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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Partizan Belgrade review - Fabianski puts in a performance, Song needs a reality check

Fabianski - credit due to the Pole in goal

I am feeling a little sore as I write this. I played about an hour today in the annual old boys game for my employer - I am now an old boy apparently. I used to be young and fat, I am now old and fatter. For the record we lost 3-1 to the young pups, and I came close to scoring twice (neither of them in my own goal!) The soreness is from a knee that has stiffened considerably since I tried to kick the opposition goalkeeper for dribbling round me in his own six-yard box. I suppose that precludes me from the sympathy I clearly deserve.
On to the more important stuff.
Arsenal got away with it last night. Following a bad start, where Squillaci was given the serious runaround, Arshavin (who had a fine game, apart from his finishing) and Wilshere (outstanding again) combined with a bit of class to create the opener. It came as no shock to me to watch Arsenal then fail miserably in front of goal. The profligacy that has cost us so often is still there with Arshavin and Rosicky missing the opportunities to have put the result beyond doubt. It came as no surprise when we conceded a stupid penalty, which was dispatched confidently. Arsenal really have got to be more clinical - they won't get away with being so wasteful against a quality team. In the second-half we dominated again and eventually got our reward, despite Arshavin's missed penalty. Chamakh was ever willing up front and his physical presence earned him another goal, before Squillaci made it safe - or so I thought. From the kick-off the whole team went to sleep, with Gibbs doing a very passable Gael Clichy impression, giving away another penalty. Fabianski saved it, and still had time to make another fine save before full-time.
Arsene Wenger stepped back in to the world of mystifying substitutions last night. Chamakh and Wilshere were both withdrawn at 2-1, and then Clichy was introduced on the left-wing. The thinking was clearly to protect Chamakh and Wilshere ahead of the Chelsea game, but last night's match wasn't secure at that point. The final sub though was ridiculous - Lansbury should have come on, with Rosicky switching sides. As it was it didn't matter, but we could do without a return to the days of "subs on seniority."
So, what about Fabianski? His performance last night was, as Arsene Wenger said, faultless. Playing under such pressure, with everyone just waiting for your inevitable error, must have been incredibly difficult. When he saved the penalty, Fabianski visibly grew in confidence and was quickly off his line to deal with two crosses in the next few seconds - I am sure that, before the penalty save, he would have been rooted to the line in fear. I think he has secured his place for Sunday and, while I still think he is nowhere near good enough, credit is very much due to the Pole. Congratulations Luksaz - we'd still love to see you make it at Arsenal. As Jack Wilshere said after the game - "fair play to him."
Apart from Arsenal's wastefulness in front of goal, and Fabianski's heroics, one other thing really caught my eye last night - the performance of Alex Song. For some reason Song has developed the idea that he is some kind of midfield playmaker. In the last couple of minutes last night he had taken it upon himself to play at centre-forward, and that is why Fabianski had to make a magnificent save late on. Every time Song got the ball last night (and on Saturday) he wanted to take on the opposition midfield. Inevitably the ball was lost and the move broke down - every time. Alex Song does not have the football ability to play in that way - quite apart from the fact that he is leaving our brittle defence with even less protection. Please, Alex, leave it to the players with ability to create the chances - in the meantime get back behind the halfway line and do what Gilberto used to do. After all, that is your job in this team!
Ultimately, of course, we got our three points and that is the most important thing. Six out of six in our group and a home win in the next game would virtually guarantee our progression in the competition.
Next up for the boys is Chelsea at the West London meccano set on Sunday. The team news should be available at some point on Friday, and the next blog will be at some point that evening - I have a very important "gentlemen's day" tomorrow and then I will be parked in front of the telly from 7.30 on Friday morning watching every shot of the Ryder Cup. If we can get the three points at the Russian playthings, and Europe can stuff the Americans, it might just be the weekend from Heaven.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Steven Howard, the irony of McCarthy and Pulis, Partizan Belgrade preview

Marouane Chamakh - not as good as Bendtner apparently

I follow a page on Twitter called "c*** of the day." If I was choosing today's recipient of the accolade it would have to Steven Howard, sports editor of The Sun. What a prick this guy is. Regular readers of his column will know Mr Howard to be that rarity in sport - an "expert" on anything and everything, from football to rugby league, and from boxing to golf. I've no doubt you're getting the idea that I dislike him, and you would be right. Today he has decided to pick on Arsenal following the defeat on Saturday and I am now convinced, having read it, that we must be candidates for relegation come May. Howard has dissected every part of Arsenal's team and concluded they are utter crap. Bear in mind that he was almost certainly NOT at the game on Saturday, and NOT at any game Arsenal have played all season. From this fine vantage point he has managed to conclude that Arsenal can not win the Title with Manuel Almunia in goal - fair enough. And that Fabianski is not good enough either - you don't say. The full-backs are rubbish - they were on Saturday. Koscielny and Squillaci are crap because they are new to the Premier League - interesting logic from someone who knows even less about the pair than the average Arsenal fan does. Worst of all though, is his assessment of Marouane Chamakh. The Morrocan has been rightly lauded by the Arsenal fans for his contributions so far this season - strong and powerful, dominant in the air. But not according to Steven Howard. This cretin describes Chamakh today as "too lightweight" and poses the question "is he really any more effective than Nicklas Bendtner?" Now I'm a big fan of Bendtner, and consider him to be under-rated, but to ask such a question shows just how much Steven Howard knows about football. The man is a prick, a tosser, a muppet and a mug, and I would love to meet him one day - he is moving in to Sheringham and Michael Parkinson (I hate that sycophantic northern arsehole) territory in terms of how much I'd love to say my piece to his face. That's just MY opinion, you understand, but that's why I write this drivel (though it's far better quality drivel than you will read in The Sun every day).
I'm sure I'm not the only person with a wry smile at the complaining of Mick McCarthy and Tony Pulis after their games yesterday. McCarthy, who has sent his side out to systematically kick teams off the park this season, is moaning that Stephen Warnock wasn't sent-off yesterday before setting up Villa's winner (a justifiable gripe I have to say). Though McCarthy has quickly forgotten Karl Henry's numerous assaults on Joey Barton three weeks ago. He also complained about Steve Sidwell breaking the leg of a midfielder whose name I can't pronounce. It was a pretty awful challenge and I winced when I was watching it live. Again, though, you live by the sword, you die by the sword - Karl Henry (that name seems to crop up a lot) broke Bobby Zamora's leg a fortnight ago, and McCarthy wasn't complaining then, was he?
The subject of leg-breaking brings me conveniently to Stoke City. Pulis has moaned about diving in the game following an incident with Joey Barton yesterday. Rightly so - diving is deplorable. But Pulis wasn't really moaning about Barton, so much as using it as an excuse to get at Arsenal - from nowhere he accused Nasri of diving at Tottenham in midweek. Mr Pulis really should get a life. He is not intelligent in the way he delivers his digs - unlike Arsene Wenger - and he lacks subtlety and class. Another muppet to add to the list.
I haven't forgotten that Arsenal are playing in Europe tomorrow, and there is some big team news. Manuel Almunia has an elbow injury, apparently, and Arsene Wenger was quick to say that he would have played if fit. I find this hard to accept as a statement of truth. I believe Almunia has been taken out of the firing line, and will not be back in the side if the other keepers come in and play well. Fabianski replaces him tomorrow night (God help us) with Sczeszny getting a place on the bench. I suspect that, if Fabianski has yet another nightmare tomorrow, young Wojciech might just get his wish on Sunday at Chelsea - it would be a huge risk in such a big game, but it would certainly be an opportunity for the younger Pole to put his money where his mouth is. I have to say I feel sorry for Vito Mannone in all of this as he appears to have been frozen out - he might play for the Reserves at Barnet tonight, against Blackpool. In the other team news, Abou Diaby is not in the 18 man squad, presumably dropped after his awful showing on Saturday, whilst Kieran Gibbs is back. Henri Lansbury has replaced big Jay Emmanuel-Thomas in the squad. I can see changes being made to the back-four - God knows there should be, and Jack Wilshere will come back in alongside Alex Song. Here is the team I would go for:
Fabianski - Sagna, Djourou, Squillaci, Gibbs - Song, Wilshere, Nasri - Arshavin, Chamakh, Rosicky.
Unfortunately I am working tomorrow evening, so the Sky+will be employed for the game. I hope to watch the match, without knowing the result, when I get home. I'm then at work again early on Wednesday morning, before making my annual appearance as a player in the afternoon - a sore day lies ahead on Thursday. Next blog will be Wednesday evening, with the game in Belgrade featuring strongly, as you would expect.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

