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Monday, 30 April 2012

It's all happening


It's been a quite couple of weeks, but all that has changed over this weekend. First of all we saw Arsenal taking what could prove to be a crucial point at Stoke (though with better finishing, better refereeing, and a little luck it could have been all three points). This was followed by the hilarious news that Harry Redknapp has not even been contacted by the FA as they are about to appoint Roy Hodgson, and I am delighted for old "Woy" as he is very well qualified, with relevant experience and a good record across Europe (he also took Fulham to a European final, remember). Then today Arsenal have trumped it all with the biggest signing the Club has made since Dennis Bergkamp arrived in 1995. Make no mistake, Lukas Podolski is a World Class player and, at just 26 years old, he should have his best years still ahead of him.

Let's start at Stoke with a brief review. I felt their goal was avoidable had Vermalen and/or Gibbs done more to put Crouch off. As it was he rose (unusually for him) unchallenged and planted a good header past Szczesny. Before and after that the game was largely dominated by Arsenal. Chances came and went as per usual. The goal was made by the best cross of the season by Tomas Rosicky and RVP couldn't miss from there. We should have had a penalty. I don't care that one or two angles make it look "soft" when the main TV camera shows the clear push on Yossi Benayoun. A point at Stoke, given our record there, looks okay on the face of it, but a win would have been so much better for us at this stage. Six points from our final two games are an absolute must now.
What went on off the pitch at Stoke has not had nearly enough publicity. All credit to a couple of the newspapers that have highlighted the outrageous abuse directed at Aaron Ramsey, and Alan Hansen also condemned it on Match Of The Day. However, I have not seen mention of it at all on Sky Sports News. What exactly is Rambo's crime here? How half-witted do you need to be to consider him worthy of abuse for having his leg shattered by Shawcross? I even saw one Stoke fan on Twitter claiming that Ramsey's leg was "clearly broken before Shawcross made contact" with him! Unbelievable. Then we have the xenophobic and disgusting chanting at Arsene Wenger. To their credit Spurs and Man Utd have done their best to stamp this out, and Arsenal have done similar with the Adebayor stuff. Not so in the inbred backwaters like Stoke, however. The constant stick handed out to Wenger culminated in most of the crowd mimicking Le Boss and his protests to the referee on the touchline. That the BBC should choose to show this and give a platform for the fat, ugly, northern cow sitting behind the bench to get on TV is bad enough. For Gary Lineker to then find it so obviously amusing, and then put on his own xenophobic "impersonation" of Wenger at the end of the show was a disgrace. Once again the public service broadcaster has lost sight of its basic tenet of impartiality. What Lineker has done, and I'm sure he knew it, is make sure that Arsene will have to suffer this crap wherever he now goes with Arsenal.

A quick word on Harry Redknapp and the England job. It was no surprise to see Harry being interviewed on Sky, in his car, this morning. Sky must be very relieved as they would have had far too much airtime to fill had he gone to work for the FA. The content of his interview was astounding though. Harry said how he "bears no grudges" that Roy Hodgson looks like he will be given the honour of being England Manager. Why should he have the right to hold a grudge? The FA have confirmed that Hodgson is the only person they have approached. This means he is the only person they want, at this stage. Where does the idea of a grudge come from? It's not as though Hodgson has stolen something that rightfully belonged to Redknapp! I have to say that I think Sky missed a trick with this interview. After his jaw-dropping conversation last Tuesday with Ivanovic I would have preferred them to have dispatched Geoff Shreeves to tell Harry the bad news. That would have made for very fine TV.
It was becoming more obvious that Redknapp was not the man the FA wanted. Let's face it, the media appointed Harry to the job as soon as Capello was sacked, but nobody at the FA gave any sign of agreement. The fact that the FA had made no move for him in the intervening months should have been clue enough that they were looking elsewhere. You would have to say, also, that Tottenham's second half of the season has proved them right. Sadly for Roy the press will be waiting with knives sharpened for England to fail. They will not forgive the FA for not appointing their man, and only winning Euro 2012, or a heroic failure akin to Italia '90 can keep the pressure off Hodgson.

And so to Lukas Podolski. With the England business, and Sky's obsession with the Manchester derby this evening, it's almost slipped under the radar in terms of its "news" value. So let's just look at the facts here. Arsenal Football Club, one of the biggest in Europe, has just signed Lukas Podolski, one of the best footballers in Europe. Podolski has 95 caps and 43 goals for Germany, at the age of just 26. This man is a special player and a unique talent. Such a signing deserves far more of a fanfare than our media are giving it. Podolski also happens to be a very decent guy who gave his FC Cologne warm-up shirt to my nephew (who was Arsenal's mascot) before the friendly there last Summer.
With one year left on his deal at Cologne we have got him on the cheap at just £11m. German TV is reporting a weekly wage of £130k. I find that incredibly encouraging. It surely shows a sign of intent from the Club. The wage structure is being rewritten once again, and we can only hope that Podolski is here to play with Robin Van Persie, rather than in place of him. The high wages for Podolski must now be bettered in any offer to RVP.
I mentioned there that this signing feels like a statement of intent. On the face of it we seem to have changed tack. The Club is, hopefully, now looking to move forward again. The last time there was such a signing, and such a feeling of optimism (for me at least) was when Dennis Bergkamp came to Arsenal. The similarities in the signings, and the merits of the players are incredibly similar. If Podolski can be followed by three or four more very good players, one or two squad players (goalkeepers in particular) and the dead-wood gets shipped out (there's still plenty of it) then next season could be good. Could be.

Tomorrow I hope to write a piece about how I see Arsene Wenger's current policy in terms of who he is apparently looking to recruit, and how this is comparable to the way he did things when he arrived at Arsenal. Look out for it some time late tomorrow evening, or early Wednesday morning (more likely on Wednesday to be honest). I'm signing off now to watch Man City play Man Utd in the most important ever game in English football ever. Never before has such a match ever been played in the history of our game ever. Ever.

Note to Sky TV: There will NEVER be another Anfield 1989, so stop trying to create one.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Stoke City (a) preview - get that body armour on


Tomorrow has taken on a must-win kind of feel. That being the case there are not many worse places for Arsenal to visit than Stoke City. Our struggles against this lot, particularly at their ground, have been well documented. I've read a lot of quotes from our players and Manager this past couple of days where they've used the words "battle" or "fight" but I'd rather they concentrated on playing Stoke off the pitch. The fact is that, if we impose our game on them, they won't get forward enough to trouble us with the high ball, or long throw, in to our penalty area.
In the absence of Mikel Arteta I expect Aaron Ramsey to continue in the middle of the pitch. There was a thought that Abou Diaby might start tomorrow but he apparently has a "virus" and faces a fitness test (I don't believe that he has a virus). Ramsey struggled badly, along with the rest of the team, when we got hammered at Stoke this time last year. For once it wasn't the usual kicking being given to us either, but Aaron failed to shake off the ghosts of his previous visit when Shawcross snapped his leg in two. Tomorrow he must step up to the plate. The lad has been under such pressure recently that I can see him getting a goal, and it is certainly long overdue. Anything that shoves the sick abuse from the Stoke fans back down their horrible northern throats is more than welcome.

