Tuesday, December 23, 2008

With Cesc's injury, if Arsenal don't buy they will not qualify for the Champions League next season.

I did wonder when I first heard the news whether the injury would be worse than first feared. The words 'knee' and 'ligaments' rarely equate to weeks; months are usually the order of the day, especially given our medical department. So it was no surprise to find out today that Cesc has been ruled out for the next four months, undoubtedly missing our Champions League encounters with Roma.

So, what's happened to our midfield? The midfield that took us to the top of the table last year was Hleb, Flamini, Cesc, Rosicky. Rosicky, unsurprisingly, soon became injured and I have my doubts about whether he'll ever play for the club again. Flamini messed us around over his contract all year and screwed us over at the eleventh hour, in an entirely predictable turn of events, to join the rossonieri. And Hleb buggered off to Barca.

So of a midfield that could have won trophies, some of them probably won't play for us again this season (wait and see Cesc and Rosicky's injuries suddenly extend when they're due back) and others no longer play for the club at all.

And what have we been left with? A mix of mediocrity, dross and alleged potential. We have Denilson who is neither good nor bad; Song who has the potential to be a good holding midfielder, in about five years time; and Diaby who infuriates far more than he pleases with his multitude of touches and spins and dopiness.

Added to that we have Eboue (no comment), Nasri who, hopefully, will pick up less injuries and start contributing a bit more consistently to games, and the kids: Ramsey, Wilshere, Vela, Randall, Merida, etc. Should we really be in a situation when we're relying on 16/17/18 year olds to come in and make an immediate impression? I don't think so.

Ultimately then, our midfield isn't good enough; and I don't think it'll massively improve in the short-term. As such, we're in real danger of coming 5th or worse this season, unless we get some proven talent into the squad.

This entire situation was entirely predictable when we lost players and didn't replace them, or, more to the point, replaced them inadequately. How many times do we have to say it? Losing Flamini, Hleb, Gilberto, and Diarra, hoping Cesc can play every game in a season, and relying on Diaby, Denilson and Song to step up and do a job is pure foolishness. Our midfield was perilously weak already, and just became, perhaps, fatally weaker.

We need players who come in and do a job now
not later. Not young players from the French and African leagues; experienced players, perhaps even from the, wait for it, Premiership.

We could spend £30 million in the transfer window and get our season back on track. Buying 2 or 3 players for £10m each can only improve the squad. Or we could continue to put our faith in this hodge-podge of mediocrity and potential and hope for the best.

What's even more galling is that with a slightly better squad we would be top of the what's been a very poor league this season. The other clubs in the top four are stuttering, and yet we've not taken advantage of this at all.

So, here it is: merry Christmas Arsene and Arsenal fans everywhere.

Let's hope Arsene brings some presents or it could be a bleak new year.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Arsenal won't win a match in which Diaby-Denilson-Song all start in midfield.

It was a bit of a rubbish game, all in all. Some nice early passing yielded little, with Diaby blasting wide when he should have passed to Ade, then shooting straight at the keeper when he was played in himself.

But, we took the lead from a Fabregas-Adebayor corner combination, and it looked like things actually might go our way; until Jeremie 'I only score against Arsenal' Alililliliadiere scored after sloppy defending from Clichy, Song, and Gallas.

After that, aside from a Stuart Downing effort, we dominated, but with little reward. Robin van Persie continued to show his 'enigmatic side', shall we say, by missing a host of easier chances than the two he put away against Chelsea a few weeks ago. Consistently inconsistent, at least, which I suppose just makes him a player who consistently can't produce the goods week-in, week-out.

It was all rounded off by Bendtner blasting the ball straight at Turnball, when Adebayor was practically waiting in the area with a ten-foot billboard above his head which said 'IF YOU PASS TO ME I WILL SCORE'. It certainly didn't smell of team spirit.

So, what does this match tell us?

Firstly that, again, Arsene is fantasising when he talks about us finishing in first place. This will not happen, despite the fact that if we were even a little bit better we could be making a real fist of it this year. United, Chel$ea and Pool all dropped points this weekend but we made up no ground on them. Just think, if we'd beaten Stoke, Hull and Fulham we'd now be top of the league. Really think about that for a minute. We're not first now, and without major signings, we won't be first come May.

Secondly, when any three of Diaby-Denilson-Song-Eboue start in midfield for us, we will not win. There is a chance, although with every week I watch them I wonder how great this chance is, that these players might make it and turn into great players, but at the moment they are neither offensively nor defensively strong enough to boss games. They are a sea of dross with the island of Fabregas's quality floating among them. His face after the game said a thousand words about what he thinks about the quality that surrounds him at present.

Thirdly, that, without signings, this is our level. Maybe a draw in the north-east is a good result for a team which is realistically aiming for fourth, not first place.

Lastly, Arsene's post-match comments are getting weirder and weirder. To say that it was a good result because 'we might have lost this game at the beginning of the season' is to imply that he knew how weak our squad was in September; which may well have been the case, but simply shows he failed to do his job over the summer of constructing a squad strong enough to compete for the league this year.

So, all we can do is crawl through to January where reinforcements have to come in. Because if not, we are looking at fifth place.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Ebooing has been a long-time coming, and was a reflection of a wider malaise amongst fans.

The Ebooing has been a long time coming, and it was evidence of wider problems.

In other circumstances we’d be talking about how the team had managed to dig out an unconvincing win, much like the one which opened the season against west brom. We scored early, had a few chances to clinch the match, let the opposition work their way back into the contest, and in the end were largely reliant on the other team’s deficiencies in front of goal, rather than our own strengths, to see the game out.

But the incident which dominated the game, and discussions of it subsequently, was Eboue’s performance, substitution and the reaction to both.

When Nasri went down injured, in many ways Eboue was the logical choice. He was the only one on the bench with any real premiership experience, and does offer a degree of defensive solidity. Those questioning why Wilshere, Ramsey or Vela didn’t come on in this situation are probably underestimating how close the game was when Nasri went off. Ironically, Arsene probably wanted to protect his real youngsters from being over-exposed to a potentially precarious situation.

This goes somewhat against Arsene’s own statements about how much he trusts these youngsters, and also against the fact that Ramsey has looked better than Denilson, Diaby and Eboue in the appearances he’s made so far this year.

Even given the fact he’d been out for 5 weeks, and that he was being played out of position on the left, Eboue’s subsequent performance was one of awesome ineptitude. He gave the ball away repeatedly, drifted around the pitch at leisure, and offered nothing going forward. His performance was capped by a tackle on Kolo Toure and an instinctive cross-field pass to the Wigan midfield.

Now, anyone who’s watched Eboue play regularly over the last couple of years will not have been surprised by this. Eboue, at best, is a half-decent link player: he can spread the ball sideways and backwards over a fairly short/medium distance. He doesn’t score goals; he doesn’t make too many tackles; he doesn’t have a huge range of passing, let alone that of a ‘pass-master’ as Arsene once bizarrely stated; nor is he anything like Ray Parlour, neither in ability nor effort, to whom Arsene once compared him.

So, his performance, though awful, was the culmination of 3 years of overwhelmingly awful performances.

This in itself probably wouldn’t have led to booing – I don’t really remember Justin Hoyte getting booed for a catalogue of errors last season.

No, Eboue was booed for his attitude; or, at least, the attitude he emits when he’s on the field. The Eboue who dives; who rolls around feigning injury, even when we’re losing; who acts like opposing players are his best friends; who shows no tactical discipline, wandering around up the field and out of position, leaving our flanks exposed; the one who ambles around like he hasn’t got a care in the world. The one, in short, who doesn’t play with a respect for the standards Arsenal fans have for their players.

When his number came up on Saturday, a large section of the crowd showed that they’d had enough of Eboue. It was a cry against the seemingly unthreatened mediocrity in the squad at the moment, and against players who don’t seem to understand what football and Arsenal means to the thousands of fans who follow the team every week.

It was also a cry against Wenger for allowing the situation to come to this. Wenger clearly sees something in Eboue, but how many other people do? No matter how badly he plays, no matter what he does on the field, he always seems to keep his place in the squad or the team. Thankfully, we now have sagna at RB, but Eboue is still too often played to a negligible or even detrimental effect. Eboue has put so many awful performances over the years that it was a cry at Wenger to see what the majority of Arsenal fans have realised: that Eboue isn’t good enough to play for the club.

But he’s one of a handful of players, to my mind, which encapsulate the mediocrity at the club at the moment. Denilson, shoved out on the right, hasn’t impressed this season, yet one gets the impression that Arsene will persist with him come the new year, instead of buying the defensive midfielders and wide-players we’re crying out for. Diaby keeps on being given chances, despite offering little in return. Alex Song seems to be improving, but is too young and inconsistent to be regularly anchoring our midfield, at least at this stage in his career, to my mind.

Arsene has fed us a series of great players and teams over the years, but now he seems to be too stubbornly attached to a collection of players, especially midfielders, who would have got no-where near his earlier title winning sides. At the moment, Cesc is an island of quality in a sea of dross, and it seems inconceivable that we could not have added more quality to the midfield over the summer. In many ways, therefore, the booing was a rejection of Arsene’s current policy of persisting with an ostensibly untouchable collection of youths at the club, which has failed to produce a team capable of winning silverware for too long a period of time, given the club’s resources.

Moreover, Arsenal fans are shelling out some of the highest ticket prices in the world for a team which costs a pittance to construct. If Arsene’s not going to actually buy expensive players, then fine, but shouldn’t this be represented in the cost of tickets? At the moment Arsenal supporters are being treated like customers of a business by the club, who then act shocked when they don’t behave like fans.

