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Monday, 27 February 2012

Still grinning inanely - Arsenal 5 (FIVE) - 2 Tottenham

It's enough to make you twitch uncontrollably

I love being proved wrong by Arsenal. I really thought we were going to lose yesterday, and at 2-0 down it was going to be a case of how many we would lose by. Then, for some reason, the players realised what the game meant, what the shirt meant, and how privileged they are to play for Arsenal Football Club. It truly was a momentous afternoon and beyond anything we could have expected in the circumstances. For anyone who believed that Spurs have gone past Arsenal in a big way (I, for one, had only recently started to think they were a better side than us) it was a day to be shown the error of your ways.
The usual frailties were there to be seen. Their first goal simply showed how bad we can be at this defending lark. I just don't know where the defence was. Having said that, the finish was about as lucky as they come. When Van Persie had a shot deflected the wrong side of the post a little later I felt it wasn't going to be our day again. After they scored we summed up our play for most of the season as we got plenty of the ball but didn't do much with it. When we weren't giving it away we were going sideways across midfield and not threatening their defence. Then came, for me, the turning point of the game. There can be no doubt that Gareth Bale dived (as he had earlier in the game  - and so had Walker and Assou-Ekotto). Bale is rapidly becoming a more proficient master of the dark arts of cheating than Rooney and Gerrard. His usual move is to writhe around holding his ankle before getting up and sprinting away once the opponent has been booked. Yesterday his behaviour was as sinister as it gets. You could tell from the reaction of the Arsenal players that it wasn't a penalty. The remonstrating with the referee was not the usual false protestation you see when a penalty is given. Mike Dean knew he had got it wrong, and that is why he didn't show a card to Szczesny - once he'd awarded the penalty then the Pole had to be sent-off.  I notice that the press is not full of calls for Bale to be banned for his diving, but then he is British after all. I remember a very similar incident with Robbie Fowler diving over Seaman at Highbury in 1997. As it was, the injustice of the decision sparked the Arsenal players in to life.
Theo Walcott had been absolutely abysmal up to that point but it was his delightful flick, from which Van Persie hit the post, that ultimately led to our first goal. I have to say I thought the header from Bacary Sagna was sensational. We had put a couple of crosses in and stood and watched as their defenders cleared under no pressure. Sagna, on this occasion, decided to attack the ball and in doing so got in front of Bale to score brilliantly. His determined, rather than celebratory, reaction to the goal was a sign that he wanted to right some wrongs. The goal reminded me very much of one that Lee Dixon got up at Newcastle many years ago. It was now game on.
With tails now up Arsenal moved in to unstoppable mode. Suddenly we were closing down everything when they had the ball and moving it with pace when we had it. Mikel Arteta, for the first time in his Arsenal career, started to move the ball forward. Rosicky's movement with, and without, the ball was something Spurs couldn't handle. Benayoun buzzed all over Walker who suddenly looked lost on Tottenham's right, and Kieran Gibbs wasted no time in doubling up on him. Then there was Robin Van Persie. His goal was like a mirror image of Dennis Bergkamp. The control, turn and finish was amazing and it sent those of us in attendance mad. You had the sense that things were getting a bit twitchy on the Tottenham bench. I imagine Harry was quickly on the phone to his dog to get a half-time teamtalk typed up for him.
Shortly after we equalised Kieran Gibbs passed up an opporunity to make it 3-2 by trying to pass instead of shooting after beating a couple of defenders. However, this came after Adebayor got away with a blatant elbow on Thomas Vermaelen. The linesman saw it, and flagged for it. Mike Dean played the advantage for Arsenal, but didn't go back to his assistant to find out why he had flagged. Following our first game of the season the media ensured that Alex Song got banned for a stamp on Joey Barton which was missed by the referee. I want to see Arsenal making sure the media follow up on Adebayor. Why should we always be the ones to suffer from video replays?
The display in the second-half showed just how well Arsenal can play when the players apply themselves properly. In many ways it merely serves to underline the frustration with this group. Spurs simply had no answers to the pace and quality of Arsenal. Tomas Rosicky was rolling back the years and produced probably his best ever display for the Club. He thoroughly deserved his goal, and what a goal it was. The move itself was fantastic, but the finish was outstanding. Little Mozart celebrated with all the enthusiasm of a man who hadn't scored a league goal in two years.
After that it was the Theo show. As regulars will know I am not the biggest fan of Theo Walcott, but I love to give credit where it is due. His pace came to the fore as he made a barn-storming run to get on the end of Van Persie's through-ball. It was ironic that his inability to control the football provided the angle for his delightful finish to make it 4-2. Some of his finishing of late has been poor, but this was Walcott at his very best, the dinked chip was perfection and the crowd went crazy. Theo's reaction, captured brilliantly in slow-motion by Match Of The Day, was one of relief and delight all rolled in to one. The fact that it was about to get even better was quite incredible. Alex Song (more on him below) played yet another of his brilliant passes behind the defence and Theo was in again. This time the touch was first-class, and the finish equally as good as his earlier one. The atmosphere in the ground was as raucous and loud as it has been at any time (the Fabregas goal against Tottenham, Henry versus Manchester United and Leeds, and Arshavin against Barcelona are the only other moments that compare, in the new stadium). When you see Walcott making these kinds of runs in behind, and finishing so well, you have to wonder why he doesn't play like that all the time.
I believe that Robin Van Persie was made man-of-the-match on Sky. That was fairly predictable, but entirely wrong as far as I was concerned. Not only was Rosicky absolutely outstanding but, for me and many others I know, Alex Song was the main man yesterday. There can be few more improved footballers than Song in the Premier League. He has carried Arsenal's midfield for most of this season and yesterday he bestrode the pitch like Patrick Vieira in his prime. The way he was physically dominating Tottenham's players (especially in the second-half), mopping up in front of his defence, and then striding forward with pace, power, and an eye for a pass really was reminiscent of the great PV4. Along with Van Persie, Sagna and Koscielny he is among my very favourite players in this current squad.
I was disappointed with Arsenal's team selection before the game yesterday, but you can't argue that Arsene Wenger wasn't absolutely right yesterday. Again, credit where it's due, Arsene played a blinder with this one. Redknapp, meanwhile, got it seriously wrong. Tottenham still struggle with "Darren Anderton syndrome" by which I mean they are determined to play their best players against Arsenal regardless of fitness. The decision to put Ledley King out there yesterday seriously backfired. King is a first-rate player, but he couldn't even walk for most of the game, never mind run. Good luck with England Harry.
I am still smiling as I write this. It was the sort of result that sets you up for the entire week. The thing that makes it all the sweeter is that their muppet fans really thought they had seen the back of Arsenal. To then get hammered, and make no mistake this was a real thrashing, must make them sick as dogs. They remain obsessed with Arsenal. The game at our place remains their cup final every season (I prefer my cup finals to involve a trophy for the winner). If you want an illustration of their vitriol towards us, and their sheer jealousy of our success, then read the comments after my previous blog post on Saturday evening. You may also like to know that Saturday's post didn't make it in to the top 40 stories on Arsenal's NewsNow feed, but was in the top 10 on Tottenham's feed. How sad they are.

