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Monday, 18 April 2016

There is nothing left at Arsenal

The worst bit of defending so far...

The end of the George Graham era was notable for two things. Firstly we were watching a highly capable group of players going through the motions as the Manager was no longer able to motivate them. Secondly we were watching a stale, boring type of football in front of an ever growing number of empty seats, leaving an apathetic crowd of die-hards. The parallels with the current situation at Arsenal are impossible to ignore (unless you are a member of the Wenger cult or Stan Kroenke). The difference then was that we did, at least, have a dynamite striker in Ian Wright - today we have nothing to be excited by or about.
In the first three minutes of the match yesterday Garbiel, Koscielny, Bellerin and Monreal passed the ball around our defence with no intention to go forward. At the same time they had nobody to move the ball forward to. Elneny and Coquelin would come short, only to play the ball back to one of the centre-halves. I pointed out to my Dad that not one of the front three had moved since getting in to position from kick-off. Alexis stood on the right touchline, Iwobi on the left, and Welbeck between the Palace central defenders. There was not a single move made. Ozil also was totally static. After the game Wenger said how we like to "take the initiative" in every game. Do we Arsene? Is that why we have so few early goals this season? Take out the Man Utd home game and there is precious little evidence of such dynamic starts to any match. I'm fed-up of seeing Arsenal's centre-backs with the ball at their feet. It wouldn't be so bad if they were actually ball-playing defenders, but they aren't. Kolo Toure would sometimes take the ball on a run through midfield to make something happen, get the crowd going, give the opposition something to think about. Kolo was a good footballer though. And he was exceptionally quick and very strong. Not one of our centre-halves now possesses any of those qualities in abundance - Koscielny isn't a slouch, but he isn't strong and he isn't a footballer (by that I mean he isn't going to go picking  passes too often). We used to play at pace, moving the ball and seeing players running off the ball to find space and move between the lines. What we do now is pass sideways and square and go nowhere time after time after time. It's boring. It's predictable. It's easy to play against. If we couldn't get past Palace what chance do we have against an organised Tony Pulis team on Thursday?
I read a stat yesterday, and I've seen it quoted again today, that Mesut Ozil created eight "chances" for his team yesterday. This is utter, utter bull****. On what grounds are we rating "chances" created? We didn't create eight chances in the whole game, let alone one player doing it. Aside from the goal, which was brilliantly created by Welbeck and finished by Alexis, I am struggling to think of more than a couple of other genuine opportunities, one of which was badly missed by Ozil rather than being created by him. The fact is that, for most of the game yesterday, Ozil was nothing more than another passenger. Again. In his career at Arsenal Mesut Ozil had a brilliant first six games or so, a great FA Cup Final last season, and a two month period between late-November and mid-January this season. That is the sum total of his contribution in an Arsenal shirt. Standing there waving his arms in apparent frustration is nonsense. Thierry Henry started doing that towards the end of his Arsenal career, the difference being that he had been brilliant for years so was "able" to show his frustrations with other, less gifted players. Ozil summed himself up just before half-time yesterday when the ball broke his way but, when he turned and saw Scott Dann heading towards him, he literally jumped out of the way. I would shed few tears if he headed for the exit door. Ozil is a magnificent footballer, and paired with better strikers would have less reason to be frustrated at times, but I have no time for people who don't try hard enough. He does not take enough responsibility when on the ball to make something happen by a bit of skill, or taking someone on. He is a waste of talent.
The Palace goal was embarrassing for Arsenal. The abuse Adebayor was getting was always likely to haunt us. I can understand people chanting "w****r" at him, but not telling him he's "s**t" as that, quite clearly, is b******s. Adebayor is another waste of talent, but he is not a s**t player by any stretch of the imagination. However, what Gabriel did for their equaliser is not acceptable. I tell my ten-year-old off for failing to tackle people when he chases them down the wing and just runs alongside them instead of getting stuck in with a challenge. I tell him it doesn't really matter if he ends up committing a foul, as long as he stops that dangerous player from going forward towards goal. To see a professional defender do it makes you feel physically sick. Gabriel has not delivered on what looked like early promise as an Arsenal player. He seemed to have a desire to defend and make tackles. Maybe that's been coached out of him or something but it isn't there anymore. Calum Chambers must be given his chance in the last few games of the season. Even then it wasn't really a chance to score. Coquelin didn't get tight enough to Bolasie (though Coquelin was far and away the best player on the pitch yesterday) and then Cech let the ball in at the near-post. Cech has saved us many times this season but he has not been without his errors. The one that let the ball in yesterday was awful from him. Ospina would get pelters for that kind of mistake and so should Cech. What I would say, however, is that if you don't shoot then you won't score. The Palace striker took a punt and it paid off. We'd have been looking for a pass back to the centre-halves from that position.
The empty seats, in another era, would be ringing alarm bells with those sat in the Director's Box. However, the fact they are empty means nothing when they've already been paid for. Yesterday was a sell-out, as it is on Thursday, and every game until the end of the season. If people are mug enough to not turn up when they've already paid then Ivan and Stan will not be bothered in the slightest. What might bother them is that the Arsenal shop was very quiet yesterday when I went in to have a look around. Replica kits were still there in abundance (at full price even though they cease to be current in four weeks from now). That lack of foot-fall means less in the tills at the end of the day. If the tourist trade starts to dry up then where does that leave the American dream? With West Ham moving to a new stadium next season there is suddenly a new sporting attraction in London, with direct transport links from Paris and Brussels. Arsenal playing the way they are, and under-achieving badly, is not good for the bank balance. The fabled top-four finish is now under threat and we are going backwards. Sadly that's just about the only thing that could make Arsene Wenger quit or be sacked. It's all about the money and sod the football.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

