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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Arsenal 2 - 1 Olympiacos - the Ox shows the way

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - Arsenal's new star

It wasn't especially comfortable last night, but Arsenal got the win. That will do me nicely. After Marouane Chamakh missed a glorious chance to put us 3-0 in front the boys stopped playing until half-time, but the defensive display in the second-half was good enough to see us to victory. That, in a nutshell, is the story of the game but it doesn't do justice to the performance of an 18 year-old making a massive step up in quality.
This was the first time I've been able to get a proper look at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (and even now it was only on telly, thanks to work). I was mightily impressed by the young man. The first thing that strikes you about Chamberlain is his robust frame. Whereas an 18 year-old Theo looked like a little boy (and often still does) this lad looks strong and big. He has a massive neck, and runs with power as well as pace. It seems that he is not easily brushed aside in the tackle, and he crosses with a quality conspicuous by its absence in the Arsenal squad in recent years. Last night's Greek opponents had little answer to him and his marker should have been leaving the field for his second-booking long before the end of the game. The young man took his goal exceptionally well, too, indicating that he is able to use both feet to decent effect. Given what has happened to Jack Wilshere there is a necessity to protect Chamberlain from too much football but, having said that, he must not be under-used. To put in such a good performance having stepped out of the third division in May speaks volumes about his ability. Securing his signing may yet provide a lasting Arsene Wenger legacy at Arsenal. I didn't think he should have been taken off last night, as we lost our pacy outlet, but if it means he is fit to start at Tottenham on Sunday it will be worthwhile.
The same can not be said, of course, of many of Chamberlain's colleagues last night. I thought Chamakh did okay, but I have never seen a centre-forward look quite so uncomfortable when faced with a chance to score when one-on-one. Again, I didn't think he should have been taken off last night, as once he was gone the ball just kept coming back in to our half. Then there is Andrey Arshavin. When was the last time he had a good game? I would have no hesitation in leaving him out on Sunday if Gervinho is fit. Tomas Rosicky, meanwhile, simply lacks the necessary pace to have any impact on a game. One goal in two years is not the mark of a quality attacking midfield player. Arteta was largely anonymous in attacking areas, though the fact that he is being made to play a deeper role in a number of games is doing him no favours - Arteta is a creator, and should be deployed much further forward in order to affect the play for Arsenal.
I have to say that the back four played a fine second-half. In the first forty-five minutes we were getting carved apart, particularly down Sagna's side. After half-time there was much more solidity, with Frimpong doing well to protect them. Alex Song won a number of balls in the area, though the referee was particularly generous with the sort of nudges in the back for which Song is regularly penalised in the Premier League. Per Mertesacker was quietly impressive. I have a theory on the big man that he is the sort of player who will never stand out when having a decent game. There is nothing flashy about him, he reads the play and gets himself in good positions. The problem for him will be when he does make an error, as the press will start on about his lack of pace. In short, he will rarely be praised, but people won't hesitate to pick him up if something goes wrong. I think he is settling in nicely, and the return of Vermaelen alongside him can not come soon enough for me.
All in all it wasn't an overly satisfactory performance, but it was an important three points. None of us will be complaining if a similar result is gained from a similar performance at Tottenham on Sunday. I'll preview the derby on Saturday, and that piece will include some observations on Aaron Ramsey - I have not been impressed by the boyo this season, and I'll explain why in my next post.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Arsenal 3 - 0 Bolton - not perfect, but so much better

