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Thursday, 28 February 2013

Arsenal must sack web editors, Fixture nonsense, Spurs still reading

Chicken on a basketball? This is real class

As it's the North London Derby this week I will be displaying no negativity towards the Manager or the team. There is a real need for nothing but support ahead of the visit to the swamp on Sunday. More on that below. However, not every area of Arsenal is off limits when it comes to having a dig. Today's lucky winners are the idiots who run the Arsenal website.
I'm not convinced that any of these clowns are actually Arsenal supporters. Let's be honest, there weren't too many of these "technically minded" people running around the school playing fields with a ball at their feet when we were growing up. I've started to write a full piece on this that I'm keeping in reserve for when it gets a bit too quiet, but the latest thing can't pass without comment ahead of Sunday.
Since it's pretty awful overhaul a few weeks ago www.arsenal.com has been running features in its "Flashback" section. This area of the site gives an account of a particular game against the next big opponents we face, with interviews and photographs and a little bit of free video content. This week they have picked the 1987 Littlewoods Cup semi-final saga for the piece. No problem with that. Anything that gives you a chance to remember David Rocastle getting the winner is a good thing. It's an excellent feature this week, as it goes. Right up until the point you view the video.
I would say that most Gooners who are old enough to remember the night in question will have seen the film plenty of times. They will also be familiar with Brian Moore's "Arsenal, are through to Wembley" line as Rocky's shot goes under Clemence. Why, then, has some idiot at Arsenal decided to remove Moore's commentary and edit in Alan Parry commentating on a Rocastle goal against Norwich City on 1st May 1989? The commentary on the night was all part of the moment. Brian Moore had the knack of finding the right words at the right time, just like at Anfield when Michael Thomas scored. For some reason the clowns at the official website treat supporters with utter contempt by doing things like this. It may seem like a small issue, but I'm fed up with these geeky fools and the way they fill their web content. To ruin Rocky's greatest contribution by over-dubbing the wrong commentary is sacrilege to me.

With Everton through to the FA Cup sixth round our fixture against them on Saturday-week is now postponed. I was pleased, as a shift worker, that the new date has been quickly announced so that we can make arrangements as necessary. Except the new date isn't set in stone. If Everton reach the semi-final of the Cup then the game will be played twenty-four hours later than planned. Why could it not just be set for that date in the first place? It's not just shift-workers that struggle. Anyone from Liverpool wanting to get to the game might have to re-arrange their signing-on day. By the same token, anyone wanting to get in early with their train booking and save a few quid are unable to do so until after Everton's FA Cup quarter-final. I just don't understand the need to mess us all about this way. It's hard enough to arrange yourself around football fixtures without the powers that be making it harder with decisions completely lacking in common sense.

The post I wrote yesterday got the predictable reaction from some of the mugs that follow Spurs. Apparently we're all scared of what they're about to achieve and we're a spent force and blah blah blah. We may well be a spent force, but their reactions merely confirm their obsession with beating us. What I wrote was tongue-in-cheek and was deliberately aimed at provoking a reaction. I can just see the taxi-driving cretins now, purple-faced with rage, as they hammered away at their keyboards mouthing "Gooner c***" under their breaths.
The importance of the game on Sunday is big in terms of finishing in the top four. As I've said here many times I don't care about the top four. It is a false achievement. You win nothing except the opportunity to lose to a better team every February and March. Obviously we want to finish as high up the table as possible, but "the top four" means just about nothing. As it happens, I think the winners of the game on Sunday will finish third in the Premier League, and may even have a shot at overcoming Man City. Personally I would take a draw right now. Spurs (Bale) are in great form and have found the way to get results from tight matches. We no longer have the players who have "been there and done it" in terms of Premier League success so it will be tougher to get a result at Tottenham than it's been in a long time. But I seem to remember thinking we were a busted flush ahead of the Derby this time last year. We all know what happened during and after that, don't we?
One more thing - why do Tottenham fans read this site? I know it appears on your NewsNow feed and on the media-watch page on Tottenham's official website, but that doesn't mean you have to click on it. I would never read a Spurs website as it doesn't interest me. Let's be honest, it's unlikely to say anything positive about Arsenal so why would I bother? I suppose it shows how desperate you all are.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

