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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Alexis bringing Guardiola to Arsenal

Playing Pep's way

I was delighted with the win at Sunderland. I lamented the fact that we were poor in Belgium last week, despite the result. Well, it was another poor showing at Sunderland but, on this occasion, it doesn't much matter. Playing away from home a couple of days after an away Champions League match the only thing of consequence is the result. I also don't really care that we got the win off the back of mistakes by Sunderland players - we missed a number of chances to put the game away in any case - but I want to analyse why it was that those players were forced in to errors. I also want to praise Arsene Wenger for his team selection at Sunderland - dropping the show pony Aaron Ramsey to bring in Arteta alongside Flamini added much needed steel in front of the usually exposed and under strength back four. It was key to keeping things tight as far as I'm concerned.
There was one common denominator in the mistakes made by Wes Brown and Vito Mannone on Saturday, and that was Alexis. It's no coincidence. A feature of the Chilean's game since he arrived has been his non-stop running, something that Martin Keown highlighted at the World Cup (yet people like Robbie Savage and Danny Murphy are on Match of the Day on a Saturday night). The man has incredible fitness levels and an even more incredible desire for hard work on the football pitch. Just imagine what Arsenal would be capable of if everyone played like Alexis when we haven't got the ball. In fact, you don't need to imagine, you just need to watch videos of Barcelona and Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola's Barcelona side were the best club side I've ever seen, even better than Arsenal's Invincibles. Everyone talks about the way they moved the ball, and the genius of Messi that tied it all together. But that overlooks the real key to Barcelona's success. What they had, more than anything else, was an insatiable desire to win the ball back from their opponents. Their game was based on incessant pressing of the opponent, the theory being that technically inferior players would present the ball back to you when pressured by two and three of your players. The result was that you would win the ball back in the opposition half and keep attacking them again and again. Eventually they are going to get out of shape and cave in. Technically adept players could occasionally pass through this by simply completing three passes - as with Andrey Arshavin's winner for Arsenal against them a few years back. But such occasions were rare indeed. Alexis wasn't often part of the first-choice line-up at Guardiola's Barca, but he was trained to play that way. He still does it. The fitness levels required are exceptional, and Barcelona would often play the final 20 minutes utterly knackered, but they were usually a goal or four up by then. Alexis, on the other hand, appears tireless.
It must be frustrating for Alexis to play in a side where he is often the only one doing this high up the pitch. You often see him beckoning team mates to support his harassment of the opposition. If he ever needed to show why his style is so effective then he should look no further than Saturday. The speed and closing down of Alexis saw Wes Brown, a technically inferior opponent, forced in to a mis-kicked pass that allowed our forward to run through and open the scoring. Vergini was forced in to a hurried back-pass that was then cocked-up by a similarly hurried Mannone for the second goal. Yes, the goals came from gross errors in the Sunderland defence, but the mistakes were forced by Alexis and his supremely committed style of play. He was able to do that on his own, so why don't the others work out what could happen if they actually helped him out occasionally?
One other thing to say about Alexis is that he often seems to slow us down a bit. He also gives the ball away a lot (though he's then the first one trying to win it back). He delays the pass, possibly a bit too much. However, given the way we go back and forward across a well organised defence perhaps doing something a bit different is to be welcomed on occasion. I'd like to see him run at men a bit more, as he did for the opening goal against Hull City. But the point I'm trying to make is that Guardiola didn't, as popular theory suggests, espouse the tiki-taka football that is associated with Barcelona and Spain. Pep said the other week he hates it as every pass should have some idea of attacking behind it (or words to that effect). Alexis is the living embodiment of everything Guardiola stands for and wants from his football team. I hope to God that Wenger will embrace what Sanchez is doing and get the rest of the squad on the same wavelength - what I fear is that he'll coach it out of him.

