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Off up to Wigan we go then……

November 30, 2010

Ok, I know we are playing at The Emirates but the way we’ve been playing away from home this season, maybe we need to approach tonight as if we were away from home. Why can’t they play with the same grit and steel as they do on their travels is beyond me.

Anyway, I think our home form will take a turn for the better tonight and see us through to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup. Semi-Finals of a cup, it’s been a long time hasn’t it and right now I don’t care that it’s the Carling Cup, a trophy is a trophy and let’s start by winning this one. Then you just never know what will follow!

No doubt a few changes will take place but I’m sure we don’t want or need to many. Wigan may sit eighteenth in the Premier League but this is a one-off game and every club wants to go and play at Wembley so Wenger can’t take tonight’s fixture in any other way than seriously! Wigan have lost their last two games, and are without a win in six away from home, they were on the wrong end of a 3-1 score line at the weekend against West Ham but their manager is a good man, a footballing man who wants to build his club the right way.

Martinez had this to say about the set up at Wigan

I think developing players is key for a football club and, as we all know, for the nation. I think it’s a clear model that has produced outstanding talent and is carrying on doing that. That’s been a great example throughout football and for many people to follow.
To have the ideas very clear, to have those strong beliefs, they bring you success. It’s quite clear that it’s someone who started a model and football in general has benefited from that work.

Martinez plans to stand by that approach heading forward, with Wigan set to reap the rewards in the long run.

We’re following that philosophy, we want to have young players with huge potential, players that haven’t reached probably the best moment of their careers, and that’s something for us to develop, to carry on working and make sure Wigan Athletic gets that sort of football and gets that talent. That’s our philosophy and that’s the way we’re going to work.

Mme, I wonder who bought that model to the game in England?

So, Eboue has suddenly recovered from what appeared to be a season ending injury and could play tonight, Fabregas we know is out as is Frimpong, Diaby and Vermaelen. Next up for us is a home fixture against Fulham and for Wigan it’s another home fixture against Stoke. Martinez had made it clear that the Premier League is his priority so no doubt he will make a few changes to his side tonight.

We played Wigan in the Carling Cup in 2006 It was at the semi-final stage and they won on the away goal rule, two years later we got our own back by knocking them out by a 3-0 scoreline. In the league we can remember only too well what happened earlier this year so we need to be on the ball from the kick off!

Our head to head record against Wigan is good, we’ve won 10, and Wigan have won only two of the 13 previous matches between us.

This is the eighth successive season we have made it this far in the Carling Cup, the last two seasons though has seen us exit at this stage.

Not today though, not tonight, this is the season we finally get to lift this trophy!

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We haven’t lost a league game with him in the side, so why isn’t he playing?

November 29, 2010

We all know Nikki B has been chopsing about how good he is, how he should be playing instead of Chamakh and if Wenger doesn’t play him he’ll find enough club etc etc etc but while all this is going on you just have to spare a thought for Johan Djourou.

Once a defensive midfielder and bought by Wenger as that, typical scenario took place with our boss, he changed JD to a centre half. He’s 6’ 4” and still only 23 years old. JD came to us back in 2002 but signed professional terms the following year, forming part of the youth squad.

He’s not had an easy time at Arsenal, following a loan spell at Birmingham in 2007 he returned to Arsenal ready to play, even suggesting he would be able to revert back to his original position of defensive midfielder and would be good enough to replace the departed Flamini. This never happened but his chance came to slot in the defence when Kolo Toure jumped ship and joined the northern money bags in the city side of Manchester. But injury struck!

April 2009, Djourou suffered a bad knee injury against Wigan Athletic. September the same year, following surgery on his knee, Arsenal announced that Johan Djourou would be out for a long time, six to eight months. What a sucker punch for the lad, just got his toe into the first team, only to be out again through injury. Many Arsenal fans thought that could spell the end of his career with us; after all, he hadn’t really proved himself had he?

However, this young man had a very different idea, he had his operation, worked hard to get fit and finally in March this year Johan himself announced that he was ready for a return. In fact he made a cameo appearance in the 4-0 victory against Fulham, the last game of the 2009/10 season. A reserve game here, a bit performance there came his way in this pre-season and the heavy strapping around his knee did little to convince me, I bet it didn’t you either? He played a part in the reserves game that saw Squillaci make his debut in the red and white and to be fair, he wasn’t too good.

But life changes, we all know that and Johan Djourou has grown and grown since that game for the reserves….

His chance came in the league when Koscielny saw red against Newcastle, he stepped in and played alongside Squillaci for the away trips to Wolves and Everton and on both occasions we came out winners, both occasions we defended solidly and during both matches we really were put under a lot of pressure by the opposition.

Johan Djourou may not be the best centre half in the world but he is really strong in the air and is dedicated to whatever test comes his way. After the two away trips we were at home against our North London rivals, Koscielny was available again after serving his two match ban and straight back in the side he goes. Djourou was the player to make way and we lose, sloppy defending being part of the reason we suffered that loss.

With Djourou starting in defence, we haven’t lost in the Premier League which does make you ask the question, is Arsene Wenger getting our defensive pairing right in the league or should Djourou be playing alongside either Squillaci or Koscielny?

My preference would be Djourou alongside Thomas Vermaelen but we don’t have that option.

Djourou probably knows he should be playing too but we never hear him moaning, he just gets on with it and when called on he gives his all. Maybe deep down in his mind he knows his chance will soon come, just like Fabianski did and no doubt like Szczesny does now! Another top performance by our ‘young’ centre half tomorrow night and surely that day won’t be far away.

Tomorrow we face Wigan at The Emirates in the Carling Cup quarter-final. Wenger has hinted he will play the big names and give us a real chance of getting to the semis. In days gone by I would have taken a win tomorrow for granted but these days you just can’t be too sure.

