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Saturday, 31 March 2018

Seventeen years and never forgotten

Today is 31st March and, as ever on this date, this blog takes the time to remember David Rocastle.

This time 17 years ago Arsenal were in the process of beating Tottenham. It was the day when Robert Pires’ Arsenal career began to take off with a sublime solo effort to put us ahead in front of the North Bank. However the day is more remembered for the fact that David Rocastle had died earlier that morning. The Arsenal XI contained a number of Rocky’s ex-teammates. The Tottenham fans had helped to observe a perfect minutes silence before the game in memory of a true Arsenal great.
I wasn’t there that day. I was having to miss the derby because of work as it was the only way I could get a shift swap that enabled me to get to Old Trafford the following weekend for the FA Cup semi-final against the same opponents. I remember well how I find out that Rocky had died when an Arsenal supporting colleague came in to the office and asked if I’d heard the news. I had my transistor radio with me so I’d be able to listen to the game but it wasn’t on at that time of the morning. I turned it on and the news was being confirmed on Radio 5 with a series of testimonials being given by assorted ex-players including a very tearful Ian Wright. 
I had to take myself away for a moment or two as I couldn’t hold back the emotions. David Rocastle had been an absolute hero in my childhood. He scored that goal that gave us the chance to bring back success with his winner at White Hart Lane in 1987. I was coming up to my 22nd birthday and Rocky was the first one of my Arsenal idols to die. I’d cried when George Graham sold him when I was 13 and if I can forgive George for the bungs and all that controversy I can never forgive him for selling David Rocastle. George’s Arsenal midfield never recovered really, even though we went on to win 3 more trophies before he was sacked. The exciting football left along with Rocky, a man who emobodied everything that those on the terraces could feel. To now hear he had passed away at such a young age, an age when many are still playing at the top level, was too much for me. I’ll always remember him.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Nice to win again

The Brighton game saw me reach my lowest point as an Arsenal supporter in my nearly 39 years - I’m not quite old enough to genuinely remember what it was like at the end of the Terry Neill era - and I really couldn’t see how we’d get out of the rut. The performance in the first-half at the San Siro, therefore, was as welcome as it was unexpected. The players came out with a different mentality and actually played to score goals. Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Ramsey, Welbeck and co were superb on the night - special mention to Granit Xhaka - and a 2-0 away win against a traditional European giant, in very good form in Serie A, was not to be sniffed at at all. I could have done without the players reverting to type and trying to pass the ball to death in our own half after the interval but I could forgive them with the final score. It was a genuinely nice feeling to have seen Arsenal go out and be The Arsenal, if only they were being forced to dress appropriately on and off the field things would have been ideal.
Off the back of the win in Milan, and with the second leg in mind, Wenger made a number of changes for the Watford game last Sunday. Some of the players who came in really did very well on the day with Holding and Elneny particularly impressive. I really enjoyed Holding taking on Troy Deeney in the same way he did Diego Costa at Wembley last May. It seems that Holding might need to be up against a total s***house of a centre-forward to get him playing well. Seeing Deeney try to barge him off the ball but end up on his backside waving his arms at the referee was a joy to watch. We scored a couple of nice goals and Aubameyang got his 3rd in 5 games (add in the missed chance at Wembley against City and the wrong offside call against Spurs at the same ground and he could easily have been on a goal a game) with Mkhitaryan also being heavily involved again. The penalty save from Cech brought the crowd to life for the last half-hour and it was nice to rub Deeney’s nose in the dirt just that little bit further. At the same time Watford had real chances to get goals that a decent set of strikers would have taken so our defensive issues are as present as they ever were - our next defeat will still be not too far away.
I was sadly working Thursday night so missed a decent crowd for the home leg against Milan. I watched the whole game back on TV yesterday morning and we certainly rode our luck at times. We gave up far too many goalscoring opportunities to not be concerned had we been up against Griesman and Costa, for example. The penalty we got was not something I want to see again from an Arsenal player. I can’t be doing with diving and I go out of my way to criticise the Tottenham players who are being praised for the cheating they are starting to perfect. I hope we don’t see anything like that again from Welbeck, or anyone else in an Arsenal shirt, but the headlines he got yesterday were unbelievable given what Kane and Alli have been up to. Clearly it’s a different standard when it’s Arsenal players as far as the press are concerned and John Cross of the Daily Mirror really was a disgrace in his paper. The man is clearly miffed that Arsenal have chosen David Ornstein of the BBC as their media mouthpiece rather than a man who considered himself an insider at the club after his years on the Islington Gazette. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the penalty Arsenal created plenty on the night and were worth the win, despite the fact it might have been different had Milan taken some of their opportunities.
So we’re in to a European quarter-final for the first time in a long time. There were two teams to avoid in the draw and we predictably drew one of them. A 1st leg at home, and our abysmal record in Russia, does not fill me with great optimism. Arsenal should beat CSKA Moscow every day of the week but our players are fragile and don’t travel well. We need a handsome win at home to get through I fear. I’d actually have rather played Atletico Madrid than CSKA. Still, we’re in the competition and it offers the season some salvation. I’d very much like to be in Lyon in mid-May watching Arsenal take some silverware. If it saw Wenger sign-off with the only European trophy of his career I think we’d all take it.

