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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.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

What is this Arsenal we all want back?

Arsenal and money is not a new thing


The brilliant BT Sport documentary on Ian Wright and David Rocastle has stirred a lot of emotions among Arsenal fans over the age of about 35. I've seen so many people online over the last few days lamenting the fact that things were so much better back then, with players who cared and a club that was interested in the fans. To quote a famous comedy scene, "au contraire Blackadder." 
As I was watching the documentary I was thinking similar thoughts to all those people as, for someone of my age, the George Graham era brought the first success I'd ever seen. That it went on over eight years to the Zaragoza final in Paris was incredible in a time where Liverpool being the top dogs was all I'd ever known. 
If there is one big difference between then and now it is that players seemed more like ordinary people. Most of them were British, for a start. They earned good money, obviously, but they weren't exactly The Beatles in terms of being superstars. Footballers were accessible to the public. You could get their autographs, you could maybe get a photo with them, they lived in ordinary houses next door to ordinary (but reasonably well off) people. At Arsenal they used to drive their not so posh (apart from Paul Davis' famous Porsche) to the ground before a game and we were able to see them going in to the car-park behind the Clock End at Highbury. If there is a difference between modern football, and certainly modern Arsenal, and those days then that is it.
What struck me towards the end of the documentary was that one thing in particular isn't any different, and it's something that has been used to bash The Arsenal for a while now. One of the biggest criticisms I see of the club, particularly since we moved to the new stadium, is that Arsenal "is all about money" and "it's a business, not a football club anymore" and "the Club doesn't care about the loyal fans of many years." David Rocastle was an Arsenal Man. He had come through the youth-team at Arsenal and was totally "one of us" in terms of understanding what Arsenal meant. Along with Tony Adams, to fans of my age, he simply was "Arsenal" for want of a better description. The trouble for David was that he got a knee injury and Arsenal's medical people and appointed surgeons basically cocked up the repair. As a result he struggled to stay fit. George Graham mentioned in the programme on TV the other night that he knew Rocky "could maybe play one game per week, at the most" and that was the situation. Given the way Rocastle played in his final season at Arsenal I would like to challenge what George had to say there, and his performances when selected at Leeds and then when he played a key role at Manchester City give something of a lie to his statement. However, in the absence of a right to reply to George we have to take him at face value, though maybe if you paid him George might change his mind. He then went on to say, as did David Dein, that Howard Wilkinson called to ask after Rocky's availability. What followed was that Arsenal decided to accept £2m+ for their star midfield player, knowing that he might not be able to play a totally full part at Arsenal because of his knee problem. In short, Arsenal decided to sell David Rocastle - a true Arsenal Man, the hero of the North Bank, a man who didn't want to go - because they had no loyalty to him. Rocky was just another player, despite what Dein and Graham might say in a TV show 25 years later. Dein, Graham and the Arsenal Board put money ahead of David Rocastle. When you put it into context it is clear that Arsenal being a cash-cow is not a post-Highbury phenomenon. Now Rocky wasn't the first, or the last, Arsenal player to be sold against their will having given everything for the shirt. However, with all we've seen over the last few weeks about Arsenal and the contract for Arsene Wenger, his story brings in to sharper focus that the idea of our club suddenly being all about the money is a lazy and convenient stereotype of modern football and fits the agenda being pushed.
Having thought about the Rocastle sale it dawned on me that Dein sold Arsenal's soul to the Devil even before that. He also used a typically cynical ploy of using the success of the team to do so. Do you remember Arsenal v Coventry in May 1991? Arsenal had won the Title on the Monday before that game. Those attending the stadium on the following Saturday for what was basically the celebration party, complete with League Championship trophy presentation, might remember that the advertising boards had all been replaced with the first announcement of the "Arsenal Bond," and we were all implored to "Sign For The Arsenal" and spend £1500 to earn the right merely to be able to buy a season-ticket when the North Bank was replaced by a new stand. That's right kids, Arsenal wanted fans to hand over £1500 (which was a massive amount of money back then) to enable us to have the chance to buy a season ticket. The "pay-off" was that those season-tickets would be discounted for ten years - ultimately, with football becoming more expensive than anyone could have imagined back then, it turned out a good deal in the long-run for those who could afford the £1500 up-front payment. Back in 1991 the Arsenal fans were apoplectic about it. It was basically going to cut off the "loyal fans" (that phrase again) to move in a new breed of upper-class toffs who could afford what it took to have a seat in the new North Bank Stand. Protest on protest was staged around the stadium throughout 1991-92 as the club "lost touch" with what the fans were about. There were even plaintive chants of "we want our Arsenal back" during that season. The mood at times was as ugly as it is now amid the business surrounding Arsene Wenger's future. 
So you see that Arsenal being about money, and not being interested in the fans, and all the other bull**** that is currently being spouted by the latest "look at me" wannabe super-fans is nothing new. I see people lamenting the fact that a "real Arsenal supporter" like David Dein is not running things anymore. That's the same David Dein who was the architect and spokesman for the Arsenal Bond Scheme and who sanctioned the sale of David Rocastle when neither he, nor the fans, would ever have wanted him to go. Next time some p***k tries to tell you that Arsenal is no longer bothered about people like us just point out to them that it has ever been thus, certainly over the last 25 years. It's nothing new. You don't have to like it, but that's just the way it is. So I ask the question in the headline here once again - what is the Arsenal you want back?