I'm not sure when the next post will be. We have silly internationals to endure this midweek, and I am at work throughout that time. I'll try and write something on Thursday, I think, when we can start to build towards another big game on Saturday. Until then. just keep smiling at them - it really winds them up.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Arshavin leaves, Tottenham (h) preview

More of this please

It's been a glorious Saturday here in South-East Kent. We've had lovely warm sunshine all day which couldn't be much more of a contrast with the weather of two and three weeks ago. This morning I went out with the wife and children for a walk/bike-ride around the village and thought just how nice our Country is when we have decent weather. Frankly there is nothing better than a lovely day in this part of England.

I was really surprised with the departure of Andrey Arshavin last night. Following Wenger's comments at the press conference he seemed set to be here for the rest of this season. You begin to wonder if things are being done at Arsenal without the say-so of our all-powerful Manager. In January I was very much in favour of the likes of Arshavin being shipped out. Back then, of course, there was the chance to bring in a replacement or two. Letting him go in February just seems absolutely bizarre. We are a team lacking in creativity and goalscorers, yet we have weakened our squad by allowing that type of player to leave. Of course the counter argument is that Arshavin has been anonymous all season so we're not likely to miss him, and there can be little argument with that. However, the one thing Arshavin has consistently proven is that he is a big-game player. That being the case I would have had him in the side tomorrow, playing behind Van Persie.
I have mixed emotions regarding Arshavin. His quality as a footballer can not be questioned. Arshavin is one of the very best football players I've seen in an Arsenal shirt. The first year after he arrived he was consistently brilliant, and he was a the sort of experienced leader we needed on the pitch (he even captained the team in a Premier League match at Portsmouth just a couple of months after his arrival, such was the impact of his influence on the team). The little Russian should have gone on to become an Arsenal legend. We will never be able to understand why that hasn't happened. My belief is that he was simply lazy, and didn't want to put in the hard work necessary to stay fit enough for the Premier League. He started to coast badly, and that's the only reason that a player like Theo Walcott (a whole-hearted trier, but a more than limited footballer) was able to oust him from the team. I nearly choked last night, however, when I heard Charlie Nicholas criticising Arshavin for displaying all the failings that could easily be thrown at himself. There was no hint of irony from Charlie and he really went down in my estimation.
Overall I am just deeply disappointed that it didn't work out for Arsenal and Andrey Arshavin. Whatever may have happened these past eighteen months we can't deny he was a fine footballer and a great character. The way some people reacted to him after the Manchester United game the other week was out of order, but that is the way of many modern Arsenal fans. I will remember the man with some affection as we will always have the four goals at Anfield and, even more joyously, the winning goal against the best team I have ever seen when we beat Barcelona this time last year. Thanks Andrey, all the best.

Tomorrow we have to "welcome" the knuckle-draggers to our place for the North London Derby. I can honestly say we have no chance whatsoever in this game. After all they have the single greatest Manager in the history of the game and Gareth Bale is far and away the best player in the whole World (Lionel Messi? Nowhere). You have to admit that this is the most formidable team we have played in about forty years. Their dominance of the Premier League and European Cup this season is the sort of thing that Arsenal supporters can only dream of. Let's be honest here Gooners, when did we ever have a squad to match this current Tottenham side? I, for one, will feel privileged to get to watch the football version of the Harlem Globetrotters tomorrow.
Frankly, I can't be bothered to write a proper preview of a game against the swamp-dwelling neanderthals today. We know it's going to be very tough to beat them as they are having a decent season, and we're having a poor one. For once we are not the favourites. On current form we should lose but, as I was reminded by a Tottenham supporter the other day, this is the North London Derby, and form is irrelevant. I hope Arsene pulls a master-stroke and gets some of the old boys in the dressing room before the game to tell the players exactly what it means.
Whatever the outcome tomorrow we must remember simply this: We are better than them, because we are ARSENAL. They are inferior to us because they are Scum.


Friday, 24 February 2012

Round-up: Prices, Players actually playing, Pearce is a clown

Same price next season

It's been a very quiet week in the World of Arsenal Football Club. The Club have clearly taken the sensible course of action and decided to keep smalltalk to a minimum after the debacles of the previous few days. Bacary Sagna was wheeled out as the lamb to the slaughter this week for the usual "we must bounce back" interview and it was not exactly well received. As I've said before I'm sick of this rubbish from the players as the performances on the pitch show the words on the internet to be empty sentiments. The quiet week has coincided, for me, with a week at work that hasn't lent itself to writing about Arsenal in any case. The main disappointment I've had since the weekend is the way that Sky have once again interfered with our scheduling to the effect that I will be unable to attend certain games that I could have before the TV changes. Typical.

The main news from the Club this week came yesterday with the announcement that season ticket prices will remain unaltered this year. In the circumstances I am far from surprised. Gazidis claims that this is something of a magnanimous gesture given the "rising cost of player wages..." etc. I couldn't really give a toss about the rising cost of player wages as that is the fault of the Club. If they have got a large number of average players on high wages then that is something they have to deal with. The supporters should not be penalised for the mismanagement of players contracts.
What has surprised me is that the announcement has been made so early. I suspect the Club wanted to avoid last year's speculation of an increase across the board when they announced their Club Level price rises. It seems that the Club Level season ticket holders will be forced to pay 2% more for their renewals, in contrast to the freeze for us regular plebs. I couldn't really care less that they are getting an increase as most of them were rich queue jumpers jumping on the Arsenal bandwagon when they purchased their seats in 2006. Something tells me that there won't be any protest marches with regards to the Club Level seats.
If there is a concern to be had over a price-freeze it is that we will see even less "investment" in the playing squad. This season we paid more than 6% extra and saw no big signings of note. When you pay the highest prices around you deserve to see the Club bringing in some World Class talent, rather than just selling it for a knock-down price to Barcelona - the money we got for Fabregas was an absolute insult. If we're not paying any extra this year then God knows what the Summer transfer business will be like...

