Friday, April 25, 2008

Hleb and Flamini will both leave, wrecking Arsenal's summer transfer plans.

Both Alex Hleb and Matthieu Flamini are as good as gone. Hleb will definitely not play for the club again; Flamini may, but if his deal is not signed by next Wednesday, then why would Arsene pick him for the final two games of the season?

Flamini is set to join AC Milan, according to these reports emanating from Italy. Maybe I'm giving too much credence to the Italian media, but it would seem unlikely that these ideas are being plucked from thin air. Flamini has procrastinated all season, in a rather unseemly way, over signing his deal, and it would seem odd that at the eleventh hour that he'd turn round and sign the contract. He blew off his hometown club (Marseille) to join us, so I doubt he has any deeper loyalty to us.

It's hard to judge what type of loss Flamini is: he's been a revelation this season, but, to be frank, a bit rubbish before then. Nevertheless, our midfield was reliant this seaon on a player we won't have next year, and, on top of this, we've lost another player that we bought to take over from Gilberto - Diarra. I'll write more on the Diarra fiasco come the end of the season, but, for now, it is obvious that this was a massive mistake by Arsene and the club.

Hleb, will also go to Milan, according to Myles over on ANR, but to Inter, not AC. I very much doubt this deal has actually occurred, but given Arsene's rather panicky statements about Hleb on recently, the silence emanating from Alex himself, and the new FIFA rules which allow Hleb to buy himself out if his contract, I'd say a transfer out of the club is imminent. Who knows; maybe in Serie A he may score more than his colossal 4 goals this season, 2 of which came in August.

I've defended Hleb since he arrived at the club, but maybe it is best he moves on. At the very least he needs competition for his position, and perhaps a lecture from Arsene about how attacking midfielders are meant to score, not just create, goals. Even so, I would keep him as a squad player, instead of losing more experience from the squad.

Overall, while both players have done well for us this season, especially Flamini, neither are irreplaceable. However, if both were to leave, we would need to sign 2 replacements, plus the 2-3 players we actually need to push us on to trophies next year. We have Vela coming back, but would he really be a replacement for Hleb, or yet another player who needs 6mths-year to settle in? Gareth Barry has been mooted as a replacement for Flamini but he's a) 27 b) will cost a fortune as he's English and c) probably not quick enough to play for us. Krankjaer is a player who is far more interesting, but, again, I don't fancy our chances in brokering a deal that Arsene see's as good enough value.

In short, what I fear is a semi-meltdown in the club this summer. Our squad was too thin last summer to challenge for trophies, and if two key players both leave, who Arsene clearly wishes to keep, it means we not only have to add, we need to replace. And, I fear, only replacement, if that, will occur. If this is the case, no trophies will be forthcoming next year. We have the quality, but not quantity in the squad at the moment, and two major departures would make reconciling this situation even harder.

Moreover, the team Arsene has been 'building' will lose two of its vital foundations. That's the problem with building something; if you don't do it quickly enough, it can fall apart. Let's hope this isn't the case, but I'm worried.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Arsenal lack either maturity or bottle, as the season comes to an end.

So that's that. It's been a painful, drawn out end to the season, one that's seen us first draw, and then lose our way out of contention. When the rot started is unclear, but 2 wins since the home victory against Blackburn on 11 February tells its own story. That game was followed by the 4-0 drubbing at Old Trafford, and then by the nightmare which was the 2-2 draw at Birmingham. Whether we ever recovered from those games is questionable.

Anyway, the season review is something I'll write when we've played Sunderland; when things have formally drawn to a close. Yet, the game yesterday was, again, a microcosm of our season: we played some great football, dominated the game, took the lead, were unable to hold it, and fell to soft goals.

Because we were by no means outplayed by United yesterday. In the first half we repeatedly cut open their defence, and only lacklustre finishing by Adebayor stood between us and a first half lead.

Having said that, some superb saves by Jens Lehmann kept us in the match. Yet again, with almost no warning Jens has come back and pulled out a great performance in a massive match. Almunia has played well this year, but he has no authority in the box, and he doesn't consistently make the game-winning saves that Jens does. This may have been the his last game for the club, but I really think we could do better than promoting Almunia to the number 1 position.

Another player who performed well was Alex Song. The lad has come in for a lot of stick in his brief time at the club, but, a few slip ups aside, he look fairly assured on the ball and in the tackle which is saying a lot given this is his first league start this year(?). He certainly did better than Senderos on Tuesday.

