Monday, September 14, 2009

Adebayor, God, and karma; philosophy and football after a hammering.

Well that was a bit of a kick in the teeth, wasn't it?

I felt sure, so sure (to quote Take That) that the universe would be aligned in our favour for the game on Saturday. That we would hold the moral high ground with our system of breeding young talent against city's collection of hideously over-paid egomaniacs.

But, and as we all found out after Abramovich came to London, having huge piles of money does, quite often, get you pretty far in life.

Recently, I've thought about God and football players. I suppose it started when I saw Michael Burke do a documentary on religion and sport, in which he asked a series of players, including our (then) own Gilberto and Edu whether they really thought God cared about which team wins in a football match. The bemused look on their faces was quite a picture.

I thought about this with relation to the game on Saturday because Adebayor does one of the more ostentatious pre-game prayers I've seen in the Premier League. He stands, as he crosses the white-line, with his hands in the air, head back and looking to the sky as if God's divine power is flowing into him and no-one else, whilst the rest of the players sheepishly file past him onto the field.

So given he did score against us on Saturday, he escaped being sent off for one of the most vicious fouls I've seen in a long time, and he even threw in a goal-line clearance just for shits and giggles, a troubling thought struck me: what if god is on adebayor's side?

Of course, an alternative view could be that life is a serious of inter-connected but essentially arbitrary and random actions which are only given meaning through post-facto historical analysis.

But I just can't understand how Ade has got away with it all. Flirting so openly with other clubs and then attacking Arsenal fans - who paid his salary, something he never seemed to remember - and then really sticking it to us on the weekend just seems unfair. Surely we have the moral high-ground? A bit of justified booing at a multi-millionaire player who didn't get an even more lucrative move, and who then sauntered through the next season like he was already on the beach supping cocktails doesn't mean we're in the wrong, does it?

Do nice guys finish last? Does money talk louder than anything else?

I guess we'll see, because karmic re-alignment might be on the way. I'm not sure Eastern philosophers could have envisioned such an almighty institution as the FA when they were formulating their various beliefs, but our hopes now rest with them to re-align the universe.

Because Adebayor can't win; or at least he can't win in this way.

If he'd scored, fine, I'll take it. There are thousands of footballers who score against their old clubs, and who don't provoke riots in doing so because, by acting with a degree of circumspection, it's quite easy to avoid this. Seeing someone like Craig Bellamy having to show Adebayor how to act like a professional, or even merely a moderately respectful human being, should have shown Ade how far beyond the pale he'd gone on Saturday.

Even if he'd given a little bit back to our players, who were flying in on him a bit, through a bit of pushing and shoving, ok, I can understand that.

But to provoke a riot and to almost blind another player, and to almost snap poor Cesc in two, cannot go unpunished. Because if players like Ade are allowed to do whatever the hell they want on the field then surely any notion of justice must be removed from football.

Anyway, enough pseudo-philosophical ruminating.

We deserved to lose on the weeekend, and at the moment City look a better team than us. They have a better flow to the team, and have a goal threat coming from several parts of the pitch. Whether they can hold it together for the whole season is another question, but they will certainly be pushing for a top-four position come April and May.

We looked awful at the back. Almunia was horrendously at fault for the first goal, and he's cost us points this season already. But even if Fabianski wasn't injured, would Almunia's place be under threat? I don't think so, and our goalkeepers look like a weak part of the squad at the moment. Under-investment in this key position could cost us, especially when we could have signed Given in January.

Aside from Almunia, what appalled me was seeing us give Bellamy and Ade free shots/headers in the box. Whilst the centre-backs have to take a degree of criticism for not marking up, Clichy and Diaby were so utterly horrendous on our left-hand side that confusion reigned in the defence. If Clichy puts in many more performances like that, Gibbs may get into the first XI quicker than he might have predicted.

The only real positives to draw from the match were the return of Tomas Rosicky, who should now start in front of Diaby/Denilson, and a fine finish from RvP to get off the mark for the season.

Our splendid start to the season has been ended, in any case, and we need to get it back on track immediately, given that Chelsea have won 5 in 5, and we're 6 points behind city.

Roll on Liege.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A good performance but a bad result, and last minute transfer thoughts.

It was a tough game to take on Saturday. On seeing United's line-up I immediately felt we could win the game - Nani, Valencia, a fading Giggs, O'Shea, Carrick, Brown: these were players we could beat.

And so it initially appeared. In the opening half we dominated the game and deserved to go in ahead at the break.

It was a moment of pure magic from Arshavin that gave us the lead - a shot so pure that the ball barely deviated, but was still too much for Foster to deal with. Of course, we should have already been ahead after Fletcher completely took Andrei out in the box. But this being Old Trafford, why should we be surprised? I'll never forget the way we were cheated in 2004, and so seeing officials being so blatantly swayed in United's favour is just par for the course up at The Theatre of Dodgy Decisions.

The real turning point in the game, in any case, was van Persie's miss early in the second half. Arshavin brilliantly carved open the United defence and cut the ball back towards van Persie who had cleverly dropped off his man to give himself space for a shot. Foster stuck out his leg and made a superb reaction save, but Robin should have buried it; there can't be any excuses from missing from that position, especially at such a crucial moment in the game.

I don't think Robin has played poorly so far this season, but he hasn't scored, and if he's handed chances like that he has to score. I said earlier in the week that it doesn't matter who's scoring, as long as someone does. I still feel this is true, but in the big games you have to be clinical; you can't squander chances.

2-0 at that point would have won us the game, I'm sure. But instead we contrived to self-destruct in the most painful way possible.

If there's blame to be attached, then, unfortunately, the majority has to fall on Almunia. He hasn't started the season particularly well, as evidenced by the goal we conceded against Pompey. What he thought he was doing trying to claim the ball when Rooney was a) running away from goal and b) Gallas was already dealing with it (!) is anyone's guess.

Was it a dive? Rooney was certainly going down before Almunia touched him, but, unlike Boruc, he didn't have the nous to pull away to show that Rooney was diving. Being that he's English this is, of course, merely 'Clever play'. A soft, soft penalty, and one that could have been easily avoided.

Almunia also has to take his share of the blame for the second goal. Yes, it was Diaby who was mainly at fault, but I think Almunia's indecisiveness earlier in the match, and his inability to dominate his area had sowed confusion in the defence. Given how strong Almunia looked at the end of last season, it's a shame he seems to have slightly regressed. Here's hoping he can pull it together over the international break.

My major disappointment was our rather limp response to the second goal. We seemed to leave it too late to try and re-take the lead, and had it not been for hilarious misses from Nani and Berbatov we could well have ended up losing 3-1. The final humiliation was the ridiculous decision to send Arsene to the stands amongst the Mancs who yet again showed themselves to be a bunch of classless idiots through their repeated insistence of singing that song. Given Ferguson had the gall to complain about our fans 'abusing' him a few years back, I find it incredible that United have never faced any sanction over this song, or that the club doesn't try and do anything to stop their fans from singing it in the first place.

So, a weird one, in all. An absorbing encounter that I thought we deserved to win, but ended up taking nul points from. I just hope that the boys use this game to develop a sense of righteous injustice to spur them on, instead of just mentally collapsing, again.

As I write this there's about 28 hours of hte transfer window left. Will we sing anyone? Maybe. Given Senderos looks like staying, I'm not sure we need another centre-back - Phil is an acceptable second string player. The area we do need strengthening is in central midfield, namely a player who can provide cover for Alex 'soon to be the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League' Song.

