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Thursday, 27 November 2014

A sad note to start as Arsenal bring some cheer

RIP Phillip Hughes

I promise that this will develop in to a positive post based on the football from Arsenal last night. However, I have to start on a sad theme. If you read my profile near the bottom of this page you will see that I am a cricket fan. I played the game to a good standard but I'm now more of  a spectator with a tattoo of the England cricket crest on my leg. Cricket is my main sporting passion outside of Arsenal. It is with great sadness that I woke this morning to the news that Phil Hughes had died as a result of being struck on the neck while batting a couple of days ago. 
It's quite frightening that, while completely freak in its nature, is the sort of thing that could actually happen to anybody that sets foot on a cricket pitch. For it to happen to a top level player merely underlines that a cricket ball bowled at your head is a very dangerous thing indeed. It's such a sad, sad thing to happen.

RIP Phil.

A big miss when he's injured

It was a pleasant experience to watch Arsenal play last night. I thought it was a fine all round performance, especially after half-time when we were barely troubled, largely due to a more organised looking defence. I have to say that I thought Nacho Monreal, Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers played really well, while Emiliano Martinez made two very good saves and never looked remotely ruffled. In front of the defence Mikel Arteta was outstanding, and yet another bad calf injury (this is clearly a chronic problem that he has now) means we are going to miss him badly. I have come to realise that, a bit like Gilberto, you notice Arteta more when he isn't around. Flamini lacks the positional discipline, and the ability to keep the ball, that Arteta has. It is testament to the man that Mikel Arteta has re-invented his game and curbed his own redoubtable attacking play to work for the team at Arsenal. Is he as good as Gilberto was? Of course not. But that doesn't mean he isn't extremely influential, as a player and as Arsenal Captain. I hope that Wenger will bring Francis Coquelin back in to the fold now as Flamini simply isn't up to the task.
It was nice to see Yaya Sanogo get a goal at last. I thought he looked offside from the other end of the ground, and TV shows that he was. Maybe that's a payback for Anderlecht's first goal the other week, but it really underlined some pretty bad officiating last night. Just before half-time Mertesacker was beaten by, I think, Aubemyang down in front of me with three officials less than ten yards away as the BFG pushed his man square in the chest - the ref inexplicably waved play-on. Anyway, back to Sanogo, and I thought he did well last night. Obviously he lacks a bit of quality, as was seen when he was put through by Aaron Ramsey and failed to get a decent shot away. However, he worked hard up front on his own and won numerous headers against strong defenders. Sanogo did all that could be asked of him in the circumstances, and hopefully he'll gain much needed confidence from his performance. I still don't believe he should be playing ahead of people like Podolski and Joel Campbell, but the Manager seems to have a lot of faith in him. I loved the "He scores when he wants..." that comically swept round the ground after Sanogo's goal.
I'm running out of things to say about Alexis. His goal last night was stunning. He didn't necessarily have his best match last night, but he still played well. His power and strength is incredible for someone so small, and he allies that to great skill and control of the ball. It seems unbelievable that he couldn't really get a game at Barcelona on a regular basis. I was excited when we signed him and he hasn't let us down. Some players simply have that bit of stardust that sets them apart, and Alexis is certainly one of them. I wish the other Arsenal players would learn from his work rate when we're not in possession, as that kind of thing doesn't even require genuine football ability. What a signing he is proving to be.
The other player who stood out again last night for me was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Following the worst game I've seen him play against Hull the other week he has been outstanding pretty much ever since. He brings direct running and pace on the wing, though I'd like to see him cross the ball more when he's beaten his man on the outside - you have to think that it must be under instruction that we always cut back inside in those situations. He was also desperately unlucky with an outstanding volley that came back off the bar. The Ox is in great form at the moment.
It made a nice change to come home from Arsenal last night in a good mood. Hopefully, with qualification secured now, we can get back to the real business of winning games in the Premier League. December is set to be a tough month, so let's go in to it in a good way with a win on Saturday, setting us up for Southampton next week.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Media latch on to Wenger Out - it's all his own making

The moment it all started to end

BBC 606 tonight went big on Wenger Out. The media bandwagon has had the brake released and that is a very bad thing for Arsene Wenger. Kroenke and Gazidis can find it very easy to ignore the fans, but they won't be able to ignore the media. If there is one thing that's going to be bad for business then it's bad PR. It gives me no pleasure to see the beginning of the end finally going public as it means that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are doing badly. But the beginning of the end it surely is.

