Thursday, May 31, 2007

Season review: The midfield, including player of the season.

On we go...

Rosicky, 6.5, I questioned Rosicky's signing when it was announced and some of my fears have come to pass. He has been a useful addition to the squad, and has pulled out several excellent performances, but has not scored enough goals and looks wasted out on the left. He needs to play more centrally and my fear is that we may not see all he has to offer if stuck in his current position. Next year, needs more goals, but has played well enough to justify a starting position.

Hleb, 6.5, A few disjointed performances in the second half of the season don't remove the fact that Alex is a valuable and dangerous member of the squad. His goalscoring record is poor and looks unlikely to improve, but his role in the build up play to our goals is often critical. He's willing to run at defences and make things happen, which some of our other midfielders seem unwilling to do, and for that reason I'll give him more lee-way than most when it comes to losing the ball, especially as he does tackle back. Will want to improve next year, and I think he has it in him to do it.

Gilberto, 8, player of the season. More than anyone this year, Gilberto really stepped up and drove the team forward. Indeed, he's one of the few midfielders in our squad who can't be accused of not scoring enough goals. He set the tone for his season with the equaliser that he thrashed in during the opening game of the year, and rarely looked back afterwards. He's scored crucial penalties and captained the team excellently, perhaps better than the man he was standing in for. Having watched Mascherano sparkle for Liverpool, I still think that there are better holding midfielders available than Gilbs, but this should not detract from what has been an excellent season for him. A deserved player of the year if I ever saw one.

Fabregas, 7.5. Arsene asks so much of one so young, but he has already established himself as the lynch-pin of our team. He passes beautifully, can boss midfields, and always tries to win the ball if he can. His obvious deficiency is his goal tally, something which has given Gilberto the edge in my player of the season decision. He's obviously got it within himself to be a 10-15 goals a year player, and this needs to happen sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, when it does, the transfer speculation from Spain will become unbearable. Arsene should also consider whether playing him in every game is necessarily a good idea, as fatigue was obviously and understandably an issue for Cesc this year given the number of games he played. The team musn't become over-reliant on him. We need a squad that can win games in his absence, and I'm not sure that's the case at the moment.

Denilson, 5. Didn't really feature in the team heavily enough to warrant a higher score, even if he looked a very decent prospect when he did. Was understandably over-awed slightly in the bigger games he played - notably those against Chelsea - but generally held his own. Needs to develop into someone who can play effectively either with or instead of Cesc.

Diaby, 5.5. The boy has something to him, but has suffered from Arsene's desire to peddle him around the midfield. A combination of him and Cesc in central midfield would be interesting but would need time to develop. His technical skills and tackling have been, and I use this term sparingly, 'Vieira-esque' at times, although Paddy was much nearer the finished article at Abou's age. It will be interesting to see how his development progresses next year.

Freddie, 5.5. Very few goals, a lot of sitting on the ground complaining, and an inability to beat players through skill or pace should see the end of Freddie this summer. He's been a wonderful servant to the club, and he still always battles hard, but he's not cutting it anymore. Despite a few decent performances this year, he's been trading on former glories for some time.

Theo, 5. A wonderful start to the season, and a Carling Cup final goal, can't hide the fact he's looked a bit too much like a boy amongst men this year. Needs to vary how he tries to beat players, and needs more goals. Hopefully his shoulder op will see him fighting fit for what will be a very big season for him personally next year. Also, to the idiots that abuse him at The Emirates: shut up. Get behind and support a young lad with clear potential.

Flamini, 6. Quite high, I know, but I think the Flamster has been quite harshly done by. I can see his point about being dropped for finals, and he actually chipped in with quite a few goals this year. Ultimately, he's not good enough for the starting XI, but I think its a shame we'll be losing his work-rate and often tidy playing style.

Song, 4. Not as awful as everyone thinks, but not as good either. Has looked good for Charlton and may yet return to the club.

Overall, 7.

Our midfield remains our strongest area but it's still a bit of a mess. Not enough goals come from it, which has to be remedied; I would suggest this should occur via signings but also encouraging our existing squad just to have a bit more of a crack at goal. Hleb could have scored far more often this year if he knew the hairdryer treatment was waiting for him in the dressing room if he didn't. Also, Arsene'e propensity to play 4 central midfielders - two of which often no more than nominally out on the wings - has destroyed the advantage of having a wider pitch at the Grove. We need an out and out winger to come in this summer.