After the Lord Mayor's show for Arsenal

All aboard the Almunia-bashing bandwagon

What a difference a couple of days can make. On Wednesday us Gooners were riding the crest of a wave after the massacre of White Hart Lane. This evening we are suffering the ignominy of a humiliating home defeat to one of this years promoted sides. What the hell was that I watched today?
Before I start bemoaning Arsenal's performance today I have to get one thing straight - West Brom were well worth their win today, and 3-2 was not a fair reflection of their command of the game. There is no controversy to be hidden behind, no excuses, simply that the best team today won the game. I listened to 6-0-6 on the way home and Robbie Savage was saying that perhaps it wasn't that Arsenal were bad, but West Brom were good. They were. West Brom were very good. But the fact that they beat Arsenal was not down to them being at their best, so much as Arsenal being appalling. Let's face facts, if Arsenal had turned up to play today, West Brom could have been brilliant, but Arsenal would have beaten them.
Arsene Wenger was refreshingly honest in the interview I heard on 5-Live. He described Arsenal as "poor" in all areas of the pitch. The fingers will be, and have been already, pointed at Manuel Almunia for his role in the second and third goals. There is no doubt that Almunia's contribution to the second goal was among his very worst errors (and there are a few contenders for that accolade,) while his role in the third (where he came and went back before being stranded) was a consequence of the penalty he conceded (and brilliantly saved) before half-time. The Arsenal fans have been waiting for Almunia to make a cock-up. Some of them, especially the tosser sat behind my right shoulder today, almost seemed to take pleasure in it. Wenger was right, however, to point out that apart from Almunia, there were players equally as culpable in the defence for these goals. The second goal came about because Koscielny stood 5 yards off the attacker and allowed him a shot at goal. Yes, a top class keeper would have saved it, but if you give a sucker an even break there's a chance you'll get punished. The third goal saw Alex Song AWOL, not for the first time today, and Squillaci backed off to the point that it was too late to challenge the shot which deflected away and drew Manuel off his line.
As I said, Almunia will be the focus of the blame. But he is an easy target. Yes, he was at fault today. So, too, were a bunch of other players. When you start to read the anti-Almunia stuff tomorrow please don't fall in to the trap of thinking it is all his fault. Should he play in Europe this midweek? Of course not. But the alternative still appears to be Fabianski, and that prospect is a whole lot worse. If Sczeszny had kept his mouth shut this week then, who knows, his chance might just have been here now. As it is, I would have no qualms with chucking in Mannone in midweek - anyone but Fabianski, and that includes Almunia.
The only starting player today to come out of this match blameless is Nasri. It was no coincidence that he got Arsenal's goals as he was the only one out there (until Jack Wilshere came on) that looked like making a contribution. Eboue, Song and Diaby looked like they were playing in a different game - each of them showing the very worst of their form. The back four were abysmal, with Clichy constantly out of position and Sagna outplayed by Jerome Thomas. Chamakh had his first really bad game, and Arshavin was actually a little better than recently, but still not good enough.
It seemed to me, right from the first minute, that the players had the wrong attitude today. They looked like a team who felt turning up would be enough against a side like West Brom. When your captain is the goalkeeper there is very little chance of an on-field voice getting hold of them and shaking them out of it. That this was still the case after half-time leaves me wondering what was said in the dressing room. Whatever the case, we have let in three goals in a game yet again. Something remains wrong in the way we defend, and it will do so until such time as someone is brought in to organise them properly.
Without wanting to fall in to footballing cliche, it is a fact that Title winning teams do not need to be dropping points at home to the likes of West Bromwich Albion. With Chelsea losing earlier in the day Arsenal had the perfect opportunity to make up for last weeks disappointment at Sunderland by getting within a point of Chelsea heading in to the game at Stamford Bridge next week. Instead we are in a real "must not lose" position, otherwise Chelsea are starting to head off in to the distance. Before that we have a tough trip to Serbia to negotiate. Wenger is now faced with the prospect of having to use the same players in both games, as Diaby's performance today means Wilshere must play. We can only hope that Fabregas and Vermaelen are fit to face Chelsea.
Arsenal have a really hard week ahead, and a huge improvement on today will be needed in order for it to be a successful one. The build up to the European game begins on Monday, and that will be the next time I post something.

