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Friday, 29 April 2011

Man Utd (h) preview

We British do pageantry better than anyone

This has been a most special day for the people of Great Britain. The second in line to our Throne has been married in a mass of pomp and ceremony in London, and Britain has a new Princess to adore and to inspire the Country. As you may have guessed I am a massive Royalist and I have been celebrating with family all day. The weather has been wonderfully kind to us.
In Britain we are often denigrated if we show any kind of national pride. We are often accused of xenophobia, or even racism, if we choose to flaunt our British flag. The multi-cultural celebration today (more than one million have thronged in to London) has shown what utter rot that is. We have a right to celebrate our Nation, and there is no better time to do it than on a Royal occasion. The Union Flag has flown proudly at my house today and Great Britain has proved that nobody can deliver a pageant in the way that we can. To put an Arsenal slant on it I would say that it's all about tradition and class - very Arsenal, very British.

On Sunday the boys take on the Champions-elect, Manchester United. Whatever you think of Man Utd you have to respect their achievements. In my opinion this is probably the worst Man Utd team in the past twenty years, but they have found a way to get the results required. Their ability to get over the line in matches has been in direct contrast to our failure of recent weeks. The most galling aspect of the season is that the Title was ours to win, but we have ultimately been found wanting when it matters.
Arsene Wenger has been really quite candid about the side with his comments about the Carling Cup Final and what it did to the players. It has been clear that our season has taken a turn for the worse from the moment that Koscielny and Szczesny tripped over one another at Wembley. I said before the Final, and I still believe it now, that a win there would have seen us go on to take at least one other trophy this season. However, the catastrophic effect it seems to have had shows a serious mental weakness in this squad of players. It certainly gives a lie to any protestations from the Manager of the famed mental-strength. Perhaps his quotes of the past couple of days are an admission that his players are actually lacking in some important areas.
In the team news Thomas Vermaelen returned to the Reserves at Old Trafford last night, as reported yesterday, but he is not ready to play on Sunday (perhaps it's no coincidence that there was a clean-sheet kept last night by an Arsenal team). Abou Diaby is still out, but Tomas Rosicky could be in line to return to the squad following "illness" - I can't for the life of me work out who Rosicky would replace, to be honest. In fact I don't really see any changes to the starting line-up on Sunday, but we might get one or two differences on the bench.
Manchester United might well have a stronger line-up than we might have expected in between the two legs of the European Cup semi-final. Having taken a 2-0 lead from the away leg Ferguson could want to put the Premier League to bed once and for all by beating Arsenal on Sunday. I would expect most of the usual suspects to play, with the possible exception of Ryan Giggs (age and a recent aversion to London may stop him from playing what could be three games in eight days). Whatever the team United put out you can be sure Ferguson will have devised a tactical plan to stop Arsenal from playing through them - he has done the same thing in every game against Arsenal for the past few years, yet Wenger has seemed to not realise he must find a way to surprise the Mancs.
We will find out on Sunday if Arsenal can salvage some pride by beating Manchester United, or if the season is simply going to drift away over the last few games.

I will not be at the game on Sunday as I am off to Madrid in the early hours of tomorrow morning for a stag weekend, arranged long before the fixtures were advertised at the start of the season. This was the only time I have ever hoped we would be switched to the Monday night for Sky, but the European Cup semi-finals meant that was never going to be an option. I will be in some bar or other for the game and hoping the boys can turn it on at least one more time before the end of the season.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Vermaelen to return, And so is Thierry

Thierry Henry - The King will return this Summer

Younggunsblog is reporting that Thomas Vermaelen will play for Arsenal Reserves at Manchester United this evening. There is no confirmation on the official website, but Jamie at Young Guns is rarely wrong. Unfortunately Vermaelen's return comes too late to salvage anything from our season. With the Title gone I can see little reason to get him back in to the first-team before the season is over. I would suggest a couple of easy reserve games, followed by plenty of good training over the Summer (ahead of the pre-season campaign) might be a better option. Had we been going in to the final stretch with the League still up for grabs then his return to action could have been just the boost Arsenal needed. However, with a trip to Stoke City on the horizon, and nothing to play for, do we really want to put him in a position where one of their clumsy (dirty) oafs could accidentally (quite deliberately) stamp on his fragile achilles? I think not.
There should be some highlights from the Reserve match on Arsenal TV Online at some point tomorrow (or late tonight). The match is also live on MUTV so you can expect Sky Sports News to show some of the action tonight if Vermaelen does take his bow.

Arsenal have today announced the line-up of Club's for the 2011 Emirates Cup. I have to say that I am actually excited about the prospect. It had been widely reported that Paris Saint Germain (also sponsored by Emirates) and New York Red Bulls would be present. There had also been some rather disappointing suggestions that we would be joined by one of the Glasgow mafia again. Thankfully Arsenal have surprised us all by instead bringing in genuinely top-class South American opposition in the shape of Boca Juniors. This is, indeed, a welcome addition. We haven't seen too much of South American sides against Arsenal over the years - the game in Miami in 1989, against Independiente, is about the only one that really sticks out in my mind. Boca are the most successful of the Argentinian teams and are the Club of Diego Maradona - perhaps he'll be present for the weekend as well.
New York Red Bulls could not be considered a "quality" addition to those involved. However, they are very much the big "draw" of the weekend. New York are captained by Thierry Henry. This means that the King of Highbury will be returning to the new stadium as a player for the first time since a Champions League tie with PSV a few years ago. Arsenal have obviously realised that they needed some kind of gimmicks to get people through the gates (the tickets are not cheap - I think they should charge Carling Cup prices, personally) and so they have pulled out all the stops by getting Boca and Thierry Henry to be our opposition for the weekend.
Arsenal will play the Argentines on the Saturday and Thierry's Red Bulls on the Sunday. The Club have appointed a new corporate partner to distribute broadcast rights, so those who aren't going/can't go will be hoping Sky renew their contract which expired last year.

I'll post a preview of the Manchester United game tomorrow evening.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Bolton 2 - 1 Arsenal

