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Friday, 30 December 2011

QPR (h) preview

John Jensen - I was there

The last time I remember going to football on New Years Eve we played against QPR. Here we are, seventeen years later, getting ready to face the same opponents on the same day of the year. That game back in 1994 has passed in to Arsenal folklore as it saw the first, and only, goal scored by John Jensen for Arsenal. The fact that we would go on to lose the game 3-1 was almost ignored by most of us because of Jensen's strike. Perhaps it was a sign of how badly the team was playing that season that we should try to cling to something which, basically, summed up how poor our midfield was in an attacking sense. I was a fan of Jensen, and I still am. JJ was a whole-hearted destroyer in the centre of midfield. Unfortunately for him his arrival came at the same time as David Rocastle's departure. A replacement for Rocky he was not, but he went on to become a cult figure with the crowd. Somewhere I still have the t-shirt saying that "I was there when John Jensen scored." I suppose it's one of the more surreal moments in my Arsenal watching life, but memorable nonetheless.
As for the game tomorrow we will see Theo Walcott returning to the side. He will be up against Armand Traore, it would seem. I hope Traore performs as well as he did in his final appearance  for Arsenal at Old Trafford. He seems to have played almost every game for QPR since he went there, so I assume he must have done okay for them. Theo should be fresh after a ten day break, and he ought to be relishing the chance to get out there against Traore.
Elsewhere I can see some more rotation of the players in midfield. I think that Arteta will be benched for either tomorrow, or Mondays' game at Fulham. Arsene certainly won't want someone in such a crucial position to have to play three times in seven days. I think we'll see Aaron Ramsey coming back in tomorrow, but the versatility of Rosicky and Benayoun could see either of them keeping their place. Other changes could mean a start for Arshavin, Coquelin or Oxlade-Chamberlain. There may also be a case to rest Robin Van Persie ahead of the game on Monday, but I doubt the skipper would be overly impressed in the circumstances. Nor would the crowd, come to that.
QPR have done pretty well since they got promoted. I imagine their supporters were resigned to a very long season when they were destroyed at home by Bolton on the opening day. Like most I'm not a fan of Neil Warnock, but you can be sure his team's will fight for everything. They have some combative players in the midfield, but also some skill with Taarabt. Up front I think it's fair to say that Helgusson has surprised most of us with his goalscoring at this level so far. His goals are the reason QPR are doing as well as they are. Mertesacker and Koscielny, assuming they both play again, will not have an easy ride tomorrow afternoon.
After the disappointing outcome on Tuesday the three points are even more crucial tomorrow. Our home form has actually been not too good in the past month, where a lack of goals has been a thorn in our side - bear in mind that it took a Robin Van Persie stunner to beat Everton early in December. It's a problem that must be thrown aside, and quickly, if we are to keep challenging for the important positions in the Premier League. A failure to win our next two games could render Thierry Henry's arrival academic, and that would be no good to us.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Not long now, Hunt just one letter out

HE is coming

The Thierry Henry transfer story is gathering pace. Today Per Mertesacker has had his say and it seems the big fella is in favour of the Great Man's return. I had to laugh at Sky's Dharmesh Sheth claiming that sources "close to Thierry Henry" said he would be "willing to return on loan." What a scoop, eh? I mean, it's not as though Thierry has ever publicly stated his desire to return to Arsenal at some stage, either as a player or something else.
Something that must be understood when Henry completes his loan move is that he will not be the Thierry of yesteryear. The electrifying pace has gone. The prolific goalscoring has gone. However, the touch and the ability is still there. His return would, ideally, prompt a change in the formation for a while. I would like to see a 4-4-2 with Henry playing the Bergkamp role, behind Robin Van Persie. If Thierry is going to be here, then let's make the best of what he can offer. I strongly suspect there would be no slacking from him in such a brief stay, and he would be keen to play as much as possible.
Sunday is January 1st, the opening of the transfer window. What better way to see out 2011, and welcome 2012, than by announcing the signing on Saturday afternoon, before the QPR game? This would leave Henry clear to make his second debut, if not at Fulham, in the FA Cup at home to Leeds a week on Monday. The last thing we need is for any of this to drag on - the window of Henry's availability is brief, so let's get the most we can off him.

I can't believe Sky have chosen to make publicity of Steven Hunt's comments with regard to Arsenal players haranguing the referee on Tuesday. Having been at the game I can honestly say that the only person continually in the face of Stuart Attwell was Hunt himself. Every time a decision went against Wolves there he was. He's always been a nasty little toe-rag - just ask Petr Cech.
All credit, for once, to Gordon Taylor who has criticised Hunt for his statements. It was quite funny watching Sky Sports News this afternoon as they clearly had him on there in an attempt to show Arsenal in a bad light. It serves them right.
Something to bear in mind in all of this, of course, is the fact that Manchester United's players have constantly surrounded officials throughout the last twenty years. It doesn't do for Sky to have a go at them, though, in case the Scots alcoholic bans them from his press conferences. That's not to mention their other favourites, "JT" and "Big Fat Frank." It makes me so angry!
I would suggest that Steven Hunt, meanwhile, gets back to selling pegs and lucky heather.

Incidentally I'm just watching Sky presenter Gerorgie Thompson doing her last interview before going off to do Formula One next year. She is being made to speak to Twitchy Redknapp. What will Sky do when he goes to prison? Or if he gets the England job, where the FA will ban him from being rent-a-quote? The air time on Sky will be quite barren, I'm sure. In the interview he's just stopped short of describing Georgie as "good lad, quality player."

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Arsenal 1 - 1 Wolves - bad two points dropped

How is this man allowed near a football pitch?

