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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Three down, three to go

Mertesacker - better late than never

It's finally been a busy day in the Arsenal transfer department. You have to wonder what's been happening throughout the past three months but at least we are seeing some reinforcements come in, even if they're not what most of us were expecting, or hoping for. I'll try to keep this fairly brief as time is of the essence.
The only "confirmed" signing so far is that of Chu (Ju) Young Park from Monaco. This is the kind of signing that shows you just how much the gossip columnists know about who Arsenal might be after. I know nothing at all about him except what I've read over the past couple of days. Hopefully he'll become a bit of a cult figure with the Arsenal fans (and I mean in a Terry Mancini/Willie Young kind of way, rather than an Eboue/Jimmy Carter kind of way). We certainly needed a new striker, regardless of any shortcomings at the back. With Chamakh playing in some kind of parallel universe and Bendtner persona-non-grata we have to hope that the Korean fits straight in.
The other two signings that are seemingly nailed on are Andre Santos and Per Mertesacker. Again, I don't know very much about Santos. There was no doubt we needed a new left-back, even before Armand Traore was sold to QPR this morning. I am disappointed that Wenger has again decided to bring in a player from outside the Premier League as we need men who can hit the ground running. I always have fears over Brazillian defenders on the grounds that very few of them can actually defend (and that includes Dani Alves). It would be nice if Santos can be a bit of a Silvinho and prove a very shrewd acquisition.
I am pleased at the arrival of Mertesacker. When Arsenal were in Austria in pre-season last year it seemed certain that Mertesacker would be an Arsenal player within days (as reported by this site). So it is definitely a case of better late than never as far as I'm concerned. Any centre-half with 70+ caps for Germany is no mug, and at 6'6" he certainly adds some aerial presence to the back four. Having said that I don't think he is the final piece of this jigsaw. We are still short on quality and the fans seem to have seriously lost it with Johan Djourou after what happened on Sunday (a stark contrast to the disappointment that swept through Gooner ranks when he was injured in the FA Cup tie at Old Trafford earlier this year - short memories). 
As far as I'm concerned we are still three players short of what is needed (as a minimum). We need yet another centre-back, as I've said above. It is reported that the Gary Cahill chase has been called off. I find that very disappointing. We are also short in defensive midfield areas, yet Scott Parker is signing for Tottenham for much less that £10m. The other thing we need, of course, is a replacement for Cesc Fabregas. This means that big money needs to be spent tomorrow. Only a world-class player can provide anything close to what we've lost. Wesley Sneijder or Bastian Schweinsteiger or Eden Hazard would do for me (with Sneijder or Schweinsteiger the preferred option). If it means spending the fabled "£40m on one player" then it should be done. The lift that such a signing would give everyone can not be underestimated - remember Dennis Bergkamp arriving at Arsenal? Last night we were linked with Yossi Benayoun - if that happens then it should be considered as Arsene Wenger's "Kiwomya" moment. 
Hopefully it will still be a very busy final 24 hours in the market for Arsenal. Sadly I won't be in a position to write about it until Friday evening, at the earliest.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Desperate times call for drastic measures - and these times are very desperate

Remember his defence?

There is little point in picking over the coals of what happened yesterday. It is, perhaps, enough to say that it was shameful for an Arsenal team to concede eight goals in a game. I do not have it in me to be upset with the players. It is simply not their fault. Carl Jenkinson had a rough day yesterday, but I certainly liked his willingness to tell Walcott to "f***-off" after Walcott had failed (again) to track Patrice Evra, before having a go at the young full-back. Leadership was again missing yesterday, especially from a Captain who became Mr Timid while standing over a pressure penalty. In the back-four there was no communication in the absence of Vermaelen (it's no coincidence that Jenkinson was out of position a lot yesterday with Djourou and Koscielny silent alongside him - Vermaelen had talked the lad through the previous two matches where he had not looked out of place at all). 
Leaving aside all the general abuse etc there was one thing in yesterday's game that typified Wenger, and his complete lack of tactical awareness. At 3-1 we were holding United reasonably well and creating one or two things - 3-1 would have done me as a result after going 3-0 down. So what does he do? He takes off his defensive midfield player (Coquelin - who certainly didn't let anyone down) and brings on a poor lad of just turned 18 to make his debut (Alex Chamberlain must be wondering what he's done to deserve such a thing) and we let in 3 goals in the next 5 minutes. From then on it was just a training exercise for United, and not a very difficult one. You would think that someone on the bench (Pat Rice, I'm talking about you) would have been pleading with Wenger not to make such a substitution. Has Pat Rice no sense of pride in himself? Or is he just a complete yes man? 
For Arsenal FC to concede 8 goals is such a shameful thing that the Manager should have been sacked immediately. It's beyond unacceptable. Quite how Arsene Wenger can not have resigned after such a humiliation is beyond my comprehension. He can blame injuries, suspensions, fatigue (after 5 games?) all he wants to, but the FACT remains that Arsenal's team yesterday was put on the pitch through his actions. He has summarily destroyed everything he built.

A question I often hear when Wenger's head is called for is "who would replace him?" Let's forget the fact that it's a stupid question as there are plenty of people out there who can replace him, but I want to frame it against our current position. If Wenger was to resign, or be sacked now (or at any time until Christmas), it would mean a Manager coming in and having to work with what has been left for him. In my view there is only one man suitable to come in and be appointed for the rest of the season and that is George Graham. Time is a great healer (and, in time, we will only really remember the good things about Arsene Wenger's reign) and George's misdemeanours (including being manager at Tottenham) are now long ago. We need a Manager who can organise our defence, and instill proper discipline in the players (there is little more galling to an Arsenal traditionalist than the slovenly state of our players as they arrive for a game in tracksuits and over-sized earphones - what has happened to the class of the Arsenal blazer?)
Roy Hodgson has proved at Fulham and West Brom that even poor defenders can do very well as a unit as long as they are coached and drilled properly. There is nobody better at that than George Graham, whose methods save Leeds from relegation and won Tottenham their only trophy in a near twenty year spell. So what if the attacking instincts of certain players are curbed a bit, as long as we stop letting in stupid goals. The likes of Arshavin would get a serious rocket up their arses, or find themselves playing at Barnet on a wet Monday night (just ask Charlie Nicholas how George deals with lazy star names). These are methods we should all be welcoming of in the current situation.
These are desperately dark times to be an Arsenal supporter. It's time to bring in some Arsenal men. The fans who went to Old Trafford and sang their hearts out throughout the game understand what I'm talking about as they know what it means to be Arsenal (I'll ignore those two stupid cows with the Arsene Wenger banner) - I couldn't quite understand Martin Tyler's commentary when he said how quiet the Arsenal fans were at about the twenty minute mark as they were all you could hear, certainly you didn't hear the 70,000 muppets until they were six goals up. 
Yesterday was a dark day for Arsenal Football Club. We can only hope it never gets darker. However, until Arsene Wenger is replaced I fear things might get significantly worse. I daresay I'll get some twat abusing me for calling for Wenger to go, just as I did the other day. If there are still Wenger loyalists out there, I'd like to hear what their case is for the defence now.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Manchester United (a) preview

Another heroic display required tomorrow

If we thought we were up against it last week, it has nothing on what we will encounter at Old Trafford tomorrow. I see that Alex Ferguson has been defending Arsene Wenger this week, and he's had more complimentary things to say in tomorrow's matchday programme. This concerns me. Ferguson being nice about anyone tends to mean that they pose no threat whatsoever the achieving of Manchester United's ambitions. With the squad currently available to us it is easy to see why Ferguson might be thinking that way.
There has been the merest hint of a bright spot on the horizon with Laurent Koscielny being passed fit, but Thomas Vermaelen required a fitness test today (result as yet unknown). We have to hope and pray that the Verminator makes the trip as his performance against Carroll last weekend was absolutely peerless. If we are to have any chance of repelling Wayne Rooney then Vermaelen simply has to play in order to combat the sheer physical strength of Shrek's brother, and that's before you get to talking about his ability on the ball. If Vermaelen and Koscielny start tomorrow I would move Johan Djourou in to midfield in place of the suspended Song and Frimpong. We surely can not afford to play at Old Trafford with a potential midfield of Lansbury, Ramsey and Rosicky - we would get turned over in a big way.
With the bad press that has followed United's new goalkeeper in the first fortnight any other team would be looking to pound the United six-yard box with high balls in order to put De Gea under pressure. There is NO chance of Arsenal employing such tactics - not only will Arsene never sacrifice his footballing principles, but we don't have anyone capable of crossing the ball, never mind getting on the end of one. However, our best bet tomorrow has to be to attack United from the off. There is no Ferdinand or Vidic so if there is a weakness then it is in the United defence - if they allow Arsenal to play in the way they let Spurs play on Monday then we might nick a goal or two. Keeping them out at the other end is the issue.
With the way things are I would take a draw tomorrow with great pleasure. It embarrasses me to say that about going to Manchester United, as those with Title ambitions should never be happy with less than three points, regardless of the opposition. Sadly, it's a symptom of where we currently find ourselves. Our chances of getting a point are severely handicapped by the appointment of Howard Webb as referee. Regardless of any perceived affinity he may have with tomorrow's opponent, it can't be denied that he is a cretinous incompetent (at best - I believe, as ever, that there is something more sinister at play with officials in this Country) who should not be let near any major game of football. Ever. It will be a long two hours from kick-off tomorrow, and anything positive from the result will be a bonus.

