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Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Arsene's leaving so let's be happy

When he was King

This post has been a few days in the making as I was away on holiday when Arsene Wenger announced he would be leaving Arsenal last Friday. I suppose you could say it's been a number of years in the making really. I wrote my first "Wenger Out" piece on the Online Gooner website long before I'd even considered having my own blog. For me the worm turned when he made William Gallas the Arsenal Captain ahead of Gilberto Silva or Kolo Toure. It's been a long 11 years since that. If you will forgive I will save a proper "tribute" piece to Arsene until the end of the season. I have plenty to thank him for but I'll wait to see if there might yet be even one more special Wenger triumph in May.
When I got a phone-call from my brother last Friday morning to tell me the news I was in Disneyland Paris. I can honestly say that the news made an already very bright mood even brighter. It almost felt like a relief, something that I knew should have happened a long time ago, something that should have been announced weeks ago if it was to happen this season. There can be no doubt that Wenger going has to be the best for both him and Arsenal now. The empty stands in recent months will certainly have had an impact on the Kroenke's and even Arsene isn't so myopic as to not see something was badly wrong. By the time the evening came round and I was back in the hotel I started to catch up with the internet and read the tributes and testimonials, the recollections and the great memories. It started to make me feel emotional. Suddenly the depth of what had been announced started to strike me. Arsene Wenger has been at Arsenal for 22 years this year. Apart from my family and Arsenal itself he is the most constant figure in my life. He has been the boss since before I became an adult. What we are faced with, no matter how much I know it to be the right thing, is almost totally unknown to a generation of Arsenal supporters. We simply aren't used to a change of manager at our club. I almost had a feeling of "what have we done?" Almost. Arsenal may actually take a step of two back (especially if the next appointment is a bad one) before we move forward again. I actually believe that Wenger leaving is only part of a triumvirate of departures that is necessary - the majority shareholder and the CEO need to follow him.
I have no doubt that there has been a dialogue between Ivan Gazidis (at the instruction of Josh and Stan Kroenke) and Arsene to discuss the fact that things are coming to an end. At the same time I do not accept he has been "sacked" in the popular sense of the word. Reading David Ornstein's piece on the BBC website (the only journalist with any inside knowledge of what goes on at Arsenal) it is clear that Arsene has reluctantly agreed it is time, but agreed nonetheless. What he did by making his shock statement was to steal the glory Gazidis so badly wanted for himself. That can be the only reason for Gazidis to call the most bizarre press conference on Friday afternoon. That was a pure vanity exercise from the CEO who had no real power to get rid of Arsene unless the Kroenke's said so. He has been able to chip away, rightly, at the absolute power Wenger had over Arsenal with the appointments made during this season, preparing the way for Wenger to be replaced. It amazes me now that so many people seem to see Gazidis, a smarming liar who always has the right words in public, as the saviour and arbiter of truthful facts. It actually worries me that he is the man charged with finding the right replacement.
The way Wenger made the announcement, with no prior speculation in the media, was a throwback for football and for Arsenal. I personally found it totally refreshing and totally Arsenal that the media were caught on the hop. It harked back to the day Sol Campbell was unveiled. Even after all these years Wenger can still shock everyone. I hope now, despite the years of wanting this to happen, that he can be given a fitting and deserved send-off, particularly at the Burnley game. I'll be there and it will no doubt be emotional for most of us.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Seventeen years and never forgotten

Today is 31st March and, as ever on this date, this blog takes the time to remember David Rocastle.

This time 17 years ago Arsenal were in the process of beating Tottenham. It was the day when Robert Pires’ Arsenal career began to take off with a sublime solo effort to put us ahead in front of the North Bank. However the day is more remembered for the fact that David Rocastle had died earlier that morning. The Arsenal XI contained a number of Rocky’s ex-teammates. The Tottenham fans had helped to observe a perfect minutes silence before the game in memory of a true Arsenal great.
I wasn’t there that day. I was having to miss the derby because of work as it was the only way I could get a shift swap that enabled me to get to Old Trafford the following weekend for the FA Cup semi-final against the same opponents. I remember well how I find out that Rocky had died when an Arsenal supporting colleague came in to the office and asked if I’d heard the news. I had my transistor radio with me so I’d be able to listen to the game but it wasn’t on at that time of the morning. I turned it on and the news was being confirmed on Radio 5 with a series of testimonials being given by assorted ex-players including a very tearful Ian Wright. 
I had to take myself away for a moment or two as I couldn’t hold back the emotions. David Rocastle had been an absolute hero in my childhood. He scored that goal that gave us the chance to bring back success with his winner at White Hart Lane in 1987. I was coming up to my 22nd birthday and Rocky was the first one of my Arsenal idols to die. I’d cried when George Graham sold him when I was 13 and if I can forgive George for the bungs and all that controversy I can never forgive him for selling David Rocastle. George’s Arsenal midfield never recovered really, even though we went on to win 3 more trophies before he was sacked. The exciting football left along with Rocky, a man who emobodied everything that those on the terraces could feel. To now hear he had passed away at such a young age, an age when many are still playing at the top level, was too much for me. I’ll always remember him.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Nice to win again