I thought Arsenal played with plenty of effort yesterday. It wasn't one of those days where I came away from the game bemoaning the players attitude, as was so often the case last season. The problem yesterday was that we lack a bit of quality when, perhaps, it matters most. We also came up against yet another goalkeeper who decided to play the best game of his career against Arsenal. One other thing we came up against was the most inept, incompetent official that English football has ever seen. I notice that Arseblogger has stated he felt the red card was wrong. From my vantage point, and that of most of the other 50,000+ Gooners present, it was a dangerous tackle. It should also be noted that the game had been spiralling out of the control of the referee. The foul by Milijas was, at best, reckless. In the context of the game it was a deserved sending off.
We got off to a fine start by taking an early lead. Benayoun and Rosicky were linking the play very nicely. In the absence of Theo Walcott (not even in the squad, but I've not yet seen why that was) Gervinho was the only pacy outlet in the side. I thought he had messed up his chance but he managed to squeeze the shot in. That, really, should have opened the floodgates for Arsenal. It never really materialised despite our dominance. I felt the turning point was when RobinVan Persie chose to take on the defence, rather than putting Alex Song clean through, only to be closed out. Within three minutes Wolves had levelled. There was a certain amount of fortune in the goal, as the deflection fell straight to Fletcher, but you can't deny the quality of his reaction header. We also must lament RVP's failure to push up, thus playing him onside.
The second-half was one way traffic, but Arsenal were consistently denied by Wayne Hennessy. They were also denied by the terrible officiating. In front of me there was a clear handball. There was also, in the aftermath of the red card, a clear foul on Robin Van Persie. As the skipper went for a header he was pulled to the ground, his shirt virtually ripped from his back. I have no idea how the referee managed to miss it. The linesman, who would have had a clear view, as I did, also failed to do his job.
Ultimately we missed chances. The two points dropped could now be crucial. With Liverpool and Chelsea failing to win on Monday a victory was imperative. Tottenham winning last night means the two points lost are even greater. Looking at our fixtures over this two week period, having won the most difficult one at Villa, you would have expected maximum points. A win against QPR is now vital on Saturday. It is also vital that Arsene Wenger gets to work on securing reinforcements early in January. We need two strikers as the alternatives to Robin Van Persie are simply not good enough (Park still wasn't even on the bench yesterday). Thierry Henry and Demba Ba would be ideal. I have heard this rumour about Bobby Zamora. God forbid. We have a massive month ahead, yet again.

More tomorrow.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Wolves (h) preview, Thierry to return, A Christmas message

Happy Christmas from It's MY Arsenal Opinion

The game against Wolves and, more particularly, its postponement until Tuesday has been a bit of a bonus for me and most of the other Dover Gooners. I've just got back from the annual Christmas Eve get together (yes, it is a pub based event) that involves a number of us and the consensus was very much the same - a 3 o'clock game on Boxing Day is no good, but a delay is just dandy, thanks very much.
The team news is that Johan Djourou might well return to the squad, and that is good news - not least because it means Squillaci should move back out of harm's way for the time being. Apart from that there's not a lot to say. I can see Aaron Ramsey being rested, with either Benayoun or Rosicky coming in. I can also see Gervinho being left out, which is fine as long as Arshavin isn't the beneficiary. Alex Song will return, in place of Emmanuel Frimpong. The enforced week off will have done Song no harm at all.
Wolves have had a mixed bag again this season. Personally I believe they are hamstrung by the dinosaur that is their Manager. Their start was outstanding, but was followed by a dreadful run of results. They have some quality in attack, especially in the shape of Stephen Fletcher. However, they should be unable to really trouble this Arsenal team. In an ideal World that would certainly be the case, but this is football. In football, especially in England, there is little cut and dried. I fully expect a motivated team to come to our place on Tuesday and run their socks off. An early goal could be crucial for Arsenal.
I'll leave it there for now in terms of a preview. I know it's a bit brief, but it is Christmas Eve after all.

It seems that Arsene Wenger is now actively considering a return for Thierry Henry (because, of course, he wasn't before now...much). Naturally he isn't the player he was. However, he is still on a different planet to our other back-up strikers. I hope the deal is already in place, despite what Wenger says, and that the Great Man will play against Leeds in the FA Cup. It would be a great way to start the New Year if Arsenal were to announce the return of the King. I'd even go and get my home shirt printed with his name and number on it. Go on Arsene, get it done. Such a signing could create the sort of buzz that would spur the squad on to greater things. It would certainly get the fans going.

Finally I would like to just sum up what the blog has done this year. When I wrote on Christmas Eve 2010 I noted that the site had been visited on 5200 occasions in its first six months. This year, following our introduction to the NewsNow Arsenal feed, the site has got up to the very cusp of 300,000 hits since I started it. I have to thank everyone that has read and contributed, either on the site itself, or Twitter, or Facebook. It is quite humbling that so many people would take the time to click on the link and, maybe, read what I've had to say about the World's greatest Club. This site is never going to be as big as an Arseblog, but nor does it pretend to be anything similar. This site is simply my view on all things Arsenal. You might not like my opinion, you might not agree with my opinion, but you must understand that mine is an opinion based on watching Arsenal in the flesh. As far as I'm concerned that makes my view more valid than that of someone who doesn't go to games (I am not doing down sites written by those who don't go, but I personally don't lend much credence to their views). I think, if you spoke to most people who actually go to watch Arsenal, they would agree with that. Again, you don't have to like or agree with that, but it's my opinion, and it's my blog.
My Christmas this year will be, as ever, spent with family. I will be off to Church later to celebrate a little Midnight Mass, and then to bed while Father Christmas does his stuff. I have two very excited little boys in the house right now, and my eldest is impatient to track the progress being made by the man in the sleigh on Norad Santa. That being the case I will sign off now, and I will do so by wishing all of you a very Happy Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Mid-Season Review