Friday, 26 August 2011

We're going to miss out on what we need at this rate

Apparently he is now wearing an Arsenal wrist-watch

After the euphoria of Wednesday evening (it didn't really matter who we got drawn against yesterday as long as we were in the hat) Arsenal have quickly found a way of destroying all the enthusiasm among the faithful. We have over £100m burning a serious hole in the pockets of all concerned and yet we are in the business of making insulting offers for players we so obviously need. 
When I read this morning that we had bid £6m for Gary Cahill, and been told where to go, I took it with a large pinch of salt. I gave up lending any credence to the newspaper gossip about three or four years back. However, Owen Coyle has confirmed that Arsenal made a "derisory" offer for the big centre-back. Arsene Wenger has since come out and denied the bid was as low as has been reported but we can be pretty certain it didn't get near to £10m. We all know that Bolton have said he can be sold for £18m. I would suggest that any buying club would get him for not more than £16m as there is only one season left on his contract. Why the hell are we still f***ing about with piddling sums of money? We have five days to sign players. We could have had Cahill in the side for Sunday. Let's be honest here, you have to question why it is now August 26th and we are just now making a bid. This should have been sorted before the end of May, never mind August. We claim to be a big club, yet we behave like some third division no-marks. It doesn't matter what Arsene Wenger values the player at as it's up to the selling club to set the asking-price. I also have to call in to question the role of Ivan Gazidis in all of this. I have no time for David Dein whatsoever, but I can't imagine he would have allowed Arsenal to be embarrassed by making such insulting bids for a current England international. I can imagine that he would have told Wenger there was no way he would waste his time on such nonsense. I think we are paying the price for employing a man with little understanding of the way football works in the real World, rather than in the artificial MLS. Last year we paid the best part of £4m for Squillaci, and yet we make such a disgraceful offer for Gary Cahill. If it wasn't so bloody serious you might find it funny.
To top it all off today we now hear that Tottenham are in talks for Scott Parker. Here we are with no midfield players, and yet our local rivals are going to nip in and sign the Footballer of the Year for a pittance. I defy anybody to tell me that Scott Parker would not be a more effective player in Arsenal's midfield than Alex Song. I am absolutely f***ing fuming at the very thought of this. Every pundit is saying he is just what we need (even if you ignore twats like Robbie Savage you can listen to intelligent people like Martin Keown) and yet we are going to miss out on him.
We have paid a 6% ticket price increase this Summer. We have seen our Captain sold for at least £10m less than his value. We have seen Samir Nasri sold (albeit for very good money in the circumstances). And yet we have no reinforcements. There has been no World-Class player brought in to the Club. There is nothing to be excited about, nothing to get the supporters on-side with the Manager. The Club know that the REAL supporters will always be here because it's OUR Club. But how long will the "tourists" hang around for? How many JCL's are going to pay top-dollar to see the likes of Abou Diaby and Marouane Chamakh poncing about on the pitch in a red and white shirt? The way business has been conducted is nothing short of Mickey Mouse, though considerably less entertaining than Walt's finest creation.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Udinese 1 - 2 Arsenal - Brilliant 2nd half performance

 Little Mozart conducted an Arsenal symphony in the second-half tonight

Well that is a big relief. I was reading a lot of idiotic nonsense from individuals on forums stating their desire for Arsenal to lose tonight as it would push Arsene Wenger closer to the exit door. I want Wenger gone as much as anyone, but I don't understand how anyone can claim to be an Arsenal supporter and wish them to lose any game. As far as I'm concerned those people can fuck off. Arsenal are through and I'm bloody ecstatic about it. I fully expected us to go out tonight and the players turned it around with a brilliant second-half effort. 
Before I get to the good stuff I've got to mention the first-half tactics that seriously hamstrung the team. For some reason Wenger decided to play Song as an advanced midfielder. When I saw the line-up I was pleased to see both Song and Frimpong in the side as I expected us to get some proper protection for the back-four. Instead we had Song constantly about twenty yards too high up the pitch. When Udinese scored Frimpong stepped out to make a tackle and found himself stranded, without support, and Djourou then lost Di Natale. It was completely tactically inept from the Manager. If Song wasn't going to play alongside Frimpong then Arshavin or Rosicky should have started the match.
At half-time Rosicky came on for Frimpong and I seriously feared the worst. I could see us losing by three or four goals at that point. Instead Alex Song finally played the defensive role he is supposed to and protected the defence superbly. The main catalyst for the excellent second-half effort, however, was Tomas Rosicky. This was "Little Mozart's" best performance since his first season at the Club. He tracked back, made great tackles, and used the ball quickly and intelligently. You have to give credit where it is due and Rosicky turned the match tonight. We got the equalising goal after more great work from Gervinho, who was outstanding all night. I really like the fact that we have a player who will run at the opposition and make things happen. It's amazing how often you create havoc if you can commit a defender of two.
I spoke to my Dad at half-time and made the point that the referee was having a good game. The less said about his second-half effort the better. It was nothing short of disgusting, with the ridiculous penalty given against us, and numerous bookings, as well as the penalty we should have had for the elbow on Theo Walcott. 
Szczesny's penalty save was crucial. It was really the save of a top quality goalkeeper, up there in it's importance (and class) with Seaman against Sampdoria and Lehmann against Villareal. At a time when one goal would have put Udinese back in the tie it was so important to our progress tonight. Theo then finished superbly (having missed his share up to then) coming in off the left - I don't understand why Wenger persists in playing him from the right wing as he scores so many of his goals after taking up a "Thierry Henry" position wide on the left.
All in all the second-half was outstanding and it couldn't have come at a more important time for the Club. We are in the Champions League, which should ease a little of the pressure, but the signings required must now be made quickly. There is now no excuse for not getting in top quality reinforcements. For now, though, I'm simply going to enjoy having such a weight lifted off our shoulders.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Respect must be earned, Match Of The Day is an insult

Atkinson - typifies referees today, but is he incompetent or is he a cheat?

On the first weekend of the Football League season I watched two games on Sky and was really impressed by the displays from the referees. The two men in question were always up with the play and the way they controlled the game and the players was in stark contrast to anything seen in the Premier League over the past few years. Unusually for games on Sky the matches were being officiated by men who are not among the Premier League elite names. The most noticeable thing for me was the way in which they went about booking players. There were no histrionics, no “look at me, I’m in charge” nonsense, and no turning towards the camera in order that the best side of your fake tan gets seen by the viewers. There was also no hesitation in booking for a dodgy challenge. In the AFC Wimbledon v Bristol Rovers match there was a booking inside two minutes for the Dons’ Captain who had made his second foul in quick succession. The way in which the ref dealt with it (calmly and without drama) saw the match settle down in to a superb game of football.
Let’s contrast this, shall we, with the utter dross we’ve seen from officials over the first two weeks of the Premier League. The first thing to say is that refereeing standards slipped dramatically with the formation of the Premier League and the appointment of “elite” referees. Suddenly referees became names and faces that were recognised. Certain individuals, like Graham Poll and Jeff Winter, now considered themselves celebrities and are still playing on it today. When I was growing up you only ever knew the referee who got the FA Cup Final (usually as they retired) and whoever went to the World Cup. Now we have the likes of Howard Webb and Martin Atkinson and Andre Marriner etc who are in a position to make cock-up after cock-up every week and yet are beyond reproach. Yesterday we were victims again of these muppets as Atkinson and his linesman failed to do their job properly (don’t forget that Atkinson and his cohort combined to cost us a winning goal at home to Sunderland earlier this year by giving a non-existent offside and then failing to spot a clear penalty – incompetent or dishonest? I know what I believe). Watching last night’s Match Of The Day I was not surprised to see Webb completely cocking things up in the North-East derby (more on that below). He sees what he wants to see and fails to deal with serious foul play time and time again. While doing so he is also making absolutely certain that he is the centre of attention in the game. This can not be right. Decision after decision is made and is shown to be incorrect. What is the punishment? An occasional game in the lower divisions? Why should paying fans at that level have to suffer these idiots in their matches? Referees are now well-paid professionals yet they are, at best, incompetent. I honestly believe there is something far more sinister with some of them – Arsenal’s record with decisions this past year or so certainly warrants some investigation. The FA talks about “Respect” and how players have a responsibility to show some towards the referee. They overlook the fact that respect is earned, not given. Why should somebody get respect simply by putting on a black shirt and carrying a whistle? I remember David Elleray telling me once that he hated refereeing Dennis Bergkamp as he wouldn’t listen to him – I suspect it had something to do with Elleray’s overbearing school-teacher routine clashing with the sublime talent of someone who had no reason to show respect to such a little weasel.

