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Friday, 31 December 2010

Birmingham preview, Wenger reveals transfer plans (cough), Howard Webb!

The boys are back on the treadmill again tomorrow at Birmingham City. With Man Utd failing to win at St Andrews in the week Arsenal will know this is going to be a very tough game. Birmingham will surely look to exploit Arsenal's weakness in the air with the giant Zigic playing up front - he scored at Arsenal with their only effort on target you might recall. It looks like Alexander Hleb has failed to establish himself in the Birmingham side, just as at Barcelona, so I don't see him getting in tomorrow. Seb Larsson will be a danger to Arsenal with his accurate crossing and superb delivery from set-pieces, though I doubt very much that a returning Gael Clichy will have been instructed to get close to the Swede and cut off the supply in to the penalty area.
Arsenal will make wholesale changes again to their team tomorrow. I think we can expect to see Song, Walcott, Van Persie, Nasri and Djourou returning to the starting line-up, and also Fabregas back from suspension. Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny have played in both games this week so they may well find themselves rested with Eboue switching to right-back. I think Wilshere may also start on the bench again as he played most of the game on Wednesday. I've seen Fabianski criticised for Wigan's second goal in some quarters, but this is not a view I share. It may be that Arsene Wenger does share it though, and could give him the needed excuse to drop the Pole and bring in Szczesny. I would be very surprised to see that happen.
If Arsenal are to win tomorrow evening they will need to perform in the same way they did against Chelsea. The players must press the ball when Birmingham have it. It stands to reason that if we get good pressure on the opposition their inferior technique will see Arsenal getting the ball back on a regular basis. What was missing yet again on Wednesday must return tomorrow at Birmingham.
The referee tomorrow is Peter Walton. I can't remember any particular axe he may have to grind with Arsenal. He is, like most (all) of the Premier League referees, an incompetent fool who shouldn't be tasked with running around a pitch with athletes in prime physical condition. Following the last three games we are due a bit of luck with some refereeing decisions, though the integrity of the last three referees we have encountered really should start to be questioned - if cricket and rugby are bent then there is no reason to believe football is immune.
In a week of three games, and numerous team-changes it's very hard to predict what the Arsenal team might be tomorrow. I would like to see them line up like this:
Fabianski - Eboue, Djourou, Squillaci, Clichy - Song, Denilson, Fabregas - Nasri, Van Persie, Walcott.

I've just watched Arsene Wenger on Sky trotting out the usual rubbish about his squad and whether or not signings are needed. He told the press that there are players who deserve to play blah, blah, blah. He didn't rule out a signing or two, but said that we are not close to signing anyone. I think I've heard all this before. It is clear to a blind man that the centre-half situation remains chronic, and there is no sign that Vermaelen will be fit any time soon - it will be a pleasant surprise if the Belgian plays again this season. I heard Ray Parlour on telly last night saying that Gary Cahill would fit the bill for Arsenal, but that Bolton might not want to sell. Of course they wouldn't want to sell, but that's why you force their hand with a significant bid. Newcastle didn't exactly have Andy Cole on the market, but Man Utd made them an offer too good to refuse. Top players are never "available" but you can still go and buy them - everyone has a price. I'm going to ignore all the transfer talk over the next month as I really can't be doing with the frustration of seeing Wenger fail to address the necessary issues and give us a chance to win the big prizes. If we do sign someone, and I don't mean some unknown kid from South America, then I'll be pleasantly surprised and optimistic. In the meantime I'll say nothing more about it and see where we are on February 1st.

The UK Honours system has reached a new low. It sank a long way with Ferguson's Knighthood (where was Brian Clough's, or Bill Shankly's, or Bob Paisley's, or Bobby Moore's), and still further when Tim Henman got an MBE for services to famous losers. Last night it was revealed that Howard Webb has been given an MBE. So there you go - if you want an MBE all you need to do is embarrass your nation on the World stage. Why did the entire England World Cup squad not get honoured if that is the criteria? Howard Webb MBE. What a load of old crap.

So 2010 is in it's death-throes. It's not been a vintage year for Arsenal to say the least. We've seen very few highs, but significant low points have been plentiful. Next year can not be much worse from an Arsenal point of view, can it? Fingers crossed that it is so much better for the Club in 2011.
I don't go in for New Year celebrations. I fail to see what there is to look forward to at New Year as the Winter stretches ominously out in front of us, with a full twelve months before we get to Christmas again. Therefore I will be staying in as usual tonight, with a Chinese takeaway and the rubbish TV that will be thrown at us - thank God for Jools Holland's Annual Hootenanny on BBC2.

Happy New Year - 3 points are a must tomorrow.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

What was that about effort?

