Highbury Library Logo

Highbury Library Logo

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Chelsea 3 - 5 Arsenal - Let's all laugh at John Terry

The new King hailed by his loyal subjects

There can be fewer finer comedy sights in my time watching Arsenal than John Terry laying face-down in the mud as Robin Van Persie strode away to score the fourth goal yesterday. If this season does go on to produce some silverware then Terry's prat-fall will be the iconic moment at which things started to turn for this side. The celebrations at the final whistle were those of players who feel they've started to come back from the dead. After the defeats at Manchester United and Blackburn this squad was at rock bottom with, seemingly, no way back. Yesterday they went to Chelsea and won one of the greatest matches ever played. Alan Hansen, for some reason, was allowed to spend more than five minutes of Match Of The Day last night lambasting every defender on the pitch when the focus should surely have been on the attacking merits of the two teams and, particularly, on Robin Van Persie.
Thierry Henry was very much the King of Highbury during his time at the Club. We now have the first Monarch to be crowned at Ashburton Grove. As with Henry it is not just the goalscoring of Van Persie that is eye-catching right now. The Dutchman has developed an all-round game that has carried this squad of players back in to contention at the right end of the league table. I commented a while back that this team needed a focal point, one person who could take the pressure off everyone else by being the man to drag us forward. Back in the mid-90's we would have been nowhere without Ian Wright. This team was crying out for someone to have a similar impact, albeit in different circumstances, and amid different expectations. That Robin Van Persie has become that man is testament to his World-Class ability. His hat-trick yesterday has secured his place in Arsenal folklore. I just hope that he can now cement his place as an Arsenal legend by leading this group to some trophies. Back in April the PFA awarded their player of the year to Gareth Bale. Gordon Taylor explained this by saying that Bale was the player of 2010, and that is what was voted on. If anyone other than Van Persie wins the award in April 2012 then we will know for certain that the PFA is an organisation that has no credibility.
If Robin Van Persie is "Ian Wright" at the moment then Theo Walcott is certainly "Kevin Campbell." By that I mean he is a player capable of producing brilliance but who, all to often, flatters to deceive. The comparison to Super Kev is also apt in that Theo is being forced to play on the right-wing when he would benefit so much from a place in the centre. Yesterday was Walcott's best performance for Arsenal by some distance. Coming, as it did, against another of the top sides it provided a glimpse that Theo can be a force to be reckoned with. He destroyed the World's best full-back yesterday. It may be a sign that Cashley's powers are on the wane, but credit is due. Nobody expected Theo to get any change out of his one-to-one with Cole but he most certainly came out on top. Walcott's final ball yesterday was exquisite on at least three occasions. Gervinho and Van Persie should certainly have been on the scoresheet before Chelsea scored as Walcott consistently delivered after skinning Cole time and again. The goal he scored was the worst and the best of Theo all in about five seconds. The worst was the typical sight of him falling over his own feet. The best was the speed at which he got up, showed tremendously quick-feet to beat two defenders, and then a confident finish to beat Cech on his near-post. Well done Theo.
I suppose I do have to mention Arsenal's defending. In the first twenty minutes it was abysmal, particularly Santos and Djourou. Mertesacker was caught out for both goals, though Arteta should take the lions share of the blame for Terry's goal having wandered away from his position on the post. In the last few weeks the defending had noticeably improved but yesterday saw a return to the very worst. However, in the second-half it was so much better. I would like to think that half-time saw Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice getting their message across as Santos and Djourou were much improved. In amongst all of this was another fine performance from Laurent Koscielny. There is an unconfirmed rumour that Koscielny was arrested by the Metropolitan Police as he left Stamford Bridge - apparently they were trying to recover the £50m he had been seen hiding in his back-pocket all afternoon. Something else I would like to pick out is that, as Chelsea went for an equaliser in injury-time young Carl Jenkinson won a towering header which cleared Arsenal's lines and set up the play for the fifth goal. I don't know why the defending was so bad early on, and we certainly rode our luck, but it would be churlish to focus on it after a game like that. It would be wrong to focus on anything poor from yesterday. Every one of them is a hero today as far as I'm concerned.
I've noticed that Sky and Match Of The Day have been keen to highlight Szczesny's challenge on Cashley a minute after Santos made it 2-2. There is no doubt in my mind that Szczesny should have been sent-off. Once you round the goalkeeper it is a clear goal-scoring opportunity, no matter who gets back on the line. However, Chelsea should have already lost a man themselves. Torres delivered a clear elbow to the side of Per Mertesacker's face. Nothing has been said about it. Given that Alex Song got a three-match ban for stamping on Joey Barton earlier this season I would like to see Arsenal making something of this. Any Chelsea complaints over Szczesny should also be tempered by the fact that their third goal was a direct result of their new signing at "line-backer" (Lukaku certainly looked more NFL than Premier League) deliberately blocking off Andre Santos. What exactly was Andre Marriner looking at? I can only suggest he was trying to find a mirror to admire his perma-tan. 
When the final whistle went yesterday I got a text from a good friend of mine saying simply "unity." At that time I knew only the result as I was on a training course at work. I have since watched the whole game back and I can see exactly what my mate Jimmy was referring to. I said last week on here how we seemed to be playing far more as a team. Arsene Wenger referred to the need to be "united" during his speech at the AGM on Thursday. The celebrations after the game may have seemed a bit over the top to some observers, but I take them as a symbol of the togetherness that has been fostered in this squad. Even Andrey Arshavin, who didn't get on the pitch, was right down in front of the travelling Gooners giving it plenty at the end of the game. It seems to me that Arsene Wenger, no doubt with the assistance and influence of Pat Rice, has finally fostered a siege mentality among his players. Arsenal suffered the most awful start to this season. The players and the Manager came under the most intense pressure, and were criticised in every quarter (and deservedly so, it should be said). I believe they have put this to good use in recent weeks. The work is far from done, of course, and I hate any idea that we have "turned a corner." However, there can be no doubt that this Arsenal team is currently headed down a good path. If they continue to work hard, and play as a tight unit, then the progress can continue. Yes there are areas of weakness, but they are currently far less obvious than they were six weeks ago. It has been a very good past seven days for Arsenal, and we should revel in it for a a day or two longer.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Brief round-up from AGM - I wasn't there

Le Boss in full flow during his AGM lecture

Today saw the annual AGM at Arsenal. As has been the case for years now we heard the phrase "self-sustaining business model." This should have come as no surprise and I suspect most fans will still welcome a sensible approach to the finances of the Club. However, what such a philosophy doesn't address is the fact that the money received from transfers has once again exceeded that spent. There was one quite ridiculous quote from Peter Hill-Wood (who was outrageously heckled during the meeting, and asked to step down in favour of David Dein - the same David Dein who voluntarily sold his shares in Arsenal to a Russian oligarch for millions of pounds, and whose son has overseen the transfers of many of our biggest players the past few years). This quote from Mr Hill-Wood has me confused:

“The provision of funds to invest in the team, which we did in the summer, we will do again,” 

I don't understand how he can justify such a comment when Arsenal have made profits on players again. There was no "investment" in the squad over the Summer. In fact it was quite the opposite. Whoever is writing speeches for the Chairman is clearly doing him no favours at all. It is fair to say that Peter Hill-Wood is no longer a popular figure among vast numbers of fans due to his various public quotes of recent years, and this kind of stuff does nothing to improve that relationship. Having said that, I am furious at seeing an interview on Sky with Tim Payton, of the Arsenal Supporters Trust, talking about a return for Dein on the grounds that it's what the fans want. Mr Payton, and any "supporters group" does not speak on my behalf. It may well be that I am in a minority, but it annoys the hell out of me when these "super fans" get themselves on the box and start talking with an assumed authority on Arsenal and its supporters.

