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Monday, 30 May 2011

MY transfer policy, Barca masterclass, FIFA shambles

The good of the game? Not a chance

Now the season is well and truly over we have entered the silly season of "transfer gossip" or as I prefer to call it - "make up a story about any name you can find that might fit in to a position where Arsenal need a player and fill a paragraph in the newspaper with it, regardless of whether anyone has heard of them, or even if they might not actually exist." For a couple of years I fell in to the trap of religiously reading all this nonsense day after day, and then getting more and more depressed as we failed to add to the squad. If you want to put yourselves through all of that then please help yourself, but you will find very little comment on transfer gossip on this website. If a particular story looks interesting, or possibly true, then I will give my opinion but, by and large, I'll only have anything to say on a transfer when they actually happen.

I thoroughly enjoyed Barcelona's destruction of Manchester United on Saturday. It was nice to see them doing it to somebody else for a change. When we were dismantled (with only ten men on the field) at the Nou Camp Arsenal were ridiculed in the press for the way Barca toyed with them at the back. All of this was to forget that Nicklas Bendtner missed the chance to knock them out in the last minute. On Saturday we saw them make Manchester United's back line look like amateurs.
When Barcelona play like that I don't see how anyone stops them. It doesn't really come across on telly, but when you watch them live they always seem to have two extra players on the pitch when they have the ball, their movement is uncontrollable. When they don't have the ball, which is usually rare and short-lived, I have never seen a group of players that works so hard to get it back. The fitness levels of the Barcelona players are seemingly on a different level. Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Villa and Pedro sprint everywhere, they never jog.
They also have discipline in their defence. Dani Alves doesn't really play as a full-back, which is just as well as he is awful defensively. To compensate for that you will hardly ever see Busquets, Pique, Puyol (Mascherano on Saturday) and Abidal crossing the halfway-line. They are quite simply the best team I've ever watched. I remember marvelling at Real Madrid in the late 90s when the likes of Redondo were playing in midfield for them, and how they pinged the ball at each other with pace and control. I always felt that if I could see an Arsenal team play like that they would be the best. Between 2001 and 2005 we had just that, and that Arsenal team was the best I had seen, anywhere. But this group at Barcelona has raised the bar again.
Messi won the man of the match on Saturday but Xavi is someone I simply marvel at. He never seems to give the ball away. He is always moving. Pass and move, pass and move, all across the pitch, all being linked by Xavi and/or Iniesta. It is, perhaps, easier now to understand why Fabregas would want to join them. However, brilliant player though Cesc may be, can anyone honestly see him getting a start in that team? I had to laugh when the commentators on Sky claimed that Scholes would have been able to play in this Barca team - if ever you needed an example of how some English people still seem to think they have the best players then that was it in a nutshell. Manchester United were destroyed, and there is no shame in that against this team. Neither should there have been for Arsenal at the Nou Camp, yet the press made out we were humiliated and embarrassed - I haven't seen any apologies.

FIFA are entrusted as the custodians of football. I would suggest that FIFA has to be the most corrupt organisation in the World. It was obvious to me last week that this whole campaign against Mr Bin Hammam was being orchestrated by Sepp Blatter and his cronies. It is no surprise that Bin Hammam and Warner have been suspended while Blatter is "cleared" of any offences.
The whole World Cup bidding process showed that money and pay-offs are at the heart of all of FIFA's decision making. Hardly any of these people making the decisions are what could be called "football people." Platini, whatever most of us think of him, was a top class footballer, which is more than most of football's power-brokers can boast. It is disturbing to me that these people run the World game. These people are the ones who decide on rule changes, which is why we have no serious move towards the introduction of technology in the game. All the time these people are on this gravy train we will see football continue to be held to ransom by such stories of corruption. Lord Triesmann was castigated by the press and ostracised by the FA when he said what he did about the World Cup bidding a couple of years ago. I think some people owe him an apology.
What is required is the disbanding of FIFA. This can only be done in one of two ways. The first is for the FA, and the governing bodies in Scotland, Spain, Germany, Italy and France to break away from them. The loss of the six richest Football Association's in Europe would be catastrophic for UEFA and would put the power in to the hands of the European associations. The rest of the World would have to follow them. The second way is for the top European Club's to withdraw from UEFA. If the top 32 in Europe broke away it would bring UEFA's and FIFA's influence on football in to sharper focus - they would no longer be able to control the players and the Club's. Okay, they would ban those Club's from their formal competitions but this would not last long - money talks, and no competition could afford to lose Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea, Rangers, Celtic, Inter, AC Milan, Juventus etc. You would have to say that anything that removes the likes of Blatter from a position of authority must be good for football.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Cretins everywhere you look

No respect, no class

As much as it's nice not having to worry what the outcome of this weeks fixture will be I have to admit that the close season really is the most boring of times - and this is only the first week. Unless you have a bit of transfer activity there is really very little to get excited about. As a result I suppose I should be thanking Puyol and Pique for their latest attempt at winding us up with the whole Fabregas business.
As you can see from the photo at the top of this post they have taken their opportunity to pose with a framed picture of Fabregas at London Colney. Personally I was very much against Arsenal giving use of the our top class facilities to Barcelona. What have Barcelona ever done to help Arsenal? All they do is disrespect our Club by tapping up our players and trying to buy them on the cheap. This latest crass behaviour from their Captain and his over-rated defensive colleague once again underlines the gulf in class between Arsenal Football Club and FC Barcelona. These two idiots, you will remember, were responsible for forcing a Barcelona shirt over the head of Fabregas at the World Cup celebrations last Summer. It is difficult to put in to words quite how disrespectful to Arsenal this latest "prank" is. Arsenal should have made it in to a major incident and demanded an apology from Barcelona, and then they should have kicked them out of the training ground and told them to sod off to Tottenham.