A false dawn - aka beating Chelsea 3-1

What do you get if you combine eight Arsene Wenger team changes with an incompetent (dishonest?) referee called Lee Probert? The answer is a 2-2 draw to bring you back down to earth after the best performance in ages. I felt sick last night when Squillaci equalised on Wigan's behalf. I felt even more sick when I got a better look (i.e. on TV rather than a dodgy internet stream) at the major decisions of the referee.
When I saw the team last night I was quite dismayed. Eight changes is quite ridiculous. Yes, the boys had played only 48 hours earlier, but EIGHT changes? We should also consider that among the players "rested" were Theo Walcott and Robin Van Persie and Johan Djourou, who have hardly played any football at all this calendar year - so why would they be remotely fatigued? Momentum is a massive thing for a side heading towards a Title and Arsenal had the chance to gain some last night against worse than mediocre opposition. Their captain and centre-back is Gary Caldwell, a player who couldn't even cut the mustard in the Scottish Premier League! They have Bolton's reserve goalkeeper between the sticks, and Hendry Thomas - who claims to be in his mid-20's, but is surely nearer 50.
Theo Walcott said on Monday night that the aim was to press Chelsea all over the pitch, and it worked an absolute treat. So where was that pressing game last night? The players were lacklustre from the start and the selection beyond belief. We had Eboue at left-back, and constantly out of position - look at the move that lead to their penalty - Eboue was in their penalty area, but so was Sagna on the other side so it's no wonder we were short-handed at the back. We also had Nicklas Bendtner replacing Theo Walcott on the right. Surely Wenger realises that sometimes you have to switch the formation in order to accommodate the personnel? In terms of a lack of effort nobody summed it up more than Andrey Arshavin. His superb finish and then assist for Bendtner's goal should not disguise his disgraceful performance last night. He also missed a sitter to make it 3-1. If he starts the game at Birmingham on Saturday then I will be utterly disgusted.
We went behind to what the referee decided was a penalty. Given that there was no contact made and the incident was outside the penalty area I would suggest that, as penalty shouts go, this one had little going for it. Step forward Lee Probert. How does a hunchbacked freak like Probert find himself officiating a sporting contest between prime athletes? Honestly, he looks like Quasimodo's uglier younger brother, like the forgotten Neville brother if you like. In the second-half he then denied Arsenal two stone-wall penalties after Wigan's equaliser - one for a handball, that has been highlighted on TV, and one for a foul on Theo Walcott as he went through on goal, which hasn't (the clown gave a goal-kick for that one, thus showing that the defender didn't get the ball I would suggest). Lee Probert has history with Arsenal. He was the fourth-official at Old Trafford last season who saw to it that Arsene Wenger was sent-off for kicking a water bottle. He received universal criticism for that, and was made to look like a cretinous jobsworth in front of the Nation. How can he possibly be trusted to referee Arsenal with any sense of impartiality after such an incident? He even needed the fourth official to get him to send-off N'Zogbia for his headbutt on Jack Wilshere last night.
And so to Arsene Wenger. Did I mention that he made EIGHT changes? He nearly got away with it, but nearly isn't good enough I'm afraid. At 2-1 Arsenal were always going to be vulnerable, especially with Squillaci and Koscielny playing together again. How many times are we going to have to watch these two costing us points? They are as lethal a combination as I've ever seen. Squillaci is slow, and constantly out of position. Koscielny, meanwhile, is beginning to make Igors Stepanovs look like Bobby Moore. Wenger should have taken the game by the scruff of the neck and made a change earlier in the second-half. There were plenty of candidates to be replaced - Arshavin, Bendtner, Denilson or the insipid Rosicky. Instead of this he waited until the equaliser and then took off Jack Wilshere, whose first-half introduction in place of the injured (again), and surely finished for good now at Arsenal, Abou Diaby had changed the game for Arsenal. I'm still spitting chips about it now.
There was a denouement to the evening though that has me seething - Arsene Wenger's post-match comments. After the defeat at Wigan in May he had the cut of a man whose patience had snapped and I felt sure sweeping changes would be seen in the Summer - nothing happened. Last night he finally criticised the defence - but he won't sign a proper centre-half in January you can be certain. He said that we let in too many goals from set-pieces because nobody seems to take charge, and there is a lack of communication. Arsene Wenger is the Manager for God's sake. What do Pat Rice and Boro Primorac do to earn their wages? The players should know their role at a set-piece before they go anywhere near a football pitch. We have been letting in goals from set-pieces ever since we left Highbury, and Sol Campbell had moved on - yet the Manager has only now acknowledged a problem. I am pissed off beyond belief by this crap and I'm completely fed-up.
Last night we had a chance to lay down a marker and press home the good work from Monday night. Thanks to the Manager's stupid wholesale changes, another disgraceful refereeing performance (three games in a row now where Arsenal have had NOTHING out of the officials), and the collective lack of effort from a bunch of overpaid prima-donnas, we find ourselves third as the New Year beckons. If I thought he would do something about it in the transfer window I would not be quite so concerned, but I fear we will be scuppered again by the Manager's refusal to put things right by spending the necessary money in the transfer market.

More tomorrow with a preview of the Birmingham game and a New Year message.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Amazing what effort can do, Wigan away preview

I love it when Arsenal prove me wrong. I am the kind of person that expects the worst from my team. The late kick-off on a bank holiday kept me away from the match last night. Do I regret not going? Probably a little bit to be honest. I thought the boys were magnificent last night. Right from the kick-off we were on top of the game and pressing the opposition. Theo Walcott said afterwards that the players had concentrated on pressing all over the pitch when not in possession. When Barcelona came to our place last Spring that is exactly what they did, and the success they enjoyed was similar to Arsenal's last night. My brother said after the game that it's a shame we haven't pressed the ball like that since the game at Everton on the first day of last season!
Wenger threw in a surprise or two with the selection. Johan Djourou finally got a game, but at the expense of Squillaci rather than Koscielny. Sadly Koscielny cost us the goal as he failed to even challenge Ivanovic who he was marking. I thought Djourou was outstanding on the night, despite the "observations" of Charlie Wyett in today's Sun - we must assume he was sampling Arsenal's hospitality rather than watching the game. Theo Walcott also started the game and I can't believe Ashley Cole has been given such a tough match for a long time. I felt this was Walcott's strongest performance so far in his career - willing to run at the best left-back in the World, and his tracking back was superb. He should never have been replaced in the second-half at a time when his pace would have seen us score at least one more goal I am certain.
Robin Van Persie replaced Chamakh, which was unsurprising after Arsene Wenger had prepared the ground by claiming Chamakh is tired - completely overlooking the fact that Arsenal hadn't played in a fortnight. I thought RVP was back to somewhere near his best last night, despite his ridiculous miss in the first couple of minutes. It seems to me that John Terry is finished. Van Persie completely dominated Terry in the air, on the ground, and in a physical battle.
Now, while I'm on the subject of Terry I can't let it go without talking about the referee and his reluctance to do anything about his foul-play. When we win I can slag the referee safe in the knowledge that I can't be accused of sour grapes. It seemed that Clattenburg had no interest in booking anyone from Chelsea, particularly not John Terry. Conversely he was quick to bring out the cards for RVP and Fabregas. Lampard should have been red-carded for his disgraceful foul on Song in the second-half, and his smirk towards Fabregas left we wishing for Vieira, Petit or Keown and their particular brand of justice - he wouldn't have been smirking with their hands round his throat, or when he was being carted off on a (necessarily reinforced in his case) stretcher. Throw in the penalties we didn't get, and the numerous dubious free-kicks given to Chelsea, and you wonder about the integrity of a referee who was banned last year due to his parlous financial situation. Clattenburg claims he was going to give a penalty had not Alex Song's shot gone in. Was he balls. He didn't react at all to the foul on Fabregas and was lucky that Song scored.
Song's goal was crucial in the game, of course. But it was his second-half performance that was more pleasing to me as he did what I want him to do - he simply protected the defence, and his only forward foray came deep in injury-time when that joker Rosicky got himself offside before missing anyway. I felt that Song and Wilshere were outstanding in midfield, with an incredible work rate between them. The fact that Lampard and Essien were never in the game is testament to their performance in that part of the pitch. If I was picking a man of the match it would be Song, closely followed by Walcott - Cesc Fabregas' expression when he was presented the award told you all you need to know about his view of things, and he immediately passed the accolade to Theo Walcott.
All in all it was a massive win, gained through a magnificent team performance. In all honesty a 4 or 5 goal haul would have been more of a justified scoreline, but I'll take 3-1 thanks very much. I've been saying for a long time that the players needed to win a game against another top side to prove to themselves that they can compete in the big games. They've now done it, so I really hope it gives them the necessary belief to go forward and challenge for the Title. Up until last night I was still convinced Chelsea would win the Premier League this season. I was disappointed, though not surprised, that Sky decided to take the idea that Chelsea had been poor, rather than Arsenal superb. The fact is that Chelsea were missing only Alex and Anelka from their first-choice line-up last night. Yes, their bench was weak, but the eleven on the pitch was close to their best team, and they were beaten convincingly by Arsenal.

