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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A nice few weeks

Arsenal's best player so far this season

It's been nearly three weeks again since I wrote anything and, to be frank, I think that is going to be a more and more regular thing with my posts on the site. I spend all day (or night sometimes) on a computer at work and the last thing I often feel like doing these days is sitting in front of another one when I get home, even on days off. There will be occasions when I still get to do something on here more regularly but the mood will really have to take me. Enough about that.
It's been an excellent few weeks for Arsenal. Starting with a couple of uninspiring performances, but good results, against Southampton and PSG the team have gone on a little bit of a run. There has been an improvement in the football with pace and proper closing down being added to the performances. You can't argue with a week that sees you win twice away from home by scoring four goals (with two totally different starting XI's) and then hammering Chelsea 3-0 at home with the best team performance in a long time - I would say it was even better than the home win over Manchester United last season and it could have been a much wider margin. Coming away from the game on Saturday evening you got the sense that maybe some of us are starting to have a bit of belief in this squad of players.

Stop press: I'm just interjecting in my own article to laugh at Sam Allardyce being sacked by England according to Sky Sports News. Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke. What an utter cretin. Karma will always come back to haunt you in the end! Too bad, so sad, bye-bye.

Back to Arsenal. The proof of whether or not any newly found faith from the supporters is well placed will come in future fixtures, of course. The way the team played on Saturday must be replicated week after week, starting tomorrow at home to Basel and at Burnley this Sunday. We've had plenty of false dawns in recent years and we have to hope this isn't another. I'm more than willing to wait and see and hope that the feel-good factor from Saturday is a long lasting one. It was nice to be excited by an Arsenal team in a way that has become all too rare of late. Long may it continue.

I want to finish off by offering credit where it is due, and that credit is to Theo Walcott. Again, there have been plenty of times in the past with Theo where we have thought he's finally getting there, only to see him slump or get injured again. However, since the first game of the season against Liverpool he has been superb as far as I'm concerned. The fact is that when Theo is playing well then Arsenal are playing well - his pace scares the life out of the opposition and it opens up space for everyone else once he is being targeted by their defenders. I gave Theo so much stick last season and I was convinced he would be on his way after May. Coming back this season he has already started to win over a crowd that was on his back whenever he did something not quite right. For all that I thought he was finished with us I still like Theo Walcott. I still want to see Theo show us all that he is as good as we had hoped he was going to be when he burst on the scene ten years ago. He is a likeable guy, clean-cut and no trace of arrogance. Maybe that has led to him being used as a bit of a door-mat by fans and England bosses alike over the years. For Arsene Wenger he has clearly always had something about him. If this is Theo's season then I can't wait to sit in the stands and watch it.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