Friday, 24 September 2010

West Brom preview, we're rich

Another weekend is upon us. And that means Arsenal v West Brom. Arsene Wenger gave his press conference yesterday due to the announcement of Arsenal's financial results today (more of which below) and the team news was interesting. Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Eboue both seem to have picked up knocks in the midweek humiliation of Tottenham. Normally this would be of little consequence, but when added to the other injuries, we are starting to get a little threadbare in the attacking midfield areas. There was better news on the Diaby front, and he may be in line for a return tomorrow. I would have hoped he could be kept back until the Champions League game next week, but the injury situation could see him pressed in to action a little earlier. Thomas Vermaelen remains injured - that two weeks is starting to get stretched again.
It's not inconceivable that the boss will field a weaker team tomorrow than played on Tuesday. There are some players who could do with a bit of a break, such as Wilshere and Koscielny, and I would not be overly surprised were they to get it tomorrow. On paper Arsenal should be able to get away with it against a side like West Brom, but Di Matteo has made some decent acquisitions. Going forward West Brom have Odemwingie, Brunt and Fortune, a front-line that combines pace and power. Odemwingie has made a really good start to his Premier League career and the defence will have to be on their mettle once again. You would always hope, however, that we will be just too good at the other end. Fingers crossed.
Predicting the team for tomorrow is, perhaps, more difficult than would normally be expected. I wouldn't be disappointed if the line-up tomorrow looked a little like this:
Almunia - Sagna, Djourou, Squillaci, Clichy - Song, Denilson, Nasri - Arshavin, Chamakh, Vela. Subs: Mannone, Koscielny, Diaby, Wilshere, Lansbury, Emmanuel-Thomas, Eboue.

The Club have announced record turnover, and record profits in this years financial results. The bank debts have been reduced by over £160million thanks to the Highbury Square flats bearing fruit. I am not a financial analyst so there is not a lot of point in my attempting to make sense of it. All the experts are saying that the accounts are very healthy, with an operating profit in excess of last year. In truth I don't understand how it all works - particularly how you can show a profit at the same time as being £130million in hock to the banks. As I have no understanding I will not comment further - if you want to know the ins and outs go to www.arsenal.com for the full results. There is one comment, however, from Ivan Gazidis which was "we build...not buy." You don't say, Ivan!

That's it for today. More to follow at some point tomorrow evening after I get back from the game. Let's hope we're celebrating three points.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

More reflections on last night, Sczeszny needs to pipe down

The only better sight this season would be Cesc lifting a trophy

I couldn't resist the picture above. Just imagine the pain that poor little sod has been in today. Quite apart from seeing his muggy Spurs team getting a footballing lesson from the only team that irks them, but all his mates at school (assuming he has any - debatable being a Tottenham supporter) will have been ripping the arse out of him all day long for crying on television. I laugh every time I look at the picture. Only the pure hatred they feel towards Arsenal could elicit this kind of reaction to their battering last night.
I hope you've enjoyed your day at work as much as I have. I never rub it in verbally, as I believe that is the preserve of those who do not ever go and watch their team play. My preference is to smile at people who follow the opposition, and to keep smiling at them. Today this has been easy to do. The smiling also provokes a reaction. Two of them got fed up with me grinning at them today and came over to ask when I was going to say something. I replied that there was nothing to say after such a walkover and, anyway, it's far better just to laugh at those less fortunate. When the steam had dispersed, I continued to grin inanely at every Tottenham clown in the office (and there was no shortage today!)
If ever anyone begins to doubt why they follow their team, I hope they get the chance to experience the kind of feelgood factor flowing through the body of every Arsenal fan today (unless they happen to follow one of our rivals of course.) Today has been one of the best days of my year, and it's all thanks to Arsenal.

I particularly enjoyed the Arsenal fans rendition of "shall we make a DVD?" during extra-time last night. Obviously Tottenham's supplier was hoping for another bulk order ahead of the match. Haringey Borough Council also had to postpone plans for the open-top bus ride and civic reception planned for the Spurs team this afternoon.

Before the game last night I read a truncated transcript of an interview given by Wojciech Sczeszny to a Polish newspaper. It's wise to be fairly sceptical about such interviews due to problems with translation - Arsenal players have been stung by such issues in the past. However, if you don't give stupid interviews, there is no danger of stuff being lost in translation. The crux of the interview is that Sczeszny has thrown his toys out of the pram due to being overlooked so far this season. He believes Wenger has lied to him. Sczeszny revealed that he had been left out of the squad for last night, before the team was announced - this is unacceptable. Reading between the lines I believe he has been disciplined by the Manager, following some kind of argument, and his punishment was to be left off the bench last night (hence the shock inclusion of Almunia.) Sczeszny has then compounded the problem by giving this interview.
The lad is clearly frustrated, as anybody would be with Fabianski ahead of them in the pecking-order. However, getting all "Billy Big Bollocks" about it is not the way to go. The last two players to give it the big'un about how good they were, and how they should be in the Arsenal team, were Jermaine Pennant and David Bentley (one of them is in football purgatory at Stoke City, the other is a regular for Tottenham Reserves.) With Fabianski's latest mistake, the younger Pole might well have found himself moving up a level in the ranks. His outburst, however, should see him relegated back behind Vito Mannone in my view. Sczeszny may be very good, none of us can really say at this stage. Self-confidence can be a good thing - just look at Jack Wilshere. But shooting your gob off is not the way forward.
If I can give Wojciech some advice it would be this - work hard, keep your head down, and show what talent you have. With the number of mistakes made by Almunia and Fabianski you might just find that, like the "bear-necessities," the chance to play for Arsenal will come to you. In the meantime, shut your Polish trap and get on with playing football you arrogant little toerag.

I'm off out for Chinese tonight with the wife and some good friends. The sweet and sour will taste all the better after last night. Still can't stop smiling. Or laughing at that little twat in the picture!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Justice for Arsenal

A bit of a pasting for the chicken on a beach ball

4-1. Four - One. FOUR - ONE. It doesn't matter how you write it, it looks bloody magnificent when it's the result against those mugs. Arsene Wenger surprised us all (very pleasantly) with the line-up and, more particularly, the bench. He certainly took Twitchy by surprise, and should be credited for not throwing the game away - who knows just what this kind of result can do to the confidence of the boys? The line-up was also a reflection of the strength and quality in the squad, as opposed to the past few years. I think this was certainly the strongest Arsenal League Cup selection since Wiltord's hat-trick against Man Utd - we had a strong squad in those days too.

