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Monday, 31 December 2012

Entertainment, Let the madness be ignored

Becoming a potent pairing

At 3-3 (and regardless of whether Arsenal won the game) I was all set to complain about how our awful defending will cost us dear come the end of the season. However, when you go on to score seven and produce such an incredible display of attacking football it would be churlish to bang on about the way we failed to protect our goal. All I will say about that is that Jack Wilshere turning his back on the free-kick was awful (had he been listening to Ferguson?) and Sagna had a terrible game from start to finish. Also Kieran Gibbs was badly at fault for the third equaliser (though not for the second as ESPN and their commentators would have you believe - why are these people incapable of actually analysing the play?) Szczesny had another very decent game and could do nothing about the goals Arsenal conceded.
What about that second-half going forward? I felt the first-half was a return to the slow and sideways rubbish that has dominated the season. However, I'm informed by people who were actually there, and not watching on TV like myself, that the feeling in the stadium was quite different. As much as I felt we didn't play so well in the first-half I certainly didn't go along with Chris Waddle claiming that Newcastle had "dominated" the game. This man is being paid to give an "expert" view on the game yet he fails to see that almost all the chances had been Arsenal's (more on the commentary team below). The football Arsenal played after half-time was devastating. Right from the kick-off there appeared more urgency, especially when closing down the opposition. The pace of Walcott and Chamberlain was too much for Newcastle's defence. I speculated in the preview piece that their exertions at Old Trafford might have an effect and so it proved in the last twenty minutes. Having said that you still have to take advantage and Arsenal were ruthless for a change. I don't know why Ramsey was brought on to play on the left-wing, and I thought Coquelin should have been introduced earlier, but those are small gripes on such a day.
Theo Walcott has predictably grabbed the headlines for his super performance. With better decisions from Theo we might have had double figures but a hat-trick and two assists is more than enough I would say. Obviously the usual talk about his future and his contract etc came to the fore. My view has been recorded a few times on this site so I won't go over it again. What I will say is that I am becoming increasingly impressed with Walcott's combination with Olivier Giroud. Robin Van Persie was always quick last season to recognise the contribution Theo was making to his golden year. Giroud is the main benficiary of Walcott's supply this time around. The cross for Giroud's first goal was the best I've seen from an Arsenal player in many a year, perhaps since Anders Limpar was picking out Alan Smith. Giroud was incredibly unlucky not to have got his own hat-trick as he saw what would have been Arsenal's eigth goal come back off the bar. As it happened Walcott did get a hat-trick of course. His first goal was reminiscent of the trademark Thierry Henry finish across the goalkeeper, the second showing a newly found calmness under pressure (a confident Theo is a dangerous Theo) while his third showed skill and determination. I have often considered Walcott to be easy to defend against when faced up one on one as he usually runs in straight lines. For the third goal, however, he shimmied and side-stepped and moved the ball around the defenders. What should have been a certain penalty (though I'm really not sure Foy was giving it) turned in to the best finish we'll see from an Arsenal player this season. Simply a stunning individual goal to cap a great game.
Watching on TV is never a nice experience, especially for home games, and even more especially on ESPN. This week we were subjected to John Champion and Chris Waddle. Arsenal supporters have been subjected to many a biased commentary over the years, but these two were pushing for the top prize on Saturday evening. Leaving aside the fact that Waddle can't actually speak English his anti-Arsenal views are tiresome in the extreme. You got the impression on Saturday that every piece of good play by Theo Walcott was like a knife twisting in Waddle's stomach. I swear he was actually crying when Theo got his hat-trick. After all, no public figure (not even Alan Hansen) has been quite so vitriolic in their criticism of Walcott. The thing that Waddle needs to remember is that his own career saw him win nothing without bribes from his Chairman. His hatred of Arsenal no doubt stems not just from his association with Spurs but also to the fact that we ended his dreams of a trophy in England in two Final's in 1993. What we also heard on ESPN the other day was the habitual love for the Newcastle supporters. Apparently they are "great" fans. John Champion kept wanting to tell us. He also kept telling us how quiet it was at the ground. When the Gooners got behind the team after half-time he ridiculed them. The fact is that all the big Club's play to quiet stadia unless their winning. Believe it or not the "great" fans do not create an atmosphere at St James' Park unless they're on top (a lot of them have gone back to not turning up, such is the poor form of the side this season). Incidentally, I would like to point out that the "great" fans actually only bought up half their allocation of tickets for Saturday and Arsenal sold the remainder to home supporters. In short, Champion and Waddle are a couple of cretins.

Today is New Years Eve. That means the transfer window opens tomorrow. I really hope Arsenal are busy, with both ins and outs from the Club. We know where we need more players and better players, and we know who we need to get rid of (that idiot Collymore claimed that Tomas Rosicky "must" be sold by Arsenal in one of the papers yesterday - another cretin is Collymore). There will now be the usual "speculation" about who will be signing for whom etc. The press call it speculation, I call it utter b******s. I will be adopting the usual policy of ignoring the nonsense and only commenting if a transfer looks like being a sure thing, or if it actually happens. If you want to go in for all that rubbish then be my guest, but you won't get your fix of it on this site. I hope that, come January 31st (preferably sooner) we have brought in an experienced goalkeeper, a physically strong midfield player and a couple of strikers. I hope we've got rid of a number of players on a permanent basis. Most of it won't happen, so I'll try not to lose sleep over it, though that won't be as easy as ignoring the b******s.

I don't go in for the whole New Year celebration thing. It's not my idea of something to celebrate but each to their own. That being the case I'll wish you a Happy New Year and I look forward to Arsenal getting some tangible success in 2013. Here's to a trophy come May.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Arsenal v Newcastle United match preview

Another winner today please Skipper

I'm not going to the match today. As I told you yesterday my children have both been ill all week and I'd decided I was going to stay at home even before this mornings latest vomiting episode. As such my nephew will be getting a day out on my ticket and I hope the boys can give him a win to celebrate as they bring down the curtain on 2012. I will have to make do with ESPN but if Waddle or Burley are on I'll probably watch it with the sound down.
I have to say that the fixture computer has got things seriously wrong this season with its Christmas fixtures. First of all it's ridiculous that Newcastle are having to travel to London for a late kick-off during the Holidays. It's also ridiculous that teams have been given two home or two away games to play during this week. It's not fair on the players and it certainly isn't fair on the paying punters. Its time the FA sorted out this kind of nonsense.
The team news sees Olivier Giroud and Tomas Rosicky returning to the squad following illness last week. Arsenal's players should certainly be fresh having had the whole week to recover since winning at Wigan. Newcastle, meanwhile, had a tough game at Manchester United and were maybe unfortunate not to get anything out of the match. I hope it was gruelling enough to have left their players heavy legged for their trip to North London. It will be interesting to see if Theo Walcott continues up front or whether a refreshed Giroud will be preferred. Personally, as ever, I would like to see us playing two men up front at home. You could see in the second half on Wednesday how Man Utd gave Newcastle trouble with two men through the centre. I really don't see Walcott being physical enough against two big centre-backs, but put the aerially dominant Giroud up there with him and it's a different prospect.
I don't really see too many changes being made to Arsenal's winning team. Apart from my wish for the two up front I don't much see the need to change. As I said, the players should be fit and raring to go this afternoon. There is absolutely no reason why Arsenal should not be dominating a struggling Newcastle. Obviously Demba Ba can cause us problems, as can Papiss Cisse and the two Ameobi's, but Arsenal should be able to dominate possession to such an extent that they become a sideshow. Obviously we know that Arsenal will not dominate quite so much as that.
Last season saw a tough game when we met Newcastle at home. Tim Krul started his time wasting in the first minute and carried on unpunished until injury-time. Robin Van Persie ended up in a running verbal battle with his fellow Dutchman until Thomas Vermaelen rammed home a close-range winner in injury-time and the feud turned physical. I hope we have a stronger referee this afternoon as Pardew is sure to send out his side with the same tactics to spoil and annoy. As long as we end up with another win I don't much care - there's something rather special about a last minute winner from Thomas Vermaelen.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Mid-season review

