Sunday, March 23, 2008

Arsenal run out of legs and the league disappears.

Four draws and a defeat mean that Arsenal will not win the league this season. In fact, that string of results means we probably won't even end up in 2nd place, save for point-dropping on the blue-side of London.

Where has it all gone wrong? Perhaps the better question to ask is, 'where did it all go right'? The answer, in short, is a fully-firing, fully-fit team and lots and lots of home-games at the beginning of the season. We flew out of the blocks at the beginning of this season with a fair few easy home games, but it's been a struggle since January, if not perhaps even mid-December. Injuries to players we should really expect to be injured, and a lack of goals from players we really shouldn't expect goals from have cost us.

We've over performed; but ultimately it's the squad wot wins it and ours isn't good enough. Our first XI can take on anyone, but it plays too many games, and certain players within it don't play often enough due to persistent injuries.

Exhibit A: the substitutions in today's game. Chavski bring on Anelka, Belleti and Mikel. The first two are proven players of quality, the latter a beefy lad who we'd have signed if we were willing to splash the cash..

We bring on: Diaby, Walcott, Bendtner. Diaby is a waste of space, a walking moron who will not make things happen. Walcott and Bendtner have potential, but are they the players you can really see winning you games in situations like this? Maybe in the future, but not at the moment.

Or the United subs. United bring on Tevez and Nani, and still have Hargreaves on the bench.

We have a squad that is too small and too young. Arsene possibly has a project, but when is it going to come to fruition? Is it really conceivable for us to beat Liverpool, then Chelsea, then United or Barca to win the CL? It might occur, but do we really have the players or the squad? I'm not sure.

We certainly don't seem to have the goals in the squad. Eboue does nothing but fall over and lose the ball; Hleb dribbles endlessly; Fabregas is knackered.

Up top, Adebayor erroneously thinks he's Thierry Henry when he should be keeping things simple, while RvP has an almost endless return from injury.

At the back, Senderos is unjustly dropped for a Toure who has been largely at fault for goals in the last two games, backed by a keeper who punches like he's Amir Khan in the box, when he should be catching the ball.

Maybe we're 90% there; maybe even 95%. But from where I'm standing, it looks like a third trophy-less season. We've been in decline since Arsene decided to throw the FA Cup at OT, and we've never recovered from that drubbing.

Our squad needs midfielders who have the bottle to take on players; to run at players and shoot and score. Alex Hleb would pass the ball even if he was one-on-one with the keeper and he seems to set the tone for the rest of the team.

Maybe the team will continue will continue to improve but I still think we're a few players short of a trophy. Hopefully Arsene will realise this in the summer, and not just rely on the latest batch of embryos. Get the cheque book out and spend Arsene, because we're in a comfort zone at the moment which we don't deserve to be in.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Four draws moves the title destiny out of our hands.

Well, how frustrating has all this been?

Since our 2-0 win against Blackburn back in early February, which even then was hardly a convincing performance, we haven't won in the league. Our 5 point lead has now morphed into an equality of points, with United almost certain to go three points clear on Wednesday night.

We're throwing it away, but in an almost excruciatingly painful manner. No one can beat us in the league, but we have reverted to our 2006 season form of looking absolutely toothless.

Take Cesc, for instance, against both Wigan and Boro he was slid in, one-on-one with the keeper, and hit the ball straight into the keeper's arms. Those two shots cost us four points. Would Ronaldo have been so lax in his finishing?

Hleb seems to have reverted back to his 'I will pass at all costs' form of the early season. Eboue has not scored for us in the league this season, and this is hardly surprising given that he hits the deck every time he's through on goal. If Wenger really thinks players like Eboue are good enough to play for the club then he's kidding us and himself. The occasional cross do not justify the sheer pain that is necessary to watch a performance from him, especially as Theo finally seems to be growing into a decent player.

At the back, why was Senderos dropped? He has been great at the back with Gallas, yet as soon as Toure returns, Sendy is on his way. Harsh, especially considering Toure's failure to cover Tuncay's run which led to the goal yesterday.

So, we have a mis-firing team and an April fixture list which has come from the deepest, darkest reaches of hell:

Chelsea A
Bolton A
Liverpool H
Liverpool H
Liverpool A
Man United A.

These games will decide our season. I'm still irrationally optimistic about the prospect of a trophy this season, but the team is currently showing how difficult it is to compete for the league and CL if you have a ridiculously thin squad that have two first teamers - Rosicky and RvP - who have never managed to play even 2/3rds of the games in a season in their career.

