Friday, April 28, 2006

News, injuries and our potentially monstrous kit.

I partially remember why i did daily posts now: if you don't too much bloody news piles up!

So lets go on a whirlwind tour.

Vieira has a fight with moody old Ibrahimovic - no gloating please as I said before paddy wanted to stay, this is all just frustration at Arsenal's decision to let him go. I truly feel sorry for our old gladiator.

Tel, deservedly wins the writers' award thingy again. For the last two years we should all feel privileged that we have a league with Stevie G, Rooney and Tel: genius players who will be remembered for generations.

Bobby whores himself to all and sundry. In International relations theory, Bobby is pursuing a policy of 'brinkmanship': he's hoping that by making it clear he could leave, even though he doesn't want to, it will push Arsenal towards giving him a more favourable deal out of fear. Won't work. Arsene is too clever for this: edu tried the same thing. Bobby has been offered the right deal, and while I'd love to see him stay at the club, if he doesn't take it the club can't do any more.

And as for us...just when you thought injuries couldn't get any worse...

Hleb now reckons he's done his knee in. Apparently he needs surgery on it, but this can wait until the end of the season?!? Hmm. I remember early on in the Villareal game he took a hefty challenge and got up very gingerly, trying to stretch his leg out repeatedly and I thought he might have to go off. He's said subsequently that the painkillers he was taking for another injury saw him through the game. Ah. The wonders of modern medicine. I hope he's ok, because we need him in the final.

So our injury list for the 'stadium of light' [and the award for the most hubristically named stadium goes to...] goes something like this: Flamster, Gilbs, Hleb [maybe], Reyes, Phil, and Theo 'am i going to play this season' Walcott. On the positive side, Ash and Clichy are probably both back, and I would stake a fair amount of cash on Ash starting on Monday. This is only good, and, lest we forget, this is only the second time since october that Ash has been in the first team squad.

Indeed, for all the talk of us losing Vieira, we've basically been without Sol, Ash, and Lauren for most of this season, while the dip in form of Freddie, Bobby and Dennis has been such, that almost our entire invincible team has been out or been a shadow of their former selves for most of the year. Only Thierry - injured for a few months of the winter- Gilbs, Kolo, and Jens have been really there, and Kolo was in Africa for most of Jan and Feb. This season has been a really hard one for the club; all the talk of Vieira has detracted from the team's wider transition. If we were to finish fourth this year, I really feel it would be an achievement, and to win the CL would be truly incredible.

So for the game on Monday Arsene really doesn't have too much leeway in terms of players. He may, and I expect him to, go with the dreaded freddie-bobby tandem away from home [shudder] which may have to do faute de mieux. It's a shame theo's injured because he would have almost definitely got a run around otherwise. Let us all hope that Msr. Song does not return.

The team i predict Arsene to play:

Eboue, sol, kolo, ash [yay]
Freddie, Diaby, Gilberto/Song, Pires
RvP/Henry, Adey.

If both RvP and Song both start we won't win. Even if it is Sunderland.

Elsewhere 'big' Phil Scolari has been offered the England job, as David Dein continues to be the true master of puppets behind the whole process. I say - begone with the little englanders: Scolari can speak English, and he's won the world cup. Get him in. No one will cares who manages England when we're winning. McClaren? Curbishley? Allardyce? Never even been in the CL. And the England players have clearly, if subtly, mummered their discontent against McClaren, despite his heroics this week.

Ah it seems I spoke too soon. The English media has already hounded him from the job. Well played. That's quite an effort. And they'll be the ones complaining when McClaren fails to even qualify for the Euro Championships.

Two last things. One: congratulations to 'boro: here's hoping we meet you in the super european megolomania world domination trophy.

Secondly: I hope this is a joke. Really. It's a monstrosity.

Til next time - thanks for keeping with me.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A king among men: Jens Lehmann, I love you.

If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs ....

I remember last season when Jens came cost us two goals in Greece, my mate and I started a running joke about Jens. Instead of getting frustrated when he unnecessarily sprinted out of the area, or somesuch action, we just laughed it off. oh Jens we you used to say. About the only way to get through it. But, if we're all being honest, he was never that bad. He was, after all the keeper who saw us through the unbeaten season.

This year, for sheer consistency, Jens has to be player of the season. His save in the second leg against Real was the greatest save I've ever seen in my 15 years of watching football. And all his anger and rage has improved, not detrimented, our performances. Tel might be captain, but there has only been one leader at the back. The one and only Jens.

And then tonight.

The game was an odd affair. For all Wenger's bluster about us attacking Villa, the team knew we only needed a draw to see us through. So while we didn't sit back, we certainly didn't attack in the manner we had done in Turin, let alone Madrid. I think, over the entire course of the match, we had about 1 real chance - Tel's immediately after the penalty.

Most of the team looked knackered. Hleb had the most energy, and continues to look a class act, but he and Eboue just didn't seem to hit it off on the flank as they have done up to now. Giberto, for all the stick he's received earlier in the season, was awesome, and continued to be an invaluable sweeper between the midfield and defence. Freddie played ok, battling hard against a sickening amount of gamesmanship from certain Villa players. Jose was frustrating. Not for the first time he showed a great deal of effort, but with little result. Tel and Fab were also agonisingly peripheral; neither seemed able to get into the game.

And the defence was certainly not watertight. Sol looked like a player in need of games, as did Clichy when he came on. I was upset to see the Flamster - who has also been a hero since christmas this year - go off. I hope it's nothing serious.

So the game was, essentially, 90 minutes of Villa pressure, with occasional indecisive breaks from an Arsenal side fearful of unnecessarily over-extending themselves. But, and here's the key point to me, Villareal were dire. Not just tonight, but over the two legs. Villa certainly attacked us tonight, but they were not better than we were at Highbury, as the Villa manager contended. For all their build-up play they couldn't hit a barn door with a nuclear warhead. I did find it particularly amusing - no offence to Spanish readers - that Franco kept on missing the goal because he kept on hitting the ball to the far right. And Forlan: if there's any striker in Europe - aside perhaps from Heskey - who you want the ball to fall to in front of an open goal it's him. So, while Villa dominated the game, they didn't deserve to win because they wern't good enough to score. Simple as that. It's been the story of a fair few of our away games this season.

But not only did Villa not deserve to win because of their ability, they also deserved to lose due to the sickening amount of gamesmanship and cheating they enganged in. I can actually see why a penalty was give against Clichy, but it was only after an almost unprecidented amount of simulation and snide fouling over the two legs. There was one moment, at about the twenty minute mark, where the ball fell to Hleb, and a Villa player went down injured behind him. Unlike Carrick, there was no way Hleb could have seen this so he continued his run forward but was dispossesed. As soon as the Villa player won the ball, the 'injured' player was up in a snap. Sickening, and not football. Freddie was also considerably wound up by a plethora of dirty challenges on him, and I did worry that he was going to be carded.

But, thanks to the woeful ability of the Villa frontline, we kept ourselves in it. Until the 87 [88?] minute when Villa won a penalty. On balance, Clichy did nudge into Jose Mari, but Mari went down so quickly it was clear he was simulating. [to put it diplomatically].

Cometh the hour, cometh the impenetrable wall that is Sir Jens Lehmann. Riquelme stepped up as Jose Mari high-fived with the Villareal players. But, at that moment, I wanted no one else in goals but Jens. This season, Jens has always given me hope: I've been able to rely on him to make at least 2-3 world-class saves per game. And to my count he'd only made one that night.

Riquelme struck to Jens' left. Jens dived, stretched, and knocked the ball out. The ball flew past Riquelme, ensuring a tap in wouldn't follow, and somehow, eventually, ended up ended Jens foot.

I said previously that Jens' save at Highbury against Real was the equivalent of Tel's goal in Madrid. Jens' save tonight would have been comparable to Thierry picking up the ball on our goal-lin and then dribbling it past 10 players before playing a 1-2 off the Villa keeper's chest in order to trap the ball on the back of his neck and flicking it behind himself to scorpion kick it into the net to win us the game in the last minute of extra time. Jens, du bist mein kaiser. [sorry that's appalling German, I don't even know if it's right.] Jens's save also ensured a 10th successive CL cleansheet. Georgie G would surely have been proud.

So we're there. The final of the European cup. First London team to ever do so.

We did what we had to tonight. CL knock-out football is a two leg tie: it doesn't matter if Villa dominated us tonight, we did the business in the first leg. It would have been nice to see a goal - and would certainly have been better for all of our health/sanity - but then we'd have been denied the sheer, utter, unimpeachable glory and bliss of Jens' save. We didn't play particularly well, but we will be unquantifiably better in Paris. Whoever we face.

Bonjour Paris, nous sommes le Arsenal.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A few more reflections on Saturday.

I wrote the last post as soon as I got back from watching the game and, as my blood was still up, I didn't see everything as clearly as I do now - or, at least, as i think i do now.