Highlight of 2012-13 so far

I hope you have all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with family and friends etc. My own Christmas was somewhat spoiled by both of my children being sick with a vomitting bug. As such the celebrations were not exactly as intended this year. Christmas is my favourite time of the whole year so it's been a bit of a tough week in our house. Thankfully Arsenal's game was called off on Boxing Day so the chance for West Ham to spoil the mood even further was taken away.
When I wrote this piece just before Christmas last season I referred to how bad things had been going in to the season with the Fabregas and Nasri sales, followed by the panic buying that had come too late to avoid humiliation at Old Trafford. This year Arsenal made their signings fairly early, but we still went through the annual charade of saying our best player was not for sale, before then selling him to a rival. This year we at least made excellent money on a player who had one year left on his contract. When you consider how much we let Fabregas go for I would say the fee received for Robin Van Persie was astronomical. I'm sure I'm not the only Gooner that was hoping Van Persie would be a "one season wonder" or that he would return to his natural environment in the treatment room. As it turns out he is the main reason for United being seven points clear as I write.
The season didn't start too badly for Arsenal. We should have beaten Sunderland on day one, but a solid draw at Stoke was followed by a great win at Liverpool and a draw at Man City in a game we pretty much dominated. The lack of goals from our new centre-forward, and his regular missing of chances, gave us worries for the season ahead but it had been a very encouraging start.
We had also made a winning start in Europe, and Giroud got off the mark in a Walcott-inspired six-goal win over Coventry in the League Cup. All in all I think most Gooners were pleasantly surprised at our opening to the season. Then Chelsea came to play at our place. What followed was the start of the incresingly frustrating inconsistency and the end of what had seemingly been an improved defence. Thomas Vermaelen's form has dipped alarmingly this season and only the class of Per Mertesacker has saved us on a number of occasions. Personally I would far rather see the Captain left out in favour of Laurent Koscielny.
The Chelsea game was a really poor performance, but probably only after Abou Diaby had limped off after banjaxing himself kicking a ball. Indeed, most of our problems have stemmed from not having Diaby in the side. Without him there was no player in our midfield with the ability to drive at the opposition. A Diaby fit enough to play a game makes Arsenal a far better team. Sadly that is too rare a sight. I see that he is due back in training again next week. That line has filled me with dread. If Diaby is returning to training then I fear Wenger will once again use it as an excuse not to make the necessary signings in January, just as he did in the Summer.
The performances at Norwich, Bradford, Manchester United and Aston Villa were simply unacceptable. As were those at home to Fulham, Schalke and Swansea. When you think about those games it is easy to see why Arsene Wenger's popularity is on the wane with many Gooners.
There has been some quality, of course. The Spurs game, after Adebayor got himself sent off, has provided the high point of the season so far. The Reading game early last week, and the contrasting style of the win at Wigan last Saturday, give encouragement. But you just feel with this Arsenal team that the next "can't be bothered" display is just around the corner.
Despite the home defeat to Schalke the boys still managed to qualify in Europe with a game to spare. The inconsistency of the side, all in one game at Olympiacos, cost us first place in the group. The second-half in Athens was as awful as the first-half had been superb. Without Rosicky after half-time there was nothing there for Arsenal. As a result we are now facing Bayern Munich rather than Galatassaray. Who would you rather be facing - a team with Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, or a team with Emmanuel Eboue?
The League Cup defeat at Bradford, just as Arsene Wenger had seemingly realised the importance of real silverware has probably cost us our best chance of a trophy this season - only Chelsea should have provided a threat to us, to be honest. The players have only themselves to blame for the fact they were outplayed that night. Arsene Wenger completely misread things when he chose to defend the players after the game. There are times when a public dressing down is what the fans want to hear. This was certainly one of them. Now we start with a tough FA Cup tie at Swansea next week, though I fully expect the players to produce in South Wales after the way they were humiliated at home by The Swans a few weeks back. Silverware is still available and we have to hope Arsenal's players can rise to the occasion and get us some.
The Premier League Title is way beyond us already. As such we will be looking to the false economy of "the top four" for some measure of "success". In the absence of a trophy I suppose you have to hope for Champions League qualification, even if you have hardly any chance of actually winning the damn thing. The details released by Emirates last week over the need for Champions League football are stark, and are yet another indictment on Ivan Gazidis and his staff. It would appear that without that qualification the so called £150m sponsorship deal is nowhere near that figure. What kind of idiots are running Arsenal's business side?
The transfer window once again looms and Wenger is already preparing the ground for not getting business done early. Apparently we "don't set the pace" of the transfer window. Well Arsene, I have some news for you - if you offer the requisite money for the player you want, you can sign them at any time you so desire. If he wants David Villa then he should pay Barcelona what they're asking, then Villa could be in the side at Swansea next week. By the same token we are now prevaricating over re-signing Thierry Henry. If you want him then get it done, if you don't then just bloody well say so. The supporters deserve so much more than we are given with this sort of crap being spoken by the Manager.
As well as ins there must also be some outs. If Theo Walcott isn't signing then he must be sold, even if it's just for a couple of million. Andrey Arshavin must be sold, even for next to nothing. Marouane Chamakh and Sebastien Squillaci must be bombed out, even if it's on a free transfer. Three of those four players do not get a game at Arsenal, yet are earning over £200,000 per week between them. Get rid of them. If you have to do it on the cheap in order that a buying club can cover their wages then so be it. Andre Santos is another player who must surely be moved on - his shirt-swapping at Old Trafford really was the final nail in a coffin built around some terrible defending from the Brazillian.
We currently sit in seventh place, and that is way too low. Had we played Boxing Day we well have been fourth, but that too is below acceptable when it is 13 points behind the side in first. Spending money is no guarantee of success, of course. But it sure as hell makes it more likely that you'll have a chance. Jack Wilshere's return to the side has been a bonus as he has pretty much hit the ground running. However, he is more than likely to hit the wall again before we reach May. The need for reinforcements is huge. We need experienced, and capable, cover for Szczesny. We need a decent left-back to cover for Kieran Gibbs, though I would accept the promotion of Jernade Meade in the interim. Cover is required for Mikel Arteta, a replacement for Diaby and also for Walcott is a priority. We also need a centre-forward and I fully expect to see one come in before January ends. To be honest, I'd rather it wasn't Demba Ba - we have enough players with dodgy knees at Arsenal.
It's been a tough first-half to this season, as it was last year. If we are to achieve our minimum aims then Arsenal must be far better after Christmas is over. What we've seen in Autumn has not been good enough. The remainder of Winter and Spring must be ten times better.

More tomorrow morning, I hope, with a preview of the Newcastle game.

Monday, 24 December 2012

It's Christmas Eve Gooners!

Happy Christmas from It's MY Arsenal Opinion

The cancellation of Boxing Day football for Arsenal is a welcome thing for me. I don't like going to matches on Boxing Day and any game kicking off after midday (do you remember when we used to kick off early at Christmas?) means I definitely won't be attending. As such I was already not going to the West Ham game. Thankfully London Underground have exercised their democratic rights to industrial action and forced the hand of the relevant authorities. If Islington Council hadn't closed off every road in the borough to matchday parking then it wouldn't be a problem, so I blame (thank?) them! Because of the postponement there is no match preview to write today.
This time last season we were already aware that a deal to bring back Thierry Henry was all but done, giving us even more to celebrate during Christmas. This year Liverpool have already shown that you need not wait for January to start before strengthening the squad. Sadly things do not work like that at Arsenal. After all, this is a place where people who work for less than three hours per day don't have time to discuss contracts etc. Obviously there will be no movement in or out of the Club over the next four or five days so feel free to pay even less notice than usual to the "gossip" in the newspapers - they have space to fill at Christmas, too.

As is traditional I would like to sum up how things have gone for this blog over the course of the past year. When I wrote on this day in 2011 I noted that the site had seen nearly 300,000 hits. As I write today that figure has gone past 600,000. It is really quite astounding that the nonsense I write has been seen by so many. This year has seen a reduction in output from me as a change in my shift roster has made less time available for writing. This change has also seen me attend fewer games than I would wish too, thought I still get to the vast majority of home fixtures. In the last four months the numbers reading individual posts has dropped considerably. I don't know if this is because the writing is less regular or if people are just fed up with the poor quality of it. It may be that there is a larger pro-Wenger group than I realise and they have no wish to read me ranting over his failings again and again. I do try to not say the same things over and over again but the performance of the team largely dictates what I have to say. Whatever the reasons, I hope that those of you who do check in regularly are enjoying it and that what I say is at least occasionally thought provoking. I would love for more people to comment on the stuff I write, whether it be on the site itself or on Facebook (It's  MY Arsenal Opinion) or Twitter (@ARSENALDvbrisG).
There have been a few highs and far too many lows for Arsenal across the year of 2012. There are three moments in the year that stick out for me as "I was there" moments. Obviously there have been many wins and more than a few defeats, but it's the ones that stick out that I really want to write about here.
The first of these, and the lowest point for me, has to be the defeat at Bradford. We'd seen some awful displays from this Arsenal team against Norwich, Man Utd, Swansea etc. However, to be comprehensively outplayed by a team from the fourth division was utterly humiliating. They say it's darkest just before dawn. Let's hope that things get no darker for a long time to come.
The second moment to stand out for me was the return of The King. When that ball hit the net against Leeds the new stadium seemed maybe more homely than it ever had before. You wouldn't think a late goal, after another insipid display, against lower league opponents could draw such emotion. Some things are just meant to be, I suppose, and that goal from Thierry Henry was one of my favourite moments ever watching Arsenal.
The final special moment was the 5-2 win over Tottenham in February. At 2-0 down after 40 minutes it was over. The game, the season, maybe even the Manager were all finished. What followed was to be one of those days that provide the reason for going to football. Walcott finally announced himself as an Arsenal player with a second-half that tore Tottenham to shreds. Tomas Rosicky rediscovered that he is a top player and inspired those around him in one of the finest examples of attacking football you'll ever see. The celebrations of the fifth goal will live long in the memory for me.