At 90 minutes I was ready to pen a piece entitled "another game, another official, another goalkeeping calamity." Let's be honest, if the referee and one of his linesmen not been totally incompetent we would not have needed extra-time to complete a hammering. In fact, we wouldn't have even needed a second-half. Quite apart from a complete failure from the referee to protect a dominant Jack Wilshere (I think only the Spurs keeper didn't get to kick him,) Arsenal should have had a penalty after five minutes, and the offside decision against Kieran Gibbs was nothing short of scandalous. For the same linesman to then not flag Keane offside, the caravan utilising nomadic traveller, for the equaliser made things even worse. Fabianski's contribution to the goal was not unexpected. Hopefully we have finally seen the back of the Pole. It's a shame, but he is simply not up to it. The referee finally got his act together in extra-time when finally giving two penalties to Arsenal - though somehow the perpetrators of the fouls stayed on the pitch - the second penalty was a stick-on red card.

Arsenal were outstanding tonight, from start to finish. It would have been an injustice for Arsenal not to win the match. To win it 4-1 made the scoreline a more accurate reflection of the game. It's a shame Nasri bottled the penalty on Saturday, or we could be two points closer to Chelsea. Jack Wilshere is set to become some player. I first saw him three years ago, playing for the Reserves, and he is on a different level to any other young English player I have seen at Arsenal. Sky have just awarded man-of-the-match to Samir Nasri for his two penalties - disgraceful in my view. I very much doubt Jack will start the game on Saturday though, his shins will be a horrible shade of purple, such was the kicking he got.

The Arsenal fans were so loud tonight, clearly heard throughout the game. Alan Parry said in the first-half it was a great atmosphere - but that was only due to the onslaught from the travelling Gooners. I hope those in red and white (they must be bloody crazy) find a way to cover up before heading up the Seven Sisters Road, or it could be a very long, and very violent, trek.

Apart from the 4-1 (FOUR-ONE) win, there were two further highlights tonight. The first was the little Spurs fan, about ten years old, with tears streaming down his cheeks - I hope one of the bloggers tomorrow can find a link. That was priceless. The other was a World Record for twitching, set by Harry Redknapp when on camera in the last minute - I counted three seriously violent twitches in less than four seconds! How does he not pull a muscle? I hurt my neck during the home game with them last season while doing my twitching impression, but Harry's a pro, and he has it down to a fine art I'm sure.

I hope to find time to post a blog tomorrow afternoon as I have some comment to make on Wojciech Sczeszny and his interview with a Polish newspaper. Tonight, though, is not a night for any negativity whatsoever.


Monday, 20 September 2010

Tottenham preview, this obsession with Man Utd, Allardyce

Benik Afobe - young striker in line for baptism of fire

As I write this we are still waiting for Arsene Wenger's pre-match press conference, ahead of the Carling Cup trip to Tottenham. As a result, the team-news is based purely on speculation, but there are a couple of interesting titbits gathering pace. Over the last few days the rumblings have grown more persistent that Benik Afobe is set for a debut. I would have been a little surprised to see him start the match, but I can see the sense in him being the final part in an attacking triumvirate consisting of himself, Carlos Vela and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Afobe has been a fairly prolific striker in the youth ranks for both Arsenal and England. A debut now will be coming earlier than expected, but with Van Persie, Bendtner and Walcott all injured, and Sunu and Watt on loan, he is the next man on the list I suppose.
The other potential surprise comes in goal. There are rumours circulating that Sczeszny will play in goal, as reported in today's Daily Mirror. This would indeed be a shock - Fabianski has been on the bench for every game so far this season. If the younger Pole does get the nod I would not be disappointed, and it would be a great test of his mettle in the bear pit the players will experience tomorrow night. Will he play? We'll have to wait and see.
As I've been saying since the draw was made, I would prefer to see a stronger Arsenal team take the field tomorrow night than we would normally see in this competition. Sadly, I don't think my wishes will be fulfilled. I think Arsene Wenger will stick to his policy, and we will be watching the fringe players and reserves in action. Trying to guess Wenger's line-up for such a game is usually impossible, but I like to post what I think the team could be, so here goes:
Fabianski - Eboue, Squillaci, Djourou, Gibbs - Rosicky, Denilson, Lansbury (if fit), Afobe, Emmanuel-Thomas, Vela. Subs: Sczeszny, Nordtveit, Eastmond (to play is Lansbury injured,) Aneke, Miquel, Randall, Hoyte.

The media obsession with Manchester United sickens me. Their game with Liverpool yesterday developed in to a thriller, with Berbatov turning on the style as he scored a stunning hat-trick. Berbatov's second goal was a superb finish, over his head, with his back to goal - an overhead kick, without the acrobatics of Pele in Escape To Victory. I couldn't believe it last night when Sky Sports started describing it as the "goal of the century," and then ITV were at it this morning as well. I may have missed a post match interview where that quote was used to describe the goal, but to go on about it is indicative of the media position as regards Manchester United. The press, and the TV companies in particular, seem to think that we are all in thrall to United. Yes, they are the biggest club, with the most supporters. However, I would venture that 99.9% of football followers around the country despise Manchester United. Most of us respect their achievements over the past 18 years (they did next to naff all in the preceding 30 years) but I am fed up with the overt praise reserved for Man Utd in the press. Berbatov's goal was a superb effort, that can not be denied. But have we forgotten already Dennis Bergkamp's goal at Newcastle? You don't need to have an Arsenal bias to see that Dennis' individual skill was something more original, and unique, than Berbatov's goal yesterday. Goal of the century? Probably not even goal of the season come May.

You might have expected me to pass comment on Fat Sam's newspaper article yesterday where he compares himself on a level with Arsene Wenger. Quite apart from the conceit involved in expressing such a view of oneself, just consider the facts when thinking about such a claim. It is so ludicrous, it is not worthy of comment from me. Silence is golden. And Allardyce is a fat, northern, walrus-faced tosser. Actually, I have passed comment, haven't I?

Here's hoping things are not too bad tomorrow night. There will, probably, be a post after the game.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Arsenal blow it

Clichy - time to sit on the bench

I would have written a post last night, but I was still steaming at the result at 10pm last night and felt an incoherent rant would not have made the best reading. Losing a goal in time added on (after injury time) meant Arsenal failed to take three points from a game they controlled in the last 30 minutes, but on reflection, Sunderland were probably worth their point. That doesn't make it any less annoying though.