What happened yesterday? To be fair I can say that only one Arsenal player had a particularly bad game yesterday and that was Aaron Ramsey. The fact was that we largely outplayed the absolutely worst Manchester United side since the late 1980's. Let's make no mistake about this, that Manchester United team would have been in the relegation zone ten years ago (don't let anyone fool you in to thinking that the Premier League has more quality in it nowadays). And yet Arsenal couldn't beat them. Even worse, Arsenal lost to them. We lost 2-1 to a side that had one shot on target - only Arsenal could manage that.
I believe David De Gea won man of the match. Yes, he made a number of saves from shots on target. But let's be honest here, I reckon most of us could have made those saves, so bad was Arsenal's shooting. Every single effort was straight at De Gea. The one shot that wasn't at him went in the net. Danny Welbeck, for all the good stuff he does, needs five chances to score a goal. Quite simply, he isn't good enough to play in a side that has designs on winning things. It pains me to write this, but Van Gaal was spot on about Welbeck. And then there is Jack Wilshere. What was that "finish" all about? You have the whole of one side of the goal to aim at. All you've got to do is give it the Michael Thomas flick, or even square it to Alexis (though I don't want to see players passing when one-on-one, six yards out) but instead he rolled it straight at the goalkeeper. He even got injured because he over ran the ball when we had a 4 v 3 against what passes for a Man Utd defence these days. Again, it's a simple lack of quality where it matters. Oh, and he should have been sent off.
One man who genuinely didn't deserve to be on the losing side yesterday was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. United had no answer to him, yet we didn't get him enough of the ball in the second-half. Ramsey was too busy being a show-pony while, once Jack went off injured, Mikel Arteta was doing the work of two men. Once Man Utd went 1-0 up it was back to the same old square nonsense across the massed defence. Same, same, same. And yet the players still look surprised when trying to pass through a non-existent gap on the edge of the penalty area doesn't work.
Let's clear up the point that we should have had a free-kick seconds before their first goal. It sums up Fellaini as a player that he would think to foul Gibbs before considering that he might have actually beaten him comfortably had he attacked the ball. It was a foul, and then things went against us with the deflection. But what was Aaron Ramsey doing in the build-up? We cleared our lines well and it came to Ramsey. All he had to do was head the ball further clear, even put it out for a throw-in if necessary (every throw Valencia takes is outside the laws of the game, by the way). Instead he flicked at the ball and gave it away in an area where United could exploit Arsenal's main weakness. He sold the entire team down the river with his self-serving "look at me" show boating. I am sick and tired of seeing Ramsey trying to be clever. Last season was apparently a flash in the pan. Ramsey is back to being as bad as he was two years ago and I'm fed up with it. It's easy to see why someone like Tomas Rosicky is frustrated at not getting a single start, and very rare sub appearances, when he watches crap like Ramsey playing like he has all season. As for any idea of bad luck on the goal, yes it was unlucky, but we should have been taking luck out of the equation yesterday with such dominance of the game.
The second goal came because certain Arsenal players completely lost the plot. For some reason Mertesacker had taken it upon himself to play some kind of advanced midfield role, leaving poor Nacho Monreal on his own with Rooney and Di Maria for company. At one stage Mertesacker was doing his Bambi on ice bit on the left-wing. I couldn't understand it. At the point United made it 2-0 there were five minutes on the clock, but you knew there were at least ten minutes left following the injury stoppages in the second-half. Wenger said he couldn't understand why everyone was up the pitch at that stage. The man is supposed to be the Manager for God's sake! Why wasn't he actually out on the touchline and giving orders to the players to keep their discipline and keep playing their football as they had been? How can he sit in front of the press and come out with this stuff? It gets more embarrassing by the week. Instead of being patient until you really had to go for it he oversaw another disaster of defending. I felt sorry for Monreal and Martinez.
I have to confess at this stage that I joined the exodus when Rooney scored. I haven't walked out of a game early in years. I don't like it. But I've had enough. I'll be there on Wednesday, of course, but yesterday there was only one response appropriate to what I'd witnessed. It's like watching some kind of suicide squad who have no care for their own defences as they pour forward in some forlorn pursuit of glory. 
Where do we go from here? The fact that he picked the same back four again yesterday shows you that Wenger has no desire to change anything. He is convinced, utterly and totally, that he is right and everyone else is wrong. It says it all that we were relying on Olivier Giroud yesterday to be a hero - a player who everyone had already written off as not top class long before he was out injured for three months. How far we have fallen.

