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Monday, 5 May 2014

Newcastle, St Totterinham's Day, Sagna and Wenger futures, Emirates Cup

The players lap of honour

It’s been the best part of a fortnight since I wrote anything on the site. Plenty has been happening but I just haven’t got around to saying my bit on it. Suffice to say that things have gone pretty well for Arsenal since I last put finger to keyboard and the minimum objective for the season, a place in the Champions League qualifiers, has been achieved with surprisingly little angst.
Everton had been on a wonderful run while we struggled to overcome our injury issues and the hammerings that put paid to our Title challenge. The recovery of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil has given the team a boost just when it was needed most, while Everton’s players suddenly froze when faced with having their destiny in their own hands. Given the weight of our results up until the middle of February it would have been a travesty had Arsenal failed to gain at least that fourth place finish.
I went to the game on Monday night last week against Newcastle and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, not to mention the fact that we were able to celebrate St Totterinham’s Day once again (more on that below). Arsenal were nothing if not professional on Monday. Newcastle were the worst side I’ve seen us play all season such was their lack of effort. With the exception of the outstanding Krul in goal for them I wouldn’t have been happy for those players to get their wages last week. I normally feel sorry for Newcastle fans in any case, for no other reason than that they must surely deserve some pity. However, the travelling barcodes last week were genuinely in receipt of my sympathy. They had travelled in numbers for a Monday night game in London (it’s always the fans who attend that are shafted by the TV companies), and then had little prospect of being able to get home due to the TFL strike (the traffic around Islington was horrendous after the game), and their players genuinely couldn’t have given less of a s*** about them. I know the Newcastle fans have understandable issues with the owner and Alan Pardew, but the players that took the field against us last week were an utter disgrace to their shirt. Arsenal’s players, meanwhile, did what they had to do on the night. I thought Ramsey and Ozil were superb, with the German seeming to have bulked up a bit during his enforced rest from the team. The third goal was a beautiful footballing move and my view was perfect to see the cross that led to it – from the moment it left Ozil’s left foot it was always going to be a goal. As I said, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a perfect end to my personal season at home. Sadly work prevented me from attending the West Brom match yesterday, but I will be at Wembley on 17th May.

That shadow is getting longer

As much as Spurs are an irrelevance in the grand scheme of things it is always nice to remind their deluded morons of our continuing superiority over their terrible football club. Remember this really was going to be their year after they’d “invested” the Bale money on a number of “top, top players” (at least according to the Redknapp’s and Savage’s of the footballing fraternity). On that subject, has anyone checked to see if Eric Lamela (£30m!) is even still alive? Then, of course, there was Roberto Sol(GOAL)dado (£26m!) with his one goal from open play. £100m+ down the drain. Maybe next year, eh Spurs?

If you don't sign, don't play

The lap of appreciation and the post-match Tweets seem to indicate that Bacary Sagna definitely won’t be at Arsenal next season. Arsene Wenger made it quite clear that Arsenal have done all they are going to do in their attempts to persuade him to stay on, and that is up to Sagna. It’s a shame as Sagna is a fine player. He has been, undoubtedly, one of the better signings made by Wenger since we left Highbury and has probably deserved to have been surrounded by better players in his time with us (somehow Debuchy, of Newcastle, keeps him out of the French side at the moment – that’s a bloke who made Podolski and Monreal look like Thierry Henry in the pace stakes last week). If he wants to move on to a foreign side for the last few years of his career then I don’t really begrudge him. I really feel he could be a massive squad player for us in the next couple of years with his ability to move in at centre-back as the legs start to go, but he clearly wants to go somewhere else. Where I will have a problem is if he moves to another Premier League side. There is obviously talk of a move to Manchester City being on the cards. If he does that then I will lose all respect for Bacary Sagna. With Pablo Zabaleta (as good as Sagna might be, Zabaleta is head and shoulders ahead as the best right-back in the country) in their team it would show he is leaving for the money as his time on the pitch would be severely curtailed at the Etihad. In the meantime, for all he’s been a great player for us, I wouldn’t be upset to see Sagna left out of the last two games of this season. By not agreeing a new contract he is stating he doesn’t want to be an Arsenal player anymore. Can we really rely on him to put his foot in to a 40-60 tackle in the last minute of the Cup Final, knowing that a third broken leg would mean he was out of Arsenal and out of football? The answer has to be no. For that reason, as far as I’m concerned it should be a case of “Thanks Bac, but it’s time for Jenkinson to play as he is truly committed to this Club.”