The Brighton game saw me reach my lowest point as an Arsenal supporter in my nearly 39 years - I’m not quite old enough to genuinely remember what it was like at the end of the Terry Neill era - and I really couldn’t see how we’d get out of the rut. The performance in the first-half at the San Siro, therefore, was as welcome as it was unexpected. The players came out with a different mentality and actually played to score goals. Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Ramsey, Welbeck and co were superb on the night - special mention to Granit Xhaka - and a 2-0 away win against a traditional European giant, in very good form in Serie A, was not to be sniffed at at all. I could have done without the players reverting to type and trying to pass the ball to death in our own half after the interval but I could forgive them with the final score. It was a genuinely nice feeling to have seen Arsenal go out and be The Arsenal, if only they were being forced to dress appropriately on and off the field things would have been ideal.
Off the back of the win in Milan, and with the second leg in mind, Wenger made a number of changes for the Watford game last Sunday. Some of the players who came in really did very well on the day with Holding and Elneny particularly impressive. I really enjoyed Holding taking on Troy Deeney in the same way he did Diego Costa at Wembley last May. It seems that Holding might need to be up against a total s***house of a centre-forward to get him playing well. Seeing Deeney try to barge him off the ball but end up on his backside waving his arms at the referee was a joy to watch. We scored a couple of nice goals and Aubameyang got his 3rd in 5 games (add in the missed chance at Wembley against City and the wrong offside call against Spurs at the same ground and he could easily have been on a goal a game) with Mkhitaryan also being heavily involved again. The penalty save from Cech brought the crowd to life for the last half-hour and it was nice to rub Deeney’s nose in the dirt just that little bit further. At the same time Watford had real chances to get goals that a decent set of strikers would have taken so our defensive issues are as present as they ever were - our next defeat will still be not too far away.
I was sadly working Thursday night so missed a decent crowd for the home leg against Milan. I watched the whole game back on TV yesterday morning and we certainly rode our luck at times. We gave up far too many goalscoring opportunities to not be concerned had we been up against Griesman and Costa, for example. The penalty we got was not something I want to see again from an Arsenal player. I can’t be doing with diving and I go out of my way to criticise the Tottenham players who are being praised for the cheating they are starting to perfect. I hope we don’t see anything like that again from Welbeck, or anyone else in an Arsenal shirt, but the headlines he got yesterday were unbelievable given what Kane and Alli have been up to. Clearly it’s a different standard when it’s Arsenal players as far as the press are concerned and John Cross of the Daily Mirror really was a disgrace in his paper. The man is clearly miffed that Arsenal have chosen David Ornstein of the BBC as their media mouthpiece rather than a man who considered himself an insider at the club after his years on the Islington Gazette. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the penalty Arsenal created plenty on the night and were worth the win, despite the fact it might have been different had Milan taken some of their opportunities.
So we’re in to a European quarter-final for the first time in a long time. There were two teams to avoid in the draw and we predictably drew one of them. A 1st leg at home, and our abysmal record in Russia, does not fill me with great optimism. Arsenal should beat CSKA Moscow every day of the week but our players are fragile and don’t travel well. We need a handsome win at home to get through I fear. I’d actually have rather played Atletico Madrid than CSKA. Still, we’re in the competition and it offers the season some salvation. I’d very much like to be in Lyon in mid-May watching Arsenal take some silverware. If it saw Wenger sign-off with the only European trophy of his career I think we’d all take it.

Monday, 5 March 2018

When will it end?

There used to be a football club over there...

