Thursday, November 30, 2006

Unreplaced invincibles lie at the heart of Arsenal's malaise.

It looks like we might be in for a long season. A lot of us may have thought that last season was a 'transition year' but its shaping up to being the beginning of a more prolonged period of change and, hopefully, progress. And at the moment its hard to know whether our league form has now, unquestionably, hit the bottom of the trough, or whether the nadir of our current woes still lies in the future.

The heart of the problem is, actually, rather straightforward: we've lost a great team and haven't yet created a new one. The greater difficulty is knowing whether we're on the right track to a brighter future; whether the players we have at the moment really have the potential to win trophies and become a new golden generation, or if they're, actually, a rather mediocre lot.

Arsene has got lost a lot of top players in the last two years. Vieira, Edu, Pires, Campbell, Bergkamp, Cole and Reyes have all left, while Freddie is so far gone that its no longer worth considering him as a player who can really contribute to the team.

Arsene can't really be blamed for letting these players go. Bobby, Sol, Dennis and even Vieira were either over the hill or not cutting it anymore; Jose, Edu and Cashley had to be let go. Yet who has replaced them? That is the crux of our current problems. Quality has left and its not clear whether it's been replaced.

We now have a midfield without any physicality. Hleb, Rosicky, Fab and Gilbs do make tackles and win the ball, but they're artistic players at heart. They don't have the rugged power of a Vieira, or even the less refined, but necessary bite of a Grimandi or Parlour. And, crucially, none of these artistic players are great goalscorers. A fundamental problem we have at present is that we do not have goalscoring midfielders: we need a new Bobby or Marcy Overmars, and I don't think Hleb or Rosicky will get the goals we need; which is not to say they are not fantastic players. We've effectively lost players who contributed 20-30 goals a year, and they haven't been replaced.

We now have players such as Flamini and Song genuinely competing for places in midfield, and that's unacceptable. Neither have the passing or tackling ability to warrant a place. Diaby can't get back soon enough - because he offers genuine hope - but what are we to make of Baptisa - A 'beast' who has been consistently muscled off the ball in the games he's played thusfar? We've been so accustomed to mediocrity that Gilberto has established himself as a senior player and an automatic starter, instead of someone who should be fighting for his place.

Clichy may get better but he's not as good as Cole, and, take a deep breath, we miss a player of Cashley's quality on the left. I detest Cashley's antics and what he did to our club, but we're crying out for a decent left-back. Both Che£sea and ManU have two. Traore, to me, has looked far more impressive in his few outings, but he's painfully young. A purchase needs to be made.

Moreover, Baptista - who plays where? - 'replaced' Reyes, depriving of us of more options on the left. We have no left wing at the moment, and its hurting us. I'm sure that part of the reason we're playing 4-5-1, and forcing RvP to play out of position is because of this deficiency.

And on to Dennis. Dennis is, more than anyone, a genuinely one-off talent - but we need a player to link attack and defence in that style, because Henry's suffering from having to drop back and get balls that would have been played through to him in the past. He's also suffering, from the lack of a left-wing. He's the best player I've seen at our club, but if he's not contributing, he's not contributing, and we need more options up-front. Moreover, I firmly believe that Jens should be made captain in order to keep Thierry, and the rest of the team on its toes.

We weren't out muscled by Fulham yesterday; we were outplayed. There's a difference. To complain of offside decisions when we already two goals down is almost facetious, and even Arsene must know that we're simply not good enough at the moment. Our problems start at the back and our defence needs tightening up. To concede first in so many games is unacceptable. We look shaky almost every time an attack come at us, even with Gallas, one of the few players who've replaced an invincible such as Campbell in terms of class and ability.

But what to do? People are screaming out for us to buy, but with Diaby and Lauren coming back, and hopefully Baptista finally coming in to form, I'm not expecting Arsene to buy in January. The calls for him to go are ludicrous because I think he's genuinely being let down by players. Last night he fielded a poor team, but the three huge games coming up were clearly weighing on his mind. If we have another poor season, I think only then will the chequebook genuinely come out, but not before. I have the feeling we may have to endure another hard season, in order that Arsene can finally start to separate the wheat from the chaff, and continue his re-building process.

My one piece of advice to Arsene: buy a thug. Buy a new Grimandi. Buy someone to protect your artists, to give our team some respect among our opponents. After all, all artists need their patrons, as it were.