Lots of cretins

Elsewhere in the Arsenal team we are likely to see the hard working Yossi Benayoun come in, and then the boss has a decision to make as to who replaces Theo Walcott. As usual I would like to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain in the starting line-up. The Ox will have no problem addressing the physical challenge of playing against Stoke. He is strong and tough and should relish the chance to run at a poor defence.
You might have guessed from the tone of this piece that I dislike Stoke City. You would be right. I dislike their supporters intensely. Don't get me wrong, they are great fans of their club, and create a non-stop and intimidating atmosphere in their stadium. But they are the same people that rejoiced in what Shawcross did to Aaron Ramsey. If that's how they want to support their team then they're welcome to it.
I also dislike Tony Pulis. This man refused to condemn Shawcross' tackle on Rambo, and is the archetypal small club whinger. He loves getting one over on the big boys, and fair play for that. But he is also very quick to claim that something other than the superior quality on show at a big club is the reason why he might lose those games occasionally. At risk of being pulled up over Arsene Wenger's behaviour on occasion, it really irks me when you get the small club syndrome whingeing whenever something goes wrong. Pulis is a cretin of the highest order and, while I can respect his outstanding success with Stoke, and his ability to coach his players to stick to a very effective style of play, he remains the antithesis of football in the Premier League era. Wimbledon used to be castigated for playing like Stoke do, only they were far better at it. For some reason I can not fathom, Pulis is seen as a genius by our media, where Dave Bassett and Bobby Gould were marked out as villains for their team and its considerable glories. I just don't get it.
As I said at the start of this piece, Arsenal must win tomorrow. If they do then third place is ours for the taking. We must make sure we are ready to do just that.
Cue the neanderthal reaction when this appears on Stoke's NewsNow feed.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Arsenal should not be funding this glee club

Arsenal Ladies - couldn't care less

I had given some thought to writing a piece that went in to some detail on Chelsea's performance in Barcelona on Tuesday evening. I've decided against it but I will say that it was a superb defensive display. Barcelona's play was reminiscent of the worst of Arsenal's football, where there was little clue as to how to break down a massed defence. From a Chelsea point of view it merely served to show what is possible with tactical nous and defensive organisation. The fact that they were missing their centre-halves before half-time was virtually without consequence in the context of the match, simply due to their players' willingness to stick to a very good plan. I didn't want Chelsea to win, and I hope they lose in the final, but credit where it is due.

On to (only sightly) more important matters and I want to briefly write about the Arsenal Ladies. I wrote a similar piece last Spring, I recall, whereby I bemoaned the idea of Arsenal Ladies and, more particularly, the fact that they cost Arsenal Football Club more money than they can make. That was at the beginning of the FA Womens Super League last year. Nothing has changed, apart from the fact that, tonight, Arsenal Ladies are taking to the pitch at Ashburton Grove. This has really annoyed me.
As part of the new semi-professional league some players (up to four per club, I believe) are earning at least £20,000 per year to masquerade as footballers. You can be fairly certain that Arsenal, being the pre-eminent force in English female football, will be doing just that. This is a far bigger waste of money than paying large wages to the likes of Bendtner and Denilson. At least those two might have actually produced something that was of benefit to Arsenal Football Club in some way. On top of that outlay is the money paid to the rest of the squad, the coaches and physios etc as well as the sundry costs of running a football team and various youth sides. On top of all that is a hire fee paid to Borehamwood FC to use their pitch in order for games to take place. There is simply no way that this is a good business move for Arsenal.
When you bear in mind that Arsenal has a wage structure and won't pay out big transfer fees, much to the frustration of its paying supporters, how can the Club justify spending money that can't be recouped on Arsenal Ladies? I know the player wages for these women are a drop in the ocean compared to the real Arsenal footballers but, to coin a popular advertising slogan, every little helps. I'm sure every Gooner in the land would rather see the money wasted on Arsenal Ladies being put towards keeping Robin Van Persie. Now they are playing at the stadium, under floodlights. I suspect the gate receipts might not even cover the cost of the electricity used in the ground tonight.
I realise I will probably get accused of being a "dinosaur" and other such nonsense for writing this piece. I have no problem with women playing football. Good luck to them if that's what they want to do. But from the point of view of Arsenal Football Club it must be recognised that this is a waste of important funds. If you consider that the professional league in the USA, where women's "soccer" is huge, has collapsed, what chance does female professional football have in England? Ultimately it's about quality, and the standard of a game of women's football is simply not what people are going to part with big money to watch. It does nothing for Arsenal and I implore the powers that be to end this gravy train and focus on what's important - the winning of real trophies.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Van Persie - Player Of The Year...but not Footballer Of The Year?

More than deserved

I was always confident that our Captain would be rewarded for his amazing last 16 months with the PFA Player Of The Year award. Robin Van Persie has dominated the Premier League since returning to fitness in early 2011. For the award to have gone elsewhere would have been utterly ridiculous. Last year we had the nonsense spectacle of the chimp from White Hart Lane getting the trophy on the strength of two games against Inter Milan (incidentally, Kyle Walker winning the Young Player ahead of Sergio Aguero is an utter nonsense and appears to have been part of an elaborate betting scam that saw high-street bookmakers closing the book last week). This year I felt there was nothing that would stop our man from getting his hands on his deserved silverware.
So what does the title of this piece mean exactly? As the news was being leaked all over Twitter last night that Van Persie had won (the PFA had put a press embargo on the news until late in the evening for some reason, overlooking ready access to the internet on mobile phones for those present) it was being soured by the journalists that report on football in this country of ours. Regular readers will be fully aware of my dislike for these people. Many of them have declared themselves experts on the game, and they truly believe they know more about football than not just you and me, but also esteemed managers and players. The arrogance of these people was summed up on ESPN yesterday as Neil Ashton (an annoying little clown at the best of times) stated that the FA should appoint Harry Redknapp as "all the media want him in the job." The journalists, of course, have their own award - the Football Writers Association Footballer Of The Year. This is generally considered the "real" player of the year award due to its longevity. It had some merit in the year it was awarded to Robert Pires after he had been ridiculously overlooked by the PFA in favour of Van Diver Boy at Man Utd. This year it may well be different.
Last Sunday, on Sky's "Sunday Supplement" programme we heard one of these wonderfully well versed people, Martin Lipton, stating that he believed Wayne Rooney to be Footballer Of The Year. His failure to hide his Manchester United bias was embarrassing. Yesterday this took on a whole new dimension with two of Fleet Street's highest profile football reporters stating that Shrek had received their votes also. Brian Woolnough and Oliver Holt are very recognisable to most football fans, and I suspect their opinion is well respected among their colleagues (even though most of us that watch the game know they talk utter drivel most of the time). There appears to be a growing momentum among these cretins to give their trophy to Rooney. They are now quick to point out that he is only one goal behind RVP in the Premier League this season. That's a fair point, but they have been telling us all season that Van Persie has been carrying Arsenal. We have been a "one man team" who "couldn't survive" without RVP. Given that this has been the argument they've given all season, it must follow that Arsenal's current League position of third is a remarkable achievement for one man. If RVP has carried Arsenal to third place single-handed, while Rooney has been surrounded by such an array of talent at Man Utd (cough), surely it must follow that Van Persie is Footballer Of The Year?
It will be very interesting to see what happens when their award is finally announced. Just a brief look at the quality of Van Persie's all-round play and spectacular goals should be enough for him to walk it. However, I fear the press and their love of Manchester United will see him miss out. I hope to be wrong, as Van Persie deserves so much to be recognised as the best player in England right now (even if he appears to have got his suit off Trigger from Only Fools And Horses).