Last night's win will mean little if we don't produce similar fare at Wigan tomorrow night, and at Birmingham on Saturday. To play three games in five days is a joke, especially after a lack of midweek fixtures last week (the weather might well have seen games cancelled last week, but it would have been better to have scheduled them then, rather than this week). Arsenal will go to Wigan without Fabregas, following his booking last night. How can it be that a player like Fabregas, who gets kicked and kicked every time he plays, can find himself suspended for five bookings at Christmas?
With the games coming in such quick succession I can see changes being made, with the squad rotated. Diaby will surely get a start in place of Fabregas I would think, and Denilson (if fit), Eboue, Bendtner, Squillaci etc can all expect to play a part in the next few days.
Wigan have showed an aptitude for playing against the big sides in the past couple of years, while struggling badly against the rubbish. The Arsenal players should have a point to prove after the shameful capitulation at the DW in May (I'm talking particularly about you Messrs Clichy and Fabianski). I think Rodallega and Diame are fine players, who can give us trouble, while the enigmatic N'Zogbia (I'm assuming he's available) can beat most sides on his day. It will be a tough encounter for our boys, and it's one they must win. We're not on the box so it looks like an internet night for me - fingers crossed for a good stream to watch it on.

There'll be more on Thursday I hope.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Chelsea preview, Christmas greetings

With Sky putting the game back to Monday evening the players will get a bit of time to enjoy their Christmas for once. I don't know if my view is a minority one but I would rather we didn't have to play at Christmas at all. When we have a game at home on Boxing Day I find it a real pain in the bum having to go to London to watch it. This year, it's not such an issue, though the weather forecast as it stands could see yet another Emirates postponement.
The team news ahead of the match sees Abou Diaby fit to play again. Diaby is not everyone's cup of tea - mine included. I think Diaby is a fine player on his day, but his day arrives on such an inconsistent basis that he is a most frustrating individual. Also, in Diaby's defence, the broken leg inflicted upon him by that scummy no-mark from Sunderland has badly affected his career. If Diaby could stay fit, and finally produce consistently, he could have a major impact on the rest of the season. Having said that, I won't hold my breath.
Lukasz Fabianski is also fit to start the game. It will be interesting to see whether Wenger chooses to go with him, or to use his injury as the excuse he needed to put Szczesny in the side and keep him there. I would certainly rather see the brash and confident Wojciech, than the meek and quiet Lukasz.
Barring any illness or injury to the players from the Man Utd game I don't see there being too much change. I will be pleasantly surprised if there is any change to the back four, while I expect Arshavin to keep his place again. I would rather see Nasri from the right, up against Ashley Cole, though he must do his defensive work or Cole will destroy us yet again from left-back. I think Fabregas will return to the starting eleven, which leaves the only question mark as to whether Van Persie comes in for Chamakh. Personally I think it would be madness to leave out a well-rested Chamakh against John Terry, who he has already shown he can dominate in the air.
We all know Chelsea's strengths, and how they will continue to play to them against Arsenal. We are a little unlucky in that Drogba, Terry and Lampard will all play against us, having all missed a fair chunk of recent action. There is no doubt that their absences (along with the even more important Michael Essien) have contributed to Chelsea's recent poor run - they rushed Terry back (yet again) in an attempt to halt their slide.
Whatever happens on Monday we cannot afford another defeat. If I was offered the draw now I would take it. Big players step up to the plate in big games - it's time for Sebastien Squillaci to prove himself. The centre-half has had four months to settle in now. We were told he was a hard man defender, so let's see it against Drogba. Arsenal don't play the dirty game, but one of our players must smash Drogba early on, like other sides do, and get him on the back foot. When Drogba's bottom lip comes out it invariably stays there for the rest of the match, and there can be no doubt that our defenders have been far from physical enough against the Ivorian since he got here.

I've been writing the blog for over six months now. In that time the site has been looked at on over 5600 occasions. I hope you've enjoyed what I've written in that time, and that you will continue to enjoy it in the future. I would urge you to register as a follower, and leave your comments on every article. I had hoped to stimulate debate through my forthright opinions on the blog, so let's hear your views on what I've said. It's quite humbling to think that people from around the World (and I know I have readers across Europe, USA, Africa, Russia and Australia) are reading my words - words that were really my way of letting off steam, hence the longer pieces following any defeats the boys suffer. I enjoy the writing, and just wish I had time to write every day.
All that remains now is for me to wish all of you a very Happy Christmas. I have a very excited five-year-old sitting here as I type, wanting to see where Father Christmas is on NoradSanta! I hope that the big man in the red suit delivers all your wishes this Christmas, and that he can spray a bit of his magic dust over Arsenal Football Club. Once again, Happy Christmas to you all.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Mid-season review

Father Christmas - three points for us on Monday would be a decent start

So here we are at Christmas with Arsenal in a seemingly healthy position, challenging at the top of the Premier League, semi-final of the Carling Cup, last 16 of the European Cup, and a home draw against lower league opposition in the FA Cup. Why then are so many of us looking at a glass that is half-empty? For me the reason many Gooners feel so disappointed is that, for what feels like the third or fourth year in a row, we can all see where the deficiencies are, yet still they remain unchecked. I firmly believe that the addition of a goalkeeper of quality, and some defensive tactics/coaching/organisation would have seen us picking up silverware these past few years. Having already lost five times in the League we have no right to be where we are. The thing now is to take advantage of the fact that we are somehow in the hunt by making the necessary signings in January to try and make the challenge a successful one.

