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Monday, 30 January 2012

Arsenal 3 - 2 Villa - still think there's no media agenda?

Media trying to get RVP banned

At half-time yesterday the talk in the stands was about how this team had no chance of coming back from a two goal deficit. There had been precious little in the first-half performance to suggest that those selected to play had the necessary desire, or ability, to turn things around. The Arsenal performance before half-time was a showcase of everything that is often wrong with the team. There was a dominance of possession, but is was almost exclusively held in front of Villa's defence. It was a slow build-up, with little movement and even less inspiration. I thought Rosicky and Ramsey were impressive, but those in front of them were static and it was fairly easy for Villa to defend. Occasionally Chamberlain would run at the defence and look dangerous but, more often than not, he was doing a passable impression of Theo Walcott at his worst and failing to make the run off the ball that might provide the necessary opening. Meanwhile, on the two occasions Villa attacked the defence was nowhere to be seen. Their first goal was a near carbon-copy of the schoolboy defending that cost us a goal against Olympiacos earlier in the season. The second goal, from a quick counter-attack, saw the ball hit the back of the net with none of our back four in attendance. Where the hell were they? Lukasz Fabianski did his bit, with a decent save, but there was simply no help for the Pole.
Trailing by 2-0, and with such a soporific effort before half-time, I found it quite incredible that no changes were made immediately. We'll never know what was said in the dressing room, or by whom. Whatever it was, and whether it was said by Wenger, Pat Rice, RVP, Vermaelen or Thierry Henry (who stayed inside for most of the half-time break) it certainly worked. Suddenly there was a pace to our attacking play. The movement that had been non-existent was suddenly prevalent all over the field. Every player seemed to want to get involved. We nearly scored straight away with a fine header from Mertesacker (it was noticeable in the second-half that he didn't lose a single challenge in the air simply because he attacked the ball and got off the ground to beat people). Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Song started to dominate the whole game, with good support from Koscielny who regularly stepped in to midfield. Van Persie suddenly became difficult to mark and dragged the defence around, while Chamberlain caused Hutton all sorts of problems. Then there was Theo Walcott. Occasionally Theo plays like a the sort of player we want him to be. Yesterday's second-half was one of those. I thought he was outstanding after half-time and Villa couldn't handle his pace. If you wanted an example of how Arsenal beat teams when playing well then it was there in the first fifteen minutes of the second-half. The pace and movement was unstoppable. I just wish the players would realise that they can do that to anyone, if only they would show the desire to do so. The work off the ball was excellent. There was one point, at 3-2, when Alex Song started chasing down the Villa defenders when they had the ball. He was suddenly joined by Ramsey, and Chamberlain, and Van Persie. The Villa players panicked in the face of this pressure and passed the ball straight to Tomas Rosicky on the halfway line. The crowd stood and applauded the effort. And that's the key to all of this - effort.
If the first-half was a showcase for all that is wrong with the way this Arsenal team performs, then the second-half was everything that we go to football for. The goals may have come from penalties (indisputable ones at that) and a lucky ricochet, but it can't be denied that Arsenal deserved to score them. The football after half-time was excellent. The only thing I was disappointed with was late in the game when Thierry Henry spurned the opportunity to send us home even happier and gave the ball away rather than going for a shot at goal when he was put clear. It was very much like the sort of thing we've come to expect from Chamakh, and it could have cost us had Villa scrambled an equaliser. In the end it didn't matter, and we went home happy with a win.
This morning it seems the newspapers and Sky (no surprise) are leading with the "elbow" incident involving Robin Van Persie. It should be noted that Sky have largely ignored the FA Cup this season as they are not covering it. Until now. I've watched the incident and I don't believe Robin has deliberately elbowed Cuellar. I think he's used his arm to protect himself against the constant barging that had gone unpunished every time he was challenged. On the occasion in question his arm has gone a little high and caught the defender. However, nobody noticed it when it happened, and nobody complained to the referee. ESPN picked it up on a slow-motion replay and gave Craig Burley something to go on and on and on about until the end of the game (I watched the game back when I got home last night and I can't believe how amateurish the whole ESPN production is). Alex McLeish's post-game press conference, which Sky keep showing this morning, is laughable. His reaction to the question tells me that he has no clue what they were talking about but, thinking quickly, he realises there's something he can deflect criticism with. He can't describe the incident at all. He simply keeps saying how he felt RVP had "caught him." Then he has the audacity to call for the FA to do something about it.
It is a very sad state of affairs, following such a great comeback, and such sensational football, that the press are running with the Van Persie "elbow" this morning. There is no doubt in my mind that Van Persie will pick up a three match ban. After all, he's not English is he? After Joleon Lescott got away with his clearly deliberate forearm smash on Kaboul last week (Lescott is English, lest we forget) it would sum up the FA and the media prejudice that is prevalent here. Most of all it makes it even more clear that there is a media bias against Arsenal Football Club. Why is it always our players that they pick on? Remember Alex Song in the first game of the season? We can go back a long way and pick up incidents where the FA has acted on video evidence to ban Arsenal players after a media driven campaign to do so. It started with Paul Davis in 1988 and it hasn't stopped since. The media hates us, and I hope that Arsene Wenger uses that as motivation for the rest of the season, as George Graham did in late 1990. If we could win the FA Cup it would really upset the press, and that is a wonderful thing.

I'm not anticipating any signings between now and tomorrow night. There is a chance that Ryo will be loaned out for the rest of the season, but little else will happen for Arsenal I suspect. That being the case, and the need to go to work getting in the way again, the next post will be Wednesday morning in preview of the game at Bolton. Until then simply remember to spit on any journalists you meet - they hate us, so we should hate them.

Friday, 27 January 2012

After the good news...Aston Villa (FA Cup) preview

We CAN get our hands on this in 2012

I suppose we should have expected it really. Following yesterday's great news about Bacary Sagna I should have known that the powers of Satan would conspire to pass wind in our faces today. And so it is that we hear that Jack Wilshere has suffered a "setback" in his return from injury. It really couldn't be much worse news for Gooners. I think a lot of us, and I certainly include myself in that, had rather pinned our remaining hopes for the season on Jack's return, and the psychological lift and improvement in quality that it would bring. At the moment there is no indication of how serious it is, but I would suggest that suffering pain while simply jogging is not a good sign when you're coming back from a stress fracture. I certainly get the impression that Arsene Wenger is extremely worried about the young genius. It really is a massive blow to Arsenal and our chances of getting back in to that top four this season. I suppose we have to hope it's not a serious problem and will not delay his comeback next month. But this is Arsenal and we have no luck whatsoever when it comes to injuries. Get well soon Jack, we seriously need you.