Any chance of a trophy Father Christmas?

I hope that you all enjoy the most wonderful Christmas and I look forward to a 2013 that will see us finally sign a couple of top quality players, and end up at Wembley with a trophy - whether that be the FA Cup or, shock of shocks, the European Cup.

Happy Christmas.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Nothing wrong with an ugly win

Not sure why they're arguing about this

I often say that as long as Arsenal win then I've had all the entertainment I require. Yesterday was one such day. The weather conditions and the fact that Wigan play on a rugby pitch meant it was always going to be totally different to the game at Reading last week. The Arsenal team was the same but I thought the way they went about winning the game in a very different way was encouraging. I notice we're not getting much credit for gaining a result from a difficult away fixture, but we're not Manchester United so there is no reason to hope for the media to heap praise upon the players.
The referee yesterday was generally very poor indeed. I don't understand why the FA persists with its belief that a man in his forties, who is at least a stone overweight, is a suitable person to referee a Premier League football match. Mr Moss was way out of his depth. As a result Jack Wilshere spent the first-half being kicked all over the pitch by McCarthy and co in the Wigan midfield. When Jack then made one of the best tackles you will see all season he was booked for it. Yet another of the joke FA policies is that you can't appeal yellow cards so Jack moves one closer to a suspension thanks to an incompetent idiot.
Jean Beausejour, who has to be one of the worst full-backs ever to play in the Premier League, clearly felt the only way he could stop Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (what a return to form he's made in recent weeks) was by swiping his legs away. There was one incident in the first-half where Beausejour knocked himself off his feet by kicking wildly at the fresh-air recently vacated by the flying Ox. In the second-half he simply couldn't deal with Chamberlain as Arsenal took control.
I thought the Wigan fans, all three of them, were entertaining. Their chants of "England, England" at the travelling Gooners were utterly stupid given the respective number of Englishmen in each side. These big England fans then proceeded to boo English football's brightest young midfield talent whenever Jack Wilshere got hold of the ball. It's only an aside, but it's the sort of thing that sums up the mickey-mouse fans you get at mickey-mouse football clubs. They should stick to the rugby.
I heard the first five minutes of the second-half on Radio 5 as I was driving to work. Ex-Wigan boss Paul Jewell was the highly impartial co-commentator for the BBC. I can only assume that he and his colleagues were watching a different game in the first-half. According to them Arsenal had been a distant second before half-time. They were revelling in what they saw as Arsenal being outplayed. It showed to me how easy it is for radio to give a false impression to a listener who is not actually seeing things for themselves. As far as I was concerned Arsenal did just fine before half-time and had good opportunities early on. Wigan worked hard at closing Arsenal down, but that was about it apart form Kone missing his one-on-one with Szczesny.
I saw the rest of the game on my phone and I thought our goal was very much deserved. Beausejour had no answer to Oxlade-Chamberlain and we started to create again. When Walcott combined with Cazorla inside the box we got our reward with the penalty (Cazorla was back in his shell again yesterday but he played a Bergkamp type role with his only contribution when having a poor game). As soon as Walcott showed the nous (and strength) to get his body in front of Beausejour there was only one outcome. It was certainly clever play from Walcott but it was also a stick-on penalty. Arteta dispatched it and that's all that matters. Wigan may well have a gripe over the handball claim against Kieran Gibbs late on, and I have certainly seen penalties given in those circumstances. There is no reason to have your arms up like that. The worst thing a football will do is break your nose, but players are paid a lot of money to get hit by the ball. If a penalty had been given we couldn't have had too many complaints but for once we got the right end of a decision that could have gone either way.
After Arteta's goal we were on the back foot and Wojciech Szczesny was outstanding. He is another player who has showed signs of real form these past few weeks. Some of his saves yesterday were really first rate. As we started to struggle I thought Arsene Wenger just about got the subs right. I probably wouldn't have taken off Chamberlain as he was our attacking outlet, but Ramsey did okay when he came on. Francis Coquelin made a huge difference when he entered the fray and shored up midfield with some excellent tackling. Coquelin is having a fine season when he plays and should really have seen more action than he has.
There are people who will say that the last two wins are simply papering over the cracks in this Arsenal team. That is a valid point. However, I would far rather be papering over the cracks of a side that is in third place as I write rather than staring in to the deep chasms of a side falling in to the bottom half of the table.

Normally I would have had the mid-season review posted between the last game and Christmas itself. The fixtures have fallen in such a way that it hasn't been possible this year. I will do the mid-season piece later in the week, probably on Friday. There will be the annual festive Christmas Eve round-up tomorrow.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Santi's early Christmas presents

More often please

When Santi Cazorla decides to play Arsenal tend to win. The same thing applies to Lukas Podolski. The problem is that this happens far too rarely. When you see the way the little Spaniard performed last night you can see why he quickly established himself as a fans favourite at Arsenal. The touches, the skills, the shooting, even the diving headers (!) were all there at Reading. We also saw it at Liverpool and at home to Tottenham. Exactly the same things, and the same games, apply to Podolski. The German looked a yard quicker last night, particularly in setting up Cazorla's first goal. He came alive in the penalty area when Gibbs pulled the ball back towards him for his goal. When Podolski is at it you will see Arsenal doing well. What I want to know is why it happens so sporadically. Last week at Bradford Podolski looked as disinterested as it's possible to be (in fairness to Cazorla he was one of the few bright spots last week). Whatever it is both men need to produce this sort of form consistently if Arsenal are to fight their way in to the Champions League for next season (a week until Christmas and that's already the limit of our Premier League hopes, I'm afraid).
It was difficult to "enjoy" last night as such. If I'd been there I would have been loving it, I'm sure. Sat at home, with all that's happened recently, I couldn't help but feel a little detached. The team has a lot of ground to make up, not only in the League, but also with the supporters. Performances like last night will go a long way to doing so, and there is plenty of opportunity for that over the next three weeks.
Theo Walcott finally got to play up front last night and I thought he took his opportunity. He should have scored when one-on-one in the first-half - the type of chance he normally buries - and got his deserved goal to make the game absolutely safe after our usual second-half panic. I agreed with Gary Neville that Theo might be a bit lost in the role against different opposition, but Reading's defenders were simply scared stiff by his pace. I would also say that a change of tactics/formation against other, better, opponents would mean Theo could still play in the middle. I'm sick of us playing with one man up front, especially at home, so why not play to our limited strengths? Of course Walcott looks less and less likely to be here come August (maybe even February) so Arsenal must make the most of him while we have him. I didn't like his comment after the game that contract negotiations "take time" as that is utter nonsense - just ask Jack Wilshere who was standing next to him at the time.
Of course we had our wobble when Reading got a couple of goals through our own sloppy play. Kieran Gibbs was at fault for the first of those and I thought he had a poor night all round. He was constantly out of position and sloppy with his passing. If it had been Andre Santos people would have been on his back, but in fairness Gibbs has made bad games a rare thing so I think he can be cut some slack. Just so long as it's a few months before we see it again.
One of the reasons we had our panic (apart from our fragile mental state in defence) was that people still refuse to shoot. Cazorla, a couple of times, Chamberlain (who had another good game as his return to form continues) and Wilshere all passed up opportunities to have a go at goal. When Reading scored we had the usual worries. Thankfully Theo calmed the nerves, but not until after the Manager had put us under further pressure. Chamberlain was all over Nicky Shorey with his pace, so to replace him with the pedestrian Ramsey and invite pressure was madness. For all his failings, the running power of Gervinho would have kept us on the front foot.
The main thing that struck me last night was a willingness to play the ball forward for a change. We move the ball at pace and ran at defenders. The ball to Podolski in the lead up to our second goal would not have happened at Bradford as everything was slow and square and backwards. It's not rocket science. When Arsenal play at pace, as we did against Spurs for example, we can destroy teams. Just like in the old days. When Reading got their first goal back we reverted to type and Mertesacker and Vermaelen saw far too much of the ball. This allowed Reading to press us higher up the pitch and put us under pressure. This is where we lack leadership. We need someone to step up and grab the game again by the scruff of the neck and get us on the front foot. In years gone by this is where you'd have seen Tony Adams come out of defence, or Kolo Toure go on a storming run, or Patrick Vieira put in a few tackles. That's what this Arsenal team lacks.
Overall you have to be pleased with a 5-2 win away from home. Cazorla delivered a master class and gave us three early Christmas presents. I hope we can have one or two more at Wigan on Saturday. It remains to be seen whether the players will have Boxing Day off. I know the Club were expecting that to be the case a couple of weeks ago. I wouldn't complain at all as I hate Boxing Day football, especially when it kicks off later than midday. For now, let's enjoy a nice win last night.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The longest week