Dear Father Christmas...the FA Cup will do

I can honestly say I have never experienced the sort of lows we had to endure at the start of this season in my whole life watching Arsenal. Since then we have seen a new team grow in confidence, and produce some pretty good high points. The severity of the bad days of August has made the wins against Chelsea and the success in Europe seem, perhaps, more sweet than they would normally deserve to be. We can be thankful, however, that we are able to enjoy anything right now after the debacles at Old Trafford and Ewood Park.
The start of the season was incredibly traumatic for Arsenal supporters. It wasn’t just the results that were upsetting us. In fact the results were a direct consequence of everything else that was going on. The squad was in a state of turmoil with the Fabregas and Nasri situations spinning beyond control. Coupled with the lack of players coming in there was a general apathy around the entire place, and this surely transmitted to a group of players who were in some kind of limbo. All of these issues were, of course, problems of our own making. Had the Manager doing his job properly in the earlier part of the Summer then what we endured in the first five weeks of the season would have been avoided. It’s easy to be wise after events, but I think almost everyone (apart from those who believe Wenger can do no wrong) were clear that early resolution to transfer business was what Arsenal needed. We all knew that Fabregas would be leaving and, as he was allowed to leave for a pittance, it should have been done in June. Similarly we saw Arsene enter in to a frivolous game of hard-ball over Samir Nasri, and we were left to enter the season with a disaffected player stinking the place out. When you add in the fact that only Gervinho had been added at that stage it was understandable that the knives were out, even before a ball had been kicked.
What happened at Old Trafford can never be forgotten, and nor should it be. The Manager should have been summarily removed from his position after such a humiliation for Arsenal Football Club. We saw Carl Jenkinson’s career at Arsenal coming under threat almost before it had begun, while Armand Traore’s insipid display was surely because he knew he was leaving 24 hours later. Nobody covered themselves in glory that day, with the possible exception of Francis Coquelin. We also saw the likes of Gilles Sunu on the bench that day, again just hours before being transferred. What did this do to the mind-set of the young players that actually want to play for Arsenal? It was symptomatic of the chaos that was engulfing the Club, and it was very much transmitted on to the pitch. It was the lowest of the lows we have faced. The best that can be said is that things could only really get better from there on, and they certainly have done.
The new signings added some much needed, and much overdue, experience to the squad. It is evident that there is a far more pragmatic approach to defending a lead, and the older heads (coupled with the timely return of Thomas Vermaelen) have brought improvement in the game of all those around them – most notably Walcott, Song and Koscielny.
The main man has, of course, been Robin Van Persie. When I wrote this equivalent review piece last December I questioned whether a fit-again Robin could re-discover his form. I said how, if he did hit his stride (and stay fit) we might witness something special. Robin has certainly delivered in the most extraordinary fashion. Let’s face it, anyone who can equal, or better, the goalscoring feats of Thierry Henry has clearly been doing something quite incredible. It is often questioned as to how Arsenal would be doing without RVP. No doubt we would be struggling, but that’s the nature of football. Would Manchester United have run away with the Title a couple of years back without Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals? Of course they wouldn’t, but nobody wanted to question Manchester United, did they? Having said that, there are obvious deficiencies in Arsenal’s striking options. Chamakh has failed to build on his excellent start at the Club, while Ju Young Park is looking like more and more of an Amaury Bischoff or a Fabian Caballero signing. I almost compared him to Kaba Diawara, but at least Diawara played a lot of games in his short Arsenal career.
The rest of the season could yet bring us success. The FA Cup must be a realistic goal for the players. They need silverware, and Wembley in May is the most likely place for us to find it. The Manager must commit to winning a trophy, and hope that a top four finish takes care of itself.
I was criticised in the comments section the other day by someone who says that I would have settled for fourth at the start of the season. That is utter nonsense, and it remains so. If you are happy with Arsenal finishing fourth, and not challenging for the top place, then you do not deserve to be an Arsenal supporter. We must strive to be the very best, and that means winning the Title. This season, following that disastrous start, fourth place would probably be an achievement of some note. However, that should not be seen as a measure of success in the grand scheme of things. Had the business been done properly in the Summer then we might be a little bit closer to Man City than we currently are. That is an indictment of the way the Club has been managed recently. Arsene Wenger remains under pressure, and a finish outside the top four could yet see his reign end prematurely. I hope that he can prove us all wrong, and that we are celebrating something tangible (not just fourth place) come May.
Before the season started I predicted a sixth-place finish for Arsenal. As I left the game at Ewood Park I felt (and so did many others that were there) that we were in a relegation battle. It is to the credit of the players that we have had an excellent group stage in the Champions League, and that we are more than competitive in the Premier League. We have something to look forward to, and that is more than we had back in September. I’m optimistic for our prospects in the second half of the season, and I didn’t think I would be.

I’ll post a brief preview of the Wolves game tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Aston Villa 1 - 2 Arsenal - Benayoun comes to the fore