Firstly, I maintain that the Sp rs' goal resulted from gamesmanship. The ref has come out today and said that he made a sign to play on, but this is how i see things:

Eb+gilbs knock into eachother and both go down injured; everyone pauses, including Carrick; instead of following his instinct, and the spirit of the game, he looks up to the ref to see if the injuries are severe enough to stop the game for; the ref checks and waves play on - as Carrick has asked him if he will be penalised for disregarding PL ettiquete; Carrick passes to Tainio, who lays it off to Davids, who can now take full advantage of our a) absent r-b and b) our general dissaray; Spurs score.

We should have played to the whiste; but we shouldn't have had to. That is the essential point for me. Furthermore, the clip on Arseblog today shos that Jol can clearly be seen to be shouting 'play, play' to Carrick, and following the ball. It's no wonder Arsene got so upset.

What has particularly annoyed me is the guff Sp*rs have come out with along the lines of: 'well we outplayed you for 45 minutes so we deserved to be ahead anyway'. Er, no. If they'd deserved to be ahead they would have been: Defoe would have passed to Davids when he was clean through; Jens wouldn't have stopped Defoe's effort from going in; Carrick would have scored and not hit the side netting; Lennon would have made something more productive from his repeated skinnings of Flam and Phil. Sp*rs did out play us in the first half but we were missing more first choice players than them, and we still managed to keep it at 0-0.

Having said that Sp*rs have come on a long way in a year. They played well . Robbie Keane is a dynamo up front and a player I'd love to see at our club. He can score a variety of goals and was a constant thorn in our side . Lennon looked a real prospect as well, and, hopefully, him and Theo will be competing for England places soon. I still think, however, we are the stronger club on balance. We've played far more games this season than sp*rs, and, if we didnt have two of the most important games in the club's history 3 days either side of the game on Saturday, we would have won.

Arsene perhaps shouldn't have rested so many players- but then if he'd played a full strength team on Saturday, and we'd lost in Villareal on Tuesday, we'd all criticise him even if we'd beaten Sp*rs. I think he made the right team selection yesterday, but the replacements let him down. Djourou was poor at r-b; Diaby clearly didn't didn't understand he was playing in a derby, letting Carrick run wild; and Rvp looked a shadow of his former self. My concerns about him are growing. He needs to get some goals because without them you wonder what he brings to the team. The same can't be said about Adey.

The game also hammered home, even more so, how much trouble we'll be in if Tel leaves. He was incredible, and no-one else could have scored his goal. [awful pun time] Without Henry we are like a blunt knife: we have no cutting edge. Without him, and Fabregas, we look like a mid table team.

But there's a lot of football until the end of the season. Spurs have two tough games, while we have 1 difficult match - in the graveyard of our form that is the NW - and two games we should win. IF we get through to the CL final then a draw yesterday will be forgotten.

Still, the last North London derby at Highbuey did bring back to me that wonderful aphorism of Alex Ferguson: 'Football. bloody hell.'

2 other matters relating to the site:

1) Comments. I, and it seems a lot of other people, are getting fed up with some of the comments that are being left. Ones which seem to revolve around just abusing arsenal/spurs, making homophobic remarks, and generally just lowering the tone. I want people to leave comments, but I want to have a degree of rational debate on here, not just mindless, childish banter. Although, this problem in the comments only really happens when I get put on the Sp*rs newsnow thread - which inevitably leads to banter such as this; usually the comments are great and we debate things as I hoped. Hence me writing Sp*rs - it seems to stop me being listed on the Sp*rs thread. I'm not just being childish! An anonymous poster suggested i take action over this: short of moderating comments, can anyone else make any suggestions? I could turn on only registered users/members of blog? If I could get some feedback that'd be great: I like eastlower's comment system. Overall, please leave comments! I don't care if you don't agree with me, but lets try and make this a nice site eh? I don't want to have to spend an hour every day deleting pointlessly abusive/offensive comments!

2) posting will be rather intermittent for the next month as I have rather a lot of work on at the moment. I hope this dissapoints some people - if so, fear not! by June I will have less to do, and near hourly updates will begin.

Take care, and try and stick to these new rules,


Saturday, April 22, 2006

If Justice or Karma exist, we will be in the Champions' league next year.

First of all we should all admit it: Sp*rs outplayed us in the first half, and we were fortunate to go in level. I say fortunate - Jens was a behemoth, a monolith, an impenentrable, immovable object which Sp*rs could not penetrate. We sat back too much and didn't get in amongst them. Adey and RvP did not link up well; Diaby looked a bit average; Gilbs passing radar was non-existant; Lennon caused the Flamster a host of problems.

Second half, and a different game. While I hope Phil is ok, Eboue immediately made a difference at r-b. Djourou has looked a bit edgy there, and he looked far more comfortable when he was moved to centre half. We began to pile on the pressure, and should have gone one up when Robin was put through. His miss was unforgivable, and not Arsenal standard.

Once Fab and Tel were on - i.e. we were actually playing with something resembling a full strength team, although we really missed Hleb today - we began to take Sp*rs apart.

And then it happened: an incident which will never be forgotten. Gilbs and Eboue clattered into each other and Eboue went down, clearly injured. Now, in England, when this happens, the other team puts the ball out. It's called sportsmanship. Instead, with the Arsenal team pausing to await the stoppage, Davids flew down the wing, crossed the ball and Keane scored.

This, and I will be frank, is cheating - gamesmanship of the highest level. I thought for a moment Davids was protesting that the goal not stand as he hadn't realised what had happened. But no. The spudsl were 1 up. Jens screamed blue murder at Davids, and i thought he was going to push him over and get a red card - thankfully the referee accepted that Jens' anger was justified, and nothing further happened. Arsene was so angry he squared up to Jol on the touchline; he subsequently refused to shake his hand after the game. I wonder if Spurs will make the same offer that we did to Sheff Utd when a similar incident happened Kanu did this to them at Highbury. Somehow, I doubt it.

We were outraged, and from the restart we hammered at them. I was apoplectic with rage, and when Jose's - who was excellent today - volley was saved superbly by Robinson, I thought that this was it. Last Nlondon derby and we go out like this.

But no.

Adebayor - who improved markedly after tel came on - deftly controlled the ball and fed it through to Tel who, holding off the defenders at his side in a, even for him, heroic fashion, then sweetly nudged the ball into the corner of the net.

Joy unconfined. I don't think i'd celebrated that hard all season; and Tel also celebrated with a level of rage induced delight that we haven't often seen from him this year. I did see, in the celebrations the seeds of a signed contract: this derby means as much to him as it does to us. How could he give us up? After the goal, karma was obviously re-aligning the world, but had not quite done enough by the final whistle, despite us being manifestly on top. Davids was rightly sent off the near the end - realising the predicition I'd made half way through the 1st half.

So, if we're all being honest, the spuds probably secured fourth place today. But they were not the better team, and only outplayed us in the first half when we had a clearly weakened team. They can bang on about missing King, Mido, and Jenas - but in the first half we missed Henry, Fabregas, Hleb, Ljunberg, Sol and Ash. They had the advantage and they didn't take it.

So, as the title suggests we now have to rely on the intangible forces of karma and justice, or to merely hope that 'cheats doth never prosper'. Sp*rs scored today through gamesmanship and cheating, and did not outplay us over the 90 minutes. I had thought that it might be a bit harsh if we took their CL spot if we won the CL. Not any more: it will be karma realigining the cosmos, it will be justice being served, and it will be the better team entering the competition.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Squirrel photo special.

Yes, having nothing to do with me being knackered after a long day, here is a 'Highbury Squirrel' special - also known as Squirrel regis, Squirrel Nutkin, SN14, Nigel “Psycho Squirrel” Winterburn etc. Here is a cute link.
And here.
And here.

Please don't sue me if you own these pictures. If Tel does go - there's only one guy I want to take his place: SN14. Quick, both footed, always causing trouble in the box. He'd be a real handful.

Jens, 2 cents:

The match at Highbury was interrupted briefly by the appearance of a squirrel on the pitch, which soon ran off after an encounter with the German keeper.

Lehmann, betraying a streak of wry humour, added: "I shouted at it - it wasn't tackling - and it ran away. But I tell you one thing - we were quite disappointed when we came here to England because the squirrels in Germany are looking nicer. They are brown and here they are grey. Come to Germany for the World Cup and you will see them!"

Thursday, April 20, 2006

1-0 to the Arsenal, but will it be enough?

So, as far as I'm concerned, a good result that could, nay should, have been a great one. We dominated the game and had a hatful of chances, but only came away with one goal. So the second leg will be far tighter than the the game in Turin. One goal from Villa and everything will be up for grabs.

We opened very brightly, and unfortunately, as in the United game we didn't make our opening pressure tell. However, unlike at Old Trafford, we had a perfectly good goal ruled out when Henry slid past the keeper fairly early on. I had a horrible feeling that we would go in at 0-0 at h-t and Villa might edge toward getting a goal - but we stuck at it and got the breakthrough at about the same time Fab had scored in the Juve game.