So my reaction to the booing is equivocal. I’m not going to say the behaviour of those who booed was acceptable, because supporters should back the club whenever and wherever possible. But when fans are charged a fortune to watch an obstinate manager continue to play someone like Eboue, despite all the evidence pointing to the fact he is a poor player who embarrasses the club with his antics, don’t be surprised if things turn a little nasty. Football is an emotional game; sometimes emotions spill over.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Six things Arsenal can do to get out of this crisis.

I said after the Man United game that that win had to be the start of something bigger. It was, but unfortunately not in the manner we all had hoped for.

The club is now in crisis; it's as simple as that. Some might say that they'd quite like to be in a crisis like ours: still in all major competitions, and only 1 point away from securing champions league qualification again.

But that is not enough for fans who pay the highest ticket prices in Europe and deserve better than hollow promises about 'potential', nor for a club which has a massive stadium debt to be repaid and which, with the resources it has available to it, should have achieved more in the last few years.

So what can be done?

1) Don't blame Gallas for everything.

Yes, gallas made some exceedingly stupid comments recently. And, really he hasn't been the best captain in the club's history.

But until the Birmingham game last year, his captaincy appeared to be an inspired move by Wenger, as he scored crucial goals against his old club, the mancs and wigan and took us to the top of the table. All that ended during that horrible day in Birmingham.

It is wholly incorrect to lay the blame for the current fiasco at his door. He is still best central defender at the club and if he can swallow his ego, it'd be nice to think he could stay on, so we don't lose yet more experience from the side. If his ego continues to be a problem, however, it's time to go.

2)Make Arsene realise Arsenal is not a crèche.

Arsene's goal of taking a group of youngsters and developing them into a team was highly laudable; a beacon of decency, perhaps, in a footballing elite otherwise ruled almost absolutely by money.

But it hasn't worked. The plan would only have worked if players stayed on, year-in, year-out. But players have left and haven't been replaced, and we now have a wholly inadequate midfield, a patchy defence, and a misfiring attack.

I said before the game yesterday that if a midfield of Diaby-Song-Denilson-Nasri started, we wouldn't win, and we'd be lucky not to lose. That is a team of inexperience and inadequacy. Of the four only 1, Nasri, has showed anything to make me believe they will make it to be a top player.

Song is too lazy and over-confident; Diaby is lazy, offers no defensive-bite, and has but a few tricks to his name. Denilson might be a good squad player but is not good enough to be either a holding midfielder or a creative playmaker.

We need new central midfielders. This was clear in August. It was clear the minute we lost Flamini, Gilberto and Diarra. I don't care if these player's careers are 'killed', as Arsene puts it, if new blood is brought in. The club, not their career, is the most important thing.

3) If older players aren't good enough, get ones who are.

Robin van Persie. There's no denying the skill or the talent. But where's the consistency? Where's the work-rate, the off-the ball effort? Where's the ability to use anything but his bloody left-foot? At Eastlands he went missing, again. He increasingly appears as a luxury player in a team that can't afford luxuries, at the moment.

Almunia. Still not good enough. The mere thought of this pile of mediocrity being made captain astounds me. Two penalty saves in two years don't make up for all the saves he should have made, or for all the balls he should have claimed in the air.

Eboue. Another good start to a season; another reversion to type. Get gone.

Toure. I still think he has a future at the club but he should not be starting at the moment and that's worrying.

4) Buy in January; buy in the summer.

Given that rosicky and eduardo have been out for so long, it is perhaps justifiable to say that they will be like two new signings when they return, if they can reach recapture any of their previous form.

But we need another big, tall, centre-back (NOT SENDEROS). We need 1 if not two central midfielders. We could also do with a wide player, given theo's injury and eboue/Diaby as the alternative.

3-4 players need to get into the squad then, and 2-3 which can start contributing almost immediately. If this means paying top-dollar for premier-league players to do this, so be it. We have the money.

5) Wenger has til the end of next season to prove he can still challenge for silverware.

Wenger fucked up this summer. Intentionally, or through an inability to get transfer targets, he's left our squad in the shit.

We're not going to win the league this season, and we only have an outside shot at the Champions League. A FA Cup win, at this rate, would be a nice little bauble to get some good feeling going in the club.

But, if there are no trophies by the end of last season, and Arsene is still stubbornly sticking to youth over buying, his position has got to come under review.

6) Appoint a new CEO and end the take-over speculation.

The CEO is a no-brainer. Arsene needs someone to reign him in, and to help him get transfer targets. If Arsene doesn't like that, he needs to be told to put up and shut up. The club is in disarray at the moment both off and on the field, as we have no leadership in either area.

The speculation surrounding the club has to end. Either the fat Russian twat or the moustachioed American slightly less of a twat needs to buy or sell.

So, there you have it. None of these steps will be easy, but something has to give at the club at the moment. Because otherwise we may not qualify for the CL this season, let alone challenge for the title.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Will Tomas Rosicky ever play for Arsenal again? Will he ever play again?

Some disturbing news from Arsenal.com just before tonight's game:


Routine surgery for what? What injury is he recovering from now? The one he picked up in January which was meant to rule him out for only three weeks? Or the subsequent one, which was only diagnosed very late on, as several unsuccessful come-backs. I think one of his tendons had detached from his knee-cap, if I remember correctly, although so many conflicting statements have come out about Tomas's health, it's hard to know what's going on. Take the Czech doctor, who's claimed Tomas has been badly treated (in terms of expertise, not negligence) by Arsenal medical staff. Then there was also the story that Rosicky's muscles hadn't developed properly in his legs when he was young, making him more prone to injury. He even had his wisdom teeth taken out at some point as part of an effort to improve his overall health.

At the start of the season, he seemed to be still in Arsene's plans, but I'm beginning to wonder.

Pretty early on, when Rosicky's 'imminent return' kept on being delayed I said to my friends that Eduardo would play for Arsenal again before Rosicky.

I stand by that statement, but I would now add a rejoinder: I'm beginning to doubt whether Tomas will ever play football at a serious level again.

I sincerely hope he does, because he could certainly help bolster a young squad with his considerable talents. Yet I wonder if the signing of Nasri, and the fact Nasri has taken up a position on the left, make's him as much a replacement for Rosicky than Hleb.

At best, any involvement from Tomas should certainly be taken as a bonus this season.

Let's hope we see him in Arsenal colours again, but maybe it's time to really start fearing the worst.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

An epic win, but it needs to be the start of something bigger.

I suppose, given how roundly Arsenal had been written off this week in the media and blogosphere, that a win was nigh on inevitable on Saturday. It was a game which confirmed something evident about Arsene's Arsenal in the last few seasons: they can beat any team in Europe in a one-off match.

Things went our way in the game which haven't in other matches recently. Despite cutting open our defence on several occasions early on, Carrick and Rooney, surprisingly given his propensity to score against us, both missed the target when presented with fairly decent chances.

We, by contrast, not only showed a willingness to have a punt from long-range, but even managed to score from one. There was definitely a whiff of the Lampard-deflection-goal-machine in evidence for Nasri's first, but that's what you want to see in that situation. Hitting a ball into a crowded penalty box may result in it bouncing pinball style into the net; it's certainly worth a go every now and again.

There was no luck to Nasri's second effort though. The goal was just about a good a one as you'll see. Too often wonder goals are thought to be those like Bentley's against us - a lucky, if spectacular, hit and hope. To work the ball in the way we did before the goal was superb, and Nasri's finish was emphatic.

The boy is, clearly, pretty good. He may not have the box of tricks that Hleb had when it comes to dribbling. But he works hard, can beat players, can pass the ball to the level required in the side, and isn't afraid to have a shot. That's 4 goals he's scored now in less than 3 months. Hleb barely managed over 10 in 3 years. Ultimately, I think Sammy has that one quality Hleb lacked - bottle.

Samir's goal was followed by possibly the defining moment of the match. Park Ji-Sung floated a ball into the box, and Ronaldo volleyed wide from inside the 6-yard box. If the ball had gone in, I would have bet on United getting at least a point from the match. As it was, the miss seemed to emphasise it wouldn't be United's day.

Not that Howard Webb wasn't trying to help them as much as he could. A series of bizarre decisions in United's favour was capped by him turning down our penalty appeal when Nasri was hauled over in the area. It wasn't a huge tug, but it was enough, and if we'd gone 3 up at that stage, the remaining twenty minutes would have been a lot more comfortable.

As it was, we had to endure a series of rather meandering United attacks, capped by subsitute Rafael's superb volley to bring United back into the game with 6 minutes of injury time left to play.

Yet, we held out and deserved the points.

A lot of people have talked about how thrilling the game was, and I would say it was one of the best games I've ever seen.

What to make of it all is harder to say.

We played the much maligned 4-5-1, and this seemed to get the best out of Diaby and Denilson. Diaby marauded around to great effect in an attacking central midfield role without, perhaps, creating as much of a threat as he could have done. Denilson stroked the ball around well, and kept things ticking over, without really presenting the type of defensive bite we still need in the middle of the park.

Bendtner worked hard, and kept Ferdinand and Vidic on the back foot for most of the game; certainly no mean feat. His profligacy probably stemmed from the fact this was his first start in a game of this magnitude. He will get better.

The defence also seemed to work. Silvestre and Gallas would now appear to be our first choice CB pairing and it's hard to argue with that given Toure's disastrous recent drop in form. Silvestre seems to have improved the defence with his height and aerial expertise, showing just how weak we were in that department before.

Almunia made some excellent saves, yet still doesn't command his area, and his distribution can be erratic. His injury, the result of a very brave attempt to grab the ball from Carrick's foot, was the result of him spilling the ball from one of the few times he came out to try and claim the ball from a cross or corner.