I'm going to go through some good things and some negative things from this season so far as I review the first half of it. Let's start with the bad stuff:

Goalkeeping continues to be an issue that will not go away for Arsenal. Manuel Almunia has surely played his final game for the Club and anyone who actually believes he is injured should be shown the way to the nearest clinic for those who are gullible. Following his horror-show in the West Brom game I think we can safely say that the Spaniard will not be darkening our six-yard box again, barring a truly horrific run of injuries to the other 'keepers. Fabianski has had a mixed bag since coming in (which is an improvement on last season where it seemed every appearance included a howler). He cost us a goal against Newcastle (though the performance of the entire team in that match was woeful) but followed it up with two match-winning performances (make no mistake, he won us the points) away to Villa and Everton. Having seen Szczesny come in at Old Trafford and perform very well last week I was keen to see him stay in goal for the physical battle against Stoke, as he surely would have done but for the snow. According to www.arsenal.com Fabianski is fit for the Chelsea game on Monday night, so we will see how Wenger plays it. I had begun to think that he wanted to be fair to Fabianski, but was waiting for the opportunity to play the younger Pole. However, I am not quite so sure now - we will see on Monday evening.

The defence is still ponderous and porous. Johan Djourou has begun to impress as the season has gone on, though not enough for the Manager to put him in ahead of the disappointing Koscielny. Djourou has now not played for weeks so will be rusty when he does eventually get a game. It will be a surprise if the mistakes are not back in his game due to the lack of regular activity. There is no question that we miss the leadership and hard-man qualities of Thomas Vermaelen in the back-four, but to talk too much about that would be to neglect the fact that we were pretty crap at the back when he was playing last season. That said, I would really like to see a regular combination of Vermaelen, organising from the middle, and Djourou. Sadly we are not likely to see Vermaelen until at least February, though I fear he won't be there at all this season - a replacement must be signed and big Chris Samba wants out at Blackburn.
What can I say about our full-backs that hasn't already been said? I honestly think it's time for Gael Clichy to move on. The problem is that Kieran Gibbs is seemingly made of glass. On the other side Bacary Sagna has consistently failed to rival the form of his first season at Arsenal whilst Eboue is regressing at an alarming rate towards the player who was booed two years ago. As badly as three of those have played, I firmly believe that some organisation and communication on the pitch would make them so much better - Clichy wasn't always a bad player, far from it in fact. The other thing I must say in their defence is that they get no protection in this system with Walcott, Nasri (though he is working hard on it) and especially Arshavin making no effort to help their full-back.

The Manager has taken a conscious decision to allow Alex Song a more attacking role. As bad as our central defenders may be they get precious little protection from in front. For all of Jack Wilshere's great qualities, and Denilson's more natural aptitude to the defensive side of the game, Song is the best defensive midfield player we have by quite some distance. For the Manager to allow him to push on in to attack is like signing your own suicide note. Even the best defence needs midfield cover. Chelsea's strong defence under Mourinho was protected expertly by Makalele - it's no coincidence that they let in so few goals. Alex Song has ended up scoring a few goals thanks to his more free role but he is, more often than not, the weak link in Arsenal's attacking moves - I'd far rather see Jack Wilshere being advanced, after all he is the one with the football talent.
Arguably our most talented two players are Fabregas and Arshavin. Sadly the pair are having a poor season. Arshavin's problems are, I am convinced, completely down to his attitude. If he doesn't buck up his ideas then he must be dropped and given the necessary kick up the backside. For Fabregas the doubts over his future must surely hang heavy on him. When you add his recurring hamstring problems I think his last season at the Club will continue to largely pass him by.
Up front we still wait for a fit Robin Van Persie to show his form. Will he ever get it back? Is it worth waiting for him to do so? I hope he does start to show his true quality as he is World Class. When he does click then Arsenal might just do something a bit special.

So what of the positives?

I've mentioned him a couple of times already, but Jack Wilshere has played his way in to the Arsenal first-team on merit and thoroughly deserves to be first-choice. I think he has looked a little jaded in recent weeks as any young boy would after so much football at the highest level, so the two weeks without a game might just be doing him some good. He needs to get his head switched on to being a professional footballer though as there have been more headlines this week with regards to his off the field behaviour. If he's in with the wrong crowd then he needs to get out of it quickly. The boy has a spirit and an attitude that makes him shine on the pitch. Hopefully Arsene Wenger can calm him down off the pitch and he will go on to be the great player we can all see him becoming.
Elsewhere in the midfield is the shining light of the season so far - Samir Nasri. What a season the little Frenchman is having. Where would we be were it not for his form? It doesn't really bear thinking about. I have been mightily impressed with Nasri since pre-season began in July. Fingers crossed that he keeps up that form. I think he is obviously more effective in the centre and seems a ready-made replacement for Fabregas.
Theo Walcott has certainly showed a marked improvement this season, despite his poor injury record continuing to cost him precious playing time. I believe he should be in the side at the moment, ahead of the woeful Arshavin. Walcott's pace, when he plays more towards the middle, gives us another dimension in attack. He is a very capable finisher, who needs to become more selfish. A change of formation with him playing as a centre-forward, particularly alongside Chamakh, would give us a more likely goalscoring combination in my opinion.
The other individual to shine so far is Marouane Chamakh. I have been so impressed by our new centre-forward. Leaving aside the obvious fact that his presence allows us to play more direct at times, he wins almost every aerial battle. His work-rate is second-to-none, something the likes of Arshavin should take note of. Chamakh holds the ball up for the midfield better than any forward we've had since Alan Smith. If there is a criticism it's that he looks unsure when in possession in front of goal - his decision to turn back toward his team-mates when clean through against Spurs (twice) was frustrating to say the least. Chamakh should benefit from the return of Nicklas Bendtner as he needs a rest right now. Bendtner, on the other hand, needs to do some of his talking on the pitch, rather than in The Sun.

Overall we have more strength in depth than in recent seasons. The Arsenal bench is usually full of international players, with people like Vela not even getting a look-in most weeks. Henri Lansbury looked first-rate against Tottenham in the League Cup, and a Norwich City supporting friend tells me he has been their best player since being loaned out, while Aaron Ramsey is hopefully going to get fit and come back in to the team in the New Year. Regular readers will know I'm a huge fan of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas who, if he is not going to get in front of Bendtner this season, needs to be loaned to a Premier League side for proper experience.

The progress made in the Carling Cup makes us the clear favourites to win the trophy. I often hear people on telly asking if the Carling Cup would be enough for Arsenal. Obviously, it wouldn't be "enough" but it's certainly better than winning nothing (unless of course an Arsenal win would render it completely meaningless, unlike last season when it was Man Utd's only pot). It would also be a start. It would show the players that they can do it, they can win the big games when they matter. If I could ask Father Christmas for anything football-wise, it would be to give us three points against Chelsea on Monday, followed by the Carling Cup. Who knows, if we could just hang in there in the Premier League, a Carling Cup win might just inspire these players to a League Title. Now wouldn't that be nice?

