Highbury Library Logo

Highbury Library Logo

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Tottenham (h) preview - mugs day out

Whatever happens tomorrow...
I've toyed with a number of ideas for how and what to write here this evening. I was seriously thinking about highlighting the contrast in the way Spurs have gone about their transfer business when compared with ours. I thought about praising Daniel Levy as a football executive of great talent. I thought about talking about the massive improvements in Tottenham's group of players thanks to their new signings. But then I thought again. This is as Arsenal website. Why should I give that lot any credit whatsoever? It doesn't matter what's going on with transfers and Arsene Wenger and everything else that could be construed as negative at the moment. Tomorrow is match day. More than that, it's match day against those idiots from Middlesex. They hate us. We see them as a minor irritation twice a season. The only thing that matters in the run up to this game is supporting The Arsenal. Forget about the owner, the CEO, the Manager, the so called star players. All that matters is that Arsenal is OUR Club and everything else is irrelevant.
As it happens I still fancy us to win tomorrow, no matter what they've added to their squad. If our players put it in as they have in the last few games we can wipe the floor with Tottenham. They've won their first two matches in the Premier League, but their only goals have come from the penalty spot. My biggest fear tomorrow is not Tottenham, but a referee being exposed to such a volatile atmosphere for the first time. Still, if we play our game and put in the necessary effort we can be celebrating at the end.
I'll say no more other than to point out that Tottenham's fans are already giving it large. It is August 31st. They never learn. If they do beat us tomorrow they will become unbearable. I hope the players know that. Get behind the boys. Make it loud, make it intimidating. Let their players know what the North London Derby is all about, and stay safe around the knuckle draggers when they gob off outside the ground.
Remember, we are THE ARSENAL.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Arsenal make a signing to get the blood flowing

Not quite what we were hoping for

A signing! A new player! Can you feel that excitement? No, neither can I. All I can feel (and see) is resentment from Arsenal supporters at the arrival of yet another player for free. It's all a little unfair, maybe, on Flamini and I'll address that below. However, it is a symptom of the way this Summer has been for Arsenal fans that Flamini has not been so much welcomed as dismissed. Surprisingly the reaction has largely had little to do with the way he walked out after playing well for three months of his previous Arsenal career.
With the squad situation as dire as it is we should be lauding the arrival of Flamini. Here we are getting a player who always gives 100%, likes a tackle, and can play in three different positions. He provides us with quality cover and the sort of grit and needle that we've been sorely missing. In the absence of Mikel Arteta he is a player who has the discipline to protect the back four, albeit not the out and out top class holding player we really want. The fact that he hasn't been welcomed, as such, is simply down to the failure to bring in top class players for big money. If we'd signed, for example, Begovic, Fellaini, Higuain and Suarez/Rooney, as well as Flamini and Sanogo I reckon we'd all be very happy bunnies right now. As it is we have only the latter two, both on free transfers, despite being told by Ivan Gazidis that this was the year things would change. Arsene Wenger has simply ignored that and carried on his merry way.
Our transfer business has been a joke. There has been no apparent plan. There has been no strategy. What exactly are we trying to bring in? Is Wenger after a striker? Does he realise the need for a holding midfield player? Why is he going after yet more creative dwarfs to play in a creative role? There is seemingly nothing coherent about the targets we've chased. As for the way in which the business has been gone about you can only describe it as amateurish. Meanwhile the lies have been mounting up.
Arsene Wenger told everyone that nobody had spent any money. That was a lie. He told us that there were no top strikers available in Europe in this transfer window. That was a lie. He told us Arsenal work 24 hours a day to bring in new players. That was a lie. After all this he then asked the press to tell him names of players that were better than we've got already. That was just plain embarrassing. All of these statements reek of contempt for the supporters. We are the great unwashed, who know nothing about anything.
His favourite soundbite this Summer has been to keep telling us that transfers require the agreement of all three parties. Of course they do. But it's not really that difficult to get that agreement - other Clubs find it very simple. Why? Because they are keen to spend to improve.
The main reason we have been unable to buy top talent this year is Wenger's complete refusal to spend anything above his own valuation of a player. Once he sets his limit that is it. That's why we don't reach agreement with the selling Club. He fails to realise that his valuation is pretty much irrelevant if he really wants the player at Arsenal. The selling Club sets the price. You either match it or negotiate it to find agreement. If you want the player you pay the money. That is all there is to it. Transfers are really not that complicated, I am sure. Certainly the talks are not always honourable, as we saw with Real Madrid's apparent raising of the price for Higuain, but that's the way it is. If we wanted Luis Suarez we should have gone to Liverpool and made an offer they couldn't turn down. Instead of that we messed about thinking we were being clever. The end result was that we didn't get the player. Whatever my views on David Dein you can not deny that he got business done, usually with the minimum of fuss, and the minimum of publicity. It is a shocking state of affairs and Arsenal's men that matter should be ashamed of the balls-up they've made of it all.
By the way, welcome back Mathieu.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A very good week

