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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Madness, utter madness - Reading 5 - 7 (seven) Arsenal

Walcott and Chamakh - the inspiration and the perspiration

There is absolutely no point in trying to analyse the game last night. It was simply beyond the wit and comprehension of any sane person that has ever followed the beautiful game. For the neutral it must have been the most entertainingly mental game of football they'd ever seen. For Gooners watching on TV there was every emotion from the most unbelievable anger at the first 40 minutes of the game, to the most unconfined joy at 4-4 and 5-7. For those who were actually there in the away end what started as a "Why did I bother?" evening ended as an "I was there" night. As for me, I was at work. The first I knew was that we were 4-1 down. I was able to just about follow the closing stages via the BBC website and it was surreal in just about every way you can imagine. I watched the whole game back when I got home, which felt really strange as I couldn't get excited by what was going on as I knew the result, but I was also then able to actually watch what was happening, rather than listening to what I was being told by the commentator.
That first forty minutes was as disgraceful as anything any of us have ever seen from an Arsenal team. Reading played superbly well, but the fact is that most of the Arsenal team was simply not interested. Koscielny was somehow making Jason Roberts look a good player, while everyone else was coming second all over the pitch. It was a continuation of the recent downward spiral. However, where last night is concerned I can actually have some sympathy with the players. Last week Arsene Wenger told the whole World that the League Cup is not important to him in any way. That being the case, why should any player be bothered to put themselves out when the Boss has already said he's not fussed? The fact that you're in that side would indicate he doesn't rate you, wouldn't it? The away end was sold out, which tells you what the fans think about the importance of the League Cup. The singing of "We want our Arsenal back" should have been a clear message to Wenger and the Board that the paying fans have had enough of such nonsense. Perhaps, just perhaps, it provided the necessary kick in the backside that so many of the players needed - I very much doubt it had a great deal to do with Arsene Wenger if recent performances are anything to go by.
The second half was a completely different story. There was clearly an element of Reading freezing a little under pressure, largely brought about by Arshavin and Walcott combining for the goal before half-time. To say that it was all because Reading lacked quality, however, would be to do a disservice to some seriously impressive displays from Arsenal players. Thomas Eisfeld looked superb on his debut (better than Ramsey has looked for a long time, save for the Man City game), Olivier Giroud made an impact with his goal and all round play, while Arshavin also came to the fore and showed fitness levels I didn't think he ever had. Alongside Eisfeld was Francis Coquelin who took the midfield by the scruff of the neck and was superb in the tackle. There were two other players who I really want to single out for praise, however.
The first is Marouane Chamakh whose work rate was absolutely incredible. The Moroccan was everywhere on the pitch, linking play, making tackles, completing passes and then scoring two really good goals. Given some support up front in the form of Giroud he suddenly started to look the player he was two years ago. If ever Wenger should realise his "tactic" of playing one striker is a complete waste of time then this was it. The other player to single out, obviously, is Theo Walcott. Last night he morphed in to Thierry Henry. I have never seen Walcott look so assured in his first-touch, he was running at defenders and swerving past them, he was strong on the ball, and his delivery from wide and his finishing was outstanding. For me that was Walcott's best ever display for Arsenal, and he must play on Saturday at Old Trafford. I have always been quick to criticise Walcott, but you can not argue with what he has done so far this season. He has taken his omission from the starting eleven squarely on the chin, and is doing his utmost to prove himself worthy of the contract he is after. I would love for Walcott to prove me wrong and go on to fulfil the potential he had when he arrived in 2006.
The final thing I want to say about last night is to do with the reactions of Reading to the end of the game. First of all I want to say that we were lucky to score our fourth goal in time added on after injury time. It's something that has happened to us a lot over the past few years, though, and we were due that sort of break perhaps. Having said that, Jason Roberts' reaction at the final whistle was absolutely priceless. He was complaining to anyone and everyone about the extra added time, but the fact is that he caused most of it. Roberts chose to go on a lap of honour when he was substituted, insisting on glad-handing anyone he could, including the referee - it was a bit like watching a Clive Allen impersonator. At the other end of that particular spectrum was Reading Manager Brian McDermott. His interview after the game should be kept by the League Manager's Association and showed as a text-book example of how to lose in a dignified manner. Having witnessed his side give away a four goal lead it took immense guts to come out and talk to Sky at all, but to do it so coherently and with such dignity was a credit to the man and to Reading Football Club. I hope Reading realise what a fine individual they have in charge there, no matter what happens this season. I think McDermott may be destined for bigger challenges in the future, and I hope he will be a success - his intelligence shone through last night and left me seriously impressed.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Szczesny back? Gnabry, Meade and Eisfeld in mix - Reading (a) preview

Jernade Meade - first call up likely

With Jack Wilshere having made his comeback on Saturday against QPR he will now not be involved in the game that means nothing to Arsene Wenger. Even a look at what will, no doubt, be an away end packed out by half-term travelling Gooners will not convince Wenger of the importance to supporters of every single match. In the absence of Wilshere Arsenal’s midfield will seem somewhat weaker than it might have at the Madejski.
The U21 team played at Blackburn tonight with a team considerably weaker than that which beat Everton last week. Martyn Angha, having debuted at home to Coventry in the previous round, appears to be out of the side for tomorrow having started for the youngsters. Aside from that the 18 must virtually pick itself for Arsenal, and I’ve tried to name a possible squad below.
I notice that Arsenal Player carried an interview with Damian Martinez today talking about his hopes ahead of the Reading game. Interestingly there are also pictures of the squad in training for tomorrow and Wojciech Szczesny is with them (but there is no sign of Martinez in the slides). It comes as no surprise that he is back in training ahead of the Man Utd game, and I would suggest the chance to get 90 minutes in the League Cup before we go to Old Trafford would be very useful for the Pole. It’s something worth noting that he played only one pre-season game and just the first Premier League match before being injured, and then his aborted comeback from that injury against Southampton. That means that since the end of last season he has played just three-and-a-half matches, including the game in which he was sent off at Euro 2012. At the very least Szczesny could be said to be “out of practice”, so an appearance before facing Rooney and Van Persie and co should be compulsory, in my view.
Taking in to account the photographs from today, and what else might be available I think this could be (roughly) the squad for tomorrow:

Szczesny/Shea, Martinez, Jenkinson, Coquelin, Djourou, Miquel, Squillaci, Koscielny, Meade, Yennaris, Frimpong, Arshavin, Walcott, Chamakh, Gnabry, Eisfeld, Bellerin, Akpom

It’s very much back to the weaker mix and match teams we are used to for League Cup action. I suspect Alex Oxlade Chamberlain might also have been involved if 100% fit, but there is no way I can see Wenger risking a setback for The Ox ahead of the United fixture.
Once again I will be missing the game tonight and having to Sky+ the live pictures due to work. My eldest is going to his first ever away game and it’s a shame I won’t be there with him to enjoy it – credit to Reading who have reduced ticket prices and put a family enclosure area in the away end. Hopefully we’ll all be looking forward to a quarter-final when I next write, but Arsene Wenger will be more than pleased if we’re not, and that is very disappointing.