So what has the game really taught us? That this team can beat the very best put in front of it; that we may have found a new CB partnership; that we would still be improved by a greater deal of bite in midfield; that Diaby has to play in the middle; that Nasri might just be a really great signing.

But does it show that the team are title contenders again? I'm not sure. If we haven't lost any more games before January, and remain within 3-6 points of the top, then maybe. But we need signings in the window even if that is the case, if we are going to really build on yesterday's result. In any case, it's nice to be proud of the team, and for Arsene to get some praise.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A win to paper over the cracks? Or a defeat to end the great experiment?

I don't normally like writing previews because I'm almost invariably proved wrong. That may sound a little arrogant, but once you start watching a certain level of football you like to think that you know what's going on.

So I think tomorrow's going to go one of two ways.

Arsenal may well lose heavily. Thankfully, I think the 6-1 was a one-off, we must have angered God in some way, moment of absolute awfulness. But the result which sticks in my mind equally is the 4-2 drubbing we received in 04/05 at Highbury. Whilst we took the lead in that game, some choice refereeing by Graham Poll(and let's not forget the equally awful Howard Webb is in charge tomorrow), and a couple of goals by a still emerging Ronaldo helped put pay to our title challenge that year.

In 2005 we had a great team on the way out; this year, we have a great team on the way in, if we're to believe Arsene.

The problem is, some of them just aren't that great; and, as painful as it may be to contemplate, I'm not sure they will become world-class. Players like Denilson, Song, Diaby, and Eboue just appear too erratic and, possibly, pampered to push on to really become the bedrock of a winning squad, let alone a first XI.

This could be extended to others in the team. Almunia - is he really good enough? Gallas and Silvestre - should they really be the future of our defence? Two players that other top-four sides have considered surplus to requirements?

It seems that we have a few really great players - Cesc, Sagna, Clichy – and a few who could go either way - Adebayor, van Persie, Nasri, and Theo. Aside from that, there’s a huge amount of filler in our squad, and that’s why we’re not going to challenge for the league this season, although a topsy-turvy Champions League run remains a possibility.

When you compare this to the United squad, who not only didn’t lose any significant players of the summer, but added a £30 million striker to their league and Champions league winning team, it’s hard to see how there can be any comparison.

But a one-off game can produce any result. And we beat United twice in 06/07, despite them having a far stronger team and a better season than us. And United aren’t stupid enough to think that they can pitch up at the Grove and walk a result there, even against a team which has lost to Stoke, Hull, and Fulham already this season, and which conceded four goals in its last league match at home. They may start cautiously, which could play into our hands.

So, there’s a chance that if we can frustrate United for long enough, a 1-0, or a 2-1 could be on the cards.

Let’s hope the latter happens – it’s certainly what a disciplined Pool side did against United a few weeks back. But if it does happen, let’s hope it’s not a win which papers over the cracks, which masks the deficiencies in the first xi and the squad this season. If we don’t strengthen in January, we will not win anything this season, regardless or not of whether we get a result tomorrow.

Flamini hasn’t been replaced, you could plausibly argue that neither has Sol, and we’re still short of the additional quality on top of that which cost us the league last year. Unfortunately, whether we win or lose tomorrow, the squad is still not good enough.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A rubbish formation, predictable goals, and Arsene's chickens come home to roost.

Well if Wednesday's game was an embarrassment, this was just pitiful. Arsenal were outplayed by a team that have laid bare their incredibly basic gameplay strategy on numerous occasions already this season, without so much as a whimper or much of an idea of how to get the better of them.

It's a shame that Clichy's first goal for the club will, and probably should, be forgotten in the midst of all this, but this was just about as bad a performance as we've seen in the Wenger era.

What have Stoke done several times already this season? Scored from long throw ins. I believe they've done this five times already this season. And do you think they might continue to try this against us, a team that can't defend high-balls into the box? Yes, yes they did. Did we seem ready for this? Of course not.

The first goal saw Almunia, again, no-where to be seen when a high-ball was put into the area (he's cost us a handful of goals in this way already this season), and Toure simply not bothering to jump and make a straight-forward header. Given that, one decent save aside, Almunia had a poor performance all round today, will he be dropped for Fabianski? Lehmann was dropped for two mistakes in two games last season, after all.

More pertinently, this goal was entirely predictable. Entirely. Yet as soon as the ball came into the area the team acted like they had no idea whatsoever how to clear the high-ball from a throw-in. It's either poor players, poor coaching, or both.

The decline of Toure is now also become a major issue. He's becoming a liability in the box and always seems to be on the verge of a mistake. His recovery pace was always his strong point, but without a big defender next to him to do the dirty work, he looks completely exposed. Silvestre, despite an impressive debut, does not appear to be the answer either. And Djourou, inexplicably, still isn't being given a chance.

Yet the real problem, all game, was the ridiculous team selection and formation. Arsene's tactics had almost ruined things against Everton last week, and here was a formation that, from the off, clearly wasn't going to work.

Picking 4 central midfielders doesn't work, unless they have exceptional quality and discipline to stay in their designated positions. Playing Song, Denilson, Fabregas and Diaby in one midfield wasn't going to work, and didn't. We had no attacking threat, until, like against Everton, Theo came on and offered some width, speed and danger.

So, the question has to be begged, why is Arsene persisting in these bizarre formations? Does he think quality players can play anywhere? Possibly, but most of ours certainly can't. Is he so enamoured with his success of turning Flamini into a great CM that he thinks he can do the same this year? Because Denilson/Diaby/Song aren't the answer in CM next to Cesc.

So not only does our midfield have no bite, but it had 4 players tripping over each-others toes, meaning that our best midfielder, Cesc, was, again, totally wasted.

And up front we had Ade, who decided he couldn't be arsed and limped off half-way through the second-half, RvP who lost his composure and was rightly red-carded for an absurd challenge on Sorenson, and Bendtner who doesn't appear able to play with Ade.

All Arsene's chickens have come home to roost. Any Arsenal fan could have said at the start of the season that we still didn't have a dominant CB, yet this was addressed by getting rid of Senderos and replacing him with Silvestre, which doesn't appear to have improved the situation at all. That Man U were willing to let him go should have spoken volumes.

We could all tell that selling/losing all our defensive midfielders would cost the team if they weren't replaced; and yet we were greeted by Denilson, Eboue and Song now 'sureing' up our midfield.

We all knew that a major reason behind our failure to win the league last year was that our squad was too thin. Yet we have barely replaced the players (in numerical terms) that we lost last season, and did not get the extra bodies we needed in over the summer.

I'm sorry Arsene, but the experiment must end; transition has turned into stagnation.

We need a new CEO who can tell you when you're wrong.

We need experienced players, not youngsters who gain 'experience' every time they lose.

We need a defensive coach, because we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and I'm beginning to wonder whether you can do anything about them.

The club needs a team that will challenge for honours, and justify the highest ticket prices in the Premiership, because building a team on the cheap and then charging huge fees to see it isn't fair on the average Arsenal fan.

Let's hope today is a wake-up call. But then, weren't we meant to wake-up after Hull, Fulham and the debacle on Wednesday? This could be a pivotal season in the history of the club.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Immaturity, bad substitutions and embarassement: Wenger doesn't have a league-winning squad.

I can't remember exactly who it was, but for argument's sake let's say its Cesc, as I'm pretty sure it was him.

You're 4-3 up against your biggest rivals, who've just pulled a goal back to bring themselves back into contention with about a minute or so to go. You have the ball near the half-way line. Do you

a) play a short pass to a team mate to maintain possession.

b) put your head down and try and run toward the corner flag.

c) try an ambitious cross-field pass to a player who's won bugger all in the air all night, which has a high chance of being intercepted, and which will lose your team possession, even though you only have to maintain it for about 90 more seconds.

We all know what the answer is. And for all Arsene's talk about how we were 'too negative' at 4-2, and should have pushed on for the 5th goal, I'd say exactly the opposite. We were immature, again. We couldn't professionally close-out a game we were, ostensibly, comfortably leading, again. We started celebrating before the final whistle, again.

When we threw that lead away against Liverpool, you thought some of the players might have realised that it's not over til the final whistle. Yet we had RvP doing party tricks with twenty minutes to go, and Alex Song coming on with a huge sloppy grin across his face. We had Cesc push Sagna away when he came over to try and keep the ball penned into the corner flag through a short-corner.

And we had the same disruptive substitutions. Maybe the reason for our negativety, Arsene, was that you took three attacking players on, and put 2, if not 3, mainly defensive players on.

Why not replace Ade, who'd done bugger all apart from score, with Bendtner, a player who could hold up play and keep the ball in the opposition half. Why not unleash Vela against tired Spud legs?

Instead, we had the chuckle brothers - Diaby and Eboue - come on, who didn't even seem to know where they were meant to be playing. And Song, who usually takes a while to get into the match, again shoved into an unfamiliar position.

Just like Birmingham away last season, we put on the wrong players, started to invite pressure on ourselves, and lost control of a game we were cruising. What does Theo have to do to finish 90 minutes?

Some of this shows the problems in the squad - we have too many journeymen players who can play anywhere without playing well. Eboue, after a brief moment of starting to look good at the start of the season, is back to his old tricks, strolling round the park like he doesn't have a care in the world. No-one knows where to play Diaby, and Song is a CB or Defensive CM, nothing else.

But there are greater problems with the squad. Even if Denilson played well yesterday, him and Cesc don't work as a partnership. He's not defensive enough, nor all-action enough. With Flamini playing yesterday, we would have walked the game. It's not a coincidence that Arsenal have started to conceded so many long-range shots, or goals resulting from them, this season, when we have no-one closing down the space between defence and attack. Sort it out Arsene - even you should know that if you lose three defensive midfielders in a season, and replace them with kids, it won't work.

