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.