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Arsenal 0 - 0 Chelsea - if you don't try to score?

John Wayne - he knew the importance of shooting

Today's game was once again extremely underwhelming for Arsenal supporters. In the first-half we were lacklustre, apart from the last five minutes, while the second-half saw loads of possession, but not one single shot on target. It says it all for me that, for all the ball we had, Szcesny had far more to do than Petr Cech after half-time - I thought Szczesny was outstanding actually, doing the things that set apart a goalkeeper from a shot-stopper (the difference between a David Seaman and a Manuel Almunia, if you like).
The most frustrating aspect, and not for the first time, was our lack of interest in actually going for goal. I would have said you have more chance of scoring a goal if you actually try to do so. We've all seen Lampard's uncanny ability to score goals that take deflections, but one of the reasons for those deflections is his willingness to actually have a go. One of the only times Robin Van Persie had a shot in the second-half was the only occasion you wanted him to bring it down and beat his man. His decision to try and turn Cahill inside-out twice was infuriating, but his decision to try and play an impossible pass to Santos with things opening up for a left-foot strike on the edge o the box was plain criminal. Put that with his disgraceful miss from two yards in the first-half and it's fair to say Van Persie had a shocker. In fact he's been having a shocker for the past five or six games. I suspect this is the only blog where you'll read a word of criticism about the skipper today, but he certainly had the look of someone moving on this afternoon. It was a very Hleb/Flamini/Henry/Nasri/Fabregas (*delete as appropriate) kind of performance.
You can look at Van Persie's miss and Koscielny's header against the bar and maybe consider us slightly unfortunate. I don't believe we were. There was a lack of urgency, pace , ideas and effort in evidence yet again. It's no coincidence that if Song and Van Persie perform badly (as they both have in the last two games) then Arsenal struggle. Ramsey worked hard, but was caught on the ball far too often once again. Rosicky buzzed around and, along with Gibbs and Koscielny (who took his turn, after Djourou on Monday, to carry Thomas Vermaelen in defence) was our best outfield performer.
The substitutions once again defy any logic. I hope that Tomas Rosicky had a knock as to take him off seemed ludicrous. Diaby didn't too badly at all, but I would rather have seen Song or Ramsey taken off. Withdrawing Chamberlain to bring on a left-back just underlined how Wenger pre-ordains his changes - there was no way The Ox was getting through the ninety minutes today in almost any circumstances. Then we have the Walcott injury. For the second game in a row a player was sent back out by Colin Lewin and has made an injury worse. Walcott has a "serious" hamstring problem. As much as I don't rate him, and don't follow England, it would be cruel indeed for him to miss Euro 2012 as a result of the Club not protecting his injury properly. Also I should mention that it took Gervinho a full five minutes to get stripped and ready. That is not acceptable. If you're on the bench then you should simply have to slip off your tracksuit and get on the pitch. He was sat there putting on shin-pads and tie-ups and adjusting his boots etc for what seemed an age. In the meantime Theo tried to run and completely knackered his leg. Not good enough.
Newcastle's win puts Arsenal under genuine pressure for third place, though QPR beating Tottenham has been a real bonus. One point from six at home is not what you need at this stage of the season. A win on Monday would have made 0-0 today perfectly acceptable. We would have been pretty much secure for the top four now had we beaten Wigan. As it is we now must take at least seven points from our final three matches to be sure, in my view. Ordinarily a draw at Stoke would be fine, but we would be on a bad run if we fail to win next weekend. A defeat is unthinkable. Arsenal must find some form, and that probably means Song and RVP finding theirs.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Chelsea (h) preview

Coquelin - I'd play him tomorrow

Tomorrow is my final game of the season. I can't make the Norwich match due to another commitment that day so I hope the boys turn it on for me tomorrow and send me off in to my personal hibernation in good spirits. If they are to do so then they will need to be at their best to beat an in-form Chelsea team that now must be overflowing with confidence. It will certainly require a 100% better performance than we had to sit through on Monday night against Wigan.
We will be missing Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun tomorrow. Regular readers will know that I have not gone in for the whole "Arteta is a crucial player for this team" stuff, but the fact that he has been the regular man all season means his absence will affect the team. Benayoun has done well in recent weeks but is ineligible to play against the Club that actually owns him. With Gervinho woefully out of form he will be a big miss tomorrow.
It is likely that Aaron Ramsey will be the straight replacement for Arteta. The Boyo has taken some fearful stick in recent weeks, though the groans of the crowd in attendance have been nothing compared to the outrageous nonsense he's had to put with in the cyber-world. From Twitter to the OnlineGooner Forum (which is once again getting out of hand in the way that those who post on there choose to criticise and abuse Arsenal players, despite claiming to "support" the Club) he has been called every name under the Sun, and has even been wished another broken leg by some cretinous individuals. It is true that Ramsey has been struggling for form and his tendency to dwell too long on the ball has caused problems. However, this kind of abuse is completely unacceptable to any real Arsenal fans. Red Action, to their credit, will be unfurling their "One Aaron Ramsey" banner before kick-off tomorrow in a show of support to our young Welshman. I have seen him blamed for the defeat on Monday night by some, despite the fact that he wasn't even on the pitch when Wigan scored both of their goals. It just shows that he is the new "boo-boy" in the absence of Eboue and Arshavin and is going to get the bird for no real reason. That being the case I would leave Ramsey on the bench tomorrow and bring in Francis Coquelin (ideally I would prefer to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in there but I am convinced he is being left out by the Manager in order to minimise the chances of him having to go to Euro 2012). Last night the official website had Arsene quoted as saying that Coquelin was not ready, but by this morning Le Boss had announced he was in the squad. I know he hasn't played in two months, but his energy, pace and effort could be crucial in the midfield battle tomorrow. It would also remove Ramsey from the firing line. Abou Diaby is also back but I can't see Wenger playing him from the start (though he has often brought him straight back in the past).
Chelsea are missing one or two themselves with Drogba (more on him below) and Luiz injured, and Ivanovic suspended. Of course this means they will bring in Fernando Torres, and you just know he will find his best form against Arsenal - they always do. It will be interesting to see if Di Matteo will rest anyone else ahead of the trip to Barcelona on Tuesday. Ashley Cole has been replaced by Ryan Bertrand in some recent games, though I think I would prefer to see the treacherous Cashley, given his record up against Theo Walcott in recent seasons. I would be surprised if Fat Frank started his third tough game in seven days, and only necessity might see John Terry have to play. With Chelsea's squad it really shouldn't make much difference. The power of Michael Essien is likely to be added to midfield, and he has done a lot of damage against us in the past. There is plenty for Arsenal to fear.

