Sunday, July 30, 2006

Et tu Jose? Perhaps not.

Well, it seems senor Jose is the latest to join the rapidly growing exit line from the Emirates. He is quoted as saying in the NOTW that he's unhappy with life in London, that he hasn't got used to the culture and the weather, and that it'd be a dream if he could move back to Spain and, specifically, Madrid.

This all seems to ring true. It certainly seems indisputable that Jose has struggled to adapt to English culture. This might have had something to do with shipping his whole family from Spain to live with him in London, not learning English, or getting used to the fact we only have three weeks of sunshine a year in the UK. It's nothing to do with him being Spanish - Fabregas has fitted in: it may have something to do with the fact that players like Fab and Phil lived without their families in almost foster homes when they came over. The immersion strategy might have been better than trying to build a new Spain for Jose.

But before we all start sharpening the knives, it might be worth recognising that Jose would be a loss if he left. He's never hit the goalscoring peaks I would like to have seen, but he is an assist-meister, and he creates problems for defences with his pace and vision. His main problem seems to have been his lightweightness. More than anyone he suffered in the wake of the defeat that ended the winning streak, especially after the damn good kicking the thugish Neville brothers gave him. Because it's worth remembering that until then, Jose had been our best player at the opening of the 04/05 season.

Indeed a summary of the slightly infuriatingly inconsistent nature of his Arsenal career can be summed up in two consecutive games last season. When we played Madrid in Spain Jose was awesome, destroying Cinchinio, and being the hub of so much of our devastating attacking play; against Blackburn the following Saturday, he was so poor he was taken off at half-time. More than anyone he seems to sum up our inability to turn it on in the North-West.

Overall, I'd like Jose to stay because I think we'd be able to sell him just as easily, and for just as much, in another two seasons if thinks don't work out. He still has so much potential that I think it's worth keeping him for now. I'd certainly rather keep him than get Baptista, although if we got an offer for, say, a few million and Robinho, I think Arsene might go for it. swap deals are rather rare though.

It's also worth pointing out that, as the statement on shows, this may just all be hearsay, if credible hearsay. I think Jose respects Arsenal fans too much to engineer a move this openly.

I also read today that Niall Quinn wants to take out Adebayor on loan at Sunderland. I think not.

I think we may see one or two deals tied up this week. I would certainly be surprised if Ash is still here by 3 August.

Er, also I'll be away for most of next week so there may not be an update until Friday.

Take it easy, Gb.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

We're a club in need of some good news.

We all need a boost I think. It's hardly like we're in a spiralling downfall, but very little of positive note seems to be occurring at the moment.

Firstly, we're being forced to fly out to Croatia in the peak of the mid-summer heat to try and win what may be a difficult game with either a) few of our world cup stars or b) some of our world cup players who have barely recovered from last season. And if we don't win, while it won't be the end of the world, it'll hardly be encouraging for the rest of the season.

Players seem to be slipping out with alarming alacrity. Gunnerblog's excellent article on Muamba shows what a great prospect this guy is - maybe he'd be worth having around this season? Larsson and Smith have also gone, while Derby look on covetously as Lupoli, who may or may not prove his potential this year. And, most painfully, the interminable exit of Ashley Cole continues. One wonders how long he's known- or thought he'd known - that he'd been leaving, while protesting his loyalty to the club. Chelsea's original offer - if only a mooted one - seems to have fallen short of our rapidly escalating valuation. Personally I'd be willing to miss out on a few million, [no less than 20 mind] just to get shot of the entire situation. In many ways, I've been thinking recently, the departure of Cole reminds me of Beckham's departure from ManU. A youth player groomed by his manager, who marries into showbiz, believes the hype about his own life, and then makes a glamour move elsewhere. Cole may not have had the spectacular falling out with Wenger that Becks had with Ferguson, but Cole certainly hates David Dein's guts. All i'll say about Ashley for now is that he could have become captain of our club. As it is, his good moments will be forgotten, and he'll be remembered as nothing less than a traitor.

And i suppose the issue which is depressing most Gooners is our complete inertia in the incoming transfer market. Bryan Robson has completed his superb job at keeping our mitts off Curtis Davies, as it was announced he's signed a new four year deal at West Brom today. So much for that transfer then. Aside from Davies, rien, absolutement rien. I know that Arsene is 'operating under the radar' , but some news would be nice.

July, it seems, has been the cruellest month. [not April].

But, like I always say, it's important to keep the faith when the chips seem down. If there's one thing that Arsene has shown pretty consistently, it's that he knows what he's doing. And, lest we forget, we've just opened the best stadium in the UK. Maybe we should be grateful for what we have. Still, hopefully we'll announce some incredible transfer coup this week.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Champions League draw, outgoing transfers, and the comment section.

The draw for the Champions League has just been made and we'll be facing Fk Ekranias from Lithuania or Dinamo Zagreb from Croatia. It's highly likely that Zagreb will beat Ekranias [given that they're 4-1 up], so it looks like we'll be having a trip to Croatia before we hope to get to the group stages. A tough tie I would say, not as bad as things could have been, but not as good either. Although if we can't beat the likes of Zagreb, you would have to say we don't have any chance in the competition this year. The first leg isn't far away - 8/9 August, and I should imagine Arsene is contemplating who's acutally going to play in it. I should imagine that Thierry will be rested, and obviously big Phil will be injured. Will we see Rosicky in action one wonders? Will Ashley still be at the club? Will we have any other new signings available? Also, does anyone fancy a trip to Croatia?

Qui sait? Arsene. Pourquoi? Parce-que Arsene sait tout.

I should imagine that Tel will be rested, and Adebayor/Van Persie/ Aliadiere will be relied on to get our goals. Not sure whether to be too optimistic about that.

Elsewhere, we've shipped out half the youth-team. Well, 3 of them. Ryan Smith's attempt to prove himself in the first team has not lasted long, and he's already been sold to Derby. A good deal for them no doubt, but a disappointing end to his Arsenal career. Muamba and Seb Larsson have also been put out for a loan in Brummie-ville. Hopefully this will actually just be a case of getting experience, and not a lengthy denouement to their careers at the club like most loans seem to be. I was impressed by Larsson last year - especially at his willingness/ability to do jobs around the park, and Muamba is apparently quite the prospect.

No news of any incoming transfers, and the speculation regarding Ashley's transfer has also slipped under the radar. So for some light entertainment, voir ici. It's chocolate coloured. ok?

Finally, a quick word about the comments section. My last two posts have racked up a rather staggering 170+ comments. Much of this seems to have been caused by rather inflammatory debate in the comments section - rather than my own statements - which has descended to a rather banal level of name calling. Now, I don't really have many options with the comments section. I can either turn it off (don't want to), make it for members or signed up people only ( a little elitist), or leave it as it is now (anarchy). I'm tempted to leave it as it is for now, in the hope that those who come to the blog can choose not to read the comments, or skip/past ignore comments they don't like. I'd really like to make this a blog for everyone, so all i'm asking is for some mutual respect in the comments. And if you do start seeing your comments deleted you've done something pretty wrong: racism, extremely offensive comments, or, and most often, Spuds fans just leaving abuse [you'd be surprised how often this happens].