Still, the midfield looks more encouraging than the defence, and should only require a few new bodies, rather than major surgery.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Season Review: The Defence.

So, the great marks out of ten review begins. Avanti!

Jens, 7.

A 7 I hear you cry? Surely Jens has had a poor season, flapping about too often, his mind not always on the ball as he has no world-cup to keep sharp for. Well, rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. If Jens has had a poor season it's because he's far too often had a shambles of a defence in front of him. If a goalkeeper is, justifiably in this case, unsure of his defenders, mistakes happen. But even then, how many times has really been at fault this year? Some glaring errors are obviously notable; sometimes his penchant for streaming out of the goal does back fire - Sheff Utd away and Fulham home come to mind. But he is still capable of producing match-winning performances - Utd away, Reading at home - and we would have lost matches such as those against Chelsea if not for superb last minute saves. In short, he's still a keeper who win matches and he remains one of the best about.

Almunia, 6.

There's a phrase you can use for quite a few of our player this season: 'solid but not spectacular'. Unfortunately Manuel falls squarely into this category. He's done reasonably enough when called upon, even if I'm worried that alternating goalkeepers is not a strategy which breeds defensive stability. Arsene should have chosen one and stuck with them. The feeling I persistently get with Almunia is that he is a fairly reliable keeper, but not one that will win the team matches. I still think he could have kept out the first goal in the Carling Cup final. That's why I don't think he's no.1 material, and also why calls in some quarters to drop Jens earlier in the season were unfair. And with the signing of Fabianski, Manuel must surely be reviewing his situation.

Hoyte, 5.

Perhaps a little harsh, I must admit, but I struggle to think of what Justin really offered the team this year. Stability at the back? Perhaps, but only in contrast to Eboue. Justin has hardly set the world on fire, perhaps understandably given his position, and he's never really looked a defensive rock. He's come on a long way this season, but he needs to improve considerably to convince me of his abilities.

Eboue, 6.

He has been the better of the right backs this season, offering far more going forward, and contributing more to the team's general play. Yet the diving remains; the theatrics remain; he switches off defensively far too often. Eboue looks the greater prospect of out of our two right-backs, but it would be an area I would improve with signings.

Senderos, 5.

After ostensibly forcing his way into the first team last year with several strong performances in the Champions League run, Phillipe has had a torrid season. Aside from several more than reasonable performances in the Carling Cup, he's been unable to really break back into the team due to the signing of Gallas and a spate of injuries. He could well go in the summer, if not next season, if his luck doesn't change. Yet I still think Phil has the makings of a world class defender. I also think that Gallas and Senderos might be our strongest centre back partnership. If Arsene isn't going to use him, a tall centre-back with aerial dominance should be a priority, as our present inability to deal with set-pieces is embarrassing.

Kolo, 6.

We all love him don't we; everyone loves a trier and you know that you'll always get 100% from Kolo. But without a tall dominant player next to him, Kolo looked shaky on a number of occasions last year. Could it be that his position as a fans' favourite has muddied our perception of his defensive abilities? I think maybe. I know he'll certainly be looking to improve next season, as he's been at fault for a number of goals this year. Dropping him still seems almost inconceivable, however, which is not always a good thing.

Gallas, 6.

Hasn't performed to the level we've hoped, but has not been as bad as many people claim. Remains a better centre back than Kolo, and must be baffled by our inability to organise our defence after his time at Chelsea. As it is, if we don't win anything next season, he will leave. Must stop mouthing off in the press, even if his comments often have a strong kernel of truth to them. (not the bits about 'The Great William Gallas', by the way.)

Djourou, 6.

I continue to be impressed by Johann, even if he, again, can't head too well. Very comfortable with the ball at his feet and has an excellent sense of defensive timing. Will look to break into the first team a bit more next year.

Clichy, 7.

One of the real bright spots of last year was watching Gael emerge into a more than adequate replacement for 'he who shall not be named'. He can tackle, pass and get forward, even if his crossing is an area for improvement. In short, he is willing to work hard and he has the ability to go with it. I'm genuinely excited about the continuation of his development next year and he's convinced me that he's a potentially world-class left-back.