RVP - one of 50,000 smiles yesterday

It is so nice to be writing a blog post in a happy frame of mind. The second-half yesterday provided Gooners with a performance that has acted as a very welcome tonic after the ills of the past few weeks. The win over Bolton wasn't without it's moments where criticism is warranted, but the players did more than enough to deserve their 3-0 victory.
I'll start with the bad, much like Arsenal did yesterday. In the very first minute we saw David Wheater winning a header all too easily in our area and nobody reacted to it, causing Wojciech Szczesny to make a top class save, and then dish out a very welcoming telling-off to his colleagues. The rest of the first-half was fairly uninspiring, though Gervinho should have done much better when Arteta set him free on goal, only to mis-control the ball when he realised where he was. The only other moment of danger for Arsenal came when the visitors were already reduced to ten men. Somehow we managed to get everyone caught upfield and a smart save was again required from Szczesny. This lack of concentration and collective defensive discipline is typical of the way the team has performed, and a better quality opposition would have again exploited it. A better opposition would also have done Arsenal damage by hitting us on the break in the first-half where Alex Song was almost always the most advanced of our midfield players - we were so exposed at times, yet Bolton lacked the ability to do anything about it.
The second-half, overall, was a showcase for what Arsenal can do well. Robin Van Persie scored 40 seconds after the re-start and, after that, Theo Walcott finally showed that he can make the sort of runs behind a full-back that he should be making in every game he plays. It was a shame Theo missed the best chance of the entire game as his second-half display was among his best for the Club, in my opinion. I gave him some stick on here on Friday but I am always keen to give credit where it is due, and Theo deserves it this evening. I hope he is fit to play at White Hart Lane next Sunday as his pace will be a much needed outlet in the derby game.
Robin Van Persie added his name to the list of legendary Arsenal forwards with his 100th goal for the Club. I believe the goals have come among just 175 starts in an Arsenal shirt - that's a tremendous strike-rate. Such a statistic only serves to show us how much more he might have done, and how much more Arsenal might have achieved in recent years, were he not so injury-prone. His record since the start of this year might have coincided with the dismal run of form suffered by the squad, but you wonder where we might be were he not around. I know Chamakh got a good goal last week, but we really don't have any cover for Van Persie - the fact that Ju Young Park doesn't even get a place on the bench at home to Bolton perhaps tells us all we need to know about his overall quality. 
At the back yesterday Koscielny and Mertesacker were more than equal to the physicality of Kevin Davies. It never ceases to amaze me how referees can watch Kevin Davies looking straight at his marker before barging in to them, and yet never seem to give a free-kick against him. It did make a change, however, for a referee to not give Davies a free-kick himself all the time. As regular readers will know I have no time for any referees, but I believe Mark Clattenburg is very much the best of this very bad bunch - and he showed it yesterday with the advantage for the first goal and the red card decision (his linesman, who was right in line with the incident, was giving nothing at all). I was particularly pleased for Mertesacker who actually got off the ground a couple of times to win headers. The German bears more than a passing resemblance to Tony Adams when he has the ball at his feet. Now he just needs to add some TA6 steel to his game and he might just be okay for us. I also want to give some much deserved praise to Kieran Gibbs tonight as I thought he was outstanding yesterday - he is particularly good in the air and got forward far more responsibly overall. 
As I said at the start it feels good to be writing a positive post this evening. The game was far from perfect, and I hope Arsene Wenger concentrates on the negatives a lot more than the positives when dissecting the performance. The last thing I want to hear is any "we've turned a corner" nonsense. The players need to think that yesterday was still below par to a certain extent - then they might come out on Wednesday with the appropriate motivation.

Once again I have a busy week ahead, but I'll try my best to find the time to get something posted before and/or after the Olympiacos match.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Bolton Wanderers (h) preview

Walcott - practise what you preach

I don't like the fact that this is becoming a "weekend only" blog at the moment. Sadly there is little I can do about it right now. A fortnight from now normal service should be resumed so please bear with me. 
As a result of not being able to post anything during this week I've missed gold nuggets from The Sun journalist Charlie Wyett (such a football expert he credited unused, and black, substitute Sanchez Watt with the assist for Benayoun's goal on Tuesday when in fact it was the white skinned Oghuzan Ozyakup), Joey Barton (Wenger's "no comment" to the question "Did you try to sign Joey Barton?" in his press conference this afternoon was embarrassing) and from Kieran Gibbs. 
I just want to make a quick comment on Gibbs' assertion that the statistics show how the team has been playing well, but just not getting the results. Who exactly is the boy trying to kid here? Does he think we are likely to swallow such nonsense having seen the team ship twelve goals in their last two away games? How Arsenal's press office could let such drivel be published on their website is beyond comprehension. 
All of which brings me to Theo Walcott, one of our most vocal players off the pitch. I suppose it makes a change for Walcott to not be talking about how he is ambitious to play for England next Summer, all the while forgetting that he should be trying to show everyone he isn't quite so s**t as he appears for the most part when playing for Arsenal. His comments today that the players "must take responsibility" and that they must "defend better as a team" would be very welcome in isolation. However, I've heard this from the same person before. More than once. As ever actions speak louder than words, and Theo's actions on the pitch, especially when it comes to defending, are among the laziest and weakest in the team. How many times do we have to watch the opposition full-back making a two-on-one down Arsenal's right flank as Walcott jogs back across the halfway-line leaving Bacary Sagna hopelessly exposed, and a midfield stretched out in a vain attempt to cover? My advice to Theo Walcott is to shut-up and start playing as well as he talks.