Ivan Gazidis revealed that the Club has paid off all debts except those held on the stadium. This was welcome news, as was that of new commercial deals which should boost the finances. There can be no doubt that the shirt deal with Nike and the sponsorship deals with Emirates were under-sold in the interests of generating quick money for the stadium move. Keith Edelman was, it seems to me, replaced by Gazidis as a result of such poor business on behalf of Arsenal. I find it annoying that we are still making virtually no money from the shirt deals at a time when other Premier League outfits are making millions and millions every year. I sincerely hope that any new deal involving the shirt manufacturers does not include a Nike Swoosh, such is the poor quality of what they produce.

Those present also heard from Stan Kroenke. The quotes I've read from the owner wouldn't be out of place in a speech made by a US Presidential candidate. "We are here for the long term...you better get used to seeing us." Blah, blah, blah. I have read a report that someone shouted "put your money where your mouth is then." My sentiments entirely. I don't want to hear about what a good "business" Arsenal is, especially from the billionaire owner. What I want to hear is how he's going to plough money in to the transfer budget in order for Arsenal to compete with the best.

Arsene Wenger also gave his annual address. Obviously he talked up the players now at the Club and called on the fans to back those players, and rightly so. However, he also told the meeting how "we have been more consistent than anybody else in the World for the last fifteen years." If Mr Hill Wood was talking nonsense with regards to investment then Wenger is just as guilty for this kind of comment. I would suggest that Manchester United have shown far more consistency than Arsenal over the past fifteen years, wouldn't you? Most telling of all was his comment that he "believes we can still qualify for the Champions League." Therein lies the heart of the problem - the aim of the Club is to qualify for the European Cup, not to win trophies. The Club officials speak of "competing for trophies" rather than the need for Arsenal to actually win, not just compete. I would have been far happier had Arsene said he believed we could still win trophies this season as it would have shown a genuine ambition to win, not just be there or thereabouts.

There is something I want to say about this season, and how it has gone recently, before I sign off for today. The start to the season was abysmal, both on and off the field. The nature of the defeat at Old Trafford should have been the final nail for the Manager. However, the results recently have been very good. The defeat at Tottenham, painful though it was, came in the middle of a run of victories. Yes, we haven't played a top side in any of those games, but credit is due to the players, and to the Manager for getting us back to within striking distance of the top four. The players involved seem to be showing a togetherness that hasn't been seen for some time. Players like Tomas Rosicky and Kieran Gibbs are showing glimpses of their best, while the likes of Laurent Koscielny have really stepped up in recent weeks. If somebody had told me after the Blackburn game that we would be where we are now I would have told them to get lost. 
On Saturday the boys play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I fully expect them to lose the game. Anything other than a defeat will be a bonus. I hope that the players are not slated left, right and centre should they get beaten. Every team loses games, especially against better opposition. Arsenal, and particularly this Arsenal, are certainly no different. The road back to glory is going to be long for Arsenal supporters, and a defeat at Chelsea (assuming it's not a hammering) should not be held up as a symbol for those who would rather see the team lose in order to get the Manager out - those people are not really supporters of Arsenal Football Club. How could they be?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Arsenal 2 - 1 Bolton, Steve Claridge joins the list

That ought to shift a few more Arsenal shirts

I think I must have watched a different game to most people last night. So far I've seen both full-backs criticised, Sebastien Squillaci, Arshavin and Emmanuel Frimpong. Strangely enough, I thought all of those mentioned did pretty damn well last night. Nico Yennaris, in particular, was outstanding at right-back. Frimpong, meanwhile, carried a midfield in which Coquelin was injured early in the game and struggled throughout. I notice that Arseblog (from whose Facebook site I have taken the picture above) describes how Frimpong was robbed of possession in the build-up to Bolton's goal - I can only assume that the television pictures failed to show that Coquelin's woeful pass failed to reach Frimpong before Muamba stole in to set up the play.
The return of Thomas Vermaelen (who was also very good) is grabbing the headlines today, and it's great to hear him say he is fit for the visit to Chelsea on Saturday. However, I would like to single out Squillaci for a bit of praise. I thought we had seen the last of him in an Arsenal shirt but, after a shaky first ten minutes, he turned in a really fine performance, especially in the air. Squillaci was strong and attacked the ball really well. I would suggest it's no coincidence that every time Vermaelen plays alongside another of our defenders that the other man looks so much better in their play. The Belgian brings a quality to the side that can not be overlooked (more on that below).
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a poor game last night. It showed that the young man has plenty to learn, and he really struggled against the experienced Ricardo Gardner. The Ox had an early chance to score, having been put in by a super piece of play between Arshavin and Frimpong, but never really got a shot away. After that he never really got in to the game and it was no surprise to see him taken off. I would imagine that Alex will have learnt more from his struggles last night than he has in his previous two games. He will only improve from here on.
Like most people I was surprised by the presence of Andrey Arshavin last night. I fully expected Chamakh to be playing as he continues his desperate search for what he has lost these past nine months or so. I thought Arshavin played very well, and not just in the second-half as has been said elsewhere. It can be no coincidence that the Russian was finally given a game in a position that he wants to play, just behind the striker. For me it is yet more evidence of the need to change the Arsenal formation to a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1. The whole team would benefit from a line-up like the one below:


Sagna - Mertesacker - Vermaelen - Gibbs/Santos

Rosicky/Chamberlain - Song - Ramsey/Arteta - Gervinho/Walcott

Arshavin/Van Persie

Walcott/Van Persie

With the squad players like Koscielny, Djourou, Frimpong, Coquelin, Benayoun, Ryo, Park and Chamakh we would have a very much stronger looking team available in my view. I would certainly feel much more confident in the abilities of the team if they played more to the collective strengths of the individuals.
What about the contribution of last night's match-winning goalscorer? Ju Young Park looked sharp last night. He is not afraid to shoot and won a few headers against the giants Cahill and Zat Knight. His finish for his goal was outstanding. The way he opened his body to curl it to the far corner brought back visions of Thierry Henry. The Korean made intelligent runs all night - at least one of the offside decisions against him in the first-half was incorrect. All in all he showed signs that he could be a decent squad performer for Arsenal. With the way Chamakh is failing to even look like getting a goal right now it would seem that Park could be a better option as the immediate back-up to Robin Van Persie (in the current formation, at least).
Bolton weren't without their chances, especially late on. Fabianski made a couple of excellent saves, and got away with at least one dodgy moment when the ball squirmed through his hands but went over the bar. The second-half of the game was a cracking affair, a really good cup-tie. Arsenal are in to the quarter-finals once again, and we are likely to be joined by Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as Manchester United. Obviously the path to any possible final is going to be more difficult than that we faced last season. For that reason I would like to see the Manager go for it now and try to get that elusive trophy as early as possible.