Monday, 5 March 2018

When will it end?

There used to be a football club over there...

Let me start by confessing I didn't see the Brighton game. I was working and had to make do with the commentary on Radio 5. What I was hearing gave me no cause for surprise as we've seen it all before, time and time again. Arsenal seemed to have made a promising start in the first few minutes, dominating the ball, but I didn't hear commentary on a single shot at goal. I heard a lot of Kolasinac, Mustafi, Koscielny, Xhaka, and a lot of Ozil "lays the ball off short" type stuff. I didn't hear Aubameyang's name even once in that period. Within seconds of Brighton getting the ball there was a shot that was deflected behind for a corner. How is it that these players can have so much of the ball but no shots, only for a clearly inferior opponent to play two or three passes and be in a position to shoot at goal? From the corner Brighton scored. Again I wasn't surprised. Almost every shot on target in the last few weeks has ended up behind our goalkeepers and in the net. I then listened as the expected implosion happened with Arsenal's players unable (more likely unwilling) to stem the tide. A second Brighton goal was also similarly unsurprising. The fact it was Koscielny (who simply isn't physically fit to play football at the moment) who gave the ball away wasn't a shock. Even less of a shock was hearing that Mustafi had totally lost Murray and got underneath the cross allowing him a free header. I feel a little sorry for Petr Cech on this one. I know he should probably have done better, and his issuing a tweet afterwards taking all of the blame for the defeat is a mark of the man, but does he really have any chance when the defensive players in the side are like this?
Wenger said on Thursday that we'd been awful defensively. I looked forward to seeing changes yesterday. I'd like to have seen wholesale change in the back four, although we have only one person  who actually plays right-back in the entire squad at the moment. I wanted a back three with Mertesacker back in the middle and Chambers and Mavropanos given their chance next to the big man giving them some organisation. I wanted Maitland-Niles back in on the left, but was resigned to Bellerin keeping his place for the reason given above. I wanted Elneny to come in for Xhaka in front of that defence. I genuinely couldn't believe it, therefore, when I saw the ONLY player actually dropped at the back was Bellerin! How can Wenger accept that his team has been woeful defensively and then change virtually none of the personnel? The man has become genuinely mad. His head is gone totally. The press conference stuff about shirts and trousers is simply the ramblings of a total basket case. He needs to be saved from himself now.
After the game, apart from the clothes analogies, Wenger decided to go in to one about Arsenal's schedule. Utter, utter nonsense. Manchester City have had the exact same schedule as Arsenal this week and they won all three games without conceding a goal. Let's not forget, either, that Wenger made no substitutions on Thursday night, even with the game all over at half-time. He also waited until the 83rd minute yesterday before his last two changes, with the two players taken off (Chambers and Mkhitaryan) both absent from one of the two Man City games. Does he not realise we all see through it now? Is he that crazy? Or that arrogant? I just think he's become dangerously deluded.