Dig in - this season may not be pleasant. A third place finish will be an achievement , but one, due to the general mediocrity of teams aside from ManU and Che£sea, which is probably achievable. A win against the Spuds would be a good, and almost mandatory, start.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Another trip to Bolton, another defeat.

How achingly predictable. We go to Bolton and lose; Anelka not only breaks his duck, but knocks two past us. When you see him finish in such a composed fashion and you, as I did, go on youtube and watch him in his pomp for us, it makes you think how good a player he could have been. He's a superb player at literally about 50-60% of his full capacity. If he'd fully applied himself, and not surrounded himself with greedy family members, he could have been one of the all time great European players.

Some conclusions can be drawn from the game. Firstly, Freddie and his future. Or, the lack of. A winger who cannot beat his player and cross, who cannot score, and who cannot beat his marker for pace is, by definition, not good enough. He's still good for work-rate and snapping at the heels of defenders, but he's not a real threat, and I can't see him significantly contributing to any future success for us. He's been a great servant, but its time to go.

Secondly, we have to do more with possession. We had about 68% of possession today, yet couldn't turn it into goals. It took a driving run from Gilberto to get us a goal, and I can't help but think that we look a little toothless. It seems almost capricious to have players like Bendtner on loan who are scoring for fun - or at least really troubling defenders - while we only seem to have one real striker available in Thierry's and RvP's absence. Perhaps we need a poacher up front, but maybe RvP already fills this position.

A few positives can perhaps be gleaned from the performance. It was not, at least, the abject surrender that has come to characterise so many of our trips up north. We lacked a bit in physicality in midfield, but Bolton didn't dominate us. Also, luck seemed against us. On another day Davies would have been sent off, Anelka would have been ruled offside and one of our three shots that hit the bar would have gone in. And Theo, I think, put in another good performance. He's still, clearly, learning his trade - yet he at least looks like he could do something, that he might be a threat.

The performance of Flamini was a cause for continuing consternation, however. He simply doesn't do enough in midfield. He has a high work-rate, but that's not enough. He doesn't have the range of passing, or tackling, to justify a central midfield birth, and I'm counting the days until a, hopefully fully recovered, Diaby returns. Also, we still have no left wing. I worry that a lot of us have invested our hopes in Clichy, partly because we want to spite Cashley. But, perhaps its time to admit that we miss a quality left-back, and an out and out left winger who can beat people, either by cutting inside or outside his defender.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in the aftermath of our devastating performance at Reading that Arsenal could win the title. I always felt, however, that Bolton away would be a real test of our ambitions - even a draw would have shown a real improvement on last season. As it is, we've lost, but with a marginally better performance than last season. Perhaps our expectations for the league this year should be just that: marginally better than last year. A comfortable fourth, or, at a push, third. I can't shake the feeling that while we have a good team, its still not certain whether it will become a great one. Its certainly a long way from the vintage of 2004.

Indeed, its not been a good weekend for Goonerboy and sport. The England cricket team comes second in my affections after Arsenal, and they are currently in the process of being slowly slaughtered by an Australian team practically foaming in the mouth in their desire for revenge after last year's glorious summer. As an aside, an interesting comparison: Flintoff and Henry. The best player in their respective teams, but not their team's best captain? Here's hoping England can bat out the match...I hear a thunder storm is predicted for tomorrow afternoon...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A poor win, but some reasons for optimism

The first half last night was as poor as any performance I've seen by us this season or last season. Henry meandered up front; the defence failed to deal with Hamburg's only real attack; the midfield was static and ineffectual, Hleb [outstanding again] occasionally booed for daring to be inventive.

Van der Vaart's goal was almost comically inevitable. First half? Check. Arsenal defender's backing off? Check. A sublime finish? check. You have to hand it to the likes of Villa, Boro, Everton and now Hamburg: they take their chance. Indeed what Van der Vaart is doing anywhere near that Hamburg side is a mystery. He's a very good player and should move on forthwith.

An extremely dour and flat first half ended with more than a few boos around me. The focus for much of the flak was Flamini who had an 'indifferent' game. The Gilberto role doesn't require a great level of inventiveness, but it does need a greater degree of tidiness and a wider range of passing than Flamini brought to it. The debate over whether he's good enough to play centre-midfield will undoubtedly continue, but I would have to say that I'm one of the doubters.

Arsene, predictably, brought no substitutes on at half-time. But he did, for once, make a significant and positive change, re-shaping the team into a far more effective 4-4-2. Freddie looked far more comfortable on the wing; even if he's clearly lost the ability to beat players, his work-rate means he continues to be a worthwhile squad member. Whether he's anything more than that is questionable.

