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Saturday, 30 September 2017

Tribute to a Gooner Legend

Frank Benn


This will probably be the hardest blog post to write that I've yet done. This morning we heard that our dear Frank Benn, legend of the Dover Gooners, has passed away. Some of you reading this will know Frank personally, others will have read about him before in these pages, and some will recognise his face from away games both here and in Europe over the last 20 years. For me personally I have had the pleasure of being in Frank's company on so many occasions, whether at Arsenal or elsewhere. He came to my wedding, knew my children, and is a genuine friend of our family. More than that he was a friend to so many others, a local legend known to hundreds. In terms of our travelling as a group of Dover people to watch Arsenal he is one of our originals.
Way back in the mid-90's Frank lost his wife. He was a regular in one of the local pubs, The Boars Head, where my brother and his mates used to drink. I think there was genuine worry for what might happen to Frank once he was on his own. At this point my brother Mick stepped in and got him to come along to Arsenal. Frank was a lifelong fan, but match going had been a thing of his younger years. It's said by some that Mick saved Frank by getting him back in to going to Arsenal. So it began that Benny started to follow The Arsenal over land and sea (and Leicester) until his health began to falter a few years ago. The fact that he was getting on in years didn't slow Frankie down in the drinking stakes and he would hold his own with most of us over the years, although he did become famous for falling over a lot once he was out of his tree. He followed Arsenal from Moscow to La Coruna and all points in between. In doing so he became well known and a popular friend to Gooners from all over the continent. The pre-season tours of Austria, where he'd go with my Dad and Mick, were where some of the most lasting friendships we have at Arsenal were made. Everyone there knew Frank, and everyone there liked Frank. 

Frank and his European friends from Austria, Germany, Italy and beyond


There was always fun to be had when Benny was about, often at his expense. He had his own song on the FA Cup Final trips down to Cardiff to the tune of the Sol Campbell song, something about being a "stupid old ****, who falls over drunk" and the stories are legend. There was the night he couldn't operate a turnstile in a petrol station shop to the point where Bill, one of our other Dover men, had to plead with him to stop because he was about to wet himself with the laughing. There was the night he was drunk as Mick and Tony played football on some forecourt somewhere and decided he was David Seaman, taking off at full length to save a ball that was about 15 yards away - Frank was in to his 70's at that stage! He informed everyone he had the address of their hotel should a taxi be required in Germany one night, not realising that the hotel he had the address of was from Belgium the night before. And then there was the day my Dad always loves to talk about when Frankie brought the travelling Gooner army to their feet in a German (at Schalke was it?) beer kellar; someone pointed out that a stein had gone untouched as they were leaving for something to eat, so Frankie lifted the 2 pint jug and downed it in one. I'm reliably informed that everyone in that pub cheered the old boy to the rafters. Frank was indeed a legend.
Being of the generation he was Frank was not politically correct. He would use words and phrases in the presence of certain people that would not be necessarily acceptable in this day and age, but Frank being Frank meant that nobody ever took offence. He was just Frank and everyone loved the old boy. He was with us in Copenhagen when we lost to Galatassaray, and in Paris when we lost to Barcelona. He went to the finals at Cardiff and Wembley and rarely missed a game that any of the others were going to. It didn't matter whether it was Selhurst Park or Ewood Park, just pick Frank up from his house and he was happy watching The Arsenal. He couldn't say "Keown" even when he was sober, but he loved Dennis Bergkamp. Who didn't? Looking back it's great that this old Arsenal man (who used to tell me about playing at Highbury in his youth) got to see the very best of the Wenger years and the success that we had.
The last time I got to speak to Frank was at the Dover Gooners dinner last year when we persuaded him to come along. He looked well at the time, especially considering how sick he had been in recent years. The dinner this year will now have a certain sadness attached as Frank was there when we had the first one in the upstairs room of another local pub back in 2003. Maybe going to football hasn't been quite the same since he stopped going, certainly him and Bill are missed by us all. The Christmas Eve lunchtime session has certainly missed his presence these past few years. Frank will always have a place in the hearts of the Dover Gooners -my Dad has known Frank all his life - and will always be a legend to his many friends, whether here in Dover, all over England, Norway, Austria, Germany or Italy. There will never be another Frank Benn. RIP old'un, I'll miss you.

All together in Paris

Monday, 18 September 2017

So they can do it after all

I last got around to writing something between the Stoke and Liverpool matches. Let's make no mistake here, the start to Arsenal's season has been a car crash on and off the pitch. The humiliation at Liverpool, who have been totally undone by everyone they've played since, was just a continuation of recent years against certain clubs. Wenger yesterday claimed it was down to the transfer window being open and the uncertainty caused by that. Utter nonsense. The fact there is that Wenger and Gazidis presided over yet another disaster of a transfer period and failed to deal with the buying and selling of players appropriately. To blame their incompetence off the pitch (while taking no responsibility himself) for the players performances on the pitch (while taking no responsibility himself) is symptomatic of the malaise which runs through Arsenal right now from top to bottom. No ambition, no plan, no leadership, no direction and, apparently, no money!!!
That's the negative stuff out of the way (I'm not going to go in to what happened at the stadium last Thursday as I wasn't there myself so nothing I have to say is really going to add to the debate) let's get on with the good stuff.
At the risk of stating the obvious we needed a good win at home to Bournemouth and we got it. I don't care that Bournemouth were rubbish, the players went out and won comprehensively. There was some decent football played and Lacazette scored a very fine goal, as did Welbeck with his second of the game. It doesn't mean forgiveness for what happened at Stoke and Liverpool, but you have to start somewhere. This was followed up with another very good win in the week against Cologne. Played against the backdrop of what was happening around the ground the players concentrated on the job in hand, after half-time at least, and again scored some superb goals. Even better was that Jack Wilshere was back in the squad and those present gave him the sort of cheer that Wenger hates as it tells him the fans love a particular player that he doesn't. Jack looked sharp from what I could see on TV so it was disappointing yesterday to see Elneny and Maitland-Niles named on the bench instead of him. I have a theory here that Wenger is going to make Wilshere's position at Arsenal so difficult that he has to ask for a move in January.
Yesterday was a game that I fully expected Arsenal to lose. In fact I expected us to concede at least four goals and be hammered yet again. What we got instead was 100% effort from everyone on the pitch, with no player really worthy of criticism - at least among those who started the match. Iwobi playing instead of the injured (really?) Ozil was a surprise but the youngster did everything asked of him on the day. For once the team was set up properly to play against a top class opponent and Arsenal should have won the game. My Dad pointed out this morning that we seem to be able to play well against Conte's Chelsea and so it proved again yesterday. Aaron Ramsey, by cutting out the flicks and tricks, and not just bombing forward aimlessly, was superb by keeping things simple. Along with Xhaka and Iwobi I thought we dominated the midfield for most of the game, with Kante, Fabregas, Pedro and Bakayoko pretty much anonymous on the day. I criticise Ramsey a lot on this site, and deservedly so, but I also give credit where it is due - yesterday Ramsey showed that when he plays properly and doesn't try to be Lionel Messi he is top class. On the theme of giving credit I have to say that Shkodran Mustafi had far and away his best game for Arsenal yesterday. It's a shame he got himself offside for the disallowed goal as he would have been a worth scorer of any winning goal yesterday. I thought he absolutely put Morata in his pocket throughout the match, to the point that Morata got frustrated enough to lose his head. If Mustafi can produce that kind of display on a consistent basis then I might begin to understand the money we paid for him. As I said above, the performance of the team was top class and as far as I'm concerned it was no coincidence that a certain German international (whose contract is running down completely under the radar compared to Alexis) wasn't involved.
This Arsenal team has a lot of catching up to do, and a lot of making up to do for the supporters. The game at Chelsea should stand as a spring-board to them for this season, showing that they can play well against other top teams. However, there have been enough false dawns in the past for me to get excited about it just yet. Let's see where we are after 10 games, or a few more away to the other big clubs, and then start to judge whether the penny has dropped. In the meantime I want to see the good run kept going with a handsome League Cup performance at home to Doncaster in midweek. Momentum is key if the season is to get on track properly.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

And another thing...