As you will see from the title of this post I am adding Steve Claridge to the list. The cretin list, that is. He must know a lot more about football than any of the rest of the population put together. The reason I say this is the utter garbage he began to spout on Radio 5 Live after the match last night. It is obvious to most observers that Thomas Vermaelen is top class. Arsenal always look stronger when he is in the side. Not according to gambler Steve, however. According to Claridge, whose latest return to playing indicates to me that his chosen horses have been trailing in last again, Vermaelen is "yet to convince" him of his quality. You could tell that Mark Pougatch, who was presenting the show, was quite taken aback by Claridge's statement, but the man with more clubs than a golfer was unrepentant. 
Claridge wasn't finished, however. He went on to back Carlos Tevez in his row with Manchester City and Roberto Mancini. According to Claridge "There is no way Tevez refused to play for Manchester City." He had no factual foundation for such a statement. He went on to claim that Tevez "...probably refused to warm-up further as he was warm enough already." It really was a quite astounding thing to hear on the BBC. Mr Claridge, it seems, wants to be controversial. The sort of nonsense he comes out with belongs on TalkSport where he can get a reaction to such provocative sentiments. I'd imagine there were a few City fans listening last night in absolute astonishment.
I think I might actually produce a cretin list and put it somewhere on the site. If you want to recommend someone for it then please leave your suggestion in the comments section, on the Facebook page, or on Twitter (@ARSENALDvbrisG).

Tomorrow sees the first AGM of Arsenal Holdings PLC since Stan Kroenke took control of the Club. I imagine that stories will emerge from the meeting as the day goes on. Hopefully I'll find some time to pick up on some of it tomorrow evening.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Arsenal 3 - 1 Stoke, Pundits change with the wind, Bolton (Carling Cup) preview

Most of tomorrow's 18 man squad in training

I really enjoyed it yesterday. I thought it was a decent fighting performance from the boys. Stoke were their usual physical selves, but Arsenal stood up to it very well. The defending for the Stoke goal was awful as Shawcross was allowed to wander in to the area with nobody near him. However, the most scandalous aspect of the goal was the award of the free-kick which led to it in the first place. The whole ground cheered a tremendous defensive header by Koscielny, only for the referee to award a free-kick against him. It was a truly disgusting piece of refereeing (on watching the goal back on TV I noticed that Walters made the same challenge to beat Koscielny as he nodded the ball down for Crouch's tap-in, but no foul was given that time). Referee Lee Mason is developing a bit of a reputation for decisions against Arsenal - remember the Everton game in January? Less than a minute after Stoke's equaliser he failed to give a penalty for a clear foul by Wilkinson on Chamakh. Nobody can be that incompetent, can they?
Of course the game changed when Robin Van Persie came on as we suddenly had a genuine goalscoring threat. I am not going to criticise Marouane Chamakh as I thought he did just fine yesterday, and worked his socks off up front. It is simply the case that Van Persie is more likely to put the ball in the net, and Stoke knew it. With Walcott finally replaced, and not before time, Gervinho got down the right-hand side and showed what he offers the team. His two assists yesterday were very similar to that he provided to RVP at Udinese, and followed a well taken goal of his own. Gervinho certainly played his best game in an Arsenal shirt yesterday, and his pace is a genuine threat. Walcott could learn a lot from how Gervinho beat his men for the two Van Persie goals as there was no skill involved, just lots of speed across the ground. Theo has more speed than anyone else - I just wish he could learn to use it properly.
I want to single out Aaron Ramsey for praise. I thought he played his best game of the season against Stoke, and looked so much more positive on the ball than he has recently. The pass over the top for Gervinho's goal was top class. Given what he's been through it is pleasing to Gooners everywhere when Rambo can produce a performance like that. We all saw how good he was becoming when Shawcross maimed him so, hopefully, yesterday was the first sign of a return to that form.
All in all you have to say that the players have done quite well recently in terms of digging out results. The performances haven't, perhaps, included the flowing football that Wenger team's are known for, but who cares as long as the wins keep coming? There is a massive test ahead again on Saturday, but credit must be given where it is due. I would rather win ugly, like the last three games, than lose pretty like at Old Trafford or Blackburn. The players are applying themselves to the task at hand and seem to be playing far more as a proper team. I wasn't too keen on the flash passing towards the end yesterday, and any fan that shouts "ole" when the players are knocking it about really does deserve to be shot in the head. Nevertheless, the passing kept Stoke out of the game, and Arsenal got another well-deserved three points.

I had to watch Match Of The Day 2 last night so that I could see the Man Utd game. It amazes me how the pundits have started to criticise the United defence after yesterday. Suddenly there is this new stat of how many chances they have conceded. Anyone watching their matches this season could have told you that their defence has been awful, and only poor finishing has prevented them form conceding many more goals. Let's not forget that these same pundits were telling us how good people like Chris Smalling were just a couple of weeks ago - they talked him in to the England team for God's sake. They also have suddenly turned on Rio Ferdinand after yesterday. Again, he's looked finished for more than a year. 
While on the subject of pundits, it didn't go unnoticed by me that they have also turned on David Luiz of Chelsea. This is the same David Luiz who was lauded as a masterstroke of a signing in January. The same David Luiz who was "one of the best centre-backs in Europe" back in March. After yesterday he is someone who "would make a good defensive midfield player, but should never play at centre-back" (that's from Jamie Redknapp, by the way). 
I hate these pundits, especially Redknapp. They talk such obvious nonsense, despite having played at the highest level. The only one who appears to speak with any insight whatsoever is Gary Neville. I despised Neville as a player, but he is a real find for Sky and knocks spots off all the other idiots on telly these days.

Judging by the pictures from training today (one of which is at the top of this post) it will be a very much weakened team taking the field against Bolton tomorrow evening, as expected. However, it will be a young team bolstered by Thomas Vermaelen. He seems to have been very much involved in the training today with the players who will be on the pitch tomorrow. Sebastien Squillaci is also in line to play. Among the youngsters included in the training today were Chuks Aneke, Nico Yennaris, Sead Hajrovic, Luke Freeman, Oghuzan Ozyakup and Sanchez Watt. All six would be most likely to be among the substitutes, I would think (though one or two of them might not make the cut). 
We have a dearth of full-backs right now so it wouldn't surprise me to see Vermaelen play at left-back if he starts the game. This would leave Squillaci and Ignasi Miquel in the centre of defence and, perhaps, Francis Coquelin at right-back. Emmanuel Frimpong will anchor the midfield alongside Tomas Rosicky, with Yossi Benayoun and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain most likely to play out wide. Arsene Wenger has already confirmed that Ju Young Park will start up front and I expect him to be partnered by Marouane Chamakh. I could, of course, have got all of that completely wrong! Surely there will be a place for Ryo among the substitutes? We'll see tomorrow, I suppose.
Bolton are also going to be much changed so it will be a very interesting game. I enjoy the Carling Cup nights, though I would far rather the Manager was approaching it as he did last season. Arsenal need a trophy, and playing such a weakened side doesn't exactly maximise our chances of getting our hands on the easiest one of all. Hopefully, if we can win tomorrow, and get within a couple of games of Wembley, Arsene will start to take it more seriously. 