Ramsey: Outstanding start

Much to my annoyance I’ve not been in a position to write anything since last week. Given the change in fortunes and performances of the team in that time it’s been a shame to not be able to give credit where it is due for a change.
Let’s start with last weeks win at Fenerbahce where I thought we were first class, particularly after half-time. When the draw was made many expected Arsenal to have a tough time against the Turks, and even more so with out lack of transfer action. To go out there and win 3-0 was outstanding. For me it ranks up there as one of our very best away performances in Europe, particularly off the back of what had happened against Villa just a few days before. Before the game Paul Merson (who these days delights in telling everyone he’s a Chelsea fan) said that he expected Arsenal to struggle. After our comprehensive 3-0 dismantling of the opposition he told us “they’re not a Fulham or a Spurs” as he identified our next two Premier League games. That sort of thing just about sums Merson up, though it leads me nicely on to Saturday at Fulham.
As with the game in Istanbul we were expected to have a really difficult afternoon at Craven Cottage. As it was, the Arsenal players put in a first class display and came away with a superb 3-1 win that could, in truth, have been five or six. I really enjoyed our speed on the break that led to a couple of the goals. It’s something that has been missing for a long time, and Podolski’s finishing was once again to the fore. I was not surprised to hear Merson tell us that “Fulham were poor” and that things won’t be so easy against Tottenham. Believe it or not Paul Merson scored 99 goals for Arsenal and won five major honours at the Club. What is his problem? Is he still bitter that Wenger kicked him out less than a year after arriving and replaced him with Marc Overmars?
And so we come to the game last night. I thought the players were utterly professional on the night. It was very much a case of job done. They could have pressed the accelerator a bit more at times but a 5-0 aggregate win was more than adequate. Lee Dixon took on the Merson role on TV as he told us that Fenerbahce are “a very poor side”. Really Lee? Is that the same Fernerbahce who lost in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup last season? As it was I thought there were one or two Arsenal players who weren’t great on the night. I am very worried that Nacho Monreal really isn’t a good enough full-back to be at Arsenal. Better than Santos, yes, but he is so often caught under the ball when it’s played to the corner, while rarely being within 15 yards of the man he’s marking. His lack of pace is a huge worry, as we saw when Andros Townsend destroyed him at QPR last season. If Kieran Gibbs was out for a long time I think we’d have a real problem. The other man I wasn’t impressed by was Yaya Sanogo. I know it was his first decent run out in the first team but his first touch and mobility looked poor. He has plenty of time, of course, but is he really any better than Chuba Akpom at the moment? I would suggest probably not. On the positive side the players worked very hard when we weren’t in possession, and that has been a feature of these last three games. Long may it continue to be so.
Obviously we are short of numbers. I think we’re all tired of talking about it. We know we lack both quantity and a depth of quality in important areas. We need a top goalkeeper, we need a holding midfielder, we need a striker. You might notice I stopped short of saying we need a centre-back. I say this because Bacary Sagna has been exceptional filling in there. In fact he’s been brilliant since pre-season began (as have Ramsey and Giroud). I regularly doubted Sagna last season, but he has shown he is more than worthy of keeping Carl Jenkinson out of the side at right-back at the moment. As a fourth choice centre-back I think he can save us at least £10m that could be spent elsewhere. If and when Mathieu Flamini is put on a contract we will have extended emergency cover for both full-back positions, freeing up Sagna as necessary.
The lack of signings remains unacceptable by any standards. The idea that lessons were learnt in 2011 has been shown to be nonsense. We are set (hopefully) for some kind of supermarket sweep in the last few days of the transfer window. To have not already done our business is bordering on the criminal. People say that Man Utd and Chelsea have signed nobody either, but I don’t care about them – I am only concerned about Arsenal and our needs were rather more pressing than either of those Clubs – they won trophies last season, remember.
Amid all this lack of numbers and depth I was amazed at the team that lined up last night. I couldn’t understand why Szczesny played. There was no need for Wilshere, Podolski or Giroud to take to the pitch either. Three or four changes could have been made to the starting line-up, and then a further three with proper substitutions. Instead of that we saw Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla playing 90 minutes again. We saw Kieran Gibbs inexplicably brought on from the bench early in the second half to play on the wing (in the previous two games it had been Monreal coming on when Serge Gnabry could have been given a run out and some very decent experience). Gibbs is injury prone, as we all know, so why take such an unnecessary risk ahead of the Tottenham game?
Wenger has already stated that he wants Roy Hodgson to consider Jack Wilshere’s welfare when the England team play two games next week. Why should Hodgson take any notice whatsoever when Jack is brought on for 30 minutes at Fulham, with Arsenal 3-0 up, and then plays the full 90 minutes when we’re 5-0 up against Fenerbahce? If Wenger wants Jack protected then he should start to practise what he preaches. Frimpong could have come on in both of those matches, or Gedion Zelalem could have had a run out at Fulham. It’s just crazy, even before you consider what he’s asked Hodgson to do.
It seems wrong to still be criticising after the good week we’ve had, so I’ll leave it at that and hope for some massive signings in the few days ahead. I will just point out that we must have won, and disappointed the news outlets, as BBC News Channel considered Liverpool beating Notts County in extra-time to be bigger sports news than us qualifying. Do you think they’d have done that had we lost?