Andy Gray - who was acerbically anti-Arsenal all night - claimed that the goal was purely due to slack Villa defending. Not the beautifully weighted ball from Henry which split three defenders or Hleb's wonderful cross. Idiot. Kolo finally got his much well deserved first goal at Highbury. And all seemed to be going to plan.

Then, I'm afraid to say, Villa had a stone-wall penalty turned down. Gilberto - my man of the match - scythed through the back of Jose Mari, and, in all honesty I was amazed a penalty wasn't given. From the refs position it may have seemed that Gilberto won the ball, which he did partly, but it was a real get out of jail moment.

Second half we struggled on but we seemed noticably more weary than in the Juve and Real matched. Fabregas, who had been bright and creative, noticably tired; while on the right, Hleb was consistently fouled every time he took the ball into the Villa half. The ref - who was otherwise excellent - should have done more to protect him. We had a few half-chances - Henry's attempted tap-in the most noticable - before Bergkamp and Rvp came on. Neither really got into the game and Bergkamp was denied a tap in very late on.

I have to say, I thought Villa were poor. We completely shackled Riquelme - Gilbs doing his job superbly - while Forlan more than looked like the player who took 30-odd games to score when he was put up against Kolo and Phil. They had a few shots on goal which Jens dealt with, but that was about it. So, and this seems to have been largely forgotten, we extended our clean sheet record in the CL to yet another game.

I thought the attitude of the Villa players was a disgrace though. The slightest tap and they went down, almost always accompanied by a series of theatrics. For any of you old enough - it was very reminiscent of the 1990 world cup: players going down and rolling about perpetually in anguish, before popping straight back up to try and head in the ball. At one point, after another Villa player had gone down, Hleb smashed the ball into the advertising hoarding, instead of continuing the attack we'd just started. To be honest I think we all shared his frustration, and even the ref was telling the Villa players to get up as the game wore on. I expected more than Villa than a team who would merely try and deny us from playing - rather than play themselves - and also, essentially, cheat. It was dissapointing to see, and I felt they let their travelling support down. I think at one point I said to my mate 'this is not football' when the game had been held up for another stoppage.

So an edgy night in Villa ahead of us, and a huge game on Saturday with a team of players who clearly need a rest. We are abundantly better than both of these teams, and it will especially be a travesty if Villareal get to the final instead of us. They played anti-football last night: we must not let the dark side of the force prevail. We can do it. Keep the faith and for those of you who managed to get tickets - make sure you're the 12th man.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Anyone else nervous?

An understated title methinks.

So, a first and a last tonight: our first ever CL semi-final; our last european game at highbury. Sob. Anything less than a ball-busting win would do the stadium an injustice, but it's going to be a very tough game. Villa are the first team we've played in the knockout stages with our level of hunger, and also without the hubristic approach of Real or Juve. They have Riquelme - a player so good Maradona marked him out as his successor - while Forlan is unrecognisable from the lump who took a season to score at ManU. If we let our concentration drop we're done for. And, if we don't get a result tonight, going to Spain and getting one will be, perhaps, a step too far, despite our heroics in Madrid.

Luckily Fab's fit, and whilst Reyes is missing, I think Bobby has a point to prove tonight after being dropped for the match in Turin.

Personally, with Fab, I think our 5 midfielders will be too much. My hope is: Freddie and Bobby will rouse themselves for one last night, and will battle and scare the life out of a Villa midfield used to sedate la liga ways; Fab and Hleb will supply the creativity; Gilbs will basically, although we won't admit it, take Riquelme out. Tel will have a point to prove after the idiot journalist questioned his commitment to Arsenal [we all love you Terry!]; the back four will have, another, big game; and Jens will be his crazy,impenetrable, best keeper in Europe, self.

Not much to ask.

If you're up for a laugh to ease some of the tension, see Myles' ANR column today: 'I'm a famous journalist, I've done too many previews before' hahaha. His article on Milan-Barca was spot on though. 1-0 down, at home, who do Milan bring on? Maldini. A defender. Gotta love Italian football. Why Schevchenko is still there god knows.

Oh, and no comment on Tel's contract because we know the situation. He will or won't sign but he'll make his mind up between the end of the season and the world cup. Now everyone shut up, apart from telling him how much we love him, and hope he decides to stay. Read Arseblog for his full quote, but any paper which suggests he doesn't think he owes Arsenal or us fans anything is talking rubbish.

So -COME ON BOYS!!!! One last night at Highbury. We can do it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Man U do us a favour

Very tight game, by the end, between the mancs and the spuds. Great game to watch, even if I felt quite nauseous when i celebrated Manu scoring. Eurgh. Still, puts our fourth place destiny back in our hands.

In library again, so can't write much. Will try and pre-prepare a preview [what a lot of pre!] for Villareal. Arseblog now reckons Fab will be fit - but i'm not so sure. Will also watch Barca AC tonight. Should be a good game against our, gulp/all fingers crossed, potential opponents.

Til tmoz.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Eurgh, supporting ManU: the necessary evil.

Yes, its necessary evil time in about half an hour: we must all support United - again, urgh - to beat Spuds to keep our fourth place dreams alive. It will be a pain-fest. Spurs are without Ledley 'I'll be at Arsenal in two years max' King: good for us, bad for England.

Very slow day apart from this. Almost everyone is playing today in the Premiership apart from us, as the boys prepare themselves for Wednesday night.

So, here's some semi-mindless speculation that's been floating about since yesterday to keep you all sated.

Firstly Michael Carrick I wouldn't say no to his arrival: good solid player, if a little unsepectacular, who could be groomed into a more efficient Gilberto. Plus, it'd be worth it for the looks on the Spuds faces. The Zigic rumours refuse to go away. I saw a clip of him playing, where he scored a couple of screamers - but, with Adey about, unless Tel leaves it'd be hard to see this happening. And we're vying with Spurs for some Bulgarian guy, I've never heard of.

That's your lot. I was a bit sad to see my Dennis tribute derailed by Spuds posting abusive messages; still, suppose you shouldn't expect any more from them.

Til tomorrow.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Dennis Bergkamp: Goonerboy salutes a legend.

Ok, first some concerns. We ended up winning convincingly yesterday, but only after a very edgy period in which West Brom equalised, and had a pretty decent penalty shout turned down. Eboue was at fault in both, putting in a very unconvincing tackle on Quashie, which he shrugged off before slamming the ball home, and, stupidly, leaving a trailing leg for Curtis Davies to fall over in the area. Another day, a penalty; another day, we'd be 6 points behind Spurs. Eboue looked great going forward, and helped set up our third, but a few too many defensive slip ups for my liking today. Thankfully, he clearly has the talent to improve and learn from this season. I think Wenger will have a real dilemma on his hands when Lauren's back next year. I wish Jose would have some shooting practice, and undertake some confidence building practices, as well.

A good result, but we made more work for ourselves than we needed. I was happy to see we battled back though, hopefully we've learnt something from Wednesday. Song was no where to be seen I noticed.

On a happier note, Hleb continues to show what a class act he is. A superb finish after he'd beaten a defender and played a lovely little one-two with Henry.

I mention Hleb because he, in some ways, bears resemblence to the real hero of the day: the one, the only, the irreplacable Dennis Bergkamp. It seems almost inconceivable now, but Dennis, like Alex, had his fair share of critics when he first arrived at the club. The goals didn't immediately flow, and some began to wonder if Inter had done a bit of good business in off-loading him on us. Then, one glorious late-September afternoon in 1995, Dennis hammered in two against Southampton, and none of us have looked back since. His second, in particular, when he snaked past a couple of defenders and then hammered it in from 30 yards was, for me, a pivotal moment in recent Arsenal history. That we had a player of that quality at the club was surely a potent springboard from which the Wenger era was launched. It's one of my favourite Arsenal goals, and I'll never forget it.

Dennis was awesome today. I wrote in a post a while back that I felt he still had one great moment left in him. In fact, he had two. Firstly, after some nice build up play from Adebayor, he used his head and fed in Pires, who finished with a cute little dink over the keeper. His second was possibly his last great Arsenal goal. Effortlessly finding space, he deftly controlled the ball and then, in the way only he can, almost contemptuously curled the ball in. Nearly brought a tear to my eye. Hopefuly I'm wrong and they'll be a few more yet.

It seems fit that I dedicate this post to Dennis considering everything he's given us in his 11 glorious years at the club. In all the melodrama over Henry's contract some of us may have forgotten that there will be, sadly, but rightly, one contract that definitely won't be renewed this summer. [at least not in a playing role - please stay on as coach Dennis!]

As I said at earlier in the post, I think Dennis's signing was a hugely significant moment in the club's recent moment. The early 90s, the period when I started supporting the club, wern't exactly all fun and games at the club. Mid table finishes, the club's drinking culture, and Georgie G's moment of misjudgement had left the club under a cloud. Now, obviously, Arsene must take the majority of the praise for turning the club round, but Dennis's arrival was a wonderful moment. The way he immediately lit up the club seemed to offer hope for the future, which, combined with Arsene has led to our recent glory years.

