Highbury Library Logo

Highbury Library Logo

Friday, 30 November 2012

Swansea (h) preview, Backing the Black Scarf Movement

It's MY Arsenal Opinion supports The Black Scarf Movement

I'll keep the preview of the game pretty brief as there really isn't that much to say. Arsene Wenger has stated the need to pick up maximum points at home over the next month so hopefully the players are taking some notice. Theo Walcott has to undergo a fitness test after Wednesday and Lukas Podolski might be back following a chest infection. Bacary Sagna is doubtful while Laurent Koscielny is definitely out. To be honest it doesn't much matter who is available and who is not, Arsenal simply have to win.
I really hope that Wenger realises he needs to be more attacking for a game like this. That means not selecting Aaron Ramsey to play out wide. It means possibly playing more than one man up front so that Olivier Giroud gets the necessary support. I'm amazed that he has failed to see how good we looked going forward when Giroud came on to play alongside Marouane Chamakh at Reading. Chamakh is much criticised, and clearly forgotten by his Manager, but he got two goals last time he set foot on a football pitch. I fail to see how he has not been worthy of getting a run out, at least from the bench, on occasion since. The fact that we have not had a centre-forward on the bench in the last few games is a disgrace for Arsenal, but it is a sign of how Wenger is forcing Chamakh out of the Club.
Swansea were unlucky at our place last season when we won through a rare error from Michel Vorm. Down in Wales they pretty much outplayed Arsenal in one of our worst performances (and there were many bad ones) last season. I really expected them to struggle this term after losing Rodgers to Liverpool, but Michael Laudrup has made some excellent signings and the Swans are going along okay. Michu is the signing of the season for me, thus far, and Arsenal will have some work to do defensively against him. I still feel they're weak in defence and if Arsenal put their passes together going forward, rather than square or backwards, we have a chance to create against Swansea.
One final thing to say about tomorrow is that Mark Clattenburg will be refereeing. Regular readers will know that I don't like referees and I believe many of them are actually corrupt. I don't rate Clattenburg either, but I hope he gets a nice reception tomorrow in view of what he has had to deal with these last few weeks. Chelsea disgraced themselves again, but their behaviour could have destroyed Clattenburg. He has handled himself quite brilliantly through all of this and Chelsea should be having points deducted in my view.

I will not be joining the Black Scarf Movement on their walk tomorrow. As it happens I can't make the game because of work, but even if I was going I wouldn't be in the protest. I have long felt that such protests are the preserve of Club's like West Ham or Newcastle, who simply aspire to being a big Club. However. I am in support of the Black Scarf Movement and I wish them success tomorrow. I do not agree with all of their objectives, which you can read at www.wherehasourarsenalgone.co.uk , but I believe they are about to play an important role in making Arsenal sit up and take notice of its supporters.
The stated aims of the group are available the website and they make for interesting reading. There is a clear appreciation of the history and values of Arsenal Football Club, an appreciation borne of years of going to games home and away.
Among the things I don't agree with is the desire to remove Peter Hill-Wood. Yes, he is a doddery old fool these days whose public outings in the press often lead to embarrassment. However, I do not see the point in wishing to remove a man who is Chairman of Arsenal in name only. Mr Hill-Wood has no power at Arsenal whatsoever. He is a figurehead for the Club and that is all. Personally I believe a Hill-Wood should always be on the Board at Arsenal as it was ever thus from when we came to North London. Sir Samuel Hill-Wood became Chairman of Arsenal when Sir Henry Norris was banned from football, and the family has helped to run Arsenal, in the "Arsenal Way" ever since. I don't see how forcing out Peter Hill-Wood would get us "our" Arsenal back. Perhaps he is at fault for selling his remaining shares to Stan Kroenke, but David Dein brought the American to Arsenal and anyone clamouring for Dein's return should remember that.
Having said all of that I believe there is a lot to be in favour of. There can be no doubt that supporters, and by that I mean those who go and pay their money, have been treated with more and more contempt by the Club we love. We are "customers" or "consumers" to Arsenal. We have become people who Arsenal feels it can continue to fleece for high admission prices while failing to reinvest that money in to the team. That has to stop and this sort of protest is how the message will be put across.
The dissatisfaction at Arsenal has led to a massive groundswell of support for the BSM and this has now garnered the backing of other fans groups. I think it is massively indicative of the growing feeling that Red Action, the closest of these groups to the inner workings of the Club itself, has given BSM its official support tomorrow. There is a chance that such an act could see Red Action could find its "cosy" relationship with Arsenal under serious threat, but such is the feeling among supporters that they are taking that risk. Ivan Gazidis has cancelled tomorrow's Supporters Forum meeting and I am fairly certain that is not a coincidence - he is concerned about the support tomorrow's march is going to have.
The BSM makes it clear on its site that it is not a "Wenger-out" group. They do not believe in that sort of pressure and they do not believe in boycotting games - they are supporters, after all. That, again, is something I am all in favour of. Yes, I want a change of Manager, but I never want to see supporters of Arsenal clamouring in organised protest for the removal of our Boss. We saw it in the early 1980's when Terry Neill was forced out, and that must never happen again. That sort of thing really is the preserve of West Ham and Newcastle, and is something nobody at Arsenal should ever aspire to.
I don't expect the Black Scarf Movement to achieve all (or maybe any) of its aims, but by drawing attention to the issues they are doing Arsenal supporters a service. Much of what they are after is what people I speak to also want. The fact that their support is growing, and their profile in the press this week has risen, tells me that Arsenal will be getting a message tomorrow. Where it goes from there we will wait and see, but I would like to see Mr Kroenke and Mr Gazidis starting to pay heed - you do not want to drive away the life-blood of the Club, especially if success on the pitch continues to elude us. Only the hardcore support wants to watch a team that can't win, and that certainly won't involve the tourists that populate the Emirates at a lot of games these days. Arsenal are getting a warning from their fans. Please take note Stanley.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A decent point coloured by the past - Everton 1 - 1 Arsenal