Friday, 26 October 2012

QPR (h) preview - a chance to put a nail in Hughes' coffin

Jack The Lad - almost certain to appear tomorrow

One of the problems with my job is that I am paid to actually turn up on a certain number of weekends during the year. As it also involves a fixed shift pattern there are now a number (a far higher number than I would be happy with) of games during the season that I have to miss. Obviously I take leave etc for matches I absolutely don't want to miss, but I have to be careful that I am not missing so many weekends that I end up in hock to my employer. As such I will not be in attendance tomorrow. I also missed the QPR match last season. I have a feeling that the last time I actually watched QPR play Arsenal was Adrian Clarke's Arsenal debut back in 1994 - the game in which John Jensen got his only goal for the Club.
I've been amazed that the official website has run interviews over the past couple of days with Wenger and one or two players with regards to "bouncing back" or words of a similar nature. They ran the same sort of stuff between the Norwich and Schalke matches. There comes a point where they're simply space filling as the words cease to have any substance to them when you produce the sort of display we saw against the Germans on Wednesday evening. It's a bit like last year when they seemed to have poor old Johan Djourou coming out with the same stuff week on week as part of a regular feature.
The team news is centring around the returns of Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere. I would be disappointed if Sagna came straight back in to the side ahead of Carl Jenkinson as soon as he is fit. Jenkinson has been outstanding and deserves the chance to show he can hold on to his place. If I was bringing Sagna back it would be on the other side of the back four in place of Andre Santos. I say this as much for Santos' own protection as for  the extra insurance it might provide to Vito Mannone's goal. Santos has been the subject of some pretty over the top criticism on a number of websites this past two days. I have a very real fear that the many muppets often comprising the match day crowd at home games seem to think they've found themselves a new Eboue to abuse. I can just hear the reaction now to Santos' first misplaced pass tomorrow.
Jack Wilshere will almost certainly make an appearance at some point in the match. The only question mark is whether or not he plays from the start. Wenger has consistently told of the need to be patient and cautious with Wilshere's return, and I am certain that the Reading game on Tuesday was always the intended return date for him. That being the case it would be a surprise to me if Jack was in the starting eleven tomorrow, but such has been the paucity of our midfield this week Wenger might just think the spark he can provide will be necessary - not just on the pitch, but also with the supporters inside the stadium. If I was starting Jack I would be leaving out Santi Cazorla or, at least, moving the Spaniard out to the right. I thought Coquelin played really well on Wednesday and deserves to keep his place, so that would mean Ramsey definitely dropping out.
There is a chance that Theo Walcott may also be fit for tomorrow, and he would be my preferred option through the centre. I've heard people calling for Giroud to be given a run of games in order to find his confidence, but I don't agree with that - the guy cost £12m, if he's that brittle then he shouldn't be here in the first place. I have always said that Walcott can not play in the centre in this current system, and I stick by that. However, Podolski, Giroud and Gervinho have all been found wanting in there, so why shouldn't Theo be given his opportunity? I never thought I would be saying this but we have missed Walcott's pace and potential impact in the last two matches. Whatever I might say about his overall ability opposition defences are frightened by him, especially off the bench, and this opens up space for others as they double up on Walcott more often than not.
QPR are looking for their first win of the season. With the way Arsenal are playing they will fancy their chances. If they put in the effort that Norwich and Schalke did, and Arsenal fail to perform yet again, then Rangers will beat us tomorrow. When we played at Loftus Road last Spring that is exactly what happened - Arsenal were woeful and QPR put in the hard yards to get a deserved win. It was one of the games that Wenger told us he had underestimated the opponents, just as he did last week.
I've always not minded QPR for some reason, but since Mark Hughes took over I've disliked them a lot. Hughes is a cretin of the highest order, and an utterly awful Manager - do you remember his "tactics" when we played Blackburn in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Cardiff in 2005? Basically it involved Robbie Savage and Andy Todd assaulting anyone in a red shirt. As a player Hughes was a real talent, but was among the dirtiest players I ever saw. He was constantly getting away with fouling his centre-half, kicking and elbowing his way through game after game. I also remember scoring a winner for Manchester United with his hand in front of the Clock End one November. I really despise Mark Hughes. I was surprised when QPR appointed him, but I'm not surprised that they're struggling with him in charge. Tomorrow Arsenal have the chance to get back to winning ways while adding the bonus of pushing Mark Hughes, and his ever sharpened elbows, towards football's permanent scrapheap.
Hopefully I'll get to see some in depth highlights late tomorrow night, but any match review will be written with that in mind.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Wenger confirms that success need not involve actually winning anything

A tin pot - the trophy for 4th place?

I must pass comment on one or two things from last night before I get to what has overtaken Schalke as the business of the day.
Let's start with the fact that 0-2 flattered Arsenal. We were comprehensively outplayed all over the pitch. Had it not been for Mertesacker's outstanding first-half display we would have been out of the game by half-time. Andre Santos has taken one hell of a lot of stick for what went on down Arsenal's left last night, and I agree he was not at the races. However, it should not be overlooked that he constantly had two or three attackers up against him with no support whatsoever. Santos is regularly out of position, but what chance has he got to hold in the right place when faced with such impossible odds? In the preview piece for the game I talked up Lukas Podolski, but last night he did nothing to assist Andre Santos whatsoever with the end result being that the Brazillian was made to look like the scapegoat for most of our defensive woes. Santos also attempted to get us going forward when the opportunity presented itself, which is more than can be said for the likes of Podolski and Santi Cazorla. It was noticeable how people were more than happy to get on the backs of Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey (not without reason it should be said) but Cazorla appears to be the latest "darling" player who is allowed by the crowd to pose his way through games when it suits him. With the exception of the West Ham game he has been doing a very passable impression of Arshavin since the win at Anfield.
The defensive problems were/are not just to do with the back four and goalkeeper, either (Mannone had no chance whatsoever last night with the goals). Up until Saturday I thought Mikel Arteta had been utterly outstanding in the way he had played the defensive midfield role. I noticed on Saturday that he wasn't up to the standards he had set so far, and last night I was able to see why. One of the features of Arteta's play so far this season has been his utter discipline in the role assigned. In earlier matches, when Vermaelen has gone forward on one of his runs we have seen Arteta simply drop in at centre-back as Gilberto Silva used to. Last night I noticed that he started to follow Vermaelen towards the opposition goal, thus leaving us short-handed against Schalke's quick attacks. He was basically doing all the things that Alex Song used to get slated for - including giving away free-kicks and passing the ball to the opposition. Poor.
Finally I have to come to the so called tactics employed. Firstly it took until 30 seconds before Schalke scored for us to bring on Olivier Giroud. It had been obvious from early on, especially in the second half, that Gervinho was going nowhere up front (I thought he should have had a penalty at the time but, having seen the TV pictures, his dive was a disgrace and he should be fined a weeks wages for choosing to cheat when he could have squared the ball back to Podolski or Ramsey for a tap-in). When we then went a goal behind we had to wait until 7 minutes to go before bringing on Arshavin and the 17 year-old Serge Gnabry. The young German looks a precocious talent, but isn't it asking a bit much of him to come and try to change games like this (and we did the same on Saturday, lest we forget)? What was the point in taking off Carl Jenkinson? The lad is the only player in this side that can cross the ball. If he'd been taken off in order to alter the formation I could have understood it more, but all that happened was that Coquelin, our best midfielder on the night by a mile, went and played out of position at right-back. Then, having made that change and left Marouane Chamakh sitting on the bench, we had the spectacle of Mertesacker being deployed as an auxiliary centre-forward! I must be missing something.
Steve Bould's comments after the game should frighten Arsenal fans everywhere. Firstly he told us that the substitutions were pre-ordained by Arsene Wenger. Is anyone allowed to think for themselves at Arsenal? Does anyone not think that a change of formation or tactics might just be necessary when things are going quite so badly in a game? Bould also then told us that Arsenal would have been "delighted to escape with a 0-0." Now obviously he was talking within the context of a game where we were completely outplayed, but it amazes me that someone working for The Arsenal should come out with a comment like that when we are playing at home. It was another terrible performance and yet another repeat on Saturday will hand QPR their first win of the campaign, make no mistake about that.