The other news from the Club today with regards to the players is quite positive. Arsene used his press conference to confirm that Henry, Arteta, Sagna and Coquelin will be part of the eighteen on Sunday against Aston Villa. The FA Cup represents our best (only) chance of silverware this season. In recent seasons we have failed to deliver in the Cup as Wenger has shown the competition less and less respect. Given the high stakes now involved in actually getting a pot in the cabinet come May I think we might see a bit of a change in philosophy. I'm fairly certain that there will be very few fringe players taking the pitch on Sunday. Having said that, I have no desire to see Sagna rushed back in to the starting eleven. With Coquelin and Yennaris both around there is simply no need to hurry things. I would even be tempted to play both of them (with Coquelin at left-back) and move Vermaelen in to the centre alongside Koscielny. There is no doubt that TV5 looks out of place at left-back (and somehow got away without a slating for the way he defended for United's opener last week), while Coquelin's pace would be competition for whoever Villa put in to that wide area.
In midfield I think we will see Arteta back, with Ramsey dropped - the sight of the Boyo being outpaced by Ryan Giggs last week was an embarrassment. That would leave Wenger with a decision on who to play as the attacking point of the midfield three. I suspect he would go with Rosicky in there, but I wouldn't mind seeing Arteta getting his chance in the position he prefers to play. Arteta, as regulars here will know, is not someone that impresses me. However, he has been playing a role that is strange to him. I'd be interested to see how he fares when finally given the playmaker role.
Wenger has some big decisions to make up front, and this part of his selection will tell us once and for all how he is prioritising the FA Cup this year. Personally I want to see Van Persie, flanked by Chamberlain and Henry. As far as I'm concerned there is no place for Arshavin and Walcott in this team right now. Will Wenger "risk" RVP, or will he put him on the bench and give Henry or Park a run in attack? The fact is that we must win the FA Cup or end another season empty handed. That being the case, would you really leave out the best striker in the Country?
Aston Villa will cause us problems, make no mistake. They have pace in their team with Agbonlahor coming back. I also really rate Albrighton who has not played as much this season as I would have expected. In Darren Bent they have a man who regularly scores goals. Yes, he misses his share of chances, but you don't get a goalscoring record like his if you're no good. He reminds me a bit of Andy Cole in that regard. In defence they have a decent pair of rugged centre-backs who, when they play well, are an outstanding combination.
One more thing to say about Aston Villa is that they have Alex McLeish as their Manager. Everyone knows that he is a complete joker. The man is a cretin, and no mistake. He is the man who defended the indefensible when Eduardo had his leg shattered. However, he is also the man that seems to have something of a sign over Arsenal. His Birmingham team became a fairly constant irritant following the Eduardo incident, culminating in the Carling Cup Final debacle last February. I would love to see us get one over on McLeish and put four or five past his team. I don't really see that happening, but you've got to dream.

Just before I wrap up I want to thank all the people that have come to the site in the last 24 hours. We have had over 18,700 hits on here, which is just short of the most ever. The site was the second most popular on Arsenal's NewsNow feed yesterday, and that is great. I hope that those of you that were new to It's MY Arsenal Opinion enjoyed what you read, and that you might keep coming back to read my ranting on Arsenal. You can also follow the blog on Twitter (@ARSENALDvbrisG) or by joining our group on Facebook - just search on there for It's MY Arsenal Opinion. Thanks again.

I'll try to get a match review done when I get home from the game, late on Sunday evening.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Some good news at last

Sagna is on his way Bac

Yet again, following a defeat, the Club has gone in to a bit of a lock down over the course of this week. There are times when it's best to keep your counsel, and I think this was one of them. The last thing the supporters would have wanted this week was a load of guff about "spirit" and "belief" etc, especially if it had the Manager's name to it. As a result it's been a long and slow few days. Thankfully I've been at work so I haven't spent all day scouring the web for any small bits of news that might have been doing the rounds. The dust has started to settle on what happened on Sunday and we can now move on. In terms of my last post I would have to say it's the first time that I've written something about Arsene leaving, and not been subjected to abuse in the comments section. The times are changing.
Having had a very slow few days in terms of anything from Arsenal, I was delighted to log in to Twitter this morning and see the announcement from Bacary Sagna that he is back in full training with the first team today. This is Bac's first full involvement with the group since he broke his leg earlier in the season. Given that we have had pretty much non-stop misery recently this is a big boost. In my view Sagna is an outstanding full-back. He struggled in his second year at Arsenal but, since then, has got better and better. There can be absolutely no doubt that we have missed Bac immensely. As far as I'm concerned his return to the side can not come soon enough. The first leg against AC Milan may  yet come a little too soon, but I wouldn't be surprised if he made his comeback in the San Siro.
In the absence of Sagna we expected Carl Jenkinson to get a lot of game time. Unfortunately for the youngster he picked up a serious injury of his own. As a result we have since seen Koscielny (briefly) and Johan Djourou filling in for the most part. Djourou probably played his last 45 minutes in that position on Sunday. I think that Nico Yennaris will now, injury permitting, find himself in place at right-back until Sagna returns. 
I have been immensely impressed by Yennaris in the games he has played. For a small guy he is physically strong, with a great leap. He is also quick and has good ability on the ball. I would say that he has looked a far better player than Jenkinson did when he played. Of course Yennaris will make some errors, but he is more likely to be forgiven them than Djourou will. He is an Arsenal supporter (he was the team mascot at home to Coventry in 2000) and will do us proud if he gets the opportunity. It is a very similar scenario to that which gave Kerrea Gilbert his chance back in 2006. Gilbert grabbed it with both hands before picking up a serious injury at home to West Ham. That let Eboue back in and he made the spot his own until Sagna arrived. If Yennaris can make the same impact as Gilbert (whose career has since gone down hill quicker than Franz Klammer) then he could have a good future at Arsenal. He will certainly be able to keep the right-back spot warm until Sagna is ready to come back.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Arsenal 1 - 2 Man Utd - a strangely momentous day for all the wrong reasons