Going nowhere it would seem

On the subject of contracts it seems we are stuck with Arsene Wenger for at least another two years. Le Boss was quite unequivocal in his answer yesterday when asked if he would be here next season. It begs the question as to why he hasn’t actually signed the deal yet, but I gave up trying to understand Wenger years ago. I really felt that the capitulation in the Title race, due purely to his lack of tactics and lack of signings in areas in which everyone knew we were lacking, would see the end of his tenure. The pressure, regardless of any 4th place finish, has been growing for so long that I felt he might decide discretion was the better part of valour. However, he is nothing if not stubborn, as we should all know. A fourth place finish, with an FA Cup win (God willing) would have given him the ideal chance to leave with glory. There is no doubt in my mind that Arsene deserves to go on a high, rather than what was looking increasingly like a long and drawn out humiliation. What better chance might he get than if we can beat Hull in a fortnight from now? If he does indeed stay on then the Board must grow a pair and force him to spend the available money on top players (and I don’t mean spend for the sake of it as Spurs did last year). The usual nonsense was being uttered by him on Friday about the World Cup being in the way of transfers and all that rubbish, but he has to be made to understand that nobody falls for this anymore. If he’s staying then he must stop handicapping himself and the Club from genuinely challenging for top honours.
One final thing to touch on as far as Wenger is concerned is that I hope the Champions League semi-final results (and Barcelona’s defeat in the quarter-final and ongoing problems in La Liga) will force him to realise that the “tiki-taka” era is dead and buried. I wrote a piece last year following Bayern Munich’s season from Heaven that said how Wenger had been right with his original philosophy whereby his teams dominated through having big, physical specimens on the field, all of them obviously blessed with superior technique, but strong and quick and mobile too. Guardiola went in to Munich and got the same players to play like his Barca team. Bayern had hammered Barcelona last season playing fast, physical football. To see them similarly destroyed themselves by Real Madrid’s pace and power, while trying to play the pass, pass, pass and pass again stuff of Guardiola should have woken Wenger up. If he gets the chance to bring in Fabregas this year he should do it (the thought of him being passed up to go t Man Utd is too much, frankly, whatever the issues around him leaving us may have been), but every other signing we make should be more Petit/Edu/Gilberto/Vieira/Henry than Hleb/Nasri/Arteta/Vela. The age of the small technical player has passed (if it ever existed in the first place outside of Barcelona – a team blessed with a one-off midfield pairing of Xavi and Iniesta with the genius of Messi – Spain benefitted too, of course with Villa and/or Torres up front) and I want to see the pace and power brought back to Arsenal. If you look at the way Yaya Toure often dominates Premier League matches you can see where we need to go, but can Arsene?

Looking forward to this already

The last thing I want to write about today is the Emirates Cup. I, for one, am very pleased with the line-up this year of Benfica, Monaco and Valencia. We’re getting to see three teams we’ve not seen a lot of down the years for a start. I’ve read on Twitter and some internet forums how people think it’s a second rate group of sides that’s been invited this year and how some “wouldn’t be seen dead” or “wouldn’t waste my time and money” attending “this rubbish”. These, of course, are the exact same people that would see defeat to either Benfica or Monaco as the first sign of the apocalypse ahead of the new season. This “joke” of a line-up includes top Spanish opposition, the Portugese (and possibly UEFA Cup) Champions, and the expensively assembled Monaco team with its attendant links as a Club to Arsene Wenger.
The sort of people that are moaning about it also use it as a sign of “the greed” of the Board. Again, these are the same people that moan we are lagging behind the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham in terms of commercial revenue. It may have escaped the notice of these people that Emirates Cup weekend sees 60,000 families, tourists, once-a-year visitors and regulars alike attend the stadium on two days in a row. This year those 120,000 people will be met by an Arsenal Football Club knocking out it’s new Puma kits, as well as paying for the privilege of being there in the first place. The broadcast rights to the four live games across the two days will be picked up by BT Sport or Sky, thus adding to the revenue generated. With the exception of last year when Arsenal outrageously invited Galatassaray the Emirates Cup is one thing they get absolutely right year on year. I’m already looking forward to it and might even go on both days if tickets are kept to a reasonable price. I think it will also provide the first visit to Arsenal for my youngest son – it’s a perfect opportunity for him to get his first taste of it all.

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