Traore, 5.

Very young and showed it, andt 17 it could really go either way. Currently better going forward than defensively, he may find his opportunities severely limited by Clichy.

Overall, 5.5.

Our defence was a constant source of weakness last year. It was unable to deal with set-pieces and aerial threats, it constantly looked poorly organised, and it seemed to be able to let teams score with their own shot on goal - quite the party trick. Organisation and steel is needed, as is a decision regarding whether Gallas and Kolo are compatible. Because even if we get a few goal-scoring midfielders in, their impact will be blunted if we continue to concede so cheaply.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What's a Hleb worth? Ribery and Reo-Coker

A predictably controversial league-table of player rankings in the Premiership was released in The Times today. Here are the full-rankings. Here is the methodology.

It's hard to argue with all of it. Gilberto was certainly - as I will be discussing later in the week - our player of the season. I would also rank Jens as the second best premiership goalkeeper. Whilst it's slightly harsh to rank him as our worst player, I think that Freddie's position goes someway to showing what a poor season he's had. One wonders how far up the table RvP would be if he'd been able to play 75%+ of the season. The low-quality of our right-backs is also justifiably emphasised.

Indeed, the main controversy lies with one player: Msr Hleb's position as our third best premiership player this season, and the tenth-best overall Premiership player.

While the statistics certainly overstate the case (he's not better than Cesc, obviously) what I do think the table shows is how undervalued Alex is to the team. Ok, so to say he doesn't like shooting would be an understatement, as would be that he does give the ball away on occasion. But he often loses the ball trying to drive the team forward, and his abilities as a tackler and a battler are often uncommented on. I've often said he's the master of the 'secondary assist', the defence splitting pass which leads to an assist - passes which are absolutely crucial to goals. I always thought he's an asset to the team and an underrated player, not just in terms of our own side but in the Premiership as a whole. I'm sure he can help us win things, even if a few more goals would be nice.

In terms of transfer rumours, the Franck Ribery signing has re-emerged as a possibility, after last week when it appeared his sale to Bayern was a done deal. I'm not entirely convinced he will answer our current problem of a lack of goals from midfield, but he clearly has quality to him. I'm not sure we need another technically-gifted yet low-scoring midfielder, and I expect him to sign for Bayern on completion of Hargreaves' sale to United.

Finally, Nigel Reo-Coker has, apparently, eyed up either us or United as potential destinations, after reportedly handing in a transfer request. At most, he would be a vastly expensive replacement for Flamini, and we can get far more for the amount we'd have to pay. Moreover, do we really players of his character? Egotistical charlatans more concerned with collecting 'Baby-Bentleys' the grafting on the pitch? I think not.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Season Review: The Year of False Dawns

A bank holiday weekend seems a good time to start the Goonerboy season review. Today, part one: a general review. This will be followed by some player ratings later in the week.

So why false dawns? Because this season has been absolutely chocked full of them. When? Well, how's about Baptista's four goals at Anfield. Adebayor's winner at Old Trafford. Henry's last gasp goal against United in January. The 3-1 drubbing of the Pool in the Cup at Anfield, followed by the victory against Bolton in the fourth-round replay. Perhaps even the 'easy' draw against PSV in the Champions League.

Put simply, there have been several moments over the course of the year where we've looked like a trophy-winning team; and by that I meant trophies within the actual season, not just victories at some indeterminate future date. But these moments, these 'false dawns' have been followed by crushing medicority and, well, failure.

I've talked about the 'false idols' of Anfield before - Baptista and Aliadiere - but, if nothing else, they were crucial to our only real success this season - reaching and almost beating Chelsea in the Carling Cup final. What followed that false dawn was the realisation that Baptista and Aliadiere are not, actually, very good. And our, understandable, inability to turnover a senior Chelsea team in Cardiff.

The two encouraging victories in the FA Cup were followed by two damp squibs of a performance against a Blackburn team we should have beaten. We didn't and the pain-fest that was the FA Cup final followed.