Okay, here comes a long winded rant about a number of things. Expect to disagree with plenty of what you might be about to read, and marvel at the massive contradictions I make with my own opinions throughout this piece.
The opening day win over Leicester should have done nothing to paper over some serious cracks. Lacazette got us, and himself, off to the most perfect start with his early goal. What followed almost immediately was everything that might have been expected by the close observer of Arsenal in recent years. The defending was non-existent and Leicester ripped through us time and again. Rob Holding looked all at sea without Mertesacker alongside him but the presence of two left-backs in the central defence was a joke. We got out of jail thanks to Giroud and Ramsey (who has been outstanding in the first two games) so to see Wenger do exactly the same thing again at Stoke was bizarre. He questioned the centre of the defence after the game, completely overlooking the fact that  HE was the one who took the decision to play a winger at right-back, a right-back at left-back (Bellerin actually had a very decent game at Stoke to be fair to him), two left-backs at centre-half and Mustafi - I'm really not sure what Mustafi is apart from woefully out of his depth. Meanwhile Per Mertesacker was sat on the bench, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers were left out completely, and Gabriel was sold the day before to Valencia. What does it say to the central defenders at the club that Wenger would rather play Monreal and Kolasinac in their position instead of their own? Kieran Gibbs is still an Arsenal player yet he is frozen out to the point that Wenger would rather start Bellerin on the wrong side of the pitch than allow Gibbs to earn the wages he's still being paid. This is crazy management even by Wenger's standards of the last 10 years.
I have to say that, in hindsight, we were unlucky to lose at Stoke. The decisions of the officials were worse than bizarre, but maybe it could be argued we were lucky to get the win the week before when Mike Dean missed Ozil's handball. Whatever hindsight might show us it doesn't erase the fact that Xhaka has been awful so far, Welbeck is great until he actually sees the goal in front of him, and Mesut Ozil might as well go and sit in the stand. 
I've seen people defending Ozil this week and, perhaps, it was unfair for him to be singled out against Stoke. The counter to that is that Arsenal paid £40m+ for Ozil and he fails to ever dominate a game of football. To see him consistently picking the ball up in deep areas on Saturday, only to lay a five yard pass off to Mustafi, and then wave his international colleague past him with the ball, is stupefying to say the very least. Genuinely World Class players would take a game like Saturday and dominate it, take players on, make things happen, create space and opportunities for the forwards ahead of them. Ozil does none of this. I don't care what anyone has to say that is positive about Ozil as the fact of the matter is that he is scared of being tackled, refuses to take responsibility, and his end product is not that of a superstar signing. I would shed no tears if he was sold but nobody wants to buy him! There is a reason for that and the Ozil fan-boys refuse to acknowledge it.
If Alexis Sanchez had played Saturday then I am sure we would have won the game or, at least, not been beaten. He would have created similar chances to those missed by Welbeck (and Lacazette) and would have stuck away at least one of them. But what do we do with Alexis given his contract situation? Arsene has made a bit of a rod for his own back by insisting he won't sell him. I understand precisely why Wenger is going down that road. At the same time I can't help thinking we'd be better off selling him, even to Man City, if the money involved was over £50m - this is a change in my opinion from a few weeks back.. You have to weigh it against bringing in a new player who does want to play for Arsenal against losing Sanchez for nothing next year. The only way to get close to making that situation have little impact is to win the Premier League and, let's be honest, that isn't going to happen all the time we can't defend or are relying on a geriatric goalkeeper whose best days are long behind him. If the only way Wenger can get Thomas Lemar is by selling Alexis then maybe it needs to be done. And get Jack Butland as well while you're at it.
I managed to watch a good bit of the under-23 game on Monday night and three things struck me. Firstly Reiss Nelson should be a proper part of the first-team squad now. Theo Walcott was very good  up to Christmas last season and benefited greatly from the space created by Cazorla for those in front of him. After Christmas he regressed and seems to have no obvious role in the new formation - maybe he is another who should be cashed in so that Nelson can take his place on the bench. Secondly Eddie Nketiah could easily be making first-team appearances this season in the League Cup and UEFA Cup - he is a stunning goalscorer at youth levels so maybe he needs his chance. Thirdly, and most importantly, Jack Wilshere must NOT be sold or loaned out, and should immediately be restored to the match-day squad at Anfield this weekend. His red card apparently doesn't mean a first-team suspension. I loved his reaction to getting kicked (for a third or fourth time in ten minutes) by taking no more s**t from some talentless Man City oiks who should have been doing their summer holidays homework. I keep reading that he will have his work cut out to displace Xhaka and Ramsey, while Elneny and Coquelin are also ahead of him. One word for that - b******s. Have these people ever actually seen Xhaka? Can they not see that Ramsey ought to actually play in Ozil's position where he can be most influential at the top end of the pitch? Our central midfield, from current resources, should be Jack playing alongside Coquelin every time. People keep telling me Xhaka has "potential" while completely overlooking the fact he has been here a year and cost over £30m! Potential? You don't pay that for potential. He isn't a top player, simple as that. Jack Wilshere most certainly is a top player and should be back in the Arsenal team at the earliest opportunity. Put Coquelin alongside him and you have a pair of terriers who will make tackles and, in Jack, a player who will beat a man to get us on the front foot and bringing the next opposition defender towards the play, creating space as Cazorla does. 
Some final thoughts on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There is a new narrative being played out on social media, influenced by a prominent Arsenal blog and those who write for it, that Arsene Wenger is upsetting the balance of the team by finding a place for Ox. In the system we are playing Ox is better than Bellerin. It's the Spaniard who is being accommodated in the side by finding a place for him. I touched on this above with the fact that we have three international left-backs in the squad but Ox and Bellerin have played in that position in the first two games. The sticking point with Chamberlain is his contract situation. My view on him, in contrast to Sanchez, is that we should keep him for the season as we don't stand to make huge money on his transfer. Chamberlain has to understand he won't play centrally, at any top club, and should carve out a niche for himself at wing-back - his abilities are so suited to the role. 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Not quite a Premier League preview 2017-18


Unfortunately I don't have the time to get a proper Premier League preview piece written in the traditional way today. I'm off to the game tonight so tempus fugit and all that. Instead of a proper preview I've listed below where I roughly think everyone might finish this season:

1. Manchester City - after all that money anything else would be a failure
2. Arsenal - I live in hope...
3. Manchester United - need Lukaku to miss fewer sitters
4. Chelsea - Conte won't be there in May unless something changes, but Costa might be
5. Scouse "This is our year" XI - Klopp to go at end of season
6. Everton - big money spent
7. London "This is our year" XI - things are not good in the Wembley Wanderers camp
8. West Ham - must be better than last season at home
9. Southampton - I keep backing them to go down so a different one this year
10. Newcastle - under Benitez I'd be shocked if they went down again
11. Watford - safe again
12. Leicester - might also see a new manager again
13. Burnley - if they can do as well at home again, need to pick up away points this year
14. West Brom - Pulis just signed a new contract so expert a sleepy time watching them
15. Crystal Palace - a battle but safe, could do with a couple of signings to stay up
16. Bournemouth - might need to survive by the skin of their teeth
17. Swansea City - could easily swap places with any of the bottom three
18. Stoke Rugby Football Club - bye bye, not missed
19. Brighton - can't see them staying up
20. Huddersfield Town - would be a welcome miracle for Herbert's old boys to stay up