Jack - at least he feels it like a fan

Arsene Wenger seemed different after the game yesterday. His interview seemed more relaxed, more lucid, perhaps, than in recent weeks. I'm not sure if he was suffering from some kind of shock, or if the fact that all hope has gone for the Title was some sort of release for him - there's nothing to worry about anymore so the pressure is off, in some strange way. It was bizarre. I expected the usual stern expression and some criticism of the officiating (we were denied a stick-on penalty while Bolton were awarded one for a dive), but instead we got a fairly frank assessment of our defensive issues. It was interesting to hear him concede that we don't defend set-pieces very well though it has not been, as Arsene suggested, a problem this season - it goes back to the very first league game at the new stadium and has been an issue ever since. The facts are that the players are simply not instructed in how to defend corners and free-kicks, nobody is told who to mark, where to stand, and other basic functions. Even poor players, if drilled and organised correctly, can be strong defenders - just look at Fulham last season, or West Brom since Roy Hodgson took over - simple organisation, and proper defensive planning are the key to their relative success. It's all very well being able to pass the ball, or dribble in to midfield with it, but a defender's basic function is to stop the ball getting in to their goal. That is why we appear so weak in certain situations - the defenders are simply not taught, or told, how to defend properly. The fact that more than half of the goals we have conceded this season are from set-pieces tells its own story, I would suggest.
As for the game itself we had enough chances to have won it yet again. The profligacy that is another feature of Arsenal's play was there once more. Samir Nasri has been Arsenal's player of the season for me, but yesterday we saw that he has a temperamental flaw as big as any of the other chokers in the squad. When put through one-on-one, in a must-win game, Nasri didn't finish it off. In fact, his "head down and hit it as hard as you can" effort was what you'd expect to see from a defender faced with that situation. Nasri is usually a good finisher, but here he had no composure to simply roll it past a goalkeeper in no-mans land. The likes of Anders Limpar, Marc Overmars, Freddie Ljungberg, or even Ray Parlour, would have buried the chance calmly. The Manager must surely regret banging on about mental strength when many of his players have proved time and again in the past eight weeks that they have none of it. The late goals against, and the inability to put the ball in the net, point to the fact that there is something important missing from a number of these players.
There is one more thing I want to talk about with our players when in front of goal - the eagerness to pass to someone else. It winds me up when I see Wenger jumping about on the touchline at the sight of another chance gone begging because of yet another pass, rather than the shot at goal. It's something that has been plaguing us for years now. You could point fingers at one player if it was only one that did it. But with Arsenal it seems every player is determined to pass rather than take responsibility and score the goal. Ultimately you have to deduce that they are following orders - they are simply not allowed to shoot unless it the only option available - if a pass is on, then you must pass it again. How else can you explain Wilshere's cut-back after Fabregas hit the post, or Chamakh trying to nod it down to Nasri, or Nasri trying to square it when in on goal? It's just so very frustrating.
I'll just finish the comments on yesterday by noting the reactions of Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny to the winning goal. Szczesny was fuming with his defence for not protecting the goal adequately, especially as both Bolton goals followed superb saves from him to keep us on level terms. He smashed the ball away and then sat in the goal glaring at his colleagues. Good on him. Jack, meanwhile, sat in tears on the bench - tears of frustration at having had such a wonderful first season, yet all that effort has come to nothing. These two are clearly part of Arsenal's future - I hope that those who join them in that future carry the same hatred of mediocrity and defeat, then we might see some progress.

So the Title race really is over now for us. There is no more forlorn hope to cling to. The best that can be said is that we can relax and "enjoy" the last four games of the season. Arsenal, being Arsenal, will probably win all of them. However, I have a very real fear that this season is about to implode in exactly the same way it did last year. If it does then we might not even finish third - and that would mean an early start to next season as we would have to qualify for the European Cup. It's a sad state of affairs when you find yourself hoping Blackburn take something off Manchester City!

Congratulations to QPR on their, almost certain, promotion to the Premier League. QPR are a proper Premier League Club who have been away for far too long from the big time. That they have got there through a mega-rich owner, and employing Neil Warnock, is an unfortunate sub-plot. Nevertheless, I am pleased to see them back. Hopefully they will be joined by another Club that belong in the Premier League - Norwich City. As long as the Welsh sides remain down in the Championship we will see three decent additions next season to the top flight.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Bolton (a) preview

Offside flag: On this the Championship race has been ended this week

I didn't watch the Manchester United v Everton match as I was busy cooking dead animals on my barbecue this afternoon. However, I did look in to check the score on a regular basis and managed to catch the winning goal. The Mancs would argue otherwise, but Hernandez looked offside (albeit marginally) on the replay from side-on. Certainly he was a lot closer to scoring an illegal goal than Robin Van Persie was on Wednesday. I hate it when people say these things even themselves out in a season because quite clearly they do not. As I recounted the other day we have lost four points to offside flags in our last few matches (Sunderland at home and Spurs away) while Man Utd have been gifted two points this afternoon. For all the football that gets played between August and May, on such things is the Title decided. I will always maintain that it is no coincidence that a certain Club is getting the lions share of these tight calls going their way. Corruption and/or dishonesty among the officials? In the Premier League? Just look at how things happen and make up your own mind.

On to Arsenal and the boys visit Bolton tomorrow. Man Utd's win earlier today means that the pressure is off in terms of the Title chase. Chelsea have just beaten West Ham (a flattering 3-0 scoreline in the end) so the pressure remains for runners-up spot where we are playing catch-up - the late goals for Chelsea mean their goal difference is now five better than ours. It will be interesting to see how the players react now that winning something has become a pipe dream once again. In the past we've seen a return to form in these situations and I wouldn't be surprised to see the same tomorrow.
Abou Diaby remained true to form by getting injured on Wednesday - he is simply incapable of playing more than three games in a row (I truly believe this is a result of his horrific injury at Sunderland five years ago). Diaby has been a bit of an enigma ever since, capable of brilliance and frustrating ineptitude at both ends of the scale. I don't think there would be too many of us shedding a tear if he was shown the exit door this Summer. His absence at Bolton will mean a recall for Jack Wilshere. Apart from that I don't really see any changes from midweek. If the players put in the same effort against Bolton as they did at Tottenham then we will be celebrating three points this time tomorrow evening. On the other hand, if they slip in to their bad ways, we will be on the receiving end of a nasty defeat once again.
Bolton embarrassed themselves at Wembley last week and that makes them a dangerous prospect tomorrow. A 5-0 defeat by Stoke is not reflective of Bolton's ability and they will be seriously fired up to make some amends for their fans tomorrow. Kevin Davies will be all elbows and backing-in as usual (just count how many free-kicks he gets given after backing-in and throwing himself to the floor). At the back Bolton have real quality in Gary Cahill, while Chung-Yong Lee, on the wing, is one of the most under-rated players in the country, in my view. If Lee is on form he will provide sufficient ammunition for Davies, and the returning Daniel Sturridge, to do serious damage to our fragile defence. Arsenal will take Bolton lightly at their peril.

I must just comment on Arsene Wenger's latest quotes. I won't say anything about the need to improve the squad, or otherwise, as the time for that is after the end of the season. However, I do want to pull him up on his assertion that "if we'd won against Liverpool and Tottenham this week we'd be two points behind with Manchester United to play." Yes, he's right. But the fact is that we DIDN'T beat Liverpool and Tottenham. There is a reason why we didn't beat them. The fact is that we are, ultimately, not good enough. We're so close to being good enough, and that is what kills me. This is the worst Man Utd team in 20 years, yet they are somehow going to be Champions - this is the ultimate season of missed opportunity, yet Arsene still chooses to not see a problem.