So let's all try and make a nice Gb.

UPDATE: Cashley, Arsenal, and Chel£ea are in talks at present over Cole's future. Only informal talks mind. Perhaps they met at a London hotel for a coffee...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Cole for £30m? Friendly review, Pennant, Davies, Benayoun.

The Telegraph is now suggesting old Ash could be sold for up to £30m. While this would perhaps be possible due to the ability of most clubs to drive up the realistic valuations of players who are sold to Chel£ea, this does seem a little too high. I would say that if we get any fee above £20m we've done a good bit of business; indeed the Mail are suggesting that £20m may be nearer the final price. Anti may be right that we are acting a little like a 'pimp' in all this business, but the onus of blame has to remain on Cole, despite the board's early mistakes. I think the Mail got it right when they said that this has been one of the bitterest transfer disputes in recent memory. Seeing Arsene's coded admission that we are on the verge of losing Ash was still a little sad. It reminded me a lot of when Anelka left; I think Arsene probably feels personally let down by a player he's helped so much, especially through the early stages of his career. The important date by which this should all be cleared up is 3 August, when clubs have to submit player lists for the CL.

Still, as several reports have pointed out, Traore was apparently the best player on the pitch in our 2-1 win in Austria yesterday. As i was neither in Austria, nor have Arsenal TV, I can't really give a fullsome description of what occurred. It seems we made slightly hard work of the game, but I suppose this is to be expected when it's this hot, and when players are only at the bottom end of pre-season fitness. Still, Aliadiere scored, Hleb made his [hopefully to soon become his trademark] intelligent ball to set up Hoyte, Rosicky made his debut, and even Song played well according to several reports I've seen. So lots of positives to take from the game. What I think is most important in this pre-season, is that the team work together to ensure that they can score goals without having to rely on Henry as much as we did last year. Van Persie, Aliadiere, Adebayor, Lupoli and Bendtner, need to realise that this is their chance to carve a niche for themselves in the team if they can both score goals, and show an ability to intelligently support their fellow strikers.

It's perhaps worth mentioning Jermaine Pennant's imminent transfer to Liverpool, as we will reveive a 1/4 of any fee Liverpool pay Birmingham. Nice. Another player sold mainly due to attitude rather than ability. Although I was never hugely impressed with his performances when he was given a chance to start.

Links to players we're looking to sign continue to be rather thin on the ground, but we are operating 'under the radar' as Arsene put it. It appears we're making progress on the Curtis Davies front, or that West Brom are at least resigned to losing him, as they seem to be lining up his replacement. That doesn't, of course, necessarily mean he'll come to us though. We've also been linked to Benayoun, who I thought was excellent last season in the premiership; yet the mooted £10m is a lot, and for his position - winger - we are probably ok at the moment, with Reyes, Rosicky, Hleb, and Ljunberg probably the four who'll alternate on the two flanks.

Also in the news is the near Whitewash slashing of verdicts in the Italian match-fixing trial. As soon as I saw the verdicts, I thought that they could only be a basis for an appeal. All teams have had their deductions slashed, Milan have been let back into the Champions' League, and while Juve remain in Serie B, the chances of them winning promotion first time have been siginificantly improved. Also, given that this is merely the first round of appeals, I should imagine that this might not even be the truly final verdict. I hope Italian civic judges stand firm or this could turn into a farce.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Some considerations on the Ashley Cole transfer.

Just got back with my copy of the Times, and our good friend Matt Hughes has an article splashed across the back page regarding our dear Ashley. It seems we've rejected a £16m bid for him and have asked for £25m. Other papers have mooted Gallas and SWP as part of potential swap moves. Whatever the situation, it seems that the clubs are negotiating, or at least throwing around figures/ideas for how we can both end up reasonably happy. Apparently our new valuation may 'surprise[...] and annoy' poor Ashley, reneging on a previous 'gentlemen's agreement' we had with him that he could be sold for £15m. What Mr Hughes fails to recognise is that gentlemen's agreements can only take place between gentlemen. And i'm pretty sure Ash's antics have, just possibly, debarred him from this category.

Because if he is to go, why shouldn't we ge £20m+ for him? If Chel£ea are willing to spend that much on Essien, SWP and Drogba, Ash is surely worth as much as them. This is the Chavs we're talking about after all. Not only our they one of our closest rivals, but they have more money than everyone else in the premiership put together, and they've shown they're willing to pay over the odds. I don't see why we shouldn't try and inflate the price. If WBrom can do it to us with Davies, why can't we do it to Chelsea? I don't really care how acrimonious it becomes.

The only uncertainty of the whole business thus seems to be the fee. I would dearly love Gallas to come as part of the whole kaboodle. It would save us having to look for a c-b who could fill in on the left, and also give us a little bit more cash. I really can't see Mourinho voluntarily agreeing to this though. If we don't get him, that would still give us around £16-25m to spend on top of Arsene's transfer kitty - an amount we can only speculate on. This would surely mean Arsene goes out and buys fairly big. At least in the vein of around £6-12m per person.

Anyone have any suggestions as to who we could get? I'm not entirely convinced that Clichy has what it takes to fill in at l-b yet. I still think he needs another season or so to get rid of his sick note tendencies. And for all I love the Flamster at l-b, he's not really a long term viable solution either - unless he were to consistently start there and really get used to the role.

A player i think a lot of people were impressed with at the world-cup was Lahm. Would he be worth a punt? I saw a valuation of £10m thrown about which seemed quite reasonable. I was also intrigued by Gunnerblog's suggestion of getting Sylvinhio in. The circle would be complete if he came back to replace Ash.

In other news, Arsene has refuted any suggestion that Paddy is coming back; Nick Bendtner is not off to Rangers as Arsene has promoted him to the 1st team squad; and Yobo has signed a new Everton contract, ending conclusively any hint of him coming to us.

I think i'll wait until Ash actually goes before I write my piece on how players who've left Arsene's Arsenal have not had the best of experiences subsequently...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Diarra/Campbell/Vieira and we're the third greatest team in English history, apparently

According to the News of The World, Arsene is still interested in Alou Diarra of Lens, who could cost as little as £4m due to a buy-out clause in his contract. Anyone who saw the world cup final, would probably have noticed that Diarra plays, or at least tries to play, in a similar mould as our old Paddy. For £4m I think he'd be worth a punt. He'd certainly add more bite to the midfield than Gilberto.

Also in the NOTW was an interview with Sol Campbell. He seemed to suggest that he had chosen to leave us as he had entered a 'comfort zone' as he could no longer sufficiently motivate himself to play in England as he had 'nothing left to prove' here. Hmm. He also ascribed his exit against West Ham to fears of aggravating an injury that could have seen him ruled out of the world cup. Nice to know we were on your mind Sol. While I can partially subscribe to his view that 'After all I've done [for Arsenal], this negative stuff about me is shameful', a bit more of an apology for his gallavanting around Europe at a time we dearly needed him would have been nice.

Paddy's appearance at Dennis's testimonial, and Dennis's subsequent comments that he'd love to see Paddy playing for us again have, for some hacks, equated to us wanting to re-sign Paddy. I can't really see it happening. The only real chance Paddy has of playing for us again would be if Arsene decides to re-sign him for, say, the final season or so before his retirement to add some experience to the squad. And I think that that's pretty unlikely as well.