Friday, 31 March 2017

Never forgotten - David Rocastle

David Rocastle

As ever on 31st March this post is dedicated to David Rocastle. You won't find any survey results from cretins like Tim Payton and his AST cohorts on this site as their self-promotion reaches a fairly sickening level today. 
Rocky had skill, power, toughness and class. Quite simply he was the complete player. The fact that David won so few England caps is an indictment on the way things were at that time. Here was a player who was on a different level to other English midfielders of that, or almost any other, era. He would have been so good in Arsene Wenger's early teams. This is a really excellent video with voiceovers from Ian Wright, Michael Thomas and Nigel Winterburn.
I can forgive George Graham going to manage Tottenham. I can forgive him for the bungs scandal that finished him as the Arsenal Manager. I can never forgive him, however, for selling David Rocastle to Leeds. I don't much care that he had a chronic knee problem that would afflict him at times from then on. Rocky was the best English footballer of his generation, and he was a proper Arsenal man. Quite simply he was a hero to Arsenal fans.
Tomorrow night at 9pm there is a special documentary on BT Sport about David Rocastle and Ian Wright. It promises to be a must-watch television event and, no doubt, will see a number of us getting quite emotional. RIP Rocky, I'll never forget you. 



Monday, 27 March 2017

The only reason I'm an Arsenal supporter

Dad with some of the Arsenal boys he's responsible for - Wembley 2015


My Dad is 75 today. Happy Birthday Dad! He is the sole reason I'm an Arsenal supporter. I was born to it, educated in it, and immersed in it. So were my two brothers, my nephew and my sons. The fact that his grandsons are Freddie, Liam, George and Charlie probably tells you a bit about how our family is with regards to Arsenal. Dad has been to every final Arsenal have played in since 1968. He is, as far as I'm concerned, the ultimate Arsenal supporter. He was also a very good footballer in his own right, and played to a high level in the amateur game, so he genuinely knows what he's talking about. When it comes to Arsenal he is really THE MAN. He has made genuine friends all over Europe through following The Arsenal and that's the measure of the man and the Club we all support.

Five years ago I wrote one of my two favourite blogs ever, all about my Dad, so I thought I'd share it again today - please click the link here to read it.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Impostors to the shirt