I don't know when the press conference will take place ahead of the Chelsea game. If there is one then it will be tomorrow or Friday, obviously. I hope to preview the Chelsea game before the weekend. With news that Abou Diaby has again found the miracle cure it is set to be an interesting selection dilemma for Wenger.

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Saturday, 18 December 2010

Stoke postponement, Barca again, a new signing for Arsenal

I had a bit of a result today. With the weather forecast being as it was we decided that we'd take the train to the match. While stopped at Ashford Station we got a message from Arsenal that the game had been postponed, so we all managed to get off the train without having to go on to Ebbsfleet, or even St Pancras. It was doubly a good result as the train had just taken twenty-odd drunken twats dressed as Father Christmas. I don't know if it happens to fans of other teams but why is it, when you have an Arsenal shirt on, people feel the need to gob-off in some way? The annoying types in the red suits had already started so I wasn't disappointed to depart the train as I suspect it would have become tiresome by the time we'd reached North London. My day got slightly less fun when I had to walk the last mile-and-a-half home, which is all up hill, as the buses couldn't get out of Dover. As a result I have very sore legs, and a very wet hat and coat as it was blizzarding all the bloody time.
In truth I wasn't upset that the game was called off today. I don't think we'd have really enjoyed sitting there for two hours in the freezing cold unless Arsenal really turned it on and destroyed Stoke. The chances of that happening with our home record were pretty unlikely. As a result of the postponement we now have a decent break between fixtures. Unfortunately the next game is against Chelsea. The time for previewing that is a long way off, but I will say early on that it is a must-win game for Arsenal, for a plethora of reasons.

The Champions League draw has pitted us against Barcelona once again. Can you really see us beating them over two legs? The fact that we have come up against them is entirely our own fault. After three wins at the start of the group stage Wenger clearly felt it was job done. The players then sat back in Donetsk after going a goal ahead and two defeats meant we weren't going to win the group. Instead of drawing AS Roma, as Donetsk did, we've come up against we have to play the best team in Europe and the best player in the World. Again. I suppose that, by drawing Barcelona, we at least know we'll have plenty of spare midweeks to fit in the game that was called off today.

Arsenal have also announced today that Ryo Miyaichi will be joining the Club in January. Regular readers will remember the Japanese being on trial with us in the Summer. He played a couple of Reserve fixtures alongside Wellington Silva, before going to a trial at Ajax where he broke his leg. At the time it was thought that the break was an "Eduardo" type problem, but apparently is wasn't as bad as feared. Miyayichi apparently has the look of a young Cristiano Ronaldo with the ball at his feet, and his Youtube videos show a quick and skilful attacker. He's only 18 so is yet another "one for the future" but I wish him well and hope he can make an impact at Arsenal. With Wellington apparently being used by FIFA to get at the English FA with their refusal to put him forward for a special talent visa, Miyaichi might be the only arrival we have in January.

I hope to post again on Monday, but I think it's going to be a fairly quiet week Arsenal-wise as we head towards Christmas. I might try and assess the season so far at some point in the week if things do remain on the slow side.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Big-man Darren Fletcher, Youths smash Darlington, Clichy off?

Before I leave Monday night behind I would like to say one more thing about "tough-guy" Darren Fletcher. You will recall him getting all puffed up mid-way through the first-half when Jack Wilshere decided to give him some back. The funniest thing, for me, in the whole match was watching Fletcher acting like the big-fella against the much shorter Wilshere, only to go completely Cristiano Ronaldo when Squillaci arrived on the scene. I honestly hadn't seen anyone back off quite so quickly since Ronaldo ran away from the melee in 2003. What a tosser. It's just a shame that the other Arsenal players failed to notice what a cowardly little yellow-belly the Scotsman was and take advantage of it for the rest of the game.

The Arsenal U18s lifted my gloom somewhat last night when I saw their FA Youth Cup result - a six-goal mauling of Darlington. Chuks Aneke grabbed a hat-trick and Benik Afobe (allowed to play for Arsenal despite being on loan at Huddersfield Town) got two. There are high hopes for both of these players at Arsenal, but Afobe seems to be a major talent in the making. He already has three goals in the Football League since joining Huddersfield, and to be loaned out while still so young shows me that Wenger is getting him in to competitive football early on. I know a lot of people scoff at the youth-team doing well and will, quite correctly, say that only the first-team really matter, but if the academy can produce for us a top class goalscorer, or two, over the next five years then it will save the Club millions. I think Afobe is a real "watch this space" talent.

I saw a strange transfer rumour this morning (and transfer gossip is utter crap 99.9% of the time) but this one intrigued me. According to the story Gael Clichy is in line for a swap deal with Karim Benzema. Arsenal have long been linked with the Frenchman and a move involving an Arsenal player who is on a downward spiral has some merit to it. On paper we don't need a striker, but Benzema is clearly a better player than either Vela or Bendtner, so would be an immediate improvement. The loss of Clichy would leave us short on the left side of defence, particularly as our only other left-back (with Traore at Juventus for the season) is the brittle Kieran Gibbs. If Clichy was released, with an experienced man coming in (Leighton Baines is a fine Premier League player at Everton) and Benzema replacing one, or both, of those mentioned, it might just make good business for Arsenal. I strongly doubt it will happen (it's not difficult to doubt a transfer rumour, I grant you) but I wouldn't be against such moves taking place.

The next post will most likely be at some time on Friday, assuming there is nothing of note tomorrow morning/afternoon. I have the office Christmas party tomorrow night so intend to enjoy the mineral water whilst watching other people make complete arses of themselves.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

And Webb makes 12

The most disappointing thing about last night for me is that Manchester United were equally as poor as Arsenal. If the attacking players had performed last night then we would have destroyed the Mancs. Sadly, the requisite effort was missing from a team that seemed to lack belief in itself (with the notable exceptions of Wojciech Szczesny and Jack Wilshere). It seems that every time we play either United or Chelsea we hear Wenger say that this is the players opportunity to prove they have what it takes. Sadly they go on to prove that they probably haven't got that vital missing element.

