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Monday, 30 September 2013

The one that got away comes to visit again - Napoli (h) match preview

How things were meant to be

Gonzalo Higuain plays his second game against Arsenal tomorrow since he was supposed to have signed for us in the early part of the Summer. There is no doubt in my mind that Higuain (or a different World Class striker) is the missing piece in Arsenal's jigsaw at the moment, if only for the extra quality, cover and competition that he would provide in that area of the squad. That Higuain is playing for Napoli is a failure of Arsenal to get business done when they should have. I don't care that Real Madrid might have moved the goalposts late on, because that's business. The fact is that any agreement Arsenal might have thought they had with Madrid is not worth anything unless it's signed, sealed and delivered. I'm certain that Higuain was keen to play for us, and that agreement was in place with him and his people. I hope he doesn't come back to haunt us tomorrow night. We've already drawn 2-2 in pre-season with his new side, but tomorrow it's an altogether more important fixture. I also hope that there's none of the ridiculous pantomime booing of Higuain that was heard from the pre-season football tourists at the Emirates Cup.
Tomas Rosicky is back in the squad tomorrow, just in time to allow him to go off and play for the Czech Republic again in a couple of weeks from now. It's a welcome return of experience to the squad and no little quality. When Rosicky is available he usually seems to play from the start, and if that happens tomorrow it will be either Jack Wilshere or Serge Gnabry that drop to the bench. Ju Young Park also trained with the squad again today, but I'd be amazed if that's any more than a shirt selling exercise (Champions League training is open to the press). Any other changes would, I think, be unlikely.
Following the win in Marseille a couple of weeks ago we now go in to home matches knowing that we can win this group. Napoli and Dortmund are both hanging around at the top of their national leagues, just like Arsenal, but there is nothing for us to fear. As with other years we need to take as many points as possible from our home games. With three points in the bag from our first away game we are already off an running. If any side in the Champions League gets to ten points and still doesn't go through they can consider themselves unlucky. A win tomorrow night and we're more than half way there. If I have a concern it's that Rafael Benitez is the boss at Napoli. His record in European competition is exceptional, including last seasons UEFA Cup win with Chelsea. He has the tactical plans to beat Arsene Wenger's teams, and has done so in the past. In truth I might be happy with a draw tomorrow, but the need to win those home matches might overtake that once we get started. It's another big game, and we can't keep winning them all. Can we?

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Gibbs and Szczesny shine in Wales

Outstanding again at Swansea

Two points clear at the top of the Premier League. Who’d have thought it after we were Anthony Taylor’d in the first game against Villa? It is a huge credit to the players (and the Manager and coaches) that Arsenal are in this position. Of course there are 32 games to go before we judge anything but credit is due to all concerned. Something feels right about Arsenal at the moment and I hope it continues for a long time. Arsene Wenger and Aaron Ramsey are a stick on for the monthly Premier League awards for September so let’s hope the curse isn’t about to strike us.
The game at Swansea was a little odd. In the first-half we just weren’t in the game. I felt that it was our back-four against the whole Swansea side. The passing wasn’t in our game and the midfield looked seriously off the pace, leaving Olivier Giroud very isolated up front. It was like that right up until the 46th minute when Serge Gnabry (who seems to grow in to games) decided it was time for something a bit different. His run past two or three defenders, and a perfectly weighted pass for Giroud, provided a spark of inspiration. Giroud should have scored (finishing is still his weak point) but the players seemed to pick up where they left off when the game re-started.
After half-time we looked a yard quicker. Suddenly our passes were finding their targets and the movement was so much better. The pressure that Swansea had been able to build on Arsenal’s defence was not so in evidence in the second-half and Kieran Gibbs completely dominated the left of the pitch (I fear for us if we come up against a side with the quality to expose Wilshere’s lack of positional sense, however). Again Gnabry ran at his man and got a shot away for our first on target in the match.
It’s becoming a little familiar for sustained possession from Arsenal to result in a goal. The players seem able, at times, to build up a period of pressure that sees the opposition dragged out of position slightly. To then be able to expose those gaps is a mark of the quality we currently seem to be producing. Passing and moving at pace when we go forward is something these players seem to have realised is important. When they do it, as they did for Gnabry’s goal, it is pretty close to unstoppable. Gnabry’s finish was first rate, but so was the build-up, even before Ramsey’s exquisite reverse pass to the young German.
For five minutes after that we tore Swansea to shreds on the break. Ozil should have got a goal for himself but he delayed too long and allowed the goalkeeper to get close to him. When the second goal did come it was another pacy move forward, featuring a magnificent challenge by Jack Wilshere to set up the play. I was just screaming at Giroud for not shooting in to an open goal when Ramsey found the top corner. I never want to see my centre-forward passing in such a situation, but Ramsey is confident at the moment that he made beating his man and shooting in to the top corner look easy.
We sat back a little after that when we might have gone on and scored a goal or two more. With our propensity to concede a goal this is always a dangerous ploy from Arsenal. Wilshere played a ridiculous back-pass that saw Szczesny have to make a good save, and I felt it was a bit of a feature from Jack on the day. He seemed to be trying to do something spectacular, or too clever, far too often which would lead to us losing the ball. The comparisons to Aaron Ramsey’s play this time last year were stark, for me. Maybe when a young player is struggling for form, fitness and confidence, they try to “superstar” their way out of it by attempting to pull off the clever trick instead of just keeping it simple. It will come back for Jack, of course, but with other players getting fit it would do no harm for him to be taken out of the firing line – playing out of position is doing him no good either, just as it didn’t Ramsey.
Swansea’s goal came from the only poor piece of defending form us in the game. Bacary Sagna went to sleep for the first time this season and it cost us a goal. It was a shame because the defence and Szczesny deserved a clean sheet for their display.
Szczesny played his best game for Arsenal yesterday as far as I’m concerned. When he first came on the scene I felt it was a feature of his game that he would come for crosses and catch them. That has been absent for a long time now. Today it very much returned, and it makes such a difference to the side. In injury-time when we were hanging on a bit he came and caught three different balls in to the box. It took all the pressure off. I have no doubt that this time last year we’d have drawn 2-2, but Szczesny took command of his penalty area in a way that we haven’t seen from an Arsenal goalkeeper since Jens Lehmann. Long may it continue.
Next up it’s Napoli in the Champions League. Hopefully the players will have had a little rest before that one. Napoli are top of the Serie A so we’re in for a tough night on Tuesday. One or two changes might be in order, but it was reported on Twitter last night that Serge Gnabry has now been added to our Champions League squad having met the qualification criteria for U21 players. I hope that’s right as he is a far better option than Ryo Miyaichi. I hope to do a proper preview of the match on Monday evening.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Get behind the players for God's sake