We are currently 1-2 players away from being comfortably top of the league. April will prove whether we have a squad capable of winning trophies; if we don't, construct a decent sized squad in the summer Arsene. Goalscoring wingers would be an obvious place to start.

Overall, if we're using the excuse that we didn't expect to do well this year as justifying not being too upset with throwing the league away, then we've come to accept not winning trophies. That for me is potentially the most painful thing about all of this.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A sensational, historic win; but we haven't won anything yet.

What do these results have in common?

Inter Milan 1-5 Arsenal
Real Madrid 0-1 Arsenal
AC Milan 0-2 Arsenal

Firstly, and most obviously, they're incredible wins, victories that will go down in the annals of the club's history. No one (well no one who can really claim to be an Arsenal fan) will forget us destroying Inter, Henry waltzing round the Galactico defence, or Cesc Fabregas firing in a goal from all of 30 yards out in the San Siro.

But the first two games have a less upbeat connection which the final one also currently shares: they were all part of unsuccessful Champions League campaigns.

I don't want to be pessimistic, I just want to keep my, and perhaps a few others', feet on the ground, especially after the experience of 2006.

The 2006 CL campaign was one of the most uplifting and dramatic experiences I've had as an Arsenal fan. Beating Madrid, Juve and Villareal all seemed to point to it being our year. It wasn't, suffice to say, and seeing us beaten so cruelly in Paris has, to an extent, made me wary of celebrating too early.

The team's performance in Milan last night was sensational, and very much carried on in the vein of our utter dominance of the first leg. Aside from an opening bout of pressure, Milan were never in the game. Yet, despite our pressure, it wasn't until Cesc put us in the lead that any form of relief was really possible. Ade's goal, following a lovely assist from Theo, was the icing on an exquisite cake.

The only real negatives of the performance was Eboue's woefully inept return to the team. Abour Diaby was also poor, if not as bad as his titanically awful match on Saturday.

The rest of the team were superb. Particular mention must go to the midfield triumvirate of Hleb, Cesc and the Flamster, who bossed a Milan midfield of Gattuso, Pirlo and Kaka out of the game.

So, a great win, but we haven't won anything yet. I can't stand the thought that this campaign will be another heroic failure, and so I'm containing myself til May.

We have a great young side and they need trophies to show for it. Last night was a massive step forward on the road to that achievement, but there's still a long way to go yet.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Lay off Gallas: he's a great captain.

There's been a lot of rubbish spouted across the media, and also among some Arsenal groups, about William Gallas and his role in the events of last weekend. Even I, in my report of the game last week, criticised him for his antics at the end of the last game. Some, especially among the rags that make up the British tabloid media, have even suggested that Gallas might cost us the title.

But let's analyse matters.

In terms of the game, his actions are understandable, if not completely laudable. Seeing a team-mate mutilated, and a win, despite this, ripped from your grasp with a dubious last-minute penalty made me bloody mad, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for a player as pumped up as Gallas.

He wants to win, and he probably wanted to win even more than usual, given poor Dudu. Of all his actions, the only one that really upset me was when he walked to the other end of the pitch whilst the penalty was being taken. It wasn't a great show of faith in Almunia and it was bad defending; it gave the impression that there was no chance he'd save the penalty, so there was no point in waiting for any potential rebound.

Kicking the hoarding and crying on the pitch are understandable. I think everyone would rather he kicked a hoarding than kung-fu kicked a fan, Cantona-style.

But in general he's been a great captain. He's driven the team forward and scored massively important goals. He's organised pre-game team talks and the post-game huddle. The younger players clearly look up to him. The only player who didn't - Jens - is now not in the side, and when he returned he toed the line. Bendtner, if you believe some accounts, remains the only one who questions his authority.

He has a winning mentality and he leads; these are the two vital preconditions for being a captain.

Yes he has his faults, but which Arsenal captains of recent years haven't? Tony had his problems with booze that led to a jail term; Paddy openly flirted with other clubs almost every summer; Thierry, great player that he was, was an absolutely rubbish leader. Tony and Paddy were great captains despite their faults, at least.

I think it would be justifiable to say that Gallas's captaincy has contributed to the team's success this year, and that he is the best player at the club for the role. Far from hindering our progress this season, he's been vital to it.

So, if you haven't already, ignore the media and get behind Billy G.

Right, time to go to the Grove. I'm surprisingly confident about the match; I'm less confident I can keep down all I had to drink last night. Urghh.

Come on you reds!