How we were when it was great

Yesterday marked the beginning of the long farewell for Arsene Wenger. The substitution of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, more particularly, the reaction of the crowd marks a sea-change in the relationship between Arsene and the supporters of Arsenal Football Club. I have NEVER heard this Manager's authority questioned so vocally by those in attendance at a game. Any number of keyboard dwellers have had their say on Arsene but, frankly, it is only the voices of those that attend that will ever really be heard. Up until yesterday the Club was able to be under the impression that the majority of Arsenal supporters (those that go to games, that is) backed Arsene Wenger's judgement implicitly. The vocal nature of the disapproval of the crowd can have left the Board of Arsenal with no illusions that things are reaching a crossroads. Regular readers, and those of you that know me personally, will be aware that I have been calling for Arsene to leave for a few years now. It gives me no pleasure whatsoever that more and more regular match day fans have now seen that it is all going wrong under Wenger.
The picture at the top of this post shows Arsene with the spoils of glory, and what amazing glory we enjoyed. It is because of such incredible success that Arsene is rightly regarded as the greatest Manager of Arsenal, alongside Herbert Chapman. It is also because of that success that the current malaise is felt so keenly. Arsenal had a long way to fall, and they are certainly doing it.
Taken in isolation the decision to substitute Chamberlain doesn't really mean a lot. Okay, it was a decision that badly backfired with Arshavin failing to defend properly for the winning goal. However, if it was just the one mistake by Arsene there would have been a bit of gnashing of teeth, but nothing more. The fact is that we have seen error after error from the Manager, in every facet of his job, since Patrick Vieira was sold in the Summer of 2005. The cumulative effect of the slide since then came to a head with the putting up of the number 15 on the fourth-official's board yesterday. It was very much the straw that broke the camels back for many of those watching. It was, quite simply, time to make voices of dissent heard. I have read in some areas of the press that the Arsenal fans were booing Arshavin on to the pitch. That is utter nonsense, and pure mischief making from the media. The booing was for the Manager and his decision to take off Chamberlain. I have to say that I believe it to have been Arsene's very own "Eboue" moment.
I am not buying the idea that Chamberlain was tiring, or had cramp. As I said on Twitter last night, there are certain symptoms of cramp, but skinning the opposition full-back time after time is not one of them. Arsene could have clawed some ground back had he simply admitted he had made a terrible mistake at a crucial point in the game. The fact is that Arsenal were suddenly on top, and The Ox was the man making all the running. The way in which Wenger killed that momentum (I remember the same thing happening at Tottenham a few years ago when a late Pires equaliser, and a Spurs on the run, was met with the introduction of Cygan in place of Super Rob, killing the game off as a draw), and the suddenly resurgent support of the team, was a gross and crass error of judgement. Perhaps a substitution wasn't out of the question, but Walcott and Ramsey should have been heading the queue to get to the early showers. Arsene is right to say to the press that he is not obliged to explain his decisions to them. However he is obliged to explain them to the supporters of Arsenal Football Club. After all, we pay his wages.
Many people contributing to the Twitter debate last night (particularly certain blog writers) were disdainful of the crowd reaction. Two of them actually described it as "moronic." They believe that, due to the past success of Arsene, he should never be subjected to this kind of reaction. According to them the fans were a "disgrace." One of them, as she told me, believes that it was "moronic chanting" and that the pen is a better weapon if people want to show their displeasure with the Manager. According to this individual you are far more likely to make your point to the Board by "writing in blogs, or to The Gooner." What a load of old pony. How can anyone honestly believe that the Arsenal Director's read rubbish like this, or The Gooner fanzine? Give me strength. She is obviously a bit too nouveau to have heard of Terry Neill and how he lost his job at Arsenal. I asked her, after a long to-and-fro, what is her opinion of Arsene and the job he is doing - I received no response.
Let me say that I am not an Arsene Wenger hater. I could never despise the man who took us to the success that he did. However, he is also the man that demanded we leave Highbury in order to "compete." Does anyone out there honsetly believe that we are in a better position after five years at the new place, than we were at our beautiful home? He is the man who sold Patrick Vieira too early. He is the man who effectively forced Gilberto Silva and Jens Lehmann and Robert Pires out of the Club. Yes, he is also the man who won two Double's, created the Invincibles, signed Thierry Henry and Robert Pires and Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars and Sol Campbell etc. In an ideal World the successes of Arsene Wenger would clearly outweigh anything that has happened since the trophies dried up. But this is not an ideal World. The plight of Nottingham Forest is the most extreme example of where sentiment, and living in the past, can get you. I don't want to see Arsenal going in to a similar spiral of ineptitude and despair.
As I said at the start of the post I believe we have now seen the beginning of the end. Every defeat, every tactical error, every goal conceded, is likely to be responded to by a vocal element (a rarity, I know) and the Board will be hearing it. A lot is being made of Robin Van Persie's reaction to seeing Chamberlain go off yesterday. He was, perhaps, unlucky to be caught on television, but it was a reaction that should scare us all. If the Club Captain is reacting like that, then what other players are questioning the Manager and his methods? (Incidentally, anyone who thinks this will see Van Persie not signing a new contract needs to realise that he wasn't going to do so even before yesterday - otherwise it would have been done months ago).
 The title of this post states that yesterday was "momentous...for the wrong reasons" and it certainly was. I can only finish by, regretfully, linking to a song that sums up my feelings towards Arsene Wenger. Again, it brings me no pleasure or satisfaction, but you might just have begun to agree with me now. I'm just sorry that Arsene's glorious reign will end in such an inglorious and acrimonious way. I could write so much more, but I will wait until it finally comes to an end. Perhaps a book could be on the cards...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Manchester United (h) preview

TV5 - looking like he will play

There was a time, not that long ago, when the matches between Arsenal and Man Utd were THE fixtures in the Premier League season. Sadly, thanks to our decline since 2005, that is no longer the case. The humiliation of what happened in August could not have underlined the gap between us any more than it did. Of course that was a seriously weakened Arsenal team, but the Man Utd side was younger even than our embarrassing eleven on that day. That Arsenal improved dramatically after the signings were made a couple of days later will count for nothing tomorrow, such is the latest injury crisis to beset us - especially at the back. The 8-2 defeat, and the complete and utter humiliation it caused, should be all the motivation needed tomorrow, however, regardless of injuries. If the players don't put it in tomorrow then they really have become a dead loss once again.
It seems, from various things doing the rounds tonight, that Thomas Vermaelen is likely to play. Is he properly fit? I sincerely doubt it. Can he get through this game, at least? We can only hope so. I remember Patrick Vieira being gambled with in 2003 against United, and it didn't pay off. However, with the way we are right now, Thomas Vermaelen is certainly a risk worth taking. Even playing out of position at left-back I think it is difficult to quantify just how much Vermaelen's presence improves our defence. I wouldn't be averse to seeing Koscielny switching to left-back with TV5 alongside Mertesacker. Koscielny has more pace than Vermaelen to go up against Nani, while Vermaelen has the physical attributes to combat Wayne Rooney.
In midfield most people seem to be tipping Tomas Rosicky to come in for Benayoun, as Mikel Arteta is still out injured. I know Benayoun was fairly anonymous at Swansea last week, but he is surely worth another dig ahead of Rosicky. If I had my way then the Israeli would certainly be getting the nod, but I fear Little Mozart will be there from the start tomorrow - this week marked the two year anniversary of his last Premier League goal. For an attacking midfield player, albeit one who doesn't play every week, that is a scandalously poor return.
Thierry Henry is apparently to undergo a late fitness test on his calf. It's strange how, when one player gets a certain type of injury at Arsenal, we see three or four dropping like flies straight after. I can only put it down to something being done differently in the training regime. Make no mistake we need Henry tomorrow. I'm sure a fit Thierry would have got a start ahead of Arshavin down the left. In his absence I would have no qualms at all about putting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in. The lad is champing at the bit to get his chance, and there is no bigger stage in the Premier League than against Manchester United. I also fancy his chances against United's choices at right-back.
The results today have certainly gone Arsenal's way. Whether we can take advantage of that remains to be seen. On the evidence of the past few weeks I would have to think it unlikely. I hope that the motivation I wrote about earlier in this piece is prevalent. If we can get at United, which will mean a lot of hard work, then we can damage their defence. The important thing is to take the chances we create for a change. There must be more shots at goal - I read a stat the other dy that less than 10% of our goals come from shots outside the area, while more than 20% of those conceded come from there. If that's not telling us something then I don't know what will. We have the ability to create, even in the 8-2 we missed a number of chances. If we can score our goals, and defend even reasonably properly, then Arsenal have a chance tomorrow. It is a must win game again. Let's hope Arsenal can produce and put us in the right mood again.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Thierry was out of order

