we were hoping to see, but new signings nonetheless. All of my newly happy frame of mind was shattered as soon as I switched on the TV to see the Sky Sports breaking news that Jack Wilshere was being made available to leave Arsenal on loan. Fuming isn't the word.
I have followed Jack Wilshere's career since I first saw him playing on Arsenal TV at the age of 15. He is, without question, the most brilliantly talented young footballer I had ever seen. My Dad said he was the best young Arsenal player he had seen since Liam Brady in the early 1970's. I was at Blackburn when he came off the bench to make his debut. I was at Emirates to see him score a cracker on his first start at home to Sheffield United. I was there when Per Mertesacker put the armband on him as he went off injured himself during a game. I was there when he finished the finest team goal I've ever seen, at home to Norwich. I was there when he came off the bench in two FA Cup Final's and celebrated with the trophy in front of the fans. Having come through at Arsenal from a little boy all the way to the first-team and in to the England side he was the most "Arsenal" player we'd had since Ashley Cole. And now Wenger is allowing him to leave. Without a change of boss next season we have seen the last of Jack Wilshere of Arsenal Football Club. I am gutted.
Jack has suffered with numerous long-term injuries, of course, and that has checked his progress badly. I am convinced he has been let down by our medical people at times, but he has also let himself down with his behaviour off the pitch. For all his own personal misdemeanours he was still Arsenal. Jack Wilshere, like Ashley Cole, should have been the Arsenal Captain for years to come. And now he's leaving. I could possibly accept it if we had a load of players who are better than Jack is. We don't though. We certainly have a number of players who occupy his area of the pitch, but not one of them is as good as Jack Wilshere. Xhaka is yet to settle in so we don't know if he's really got it, Coquelin is established but Wenger is slowly forcing him out too, Cazorla has not looked good in the opening matches this season having missed most of the last one, Ramsey is frighteningly over rated, while Elneny is simply not a top Premier League midfield player. The fact is that, if they want Jack to get first-team football, the solution is simple - put him in the bloody Arsenal team!
In the last eleven years we have been continually kicked in the teeth by seeing our best players moved out. Patrick Vieira was sold and that crushed the entire club for years. Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell were ridiculously allowed to move on while never being replaced. Thierry Henry was sold for nothing like his actual value. Gilberto was forced out by Wenger's failure to recognise who the main man was in his own squad of players - and never replaced. Nasri went for the money and we sold him for a pittance. Fabregas forced his way out and was sold for even less of his actual value than Henry. Van Persie was sold and won the Premier League for Manchester United - and was never replaced. Now we are losing a player who is truly one of our own. Meanwhile Yaya Sanogo continues to be paid as a professional footballer by Arsenal - just consider that for moment; Jack Wilshere is going but Yaya Sanogo isn't - any wonder I'm annoyed?