Yossi - delivered when Arsenal needed

I've only really seen the Match Of The Day highlights from last night so I can't really comment too much on what happened in the game. It seems that Villa had the better of things for large parts of the match, but the makeshift defence stood up pretty well (apart from the goal), and Szczesny was outstanding again. The team selection was interesting, with Coquelin coming in at right-back. I hope that Miquel has got a knock, and wasn't simply dropped from the squad last night as he did nothing wrong at Manchester City (or in any other game he has played this season in the first-team). From what I've read it appears that Emmanuel Frimpong struggled last night, but we shouldn't be expecting too much from teenagers coming in to the side like that. The introduction of Tomas Rosicky (in place of Frimpong) seemingly sparked the boys in to life going foward, for the first time in the game, but I think he might well be gone within the next few weeks.
The penalty decision was an easy one for the referee. Theo's turn was excellent, and the foul silly. Robin Van Persie was not going to die wondering with his penalty as it was smashed emphatically in to the roof of the net. I really hope he can get the goals he needs against Wolves and QPR to break Shearer's record. Later in the game the referee had an even easier decision to make for another Arsenal penalty, but inexplicable booked RVP for diving. This yellow card MUST be rescinded. The decision was scandalous and could have easily cost Arsenal the points on the night. I think the only time I've seen this ref before was in a game at Goodison Park the other week when he made a similarly outrageous call. Just add him to the list of incompetent idiots.
Villa's goal was a giveaway by Arsenal. I suspect Mertesacker is going to get stick for his part in it but, for me, the fault lies with Thomas Vermaelen. The Verminator should have cleared his lines and hooked the ball away up the line. Instead of that he sold Mertesacker too short with a poor pass across the defence, and Albrighton showed his pace and skill to finish well under Szczesny. Albrighton looks a real prospect, and I'm surprised he's been so peripheral at Villa this season, though McLeish doesn't like skill in his team, does he?
If Arsenal had conceded the winner in the same way then we would be going mental about it - one of the shortest men on the field scoring with an unchallenged header inside the six-yard box. I am delighted for Benayoun. The little Israeli looks a real trier when he comes on, and he should have had far more game time than he has enjoyed since signing for the Club. When you see Arshavin coming on week after week, and ponceing about without any effort whatsoever, you have to wonder why Benayoun and Chamberlain have spent so long kicking their heels. I would not be disappointed at all if Arsenal landed Benayoun on a permanent deal - he would be a first-class squad player, with plenty of experience and quality.
The win last night was incredibly important. Coming off the back of the mugging in Manchester it was crucial that the three points were won. Liverpool failing to win at Wigan was a bonus, and now we need a draw between Tottenham and Chelsea tonight to set us up nicely for Christmas (hopefully with a serious injury or two on both sides, and maybe a 22 man brawl which leads to points deductions and suspensions galore).
I will cover this more in the pre-Christmas post, assessing the season to now, but to be in this position is a pleasant surprise following the start we had.

I'm quite pleased the Wolves game has been put back by 24 hours. I would not have been attending the 3 o'clock kick-off had it been on Boxing Day (what is wrong with midday, like we used to have?) By moving the game I will now be in my usual seat, and that is a bonus. The pre-Christmas assessment piece will, hopefully, go up tomorrow night, with the briefest of posts to follow on Christmas Eve. After last night I am in the mood for a very good Christmas, and I finish work for the holiday at 8am tomorrow. Get in.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Villa (a) match preview, Szczesny talks too much at times, Upsetting the Northerners

Szczesny - finishing above Tottenham is NOT Arsenal's ambition

It's another game on the road tomorrow as the boys go to Villa Park. The Villans are now, of course, managed by a man Arsenal fans see as a genuine villain - Alex McLeish. It could be argued that the past few years of no trophies have seen us dealt killer blows by McLeish's players. Lest we forget that our Championship challenge began to implode at Birmingham in 2008, and the Carling Cup Final also saw us throwing silverware away against his second-rate bunch of chancers. It's fair to say that we owe McLeish, and we owe him big.
The defence is weakened further by the absence of Johan Djourou. This will see young Miquel coming in at left-back, and the spectre of Squillaci now looms large on the bench, I suspect. With Alex Song suspended there is no other cover at centre-half, and Nico Yennaris' appearance for the Reserves yesterday would indicate he is not going to be involved in the first-team any time soon, which would have eased the burden on one of those playing out of position. Song, I would imagine, will be replaced by either Frimpong or Coquelin. I would prefer to see Frimpong in there for his physicality, though his tendency to dive in could cost us set-pieces in dangerous areas.
We are entering the week in which Arsene is most likely to want to rotate one or two players. I think that, had we won on Sunday, he might have put Van Persie on the bench tomorrow. Having lost at City it is a risk that simply can't be taken I hope. Arshavin was a disgrace again when he came on in Manchester, so I would be apoplectic if he starts ahead of Walcott or Gervinho. Yossi Benayoun, however, is well overdue a Premier League start, and could add to the team in almost any midfield position.
It goes without saying that only a win will do for Arsenal. With Tottenham and Liverpool and Manchester United all winning at the weekend we can not slip further behind with so many points up for grabs in the next two weeks. It is a period where we will come out the other side knowing pretty much whether the season is going to be one where we challenge for a place in the European Cup, or not. A few wins, and everything changes round in our favour again. Fingers crossed it all starts tomorrow at a tough place to visit.

I was seriously annoyed with Wojciech Szczesny's comments that our "ambition" this season is to "finish ahead of Tottenham." This is exactly the sort of thing that we have ripped it out of Spurs for over the years. They have always concerned themselves with Arsenal, rather than looking to be the best themselves. The day that Arsenal start to see beating them as the be all and end all is the day that things have gone too far awry. We are Arsenal for God's sake. Forget about those mugs from Tottenham. Their performances should be of no consequence whatsoever to Arsenal Football Club, unless we're playing against them. Szczesny always has plenty to say, and it's often entertaining, but he can have a tendency to talk too much. This business is one such example. As is so often the case there is a tendency among Arsenal players to do their talking in places other than on the football pitch. Actions will always speak louder than words.

I want to draw your attention to yesterday's piece and, more particularly, the reaction it provoked from the Manchester City supporters. In the comments section I am accused of bitterness, bias and whingeing, just as I predicted I would be. It's good to see them living down to my expectations. Generally I have a lot of time for City fans, as I said in the match preview for that game, but it seems that a number of them think they are now a "big" club because they have a lot of money. One of them refers to "anti-City" pundits. Anti-City pundits? They've been so insignificant for over thirty years that most pundits probably forgot they existed before the money arrived.
The most amusing thing for me is that, amid all the allegations of bitterness and being a sore loser (regular readers will know that my usual tack after a defeat is to criticise the Arsenal players and Manager) I recalled a game at Highbury from 2000-01. It was one of Ashley Cole's early Premier League games, and he was one of the scorers in a 5-0 win for Arsenal. After the game Joe Royle, who was their Manager at the time, claimed that all of the Arsenal goals (yes, all FIVE of them) should have been disallowed for various infringements. You want to know about sore losers, and bitterness? People in glass houses and all that...