Thierry - things have changed since this picture was taken

I've been away since Sunday on a training course for work. As a result I was not in a position to update the blog at all. In fairness I don't think there would have been much activity on here in any case. As is often the way after a defeat the Club goes in to a bit of a blackout in terms of proper communication through its official channels. They obviously realise that a bit of silence is slightly more palatable than a bunch of empty soundbites from players that have been failing miserably in recent weeks (apart from Szczesny who has been allowed his weekly say on "the top four.")
There being little in the way of news these past few days I want to address the controversy caused by Thierry Henry's altercation with a travelling supporter on Sunday. It seems that the King doesn't like the paying punters telling his colleagues what they think of them. In fairness to Henry, it seems that the only reason the players were in a position to get some stick was because he insisted on them going to show some appreciation of those that pay their money to follow Arsenal. The thing is, having paid that money, you're kind of entitled to tell the players what you think of them. It seems that they are more than happy to milk the adulation when they win at Chelsea, but couldn't wait to get gone after being humiliated at Swansea City.
Back when Henry was in his pomp it was very rare for the players to be subjected to anything vaguely approaching vitriol from the supporters. The fact is that the team was much better than this one. However, they also worked so much harder than the current bunch. It was rare that you could accuse the side from 2000 to 2005 of shirking at any time. That's' why the reaction of the fans was so strange to Henry. In my view there is nothing more annoying than a lack of effort and I think Henry needs to realise that.
Henry has apologised since the incident, and he damn well should have done. I have no idea what the fan in question was actually saying and doing, but unless it was out and out abuse (I suspect it wasn't) he has the right to have his say. No player, whatever his standing in the Club, has the right to criticise a paying supporter for saying what they think. Ultimately the supporters pay the exorbitant wages of people like Arshavin and Walcott. If I stood there and remonstrated with my pay-masters like Henry did, simply because I didn't like their critical feedback, I would be collecting a P45 pretty soon. One of the big problems these past few years has been the fact that Arsene Wenger will never criticise his team. In fact he goes to great lengths to praise them when they are clearly not worthy of it. Perhaps if the players got to know how the supporters feel a bit more often they might be more given to putting in a shift every now and again.
Last week we were basking in the glow of Thierry Henry's glorious comeback. He said, after the game, that he now knew what it felt like to score a goal as a fan. On the evidence of Sunday he doesn't quite get it after all. If he is a fan then I hope he had certain people by the throat in the changing room afterwards and told them to shape up or ship out. Maybe he could also take in hand certain young players (I'm talking about Szczesny) who have too much to say when they've yet to achieve anything. Perhaps then Henry would genuinely know what it's like to be a supporter who has had to sit through what those who went to Swansea had to sit through.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Swansea 3 - 2 Arsenal - Gunners back to square one

Ramsey - lack of pace seriously exposed

Between the match at Blackburn, and Christmas, one of the most impressive things about this Arsenal team was the apparent fact that they had shrugged off the previous tendency to coast through certain matches. Gone was the attitude of "all we have to do is turn up against this lot." Over the last couple of weeks is has alarmingly returned, along with the kind of amateurish defending that saw us humiliated at Old Trafford and Ewood Park.
For ten minutes at the start of the game yesterday I thought we were looking at a fine performance that would see a very good win. And then the players simply stopped playing. It seemed that they decided Swansea City were not very good and the next 80 minutes could be coasted through with no problems at all. In short, they forgot the need to work hard for each other in order to get results. With only Ignasi Miquel not a full international this one certainly can't be put down to a lack of experience.
We scored a superb early goal through Robin Van Persie, played in by a lovely pass from Andrey Arshavin. We cut through their defence brilliantly, and it wasn't the first chance of the game. In the very first minute Van Persie had sent Walcott clear only for him to fail to control the ball and run it straight in to touch. I have to say my patience with Walcott has finally snapped. There has been no improvement whatsoever in Walcott's basic football skills in his six years at Arsenal. I hear people saying he has not been allowed to play in his preferred role, and that is probably a fair point. However, there is no excuse for any professional footballer to be so incapable to controlling a football, running with a football, and passing a football to someone on the same team. I have never seen anyone play so often, yet be so clueless as to the correct option and the execution of it. In injury-time at the end of the game he was given a pass by Thierry Henry, who had just won the ball in midfield and set us on the attack. Walcott immediately turned back towards his own goal and passed it to Johan Djourou who was faced up by two Swansea players. Theo Walcott is a joke as a footballer. If he is genuinely asking for £85,000-a-week Arsenal should show him exactly where the exit door is. He will never, ever, be a top class player. Just compare him with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when he came on - twice he was able to run at his man, and he beat him both times before picking out a red shirt in the centre.
Swansea's penalty has been shown to be a joke decision. My first reaction was that it was a foul by Ramsey, but the TV pictures show something quite different. What they also show is that the referee is only five yards away, with a clear view of the incident. Why does he give a penalty? When you've watched Arsenal's matches since the game at Manchester City, and the decisions that we have had not going our way, it gets harder and harder to take.
While it wasn't a penalty you can't deny that Swansea deserved to win the game. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the whole match is that Arsenal were outplayed at their own game by a bunch of second division footballers. On a difficult pitch the Swans' players stroked the ball around with pace and class. They were confident and more than able to mix it. They had superior fitness that allowed them to close Arsenal down for ninety minutes. They were better than Arsenal in every single facet of the game. What they also had was a clear idea of where Arsenal's main weakness would be, and it came in the lack of pace of Aaron Ramsey. Every time he got the ball there were men closing him down and he simply had no answer. The way he got caught on the ball for the second goal was shockingly bad. I read last night where someone was saying Miquel was out of position, but that was because the lad had won the ball and had stepped forward because we looked to be on the break. The goal was Ramsey's fault, make no mistake.
We've heard a lot in recent months about how our good run was due, in no small part, to our new and experienced players. How, then, do we explain the winning goal? On Match Of The Day last night Lee Dixon highlighted the way Arsenal lined up at the kick-off following our equaliser. We had three men - Walcott, Van Persie and Ramsey - seemingly still high-fiving each other on the far side of the pitch. Tomas Rosicky was paying no attention to the situation whatsoever in midfield, while Miquel was a long way from home, with nobody telling him to hold his position. It was schoolboy stuff. When the kick-off was made the ball immediately was won by Miquel and passed to Thierry Henry. For some reason Henry tried a casual flick in to midfield and gave it away again. Let's be clear that, had that been Arshavin, the fans would have been going mad. It was awful from Henry and he deserves to be hammered as much as anyone else. From there Koscielny made his only error in weeks as he failed to track his runner, but I also believe he saw Szczesny coming and backed off. The Pole then stopped coming and got himself in to no-man's land. It was an absolute car-wreck of a goal to concede and you would have to say that, had it been Almunia or Fabianski in goal they would have been slagged something chronic. Szczesny has made a lot of mistakes in recent weeks. For me he has too much to say for someone who has achieved nothing. It's time for him to be taken in hand by the Club and told to keep his mouth shut, and concentrate on becoming a good goalkeeper.
One other thing I want to comment on is how the Manager should be questioned once again. Back in August Arsene Wenger spent £4 million of our money on a centre-forward from Monaco. We have seen precious little of Ju Young Park. Yesterday, when we were losing, Wenger chose to bring on a midfield player, Tomas Rosicky, who hasn't scored (or even looked like scoring) for two years (I'm ignoring his goal at Orient). Wenger must be asked why he spent this money on Park. If the guy isn't going to get a game ahead of someone like Rosicky when we are losing, then what the hell is he doing at Arsenal Football Club? I don't blame Park for not being good enough, but I do blame Wenger for wasting money that should have been invested in a player that might actually be of the standard required.
Fourth place (which is far from good enough for Arsenal) is now looking a very tough ask. In light of recent results I think we can forget the top three. That means we are chasing Chelsea. Now that they have signed a defender worthy of the name I can't see us catching them. We are, once again, in need of quality players. On the evidence of yesterday, in particular, the likes of Szczesny, Mertesacker, Ramsey, Walcott, Arshavin, Rosicky and Benayoun are lacking when it comes to needing something extra. One or two of those believe their own headlines, while the others simply lack the necessary pace to influence a game proplerly. It feels like we are back to where we were in August, but the Manager will do nothing about it despite the millions available. It is going to be a long four months.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Swansea (a) preview