Szczesny - a mixed night

I'm writing this while listening, for the very first time, to "The Tuesday Club" podcast with Alan Davies. I like Alan Davies as I know that he is a celebrity fan who is actually a real supporter. I've spoken to him on three occasions and he is always friendly, even though two of those occasions were in the toilets - at The Valley and in the Stade De France (he probably thinks I'm some kind of weirdo). As I'm listening to Alan and his mates I find myself agreeing with just about everything they are saying. There is balanced, albeit humorous, debate taking place about all things Arsenal. I had previously listened to the "Footballistically Arsenal" podcast and turned it off after five minutes as it was the biggest load of student-type, johnny-come-lately drivel I had ever heard. It makes a nice change to listen to something like The Tuesday Club. I will henceforth be listening every week.
One of the things that has been said on the podcast is that people are moaning about the draw last night more because of what happened on Saturday, than what happened at Everton itself. I think that is absolutely right. Let's be quite honest about this, a point at Goodison Park is a very decent result. Not many teams come away from Everton with a win, so to hold on to a 1-1 when the home side were well on top at times is not a bad return. However, when the sores from the lacklustre display and the behaviour of the Manager at Villa are still fresh in the memory I think some fans are using last night as further ammunition against the status quo but, for once, I feel that is misguided criticism.
We got a great start yesterday through that man Theo again. For once we had a slight deflection end up in the net rather than the stand. It was a nice combination between Walcott and the much maligned Ramsey (not sure why he was starting out wide again last night, incidentally). It was always unlikely that we would hold on to a 1-0 for 90+ minutes, but that doesn't make the equaliser any less annoying. I don't know what Sagna was doing (twice) in the build up to the goal, while Szczesny appeared to me to think the ball was going wide, so almost pulled his arm out of the way of the ball. The most annoying thing is that the goal came following a period in which Arsenal had been playing their pointless keep-ball around the halfway line. Of course we'd done nothing with it to hurt the opposition, but when they got the ball Everton took a shot and scored. Not rocket science, is it?
I didn't see the whole game as my broadband issues continue to be a problem (though only for another 8 days I hope!) but from what I have seen Sagna had a poor night. I see that Wenger now says he took a knock early on and is doubtful for Saturday. This injury would explain his indifferent display, and I was already looking for Jenkinson to replace him against Swansea even before Arsene's comments today.
Everton looked much the better side until about twenty minutes from the end. They could have had a penalty for Arteta's challenger on Pienaar, but the South African shouldn't have been on the pitch after his two-footed tackle on Mikel in the lead up to the equaliser (he also went through Sagna late as the ball flew towards Fellaini in the same move). Having been at fault a little for the Everton goal Wojciech Szczesny finally showed some form making a good few saves to keep us level. One in particular, from a Distin header (made as he was fouling Jack Wilshere), was the young Pole at his very best. I would very much welcome a return to some consistent form for Szczesny - we need a goalkeeper to perform well in this side right now.
For all that Everton had a couple of chances to score, Arsenal nearly won the game themselves. There was an occasion when the ball came close to bobbling past Tim Howard with nobody actually having a shot (that would have been a vindication for Wenger's philosophy, eh?) and then Olivier Giroud put in a fantastic header that looked for all the World as though it was going in.  Santi Cazorla also stung the palms of Howard with just about his only touch of the game. His invisible man impression is becoming frustrating - and don't anybody dare tell me he is tired. NO professional footballer should be tired in November, the season has only just got going for God's sake. Cazorla is magnificent when the mood takes him, but it is not happening anywhere near often enough for my liking. Hopefully he will have a Pires-like improvement as we get towards the second half the season. At the end of the day a draw was a fair result, and a decent result for Arsenal. I could go in to one over Tomas Rosicky being pointlessly named among the subs, but I've said it all before (after the Villa game in fact).

Tomorrow I'll be writing the usual pre-match piece for the Swansea game. I will also be talking about the Black Scarf Movement walk which will be taking place before the game on Saturday.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Everton (a) match preview - Theo back to help Giroud

Theo - should be back tonight

Arsenal have a surprisingly good record at Goodison Park. It’s generally accepted that Everton away is a tough game, but in recent times Arsenal have come away with some really good results. I’d be surprised if any other side has taken as many points home from Goodison over the last ten years or so. That being the case we had better hope, after Saturday’s poor display, that Arsenal perform to their higher standards in Liverpool tonight.
There has been a lot of stuff written and said over the last few days about the way in which Arsene Wenger handled his press conference on Saturday evening. There is the school of thought (of which I am a member) that he embarrassed the Club and insulted the fans. There is another school of thought that the way the journalists behaved was a disgrace. As regular readers will be aware I have no time for the views of “football writers” and the idea that they were taking up the cause of the paying Arsenal supporter who “deserves better” was stomach turning. Most football journalists care as much for Arsenal supporters as they do for the dog s**t on the pavement outside their house. However, I firmly believe that Wenger should have answered the questions properly. He owed those who had travelled to Villa an explanation as to why Arsenal, a side who claims to have ambition to stay at the top of the tree, was deliberately removing from the fray its centre-forward in favour of a defensive midfielder.  He should have also been explaining why he named Jack Wilshere among the substitutes when there was never any intention whatsoever to bring him on. If the lad was not fit to play a part in the game then someone else, who could have been used from the bench, should have been among the substitutes – who knows, maybe the other recognised centre-forward in the Arsenal ranks might have been a better bet than a player who couldn’t play? But then the travelling fans, and none of the rest of us, have ever managed a football club so we are not worthy of explanation. I realise at this point that I’m just repeating myself from the weekend so I’ll leave that there and get back to the Everton game this evening.
Theo Walcott is apparently back in the squad for tonight which is welcome news. Not everybody has accepted that Theo is beginning to fulfil his potential and I can perhaps understand why. But, for me, his performances so far this season have established him as a key member of this side. Every facet of his game has improved and it is no coincidence that Olivier Giroud is scoring goals. Walcott has been supplying the ammunition from wide and the Frenchman has shown his strength is very much in the air. By the same token Giroud has aided Walcott’s game by providing him with good ball high up the pitch. With Walcott getting close to Giroud by coming in off the wing when we go longer we have a decent outlet that we haven’t had since Chamakh first arrived at Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger has a decision to make at the back. I expect Sagna to come back in for the increasingly impressive Carl Jenkinson, but what will the boss do with his centre-backs. Does Thomas Vermaelen come in at full-back as a way of easing Kieran Gibbs back in to regular action, or does he replace one of the two centre-halves from the weekend? Does Vermaelen come back in at all? For me I would be continuing to leave him out, unless there is a need to help Gibbs’ fitness with some rest. There is no doubt that Vermaelen has been the least effective of our regular defenders this season and a brief time out of the side may get him to focus a bit more. On the other hand he is the Captain of Arsenal and it would be an uncharacteristically ruthless Wenger that would actually drop his skipper from the side.
Everton have Marouane Fellaini back from suspension and that spells trouble for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta has been superb in his new role until the last couple of weeks, but I don’t see how he can match Fellaini in the physical stakes. Indeed a midfield for Arsenal of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla may well be easy on the eye when in possession, but only Wilshere could be described as tough in the challenge. Even then he is still only about 5’8” and I really can see Fellaini being too strong for us in there. I’d love for Arsenal to have signed him in the Summer.
Arsenal must play at a high tempo tonight to unsettle the hosts. Walcott is obviously the main outlet when we play with pace, but he will also need to be at his best up against Leighton Baines. If Arsenal play properly and move the ball as they did against Spurs then we can win comfortably, but the evidence from the weekend was once more that such performances are the exception rather than the norm.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Lacklustre Arsenal and their insulting Manager