A few particularly great moments for me. That piece of skill before threading through Freddie against Juve; those three goals against Leicester; that goal against Newcastle. He is a true Arsenal legend, and, although I doubt he's reading, I'd just like to say thanks and all the best in the future. You truly made the game beautiful.

So, for a change, the comments section is a 'type out your best memories of Dennis zone'. If I get enough maybe I could try and forward them to him via the club.

As Rupert Brooke might have put it,

'When he leaves thinks only this of him,

That there is a part of Arsenal that shall be forever Dennis Bergkamp'

Saturday, April 15, 2006

More injuries. And Villareal scouting report.

The big news is that Fab is out for the game today, and is a doubt for Wednesday as well. Needless to say, this is a huge blow. He may not have played today anyway, but he would have obviously been a cert for Wednesday.With no Jose for the first leg, I am a little worried about our creativity in midfield. I should imagine Diaby will get a run in the side now, although i wonder whether Gilberto will be back for the game today. I can't see Song getting another run around, but then who else can we play there if Gilbs is rested? Hleb? Larrson? The squad is certainly looking stretched. Theo may even get a chance, but not today it seems. Arsene is right to remain cautious about throwing him into the first team, even if I would love to see him play for us this season. Having said that, on football focus they had to call up league footage from last season to show Freddie scoring.

Man U's abysmal performance last night was bad news for us. We need them to put a big performance in against the Spuds. If there morale is faltering there's a chance Spurs could turn them over, which would be, effectively, the real nail in our 4th place coffin. Same old United: beat us, liverpool, Chelsea - can't beat Sunderland. We need to keep this pretence of a title race going though, at least until Spurs play them.

Apart from that, not a lot going on. Arsene has plausibly suggested both Fab and Tel should win the PFA awards they've been nominated for. I think he's got a point. Anyone who thinks that Lampard should get it before Tel obviously hasn't been watching Chelsea since, at least, Christmas. I've always felt that if Tel was either 1) Brazillian or 2) played in Spain, they would simply have given him the world player of the year award 6 years ago, and asked him to give it back when he retired.

I also watched the Villareal-Barca game last night. La liga is so sedate! passing, passing, passing, and very little physicality aside from snide little fouls. Makes you appreciate the Premiership. Barca scraped to a 1-0 win and looked very unconvincing, even if they were without Ronaldinho. I think we could beat them if we played fast, and hit their full backs. Villa looked OK, but nothing too special. They passed the ball around very nicely, and had a few chances they could have done better with. One of the players got a booking for a very sneaky foul, which I hope they don't try against our lot. Again, we look a class above them - but they held United earlier in the season, and have knocked out Inter, so, again, I'm not taking anything for granted.

So, anything less than 3 points would be unacceptable today, and, well, until the end of the season. So come on boys! It'll be interesting to see who plays, and if anyone's rested. Personally I'm hoping Adebayor gets a goal to atone for some of his misses on Weds.

A demain. Gb.

Friday, April 14, 2006

More on Portsmouth; Del Piero/Torres/Mourinho/Bergkamp/ finances.

Well, I was going to do a massive post on the Pmouth debacle, but I think Myles's article on ANR pretty much hit the nail, repeatedly, on the head.

What was Arsene thinking? The team he sent out was weaker than the one we played against Wigan in the Carling Cup 2nd leg!

If Song is offered a full time contract this summer I'll be amazed. He really has not looked even Premiership quality on the occasions I've seen him play. I don't think he is completely devoid of talent. He did show a few nice touches and passes in the game, but not enough to warrant his position. Myles was right: there are times when you rest people in the season - but not that many in one go. Considering how disjointed the team was, we actually played ok in the first half, and should have won the game. Missed opportunities cost us. Again!

Good to see Adebayor has had some sympathy. He's clearly a confidence player, and one who is still fine tuning his game. The four goals he's scored for us this season could/would not have been scored by any other member of the squad and Henry has almost immediately said he loves playing with him - something of a rarity. What surprised me most about him on Weds was the poorness of his first touch. The other times I've seen him, I was very impressed with his close control, and his ability to hold up play by skillfully controlling and distributing the ball. He was really off the pace on Weds, and seemed to struggle throughout. This happens to players at the point of development of Adey. He shows so much potential, though, that we have to get behind him: I think our suport could be critical in whether he makes it or not. Remember Tel initially, remember Pires initially, remember bloody Bergkamp initially!! I ahve been unimpressed, at times, with people's lust to castigate our players - I've flagged up the unfairness in doing this to Hleb, and I'm going to do the same with Adey. Adey settled in very quickly and had one bad game. He will improve. Gunnerblog on Arseblog [multi-blog link!!] has suggested that to miss two sitters in one game smacks of a lack of quality. I don't think so - unless he repeatedly does so. We should be thankful as to how good he's been so far, and recognise that the second miss probably stemmed from lack of confidence from the first. Also, when he went off, we were even more at sea, as the options he gives us in how to build attacks were removed. I'm a fan of v. persie but he simply doesn't bring enough to the team at the moment apart from his goals.

The other thing that surprised me yesterday was the mute response to Sol's performance. I thought he was excellent: he looked trim, and ready for a scrap, and clearly didn't even want to go off when he'd had his nose broken. He was solid at the back and while he gave away the freekick from which Pmouth scored, he could hardly be blamed for Diaby's inability to cover Lualua. I'm dissapointed that Sol will now be out again for a bit. He certainly looked good enough to be an asset for the rest of the season, and also that he could do some form of job for England in the summer. Also, I have a growing suspicion that this will be Sol's last season at the club, and he deserves better than to leave the club under a cloud.

In other news we've been linked to Torres, again, who's now been personally recommended by Reyes. Torres is a great player, but could he do it in the Premiership? I do wonder if he'll be another year long acclimatisation deal, and then him and Jose will both pack off to Real when they get fed up. Personally, I'd be surprised to see him arrive if Tel stays. Although I am finding his complete disinclination to join Spurs, depsite their painfully obvious desire to get him, most amusing.

Clubcall has us linked to Del Piero [don't think so]; Mourinho partially apologises over voyeur-gate [is that hell freezing over!!]; and the first match at Ashburton has been confirmed, pretty much, as Dennis's testimonial.

Finally, good to see we our continuing our financial prudent ways. I know everyone keeps trying to reassure me, but I still wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares of us becoming the new Leeds/Dortmund.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

A couple of questions, and don't scapegoat Adebayor

I'll write a full post on the game tonight when i have unmonitored internet use.

For now a couple of questions:

What was Arsene thinking with the line up? Song-Diaby in CM!?!

Does Reyes bother turning up for away games?

If we concede a goal, do we ever bother battling back anymore/ Or, more worryingly, Can we battle back, i.e. do we have the quality in the team to pull games back any more if we go down, or need to get a goal?

If Freddie can't score, should he play?

If Song is playing, why not Walcott?

Most damningly of all, are we an average team, being artificially propped up by the greatest player on earth - Henry?

A quick note on Adebayor. He missed several sitters last night, and by sitters i mean just touch the ball in a forward motion and =goal, BUT PLEASE DON'T SCAPEGOAT HIM. He WILL get better if we keep faith in him. I'm sick of reading people slagging off the players after watching them in a handful of games. Adey has brought us a dimension we didn't have, and will improve his finishing. Trust me. His first miss was set up by a header of his which no-one else on the team would have won. Consider that.

Having said that, I'm now minorly hysterical that we're going to go bankrupt without CL football, and that TH is surely thinking about playing for a team of men, not boys. Any reassurance on this panic will be welcome.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sol's back! Great?

So the man who has now given his name to a pub drinking tecchnique - the 'swift half' and then leave - is back to face Pompey tonight. Good news? Qui sait. Personally if Phil's gonna be rested I'd have rather seen Djourou get a chance because, I dunno, he hasn't walked out on the team in an hour of need, not apologised to the fans about it, and also not looked dodgy almost everytime he's played this season. Just a thought.

A tough game tonight with Pompey right back in form and seeking to extricate themselves from the relegation dogfight. We've got TH and Jose back , but we'll have to wait and see.

The librarian is staring at me![see ydays post] so have to go. Post may be quite late tomorrow.

Come on boys! Must win tonight.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

All Hail Hleb!

On today is a very good article about Al Hleb, our Bielorussian dynamo. Wenger has obviously got great faith in the lad, and I do too.

Arsene made the point that he's quite unique in the modern game, as he's a winger who doesn't rely solely on searing pace: he also has considerable close control and dribbling skills. I felt some fans were far too quick to write him off when he struggled a bit in December and January. He was 1) acclimatising to the premiership, 2) getting back from injury and 3) entering a team which had lost its way. He's gone on to show his quality since, and I hope we all get behind him, because he will only get better.

C'est tout pour aujourd'hui. Over the next few days, posts may be short as I am/will be in a library where I shouldn't be on blogger. Eek. Newsnow will have to keep you sated.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Back to earth with a Rooney sized bump.