On to the game tomorrow and the team news is that Tomas Rosicky is fit, as well as Bacary Sagna, while Yossi Benayoun isn't. Given the encouraging display of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Shrewsbury in the week I would sincerely hope he is rewarded with a place in the squad tomorrow. After Arshavin continued to embarrass himself at Blackburn last week he should find his way back out of the team. The Russian is becoming increasingly frustrating and is really not worth a place in the side (though having said that, most of the players are unworthy of an Arsenal shirt right now).
The Carling Cup saw us line up with a 4-4-2 formation. In amongst the general discontent last Saturday was a feeling that, with new players making no difference to the team, it is finally time to abandon the ridiculously flawed 4-3-3. I know I had a pop at Walcott above, but Wenger's insistence on playing a lad with zero skill wide on the right has done him no favours. A change to 4-4-2 on a permanent basis would aid Theo's game more than anyone in the Arsenal team. Wenger would have options to either play Walcott and Van Persie (with RVP dropping off in to a "Bergkamp" type position) or Chamakh and Van Persie (with Chamakh being an Alan Smith figure in the side). Such a move would also hopefully leave our full-backs less exposed.
On the subject of full-backs it will be interesting to see who gets in at left-back tomorrow. I saw some criticism of Andre Santos after the game last week but I don't think too many who were at the game would criticise him. I thought he looked pretty good on his full debut and was strong in the tackle. He was also very rarely out of position, and chose his moments to bomb forward. I know Kieran Gibbs got a fine headed goal the other night, but all the film I've seen from the game has him way up field, conspicuous by his absence as Shrewsbury got in down Arsenal's left. The other point to be made about his goal is that, while it was very welcome, Arsenal had both full-backs in the final third of the pitch - if that move had broken down we would have been in all sorts of trouble. Nigel Winterburn says that George Graham always told him and Lee Dixon that if one of them went forward the other had to tuck in at the back. That's called organisation. The current team could learn a lot from it.
It goes without saying that tomorrow is a must win match. Gary Cahill will be very keen to impress, you can be sure. The most worrying aspect, for me, is how Koscielny and Mertesacker deal with Kevin Davies. Mertesacker got some stick in the press, and on Match Of The Day, last week and most of it was completely unwarranted. Koscielny was very, very poor last week. There were times when Mertesacker was looking at him in disbelief. The big German is going to find himself under pressure because our wonderful press have decided he isn't up to it - he might prove them right, but it is seriously unfair, though entirely typical of the f***wit journalists of this country (see my earlier reference to Charlie Wyett), to go after him like this. Davies will be his usual physical self and will con the referee time and again by backing in and then falling over to get free-kicks. Arsenal need to be prepared for this and learn how to deal with him quickly. 

I'll post a match review on Sunday when, hopefully, we will be three points better off than we are now.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Blackburn 4 - 3 Arsenal - this is a relegation battle

Arsene Wenger's final Arsenal squad picture?

Arsenal Football Club is facing a relegation battle this season. There, I've said it. The last time we were in this kind of dire straits was 1995 and it signalled the end of George Graham's reign (make no mistake, if Arsenal had been top of the table then he would never have been kicked out, and Arsenal were saved by Chris Kiwomya's only three goals for the Club in successive wins against Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace). It gives me no pleasure to face up to this particularly sad fact. Before the game yesterday my Dad, my brother, and I all said that nothing would make us happier than for Arsene Wenger to show us all that we know nothing, that he does indeed "know" and that in him we should have always trusted. However, we also said that we couldn't see that happening. By the end of the game, as we trooped back to the car, we knew it was all over bar the shouting. Arsene Wenger's reign is coming to an end and, for my money, it will not get past the next fortnight (again, I'd love to be proved wrong, but I just don't see it). I'll come back to this point at the end of the post.