Shameful post-match behaviour

I said yesterday that I would take a win and a draw from the games at Villa and Everton this week. I also said that, despite our fine record there, visits to Villa Park are not an easy win. That being the case I suppose I should be holding off from slating the 0-0 draw yesterday - if we win at Goodison Park in the week then we have that win and draw - but once again it was the nature of the performance that has me annoyed.
Let's be honest here - that Aston Villa team yesterday was fielding its second and third choice players in goal and defence. They were also missing Darren Bent up front. That being the case it really is unacceptable that Arsenal created only one chance from open play, and that was squandered by a centre-half who had galloped forward to try and make something happen. Yes, Villa worked hard, but when you consider the fact that most of them were just squad players it merely serves to underline the fact that Arsenal didn't work hard themselves. With the exception of Ramsey and Giroud I thought the midfield and attack was awful throughout.
Let's start with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I said at the start of the season that I felt he might struggle this term after the way he shot to fame in the early part of this year. What I can't abide, however, is the "Billy Big B******s" attitude he seems to have adopted recently. People get on at Aaron Ramsey (me included) but at least he tries. I lost count of the times yesterday that Chamberlain was just ambling along and not making a run or showing for the ball. Time and again Jenkinson actually overtook him as we went forward, and not so much in an overlapping full-back way, but more of an "I want to get Arsenal a goal here" way. When Ox did get the ball it was the same nonsense just about every time. Only once did he properly go outside the full-back and it nearly created something. The rest of the time he wanted to showboat and go inside. How he got through 76 minutes before he was replaced I will never know.
Lukas Podolski followed up probably his best two games for Arsenal with one of his very worst. I have consistently said I don't understand why Podolski is taken off in every game, especially when we need a goal, but he was so awful yesterday I would have hooked him at half-time. The fact that Gervinho and Arshavin, when they did come on, seemed to be having a competition for who could mis-control the ball in to touch in the most elaborate fashion was neither here nor there. By that token I don't believe for one minute that Gnabry or Eisfeld are not a better bet on the bench than those two. I almost understand Arshavin's attitude this season as he has been constantly overlooked despite our poor play, but honestly he was a disgrace yesterday.
On the subject of substitutes what was the point of Jack Wilshere being on the bench yesterday? What circumstances would Wenger have considered using him if not when we needed someone to come on and grab midfield by the scruff of the neck? If he wanted to completely rest Jack then he should have left him at home on the sofa. To then bring on Francis Coquelin in place of our only centre-forward just about summed up Wenger's lack of tactics (more of which below).
I thought Giroud played really well up front yesterday but had to do most of his work with his back to goal. Without Theo Walcott getting up to support him he was pretty isolated. Marouane Chamakh got two goals last time he played for Arsenal, but apparently isn't even worthy of the subs bench when only Giroud is available to play up front. Santi Cazorla (another man who gets no stick from the fans) was having one of his more regular invisible days yesterday, despite actually seeing a fair bit of the ball in the second-half. Would it not have been nice to have another striker (a real one) on the bench to come on and try something different? I suppose you can argue that Wenger did try something different when taking off Giroud, but playing without a centre-forward leaves you less likely to score, I would suggest. There was a time when we would bring on Kanu or Wiltord or Ljungberg to try and change a game. Yesterday Wenger brought on a defensive midfielder. That's how far we have fallen, people. Had it not been for an outstanding Szczesny save late on we would have lost the game 1-0.
Wenger's comments after the game were a disgrace. We were back to the childish and petulant responses that have become more and more a feature of post-match press conferences. People complain about how Peter Hill-Wood insults the fans with some of his pronouncements, but Wenger treats us with such contempt as to show his belief that none of those who pay their money are entitled to a view. After all we know nothing about football, do we? I sort of agree with him when he tells the press that he does not have to answer to them for his decisions. Of course he doesn't. But when the press is the conduit to the fans then he is saying exactly the same to us. That is utterly shameful behaviour.
The away fans made their feelings clear again yesterday, but Wenger says he is not answerable to any of them. Well, believe it or not, they are the people who pay your wages Arsene. The attitude of the Manager is an insult to us all. The more performances there are from Arsenal like yesterday, both on and off the pitch (and they are becoming more prevalent from players and Manager alike), the more the paying punters will turn against Arsene Wenger. The man is a busted flush, and it's only a matter of time before everyone realises it, including the people that could get rid of him.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Gazidis spin fails to fool me, Aston Villa (a) preview

Can he get it back?

Before I get started on the Villa game I have to refer to yesterday's announcement of the extended sponsorship deal with Emirates. When I read the start of Arsenal's press release I thought "this is a really good deal", getting the Club £150m over just five years. However, when you read on you see that the naming rights on the stadium are also included and extended for a further 7 years. Effectively the stadium sponsorship has been given over free of charge. Officially the money is divided between the shirt and stadium deals, but that means that the kit deal is crap again. Okay, we're not Manchester United, but only Liverpool can rival Arsenal in terms of the sort of Worldwide appeal that can be enjoyed by sponsors of an English Premier League side. Surely Ivan Gazidis should have been looking for £150m for the shirt deal alone, and then more cash for the stadium? If Emirates weren't willing to part with more then Arsenal should have been telling them to jog-on and sell the deal to other major companies. Obviously I'm no businessman, but it looks more and more as though Mr Gazidis is more Alan Sugar than Donald Trump. I can't help feeling we've been short-changed in a major sponsorship agreement yet again. Meanwhile Manchester United continue to move further away on the commercial side.

There's a really good interview in today's Sun newspaper with Aaron Ramsey. He tells the fans they need to be patient with Jack Wilshere now that he has returned as there is still a long road to travel for him. Ramsey points out that Jack was out even longer than himself, but there is one big difference of course. Jack's injury was basically a stress problem on his young and developing bones, whereas Ramsey had his leg shattered by a scumbag. There were complications as Jack worked on his return, the reasons for which are up for debate. I have been surprised that Wilshere has so far not suffered a bit of a Diaby-esque mini breakdown. Players that are out long term often suffer niggles before finally getting back to full fitness. That may well still happen to Jack. It certainly happened to Aaron. However, I think his worries about the fans not being patient with Wilshere are unfounded. I strongly suspect that he was really referring to his own situation with the fans. Rambo has been really suffering for the past 12 months as his lack of pace becomes more and more exposed. I really want Aaron Ramsey to come good. Having battled back from what Shawcross (England international?! Good God!) did to him he deserves to be a success. He has the football ability, but he must learn that he is now a passer of the ball first and foremost as he doesn't possess the speed to beat people. Arsene Wenger also has a role to play here by not bringing him on when he is not required - like last week when we lost the midfield battle after he replaced Wilshere - and not playing him on the right wing.
With two games in 5 days I can see Ramsey being involved from the start at either Villa or Everton. Given the need to still protect and nurture Wilshere it seems unlikely that jack would play three games in seven days any time soon. Personally I would rather see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain deployed than Ramsey but Wenger still seems to want to place plenty of trust in the Welshman. If Abou Diaby or Tomas Rosicky was fit then I expect Ramsey would be deployed on the wing again at Goodison, but options are limited right now. With Theo Walcott out we are quite stretched out wide too, but Gervinho has boosted us there with his return to fitness. Tomas Eisfeld and Serge Gnabry were both absent from the U21 match yesterday so they could well be involved at either Villa or Everton, though there is also an FA Youth Cup match in the week for which they may have been rested.
We are entering a point in the season, over the next six weeks, where there are a lot of games and a lot of points available. I would take a win and a draw from our next two difficult away matches (Villa may be struggling, and we have a fine record against them, but Villa Park is still a tough away day). After that we have eminently winnable matches coming up. A challenge near the top could yet ensue if this Arsenal side keeps the right frame of mind, and the necessary purchases are made in January. It's vital that the players put themselves in the right place to take advantage of any slips from City and United.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Job done in Europe, Andy Roxburgh's 23 year Gunners grudge

Could this game scupper The King's return this season?