I was very pleased to see the players picked to play in the Reserves the other night. I have to say it was a real shock to see such an experienced line-up. It would appear that the "senior" players that were in action performed very well, and displayed a good attitude. Frankly, when you're being paid to play football, I would hope the attitude is always good. I've never understood why players from the "first-team" that sit on the bench for most of the time do not play Reserve football. How can you expect a guy that has sat among the substitutes for two months to suddenly come in and play well on a one-off? Yossi Benayoun is a prime example of this, culminating in his performance at Swansea. In my view the Reserve team should be used properly, just like it used to be, and their games should be played in the stadium, not behind closed doors on the training ground (or at Barnet, for that matter). As well as bringing just a little prestige to the Reserve games, it would be nice for the youngsters involved to experience playing in a massive arena. It would also give some local youngsters the chance to attend the Grove for free and see a few stars in action.

Finally in this brief round-up I want to comment on the fact that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has not been called up to play for England. Stuart Pearce seems to have a long-held vendetta against Arsenal's young players. You will recall how he insisted on forcing Theo Walcott to play in an end of season tournament a few years ago, and Theo suffered the injury consequences of it throughout the next year. Then he decided to drop Jack Wilshere from a crucial qualifier because he believed the boy needed bringing down a peg or two (this was after Pearce's boss had given Jack an England debut a few weeks earlier). Of course the cretinous Pearce was forced to bring Jack on as a sub to rescue his side and get them the win that qualified them for last year's Summer waste of time. Now, it seems, it's the turn of The Ox to get the Pearce treatment.
Fabio Capello had made it quite clear that Chamberlain was likely to be involved in this squad, before he quit the job. When Pearce announced he would be picking an inexperienced group there was no doubt whatsoever that our boy would be in the squad. It sums Pearce up that he would then choose to leave out the player that has shone for his U21 team this season, and has been lighting up the Premier League since the turn of the year. I don't understand what Pearce's problem is with Arsenal, but is clear something irks him. Perhaps it is the fact that his severely limited intellect leaves him unable to communicate with our Manager, or that successive Arsenal wingers made him look a mug numerous times (I'll never forget Glenn Helder's debut when he humiliated Pearce time and again, and left him on his backside in front of the Clock End/West Stand with a glorious piece of skill). Whatever the issue is it is stifling the career of a third Arsenal youngster, and I'd like to see Wenger questioning it publicly in his press conference this morning. If Fraizer Campbell and Tom Cleverly can be picked for England when they've hardly played for their Club you have to wonder what is going on with Oxlade-Chamberlain.
As a further aside on the whole England set-up I can't let one other thing go by. Nico Yennaris has shown his worth to Arsenal on occasion this season (I would have him way ahead of Carl Jenkinson as an understudy to Sagna) yet he has also been overlooked for selection. England's U21 squad contains players from the lower divisions who will never be international footballers as long as they carry a hole in their backsides. So you have to wonder how a player who has been involved in the first-team at Arsenal, and put Nani in his pocket in the Premier League, does not get a look in. It just about sums up U21 football and the FA in general.

I'll preview the North London Derby tomorrow.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sunderland 2 - 0 Arsenal - Wenger will be gone if we lose to Spurs

Bound to be a square pass available...

Another season is over before the end of February. I do not count a battle to finish to fourth in the Premier League as being anything to play for, as such. Arsene Wenger may have created a false economy in the eyes of the Arsenal Director's, and for those who still wish to back him, but in the real World finishing in the top four really is no measure of "success."
The performance yesterday was listless and clueless. I saw little heart and even less desire. I thought Alex Song battled manfully as he, once again, played all alone in Arsenal's midfield. It says it all for Arteta and Ramsey that Song was still our most attacking ball player even when he went to play at centre-back. The disgraceful excuse for a pitch (the FA really should be taking action against Premier League Club's who produce such a shocking playing surface - Mertesacker, Squillaci and Ramsey have all suffered injuries as a result of its state) certainly didn't help Arsenal in any way. However, the Manager and the players should have realised they couldn't play their football on that cabbage patch and adapted their style accordingly. They can't say that the state of the pitch surprised them as they had to play on it only seven days earlier.
Arsenal were so outplayed again yesterday that the cheating of Howard Webb (he denied Van Persie two stonewall penalties - yet again) has largely gone unnoticed. This is because, as against Milan in midweek, Arsenal were so abject that the result of the game could not be argued with. I felt sorry for Song, whom I've already mentioned, and Oxlade-Chamberlain for the fact that they were surrounded by a bunch who seemingly went through the motions.
I said above that we didn't attempt to adapt our style of play. I have become increasingly frustrated watching Mikel Arteta. I hear all the stats monkeys telling us how he has more passes this season than anyone else, and how his completion rate for those passes is 157% and all that nonsense, but when you only ever go back or sideways, and never pass the ball more than ten yards it's no real surprise. Arteta slows us down something chronic and never goes forward. It's like watching a combination of Ray Wilkins and David Batty. His "effort" to dispossess Sessegnon in the build up to their second goal was simply embarrassing and lazy. The way he threw himself on the ground, rather than chase his man was a disgrace. Arteta is not alone, however. Sadly Aaron Ramsey is unable to hit the heights. In Ramsey's favour is the fact that he still a youngster, but his lack of pace is a massive issue. I have heard rumours that a new dance has been invented in honour of Arteta and Ramsey where the steps are very simple: Slow, slow. Slow, slow, slow. Then simply move sideways and repeat over and again. I apologise for jesting over something so serious, but if we didn't laugh...
In a more serious point I have to question our substitutions. When Coquelin got injured I expected to see Song move in to the back four with someone else coming on in midfield. As it was I didn't think Sebastien Squillaci did too much wrong, and he certainly was not at fault for deflecting the ball in for Sunderland's opener, but Arsenal gained nothing from that change - it was a wasted substitution. The double substitution in the second-half was just bizarre. Firstly I couldn't work out why, at 1-0 down we bring on a midfield player who hasn't scored in two years (though at least Rosicky tries to play forward) and even less why Chamakh stayed on the bench. I know Chamakh is in woeful form, but his height and the outlet it gives might have got us the odd chance at goal. Walcott was even more anonymous than ever when he came on, and not necessarily through his own fault. It was simply the latest in a long line of inexplicable Wenger decisions, and each one seems to be more costly than the last.
I don't know how many out there still have their blind faith in Arsene Wenger, but his inability to now motivate his players is the most worrying thing of all. George Graham and Terry Neill both "lost" their dressing rooms. Both men were then dismissed from their role as Arsenal Manager. There can be little more room for doubt that Arsenal can not recover without massive change. That means the Manager must be replaced. Next week we play Tottenham at home. As it stands I think our only chance of a result in that game is with someone else in charge of the team. Without this change I can see only another humiliation on the cards. If that happens then not even Wenger could survive - a hammering at home by Spurs and he would surely be gone. The poisonous atmosphere such a result would elicit within the stadium could not be ignored by the Board. I hope it doesn't happen, and part of me still wants Arsene Wenger to be Arsenal Manager, but I fear things have simply gone too far.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Sunderland (a) FA Cup preview, Arteta quote sums up ambition right now