Today was the AGM for Arsenal. From what I've read and heard it was not a smooth ride for Kroenke, Gazidis and Wenger. It seems that Gazidis even came a little too close for comfort to not being re-elected to the Board. The CEO of course gave the usual waffle about Financial Fair Play and how every Club wants it and blah blah blah, only for Arsene to then tell a shareholder after the meeting that Man City offered Robin Van Persie £300,000 per week to join them instead of Man Utd! We also hear from Gazidis that we are two years away from challenging the very best sides in the World. Funny, but I thought we were told that as the main reason to leave Highbury. That was over six years ago and we've done nothing but go backwards ever since. In short there will be no change in philosophy all the time Kroenke is running the show, so expect the malaise to continue as Wenger won't be forced to spend the money that continues to burn a hole in Arsenal's bank account. Meanwhile we will slip further and further behind.
The main thing that has caught my eye from the AGM, and most other Gooners it seems, is the fact that Arsene Wenger outlined his priorities. According to Wenger we play for "5 trophies" in every season. You can almost imagine the bemusement this must have caused the shareholders, so he chose to expand thus:
1 - The Premier League, 2 - The Champions League, 3 - Qualifying for the Champions League, 4 - The FA Cup, 5 - The League Cup.
So there you have it, according to Arsene there is definitely a trophy for finishing fourth. Success does not need to involve coming first in a competition. Success does not involve actual silverware or the need to be Champions of anything other than a bunch of also-rans. Wenger's contempt towards the FA Cup sickens me. Of course he is not alone as plenty of lesser Clubs than Arsenal treat the FA Cup with disdain in order to maximise their chances of staying in the Premier League. The difference is that those Clubs are not The Arsenal. Those Clubs would not be "expected" to win a trophy. Those Clubs are not charging the highest admission prices in the World to watch their side. Those Clubs are not including a full price for FA Cup matches as part of their season ticket. Those Clubs have not experienced the sheer joy of winning the FA Cup as many times as we have.
Qualifying for the Champions League without ever winning a trophy is a false economy. Big Clubs win trophies. Arsenal are a rarity among the Champions League regulars in that we haven't won anything in years. The importance of being in it must be called in to question when we can't hold on to our best players, or come close to winning it, year on year. Robin Van Persie might not have left Arsenal had we been genuinely challenging for trophies (though that remains open to question). Apart from one Final appearance in 2006 the Champions League has simply provided Arsenal with the opportunity to lose to Europe's elite (and Liverpool and Chelsea) every time Spring comes around. Now call me old fashioned, but I'd gladly forego that crap if it meant we were in with a shout of actually getting our hands on a real piece of silverware come May every season. Wenger has really upset me, and plenty of other regular match attendees, with his comments today. It's just yet another reason to want him out of the Manager's job.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Arsenal have some grovelling to do - Schalke 04 (h) preview

Time to give this man 90 minutes

After Saturday's debacle at Norwich the Arsenal players have to get back on the horse very quickly against top class opponents from Germany tomorrow night. Schalke are in decent form following their win against Champions Borussia Dortmund the other night. Their fans also put in some preparation for the visit to London with a riot involving 200 arrests and the hospitalisation of 8 police officers! Make no mistake, if Arsenal play anything like they did at Carrow Road then we will get absolutely splatted by Schalke.
The team news is as expected, though Laurent Koscielny is apparently back to fitness. I thought Mertesacker had his first poor game of the season on Saturday (he wasn't alone) and it would not surprise me if Wenger left him out. We'll be coming up against Klaas Jan Huntelaar tomorrow, a man I slagged mercilessly over the Summer, and I fully expect him to make me look even more stupid tomorrow. Who is best to shackle the Dutchman? Personally I would be in favour of a Mertesacker/Koscielny partnership, but there is no way Wenger will leave out Thomas Vermaelen - he simply doesn't have the balls to go dropping his Captain.
Midfield provides an interesting situation tomorrow. Aaron Ramsey has gone about three steps backwards since his display at Manchester City and could easily find himself out of the side if there were a few other options. Those who would choose to overlook the importance of Abou Diaby to this team might like to note the downturn in midfield dominance since his latest injury. With Wilshere not yet ready, Frimpong seemingly down the pecking order and Oxlade-Chamberlain out injured there is only really Francis Coquelin who could replace Ramsey. I would certainly put Coquelin in tomorrow night, and Arsene might well do the same but he might also simply move Ramsey to the right wing.
Up front remains the conundrum of Olivier Giroud. Again with more options he would almost certainly be out of the side. Unfortunately we have only Gervinho, who seems to have reverted to being the player we saw last season all of a sudden, that Wenger seems interested in playing there. Marouane Chamakh remains an Arsenal player in name only though, in truth, the similarities with Giroud are hard to overlook. Such is the problem that has been created by not signing someone to actually bolster the squad after Van Persie was sold that this is where we find ourselves.
Lukas Podolski is the other man almost certain to start tomorrow. I just wish he would be given the chance to finish a game. Podolski is yet to get through the full ninety minutes since joining us. In a game where we are comfortably ahead I can always understand offering a breather to your big players. What I don't get is why you would continually take off the only man in the side with the ability to put away a half-chance. Against Chelsea, and again on Saturday, I found myself staring in disbelief as Lukas Podolski was substituted in the second half while Arsenal were losing by the odd goal. Let me tell you now that Podolski would not have missed the injury time open goal that Giroud did against Chelsea. He might also have got on the end of one of the knock downs provided by Giroud late on against Norwich. I find it bizarre and I find it annoying. He would also provide the opportunity to switch formation in a game where we are struggling by offering some much needed support to the central striker in a two man front line. I can't see Podolski continuing to accept being taken off every week, especially if the side is clearly in need of his obvious goal threat.
With a substitutes bench likely to be slightly under strength again tomorrow there is a lot of onus on those in the starting eleven to get the job done. I don't see too many game changing players among our possible replacements tomorrow should things start to go wrong - you can't go relying on 17 year-olds like Serge Gnabry to come on and perform a miracle for you, even if he is an exceptional talent.
I hope to write the match review piece at some point on Thursday. I'm going straight to the game from work tomorrow, so I'm hoping for a quick getaway and a fog free journey. I'm also hoping for the 3 points that should see us with one foot in the second round.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