Shame faced, and so they should be

It has been the longest of weeks to be an Arsenal supporter. It's fair to say that the only people not revelling in our defeat at Bradford is us Gooners. After all, it's been 21 years since the press have had so much ammunition with which to fire shells at Arsenal. I suppose I should start at the beginning and go back to Valley Parade on Tuesday evening.
The Travel Club coaches didn't actually arrive at the ground until about 7.20pm which, given the temperature in Yorkshire, was no bad thing. While sat in the traffic outside the stadium we all heard the team and a collective sense of pleasant surprise went round the coach. Finally Arsene Wenger had decided that an actual trophy was rather more enjoyable than an imaginary one for finishing fourth. The only other time since 1997 (the first time a "shadow" Arsenal team played in the League Cup) that Wenger had put out the first team was in the Final in 2011 against Birmingham. I think we were all certain that the semi-final was in the bank, regardless of our recent failings. Given that the only other time was the defeat at Wembley I suppose we shouldn't be shocked at losing the other night. There's been plenty said all over the place about what happened but one simple fact is that Arsenal's players did not put in the necessary effort to beat Bradford City.
When I got in to the stand I looked at the white-topped pitch and said to my Dad that the game was looking a bit "York City". For ten minutes or so we dominated nicely with Vermaelen and Podolski both missing sitters with their heads. Then Bradford scored and remained the better side up until we equalised some 70-odd minutes later. There was no doubt that Bradford were well worth their win. Arsenal set up in their usual style and passed the ball to death while failing to create anything of note, bar that ridiculous miss by Gervinho on half-time. People get on at Gervinho and Ramsey, and rightly so, but Jack Wilshere was awful the other night until extra-time (even then he chose not to shoot when one-on-one with the goalkeeper) and continually gave the ball away when in possession. Francis Coquelin, the best Arsenal player by a country mile, was inexplicably withdrawn by the Manager shortly in to the second-half. Still we passed the ball relentlessly across the pitch until we eventually gave it away. When we did lose it we saw the ball pumped up to Bradford's number nine (I never did take note of his name) who was making mincemeat of Mertesacker and Vermaelen (how many free-kicks did he give away in wide areas the other night?) As time wore on nothing changed. As usual there was no attempt to mix up the side. Cazorla was looking dangerous from a deep-lying role, but Chamakh was so isolated up front that his hard work (you can't fault his work ethic) was for nothing. Of course we got an undeserved equaliser and you thought maybe we would get out of jail. The Bantams deservedly rode their luck in extra-time and got to penalties.
At this point I have to give Chamakh credit for having the balls to step up. Given that he has not played and gets such stick when he does appear it showed a lot of guts to stick his hand in the air and want a penalty. I suppose he was never likely to actually score, but I was pleased to see a centre-forward putting himself in the firing line. Where, for example, was Tomas Rosicky?
After the game I didn't even feel angry. I think that stage has long since gone for a lot of Gooners. In years to come being there the other night might become a badge of honour. I can see it now, when the youngsters are moaning about a defeat to a team like Ipswich or something, and I say to them "You think this is bad? I went to Bradford!"

Before the game, when we heard the team, my Dad said to me that if we lost then Wenger would surely have to be sacked. The point being that Wenger's first-team would have failed to beat a fourth division side. Of course the sacking was never likely to be forthcoming, but that's not to say that it shouldn't have been. I certainly didn't hear anyone on our coach arguing with others who were calling for his head. In fact I think everyone seemed to be of the same opinion - things will not improve until he is no longer Arsenal Manager. Losing a few Premier League games to perceived minnows is one thing, but being outplayed by a fourth division side was a new and humiliating low. It is beyond my comprehension how anyone can defend what is going on. You can blame the Board, you can blame Stan Kroenke, but only one man puts unmotivated players on the pitch with no tactics whatsoever. Bradford's skipper claims they had a tougher game against Torquay last week which is obviously nonsense. However, when you consider the fact that Arsenal always play the same way you can sort of understand what he's talking about. Did Wenger honestly not think it might have been an idea to switch to 4-4-2 or something at some point, just to put the opposition centre-halves under a bit of pressure? Did he not realise that Ramsey is a waste of space on the right-wing, or that Gervinho will never be a centre-forward? Why did Chamberlain and Rosicky not start the game so that we could use what little pace was available to us from the off? As I said, you can pick fault with everyone you want, but only Arsene Wenger picks and signs the players. That is why he should be removed from his position.

For all that I want Wenger to go I can not sit here and not have a pop at that t****r Stewart Robson. This bitter fool, how has recently been sacked from his job at Arsenal, has claimed that Arsene Wenger "knows nothing about coaching". Now let's be honest here, I think it's fair to say that Arsene Wenger's record as a coach is fairly good. Okay he seems to have a problem with defence, but how can anyone say he knows nothing about coaching? This is the man who developed Thierry Henry, George Weah and Patrick Vieira in to the best players of their generations in their positions. Robson is a p***k of the highest order and pretty much always has been. His behaviour this week was opportunistic and disgusting. It was all about self-publicity in an attempt to bring himself to the attention of the national press and Sky Sports. Robson is after a job and he clearly calculated that saying something so controversial would be great in a "gissa job" kind of way. The thing that summed him up was the caption Sky Sports used for him - "Stewart Robson - Arsenal 1981-86". Given the dates of his Arsenal career I suppose he's well qualified to comment on what it's like to part of a crap Arsenal team. In my lifetime they don't come much worse than that mob.
Robson is clearly the thinking man's cretin. His views are in stark contrast to those of Ray Parlour who defended Wenger against Robson's criticisms. As I'm typing this I'm watching Soccer AM from this morning, where John Lukic has been an excellent and erudite guest. Listening to Parlour and Lukic you get to see who the real Arsenal men are. Fans can have a go all we like - we pay the wages, but former players should always close ranks. It's noticeable that two players from the George Graham era, who played under Wenger, have chosen to be "Arsenal" above all else.

Finally today, in something of a departure from the norm, I'm going to defend Arsene Wenger. Yesterday in The Sun their sports editor, the cretinous Steven Howard, accused Wenger of saddling Arsenal with some of our worst ever players. His piece was illustrated with some pictures of Arsenal players, including Andrey Arshavin. Seriously, he was rating the Russian as one of our worst ever. Howard has made Wenger slagging a weekly sport in his column this past two or three years. He clearly has some kind of personal grudge with Le Boss and should have been banned, along with his newspaper, from all things Arsenal a long time ago. The man also considers himself an expert on other sport including cricket, golf, rugby, boxing, F1, cycling and even darts and snooker (not strictly sports but you get the picture). Well, this week, we have had an extra dose of Howard. Today he has written another anti-Wenger column having seemingly attended his press conference yesterday morning. The best part of today's nonsense comes in the sixth paragraph, "Wenger was in a surprisingly good mood considering he was faced with some of his fiercest critics." Arsene admitted the other week that he does read the papers, and I hope he had a good laugh at that today. Why on Earth should a newspaper journalist consider himself one of Arsene's fiercest critics? Who the f**k do these w*****s think they are? As an Arsenal supporter I have the right to be critical of Arsene Wenger. I actually know a lot less about the game than Wenger does, of course. But as a fan of Arsenal I know a lot more than some numpty who writes for the newspapers. For Howard to have the arrogance to think that Arsene Wenger would give tuppence for his opinion of him (he doesn't care about our opinions and we pay his wages!) just about sums up this idiot. I'd love to meet Howard and tell him what I think of him. Let's be honest, it's bad enough hearing Hansen and Shearer, or Jamie Redknapp, having a pop at Wenger but at least they played the game at the very top level. Who did Steven Howard play for? Probably his Polytechnic 5th XI. W****r.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Ivan Gazidis Exclusive