Finally the FA Cup draw has been and gone, Leeds are coming to The Emirates on January 8th or 9th. That should be fun, remember what they did to Manure in this fixture last season…..

Have a good day all

We lack ‘Over my dead body’ attitude he says and he’s right!

November 28, 2010

I agree as I’m sure all Arsenal fans do…

Alan ‘Smudger’ Smith was asked one question by Richard Keys after our game yesterday and that was, ‘ What was what would you change in this Arsenal side if you could?’

Smudger said that we lack that ‘Over my dead body are you going to score attitude’ and that was the only thing he would add to our side. He was talking about how we concede goals far too easily and make things hard for ourselves. 

He is so very right and we wouldn’t have conceded two goals yesterday had we had that mentality.

Anyway on to Oliver’s match review:- 

On the back of two performances that can best be described as “putrid” – and results that were even worse – the team went up to Birmingham for the early kickoff.  I was quite curious to see how our players started – there definitely should not have been any problem with urgency or purpose.   I certainly could not complain about the start – we were all over Villa from kickoff, creating several good chances, which were (sigh) ultimately squandered.  Arshavin and Nasri were unable to convert some particularly good opportunities.  Villa settled a bit around the 20 minute mark, but we still bossed the game. 

On 39 minutes, Arshavin brought the ball down the left, passed Dunne, and shot past Friedel – who appeared to get a slight touch as the ball went past him – to put us 1-0 up.  Great goal from Arshavin and a great overall game from him as well.  He was direct, energetic, and created several chances for his team-mates.  Within 30 seconds, Nasri went past the Villa back line, rounded Friedel, but shot into the side netting from a difficult angle.  But just before halftime, Nasri made amends from an Arshavin corner, which he blasted past Friedel from outside a crowd of players in the box.  2-0 up at the interval, playing well and looking comfortable…Where have we seen that before?

After the events of a week ago, I wondered – with considerable trepidation – whether we could continue to energy, work rate and improved finishing from the first half.  The legend that is Bob Pires had a quiet 45 minutes and Houllier brought Birmingham lad Delfouneso on in his place.  Villa quickly looked more threatening, and, perhaps inevitably, they pulled one back.  I have an issue with that goal:  Squillaci (as on Tuesday in Portugal) could not complete a clearance, and Clark latched on to shoot past Fabianski.  While this was taking place, however, the lumbering donkey Carew was standing in a half-bent-over position in the area – waaay offside and directly in front of the Arsenal goalkeeper.  So in front, in fact, that Fabianski had to literally crane his neck to see around the claret and blue statue parked in front of him.  Carew may not have gotten a touch on the ball, but how could anyone possibly argue that he was not interfering with play by standing directly in front of Fabianski?   Perhaps some would argue that if Fabianski couldn’t see, he should have been the one to move – I disagree.  He positioned himself at a certain point to anticipate and react to a shot – he was unsighted because Carew was blocking him from an offside position.  Carew was offside and interfering with play – the goal should have been disallowed.   My guess is that Clattenburg and his crew was not paying full attention, as they should have been.  No malice or anti-Arsenal bias that particular ref is often accused of.  They were just asleep at the wheel during this particular moment. 

Regardless, that moment sparked Arsenal into action and it took them just four minutes to restore the two goal advantage, Rosicky springing Chamakh down the left.  Our forward did the rest, stabbing the ball under a sliding Friedel for his tenth goal in Arsenal colours.  For a roughly ten minute spell after that goal, we threatened to rack ‘em up.  Villa were clearly rattled and we cut through them again and again.  Unfortunately, a familiar failing came to the fore – over-elaboration in and around the penalty area.  We passed crisply and worked the ball to the Villa area well, only to opt for the extra pass when a shot might have been a better option.  This is probably one of the most frustrating things about this Arsenal side. 

As usual, the good play dissipated after about ten minutes and we started giving the ball away.  Villa pressed, spurned a chance to pull a goal back, but then did just that on 72 minutes, with Clark heading over Fabianski and in from point-blank range.   From there it was Arsenal’s turn for nerves.  Villa put us under pressure, but did not create too many clear chances – most balls into the box were cleared, and we started to assert ourselves again.  Arsene made a double switch on 85, bringing Gibbs and Denilson on for Nasri and Arshavin, respectively, and five minutes later introduced Djourou for Captain-for-the-day Rosicky.  

By that point, we were back in control.  In the 93rd minute, we broke into the Villa penalty area, and the excellent Chamakh dinked a ball over the face of the goal for Jack to head in at the far post – his first league goal in an Arsenal shirt.  The final whistle went less than a minute later, and it was job done.

What to make of the performance and result?  Depending upon how you feel about Arsene and the squad, yesterday’s events may corroborate your views.  If you feel Arsene and the squad just are not good enough, you can point to nearly chucking a two goal lead again on two occasions.  If you think Arsene and the squad have what it takes to go the distance this time, you can point to another away win, and the character to dig deep and answer every time this Villa side – previously unbeaten at home in the league this season – threatened to pull level.  My views are somewhat in between the two. 

I see our Arsenal squad as not nearly the finished article, but I think we showed we can defend competently, and we can see games out.  The key is now to do this consistently.  I thought there were some encouraging signs, particularly a defensively responsible performance.  Villa gave us plenty of shaky moments, and had us clinging to a single-goal lead on more than one occasion.  But we came through it and got a deep-into-stoppage time clincher. 

I thought Arsene was very pragmatic yesterday – his substitutions were all defensive in nature, designed to hold on to what we had.  And I thought the defenders did just that – defend.  It wasn’t always pretty, but more often than not, we had players in the right positions to make interceptions.  Our players are still suckers for well-delivered crosses and corners, but Villa didn’t make the most of that particular weakness.  There is definitely a trend here, where we can defend leads on the road, but not at home.  Perhaps we just have the wrong mix of gung-ho and casualness in the home matches.  Whatever it is, we need to sort it out quickly. 