On the subject of cretinous behaviour Stuart Pearce has been having his say on Jack Wilshere and getting himself a dig at Arsene Wenger in the process. As I hinted at the end of Monday's post Jack was left out of the final squad for the U21 tournament. This was done after Jack told Pearce he was not physically strong enough to take part following a long season. Obviously Arsene Wenger's hand was very much on the tiller with this one, and rightly so. Stuart Pearce's motives for wanting Wilshere (and Andy Carroll) in the team are purely self-serving. He believes that a successful campaign would look very good on his CV. When Fabio Capello leaves his job next Summer Pearce will also be on his way out of the FA set-up. Given that he has a less than average record in management he is reliant on some superficial success with England U21's to convince some sap of a Chairman to give him a job in 2012. Pearce is a joker, and the way in which he treated Jack Wilshere leading up to the squad announcement was very poor indeed. I won't go in to details, but suffice to say he was not happy when Wilshere told him he wouldn't be part of the squad - a phrase involving the words "toys" and "pram" springs to mind. Jack shouldn't let it bother him, though, and I'm sure he won't. The fact that Pearce is choosing to abuse Arsene Wenger over the whole thing does him no favours.

For all that I dislike Barcelona and the way they conduct themselves, both on and off the pitch, I want them to hammer Manchester United tomorrow evening. There can be no doubt that Barca are the favourites - their pace and flair is second to none. However, I can see Man Utd beating them. After all, in a one off game, anyone can beat anyone. Arsenal proved in the home leg that there is a way to beat Barcelona. Had it not been for Nicklas Bendtner falling over the ball we would have knocked them out, despite their second-half domination of our ten men at the Nou Camp.
Barca's pressing game is the key to their superiority. I have never seen a team that works so hard and so quickly to regain possession. That is also their downfall, however. When the opposition has the ball you will see three Barcelona players close them down. If the pass is made then a different three close down, and the same again for the next pass. That means that, if you can make four passes then you are behind them. It is far easier said than done, of course, but if you look at our goals in the home leg against them they really were that simple. You have to have sufficient quality to do that, and Man Utd do have that quality.
I'll be tuning in to the match tomorrow night, even though I can't stand the players on either team. Normally it would give me no pleasure to see Barcelona win, but in the circumstances I want them to destroy this Manchester United line-up. Ultimately you have the best team in the World up against the most over-rated United team in twenty years - anything less than a Barca win would be a travesty for good football.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Fulham 2 - 2 Arsenal - all done

My good friend Mr Kidd and his bride Rosanna

Do you remember when Birmingham scored the winner at the Carling Cup Final? Do you remember how Barry Ferguson chose to mock Laurent Koscielny by slapping him on the back of the head as he sat distraught on the Wembley pitch? I wrote the following day that I hoped Birmingham City would be relegated as some kind of payback for that moment. I always say that what goes around, comes around. Yesterday it came around for Barry Ferguson, Birmingham City and their odious supporters. Good riddance to them, they won't be missed. I just wish Wolves had gone too and we still had the delightful Blackpool team to enjoy next season. C'est la vie.

Apart from Arsenal's end of season result it was a good weekend for me. I went to the wedding of one of my great friends on Saturday. It was a truly magnificent day and a pleasure to share in James and Rosanna's special occasion. I gave up the booze in September but made an exception on Saturday (I was probably owed it after spending a stag weekend sober.) I was a little bit fragile come yesterday morning - not too bad, just a bit wobbly. I followed up yesterday with a day on the cricket pitch which ended in defeat, but a bit of a return to form for me, so not all bad.

As a result of playing cricket yesterday I have only seen Sky's extended highlights so I'm not going to say too much about what happened in the game. We all know that highlights are usually the least accurate representation of what has actually gone on in any game. The thing I noticed most from the highlights was how much Tony Gale seems to dislike Arsenal. He has a particular downer on Johan Djourou (who I'm assured continued his recent poor form yesterday) and he also seems to have taken a dislike to Wojciech Szczesny. Gale took issue with the Pole going after Gera after he tried to do Thomas Vermaelen. Personally I like to see one of our players getting involved in these situations as it shows a bit of gumption and spirit. I notice nobody in the media was getting on at Vidic and Ferdinand last week when they ran 50 yards to ensure the award of a penalty by getting in the face of the linesman at Blackburn. Perhaps if all the Arsenal players backed each other up like that we might get somewhere.
I was intrigued by the team selection yesterday. I am going to assume that Samir Nasri has agreed a deal to stay at Arsenal, hence his very much unexpected return to the side. Meanwhile we finally got our 4-4-2. Unfortunately it meant Aaron Ramsey inexplicably being shifted to the wing, despite him and Wilshere dominating midfield for the past few weeks. Instead of that we had another Lazarus-like return from Diaby - why? It was almost as though Wenger wanted to play 4-4-2 with the wrong players in some attempt to prove himself right about the 4-5-1 (it is certainly not 4-3-3 with the way we play it).
The game itself was seemingly a bit of a lacklustre affair, with Arsenal defending badly but scoring two very fine goals. Robin Van Persie has been outstanding since he came back and that's reflected in the result of the latest poll on this site where 56% of you felt he is the player they would least like to see leave the Club. The problem next season is going to be that, if and when Cesc goes, RVP will expect to be made Captain. Sadly, I don't think he should be as I don't like strikers as skipper, and I don't believe he is a leader - just like Fabregas. Vermaelen should be Arsenal Captain, but it could seriously upset the balance of Van Persie's mind. Bridges to be crossed for the Manager, but that's all a long way off.
The Arsenal fans made their feelings clear towards the end of the game - the chant of "spend some f***ing money" was clearly heard. I was annoyed to hear Wenger's interview after the game where he dismissed the fans by saying how we won't be signing any £50m players. Of course we won't, and no fan seriously thinks we would, or even should. Why did he come out with such a comment? What we want is proper investment in the squad to address the obvious areas of weakness. That is going to cost money, of course, but it certainly won't require ridiculous Torres-like transfer fees. A change of policy from constantly developing young players who might be good, back to signing some experienced quality - that's what is required.