Arsenal class...at last

On Saturday Ivan Gazidis held his latest Fans Forum meeting with fan representatives at the stadium. There was the usual guff where he skirts around various issues, but there were one or two titbits of information that are more than worth sharing. None of these things are yet being reported anywhere else so I'm getting them in as an exclusive right here.
The first thing to talk about is the shirt/stadium sponsorship deal with Emirates. On the subject of the stadium deal there was a fairly tacit admission that the naming rights extension has been given on the cheap. This is, apparently, because there is not a culture of such deals in Europe. According to Gazidis stadium rights are highly popular in America, but there is less scope over here. Call me stupid, but I dont really see that as being true. Has Gazidis ever heard of the Allianz Arena? Or the Signal Iduna Park? Or the Veltins Arena? The fact is that his team has sold the naming rights for next to nothing and that is a failure on their part.
With regards to the shirt sponsorship Mr Gazidis reported that Arsenal's deal is the best in World football. He bases this statement on the grounds that Manchester United are "in a league of their own". I am honestly not making this up. I have to say it's reassuring to have a man in charge that is able to get us to the very best commercial sponsorship deals in World football, apart from the fact that such a statement is completely inaccurate. Why say you have the best deal in the World when you then have to admit that you haven't? Embarrassing.
Questions were asked over Tom Fox and his nonsense comments last week about how the fans derive pride from Arsenal's commercial work. Gazidis assured those present that the comments were not reported in the way intended. He also claimed that they came in a private conversation that was not meant for the newspapers. Quite how a representative of Arsenal can think he's having a private conversation with journalists I don't know. At the very best it's incredibly naive. However, if it was intended as private, and this had been made clear to the journalists, then those people should be banned from Arsenal events, should they not?
The good news from the meeting comes in two parts, and both of them involve what the players will be wearing next season. Firstly there will be a return to yellow shirts. The Club "reserves the right" to change the colours again in the future, but it seems the purple and black monstrosity (and the low sales of it) has seen them realise what a mistake they've been making. Last week Arsenal Brasil released a sketch of what is likely to be the new shirt and it looks like their source has been spot on yet again. I think we all know it should be red and white at home, yellow and blue away. We keep getting messed about over that, but next season will be much better.
The last thing that I am going to report is something I find very important. I remember going to Derby County in November 1997 and being shocked at seeing the Arsenal players get off the coach wearing tracksuits. This was the first time I had ever seen Arsenal not wearing the club blazer and tie. Since then the players have looked more and more scruffy as they attend matches. The likes of Alex Song really became an embarrassment to Arsenal in the way they dressed with stupid hats and out-sized headphones etc. Meanwhile Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea went the other way and turned up looking like they meant business in club suits. It seems that Thomas Vermaelen is also not a fan of wearing polyester before a game. The Club Captain has requested that Arsenal get the players back in to Arsenal branded suits. At last we will get a bit of class from next season. Bob Wilson often speaks of the pride he felt in turning up at grounds around the country "wearing that big gun on your chest". It really is about time. As ever with Arsenal, though, there is a down side to this story. Apparently the Club can not get the suits until next season as the cost will be up to £250,000 and there isn't time to source the suits before then. Only Arsenal and their incompetent commercial team could fail to see that the suits should be costing them nothing. There they are in London, with no shortage of fashion houses just looking for the next advertisement of their brand. Surely any business the size of Arsenal should be going to Armani or Hugo Boss or whoever and putting together a deal to be the "official suit supplier to Arsenal FC"? You certainly don't have to pay for such things in this day and age. Perhaps that's why Manchester United are in a league of their own - they have a commercial team that knows how to do business properly.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

So much better than last week - Arsenal 2 - 0 West Brom

Cut out the Gareth Bale stuff

I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday. The effort was there in every single player. Arsenal deserved the win yesterday. There were enough chances created and missed to mean that the fact we only scored from penalties was almost irrelevant. Everything that was bad about last week against Swansea was not there against West Brom. It was a very decent, hard-working performance from the boys. I was going to write "honest" in there as well but that would not be true given how the first penalty came about.
I have to say that I can't abide diving. There can be no doubt that Santi Cazorla did just that for the first penalty yesterday. Yes, Steven Reid was swiping at him in the penalty area and, from my vantage point over 100 yards away, it looked a penalty. The referee was a lot closer and he was conned by Cazorla who not only threw himself down but also pretended his ankle was hurt for a few seconds. As an Arsenal supporter I can not dig out the serial divers like Gerrard, Rooney, Suarez, Drogba and Bale and then condone what happened with Cazorla. I haven't had a chance to read too much about it today as I've been at work (which was rather busy) but I suspect not too many Gooners are having much of a pop at our Spanish international. These will be the same people of course who used to complain about Emmanuel Eboue being a diver and that being one of the main reasons for disliking him. It's amazing how when it's a crowd favourite it becomes "acceptable". I was pleased to hear Arsene Wenger saying he would speak to Cazorla once he has seen it. I hope he does. The problem it has given Arsenal, and Santi in particular, is that Sky and Match Of The Day are highlighting it. Of course this suits their anti-Arsenal agenda - you never see them showing endless replays of Bale diving, for example. The last time an Arsenal player was caught out like this it was Eduardo. Before him Robert Pires. I don't ever remember that pair diving again, but they were forever labelled and decisions often did not come their way as a result. Luis Suarez has started to suffer in a similar way (though he also still does a lot of diving and play-acting). Arsenal got the benefit of Cazorla's dishonesty yesterday, but in the longer term it's something that could come back to haunt us. I can just see the League Cup Final in February and us not getting the last minute spot-kick that would win us the trophy only to be denied by a referee with a doubt in his mind. Anyone defending Cazorla should think on.
Aside from that penalty Arsenal were pretty good yesterday. It wasn't a vintage display, of course, but given recent results it was never likely to be. There was some decent football but what I really liked was the determination. Cazorla was closing down high up the pitch, and he was being followed in by Giroud and Wilshere and Arteta and Gervinho and the much improved Oxlade-Chamberlain. From the off The Ox was making some superb runs and roasting his full-back. I've been critical of him all season but he was excellent yesterday.
Throughout the game West Brom's Olsson was getting away with kicking and pulling Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman didn't back down which was very encouraging, but most impressive of all was the way Jack Wilshere went flying in there to back up Giroud. Jack is tiny, but he wasn't having a big centre-half getting away with it like that. I wouldn't want to argue with Jack Wilshere. Yesterday he was heading back to his best form. There was one moment in the first-half where he took off midway inside his own half, beat two opponents, and then strode down the pitch at pace. It was just the sort of run that Patrick Vieira used to make, and the sort that Abou Diaby was giving us at the start of the season. Welcome back Jack, we've missed you (I just wish he would take a shot occasionally - in the second-half both he and Lukas Podolski missed open goals by insisting on taking a touch before shooting).
There are two other players I want to really single out for praise from yesterday - Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker. Arteta has had a difficult few weeks. He has been struggling to hit the heights he reached early in the season, but he was certainly back at his best yesterday. When he might have been dropping off a bit physically towards the end the Manager made a fine substitution (make a note of it) by bringing on the outstanding Francis Coquelin to do the running and tackling. Mertesacker, meanwhile, gave a lesson in how to read the game. He was seemingly always in the right place to cut out the through-ball. Towards the end, when Lukaku went through the middle, he started to win every aerial duel simply because he jumped, thus using his considerable height to maximum effect.
The second penalty was also down to the general incompetence of referee Michael Jones. This guy is out of the Stuart Attwell school of refereeing. Shortly before the penalty he gave a free-kick against Mertesacker after a Bobby Moore-esque tackle. It was as clean a challenge as you will ever see. I don't believe that anyone in the stadium, apart from Mr Jones, thought it was a foul. Mertesacker dropped to his knees in disbelief. With that in mind I fail to understand how the referee then didn't give a foul against The Ox in the lead up to the second spot-kick. Having mis-controlled a simple ball Chamberlain virtually rugby tackled his man in trying to win it back. He even stopped for a split-second expecting the whistle. There is no doubt that he was then taken out for a certain penalty afterwards, but it simply shouldn't have got that far. If it had been the other way around, which it certainly could have been on another day with this referee, we would have been screaming blue murder.
One final thing to mention is the idiots sitting behind me yesterday. In the first-half one of these clowns was shouting at "number 27" and "number 12" as he obviously didn't know the names of Gervinho and Giroud. When he came back after half-time he asked the old woman with him if there had been any changes. She told him that we had brought on Alex Chamberlain, but she didn't know who had gone off! The Ox, of course, had been on the pitch throughout, but neither of these fools had noticed! The idiot behind eventually topped it off by screaming at Giroud to "get onside" at one point in the second-half while a West Brom player was stood near the goal-line playing him on. I really don't understand why these tourist f***wits turn up to football. Maybe they do it just to annoy me.