Monday, 7 August 2017

Chelsea get Arsenal's care in the Community...Shield

It's always enjoyable at Wembley when you win. Yesterday Arsenal did just that and we were able to leave with the smiles of winners, even if it is just a friendly with a slight prestige about it. Given the players Arsenal were missing, and then Mertesacker getting injured fairly early on, it was a decent result against the Champions. The game itself wasn't entirely dissimilar to the FA Cup Final some ten weeks ago. Arsenal were the better side for most of the game, albeit not creating quite as much as we did back in May. However, we had more than the balance of the play with more possession, more shots and more territory than Chelsea did. The BBC website ran a match report stating Chelsea took a deserved lead having dominated the game - I can only assume whichever cretin wrote that has been given their cards this morning.
For me there were three star performers for Arsenal on the day. Nacho Monreal was outstanding yet again at the back and this was even more impressive when you consider he had to take over from the BFG in the centre when he took Cahill's elbow just above the eye. Monreal has really developed in to one of the very best players in the Arsenal team over the last couple of seasons and his consistency has been largely outstanding. Sead Kolasinac came on for Mertesacker and was put on to the left of the back three. He went on, in my view, to produce one of the most impressive debuts for Arsenal in recent years. You can't have failed to notice he is a bit of a "unit" and he certainly makes best use of his frame. The Bosnian looks strong and powerful but also showed no small amount of pace yesterday. To cap it off by attacking the aerial ball and scoring a deserved equaliser topped off a very good day for him. In front of them I was surprised to see Xhaka get the official man of the match award, especially as he was badly at fault in the build-up to Chelsea's goal - of course he provided the excellent free-kick for Kolasinac's goal. For me the best player on the pitch yesterday, and this will surprise many reading it, was Mohamed Elneny who surely produced his finest display in an Arsenal shirt. The Egyptian was everywhere and made tackles, won the ball, used it well and nearly scored too. With Xhaka being disciplined in his positional play at the base of the midfield Elneny's marauding play ahead of him, while keeping things simple with the ball, allowed Arsenal to pretty much dominate that area of the pitch.
My notable disappointments from yesterday were Bellerin, who seems to be going backwards right now, and Rob Holding who looked out of his depth for the first time. I thought he was really poor and tried to be far too clever with the ball at times. He also won little in the air at times yesterday and, for me, wouldn't get a start on Friday if Mertesacker is fit to play against Leicester.
Our new centre-forward was also in action and he hit the post at the end of a fine move he was heavily involved in but apart from that was rarely seen. With no Ozil or Alexis it was difficult to see how Arsenal would provide him the kind of chances he looks like he will need to score goals. Worryingly I don't see a player with express pace - there was one ball played into the channel for him in the second-half where David Luiz gave him a two yard start and then ran past Lacazette to take the ball. I hope he can hit the ground running when we get the Premier League started on Friday night.
In the main talking points from the game I thought, at the time, it was a dive from Willian while the slowed down TV pictures show Bellerin accidentally brush his leg with a knee - not a penalty but probably not a dive. Then there was the elbow on Mertesacker. Did Cahill deliberately do it? No. Did he lead with a swinging elbow? Yes. Is that dangerous and a red card? Yes. He did it again when he beat Xhaka to the header that set up their goal. Something to keep a watch over as the season gets going. And then the red card. Pedro knew exactly what he'd done and laid down pretending to be hurt as a result. Credit to the referee for taking no notice and making the right decision. 
So a trophy to start the season and a good day out for my family at Wembley yet again. I never tire of going there and there is nowhere better to win. Two trophies this year at the home of Tottenham - the gift that keeps on giving. 
It's not a bad way to get the season started. I am, however, concerned at the way certain non-playing members of the squad were, in Arsene Wenger's words, invited "to be part of it" while others weren't. Arsene says he has 33 players and that is too many. I probably agree but he is forcing out the wrong 6 or 7 and retaining some youngsters who, with the apparent exception of Reiss Nelson, are nowhere near good enough to play for Arsenal, at least not yet. Jack Wilshere should not be sitting at home watching when others are taken with the squad even though they're not fit to play. Jack isn't the only one and it must be driving a wedge between members of the team. It's not healthy and I believe we will end up regretting the way Wenger is treating the likes of Jack, Gibbs, Debuchy, Jenkinson, Lucas Perez etc.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Members Day - the difference in attitudes of players

I went to Members Day at the stadium yesterday with my wife and two boys. Overall it was an enjoyable day out for everyone, but not without faults. Given that Arsenal have been holding the event off and on at Emirates for the last 11 years (and a couple at Highbury before that if I remember right) you would think they'd have things right by now. The biggest annoyance on the day? The FA Cup was behind Block 7 in the North Bank for photos - these were being done for free, so an excellent initiative from the club. Of course the queues were long so it was a case of watch the training session or get a photo with the FA Cup for those of us who live far enough away that arriving at 1030 was out of the question. No matter, a steward told us we had until 1245. At 1225 I went to Block 7 (I was actually sitting just there in the stand) to find young children being turned away by one of Arsenal's many jobsworth employees as the queue they had was going to take them past 1245 and "I've got to get the Cup upstairs." I saw later on the official Facebook site that the FA Cup made its may to the "adults" Q&A player session in the hands of Aaron Ramsey. Now given that Members Day is essentially a family event I have to question why the FA Cup was taken away from the kids like that. Frankly it should have sat where it was until every child/family that wanted to had had their photo taken with it. Not just that, but the arrogance and attitude of the senior steward was unnecessary. 
The training session itself was, I am sure, slightly more relaxed than a normal day at Shenley. The players did a light warm-up, and a few passing drills, followed by a series of small sided games across, and then in one half, of the pitch. This meant we all got to see some action rather than just the players actually being coached. Ozil, Jenkinson, Chambers and Gabriel were working only with the fitness coach while Debuchy joined in the main group until it was time to play the "matches" at which point he appeared to be not allowed to be part of things. He cut a forlorn site standing next to one of the goals and watching on. Given Debuchy's quality as a footballer, and a man who has done well for the most part when playing for us, I found that hard to watch. Why ostracise a bloke who can genuinely do a job for us at either right-back or centre-back? Francis Coquelin was missing completely from training having got hurt on Saturday against Benfica, though I was also told later by a member of the staff that he wasn't at the training ground the day before either. Aaron Ramsey didn't train but, as I mentioned above, was actually at the stadium.
The open day, on the pitch at least, ended with the quite brilliant prize for 20+ Junior Gunners of playing against the 1st team on the Emirates pitch. The youngsters were given a day out at Highbury, arrived on the 1st team coach, used the away dressing-room, and also were given a full PUMA Arsenal away kit and trainers etc. It has to be the prize to end all prizes.
After all that we went to the Junior Gunners Q&A in one of the Club Level lounges. At that event we were joined by Theo Walcott, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, Olivier Giroud, Gabriel, Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez. The adults, well me at least, were as excited as the youngsters when the players came in to the room. My eldest won the chance to go on to the stage and play a small game with Calum Chambers which was great for him. There were some questions asked to the different players, none of which would be described as probing given that they came from the children. Walcott, Mustafi, Chambers and Wilshere were excellent, Kolasinac seemed a bit lost as he told us his English isn't great yet so Mustafi was translating everything in German for him, while Giroud, Sanchez and Gabriel acted like naughty schoolboys on the far end of the stage clearly not that interested in being there. Annoyingly when the event came to an end the players were rushed out of the room to stop the kids getting photos and autographs with them. This winds me up intensely for a number of reasons. Theo, Calum and Jack all seemed keen to stay and sign for everyone but they were virtually manhandled out by the Arsenal staff. Theo Walcott seemed genuinley embarrassed by the whole thing and I guess that tells you what a decent lad he really is. Quite why the young fans couldn't get the moment with their heroes I really can't fathom. When put in context with the fan events in China and Australia a couple of weeks back, and the access those fans got to the players, you have to wonder why it's only those of us who live here that seem to miss out at our fan events.

So now we move on to Sunday and the Charity Shield at Wembley. It's a strange kind of hybrid of a fixture, somewhere between a pre-season friendly and a competitive game. I read yesterday that Laurent Koscielny is free to play on Sunday but banned now from the first two Premier League games instead. I guess that means the FA are saying Sunday is a nothing game. Perhaps we can tell Sky that too and go back to not needing a penalty shootout if the game ends in a draw. Having been thrashed by Chelsea in China it will be a test for Arsenal and I think we will see something approaching a first-team at least at the start of the game. I will try and do a post following the game, depending on how time treats me on Sunday or Monday night.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Don't think we've got a problem?