The change of formation also allowed Van Persie to move up front, on the right hand side. He looked instantly more comfortable, and even a little liberated, and he took his goal with aplomb. But he was worrying inconsistent last night, often wasteful in possession. He's beginning to infuriate me: his goal-scoring potential means he can't really be left out, but his all-round play is too often not good enough, something that can be said whatever position he's put in.

Clichy also concerns me. The major question is, obviously, is he good enough? He looked naive on several occasions last night - both in attack and defence. With the sale of Cole, Pires and Reyes, and the emergence of Hleb and Eboue we've gone from a team with no right-side and a strong left-side, to the opposite. It still seems unclear, even with Rosicky in the mix, who is going to provide the penetration on the left that we used to enjoy.

The other big worry last night was Thierry, who looked painfully out of sorts. Indeed, the near death of our left side may have a lot to do with Thierry's dip in form. He says he's missing Highbury, but he's also missing Reyes, Pires and even Cole. I was disappointed that his performance descended into a degree of simulation last night, even if his booking was a farce. Still, we won in Zagreb without him, and in Manchester, and I think we just about have enough to get a draw out in Porto.

The main, perhaps overwhelming positive from last night was another storming performance by little Theo. There are calls for him to start, but at the moment bringing him on as an impact sub in the last thirty minutes might be the best role for him. What struck me most was not just his speed, but his technical ability. He did a few lovely turns with the ball, and his passing was incisive and shorn of the over-complication that blights some of our build-up play. Moreover, most of the Arsenal squad would have passed to Thierry for the third goal, not Baptista, despite The Beast's superior positioning. It would be no bad thing if some of our other players drew themselves out of Henry's thrall in this manner.

As for the Beast himself - a great goal to cap a great move, but he appeared surprisingly lightweight on the ball. That has to improve by, er, Saturday at Bolton if he's going to really earn his sobriquet any time soon.

In terms of our Champions' League campaign it was a good win, but the performance only came alive in the last twenty minutes or so. And while it was great that we came from 1-0 down to get a draw, let's not kid ourselves: Hamburg were a poor team; one at Sheff Utd's, not Everton's level.

Still, Bolton to look forward to, eh?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Defensive mistakes, not profligate finishing, are hurting Arsenal this season.

I've been away in Scotland for a few days. Hence the lack of posts for a while, and my absence at the Emirates on Saturday. It appears, however, that I didn't miss much. I'm still so grateful for my season ticket that I cherish every occasion I go, but our home form this season is rapidly becoming a farce. Its either 1-1 or a reasonably comfortable victory, and its the painful draws that are seemingly becoming more prevalent. The key seems to be the first goal. We've given away cheap goals to teams, allowing them to sit back and defend for the rest of the game. We can moan about it, but Georgie G used to do it every week with us not that long ago.

The most galling thing for me is that these teams seem to be scoring with their only shot on goal. Everton, Boro, Newcastle, and to a lesser extent Boro, had one, perhaps two, shots on target yet took their chance with aplomb. We play pinball for 90 minutes and scrape late, tense equalisers, the last two of which haven't come from open play. There remains a horrible, insidious feeling that we could concede at virtually any time, and then spend the rest of the game frustrated. We need to cut out these early-ish goals. If that happens, teams will open up eventually if its 0-0, much more so than if its 1-0 to them.

Tomorrow's game is a big one for our season - a complete, stone-cold must win. Wenger's been criticised for not starting Henry, but you can't play him - and expect a decent performance - for 90 minutes 3 times in 6 days. Blame Domenech. I do. A draw vs Newcastle and a win against Hamburg is preferable than vice-versa, so Arsene was just thinking ahead. A Thierry-less Arsenal do look toothless, however, possibly because Arsene is persisting with RvP on the left-wing, rather than letting him play up front on the right, possibly in front of Hleb. I think we need to consider giving Aliadiere more of a chance, especially if Bendtner now seems set on staying at Brummie-ville all season. I can't really comment on his performance as I didn't see much of it, but it also seems that the Julio 'I am superman!' Baptista myth may have, temporarily, come to a halt. I think he should be a good player for the club, but he had his own song before he'd played more than 20 minutes for the club. I also think that none of us really know where he's meant to be playing.

