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Saturday, 30 July 2011

Arsenal 2 - 2 Boca Juniors - NOTHING HAS CHANGED

They KNEW how to defend

Same old players, same old formation, same old mistakes, same old throwing away leads. SAME. OLD. SH*T. "Ah, but it's only pre-season" I hear you say. Well, my answer to that is "Stop burying your head in the sand and look at what is happening at Arsenal." Today we saw everything that we've been seeing for the past four years - two lovely goals, too much meandering around the pitch and, before you know it, two defensive howlers causing us to throw away a two goal lead. Again. 
I have so much I want to complain about right now, but getting it on here in a coherent way is going to be very difficult indeed. Let me start with the week just gone and our continued inaction in the transfer market. At a time when Arsenal were going all out in their advertising campaign to try and sell tickets (unsuccessfully if today is anything to go by) for the Emirates Cup I am amazed that a marquee signing has not been made while I was away on holiday. I was convinced that at least one player would be confirmed this week. Added to the fact that we are now two weeks away from the real thing I have to further question the way the Club is run - and I don't just mean Arsene Wenger. We really must call in to question the role of Ivan Gazidis and his appointed executives. Not only have we failed to add the required quality at the earliest opportunity, but we don't even appear to be making any real attempts to sign anyone - Gazidis is the man who is supposed to be in charge of this kind of thing. I had no time for David Dein, but at least he got things moving and got players signed. And then there is the situation with Gervinho's squad number. I know it might seem a bit trivial, but with up to 120,000 people heading to the ground this weekend it is absolutely scandalous that people are being discouraged from getting his name printed on their replica kit as Arsenal haven't decided if he will actually wear the number 22 shirt. They call themselves businessmen, experts in corporate governance, yet this is so amateurish it belongs on The Apprentice. Thousands of pounds to be made, and yet Arsenal let it slip through their fingers while banging on about their "business model." These prats couldn't organise a prayer in a mosque. Like I said, I have a lot to complain about.
Now the Fabregas situation. Arsene Wenger has finally admitted that Fabregas is "unsettled." In other words, he wants to leave Arsenal. And yet he is still Captain of Arsenal Football Club. Why? Today Fabregas was in the stands but, while the other players all wore the official matchday polo shirt, the Captain sat there in a designer t-shirt. Would it really have hurt him to wear his Arsenal gear - after all, he is still an Arsenal player, is he not? I found that entirely disrespectful to his team mates, the fans, and to the Club. Ultimately Barcelona are the ones who can "rescue" Fabregas by stumping up the asking price. Until that happens no amount of sulking is going to help him. If he wants out then he should get his mates in the Nou Camp to talk less about Arsenal and get them to persuade their employers to part with sufficient reddies to force Arsenal to sell.

And so, to today. I've been wondering which of the various match reviews I should copy and paste in order to relate what happened against Boca Juniors. Two super Arsenal goals putting us two ahead, two defensive cock-ups throwing away that two goal lead. This is nothing new. This has been going on for far too long. It was an education listening to Martin Keown on ESPN this afternoon. It took him two minutes of analysis to show the problems Arsenal have, not only in the back-four, but in defending from the front. He identified how and why our attempts at zonal marking fail time and again (incidentally, I noticed how he picked out that Nasri found himself in the key "zone" at an opposition corner - Andy Gray picked that out in a game before Christmas last season, so it is obvious that Arsene Wenger and his staff have made no attempt to rectify the problems - they still believe there is nothing wrong for God's sake!) If Keown can do that in such a short space of time, and viewing replays from one half of one match, just imagine what he could do if given the opportunity to work with the players on putting it right. While I'm on the subject of Keown and ESPN I have to wonder how he had the restraint to not slap Robbie Savage and Ray Stubbs - what an odious pair of clowns they are.
I was pleased with Gervinho again. I thought his movement off the ball and work on it was superb. His ball across to Van Persie for the opener was pin-point. Again, I don't believe this formation plays to his (or anyone else at Arsenal's) strengths, but he has made a very encouraging start. Jack Wilshere was again outstanding. It took 50 seconds for Martin Atkinson to cheat Arsenal out of a penalty when Jack was fouled in the penalty area (and a further ten seconds for Craig Burley to accuse WilshereFrimpong was all action again, though his positional sense in this role is as bad as Song's - again this is down to bad coaching (or no coaching as the case may be). Carl Jenkinson also did well again (and was laughingly booked late on - given Wilshere's treatment in the first-half it summed up just how awful the refereeing is likely to be again this year), as did Armand Traore - he isn't good enough, but is still better than Kieran Gibbs.
Half-time saw a raft of Arsenal changes and you just knew that Squillaci's presence would lead to problems (I'll come to that shortly). However, his presence was far from the most annoying thing to happen. Samir Nasri emerged as Captain for the second-half. This was surely the final insult to the Captaincy of our Club. How can Wenger make Nasri the man to lead Arsenal, even for half of a pre-season friendly, when he wants out even more than Fabregas? It was absolutely scandalous given that Arshavin and Ramsey were also on the pitch at the time. I wonder what Tony Adams and Frank McLintock make of it all? The second-half started explosively with a tremendous goal from Aaron Ramsey. The goal came from an exciting run by Carlos Vela and was finished with a rasping shot by the Welsh midfield player. Sadly that was about the last time Vela touched the ball as he spent the rest of the game wide on the right again - another victim of this formation. Marouane Chamakh remained anonymous throughout. After the goal we reverted to type and started to mess about. It was only a matter of time before it happened, and our centre-backs did not disappoint.
I can honestly say that Sebastien Squillaci is the worst centre-half I've seen at Arsenal. People can talk about Gus Caesar, Igors Stepanovs, Pascal Cygan, Mikael Silvestre etc all they want, but this guy is the pits. Arsene tells us that he will only sign players that will be an improvement on what we have - so why the hell did he buy Squillaci last season? Kyle Bartley was forced to sit on the bench today and watch this clown try to dribble his way past the opposition, only for the inevitable to happen and the ball end up in the back of Arsenal's net. If Wenger honestly thinks that Bartley isn't better than Squillaci then the sooner he gets himself off to Rangers the better - he has no chance to play for Arsenal. The equaliser was then a certainty, wasn't it? Djourou had looked fine in the first-half, and he was our best centre-back in Vermaelen's absence last season, but he failed to deal with a simple through-ball yet again. Rather than just smacking the ball away, he chose to try and be flash, leaving Vito Mannone without a hope. Never has the need for defensive reinforcements appeared in such stark focus. Surely, now, Wenger must see it. Having said that, it almost doesn't matter who is brought in to play, if there continues to be no organisation.
Yesterday, I read some quotes from Andrey Arshavin where he said that Arsenal want to play a "pressing game" and would be better "at set pieces both in attack and defence." As ever, actions speak louder than any words. On today's evidence these are yet more empty sentiments from a member of the Arsenal team - if you get a chance to watch Martin Keown's analysis then you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