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Handicapped by our own Manager

...and it has been for at least five years

It's possible to lose just about any game of professional football. The FA Cup wouldn't hold its mystical attraction for smaller clubs if they could never get a result. Losing at home to Aston Villa is something that has happened plenty of times, and the 3-1 defeat we suffered yesterday was something that could have occurred even if we'd spent a record amount of money during the close season. However, by not strengthening the squad over the Summer Arsene Wenger failed to give his players the best chance of winning the game yesterday. If you have better players available then it is less likely you'll suffer the sort of loss that we did yesterday. The same thing applies with the Champions League tie coming up this week. Having seen further injuries to key players against Villa we are almost unable to field a full squad of first team players in Turkey. Again, Wenger has failed to give Arsenal the best opportunity to get through. But then I've never worked even one day in football, so what do I know?
There are calls for Wenger and the Board to go. I'm assuming that when people talk of "the Board" they really mean Kroenke. In terms of genuine influence the Arsenal directors have about as much power to do anything as you and I. Arsene Wenger is the major problem. He has been for years. As much as he was the reason we moved to an almost unprecedented level of success at Arsenal, he is solely responsible for the decline in quality and results in recent years. Before anyone throws the new stadium, and it's so called financial impact, in my face I would remind you that Arsene Wenger was the man who pushed for a move away from Highbury. He demanded a bigger stadium in order to "compete" in the transfer market. It was his idea. As I say, he is solely responsible.
If Kroenke was to throw it in, at a considerable profit to himself, the only person in a position to take on the Club is Usmanov. Let's leave aside whether or not you like the idea of such a man owning our Club and consider the fact that he is a billionaire of such proportions that he makes Abramovich look like Oliver Twist. We would have spending power to pretty much match Manchester City. However, if this Summer has told us anything it is that Arsene Wenger has no interest in spending anything more than he values a player at. What would be the point in Usmanov's money if Wenger was still in place to not spend it? Yet again I come back to the fact that Arsene Wenger is the problem.
It pains me to continually call for the head of a Manager who has given us so much to celebrate over the years. However, his judgement was impaired from the day he decided to sell Patrick Vieira. We should have won the Premier League in 2008, but Wenger refused to sign the one or two players we needed that January, and then also refused to bring back Jens Lehmann in place of Manuel Almunia. We should also have won the Premier League in 2011, but the squad was again left short by no more than one or two players, purely because he failed to go and make the requisite signings in January that season.
In recent times his public statements have become repetitive and embarrassing. The worst of them is his "if you can give me names of players who are better than what we have" etc etc. There is not a single person who has an interest in football (and probably plenty who don't) that couldn't provide a list of better players in every position than we have at Arsenal. In fact there was one who was with us up until a year ago, but was allowed to leave and fire Manchester United to the Title. Yesterday he told the press that Arsenal "work 24 hours a day" to bring in new players. Do not insult the supporters Arsene. Not everyone who follows football is your intellectual inferior. The contempt apparent in such an outlandish and outrageous statement is simply astonishing. It's a soundbyte of Redknapp proportions.
A part of me actually feels sorry for the likes of Ivan Gazidis. As I stated above, the Board is pretty powerless in the face of Arsene Wenger unless Stan Kroenke decides otherwise. Gazidis is particularly inert in this situation because Arsene Wenger actually appointed him. It must be some job where you get to appoint the person who is officially your boss. There is no way that Gazidis can sack Wenger, because Wenger gave him his massively paid job. What continues to amaze me is that there are people out there who will still defend Wenger in the face of such overwhelming evidence that the man has lost it and is currently the biggest problem that Arsenal Football Club has to deal with. I suppose Wenger might be considered the ultimate elephant in the room.
The game yesterday has been the subject of much conjecture among pundits and supporters alike. As far as I'm concerned we were beaten by a combination of two things, and neither of them were Aston Villa. Before I get back to Wenger I've got to deal with the referee, Anthony Taylor.
In the first minute of the game Taylor gave a foul against Tomas Rosicky for what was a superb tackle in the Villa half. Five minutes later he did it again. In between times Villa's players were at it all over the pitch without censure from Taylor.
Having taken the lead Arsenal were pretty comfortable. Villa were not a threat in any way. And then the Red Sea of Arsenal's midfield and defence (in the absence of Arteta) parted to allow Agbonlahor a run on goal. I've seen people moan about Szczesny in this one but that's unfair as he had to come and try to win the ball. What happened next is what concerns me. After the clear foul by Szczesny (which should have resulted in a penalty and a red card) the referee allowed the advantage of a free shot on an open goal which Villa missed. After the ball was hit wide the referee decided to award the penalty and book Szczesny. This is not acceptable. There is a difference between allowing play to go on to see if an advantage develops and actually allowing an advantage that a team fail to take. I don't see how you get given two bites of the cherry. It's ridiculous.
The niggly behaviour of the Villa players continued unabated while just about every challenge by an Arsenal player resulted in a free-kick. Kieran Gibbs got an awful cut following a bad challenge by Benteke (less than 30 seconds after the referee had penalised Giroud for a fair challenge at the other end - no free-kick was forthcoming for Gibbs). Giroud was then shoved in the chest by Vlaar in the penalty area as he chased a ball over the top but this was ignored by Taylor.
Then we come to the second penalty which was as good a tackle as you're going to see. I've seen what those idiots Murphy and Shearer had to say on Match Of The Day but that programme lost its credibility years ago. If that's a foul then we might as well go and watch basketball instead. Having given it (the linesman, with a better angle, gave nothing) the referee clearly knew he was wrong as he again issued just a yellow card. You can often tell a lot from the reaction of players and it was clear that everyone knew the penalty was a joke. I heard John Hartson on Radio 5 on my way home saying that it wasn't a massive turning point in the game. What nonsense that is - a goal that put Villa in front and a booking that would lead to a red card a few minutes later. Of course it changed the game.
When Koscielny did get sent off it was for a challenge that saw him not touch the opponent. It wasn't a dive, but it wasn't a foul either. Gabriel Agbonlahor's behaviour in getting around the referee to call for the red card has been ignored on television, but then it's only dirty foreigners that do that, isn't it? Less than two minutes later Vlaar took out a flying Rosicky, having already been booked, and yet no red card was forthcoming.
Referees are professionals these days. They are highly paid and, in the Premier League, are officially "elite" officials. That being the case they should be publicly answerable for their decisions in the way that a Manager is. Taylor should be questioned as to why he didn't send off Vlaar. I come back to another of my oft-quoted complaints on this site - either the referee is an incompetent, or there is something more sinister going on. I have said for a long time that I consider a number of officials in this country to be worthy of investigation. Displays like yesterday merely underline my stance.
So now let's deal with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger's contribution to yesterday. I'll keep this a little more brief as I'm conscious this post has dragged on somewhat. Regardless of the referee acting as a twelfth player for Villa we had the chances to have won the game. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was excellent down the left for Arsenal and Rosicky added a genuine spark to our play with his direct running. Sadly he was also responsible for two glaring misses when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The shot he smashed miles over the bar was truly awful.
I've seen Wenger criticised for bringing on Cazorla at half-time instead of Podolski. I'm not having that. Cazorla did some travelling in midweek, but 45 minutes of action should not be beyond him. His display was abysmal when he did come on and his failure to control a football led directly to the second penalty and Koscielny's second yellow card. I would have raged at my seven year-old for such terrible attempts to trap the ball.
That's the only defence I'm going to give Wenger. Podolski and Sanogo spent most of the second-half warming up. In truth it was only ever Podolski who was going to come on. When Koscielny was sent off the two were called back to the bench. Podolski took off his tracksuit top and was ready to come on. He was then sent to sit down by Wenger. We were 2-1 down, with Aaron Ramsey playing centre-half, and the two strikers on the bench were told to sit down. The formation did not change. Even at 3-1 down we continued to play a lone striker. Surely a move to three at the back, with Podolski on for Walcott or Wilshere or whoever would have been the way to go.
When Villa went 3-1 up Arsene Wenger went and hid. As the vitriol poured from the stands he went and sat on the bench with his arms folded like a scolded child. With the injury time there was still the best part of ten minutes to go, yet the Manager had given up on the game. He should have been out on the touchline cajoling the side. He should have been making the long overdue substitution. Instead of that he went and sulked. Why should the players get any blame?
Things got even worse when Bacary Sagna got injured. Following lengthy treatment he finally was helped from the pitch. More than a minute later Podolski eventually came on. I got the impression that Podolski was seriously displeased as he hurled his tracksuit top across the bench in disgust at his belated introduction to play at left-back (still no change of formation). Why did it take so long? We played more than a minute with nine men because Wenger was sat on his hands watching but not paying any attention to what was going on. It was an insult to Podolski really. But the only other option was to bring on Emmanuel Frimpong who has not had a single minute of football since doing his cruciate while on loan at Fulham last season. If that doesn't underline the negligence of Wenger in the transfer market then I don't know what does.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Wenger's new low as he blames fans, Premier League season preview 2013-2014

