Highbury Library Logo

Highbury Library Logo

Friday, 17 August 2012

Optimism gives way to defiance, Premier League season preview, Sunderland (h) preview

Many thanks to those who provided feedback on the look of the site after the changes earlier in the week. As you will see I have now removed the classic Arsenal crest from the background. Most people were of the same opinion that it was a distracting element. Now that it has been taken away I hope the experience of reading my drivel is a little less hard on the eyes. 

I had this entire post written at about 6.30pm on Wednesday. Within the next hour I realised it was going to need a serious re-write. This is a long post, even without the changes and additions I’ve had to make. I had intended for this be the annual Premier League preview, and a preview of the Sunderland match tomorrow. The goings on at Arsenal in the meantime mean that I can not possibly go further without talking about what has happened. 
Last Sunday I was mightily impressed by Arsenal in the win at Cologne. The wave of optimism I was feeling was decidedly unusual. What has happened this week has seen much of the optimism wiped away, but it has been replaced by something else. I hope that the defiant feeling I have is something most other Gooners are getting hold of. When we lost players last season it had such an effect on the Club that a bad start was always going to happen. Robin Van Persie’s choice of destination has left me thinking “F*** you. We’re Arsenal. It’s us against everyone, so let’s get out there and show them who we are.”
I am not disappointed that Van Persie has gone. Following his disrespectful statement after Euro 2012 I wanted him out. However, I have a real problem with him joining Manchester United. Make no mistake, this is not about trophies. He has gone there through pure greed, just as Frank Stapleton and Viv Anderson did in the past. The echoes of the Stapleton transfer are really quite haunting, and so will the chants against Van Persie be tomorrow. Van Persie always claimed to have been an Arsenal supporter, and there is the picture of him in his 1998 shirt in his bedroom. How can any true Arsenal fan go and join Manchester United given what has gone on in the last 25 years? Onwards and upwards. We need to replace Van Persie, but I don’t think Wenger will do anything of the sort. We have to go with what we have, and that will not be easy. However, Van Persie was never going to be part of it, even before Wednesday, so we have to hope the necessary work has been done in training.

As you know I will not write about speculation. Arsene’s comments today with regards to Alex Song leave me able to write about his situation. I can’t believe that we are about to sell Song. Even worse, I can’t believe we’re about to sell him to Barcelona for next to nothing. Is Song causing problems behind the scenes? We don’t know, but there is clearly something wrong. I do not agree with Wenger when he almost disregards Song on the grounds that he has a lot of quality midfielders at the Club. Sadly he is overlooking the fact that Song is the only one remotely capable of playing the defensive role. I’m sure we can do better than Song, but that means replacing him. Unless we go and get Nigel De Jong, Marouane Felllaini or Yann M’Villa I don’t really see that happening (loaning a player that couldn’t get near the Real Madrid side does not thrill me at all).
If Song does follow Van Persie through the door then it will be the biggest of kicks in the teeth for Arsene Wenger. No other players at Arsenal owe more to Wenger than those two. Song was the player of less than limited ability that Wenger nurtured in to a strong Premier League player, Van Persie the injury-prone, flawed genius that Wenger refused to abandon. It leaves a nasty taste but, as I said, we’re Arsenal so f*** them.

Premier League Preview

Aston Villa

Paul Lambert coming in as manager should see the Villans move in to safer areas in terms of a final league position. The problem for Lambert is whether or not players will have a great deal of respect for a man who has proven disloyal to his last two clubs (though given what I’ve written above it seems that players really don’t give a toss). Undoubtedly he can organise a team, and get them to play good football. He can also get the best out of individuals – Grant Holt is an obvious example – but the way he has left Colchester and Norwich leaves a bitter taste. Villa’s strike options are increased simply because they don’t have Emile Heskey anymore, though the departures of Carlos Cuellar and James Collins might hurt them at the back. They’ve brought in Feyenord’s Ron Vlaar who had the look of a Stepanovs type defender in Euro 2012. I don’t see them facing a relegation battle this season, but not top half material either.


