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Is this the End for Thomas Vermaelen??

April 30, 2011

Thomas Vermaelen played the full ninety minutes for the reserves on Thursday, came through unscathed and has declared himself fit for the last few games of our campaign.

I bet deep down he is desperate to play for the first team, no doubt he has watched every game we have played in whilst he has been on the sick-bed, I bet he’s been furious watching us concede silly goals, surrender winning positions the way we have in so many games and I bet he thinks he is the man to step into the defence and sort the back line out.

I make him right too.

Johan Djourou has had a few great games for us, his ariel strength has been immense – in fact I would go so far as to say he has been our best central defender this season, not bad for a player who has been on the sick-bed himself for a long time.

Kos for me has been great in some games, yet in others he has been average but, I and of all us must not forget that this is his first season in the Premier League and I’m sure if Thomas Vermaelen had not been injured, his introduction to English football would have been a lot slower. Same can be said of Chamakh really.

For a long while now we have questioned whether or not we have a true leader in our side, a player who can get the players to re-group and settle, calm down and do what we do best and that is to play our own game.

Cesc tries his hardest to lead by example in the way he plays, he tries to step his own game up to instil faith in those around him but, we all know that doesn’t work, not in every game anyway.

Yes, Cesc can come on from the bench and work his magic and on a good day he can find a goal when nothing seems to be going right but playing in midfield, I don’t think he can sort out where things are really going wrong, the place where the panic button usually gets hit.

Only a defender can do that – Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, Steve Bould and Martin Keown are the players we have seen over the last few years who have the ability to do that, but they would put their own body at risk for our club wouldn’t they. Yep, even ex Swampie Sol didn’t hold back did he?

I know there are many players in our history that would have done the same, but I’m sticking to the Wenger era.

This is what we lack.....

Thomas Vermaelen maybe a tiddler at just 5’ 11.11” tall but we all know he has a spring in his jump that makes him as tall as Peter Crouch, he has the heart of Goliath and the shrewdness and technique of David.

I know fans will say what’s the point in him joining up with the first team for Sunday? In any case Wenger has already ruled him out.

But just imagine if he did face the Mancs and we win. What if the Swampies beat the Chavs? That would make us and the Chavs level on points wouldn’t it?

Then Manchester United draw with the Chavs next weekend and we beat Stoke? Wouldn’t we sit second again and just four points behind the Mancs??

With two games left, the Mancs thinking about facing Barcelona in the Champions League Final, anything could happen couldn’t it….

There is still something to play for, but to do that we need to play at our best on Sunday.

We can certainly secure second place if we fight for it and who knows, Old Red Nose and his lot may bottle it right at the end…

Unlikely yes but life can be strange as well as it can be cruel, we Arsenal fans know that best. We need a leader on our side right now, and I can’t think of anyone better to be that man other than our Belgian central defender..

Thomas Vermaelen looks as if he is finally over the injury that has kept him out of the game since August and I am sure I’m not alone in hoping it’s the end of injuries for him for a long time. We need him next season, we needed him this season!

He’s fit and ready for action Arsene, but will you take the risk?

Maybe more importantly though, is it worth taking the risk?

That’s it for today, tomorrow we play again…..

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The Mighty Transition: Why Arsenal Haven’t Won Anything In 6 Years

April 29, 2011

I had this sent to me by someone who wishes to remain anonymous, it’s a bit of a long post but it’s worth hanging on in until the end…

Arsenal dropped out of three competitions in the span of only 14 days, which of course means a massive blow to morale within the team. But is there any reason to panic, or start doubting Wenger’s approach and philosophy? I say not yet, and here’s why.

How We Got Here

In 1993, Highbury became an all-seater stadium, reducing its capacity from 57,000 to roughly 38,500, with even less capacity for Champions League fixtures. This meant a huge reduction in ticket sales, and the club could only watch as tens of thousands of supporters were unable to attend matches. With the season ticket waiting list growing rapidly every year, the club decided to look at alternatives.

In 1999, the club announced the plans of building a new 60,000+ capacity stadium, initially intended to open in 2003. Even if the average ticket price would only be around £10, the increased capacity would mean an extra £6.5m per year, so the financial boost was huge. In reality the average ticket price is more than four times higher, meaning an estimated £20m-£30m extra revenue per year in comparison to Highbury.

But it also meant having to spend money to make money, £470m in total to be exact, and even though large chunks of the cost was made back through sponsorship deals, player sales and clever investments like the Highbury Square development, a big portion of the debt remained.