The only signing that looks on the cards, atm, is Chamakh but I'm not convinced he's what we need.

Whatever happens, it's not going to be intense as during the last transfer window, so it's probably best that we all just go out and enjoy the bank holiday and hope for the best. The squad if fundamentally sound, so let's not get silly if we don't sign anyone.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Arsene Wenger: stand tall.

I am appalled.

I don't care about the result; I care about Arsene.

To be humiliated in the way he was, in front of 80,000 braying mancunians. That isn't right.

Especially if all he did was kick a drink bottle!

Stuff the result, the ref was a disgrace today.

Arsene: we love you. See you next week.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Eduardo stuns footballing world by creating a new form of cheating.

On Wednesday night in London the footballing world was rocked to its core as Croatian striker Eduardo (if that is even his real name) invented a form of cheating so insidious, yet so innovative and breathtaking, that many in the stadium, and across the world, were driven to tears by anger, despair and incomprehension.

'Why me! Why did I have to see this? What have I ever done to this world!' was the opinion voiced by one tearful supporter leaving the stadium, clearly shocked at what he had seen. His friends tried to comfort him, but he'd seen too much. They had all seen far too much.

Some are labelling what Eduardo did, 'The Croatian flop'; others, in a tribute of sorts to Eduardo's Brazillian heritage, have called it the 'Rio roll-over'. Some have even called it a 'dive', although this term is completely unknown in footballing communities.

The Celtic players attributed their defeat solely to Eduardo's action, which they claim traumatised them so deeply that they were simply unable to continue playing afterwards. This claim is, of course, completely and utterly plausible.

One player stated, 'it might seem, to the untrained eye, that Arsenal had completely dominated the game up to the point. That we had only had one shot on goal in the entire 120 or so minutes of the tie before Eduardo's goal. That our team is made up of a motley-crue of Premiership rejects, scottish driftwood and players who couldn't find contracts elsewhere in Europe. That we had played so poorly in the first half that ITV was forced to show a manifestly offside goal as our best chance at half-time.

'This is, of course, rubbish. Our game-plan was simple: lull Arsenal into a false sense of security by allowing them to go 2-0 up and completely dominate passing, possession, etc., and then, in the last ten minutes, to score 400 goals to win the tie on aggregate. Gary Caldwell had practised a move where he would run round the entire team heading the ball over each one of them like a seal, before scorpion-kicking the ball into the net. This was going to be goal number 400.

'Because of Eduardo's 'dive', if that's what it's being called, we were absolutely robbed of a game we would have undoubtedly won otherwise, especially as, by trying to cripple Arsenal's players in the first-leg, we had honourably played the game in 'the british way', where breaking players legs and crippling them are honoured pursuits. That we were denied our progression after such persistent fouling is really hard to take.'

UEFA have charged Eduardo over the said 'dive', stating that they would attempt to fully stamp out this new form of gamesmanship.

The organisation stated in a press release that, 'It was imperative that this form of cheating was destroyed before it could grow any further. We have never seen any incident like this in any European competition ever before; it is so unprecedented that we are at a loss of what to do. Eduardo may be turned over to the British police force for sentencing, because this crime clearly goes beyond football'.

Members of the British media stated that Eduardo must be dealt with harshly, before English players began being infected by 'the devious ways of the foreigner'.

One journalist stated, 'would steven Gerrard ever dive? no. Wayne Rooney? no. Michael Owen? no. Of course not: they're English. We need to make sure 'Eduardoing' doesn't catch on and that our decent boys aren't brainwashed into following his cheating ways.'

Further news is forthcoming, but for now I would like to say that I hope Eduardo receives a life-ban from football for destroying the careers of so many players and for taking the game to such a level of disrepute. I hope you're proud of yourself, Mr. da Silva.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The team vs. the individual: Arsene's new system.

Three games and 12 goals should leave no room for complaint.

Yes, the opposition was weak at the weekend, but so what? I remember going to a string of games in January/February last season where we played fairly mediocre opposition and couldn't buy a goal.

Portsmouth might be a shambles, but we can only beat the teams put in front of us.

Moreover, the other two teams we've beaten may not be top-top-level quality, but is anyone suggesting that Goodison Park or Parkhead are easy places to go and get results?

Three games in August and three wins; and by my predictions we will have two more before the month is out.

I think we will see the game out tonight without much difficulty, and will probably put at least another two goals past the celts.

Beating United at OT will be a huge ask, but I think, despite their demolition of Wigan on the weekend, that United are a team entering a difficult period of transition.

They have very little midfield to speak of the at the moment, they have Michael Owen as their third-choice striker, and if Rooney doesn't perform (which admittedly he almost always does when they play us) they will definitely struggle against a side brimming in confidence and full of dynamism. And if they don't buy before the end of the transfer window, something is afoot behind the scenes at the club. Fergie is not the type of manager to bank a cheque for £80m, no matter what he may protest in public.

The things that's struck me about the way we've been playing at present is how it seems to be ensuring that someone will be presented with a chance to score for us at regular intervals within games. It's less that our forwards aren't scoring, and more that the onus isn't on them to get all the goals.

Even if it worries me a little that players like Arshavin and, in particular, van Persie don't seem to have fully clicked into the system, does it really matter if the team is winning? Does it matter if van Persie scores or not, even if he is our nominal 'striker' if he's provided three assists in two league games? Whilst I'd like to see Arshavin in a central role - if more of our squad can perform to the peak of their ability by him being shoved out to the side (and only shoved out there a bit in any case), does it matter if he doesn't get four goals in every game?

Ultimately the formation seems to be encapsulating a lot of what Jonathon Wilson predicted in his excellent book, 'Inverting the Pyramid'.

Future trends in the game, at least at its highest-levels, will be towards 'universalism': Playmakers who can tackle, wingers who can cut inside and swap wings, centre-forwards who have the technique and passing ranges of midfielders, defensive players who can bring the ball out of defence and start attacks.

Total football for the Champions League generation.

And that's what strikes me about critics of the new system who say that Bendtner hasn't scored, van Persie hasn't scored, Arshavin isn't contributing enough. Who cares as long as we win?

If we can successfully continue our progress towards a system that has 5-6 players across the midfield and forward line who can effectively interchange positions, we will overwhelm our opponents, as we saw in the breathtaking 15 seconds that led to Diaby's second goal.

So, I'm excited about this season. I'm still hoping one more central midfielder comes into the squad before September 1st, but I think, if nothing else, we are in for a year of entertaining football. And let's all try and be positive for once!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bail-outs and long-term growth; a surprise scoreline, but not a surprise result/

You can really beat that for an opening day result, can you?

6 goals away from home. No matter who you're playing in the league, that's an exceptional performance.

And for some, an unthinkable result. After all, Arsenal haven't spent huge-wads of cash this summer. There's been no 'bail-out' of the squad. The continuation of long-term growth, with the clearing out of hindrances to this progression, has been the name of the game.

There are some who think the only way to resolve problems in football, and the world, is to throw money to prop-up broken systems. Maybe just one more huge injection of funds will do it; the old system ain't broke, it just needs fixin'. I don't think that's true in the global economy, and I certainly don't think that's true with regard to the current Arsenal squad. Things fall apart, of course; but I think we have a very solid base to the team at the moment that wouldn't have been achieved through mega-spending.