Friday, 24 October 2014

One of the biggest scandals in English football history - ten years of injustice

You f***ing corrupt c**t Riley

This time ten years ago I was at Old Trafford. It was to be Arsenal's 50th game in the unbeaten run. Just two months previously Jose Antonio Reyes had served notice of his ability to destroy Manchester United in the Charity Shield at Cardiff. Arsenal were THE dominant force in English football. Quite simply, we were unbeatable. Henry was at the peak of his powers and Reyes, having settled in to Arsenal life, was the best player in Europe at the time. At the back we had Ashley Cole, the World's best full-back, and Sol Campbell, the World's best centre-half. In midfield was Patrick Vieira, the foremost midfield player of his era. This was the best team English football had witnessed, playing the best football the country had ever seen. What happened at Old Trafford on 24th October 2004 still haunts me to this day and I boil inside at the injustice of it all. There has been no bigger scandal on a football field in England than what went on that afternoon. If I was an investigative journalist it would be the first thing I would be looking in to, to find out why it happened.
For a couple of years at this point Arsenal had been better than Manchester United. Somehow they had won the Premier League ahead of us in 2003 after we were kicked off the pitch in certain matches (and seen Sol Campbell outrageously sent-off in the Title showdown at Highbury against them). This lead to Arsenal dropping some points in the run-in and United sneaked ahead off the back of weak refereeing. When we played against them they knew they could only hope to match Arsenal by being violent. On the night we won the Title there in 2002 they had got away with murder, but still didn't have enough to beat us (or even get a draw). Ferguson was sending his side out with the express intention to injure Arsenal's star players. The media never made any effort to censure his tactics. Instead they would describe it as a test of Arsenal's temperament. English football in a nutshell - those foreign types don't like the cold steel Mr Mainwaring.
What went on in the match of ten years ago today should be the subject of much scrutiny. Instead it is made in to a bit of a joke by the BBC and Sky with their continual references to "pizzagate" where Cesc Fabregas apparently threw food at Ferguson. Well ha-f***ing-ha. Personally, I don't find it funny. I find it still grips me with anger that Arsenal were cheated out of a magical 50th game unbeaten. If you need to be reminded of what went on, and how Mike Riley showed himself to be the most corrupt referee in the history of the English game, then watch this video from Youtube. The only thing that is almost as scandalous as the refereeing is the commentary of Andy Gray and Martyn Tyler. 

The ugly sisters wrecked Reyes' career

Gary Neville is the most respected TV pundit in the country these days. But this match is the reason why I despise him. The video doesn't actually do it justice. The assaults that he and his brother made against Reyes that day would have seen them arrested were they not on a football pitch. The ugly sisters didn't act of their own volition. Ferguson had clearly instructed them to go and hurt Reyes. The Spaniard never got over it. His career should have been on the up and up. Thanks to the Neville's he never again hit the heights his ability deserved. Gary Neville should look back upon this match and be ashamed of what he did to another professional footballer. As for the test of Arsenal's temperament, the players showed incredible restraint in not repeating what had occurred the previous year when Keown went after Van Nistelrooy (after yet more cheating). 
Let's get back to Mike Riley. Whether through his own ambitions, or because he was paid off, he cheated that day. From the failure to deal with the Neville's, to the failure to send off Van Nistelrooy and Ferdinand (not even a free-kick!), to the penalty that only Andy Gray could see, Riley quite simply was corrupt. He also allowed Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney to help him referee the game on the day. I remember Ferdinand was exceptional that day (aside from the foul on Freddie that should have seen him sent-off) but he was also in the referee's ear every time he blew the whistle. Riley allowed that to happen. Was Rio threatening him that the brown envelope might not be in the changing room at the end of the game? Riley is now the head of English referees. The man should not be allowed anywhere near football. If I had the money I would make it my life's work to prove Mike Riley was a cheat and to publicly discredit him. 
The saddest thing of all is that the game went on to affect the players for a long time (though maybe not as long as it has affected me). We were top and flying at the time. We ended up trailing in behind Chelsea and haven't won the Title since. You can argue that the players lacked the mental aptitude to deal with the adversity of it, but how do you deal with such injustice? What's the point of taking to the pitch knowing that, no matter what you do, there are games you are not allowed to get a result from? I don't know how any professional sports person could deal with that thought. 
Mike Riley and Manchester United cheated Arsenal and cheated English football on this day ten years ago. The media think it's funny. I don't.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A great day out not spoiled by Arsenal for a change - carnage in the away end

The view from the away end before the game

Well that was an interesting trip. I got back home at 3:30 this morning after missing the boarding for a Eurotunnel train by ten minutes and then having to wait for two hours for another one. The reason we didn't make it was, having been locked in the ground after the game, we were then locked in the compound outside the away end for another 15-20 minutes. Thankfully, after winning the game, the Gooners were in good spirits. The police, in fairness to them, were friendly and helpful to us and allowed our group of four to move away from the official escort in order that we could get back to our car (in the act of doing so we got talking to another Arsenal gentleman who, it turned out, went to school with my Dad - who was with us - in Dover over 50 years ago!) We had been warned about the possibility of trouble with the local fans but that couldn't have been further from the truth. Every Anderlecht fan we came in to contact with was friendly and cheerful, despite the way we'd won the game. There was no hint of a problem with them, but that wasn't the case among our own support (a little more of which below).
We left home around 8am yesterday to make the short trip to Brussels via the Channel Tunnel. It was a very painless journey and we arrived at Constant Vandenstock stadium around lunchtime. A quick visit to the club shop to buy some souvenir scarves for me and my two boys and we went and found some parking at a nearby shopping centre (as advised at the stadium). Not really knowing how far we were from the city centre, or how long it would take to get there etc, we decided to stay put and enjoyed a nice steak in a local brasserie. Before too long it was time to make our way back up to the stadium ready for the gates to open.