We saw what this team can do if it plays with discipline.  I am not holding my breath, but I would be very happy if Arsene completely scrapped the high defensive line, and nine-men-in-the-opposition-half tactics.   He seems to value ball possession above all else – to the point that our players seem to consciously forego shots on goal in order to retain possession – but possession alone will not win games, as we saw in Portugal against a very, very poor Braga side.  But I do not expect he will change anything:  Arsene is what he is, and this is his vision of how football should be played.  But hopefully he can at least temper some of the “get-all-the-way forward” mentality the centre halves and defensive midfielder (yes, you, Alexandre Dimitri Song Billong) seem enamored with.  If they can spend more time at home, breaking up attacks rather than trying to start them, we should have a much more solid platform to defend leads.   I think our players are, for the most part, good enough.  There are certainly some positions we can strengthen, and specific qualities that we lack in certain positions; but overall, as long as the players we have can stick to their main roles, I think they are good enough to win a cup and possibly the league.  . 

Regarding Villa, they gave us a very tough game, and I was impressed by their young players.  They are also dealing with an injury crisis to several of their established first-team players, so some of the youngsters we saw today may not have gotten action if Houllier had a full squad to pick from.  I think they have several good prospects in the squad and while they may struggle to qualify for Europe this season, I think they will be good for a number of more years.  I also think they currently have a better balance of youth and experience than our Arsenal side does.  We’ll see each other again at the Ems later this season; other than that and if we draw each other in a domestic Cup, I wish them well for the rest of the season.

So yesterday we were able to taste the Premiership summit for two or so hours.  Later in the afternoon, Man United overtook us again, hitting seven past a compliant Blackburn, and Chelsea can also nudge back in front by winning at Newcastle today.  Regardless, we needed a win in the worst way, and got one.  We really need to try and build on this, so here is hoping for a professional and morale boosting Carling Cup win over Wigan on Tuesday, and the start of a good run in the league. 

The players have shown they are capable of getting big wins and grinding out results – we just need to do it consistently.  Otherwise, we will continually return to the proverbial “square one”, and never build any real momentum or make real progress towards silverware.

Showing bottle wins games, throwing them doesn’t!

November 27, 2010

Well here we go again then, Saturday lunchtime kick off, live on Sky Sports and one thing we don’t need is a repeat of last Saturday’s showing or Wednesday’s dull performance.  

We know Cesc is out as is Eboue, Diaby, Vermaelen, Frimpong and Clichy. Oh, and Almunia! That’s according to AFC.com so if I’m wrong, blame them, don’t shoot the messenger… Some suggestion is though that Clichy faces a late test and Almunia is back in contention!

I’m not even going to guess at our first eleven, we’ll know that soon enough.

Onto Villa, a team under a relatively new manager in post, Gerard Houllier and a side which could include our old hero Robert Pires. Like us, they are having a topsy turvy season and the last two games has seen them throw away a two goal lead at home to Manchester United to draw and then last weekend they were beaten by Fat Sam’s Blackburn away from home.

We all know though, latest form and results mean nothing in this league, it’s all about who on the day has the more fight and desire to win. If we can turn up at Villa Park and show the commitment we did at Eastlands then we can win. Play with the lack of passion and desire we showed this time last weekend then no doubt we will come away with nothing.

Villa have some quality players, a strong goal keeper in Friedel, Steven Ireland in midfield who maybe struggling to settle at his new club but on his day he would walk into most Premier League sides and of course up front we all know how good Agbonlahor and Young are. Last weekend they were all off form against Blackburn, I’m hoping they continue that form today otherwise our defence are in for a tough time.

This is our second chance to go top and even if it is only for a few hours just being there might lift the players, make them realise that it’s not a pipe dream, it really is a possibility and we can win the league. But, we won’t if they don’t start working together, working for themselves and working for the club.

We have all chewed the cud in the past week, wondering what is going wrong, who’s to blame and how to put it right if we were the manager. Reality is, we are not and we can do nothing. One man can though and that’s Arsene Wenger. He’s had a tough week, watching his side throw a two goal lead against our rivals only to lose the game then going to Portugal and losing against a poor side in Braga. So yes it’s been tough.

It’s been tough for us fans too and as I’ve already said, one man can put right all that’s been going wrong. That has to come from his pre-match talk, his half- time talk, his instructions during the game and of course his timing of substitutions and changing of tactics if needed. Then, it’s down to the players to show why the club paid so much money for them and why they deserve to wear the red and white shirt.

So come on Mr Wenger, get the best out of your players today, put a smile back on your face and the face of every Arsenal fan.

Showing ‘bottle’ wins you games, throwing them will not!!

That’s it for today……..

£17 Million for two teenagers, how silly is that?

November 26, 2010

If reports are true, it’s very silly if you ask me, why not just spend the same amount on one player who’s ready to get the shirt on and help make a difference to our current set up.

The two players we have supposedly made an offer for are Sime Vrsaljko and Mateo Kovacic, both of Dinamo Zagreb. The source of this rumour has come from Zagreb themselves. They say Arsenal sent a delegate to Croatia earlier this month in attempt to secure a deal for both players but vice chairman for the club; Zdvravko Mamic has turned down the bid.

Full-back Vrsaljko, 18, is considered one of the best defensive prospects in European football and has most of the Premier League and Europe’s elite chasing him.

16-year-old Kovacic is a highly-rated midfielder, and Dinamo have revealed that Arsenal sent a delegation to Croatia to try and do a deal for the pair earlier this month.

