Highbury Library Logo

Highbury Library Logo

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Arsenal Football Club - FA Cup Winners 2017

FA Cup Winners 2017

What a truly unbelievable day it was at Wembley yesterday. We could pick holes in the fact that such a  performance has been missing for most of the time since Christmas, maybe even all season except for a game or two, but this is not the time for that kind of reflection. The only thing I want to reflect on today is the fact that Arsenal battered the Premier League Champions yesterday to win us our 13th FA Cup, and Arsene Wenger's 7th. From front to back, start to finish, and everything in between, it was simply a stunning display of commitment, pace, authority, tactical awareness and superb passing football. I said in the preview we might find chances few and far between and would need to be clinical. We ended up in a position where we should have won by at least three clear goals, such were the opportunities spurned, or unlucky to see bounce off the post, which is an absolute mark of the dominance Arsenal held over Chelsea at Wembley.

Pre-match fireworks

The atmosphere was great in the Arsenal end as the supporters really got behind the team. There was not even the merest hint of dissent despite a popular fanzine attempting to organise a protest against Kroenke - to have done this at an FA Cup Final would have been an embarrassing disgrace and, frankly, The Gooner editor ought to have a look at himself for trying to promote that on Friday. There was the usual pre-match rubbish put on by the FA in terms of the "ceremony" but really the fans aren't interested in that. Arsenal's coaches were particularly unimpressed at the Wembley groundstaff trying to force them off the pitch by turning on the sprinklers during the players warm-up. Abide With Me was as rousing and as emotional as ever. Then we had God Save The Queen and a one minute silence in memory of the victims in Manchester earlier in the week - one or two at the far end fancied getting their voices heard amid the quiet, but they were very quickly silenced by their own.

Play to the whistle, Chelsea!

Arsenal couldn't have made a better start to the game. We immediately controlled the football but not by passing it about among our centre-backs. The game was being played in the Chelsea half from the kick-off with Arsenal's players making theirs chase shadows. I don't think Kante and Matic really knew what had hit them in the opening few minutes as Xhaka and Ramsey controlled the midfield. The goal from Alexis after only three minutes made it a perfect opening, albeit amid controversy. When you see the replay it is impossible to understand how Mr Taylor (who was otherwise surprisingly fairly immaculate in the way he refereed the game) missed the handball by Sanchez. However, let's be quite clear here, according to the current reading of the offside law Aaron Ramsey was not offside when Alexis went in to score. You only have to look back a couple of weeks to Raheem Sterling not being given offside for Man City v Leiecester for precedent on this. My personal view is that it should be offside, but at the moment it isn't. Chelsea's players had pushed up to play keep Ramsey offside and that's why I think he has interfered with the play but, I'll say it again, the current law says not. Courtois was interviewed after the game saying he stopped coming for the ball as Ramsey was offside but that's a poor excuse - first lesson as a schoolboy footballer? Play to the whistle son!
Quite how Arsenal didn't get further goals in the first-half is hard to fathom. Cahill cleared on the line from Ozil, with Danny Welbeck a couple of inches away from turning it in anyway. Then Welbeck hit the post with a header and the ball rebounded against Ramsey and back off the post again. Welbeck again saw Cahill clear off the line after he had scrambled the ball past Courtois. Arsenal were stunningly good going forward. Equally they were exceptional in defence. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played a fine game as the left sided wing-back, Bellerin equally good on the other side. But it was the three centre-backs who excelled. I've seen the game back on TV this evening and in the first five minutes Rob Holding stands up to Costa's attempted bully-boy wind-up behaviour - that lad has got it, simple as that. Monreal and Mertesacker, meanwhile, were completely flawless throughout the 90 minutes. Alexis got given the official Man Of The Match award by Danny Murphy but it simply had to be either Nacho or the BFG who should have got it.
At half-time and 1-0 up you had to be happy if you were in our end. The only mild disappointment was borne out of the fear of having missed our chances to have basically put the game to bed.