Meeting another Arsenal legend

As we walked up to our entrance we met Alan Smith and he kindly stopped for a photo. Another of those helpful policemen then showed us the way in and we entered the stadium. Five minutes later we were asked by the same policeman to leave as the stadium wasn't open yet! Out we filed along with a handful of the supporters who had arrived on the Travel Club coach. And then we waited. This was the only interminable part of the day as we were given several conflicting messages about when the gates would open. Eventually they did, just as people were beginning to get a bit frustrated outside the turnstiles. As is often the case when you go abroad it was "sit where you like" and this almost always causes an issue. Arsenal really need to insist that the fans are told to sit in the seats allocated on the tickets for reasons of safety. The Arsenal steward in our section said less tickets had been issued then there are seats - this was to prove to be wrong.
As kick-off got closer it became obvious that there were far more people than seats. The aisles and the bulkheads were beginning to fill up. I have to say at this point that I have never seen quite so many paralytic people in one place. And then it started, just as the game kicked off. I can only assume that people were trying to get up the steps in to the overcrowded stand and began pushing. This lead to others pushing and falling, and this lead to punches being thrown and Arsenal supporters going at it with each other. It only really went on for about five minutes until they all calmed down and moved further up the stand, but the atmosphere never recovered until we went 2-1 up. I'm told people were also on edge in the other part of the away end. It could have been very dangerous indeed last night. In fact it was very dangerous. People could have been hurt regardless of the punch-ups going on around them. And how people weren't seriously injured when we scored, as I'll explain later, is something of a miracle.

Waiting for the gates to open pre-match

The game itself was truly awful. Arsenal were worse than disappointing. I'm always someone who only really cares about the result, but we are playing so badly that the win only papers over the serious caverns that have opened up. Anderlecht are not a good side. They would struggle to be at the bottom of the Premier League. Yet last night they were better than us. Their pace out wide was something we couldn't deal with. Calum Chambers' lack of speed was badly exposed on occasion, while Kieran Gibbs was done time and again by his winger. However, there are things I need to take issue with from stuff I've read elsewhere today.
Regular readers will know I feel there is no substitute for being there at a game. Last night appears to be a case in point. I've read today how Nacho Monreal was all over the place and I'll admit, for their goal, he was out of position. However, he spent the rest of the game carrying Per Mertesacker and covering Kieran Gibbs. I thought Monreal had another fine match. By the same token I've seen Flamini getting slagged. I'm simply not having that. For me, and many of the people stood near me last night, Flamini was far and away our best player on the night. I don't know how it has come across on the TV but let me tell you that Flamini's play in front of the defence, and covering across for Chambers, kept out Anderlecht time and again last night. I was apoplectic when Wenger took him off and left Ramsey and Wilshere out there on the pitch. Wilshere was a disgraceful show pony last night, as was Ramsey. I'm sick of seeing fancy flicks with the outside of the foot when a simple pass will do - one clear example was in the first-half when Cazorla broke in front of Wilshere and a simple side-foot pass would have put him in on goal, but Wilshere tried to flick a ball to the heavily marked Welbeck and then lay there holding his ankle again. Jack has played pretty well this season, but last night was an embarrassment. He wasn't alone, of course. 
I've also seen nothing but praise for Alexis last night. Clearly this is based on the non-stop effort of the Chilean and that is laudable. However, when he got the ball last night he invariably tried to do too much himself. He was constantly caught in possession and added little or nothing to the play until the last two minutes. Having said that, the fact that he is always on the move, always trying to make something happen, meant it was he who set up Chambers for the excellent cross to Kieran Gibbs, and it was his persistence that saw the ball get to Podolski for the winner.

I told you he'd be the man

Having gone 1-0 down we were reliant on Emi Martinez making two outstanding saves to keep us just one behind. The youngster really played his part and was another of the very few positives from the performance (his deputy, Ryan Huddart, is the most powerful looking 17 year-old kid I've ever seen). I was pleased when Joel Campbell came on (taking off Welbeck at 1-0 down was an unfunny joke though) but disappointed that he once again wasn't sent through the middle. Even when Podolski was eventually thrown in to the mix Campbell, the only centre-forward on the pitch, was still on the right-wing.
When we got our equaliser it was from the only proper cross we tried all night. It was a great ball in from Chambers and was begging to be put away. The quality of Kieran Gibbs' volley should not be underestimated, however. It was a truly great finish from the full-back on a night when he'd been pretty awful. His decision to celebrate was given short shrift by The Ox (another who added plenty when he came on) as some of the players felt we could win it. The reaction to the goal in the away end was one of relief, but some of those drunks I referred to earlier went a little mad. An old man in front of us, well in to his seventies, went to the ground in the melee of bodies. What is wrong with these people?
Within another minute or so it was 2-1. The Ox beat his man inside the area and Gibbs finally got a cross past the first defender. The determination of Alexis to do something right came to the fore. He somehow retained his balance as he controlled the ball towards the touchline and simply hit it hard across the goal. We had the luck as it was deflected straight back on to Podolski's left foot, but he had the composure to take a good touch before burying it in the roof of the net. The away end was a scene of carnage. I swear I thought people were going to go over the barriers at the front of the upper tier. A youngster came from behind us and seemed to try and leap over a couple of rows of seats. Of course he never made it and that meant another pile of bodies. In the other part of the away section my brother and one of our mates were trying to stop a man from being trampled after he'd been knocked over in the craziness that enveloped a number of people. How people weren't seriously hurt in there I don't know. I celebrated as madly as for any last minute winner, but diving on top of people and losing control completely? I just don't get it.
So somehow Arsenal came away from Belgium with a win. I don't really know how. but I was delighted for Podolski who is a real hero to the Arsenal fans despite the way he is disregarded by Arsene Wenger. I said on Tuesday that I fancied Podolski to make a difference last night, and he didn't disappoint did he? The singing after the game was superb, having been pretty non-existent through the game, and it was a joy to have been there just for the final five minutes. Now the players have to get their fingers out and play much better at Sunderland on Saturday.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Off to Brussels with The Arsenal!!!