I wrote on Friday how several things would be important in this game: that we exploited United’s weaknesses in midfield and dominate, physically and technically, the game in the middle third of the field; that the back line needed to be infallible, and probably play better than in the Juve game; and, most importantly, that we somehow shackled Rooney.

It’s safe to say that none of this happened.

The obvious starting point is Henry’s omission. Now, there was obviously a form of logic behind this. Terry has only recently fully recovered from a persistent Achilles injury, and was probably due a rest. But against United? At Old Trafford? Relying on RvP who’d 1) only recently recovered from injury and 2) has barely played with Adey? While Arsene subsequently defended his decision on the basis that TH hadn’t recovered fully from the Juve game, not having him on the field deprived us of both our captain and our most potent threat. Without him, quite simply, we did not have the cutting edge that, comparatively, Rooney brought to United. Jose was also no where to be seen while, against my hopes/expectations, Bobby, not Fred started on the left.

Still, we opened brightly, with a passage of play reminiscent of the game in Madrid. Only a superb saving tackle by Neville prevented a certain goal from Adebayor after a lovely pass from Hleb. RvP got all our other major chances and, it pains me to say, he didn’t do well enough. He produced more from the harder chances he had, such as when he sent a skimming shot across the face of the goal and forced an athletic one-handed save from mouse-face, than the glaringly easy ones. The obvious example being when Eboue sent the ball across the goal mouth and Robin missed not just the goal, but the ball. Indeed for all his talents, which are abundant, RvP looked worryingly one-dimensional yesterday. His corners and crosses produced little, and he did little for the team as a whole. I have faith he will get better, but he put in a distinctly average performance.

Adebayor, on the other hand, impressed a lot, really trying to vary his game and create chances. His aggressive drive through the united defence and subsequent shot which flew just over the bar was agonisingly close, a chance he carved out almost entirely on his own. He needs a player like Henry beside him, or he needs a lot of games with RvP, because at times yesterday he was almost carrying the forward line on his own, which he’s not yet capable of doing. And I could have wrung his neck when he tried that flick from Pires’ shot.

As for the rest of the team, half of them played well, half of them did not. Jens made several top drawer saves in the first half and was commanding throughout, not at fault for either of the goals. Hleb played extremely well, hammering forward at any given opportunity, creating chances with great passes, and showing wonderful close control. Gilberto did his job well, putting in some good tackles and rising to his role as captain.

As for the other half, the less said the better. Fabregas looked knackered. If anyone needed a rest it was him, and Diaby sparkled far more brightly in the brief time he was allowed. Gilberto shielded the defence and won the ball for him but Fab looked off the pace and our creativity subsequently suffered. Pires did better, and has notably upped the physicality of his game recently. Yet, like a lot of the team, his final ball was AWOL, and, like Cesc, he brought little to the team’s attack. If anyone knows why he stayed on, and Hleb went off, please enlighten me. As for our back line… Phil was probably our best defender, clearing our lines on several occasions and battling away, but his inability to track Rooney’s runs was, ultimately, fatal. Flam did pretty well, struggling on occasion but generally doing his job. Toure was uncharacteristically and remarkably poor, bullied by Rooney and getting away with one of the most blatant handballs seen since Henchoz’s save in the cup final. With Eboue also defensively struggling, there were problems a plenty at the back, which cost us dear.

For all this, the first half was fairly evenly matched. We should have been up inside the first twenty minutes after an overwhelming period of dominance. However we didn’t take our chances, and we paid. United gradually forced themselves back into the match, with Vidic and Ferdinand progressively solidifying into a fairly impenetrable line. Rooney was allowed to run wild, testing Jens several times, and being denied by Kolo’s brilliant, if highly illegal, save.

Quite simply, we were outplayed in the second half. United pressed and pressed us and we had no answer. Why Fab came out for the second half I don’t know. Diaby was fresh and ready on the bench, a player who would have added bite and inspiration to our midfield. That we were dominated by a central midfield of O’Shea and Giggs was unforgivable, and could have been remedied by the substitution.

The goal, when it came, had an air of inevitability to it. A great tackle by Vidic, led to a superb cross by Silvestre. The ball made its way to Rooney who, after beautifully controlling the ball, smashed it past the prostate Jens. Senderos was perhaps at fault, failing to head the ball out and leaving Rooney unmarked, but it would be a harsh criticism to level, given the quality of the ball, and the absence of any other Arsenal shirt who should have been moving in to cover Rooney.

After that we were all at sea, and while we created a few chances, this merely led to us being exposed at the back. The substitutions, when they came, were overdue and left Henry and Diaby with too little time to make a meaningful impact in the game. The second goal was painfully reminiscent of Rooney’s second last time we were up there. By the end, it was one of those pain-fests where you knew we had no chance of getting anything from the match, but you were determined to see it through due to some irrational residual hope that only the longstanding support of a team can engender.

Quite simply United looked like a team challenging for the title, and we looked like a team challenging for fourth. We didn’t stop their midfield from running the game, even though ours is, player for player, better. We, as per usual when playing away in the NW, procrastinated too much in our build up play, and allowed our opponents to get men behind the ball. Our style of play breaks down if we let our opponents do this. We have to learn to break in a quicker and more direct fashion away from home, and learn to take some shots instead of overcomplicating build up play. And we didn’t stop Rooney from running riot. He was the difference between the two teams yesterday, and we had no answer to his zest and innovation.

Silver linings remain: fourth place is not gone. We just have to win every remaining game, which is more than possible. Fourth is only between us and Spurs, who will lose to both us and United. I always thought, looking at the run in, that we could, and probably would, lose this one, and still get fourth. What’s important is that we don’t lose belief. The boys need to take it on the chin and realise, even if we get through and meet Barca in the CL final, that that was our toughest match for the remainder of the season.

As Jens said ‘we have too big quality’ (Sic.) not to get that fourth spot. I am officially going to start some form of campaign soon to make Jens our player of the season. It also occurred to me, after reading Arseblog the other day, that I too prefer Jens to Seaman.

So heads up. We were not awful yesterday, and we should recognise that we were simply outclassed on the day. None of the panicking and mass melancholy that has followed our other defeats this season should occur. We weren’t that bad, and next year we’ll have a team who’ll be able to beat anyone in the Premiership. Yesterday was painful, but it was a lesson our boys will learn from and they’ll come back stronger.

On that optimistic note, I’ll sign off, with the warning that hysteria will follow if we don’t win on Wednesday.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Arsene must stay! And United build-up.

A quick-ish one today, I said most of what I wanted to yesterday.

Nice article here about our incredible defensive record, in all competitions, since February. Good to see Phil finally get some plaudits. I'm convinced he could be our starting CB for over a decade.

While I hate linking to the NOTW because it's a paper which exists through exploiting, or usually causing, other people's misery, [spleen vented] it's heartening to see this article. Yes! Arsene must be given an unbreakable contract for the rest of his days! Although I wonder what he'd do with £46m? Spend £2-3m on unknown youngsters, who'd all be worth about £46m each 3 years later, and then spend £40m on a new training ground? Or on English lessons for Jose? Offer it all to TH to stay? Blow it all in a crazee weekend in Paris? Either way, it's good to see the board thinking this way. And the Gourcuff rumour, first mentioned on here some time ago, seems persistent enough to be credible - although i did say that about Curtis Davies the day before Arsene ruled out any move for him. D'oh. Arsene staying must be sorted out though.

So, that's my attempt to get us all thinking about something else in the hours preceding the match. Fat chance I know, but thought i'd try.

Another thing occured to me about the game: the re-emergence of Louis Saha. I wrote yesterday that the key to shackling United would be to take Rooney out of the game; I still think this is the case, but I should have added that I think Saha's return, and especially his form since his return, have been instrumental in turning United's season into a real challenge for the title. He's looked very sharp in front of goal, he's quick, and unlike Nistelrooy he doesn't just hang about the box waiting to poach a goal. Saha compliments Rooney very well, and I wouldn't be surprised if United start with those two, with VN coming on as a sub later in the game. It's going to be a real test for the back 5 today, but I'm confident that they can do it. Some big tackles and saves will be necessary though.

As Myles pointed out on AnR yesterday, Adebayor will have to have a good game today. I think he could really cause United's defence problems, and give Henry more time and space to play in than he's perhaps previously enjoyed up there.

Either way, I don't think it'll be a disaster if we take a point today. We either win every other game and draw this one, or win all of them: either way we'll be in fourth.

Let's hope the North hasn't traumatised our dear boys too much; although, as pointed out to me by a friend, I suppose half of the United fan base will be travelling up from the South with them. United fans who live in the South - the lowest of the low.

On the note of disdain, Adieu.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The dark Northern hinterlands await.

Yes, in a few hours, our brave boys will have to brave the journey that any self-respecting southerner dreads: heading 'Up North'. Sends a chill down your spine doesn't it. Especially given our appaling form, every time we've been forced North of good old London town. Everton, Liverpool, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, and, of course, the graveyard that is the Reebok stadium: we are the archetypal southern softy team.