But this hasn't stopped the vultures have swarmed round the club. Mssrs Usmanov and 'red and white holdings' telling us that we'll never compete w/o their money; that only a rights issue will save the club! And who cares if they buy all the additional shares! Don't you know Red and White Holdings really love Arsenal with all their hearts. That a young Alisher dreams of one day pulling on the Arsenal no.10 shirt, admittedly in size XXXXL.

No. Of course he doesn't. We have a manager with vision, who realised that rather and try and patch over the cracks of an old team, a new one needed to be created. But this would take time, and it has taken time, and football fans, myself included, are some of the ficklest people in the world when it comes to supporting a manager and his team, even if their support for the club might be undying.

But I just feel that the demolition of Saturday proved something. We can be competitive without bail-outs. We can run a successful football team without rights issues. We can even, if you're to believe certain other blogs written by rock-star journalists, able to win by 6 goals without any of our forward line playing well. Remarkable!

So, while I didn't think we'd win by 6, I thought we'd win. And as my last two posts before the season started showed, I think Arsenal can win the league this season; and if not the league, then certainly some form of silverware.

Injuries, as always, will be the tipping point with what has proved to be a brittle team in recent seasons. But we won on the weekend without Nasri, Walcott, Rosicky, or Diaby.

If we are to keep Eboue, which looks increasingly likely and which, I amaze myself when I say this, won't necessarily be a bad thing if he's ok with a squad role, I think we only need one more player to come in before the 1st of September: an additional defensive midfielder to provide some cover for Song.

Other than that, I think the squad looks good. The performance on Saturday was by far the best of any of the 'top four' teams (and yes I did watch all the other games.)

I don't want to get carried away after one game, but I don't think I am; I think we are probably the form team of the 2009 calendar year in the Premier League and I think Wenger will prove a point to a lot of people this season.

The next big test is tomorrow at Parkhead, and I predict another win, if not by as many goals. It'll be a big test for the team, but unless Diaby starts in the middle of the park, I think we'll be ok.

Til then.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Fabregas, Arshavin and Eduardo could win Arsenal the league this season, if they stay fit.

The first thing to bear in mind is that we haven't lost anyone critical to the team's coherency or ability during this post-season. As I said in my last post, I think we've, at most, lost players who were our fourth-best striker and fourth-best defender. The fact both started games last season doesn't mean anything; even if they were first choice, Arsene, like myself, was suitably unimpressed with both of them to sell them off. I truly believe if Arsene wanted to have kept them, he would have.

Morevoer, we have replacements for them, already.

So, This is not a repeat of the 2008 debacle when we lost three central midfielders in a year - diarra, flamini and gilberto - and replaced them with three very raw kids - Song, Denilson, Diaby (and possibly Ramsey).

Moreover, Toure and Adebayor weren't 'talismatic' sales - neither carried such gravitas in the club that their sale left some form of psychological gap, in the way that the sales of Vieira and Henry did, for instance.

So, in short, for the first summer for a long time, perhaps since 2005, we're not having a difficult summer in terms of losing players in the transfer window. All the key players in the squad are staying. Please remember this, because I've already seen one report yesterday declare that Arshavin has begun to 'fill the gap left by Adebayor'. I'm really convinced that there is any gap to fill. Bendtner and Vermaelen have filled it already, and we're getting rid of player who, by all accounts, were causing division in the dressing room.

The only position in the squad where we need to thicken things up a bit is central midfield, because whilst Song is increasingly looking the part, beyond him its just Denilson and Diaby, who i still don't rate, and Ramsey, who may need another developmental season.

But let's focus on what we're going to keep this season: players such as Arshavin, Fabregas, Eduardo, RvP, Gallas, Sagna, Clichy, etc.

The first three, in particular, are trophy winning players.

Arshavin is by far and away the best half-striker I've seen play for the club since Bergkamp. I would compare him to Henry but I think they are too dissimilar, except in the fact that they can both change games in the blink of an eye. A player like Andrey inspires the team, because the rest of the squad knows he can produce a moment of brilliance that will create or score a goal, that no-one else in the pitch, perhaps in the premier league, could produce.

Fabregas is looking sharp after his injury and has already begun to, thrillingly, link with Andrei for goals. The relationship between those two could be a huge determinant of our success next year.

As could the fitness and the use of Eduardo. Eduardo is the best finisher at the club, perhaps one of the best in European football. He's better than Huntelaar, that's for sure. But after the seriousness of the injury he sustained, how much can we rely on him? Look at Diaby - i'm pretty sure his similar injury has prevented him from being able to play more than 5 games in a row, due to its lasting effect on his still developing body.

If Eduardo, Arshavin and Fabregas say fit, and are consistently picked in a formation which maximises the potential of the trio, we will win something next season, quite simply because they will give us a combined attacking force which will devastate most teams. Even if our defence remains a bit shaky, they will get us the goals that can push us that extra 5% further, which is all we're lacking in the second half of last season.

So, perhaps a little bit more defensive steel is needed, but that's about it (as I write this, Song has just made a tremendous last-ditch tackle in the box to deny Rangers a goal).

And watching the game today, young Jack Wilshere might just be the joker in our pack. He is obscenely talented and he cost us practically nothing. My only real concern is the Robin van Persie engima. Where is his best position? Is he good enough to have the rest of the team, or at least forward line, built around him? I'm not sure if I know the answer to either of those questions.

So maybe, take a deep breath, we don't need that many signings; I think next season might just be fun.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Arsenal sell their fourth choice striker and fourth choice centre-back for £40m: this summer is shaping up quite nicely.

Hello all. I'm back. I needed to re-charge my blogging batteries so I stopped for the summer when Arsenal's season ended - after the champions league exit against United.

But I'm starting to get excited about next season in a most unusual way.

Normally, signings are the things that gets the modern football fan out of his seat and into the blogosphere. But this summer, it's been sales.

Two shrewd sales at the that.

Firstly getting rid of Adebayor, possibly the most reviled Arsenal player since Cashley for the stonkingly good price of £25m. £25m! He will score 10 goals for City next year and agitate for a move again. He's been forced to leave two clubs now due to attitude problems, and we won't be the last club in which he talks his way into being sold. Bendtner, Eduardo and RvP are all better players, and Vela and Walcott are also decent options. Another striker might be needed to bring some guaranteed class to the mix, though, especially given RvP and Eduardo's injury problems.

Secondly, getting £15m for Kolo is a true stroke of managerial genius. I love kolo, he is a true Arsenal legend and he never gave less than everything out on the pitch. That's why we all love kolo. But he's past it. He's not a natural defender, and his game is completely based on recovery pace. With that waning, it's a good time to sell. Unlike Ade, this is a good buy for City, but it won't be enough to take them above us next year. And £15m is a superb amount of money, all emotions side, for a player in Kolo's current state.

With the news of Eboue's imminent departure, it seems Arsene is intent on getting rid of the dead-wood in the squad. With reports of a €10m fee agreed for him, that could be £50m banked for 2 average players and one entering a decline. Great business, which gives us options.

Do we need to spend this cash? Well yes, but not as much as the media and parts of the fan-base say so. The purchase of Vermaelen means we have him, gallas, Djourou, Silvestre, song and even senderos, if he stays.

Central midfield is probably the area we need to address, a true enforcer type player is something that could really kick the team on - but i was impressed by Song at the end of last season, so perhaps this is unnecessary as well.