The 'easy' draw against PSV was followed by two of our worst performances of the season and our defeat to a very ordinary team, the type we must overcome easily if we're serious about winning the Champions League. Our exit in the Champions League ended what I called a 'make or break week' for the club, with the Carling Cup final, FA Cup replay and PSV 2nd leg all in one week. Needless to say we broke.

And finally, our enigmatic victories over United in the League. These were, for me, the undoubted highlight of the season; the atmosphere at the end of the match at the Grove was particularly incredible, the majority not only staying til the end but singing the team off with all their might.

But then what followed? Lots of games we dominated, should have won, but didn't. Away matches we lost, in which we either didn't turn up or were thumped. The lowlight of the season came in one of these games, a 4-1 thumping at Anfield were we looked out of ideas and like a bunch of boys against men.

The season has been disappointing because it promised so much; a kind of positive in a way. The end of last season was marked by our, almost, triumphant Champions League run, and stealing fourth place on the last day. This year we treaded water in the league for about three months. All the hope from last season evaporated at a painfully early stage.

Our squad this year was good enough to get a top four league position this year and no more. For me, that's not good enough. Yes, we've had injuries, and pretty devastating ones at that - which teams wouldn't suffer from losing players of the calibre of Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie - but there seems to me a horrible gnawing feeling that the problems run slightly deeper.

Our play seems as one dimensional as ever; we don't have enough goalscorers in the squad; there is virtually no coherence in our defence; we still don't have enough experienced players in the squad.

For me, we need a few new players. Attacking goalscoring wingers, not just converted central midfielders, are critical; a right back which can both defend and go forward would be nice; a replacement for the Beast who isn't a still pretty inexperienced 19 year old would be welcome; a dominating, tall centre-back should also be an option (if Arsene no longer has faith in Senderos). But who among us is really confident Arsene will spend this summer?

Overall, and even if our squad isn't significantly added to, we still have a fine, and in some cases exceptionally good, set of player. Hopefully, the promise of last season can be realised last year; but, as I've suggested, I think the squad needs strengthening.

Anyway, here's hoping we see a few more headers like Thierry's, and an absence, if possible, of those from the Alexs of this footballing world; a season of actual achievement, not just the promise of it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The ticket problems in Athens should concern all clubs, Poom/Hleb/Torres

I can't help but give a wider focus to today's entry in light of the events in Athens, because what took place there surely effects, or should effect, all football fans, and in particular those who attend games across Europe. Namely, the problem that is Uefa's inability to properly organise show-piece European football matches.

As far as I can tell, this was the situation. An 80,000 capacity stadium was reduced to 63,000, partly due to certain rows being affected by large advertising hoardings. Of the remaining tickets, only 34,000 were given to supporters of the two clubs. Of these, only 11,000 were put on something resembling general sale to Liverpool supporters.

At least 40,000 Liverpool supporters descended on Athens and were faced with a stadium with no turnstiles, with inadequate ticket checks, and with, yet again, a police force who seemed only too happy to fire tear gas and bash people over the head, with the slightest, or even without, any provocation.

Thousands of ticket-holding supporters were locked out of the ground and understandably angry; thankfully the Liverpool end was shut before it became dangerously overcrowded. In short, we should all be grateful that a disaster was averted.

Now Liverpool and its fans must share some culpability. Fans who rushed gates and got into the stadium were endangering themselves and their fellow fans and the club should have put more tickets on sale to its supporters.

But Uefa must take the lions share of the blame.

Firstly, and in a move reminiscent of the allocation in our final last year, taking over half the ground for corporate supporters or 'neutrals' is obscene. Ok, it's their competition; but clubs and their supporters should always come first. Not the prawn sandwich brigade. If you give out ludicrously small allocations to massive fan bases, don't protest innocence when all hell breaks loose.

Secondly, when will Uefa learn that regardless of their desire to give as many countries as possible the chance to host these occasions, put simply, many are not able to properly host games such as these. Their stewards aren't good enough; their police are overly heavy handed; their grounds can't deal with the requirements of thousands of ticketless fans descending upon them.

So, while Uefa are undoubtedly correct to criticise the behaviour of Liverpool fans, what did they expect to happen in the circumstances? 30,000 ticketless fans to play nice?