Hopefully our recent European performances have replaced our jellied spines with some good old sheffield steel, and we can finally put a decent performance in up there. We did beat Wigan at the JJB, so it's not impossible.

There's a good deal of hype surrounding the match, and hopefully we'll see a better game than the appalling match over Christmas, when we were at a particularly low ebb. We're on a good run of form at the moment, and so are United, who clearly, with Chelsea's recent slip ups, have sensed blood, and are trying to go in for the kill. What should make the match interesting is that we're going to go for the win as well.

This could be just talk from Arsene, but I think he really believes we can win all our remaining fixtures on the run in, which would, obviously, give us fourth. I was wondering whether he would stick with the 4-5-1, and it seems he'll elect to play 4-4-2, with Adebayor, I should imagine, partnering TH. Who gets the nod in midfield will be interesting therefore. I should imagine, Fab and Gilbs are a given - although Diaby might be useful in a match like this - but the wings are up for grabs. Jose will probably start on the left, even after his pretty poor performance in Turin, which leaves Hleb, Bobby, and Freddie all fighting for the right. Who he picks will say a lot about our intentions. I can't see Bobby getting the nod, especially after this ill advised sulky statement concerning the Juve game, and I don't think he's got the skills or the steel to play 90 minutes up at OT anymore. So Al or Fred. Fred would beef up the midfield, but will not pose the same threat Al does. Especially given that he actually tracks back, and does make a lot of important tackles which few people seem to recognise, Ally, the CIS player of the month [that's the Commonwealth of Independent States, not the insurance firm] gets my nod. Him and Eboue down one wing, Jose, Flam and probably TH down the other will really cause United problems.

As for defence, I expect, and I think Arsene will pick, the same 4 as in Turin. Sol will be on the bench. He might be back for Wednesday to give kolo or Phil a rest, but he now has to accept that he is not our first choice central defender any more. It seems I was wrong about Curtis Davies, but the curtain is still beginning to close on Sol's Arsenal career.

What's important is that we try and physically dominate the game. United have no dominating physical midfield players so we can do this. If they've been reduced to playing Giggsy in centre-mid, they've got problems we can exploit. Fletcher is a soft touch we need to get at. First thing Flammy needs to do is put a big tackle in on Gary Neville - and tell him if he touches Jose he'll get another one. Adebayor and TH need to expose just how weak Man U's central defence is: perhaps it'll wake Rio up into becoming a decent defender again. Jens needs to be screaming and shouting from the off [as if I need to tell him]. Hopefully he positively channel the flood of adrenaline he's feeling at the moment, from Klinsmann's correct decision to make Jen's his no. 1. Congrats Jens -obviously the German FA were reading yesterday. He's also just signed a one year deal, which is also good news.

The way we're playing at the moment, we can dominate this United team with the speed of our passing, and with the solidity of our back line. We might be lacking an overwhelming physical presence in the mould of a Vieira, but United have no Keane. The most important thing we do tomorrow is take Rooney out of the game. Get someone to man-mark him if necessary. No Rooney, and United are half the team.

We can win, but I'd take a draw. Man U always raise their game for the big occasions, and refs are always intimidated up there. You may remember the 'penalty' that ended our unbeaten run. It seems that defeat is as painful in Arsene's mind as any of ours. Tomorrow is a great chance to exorcise some demons, and show that we're back.

One thing's for sure: Pizza won't be on the buffet.

Til then, Enjoy reminiscing with these.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More reflections on Juve.

After absorbing the discourse floating about since our night in Turin, a few more things have struck me.

Firstly, Jens. His performances over the entire course of this year have surely put him in contention for player of the season. The difference it makes to the team knowing that there is someone they can rely on behind them is enourmous, and has really helped our young defence develop. He was never that bad a goalkeeper. Even when he was coming in for some criticism last season, I think a lot of us forgot that he'd been the keeper that saw us through the unbeaten season. For me, there were only really three weak parts to his game: his kicking ability in open play, his 'rush of blood to the head' moments when he came charging out of the area to claim a ball, and his temperament. His kicking has improved vastly: there are few of the moments of him scuffing a ball played back to him, or looking so uncomfortable on the ball that the team felt edgy passing it back. His 'robtth' moments are also largely gone. The ultimate example of these was against Panathainakos in the CL last year, when he sprinted out of his box to deal with a ball, when he really didn't need to be there, and Pan subsequently scored. That these 'robs' are less evindent also lets the team relax more, and hence play better. His temperament is still there, but has turned into something that benefits the team. Instead of moments like at WHL when he gave away a penalty due to some jostling from Robbie Keane, Jens no longer allows his temperament to be as self-destructive . He was lucky, against Juve, not to be booked for tearing out of his area to berate Nedved, but I think overall, as long as he doesn't get carded, these incidents are good: they intimidate the other team, help him stamp his authority on situations, and provide a leader at the back for the team. Indeed the way he shouts and screams at the team, it's very much like having a second captain at the back, which, again, can only help our youngsters develop. I'd like to see some more of this on Sunday in Manc-ville; I do worry that it could lead to a card at old Trafford though, where referees are far too easily intimidated.

Against Juve, Jens was subtly awesome. He didn't have to pull off a save of comparable quality to the one he made against Madrid, but there were three moments which summed up his performance, and which were significantly helped the team through. Firstly an early cross from Mutu which he took at full stretch. This immediately showed who was going to dominate the penalty area, and also the quality of ball needed to test Jens. Juve never really tested him with high balls after this, as they were not up to the challenge. Secondly, Nedved's rasping shot, which, when viewed from Jen's POV, he would have been unable to see until quite late. Again, comfortably, and authoritavely dealt with, no doubt adding to Nedved's frustration. Thirdly, Ibrahimovic's deflected shot, which Jen's hands, almost automatically, snapped up and caught. That was a far more difficult save than it looked, a complete reflex movement. Lesser goalkeepers would have misjudged, or simply not seen the deflection the ball took, and the ball would have sailed in over their heads. If it had gone in, an extremely edgy 20 minutes would have followed. So, well done Jens. I wish you were younger. If Klinsmann doesn't start him in the world cup, the only explanation must be that Khan has actually turned himself into a brick wall, replete with cement, which covers the entirety of the goal-mouth. Short of this our Jens is your man.

The other thing that struck me was the need to have some shooting practice in training! The game showed that when TH doesn't take his chances, the team still does struggle a little. Hleb has begun to shoot, which is a good sign, but he needs to sharpen his accuracy and power up, as he needs to be contributing a good number of goals a season. Same with Fab and Jose. Indeed Jose's lack of goals is now becoming a bit of a worry. He looks far happier out on the wing, but he needs to get some goals if he wants to be a complete winger. As for Freddie, well, here's hoping that his new positive performances are matched with a renaissance in his scoring ability. I've been amazed at his lack of scoring this year, and I really hope that Dennis's decline doesn't, effectively, take another player with him.

Our progress in the CL has been based on solid defensive performances: if we want to win the trophy these need to continue, but we need to take more of our chances to help give our defence a little breathing space. And when chances aren't taken this late in the competition, there's very little scope for remedying it later in the game.

The great thing about levelling criticism to this team is you know they're young enough to actually take it in and learn from it. Hence, Eboue, who has been scintillating down the right flank, will hopefully have learnt from his error in not releasing the ball after his wonder run, the only black mark on his otherwise wonderful performance.

The main news elsewhere is focused on Sol, who is clearly desperate to get back into the team. The Mirror even reckons that he could be in contention for Sunday's match against united. I don't think so. Arsene will keep Kolo and Phil together, and then rest Phil on Wednesday against Portsmouth. Sol will be a squad player for the rest of the season, but will still go to the world cup. Considering the rumours linking us to Curtis Davies are persistent and believable, it's hard to envisage Sol as the core of any future Arsenal defence.

East Lower has also made a rather sentimental post today. Hard to believe, eh?

Finally, nice to see Man U have a new shirt sponser. Have a look at this link to see how they conduct themselves in what's known as the 'Enron-style' school of business.

Til tomorrow.

Over the Hills and at Juve, history, my friend, has just been made.

Nil nil or not nil nil - that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of embittered Spurs fans, or to take arms against a sea of black and white shirts, and, by opposing, end them.

A note of grandeur seemed appropriate at the opening of proceedings.

It wasn't pretty. The backs were against the wall at times. There was little of the flair and magic of the first leg. But we did it. Oh yes, we did.

The team was as I predicted. Freddie in for Bobby, and the five man midfield otherwise unchanged. What I didn't predict was Thuram on the bench for Juve, and for Juve as a whole to be so, so poor. Not just tonight but over both legs. They looked almost unconcerned at their plight for most of the tie. Nedved's red card was an anomaly. Just like Juve’s red cards in the first leg, they didn't show any great desire to progress: they were a moment of almost childish angst, a swipe at players with twice their desire to win the CL. They were a team of old men, swanning through the fixture. Their exit, combined with Inter's exit, AC's fairly fortuitous performance against Lyon, and the ranks of empty seats tonight, speaks volumes about Italian football. It is a league in near free-fall, with violent fans - see the fires at the end - and teams devoid of true passion, and, dare I say it, real ability. Juve created chances tonight, but we've had harder away games at Everton, Wigan, Bolton, and even West Brom this year. I really wonder how they would fare in the Premiership. Not well, I would venture.