Vice Chairman Mamic said

Here were people from Arsenal and they were ready to pay 20 million Euros for Vrsaljko and Kovacic.
But they are to stay in Dinamo, Arsenal just wanted to buy them for the future. But my answer was sharp, I said ‘no’ in one second.

Mamic admits he is gambling on the pair becoming even more valuable in the future.

While I have space and no problems at our bank account I can take a risk, yes, I know I’m playing with luck but so far I am winning. I believe it will be the same in the future.

So even the players own club admit it’s a bit of a risk keeping them, why would we offer such a vast amount of money for ‘a risk’. We need now, not 6/7 years time. Added to that, if those two players turned out to be great players and we had been successful in our offer, Arsene Wenger won’t be the manager of our club by the time they get to play. Why he thinks so far ahead when we have so many problems right now is beyond me!

Another transfer rumour…

Just when you think our club needs a big strong 6’5” striker up front, you know the one, legs made of steel, head made of cast iron and holds no fear for any defender, the gossip about a new striker being scouted by the club comes about.
He’s Kévin Gameiro, born in May 1987 in Senlis. He currently plays for French club FC Lorient in Ligue 1. He can play as striker but can also be utilized on the wings and in the hole. Gameiro has played for his country at all respective age levels and this year had his first call up for the big boys..

Just what we want…? No, he stands just under 5’ 8” !!!

Earlier this week we saw Henri Lansbury leave on a month’s loan to Norwich City, well yesterday Aaron Ramsey followed in his footsteps and went out on loan. Ramsey has gone to Championship side Nottingham Forest until January. Another player currently on loan is Vito Mannone. He’s at Hull City until January but says he’s enjoying life by the seaside and would consider staying until the summer. He’s played the last two games for Hull, keeping clean sheets in both..

Finally – Other news around is that no-one really seems to know what’s up with Cesc Fabregas and why he keeps suffering injury. Whatever it is, it seems to be worrying the club and no doubt all fans!

That’s it for today….

Cesc crocked, Good, now we can get on with our game!!

November 25, 2010

Yep, I mean it, that’s just how I feel about Cesc Fabregas

Take a look at his body language; his slowness during a game, his  half-hearted free kicks and wayward shots, his constant fouling as if he wants a red card just to get a ban and he so often ‘demands’ the ball despite being in a position which gains no advantage half the time.

I think his whole ‘couldn’t care attitude’ is rubbing off on others around him. A captain leads and the way he ‘appears’ on the pitch can affect a team negatively equally as much as it can positively.

On the other hand, Nasri, who is playing some his best football we have seen him play in the red and white can fill the creative role and lead with the captains’ armband on. Then we have Wilshere ready and Ramsey coming back. Rosicky has all the skills to play in that role too, in fact we have many and the way Cesc is playing, I’m sure they could do a better job too!

I know it’s been said before but Cesc couldn’t even come out and speak about the team’s performance after the latest poor performances but he could to satisfy the Spanish fans after Spains drubbing by Portugal and he’s not even their captain. Denilson may not be every fans favourite but at least he’s apologised for the defeat on Tuesday…

What’s that all about? Certainly doesn’t show loyalty to the club that pays his wages does it? The same club that made him who he is today.

For me Cesc Fabregas was more of a man when he was still a boy and the love I had for him is fading fast….

When did our captain last put in a proper captains performance? Man City away maybe??

Yesterday I read that Inter Milan have put funds by to bid for Fabregas in January, I read it was £42 Million pounds. Well if that’s true I am glad, we could accept that money or even better, start a bidding war. I know Cesc only wants Barcelona, well I don’t care what he wants, if he can’t put a good shift in for us, lets sell him and to the highest bidder, whoever that maybe…

I also wonder if a deal is already in place for him to go to Barca next summer, not that I have evidence to support this and I know Barca are broke but I think back to the Ronaldo to Madrid saga and just envisage it happening all over again with Cesc.  

Maybe that’s why Cesc doesn’t want to put his body on the line for us anymore and could that also be the reason Wenger risks him knowing he’s not completely fit? I don’t know the answer, I wish I did.

Either way,  playing him right now is detrimental to this current side.

I honestly believed Cesc when he said he was focussed on Arsenal and wanted to win silverware with us but right now I’m struggling to continue my belief in him. If I’m totally wrong, then I hope Wenger lets him get 100% fit before he returns and doesn’ ‘risk’ him again!!

We all want the ‘Old Wenger’ back, well we need the ‘Old Cesc’ back too.

For now though, I think we are about to see a different Arsenal and get our season right back on track!

But I know you won’t agree, so best get praying for this predicted snow to fall and fall heavily. Maybe then all the games will be postponed until we get all our unfit players back… ;)

You mucked that up Arsene’l, Wenger blames the ref though….

November 24, 2010

I love Arsenal Football Club. I absolutely love it. I have been with it for seventeen years, longer than my lovely wife and I have been together. I caught the bug while living and working in Peterborough, and have continued to faithfully and steadfastly follow it, while moving around different parts of the world. It is a part of me, and I think it will always be a part of me. I also love writing. I enjoy writing about almost anything: be it professional work related, as part of a degree program, or about Arsenal or any of the other sports teams I faithfully follow. I must confess, however, that writing about Arsenal has not been as much fun these past few days. It is all part of the ups and downs of emotionally investing in a team and its results – but I sure will be glad when better times and results return.

Make no mistake; tonight’s result in Portugal was bad – on several different levels. Taken alone, a 2-0 group stage Champions League defeat, away in country where Arsenal has never previously won, does not look so bad. In the larger context, however…First off, there was nothing – and I mean absolutely NOTHING – positive to take from the performance or the result. Three days after being turned over by the Spuddies, not only did we fail to produce the performance or result circumstances demanded, we are now facing more injuries to our first team squad. After storming through our first three group stage matches with 3 wins, 14 goals for, and 2 against, we are facing the possibility of failing to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League. We have our group’s proverbial doormat (FC Partizan) at home, so failure at this moment seems remote. But on the evidence of the past two games, can any of us really trust these players to deliver? Saturday was rock-bottom how does us settling for the Europa Cup feel? It could happen….