So, the season is over. Thank God for that. Since February it's been painful, though if it has forced a change in the policy of the Manager it might just have been worth it. If we get off to a bad start next season, and players have not been signed (and others not shown the door) then Wenger will find himself on short time with the fans. We need a busy Summer in the transfer market, and we need it to happen quickly. The Club can not let things drift this Summer.

In terms of the blog I have plenty of stuff lined up to fill some of the empty days ahead. Pre-season begins in July so it will soon come around. I hope you find the posts entertaining as we move through the next couple of months - hopefully there will be plenty of real Arsenal stuff upon which to pass comment. The England U21 squad is named later today - there might yet be a pleasant surprise for us Arsenal fans if what I have heard is anything to go by...

Friday, 20 May 2011

"Rocked" by Denilson, Fulham (a) preview


The Sun must be really struggling for Arsenal transfer news. I couldn't believe it today when they chose to run a major article about Denilson wanting to leave us. Apparently Arsenal have been "rocked" by this decision from our midfield maestro. I have to say I'm devastated...or maybe not. I don't believe Denilson is as bad a player as many would have you believe. I always felt he was a reasonable footballer when in possession, but one that certainly hadn't gone beyond his early promise. The thing that has come to annoy me with Denilson over the past two years has been his "work" when we don't have the ball. Numerous times we have seen him jogging gently after the marauding opposition forwards as we concede another goal - the most famous being against Manchester United at home a couple of years back (the worst for me, though, was in the FA Cup at Stoke last season). He has become known as "deckchair" by certain sections of the fans and this has been, perhaps, not an unfair moniker. Any idea that Denilson moving on is bad news for Arsenal is complete nonsense. I would suggest that there would be many more howls of derision had he announced he was going nowhere. Arsene Wenger spoke yesterday about the need to keep quality players - he has told Denilson he can go. Enough said.

The season will finally end on Sunday at Fulham. I don't really expect to see Nasri, Fabregas or Clichy making an appearance. The mysterious thigh injury that is always picked up by players who are leaving/failing to sign a new contract has afflicted all three and has ended their season, if not their Arsenal careers. There is talk of Rosicky having a fitness test, but there is always hope that he will fail it - he's another one I hope has played his last game and is joining Denilson at the exit door.
I can't see many changes being made from the side that lost to Villa. Arshavin might well be dropped which will mean an "opportunity" for Nicklas Bentner on the left, or maybe something really radical like two up front with Bendtner or Chamakh alongside Robin Van Persie. I can see Eboue possibly getting a run out in place of a tired Bacary Sagna (hopefully another farewell appearance, but I fear the comedic one will be haunting us again come August). Something tells me Squillaci will not get to say goodbye so a return for Djourou, or a step up for Miquel appear likely. Jack Wilshere has been named in the U21 party for the Summer, so a minor calf injury would do nicely for him on Sunday, thus giving him the necessary rest until pre-season begins - we can but hope.
Fulham have once again done pretty well this year. They possess good forward players - I think Clint Dempsey is particularly good. Andy Johnson will always finish given the chance, while Bobby Zamora is big and physical enough to do us serious damage. At the back they have the towering Hangeland, but Van Persie should have enough to destroy him with his footwork - Hangeland is pretty average against tricky strikers, though at set-pieces he could prove our undoing again.
All in all I'll be glad when 6pm comes around on Sunday as it will all be over. It's been a slow death since February and a few weeks away from it will do us all good, from the Manager and the players right down to the fans. Our season has been a failure on most levels, but if Birmingham City end up relegated come Sunday evening then we will know that there is a God, and he deals in a very fine form of natural justice - let's hope Blackpool can perform themselves a miracle at Old Trafford too.

Until Monday...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Jens to stay? JET better off at Arsenal

Jens - might not be leaving

Skytext is carrying quotes from Jens Lehmann about his future. The key point made by Lehmann is that he wants to complete his coaching qualifications and then take a job in England. Given the fact that all of our goalkeepers (and I include Szczesny) seem to be afflicted by the same problems I would suggest that a job at Arsenal might not be out of the question. As well as the long-term plans of the German legend he makes the point that he might not yet be finished as a player as he "...can do it still. It is not forgotten." The quotes come from an interview with German newspaper Bild.
Jens is 41, but I don't see a problem with him being put on a player/coach contract and being engaged as the third choice goalkeeper at Arsenal. I think we all know that Almunia and Mannone are not up to it. I would add Fabianski to that pair also, and it is unlikely that the older Pole would be willing to hang around as understudy to his compatriot. I would be quite happy to see all three shipped out and an experienced, good quality keeper brought in to act as the immediate cover for (or to compete with) Szczesny.

I watched Cardiff City v Reading last night. I wasn't disappointed to see Reading win 3-0, and would be very happy if the Royals got promoted back to the Premier League. Reading's ground is a nice place to watch football, and very easy to get to from my part of the World.
Cardiff had much of the early play, without much goal threat, and most of that pressure stemmed from their left, where Arsenal's Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was stationed. In recent weeks JET had spent a little too much time on the bench, but he has started both play-off matches. Trailing 2-0 at half-time Cardiff had to really go for it in the second-half, but no real onslaught ensued. However, they did have two chances, both of which fell to Emmanuel-Thomas. Unfortunately he was guilty of at least one bad miss, though why Dave Jones chose to substitute him I really can't understand. When Jay went off Cardiff created nothing further for the rest of the game. Reading cruised through the remainder of the match following his departure from the field.
I have often wondered how much use a loan spell in the lower divisions is for our better prospects. I would suggest it's no coincidence that Jack Wilshere went to a Premier League side for the last part of his education before making it in to the Arsenal team. Cardiff's treatment of JET makes me think that the lad would have been far better off back at Arsenal, or at another Premier League team. I would make the same comment about Henri Lansbury, who spent the last six weeks on Norwich's bench. Whenever these boys play they look so much better at football than everyone else on the pitch, so why have them at a level below their ability?