Nicklas Bendtner of Arsenal Football Club

Nicklas Bendtner will make his return to the pitch this evening in an Arsenal shirt. It seems that opinion is more than a bit mixed with regards the big Dane. From what I can see he is being hung out to dry by many for asserting that he had no wish to play for Arsenal again after being loaned to Sunderland two years ago. As ill-advised as he may have been to say such a thing you have to consider the fact that he was being loaned out because he was behind Van Persie and Chamakh in the Arsenal pecking order, and we were about to sign Park (who also returns to the Arsenal squad tonight) as well.
In the previous season Bendtner had been the main reason for us getting to the League Cup Final, with his superb individual effort against Ipswich not only turning the semi-final our way, but capping a brilliant tournament for him. He was then left out of the side at Wembley in favour of Tomas Rosicky who, at the time, was about as far removed from playing like a top level footballer as it's possible to be. When Nick finally got on the pitch he was out on the left wing. He had spent most of the past couple of years playing on the right wing. Is it any wonder he wasn't keen to make a return to play for Arsenal? He was well known for his high opinion of his own ability, yes, but he was still a very young boy. Didn't we all say stupid things when we were younger? The difference is that the comments of a high profile international footballer are always going to be amplified. When you're someone who has also developed a reputation for fancying himself a bit you really don't stand a chance.
I blame Matthew Le Tissier for a lot of the way Bendtner has been perceived thanks to a rabid media. Bear with me on this. Le Tissier is an incredibly embittered individual who chose to waste his talent behind a beer-gut and a wish to always be a big fish in the smallest of ponds down at The Dell. Don't get me wrong, he was an exceptional footballer but he never had any ambition. He could have gone just about anywhere he wanted in this Country, but he wasn't bothered. Maybe he lacked a bit of bottle. Perhaps that's why Glenn Hoddle didn't want him playing for his England side. In fact successive England bosses chose to overlook Le Tissier, so there must have been something that they didn't fancy about him. For some reason Le Tissier took against Nicklas Bendtner and would go out of his way to have a pop at our boy whenever he could on Soccer Saturday. I remember very well him going in to a long diatribe when Nick wore a pair of pink boots. His main contention was that Bendtner hadn't earned the right to wear coloured boots and "who does he think he is?" was the main thrust of Le Tissier's argument. I can think of worse things than coloured boots. After all, I don't remember him going in to one about John Terry's off field behaviour at a young age - peeing on a bar at the Christmas party anyone? Put together with Bendtner's comments about wanting to prove he could be the best striker in the World, which were deliberately twisted and misrepresented in the press, this created the idea that Bendtner was too big for those pink boots. There is no doubt that Bendtner thought he was better than he really was, but that didn't make him a bad player. Far from it in fact. However, the die was cast with many people and Bendtner was marked out.
Those who have been reading this site for the last three years will know that I was always a big defender of Nicklas Bendtner. His goals to starts ratio at Arsenal is pretty good for a young player, especially when you consider how rarely he played in his real position. He was also just about the only player in the squad for a couple of years that could deliver a cross. Unfortunately he couldn't also be in the middle to finish them off. Bendtner is a beast in the air and, as a man with a winning goal against Tottenham to his name, he should get a far smoother ride from Arsenal fans than he has. I made a point of applauding his name when it was announced on Sunday, amid a mixture of cheers and groans. I even have his name and number printed on one of my old shirts.
I met Nicklas Bendtner a couple of years ago and he seemed to me to be far more grounded than the press would have you believe. At that time he was on loan at Sunderland and was out injured. He seemed quite open to maybe having to return to Arsenal. He did okay, though no better than that, in a poor side up there. He struggled badly with form and injury at Juventus last season. Perhaps those experiences have opened his eyes to what he has suddenly been offered the chance to have with Arsenal. Playing with better players he might yet fulfil his considerable potential. It's certainly make or break for Bendtner and you get the impression from his public statements (albeit given on advice from people close to him, I'm sure) that he's a lad who knows this is it. I gave up on Bendtner over the last couple of years and saw him as a player I didn't want at Arsenal. I thought he'd become a waste of space. Maybe he had. But the fact is that he is now back at Arsenal. He is in the team tonight. He is the only real back up option to Olivier Giroud. At the very least he deserves the benefit of the doubt. More than that, he deserves to be given the proper support of the fans. Okay, he has some ground to make up and some bridges to build, but as long as he's pulling on a shirt with an Arsenal cannon on the front of it he'll get my backing. I hope he gets yours too. He is Nicklas Bendtner and he plays for Arsenal Football Club.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Giroud the man against Stoke, Epic fail from Arsenal's merchandising again