That idiot Mustafi in familiar pose


For me that was even worse than the Bayern Munich capitulations. What we saw at West Brom, from the beginning to the end of the match, was a group of players who didn't want to play for Arsenal. It is utterly shameful for that to be the case. I'm not about to defend Arsene Wenger either, but the players he has trusted and indulged far too much have actually turned their backs on him. With the possible exceptions of Monreal and Oxlade-Chamberlain (and Alexis before he was kicked out of the game before half-time) there was no evidence that these players had any pride in the fact that they are wearing the Arsenal shirt. They used to play a video on the big screens at the new stadium with a voiceover of Bob Wilson talking about the pride of "wearing that big gun on your chest" - well there was very little sign of that from this rabble yesterday. The defending was comical and, yes, Mustafi was blaming everyone other than himself after all three goals. 
It says it all about how this team is right now that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was thrown under the bus by being sent out to do the post-match interviews. With Mertesacker and Koscielny both in the squad yesterday that is a genuine dereliction of duty from the senior players. There is absolutely no leadership and no togetherness. When Alexis was totalled by McLean there was no reaction from the Arsenal players. It was an injury that been coming thanks to weak refereeing from Swarbrick who was the only person watching that had no idea what was going on with different players taking it in turns to kick the Chilean. Pulis has form for targeting Arsenal's best player in this way and it has resulted in shattered legs in the past. As the captain of the team Koscielny should have been in the refs face and telling him what he was failing to see. It was almost as though, because there has been an undoubted problem with Sanchez and the rest of the team, that they didn't mind seeing him get booted. Given that he is the only player likely to get them out of a hole, as he proved again yesterday, that is disturbing. Now he is likely to be out injured for a while and we stare ever deeper in to the abyss.
I don't feel sorry for Arsene Wenger, as such. He has signed all of these players, he selects these players, and he has given them far too many chances over the years. What we are seeing is what he has created, or rather destroyed, ever since the Invincibles were broken up prematurely. I find myself longing for the days of Gallas and Denilson and Adebayor - at least we still had Fabregas and Van Persie back then. Ospina was doing a bad impression of Almunia from the minute he came on yesterday. Bellerin has no idea of how to play at full-back, while his attempts to pass the ball in to the middle are embarrassing - Debuchy or Jenkinson should come in. Mustafi is a joke player who should be replaced by either Mertesacker or Holding. Koscielny, normally so reliable, is no skipper. Monreal's lack of pace causes us problems, though at least he tries - with Gibbs incapable of playing more than two games without getting injured there is no choice but to play him. Xhaka is too slow to play in a Premier League midfield. Ramsey seems to think he's a top player while anyone watching him who isn't Welsh will know otherwise. Walcott has got goals this season and, up until November, was more involved and more physical than he had been in the past, but he is now back to the little boy on the pitch that he always was. Oxlade-Chamberlain has clearly been told he is not to take people on with the ball in central midfield, despite this being the only way we will create opportunities against an organised opponent. Sanchez, for all his faults, is the only danger we have. Welbeck was given a real chance to impress yesterday and was awful. Giroud came on and didn't get involved at all, albeit he had no support and no service, as per usual. Ozil, of course, wasn't even there yesterday but if you believe he's been "ill" and "injured" this past few weeks then you must be very gullible indeed. I'd rather see Martinez, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Nelson etc given some chances in the coming weeks than sit through the creeping death that this lot are subjecting us to. 
The fact is that very few Arsenal players over the last few weeks actually deserve to be paid. They are an embarrassment to the shirt they are privileged to wear. I don't really care if they don't want to play for Arsene Wenger anymore, they have a responsibility to the Arsenal supporters to play for us. Thousands pay our money every week to support them as the custodians of those shirts, we were there before them and will be there long after they've gone, so it's us they should be playing for, regardless of Arsene Wenger.
One more thing before I sign off this post; those banners hanging from aeroplanes yesterday were embarrassing. For starters there must be more money than sense, whether you are wanting Wenger to go or to stay (though it amazes me there are still people who can't see the wood for the trees on that one) to actually hire a plane! There is a lot of self-aggrandisement, in my view, going on in this "Wenger Out" protest stuff. I believe that, once he has gone, some people will be wanting to gain the credit and the notoriety for it happening. Certain people still dine out on how they got Terry Neill the sack back in the 1980's and I genuinely believe those involved want a bit of that for themselves - radio interviews on the BBC and TalkSport, taking total joy from the idea of the planes and pre-match protests in recent weeks, it all adds up to something unsavoury as far as I'm concerned. I'll probably get some stick for saying that, maybe even get called some nasty names, but that's how I see it. I hope I'm wrong, but thanks from one of the protest organisers to the "sponsors" smacks of something all a bit fishy to me.
We now have an interminable international break to get through where the only thing likely to cheer me up would be an announcement that Arsene is going in May. That would, surely, bring everyone together in an effort to finish the season well and try to win the FA Cup in his final game. It won't happen, unfortunately. We won't get an announcement and, on recent evidence, we have no chance of winning the FA Cup against City, Chelsea or Spurs.

Monday, 27 February 2017

So much for challenging

Not really worth leaving, was it?