It's easy to forget that we were the form team in the league for much of the second half of last season. I think Vermaelen looks like an excellent purchase, and Arshavin has had a chance to bed-in already. We are not having a fire-sale; our best players are going to stay this summer.

So, in Arsene I trust, I tentatively state. With one or two more players, whom I'm sure will arrive, I think we might just have the right mix for this season. So ignore what the media say; i think we might just surprise a few people next year.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A grim day for all concerned and it's time for a rethink

I don't think there's too much point in swathes of analysis for this match because it's all quite simple.

Yes, a horrible, horrible mistake from gibbs cost us early on; yes, almunia should have saved ronaldo's forty yarder.

But 4-1 was a fair refelection of the utter dominance united had over us over two legs. If anything, 1 goal for us was charitable, as was united only scoring 4 goals.

But that's whatr you get when you stick with players who don't know how to defend at the highest level. Last night we had toure, who's lost it, and Djourou, who may never get it, as our CB partnership. we played a kid at LB. United had o'shea, not the world's greatest player, but a solid one nonetheless. we even had a united cast-off on the bench. embarassing.

We had rvp sauntering around doing not very much, unable to cut it in another big game, while adebyor was almost as ineffective as he was in the first leg. nasri, song and fabregas tried but no-one really knew where tehy were playing. theo was anonymous.

But this is what happens when you take a policy of investment in talented youth to its conclusion - a lot of potential, inconsistent results. United have invested properly in their team and will defend their trophy in Rome.

So, mistakes cost us last night. Mistakes on and off the pitch. We lost because our first XI, let alone our squad, wasn't good enough and that has to come down to decisions taken by arsene.

Yes, we got to two semi-finals this year, but how many top-quality teams did we have to play to get there? Roma and villareal would not make the top-four in england, and we fell in the FA Cup as soon as we played a decent team.

If all we get this summer are more teenagers then we won't win anything because nothing will have changed. Arsene - it's time for a rethink. Look at the impact of arshavin before you go out and buy, because if you don't then your position needs to come under review, I'm afraid to say.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tsarshavin and Silvestre: a tale of two signings and 8 goals.

I don't know about you but I was actually physically shaking at the end of the game at Anfield. Not necessarily with rage or joy; just due to the immense amounts of adrenaline that had been pumped through my body during one of the more incredible games of football I've seen.

People have said it was a strange game as we had nothing to play for. Well, that's balls. Firstly, we're only 6 points behind 3rd place,and after Chavski's draw we would have only been 4 if we'd won. Secondly, I'm not wholly convinced that some of the players didn't have a sneaking feeling we could make a late title challenge.

The only way that was going to happen was if we won all our remaining games, and others fell to bits - a kind of replication of the '98 season.

It didn't happen, and I'm still trying to work out if we were unlucky not to win or lucky not to lose.

The game veered from the sublime to the ridiculous - Arbeloa playing a virtual one-two with Arshavin before his stupendous goal or us AGAIN being outnumbered in our own box in the closing minutes of a game we were hanging on to win (spuds home, villa away spring to mind).

On balance, a draw was probably fair. As incredible as some of our attacking play was, I can safely so I have witnessed few defensive performances as abject as that from an Arsenal team in the past.

And so for me it largely came down to two players: The Imperious TsArshavin of mother Russia; and the light-bulb headed disaster that is Mikael Silvestre.

Arshavin epitomises everything that the majority of our signings should be: established players with bags of talent who can make a difference instantly.

His goals highlighted every part of a great attacking players repertoire: speed, finesse, agility, power, an ability to use both feet, and a tenacity to be in the right place at the right time.

His fourth goal was almost hallucinatory in its brilliance. Theo sprinting half the pitch with another great Anfield assist, before Arshavin finished with the type of aplomb that I doubt any other Arsenal player could muster. I nearly wept. It was beautiful.

And within seconds, the other signing had helped undo his work. Silvestre, who has been unremittingly awful since his arrival at the club, helped stir panic in our defence and saw us again snatch what felt like a defeat from the jaws of victory. Seriously, if he wasn't good enough for the Mancs, why the hell should he be good enough for us? His performance yesterday was worse than Senderos's last year up in scouseville, and i'd never thought i'd say that.

I'd like to say it's incredible that we managed to concede with only 2 minutes to go, but it wasn't. The only incredible thing is where Howard Webb got five bloody minutes of injury time from. We have the shell of a great team at the moment, but one that still turns off too often at critical moments.

The only reasonable excuse is that we had a patched up defence yesterday. But even then, when was the last time Kolo had a consistent period of form? What was the point of losing Senderos and buying Silvestre? Does Denilson offer any defensive assistance whatsoever?

The game was thus a microcosm of Arsenal's season - moments of sublime attacking football woven into periods, and i do mean periods, of utter chaos in defence.

Can we push on from this? Yes, if we concentrate on improving our defence again. Silvestre should be sold/put-down. Kolo should be a squad player. Gibbs - who has been fantastic since coming in - should be allowed to push Clichy for a starting berth. Gallas and Djourou should be our starting CBs, and if Gallas leaves a decent replacement - not a kid or some ropey Cygan-esque CB - should be brought in. I still think a new goalkeeper isn't an awful idea.

In midfield, Denilson's place in the team should come under serious consideration. I think that playing Nasri centrally but with a more defensive mindet could really work as he bust a gut doing so last night. He certainly can't be worse than the performances Denilson has produced in the last two games.

Cesc should not play in the ridiculous support striker position he's been pushed into.

Song should be first XI - his improvement this year has been a joy, and he even pushed Arshavin for Motm last night.

The team should be built around Arshavin playing centrally in the hole.

If our defence is tweaked, and we mentally thoughen up a bit when we get ourselves into good positions, we can push on from this season. I really think that Arsene not putting out a first XI for the FA Cup was a mistake because this group of players needs to get a trophy, any trophy under its belt, and winning the FA Cup would have been easier than the Champions League. Players need to learn how to win and sometimes you have to aim a little low at first.

Overall, more Arshavins and less Silvestres. Then, one day, we might actually hold a lead at Anfield...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thugs, dodgy barnets and goal-scorers.

Something a bit different today: a guest columnist. Here is Russ and his thoughts:

You may not realise it but these are the groups into which every single winner of the PFA Player of the Year Award can be easily placed. Some actually fall into two camps. Consider Kevin Keegan (winner in 1982) as a clear example. Okay, okay so it’s too easy naming players from the seventies and early eighties as evidence of this rule. But honestly go through the list and place every winner in a category. The great thing about this is that there will be absolutely no protestations from friends who do the same; it’s simply always, utterly, glaringly, obvious. I will give you a few, completely at random. Again be aware they may occupy two groups.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (winner in 2007, and 2008). 2. Roy Keane (2000). 3. Peter Shilton (1978). 4. Alan Shearer (1995). 5. Thierry Henry (2003, 2004).6. John Terry (2005). 7. David Ginola (1999). 8. Norman Hunter (1974). 9. Ian Rush (1984)....

Your list above should read very similar to:
1. Dodgy Barnet and Goal Scorer, 2. Thug, 3. Dodgy Barnet, 4. Goal Scorer, 5. Goal Scorer, 6. Thug, 7. Dodgy Barnet, 8. Thug, 9. Goal Scorer...