I won't get to see the game until I get home tomorrow evening so I'll be employing the Sky+ and trying to avoid the scoreline. I'll post a review either late tomorrow night, or on Monday. Enjoy what's left of this glorious, English, St George's Day.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

I'm not slagging them for that

Surely gone now

It's difficult to know how that happened. We conceded three goals and yet nobody in the defensive areas had a discernibly bad game. In fact the only disappointing performer for me last night was Robin Van Persie, and he scored one and had one disallowed (more of which below). I felt it was a good performance. The effort of the players couldn't really be faulted. Of course Wenger came out with his nonsensical appraisal of the "mental strength" of his players again, but in terms of spirit Arsenal were spot on last night. Having said that we have the inescapable truth that we once again saw Arsenal let a two goal lead slip away from them.
Last night might have been just "one of those things" were it not for the fact that it has happened so often to this team. Another thing that seems to happen with inordinate regularity is someone fires in a shot that can't possibly be stopped (Steven Howard, who really is a complete prick, in The Sun describes Huddlestone's shot as a "daisy-cutter" in his attempt to imply that Szczesny was somehow at fault for letting it in). With the other games we have been able to put the concession of the lead down to our awful inability to defend set-pieces etc, but last night was just a bizarre evening. There is no doubt that Szczesny's challenge on Lennon was rash (had he simply stood his ground Lennon would almost certainly have run straight in to touch with it like he usually does), but he had been successful with a similar challenge on Bale before half-time. That he went on to make saves either side of the penalty has got him out of jail somewhat - though I strongly suspect Arsenal supporters would have been rather less generous had Manuel Almunia or Lukasz Fabianski been in goal last night (I remember Almunia getting a fearful hammering for a similar foul at Old Trafford a season or two back).
The one thing I will criticise is, once again, the ridiculous substitutions made by Arsene Wenger. We were hanging on a bit, but with Walcott on the pitch we were always likely to catch Tottenham on the break - and did so on a couple of occasions. When Nicklas Bendtner was brought on I saw Pat Rice showing him where to play on a piece of paper and assumed that, finally, we would get two up front. Instead we saw Walcott directly replaced on the wing by the big Dane and the game simply petered out from an Arsenal point of view. If there is something that Wenger does that makes me more frustrated than anything else it is this persistence with playing Nicklas Bendtner out wide. What exactly has he seen, in the months and months that he's tried this so called tactic, that makes him think Bendtner has the skill or the pace to play on the wing? Whatever your views on Bendtner you would have to admit it is grossly unfair on a genuine target-man centre-forward to be played as a winger. I remember George Graham slowly destroyed the career of Kevin Campbell at Arsenal by doing this, and Wenger is ending Bendtner's Arsenal career in the same way. While we're on the subject of centre-forwards, what the hell has happened to Marouane Chamakh, who didn't even make the bench last night?
Before the penalty, or any mad substitutions, came the pivotal moment of the match. Once again the match turned on the ineptitude of the officials. Robin Van Persie scored a goal, only to find himself flagged offside. You just knew from the fact that Sky refused to show a replay during the match that he was not offside. After the game we finally got the proof. That goal would have made it 4-2 to Arsenal. Yes, we have the ability to throw such a position away, but you have to say that a 4-2 lead might just have killed off Tottenham in the circumstances and Arsenal could have picked them off at the back if they were chasing the game. This is what makes me so desperately frustrated this evening. We have dropped too many points lately, a lot of them our own fault. But we have also been cost points by linesmen - at home to Sunderland and then last night. With those four points in the bag we would again be in charge of the Title race, masters of our own destiny.
It wasn't just the disallowed goal either. Every time we played a ball to feet we saw the receiving player pushed in the back, but no free-kick was ever given. Twice we saw Theo Walcott virtually rugby tackled by Assou-Ekotto, off the ball, as he tried to make a run but again no free-kick came our way. Meanwhile, every time the freak went near the ball he would throw himself down and get the decision - the man is 6'7" for God's sake - surely common sense tells you he is not being fouled all the time, doesn't it? And what about the three minutes of injury-time - there was at least one minute alone, not added on, for Gallas pretending to have hurt his knee (only to sprint across within twenty seconds to dispossess Arshavin) - after Sunday I find this really quite bizarre. I don't care what anyone says, we were robbed last night (again) and it makes me sick.

There'll be no blog tomorrow, unless there is some big news from Arsenal. I'm probably going to take my five-year-old to see Dover Athletic, though I really begrudge paying £10+ to get in and stand to watch the game. I'll be back on Saturday with a preview of the Bolton game but, in fairness, the Championship is now well and truly out of reach so we are playing for second place.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Tottenham Hotspur (a) preview

Bac is back tonight

I'll keep this fairly brief as it's so late in the day. Manchester United have left the door ever so slightly ajar once again after their failure to win at Newcastle last night. In many ways it makes Sunday's disastrous ending all the more frustrating - the win would have meant that we were now masters of our own destiny once again. Apparently Ferguson thinks United should have had a penalty. My Dad says even Sky admitted Newcastle should have had one. Having not seen the game I can't really comment, but if Sky are saying Newcastle were robbed against Man Utd then it must be true.
Over the last couple of days Arsene Wenger, Robin Van Persie and Wojciech Szczesny have been saying all the right things about the Title challenge. I suppose we must given credit to them for that. However, various players have said the right things all season, only for things to go wrong again. After we lost at home to the mugs we play tonight the players were quick to apologise and give it the "it won't happen again" spiel having let a 2-0 lead slip. What happened two months later? We lost a FOUR goal lead at Newcastle. They told us their attitude was wrong against West Brom at home, and it wouldn't happen again. We promptly lost to Newcastle in similarly abject fashion. The point I'm trying to make is that words mean nothing. Words are what people like myself use because we don't have the ability to use actions. The players and the Manager are the only people in a position to make their actions count, so let's hear no more talking about it, and see a bit more doing it.
The team news is excellent. Only Fabianski and Vermaelen remain unavailable in the squad. That means, thank goodness, that Bacary Sagna has recovered from injury and will replace Eboue at full-back. The thought of Eboue being constantly the wrong side of Gareth Bale was one I didn't enjoy, so I'm pleased that Sagna will be there. Elsewhere I'd love to see us change formation and do something to surprise the mugs in their own back yard. It would be the biggest surprise since Aliadiere started the FA Cup semi-final in 2004 if it were to happen, but I live in hope.
As for Spurs, I fear Heurelho Gomes. He had his nightmare moment last week against Real Madrid and is the sort of goalkeeper, much like Manuel Almunia, who is also capable of occasional brilliance - look no further than the North London Derby this time last season for evidence of what he can do. Given the way that opposition goalkeepers seem to save their best for Arsenal it is something that worries me greatly. They might also have that freak playing up front for them and he has a ridiculously good record against Arsenal.
Going in to tonight we are owed a good performance from many of our big players - Nasri, Walcott, Van Persie and, in particular Fabregas. The Captain has been vocal in the last couple of days in his views on the situation with the squad and winning trophies. He might well be correct, and his views (as reported at least) echo those of many, including myself. However, he is the Captain of Arsenal and should be keeping his mouth shut. As I said earlier, only the players and Manager are in a position to influence things via their actions. Tonight it is now or never. It's time to deliver, and Fabregas must lead in more ways than one.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The referee giveth, and the referee taketh away, PFA are a joke