Let me start by confessing I didn't see the Brighton game. I was working and had to make do with the commentary on Radio 5. What I was hearing gave me no cause for surprise as we've seen it all before, time and time again. Arsenal seemed to have made a promising start in the first few minutes, dominating the ball, but I didn't hear commentary on a single shot at goal. I heard a lot of Kolasinac, Mustafi, Koscielny, Xhaka, and a lot of Ozil "lays the ball off short" type stuff. I didn't hear Aubameyang's name even once in that period. Within seconds of Brighton getting the ball there was a shot that was deflected behind for a corner. How is it that these players can have so much of the ball but no shots, only for a clearly inferior opponent to play two or three passes and be in a position to shoot at goal? From the corner Brighton scored. Again I wasn't surprised. Almost every shot on target in the last few weeks has ended up behind our goalkeepers and in the net. I then listened as the expected implosion happened with Arsenal's players unable (more likely unwilling) to stem the tide. A second Brighton goal was also similarly unsurprising. The fact it was Koscielny (who simply isn't physically fit to play football at the moment) who gave the ball away wasn't a shock. Even less of a shock was hearing that Mustafi had totally lost Murray and got underneath the cross allowing him a free header. I feel a little sorry for Petr Cech on this one. I know he should probably have done better, and his issuing a tweet afterwards taking all of the blame for the defeat is a mark of the man, but does he really have any chance when the defensive players in the side are like this?
Wenger said on Thursday that we'd been awful defensively. I looked forward to seeing changes yesterday. I'd like to have seen wholesale change in the back four, although we have only one person  who actually plays right-back in the entire squad at the moment. I wanted a back three with Mertesacker back in the middle and Chambers and Mavropanos given their chance next to the big man giving them some organisation. I wanted Maitland-Niles back in on the left, but was resigned to Bellerin keeping his place for the reason given above. I wanted Elneny to come in for Xhaka in front of that defence. I genuinely couldn't believe it, therefore, when I saw the ONLY player actually dropped at the back was Bellerin! How can Wenger accept that his team has been woeful defensively and then change virtually none of the personnel? The man has become genuinely mad. His head is gone totally. The press conference stuff about shirts and trousers is simply the ramblings of a total basket case. He needs to be saved from himself now.
After the game, apart from the clothes analogies, Wenger decided to go in to one about Arsenal's schedule. Utter, utter nonsense. Manchester City have had the exact same schedule as Arsenal this week and they won all three games without conceding a goal. Let's not forget, either, that Wenger made no substitutions on Thursday night, even with the game all over at half-time. He also waited until the 83rd minute yesterday before his last two changes, with the two players taken off (Chambers and Mkhitaryan) both absent from one of the two Man City games. Does he not realise we all see through it now? Is he that crazy? Or that arrogant? I just think he's become dangerously deluded.
The players must take their share of the blame for what is going on at Arsenal. A lot of these men are better footballers than they are showing. They've clearly given up on the Manager but, in doing so, they've also given up on us who pay our money to follow them. That's criminal. Wilshere remains the only one who looks like he gives a s**t but, ironically, he is the one who will be shipped out of the club if Wenger stays! David Pleat kept telling us on the radio that Jack tried to take the game to Brighton in the 2nd half but doesn't get enough shots off, or play enough "incisive" passes. Now Pleat watches a lot of Arsenal games so he must have noticed by now that nobody in the team takes enough shots or looks to play incisive passes. Wenger has banned them from doing it! When Jack was in the youth teams he got loads of goals. Yes, he was superior to every player around him, but he still had to shoot to score those goals, or to do something inventive and individual to create the opening in the first place. That is not allowed in the Arsenal first-team anymore as we have to pass, pass, pass and keep possession with no intention whatsoever of scoring a goal. I digress. The likes of Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang etc simply aren't doing what they're being paid to do. Ozil had a couple of sensational months leading up to January where he showed the player we know he should be. Since signing his new contract he has been a disgrace as he has for most of his time at Arsenal. He and his advisors have played Arsenal like a bad piano, making Alexis Sanchez their fall guy. Ozil knew Alexis was leaving in January, and he knew that Arsenal couldn't afford to lose himself for free in May. By turning it on for a couple of months he and his people knew Arsenal would have to offer him big money to stay. They did all of this without leaking stuff to the press about leaving while Alexis got all the stick about upsetting his teammates etc. If it was a Hollywood heist movie it would be a blockbuster. How is that team harmony doing since Alexis left?
As much as the players must take their share of the blame, we have to understand that Arsene Wenger has signed all of them (with the possible exception of Aubameyang) and he continues to select them to wear the Arsenal shirt. He spent £70m on Mustafi and Xhaka. The pair of them, given their huge transfer fees, must surely go down among the very worst signings Arsenal have ever made. Valencia fans must be wondering how they got £35m out of Arsenal for Mustafi and were then able to sign Gabriel and Coquelin on the cheap - both of those players should be in the Arsenal team at the moment, but they aren't even at the club anymore! 
I'll finish, if I may, with an interesting insight in to how the Arsenal players are not disciplined and how the values of the club are being eroded. Vic Akers was interviewed (I guess on the pre-match show on the official website) at pitch side by Alex Scott yesterday. She asked what has happened with the shirt sleeves and the famous "captain's choice" as it's known at Arsenal. Vic replied that certain players (no names mentioned) preferred to wear short sleeves all the time and the tradition has been allowed to die. Quite apart from the fact that all those who wear short sleeves also wear a long sleeve skintight base-layer underneath, what does that say about Wenger's lack of power over the players? I couldn't give a f**k what length of shirt sleeve any individual wants to wear. This is The Arsenal. At The Arsenal the Arsenal Captain and the kit-man decide what shirt is being worn. This is a value that has set us apart as our players always looked the business when they entered the field. They wore, effectively, a uniform. It was shirts tucked in and same length sleeves. It was Arsenal suit and tie, with top buttons fastened everywhere they went. It said "we're superior to you before we even kick-off because we are The Arsenal." Instead we now have a rag-tag looking bunch of scruffs with no care for the values of the club and, my God, are they playing like that too. 
The only way to arrest the slide is to sack Wenger now. Don't wait. Give us a chance to win the Europa League by changing the Manager before Thursday. Bring in George Graham and David O'Leary until May and tell them to instill the discipline, tactics, defensive organisation, and respect for the values we stand for and live by at Arsenal. Right now we are heading in to Brian Clough territory and waiting until May, or even worse the end of NEXT season, is asking for trouble - literally.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Humiliated at Wembley