Think I've cherry picked them? Try these bad boys on for size: Andy Gray (Thug and Goal Scorer, as delightfully evidenced by Everton’s second goal against Watford in the 1984 FA Cup Final; the elbow to Steve Sherwood still hurts the people of Hertfordshire, almost as much as their flagging Hedge Funds). Steven Gerrard (Thug and goal scorer, as evidenced when his request for “That song by Atomic Kitten” was rejected by a Liverpool DJ, and, by the way Steve, where has your forehead gone?). And Peter Reid (The Wolfman again sits in both camps) to name but a few extras easily categorised.

So this ‘fact’, as distinct from coincidence, got me thinking about the deserved winner of this year’s award. Now, it’s common knowledge, at least to members of the public, that footballers are not the brightest bunch. The inclusion of five Man Who? players on the six player short list seems to back this notion up. I still think the inclusion of Ryan Giggs (he of just 8 completed Premier League matches this season) occurred because everyone got together and had a chat about who their favourite players were when they were growing up. Someone also told me that Neville Southall and Chris Waddle were on this year’s original list before it was shortened.

Nevertheless if Giggs does win it, it will only stand to reinforce our aforementioned ‘fact’ I suppose (Dodgy Barnet).

So, I thought, if I believe their short-list to be pretty much nonsense, then who should win the gong this year? Obviously the man must be easily assimilated into at least one of the groupings to ensure our ‘fact’ remains. But, I’m sure you’d agree, we need to get this ‘fact’ a bit more attention amongst the football going public. Let’s face it, had it not been for this blog you would be none the wiser I’m almost certain of that. So who is it that can propel this ‘fact’ across the air waves and into the minds of football fans? Who is the man we need to win the Award to affirm our ‘fact’? To crystallize it? To cement it? Whose win will land on Newspaper desks and smack the editor of the tabloids right around the chops?

Well, by my reckoning there is one man that stands above all others. He is an impressive Goal Scorer (7 in the PL from midfield), a Thug (12 yellow cards and counting so far this season), and he has a really, really Dodgy Barnet (D-I-S-C-O.). We all know who he is. I shall not state the obvious. It’s just a shame Piers Morgan isn’t still at The Mirror.


So there you go, let Russ know what you think. Pretty decent shout for Player of the Year, for me, given the dross that's been served up for most of this season. My choice is Mikael Silvestre - what a player he's been for us, English football and france this season.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

'Spittergate', Phil Brown, Sam Allardyce, Pedersen, Diouf and the real scourges of modern football.

We should, really, be celebrating getting into the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the first time since 2005, but we're not because of Phil-Brown-accuses-Cesc-of-spitting-gate.

Did Cesc spit at Brian Horton, Hull's assistant manager? No. Do I have categorical proof of this? No. But I'm far more willing to take Cesc's word over Brown and Horton's. Just look at Cesc's categorical denial on the club's website, compared with this radio interview given by Brown today:

One or two 'er, oh, did I say, that *silence*' moments in that interview says it all. As does Brown changing his story from saying it occurred on the pitch, to being in the tunnel. As does the fact no-one else seems to have witnessed it. You don't have to be a judge to work it out.

Yet the English press have gone mad. Because the footballing media in this country love a good scandal. And spitting, in particular, seems to be the worst thing possible for a football player to do.

And to be frank, that's bullshit. Spitting isn't very pleasant, but it's hardly a scourge of the game. We've seen three far worse things at The Emirates this week which have been ignored or brushed over by the self-appointed watchdogs of the game in our media.

Firstly: negative, scientific, soul-less football, which liberally employs time-wasting and cheating to get results.

Not from us but from Blackburn and, in the past, any team that Sam 'I could have been England manager' Allardyce has managed. And I do count this as a scourge of the modern game because it makes football boring; it turns the game into a drab parody of what it should be; it turns a work of art into a robot. Blackburn, under Allardyce's order, played football like a rugby team on the week-end. They punted the ball into touch in our half to win possession, contested the line-out, sorry throw-in, and used their designated playmaker, Paul Robinson, to take any free-kick they won, which they lumped into the box to try and win the fabled 'second-ball' which Allardyce's game is all about.

Brown employed the other side of this strategy to perfection at The Emirates last night. Time-wasting at every opportunity, such as getting players to pass the ball round the whole team, practically, before taking a bloody throw-in. That Brown had the temerity to blame Wenger for getting Myhill booked for time-wasting before accusing him of being unsporting for not shaking his hand was the cherry on this cake of crap. Maybe, Phil, Arsene didn't shake your hand because he didn't like being called a cheat? But no, it's Arsene who's at fault, clearly.

Teams who set themselves up like Blackburn and Hull only have themselves to blame when they lose. By trying to cheat and hoofing the ball towards victory they're only cheating their own fans. Don't complain that no-one respects you when you don't respect the game and the way it should be played. And maybe, journalists of the UK, you could give Arsene some credit for consistently producing entertaining football for you all to watch, instead of just accusing him of being a bad loser. As a postscript to this, where was the condemnation of Alex Ferguson after his defeat on Saturday? When he claimed United were the better team and refused to even talk to the press afterwards? No-where. That Ferguson has got such an easy ride from the press for so many years, whilst every action of Arsene's comes under scrutiny, is a disgrace and hints at more shadowy motives at work in the media.

Secondly, Pedersen's dive, which didn't even get a booking on the weekend. It's all part of the same cheating which sees time-wasting employed against us to get results. That Pedersen hasn't received any form of punishment for this outrageous piece of cheating is staggering, as was Pedersen's claim that he isn't a cheat. Yes, yes you are.

Thirdly, Diouf's tackle on Almunia. I was sitting right in front of this at The Grove and it was a horrible, horrible tackle. Late, vicious and intended to injure to gain advantage. Coupled with Kevin Nolan's tackle on Victor Anichebe a few weeks ago, it seems football has learnt nothing from Martin Taylor's career-threatening tackle on Eduardo more than a year ago. Diouf should have been red-carded and received a lengthy (more than 3 game ban) for it, but no. Allardyce even defended the challenge after the match despite the sheer viciousness of the tackle. Shows you everything you need to know about the man.

That allegations of spitting and a lack of a handshake are considered bigger issues than career-ending tackles, diving, and the negative football which Allardyce practices and champions shows how messed up the English media is. Ignore them and get ready for Wembley.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Amazing Arshavin lifts Arsenal, but Bendtner deserved better from the fans.

Well, that was a bit better, wasn't it?

After what seems, and in fact was, months of tepid league matches with barely a goal in sight we were finally able to conjure up an extremely decent performance yesterday.

Whether it was due to the opposition or not is probably a moot point; they were certainly no worse than some of the other teams we've struggled to score against this season, although i have additional thoughts on Sam allardyce to follow in a seperate article.

What seemed to make the difference was an early goal, and attacking impetus and energy from the get-go, instead of from the middle of the second half.

Why? Better players are playing, and the performances of a few others have improved. Quite simple, really.

Song, who I was relatively scathing about a few weeks ago, was absolutely superb, looking, dare i say it, vieira-esque at moments as he broke up play and distributed the ball. For me, he looks a far more convincing future foil to Fabregas than Denilson who, whilst good yesterday, doesn't quite have the strength or defensive ability necessary for the modern holding player.