You get what you deserve more often than not

Maybe Jenkinson should do the team talks
Every team will lose football matches. Even Arsenal's Invincibles came up against a 12 man team they could not beat eventually. There is essentially nothing wrong with getting beaten, just so long as you don't allow it to happen through your own failings. I can handle Arsenal losing (I won't say "I don't mind Arsenal losing" as that would be a lie) just so long as the requisite effort has been in evidence. A number of high profile defeats over the years have come in spite of the best efforts of those on the pitch. Sometimes we've lost because the referee has cost us the match. Other times we've lost because the opposition goalkeeper has played the absolute game of their lives. Occasionally we've lost because the other team is simply better than Arsenal. There is no shame in any of those kinds of defeats. I remember coming away from the home match with Newcastle in December 2001, and leaving Old Trafford at the end of the 49 game unbeaten run, safe in the knowledge that we had been beaten by the outrageous decisions of referees. There is a certain comfort in that sort of defeat. Despite the obvious injustice of the loss I believe supporters can feel at least proud that the players have shown the respect Arsenal deserves by putting themselves out on the pitch. However, defeats like yesterday do not fall in to any of those categories.
There are occasions in football where you don't always get what you deserve. The 2001 FA Cup Final is a case in point. Arsenal played Liverpool off the pitch, yet we came away from Cardiff having let yet another trophy slip through our fingers. Conversely we somehow escaped from Wales with the spoils after being dismal against Man Utd in 2005. That game was the exception that proves the rule, however. Invariably in football if you play with a lack of desire and effort you will almost always get what you deserve. It's often said that good sides will win games despite playing poorly, and that is undoubtedly true. But the difference there is that those good sides will be always trying, despite performing below par. Their determination will overcome the poor form. If you don't have that determination in the first place then you will lose the game. Nobody can tell me that the Arsenal team yesterday showed any determination or any effort whatsoever (with one exception, who I will come to below). If you combine a lack of basic desire with poor play then you lose 1-0 away at Norwich City.
Arsene Wenger told us after the game that Arsenal maybe "underestimated" Norwich. That is simply unacceptable and unprofessional. There is no excuse for such behaviour. Of course this is not the first time we've heard this from Wenger in the past 12 months. I said after we first heard it (and I've said it many times before and since) that Arsene Wenger should be sacked for such statements. He is paid a fortune not to underestimate the opposition. The players take the lead from their Manager, so is it really any surprise that the performance yesterday was so insipid in view of this admission from the Manager that he had failed to appreciate the threat posed by Norwich? I'm fed up of hearing it. Put together with the news that Arsenal flew from Luton to Norwich in an aeroplane journey lasting less than 15 minutes it really is no wonder that our players looked so comfortable in doing nothing. A fifteen minute flight? That is decadence on a level that is an insult to those of us that pay to watch Arsenal - at least we know where the money is going that should be getting spent on players of better quality.
One player came out of yesterday with a little credit, and that was Carl Jenkinson. We shouldn't be surprised that the only Arsenal player to put in a shift was the only Arsenal supporter in the team. Jenkinson is the one who will perform in the way that each of us would given the talent and the opportunity. I have no doubt that Jenkinson's Grandad would be exceptionally proud of him if he could see the way he has improved since joining Arsenal. If the other players in the side yesterday had performed anything like he did then we might just have got ourselves the right result. It wouldn't harm the players to listen to Jenkinson giving the tubthumping speeches from now on - at least he could convey the feelings of those of us on the terraces. Frank McLintock told us last Sunday what he would do in the changing rooms to the likes of Arshavin given the opportunity - he could have feasted on a whole team yesterday.
Hopefully there'll be something a bit more positive to write about tomorrow evening.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Norwich 1 - 0 Arsenal - back to the dark days of last season

Blame the Manager, not the goalkeeper

That wasn't exactly worth waiting for, was it? I've been on nights this week, hence the lack of output on this site. I know it was international week and normally that would mean a quiet time here in any case. As it was there was plenty to talk about this week with various things going on around Arsenal and with the Arsenal players. One of the things I would have written about was the way a very strong "Reserve" side got beaten 2-0 by a very young Chelsea team the other day at London Colney. It struck me that such a result could only have been gained by a lot of the Arsenal players going through the motions and not applying themselves. It makes me question the desire of those players who should be trying to force their way in to the first-team that they obviously didn't try against Chelsea. To see the performance of those currently in the first-team at Norwich this evening you begin to realise that it may be an all pervasive problem at the Club.
We've done some good things away from home this season including great wins at Liverpool and West Ham and a draw at Man City in a game we were unlucky not to win. Today was the complete opposite of all of those games. There was no pressure on the opposition, no pace to our attacking play, and no ideas in possession. Last season was littered with defeats and insipid displays against the very worst of the dross that inhabits the lower reaches of the Premier League. Who remembers losing to Blackburn and QPR and Wigan last season? I certainly do. It seems that the Arsenal players have no recollection of how each of those games were lost. In the games at City and Anfield and West Ham we put in the necessary effort to out play our opponents. Today there was none of that. We were simply not trying hard enough against a very poor opposition. Norwich, as a result, were more than worthy of their victory.
Vito Mannone is going to be the one getting the stick tonight, I am sure. I am not surprised he made an error that led to a goal. Ultimately Vito is the third choice goalkeeper at Arsenal. The only reason he is even in there making an error is because Arsene Wenger failed to sign a goalkeeper over the Summer that was capable of challenging/replacing Wojciech Szczesny. I don't blame Vito Mannone for anything tonight as it's simply not his fault that he's playing. Also, before the ball even got to Mannone there was nobody closing down in midfield. We let an opponent have a clear shot at goal from 25 yards. After that Andre Santos was out of position as usual, and playing Grant Holt onside. There are far more senior and far more capable players than Vito that can be blamed for Norwich's winner and, most of all, there is a Manager who has failed to do his job.
Going back to the manner of Arsenal's play I will criticise the Manager again. In my opinion a footballer should need nobody to motivate him in any game he plays. However, that's not how it is in the real World. If it was then Manager's would be of little significance. The fact is that those players tonight were not sufficiently "up" for playing the game against Norwich. The worrying aspect is that, when you take in to account what I said about games last season, this is not a one off. Wenger is consistently failing to rouse his side when it comes to playing against "lesser" opposition. It says plenty about the character of our players, and significantly more about the way Wenger is managing Arsenal.

I'll write some more about the way the game went at some point tomorrow, after I've calmed down a bit.