Outstanding against Stoke's massive oafs

I'm disappointed today. Not with the football, obviously, but with the fact that the Stoke fans appear to be a less rabid bunch post-Pulis. Not one of them bit at yesterday's blog post which I was certain would bring at least one out of his hovel to have a go. No matter.
It wasn't Arsenal's best performance so far this season, but if we play like that and win 3-1 every week I will be one happy punter. It's fair to say we created next to nothing against Stoke, but then they didn't either. As a spectacle I suspect the neutral viewers on Sky will have been largely underwhelmed. For those of us in the ground it wasn't exactly inspiring, but we had the first home view of Mesut Ozil to keep us smiling. After about five minutes he controlled a ball out of the air on the end of his foot and drew a gasp from the crowd, such was the quality of his first touch. To be honest he was not really at it in open play yesterday. Sometimes the passing was a little bit off, and I had the distinct feeling that he was keeping it just a little bit too simple. On the one or two occasions he allowed himself to play the little German had us purring. There was one move in the first-half, right in front of the away fans, where he dummied to go past the full-back on the outside, and then did it anyway. It immediately put me in mind of Robert Pires setting up Freddie Ljungberg at Anfield just before Christmas 2001 having just left Gerrard standing. Sadly Ozil's ball across the box was mis-hit, but when he settles in you have to think we're in for a few treats.
The injury to Theo Walcott saw Serge Gnabry make a surprise and impressive first Premier League start. As with Ozil he chose to take it steady, which was probably a combination of nerves and instruction from the Manager. Having said that I was extremely impressed by Gnabry, as I have been I the past. His strength on the ball was a real feature as Stoke's players found that he was a youngster who couldn't be bullied out of possession. His full-back had to be substituted which is most certainly a triumph for a kid on his debut. He got back to support Sagna time and again, which was entirely necessary against a Stoke side whose only discernible tactic was to hit high balls out to Arnautovic on their right hand side (I'm not having it that they are playing more football these days - yes there was more passing, but ultimately it was a game based on high balls and physicality). Huth's foul on Gnabry was typical of the man, the team and the Manager. Gnabry, to his credit, got up and came back for more. I hope to see a lot the young German this season.
The star of Arsenal's show yesterday had to be Olivier Giroud. As ever he was up front on his own. He was up against Huth and Shawcross who were barging, elbowing and kicking him at every opportunity. I dread to think how bruised Giroud must be today. He won every header against Stoke's centre-backs, which must be virtually unheard of. Arsenal didn't get quite enough support around Giroud, especially late on when the players were obviously tired. However, his strength was a joy to behold and I was delighted with him. Yes, his finishing can still improve (he went a bit Lee Chapman when Ozil set him up in the second-half) but not many defenders will relish facing him having watched his start to the season (or since Christmas, to be fair to him). With Nicklas Bendtner back on the bench yesterday (in some not very under stated bright yellow boots) there is a credible back-up option available which might afford Giroud the occasional rest, and that is most welcome.
I have one or two other observations to make from yesterday.  Firstly the referee, Mike Dean, was his usual arrogant self. He let Huth and Shawcross away with plenty. He allowed Charlie Adam to be constantly in his ear while he was on the pitch. He missed all sorts. Yet, in the final minute, he booked Stephen Ireland for nothing more than a trip. Ireland clearly went for the ball, but was fractionally late. Nobody was hurt (or ever likely to be in that sort of tackle) so I can only assume that Dean was booking Ireland simply because of who he is. It summed up Dean and the way he behaves as a referee. He should have been off the panel years ago, but he's still there making it up as he goes along.
The second thing I wanted to point out was Stoke's failure to use Peter Crouch. The Freak has an amazing scoring record against Arsenal, at various Clubs. It was odd enough that he shouldn't start the match, but to then not get sent on at 2-1 or 3-1 down is beyond my understanding. He was sent out to warm up just as Sagna was about to score our third goal, but then Jermaine Pennant came on instead. I'm sure the Stoke fans must have been confused, too. Well, even more confused than their normal state.
Finally I want to talk about the fact that we got three goals, but none from open play. For too long set-pieces have been more luck than judgement at Arsenal. There has been no method, no idea that something has been rehearsed. Frankly, that has made them wasted opportunities. I said a couple of years ago that we had started turning dead-ball situations in to open play, such was the reluctance to put the ball in to the box. I'd like to think that, with the arrival of Ozil, someone has noticed that we now have a player capable of putting the ball exactly where they want to. The delivery to the near post, on two occasions, must have had Steve Bould smiling. Maybe it was a happy coincidence, but I hope we've added another string to our bow - it will make defending against Arsenal even more difficult. It's been a long time since Marwood, Limpar, Davis and Merson were playing inch-perfect set-piece balls, so let's hope Ozil is taking up the mantle.
Before the game I went in to the All Arsenal Shop with the intention of getting "Ozil 11" printed on my away shirt. I also intended to join the photo outside The Armoury of the Gooners in their Ozil shirts. As I was about to join the queue I was informed by one of the staff that the Premier League printing for Ozil 11 was unavailable for away shirts, and it was the same situation in The Armoury. This was Ozil's home debut. The away shirt is the new strip for this season. They've had three weeks to ensure they had stock of this, surely knowing that there would be customers aplenty for it at this match. Yet again Arsenal, supposedly an American-run, near billion-pound business, have failed to meet demand for something in their shops. It happens every Christmas with anything remotely popular, which is then never re-stocked despite obvious demand. For something as simple as the shirt printing to be unavailable is just completely unacceptable. Money that would have been spent at the Club by plenty of people yesterday was thrown away because Arsenal continues to employ incompetents in this area of their operation. It's not rocket science, is it?

Sunday, 22 September 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Mark Hughes pre-match team talk for Arsenal v Stoke


Mark Hughes gave his pre-match tactical talk to the Stoke players at their London hotel last night. My spies were able to listen in on the master at work and have furnished me with a transcript of Sparky’s inspirational message:
“Right lads, we’ve got the press fooled good and proper. They seem to think that, because I played for Man Utd and Barcelona, my teams like to get the ball on the floor and pass around the opposition. I suppose, compared to Pulis, they aren’t far wrong but, let’s be honest, we prefer being hoof the ball merchants. Every side I’ve managed has realised that I like a good, old fashioned, physical tear up, with the ball spending as little time on the floor as possible. The only thing I want to see on the floor are opposition players! We’re alright for flair because we’ve got you, Jermaine Pennant. Just make sure don’t overdo any of that fancy crap. I know you played a couple of games for this lot so you must have some technical ability, but forget that – this is Stoke, and I’m Mark Hughes. If that Kieran Gibbs comes near you I want you to belt him, got it?
When I was a player I knew how to rough up a defender. There wasn’t a centre-half in England that didn’t feel the point of my right elbow at some time. I want you lot to realise that’s the way forward for this country. Have you got that John Walters? And don’t you dare take a f***ing penalty, neither.
Robbie Savage knew what I was talking about. I remember the FA Cup semi-final in 2005 when I sent him on to do a proper job on that cocky little p***k Fabregas. Robbie went right in on his knee. Nice one. Fair dos they stuffed us 3-0, but we left proper bruises, oh yes. Van Persie needed stitches in his gob after Andy Todd had got to him. Okay he’d just stuck away his second goal at that point, but Toddy made sure he was out of the game after that! That’s what I want to see from you lot in midfield – especially you Charlie Adam. Who knows, one day you could be the new Robbie Savage – it could be your privilege to make tea and biscuits on a Saturday night for Lineker and Shearer. If that’s not incentive then I don’t know what is.
This lot have got this German that they’ve paid money for – Oliz or something, he’s called. I bet he can’t do it on a wet Tuesday in Febuary at our place. Let him think it’s like that tomorrow. Huthy, I want you to let him know what it’s like to be a real German in the Premier League. Put “das boot” in on him and send him through the air like one of them doodlebugs.
Ryan, you know what to do with the other one in midfield – but try not to shatter his leg too badly this time, after all we’re all Welshmen together, aren’t we? Just a small fracture of the tibia ought to do, eh?
As for the rest of you, don’t forget that the way to beat Arsenal is to get in to them. They keep saying it on TV so let’s not let anyone down. The fans don’t want to see this namby pamby passing rubbish. Long ball and boot the opposition, that’s what this country is all about. I should know, I’ve been a success as a Manager.
I want to give you one real instruction to take in to the game boys. If you remember nothing else, just remember this – f***ing kick the soft, southern, foreign c***s!”
And a very good morning to all you Stoke fans out there.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Results of the unexpected - Arsenal set records in Marseille