I'll write a review of the game on Wednesday evening.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Stoke City (h) preview

Rambo - focus will be predictably on the boyo tomorrow

I suppose it's rather apt that, on the day of the Rugby World Cup Final, Arsenal fans will have to suffer the visual spectacle of Stoke City tomorrow. Perhaps if England had Rory Delap throwing to their line-out they might have done a bit better in New Zealand. In all seriousness, you have to admire Stoke in that they have their way of playing and know how to do it well. Wimbledon were doing it twenty-five years ago, though for some reason the press see Pulis as some kind of tactical genius, whereas Dave Bassett and Bobby Gould were lambasted as the devil incarnate for the way their Dons teams played the game.
I suppose the big problem with the way Stoke play, from the point of view of an Arsenal supporter, is that we are more likely to be punished by them than almost any other team. From our first visit to the Britannia a few years back we have failed to deal with Stoke's aerial bombardment. That is a failing on Arsenal's part. Yes, defending against them is not simple, but it's a damn sight easier if you develop a plan to combat it in some way. Tomorrow will be the biggest test Per Mertesacker and Wojciech Szczesny ever have in the Premier League, and they are the two key men in the Arsenal penalty area as far as I'm concerned. If Szczesny can dominate his area, or Mertesacker goes to attack the ball properly (as he has in the past couple of weeks) we might yet be okay under the barrage.
The team news has been as expected, with Johan Djourou filling in at right-back for Carl Jenkinson. This is no bad thing tomorrow. Djourou brings extra height and, if he could just rediscover his form from this time last year, he could be very important tomorrow. When he puts his mind to it Djourou is strong, physical, and dominant in the air. Fingers crossed he plays like that against Stoke. Elsewhere the main man for Arsenal will be Aaron Ramsey. There is more than a little pressure on Rambo because of what happened to him at Stoke. There will be people watching simply to see how he copes psychologically with any 50/50 challenge - particularly if he goes up against that walking advert for a brain transplant who captain's Stoke City. Ramsey has not been anywhere near his best since the season started, but the goal the other night might just have been the kick in the a**e he needed. Also, getting past a game with Stoke could be just what is required. In the same way that Sol Campbell wasn't quite right until he went to play at White Hart Lane for the first time, I hope tomorrow is the moment that Aaron Ramsey leaves any demons behind.
It would be nice if the rest of the team could take a bit of the pressure off Robin Van Persie tomorrow. There is a growing feeling of reliance on the skipper. It hasn't yet got to the point we reached with Ian Wright in the mid-90s, but I can see us getting there soon. The likes of Arteta, Walcott, Gervinho, Rosicky and Arshavin have to step it up and get among the goals. There will come a time when RVP is going to be injured, or rested, so the sooner the others get their acts together the better.
Stoke, of course, will come loaded with their big men, and rightly so. They know how they can cause Arsenal problems, and would be foolish to try anything else. Peter Crouch is a joke of a player, but Arsenal centre-halves have made him look positively top-class at various times throughout his career. It annoys me to see the freak always doing well against us, because he really is awful. Sadly, I can see him scoring yet again against us tomorrow. It will be interesting to see who plays up front with Crouch. Walters seems a decent goalscorer, but the physical Cameron Jerome (who is in form) might well get the nod from Pulis. We will see.

I'll get a match review written either tomorrow evening, or on Monday.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Marseille 0 - 1 Arsenal - I think we won last night?

The European Cup - any away win is special

I can't believe some of the nonsense I've read and heard today. Last night Arsenal went to Marseille, to the notoriously intimidating Stade Velodrome, and won a hard-fought game 1-0 with a goal in injury-time. This was the sort of result that should have Gooners everywhere in a good mood for most of the rest of the week. Instead I've read all sorts of negative stuff about how rubbish the opposition were, and how a 1-0 win against such poor opponents is nothing to be shouting about. For God's sake! Before the game everyone, including ITV's cretinous panel (which of their muppet production team thinks it's a good idea to have Roy Keane commenting on an Arsenal game?) was saying that a draw would be more than satisfactory. And, let's be honest, nobody was saying Marseille were rubbish when they stuffed Borussia Dortmund 3-0 in their previous group game. Yes, Marseille were poor going forward last night, but Arsenal's performance was one of character and not a little defensive solidity. When was the last time an Arsenal goalkeeper had such a quiet game? The opposition might not have been great, but nor are the likes of Blackburn, Swansea or Sunderland, yet they all gave Szczesny a hard enough time. There are times when people should be proud of the boys, and last night is one of them. 
If Manchester United had got that kind of result we'd have been hearing how they are so much better than us because they can win ugly, or how they can get a result when not playing their best football. Any win away from home in the European Cup is to be cherished, and a last minute bit of smash and grab has been conspicuous by its absence in recent Arsenal history.
I wouldn't say that I enjoyed the game last night, but I don't care about that. I felt, going in to injury-time, that we could have won the game with a bit more belief, or a bit more contribution from those two lazy sods out wide. However, I also felt that 0-0 would do me just nicely, thanks very much. When Ramsey scored it took me back to some of the best results in Europe from the end of the George Graham era, like the game at Auxerre in 1995 (which was actually a couple of weeks after George had been sacked, but I'm sure you understand what I mean). I think the 1,400 travelling Gooners were pretty happy as well judging by their reaction to the goal.
I've always said that I don't care about how Arsenal play football, as long as they win. I remember a game against Sheffield Wednesday shortly before Christmas in 1993 which was just about the worst I've ever seen. It rained heavily all day, and Highbury was far from full. Then, having not had a kick all day, Ian Wright went clear in the 92nd minute and got the winner. You'd have thought we'd won the Cup, such was the reaction of those still in the ground. That was how I felt last night. If we get a bit more of that kind of feeling then we might just head back in the right direction.
I can't finish without mentioning Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. I know the German got beaten once by a bit of Remy skill, but I thought the pair were outstanding last night. Koscielny has had two very good games in a row, and is bang in form heading in to the visit of Stoke on Sunday. I think Laurent has good potential (to steal a Wengerism) and has, on occasion, been outstanding. With Mertesacker marshaling the defence quite well again (he kept Jenkinson in close order again last night) things have looked somewhat better in the last two games (not perfect, but a lot better). Credit where it is due, I feel. As I said earlier, there are times when praise is necessary, and last night is one of them.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

TV5 signs on, Marseille (a) preview

The Stade Velodrome in floodlit glory

Let's start today with the best news I've heard from Arsenal in ages. One of our top players, Thomas Vermaelen, has signed a new contract, and headed off any annoying headlines regarding him having to be off-loaded before we lose him for free. I've read some stuff on one or two of the forums whereby some supporters are criticising the Club for giving a contract to someone who is injured all the time. These people have drawn comparisons with Rosicky and Diaby, and I suppose that's not without its merits as a point of view to take. My view, however, is to wonder whether the same people would have been complaining even more loudly if we were forced to sell quality like Vermaelen in the event he hadn't put pen to paper. I am delighted that he is going to be at Arsenal for the long-haul, but we do need him fit and playing. His signing this contract should send out a message to some of the other star names in the squad, and it certainly makes a nonsense of Robin Van Persie trotting out the line that he doesn't have the time to discuss a new deal during the season.