As we're playing the Chavs tomorrow it would be remiss of me to not comment on Didier Drogba's performance against Barcelona on Wednesday. That word "performance" applies in every sense in this case. When he was on his feet the only thing lacking was a yard of pace that has been lost over the years. Much as against Spurs on Sunday he was too big and too good for Barcelona's defenders. It begs the question, therefore, as to why he spent most of the game rolling around on the floor. In the end it became embarrassing. The game, overall, was one that only Chelsea supporters could enjoy (I don't have a problem with that as they are under no obligation to "entertain" anybody - they simply had to get the job done) but I think most neutrals would have taken a dislike to them simply because of Drogba's behaviour. If that had been Sergio Busquets (as it has been so often in the past, and will be in the future) then we would not have heard the end of the bleating about it. Quite how a man the size of Drogba, with such physical qualities, and who has beasted so many centre-halves (not least from Arsenal) over the years can bring himself down to such a disgusting level is beyond me. As it is, his goal and, more importantly, the clean sheet at home have given Chelsea a huge chance to go through. If they score in the Nou Camp then Barca must get three. Obviously they are more than capable, but that doesn't make it an easy thing to do.

I'll write a match review tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A question of attitude - again

A group of players lacking in something important

Well that was a seriously good opportunity to drive home our advantage missed, wasn't it? Playing at home against a team, albeit one in fine form, from the bottom end of the table it is important to do the basics right. On Monday evening this Arsenal team once again failed in that area. How many times do they have to lose games to the also-rans before they understand the need to be at 100% in every single game? For the third home game in recent weeks we gave the opposition a two goal head start. This time, however, the comeback lacked the pace and ideas that saw wins over Aston Villa and Tottenham.
The "defending" that gave Wigan their goals was criminal in its lack of application. There is, still, no organisation in this Arsenal team. Nobody took responsibility when Mikel Arteta was clearly injured, so Wigan were left with the freedom of the pitch to counter-attack after we gave the ball away. The second goal was, perhaps, even worse. I don't know what Bacary Sagna was doing as Moses faced him up. Had that been Djourou (who seemed to have to play on his own at the back for large periods the other night, and performed pretty well it should be said) the crowd would have been going absolutely mental at him. Similarly, Szczesny's attempt to get to the ball would have seen Almunia or Fabianski met with the howling that is now seemingly reserved for Aaron Ramsey's every touch of the ball. It was rank bad play and it effectively ended the match after ten minutes.
We made one or two chances in the remainder of the first-half, and could have gone in level but for decent goalkeeping and a glaring miss from Rosicky. The second-half, however, was an utter disgrace of an attacking performance. There were no ideas, no pace and no penetration. The one time we did get in behind the defenceTheo Walcott was clearly fouled, from my view in the stands, but Andre Marriner (more on his performance below) kept up his career record of giving us just about nothing. The substitutions didn't help matters with Oxlade-Chamberlain finding himself stood on the touchline watching Gervinho be as ineffective a replacement as it's possible to be. Since he came back from the Africa Cup of Nations he has had the same look about him as Marouane Chamakh, and some are now questioning whether he should be moved on immediately. I have seen some saying that Chamberlain tried to be too much of an individual when he eventually came on, but at least he was trying to make something happen, rather than watching the ball get passed back and forth in front of an organised opposition.
Wigan were well worth their win, and it could have been more than 2-1. They outplayed Arsenal whenever they had possession of the ball and I thought James McCarthy, sitting in front of their defence, was outstanding. I have seen today that Gary Caldwell has criticised Van Persie for not shaking hands after the game. I can't understand why RVP would be like that. As far as I'm concerned it's his own fault that he allowed himself to be put in the pocket of a second-rate player like Caldwell. Sadly the Captain's performance was typical of the team the other night. It lacked pace, application and imagination. The fact is that if Van Persie had put in the necessary effort the other night then he would have destroyed Wigan's poor defence, and Caldwell in particular. Not shaking the mans hand after the game is more than a little bit childish. If you've been kicked all over the pitch by someone I can understand not shaking hands, but not simply because you've allowed yourself to be dominated by someone who shouldn't be playing at the same level as you.
One other thing I want to comment on, yet again, is the performance of the referee. In particular I want to refer to the whole time-wasting business. I notice that Arsene Wenger has called it "cheating." He is not wrong, but all the time the referee allows it to go unpunished it is a legitimate "tactic." I don't blame any opposition for doing it. It is up to the clown with the whistle to enforce the laws of the game and be brave enough to do so. Al Habsi was time-wasting at the very first goal-kick of the game, when the score was 0-0. The referee then summarily failed to deal with it for the whole game. His addition of only 3 minutes at the end of the first-half was quite disgraceful, and the 5 minutes in the second barely much better. That Mr Marriner chose to finally book the Wigan goalkeeper in the 93rd minute was an insult to the paying spectator, especially as it merely wasted a further 50 seconds that were not added on. Referees seem determined to make themselves the centre of attention and Marriner was no different on Monday. Anyone who has such a ridiculous spray-tan is clearly extremely vain, so we should not be surprised that he craves such attention during the game.
Having said all of that, the end result was more down to the Arsenal players, and their poor attitude, than to anybody else. I'm sick of hearing about wake-up calls and similar soundbites from players about concentration etc. This group of players is simply incapable of putting it in week after week, no matter who the opposition are. There is something fundamental missing from their make-up. I cringe whenever I hear quotes from Theo Walcott. His latest was to say that the stadium had become "a fortress" but the other night it seemed the drawbridge had been left open to invaders yet again. This team has lost ten matches in the Premier League this season. That they are third in the table says more about the state of the Premier League than it does about any perceived quality in Arsenal's current squad of players. They could have cemented their top four position the other night simply by applying themselves appropriately. As it is now they must beat Chelsea on Saturday, otherwise they face the prospect of going to Stoke City with three teams breathing down their necks, just waiting for another Arsenal mistake. It's simply unacceptable to lose games because you don't concentrate and don't try hard enough. It must stop.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The FA are messing up the game, Wigan (h) preview

Arsenal must make it even bigger tonight

It's been another weekend of joke decisions and teams robbed. The FA have got what they deserve in that regard. They failed to take Ashley Young to task over his diving last week, so he did it again yesterday. They made Martin Atkinson the referee for the FA Cup semi-final and he messed it up royally. As much as we all enjoyed seeing Tottenham get destroyed there can be no argument that the "goal" that put Chelsea 2-0 up was the turning point of the game. Atkinson then failed to send off Adebayor for an over the top challenge on Gary Cahill, and Mikel for a kick at Scott Parker, for which Parker got booked! There was also a foul by Paul Scholes yesterday (a shock, I realise) in which he went in even higher than Balotelli last week. Of course Sky simply laughed it off. The FA should not be laughing off anything as the game is losing its credibility. Adebayor summed it up in his post-match interview yesterday where he said "it's killing the game." He is not wrong. It brings the points I made in this post last week in to even sharper focus. One reassuring thing is that it's not necessarily a problem particular to England, as Celtic were also robbed in their Cup semi-final yesterday against Hearts.