I'll be trying to get something done first thing tomorrow, before work, giving some exclusive news about next season. The information is direct from Ivan Gazidis and I want to get it on here before Arsenal announce any of it themselves on their website. Look out for it - it's good news for a change, though there is also some typical Gazidis spin on the business of the Club. If I can't get it on here in the morning it will have to wait until this time tomorrow.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Get it done before January

Zaha: If he's on the list then get him in

This is the last piece I'll be writing with my unreliable TalkTalk broadband connection. From tomorrow I'll be using Sky for my internet connection and hoping for a bit more of a consistent speed. The fact that Sky are providing a years worth of unlimited access for free makes it a bit of a no brainer.
We're currently in a bit of a limbo in terms of things going on at Arsenal. The Champions League stuff has been dealt with and there's still twenty-four hours before we can really start looking forward to the West Brom game on Saturday. That being the case I thought I'd talk contracts and transfers.
I see that Bacary Sagna has apparently felt insulted by Arsenal's offer of a one-year extension to his current deal and now expects to leave in 2013. I believe that the extension would take him to 32 years-old. Considering that he has not had the best of injury records this past couple of years (remember he missed the start of last season even before he suffered two broken legs) I think it's a fair proposition from the Club. I certainly welcome this policy as opposed to the one that has seen Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky get massive extensions to deals despite missing around 80% of matches over the last four or five years. I suppose having seen such contracts Sagna is a bit piqued at being offered only a year extra, but if it means Arsenal are finally realising the error of their ways then I'm all for it. If Sagna wants to leave then that's fine, he's been an excellent servant to the Club. But, by the same token, if he doesn't want to sign a deal then he becomes the back up to Carl Jenkinson as far as I'm concerned.
We can be fairly certain now that Theo Walcott is also on his way out of Arsenal. I believe this has been the intention all along with his advisers playing the long game. They demanded a wage they knew Arsenal wouldn't pay for a player who has not realised his potential to date, and they also knew that there will be no shortage of offers from elsewhere which, in the absence of a transfer fee, will see Walcott being paid at least what they wanted from Arsenal. I don't think the player is too complicit in this one. Walcott is a level-headed boy and I think he genuinely wants to play for Arsenal. He knows he would be a nobody without the exceptional faith shown in him by Arsene Wenger. To his credit he has forced his way in to the side this season with a series of good displays. It will be ironic that, at the end of what looks like being his best season at Arsenal, he will be off to pastures new. Wenger set a deadline of Christmas for it to be sorted. If it isn't then it should be goodbye Theo, and thanks.
That being the case it is important that we get business done this January. It is all too obvious that this squad of Arsenal players is seriously lacking in quality. A couple of signings will not solve that, but it might just get us back on track for this season before a proper transfer window is conducted in the Summer. If Walcott doesn't sign, and we are genuinely interested in the Arsenal supporting Wilfried Zaha, then we must get the deal done. I don't care that Ian Holloway says Zaha is not for sale at any price and all that old nonsense. I don't care that Ian Holloway is angry with Arsene Wenger for answering a question about Zaha maybe coming to Arsenal. While we must treat other Club's with a certain respect the fact is that Crystal Palace are a small Club with no money and we should be going all out for the player if we really want him. And things shouldn't be strung out until January 31st either.
I was dismayed when I heard Arsene say that he will see where we are on January 1st before deciding on transfers. I can tell him now that we will be in a position, whatever results we get over Christmas, where Diaby and Rosicky and Wilshere are either being nursed back to fitness or injured. We will be in a position where Mikel Arteta is over-worked in a position to which he is not suited. We will be in a position where he has only one striker he has any faith in whatsoever. We will be in a position where we have a motor-mouth goalkeeper who is not as good as he thinks and needs the genuine competition of a quality back-up alternative to keep him on his toes. In short we need at least four players, plus Thierry Henry's morale boosting return for 6 weeks.
We're strongly linked with a move for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in January. I'd be surprised if it happened and I'm not sure how he'd fit in to the way we play. Huntelaar is a finisher, a poacher, a genuine goalscorer. What he is not is a World-Class footballer like his arch-enemy Robin Van Persie. Huntelaar is on the end of things, but in a side that doesn't play balls beyond the opposition centre-halves I don't see where he would be much use to us. That said, if he did come it might just mean a change in ethos out on the pitch. Get him the chance and he will score, there is little doubt about that.
As I said above, Mikel Arteta is overworked in the position he is playing. When all is said and done he is not a defensive midfield player. We have never really replaced Gilberto Silva. Alex Song did a decent job in there, but spent too much time going forward to be truly as effective as Gilberto. In the Summer we were supposed to have all but signed Yann M'Vila before he upset everyone in France with some weird behaviour. Personally I wouldn't mind us signing a bit of a nutter to play in midfield and protect the back four. So what if he has personality defects? It's the Manager's job to deal with things like that. If we did bring in a proper defensive midfield player then Arteta could get back to playing higher up the pitch, or supporting that player, rather than being the main man protecting the creaking defence. It would give us the options of Wilshere, Cazorla, Arteta, Rosicky etc in midfield before we got anywhere near to Aaron Ramsey being forced in to action.
All of this will cost money, but if it's the price of success then so be it. The sale of people like Santos and Arshavin and Chamakh, even if it means flogging them on the cheap and getting their wages off the books, will bring money in. For too long we've been shopping at Lidl, but paying Harrods wages. It's time to get ourselves down to Waitrose and start signing some real players. And we should get it all done in time for the start of January. If we wait until the end of the sales, for the bargain bucket prices, we will get crap players again and we will be so far behind in the Premier League that we will not recover this time around.

There is no blog tomorrow, despite my new internet connection, as it's the works Christmas do and I intend to be in the pub from lunchtime. My hangover on Saturday will probably dictate my presence at the game against West Brom. Hopefully, I'll be able to post a match review at some time on Saturday night. Here's to a confidence boosting win.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Plenty of effort but not much quality

How we've missed the Little Mozart

I've always said I can handle Arsenal losing matches as long as the players put in the required effort. Last night was one such occasion. Given the personnel on show last night I thought it was a thoroughly decent performance in Athens. Unfortunately we were undone in the second-half, but a number of the players on show can be rightly proud of themselves. I was especially pleased with (and for) Sebastien Squillaci and Marouane Chamakh. Both of these players are much maligned, but they put in a real shift for the Club last night and deserve some credit for a change. I really wish Chamakh had been given some support on the field in the second-half as he was winning every header, but the disappointing (again) Oxlade-Chamberlain was not getting close enough to him. For me he has more than made a case to be in the match day squad between now and January, as genuine alternatives to Olivier Giroud simply do not exist.
Jernade Meade is getting some good reviews today and justifiably so. I thought he did really well when he came on at Reading the other week, and he stepped up a level last night pretty seamlessly. I see no reason why Meade should not now be understudy to Kieran Gibbs. We've seen Santos play and fail far too often, and I suspect his weight has a lot of do with his problems. We've also seen Thomas Vermaelen playing at left-back and looking utterly awful. Meade is 20 years old now so he should be part of things, otherwise he should be allowed to go and make a career elsewhere. His performance last night was in contrast to Carl Jenkinson who probably had his worst display of the year. It was a rare off night for the Corporal.
The main man in Athens was, of course, Tomas Rosicky. I fully understand why he was only involved for 45 minutes, almost using the game as a pre-season friendly for him. I expect him to lead the boys at Bradford next Tuesday. When he went off we lost all our ideas going forward. Andrey Arshavin did himself few favours when he came on, but I thought it was vindictive of Arsene Wenger to move Chamberlain in to the middle and force the Russian out wide again. The way Rosicky got us on the front foot in the first-half was a joy to watch. His first intention when taking the ball was to turn towards the opponents goal and he added pace to our play. I know that, apart from his excellent lay off for the goal, Gervinho was as frustrating in possession as ever, but the Ivorian looked so much more dangerous with Rosicky playing the ball out in front of him to get him running at the defenders. Two years ago Rosicky was somehow playing week in, week out but failing to be part of the game. His presence, ahead of Nicklas Bendtner, cost us the Carling Cup Final against Birmingham in my view. However, at the start of this year he became the player we first signed in 2006. That he picked up where he left off last night was more than encouraging. I would far rather have the consistency of Rosicky's performance (if only he can stay fit) ahead of the in and out form of Santi Cazorla.
Compare Rosicky's philosophy with that of Aaron Ramsey who simply does not that the speed to play effectively at this level. Ramsey turns back to his own goal  whenever he gets the bal because he doesn't have the pace to get us going forward. On the rare occasion he does pass the ball forward it is always played directly in to the feet of the player (if it reaches a team mate) which stops the momentum. I actually made a note that Ramsey was still going square and backwards with the ball in the 91st minute when we were 2-1 down. Shocking.
Even more shocking was the lack of action from the bench, as usual. I couldn't understand the point in taking off Jernade Meade. I don't accept Wenger's claim that the lad was tired - the fact is that substitutions at Wenger's Arsenal are made on seniority, and Meade was the most junior player in the side. On the bench was young Chuba Akpom, a 17 year-old striker who has been in goalscoring form this season. Surely, with him on the bench and the team losing, Wenger should have replaced Ramsey or Chamberlain (I certainly wouldn't have been taking off the outstanding Francis Coquelin) with this young unknown and got Chamakh some help up front? You would have to wonder just what scenario would have seen the lad getting on - he spent the entire second-half warming up on the touchline but was never given the chance to play.
As I said at the top I can handle losing when the effort is present from the players. That doesn't make it any less frustrating a defeat when the Manager hasn't done everything possible to get a result by helping those on the pitch. A win would have got us to the top of the group. There is an argument that it hardly matters given those in second place positions this season, but I'll remind people of that should we draw Barcelona on 20th December. 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Swansea (h) preview, Backing the Black Scarf Movement