Finally, in The Times today, the 'Fink tank' [a bizzare statistician whose number crunching produces invariably incorrect predicitions] has claimed that we are the third best team in English footballing history. This is based on some co-efficient of points per game and number of wins, draws, losses, goals, shirt colours, pies eaten, prettiness of pitch conditions etc. Liverpool are first, the Mancs are 2nd, spuds 7th, and the Chavs, rather hilariously, down in fourteenth. ha.

Edit: Yes, I forgot to put this in: the 90-91 winning team is apparently the greatest English league team of all time, according to the same statistical analysis. This was followed, again bizzarely, by an article by Catherine Ridley in which she alleged that the 90-91 team was not even the best team in Arsenal history. So, who's better? The invincibles or the 90-91 pedigree? Are either the best team in English league history? I would say the average standard of opposition in 90-91 was higher, but the invincibles played the best football I've seen in the English top-flight. Debate!


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Dennis's testimonial review.

Hope you all had fun if you went yesterday. I couldn't get to the game but managed to catch it on C5.

'Twas, as almost all testimonials are, a strange game(s), yet one which seemed to be full of warmth, and rightly focused on honouring and celebrating Dennis's career, which was the most important thing.

The first half consisted of an Arsenal XI of players who, basically, hadn't gone to the world cup. However, it was still of interest as the Ajax team facing them were no mugs and contained several of their first team. Flamini did his usual huffing and puffing, but unfortunately had little end result to his efforts. Song remains an enigma. He seems to stroll through the game at a pretty comfortable pace, and then struggle to fnd players with even simple passes. A moment which seemed to sum up his maddening performance was when he lost the ball through trying to play a ball to someone about five yards away, but then ran back and won the ball back. I really don't know what to make of him. Cygan made an awesome tackle, but the Ajax goal saw him and Connolly split in two. Marty Poom finally got a game - and proceeded to handle the ball about five yards outside the box at one point. heh. Aliadiere and Bendtner didn't really set the game alight either and the best player of the first period for us was, rather inevitably, Al Hleb. He was caught in possession a few times, but only due to a complete lack of options. At other points he seemed to be the only player on the field with any ingenuity and inventiveness. At times he remineded me of a younger Dennis. The only other player who really caught my eye was Traore at L-B who had an excellent game. He's very young but I think he has a definite future with us.

Second half and the greats were rolled out. And not just on the Arsenal side. It was a far more entertaining game, even if the pace, inevitably, dipped somewhat. Seeing Paddy back in an Arsenal shirt was a little too emotional. Most of us accept that his transfer was, rationally, the right move, but at an emotional level, I think most of us also wanted to see him finish up his career with us. Other than Paddy, I particularly enjoyed seeing Ray Parlour, Marc Overmars and the entire back 5 [almost] back where they belong. Seeing Nutty scythe his way through an Ajax 'great' brought back a few memories.

It was great to see not just the obvious greats, but also players like, the legendary, Oleg Luzhny, who now seems to weigh about 40 stone, and Glenn 'I still can't cross the ball' Helder.

Yet the best moment of the entire game came from Gilles 'legend' Grimandi. Edgar Davids had been put through and seemed certain to score. So Gilles blatantly scythed him down. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. I think that should be shown on the big screens at the Emirates before every game. If anyone has a youtube clip let me know.

Thierry effortlessly outplayed everyone on the pitch, and it was fitting he should score the first Arsenal goal at the Emirates, after scoring the last one at Ashburton. Dennis had a golden opportunity to score at the end, but the keeper blocked it. When will these keepers learn? I remember at the Keown testimonial Robert Green saved Martin's penalty. It's their testimonial! Let them score!!!!

I also thought that the appearance of Van Basten and Johann Cruyff highlighted just what stature Dennis is held in - especially in the Netherlands. He's certianly one of the best players in their history, as well as ours, if two of the greatest players of the twentieth century are willing to turn out to respect him on his retirement.

The only sour note of the game, for me, was the absence of Tony Adams. Now I don't want to unfairly criticise him, and his reasons for not attending the match may be entirely valid. But he wasn't there at Martin's testimonial, or, indeed, at the last game at Highbury. I think there are unresolved issues with him and the club, which is souring his post-career relationship with us.

One last thing - for those of you who didn't watch it on C5 - you missed out on a, largely unintentional, comedy-fest. As in when Edu came on and everyone went Edoooooo, and John Barnes said ' I don't understand why they're booing Edu'. I waited for him to say the same thing with Kanu, but i hope he realised his mistake. Or when they asked Arsene why Davids was playing and Arsene said 'Ajax picked him to play, not us'. Or having Winterburn commentate on the first half, and then go and get changed to play in the second. Priceless.

But overall, a great day, and one in which Dennis was fittingly honoured. I can't wait to get into the Emirates as well, which should only be a few weeks away now...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

There's only one Dennis Bergkamp...

I wrote a tribute to Dennis in the aftermath in the West Brom game, where he crowned 'Bergkamp day' with a strike that seemed to encapsulate all the joy, class and genius Dennis has brought to the club in his eleven years here. For those of you who missed it, here's an edited version of my original post, some comments people left on Goonerboy about Dennis, and some other Dennis related miscellany. Enjoy.

It seems almost inconceivable now, but Dennis had his fair share of critics when he first arrived at the club. The goals didn't immediately flow, the usual xenophobic 'johnny foreigner' remarks started coming out, and some began to wonder if Inter had done a bit of good business in off-loading him onto 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.

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. Yet Dennis's impact stretched beyond Arsenal. One wonders if it wasn't for Dennis's wonderful impact whether foreign players would have come to the Premiership and improved the league in the ways they have. Not just a trailblazer on the pitch, but someone who may have assisted cultural change for the better. Not many players can say that.

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. Or in the unbeaten season when he ran the lenght of Birmingham's pitch, dinked the ball over the keeper, and ran to the fans pointing at the captain's armband. Never a more worthy leader of the Arsenal. Yet Dennis was far more than that. He had an aura of class about him every time he glided around the pitch. He could score, and he did score many great goals for the club, but just his general presence on the pitch seemed to invigorate every team he played in. I know most Dutch people would say the same about his presence in the Dutch team.

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.

Anon on Gb : While his talent and skills on the playing field has left viewers breathless and wanting more, it was also his loyalty and unasumming character that stamped the name 'Dennis Bergkamp'in my heart permanently.

Anon on Gb: Eleven years ago I scarcely ever watched Arsenal. I was depressed by the style of football they played and felt alienated from the heavily male, white, perhaps slightly thugish, perhaps even racist character of the fan base. Then one day on a bus in the Holloway Road I was eavedropping on a young Nigerian couple enthusing about a player Arsenal had recently signed. And I thought: if those nice-seeming people are so excited about Arsenal perhaps I could be as well. The new signing was Bergkamp. I've been an Arsenal fanatic since then.