Tonight’s match was dreadful, simply dreadful. Braga was, quite frankly, awful. I thought they would be much more formidable at home than they were at the Ems. At least they showed some ambition there. At home, they were negative, dirty and did not seem to try to win. They did, however, know enough to catch us on the break – two very late goals gave them a 2-0 win. They were poor, but we were worse – and we got what we ultimately deserved – NOTHING! Arsene made seven changes to the starting lineup, retaining only Fabianski, Squillaci, Cesc, and Denilson. Djorou, Gibbs, Eboue, Jack, Rosicky, Theo and Bendtner rounded out our starting eleven. The game started slowly and did not get much better. We passed the ball aimlessly, showing – yet again – a lack of urgency or willingness to get into the box. For the match, we had 71% possession and one – that’s right – ONE shot on goal for ninety plus minutes. And that was a Cesc free kick (shortly after the half hour mark) the keeper had to tip over the bar. That was it. Still, we looked pretty comfortable at the half, while looking very, very toothless.

During the interval, I chatted to Rico that it was going ok – we were not troubled, and all we needed to do was step on the accelerator and the goals would come. I should have known better. The second half started in the same fashion – an overabundance of passes and little off-the-ball movement. When Theo, Eboue and Gibbs were able to get forward and get crosses in, nobody was in position to capitalize, with Bendtner often behind (!!) them…Other than a nervous moment when Squillaci fluffed a clearance, allowing Aguiar to latch on and shoot not too far wide, we still looked comfortable. The first major problem occurred when Cesc did his hammy yet again, while stretching for a ball from Bendtner. Nasri replaced our Captain, who now faces another spell on the sidelines – brilliant. Arsene made two other changes in rapid succession – Chamakh for Bendtner, who was just hopeless, clueless, and useless, worse than in Donetsk. Then Vela came on for Theo – at least Vela got into the box. Rodriguez clearly tripped him for a cast-iron penalty, but the Hungarian referee (more on him in a minute) booked Vela for diving. With eight minutes to go, Matheus brought Eboue down with a bad foul – with no more subs, we were down to ten men. A simple ball over the top split our defense and allowed Matheus, of all people to run clear and shoot past Fabianski. The same player scored another breakaway goal in stoppage time to inflict another very, very painful loss.

Afterwards, Arsene predictably raged about the referee. Normally I stay clear of the referee, but this guy was an absolute disgrace!! Not only did he ignore a cast-iron penalty and book our player (presumably for diving), he allowed Braga to foul almost at will and booked five Arsenal players for virtually nothing. It was almost comical, he was so bad. Homer or totally incompetent, take your pick. If I were a referee, I would be embarrassed this guy represented my profession. Poor does not even begin to do him justice.

With that said, I have no time for the rest of Arsene’s condescending and insulting garbage – not here, and not now. “We are going through a period where we have bad luck”. No Arsene, we are going through a period where we are not making our luck. The players are not taking responsibility on the pitch; the manager is pointing fingers at the system, the opponents, and the referees. How about looking in the mirror for a change? We just had two important matches in three days – two matches where the players did not perform. How is that the Hungarian referee’s fault? A single shot on goal tonight – referees fault again, right? Risking our captain’s hamstring – when you knew AND ACKNOWLEDGED it was a gamble – referee again. We can go blithely on, and on, and on….As we have done in the past…

This is your team, these are your players, this is your vision, and this is your model. When things are going well, you are quick to take credit for their development and lavish praise on them. But things don’t always go so well, do they? When we are stuck in ruts like this – when the players have no leader to look to and are utterly incapable of extricating themselves from these situations – you are happy to take shots at the referees and the opposition. And then you profess to be “mystified” by events like our second half collapse on Saturday. Is it really that difficult for you to fathom? You treat your players like children – to be protected from criticism and accountability, to be protected from themselves – and then wonder why they act like children who cannot comprehend why the bigger kid stole their lunch money.

We have endured bad form and losing runs each of the last few seasons. Even though this one is only at two games, it feels different, more serious. Perhaps because it is a pair of watershed events: our “man bites dog” first home loss to the Spuddies since 1993, and the first time in a while we go into the final round of CL group matches facing the possibility of not qualifying for the knockout round. It is also more serious because the same problems continue year after year: loss of focus and concentration, no on-pitch leadership, aimless lack-of-responsibility dithering around the pitch, a team of square pegs in round holes, lacking quality in-depth. Every year we hear the problems have been addressed, that the players have grown up and are ready to take the next step. And every year we go through spells like this that shatter confidence, losing strings of two, three, four games. If a continued habit of turning one bad result into a string of bad results is not the epitome of an immature, mentally weak team, then I don’t know what is.

Nevertheless, I love the club, and I continue to support Arsene and the players. We are all upset at another losing streak we are currently enduring, and two major opportunities that we casually squandered in the space of a couple of days. But I shall continue to support the players. Who knows – perhaps it will finally sink home, the proverbial light bulb will go on, and this team will sweep their way to the league title and lay the groundwork for our first European Cup win next season. Reality will most likely be somewhat short of that, but I will still support, cheer and hope for the best. Each of us supporters has to decide for ourselves how we will deal with this. Some of us have had enough and will call for Arsene’s and the players collective heads. I understand that point of view – my patience and faith are being severely tested at the moment, too. I choose to continue to support, and hope for the best.

