Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Say it ain't so Thierry...

In a pulsating game last night, France edged out Spain in a four goal thriller. After going down to a David Villa penalty - rightly given against a clumsy Thuram challenge - France, surprisingly it must be said, stuck to it and eventually emerged triumphant. Franck Ribery rounded the keeper, and just put the subsequent side-footed effort past the despairing efforts of two Spanish defenders just before half-time. Good old Paddy then, after a storming game, headed France into the lead, while Zinedine 'have I ever looked under the age of forty' Zidane showed a glimpse of past glories as he superbly finished off a French move in stoppage time.

Zidane was superb, while Paddy showed us that he can still, occasionally, pull out a big game performance. A few more of those in his final season and perhaps he wouldn't have been let go.

Yet Thierry cut a folorn figure for most of the game. Without Trezeguet making space for him, and without any really penetrating passes from Zizou, Tel quickly became isolated and was wasted up front on his own.

It seems France could have bitten the bullet and relied on the future when their qualifying campaign ran into trouble. Instead, Domenech resurrected the past, in a move akin to us re-signing Vieira instead of relying on the youngsters halfway through last season. The result of this is the continued mis-use and underperformances of our Tel for the French. Instead of a new team being built and moulded around Henry, Zidane continues to steal the show and dominate the team, to the detriment of Thierry. Given performances like last night, this could be said to be justifiable, but considering the talents of Tel, one has to wonder if he will ever turn in a truly virtuoso Arsenal-esque performance for France.

Having said that, France are playing so well now, one has to consider them real contenders for the trophy. It seems that a performing Zidane can still carry the French team, even with an underperforming Thierry. Zidane is clearly not finished and is still good enough to drive this team to the final. And I doubt Tel will really care how well he plays on the way there, if he gets to play in the world cup final this time.

Thierry was also at the centre of the most controversial moment of the game. Puyol cut across him and Tel went down, resulting in the free-kick which made France's second goal. It has to be said firstly that it was defintely a foul. Puyol clearly backed into and knocked over Thierry. The guff that Aragones is coming out with about it not even being a foul is rubbish. The real issue is why Thierry covered his face after the foul, in a manner which suggested that Puyol had elbowed him in the face, and hence that Thierry was trying to get Puyol sent off.

I was dissapointed by Thierry's action as, ostensibly, Puyol did not go near Henry's face. But as I said before that does not mean Puyol did not foul Henry, and many players do go down clutching their faces when they're generally injured from a foul. Thierry is not a cheat. If Eboue or Bobby had done something this, I might feel there was something more to it. The subsequent assertion by some news agencies that Tel was living up to his promise to learn 'how to dive' as he said - in a fit of clouded anger - in the aftermath of the CL final is rubbish. At most, I think Tel played up the foul to ensure a free kick. Knowing Thierry from all the times I've watched him, either something has radically changed between the CL final and now or he's speaking the truth in this statement. I believe him, but i hope next time he doesn't play things up as much.

Either way, it ensures that the racist **** that is Luis Aragones is out of the tournament. That alone probably justifies Tel's actions. The need to defeat Aragones and the frustration at his isolation up front probably contributed to the incident.

Spain were rather woeful themselves, but given a formation which makes Sven look like a tactical genius this was hardly surprising. Starting Torres, Raul and Villa up front was ridiculous and was clearly a result of Aragones bottling a decision as to which one he should drop. The midfield of Xavi, Alonso and Fabregas could pass the ball about beautifully, but offered no physicality, bite, or anyone who was really going to win the ball. Near suicide when playing against a French midfield of Makalele and Paddy. Aragones was perhaps forgetting that Cesc's big performance against Juve was conspicuously aided by having Gilbs behind him. Senna should have been at the back of the midfield, and Fab should only have been included at the expense of Alonso or Xavi.

France beating Spain is still, despite Anti's vision, a shock to me and it seems that yet again Spain have bottled a great chance to make real progress in a major competition. Having said that, at the next Euro Championships they'll be a major force due to the youth of the team. One wonders what the future of the French team will be, post Zidane, Makalele and Thuram and with players such as Vieira entering real decline.

France may be sacrificing the chance to build for the future in order to give themselves a real chance in this competition. The results of this gamble will probably not be seen until the next major championships, but for now it seems to be working.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Which is worse - the supposed new kit or Kuyt?

First up we have pictures of our supposed Third Kit for next season. As we only had our redcurrant shirt for one season, the very nice yellow kit is continuing for another season as our primary away shirt, albeit with the new sponsors logo on it. It appears however that, like the Black kit we were meant to wear in the CL final, the alleged third kit currently doing the rounds on the net is a fake, photoshopped from the new Barca kit. Either way, its hideous, so I sincerely hope it is fake. No more Blue shirts nike! We've told you we don't want them! Have a look.

In troubling news, Arsene also came out and praised Dirk 'where's the barn door' Kuyt. Now, it actually seems that all Arsene's done is come out and said he thinks he's an OK player, but the mill has already spun this into an 'Arsenal ponder bid for Dutch superstar' esque headlines. Given his performances against Argentina and Portugal, and that I could probably score 30+ goals in the Dutch league, I hope he comes no-where near our plush new stadium. Also, given the nature of Arsene's comment - Kuyt's a 'generous' player [to the opposition?] -and that he only admitted he had considered buying him, I don't think much more will come of this. Well, I hope not.

Talking of the Emirates, here's a photo special from the official site. Looking very good. I've been blown away by the quality - well at least the aesthetic quality from the TV pictures - of the stadiums in Germany, and I hope our new pad is in the same league as grounds such as Munich. [I remember Alex Hleb saying our new stadium is better than Munich's new one. Here's hoping.]

Little Cesc has also, hopefully, dismissed rumours that he's going anywhere. I have a real concern with Cesc that we're going to have a Vieira-esque transfer debacle with him every summer because he will become one of the top five midfielders in the world very soon. Especially as Barca and Madrid assume that there's almost nothing in the way aside from their own reticence in getting him. He's looked even more awesome than usual recently, and the club has to step up a gear in its achivements if it wants to keep players of his calibre indefinitely.

World Cup

It seems my decision to take the game off was a wise one, as Switzerland and Ukraine struggled toward a penalty shoot-out in what was, by all accounts, an utterly dire game. Commiserations to the Swiss.

Unfortunately this leaves the door open for the Italians to get to at least the semi-finals, a team I despise more than any other left in the competition.