Gervinho - we need him to come back with a bang

There will be changes in the Arsenal team this evening. The defence should be pretty much self-selecting in the absence of Mertesacker and Koscielny, but just about every other place in the team is up for grabs. It is very likely that Lukasz Fabianski will be in goal and that merely serves to underline that the Manager is under little pressure from above to get a trophy in the cabinet. You could kind of get away with playing your reserve goalkeeper when you had the likes of Adams, Bould, Keown or Campbell marshalling the defence (when Alex Manninger was the reserve we had a World Class stopper coming in anyway, until Wenger destroyed his confidence by consistently picking the ageing David Seaman). I just think it's absurd to play a man you know is not good enough in a position where a "rest" is simply not necessary. If you feel the need for Fabianski to play a match then get him playing in the Reserves, or put him between the sticks for the second leg against AC Milan. To gamble with your only chance of silverware is simply suicidal. I'm watching Chelsea's game while I write this and they have their strongest available side out on the pitch. They are currently losing 1-0 and have just missed a penalty, but Villas-Boas clearly feels the pressure from Abramovich and will not gamble silverware away on a whim.
Elsewhere in the Arsenal team I see talk of Alex Song being left out in favour of Coquelin. I'm all in favour of Coquelin being in the side today, but not at the expense of our best midfielder. The person who needs to be left out is Mikel Arteta. His sideways passing has no place in the game this evening, but Coquelin's exceptional work-rate would be a very welcome addition against a fired-up Sunderland. I would also bring in Benayoun on the left wing, and Chamberlain on the right. I strongly suspect, however, that Gervinho will be back on the left. That being the case we need him to hit the ground running. What he might lack in a final ball/finishing, he certainly provides us with an outlet. I like Gervinho's pace and his willingness to take on a defender. He could be the difference tonight if he gets the nod.
At the front of the midfield three (and in direct contrast to what I've just said about Coquelin) I would play Andrey Arshavin. We've seen Ramsey trying and failing all season, while Rosicky simply can not provide the necessary attacking spark in there. Arshavin's ability is beyond doubt, and he showed what he can do in setting up the winner for Henry last week. I want to see him providing the passes for Van Persie tonight.
I mention Van Persie there, but there is no guarantee he will play. The main man might well be a little jaded after the recent games, but Wenger had the chance to rest him in the second-half against Blackburn and didn't do so. That being the case I will be furious if RVP does not lead the team out at Sunderland. On Wednesday night Park and Chamakh were sitting at home, not deemed worthy of a place on the plane to Italy. If either one of them plays in front of Van Persie at Sunderland then we might as well just give up on winning trophies.

Just before I sign off I want to comment on something I read from Mikel Arteta on the Arsenal website yesterday. The Spaniard was lamenting the way the game went in Milan and had obviously been asked to provide some quotes to fill space at arsenal.com. The last part of what Arteta said summed up, for me, exactly what is wrong at our Club right now. Arteta stated that games like the one in Milan are "the reason you fight for fourth place." So there you have it, dear Gooners. Arsenal's sole ambition is to finish fourth. That is exactly why they will struggle to do so. If you aim for the top, you might fall a little short, but you will certainly finish in the top four. However, if you aim for fourth, and fall short of that, you are finished. Sadly, if the players are being told that fourth place is "important" it is little wonder we are in the predicament we find ourselves. The only place to be at the end of the season is first. The fact that fourth place in the Premier League is considered success at Arsenal these days is a symptom of the malaise the Club is in.

I hope that when I write the match review tomorrow we are in that hat for the quarter-final. I will not be holding my breath, but I live in hope of being pleasantly surprised. Frankly I would take a draw tonight and bring them back to our place in the week.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Time to remember something very important

"Remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent"

I haven't posted a review of the Milan debacle as I didn't see the game live. I missed the match as my eldest son was admitted to hospital on Wednesday evening. Thankfully he is home again now and there is nothing serious to be concerned about.
I have since watched the game back and read lots about it. Everyone is having their say, and rightly so. What is apparent is that legends of the Club, from Kenny Sansom to Nigel Winterburn to Emmanuel Petit to Dennis Bergkamp are all saying very similar things. They can not all be wrong. The fact is that the players were a disgrace and an embarrassment to our great Club (again) on Wednesday evening in Italy.
Regular readers will no doubt be expecting a long diatribe from me criticising Arsene Wenger. However, on this occasion I am not going to do that. My ire from watching the game against AC Milan is directly aimed at the players. We can moan about the lack of defensive organisation and tactics etc, but that wasn't the main problem the other night. The fact is that the players did not perform. The men on the pitch let Arsene Wenger down with their complete lack of application. They also let down every last Arsenal supporter. It was shameful. The Club was disgraced and embarrassed by a group of players who didn't deserve the shirt they wore. You can argue that Arsene Wenger's job is to motivate the players, and that may be a fair point, but if you need a Manager to whip you up before a European Cup match against AC Milan in the San Siro then there is something seriously wrong.
The first-half display was among the very worst you will ever see at that level of the game. The fact that their second goal should not have stood doesn't mask the fact that Arsenal should have been four or five behind at half-time. The likes of Arteta (can we please now have an end to this nonsense about how he is the glue in the Arsenal midfield?) Ramsey, Walcott (especially Walcott), Gibbs, Vermaelen and Sagna were beyond bad. Quite how Walcott can think he is worth an increase in wages is outside my comprehension (and Capello's resignation should see the end of his international career too). I hope he is moved on in the Summer months.
It is not often recently that I have felt a little sorry for Arsene Wenger. He is the victim of his own design in terms of the weak points in this team, but certain injuries have not helped (losing Mertesacker before this tie was a bigger blow than many might have imagined), and I do not really blame him too much for what occurred within the game on Wednesday. We were up against an AC Milan team that are really not very good. Italian football is not very good. Arsenal's players made them look top class on Wednesday, and that is pretty galling. Make no mistake, we are not a particularly good side ourselves, but the only teams to be feared in this European Cup are Real Madrid and Barcelona. Arsenal had a chance to go far this season, with the right draw, and they blew it. The fabled "mental strength" has once again showed itself to a be a soundbite that means nothing. The players once again failed to repay the faith shown in them by their Manager.
Over the last couple of days one or two of the players have been talking on the official website and giving their usual empty promises of improvement etc. I've had enough of all that nonsense. I'm sick of hearing it. Thomas Vermaelen says that the players "owe" the supporters after the game in Italy. I beg to differ. The players owe the supporters every time they get chosen to be in the privileged position of pulling on a jersey bearing the Arsenal crest. We live and breathe our football team. Those lucky enough to kick the ball in our name are  merely the latest to be entrusted with our heritage. It's time they realised what it means to play for Arsenal, and that only proper commitment will do. The phrase I've written underneath the Arsenal cannon at the top of this post is the one that Bertie Mee used to implore his players to remember. George Graham did the same. Personally I'd have it pinned up at the door to the changing room. We are ARSENAL, and the time has come for the players to realise it.