Another loanee, Benik Afobe, should be in action for Huddersfield tonight, so good luck to him - the game is live on Sky.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Problems in the camp?

Szczesny tells it how it is

I read some interesting quotes from Wojciech Szczesny yesterday and they lead me to believe that all is not harmonious in the Arsenal squad. The young Pole is a confident boy and certainly doesn't seem afraid to give an interview at any time. At some point this will get him in to bother, with the wrong thing said to the wrong kind of journalist. Given that could be the case I am surprised that none of the tabloid muppets picked up on what he said with regards to his colleagues. The quotes were with regard to the Carling Cup Final and the effect it had on the team - Wojciech stated that he got over it straight away and looked ahead (I have no doubt that is the case) but that "I don't know about some of the other players." This is really a quite cutting comment and dangerously honest. It was clear to us that a number of the players have been badly affected by what happened at Wembley, and it had a huge bearing on the rest of the season, but I'm amazed that Wenger has allowed one of his players to offer the same opinion to the masses.
I feel there is a divide in the squad, and Vermaelen has followed up with his own critical comments based on what he's seen happen this season, as well as the debacle on Sunday. Szczesny too has stated that their was a "lack of focus" from certain of his teammates against Aston Villa. It is almost unheard of for players under Wenger to be making such critical comments of one another in public. The now famous squad meeting in early 1998 when Petit and Vieira were given what-for by the experienced English defenders was not known about until long after the event. I now see a situation where the genuine quality players in the squad, who genuinely work hard all of the time, are sick of the slackness that is prevalent in others. Let's be honest, can you really see the likes of Vermaelen, Sagna, Lehmann and Wilshere not getting seriously upset by people like Diaby, Arshavin and Denilson? Personally, I would see it as no bad thing to hear that there had been some trouble in the dressing room, or on the training ground, with one or two full and frank discussions taking place. Maybe then we might start to weed out the crap.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Why should we be surprised?

The last we'll see of these two?

When I saw the Arsenal substitutes yesterday I knew what we were in for. A bench that included Eboue, Denilson, Miquel and Henderson told me that the Manager clearly didn't see the game as a match that absolutely had to be won. With that kind of message to those starting the game how could we possibly expect them to finally drag themselves from the malaise that has engulfed Arsenal since the Carling Cup Final? It was no surprise, really, to be two goals down after quarter of an hour. The defending for both goals was amateurish, but that's pretty much what we've come to expect. Quite why Arsene Wenger felt Arsenal would be okay to pair two centre-halves who haven't played recently only he could answer. With a goalscorer like Darren Bent up against them it was a recipe for disaster.
The players seemed to up their game a little once we were two behind but we didn't test Friedel at any time in the first-half. Our first shot came after twenty-plus minutes, and that was only because Thomas Vermaelen took matters in to his own hands. We had Theo Walcott on the right, as usual, but he did not touch the ball until the twenty-sixth minute of the match. I sat behind the goal yesterday, downstairs by the away fans. It was noticeable from there that Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere do not stop running throughout the game. It was also noticeable that our defensive midfielder, Alex Song, seemed to be taking it upon himself to play the Cesc Fabregas role for most of the first-half. With that in mind, is it any wonder that our rusty cetral defenders were left so exposed?
I've read that Dunne's challenge on Ramsey was a stick-on penalty before half-time. As I said, I was right behind that goal and I didn't think it was a penalty. From my position Dunne seemed to make a very good tackle, and most of those around me seemed to be of the same opinion. It seems that the TV cameras must have provided a somewhat better view of the incident. Apart from that the referee was awful again. Somehow Petrov stayed on the field, and the disallowed goal was a complete joke. However, it was a sign of how bad Arsenal were that the referee didn't get the stick he deserved from the crowd. It was also a sign of how the season has fallen apart that the ire of the fans was directed at the players and Manager.
Our form since the Carling Cup failure has been largely relegation standard. We are unlikely to finish in the top three now which will mean a qualifying round, from an unseeded draw, for the European Cup. Perhaps a failure to qualify for the big one would finally bring the problems we face in to sharp focus. The big problem with finishing outside the top three, however, is that without the guaranteed money of the Champions League the transfer funds will not be known until it is too late.
Regardless of where we finish I now think there will be some changes to the playing staff. Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy have all developed "injuries" in the past few weeks. I find it unlikely that any of them will be with Arsenal next season - we've seen it happen with Flamini, Wiltord and Edu in other years. Andrey Arshavin would clearly rather be somewhere else, but it might be more difficult to offload the Russian. Then we have the dead wood to consider. Nicklas Bendtner is not going to hang around for the chance to play on the wing from time to time, while Denilson, Eboue, Rosicky, Diaby, Vela and Squillaci should all be shown the exit door. They won't be, of course, but I think at least four of them will be gone. Their role in the squad is easily replaced by returning loanees like Lansbury, Emmanuel-Thomas, Bartley and the promising Miyaichi. I'll be writing a piece about the loan players in the weeks to follow. The more high-profile departures, though, must be replaced by top class signings. As well as that there is the need to spend good money on quality players to address the weaknesses we already have in the side.
I'm not going to hold my breath on any of that happening because it would require such a change in the philosophy of Arsene Wenger. We must hope that the Board direct the Manager to make changes - they're certainly not going to sack him. With Manchester City likely to get better and better, and Torres likely to find his form we have probably missed our best chance of regaining the Premier League Title. Without investment in the team we face the prospect of following Liverpool in to mid-table obscurity. That is something that does not bear thinking about.