I've made mention of Gael Clichy's form on more than one occasion recently. His performance yesterday was woeful, culminating in his comedy effort at clearing the ball, which fell to Bent for the equaliser. I have run out of patience with him. Two years ago I felt he was far and away the best left-back in the country - I even had his name put on my shirt. Ever since the Birmingham game, where Eduardo broke his leg, Clichy has gone backwards. His play has become more and more erratic, his attacking increasingly frustrating. He doesn't concentrate properly (witness his attempt to beat a man in his own penalty area last night) and he continues to make the exact same mistakes he made as a boy in the Invincibles season. When Clichy strides forward with the ball, with such pace, he looks so impressive, but he seems more and more clueless these days as to what he will do with the ball. I have no doubt that he was shooting yesterday when he put the ball out for a throw-in. His crossing is aimless and abysmal (even more criminal with a fine header of the ball playing at centre-forward.) There were times yesterday when he looked lost for ideas when in possession in advanced areas. Then there was the goal. Why was he trying to scoop the ball like that? Put the ball out of play and defend the corner if necessary. Instead of that he mis-kicked the ball straight at Koscielny and it fell fortunately for Bent. Two points dropped. Hopefully it will also mean Clichy dropped.

I have picked on Clichy simply because my patience with him has snapped. He was far from alone yesterday in his performance. The one thing that can not be aimed at Gael is an accusation of lack of effort. Unlike our Russian forward. Arshavin was a disgrace yesterday, as he has been in most games this season (and late last season.) It's all very well being enigmatic, but at times you can get by if you work hard enough, even if form is proving elusive you in some way. Rosicky's penalty was awful (I can't understand why Nasri wasn't taking it) but I would have the Czech in the side rather than Arshavin next week.

And now the referee. Why do I feel I am always having to comment on these idiots? Alex Song was sent-off for two bookings. His first was given for an incident that saw Henderson dive, and the referee had himself influenced by the crowd. The second booking was a cynical body-check which was downright stupid from Song in the circumstances. We got a penalty with a decision that even Mr Dowd could not have got wrong. He somehow found four minutes of injury time, and the equaliser came long after the four minute mark had passed. Yes, it's a minimum of four minutes, but how often do you see it played on - remember Everton being stopped in their tracks last week? Mr Dowd will be pleased today because Arsene Wenger's comments after the game were aimed at him. Dowd seems to be one of the referees who craves the spotlight in matches he officiates. Added to this, the man is at least two stone overweight, that's why he gets so much wrong.

So what positives from yesterday? Another ninety minutes for Jack Wilshere. After a poor first-half I thought the youngster was superb in the second. Nasri and Rosicky ran the midfield in the final half-hour, combining really well to keep possession and move the ball forward. Chamakh was strong and dominant up front, though visibly tired in the final ten minutes - this is not a surprise given the work he has put in these past few weeks. I have been seriously impressed by Chamakh, whose hold-up play puts me in mind of Alan Smith. Almunia had a solid day again. Koscielny and Squillaci looked better yesterday. In the final few minutes, with the ball being planted in to the box, Squillaci showed his aerial prowess as he attacked and won everything, right up to the goal where I think he may have been fouled as he went to clear. So it wasn't all bad.

Chelsea will be licking their lips after our last minute disappointment. They play at home to Blackpool today and I expect them to match our six goals at least. That means we will go to Stamford Bridge in a couple of weeks knowing a defeat could be the death-knell for our Title hopes, even this early in the season. With United not looking great, and facing Liverpool today, Chelsea could be in a position where a win against Arsenal sees them heading over the horizon in early October - and that really would be unsatisfactory for the Premier League.

Arsenal's next action is against the mugs from White Hart Lane on Tuesday. Arsenal's line-up will be yesterday's bench, plus a number of fringe players (and possibly Vermaelen/Diaby - though that would be an unexpected bonus). I expect us to get mullered as Twitchy dare not put out a similarly weak team and lose in Tottenham's extra "cup-final" against the old enemy. If you're working Wednesday be sure to check the wood work as, if we do get beaten, there will be Spurs "fans" coming out of every crack.

Finally, thanks to Kevin Whitcher, editor of The Gooner for his generous plug in Thursday's online editorial piece. Remember, you can follow the blog on Twitter (@ARSENALDvbrisG) and on Facebook (It's MY Arsenal Opinion)

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Braga preview, United take a gamble, has Djourou got a future?

Champions League - back at "Arsenal Stadium" tomorrow

The boys return to European action tomorrow night against SC Braga of Portugal. I prefer to call it the European Cup as Champions League is such a joke of a name considering that most of the participants are not champions at all. The rules of the competition allow Arsenal to compete each season but that doesn't make it right.
The team news is that Arsenal are missing Vermaelen and Diaby. There is still no timescale on the Vermaelen injury, which concerns me, and Diaby will definitely miss tomorrow and Saturday - I think he might have a serious problem following Robinson's heinous foul at the weekend. Apart from those two, the other injured players are no nearer to a return to the matchday squad. Samir Nasri will, I think, return to the starting line-up tomorrow night with either Wilshere or Rosicky dropping to the bench. Denilson might also make a start.
Braga will surely be keen to make their mark in their debut appearance at this level. Hopefully they come to play some football. Braga are very capable of scoring goals, and their qualification tie was laden with plenty of them, including four away from home. Arsenal's defence will have to show better concentration tomorrow, and Song will have to be far more disciplined in his positioning, than was the case against Bolton. Sagna and, probably, Clichy will return tomorrow and they must be on top of their game. Clichy, in particular, needs to show an improvement in his play, otherwise he can expect Kieran Gibbs playing the Ashley Cole role, to his Silvinho (I hope I can be forgiven for comparing Gibbs to Cashley) and taking over before too long. If Braga do come to attack then Arsenal's attacking players should have enough to unlock the opposition.
My team for tomorrow would be: Almunia - Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy - Song, Wilshere, Fabregas - Arshavin, Chamakh, Nasri.

I've just been watching some of the build-up to tonight's European Cup games. Apparently Tottenham play tonight. Don't care. Manchester United, meanwhile, are at home to Glasgow Rangers. Ferguson has, effectively, named a Carling Cup line-up plus a returning Rio Ferdinand, and Wayne Rooney. What a gamble that is. Red-nose is obviously confident and he knows, clearly, how crap Scottish football is. But, if they were to lose to a fired up Rangers (unlikely, I know) following Saturday's capitulation and omission of Rooney, the pressure would be cranked up against him. I wouldn't want to be that whiskey bottle tonight were Rangers to pull off a shock.