Unheard of technique from Theo

I was at work yesterday evening and was intending to avoid the result in order to watch the game "as live" when I got home. The office I was in has Sky News on the TV at all times so hearing the score was an inevitable consequence. I still watched the game when I got home, just minus the jeopardy of worrying about the outcome.
The first-half saw us not finding our customary passing game. Marseille were dangerous down our left, where Wilshere and Ozil clearly don't much fancy playing in the wide area. Kieran Gibbs did brilliantly given the lack of help from in front. Put together with a superb goal line clearance, following a cock-up between Mertesacker and Szczesny, and his assist for Theo's opener (the first good cross Gibbs has put in for ages - amazing what happens when you get the ball in the air and past the first defender) there was only one Man of the Match contender in my view.
In the post match interviews Sky's Nick Collins asked both Aaron Ramsey and Arsene Wenger if the "first goal came at the right time?" I'd like to know what the wrong time is to open the scoring. As crap football cliché's go that must be right up there at the very top of the list. When it did come it was a super strike from Theo Walcott. Arsene was right when he said it was probably the most difficult chance he's had all season. I would never have believed that Theo had the technique to strike an outrageously difficult volley like that. It truly was an outstanding piece of individual skill. Hopefully it provides Theo with the necessary confidence to start putting chances away again.
The second goal had an element of fortune as I think Ramsey's shot would have been easily saved without the deflection. Having said that it was another example of why Arsenal players should have a poke a lot more often. Frank Lampard has proved down the years that a well struck effort, taking a deflection, will often fly past the goalkeeper. With players like Ramsey, Arteta, Cazorla, Ozil, Wilshere, even Vermaelen, we should be seeing more efforts from outside the penalty area. One feature of our play that has frustrated me for years has been the square passing across the penalty area, and a massed defence, when just having a go might create something in itself. If you don't buy a ticket etc...
Marseille's penalty looks like it may have been soft. I was impressed that Ramsey looked angry with himself afterwards. It showed that he wants to be eradicating silly errors, and the way he miscontrolled the ball in the lead up to the spot-kick was the sort of thing he was getting panned for a year ago. I have no problem with players wanting to achieve something approaching perfection in the their game and, more than that, being annoyed when they don't.
So it's now ten away wins in a row. That was completely unthinkable after the Spurs game last season. The win at Bayern Munich was completely crucial. Alan Smith played it down last night on Sky with the idea that Munich didn't really play in that game. I would suggest that Lukasz Fabianski's display on the night would tell you otherwise. Since that defeat at Tottenham our record is:
P18 W15 D2 L1 F36 A11
That is an outstanding run by any measure. Four of those eighteen games have been in the Champions League, three of those four away from home. Two goals per game shows an upturn in the attacking side of our game and, while the defending could still be better at times, those 11 goals are punctuated by at least five penalties (or rebounds from penalties). It's the sort of run that brings Club Level season ticket holders to matches. It's also the sort of run that will bring the confidence required to challenge, and maybe win trophies. The squad still looks one or two players short, as you can see by the bench last night, and respite for a number of players is a long way off. It's a bridge that will eventually have to be crossed, I'm sure. In the meantime I'm really enjoying it. I haven't felt this good about Arsenal for a good few years now. Looking forward to Sunday already.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Aaron Ramsey - an apology

Showing some real class

Before he had his leg smashed by that boneheaded idiot at Stoke Aaron Ramsey had been getting in to the Arsenal midfield on merit. He had produced some excellent displays and scored one or two goals too. He was rapidly becoming a fans favourite and looked another inspired Wenger signing. All that changed, of course, with his leg hanging off that evening. His return to the side was naturally met with warmth and he capped it with a superb display against Manchester United which included the winning goal. After that it all went a bit wrong.
I think the performance and goal against United probably skewed all our views. He was so good that we probably assumed he'd got over the leg break and was going to pick up from where he had left off. This was clearly stupid of us all. When you stop to think about it you see that none of us can even begin to understand the balance of Ramsey's mind. Every time he went near a big defender he must have been concerned it was going to happen again. How long does it take for your confidence to be restored so much that you can play without necessarily expecting some thug to take you out? How many times do you have to take a decent whack on the damaged leg before realising it's not just going to snap again? The psychological trauma must be unreal. Then there is the physical side. The recovery that allows you to run and kick a ball is long enough. But how about building up the genuine strength in that leg to allow you to play the sort of all action running game that Ramsey plays? I think the fact that, since the start of his run in the side (I would say since the Spurs away game last season), he has been among Arsenal's best players we can assume it takes at least 18 months.
This time last year I think he'd reached the very bottom. Ramsey had struggled badly in the season before as he was used at the front of the midfield, effectively having to replace Cesc Fabregas. He was off the pace, and often far too ponderous on the ball. When he got a chance to score a goal you might as well have not bothered. All of this was in marked contrast with before the injury. Last year he found himself playing wide right, or even at right-back on too many occasions (of which just one would be too many). Not being played in his own position certainly did not help Aaron Ramsey to regain his form. The Manager has to take more than his share of the blame, as well as being given a pat on the back for his persistence with the boy.
I was as guilty as most in criticising Aaron Ramsey over the last year. I had sympathy for him at times because he was being played out of position, but he simply didn't seem good enough for Arsenal anymore. Obviously he was a different player to the one that we'd been watching before Shawcross got to him. It was clear to me that Shawcross had ended the chances Ramsey had of being a player at the very top level. The fact that it was the broken leg that had caused this was neither here nor there, however. Ramsey wasn't good enough and never would be. I would cringe and moan when he'd be brought on, or moved wide, at a time when we would need a goal. He was so slow, and caught in possession so often, that putting him in to the mix was absolutely pointless. The crowd got at him (though he was never booed) and he was on the verge of replacing Eboue in the minds of some (the presence of Gervinho meant that particular slot was already taken).
I have now to apologise to Aaron Ramsey as he is back in the side on merit. He is playing the same level of football (in fact it's probably better) that he was before that evening at Stoke. There is an extra yard of pace in his game. He doesn't hold the ball unnecessarily, and uses it quickly to put us on the attack. He is making his own hard tackles, showing that he might just have got over the doubts in his mind. The goals he is scoring at the moment are exactly what we thought we were going to get from him as a teenager.
It is a matter of fact that we were all far too harsh on Aaron Ramsey. Any Arsenal supporter that says they always knew he was going to be this good is a liar. Even Arsene Wenger appears surprised at the turnaround in Ramsey from this time last year. I am delighted for Ramsey that he is showing such form. We have to hope that he continues to play like this, and get even better. I wonder if Jack Wilshere, having been out for a similar amount of time (and at a similar age) to Ramsey, might benefit from the level of hindsight we're all getting right now. Jack might well be given the time to find his feet again in a way that Aaron wasn't. Let's hope so.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Lucky Arsenal? We must be a threat all of a sudden - Sunderland 1 - 3 Arsenal