So we have a hole at the heart of the team; and we also have instability at the back.

Almunia has done well this season, but should never have let in the first, and made a complete hash of the second. Clichy, outstanding all season, also had a 'Birmingham moment'. Let's hope he's not making a habit of them. Finally, do we have any working centre-back combinations? I can't think of any.

So, it's as you were. The game confirmed to me that we have players who need to be told to stop being so cocky - at least until they win something. That we have a team that can blow a lead against almost any team. That we can concede goals as easily as we can score them. That our goalkeeper isn't awful, but isn't as good as he should be. And that the failure to adequately recruit in central midfield will cost us the league this season.

This year will be about a cup run, if it's about anything. Last night made clear that inconsistent, immature, arrogant teams don't win league trophies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm back, but what to make of Arsenal's season thusfar?

Hello again. If you're wondering why I haven't been blogging, try moving from Scotland to London to Paris, with a trip to the US throw in, in the space of about a month. busy, busy, busy.

And a lot has happened since Bolton away.

I was there at both the Hull and Everton games, saw the Sunderland game, but only caught the highlights of the Fenerbache and West Ham matches. And here is what I make of it all.

This season's blip was meant to be at Fulham, but it's clear that with our squad we're going to struggle in quite a few matches this season. Matches in which Denilson, Song and Diaby can't impose themselves will see the rest of the team struggle. I thought this would happen only against the bigger teams but as Hull, Fulham, and even Sunderland have shown, our midfield can be overrun and we can be shut down by almost anyone, especially if Arsene insists on playing a 4-5-1 which congests the midfield and reduces our attacking threat in any case. Against Hull, we looked hopeless and a bit overconfident, against a hungry side who wanted to win far more than we did.

Moreover our defence still hasn't found its balance, but Silvestre might turn out to be a half-decent signing. Against Everton, seeing one of defenders do the no-nonsense stuff well - winning headers, hacking the ball clear - was a joy at times. No letting the ball soar over our heads, or seeing Gallas or Toure try to dribble from defence was very nice. But it's still hard to see how it all fits together. Will either Song or Silvestre actually displace Toure or Gallas? I'm not so sure, especially, as the hopelessly imbalanced starting line-up against Everton showed, Arsene can be his own worst enemy when it comes to picking the team .

But, we've done well to get three wins in the last week or so. A dire first half gave way to a very exciting second against Everton where we seized the initiative with some panache. The game against Fenerbache saw our attacking players star, but our defenders again made to look a bit out of sorts.

So keeping a clean sheet, and winning against West Ham was important, a game in which the importance of Adebayor to the team was hammered home.

But what to make of our season so far? Where is it going? It's too early to really say anything, but we can only afford to lose one, possibly two more games over the course of the whole of the rest of the season if we're serious about winning the league.

I don't think this will happen. We should have won it last year, and I don't think the team is as strong as last season, even if our squad could be with a few more central midfielders.

I actually think that our best hope comes in one of the cup competitions, where we can motivate ourselves for one big game at a time. If anything, the season has reminded me of the 2005/6 season a bit - inconsistent in the league, mixed with impressive CL performances.

The other matter to be resolved is why the club still hasn't appointed a new CEO or CFO. The club can't afford to lose executives and not replace them. Not having a seasoned negotiator in the transfer market may have cost us a few transfers this past summer.

So, I'm still not completely out of hopes, but I think this season may be a bit tough. If the team can find consistency after its early season bump, the league still might be an option, but as it is, cups might be the real source of hope this year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Denilson, Song, Eboue, Bendtner: who is this year’s Flamini?

An excellent three-points at the Reebok against a team that used to intimidate us, and who managed to put us on the back foot in the early stages of the game.

Despite opening brightly, and comprehensively out-passing Bolton, they took the lead through a goal which, again, asked questions of our ability to defend from set-pieces.

Designating blame is difficult. It appeared that Gallas lost Davies, but if we were employing a zonal marking system, should that not take some of the blame? Toure allowed himself, again, to be comprehensively out-jumped at the corner, whilst Almunia, as at Fulham, allowed himself to be boxed in on his line, and was no-where to be seen. Rather than heap blame solely on Gallas, perhaps we have to think more about how the team as a whole defends corners, whether the Gallas-Toure partnership really works, and whether Almunia has it in him to dominate at corners.

Anyway, despite falling behind we then conspired to play some of the best football I’ve seen from us in a long-time, passing and moving at a quite dizzying speed which, simply, Bolton could not live with. First Adebayor, then Song both hit the post, before Eboue nipped in (slightly offside it must be said) at the back post to put us ahead.

A second goal came after a beautiful series of passes saw Denilson play the ball across the goalmouth, fining Bendtner who finished neatly.

After that, we continued to pass and move nicely, with Almunia pulling off a couple of nice saves when called upon. Theo’s introduction saw him burst through and past the Bolton midfield (it was particularly gratifying to see Kevin Nolan unable to even foul Theo), before playing the ball to Ade, who set up Denilson for another decent finish.

So, it’s been 4-0, 1-1, and 3-1 from three tough away matches. I, for one, would certainly have taken two wins and a draw before this set of matches.

One of the most gratifying things about the last couple of games has been seeing several players proving their critics (which have included myself) wrong.

Theo, Denislon, Alex Song, Eboue and Bendtner all seem to have grasped the opportunity given to them, and have all been fantastic.

Eboue was, for large parts of the first half, our best player on the pitch and richly deserved his goal. He looked dangerous running with the ball and made a series of passes which cut Bolton open.

Denilson has really come on, in a way I wasn’t sure he had in him. He looks stronger, more tenacious, and has a touch of class to his play that Flamini didn’t have last season. Song, after impressing for Cameroon and Charlton, has looked excellent: composed on the ball, often merely playing the simple, important, engine-room stuff, whilst also having the air of a hatchet man to him.

Nicklas Bendtner also seems to be growing with each game, and confirming the promise that I saw in him back in the Emirates cup in 2007. He’s a very unselfish player, extremely clever and incisive on the ball, and he scores. At the moment, he’s offering more to the team than van Persie.

So which of the four will be this year’s Flamini: a player who suddenly goes from being on the fringes of things to being a central part of our team? It could be any of them; but let’s hope it’s all of them.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Enough is Enough: The UK Government has duty to stop any more dodgy takeovers of English clubs.

It's been a pretty sickening week for English football.

Geordies out on the streets complaining about a chairman who hires and sacks a local hero with impunity, after admitting he failed to do proper due diligence on the books of Newcastle before buying the club.

Abu Dhabi deciding, so it would seem, that Man City is nothing more to them than a vehicle through which they can publicise their Emirate. This is an place with an extremely questionable human rights record, which have already led some to ask for the FA to actually bother trying out the 'fit and proper' test on them. Today, news has emerged that Abu Dhabi now want to buy a smaller stake of the club, after finding out about the debts that the lovely Mr Sinawatra ran up before them. Man City have only paid a fraction of the fees that they owe for the big money transfers of players like Jo and Robinho, so if these guys were to pull out, the future would appear to be bleak for the club.

This is on top of unpopular takeovers at other English clubs. Indeed it would seem protests occurred at the Liverpool game this weekend, but these have been overshadowed by the result.

In the Man United case, a profitable club was taken over by Americans with no knowledge or care for the game other than the money it could produce, who subsequently saddled the club with the debt they'd used to buy it. This is standard, well at least before the credit crunch, form for Mergers and Acquisition; but it seems wrong to make fans pay for a takeover they didn't want and to make previously unknown owners even richer. Ticket prices at United have gone up, players are bought with even more debt, and United's total debt now stands at around £750 million, with interest payments alone of around £80 million last year. United will never go bust, but how, may one ask, have United fans benefitted from this takeover? (ignoring their, ultimately transient, successes last year.)

As the Liverpool fan in the linked piece suggests, Gillett and Hicks have been even more duplicitous in their takeover. They promised no debt from the takeover would be put on the club, that plans for a new stadium would procede forthwith, and that boardroom politics wouldn't affect the club. None of these things have happened. No new stadium seems on the horizon for Pool, and, again, the only ones to have considerably benefitted from the takeover are the owners, notwithstanding the abuse they rightfully get when they actually bother to turn up to a game.

A thesis could be written on the Chelsea takeover, but the main points are clear. A Russian with an extremely dodgy past comes out of nowhere, starts shelling out huge wads of cash, and brings the club success. Why? Partly as he wanted a new plaything, perhaps, but the political ramifications of the Chelsea takeover are becoming more and more apparent. Who'd heard of Abramovich before he bought Chelsea? Before then, he was a Russian oligarch probably sweating at Putin's relatively sudden turn against this hyper-rich segment of Russian society. What to do? Buy a football club, move to England, and make yourself untouchable. An English football club has become the get-out-of-jail-free card for this oligarch. Moreover, all the money Abramovich has poured into the club is in the form of loans, and Chelsea have total debts of £730 million, even if these admittedly interest-free.

At Arsenal, the situation is better. We are about to announce record profits for this year, with a turnover/wage ratio of less than 50%. We are a club, at the moment, run in just about the right way. Our ticket prices are still obscenely high (these have to come down, once the stadium debt is paid off), and boardroom politics have affected the club since the loathsome Uzbeki gangster turned up (thanks David Dein). But who knows what the future holds for the club. As Peter Hill-Wood himself said, if the club get a decent offer, the board has a duty to recommend it to share-holders. I genuinely worry for the future of our proud, historic club, if it falls into the hands of the vultures currently circling the premier league.