All credit to the players and Manager for getting through in the Champions League last night. After losing at home to Schalke our progress was very much in doubt. The boys then put in a very good first-half in Germany the other week and last night did a professional job to get over the line. I've not seen the first-half of the game but I gather I didn't miss very much. In the second-half I thought Arsenal played some nice stuff. Occasionally the final ball was lacking, but Wilshere was combining well with Arteta after half-time, while Podolski looks increasingly comfortable in this team.
The two goals were excellent. It was really nice to see a ball played in to the box with the express purpose of our big centre-forward getting on the end of it. Giroud, who has been outstanding of late, provided a lovely knock-down, and Jack Wilshere put the ball away in great style. It could easily have been Marwood crossing for Alan Smith, and then Michael Thomas arriving late to finish it off. Proper football from Arsenal, rather than the usual aimless passing. The second goal was even better with Podolski smashing in a sumptuous volley after a one-two with Giroud. The chipped ball from Giroud was inch-perfect, and the goalkeeper had no chance. George Graham scored a very similar goal in the 1970-71 Double season - you can see it 1'02" in this link .
I know a number of people will decry the idea of 13 straight years qualification for the last 16 as subscribing to Arsenal "spin" but when you consider how other teams have failed to get through their groups in recent years then it is a laudable achievement. Admittedly the fact that we have only one Final and one other semi-final in that period indicates we have summarily failed overall in Europe, but maybe we just need some of the luck Chelsea had last season. Either way, it means we have at least one two-legged tie to look forward to in Spring.

I wasn't surprised yesterday to see Arsene Wenger talking about the possibility (likelihood?) of Thierry Henry returning for another spell in January. I am all in favour of The King coming back again, just so long as he isn't the only arrival. Personally I would like to see him signed on a permanent basis, with some kind of coaching role included. It would surprise me if Henry didn't pull on the red and white again in the New Year, but it may not be quite as simple as it should be.
Andy Roxburgh, the former Scotland Manager, now has some involvement at New York Red Bulls. It seems from his comments overnight that he doesn't want Thierry to come and play for Arsenal. Apparently the idea of Henry spending time playing competitively at the top level is not the sort of preparation Roxburgh wants ahead of the next Sunday League season in America. Personally I think anyone involved in MLS would do well not to upset their one remaining World star. With David Beckham on his way there is only Henry making MLS seem vaguely serious as a football competition. Anyone who has watched it on ESPN (and I saw a lot of New York's games this season) will know that the standard is poor overall and they rely on the big names, all of them way past their best, to bring in the crowds.
Roxburgh, however, has a personal axe to grind with Arsenal, and I suspect his comments on Henry are more to do with a 23 year old grudge than the interests of New York or MLS. But where does his ill-feeling come from? Read on and I'll tell you.
Back on Valentine's Day 1989 Arsenal played France at Highbury. With English clubs banned from Europe it was a game of some attraction for Gooners - the chance to see continental opposition in the form of the French national team saw a decent crowd turn up. Arsenal won the game 2-0 thanks to goals from Alan Smith and Martin Hayes. All well and good, and a fine evening for Arsenal. Except that the playing of the fixture infuriated Andy Roxburgh. France were due to play Scotland shortly after in a qualifier for Italia '90, and the game at Highbury was used as a "warm-up" against some British opposition. Roxburgh roundly criticised Arsenal and George Graham for giving France "practise" before they played Scotland. At the time it was quite the scandal, as I recall. Roxburgh was making an idiot of himself, and I sure he realised that in the end. As it was, Scotland went on to beat France by the same 2-0 scoreline less than a month after, but nobody likes to be made to look stupid. Reading between the lines I think Roxburgh hasn't forgotten.
I still expect Thierry Henry to rejoin Arsenal for January, and I hope it's all sorted out before the transfer window opens so that he is in the squad straight away. There is, though, the fear that Andy Roxburgh's petty squabble from 23 years ago could stop it from happening. Given how it might annoy Henry so much that he quits America for good, I suspect such interference would be a career decision for Roxburgh.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Donkey turns the Derby & AVB goes gaga - Arsenal 5 - 2 Tottenham Mugs

Let's all laugh at Tottenham

For the first 15 minutes yesterday we were in trouble. If we'd been a couple of goals behind there really couldn't have been much of a complaint. I don't know what Mertesacker and Sagna were up to for the Tottenham goal but it was defending of the worst kind. First of all it was a crazy situation from which to try and play offside, but to do it without communication with the other two defenders was even worse. Szczesny made a very good save to deny the ever greedy Defoe, but that idiot Adebayor showed what can happen when you have two up front. The reaction of those two players to the goal summed up their total lack of class. How Howard Webb failed to book them for vaulting the barrier to goad the Arsenal fans was unbelievable. I seem to remember Adebayor getting in to trouble a couple of years back for baiting the Arsenal fans after scoring a goal, and he really should be looking at a ban for doing it yet again.
The behaviour of the Spurs players, however, was nothing to what I witnessed from members of their "firm" before kick-off. I happened to be on Drayton Park about fifteen minutes before kick-off and was one of many Arsenal fans trying to avoid a mob of scumbags as they marched towards the away end. These cretinous idiots, mostly in their 40s I would say, clearly thought they were back in the early 1980s. Old people and people with young children were fair game to these fools. One of them who approached a man just to my right had a look of sheer hatred on his face that I have never witnessed before. Fortunately this lot were mostly mouth. Further up the road, outside the All Arsenal shop, it was starting to go off properly. Two police horses, from my vantage point, actually entered the shop and came back out again in an attempt to stop the Tottenham hooligans from getting in there. The Arsenal fans, meanwhile, were holding their own on the steps to the North Bank Bridge and, as the Spurs mob made its way up Drayton Park, the Gooners were flooding over the steps to get after them. The lack of police was unbelievable given that the helicopter was hovering right above the incident. We all know that football hooliganism is not really a thing of the past, but it usually only involves those that want to be a part of it. The problem with Tottenham is that their clowns are indiscriminate. Whereas most "firms" will only fight with like-minded people, the Spuds have no qualms about going after anyone who isn't a moronic cretin bearing a picture of a chicken balancing on a basketball. I believe Arsenal's "Herd" was out in force yesterday, so I suspect somewhere or other the Tottenham cretins got what they usually get in N5, and a damn good pasting. After seeing the way they wanted to go after "scarfers" I have no sympathy whatsoever. I am someone who goes to football to watch the game. If I wanted to get involved in all that crap then I'd be fair game. As I say, it seems to be largely just the Spuds that target just about anyone.
Back to the game, and Adebayor continued to show what a lowlife he is by trying to break the leg of Santi Cazorla. It was as clear a red card as you will ever see. I must give Howard Webb credit for his handling of the incident as he took his time in order to diffuse the situation. I loved the way Jack Wilshere scared the life out of the diving chimp Bale who was all the big man until Jack turned round to face him. Bale's "hold me back boys" posturing was laughable. As turning points go this was a massive one. Spurs were so far on top at that stage that I couldn't see how we were going to get back in to it. The red card saw them thrown in to disarray while the Arsenal players suddenly woke up. I imagine the Spurs fans will now start to hound Adebayor out of the Club after he cost them so dearly in their annual Cup Final.
Something that I find very encouraging is the reaction of Cazorla to the challenge. I can think of many small flair players over the years that would have disappeared for the rest of the game after such a kick, but the little Spaniard decided he was having none of it. He went on to rediscover the form we saw earlier in the season as he tormented the Tiny Totts midfield and defenders for the rest of the game. I have been highly critical of Cazorla in recent weeks, but yesterday he worked hard when we didn't have the ball, and dominated the game when we had possession. Cazorla's energetic display should also put an end to any nonsense we hear about players being tired after a midweek trip to play in Europe - Santi went to Panama and back this week.