Johan Djourou is playing for Arsenal Reserves again tonight, as I type this. Whereas last week there were a number of first-teamers involved, he is the only one there this evening. Obviously Djourou has missed a lot of football over the past couple of years, but with a major European Cup match tomorrow night I am a little surprised he is not around the first-team squad. With Diaby injured, meaning we can't lose Alex Song to the back-four, and Vermaelen also missing, it is something of a kick in the teeth for the big Swiss. I begin to wonder if the writing is on the wall for Djourou, seemingly now fifth choice for centre-back behind Vermaelen, Koscielny, Squillaci and Song. Time will tell, and he will surely play in the Carling Cup at Tottenham, where he must really make the most of the opportunity. Otherwise we might not see too much of Johan in the future.

This is the last post before Saturday night. I am working tomorrow morning, before going to the game. After that I have an early start on Thursday for two days of golf and beer in Northampton, returning before the Sunderland match. More Saturday - here's to three points tomorrow, and again on Saturday.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Accurate report? - not in The Sun

It never ceases to amaze me how bad some of the reporting is in the national press. How can any journalist worth their salt publish a match report and get statements of fact so badly wrong? You might recall that I outed Charlie Wyett in the Summer for his awful match report on a pre-season game. This time the culprit is Mark Irwin - a serial offender in the error stakes. According to Mr Irwin the foul by Alex Song, seconds before the Bolton red-card, was made by Kieran Gibbs. Given that Alex Song has dyed his hair a funny shade of puke-yellow I have to wonder how such a mistake can be made. It's even more unbelievable when one considers that the foul missed by the referee actually happened right in front of the press box. Irwin can not have been more than forty yards from the incident, with the usual unobstructed view. It's not really acceptable to make such a mistake is it? Interestingly, this particular inaccuracy has now been removed from the report on the The Sun's website - it was there at 3 o'clock this morning. I can only conclude that the reporter was in the bog when all this was happening as, according to him, the foul for which Cahill was sent-off was perpetrated against Andrey Arshavin. If you think that there is little similarity between Song and Gibbs, try and consider how anyone can mix-up Arshavin with Marouane Chamakh. Regardless of the fact that they have skin colours of some difference, Chamakh stands nearly a foot taller than the Russian.

It's not just The Sun. The Murdoch press in general seems to be in need of a trip to Specsavers or, at least, to get over their anti-Arsenal sentiment. Dan King, in the News of the World, mentions that Kieran Gibbs could well have gone off for two bookings on Saturday. Indeed he mentions it on no less than THREE occasions in his match report. Robinson and Davies' numerous assaults on Arsenal players are merely touched upon, but that thug Kieran Gibbs clearly deserves no place in English football does he?

Why do I write this blog? So that I can get this kind of crap out of my system.

Anyone who reads The Gooner fanzine will be familiar with a character who calls himself The Highbury Spy. The Spy's column is always entertaining as the man is a serial rant machine and gives his views on everything from bad real-ale to the politics of Socialism (he likes neither of these!) Very often the Spy induces humour and no little amount of head-shaking from me. Imagine my surprise when reading the new issue as I found there was a rare moment of clarity from him. The Spy talks, as I did yesterday, about the Wolves assault on Joey Barton and he makes the following comment "mark my words, Karl Henry will break someone's leg before long" (or words to that effect). What happened Saturday afternoon? Karl Henry snapped Bobby Zamora's leg in two. Well done Spy, you ventured in to print with what most Arsenal fans were already thinking - Karl Henry is a thug, who belongs nowhere near a football pitch.

Hopefully we'll get some team news for the Braga match tomorrow afternoon. More blogging to come tomorrow evening.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Cesc back at it, get off Almunia's back, Stuart Attwell, Robbie Savage on 6-0-6