I expected a barrage from Juve at the beginning of the match, and a degree of pressure did come. But it was hardly an avalanche, and we had our chances too. Gilberto should have done better when he received the ball unmarked at the far post. He controlled poorly and scuffed the ball into the ground. Indeed, we should have scored tonight. Fabregas, when clean through in the second half, hit the ball straight at Buffon. It's hard to ask so much of a lad his age, but one has to now realise that chances like that must be taken at this stage of the competition. Jose had a worrying game. He worked hard, but too often his runs came to nothing when he tried a trick too many. However, against Villa, I expect him to play better, given that he prefers to play Spanish teams. Unfortunately, he'll be out for the first leg, ridiculously booked by a fussy referee, for, apparently, time-wasting. A farce of a yellow card. Our best chance was probably from Hleb. A drop, or several, of the shoulder, saw him past several defenders, but he blazed his shot just wide. He's quite a player, and he still isn't getting the respect he deserves from us. Goals, and many more great performances, will come from him.

Aside from that it's hard to fault a player. Jens made several excellent stops when called upon. He showed a moment of misjudgement when he came screaming out of the penalty area during the Nedved sending off, but luckily he wasn't booked. Personally, I now love seeing Jens show that passion. It's a real statement about how much he wants this trophy, and how much he cares for the team. Just please don't get sent off! The back four were superb. There were perhaps two moments in the match when they allowed Juve an opportunity, but Juve were so far off the pace that they wasted them. Ibrahimovic looked like a player who'd only scored 6 this season. Trezeguet was a shadow of his former self. The rest of Juve's team were similarly inconsequential. In future, Mutu's performance over the two legs should be shown in secondary schools around the country: I can't think of any better anti-drugs commercial. By the end it was almost painfully easy. Indeed the referee blew up around half a minute early, perhaps out of sympathy. Juve, quite simply, were a disgrace. Again.

Freddie showed a painful lack of sharpness in front of goal, but battled so hard that you could hardly fault him. Gilberto was excellent, continuing his new trend of actually completing passes. Terry was, as ever, a wonder, but perhaps tried a few too many tricks tonight, when a degree of simplicity may have aided matters. When clean through he also took a, for him, uncharacteristically heavy touch, when you would have bet on him to score. The Flamster was lucky to get away with an elbow [was it just me, or were there elbows flying in from all over the place tonight?] and looked a tad shaky at times. He held his ground overall though, and didn’t make any fatal mistakes. Eboue was awesome, defending astutely and charging down the flanks at any given opportunity. The sight of Eboue in full flight, and the way he harnessed Nedved, exemplified the gulf between the two teams tonight. Old vs. New; hunger vs. Apathy; beauty vs. sterility.

Joint MoftMatch: Phil & Kolo. What a partnership. Phil is now, officially, a rock. What I love about him is his desire and humility. He knows his job: he performs it. He will only get better. And with Kolo sweeping away beside him, using his incredible pace, I think we have a real, long-term partnership being forged. I felt sorry for Sol as he looked on from the bench, but he is now second-fiddle. This is a new era.

We should have won on the night, a point TH pointed out in his post-match interview. But we should now realise we can definitely win this competition. We have just made a team 9 points clear in the third-best (? comments section below) league in Europe look extremely ordinary. The semi-final is going to be a damn sight harder. Villa will have the same desire as us, and will give us a really tight game in Spain. But we can do it. There's an increasing sense of momentum in this team. And for all his critics, Terry is turning into quite the captain. I like the perfectionism line he's peddling: we haven't won anything yet, we will celebrate in Paris and not before. Damn straight.

But still, for the first time in the history of our Club, we are in the semi-finals of the Champions league. Just take that, and savour it for a moment. Drink it in. Forget what the embittered Spurs fan has said on 6-0-6. We are The Arsenal, and we are in the last four. I don't know about the rest of you, but I remember that Wayne Bridge goals in the unbeaten season. It was more than a goal to me, it was almost a symbol, a recurring curse that showed us we would never progress past the 1/4 finals of this competition.

Tonight we have: it wasn't a classic but it was enough.

Enjoy all the plaudits we receive today, but remember what it's all about: keeping the faith. See you in Spain amigos.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Juve preview: Thuram writes our team talk for us.

Player by player Juve are superior to Arsenal and it will not be a surprise if we were to get three or four goals.

Now the whole world will see what the real Juventus is all about. We are out for revenge for the humiliation we suffered.

Lilian Thuram

So, it seems at least some of the Juve players are recognising that we gave them something of a footballing lesson last week at Highbury. In the case of Thuram, however, and surely some of the other Juve players, this has led to the hubristic tongue being poked out.

I'm sure that Juve can't play as badly as they did last week. Even with 3 players suspended, they will be better. I'm expecting an avalanche of pressure to fall on us in the opening 20 minutes as Juve look to get a quick first goal from which they can then try and control the match. I don't think we'll see the opening sparring that we did in the first leg, where, at the beginning of the match, neither team wanted to probe too deeply. This ended when we realised Juve's defence could be opened almost at will.

But whilst Some of Juve's players obviously have great confidence that they can turn this leg around, I wonder whether this will work to our favour, again. If the big teams in Europe - Juve, Ac, Barca, Madrid - continue to see us as, essentially, a medium sized club over-performing, I'm sure we can use this to our advantage. We can use Juve's confidence against them, and continue where we left off at Highbury. I really don't think Juve have half the desire or hunger that we have for this trophy. They are an old team. Nedved, who returns today, is past his past, a fabulous player in the midst of decline. Del Piero's out as well, but he is also way past his peak. Two players who might have showed more hunger, Trezeguet andIbrahomvic, didn't look too bothered at Highbury. Juve also seem to have been in dissaray since last Tuesday. While we went out and hammered Villa, Juve struggled towards a 0-0 with relegation threatened Treviso. This charming exchange occured when Capello substituted Ibrahimovic [thanks to ANR]:

Capello: "Don't play like shit."
Ibrahimovic: "If you don't like it, mister, take me off."
Capello: "Get off then".
Ibrahimovic, as he leaves the field: "Fuck off. And don't tell me I play like shit."

Ah, team spirit from the Lee Bowyer/Kieron Dyer school of football. One can only hope this malaise continues into tonight's match.

As for us, The injury news is largely positive thusfar; this link also has the full squad. Eboue's chances of playing have increased from 30 to 80% overnight: either a typo was involved, or he's now definitely in contention to start. I think he will. This will avoid the 'how do we play Sol, without him weakening the team' problem that could have otherwise arisen. The other big talking point is Freddie's return: it seems pretty certain that he'll start in front of Bobby, which has led to speculation that this has pushed Bob even further toward the door. I think he should realise that whilst he played fantastically last week, our CL run has been built on a great espirit de corps and that the team needs to stick together tonight, and suport each other regardless of individual desires/pride. Juve's conspicuous lack of team spirit largely did for them last week.

So the XI I think will start:

eboue kolo phil Flami
Hleb Ljunberg Gilbs Fab Jose

Our game plan should be quite simple tonight: don't sit back and defend and let Juve pile pressure on us. Frustrate Juve's attacks in midfield, and make quick breaks. Juve are expecting to score the first goal: defend as a unit, and deny them this, because If we score first this game is over. We need to remember that. Freddie's sheer work rate is why he's been preferred. Diaby might come on if Fab's foot starts to cause him problems: that's no problem, he can fill the role more than adequately.

Juve are expecting to win tonight; we need to use this against them. As Arsene said: Two months ago we were considered a joke. Now we are favourites to win. The truth is somewhere in between. If I were him, I'd just read out Thuram's comments to the team before the match. Prove him wrong boys, again. No one really gave us a chance against Madrid or in the first Juve match, and we more than silenced the critics. We just need to keep our feet on the ground and battle for 90 minutes, if not more. A week ago I said Arsenal had been young, hungry, and Imperious. We still are and we need to show it.

Thuram is confident that people will see the 'real' Juve tonight; I say we continue to show the world who the 'real' Arsenal are. Victoria Concordia Crescit. Nuff said.

Juve have written our team-talk for us: let's show them who Arsenal Football Club really are.

Player by player Juve are superior to Arsenal and it will not be a surprise if we were to get three or four goals.

Now the whole world will see what the real Juventus is all about. We are out for revenge for the humiliation we suffered.

Lilian Thuram

SSo, it seems at least some of the Juve players are recognising that we gave them a footballing lesson last week at Highbury. In the case of Thuram, however, and surely some of the other Juve players this has led to the hubristic tongue being poked out. I'm sure that Juve can't play as badly as they did last week. Even with 3 players suspended, they will be better tonight. I'm expecting an avalanche of pressure to fall on us in the opening 20 minutes as Juve look to get a quick first goal from which they can then try and control the match. I don't think we'll see the opening sparring that we did in the first leg, where, at the beginning of the match, neither team wanted to probe too deeply. This ended when we realised Juve's defence could be opened almost at will.