On to the main business of the day and the boys are already in France ahead of their game against Marseille in the intimidating Stade Velodrome. I've just looked at the official website of Olympique Marseille and I'm surprised to see that tickets are still available, and from as little as €20. Perhaps that's a sign that the French team has had just as uninspiring a start to their season as Arsenal. Aside from their tremendous 3-0 win against Borussia Dortmund in their last European game L'OM have been very poor indeed. However, I expect them to raise their game once again for the visit of Arsene Wenger. It's fair to say that, following his time at Monaco (when he was literally robbed of Title's by Marseille's corruption) Le Boss is not all that popular at the Velodrome. I suspect that the feeling of dislike is strong on Arsene's side as well. He doesn't necessarily strike you as someone that would be bitter but he certainly has a right to be where Marseille are concerned.
Arsenal are without both first-choice full-backs, and this will be another huge test for Carl Jenkinson at the very top level. The centre-backs will also be up against it in a big way against Loic Remy. It will be interesting to see how Mertesacker and Koscielny handle the pace and physical presence of Remy. Aaron Ramsey is back in the squad after missing out on Saturday, while Marouane Chamakh also returns. Arsenal have taken the bare 18 players, as usual. This is something that always has me scratching my head as, if someone goes down with sickness of some kind, we are short of a full match-day unit. 
I can't really see there being too much being changed from Saturday. I wouldn't be surprised to see Arshavin getting the nod over either Walcott or Gervinho, while I can see Rosicky keeping his place and Arteta missing out to Ramsey. Apart from the that the only other change should be Santos for the injured Kieran Gibbs.
If I was offered a draw for tomorrow I would take it. It's important to be right at it from the kick-off and making tackles all over the pitch. The noise of the crowd will be deafening so an early silencer wouldn't go amiss at all. It will be a tough game, and our reliance on Robin Van Persie will be bigger than ever. If we could nick a win it really would be a confidence booster.

I'll get around to reviewing the match on Thursday evening.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Arsenal 2 - 1 Sunderland - 3 points

Rosicky - rolled back the years this afternoon

Robin Van Persie will get all the plaudits from today's match thanks to his two goals, and deservedly so I suppose. In fairness to Van Persie his all-round display was outstanding, and his chipped attempt after ten minutes was like watching Dennis Bergkamp again (though Dennis would have found the corner!) However, the stand out player for me today was Tomas Rosicky. He dominated his area of the pitch and got us going forward more and more in the second half. The decision to substitute him, while leaving the likes of Walcott and Arteta on the field, was stupefying. Back in the Carling Cup Final Tomas played the full game despite being Arsenal's worst player on the day, by quite some distance. I have given up trying to work out what goes on in Arsene Wenger's mind, but Arsenal got the points despite such madness, so we shouldn't complain too much. It's been a long time since I've seen Rosicky taking people on and beating them, gliding through the midfield and showing a turn of pace I thought long forgotten. Sunderland had seemingly no answer to "Little Mozart," other than to trip him, and it really was like watching the man we signed back in 2006. As you might have guessed from my eulogising I am pretty happy for Tomas, and happy for Arsenal. I hope it wasn't a flash in the pan and that there will be an Indian Summer to the Czech's injury-blighted career.
Elsewhere in the team I thought Song and Koscielny were also outstanding. Song was certainly far more dangerous going forward than Arteta, and did his defensive job well also. The only thing to say with Song is that he was fortunate to stay on the pitch near the end when Howard Webb simply showed how incompetent he is by failing to punish a deliberate handball and then a shirt-tug on the halfway line (Wes Brown should already have been long in to the changing room, and we should have had a penalty when Michael Turner pulled the ball away from a goal-bound Arshavin with his hand). Song was all action today, and I don't understand why elements of the crowd get on his back as soon as he misplaces a pass. Koscielny showed again that he has some good defensive qualities when he puts his mind to it - one block in the final minute was a display of proper commitment, summing up his performance on the day.
There were, as ever, some negatives. One was Mikel Arteta who was absolutely non-existent in midfield. Another was Theo Walcott who serves only to infuriate most of the time. The other negative might come as a surprise to many, but it is Wojciech Szczesny. Before you scream at your computer please read what I have to say. At Old Trafford Szczesny was twice beaten by free-kicks. On both occasions he had taken up a bad position to one side of his goal, leaving too big a target to be exploited. The Pole has failed to learn his lessons and was again beaten today because his positioning was all wrong. I remember David Seaman being beaten by Ronald Koeman when playing for England because he left half the goal open and Koeman was able to score. David Seaman never allowed that to happen again. You would have to question what analysis is done by the coaching staff - surely someone must have seen this happening again some time soon? Szczesny redeemed himself with an incredible save shortly after, but such errors of judgement must be eradicated.
The only other disappointment to me was yet another injury to Kieran Gibbs. I think the lad has been really good in his last few matches, recapturing the kind of form he showed when he first broke through a couple of years back. Sadly for Kieran he is incapable to staying fit for a good run of games. It is a shame because we all want to see players that have come through the ranks playing in the first-team. I would love for Gibbs to make the left-back position his own, but all the time he remains injury-prone it is unlikely to happen.
I'll finish with another couple of positives. I thought Carl Jenkinson had a very fine second-half and, going forward, he can be a real handful. I got the impression that Mertesacker was communicating with him today, as Vermaelen does, as any shaky moments he had were nothing to do with bad positioning. I was very pleased for the boy. Another player to be praised is Andrey Arshavin, who looked more interested today than he has since the Barcelona home game last season. The Russian was running at people, and directing his colleagues, just as you would want him to do.
All in all it wasn't vintage stuff, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was another big three points. We have moved back in to the top half of the table, and that can only be a good thing. The games now come thick and fast again, thank God, and the players have a tough night ahead on Wednesday in Marseilles. At least they can look forward to that game with a win under their belts.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sunderland (h) preview

Szczesny - could be busy tomorrow

So it's back to business tomorrow afternoon with the visit of Sunderland. At the start of the season I really fancied Sunderland to do very well. They might have lost a few good players but they bought a virtually new team, and a lot of those recruited are of proven Premier League quality. The start they've made, therefore, has me a little surprised. I had forgotten, of course, that their Manager is the cretinous Steve Bruce. Here is a man who has twice walked out on previous jobs so I don't really see how too many players would have respect for him. He certainly would be in no position to ever preach loyalty to his charges. He is also the man, you will recall, who tried to call his players off the pitch at Highbury after a perfectly legitimate (albeit not in the spirit of the game) goal had been scored by Overmars against Sheffield United. He was also the man who claimed that Arsenal's offer of a replay wasn't really enough, but he would have to accept it. As I said, he's a complete cretin.
Having said all of that, Sunderland will cause us problems tomorrow. It is a blessing that Nicklas Bendtner is ineligible for the match. I know he hasn't really been among the goals yet on Wearside, but he has been quietly impressive in his play and the Sunderland fans certainly like him. He is a genuine target at the front and is the sort of player that Seb Larsson would never tire of trying to find. Larsson has given us trouble in the past, not least in the Carling Cup Final when he consistently found the head of Zigic. If Larsson gets wide, and we do our usual thing of allowing the cross to get in the box, then Wojciech Szczesny will need to be on his mettle. The Pole has commanded his area well, despite the amateurish play in front of him. I am concerned at him suffering a back injury - Chris Kirkland has had his career wrecked by such problems - and we will need him fit for tomorrow.
For Arsenal we have the issue of who should play at right-back. Carl Jenkinson has had plenty of stick recently but we should not be surprised if the youngster struggles a bit. Less than a year ago he was playing for Eastbourne in the Conference, and now is being expected to play in the Premier League. It's not his fault, and nobody should be getting on his back if he makes an error or two - particularly not a lazy little toerag like Theo Walcott, who consistently fails to help his full-back by not tracking back (I nearly fainted last night when I saw Wenger saying how Chamberlain needs to add such things to his game - does he not watch Theo and Arshavin?) My personal view is that Coquelin should be the man filling in for Sagna but the Manager has ruled that out. I would also keep Song alongside Mertesacker, with Frimpong coming in to the midfield. It's not going to happen, though, and Koscielny will move straight back alongside the German (who has the best chant of any Arsenal player right now!)
In midfield I want to see Mikel Arteta moving further forward to influence the play. Arteta lacks pace, so the closer he can get to Van Persie in order to make things happen, the better he will play. Both he and Ramsey have really got to raise their game if Arsenal are to have anything approaching success this season. In the formation Arsenal play the midfield is so important in supporting their centre-forward. Fabregas, of course, was exceptional at it. Nasri had a four month period last season where he was the key man, in Fabregas' stead. Now we need Ramsey and Arteta to step up. Their performance at Spurs was shocking, and I hope they both had a serious kick up the backside. I would not be averse to seeing Ramsey replaced by Benayoun tomorrow but I doubt that will happen.
As ever it's a big game tomorrow. I believe there will be a lot of empty seats, and I hope this rings alarm bells with the powers that be. Arsenal has a genuine core support of less than 30,000. Too much more of what we've been seeing since February, and it might be that we are watching the boys in a half-empty stadium before too long. The players need to get themselves motivated and do something about the slide we have been on. The fans deserve some effort, at least.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Vermaelen saga begins