A legendary day


I know it was a few days ago but this is the first chance I've had to actually sit down and type something following the Arsenal Legends v Milan Glorie game on Saturday afternoon. I was extremely disappointed last week that certain names were no longer attending, despite being prominent in the club advertising of the match. I'm sure plenty bought tickets specifically to see Bergkamp and Henry - that was certainly my motivation as I wanted my two boys to be able to say they saw them play. Henry obviously started his new coaching job with Belgium last week, but the absence of Dennis never was explained.
Nevertheless I went to the game with my sons, my Dad, my brothers, my sister-in-law, one nephew and one niece (her first time going to Arsenal). What followed turned out to be a truly special experience for everyone who attended. I really hadn't expected much at all from the day but we were given an absolute treat by all the players and the supporting cast. The most evident thing is the way in which the former players are so full of adoration for Arsenal. Even the ones who are employed to criticise Arsenal on TV are full of love for the footballing institution that is our club. Bob Wilson was interviewed before the game and just listening to him talk about how much he loves Arsenal is enough to get your heart going - he was genuinely emotional about being involved again. Lee Dixon also demonstrated just how pleased he was to be back for the day, albeit unable to still play the game due to a wrecked knee. Liam Brady was also so enthusiastic about being there, even though he sadly admitted he is long past playing.
When the players came out for the kick-off we had David Seaman come towards the North Bank end, as he did for so many years back at Highbury. The reception he got from the crowd really did bring back memories of the old place as the chant of "Seaman, Seaman" went up from just about everyone behind the goal. Seaman reacted to the adulation as he always did in his prime with arms outstretched and thumbs up to the crowd. He wasn't the only one hearing his old song again. Freddie, Robert Pires, Marc Overmars - they all got a moment. 
Overmars showed that everything is relative by demonstrating that his pace later in life is still quicker than whoever his opposition full-back was. If you're too young to have seen Marc Overmars play for Arsenal then just imagine the pace of Theo Walcott, but quicker, and with the ability to destroy a defence all on his own and score goals. The only thing missing from Overmars on Saturday was his obligatory goal, thwarted ultimately by an ageing hamstring as he bore down on Dida in the second-half. 
The defence was the basis for Arsenal winning the game. In Justin Hoyte, Kolo Toure, Pascal Cygan and Nigel Winterburn we had a back-four who were still physically very fit - the only one carrying an ounce of fat was Kolo and he is the one still actually playing at the moment! Both Seaman and Jens Lehmann backed them up with fine saves - big Dave surprised me with his reflexes, while Jens could comfortably still do a squad job at a high level. The penalty save by Lehmann was exceptional in any circumstances. Even better than the defence, however, was the midfield masterclass delivered by Gilberto. My Dad said to me in the first-half that the current defensive midfielders ought to be sat down in front of a film of Saturday's game and told to focus just on what Gilberto does and where he is on the pitch. If ever Wenger let someone go, only to get it seriously wrong, it was Gilberto.
Ray Parlour sadly got himself injured within a couple of minutes, so Gilles Grimandi came on and did Manu Petit's running for him, while the ponytail himself sprayed the passes around from that wand of a left-foot. Freddie Ljungberg buzzed around up front while Robert Pires coasted around the pitch laying the ball off with ease at all times.
Some of the tackles across the pitch were surprisingly committed from both teams. The Italians remain the masters of the cynical trip and/or body-check, while Howard Webb remains the master of failing to know a foul from a decent tackle. Only a cretin like Webb could frustrate me on a day like this.
The game turned with the introduction of Kanu. The man really has not changed since his playing days. He is no slower, really, than he ever was, while his skill on the ball is totally mesmerising. It's easy to overlook just how strong Kanu is and the way he holds people off while in total control of the football is incredible to watch. I was pleased when Lee Dixon mentioned at half-time that one of Kanu's greatest Arsenal performances came when he dropped in to midfield at Anfield just before Christmas 2001 - with Gio Van Bronckhorst sent-off he went on to dominate the game, Liverpool unable to get the ball off him. He scored two good headers on Saturday, and then a penalty to complete a popular hat-trick. I'd still have him in the squad ahead of Sanogo, even though his official age is 40 - there is no way Kanu is only 40!
The highlight of the afternoon came in the shape of the fourth goal. Freddie suddenly burst past the Milan defence to a roar of appreciation from the crowd. Being a quality player he got his head up and played the perfect cross in to the path of an onrushing Bobby to smash the ball in to the net. It was undoubtedly the biggest cheer of the day. There had been a few passing moves that had rolled back the years, still taking the breath away even at a slower pace, but this goal really was the throwback we had been hoping for all day. Robert Pires saluted the crowd as though he had just scored another North London Derby goal and the fans saluted him back. It's fair to say that, even at an advanced age, some of these blokes really have still got it. They might lose some speed, but they don't lose their ability.
Following the total success of the occasion on Saturday I suspect this Arsenal Legends match will become an annual feature, one way or another. The chance to see some of the great AC Milan team of the 90's was also a joy - albeit tempered by not seeing a sadly injured Paolo Maldini. If there is another Arsenal Legends game this time next year I will be doing my best to be there. I'd urge everyone else to take the opportunity to see these greats in the flesh. They won't be able to come back and play forever, so don't miss them while they're still able - in ten years time it might be Denilson and Sanogo...