It looks good in its Arsenal ribbons

I've held off from writing the annual season preview until after midday today as I wasn't sure if we would see an announcement of someone being signed in time for the Villa match tomorrow. With the injury news of Mikel Arteta being pretty disastrous I fully expected us to have done something over night. Despite what some would have you believe it is entirely possible to get business done at short notice. As it is we have done nothing at all. More on that in the preview that follows further down this post.

I was fuming last night, yet again, when I read Arsene Wenger's comments regarding Gervinho. Regular readers will know I'm not a defender of the Manager, and last night merely underlined why. Apparently Gervinho's generally awful displays were down to the pressure put on him by the supporters. What utter rot that is. If he thought he got a rough ride from us lot I dread to think what he'll make of those lovely gentlemen that make up the Ultras of AS Roma. According to our esteemed leader Gervinho was a very creative player. I suppose that was true to start with. Right up until defenders worked out he had one trick, and his only aim was to beat them on the outside and get to the byline. The trouble with one trick ponies is they don't get too far once they've been worked out. Gervinho got worked out by everyone very quickly.
According to Wenger the Ivorian found it particularly tough when playing at home. As it happens I don't think Gervinho had it too bad from the Arsenal fans. I would say that Aaron Ramsey got far worse than he did last year. The fact is that Gervinho simply wasn't good enough. I don't agree with the fans getting on a players back as it's no good to anyone. If you want to have a pop then do it at the Manager who keeps picking people who are either way off form, or way out of their depth.
I'd like to ask Mr Wenger how he explains Gervinho's display at Bradford City, and the worst miss I've ever seen from an Arsenal player, if it was home games that were the problem for him. At the end of the day Gervinho didn't have what it takes. For Arsene Wenger to have a go at the fans for his own shortcomings as a Manager is outrageous and shameful.