I like going to Blackburn. It's a long way (330 miles from my front door), and it meant a 4am alarm call yesterday morning, but I like the stadium and the people are far more friendly than you encounter in most of the northern outposts you might visit with Arsenal. I got asked by www.winkball.com what I thought would be the score before the game and I predicted we might get a hard-fought 3-1 win. I should have realised that we would concede more than one. What happened in the second-half made for a horribly long drive home in some completely atrocious rain.
It all started so well. Arsenal attacked their fragile opponents at will and Gervinho completely destroyed Givet throughout the game (it kind of summed up Wenger when Walcott came on with the instruction for Gervinho to move to the other side of the pitch). We scored a lovely goal, set up by a fabulous through-ball by Alex Song, finished well by Gervinho. We should have had more. Then Blackburn came forward for the first-time. Song failed to challenge on the edge of the area and Koscielny lost Yakubu completely, 1-1. Unusually Arsenal's players seemed unfazed and just continued their attacking. Arteta's goal was another super team effort and put together with the chances missed throughout the first-half we should have been out of sight.
On Tuesday evening, after the draw in Dortmund, Wojciech Szczesny said something that struck me as being quite telling of Arsenal's dressing room. He told how "Pat Rice can motivate us. He shouts at us." We all know that Wenger has banned raised voices but perhaps, with him not allowed in the dressing room, Pat gave them a few home truths at half-time. The result, of course, was the best defensive effort from an Arsenal team in a long time. Pat Rice has taken a lot of stick from Arsenal fans lately (and I'm as guilty as anyone) but perhaps we have been doing him a significant disservice. With Wenger back to do the half-time team talk yesterday we saw a typically insipid display, lacking in effort and efficiency from back to front. I really think there is something to this.
The loss of Bacary Sagna early in the second-half was a significant blow. It was ridiculous to bring on a woefully out of form centre-back to play out of position in his stead - Francis Coquelin was on the bench and he has actually played games in Arsenal's first-team as a right-back, but we all know substitutions are made on seniority at Arsenal. What happened was Djourou got himself booked immediately and then sold himself completely in the build-up to the fourth goal. Even if you are having to play out of position, this was basic defending that a Sunday League player should be ashamed of. As for Song's contribution with his "tackle" on Olsson in the box, well the less said the better perhaps.
The two goals from the set-pieces showed our complete lack of organisation of tactical awareness. Nobody attacks the ball, nobody marks up. We've seen it time and time and time again, yet nothing changes. Why the hell not? Wenger told us in May that this was a problem easily sorted. Even if we leave aside the fact that it took him five years to acknowledge the issue you have to say that he has again failed to do anything about it. The only thing to say in Arsenal's favour (I won't say defence as that seems to be a dirty word for our players) is that neither goal should have stood. The first one, Song's own-goal, came from a dubiously awarded free-kick (the officials were shockingly bad for both sides throughout the game) which was then taken quickly in a failed attempt to score at the near-post (not picked up by television apparently) and yet Blackburn were allowed another bite of the cherry. The third goal was, of course, offside. That's offside, not "a suspicion of offside" as they said on Radio 5 and Match Of The Day, or even "technically offside" as Dean Sturridge put it on Sky's Football First. Offside, clear as day, simple as that.
For some reason, at 4-2 down, it took another ten minutes for Marouane Chamakh to be called back to the bench in order to come on. When he did come on we suddenly became dangerous again. He scored one, and should have had another. Van Persie (who was awful throughout the game) should have scored. Mertesacker missed when it seemed easier to score. Walcott missed when one-on-one with the last kick of the game (I'm not having it that it was a stick-on penalty - nobody on the pitch, or behind the goal, claimed it at the time). Sadly, it was far too little, much too late.
The Arsenal fans once again filled the away section yesterday. The Darwen End was a sea of red and white, and as vocal as ever in its support of the team. Once again we were badly let down by what happened on the pitch.
I started this post by saying how I believe we are in a relegation battle. If conceding four goals to a team who are certain to be among the candidates for relegation isn't clue enough then I don't know what is. Many teams have been considered to be "too good to go down" over the years. Any team than can not defend is going to be in significant danger. This season we are that team. Three wins since February is relegation form, make no mistake about it.
I now want to return to what I said about Arsene Wenger's future. I think we are now in the final throes of his reign. That makes me sad. Under Arsene we have experienced the very best of times. That is what makes these current events so unbelievably disastrous. We had greatness seven years ago. We now have dire straits. On Tuesday evening a weakened Arsenal team will come up against a very much in-form Shrewsbury Town in the League Cup. This fixture is made for a giant-killing. I can see us being beaten on Tuesday, and such a result would surely herald mass protests at the Bolton game next weekend. I believe we will get a result against Bolton, possibly a narrow win. However, we then go to Tottenham a fortnight today. I believe that, if Wenger makes it that far, Emmanuel Adebayor will provide the coup-de-grace to his former mentor's reign. Can you honestly see this team being able to handle Gareth Bale and a motivated Adebayor? Right now I can only see a crushing defeat by at least three goals. Wenger might have survived conceding eight goals at Old Trafford, but he will not survive a humiliation in the North London Derby. As I said before I hope I am wrong, because there is little worse than losing to Tottenham (especially when they're not particularly good themselves), but I fear the end is nigh. Bad times. Very bad times.