It's odd in a way, because when i was young, Italian football, and especially Serie A, was the league and style to which others aspired. I remember when AC Milan were seemingly unstoppable. Nowadays their league is in turmoil, and their national team play awful, cynical, almost hateful football, based on little more than a strong defence, the odd bit of flair, and lots and lots of gamesmanship. I know this is a generalisation, and I know that players like Gattuso, Totti and Toni are class, but the Italian team as a whole do approach the game with more cynicism than I can bear, and have played even more boring football than England.

There's been a lot of debate regarding Materazzi's red card, with the consensus emerging that it was harsh. Unless I was very much mistaken, Materazzi flew in with a double-footed challenge, all studs showing. That he missed the Ozzy, and indeed almost impailed his own player, is inconsequential. It was violent, dangerous play and he deserved to go. There have been far too many cards in the competition, but that one was entirely justified.

I watched the game with a bunch of Ozzies, many of whom were just getting into football for the first time. To lose to a last minute penalty must have been a indescribably harsh for them and I hope it hasn't put them off the game. Especially as while Lucas Neill shouldn't have gone to ground, the Italian forward showed world class cheating abilities to win the penalty - purposely falling over Neill, and sticking out his foot to catch him as he went over to make it look like a foul. That Totti then did that ridiculous thumb-sucking celebration afterward made my blood boil. Given their route to final - Ukraine, then one team from today - there's a real chance the Italians could get there. For my faith in football to not be overly shattered, may one of the nations left in the competition please prevent this.

Til later


Monday, June 26, 2006

Transfer rumours and yesterday in the World Cup

We continue to be linked to a number of players - however, I'm slightly dubious as to whether any of them will arrive.

A persistent link that's re-surfaced is Trabelsi of Ajax and Tunisia arriving. He's a r-b who, I admit, I didn't particularly notice during the world cup. Apparently his agent is claiming we've already offered him a deal, but then agents are agents so this might not mean anything. However, given that Lauren is out for at least the first month of the new season, it might be worth getting in an experienced r-b, given that Eboue and Gilbert are clearly not the finished article. The fact that Trabelsi is out of contract and hence available on a Bosman could seal the deal.

A rumour that seems to have blown up in the last day, is that of Buffon coming to us. Whilst I would dearly love to see him at the club, it seems unlikely. I think the rumour may have a lot to do with agents soudning out interest for Juve players just in case harsh penalties are imposed on the club in the match-fixing affair. The price tag - £19m - and wages would probably put us off. After my disparaging remarks about his performance against England, Isaksson - the Swedish keeper - was excellent against Germany, and may still prove to be the real long term successor to dear Jens.

Talking of Jens, Oliver Kahn continues to show that there is actually an 'I' in team. If I was Klinsmann I'd be temtped to kick him out the squad, regardless of his skills. All he's contributing to the German effort at the moment is negativety. He sits and sulks on the bench, only caring about himself, not the team. Superstar egos, eh?

Two rather similar players to be mentioned with regard to us have been Steven Appiah and, for the ten millionth time, Yaya Toure. I have to say I have been impressed with Appiah, if a little concerned with his selfishness. Toure has looked the better player, but you have to wonder whether this transfer will actually ever come off. Both would add a welcome bit of bite to our midfield.

Saviola now also appears to be slipping from our grasp. He's looked excellent for Argentina - not just in his ability to score goals, but also his general team work and passing. He appears to favour staying in La Liga, apparently, so a move may now be out the question.

I'm sure there are more rumours - I reported the Klose deal on Saturday, and nothing more seems to have come of it - but there's only so much speculation one can handle before breakfast. The only thing I'm concerned about is United getting both Torres and Carrick, which seems a real possibility. Seeing Torres up in the North would be heartbreaking, yet would Arsene would be reticent to match United's alleged £20m bid. I'd be willing to use Reyes as a makeweight if it would seal the deal for us at a reasonable price.

For those of you who haven't seen it, i.e. probably none, here's some pictures of the new kit. Very nice if you ask me, and, nearly identical to the one leaked over the internet quite a while back. It seems to be, essentially, the same design as the Brazil kit, but with our colours. I'm not sure about the 'collar', if it can be called that, but apart from that i like it. It is nice to have the old red and white back. The main 'controversy' seems to be over the gold stripes. I think they're ok, but the kit would look perhaps look a bit better without them. Either way, the shirt's a vast improvement on the awful kit we had before the red-current came out.

World Cup

I really don't want to go into the insane amount of depth I usually do for the England match again. Suffice to say, boring, but actually rather effective. I have to admit that I was on the verge of falling asleep when Becks whipped in his superb free-kick, making my celebrations somewhat muted. [The early afternoon drinking always aids lethargy]. I rescind my criticisms of Hargreaves, who gave England far more options on the right than the rather one dimensional Carragher. Whether Hargreaves has the defensive abilities to stand up to a player of Ronaldo's quality in the next game remains to be seen [although Ronaldo's injury will hopefully not have cleared up].

Rooney was excellent up front, running himself into the ground. The fundamental problem of the system was the lack of options for Rooney when he won the ball. He still needs an out and out striker to forward the ball to. Especially now Lampard is barely capable of hitting a barn door. The system meant we dominated the game, but were nearly toothless. Gerrard, Lamps, and Joe Cole need to get their shooting boots on -again - to help us through.

However, despite its dullness, I was actually quite happy with England. We actually, for the first time in the tournament, played some rather nice passing football - no doubt partly forced on the team by the lack of the walking skyscraper up front. Carrick was excellent, and drove almost all of England's best moves. His passing is superb and he was instrumental in making us play atcual, not long-ball, football.

Are England going down the Arsenal in the Champions' league root? Playing an formation not tried until very recently, which results in fewer goals, but greater solidity and possession? I know England have clearly been one of the most boring teams in the tournament, but Sven may have finally struck tactical gold when it matters most. I never thought I'd say that.

In the other game of the day, Portugal played Holland in what can only be described as a war. A new World Cup record was set with 16 yellow cards and 4 red. Whilst this may seem like a huge amount, it has to be said that the ref was justified in around 2/3rds - 3/4s of the cards. Deco's second yellow - and Van Bronckhorst's - were harsh, but then Figo basically got away with a head-butt. Portugal will be without Costinha and Deco for the 1/4 final, and Ronaldo [injury] and Figo [possible extension of suspension, although if he was booked I'm not sure if this is possible] potentially missing. Having feared the worst for England in the 1/4s, I'm now quite confident we can beat Portugal. I still think it will be an appallingly boring game to watch though.