Now, where did I put that season-ticket renewal form? I feel privileged to pay a 6.5% increase, honest.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Aston Villa (h) preview

Vermaelen - back tomorrow

I had hoped to head this post with a photograph of Ryan Shawcross crying at Wembley this afternoon. Sadly I couldn't find one on Google. I didn't get to see the Cup Final as I've been on the cricket field all day. From what I've read it was all City. I did get to see the presentation on TV and watching that animal Shawcross blubbing his way up the stairs gave me plenty of pleasure, I can tell you. What goes around comes around, eventually. I hope his mummy was there to take him home again.

On to more important things and the boys finish their home programme against Aston Villa tomorrow. You can almost hear the sighs of relief from the Gooner faithful. The last three months have been long and miserable for us Arsenal fans. The Carling Cup Final saw the beginning of a tortuous run for us, and a downward spiral the players couldn't get out of. That tomorrow will be the last glimpse most of us will get of the players for a couple of months is, perhaps, no bad thing. Some of the Arsenal players will be around the Stadium on a match day for the last time as Arsenal employees. The likes of Tomas Rosicky, Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin, Emmanuel Eboue, Manuel Almunia and Cesc Fabregas will almost certainly not be here come the start of next season. I have left Jens Lehmann off the list as I can see him being involved with the players in some capacity next season - we might even see him make another farewell appearance on the pitch at some point in the match tomorrow.
We know that Thomas Vermaelen will return to the back four. Laurent Koscielny has suffered a knock and misses out (he's had an up and down first season in English football and a little early rest will do him some good). Arsenal have missed Thomas Vermaelen this season, of that there is no doubt. Would we have won the League had he not got injured? The answer is no, because Johan Djourou would have not got a look in had he been fit - remember that Djourou was very much behind Koscielny and Squillaci until late October came around. Would we have won the League had he been fit by the time of the Carling Cup Final? The answer to that is probably. The fact is, though, that he wasn't fit and Wenger should have signed someone. I'll talk about that more in the coming weeks, once the season is completely over. In the meantime we can say that it's great to have Vermaelen back, even if it is too late to rescue anything from the campaign.
Bizarrely enough tomorrow has become a bit of a must-win fixture. Yes, Champions League football is secure, but third place is anything but. Ensuring the third spot is important as it means we would not have to play a qualifying round for the European Cup, whereas fourth place would see us facing a potentially tricky tie before our season has even got started. We have qualified comfortably on the couple of occasions when it's been necessary, but we could do without it all the same.
I mentioned earlier that we might see one or two farewells tomorrow afternoon. We will be saying welcome back and farewell to one of the Villa players as Robert Pires will be making his final appearance against us tomorrow. I have no doubt Bobby will get his customary ovation from the Gooners. Villa have had a poor season, but they are a dangerous side. Ashley Young's pace can test any team, and a fit Heskey has the nous to trouble us at the back. At the other end they have the evergreen Brad Friedel in goal - how different might Arsenal's immediate history have been had we got hold of the veteran American when he left Blackburn?
I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to tomorrow as I fear one final disappointing effort from the Arsenal players against seemingly inferior opposition. I hope that they realise they owe the supporters a great deal for what they've put us through these past few months and that they put in the performance we fans deserve in the last home game of the season. Whatever does happen tomorrow I think the so called "lap of appreciation" will be held in front of many thousands of empty seats after the match, and deservedly so. By the time the players come out for their lap I hope to be in the car and on the way home - they do not deserve my applause for their efforts this season - the paucity of performances in so many games has cost them the glory they, and we, should have had.

Just before I finish there is some confusion over the date of the Arsenal fixture at Dover that I wrote about yesterday. The Dover website says Saturday 4th August. However, the eagle-eyed among you will notice that 4th August is a Thursday. I spoke to a Dover regular today and he thinks Saturday 6th is the actual date.

A match review will be put here either tomorrow night or, more likely, Monday morning.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Arsenal are coming to town, I'm not buying it Harry

Martin Hayes - welcomes an Arsenal XI this Summer

I was going to write this blog this afternoon but the server of the host website wasn't working so I couldn't log-in to post anything. Sorry about the wait.

On August 4th Arsenal are sending a team to play at Dover Athletic as part of the pre-season programme. I don't think we will see any of the "first-team" in action at Crabble but it is, nonetheless, a rare opportunity to see Arsenal in action in this part of the country. The last time an Arsenal team came to Dover was in 1994 and the side included Paul Davis and Scott Marshall (despite a clash with Tony Adams' ill-fated testimonial with Crystal Palace). Martin Hayes, who was part of the team which won the Littlewoods Cup in 1987 and the League Title in 1989 (he was on the pitch when Mickey Thomas scored at Anfield) is the Manager of Dover Athletic and those of us living locally were hopeful such a fixture would ensue.
Dover have completed their League season just outside the play-off places in the Conference South. They also had their best ever FA Cup run as they reached the third-round before losing to Huddersfield (a win would have brought them an away tie at Arsenal, of course). The star player at Dover, with over forty goals this season, is former Arsenal trainee Adam Birchall, so there are plenty of Gunners links at the Club.
Arsenal can count on good numbers in the crowd when they come to Dover. The local supporters club (Dover Gooners) has over 300 members, while there are many more than that in the Maidstone branch. I think red and white will be out in force in Dover on 4th August. I'm looking forward to it already.