Song would have been MotM if not for the star of the show: Mr. Arshavin. What a breath of fresh air he's been. From the first time I saw him play, it was obvious that he was a world-class player, a cut above the level some of our other players have been producing of late. With Theo and Nasri at his side, Bendtner in front of him, and Song feeding him, he was sensational yesterday, not least with a truly superb individual goal. It's been a while since i've seen a goal at the emirates which has left me awe-inspired but that one definitely did.

His passing is excellent, he's not afraid to shoot (he's definitely no Hleb), and he's not afraid of the physical side of the game. He's a player who won not just Russian but European competitions with Zenit and propelled an otherwise fairly average russian side to the semi-finals of the European Championships. If ever there was a player who looked capable of winning us silverware it's him, and I sensed that the crowd felt that yesterday at the game.

Large sections of the crowd, however, also made their negative thoughts known about bendtner yesterday in a very disappointing manner. Here's a player who never hid during the game, who's build up play was excellent and, as far as I'm concerned, was vital to us winning the game as convincingly as we did. He's also, in my opinion, a far better all-round player than Adebayor, despite his current lack of finishing prowess.

I was equivocal about the Eboue booing because my problems with Ebou go far beyond his ability - they are to do with his cheating, selfishness and self-destructiveness. I simply think he cannot be trusted on the pitch and had only himself to blame for the crowd's negative reaction. I also don't think he really understands why he was booed because he's too stupid to realise how embarrassing his antics have been to supporters of the club. The fact he clearly thought that he can take a penalty when we're 3-0 up in the 90th minute to make amends with the fans shows that the has no idea why so many of us were angry with him in the first place.

Bendtner, on the other hand, is still extremely young and has the right attitude, overall. Booing and cursing him will not improve his performances and I was glad that some of the crowd tried to counter the negativity with 'super nick' chants, in which I joined in.

There's been a lot of negativity at the Grove of late; let's hope not just arshavin, but also the fans, can do their bit to counter it.

Til later.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When you win on penalties, who cares what happened before?

A long European night in Rome ended with a penalty shoot-out triumph, and for once I'm not going to over-analyse the match.

A midfield of Eboue-Diaby-Denilson-Nasri-Bendtner was always going to struggle away from home, and it was painful at times last night. Bendtner worked hard, Diaby occasionally shone, Nasri had a few moments, but Denilson and Eboue were predictadly average and awful, respectively.

I read today that Eboue is already talking about a contract renewal as he only has one year left on his contract, or something, and that Inter are interested in him.

I would actually be prepared to organise charity events to raise money for Inter to fund his bloody transfer. He's a complete waste of space, and could have ended the tie in London if it wasn't for his predictably woeful finishing. As for Denilson, it seems his taken to being the new 'invisible wall' a little too literally, although he was visible when he gave the ball away at least.

With RvP isolated up-front and blasting the few chances he had over the bar, it turned into a two-drunkards-outside-the pub-slogfest: there was movement, a few dangerous blows, but no knock-out punch. For this, in part, we have to thank Julio 'the Beast' Baptista, who put in what some have called his finest performance for Arsenal last night. Thanks Baps.

That said, apart from a calamitous error which led to the goal, we didn't defend too badly. Sagna was predictably immense, quelle surprise, Kolo and Gallas did ok, with Kolo doing his best to look panicky at every occasion, Clichy was a bit ropey as usual this season, and Almunia was solid. I'm enjoying being proved wrong about Almunia at the moment, long may it continue.

By about the 65-70th minute I was sure the game would go to penalties, with only perhaps our bench likely to provide the spark we needed for a goal. Unfortunately, neither Theo or Eduardo were able to produce anything and the game meandered through a drab period of extra-time.

And so to penalties. We missed, I feared the worst; they missed, my hope returned; they missed again, utter relief. It has to be one of the longest shoot-outs I've seen, and credit to the players for keeping their nerve. A lot of the penalties weren't particularly convincing, but they went in, which is all that matters.

And the same can be said about the result itself. Yes, we were poor in Rome, but we completely outplayed them in the first leg, so, on balance, we deserved to win the tie. Crucially, by the time we play our quarter-final, we should have Fabregas and Rosicky (stop laughing) back, and theo and Eduardo will be much nearer full fitness.

So, with a win against Blackburn and against Hull in the 1/4 finals on Tuesday, our season may just produce silverware yet.

But for now let's just revel in the fact WE WON A PENALTY SHOOT OUT. This is satisfying enough in the short-term, for this goonerboy.

til later.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Arshavin exposes the mediocrity of an Arsenal drawing their way to fifth place.

At a personal level, it was nice to attend a match after having been unable to get to the Grove since the Bolton match in January. Being a relatively superstitious kind of person, I had hoped that my presence at the game might be enough to break Arsenal out of their goal-less funk, but evidently not.

In some respects, it’s easy to exaggerate just how badly Arsenal are playing at the moment. The team have, after all, now gone three months and a week unbeaten in the league. We’ve also only conceded 3 goals in the eleven games since the beginning of January.

From that point of view, you’d think we be at the top of the table challenging for the title. Unfortunately – and as the debate of my article last week showed – stats can be ignored or shaped to fit certain conclusions. And, the most important stat at the moment is the most important in football: goals scored. We have only scored in 3 goals in our 7 league matches since the start of January. That is relegation form, especially when you consider that most of the team’s we’ve been playing of late have been from the bottom-half of the table. 3 goal-less home games, in particular, isn’t good enough to get into the champions league.

I was excited to see Arshavin in the flesh and almost mistook him for our mascot when he came out of the tunnel. He really is very small for a footballer.

But Arshavin’s performance only left me depressed. Why? Because he is a level above most of the dross that’s starting for the team at the moment. I would go as far as to say that out of all our starting XI, only Arshavin, Gallas, and possibly Sagna would get anywhere near a starting place in the 2004 or 2002 title-winning teams.

Arshavin does things instinctively, quickly, and efficiently. When you see him somehow produce a breathtaking, defence splitting ball after it looked like he had got the ball tangled up in his feet, you realise how good he is. He takes about a third of the touches other team members do, because he’s about twice as good as some of them. He kept intelligently laying the ball off to players and creating dangerous situations throughout the whole of the first half and well into the second before tiring, and almost giving up in the face of Clichy’s embarrassing inability to cross the ball, or for RvP to do anything but hit his passes straight at the goalkeeper.

Arshavin had at least three passes that should have been assists but he was let down by team-mates. If Eduardo had been playing yesterday we would have won; but he wasn’t and no-one else in the Arsenal team has the ability, or perhaps discipline, to realise that missed chances cost matches.

By the end of the match I felt embarrassed. Arshavin has exposed just how poor some of the current squad are; by buying too many Denilson’s, Diaby’s and Song’s, Arsene has created a team of potential. Hopefully it’s not too late for him to realise that it’s established, international players – more Arshavins - who win titles, not kids.

There were worries all over the pitch. Nasri has developed a Hleb-like ability to avoid shooting and responsibility; Vela again just looks like a talented kid rather than a seasoned pro who’s going to win us some games; Diaby and Denilson did their best, yet again, to provide us with no drive whatsoever from central midfield, although their partnership was a cut above that of Song and Denilson last week. Kolo was again made to look like a fool by Fulham’s crossing and long-balls. Arsene reiterated his belief in the Gallas-Kolo partnership in his programme notes, but Fulham would have scored if not for poor finishing on their part. What Kolo has to do to be dropped, I don’t know. Certainly, the vastly superior performances of Djourou this year haven’t been enough to dislodge Kolo from the side.