Of all the foreign takeovers, perhaps only that at Villa has been done properly. No huge debts, an owner who actually, despite not having strong historical ties to the club, seems to care about its welfare, and one who recognises the wider positive things a football club can achieve - as evidenced by making Acorns (a charity) their sponsor. Randy Lerner is an example that takeovers can be done in a 'right' way.

The money that has gone into football since the creation of the Premiership has not, of course, had a completely negative impact. The standard of football we see in the league is unrecognisably higher to that in the early 90s. The best athletes and players in the world populate our teams, and create great entertainment. It's also a lot safer to attend a football match, even if a lot of the atmosphere has been lost in the process.

Yet, there is now a fairly entrenched monopoly over whom wins the major honours in England. Even as a supporter of a team that, arguably,benefits from this monopoly, I would like to see a more competitve league.

I would like to see clubs owned by their fans, as frequently occurs in La Liga and the Bundesliga. This article shows how this ownership structure is both possible and beneficial. The German FA has set laws that ensure that even private limited companies are 51% owned by member associations. These clubs are thus run, or at least overseen, by those with its best interests at heart: the fans.

There is some hope. Andy Burnham, the new Culture secretary, favours the fan ownership system, and is, as David Conn puts it, 'an opponent of a clinically commercial view of football'. Burnham cites the American NFL as an example of a league where:

'which has equal sharing, and in which owners cannot simply pour money in from outside to buy all the best players. In the US, the most free-market country in the world, they understand that equal distribution of money creates genuine competition, which is good for the league. The danger in England is that individual clubs rush for the money today, without considering the long-term future, and so diminish the game.'

There are three main issues to consider, I feel, in sum:

* Clubs being bought by businessmen who merely want to make as much money as possible, thus making the cost of going to football more, and even prohibitively, expensive for the average football fan, alienating them from teams that are a major part of their lives.

* As a corollary to clubs being used as purely profit-making machines, for both players and owners, little concern is given to the grass-roots difference they can make to local communities. Robinho's salary for one week - £160k, reportedly - could fund a project such as kickz for four years, which is helping to transform the lives of youths in some of the UKs most difficult areas.

* Clubs being used for political ends by, let's be frank, crooks. Buying a football club can, potentially, buy dodgy men around the world political immunity or publicity. It is wrong they are being used in this way.

Football clubs were set up, a long time ago, to be community institutions, not global business brands. Somewhere, probably in the midst of the finanical immorality that has gripped the world since the Reaganite/Thatcherite deregulation boom of the 1980s, British football has lost its way. Sure, its great to watch, but at what cost has the present Premier League come?

The only ones that can do anything about this is the British Government. It's time to end a British society in which anything is for sale to anyone. The FA, clearly, will not stand in the way of these takeovers, and has lost so much power since the formation of the Premier League as to become an irrelevance.

Even if the present takeovers can't be reversed, future ones can be prevented, and an overall climate can be produced in English football conducive to fan, or at least responsible, ownership of these clubs, the jewels of English sport and society.

Because if nothing is done, English football is already dead.

Lovely wins at Blackburn and Zagreb cap a great week for Arsenal and England.

Being in the North-West, where as Match of the Day so often points out 'we struggle' (really, we didn't last season?), we delivered an absolute tonking to Blackburn, and a humbling lesson to new Prem manager Paul Ince.

Theo, after his and England's incredible performance in Zagreb, was bursting with confidence. Some of his passing was absolutely sensational; he ran with his head up past players who simply didn't know what to do with him. His assist for Robin's first goal was a thing of beauty.

After years of criticism about Arsenal's lack of contribution to the England team, will the press be willing to eat a bit of humble pie, now Arsne's tutelage has got Theo firing on all cylinders, and after Jack Wilshere, at only 16 years old and a total product of the Arsenal youth system, made his premiership debut? I doubt it.

Elsewhere, Ade has clearly re-joined the party after a couple of games without a goal. His first was clearly the best, when he beat Robinson at his near bost from a excellent cross from Denilson.

Eboue played well, even if he did manage to injure himself diving to win a penalty for our third goal. It was also good to see Aaron Ramsey get his premiership debut, and to get an assist with a defence splitting ball late on.

Overall then, job done. After our stutter at Fulham we've looked excellent ever since, scoring eleven goals with no reply in our last three games. You can talk about the quality of the opposition, but you can only beat what's put in front of you, and we did just that. Nice.

So one tough away match down, two to go. Kiev, will be a hard trip, and I think a point would be a decent way to open our CL campaign, especially as Clichy, Nasri and Eboue are all doubts for the game, which could see Silvestre make his, ahem, 'long-awaited' debut.

A lovely win to cap a lovely week, which saw one of the best England performances I've seen since the 1990 world cup. England actually passed the ball. Our pass completion rate was something like 86%. And the team had balance. An attacking central midfielder, next to a defensive one; a big, imposing centre-forward next to a crafty, 'in-the-hole' striker. Wingers which actually had pace, after years of seeing Beckham act as a glorified 'special-teams' player, as the Americans might say.

Well done Capello. Let's hope he doesn't lose his nerve and put Owen back in the side, or try and play Lampard and Gerrard together again.

Also, John Terry got sent off yesterday, and, as things stand, the Spuds lie bottom of the table. Bliss. Let's enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

No signings means its doom vs. hope.

Well, it was quite a deadline day, wasn't it?

I think the activities that went on regarding other clubs - United's shameful flouting of almost all transfer rules and conventions to steal Berbatov, Abu Dhabi suddenly owning Citeh, and turning them into a major player in one fowl swoop - need to be discussed elsewhere, and in depth.

For now, let's concentrate on our own dealings or, more pertinently, the lack of them.

It's worrying. You'd have to be an optimist of the highest order to think our squad didn't need any additions, or that we didn't attempt to sign anyone last week.

It was rumoured that we put a last minute bid in for Alonso, but Liverpool were always holding all the cards in that deal, and probably asked for a fee nearer £18m, which would have been far too much.

Other than that, it was deathly quiet. Maybe a few of our targets will be more readily available in January, but who knows.

As it is, we have no adequate partner for Cesc. Diaby is perma-injured and unproven, Denilson looks OK without ever really impressing, and Eboue and Song have a hell of a lot to prove if they're going to convince Arsenal fans that they're good enought to take on the holding role full-time.

Whilst it could have been construed as some form of sick joke, the fact that Eboue and Denilson's smiling mugs appeared on Arsenal.com they day after the deadline shut probably indicates how important they're going to be to the team this season, or, at least, til January.

I think, therefore, that Arsene has left us short, a situation that may have been exacerbated by the lack of a CFO and CEO at the club, still. Arsene is doing too much, and needs help with transfers - if just to kick him out of the comfort zone. That much, I think, is clear.

Anyway, we shouldn't slip too far into doom-mode. We have a team full of potential, and, let's not forget, none of us would have predicted Flamini becoming the player he became last year, so maybe someone inside the squad will step-up.

We have 3 tricky away matches coming up after what will be an interminably long international break, so let's wait for them before we jump to too many conclusions about the squad.

Monday, September 01, 2008

It's deadline day, an enjoyable performance, and Barton the thug.

Morning, or should I say afternoon, fellow gooners.

Apologies for no blog over the weekend. I was in the process of moving house, something i will have to do again by the end of the month. What joy.

As such, I only caught the second half of the Newcastle performance, but what I did see was rather lovely. Yes, we probably should have won 4/5-0, but, still, sometimes we should just sit down and appreciate the lovely football we can play, and realise that winning by the hugest margin possible isn't always necessary.

I was particularly impressed with Adebayor's performance, despite some appalling finishing, and that of RvP and Cesc.

Despite his goals, it is still a worry that Robin struggled to complete 90 minutes in what was essentially a pretty relaxed match. I think he has the ability to be a great player, but I'm not sure if his body can hack it.

So, no real complaints about our performance. The only thing which left a bad taste in the mouth was the appearance of Joey Barton at the end of the match. Now, and in a rare moment of actual insight, Mark Lawrenson summed Barton up: everyone (almost) deserves a second chance when they make mistakes in life. But his imprisonment was merely the latest in a string of violent incidents he's been involved in during his career. Newcastle should be ashamed he's their player, especially given how Barton decided to involve himself in the match.

In response to, justified, booing, Barton lunged in with a two-footed swipe at Samir Nasri. There's a line between acceptable and non-acceptable physicality in a football match and he crossed it with that appalling lunge.

So I was heartened to see Samir not take it lying down. His cheeky trip was rather lovely compared to Barton's thuggish assault. It also showed that Samir isn't a player to be easily cowed, which is also heartening.

Finally, it's deadline day today, but I have not, really, seen us linked with anyone, apart from the customary links to Alonso, and a rather odd rumour involving us taking Metzelder on loan from Real Madrid for a year.

I'm confident we will sign at least one player today; we certainly need to, and given Arsene's past record, we shouldn't be worried, necessarily, by the lack of public rumours Don't let us down Arsene.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Kiev we're a coming, and £30 million to spend.

Well, the above picture is the first thing that comes up in a google image search for Kiev. That's the Pechersk monastery, apparently. How nice.

In terms of football, the draw was, on balance, kind to us. Not as kind as it perhaps could have been, but kind nonetheless. We should to be able to beat Porto, Fenerbache, and Kiev at home, and pick up at least a couple of points, if not more, from our away trips. Mercifully, we're visiting Kiev first, in September, rather than facing a trip there in December. This means it will actually be possible to play football against them, rather than the 'who can avoid breaking their all their bones on the frozen pitch' game, which is much less fun.

A trip to Istanbul probably won't be too much fun either - Chel$ea tripped up their last season, before beating Fener in the home leg, and I think we'd do well to get a draw out there.