While all this was going on, Arsene Wenger had arrived at the club with a somewhat unique mindset when it came to transfers. Always a financially sensible man, it went against his philosophy to buy expensive ready-made Premier League stars, and instead realised he could buy younger or overlooked talent from abroad, without lowering the quality of the team. Players like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, Kolo Toure, Fredrik Ljungberg, Robert Pires, etc, were all products of this ideology.

With Wenger’s nose for bargain players, and the increasingly tight budgets from building a new stadium, the club decided to create a long-term plan for the future of the club. The plan was to create a financially stable situation where new players would mostly come from within the club, as opposed to bought into it. With a good academy in place, the squad would ideally be filled with young players coming through the ranks as soon as older players needed to be replaced.

2002-2003: The First Wave

Slightly before the Invincibles were tearing up the Premier League, Wenger and the board were putting together their 10-year plan of turning Arsenal into a self-sustaining modern club that shouldn’t have to rely on buying expensive players to compete at the highest level. The first stage of the plan was to get a crop of 16-18 year olds into the club that would take over for when the current first team was in decline. The first wave of this new generation included Cesc Fabregas (16), Johan Djourou (16), Gael Clichy (18) and Nicklas Bendtner (16) – and also included the signing of 9-year old Emmanuel Frimpong.

2004-2006: The Second Wave And The Mighty Transition

A couple of years later even more teenagers were brought into the club in a second wave, like Alex Song (18), Theo Walcott (17), Abou Diaby (19), Carlos Vela (16), Vito Mannone (17) and Denilson (18). With these players in the academy, Arsenal finally had a strong foundation for the future. But the problem was that the gap between the experienced older players and the new era youngsters was too big, and a period of inconsistency started shortly after the Invincibles season.

When Jose Mourinho took over Chelsea, he changed the dynamic of the Premier League – what had been viewed as a two-horse race was now a three-horse race, and with Liverpool slowly becoming a threat again, the competitive level of the domestic league increased tenfold in a couple of years. And with the loss of players like Dennis Bergkamp, Martin Keown, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira within a three year period – and the move to a new stadium in that timeframe as well – the new wave of players were too young to carry the expectations of the club on their shoulders.

The ideal set-up at a top club is to have a sensible balance between older/experienced and younger/energetic players. The older players will usher the younger ones into the philosophy of the club, and bear the majority of the responsibilities on the pitch while the younger ones learn and develop their talents. Without the older players in this system, the younger players are exposed for their flaws, and carry too much responsibility.

Arsenal celebrating winning the Premier League in 2004, with players like Vieira, Henry, Keown, Pires and Bergkamp

Somewhat unexpectedly the transition was forced upon Wenger sooner than what was planned, and as the club wouldn’t start becoming self-sustained until the third or even fourth wave of youngsters started coming through the club structure, instability ensued.

The plan was never to sell Henry, Pires or Vieira, instead the hope was to follow the same pattern as Man Utd did with players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. But as the long-term plan was in place, the financial benefit of selling these players would mean accelerating the reduction in debt, and that’s where the first big mistake was made. It wasn’t solely the board’s or Wenger’s fault though, the players themselves had expressed a desire to move on.

2008: The Third Wave

The third wave would be introduced around 2008, bringing players like Aaron Ramsey (18), Ignasi Miquel (16), Kyle Bartley (16), Francis Coquelin (17), etc, to the club, and would serve as the first expansion for the new generation. The whole point of bringing in new waves of youth players would be to eliminate the need for traditional squad generations in the future and instead have a constant flow of new players, eventually having a broad age span within the first team squad with natural replacements ready to go where needed.

The third wave of players meant Arsenal started to build a very solid foundation within their youth ranks, and with players from the first wave already starting to claim their place in the first team, Wenger knew the plan was working. But he also knew that not until the players were old enough would we see the true results of the plan, and he was only halfway through the project at this stage.

2010-2011: The Fourth Wave

As the first and second wave players were becoming first team starters (Fabregas, Walcott, Clichy, Djourou, Walcott, Song, etc), and with the third wave players lurking in the wings, the club initiated the fourth wave in 2010 – expected to be ready for the first team in about 3-5 years. Players like Wellington Silva, Jon Toral-Harper, Samuel Galindo and Ryo Miyaichi would form one of the last waves before the first team players were old enough to become the experienced players at the club, and bring us to the self-sustaining state we planned for in the first place.