So the Premier League season starts tomorrow. I've been in two minds about whether to do the traditional preview this season. With the transfer window open for another two weeks the predictions I will make have every chance of looking even more stupid than they normally do. That being said, it is the traditional season opening piece on this site, so I've decided to go ahead with it. It's just a bit of fun, except the bit about Arsenal.

Aston Villa
Our opponents tomorrow have a had a pretty decent pre-season. They've got a few wins, and scored a good number of goals. Most importantly they've got Christian Benteke to stay. For me he is just about the sole reason the Villans stayed up last term, and they will be reliant upon the big Belgian once again. Can he re-produce the form of his first year in England? I suspect he can, and Villa may well step up this season. I don't really understand the treatment of Darren Bent, and I wonder if it leaves them short should Benteke get a knock. Mid-table safety for Villa.

Cardiff City
This is the first season in the Premier League for City. They won the Championship last season and their vociferous (violent?) support will follow them all round the country. As with all promoted sides they will need to get off to a good start and to have a great record at home. Thanks to that vocal following any visit to Cardiff will be uncomfortable for the opposition. Whisper it quietly, but they'd be more than happy to emulate Swansea City. Personally I wouldn't be upset to see the back of them at the end of the season, and they begin among the favourites to go down. Seventeenth position come May would be a massive achievement.

The Special One is back. Oh rejoice! All of English football is delighted to welcome Mourinho back to the Premier League. After all, it's been so dull without him. Or at least that's what Sky keeps telling me I should think. In the real World the only people happy to have Mourinho back are Chelsea supporters. His record speaks for itself, and you have to expect Chelsea to be up there challenging for just about everything. I suspect Lampard and Terry will move even further out towards the fringes at Stamford Bridge as Mourinho is happy to be ruthless. The surprise is that he's yet to strengthen his squad, apparently chasing Rooney at the expense of almost any other players. Is that folly? Something tells me Mourinho might have something up his sleeve, but quite why he's leaving it I don't really know. Top three for Chelsea, possibly Champions.

Crystal Palace
I like Crystal Palace. Selhurst Park might be a relic on three sides but it's a good away game to go to. The problem they have now is that they are managed by the self-publicist that is Ian Holloway. As with Mourinho Sky keep telling us to like Holloway because his public statements are always so funny. My aching sides are testament to that, I'm sure. I don't see any way that Palace can stay up, even though  they've brought in goalscoring talent like Chamakh. Bottom place.

The post-Moyes era will be starting, perhaps unexpectedly, with Fellaini and Baines still in place at Goodison Park. All credit to both of them for making no attempts to force transfers to more glamorous new surroundings. Roberto Martinez has taken over and is highly regarded, especially after the FA Cup win with Wigan. However, I would be very concerned about the inability to Martinez to put together a side that can defend competently. He has also brought players in from Wigan, and I'm never a fan of players who've been relegated. If he can consolidate Everton's position and challenge for a UEFA Cup place, and maybe have a good cup run or two, then Martinez will have done very well in his first year. I think they'll be top eight, but maybe not so close to the places that matter.

The addition of Darren Bent this morning could be massive for Martin Jol's men. They've been released from Al-Fayed's circus, but it remains to be seen how the new owner will invest in the Club. By bringing in Bent he's given a positive sign, albeit only a loan signing at the moment. Bent has scored goals just about everywhere he's been. Last season they really struggled and Jol was under a bit of pressure. Maarten Stekelenburg should be an improvement on the veteran Schwarzer in goal and I see Fulham not having half the troubles they did last time out. Mid-table mediocrity should be very welcome.

Hull City
The last of the promoted sides is managed by Steve Bruce. They used to be managed by Phil Brown. I hope they get relegated, and I'll be surprised if they don't.

Liverpool have certainly spent money again this summer. They've also shipped out Stewart Downing. It's difficult to assess how they will go until Luis Suarez's situation is finally sorted one way or the other. Whatever happens he won't be able to play until well in to the season. Aspas has made a decent start in pre-season, but I would worry about a midfield still reliant on Steven Gerrard. Without Carragher at the back they should be a bit quicker (although bringing in Kolo Toure was absolutely bizarre), and they are trying to strengthen the squad in all areas. I believe Simon Mignolet is the best goalkeeper in the country right now, and he is a massive improvement on Reina who has been largely awful for at least two years. If I had a worry for Liverpool it would be Brendan Rodgers. The man is David Brent being a football manager, and his constant public pronouncements on Suarez, while criticising anyone and everyone for talking about it, has not been the behaviour of a Manager at a huge Club. Top six if Suarez stays and performs properly.