With Gallas ruled out today 'for a few weeks' - I've already heard that its until Christmas - our task of keeping in touching distance of ManU and Che£sea is harder still. We've got Bolton on Saturday to look forward to as well. But I would end by suggesting that our problems this season stem from conceding sloppy goals. Our attack has been profligate, but the job for our forwards has been made harder by our defence letting in really, really soft goals and allowing teams to defend in depth. Our priority for the next few games should be to keep things tight at the back, which will make scoring goals easier. Because I can't take another 1-1 frustration-fest.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Moving moments at the Grove: Arsenal 3 Liverpool 0

An excellent win yesterday. I thought Liverpool came out well in the first half, and caused us a few problems with their movement, but by the second half - and the important second goal - it was one of those blissful games where you could relax and enjoy the team comprehensively outplay one of the 'big four'.

And there was, for me, several genuinely moving moments in the game, which I thought I'd try and base this post around - at least one of which came from the opposing fans.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the game kicked off with a minute's silence, given it was rememberance day, an act flawlessly observed by both sets of fans. Seeing 60,000 people all in silence, over an issue that actually warrants a silence is always rather moving, and it did put the importance of the game - and football - into context.

I have to admit to being worried when I saw Almunia and the Flamster in the tunnel, but both acquitted themselves: Almunia solidly, and Flamini excellently. Indeed, Flamini's presence in the midfield brought some much needed simplicity to our passing. In some respects, having three players of such technical ability as Hleb, Rosicky, and Fabregas, perhaps lends the team to over-playing a bit, and Flamini was excellent as a solid, and sometimes spectacular midfield presence, a stepping stone between Gilberto and Hleb/Fab. Perhaps there is a role in midfield for Flamini and also, perhaps, the old debate about not being able to play Pires and Ljunberg together will resurface with Hleb and Rosicky.

Flamini's gutsy goal rounded off an excellent move, sparked by Hleb's constant incisiveness and ingenuity on the ball. The passion of Flamini's celebration was great to see, and one can only hope the FA ends the farce of booking players for celebrating their goals. When you consider Carragher got off with a warning after scything down Van Persie, booking players for petty offences has to stop.

Hleb was, again, outstanding yesterday. Every time he picked up the ball he seemed to beat a player, if not two. His final ball was at times a little astray, but he caused the Liverpool defence and midfield no end of trouble. I would say he is now clearly one of most creative and dangerous players, and has been for some time. Especially when he's got Eboue behind/in front of him. It was a joy to see Eboue back, and it emphasised how much we'd missed him. I almost felt embarrassed for Gonzalez, such was Eboue's dominance, and he was superb getting forward as well.

In fact the whole back four played well. Clichy looked excellent getting forward and at the back, and Gallas's energy and general classiness kept Liverpool quiet going forward. His goal has to go down as one of the most shocking examples of marking I've seen from a top-level English team though. And it was Gallas who provided a great moment at the end, coming to the corner of the North and west stands and clapping the fans who'd stayed til the end. The, surely soon to be legendary, fist pump was brought out again, and it meant a lot to see the players give the fans some credit. I thought the atmosphere was better yesterday, despite a rather quiet first half.

But my MOTM has to be 'king' Kolo Toure who was outstanding. He never stopped running for the 90 minutes, making superb defensive challenges, and a goal that smacked of Adams in '98. Thierry also had a good, if interesting, game. Van Persie seemed to want to play in the areas Thierry has traditionally occupied on the left, so Henry took to just running about like a mad-man, contributing anywhere he could. There was one point when he sprinted back to tackle Kuyt or Crouch, and his credentials as Captain were emphasised. He does need a goal though. And finally, RvP, who also played well, showing his un-selfish side with a fine pass to Kolo for the second goal. I do worry, however, how he and Thierry can both play together in the long-run, without one of them making significant sacrifices to the type of game they want to play, such are the similarities in the positions they tend to take during attacks.

We shouldn't get too carried away. It was very much a game yesterday, as with all our home games this season, in which the first goal was crucial to the rest of the match. If Liverpool had scored it, they would have undoubtedly put 11 behind the ball. Especially because they looked poor yesterday. I don't know what Zenden is doing in their squad, and they seemed to have stocked up on rather average players - Crouch, Pennant, Bellamy, Gonazalez. They also missed Sissoko, badly, and Gerrard had a bit of a sulky game. Beating them is an excellent result, but the contentions of many that Liverpool would challenge for the title looks to have been a pipe-dream. It was 3-0 yesterday, but it should have been more, and Liverpool were also lucky to finish the game with 11 players.