Stuart Attwell - for the love of God, get this bloke out of football

A fine win for Arsenal yesterday against a nastily physical Bolton. I'll deal with the Bolton bad-boys further down when I pass comment on the incompetent clown who was refereeing yesterday. Goals from Koscielny, Chamakh, Song and Vela, as well as numerous missed chances (Arshavin missed three one-on-one's) added up to a good performance and a 4-1 victory against ten-men.
The star of the show yesterday was Cesc Fabregas. I was quick to criticise Fabregas for his insipid contribution at Blackburn but yesterday he was imperious. Bolton had no answer to the maestro (given that maestro is a word associated with genius it's rather ironic that Austin used the word to name a pretty awful car) of Arsenal's midfield and he played some sublime passes, most notably the turn and through-ball for Arshavin's third opportunity. Seeing Fabregas turn on the style and, more importantly, the effort was a huge boost for me. My little boy was equally pleased, not only to see his hero in the flesh, but to see him turning in a man-of-the-match performance. We are probably watching our last season of Cesc at Arsenal, so let's hope this form can continue, unchecked by injury for once.
Bolton's goal came from typically shoddy Arsenal defending. I was incredulous to see that some of the pricks that follow our Club saw fit to blame Manuel Almunia on the forums. For God's sake, just because Arsenal concede it doesn't make it Almunia's fault. Even the bloke sitting two seats from me, who slagged Almunia every time he went near the ball (as I said, we have some pricks following Arsenal) was able to acknowledge that Manuel was put in a hopeless situation by Koscielny. I am worried that Koscielny has a touch of the Senderos/Cygan/Stepanovs about him - he seems to lose concentration and make a bad mistake at least once per game. His header back towards goal yesterday was a case in point. Far from being to blame Almunia did his bit by forcing Bolton's fine Korean player, Lee, wide to the byline, but Koscielny and Gibbs failed to pick up Elmander who nodded in to an empty goal. Get off Almunia's back and watch the game, then you might see who has been at fault for the concession of a goal. No doubt Almunia will be at fault at some point, but yesterday certainly wasn't it.
Now for the ugly part of the game. Kevin Davies is a thug, let's not water it down. He nailed Rosicky (should have been a booking) and the referee played advantage, only for Davies to launch himself at Jack Wilshere. I was worried Wilshere had been done serious damage - it was a clear red-card, even before you consider the foul we were playing on from already. That he only received yellow gave us an early indication as to the incompetence of referee Stuart Attwell. Davies was free then to fly at the head of Laurent Koscielny in the second-half - there was no attempt to play the ball whatsoever, but there was no foul given either - Emmanuel Eboue was booked for having too much to say about it! More incompetence. Then the red-card. When Attwell missed the most obvious trip by Alex Song - incompetence - Arsenal broke away. Chamakh set Arshavin clear on goal only for the whistle to go. I have to admit that, at the time, I didn't think Cahill's tackle was a bad one on Chamakh and I couldn't believe the muppet hadn't played advantage (he should have done so regardless of wanting to send-off Cahill.) Having seen the replay it is a stone-wall red-card - both feet off the floor, from behind, with no attempt at the ball. It was a highly dangerous tackle that could have done serious damage to Chamakh. Lee Dixon tried to say, on Match of the Day, that it shouldn't have been a sending off as Collocini had only been booked for an equally terrible foul in Newcastle's game - perhaps he should have been sent off too Lee? Something to think about. Attwell wasn't finished though, not by a long way. Paul Robinson is another dirty cretin - remember him kicking Fabregas in the head at Bolton earlier this year? His tackle on Abou Diaby was right down in front of me, as was the linesman looking straight at it. That the officials chose not to see the nastiness of the challenge shows yet more incompetence, chiefly from Attwell. Robinson pretending to be injured himself, no doubt fearing the red-card he knew he should have got, was embarrassing and laughable. Abou Diaby seems to have a bad injury thanks to the thuggish Robinson. Disgraceful. If anyone tries to tell you that Bolton play a different game under Coyle (as I might have done until yesterday) then tell them they talk complete nonsense.
I've used the word incompetent a lot in that passage, and I've done so deliberately. I don't believe Stuart Attwell is a cheat. Graham Poll, Mike Riley, Jeff Winter, Steve Dunn (who cost us the Cup Final in 2001, and had a pathological hatred of Dennis Bergkamp) were all cheats in my opinion - not incompetent, just dishonest. This man Attwell is just a clueless clown of a referee. He simply does not know what he's doing. The whole ground chorused "you're not fit to referee" late in the second-half, and he surely isn't. I can not recall a game where Attwell has been in charge, but has not been at the centre of the controversy - remember Watford and the phantom goal last year? A mark of his level of uselessness is the effect he can have on a game in which he is not even refereeing. Two weeks ago he allowed Wolves to assault Joey Barton at every turn, with the chief aggressor being Karl Henry (remember him - the bloke who tried to break Rosicky's leg last Spring?) Henry was let off without a red-card by Attwell (only booked in the closing minutes) and so was free to play again yesterday. And what happened? He put in a bad tackle from behind on Bobby Zamora and broke the Fulham forward's leg. Well done Attwell, you're a muppet. He simply MUST be removed from football. It's no good demoting him, he is simply unable to referee football matches. Not dishonest, just incapable. After all, it takes a pretty amazing individual to annoy both sets of fans at a football match.
And so to 6-0-6. I do not pay my licence fee in order for the BBC to employ people like Robbie Savage. I challenge anyone to listen to 6-0-6 on a Saturday night and not get seriously frustrated at listening to this talentless loser arguing with the callers. He chooses to belittle the point made by every caller because "I play football every week." You're a cretin Savage. A less than average player who somehow struck it rich. The constant name-dropping of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham etc (remember he was the one who Ferguson kicked out in that golden generation that dominated English football) is embarrassing. Savage uses a slot on national radio to endorse cynical foul-play and bad tackles as part and parcel of the game. Last night he told of how, if Fabregas went past him, he would just have to trip him of kick him and stop Arsenal - "that's what you have to do" was his exact quote. Wanker. Remember him trying to, unsuccessfully, kick Arsenal out of the FA Cup semi-final in 2005, and being allowed to get away with it? Having said that, I remember two incidents of him trying to kick Arsenal players and failing miserably as he watched the ball sail in to the net - Robin Van Persie at Highbury in late 2005, and Fabregas (in the build-up to a Flamini goal) in December 2006. I would love for someone to get on air and then just tell Savage what a prick he really is. That would make my day.
Arsenal's next game is in the European Cup against SC Braga. The build up begins tomorrow.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Bolton preview - haven't we been here before?

Arsenal's injury problems continue to mount. The Club has confirmed that Theo Walcott will be out for at least six weeks with the ankle injury he suffered playing for England. This was no surprise to me. Having seen what happened I was obviously right to caution against the optimistic view from Capello that he would miss two weeks only. What we didn't know until today was that Thomas Vermaelen was also injured on Tuesday, playing for Belgium. Our first-choice centre-back has apparently suffered a "minor" injury to his achilles. Arsene Wenger has stopped short of quoting a timescale so just how minor it is remains to be seen. This leaves Arsenal with a problem at the back with Kevin Davies visiting tomorrow. The chances are that we will now be facing one of the biggest physical tests of the season with Koscielny (in his third game in English football) alongside Squillaci (making his debut - as confirmed by Arsene Wenger.) I am shuddering at the prospect of these two getting a nasty surprise, having to handle Davies. I think we would be better off with Djourou partnering Squillaci. I know they conceded three goals as a partnership against Blackburn Reserves, but I would far prefer to see Djourou, who is experienced in the ways of the Premier League, alongside Squillaci. Koscielny proved in the last game that he is currently lacking a physical edge and I fear he will be found wanting again versus Bolton.

To be missing three key players (Walcott, Van Persie and Vermaelen) so early in the season is really annoying. More annoying is that two of them were injured when they weren't even playing/training at Arsenal. However, it is something we have had to become used to in recent seasons. I fail to understand how we can be so unlucky in the injury department. In the past I have questioned whether there is something wrong with Arsenal's training regime or preparation, but you can't attribute Van Persie or Walcott's injuries to any such issue. Once again we have to grin and bear it, but it could easily cost us home points tomorrow.

It isn't all bad news from Arsenal. Samir Nasri has recovered ahead of schedule (hence the fact that we only have three key players missing.) This is welcome news. Nasri dominated Arsenal's pre-season and had a decent game filling in for Fabregas at Anfield. His return to the squad for tomorrow gives Arsene an interesting selection dilemma. Fabregas will naturally play in his usual place (unless he has suffered from the long journey to Argentina in midweek.) There is a hole on the right side of Arsenal's attacking three, with Walcott out. Arshavin and Nasri both tend to play from the left when Fabregas is there, so who will play from the right? One of the two mentioned could switch wings, or Eboue could return, or Rosicky could stake a claim, or even Jack Wilshere. There is one further alternative which would see Nasri replacing Diaby, alongside Alex Song. This final option is not one I want to see when we are playing a physical outfit like Bolton, where height and strength could be paramount. With a Champions League game in midweek I think Nasri may be a substitute tomorrow, with Eboue/Rosicky from the right.