In between the fighting there was some football. Holland dominated the game, but Van Basten inexplicably stuck with Kuyt up front for the whole match. While our Robin looked excellent -albeit in a much wider role than he plays for us - Kuyt looked like he could have been there all night and not scored. Why Van Nistelrooy didn't come on was a mystery.

Til later Arsefans, make sure, if you can, to watch the Italy-Ozzies match. It'll be a bloodbath, but, no doubt, morbidly exciting.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Arsenal cleared over Beveren - this apparently proves me 'wrong' - and some news.

I received this acid-tinged attack in the comments box today/yesterday:

'Nice that the Fifa investigation of Arsenal's relationship with Beveren has - unsurprisingly - found us totally innocent.

Disappointing that you haven't commented on this - one of the few Arsenal sites not to do so immediately. Disappointing but perhaps not surprising, seeing as during the witch-hunt you yourself cast aspersions on Arsenal's integrity by describing our dealings as 'shady' - though shady in precisely what way was never explained.

No, unconditional loyalty to Arsenal isn't required of its supporters' sites. But the capacity to think independently is. I was depressed at the time by the mental laziness of your uncritical regurgitaton of the tabloid insinuations that Arsenal, in particular Dein, had been acting unethically, without a shred of evidence being produced. I'm even more depressed now at your lack of interest in the fact we've been cleared. How about an apology to Arsenal, Dein and those Arsenal fans who questioned your stance?'

Hmm, I don't usually get stung by comments, but this one I feel the need to publicly respond to.

Has the person who read the comment actually read the article I wrote on the Beveren affair? And by read I mean fully read, digest and understood the points I was trying to make? Or has he just picked up in the two occasions - one in the comments box - were i even slightly suggest that Arsenal's dealings in this haven't exactly been whiter than white.

It's here if you wish to read it. At what point, exactly, in this article do I launch into an attack on the club, or even suggest that the case had any real grounding?

How is saying:

I haven't got much time to write, but here's a nice summation of articles to protect and comfort us all from the, to be frank, defamatory statements emminating from the Beeb. I expected better from a programme like Newsnight. I, like other Gooners, paled when I saw 'Arsenal face FIFA probe' fly up on NewsNow, but anyone who had read even the entire BBC article could see that we'd actually done little wrong.

Wow. What an attack. I'm hammering the club with that statement aren't I.

The real point I wanted to make then, which I hinted at but didn't have enough time to make [I'm sorry that I didn't follow the article up], was I find the whole business of 'feeder clubs' dodgy. How can the club they feed to not influence them to a perhaps untoward degree? Isn't that the whole nature of the link?

And I still think that whilst lending money to a consortium which then invested in the club is not illegal, it was quite clearly a way by which Arsenal could bend FIFA regulations to put money into Bevern in order that the club didn't go bankrupt. The whole case hinges on how this investment is perceived. I'll say now, as then, it's not illegal. But, It's not the way I'd like the club to do business.

I'd also like to know where exactly on my article I 'regurgitated tabloid insinuations'. I also feel that if the anonymous poster feels i don't 'think independently' then why exactly does he bother to read my articles?

But, what i take most offensive at, is the assertion that I should 'apologise' to the club.

One: I have nothing to apologise for I may have very slightly questioned whether I felt that this was the best way for the club to deal with financial matters, but I didn't extend this position past this specific case, and I stand by my assertion.
Two: I didn't realise being an Arsenal fan required unconditional and unquestioning acceptance of everything the club does.
Three: Don't you dare question my loyalty to the club you piece of shit.

Right, now I've got that little rant off my chest...

We've been linked with several players, unsurprisingly, as the cattle-market which is the world cup continues.

Of these, Jens suggesting he'd like Klose to come to the club has morphed into a 'Klose subjected to Arsenal bid' type story. He's a great player, and been one of the stars of the competition, but the mooted £15m is a lot for a 28 year old. Saviola might be a better bet, but he's not as prolific as Klose.

Personally, I still think Torres is the player to get. God knows how much he's now valued at, but he's been sensational so far. I did wonder what the fuss was about for a long time but now I see why he's worth the cash. Quick, powerful, great first touch, and can score. And I think Jose and Fab would both love him to come.

It was a good night for the club yesterday. Henry scored a beautiful goal and, surprise, surprise, played far better without Zidane. Maybe Domenech will realise this in time for the knock-out stages but I doubt it. Anti on Arsenal, WTF was no doubt delighted to see Paddy get a goal, and he turned in a great performance that reminded me of his better days at the club.

Phil made up for his rather abject performance against Togo with a colossal performance against Korea. He looked a player coming of age as he wheeled round after scoring, blood pouring down his face. Unfortunately he then injured his shoulder which I hope isn't too serious. Similarly, Adebayor - who had quite a good competition - hobbled off in the French match. Best wishes to both.

The most worrying news I heard today was, unsurprisingly, regarding Sven. Apparently, England will be playing 4-5-1 tomorrow with Carrick in the anchor, and Hargreaves at right-back. Insanity. Pure insanity. Change personnel and tactics as you enter the knock out stages. Maybe it'll only be when he puts Scott Carson on up front and he starts cackling madly on the bench that we'll all realise the whole world cup has been a huge revenge mission by Sven on the English public. I hope not. I know that he could be defended on the grounds that he's trying to deal with Ecuador's main threats, but why is he being so reactive? Why don't we play our game instead of changing constantly according to circumstance? He's far too reactive a coach.

How I wish England had a Klinsmann as boss. Germany were impressive against an admittedly awful Sweden, but seeing Klinsmann's passion and tactical nous left me depressed when I thought of Sven.

Right c'est tout pour maintenant. I'm off to see Argentina: the best team of tournament so far.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The ugly, the ugly and the ugliest: England in the group stages

I had an odd feeling last nightwhen Gerrard scored for England. I didn't really feel like celebrating. I wanted Sweden to score because England did not deserve to win. I wanted England to lose for England's own good - to try and make Sven or someone on the England coaching staff who has the balls to stand up to Sven's madness realise: we are a joke. There are millions of people in England for whom England in the world cup is one of the greatest pleasures in our short lives, and we have a mercenary for a coach who knows less about football than his Swedish counterpart who earns in a year what Sven earns in a week. [approx -according to ITV] English football fans deserve better. We deserve a Wenger, or even a Jol: people who can turn teams round, and actually know and care about football as much as English football fans do.