On to more important things then and tonight's game against Wigan Athletic. With Newcastle, Chelsea and Spurs not in Premier League action over the weekend we have a chance to press home some advantage tonight, and extend our lead over those sides.
Wigan have hit their usual late season form in recent weeks. They have become the masters of the great escape over the past few years. They play fine football under Martinez and, when they put it together, can be a match for anybody. Wigan have good, quick players in midfield and attack, and a very good goalkeeper in Ali Al Habsi. However, they also have a terrible defence in which Gary Caldwell is the main man.  Caldwell was a poor defender in Scotland, and he's even worse down here. People say that Per Mertesacker lacks pace, but it would be one hell of a close race between him and Caldwell. The BFG has the advantage of being a very fine reader of the game, and a good footballer. If Arsenal put the necessary pressure on the Wigan back four, and play with pace then we will pose them massive problems.
Once again tonight the focus will be on Arsenal's left hand side with regards to selection. I fully expect Tomas Rosicky to come back in for Aaron Ramsey, but will Yossi Benayoun keep his place out wide? I have seen it suggested that, because Victor Moses plays on Wigan's right, we should keep Benayoun in to assist Andre Santos. I can see the value in that, but should Arsenal really be picking a team to combat someone like Victor Moses, especially at home? I think not. It's time, as far as I'm concerned, for The Ox to be unleashed again. He must be raring to go having had very little action in recent weeks. I want to see him, Tomas and Theo providing Robin Van Persie with the necessary ammo tonight.
If we can get the win, and extend that lead over the other challengers for third place, then we will go in to the Chelsea game in a very good position indeed. I'm looking forward to tonight as I will actually get to be at a game for the first time since we played Newcastle. I hope the players give me something to smile about again.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Wolves 0 - 3 Arsenal - a comfortable night

Theo - too quick for Wolves

I'll be keeping this fairly brief as my view of the game was only from the highlights afforded to us by Sky and BBC last night. The sooner I can get a decent broadband provider and a decent broadband speed the better.
All in all it was clearly a straightforward win for Arsenal from the moment Bassong was sent-off. I've seen and heard people saying it was harsh for him to be red-carded, but I don't agree. Walcott was in on goal, so the foul (clumsy more than cynical) denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. That makes it a red card as intent is not part of this rule. When it was brought in it was to stop the cynical "professional foul" - the Willie Young tackle, if you like (younger readers ask your parents or google the 1980 Cup Final). Perhaps this particular law, like so many in football, is correct in its intention, but not in its application.
I didn't like the way the penalty was dispatched by Robin Van Persie. It's all very nice showboating when you're three or four up at home to Leeds, on the way to an unbeaten season (a la Thierry Henry) but not at 0-0 in a crucial Premier League fixture. It shows a disrespect and an arrogance that I do not like to see from an Arsenal player. Most of all it is likely to go wrong and you end up looking like a twat. It also creates a potential future problem. I remember in 1998 Dwight Yorke doing it to David Seaman at Villa Park, only to fluff a penalty against Arsenal the following season at Old Trafford when Seaman stood still and Yorke placed wide of the goal, knowing he couldn't go anywhere near the centre with his spot-kick. I must also say that I don't understand what possesses a player like Van Persie to dink a ball like that. The man has a jack-hammer instead of a left-foot. If he smashes the ball high in to the goal, it doesn't matter who the keeper is, he will score. I suppose the fact that he did score makes all of that fairly irrelevant, for the time being.
The second goal was again a link-up between Van Persie and Walcott, with the latter showing an excellent first-touch and a lovely finish. His pace and movement in that short spell of the two goals was something Wolves couldn't deal with. All credit to Walcott who has kept trying hard and has got a nice few goals and assists in this recent run we've been on. It has gone unnoticed however, that Ronald Zubar tried to hospitalise Walcott as he scored the goal. Watch it from the angle behind the goal and you will see that, after Walcott hits the ball, Zubar launches himself at Theo and takes him out. Thankfully Walcott was moving so quickly that he barely noticed being cleaned out by the fat no-mark. The FA would do well to investigate this one as it is surely violent conduct, designed to hurt the opponent.
After that Arsenal messed about in a way that infuriates me. I just wish we would humiliate teams from these situations as Man Utd used to at their peak. Even in the days of the Invincibles we would lay-off once the win was secured. Its a small quibble, I know, but it really annoys me. When the third goal did come, following an amazing save by Szczesny (Arsenal's attitude at 2-0 might still have cost them), I was very pleased it was Yossi Benayoun who scored it. I really believe he has not been used enough by Arsene Wenger since he arrived, and I would really like to see him signed on a permanent deal at the end of the season. Every squad needs a player like Benayoun, and Arsenal are no exception.
So three points again and now a five point lead over Spurs and Newcastle. More crucially we are seven clear of Chelsea. That means we have a small amount of breathing space going in to our fixture with them at the back end of next week. I can see either Spurs or Newcastle slipping behind Chelsea in the race for the Champions League places, so it is imperative we have a cushion between us and them. All in all it's been another successful week for Arsenal. Another one next week and we can relax a little.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Wolves (a) preview

Kosicelny - a big miss for Arsenal

I hope the Arsenal players treat the game tonight with more respect than they did at QPR ten days ago. The way they played on Sunday was a sharp contrast, and the same effort we saw against Manchester City will be required against a desperate Wolves side. If there is any thought, from any of the players, that Wolves will be easy to win against then we will lose the game.
With Laurent Koscielny suspended we will have Johan Djourou back in the side next to Thomas Vermaelen. We all know that Djourou has not fulfilled his potential, and has seriously failed to build on his exceptional form from the middle of last season, when he carried Arsenal's defence. His loss of form has made him one of those targeted by the idiotic side of the Arsenal support and he gets a lot of unfair abuse. This is less likely to happen with the travelling fans than it is with the tourists that populate our own stadium, many of whom get their impressions of the players from the newspapers and internet forums. Whatever the case may be, Djourou will be wearing an Arsenal shirt for the next two games in the absence of Koscielny, and he deserves our support. We all know that we will be weakened by the absence of Koscielny as he has been the outstanding performer in the Arsenal defence this season. Perhaps the rest of the back four will have to concentrate a little bit more without him there.
Elsewhere in the defence Andre Santos is likely to start at left-back in place of the "fatigued" Kieran Gibbs (how the hell do you get tired playing one game per week?) We all know he likes to go forward, but he must choose the occasion to do so more carefully tonight. We don't need any headless chickens at the back, and organisation will be key. We will also need Alex Song to be on his mettle with his primary role of protecting the back four. It may seem a little odd to be concentrating on the way we defend ahead of a game against the side propping up the Premier League, but the fact remains that doing the basics right, and not conceding goals, is what allows you to go on and win football matches.
I don't see too many other changes from the side that played on Sunday. It will be interesting to see whether Yossi Benayoun remains in the starting line-up. With the "adventurous" Andre Santos at left-back it might be no bad idea to keep the hard-working Israeli in the team. If he is left out then it must be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain that comes in. If Wenger picks Aaron Ramsey to play on the left yet again then it will do nobody any good, least of all Ramsey himself. Gervinho remains on the sidelines with an ankle knock, though there is talk of the lesser seen Ju Young Park being added to the squad. That would indeed be a treat!
Wolves are likely to recall Roger Johnson to the side after he was dropped for their game at Stoke on Saturday. Johnson seems to have lost a lot of form this season. We know how well he can play after his performance in the Carling Cup Final last season. I hope he doesn't regain that form this evening. There is good news for anyone who likes their ankles/knees/skull in the right place with Steven Hunt missing through injury. Up front, in Doyle and Fletcher, Wolves have two dangerous forwards, both capable of scoring goals, with Matt Jarvis a fine provided from wide. Finally, they have an outstanding goalkeeper in Wayne Hennessy. I hope he doesn't have one of those games tonight - he denied us single-handed when we played out a 0-0 against them at Christmas.
I'll write a match review tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Officials having an unhealthy influence