Santi Cazorla - at his magical best yesterday

Theo Walcott was the man who got us back on the front foot as he destroyed Kyle Naughton for the rest of the first-half. It was a fantastic display from Theo and I have to say that I really want him to sign a new contract. I imagine a few regular readers will be wondering if someone has taken over the blog after such a statement, but Theo has become crucial to this team and his form has been outstanding since August. We have haggled over the odd few grand in the past and ended up losing out as a result. Whatever you think about Ashley Cole and his greed, the fact is that it was a measly (in football terms) £5000 a week that saw the World's best full-back leave us. For the sake of what doesn't amount to much more can we really afford to lose Theo Walcott just when he is looking capable of being the player we always wanted him to be? His goal in the final minute was just reward for his fantastic performance.
It was Walcott's super play out wide that set up the first goal, but what a header that was by Per Mertesacker. The BFG might have been badly at fault for Tottenham's opener, but he certainly paid back the fans with his goal. The way the ball seemed to fly further than it had a right to was reminiscent of David Platt's headed winner against Manchester United in November 1997. Mertesacker's reaction was great as well as he really showed what it meant to him to score his first goal for Arsenal.
From that point on, until Bale's goal in the second half, Arsenal were outstanding going forward. The second goal may have had an element of fortune but nobody could say it wasn't deserved (except for Andre Villas Boas - more of which below). What Podolski showed, again, was a natural ability in the penalty area. He also showed that, if you actually have a shot, it might just bobble in somehow. To then get a third goal before half-time, and underline our dominance, was massive. What a goal it was. Again Webb did well by offering a fine advantage to Cazorla whose square ball in to the area was converted in real centre-forward style by Giroud at the near-post. The French striker was being fouled by Vertonghen who seemed to want to be Spurs' own Andre Santos and swap shirts with Giroud at half-time, such was the grip he had on him. I doubt a penalty would have been forthcoming (as it wasn't at 4-1 when Dawson felled Wilshere in the box) so the ball hitting the net was crucial. It was a stunning finish, and Giroud's all round performance will further silence many critics, myself included.
The second-half saw Arsenal at once being excellent and wasteful. Cazorla's goal was another peach, but other opportunities were spurned. With our defending I never felt safe, even at 4-1, so when Bale scored I was worried. The jitters set in both on the field and off it for Arsenal. It is something that shouldn't happen, but for ten minutes we were rocking a little. When we eventually remembered how to keep the ball for a minute or two we finally drew the last of Tottenham's sting. Arsene's decision to bring on Ramsey and Santos was a large cause of us losing our way, but such criticisms can be saved for another day - this is an afternoon to bask in the glow of another Spurs hammering. It could (should) have been a humiliation, but I'll take the 5-2 thanks very much.

The new Minister Of Information in Iraq?

One final thing before I wrap up is to comment on the interview I heard with Andre Villas-Boas on Radio 5. According to AVB Spurs dominated the game "from the first minute to the last". It sounded very much like the musings of a mad man, and I'm sure anyone who actually saw the game will be at a loss as to what he was talking about. I can understand him wanting to protect his players from criticism and all that, but this was ridiculous. I was sitting in the car listening to it and was immediately put in mind of Saddam Hussein's Comical Ali telling journalists that Baghdad was still in their control as the American tanks rolled by in the background. Years ago I used to enjoy Arsene Wenger's one-liners in response the rubbish that Ferguson used to spout. Yesterday he produced a return to those good old days with this response when told of Villas-Boas' comments:

"If our opponents are in control from the first to the last minutes and we win 5-2, then I don't mind too much."
I think that's something we can all agree on.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Never wish defeat on The Arsenal - Tottenham Mugs (h) preview