A football match 44 years in the making

Arsenal travel to play Anderlecht tomorrow for the first time in over 44 years. That night, at 3-0 down, a Ray Kennedy goal changed the course of Arsenal history and set the Club on it's way to the Double a year later. What followed at Highbury, according to anyone who was there (I wasn't born until 9 years later), was the greatest night the old place ever saw as 18 years of frustration was finally wiped out with a trophy. For people of my age, who have grown up with the stories of that night, the name of Anderlecht is almost mythical and it has a special place in Arsenal folklore.
I'm off to Brussels first thing in the morning to see the game. The Belgian capital is no more than ninety minutes or so from Calais, which is itself an hour away from me via the Channel Tunnel. A £50 return trip for four of us makes going to this particular European away jaunt a very affordable one. It's my first European away game since Paris in 2006 so I'm very much looking forward to it. In the times that I have been away with Arsenal in Europe I am still waiting for a win (I missed the Cup Winners Cup Final in 1994) so I hope tomorrow breaks my duck. We'll have to play better than on Saturday but an Arsenal side playing properly should have far too much for the Belgians. I just hope Arsenal are up for it on the night.
The team news is that Emi Martinez comes in for the suspended Szczesny. It seems that David Ospina is out for three months, I assume from the late thump he got from the Galatasaray forward in injury-time a few weeks ago. Youngster Ryan Huddart seems to be the beneficiary of the spare place on the subs bench. Martinez has played a couple of times for Arsenal before. On his debut against Coventry City I thought he looked a fine prospect, but he followed that with the 7-5 game at Reading. In pre-season I was very impressed with the Argentinian and the way he commanded his penalty area. If he can show the same dominance in a Champions League game then he can really lay down a marker. 
It will be interesting to see how we line up at the back. Does Calum Chambers play at right-back or at centre-back? If he's in the middle then does Bellerin play, or are Gibbs or Monreal put at right-back? My personal choice would be for Coquelin to play on the right of the defence but that isn't really likely to happen. It's something we shouldn't have to be thinking about, but we are where we are. Chambers will play, it's just a case of where.
Jack Wilshere was in training today and has travelled with the side, as has Lukas Podolski. I'd be tempted to give Podolski a game tomorrow simply based on his brilliant dismissal of rumours of a move to Spurs yesterday. I've never understood why Arsene Wenger doesn't give Podolski a proper run, and there is a chance tomorrow to go with him (or Joel Campbell) up alongside Welbeck - the shortage of properly fit midfield players and the need to win the game might influence other bosses. Theo Walcott also trained with the team but I haven't seen any photos of him in the travelling party - that's not to say he won't be a surprise inclusion on the bench but it seems unlikely given his time out injured.
Too often Arsenal have been lacklustre away from home in Europe. We've failed to get decent results against some fairly poor opponents. With our last two games being at home to Dortmund and away in Turkey the need to win the two games with Anderlecht has never been more stark. A fast start is essential and I'm hoping Welbeck's pace will cause them problems. If it does then he needs to have brought his shooting boots with him.
I'll write a review of my day at some point on Thursday, hopefully with a big three Champions League points safely in the bag.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Geordie provides the highlight on another bad day for Arsenal