Andre Marriner - someone buy this perma-tanned tit a new stopwatch

I apologise for not writing a post last night as promised, but I'm sure you can understand why I didn't. I think that, had I written something last night, it would have been even more incoherent than normal. As you can imagine I was like most Arsenal fans last night - absolutely fuming at what had gone on in the last couple of minutes of the match.
It's difficult to know where to start really. I could start with Eboue, I could start with Wenger, I could start with Fabregas or I could start with the referee. I think I'll go for the referee first, and get it out of the way.
I think you'd have to say that Mr Marriner had a fairly decent afternoon up to the 97th minute. Any major decisions had been pretty much right, including Arsenal's penalty (from my vantage point it looked generous, but I've since seen it on TV and the ref got it right). So, having said all that, what is my gripe with Mr Marriner? Well, leaving aside the fact that he is the most orange man to set foot in a football stadium since Phil Brown got the sack from Hull, I have to take issue with the fact that Liverpool equalised in the 102nd minute of the game. When the board went up with eight minutes on it I thought that about right. I immediately looked at the digital clock above the tunnel and it showed 17:50. When Robin Van Persie scored Arsenal's penalty I looked again and it was 17:58. I make that eight minutes. Even accounting for an extra 30 seconds for the goal/yellow card (given for RVP removing his shirt) it doesn't explain how play was allowed to go on and on and on and on like that. Today's Sun has put together a breakdown of the time taken out of the injury-time where the ball wasn't in play, and have used it to berate Arsene Wenger as, according to these cretins, the referee got the time right. For God's sake, what a load of old b******s. If we're going down that road then each game should last for over three hours. The clock is not stopped whenever the play stops. The referee played on past the ninety minutes on his watch - of that there must be no doubt. And it's not the first time we've suffered in that way this season - remember Sunderland? I've gone on about this first in order to make it clear that, whatever I say below about our own failings, the players should have been in the changing rooms, discussing how they had got themselves a Title lifeline, long before the equaliser was scored.
Now then, how about Fabregas next? It has long been said that Cesc Fabregas is Captain of Arsenal simply because there isn't really anyone else. It is also said that he is only Captain of Arsenal because it was seen as a way of keeping him here a bit longer. What can certainly be said is that it's got nothing to do with his leadership skills. Some people excused his disgusting display in Barcelona by pointing to his injured hamstring. Yesterday there were no such excuses. Fabregas' display was woeful. He was disinterested in the extreme and his passing was of the sort of standard, and application, that has people howling their derision at Denilson and Arshavin. Okay, he won us the penalty, but had Denilson been on the pitch and playing like that he would have been booed off. If you think I'm wrong then just consider the cat-calling that Nicklas Bendtner endured when his first touch of the ball was to give it back to Liverpool. Fabregas, meanwhile, consistently passed to black shirts, but not a word of criticism is heard from the masses. Then there is the complete lack of organisation from him after we scored. Who was out there calming the others down? Who was telling them all to get their mind back on the job until the final whistle? Who was being a leader? Certainly not our skipper. Fabregas no longer wants to play for Arsenal, that much is clear from his displays in recent weeks. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded. I have no problem with Fabregas wanting to go to Barcelona, but right now he is the Arsenal Captain - it's time he started to play like it.
Emmanuel Eboue is next on my list. Unfortunately Eboue is indicative of the state of Arsenal's mediocre squad players. We all knew three years ago that he is not good enough to play for Arsenal. I disagreed intensely with his treatment at the Wigan game a few years ago, but the reaction of the crowd that day should have been enough to tell the Manager that he was not up to the job of playing for Arsenal. Eboue has since become a cult figure with lots of Arsenal fans, but here's the thing - cult players are considered such because they are usually sub-standard. It's almost as though a player becomes a cult figure because the paying fans see him as the nearest in ability to themselves - i.e. he's not very good. Just think about Terry Mancini (though his contribution to keeping Arsenal up in the 70's should not be forgotten), Perry Groves, John Jensen - all of them are not exactly famed for being world-beaters. Eboue is merely the latest in that line. What he did yesterday, when he rushed in to the back of Lucas, was the action of a man way out of his depth. Wenger talks about "mental strength." In Eboue's case I'll give him the mental part of that, but not the strength. And it's not just the ridiculous foul that probably cost us our final chance to catch Man Utd, there is also the other unacceptable behaviour he displays. How many times do we have to see him go down as though he is the latest Eduardo, only for him to bounce back up without so much as a magic sponge? I wrote the other day about The Arsenal Way, and about Arsenal having a certain class. Eboue's behaviour on the pitch does not fit in to that, and the Board should be telling the Manager to sort it out (there is a well known story from the 1930's where the then Chairman of Arsenal, I think possibly Sir Bracewell Smith, sacked a certain Arsenal player immediately after the game in which the opposition saw their winger carried off on a stretcher as a result of a nasty tackle - that was The Arsenal Way). Yesterday he got Skrtel booked with his play-acting (he's not alone in doing it - Suarez did the same for Liverpool - but it is not becoming of an Arsenal player). What he did in the second-half when he threw himself down, pretending to have pulled something, as Suarez went towards goal was even worse - it very nearly cost us a goal - he then got up and trotted back to defend the resulting corner with nothing wrong with him. Utterly disgraceful. Hopefully it's the last straw, but due to Sagna being injured he will almost certainly have to play at Tottenham on Wednesday. I'll move on quickly before I get started on his "on-the-ball" play.
And so to Arsene Wenger. Again. His contention to Dalglish that it wasn't a penalty is understandable - from his angle he may well have seen it like that, in the same way that I saw our own penalty (I notice The Sun think it's funny that the uncouth Glaswegian told Arsene to p***-off, and then ignore the fact that he went on to tell him to f***-off as well). However, to still say it wasn't a penalty after seeing the replay is simply deluded. He criticises the referee for giving it (had he moaned more about the time added on I'd have agreed with him) and blames him for Arsenal not getting a win. There is not a word said by Wenger about the complete failure of his "mentally strong" team to see out a lead they only acquired in the 98th minute.
Once again yesterday we were back in the twilight-zone for substitutions. Marouane Chamakh was sent to warm-up, but 30 seconds later Alex Song was called upon as Arsenal's last sub of the game. These are not the actions of a man in control of himself. And why the hell was Song coming on anyway? We are nil-nil in a game we have to win, and our Manager takes off Diaby (who was head and shoulders above every other Arsenal player going forward yesterday - his best game of the season by a country-mile) and replaces him with our defensive midfield player, leaving a centre-forward on the bench. I just don't get it. I read on the official website today that Wenger has noted the fact that we are not creating much at home recently (no goals from open play in the last four home league games is an indictment of Wenger's chosen "tactics"). If he's noticed this then wouldn't it be a good idea to try something different? How about two men up front, rather than making Nicklas Bendtner try and play on the right-wing all the bloody time? How about a few long-balls up to a big target man? Tactics? Not at Arsenal.

Congratulations to Jack Wilshere on winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award. However, you'd have to wonder what sort of award this is when the man winning the "senior" version is also nominated for Young Player, but doesn't win it. I would suggest that any credibility the PFA awards might have had was erased for good last night. Gareth Bale won the main prize for his two performances against Inter Milan - bear in mind that he has just one assist in the Premier League this season. With quality like that from wide areas the Premier League is truly the best League in the World...or not. Samir Nasri was runner-up. Edwin Van Der Sar wasn't nominated (disgraceful). Charlie Adam was nominated, but didn't make the Team of the Year. Like I said, no credibility whatsoever.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the advertisements have disappeared from beneath this post. This is because Google Adsense have disabled my account for some spurious, unspecified reasons. They have sent me an email to tell me this, with a link that tells me how to appeal - the link is to a web-page that doesn't exist. I can only assume that this tax-dodging organisation, based in the West Indies for business purposes with a Bank of Ireland account, doesn't like to pay out to people when they are approaching the threshold at which they have to do so. If I am wrong about this and they re-instate my account I will apologise unreservedly. In the meantime they can f***-off.
As a result I am now looking for advertisers on the site. If you are interested in getting your logo or a link to your business website on this blog then please leave your contact email address in the comments and I'll be in touch - the site received over 30,000 hits in the past month so there is plenty of traffic to view your adverts.