Vermaelen - 10 days away? I'll believe it when I see it

The most predictable thing to come out of Arsene Wenger's press conference today was the news that Thomas Vermaelen's return from injury has been delayed. I'll deal with the actual team news for Sunderland in tomorrow's preview piece. I want to focus on TV5 today, and what might well turn out to be another long and drawn out piece of nonsense.
I hope I can be forgiven for getting a sense of deja-vu about Vermaelen's injury. It was about this time last year that we were told he would be back in a fortnight. We would keep hearing it for over a month until it was finally revealed that the Belgian had a serious achilles injury that would require surgery. Quite how it took so long for Arsenal's ridiculously highly-paid medical staff to work that one out I will never know. These are the same people, you will recall, who had Jack Wilshere in a "boot" for more than a month before realising he had a stress-fracture that needed to be operated on. We were originally expecting the Verminator back after the internationals, but Arsene told us a fortnight ago that he would be one week longer. Today we are told he is "at least 10 days away." You couldn't make this up.
It seems obvious to me that Thomas is probably going to be absent for some time to come. I dearly hope to be proved wrong but, if recent precedent is anything to go by, we won't be seeing Thomas until after Christmas. Whatever the injury is it can't be denied that Arsenal's medical team has once again failed to treat it properly. How else can you explain the consistent inaccurate estimates given whenever an Arsenal player gets injured? It might have become a bit of an "in joke" when we hear a player is "two weeks away" when we know that they won't be back for months, but it has also become more than a little frustrating. Of course, if a player is injured they can not play, and that is not necessarily the fault of the medical men, but if those medical professionals say someone is out for a short time, and that subsequently becomes a long time, then surely it indicates that the problem has been inaccurately diagnosed.
Sadly, I doubt this is the last time we'll be getting an update on the return of Thomas Vermaelen. It is another serious kick in the teeth as Vermaelen is so important. I know we lost to Liverpool earlier in the season, but Vermaelen's performance was among the best centre-half displays you could ever wish to see. As well as his own quality defending he was also able to talk Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel through the match - it is no coincidence that Jenkinson looked so out of his depth at Old Trafford a week or two later in the absence of Thomas alongside him. Arsenal need TV5 back, and we need him back soon.

There will be a full preview piece for the Sunderland game at some point tomorrow.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A bit of a catch-up

Charlie and Eddie with some idiot

As it's international week and everything remains quieter than the grave there isn't really much to say right now. For some reason the NewsNow feed didn't pick up on a couple of the pieces that were posted in the last two or three weeks so I've provided links to those post's below. Obviously some of it is a bit out of date, but I hope it's interesting/amusing reading for you.

Dover Gooners Annual Legends Dinner 2011

Spurs 2 -1 Arsenal

Arsenal 3 - 0 Bolton

Oxlade-Chamberlain - Arsenal's New Star

With the internationals finishing we should be getting some Arsenal news over the next couple of days as we build towards Sunday's game with Sunderland. Hopefully there will be something to talk about tomorrow.

Monday, 10 October 2011

RVP speculation is tip of the iceberg - and Arsenal are heading for it

RVP: Saying nothing

The speculation regarding the ever dwindling contract length of Robin Van Persie has begun in earnest. It is not going to go away either. The moment a player gives it the "who knows what the future holds?" spiel then you know that he is not exactly falling over himself to sign a new deal. With the way things are at Arsenal, where Van Persie is the only proven world-class player left, you can hardly blame him for thinking about moving to pastures new - especially with the money he would get offered by Manchester City or Barcelona. However, he is currently the Captain of Arsenal Football Club. His contract runs out in the Summer of 2013. The need to get him tied down, or otherwise, by the end of 2011 is huge. If Van Persie has not signed a deal by January then we can be fairly certain he is angling to move away. If this turns out to be the case then the Captaincy should be taken away from him - we've been here before and it has done us no favours. I am a massive Van Persie fan, but we can not go down this road again.
Van Persie's situation is the one that will get the headlines, because he is our best player, but there is a more worrying situation developing. RVP is not the only player with less than two years left. At the same time as Robin's deal runs out so, too, do Thomas Vermaelen and Theo Walcott. Bacary Sagna is also in the same boat, I believe. Oh yes, and Andrey Arshavin. What bone-head put together the deals of five of Arsenal's star players that they all run down at the same time? When you bear in mind that these players will all be capable of getting lucrative deals elsewhere (someone will be stupid enough to take on Theo, while Arshavin would simply go back to Russia) Arsenal should be at panic stations right now and trying to get deals done. We hear the "it's busy when we play every few days, so there is no time to talk" but what a load of old nonsense that is. Arsenal players train in the morning, then have lunch before going home - I wish my boss offered those hours and considered me too busy to talk shop in the afternoons. 
It also seemed to be passed over by the press last week that Jack Wilshere spoke of his desire to play in the Champions League. Arsenal will not be there next season. As I say in the headline for this post, Arsenal are heading for an iceberg, and it may be one that sinks us.

Yes, it is quiet. International weeks drive me mad. More tomorrow? Maybe.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Charlie and Eddie talk Arsenal, then and now

 Charlie George - never a bad word for Arsenal

Last night saw the annual Dover Gooners Legends Dinner take place. Former Captain Kenny Sansom had been booked to appear but had to cancel at short notice. The 200+ Dover Gooners did not go disappointed though as Charlie George and Eddie Kelly reprised their Wembley Double-act (see what I did there) from May 8th 1971. We've been fortunate enough to hear from both men at past events, but last night saw something a bit different with the great men reminiscing on their careers at Arsenal, as well as being questioned on their opinions of the current problems we face.
I should mention first that the annual event takes place in order to raise money for the Dover Gooners' chosen charity, which is Bob Wilson's Willow Foundation. Once again those present contributed to a total of £2000 for Willow. Please follow the link for more information on this most worthy of charities. There was also a seperate donation raffle held to raise funds for one of our own members who has been struck down with Motor Neurone Disease at a young age - this also raised the best part of £500. A big thanks is due to all those present who contributed to such excellent fund raising endeavours. 
This year's event was also held in association with Gunners Bergamo, celebrating the tenth anniversary of their long-standing friendship with Dover Gooners - it was a pleasure for our supporters club to present Teo and Roberto with a special memento of their visit. Arsenal Football Club was, as ever, represented by Supporters Club Liaison Officer, Jill Smith.