[sorry this was a mispost. For Today's actual post see: Juve Preview: Thuram writes our team talk for us. A technologically inept Goonerboy.]

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fab and Eboue return?

The main news this morning is that Fab and Eboue will be definitely travelling to Turin. A lot of people have subsequently jumped the gun a little, and stated this shows they are definitely fit for the match, which I don't think it does. It could merely show that their injuries aren't so bad that they've been definitively ruled out, which, whilst obviously a good thing, doesn't necessarily mean they'll both start tomorrow. I doubt a final decision on them will be taken until tomorrow. Indeed it now seems Cesc's injury is the more likely to heal: his swollen foot has obviously deflated. The Times reported he even took part in light training yesterday. Eboue's is still a bit more dicey. Given Wenger's lack of options at R-b, I think he'll be tempted to gamble on Eb's fitness, and it's more than likely that we'll see the same team as last week start. Having said that, Wenger won't want to inflame a minor injury into a major one, so...

We could play the defensve formation game! Current winning formulas:

Toure, Campbell, Senderos, Flam
Djourou, Kolo, Phil, Flam
Toure, Djourou, Phil, flam

None of which look as pretty as:

Eboue Kolo Phil Flam.

The Rock on which our European progress has been built. Whilst Sol has ruled himself fit for Wednesday, I don't think he should be allowed to break up this back 4, even if he is available. Phil certainly doesn't deserve to lose his place, and we don't owe it to Sol to play him just so he can get into the world cup squad. I'll do a full preview tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Ken Edelman, our managing director has added to the Highbury boardroom chorus, in stating that he wants Th to stay. Interestingly he contends that there is only a 50% chance of Terry staying; somewhat at odds with Arsene's, 'I'm 100% confident he'll stay' statement on Saturday.

The club is also encouraging an 'Orange day' at the West Brom match to honour the legend that is Dennis Bergkamp. He thoroughly deserves this, so if you're going do let him know how much we all love him. I remember when he first came to the club and didn't score for quite a few matches, then hammered that belter in against Southampton. To think, he got stick as well for his failure to immediately acclimatise. How fickle we can sometimes be. I also remember that finishing fifth was quite an achievement in his first season. How times have changed thanks to Arsene, eh?

So, let's all wait for the hype to whip itself to a fever pitch, and then I will attempt to condense it something remotely digestible tomorrow. Essentially, expect Juve players either a) mouthing off or b) saying they've already lost in a pathetic attempt at mind games while Arsenal players merely state in a professional, yet determined manner that they know they still have a tough job ahead of them.

Til tomorrow, take care.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Waiting on injuries and helping Chelsea.

I appreciate the fans more than all the oil and gas of Russia
Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov

Thought I'd start the day with a comedy quote.

As for us, it seems like it will be a slow news day, with the talk there is inevitably focused on Eboue and Fab's injuries. Unfortunately, we're probably not going to know for definite about these injuries until Wednesday itself. If they're 40/60, 50/50 then they're not going to have healed by now. Eboue's seems more serious than I had hoped. But both ran off when they were substituted though, so i'm still hopeful overall. If the odds are 50/50 then surely one of them must be back. I forget how the laws of probability work. Some people have said that Arsene shouldn't have risked the two before the Juve game. I personally think, given how important all our remaining games are, Arsene has to put our strongest possible team out for every game until the end of the season. It's now a sprint finish, and are players are capable of doing it. I think we can get through the Juve game without Fab and Eb, although it will now be considerably more edge-of-seat than before, and hopefuly they'll both be back when we head up north on Sunday.

If eboue is out injured, here's the back line I'd consider playing: Kolo(rb), djourou, Phil, Flam. Sorry Sol. I'll speculate further tomorrow, and fully on Wednesday, as more news about the injuries come in.

Everton have told us to forget about Yobo. I don't think Arsene was really interested in him, but he might have been some nice cover. I can't see him starting before phil, kolo or even Djourou though. If he was coming in to replace anyone, it'd be Sol. I think, this summer, we may see another CB, probably unknown, young and French, who will be the true, long-term squad replacement for Sol. I think Arsene may have lost faith in him after his shenanigans this season.
Wenger now apparently wants to help Chelsea win the league. The horrors of being a team in 5th place eh? Also we are the fourth most valuable team in the world. Not bad.
Hopefully more news will congregate by tomorrow.
Til then, Adieu.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A great day slightly marred.

First up some excellent writing in the Gruadain/observer and Independent. Nice to see some decent sport journalism. Amy Lawrence following my - I'm confident she's reading - points about why Th should stay; a nice interview with Jens, my personal hero of the season, in the Indie.

In terms of the game yesterday we were in unstoppable form. 5 goals and we hardly seemed to break sweat. And all goals which had their individual merits. Adebayor's goal, in many respects, made me the happiest, because it was a kind of goal we didn't use to score before he arrived. It was very similar to his one against Birmingham - scrappy play leading to a kind of poachers goal that no-one ever seemed to be there for before. Also he scored it with his head, somewhat of a rarity at Arsenal. Adey was on fire, and his assist for Thierry's second goal was awesome, a flick of the back of the boot, leaving TH in acres of space from where he curled the ball into the right hand top corner. Gorgeous, just gorgeous. In fact Terry had so much time on the ball, it almost looked like an open-play freekick, if that makes sense. He had previously scored another stunner, deftly controlling the ball before flicking it over Sorenson's head. I should imagine at 3-0, Villa probably would have been happy to take 5-0 and go home early, but there was still a good 40 minutes to go. TH was taken off for RvP, who began to link up well with Adey very quickly. Robin's goal was a joy as well. At first glance, it appeared he'd almost made a hash of an easy chance. In fact, he'd done well to keep the ball in play, then showed a beautiful bit of skill, before lashing the ball in from an acute angle. After that the sailing was even plainer: it was merely left to Diaby to knock his one in past the beleagured Sorenson, after another great assist from Adey. A great goal and a great moment: his first goal for the club and you could tell it meant a lot to him.

So complete dominance. There was one defensive slip up when Luke Moore should have scored, but aside from that Villa must have been overjoyed when the final whistle came.

Two main talking points: injuries and the forward line. Both Fabregas and eboue hobbled off, which was, obviously, not good to see. I suspect Eboue's might just be cramp, or a slight twinge; Fab's might be worse, as it's already been reported his foot has swollen considerably. Both should be back for the United game on Sunday - a huge game that's crept up on us! - but both will now be doubts for the Juve game. I think Eboue would be of the greater concern in many ways. With Lauren out, and Gilbert out (? I assume, if anyone knows different do say) we have no established r-b to play. Djourou filled in today, which is a possibility on Weds, but otherwise it'll take some thinking. Losing Fab would be a blow, but I think Diaby could definitely do the job, especially given Juve's suspensions. Still, let's hope they're both get better quick. As of this morning there is a '40%' chance they will play. Not too good.

The other point that is clearly going to become an issue is which two strikers should now start up front, if all of them are fit? personally, I'd have to say Adey and TH. Ade gives us more options, and TH loves him already. I think RvP is an awesome player, but I think he will really have to fight for his place now. While Adey may score less - although he's scoring has been great so far - and his finishing is still a little raw, he contributes, overall, more to the team than RvP. I think it's good we can vary our options up front though. I just hope that RvP doesn't get in a huff if he is no longer starting when fit.

The boss was ebullient about TH after the game, even stating I'm confident he will stay, 100 percent confident. Wow. Arsene doesn't usually openly say things such as this, so let's hope he right.

Elsewhere in the Premiership, everything came up roses as Bolton were beaten by United and Spurs went down to Newcastle. The Newcastle match was worth watching for Jenas's miss alone, while I found myself, and no doubt many other arsefans, cheering on United. I'm looking forward to next season when, hopefully, we're back above them and this support is no longer needed. Chelsea's draw against Birmingham was also entertaining if for no other reason than Mourinho's preposterous claim that their 'goal' shouldn't have been deemed offside. Nice one.

So, it is now up to us whether we get fourth place. If we win all our games, technically, we will definitely now finish there. A good day at the office; no CL hangover was evident. The alka-seltzers must have worked.

On any other day, Henry would walk y MoM, but I feel our Togolese goal destroyer Manu Adebayor deserves it for the fine way he's performed since arriving in January. Of the three window signings I had the lowest hopes for him; it's been nice to have been proved wrong. Two assists, and a scrappy goal yesterday, and once his finishing has sharpened more goals will come. I'm still a bit gutted that he's tamed his hair though. I did love the crazy fringe. Hoepfuly it'll be back soon.

'Til tomorrow I'll leave you a picture of Matthieu 'yes I am a secret ninja' Flamini, showing why he has become so beloved at the club:

'That's my my ball' said the Shaolin master.