Now that's what I call a gap

I haven't written since before the Fulham game. I've been off work on leave this week so I should have had plenty of time to get on here and say something, but sadly not. I was unable to review the weekend 3-3 draw due to work, but I had over a page of notes to write from. As it turned out I was busy all day Monday and Tuesday, and by Wednesday I didn't see the point in opening wounds from the previous week. Suffice to say that I was deeply unimpressed by another insipid display, and even less so by the nonsense Arsene Wenger came out with after the game. The other thing that stopped me from writing about that sort of thing is that tomorrow is the North London Derby. That means this is not the time for being negative about Arsenal. We must rally behind the team and give them every encouragement we possibly can before the clowns from up the road come to visit.
For a long time now there has been a growing feeling that Wenger has had his day. More and more people seem to be coming round to this way of thinking. Regular readers will know I was a subscriber to such a thought long ago. However, what I have been reading in some places lately has deeply disturbed me. I have seen people (I assume most of these idiots never go to games) actually advocating Arsenal losing, just so long as it pushes Le Boss closer to the exit door. While I firmly believe Arsene is a busted flush nothing would give me greater pleasure than for him to prove me completely wrong. I am an Arsenal supporter. I want Arsenal to win every single game. Anyone that would say they wouldn't mind seeing the team get beaten is certainly no supporter. Such nonsense is actually quite frightening when you think about it. Let's face it, the media do enough cheer leading for any team playing against Arsenal, without so called Gooners adding to the anti-Arsenal mood. This is even more important in the week we play Tottenham.
Last season we were told for months that Spurs were finally going to do it and finish above Arsenal for the first time since Danny Blanchflower was in the side, or whatever. Indeed this was the greatest Tottenham side since the early 60s, while Arsenal fans were suffering the worst players we'd ever put together. Arsenal were finished, and Tottenham were going to dominate the North London scene for years to come. Considering those "facts" the end of the season was real shock! Or not. I should say at this point that, until last season, Tottenham had become for Gooners merely a twice a season sideshow. They were insignificant flies to be swatted as we fought it out with Manchester United and Liverpool and the newly rich Chelsea. Apart from a nostalgic sense of local rivalry the games against Spurs were far more important to the jealous Lillywhites than they were to the all conquering Gunners. The reaction of their supporters to the 2-2 draw when we won the Premier League in their stadium said it all about the difference between the Clubs - we celebrated being Champions while they celebrated a point. I digress. The point I was getting to was that we were supposed to finish behind them last season, and we all know how that turned out. We went  in to the game at our place 10 points behind, and were 2-0 down with forty-plus minutes gone. Then it happened. A lot of people point to Sagna's goal as the turning point but, for me, it happened seconds before with a Theo Walcott flick which saw Van Persie hit the post (Sagna then scored from the resulting cross). Walcott had been having a bad day to that point, but that one confidence boosting touch saw him turn in a second-half masterclass. The 5-2 win turned the tide and Arsenal finished third in the table with Spurs lagging behind. Again.
I have to say that I am more worried about this season. A few weeks ago I was convinced that we would be challenging near the top of the Premier League. The players were working harder off the ball and this was creating space when we quickly won it back. The performances at Anfield and Eastlands gave us great hope. Then Abou Diaby got yet another long-term injury, and so did Kieran Gibbs. Since then we have struggled badly. We don't have a player in midfield that can carry the ball like a fit Diaby. The value of a player who can beat a couple of defenders and move the ball forward can not be underestimated. I know Diaby is not everybody's cup of tea, but that seems a view coloured by his failure to play more than two or three games at a time. Arsenal are seriously missing Diaby's quality, and that puts an added unfair pressure on Jack Wilshere to dominate midfield. Tottenham are also yet to tear up any trees, and Andre Villas-Boas has found himself under pressure in the media. I have to say I think such pressure is purely because the press boys are annoyed that their mate 'Arry was given the chop. Villas-Boas is simply guilty of being the person that replaced their rent-a-quote man. I believe the new Tottenham Manager is a very decent coach, and I fear his team far more than I ever did Redknapp's.
Arsenal's team news for tomorrow sees Wojciech Szczesny surely destined to return to the side. Vito Mannone got plenty of stick for the second Fulham goal last week, not least from Arsenal supporting John Cross in the Daily Mirror. I was very surprised therefore to see the very same man making excuses for Joe Hart in midweek. Cross was far from alone it should be said, but he has been slagging Mannone something chronic for weeks, and very unfairly so. Maybe Vito should have saved that header last Saturday, but considering he started the season as third choice I think he hasn't done too badly at all. He has certainly secured himself a move to a decent Club when his time comes to leave Arsenal. Theo Walcott will hopefully pass a fitness test today and be in the side. I would like to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lining up on the other wing as I believe pace is the key to Arsenal getting a win tomorrow. When we play with pace we are difficult to beat. When we ponce about playing square balls between the centre-backs and failing to go forward we simply invite pressure. We must get the ball wide and get crosses in to Giroud. If he proved anything last week it is that he is able to score goals when given the appropriate aerial service. If we can do that, and shackle the diving simian effectively, then we can beat Tottenham tomorrow.
Finally, I hope we can get this going in the ground tomorrow, just to remind the idiots in the away end of their typical early gloating last season. Enjoy the game, and let's hope for a win tomorrow. It's suddenly an important game again and, while that may be a sign that we are not the force we once were, we are still The Arsenal. And that makes us better than that lot. Remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent.

Friday, 9 November 2012

They're queuing up in the middle

Use him right, get more of this

Lukas Podolski’s comments in Germany this week with regards to playing in the middle should give Arsene Wenger food for thought. Over the past few weeks the team has struggled to create against better opposition (and Norwich) with the lone striker, whether it be Giroud, Gervinho or Chamakh (as it was for 55 minutes at Reading), looking an increasingly isolated figure. We have a squad in which the only two players recognised as centre-forwards are the aforementioned pair of Chamakh and Giroud. We’ve heard Wenger tell us year on year that Theo Walcott will end up in the middle, but he is no closer to getting his opportunity in the place he wants to play. I don’t doubt that Theo would look a far better player in the centre, and that is certainly where his best work comes from. When Walcott moves himself closer to the middle he causes defenders problems and his finishing is generally very good. The trouble for Walcott is that he is too lightweight, for me, to be playing as a lone striker. He needs the support of someone else in order that both opposition centre-halves are suitably tied up with someone to mark. Podolski himself played as the lone striker on the first day of the season against Sunderland and it was not a productive day.
As you can see, it would seem that it might be a good idea to get two up top. We did it at Reading to devastating effect when the situation dictated that even Arsene Wenger had to try something different in the interests of a positive result. I wrote a piece on here a few weeks ago identifying a change in formation that would see Walcott getting his opportunity in the middle, while also possibly shoring things up at the back a little (Andre Santos would also be able to play in this system with no detriment to the defence, while also utilising his abilities going forward). As you will see from the couple of comments that were added some people see it as a negative move but, as I explained in the post, it need not be a defensive formation.
When you have a player with the quality of Lukas Podolski you should use him in the best way possible. You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Andrey Arshavin has played in his favoured position, and his talent has been wasted by Arsenal (though the idea that he plays there in the Russian national side is nothing more than a myth as he plays from wide left for them). We must not waste the talent of Podolski as well. His strength and finishing ability can be the missing piece in Arsenal’s attacking jigsaw. Any combination of the four people who want to play up front - Giroud/Podolski/Walcott/Chamakh - could do damage to a number of quality defences, as well as providing us with more options from the bench.
I have never really understood why Wenger has persisted with his version of 4-3-3. We are always outnumbered in the middle, giving no options for the wide players. We also see our full-backs totally exposed at times, and that is where I have some sympathy with the over-criticised Santos. I fail so see how Wenger has not considered a change that occupies the opposition defence more, and means that they would no longer always have an extra man when we try to go forward. Put Podolski’s power, or Walcott’s pace, up alongside the aerial threat and ability with their backs to goal of either Chamakh or Giroud and you would surely be playing to the strengths of the players in your squad. It seems to me a no-brainer, but then I’ve never worked even one day in football so clearly know nothing. 