At least he tried

For 20 minutes Arsenal were the better side without being spectacular. We had an open goal early on that might have put doubts in City's minds after their loss at Wigan but Ozil chose to pass (yet again) rather than bury the chance. Aubameyang should still have scored but Walker was able to get back showing the sort of desire to stop a goal that our players so sorely lack. We should have known things were going to go from bad to worse when Nacho Monreal  had to go off injured. Despite that we were properly in the game at half-time despite being a goal behind. Now let's be clear, Aguero did foul Mustafi as the ball came forward. However, let's not allow that to deflect attention away from what Mustafi was doing. He had chosen to stand 5 yards the wrong side of the best centre-forward in the World. If he'd been in the position he should have been it would have been a simple header but he had allowed himself to get under the ball. It was scandalous defending. For all Manchester City's famed good football it took one long punt down the middle to undo Arsenal. Again. That the same thing happened on at least two other occasions in the game says it all about our players and the way they are managed. Mustafi makes people like Caesar, Cygan and Stepanovs look top class. The man cost Arsenal £35m yet defends like a pub player. 
Let's get to the bones of it now. What goes on in the Arsenal dressing room at half-time these days? Just like the Spurs game a couple of weeks ago they walked on to the field for the second-half but weren't actually there at all. We simply didn't play the game after half-time. The most sickening thing is that City, the best side in the country, didn't even have to play well to hammer Arsenal. It was embarrassing and it was humiliating. We've seen many scandalous performances from Wenger's Arsenal in the last 10 years, but none in a Cup Final. No amount of apologies, or "we'll learn from this" can ever make up for what went on  at Wembley yesterday. 
When Wenger can't even drag a performance out of the players for a Wembley showpiece then even the most die-hard of his cult worshippers ought to be able to see it's finished. Only Ramsey and Wilshere looked interested yesterday, with Ramsey outstanding as far as I was concerned - especially in the first-half. But what about our two superstars, for example? Ozil has gone back to the lazy, do nothing, player he's been for 3 years in the weeks since he signed his new contract. That's no coincidence. Aubameyang was taken to school and allowed himself to be bullied by Vincent Kompany, even down to being out-paced by him on at least one occasion. Is that what we paid £60m for? 
We know this can't go on. We also know that it will go on. At least until May, and probably for at least another year after. Clearly the best thing for Arsenal would be for Wenger to go now so we still have a chance to win the UEFA Cup this season. That isn't going to happen and we will be embarrassed once again by a seemingly resurgent AC Milan side. Kicking the can down the road does no good for any of us but, until Gazidis can persuade Stan Kroenke of that, it's only going to get worse. I really can't be bothered to even get angry about it anymore.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