I am not disappointed that Chelsea have appointed Roberto Di Matteo as boss. Having won the FA Cup and European Cup they had little choice, I suppose, though it looked like he might not get the nod for a while. I don’t believe Di Matteo is a particularly good manager, and he will last as long as Terry and Lampard allow him to. There will no doubt be added confidence from their win in Munich, but don’t forget Chelsea were largely poor in the Premier League last season, even with Di Matteo in charge. Sadly, any of us hoping Abramovich would go now he has won what he always wanted, have been disappointed – the lavishing of £60m+ on four players this Summer shows that he is here for the foreseeable future, and that FFP will not bother Chelsea in the slightest.
Eden Hazard was the highest profile of those signings, but I’m pleased we didn’t get him. The way Hazard conducted himself before joining Chelsea showed me that he will fit in well with Cashley and co, and could be a disruptive type. His arrogance was staggering.
It will be interesting to see what effect is had by losing Didier Drogba. I was a bit surprised when he announced he was on his way to China. In the cup competitions last year he showed that he still had surreal ability when he wanted to play. Do they have strikers capable to replacing him? I doubt it. Certainly Daniel Sturridge is more Jermaine Defoe than Didier Drogba.
Obviously the Chavs will challenge near the top, but I can’t see them threatening the Manchester clubs for the Title. A place in the top four, and maybe another cup or two.


It’s been a bizarre Summer of comings and goings at Everton. David Moyes showed significant loyalty in turning down the lure of Tottenham, and the chance to actually spend some money, in order to stay at Goodison Park. Nikica Jelavic was outstanding after joining in January, and he will once again be supported by Steven Pienaar on his permanent return to Merseyside. I’m not sure about the signing of Steven Naismith from Rangers, but at least he didn’t cost a fee.
The more concerning thing for the Toffees is how they continue to have to sell. I was shocked when Tim Cahill went off to play in America. I suspect he felt time was catching up with him, and a large pay day was something he felt he required. I know he didn’t get his usual amount of goals last season, but his aerial ability was crucial all over the pitch. Jack Rodwell has made a career ending move to Manchester City – at least Everton made good money.
With Cahill gone Everton will be very reliant on Jelavic, Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini. At the back they are usually strong, and the home crowd makes Goodison a tough place to visit. David Moyes would love to get back in to Europe, but I think his best chance of that is in the cups. Top half for Everton, but not top six.

The Cottagers were slow off the mark last year, but recovered to a more than respectable finish. I was surprised at how well they did, but Clint Dempsey’s stellar season was largely responsible. Pavel Pogrebnyak signing elsewhere will have been a blow after his impact when on loan to them. They’ve made some solid signings and I think Mladen Petric will do well. Hugo Rodallega, meanwhile, always fancied himself as a target for the big boys – he has plenty to prove now he’s gone to Fulham.
I was really surprised when Andy Johnson and, especially, Danny Murphy were released. Fulham will  miss Murphy’s leadership, passing and dead ball expertise. I can see them struggling this year. Bottom half, maybe a relegation scrap.


All change at Anfield. Craig Bellamy did well for Liverpool last season, and I’m a bit shocked he has been sold to Cardiff. The transfer of Dirk Kuyt also came as a surprise. Following King Kenny will be a tough ask for Brendan Rodgers, and I think that selling those two, and bringing two blokes he had at Swansea may not convince Kopites of his credentials. If Liverpool make a slow start then Rodgers could be the new Roy Hodgson on Merseyside. Spending £15m on Joe Allen strikes me as being completely crazy, and merely underlines why Wenger buys from abroad most of the time.
On the plus side at Liverpool is the return to fitness of Lucas Leiva. A bit like Gilberto at Arsenal, most Liverpool fans only really appreciated the Brazillian once he was missing. I wonder how different things might have been for Dalglish had Lucas been fit. I also wonder how it might have turned out had he got them playing to Andy Carroll’s strengths earlier.
Rodgers seems to have dismissed Carroll as a target man – that is to under-estimate the big man’s ability. I think he and Suarez could be a dynamite partnership used in the right way. I can’t see Rodgers going down that route though.
Similar to Everton for the red half of scouse-land – top half, maybe a UEFA Cup spot.

Manchester City

All is not well with the Champions. Brian Marwood seems intent on upsetting Roberto Mancini. Taking on the man who is seen as delivering success to City is a brave (suicidal) move by Marwood – the fans will back the Manager. Their only signing has been Jack Rodwell, which is very much a surprise, and appears to be solely to do with keeping up their home player numbers. By the same token, nobody of note has left.  It remains to be seen how long many players will put up with playing second and third fiddle – especially if their international chances start to dwindle. It’s probably just a matter of time before Tevez does something stupid again as well. And then there is the madness of Mario Balotelli.
Obviously City will challenge once again at the top and, as it stands, I would say anyone finishing above them could be Champions come May. Top two/three for City.