Arsene and the club can do a couple of things to help us with this. This first is for the club to – finally – be open and forthright about what our financial situation is. Yes or no – do we have enough money to make quality investments in the squad? No more PHW saying one thing, Arsene saying another, and Gazidis saying nothing. Tell us – with one, unified voice. This way, we can adjust our expectations accordingly. If we have the money, is it not time we built a proper squad, with leaders and strong characters. Not the current collection of one-size-fits-all and jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none young midfielders?
Can anyone reasonably argue that we have the squad balance, quality and depth necessary to sustain a title and cup challenge? If we still do not have the money, be honest. We may not like it, but you will probably find the majority will understand and adjust our expectations accordingly. But at the moment, many of us don’t know what the situation is at the club – if the money exists, why do we refuse to address the squad issues? (I think I know why and who has made the decision not to invest, but that another discussion for another day). If the money does not exist and we continue with this youth model out of necessity, tell us so and how long we should expect this to continue. Treat us supporters as partners, not as children who should be seen but not heard.

Arsene can help the players and himself by stopping the effusive praise he gives the squad. I suspect they are already comfortable enough with set-in-stone first-team slots and large wage packets. So comfortable that, as these last two matches show, they appear incapable of adjusting to a setback, and seem only to know how to revert to what they know best – pass, pass, and pass some more. If they need a confidence boost, give it to them in private – after they have had a dose of harsh reality. Comments about this squad being “best ever” are insulting to this particular supporter – and make you look like an utter fool, on the back of these last two results. You can also stop blaming everybody and his dog for our team’s losses. Bad results and bad referees are a fact of life – the sides that win things find ways to overcome these things. That is not to say that other managers don’t moan about these things – I think Red Nose and Mourinho are worse than Arsene. But these managers also seem to get their teams to overcome this. This Arsenal side does not seem able to do that. If you take responsibility for what you get wrong – and none of us are infallible – maybe…just maybe, the players will follow your lead and start taking on-pitch responsibility. Surely it is worth a try?

What next? Villa Park. We’re back to square one, and have to hope the team can lift themselves – now without Cesc and probably Eboue (I hope Sagna enjoyed his rest, it may well be his last for a while) – and get a result to stop this rut. Everything about this club is Arsene’s vision – the setup, the players, the playing style, training and coaching methods. I still consider him far and away the best man for this job. But I caveat that with a brief word of warning: I have seen plenty of teams fall apart, and the very situation we find ourselves in today is what the beginning of the end looked like for more than one of those teams. If you want to know what it looks like when it has all collapsed, ask Brad Childress. Waxing lyrical about a team’s potential and promises of our bright new tomorrow is all well and good. But at some point, the manager and the players have to deliver. I hope we are on the verge of that – there are signs we are – and signs we are not. You can count on my goodwill, hope and support. But my patience is not infinite, nobody’s is. You may think you have all the time in the world to get it right – you do not, nobody does. Life just does not work that way.

You know what needs to be done, Arsene. You’ve won with Arsenal before and I would love nothing more than to see you lift the first – and second – and third – European Cup in Arsenal’s history. But the side you have is built to play your vision of football, not win the biggest honours in the game. At this moment, I merely hope – can you and the players give me a tangible reason to believe?

Written by Oliver

Time to look in the mirror Wenger and Cesc!! Look who’s back……..

November 23, 2010

So finally Cesc has something to say but not about how the team he captains played at the weekend, instead he chose to look to tonight’s fixture against Braga. Well thanks Cesc, for nothing, your country gets spanked by Portugal and you tell the fans how sorry you are but us, nothing!!

Fabregas has warned against complacency when they face Braga, wonder if he means the same kind of complacency the team showed against West Brom, Newcastle, Shakhtar and Tottingham? I think it’s a bit rich him saying about complacency though, yes he’s right but isn’t it his job on the field to stop that happening?

We have two games left in the group, both difficult, especially the one away to Braga – but we will try to win the group.
We will do our best and if we play the football we know, focus 100 per cent and don’t treat the opponents softly, then I am sure we can win the group.

‘Do our best’! What kind of statement is that? You do your best when you are sat with an exam paper in front of you or going off to take your driving test not play against a footballing side who you thrashed 6-0 last month. Cesc and the rest of the players should be thinking about going to Braga, wiping the floor with them, staying focused until the final whistle goes and not conceding any goals.

He then looked back on the Shakhtar loss.

Playing in their own stadium, in front of their own fans, we knew Shakhtar would be a different team to the one we faced at the Emirates last month, and to be fair to them, I thought they played well, but it was down to us, it was our fault, we let them back into the game.

Spot the obvious Cesc, this Arsenal side you lead, too often let the opposition back into the game, you did it again on Saturday. Wenger says the team switch off, Cesc says we let teams back into the game, so why does it keep happening? They know where the problems lie, sort them out. Wenger needs to change his attitude from the bench and Cesc needs to start being a true leader on the pitch, stop the players including himself switching off. Time for them both to look in the mirror and get a grip!

It’s not rocket science! You bought them Arsene, you bloomin sort them and fast – start with your captain, tell him he’s in London, not Spain, yet!!

We had to retain possession better and control the game, but we didn’t and in the end, we paid for that. “The manager said the same after the game – once we were ahead, we took the game too easily. “We had just scored five against them, we are top of the group and maybe we were thinking that a draw would be a good result. But in football, you can never be complacent, you can never switch off, otherwise you will pay for it, whoever you play against.

Don’t we fans just know it!!

On to tonight and here is one photo from the training yesterday morning that may actually make a corner of your mouth hint towards a smile.

Yep, the ‘Real star from Wales’ is back and here he is in training yesterday afternoon, the sooner he gets back in contention for a place in the team the better… Perhaps he could challenge Cesc for his place?

Sadly and like many fans no doubt, I’m not overly confident about tonight. We may have beaten them at home in style but after Saturday I am unsure how they will pick themselves up, assuming of course they were down after the game. Added to that, Braga will be playing in an almost identical kit to our own home strip and this crop of players don’t need any excuse to send a pass astray!!