There can be no doubt that this years Title is there for the taking - even now a consistent run by any of the sides at the top would take them far out in front. We are a little unfortunate that we came up against a United team that was able to choose from its first-choice centre-backs (though Rio Ferdinand is now seemingly getting the benefits of being England Captain that have been afforded to John Terry and Steven Gerrard and Alan Shearer, but never got as far as Tony Adams), but that doesn't excuse the lack of penetration from our talented attackers. Tomas Rosicky's continued involvement in this squad leaves me at a loss as to why he is there. Arshavin has regressed in the last week having shown some signs that he was on the up again - his lack of application last night was scary really. Samir Nasri was probably our most dangerous player again, but that's not saying much to be honest. In a first-half where we were really poor we had one or two chances to get in behind, but sadly the ball was usually at the feet of Alex Song and therefore ended up in the keeping of the Manchester United defence or midfield.

As bad as we were in the first-half we should have had a penalty for Rafael's blatant foul on Chamakh in the six-yard box - never in a million years were we going to get a decision in front of the Stretford End from Howard Webb. How does this man continue to referee? Howard Webb is a cheat. Howard Webb is dishonest. Howard Webb is an absolute bloody disgrace. But what should we really expect from a man whose day job is a police officer? How can it be that both commentators can draw attention to the fact that Darren Fletcher barged in to the referee (not to mention the vile invective he was directing toward the inept officials), yet Sky failed to show a replay? How can it be that Fletcher can barge the referee yet escape censure from him? Like I say, Howard Webb is a cheat. I'd lover to produce a long DVD of incidents (starting with the Carling Cup Final of 2007) to show what a corrupt, anti-Arsenal, joker this guy is. Every marginal decision went their way. We had four players booked, they had none - I defy anyone to watch Fletcher play and believe he shouldn't have been sent-off for his numerous fouls and that "assault" on the referee. Michael Carrick managed to injure Jack Wilshere, yet win the free-kick for the challenge. Then, of course, there was the penalty decision (albeit made for the referee on this occasion by a mickey-mouse linesman). Don't get me started. As badly as Arsenal played, it's difficult to get a result when you play against both the opposition and the referee.

I said on here last night that Gael Clichy had one more chance at redemption last night, if he could keep Nani quiet. Sadly, after Koscielny once again lost a header he should have won easily (his only mistake of the evening - but one is enough in any game, just ask Cygan or Senderos or Stepanovs), Clichy retreated more quickly than the combined armies of Italy and France to allow Nani a shot at goal. The deflection off the fast-moving (moving backwards that is) Clichy fell fortunately for Park, who I will never believe was going for goal with that header, and we were 1-0 behind. If Gibbs can ever find a way of staying fit then Clichy's Arsenal career should surely be over. A replacement in January would not go amiss for me. It's such a shame that Ashley Cole became such an arsehole, because with him in the back-four we would be so much better.

I just wish the players had shown the same attitude on the pitch as Jack Wilshere. Don't get me wrong, the boy wonder didn't play his best game last night but he definitely had the right mind-set, particularly with regards to Patrice Evra. The minute he got the chance to do so, Jack put the shithouse on his arse and followed it up with plenty of verbal. This contrasted sadly with Sagna's last-minute challenge on Evra (which really served as a poignant metaphor for the way we lost the physical battle again on the night) when our full-back was the one on his back-side - weak, weak, weak. Alex Song also missed a great chance to make his mark on Evra when he got booked for tripping him - don't trip the cunt, kick him as hard as you can on the knee and make him know that you're real men who won't put up with his particular brand of trash-talking bullshit - after all, you're going to get booked anyway, so make it worthwhile.

Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas might as well have not bothered, such was the paucity of their effort and performance when they were introduced. Contrast this with Theo Walcott, whose sheer effort got Arsenal in to decent positions when he finally replaced the outrageously woeful Arshavin. One of Theo's crosses to the back post should have been buried by Van Persie, but he saw Ferdinand there and shit himself. Quite why it took so long for Walcott to be introduced I really don't understand. Sadly Theo blazed over the bar when presented with what was probably our best chance of the match in injury-time.

Now, in a rare departure, I must speak up for Arsene Wenger. Leaving aside the selection of Rosicky, lack of tactics, and failure to introduce Walcott earlier, I must defend Le Boss from the criticism he is receiving for his post-match comments on the pitch. It is being perceived in the media, and by those that choose to read such crap, that he is making excuses for the defeat by blaming the pitch. These people should listen to what he actually said, and that was that the game was poor because the pitch was poor. Wenger didn't seek to claim that Arsenal were scuppered by the pitch, but that both teams failed to entertain on a technical level because the pitch was in bad condition. You can't argue with that view because the pitch was very poor, and both teams failed to play good football because of it. I'll criticise Wenger at any time, but I won't allow him to be pilloried for things he hasn't said.

More tomorrow.

Monday, 13 December 2010

I've not been around

My sincerest apologies for the fact that I've not written anything for the best part of a week. You'll recall that I said I had a number of commitments ahead that would limit my posting towards the back end of last week, and so it came to pass. Among the commitments was the important task of being best-man for a friend on Saturday. This meant that I went out with the groom and some of his future in-laws on Friday evening. On my return home I started to write a blog at about half-past-midnight. As I was mid-rant over the risible Patrice Evra my computer crashed and I was forced to stop writing. Suffice to say that Evra is a nasty little cretin who I hope gets done well and truly by the skillful Nasri tonight - a small, yet painful, kick or two wouldn't go amiss either.

I won't do a proper preview of the game tonight as it's now less than two hours until kick-off. The Sun is saying that Sczeszny might play with Fabianski suffering an injury. I'll be surprised, but I won't be disappointed - young Wojciech does not lack confidence and would step up to the plate if he has to. I want to see Djourou playing, and his absence last Wednesday might have been a precaution to make sure he is available for tonight. Fingers crossed on that. Gael Clichy has an opportunity for redemption tonight - if he can recover his form and keep Nani quiet then he might yet keep the seemingly glass-built Kieran Gibbs at bay.
I wonder if Arsene might have a surprise for Man Utd tonight. I remember the boys going to Fenerbahce a couple of years ago and a Lazarus-like Abou Diaby appeared from nowhere to destroy the Turks. We know that Diaby is back in training, and he might just be the shock to end all shocks at Old Trafford. If he doesn't play then I expect Van Persie to support Chamakh up front.

I can't sign off without laughing at Sam Allardyce. On Saturday he was in line to be the next England manager. This evening he's been sacked by Blackburn and is back on the dole. It couldn't happen to a nicer bloke. Now, if we could just see the back of McCarthy and Pulis then the Premier League will be a better place to watch football.