Manchester United

The signing of Robin Van Persie has made them the favourites on the eve of the season. You’d have to say, with a fit Rooney and RVP they have the firepower to blow everyone away. The problem is that Van Persie isn’t always fit. For the last eighteen months he’s been flying, but every year before that was the same old thing. I really hope Van Persie returns to his old injured ways – it couldn’t happed to a nicer person.
I was a bit surprised that Ji Sung Park was sold to QPR – he was always involved in big matches, much like Yossi Benayoun was at Arsenal last season. Aside of that the likes of Rio Ferdinand get no younger, or less injured. I remain utterly unconvinced by the clown that plays in goal at Old Trafford – Lindegaard looks so much better than De Gea. I seem to say it every year, and get proved wrong every year, but I believe United are vulnerable. You can’t keep relying on Scholes and Giggs, and I suppose that’s another reason for signing Van Persie – Rooney will now play deeper, possibly in Scholes’ position.
Again you would be mad to bet against United, and I can’t see them falling from the top three. As with City, finish above them and you won’t be far away. If Van Persie stays fit then I make them Champions, which wasn’t what was written here when I originally did it on Wednesday.

Newcastle United

Last season’s surprise package have their work cut out if they are to reproduce such a great campaign. Will Papiss Cisse be as explosive now defenders have had a good look? How long will Demba Ba put up with not playing through the middle? Will their weak defence finally get found out for what it really is?
Alan Pardew, cretin though he is, certainly excelled himself, and made Newcastle a very tough Premier League team. If they can get off to a good start, with Ba and Cisse firing again, then they are a good bet for another top four challenge. In Tiote and Cabaye they have two very fine central midfield players, while Ben Arfa has sublime ability at times. If any of those gets injured though, there is not a lot of strength in depth.
Top six for Newcastle, if they make a good start.

Norwich City

Under Paul Lambert last year they scored enough goals to make up for their leaky defence. Chris Hughton will want to make that back line far more secure. It is unlikely that Grant Holt will reproduce the goals he got last season, and signings from the lower divisions do not breed confidence. Michael Turner has been brought in from Sunderland to play centre-half, but his fitness record will be a major concern, while Steven Whittaker has to make the step up from the Scottish Premier League.
Relegation battle for Norwich, hopefully with a successful outcome.

Queens Park Rangers
Any club that employs Joey Barton deserves to be in a relegation battle. I was amazed they didn’t sack him after his actions on the final day of last season should have seen them back in the Championship, but for results elsewhere going their way.
QPR have made some good signings, replacing Paddy Kenny with Robert Green being just one improvement. Bringing in Fabio and Park from Manchester United could be inspired, while getting Junior Hoillett in from Blackburn was a bit of a coup. Andy Johnson will also improve their chances of scoring some goals.
At the back it’s a slightly different story, with Danny Gabbidon and a number of others released and replaced by Ryan Nelsen. The former Blackburn man was awful in his few games for Spurs, and is among the slowest players I’ve ever seen at this level. Put together with Mark Hughes as Manager and they have a recipe for disaster.
Relegation battle for QPR, possibly going down, but more likely surviving by the skin of their teeth.


I was pleased when the Royals came back up to the Premier League. Brian McDermott, quite apart from being a former Arsenal player, has been outstanding since taking the Manager’s job. They play nice football, in a nice stadium (though the pitch is bad from the rugby that gets played on it). Again they’ve made a number of signings, largely from lower divisions. However, the signing of Pogrebnyak is massive as he has the quality to score goals in the Premier League, if they can get the ball to him in the right areas. Signing former skipper Nicky Shorey may also be good business.
Having said all of that it will be a massive struggle for Reading. I find it unlikely that they will find their way out of the congested lower areas of the table. Sadly, I think they will be relegated come next May. I just hope they stick with McDermott and let him build further.


It’s great to see a side like Southampton back in the Premier League. They are a Club who belong at this level, much like Forest and Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds. Having been promoted two seasons in a row to get back here they are very much favourites to go down again.
The signings they’ve made (some of them not so cheap) are not really of Premier League quality. It will be a really tough season at St Mary’s. They have to hope that the home crowd can finally create some Dell-like atmosphere and get a home record that will keep them out of trouble. Somehow I don’t see it happening. I hope that they are not quick to sack the boss, and just accept their fate and build for future promotions. As I said, they belong here.
Relegation for Saints.