Increase ticket allocations to fans; train stewards and riot police to a general European standard of how to monitor and police these games; ensure stadiums are adequate to control the movement of fans in and out of them. That really shouldn't be too much to ask in the early 21st century. I say this because next year, when we hopefully reach the final, the game is at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and I have fears about how the Russian police will deal with a situation like the one that arose in Athens. Uefa have to note and deal with the crowd problems that have arisen in this year's competition, not just lash out and blame fans for the organisation's own shortcomings.

Anyway, rant over.

Bits and bobs continue to float about regarding us, some more concrete than others. It would seem that the Mart 'Poomenator' Poom will be leaving this summer, with Watford as a possible destination. Lest we forget, Mart has been a very loyal servant of the club, and technically has a 100% clean sheet record in the Premiership. 1 out of 1 to be precise. heh.

Elsewhere, the first ludicrous swap deal of the summer has emerged, with Tribal Football contending that Hleb and Ljunberg + cash = Fernando Torres. While I would dearly love for us to get hold of a player of Torres's quality, it's pretty unlikely that this is going to happen. Hleb, even if you're a Hleb-hater, is not going anywhere this summer. And even if Freddie should be, and Reyes was used a makeweight in such a deal, I'm not holding my breath.

Finally, as Ade has had his supension from the Togolese national team lifted, we seem to be resigned to losing him for all of next January. Why they have to hold the ACoN every 2 years is beyond me. Something Arsene should consider more when signing players?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

So long to the 'Beast', Bent, Bale, and Tony's dream

Reports from the Beast's mouth seem to confirm that it's so long and thanks for the couple of goals. You have to feel for the poor guy in a way, especially if he's deluded enough to think he 'adapted well' to English football. Injured on his arrival, never able to get into the team when he did build up some form, and then expected to be our main goalscoring threat for the second half of the season. I should imagine that he won't be at Real for too long; they'll probably flog him to a mid-table Spanish team, or even back to South America, post-haste.

Arsene is out in Madrid at the moment, which led to an unusually panicky post from Blogger regarding Cesc's future. While I share his belief that Cesc will be back playing in Spain at some point in the future, I think he'll stick with us for a few years yet, if not the entire 8 of his current 'monsta monsta' contract. Hopefully it was just a quick plate of tapas and a little bit of chit chat while he was out there.

A player who Arsene has undoubtedly been discussing while in Madrid is Senor Reyes. Hopefully Atletico will be willing to take him off our hands, for somewhere in the region of £10 million. A line needs to be drawn under that saga, as it's clear that Jose does not want to return.

One player we've been linked with today is Darren Bent. I remember last season dismissing, rather pompously, any suggestion that we should sign Andy Johnson, who then went on to bag rather more goals than some of our strike force this year. Bent is young and proven in the Premiership. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to see him go to Liverpool or United this summer. He'll be expensive, but not as much as many seem to be suggesting, and if he's a proven goal-scorer in the Premiership, doesn't that make him, well, worth it?

Gareth Bale is, according to the BBC website, having a medical with the Spuds as we speak. Such a waste of talent if this is true.

Tony Adams has stated that it is his dream to manage Arsenal. Maybe so. But It's my dream to play no10 for Arsenal; dreams don't always come true. Frankly, his record in management has been abysmal, and his post-career conduct with the club has left a lot to be desired. Maybe in ten years time he'll have proven himself as a top-level manager, but I think it's unlikely.

Predictably last night's match was nothing like the last one. Liverpool dominated the first half yet went in behind at half-time after a flukey sucker-punch of a goal. Benitez has to hold his hands up and admit culpability rather than angrily demand transfer funds. If players of the ilk of Zenden, Bellamy, Pennant (who I actually thought played OK) and Crouch aren't good enough then he only has himself to blame. He bought them for no small amounts of cash. Playing 4-5-1 with Kuyt up front also left Liverpool with no bite in the final third. Indeed, their dominance of possession and inability to score was eerily reminiscent of many of our matches this year. In some ways, Benitez over thought his own plans.

Anyway commiserations to them; we all know what it's like to lose a final 2-1. And that Milan are even in the competition this year borders on a disgrace. Calcio, eh? Bloody hell.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Oh for it to be a year today... and contracts, contracts, contracts.

