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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?