Stoke City

Love to see them go down. Won’t happen. Bottom half. No more to say about this mob.

They seem to have been written off before the season begins. It’s strange that their only signings are free-agent Louis Saha and Carlos Cuellar from Villa. Last season they had spent lots and were well fancied, only to struggle badly under Steve Bruce. I suspect the opposite will be true this year under Martin O’Neill.
I’m not a fan of O’Neill, but you can’t deny his record. His teams don’t play a lot of good football, but they are organised and very difficult to beat. He is a boss who knows what he wants from his players and he leaves them in doubt about it. They did well at times after Christmas last season, though injury to Sessegnon in pre-season has put them on the back-foot.
I think that the Sunderland fans that are worried need not be too concerned, despite the fact that they are kicking off at our place on Saturday. Under O’Neill they will do well, and might even get a decent cup run to enjoy.
Top half for Sunderland.

Swansea City

They were the big surprise from last season, and their over-performance has seen their boss get the top job at Liverpool. I don’t know anything about their signings, but the loss of Joe Allen may be keenly felt in midfield.
A number of players at Swansea played above themselves last season, but they still relied heavily on the form of their goalkeeper, Michel Vorm (his only real mistake of note came at Arsenal early on in the season). The vociferous home crowd also saw them pick up a lot of home points.
This season will be a different story in South Wales. I’m not sure about Michael Laudrup as Manager, and I can see him not making it to next May. I think the Championship will beckon for Swansea come the end of the season, and they will join Reading and Southampton in the bottom three.


I think Villas Boas was badly done to at Chelsea. Under ‘Arry I never really feared the Spuds. They fell apart after their thrashing at our place in February, and Redknapp could do nothing about it. Under the new man I think they could have a decent season, especially in Europe. Sigurdsson and Vertonghen look like they could be decent additions, and they’ve lost nobody of note from their own staff. However, they will struggle to replace Adebayor’s goals after his loan finished, and he seems to be pricing himself out of a permanent return to the Lane. The sale of Modric may well see Adebayor back with them, but Modric going will be a bigger loss than Adebayor is able to offset.
I really don’t see Defoe fitting in to Villas-Boas’ style of play, while Van Der Vaart’s hamstrings seem increasingly brittle. Having said that, I can see them really pushing for that top four place this season. Certainly I fancy them to in the top five.

West Bromwich Albion

I’ve said already how the bottom of the table will be congested. In the absence of Roy Hodgson I think that may be the saving grace for West Brom this season. Steve Clarke has been a redoubtable coach, but is he a Manager? Fans at The Hawthorns are about to find out.
I was a bit surprised they released Keith Andrews and Somen Tchoyi, while Paul Scharner will be a big miss as a reliable squad performer. Having said that they have made two fine signings. Securing Ben Foster on a permanent deal could be crucial at the back, while Romelu Lukaku has a point to prove. Having chosen to join Chelsea, ahead of a host of other clubs, he would have expected to play more – now he has the chance to make his point on a season’s loan. Markus Rosenberg is another good signing.
I think West Brom will do enough to avoid the drop, but Clarke may not last as boss.

West Ham

The Hammers have made 8 signings so far, and seen 5 players go out. It’s very much a typical Allardyce close-season. He’s gone for an old faithful goalkeeper in Jussi Jaaskelainen, but anyone who saw him at Bolton last season will know he is long finished at the top level. James Collins will bring good Premier League experience and quality to the back four, if he can keep his mind on football and away from the pub. Mohammed Diame, from Wigan, and Alou Diarra bring real physical presence in the midfield.
As much as I would love to see an Allardyce team struggle I suspect West Ham will be pretty safe. Whether that will be enough for the fans is another matter – there won’t be much good football in evidence at Upton Park again.
I think it will be a very safe and respectable mid-table finish, but expect a “West Ham fans v English press” style battle to develop over Allardyce’s tactics.

Wigan Athletic

I thought this time last year that Wigan were going to break the cycle and end their annual flirtation with the drop. Until the last ten or so games I was wrong. Then they clicked into overdrive and became one of the best sides in the country. Their performance at Arsenal was outstanding and they were well worth the result they got at our place.
I will be watching Wigan keenly this season to see how Ryo Miyaichi gets on and I fully expect Martinez to drag them up the table further this year. I am surprised at how much Victor Moses seems to be interesting Chelsea, and I don’t think he will be such a loss in the circumstances, if he leaves.
Pushing for a top half finish, perhaps.