Hopefully normal service will now be resumed on the blog, and I'll be writing a review piece tomorrow. It would be rather nice to be reporting on a magnificent away win for Arsenal at Old Trafford. A win tonight would show the players know exactly how to win the big games, and we would be three points clear at the top going in to the crucial Christmas fixtures. In the words of Maria, COME.ON.YOU.GUNNERS.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Just stop talking Arsene, Partizan Belgrade (h) preview

Arsene - this man is bad for my health

I've got to stop reading quotes from Arsene Wenger. The more I read the worse my blood pressure gets. The statements become more and more annoying, and less and less logical. I loaded up the official website earlier today and was astonished to read these articles - http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/wenger-defence-strong-enough-to-win-title and http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/wenger-why-song-has-a-licence-to-roam. So, according to Arsene Wenger, a defence that allows the opposition to score three second-half goals is good enough to win the Title because the goals were gifted, not created by the opponent themselves. I'm really struggling with the logic of this - Tottenham weren't good enough to play through our defence, but we gave them three goals - and that means that our defence is strong. I'm baffled to say the least. However, the article about Alex Song is what I find most annoying. At least it has cleared up the mystery of Song abandoning his defensive duties at such inopportune times - he is only acting on instructions from the boss. The bit I find frightening is the idea that the Manager wants to "fool the opponent in to trouble." So there we go. Alex Song's erratic attacking play is simply a diversion and we're performing some sort of smoke and mirrors move on the opposition. Is it any wonder we get stressed out by Wenger? I really would rather he didn't speak anymore, if this is the drivel we are going to be subjected to. It's beginning to get embarrassing and I'm amazed the press haven't picked up on this crap - if we were in Liverpool's position you could be sure Wenger would be a figure of ridicule for this kind of clap-trap. Fool the opposition? Bloody hell - even in the article itself the Arsenal.com editor, Richard Clarke talks of Arsenal's defensive issues! My heart-rate is going up again just thinking about how angry this makes me.
Tomorrow night sees a real crunch fixture for Arsenal. It's a game they should win comfortably, but I'm not going to go holding my breath. We needn't be in this position. We could have been going along to the game tomorrow and watching a "Carling Cup " Arsenal team with the group won and a comfortable passage assured. As it is, the boys must produce something under pressure. As a result there can be no real tinkering with the side ahead of a massive Premier League game - for once Sky have done us a favour by switching the trip to Manchester United to Monday night (though, as usual, it's the poor sods that pay to watch the game live who suffer with having to go north on a weekday).
The big surprise ahead of the match is that Laurent Koscielny has recovered from his "concussion" sustained on Saturday. Concussion my arse. If he really was concussed he wouldn't be allowed to play by the doctor. Arsene has announced that Johan Djourou is not available as Arsenal are being "cautious" with a thigh injury. Hopefully this means they are making sure he is fit to play at Old Trafford next week. Kieran Gibbs might possibly get a game at left back, but I don't see too many changes from Saturday. The only difference I fully expect to see is Robin Van Persie coming in for Tomas Rosicky. There is no talk of Samir Nasri (who is, worryingly, yet to extend his contract) being injured, despite his obvious discomfort after the winning goal on Saturday. Obviously we need Nasri is he's fit, but I'd rather he was fit for Monday, so I wouldn't mind if Theo Walcott got a start on the wing.
I might not get a chance to review the game until Friday due to a build-up of personal commitments, not the least of which is work on Thursday night. I think, by then, we should be looking forward with some anticipation to a massive game in Manchester.
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Sunday, 5 December 2010

Arsenal 2 - 1 Fulham - please coach the defence


Samir Nasri sent Arsenal to the top of the Premier League with a superb brace in the win over Fulham yesterday. I slagged Nasri mercilessly last season but it appears his broken leg in pre-season may have held him back badly. Having had a good rest over the Summer, and a full pre-season, Nasri is currently the key player in this Arsenal team. Sadly, he limped through the final ten minutes yesterday and must be a doubt for Wednesday's game against Partizan Belgrade.
With Chamakh having his most ineffective game of the season, and Rosicky completely non-existent as Cesc Fabregas' replacement it fell to Arshavin and Nasri to provide Arsenal's sparkle yesterday. The two little men were excellent throughout and were responsible for all our best moments. Arshavin has started to put in the effort recently, that had been missing for the whole season until then, and Arsenal are reaping the benefits in forward areas. When the Russian is up for the game he is World Class, and he was certainly "at it" yesterday. Nasri's two goals were exquisite finishes of individual skill, reminiscent of Kanu at his best with his tight control in the penalty area.
The game should have been done and dusted inside 25 minutes...again. As it was, we got caught out at the back and were hanging on near the end...again. Our profligacy in front of goal remains an acute frustration. If we could get the goals from a simple majority of the opportunities created then we could get away with being crap in defence. Not enough of our players take responsibility in front of goal, and would rather try one more pass than break the back of the net.
Koscielny and Squillaci are simply not good enough as a pairing in the Premier League. The best thing that happened to Arsenal's defence yesterday was Koscielny's injury as it brought Djourou in to the action. The big Swiss proceeded to win every header that came his way because he was willing to attack the ball, whereas the two Frenchmen seem content to let the ball bounce all the time. Squillaci was particularly poor yesterday in every part of his game. I thought the two full-backs were much improved yesterday and both Sagna and Clichy were good going forward too. The rare sighting of good crosses (at least one each) from the pair of them was a joy to behold!
To go top of the league was a huge bonus yesterday. Hopefully it will fill the team with the necessary confidence to consolidate our position. However, our defensive problems are still there for all to see. We are still completely disorganised at the back - the sight of Gael Clichy marking Brede Hangeland at free-kicks, with none of the taller players even noticing it (and Clichy not exactly making his voice heard it seemed) was frightening to say the least. All of this could be cured if Wenger would swallow some pride and bring in someone with a specific job of coaching the defenders. We all know of Keown's involvement with the defence in 2006. What he proved (with a defence of Flamini, Senderos, Toure and Eboue) is that you don't need the best defenders in order to defend brilliantly (as did Fulham under Hodgson). It wouldn't matter unduly that Koscielny (who is not as good as Senderos, or even Cygan) is poor at his job - if organised properly, with a few basics drummed in, he could do the required job. If Arsenal could sort out the defence, and protect their goalkeeper better, we could win the Title. Make no mistake, that is our problem. We have a defensive midfield player in Alex Song who needs to be told exactly what his job is, and a back four who communicate and move in unison. With this we could be Champions. Please Arsene, bring someone in - Keown, Tony Adams, anyone with some defensive savvy - it might just be your most important signing ever.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Fulham (h) preview, no comment on FIFA