You can follow the blog on Facebook by joining the group "It's MY Arsenal Opinion" or on Twitter by following @ARSENALDvbrisG.

I'll post a preview of the Spurs game either tomorrow, or on Wednesday morning - it's my birthday tomorrow so if I get away from the abject misery of Arsenal right now it will be most welcome.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Liverpool (h) preview

Wojciech Szczesny - should be back tomorrow

I don't like playing on a Sunday. If we have to be on TV I would far rather it was the early kick-off on a Saturday. I find the whole weekend is arse-about-face, and travelling on a Sunday is an annoying bind. Having said that, the fact that we are on telly at this time of the season means we are still Man Utd's closest challengers, so we must take the rough with the smooth.
The team news is encouraging for once. We have Wojciech back in goal and Alex Song is apparently (and amazingly) fit again - I hope his performance is an improvement on what we saw against Blackburn a fortnight ago. Denilson is also fit for duty but I will be seriously disappointed to see him taking a place on the bench ahead of people like Aaron Ramsey. The fact that the squad tomorrow is also likely to be boosted by Johan Djourou, and the news that Thomas Vermaelen might yet get some action before the end of the season, means we go in to a match on a bit of a high for the first time in ages.

Liverpool have been a bit inconsistent since King Kenny returned. The thing that worries me is that they will have Andy Carroll (who has already destroyed Squillaci and Koscielny once this season) and Luis Suarez up front, as well as the tireless Dirk Kuyt. I really like Suarez and I imagine there will one or two European Club's kicking themselves at missing out on him at such a reasonable price. The absence of Steven Gerrard is a bonus for Arsenal and the Liverpool defence is capable of being awful on occasion. Fingers crossed for their worse side tomorrow.
One thing keeps me confident for tomorrow and that is the fact that Liverpool and Manchester United are level on 18 League Titles. Being a Liverpool man Kenny Dalglish knows that most Liverpool fans would accept defeat tomorrow if it ultimately leads to Arsenal stopping United from taking their record. I hope he can convey that to their players before kick-off!

That's your lot for tonight. I'll review the game, hopefully, tomorrow evening when I get back.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Arsenal Way, Bring back Adidas

Some things still ooze Arsenal class

It's been a difficult time to be an Arsenal supporter of late. The problems on the pitch over the past six weeks have seen a general apathy growing towards much of what the Club is doing these days. There are people out there who would seek to find fault with everything done by the Club from the Board, to the Manager to the players, all claiming that it's destroying what they thought was "their Club." However there are still some things Arsenal do better than anyone - and they always will.
When I was younger I often heard people talk about "The Arsenal Way." I always thought this meant something special, that we were a cut above because these older men spoke in awe of "The Arsenal Way." My Dad always made it clear that Arsenal were a bit special with their marble halls, and Herbert Chapman and the Commisionaire etc. As I grew up I came to understand what exactly they meant by it. To me it means that everything at Arsenal is done with a touch of class. It is understated, yet magnificent. It is done quietly, but in the grandest of manners. Yesterday Arsenal showed that we are still a cut above. We still have that touch of class that no other Club can ever lay claim to. Amid the tributes to Daniel Fiszman the Arsenal Director's oversaw a sombre ceremony (made sombre by Mr Fiszman's passing) as the bridges that link Drayton Part to the Stadium were named after Danny Fiszman (at the South end) and Ken Friar (at the North end). This ceremony was planned before Mr Fiszman died and it is a wonderful tribute to the two men who made the stadium possible. Whatever you think about moving from Highbury (and I still do not like going to football at the new place - it just isn't the same, it isn't "home") the achievement of getting the new ground ready is considerable. That Arsenal should commemorate the two men who made it possible, in such an understated and classy way, just shows that "The Arsenal Way" is alive and kicking. Class - you can't buy it. Just ask Chelsea.

Given the fact that I have just celebrated Arsenal's traditional class it is disappointing to have to report on what appear to be the new Arsenal home and away shirts for next season. Thanks to Arsenal Insider you can view them at this link.
Two things leap out for me. The first is the horrible, disgusting abomination that is the new away shirt. Nike simply do not get it. Sadly, nor do Arsenal. What the fans want in an Arsenal shirt is not difficult to achieve - red shirt with white sleeves for home, yellow and blue for away. What is so difficult to understand with that? I have never not wanted to buy the latest Arsenal shirt...until now. I am fairly certain that I will not be purchasing the new Arsenal away shirt, because it's the most disgusting, horrible, non-Arsenal shirt I've ever seen.
The second thing that leaps out is the Arsenal crest. It's bad enough that we have the current club badge which looks like it was inspired by some badly drawn Hannah-Barbera cartoon, unlike the beautiful crest at the top of this post. At least, on the current shirt, it is embroidered and shown in certain colours that reflect Arsenal. The badge on these two new shirts has a laurel-leaf surround to highlight our 125th anniversary which falls on Christmas Day of this year, and it includes the motto "Forward" which will be familiar to any older readers - the first history of Arsenal, written by former player Bernard Joy (the last amateur to play for England, I believe) was called "Forward Arsenal" - so no problems there. The problem is that the crest itself look like it is printed on to the shirts. If that is the case then it must surely be the cheapest, nastiest piece of old tat ever produced.
You will remember how the first season at the new stadium saw replica shirts having to be replaced by Arsenal because the sponsor would peel off the shirt. A similar, though seemingly less prevalent, problem has been encountered this season. Given these issues, and the fact that Nike keep bringing out such crap Arsenal shirts (last season's home effort was an absolute disgrace as well), can we please go back to Adidas? My favourite Arsenal shirts of all time were both made by Adidas - the 88-89 away shirt, and the 90-91 home shirt. If you look at the quality of their offerings for other teams (Bayern Munich, Real Madrid etc) and even in other sports (the British Lions rugby merchandise was first-rate) they continually knock spots off Nike - so let's have a change, please, because Nike are bloody awful.