500 up with Dennis to the fore, Defoe playing the Anderton role for Spurs

Dennis Bergkamp - The Greatest

This is the 500th post on It's MY Arsenal Opinion. I can think of no better way to celebrate than with the news of Dennis Bergkamp's much deserved statue. It seems that DB10 will be joining Tony Adams, Thierry Henry and Herbert Chapman by overlooking the stadium, cast forever in bronze. It's not the image I would have chosen of Dennis, but the fact that our greatest ever player is being recognised by Arsenal in this way is worthy of credit. Thierry Henry may be The King, but Dennis Bergkamp is without any doubt The Greatest.
When Bergkamp joined Arsenal in 1995 everything changed. Suddenly we were big-time again. We had signed a genuine World star. When David Platt quickly followed Arsenal fans had just cause to believe that we were moving out of the mid-90s malaise. Arsene Wenger would arrive a year later to bring it all together, but without Dennis we simply wouldn't have been the Club we are. There would be no Double's. There would be no Champions League involvement. There would be no new stadium (but I'll forgive him for his part in having to leave Highbury by being so damn good!) Dennis Bergkamp's presence, and his peerless ability as a footballer, revolutionised Arsenal Football Club. He also was the first World Class footballer to come to the Premier League before reaching his peak (the likes of Gullit were way beyond their best when they came to England). All fans of football in this country should rejoice in the greatness of Dennis Bergkamp.
Dennis is quite simply my favourite player of all time. I feel incredibly fortunate to have watched him play for Arsenal throughout the best of his career. I would urge all Gooners to watch this youtube video of Bergkamp's Arsenal career - it's just about the best thing I've seen in a long time.

A few years ago Darren Anderton became a bit of a standing joke for Arsenal fans. We all knew that, however long he'd been out injured for, he would rise like Lazarus for the North London Derby. It became a symbol of Spurs' desperation to beat Arsenal in a futile attempt to give their supporters something to cheer. The games against Arsenal became Tottenham's out and out biggest days of the season. If they could beat Arsenal then all would be well, pretty much regardless of what happened through the rest of the campaign. Gerry Francis clearly used to feel that he needed Anderton if it was ever going to happen. Like Francis' 70's hairstyle, it was rarely a success.
This season things look a bit different. Spurs are ahead of Arsenal going in to the game this weekend. They have the greatest player the World has ever known in their side. If Gareth Bale (one more goal, ten less assists than Theo Walcott) doesn't win Footballer Of The Year (for the whole Universe) then there really is no justice. There can be no doubt that this is their year. They are going to finish above Arsenal for the first time in eighteen years. EIGHTEEN YEARS! I can honestly say that I am so jealous of the quality Spurs possess right now. I mean, who wouldn't want to be third in the league with no prospect of winning it for the first time since 1961? Who wouldn't want Emmanuel Adebayor up front? Who wouldn't want the child of Pele and Tom Daley playing in midfield while dressed as the main simian attraction at London Zoo?
With all that being the case it should be a surprise that Jermaine Defoe is set to come off the treatment table to be in the Tottenham squad to play Arsenal this Sunday. I actually called this the other day as leopards don't change their spots. Tottenham's main ambition is still to beat Arsenal. If that happens then the knuckle-draggers will be delighted and it almost won't matter if they lose the next five games. It definitely won't matter if Defoe misses the rest of the season, just so long as he plays and scores against Arsenal. All the time that remains Spurs' ambition we can rest easily in the knowledge that they are forever in our shadow, regardless of what might happen on Sunday, or for the rest of this season.

More tomorrow when I expect to have been bombarded with abuse from some of the fools down the road.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Time to turn it around, Aston Villa (h) preview

One year ago this weekend

A year ago we were going in to this weekend at the very end of the line. We'd been dumped out of the FA Cup and then hammered in the European Cup in Milan. We were facing the in-form Tottenham Hotspur who were about to go 13 points clear of us in the race for no trophy. For me I was at the lowest point I'd experienced as a Gooner since the mid-90s. At 2-0 down we were down and out, season over, humiliated at home by that mob from up the road. Then it happened. Theo Walcott produced a flick on the edge of the area from which Van Persie hit a post. From the ensuing cross Bacary Sagna came from nowhere to power in a header. From that point Walcott's Arsenal career, and our season, turned for the better. That day was unseasonably warm as I recall and we all basked in the glow of a Tottenham hammering. The run of form from then, almost until the end of the season, ensured we had the chance to get beaten by Bayern Munich last Tuesday. If we are to get back in to that sort of company next season then this weekend Arsenal must find that same spark when we take on Aston Villa, though this time it will be unseasonably cold instead.
Regardless of our poor displays this last week we are expected to dispatch Villa comfortably. But then that was supposed to be the case at Villa Park before Christmas. The fact is that you just can't tell how Arsenal are going to perform. They have become adept at living down to expectations when playing against quality opponents, but equally proficient at not beating obviously weaker teams. If Paul Lambert has been doing his homework he will have his team well organised tomorrow, with Benteke and Agbonlahor/Bent up front. It is a tried and tested formula that has seen plenty of success against Arsenal this season, not least in the last seven days.
For Arsenal we will be missing Sagna this weekend. My seven-year-old spotted he was injured in the first-half the other night so it came as no surprise to me that he will not be there. Carl Jenkinson was impressive at the start of the season but a lack of game time has seen him struggle badly in recent appearances. His sending off at Sunderland was maybe an indication that he is not quite ready for the top level, but a run in the side will only do him good. Nacho Monreal will certainly return at left-back and, frankly, anything that keeps Thomas Vermaelen away from the team at the moment is fine by me. The Verminator got a lot of grace from supporters thanks to his goalscoring exploits, but his defending has pretty much always been sub-standard. The other night I felt we would have been no worse off had Santos been playing at left-back. I know Vermaelen was being asked to play out of position, but he has played enough of his career as a full-back to be expected to know how to do it effectively. That he couldn't do that says a lot about his ability as a defender. Give me Koscielny and Mertesacker together tomorrow, please Arsene.
Further forward there are obvious choices to be made. I will be amazed if Olivier Giroud doesn't return up front, with Theo moving to the right again. Obviously Arteta and Wilshere will retain their places, but what of Podolski, Cazorla and Ramsey? Personally I would keep Ramsey and Podolski in the team, but I would bring in either Rosicky or Diaby, or even Oxlade-Chamberlain, in place of Cazorla. I firmly believe the Spaniard needs a serious kick in the backside and being dropped is the way to do it. That's not Arsene Wenger's style, but that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be.
We all know we need to win. I hope the players know. As much as I would choose to criticise Arsene Wenger for what is happening with the Club there can be no doubt that these players are letting both him and us down. They are better than they are showing. That can only be about commitment. Yes, it is the Manager who is responsible for motivating them appropriately. But how about a bit of personal pride and a professional attitude? The fans have actually supported the team well in my view. There are boos when the whistle goes at half-time or full-time if we are playing badly, but when the game is in progress there is good support. It's time for the players to repay us.
Just as a final aside, I will be watching the League Cup Final on Sunday with serious envy. I'm sure Villa fans will feel like us. We should be at Wembley to play Swansea. We should be ending that eight year run without a trophy. That we aren't is down to the failings of the players when faced with seriously inferior opposition. Like I said, they owe us. Big time.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Sideways Arsenal going nowhere fast