Monday, 15 October 2012

An afternoon of Frank talking

Frank and the author

As I told you on Saturday evening, yesterday was the Dover Gooners annual "Legends Dinner" with this years special guest, Frank McLintock. A highly enjoyable day was had by all as over 170 local, and not so local (some travelled from Italy and Austria), Gooners sat down to a carvery lunch in the company of one of the greatest players in Arsenal's history.
After the meal we had the pleasure of listening to Frank's after dinner stories, before a question and answer session with the audience. Frank told us a tale or two from his time as a player at Arsenal, including the famous story of Don Howe telling him to put Denis Law out of a game at Old Trafford. When Frank told Don that he might end up being sent off he was told not to worry as United would miss Law far more than Arsenal would miss McLintock! A lot of Frank's stories were from his time at Sky Sports which, although entertaining, had nothing to do with his Arsenal career. I suspect that on the after dinner circuit there is a need to appeal to many different people, hence Frank's well polished performance, but in front of yesterday's Arsenal audience a more Arsenal-orientated speech may have been even more appreciated. One of things that shone through was his affection for George Best during their time together at Sky, but not so much necessarily for Rodney Marsh (though there was a certain amount of tongue in cheek).
When we got to the question and answer there was more of a focus on Arsenal, as you might expect. Frank is not a fan of Theo Walcott and believes he is easy to defend against - basically just stand still and let him run in to you! Of course that's very simplistic, but I think most regulars at Arsenal would agree with what he was saying - the point being that Walcott does not have any tricks at all and lacks the skill to beat a defender in the way of a traditional winger. McLintock is also not so keen on the zonal marking that Arsenal are currently playing and he believes it is Steve Bould who is marshaling it. That's not to say he was criticising Bould in any way. In fact he was quite revealing in that he told us that Pat Rice was never "allowed" by Arsene Wenger to actually coach the defence. In Frank's words it was Pat's job to "put the cones out and do the warm up" at Arsenal. He said that the work Bouldy is now doing is evident in performance on the pitch, and he has been surprised by Per Mertesacker.
I asked who he considers the best Arsenal player he has seen and he picked out four or five names, including Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Charlie George and Robert Pires. He didn't actually give a definitive answer but he seemed to be veering towards Henry or Bergkamp as you might expect. He also confirmed to me afterwards that he had indeed had to put a Spurs supporter in his place in the executive boxes during a North London Derby a couple of years ago. I'll say no more than that.
Someone asked about Financial Fair Play and what effect it would have. Frank was quite clear that it will have no effect whatsoever as the clubs are already finding ways around it with so called sponsorhip arrangements, such as Man City's stadium rights etc. He believes that Arsenal are not following the right model - while he acknowledges the need for not breaking the bank, he also feels we should use what is available to us. He is not a fan of the owner, Mr Kroenke, and is convinced his sole objective is to make money out of Arsenal in the medium to long term. It was interesting to hear him talk about Usmanov in reasonably favourable terms, though he stopped just short of endorsing him as the right alternative to the status quo.
Listening to Frank McLintock it is easy to see that he is a supporter of Arsenal. He talked about the Club in the way that most of those present would. He wants the same things from Arsenal that we all do, and is quite clear that charging the high admission prices without providing the success on the pitch can not go on. He wants to see a couple of signings - big signings - that would complete this squad of players, though he was quite clear that he doesn't want to see us spending £50m on one player - he was firm in his criticism of the Chairman over his quotes in that regard.
Frank clearly hasn't lost the desire that made him a fierce competitor and his views on what he would do to Andrey Arshavin given the chance were enlightening and amusing. It was also very interesting to learn that Tony Adams wanted "in" at Arsenal over the Summer in any capacity possible, but that he appears to have given the rub-off. I'd love to know what has gone on with Tony and Arsene Wenger, but all is clearly not quite right in that relationship. Apparently Wenger doesn't get on with Dennis Bergkamp either, despite appearances to the contrary. Frank is of the opinion that Arsene doesn't like to be questioned in any way, and that is why certain people are not part of the set up. It would certainly explain a few things, would it not?
I would have liked to hear more from Frank's playing days, such as what really happened with Bertie Mee and himself, and a first hand account of the Lazio altercation. Sadly much of the audience seemed more keen on getting his views on today's Arsenal which I found a bit bizarre - you've got a legend from 1971 in the room, so why not ask him about it? He did manage to tell us his two career highlights, however - the Fairs Cup win in 1970, and winning the Title at Tottenham in 1971. He is an Arsenal man through and through, and that was the main thing that came across to me.
The most important part of the day was the raffle in aid of Bob Wilson's Willow Foundation. As ever there was a huge amount of signed Arsenal memorabilia on show, including some exclusive prints from Willow and a Bob Wilson Cup Final shirt, also from Willow. Those in attendance raised over £1700 on the day, which was topped up to £2000 by Arsenal Dover Supporters Club. All in all it was another very fine day.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Frank McLintock is coming to town

Arsenal Dover will come together tomorrow in celebration of The Arsenal

Tomorrow marks one of THE events in the calendar of the local Gooners in South-East Kent. The annual Dover Gooners Legends Lunch is to take place for the ninth time. What started out as a casual Christmas meal among friends in the upstairs room of a Dover pub has become a major attraction with over 170 members of Arsenal Dover sitting down to lunch with yet another Arsenal Great. Since Perry Groves joined us for the first of these more formal events in 2004 (and was joined by the gold Premier League trophy awarded to Arsenal for the Invincibles season) we have heard from Charlie George, Eddie Kelly, Sammy Nelson, Terry Neill, Nigel Winterburn and Bob Wilson (Charlie and Eddie also returned for an encore last year after the expected speaker, Kenny Sansom, let us down at the last minute). We also welcomed the FA Cup to Dover in 2005 thanks to Arsenal bringing it down for the day.
Over the years we have had guests from Austria, Norway, Italy, Germany, USA and Canada all travelling to Dover to join the frivolities. One of the features of the day is the charity raffle which always includes unique Arsenal memorabilia. The raffle was originally held in aid of Arsenal's chosen charity of any given year and saw us present cheques to the David Rocastle Foundation, Childline and Teenage Cancer Trust. Alongside that has always been fund raising for Bob Wilson's Willow Foundation, and now the raffle is conducted with the sole purpose of raising money for Willow. If you are unaware of what Willow does then please visit this website - www.willowfoundation.org.uk . Alternatively I would suggest you purchase yourselves Bob Wilson's autobiography and read his personal account of why he and his wife Megs set up the charity in honour of their daughter, Anna.

Willow Foundation - please give generously

Tomorrow we will be welcoming one of the greatest figures in the illustrious history of our amazing football club. Legends come in many forms, from the cult figures like Perry Groves to the bona fide heroes like Charlie George. There can be no doubt that Frank McLintock sits near the very top of the latter category.