I'm going to the game tomorrow so I will get a chance to see, properly, the way things are coming along (it's great being able to watch the game on TV when you can't be there, but it doesn't show you anything like enough). The highlight, almost regardless of the outcome, will be seeing Thierry Henry playing. I watched New York's game on telly last Sunday and it's fair to say that the MLS is not much of a standard - regardless of Thierry's performance, if Arsenal can't beat them then we have a problem that is on a completely different scale to anything we have yet imagined.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

FC Koln 1 - 2 Arsenal - Gervinho endears himself

Gervinho - off and running in Arsenal red

Gervinho started his Arsenal career in the grand manner this afternoon with two strikers finishes against Cologne. Jack Wilshere was instrumental in both goals - a brilliant pass over the top providing the first, and the second coming after Jack had set Theo Walcott free on the right side of the penalty area. Playing from the left side of the attacking three Gervinho showed great movement and a firm desire to get himself in the box where he could do damage to the opposition. This was in marked contrast to Marouane Chamakh who constantly drifted out wide and was never in the game - his afternoon was summed up, for me, when Theo stood a cross up to the far post and Chamakh stood and watched while Aaron Ramsey (who had a poor game with the ball at his feet) attacked the ball.
I was pleasantly surprised by Gervinho. If he performs like this when given his opportunities in the Premier League then he will quickly become a favourite with the fans. A feature of the first-half was Arsenal's pace on the counter-attack with Walcott and the new Ivorian, and then later with Miyaichi (Gervinho was withdrawn just short of the half-hour mark as a precaution). Gervinho looks quick and makes intelligent runs behind the defence. Jack Wilshere played in the Fabregas position today and was magnificent. His passing to the front men was superb, but I was most impressed by his willingness to run at the defence. When Jack was in the youths and reserves this was a feature of his game - I hope it is to return this season.
At the back Arsenal found themselves exposed far too often. Kieran Gibbs was constantly too far forward and needs to learn quickly when to attack and when to stick at full-back. I felt Koscielny was regularly the wrong side of Lukas Podolski and was bailed out more than once by an imperious Thomas Vermaelen. On the right of the back four I thought Carl Jenkinson was also outstanding - his own-goal was a complete freak, but would not have happened had he used his left foot so hopefully that's a lesson learned. The young man looked devastated as he trooped off at half-time but he has looked a promising prospect so far and should not let it concern him.
Cologne created a few opportunities in the first-half and, as much as Gibbs/Koscielny were lacking positional sense, the major problem was the lack of cover in front of the defence. Alex Song remains unchallenged for his position and continues to play like he believes he is Pele's son. He has no discipline in his role and is constantly caught out in possession (his ridiculous showboating when faced with the goalkeeper on one of his many attacking forays was embarrassing). Song has also not realised that a tackle requires you to win the ball - simply barging in to the opposition striker on the edge of your own box is only going to lead to problems. Emmanuel Frimpong came on for Song at half-time and did well again, but I would still like to see Scott Parker brought in to replace Song in Arsenal's midfield - experience counts for a lot in the Premier League.
The second-half lacked the zip of the first, particularly from the almost entirely different Arsenal team. I thought Arshavin got involved well, as did Tomas Rosicky, though the end product was non-existent. Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie were completely anonymous, as was Carlos Vela (though I will forgive the Mexican as he once again found himself on the right-wing). At the back Djourou and Squillaci did okay, but Bacary Sagna was all over the place for the first twenty minutes - Vito Mannone bailed him out on more than one occasion before he was replaced in goal by Fabianski.
The main concern for Arsenal at the end of a hard-earned pre-season win was the injury to Conor Henderson. Ridiculously played out of position at left-back (yet Arsene says we don't need another one) Henderson was getting twisted and turned all the time (not his fault - he is a midfielder) and one twist too many saw him go over very awkwardly on his knee. Young Conor has a bad history with injury, including serious knee trouble. Cesc Fabregas has hinted on Twitter that it may not be too serious, so let's hope he is correct.
As I said above, it was another hard-earned win. The attacking play was good at times and familiarly frustrating at others - too much passing when a shot is called for (yes, Theo, I'm talking about you). The defence remains worryingly awful for the most part. It seems that there is still no organisation, and no discipline. Frankly, it won't matter who Wenger brings in to the bolster the defence unless some proper coaching is done in this area.
One other observation from today is about the travelling Arsenal fans - particularly those from Eastern Europe. From what I have been told they were a disgrace to Arsenal Football Club this afternoon as they lit flares and threw objects and beer in the lower tier of the away end. This scum should stick to watching football in their own country if this is how they will choose to tarnish Arsenal's fine reputation around Europe.