Yesterday's undoubted highlight

I was at Highbury nearly five hours before kick-off yesterday. I hadn't misjudged the journey, and I haven't suddenly become even more mad. I was up there early to attend the book launch of "Geordie Armstrong On The Wing" at The Tollington pub on Hornsey Road.
I'm not old enough to have seen George Armstrong play, never mind remember him. My Dad has only ever had good stuff to say about the man known as "Geordie" though, and it's the same with any of the players I've met from the Double winning side. Being there early yesterday meant I was able to have a long chat with John Radford as we walked to the pub together, and then a quick catch-up with Eddie Kelly. Frank McLintock was the other Arsenal legend in attendance, and it's always amazing to see how the other players react to their leader - the likes of Eddie and Bob Wilson absolutely idolise Frank. I was also to take great pleasure in meeting Dave Seager, the author of the new book, and especially Jill Armstrong (Geordie's daughter) who has assisted Dave greatly with what seems a glorious tribute to the Great Man. Jill took time out to greet everybody yesterday and tell us about her Dad and how the book had been a wonderful opportunity to share her memories, and those of her family. She also told me how great it will be for her children to know how special their Grandad was, and how important "The Arsenal" (her words) was in her Dad's life. Meeting Arsenal historian Andy Kelly was also a joy on the day. 
Having had such a good start the only thing that could possibly spoil yesterday would be the game itself. I was confident for a change. I know you can never truly predict football, but I was certain Arsenal would go out and win yesterday despite the injury problems at the back. For me we would always have too much going forward against Hull City. For the best part of the opening twenty minutes it was one way traffic. Arsenal were so good in the early stages, playing some of their best football of the season as far as I'm concerned. Alexis and Danny Welbeck were making great runs in behind the defence and Jack Wilshere was displaying his full range of passing. Steve Harper was being tested with shots from various angles and distances and it was so nice to not have to sit through the constant square passing as Arsenal played at pace for once. When we got the goal it was a lovely individual effort as Alexis squared up Curtis Davies before waltzing past him and hitting it low in to the corner, the old man Harper unable to get down quickly enough to stop it. Then it all went wrong.
Quite how the referee and the linesman managed to miss Diame's foul on Flamini is something that should be seriously questioned. The reaction of the Arsenal players (they never chase referees these days) was enough to show anyone that something was seriously wrong. However, given the way we'd been playing to that point it shouldn't really have been a problem. For some reason we then stopped playing the way we had been. The quick passing and incisive runs were suddenly missing. Everyone now wanted an extra touch, and the back and forth across a packed defence was back in evidence. Put together with Hull's tactical fouling in midfield, and interminable time wasting (more of which below) Arsenal suddenly looked devoid of any idea of how to break through. Aside from a Cazorla daisy cutter (which somehow saw Harper do damage to his arm) Arsenal had no more shots on target (and no more shots at all, really) until an 86th minute header from the tireless Alexis.
What happened at the start of the second-half was scandalous from Arsenal. Wenger says the players were lacking in focus. Thirty seconds after half-time? Whose fault is that, Arsene? I've seen some people blaming the makeshift defence. That's utter rubbish. The players at fault were the only two who would be there in any case. For some reason Kieran Gibbs was out of position in the Hull half straight from the kick-off, thus dragging Nacho Monreal towards the left (Monreal was Arsenal's best player to my eyes yesterday, and has been outstanding in every game he has played this season). When the cross came in the only person in the stadium not aware of the run from Hernandez was Per Mertesacker. Regulars will know I am a Mertesacker fan, but that yesterday was a disgrace. He has been poor all season in truth, and the lack of competition for places has to be a factor. Yesterday we had Semi Ajayi on the bench as the back-up centre-half. It goes without saying that barring an injury (or maybe two) I had as much chance of getting on the pitch yesterday as Ajayi had. Mertesacker meanwhile is hoisted by his own petard. On Friday he was quoted on Arsenal's website talking about the need to attack the ball. Yet again an Arsenal player has empty words not backed up by what we see from them on the pitch. I'm sick of the talking and want more of the actual playing. Don't talk about the need to attack the ball if you're then going to stand still and watch an opponent run in front of you to plant a free header in to the corner. And, who knows, maybe Arsene Wenger might learn from this new brand of football we saw from Hull for the goal - the idea of getting the ball wide, playing in a good cross, and having a centre-forward in there attacking a header might just catch on, don't you think?
For the rest of the second-half we created nothing until Joel Campbell came on. I thought the Costa Rican was excellent and showed he is worth quite a bit more time on the pitch than we've yet seen of him. What I still don't understand, though, is why we never went to two men up front. Even at 2-1 down in injury-time (and then at 2-2 with our opponents rocking and rolling) we still had only Danny Welbeck up top. We could have gone on and won it through Kieran Gibbs in the final throes of the game, but it would have been thoroughly undeserved, though entirely welcome. As an aside I also don't know how Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spent 90 minutes on the field yesterday while Tomas Rosicky wasn't even invited to loosen up. The Ox never stops trying, but he was truly awful yesterday and he knew it himself. What goes through Wenger's mind? Maybe it's the same fog that descends over Jack Wilshere who was lucky not to get himself sent-off in the act of injuring himself. Yes, the ref should have given him a free-kick, but Jack is experienced enough now to not react the way he did.
The referee has had a real bashing after the game, and rightly so. The man was a joke from start to finish. It doesn't excuse Arsenal's display, and is not the reason for Arsenal not winning, but it has to be said that the ref allowed Hull to get away with murder. I read someone on the internet earlier saying that he "added the time on" that Hull had wasted and that is true. But it doesn't account for the way the rhythm of the game was upset by that time wasting that went unchecked. In the same way, Hull's persistent fouling and play-acting every time they were tackled, meant the game was bitty and Arsenal were prevented from flowing properly (if they were capable of doing so in the first place). You regularly hear pundits say "the red card spoiled the game" but the same people would laud Hull's tactics yesterday against a big club. You can't have it all ways. Their style yesterday spoiled the game as much as any red card might. The referee quite simply didn't do his job in stamping it out. In fact he positively encouraged it at times - allowing Dawson to take the longest route to the touchline when he was treated only six-feet away from it being one example, while booking Santi Cazorla for a non-existent foul he hadn't even seen (Mr East was looking in the opposite direction when the Hull player dived and writhed on the floor) another.
Two wins from eight games is unacceptable. We are behind this awful Manchester United side, who have played a game less. The challenge for the Premier League Title has simply never got started, while the battle for "fourth" (yawn) looks like it too might be a long way off. Right now we look like a mid-table side at best, and that is simply unacceptable. The pressure is also getting to Wenger, which is no bad thing, as anyone who has watched his interview with Jacqui Oatley can testify. Of course, the only person to blame is Arsene Wenger - after all, the Chairman of Arsenal told the AGM on Thursday that he "calls the shots".