I watched Match Of The Day last night to see what exactly happened with the goals and the red card yesterday. As soon as it came on I realised we wouldn’t get a sympathetic and unbiased response from a panel of Lineker, Hansen and Lawrenson (not weighted towards Liverpool at all). The highlights confirmed my suspicion that Frimpong’s first yellow card was an absolute joke. Questions really should be asked how he was booked for that, yet John Terry gets the same for grabbing Peter Odemwingie by the throat (left out of the BBC highlights from Chelsea’s game). I also had it confirmed that the first goal was clearly offside, though not to Hansen who said “it might have been marginally offside.” They also claimed that Frimpong should have got a straight red for the foul that got him his second booking. Frimpong didn’t have his foot especially high and had raised it to block the ball, with Lucas kicking on to the underside of his boot in his follow-through (again Chelsea’s highlights were edited to ignore a heinous Ashley Cole foul on Odemwingie moments after the Terry incident). It was simply one of those things, and certainly never a straight red (did you know that Martin Atkinson has sent off more Arsenal players than those from other clubs in his career?)
Aside of all that, and the thing that has really got me writing about it, is the double standards of the analysis. Firstly we had to sit through a Hansen montage of how good Jose Enrique was. This was illustrated at one point by a clip of him shepherding Theo Walcott to the touchline and then making a good tackle, thus showing his good defending. This was followed immediately by a clip of Enrique going forward and being dealt with in exactly the same way, by Carl Jenkinson, as Walcott had been dealt with at the other end – yet this clip was to illustrate the quality of Enrique as an attacking option. The crassness of this nonsense is almost too much to bear, and yet we pay our licence fee for such insight from these cretins.
The other bit of double standards I want to talk about came from the Newcastle match at Sunderland. In the first-half we saw Ryan Taylor blatantly elbow Asamoah Gyan in the face, right next to the linesman. Taylor went on to score the winning goal, of course. Last week Hansen and company showed (over and over again) Alex Song’s “stamp” on Barton. They made a point of saying how he “must be suspended” by the FA. I watched with interest last night as they completely ignored the Taylor elbow. This is utterly disgusting to me and is yet another example of a media bias against Arsenal. They dislike us intensely and will go out of their way to discredit Arsenal and their players and Manager, while ignoring what goes on elsewhere. It really is time for Arsene Wenger to take a leaf out of Ferguson’s book and stop giving interviews to these idiots. And the same goes for that mong Jeff Shreeves on Sky.

The blog may become a bit sporadic over the next seven weeks or so as I am having to do some training at work that requires quite a bit of concentration, and concludes with a must-pass exam. I will endeavour to post as often as possible and particularly will try to get a match preview and/or review done for all the games we play. Bear with me if it’s quiet for a few days at a time but I will update things at every possible opportunity.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Arsenal 0 - 2 Liverpool - not criticising most of those players today

 Samir Nasri - a credit to himself this afternoon

It's a bit of a strange feeling tonight. The problems in Arsenal's squad were laid bare for all to see this afternoon. It should be embarrassing for Arsene Wenger that he had to play two young men today who were left off the official squad list for the Premier League when it was announced last Friday. He also had to bring on Nicklas Bendtner ahead of Chamakh, so poor was the Moroccan on Tuesday. Having said that the only two players I can possibly bring myself to criticise this evening are Arshavin and Walcott. In short they were an absolute disgrace. Theo has had plenty of stinkers in his time but today was the absolute end as far as I'm concerned. If Alex Chamberlain is the talent the Manager tells us he is then he should be in the side this Wednesday in Udine. Carl Jenkinson was always going to be targeted by Liverpool on his debut and yet he got no help whatsoever from Walcott. Jenkinson had a very decent game, especially in the second-half, despite suffering some obviously painful cramp towards the end of the match. Arshavin constantly gave the ball away and looked his usual disinterested self throughout. He should also be left out of the side from now on. It is ironic that, in a game where we were down to bare bones, our worst performers were in an area of the pitch where we are pretty well off, and supposedly two of our experienced players.
At the back we lost Laurent Koscielny with a back problem. Ignasi Miquel (anyone know where Squillaci is? anyone care?) came on and I thought he was outstanding. Thomas Vermaelen (man of the match for me) marshaled him superbly while putting Andy Carroll firmly in his pocket. Vermaelen's performance showed what we seriously missed last season, and why it is so important to bring in some quality alongside him, and as cover for him. Bacary Sagna showed he is quality anywhere in the back four, while Szczesny commanded his area once more. I'll get to the goals a bit later but what can't be denied is that those who were playing in defence today did pretty damn well in the circumstances.
In midfield I thought Aaron Ramsey had a mediocre game, though I can't claim he wasn't trying, unlike Walcott and Arshavin. I still think there are some mental issues with Ramsey as I felt he avoided a tackle on more than one occasion. The other two players in midfield were outstanding today. Emmanuel Frimpong got sent off, but not before serving notice on Alex Song that he is going to press him for a place in the side (though I still would like to see some genuine quality in the side in place of Song). I thought Frimpong was all-action today, and more than once he roused the crowd through sheer persistence and hard graft. His first booking was a joke. His second I would like to see again - the fact that I saw it at the time puts me in a position of advantage over the referee. I can tell you that Martin Atkinson did not see the incident at all. He was facing in the opposite direction so you have to question how he came to a decision that changed the game completely. Arsenal's other midfielder today was, of course,  Samir Nasri. The mixed reception didn't really materialise as the fans got behind the team in a big way. I thought Nasri was excellent and dominated the centre of the pitch. He certainly backed the Manager's claim that he would be committed to the cause and he should take great credit in the circumstances. There are some reports that the Man City deal has broken down this evening, but that's really only any good to Arsenal if he signs a contract.
So what about the goals then? The first thing to say is that Liverpool brought on their two best players, for me, in Suarez and Meireles. Against ten men and an inexperienced and tired defence we were always going to get problems from that pair. However, that can not disguise the fact that the first goal was offside. It was right down in front of me and Suarez was way beyond the last defender. How the linesman can think he wasn't interfering with play I really don't know. The only reason Ignasi Miquel had to try to clear the ball was to stop Suarez getting to it. Yet again we were robbed. We may have gone on to concede before the end anyway but I would suggest you're far more likely to hang on to a goalless draw if it's still 0-0 than if you're 1-0 down. The second goal is simply what happens when you're chasing, no blame attached to anyone.
As I said earlier it's an odd feeling as the players that were on the pitch were full of effort. Anyone who booed the team at the end should look long and hard at themselves tonight. If you want to boo and criticise then do it to the Manager whose transfer policy is responsible for us having to watch the squad so depleted it includes guys not worthy of a number just a week ago. As my Italian friend (a man who sees the best part of 20 games a season, home and away) put it to me before the game "What do we want with saving money? We're not a f***ing bank!" Another long week lies ahead, with a seriously crucial game on Wednesday. Any new signing (stop laughing) would not be eligible on Wednesday, but that doesn't mean three or four players shouldn't be brought in before the squad flies to Udine on Tuesday afternoon.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Liverpool (h) preview

Ryo - maybe a surprise start tomorrow?