Frank with the spoils of glory in 1971

All Gooners will know that Frank McLintock was the Captain of the 1970-71 Double winning Arsenal team. To many he is the greatest, most inspirational, skipper in the history of Arsenal FC. Having listened to a number of his peers over these past few years it is clear that he is held in the highest esteem by the players he led. Bob Wilson could never be more effusive in his praise of someone than when he talks of "our Captain, Frank".
For someone like my Dad it will be a particularly gratifying day tomorrow, I'm sure. He still rates the Fairs Cup as the greatest night Highbury ever saw. Many years ago he was shocked by a late night phone call from Frank who was in a bar with by brother following a similar dinner. Tomorrow he'll be sitting next to the Great Man as Chairman of Arsenal Dover. It promises to be a great day and Frank will, no doubt, be giving us plenty of stories from his playing days, as well as his views on the way things are at Arsenal today.
I will try and write a piece tomorrow evening with some of what Frank has had to say, and to let you know how much was raised on the day for Willow.

Monday, 8 October 2012

How to fit in Theo (and others)?

Sign a contract and you might have a future

I have to start tonight's post with an apology. I'm afraid that I have been dishonest and I have broken a vow. I'm ashamed. You might remember that I said I hated the Arsenal away shirt. I still do. I also laughed at the obvious fact that hardly any of them appear to have been sold, such is the absence of purple and black at Arsenal matches. However, the death of JJB Sports has seen said monstrosity suddenly become available at a cheap price. In the interests of keeping up my collection of Arsenal replica shirts I have succumbed and I have purchased the most disgustingly horrible Arsenal shirt in history. In fact I am wearing right now as I type this. I'm sorry for my failure to keep my word, but I suppose we're all weak in some ways.
Right, enough of that old space filling nonsense and on with the reason for this post. We all know that Theo Walcott has been telling us that he wants to play at centre-forward. With four goals from his very limited pitch time this season he has been stating a reasonable case. However, as long as we play with just one striker there is no way that Walcott can be the man to play there. Sadly he is simply not blessed with the physical abilities to play up against two central defenders. Can you imagine what Terry and Luiz or Ferdinand and Vidic or Shawcross and Huth might do to him? Arsenal would be playing with ten men in most games. I don't honestly believe that such a move has anything to do with Walcott's failure to sign a new contract but all the time he is not getting his chance there he has an excuse other than money. With Gervinho being given his opportunity in the middle, and often taking it, it must be hard to Theo to watch after six years out wide. If he was to put pen to paper then I am convinced he would find himself back in the mix for a starting place at Arsenal, and the final ten minutes at West Ham might just have given us a pointer to his future if he stays.
Once we went 3-1 ahead on Saturday Arsene Wenger brought on Laurent Koscielny and we played with three centre-halves. On this occasion it was very much a defensive move as the two full-backs had to play to the situation of the game. It also became a 5-4-1 with Giroud remaining alone up front. However, the deployment of the three central defenders could see us moving to play two central strikers if Wenger was adventurous enough to do something different. I'm not for one minute advocating a change of formation simply to suit a player as limited as Theo Walcott, but I do believe it would make us more solid at the back, as well as making it harder for the opposition defence to handle us going forward. The midfield would be largely unchanged in terms of the dynamic it currently has. How about this for a starting eleven:

Mertesacker - Koscielny - Vermaelen
 Sagna                                                          Gibbs
Arteta - Wilshere
Giroud - Podolski
Subs: Mannone, Gervinho, Walcott, Chamberlain, Diaby, Djourou, Coquelin
For me this would make the best use of the players available to us. There is an argument that we would become too narrow, and maybe too easily overrun in midfield. However, if the two full-backs are used properly in this system then they bolster the midfield effectively, as well as providing the necessary width. With the three centre-backs it would also mean we were less at risk of trouble from the defensive deficiencies of our various full-backs.
Arsene, of course, has never been a fan of three centre-backs. For that reason I see it as a very unlikely scenario. However, there would be no harm in seeing this happen in the odd game, at least. Who knows, it might just make us a little bit harder to play against as we would be far less predictable. How many times have we seen the opposition strangle us by playing a flat back 10? If we suddenly had two up front, the centre-halves of our opponents might not have such an easy day, and our wayward crossing would have more chance of finding a friendly target. We would also see Olivier Giroud getting the support he needs, as well as deploying a system where almost everyone is interchangeable, including other squad players like Ramsey, Frimpong, Arshavin, Rosicky and even Chamakh.
When we win the European Cup by confusing the hell out of Barcelona with this system at Wembley next May you can all come and thank me.            