Monday, 19 December 2011

Man City 1 - 0 Arsenal match review - it's a matter of time now

Phil Dowd - at best this man is a cheat

I'm writing this having just got in from my work Christmas do, but this is not the ranting of someone who's had one too many bottles of pop. I didn't write this review last night as I wanted time to calm down before going in to print. I didn't get around to writing it this morning as I was too busy. As a result I am typing in a slightly drunken state, but fully cognisant of what I want to say to you this evening.
I have stated on here before that I believe English football is in the grip of corruption. It has been proven in cricket and in rugby, so why should football be any different? Football is the richest, most popular sport in the Country, with high stakes involved. The only difference between football and the other sports is that footballers at the top level are too well paid to be nobbled. The same does not apply to match officials. If the News of the World had wanted to expose something big then they should have gone after football and its referee's and linesmen.
What we saw yesterday was a great game of football. However, if you are an Arsenal fan, then you did not enjoy it. The reason you didn't enjoy it is because we lost the game. The reason we lost the game was because of the officiating. Even if you give the benefit of the doubt for offside to Silva, in the scramble that became the winning goal, you can not excuse the decision to flag Robin Van Persie offside for what would have been a deserved equaliser, or for the offside that wasn't given against Micah Richards. Worst of all is the handball decision. Richards saw the ball come all the way across from the wing and he let it hit him on the arm. The referee, Phil Dowd, was no more than ten yards away with a clear view. He deliberately chose to not give the decision. He then had the audacity to laugh in the face of Aaron Ramsey when he questioned him. It is utterly abhorrent.
It is now a matter of time, in my opinion, before English football finally becomes embroiled in a fixing row. There is too much money involved for there to be no corruption. At the heart of it will be those who officiate. Games like yesterday do nothing to dissuade me. I don't doubt that I will get some stick from those who believe me to be a whingeing Gooner, bitter in defeat. However, when the richest Club in the World has a must-win game, and gets decisions like that in their favour throughout the match, you can surely see why I am writing in these terms. Football is corrupt, and it is costing Arsenal.
Just to illustrate something before I sign off I would like to draw attention to Mr Dowd's last three games in charge of Arsenal, away from home - Newcastle and Sunderland from last season, and yesterday - either the man is a cheat or there is something even more sinister, as it is surely not possible for one man to be so inept with the same team suffering the consequences at all times. In each of those games he and his colleagues have been more responsible for the end result than any of the players. There is something wrong, is there not?

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Manchester City (a) preview

No Clichy tomorrow, and Nasri will be counting his cash

If somebody had told me four years ago that we would be visiting a Manchester City team at the top of the Premier League, in the week before Christmas, this season I would have told them they know nothing about football. However, modern football, fuelled by astronomical money, has seen the likes of City catapulted in to the elite. Actually, I don't begrudge the City fans some success. I have no time for the way that money has seen them come to the fore, but it should be noted that Man City were still getting big crowds to watch them when they were playing two league's below the top flight. It's fair to say that their backing is not so artificial as that on the other side of Manchester. Real supporters, I would suggest. 
The game itself sees Arsenal very much as second favourites. I haven't seen any of the pundits backing Arsenal to get a result, though Mark Lawrenson's prediction is ridiculous. Given the fact that Manchester City haven't kept a clean sheet since Jesus was a boy, his prediction of 2-0 to City is nonsense. I'm not saying that Arsenal will definitely score, but to predict a clean sheet for City, against a team with Robin Van Persie in it, shows a genuine crassness from Lawrenson. What is certain is that last season's 3-0 win for Arsenal seems unlikely to be repeated. For what it's worth I think Arsenal can beat City, especially after their loss at Chelsea on Monday - there is no telling how a team will react to defeat after a long unbeaten run (we should know, after all).
As now seems traditional there will be some added spice from the fact that a despised ex-Arsenal player may be involved for the hosts. Adebayor may not be present anymore, but he has been replaced by the equally greedy and reprehensible Samir Nasri. The odious little fool got some stick at the Carling Cup game a few weeks back, and the travelling Gooners will be making themselves heard tomorrow, you can have no doubt. Nasri claims he left Arsenal through ambition, but he spends a serious amount of time on the bench. I am fairly certain that, had he still been at Arsenal, then such bench time would have surely met with complaint from him. It's amazing what £120,000 every week can do to soften such pain.
Both teams have some problems defensively tomorrow with injury. It seems that Zabaletta will be moved to left-back in place of Clichy and Kolarov (Clichy's absence is a blow to Arsenal's hopes down that side of the pitch). Theo Walcott can expect some bruises come Monday morning as a result of this change. Robin Van Persie will certainly fancy his chances against Joleon Lescott, while Gervinho will have to help Vermaelen out if Micah Richards plays at right-back (though his bursts forward could leave massive space for our Ivorian to exploit).
Going forward City are exceptional. I tipped David Silva to be the Footballer of the Year at the start of the season, and only Robin Van Persie stands in his way for that award. The Spaniard's form in his second season in England reminds me a lot of Robert Pires, and his influence on his team is as important as Robert's was in 2001-02. They have an array of attacking talent, and I fear that Aguero may have too much for our central defenders. Having said that Koscielny has been in the most superb form for the past couple of months, and I think Mertesacker might just put in a big performance tomorrow and come of age in English football (if he would just jump a bit more often he would be fine).
The major problem for Arsenal is in midfield. We know that De Jong will kick anything that moves, so Aaron Ramsey will be another wounded man after the game. Alex Song will need all his physical attributes to deal with Yaya Toure, as well as needing to contribute going forward again. Mikel Arteta is another man who owes us a bit of a performance. I can't understand how someone famed for his creativity can appear so negative whenever he gets possession in midfield - it's time to deliver.
A win for Arsenal tomorrow could set us up for a very good second half of the season. With a tough Christmas schedule ahead it would seem imperative to go in to it having avoided defeat against the League leaders. A second defeat in a week for City, meanwhile, could see them in a bit of a panic over the festive season.
I have to work until around 5.30 tomorrow, so the Sky+ will be in operation again, and I'll be watching it "as live" when I get home. I'll get a match review done at some time tomorrow night, or on Monday morning.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Tough draw for Gunners, Bendtner in trouble?