Stars of the show

My God Arsenal were lucky yesterday, weren't they? It's not as though they deserved to be four or five goals ahead before half-time. You'll guess from my sarcasm that I am very much enjoying the crying that's going on in the media in the aftermath of the win at Sunderland. It's been a long time since we've been on the right end of a bad refereeing decision but you'd think we were getting everything our way to listen to all that's being said at the moment. The most enjoyable thing about it is that it means one or two are worried about Arsenal this season. For the last few years we've been very much the cute little puppy dog that gets a pat on the head, and an "aww isn't he lovely" with our passing game and lack of teeth when the going gets tough. The surest sign that we were miles away from the top was that Alex Ferguson wasn't spitting out his usual bile in our direction in recent seasons. After the opening day defeat (largely due to awful refereeing against us, lest we forget) I think most of us were convinced we were in for more of the same. The players have been outstanding since then with a magnificent run of 5 straight wins. The signing of Ozil has also moved the goal posts. Arsenal are suddenly quite close to being a dangerous dog again in the Premier League. If Vermaelen can find his true form and be added to Wilshere and Flamini's bite in the midfield we could head back towards being the snarling, vicious force of yesteryear. I'll stop the canine metaphors there as I realise they're utter nonsense, but I hope you take the point. If the press are getting at us then it surely means that Arsenal are doing something right on the pitch. Long may it continue.
The game itself yesterday saw a sublime first-half from Arsenal's players. The match would have been out of sight for the hosts had Theo Walcott not been uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal. I've always said that finishing was very much Theo's strong point, but he's missed more than his share already this season, even before yesterday. With Ozil pulling the strings as he did yesterday Theo could use his pace to fill his boots as the season progresses, but he'll need to reset the radar. Marseilles would be a good place to break his duck this week.
Arsenal's first goal yesterday was breath taking in its execution. Ozil saw the space behind Sunderland's right-back and Kieran Gibbs delivered a ball over the top. It was the first touch from the German that was the highlight for me. Only the top players can control a ball over the shoulder, on the run, and in to their path to allow a first time pass of perfect weight like that. Most English players can only dream of such a touch. Some things can't be taught, of course, and that sort of talent is God given. It sums up Alan Shearer that he glossed over it on Match of the Day last night (as well as his other punditry being fourth or fifth rate). I can not begin to do that piece of control any justice in print. If you haven't seen it then you have to get yourself a chance to see it on TV or online. If it's a taste of things to come then we are in for some very sweet treats at Arsenal this season. Incidentally, Charlie Wyett (in today's Sun) has described Sunderland as "commendable but naïve" for not giving Ozil the physical treatment. Is it any wonder that English players can't produce moments of utter class like that?
Ozil didn't stop there. After creating that goal for Giroud (who took it superbly and was outstanding again) he laid on most of those chances for Theo Walcott. As I said above, we should have been out of sight by half-time. Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil were simply untouchable for an outclassed Sunderland midfield. Having failed to kill the game off it was no surprise to see a different contest after the break.
The introduction of the more energetic, and more physical (downright dirty) Craig Gardener gave Sunderland a huge jolt. They got the penalty after a silly challenge from King Koscielny. If he has a major weakness in his game it is that he dives in like that just a little too often. Yesterday Johnson was moving away from goal, and Gibbs was also getting round on the cover. Koscielny switches off at times, and is not aware of what's around him. It's almost Senderos-esque, if you like. Don't get me wrong, Koscielny gets things right far more often than he gets them badly wrong, but those errors tend to end up in an opposition goal nine times out of ten.
After the goal we were really under the cosh. We were fortunate that Steven Fletcher was even further behind the rest of the Arsenal defence than Carl Jenkinson was when seeing a goal chalked off for offside. The Corporal needs to concentrate more as he was fully five yards behind the other three, who had all held a good line. Maybe Jenkinson missed the communication of Per Mertesacker alongside him yesterday, but he's experienced enough now to know the need to be switched on, especially when he's looking straight along the line like that. There was also a free-kick that hit the post, but offside had already been correctly flagged for after Ki had tried to head the ball at goal from four yards out (Davey Provan on Sky should learn the offside rule) though quite why Szczesny wasn't stepping off his line to catch that ball I can only wonder.
Arsenal finally regained some composure and held on to the ball better. This led directly to a couple of minutes where we got on top again, and Ramsey converted Jenkinson's fine pass with a volley of incredible power. It was only when I watched it again on Sky last night that I realised just how hard he hit the ball. The goalkeeper was actually quite close to where the ball went, but such was the power generated from Ramsey's boot that he didn't stand a chance. It showcased an outstanding piece of technique from Ramsey.
Of course, a couple of minutes later came the turning point of the game. It really was a terrible piece of refereeing from Mr Atkinson, though it was unusual for him to give something in our favour. At 2-2 it would have been a different game (though I firmly believe Arsenal were well worth their result after that first-half display and three outstanding goals). Quite why he blew so early, and he had blown the whistle before Altidore broke free of Sagna, I really don't know. Again, why can he not be questioned about it after the game? Given that Altidore scored I would say that it must have been a clear goalscoring opportunity, so why was Sagna not red carded? I suppose you could argue that Sagna didn't deny Altidore the opportunity, but the referee did, so why should Sagna pay the price? Whichever way you look at it the referee was a joke.
When we did put the game beyond doubt it came from a brilliant team goal. Sustained passing and movement ended in a move between Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud and Ramsey again that saw the ball in the net. You will struggle to find a game all season where any team scores three goals of such high quality. Of course Ozil has grabbed the headlines this morning from an Arsenal perspective, and it was a truly impressive debut. However, it was Aaron Ramsey that really dominated the game. Aside from his two outstanding goals he was all action again. Arsene Wenger described his improvement in the past 12 months as "dramatic" and that is certainly true. It's actually astounding.
Just as a footnote to the game I will tell you that I watched in a local pub. This hostelry is the hangout of the local Tottenham supporters on a match day, and there were plenty of them in there, apparently watching their game against Norwich. It should come as no surprise that the biggest cheer in the pub all day came when Sunderland equalised against Arsenal. Their obsession with Arsenal not winning, rather than with their own side, is actually quite frightening. They were watching our game, instead of their own. Strange people, all of them.
Tomorrow's blog post will reflect my thoughts on Ramsey and the turn around in his game. For the moment I'm going to spend the rest of the day in the glow of a Premier League table that sees us in a very surprising first place. I still believe we're a player or three short of sustaining a genuine challenge, but I'm more than willing right now to enjoy where we are and be hopeful that there is more to come. Who'd have thought it after the Villa game?