The big games seem to be even bigger than usual right now with the problems that surround the team. The latest issue is a lack of central midfield players which has seen Samir Nasri named by Arsene Wenger in his squad for tomorrow, despite being the stroke of a pen away from joining Manchester City. I see Arsene's problem here in that he has a top class footballer drawing a weekly wage, and we're short of players, so he feels Nasri must be part of things. I think Nasri can expect something of a mixed reaction from those in attendance. I do not believe in booing your own players during the game - it is counter-productive and not in keeping with supporting the team. If you want to boo after the final whistle then all well and good, but not when the player is on the pitch wearing the Arsenal shirt. Personally I will sit there indifferent to Nasri's presence. I will not cheer his name when it's read out, but I will not jeer him in any way. Personally, I don't believe Wenger would start him in the game, partly because of the fans' reaction, and also because an injury would probably cost us £20m+ in lost transfer revenue.
If Nasri doesn't play, and Arsene sticks to the usual formation, I expect Andrey Arshavin to move in to the position behind Robin Van Persie. This has always been the Russian's preferred position, but he has yet to get his chance there at Arsenal. If he does play there, and puts in the sort of lacklustre display that has been typical this past 18 months, then he will be running out of chances with the supporters. If Arshavin is moved inside then Ryo Miyaichi could find himself handed a surprise start down the left for Arsenal. Such a situation would have to mean Sagna switching to left-back with Jenkinson at right-back - not even Arsene would be mad enough to put two debutant's on the same flank against a team like Liverpool (in my view Sagna must play at left-back anyway as Kuyt will have far too much for a youngster like Jenkinson).
Emmanuel Frimpong is likely to be another player making his first Arsenal start in place of Alex Song. Frimpong is strong and tough, but he is naive in his tackling and gives away a lot of free-kicks. With the way we defend, and Andy Carroll in the opposition, we can ill-afford to give away opportunities to load the ball in to our penalty area - lest we forget, also, that Squillaci will be perilously close to the pitch tomorrow with Djourou injured. Discipline from Frimpong will be key tomorrow.
The other option available to Wenger is to change to 4-4-2. We heard Theo Walcott saying earlier in the week that he wants to play through the centre. The current shortage of midfield players provides the perfect opportunity to do something different. Playing two up front, Van Persie and Walcott, would put Liverpool's defence under pressure - Carragher would really struggle against Theo's pace if RVP could get the ball through the back four to him. It's not going to happen though, so there's not really much point in me speculating.
Liverpool bring their new signings and new confidence with them. Their result at home to Sunderland last week was not what they were looking for, so tomorrow is a huge test of their credentials for the season. I believe that, in Luis Suarez, they may have got the biggest bargain in Premier League history. We know that Andy Carroll will be marked out as the main threat to us with his aerial ability, and this will be true at set-pieces. Last season, however, Carroll was the problem for Liverpool as they kept playing long balls to him in open play. When he went off with twenty minutes to go, and they got it to the feet of Suarez, Liverpool came in to the game. It will be interesting to see what the game plan is from Dalglish tomorrow.

Before I sign off I have been asked by a Liverpool supporting friend to bring my readers' attention to this link to the petition to have Hillsborough papers released. I have my own views on the causes of the Hillsborough disaster, and they differ wildly from those of most Liverpool supporters. However, what we can all agree on is that those poor 96 people who lost their lives were innocent victims who had bought their tickets and got in the ground early to support their team. If the release of these secret papers can bring peace to their families then it is very welcome indeed. You would have to question what is keeping the papers secret in the first place, and anything that might show Margaret Thatcher to be an evil witch who hated the working classes is very welcome in my house.

I'll try and get a match review written tomorrow evening when I get in from the game.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Wenger is presiding over the fall of his Empire - unless he spends serious cash

Emperor Nero - has the look of Arsene Wenger about him

Arsene Wenger created the greatest Arsenal team in living memory and put the Club among the elite of World football. He developed some of the best players in the World in Henry, Vieira, Petit, Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, Ashley Cole and Cesc Fabregas while they were at Arsenal. We won trophies in great style, with fast, attacking and exciting football that everyone else envied. It was all topped off by going through an entire season without losing in the Premier League, amid a 49 match unbeaten run. All of this makes the current situation more tragic and depressing. It is hard not to think that everything we have witnessed was a creation of the Manager - he built it - and now he is destroying it or, rather, allowing it to fall around him.
We left Highbury in 2006 at the behest of Arsene Wenger. He persuaded the Board that we had to move in order "to compete in the transfer market." This is something we were told over and over again as the main reason for leaving our home. The arrival of Roman Abramovich (and subsequently Man City's owners) may have coloured this a little, but we are no nearer to competing for the major stars than we ever have been - Liverpool and Manchester United are able to buy players, so why not Arsenal? I saw some stats on Sky Sports the other day where they showed Arsenal's record transfer fee to be £15m for Andrey Arshavin. In the current football landscape how can a Club of Arsenal's stature not have signed a World Class player for a significant fee? Okay, spending big money doesn't guarantee the player will be a success, but I would argue you are far more likely to see quality from a £20m+ player than a 17 year-old from Southampton, or a boy from Charlton Athletic. Arsene says he looks at the "quality of the player rather than the price tag" but I would suggest a big price generally means a quality player (the English market may be inflated - with Andy Carroll being the most obvious example - but if that's the going rate then it's what you must pay to improve).
I am not upset at losing Fabregas and Nasri (especially Nasri, though the fee we have got for Fabregas is an insult to the Arsenal supporters) as long as the money is put in to buying proper replacements. By saying that I mean signing established names - Sneijder, Schweinsteiger, Mata ( who is young but very experienced at the top level already) to name just a few. The signing of a big name for big money gives everyone a boost, players and fans alike. We continue to be "linked" with unknown Frenchmen/Africans, when what we are crying out for is established players. This particularly applies to defensive areas. Why are we having to rely on a child like Frimpong to stand in for Alex Song this week when we could have had Scott Parker in the team already? (Arsene would tell us that such a signing would "kill" Frimpong, while completely overlooking the fact that, if the lad is that good, he will end up ahead of the likes of Song and Parker regardless). We need an experienced "Premier League" player in the back four (at least one). I have never had a problem with Arsenal's foreign legion as English players are generally inferior (just look at the England team and their record) but right now we need a player like Cahill to come in and simply defend properly - in an English way, if you will.
Arsene promised us a "busy Summer" and has been adamant that he has worked long in to the night all through the close season. So what has he been doing? He tells us we have scouts all over the World looking for players - why? Surely he doesn't need a scout to tell him that the likes of Sneijder are top class players who could be successful in the Premier League - remember the last World-Class Dutchman we signed from Internazionale? He wasn't a bad player as I recall, and you didn't need some scout or other to tell you so. We are now less than two weeks away from the end of the transfer window and yet we are signing nobody. 
As I said at the start of this post Arsene Wenger built the modern Arsenal, but now he has more than a touch of the Emperor Nero about him. He seems to be burying his head in the sand as his Empire crumbles all around him. For some reason all we get are the same old soundbites about "super quality" and how he will only sign players "who will improve us as a squad." While he continues to do this Arsenal are in real danger of slipping from that elite I mentioned earlier (assuming we haven't already done so). All of this could yet be changed if only he would get on and spend the millions that are at his disposal. It is the only way for Wenger to save Arsenal and himself, and he must do it now or face the consequences, and the ignominy of being sacked as Arsenal Manager.

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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Udinese (h) preview

  Set for more abuse after his outburst

In recent seasons we've had to watch Arsenal play this qualifying round for the Champions League with some regularity. This season seems somewhat different. Quite apart from the issues surrounding the Club at the moment we are up against a credible opponent for the first time. With all due respect to those that have visited us before at this stage Udinese are a bit of a step up in class from Zagreb, FC Twente and Celtic. To add to Arsenal's difficulty is the fact that we play the first leg at home for the first time. It's wrong to say that this is the biggest game we've played in ages as that is simply nonsense, but it is certainly a massive fixture in terms of whether or not Arsenal's season is over before it even gets going.
Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie are suspended following the cheating referee that we suffered in Barcelona last season. I doubt Nasri would have played anyway, and his pointed criticism of the Arsenal fans on Twitter yesterday was merely a tactic designed to make his position more untenable. He seems to be taking on the character of Adebayor at the moment so it will not surprise me to hear the same chants this evening. Frankly the sooner he goes to Manchester City the better. RVP will be badly missed, however. Marouane Chamakh seems the most likely starter in his stead but Arsene Wenger has announced that Nicklas Bendtner will almost certainly be involved in the squad tonight. It is no surprise that Bendtner is still here as nobody will match the ridiculous £50k+ per week that Arsenal pay him. Gervinho is the other option to play through the middle.
In midfield we find ourselves particularly short with Tomas Rosicky also now struggling with injury. I suspect this will mean Frimpong starting alongside Song, with Aaron Ramsey moving up the pitch to play behind the striker. Another option is for Arshavin to move inside and finally play in his favoured role with Walcott and Gervinho occupying the wide positions. Whatever the case may be Wenger has some decisions to make. Once he has made them that will be his involvement finished for the night as Pat Rice will have to manage the team this evening with Wenger banned.
I was working at Gatwick last night and met a few of the Udinese fans travelling to the match. They all seemed pretty confident in their team and most seemed to be predicting a 0-0 draw - perhaps they watched the toothless attacking display at Newcastle on Saturday. Sadly work will prevent me from going to the game tonight but I will watch is "as live" when I get home. I'll write a match review in the morning.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Thanks Cesc

Kissing us all goodbye - the legendary Cesc Fabregas

I'm reading some of the most ridiculous nonsense on certain internet messageboards and forums discussing why Cesc Fabregas does not qualify as a legend of Arsenal Football Club. I've been an annoyed and upset by Fabregas' failure to put his Spanish mates back in their box the past couple of years, and his lack of leadership as Captain of Arsenal (that's about personality rather than ability), but his sheer quality makes him legendary in my eyes. When my children are older I will be talking to them about this guy and how great a footballer he was. There appears to be a school of thought that, because Arsenal only won a single major trophy in his time that he can't be a legend - so what about Liam Brady, if that's the criteria you're going to apply? It's a non-argument to me.