I went to the game yesterday and got my first look at this new Arsenal squad in the flesh. I had enjoyed the game on the Saturday with some very decent attacking play on show against Benfica, but the defending had been largely woeful. Having seen some good football, however, I was really excited and looking forward to the Sevilla game. I took the family and we sat in Club Level as has become our tradition for the Emirates Cup.
What followed on the pitch was a familiarly frustrating sight of pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, give the ball away. I counted up two genuine shots on target in the whole game from Arsenal. There were a couple of efforts wide, or over the bar, but mostly it was the usual boring passing the ball to death while going nowhere. At the other end Sevilla passed the ball with a purpose, by which I mean their passing was intended to result in an effort at goal rather than making pretty patterns across the pitch. At the same time as this they showed that the "defence" employed by Arsenal yesterday was also totally inept with the notable exception of our most consistent player, Nacho Monreal.
It's time to lay out some facts here regarding our defence. We have three international footballers currently being forced out of the club in the shape of Debuchy, Jenkinson and Gibbs. Two of these lads are Arsenal through and through. Meanwhile we have had a pre-season of Wenger using Elneny and Maitland-Niles out of position at centre-back and, quite frankly, being damaged as a result. Neither of these two players are defenders and it has done them no favours to be ripped apart by Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Benfica and Sevilla in the last couple of weeks. We had Hector Bellerin back yesterday but all we saw proven down the right was that we look a whole lot better at both ends of the pitch when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain plays in his position - if Barcelona offered serious cash I'd be more than tempted to cash in on Bellerin, while keeping Debuchy and Jenkinson. On the other side I was impressed by Kolasinac, especially going forward, on Saturday. However, we showed that there is nothing there to cover him in the event of an injury unless Monreal is moved away from his highly effective role in the back three. Cohen Brammall is surely living the dream at Arsenal, and good luck to him for that, but the lad was so far out of his depth it was quite frightening yesterday. It's not his fault, he just isn't a top level footballer. What I've seen from him reminded me a lot of Glen Kamara and Ismael Benaccer when they played in the League Cup at Sheffield Wednesday. You have to wonder why Kieran Gibbs is being shown the door.
Of course the defence has largely been bereft of Holding, Chambers and Mustafi for the pre-season schedule. At the same time should we really be reliant on the promising, but mostly untested, Holding? Or Chambers and Mustafi who have failed to look the part during their Arsenal careers to date? There is also the worrying sign that Laurent Koscielny might have lost half a yard of pace - King Koscielny has always made the odd error at times when his concentration has slipped, but take away his speed and you have a Mertesacker without the ability to read the play. Worrying times for a defence that was already sub-standard.
At the top end of the pitch I was very pleased to see Lacazette get a goal yesterday. He grew in to the game but was having to move in to areas of the pitch he might not like to be just to get some service. As a result we saw some useful link play from him when coming wide, but this was at the expense of having anyone in the centre when the ball was moved on. Aaron Ramsey had a fine game, while Welbeck looked good in the first-half and non-existent in the second. Of course we are missing Alexis Sanchez at this point, but maybe that's something we ought to get used to - who knows how bad his flu might get?! And then we come to my favourite person, Mesut Ozil. That feeling of frustration I mentioned above is almost exclusively a result of him getting the ball. So many times he has possession of the football and you feel yourself thinking "right, now go at them!" What you get instead is a three yard pass to the nearest Arsenal player, usually one of the full-backs, while he trots off to find space to do it all over again when he gets the ball next time. Something that summed him, and the way Wenger has this Arsena team playing, came in injury-time. There we are, 2-1 behind, and Petr Cech comes charging forward to joint he players in the penalty-area for a corner. Ozil, having just passed up the opportunity to score down in front of us, is standing over the ball. He chooses to play it short and the ball never does get crossed in to the penalty area. Frustrated? Is it any wonder?
It's wrong, of course, to judge too much on pre-season games. Until recent years very few people even saw these games as they weren't televised - there wasn't much call for Southend v Arsenal, for example, to be on the box. As a result, if you weren't at the games then you only had a brief newspaper report to find out what went on. Following the pioneering Makita Tournament's, Amsterdam Tournament, and now the far-east and American "tour" matches there is a market to see these glamour friendlies so we all have a chance to see what's going on. Most of it remains irrelevant until the league starts, but that doesn't mean I can't be worried and annoyed already! Roll on Members Day this Thursday...will Alexis be there?

Monday, 10 July 2017

Wenger gives us a clue for the season

Well it seems like only yesterday that I wrote the final piece from last season. I didn't do the usual squad review pieces, end of season awards etc because time caught up with me and there seemed little point once I was finally able to find the time. So, that being the case, this is the first post in nearly two months since Arsene Wenger signed his new contract. The weather has been proper summer stuff and Arsenal have made two new signings in Sead Kolasinac and Alexander Lacazette. Exciting stuff, and now the squad have flown off to Australia ahead of the first pre-season game later this week in Sydney.
With the list of those travelling down under posted on the official Arsenal website it is clearer now what Arsene Wenger's plans are for 2017-18 with some notable absentees from the touring party. Forget Alexis, Mustafi, Bellerin, Holding and Chambers as they were all involved in tournaments so are not back from holiday until at least Emirates Cup weekend, I would think. However, some players have surely seen their Arsenal careers ended by the departure of the chartered plane with them still back in England. Wilshere, Cazorla and Zelalem are all injured, but Lucas Perez, Joel Campbell, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Wojciech Szczesny and Carl Jenkinson are surely at the end of the road with Arsenal. Given the extra games, and tighter schedule, that being in the Europa League brings I am really surprised at some of this. I really expected Szczesny might get a chance this season to regain his number one position, with Ospina leaving, but the Colombian is still here and the Pole isn't. Kieran Gibbs is obviously the one who Kolasinac has come to replace but, with Monreal highly effective on the left side of a back three I find that disappointing - Gibbs is Arsenal through and through. Similarly, Carl Jenkinson (as I've written before) has been badly done to both by the boss and the fans who seem to have forgotten he is really not as bad as the internet trolls would have them believe. With Debuchy finally taking the long walk there was surely room for the versatile Corporal to retain his place in the squad - another "homegrown" player towards the quota as well. The most disappointing, for me, is the fact that Lucas Perez now seems certain to leave the club. He was nothing short of brilliant in the few games he played, scored and created goals, yet somehow Wenger never wanted to give him his chance - why did he bother signing the lad?
There are the usual good few youngsters on the trip to Australia and China, with Maitland-Niles and Nelson already announced by Arsene Wenger as moving up to join the first-team squad this season. The likes of Joe Willock are maybe more of a surprise, but perhaps it's a small "could have been you" jab at his older brothers who both moved away from Arsenal. Eddie Nketiah is a prolific young centre-forward and looks the absolute business in front of goal when you get to see him play. The presence of Lacazette, Giroud, Welbeck, Walcott and Alexis makes it quite the traffic jam ahead of him, but this might just be a chance for him to show Arsene Wenger he has something special about him.
So the new season is already virtually upon us with the first friendly just a couple of days away. I'm going to the Seville game in the Emirates Cup, and to Wembley for the Charity Shield. I don't have Premier Sports, who I believe have live coverage of the pre-season games, so for anything I'm not at I will be relying on Arsenal Player for highlights or whole match re-runs etc. As ever, we are a couple of decent signings away from looking good, but the players on their way out concern me with the need for huge squad this season.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Keep calm and support Arsenal