I will try to preview the Fulham game early tomorrow, but it’s the Wife’s birthday and I’m not going to the game as a result. My seven year-old is well pleased as he will once again be taking my seat and hoping for the three points. If I don’t get to write tomorrow then I will endeavour to do something on Sunday, work permitting.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

When a good result is disappointing - Schalke 2 - 2 Arsenal

Theo couldn't quite do the same

If I'd been offered a draw before the game last night I would have snapped it up like a shot. Having been 2-0 up it becomes a disappointment. After being utterly destroyed by the same opposition a fortnight ago, and having been battered in a one-sided second-half last night, I suppose 2-2 should be seen as a blessed relief. A defeat, coupled with Olympiacos' win over Montpellier, would have put us in a seriously bad position with a trip to Athens ahead of us in the final game.
I thought for 35 minutes we played extremely well last night. Yes, Schalke had one or two chances where they got at the back four too easily, but we looked a genuine threat going forward, even if Giroud wasn't winning as much aerial ball as I would like. Wilshere was orchestrating things when he had the ball and it was obvious through his continual fouling that Fuchs was scared witless of Theo Walcott's pace. When we got the ball wide there was some good delivery in to the box, especially from Sagna - one cross took out both centre-halves but Podolski failed to attack the ball at the far post and allowed Ushida a comfortable clearance. When we got our first goal there was a slice of fortune as Giroud was offside when Mertesacker played the ball forward. It shouldn't matter that a Schalke player got a head to the attempted pass as our man was offside from the original pass towards him. I don't begin to understand the way this offside rule is being interpreted, but for me it was offside. Having got his luck Giroud then showed why he is frustrating. Faced with a sight of the goalkeeper one-on-one he never looked capable of scoring. If you watch the replay from behind the goal he actually kicks the ground and falls over as he goes to shoot, and he was very fortunate that Walcott was showing some poachers instincts by following up close behind. Theo's finish was really nice, and once again he showed that he is doing the business where it matters. More and more I am coming round to the idea that he should be given close to what he wants (if not the full amount) - at least that would call his bluff and we would know if he really wants to stay at Arsenal.
I don't think we got enough credit from the commentators for the second goal. Alan Smith and whoever the other bloke was seemed to determined to make out we only scored as the opposition had just made a substitution. The fact was that Podolski, who looked quicker and sharper last night than in recent matches, showed his strength and superb ability to deliver a cross that was begging to be buried. Giroud lost his man well in the middle and planted a header in from close range. It was a proper centre-forward's goal and at 2-0 we were flying. Schalke were all over the place and were there for the taking. Arsenal had shown that the Germans were not all that at the back and we should have driven home the advantage.
As is so often the case we failed to capitalise yet again on a two goal start. There was an immediate return to our "possession" game, otherwise known as passing the ball square and backwards all the time. For a team that enjoys so much of the ball our centre-backs have an inordinate number of passes to make. I can't remember Campbell and Toure being integral to every move when the Invincibles were around, and that side really did dominate the ball. Both goals had come from moving the ball forward quickly (that doesn't mean long balls) and finding runners in attacking areas - a ball played in front of someone rather than to their feet is always going to get you going forward. It was all very pretty, but there was no threat anymore. And then it started. I don't like to criticise those who have travelled to an away game, but why do these cretins insist on "ole" shouts as soon as we're a goal or two up and string more than five passes together? If watching Arsenal over the last few years has taught you anything it should be that such nonsense is not acceptable unless we're five goals up with ten minutes to play. These prats will never learn. Within two minutes of it starting Cazorla fell over when trying to be too clever and Schalke scored with the last kick of the first-half. Ultimately it was that moment that cost us the win.
The second-half was almost one way traffic apart from three moments of note for Arsenal. The first came straight from the kick-off when Podolski put in a gorgeous cross for Giroud, but he went for a spectacular volley instead of a simple header and messed it up badly. The second was when Podolski went through on goal only for the referee to stop play due to a leg injury for their replacement full-back. On a night where the referee was very impressive it was an unacceptably bad piece of officiating. You would have to think that Podolski would either have scored or created a goal from that position. The final moment for Arsenal was the last action of the game when Theo bundled his way through brilliantly, in Michael Thomas style, only to not quite read the Anfield script and scuffed his right-footed finish in to the legs of the goalkeeper. A winner would have been smash and grab in the circumstances, but that's football and Schalke had not taken their chances in the second-half. It was a shame as it was all Walcott's own work and a goal there would have really pressed his claims for more regular football (in his interview after the game it was obvious that the lad is not well either, so all credit to him for still being in the game at the ninety minute mark).
The rest of the second-half was a return to a lacklustre Arsenal being battered. Wilshere became more and more a passenger (which is to be expected) and Arteta was having to play the role of three men in midfield. I am rapidly running out of patience with Cazorla as he is no more adept at putting in the hard yards than the much maligned Arshavin. Eventually the pressure told when nobody tracked Holtby's run in to the penalty area, causing Vermaelen to have to leave Farfan (who looks a real player) at the far post. The goal was certainly deserved for the home side, but that makes it no less disappointing. Aside of that we had Vito Mannone to thank for the point. The big Italian was outstanding again in goal, making save after save. In fairness to the back four they were only really breached on one occasion, when Mannone saved one-on-one with Huntelaar, but there was too much space in front of them. Time and again players got between the midfield and defence and nobody closed down properly, allowing free shots on goal. Mannone was well within his rights, more than once, to scream at those ahead of him for the lack of protection. Having said that I thought we looked much better with Mertesacker and Koscielny in the middle (Alan Smith claimed that the BFG was having a bad night at one stage but I'm not sure what game he was watching, to be honest).
We probably deserved the draw after the first-half display and Mannone's excellence thereafter. A win would have been great, but it wasn't to be. At least we didn't lose, and that is very important. If both Arsenal and Schalke win their next games, both at home, then we are through. If Schalke draw with Olympiacos, and we beat Montpellier, then we will go to Athens with work to do, despite going there top of the group. In that situation the Greeks would have to better our 3-1 win over them in the second group game, which means Aaron Ramsey's injury-time goal could be the most crucial of our Champions League season.
More tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