"If Ryan Giggs is worth £20 million, Bergkamp is worth £100 million."
Marco van Basten

"enn doelpunt van een andrer planeet (It's a goal from another planet)."
Louis Van Gaal, former Ajax coach, describing one of Bergkamp's lobs

"He's one of the best players in the game today but he doesn't get the publicity. It might be because he is quiet off the pitch and does not make dramatic statements to the press and I think he likes it that way."
Arsène Wenger

"Can you not say he is the best player in the world right now? If there is a better one, then I have not seen him."
Wenger speaking at the start of the 1997/98 campaign

"If he were in 'Star Trek', he'd be the best player in whatever solar system he was in."
Bergkamp's former Arsenal strike partner, Ian Wright, speaking in 1997

And Arsene gets the last word:

"Nobody will ever forget Dennis Bergkamp - and everybody who will play in this position for years to come will be compared to Dennis Bergkamp"

So long Dennis, and thanks for everything.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Zambrotta to Barca = Cole's off?

I'm surprised more people haven't commentated on this so far this morning, so I thought i would. To me, Barca's signatures of Thuram and Zambrotta is dissapointing on two levels. Firstly we lose out on Lily,although, given his wage demands, one could question whether we were ever really in the running. Secondly, and perhaps more pertinently, if Zambrotta is not going to Chel£ea, this would seem to seal the deal regarding old Cashley. Alea Jacta est. As it were. Myles, on ANR, has even had a phone call apparently 'confirming' the deal. I suppose we'll all have to wait until next wednesday to really find out. Dennis is urging us to hold on to him, but it may be too late. £16m = definite incoming transfers as well.

Another dissapointing bit of news I read this morning was that Kerry Gilbert is going out on loan to Cardiff. I thought he was excellent last season, and I'm not sure how he'll benefit from playing Championship football all season. I would rather he was here contesting Eboue and Lauren for r-b, as neither have a firm grip on the position. I'm really hoping that Kerry will come back from loan and play a real role in the first team, but this doesn't really seem to happen too often does it? For us, going out on loan too often seems to be the first step in a player's denouement at the club.

In other news, the Flamster wants to play back in midfield. If Ashley goes, his future may be at left-back, where i thought he was better than in midfield. In midfield he doesn't have the bite of Vieira or the skill of Fabregas. The BBC gossip is reporting that Silvestre may be on the way to the Spuds in return for money and Carrick to ManU. That would be a hilarious deal. Duff also seems on his way to Newcastle now; here's hoping the Spuds don't get too many good players over the window.

Arsene is also concerned that we're unprepared for the Champions' League campaign. Great. It has made me wonder how much of a break players get nowadays. The World Cup is barely over and these qualifiers are almost upon us.

Thanks to 'Anonymous' who left me the link to the Bergkamp Arsenal CL shirt - not worn by him but still. If anyone knows anywhere else for Dennis shirts let me know; I've looked on ebay but i'm a bit reticent to buy things off it.

Til later.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Latest on transfer rumours, the Emirates, and shirt numbers.

A few stories of note floating about.

Firstly, the Cole situation refuses to go away, and most Gooners are accepting his departure as a fait accompli. Apparently it's been set for next Wednesday, but I'm still not so sure myself, and I'd be willing to wager that he might still be a Gooner when we kick off vs. Villa. Arsene clearly doesn't want him to go, and has even wheeled out the 'we'll make you honour your contract' threat. As for his book - if he stays it'll be edited to remove the inflammatory passages. Yet, the speculation seems to be gaining solidity, even if the same stories went around last summer. If he does go, it seems pretty obvious that it'll only be to Real or Chel£ea for around £16m. The Mirror's report that the Chavs are lining up a double swoop for Roberto Carlos and Cashley seems a bit offish, even if the bit about the signing of Carlos being an act of pure-Abramovic caprice rings very true. Personally, even if they are on the verge of selling Del Horno, I think Mourinho may swoop for Zambrotta, which may complicate any potential deal with Ashley. Also, to give Mourinho some credit, I'm not sure whether he really wants Ash any more: there's too much heat and bad blood to go with it. Still, I suppose all will soon become clear.

Thuram's agent has stated that we've put a bid in for in him, but so have Barcelona. Lily is thus contemplating which he'd prefer. From what i've heard, it sounds like Barca is where his heart lies, but it would be nice to get him. I still can't really see the deal happening even if he'd be an excellent stop-gap; especially with Davies being valued at nearly twice his current worth.

In this rather bizzare comment, it appears that Buffon will stay with Juve. His ambition is now to win Serie B, according to his agent. I suppose when you've got a world cup winner's medal, your ambitions might fall, but this seems a bit much. Even if he does leave, its a deal I can't really see happening with us.

Barcelona startlet Fran 'already the new Fabregas' Merida, now seems to be on the way to Liverpool. I really don't know what to make of him. WE've all seen the youtube video, but all it really shows is a bunch of lads having a kick about. Far too early to tell whether we've really lost out.

Aside from that, all seems quiet on the transfer front, apart from this ridiculous swap deal with Cesc that is pure fantasy, and the likelyhood that Justin Hoyte will again be going out on loan, this time probably to Norwich. Hard to see him having a future at the club if he does go, which is a shame as I think he's a prospect. Arseblogger makes the excellent point that the newly decided upon forthcoming Barca election will lead to transfer fantasy land aplenty, so don't get too worried by the outlandish claims the candidates will inevitably make.

I think we may see a lot of Arsene and Arsenal playing their transfer rumours close to their chest this summer after we got burnt last year by openly pursuing Baptista and Robinho. Also, no concrete deals will emerge until after the EGM tomorrow [for a complex, if reasonably clear, guide to our financial restructuring see here], and hence probably not until next week. It's shaping up to be a summer of snippets of information, but I'm still holding out that Arsene will make one or two signings, as he's stated.

On a lighter note, who's got the new home kit? And more importantly, who've you got on the back? I'm going to wait a bit before deciding. Currently it's between TH14 - naturally-, Cesc4 and Hleb13. I'm never one to gamble, so Rosicky7 may be out of the question. I may buy the Czech shirt with him on the back. Indeed my indecision when it comes to buying Arsenal shirts is such, that I never got a number on the redcurrent. I spent the entire season procrastinating between getting DB10 or TH14 as I was worried it might be the last chance i'd have to get either on the back of my shirt. So it wasn't until Tel signed his new deal that i decided, and by this time they'd run out of lettering. Bloody hell. So, if anyone knows where to get decent Dennis related shirts please let me know. Especially as the club have also run out of testimonial shirts.

Actually, having said I'm not one to gamble, I got Walcott23 on my England shirt. Everywhere I went I was bantered. sigh.

salut mes amis,


Monday, July 17, 2006

Arsenal's summer transfer activity: will there be any?

It's been rather frustrating of late, seeing the usual cryptic pronouncements of Arsene regarding our transfer policy. Apparently, we're now out of the race for Saviola, and, even though Arsene's interested, he's not going to pay £10m+ for Curtis Davies. I agree with him on the excessive price, but we do need new players.