Porto, in some ways, should be the easiest of the three. We beat them at home 2 years ago, and drew with them in Portugal, so I think we can do the same again.

In short, if we can't get out of this group we really don't deserve to win the competition.

In other news, there remains only 3 days to the end of the transfer window, and Arsene remains in a state of near xen-like calm. Danny Fiszman came out yesterday and said Arsene could buy whoever he wanted, if he wanted to, even a £30 million striker.

This has been interpreted as meaning we have £30 million to spend, which is not actually what Danny said at all. We could have even more; the point Danny was trying to make was that the club is generating plenty of money, and that Arsene is given free reign to decide whether or not to spend it. If he wanted to sign a big-money player he could.

This was to counter suggestions being planted in the media - I'm looking at you Daily Mail -by Fat & Orange's PR that Arsenal won't be able to compete without a takeover as we have no money at present.

We have money; have a look at the bloody Annual Report, it's all there. We have cash reserves on top of the loan repayments we're making. Arsene is trying to implement a policy of buying younger, hungrier players (ok, apart from Silvestre), rather than trying to compete for the huge, and usually overpriced, stars.

This policy has brought us agonisingly close to the CL, league, and Carling Cup in recent years, so let's not write it off too quickly. And anyway, there are still three more days for us to make one final move in the transfer window, so no panicking yet.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Crisis? What Crisis? Confidence restored against Twente.

Well, that was nice. 4-0 in the tie, 6-0 on aggregate, and hopefully our season has finally begun after 4 games.

After dominating the opening exchanges of the game, Theo bombed down the wing, sent a dangerous but rather aimless cross across the box, which RvP intercepted, and laid off to Samir. The actions that followed were completely unexpected for those who've been watching Hleb over the last few seasons. He ran forward, beat three players, shot, and scored. If this had been Hleb he would have looked for the pass - you know this is true. Moreover - he's a player who's getting the crucial first goal in our matches, unlike Rosicky, who seems incapable of scoring before we've knocked in 2-3 already.

So that's 2 goals in 3 games for Samir, a lovely little start to his Arsenal career. He looks a tidy, dangerous player, and if he can score over 10 goals in his first season I think he could become quite a player for us. Let's hope he went off at half-time for a rest, rather than for any injury related reasons, because I'm looking forward to seeing him and Cesc link up in the coming games.

We perhaps should have scored a few more before half-time, and a glaring example of our profligacy was RvP. Let's hope he's just having a slow start to the season, because missing the target when you have half the goal to aim at is worrying. He really hasn't got going this season, and, despite his tackle to set up Samir, you have to ask what he offers when he's not scoring.

The second half was, hopefully not for the last time this season, a goal-fest. Bendtner showed a lovely touch to take the ball past the defender, and perhaps should have scored, but Gallas was on hand to knock it in.

Bendtner showed the best and worst parts of his game last night - wastefulness on the ball, and looking, generally, a bit hopeless, mixed with moments where he showed a better touch and overall game than Ade. He's still very young and, despite the fact half the team still seems to hate him, he's clearly a huge prospect.

Both he and Theo deserved their goals if for no other reason for persistence and not hiding. I though Theo had a good game overall. He certainly looks dangerous going forward, but he needs to do this in the premiership, and not just against pretty average European teams.

Bendtner's goal was almost farcically over-complex, but it was nice to see us fighting til the end for the result. Whether we'll be able to walk the ball into the net against better teams is open to debate, but him and Theo needed their goals to get their confidence up.

So, in all, you can't really argue with 6 goals over two legs. That we looked so much better than in our last three games was largely due to Cesc, and it is worrying, in a way, that we are so reliant upon him. At the back, I was also impressed by the performance of Johan Djourou. I'd like to see him keep his place for the game against Newcastle, but Wenger will inevitably drop him for Kolo, which I think is both wrong and a shame.

So, the season finally begins. Let's hope we can do the same on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cesc is back, Wenger's cautious comments, and empty seats.

The second leg of our CL qualifier is tonight, and I think we've done enough in the tie to see ourselves through. I can't really see Twente scoring twice or more at the Grove, but then I don't want to tempt fate too much, given the perilous state of our defence in recent games.

If I was Arsene I'd be tempted to throw caution to the wind and let the youngsters have a run about. Even if they don't start, I'd like to See the likes of Ramsey, Wilshere, Vela, Song, Djourou, and maybe even Fabianski involved tonight. It's the closest to a safe, but meaningful game they're going to get at this stage of the season, and, in all honesty, most of them could hardly do worse than members of the first XI did at Fulham.

Cesc is back and I'll imagine he'll play, if not for the entire 90 minutes.

I'd like to think that he's being eased back into the team, but given our dearth of options in centre-mid, we need him to start playing now, and he'll definitely play against Newcastle on the Weekend.

Arsene was a bit cheeky yesterday in his press conference yesterday when he said:

If I can find one more player before the transfer deadline, I will take him. But one more player will not make that much difference. If we don’t get him, we’re still strong enough to deal with all the competitions.

Before we all start slitting our wrists, we need to realise that Arsene is just covering his back.

I've no doubt he's out looking for a central midfielder, and perhaps even in the process of wrapping up a deal, but there's always a fair chance that deals don't come off. He needs to keep confidence in the squad high, and say things that won't immediately come back to haunt him. If he had said - 'we're really short in centre-mid at the moment, my god we're gonna win nothing this year if i don't manage to get some new players' (or something more verbose to this effect) and then, for whatever reason, didn't manage to pull off any new signings...well, hopefully you can see my point.

Or maybe he really does think the squad is strong enough. In which case, it's going to be a long season.

It doesn't look like it's going to be a sell-out tonight, so a) get behind the team if you're going and b) ignore all the ARSENAL IN CRISIS ONLY 50,000 ATTEND headlines tomorrow. I can't attend but otherwise I would certainly have gone. In situations such as these, it might be an idea for the club to offer reduced tickets? Just a thought.

A nice big win would be nice tonight, but so would a signing. Let's hope both happen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Senderos's departure is no big loss, but we may have let him down.

I've put a photo up of Phil in the 04/05 kit because I feel that was his best time at the club.

After a rather unimpressive opening couple of games, Phil came in against Bayern Munich at Highbury and was absolutely superb. He was so good after this that he kept Sol Campbell out of the team for the remainder of the season, even keeping his place for the 2005 FA Cup final (some of you may remember this as the last time we won a trophy).

Phil repeated the trick in the 05/06 season. He initially looked horribly exposed against the likes of Drogba in the Prem, but in the Champions League he was part of a five man defence that set a Champions League record for the length of time without conceding a goal. One can only speculate what might have happened if he hadn't have picked up an injury weeks before the final that saw him ruled out.

At the beginning of the 06/07 season, there was a real buzz about Phil. He looked good in the world cup before picking up a nasty shoulder injury, and was handed the no.6 shirt in pre-season.

But then Gallas arrived. And with Gallas's arrival, Phil's Arsenal career stuttered and never really recovered.

Phil is clearly a confidence player. He needs a run of games in which he can build up his belief in his abilities, and acclimatise to the speed of the Premier League (something I don't believe he ever truly mastered). Throwing him in every now and again doesn't work for Phil, and at this level Wenger has to bear some of the responsibility for Phil's demise at the club.

Gallas's arrival turned him and Kolo into our first choice CBs. Consequently Phil never got a run of games after this, instead being intermittently thrown into the team with varying results.

This season he looked like he had begun to re-gain his form. With Kolo at the African Cup of Nations, Phil came into the team, got a run of games, and started imposing himself again.

But, as soon as Kolo comes back, Phil was dropped for the AC Milan first leg tie. An absolutely appalling decision by Wenger. If a player is playing well, play him; what message does it send out if some players are automatic selections? Anyway, Kolo picked up an injury early in the game, Phil came in, and his last decent moments in an Arsenal shirt occurred over the two legs with the rossoneri.

But then, the nadir. Phil's Arsenal career died in the Anfield cauldron, when he lost both Hypia and Torres before their respective goals. After the game, Phil burst into tears in the dressing room, and was given, essentially, compassionate leave by Wenger til the end of the season.

That was the final straw for Arsene - a combination of poor defending and mental weakness that he felt he could no longer continue to tolerate.

Yet one wonders if Arsene didn't help contribute to this situation in the first place. The state of defensive coaching under Arsene has always been under question. He inherited the back-five, bought one of the finest defenders (in Sol) after this, but when it comes to some of his own defensive creations, they've been decidedly hit and miss. Take Kolo Toure: a rock when with Sol, he's been curiously exposed since his departure.

And, perhaps more pertinenly, despite Arsene's protestations of not wanting to 'kill youngsters' by not buying too many older players, did he not do exactly this by buying Gallas?

As it is, Silvestre in for Senderos doesn't weaken the squad, whilst Djourou and Song both now look better long-term prospects than Phil. So, whilst, physically, we've lost a body in the squad, it's one I feel we can afford to leave given the decline in his form in recent seasons.

Phil will be a success at Milan. The slower Italian league will suit his style of play, and he'll receive incredible advice from the likes of Paolo Maldini. But, and remember this, even if he does well in Italy, this is the right decision for Phil and the club at this time.

Til later.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Robin van Persie has a lot to prove this year, and he hasn't got off to a good start.

The reaction to the defeat on Saturday has been, undoubtedly, overblown. But due to the stratification of the Premier League into the Champions League teams, the UEFA Cup sides, and, well, the rest, defeats can no longer be treated in the 'c'est la vie' fashion they once were. People talk about the Premier League like it's a marathon and, in many ways, it is. But nowadays it's more like a marathon in which you have to sprint from start to finish. In the mid/late 90s you could easily afford to lose around 5 games and still probably win the league quite comfortably. Today, 2-3 defeats, at most, can cost a team its title challenge; that's why the reaction has been so strong. We've already reduced our breathing space and the season has barely begun.