It was all going quite well

I’m not sure what’s the worst thing about losing to that lot these days. There’s the annoyance and anger at being beaten. There’s the predictable gloating from a set of supporters whom live for Tottenham beating Arsenal occasionally, simply because they don’t know what it’s like to actually win trophies. Then there’s the lazy journalistic nonsense that seems to follow this fixture around when Spurs win it describing a “power shift” in the area - I’ve never seen this discussion around the Manchester clubs, yet City actually have silverware backing up a genuine on-field superiority over Manchester United. The media fawning over Tottenham this last couple of years is beyond embarrassing. It underlines an absolute bias towards them for a reason that is scarily unknown. It will ever be thus until the print media, in particular, is finally consigned to history. Journalists today have set themselves up as “experts” as they see the impending Armageddon on the horizon and appear of TV and radio to give commentary on the game. The fact is that none of the “football writers” know more about football than you or me as they’ve never played the game, just like us. Add in their smugness and contempt for Arsenal FC and you have a vicious cocktail to contend with. The sooner Arsenal realise that they don’t need to engage with newspapers outside of Islington, where they have a community responsibility, the better off we will all be. You might have guessed I’m not a happy bunny writing this morning. 
In the game yesterday I thought we were quietly impressive before half-time. Three or four times we should have done better on the break - criminally bad passes in to the final third when you have the pace of Aubameyang going beyond the defence is hard to accept from players like Ozil and Mkhitaryan. Watching the Armenian yesterday it was easy to see why his career at Manchester United wasn’t successful - compared to last week it was like seeing a different person in an Arsenal shirt. Ozil was wasted out on the right and only looked like doing anything when he drifted towards the centre - for once I won’t criticise him for a quiet(ish) display when he was ridiculousy moved away from where he does damage. Our key man was, yet again, Jack Wilshere and he created what would have been a goal when he put Aubameyang through on goal, only for the linesman to wrongly raise his flag. We were fairly comfortable elsewhere with Elneny and Xhaka doing a decent job in front of the defence, and Bellerin looking pretty solid at right-back. Half-time, 0-0, probably shading things, there were reasons to be content.
You have to wonder what happens in Arsneal’s dressing room at half-time these days. Within seconds of the restart yesterday you could see we weren’t on it as we had been before the break. Mustafi had to make a good block (and generally did well yesterday I felt) before Cech got stupid and took on Harry Kane in our penalty area. It all pointed to a casual approach. Less than a minuted after Cech’s Beckenbauer impression we were losing. Nobody closed down the cross which was perfect for Kane to attack. Koscielny is finished and never got off the ground - Monreal waving his arms for a foul was nonsense as Kane just got up first and stayed above the Arsenal defence. What came after, until the last five minutes, could have been embarrassing for Arsenal. Were it not for Cech (the save from the free-kick was superb) and Tottenham’s bad finishing we could have lost by 4 or 5 goals.
Wenger made his substitutions, rightly taking off Mkhitaryan and wrongly taking off Elneny (instead of Xhaka) to bring on Lacazette and Iwobi. Inexplicably Iwobi played through the centre and Ozil stayed on the right. Just as inexplicably our new £60m centre-forward (100 goals in 117 games) was sent to the left wing as Lacazette was left to play on his own up front. We’re 0-1 down to Tottenham and we stay with one man up front, a man with 1 goal in his last 12 games. It is beyond the wit of sane people to understand what goes on in Wenger’s mind. Eventually he introduced Welbeck (5 minutes from time) and we got on the front foot as Spurs started to panic about not being out of sight. We managed to create two chances, at last, but they both fell to Lacazette. The first wasn’t easy but he had time to bring it down rather than smash a difficult volley in to the crowd. The second was just terrible finishing after Iwobi’s pass found him through on Lloris. I’ve seen people saying Wenger has damaged his confidence in the way he has handled him this season, and I have some sympathy with that viewpoint, but the fact remains that a £50m striker should be scoring in that position - he certainly shouldn’t be missing the target. You have to feel that Aubameyang, with his extra pace, would have scored the goal as he’d have been there a yard quicker and would have had a choice in how he finished it. I’m not going to get at Lacazette as some have, but it’s hard to ignore that he hasn’t succeeded this season since arriving. I’m yet to be genuinely impressed by him at any point. He also got himself offside 3 times yesterday through sheer laziness and that is unacceptable.
So another defeat on the road. In this case it matters more because of who we were playing. It’s obvious how this must come to an end but we will have to wait until at least May before that happens. In the meantime we will continue to drift in the Premier League and must hope to win the League Cup and do something special in Europe - given Wenger’s comments about the Europa League on his BT Sport pre-match interview yesterday I won’t be holding my breath.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Back to Wembley