Today: Almost There

We still have a year or two left before this 10-year strategy proves itself to be successful. We currently have a very strong first team with more harmony than in recent years, and first wave players haven’t even reached their peaks yet. Still we’re looking to get top four at least in the most competitive league in the world, we were only one mistake away from a Carling Cup trophy and we were only one Bendtner mis-hit away from knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League.

Whatever happens at the end of this season, we are showing an increase in form every year as our players grow older, and it’s only a matter of time before the team opens the door to long-term success.

2013-2014: The Fifth Wave

In the 2011 summer transfer window, Wenger will add the last of the fourth wave players to the academy, and then follow the same pattern as before, waiting a couple of years before starting the fifth wave. The fifth wave marks the end of the 10-year plan for mainstream transfer market independence, and at this stage the first wave players bought back in 2003-2004 will be hitting their peaks, becoming the club’s experienced players in the process.

At this stage we should have the third and fourth wave players in their early/mid-20′s, ready to step into the first eleven if injuries or player sales alter the first choice setup, and with the fifth wave in their late teens, we all of a sudden have a perfect span of players in the correct age groups to dominate for years. And this was the intention from the start.

My personal guess is that at this stage, Arsene Wenger will feel his work is done, and leave his managerial position, but staying at the club in some capacity to help complete the transition from the old to the new era. A young manager will be brought into the club, and he’ll have an impressive setup that will keep him supplied with new talent for decades.

Should Wenger Go Then?

First of all I’m of the opinion that nothing major went ‘wrong’, especially in the perspective of the long-term plan and the disadvantages that came along with that strategy. However, four aspects of the transition caused an unnecessary crash in form after the successful 2003/2004 season, and could have gone smoother overall:

1. Our experienced players left the club too soon – Wenger or the board can’t be blamed for all of them, but could have put more effort into trying to keep some of them. Henry and Vieira wanted to move on and when a player isn’t mentally at the club anymore, there is little point keeping him. But with players like Pires or Flamini, Wenger and the board definitely could have done more to keep them at the club.

2. Unlucky age gap – the difference between the first wave players and the Invincibles generation was unfortunately a couple of years too much, and as a result the transition between them couldn’t be made in time before the older players disappeared from the club. Wenger and the board couldn’t really do much about this, but maybe the long-term plan should’ve been initiated in 1999 when the new stadium proposal was made, instead of 3-4 years later.

3. Long-term plan causing close relationships with players – when dealing primarily with 16-year olds eventually expected to be responsible for the success of a world class football club, trust and love is put into the players from a very young age. This creates high levels of harmony within the club, but also creates relationships that can be too close at times. A major complaint about Wenger is that he trusts his players too much, giving them chance after chance even though they don’t seem to improve. Wenger needs to become more ruthless in this department, but then we run the risk of upsetting harmony at the club.

4. Key replacements weren’t made exceptions to the long-term plan – losing Vieira, Gilberto and Flamini meant losing defensive stability in midfield until Song was ready to step up. And just like when Liverpool lost Alonso, the importance of a good holding midfield player in the modern game was exposed. If Wenger had made one exception to the long-term plan, we might have had a better form in the period between 2005-2010. However, we currently have very promising second and third wave players coming through, and with Song playing well, this won’t be a massive issue in 2011 and onwards.

With that being said, it’s unrealistic to demand that Wenger or the board should have done everything perfectly when transforming the whole essence of the club into the modern era. Did they make mistakes? Yes. Should we get rid of Wenger when we’re at the final stage of a long-term plan? No, that would be ridiculous. Every manager makes mistakes, but let’s be honest: Wenger has kept us in the top 4 throughout this transition phase, in the best league in the world.

Final Words

Not winning a trophy for 7 years is probably more hurtful for younger supporters, but I don’t mind going without a trophy for 10 years to be honest. That is the time span set up for the long-term plan, and I’ve accepted that the plan would bring instability until it was done. Also, the reward for having patience with Wenger will be to establish Arsenal as an independent, consistent and efficient trophy hunter, without ever having to buy a Torres for £50m.

At the moment we’re witnessing the fruits of our labours, with lots of our first team starters being products of the first and second wave youngsters brought in several years ago. But there’s still a couple of years left for this squad to peak, and what we must do as supporters is to be patient until the long-term strategy is completed. Only when viewing our current situation with a bit of perspective can we understand what’s really going on.

The main complaint I see everywhere is that Wenger didn’t bring in a central defender, defensive midfielder or goalkeeper in the summer. People had lost faith in Almunia, we had no proper backup for Song and little experience in our defensive line. And even though we did buy a central defender, it wasn’t enough for many supporters who seemed to have completely missed the point of the long-term plan.