I'll try to do a preview of the Shrewsbury game tomorrow evening, but it all depends on the time I have available. Check out the new poll on Arsene's future on the right of the page - at the start of the Summer the same question got a 50/50 response - will it be the same now?

Monday, 12 September 2011

Borussia Dortmund (a) preview

Wojciech - in for a busy night again

The Champions League gets under way tomorrow night and the boys are already in Dortmund preparing for our first match. Arsenal have taken just the 18 players to Germany so nobody better get sick overnight. The big news from the travelling party is that Aaron Ramsey is not among them after apparently picking up an injury in training this morning. With Gervinho and Alex Song coming back in to the squad Francis Coquelin is the other player from Saturday to miss out. It's not clear who would have not travelled if Ramsey was fit, but I suspect Park Chu Young would have been staying in London.
I must admit I continue to be seriously non-plussed at the continued absence of Alex Chamberlain. Given that Arsenal don't spend much money (in fact we make money, of course) it seems ridiculous to me that our most expensive signing of the Summer is not deemed worthy of a place in the match day squad. If I was Stan Kroenke I think I'd be asking questions, but I very much doubt he even knows how we got on at the weekend, let alone who any of the players are.
On to the game itself and I expect to see the same back four as we had against Swansea. Alex Song will come in to the midfield in place of Ramsey, and I think Frimpong will continue alongside him - especially after that inexplicable early substitution on Saturday. Mikel Arteta will play his first European game for the Club in the attacking midfield position. With Robin Van Persie leading the line Arsene has only one real decision to make and that is which of the two anonymous wide men from Saturday will lose their place. Gervinho seems a cert to start on one side, but it will be interesting to see whether it's Arshavin or Walcott that makes the cut. Arshavin was taken off on Saturday, while Walcott played the whole game. My personal preference would be for Walcott to play, simply because of his pace and the outlet it can provide on the rare occasion that he realises it's his main asset. 
Borussia Dortmund provide the sternest group stage opposition we've faced in a number of years. It's absolutely ridiculous that they found themselves in pot four of the draw. In Mario Gotze they have one of the rising stars of European football. As I said earlier I think that Frimpong and Song will both play. Any team with tactical nous would have them both sitting in front of the back four for such a tough away trip, but this is Arsene Wenger's Arsenal so I am very worried. Dortmund have not made the greatest start to their season, but the Westfalenstadion will be full tomorrow night and Arsenal will come under real pressure. Wojciech Szczesny will need to produce another dominant performance if we are to come back from Germany with any points. It really is the sort of fixture that George Graham's Arsenal would have relished, and the fans would have been confident about. It's time for Arsene to get some tactics and a game plan based on playing the opposition, and not just on passing the ball to death.

I won't be in a position to review the game tomorrow at any point this week. As a result of work pressures I won't post again until I preview the Blackburn game on Friday.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Arsenal 1 - 0 Swansea City - 3 points, What has happened to the Arsenal way?