There is another argument doing the rounds that Fabregas is merely the shining light in a poor team. Again this is utter nonsense and is just a new found way of being bitter towards Cesc. Again, if that's the criteria you'd have to ask why is Joe Baker a legend of the Club? The answer of course is that he was a World Class player who was remarkably good when he played for Arsenal, despite the failings of those around him.
When I think of the greatest players I've seen at Arsenal, and try to put them in to a "fantasy" team Fabregas is there alongside Patrick Vieira in midfield. I feel that's a measure of how good he is.I will remember Cesc Fabregas as one of the finest footballers I have ever seen, anywhere. I am privileged to have watched him play for Arsenal. What has happened this past eighteen months has soured my admiration for him as he could, and should, have stamped out the nonsense from Barcelona and their players - we all knew he would leave eventually, but it should have been done in a professional and respectful way. 
The most amazing thing to consider with Fabregas is that he is still only 24 years of age. Fitness permitting (and that remains a big "if" given his hamstring issues) his best years still lie ahead of him. It is annoying that Barcelona will be the beneficiaries of those peak years, but that's football - we got the best of Henry and Bergkamp and Vieira etc. 
Time will heal the wounds of the recent past and we will all remember the great football he played for us. I thank Cesc Fabregas for the pleasure he gave to us at Arsenal. I remember the night he made his debut, and the night he scored his first goal, and the night he scored his first Premier League goal, and the night he scored his first Champions League goal - I was there at each of them. I feel privileged to have seen him develop. I was also there at the Champions League Final when the substitution of him, for Flamini, left a gaping hole in an already stretched midfield - had Fabregas not been taken off we might well have held on. It's such a shame he was injured for the Carling Cup Final last season - how different might it have been were he available?
Good luck Cesc, we won't forget you - a legend of Arsenal Football Club.

It's a sad day...

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Newcastle 0 - 0 Arsenal - Barton shows his true character...again, while Arsenal look listless

The Away Boys have made it clear to Arsene

It seems amazing to be so worked up after such a dull game in terms of any goalmouth incident. Having said that it is no surprise that Joey Barton sits at the centre of the controversy this evening. It is also no surprise to me to be talking about the weak and incompetent officiating of Peter Walton.
Let's start with the football before we get to the lowlife scum. Arsenal played their usual game with lots and lots of passing, but no end product. After twenty minutes Chris Waddle commented as to how Arsenal were in "complete control." Of course he was right. But we still hadn't had a single shot on target. Gervinho was far and away Arsenal's best player this evening, but it hasn't taken him long to realise that shooting at goal is not allowed all the time there is a square pass on. Apart from Gervinho the only positives to me were an assured presence in goal (though I would rather see my goalkeeper catch the ball than punch it away) and an excellent performance from the back-four (any weakness came from Gibbs, but he was much better today - his best performance in the first-team for a long time). Aside of that there was simply the gaping hole left in our creativity without Fabregas, Nasri and Wilshere. The away fans, who are usually singing "one Arsene Wenger" were unequivocal in their assessment throughout the second-half as "spend some f***ing money" echoed around the otherwise silent St James' Park (great atmosphere, my a**e). It is clear that Wenger needs to do something big in the transfer market this week because once the travelling fans have turned against his policy he has nowhere else to go.
Now, what about that controversy I was talking about? Let's start with Alex Song, who should have been sent-off for a stupid stamp on Barton. Yes, Barton had fouled him, but the free-kick had been given and, had Barton done what Song did, we'd have been screaming blue murder. A combination of the fact that Song plays for Arsenal, and that it is the start of a new season, will ensure that Alex Song will almost certainly be banned on Monday morning. Certainly if that twat Ray Stubbs on ESPN has his way Song will not escape - in fact I think he could be looking at a custodial sentence. It was stupid and irresponsible by Song and he will get what he deserves I suppose. What followed from there was typical Barton as he marched off the pitch to abuse the fourth official - isn't it a bookable offence to leave the field of play without the permission of the referee?
Now the penalty incident. TV replays have shown that Tiote definitely DID trip Gervinho. The referee didn't give the penalty (but also didn't book Gervinho for diving). What followed showed exactly why Joey Barton should not be on a football field. The man is clearly completely out of control. With play ongoing Arsenal should surely have been awarded a penalty when Barton grabbed Gervinho. After that Gervinho slapped him (a very girly slap) and was sent off. Barton should be ashamed at the way he threw himself to the ground and claimed he had been punched - and all this just seconds after wrongly accusing Gervinho of diving. What a scumbag. I think Arsene was right when he said that it's either a yellow for both or a red for both - Pardew claims that Barton did nothing wrong, but he's another cretin, isn't he? For the referee to send-off the Arsenal man, but only book Barton, showed that the incompetence and bottling has not been eradicated over the Summer. Once again we've been robbed on two counts - it took 75 minutes for it to happen this season.
As an Arsenal supporter I found the conduct of our players at the final whistle absolutely disgusting. How could they shake hands and hug Joey Barton after what they had just witnessed? The only one to come out with any credit was Thomas Vermaelen. Such an incident called for the sort of reaction Keown and company had to Van Nistelrooy at Old Trafford in 2003 - if ever you needed to know what is missing from the character of this squad it was laid bare following the game today. There wasn't even a retaliatory kick at Barton while the game was going on. Let's not forget this isn't the first time he has got an Arsenal player sent off. Sickening all round. I just hope that anyone who wanted this horrible c**t at our Club has now changed their mind.
I'm signing off now, and I fully expect to get at least one response from a Geordie (able to type through their webbed fingers) calling me a "whingeing cockney" or some variation.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Newcastle United (a) preview

All Gooner eyes on St James' tomorrow

The season is here and Arsenal start with a very tough away game at St James' Park. Leaving aside the disaster that befell the players here last season it is a daunting prospect to play the opening fixture in front of a full house of screaming Geordies. The only bright spot is that Newcastle fans are scratching their heads at the goings on in their Club just as much as we are.
Arsenal go in to the game with good news on the injury front, which is just as well with Fabregas and Nasri on their way out. Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, Thomas Vermaelen and Robin Van Persie all appear to be fit to play. Having said that I am very concerned about the position with Jack Wilshere who, we are now told, has had his foot placed in to a protective boot (he was out for "a few days" when the injury occurred - remember Rosicky and Vermaelen?) For some reason Nicklas Bendtner is not likely to be involved despite the fact that he remains an Arsenal player. Emmanuel Eboue, meanwhile, seems to have played his final game for the Club after he was left off the official list of Arsenal squad numbers for the season (Gervinho has taken Eboue's number 27 shirt). I also expect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be among the Arsenal subs tomorrow, along with Emmanuel Frimpong.
Robin Van Persie will skipper the side in Fabregas' absence, though Arsene Wenger says no decision is made on a new Club Captain. I think this sort of sums up where we are right now with a complete lack of leadership both on the pitch and off. My personal view is that Wenger should make Wilshere the Captain of Arsenal. I don't care how young he is - Tony Adams was a mere boy when he took over and it didn't do him, or Arsenal, too much harm. I suspect, however, that RVP will step in to the role as Wenger tries to encourage our last remaining world-class player to stay with the Club.
I think we might line up a little like this: Szczesny - Sagna, Vermaelen, Djourou, Gibbs - Song, Ramsey, Rosicky - Arshavin, Van Persie, Gervinho
Newcastle, as I mentioned above, are not without their own issues. The soap opera involving the way Newcastle is run continues with Joey Barton in open warfare with his employers. Club Captain Kevin Nolan was sold earlier in the Summer and regular left-back Jose Enrique has gone to Liverpool. All of this has been done against a backdrop of not much investment in the side. Having said that they have one of the best combative midfield players in the Premier League in Tiote, while the much maligned Shola Ameobi is just the sort of player that can give our defence all sorts of trouble. 
Arsenal will need to take advantage of Newcastle's upheaval to get a result at St James' Park. However I don't think the players can possibly be in the right frame of mind going in to the game tomorrow. Let's remember that these are almost the exact same set of players that finished last season and their confidence was shot to pieces. Too many of them are not of the top standard required to compete for trophies, and I suspect they know it themselves. If someone offered me a draw right now I'd probably take it, and that really shouldn't be the case with an Arsenal team.
There is likely to be massive fall out from events with regards to Fabregas and Nasri over the next few days. I laughed yesterday when Wenger said it is better if you have your business done before the season begins, yet nothing happens at Arsenal (unless you count the announcement this evening of Joel Campbell's arrival - a 19 year old striker who's player eight games in the Costa Rican Premier League!) I was amazed this morning to hear the Manager still claiming that the two might stay - he really is turning in to Comical Ali from the end of Saddam's reign in Iraq. 
Having said all of that about the Manager we must get behind the players that remain. It is not their fault that the Club is in this position going in to a new season. The minute they pull on the red and white shirt they become the representative of all of us on the football field. If we are to get through this early season mess in a healthy position then the boys will need our help. Get behind them and remember this:


Thursday, 11 August 2011

Premier League Season Preview 2011-2012

 Not likely this season

I’m not going to pass comment on the Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri transfers until they go through and we have some genuine idea of the money they are bringing to the Club and what Wenger might choose to do with it. What I will say is that I am intrigued by what has been said by the BBC source (who appears to be an Arsenal board member) with regards to re-investing the money in to the squad. It indicates to me that this is the reason signings have been thin on the ground – the money we have been consistently told is there to be spent has not been there at all. In short I now believe that we are still in a position where players must be sold before new players can come in. This, of course, begs the question of where the money has gone from the Club. It’s a discussion for another day, but I am very worried that, if we have been lied to, then Arsenal’s finances are not as healthy as we have been told in the last couple of years. It seems we are going in for Scott Dann, once again shopping at Lidl when we should at least be at Tesco (Bolton have again confirmed there has been no bid for Gary Cahill), even if we accept that Harrods is a bit ostentatious.