All of which brings us to the only team that matter. Our signings had me feeling good about our prospects, but the possible departure of Alex Song, and lack of replacement for Robin Van Persie has tempered that somewhat. I feel that the fact we have finally spent a few quid on experienced quality like Podolski and Cazorla put the sort of  buzz around the Club that has not been felt for a while. I just hope the departures don’t burst that bubble.
Defensive deficiencies can still do us real harm this season, and we lack any genuine cover for our goalkeeper. I would still like to see some quality brought in, and time will tell whether Steve Bould has the ability to organise the defenders into a proper unit.
I would still like to see a change in formation and style to protect the back-four better, but I am vaguely optimistic for our chances going in to the new season. This time last year I incorrectly forecast our demise and said we’d finish outside the top six. This year I am more confident and, when I originally wrote this piece I tipped us as potential Champions. Now I think we will finish third, closer to the Manchester clubs than last year, but not close enough.

Sunderland (h) preview

As I said above the natives on Wearside are a  little restless. I was a bit surprised at this until I saw that their signings were so minimal. Without the departed Nicklas Bendtner they do look a little short of numbers up front, and will be relying on a coming of age for Connor Wickham and a real show of ability from Ji Dong Won. Stephane Sessegnon’s injury problems are probably the biggest cause of concern. Having said all of that, O’Neill’s ability to organise a defence and to motivate players should mean no real problems in the long-run. Add one or two players, especially up front, and they could do well.
In terms of the game tomorrow I expect O’Neill to pack his midfield. You can be fairly certain that Lee Cattermole will be appointed kicker in chief and will have the job of making sure our creativity is stemmed by some “agricultural” play. In Mignolet they have a goalkeeper with a growing reputation, and I always fear opposition keepers. There is a seemingly endless list of shot-stoppers who have reserved their best for us, especially when we play at home.
For Arsenal the starting line-up will depend on who has been where and done what in midweek. I had hoped that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be fit, and I have to question our medical staff (again) who allowed him to play on for 20 minutes after he got injured last Sunday. I would be very surprised if Theo Walcott wasn’t playing from the off tomorrow, with Lukas Podolski either on the other flank or playing at centre-forward. Personally I would like to see Giroud up front and scoring a goal or two – what better way to announce yourself in the wake of Van Persie leaving? Santi Cazorla may well be benched for his first taste of the Premier League after flying to Puerto Rico this week for Spain’s latest long-distance jaunt.
The start of the season should always be a time to be hopeful. Last year it was anything but that with the state Arsenal had got itself in to. This season it is different.

The lead in time has seemed shorter this year due to the publicity of the Olympics, but now football is here to take over again. I hope there are some changes in attitude both from and towards the players. The media, in particular, must stop setting up footballers as something they are not – most of them have achieved nothing compared to our Olympic champions, so let’s remember that as the best lesson to be learnt from London 2012. It’s going to be the usual nine months of triumph and torture. As the long Winter stretches ahead, I intend to enjoy watching football in the sun tomorrow. The start of the season. You can’t beat it. And f*** everyone else!



  1. according to myles over at arsenal news review song has chucked his toys out of the pram and has said he won't play as he wants the barca move. amnesia and disloyalty seem to be the prime prerequisites for a professional footballer today. if it's true, what a prick.

  2. Its easy to blame players. let me ask you when last did a player hang his boots at Arsenal? Clint Dempsey is being fined for refusing to play that also send a message to others. Oh no not at Arsenal, it makes good sense to sell and continue to rebuild. Like the manager said we can survive.
    Honestly tell me can you work in an environment where there is negativity every year? i dont think so.
    As a fan have you not hard the feeling that the team needed bodies and intense competition for places? Are they not human to envy others of probably lesser quality who are doing well?
    Or can anyone out there tell me Mikel Obi or Michael Carrick is better than Song? but they do have something to show for it. Was Henry a prick when he left to join Barcelona just to win the CL?
    No, the problem is a vision that never materialised and players not having the stomach for the false promises.
    Remember Arsene Wenger told us today we have survive such losses and will continue too. SURVIVE? And he can understand the fans frustration. Really?
    Dude woulld it have been better to take 12M for VAn Persie to go to Juve or 24M to Manu? Well you know what the board thought about it.