Manchester City
The practice of collecting centre-forwards has not stopped with a change of boss at City. Tevez may have moved on, but Jovetic and Negredo have arrived. Pellegrini has a reputation that seems to slightly outweigh his achievements as a Manager and it will be interesting to see how he goes. With the money he has behind him, and the players in the squad, Manchester City should be right up there once again. I can see Micah Richards being more involved under the new man, which should strengthen their back four. However, if Kompany is missing for any prolonged period again they will struggle. Joe Hart is overrated in the extreme, as he proved once again on Wednesday, while we know Clichy isn't up to much. The defeat to Arsenal last week should have had alarm bells ringing and there is much work to do. Top four only for City should be considered failure.

Manchester United
David Moyes has replaced Mumm-Ra The Ever Living and the Champions may well have reached the end of an era in more ways than one. If I was a Man Utd fan I wouldn't be overly impressed with Moyes performance since he took over. No signings to speak of and a very public falling out with Wayne Rooney (Moyes can deny it all he likes, but it's clear the pair do not get on). Rooney's own public display by doing extra training less than 24 hours after Moyes told everyone he wasn't fit to play sent a certain message. They weren't particularly successful on tour, and a narrow win over relegated Wigan at Wembley means little. The players that have been so used to Ferguson have only a similar Scottish accent to compare with Moyes. It must be incredibly daunting having to follow someone like that, knowing that only winning trophies straight away will buy you any credit. United have a tough opening few matches, and I can see Moyes under real pressure early on. Last season they walked the Premier League with their weakest side in many a year. Hopefully they won't have it so easy this season. Surely Van Stapleton is due an injury, isn't he? Hopefully it comes just after Rooney has signed for Arsenal. I don't see this side winning the Title again under a new boss. Fighting for a top four place with the others for me.
Newcastle United
I'd love to see Pardew staring the down the barrel at a relegation battle. I think the man is a complete cretin. His squad is poor at the back and relies too heavily on Cabaye and Ben Arfa to do the business. The situation with Cisse and the sponsor on the shirt was a joke that threatened to de-rail the side. Bottom six for Newcastle.
Norwich City
They've bought pretty well and Gary Hooper should be a more than adequate replacement for Grant Holt, if he can keep fit. They have a very decent goalkeeper in John Ruddy who they missed badly at times last season. I've liked Hughton as a Manager in the past, but I went off him and his side with how they played at our place last season. Bottom half, but I don't think they'll go down - it might be tight for a while.
When they sacked Nigel Adkins it looked like one of those decisions that owners take that see their side get relegated. However, they went from strength to strength under the new man. Ricky Lambert had a huge impact on his England debut the other night, and Saints will again be reliant on his goals. I see them struggling this season, perhaps more than last year. A relegation battle looms, but I think they'll be okay as there is plenty of dross still in the Premier League.
Stoke City
Pulis is gone. Hooray! Hughes has replaced him. Boo! Still hope they go down.
Paolo Di Canio is a character that could either make or break his side. He's been backed in the transfer market where he's made a number of signings. He's clearly tried to use his contacts and knowledge with regards the continental market, but has he signed players of the requisite quality? If he believes Vito Mannone is an adequate replacement for Mignolet then I would argue that his choice is flawed. Could be relegated, with Di Canio out of the door fairly quickly. On the other hand they could finish top half.
Swansea City
They certainly didn't suffer from second season syndrome last time out. Michael Laudrup took them to a whole new level, with Michu the signing of the season in the Premier League. They look to have held on to their star man, and the addition of Wilfried Bony should bring even more up front. I watched the first leg of their European qualifier the other week and they looked excellent. Ashley Williams may yet be lost to Arsenal, but if they hold on to him and Michel Vorm the Swans will continue to impress. Top half, if they hold on to their players.
This is their year. And it's 1-1 at Newcastle.
West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies got off to a flier last season, and it sustained them until late on. A weaker record after Christmas maybe gave a better clue as to their overall quality, and they need to get by without the power of Romelu Lukaku. The signing of Nicolas Anelka is guaranteed to bring goals, provided they can create the chances for him to put away. Bottom half, but I expect them to be safe.
West Ham United
Liverpool is fast becoming the feeder club to this lot. A fit Andy Carroll (which is easier said than done it would seem) will cause enough problems for goals to be scored at the right end. At the back I'm not convinced by West Ham at all. They will rely heavily on the combative nature of an Allardyce assembled midfield, but I see them struggling overall. They should be relatively safe in mid-table, but it won't be pretty.
The only team any of us are actually interested in. I'll start by saying I expect us to finish within the top four at the end of the season. The side showed enough battling qualities at the end of last season to show they've developed a very good will to win. However, that wasn't enough to get us even remotely close to a poor Manchester United side.
We were told by Ivan Gazidis in May that this was the year the finances would be used on the squad. I urged caution on this very site due to the timing of Gazidis' comments, coming just a day before the season ticket renewals were due. It gives me no pleasure to have been proved right to this point. We have that same group of players that couldn't get close to the top of the table last season. However, we are now missing Mikel Arteta for at least a month and he was just about the most crucial element in the improved results.
We are relying on Olivier Giroud for the goals to win us matches up front. I don't mind Giroud. I think he's a battler, a strong front man. But he's not prolific. He misses too many chances to be really top class. The sight of him looking skywards with his hands clasped together in front of his face after missing another one is still all too familiar. The positive side is that he has had an exceptional pre-season campaign and can hopefully hit the ground running. Theo Walcott will need to chip in with more than his fair share from out wide.
The lack of signings can still be offset with new arrivals before the deadline passes in early September. The problem with that is that the season begins tomorrow. We will be well in to the season by the time we reach that stage. We could make some really big signings in the next two weeks, yet miss out on the Title having dropped early points. We could be out of the Champions League too. Not having got business done is negligent. The current injury problems in the squad merely underline the issue.
Not every signing has to be a star player, and the squad is awfully weak right now. Why risk missing out on the Title by dithering when you have the money to spend? We might still challenge for it. Obviously I hope we do. Fourth place is not enough. Football has moved on from the time when anyone could win the league, so fourth is not an achievement - it is the minimum requirement.
Regardless of the signings that may or may not be made tomorrow marks the beginning of another long season. We will have highs and we will have lows. We will win games and we will lose games. Obviously we all want a good fast start tomorrow against Aston Villa. I'm not going to hold my breath but I live in hope. Whatever happens early on in the game I hope the fans stay behind the players. It's not their fault we are so thin on the ground as the season begins. They deserve our support because they'll be wearing the red and white tomorrow. Let's give it to them loud and proud. We are THE ARSENAL.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Where is the excitement?