Eddie Kelly - proud to be part of "the best Club in the World"

Spending time in the presence of any Arsenal legends is always a pleasure. Eddie and Charlie, of course, were the two goalscorers from the 1971 FA Cup Final. Forty years on Charlie describes that match as the "best of his career." He is quite certain that Arsenal should have won the game by three or four goals without the need for extra-time - if you watch the match you will be hard-pushed to argue with that. Eddie was also keen to tell us that Leeds were "nasty" and that he "hates anyone that plays for Tottenham" (which got a big cheer from those present). What comes across more than anything when you speak to the two men is the respect and admiration they had for Frank McLintock. Charlie makes no secret of the fact that he and Bertie Mee disliked one another, but he clearly loves Frank, and describes him as "our great Captain." Both men, despite their legendary status at the Club, were discarded in bad circumstances. Charlie was allowed to leave for Derby with what should have been his best years still to come. Eddie, meanwhile, was relieved of the Captaincy of Arsenal so that it could be handed to Alan Ball (don't let the pictures of the Captain's in the Stadium fool you - they are in the wrong order). Regardless of this they both love Arsenal. Charlie, of course was the local boy made good, while Eddie came to London as a teenager and grew up as an Arsenal boy.
Most interesting in their observations of the current team is their support for Arsene Wenger. I feel that they are keen to adopt the Arsenal siege-mentality, but both men stated clearly that Arsene is the best man for the job. As regular readers will know I am not necessarily one to agree with that, but these men know far more about football than I ever will, so who am I to argue? Charlie was particularly bullish in his defence of Arsene Wenger, citing the things he has done and the players he has brought to the Club. At the same time, Eddie was clear that he did not believe this squad capable of winning trophies. The thing they both were adamant about is that Arsene will turn things around, and must be given the time to do so. Charlie George cited the fact that Jack Wilshere and Thomas Vermaelen are injured, and that Abou Diaby is also out - Diaby gets plenty of stick, but the ex-pros clearly see something special in the big man.
Eddie and Charlie were asked, predictably, who the best players they played with were. Both men were quick to answer that Liam Brady was that man. If you bear in mind that the pair would have only had that privilege very early in Brady's career (though Eddie was around for a couple of years after Charlie) then perhaps it is an indication of just how good Brady was. I am too young to remember Liam Brady at Arsenal, but he must have been damn good - my Dad describes Jack Wilshere as the best youngster to come through at Arsenal since Brady, so maybe I'll still get to see a great left-footed midfielder before too much longer. Charlie also believes that Jack will be the man for Arsenal, while Eddie has been particularly impressed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Every speaker we have had at Dover has stated that Dennis Bergkamp is the finest player they have ever seen at Arsenal. I already knew that Eddie and Charlie were of this opinion, but the way they talked about the great man last night just underlined how good he was. Charlie named his best Arsenal team for us, and he described Dennis as "the governor of them all" (incidentally it was Jennings-Dixon-McLintock-Adams-Sansom-Rocastle-Vieira-Brady-Henry-Wright-Bergkamp, with Pires as his one substitute). If bona-fide legends can be in such awe of a player like Dennis Bergkamp then it must say something.
A lot of players from yesteryear seem to denigrate those who have come along after them. This is not so with Eddie and Charlie. They were asked who would win a game between their Double winning side and the Invincibles. Eddie Kelly was unequivocal in his answer that the Invincibles would win such a game (though the injury crisis has him in mind of comeback!) Eddie spoke about the qualities of his 1971 team, and the hard working players they had, but that the Invincibles had top footballers. Charlie put it that the Invincibles had 11 "great" players, and that they were "the best Arsenal team ever" - nobody in the room seemed to be disagreeing.
Ultimately Charlie George and Eddie Kelly are Arsenal fans, just like you and me. They feel the pain that we're all suffering right now. Having been players they have a better insight in to things than we could ever have. Their closing sentiments last night were to stick by the players, and stick by the Club. The message was that Arsenal will come good again, and loyalty is what is most required from the fans.
It was a most enjoyable evening and Dover Gooners is indebted to Charlie and Eddie for stepping in at such short notice. They appreciate the supporters, and their enthusiasm for Arsenal, and the obvious enjoyment they get from talking to us, fills you with pride in The Arsenal.

The blog should be getting back to something approaching normality from now on as I have finished the training course that was preventing me from having time to do this on almost every weekday. The international break will, no doubt, still keep things slow for a few days, but hopefully the output will be far more consistent from here on. Thanks for your forebearance.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Tottenham 2 - 1 Arsenal - disappoinment in certain players

Francis Coquelin - magnificent at that dump

First let me say that I didn't think we deserved to get beaten yesterday. Yes, Szczesny had more saves to make than Friedel, but Arsenal's play was far better than Tottenham's. Ultimately, of course, the only thing that matters is the final result, especially in a derby game. Sadly that means we lost to Droopy Face's scumbags again. 
Before I get down to analysing the performance of some individuals (I don't propose to review the game as such as we all saw it and it was over 24 hours ago as I write) it would be remiss to not comment on the opening goal. It was handball by Van Der Vaart. It was as clear as day. Gary Neville saw it from the commentary gantry, yet the referee and his linesman chose not to see it - I use that turn of phrase deliberately as I don't believe for one minute that one of them did not see the handball, they simply chose not to give it once the ball hit the net. It was as scandalous as the red card that cost Everton their derby match on Saturday.  I couldn't believe Glenn Hoddle maintained it wasn't handball at half-time. I can only assume he was looking at it from behind Eileen Drewery's healing-hands. I also wanted to shake Alan Smith for not being irate at the decision - can you imagine Charlie George's reaction if he'd been in that studio? I am sick of refereeing decisions being a major factor in results involving Arsenal. As bad as the performances and results have been since February, I would seriously have to question how much better things might have looked with correct decisions being made in our matches (that is not excuse the way the team has played, or the way in which the Manager has done things, but merely to make a point).

Now, what about the players yesterday?  

Wojciech Szczesny was at fault for the winner, I have no doubt about that. He was slow to react, in my view. I know the ball moved on him somewhat, and that is probably what beat him, but he seemed to be not quite concentrating properly. Just imagine what Arsenal fans would be saying had Almunia or Fabianski let that goal go in. Apart from that he was excellent. 
I thought the back four didn't do all that badly on the whole. Alex Song recovered from an awful start to the game and played quite well. Mertesacker was also quietly efficient. I can't, however, excuse the moment when they left the ball for eachother just after we went 2-1 down. Such lapses in concentration are exactly what continue to cost us on so many levels. Kieran Gibbs had a fine game, I thought. On the other side I felt Sagna was poor in the way he covered his centre-backs throughout the game, though you didn't really see Gareth Bale for most of the match. The broken leg to Sagna was yet another critical blow to a team that really doesn't need any more bad news. Once again it was a needless foul, which caused Sagna to fall awkwardly, yet Arsenal were awarded a throw-in - quality refereeing yet again.
In midfield Arsenal were pretty dominant, for me. However, this was entirely down to Francis Coquelin. What a great performance from the youngster. He played Spurs on his own in that midfield area. Arteta was completely anonymous, and his lack of pace was evident on so many occasions. It's easy to see, perhaps, why he gets nowhere near the Spain squad. On Saturday night I wrote about Aaron Ramsey and his Denilson-esque passing this season. It was clearly evident yesterday throughout the game - even in injury-time when we were losing. He got our goal but his performance was a disgrace. Most shocking of all was how he watched Sandro literally walk in to space to receive the throw-in that led directly to the winning goal. It was absolutely scandalous and he should be dropped for that alone. People moan about the laziness of Diaby and Denilson, but Ramsey is seriously walking the same tight-rope.
The less said about the three attackers the better. RVP produced one moment of any threat and Gervinho should have buried the ball in to the open goal he created for him. As for Walcott I would have to ask exactly what Capello saw yesterday that warrants him getting a place in the England squad.