Mikel Arteta - impressive debut

The best that can be said is that at least we have a win to celebrate. It certainly wasn't impressive or inspiring, but it was a win. Getting a result yesterday was always the main thing to worry about but, given the pre-match assertions from the players that they wanted to do something to ease the Old Trafford pain, the performance was seriously lacking. I have always said that I don't much care about how Arsenal play as long as we win. If, at the final whistle, we've won 1-0 with an own-goal in injury time, then I've had all the entertainment I require. That remains very much the case. However, I was expecting a bigger reaction from the players yesterday. The most concerning aspect for me was that Swansea played the better football throughout, and their pace was certainly more troubling of our defenders than we were at the other end. I suppose you could say that we battled our way to a much needed victory, and that is very important, but let's be under no illusions that Swansea should be getting swept aside by any team with genuine ambitions for the top of the table. Both Manchester clubs are obviously riding high on confidence at the moment (while Arsenal's is at rock-bottom) but the gulf in attacking quality of those teams in comparison to ours is frightening - David Silva has the look of Robert Pires about him while we have Theo Walcott who has the look of Eddie McGoldrick whenever he gets the ball.
There were some very positive things about yesterday, despite my moaning. In the first fifteen minutes of the game I thought Van Persie and Arteta were going to destroy the opposition, with Arshavin getting in good positions as we were playing forward all the time. If Aaron Ramsey had scored with his first-minute chance (and he should have done) it might well have been a very different afternoon all round. I was impressed by Arteta. His range of passing is excellent and he never seems to give away possession. In the second-half he says the Manager told him to drop deeper, but this was self-defeating as it meant our main creative outlet was too far back to influence our attacking play. The other impressive performances yesterday came from Szczesny, whose command of his penalty area in the second-half was outstanding (I'll leave aside the last minute error - though if that had been Almunia I doubt many would be so charitable - more on Almunia below), and also Frimpong and Koscielny. With Per Mertesacker making a debut it was important for Koscielny to step it up and I thought he had a really fine game alongside the new man. Mertesacker struggled a bit, for me, but I'm more than happy to give him the benefit of the doubt after only two days with the squad. Frimpong was very good again in front of his back-four. Yes, he will give the ball away at times, but he gets his tackles in and provides great energy in midfield. The decision to substitute him was baffling and it left us open in front of the defence - Coquelin did plenty of running, but he lacked the discipline to hold his position in front of the back-four.
The other person I want to single out for praise from yesterday was Marouane Chamakh. Again the substitution made little sense - it was right for him to come on, but not in place of Robin Van Persie - how exactly did Theo Walcott make it through the ninety minutes again yesterday? Chamakh won every ball when he came on, and he held up the play superbly. It was a real shame that he couldn't direct his header better when he got on the end of an excellent cross from Kieran Gibbs. It was certainly much more like the Chamakh we saw plenty of before Christmas last season. I hope he can keep it going from now on.
As I said earlier, three points is ultimately what really matters. We have our first win of the season. Hopefully a little confidence has been restored. I have a real fear of what might happen in Dortmund this week, and there is plenty of work to be done in order to avoid another defeat on the road. For now, let's enjoy getting a victory and move on.

I have always been a lover of the fact that Arsenal is associated with pure class. It's always been said that Arsenal do things the right way. The Arsenal way. It's that touch of class that always set us apart. In recent times it has been in less evidence. It starts with the way the players arrive at matches in tracksuits with stupid earphones and hats on. While every other club seems to now insist on an official suit and tie we have gone the other way and it is unbecoming of Arsenal Football Club. Perhaps the players would play with some extra pride if they were forced to wear that cannon everywhere they go when representing the Club. Bertie Mee and George Graham always drummed in to their players this mantra: "Remember who you are, what you are, and what you represent." George would famously not allow the players to even loosen their top shirt button when on tour in tropical climes - they were representing Arsenal Football Club and would dress according to that privileged status. On the pre-match video montage there is a voice-over from Bob Wilson talking about how "wherever you went there was this feeling of wearing that big gun on your chest and, my, it made you feel proud." We need that pride back.
The lack of class was brought home to me by two things yesterday. The first was the fact that Arsenal's players were not wearing black armbands. Swansea's Manager, Brendan Rodgers, lost his father shortly before the match and their players showed their respect in the appropriate and expected manner. There was no way that Arsenal teams of the past would have been allowed such an oversight. It was really very poor form from Arsenal.
The second thing was what I found out about Manuel Almunia and how he is being treated at the moment. You will notice from the official website that there has not been a picture taken of Manuel this season, despite his still being the bearer of the number one shirt. I had assumed that he wasn't even at the Club, despite being an employee. I am now told that he is at training every day, along with everyone else. Except that he is not allowed to train with everyone else. Almunia is banished to train alone on the far side of the training ground, away from the squad. What exactly is his crime? Not being quite good enough to be the established first-choice? This is a disgraceful way to treat a man who has never given Arsenal any less than his best. The fact that his best might not have been quite good enough is not his fault. I was disgusted by the abuse that many "fans" gave Almunia last season when things went wrong - it was the Manager that continued to select him and failed to replace him, so why abuse the man himself? I believe that Almunia was on the verge of a move to Fenerbahce in the Summer but, for whatever reasons, it didn't happen (I understand he wants to stay in this Country, and who can blame him?) Now he is being treated like s**t by the Manager and that is an absolute disgrace. Manuel Almunia is a really nice guy, and always had time for the fans in pre-season etc - my brother has a pair of his gloves that Almunia presented to him after training one day - and I find this revelation quite sickening. Ultimately, if he is not wanted by the Manager then he should be released. Almunia would easily find his way in to another club on a free-transfer and would probably find his level. Make no mistake, Manuel Almunia is not a bad goalkeeper, he's just not quite good enough for Arsenal Football Club. Arsenal should show they still have some class and let the man go.