RVP - back and fresh

A trip to South Wales awaits the boys tomorrow as they travel to face Swansea City. Aaron Ramsey can expect a pretty lukewarm reception, being an ex-Cardiff City player. I thought the boyo played well on Monday night, and he should be more keen than ever to finally add some end product to all the honest endeavour of recent weeks. Given that Ramsey has been playing in Cesc Fabregas' old position his number of goals is really quite poor this season. I was encouraged by the fact that he was actually prepared to have a shot at goal on Monday night. Throughout the season Ramsey is someone who has certainly been guilty of over playing in a promising position. Perhaps having Chamakh ahead of him, rather than Van Persie, on Monday made him a little more ambitious. Whatever it was, I want more of it tomorrow.
Robin Van Persie is back tomorrow having been sent away on holiday last week. I hope his time away has the effect of rejuvenating him once again for the second half of the season, rather than seeing him take his eye off the ball slightly. The press has been full of questions about whether he can play with Thierry Henry (of course he can, ridiculous question) and whether the Manager will play them both from the start. Personally I would rather see Henry from the start of the game, and not coming on when it may be too late. I can understand the school of thought that you want him coming on to make an impact, but I would rather see a motivated Thierry on the pitch than an insipid Arshavin. By the same token I would far rather see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain playing on the right than Theo Walcott, but that seems far less likely than a start for Henry.
At the back we might still be without Per Mertesacker. It seems that the big man has been a bit unwell this week. The press seem to think that Arsene would be forced to pair Koscielny with the hapless Squillaci if Mertesacker is injured. My view is that I would prefer to see Djourou alongside Koscielny with Yennaris playing right-back. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I believe Djourou is a far better player than Squillaci. The second is that I believe Yennaris would do a better job at right-back than Djourou can. That being the case I see it as a no-brainer, but I'm not the Manager so I expect Squillaci to play if Mertesacker is still out.
Swansea have been playing really well all season. They were unlucky when they played at our place as a rare mistake by their goalkeeper, Vorm, presented Arshavin with an equally rare goal. I caught glimpses of their home match with Tottenham a fortnight ago, and they dominated the second-half. Swansea play decent football. They haven't got too many goals in the team, but their defending is very good indeed. They also seem to have found a fine goalkeeper. For a team getting its first crack at the Premier League they have been outstanding. Tomorrow will be a tough game, make no mistake.
Arsenal dropped bad points over Christmas against Wolves and Fulham. That has left us playing catch-up once again when, really, we could have been right in the scrap at the top going in to tomorrow. Yet again we have a must-win game to play. I hope to see a far better attitude than we saw in the second-half at Craven Cottage the other week.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Steve Claridge gets right on my nerves

Jack - coming back soon, but not according to Claridge

On the way home from the match on Monday night I was listening to Radio 5 Live as usual. And, without wanting to break with tradition, one of their "experts" served to wind me up by peddling their usual anti-Arsenal sentiment. On this occasion it was Steve Claridge. I don't know what Claridge's gripe with us is. There is no obvious reason for him to dislike Arsenal, other than the fact that the man is a grade one idiot. Maybe he has lost a lot of his bets on Arsenal over the years. He was clearly smarting from Arsenal's progression past Leeds and was in no mood to give any credit to Thierry Henry, or anyone else associated with the Club. So, what did he actually say that has managed to wind me up so much that I am writing about it four days after?
As the programme was coming to its conclusion Claridge was asked by the presenter, Mark Chapman, for his summing up. Claridge went on to say how the win was merely "papering over the cracks" at Arsenal. He qualified his view by stating that "there's not much to come back in to the Arsenal team that played tonight." What an absolute clown this guy is. Ahead of the eleven that started, and the used subs, the following would all be in the first-choice of players: Sagna, Gibbs/Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Wilshere, Gervinho and Van Persie. I make that seven positions, out of eleven, that would have been filled by someone else had they been available, or not rested for the FA Cup tie.
Claridge is one of an ever growing number of professional Arsenal haters who are in a position to set the agenda for people who want to criticise us. These people (Steven Howard of The Sun is another in this category) will not let simple things like incontrovertible facts get in the way of a ridiculous statement. The most annoying thing about mugs like Claridge is that this prat is working on the BBC. We are actually paying the wages for this man. I don't know about you, but I'm slightly uncomfortable that part of my licence fee funds the gambling habits of low-life scum like Steve Claridge. Why does the BBC employ a man who was a less than average footballer (hence the fact that he played for so many clubs) and failed Manager, to give "expert" analysis on football? It's not even as though Claridge is particularly articulate. He just about manages a full sentence every now and again.
I hate Claridge even more than he seems to hate Arsenal. He's right up there with people like Robbie Savage who seem to have conned media outlets in to thinking they were some kind of cult figure in football, who everybody secretly liked but wouldn't admit to it. In the words of the German sailor in Dad's Army, Claridge's name "will also go on the list."

There will be a preview of the Swansea game at some point tomorrow.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Full-back woes

Kieran Gibbs: What is taking so long?

Francis Coquelin's hamstring injury on Monday night has done us no favours whatsoever. With so many full-backs (and people that could fill-in at full-back) out injured the last thing Arsenal needed was another one. It was also a big blow for Coquelin himself as he was really starting to establish himself as a member of the usual matchday 18. Being a player with the ability to play in a number of positions is a big advantage to such a youngster. He reminds a bit of Flamini or Grimandi, so I hope his mentality is more Gilles than Mathieu. To say his injury leaves us with some pretty threadbare options is an understatement. However, I have no problem whatsoever if it means Nico Yennaris getting a couple of games.
I have been able to see Yennaris on two occasions now for the first-team, and he has really done well. For a small guy he rarely loses an aerial tussle, and he is quick and strong. Yennaris doesn't lack for skill either, and looked far more dangerous going forward than Theo Walcott did when he came on against Leeds. I heard Arsene's interview after the game where he conveyed his hope that Djourou would be available for Sunday at Swansea. However, I would rather see the youngster playing at right-back than Djourou. I like Djourou, and I thought he was our best defender last season, but I have been impressed by Yennaris and would like him to get the sort of opportunity that Kerrea Gilbert got in 2006.
On the other side of the pitch we saw Ignasi Miquel put in another reasonable effort against Leeds, despite being a centre-back having to play out of position. The improvement in Miquel since his debut at Leyton Orient last season is massive. He looks bigger, quicker and stronger, and is a decent footballer. I think he learned a hell of a lot when he was forced in to the fray at home to Liverpool right at the start of this season, and he looks like he could have a future. However, I would much rather we brought in a proper left-back to play there. You can only go on so long hedgeing your bets like that. It will really not do to have Miquel playing up against Nani on Sunday week - the memories of Old Trafford and Armand Traore are still clear in the mind.
There can be no doubt that we have suffered a rotten run with regards to injury in the full-back positions. Andre Santos' injury could have been avoided as he simply shouldn't have been playing in the match in which he got injured, but most of the other injuries are just pure bad fortune. Having said that I have to wonder what the hell is going on with Kieran Gibbs. First of all he strained stomach muscles because, it seems, the medical staff hadn't picked up on a hernia. Having had an operation on his hernia I would question what the delay is to his return. Why is it taking him so long to get back to playing football? It now seems likely that Bacary Sagna will be back before Gibbs, despite having broken his leg!
There is no doubt that Arsene has a decision or two to make, and he needs to make them quickly. Reinforcements are required, preferably before the weekend. The Manager says he doesn't want to sign anybody on a permanent basis at left-back, but that might just be limiting his options a bit too far. Needs must, and if that means getting the cheque-book out then so be it. What would be wrong with signing Leighton Baines? So what if it means you have to sell one of Santos or Gibbs in the Summer? If the person you're bringing in is a better player then it's tough luck on the one who pays the price, but that's football.
I said how we have had bad luck with these injuries, and to lose all four full-backs, and then those that are able to cover as well, has little to do with a lack of squad depth. In fact, we are far less well equipped in other areas. But I feel it is important to now make our own luck a little bit. It might cost a couple of million or more, but get it done.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Arsenal 1 - 0 Leeds Utd - "I was there"