No discernible tactics - Schalke 04 (a) preview

Everything he does is annoying these days

The team news ahead of tonight is not great, depending on your point of view. Aaron Ramsey is out injured, which will be a relief to a few supporters who have grown frustrated by his lack of pace. I have had a lot of patience with Ramsey, largely borne out of sympathy with the reasons why he has lost the zip he had as a teen aged prodigy. I also have sympathy with him for the fact that Wenger first tried to use him as a highly inadequate replacement for Cesc Fabregas and now sees him as the man for all positions across midfield - the new Yossi Benayoun, if you will. Unfortunately for Ramsey he is becoming more like the new Emmanuel Eboue in the eyes of some fans and Wenger has been doing him no favours by keeping him in the firing line like he has. The fact that Ramsey has been deployed on the right wing ahead of Theo Walcott in recent matches is a joke. Up at Manchester City Ramsey produced his best performance since coming back from his leg break. As is often the case with Wenger he saw this as a reason to keep playing him out of position in the ridiculous hope that he would keep on doing it. Abou Diaby found himself playing on the left of midfield for months after a stellar showing in the Carling Cup Final in 2007, despite that being the only time he played well out there. It is maybe a sign of how bad things are for Ramsey that Arsenal fans are now calling for Theo Walcott as the man to save us this season. It's easy to forget how bad Theo can be at times, but Wenger's treatment of him since the start of the season has ended up to the detriment of the team. Normally I would be of the opinion that a player who hasn't signed a deal should be frozen out, but Walcott has got his head down and produced the goods, despite his situation. To continue to leave him out is the action of a mad man. As it happens, it seems that Walcott will miss out tonight due to illness but it would have been interesting to see if Wenger would finally have given him a start in a game that matters to the Manager.
With Ramsey out injured there is a space in the squad from Saturday. Of course Ramsey plays in midfield, so you would naturally expect him to be replaced by a midfielder. Not so. Wenger has brought in Johan Djourou instead. There is no doubt that, if fit, Ramsey would have been on the plane to Germany. That being the case it would be sensible, would it not, to suggest that Wenger felt the need for a midfield player in his 18 for tonight? Why then has he selected his fourth-choice centre-back to come in to the squad? Yesterday I was lamenting the fact that Tomas Eisfeld (who got yet another goal in the under-21's last night) was not going to Schalke before it was pointed out to me that he was not included in Arsenal's UEFA squad. But then that doesn't explain why Gnabry, Frimpong and Yennaris have all been left at home. It just strikes me more and more that Wenger has lost all idea of any actual game plan or tactics. When you had Gilberto, Vieira, Ljungberg, Pires, Henry and Bergkamp you could play just about how you wanted, against any opposition, without worrying of "tactics" as Arsenal were that good. What Wenger fails to understand is that the players we have now need a plan to beat other teams, especially against sides that might just have some players better than yours.
Walcott's illness show us another problem with the way Wenger chooses to operate. Arsenal have named an 18 man travelling party for the game this evening. At the same time it has been admitted that Walcott is unwell and, therefore, doubtful for the match. Surely one or two more should be travelling with the squad in order to avoid such a problem. Would it hurt to have someone like Gnabry tagging along on the off-chance that he might need to lace up his boots? This is a Club who flies players from Luton to Norwich so it can't be a cost saving measure. George Graham always took two or three extra players to away matches (at least one of whom would be a youngster on the fringes of the first-team squad) just in case. It rarely did his Arsenal side much harm. Perhaps I'm picking on small things that may end up being entirely insignificant, but such is the frustration I feel towards Wenger at the moment that I just fail to see any logic in anything the man is doing.
As for the game itself tonight a draw would be a belter of a result. We have been playing abysmally and were well and truly canned by Schalke a fortnight ago. The 2-0 scoreline at our place was generous to Arsenal. One or two of the papers claim that Andre Santos will be left out this evening and anyone who has been watching him can't be surprised. The interesting thing will be seeing who replaces him. For me there are three candidates. Wenger could bring in Koscielny and move Vermaelen to left-back. He may bring in  Jenkinson and move Sagna across, or simply put Jenkinson on the left. Personally I would be bringing in both Koscielny and Jenkinson, while dropping Vermaelen and moving Sagna over to the opposite side. We will see what Wenger does this evening. Whatever it is, Arsenal need to improve by about 200% if they are to get something out of tonight.

Monday, 5 November 2012

A serious character flaw shows Arsenal up as losers

No hugs and handshakes if this man was still around

Andre Santos has borne the brunt of the criticism from Saturday as a result of him getting Robin Van Persie's shirt at half-time. Santos' behaviour merely served to underline how much awareness Arsenal's footballers have of the will of the supporters. I'm not having this crap about how Brazilians often swap shirts at half-time. Santos is playing in England now and he should have been acutely aware that such a gesture would only rile the Arsenal fans - when in Rome, and all that. Given that he has been getting serious stick for his abject defensive displays since he came in to the side you would think he'd be showing a little bit more intelligence than that. I've defended Santos a bit on here as I don't like the way a lot of Arsenal supporters pick a player as the fall-guy to get abused, but no more. It's always happened with Arsenal for generations. For people of my generation you can go back through Tommy Caton, Gus Caesar, Martin Hayes, Perry Groves, Lee Dixon, Kevin Campbell, Andy Linighan, David Hillier, Gilles Grimandi, Pascal Cygan, Emmanuel Eboue, Nicklas Bendtner, and now it's Aaron Ramsey and Santos in the frame. Before that were the likes of Blockley and Sammels and Ian Ure - the North Bank has a long history of going after its own. As I say, it's not something I like. However, after doing what he did on Saturday I have little sympathy for Santos. I would never advocate the booing and abuse of an Arsenal player. I find such things sickening. Having said that, I will not be singing anything in support of Santos after what he did the other day. How stupid do you have to be to think that such a thing is acceptable? Wenger has said he wasn't happy with what happened, but I bet he's not about to drop the hapless Brazillian tomorrow night.
In fairness to Andre Santos his behaviour is merely indicative of a wider problem with the Arsenal squad. They are simply too friendly with the opposition. I remember last year when Alex Song walked off the pitch at St James' Park arm in arm with Joey Barton, despite him play-acting to get Gervinho sent off. On Saturday we saw the players all shaking hands and hugging Robin Van Persie in the tunnel before the game. Why? Why would you do that if you're about to go in for ninety minutes of serious competition? If you want to give the guy a warm handshake then do it after you've marked him out of the game and not let him had a kick all match. Even better, show no friendship (in public at least) whatsoever to a man who ran out on Arsenal in the Summer after telling everyone how bad the players were that he was leaving behind. Make no mistake, that is exactly what Van Persie was doing in his "statement" - he was basically saying, "This lot are useless and I won't win a thing with players like this." Now that might have been fair comment, but if a team mate said those things about me I'd like to think my attitude before facing him would be to show him what a w****r he is before rubbing his face in it after I'd won. I remember well how Jason MacAteer humiliated Roy Keane in a game at Sunderland after he had slagged the Republic of Ireland 2002 World Cup squad in his autobiography. MacAteer had no time for a man who had shown him such disrespect and was motivated enough to do something about it when they came face to face. Instead of that we had players falling over themselves to show they were Van Persie's best buddy (only Bacary Sagna escapes criticism in that regard).
The behaviour of the Arsenal players towards Van Persie simply underlines to me that they are nothing more than a bunch of losers. Winners are not nice to people like Van Persie. Winners go after people like him and show them who is boss. Winners don't lie down and allow people like him to dominate them. Do you think for one second that David Seaman, Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp or Thierry Henry would have been hugging Van Persie? Do you think Frank McLintock would have been allowing himself to be bullied by Van Persie throughout the game like our current skipper was? When Vieira came back to play against Arsenal with Juventus there was no warmth from the players towards him until after we'd won the game 2-0, and that was reciprocated by Vieira himself. Pires and Henry did their talking on the pitch against Vieira, and then shook his hand and took his shirt after he'd been outplayed. That's how it should be. The difference is that all the players I've named there were winners. Not one member of the Arsenal squad has ever been a winner. Van Persie himself wouldn't have been all matey with someone in the same situation, because he has the nastiness required to be the best - which is exactly what he is, I'm sad to say. Until Arsenal's footballers learn that nice guys win nothing we will continue to fail, and will continue to be embarrassed on trips to Old Trafford and the like.

I'll preview the Schalke match in the morning. The team news is largely depressing, but that's nothing to be surprised about I suppose.