It's MY Arsenal Opinion supports The Black Scarf Movement

I'll keep the preview of the game pretty brief as there really isn't that much to say. Arsene Wenger has stated the need to pick up maximum points at home over the next month so hopefully the players are taking some notice. Theo Walcott has to undergo a fitness test after Wednesday and Lukas Podolski might be back following a chest infection. Bacary Sagna is doubtful while Laurent Koscielny is definitely out. To be honest it doesn't much matter who is available and who is not, Arsenal simply have to win.
I really hope that Wenger realises he needs to be more attacking for a game like this. That means not selecting Aaron Ramsey to play out wide. It means possibly playing more than one man up front so that Olivier Giroud gets the necessary support. I'm amazed that he has failed to see how good we looked going forward when Giroud came on to play alongside Marouane Chamakh at Reading. Chamakh is much criticised, and clearly forgotten by his Manager, but he got two goals last time he set foot on a football pitch. I fail to see how he has not been worthy of getting a run out, at least from the bench, on occasion since. The fact that we have not had a centre-forward on the bench in the last few games is a disgrace for Arsenal, but it is a sign of how Wenger is forcing Chamakh out of the Club.
Swansea were unlucky at our place last season when we won through a rare error from Michel Vorm. Down in Wales they pretty much outplayed Arsenal in one of our worst performances (and there were many bad ones) last season. I really expected them to struggle this term after losing Rodgers to Liverpool, but Michael Laudrup has made some excellent signings and the Swans are going along okay. Michu is the signing of the season for me, thus far, and Arsenal will have some work to do defensively against him. I still feel they're weak in defence and if Arsenal put their passes together going forward, rather than square or backwards, we have a chance to create against Swansea.
One final thing to say about tomorrow is that Mark Clattenburg will be refereeing. Regular readers will know that I don't like referees and I believe many of them are actually corrupt. I don't rate Clattenburg either, but I hope he gets a nice reception tomorrow in view of what he has had to deal with these last few weeks. Chelsea disgraced themselves again, but their behaviour could have destroyed Clattenburg. He has handled himself quite brilliantly through all of this and Chelsea should be having points deducted in my view.

I will not be joining the Black Scarf Movement on their walk tomorrow. As it happens I can't make the game because of work, but even if I was going I wouldn't be in the protest. I have long felt that such protests are the preserve of Club's like West Ham or Newcastle, who simply aspire to being a big Club. However. I am in support of the Black Scarf Movement and I wish them success tomorrow. I do not agree with all of their objectives, which you can read at www.wherehasourarsenalgone.co.uk , but I believe they are about to play an important role in making Arsenal sit up and take notice of its supporters.
The stated aims of the group are available the website and they make for interesting reading. There is a clear appreciation of the history and values of Arsenal Football Club, an appreciation borne of years of going to games home and away.
Among the things I don't agree with is the desire to remove Peter Hill-Wood. Yes, he is a doddery old fool these days whose public outings in the press often lead to embarrassment. However, I do not see the point in wishing to remove a man who is Chairman of Arsenal in name only. Mr Hill-Wood has no power at Arsenal whatsoever. He is a figurehead for the Club and that is all. Personally I believe a Hill-Wood should always be on the Board at Arsenal as it was ever thus from when we came to North London. Sir Samuel Hill-Wood became Chairman of Arsenal when Sir Henry Norris was banned from football, and the family has helped to run Arsenal, in the "Arsenal Way" ever since. I don't see how forcing out Peter Hill-Wood would get us "our" Arsenal back. Perhaps he is at fault for selling his remaining shares to Stan Kroenke, but David Dein brought the American to Arsenal and anyone clamouring for Dein's return should remember that.
Having said all of that I believe there is a lot to be in favour of. There can be no doubt that supporters, and by that I mean those who go and pay their money, have been treated with more and more contempt by the Club we love. We are "customers" or "consumers" to Arsenal. We have become people who Arsenal feels it can continue to fleece for high admission prices while failing to reinvest that money in to the team. That has to stop and this sort of protest is how the message will be put across.
The dissatisfaction at Arsenal has led to a massive groundswell of support for the BSM and this has now garnered the backing of other fans groups. I think it is massively indicative of the growing feeling that Red Action, the closest of these groups to the inner workings of the Club itself, has given BSM its official support tomorrow. There is a chance that such an act could see Red Action could find its "cosy" relationship with Arsenal under serious threat, but such is the feeling among supporters that they are taking that risk. Ivan Gazidis has cancelled tomorrow's Supporters Forum meeting and I am fairly certain that is not a coincidence - he is concerned about the support tomorrow's march is going to have.
The BSM makes it clear on its site that it is not a "Wenger-out" group. They do not believe in that sort of pressure and they do not believe in boycotting games - they are supporters, after all. That, again, is something I am all in favour of. Yes, I want a change of Manager, but I never want to see supporters of Arsenal clamouring in organised protest for the removal of our Boss. We saw it in the early 1980's when Terry Neill was forced out, and that must never happen again. That sort of thing really is the preserve of West Ham and Newcastle, and is something nobody at Arsenal should ever aspire to.
I don't expect the Black Scarf Movement to achieve all (or maybe any) of its aims, but by drawing attention to the issues they are doing Arsenal supporters a service. Much of what they are after is what people I speak to also want. The fact that their support is growing, and their profile in the press this week has risen, tells me that Arsenal will be getting a message tomorrow. Where it goes from there we will wait and see, but I would like to see Mr Kroenke and Mr Gazidis starting to pay heed - you do not want to drive away the life-blood of the Club, especially if success on the pitch continues to elude us. Only the hardcore support wants to watch a team that can't win, and that certainly won't involve the tourists that populate the Emirates at a lot of games these days. Arsenal are getting a warning from their fans. Please take note Stanley.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A decent point coloured by the past - Everton 1 - 1 Arsenal

Szczesny - a mixed night

I'm writing this while listening, for the very first time, to "The Tuesday Club" podcast with Alan Davies. I like Alan Davies as I know that he is a celebrity fan who is actually a real supporter. I've spoken to him on three occasions and he is always friendly, even though two of those occasions were in the toilets - at The Valley and in the Stade De France (he probably thinks I'm some kind of weirdo). As I'm listening to Alan and his mates I find myself agreeing with just about everything they are saying. There is balanced, albeit humorous, debate taking place about all things Arsenal. I had previously listened to the "Footballistically Arsenal" podcast and turned it off after five minutes as it was the biggest load of student-type, johnny-come-lately drivel I had ever heard. It makes a nice change to listen to something like The Tuesday Club. I will henceforth be listening every week.
One of the things that has been said on the podcast is that people are moaning about the draw last night more because of what happened on Saturday, than what happened at Everton itself. I think that is absolutely right. Let's be quite honest about this, a point at Goodison Park is a very decent result. Not many teams come away from Everton with a win, so to hold on to a 1-1 when the home side were well on top at times is not a bad return. However, when the sores from the lacklustre display and the behaviour of the Manager at Villa are still fresh in the memory I think some fans are using last night as further ammunition against the status quo but, for once, I feel that is misguided criticism.
We got a great start yesterday through that man Theo again. For once we had a slight deflection end up in the net rather than the stand. It was a nice combination between Walcott and the much maligned Ramsey (not sure why he was starting out wide again last night, incidentally). It was always unlikely that we would hold on to a 1-0 for 90+ minutes, but that doesn't make the equaliser any less annoying. I don't know what Sagna was doing (twice) in the build up to the goal, while Szczesny appeared to me to think the ball was going wide, so almost pulled his arm out of the way of the ball. The most annoying thing is that the goal came following a period in which Arsenal had been playing their pointless keep-ball around the halfway line. Of course we'd done nothing with it to hurt the opposition, but when they got the ball Everton took a shot and scored. Not rocket science, is it?
I didn't see the whole game as my broadband issues continue to be a problem (though only for another 8 days I hope!) but from what I have seen Sagna had a poor night. I see that Wenger now says he took a knock early on and is doubtful for Saturday. This injury would explain his indifferent display, and I was already looking for Jenkinson to replace him against Swansea even before Arsene's comments today.
Everton looked much the better side until about twenty minutes from the end. They could have had a penalty for Arteta's challenger on Pienaar, but the South African shouldn't have been on the pitch after his two-footed tackle on Mikel in the lead up to the equaliser (he also went through Sagna late as the ball flew towards Fellaini in the same move). Having been at fault a little for the Everton goal Wojciech Szczesny finally showed some form making a good few saves to keep us level. One in particular, from a Distin header (made as he was fouling Jack Wilshere), was the young Pole at his very best. I would very much welcome a return to some consistent form for Szczesny - we need a goalkeeper to perform well in this side right now.
For all that Everton had a couple of chances to score, Arsenal nearly won the game themselves. There was an occasion when the ball came close to bobbling past Tim Howard with nobody actually having a shot (that would have been a vindication for Wenger's philosophy, eh?) and then Olivier Giroud put in a fantastic header that looked for all the World as though it was going in.  Santi Cazorla also stung the palms of Howard with just about his only touch of the game. His invisible man impression is becoming frustrating - and don't anybody dare tell me he is tired. NO professional footballer should be tired in November, the season has only just got going for God's sake. Cazorla is magnificent when the mood takes him, but it is not happening anywhere near often enough for my liking. Hopefully he will have a Pires-like improvement as we get towards the second half the season. At the end of the day a draw was a fair result, and a decent result for Arsenal. I could go in to one over Tomas Rosicky being pointlessly named among the subs, but I've said it all before (after the Villa game in fact).