I'll preview the Sunderland FA Cup tie in the morning.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

AC Milan v Arsenal preview, New home kit is awful

Oh for fu...

So it's back to European Cup action tonight and the sort of game that European competition is really all about. When I was growing up AC Milan were the best team in the World. They had Maldini, Baresi (the dirtiest, most cynical player, I've ever seen), Rijkaard, Gullit and, the best of all, Marco Van Basten. Even in 1995 when I first got to see them in the flesh at Highbury they were still number one. Arsenal gave them a decent going over in the first-leg that night but couldn't score. In the second-leg we were outplayed, but had a perfectly good goal by John Hartson disallowed at 1-0 down. An equaliser would have landed the Super Cup, just a week or two before George Graham got sacked.
The current vintage of AC Milan gives little for Arsenal to be frightened of, or intimidated by. Any team with Kevin Prince Boateng as first-choice is lacking something. The fact that Milan are top of the Italian league perhaps says more about the state of Italian football than it does for the quality of their team. Having said that they did get a draw in the Nou Camp in this season's first group matches. While there is certainly nothing to fear, there is plenty to make Arsenal realise they are in for a tough game. Milan are a well organised team and will be tough to break down. They have Ibrahimovic (who only plays when he feels like it) and Pato (who seems to have not yet fulfilled expectations for his quality) up front. They have enough to hurt us, but only if we allow them to do so.
The Arsenal team is also lacking in certain areas, obviously. That is clearly why we are scrapping for fourth instead of first in the Premier League. However, with the attacking players we have at our disposal we have more than enough to put the Italians under pressure. The pace of Walcott and Chamberlain will scare the hosts and make them wary of coming forward too much. Anyone who saw the way Bale and Lennon got at them late on during Spurs' visit to the San Siro last year must appreciate Arsenal's greatest weapon tonight is speed. Personally I see a case for leaving out Robin Van Persie tonight and playing Thierry Henry instead. The lower pace of the match will given Henry time on the ball, and allow him to bring his wingers and Rosicky/Ramsey (whichever gets the nod) in to the game high up the pitch. There is also the small matter of trying to keep RVP as fresh as possible during a very busy period of big games. We have one more match to make use of Henry, so let's see him play from the start.
The need for Arsenal to score in Italy is paramount. If we can't win the game (which is a very tough ask) I would take any score draw. A defeat by the odd goal, provided we score, would not be a catastrophe, but I don't like the idea of going in to the home game facing a deficit. The away goal is all important, and a late 1-0 win would do me just fine, thanks very much. It's a big night for two giants of the European game.

Pictured above are three new Nike shirts for next season (with thanks to some bloke I don't know on Twitter). The one on the left is Arsenal's new home shirt. I can only say that it is horrible. What is with the dark neck and the blue hoop on the sleeve? Then there are the black socks. What exactly is going on here? It really is time for Nike to be ditched as the stuff they are producing is not only poor quality, but it has increasingly little to do with the heritage of Arsenal Football Club. Red shirt with white sleeves is not that difficult, surely?

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sunderland (a) preview - a very special Arsenal mascot

This young shaver will lead Arsenal out tomorrow

Arsenal are in Premier League action tomorrow at Sunderland. I hadn't realised until Arseblog pointed it out earlier in the week that we really do have a hard stretch ahead of us. The period from mid-February to mid-March has broken our season a few times in recent years, and the fixtures that we have over the next four weeks or so have the potential to do it again. Two away trips to Sunderland, two games with AC Milan, and also Spurs and Liverpool make this the toughest part of the year for Arsenal. Win those games and we'll be set fair. Lose any of them and we could be in serious trouble. The terrible run from Christmas until last week could be brought in to seriously sharp focus should we struggle in the next month. We all know that the games in December and January were the bread and butter points we needed to pick up. Winning those fixtures would have afforded some breathing space. As it is we have no room for dropping further points at this stage.
With the need for points being so acute we could probably have done without having to play Sunderland (and the fact that we have to go there twice makes it even worse). Since the manic Martin O'Neill replaced Steve Bruce they have been one of the form teams of the Premier League. That has coincided with Arsenal's dismal run. However, I would suggest that Sunderland are due for a defeat. They've had a fine run, but they're still nowhere near being a top team. The fact is if Arsenal play the way they did against Blackburn they will destroy the opposition. My fear is that this Arsenal team is too inconsistent. We have also been here too often in the past, with a superb performance followed by the kind of "turn up and we win" misconception that has so often cost us points.
The team news is reasonably encouraging. It seems that Kieran Gibbs will travel to the game, as will Marouane Chamakh. Any hopes that the Moroccan would regain his form and confidence in his time away with his national team were scuppered when he was dropped from their team. With Thierry Henry making his final Premier League appearance tomorrow (please come back again next season Thierry) we are back to square one in the striker department. I can not understand why Henry's loan has not been extended. Arsene says we must be "fair" to New York Red Bulls - utter nonsense. All those who said bringing Henry back would be a mistake have been proved wrong, in my view. It's been great having him, and we will be far worse off without him.
In terms of Sunderland I have been very impressed by McLean, who has very much been given his chance by O'Neill. The youngster has come in and scored goals, which is more than can be said for Nicklas Bendtner. Big Nick is not allowed to play against Arsenal, but I doubt he would have got a start anyway. You know that they will be strong and committed. Arsenal will have to work very hard off the ball if they're to bring back the points tomorrow.
I would very much have liked to be there tomorrow, but work intervenes. I have more reason than usual to want to be at the game as my nephew, Freddie (named after our famous Swede) is the Arsenal mascot for the day. He can't wait to lead the team out tomorrow, holding the hand of Robin Van Persie. He will also be the last Arsenal mascot to get to have his picture taken with The King. I hope Freddie can bring us some luck tomorrow. It seems that Arsenal and Sunderland will really be looking after him and the family tomorrow. With a bit of luck he'll get to have a few shots at Szczesny and stick one in the net in front of the travelling Gooners. If you're going to the match then please give Freddie a wave and a cheer (his mother should have put a red streak in his blond hair so that you could all sing to him!)