The King salutes his subjects last night

Last night marked the fourth truly memorable moment since we moved to Ashburton Grove. Prior to this the only things that really stick with me are the last minute win over Manchester United in 2007 when Henry scored with a header, Fabregas' goal from the re-start against Tottenham to get us two goals in a minute, and Arshavin's winner against Barcelona last season. The very return of Henry had, no doubt, put a few thousand bums on seats that wouldn't have been there otherwise. That he should come on and lift us to a victory by scoring a trademark Thierry goal made it a real "I was there" occasion. The noise when he scored was possibly the loudest we've yet witnessed in the new stadium (in stark contrast to the less than vocal home support up to the point of his introduction). A refelction of the noise can be found in John Motson's Radio5Live commentary on the game - check out the BBC I-Player where you can listen to it at 1 hour 34 minutes of the show.
On Sunday I said how I was fearing last night would be an anti-climax. I feared the fact that Arsene Wenger might field too much of a weakened team, and that Henry's impact would not be what we were hoping for. It's great to be wrong, on occasion. We were talking about things in the car on the way home and I pointed out that, had we won 1-0 with a goal by Chamakh, we would probably have been moaning that we had struggled against a second division side. As it was the only goal was provided by Thierry Henry, and all was right with the World. I suspect it's only in football that the same result, with a different way of winning, could make you think in that way.
The game itself saw Arsenal dominate against a team that came to try and book a replay. Leeds were very organised, and very determined. I was impressed by the fact that they didn't come to Arsenal and try to kick us off the pitch. They did their share of time-wasting, of course, but it certainly wasn't excessive in any way - compared with the way Wolves carried on two weeks ago it was positively hurried. I spoke to my mate Doug, a big Leeds fan, after the game and he was pleased with his side and their performance. He's been trying to ignore me and my talk of King Henry this past couple of weeks, but he couldn't ignore it any longer last night! I think he also will now realise that Mel Sterland isn't the King, after all.
I thought we started well and Arshavin had a couple of early opportunities. The second chance, set up well by Chamakh, should have been taken comfortably. In fairness to our little Russian I thought he tried hard last night, but his quality of play was severely lacking when it mattered. Time and again Arshavin ran at his full-back last night, but at no point did he get past him. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, meanwhile, was tearing up the other side of the pitch. On the one occasion he went down Arshavin's flank he roasted that same full-back and played a superb ball across the six-yard box, from which Chamakh and Arteta should have made something.
Chamberlain was the star of the show as far as I was concerned. I called his substitution before half-time as we all know what Arsene Wenger will do long before it happens. He was far and away the man of the match (even Henry said the award was a "joke"). The contrast between Chamberlain and Walcott, and their respective abilities, could not have been more stark. If, as reported, Theo is after £85,000 per week to sign a new deal, he better go and find it somewhere else because Arsenal should never agree to anything remotely close for someone so limited. Aaron Ramsey also seemed to enjoy playing alongside The Ox and got through a serious amount of work, even if his end product was not quite there (he had a number of shots last night, for a change, but none of them worked the goalkeeper).
Marouane Chamakh looks well and truly finished as an Arsenal footballer. I thought he started brightly last night but, as the game wore on, he looked more and more out of his depth again. His failure to properly attack the ball in the penalty area, and the obvious lack of confidence which seems to stop him from daring to shoot at goal, make him a busted flush. As with Walcott and Chamberlain the movement, touch and finishing of Thierry Henry could not have underlined the difference in any greater detail.
So what about the goal itself? First of all I want to note the contribution of Alex Song to another Arsenal goal. Last night was, I think, his sixth assist of the season. It is an indictment on certain other players in midfield that he is our most effective playmaker, as well as being the only man protecting the defence in any way (Mikel Arteta, last night, was notbaly absent at both ends of the pitch throughout the game - where was he? Why was he Captain?!) The pass from Song was inch-perfect and timed brilliantly to find Henry's run. I watched the end of the game on Sky+ when I got home last night and Martin Keown pointed out that Henry was looking to get in behind Leeds' defence, which had not happened all night with Chamakh. The first-touch from Henry was absolutely majestic, wasn't it? There are some things that you never lose, even when the speed of your running is not what it might have been. When he opened himself up I think everyone held their breath in the stadium. Watching that ball find the side of the net is something that will live with me forever, I think. It was the sort of moment that reminds you why it is you spend all that money and take all that time out to watch Arsenal. I think it was quite deliberate that Henry ran straight to Arsene Wenger and flung his arms around him. He was chased by the young players in the team (and Sebastien Squillaci, who couldn't quite keep up) who will all be able to say that they played with Thierry Henry, no matter what happens in the rest of their career. As I've said, the noise was incredible at that moment, and the celebration long.
Having watched the post-match interviews something struck me about Arsene Wenger. It has been said quite often that he has looked gaunt and ill in recent times. Over the past two years he has aged considerably. Last night I thought I was watching an interview with a different man completely. Obviously he was bathing in the glow of a win, albeit a narrow one against a team from a League below. But there seemed to be a certain sparkle. I believe that the return of his protege, the man who owes him more than any other player, has re-invigorated the Manager. There was something about him that I had not seen for such a long time, perhaps since before Henry left in 2007. Who knows, one or two other things might return along with the King, including some ambition and a winning mentality.
I have no doubt that there was also a certain sense of justification for Arsene last night. When he said Henry was coming back there was plenty of criticism from the idiots in the press. This was clearly a "desperate" move accoring to many of the "expert" newspaper journalists (each one famed for his long and distinguished career in football...or not). If Henry doesn't score another goal in his spell back with us, he will have done enough to justify his signature by getting us in to the fourth round of the FA Cup. I am grateful for the chance to see Thierry once more in an Arsenal shirt, and for the fact that my son will also get the chance to say that he saw Henry play. Whatever else occurs, thanks Arsene for bringing him back.
Aside from the goal there were a couple of other things I noticed with Thierry. When he came on he was running around and putting himself about. It wouldn't be entirely uncharitable to suggest that he expended more energy in his twenty-five minutes on the pitch last night than he did in the whole of his final season with Arsenal in 06-07. The other thing was the way in which he was talking to, directing and cajoling his colleagues. He looked every inch the leader. Again this was completely different to the Henry who had actually been Captain of Arsenal all those years ago.
Above all Henry showed that he is an Arsenal Man. The goal, his reaction, and the reaction of the supporters will have showed him, I suspect, what he has been missing about Arsenal more than anything. As much as he might claim to enjoy his time in the MLS there is nothing remotely so visceral and there can never be such an illogical human response in America, than there was when he scored last night. There is no way that Thierry himself has reacted to scoring a goal in such a way in America (and probably not in Spain before he went to the States). Henry achieved his final ambition at Barcelona by winning the European Cup - it gave him the full set of medals - but I reckon last night might have left him with a regret that he didn't come back sooner.
They say you should never go back - clearly this is utter nonsense. Sol Campbell, Jens Lehmann and, now, Thierry Henry have all returned. They have all added something positive, and have all contributed something tangible on the pitch. There is no substitute for class, no matter how old you might have become in football terms.