Mind you, on the other hand it might help!!

Arshavin, van Persie and Clichy have not travelled with the squad and Lansbury has gone to Norwich on loan for a month so he won’t feature tonight either. Wenger has said Fabregas is still not quite right so he may also miss the game but he’s travelled with the sqaud. With Clichy missing we can take for granted that Gibbs will start at left back, as for the rest, I guess we’ll know soon enough…

Haven’t really got much else to say about tonights game, we all know how important it is to secure the win, we all know whoever plays needs to show a lot more passion for our club than they have been doing as late.

The only question is, Do they?

Finally, good luck to the reserves today, they face Wolverhampton Wanderers at 1.30pm, I bet they don’t concede three goals in 90 minutes, let alone 45!!

Rubbish at home but tomorrow we must move on for the sake of our season…

November 22, 2010

Olivers review of Saturdays debacle…

Sooner or later this was going to happen. That it happened in such an important fixture, one where a win would have put us top of the table, adds to the pain. But perhaps that is not even so important – folding a 2-0 hand at home against Spurs is,…..well… To paraphrase Andy Van Slyke, “They haven’t invented a word to describe this!” In summarizing last Sunday’s win at Goodison, I commented that a great result such as that will not count for very much if Spurs turn us over in the derby….Lo and behold…

We pretty comprehensively outplayed them in the first half, and probably should have been more than 2-0 up. Past history suggests there was a chance that the “Here we go again…” malaise could have set in with our opponents. No such luck this time – this Spurs squad (as painful as it is for me to acknowledge) – is much tougher, and far better than the feeble sides that we casually rolled during recent years.

They regrouped at the half, got a critical early goal – for me, that was the key moment of the game, as the effect it had on both sides was obvious – and pushed on from there. We had opportunities to score, didn’t take any, and were duly punished. Is it a coincidence that two of our three home losses have come against sides we thrashed away in the League Cup earlier this season? Probably not…

Regardless, Spurs played with more purpose and looked as though they believed they could go on and win. After they equalized from a sickening moment of “brain lock” from our Captain, I felt that they would win, and they would get the go-ahead goal from a set piece…And they did.

They showed the maturity and focus to retrieve a bad situation and go on to win. I am still waiting for Arsenal to show this consistently. As rotten as my day – weekend – has become, this moment is for Spurs and their fans. In my view, they were the better team on the day and won fair and square. As I said at the outset, we generally have had our way with them over the past several years, so sooner or later this result was going to come. Was it preventable? Most likely, yes…But Spurs did not give up after an awful first half, and showed grit and purpose to get the result – they deserve all the credit for that.

I am bracing for the onslaught of complaints about the refereeing job Phil Dowd did. If anyone thinks we lost because of him and not Spurs/ourselves, that is your opinion, but I could not disagree more. I did not think Dowd had a bad game – we can argue whether he made the correct call in a few instances, but show me a referee that gets every single call over ninety-plus minutes right. Is Dowd to blame for Cesc letting us down so badly with that absurd, blatant handball? Is he to blame for Robin allowing Kaboul to out jump him too easily for the winning goal? The free-kicks that led to both incidents can be debated, but our players did not do what was necessary to prevent the goals. If you blame Dowd, you give the real culprits a pass – and I refuse to do that. If we continue to harp on calls and referees, what is going to change?

Cesc got away with something similar at Anfield last season. I remember thinking “How did they not call that?”, and having a chuckle. Rest assured that I am not laughing this time. There is no way I can know what Cesc was thinking at that moment. I am, however, fairly confident he was not concentrating on what he was supposed to be doing – defending the free kick and getting the ball clear. This lack of focus (as well as urgency) is something we see time and time again, particularly when we are leading matches. To me, this is the root cause of so many of our other problems.

We started better and Gomes gifted us the opening goal when he failed to gather/clear a loose ball in his area and Nasri reacted quickest to put us 1-0. We created more chances, but squandered them until Arshavin set Chamakh up to slot through Gomes’ legs. That should have been the cue for more, but it wasn’t, not for a lack of chances. Chamakh had another chance that he dithered on, allowing Spurs to clear.

The second half was far, far different. Six minutes in van der Vaart set Bale up, who finished calmly, bringing Spurs back into it. Initially, we looked more likely to score a third than Spurs were to equalize – but once again, we wasted the opportunities, with Chamakh dithering in the area, and Nasri wasting a free kick. Sure enough, we were punished. Song appeared to win the ball from Modric, but Dowd blew for the free kick and Cesc handled – Chamakh also raised his arm simultaneously! There was no question this was a penalty, and van der Vaart duly sent Fabianski (who I thought could not be blamed for any of the goals) the wrong way.

Arsene brought Robin on for Chamakh, but other than a nice free kick, he did not do much. Koscielny headed over an open goal, we had a goal disallowed with both Cesc and Squillaci offside in the buildup, and Cesc forced Gomes to tip a nice, goalbound shot away.