Thursday, 16 October 2014

BBC going out of their way to attack Arsenal Football Club

Yes, they're expensive

The Arsenal AGM took place this morning at the stadium. I'm not a shareholder so I wasn't there, but it seems that you don't have to be one these days to get an invite. For some reason, what should be a private meeting of the shareholders, was attended by assorted invited press and media people, as well as the now ever present "friendly" bloggers. As for the content of the day it seems clear that Ivan and Arsene and everyone else dodged the questions in their usual inimitable fashion, though Sir Chips Keswick did admit that nobody at Arsenal questions what Arsene Wenger does. If you want a run down I suggest you have a read of one of those nice blogs that never criticises the Club in any way.

What I want to talk about today is the BBC's open attack on Arsenal FC yesterday under the guise of their "Price of Football" report. Every BBC journalist, and every BBC headline, and every BBC article was having a pop at Arsenal. There was even a report on an MP saying 3rd kits are unnecessary and at the top of the article on the BBC website was a picture of Jack Wilshere wearing the Arsenal 3rd kit. Of course, Arsenal are the only side who have a 3rd kit aren't they? In fairness Arsenal did not help themselves with the answers as to why they have one in the first place, claiming that it's because the fans want it. Since when did Arsenal do anything the fans want? And who are these people whose lives are improved by the presence of a blue Arsenal shirt? What the spokesman should have said, for it's a statement of fact, is that UEFA insist on 3rd kits being registered for Champions League and Europa League purposes. You won't be surprised to know, however, that the article didn't carry any quotes from Manchester United. Or just about any other side for that matter.
Yesterday morning I got in to a debate on Twitter with one of the authors of the report in to the cost of tickets who was determined to show how us Gooners are worse off than everyone else. Now let me make it clear that I am not about to defend the Club for the price of tickets - we all know they're too expensive, especially when the money generated is not then spent on properly improving the team we are paying to watch. Matt Slater is the journalist in question and all he wanted to keep saying in defence of the headlines is that Arsenal are the most expensive so that's the reason why they are the news. What the report ignored is that Arsenal fans pay for seven cup-ties within the price of their season tickets. One of the BBC idiots (re-tweeted by Mr Slater) pointed out that we might not play those ties, especially if we weren't in Europe (which we have been for nearly twenty years in a row) giving the impression that we being robbed blind. I pointed out that any unused tickets are credited back to the season ticket holder, but that received no answer - it doesn't fit the BBC narrative.
I also asked Mr Slater why no mention is made of the cut-price season tickets for OAP's, or the League Cup pricing at Arsenal. He told me that "all clubs do that" but then couldn't tell me who provides cheaper tickets than Arsenal in those cases. I would have said that, if you're producing a detailed report in to the cost of going to football, then such things are fairly important unless you are wishing to present deliberately skewed figures.
Another thing that wasn't looked in to in the report is the price that Arsenal supporters have to pay to attend away matches. For West Ham away at Christmas we are talking the best part of £80 to sit in the lower tier corner at Upton Park. That makes even Arsenal's Grade A match ticket prices look not so bad. My seat at Arsenal is £80 for those games, but I sit in the upper tier, level with the 18-yard-line (yes it's too expensive, but I use it as a comparison). Or maybe we could talk about the £50+ restricted view seats in the away end at QPR? And why no mention of promoted Burnley putting up their season tickets by over 30% this Summer? Matt Slater of the BBC had no answers for this because the fact is that this report was all about taking a pop at Arsenal. 
As I said at the top, I have no desire to defend Arsenal over ticket prices. But all the time they're selling them out they won't care. Why should they? And I won't feel guilty about paying for mine as a so called "boycott" of tickets would be a waste of time. If I didn't buy my season ticket then someone else would and then I'm in a position where I can't get in for the big games. Why would anyone cut off their nose to spite their face like that? What I can't abide, however, is an organisation like the BBC wasting public money to tell us all something that we already knew, and to then deliberately set it up as an attack on Arsenal.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Ozil injury does Wenger a favour and opens the door for The Ox