Wednesday night ended up being very enjoyable at Arsenal despite the presence of thousands of glory-hunting chavs and no trains after the game from Arsenal Station. There’s something about winning a semi-final that takes away those small annoyances. 
For 25 minutes we were battered by Chelsea. The Arsenal team was almost unrecognisable from the one that destroyed Crystal Palace last weekend which is completely bizarre when all ten outfield players were the same. In hindsight the turning point seems to have been when Willian went off injured, something I have to admit I hadn’t thought of until I heard someone say it to his mate as we were leaving the ground. In that first part of the game we barely made it out of our own half and Hazard seemed to be constantly finding space in between our centre-backs. It was obvious watching that Koscielny simply didn’t have a clue where the Belgian was. Somehow we got through that period and the players got it together and started to close down properly all over the pitch.
That foothold allowed Wilshere and Ozil to come in to the game and Arsenal dominated midfield from that point on really. Kante and Bakayoko looked far removed from the players who everyone saw at Leicester and Monaco. Elneny and Xhaka also played their part in that with Xhaka playing a more advanced role than usual, as he had done against Palace. Alex Iwobi also never stopped working and was very good against Moses defensively, while not really going at him as Maitland-Niles has done in a couple of games recently at the other end of the pitch. 
Both of our goals had a huge element of fortune. When a header takes two deflections to go past a stranded goalkeeper then you can’t argue with your luck. I suppose the Chelsea fans must have felt the way everybody else did on the many occasions Lampard saw a shot hit a defender and end up in the opposite corner of the net. You can also say that maybe Nacho Monreal has earned his luck with the way he has performed in the last few years. He is far and away Arsenal’s most consistent performer and was a deserving man of the match on the night. It’s great that he is finally being recognised by the pundits for his displays at Arsenal. The second goal also benefitted from a deflection as Lacazette, having held the ball up very well to allow support to arrive, tried to lay it back to Iwobi but saw his pass fall instead to Xhaka who turned home a very nice finish from close-range. 
I thought Chelsea never really threatened after that with their best chance being from a corner where Ospina went walkabout and was lucky to get away with it. There were no opportunities from open play for them, while Iwobi should have buried the chance to put us home and dry. I have to give a word here to Mohamed Elneny who had been moved back to play in the centre of a back three. I thought the Egyptian turned his best performance for Arsenal in what became a defensive masterclass from him. His positioning was perfect, he won tackles and attacked everything in the air winning every header he jumped for. I was crying out for Wenger to bring on Chambers when I saw where Elneny was now playing but he proved to be more than up to the task on this occasion. Credit where it’s due, as ever. At the other end Ozil was outstanding again and it will be interesting to see whether his form (when he hasn’t been on holiday) in the last two months is a sign he is happy at Arsenal, or whether it is a shop window ahead of him going elsewhere.
So we are off to Wembley again, somewhat unexpectedly in the League Cup. My Dad said to me on the way out that, for all we want Wenger gone, Arsenal are in a fourth final in five seasons. We’ve become absolutely a cup team, with the players seemingly able to get themselves motivated for some one-off big games in a way they can’t in the Premier League all that often. I suppose I’d rather be a cup side than a nothing side - I wonder who I could possible be referring to..?