No case for the defence

Our defenders all over the place again

Any lingering hopes of hunting down Leicester City are now surely gone. Good wins at Everton and at home to Watford were carried in to the first-half at West Ham. Having got very lucky with the first disallowed goal Arsenal took the game over and scored two lovely goals brilliantly created by the ever more impressive Alex Iwobi. West Ham got their tactics wrong defensively and Arsenal took advantage. Carroll may have been fortunate to escape a red card for a deliberately nasty foul on Koscielny in a tumultuous first-half but it was what happened in the final two minutes that have defined, and are totally emblematic of, the Arsenal season.
Let's make this quite clear - there is no excuse for a team who claims to be aiming to win the Premier League to lose a two goal lead. All Arsenal really had to do was get to half-time at 2-0 (and even 2-1 wouldn't have been so bad, but far from ideal). Having got his formation wrong Bilic changed his tactics before half-time to get his side back in to the game before they were swept away. The effect was that Arsenal decided to sit back with the cigars on as the arrogance of the players yet again took over the way in which they had played. How many times have we seen them give away a lead simply because they stop playing? And then there is the way we fail to do the basics. Cresswell was given acres of space to pick a perfect cross - lesson to Bellerin and Monreal in how to not continually hit the ball at the nearest defender - and our two centre-backs refused to attack the ball. The result was an Andy Carroll header that gave Ospina no chance. We do not have a centre-back who "wants" to win the ball in the air, especially when faced with a man like Carroll. Gabriel and Koscielny were afraid of him, simple as that. Don't be fooled by the idea that we'd have been better off with Mertesacker against Carroll as he makes the other two look like Tony Adams in the air.
The equaliser was even worse defensively. Ospina got a decent punch to the ball, though I'd always prefer a goalkeeper catching the ball. When it was played back in to the far post - nobody closed it down again - there were FOUR West Ham players in space beyond the last Arsenal defender, but within the width of the six-yard box. Where is the organisation? Who is making the calls at the back? Does anyone communicate when there is no Cech, Mertesacker or Arteta in the team? Koscielny was the skipper yesterday but it is nothing more than giving the armband to the supposedly senior player (by the same token, when Iwobi had a flare-up with Noble only Welbeck went to get in and sort it - where was the Arsenal Captain?) I read after the game a quote from Koscielny bemoaning the fact that crosses were allowed to come in - after the first goal why was he not dishing out the harsh words to Bellerin, Monreal and Alexis for not closing down their men? Alexis is actually becoming more and more Arshavin-esque in his performances, and don't tell me a man who missed two months with an injury this season needs a rest either.
There is little point in going over the third goal as we all know we'd seen it before with Carroll allowed to pull away towards Bellerin with neither of our centre-backs in the picture. By this time he shouldn't have been on the pitch following a clear swinging elbow (reckless play) in to the face of Gabriel that should have seen a second booking. Given the offside goal in the first-half this might well be a case of swings and roundabouts, however. We were also extremely lucky that the referee saw Carroll tug Koscielny back when he tried to inexplicably shepherd the ball back to Ospina instead of hoofing it, thus denying Payet a goal.
There was some fighting spirit from Arsenal after that. West Ham bizarrely stopped playing high balls towards Carroll and Arsenal got right on top for a while. Giroud came on to play next to Welbeck and Arsenal battered West Ham for ten minutes. We got the equaliser through a fine Koscielny finish and suddenly looked well placed to go on and win after all. And then Wenger took over yet again to scupper us. Why, when taking Welbeck off, was Walcott put out to the wing, leaving Giroud an isolated lone-striker again? Our threat just about disappeared for those final ten minutes apart from a total cock-up by Alexis when through on his left-foot, and then Theo with the last kick of the game choosing not to keep running when in on goal, before chipping the ball straight to Adrian with two unmarked teammates in the centre. I'll leave aside the two awful free-kicks that Ozil put towards the penalty-area in the last few minutes as they just about sum up the majority of his Arsenal career - totally insipid.
Taking a point from a game where you are 2-0 up is not good enough. Yet again an Arsenal team under Arsene Wenger conceded three goals. Yet again they threw away a lead because their attitude is wrong. You may have seen this statistic elsewhere but Arsenal this season have scored three goals at West Ham and Liverpool, and two at Tottenham and Manchester United, yet have not won any of those matches. That is a scandalous and damning indictment of Wenger and Bould's failure to address defensive issues. Leicester are proving that you don't need top class defenders to be able to defend effectively. If you are organised and tactically aware you can be very hard to beat. We are none of those things. 
Arsenal are hamstrung by a tactically inept coach who is never wrong, in his own eyes. David Ospina has done well in Petr Cech's absence, and cant be faulted for the goals we conceded yesterday. However, I fail to see how keeping him in the side when Cech is now fit could have been a good thing. I mentioned earlier about communication and leadership of the side. We miss that when Cech is not there. And then there is the obvious fact that Cech can dominate his area in a way that Ospina can't. When we played Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final last May their main (only) tactic was to hit high balls towards Benteke at the far-post. Wojciech Szczesny played ahead of Ospina and had clearly been instructed (or worked out for himself) that he had to come for everything. In the first minutes of the game Szczesny came and took a high-ball and Villa's threat was gone for the whole match. If Cech had been playing yesterday I am certain that the outcome would have been different as he would have taken it upon himself to negate the threat of Carroll. I'm not blaming Ospina, but I am blaming Arsene Wenger. The Manager gave his reasons after the game on the grounds that Ospina has played well and kept two clean-sheets in the last two matches. And? So what? We paid a bargain £10m for a World Class goalkeeper last year. Why would you not pick him when he is fit and has been crucial to attaining the points tally we have throughout the season? Make no mistake, we would be in mid-table mediocrity without Petr Cech. And then there is the fact that Wenger doesn't apply the same standards to the selection, or otherwise, of other players - Joel Campbell was inexplicably left out of the 18 yesterday while Walcott stayed in and Ramsey returned. With the game as it was in the second-half Campbell would have been an ideal option, especially with Alexis Sanchez and Ozil being so awful throughout. Arsene knows though.
I am resigned to the fact that we have at least one more year of Wenger. He is too stubborn to resign, though I am sure he has been rocked slightly by the change in attitude towards him among a large section of the supporters, especially the away fans who he is usually so quick to praise for their commitment. Kroenke probably won't even be aware that we didn't win yesterday, let alone that we have blown the chance to win a Title that no other big club challenged for this season. As long as the UEFA money is secured then the wig wearer will be more than happy, and that black hole in the accounts will grow wider. As such Wenger won't be pensioned off. It promises to be a very long 13 months between now and May 2017, and there is no guarantee that Wenger will actually leave his role even then. God help us.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Please grow up Jack