Celebrating the winning goal on both sides of the pitch

Chelsea predictably had their best moments in the period immediately after half-time in terms of actually being on top. It was a ten minute spell where Arsenal gave up the ball far too cheaply and allowed Chelsea to attack. This is where Mertesacker absolutely came in to his own as he picked off pass after pass in to the Arsenal penalty-area. The BFG lacks pace but all those caps for Germany mean he is a good player and there are not many who read the play as well as he does. If he did have pace he would have been a peerless centre-half.
Once Arsenal got their foot on the ball a bit more we managed to press Chelsea back again. Danny Welbeck's running off the ball and harrying of the Chelsea defenders was crucial throughout his time on the pitch. David Luiz simply couldn't handle him and Welbeck wore out both him and Cahill. That meant that when Olivier Giroud came on he dominated both of them too as he was physically far too strong for the Chelsea pair to take the ball from him.
The red card for Moses was clearly spot on. His first booking was for a rugby tackle on Welbeck who had made him look a total mug. To then take that dive was nothing more than cheating and it was refreshing watching the game back to hear the BBC pundits refer to it as exactly that on the live broadcast (Jermaine Jenas made a point of not calling it cheating on the highlights) and actually condemn it for a change. Credit, of course, to the referee who had the perfect view. From my seat at the other end of Wembley I really couldn't say what had happened and my very real fear was that Oxlade-Chamberlain had clipped him. When he gave us the free-kick you realised immediately that he was going to have to send-off Moses.
Chelsea got their goal while down to ten men and it was poor from Ospina. Holding got a bit too tight to Costa which allowed him to get spun a little, but the mishit shot took a small deflection off Mertesacker. Nevertheless it should have been an easy save for a goalkeeper as agile as Ospina but he simply never pushed off his standing foot and then punched out at thin-air to help the ball in to the corner. At that point I think we all feared we'd blown a great opportunity.
Arsene Wenger then, of course, played the trump card. Welbeck had surely run his race as there was no other reason to replace him with Giroud. However, straight from the kick-off he made a lovely run in behind Cahill and Alexis found him with an exquisite pass. There is no way Giroud could have known exactly where Aaron Ramsey was but maybe playing together over a number of years gave him a vague idea that Rambo would be flying in to the penalty area. As the ball floated across the goal I had the perfect view with Ramsey right down in front of me. You kind of just knew as he went towards the ball that this was going to be a goal. When it went in there was an absolute wall of noise in the Arsenal end as things went totally mental. There is something about Wembley goals that is different and it's moments like that, as it was with the Boyo three years ago against Hull, which give us our reason to go to watch games in the flesh. I was celebrating it with both of my sons, my youngest seeing his first FA Cup Final at just 7 years-old. It was incredible. 
I have given Ramsey loads of criticism in these pages over the last few years. I believe it has been justified. However, yesterday he was back at his absolute best. He kept it simple, no flicks and back-heels, no suicide runs leaving us short in midfield. He paired perfectly with Xhaka, who played his best game since he arrived and is beginning to look a little more comfortable in the English game. For all the stick I give Ramsey he was already an Arsenal legend for his winning goal in 2014, so to do it twice merely cements his legacy as one of THE names in the history of Arsenal Football Club.

The Arsenal end at the final whistle

Mertesacker and Koscielny lift the FA Cup

In the last ten minutes it seemed that we should have scored every time we got the ball. Bellerin had a great individual effort where he sprinted past Luiz, Ozil did everything but score when he hit the post, the final ball was just over-hit a couple of times, and our dominance but no killer goal was keeping Chelsea in it. That meant there was time for Ospina to redeem himself with a stunning save to deny Costa a second equaliser and Monreal's reaction to the save will live long in the memory as he grabbed Ospina in congratulation at having his moment.