A hard task just got harder

The draw for the last-16 in the European Cup has not been kind to Arsenal. In fairness there were very few "weaker" teams who we could have drawn. However, I think getting AC Milan makes things just that little bit tougher for us than they might have been.
We played Milan a few years ago, of course, when Fabregas inspired one of our greatest European nights. Arsenal's record in Italy, and against Italian sides, is incredible. The worrying thing for me is that all good things must come to an end, and the press will go on and on about our unbeaten run against Serie A teams, going back over 40 years. In general I have little fear of AC Milan, or any other Italian side. Italian football is, to be honest, pretty weak. It has been declining for some time. Inter Milan may have won the European Cup in 2010, but that owed more to Mourinho and his ability to organise an experienced defence than to any great football going forward. The biggest threat to Arsenal from AC Milan is simply that they are AC Milan, and that name is one to be feared. The first leg is away from home, which should provide us with some advantage ahead of the home game. A score draw or (please God) an away win, would see Arsenal as massive favourites. It is certainly a tie that can be won, and then the tournament is anybody's - don't forget that we were Nicklas Bendtner's first-touch away from knocking out Barcelona last season.

Talking of Bendtner I see that the Dane has been arrested on suspicion of damaging cars in Newcastle. It remains to be seen whether he has done anything untoward. However, the sort of adverse publicity this thing tends to bring will not put him in the good books of his new Manager. I suspect that Martin O'Neill will not stand for any nonsense, especially from a "hired-hand" like Bendtner. If O'Neill decides to get rid of Bendtner then Arsenal have a potentially disruptive player knocking about in the second half of the season, having already blotted his copy-book by slagging the Club earlier in the campaign. I just hope he's done nothing wrong and stays put until May so that Arsenal can sell him (though he will need to score some goals for that to happen!)

I'll preview the Manchester City match tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Still some dead wood around

TR7 - one of those who could be on his way next month

One of the best things about the Summer changes was the sight of certain players finally being shown the exit door. Three of those players actually still belong to us - Denilson, Vela and Bendtner. However, I would be pretty amazed if any of these ever wear Arsenal red and white again. The problem Arsenal have had is that this trio are all being paid an inordinate sum in weekly wages. We can only speculate as to how much Arsenal are still paying each week for these players, even though they are playing elsewhere on loan. The departures of those three has allowed Coquelin and Frimpong to emerge as genuine competition to Alex Song in midfield, while Benik Afobe would also have benefited from the leaving of Bendtner and Vela had he not picked up a serious injury on the eve of the season (I suspect Ju Young Park would not be an Arsenal player had Afobe stayed fit).
Despite the mass clear-out, there remains some dead wood around the place, picking up a wage but not being part of things. I am, largely, talking about Sebastien Squillaci and Manuel Almunia. The case of Squillaci is surely one that can be concluded in January (depending on how much Arsenal are paying the man) as he is now the sixth choice centre-back at the Club, behind Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Djourou, and Miquel. This does none of us any favours, least of all the experienced Squillaci who could probably do without seeing out the last couple of years of his career playing very occasional Reserve games for Arsenal. Almunia, meanwhile, is a victim of the misplaced faith shown in him by Arsene Wenger. I believe that Manuel is still the second best goalkeeper at Arsenal, and he is a fine number two in normal circumstances. However, his situation is coloured by his past as an inappropriate first-choice 'keeper whose confidence, and standing with a large number of supporters, has been taken to such a low level that his presence in the team would cause panic on all sides. That is a shame, as the improvement in Almunia as a player since he arrived at Arsenal is immense. His treatment from the Manager over the past six months is criminal, and Wenger was forced to recall him on Saturday due to injury to the two clowns who currently sit above him, but behind Szczesny, in the pecking order. I'd like to have been a fly on the wall as Wenger had to go and ask Almunia to be part of things again after the defeat in Athens. The point I am making so laboriously is that there are at least two spaces to be created (I would be happy with any, or all, of the understudy goalkeepers being sold) in the squad (one would need to be replaced - step forward Steve Harper as our new number two goalkeeper, please - and one wouldn't). Such space could then be filled with other experienced signings.
Along with those who are never/rarely involved are people like Tomas Rosicky who are neither here, nor there. Last season Rosicky was involved far too often as he simply couldn't find anything like his form. This season he played really well on more than one occasion, only to not get a look in when the likes of Ramsey clearly needed a break. The departure of a player like Tomas would see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain moving up the pecking order, and not before time. If Arshavin was also to join a January exodus then a fit and firing Ryo Miyaichi could be the shock of the second-half of the season - his lightning pace could scare the life out of tired opposition full-backs as the season nears its end come April and May.
All such musings are merely pie in the sky with regards to what Arsenal will do in the real World, but I wouldn't complain too much if such events unfolded.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

We're back - hopefully for the duration

Once again I find myself apologising for a hiatus in the output from this site over the past week. As regulars will know I have moved house and I've finally had the broadband connection set up today. I had planned to get previews and reviews written in the interim, but I was scuppered by the death of my old laptop. As a result I have had to invest in a new model, so it was off to Currys yesterday in search of a bargain. Now, hopefully, all the upheaval is over and done with, and we can get some regularity to the blog again.