I hope to produce a post at some point tomorrow, but it's my wedding anniversary and I'm on holiday after that. If you don't hear from me until Saturday then you know why!

Friday, 22 July 2011

FC Koln v Arsenal Preview

Time to remove it from Fabregas

Cesc Fabregas is not going to be involved in Arsenal's friendly with FC Cologne tomorrow. He will also not be involved in the short training camp which will follow. Arsenal claim that this is due to the ongoing nature of the "injury" that kept him out of the trip to China last week. Do they think we're all stupid? There is no way that Fabregas is injured. The only reason he is not involved is due to the Barcelona situation. It is time for the Captaincy of Arsenal Football Club to be given to someone else. We can not have a man with no desire to be here leading our Club anymore. Van Persie and Vermaelen are waiting in the wings and a decision should be taken now to promote one of them - let everyone know how important an honour it is to be the Arsenal Captain. 
Even if he stays at Arsenal there is no way Cesc can be ready for the start of the season, unless Wenger wishes to make his pre-season preparations a mockery by including a player that has taken little or no part (he did it at Anfield last season with Alex Song). Frankly, with no end in sight to this situation (and that is not the fault of the Manager, or anyone else at Arsenal) and the lack of much needed additions (which is most definitely the fault of the Manager) we are in complete disarray right now. It is difficult to remember a Summer of such frustrating discontent since Bruce Rioch was dismissed on the eve of the season (we had lost every pre-season game and signed only John Lukic as the new campaign approached). 
Elsewhere in the squad there is still no place for Bendtner, Almunia or Eboue. Arsene has spoken specifically of Manuel and Nicklas but it seems they are no closer to being shipped out. Eboue, meanwhile, seems simply to have disappeared without trace for the time being. Also out is Abou Diaby and the Manager has told us he has been written off for all of August. How about we write him off for the rest of his career and pay up his contract in full? If anyone can tell me what Abou Diaby is still doing at Arsenal then I would like to know. There are very few of the current Arsenal team I have genuine warmth for. There are some whom I actively dislike, and Diaby is one of them. On his day he can be top class, but he is too often disinterested, and even more often simply unavailable due to injury. I would suggest that most of Diaby's injury issues stem from the horrific leg-break at Sunderland in 2006, but we have now been carrying him for too long. It was largely accepted that Eduardo had to move on last Summer as he couldn't really recover, so why the hell hasn't it happened with this waste of space?
Young Guns Blog reported earlier in the week that Benik Afobe was likely to travel to Cologne after being pulled out of the Reserves win at Hastings on Tuesday evening. However there has been no mention of this from Arsene Wenger. Afobe had a successful loan spell with Huddersfield last season and was prolific in the youth set-up alongside Chuks Aneke. I wouldn't mind seeing him get some opportunities over the next couple of weeks as we head towards the Newcastle game.
Among those definitely travelling will be Gervinho, who should make his debut in Germany, and Lukasz Fabianski. This is a big few weeks for the Pole. If Szczesny starts as the number one, as we would expect, I can't see Fabianski sitting on the bench for too long. I am also concerned by any goalkeeper that has suffered a serious shoulder injury and been out for six months as a result. Fabianski showed massive improvement last season, and won us matches at Wolves and Everton with some superb saves. However, he still seems to lack a certain confidence and, more importantly, the defence seems to lack confidence in him. That is not a cocktail that will often lead to success.

The game is live on Arsenal Player, and on ESPN, tomorrow afternoon. I will be trying to avoid the result and watch it "as live" when I get home from work tomorrow evening. My nephew is leading the Arsenal team on to the pitch tomorrow and has been very excited about the whole prospect since he found out a couple of weeks ago. I hope he proves to be a lucky mascot. I also hope he tells Wenger to get off his backside and make some bloody signings this week - if the advertising strategy is anything to go by Arsenal need some new faces to sell the tickets for the Emirates Cup next weekend. I'll try to post a match review late tomorrow night.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The right kind of players, Ryan Garry

Phil Jagielka - only if he brings a friend

Sky and BBC are both backing up newspaper reports this morning that Arsenal have had a bid refused by Everton for Phil Jagielka. Arsene Wenger has been very firm in saying that he will only buy players that will augment the current squad. I would say that 100% of people connected with Arsenal (and even not connected with Arsenal) accept we need defensive additions (the "s" is important there). However, as Arsene says, they must be the "right type of player." That being the case I have to question why the hell we are in for Phil Jagielka. Don't get me wrong, I think Jagielka is a very decent Premier League footballer. Two years ago, before his serious injury problems, I would have been happy to see him join us. However, when we say that Arsenal need more defenders there is a caveat that should be added - any centre-half addition should be very good in the air. When I think of Phil Jagielka I don't think of a player who is famed for being aerially dominant. What I think of is a good ball playing centre-half, reasonably quick (though not as quick as he was - remember Nasri blasting past him at Goodison last season?) but also not particularly strong at heading. What Arsenal need is a strong defender - his ability with the ball at his feet is pretty much immaterial right now. That is why I far prefer the idea of Cahill, or even Samba, to that of Jagielka. Actually, if we signed only one central defender this Summer, I would rather we signed Sylvain Distin from Everton than Jagielka.
Despite all this Jagielka might not be a bad signing for Arsenal. Prior to becoming a centre-back he was a fairly redoubtable midfield player at Sheffield United. His signing would give us a player in the Grimandi mould, perhaps, capable of "doing a job" as a decent squad player - and competition for Alex Song. If Jagielka does come to Arsenal then he must be accompanied by someone with physical presence and the aerial strength to play alongside what we already have. In the same way that I would be happy for Samba to join us along with another centre-half, I would accept Jagielka as long as someone else came at the same time. Everton have set their asking price, now it's up to Arsenal to match it if they really want the player.