Me and my boys after the game

When the final whistle went the noise in the Arsenal end was even louder than before. Yes, there were tears for me and I know there were for both of my brothers and my Dad too. For me it was special like never before because both of my boys were there. I tried to explain to the youngest that he should take it all in as you never know when it will happen again and I think he understood - as he went to bed late last night he told me "I always want to remember this day Dad". For my eldest son he's getting quite used to it having been to his third FA Cup Final win at the age of only 11. I had to wait until I was 14 to see my first!

Captain and match-winner with the FA Cup

The celebrations of the players were really something yesterday. Each of the was clearly enjoying every minute and I think they knew they owed us something this season, as well as owing their Manager who has shown sometimes blind faith in them. Rob Holding, getting his first taste of the big-time, was literally dancing round the edge of the pitch to celebrate with the massed ranks of the Gooner Army at our end of the ground. Unfortunately the Wembley powers that be still haven't got the message regarding their horrible PA system - if they will insist on playing deafening music at least please put on Good Old Arsenal or something so we can sing along to it. 
It was noticeable in those celebrations how important Per Mertesacker is the leader of the group. There were two group photo opportunities and both of them saw Per ensuring that everyone involved with the first-team, who was in attendance on the pitch at least (Debuchy, Jenkinson and Sanogo were absent for some reason which wasn't right at all in my book) was in the pictures.

The players celebrating

Thanks Arsene - and goodbye..?

For Arsene Wenger there was clearly a personal vindication yesterday of all that he has done. As much as I would like to see him go, and what more perfect time than after a win like that, and as much stick as I give him, I couldn't help but be happy for the old man yesterday. He also seemed to be making the absolute most out of the celebrations and made a point, I believe, of showing the Cup to all three sides of the pitch we were on. He also did a lot of waving at us all. Was he waving goodbye? Maybe yesterday I thought, for the first time, that perhaps he is going to call it a day. If the does then he will go with my absolute gratitude for what he did for my football club. This season has been poor, but yesterday meant that it has actually been good - if you win a trophy then it's a good season. Give me 5th place and the FA Cup over 2nd place and no trophy any day, thanks very much. Arsene Wenger has provided me with the best football I've ever seen at varying times in his tenure. In recent seasons it has been something we have rarely seen, but it was there yesterday. He can point to having won 7 (SEVEN) FA Cups at Arsenal, with 3 in the last 4 seasons. For all that we moan, football is about trophies and he has managed Arsenal to them again. I can't and won't abuse him. I can't and won't join a protest against him. I want him to go, but I'm still happy every time he proves me wrong. We will know later this week what the future holds.

And so that's it for the season. We finish with silverware and that's good enough for me. The fact we did it in such great style, against the best team in England, makes it all the better. Football is wonderful thing. Arsenal is the most wonderful football thing of all bringing together, as it does for me, family and friends in the pursuit of loving our Club. And I bloody love winning the FA Cup!

The Arsenal.