Or, to be more precise, for it to be May 15 2006. Or to be even more precise, any moment on that day before Mr Eto'o and co. decided to break the hearts of Gooner's around the globe.

It's hard to know what to expect from tonight's match. Those promoting the match have, of course, hyped it up as the mother of all re-matches, with action from that memorable 3-3 disgorged all over the TV at the moment. What they didn't show were the turgid, boring performances these two have often knocked out over the years in the Champions League. Anyone remember Milan's victory in 2003? I'd rather not. And the standard of play in the recent Chelski Liverpool semi was hardly scintillating.

Benitez is a very astute tactician and my money is on him playing conservatively, hoping to squeeze out a 1-0 against a Milan side who are likely to give little away. It might be a game where both managers try to nullify the others most dangerous player: expect to see Gattuso snapping at Gerrard's ankles, and Mascherano sticking to Kaka like the proverbial glue. The victors in those contests could decide the match.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Benitez play Gerrard, Mascherano and Alonso together, with possibly only one up-front, lining up his team in a 4-1-3-1-1. If he does, the game will be very tight and cagey; and not necessarily enjoyable.

Who knows, maybe Milan will score and the game will open up; we'll have to wait and see.

In Arsenal related news, it's been a week or so of new contracts. Ade, Eboue and Bendtner have all been handed the customary 'long-term deals', effectively ruling us out of any purchases in the right-back or forward area this summer.

Bendtner should become Baptista's replacement and he's a player with a lot to prove. Despite his goals, I've seen some distinctly middling performances from him at Birmingham. He's clearly got something to him, but whether it's the ability to really perform at a top four club is questionable. And don't believe for a minute the stories of him being linked to Milan or other top sides: those all emanate from his agent, who is also his father. I would say his 'signing' probably means we won't go into the market for a new striker. When fit, we have a pretty decent quartet of strikers now in Henry, RvP, Ade and Bendtner. Here's hoping they can actually stay fit, this year.

Eboue also needs to step up next season. No-one is questioning his ability to get forward and be an attacking threat, but his defensive abilities are still far too suspect for my liking. Maybe he can learn from Clichy and improve this year. Either way, and despite his frequent theatrics, Arsene clearly has a great deal of faith in Manu.

Elsewhere we've, predictably, signed a young, unknown player to potentially be Jens's successor. Whether Fabianski can do this or not is anyone's guess; he could be the new Petr Cech or the new Richard Wright. It would be nice if just once we bought in some established talent.

There are a few stories floating around regarding potential transfer targets. Michael Owen has been mooted but I really don't think Arsene would go for him now. I should imagine Owen will have to stay at Newcastle for at least one more year to show some gratitude for the support the club has given him thusfar. Other than that it's the usual mix of unknown French midfielders, with Gareth Bale throw in on top (so to speak).

I still think we need more players but very little seems definite at the moment. If I get any HOT rumours I'll let you know. And hopefully my website won't break down in the process....

Monday, May 14, 2007

Neither Baptista nor Arsenal good enough as season finally comes to an end.

So here we are finally, the polar opposite to the end of last season. No fireworks displays; no thrilling comebacks; no Henry; no Champions League final. Just turgid, wasteful football, played by a bunch of youngsters and underachievers.

And it had to be him as well, didn't it. It had to be Baptista stepping up to cap off his extraordinarily poor season . Three out of three penalty misses is no mean fit for a player supposedly worth over £10 million, perhaps even £15 million. And in many ways, Baptista is the iconic figurehead of our season: over-hyped, profligate in front of goal, wasteful in possession, and, more than anything, not coming anywhere near the hopes we had last May. You have to feel for the guy - I certainly don't think it's from lack of trying that he's been so poor this year - but it must be recognised that he's been no where near the required standard. And even if he leaves, which he must, who's the replacement going to be? An exciting, proven goalscorer? An Eto'o, or even a Huntelaar? No, I should imagine it will be Bendtner, who has hardly set the Championship on fire this season, despite the statements from his publicity hungry agent/father.