Arsene's seeming reluctance to buy any one except proven quality at knock-down prices still surprises me slightly, despite his obvious desire to bring through the youngsters. Does he really think players like Bendtner, Lupoli and Aliadiere are going to come through anytime soon, and turn into blazing, title-challenging calibre players? It's all especially hard to bear when you see other clubs around us making positive and sensible inroads to getting new players. The Spuds now seem to be closing in on Duff after getting Zokora, while United are highly likely to get at one or two of Carrick, Gattuso, and Torres. Seeing Torres at United would break my heart. He's an Arsenal player if I ever saw one; I'd be willing to part-exchange Jose for him as well. Not that I'm one of those particularly anti-Jose people; I just think a deal such as this might be best for all of us. He's clearly not happy in England - despite what he says - and I'm not sure whether he can take the next step up in consistency and ability that Torres has.

Still, I'm with Arsene on not rushing to buy players from the Serie A car-boot sale. Of all the Juve players available, Buffon is the only one I see as a possibility, and at the mooted £12m he would be a steal. Even with the inevitable conflict this would cause with Jens, we have to start planning for his replacement - unfortunately - and this seems like too great an opportunity to pass up on. The only other players I'd like us to put in for would be Cannavaro, Gattuso and perhaps Thuram. We need an experienced defender, and a central midfielder to cover the Gilberto role. Unfortunately, Cannavaro is almost certainly on his way to Madrid, while I can't see Arsene bringing in Gattuso. All the other players involved in the relegation/points deduction are overpriced and/or we don't need them. I do hope Man U don't pinch Paddy though. *shudder*.

On a seperate note, it's good to see some justice handed out to these clubs. What'll happen to Juve now is anyone's guess though. I imagine that the massive 30 point deduction is merely a starting point for an inevitable appeal. If it stays that way, who's to say they'll won't get relegated to Serie C? Tough times for Juve, but their ex-board brought in on to themselves. Might also make next years Champions' League a bit interesting.

It seems whatever Arsene's transfer plans, and I'm confident/hoping he has some, we won't be able to go over £12m net spending per season, which is a condition of our new, re-negotiated bond. Considering that our net spending over the last couple of years has only been around £8m this isn't as big a wrench as it may seem.

Especially as we may be receiving £16m+ for Ashley Cole soon. He seems to be on a mission to leave the club. However, I think that the reasons that the alleged content of his book is coming out now could be an act of brinkmanship to keep himself at the club. He's still essentially waiting to see if the board give him the respect he so craves. Because, at a base level, this is what the entire Ashley situation is about. He went to Chelsea as the board were taking him for a ride over his wages. Then, instead of realising how near they'd come to losing one of their best players, they disrespected him further through reporting him and Chelsea to the FA. And the blood has been bad since.

I think Ash is acting a little like a spoilt child. But I do agree with Anti that just because he is an Arsenal player doesn't mean he can't criticise the board when he feels he's being mistreated, which he was before he met Chelsea. However, I think he's now pushed his comments beyond a reasonable level of criticism. I still want him to stay because I think he is such a good player, and all it would take is a nice contract to appease him. Something that would be far easier to do than looking for a replacement. Especially as Clichy is looking a little like one of those perma-'sicknote' players.

So my hopes for the summer is that we aren't a selling club. That we don't just cash in on Ash, and only get Rosicky. We need one or two new players of proven calibre if we're serious about next year. Otherwise even more youngsters are going to have to be blooded, which could turn one transitional season into two.

Meanwhile, does this guy ever shut up?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Davies, Theo, and Ash's wedding.

It seems Bryan Robson is being quite, quite obstinate about letting Curtis Davies go. This is, consequently, pushing his asking price up. I think at the moment we're looking at around £10m which is an awful lot of money for a 21 year old centre-back. I saw him play a few times in the premiership last year and he does actually, just about, look worth the cash. But splashing out that amount would naturally affect our other transfer plans this summer.

What I can't really see happening is Theo being lent out to the Baggies as part of the deal; something which the club and Theo's agent both seem to have said. Arsene already loaned Theo out for experience over the summer - arf - and I think if he wanted to loan him out he would have done it by now. I think he wants to keep him in London to monitor his progress, as he keeps maintaining. I expect Theo to play a few times this season, then really break into the first team in the season after. I just hope he, and all us fans, realise that he's a young lad and needs to be brought on slowly, so none of us should get frustrated if he doesn't start playing consistently for a while.

In this rather amusing story - which could have come straight out of 'Footballer's wives' - Ash hasn't invited Arsene to his wedding. Ah, feel the warm glow of friendship. Whether this actually means anything is anyone's guess.

Also, for the 4,000th time the club have denied Fabregas is going anywhere, and our Big Phil has been given Tony's old shirt. Great stuff.



Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Zidane plot thickens, Ribery, Davies, and Appiah.

So the big news story for the last two days has been what was said to Zidane by Materazzi. According to reports on the BBC, there are a number of suggestions. Firstly that Materazzi wished a 'ugly death' on Zidane's family. The other, which has been confirmed by some and not others, was that Materazzi said that Zidane was the 'son of a terrorist whore'. Now considering that ZZ's mother was taken seriously ill in the build-up to the game this would have been quite the insult. Maybe we shouldn't all have been so quick to judge. Whilst in the vast majority of occasions I just can't understand or defend why footballers are violent on the field, in this case, where a player, allegedly, makes a racist slur against someone's critically ill mother, well, perhaps ZZ's reaction wasn't as mad as it seemed. It certainly isn't comparable to an impetuous stamp borne of frustration in the Rooney mould. Either way, you're not a proper genius unless you're flawed. It also confirms many of my previous opinions about this Italian side, and what they were willing to do to win. I don't think they'll be remembered as a great team, merely a functional one which did whatever was necessary to win. Here is the article with some of the possible permutations of what was said to Zizou. He's still one of my favourite players of all time and he deserved the best player of the tournament trophy.

In Arsenal news, certain rumours are really hotting up. Davies now seems a near certainty, with a bid of £8m likely to do the job. Seems like a good deal in the wake of Campbell going, although one does wonder how the Tabloids will defame us if we get some English players in.

Ribery is supposed to be the subject of a £10m bid from us, but the Guardian reports that Real have put in a £26m bid for him, and Lyon have already bid £20m. That knocks ours out the park a bit. I think Ribery has so much potential and that he'd be worth getting hold of as the successor to Freddy. Ribery and Rosicky in for Pires and Ljunberg would be good business.

Oh and apparently Appiah is 50% an Arsenal player. One wonders whether he is going through some existential crisis, or whether he's talking rubbish. It should become clear soon.

Anyway: welcome to the beginning of the real silly season! It's been delayed so far by the World Cup, but there should be a good month of rubbish before the new season begins.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Zidane loses it as Italy defend their way to glory.

They say that the line between genius and madness is rather thin. Certainly, among many of the great players in football - I'm particularly thinking of you Maradona and Best - players who did what none of their contemporaries could do seemed particulalry inclined towards self-destruction. Maybe it stems from a belief that the uniqueness of their powers should be manifested in a general form of misguided omnipotence in their lifestyle. I don't know.

Either way, the last, and hopefully not abiding, memory of Zidane's career will be a headbutt and red-card in the world cup final. Not the fact that he outrageously, and gloriously, dinked Buffon with a penalty some 90 minutes previously. Whether Materazzi was tweeking his nipples or whatever, what was Zidane thinking? That the importance of redeeming his honour for this slight was greater than the world cup? Would it not have been better to tweek Materazzi's nipples with the trophy afterward?