Friday, 26 May 2017

FA Cup Final preview 2017

FA Cup Final 2017

So how are your nerves this evening? Mine are totally shot. I've been getting that churning feeling in my stomach whenever I've thought about the FA Cup Final since about Thursday last week. It's not so much the anticipation as the fear of losing - it's a one off and only winning will do. Arsenal having a distinct lack of central defenders only makes the sense of foreboding even worse really.
This could well be the final game for Arsene Wenger as Arsenal Manager. Whatever we all think about him it would be perfect if tomorrow was his last match and he was to go out on a high with the FA Cup in his hands at Wembley. There is no doubt we are capable of beating Conte's Chelsea - we thrashed them early on in the season. At the same time, they are the best side in this country by a mile and they also have the ability to hammer us. Quite how Arsenal deal with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa will surely be key on the day. Back at our place earlier in the campaign Costa was targeted for close attention by Koscielny from the off - not in the shape of fouling, but simply being so close to him that Costa never had space to get on the ball and bring his midfield in to the game. He is totally crucial to the way Chelsea play. In the absence of Koscielny then one of our centre-backs has to be tasked with the same job. As far as Hazard goes we have a problem there. He will play, nominally at least, from the left. With our three at the back (regardless of injury/suspension Wenger surely must stick with it?!) he will have space on the outside of Rob Holding to attack. Amid all the good stuff that Holding has produced he is scarily susceptible to anyone going at him on the outside. Whoever is the right wing-back may find their attacking opportunities stunted if we are to be tactically astute enough to protect the youngster against Hazard. My preference would be for Oxlade-Chamberlain to come back in on the right as he appears to be fit, regardless of Bellerin officially being a full-back - Hector is largely defensively inept and relies on his pace which will have no effect if out of position when Hazard gets the ball.
The need to defend properly brings me on to another part of our team. If Mertesacker doesn't play then you would have to really make Ramsey the skipper (it seems certain that Ospina is going to play ahead of Petr Cech). However, I believe we need to have Coquelin and Xhaka in the midfield to stymie Chelsea rather than Ramsey. Coquelin really set the tone at Stoke a couple of weeks ago with two big tackles inside the first minute - if he was to do that tomorrow it could put Chelsea immediately on the back foot. As underdogs we have to try and establish an early upper-hand against a superior opposition.
Up front I would far prefer to see Alexis through the middle putting pressure on what I consider to be a weak pair of Cahill and Luiz, regardless of their results this season. When Sanchez ran at Cahill earlier in the season he was found wanting, as he was against Lukaku and Kane as well. This would see, for me, Danny Welbeck playing from the left with Ozil having a more free role to hopefully put his stamp on a big game at last. He more than owes us a performance against major opposition and tomorrow represents the opportunity for Ozil to show once and for all he is a World Class talent. As much as I've talked about our defensive responsibilities tomorrow, it is our attacking threat that can win the game for us. In recent games chance after chance has been created, but not taken. Tomorrow has to be the day when Arsenal are clinical in front of goal. We must press the ball high up the pitch, put pressure on Chelsea in midfield, and attack with pace. 
Arsenal can win tomorrow. We have to believe that. I don't do predictions but I'd love Oxlade-Chamerlain and Coquelin to cover the Parlour and Ljungberg roles tomorrow with a straight repeat of 2002. I'm going with both my sons tomorrow and I really hope my youngest gets to see his first "in the flesh" silverware,


Monday, 22 May 2017

Arsenal do the right thing

Arsenal have moved quickly today with regards to season ticket prices for next season. The drop in to the Europa League has seen a reduction in renewal prices for 2017-18 and this is absolutely the right thing to do. At the end of a season that has been close to disastrous on the field, with only the FA Cup Final to add any gloss to it, I am relieved to see that someone at Arsenal has recognised the need to play a fair game with loyal supporters for a change. The one thing I would have liked them to do differently on this would have been to make the group stages of the Europa League a "League Cup" style arrangement, by which I mean it wouldn't have been included in season ticket costs at all until we reached any knockout stage. That move would have almost guaranteed a full-house of seats occupied, as opposed to sold, as plenty would have fancied some European football for £10 and £5 for concessions. Nonetheless, it's a laudable move from Arsenal.