It seems a bit strange having commented like that to still think we didn't deserve to lose. That only serves to show just how poor the opposition were I suppose. That, in many ways, is the most annoying thing. Tottenham were rubbish, and yet we couldn't beat them. We had them rocking early in the second-half, only to let them off the hook.
Wenger says we "played with the handbrake on." What? What exactly does this mean? It's yet another soundbite from Wenger designed to fill space without ever addressing the problems he, and he alone, is creating. What about the substitutions? Tottenham brought on Sandro to add some physical presence in midfield. Surely Arsenal had to respond in kind by bringing on Frimpong for Arteta or Ramsey. Instead we saw Spurs come back in to the game. That change from Twitchy changed the course of the match. It was simple and obvious, and yet Arsene failed to respond yet again. When Sagna got injured he could still have brought on Frimpong and moved Coquelin to right-back - it was a wasted substitution.
There were further issues before the end. We had a centre-forward on the bench yesterday, yet he stayed there when we were losing. If Nicklas Bendtner had been on the bench he would have been introduced instead of Arshavin, so what is the point of Chu-Young Park being at Arsenal? It seems obvious that the Manager doesn't trust him enough to give him a game, even in a desperate situation like the one we faced yesterday. I would question why Bendtner is playing for somebody else when his replacement is not considered good enough to even get on the pitch when we need to try everything to score a goal. Instead of getting a centre-forward on we had Per Mertesacker going up front. I am convinced the German took it upon himself to go forward, and rightly so - somebody had to do something. Sadly his teammates completely ignored the move and kept playing the short passes instead of lumping a few balls towards the big man and putting one-leg Ledley under some pressure for a change. Even in the final minute, when Szczesny came up for a corner, four Arsenal players remained outside the penalty area - three of them around the halfway line.

I thought, as I started to write this tonight, that I wouldn't be doing too much criticising. I was obviously quite wrong. I will just finish, however, by defending Arsene Wenger over something. I see there has been some controversy because he didn't shake Clive Allen's hand after the game. I don't blame him. Quite apart from the fact that Clive Allen is a grade-A Tottenham c**t, he is also the same person who pushed Arsene at the derby match a couple of years back (and got away with it). He is also one of about 37 different coaches that hang around the Tottenham team claiming to have a job, when all the while they are really just Redknapp's mates. How many hands do you have to shake for goodness sake? Clive Allen is a cretin who won naff-all in his career. He is everything that sums up a Spurs fan - jealous of the success that Arsenal have had. 
Let the mugs have their moment, they've beaten us again. But just remember that banner that the Gooners unfurled before the game urging the mugs to enjoy the Golden Jubilee of their last League Title win. They are forever in our shadow.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Tottenham Hotspur (a) preview

Whatever happens tomorrow, they will NEVER get to do this to us - remember that, Gooners

A couple of weeks ago I opined on here that I felt Arsene Wenger's reign would come to an end after the game tomorrow at White Hart Lane. The results gained in the last fortnight, and the comments from Stan Kroenke (at last, he has spoken about Arsenal) regarding Le Boss' future would seem to put that to bed - though a hammering would create the most immense pressure against Arsene in the media this week. One thing I would like to go on record as saying is that, however much I believe Arsene Wenger has had his time, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see The Arsenal well and truly spank those muppets tomorrow afternoon.
For a number of years I have viewed the Tottenham fixture as a necessary inconvenience. Since the mid-90's they haven't really belonged on the same pitch as our players. Somehow they have managed to frustrate us far too often, especially at their hell-hole of a stadium, where we've suffered from a number of last-minute disasters costing us the win. Having said that, actual defeat to the swamp-dwellers has been a rare experience. Tomorrow is different. There is no doubt in my mind that Tottenham are the favourites to get a result tomorrow. I wonder how that new pressure will affect their players. Hopefully it will be something they find extremely hard to deal with. If I was offered a point right now I would take it like a shot, but this is a derby game and anything is possible. The last time I really remember games at White Hart Lane being like this, with them being well-fancied, was in 1987, and we all know how the boys won there three times that season. If we can invoke the spirit of David Rocastle tomorrow then a win is not out of the question.
The team news has not been altogether encouraging to me. Having said that, the idea of Alex Song playing at centre-back against Adebayor (more of him at the end of this piece) gives me more heart than Koscielny playing against him. Elsewhere we have no Gervinho, whose ability to run with the ball is a blow in such a game. Theo Walcott has a fitness test to pass, and Wenger's dismissive comment upon Oxlade-Chamberlain would indicate that he is loathe to throw the young boy in to this game. Yossi Benayoun is fit to play and I fully expect him to do so - his hard-working mentality will help whoever plays at left-back immensely, and it will also mean that Arshavin shouldn't be there from the start. There will be a huge reliance on Robin Van Persie and Per Mertesacker to show their experience and leadership. The defence must listen to Wojciech Szczesny. It seems when you watch set-pieces that the defence does not take any notice of him - the goalkeeper is in charge of his penalty area and the rest of the players would do well to listen to what he is instructing them to do. The other key position is in front of the defence. If Alex Song does move back in to the defence Wenger must have no hesitation in playing Emmanuel Frimpong. I know that the young lad is impetuous, but his willingness to put in a proper tackle could be huge tomorrow.
In my piece the other day I said how I would comment on Aaron Ramsey. There's been something bugging me for over a month with Rambo and I have to say something about it. Over the past couple of years Denilson has had a number of criticisms levelled at him, one of which was the fact that he always passed the ball sideways, or backwards. I would urge you to start watching Aaron Ramsey closely. I think the stick taken by Denilson may have been a little unfair - if Ramsey is doing the same things then it would appear they may be acting under instruction. The problem is that with Ramsey playing this way it simply serves to slow us down - again something Denilson was accused of doing. When we have got in behind teams this season it has been because we've gone at them quickly, using the pace of Gervinho/Walcott to cause damage before the opposition can get organised. The same thing applies when Tomas Rosicky plays, which is usually when Ramsey doesn't. Can you see a pattern emerging? The game tomorrow will see Arsenal needing to play at a high tempo, and Ramsey's passing ability will need to be at the forefront of this. Let's hope he abandons the sideways nonsense and moves the ball forwards to greater effect.
I've not mentioned Spurs' players in this preview, and I don't intend to give anything by way of praise to any of them. We know they have better players than they've had for quite some time, and we know that some of them could damage us. The most frightening individual, of course, is Adebayor. He has a fine record in this fixture and there is every chance this will continue. However, I think that his Tottenham career will begin to reach its conclusion tomorrow, whatever the result. The way I see it is that he will either score the goals that win the game for Spurs, thus becoming a hero to the neanderthal knuckle-draggers, and then revert to being the lazy layabout we all know him to be, OR, he will miss chances that cost Tottenham the game and their fans will turn on him as the Gooner scumbag that they all know him to be. Let's hope and pray it's the latter.

One more thing to say: COME ON ARSENAL.