There won't be a another blog post until Monday evening at the very earliest. I would like to do more, but I won't be near the internet until at least then. I hope that by the time I preview the AC Milan game we have three more points in the bank, and Freddie has a special picture with The King and RVP.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The overt racism of the English media

...because the English have done so well at the job

Fabio Capello's departure last night was almost simultaneous to the publishing of yesterday's blog post. If you missed it in the maelstrom you can read it here.
The past twenty four hours in football have, naturally, been dominated by the job of England Manager. There has been precious little chance for any proper football news to break through. As a result tonight's offering is not about Arsenal (though I do want to quickly mention the £5 return coach fare offered by the Club for the FA Cup game at Sunderland next week, a super gesture from Arsenal FC). In fact this blog is not even really about England - most regulars here will know that international football is a tedious sideshow as far as I'm concerned and exists only in the Summer when there is no Arsenal to watch. Tonight's post is about the reaction of the media to Capello's resignation, and their clamour for Harry The Twitch to take over.
In the past few weeks the media in this Country has been questioning how far we have really come in tackling racism in the game. Frankly it's a stupid debate as racism is not prevalent in football grounds in this Country. Sure, it exists in some of those that watch football, but that is true of some people in any walk of life. The high profile incidents involving Luis Suarez and John Terry have brought the issue to the fore. Arrests at football matches for racist remarks etc have been reported in the press - these arrests are nothing new, but the current climate made them "news." What has been particularly clear from our media, whether it be the printed word, Sky, BBC, TalkSport or whoever, is that racism is unacceptable in any form. It can not be condoned or encouraged. Racist remarks and views are to be stamped out. These are the sort of phrases we have been hearing in the media since Luis Suarez was first reported by Patrice Evra, and it's difficult to argue against, I'm sure you'll agree. You can imagine my shock, then, to see fat Barry Fry on Sky Sports News last night shouting in to the camera, and I quote, "...we don't want any more of these foreigners. We've had enough of foreigners." That's right Barry, we could do without these successful Manager's coming over here and helping us qualify for major tournaments with the most overrated talent in the World at their disposal. He went on to say how "they don't have the passion" and that the next England Manager must be English as "they can show the passion for our Country." Not that Barry would be guilty of using his own stereotype in order to get his point across. I'm sure he didn't realise it, but what Fry said was inherently racist. And Sky allowed it to be broadcast, and then replayed it all night and all morning. These foreigners with no passion - Arsene Wenger? Jose Mourinho? Carlo Ancelotti? Paolo Di Canio? Barry Fry wasn't alone, mind you - he merely set things off and running before a number of others picked up the baton and ran with it.
On the BBC website we had Alan Shearer and Peter Reid talking about "foreigners" and their failings, and how they don't "get" our ways and "don't understand" our media. Dan Walker of the BBC stated on Twitter that Capello's "unwillingness to master the lingo was frustrating" - to who, exactly? The muppets in the press? It hasn't been a problem to Trappatoni in Ireland, and his English is far worse than Capello's. There is this misconception that the foreign bosses can not inspire players. I remember Gareth Southgate complaining that Sven didn't get the players going at half-time in the Brazil quarter-final in 2002. This overlooks the fact that, if you need a Manager to get you buzzing to win a World Cup quarter-final, it says rather more about you than the man in charge.
Then we come to the written press. It is here that we have to put up with people like Oliver Holt and Charlie Wyett, serial offenders at getting their facts wrong, who seem to have forgotten that they are reporters. They are there to report, not to give opinion, not to set a public agenda, not to speak for the masses. These press journalists have been full of the "English passion needed" nonsense all day long. Of course this has brought them to the conclusion that England's leader must be Harry Redknapp. That conclusion has nothing to do with him being the biggest rent-a-quote in the history of football, obviously. The stuff on Twitter last night and this morning has been quite incredible. It seems that Fabio Capello was nothing more than a failure - two pretty flawless qualifications out of two (what happened under the last English boss?) Brian Woolnough had the gall to mock David Bernstein for describing Capello as a "great Manager." I would suggest that Fabio Capello's record as a football manager puts him among the legends of the game. It seems that history is to be expunged in the interests of showing that British is best. Who needs all that foreign technique etc when you can have English tubthumping instead? According to the press a man with one FA Cup to his name is a far better bet, because he's English, than a man with numerous Title's and European Cup's, but is Italian.
Sky Sports News today has actually been embarrassing. It has been wall-to-wall "Redknapp for England." It resembles the sort of thing you get with the US Presidential race. Sky have elected Harry as the "popular" choice for the job, and are being backed up by the press. Harry, it seems, is the Messiah of English football (I suppose after yesterday I can't quote Monty Python to finish that sentence). In the face of this storm the FA are being left with no choice.
If I was on the FA Board I would make sure to appoint Harry Redknapp as England Manager. I would keep every press cutting, every interview and every piece of video that demanded his appointment. Then when it all goes wrong, as it inevitably will, I would use it to defend Redknapp to the hilt. The press want him, let them have him. But then use their nonsense to beat them over the head with when they change their minds. We have, of course, been here before. The media demanded that Kevin Keegan should get the job. The FA gave it to him. It quickly became apparent that there was something missing. The media turned on Keegan. Most football supporters knew Keegan wasn't a top Manager before he was appointed. In the end he realised it himself and fell on his sword, genuinely honest to the end.
The main point of this post was to point out that the press have been slating Luis Suarez, various supporters and John Terry in recent weeks, for racism. They have made it clear that the guilty must be punished. I just find it ironic that their view of the "personal qualities" of a "foreigner" are what dictates whether or not someone should be England Manager. That is a prejudiced and racist standpoint. Of course the England Manager should be English, in an ideal World. But when there are no English Manager's with the requisite achievements then you must look for the best man for the job, regardless of his nationality. Little Englander syndrome won't do. And the media should not castigate people for racism when what they have done in the past twenty-four hours is effectively tantamount to the same thing. Let's face it, we couldn't understand why a "foreigner" was appointed to Arsenal in 1996, but Arsene Wenger showed he was the best man for the job. Maybe, just maybe, the problem with the England team is not who the Manager is, but the fact that the players are just not good enough, and haven't been since 1966.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