But, a word of praise for some of the Liverpool fans. By even the 70th minute, it was clear that their team weren't going to take anything from the game, and many starting packing up and going home: their European cup banner had been taken down a long time before Gallas's goal. But, in the 9oth minute, when their team were 3-0 down and hopelessly out of the game, I saw the remaining couple of hundred Liverpool fans - in what was by then a very empty stand - raise their scarves and sing 'You'll never walk alone'. I was, I have to admit, rather moved by that exhibition of pride and almost irrational support for their club, and those fans that stayed and sung deserved far better than the crap their team had churned out. I also thought we could have perhaps let them sing it once without the, admittedly amusing, 'sign on, sign on...' riposte. Heh.

So a good win, and one we should build on next week against Newcastle. We have the acid test of Bolton away after that though, before we get too ahead of ourselves.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Adebayor comes up trumps again, Wenger stays silent

Good win last night. Everton basically put out their first XI, so for our young guns to go up there and get a result is great. Especially after Everton's 11 men behind the ball antics at the Grove. I didn't see the game, as it seems to have not been shown anywhere, and have only seen precisely 1 minute and 30 seconds of the game via Youtube highlights. From all accounts- and I point you towards for this - Flamini had a good game, having a smart shot pushed away by Howard. Walcott also continues to come tantalisingly close to his first Arsenal goal, blazing the ball over the bar when he perhaps should have hit the target.

The sending off seemed a little harsh to me. Graham Poll is currently, ostensibly, running a one-man crusade to get players to not just respect, but fear referees, and if McFadden was sent off just for calling him a 'cheat' in the heat of the moment that's a bit much. For those of you with longer memories, Poll didn't even book Rooney for his memorable explosion of expletives at Highbury in 2004. Consistency, eh?

He did rightly turn down a penalty claim, however, when Andy 'I don't dive but I still win 900 penalties a season' Johnson went down in the box. A tangle of legs, nothing more. Playa reported that Big Phil was a little shaky last night, which adds to my worries about his consistency and his ability to deal with certain types of forwards. Still, Arsene wouldn't have given him the no.6 shirt if he didn't envisage Phil having a long future at the club, so I'm willing to trust Arsene on this one. Aliadiere also played well, but one wonders whether he's just treading water before a move in January. It'll be interesting to see if he's on the subs bench for Sunday.

And just when it appeared the game was heading to extra-time, the big-man strikes again. Reviled by many at the beginning of the season, even booed at times, Adey is quickly becoming a really strong part of the squad, and pushing for a regular starting place. I think he contributes a lot to the team, and that he is also Thierry's preferred starting partner. However, I can see, after playing 90 minutes last night, RvP getting the nod for Sunday. But my opinion is that if we support him, and try and forget some of his rather glaring misses, Adey should continue to improve.

Finally, Arsene has remained silent. He must be plotting something. Possibly a massive powerpoint presentation for his press conference on Friday, where he justifies, step-by-step, his actions on Sunday. Heh.

Til later.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Farce and mountains of frustration at Upton Park: where do Arsenal go from here?

Four moments of farce, at least:

1) After a lovely one-two Hleb is played into the box. Spector doesn't foul him, he scythes down Alex, crashing into his ankles, whilst getting the tiniest flick of the ball. Stone-wall penalty. And Spector, already on a yellow, should have been off. But no. No penalty, 11 vs 11, play continues.

2) Kolo scores. He smashes a rasping effort from about forty yards, which slams off the post and in. Everyone in the pub starts celebrating. Except the players aren't. The ball has hit off the back of the post holding the net up, having gone wide by a fraction.

3) Flamini is brought on to shore up the midfield. Again.

4) Marlon Harewood scores and Arsene virtually has a fight with Pardew. I was seething when they scored because I could see it coming: Harewood had already had one clear-cut opportunity stopped by a great save from Jens, and Clichy's marking at the back post is still, often, a little shabby. Its too early to tell why Arsene did what he did, and whilst in many ways I'd love to see him lay out Pardew it's not on. Pardew probably had been goading Arsene at times during the game, and Arsene was no doubt seething from the penalty decision, but its no excuse. Arsene had to be physically restrained, and also started pushing the fourth official about. I was, to be frank, a little shocked.

And we all know the real reason Arsene almost punched Pardew: a rubbish performance. Flabby, overindulgent, and, frankly, not good enough. We all know, and most other Premiership watchers do as well, that we play, on our day, the best football in the league, perhaps in Europe. And its here the free-form jazz analogy that I used before is applicable. At our best -Reading, Old Trafford etc. - we're like John Coltrane, effortlessly ripping through scales of beautiful free-flowing music. At our worst, we're Jazz Club from The Fast Show: bloated, over-complex and perhaps even pretentious.