Yet, the drop in form of Clichy was perhaps the single most worrying aspect of the game. Zamora simply walked past him on a number of occasions. He’s looked more and more suspect defensively as the season has wore on, and going forward he was absolutely awful. Arshavin should have given him an earful, newboy or no.

So this has what it’s come down to: we can’t score. We have too many average players who aren’t capable of winning us games, and a new signing who has put into cruel relief just how average a lot of our players really are.

At the end of the match, boos rang out, but I didn’t partake and I still refuse to, even if I understand and share the frustrations of the fellow gooners who did.

Fulham didn’t just defend their way to a 0-0: they were excellent and fortunate not to win. We simply didn’t have the personnel. Injuries? We knew about Rosicky and Eduardo at the start of the year, so only Theo and Fabregas can really be cause for complaint.

The fact is we came into the season with a ridiculously weak squad and we’re finally reaping the consequences. Arshavin’s signing goes someway to improve the situation, but also shows that these moves should have been done earlier by a manager who’s let the club down through an over-reliance on his pet-project.

Fourth place or not, we’ve only mounted a credible league challenge once in the last four seasons. That is not good enough. These four consecutive 0-0s should be a turning point in how Wenger views certain players in our squad. Let’s hope it is.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The stats don't lie: Denilson and Song were a disaster against Sunderland.

I hate to keep banging on about this, but it's hard not to, given how diabolical performances have been of late.

Our central midfield has been a disaster, and now I (well, the Guardian) can provide some statistical evidence that relying on players like Denilson and Song simply isn't acceptable.

Go to

Set it up for Arsenal, 2008-9, Sunderland, click on D Pereira Neves, then passes for the event.

You will see that Denilson did not complete one successful pass into the final third of the pitch in the entire match. In fact you will see that almost all his succesful passes were sideways ball, he had no shots on goal, and whilst he managed a rather more credible 6 tackles out of 8 attempted, his tackling stats are exactly the same as Nicklas Bendtner.

Alexandre Song, supposedly the powerhouse in our midfield, made one successful tackle in three attempts, with 5 interceptions. Again, no shots on goal, but he did actually make, incredibly, three successful passes into the final third.

Samir Nasri's passing was more dangerous, but he had no attempts on goal. That second statistic is unacceptable, I'm afraid.

What does all this prove? That Denilson and Song are not up to being a central-midfield partnership at a club which supposedly has European ambitions.

For Arsene to come out with the amount of guff, that he states in this article:

is mind-boggling.

You know why Denilson hasn't got much credit Arsene? Because he isn't very good. Not at the moment, in any case. One day he might develop in a tidy little player, but at the moment all he has is hideously over-inflated pass completion statistics from continually passing the ball sideways. We have no-one in the centre of the park at the moment who is willing, or able, to make telling, dangerous passes.

Likewise we have no bite in midfield, with barely anyone making any tackles, and only Arshavin, out of the four players who started in midfield yesterday, willing to make any attempts on goal.

So we have a central midfield that doesn't create chances, can't win the ball, and doesn't make attempts on goal.

That is why we are in fifth place at the moment Arsene. And that is why I worry when he says this about Denilson:

"I am surprised how little credit he got for what he has delivered since the start of the season. I think he has improved tactically in his first pass and physically in the challenge. He is much stronger than a year ago."

“You can see today when he makes a tackle he wins the ball. I am convinced he will be even stronger in six months.

Well, maybe. But at this rate, we're going to be in the UEFA cup in 6 months time.

For the time being, one of Denilson, Song, and Diaby has to play, but playing more than one of them at the same time is killing our season.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Arsenal's unbeaten run has become a parody of the invincible season.

There's going unbeaten, and there's looking unbeatable. These are two quite different things.

In the 2003/4 season, of course, we didn't always coast through games, but, by and large, the Arsenal team of that season played like some form of demented force of nature. It had power, pace and technique, and, had it not been two goals in a quarter- and semi-final, we should have done a double, if not a treble.

You have to move on from the past, but you can never forget moments of history like that season. A lot of people would say that comparing the current crop of players to, quite possibly, the greatest team in Arsenal history is harsh; but to what else should we compare them? We were once winners and, it seems, this is no longer the case. So, understandably, Arsenal fans want to know what's gone wrong.

Well, we've stopped scoring goals. Our recent ability to keep clean sheets - only 3 goals conceded in the last ten games - has become an irrelevance compared to the fact we can't put the ball in the net at the other end. For all that every fan hates his team to lose, two draws yields less points than a defeat and a win.

Since the Che£sea game in late November we've only scored more than once in two games - against Hull and Villa. We've now notched up 3 goal-less league games, two of which were at home against opposition we should beat if we think ourselves to be a credible force in the league, let alone a team with ambitions of a fourth-place spot and the Champions League.

The reason we're not scoring is, ultimately, the midfield. Arshavin's arrival shows that Wenger has, hopefully, realised how pedestrian we've looked in the centre of the park of late, and, if nothing else, he will hopefully confine Eboue to the bench for the foreseeable future. The Owl certainly looked bright today in the sixty minutes he was given, and had a verve and spark that we've been missing. How much he can actually contribute to this season remains to be seen.

Aside from him we have:

- Denilson, who offers nothing, going forward or back.
- Song, who loses the ball as much as he does anything with or wins it.
- Nasri, who looks wonderful one games, then goes missing the next.
- Diaby, who looks and plays like he's half-asleep.
- Eboue, who i refuse to even talk about any more.
- Vela, who's too young.
- Rosicky, Fabregas and Walcott, who are all injured.

We have no energy in that midfield to win the ball and re-distribute it. We have a surfeit of players who expect someone else to do the donkey work for them and it shows. The Engine-room of the team isn't working; we're not creating enough chances, let alone dominating matches.

It's been a rubbish season because we haven't replaced key players who left last summer. Every Arsenal fan could see that losing Diarra, Gilberto, and Flamini (and hleb) in a period of six months was a disaster if these players wern't adequately replaced. Well, they wern't. We've had absolutely dross playing in the middle of the park this year and it's finally begun to show with our latest set of results. Relying on players like Song, Denilson, Diaby and Eboue to get you into the Champions League is the height of folly.

With an average midfield, we've coasted through games, largely relying on our reputation at times to force teams to play defensively and not expose our weaknesses too much. We've reached a point where we too good to lose, and not good enough to win; not even good enough to catch up on a team like Villa when we've got Sunderland and W Ham at home. It's rubbish.

What's been even more galling for me, in recent games, is that one of the few major pluses of this season, Johann Djourou, has been dropped, again. Why? What has Toure possibly done this season to warrant coming straight back into the side? It's a ridiculous,pedantic and pathetic decision by Wenger to continue the Gallas-Toure partnership when it has been made absolutely patent that they cannot play together, especially after he constantly bangs on about giving 'youth a chance', then drops our best young player this year!

So that's where we are in late February. Hanging on in fifth place, hoping for a cup run to paper over the cracks. Here's hoping our battle with the Romans brings some light-relief.

til later.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Turning point or false dawn? If Arsenal's season doesn't get going soon it never will.

The club is in a funny place at the moment.

I suppose we're meant to be feeling optimistic after the 4-0 drubbing of Cardiff on Monday, but I can't quite buy it.

For one, the major, overriding positive point of that game, Eduardo's explosive return, has already been rubbed out, with the Croazillian picking up a hamstring injury.