Winter break sorted

I didn't write anything after the Chelsea game. Due to being at work I saw only the last twelve minutes of the match live, and I would have been only going over old ground had I written a review. We all know that we're short of top quality in a couple of areas of the pitch and there is really no point now in going over and over it, or going over the reason(s) why. I could have written about the utter plank who set off a smoke bomb in the concourse of the upper tier of the away end, and the ramifications for other Arsenal fans (not only on the day), but if you follow my Twitter feed (@ARSENALDvbrisG) you'll know this was done to death on Sunday night - suffice to say the perpetrators mates consider themselves "real" supporters and people like me are not supporters at all. I shouldn't get in to rows with silly little boys, but I reacted to being called a "f***ing mong" in a moment of weakness. At the end of the day the flare incident was dealt with by the law and the young man will find himself banned from Arsenal. Well worth it, I'm sure.

On to business and we found out yesterday that Mesut Ozil has a knee injury. A serious knee injury. So serious that he couldn't train and was sent for a scan on his arrival at the Germany training camp. A tear/rupture to a knee ligament is the German diagnosis, and at least three months on the sidelines will now ensue. What we don't know now (and never will really know) is whether this is something he was suffering with before or during his worst display yet on Sunday. It would certainly explain the level of effort he was putting in after a couple of good performances in the previous week (though what can't be explained is his expulsion to the wing again by Arsene Wenger). I'm not going to go in to the fact that it's yet another Arsenal injury and whether or not there is something wrong with our medical team, or whether or not there is something else wrong at the Club, but there is more than coincidence to this, surely? I have theories but I'm only the same as any other bloke in the street. Whatever the problem is, I don't believe it's down to bad luck.
The injury itself could actually be a blessing for Arsene Wenger. For some reason he left Ozil on the pitch for the whole game the other day, and the reactions of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere showed there was unrest in the camp. It didn't do Ozil any good to complete that game at Chelsea (regardless of whether or not he was already unfit). Even the most generous of Ozil watchers would have to admit that he has been poor, especially since the start of this season. You can bring out stats about completed passes, or ground covered, but use your eyes and be honest - one goal and one assist is not the contribution expected of a £42m attacking footballer. Frankly I'd expect better returns from Yaya Sanogo, never mind Mesut Ozil. Wenger would clearly never want to drop a player who cost so much money, so the injury gets him off the hook. The potential embarrassment for Manager and player is no longer there. I would wager that we will see not very much of Mesut Ozil in an Arsenal shirt before he departs for Europe next Summer (he might have gone in January but for the injury). Sadly the player who should have replaced Ozil is now at Chelsea, but let's not go there again.
If there is a disappointment in the injury it is that Theo Walcott is due to return to the side in the next few weeks. We've spent over a year wanting to see Ozil combining with the flying Theo and now we won't get to. There are no guarantees, however, that Theo will stay fit (he never has done in the past) or that he is still blessed with the searing pace that is his only real quality against top defenders. Having said that, the injury to Ozil means having Theo available again couldn't be much more timely. Serge Gnabry is also returning with Theo, leaving us with plenty of wide options (and that isn't a dig at the fact that Gnabry has ballooned during his long lay-off). 
The player who might just benefit more than any other from Ozil's injury (and Ramsey's) is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It's fair to say that his most eye-catching performances have come in the middle of midfield. His power and pace is a huge asset, and he can go past opponents in there in the same way that Vieira or Diaby could. With the lack of options now in there (and that has nothing to do with squad "depth" - any club would be struggling with so many injuries in the same part of the pitch) The Ox has to be the man to fill the gap. It could be the chance he's been looking for and it could spark our season if Ox and Jack Wilshere can combine centrally. Santi Cazorla can also move back to where he's supposed to play and Danny Welbeck and Alexis should reap the benefits of that.
All in all, while I have to feel sorry for Ozil, I don't see that this injury particularly weakens Arsenal on the pitch. We're entering a spell of games where Ozil might have come in to his own against lesser opposition, but I sort of want my superstar signings to be dominating games against the likes of Chelsea somehow. Two woefully out of form, yet star, midfield players are out injured. I think a couple of in form midfield players should be excited at the chance to prove themselves once and for all. Now, can Ox and Jack stay fit for once themselves?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Danny Boy destroys Europe's scum