Atkinson - incompetent at best

I have never known a set of fixtures to be so beset by awful officiating. It seemed that every game played over the Easter weekend involved at least one serious error from a referee or linesman. The consequences for Wolves were a defeat they could not afford at Stoke, where the referee awarded two free-kicks incorrectly that both led to goals. Similarly Wigan Athletic suffered defeat at Chelsea where the linesman failed to give players offside on two occasions where goals were scored. Liverpool suffered another poor result at home thanks, in no small part, to Michael Oliver failing to award a penalty when Luis Suarez was tripped by Hutton. The same man then denied Norwich City two blatant spot-kicks at Tottenham yesterday. What the hell is going on?
Arsenal won on Sunday, but that was no thanks to Martin Atkinson and his colleagues. Even if you accept (I don't) that Atkinson didn't have a proper view when Balotelli tried to end Song's career, surely one of the other officials must have seen it clearly. Everyone in the stadium could see it apart from those that matter. This is a trend that has been developing for a number of years. How can it be that everyone in attendance can see something differently to the man with the whistle, or the idiot with the flag? I remember seeing Balotelli get sent-off at Anfield earlier in the season and feeling that he had been dismissed simply because of who he was. I got the impression on Sunday that he was staying on the field for exactly the same reason. In short, Atkinson was afraid to send him off because of the publicity that surrounds Balotelli. That was the reason that the Italian was still around in the 91st minute when the referee finally had no further choice but to dismiss him (he had no choice after the Song incident if we're being honest, but failed to do his job).
I have written many times in the past that I believe the match officials in this country to be corrupt. If football is bent in Italy, and in France and elsewhere, then why not in England? We have the richest league in the World. The people charged with officiating would be the easy targets for any corrupting influences. Why should people have to accept the FA stance that their officials are beyond reproach? However, that's not the angle I want to investigate in this piece.
One of the other explanations for what we witnessed at the weekend, and have been seeing with increasing regularity for the past twenty years, is the idea of a football referee as someone you recognise - a celebrity, if you will. When I was growing up you only ever knew the English referee that went to the World Cup. You would see an interview, on Cup Final day, with the man given the honour of officiating the end of season showpiece at Wembley. Refereeing the FA Cup Final was the career highlight of any official. Back in the days before the Premier League a referee could be at Highbury one week, and Newport County the next. When the Premier League was formed the FA decided to set up its "elite panel." Basically they selected the twenty or so "best" referees and made them the preserve of the Premier League. All of a sudden the likes of David Elleray, Dermot Gallagher, Graham Poll and Paul Durkin were able to become household names. Because there was more televised live football, and a smaller pool of officials to be selected from, they were on the screen all the time. Sky would even use some of them in their advertising campaign. The likes of Poll seemed to rather enjoy their new limelight.
Since the introduction of the "elite" referees we have seen a terrible increase in "mistakes." Such incidents are obviously controversial. As a result of the controversy there is a lot of publicity. As a result of the publicity there is often a picture of the referee at fault, and his name is across the back pages of the newspapers. Effectively the referee is the "star" of that particular show, and not the players. Consequently it is good for the ego of these cretinous individuals as there is no such thing as bad publicity.
The likes of Poll have somehow managed to get a television career out of their errors. Gallagher and Jeff Wynter have also had their own "spot" on Sky TV where they defend to the hilt any refereeing mistake, and trot out the usual "it's a difficult job" nonsense. How difficult was it for the linesman at Old Trafford on Sunday to see that Ashley Youg was offside before he dived for the penalty? The answer is that it was not difficult and he chose to not give the offside. That is cheating, plain and simple. Going back to Poll, and in order to prove my point, he has admitted that he gave red-cards to certain players in order to "make a name" for himself. The man has written an autobiography for God's sake, as have Elleray and Wynter. Poll once admitted to not sending off Wayne Rooney at Highbury as it might "spoil the game," leaving aside the fact that the referee is supposed to see the laws of the game are applied. It is quite despicable when you think about it.
At the moment the referees are headed up by Mike Riley. This is a man who was the Howard Webb of his day, in terms of his favour towards Manchester United. He single-handedly ended Arsenal's 49 game unbeaten run at Old Trafford when he gave a penalty for a Rooney dive over Sol Campbell. The FA reap what they sew when they employ someone like that to be the man in charge. Referees are also assessed on match day by ex-referees. Given my observation on the Sky segment with Gallagher/Wynter I have little faith in any referee ever being marked down by the assessor in the stand.
So how can the problems be remedied? The answer lies with young men who have been released from Club's having not quite made the grade as a player. These men would, first and foremost, know what it's like to play football at a high level and a good standard. They would also be at the same peak of physical fitness as the men they are officiating - how can a 49 year-old man be expected to keep pace with a game being played by the athletes that play Premier League football? The FA must bite the bullet and realise that their way of appointing referees at all levels of the game is wrong. The sort of person that becomes a referee is the lad who never got picked to play in the playground. They like football, but have no ability whatsoever, so they turn to refereeing as their way on to the pitch. They are also officious little toe-rags who want to get some authority over somebody else - Elleray being a prime example of this. Given that the PFA is always banging on about young footballers being out of work at the end of every season, what better way to keep them in the game than by "fast-tracking" them through the referee system?
There are a few other things I want to see. Firstly, the "elite panel" for the Premier League must be disbanded in order that the officials become "anonymous" once again. I don't want to know who the referee is. Football officials should be neither seen, nor heard. Another thing is that the FA must not keep "disciplining" managers who wish to criticise a referee. What is wrong with saying that the referee had a bad game, when it is apparent to all that that was the case? It is outrageous that a referee can directly influence the outcome of a match (or even a season) with their mistakes, but be beyond criticism from those it affects the most. The final thing I want to see is the FA taking action against their own officials for poor performance. This does not mean "dropping" them from the Premier League for a week or two, but actively suspending them from refereeing. If I made mistakes in my job, that were as costly to people as we've seen in the Premier League this weekend, I would be suspended, investigated, and probably sacked. Why should football be any different?

Monday, 9 April 2012

Arsenal 1 - 0 Man City - how about some recognition?