I can't believe the press are buying Redknapp's claim that not finishing 5th is a bonus for his Tottenham side, as the UEFA Cup is something they really don't need. So we are expected to believe that, after one season in the Champions League, Spurs find the lesser competition beneath them. I'm sorry, but I would far rather be on Channel 5 on Thursday nights that not be in Europe at all. Steven Gerrard summed it up nicely on TV today when he stated that, while it's not what Liverpool would rather be in when it comes to Europe, the UEFA Cup represents another trophy to play for, and that's what big clubs are all about (obviously, I'm paraphrasing slightly, but that is the general gist).
I don't believe for one moment that Redknapp would rather be out of Europe than play in the UEFA Cup. My view is that he is trying to excuse Tottenham's abject failure to build on their "achievement" last season. Finishing fourth one year, then sixth the next, can not be deemed a success - and let's not hear any nonsense about beating Inter and AC Milan, possibly the poorest Italian sides ever to play in the European Cup.
At a time when we lament our failure to win the Title that was ours for the taking we can continue to take some solace from the fact that Spurs are mickey-mouse and will forever remain in our shadow. I believe Redknapp will not be Tottenham manager this time next year. He will have moved on (or been moved on) due to the fact that they will fall back in to mid-table mediocrity, and this nonsense about Europe is a not very good attempt at hiding their shortcomings.

I'll preview the Aston Villa match tomorrow night. Thomas Vermaelen is fit and expected to play, so there will be more on that tomorrow evening. In the meantime I want to wish Patrick Vieira the very best of luck in the FA Cup Final tomorrow. It will be far more palatable to see an Arsenal legend cavorting on the Wembley pitch with the famous trophy than it will to see Ryan Shawcross lifting the Cup for Stoke.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Happy Birthday Dennis

Today is the 42nd birthday of the single greatest player ever to play for our magnificent Football Club, Dennis Bergkamp. It being a quiet day I thought I'd take the opportunity to wish him Happy Birthday and give you the links to some video of the genius at work, here and here and here (with the legendary Dutch commentary).
When Dennis arrived at Arsenal everything changed for the better. The success we have had over the past 16 years would not have happened were it not for Dennis Bergkamp coming to Arsenal. We should be eternally grateful and know that, if Arsenal ever has a better player, he's going to have to be bloody good.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Another unacceptable lack of effort

Arsenal's new sponsor

I hate Stoke City. I despise everything about them. That's why I find the lack of effort yesterday even more unforgiveable than what has gone on in other defeats this season. Before the game the Manager spoke of the need to fight until the end. We can only assume that the players no longer bother listening to him. With the exception of Jack Wilshere (again) did you see any fight in any of the Arsenal players yesterday? It was summed up during one of the second-half flashpoints when Wilshere fouled Pennant (and was then taken out by a flying Wilkinson - nothing said about that). As the Stoke players got around Jack, and showed their team spirit, where were the Arsenal boys? Robin Van Persie stood back and watched from a distance, despite being the man supposedly Captain of the side. The only other player to raise an arm in anger was Nicklas Bendtner who got himself a fistful of Shawcross' shirt and pushed him backwards with enough force that the son of Herman Munster backed away. Can you imagine a similar type of incident had people like Keown, Adams, Campbell, Lehmann, Bould, Rocastle, Thomas, Vieira, Steve Williams or Lauren been around? This is as disparate a group of players as you will ever have seen in an Arsenal shirt. Given the immediate history of Arsenal v Stoke matches the performance of the team representing Arsenal Football Club yesterday was not befitting of our Club. They should be collectively ashamed of theirselves and any wages donated to Arsenal's charity of the season.
There really isn't much point in talking about the way we defended. If you haven't seen it and want to know what happened then just check through the archive down the right of the screen and read the Bolton (a) review, or Newcastle (a), or West Brom (h), or Wigan (a) - it really is just the same stuff over and over again. After the game Arsene lamented the fact that we defend so badly at set-pieces, and then stated that it's "the easiest thing to put right." Well, forgive me for asking the obvious question but, why don't you do something about it then? This is not a new problem. Our issue with set-pieces can be traced back to the very first game in the new Stadium when Aston Villa scored from a corner - their only attack of the game. Since then the pattern of Arsenal possession football, punctuated by headed/bundled opposition goals from set-pieces has become a familiar pattern. Yet the Manager believes it's easily sorted. Well that's a relief, I thought it would be a long-term problem.
Today we have had more useless soundbites, this time from Bacary Sagna. In recent weeks we have heard from almost the whole squad with their "view" of what is wrong. Sagna, it must be said, has been largely blameless for the defensive malaise throughout this season (he has been quite outstanding, in fact), yet I really do wish someone would gag the players and stop them from coming out with this stuff. According to Sagan we are "too soft" in defence. You don't say, Bac. If there is one positive to be gained from a player saying this it is that perhaps they are now questioning what is going on at the Club, rather than blindly following the Manager who talks them up as something they are not. A few home truths are exactly what is required, but actions really do speak louder than words. Now, could someone please tell Wenger?