Arsene then brought Theo and Rosicky on for Nasri (who should not have been subbed in my opinion) and Arshavin (who also had a good game, I thought). On 85 minutes, however, disaster struck, as another free kick was conceded and Kaboul beat Robin too easily to head the winner in. We had almost ten minutes (4 of regulation and 5 of stoppage time) to try and get a goal back, but by this point we did not seem to be playing as a team. In one instance, Robin took four or five touches – with his head down, looking at the ball and not for a teammate – in the penalty area and predictably did not get a shot away. There were a couple of occasions when we moved the ball ahead, and most of the team was still either on halfway line or in our half. There was little urgency, and it seemed only one or two players were trying to attack – reminiscent of the final few minutes versus West Brom, after Nasri had scored his second. Spurs took their time and played keep-ball effectively. When Rosicky shot directly at Gomes (through a crowd of players, it must be said), time was up…

So a third home league defeat of the season. Strange how we can show grit, character and determination to grind out wins away (Blackburn, Everton, Man City), yet show little of these qualities at home. Why? Is it the stadium? I don’t think so – I think it is just complacency and a lack of urgency, traits I have often cited. For a side that allegedly wants success, this Arsenal team is yet to show they can handle prosperity. Early home leads have often been followed by losses of focus and application – see the Bolton match. We were 1-1 at the half despite dominating – that was one of the rare instances where we were able to retrieve the three points. And then when we concede a goal and put ourselves in a tricky situation, we don’t seem to know how to dig ourselves out of it. How long are we going to continue to say this team is young and immature? What they really lack is leadership, focus, and an understanding of what it takes to win over the course of a season, not just individual matches. There is one person – and one person only – who I consider responsible for these flaws.

I suppose progress can be measured in that Arsene did not rant about Dowd over and over. And I suppose his water-bottle throwing strop on the bench shows he cares. But how long will he continue to tolerate the lack of focus, decision-making and casual effort that this side is quickly becoming famous for? How many times do we have to watch this side either start lethargically at home and fall behind to a preventable goal, or switch off after getting a lead? How many times will he continue to indulge and protect players that in my opinion no longer deserve coddling? Sadly, I think he will carry on as he is now, at the continued expense of sustained forward momentum and real progress.

I will leave the agenda-driven “Arsene out” blogs to call for his head; I will only say that the longer he sticks to his “principles”, makes only cosmetic changes, and shields his players from real criticism and accountability, the longer we will remain in this “flatter to deceive” existence we have been in over the past few years. We can debate tactics and formations until we are blue in the face. For me, it does not matter so much how we are set up to play. This side lacks leadership, winning experience, focus and mental strength. When we need to dig deep, we usually find that we have already reached the proverbial bottom. Without these traits, our side will struggle to make any formation work when it really counts. I don’t think we need to change the players, so much as change the culture. As I have said before, we have nobody who has led a side to a notable trophy/championship.

We did have those players, but many of them were moved on at the same time. In fact, as time ticked down towards the inevitable defeat, the TV cameras focused on the legend that is Thierry Henry, in overcoat and scarf – I wonder what he thought of what he saw? He was certainly not the greatest captain in our history – far from it – but he was a key part of a hugely successful side, and certainly knows the effort, mentality and sacrifice required to win championships. As Arsene’s model is to grow the winning side together, previous winning experience is de-emphasized – at a hugely detrimental cost, in my opinion. At the moment, we have “eleven captains”, but nobody who will take charge and drag the team along with him. Until we either win something – and that is why the League and FA Cups MUST be emphasized this season – or bring players in who may not exactly fit the playing style template, but have the experience, character and will to win, this side will struggle to take that final step. As the past couple of seasons have shown, we are great at getting some results and keeping in touch with the top of the table. Yet when we have the opportunity to move to the top, we usually waste it – as we did today. As I said after a loss a few weeks back, “We are what we are.” No better example of that than today.

Being what this Arsenal side is, we will probably respond with a big game at Braga. And that will be welcome, as we certainly to secure qualification for the CL knockout round. But will that be followed by a let-down? How many false dawns have we had during the past few seasons? We’ve had enough that, in my opinion, we should know better than to get euphoric or giddy over a few wins. I am gutted by this loss – as I am sure a great many of us are. I am very, very concerned, however, that many of our players will just shrug it off as another “bad day at the office”. Such is their apparent comfort level that perhaps we should expect this from them.

They say “seeing is believing”; after Saturday, I am struggling to see anything that makes me believe we have the attitude and fortitude to become champions.

Prove me wrong, guys – over to you…

Who’s to blame? Wenger, the players or both?

November 21, 2010

It feels no better this morning does it? In fact it feels worse!!

I could have checked my lottery numbers last night and found out I’d won the jackpot but it wouldn’t ease any feelings I have right now…

Something has to change at Arsenal and soon before we slip off down the table and kiss our season goodbye.

Yesterday was a gutless, cowardly and dire 45 minutes and it came against a side we haven’t lost to at home in the league in seventeen years.

We went 2-0 up due to sloppy play by the oppositions goalkeeper and defence and then we spurned chance after chance to put the game out of reach. Then in the second half we just hit the self destruct button.

The manager, well he broke up a winning defence to bring back Kos in place of Johan Djourou, big mistake which proved costly when yet again he gave away a silly needless free kick which gifted them a goal from the resulting free kick. Would Djourou got his head in the way of that cross? Yes, I expect so too.

Nasri, our best player on the pitch who was fired up for this game was taken off when we needed a goal, why?

Why did Wenger keep both Denilson and Song on when we needed a goal?

Why keep on a slow sluggish Cesc Fabregas who in my view kept slowing the game down yesterday and talking of which what is he doing for that free kick which ultimately cost us the game?

Where was Denilson when Bale was through on goal, side stepping away from the player, that’s where!

Why have we not got enough players in our side who want to fight for every ball, fight for the love of the club and ultimately fight for the shirt on their back?

What makes it all so so sad is that our fans will wake up feeling like shite, will Wenger? Will most of the players? I doubt it, they will still get paid won’t they and no doubt they will just brush it aside and think about Braga. Meanwhile we all suffer until the next time.

Who do you blame, Wenger for buying the wrong players to give us steel again, the players for the lacklustre show or both?

Wenger says some of the players were tired, well my answer is why play them then? We have Lansbury, JET, Bendtner, Vela all fit and desperate to play, why not pick them?

If Wenger won’t buy these players, is it finally time to find a manager who will?

Olivers match report will be up later….


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