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.