I'm not going to address the problems caused by the injury to Francis Coquelin (who has, happily, signed a new contract) today as this is not a time to talk about problems. I just want to enjoy the thought of Henry's winner last night for as long as possible. I'll post something on the full-back issue tomorrow.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Leeds United (h) preview

My shirt will look like this tomorrow

So here we are then, with just twenty-four hours to go until Arsenal provide us with the great anti-climax. I have a very real fear that things are not going to go well tomorrow evening. I can see disaster lurking in the shape of our visitors from Yorkshire. The return of Thierry Henry has caused us Gooners much excitement, but his role tomorrow will probably be as a sub, thus killing the match atmosphere before it even starts. There is no logical reason for my thinking the game will pan out this way, but since when has anyone been able to apply logic to a game of football?
The FA Cup represents Arsenal's most likely route to silverware this season. It stands to reason that, with only six games needing to be won (out of a maximum possible ten thanks to the ludicrous lack of replays in the semi-final and final), this is the "easiest" of the trophies we have still to play for. With a fortunate draw (on paper tomorrow's game is one of those, the next round would not be - Aston Villa await the winner) and with a small amount of luck you can win the FA Cup. For all our failings in recent seasons it can not be argued that we have enjoyed a great deal of that. Okay we used up a fair bit in winning the Cup at Cardiff in 2005, but since then there has been no four-leaf clover hanging over Arsenal Football Club.
Given what I have just said I want to see a pretty much full-strength team tomorrow. Yes, you should be able to get away with resting one or two (and RVP will certainly not be playing) but this is the Cup, and we are playing against a Club with a massive following who will be vocal in the extreme tomorrow evening. I want to see Szczessny, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Song, Ramsey etc all involved from the start. We have a lack of defenders so there is a chance one of our regular centre-halves will have to play, but it will probably be alongside Squillaci, which brings its own perils. Ignasi Miquel will likely get a game on the left with either Coquelin, Yennaris or Hoyte coming in at right-back. Most importantly I see Manuel Almunia making the most amazing comeback since Lazarus and playing in goal.
I have stated many times that I believe Almunia to be the second best goalkeeper at Arsenal, but his errors of the past have made him a marked man. When he has played in the past two years every touch has been greeted with gasps, or sarcastic cheers. Every error has been met with vocal derision. Gradually Almunia has been destroyed, his frail mental state beaten down by the fans. Too many people fail to support players like Almunia, and seemingly can't wait to take pleasure from an error that costs us a goal. I don't get that mentality. If Almunia does play tomorrow he will get my support, simply because he is wearing an Arsenal badge on his chest. The same will apply to Squillaci - I don't think he's good enough, but he deserves my encouragement simply by virtue of putting on a red and white shirt.
Up front we will have a mixture of Arshavin, Chamakh, Park and/or Chamberlain. I really don't see Wenger starting Henry. We've already had the "he is two weeks away from full fitness" nonsense (he's only here for six weeks for God's sake!) If Arsenal get off to a bad start tomorrow, or if Arshavin is lazy, or if Park and Chamakh miss a chance or two, the crowd will start to get on at them. The chanting for Henry will become louder. This will do the players on the pitch no good at all. With the Leeds fans supporting their side so well it will only serve to unsettle the players. That is why Henry should be on from the beginning, as Captain.
Maybe I'm being too negative but, from what I've written here, I'm sure you can now understand why I fear the outcome of tomorrow night's game. A loss against Leeds and the season is probably going to lurch from one disappointment to another as we move towards May. A win and we live to fight another day and another game.
One more word of warning - Leeds have a guy on loan from Spurs called Andros Townsend. He played last week and was, by all accounts, a bit handy. He may have a name like an ITV cretin, but his Spurs' association would be a headline writers dream, and this is the FA Cup, where odd things happen - they haven't really happened to us too much since 1992 at Wrexham, so let's hope we're not lamenting a catastrophe on Tuesday morning.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Arsene worried about curse of Kolo

Hoping his forehead doesn't come back like Kolo's backside

It’s almost been like an international week since we last played. There’s been plenty of run of the mill stuff going on around the Club with injury updates, transfer gossip and the eventual confirmation of Henry’s return. However, none of it has been particularly inspiring. In such circumstances you usually have to wait for Arsene Wenger to say something in order to have something to write about, and this week has been no exception.
Arsene did his pre-match press and official website duties yesterday and, amid the news on Vermaelen, Gibbs, Thierry and no further signings being altogether likely, there was some comment made upon the Africa Cup Of Nations. Arsene has spoken of his “fear” of the competition, and the effect that it can have on his players. He spoke about the pressurised nature of the competition, and the weather etc, and how it can mean a player coming back lacking in certain areas. Arsenal, of course, know this better than most after the experience of Kolo Toure.
Back in 2008 Arsenal were pushing at the top of the table, and the Title was well within our grasp. Kolo had gone off to play for Ivory Coast and been replaced by Philippe Senderos. Playing alongside William Gallas seemed to suit the Swiss defender’s style, and the pair were impressive together. Senderos had a good run of games under his belt, and his form was excellent. I remember playing Blackburn at home and winning, fairly comfortably, with Senderos among the goals that night. It put us eight points clear at the top of the Premier League. Within two weeks Kolo Toure was back at Arsenal, overweight and unfit, and back in the team. The defence slowly fell apart over the next two months, not helped by what happened at Birmingham with Eduardo and Gallas, or at Old Trafford in the FA Cup with the Manager sending the younger players to be slaughtered. Senderos would have little further involvement until a Champions League quarter-final second leg at Anfield when he was destroyed by Fernando Torres and left in tears at the final whistle. His Arsenal career was effectively over.
There is no doubt that Wenger should not have selected Toure on his return as it upset the team that had been playing so well. However, it is clear that the problems for Toure stemmed from being away with Ivory Coast. The effect it then had on Arsenal was acutely felt. Kolo, himself, was never the same player for Arsenal after that. He seemed to get slower, and fatter, not helped by contracting malaria while on another international stopover. It all contributed to a decline that saw us happy to get so much money for him from Manchester City.
With all of this being the case it is little surprise that the Manager lives in fear of the Africa Cup Of Nations. I would argue that the tournament owes us one, so hopefully Marouane Chamakh will return this time as the player he was before Christmas 2010. That would be a very welcome thing indeed.

I’ll be doing a preview of the Leeds game, and the return of the King, tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Why is it always Arsenal that can't tie things up?