On to today’s blog. The new season is now upon us so it’s time for the annual season preview. Below is my view of the season ahead for all the sides in the Premier League. I’ll deal with Arsenal last in some vain attempt to keep you interested right to the very end of the post.

Aston Villa
There have been massive changes at Villa Park over the Summer. They have lost their two first-choice wide men in Young and Downing and brought in N’Zogbia (who is better than Downing). They have also replaced the ageing Brad Friedel with Shay Given so that also looks good business. The bad news for Villa, of course, is their choice of Manager. I really don’t know what possessed them to employ Alex McLeish. Even if you leave aside his Birmingham City past it is hard to find an argument in favour of taking him to Villa. I think the Villans will be one of many sides involved in a relegation scrap this season (which they will survive), and I don’t see McLeish making it past May 2012.

Blackburn Rovers
I was listening to some Blackburn fans on 6-0-6 the other night and they sounded suicidal with the way things have gone at Ewood Park. It seems that the Indian owners will not, after all, be signing the likes of Ronaldinho and instead are bringing in players from Dundee United and Aberdeen. The loss of Phil Jones and, potentially, Samba could be catastrophic for Rovers whose Manager is also rather uninspiring. Relegation is likely for Rovers.

Bolton Wanderers
The signing of Nigel Reo-Coker is a big one for Bolton. I’d be a bit concerned at the signings of Eagles and Mears (unluckily injured already) from Burnley, although it was for a minimal outlay. They’ve managed to cash in on Matt Taylor and Ali Al Habsi but they certainly don’t look stronger than last season. The worst thing to happen at Bolton is the injury to Chung Yong Lee in pre-season – the victim of an evil challenge from a non-league clogger. Lee is top quality and Bolton will miss him badly. They have a good Manager in Owen Coyle and I can see him steering them to a comfortable mid-table (possibly top ten) finish.

This time last season I tipped Chelsea as the team to be beaten. Up until November they seemed to be running away with the Premier League and I couldn’t see how anyone would be catching them. Who would have thought that sacking Ray Wilkins could have such a seismic effect on their campaign? This season there is new management in place and you feel that Villas-Boas will need to hit the ground running – if they make a sluggish start then the press will be full of stories about the Manager failing. There has been unusually little transfer activity at Stamford Bridge and that surprises me. I can’t see Fernando Torres continuing to flop and I reckon he will come good in the grand manner. Chelsea will obviously challenge for the Title but I don’t think they will win it as things stand.

The natives are restless at Goodison Park. Yet again there has been no investment in the team. On the other hand they haven’t lost anyone (yet). Everton under David Moyes have been a very tough team to beat, especially at home, so there is little chance of them getting in to any serious trouble. In Tim Cahill they have a top finisher in the penalty area (for a small guy he is brilliant in the air) and they have a great talent in Jack Rodwell – if he can stay fit. Top half for the Toffees.

The decision to bring in a proven Premier League boss was a good one and Martin Jol will see Fulham okay this season. The early start they’ve had for the UEFA qualifiers could well come back to haunt a small squad after Christmas, though their head start might get them off to a flier. Mid-table will do them nicely once again.

King Kenny is back and Liverpool fans are as excited as they’ve been in years ahead of the new campaign. A lot of money has been spent on the team and this has created a buzz around Liverpool FC. I don’t think they’ve necessarily done good business in the money they’ve spent, but at least they’ve done some business and got things moving. Liverpool fans are as excited as they’ve been in years ahead of the new campaign. A lot of money has been spent on the team and this has created a buzz around Liverpool FC. I honestly don’t think Dalglish will be the saviour they hope for in Liverpool and a return to the top four is the best they can achieve this season. Liverpool remain dodgy at the back (they have no pace in the back four) and Steven Gerrard’s injury could hamper them still further. In Luis Suarez they have my tip for the Golden Boot - he is top class. They’ll finish anywhere between third and sixth.

Manchester City

The money continues to flow forth from Eastlands. Any team that can afford to have people like Adebayor on the payroll, but have no intention whatsoever of playing them, is in a different sphere to every other Club. Aguero may take some time to settle in, with Tevez unlikely to play, so I can see City getting off to a slow start. They may well have Samir Nasri on board within a week or two to further strengthen them in attack. Their biggest problem is the negative style of play – it is not expected in a team that believes it can genuinely challenge. I think Mancini will be replaced quite quickly if City make a bad start to the season – a new Manager with a new mentality to attacking football might just see them challenge Manchester United properly. Top four, possibly runners-up.

Manchester United
They remain the team to beat. David De Gea will be tested early on (not least by the press) and how well he replaces Van Der Sar will have a huge bearing on the Title race. Ferguson has bought well once again – Ashley Young will provide much needed pace down the left, though his final ball is not up to the standards set by Giggs over the years. It will take something big to beat them to the Title so I have to tip them as Champions once again (unfortunately).

Newcastle United
The bizarre goings on at St James’ Park continue unabated. Money has been spent, albeit on little known players, while Kevin Nolan has left (and will surely be followed by the odious Joey Barton). I thought Newcastle would struggle last season and I think they could be in real trouble this time around. Alan Pardew is a no-mark of a Manager and Newcastle will survive this year by the skin of their teeth (though I can see them beating Arsenal this Saturday).

Norwich City
It’s good to see Norwich back in the Premier League where they belong. They’ve made one or two big money signings (though £2.5m on James Vaughan seems like a waste to me) and have a very promising Manager in Paul Lambert. They are going to struggle, without a doubt, but I hope they will survive the drop – I just can’t see it happening.

Queens Park Rangers
Another genuine Premier League Club back in the big time. They ran away with the Championship last season and the money their owners have should have made relegation a non-issue come May next year. However, they haven’t really invested in top players – in fact the new men are all Championship standard, rather than Premier League. Holding on to Adel Taraabt could be big for QPR, though how he reacts to not being allowed to leave will be interesting to see. I can’t see Neil Warnock making it past the end of the season (at the very most) but I think they will be the most likely of the promoted sides to stay up.

Stoke City
Hope they go down, but I think they’ll be comfortbale again. I’ll say no more about this horrible group.

All change at The Stadium of Light. Big transfers in and out of the Club have seen a virtually brand new team ready to take the field this season. This really could go one of two ways. Given the level of investment (though much of it is offset by the sale of Henderson to Liverpool) will put certain pressure on Steve Bruce to have success this year. I take Sunderland to be this years surprise package and possibly scrape a UEFA Cup spot – certainly top ten.

Swansea City
I was a very small child the last time Swansea were in the big-time. Losing Darren Pratley was a blow, but they’ve brought in some decent attacking talent – if they can create enough chances then Leroy Lita will score a few goals. There will be plenty of support from the neutrals as well as the locals, and I hope Swansea can provide similar entertainment to Blackpool last season. Having said that I think they will be joining Norwich on the return journey to the Football League.

Tottenham Hotspur

It’s a big season for the mugs from down the road. There’s not been a lot of business at The Lane so far, though that is not unusual with ‘Arry - he tends to do most of it late in the day. I do wonder, however, if the Chairman is not keen to spend out while Redknapp’s court case is in the balance. I think this could be a very interesting year for Spurs and particularly for their Manager. Should be top six, but who knows what upheaval could be just around the corner for Spurs.

West Bromwich Albion
West Brom will move up the table this season. Roy Hodgson is back at his level and his ability to organise a defence will see them comfortably in mid-table. Good players have been brought in at The Hawthorns while a lot of the dead wood has been shipped out. There will be no relegation battle for the Baggies this year.