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

All the best Theo and thanks for being The Arsenal

Imagine having a photo like this

So Theo Walcott has moved on to Everton after 12 years as an Arsenal player. During that time he's infuriated me more often than not and there have been occasions where I've questioned if he has ever improved from the 16 year-old child we signed from Southampton. On other occasions he's thrilled me with his pace and his goals. The lad is one of the few to have scored more than 100 goals for Arsenal FC and that is totally deserving of praise. He's done that pretty much exclusively while playing on the wing, often as a substitute, and usually taken off when he started a game regardless of his performance. Some people have been quite abusive towards him, especially in the last year or two, but that is a viewpoint I take particular exception to, as I would with any Arsenal player.
The worst thing that happened to Theo, in hindsight, was being taken to the 2006 World Cup but not being given a game. It created a hype and an expectation around a young boy that he could never possibly have lived up to. It's actually a testament to his character that he is still such a level-headed, well-adjusted bloke. There has never been any controversy around Theo Walcott. He is always well-spoken in his interviews and has never stepped out of line on or off the pitch. He is a family man, married to the young lady he's always been with. He got stick over the business about the coffee machine she allowed him to purchase after getting his goals target a couple of years ago. Why? Why would you abuse him for being quite so down to earth? Most footballers with his money would be promising themselves the new Aston Martin or something but it was apparently a sign that something about Theo wasn't right in the minds of some idiots. I take the opposite view and see it as a sign that, despite the pressure he has always been under because of the fame he had at a young age, he is due absolute credit for never being swept along. Plenty of English youngsters, Jack Wilshere included, could learn a lot from the way Theo has conducted his life.
On the pitch he has an incredible record in big games. His best moments have often come against top opposition, or on the big occasion - his debut saw him set up Gilberto for the first competitive Arsenal goal in the new stadium, his first goal was in the League Cup Final later that season. He scored in FA Cup semi-finals, against Barcelona, at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, and he had a superb record against Tottenham - who can forget his two goals in the first of the 5-2 wins against them? Just in case you have forgotten here is a link - just feel that celebration and energy in the stadium.
Theo's pace could be electrifying and he scared defenders when he was on his game. I'll always have the memories of the night he sparked the comeback against Barcelona, the best team on the planet. There was the incredible run at Anfield on the night we should have beaten them in the Champions League when he set up Adebayor. He was also instrumental in the dismantling of Manchester United a couple of years back when his pace ran their defence all over the pitch and created the space that allowed Ozil and Sanchez to utterly destroy them. I wish he'd used his pace to take on defenders far more than he did by simply knocking it past them and chasing it - that was where he would frustrate me so much by either running straight in to his man or by turning inside. Nevertheless, when he was on his game I have never seen anyone so quick across a football pitch. I will always maintain that, played as a striker alongside Van Persie or Giroud he would have had an even better career - Giroud would also have benefited greatly from that.
My favourite Theo moment has to be the 2015 FA Cup Final when he had earned his starting place by scoring a hat-trick at home to West Brom in the last league game of the season. We were dominating Aston Villa but couldn't score and were missing chances. Theo hadn't played the year before against Hull after doing his cruciate ligament in the 3rd round win over Tottenham, remembered for him winding up the away end from his stretcher. He wasn't able to be at the game against Hull as his baby son was seriously ill at the time. Walcott was clearly hungry against Villa and he started and finished the move for the first goal. When Alexis nodded the ball back across Theo was right down in front of me and you could see the ball falling to him on the volley. I swear time stopped and everyone held their breaths as he struck it with his weaker left foot. He caught it brilliantly and the ball left his boot like a rocket. It slammed in to the net past Shay Given and I have rarely heard a noise, or witnessed a scene like the one that greeted it. The yellow and blue covered Arsenal fans at that end of the ground exploded in one of the greatest goal celebrations I have ever been a part of. It was a truly magical moment. It's worth reliving here I would say.
So I have nothing but respect for Theo Walcott. I'll keep the fond memories of him and will always think of him as an Arsenal man. He understood exactly what it meant to "be" The Arsenal. Theo is a classy individual and I wish him all the best for his future. He will always be welcomed back, I hope, by the supporters - he certainly will by me.

Monday, 8 January 2018

No defence...and no attack either

You’d be forgiven for not realising Arsenal won the FA Cup last May, such was the insipid and unacceptable surrender of our title at a managerless lower division team. I have consistently backed players like Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck etc but no more. Holding, Elneny, Walcott, Iwobi, Welbeck - they should all be slung out of the club this morning for what they produced at Forest. Per Mertesacker’s legs have gone, we all know that. Only a mad man would put him in a back four instead of being the middle man of three so Wenger did exactly that. What ensued was what looked to people on TV as though the lad Brereton (I guarantee you will never hear of this 18 year-old ever again as he is nothing more than a big lump really) was beating him to everything. Look more closely and you’ll have seen that Mertesacker was constantly trying to cover across to his left in order to bail out the ridiculously out of position, and out of his depth at Arsenal, Rob Holding. Make no mistake, Holding was outstanding in the FA Cup Final against Diego Costa last year, but every dog has its day and anyone can produce something special on a big occasion - remember Andy Dibble of Luton Town? I do because he spoiled my first ever Arsenal Wembley final. Holding has since been nothing other than woeful for Arsenal and simply lacks the basic talent necessary to play at our level. Had it not been for an excellent performance by David Ospina Forest would have won by a five or six goal margin, they were that superior to Arsenal on the day.
Plenty of stick has been handed out over Arsenal’s team selection and that’s a consequence of losing in such abject fashion. However, a team including Ospina, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Walcott and Welbeck should have more than enough to beat Forest’s youngsters. What was seriously lacking was a subs bench with anyone on it capable of rescuing the game if things started to go wrong. And they went seriously wrong. Wenger picked the team but failed to set them up right. Wenger failed to motivate them against lower division cannon-fodder. Wenger failed to provide the insurance policy of senior players on the subs bench. And I don’t want to hear his b******s about people being tired - the senior players in the squad have played league games only this season and no cup ties - Alexis played one Europa League game having not started a Premier League match to that point if my memory serves me right. Wenger threw away the FA Cup yesterday and it is unacceptable. Over 4000 Arsenal fans travelled to Nottingham yesterday to get the latest in an ever growing list of humiliation under our once great manager.
I resign myself now to the hope that each defeat, each time we concede three or four goals in a game, each humiliation and embarrassment, is simply one more closer to the day when Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal. Any club worth their salt would have had him out of the job before the team got back to London last night. The man is finished. Nobody is listening to him. Nobody cares what he has to say. Nobody has any respect for the man anymore. It’s over. The only people who can’t see it are Wenger and Kroenke.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Mid Season Review