We need to start scoring scrappy goals; we need an out and out goal scorer that Thierry can link up with up-front. What we don't need is more passing. The passing is fine, the passing is great, but we need to vary the play, mix it up a bit. I'm not defending the morons who shout 'shoot', but with the possession we're having, and the opportunities we either create or should be creating, something isn't clicking in the final third and it needs to be sorted out.

Because we wern't playing an 'eleven-man' defence team today: West Ham came out and played us, and it was an open, exciting game. Yet when our counter attacks started, we were ponderous. Fabregas often took too long on the ball; Rosicky couldn't seem to find a killer ball; Hleb - who is being unfairly substituted too often at the moment - was better, but too often tried to play a 'thread the needle' ball through four defenders, instead of a simple lay-off. Henry was maddening. He seems to be in a bit of a malaise at the moment, perhaps stemming from his role as a leader of the forward line, which he is not taking to on a regular basis. I would have to say, however, that I thought Van Persie played well; his increased passing and distribution was noticeable, and he seemed one of the few midfielders/forwards really fighting for the win. I would hope that the coin thrower is discovered, as well.

The only real positive was a generally good performance from the back-line, and the return of Eboue. Eboue immediately made an impact when he was moved back to right-back, overlapping and causing danger on the right. Hoyte has been good there, but doesn't have the ball skills to be a threat going forward. Kolo was awesome, while Jens, Gallas and Clichy all had good games. My main concern about Clichy is his sometimes sloppy marking at the back post from crosses - something that could cost us more goals.

The most depressing thing about today is the knowledge that Che£sea would have won that match. We don't have their ruthlessness and its costing us games. And if we can't win away matches in London, how our are we going to win matches up North?

Anyway, there goes my relaxed Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thoughts about Moscow after five-a-side football

So, today at work was the big game: one side of the office vs. the other. Only the crème de la crème were selected. Or those who could be bothered to turn up. Needless to say, Goonerboy's side triumphed. Yet, on this extremely cold evening, some very broad comparisons with the game last night struck me.

I started by drifting around up-front and, in the course of the game, had around 10-12 shots on goal. I scored one. The keeper saved half, I hit the post twice; the ball did everything apart from go in. One chance when a not very fast Goonerboy had somehow skinned his marker, then flashed a shot across the goal only to see it bounce off the inside of the post seemed to sum up my performance. Some days you just can't get a goal. It wasn't until the last goal of the game that I finally put one in [I nutmegged the keeper. Heh.]

And, so it was for Arsenal last night. Except a, er, slightly higher level of football. We were totally, almost embarrassingly dominant. We carved through a very good Muscovite defence time and again. But the ball just wouldn't go in. Fab and Rosicky missed open goals; RvP had a header than even I expected him to put in; Gilbs forced a terrific save from the Moscow keeper; Thierry had two or three chances that he would normally slot home. I, personally, don't think we over-complicated matters; on another day we would have won 4-0. It wasn't the same as the, say Boro or Everton matches. We didn't have chances last night. We had certified goals that we just couldn't realise. If we play like that again, it won't be the same and we'll win.

My message would be: we are on the right track. The only major concern is about Henry's slight difficulty in adapting to his new role in the team as a central striker rather than a winger. Having said I preferred 4-5-1, maybe 4-4-2 would be better, because Thierry needs to start from his customary left-wing position. He's struggling in his leading the line position - he hasn't got the physical presence to do what's currently being asked of him. [although can I just tell the idiot behind me who repeatedly moaned that 'we never won anything wiv 451 - Madrid? juve? Villareal? Old Trafford? Hmm???]

Still, we now need two results. We can't bank on beating Hamburg at home, but if we don't we don't deserve to go through. And a now extremely tricky tie in Porto where we may need to take something from the game.

It's like I said earlier in the season - we're 10% from perfection or disaster. But personally I think we're closer to the positive side. And certainly not close enough to disaster to warrant some of the negativity I heard from the crowd. Perspective please. Rosicky's head noticeably went down after his miss and we need to get behind the team, not on their backs, when our players are down. The negativity is no-where near as bad as some in the press are making out -but its not a complete figment of their imagination.

So, hopefully, goals will come. But mass panic will ensue if no goals against Hamburg.