As regular readers will know I am a "Wenger out" person. I have wanted him out for over two years because of his failure to address obvious areas of weakness, thus costing us opportunities to win trophies (as well as his willingness over the past few seasons to "sacrifice" - his own words, not mine - the two domestic Cups). There are very few people I speak to now who do not, at the very least, begin to question just what is going on in Wenger's mind. It was a surprise, therefore, to see the result of the latest poll on this site. Posed with the question, "Should Arsene Wenger be replaced as Arsenal Manager?" we were split 50/50. This shows that there must still be plenty of support for Arsene, and perhaps that is no bad thing. There are certain elements of the "support" that plan protests against the Club this weekend at the Villa game (one in particular is largely aimed at the Board, rather than the Manager) but I can see there being trouble. I can see Arsenal fans fighting amongst themselves on Sunday as the factions of the support oppose one another. I have no time for these protests as I see them as simply individuals trying to get themselves a bit of publicity. I will be joining no such protest as I believe such things are the preserve of mickey-mouse outfits like Newcastle or West Ham. As with the actions of the players yesterday, such behaviour from fans is not befitting of Arsenal Football Club.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Stoke City (a) preview, One less thug to worry about

I'd love to see this tomorrow

Inevitably the build-up to the game tomorrow has centred on Aaron Ramsey's return to the scene of his terrible injury last season. The fact that the clumping Shawcross will almost certainly be in the Stoke team tomorrow merely adds to the media storyline. Eduardo never got the chance to bury his ghosts at St Andrews as he was an unused substitute on his only return there. Rambo, tomorrow, is set to to start for Arsenal and will be determined to dominate midfield with Song and Wilshere in the same way they did last week. I hope the neanderthals give him a nice reception, rather than singing mindless songs about his injury.
Cesc Fabregas remains on the sidelines (if the rumour mill is to be believed we have seen our last glimpse of him in an Arsenal team). I really don't know if he has a genuine injury. If Arsenal are not playing him in order to ensure collection of £40m+ in June then I'm fine with that - as long as that money is used appropriately (we live in hope). Abou Diaby is also still injured, and Samir Nasri is out following the hamstring niggle he suffered last Sunday.
There is big talk that Thomas Vermaelen will return tomorrow. A week ago I would have said that I didn't want him back in a game against Stoke and their cloggers. However, with Djourou injured the Belgian's presence suddenly becomes imperative. If Djourou had been available we would have had our commanding centre-back. In his absence we are left with the possibility of Squillaci and Koscielny up against the aerial bombardment so I would far rather see the re-introduction of the Verminator.
It will be interesting to see what sort of team Pulis picks for Stoke. The FA Cup Final is less than one week away, the biggest game in the history of the Club. I'm sure the twat in the hat would never forgive himself if they were to (rather ironically, in the circumstances) lose some of their key men to injury against Arsenal. On the other hand Pulis seems to have a deep hatred of Wenger, so he will be looking to balance his wish to defeat Arsenal against the necessity of having a full quota for the Final. I can see Huth and at least one of their forwards being rested tomorrow (and/or Shawcross). He might also want to leave Delap out of the side tomorrow - heaven forbid he should tear a bicep delivering one of those ridiculous missiles in to the Arsenal box.

With the subject of the physical approach fresh in our minds, I am happy to report that football pitches are now a safer place. The reason for this? Robbie Savage has retired from professional football. Savage was everything that is wrong with English football. The press adored him as a "wholehearted trier" (roughly translated as "talentless oaf who went around kicking people.")
Back in the early 1990's Manchester United brought through their golden generation of young players. Among the group that didn't make it at Man Utd was Savage. I suppose, if you think about it, he was Nicky Butt's understudy - that's about as damning as it can get, if you ask me. I will shed no tears over the end of Savage's career. The only shame is that it didn't happen years ago. Unfortunately he seems to have a burgeoning media career - fingers crossed for him to make a Ron Atkinson or Robbie Earle style faux-pas and he can disappear from view for good.

I'll review the match tomorrow night, hopefully. By the way - Happy St Totteringham's Day.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Price rise disgrace, Give Jack a break

It's getting VERY expensive to watch Arsenal

Arsenal chose yesterday to break bad news to the supporters. We are about to see a 6.5% rise in ticket prices for next season. This had been a rumour for some time, especially after the announcement that Club Level seats would be subject to such an increase. However, the implosion of the season had led to some suggestion that we would be hit simply by the 2.5% VAT rise. Ivan Gazidis issued a statement via the official website trying to justify the increase by quoting inflation as making up the remaining 4%.
It is fair to point out that we have not had any price rise in the past few years. However, we haven't won anything either. Putting up prices by such a figure at a time when the team is failing to deliver is very hard to take. I can see a number of season ticket holders finding themselves unable to raise the necessary cash to pay for their seat this time. If you're winning then things are not really a problem, but a lot of "supporters" will not pay up to watch overpaid and under-performing players.
I mention that our players are overpaid because that is exactly the case. We have not signed big name players for some time (with the exception of Arshavin). It is often said by the press that we don't get the big names because we have our wage structure. There is no doubt that there is some kind of wage structure in place at Arsenal, but it is certainly no longer seeing players getting less than elsewhere. For some reason Arsenal have decided to pay top-dollar to young players who have yet to achieve anything. One would have to question why our wage bill appears to be on a par with Manchester United and Chelsea at a time when we the squad has won nothing for six years. Personally I resent that I am being asked to fork out over £100 more per year to fund the wages of people like Eboue, Rosicky, Denilson and Bendtner (£52,000 per week!) who have all had much improved contracts in recent years. What exactly are we paying for? I want to watch quality for my money, not average rubbish. I've just seen on Sky Sports that our cheapest season ticket is costing £1 more than Man Utd's most expensive - work that one out.
The deadline for season ticket renewals is 1st June. Arsenal's website makes the point that the Box Office will be open for renewals from 8am to 6pm on that date. The cynic in me thinks that we might be informed of a major signing before the end of the month. I hope I'm right about that, but I won't be holding my breath for any major new arrivals - not this month, or for the rest of the Summer.