Whilst the decision was correct, controversy is sure to arise from the manner in which it was taken. I personally thought ZZ had got away with it, but it seems that the fourth and fifth officials took the decision on the basis of pitchside monitors, and then informed the head honcho - who had a decent game I felt. This inevitably raises questions about the validity of the decision and the future use of video replays. Should Zidane have been sent off if none of the officials directly saw the incident? Should replays become part of the game? The BBC, predictably, dodged the issue by saying that, 'well the right decision was taken'. Yes. But how?

The sending off was a sour not in what had been an absorbing, if not spectacular, game. After being forced onto the offensive due to France's early lead, Italy played their most attacking football of the entire tournament for, ooh, about half an hour. Then as soon as France came at them a bit in the second half, they defended. And defended. And defended a little bit more. Even in the second period of extra-time when they had a man advantage, they looked like they were playing for penalties. An ultimately correct decision, if incredibly brave due to their previous record from the spot.

Arsenal's interest in the final was again frustrating. All the inadequacies of playing Thierry up front became apparent as he was progressively marginalised and isolated. The French seemed to be relying on him to take the ball round 3 players and score - something, if not for a superb Buffon save, he nearly did. Yet it was an unrealistic strategy, and the lack of a single wavelength between him and Zidane was achingly apparent. I really feel for Thierry - CL and WC final defeats almost within a month. We're all behind you buddy. Paddy - who i also count as Arsenal interest - had to be taken off, ending his enthralling battle with Gattuso, while Ribery - perhaps Arsenal interest - played well, yet lacked the nerve/ability to take a chance that could have won the game. Wiltord - mercifully not Arsenal interest - again showed his 'ability' by trying to score from a position almost level to the goal posts instead of crossing to Trezeguet right at the death.

So, The Azzuri return home triumphant with a fourth World Cup. Yet they will hardly be remembered as a great side. They were superbly organised by manager of true genius - Lippi - and defended incredibly, but that was about it. Apart from a wonderful performance against Germany, they got to the final by digging in and grinding it out, rather than really taking the game to their opposition. I still think that their gamesmanship was abhorrent even if it did cool off somewhat in their final two games. I was also dissapointed that none of the Italians shook the hands of the French whilst they were still on the pitch, and, instead, just ran about celebrating. Understandable, but perhaps exemplifying a slight lack of class and respect. Trezeguet's Juve teammates could have at least consoled him.

I won't begrudge Italy the trophy, but I still would have loved to have seen ZZ lift the cup. As it was he wasn't even allowed to collect his runners up medal.

So congratulations Italy. Now prepare for the mother of all hangovers, as the state prosecutor delivers his verdict....

Elsewhere, in a little Arsenal news...

According to the NOTW, Sol has quit to become an actor as he is now generally disillusioned with football. Perhaps they could make a remake of 'Escape from LA' based on the Arsenal West Ham match: 'Escape from Highbury', also starring Bobby Zomora and Nigel Reo-Coker.

Also Ribery, Yaya [still!!], and Steven Appiah have all pretty much said they'd like to play for us. Ribery I'd like due to this potential and bottle; still not sure about Appiah and Yaya.

That's all for now. Must go and find something to do now there's no football. NOOO!!!!


Sunday, July 09, 2006

'Sol' Long, Ribery, and, oh yeah, the World Cup final.

So, it's finally been confirmed. Mr Campbell has left the building. Sorry for the awful headline pun but I couldn't resist it. In a rather odd statement he's announced that he's decided to leave: where, exactly, hasn't been mentioned, neither has any potential fee.Which leads to the probable conclusion that we've terminated his contract by 'mutual consent', or that we've basically made clear that he's allowed to leave for free. Not quite the £8m that had been mooted...

Mercifully, Arseblogger is on his hols this week, so a rather more measured statement from Tom is on Arseblog today. I think I share EastLower's views though. It's been very easy to forget Sol's contribution to the club due to his pri-madonna strops this season. I wouldn't like to speculate but I think there was more to his downfall this year than just physical playing ability. Either way, a lot of last season was difficult for everyone, and I think Sol's implosion was rather typical of our travails. Personally, I'd like to remember him as the player with whom we won two titles, a host of FA cups, and as the titanic rock of the Champions League final. If that's his last game for the club, I think its a fair representation of his contribution to the Arsenal over the last five years. Adios Sol, and best of luck in the future.

And the future needs to be thought about. Combined with Bergy and Bobby's exit, we've now lost three experienced players who have been stalwarts of the squad for several seasons. New players Arsene. Quick!! I certainly think that Thuram would be a great stop-gap solution, but we need a new centre-back, at least as cover, for the long-term. I was also encouraged by Ribery's comments. I think he could be a long-term successor to Freddie. The way Riberys' improved even over the world cup has been astounding.

Also, in case we could possibly forget, its the final of the World Cup today. Allez Les Bleus! Or should I say 'les blancs' as Italy will be in blue this evening. While I though Italy were excellent in the semi-final - largely thanks to a ref who made it clear that gamesmanship would cut little ice with him - I still think France are the more exciting, and more deserving, team.

Mais Bien sur, the French have good old Thierry. But they also have the king of jesters that is Barthez, Paddy, Thuram, and most importantly Zinedine Zidane. I completely agree with Arsene's comments that Zizou can be compared to Maradona and Pele. [printed on the bbc gossip page]. Easily the best player I've ever seen [although, and I say this without Bias Tel isn't far away]. He deserves it and Tel deserves it. Also, hopefully it'll put one over Le Pen if France bring back the world-cup with its multicultural squad.

Til later,


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jens is coming home [to London], and transfer rumours.

Firstly, commiserations to Jens. What does he have to do this season to win a major trophy? I certainly don’t see how he could have played any better in the tournament. After his heroics in the Argentinean penalty shoot-out and his performance last night, I thought he could help drive his team into the final. Unfortunately, as Jens went about plucking everything within a five-mile radius out of the air, the rest of his team mates finally seem to have run out of steam. The Germans have been great in the tournament though, and it was sad to see them go.

I have to say, however, that the Italians finally played football yesterday. The refereeing was utterly superb – its such a piece of fresh air when there’s a truly decent ref: it changes the whole flow and style of the game. The Italians were fast, incisive and passed the ball beautifully. Play acting was absence, and it changed the entire nature of the game. Contrasting Cannavaro’s performance to Ferdinand’s makes the claim that Ferdinand is a world class centre back a little implausible. Cannavaro always had a beautiful pass at the end of every tackle and it was a joy to see. The beauty of both Italian goals reminded me of what I had admired in Italian football when I was young, and I hope they keep it up for the final.

The Italians will need some cheering up after the prosecutor in yesterday’s football corruption trial called for the relegation of Juve to Serie C, and Fiorientina, Lazio, and AC Milan to Serie B. This is still only a possibility, but, needless to say, there were a lot of Italians playing for their future yesterday; including Gigi Buffon. Rumours of a possible switch to us continue to surface, but I think it’s a case of wait and see. It may be just a case of an agent drumming up interest before a possible switch elsewhere.