Going nowhere


I'm still on a high from Saturday. Arsene Wenger being given a new contract is not enough to sour my mood so soon after one of the greatest wins in Arsenal history. As much I as didn't want him to get a new contract at Arsenal I am amazed at how many seem to actually let it have such a huge impact on their lives. I get angry about it when we lose, more so when we get a hammering like we've suffered far too much since the stadium move. I shout "Wenger Out" via this site. But it doesn't rule my life. My family is what rules my life, not my football club. After my family the thing I actually care about most is Arsenal, and I work only to pay for my family and to go to Arsenal and play/watch cricket. My job is important in that it's what provides the money but I could gladly do any other job that allowed me to pay for the things I genuinely live for. Arsenal giving Wenger a new contract is annoying to say the least and, but for the emotions still being strong from Wembley, I would probably have been apoplectic yesterday. However, by now I would have got over it and be looking forward. I'd actually be looking forward to forgetting about Arsenal for a couple of weeks until the fixtures come out.
I said on Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday that it's clearly the wrong decision as far as I'm concerned, and that the protests achieved exactly what I had said they would - sod-all. I also made the point that I would be going to support the team as usual next season because that's what being a supporter is supposed to be about. I've seen people like me, maybe even me personally, described as a "c**t" for airing that view. We are, apparently, the reason for the problems at Arsenal as we will keep paying our money to the club. My Dad has been going to watch Arsenal since the early 1950's, but apparently he's the problem at Arsenal for supporting the team. Okay. 
The thing I don't get with the more extreme elements of the Wenger Out "movement" is that they rightly criticise those who adore him for seeing Arsene as bigger than Arsenal. The phrase "Arsenal FC not Arsene FC" is an oft-seen mantra, and rightly so. However, what I am seeing now is those very same people falling in to the trap of seeing Wenger as bigger than Arsenal. If you decide to deliberately stop going and turn your back on Arsenal because of Arsene Wenger then you are absolutely 100% making him bigger than the club. I just don't get why you'd cut off your nose to spite your face that way. It simply defies logic.
I'll be renewing my season ticket after I've written this post and I will look forward to hopefully seeing some new signings over the summer, enjoy a decent pre-season, go to the Emirates Cup with the wife and kids, and then support the team (not the regime) once August comes around. I hope we play well and go for the Title, I hope we get to Wembley and win another cup, I hope we win the UEFA Cup having taken the tournament seriously enough to do so. Do I think it's likely we will win the Premier League? No. Do I think we have every chance of qualifying for the Champions League at the end of next season? Yes. Do I think we can win a trophy? Yes, of course - everyone wrote us off this season and look what happened on Saturday at Wembley.
There is an uncomfortable truth about Wenger that hits people like me straight between the eyes. I want him out because I think he is incapable of putting a team together across a whole season and winning the Premier League. However, Arsenal have won three trophies in four seasons. The FA Cup isn't some minor pre-season friendly effort, it is the real deal. We exist for days like last Saturday. Wenger, for all that is clearly wrong, need only point to the silverware. We can be as rabid in our disappointment (sheer hatred in some cases) but it matters not a jot. If you want to protest then do it against Kroenke but, I'll tell you this - if Arsenal surprise us next season and do well I can guarantee there will be no protests at all, just as there weren't at Manchester United in recent years.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Arsenal Football Club - FA Cup Winners 2017

FA Cup Winners 2017


What a truly unbelievable day it was at Wembley yesterday. We could pick holes in the fact that such a  performance has been missing for most of the time since Christmas, maybe even all season except for a game or two, but this is not the time for that kind of reflection. The only thing I want to reflect on today is the fact that Arsenal battered the Premier League Champions yesterday to win us our 13th FA Cup, and Arsene Wenger's 7th. From front to back, start to finish, and everything in between, it was simply a stunning display of commitment, pace, authority, tactical awareness and superb passing football. I said in the preview we might find chances few and far between and would need to be clinical. We ended up in a position where we should have won by at least three clear goals, such were the opportunities spurned, or unlucky to see bounce off the post, which is an absolute mark of the dominance Arsenal held over Chelsea at Wembley.

Pre-match fireworks

The atmosphere was great in the Arsenal end as the supporters really got behind the team. There was not even the merest hint of dissent despite a popular fanzine attempting to organise a protest against Kroenke - to have done this at an FA Cup Final would have been an embarrassing disgrace and, frankly, The Gooner editor ought to have a look at himself for trying to promote that on Friday. There was the usual pre-match rubbish put on by the FA in terms of the "ceremony" but really the fans aren't interested in that. Arsenal's coaches were particularly unimpressed at the Wembley groundstaff trying to force them off the pitch by turning on the sprinklers during the players warm-up. Abide With Me was as rousing and as emotional as ever. Then we had God Save The Queen and a one minute silence in memory of the victims in Manchester earlier in the week - one or two at the far end fancied getting their voices heard amid the quiet, but they were very quickly silenced by their own.

Play to the whistle, Chelsea!

Arsenal couldn't have made a better start to the game. We immediately controlled the football but not by passing it about among our centre-backs. The game was being played in the Chelsea half from the kick-off with Arsenal's players making theirs chase shadows. I don't think Kante and Matic really knew what had hit them in the opening few minutes as Xhaka and Ramsey controlled the midfield. The goal from Alexis after only three minutes made it a perfect opening, albeit amid controversy. When you see the replay it is impossible to understand how Mr Taylor (who was otherwise surprisingly fairly immaculate in the way he refereed the game) missed the handball by Sanchez. However, let's be quite clear here, according to the current reading of the offside law Aaron Ramsey was not offside when Alexis went in to score. You only have to look back a couple of weeks to Raheem Sterling not being given offside for Man City v Leiecester for precedent on this. My personal view is that it should be offside, but at the moment it isn't. Chelsea's players had pushed up to play keep Ramsey offside and that's why I think he has interfered with the play but, I'll say it again, the current law says not. Courtois was interviewed after the game saying he stopped coming for the ball as Ramsey was offside but that's a poor excuse - first lesson as a schoolboy footballer? Play to the whistle son!
Quite how Arsenal didn't get further goals in the first-half is hard to fathom. Cahill cleared on the line from Ozil, with Danny Welbeck a couple of inches away from turning it in anyway. Then Welbeck hit the post with a header and the ball rebounded against Ramsey and back off the post again. Welbeck again saw Cahill clear off the line after he had scrambled the ball past Courtois. Arsenal were stunningly good going forward. Equally they were exceptional in defence. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played a fine game as the left sided wing-back, Bellerin equally good on the other side. But it was the three centre-backs who excelled. I've seen the game back on TV this evening and in the first five minutes Rob Holding stands up to Costa's attempted bully-boy wind-up behaviour - that lad has got it, simple as that. Monreal and Mertesacker, meanwhile, were completely flawless throughout the 90 minutes. Alexis got given the official Man Of The Match award by Danny Murphy but it simply had to be either Nacho or the BFG who should have got it.
At half-time and 1-0 up you had to be happy if you were in our end. The only mild disappointment was borne out of the fear of having missed our chances to have basically put the game to bed.