My team for tomorrow would be thus: Almunia - Sagna, Djourou, Squillaci, Gibbs - Song, Diaby, Fabregas - Arshavin, Chamakh, Eboue. Will Arsene's team look the same? - Definitely not, but he gets paid to pick the team, and I don't.

My son is coming to his first game tomorrow and he is very excited. He can't wait to see Fabregas in the flesh so it's just as well he didn't leave in the Summer. With our defensive shortcomings I might need to explain to him the importance of Arsenal's attacking players and how we will usually need to score at least three goals to be sure of winning a match! His life changes from tomorrow - once you've seen it all live, there is no going back, and he will want more and more of it. I hope.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Another injury for Theo, Reserves win thriller

I hate international football. I only watch England these days when they are at a Championship, or if Arsenal have someone playing. Consequently, I turned the game off last night as soon as Theo Walcott was put on a stretcher. Even Alan Hansen must have felt sorry for Theo last night. He had started the game really well, taking on and beating his full-back at every opportunity. Walcott got injured trying to get on the end of a cross from Glen Johnson, having initially set the Liverpool man away down the wing. As it was, Theo was caught on the ankle by a lunging defender (no malice or intent whatsoever, just a genuine attempt on the ball) and said joint was turned over at an ugly looking angle. The early prognosis was that he might be out for two weeks - I think I will wait to see what Arsenal say. Considering his fine start to the season it is particularly unlucky for Walcott that he has been laid low by yet another injury. For the first time in his career Walcott has genuinely EARNED his place in the Arsenal starting line-up and was well worth his position. I hope, for his sake, that the injury is minor and that he can regain the form he has shown straight away when he does return to fitness.

Arsenal will receive some compensation for time that is spent on the sidelines for any player injured while playing for their country. But what about the fans? Where is our compensation? Last season Arsenal fans were robbed of the chance to watch Robin Van Persie for five months while he recovered from a serious ankle injury sustained playing for Holland. At no time was I told I could pay less for my season ticket as Arsenal's best striker was not going to be available, through no fault of Arsenal. Now I will be robbed of the chance to see Arsenal's most in-form player because he got injured playing for a team that doesn't interest me - how can that be fair? Perhaps compensation for the fans should be considered - after all, we pay enough money, so why should we pay top-dollar for something that is unavailable due to circumstances beyond the control of Arsenal Football Club? Hurry back Theo, Arsenal need you fit and firing (I didn't expect to be writing that a few weeks ago.)

Arsenal Reserves played out a thriller at Barnet last night, against a strong Blackburn Rovers side. Blackburn's attacking players were David Dunn, Steven N'Zonzi, Junior Hoillett, Benjani and Jason Roberts. Arsenal were similarly strong (a rarity for the Reserves) with Fabianski, Djourou, Squillaci (making his debut,) Denilson, Craig Eastmond, Mark Randall and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas among the players involved. Of concern is that a defence including Djourou, Squillaci and Fabianski conceded three goals to Rovers, whoever they may have had up front. I suspect the combination of Benjani and Roberts was a fine early test for Squillaci and will stand him in good stead for the future. Of less concern is Arsenal's ability going forward, at any level the Club plays. Chuks Aneke, Benik Afobe (2) and a late winner from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas gave the boys a second win of the season. The highlights are yet to be made available on Arsenal TV Online, but Afobe's first goal is apparently different class - watch out for Benik Afobe, he is a real goalscorer.

Having played ninety minutes last night I think we might get our first look at Squillaci on Saturday, even if only as a substitute. Walcott's injury should create an opening for either Eboue or Rosicky on the right. I'd like to see Kieran Gibbs get a game on Saturday as his pace on the bench for England has now seen him go four weeks without playing. I suspect we'll get some early team news at some point tomorrow, and hopefully an update on Theo Walcott's condition.

Unfortunately work will prevent me from posting anything tomorrow, but I will put something together previewing the Bolton game on Friday.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Jack saves Pearce, Reserves in action, inuries latest

Jack Wilshere - a different level
Following on from yesterday Jack Wilshere was again left out by Stuart Pearce this afternoon. In a must-win match I was amazed that England U21 would leave out their best player. If you look at U21 football, notoriously few players go on to be regular internationals at a senior level. From the England squad today I can see only Phil Jones and Wilshere making it. Sheer madness, then, to continue to ignore a player of genuine quality. After a pretty awful first-half there was no option other than to bring on the Arsenal youngster. It was inevitable that Jack would be the creative force to bring England the opening goal. Wilshere made his way forward, looking to the right-hand side, before playing a beautiful through-ball inside the full-back, in the opposite direction - 1-0 England. It is noticeable how Jack Wilshere moves with the ball whilst not actually looking at it, he has amazing awareness. Contrast that with Mark Albrighton of Aston Villa, who scored England's second goal but never lifts his head when on the ball. I have to admit, though, he delivers a mean ball in to the area. Wilshere is on a different level to everyone else in the team I have just watched and it is just plain wrong for Stuart Pearce to have treated him as he has. Wilshere has just created the third goal as I type. Leroy Rosenior, who is summarising on ESPN (and, I have to say, is excellent at the job - Andy Gray and co should watch, listen and learn) has just said what a mistake Pearce made, as Wilshere made all the difference - so it's not just Arsenal bias on my part.

Arsenal Reserves play tonight at Barnet, against Blackburn Rovers. There is no line-up available yet, but I expect a similar team to that which played a couple of weeks back. James Shea will probably play in goal with Fabianski, Mannone and Sczeszny all away on international duty. Henri Lansbury is injured, hence him not being with England U21. It will be interesting to know whether Blackburn's reserve team is set-up with the same "tactics" as Allardyce's first-choice cloggers. If they do go out with the idea of being physical they might think twice about it when they see the man-mountain Jay Emmanuel-Thomas running at them. There is live text commentary on www.arsenal.com. Hopefully there will be highlights available at Arsenal TV Online from tomorrow. EDIT: Lukasz Fabianski IS playing for Arsenal Reserves tonight. Also involved is Squillaci and Denilson in what must be Arsenal's strongest Reserve line-up in years.

The official website has also just informed Arsenal fans everywhere that Samir Nasri is near to a return, though not as near as reported last week - it doesn't look like he will be involved on Saturday. Meanwhile, shock horror, Robin Van Persie will be out for longer than initially thought. Am I surprised? I think not. The latest estimate is mid-October. I won't hold my breath.

Not a lot else today so I'll leave it there. England (and hopefully that means Theo Walcott) are in action tonight so I will settle down and watch it I think - a review of Theo's performance tomorrow.