King Crab

It's very difficult to write about Arsenal's continuing woes from different angles. I am at great pains to avoid constantly saying the same thing about the Manager. Things are not going to change on that front any time soon so there's little point in continually banging that drum. That being the case, let's talk tactics. Actually, considering this Arsenal team has none of those, we'll talk about playing style instead.
The defeats against Bradford and Blackburn were humiliating. I'm sure Arsene Wenger felt that humiliation as much as the rest of us. However, I reckon the embarrassment of the Bayern Munich defeat on Tuesday might possibly have a larger effect on the Manager. Of course a loss was not unexpected. But the ease with which the Germans won the game must have resonated with Wenger. He would love to win the European Cup more than any other competition. We should have won it in 2006, regardless of Lehmann getting sent off (Henry's one-on-one bottle-job and Fabregas being replaced by Flamini in the moments just before the equaliser were the things that were most costly that night). We should have won it in 2004 when the players ran out of puff against Chelsea. We should have won it in 2008 when Walcott ran the length of Anfield, only for a bent referee to hand Liverpool the win. What Tuesday night proved, however, is that Arsene Wenger and his team are as far away from this trophy as we've ever been. If that doesn't shake things up then nothing will.
Anyone who has watched Arsenal over the last couple of years (maybe longer) will know that a team that is organised and committed in defence will find it easy to stop Arsenal. When we had players like Vieira, Bergkamp, Pires, Petit and Fabregas we had players with the ability to unlock a packed defence. Those players also had the benefit of each other and strikers like Anelka, Wright, Henry or Van Persie (or runners off the ball like Ljungberg) to worry the defence in to having to mark people in numbers. With the ability we had, and the threat we carried, space would open up for someone. Those players then had the necessary quality to take the chances more often than not. What we have now is a team lacking in the quality to create the space and the imagination to find the gaps. In short, with the exception of Jack Wilshere, we are simply not good enough.
Watching Arsenal is becoming more and more frustrating. In the second-half against Bayern Munich we showed a decent bit of effort, something that was seriously lacking in the first-half (with the notable exceptions of Ramsey and Wilshere, and the hopelessly isolated Walcott). However, despite pushing Bayern back in to their own half, there was never a real threat to their goal. Bayern Munich were simply organised and committed. Arsenal quickly ran out of ideas and reverted to the square passing that is now a feature of our play in every game. I can think of no other team whose centre-backs see so much of the ball. We hardly ever seem to go forward. I can pretty much guarantee that whenever the ball goes to Mikel Arteta then it will not be followed by an attempt at an incisive pass. Arteta has an incredible pass completion rate, but so did David Batty and Ray Wilkins. I pointed this out over a year ago in defence of Alex Song. People used to complain that Song neglected his apparent role as the defensive midfield player. The fact was that, had Song not been more attacking, then our midfield would have gone nowhere last season. I can't generally complain about Arteta's work ethic, especially in the role he is being asked to play right now, but it does nothing for us. In injury-time on Tuesday he played the ball back and forth to Mertesacker three times. We were 3-1 down at home for God's sake!
Jack Wilshere is the only man that seems to want to move us forward (don't talk to me about Cazorla as I am getting seriously fed-up with what is becoming a very passable impersonation of Arshavin). The problem for Jack is that he doesn't have Robin Van Persie up front to supply the finishing touch to his undoubted enterprise. Theo Walcott spent 70 minutes against Munich watching the two giants marking him head the ball away as another "move" from Arsenal ended with a high ball towards one of our shortest players.
Then we have Olivier Giroud coming on and playing a role to which he is more suited, but who lacks the ability in front of goal. As with the game at Chelsea, our opponents responded to a glorious opportunity missed by Giroud with a goal of their own. All strikers miss chances, but top class ones tend to score more often than not. I like Giroud. I think he'd be a fine squad player. But he is not good enough to be the only striker at a team that claims to be a major power. That being the case, should we not make the most of what we have got and give him some help?
It seems clear to me that this team will benefit from a change in formation. It doesn't matter how we do it, but we must play two up front. If we can't defend, and we certainly can't, then we must go forward properly. Watching Blackburn and Bayern Munich and AC Milan defend in numbers this week it has been a real lesson as to how bad Arsenal are at protecting their own goal. Wenger will not change that. But if he would just decide to attack properly it would do us all a favour. We could play 4-4-2 or 5-3-2 and it would make a massive difference. How about this team, for example:

Sagna Koscielny Mertesacker
Jenkinson                                                    Gibbs
Diaby Arteta Wilshere

Giroud Walcott

I can't help thinking that this is a move that would make us more dangerous. We'd be giving opposition centre-halves something to think about for a start. Three centre-halves would give us more solidity at the back (in theory) and the midfield would be more competitive. 
You'll notice I don't have Szczesny as automatic choice in this side and that is because he is generally no better than Fabianski. I would have no problem with seeing the older Pole back between the sticks for the rest of this season. He certainly couldn't be any worse, could he? Szczesny has talked a good game for a long time, but the evidence is more and more obvious that he is full of hot air and not a lot else. Any goalkeeper can make a save or two. The best ones don't make mistakes week after week. As bad as the defending is, the goalkeeper is no help to them in this Arsenal side.
Change is required. As I said at the start, it's not going to happen in terms of who is in charge. But it sure as hell needs to happen on the pitch. Maybe Wenger should swallow some pride and realise that his Barcelona inspired formation is now a hindrance to Arsenal.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

How can anyone still support this Manager?

Do the decent thing and quit now

On Christmas Eve I posted my annual reflection on the year gone by. It being just a couple of weeks after the Bradford debacle I wrote the following about the lowest point of 2012:

They say it's darkest just before dawn. Let's hope that things get no darker for a long time to come

Yesterday things got decidedly darker for Arsene Wenger. He picked a team that should have been more than capable of dispatching Blackburn Rovers. I can see why others are saying he should have played Wilshere and Walcott etc from the start and I am often an advocate of that. However, with Bayern Munich ahead of us I felt it was an understandable move for a change. And, as I said, that team should have had more than enough about them to beat a side which is even worse than the one that got relegated last season. Those players undoubtedly let down the Manager, but he was the one that picked them. He was the one who failed to motivate them. He was the one who didn't have any tactical plan to change things when it was obvious Blackburn were really quite comfortable. He was the one who took 70 minutes to realise that Gervinho shouldn't have been on the pitch, or Chamberlain, or Rosicky. He is the one who has signed no back up option at centre-forward. He is the one who has programmed his players to continually pass the ball square and backwards when faced with a packed defence. He is the one who has decided that this team does not need to practise set-pieces, either attacking or defending. He is the one who has allowed an egotistical and serially error-prone young goalkeeper to be the unchallenged (and uncoached, it would seem) number one at Arsenal. He is the one who has overseen a decline from the greatest team English football has seen (built by him) in to a side that is now headed for its ninth trophyless year (summarily destroyed by him). He is the man who demanded Arsenal move from their beautiful stadium to a soulless bowl, inhabited by Johnny-Come-Lately tourists rather than died-in-the-wool Gooners, in order that we could "compete". If someone could tell me how we are competing I'd be glad to have that debate with you.
There were two things in the game yesterday summed up the way Arsenal have slipped in to mediocrity:
The first came as the corner count started to rise and Arsenal got their first corner on the right hand side. Nobody went to take it. Thomas Vermaelen had to instruct Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to go and take the corner. That is the level of preparation that Arsene Wenger gives his players. It had clearly not even been discussed who would be taking the corners. Is it any wonder that our set-pieces come to nothing when the players don't even know who's supposed to deliver the ball? As for the quality when the corners were taken we might as well just not bother. Only one was remotely dangerous and Abou Diaby (who is being unfairly singled out today - he was one of the better performers yesterday, constantly let down by a lack of options ahead of him) forced Blackburn's goalkeeper in to his only save of note.
The second one came in injury time at the end of the game. Mikel Arteta picked up the ball on the halfway line and every other Arsenal outfield player was in front of him. However, such is Arteta's determination to keep up his pass completion rate he chose to pass the ball square, straight to the fourth official. There wasn't the slightest thought from Arteta that he ought to get the ball forward and let Arsenal try and attack properly. It's probably not Arteta's fault. The Arsenal players are told to pass, pass, pass. And when they've done that they have to pass again. It's frustrating and utterly infuriating to watch. But we've been watching it for so long now that you just know it's going to happen. The idea that Arsenal play exciting football is a myth and it has been for about four years now. There are times when they can turn it on and play with pace and power. Believe it or not that Arsenal is far more effective than the one we have to put up with most of the time.
I notice today that Kevin Whitcher, editor of The Gooner, is advocating a vocal response to Arsene Wenger at games. He wants Arsenal fans to turn on the Manager during matches. I am not in favour of such behaviour. When the game is going on it is our job to support the team. To sing songs and chant things that are against the Manager would be counter-productive to the team. However, I can see why some now feel that such a high profile show of disdain with Arsene Wenger may be necessary to effect change. As I was leaving the game yesterday I certainly didn't hear too many people willing to defend Wenger. I fail to see how anybody who actually attends matches ever could. It strikes me, and I may be wrong, that those who genuinely choose to defend Arsene Wenger are either kids who have only ever known the Club under his control, or people who live a long way away from North London.
I'm nearly 34 years old. In my lifetime the longest we have gone without silverware was the first eight years of my life (I was around three weeks old when Alan Sunderland got the winner against Manchester United). That being the case, I do remember what it was like to be mediocre. I do remember the feeling that winning trophies after barren years brought us. That feeling never lessened in the years of success under George Graham and then Arsene Wenger. In the mid-90s I watched a team that was awful but, because it could defend and had a goalkeeper worthy of the name, could win trophies. Even in 1995 when Graham was sacked, and we stared relegation in the face, we got to a European Final and were beaten by a freak goal in a game we ought to have won. Right now I see a Club that is heading back to the mediocrity of my childhood. I'd rather have that mid-90s team, with the chance that they might get us a cup or two, than the one I watch today. I know what it's like to be crap, and to not challenge for trophies. I don't want to go back to that (in fact we already have got back to that if the truth be told). As far as I'm concerned the way to arrest this slide in to the abyss is by removing Arsene Wenger from his position. I'm more than grateful for the wonderful things he gave us, but it is time to move on. And for anyone who says "who do you replace him with?" I simply point to Wenger's salary of £7.5m per year - the answer to the question is "whoever you damn well want" with that money on offer. The picture below, rather sadly, sums up my feelings on Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.