Now that we're in to December the games really do come thick and fast. At the end of the month we have the most ridiculous calendar in football including a Monday night game against Chelsea, followed by a trip to Wigan within 48 hours. There is really no need whatsoever for this congestion. The idea that football in this country needs the Christmas fixtures because the attendances are higher, thus bringing in extra revenue, does not apply to the Premier League. Most of the Premier League grounds are full whatever the time of year (apart from Bolton and Wigan perhaps) so there is no need for games in the top flight. Indeed, if the Premier League had a two week hiatus then maybe more people would go to lower division or non-league games. I would certainly consider going to watch my local side for an early kick-off on Boxing Day if Arsenal weren't playing. I've gone off on a bit of a tangent there, but our first December fixture is tomorrow against Fulham, who are really struggling at the moment.
The Arsenal team news is that Nasri and Squillaci have shaken off knocks and are fit to play tomorrow. I think that if Robin Van Persie has come out of midweek unscathed he will play in the pivotal role at the front of the midfield. Arsene Wenger made a point today of saying that RVP and Marouane Chamakh can play together in the team, with Van Persie behind the front man. He stopped short of saying what would happen when Cesc Fabregas returns, but Wenger has certainly prepared the ground for the pair to play tomorrow. I expect Sagna and Clichy to return, and I would imagine Koscielny will continue to somehow keep Johan Djourou out of the team.
Fulham are having a poor season. It's no coincidence, I suspect, that Mark Hughes is their Manager. The defensive organisation brought in by Roy Hodgson has started to disappear, with the back-four being exposed more than it has been in the past couple of years. However, Fulham are not short of quality players. Mark Schwarzer usually plays well against Arsenal (his mistake on the final day of last season against us being a rare error) and the giant Hangeland is formidable in the air - probably Chamakh's biggest test so far. Danny Murphy is a very good footballer in the midfield and Clint Dempsey and the underused Zoltan Gera are very dangerous going forward. With our record at home this season Arsenal will have to get over this complacency against the smaller teams and put in a proper performance tomorrow. I'll be interested to see whether Hughes has persuaded his new side to adopt the usual tactics he uses against Arsenal - i.e. kick anything that moves.
Manchester United's game against Blackpool has been postponed tomorrow so Arsenal and Chelsea both have a chance to go top of the table. Chelsea are at home to Everton who need to respond to their hammering at home by West Brom last week. Chelsea's patchy form has seen them rush John Terry back in to their squad yet again. If Everton can get a result at Stamford Bridge, which is not beyond the realms of possibility, Arsenal could go back to the top with a good win. There is no doubt that Arsenal should win comfortably, but that was also the case against West Brom, Newcastle and West Ham. This is the team I think we might see tomorrow:
Fabianski - Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy - Song, Wilshere, Van Persie - Arshavin, Chamakh, Nasri.

I don't want to comment on the World Cup vote too much. As you know I am not a fan of international football during the season, but World Cup's and Euros get us through the Summer that much quicker. The thought of the World Cup being in England was very exciting to me. There is not a doubt that the English bid was by far the strongest in every way. In my view England shouldn't need to "bid" but should be invited to host the World's biggest jamboree. The press are taking a lot of the blame because of the corruption stories, but this merely highlights FIFA's warped sense of priorities. As I've said before, FIFA should have spent less time attacking the English media and actually dealing with the scandalous behaviour that infects that organisation. Sadly this will never happen. Therefore, it was no surprise that Russia and Qatar won the rights to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022. I'm willing to wager that one of the major endorsements for World Cup 2018 will be taken up by Sibneft (google it if you don't know who owns that firm). I'll say no more, otherwise I won't be able to enter any sushi bars in London (not that I would as the very thought of sushi makes me want to puke).

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The boys' best chance to get going - do you hear us Arsene?

It looks good dressed in red and white

I ended up missing the match last night as I was unwell. Thankfully it has turned out not to be the sickness bug I've been expecting, but enough to keep me at home last night. Thanks to the wonders of the internet I was still able to see the match live, though it's nothing like being there - even less so than watching it on a proper TV screen.
When I wrote the preview piece on Monday I said I thought Arshavin might play at the front of the midfield, where he finished the game on Saturday. In guessing at a possible line-up I completely forgot about Robin Van Persie. It's a bit embarrassing to be honest, that I could forget our vice-captain, but it's symptomatic of the fact that we've seen so little of him since this time last year. As it was, Van Persie was the leader of the team last night (until Nasri replaced him as player and Captain for the final stretch) and he looked in decent form. With Chamakh continuing to impress I don't see how RVP can play at centre-forward in this team. However, perhaps it ought to be remembered that we were flying last season until he got injured, and he played every game then in Chamakh's position.
One thing Robin certainly provides is a better delivery from free-kicks, and only Nicklas Bendtner's ineptitude stopped Arsenal from leading inside two minutes. He then set up Vela who tried to be too clever with his finish. The Mexican looked better last night, and was far more involved than in recent appearances, but a back-up striker must score goals when the chances arrive if he is to make an impression. I thought Theo Walcott looked sharp again, and started to take his man on more as the game went on, despite being constantly fouled throughout - I don't know how Hendry Thomas made it deep in to the second half before getting booked. Theo was also guilty of missing chances though, and he won't be replacing Arshavin or Nasri on Saturday. In fairness to Nicklas Bendtner he won his share of aerial ball last night, but his tendency to drift away from the middle is so frustrating. What happened when he got in the six-yard area? 2-0 to Arsenal, and game over.
So the boys are in the semi-final for the 14th time. It's incredible to think we've only won it twice with a record like that. We've also lost in four finals - 1968 (Leeds), 1969 (Swindon), 1988 (Luton), 2007 (Chelsea). With Manchester United well and truly dispatched by West Ham last night Arsenal are the runaway favourites now. There can be no doubt that the Carling Cup represents the best chance of silverware for this side. There is nobody left in this competition who should be remotely feared by Arsenal. I was really annoyed then to hear what Arsene Wenger had to say. He is still trotting out the mantra that the Club has two priority competitions but "if we can win this competition we will take it." What does this tell the players? What should happen now is that a full-strength team plays in the semi-final and, hopefully, final to ensure Arsenal get a trophy in the cabinet this season. Winning the League Cup on 27th February might just be the spark these players need to push them on to greater things. We can't underestimate what it could mean to know they have the mindset to win trophies. This competition was the catalyst for the modern Arsenal in 1987, and it reinvigorated Ferguson's Man Utd a few years ago after a barren spell. Please Arsene, try to realise the importance of this competition - your future could depend on it, and these players will never get a better opportunity to get their hands on some medals.