Arteta celebrates his brilliant strike

Arsenal were utterly outstanding yesterday. From back to front they outplayed Manchester City virtually from start to finish. The headlines today are predictably about Balotelli and his behaviour. However, most of the stuff I've seen and heard fails to give any credit to Arsenal whatsoever. I suppose we should know by now that Arsenal won't get any of the recognition they deserve, after all we had an unbeaten season that seemingly went past unnoticed.
If the game yesterday had finished 3-0 or 4-0 there could have been no complaints from City. Last season when they came to our place they stank the place out with their negativity and the way they played for a draw. When you saw Joe Hart time-wasting at 0-0 with ten minutes to go yesterday you knew they would have been happy with the same again. After that game early in 2011 I said how teams that want to win the Title don't go to big clubs and play for the draw. The same still applies. Manchester City had to win yesterday, or their "challenge" for the Title was gone. To see the way they performed, with the exception of the excellent Vincent Kompany, showed that they are not even close to winning the Premier League.
Having said all of that about City's performance you can't ignore how irresistible Arsenal were at times yesterday. The pressing game was back in midfield and the pace seemed to be in the side again. Bacary Sagna consistently took advantage of the space down the right to get forward. Arsene again surprised us with the team selection, but bringing in Benayoun certainly worked well. The Israeli is a fine performer and is the sort of player every squad requires. He has been seriously underused in his time at Arsenal, especially given the form of Ramsey. I would love to see him signed on a permanent deal, but I suspect he will want to move on in search of playing time. It's a shame as I see him as a very useful player. Alex Song was outstanding again in the midfield, dominating the centre of the pitch. His strength was complemented by Rosicky's subtlety. With Yaya Toure off injured City simply had no answer to Arsenal's attacking play.
The winning goal, when it finally came, was a great strike from Mikel Arteta. Regular readers will be well aware that I do not go in for the idea that Arteta has been a crucial member of the team since he joined Arsenal. Yesterday I again felt he was slowing us down with his insistence on playing short, square passes instead of looking to play forward. When he did finally show some attacking intent he won the ball well in the midfield before smacking an unstoppable shot past Hart. We saw in that moment what Arteta can be when he plays to what we all believe are his natural instincts. Perhaps when Jack Wilshere comes back Arteta will move forward on the pitch and challenge Rosicky for his position behind Robin Van Persie. He can certainly shoot from distance, with accuracy, and I want to see more of it.
Apart from the goal we missed so many chances again. Van Persie was denied by his own teammate when Vermaelen got in the way of a certain goal, and then by the goal-post in the second-half. Quite how Vermaelen and Benayoun contrived to miss after Walcott had hit the post God only knows. Ultimately it didn't matter in the context of winning the game, but goal-difference could yet be important. Aaron Ramsey also managed to miss an open-goal in injury-time, simply by trying to be too clever. Leaving aside the fact that he was inexplicably brought on to play from the left again, it was an awful miss that summed up how things are going for him at the moment. Van Persie and Oxlade-Chamberlain both showed their displeasure at not being passed to in that move, and I hope the Manager takes them to task for their reaction - it was unnecessary and sends a bad message to the supporters.
The win was important in the race for third place. If City continue to implode we could end up in second, but right now I'll settle for third (though that is not good enough by a long way). We have a tough game against Wolves in midweek. They are in dire straits at the bottom of the table, and losing game after game. In my view that makes them due for a change of fortune and Arsenal should be very wary ahead of the game at Molineux. With two games against relegation fodder to come this week we should get six points, but the players must re-produce their form of yesterday, and then the results will take care of themselves.

I'll write a post tomorrow about my favourite people - the match officials. The weekend saw them getting every major decision wrong, with consequences for teams at both ends of the table. I haven't mentioned Mario Balotelli's challenge on Song today, but I will in tomorrow's piece.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Manchester City (h) preview

Ox - surely back tomorrow?

After the awful display last week the pressure is now back on Arsenal. Tottenham were held today at Sunderland, but Chelsea scraped a late win over Wigan to get within striking distance (though I understand Chelsea's first goal was one of the worst offside decisions in history). A win over QPR last week would have meant that dropped points tomorrow would not have been such an issue. With second-placed Manchester City the visitors it just underlines the importance of dispatching the rubbish when you have the opportunity.
As with last week Arsene Wenger is choosing from the same group of players. I hope that he doesn't continue this nonsense of playing Aaron Ramsey from the left. It is never going to work, just as it didn't when he insisted on playing Diaby out there. All it achieves is the player getting the bird from the stands which is no good to anybody. With that in mind I believe it is imperative that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to the starting eleven. I can understand why Wenger is not playing him in every game, especially in light of Wilshere's injury problems, but there surely comes a time when you pick your best available team. I would suggest that a game like tomorrow is one such occasion.
Last week we saw Thomas Vermaelen turn in a terrible display. If Johan Djourou had made the errors that the Belgian did at Loftus Road then I hate to think what sort of stick he would have got from people. We all know that Vermaelen is a very determined individual and I'm sure he will be very keen to try and make amends tomorrow. If I had to put a bet on an Arsenal player scoring a goal then he would near the top of the list.
Apart from that I can see Arsenal being pretty much "as you were." There could be a change at left-back with Santos possibly replacing Gibbs, but I wouldn't necessarily see the need for that based on Gibbs' form in recent weeks.
Man City's team is always liable to change. Apparently that idiot Nasri is fit again, but hopefully he'll meet Frimpong in the tunnel before the game and be shown to his seat on the bench. We all know that their strikers have the ability to destroy teams if they're in the mood. A lot has been made of the loss of form of City's goalscorers, but I think their results are more a symptom of David Silva going off the boil. At the start of the season he seemed irresistible but, since Christmas, has had a touch of "the Nasri's." I hope he doesn't get a touch of "the Fabrgas'" tomorrow and turn it on against Arsenal.
When we played in Manchester earlier in the season it was widely noted that Arsenal had played well and deserved something from the game. If we can play as well tomorrow then we will surely win the match. After the debacle of last week it is certainly a very important three points up for grabs.
I'll post a match review on Monday.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

It's quiet so let's reminisce

Nineteen years ago today

It's so quiet at Arsenal this week that the official website has wheeled out their obligatory emergency interview with Theo Walcott. According to Theo we are turning the stadium in to a "fortress" this season. I'm not too sure about the timing of such a statement with Man City visiting this Sunday, but there you go.
The only other news out there is the unconfirmed rumour that Jack Wilshere has had another setback. There was a behind-closed-doors game at the training ground this morning which saw a very strong Arsenal side (far stronger than the usual Carling Cup team actually) draw with a young Birmingham City XI. It seemed that the game had been set up to give Wilshere his first action since August, but he was absent from the side, as was Abou Diaby. Chu-Young Park got Arsenal's goal in a 1-1 draw and must surely now be worth his place on the bench ahead of Chamakh (who played but didn't score, again). The absence of Jack from a game that was seemingly set up for his benefit is a concern. In the absence of any confirmation from Arsenal, however, it is pointless speculating any further at this stage.