I've added a new poll to the site on the right of the page. Please take the time to vote. You have until this time next week to tell us who you think will be our pivotal last-minute arrival.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Swansea City (h) preview

New boys in the thick of it tomorrow

Finally the international nonsense is over and we can get back to some real football. I apologise for not writing anything at all this past week. My absence wasn't merely down to the lack of Arsenal news this week but more to do with work. You might recall that I said I would struggle to post regularly over a seven week period and we are definitely in to that stretch now! As ever I will do my best to post whenever it is possible for me to do so but during the week that's going to be hard for the next month. When there are games in midweek I will certainly post some pieces, though my attendance at evening games is out of the window for the next four weeks now as there is no way I can get to Highbury in time for the game. Sadly that will mean missing Shrewsbury and Olympiakos at least. Anyway, onwards and upwards, and that is exactly what Arsenal must do, starting tomorrow.
Whether or not you like the idea (and I certainly don't like it) that the season really begins tomorrow, for Arsenal I believe that is what we must now think. The nonsense we saw at Old Trafford seems a long time ago and I expect Arsenal will take the field tomorrow with at least two of the new signings in the starting eleven. 
We know that Mertesacker will play (I am non-plussed by Wenger's assertion today that he was signed because he knew Vermaelen would be out - does that mean he thought we had enough central defenders before TV5 got injured?)  I fully expect Koscielny to keep his place alongside the giant German, ahead of Johan Djourou. Andre Santos will not play, according to Arsene, as he has had no football since the Copa America - he looks at least half-a-stone overweight in the photos on the official website. That means Kieran Gibbs will return to the side as he is fit for the next 24 hours - God knows who would have played at left-back if he was injured. Bacary Sagna is back in place of the suspended Carl Jenkinson.
In midfield Emmanuel Frimpong is back from the suspension he served for the ridiculous red card he got at home to Liverpool (there still hasn't been an explanation from the odious Martin Atkinson or the FA for his first yellow card that day). Alex Song remains suspended, as does Gervinho. Aaron Ramsey will most likely line up alongside Frimpong with Mikel Arteta getting his debut in front of them. Tomas Rosicky is struggling with a knee injury, but I'd rather see the new £10m man getting the nod in any case. Rosicky has done okay so far this season (not much competition, I know) but when you pay big money for someone it is important that they play from the off.
Robin Van Persie will obviously keep his place up top, with Walcott playing on the right, if fit. I was very impressed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midweek (I know it was only U21's) and I would certainly not complain if he came in for Theo, regardless of any injury to Walcott. Arshavin seems favourite to play from the left (ahead of Ryo Miyaichi) but we'll have to wait and see what the Manager does with that one. I also wouldn't be averse to Theo playing on the left if Chamberlain came in on the right.
The importance of winning tomorrow, and winning well, can not be underestimated. There is massive pressure on the players to produce something after what happened a fortnight ago. Their recent record against teams they are expected to wipe the floor with has been disgraceful. Too many times we have come away from games like tomorrow with tails firmly between legs. I dread to think how nasty the atmosphere could become if Swansea take the lead. There is talk of protests from some groups before the game tomorrow, but this really is not the time for that kind of thing. The players need the support of the fans right now so I urge everyone to get behind them. An early goal or two (or three) would go a long way to damping down some of the fires that have been springing up, metaphorically, around the Club in recent weeks. We all need to be picked up off the footballing floor and a win at home tomorrow would be the start of that, even if the road ahead is still a very long and daunting one for Gooners today.

I'll post a match review either tomorrow night or on Sunday.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Where has the money gone?