This being an Arsenal injury, the original prognosis of two weeks was, of course, wrong. Arsene reported in the press conference today that he'll be out til at least the Blackburn game on 14 March. Without wanting to be too pedantic, that's 3 and a half weeks.

The other big positive is, obviously, the impending debut of Andrey Arshavin. I don't think he'll start tomorrow; I'm pretty confident that Vela and Nasri will continue in the wide positions, with Andrey coming on at around the 65-70 minute mark, possibly earlier if we look a real shambles. It's a tall order for a short guy: turn our season around or welcome back to the UEFA cup. Has he got it in him to adapt to English football in record time? To get fit enough to play after having not really played since November? I guess we'll find out.

Because the alternative is Eboue, who, by rights, should have been suspended for 3 matches, if not sacked, by the club for gross, and continual, stupidity and selfishness. If I was Arsene, I would torn up his contract in the dressing room after the Sp*rs game. He's had his chances and plenty of them; he should leave in the summer, especially as Vela already looks a better player.

Whether we are turning the season round or not, the important fixtures are going to be coming thick and fast in the next few days. Roma is imminent, as is a series of fixtures that could, very easily, see us through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

Yet, we remain 7, yes 7, points behind Villa and 5 points behind a chavski side which will surely go through a resurgence with Hiddink in charge.

We've made this season exceptionally hard for ourselves by not sufficiently strengthening in the summer. Our midfield has been inexcusably poor since December, inspiring an unbeaten run which is almost a parody of the invincibles.

Yet with a little quality returning, and by not entirely ruling ourselves out of things, maybe there's hope left yet for this year. Perhaps we could surprise a few people yet.

Or maybe Eboue starts tomorrow.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Arshavin is still in London and will surely sign for Arsenal today.

I wondered whether there would ever be a transfer saga to top that of Julio Baptista in 2005. I think the BBC announced on about five separate occasions that we'd signed him, before sheepishly revealing he'd gone to Madrid.

And then there was Nasri this summer, although being able to read L'Equipe everyday re-assured me that the deal was going through.

But I think the Arshavin saga has trumped them all, for sheer durability and ridiculousness. Every hour for about a month there's been new stories appearing in both the UK and Russian media about the deal.

The speculation hasn't been helped by the, frankly, bizzare, Dennis Lachter. This man seems quite happy to give out details about the Arshavin deal, or lack of one, to everybody and anyone who drops him an email or a text. To be frank, I don't believe a word he says, but that's just my opinion.

Nor has it been helped by Sky Sports News. This channel thrives on transfers - the one time it actually gets decent viewing figures - so they have spun the story out at every opportunity, especially as, aside from the Keane transfer, this is probably the only big transfer that might go through today. And on at least 75% of the occasions they've brought us an 'exclusive' about the deal, they've been wrong.

So, after falsely claiming Arshavin was in London the other day, they finally got it right this morning, showing Arshavin in snowy Hertfordshire after jetting in from Petersburg, before now claiming, along with most other media outlets that Arshavin has gone home after failing to seal a deal.

I simply refuse to believe that Arshavin would fly in to London, wake up, see the deal break down definitively, and then fly home all before lunchtime. And so despite the majority of the print media claiming that Arshavin has gone home, both 5 Live and sources within the Arsenal Supporters Trust are both claiming that Arshavin is still negotiating in London, with the AST source (credit to the Online Gooner for this) saying Arshavin is in Highbury House as you read this.

For me, the logistics of the transfer mean a deal is surely more likely than not at this point.

Petersburg aren't going to find another buyer at this point, and they're not going to get £15m+ for him from anyone else after today, as Arshavin's value starts to decline due to the state of his contract and the fact he hasn't really played of late as he's clearly lost motivation over whether to play for the club.

Especially given he's probably agreeing personal terms as we speak, the ball is in our court. I should imagine Zenit will agree to a slight decrease in the fee and he'll be pronounced our player at around 6 PM this evening.

More than anything else, this is because I find it inconceivable that we will go through this transfer window without signing anyone. For Wenger not to strengthen our squad after the tepid performances we've seen so far this season would be seriously worrying.

Arshavin is a class act and can help us solidify our top four place this season. While Arsene was right to state that no one player can be a 'saviour', he could at least save us from seeing the likes of Diaby, Eboue or Denilson shoved out onto the flanks. For that alone, I'm patiently hoping and waiting for the deal to go through.

More reaction to the transfer window as news becomes apparent.

But for now:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Hull of a finish gives Arsenal the points, as reinforcements look imminent

I do like my puns, so I make no excuse for the title.

What could have been another dispiriting away trip turned into a very nice little result, one orchestrated by a Robin van Persie who is really beginning to show hints that he could grow into the role vacated by his Dutch predecessor.

Robin has always been a hugely talented player, but I always felt that, until even last season, his decision making was a tad questionable. Whilst it was nice to see a player actually shoot, his play often seemed a little selfish, despite the return in goals he gave the team. Thus, he seemed to have one great game, in which he would usually get a brace, followed by two or three in which he would struggle to get involved.

This season, he really seems to have grown and matured as a player in what's been a difficult time for the club. Not only has he been scoring the usual crackers, he's also been pulling the strings up-front. A fairly incredible three assists against Hull, followed from the assist and the excellent game he had last week is really encouraging. I really hope he can stay fit til the end of the season, as the consistency in his form is surely stemming from his consistent availability.

Elsewhere, it was good to see Ade get on the score-sheet after a barren-patch, Nasri's second goal was about as good a finish as you'll see in the Prem this year, and Bendtner reprised his role as a goal-scoring impact sub. I'm sure he'll get a start next week against Cardiff, which will give him a chance to continue to make his claims for a place in the starting XI.

The only really negative notes from yesterday were both expected and unexpected. Eboue was completely rubbish, again, and his miss, when he shanked the ball wide in the first half was almost the polar-opposite of Nasri's cool finish.

Clichy was the only other note of concern. After a super couple of seasons, his form this year, starting with his dramatic error against the Spuds has been worrying. He now seems to average at least one serious error a game, and his crossing remains poor. His error yesterday stemmed purely from confidence. Instead of attacking the ball and the player, Gael backed away from the ball, fearing Mendy would again skin him for pace. This gave the Hull player far too much time to pick out Cousin, and put our backs against the wall. I really hope Gael's form picks up because he's one of the players i like the most in the current team.

So, as for reinforcements...

It appears that the Arshavin deal will be completed this week. After Arsene wrote him off as 'too light-weight for the Premiership' last summer, I have to say I am surprised to see us linked to him. His form at the Euros, aside from one game when he was marked out the match by the eventual champions, Spain, was dynamite,and he looks like the exciting type of attacking player we are often linked with. Crucially, he's already at, or at least nearing, his peak, so we are buying, hopefully, proven rather than potential talent. I'm sure the fee will be big, probably around €17 million, and I'm also sure that if the pound wasn't so weak against the euro we'd already have signed him. With Arshavin, on the verge of going on strike, there's only realistic way this is going to end.

If he doesn't come in, perhaps AC Milan's Youan Gourcuff would be worth a look, but with Kaka's alleged move to Man City on the cards, it may be the case that Gourcuff is taken back to Milan in the summer.

I hear Milan also have a French guy in their squad, who doesn't really get a game but might be worth a look, Mathieu something or other...

Til later.