George remains the scapegoat for football's crooked ways

George Graham - note the blazer and tie - Arsenal Class

So Harry Redknapp is officially innocent. I have to say I am seriously surprised. The main question with regards to the case must be this: "If you have nothing to hide, and are not trying to conceal something from someone, why was your Monaco bank account in the name of your dog?" British justice, as everywhere else in the World, can be very odd, but there you go. There's nothing more to say about any criminal aspect, but questions should (but won't, as the FA is toothless) remain with regards to the football aspects surrounding the money involved. By this I mean the fact that Redknapp (and he is far from alone in this, it seems) was paid part of a transfer fee to sell players.
Back in 1995 Arsenal used the "bung" case against George Graham as the excuse they needed to end his glorious reign over the Club. George was off in the Summer anyway, but Arsenal were heading for relegation and the Club needed a reason to get rid of their most successful boss since the 1930's. It was ironic that the arch-disciplinarian, a man who was classy in everything he did, a man who knew who he represented (to quote Bertie Mee), should be caught with his hands in the till. What has become clear from Redknapp's trial is that the "bung" is now woven in to the individual contracts of club officials. I have heard Barry Hearn on TV this evening explaining that he has the same deal with his Manager at Leyton Orient. It seems that "legalised bungs" are now prevalent in football. I have to imagine that this is a direct legacy of the treatment of George and his long ban from the game.
I just don't understand how a Manager can be paid to SELL his Club's best players. Surely, if a man is being rewarded for selling then he will do his utmost to do just that, rather than concentrating on winning instead. As sad is it may be that is simply human nature - we are all greedy, deep down. Of course George was done over for making money on players he bought, rather than sold, but I find it very difficult to imagine that this practise is not still ongoing. Nevertheless the fact remains that George is the only person ever to have been found guilty of it. Had he not admitted his wrongdoing he would almost certainly have got away with it (and I do not seek to excuse what George did - it was wholly repugnant as he was effectively taking money that should have belonged to Arsenal Football Club).
Amongst all of this shadiness is the fact that football is a very dark business. There can be no doubt that the game is corrupt to its core. The business with George in the mid-90's merely skirted around the edges of a wider issue. Football was bent then, and it is bent now. George Graham was made a scapegoat and that suited the FA and its new Premier League. Certain other Manager's seriously got away with it, but the media didn't really care as they had a target to focus on. George was their lamb to the slaughter while others were free to fight another day, and win a few more trophies (George recommended two players from the same agent who paid him, to a certain Manager at another Club - did he not receive similar payments? I would find it hard to believe otherwise). The FA was happy as justice was seen to have been carried out and a clear message sent. The events of the last two weeks, in a court of law, appear to have shown that the message was interpreted within football as an invitation to "legalise" a practise that remains banned in the English game. Everyone involved gets paid something, but only the supporters suffer - just ask Portsmouth FC die-hards.
I would like to call on the FA to stamp out this way of conducting transfers. What does this now mean for supporters who pay to watch their team? How many fans are out there thinking that the Manager of their Club is trying to push them forward, get them promoted, get them to Wembley, win the League etc when, in fact, they are simply looking for the next big transfer deal out of the Club so that they can be paid handsomely? Maybe I'm in a small minority, but I see this as a terribly frightening turn of events for football. What is the point in supporting a team if the Manager is being incentivised to sell players, rather than be successful on the pitch? After all, I thought football was about winning matches, not selling players.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Frimpong gets another bad one, Afobe to replace Park?

Afobe - some rare good news on the injury front

It's been a day of very mixed news for two of Arsenal's brightest young prospects, Emmanuel Frimpong and Benik Afobe.
Frimpong has suffered his second cruciate ligament injury in less than two years. As rotten luck goes this is about as bad as it can get for a young man trying to make his mark. Frimpong had a very decent first half to this season as a squad player at Arsenal and was tearing it up at Wolves until Saturday, when his loan spell was brought to a very painful halt. Frimpong has quickly established himself as a bit of a cult figure with the Gooner faithful since his debut against Liverpool. What he may lack in "technical" ability he more than makes up for in sheer effort, strength and determination. With time, and good coaching, his ball-skills can be improved - just look at Alex Song - and he and Coquelin were battling it out to be the understudy in central midfield. Frimpong isn't everyone's cup of tea, however, and it is often remarked that he lacks self-discipline on the park. Again, I would argue that his youthful exuberance will soon give way to a learned experience. That, ultimately, was the purpose of his loan at Wolves. Having already been set back a year by his knee injury on the eve of last season you have to feel extremely sorry for him. If there is a small bit of good news for Frimpong it is that this injury is not in the same knee. You would have to think that gives him a good chance to recover. He will be out for most of the rest of the year.
The flip-side to Frimpong's injury is the return to full training (with the first-team, which I believe is telling) of Benik Afobe. The young centre-forward impressed on his first-team bow against New York Red Bulls in pre-season, but was promptly struck down with a serious hip injury. Since then the only sight we Arsenal fans have had of him has been sitting with Jack Wilshere at home games. Afobe had a highly successful spell at Huddersfield last season and could have been expected to go out to a Championship, or maybe even a Premier League, side this season. Personally I think he was in the thoughts of Arsene Wenger as a back-up to Van Persie and Chamakh. I wonder if, had Afobe not got injured, Ju Young Park might have actually been getting paid to play some football in Lille, rather than watching Arsenal from the bench. It is likely now, if he gets fit enough to play, that Benik will be loaned out for the rest of the season. However, I just wonder if, with Henry going back to America and Park being totally ignored by Wenger, the youngster may find himself promoted between now and May. His injury seems to have a lot of similarities with that which effectively ended Freddie Ljugberg's career at Arsenal, so I hope that he can recover somewhat better than our prolific Swede. Afobe is a goalscorer, and Arsenal will certainly need one before the season is out - a Kevin Campbell style impact would be very welcome indeed.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Arsenal 7 - 1 Blackburn - a win to warm the cockles