It's been a long and depressing month for Arsenal since I last wrote anything. We've gone from having the chance to be within just a few points of Chelsea to being thirteen points behind them and out of contention to win the Premier League. A top four place looks as difficult to secure this season as it ever has with more teams actually contesting those positions. Then there is the debacle that was the away game at Bayern Munich. I read a tweet saying that George Graham learned more about European football in fifteen minutes against Benfica then  Arsene Wenger has learned in twenty-odd years. It's hard to argue with that. That second-half display, following a really very decent effort prior to half-time where we should have got our noses ahead, was so tactically inept that it was beyond belief. It was beyond unacceptable that we could still be so naive in any game, let alone against a top European side. To call it clueless wouldn't begin to cover it.
The nature of the hammerings at Chelsea and Bayern were totally predictable. Was anyone genuinely surprised? From the moment Marcos Alonso was allowed to assault Hector Bellerin and make it 1-0 you could see what was coming. There is no bottle, no organisation, no will to succeed. We lack quality, which is bizarre given how much money Wenger spent last year. 
Rob Holding is excused any criticism as he is a youngster who is being used sparingly, but what was the point in signing Lucas Perez if Wenger doesn't actually want him? Lucas has been more than impressive in almost every game he has played, yet we are still being subjected to the same old rubbish despite the obvious lack of performances. I couldn't blame Lucas if he wanted out at Arsenal. And then we come to the two genuinely major signings made last summer - Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi cost us over £60m and both of these jokers are absolutely woeful. Xhaka is slow beyond belief and totally overwhelmed in the midfield. His lack of speed leads to him making fouls all over the place (though his "reputation" has allowed referees a free pass to issue cards to him compared to other players in this league) and he is totally out of his depth. For the money we paid for him it surely isn't asking too much for him to be able to dominate midfield against some utter rubbish in the Premier League. As for Mustafi I really don't know why more people haven't noticed this guy is an absolute donkey. In the last thirty years or so we've seen a lot of Arsenal centre-halves get stick from our own crowd. Gus Caesar, Andy Linighan, Martin Keown (yes he got some awful stick when he first came back to Arsenal), Pascal Cygan, Igors Stepanovs, Philippe Senderos, Johan Djourou and now Gabriel have all been boo-boys for the crowd. Not one of those was as bad at defending as Shkodran Mustafi is. He has got away with so many errors this season thanks to the pace of Koscielny and Bellerin, or the presence of Cech behind him. Mustafi is almost always the wrong side of pacy strikers when the ball is played down the side. At the same time he doesn't attack the ball properly in the air and is weak in the challenge. For some reason, however, he seems to think it's always the fault of someone else and can regularly be seen having a go at everyone - look at the (I think) third Bayern Munich goal and see him standing there as the goal is scored by the man he should be marking, and then he goes mad at his midfield!
Talking of midfield it is obvious that Santi Cazorla was vital to the way Arsenal play their football these days. We suffered badly when he got injured last season and I have to say it's even more apparent this year. Cazorla is the one player in the squad (in the absence of Jack Wilshere) who has the ability to break through the lines of an organised opponent and beat a man, creating space for those around him. He is also an intelligent enough footballer to be able to play the defensive, and sometimes cynical, part of the game in the centre of the pitch. Francis Coquelin certainly looks a far better player with Santi next to him and he doesn't go bombing up the pitch when Cazorla is there. Coquelin has actually been awful in recent matches and should probably be dropped if we had players to replace him, but I'm not having this revisionist attitude to him. Coquelin has been outstanding for Arsenal in the last couple of years and dismissing him on the grounds that N'Golo Kante is better is not fair on him. It isn't Coquelin's fault that Kante is better - he is probably now the best in the World in that position - so using that as a stick to beat our lad is childish and stupid.