It being so quiet, and it also being the anniversary of it, I thought I would take the chance to reminisce on one of my favourite games watching Arsenal. On 4th April 1993 we descended on Wembley for another FA Cup semi-final against the mugs from White Hart Lane. After what had happened two years previously we had suffered the clowns from down the road and their "we beat the scum 3-1" nonsense non-stop ever since. This was to be our day of revenge and redemption, we hoped.
Travelling up from Dover meant we were always quite early to games at Wembley, whereas the majority of Gooners (in those days, at least) being fairly local would only get there shortly before the kick-off of matches. That being the case we walked around to see the team coach arrive, even though this was at the Spurs end. Back then, for the most part, there wasn't the evil antagonism from their supporters that there is today. Obviously there was a bitter rivalry, but you could happily walk round their end of Wembley that day in your red and white shirt without having to fear a cuff on the side of your head. I remember that, as we stood there waiting for Arsenal to arrive, there was this short, fat woman with short hair and a Tottenham tracksuit standing opposite us. She was only talking to her companions, but had one of those voices that carried a long way. Frankly she came across as a right mouthy cow and typical of every Tottenham fan you've ever had the misfortune to meet. I took an irrational dislike to this woman and her loud proclamations of how we would be beaten.
When we got in the ground we found that our seats were in the second row behind those awful red "buckets" that used to form the front twenty-odd rows at Wembley (we weren't so lucky a fortnight later at the Coca-Cola Cup Final when we were two rows further forward!) When the game started there was no choice but to stand, much like away games these days. Being only 14 at the time, and quite short for my age back then, I couldn't actually claim to have had a great view.
Thinking back we pretty much controlled the game. Apart from an early shot by Samways (whatever happened to Vinny Samways?) that initially went through Seaman's hands, before he recovered to save, and a pretty lame penalty appeal against Linighan (it was outside the box in any case), we were well in charge. The odious Justin Edinburgh and Nayim combined to get Lee Dixon booked (and eventually sent-off and suspended for the League Cup Final a fortnight after) but we controlled midfield with Parlour, Selley and Hillier. Selley hit a cracking volley about twenty minutes from the end that was well saved by Thorstvedt, who also made a great save from an Ian Wright header.
There was probably some poetic justice in Edinburgh making the foul that led to the winning goal that day. I have a vivid recollection of the goal in my mind's eye. It's one of the few things I saw clearly through the heads of the taller people in front of me on the day. I can see the ball coming over and Adams getting up behind Ruddock. I can see the ball bouncing and then hitting the stanchion in the goal. I can then see the pandemonium erupting all around. I was on the end of a row and the celebrations spilled out, naturally, on to the stairwell. I remember the bloke on the opposite side picking me up in celebration (I may have been short but I wasn't "small" so that was no mean feat!) and I remember my brother throwing his arms round me as I came back. What should have been ten minutes of torture became more than fifteen. From absolutely nowhere the referee Phillip Don somehow found a ridiculous amount of injury-time. I remember, right at the death, a cross was deflected in to the six-yard box right in front of me, but David Seaman dived full length to catch it and relieve the final pressure.
When the final whistle went it was a feeling akin to winning the Cup itself. Perhaps if the winning goal in the Final had not been so dramatic then it would have been even better than winning the Cup. We enjoyed a proper Arsenal sing-song at Wembley that day, and the players enjoyed every minute. After the past two years it was a given that the Tottenham fans would get their "scum" chants thrown back with interest. As we left we realised that a number of the Arsenal Reserves were sat a few rows behind us. Among them was the cup-tied Martin Keown - yet to achieve anything like hero-status with a crowd suspicious of why he had been re-signed by George Graham - who gave me a thumbs-up as I shouted at him on the way past.
From all the highlights of that day, and that they stick so vividly with me some nineteen years later is redolent of the fact that this was the first time I'd seen Arsenal win a competitive game at Wembley (I'd seen them thrash Spurs 4-0 in a pre-season tournament in 1988), there is one that kind of sticks out further than the others. As we stood on Wembley Way among the throng trying to get to the trains etc I glanced to the right and saw that gobby cow from before the game. It must have been fated that she should be so close again among a crowd of nearly 80,000 people. My God was she silent as she stood among the smiling Gooners in her Spurs gear. My Dad turned to me and said "not so bloody mouth now, is she?" I enjoyed that.

I hope you liked that trip down my personal memory lane. I know I did. I must dig out the video of that game and watch it some time soon. Just for a bit of fun, listen to this song recorded by one of the fanzines at the end of that season as part of the celebrations.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Demons return at QPR

Ramsey - not his fault, so get off his back

I said it would be a tough ask to get a win on Saturday in my preview piece. However, I also said that, if we played our game well then we would get the victory. It is fair to say that we did not play our game well against QPR and we paid the price with a defeat. A lot of stick is being aimed towards Aaron Ramsey on certain internet forums (well, one in particular). I think it's fair to say that the Boyo has struggled for a large part of this season, and his lack of pace has been a problem at times. Having said that, he has been asked to replace the role of Cesc Fabregas for most of his appearances this term, and that is an unfair comparison to make. He was never, perhaps, the fastest of midfield players, but he has lost a certain nip since Shawcross shattered his leg at Stoke two years ago. To criticise him when he then gets played from the left wing, therefore, is unfair in the extreme. Naturally he drifts in from the wide area and this makes us disjointed and lacking any balance. That's not Ramsey's fault though. If we want to point fingers then let's get them aimed at Arsene Wenger. Again. I do not understand why he thinks playing Ramsey on the left, with Chamberlain and Gervinho sitting on the bench, is a good idea. It seems to be some kind of defencive move, designed to help Gibbs in some way. You could argue that it may have made sense to a certain degree up at Everton (though it didn't work, and Arsenal got away with it up there) but against relegation fodder like QPR we should be attacking. Why change your natural instincts against a side that might be heading back towards the second tier? He used to insist on playing Diaby wide on the left, and Gilberto had a spell on the right - hardly successful moves were they? It does Ramsey no favours, and it does the team no favours, so let's hope Wenger dispenses with such stupidity from now on.
Whatever the selection issues it doesn't get away from the fact that the attitude was, yet again, wrong from the players. I got concerned last week when I heard the Manager and one or two players talking about how the game in Milan had been a "turning point" etc. The minute this squad starts to think they've "turned corners" they produce the sort of arrogant and insipid rubbish we got on Saturday. Not for the first time (or the second, or the third for that matter) they had the air of a team who thought turning up would be enough to swat the opposition aside. It's also not the first time we've heard Wenger telling the press that they "weren't good enough." I have to wonder how many times we are going to hear it. Once again, if the players lack the sufficient "mental" qualities, or the Manager is unable to get them necessarily motivated, then it is Wenger who is to blame. I said a couple of weeks back how I was uncomfortable with the assumption among many "fans" that Wenger was God again and that Spurs had been dispatched. Egg is all over their faces once again.
Obviously you can't and don't win every game. I have no problem with us not winning if the players have tried hard and shown the right mentality. You often come up against an inspired goalkeeper, for example. What we get far too often with this mob is a display lacking in those necessary qualities.
One more thing I want to point out is that I have seen Alex Song criticised in a few places after the game for trying to play too many difficult through-balls when there is an easier option available. I can understand that to a certain extent. However, perhaps if the clown alongside him tried to play a forward pass occasionally, rather than choosing the easy sideways five-yard pass every time he gets the ball, then maybe Song wouldn't feel obliged to try for something special quite so often. It annoys the hell out of me that people choose to get at Song while ignoring the absolute fact that Mikel Arteta is the problem. He slows down our attacking play, when pace is our real strength and is what destroys teams (just look at how we played against Spurs and Milan at home), and he never looks to play an incisive pass. Open your eyes people, please.