Tomorrow I'll be writing the usual pre-match piece for the Swansea game. I will also be talking about the Black Scarf Movement walk which will be taking place before the game on Saturday.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Everton (a) match preview - Theo back to help Giroud

Theo - should be back tonight

Arsenal have a surprisingly good record at Goodison Park. It’s generally accepted that Everton away is a tough game, but in recent times Arsenal have come away with some really good results. I’d be surprised if any other side has taken as many points home from Goodison over the last ten years or so. That being the case we had better hope, after Saturday’s poor display, that Arsenal perform to their higher standards in Liverpool tonight.
There has been a lot of stuff written and said over the last few days about the way in which Arsene Wenger handled his press conference on Saturday evening. There is the school of thought (of which I am a member) that he embarrassed the Club and insulted the fans. There is another school of thought that the way the journalists behaved was a disgrace. As regular readers will be aware I have no time for the views of “football writers” and the idea that they were taking up the cause of the paying Arsenal supporter who “deserves better” was stomach turning. Most football journalists care as much for Arsenal supporters as they do for the dog s**t on the pavement outside their house. However, I firmly believe that Wenger should have answered the questions properly. He owed those who had travelled to Villa an explanation as to why Arsenal, a side who claims to have ambition to stay at the top of the tree, was deliberately removing from the fray its centre-forward in favour of a defensive midfielder.  He should have also been explaining why he named Jack Wilshere among the substitutes when there was never any intention whatsoever to bring him on. If the lad was not fit to play a part in the game then someone else, who could have been used from the bench, should have been among the substitutes – who knows, maybe the other recognised centre-forward in the Arsenal ranks might have been a better bet than a player who couldn’t play? But then the travelling fans, and none of the rest of us, have ever managed a football club so we are not worthy of explanation. I realise at this point that I’m just repeating myself from the weekend so I’ll leave that there and get back to the Everton game this evening.
Theo Walcott is apparently back in the squad for tonight which is welcome news. Not everybody has accepted that Theo is beginning to fulfil his potential and I can perhaps understand why. But, for me, his performances so far this season have established him as a key member of this side. Every facet of his game has improved and it is no coincidence that Olivier Giroud is scoring goals. Walcott has been supplying the ammunition from wide and the Frenchman has shown his strength is very much in the air. By the same token Giroud has aided Walcott’s game by providing him with good ball high up the pitch. With Walcott getting close to Giroud by coming in off the wing when we go longer we have a decent outlet that we haven’t had since Chamakh first arrived at Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger has a decision to make at the back. I expect Sagna to come back in for the increasingly impressive Carl Jenkinson, but what will the boss do with his centre-backs. Does Thomas Vermaelen come in at full-back as a way of easing Kieran Gibbs back in to regular action, or does he replace one of the two centre-halves from the weekend? Does Vermaelen come back in at all? For me I would be continuing to leave him out, unless there is a need to help Gibbs’ fitness with some rest. There is no doubt that Vermaelen has been the least effective of our regular defenders this season and a brief time out of the side may get him to focus a bit more. On the other hand he is the Captain of Arsenal and it would be an uncharacteristically ruthless Wenger that would actually drop his skipper from the side.
Everton have Marouane Fellaini back from suspension and that spells trouble for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta has been superb in his new role until the last couple of weeks, but I don’t see how he can match Fellaini in the physical stakes. Indeed a midfield for Arsenal of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla may well be easy on the eye when in possession, but only Wilshere could be described as tough in the challenge. Even then he is still only about 5’8” and I really can see Fellaini being too strong for us in there. I’d love for Arsenal to have signed him in the Summer.
Arsenal must play at a high tempo tonight to unsettle the hosts. Walcott is obviously the main outlet when we play with pace, but he will also need to be at his best up against Leighton Baines. If Arsenal play properly and move the ball as they did against Spurs then we can win comfortably, but the evidence from the weekend was once more that such performances are the exception rather than the norm.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Lacklustre Arsenal and their insulting Manager

Shameful post-match behaviour

I said yesterday that I would take a win and a draw from the games at Villa and Everton this week. I also said that, despite our fine record there, visits to Villa Park are not an easy win. That being the case I suppose I should be holding off from slating the 0-0 draw yesterday - if we win at Goodison Park in the week then we have that win and draw - but once again it was the nature of the performance that has me annoyed.
Let's be honest here - that Aston Villa team yesterday was fielding its second and third choice players in goal and defence. They were also missing Darren Bent up front. That being the case it really is unacceptable that Arsenal created only one chance from open play, and that was squandered by a centre-half who had galloped forward to try and make something happen. Yes, Villa worked hard, but when you consider the fact that most of them were just squad players it merely serves to underline the fact that Arsenal didn't work hard themselves. With the exception of Ramsey and Giroud I thought the midfield and attack was awful throughout.
Let's start with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I said at the start of the season that I felt he might struggle this term after the way he shot to fame in the early part of this year. What I can't abide, however, is the "Billy Big B******s" attitude he seems to have adopted recently. People get on at Aaron Ramsey (me included) but at least he tries. I lost count of the times yesterday that Chamberlain was just ambling along and not making a run or showing for the ball. Time and again Jenkinson actually overtook him as we went forward, and not so much in an overlapping full-back way, but more of an "I want to get Arsenal a goal here" way. When Ox did get the ball it was the same nonsense just about every time. Only once did he properly go outside the full-back and it nearly created something. The rest of the time he wanted to showboat and go inside. How he got through 76 minutes before he was replaced I will never know.
Lukas Podolski followed up probably his best two games for Arsenal with one of his very worst. I have consistently said I don't understand why Podolski is taken off in every game, especially when we need a goal, but he was so awful yesterday I would have hooked him at half-time. The fact that Gervinho and Arshavin, when they did come on, seemed to be having a competition for who could mis-control the ball in to touch in the most elaborate fashion was neither here nor there. By that token I don't believe for one minute that Gnabry or Eisfeld are not a better bet on the bench than those two. I almost understand Arshavin's attitude this season as he has been constantly overlooked despite our poor play, but honestly he was a disgrace yesterday.
On the subject of substitutes what was the point of Jack Wilshere being on the bench yesterday? What circumstances would Wenger have considered using him if not when we needed someone to come on and grab midfield by the scruff of the neck? If he wanted to completely rest Jack then he should have left him at home on the sofa. To then bring on Francis Coquelin in place of our only centre-forward just about summed up Wenger's lack of tactics (more of which below).
I thought Giroud played really well up front yesterday but had to do most of his work with his back to goal. Without Theo Walcott getting up to support him he was pretty isolated. Marouane Chamakh got two goals last time he played for Arsenal, but apparently isn't even worthy of the subs bench when only Giroud is available to play up front. Santi Cazorla (another man who gets no stick from the fans) was having one of his more regular invisible days yesterday, despite actually seeing a fair bit of the ball in the second-half. Would it not have been nice to have another striker (a real one) on the bench to come on and try something different? I suppose you can argue that Wenger did try something different when taking off Giroud, but playing without a centre-forward leaves you less likely to score, I would suggest. There was a time when we would bring on Kanu or Wiltord or Ljungberg to try and change a game. Yesterday Wenger brought on a defensive midfielder. That's how far we have fallen, people. Had it not been for an outstanding Szczesny save late on we would have lost the game 1-0.
Wenger's comments after the game were a disgrace. We were back to the childish and petulant responses that have become more and more a feature of post-match press conferences. People complain about how Peter Hill-Wood insults the fans with some of his pronouncements, but Wenger treats us with such contempt as to show his belief that none of those who pay their money are entitled to a view. After all we know nothing about football, do we? I sort of agree with him when he tells the press that he does not have to answer to them for his decisions. Of course he doesn't. But when the press is the conduit to the fans then he is saying exactly the same to us. That is utterly shameful behaviour.
The away fans made their feelings clear again yesterday, but Wenger says he is not answerable to any of them. Well, believe it or not, they are the people who pay your wages Arsene. The attitude of the Manager is an insult to us all. The more performances there are from Arsenal like yesterday, both on and off the pitch (and they are becoming more prevalent from players and Manager alike), the more the paying punters will turn against Arsene Wenger. The man is a busted flush, and it's only a matter of time before everyone realises it, including the people that could get rid of him.