Celebrating the winning goal on both sides of the pitch

Chelsea predictably had their best moments in the period immediately after half-time in terms of actually being on top. It was a ten minute spell where Arsenal gave up the ball far too cheaply and allowed Chelsea to attack. This is where Mertesacker absolutely came in to his own as he picked off pass after pass in to the Arsenal penalty-area. The BFG lacks pace but all those caps for Germany mean he is a good player and there are not many who read the play as well as he does. If he did have pace he would have been a peerless centre-half.
Once Arsenal got their foot on the ball a bit more we managed to press Chelsea back again. Danny Welbeck's running off the ball and harrying of the Chelsea defenders was crucial throughout his time on the pitch. David Luiz simply couldn't handle him and Welbeck wore out both him and Cahill. That meant that when Olivier Giroud came on he dominated both of them too as he was physically far too strong for the Chelsea pair to take the ball from him.
The red card for Moses was clearly spot on. His first booking was for a rugby tackle on Welbeck who had made him look a total mug. To then take that dive was nothing more than cheating and it was refreshing watching the game back to hear the BBC pundits refer to it as exactly that on the live broadcast (Jermaine Jenas made a point of not calling it cheating on the highlights) and actually condemn it for a change. Credit, of course, to the referee who had the perfect view. From my seat at the other end of Wembley I really couldn't say what had happened and my very real fear was that Oxlade-Chamberlain had clipped him. When he gave us the free-kick you realised immediately that he was going to have to send-off Moses.
Chelsea got their goal while down to ten men and it was poor from Ospina. Holding got a bit too tight to Costa which allowed him to get spun a little, but the mishit shot took a small deflection off Mertesacker. Nevertheless it should have been an easy save for a goalkeeper as agile as Ospina but he simply never pushed off his standing foot and then punched out at thin-air to help the ball in to the corner. At that point I think we all feared we'd blown a great opportunity.
Arsene Wenger then, of course, played the trump card. Welbeck had surely run his race as there was no other reason to replace him with Giroud. However, straight from the kick-off he made a lovely run in behind Cahill and Alexis found him with an exquisite pass. There is no way Giroud could have known exactly where Aaron Ramsey was but maybe playing together over a number of years gave him a vague idea that Rambo would be flying in to the penalty area. As the ball floated across the goal I had the perfect view with Ramsey right down in front of me. You kind of just knew as he went towards the ball that this was going to be a goal. When it went in there was an absolute wall of noise in the Arsenal end as things went totally mental. There is something about Wembley goals that is different and it's moments like that, as it was with the Boyo three years ago against Hull, which give us our reason to go to watch games in the flesh. I was celebrating it with both of my sons, my youngest seeing his first FA Cup Final at just 7 years-old. It was incredible. 
I have given Ramsey loads of criticism in these pages over the last few years. I believe it has been justified. However, yesterday he was back at his absolute best. He kept it simple, no flicks and back-heels, no suicide runs leaving us short in midfield. He paired perfectly with Xhaka, who played his best game since he arrived and is beginning to look a little more comfortable in the English game. For all the stick I give Ramsey he was already an Arsenal legend for his winning goal in 2014, so to do it twice merely cements his legacy as one of THE names in the history of Arsenal Football Club.

The Arsenal end at the final whistle

Mertesacker and Koscielny lift the FA Cup

In the last ten minutes it seemed that we should have scored every time we got the ball. Bellerin had a great individual effort where he sprinted past Luiz, Ozil did everything but score when he hit the post, the final ball was just over-hit a couple of times, and our dominance but no killer goal was keeping Chelsea in it. That meant there was time for Ospina to redeem himself with a stunning save to deny Costa a second equaliser and Monreal's reaction to the save will live long in the memory as he grabbed Ospina in congratulation at having his moment.

Me and my boys after the game

When the final whistle went the noise in the Arsenal end was even louder than before. Yes, there were tears for me and I know there were for both of my brothers and my Dad too. For me it was special like never before because both of my boys were there. I tried to explain to the youngest that he should take it all in as you never know when it will happen again and I think he understood - as he went to bed late last night he told me "I always want to remember this day Dad". For my eldest son he's getting quite used to it having been to his third FA Cup Final win at the age of only 11. I had to wait until I was 14 to see my first!

Captain and match-winner with the FA Cup

The celebrations of the players were really something yesterday. Each of the was clearly enjoying every minute and I think they knew they owed us something this season, as well as owing their Manager who has shown sometimes blind faith in them. Rob Holding, getting his first taste of the big-time, was literally dancing round the edge of the pitch to celebrate with the massed ranks of the Gooner Army at our end of the ground. Unfortunately the Wembley powers that be still haven't got the message regarding their horrible PA system - if they will insist on playing deafening music at least please put on Good Old Arsenal or something so we can sing along to it. 
It was noticeable in those celebrations how important Per Mertesacker is the leader of the group. There were two group photo opportunities and both of them saw Per ensuring that everyone involved with the first-team, who was in attendance on the pitch at least (Debuchy, Jenkinson and Sanogo were absent for some reason which wasn't right at all in my book) was in the pictures.

The players celebrating

Thanks Arsene - and goodbye..?

For Arsene Wenger there was clearly a personal vindication yesterday of all that he has done. As much as I would like to see him go, and what more perfect time than after a win like that, and as much stick as I give him, I couldn't help but be happy for the old man yesterday. He also seemed to be making the absolute most out of the celebrations and made a point, I believe, of showing the Cup to all three sides of the pitch we were on. He also did a lot of waving at us all. Was he waving goodbye? Maybe yesterday I thought, for the first time, that perhaps he is going to call it a day. If the does then he will go with my absolute gratitude for what he did for my football club. This season has been poor, but yesterday meant that it has actually been good - if you win a trophy then it's a good season. Give me 5th place and the FA Cup over 2nd place and no trophy any day, thanks very much. Arsene Wenger has provided me with the best football I've ever seen at varying times in his tenure. In recent seasons it has been something we have rarely seen, but it was there yesterday. He can point to having won 7 (SEVEN) FA Cups at Arsenal, with 3 in the last 4 seasons. For all that we moan, football is about trophies and he has managed Arsenal to them again. I can't and won't abuse him. I can't and won't join a protest against him. I want him to go, but I'm still happy every time he proves me wrong. We will know later this week what the future holds.

And so that's it for the season. We finish with silverware and that's good enough for me. The fact we did it in such great style, against the best team in England, makes it all the better. Football is wonderful thing. Arsenal is the most wonderful football thing of all bringing together, as it does for me, family and friends in the pursuit of loving our Club. And I bloody love winning the FA Cup!

The Arsenal.


Friday, 26 May 2017

FA Cup Final preview 2017

FA Cup Final 2017

So how are your nerves this evening? Mine are totally shot. I've been getting that churning feeling in my stomach whenever I've thought about the FA Cup Final since about Thursday last week. It's not so much the anticipation as the fear of losing - it's a one off and only winning will do. Arsenal having a distinct lack of central defenders only makes the sense of foreboding even worse really.
This could well be the final game for Arsene Wenger as Arsenal Manager. Whatever we all think about him it would be perfect if tomorrow was his last match and he was to go out on a high with the FA Cup in his hands at Wembley. There is no doubt we are capable of beating Conte's Chelsea - we thrashed them early on in the season. At the same time, they are the best side in this country by a mile and they also have the ability to hammer us. Quite how Arsenal deal with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa will surely be key on the day. Back at our place earlier in the campaign Costa was targeted for close attention by Koscielny from the off - not in the shape of fouling, but simply being so close to him that Costa never had space to get on the ball and bring his midfield in to the game. He is totally crucial to the way Chelsea play. In the absence of Koscielny then one of our centre-backs has to be tasked with the same job. As far as Hazard goes we have a problem there. He will play, nominally at least, from the left. With our three at the back (regardless of injury/suspension Wenger surely must stick with it?!) he will have space on the outside of Rob Holding to attack. Amid all the good stuff that Holding has produced he is scarily susceptible to anyone going at him on the outside. Whoever is the right wing-back may find their attacking opportunities stunted if we are to be tactically astute enough to protect the youngster against Hazard. My preference would be for Oxlade-Chamberlain to come back in on the right as he appears to be fit, regardless of Bellerin officially being a full-back - Hector is largely defensively inept and relies on his pace which will have no effect if out of position when Hazard gets the ball.
The need to defend properly brings me on to another part of our team. If Mertesacker doesn't play then you would have to really make Ramsey the skipper (it seems certain that Ospina is going to play ahead of Petr Cech). However, I believe we need to have Coquelin and Xhaka in the midfield to stymie Chelsea rather than Ramsey. Coquelin really set the tone at Stoke a couple of weeks ago with two big tackles inside the first minute - if he was to do that tomorrow it could put Chelsea immediately on the back foot. As underdogs we have to try and establish an early upper-hand against a superior opposition.
Up front I would far prefer to see Alexis through the middle putting pressure on what I consider to be a weak pair of Cahill and Luiz, regardless of their results this season. When Sanchez ran at Cahill earlier in the season he was found wanting, as he was against Lukaku and Kane as well. This would see, for me, Danny Welbeck playing from the left with Ozil having a more free role to hopefully put his stamp on a big game at last. He more than owes us a performance against major opposition and tomorrow represents the opportunity for Ozil to show once and for all he is a World Class talent. As much as I've talked about our defensive responsibilities tomorrow, it is our attacking threat that can win the game for us. In recent games chance after chance has been created, but not taken. Tomorrow has to be the day when Arsenal are clinical in front of goal. We must press the ball high up the pitch, put pressure on Chelsea in midfield, and attack with pace. 
Arsenal can win tomorrow. We have to believe that. I don't do predictions but I'd love Oxlade-Chamerlain and Coquelin to cover the Parlour and Ljungberg roles tomorrow with a straight repeat of 2002. I'm going with both my sons tomorrow and I really hope my youngest gets to see his first "in the flesh" silverware,