On a sad note Arsenal have announced the unfortunate retirement of our former young defender Ryan Garry. Just before the FA Cup Final in 2003 he made his debut in the six-goal demolition of Southampton at Highbury (the game where Pennant and Pires scored hat-tricks). At this point the youngster seemed to be firmly in Arsene Wenger's plans and looked to be the latest youth-team product with a good future at Arsenal. Sadly he was subsequently struck down with shin-splints, and broken legs, and his career at Arsenal (though it continued for another few years as the Club nursed him back to some fitness) came to nought. Ryan moved on to Brentford where he had some success as a player, but he has now been forced to call it a day as his legs can not cope anymore with professional football. Garry's story is one of terrible misfortune for a young lad who seemed destined for great things, but who missed out on the glory days through no fault of his own. Perhaps his story should be relayed to the likes of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas in order to make them realise that not everyone gets the chance to make a career, and perhaps they ought to knuckle down and work hard and ditch the attitude. I wouldn't be surprised to find that Ryan Garry ends up with some kind of job at Arsenal - after all, such class is what we hold dear.

Any chance of a signing tomorrow?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Nothing to see here - move along Pep

Guardiola - purveyor of bull****

I was just about to leave for work yesterday when Sky Sports News suddenly revealed "breaking news" on the Cesc Fabregas situation. It seemed from the report that Arsenal had finally given in and were about to sell Fabregas to Barcelona. Guardiola had claimed that Arsenal have "agreed to negotiate" over a deal for the skipper. Naturally, I went off to work believing that things were coming to a head, and I couldn't reconcile the ideal of selling Fabregas, with four years left on his contract, but keeping Nasri, with one year left.
When I got home from work late last night I decided to look closely at what had been said by Guardiola. It became obvious that he had planted a carefully chosen form of words in his press conference, but if you choose to actually look a bit deeper then nothing has changed. The facts remain that Barcelona have yet to offer anything close to what Arsenal are looking for. All the time that remains the same Fabregas will remain at Arsenal. This was nothing more than posturing from Barcelona in order to further unsettle Cesc Fabregas. Ultimately, if they really want him, Barcelona will come up with the necessary money to force Arsenal's hand and sell. All the time they fail to do so you have to wonder if they genuinely want the boy to play for them this season. If he does go there it is unlikely he will get much further than the bench for most of the season, and certainly not for any big games unless Xavi or Iniesta are injured/suspended. 
So, you see, nothing has changed. Fabregas remains an Arsenal player and will be so until Barca offer enough. Nothing new, nothing more to say. Guardiola was merely continuing with Barcelona's very public agenda for pursuing a player from another Club.
Like everyone else I am sick of the whole saga, but there is nothing Arsenal can do about Barcelona's behaviour (though UEFA could), or the press speculation, so there is no point in getting upset about it. I remain neutral on the whole subject, but I would far rather we kept Fabregas and booted out Nasri - we hold the whip-hand on Fabregas due to his contract. With Nasri we are in a serious position of weakness as we will lose a valuable asset for nothing this time next year. Given Arsene Wenger's liking for good economics and value for money this seems a complete no-brainer to me.

More tomorrow.

Monday, 18 July 2011

One in, one out - can we have some more please?

Finally, but no fanfare

It's been a morning of announcements over at arsenal.com with the confirmation (at last) of Gervinho's arrival and Denilson's departure. I remember back in 2001 when we had a Summer of numerous arrivals there was great excitement when we added a new face. Now, with the general apathy of a number of fans towards the business of the Club, and the inability of Arsenal to get things done without a protracted debate, there is little joy surrounding the signing of our new Ivorian forward. It's unfortunate for the player himself, as it was for Carl Jenkinson, as joining Arsenal should be a massive moment. When it's met with such a lukewarm reception from the fans I imagine a certain gloss is removed.
As I mentioned above we are also seeing the end of Denilson's Arsenal career. The Brazilian is heading back to his homeland on loan for a year. Arsenal's inability to find anyone willing to pay for someone we no longer need at the Club is something that should worry the powers that be. Denilson has not been without appearances for Arsenal in the Premier League and Champions League, so not finding anyone to buy him perhaps tells us that Arsene persevered with him for far too long.

With these announcements we at least see that things might be starting to move. With both Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis out in the far-east last week we were never likely to see any signings over the past ten days. Now they are back there is no excuse for any more prevarication. The areas of the team that need to be addressed are obvious, so let's see Wenger get down to business and make some signings this week. At the same time we need to get some deals concluded for more of the dead-wood - lest we forget that Almunia and Bendtner are still around, as well as Eboue and Rosicky and Diaby. There is no game until Saturday, so there is no excuse for business not to be done. And, while I'm here, I don't count signing an unknown Costa Rican, who needs to be loaned out as he won't get a work permit, as part of the business I'm talking about.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hangzhou Greentown 1 - 1 Arsenal

 Does RVP's expression reflect that of all Arsenal fans after opening goal?