Wigan Athletic

They’ve become the perennial survivors. Every year it seems they will finally drop from the Premier League, but they always find a way when it matters. The signing of Ali Al Habsi in goal is a good investment – he was crucial to the side when on loan last season. The big problem for Wigan is losing their best player in Charles N’Zogbia. Who is going to be able to provide his creativity and goals from wide? They will almost certainly be involved at the wrong end of the table again, but I see them escaping the drop once more.

Wolverhampton Wanderers
Another team that seems to be in trouble come April every year. The signings of Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara (who was there on loan last season) are very good additions. I can’t help thinking that Johnson is just the sort of player Arsenal could have done with getting – especially at £7m. If Wolves can make a good start they will be heading for a decent finish come May – not many problems this season.

So, we come to the only team that really matters. This is a season of make or break for Arsene Wenger. Throughout his time at the Club there has never been a greater pressure on the Manager. Signings were promised in May following the end to last season, but they have yet to materialise. Meanwhile two of our most creative players seem to be on their way out of the Club. It is unbelievable to many (me included) that Arsene Wenger has not made serious changes to his squad or his backroom staff. Too many players in the squad that were patently not good enough are still at Arsenal – a consequence of the wages they are paid, thus making it impossible for Arsenal to sell them right now.
I have never known such a sense of apathy towards the Club from the supporters. There is a serious sense of mistrust between the fans and those who run our Club. The pressure that will be put on to Arsene Wenger if Arsenal make a bad start will be immense. The early fixtures could well create a perfect storm which will see the end of Wenger’s reign – one point from nine, and out of the Champions League, would surely make his position untenable after a Summer of such inaction – in effect the season would be over after only two weeks.
Arsenal’s areas of weakness are well documented, but little has been done to address those positions. It is unacceptable to me that the business of the Summer has not yet been done. The argument that there are still three weeks left in the transfer window is a weak one – the last season finished in May, so the failure to add to the important areas of the squad is negligence on a grand scale.
The tactics remain the same and are entirely predictable – a well-organised defence becomes more and more difficult for this Arsenal team to break down. A change of focus is required for Arsenal to make it a successful campaign, but I just don’t see it right now. The best we can hope for is top four (which the Manager considers “acceptable”) but that is clearly not good enough for a Club like Arsenal. Worse than that, I see us finishing fifth or sixth and the consequences of that could be disastrous to our future.

The new season is here and I am vaguely looking forward to it. I have a very real fear that it will be a long and unhappy season for us Gooners. I don’t think Arsene Wenger will be the Manager this time next year, but I live in hope that I have it all wrong and that Arsene still knows. Time will tell. It’s going to be an exciting, enthralling, depressing and rewarding nine months. Strap yourselves in.

I’ll preview the Newcastle game tomorrow.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Oxlade-Chamberlain to complete transfer to Arsenal - not quite what we were hoping for

 Oxlade-Chamberlain - now an Arsenal player it seems

So Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is about to sign on the dotted line for Arsenal. The mass-media are reporting that the youngster is having his medical. Arsenal have not commented as they stick to their policy of saying nothing until deals are concluded (a frankly ridiculous policy given the blanket coverage of football news).
The pro-Wenger league will, no doubt, take this as Arsene being good on his word and providing us with some "good news soon" with regards to a signing. The trouble is it's not quite the signing most of us would be looking for. Let's be honest here, we're not exactly short in wide areas of the field, are we? I suspect Chamberlain's arrival will see Vela or Miyaichi (or both) heading away from the Club on loan (or maybe permanently in Vela's case - he was absent on Saturday). I would still hope that at least one central defender arrives before the weekend. Given that Gary Cahill is actually at London Colney for the next couple of days I see no reason why a deal couldn't be done there very quickly - as long as the reddies are stumped up by Arsenal. You would have to think that, if there is the best part of £10m lying about to sign a kid from Southampton, there must be a couple of quid left to strengthen in areas where players are actually required.
I don't doubt that this is a very talented 17 year-old. Unfortunately we're not really in a position where another unproven youngster is going to set the pulses racing, or be a cure for the many ills in this squad. Yet again, as with the Jenkinson arrival, Chamberlain's signing is going to met in a pretty lukewarm way by most Gooners. That is a shame for him, and a shame for us. I've said in the past how a new signing should be a cause for celebration and optimism, but Arsenal are currently shopping in the third division and that is a real concern to me. I hope Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain turns out to be a real revelation, but time and patience is not something currently being afforded to anyone at Arsenal.
I've seen the new boy on telly a few times and he is quick and skillful. Despite his tender years he looks powerful, with a strong upper-body. He looks completely different from the little boy figure that was cut by Theo Walcott on his arrival in 2006. From what I have seen of him, if he can hit the ground running, then Theo could see himself quickly sidelined at the Club. If I was Theo I would be looking over my shoulder a little bit - Wenger seems no nearer to giving the lad his chance through the centre (and all the time we play this formation he can't possibly play there). The writing may be on the wall for Walcott.
So, I welcome Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and wish him a very long, and very successful career with Arsenal. Now Arsene, how about those defenders we need?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Benfica 2 - 1 Arsenal - now we have some genuine injuries

Can we panic now?

I won't do a match review from last night. There is nothing new to say really. The usual problems were all there, not least of which was Squillaci's defending for the second goal and Gibbs' for the first (though Thomas Vermaelen's attempts to stop the first goal were as amateurish as anything from Squillaci). The truth is that, had it not been for Fabianski, we would have been utterly humiliated in Portugal last night. Yes, Arsenal had a far weaker second-half team than that which started the game, but they were so outclassed in the second-half it should set ringing the loudest alarm bells possible. For the third time in seven days we lost a half-time lead and failed to win the match. Frankly we have no strength in depth whatsoever. And it's not just at the back, either.
What has happened to Marouane Chamakh? Before Christmas last year he, along with Samir Nasri, kept us in the mix at the top of the table. He led the line superbly and chipped in with his share of the goals until Van Persie was fit to return. Since then he has hit a downward spiral and seems to have no way of getting out of it. Last night he looked like someone who had stumbled on to a football pitch in the middle of a match and didn't know what to do. When the ball went to him it bounced straight off him again and, when it went in to wide areas, he ran as far away from the penalty area as he possibly could so as not to have to try and win the header. Nicklas Bendtner would be a far better option right now. 
With Robin Van Persie now injured (ain't that a shock) the need for attacking additions has become as chronic as any other area of weakness. Chelsea agreed a deal of £18m with Anderlecht for Lukaku last night - that is a snip for a top class striker and Wenger should be getting in there before it's too late (mind you, what player is going to sign for Arsenal ahead of Chelsea these days?)
I opined yesterday that Arsenal are in turmoil right now. Injuries last night to RVP, Gibbs and Vermaelen do nothing to change that view. Put that next to Wilshere and Walcott and we have major problems. Arsenal do not need just a bit of investment, especially with the Nasri and Fabregas situations ongoing. Arsenal actually need a major investment. With six days to the start of the season I fear it is all too late. The level of negligence in this area is something which Arsene Wenger must answer for - it is no good coming out with crap about the complexities of signing players. We are in trouble, and it is going to be a VERY long season.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Gunners in turmoil with one week to go