Friday, 13 September 2013

Anticipation is a terrible thing - Ozil to take the stage at Sunderland

The waiting is nearly over

It seems like an age ago that Mesut Ozil joined Arsenal. The international break couldn't have been more ill-timed for the expectant Gooners. Fortunately the new man has got through the two games for Germany unscathed and is fit and ready to wear Arsenal yellow tomorrow for the first time.
To say that we Arsenal supporters have been a bit excited about Ozil's arrival is an understatement. Leaving aside the smug self-satisfaction that came with poaching Sol Campbell in 2001 I have only known such a reaction on one occasion, and that was with the signing of Dennis Bergkamp. I was only three when Charlie Nicholas came down from Celtic so I don't really recall what that was like. I said on here the other week that there are a number of parallels between the arrival of Ozil and the signing of Dennis. I hope that their respective beginnings at Arsenal will not be quite so similar.
Having built ourselves up in to a frenzy over Ozil it will be very easy for us to be disappointed tomorrow. I'm sure Arsene Wenger would prefer to ease in the new man with a start on the bench, but injuries may force his hand. Ozil will have had just two training sessions to get to know his new colleagues ahead of the match at Sunderland. It's not ideal to say the least. Having said that, Ian Wright played the day after he signed and scored at Leicester, before getting a hat-trick just four days later at Southampton. That being the case, there shouldn't be that much to fear for a World Class player like Ozil. Personally I would still start him from the bench, with Flamini, Wilshere and Cazorla in midfield. That would potentially necessitate playing either Ryo or Gnabry from the start (which almost certainly would not happen) and negate the need to move Cazorla from his most influential position on the pitch at kick-off (there is also the "option" to play Monreal or Gibbs on the left of midfield in order to let Ozil get a look at things from the sidelines).
Whatever happens in terms of Ozil starting or not I would urge all of us to not expect too much too soon. If he plays really well tomorrow then it's a bonus. If he struggles a little with the pace of the game then perhaps it's to be expected. While Di Canio is no Sam Allardyce I fully expect someone to be detailed with giving Ozil an early kick. I'm assuming that Lee Cattermole is out injured (or suspended) at the moment, but the likes of Seb Larsson have shown themselves well able to leave a boot in on occasion. The big shame from an Arsenal point of view is that John O'Shea is suspended as I'd have fancied any combination of Arsenal forwards to give him plenty of trouble. Di Canio will have his boys well fired up for this one, especially after making such a horrendous start to the season. Arsenal will have to deal with that and keep playing their football. If Sunderland don't make a fast start, then we must really go for it from the off.
Ozil will also be sharply watched by our friends in the media. You can almost hear the pens and knives being sharpened in the hope that he is a flop in the early part of his Arsenal career. I remember well the treatment handed out to Dennis Bergkamp by the "experts" that appear in print and on our television screens. At £42.5m there is no doubt they will be constantly bringing up his fee if he does take time to adapt.
I hope he can hit the ground running, as he has a tough couple of weeks ahead. Having only arrived here on Wednesday, Ozil will be travelling to Sunderland today, before going to Marseilles for the middle part of next week. We play Stoke a week on Sunday. In between times he will be trying to find somewhere to live, as well as sorting out his affairs in Spain. This is another consequence of doing our business so late on. I hope it's not something that adversely affects our star player. Hopefully we're celebrating a Vieira-esque debut tomorrow evening, with a little bit of Glenn Helder thrown in.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The most special place in the World

 The East Stand - my home

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Woolwich Arsenal's first game at Arsenal Stadium, Highbury. It marked the beginning of the Club's association with Islington which endures to this day. As it is such a special anniversary I would like to share with you some memories of Highbury which I hope might convey what the old place meant to me. One thing I will always be sure of is that the new place can never compare in the eyes of the generations that went there. My children will never know any different (though I was lucky enough to visit on a non-match day with my eldest shortly before the final game there and get a photo of him in my seat) and will come to regard Ashburton Grove as their "home" but to those of us old enough, and lucky enough, to have seen football there Highbury will always be the most special football stadium in the World. More than that, it is the most special place in the World full-stop.
It's 30 years since I first went to Arsenal. There are fleeting moments from that day. It was New Years Eve and we were playing Southampton. The game finished 2-2. I can remember Dad picking up two Southampton supporting family friends as we drove out of Dover that morning. I also remember having to be "persuaded" to actually go as I had a late change of mind about seeing my first game and leaving Mum for the first time! We parked in Highbury Fields right up until a year or two before the old place shut and Islington Council made it difficult for people to get to games by car. We used to walk through the flats in Leigh Road and I can vividly remember my brother telling me that I would be able to see the flags on the top of the stand as we got to the end of the road. As we got on to Aubert Park and turned towards Avenell Road I saw he was right. It seems odd that my first memory of seeing the place is marvelling at the massive Arsenal flags fluttering on top of the East Stand.
The view from Avenell Road

As for the game itself I remember virtually nothing, though the padded, green, theatre-style seats are an enduring memory. I've just looked it up and seen that I saw some top players that day, not all of them from Arsenal. On the pitch were Pat Jennings, Kenny Sansom, David O'Leary, Paul Davis, Tony Woodcock, Charlie Nicholas, Peter Shilton, Mick Mills, Mark Wright, Steve Williams, Danny Wallace and Frank Worthington. Both of Southampton's goals were scored by Steve Moran, while David Cork (with his only ever Arsenal goal) and Charlie Nicholas got Arsenal's.