If you look back, everything started to go wrong the day Patrick Vieira took his final kick of the ball for Arsenal. For some reason Wenger decided to sell him in the one close-season when he seemed absolutely certain to stay. Ever since that day the decisions of Arsene Wenger have cost Arsenal points and trophies. Jens Lehmann was dropped and then forced out. Gilberto was forced out. Ashley Cole, for all that we dislike him for what he did, was let down over a measly five grand a week. Robert Pires was sold in favour of keeping Alexander Hleb as the alternative. Thierry Henry was sold because Wenger had lost the ability to motivate him to play for Arsenal, and who could really blame Henry when he was suddenly surrounded by mediocre players and Cesc Fabregas? The fact is that Arsene Wenger has destroyed everything he created at Arsenal.
How can we go from the Invincibles to what we have now with the same Manager in charge? I can't accept any notion that Wenger was lucky back then with the players he had. He brought in each of those players to the Arsenal side, with the exceptions of Bergkamp and Parlour. The Invincibles was Arsene Wenger's team more than any of the previous successful sides he had at his disposal when Seaman, Adams, Keown, Dixon etc were still in harness (yes, I know Keown was also an Invincible officially, but he played very few minutes that season). The new stadium is used as an excuse for the sale of the top players, but Wenger insisted on moving from Highbury. Nobody can tell me that leaving our home was the right thing to do when you look at a Club suffering it's worst start to a season in 32 years. There appears no way out of the spiral now, just as there wasn't when Terry Neill was sacked, and also when George Graham was sacked. The similarities with the end of those two reigns are so clear, with a squad of players who should be doing far better than they are, but led by a Manager who has lost them and lost the plot. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

An evening with two Arsenal legends and two Arsenal trophies

The real star of the show last night

I had the honour, the privilege and the pleasure last night to interview Graham Rix and Brian Talbot, two of the heroes of the 1979 FA Cup Final, at the annual Dover Gooners Legends Dinner. Even more than that, Arsenal Football Club were kind enough to bring to Dover the FA Cup and the Charity Shield. We also had a personal video message from Mathieu Flamini to start the night. It just shows that, for all the moaning many of us indulge in with regards to the Club, and the way they treat the fans, it's not all bad. There are still a good number of people working at Arsenal who are fans themselves, and those people understand what it means to all of us. I can honestly say that having the FA Cup was a highlight for most of the people in the room, and I think the majority took the opportunity to get their picture taken with the trophies. I've met the Cup a few times now, and it never gets any less stunning in close-up - it's also quite heavy, with most of the weight coming from the lid that was damaged by Thomas Vermaelen in May.

Graham Rix and Brian Talbot on their greatest Arsenal day

As I said above, I was able to interview Rixy and Brian in front of the assembled Gooners. I'm not going to give you a full run down of what was said as that's not fair on people who paid to be there! However, what comes over loud and clear from both men, as it does with all the legends we've had down at Dover over the last ten years, is that they love The Arsenal. Brian Talbot was totally effusive about the Club. Brian "confessed" to being an Arsenal supporter and how he had hoped to sign for Arsenal straight after winning the FA Cup in 1978 for Ipswich, but Bobby Robson wouldn't let him. He finally arrived in January of the following year and the rest is history. He surprised me when he said he felt Arsenal were maybe one player short of challenging Liverpool at the time - the more things change the more they stay the same, it would seem. To then see Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton move on within a couple of years must have been a real kick in the teeth.
Rixy told us about his debut (and was serenaded with "We all agree, Rixy is better than Hoddle") and how he scored early on in the game. I ribbed him that David O'Leary outscored him that day and he pointed out that both of those goals were headers from corners delivered by himself! He also talked about the cross he put in for Alan Sunderland's winner in the Cup Final, rather humbly saying that he didn't so much pick Sunderland out (he said he hadn't actually seen him) but how he concentrated on taking the goalkeeper out of the equation, as he'd been coached to do through the years, and then Alan did the rest by making up a lot of ground to poke it home. It seems so simple when you think about it, that the cross wasn't necessarily aimed at the striker, but how it was about defeating the goalkeeper and then the centre-forward doing his own job to attack the ball. It just sums up, for me, that football is a simple game. Maybe the modern Arsenal wide players and forwards could learn from that.
You'll see in the picture above that Graham is wearing a Manchester United shirt. I asked him about it and he told us that it was Martin Buchan's shirt, but Arsenal wore two shirts that day - one in the first-half and one in the second. He has his first-half shirt framed at home as a prized possession, but he hasn't a clue where Buchan's shirt has gone! It was interesting to me that Arsenal wore two seperate kits that day. You might remember that Don Howe did the same thing with his Wimbledon players when coaching there in 1988 in order to freshen them up on a hot Wembley day. Arsenal clearly left nothing to chance in 1979.
The following season saw Brian play over 70 games for Arsenal as the team went on to lose in two Cup Final's in four days. I asked if the long season had just caught up with them at the end, but he would have none of it. He said how West Ham simply got their tactics right on the day at Wembley, while Arsenal played poorly. As for Valencia in Brussels he felt that Arsenal shaded the game, and when you watch that match he's probably right, but they just couldn't get a goal to win it.  
The most poignant part of the evening came when I asked Graham about the penalty miss in the shootout. He pointed out that he was in great company as Brady and Kempes also missed, but it was clear that it hurts him to this day. Rixy was quite emotional recalling the penalty, and how he felt. Some 34 years later it still gets to him. He told us how he cried after missing, then he saw his parents when he got his medal and he cried some more, and then the Arsenal fans sang his name - at this point in his recollection I think he came close to tears last night. As a fan I find it reassuring that a player could feel like that. I don't know if the modern millionaire player might feel quite the same emotions as Graham Rix did, and still does, but it showed me that a man like Rixy simply just "gets it". He felt it, and feels it, like a supporter.
To hear the way both men talked about The Arsenal was wonderful. To them it's the best Club in the whole World. As supporters we can all feel that way, but it's great when you hear the players talk in those terms. It was enlightening to hear Rixy say that every player who left, regardless of who they went to play for, all regretted leaving The Arsenal. That's quite a statement, and it shows just how special Arsenal Football Club really is.

