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.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Attack is not always the best form of defence.

It was an interesting game yesterday, one that perhaps summed up everything that's good and bad about this current Arsenal line-up.

The good? Well, even Eboue showed that he does have some worth, when he whipped in a very decent cross that was headed home by Greedy. Bendtner and Greedy then actually linked up to see nicky cooly stroke home, before Greedy knocked in the winner. He does take his chances, eventually.

Yet, not withstanding the positive points we should take from such a remarkable comeback, always having to score an extra goal or two due to our defensive frailties is not a wise way to go.

And defensive frailties we have, in abundance.

The essential problem is size and organisation. Individually our back four are all very good players. Indeed, I would even suggest that we still have the best set of full-backs in the Prem with Clichy and Sagna.

It's the centre-backs and goalkeeper that are the problem: none have the aerial dominance necessary to clear certain forms of attack, and it seems to be chaos every time a ball is whipped into the box.

And if I were to play against Arsenal at the moment, I would merely throw lots of long and high-balls into the area. Our opponents score a lot of goals because we cannot clear these balls adequately. The first Ajax goal yesterday, for instance, was a great strike, but one that came from a long-ball into the box which Kolo unconvincingly cleared, while Gallas looked on rather aimlessly.

Gallas and Kolo are not a good partnership, and never have been. They both play the role of the smaller, more nimble centre-back who relies on pace to clear our lines. They need a tall, aerially dominant player next to them.

This weakness is compounded by Almunia. He's a pretty decent shop-stopper, but instils no confidence in me, or our defence, when high balls are played into the area. Indecision creates more indecision and goal-scoring opportunities for the opposition.

Now, what makes this all the more galling is that Arsene openly recognised the fact we needed a new CB at the end of last season. Yet nothing has happened. The two big lads we have who Arsene is probably relying on are Senderos and Djourou, neither of whom has consistently performed to a level which suggests they'll be the type of player we need.

Further up the pitch, we still need a defensive holding midfielder, although, if reports are to be believed, Arsene is close to doing something about this in the form of Swiss international Gokhan Inler.

My overall point is this: going into a season with the attitude that 'it doesn't matter how many goals you score, we'll score more', as Arsene practically said in his press conference yesterday, is extremely dangerous. Always having to score an extra couple of goals per game will eventually take its toll.

Poor defending cost us the title last year, and it will cost us again this year, at this rate. Please Arsene, sort it out.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Wilshere the talk of the tournament, but goals still seem to be a problem.

All in all, Arsenal outperformed both Juventus and Madrid in our two Emirates Cup matches. The difference in each game was merely a goal: Juve got a dodgy one in the first, and we got a pretty soft penalty in the second.

We played with pace and fluency, but still looked a little lost when we get to the box. At least twice in the game today, someone should have just flown in and smashed a shot on goal. As it was, we over elaborated and lost possession. You can't score if you don't shoot, I still don't think this message is fully being hammered home.

However, maybe it's just preseason rustiness at this point. Certainly we didn't seem afraid to shoot earlier in the week against Stuttgart, with Vela, Bendtner and Walcott all looking especially dangerous.

Today, Ade looked the most likely of our players to score in open play, narrowly rolling the ball past the post after a wonderful bit of skill took him past several Real players. His celebration on scoring the penalty - kissing the badge - was every bit as galling as his statement earlier in the week that he had never asked or thought about moving from Arsenal.

It insults the intelligence of most Arsenal fans for him to say that but, as things stand, we won't find a replacement for him easily, and he does still seem to be our most potent threat up-front. It may have to be a case of forgiven, but not forgotten.

But the talk of the tournament, if not the entire pre-season thusfar, has been young Jack Wilshere. Just 16, he's done enough in the last few games to bring himself into contention for the coming season. Indeed, it was telling today that those players we thought were going to be the next stars to come out of the academy - Randall, Lansbury, Bazarite, even Gibbs - were left on the bench, if they even made it there.

Wilshere simply looks a cut above the other youth prospects I've seen. He has no fear when given the ball, and actively puts himself into positions to get it. He has a strength that belies his shorter stature, and also the requisite technical ability and all-round skill to fit into a Wenger team. Most importantly, for me, is he looks like a player who can make things happen. He must be one of the first names on the Carling Cup squad list already, and I would not at all be surprised to see him involved in the first team, if only as sub this season.

Elsewhere, Diaby seems to flit between looking impressive and a liability and Denilson still seems a bit unsure of his role in midfield. It isn't beyond the realms of possiblity that Diaby starts the first game of the season next to Cesc in centre-mid, but I still think an experienced defensive midfielder is a necessary signing.

Oh, and a new goalkeeper.

However, the team really doesn't look too bad at the moment. One more decent signing and maybe we will surprise one or two people this year. Also, I have to say, the new home kit looks alright in the flesh, and the new away kit is excellent. I may have to buy two shirts in one year for the first time for a long time.

Next up is Amsterdam, and hopefully a few more clues to how the coming season might unfold.