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.