We have eleven supremely talented players who looked like a bunch of schoolboys last night. And its all due to Sven's inability to adequately tactically organise his players and, it seems, a basic lack of coaching ability. Simply put, there are two - in absolute terms - types of managers: those who maximise their players abilities, and those who minimise or bring the worst out of them. No guesses for where I think Sven lies. He doesn' know how to pick a squad, and he doesn't know how to organise his players in a manner by which to get the best from them. In fact, he organises the players in a manner which actually seems to create a whole which is significantly less talented than the sum of its parts.

What kind of team concedes a goal almost direct from a throw-in, which goes through the path of four defending players? For a moment I wondered whether it was a goal, because if the ball was thrown directly in its a goal kick [?]. The knives have come out for Sol, but what about Terry letting the ball go over his head? Ash rooted to the goal-line? Robinson so confused that he didn't know whether to come for the ball or wait and try and make a save? Considering the general mayhem Sweden caused in our penalty box at any set-piece, the question was begged: did England actually practice defending set-pieces? It didn't look like it. The Swedes deployed their players in a manner which maximised confusion: some close enough to Robinson to effectively block him from coming from his line, others circling round the box to take advantage of our non-existant marking. It's a times like this I wonder whether Sven actually coaches the players, or whether he lets them have a kick about and hope for the best. Also, whilst I really like Robinson and wish that we'd signed him, it makes me wish he had a little more authority. Would Jens have let himself be pushed around like that last night? I think not. People deride him for making a fuss when players try and crowd him out but it works.

Sweden should have beaten us. ITV focused in on Rooney throwing his boots against the dug out after he came off - but i would have too. Actually I would have thrown them at Sven and screamed - 'WHY ARE WE PLAYING 4-5-1 AGAIN!!!!' Does it ever work? Has it ever worked? No. England have consistently shown they are not comfortable in defending 1 goal leads by reverting to defensive formations. Why has he taken Walcott to the world cup if not to put him on when Rooney came off? As a Jim'll fix it -esque treat? 'Here's what the world cup is like Theo, go ask for Becks autograph, and then I'll give you some pocket money'. Do top-level premiership managers constantly play around with formations during matches. No. But Sven would not be allowed to manage a top premiership team.

Defoe should have gone; Jenas should be at home. Why take Carrick, Jenas and Hargreaves, and then lumber yourself with only four strikers - one of whom you seemingly have no intention of playing? The Times can run its 'release the G-Force' campaign all it wants [I was a bit dissapointed that they'd resorted to this tabloid level of journalism] but he doesn't play as a support striker for Liverpool. He plays nominally on the right - but actually in a free-role - behind two forwards. Not one. But I guarantee Sven will play 4-1-4-1 in the next game, with Lampard, Gerrard, and Hargreaves all playing and Rooney - farcically - up front on his own. It won't work, but we'll scrape - and I mean scrape - past Ecuador.

A word on a few of the players. Rooney is not the messiah. He is the single most talented English player I've ever seen [in my 16 years watching football] but even he cannot carry us to the final on his own, given his fitness, and Sven's undoubted decision to play him up front on his own. He needs a nippy striker beside him to feed to, and to make space for him. This won't happen and Wayne will just get more frustrated.

Hargreaves was excellent last night, and made me realise I've been a little harsh on him. He is a good player, and, deployed in a consistent position where he actually likes playing - midfield anchor - he could grow into a really great player. He tackled himself into the ground last night, and his distribution was by no means awful. Indeed I think he could grow into a lynchpin who might just about hold the team together. I realise that my beef with Hargreaves was with Sven's deployment of him in a different position in every game, which any player would struggle with.

Lampard was awful and should have come off for Gerrard. He needs a goal or he should be dropped, with Gerrard and Hargreaves playing in the middle together. Won't happen obviously.

Joe Cole - and Ashley - were both excellent. Joe would be brilliant as a Gooner. He rose to the occasion yesterday and scored a fabulous goal - although questions could be asked of the keeper. Watching the two of them overlap, and penetrate the left hand side was a joy and we should have made more of it.

Becks was awful. The problem with Becks is that he can't actually beat players any more. He can put the ball on a penny-piece from free-kicks - although even these were poor yesterday - and puts in great crosses, but he offers little threat from the right unless he's afforded space. If he hadn't been forced to take off Owen and Ferdinand, Becks would have had to come off for Lennon. Unfortunately, as Sven is actually in love with Becks, this wouldn't have occurred.

England looked disorganised and pitiful last night, and needed a wonder goal to have an advantage that they almost squandered. Stevie G's late goal was great to see, but a decent keeper would have stopped it. [The rumours of us being linked with Isaksson better be only rumours.] Out of all the games I've watched in the world cup, England's have been among the worst. We play bad, boring football, except when Ash and Joe get the ball. Hopefully Rooney can spice things up.

Pre-tournament I would've said semis or final with a bit of luck. Now I think quarters, semis with a bit of luck. Our 1/4 final will be against Portugal, Holland or Argentina. Holland and Argentina will beat us; we might beat Portugal, but, given Scolari's and Sven's tactics it'll be an awful, awful game.

Elsewhere in the world cup, my dislike for Italy was confirmed in their appalling game against the US. While I only caught the second half, and the US have to take a large share of the blame for the thuggery, the replay of De Rossi's elbow was one of the worst I've seen. He shouldn't be allowed to play in this world cup. Totti was already fouling before he came off, and that horrible, horrible player who was sent off for Juve against us was playing. Italy play football which is devoid of joy, and has an almost nefarious cynicism to it. I hope they go out.

Ghana's victory over the Czech's was not as big a surprise as many have made out. Ghana were a bit robbed in their game against Italy, while, without Koller, the Czechs had no threat up front. Nedved and Rosicky were excellent but had no outlet. Ghana, especially after the Czech's went down to ten were all over the Czech defence, but it still took about twenty shots on goal before they finally won. Does anyone know why one of the Ghana players took an Israeli flag out of his pocket when they scored? He might be Jewish? It was a little bizarre.

Spain proved that they'll be right there at the end of the competition with a battling victory over Tunisia. In a way it showed more about Spain's ability that they fought back, made sensible subsitutions and won, than that they merely won comfortably. Fabregas was utterly outstanding - I wish he'd have a few more of those long-range efforts when with us, and that we could somehow naturalise him. My fear with Fabregas is that he's so good its going to be a struggle to keep him at the club. Torres showed enough to confirm that he should be the new great striker in Europe - his price tag may now be beyond our reach though.

I could go on, but the post is already fairly lengthy. [!] Take care.


Friday, June 16, 2006

England an embarrasing farce as Argentina play the beautiful game

Well, I've only seen the first half (the game is still ongoing) but I've seen enough of Argentina to convince me that they are the real favourites to go all the way. Spain can challenge them but Argentina have the belief that only prior world cup winners can boast.