I read back through some of my posts from June/July last year, and there was a real buzz and hope for this season. Unfortunately, the performance yesterday encapsulated much of the frustrating, and, it has to be said, pretty average football we've seen from the team this year. Why send out such a weakened team? It was almost an insult to the fans who'd travelled down to watch the game. We could have snatched third place yesterday, with Liverpool only able to draw against Charlton, but it was hard to see how we could have beaten Portsmouth, let alone score a goal, with the personnel we put out yesterday.

It looks like there will be a clear out this summer, but my concern remains that we won't buy proven quality to replace the outgoing players. Yesterday was not a one-off, and even taking into account injuries, it shows the lack of depth in the squad. The bench might as well have been for the under-18s side, and it was hardly surprising that Arsene didn't delve into it.

So another season of transition ends, but the return of the club to a position where we can really challenge for trophies hardly seems that much closer. Perhaps, with Henry, RvP, and Rosicky all fully fit and firing on all cylinders, things might be different next year. But I think we need some new players of proven quality in the mix. Otherwise we could be in for a few more days like yesterday.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Nike's new advertising campaign insults Arsenal's history

No, that's not a photoshop picture. That's the new logo for the Nike advertising campaign, soon to be unleashed upon us.

Now, call me a sceptic, but I very much doubt Nike can communicate with the dead. Who knows, maybe they can; maybe Derren Brown is actually, secretly, a Nike employee.

But, apparently, they can tell what Herbert Chapman would want for our club, or at least what he have approved.

What's the best way to launch an innovation? Dress it up and package it as tradition. So when Nike release their new -and I'm pretty sure it must be white - away kit on us in a few weeks time, they have appropriated a legendary figure from our past, on the basis of the fact he also altered the kit and introduced revolutionary measures that pushed the club forward.

So Nike now as much as what's good for the club as Mr Chapman did. But why stop there? Nike obviously care about our club as much as he did. Why don't they do away with the red and white shirts as well? Why don't they bring out a pink polka-dot away shirt that looks really nice with distressed jeans when you're out with your mates having a pint.

All in the name of progress! All in the name of profit! That's what I say.

This was the essential point I made in my protest against the white shirt last week. Nameless suits working for big corporations who care nothing for the club, aside from the money they can make from it, are trying to milk us for all we're worth, and eroding the few traditions we have left. And in doing so, they're launching propaganda efforts, such as the one above, to win over the weak-minded.

So, fine. If you think it looks pretty, go out and buy the new white shirt. But I'm sick of these people miking our club for their financial ends, and appropriating figures from our history as they see fit. I won't by the shirt if its not yellow, and I hope you don't either, because I think the issue is larger than the shirt.

Arsenal 1 - Chelsea 1: Schadenfreude is not enough.

I expected a niggly, frustrating game full of snide challenges and I guess that's exactly what we were served up at the Grove yesterday, in a match and atmosphere full of venom.

Coming up the steps to the stadium, it was clear the crowd were up for this one: inflatable mobile-phones were in abundance, as were chants relating to Msr. Cole. It's a shame that it took a pretty visceral hatred of one of our ex players to motivate the crowd into an atmosphere, but there you go.

Indeed, real enmity was palpable yesterday. Whether it be the chants of 'Liv-ah-poool' coming from the Arsenal fans or the 'que sera, sera' chants from the Chelsea fans; whether it be Steve Clarke making gestures of 'zero' (trophies) to the Arsenal fans as he trooped off the field, or Mourinho, Lampard or Terry all 'clapping' the Arsenal fans' hail of abuse as they exited; whether it be Terry spitting abuse at the referee at any given opportunity and Lampard niggling and winding up the opposition (particularly Cesc) from the get-go; whether it be Arsenal fans celebrating at the end, not jubilant at our team winning, but at preventing Chelsea from a league triumph.

It was all rather pathetic. We can mock Chelsea for a lack of class, and they have little - Terry is possibly the most despicable individual to captain the national team in my life-time, and his manager's actions at the end perhaps only emphasise why so many people revelled in Chelsea's failure yesterday - but to revel in the misfortune of others - schadenfreude - makes us little better than those Spurs fans who celebrate every draw against us like a title winning moment. Our club, and our fans, should be better than that.

Somewhere amongst this a scrappy game of football was played; not one I particularly wish to dwell upon, I must say.