I had planned to get this written during the period between Christmas and New Year but I was then laid low by flu and only today getting back to anything approaching normality. As such I didn’t make it to Arsenal last night and had to make do with Sky’s character assassination of Jack Wilshere which was utterly despicable, even more the case when you consider one of the biggest cheerleaders for it was our “own” Thierry Henry. Actually the game itself yesterday summed up a lot of the 1st half of the season, particularly the bit where we often need to score at least three goals to win a game. It’s a feature of Wenger’s Arsenal in the last six or seven years that they don’t play good football most of the time. It’s slow, sideways, lacking imagination and certainly lacking in efforts at goal. All the more ridiculous then that four of the standout Premier League matches of the season have all involved Arsenal at home - Leicester, Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Given that Leicester was the first game of the season it’s there that I will actually start to piece together what has been wrong with Arsenal again this season so far. Here’s an uncomfortable truth; Arsenal’s “challenge” for the Premier League ended the moment Shinji Okazaki nodded in their equaliser after five minutes. Harsh? Not really. It was a moment that should have told all of us watching that nothing had really changed in this Arsenal team. There we were having had the perfect start with new signing Lacazette’s early goal, only to see a 5’6” striker out-jump our defence and nod past a goalkeeper who had got out of position at his own far post. We simply do not know how to defend. Somehow the attacking players bailed us out on the night (and a ridiculous in-game management decision by Craig Shakespeare also played a huge part) but the writing was on the wall. The following week at Stoke an insipid display against what has proven to be the worst team in the league (a sign of our mental fragility simply because it was a game at Stoke’s ground) and more abysmal defending saw us get beat for the first time. The only thing I’d point out on that is that we also got turned down for a stick-on penalty and had a perfectly good (and quite superb) Lacazette goal disallowed for offside. Not even small margins those, but the performance overall was instructive and is repeated all too often, just as it was as recently as Sunday at West Brom.
Indeed those awful performances are seen more than any free-flowing games from our boys - ironically they’ve played well to a degree against a number of the top teams, albeit without getting what they might have deserved with the honourable exception of the Tottenham game - more of which below. It’s the infernal passing against mediocre opposition that riles me and many others. If we played with the pace and effort we’ve seen against Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs, Liverpool (at home) against rubbish like Stoke, Watford, West Brom, Southampton, West Ham etc then we’d be right up there above Manchester United. You can forget about getting close to Man City and it’s unfair to beat the team over not challenging for the Title this season as nobody is able to get even remotely close to City after the run they’ve been on. At the same time I’m not going to moan unduly about the officiating, but in those games at Stoke, Watford and West Brom (and if I could be bothered to look it up I’m sure I’d find more) we have been undone as much by woeful refereeing as our own woeful football. Again, give us the points refereeing decisions have apparently taken from us and we’re up there with Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool. At the same time the worst performance of the season was all of the making of Arsene Wenger and it came at Anfield. Losing 0-4 flattered Arsenal and the players were incredibly fortunate that Liverpool stopped attacking or it could have been an Old Trafford type of humiliation. 
What about the good stuff? Well, as I said above, we’ve played very well in some big games but we simply don’t defend well enough. Apart from one that is. The game against Tottenham was as brilliant as it was surprising in the way Arsenal played them off the field pretty much from start to finish. It was a 2-0 thrashing and by far the most gratifying result of the whole season so far. The media were so determined their beloved (why is that?) Tottenham were about to move away from Arsenal and leave us behind. They had, of course, forgotten that Arsenal have a 50-plus year head-start over the poor little Totts and that they’ll have to make up a gap of eleven League Titles before even coming close to Arsenal’s level of success and dominance. Arsenal have been superior to Spurs since 1987. Earlier in the season the players underlined it once again.
The League Cup and Europa League have provided a number of youngsters the chance to stake a claim and Ainsley Maitland-Niles is very much taking that opportunity. I just want to see him get his chance in his own position replacing Xhaka. Those competitions also allowed Jack Wilshere to show he is still Arsenal’s best midfielder and he has earned his place back in the team now. He HAS to be given a contract soon and SHOULD be made Arsenal Captain immediately. Jack understands what it means to be The Arsenal, as does the ostracised Theo Walcott. Those tournaments are also offering our best chance of silverware this season as it stands and I hope we go for it in both of them from here on.