And so it's important that a team sprints out the blocks if it wants to win the league. We did that last year, before we finally ran out of steam, but the start to this season has been pretty ugly. Two scrappy wins against Twente and West Brom, followed by a strange match against Fulham, one in which we dominated possession, yet could not find a rhythm to our passing, or conjure up more than a couple shots on target.

It's easy, as Little Dutch on Vital Football has pointed out in an excellent article today, to blame the usual suspects for the defeat. Eboue, despite being our best midfielder on Saturday, has been hammered, while other websites seem to blame William Gallas for the totality of our defensive failings, regardless of Almunia's inability to boss his area, or Clichy's rather lazy reaction to the shot as it went in.

Indeed, certain players seem beyond the pale when it comes to criticism.

Kolo Toure has not had a decent match for Arsenal for months. Yet, as soon as he's fit, he goes straight back into the team for Djourou. What message does that send to the young lad?

Theo seems to have lost all confidence in his ability, making stuttering runs against defenders that we know he can skin. He needs to man up, quickly, if he's going to make it.

But, for me, the arch-culprit of Arsenal's superficial early-season performances has been a player who I feel flatters to deceive all-too-often.

Robin van Persie.

Robin scores incredible goals. He has one of the most powerful shots i've seen an Arsenal player possess. He can bang free-kicks in from almost anywhere within 30 yards or so of goal.

But, to paraphrase Janet Jackson, what has he done for us lately? Against Fulham he was abject, sauntering round the pitch in a laissez-faire haze of indifference. 3 or 4 poor free-kicks were the sum of his performance.

If you're going to play badly, at least put some effort in. Denilson, despite only completing around 2 of his passes in the game, clearly broke his back trying to get things going for the side, and never hid from the ball. Robin was the polar opposite, skulking around the box, and missing the target with perhaps our best chance of the game.

My fear with Robin is that he's like some form of shadowy chancer. He turns up, scores a dazzling goal every 3 or 4 games, does very little else, then gets injured. There's not enough graft to his game at the moment, none of the energy that Dennis always brought to the table.

Maybe I'm being over-the-top in my criticism. But I feel that if he doesn't up his scoring rate, or improve his work-rate, or actually stay fit for more than half a season, his place in the first XI, if not the squad, should be questioned, especially when we have Eduardo's imminent return, and a young Carlos Vela who's impressed during pre-season.

One thing's for certain - if we don't start scoring soon it's going to be a long season.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A terrible performance, but not an unexpected one. Arsene has a week left to fix it.

This result could be seen coming from May this year, if not January.

Sell Diarra, don't give Flamini what he wants, let Gilberto go, throw in a rare injury to Cesc and a completely predictable one to Diaby and you have, da da dah! NO CENTRAL MIDFIELD!

Anyone who saw how we laboured last week with Eboue and Denilson as the CM partnership could tell they were only millimetres from disaster in that game.

And so the chickens came home to roost at the Cottage.

Denilson was epically bad, giving away the ball an astounding number of times. Eboue, in fairness, showed some attacking verve in the final parts of the game, and also stood up for himself when he was hacked down by certain Fulham players. It was good to see, and maybe there's hope for the guy yet.

Yet the Fulham combination of Bullard and Murphy had our midfield in their pockets for the majority of the game. It was embarrassing, but that's what happens when you don't replace players: you get found out.

A poor central midfield rips the heart out of the team. The defence falters because it has no engine room to pass to; the attack doesn't receive consistent supply; the wingers are left to pick at scraps. Nasir and Walcott could hardly get into the game yesterday as our midfield was so entirely over-run. Watching Nasri was particularly frustrating, because you could tell he could do so much more with decent players around him.

The horror-show continued at the back. Of our back five, only Clichy and Sagna deserve their places at the moment.

Almunia did nothing explicitly wrong, but, yet again, failed to come and claim a high ball into the area which could have prevented the goal. He allowed himself to get boxed in by Fulham players in a way that top keepers simply wouldn't countenance (it made me miss Jens, I must say). He doesn't boss his defence (Gallas wouldn't listen anyway, I suppose) and doesn't organise. He's an average player, and just because he's not doing something obviously wrong, doesn't make his place in the team acceptable.

As for our centre backs? Neither warrant a place in the side at the moment. Kolo looks like he's in a perpetual panic, and only his recovery pace prevents him from giving away more goals. The contrast with, dare I say it, Alex Song was remarkable. Alex appears to have grown into quite a player. He looks assured on the ball, and wonderfully calm under pressure. Give him a go I say.

Gallas was, again, found out, letting the Fulham player walk past him to score. Slopppy, arrogant defending. I've defended Gallas and his captaincy a lot on this blog in the past, but he's a poor leader, and, at present, a poor defender. Djourou played better than him last week, yet now I hear he's off to Rennes.

I will say simply: if Arsene sells Djourou, buys Silvestre, and keeps Senderos, he knows nothing about central defending, or has lost the plot when it comes to judging what makes a good centre-back.

On form, at the moment, since about February last year, our best two centre-backs have been Song and Djourou. Go figure.

Up front, RvP reminded me of all the negativity I felt towards him before his injuries in the 05/06 season. He seems to coast through games, occasionally smashing the ball miles wide, and displaying a crap attitude. Just because he scores flashy goals doesn't mean he's worth a place in the team. The expression, 'flatters to deceive' often comes to mind when I think of him.

As for Ade, someone needs to tell him he's not Henry. Instead of cute flicks and tricks when the ball is played to him, just be direct. What's he doing out on the wing crossing the ball into the area? He's the one who should be in the box heading it in!

Not strengthening the squad sufficiently, letting players go, and a couple of injuries have created this entirely predictable situation. We were awful yesterday, truly awful, and didn't deserve anything from the game. Our first shot on target was in the 84th minute. That says it all.

Arsene has a week to pull his finger out and sort this mess that he's created. It's not hard to fix; it merely requires the ability, and perhaps humility, to accept that some of his projects aren't good enough, and that he needs to spend cash now. Let's hope he does it. Or fourth place, at best, beckons.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wenger is a big tease but a new signing is on its way.

I can almost imagine Arsene being asked out by his wife for dinner:

Arsene's wife: Arsene, do you want to go for dinner tonight?

Arsene: There is interest, always, in dinner.

Wife: So where do you want to go?

Arsene: You know the place I want to go, but I cannot tell you much more than that.

Arsene's wife: So we're going to the Savoy?

Arsene: maybe.

Half an hour later Arsene returns with two big mac meals.

Wife: what's this!

Arsene: sometimes I surprise you.

The point of this attempt at comedy, is that whilst I think we will be getting a player in, it won't necessarily be one we've heard of before, or one we're expecting.

But the fact Arsene seems to realise we still need another body is promising in itself. The talk of Gareth Barry coming in seems too obvious to me, although given his appearance in the Uefa cup, his price will have come down, making a deal possible. He would also be available in the second half of the Champions League, and the squad should be strong enough to get through the group stages without him.

On the other hand, this talk of snapping up Barry could be an attempt to force Liverpool into action, allowing us to make a bid for Alonso. Personally, I think Alonso is too similar to Cesc for that partnership to work. Barry, on the other hand, could prove a natural defensive foil to Cesc, if he continues his form of the last few seaons; and that's a big if.

Or, this could just be a case of Arsene toying with English journalists before he buys someone we've never heard of, or barely heard of, before. Gokhan Inler might be at the top of this list.

In any case, I don't think the cheque book is closed just yet. And the addition of a decent central midfielder to the squad could turn a rather average transfer window into a very successful one.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Questions and answers about the Silvestre signing.

As usual with Arsene's signings, the arrival of Mikael Silvestre has brought more questions than answers.

Am I happy about the signing? Hmm. Ask me on Septemeber 2.

Will Silvestre be part of our first XI? No, I don't think so. Unless Kolo is put in midfield, and he starts at CB next to Gallas, I think Silvestre will be our first choice back-up to the defence. If he wasn't getting a starting berth at United, I don't see why he should get one here.

Have we been mugged? No, I don't think so either. The reaction from the United fan-base does show signs of amusement, but there is also a notable element which feels that, at the least, they shouldn't be selling players who can strengthen their rivals. In fact, amusingly, some feel that their defensive cover is now a little thin and too reliant on youth. heh! For £750k, I think we can afford the risk.

Is Silvestre the replacement for Hoyte? This is what my colleague at Gunnerblog is theorising, and it's not an entirely implausible idea. Eboue is adequate (eurgh, need to wash my mouth out) cover at RB, and Silvestere can baulk up not only the LB position, but also CB. In this set of affairs, we've improved our defence and made money, not a bad state of affairs.

Will Traore and Djourou be going out on loan? I can definitely envisage Traore going out now, but I think it would be a shame if Djourou followed him. I'm not sure how much his loan spell at Birmingham really helped him, and I think if he was sent out then it might be a sign that he doesn't have much of a future at the club. That would be a shame as he's probably the best centre back prospect we have, in my opininon.

Will we be buying a new midfielder? I hope so. If Arsene is going to go on some form of madcap plan to convert Kolo or someone else into a CM then we've taken the cheapskate option again. We need to go out and buy a player who knows how to play the role now not later. Apparently Arsene watched Switzerland play some team last night so Inler may still be the player who comes in. Frankly, if we don't buy a new midfielder, then I don't think the squad is strong enough to compete for the Champions League or Premiership.