To get back to my original reason for actually posting today, we were all sold a lie around fifteen years ago. Highbury was too small to reach the demand for tickets to see Arsenal. After eleven years now at the new stadium that is certainly true as just about every game is a sell-out, even if all seats aren't actually filled on a match-day. However, the main way Arsenal sold the stadium move to long-standing and loyal supporters was to tell us we had to move to a larger stadium to generate the revenue that would allow us to "compete" with the biggest European clubs. Even more recently Mr Gazidis told us we would be on the same level as Bayern Munich within a few years. A bit unfortunate, then, that Arsenal should get humiliated by said German giants a couple of weeks ago. We aren't competing with the biggest European clubs all these years after moving.
Forget Europe, we don't even compete in the Premier League. In 2008 we finished four points behind the Champions, and that was a season when everyone knows we should have won the Title. That is just about the only time we've got close since winning it in 2004. I don't consider a finish in the top four to be success. I consider winning a trophy to be success. I'd rather be in Manchester United's position this afternoon than Arsenal's as they've gone and won silverware at Wembley - albeit they needed the officials to make up their 13 man team yesterday. Arsenal have an excellent chance to win the FA Cup again this season and that would be very welcome indeed, but it doesn't mean we are doing what we left Highbury to ensure - we are not a team that is capable of winning the Premier League. That is unacceptable and you have to wonder now whether leaving Highbury was worth it at all. As far as I'm concerned it most certainly wasn't.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Good Boys

The absolute dogs


The only thing Arsenal fans on Twitter could find to argue about last night was the banner with a picture of Alexis and his pets that has been displayed inside the stadium. I have never seen so much childish nonsense from apparently fully grown adults. Whoever runs the Red Action Twitter account made a silly (childish) error in criticising anyone who doesn't like the banner and basically saying they should stop supporting Arsenal. I actually had some sympathy with other parts of the statement they posted but that bit seriously let them down. What has followed has been like a scene from a primary school playground that is more embarrassing than any perceived shame the banner might have brought on anyone. I swear at any time now someone is going to threaten to get their Dad on to the others! For my part I actually don't mind the banner. It's a bit of fun and it is totally harmless. If it makes Alexis Sanchez smile then great. Could it be a bit more humorous? Yes. Does it matter? No. I can't actually believe I've wasted an entire paragraph on this rubbish but, honestly, some people would steal the fun and oxygen out of anything and decide it's "embarrassing". Oh, and then they'll also use their sense of entitlement to belittle anyone else. Grow the f*** up!

The game yesterday was worth a massive three points after the results on Saturday. I couldn't honestly say that Arsenal played well as a team, hence the need for a 98th minute penalty to secure the win. At the same time I'm struggling to find any player in the team that played badly with the exception of Aaron Ramsey who was generally awful throughout. From back to front the Arsenal players tried hard yesterday (including Ramsey) without putting too much together. The odd chance came and went but we couldn't really trouble Heaton too much. I thought Ozil had a fine game and certainly couldn't be accused of hiding, something I often level at him. At the back Mustafi was combative and won most of his aerial battles, even towards the end when Burnley went even more direct. Gabriel was excellent at right-back, while Iwobi grew in to the game in the second-half and his beating of defenders by running at them was the only thing that genuinely threatened to open up the opposition.
I had a decent view of Xhaka's red-card challenge from the East Upper and I didn't think it was a bad tackle watching it live in the flesh. I would agree that it maybe looks a little worse when you slow it down and view it on TV. I always say, however, that the reaction of players is often a decent indication when it comes to this sort of incident. Not one Burnley player went after Xhaka, nor did they crowd the referee. Tom Heaton's face when the red card came out showed that he was a bit surprised himself at the decision made. But then this is Jonathan Moss we are talking about. He has sent-off Xhaka in both games he's refereed at Arsenal this season. I couldn't argue with the one earlier in the season, and you could make a case that Xhaka obviously needs to be more careful on the pitch as his record speaks for itself, but I think it's that record and reputation that Moss judged him on yesterday. Moreover I believe that Moss is not merely an incompetent.
On the subject of incompetence the linesman on my side of the pitch yesterday was truly awful. The TV channels have highlighted that Koscielny was offside when Alexis crossed the ball in the move that ended with our penalty, and Sean Dyche has called for video to be used to stop these errors. I couldn't agree more. After all, if we'd had video evidence in use then we'd have seen at least two occasions in the first-half where Burnley players were offside yet the same official missed it. We'd also have seen Arsenal given a penalty when Mustafi was fouled in the area, right in front of the same linesman. You see, Mr Dyche, video evidence might have meant Arsenal didn't get their 98th minute winner, but it would also have seen Arsenal probably 2-0 up with before the end of the game. 
The bottle of Alexis is astounding. He had missed his previous penalties for Arsenal and they had been pretty awful efforts in to the bargain. To step up in the situation we were in yesterday and chip the ball like that was as ridiculous as it was brilliant. Those are the moments we go to football for. The reaction of the crowd, the feeling it gives you to see that goal go in, is something you can't truly get unless you're in the stadium. I don't get there often enough theses days, but endings like Alexis gave us yesterday make it a great thing when I can be there in person. 
I don't honestly think Arsenal will win the Premier League this season, but that goal means we've as good a chance as anyone except Chelsea. Before kick-off yesterday that had to be the objective and that's what was achieved, one way or another.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Thanks Carl Jenkinson, In praise of Olivier Giroud