There are, predictably, many other transfer rumours, which will come thicker and faster at the end of the world cup. Saviola now wants to leave La Liga, but his preferred destination, Greece, may be out of the question with Greek teams banned from European football next season. So the Arsenal deal is back on. Well, according to the Spanish press. [see link in this page].

Also according to the Spanish, and now English press, Fab is off to Madrid. No, he’s not. At least not for the foreseeable future. Especially as, rather symbolically, he’s been given Paddy’s old no.4 shirt. Rosicky has been given Bobby’s old no.7 shirt. Which leaves the no.10 shirt still vacant. Is anyone getting Bergkamp 10 on the new shirt? I may, but I would like to look to the future. [edit: scrub that – look at the delightful, Dennis testimonial range in the club shop!]All shirts are now orderable from here. Including a delightful ‘snot-green’ [as Joyce might put it] goalie shirt for Jens next year.

Other rumours: Torres to be the target of a £20m bid. Hmm – this one is straight off the ANR printing press – I’d love it to be true though. Lyon now want to sign Gilberto as well. I can’t really see us letting him go at this stage, and I think Gilbs has always said he wants to return to Brazil after he finishes with Arsenal to end his career there. Our other targets seem to have gone cold- I’m thinking Trabelsi, Yaya, et al. Although Carrick’s girlfriend has opened the floodgates of speculation with this comment. Triple hmm.

Right, Time for some work. Here’s hoping Les Bleus can do it tonight.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Here's hoping for a France vs. Germany final.


Thankfully, France beat Brazil. My hopes are now on a France-Germany final. As long as Italy and Portugal don't win the competition I don't mind. Both It and Port play stiflingly boring football, marked only by its gamesmanship and occasional moments of skill. I hope France and Germany's players have more sense than to respond to their theatrics than Rooney did.

Brazil's team has been a disgrace. One of the most egotistical I can remember. Nike shoves the myth of 'Joga Bonita' down our throat for months on end before the world cup as it makes money, regardless of how Brazil play. Ronaldinho, by the end of the France game, greedily grabbed the ball at any dead ball opportunity. He was only concerned with making his mark on the tournament, regardless of the team. Ronaldo only cared about getting his record. I don’t know what Roberto Carlos cared about but it certainly wasn’t helping his team-mates.

That Henry patiently waited and built himself into the team shows why he is the better player than Ronaldinho. It was particularly gratifying to see Roberto Carlos's nemesis moment as he failed to bother tracking Henry back at the Zidane Freekick when France scored, allowing Zizou to link with Henry for the first time in an International. That Henry and Zidane are clicking is a joy to see, and obviously ominous for the rest of the tournament. I have to admit that when I read anti’s column [on Arsenal, wtf] on why France would win the world cup, I thought he was just over-egging his customary ‘Vieira is lord’ position, but it seems he might have hit the nail on the head. France only have one weak link in their team – Barthez. Aside from that, their team is both solid, yet breathtakingly skilful. Gallas and Thuram have been wonderful at c-b. Vieira has returned to the heights he previously reached with us, giving France, with Makele, two midfielders who can both hold and win the ball, yet also attack. [ has any else noticed Makele attacking far more for France that Chelsea?] Against France, the attacking foursome of Malouda, Zidane, Ribery, and Henry was terrific. Ribery has seriously improved over the tournament, and Henry has settled in to playing up front on his own. Yet it has been Zidane’s stunning form which has propelled France through the matches against Spain and Brazil. As per usual, his breathtaking skills were met with Tyldesley’s cries of ‘oh, its Zidane playing like a Brazilian now!’ Why is this comparison necessary? Zidane is better than any player from Brazil’s winning teams of 94 or 2002. Why can’t players play skillfully and be recognized as such on their own merits, instead of the tenuous assertion that all skilful, exciting play is somehow Brazil is origin? Maybe in 1970, or 1982, but not necessarily since.

France have a balanced team with bite and skill. They can effortlessly stroke the ball around. The manner of their win made up for the disappointment of England’s departure, not least because England would have been hammered by France in the semi-final. After the disappointing, boring, turgid game that was England Portugal, came the beauty that was Zidane and co. Watching them play real football, hammered home my disgust at the manner of England’s performance.

On balance I hope France win, but I would hate to see Jens upset again. Him and Klinsmann are the only real reasons I’m supporting Germany. I love the way he’s made his team play football, and organized a fair few average players into near world beaters. If anyone can tell me what the hell the debacle after the Arg-Germ penalty shoot out was about please tell me. Also, to German readers, are you taught penalties at school? Is it part of your national curriculum? Four world cup penalty shoot outs. One miss. That is staggering.

I hope Germany beat Italy. Italy, after going 1-0 up against Ukraine, already had 9 men behind the ball half-way through the first half. Fair enough, but I don’t like the defensive mindset, and the out and out cheating I’ve seen from Italy so far.

A Germany France final would not only be laden with history, it’d be a delightful spectacle, and a showpiece worthy of our game. I dread to think of a Portugal Italy final.

Don't blame Ronaldo for England's shambolic performances in Germany.

Its been almost three days since England were knocked out of the world cup. I have been busy, but I decided against my usual tactic of posting in the almost immediate aftermath of the event. If I had, it would almost certainly have been merely a list of expletives targeted against a certain Msr. Cristiano Ronaldo.

But I thought no, I’ll wait, I’ll soak in the post-game fall-out that only truly emerges in the days after England’s exit. And, sure enough, scapegoats emerged - notably, the primary target. The figurehead or the moment which supposedly encapsulates the reasons for England’s failure. Since 1990 these have been the primary targets:

1990 – Stuart Pearce/Chris Waddle’s penalty misses

1992 – Graham Taylor – particularly for substituting Gary Lineker

1994 – Graham Taylor

1996 – Gareth Southgate

1998 – Becks

2000 – Phil Neville

2002 – Slightly more complex. A mix of Sven, Becks [for jumping out the tackle], but, overall, ‘the heat’ of Japan and Korea.

2004 – Rooney’s broken foot.

2006 – Ronaldo getting Rooney sent off.

Obviously, not all these persons have been scapegoated in equal measure. Phil Neville and Gareth Southgate may have become near synonyms for disaster and failure in the English football lexicon, but they were never subjected to the hate campaigns that Becks received in 1998, and that Ronaldo will probably receive. The Sun have already published a dartboard cover with his face on it, encouraging his readers to ‘give the tart a dart’. Funny? Perhaps at some base level – but does Ronaldo really deserve this level of hatred? In any case, these moments/people have been taken as excuses for our failures. ‘If only it’d been cooler in Japan’, ‘if only Rooney hadn’t broken his foot’, ‘if only Southgate had scored’ we’d have won. This may be truer in some cases – but what about Ronaldo’s actions?