I'll preview the Liverpool match tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Danny Fiszman - a true Arsenal man

Danny Fiszman

The Club announced yesterday that Danny Fiszman has died after a long battle with cancer. I think many people knew Mr Fiszman was ill, but very few would have realised how imminent his passing would be. Of course this explains the sale of his shares in Arsenal to Stan Kroenke.
Danny Fiszman has been a shareholder and Director at Arsenal for nearly twenty years. For a long time he was the major shareholder in the Club and the leading figure on the Board. When the Board took the decision to move from Highbury it was Fiszman who, along with Ken Friar, secured the permission to build the new ground within a stones-throw of our old home (the much vaunted David Dein wanted us to move to Wembley). He then effectively gave up the day to day management of his business interests in order to oversee the stadium project. That it was delivered on time, under budget, and the nature of the manageable loan agreements are all down to his tireless work on behalf of the Club. It is hard to overstate the work that went in to securing planning permission etc, and to overcoming the various legal challenges that were made against the plans of Arsenal – again this was all down to the work of Danny Fiszman and his cohorts in the project team.
Many will have seen Mr Fiszman simply as a Director, rather than a benefactor. By that I mean that he was often maligned on the grounds that he never spent his millions on the team, but seemed happy to sit on his shares as the price went up. I must admit that I was pretty much in this camp until watching a TV interview with Tony Adams a few months back. It is little known that most of Arsenal’s early success under Arsene Wenger was down to a cash injection from Danny. Tony Adams has told the story of how the Summer of 1997 saw Mr Fiszman personally finance the deals for Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, Gilles Grimandi and the other players to join that year (the others were Alex Manninger, Luis Boa Morte, Christopher Wreh, Matthew Upson and Alberto Mendez – of those only Mendez didn’t end up with a Championship medal in 1998).
When you consider that, and the fact that he was the main man behind the work of moving to the new stadium, it is clear that Danny Fiszman deserves his own place in Arsenal history. He may not be a Chapman or a Wenger, a Bergkamp or an Henry, or even a Sir Henry Norris or a Dennis Hill-Wood, but Danny Fiszman would feature highly if someone was to write a new comprehensive history of Arsenal Football Club to the present day.


Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Some streamlining for Kroenke to do

Arsenal Ladies FC - does anybody care?

Apparently the new, re-launched, Women's Premier League (WPL to give it the snazzy, publicity attracting *cough* title) gets under way tomorrow. I really couldn't care a stuff. Apart from one thing - Arsenal are the top team. A cause for celebration, surely? Not in my book. Let's consider the fact that our football club is in big debt in order to pay off the stadium loans. Whatever might be said this has surely had an impact on our transfer money. So why the hell is money being spent on this glee-club, when there are far more important places for it to be spent?
Have you ever watched ladies football? The standard has improved, without a doubt, but I guarantee that a top Sunday League side would beat most of the ladies teams in the new league. The whole idea of Arsenal Ladies is merely a drain on the resources of the Club. A number of people are actually in full-time employment with the Club in the communities departments because of Arsenal Ladies FC. We even run an "academy" for God's sake. Each of the ladies teams are provided with kit and training gear etc. Now that they play in Europe we are, no doubt, funding that too. How can this be considered a good thing for Arsenal's business? Arsenal Ladies brings no money to Arsenal FC. If the Arsenal Ladies were disbanded tomorrow it would have no adverse effect whatsoever on Arsenal FC, bar a few insignificant headlines about the new League being abandoned by the big-boys (or should that be girls?)
You want to know the worst thing about Arsenal Ladies Football Club? When I went to the European Cup Final in Paris I found myself sat next to Faye White, who is/was the Captain of Arsenal Ladies. Faye, at least, is an Arsenal fan. Of more concern was the fact that the whole squad were sitting around us. Some of those present had been featured in the matchday programme during that last season at Highbury and had told how they were fans of Man Utd, Liverpool or Chelsea. Despite this these women had been given tickets for Arsenal's biggest ever game. I know lots of people who were unable to get tickets for that Final in 2006, even though they followed the Club all over the place, year on year. It makes me absolutely sick.
So I have this to say to Stan Kroenke: If you want to start streamlining Arsenal's business, and getting rid of waste and profligacy, make a start with this complete drain on time and money, and put the savings towards the REAL Arsenal team.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Blackpool 1 - 3 Arsenal, Silent Stan makes himself heard

Jens - Thank God

Three points. I suppose it doesn't matter how they come anymore, as long as we get a win in every match to the end of the season. My overwhelming feeling watching the game today was frustration at the fact that the players seem incapable of learning their lesson - I could see another Newcastle coming a mile off this afternoon.
I'm writing these thoughts while watching the US Masters golf so I hope you'll forgive me if they seem a little brief, or a bit distracted.
There was drama before the match even started this afternoon when Manuel Almunia was "injured" in the warm-up. It seems rather convenient to me that a man under such pressure, and with such a fragile mental state as Almunia, should develop a knee problem as the game is about to kick-off. I like Almunia, who seems a genuinely nice guy, who ALWAYS does his best, but he knows he isn't really up to it and so do we. I'm sure I wasn't alone in being quietly happy when it was announced that Jens Lehmann would be in the starting eleven in his stead. As Alan Smith said on Sky, Jens is now the man in possession so there is little reason for him to be replaced unless Szczesny gets himself fit in the near future.
Blackpool started quickly, as you would have expected. I thought we were exposed defensively again in the absence of Song. With Jack Wilshere having a very poor day (though if there is a more fouled player in the Premier League I would be surprised) there was little cover in front of the back-four. In the early going there were three or four balls fizzed in to the six-yard area only for Jens to take one step off his line and catch them comfortably. I feel that Manuel would have been retreating in to his net had he been faced with that early onslaught.
When we went in front we saw Abou Diaby at his very best. The big man broke up the play, set us going forward, and continued his run to finish off a sweeping move. If Diaby played like that throughout any game he would be a class player. The same goes for the second goal, with Eboue doing what he does best and running at people, before crashing an unstoppable shot in to the net. Unfortunately the pair of them then reverted to type. When we were struggling in the second-half (McIlroy is just teeing off - good start) Eboue kept passing it straight to the opposition, while Diaby was everywhere the ball wasn't - when we went forward he was nowhere to be seen, and he was similarly absent in defence.
Our first-half would no doubt have had the neutrals, the Johnny Come Lately's and the Tarquin and Henrietta's purring with delight. "Wonderful football." "Entertaining stuff." Or, as I would put it, "no end product because no sod will shoot for goal when they have the chance to kill the game off." Robin Van Persie must be the only centre-forward in the World that would choose to pass to one of his midfielders when he sees the goalkeeper 30 yards out of his goal with the net gaping (that Diaby then decided he should beat another defender rather than shoot in to the empty goal only compounded the issue). The thing that's most frustrating is that this profligacy is not new. It's not even exclusive to this squad over the past couple of years. Going right back to Wenger's greatest teams there has been a consistent reluctance to humiliate the opposition. The odd seven goal thrashing apart we have never really seen Arsenal do to the opposition what Man Utd did in their pomp, or what Chelsea did last season. What the players need to understand is that goal difference might yet play a big part in the final reckoning this season, so they must take every possible opportunity to score a goal.
We were lucky in the second-half. It was no surprise to see Blackpool get a goal after we had been so wasteful. Then they should have had a penalty. We would be screaming absolute blue murder if Koscielny's foul had been at the other end and we had been denied a spot-kick (Rory's left himself a nasty putt for par). Having said that (and he's missed it) I have to wonder about the commentary again on Sky. I have to say that I couldn't work out if Blackpool's biggest cheerleader today was a bloke in the third row behind the goal, or Alan Parry on the microphone - I bet he was wearing a tangerine tie, such was his delight at Blackpool's comeback, and his despair at their misfortune. Parry really is up there with Clive Tyldesley in the worst commentator stakes, as is Rob "YES" Hawthorne - just listen for his shouting of the word "YES" whenever he calls a Man Utd goal - if Hawthorne's not a Man Utd fan then I am!
At 2-1 we were rocking, and Van Persie - man of the match somehow - was still missing chances. Thankfully Theo set up RVP for a winning goal and we could calm ourselves down a bit, or so we thought. Gael Clichy, Arsenal's best player for me today, got caught not concentrating again and we needed Jens Lehmann to save us when left one-on-one with DJ Campbell. Anyone who thought Jens wasn't up to it was answered in that moment. The way the Arsenal fans rose to him (Tiger Woods is playing some good stuff today) at the end of the game showed what those present thought about the German veteran.
As I said at the start of this piece, a win is a win and that is all that matters now. I just wish I could enjoy the game a bit more, and perhaps take some genuine pleasure from watching the team again.