The players must take their share of the blame for what is going on at Arsenal. A lot of these men are better footballers than they are showing. They've clearly given up on the Manager but, in doing so, they've also given up on us who pay our money to follow them. That's criminal. Wilshere remains the only one who looks like he gives a s**t but, ironically, he is the one who will be shipped out of the club if Wenger stays! David Pleat kept telling us on the radio that Jack tried to take the game to Brighton in the 2nd half but doesn't get enough shots off, or play enough "incisive" passes. Now Pleat watches a lot of Arsenal games so he must have noticed by now that nobody in the team takes enough shots or looks to play incisive passes. Wenger has banned them from doing it! When Jack was in the youth teams he got loads of goals. Yes, he was superior to every player around him, but he still had to shoot to score those goals, or to do something inventive and individual to create the opening in the first place. That is not allowed in the Arsenal first-team anymore as we have to pass, pass, pass and keep possession with no intention whatsoever of scoring a goal. I digress. The likes of Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang etc simply aren't doing what they're being paid to do. Ozil had a couple of sensational months leading up to January where he showed the player we know he should be. Since signing his new contract he has been a disgrace as he has for most of his time at Arsenal. He and his advisors have played Arsenal like a bad piano, making Alexis Sanchez their fall guy. Ozil knew Alexis was leaving in January, and he knew that Arsenal couldn't afford to lose himself for free in May. By turning it on for a couple of months he and his people knew Arsenal would have to offer him big money to stay. They did all of this without leaking stuff to the press about leaving while Alexis got all the stick about upsetting his teammates etc. If it was a Hollywood heist movie it would be a blockbuster. How is that team harmony doing since Alexis left?
As much as the players must take their share of the blame, we have to understand that Arsene Wenger has signed all of them (with the possible exception of Aubameyang) and he continues to select them to wear the Arsenal shirt. He spent £70m on Mustafi and Xhaka. The pair of them, given their huge transfer fees, must surely go down among the very worst signings Arsenal have ever made. Valencia fans must be wondering how they got £35m out of Arsenal for Mustafi and were then able to sign Gabriel and Coquelin on the cheap - both of those players should be in the Arsenal team at the moment, but they aren't even at the club anymore! 
I'll finish, if I may, with an interesting insight in to how the Arsenal players are not disciplined and how the values of the club are being eroded. Vic Akers was interviewed (I guess on the pre-match show on the official website) at pitch side by Alex Scott yesterday. She asked what has happened with the shirt sleeves and the famous "captain's choice" as it's known at Arsenal. Vic replied that certain players (no names mentioned) preferred to wear short sleeves all the time and the tradition has been allowed to die. Quite apart from the fact that all those who wear short sleeves also wear a long sleeve skintight base-layer underneath, what does that say about Wenger's lack of power over the players? I couldn't give a f**k what length of shirt sleeve any individual wants to wear. This is The Arsenal. At The Arsenal the Arsenal Captain and the kit-man decide what shirt is being worn. This is a value that has set us apart as our players always looked the business when they entered the field. They wore, effectively, a uniform. It was shirts tucked in and same length sleeves. It was Arsenal suit and tie, with top buttons fastened everywhere they went. It said "we're superior to you before we even kick-off because we are The Arsenal." Instead we now have a rag-tag looking bunch of scruffs with no care for the values of the club and, my God, are they playing like that too. 
The only way to arrest the slide is to sack Wenger now. Don't wait. Give us a chance to win the Europa League by changing the Manager before Thursday. Bring in George Graham and David O'Leary until May and tell them to instill the discipline, tactics, defensive organisation, and respect for the values we stand for and live by at Arsenal. Right now we are heading in to Brian Clough territory and waiting until May, or even worse the end of NEXT season, is asking for trouble - literally.