He lived our dream


So it looks like Carl Jenkinson is on his way to Crystal Palace on a permanent deal. I, for one, am sad to see him go. I didn't buy in to the negativity that a number of the supporters showed towards him when he came back in to the team this season. After a year out with a serious knee injury you might have thought we would be cutting some slack to a player who is genuinely one of our own. Instead he got dogs abuse to the point where Arsene Wenger took him out of the firing line completely and has actually been playing people out of position at right-back rather than put the Corporal back in the side. That nearly came back to haunt us at Preston with Ainsley Maitland-Niles far further out of his depth than Jenkinson ever was. Gabriel has done okay there but we are one centre-back injury away from having Maitland-Niles (or possibly Holding) being asked to play there instead. 
Carl Jenkinson is never going to be a top class full-back but he is a more than adequate squad man. He was also good enough to get an England cap not that long ago. To see him cast out because the "fans" got in his back makes me a little sick. It will be a real shame to see Carl Jenkinson having to play in a shirt that isn't Arsenal's from now on as all he ever wanted was to be a part of his club. He lived the dream we all wanted as supporters of Arsenal. I wish him all the best and commend him totally for always giving us everything he had. In these modern times where we see greed ruling football ambition it should be a breath of fresh air to see a young lad achieving his goals like Carl Jenkinson has. Unlike many of the players Jenkinson "got it" where Arsenal are concerned because, quite simply, he is one of us.

Outstanding form from Giroud


On the pitch we've got back to winning ways since I last wrote on Christmas Eve. The performances have ranged from pitiful to brilliant all in the space of the same ninety minutes. The game at Bournemouth was absolutely ridiculous and I really don't understand why it took 70 minutes for Arsenal to start playing at 3-0 down. As it turned out we might have won  the game had we gone at them for the couple of minutes after Giroud's equaliser. To follow it up at Preston with a first-half that was perhaps even worse just a few days later was inexplicable and inexcusable. As at Bournemouth it was mostly the combination play of Giroud and Lucas Perez that earned us the result late on. I don't see why Lucas isn't getting a decent run in the team. The lad has scored goals and created goals when given his opportunity and seems to know where and when to run whenever the ball is played to Giroud. By the same token his presence in the near vicinity makes Giroud's job of winning the ball that much easier as Lucas takes one of his markers away. It may be a good "plan B" but how about making it "plan A" a little bit more often?
Giroud has been in wonderful form since his return. His goals this season have been crucial on a number of occasions - his personal contributions have directly resulted in points won for Arsenal and maybe he's finally getting some well deserved credit. As he closes in on 100 goals for Arsenal a look at his record stands up to scrutiny. For a player who is not much loved, and seen as being just below the top level of centre-forward, his goals-to-games ratio is impressive. There is also a lot more to his game as he has the ability to bring others in to the match with impressive hold-up play. He has become a much stronger, better player in his years at Arsenal and I was really pleased he signed a contract extension last week (as I was about Koscielny, who will just about end his career at Arsenal now, and Coquelin who I believe should be Captain of Arsenal). Of course Giroud's goal at home to Crystal Palace has taken all the headlines, though I don't trust the BBC to make it goal of the month, never mind of the season. However, my favourite goals he has scored this season have all been headers. He thumped one in at Old Trafford by attacking the cross, but even better were his goals against West Brom and Bournemouth over Christmas. He used his physical abilities to hold off defenders for each of them as well as directing his header beyond the goalkeeper. The goal against West Brom was especially outstanding in that regard and shows just how much Giroud has come on as a player in recent times. Long may it continue as he will be crucial from here until the end of the season.