Remember this?
The new season begins this Saturday. Normally this is the most exciting time of the year for a football supporter. Everyone starts from the same point, and the next nine months will bring joy and thrills and despair and disappointment. It's the reason we go to watch our teams. This season I find myself not caring for the fact that we play our first game in four days time. The first game of the season should be played in glorious sunshine, with the new signings taking the stage for the first time in a real game. There is nothing like seeing those new players for the first time, and giving them their own personal reception as their names are announced. I'll never forget the buzz around the ground the first time we saw Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt, appear at Highbury. Even before the Sunderland game last season with Podolski and Cazorla lining up produced a superb atmosphere. Yet here we are with only one new player, a free transfer from the French second division, who looks like he'll miss the start of the season with an injury. It's even forecast to rain at the moment. I am not excited in the slightest. Arsenal have done nothing across the close season to make me look forward to what might lay ahead this year.
The fact is that Arsenal's squad is threadbare and lacking quality, as it was last season. Being short on numbers is really no different from last term. People will point to the number of players that have been sold, but only Gervinho was ever really involved last season from that group. His sale is offset by the arrival of Sanogo and the possible promotion of Zelalem and Gnabry. However, that team last season scraped a dismal fourth place on the final day. Any contention from Arsene Wenger that we can challenge without additions is as empty as it is embarrassing. We all know he doesn't believe that himself, so why come out with such nonsense?
The line up of the players at Members Day last week should have been a massive eye opener. There were 17 outfield players on show, including the two kids mentioned above. Arsene says he has "16 regular players" to choose from. I don't know if he's noticed, but he has to name 18 for every game. With Miyaichi, Rosicky, Sanogo, Monreal, Vermaelen and Diaby all crocked at the moment, and Walcott and Ramsey picking up knocks too, you'd have to wonder what planet the Manager is on in not adding to his options.
One of the things Wenger has claimed is that the transfer market has been slow for everyone. That is a lie. Manchester City and Spurs have signed players. Other big Clubs around Europe have signed players. Liverpool have signed players. To say that nobody has done business, just because Chelsea and Man Utd haven't, is crass and insults the supporters own intelligence. We have wasted the Summer months chasing a player I don't think we can buy. We could have had Higuain in place already. We could have had Fellaini in place. We could actually have had Wayne Rooney had we offered the same to Man Utd for him as we offered to Liverpool for Suarez. As it is we have two goalkeepers, neither of whom are good enough. We have two fit centre-backs. We have no defensive minded midfield player, with Mikel Arteta's professionalism getting us out of trouble for most of last season. We have one centre-forward. The gaps are obvious to everyone. Yet we've seen no movement to address the issues.
The Champions League qualifier looms large on the horizon. Olivier Giroud has been superb in pre-season and has to play. So what happens if he gets injured on Saturday against Villa? We will be going to Turkey with either Podolski or Walcott playing the lone striker role. The evidence that neither player is genuinely capable of doing that job is overwhelming. Considering that the last season finished three months ago it really is negligent to allow ourselves to be gambling like this.
Those that would choose to defend Wenger and the lack of transfers have gone through their full list of annual excuses. We are now on to the final two. The first being that "he's waiting to see if we get through the Champions League qualifier" and the second that "the transfer window doesn't close until September 2nd". Neither of these has any merit. In terms of the first one it is obvious that strengthening before the qualifier gives you a better chance to actually get through. The second is a joke when you consider that the season starts this week - we will be well in to the season by the time we get to September. Let's just say we drop four or five points (or worse) in the first few games, before doing our late transfer business, and then miss out on winning the Title by three points, or fail to get through in the Champions League. Would it not have been worth doing business a little earlier? There simply is no defence when everyone knows we have so much money available.
I'll leave you with one more thing of major concern. There has been a rumour bubbling under for the last couple of months linking Arsenal to a £4m move for Gareth Barry. He is out of favour at Manchester City. He will be available on the cheap. He would be a typical Wenger signing, designed to annoy everyone who wants money spent. In short he would be the new Mikael Silvestre. I would not be surprised to see it happen. And that doesn't fill me with excitement either (especially as Mathieu Flamini is currently training with Arsenal and available on a free - who would you sign?)