The most disappointing aspect of not being able to write properly this past week was missing out on the 125 celebrations over the weekend. Arsenal do pretty well at getting this kind of thing right and Saturday was no exception. The parade of the legends was handled superbly well by Tom Watt. I find Watt irritating at times when I watch him presenting Fans Forum, but he is very much a fan, first and foremost. His introduction for each player was right on the button. The other things laid on by the Club were impressive, including a video with an Arsene Wenger voiceover describing the beginnings of Dial Square FC. Sadly the Arsenal soundtrack, designed specifically for the day, was played at ridiculously low volume, in stark contrast to the usual assault on the eardrums that we are regularly dealt. I was extremely pleased that our PA announcer (the worst in the World) Paul Burrell finally dispensed with the ridiculous "calling back" of the players name's. Unfortunately he once again missed the moment at the final whistle when surely "One-nil to the Arsenal" (the Ian Wright version, rather than the real "Go West") or "Good Old Arsenal" should have blared out - therein is the difference between a fan like Tom Watt, who understands other fans, and a man who seems to be completely clueless.
The game itself was frustrating for our profligacy in front of goal in the first-half. Quite how Theo can claim he wants to play at centre-forward, and then pass up on the chance to shoot at an open goal I have no idea. Once again Robin Van Persie scored the goal - I can't believe that anyone will score a better goal than that all season, anywhere in the Premier League - from an assist by Alex Song. I thought Song was man of the match again on Saturday, simply outstanding. In the end the result was all that mattered, and the 125 celebrations were not a damp squib.

Arsene has made some fairly encouraging comments regarding transfers in January today. He has finally acknowledged that we will be short in attack with the absence of Gervinho and Chamakh. The prospect of one or two new players makes me optimistic. I don't see him bringing in any further defenders, despite the injury problems at full-back (I said the ramifications of losing Andre Santos would be felt for a long time, and it seems I was right). However, if he does bring in a striker or two, we could yet get somewhere this season. I keep on about it, but a loan deal involving Thierry Henry must be a possibility. The other striker I would like to see come in next month is Demba Ba from Newcastle. He has proven his worth across the whole year, playing in mediocre team's, so I believe he would be an excellent addition - he is also not cup-tied for Europe.
As far as transfer speculation goes, that's about all you'll hear from me on the subject. I will be continuing my policy of paying no attention whatsoever to the nonsense gossip in the papers and online.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Olympiacos 3 - 1 Arsenal review, Something for the Leeds United fans

Arshavin - no more chances, get rid

Last night was supposed to be a game of no importance whatsoever. The result, disappointing though it was, remains inconsequential. However, Arsenal may be feeling the effects of the defeat in Athens for a few weeks to come. I really can't understand why Vermaelen and Santos were selected to play last night. I was convinced the back four was going to be Yennaris, Squillaci, Djourou and Miquel. There was no need for any of the first-choice players to start that match. You just knew that one of the pair would be injured, and so it has come to pass. With only one fit full-back in the first-team squad it was imperative, surely, that Andre Santos should be wrapped in cotton-wool. From what we've been told this morning it seems that Thomas Vermaelen will have to move to left-back for the foreseeable future. This will weaken the defence as a whole. I know Vermaelen has played there regularly throughout his career, but when he's played there for Arsenal he has looked all at sea. We will also badly miss his influence in the centre of the defence.
The game itself probably got the right result in terms of the performance from both teams. Having said that we should have been two goals up before they scored, with Arshavin and Chamakh both wasting clear opportunities to put Arsenal ahead. Arshavin then lost the ball in midfield and Squillaci and Djourou got unlucky as the Greeks went ahead. However, the defence was awful from the start, with Squillaci quickly erasing the memory of his good performance against Manchester City. 
Shortly before we lost Fabianski I was thinking to myself that the best thing that could happen would be for him to go off with an injury. I suppose it shows just what I know about football. Vito Mannone did well to come and win a header on the edge of the Arsenal area, but his second attempt to clear would have been hilarious had it happened to someone not playing for us. After that the big Italian looked nervous pretty much every time the ball went near him, though those in the back-four did little to protect him (especially Djourou and Squillaci). 
The main villain for me last night was Andrey Arshavin. I can not abide a player who does not try. Marouane Chamakh may have been poor (again) last night, but at least he gives it everything. Arshavin has become a waste of space over the past eighteen months, and January must see the end of his Arsenal career. I do not want to see him in an Arsenal shirt again. He was playing in his preferred position last night so there are no more excuses available. Arshavin's time at Arsenal got off to a wonderful start. We know how good he really is. But he is lazy and not committed. He must now be sold.
As I said earlier, the result didn't matter much. I felt the three younger players (and there were only three starting the game, despite Tony Gale and Bill Leslie's repeated references to the "young team" who "must learn" - close to cretinism) all did well. Oxlade-Chamberlain was great on the ball again, while Frimpong and Coquelin ran all night in midfield. Tony Gale seems to dislike Frimpong for some reason and continually slagged the boy - I somehow suspect Frimpong may go on to have more success than Gale could have dreamed of as a player. Next up is a stern Premier League test at home to Everton.