COME ON ARSENAL



Monday, 22 May 2017

Arsenal do the right thing




Arsenal have moved quickly today with regards to season ticket prices for next season. The drop in to the Europa League has seen a reduction in renewal prices for 2017-18 and this is absolutely the right thing to do. At the end of a season that has been close to disastrous on the field, with only the FA Cup Final to add any gloss to it, I am relieved to see that someone at Arsenal has recognised the need to play a fair game with loyal supporters for a change. The one thing I would have liked them to do differently on this would have been to make the group stages of the Europa League a "League Cup" style arrangement, by which I mean it wouldn't have been included in season ticket costs at all until we reached any knockout stage. That move would have almost guaranteed a full-house of seats occupied, as opposed to sold, as plenty would have fancied some European football for £10 and £5 for concessions. Nonetheless, it's a laudable move from Arsenal.

The week we've just had as Arsenal fans has been interesting to say the least. On the pitch the players have produced the victories and played some better (but still not brilliant) football than we'd seen since Christmas. Ultimately it has all been too little, too late but I mentioned on Twitter the other day (and it seems to have been a theme picked up by many now) that our failure to finish ahead of Liverpool was sealed on the opening day of the season. We lost 4-3 at home to Klopp's side with a centre-half combination of Holding and Chambers - one youngster playing his first ever Premier League game and another who had been sent away within a fortnight as he isn't good enough. Wenger had chosen to give Koscielny and Giroud extended breaks after Euro 2016 and had not signed the experienced centre-back he clearly needed to. He told everyone after that game that Arsenal "were not ready" for that first game of the season. I said at the time it was totally unacceptable to be UIKeyInputDownArrowin that position. With a finish outside the Champions League places, and the promise of Thursday night football, we have seen those chickens come home to roost. 
Yesterday was a nice way to finish in the Premier League, though I've seen only the Match Of The Day coverage as I was working. I'm told the referee had a real stormer of a match, even worse than the idiot we had against Sunderland in midweek. Koscielny's red card is probably a fair decision, but maybe some common sense could have been applied with Wembley for us next weekend - Koscielny might also have shown some common sense and not made the tackle in the first place, thus meaning he wouldn't be missing out on the honour of leading Arsenal out for an FA Cup Final as Captain. Welbeck gives us much more movement and pace up front, but his finishing is often totally and inexplicably woeful. Quite how he missed the chance that Bellerin finally put away I will never know. Nonetheless he has to play at Wembley as far as I'm concerned, and I will do a proper preview piece for the FA Cup on Friday.
Finally, the off the pitch headlines from Friday seem to have been nipped in the bud by Kroenke and his people. That's a shame. I don't necessarily want Alisher Usmanov (or anyone else) to be the sole owner of Arsenal FC. However, that is the way football has gone at the top level in England. We can't beat them, so we have to join them. Kroenke has actually allowed Wenger to spend big money in the last few years, but he is not interested in football success. Having said that, when he is turning down a bid that would more than double his investment in Arsenal I have to wonder exactly what it is he does want. I just find the whole thing bizarre.

Change is apparently afoot at Arsenal. None of us know what that change is. Wenger indicated yesterday that the confusion around his future has caused issues for the team, but he can't say he hasn't had ample opportunity to actually put that issue to bed one way or the other over the last three months. It is going to be a long and interesting, maybe painful, summer for Arsenal supporters. Let's hope we go in to it having put some silverware on the sideboard. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Forget all their b******s

Now that's a proper gap


I'm sure I'm not the only one who has quickly become fed-up with the nonsense from the idiots who support that crowd from up the road since Sunday - particularly since their armchairs must be incredibly comfortable. I reckon any prospective British government should pledge to solve the housing crisis by putting everyone in the woodwork that has been vacated since the weekend by assorted t***s in Lillywhite shirts.
I keep reading and hearing about power shifts, and how embarrassing Arsenal have become. Surprisingly enough this is nothing more than the expected bull***t fuelled by media cretins and joke journalists. You want to know what's embarrassing? Finishing below your most hated opponent 22 years in a row, watching them win trophy after trophy since you last won anything of interest back in 1991, seeing your Captain join them for free and earn more success in five years than you've had in your entire club history, looking at that photo above and realising that the likes of Portsmouth, Burnley, Huddersfield etc have won as many, or more, League Championships than you ever have. Just imagine accusing another club of being "embarrassing" or "Mickey Mouse" when faced with that sort of thing. Consider the fact that, since George Graham joined Arsenal as Manager in 1986, when the North London Derby saw a win ratio of roughly even between the two clubs, Arsenal have never genuinely been the poorer side until this year. That's 30 years of pretty much always looking up at Arsenal, the club you despise, and knowing they are bigger and better. I'm not surprised the little people are celebrating wildly, but when it comes to embarrassment and Mickey Mouse accusations, there is only one club and one set of fans who ought to be blushing. 
Of course the new thing is for them to accuse of living in the past because, in the here and now, they have a better team than Arsenal. My retort to that is that it's nice to have a past worth living in and bragging about. Imagine being so thick as to think you can claim your club is "big" when faced with the evidence which shows so much to the contrary.
Sunday was a terrible, disgraceful, Arsenal performance. I seem to write that kind of thing quite a lot. We all know why. There's no point in going over it again. It can't, surely, go on like this. I fear, however, that it will. Unfortunately whatever happens on the pitch will have no effect on whether Stan Kroenke keeps Arsene Wenger on as boss - the American doesn't care. I think I'll try to look forward to the FA Cup Final instead as trophies are what it's all about (take note Tottenham idiots) so let's pray the Arsenal of September turns up at Wembley to play Chelsea in a few weeks from now.

Monday, 24 April 2017

And everyone turned up for once...