Their second goal was one of the greatest I've seen in any World Cup. The tournament so far has been littered with great long range efforts which have taken advantage of the balls propensity to swing and swerve. Cambiasso's goal came after 24 consecutive passes. It was breathtaking. Argentina nudged forward, looked for space, withdrew, came back, found the opening and slotted it in. It was a team goal which highlighted the individual brilliance of Argentina's players.

If Argentina play England, I'm not watching. Well, of course I will, but we would be humiliated. Riquelme has been one of the players of the tournament so far. How did Arsenal stop him? Our man Gilbs basically took him out, whatever Arsene said about no man-marking.

If Riquelme played against England he'd laugh. He'd look at the acres of space that our lack of a holding midfielder would afford him, and he'd rip us to shreds. Crespo and Saviola would humiliate Ferdinand. They'd put two or three past us.


Well the answers are to be found in yesterdays abject victory. I almost didn't want the england players to celebrate. They shouldn't be celebrating scraping a late, late two goal victory against a side of Championship, or below, players.

And make no mistake, Trinidad could have won. I could see it coming. They would sneak a goal - as the would have if not for Terry's heroics - and hold us out. Because England looked toothless. The two Coles linked up well, but Becks and Gerrards balls either didn't find Crouch or Owen or, until the 82nd minute, Crouch and Owen showed their laughable finishing skills. What to do with Owen is beyond me. He still our best natural finisher, but he does nothing else. His interview after the game, in which he blamed his form on poor service, brought the old 'bad workman' and 'tools' aphorism to mind. He cut a folorn figure as he trudged off again.

I can't believe that we are still playing route-one football. Although Crouch is far more likely to score than Owen, Crouch has to go to ensure, as Myles on ANR pointed out, we stop just hacking the ball to him. I really lost pacience with Rio coming forward again and again and just lobbing the ball up to Crouch, leading to nothing. He only scored after 80 minutes of opportunities. Would a world class side afford us that many? I think not. We're not taking our chances because we're not playing football, and when the opportunites become more limited, we won't score.

Carrick should come in for Lampard and Rooney must now be risked instead of Crouch. Those two would make us play football. Gerrard could get forward and play his natural game. Rooney would be the elemental, unstoppable force he is - linking the entire team together, and creating and taking opportunities. England would start passing the ball. Not just hacking it forward. And Lampard could be exposed as a player who does little more than wait for the ball on the edge of the area and shoot. That's fine, perhaps, if he's scoring, but he's not and new options need to be tested before the knockout rounds.

The other major problem is Lennon and where he fits in. He instantly caused problems when coming on. Yet Becks's crossing and dead ball skills are superior. We couldn't play Becks at r-b in a big game, but Lennon's arrival meant we actually had a threat down the right-flank. He has to be involved more - but how?

One things for sure. England need to put a huge performance in against Sweden. Not because we need to for points, but for belief. I'm sick of Sven dragging us through world cups. I want to see the team play some real football based on quick, skillful passing and retaining possession.

Although, England were no where near as dire as Sweden and Paraguay last night, in the worst game I've seen thusfar in the tournament. [I missed the France Switzerland game]. Larrsson and Ljunberg were the only ones who looked to have any degree of inspiration, but the game was bloody awful. Freddie scored (nice to see he's put his shooting boots on now) but Sweden barely deserved the win. In previous tournaments, Sweden always looked compact, disciplined and capable of causing a threat. They didn't look capable of anything apart from testing my boredom threshold last night. England should hammer them. But with Sven and the long-ball syndrome, who knows?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Spain early favourites?

Spain have been by far the most convincing team i've seen so far. The looked organised, tough and skillful, and played in a way that reminded me of us in the invincibles season. One could argue that they were playing against ten-men, but they dominated the first half as well, against a Ukranian team who are certainly no mugs.

Senna is a rock of a midfielder, physical yet willing to test the goalkeeper from range. Villa and Torres are the most exciting forward partnership i've seen: hungry, athletic, quick and, most importantly, able to score. I would love to see Torres - indeed all three of them -come to us, but a move may be out of the question after the world cup, given his price tag will be £30m+. Even if he is at Athletico, expect Real/Manure (even perhaps the Chavs just for the hell of it) to try and get him. Villa has been the best striker in La Liga this season, and it would be a surprise if he stayed at Valencia after the tournament.

Spain have a quality and depth in the squad. That Fabregas, Raul, and Reyes can all come on as subs is something England clearly can't boast. They would whip us if we played them.

The only black mark against Spain is their history - a series of underperformances even more spectacular than ours. But could this be their year?

I'd like to write a longer article but have got to get off to the game. Here's a couple of points I've noticed

1) pluckiness and heart outdone by sheer professionalism and skill. All four african nations lost, and I was rooting for them all. They're a breath of fresh air, and it took disciplined performances (Portugal), sendings off (south Korea), and the turning down of clear penalties (Italy) to get their opponents through. Croatia deserved more from their game against Brazil, but were toothless.

2) Rosicky. Please do not carried away. Ray stubbs quote: 'without getting carried away, he seems the complete player'. Er, how can you not get more carried away? It will take him at least six months to get used to the Premiership during which we'll hear endless - 'ooh, he's not as good as he was in the world cup' quotes. He will be a great player for us but give him time to adapt to the premiership, and to playing on the left-wing again. He was playing in the Fabregas, playmaker role against America, which he'll have fewer opportunities in for Arsenal.

3) Rooney's bloody foot. He's not match fit; he won't be. Can we end this farce? He's perhaps the only player in the world who could recover in this time and cause an impact, but don't count on it, and we have to rely on the fit players England already have if we realistically think England can get anywhere.

4) Hargreaves. I maintain he shouldn't be in the squad; but only as Sven continues to use him as a johnny-play-everywhere. If he was moulded to one position he might grow into it for England. As it is - he hasn't. He's the Flamini of the England squad, except he's no good at full-back.

5) Ronaldo. Is a tragedy. He was the greatest player in the world and now he's a overweight, mentally troubled has-been. It's always sad to see great players fall from grace, and his fall has been calamitous.

More thoughts later. I'm off to see England make, no doubt, hard work of T&T.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sven needs to improve if England think they have any chance of winning the World Cup. [England article]

I had said before the game - maybe not on here - that Paraguay could give England a game. I've noticed even in the five world cups I've watched that, as a whole, the standard of teams in the competition has risen. In Italia 90, the US could be run over, as could teams such as South Korea and Japan. As Iran, Angola and Trinindad & Tobago showed, very few teams in this world cup will be a complete walkover. Moreover, none of the teams, as Ecuador also showed, who've qualified from the difficult South American group are there to just make up the numbers.