Why can't he just keep his head down?

So the tabloids are having another field day with Jack Wilshere. It doesn't matter whether he was involved in any trouble or not, the fact is that he shouldn't have been there in the first place. Jack has had his fingers burned so many times in the past on nights out with his mates. The best way to avoid this bad publicity and unwanted attention is to not be there in the first place. For some reason Jack Wilshere doesn't seem to understand that.
There are plenty willing to defend Jack and dismiss the stories. After all he's only doing what other young blokes do, isn't he? The difference for Wilshere is that he is no ordinary young bloke. He was born with a talent that the tiniest percentage of people can ever dream of having. He is paid a fortune on a weekly basis to dedicate himself to being a professional footballer. He will be a long time retired, at which time he can do all the clubbing, smoking and drinking he wants. Right now he is an Arsenal football player and he needs to understand what that means. I strongly suspect that those people claiming there is nothing wrong with Jack being out at 3am would be on a different side of the fence were it Harry Kane or Delle Alli, for example. 
Jack Wilshere is the best young footballer I have ever seen at Arsenal. He was better than Fabregas, as good (at least) as Rocastle. My Dad said that he was the best he'd seen since Liam Brady came through. He has suffered too many long term injuries to have fulfilled that potential at this time. He might never come back to be as good as he was. Something about him is not right in terms of the injuries and the amount of time he spends out with them. Going out with his mates until the early hours doesn't help. When you've effectively been off sick for the last eight months I would suggest being caught outside a nightclub while someone near you is kicking-off is not the best idea. That counts whether you work in Tesco or play football for Arsenal. Jack needs to grow up, and to do it fast.

After all that misery it's time to cheer ourselves up a bit so, copied below, is something I posted in 2012 as a memory for this date:

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

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