Thanks to my brother Mick for organising another great Dover Gooners Dinner, and thanks to all of those who came to it from near and far. And thanks to Arsenal, of course, for being The Arsenal.

Me and my old mate - it's been too long (poor quality photo)

Monday, 10 November 2014

A song for Arsene Wenger

This is how it should have ended

I haven't written in a couple of weeks. I explained this on the Facebook page late last week on the grounds that there was nothing new to say. I'm fed up of writing about the failings of the Manager. There are no tactics, there is no organisation, we are short of defenders, those we have got don't know how to do their jobs, we get caught in the same way time and again, we have a second-rate goalkeeper (beaten from 35 yards out yesterday because he took up the wrong position on a free-kick yet again), Wenger makes bad substitutions, there is no leadership, nobody does any talking on the pitch (except for Flamini who ought to concentrate on his own job first). The list goes on and on and on and nothing about it ever changes.
It's not meant to be like this. Arsene Wenger oversaw the best football team England has ever witnessed. Nobody before, and nobody since, has played football here in the way Wenger's Arsenal did. But even the Invincibles didn't dominate for years as they should have done - even in 2003-04 we threw away both domestic cups and the Champions League through Wenger's mistakes. But how have we fallen so far? How is it that more and more of us now see there is no future while he is in charge?
I wish he'd gone in May. To have retired with the FA Cup in the bag would have been the ideal ending. Instead he is slowly destroying his Arsenal legacy. He is increasingly tetchy in the way he behaves. I don't have a lot of time for Paul Merson, but only Wenger can't see Merse was right with his comments last week. The way Wenger is carrying on is not the behaviour of the wonderfully intelligent and erudite man we know he is. The simple fact is that he has lost it and, deep down, he probably knows that himself. Meanwhile the Arsenal supporters are suffering.
Wenger's comments about Alexis are also increasingly puzzling. Instead of saying how the others need to learn from the way he plays (yes, he gives the ball away at times, but nobody works harder to retrieve it, and we'd be relegation fodder without him this season) he has had another pop at him after yesterday. I am convinced that Wenger didn't sign Alexis. He doesn't want Alexis. If Ozil wasn't injured then I think Alexis wouldn't be playing every week. Meanwhile he fails to acknowledge that the basic defensive flaws even exist.
I can't believe his excuse yesterday for not getting Calum Chambers out of harms way. He said "we had no experience on the bench". Well, whose fault is that? And did we not have a real right-back on the bench? A right-back who, before we played at Dortmund, Wenger himself told us was "ready"? What exactly does such a comment say to Hector Bellerin? And is it not Wenger who has loaned out Carl Jenkinson and Francis Coquelin? Every time he opens his mouth I find myself wanting to break something as it's just utter nonsense whenever he speaks.
Wenger isn't the only one, however. What about the Arsenal Captain yesterday? Per Mertesacker told us after the game that we don't do the basics, and how we need to keep the ball. Why, then, my dear skipper, were you not organising people? Why, when Swansea broke forward to get the free-kick for the equaliser, were both full-backs and Flamini in their half of the pitch? As bad as Wenger and his tactics are, can the Captain not think for himself on the pitch after 100+ caps for Germany? It was the same on Tuesday once Mikel Arteta had gone off injured. This is the same Mertesacker who told us a couple of weeks ago about the need to attack the ball in the air - what happened on Tuesday? And it wasn't the first time. I'm sick of hearing empty words. 
As I said above, it wasn't meant to end this way for Arsene Wenger. But he has been the architect of his own demise and the tide now seems well and truly turned. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who still want him to be Manager, but not many of them go to games. It makes me sad to see that most people now seem to realise it's over for him. Don't be afraid of change. I can only illustrate my feelings really, by use of song - so here are The Moody Blues - it's a sad day.

Wenger out.