We started with a four central midfielders playing in midfield, one of which - Denilson - who we hadn't seen for some time. Why Wenger decided that now would be the moment to drop/rest Hleb is beyond me. A game like this would be the ideal forum for his trickery, and whilst he bottled one chance at the end, he had another effort well saved by Cech, and he created opportunities against a stretched Chelsea back line.

The BBC described Chelsea's performance as 'remarkable', and they certainly showed a great spirit to maintain some form of cohesion throughout the second half. They didn't deserve to win, however, and what was more remarkable (or predictable) was our inability to put the game to bed. We spurned chance after chance - Adebayor and Gallas being particularly culpable - and whilst our midfield quartet played some lovely football, it was another case of profligacy coming home to haunt us. Predictably, after missing our chances, we let Chelsea back into the game and they took their chance with a professionalism that emphasises why they're above us in the league this year. And had it not been for a superb save by Jens in the dying moments, it could have been worse.

Chelsea didn't look particularly special, but defended and harried well. Mikel looks a real prospect and Essien was excellent, again. What I wish, and what I think puts Chelsea down in so many persons estimation, is their constant gamesmanship, their constant sniping. Kicking the ball away at free-kicks, throwing the ball past players instead of too them when free-kicks are conceded, feigning injury, harrying the referee, constant fouling: it's all there and Wiley did very little, aside from the deserved sending off, to deal with it. Undoubtedly, Cesc will be pilloried for throwing the ball at Lampard - but he had thrown the ball at him to start with, and Lampard seemed the more interested in continuing and exacerbating the Carling Cup spat. But then I suppose Lampard is English and Cesc is Spanish, so I doubt the media will do anything aside from absolve Lampard of any sins, yet again.

So, in some ways, it was obviously delightful to stop this current Chelsea side from winning the league. They play dull, financially 'doped' football, full of gamesmanship and devoid of any real flair.

But schadenfreude is not enough. In two years we've sunk to the level of our great rivals, revelling in the failures of our, presently, more successful neighbours.

I stayed and clapped the team during their post-match, post-season 'lap of celebration/thanks/something' but that the stadium was half-empty said a lot. We must do better next year. We need new players and perhaps some fresh ideas. But more on that in the weeks to follow, I hope.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Resist the monstrous white kit!

You've probably seen this over on Arseblog already, but I thought I'd add my own slice of vitriol to the matter.

Quite simply, this will not do. I'm sick and tired of Nike and the other myriad corporations running modern football disregarding history and the desire of most football fans in the pursuit of a quick buck.

Yes, we hardly kicked up a fuss when 'Fly Emirates/O2/JVC etc' was plastered over the shirt and now stadium, even if I wish they weren't there. Yes, we may have played a few seasons in a white shirt before (although I would like someone to actually supply me with dates on this). Yes, from an objective viewpoint, the shirt is aesthetically not awful. And Yes, I did, as I knew it would only be a one-off, buy the redcurrant shirt.

But I want yellow. I want the colour of Arsenal's truly historic away kit. Ok, for the last few years we've played in Blue (didn't like), Green (no-one liked) and, apparently, white.

But I want the colour Charlie George had on when he scored in 71; the colour Sunderland and Brady wore in '79; the colour Thomas wore at Anfield in '89; the colour Overmars, Wiltord (essentially) and Adey wore in our recent victories up at OT; the colour Thierry wore as he ripped apart the Madrid defence last year. The real colour of The Arsenal when we're away from home.

I would prefer Yellow and Blue, naturally, but Yellow (predominantly) and the recent grey/black has been acceptable. Other colours are not Arsenal colours: they are nike colours. Do not forget this.

There will be many on here who undoubtedly think 'I quite like the kit' or 'it's only a kit' or 'you're living in the past maaan'. But the colours of the club are its most basic call to arms, the visible, essential means of uniting its fans to its players: they are a massive part of the way a club defines itself.

Arsenal in all white? No thank you. What team is that? I wouldn't recognise them.

Remember: our famous green kit failed due to low sales. I urge you, if you care at all about maintaining the few traditions we have left at the club, DO NOT BUY THIS KIT. That's the only language Nike understand.

It's funny really. I was quite up for buying the away kit this year. Oh well, let's hope Nike see sense, or that this isn't actually the kit.