Monday, 22 August 2016

Insults and abuse - and that's just from Arsene Wenger

Stick with me son

I had a very nice family holiday last week down in Cornwall. We had decent weather during the day which made for a very enjoyable time away. There was just one thing that put a dampener on things and that came on an otherwise glorious Sunday afternoon right at the start. Even that was going okay up until the point that Cech was once again beaten to his right - it was a very good free-kick by Coutinho but Cech has a serious problem going to that side as he doesn't dive properly in that direction. After that it was nothing more than a shambles from Arsenal who, even when getting back to 3-4 in the 75th minute, didn't have a single shot at goal in the last 20 minutes of play! It was unacceptable, but not quite as unacceptable as Wenger claiming the players were not ready in his interview after the game - something in direct contrast to his programme notes before kick-off. The man is a liar and it is proven on an almost weekly basis these days. As a result of that game I got to learn that Liverpool must have won as I haven't seen so many people wearing their shirts in any week since they last won the European Cup.
One thing really irked me badly in the Liverpool game and that is how we somehow stopped taking advantage of the fact that Alberto Moreno was on the pitch for them. Theo Walcott absolutely destroyed him every time he got the ball. This saw us get a penalty (a poor one from Theo which was easily saved), and then a lovely goal from him to make up for it a couple of minutes later. Within seconds of the goal we had another chance to play Walcott in again - he was in the same position he had scored from but Alexis Sanchez looked up, saw him, and turned in the other direction (I haven't even mentioned the one where Ramsey decided he was Pele and shot from the halfway line instead of putting Theo in on goal) - from there on we didn't go down the right for the remainder of the game. What is said at half-time exactly?! 
While I'm on the subject of Theo, and this isn't the popular view, he has been our best player in these opening two games. I have given him fearful stick in the last six months or so, but I always give credit where it is due. He was our ONLY threat at Leicester on Saturday, and an extra 20 minutes of Jack and Ozil on the pitch might have actually saw Theo winning us the match. However, all I have seen online is people going out of their way to smash Walcott. These people ignore the frankly disgraceful performances from Alexis Sanchez in those two games and, let's be honest, Alexis has largely been c**p for most of the last year. Again, not a popular view, but if you actually try and be objective for five minutes you can't really deny it's the truth. Alexis played brilliantly at Leicester last season, and at home to Man Utd. Can you remember any other notable displays from him? Theo is the easy target so people are sticking it to him regardless of how he plays. That sickens me. When Theo plays badly again I will say so, but I will give him credit when it is due every time.
So now we're on to Saturday let me say that Laurent Koscielny was immense and young Holding looked excellent alongside him. You have to wonder how Wenger can go on about the likes of Koscielny, Giroud and Ozil not being ready when you see a performance like that. King Koscielny was nearly undone by Coquelin, who should have been sent-off, and Bellerin's clumsy foul in the penalty area, but Clattenburg was in the mood to be the star of the show and Arsenal got away with it on the day. Anyone questioning what Holding's selection means for Calum Chambers obviously has never watched Chambers play - the goal by Mane last week, where he was too slow even to rugby tackle him, was reason enough to see why Holding got the nod. Obviously the youngster can't play every week and be expected to not make errors, so a new centre-back remains high on the shopping list, but Chambers should really be heading for the door. Debuchy and Monreal can do a better job than him in the centre of defence, and I suspect Carl Jenkinson can do when he gets fit. However, I would seriously stop short of spending £43m on this Mustafi character - I'd rather have Jonny Evans any day, but the fact we didn't even go in for Ashley Williams is totally bizarre. Meanwhile I am yet to be inspired by our one major signing of the summer - Xhaka looks slow and unable to tackle without fouling. Frankly speaking, and it is a very early impression, Mathieu Flamini didn't cost £34m but I'm not seeing much in Xhaka just yet that makes me think he's a better player.
It's the words of Arsene Wenger after the game that form the basis for the title of this piece. The travelling fans were loud in their complaints towards the end of the game. Chants of "spend some f***ing money" have been heard before, but "we want Wenger out" was a new one, especially from the most loyal fans of the club. When asked about the discontent over the lack of spending he came out with some bizarre diatribe about paying the wages of the 600 employees of Arsenal at the end of the month. This man earns in excess of £6m per year from Arsenal yet has the brass neck to plead some kind of poverty on behalf of the fifth richest football club in the world. Is he trying to say that things are bad financially at Arsenal? Are we close to going in to administration? Are Arsenal the new Glasgow Rangers? Does he think we are all totally f***ing stupid? Well the answer to that last question came in his next quote when asked about the fans being unhappy with him. Apparently we are lead by the media. That's right folks, as a football fan you are incapable of coherent thought based on your own feelings and opinions. It's amazing that us football supporters are allowed out without our carers given that we are not capable of cognitive thought without some journalist or broadcaster telling us what it is we really think. This has to be one of the most abusive and insulting things he has ever come out with. It is disgusting that the Arsenal Manager can dismiss the supporters in such a way. He believed we are totally beneath him in every way, but especially intellectually. Of course, this is a man who surrounds himself with "yes men" so the idea that someone can be Neanderthal enough to actually disagree with him means they must be influenced by someone else. The man is not even a caricature of himself anymore and every day that passes simply makes his presence more abhorrent to me. If you don't like that then tough, but at least you're thinking for yourself rather than being influenced by someone else...

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Premier League Preview 2016-2017

How we want it next May

I nearly didn't get around to writing this so it will be more brief than in past years. I'm going on holiday tomorrow so I will be having to find a TV screen on Sunday afternoon while my nephew makes use of my season ticket for the day. It is going to be a long and hard nine months ahead as we should all be more than aware by now. With the new managers coming in it could be the hardest ever Premier League to win. Given that we couldn't win the easiest one ever last year you'd have to wonder how we can genuinely hope for glory this time - more on that below.

Surprisingly good before Christmas last season when they did the hard work that kept them safe for the rest of the campaign. If their injured players come back firing then they can expect similar this year, but if not then the Cherries could be in real trouble. Relegation battle ahead.

Coming up again they should be better prepared than in their previous Premier League stay. Burnley did the right thing holding on to Sean Dyche but obviously they are going to struggle. A finish in 17th place would be a massive achievement, but they have to be among the favourites to go back down again.