Jack Wilshere has been, not surprisingly, selected for England U21 and their pointless tournament in June. What exactly is he supposed to gain from this? I seem to remember Pearce insisting on the inclusion of Theo Walcott two years ago - that worked out well for England, didn't it? Jack will learn nothing from playing in a kids tournament, alongside players from Club's in the second and third division. He has been playing against people like Xavi and Iniesta, Essien, Giggs and Scholes, and alongside Fabregas and Nasri, throughout this season. To take him on this ridiculous trip is scandalous. Let's not forget that we were told England failed again last year due to player fatigue, yet a 19 year-old prodigy is expected to follow a long season by playing all through the Summer, and then again next year (provided he isn't injured for most of next season, as happened to Theo).
I will also point out one more thing about Stuart Pearce and his treatment of Jack. After the first international friendly of the season, when Wilshere made his debut for England, he was back in the U21's for their play-off games. Stuart Pearce then left him out of the side, saying that our boy "had taken his eye off the ball." In other words, Pearce decided to embarrass the lad in front of the Nation. Now he wants Jack to play for him when everyone else believes he should be resting on a beach somewhere. You really couldn't make it up.
If this charade is allowed to go ahead we will suffer for it come August. Arsenal need Jack Wilshere to be rested and ready to go in pre-season. He does not need to be playing meaningless football. England need Jack Wilshere to be fit for Summer 2012 (and so do Great Britain come the Olympics) so Capello must put a stop to it. If he doesn't then Jack must get "injured" before the season finishes - Arsenal must make sure he does not go with England U21's.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Sunday thoughts, Time for Arsenal to ban certain press

One day we'll have one of these at Arsenal

Madrid is a truly wonderful city. As I told you on Friday I went there for the weekend on a stag do and the place did not disappoint. As most English visitors do in any city we based ourselves in the Irish bars of the Spanish capital and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Thanks to the various foreign channels showing English football (and Sky Sports) we had a choice of every Premier League game to watch on Saturday, followed by all four on Sunday. It strikes me as completely ridiculous that the only place in the World where you can not legally watch the Premier League on TV at 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon is the UK.
Apart from watching Arsenal win and the various comedy moments a stag weekend can bring, the highlight of the trip was a visit to the Bernabeu on Sunday morning. I have always resented Real Madrid and their superior attitude towards every other football club. However, having visited the stadium I now understand that they are, genuinely, the World's biggest football club. The ground is breathtaking once inside and the stadium tour allows you to view the most impressive trophy room you will ever see. I also managed to get my photo taken with a European Cup (one day, I pray, I will get to have a photo with it adorned with Arsenal ribbons). If you ever visit Madrid please make sure you do the tour - at €16 it really is worth every penny to see this cathedral of football.

I thought we dominated for most of the game on Sunday. I wasn't aware of an injury to Fabregas and was surprised at his absence. The trio of Song, Wilshere and Ramsey were outstanding and United had no answers to them. The first-half had the now familiar pattern of Arsenal running the show but forcing nothing from the opposition goalkeeper. That said, the denial of the penalty for the handball was a disgrace. The linesman and referee were both ideally placed and chose to ignore it. As refereeing incompetence goes the first-half effort from Mr Foy really was up there with the very worst we had to endure. How does a referee find himself in the way of the ball on three occasions? The third time he did it he actually committed a bookable offence as he fouled Robin Van Persie, while his second touch of the ball seemingly had him sticking his foot out to intercept the through-ball to Walcott. Taking all that in to account you have to laugh at Ferguson's post-game rant about the officiating and United not getting a penalty of their own (I notice nobody has mentioned Berbatov's clear obstruction of Koscielny in the build-up to that incident).
Aaron Ramsey's goal capped a wonderful comeback appearance at home. It will be interesting to see how his body reacts to such a demanding ninety minutes. We have consistently seen Diaby and Eduardo fail to put a run of games together after their legs were shattered so we have to hope that Aaron can buck that trend.
Arsenal very much deserved to win, though the last ten minutes were a painful experience. Szczesny was simply having to boot the ball down the pitch as nobody would show for it, and Van Persie was getting nowhere near his high-balls forward. I couldn't understand, yet again, why our only truly quick player was replaced at a time when Man Utd were going to have to commit more players to attack - did Eboue add anything to the defensive effort? I think not. If there was a change to be made then it had to be for Chamakh to come on and hold the ball up and bring Wilshere, Walcott and Arshavin in to the game. When we did break forward in numbers RVP managed to cock it up with a truly awful pass. Arshavin, meanwhile, showed tremendous spirit when he came on at half-time - I counted at least five superb tackles from the Russian as he gave everything for the cause.
The result was very welcome indeed, but it somehow adds to the sense of frustration I feel at how our season has gone. "If only" will be the phrase that best describes our two months between the Carling Cup Final and Sunday's win. If only we had not dropped so many bad points against rubbish teams we would be Champions. Like I say, very frustrating.

On the plane home yesterday I was reading the match reports in The Sun. For a change the report on the Arsenal game was reasonably accurate and fair-minded. On each of the previous four Monday's the sports editor of that paper, Steven Howard, has gone out of his way to have a pop at Arsene Wenger. Regular readers will know that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Wenger apologist. However, as an Arsenal supporter, I have a right to give my view on our Manager. Reading some muppet in The Sun going out of his way to do so gives me the hump. I was amazed, given the performance on Sunday, to see Howard tearing in to Wenger again and slagging off the team as the result changes nothing. Of course it changes nothing, but how about some credit where it is due? Any sports columnist worth their salt should have been criticising Ferguson's attempt to play for a point with his team selection against Arsenal. Or perhaps picking up on the Scottish fool and his ridiculous contention that Man Utd don't get decisions in big games (I almost choked with laughter when I read what he had come out with). In my view it is time for Arsenal to take action against The Sun. If any newspaper has a genuine anti-Arsenal agenda it is them. The fact that their sports editor has now written anti-Wenger pieces five weeks in a row should see the Club take a firm hand and make it clear that The Sun is now banned from the Stadium, and from any press conference given by Arsenal. What would we lose by taking such a stance? Nothing whatsoever, so get them cretins banned from Arsenal and the message might just get through that they have no right to consistently slag the Club and the Manager in this way.