Off the pitch this looks like being a momentous time in the history of Arsenal Football Club. It seems that Stan Kroenke has reached an agreement to buy the shares of Daniel Fiszman (who is seriously ill with cancer) and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith. This takes the American comfortably over the mark at which he must launch a formal bid for control of the Club (McIlroy's having a nightmare early doors). The ramblings of the Chairman yesterday will see support for such a takeover gather pace I imagine. I am not in favour of a single owner, personally. There are too many unanswered questions in any such arrangement - where is the money coming from? Is there a leveraged debt against the Club? Will the owner choose to interfere? What will happen to the price of a ticket? All in all I do not believe it is a good thing, though it might finally make the Manager answerable to someone. The other thing to consider is who else might have been able to buy the Club. If it was a straight choice between Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov I would back the American every time.
There will be lots more to come on this story over the next few days and weeks, you can be certain. It's the kind of upheaval that is not welcome at the business end of the season but perhaps Stan's hand has been forced by Usmanov's Red & White Holdings and their own ambitions. These are worrying times. Arsenal Football Club is heading in to uncharted territory. More than anything, the Club we all grew up with is moving further and further away from what we know and love (good scrambled par for Rory at hole number 2).

That's your lot for now. I'm switching off to watch Rory being typically British and, no doubt, becoming the latest heroic loser from these islands (I really hope he wins, though).

Saturday, 9 April 2011

We're all very naughty boys, Blackpool (a) preview

Will Arsenal like to be beside the seaside?

It seems that civil war is breaking out between Arsenal's management and a growing section of the support. Obviously Arsene Wenger still has plenty of support amongst the fans, but it can't be denied that those who doubt the Manager are growing in numbers (check out the four comments left after yesterday's post - if they are representative of the Arsenal demographic then home matches could be ugly affairs until the end of the season). The comments of the Chairman today will have alienated even more supporters - especially those who pay their money to go and watch the side. Peter Hill-Wood has stated that anyone who questions Arsene Wenger, or the way the Club has been run in recent times, is "stupid." Indeed we are. After all, you'd have to pretty bloody silly to keep blindly paying out to watch Arsenal when the powers that be hold you in such contempt. In no other industry could a Chairman get away with slagging off the customers (for that is what we are to Arsenal) in such an outrageous fashion.
Mr Hill-Wood (whose Arsenal heritage and sense of class is something that has always marked him out as the figure-head of the Club) has also threatened the Arsenal Supporters Trust with being, effectively, ostracised. I am not a member of the Arsenal Supporters Trust, but those who are have every right to voice whatever concerns they have - after all they are shareholders, in just the same way the Chairman is. The comments directed at the AST are the sort of thing you'd expect to hear from Colonel Gadaffi or some other mad dictator - it's largely along the lines of "you're not on board with us, so we'll cut you off." Far better, of course, for the Club to pretend to be fan-friendly by embracing the minority group Redaction (who do not, and will never, represent me in their dealings with the Club) - they have to tow the line or find their banners and their "singing-section" (twats) shut down.
I am absolutely fuming about this whole thing. Arsene Wenger says that second would be success, and the Chairman believes we are all stupid. I paid over £1300 for a season ticket. I travel to watch Arsenal at considerable expense. I buy merchandise from the Club shop in order that the money goes in to the coffers of the Club, rather than people like Steve Ashley at Sports Direct. I love Arsenal Football Club. Surprisingly enough I don't believe second place is success for the reason that, with minimal investment in obvious areas of the squad, we would be Champions. In fact we would have been Champions this season for the third time in four years. When I hand over the money for my season ticket in June this year I will still not consider second to be success. When I hand over £1300+ I expect the Club to invest properly and give the team the best possible chance to win silverware and make my outlay a worthwhile one. Am I stupid for that? Am I stupid because I want my Club to win trophies?
I am too young to remember Terry Neill being sacked, even though he was Manager when I saw my first game. As a historian of the Club I am fully aware of the circumstances that led to Neill being replaced by Don Howe. I am imagining that the depth of feeling among the supporters was not dissimilar to that which saw protests outside the East Stand in the mid-80's. Peter Hill-Wood's comments today might just see such protests moving a step closer in the current era. I hope we get nowhere near that, but the fire is being stoked.

The boys go to Blackpool tomorrow knowing that Manchester United and Chelsea have both had victories this afternoon. Blackpool have seen those around them getting beaten so they have the opportunity to pick up points on their relegation rivals against our woefully out of sorts team. Ian Holloway will have his side ridiculously fired up for tomorrow. We have to hope that the fire in Arsene Wenger's belly yesterday is transmitted to the Arsenal players.
Just when the injury crisis seemed to be easing we find ourselves likely to be without Alex Song (I'd be surprised if he plays again this season), Bacary Sagna and Theo Walcott. Apparently Theo has suffered a recurrence of his ankle injury. As I have contended on here before, there is no way that Theo was out with a "sprained" ankle, as the Club told us. There is clearly something more serious, and another Arsenal player is confirming himself as chronically injury-prone. Denilson also remains on the sidelines, while Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey should be back. Cesc Fabregas is fit to start.
The Sun today shows Arsenal lining up with Diaby alongside Jack Wilshere. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if that was the case, but my God will it annoy me. Have we not seen Diaby get enough chances? Aaron Ramsey must play in my opinion. We are playing a side fighting relegation, and we have to win the game to stay in with any kind of remote chance at the top, so let's go for it shall we? Failing that, how about a switch to 4-4-2 with Fabregas and Wilshere in midfield, and Van Persie joined by Chamakh/Bendtner up front? No chance, I fear.
Arsene Wenger has also confirmed that Manuel Almunia will play again tomorrow. As I've written before, I have no time for criticism of Almunia. We know he is not up to it. I suspect he knows it himself (there's plenty of evidence to call upon). He doesn't tell the Manager to select him. By Wenger's own admission Jens Lehmann was dropped in 2006 after making "only one mistake" (actually there were two but I'll let it go). So by what standards is Manuel being judged? He very nearly cost us two goals last week because his confidence is shot to pieces. If there was no intention to play Jens Lehmann, no matter what Almunia does wrong, why did we bother signing him? With every single error the pressure grows on Manuel, and the derision and scorn from the stands, pours down upon him more and more. Take him out of the firing line and let Jens organise his back-four and we might just get some improvement.