David Cork - my first Arsenal scorer
Visits thereafter would be semi-regular. My brothers were becoming old enough (at least in Dad's eyes) to go on the North Bank together (they were 11 and 8 in 1983, so I suspect Mum didn't quite appreciate what football terraces were really like!)
Part of going to football as a small child meant having to get there early. As I said, my brothers would be going on the North Bank so would need to be as close to the front of the queue as possible in order to get their regular spot, on the corner of the barrier, on the East side looking straight over the raised shelf that stood about halfway up the terrace. This afforded them a perfect view, an easy exit at the end, and a place where Dad could keep an eye on them from the East Upper. Once or twice a season in the late 80's they would head to the very front of the North Bank in an effort to get themselves seen on the end of season video. I reckon I must have paid more attention to them than to the matches because I recall so little of the action. As a child I would watch the North Bank fill up (sometimes not quite so full if I'm honest) and there was always the regular vocal group who seemed to start the singing in the middle, right at the back, with the police keeping a close eye on them from behind. In those days each player seemed to have his own song from the supporters. In turn they would respond to the North Bank as they warmed up on the pitch.
My first ever evening game was against Sheffield Wednesday and my abiding memories are of being told that there were two brothers playing for Wednesday - Glyn and Ian Snodin - and seeing Desmond Lynam walking in to the old bar in the East Stand. An evening game was a real treat as I was only allowed to go to them when school was not on (my nephew has no idea how lucky he is - I was only allowed to go to night matches on a regular basis when I was 11 years old!) Another evening game that really sticks with me was against Liverpool in 1989 in the Littlewoods Cup. We won 1-0 and I can still see Alan Smith's goal now and the noise of the crowd is vivid to me. It's before the game that makes it stands out, however. As I said above, we used to have to get there early, especially for a big game like Liverpool. Having seen my brothers safely on to the North Bank me and Dad headed up to the main entrance of the East Stand. You could get really close in those days and we got talking to some people as we saw the likes of Frank Carson and Lawrie McMenemy getting turned away by the Commissionaire's. The people we (well, Dad really) were chatting with obviously were with the opposition, but not all were scouse. Being so young I took no notice of the fact that the old man with us was a Geordie. When Liverpool's coach arrived most of the players went straight in, but Steve McMahon came over and gave tickets to some of the men we were stood with. Then Peter Beardsley came over to speak to the old man - his Dad! I'm fairly sure the old boy got Peter to sign our programme before he went in the changing rooms. Ever since then I've quite liked Peter Beardsley who always seems a very humble and under rated footballer.
The East Stand, Highbury
The years drifted slowly by and I would be taken along more and more regularly. My brothers invested in two season tickets in 1991, in the East Lower right beneath Dad's seats. I loved going and sitting down there as there was a bit more of an "atmosphere" in those seats. We were sat next to a man I knew only as "John" who was a giant in terms of both his size and his personality. I used to get dispatched to "get the teas in" shortly before half-time as John would treat all the regulars within a four seat radius and would then give me the change. I believe now that John may have been the much fabled Johnny Hoy, hero of the North Bank in the 70s and 80s. Part of me really likes to think that he most definitely was. I was sitting there the night we beat Torino and the night we beat Paris St Germain. The noise and relief at the final whistle of the Paris game was incredible, one of the greatest experiences ever though John had moved on by then and been replaced by Andy Gibbons who would move upstairs, and then down the road, with us all in the years ahead. My favourite game sitting down there however, was a North London Derby when Kevin Campbell and Ian Wright destroyed Spurs in a 2-0 win - big Kev ran right towards us after scoring a quite brilliant solo goal in front of the North Bank.
Distinctively Highbury
Later that season we'd say goodbye to the North Bank with Wrighty's hat-trick against Southampton. I have some great photographs of that day. Again I remember the noise towards the end as he scored two in injury time to get the Golden Boot.
The North Bank
Only football can detach you from the World like that. In those seconds after a goal that means something so important to everyone present there is seemingly nothing else in the World. Walking in to Highbury saw you turn your back on everything outside it. It's character and it's history set it apart, and it had it's own distinctive noise of crowd celebration.
At its very finest
My favourite Highbury day ever was against Everton in 1998. Winning the League on the pitch at Highbury was actually a rare event considering the number of Title's we won in its lifetime. It had been so unexpected at Christmas that the winning run was all the more special, I feel. When we blew Everton away and were 3-0 up with ages to go we knew we were Champions. Tony Adams would make the day, however, with that last minute volley. If I close my eyes I can see him now. I can see it all. I remember the tears of joy it brought from the 19 year-old me. Tony Adams was Arsenal at that time, everyone's Mr Arsenal. What a goal. I can see that trophy being brought on to the pitch by the Commissionaire's for the presentation, and Tony lifting it towards the North Bank whose view had been slightly obscured by Carling's advertisements - that summed up how he knew The Arsenal, turning first to the North Bank, before spinning round to all four corners.
My favourite Highbury moment
In a perverse way it was a moment that probably marked the beginning of the end for the old girl. Arsene Wenger saw the potential of the Club, and knew that 38,500 was too small a crowd for a Club of this stature. Whether we should have left is an argument for another day, but if the signing of Ozil is the start of things to come then it may yet have been worthwhile. Like I say, some other day.
What an atmosphere
When it did come time to leave it was one of the saddest days I've ever experienced. You'd hoped it would never arrive, while knowing that it always would. We used to meet up with the other Dover Gooners in the shadow of the East Stand before matches in those days. The usual meeting took place that day, though I was already welling up before I went in to the ground. Of course we won and got in to the Champions League and all that was great, but this was the end.
Over the years we'd made lifelong friends with those around us. To Dad's right throughout my childhood was Bob Everett. Bob died in Summer 2001, and his son Glenn had taken over the season ticket from his Dad. Bob had been to the Cup Winners Cup Final with Dad in 1980, and was with us (and Glenn) before the 1998 Cup Final. We'd met up at Derby before a League Cup tie on the road to Wembley in 1992. Bob was just always there at Arsenal when I was a boy. He'd seen me and my brothers grow up. He was the first person Dad phoned after Mickey Thomas won the Title for us at Anfield - two old Arsenal fans sharing the most special moment in 18 years. When the Club played a montage of the players we've lost in the closing celebrations we were urged by Tom Watt to remember those around us that couldn't be there. Glenn put his arm round me and Dad and it was a moment that summed up Highbury for me - it was all about family. We were all one big Arsenal family. I'm actually quite teary as I write this. To my left was Gary Goodson and his family, who have also become special friends. Gary stopped going on a regular basis a year after we moved down the road. The way the Club had allocated the new seats meant it just wasn't the same for him as we'd all been split apart. The new breed of "fan" is something Gary seriously dislikes. A year or two ago he came with his son, Daniel, and sat with us as the boys won a Champions League tie. Sitting next to Dad he said it was just like old times, and he wasn't wrong. Daniel, Laura and Nicola are still regulars, and occasionally take a ticket off our hands when one of us can't make it. Family and friendship has endured despite leaving Highbury, and isn't that what it should all be about? Saying goodbye to Highbury was something I found so hard to do. I cried and cried as I walked out that final time. Block F, Row E, Seat 161. That was my season ticket. My home. My family. That's what Highbury meant to me. It was genuinely a Cathedral of worship, The Home Of Football.
Highbury, The Home Of Football

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Graham Hunter - professional liar

This man tells lies

Mesut Ozil continues to dominate the news for Arsenal fans. The Club has done a first official photo shoot with our new star today, and there has also been an interview put up on Arsenal Player. However, it's not just at Arsenal where Ozil is the main topic for discussion.
It seems that Spanish football is in shock over the sale of Ozil. Real Madrid's own players have been lining up to express their surprise, as has Cesc Fabregas. It is a measure of Ozil's ability and footballing stature that his departure from Real Madrid should be met in this way. It underlines the fact that Ozil is not someone who has been sold because he hadn't hacked it at the Bernabeu. Arsenal's buying of him has elevated the Club in the eyes of European football to the very top table, probably for the first time since we played in the Champions League Final in 2006.
As I said, Spanish football is shocked by the transfer, and it formed part of the discussion on Sky's Revista programme. This show regularly has Guillem Balague on it and I stopped listening to his particular versions of the "truth" a long time ago. However, even bull**** Balague is put to shame in the lying stakes by Graham Hunter. If you don't know who Hunter is I can tell you that he is described by Sky as "the Spain based football journalist Graham Hunter". Being based in Spain, but born in Scotland, he was easy for Sky to pick up. However, it seems that the powers that be at Murdoch Towers don't pick up on the most obvious untruths from this man.
Taken at face value Hunter is a remarkable journalist. When you listen to him you will be taken in to the inner sanctum at Barcelona and Real Madrid. He has the ear of the Manager's, the President's, the star players and their families. He is such an incredible individual that he can recount the minute detail of conversations and phone-calls to which he was not a witness. He must have some sort of listening device in the board room at Real Madrid, such is the insight he can give you in to the private dealings of the World's biggest football club. You would have to think that a man who can schmooze his way in to the corridors of power with such ease would have been head hunted by the biggest news organisations in the World.
So why am I calling out Hunter tonight? The explanation is simple, and it involves Mesut Ozil. Two days ago Hunter claimed that Ozil wanted to sign for Manchester United. Today on Revista on Sky he tried to back up that claim. He says that Ozil and his father (who is also his agent) held off on signing the Arsenal contract until late on Monday night because they expected and wanted Manchester United to come in for him. Florentino Perez was apparently really surprised that United never made a bid for Ozil. This story was told by Hunter as though he was a first person witness to all these things. He is a liar. I happen to know for a fact that the Arsenal deal for Mesut Ozil was completed in full before 6pm on Monday. That's why I know Hunter is a liar. As a way to underline the fact that he is a liar I can point to Sami Khedira's press conference for the German national team this afternoon. Khedira told the journalists that Mesut Ozil told him "three days before" that he was leaving Real Madrid for Arsenal. I would love to see Arsenal and Ozil sue Hunter for the lies he has told - maybe then Sky might realise.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Back among the big boys