I have to say that it's all maddeningly predictable. The first half of the match today was reminiscent of almost every game Arsenal played after Christmas last season. It seems that the method for stopping Arsenal scoring, while exploiting their defensive softness, has spread all the way to China. Given that the Premier League is shown in its entirety every weekend we probably shouldn't be surprised. Hangzhou simply strung plenty of players across their defensive line, remained organised, and invited Arsenal to pass the ball square and backwards whenever they got within thirty yards of goal. The same old formation, being put in to practise by the same old players, produced the same boring style of play whereby there was no penetration, and never looked like being, as the ball went back and forth in front of the opposition defenders - plenty of possession, but none of it in any way a threat to the goalkeeper. Meanwhile Djourou and Squillaci continued their keystone cops efforts in defence, ably assisted by Vito Mannone as we conceded from a set-piece. As for the way the two centre-backs fared in open play the less said the better. Suffice to say that Hangzhou were well worth their lead until Vela's equaliser on half-time.
The second half was much more pleasing from an Arsenal point of view, with plenty of chances being created. Sadly they all fell to the normally reliable Theo Walcott. Rather like Lloyd Bridges' character in "Airplane: The Movie" Theo picked the wrong day to start talking about playing centre-forward. The one thing to be said is that at least there was some shooting after half-time, even if it failed to beat the goalkeeper at any time. I just think we would be looking so much better with two up front.
Carlos Vela is someone I believe is not good enough to play for Arsenal. However, he has got absolutely no chance of proving otherwise all the time we persist with this system. Today he had to play wide on the right. If there is anything that Vela is good at then it's finishing. He has neither the skill, nor the pace, to play out wide for Arsenal. It's no coincidence that he got his goal after drifting in to the centre and putting away a rebound from the goalkeeper - a poacher's goal. Perhaps the reason Hernandez scored so many for United last season is that he got to play up front, with a provider of good chances. Much like Walcott (forget his bad day today) Vela needs to play in the middle with Van Persie or Chamakh. Such a change would also make it more difficult to defend against our currently predictable style of play.
Just a quick aside to finish on - apparently Thomas Rosicky played the first-half - I didn't see him touch the ball.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Open Golf, Hangzhou Greentown v Arsenal preview

Real value for your fifty quid

Apologies for the lack of a match review from Wednesday's match. I'm sure you all know that the boys won 4-0 and had an unusually competitive workout for their first outing of the season. I saw the full re-run of the game on ESPN on Wednesday and with an early start ahead of me yesterday I didn't get around to writing anything.
I spent yesterday at The Open at Royal St George's (it was notable how many football writers could be seen on the links following Rory McIlroy - no doubt they have all written expert pieces to rival their football knowledge in today's papers - they're also the largest collection of fat b******s you'll ever see). I arrived at the course at 6.35am yesterday and left at around 7.45pm. I paid £55 for the privilege (and it most certainly is a privilege) plus £5 for the very well organised park and ride facility. Compare that with going to watch Arsenal, where the ticket costs £50 and the parking a further £15. For the £55 I spent yesterday I saw all of the top golfers in the World (with the exception of Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh). With Arsene Wenger continuing to prevaricate in the transfer window I am worried about what I am going to get for my similar outlay on going to watch any given match in North London this season. Seeing Denilson and Squillaci getting in various mix-ups between themselves on Wednesday means I am unlikely to be watching too many of the World's best footballers any time soon. I am very aware of the fact that I seem to be criticising Wenger every time I write something recently, so I will merely point you to his latest comments regarding the defence - you can read them here. If you're truly an Arsenal supporter and these statements do not concern you then there is something seriously warped in your thinking.

The second pre-season friendly gets underway at 12.30BST tomorrow and is again live on Arsenal Player. There is a full re-run on ESPN again tomorrow evening. Having played more than half of the match the other day I think Carl Jenkinson, Ryo Miyaichi and Aaron Ramsey will get slightly less playing time tomorrow. Samir Nasri, Robin Van Persie and Bacary Sagna may well step up their preparations given they played only twenty minutes or so in Malaysia. I expect it to be a similar test for the players as they had a couple of days ago.
I've been very interested in the opportunities afforded to the "fans" in the far-east. Even on the much over-hyped members days at the new stadium members of "The Arsenal" don't generally get too close to the players. When was the last time you ever remember the chance to get autographs and photos with the entire squad? On the pre-season tours of the past ten years, in Austria, the supporters who attended were kept behind fences so that the players didn't have to sign for those in attendance unless they were feeling benevolent (in fairness to the players they almost always obliged). It's amazing what a bit of PR and the chance to sell a few shirts can do. There are actually a good number of travelling Gooners out there following the tour, as they do with every other game Arsenal play, but they weren't invited to these sessions - after all, they only pay thousands of pounds every year to follow the team. In fairness to Arsene Wenger I am fairly certain he can't wait to get back here and prepare in less of a circus.

I will write a match review tomorrow night. I promise.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The players make their voices heard, Arsenal v Malaysia XI briefest of previews

Robin and Theo - sending a message?