It's a very sad day to be a supporter of Arsenal Football Club.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Defending Wenger for a change, Santos a victim of the mob

Where it all went wrong for Santos

It was a great win in the end on Saturday. I think most Gooners are rightly delighted at the genuine character shown by the boys at Sunderland. The game should have been out of sight before half-time but, after Jenkinson got himself sent-off (which should really have made it 9 v 10 at best for Sunderland,) Arsenal ground out a win in the best traditions of the Club. It may not be good for the blood pressure, but a 1-0 win like that gives me every bit as much pleasure as a 5-0 walkover. A crucial three points.
Before and after the game Arsene Wenger was fielding questions about Jack Wilshere. At his press conference on Friday he was asked about Jack playing the whole game for England last Wednesday. Arsene expressed his surprise, but he did not moan about it at any point. Given that he left Wilshere on the pitch for the whole game against West Ham when we were 5-1 up after an hour it would have been a bit rich for Wenger to complain. However, the press predictably twisted the comments he did make in order to get a cheap headline. A friend of mine (a non Arsenal supporting friend) started having a pop about Wenger yesterday and said that people like Wilshere are paid a lot of money to play twice a week. This of course ignores the fact that Jack has come back recently from 17 months out of the game with stress fractures. Again, Arsene Wenger should have given him a break when he had the chance, but he didn't really make comment on that in his press conference - the media created that story once again.
After the game on Saturday it was again Wilshere at the centre of the press attentions. It was no surprise that Jack's bruised body finally succumbed early in the second-half, even to such an innocuous looking sort of challenge (not so innocuous if viewed from the right angle). Arsene rightly called for Jack to get more help from referees. Since Christmas he has had the sort of treatment from opponents (almost always unpunished until late in the game) that I haven't seen since the Neville sisters kicked Jose Antonio Reyes out of Old Trafford. Gareth Barry, Ramires, Jack Collison, Lucas Leiva, assorted Stoke City players, Ramires again (for Brazil) and Lee Cattermole and N'Diaye have taken it in turns to leave marks on Wilshere in recent matches. Not one of those players has been sent off. Only a couple of them have been booked (late in the game) despite their constant fouling of Wilshere throughout the match. When Wenger talks about "protection" he is not asking for Wilshere to be allowed to play unchallenged. What he wants is for a referee to do his job and put an early stop to deliberate ploys to stop Wilshere playing by foul means. Barcelona stop opponents from playing, but they don't do it by kicking anyone. You can put players under pressure, and make challenges, without constantly booting them up in the air. The English mentality on this sickens me. Yet the same people who would choose to hammer Arsene Wenger for his comments are the same people that want England to win the World Cup. The fact is that if England's best player is consistently kicked in the shins he simply won't be around to play for England at the World Cup. But I daresay they'd blame Arsene Wenger for that as well. As for this idea that Jack's style is bound to leave him with injuries I've never heard such media inspired bull****. I very much doubt Bayern Munich will be kicking Jack next week, but they may well be able to stop him playing by fair means. I suppose it's a talent thing.