Arsenal's new star striker

It's irrational to have such a vehement dislike for a club you'd only seen Arsenal play against on one occasion. But that is how I feel about Galatasaray. Last night, fourteen years on from my other acquaintance with them, merely served to underline why I despise them and their supporters. Scum doesn't even cover it. More on that below, but let's deal with the good stuff first.
I had a very small bet on Danny Welbeck to get the first goal last night. I just had a feeling that it was his game and he'd get among the scorers. My friend Gary went one further and bet on him getting a hat-trick! From start to finish he dominated this game of football. Regulars will know I've always been a fan of Welbeck and considered him a top player since he first came on the scene (honest). What I will say about him is that he is a far better footballer than I ever gave him credit for. He is strong, quicker than I thought, and has fine touch - all of which was evident last night, particularly for his second goal. The way he muscled past Melo, leaving the hard man of Galatasaray firmly on his backside, before racing away and slotting the ball in the left corner, while falling over as he finished, was Henry-esque. Now I'm not going to compare Danny Welbeck to Thierry Henry, but that goal was a carbon copy of Henry's trademark finish. It reminded me of Henry's fourth in the 5-0 demolition of Leeds at Highbury in 2004. By a similar token the hat-trick goal was an Ian Wright style finish, running off the last defender and flicking the ball over an advancing goalkeeper. Following the nervous looking profligacy in evidence at Dortmund it was a great performance all round from Welbeck. Being English already has him at an advantage with the supporters, and the way he lapped up his deserved celebration with the crowd at his third goal showed me he is a man very happy to be here. With the pace and movement of Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain on either side he was given great support and service throughout - long may it continue. If Welbeck's confidence isn't sky high going in to Sunday then it never will be.

Thierry, is that you?

Aside from Welbeck there were great performances all over the field last night. The back four were exceptional, with special mention for both full-backs. Calum Chambers read the play brilliantly last night and made some great interceptions. Kieran Gibbs, meanwhile, showed why he is the best left-back in England. In midfield I thought Flamini was very much at his best and Ozil was more effective again, though on three of four occasions in the first-half he clearly saw players making runs in behind and chose not to play them the ball we're told is his speciality. Alexis was outstanding again, despite Felipe Melo doing all he could to break his leg. If the referee considered that foul worthy of just a yellow card then he isn't fit to officiate at any level. But Alexis isn't scared. He got up and destroyed the defence to get himself a goal (good ball from Ozil on that occasion). I just hope that the kick from Melo hasn't put him out of the Chelsea game on Sunday. David Ospina also made some confidence boosting stops when he came on, following on quickly from an unconvincing debut last week against Southampton.
It was a great performance from the players last night, by far our best of the season. I keep hearing that Galatasaray were awful and all that, and they were. But you can only beat what is put in front of you. They were bad, but they didn't have a chance to get going, so good was our display. The Arsenal team went out last night and destroyed their opponents. If it hadn't been for the red card I think we'd have comfortably scored another goal or two. For once we weren't sitting back and winding down and it was great to see. 


And so to the negative - the Galatasaray fans. I was outside The Armoury when their main support was escorted down Hornsey Road with their flares and firecrackers and their abuse for The Arsenal. Having watched that I am amazed that they were able to get so many of those fireworks in to the stadium. As usual, as I went through the turnstiles last night, my bag was searched by a steward. So who was searching the Turks? When Arsenal go to away games in Europe the supporters are individually searched. What happened outside the away end last night? Was anyone subjected to a search? And I don't blame the stewards for it. The Met Police should have been doing the searching, dressed in full riot gear, and making it clear that there would be no nonsense if it kicked off.
When the flares started being lit there was an influx of riot police who stood in front of the away section. If there was similar trouble being caused by away fans in Turkey (or just about anywhere else in European competition) the local police would have been steaming in. Why did the police not enter the away end with batons drawn to drag out those with the flares and firecrackers? I believe Sky managed to close in with their cameras on the perpetrators, so why couldn't the police do so? 
I wasn't upset when an announcement was made in Turkish with about fifteen minutes to go. It was obvious they were telling the Galatasaray supporters that they were being locked in. That tells you how bad things were, and how concerned the police were - it's years since away fans have been locked in at Arsenal. When I was a kid it was normal on any match day for the opposition support to be kept behind, and I wouldn't complain about it making a welcome return at most fixtures these days. Last night it was imperative.
The fact is that the Galatasaray fans are scum. Murdering scum. Worse than that they are encouraged by the Club itself with all the "Welcome to Hell" nonsense that pervades their stadium. There was an idiot (not a young bloke) in the row in front of me who thought it was funny when the flares were being thrown on to the pitch. There was a posh bloke down by The Armoury who thought it was "wonderful" when they were coming down Hornsey Road. Clearly neither of these prats were in Copenhagen fourteen years ago. It was a delight to see Arsenal thrash them last night.