Now that the players are back and, even better, on a publicity first tour there is plenty of stuff reaching us by way of the various interviews they are giving. Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott have both been having their say on what they would like to see with regards to the squad and the improvements required. It's no coincidence that two of the more intelligent players at Arsenal have been able to put their case so eloquently without criticising anyone at the Club.
RVP has given his view that he would like to see major signings made by the Club in order to keep pace with both Manchester sides, Chelsea and Liverpool. Robin rightly states that Liverpool and United have very much showed their ambition by adding players to their squad. Most refreshing of all was hearing him say that competition for places is important to keep a player on his toes - including himself. That is just the sort of thing you want to hear from one of your very few world-class players. If you take the example of Alex Song, and his form since November, you can see the merits in what Van Persie is saying - in Song's case his only "rival" in the squad was Denilson - is it any wonder he got in to the comfort zone? Surprisingly the press have not turned Robin's quotes in to a "Van Persie threatens Arsenal" or "Van Persie questions Wenger ambition" piece. I don't like the idea of a centre-forward as Captain, but RVP certainly is able to speak in the way you would want from your leader on the pitch.
Van Persie's comments were echoed this morning in an interview given by Theo Walcott in Kuala Lumpur. Once again Theo cited the need for quality additions to the squad. He noted the requirement to learn from what went wrong last season, and it is clear that the players feel an injection of new blood would be very welcome indeed. It's a big season ahead for Walcott on a personal level. I feel he would benefit greatly from a move in to the centre, as part of a two man attack. Is Wenger willing to realise the benefits this might bring to the side? Time will tell. Whatever the case, it is again refreshing to hear a young man, playing for his future, advocate the need for more quality - even if it may be a threat to his place.
Something that seems to have been largely overlooked from Van Persie's interview is his praise of Cesc Fabregas. RVP has left nobody in any doubt of the importance, as he sees it, of Fabregas to Arsenal's success. It would seem that Fabregas is to Van Persie what Pires was to Henry and Bergkamp was to Ljungberg. More notable to me is the fact that he didn't speak at all about Samir Nasri. It may well be, of course, that he was asked specifically about Fabregas' situation, and not about Nasri. However, it would be no surprise to me to find that he failed to mention Nasri as he is not overly popular at Arsenal. Quite apart from what has gone on since the end of the season it is clear from his past that Samir is not the easiest person to get along with. He has a record of upsetting more senior colleagues - just ask Thierry Henry and William Gallas. It might just be that the other top players would not be too bothered to see the back of Nasri, while being determined that the skipper should stay.

Tomorrow marks the start of the season in terms of playing matches. The boys are up against a Malaysia Select XI in the first pre-season game. There are 23 players on tour and I think at least 22 of them will get a run out tomorrow, fitness permitting (they will probably all get some time on the pitch). I think it's unlikely that any of them would play more than 45 minutes each, particularly at this stage of their preparations amidst such humidity.
The game is live on Arsenal Player, but I will have to catch it on a replay as work prevents me from watching the game live tomorrow lunchtime. If and when I've seen it I'll post a match review, but it will be brief as I need an early night tomorrow - I intend to be present when the Open gets under way at 6.30am on Thursday (have a sneaky suspicion that Sergio might take some beating this week, though Kaymer was looking more than sharp in practise yesterday). I digress! More tomorrow, hopefully with the first win of the season under out belts, and no injuries.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Tour party tells us something about the future

Miyaichi - makes the trip to Malaysia/China

The 23 player touring squad for Malaysia and China gives us some clues as to the future of a number of our players. It seems certain now that Manuel Almunia and Nicklas Bendtner are to leave Arsenal fairly imminently. I would expect Manuel to go back to Spain while I hope Bendtner also goes abroad. Nickals Bendtner, if he went to a Stoke City or a Bolton Wanderers, will get his share of goals in the Premier League - he is more than capable of beating anyone in the air and his "goals to starts" figures are pretty good. Wherever they end up I wish them the best.
It hasn't gone without notice that Cesc Fabregas is not on the trip. He has, according to Arsene Wenger, a "muscle injury." Really? Is that the best they can come up with? How did he get this injury? When did it occur? It certainly wasn't in the training sessions of the past week as he doesn't seem to have been involved in any of them. As ever I remain unfazed by the Fabregas/Barcelona situation - all the time they don't stump up the cash they can bluster until the cows come home - Arsenal should continue with their adopted policy. However, I don't for one moment believe Cesc is injured, so I would question why he is not on the plane.
The Fabregas situation is in stark contrast with that of Nasri. The Frenchman is making the trip with the rest of the squad. I find this really quite interesting. Given that he has only one year left on his deal I would be quite happy to see him sold - make money now, rather than lose him for free next year (especially as he will be a complete passenger if he stays this season). I would like to think that he has been dragged to the other side of the World as a punishment for his actions this Summer. I hope Arsene is showing him who's boss by taking him all the way to China to sit in the stand and watch Arsenal play football. I doubt that's what is actually going to happen but I can live in hope.
I notice that we have only two goalkeepers on the tour, and one of them is not Lukasz Fabianski. I am very concerned about this now. I think most of us would be pleasantly surprised to see some new blood come in as competition for Szczesny, but are probably accepting that Fabianski will be the main back-up instead. However, Fabianski has now been out for seven months and is still apparently unfit. A goalkeeper with a major shoulder injury is not a good thing. There is a serious problem here that must be addressed.
Of the youngsters involved it is notable that Carl Jenkinson and Emmanuel Frimpong are part of the plans for Arsene Wenger's squad this season. The Japanese Ryo Miyaichi also makes the trip. Whether or not he is in the first-team shake-up, or this is just a cynical attempt to show those in the far-east that we are a global Club, remains to be seen. I've seen some of his performances in Holland last season and he looks a real talent - quick and skillful, with a good shot on him - so I hope it's the former. The youngsters that are absent, however, should perhaps be a little concerned as to their future. Henri Lansbury has been omitted, but I think this is more to do with him getting an extended Summer break following his involvement with the England U21 squad in to June. Lansbury has been linked with a permanent move elsewhere, but I think this boy has plenty to offer and would gladly see him get an opportunity at Arsenal. There are two others, however, who are maybe seeing the end of their Arsenal adventure. 
Francis Coquelin was sent out on loan to Lorient last season and his versatility as a defensive midfielder/converted right-back seemed to make him a contender. However, the promotion of Frimpong and the signing of Jenkinson may well see the young French player surplus to requirements. 
The other notable youngster to miss out is Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. There have been a number of questions asked of JET and his attitude/behaviour over the past few years. He had an unsuccessful loan period at Cardiff City last season, and now he's been snubbed by Arsene Wenger before the new season has even got started. He should be very concerned. 
Of those making the trip there are a few we should be worried about. Denilson, Rosicky, Squillaci and Vela are all there. Back in May I couldn't believe that we would get to the start of pre-season with these four at the Club (the same goes for the absent Eboue who is also "injured" - I actually think he may form part of any deal for Gary Cahill or Stewart Downing). Let's be honest, this lot are not good enough to play at the level Arsenal need to be at in order to win things. I am gutted that they're still cluttering the place up but perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that nobody seems to want any of them. Gervinho is also missing as Arsenal claim the "imminent signing" has not yet been completed - the question that immediately springs to mind is why not?