Neither of them travelled to Portugal

One week to go to the first League match and it is now clear that Arsenal's pre-season preparations are in meltdown. Cesc Fabregas has not flown to Lisbon to play against Benfica tonight but Wenger admits he is NOT injured. Arsene's contention is that he is not fit enough to play, but that he's not hampered by anything. Sorry, but I am now totally confused. I suppose, having had the entire nation see Fabregas gambolling around the pitch on Thursday Wenger could no longer claim he had a "muscular problem." I am completely flabbergasted, however, by the idea that he is not fit enough to play. How exactly is he supposed to get fit if he doesn't take part in a match or two? The lies that are spewing forth from the Arsenal management are reaching whole new depths. How about a little bit of honesty now and again? The facts would seem to be that Fabregas is about to join Barcelona, so why not just admit that we're trying to do a deal, while adding the necessary caveats about the right price etc being agreed? I'm sure we'd all be happy enough with that.
The famed "muscular" injury appears to be a contagious problem as it has been passed to Samir Nasri. It's strange how this injury afflicts any player on the verge of leaving the Club. Maybe they do some "special" training to inflict damage to these muscles. Having said that Laurent Koscielny also has a "small muscular problem." As to which small muscle we remain in the dark. There are reports that Nasri and Wenger have had  a falling-out and that this is Nasri's punishment. If it's true that there has been a row then I am certain that it is a tactic from Nasri to force a move before the transfer window closes. The claimed falling-out is alleged to have happened on the way back from China, however, thus causing me to doubt its veracity - we've played in Cologne and in the Emirates Cup since then and Nasri was involved in each (even being made Captain in the second-half againstBoca Juniors).
Meanwhile Bendtner and Eboue are also absent as they "might be on their way out of the Club." So what the hell was Eboue doing on the pitch last weekend? Why was Bendtner included in the open training session on Thursday if he is not going to play any part in the team? I am getting more and more confused as the days go by.
What of those that are genuinely injured? Well, Theo is training (we knew that because we saw him on Thursday) but he is not ready to play yet. Fair enough, a little bit of caution could go a long way with Walcott's injury record. But then there is the curious case of Jack Wilshere. Jack was taken off early on Sunday with an apparent ankle problem, but his midweek scan was positive news. Now we are hearing from Wenger that he might not make the start of the season next week - indeed it is "very difficult to set a concrete deadline on his comeback." I smell some Vermaelen/Rosicky deja vu on the horizon with this.
At least we've made plenty of new signings to augment the squad and alleviate such injury/contract/don't-want-to-play-for-Arsenal type problems. What's that you say? We haven't made a lot of signings? Oh dear. That means we really do have problems. Our problems are so acute that Ignasi Miquel has been added to the travelling party less than a week after playing in the European Championships with Spain U20s. This is the same Ignasi Miquel who was not included in the first-team squad photos taken on Thursday - but Kyle Bartley, who was, has been loaned to Rangers. Once again, there appears no logic and no strategy to our preparations.
Will we see any signings before next week? I'm not holding my breath. I'm not going to copy and paste the annoying quotes but you can read them for yourselves here. I'm afraid I can not agree with Wenger over the complications involved in buying players. The biggest problem I have with it is the "agree the fee" bit (I'll ignore the problems he claims to have in identifying the players - this should have been done months ago). Agreeing the fee is quite simple - you match the valuation of the selling Club, otherwise you can't buy the player. Liverpool haven't had too much trouble with "agreeing the fee" for players this Summer. Nor have Manchester United. If Bolton say Gary Cahill is available for £17m then that's what you have to pay, just as Barcelona have to match our asking price for Cesc - the "rules" work both ways. The reason we haven't signed Juan Mata is that we made an offer which was less than the release clause in his contract, thus giving Valencia the opportunity to reject the offer. I'm all for getting players as cheap as you can, but there is a time and a place - Arsenal's situation demands decisive action in the transfer market, and it should have been done and dusted long ago. Wenger claims there might be some "good news soon." MIGHT BE. Remember there are international matches this midweek so getting to talk to players will be next to impossible. He says we want to add "...not quality, but super quality." Ah, I wondered how long it would be before we got that old chestnut. Such claims explain fully the signings of Silvestre and Squillaci in recent years - "super quality" in abundance. 
I used to love listening to Arsene Wenger
I've got all this way, and haven't even got around to mentioning the European Cup qualifiers. You often make your own luck in football, and Arsenal have certainly made theirs after the way last season finished. As a result of the capitulation in Spring 2011 we now face a tough two-legged tie against Udinese. It could have been worse, in that we have avoided Rubin Kazan, but we shouldn't be in this position. We will also be missing Robin Van Persie from the first-leg (and Nasri) after the shenanigans in Barcelona. With the first game being played at home it simply adds to the difficulty of the tie. I dread to think of the consequences should Arsenal not get through this qualifying round, they are too stark to consider at this point. I have a genuine fear that, given our first three League matches, our season could be effectively over inside the first two weeks of the season.
I am frightened at what lies ahead, and so should every Arsenal fan be.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

What has Members Day told us?

He's still around

Today has seen the annual Members Day at the stadium, with the open training session being the main attraction. I watched a large part of the training on Arsenal Player and one or two things (people) stood out. 
Cesc Fabregas was involved in the session as any sane and normal person would have expected. Sky Sports News were positively salivating over the prospect that he might not turn up, and that he had been "ordered" to attend. What a load of old crap. Of course Fabregas was "ordered" to attend - is it not part of his employment that he has to turn up to training? Why would the fact that training was not at London Colney affect whether or not Cesc would be in attendance? It came as no surprise to anybody when he ran out to train with the rest of the squad. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, but Wenger really should refuse to speak to certain parts of the media (just like Ferguson) as they don't ever have anything good to say about us. The Sun and Sky Sports seem to go out of their way to say and write unsettling things about Arsenal.
Elsewhere there was the notable absence of Emmanuel Eboue (who is reported to have agreed terms with Galatassaray last night), Manuel Almunia (who I doubt is even in the Country) and Kyle Bartley. You would have to question why Bartley was given a new four-year deal yesterday, but is not involved in first-team training today. Samir Nasri also took no part, but he was certainly at the ground - you can read in to that what you want, but it does seem a little odd as we've heard nothing of an injury.
As well as those absentees there was at least one surprise attendee - Nicklas Bendtner was involved in the whole session and  looked pretty sharp in fairness to him. This would seem at odds somewhat with Arsene's comments on Saturday when he said that Nick was on the verge of a move elsewhere. Henri Lansbury, Benik Afobe and Vito Mannone, who all played in the Reserves last night, were there too. I spoke briefly to Lansbury after yesterday's game and he confirmed that he would be there today, but he doesn't know if he will be staying at Arsenal - he capped a fine performance with a super goal against Dover, as did Afobe. Theo Walcott took part in some running drills alongside fitness coach Tony Colbert, but he didn't do any ball-work in the bits I saw. Ryo Miyaichi was also in training as he awaits news on his work permit.
So what have we learned? I would say that we know Bartley is NOT part of Arsene Wenger's squad and I expect him to be sent away again and then sold before the middle part of his new deal is finished. I expect Fabregas to play some part on Saturday evening against Benfica in Lisbon, and similarly Bendtner should get some action. Manuel Almunia will not be at Arsenal this season, regardless of whether he gets a transfer (Arsenal might just have to pay up his contract to get him off the books). Apart from that we've learned nothing at all. We still have the same group of players, and we still haven't made any signings. What a crap day.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Dover Athletic v Arsenal Reserves preview

Martin Hayes' boys welcome Arsenal to Dover

Tomorrow night sees Arsenal come to town, here in Dover, for the first time since 1994. On that occasion Paul Davis had had one of his fall-outs with George Graham and was sent to Crabble with the Reserves on the same day that Tony Adams had his testimonial against Crystal Palace at Highbury. Some people in the town seem to have convinced themselves that Cesc Fabregas may be on the end of a similar punishment tomorrow - I think not. 
The Arsenal team has been affected over the past few days by the departure of a few players. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has been sold to Ipswich, Rhys Murphy is on trial at Glasgow Rangers and Samuel Galindo has today been loaned to Gimnastic in Spain. I was particularly looking forward to seeing Galindo and getting some idea of whether he might have the necessary ability. The fact that he is being loaned outside of the Primera Liga again probably answers that question for me. Goalkeeper James Shea has also been loaned out for experience, his destination being Dagenham and Redbridge where he is set to replace his own coach Tony Roberts (who may well be named among the Arsenal subs tomorrow).
So who will be playing for Arsenal? With Shea gone it is likely that Reice Charles-Cook will be in goal again (Damien Martinez is still not available following his involvement not only with his national age-group team, but with the full Argentina squad). Henri Lansbury seems likely to play at Crabble as he continues to try and catch the eye of Arsene Wenger, and Kyle Bartley should lead the side following his own-goal against New York Red Buls. Sanchez Watt, fresh from his loan spell at Leeds (and a hat-trick last week at Borehamwood) will appear in the front line, possibly with Benik Afobe (who played in the first-team against New York on Sunday) and former Gillingham man Luke Freeman. Reserve Team Captain Ignasi Miquel played for Spain U19 as they won the European Championship on Sunday so he is now on holiday. The rest of the squad will be made up of scholars from the Youth Academy, including Chuks Aneke who looks a real prospect.
Dover Athletic have undergone major changes on the playing side since last season. They have lost their 40-goal striker, former Arsenal youth Adam Birchall, who will be very difficult to replace. Various new signings will be on show for Athletic tomorrow, who come in to the game after a 12-1 win against Ostende on Saturday. I must admit to knowing very little about the new players as, despite living here all my life, I have seriously little interest in the town Club.
I do know, however, that Dover Manager Martin Hayes faces a big season this year. The former Arsenal top-scorer (1986-87) took charge last Summer and led the team to the third-round of the FA Cup, but some pretty bizarre team selections at the back end of the campaign saw Athletic miss out on the play-off places for the Conference. The knives have been out for Hayes in some quarters and a bad start to the League season would see him under real pressure. I think all local Arsenal fans should make the most of the opportunity to see the side as Hayes' departure from Dover could easily make it another 17 years before they return. At £12 for adults it's an expensive evening when you consider it is free to watch Arsenal Reserves play at Barnet in the season (even more so when you know that Arsenal are not taking a fee from Dover) but it will be entertaining stuff. The Reserves will play their football with pace and style, on a good pitch. It should be fun for us local Gooners.