World Class

Finally we have made not just a signing, but a signing that has Arsenal fans excited about the prospects of the Club. Make no mistake about it Mesut Ozil is a signing of Bergkamp proportions, not just for what he brings as a player, but for what his very presence and willingness to sign for Arsenal means for the future. Most astute Arsenal historians would not point to the arrival of Arsene Wenger as the making of the modern Arsenal, but to the signing of Dennis Bergkamp by Bruce Rioch and David Dein. Bergkamp was immediately followed by the England Captain, David Platt, who was brought home from Italy by Arsenal. It was a statement from Arsenal that things had changed. We were going to play football among the big boys again. Now, after years of frustration at the lack of spending and the lack of World Class players, history seems to have repeated itself and we have brought in a genuine football superstar.
The parallels with Bergkamp are striking in that Dennis was the first World star to arrive in the Premier League before his peak years. Ozil is just 24 years old and is on a five year contract. Assuming he can adjust to English football we are in for a treat for at least the next three years and I can’t wait to watch it. If Mesut Ozil impacts on Arsenal and the Premier League in the same way that Dennis Bergkamp did then Arsenal can re-join the top table and be a massive force. To spend £45m on a player is beyond anything I ever expected from Arsenal, and it is a massive thrill to see us doing this kind of business.
If there is a disappointment this morning then it’s the feeling that we remain at lease one player short. Emiliano Viviano has been brought in to provide competition to the two Poles in goal. Obviously I would have preferred a new first-choice with real quality, but the Manager is putting his faith in Szczesny to fulfil his potential sooner rather than later. I am now firmly of the opinion that Bacary Sagna is more than adequate back-up at centre-half. With Jenkinson, Flamini, Gibbs and Monreal to cover the full-back areas as well I think we are just about okay at the back. I would also have liked a proper defensive midfield player to come in, but Arteta and Flamini should provide a reasonably effective sticking plaster in the short term. Elsewhere in midfield we are well catered for. The problem lies with the lack of strikers.
I am amazed that after a Summer of chasing various high profile goalscorers we’ve ended up without one. Olivier Giroud has started the season on fire, but he has twice publicly stated the need for someone else to come in and help. Yesterday we were scuppered by Mourinho on a last minute deal for Demba Ba. I know Arsenal genuinely thought they had a deal in place, and I believe Ba may have even undergone an Arsenal medical. Despite the excellent work that went in to securing Ozil I would have to question the fact that we were trying to do a deal with Chelsea at such short notice, knowing full well that Mourinho is a horrible scumbag. Even after the Ba deal fell through there should still have been time to bring in someone, even if they might have been a step below top class. As it stands we really have Giroud and nobody else. Yaya Sanogo is simply not good enough at the moment from the limited sightings we’ve had of him so far. He certainly looks no better than Chuba Akpom, who impressed in pre-season. Walcott and Podolski are incapable of playing as a lone striker against two decent centre-backs. The only other option is Nicklas Bendtner, a man who long ago burned his bridges with the supporters – even those of us who always defended him – through his own arrogance. It is a chronic shortcoming in the squad, but it will stay that way until at least January. With around £60m still sitting unused, and massive wages cut off the bill this Summer, it beggars belief that what appeared the priority position throughout the window was not filled. As it is, Bendtner has issued a timely statement saying he will do his best for the Club now that he is staying. I hope he does. And since he’s going to be wearing the shirt, I hope everyone gets behind him.
So we go forward from now with the squad that is in place. I’m pleased the transfer window is closed. We can now get on with things and go about trying to challenge. I believe a striker would have made us credible contenders, but we are now relying on goals from midfield and from out wide. Can Cazorla and Walcott become Bobby and Freddie? Let’s hope so. We will start to find out after another interminable international week.
As you know, I don’t do transfer gossip on this site. That being the case, I am rather pleased to have not wasted your time and mine, given that Arsenal signed not one player we were “linked” with in the Summer. Paul Pogba, Julio Cesar, Julian Draxler etc etc etc. The press don’t know who Arsenal are after unless we make a bid and it’s revealed by the potential selling Club. So let’s continue to ignore it, shall we?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Life tastes good - Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham

Yes, yes it is

I imagine that Sir David Frost is up there now, in his smart suit and Arsenal red and white tie, regaling VIP's with tales of the North London Derby. I hope he enjoyed that win from his new seat in the big directors box in the sky. And what a win it was.
Arsenal weren't supposed to win today. Pencils were sharpened and ready to destroy us ahead of the game today. As I said yesterday, whatever your views on Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis and the lack of signings and just about everything else that's negative, today was a day to come together. That was certainly what happened and it is one in the eye for The Sun and Sky Sports and Match Of The Day and all these other anti-Arsenal outlets. I wonder what Paul Merson has to say now. All he's gone on about after our last three games is that "they weren't playing a Spurs". Well today they did and they dished out a 1-0 spanking that could and should have been every bit as humiliating as the 5-2's had been, such were the opportunities we failed to take. It was a great display by Arsenal all over the pitch. From Szczesny to Giroud I thought we were pretty outstanding.
I'm not going to assess the match any further as it's too difficult to be rational this soon after such an important victory. What I will say is that Mathieu Flamini was superb on his second coming. The leadership he was showing in midfield towards the end, the arm waving, the ordering about of colleagues and the organisation was something that only experience can bring. With the tireless Ramsey getting up and down the pitch to make more tackles than anyone else on the pitch it was a master class of defensive midfield play. I christened our best centre-half as King Koscielny last season. Well, if Laurent is the King of the defence I would like to now anoint Bishop Flamini of the diocese of the Arsenal midfield - only a Bishop could give such direction to his flock.
I'm rambling so I'll leave it there. Get in you Gunners! Maybe more tomorrow when I've calmed down a bit. Let's make those signings Arsene!