When can I put on my tinfoil hat and start shouting WENGER OUT? Not for a while yet. This may well prove to be a masterly piece of business - a cheap, experienced defender who can instantly slot-in when needed. On the other hand, it could be the nadir of Arsene's policy to do everything on the cheap, and we've actually weakened the squad by being forced to rely on an injury prone, and frankly rubbish defender.

In short, everything will become clear; but not for a while yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this isn't the end of our transfer dealings.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Signing Silvestre is either an act of genius or madness.

Late last night, just before bed, the Daily Mail website was reporting that Silvestre was on the verge of a move to Arsenal.

Heh, I thought. They really must be desperate for news today.

But waking this morning and seeing the news carried by all major carriers, and ANR, in the last few minutes, even going as far to say that he's signing right now in Highbury House (make of that what you will) this deal, which has come out of nowhere, now looks incredibly likely.

Now, signing Silvestre is fine in many ways. He's an experienced centre-back, who can cover at left-back, who's won just about everything you can do in the modern game. He's tall; well, taller than the rest of the defence, which again is saying much. He could well be the centre-back Arsene promised way back at the beginning of the summer.

But where the hell is he going to play? Surely he's not happy just to be squad-fodder. Daniel Taylor in the Guardian reports that Silvestre will start, if he signs, at CB alongside Gallas. What this means for Kolo, Djourou (who I rate highly) and Senderos (who I don't) is anyone's guess. There is the perennial talk of transforming Kolo into a defensive central midfielder, but I'm not sure if I see that happening. Kolo doesn't have a midfielder's brain or ability.

Moreover, Silvestre hasn't exactly set the world alight at OT in recent years. The fact Fergie is willing to let him go on a free transfer speaks volumes, frankly.

If we're merely picking up Silvestre as a cheap squad-strengthener alongside the defensive midfielder Arsene's been promising, I'm fine with this deal, and I'd say it was actually a very clever move by the boss.

But, if we're signing Silvestre to save money, and re-jig the squad so we 'don't need' to sign a central midfielder, then this signing is madness, utter Arsene disappearing up his own arse madness.

Anyway, let's wait and see how this all unfolds before too much mud or praise is thrown.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What does Adebayor's new contract really mean?

Well, on one level, it at least gives us a chance to look at this rather nauseating picture again.

Mmm. Badge.

I suppose it also signifies that Arsene, and the Arsenal hierarchy, are serious about wanting to keep him at the club, and that they're willing to improve his wages to achieve this. Whether he fully deserves this increase is now moot: he's achieved it. But questions still could be asked about whether he really does merit Henry level wages after some of the finishing and decision-making he showed on Saturday's game.

But to Adebayor himself, what does it really mean? The consolidation of a love affair with Arsenal that will last til his retirement? No, of course not. It means a bigger wage cheque and, hopefully, thoughts of other clubs being put out of his mind.

But for how long?

Henry signed a 'long-term deal' then left the next season. So did Cashley. So did Vieira.

Contracts in modern football guarantee, at a minimum, one, or, if there is good-will, maybe two
more years at their present club. After two years on any modern contract, things often get a little dicey. In Adebayor's case, I think the deal will pin him down til the end of this season, and perhaps the next one as well.

But if he has another good season this year, which, through a combination of his finishing ability and the plethora of chances we create for him in every game, I think he will, I don't think it'll stop him from leaving next summer if another top club come in with a firm bid and big wages.

Modern football is dominated by greed. Brian Glanville calls the Premier League the 'greed is good league' and players like Ade sum it up. The argument that they're just trying to earn as much as possible in a short career simply doesn't carry weight. The average salary in the UK, an affluent country, is about £23,000 a year. Now, Ade will be on, I reckon, about £70-80k a week after this bump. That's easily 3 times the average salary in the Uk, per week.

In one year as a Premiership footballer you will earn more money than an average UK resident earns in their lifetime. In 4-5 years, you will easily have more money than you need, if you decide not to squander it on birds, booze and bling.

That is the bottom line for me. Football has always had its superstars, but the Premier Leage has helped to create almost untouchable figures, players divorced from the fans who pay their wgaes and support the team.

Almost all the money that has been funelled into the new Premier League over the years has gone into player and corporate pockets. That's what contracts like Ade's mean. Not improving the general state of the English game, through improving local facilities or youth development plans, but into the pockets of a few hundred men. Remember that next time you see a dilapidated local pitch in your community that's part of an FA league. Contracts like Ade's, or Ronaldo's, show fans are just wallets to too many people involved in English football nowadays.

The contract ultimately means that fans will have to pay ever more money to support our team. Our new stadium produces record levels of revenue, yet instead of tickets being subsidised - as happens in the Bundesliga, for instance - fans pay more. Fans pay more to mean the club makes more to allow players like Ade to earn more. Something is wrong in all this.

Finally, it means the league become ever more uncompetitive. Only a handful of clubs can pay the wages necessary for stars, so don't be surprised when the same four teams finish in the top four. Isn't the Premier League wonderful.

So, for me, Ade is just another greedy footballer; and we're the chumps that pay him. But you can't blame him: he's just a product of his time.

Anyway, ranting aside, it means we have Ade, a decent goalscorer - given enough chances - for one more year. Here's hoping he earns the money as best he can by actually delivering us some trophies. and continues to act contrite.

Til later.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Empty seats, Gallas's rant, Ade's boos and goodbye to a true Gooner.

A few topics.

Firstly, the empty seats at the Grove. It's a mockery that the club continue to claim that these matches are 'sell-outs' when any idiot can look up and see that shedloads of the seats in the stadium remain empty. The problem is, as many have already stated, that these seats are sold seats that haven't been occupied. The majority are season ticket holders who, for one reason or another, haven't turned up. Given that we're still in August and a lot of people are still on their hols, fair enough. But as a plea to the future: if you're a season ticket holder and you can't attend a game find someone to take your ticket. If you have no friends, there is a ticket exchange on the Arsenal website where you can even sell your seat if you can't attend.

There are a lot of Arsenal fans for whom attending only one game a season is a big deal; don't take your seat for granted. Lord knows we could do a few more fans who actually seem excited to be there.

Secondly: Gallas. Or, more specifically, his rants. Yesterday, after Djourou cleared the ball off the line a spat broke out between him and Gallas which was only ended through the intervention of teammates. Clearly, Gallas doesn't like being shouted at; yet, surely, the captain should be a stabilising influence within the team. They should only be a hot-head when it comes to the other side. What makes Gallas a good captain - his passion, pride and desire - also seem to still make him a bit of a loose cannon. He has a lot to prove as captain this year, as he himself admitted in his programme notes yesterday.

Thirdly, Ade: to boo or not to boo. Not to boo, is quite clearly the answer. Ade's actions over the summer are clearly reprehensible, and, in many respects, a sad indictment of the lack of loyalty in modern football. But let's not get carried away. He's an Arsenal player; and what he did is hardly in the league of, say, Cashley. You don't boo Arsenal players in my book. Shout a bit of abuse if you want, but don't let it lead to concerted booing. It's horrible.

Finally, goodbye to Justin Hoyte. He never quite made the standard for us, and a move to Boro will mean he should be able to hold down a first team spot. But JH was a true gooner, the only player for a long time who grew up as an Arsenal fan and made it into the team. He always gave his best to the club, and never thought about anything but giving his all to a cause he genuinely cared about.

In an age where players only seem to care about the bottom line and their latest contract renewal, Justin was a breath of fresh air. I wish him all the best at Boro, and I think he will prove to be a fine player oop north.

til later.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Arsenal labour to the win, but win nonetheless.

Ah, football. So nice to have you back. Having not been able to see the entirety of the Twente match - not a bad thing from the sound of it - this was my season opener.

And didn't it open in a lovely fashion? Nice work by Clichy led to a precise pass by Denilson and a smooth finish from Nasri.

It was about a good a debut as you'll see from young Samir. He held the ball up well, made a number of penetrating passes, was strong when pushed about by the oppositon, and made his finish look easier than it was. Moreover, lord be praised, he actually showed a proclivity to take shots on goal. How much you can tell about anyone from one game is debatable, but he looked tidy, elegant, strong and dangerous. He looks more of a threat than Hleb, already. But then I suppose that isn't saying much. A bit of pace is perhaps his only notable failing.

The rest of the team, after Sammy's goal, took the usual Arsenal option - endless passing, squandered opportunity, and a domination of the game which always looked like it might be threatened by a breakaway Brummie goal.

So, in the end, we were hanging on; something which was faintly ridiculous given our overall superiority.

Yet, overall, I was impressed by the team today.

Eboue was, and I say this with a considerable degree of trepidation, good in central midfield. He can pass the ball sideways and backwards, so taking away the attacking responsibilities he usually has allowed to concentrate on some neat link work. His shooting was utterly abysmal though, so let's hope Arsene doesn't continue the experiment too much longer.

Denilson was neat and tidy, and possibly has a bit more too him than I thought. Djourou was good in the middle, and still looks like he has more potential than Senderos. The whole back four did ok, but still gifted the Brummies a few too many opportunities.

The two low-lights for me were Theo and Ade. Theo looked low on confidence and ideas. He didn't even seem to be relying on his usual pace to get by defenders and contributed very little to the team and result.

Ade also showed the worst aspects of his performance: poor finishing, an awful first touch, and poor decision-making. Still, the boos I did hear in the stadium were out of order, and I certainly won't stoop to that level.

The fans too: if you can't find someone to take your season ticket, use the ticket exchange. And why were people leaving early at 2.30 on a Saturday afternoon? A poor level of support, I must say.

So, it's good to start the season with a win and a clean-sheet. But whether we can kick on from this remains to be seen.