Still, my predictions of a reasonably close game seemed ruined - thankfully - when Becks flighted in another world class free kick in the fourth minute. The standard of his dead ball kicks has been incredible recently, and the Parguayan defence did exactly what Jamaica and Hungary did - a mass panic resulting in a goal.

After such a great start, and the woeful Parguayan defence, England should have run in two or three up at half-time. The reason they didn't was a basic lack of sharpness in front of goal. Owen's first touch still often leaves much to be desired, as does his crossing. Due to Sven's inability to pick between the Lampard and Gerrard, and play an anchoring midfielder, Gerrard continues to play about thirty yards behind where he wants to be on the pitch. Lampard has some half decent attempts, but he needs to score regularly to justify his nullification of Stevie.

After a wasteful first half England were absolutely dire in the second. Paraguay could have scored and any team even slightly better than them would have. England were extremely lucky to win, and while its a relief that England got through the first game with a win, if England play that way again they won't make it past the quarter-finals.

The shambles came down to a few factors.

Firstly the heat. I did wonder when Becks ran out why exactly he had a long-sleeve shirt on, and by even the mid way point of the first half, it was clear that some England players were simply just not able to deal with the temperature. This might be less of a problem later in the competition, as the games will be being played later in the day, but they have to get used to it. I know they're British, but blaming the weather for poor performances is simply not good enough.

This situation was not aided by a ridculously fussy referee. Why aren't players allowed to take on fluids during stoppages? It's ludicrous. He was woefully inconsistent elsewhere. The Paraguayan defence used every backing in and manhandling trick possible to contain Crouch, and instead of getting the protection he needed, the ref gave almost every decision in Paraguay's favour. Perhaps he just couldn't believe that someone of Crouch's size was being fouled. The coup de grace for me was when Two Paraguayan players jumped for the ball simultaneously, and in the process sandwiched Joe Cole between them. Of course, the free kick went Paraguay's way.

But referees can only be blamed so far. And the overriding reason for the shambles was the overriding reason England are unlikely to win the World Cup.

Sven is a tactical moron.

The game reminded me a lot of the Portugal game in 2004. Then, as on Saturday, England took the lead early on and then...did nothing. Oh, except start playing so deep that almost all eleven players were in their own box. Sven's substitutions in 2004 were a joke - I remember when he put on bloody Phil Neville I almost wept - and on Saturday his substitution disrupted the team and caused chaos.

Firstly the luncay of taking our Theo becomes clear when he decides to take off Owen at around the 60th minute and put on a winger. If Sven took Theo to the world cup, and Rooney isn't fit, you put Theo on when you take Owen off in a situation such as he was in on Saturday. If you don't put him on, there is no point in Theo being there. It suddenly becomes clear that excluding Defoe was a ridiculous decision. Theo will become a great player, but you need experience in those situations.

But no. No walcott, no Defoe = Downing for Owen, and the first disruption of the match - moving Joe Cole, who had been excellent to that point - from the wing to play as a support striker. This promplty destroyed the utility of Joe who quickly drifted out of the game. Secondly, Crouch had no one to play to. With aching predictability, England fell back into the awful, awful long-ball game with Crouch repeatedly flicking the ball on to the Paraguayan defence. It wasn't Crouch's fault - he needs an Owen, Defoe, Walcott, or even a Bent to lay the ball off to. But no. So our possession decreased and we soon found ourselves under the cosh.

So next move by Sven. I bet you couldn't have guessed it. A certain Mr Owen 'I can play anywhere because I'm equally rubbish everywhere, but I will still come on as a substitute in every match' Hargreaves comes on. Why? So now, we have moved to 4-5-1, or 4-4-1 and Hargreaves in a mysterious 'where the hell am I playing role' which quickly led to an almost tactical meltdown, with Paraguay clearly sensing blood. Sven seemed to want to sure up midfield, but this was just inviting pressure on to us. And the constant tactical changes just left the players bewildered.

Attackers needed to come on to replace tired legs up front. If suring the midfield was required, why bring on Hargreaves above Carrick? Why not put Lennon on and push Becks into the middle? Lennon would certainly offered more than Downing who seemed to be happy to run down the line, lose the ball, and then repeat each time he had the ball. Why not take Lampard or Gerrard off and just put Carrick on? Keep the changes simple unless we really need goals.

Most of all, where was Sven? Every other coach in the World Cup is pacing up and down the technical area screaming instructions. Sven just sits there, hunched over, letting McClaren do his job for him.

His performance as manager almost cost England the game; a game that, considering how it opened, we should have bossed.

All I can say is that I hope he learns from this. English players are not good at defending one goal leads. Make like for like substitutions - just get fresh legs on. There's no need for constant tactical adjustment that confuse the players, and leads to England playing even deeper than before.

Sven needs to improve if England have any chance of getting anywhere in this tournament. We have players who are getting results despite not because of the manager at the moment.

And, as i stated eariler, Trinidad have shown they could give us a game. We should win, but as I always say about England, if we put our minds to it we can lose to anyone in the world. England may end up having to rely on defeating a very weak Swedish side to finish top of the group. it's imperative to win the group, as we should be able to defeat Poland or Ecuador: a game with Germany is one I don't think I could watch.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Gudjohnsen would be a great signing, and the world cup finally arrives

There has been links to us with a few players this week. Ribery continues to be strongly suggested, with Tel chipping in that he would he love him to arrive, while it appears that the Yaya rumours actually do have some basis. I would think that Diaby was bought instead when we had the bid rejected in January, but with About now out until perhaps December/the new year, we may need a midfielder with a bit more physical presence.

The player I've been most happy to see us linked to has been Gudjohnsen. While I don't think he's as a good a player, he reminds me a lot of Dennis in the way he can drop off the attack, link the midfield to the forwards and also, crucially, score goals. I'm surprised Chelsea are considering letting him go, but I would be more surprised if they were to let us have him given the bad blood between us. Undoubtedly hacks around the country are sharpening their pencils to construct 'Gudjohnsen and £10m will land Chelsea Cole' headlines, so be wary.

Most importantly the world cup is, thankfully, starting today. After the awful, awful last few weeks of meaningless friendlies and minute by bloody minute updates on how Rooney managed to stand up, kick a ball, put his socks on, do a flying roundhouse kick etc., the damn competition can start and hopefully the hype machine can die down. Yeah right, and Rooney's match fit!