I'm off to watch practise for the Open Championship at Royal St George's tomorrow so there won't be a post until tomorrow night at the earliest, and that is dependent on some major news breaking. More likely will be a post on Tuesday ahead of the first tour match and after Arsene Wenger's press conference.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Wenger: Is he taking the p*** out of us? Why the delay in confirming Gervinho?

Gervinho - what are they waiting for?

I am fuming. I am fuming because I have just read the latest missive from Arsene Wenger on the official website. Cast your mind back to the end of the season. I may be mistaken but I seem to remember Wenger telling us that this would be a busy Summer for Arsenal in the transfer market. We were given the distinct impression that the penny might have dropped at last, and the dead-wood was going to move on while a number of quality new players would be added. Most of us expected to lose Fabregas, Clichy and Nasri, but it wouldn't matter too much if serious investment was made to replace them and strengthen as necessary. Here we are six weeks on and we have sold Clichy and signed a kid from the third division (and one signing as yet unannounced - more below).
The most infuriating thing about this latest nonsense from Wenger is the "hope" that we can bring in "one or two more quality players." Then there is the George Graham style quote of "we want to find the quality we need." Get me a pen and paper, Arsene, and I'll start making you a f***ing list. 
Does he truly believe that we need only "one or two" quality players? It seems clear now, with the squad about to fly to Malaysia and China, that nothing is changing at Arsenal. Once again Wenger has allowed the dust to settle, in his view, before reverting to type and refusing to address the deep problems within this Arsenal team. I have tried to ignore the lack of action in the transfer market (unsuccessfully it should be said) and this disgraceful interview given by Wenger has caused me to snap. It is clear that nobody on the board is giving him the hurry-up, which confirms all we need to know about his all-powerful grip on Arsenal. I'm sick of the apologists that tell you the season is still a month away, and the transfer market only opened one week ago - is there a bigger load of bull**** than that? Just because the window has only just opened doesn't mean that you can't have got your business done beforehand - just ask Manchester United and Liverpool. We've suffered much frustration as Arsenal fans in recent years with Wenger's refusal to spend our money (and make no mistake, it is our money, not his) but I am sinking to new depths this year. On Tuesday the players take part in their first game, and yet there is nothing different from the end of last season. It is an absolute disgrace and Wenger is responsible.

On the subject of lack of activity I can tell you that Gervinho's deal is done with the player. The Ivorian had his publicity shots, with the Arsenal shirt, taken on Wednesday. So why have the Club not announced it? Is there not a full agreement with Lille? Given that there is such frustration, and this has been acknowledged by Wenger today, Arsenal should be making this deal public and assuaging the anger of a lot of the fans. I doubt very much that Gervinho will fit the criteria of a "quality player" but as we're in straw grabbing territory I'll take anything right now.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

They're back

Arsene Wenger at training today

So the players returned to training yesterday, including Cesc Fabregas. Interestingly, however, there have been no pictures on the official website so far of Cesc joining his mates out on the training pitch. The most notable things so far have been that Carl Jenkinson has been handed the number 25 shirt, thus confirming his place as a member of the first-team, and that Ryo Miyaichi seems to have not been granted a number - he is wearing a training top with number 93 on it. The thing that will concern most Arsenal fans is the plethora of photographs containing those we could probably end up doing without - Eboue was in at least three of them yesterday, while Squillaci and Bendtner are prevalent today.
It seems that still there is very little happening with regards to any strengthening. Gervinho has apparently had his medical today so we can probably expect the official announcement of his much expected arrival in the very near future. Apart from that, nothing. Owen Coyle has rightly called for Arsenal to do business with Bolton for Gary Cahill, or put the whole thing to bed once and for all. It concerns me that there seems to be a pattern developing whereby Arsenal are linked to players in which they clearly have more than a passing interest, and yet no bids are made. Two weeks ago there had been no bid for Gervinho. Last week Southampton made it clear that there had been no bid for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Now Owen Coyle tells us that Cahill has not been the subject of any bid. At risk of being criticised (again) for panicking about the lack of arrivals, it should be made clear that pre-season has begun. The Arsenal players are preparing for the new season. They fly to the far-east this weekend. Would it not be much better to have the new players in situ early doors so that preparation can be done properly? Back in 2001 we had Jeffers, Campbell, Van Bronckhorst and Wright signed and ready for the return to training. Similarly in 1997 with Petit, Overmars, Upson, Boa Morte, Manninger, Wreh and Grimandi. I am not alone in being worried, nor am I going to be placated on the grounds that the first League game is some time away.
I am extremely concerned about the reasons why we are not doing the business early. While Arsenal prevaricates we see Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City getting on with things. Chelsea will very soon do likewise and will blow us out of the water for any player both clubs might be interested in. I believe that our failure to qualify for the Champions League is the main reason - Arsenal are not spending money yet because they don't yet know what their budget is for next season - if they don't get through the qualifier then money becomes very tight. If we are still waiting in the third week of August then we really will be in trouble.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Saturday's fishing success, Gael out - so who do we want to replace him?