I'll post a review at some point after the match tomorrow.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Was this an admission that all is not as it seems?

Arsene Wenger - on the attack today

If you get the chance to see any of it on Sky or on Arsenal TV Online, then make sure you watch Arsene Wenger's press conference from today. Le Boss came out swinging punches at the media this afternoon after a week of near total silence from within the Club. It is rare to see Arsene Wenger quite so animated away from the touchline. Daily Mirror journalist John Cross put a message on Twitter to say that he has never seen Wenger so upset after the TV cameras were switched off. We all know that Arsene Wenger doesn't like to be criticised, and today he left the press under no illusions as to his view of their commentary on Arsenal's recent travails.
The crux of Wenger's rant today was that he knows more about football than the rest of us. Of course he does. There are some things he says and you simply can't argue with them. A man with such experience obviously knows far more than the rest of us about the game. I found it rather amusing that he was going down this road with the press. As fans we have a right to air our views, whatever our lack of knowledge, because it is us that pay the wages. However, the press have absolutely no right, nor qualification, whatsoever to question the likes of Arsene Wenger. Having said that, what he has done is pick a fight with the media.
Arsene will get slated for his comments today. I wonder if this was all part of his plan. The players have been under massive pressure in the past couple of weeks, taking flak from all angles. I believe this may have been Wenger's way of absorbing all that pressure, and making himself the focus of everything over the next few days. If that is correct then it's a sign of his, still excellent, man-management skills.
Of more interest to me, however, was what he had to say about the squad as he ranted at the press. Arsene started to ask what constituted success, and was told by the Sky reporter that "a trophy" was the answer. Wenger rebuffed the answer and said that success "was getting the best out of what is available." Is this an admission that what is available is not good enough? Is it, more importantly, an admission that he is unable to add to what is available, because the money doesn't exist? Is Wenger saying that he is doing his best with the tools provided - i.e. "I have no money so I have to make the best of a bad lot?" If this is the case then I want him to come out and say it properly, not in some sort of coded dig at the Board. If Arsene Wenger was to publicly say that the reason we haven't signed the obviously needed reinforcements is that there is actually no money then things would change. I believe that, even now, most of the fans (myself included, and I'm as anti-Wenger as you can get, right now) would back him. We would see that the Board had been dishonest about the transfer kitty, and their position would be untenable. Perhaps we can not expect such a statement from a Club employee (particularly before we are mathematically out of things), but it would certainly set the cat among the pigeons.
I was less enamoured with the rest of his ramblings where he got on to the "youth" of the team we have. He started to say that, with the ages of Wilshere, Fabregas, Nasri etc, we are performing miracles. I find that so infuriating. Sadly I could probably find the same comments from press conferences at this time of the season going back to 2007. The whole "mental strength/togetherness/spirit/we are a young team" nonsense has become annoying and the fans are numb to it. We no longer believe it, so why should the players - after all most of them have been hearing it as long as we have.

I'll preview the Blackpool game tomorrow evening - the team news is pretty awful.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Frimpong returns, Why I won't mock Tottenham

Emmanuel Frimpong

Arsenal Reserves were in action again last night and beat Sunderland 4-2 at Underhill. Jens Lehmann got another more than useful game under his belt, making at least one superb save down low to his right. Jens is clearly taking his return to Arsenal seriously and Manuel Almunia's "rabbit in the headlights" performance again on Saturday must surely have Arsene Wenger seriously considering a return to the first-team for the veteran. Unlike last week, though, Jens wasn't the big story last night - the return of Emmanuel Frimpong from injury was a very welcome sight.
In pre-season Frimpong took his chance when promoted to the first-team squad. He was outstanding throughout the friendly campaign and was seemingly pencilled in for a possible Premier League debut at Anfield on the opening day of the season. It was cruel, therefore, for him to suffer a cruciate ligament injury in training in the week before the season began. I have no doubt that Frimpong had played his way in front of Denilson with his contribution in Austria, Poland and the Emirates Cup. Obviously Alex Song would always have been first-choice in the defensive midfield role, but Frimpong would have provided energetic cover for the big man. Obviously he is another very young player, but he is an all-action performer - not the most technically gifted player, but someone who is willing to put his foot in and make a tackle.
Frimpong played the last twenty-five minutes last night and is going to slowly build up his match fitness. With Denilson "injured" (I believe he's been taken out of the firing line by Arsene Wenger, and wisely so given the stick the Brazilian has been getting of late) and Diaby injury prone (or a waste of space, depending on your viewpoint) I can see the youngster getting a little bit of first-team action before the season is out - especially if we have nothing to play for in the final couple of matches.

I was working last night so I've only seen the highlights, and read the match reports, from Spurs' trip to Real Madrid. I can't deny that I had a chuckle when I heard their score, and I wasn't surprised to hear Adebayor had got a couple - he always had a great record against the mugs. I've seen one or two jokes floating around and they, too, have raised something of a smile. However, I am finding it a little disconcerting just how much some Arsenal fans seem to be revelling in Tottenham's abject failure last night (please let's not hear any crap about them being down to ten men - I didn't see much sympathy for Arsenal when we lost in Barcelona, and our man didn't even deserve to be sent-off that night). There's a certain sadness, in my opinion, in taking some kind of vicarious pride in seeing your local rivals get destroyed. Indeed, it's the sort of thing that we've been quick to criticise Tottenham fans for in the past. Over the past 25 years most of the Spurs' fans greatest pleasures have been from seeing Arsenal lose in a big game - to do the same back would be somewhat hypocritical. I would suggest it's a sign of small-club syndrome and a terrible jealousy on their part when they indulge in such things, so let us not sink to their levels, fellow Gooners. By all means enjoy their failure, but don't take too much pleasure from it - we should be more interested in seeing Arsenal win than Spurs lose.

Monday, 4 April 2011

A quiet day

A pitcure of The Invincibles - just to cheer the mood

There really is very little Arsenal stuff about today. Personally I am still seething from Saturday. The cumulative effects of the past four weeks have left me with a simmering anger towards the Club.
I don't want to go over old ground, or to turn this site in to anything to do with protest movements, or anything like that. For that reason I am loathe to keep on about the Manager, or the nonsense he continues to come out with. Having said that I can't let go when he comes out with the kind of rubbish I've just read on SkyText. According to Arsene Wenger we were "too predictable" on Saturday. I can have no argument with that whatsoever. However, he goes on to say that this is "unusual" for Arsenal. Am I missing something? Have we been mixing things up on the pitch over the past few years? Is it that we're all not seeing it? I would contend that Arsenal's style is entirely predictable, and has been for the past four years. That is why we struggle so badly against a team which organises its defence properly against us. The most common criticism of Arsenal is that they have no "plan B." Also, if the Manager felt we were being predictable on Saturday, would it not be an idea to change things slightly? Move to a different formation? Bang a few high balls up to Chamakh and Bendtner? Maybe even shoot occasionally instead of trying to pass to someone else? You really couldn't make up this crap anymore.

I'll leave it there for today as it is only making me more angry. I'm off to see Peter Kay this evening so I'm hoping he can cheer me up!