So, expect lots of match reports from me over the next few weeks. I'll try and watch as many games starring our lads as possible, but, as I am English and live in England, I will be favouring England. I'm particulary interested to see RVP, Phil and Adey in action. And also try and workout how massively inflated the prices will be for decent players after the competition.

Elsewhere, Myles literally sticks his neck on the line:

If Sven wins this World Cup, I will quit football writing. Because Sven will have proved that I don't know what I'm talking about.

Hmm. Bold stuff. I do enjoy Myles's articles - articulate, interesting, pretentious and often questionable(!) - and I think this does have empty threat written all over it.

Right, I'm off to get some beers for the opening match. Til later.

Monday, June 05, 2006

An attempt to drum up some news.

Yes, being as all the world's top players are now holed up around Germany, little is going on. Well, I say little, we have signed the midfield titan that is Alexander Song for 4million Euros. Before everyone screams 'Arsene knows, Arsene Knows' - 1) yes, he is usually right, but 2) Cygan. Hmm?

We have been linked with a few players, but few of a well renowned calibre. Chiellini is supposedly being lined up in case Ash goes, which, given as he's 21, seems plausible. Zokora, who we've been linked with for most of the year, has been the subject of a £7m bid from the Spuds, apparently.

Otherwise, it seems we may have to wait until after the world cup for any new players to arrive. This will, unfortunately, inflate the price of any players we buy. Despite Arsene's ostensibly cool demeanour, I would be very surprised if he didn't swoop a few more times before the end of the summer. We have, hopefully, a long, long season ahead of us: Our first CL game is in early August and, fingers crossed, if we reach the final, that would be a full ten months later. We need to fill the cracks in the squad. We may not be able to compete with Chelsea financially, but we can still improve on the thickness of the squad before August. My money is on Ribery arriving.

As for the Beveren case, to put it simply - there is none. Regardless of whether the Newsnight editor is a Spur's fan, if we haven't broken the law, we haven't broken the law. This isn't just Gooner's burying their heads in the sand, it's fact. I dislike the shadiness of the situation, but I really don't think Dein is stupid enough to openly sign documents that could really incriminate him. Moreover, how we can be accused of financial irregularities given Abramovic's antics is laughable. As is the fact that David Dein has been removed from the FA board for David Gill: what possible accusations couldn't be levelled at Gill which could be levelled at Dein? Is the conflict of interest not just as palpable?

I refuse to comment on Ash's new book, short of saying, 'please Ashley, get a new agent'. I want him to stay but i feel the gap between him and the club is widening, not shortening.

As for England...

We thrashed an awful Jamaica side on Saturday. The only real positives to come out of the game were Owen playing 90 minutes; Crouch's hat-trick; and Carragher's astute performance at r-b. Crouchy has become a real goalmouth threat. Something I wouldn't believe a few weeks ago. The biggest negative to come out of the game was, predictably, the Gerrard/Lampard fiasco. Lampard, being the fundamentally one-dimensional player he is, hogged the attacking midfielder role, and made Stevie do the dirty work. While Gerrard put in a solid defensive performance, he could be England's best player in this tournament, and he won't be because Sven hasn't got the balls to drop Lampard and play a defensive midfielder next to Gerrard. If he did that Steve would get all the goals Lampard did, and give even more to the team as a whole.

Elsewhere - Reyes scored a storming free-kick for Spain. Before we all shout: 'why doesn't he do this for the Gooners', we should realised that Tel wouldn't have let him take that Free kick if he was on the pitch with him.

On a final note, if you need some light enertainment, do watch 'Green Street'. Despite the graphic violence, and the rather poignant ending, it is almost comically awful - if not as bad as the 'football factory- and has the most farcically implausible portrayal of a London accent - in the Paul character - I've seen since Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Apparently, Arsenal play 'great football' but have a 'rubbish firm'. Good.

Til later.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The long and short of the Beveren case, and Cygan's off?

I haven't got much time to write, but here's a nice summation of articles to protect and comfort us all from the, to be frank, defamatory statements emminating from the Beeb. I expected better from a programme like Newsnight. I, like other Gooners, paled when I saw 'Arsenal face FIFA probe' fly up on NewsNow, but anyone who had read even the entire BBC article could see that we'd actually done little wrong. If we have exerted undue 'influence' on Beveren, what about Chelsea's feeder clubs which Abramovic virtually owns? I think the real story here is a convenient leaking of a story defaming David Dein on the eve of his re-election to the FA.

Have we done anything illegal? No No No

Of particular note in the above three articles: 1) should MPs keep their mouths shut about things they know nothing about? er, yes - see ANR 2) Does the fact that Beveren have mostly Ivorian players mean Arsenal have done anything illegal? No, even if does upset old Sepp Blatter.

Are Fifa actually going to investigate? No, or at least not initially. I'm also annoyed that many sites have run the story in a 'Arsenal invested £1m in the club'. No they didn't. They gave it as an interest free loan to a consortium who then invested it in Beveren. Arsenal have never at any point bought or owned shares in Beveren, or unduly influenced the management/running of the club.

Are we the only ones with a slightly dodgy amount of influence over our feeder club? Clearly not, as the Arsenal Times shows in this, generally, excellent article. Maybe, Abramovic's finances will get investigated? Sorry, I just fell off my chair laughing. His financial web is so tangled it's questionable whether they could be investigated. But hey ho, FIFA must sort out Arsenal first, not some ex-Soviet playboy who appears out of nowhere and buys the Premiership with billions made in undoubtedly shady operations. Ho hum.

So, My feeling, and certainly my hope(!), is that little will come of all this. Especially as any half decent lawyer could get us an acquittal if it does go further.

Nice/strange to see David Mellor defend us as well, and tell Kirsty Wark basically, 'shut up, you don't know what you're talking about'. Nuff said.

In other news, a sad day for the club as Cygan's off? I found this statement in the Arsenal, wtf? comments:

Le défenseur central d’Arsenal Pascal Cygan (12 matches dont 11 titularisations, 2 buts en Premier League cette saison) serait en contact avec l’AS Saint-Etienne d’après le site Eurosport. L‘ancien Lillois de 32 ans pourrait trouver dans le Forez une place de titulaire qui le fuit depuis qu’il porte le maillot des Gunners. Son temps de jeu et ses titularisations n’ont fait que diminuer d’une année à l’autre. Au total, Cygan a disputé 64 matches et marqué 3 buts en quatre saisons de Premier League.