Friday, 2 August 2013

The muddled mind of Ian Wright, Emirates Cup preview

A bit of action for the home fans

Ian Wright has been taken on again by the BBC. This time he will be co-presenting the Sunday night 6-0-6 show alongside Kelly Cates (formerly Kelly Dalglish). I'm not too sure why they haven't given the pair the flagship Saturday evening show as they'd be a far more listenable duo than Mark Chapman and the cretinous Robbie Savage. Frankly any programme with Robbie Savage on it should never make it to air. I'm quite looking forward to hearing Wrighty on a Sunday, as long as he realises he needs to practise what he preaches - he has already said the show is about "the fans", so let's see if he can remember that when he starts shouting the odds.
As part of Wrighty's contract it would seem we might get some output from him via the BBC website as well. Sadly, if his weekly column in The Sun is anything to go by it won't be great reading for Gooners. Today he has started having a pop at the Club already. He rightly states that we need signings, top signings, to compete (thought I wouldn't agree we're quite in the dire straits he claims we are with his list of weak positions). However, he then goes on to say that Luis Suarez would be making a mistake by joining Arsenal. I couldn't quite believe what I was reading. Here is Ian Wright, Arsenal legend, self-proclaimed Gooner, telling our number one transfer target to go and join a better Club than Arsenal. Then Wright wonders why a lot of Arsenal fans give him stick. Could you honestly imagine Thierry Henry coming out with that kind of tosh?
Those with a sharp memory will recall there was another occasion when Ian Wright told one of Arsenal's transfer targets to go and join someone else. On that occasion it was his son, Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was advised to sign for Chelsea instead. It wasn't a great career move, was it? After all, it cost him a place in the World Cup squad the following year, and he spent most of his Stamford Bridge career getting splinters in his backside. I hope someone can let Luis Suarez know that Ian Wright doesn't often give out the best careers advice.
It's Emirates Cup weekend and that means that the home supporters get their first views of the new Arsenal squad (cough). At least they'll get to see Gonzalo Higuain making his debut, albeit not for Arsenal but against them instead. I do hope there are no fools out there planning on barracking Higuain - he didn't "choose" Napoli, Arsenal chose not to meet Real Madrid's valuation. If you want to give anyone stick over Higuain not becoming an Arsenal player then aim it at the Arsenal dugout. For what it's worth I can see Higuain wanting to make something of a point tomorrow, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him give our defence a tough time. The man is a finisher supreme and I fully expect him to score against Arsenal.
I believe both days have now sold out, which comes as a slight surprise. I suspect a lot of the tickets have been snapped up by the Turkish contingent living in North London. I'm not going to rake over the coals of the invitation afforded to Galatassaray again. I expressed my dismay at the whole episode in this piece some months ago.
It says a lot about those that run the Arsenal website that they have focused much of the attention this weekend on the return of Emmanuel Eboue. These cretins are so out of touch with the supporters that they think we all love Eboue. He has been set up as some kind of modern day Perry Groves. I suppose they are similar in a way - neither of them were very good. I actually admire Eboue for the way he recovered from his treatment at the Wigan game when he had to be taken off for his own good. However, he soon returned to the annoying, ineffective, diving fool he had been before. Lest we forget, Eboue was so bad that even Arsene Wenger had to sell him in the end. He wasn't much different towards the end of his Arsenal career to Andre Santos. Even today the official website have got Jack Wilshere singing Eboue's praises. It's really quite frightening. One thing about Perry Groves was that his effort for Arsenal could never be questioned. Perry was and is a Gooner. Eboue was just a joke for the most part.
In the Title for this post I've put "Emirates Cup Preview" but to be honest there isn't really anything to preview from an Arsenal point of view. The squad is pretty much as it was, at the moment, in terms of who we'll see when the season actually starts. Yaya Sanogo might make his first appearance at some point in the weekend, and Santi Cazorla will probably get a run-out of some sort. Gedion Zelalem and Serge Gnabry (and Damian Martinez, with Szczesny still struggling) are still around the first-team and I expect them to be involved too. Apart from that it's nothing much to report. I hope that those in attendance get entertained by a couple of Arsenal wins - the winning habit is a nice one to have, as I've stated before. I also hope things pass off peacefully, but I suspect they may not. I don't have BT Sport so I don't know if I'll get to see any of the action.
I'll try to write a brief post at some point on Sunday evening in order to round up the weekend. Until then, let's hope Sanogo out performs Higuain.