Not bad for a bloke in his late 50's

Friday, 2 September 2016

Ashley Cole - the odd man out

He'd already spoken to Chelsea...

I'm off to Arsenal tomorrow to watch the Arsenal Legends v Milan Glorie game in aid of the Arsenal Foundation. I've been extremely annoyed all week that, having bought my tickets (along with most others) on the understanding that Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp were going to be playing, neither are going to be there after all. I'm taking my two boys and wanted them to forever be able to say they saw the both of them play. Henry has got his new job with Belgium, having chosen to work for Sky rather than for Arsenal. Dennis, however, is also not going to be there but there has been no explanation as to why. Up until Wednesday (at least) Henry and Bergkamp photos were still forming part of the advertising, although their names were obviously left off the final list of sixteen former Arsenal players to be involved. I can seek solace in the fact that at least Pascal Cygan has been persuaded to play after being left out initially.
When the original advertising for this match was done back in May it seemed to me that maybe there had been a move to get the Invincibles team on the pitch for one last time. Patrick Vieira's new role in New York quickly ruled him out, but all the others were surely on the radar, albeit with one very notable exception - Ashley Cole. It's ten years this week since he left. The fact is that, almost no matter what the circumstances, Cole will never again wear an Arsenal shirt. He was even interviewed recently and stated he would like to work for Chelsea in the future, and not for Arsenal. No surprise, I guess, but it is Cole's determination to always talk negatively when referencing Arsenal that does him no favours.
I wrote in the Jack Wilshere piece the other night that Cole should have been the Arsenal Captain for many years. He had already developed in to the best full-back in the World before he left us, and he got better and better at Chelsea. It pains me to write that but it's true. We all know the feelings of most Arsenal supporters about Cashley, but it shouldn't be used to play down his achievements with us. He is the best left-back I've seen at Arsenal, he won trophies, never gave an inch, and had nerves of steel when taking a penalty. No other full-back has shackled Cristiano Ronaldo the way Cole did, both for club and country, throughout his career. Cole was too good for Ronaldo. Nobody else has been. Cole ought a legendary figure in the history of Arsenal, as are all the Invincibles, and maybe that should be recognised.
The unfortunate thing about Cashley is that he came to embody everything that was wrong about Chelsea and Mourniho. Did Arsenal renege on an "agreement" to pay him £70k per week? I think they probably did. Did that excuse the fact that he had already gone behind the back of Arsenal FC to talk with Mourinho and Chelsea in a move that was totally against the rules? Not in my book. I believe that Cole always knew that he would be forcing his way out of the club that had nurtured him from a small boy, keen to take Chelsea's money at the expense of moral judgement. The trophies he subsequently won with them obviously make an absolute justification for the move he made, but he must understand why Arsenal fans went for him the way we did. After the move he never missed the chance to have a dig at us. He even blamed us for his leaving as we apparently didn't sing his name after the last game at Highbury. Was he that blinkered that he didn't know we idolised him? Ashley Cole was one of us, after all. The thing I can never forgive is the way he chose to "celebrate" the immediate aftermath of winning the European Cup by once again turning on the Arsenal supporters - he couldn't just enjoy his success, but had to take it out on us. That sickened me and still does.
So, there will be no Cashley at Arsenal tomorrow, and there won't be ever again. It shouldn't, as I said above, take away from what he did for us. However, I reserve the right to have no liking for a man who disrespects us so badly as he has. It's a shame as Ashley Cole really should have gone on to be considered alongside the likes of Tony Adams and David O'Leary and George Armstrong - he would have probably beaten O'Leary's appearance record - but he chose another path and now is a footnote remembered for being part of the greatest side we've seen. Like a lot of other things in the last ten years, it just wasn't meant to be like that.