As for the rest of the team:

Eboue showed, yet again, that not only is he not good enough to play for Arsenal, he's also a complete twat. Case in point: out team has the ball, break over the half-way line, Eboue goes down injured. Instead of continuing our attack we have to knock the ball out for Eboue's injury, which is, of course, non-existent. United then pull the Chavski trick of kicking the ball out at our corner flag to restart play. Not only, therefore, is he rubbish when he gets the ball, he endangers our goal-line when he doesn't have it. Sell. Now.

Hleb played well, but we had to play RvP out on the left-wing to accommodate him as a support-striker. If Hleb wants to play in the hole, his goalscoring record needs to improve; either he grows some balls and takes a few more shots, or we put him on the wing or on the bench.

RvP: completely wasted on the left; like he always is when he plays there.

Cesc was knackered, Gilberto put in a half-decent performance, Clichy was marvellous apart from his crossing, Gallas cost us the lead with a stupid hand-ball, and Kolo looks in decline. Bendtner and Theo both deserve more minutes on the pitch.

In all, the team either lacks maturity or bottle. To take the lead against the other top three teams in three separate games, and end up losing all three games hopefully only points to a lack of maturity in seeing these situations out. But Alex Hleb is 27; Gallas is 31; Kolo is 27; Gilberto is 31. Are these players really going to get more mature?

Perhaps the answer is a mixture of both. Players like Ade, Clichy, Fab are not mature enough, yet; others in the team are maybe just not tough enough.

We had the league in our hands this season but blew it. We're not a million miles away from success, but I can't see us winning trophies without a thicker squad, and one which does not rely on the likes of injury-prone Rosicky and RvP, or idiots like Eboue.

I wrote at the beginning of last season - not this one - that the team was 90% complete. We still seem to be at this state of affairs. United beat us professionally: by taking their chances, ones that we largely presented to them through an idiotic handball and a needless challenge on the edge of the area. Moreover, they were able to bring on the likes of Anderson and Tevez when the clock began to run down. United have efficiently rotated their squad this season; we haven't. Ours is on its last legs; theirs will push on to win the league, and perhaps the CL as well.

The remaining 10% we need may come from within the team, but I'm pretty sure it needs an injection of new blood to push us across the final ten yards. I'm hoping we'll see this situation remedied this summer. Whatever happens, let's not turn on Arsene; he deserves better than that. The media will certainly be out for his blood soon, and let's not buy into the rubbish that'll be in most papers over the summer.

So, four games left, and some players will hopefully use them to prove their worth, or otherwise.

In any case, the 2008/9 season starts today.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Theo overshadowed on a sickening night of despair.

What a night. One of the great nights of Champions League football; and yet again we're on the losing side during it.

In many ways the tie was the tale of two penalty decisions. Ours refused; theirs given. Whilst I don't want to add to the barrage of clich├ęs about the Kop's supposed mystique - Clive Tyldsley practically had sex with it on ITV last night, it was sickening - their wails may have added to the reason the referee was so quick to award what was an extremely flimsy penalty. After doing exactly bugger all for the rest of the game, it was only fitting that Gerrard should whack it home. He's wasn't playing for England after all, so he could actually score last night.

And so, yet again, we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. And what a victory it would have been. If any piece of play I've seen this season has warranted a win it was Theo's run. To skip past four defenders, run the length of the pitch, and calmly stroke it back to Ade for a tap-in announces your ability in a big way. Yet for the second time this season, Theo will be overshadowed by a poor referee and sloppy defending.

What this boy has to do to get a start is beyond me. Eboue actually had one of his better games last night, but still, when in two positions where he could have created a goalscoring opportunity, he could not cross the ball. I'll say it again: o assists, 1 goal this season. What is his function in the team? Comedy relief for the opposition. Leave, now. Theo has assists in Milan and Anfield and should start the remainder of games for the season. If he doesn't, what does it say about Arsene's belief in his abilities? That he's only good to run at tired legs? Eboue is a disgrace to the team, in terms of his ability and his attitude; Theo, even when not playing well, is almost the exact opposite. Learn your lesson Arsene.

Last night was a microcosm of almost our entire season. We passed the ball round beautifully, and destroyed Liverpool in the opening 20-30 minutes, yet only came away with one goal. Then Flamini went off injured and the inadequacies of our squad came into focus. Gilberto is now like a demi-Flamini; he performs the same function with about half the speed, stamina and effectiveness. After that Liverpool were able to dominate the centre of the park.