At the top of the page you will see that I describe the site as being "for Arsenal fans, and football fans in general." As such I hope the Gooners reading this will indulge me as I mention a man who I have come to despise over the years. The man is Peter Ridsdale, former Chairman of Leeds United, Barnsley, Cardiff City and Plymouth Argyle. All four of these Club's have something in common, apart from (but very much linked to) Ridsdale - they have gone in to financial meltdown at his hands. Now, having overseen what will surely be the ultimate disappearance of Plymouth Argyle, Ridsdale has been made Chairman of Preston North End.
What happened to Leeds United is well documented. Now, I have no more time for Leeds than the next man, but I can recognise that a big Club like that shouldn't have fallen to where it did. The only reason for Leeds free-fall was Ridsdale's profligacy with their money. Seth Johnson, for example, was paid around £15,000 more per week than he and his agent had planned to ask for. Throughout all the time that Leeds were riding high Ridsdale was a regular face on TV as he attempted to make himself the public figurehead of the Club. When it all started to go wrong he was suddenly nowhere to be seen. The same has happened at every Club he has been to.
I watched an interview with Ridsdale on Sky last night where he spoke of how "I" had been successful at Leeds, and how "I" had overseen five top-five finishes in the Premier League, and how the financial meltdown at Elland Road had "only occurred after I left." This guy really should be on the cretin list. My mate Doug (from Leeds) texted me last night and said "...if he ran supermarkets even Iceland's wouldn't touch him." And that sums up Ridsdale for me. Yet, for some reason he is still in football. What exactly do Club's see in the man? And why, having overseen the bankrupting of four different football Club's, has the FA not banned Peter Ridsdale from football? It is a shocking dereliction of duty from the ruling body.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Olympiacos (a) preview

Oxlade-Chamberlain - another chance to shine

My house move is now complete so I can begin to return to some semblance of normality. As I wrote the other day I will have no broadband (or landline!) at home until 13th December (I won't be recommending TalkTalk to anybody in a hurry). As a result the blog will still not be quite as regular as I would like, but I should be able to do the normal preview and match review pieces. As we hurtle towards January the transfer rumours will begin to grow. I will be adopting my usual stance on this and commenting on little, or none, of it. If the Summer showed us anything it was that the press have no idea whatsoever what is going on in the market as far as Arsenal bringing in players is concerned.
From what I've seen and read of Saturday's game the boys put in as good a performance as they have all season. To go to a wind and rain swept Northern outpost and win 4-0 shows that this team does possess certain qualities that its predecessors were maybe missing. I know the goalkeeper was at fault for our first goal, but Arteta simply proved that shooting for goal might just bring some reward occasionally. Theo Walcott seems to have been impressive again and I think that his recent run really has something to do with the presence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the competition for places that he brings with him. All credit to Walcott for rising to such a challenge.
Tomorrow the "shadow" Arsenal team are in action in Athens in the final Champions League group match this season. To be able to travel to Greece knowing that the match is inconsequential is something of a bonus. Arsene Wenger has named a squad of 18 and it is basically the same group that was involved against Manchester City last week - the only change being Tomas Rosicky replacing Laurent Koscielny. There is still no Abou Diaby, and I really do wonder if we are going to get an announcement before much longer to say that he has had to retire.
All eyes tomorrow night will be on Oxlade-Chamberlain following his outstanding display last midweek. We should be wary of expecting too much from The Ox. He is still extremely young and inconsistency is almost certainly going to be a feature of his play at times. If he does put in another good display tomorrow then I sincerely hope he moves ahead of Arshavin in the pecking order. I was really disappointed that the Russian got to "play" the last ten minutes at Wigan when, for me, the youngster could have really benefited from the opportunity to do some damage to a demoralised opposition. 
Up front we will see Park and Chamakh once again. You have to think that the pair are in the last chance saloon in terms of needing to make an impression. As I said earlier, January is on the horizon, and a new striker must be a priority if neither of them can get among the goals between now and New Year. Park has been starved of any action worthy of the name (why he hasn't been playing Reserve games I don't know). On the other hand I suspect the reason for him not getting game time with the first-team is that he is just not up to the job. The motivation should surely be there for both men to put in the hard yards tomorrow night and try to impress.

I'll get a match review done on Wednesday. A win would be nice, as ever, but a narrow defeat shouldn't do too much damage. If the players can perform at the same level as they did against City last week then a good result is really not beyond them.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

How our expectations have changed in two months

Still some optimists out there

I posted a poll on here a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to gauge some reaction to how the new squad had apparently turned things around. The results of the poll can be found on the right of this page.
Following the Blackburn game I wrote a post in which I stated my belief that Arsenal were in a relegation battle. I was far from the only person to have been at Ewood Park that day and felt the same thing. We were so bad that there seemed no hope of pushing towards the upper echelons of the Premier League this season. Since then the players have been excellent. They eked out results to begin with, starting from scratch. As the weeks and matches have passed the good football has returned and, when we attack with pace (rather than the constant back and forward across the pitch) Arsenal are as good as just about anybody.
The poll asked where, due to the recent form, people thought we might end up. There were six options - Champions, Runners-up, Champions League, UEFA Cup, Top-half or Bottom-half. Given the form of the team it doesn't surprise me that there is a new found confidence that the Club will consolidate its position this season and finish in the top four. In the poll most of the votes cast (163 of them) have Arsenal securing their place in the elite once more come May. Obviously this is not enough for Arsenal supporters in the grand scheme of things but, given the start the team made this season, top four would now be an achievement for once. I believe it is fair to say that the Runners-up position is not actually out of the question, and 35 of the 260 who responded felt that way. I will choose to ignore the 2 mischievous voters who still think we will finish below tenth.
The thing that amazed me was that 20 people who took the time to vote still believe that Arsenal will be Champions this season. Don't get me wrong, I love an optimist. But Champions? I would love to be proved wrong, but somehow I fear the Premier League Title will not reside at Arsenal next Summer. I suppose you have to admire those that would cling to such hopes.
Wherever Arsenal do end up I can honestly say that I did not expect to be sitting here on December 1st and thinking that we could challenge for the top two. I do believe a trophy is now possible this season, though it will almost certainly have to be the FA Cup (the draw for the Carling Cup semi-final makes narrow defeat on Tuesday all the more frustrating). More than anything I am happy that the relegation battle I feared as I left Blackburn is now a distant memory.