As most sensible reporters have done, lets review his actions. Rooney had just committed a challenge worthy of a red card, by violently stamping on Carvahlo’s testicles. Ronaldo shouldn’t have run up to the ref to encourage a card [of course he did, he’s lying if he said he didn’t] but do you think the England players would have done nothing if the situation had been reversed? And does this excuse Rooney blatantly raising his arms to another player in front of the referee? Ronaldo was just playing the modern game which, much as we detest it, English players seem hopelessly incapable of getting used to. I’m not saying we should all start diving – as Ian Wright would have it – but if English players lash out at cheating, they’re playing into their opponents’ hands. All the Portugese players knew that Rooney has almost no fuse, let alone a short one. And when this was compounded by Sven playing him ridiculously out of position, it was only a matter of time before he blew. But you don’t see dartboard covers of Sven or Rooney do you? Rooney couldn’t hold his temper, even in the biggest game of his career, while Sven continued to show he has no tactical sense at all. Why shouldn’t Rooney be blamed? If we don’t chastise him now, at what critical moment will he next lose his rag? I'm not condoning Ronaldo's actions , but he was far from the cause of our failure against Portugal.

Sven is not a total idiot. He can be given some credit for sticking by Owen Hargreaves who – and I admit my mistake in writing him off earlier in the tournament – was England’s best player, not just of the match but of the entire tournament. If he could improve his distribution he could be a fantastic holding player. The only other players to come through this debacle with enhanced reputations are John ‘I must be made captain’ Terry, Ash + Joe Cole, and Aaron Lennon. Rio and Gary Neville weren’t abject, but hardly set the world on fire. The rest of the squad seriously underperformed, and I think Sven must be largely held responsible.

Sven can’t do anything about Becks and Lamps loss of form, but he could have dropped them. He didn’t. He could have realised that his marking system was a shambles. He didn’t. He should have realised that changing formations on the eve of the world cup was a mistake. He didn’t. He should have realised that taking only 4 strikers – one of which he obviously had no intention of playing – was sheer folly. He could have tried to get his players to actually play football. Not just knock it around for three or four passes then try a Hollywood ball up front. He could have screamed at Rio Ferdinand to stop taking twenty seconds on the ball, before hoofing a failed long ball over the top every time he had the ball in space. He didn’t. He could have realised that making English players try and play Italian football was hopeless. This has been clear for some time – yet he persisted.

You watched the best teams in the world cup and they played tight passing football, focused on keeping the ball, and either waiting for opportunities to play incisive through balls [note – not hoofed balls over the top] or making quick breaks based on fast, accurate passing.

England’s attack was pathetic in contrast. Against Trinidad, for some 80 minutes, you could have been forgiven for thinking Ferdinand was our playmaker. It was embarrassing. Against Sweden, I wanted England to lose because we were playing so poorly: I thought it might give the side a kick up the backside. But no. We couldn’t even score against a pathetic Portugese side that were so poor that we looked more threatening with ten men. This has to come down to coaching, because the England players are good enough to play decent football together. Too often they looked like 11 individuals, and not a team, however.

This has been England’s worst world cup performance since I started watching football in 1990. We didn’t beat one quality side and we played poorly throughout. I was embarrassed to be an England fan, and it wasn’t until the last hour of the match against Portugal that I really felt any great desire to get behind the team. We were never going to win the shoot-out, despite my one moment of hope when Portugal missed two, and Gerrard stepped up. That Gerrard can belt home penalties for Liverpool [well, except against Jens], score last minute thirty yard screamers in cup finals, and drive Liverpool to win a Champions League final, and yet can cut a continually anonymous figure for England who misses in the shoot out, has to come down to the management. He cannot be completely absolved for the almost astounding waste of his talent at international level, but given England’s tactics, and especially Lampard’s one dimensionality, the onus of blame is not on Stevie.

I have a horrible feeling that a golden generation of players could be squandered through the efforts of McClaren and Sven. It’s almost been too much to bear seeing Venables and O’Neill in the TV studios this summer, while a mediocre manager leads out national side.

The same excuses are trotted out at the end of the tournament, but they contrast markedly to statements given at the beginning. We always, rightly, hear that England weren’t good enough at the end of the tournament, but a full investigation as to why this is never occurs. Especially when we’re told earlier in the tournament by Becks that England supposedly ‘deserve’ to reach the final. How? On what basis did we ‘deserve’ to do well? I strongly suggest this excellent article by Richard Williams, which continues the theme of this point.

England entered the world cup believing, perhaps too strongly, that they had a squad capable of winning the competition. Perhaps they did, but English players have to stop believing that their time will come, and actually make it happen. We can all sing ‘football’s coming home’ but I think a lot of our players either have too little or too much belief to make it actually happen. The only hope for the future is, hopefully, Terry’s captaincy, and, one day, a manager who both understands how to get the most from the English players, and also what football means to people in England. In short, don’t blame Ronaldo. He’s a symptom, not a cause of our decline. As long as shallow reasons for out continual failure are looked at, England will never improve.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Wenger cagey, Ljunberg injured, Sol in Marseille

When pressed about the likelihood of a new signing at Centre-back, Arsene remains cagey. His exact words were:

“We have Toure, Djourou, Senderos and Cygan,” he said. “If we can find someone and we can get them then we will do it. But at the moment I have not found anybody.

“But remember these defenders went 10 games in the Champions League without conceding a goal so I cannot say they are bad. I am a strong believer in them. We just want to improve our collective team play on last year. We did that well during the season and we want to keep this development going.”

That's not entirely true though is it Arsene. Phil and Toure certainly were an integral part of our champions League defensive brick wall, but I can't really remember Cygan and Djourou having a huge part in it. I would agree on the potential of Djourou, however,and I think Arsene sees him as an integral part of our defensive plans. I would certainly hope, if we don't get anyone else, that he would start in front of Cygan. I also agree with Arsene's statement that we have to build 'colllective team play' rather than just spend wads of cash on unproved or over-valued talent.

I think what most Gooners are concerned about, in fact, is just the continued presence of Cygan. He's looked alright of late, but his continued presence in the squad baffles me. We do need a new defender - a cb who could fill in on the left - but I further agree with Arsene that we shouldn't pay the mooted £10m+ for Davies. Where this leaves our search for a defender is anyone's guess. Either way, we will start the season, probably, with a back four of Eboue, Toure, Djourou/Cygan, and Clichy. Should we be excited or scared?

Freddie has picked up, unsurprisingly, another injury. What part he'll actually play this season remains to be seen. We could actually do with someone on the right to keep up the competition with Alex for his place, as Rosicky and Reyes will both want to play on the left. Freddie's battling nature remains a welcome presence, but his complete lack of firepower hit us hard last season. It would be nice to get a midfielder in who can score goals - Ribery per chance?

Meanwhile... Sol is supposedly off to the South of France. Nice work if you can get it, although apparently Marseille are baulking at his wage demands. Derby want to sign Ryan Smith, Arturo Lupoli, and Mart Poom. Poom and Lupoli I would like to stay - I'm not sure whether Smith is really premiership standard considering that he struggled to get in the Leicester team last year. Birmingham want Seb Larsson - who I rate - and Muamba - who I know next to nothing about - on loan for the season. I'm a bit reticent for Arsene to send anyone out on loan as it appears to be a little bit of a kiss of death, and I really appreciated Larsson's efforts for the team in the couple of games he played last season. I still don't understand why GIlbert's been shipped off - couldn't he have at least been tried at left back?

Other than that, no other links regarding us actually bringing players in. Sigh. A bit of excitement if nothing else would be welcome. July is so boring for football fans.