Arsenal's past, present and future combined yesterday to score six of Arsenal's seven goals against the hapless Blackburn Rovers. It was nice, first of all, to see Paul Robinson keeping up his consistent record against Arsenal - he is, without a doubt, the most overrated goalkeeper of his generation. Apart from that it was wonderful to have such a performance from Arsenal. I suppose it had to happen after the missed chances of Wednesday, though I would have preferred to not have one or two of yesterday's strikes if it had meant a win at Bolton as well.
I wasn't going to be able to get to yesterday's game even before I was ill, as work was intervening. It's annoying that my son has also been unwell and probably will not now get his chance to see Thierry Henry play for Arsenal (unless we get another instalment next season - unlikely). There is no doubt that The King's last minute goal was a real icing of the cake for Arsenal. It serves right all of those who either stayed away deliberately or who left early (why leave early from an early kick-off?) The so-called "black bin-bag protest" turned out to be, as you might expect and hope, a load of old rubbish.
The main part of the win was in place long before Thierry got his goal. That was thanks to the front three combination of Van Persie, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. Just occasionally Theo gets it right, and yesterday was one of those. These moments are all too fleeting and brief, but it shows that he can do the business at times. I imagine Martin Olsson will be regretting his comments that Walcott was "no threat" when he last came up against him when playing for his Country. Perhaps Theo had taken note and was ready to show his stuff. Whatever it was, credit where it is due.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems to be one hell of a talent. He is exciting and powerful. He has an eye for a pass. He can finish. He is almost certainly going to go to Euro 2012, which is a tournament he could do without, frankly. The lad has real class. It's a shame that Wenger didn't get him in sooner as he would surely have been a better bet than Theo and Arshavin have been for most of the season. Now that he is in the team we have to enjoy his presence. He might, just might, provide a bit of inspiration between now and May.
At the head of it all, of course, is Robin Van Persie. His goalscoring since January last year is of Wright and Henry proportions. The fact that he has been fit throughout that period shows what he might have already achieved had he not been afflicted so badly by injury in his career. I still don't believe Robin will be at Arsenal next season - he still hasn't signed a contract - so we will have to make the most of him while he is here. Right now Robin is The Man and we could not do without him.
I'm not going to say too much more about the game. I could not see it live, so I feel a little detached to be honest. I've watched the whole game on Football First, with the idiotic Tony Gale as summariser (two-footed tackles are a "foreign thing" according to our Tony - what a clown) and it really was a marvellously dominant performance. I would say that Szczesny was at fault again on Rovers' goal as he sets himself up wrong at free-kicks - that's four or five this season that he hasn't got across to because he doesn't stand in the centre of his goal. I would also say that Alex Song's passing has undergone the most improvement I've ever seen in a player - the ball inside the full-back is now becoming a trademark for him.
The one other thing I want to address before I sign off is the ridiculous smugness of those who still believe in the Manager. It was a magnificent performance, a magnificent victory. It highlighted all that is great about Arsene Wenger and the team's he sends out. However, it does not excuse what has gone before this season. It doesn't mean that everything is now alright. It certainly doesn't make me "feel really stupid" for wanting Wenger out. Such sentiment, that was prevalent on the forums and Twitter etc last night, just sums up what a bunch of mugs some of our supporters are. Why can't we just enjoy the win without all that other nonsense?

Hopefully the blog will get back to normal ahead of a quiet Arsenal week as I recover from my recent ailment.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Bruised Bendtner wants change, Bolton (a) preview

Nicklas Bendtner - not as I had expected him to be

I'm writing this from my sick-bed. This time yesterday I was in good health. Today I have been downed by the dreaded man-flu. It really is unpleasant and it means I'll be keeping this a little more brief than I had intended. I was going to write about our surprise transfer business of yesterday, but it will have to wait.
Rather randomly I bumped in to Nicklas Bendtner last night. It seems that Nick had been given a bit of time off by Sunderland following his broken nose and he chose to take a short break in Dubai. Who says footballers have a tough job? I have to say that Bendtner was completely the opposite sort of character to that I had expected. I thought he would be arrogant and aloof, dismissive of the public. After all, this is how the popular press have chosen to portray him over the years. Instead I was greeted with a smile and, after confirming that his face was on the mend (he still sports an impressive shiner on his left eye) I asked about his future. When asked if he was coming back to Arsenal he said "perhaps if everything changes around." I found this an interesting response and asked if he meant "with a new Manager?" Again he smiled, and then said "we will see." He then graciously signed an autograph for my son and went on his way. Not Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, I grant you, but it struck me that he was a player who has had his card marked by Arsene Wenger. He won't be coming back all the while Arsene is in charge. Most supporters will not be too disappointed. Those who have read this site for a long time will know that I always defended Bendtner. I felt he was underrated, and I was certain he would be a success at Sunderland. His comments about Arsenal earlier in the season, where he said he would not ever go back, made me annoyed and I realised that my defence of the Big Dane had been misplaced. He has, of course, not been a revelation at Sunderland. I was wrong about Bendtner as a player, but I am pleased I got the opportunity to meet the man and realise that the real Bendtner is not the man he is portrayed as. I would have liked to have more time to speak to him, but that's the way of it. It's just nice to get a small chat with anyone connected with Arsenal Football Club.

The results last night mean that fourth place is looking even more distant. A failure to win at Bolton this evening would see it starting to disappear over the horizon. The team news is good, with Sagna possibly getting a start, and plenty of others returning to fitness. I think Arteta will return to the starting eleven tonight, though Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey were both outstanding on Sunday. I wouldn't be surprised to see Arshavin start in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain - today's news on Jack Wilshere will give Arsene Wenger food for thought over the playing time he gives to the young man (the timing of the news of Wilshere's "setback" does not surprise me - there was no way Arsenal would let it leak out while the transfer window was open).
Arsene said yesterday how it was a tough game on Sunday and he would have to assess certain players. I think he may have been preparing the way to rest Robin Van Persie and start with Thierry Henry. Personally I would rather see RVP start (and Henry could then be the one to play ahead of Chamberlain) and try to get the job done. The last thing Arsenal need tonight is to be chasing the game again.
Bolton have their own problems, but confidence should be good after they stuffed Liverpool in their last game. Ryo can not play for them against Arsenal, which is no bad thing for us. It would come as no surprise to me if a certain Kevin Davies was back in their side tonight though. Never  underestimate the value of his loose elbows and ability to con referees in to awarding free-kicks.

That will do for now. More tomorrow. Hoping to feel better by then.