Arteta - very good, but not top class

I've finally got time this morning to sit down and write some thoughts on the frenzied transfer activity we saw at Arsenal in the last two days of the window or, more specifically, the last hour. I have to admit that I am pretty underwhelmed at what I've seen. 
Some areas of weakness have certainly been addressed to a certain extent. As I said the other day I am extremely happy with the signing of Mertesacker, but I still think we are short of one top centre-half. It seems that Bolton were really looking for some ridiculous figure for Gary Cahill as even Spurs wouldn't sign him on deadline day - this will come back to haunt Bolton who will now have to sell him cheap in January, or lose him for the square root of nothing in May. Whatever the case may be we are still not strong enough in the middle of the back four. One injury/suspension and we effectively are back to the status quo before the Man Utd game.
We were definitely in need of a left-back, and have been since before Gael Clichy was sold. Will Andre Santos be any good defensively? Time will tell. He has to be given the chance to prove himself, but I just can not understand why Wenger wouldn't just go and get some proven Premier League quality like Leighton Baines. Having said that, with the sale of Traore and the arrival of Santos, we are seemingly stronger than we were this time last week in that area of the pitch.
A new striker was also a key signing with Chamakh in such dire form. I see that our new Korean number nine got a hat-trick for his country this week, so let's hope he's in the mood for goalscoring if/when he makes his bow against Swansea on Saturday. I do not understand the logic, however, of signing a player who we know will be off in two years as he has to do his national service, but I think I should give up trying to work out what Arsene Wenger's strategies might be. I still believe Walcott would be a far better player in the centre, playing off another striker, but Wenger's promises to Theo can never be fulfilled all the time he persists with this flawed system. Meanwhile, Nicklas Bendtner has moved on to Sunderland - but only on loan. Bendtner's comments this week about how he "will never return to Arsenal" are disappointing to me as I've always defended the big Dane from unwarranted criticism. Now he can rot at a s**t club as far as I'm concerned - if he doesn't get goals he will find himself back at Colney next July with no prospect of getting a move anywhere (but he'll still be getting £52k a week!)
So we come to our midfield. This is where I am really at a loss. We have sold two top players for over £50m. We have brought in an injury-prone player from Everton for £10m and another injury-prone squad player from Chelsea on loan. What on earth is going on? I have to say that I do rate both players, especially Mikel Arteta. I think Arteta is a quality Premier League performer. But he is being expected to replace a World Class player in Fabregas. To me he is a poor man's Fabregas, "Fabregas-lite" if you will. I expect that, if he can stay fit, Arteta will do well for Arsenal, but he is no replacement for what we have lost. Then there is Benayoun. I mentioned the other night that I thought such a signing would be reminiscent of George Graham bringing in Chris Kiwomya - desperation, and simply not Arsenal. Benayoun, when he signed for Liverpool, was just the sort of squad player Arsenal required. Four years on, and at least one serious knee injury as well, I just don't understand what he is doing at our Club - he certainly used to be a good player, but now? And, while I'm at it, what the hell are we doing getting players on loan? We are Arsenal for God's sake. One other thing to bear in mind with the Benayoun signing - why are Chelsea willing to loan a player to Arsenal if he is still capable of playing at the top level? If we had signed Arteta and a World Class midfielder I would be happy with that. But we haven't done so. Mikel Arteta has become our major Summer signing. It's not exactly inspiring to the fans.
The other thing that has puzzled me greatly is the fact that Scott Parker has gone from West Ham for as little as £5m and yet Arsenal weren't interested. Alex Song is off to Africa in the New Year, and may well yet be followed by Frimpong if he chooses to play for Ghana. We are weak in defensive areas in midfield, especially with a work-horse like Jack Wilshere out injured (reports are suggesting today that he is out for at least three months, which would not come as any surprise to me). Make no mistake, we needed Scott Parker, and yet Wenger has allowed him to go to Tottenham for an absolute bargain-basement fee. At the same time we have effectively released Henri Lansbury, loaned to West Ham (why are we helping scum like Allardyce?) for the final year of his Arsenal contract. Given that Denilson played over 150 times for Arsenal I would be grateful for an explanation as to why Lansbury has been given not one opportunity to play for the Club. I'd rather have him in the squad than Yossi Benayoun, that's for sure.

The thing that sticks with me is that we have made a significant profit once again on our transfer dealings this Summer, even before you count the £30m+ we were told was available before anyone was sold. We have lost our best player, our Captain, and yet have clearly failed to replace him. The supporters are paying 6% more per ticket than last season to see a team which is palpably weaker than it was last term. The question that clearly needs to be asked is, where is all this money going to? The more you think of it, the more you have to believe that the Club is in financial difficulty, or is being drained of its resources for other reasons. We have been told there is money available, but even Wenger must realise the players he has signed (been allowed to sign?) are not of the required quality to challenge for honours. It seems to me that, right now, the Club is being run in to the ground by the powers that be. Kroenke remains silent about things. I believe he has been ploughing money in to some of his American sports franchises - where is the money coming from for that? Perhaps we are all being conned by our American owner. The AGM this year will more of a whitewash than it has been in recent years, and that is really saying something given the pre-screening of allowable questions etc. I see serious protests enveloping Arsenal Football Club as we progress through this season. These are dark times, and the fans require answers.