Andre Santos is off to Brazil and it looks like his Arsenal career has been a brief one. Never the most mobile, or defensively disciplined full-back, Santos enjoyed something of a cult following last season. I was never convinced by all that nonsense but Santos' ability to score a goal or two, as well as being a bit of a character, saw him become a reasonably popular figure. Certainly nobody was criticising him too heavily when he scored at West Brom on the final day of last season.
I was at Blackburn on the day Santos made his debut for Arsenal. His inability to hold his place in the left-back position was evident that day, as was his portly stomach. What was also evident was that he was rarely to be beaten by a winger who got him one-against-one. In fact I don't ever remember seeing a player dribble around Santos after being faced up by him. As a defender that was his strength. Going forward he was very good, but the trouble was that this was neglecting his defensive responsibilities.
Ultimately the praise of Santos in some quarters of the Gooner faithful was badly misplaced, but things didn't start to go wrong for him with supporters until we went to Old Trafford. More particularly, it all started to fall apart for Santos as he left the field at half-time. Whether it was a complete brain-storm, or a cultural misunderstanding from the South American (is shirt-swapping at half-time common in Brazil?) his taking of Van Persie's jersey as he left the field marked the turning point in his Arsenal career. From that point every mistake he has made (and there have been plenty, in fairness) has been hammered by the crowd. At Brighton he was torn apart by a second division side and even Wenger realised he had to remove him from the fray (he followed it up with a pretty good display against Liverpool, I thought, but the seed was sewn - particularly among the morons that inhabit Arsenal's internet forums).
I have to say that Santos has definitely reached the end of the road with Arsenal, and it is to Wenger's credit that he has dealt with it and got the player out of harms way - the memory of Eboue no doubt looms large for Le Boss. However, I just wonder if things might have worked out differently without the Van Persie incident. The media highlighted it, and the internet Gooners buzzed with indignation. A lack of playing time meant that when Santos got on the pitch he was rusty and looked unfit. His mistakes got the boo-boys off their seats to abuse him (it's amazing how many times Santi Cazorla can give the ball away without a complaint from the masses). Until his injury in Athens last season he was very much the preferred choice at left-back ahead of an inconsistent Kieran Gibbs. He also has twenty-odd caps for Brazil which tells you he's a very good footballer. With a little more fortune on the injury front, and little less stupidity on the shirt-swapping front, Santos may well have grown in to the English game and been a regular for Arsenal. As it turned out it was £6.2m that could have been better spent elsewhere. I wish him well in his future.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

What is Pearce's problem?

How can The Corporal not be in U21 squad?

It has long been obvious to me that Stuart Pearce has a problem with Arsenal and with Arsene Wenger. This has manifested itself in the awful way Pearce has treated Arsenal players involved with his England Under 21 side. Theo Walcott was the first victim and it has worked its way through Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and now on to Carl Jenkinson. I find it amazing that Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson have allowed some of their brightest prospects to be humiliated by someone as intellectually incapable as Stuart Pearce.
Going back a few years Pearce forced Theo Walcott to attend the Summer tournament for which his side had qualified. Theo could clearly have benefited from resting his young body after a season in which he had suffered an array of injuries and played a fair deal in the Arsenal team. Having been made to schlep out to a tournament nobody cares about Pearce decided he would drop Theo. He then publicly criticised him. Ultimately he had to bring him back in order to progress in the competition. A few months later Walcott would score his hat-trick in Croatia for England, but my abiding memory of watching that match was hearing Pearce constantly bellowing at the Arsenal man from the bench. Setanta's pitchside microphones were clearly close to the England dugout that night and it remains a mystery as to why Pearce was berating a young lad in the process of scoring three goals.
Jack Wilshere, you may recall, made his England debut immediately following his loan spell at Bolton. Capello fielded an experimentally young side in a Wembley friendly and Gibbs also made his international bow that night. A month later Wilshere was back with the Under 21 squad but Pearce made it his business to publicly embarrass him. Jack was left out of the starting XI for the childrens side, just a few weeks after playing for the full England team. When questioned about it Pearce told the media that Wilshere had "taken his eye off the ball." In other words Pearce decided that it was his job to bring Jack down to Earth. Just who did Pearce think he was? If Wilshere had lost some focus then it was Arsene Wenger that would be responsible for pulling him up a bit lively. In the following game, with qualification for the latest insignificant championship in the balance, Wilshere was brought on as a substitute to save Pearce's bacon and set up a couple of goals to ensure England got through. Jack returned to the full squad but Pearce wanted to insist on him going to the Summer tournament as he had with Theo Walcott. Fabio Capello stopped that from happening, and Jack was then out injured for more than a year with stress injuries. Pearce has been making noises about Wilshere having to go with the under 21s this year, but Roy Hodgson has stepped in and made it clear that he will not be playing kids football again for England. Kieran Gibbs was also used only sporadically by Pearce, even excusing his injury problems, as a succession on mickey-mouse players from lower division clubs were used in his stead.
The latest person to suffer from Pearce's anti-Arsenal, anti-Wenger, attitude is Carl Jenkinson. The Corporal made his England debut in November, but was not included in the latest squad - he has not played too often for Arsenal since then with Bacary Sagna back in the side following his injuries. However, that does not explain his absence from Pearce's side. Even following injuries Jenkinson was not called up. I am amazed that Hodgson has not stepped in to bring Pearce in to line. How can a player that was good enough for full international honours just two months ago be considered surplus to requirements for the under 21s? Would not the other young players in the squad benefit from the presence of a man with Champions League experience? It is utterly ridiculous, but sadly indicative of the attitude the cretinous Stuart Pearce displays towards Arsenal players. I am amazed Pearce survived the cull at the end of the Capello era, and I just hope Hodgson soon realises he should get rid of this clown as he provides nothing of benefit to England whatsoever. At least Jenkinson doesn't have to spend a week with Pearce, I suppose, but it's unfortunate for him to miss out on recognition of his ability.