The week we've just had as Arsenal fans has been interesting to say the least. On the pitch the players have produced the victories and played some better (but still not brilliant) football than we'd seen since Christmas. Ultimately it has all been too little, too late but I mentioned on Twitter the other day (and it seems to have been a theme picked up by many now) that our failure to finish ahead of Liverpool was sealed on the opening day of the season. We lost 4-3 at home to Klopp's side with a centre-half combination of Holding and Chambers - one youngster playing his first ever Premier League game and another who had been sent away within a fortnight as he isn't good enough. Wenger had chosen to give Koscielny and Giroud extended breaks after Euro 2016 and had not signed the experienced centre-back he clearly needed to. He told everyone after that game that Arsenal "were not ready" for that first game of the season. I said at the time it was totally unacceptable to be UIKeyInputDownArrowin that position. With a finish outside the Champions League places, and the promise of Thursday night football, we have seen those chickens come home to roost. 
Yesterday was a nice way to finish in the Premier League, though I've seen only the Match Of The Day coverage as I was working. I'm told the referee had a real stormer of a match, even worse than the idiot we had against Sunderland in midweek. Koscielny's red card is probably a fair decision, but maybe some common sense could have been applied with Wembley for us next weekend - Koscielny might also have shown some common sense and not made the tackle in the first place, thus meaning he wouldn't be missing out on the honour of leading Arsenal out for an FA Cup Final as Captain. Welbeck gives us much more movement and pace up front, but his finishing is often totally and inexplicably woeful. Quite how he missed the chance that Bellerin finally put away I will never know. Nonetheless he has to play at Wembley as far as I'm concerned, and I will do a proper preview piece for the FA Cup on Friday.
Finally, the off the pitch headlines from Friday seem to have been nipped in the bud by Kroenke and his people. That's a shame. I don't necessarily want Alisher Usmanov (or anyone else) to be the sole owner of Arsenal FC. However, that is the way football has gone at the top level in England. We can't beat them, so we have to join them. Kroenke has actually allowed Wenger to spend big money in the last few years, but he is not interested in football success. Having said that, when he is turning down a bid that would more than double his investment in Arsenal I have to wonder exactly what it is he does want. I just find the whole thing bizarre.

Change is apparently afoot at Arsenal. None of us know what that change is. Wenger indicated yesterday that the confusion around his future has caused issues for the team, but he can't say he hasn't had ample opportunity to actually put that issue to bed one way or the other over the last three months. It is going to be a long and interesting, maybe painful, summer for Arsenal supporters. Let's hope we go in to it having put some silverware on the sideboard. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Forget all their b******s

Now that's a proper gap

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has quickly become fed-up with the nonsense from the idiots who support that crowd from up the road since Sunday - particularly since their armchairs must be incredibly comfortable. I reckon any prospective British government should pledge to solve the housing crisis by putting everyone in the woodwork that has been vacated since the weekend by assorted t***s in Lillywhite shirts.
I keep reading and hearing about power shifts, and how embarrassing Arsenal have become. Surprisingly enough this is nothing more than the expected bull***t fuelled by media cretins and joke journalists. You want to know what's embarrassing? Finishing below your most hated opponent 22 years in a row, watching them win trophy after trophy since you last won anything of interest back in 1991, seeing your Captain join them for free and earn more success in five years than you've had in your entire club history, looking at that photo above and realising that the likes of Portsmouth, Burnley, Huddersfield etc have won as many, or more, League Championships than you ever have. Just imagine accusing another club of being "embarrassing" or "Mickey Mouse" when faced with that sort of thing. Consider the fact that, since George Graham joined Arsenal as Manager in 1986, when the North London Derby saw a win ratio of roughly even between the two clubs, Arsenal have never genuinely been the poorer side until this year. That's 30 years of pretty much always looking up at Arsenal, the club you despise, and knowing they are bigger and better. I'm not surprised the little people are celebrating wildly, but when it comes to embarrassment and Mickey Mouse accusations, there is only one club and one set of fans who ought to be blushing. 
Of course the new thing is for them to accuse of living in the past because, in the here and now, they have a better team than Arsenal. My retort to that is that it's nice to have a past worth living in and bragging about. Imagine being so thick as to think you can claim your club is "big" when faced with the evidence which shows so much to the contrary.
Sunday was a terrible, disgraceful, Arsenal performance. I seem to write that kind of thing quite a lot. We all know why. There's no point in going over it again. It can't, surely, go on like this. I fear, however, that it will. Unfortunately whatever happens on the pitch will have no effect on whether Stan Kroenke keeps Arsene Wenger on as boss - the American doesn't care. I think I'll try to look forward to the FA Cup Final instead as trophies are what it's all about (take note Tottenham idiots) so let's pray the Arsenal of September turns up at Wembley to play Chelsea in a few weeks from now.