After the final whistle


Yesterday was a wonderful day to be at Wembley. I can leave aside, for now, the annoying fact of the semi-final being played there and just revel in the atmosphere generated by the Arsenal supporters and players yesterday. The absence of many season ticket holders, and I will assume the vast majority of the absentees are the same who leave their own seats empty at Ashburton Grove on a regular basis, saw a lot of Silver and Red members get the chance to go and see Arsenal in a big Wembley occasion. I really believe that made a difference to the nature of support given to the players yesterday. Every fan seemed to be determined to back the players, and Arsene Wenger, on the day and the players responded in kind with their best performance since we beat Chelsea back near the start of the season.
For the first 30 minutes or so Arsenal seemed very content to let City have the ball and we packed back in defence with no real attacking ambition, save for the occasions when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got the ball and ran at the City defence. In fairness, for all their possession of the football I felt City were very similar to us in the way they went back and sideways across the pitch in search of an opening. In Aguero they have the threat that we don't when Giroud plays but we were mostly comfortable. The goal they had disallowed was obviously a real stroke of luck for us. I was directly over the goal-line in the front row of the top tier and said straight away that the ball hadn't gone out. Goals change games, and that may well have been a problem for Arsenal. At the same time we went up the other end and should have had a clear penalty when Alexis was hauled down by Navas as he tried to get on the end of a free-kick. There was another one in the second-half when Monreal was basically climbed all over having got in to the box down the left, a stone-wall penalty denied. Swings and roundabouts so the "hard done by" articles in almost every paper today are indicative of the selective minds of the current football writers where Arsenal are concerned. For the last ten minutes of the first-half Arsenal got on top and I was encouraged at half-time that we could do City some damage.
After half-time I thought Arsenal absolutely dominated the game and City were rocking. A look at their back-four should really tell us they are no better than we are defensively - Navas, Kompany, Otamendi and Clichy is frankly a defence just waiting to be dismantled. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the best player on the pitch yesterday and Clichy simply couldn't handle him. With Gabriel mopping up anything behind Ox (the Brazilian most certainly had his best game for Arsenal yesterday) we were dominant down our right. Xhaka matched up very well against Toure and De Bruyne in midfield, which was just as well given Ramsey's inability to contribute (at least he was trying though) and Ozil who is simply scared of anyone from the opposition going anywhere near him. We were well on top when we conceded the goal to Aguero. Ramsey ridiculously tried to take on Toure when he simply had to play the ball in to the penalty area, while Monreal was inexplicably left all alone against Sergio Aguero on the halfway line. Even then the goal should have been stopped but Cech had forgotten his zimmer-frame and failed to take advantage of a slight mis-control from the Argentinian, only to see himself beaten by a wonderful finish. That was the only time, really, that we saw Aguero all game. Gabriel, Koscielny and, perhaps most praise worthy of all, Rob Holding played him really well. Holding is superb with the ball at his feet and really should have been scoring the match-winning goal himself in extra-time when he headed marginally over the bar. There is no way Mustafi should be getting back in this side any time soon. 
Our equaliser was a stunning goal. It will never get noted as being special because it was a close-range finish from Monreal. However, just look at the quality involved in the goal. The cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain was stunning, taking out the entire defence and the goalkeeper. Monreal, impressive throughout, made up great ground to find himself on the end of things. As for the finish it was simply stunning. Monreal is demonstrably a left-footed player yet he took the cross from Ox first time, on the volley, with his right-foot and slammed it in to the net. It was absolutely what Arsenal deserved for their second-half display. Thereafter we sat off them a bit, relying on Welbeck and Alexis to use their pace on the break and that allowed City to have some more of the play up to full-time. Again we rode our luck as they hit the post (wonderful save from Cech rolling back the years) and the bar, but a goal for them would have been an injustice based on the play. Welbeck also had the chance to win it and he chose to shoot narrowly wide instead of rolling it to the unmarked Alexis Sanchez who was arriving at speed.
In extra-time Arsene Wenger made a very important tactical change and put Alexis in the centre and Welbeck on the wing. It made a huge difference, as it did all season up to Christmas. We got the second goal thanks largely to Welbeck's willingness to work so hard for the team. He won the ball back in City's half to give us possession, then won us a free-kick when fouled by Kompany. It was his (unfortunately all too regular) mis-kick when he should have scored that saw Alexis get a great foot in to take the ball in to his path, and away from the defender, and then finish beautifully in to the bottom corner. The Arsenal end went absolutely mental when he scored that goal with the deafening kind of noise that you only seem to get at Wembley. 
We were rarely in genuine trouble from then on. Arsenal should have wrapped things up on more than one occasion, each of them involving some really pathetic football from Mesut Ozil. With Welbeck and Alexis out-pacing the City defence it was criminal that a player of Ozil's ability failed to provide the killer moment, choosing instead to simply fall over and stay on the ground instead of working as hard as everyone around him. The only moment of genuine danger came when Ramsey again gave the ball away badly on the halfway line and Delph seemed a certain scorer before a charging Bellerin somehow got a toe to his shot and deflected it past the post.
The last couple of minutes were notable for the wall of noise from the flag-waving Gooners at our end of the pitch. The final whistle greeted with as much glee as you would expect for an FA Cup semi-final. The photo of Arsene Wenger at the end really shows how much it meant to him, especially after what has gone on in recent weeks. Yesterday the old man got everything spot-on and credit is due for that. If you blame him so much, as I do, when it all goes wrong then you have to praise him when it all goes right as it did yesterday. The effort from the players yesterday was everything that has been missing for so long from this Arsenal team. Now they have to finish this season in strong fashion, get to Wembley for the Final in good order, and hopefully send Arsene away from the Club with another FA Cup under his arm. It would be a perfect ending in the circumstances.

Image result for arsene Wenger man city

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Change with no change

Still can't defend


Arsene Wenger sprung a small surprise last night with a move to three centre-backs. We haven't seen him use this since the last day of the 1996-97 season when Arsenal brought down the final curtain on the Baseball Ground with Anelka and Bergkamp to the fore after Tony Adams was sent-off early on. Halcyon days ahead of Wenger beginning his Revolution of Arsenal and English football in the three months that followed. 
It would be fair to say that, beyond the excellent display from Rob Holding, the move wasn't a total success at Middlesbrough. We lined up with the three central defenders but, more often than not, once we started the interminable sideways passing Gabriel was suddenly charging up the field to join the attack, the consequence of which was leaving just two at the back as per usual. Yes, we changed the formation on paper, but the method in reality was painfully familiar. It's all very well making the change, but the biggest change actually has to come from being organised properly. Chelsea don't have particularly good centre-backs - Luiz and Cahill are woeful defenders if we're being honest - but they have an organised team. At least one of Matic or Kante is always where they're supposed to be, guarding their defenders from in front. Luiz no longer takes off on mad dashes up front in the way that Gabriel was being asked to last night. We had Xhaka, who is immobile and slow, and Ramsey who I really don't know what it is he is supposed to bring to the side. Coquelin can very much play the role that Matic does at Chelsea, but he too seems to think that he's some kind of latter-day Beckenbauer type as soon as Cazorla is missing. We also don't examine our opponents in any way. The Middlesbrough goal is a perfect case in point here. Remember how Robben opened the scoring in Munich by being allowed to cut in on his left foot? Last night Monreal actually showed Downing inside and on to his left foot from where he curled the cross over a stranded, and woefully out of position, Koscielny. This is not rocket science, but it keeps happening to Arsenal over and over again. It's easy to fix it with a bit of hard work on the training ground on something other than passing the bloody football all day long!
Going forward we lacked much in the way of creativity. Oxlade-Chamberlain was the standout player in the way he drove at the Boro defence, constantly beating his defender, but his final ball sadly epitomises his career to date. The Ox is an amazing talent; quick, strong, skillful, has a powerful shot etc. But far too often he picks the wrong option, or his pass is just not accurate enough, or his shot at goal is wayward. He is an exciting player, he can play in a few positions and impress with his ability, but something is not quite there just yet. I want Ox to stay at Arsenal, and I believe he owes it to the club for all the times they've stuck by him through injury lay-offs. When fit he has almost always been involved and he should be looking to stay loyal in my view. His interview after the game was excellent, by the way. As for the rest of the attacking players I think the new formation was a little confusing at times, and the effort from some was lacking. Giroud had the better of their defenders all night but he lacked service in the first-half and application in the second - he was totally anonymous after half-time. Ozil flitted in and out but was better in the second-half, though I counted six occasions in the first where he bottled out of challenges and that is not acceptable. I've already mentioned Ramsey. So what about Alexis?
We saw a stunning goal from Alexis Sanchez from a superb free-kick. Yes, the goalkeeper was badly positioned but you still have to execute the dead-ball strike effectively and he did that in great style. At a time when we are playing so badly it was lovely to see a great goal from an Arsenal player. He also had a big hand in the second goal with his chip in to the box allowing Ramsey the space to not mess things up and lay the ball off to Ozil for a very tidy finish. There is a fair argument to say that is the only contribution that matters, and Dennis Bergkamp had many a poor game only to be remembered for actually setting up the winning goal. However, Alexis was awful in every other moment of the match last night. I have never seen him give the ball away so much. On three or four occasions, including their equaliser, it was his carelessness that allowed Middlesbrough to go forward and put our defence under pressure. The bit where he gestured to everyone to "calm down" and then played it five yards square to the nearest opponent would have been comical if it hadn't been an Arsenal player. For all his greatness, and Alexis is a really great player, last night I thought his general play was woeful. It's possible to appreciate his superb goal while still criticising a bad performance.
Three points mattered last night in terms of keeping alive the possibility of illusory "success" by finishing in the Champions League positions. It also mattered that the players got a win ahead of going to Wembley on Sunday. I hope we intend to persevere with the change in formation and, hopefully, work properly on it this week. I also hope the players are actually up for it ahead of playing Manchester City. Make no mistake, if the performance is on the level it was last night then Arsenal will get thrashed on Sunday.