Again, we conceded with essentially a team's first attempt on goal. Senderos, who was dismal last night after a series of decent performances, completely lost Hypia, yes Hypia, who then headed over Cesc's head, and who might have done better if he had stayed on the post. Our defence is the worst in top four, and it consistently shows. For all our attacking ability, we're having to score more goals than we need due to a poorly organised defence.

Two players were then critical for Liverpool, Babel and Torres, who could very easily be playing for Arsenal were we willing to spend to accumulate. Again, we were undone by a team with a stronger squad than us, albeit only marginally.

Finally, key decisions went against us, because we had not converted our early dominance into anything tangible.

So, in short Anfield was our season: good start, insufficient squad, poor defending, bad luck/decisions, possession with no end product, and, ultimately, heartbreak. To go from the joy I felt after Ade scored to, almost instantly, the penalty was too much. Much too much.

A win on Sunday could offer some hope for the season, but we have a knackered squad with dangerously low morale. I'd like to think we can pick ourselves up for the last 5 games of the season, but last night may have been the final straw for some of our over-played youngsters this year. I hope I'm proved wrong, but the season defining week has not gone too well thus far.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A season defining week approaches; will April be the cruellest month?

No blog for a while, and I apologise, but the rigours of having to give in essays totaling 16,000 by words next Friday have sidelined me has my decision to travel down to watch the boys play tomorrow. Hmm. May have misjudged the timing on this one.

It's been quite a week. Oop north (where it's grim) our bottle suddenly appeared in the middle of monsoon season, and the god's finally smiled on us when Cesc's corner flag effort was diverted in after bouncing off about 90 players.

Fast forward to Wednesday and we were robbed. I would say robbed by scousers, but that would be a) too easy and b) not entirely true, as we were actually duped by those apparently fun-loving hippies, the Dutch. Apparently, Kuyt and the ref are actually married or something, and there is was a four hundred year old grand conspiracy to deny us a penalty that was hatched at some point during the Dutch Revolt. Possibly; I'm sceptical. What can I say, I've got a university education.

Anyway, we should not just have won on Wednesday, we should have destroyed Liverpool, put the tie beyond them. To have 61% of the possession and come away with a draw is rather galling; but it's hardly a new state of affairs. Yes, we should have had a penalty, but maybe if Hleb had slightly more inclination to shoot - say 1 rather than 0% - the situation may never have had arose. And the Bentnder miss? Actually unbelievable. If you made a film called 'Nicklas Bendtner's and the great blunder', you'd be laughed out the cinema for the preposterousness of the script.

So, we enter a season defining week. It's come a bit later this year than last, when we lost a cup final and crashed out of two cups in the space of almost a week. Even if we blow it this time, at least we've made til almost mid-April. But then T.S. Eliot famously said that 'April is the cruelest month'. He also said that the world would end 'with a whimper' not with 'a bang', so maybe he was generally depressed. In any case, let's hope if he is right about April it relates to a different team than us.

If we beat Liverpool twice, and then United at OT, both trophies will again be within are grasp. It's a big ask but not impossible.

But improbable? Maybe. Any team that has the likes of Diaby and Eboue playing on the wing needs to have a look at the squad, or, more accurately, the rationale behind creating a paper-thin unit.

Our first XI, when not knackered, are as good as any team in Europe. But they are knackered. Clichy, who usually runs about like a maniac, was distinctly seen sauntering around by the end of the Liverpool game. He needs a week off from not just the physical but mental pressure of it all. Others need a breather: Cesc should not being playing every week at his age, even if he thinks he can. Ade needs both a little bit more competition from his place (which admittedly Eduardo was meant to partially provide) an able man to come in and knock one in for him whilst he has his feet up.

United can bring on Tevez, Hargreaves, Nani; Chelsea have Anelka, Belleti, Mikel waiting in the wings. They can mix up their squads when the finish line is in sight.

Because the season is a marathon. It doesn't matter if you play the best football in the world; you have to do it over 50-60 games a season.

Some of our players have injury problems which mean they should not be considered first XI players. If Mssrs Rosicky and RvP cannot play more than a third/half the games in a season, then its' time for a rethink, no matter what their ability.

And if Eboue is really the best option we have on the right wing, then we are really losing it. He has one assist, and 0 goals for the season. And he is a winger, an attacking midfield player. He dives, feigns injuries, acts like an idiot and there isn't even any end product after all of that. Leave. now.

So, these three games will tell us whether not only whether we can win anything this season, but more generally whether the squad as it currently stands is good enough to win anything in the future. We have the players; I just worry we don't have enough of them.

I hope I'm wrong; it would be a dream to win at both Anfield and OT in the same week. Let's hope it's more than just a dream, eh?