Basically, for you non-Francophones, he's off to St-Etienne according to Eurosport. Haven't been able to find it on there, but found this elsewhere. Hardly conclusive, but I think I speak for us all when I say, Pascal 'Zinedine' Cygan, you're a legend...but perhaps you could donate your towering skills to another club...

On that note, Til later.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

End of season player ratings.

So, in the style of a secondary school teacher, here is my Arsenal squad, end-of-term report card….

Jens, 9.5. Player of the season. When he got sent off in Paris I said to my mate: ‘this is Jens sacrifice’. It was not to be, but I don’t hold it against him: I only said it in the first place due to his heroics throughout the rest of the season. He got us to the final with: 1) the greatest save I’ve seen in my 16 years as a football fan – vs. Raul against Real 2) that penalty save. In the premiership he was by far our most consistent performer, and more than anyone he drove the team to fourth. Heving another leader at the back surely helped Tel settle into his captaincy. And so many comedy moments – remember Bolton at home, pushing over Jansen; or screaming at Nedved in Turin. Ah, memories. Hero, and, I hope, now an Arsenal legend. If only he was younger…

Almunia, 6. Not much to do this year. Played his best in the final, and made a superb stop, but, overall, showed why he is not a serious candidate for first choice keeper.

Mart Poom, n/a. Maybe next year?

Sol, 6. Unless we can’t find a replacement to cover Senderos, needs to be shipped out. Not quick enough any more, prone to error, and the West Ham ‘incident’ says it all. Would have been lower but for the towering effort in Paris.

Kolo, 8. Quietly – well not for us because we know how good he is – has shown that he is clearly one of the best c/bs in the premiership, if not Europe. Has always been a warrior, but his technical performances now truly match his effort. Great season, and his absence in the African nations hit us hard.

‘Big’ Phil Senderos, 7. Harshly dropped after the first Chelsea game, has worked hard to win his place back. Still a little accident prone, but really developing into a great player. His dominance in the air is crucial, and him and kolo are a real partnership. Hopefully no dip in form next year.

Ash, 6. Hmm. Earned no favours to himself with all the ridiculous court cases he’s pursued. The length of his injury also means, through no fault to himself, that he’s struggled a little this year. We missed him though, and I hope he stays.

Lauren, 6.5. Solid, yet unspectacular. Will struggle to return to the first team.

Eboué, 7. Prone to the odd lapses of defensive concentration, as in the final when, to be fair, he was exhausted. Came back from the ACON a new player. Now offers us a genuine threat on the right going forward. Very much a Wenger player, who will stake his place definitively next year.

Kerry Gilbert, 6.5. Only played a handful of games, but looked very promising. Great to have three genuinely talented right-backs. May mean bye-bye Hoyte.

Djourou, 6.5. I’ve liked when I’ve seen him. Struggled at r-b, but good at centre. Should certainly be pushing for 3rd choice c-b.

Cygan, 5. As Colonel Kurtz once said: ‘The horror. The horror.’ Actually not as awful as previous years, but the bell tolls for thee my son.

Clichy, 6.5. Did well, but suffered heavily from injury problems. Could definitely step up if Ash goes; to have Gael as a back up would be a real statement about the great depth of our squad.

The Flamster, 7.5. Uninspiring in midfield; wonderful at left-back. Unfortunately, may now be shuttled round the team as he can play almost everywhere. Incredible performances in the second half of the season.

Fabregas, 8. Poor start to the season, as struggled to get use to Paddy’s absence. Entrenched himself as one of the great players, not prospects, in European football, with his performances against Real and Juve. Shaping up to be a one in a generation player.

Giberto, 7. Really struggled in Paddy’s absence, but eventually stepped up. Clearly preferred playing in a five man midfield. His passing has been dreadful at times, but any player who can take Riqueleme and, to all intent and purposes, Ronaldinhio out the game, gets my approval. Will be better next year.

Freddie, 6.5. With Bergkamp in decline, and no goals, Freddie could have become brutally expendable in the second half of the season. His lack of goals hit us particularly hard. Yet he battled, battled and battled, and justified his place through sheer perspiration. Next season will determine his Arsenal future.

Jose, 7. Infuriatingly inconsistent. Runs rings round Real [alliteration time!] yet doesn’t turn up against Blackburn. Has the highest number of assists in the premiership, yet hasn’t got the strike rate we bought him for. Next season will be crucial to Jose. Either he gets used to the fact the sun goes down at 3 pm in England in the winter, or heads back to Spain.

Alex Hleb, 7.5. Harshly barracked by Arsenal fans in late winter time. Yet 1) It takes players like him time to adapt to the Premiership – remember bobby, tel, Bergy. 2) He had a pretty serious injury in the first half of the season. 3) he was being retrained to play as a winger. = 4) he’s been good, if slightly enigmatic at times this year. Will be superb next year. Wonderful technical skills, and final balls which tear defences apart. Henry likes him. Also, we now actually have a right-flank thanks to him and Eboue.

Bobby, 6.5. Only did enough to justify a one year deal. Some crucial goals, yet not as many as previous years. Still no replacement for him, in terms of a high-goalscoring midfielder which is a worry. All the best.

Song, 5. Oh dear, if not as awful as some have made out.

Diaby, 6. Much promise, if fewer run-abouts than I expected. Hopefully he’ll be all better soon after his appalling injury. Him and Fabregas could run the premiership’s midfields very soon.

Dennis, 6. Slightly generous: he deserves it for his dedication to Arsenal over the years. Peripheral season for a player of such a calibre. Fine goals against West Brom and Thun mean were a fitting send off. He deserved the CL with us though.

Adebayor, 6.5. Could go either way. A great partner for Henry: remember flick ons against Villa, and the superb pass against Spurs? And scrappy headed goals against Villa, and Birmingham. Brings an extra dimension to the team, but must improve finishing.

Van Persie, 7. Fine first half of the season with some stunning goals. Never recovered from his series of injuries mid-season. Either has to turn into a 20goals a season striker, or improve his general team play if he wants a long term future at the club.

Henry, 9. His goal against Madrid. Ye gods. An incredible goal scoring record continues, and superlatives almost fail. Suffice to say, forget buck toothed boy, Tel is the best player in the world. Highest marks not awarded only due to his slight performance problems due to injury during the mid-season, his struggle to become a decent captain, and the comparison with Jens. Signing his new contract was the best piece of end of season news, but he did take his time in deciding to sign, which may have destabilised the team somewhat.

So there you have it. Discuss!