I keep reading how "entertaining" Conte will be on the touchline. Having watched his antics at close quarters when Ireland beat Italy in Lille back in June I can guarantee you the only people being entertained will be the media. Kante, if he can repeat his Leicester performances, will be a massive addition for them but they remain very beatable I reckon - even for Arsenal maybe. Top six.

Crystal Palace
The Eagles' FA Cup run largely masked their awful run-in last season. Andros Townsend could be a good signing if he can consistently show the form he did when he went to Newcastle. Still lacking a striker and maybe Benteke will end up at Selhurst Park. If they can add a goalscorer they should be just about safe. Fail to do so and they will be among a number of teams trying to jump the shark at the bottom.

Toffees fans no doubt hoped to see some proper money spent again with the new billionaire owner. Not so it would seem. Ashley Williams will be a good replacement for Stones, but they surely must hold on to Lukaku if progress is to be made under the new manager. Ronald Koeman worked miracles with Southampton and he might have to do it again at Goodison Park if he's to keep them challenging for Europe and a decent cup run or two.

Hull City
Promoted through the play-offs but with an owner who seems determined to undermine the team. Steve Bruce left and hasn't been replaced, and there has been a lack of signings. Nailed on to finish bottom unless something changes very soon.

Leicester City
Well nobody will underestimate them anymore, that's for certain. They showed they can hold on to some stars when Vardy turned down Arsenal but I reckon he might be regretting that by Christmas. Clearly it would be mad to write them off totally but to cope with the European Cup and maintain a challenge will be so difficult for them this season. You'd have to back them for the top half but I still maintain their fall could be as spectacular as their rise.

Another touchline "entertainer" here in the shape of Klopp. He failed to genuinely turn around Rodgers' no-hopers last season though at least had the excuse of running a squad put together by another manager. Less places to hide this season in a crowded Premier League. I wouldn't back against Klopp because he's been there and done it, but get off to a bad start and the pressure might get on early. Get off to a good start and who knows? Top six, possibly top four.

Manchester City
Can Guardiola's style be successful in the Premier League? Yes, of course it can. Has he got the players to play that at Manchester City? Maybe not yet. City are very vulnerable at the back, and Hart is creaking badly in goal. Most pundits seem to fancy City, purely based on Guardiola's past success at Barcelona and Bayern. The difference at City is that he isn't taking over the best side in Europe. Top four, maybe top two.

Manchester United
I'm going to go out on a limb and call this an ego-trip too far for Mourinho. It's as much a hope as a prediction and few things would give more pleasure than watching him squirm and fail, and watching the Sky and BBC pundits in tears as their hero and their favourite club start to fall apart. I can dream.

For me they are the most likely of the promoted teams to stay up, despite finishing below Burnley last year. The Riverside in winter is not a pleasant place to visit. It's not pleasant at any time, come to that. Near the bottom, obviously, but perhaps not too near to go down.

Losing Koeman and losing Mane must have been a massive blow. Claude Puel is left with a similar job to that faced by Koeman when he arrived. Bottom half, maybe even a struggle near the relegation zone. 

Stoke City
Safe in mid-table. Again.

Got away with it last season, but have lost England's greatest modern day manager to the FA. I didn't see them struggling last season so I really can't call it this time round. I'll go for lower mid-table.

Swansea City
Losing Ashley Williams will be a huge blow. They lack a goalscorer so the signing they made today needs to end up a good one. Without a striker who can put the ball in the net they could really struggle this season. They'll probably still get a result at Arsenal though.

Tottenham Hotspur
I'm still laughing at what happened in May. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Like Bournemouth they did the good work before Christmas last season and had a fine home record in that time. Ighalo's goals dried up, but Deeney and co did just enough. Yet another new boss at Vicarage Road though and you'd have to expect them to struggle again. What could save them is the fact that there are a number of candidates for the bottom three.

West Brom
The Berahino saga goes on but I can't see them genuinely struggling all that much. They won't play much good football - Pulis is still the manager - but they should do just about enough again.

West Ham
First season at the People's Utility Stadium, Stratford. They'll play in front of big crowds, at least to start with, but a lot of those people are sight-seeing and have no interest in West Ham. I can't see it being intimidating like Upton Park and that might affect them. Bilic did really well last year, though, and he ought to fancy pushing them on for Europe and/or a good cup run.

And so to business. But none of it in the transfer market. Just about every year I've been writing this piece I've said that we are going in to the season lacking the couple of players we need, but if we would just sign them we could end up being Champions. There's nothing new to say. We go in hope and we go to support whoever it is that is wearing that red shirt with white sleeves. Whatever happens this season, whether it's Wenger's last one or not, we'll be there and wanting the best for Arsenal FC. Come on Arsenal!

No Champions actually predicted this year. What's the point after last season?