Before I sign off I'll just link to yesterday's post as it may well have been missed by many. Sadly I published at just the same time as Arsenal re-launched the official website. In doing so they re-published everything from the last two weeks and saturated the NewsNow feed at the expense of sites like this. The new website looks cheap and nasty and is difficult to navigate, which is sadly illustrative of the malaise of Arsenal FC right now. Nevertheless, you can get yesterday's post by clicking this link - it's worth it just for the idiot Stoke fan in the comments section.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Pulis smokescreen can't disguise the thuggery


I think Stoke City are finally being found out. Even the press are just starting to realise that they represent everything that is mediocre about the English game. In the past they were seen as some kind of heroic force for the way they could "upset" the bigger Clubs - particularly Arsenal. Tony Pulis was apparently a tactical genius as his re-hashing of Wimbledon's modus operandi circa 1988 was put to decent effect (though not quite as successfully or with as much good humour as Wimbledon used to imbue). I get the feeling, however, that the tide is about to turn on Pulis. After all, if Stoke can't kick Arsenal off the pitch any more, and can't damage us with an aerial bombardment, then where does Pulis go next? His middle-aged chav look is as dated as his football ethos and the English media might just be realising that success for England will only come by slating tactics from the Dark Ages.
As Gooners we are naturally pre-disposed to dislike Stoke as we were the Club that largely fell victim to their "physical" style. Stoke, of course, are naturally pre-disposed to dislike Arsenal because they were beaten in consecutive FA Cup semi-finals in the early 70s. However, this does not constitute a "rivalry" between the Clubs. I am convinced that, like Allardyce and Pardew, Pulis considers himself a rival of Arsene Wenger. Whatever the faults may be with Arsene he need not concern himself by spending sleepless nights worrying about that kind of "competition". Sending your players out to kick as many opponents as you can (after all, these foreign/southern nancies don't like a tackle, you know?) does not constitute a rivalry. Stoke City will never be "rivals" of Arsenal Football Cllub. All the time they remain in the Premier League they remain a necessary distraction twice a season, but definitely nothing more.
Saturday saw the usual behaviour from Stoke on the pitch, and from Pulis on the touchline. Theo Walcott is bearing the facial scars of his day out against the zoo animals. It's to Theo's credit, and a sign of his growing ability, that he was not intimidated by the ever-kicking, and sharp elbowing, Andy Wilkinson. Then there is Ryan Shawcross. We have been told time and again that Ryan Shawcross is "not that sort of player" as he delivers yet another studs first foul on an opponent. Don't forget, he also loves his Mum. I would contend that Shawcross most definitely is that sort of player. Francis Jeffers and Aaron Ramsey have both had their legs broken by him. Emmanuel Adebayor and Laurent Koscielny have been fortunate not to join them (and that's just the players with Arsenal connections). Shawcross does not belong on a football pitch. He should be firmly and permanently ensconced in the gorilla enclosure at Regents Park.
However, the reaction of Michael Owen to being tackled (not fouled, just tackled, albeit firmly) perhaps should show us that it's not all the fault of Shawcross himself. I never thought I would see Michael Owen aiming fists at anyone. The fact that it was a pretty awful attempt at a punch should not have seen Owen let off by the FA. I believe Mr Foy has said he saw the incident, in which case he should be suspended as well (when you consider he only saw fit to book Shawcross you have to question his ability as a referee still further). But what led to Michael Owen's unexpected change of character? Owen has been around since 1997 and has never been involved in such nonsense. I can only conclude that it is entirely down to Pulis and what he tells his players before sending them out on to the pitch. And it's not just against Arsenal, and it's not just Shawcross - Robert Huth is equally adept at the over the top challenge. It strikes me that Pulis pumps his players up to a degree that leads them to being out of control in the tackle. They must surely be getting instructed to leave scars on the opposition as not all their players could naturally be labelled as a thug - especially not Michael Owen. If you watch the way Pulis bounces about on the touchline in his baseball cap and shell suit it's easier to understand why Stoke's players are close to pure evil at times on the football pitch.
Having been beaten by Arsenal on Saturday Pulis knew he had to dive for cover. His one "tactic" for beating Arsenal had been comfortably rebuffed by The Gunners players. With the physically strong Giroud up front, Arteta and Wilshere not taking any crap in midfield (especially Wilshere) and Sagna backing up a more manned-up Walcott there was nothing for Pulis to do but start putting up a smokescreen. So what did he do? He accused the Arsenal players of influencing the referee. Pulis may be an idiot, but he's not stupid. He knows how to play the press game. He realised that his comments would grab the headlines and deflect attention away from the over physical behaviour of his players. The fact is that the Arsenal players influenced nothing other than the right decision being made (again, questions should be asked of the linesman who tried to disallow the goal - in light of the revelations yesterday I hope there are one or two officials shifting uneasily in their seats as their corruption is a step closer to being uncovered). 
While Pulis might have conned the press in to ignoring the fouling and nastiness, there is a growing discontent with Stoke among football supporters. More and more people have had enough of their thuggery, and no amount of carping from Pulis is going to hide it. They are no longer the plucky underdogs but simply a bunch of neanderthals being sent on to the football pitch by Tulisa's style guru. The last thing to mention is the fact that Pulis brushed past Arsene Wenger at the final whistle without a proper handshake - just imagine the reaction of the press and Pulis himself had it been the other way round. One-nil to the football team.