Wenger - not being helped by those in adminstration

Why is it that most Arsenal transfer dealings in recent years have dragged on? It seems that ever since we went in to overtime to sign Arshavin every transfer seems to be drawn out in some way. The dealings in the final hour of August 31st show that deals can be done and dusted in no time at all, so what's holding up Thierry Henry's dotting of the i's and crossing of the t's?
Thierry was supposed to play in the Reserves today at London Colney. In his absence a strong Arsenal team went down 2-0 to a rather weaker Sunderland outfit. The reason Henry wasn't involved was that there is still a problem with his insurance paperwork. This is the same problem that we were told of on Friday morning. The newspapers seem to indicate that it is a problem at the New York end of the deal, but I can't believe things couldn't have been ironed out by now by Arsenal - we should have had all this done in mid-December, for God's sake, so that Thierry would have been available to play at Fulham two days ago.
The plan, as far as I could see, was for Henry to play a good chunk of the game this afternoon, so that he would be available to start on Monday evening against Leeds. Having not played he will most likely start the game on the bench next week. This brings with it another problem. We will surely start with one, or both, of Chamakh and Park (who played the whole game today) up-front. If they, or the team, get off to a slow start, or chances are missed, the crowd will then chant louder and louder for Henry. This will do neither Arsenal, nor those two strikers, any good on the night.
As much as I go on about Arsene Wenger and his various failings, I have to think he is not being helped enough by those behind the scenes. The way that the transfer dealings constantly seem to drag their feet can not be good for the Manager and his planning. You could argue, I suppose, that Arsene spends so little money that those who deal with transfer paperwork are a bit out of practise, but I'm sure you can see where I'm coming from. We have enough problems without making things more difficult for ourselves.
Given that we need more players in than Thierry Henry, I hope that the people responsible get plenty of practise in January, but I won't hold my breath waiting for Wenger to spend.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Fulham 2 - 1 Arsenal - shameful second-half costs Arsenal

RVP with the sons of Ray Wilkins

The second-half of that game was a return to everything that was wrong at the Club over the past two years. After a first-half of utter dominance, punctuated by the usual refusal to put the ball in the net, and the now obligatory failure of a referee to award Arsenal a stone-wall penalty, we returned to the arrogance of old. Right from the kick-off of the second-half Arsenal never got started. I have no doubt that we will hear from Arsene that they were tired late in the game, but that would neglect the fact that Fulham have also played three times in a week. This is the same Fulham that were thrashed 5-0 last Monday by Manchester United. The weekend results had put us right in the chase. The results today have put us back outside the top four, and facing another uphill struggle.
Arsenal's biggest problem, for me, is the two idiots we have masquerading as attacking midfield players. I really don't buy this nonsense that Mikel Arteta is providing something we have been missing. The man is a midfield player (supposedly a creative one) who never plays a forward pass. He is joined by Aaron Ramsey, another "creative" ball player who always wants another touch, thus slowing down the play, and then playing it either square, backwards, or straight out of play for a throw-in. It's like watching two  latter-day Ray Wilkins poncing about in the middle of the pitch. Jack Wilshere's return can not come soon enough.
I have no doubt that numpties will be calling for Johan Djourou's blood following his sending off. The fact that the second yellow card came from something that wasn't a foul would be neither here nor there for these clowns. The same idiots will also refuse to blame Szczesny for some utterly abysmal goalkeeping which lead directly to the equaliser. He made a couple of good saves, but the error for the goal was unforgivable and, had it been Almunia or Fabianski, would have had the muppets that follow us up in arms.
Then we come to Tomas Rosicky and Sebastien Squillaci. Did Rosicky pass to anyone in a red shirt when he came on? The decision to leave Chamberlain out of the squad completely, while wasters like Rosicky and Arshavvin continue to get game-time marks a dereliction of duty by the Manager. How many other teams would have a Manager allowed to spend £10m+ on a player, and then never give the lad a game? Walcott was awful, and had to go off, but his potential replacements on the bench are nothing short of a disgrace. Squillaci, meanwhile, was a ridiculous substitution from Wenger. For some reason he seems to have turned his back on Ignasi Miquel, so we had this buffoon filling in at right-back after the red card. It was only a matter of time before he made his mistake, and it duly came in injury-time with a perfect header back across goal for Fulham's winner. Why is he still an Arsenal player?
As you might have guessed I am seriously annoyed as I write this. We had a real opportunity today, and they blew it. Disgraceful.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Arsenal 1 - 0 QPR match review, Fulham (a) preview

Chamakh - in line for a start tomorrow

I didn't make it to the game yesterday as planned. I woke up with a horrible cold and, with a return to work today, I didn't fancy three hours out in the cold London air and the knock-on effect it may have had. As a result my six-year-old got a bonus day out with Grandad and his Uncle's and the chance to see Tony Adams in the flesh, albeit from the other side of the ground. Despite not being at the game I did get to watch it in full by going to one of the local pubs and nursing an orange-juice throughout the game.
The match itself followed the all too familiar pattern of Arsenal dominance without really getting close to doing a lot of damage. Van Persie missed a couple of very presentable chances in the first-half (with better finishing and better refereeing in recent matches he would have destroyed Shearer's record) and Ramsey's superb volley was cleared off the line by Barton. Yet again we saw Barton making a terrible tackle on one of our players, and somehow escaping with a yellow card. Will Martin Atkinson be asked to explain why he booked Barton instead of sending him off? Of course not - he'll get rewarded instead with a top of the table clash next time he does a Premier League game.
The second-half, I thought, saw QPR start much better than Arsenal. Wright-Phillips looked to be a danger in the first ten minutes after half-time but, ironically, faded when Vermaelen went off injured. Perhaps the Belgian was carrying that knock for a while yesterday. Gradually we got back at it. I have always considered Theo Walcott's finishing to be his strong-point but, in the past couple of months, he has been woeful when faced with chances to score. His miss yesterday was embarrassing to say the least. It capped a poor performance - Gervinho's introduction showed exactly how much we had missed some direct running out wide, though his finishing is also woeful.
The goal came from some good pressure in midfield, before Arshavin produced his only telling contribution to Arsenal in the past three months. The pass from the little Russian was perfect, which makes his lazy demeanour and lack of application all the more galling. RVP was never going to miss that one and provided the big finish.
I've seen Warnock's contribution to Match Of The Day from last night, and how the man chose to embarrass himself. What exactly was he talking about? If he genuinely thinks Robin Van Persie is constantly fouling and cheating then he really is a complete bonehead. I've never liked Warnock, who always seems to want to be portrayed as the poor, hard done by, innocent party. The fact is that he is an odious fool who does his Club's no favours with this particular routine. He probably belongs on the Cretin List.

It being this time of the year the games continue to come thick and fast. Tomorrow evening the boys are in action against Fulham. I fully expect changes to be made. I was quite surprised at yesterday's starting line-up, and I can't believe Arsene will not be rotating tomorrow. I am concerned that the same mistakes will be made tomorrow, as were last season at Wigan. You might recall that Wenger changed most of the team following the home win over Chelsea, and it ended up costing us two points at the JJB.
Among those likely to get a game from the off is Marouane Chamakh. Personally I would rather see Van Persie continue to play - he has the best part of two weeks off after tomorrow as he won't be involved against Leeds - and try to get the job done. If RVP was to start, and we could get a performance going, with some goals thrown in, then he can be withdrawn early. If Chamakh starts, and Wenger is forced to bring on Robin to chase the game, he will have to sprint around far more which could easily lead to injury.
The midfield may also see changes. I would be shocked if Gervinho didn't start in place of either Walcott or Arshavin, while Rosicky, Chamberlain and Benayoun will all be fancying their chances of getting a game. There is little room for change at the back, but Miquel or Coquelin are likely to fill in at left-back in the absence of Vermaelen.
Fulham continue to struggle, and I hope that continues tomorrow. Zamora and Johnson have been left out of late but, after the way Zamora performed against us a few weeks ago, I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a game tomorrow. Clint Dempsey is a player I really rate, and he has carried them at times in an attacking sense this season - Arsenal will have to be on their guard against the American.
All in all it's another crucial game. A win will keep us up in the hunt. Results yesterday very much went our way (and today too with Man City losing). We need another win to put pressure on those above (and directly below) us. Who knows, get on a good run over the next eight weeks, which include home games with Man Utd and Tottenham, and anything might yet still be possible.

Happy New Year to you all. Here's to a trophy or two in 2012.