Leighton Baines - he gets my vote

I really enjoyed the fallout from Saturday's post. If truth be known I was a bit bored and wanted to see how easy it would be to bait a few Tottenham fans in to a response. I was still rather surprised to see just how quickly and how willingly they responded to it. Of course they all reacted in the expected way as they continue to delude themselves that Tottenham Hotspur is going places. They honestly seem to think that we are the ones that have lived in an artificial dream world this past twenty-odd years. It's been a fun time since George Graham took over with regards to our relationship with the mugs - barring the FA Cup tie in 1991 it's been pretty much one-way traffic. Modern day Spurs' fans hatred of us is based on jealousy of Arsenal's success since the mid 1980s. Our current predicament, however, worries me greatly. Last season we were more than vaguely reminiscent of the club we love to ridicule. There are a number of parallels, from the fallacy that Arsenal continue to play great football (we don't), to the ability to win the odd big game while choking against the mediocre, and even the penchant for throwing away a lead against our North London neighbours. We are perilously close to becoming the new Tottenham Hotspur, and that frightens me.

Arsenal have confirmed that Gael Clichy has completed his move to Manchester City as expected. I wish Clichy the best of luck - he never wronged us in any way, and he is the final Invincible to leave us. Now though he must be replaced. There is a strong chance that Kieran Gibbs will be given the nod, with Armand Traore acting as back-up. This fills me with dread. Gibbs has gone backwards this past year and is nowhere near ready, or capable, to play a full season at the highest level (his fitness issues will preclude him from doing so anyway if things go to form). With Wenger's continuing frugality in the transfer market I can see this happening.
There are options for Wenger should he choose to pay out some proper money. Over the past few months we have been linked with three left-backs of some repute - Jose Enrique (Newcastle United), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic) and Leighton Baines (Everton). For me Baines is the standout performed of the three. Enrique was probably the only Newcastle defender to impress at all in the Premier League last season, but I really don't think he is top class by any stretch. I saw a lot of Izaguirre towards the back end of last season. He is quick and skillful, but his defensive work is often not up to scratch - and having played in Scotland he hasn't been tested properly. 
Which brings us back to Baines. The Everton full-back was excellent last season, and has improved year on year. He is a little unfortunate, perhaps, to be kept out of the England side by the best player in the World in his position. Baines is very good going forward, an excellent crosser of the ball, and superb on set-pieces. Most importantly, of course, he is a fine defender. I would be very pleased if Wenger stumped up the necessary wedge to bring Baines to Arsenal this Summer - a swap, plus money, with Traore could be just the ticket.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Is any of the dead wood going to leave? Spurs new stadium bid again

Rosicky stays - "oh for fu..."

Amid all the talk of Nasri and Clichy and Fabregas possibly leaving Arsenal it seems that we have been overlooking those players we would actually be content to lose for next to nothing. Unfortunately it seems that every other club in Europe is also overlooking them. This past week we have heard a bit more about three of them - Nicklas Bendtner, Denilson and Tomas Rosicky.
We'll start with Bendtner. Despite his father/agent doing his best to offer him to every side in Germany there have been no takers. This week it was claimed, in The Sun, that any deal for Gary Cahill may have taken a setback as Bolton weren't interested in taking the Dane as a make-weight in any agreement. If you consider that Nicklas Bendtner is on £52000 per week it is probably not too much of a surprise. He's the sort of player that would do well at a side like Bolton - with Lee planting crosses on to his forehead Bendtner would get plenty of goals and would be an ideal (and better) replacement for Elmander. However, if a team won't pay the wages he is on (or even get near to those wages) why should he go anywhere? This is a problem for us as, while he continues to be a passenger in the Arsenal squad, we have to foot the bill - and this prevents the acquisition of other players.
Denilson's agent, meanwhile, has made it clear that AC Milan are not interested in signing him. It seems that they are not the only ones. Consequently the modern-day Ray Wilkins is returning to Arsenal for pre-season training this week. Again, Denilson is on a higher than average weekly wage for a player of such average ability. Can you see a pattern developing here?
The final denouement was added by the news that Tomas Rosicky is also going nowhere and that Arsene Wenger has told him he continues to be part of his plans. What sort of wage do you reckon Tomas might be on? Given that he was given a new contract despite missing more than a year through "injury" I suspect it is a very healthy one. 
The point is that Arsenal are paying these guys so much money that they have become nigh on impossible to sell. From their point of view they have no desire to move somewhere and get paid less - particularly not a veteran like Rosicky. Make no mistake we have a problem of Wenger's making - he decided to pay these guys based on potential, rather than achievement. As a result they now sit in an artificial comfort-zone from which they would be mad to escape voluntarily. Frankly, I could cry, such is the state we have got ourselves in to.

I heard this morning on Sky that Tottenham have resurrected their plans for the swamp and their attempts to make it open to 60,000 neanderthal-like knuckle-draggers. I have to say that I paid very little attention to the news item but I did notice one bit that stood out. The news-reader said that Spurs would be looking for "public-funding" to assist with the plans. What? Public money to develop Shite Hart Lane? In a recession? With thousands of public servants being put out of work and having their pensions slashed? A multi-million pound private enterprise wants tax-payers money to fund some new stands? If that happens then there should be some kind of national protest, shouldn't there? After all, this is the Club that pays Tom Huddelstone thousands of pounds every week to masquerade as a professional athlete - that puts paying Bendtner £52000 in the shade in my opinion. Public money? Not a scooby.

I'll leave you now and await the inevitable backlash from the newsnow Spurs feed (I'll be disappointed if I don't get any abuse whatsoever). More on Monday.