Sunday, 7 October 2012

So much better in yellow - West Ham 1 - 3 Arsenal

Cazorla - good but not Bergkamp

I've had a few long days at work towards the end of this past week, and sleep was a bit of a foreign concept. With a day off today I went to bed last night a happy man after Arsenal's very fine performance at Upton Park. In the opening twenty minutes we kept possession well and, when the opposition had the ball, the Arsenal players were working hard all over the pitch to harry West Ham in to giving it back to us. The chances came and went as the East End faithful watched a team in their famous colours play as little football as I'm sure they've ever imagined possible in their worst nightmares. The Hammers' only real tactic it seemed was to get the ball up on to the head of Andy Carroll. Let me just say that I have no problem with that. It's an effective tactic when done well. What irks me, however, is when a side like West Ham or Stoke is lauded by the commentators and pundits when doing it against Arsenal, but the same people will then be lamenting the state of English football when the England team struggles against Poland next week. You can't have it all ways, and if you praise the likes of Allardyce and Pulis for their "tactics" then you can't  moan that English footballers are light years behind Spanish players in terms of technique and comfort on the ball. If we take a comparison from yesterday, who would you rather have - Santi Cazorla or Kevin Nolan? Need I say more?
Despite Arsenal's dominance I doubt many Gooners were all that shocked when West Ham went in front. What was a surprise was that it was a very decent goal. Aaron Ramsey was too easily beaten by Diame, and Mertescaker summarily failed to then close down the goalscorer once he was in the penalty area, but it was a nice piece of skill and a devastating finish nonetheless. For Arsenal it was all too familiar. From that point we began to have a lot of trouble with Andy Carroll. In the first minute Mertesacker had attacked a high ball and jumped above Carroll to win it. Thereafter, up until the final fifteen minutes, we failed to make the same challenge to the England striker. Last season, after our home game against Liverpool, I wrote a pieced lauding Thomas Vermaelen for the way he outmuscled Carroll. Yesterday the skipper seemed afraid of him at times. The defensive frailties of last season, especially at set-pieces, were back again. Vito Mannone didn't do badly, apart from one awful error when Carroll should have scored at 1-1, but he wasn't that well protected at times, either by his defenders or the referee (more of whom below). We all know that Mannone is going to make some bad errors as he is not good enough to play regularly at this level, but at the moment he is doing himself justice in my view.
The West Ham goal didn't much alter the general pattern of the game as Arsenal continued to be on top until half-time. I felt Santi Cazorla disappeared a little after we went behind, but before that and after half-time he dominated the game and orchestrated Arsenal's attacking play. We thoroughly deserved our equaliser and it came from a move started and finished by the hard working Olivier Giroud. The delivery from wide by Podolski was of a quality rarely seen from the Arsenal flanks, and the run and finish by Giroud was that of a genuine centre-forward. Sadly he would go on to miss a couple of one-on-ones again late on in the game which means the question marks will remain. We had been a bit unlucky up to the point of the equaliser as I counted four goal-bound shots deflected wide. Why is it that our deflections tend to go past the post while Fat Frank at Chelsea gets half of "his" goals via ricochets of defenders?
West Ham were the better side for the first twenty-five minutes of the second-half. Arsenal seemed to go to sleep and were ponderous in possession. When we did go forward the final ball was sadly lacking.
Was anyone really surprised to see Kieran Gibbs limping off the pitch injured? The old problems remain with Gibbo it seems as he can't get through more than about nine or ten games without pulling or straining something or other. Andre Santos may well be set for a run in the side now, but he must improve his positional play. The Brazillian is actually an excellent defender - nobody ever seems to beat him in a one against one, but he is way out of position far too often. There's something to be worked on by Steve Bould over the next fortnight.
Gervinho, meanwhile, was back to his very worst form of last season. His control of the ball was simply abysmal at times and it was really disappointing to see him failing to get the better of a player as bad as George McCartney. It was really crying out for Theo Walcott to come on, and I was pleased to see him when he entered the fray. I suspect some would rather have seen Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the pitch but his form does not warrant getting in ahead of Theo right now. McCartney certainly couldn't handle Walcott who picked up where he had left off when brought on against Olympiacos on Wednesday evening.
Arsenal's second goal was a cracking move, started by Cazorla and then finished by Giroud's combination with Walcott. The through ball from Giroud was weighted superbly for Theo's excellent run. Walcott had the perfect first touch to get through on goal, and the finish inside the post was top class. When he scores a goal like that it is easy to see why he insists he is ready to play through the centre. I wonder if he might occasionally get his wish if he was to sign his new contract. He was also involved in the third goal where his good run, showing rare physical strength, saw the ball end up at the feet of Santi Cazorla. The strike by the little Spaniard was one of those that gets you off your seat, even if you're sitting watching at home as I was last night. He went on to lay Giroud through on goal twice for what should have got us home and dry by some margin. The reverse pass beyond the defence was breathtaking, and really deserved to be finished (Match Of The Day did not have it as part of their highlights, which sort of sums up the BBC's editing) . I wrote here the other day that I wanted to see Cazorla doing what he did in the opening matches of the season, and yesterday he didn't disappoint. However, I have to take issue with Arsenal youngster Conor Henderson who Tweeted, "Bergkamp + pace + left foot = Cazorla". Do me a favour. If Cazorla even gets close to Bergkamp then he will be some player, but it will be a very long time before he convinces me he is in that kind of territory, added to the fact that Dennis was neither slow, nor one-footed. Silly boy Conor.
The win last night was impressive in the face of Allardyce's cloggers and was earned in spite of yet another display of ineptitude by Phil Dowd. How is this man allowed to referee football matches? Quite apart from the fact that he is visibly physically not fit to referee at this level, he is inept to the point of suspicion. This is the same man who sent off Abou Diaby at Newcastle early last year in the 4-4 draw at St James' Park and also gave two of the dodgiest penalties in Premier League history against us in the same game - the match was subsequently subject to questions being asked of Interpol in Germany with regards to a possible betting scam. When put together with Aaron Ramsey not being given a penalty (or even a free-kick right on the edge of the area) and Dowd's failure to dismiss three West Ham players for red card offences you have to wonder if Mr Dowd is just incompetent, or whether he is a cheat. Having booked Diame for celebrating his goal with his own fans (one of the most ridiculous rules Blatter and his FIFA cronies have yet introduced) he then failed to book him for the sort of foul that could have badly injured Mikel Arteta. It was late, deliberate and cynical from Diame and the referee was simply not doing his job properly by allowing him to remain on the pitch. We then had the incident that sawRicardo Vaz Te dislocate his shoulder - rarely has an injury been more deserved. He deliberately left his foot in on Vito Mannone with the clear intention of kicking our goalkeeper in the face. I expect nothing less of players employed by Allardyce, so it was sweet justice that he got such a serious injury as a direct result of his callous act. The final man who should have gone for West Ham was Matt Taylor who went over the top of the ball on Mikel Arteta late on in the game. My six year-old pointed out that it was exactly the same as the foul Jonjo Shelvey was sent-off for against Man Utd a couple of weeks ago. The only difference with this was that Arteta wasn't making a similar challenge at the same time. Luckily our main man in midfield was able to dodge most of the studs aimed at his shin and came away unscathed. But what of Mr Dowd? Sadly you know full well that his punishment for such a terrible display will be another top game in two weeks time. His performance was so bad that even the newspapers have picked up on it.
Overall I'm a happy Gooner again as we head in to another interminable international fortnight. We've recovered well from the Chelsea defeat, and a win yesterday was vital ahead of two weeks away from Premier League action. When we return it will be against a struggling Norwich in a game we should be hot favourites to win, though I always fear playing against teams that are due for a win. Hopefully there will be a bit more to write about than usual during this international break, especially with Jack Wilshere continuing to step up his recovery. By the time the Norwich game comes around Bacary Sagna may also be in contention, but Carl Jenkinson's form means there is no rush in that regard. Tomorrow I'll be writing a piece about how a change in tactics might just be the way to get Theo Walcott playing at centre-forward, while also getting the best from Olivier Giroud, and how the last ten minutes at West Ham might have just given us a pointer towards that. Wasn't it nice to wear yellow yesterday, by the way?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

"You know the problem with Gervinho?" - Arsenal 3 - 1 Olympiacos

NOT the Arsenal fan sat behind me last night

The result last night was miles better than the performance. If our Greek opponents had got at least a draw you really couldn't have complained. For the majority of the first-half we were seriously second best. After half-time things were better, but the way we backed off in midfield after going 2-1 up was alarming to say the least.
Before I knew that Mertesacker was missing with flu I was slagging Wenger something chronic for his selections at centre-back. I was convinced he was simply being his usual stubborn self and that it could cost us. I apologise to Arsene for that, but I wonder if the BFG would have been in the side had he been fit - we all know that Arsene knows, and that Arsene knows he knows (that's sarcasm, by the way). As it was Koscielny and Vermaelen did nothing to enhance their reputation as a partnership. They had their warning ten minutes before the opposition scored, but their positioning was even worse when the goal did come. Vermaelen could see the play developing, and he could see Mitroglu in between himself and Koscielny. For some reason he chose not to get closer to the Olympiacos man and gave him a free header. I felt really sorry for Vito Mannone as he didn't do a lot wrong at all last night in what was his busiest game for a long time. Earlier in the first half Koscielny should have been sent off for a reckless, high tackle. If it had been an opponent going in on one of our players like that then we'd have been screaming for the red card. Vermaelen also continued to show his indiscipline, making fouls just outside the penalty area, and then haring off up field with two minutes left in the game and a shaky one goal advantage. It was utter craziness from Vermaelen, but I noticed that nobody was leaping off the bench to scream at him to get back in position.
Elsewhere on the pitch the two full-backs were excellent again. Kieran Gibbs has deservedly been called up to the England squad after his outstanding start to the season, and I'm surprised that Carl Jenkinson has not been given the nod - especially as he's being kept out by Kyle Walker (and Stuart "Cretin" Pearce hasn't put him in the under-21 squad either). Mikel Arteta was playing as a one man midfield again last night and he was utterly outstanding. Coquelin had a mixed evening alongside him, while Cazorla is slowly morphing into Andrey Arshavin at the moment - he must improve quickly as the patience will wear thin. Theo Walcott also put in a first rate cameo when he came on for the disappointing (again) Chamberlain. It's not often I praise Theo, but he was taking his man on last night, and he delivered at least two magnificent crosses, the second of which Giroud was unlucky not to score from. As for Lukas Podolski, just get the ball to him in the box and let him do the rest - I am loving Podolski.
You're maybe wondering what the title of this post is about, given the rambling I've done so far. Well, it's a direct quote I heard from the fat imbecile sitting just over my right shoulder last night. Having spent most of the match talking to his mate about anything other than the football he came out with the following quotes, with no hint of irony or sarcasm, just before Gervinho was taken off:

"You know the problem with Gervinho? He keeps scoring goals. That means Wenger will keep picking him."

What a criminal that Gervinho must be, eh? I mean, who wants a bloke playing at centre-forward and scoring week after week? I glanced back to see this "Usmanov-a-like" sitting there with his arms folded across his fat gut and a self-satisfied grin on his face, safe in the knowledge that he had imparted his "wisdom" on Arsenal's leading scorer. He didn't stop there though. This pearl of wisdom came next:

"I'd rather see Giroud up front, at least he's consistent. Gervinho's just too inconsistent."

He's right there. Giroud is very consistent. In fact he's so consistent that his only goal so far was against a team of League One no-hopers. The ironic cheer when Gervinho went off just summed this t****r up. Why do these people go to football? I don't profess to be an expert, despite the drivel I write here most of the time, but this mug makes me look like Herbert Chapman.

I hope to preview the West Ham game tomorrow night, time permitting (I have another long day at work ahead of me tomorrow).

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A chance to bounce back immediately

We need this man to stay fit

It's been a bit hectic since Saturday. I was unable to preview the Chelsea game due to work commitments, but I might have written a piece after the game had my brother not been rushed to hospital on Saturday night. Thankfully all is now well so I can turn some attention back towards Arsenal.
Saturday's performance really disappointed me. It was a real "after the Lord Mayor's Show" affair and was frustrating in the extreme following last week at Manchester City. Chelsea appeared hungrier than Arsenal and they worked hard all over the pitch to put us under pressure. Our players looked lacklustre and, aside from the two full-backs (again) and Mikel Arteta (again) I couldn't find a reason to praise any of them. Despite being so poor we should have still got at least a draw. We managed to get the chances to score but couldn't take them. Having showed so little in the game, yet still got in on goal a couple of times, you can only assume that we would have won comfortably had the requisite effort been in evidence.
The defending returned to last seasons standards at set-pieces, and in terms of the discipline of the two centre-backs. I suppose the fact that last seasons centre-backs were paired together again for the first time this term is not a coincidence. I do not understand why Per Mertesacker was dropped. Arsene Wenger's terse response to the press when questioned over it would indicate that he also knew he had cocked up. Koscielny's attempts at both free-kicks directly led to Chelsea's two goals (I am not having it that Mannone should have saved the second one), while Vermaelen's indiscipline also returned in the absence of the BFG alongside him. It seems ridiculous to leave out a player who has been playing as well as Mertesacker has so far this season. As Kevin Whitcher pointed out in his column at onlinegooner.com would Wenger have dropped an in-form centre-forward? Of course he wouldn't, so why leave out Mertesacker?
The injury to Abou Diaby was sadly predictable. There was real hope that this time he had turned the corner. Maybe, just maybe, Diaby was going to put together a long run of matches. Sadly it is the same old story, and he is simply incapable of playing more than a couple of games without injury. The fact that his injury this time came as a result of striking a shot from distance shows that there must be a fundamental weakness in the leg that was shattered. How much longer can you go on paying a fortune to a footballer that injures himself kicking a ball? We were certainly the poorer for his enforced absence as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was pretty awful when he came on (as he has been all season, to be honest).
Olivier Giroud passed up his latest opportunity to impress by missing yet another open goal. There is a real problem developing with Giroud and every missed chance simply compounds the issue. I hear people defending him by saying "he makes the right runs" or "at least he's getting in the right position". That's utter nonsense as far as I'm concerned - Kaba Diawara did all of those things but, like Giroud, he didn't find the net. I am sure that Lukas Podolski would not have missed that last minute chance had he still been on the pitch, but Wenger has so far substituted the German in every game. I don't understand why you would take off your best finisher when you're a goal down in any game - surely you want him in the penalty box trying to get on the end of something, don't you?
All in all Saturday was a real let down from Arsenal, especially since this Chelsea team really is not very good. If they win the Premier League then it will have required possibly even more luck than their Champions League triumph last season.

On to tomorrow and the team news is a concern. Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong will not be involved after their U21 game yesterday (I think we will get our first proper look at Jack at Reading in the League Cup, barring any crises in the midfield before then). But with Mikel Arteta requiring a fitness test we could have an issue tomorrow. Francis Coquelin was apparently sick on Saturday, so we need to hope he has recovered in time to play against Olympiacos. The ankle knock suffered by Arteta is even more of a worry with a trip to West Ham in the offing on Saturday. I would be tempted to rest Arteta tomorrow, if possible, with Saturday in mind - we should have enough to beat the Greeks at home without him, but Allardyce's cloggers are a different prospect. The Spaniard has been utterly outstanding this season and we really need him for Premier League games - nobody else is disciplined enough to play that role, though I think Johan Djourou could actually do a good job in front of the centre-halves.
Wenger has a choice to make up front again. Does he stick with Gervinho through the middle, or does he play the more physical Giroud? I suppose the fact that the choice is between those two tells us that we are lacking what is really needed up front. Theo Walcott will no doubt be dropping hints to Le Boss, but his display when he came on against Chelsea made me think The Invisible Man had wandered on to the pitch. Whoever does get the nod will have to hope Santi Cazorla gets going again. I think he's looked like a man who is starting to feel the Premier League pace over the last couple of games. We've seen how good Cazorla is already, and I want to see a lot more of it starting tomorrow night.
I wouldn't be overly surprised to see the much fabled rotation in evidence tomorrow. The likes of Andre Santos may well get a run out, and I sincerely hope Per Mertesacker returns to the starting line-up. I also think that Theo might come in on the right instead of Aaron Ramsey who was back to being slow and ponderous on Saturday - Rambo may also have to move in to the centre if Arteta does join Diaby on the sidelines.
If we can win tomorrow, as we undoubtedly should, we have a real chance to qualify for the second round. You always think that home matches must be won in the Champions League, and we can't afford to be as complacent as we were against Chelsea. The fact that Roy Carroll is Olympiacos' goalkeeper tells you that Arsenal will be expected to win comfortably tomorrow night. The players must perform.