More tomorrow.

Friday, 1 February 2013

We clearly have the complete squad

Top, top quality

Anyone who was at the game on Wednesday will be hard pressed to disagree with Arsene Wenger when he says how good this squad of players are. After all it's not every group of defenders that can provide the sort of entertainment we got the other night. The trouble is that the job of those players is actually to play football effectively, not to have them rolling in the aisles like Del Boy might have done. For Liverpool's first goal there were more prat falls than you used to get in a Norman Wisdom sketch. The second was no better as Arsenal's players decided Jordan Henderson is so crap that there is no need to try and tackle him. I heard that Gary Neville said after the game it had nothing to do with coaching or quality as these are just individual errors. However, is it not the case that top players make less errors than poorer players? Given the frequency of the "individual errors" this Arsenal side makes in its own penalty area I would suggest there is a fundamental dearth in quality.
We all knew what Arsenal needed going in to the transfer window. Before it started we were assured by Wenger that he would be "busy" in the transfer market. That really should have been the first point at which we smelled a rat. As January got going he flitted between his standard soundbites during transfer periods. We had everything from "we work very hard" to "it's difficult to find the players to improve your squad" and on it went. The fact is that we are actually weaker than we were in December. More players left than came in at Arsenal. Moreover, had it not been for Kieran Gibbs getting injured (sadly he is another player who is incapable of playing more than six weeks without pulling up lame) Wenger would not have entered the transfer market at all. As it is, we have failed to add to the squad in the areas of most need.
I noticed on the Arsenal website yesterday they had a feature on Olivier Giroud and his recent goalscoring form. There can be no doubt that Giroud has done quite well recently. He has scored a nice few goals and that is encouraging. However, he has also missed a great number of important chances. At Chelsea he missed the goal completely when one on one with the goalkeeper. Against Liverpool he got us back in the game with a good header, but missed chances to win the game after that (one from six yards out in front of an open goal). He should have had a hat-trick at Brighton. I like Giroud. I think we are beginning to maybe play more to his strengths. He works particularly hard to get on the ball and is exceptional at winning headers. However, he is just short of being a genuinely top class striker. He would be a very good back-up option and, maybe, we could get even more out of him with a change in formation (don't get me started on that again). But when it comes to it Giroud is more of a Sylvain Wiltord than a Thierry Henry or, perhaps a fairer comparison, more Niall Quinn than Alan Smith. I don't wish to pick on Giroud as I think he is doing just fine for a player of his ability, but I want to illustrate that Wenger speaks nonsense about his players. He tells us we can't improve the "squad" yet we went in to yet another game the other night with no centre-forward among our seven substitutes. That is not acceptable at Arsenal Football Club. The bloke we did have up front is good, but not great. And yet Wenger can't improve that by making a signing or two? Really?

Hopefully I'll be in a position to write something late on Sunday. I am going to be at the game tomorrow afternoon, but I have to leave before the end (yes, I'll be one of those annoying idiots) as I have to go to work tomorrow night. I don't know if we'll see anything of our new left-back Nacho Monreal tomorrow against Stoke, but I very much doubt we'll see Andre Santos starting the game either. I expect to see Thomas Vermaelen move to left-back with Koscielny coming in to the centre of defence. We know what Stoke will do because we know what they're like. I just hope Jack Wilshere has got himself a pair of steel shin pads for the afternoon. I will be very surprised if Jack and Theo Walcott are not targeted for what the media might call Stoke's "physical approach" to the game. Beware the Neanderthals.