The problem is, and Wenger has said this many times as well, that buying experienced players would ruin the long-term plan, as the young players wouldn’t naturally progress and get a chance to prove their talent in the first team. Part of the process of eliminating the need for traditional generations is to give the young players an accelerated development by playing them in the first team, and if you buy an expensive 27-year old defensive midfielder, that position is suddenly locked down for almost 5 years, hindering the development of an internal player.

For the plan to work, most positions in the team needs to be filled with our own waves of players, to form a seamless progression between generations, ensuring stability for the club. Not until the first wave reaches their peak should we judge the success of Arsene Wenger and the long-term strategy.

I’m convinced that in the near future we will look back at this era and laugh about our dip in form, having to hand out sunglasses to supporters wanting to glance at our packed trophy cabinet. Success is coming, but we need to support our manager with patience and perspective. We haven’t even reached the runway yet, and we’re already challenging for the league title and playing cup finals.

Have faith, Arsenal will dominate for years to come.

This two to go first? ‘New signing’ to play tonight and knee injury may force Pat Rice to retire!

April 28, 2011

Two stories broke yesterday, the first we all discussed and probably will until the day OUR club announce the sale of our number 4.

We went through it all last summer during the transfer window and no doubt we will go through it all again. Unless the deal is done and he leaves as soon as the Premier League season is over, or of course, if Wenger and Arsenal come out and say that Cesc is categorically not for sale – to any club or for any price!

The second story came from Russia, well Zenit St Petersburg.

Our little Russian joined us for around £15million in January 2009 but he hasn’t really hit the heights we all thought he would. He breezed in, lifted the morale of the team, hit four fantastic goals against Liverpool and followed that by an odd goal or two here and there and plenty of assists.

This season he has struggled, big time.

Zenit are reported to be keeping an eye on what’s happing with Arshavin and they are planning on buying him back if he remains unhappy.

I think he’ll go – he is yet to sign a new contract and by the time the transfer window comes along he will be 30 years old – we all know what happens when our players reach that age don’t we. He‘ll be offered a one year contract only and no way will he accept that, would you?

Zenit’s sporting director Igor Korneev said:

Zenit’s doors are always open for Andrey, If his situation at Arsenal does not improve and he’s not comfortable in London, we can study this issue in time for next season.

So, that could be two down and despite both stories being around, OUR club is yet to make a comment on either. The Arshavin one I can understand but the Cesc one, well I am surprised they have not denied this ‘inside source’ story yet.

Watch this space with both I guess……

It’s looking more likely that Pat Rice will retire at the end of the season. Not only is his contract due for renewal but he is suffering from a persistent knee injury which is causing him problems during the day-to-day training. Pat Rice is yet to make a final decision but it seems Wenger will have to find himself a new assistant for next season, I really hope it’s Steve Bould or Martin Keown that takes over.

Bit of good news, ‘new signing’, Thomas Vermaelen is scheduled to make his return tonight for the reserves against the Mancs in their last game of the season – lets hope he finally plays, comes through unscathed and is declared fit and ready to face the older version on Sunday :)

Finally, we are trying to snatch a youngster from under the nose of Fergie. Kevin Mbabu, a 16-year-old from Servette has already spent time at United but has now been invited by Liam Brady to take part in this week’s Ferroli Cup in Italy and could feature in the first game against AC Milan.

Mbabu is a defensive midfielder who can also play centre half or right back, I’ll tell you more about him in six or seven years when he is at the right age to play for the first team.

Pity he’s not 26 years old rather than 16, what we need is ‘now’, not five or six years time and even then he’s not a certainty….

That’s it folks, have a good one….

Forget the maths – let’s just forget this season….

April 27, 2011

Short and sweet today folks, another one from my own view, feel free to tell me your thoughts…

Arsene, forget the maths, forget this season and stop feeling sorry for yourself about this one.

Four games to go so just make sure we are in the Champions League next season! Smash the Mancs at the weekend, beat Stoke, Fulham and Villa and we should come runners-up in any case.

Let’s not let any Manc fan believe that winning at our ground won them the Premier League!

So our season is over as far as silverware is concerned so now we already need to be looking to next season.

All I ask Arsene Wenger is, take action now – don’t wait until the 1st July, get everything sorted out for when the players come back for training.

You are not stupid Arsene, we all know that, just get on and identify the area we need to strengthen in (if you need any help, just pop on the Arsenal blogs, well, some of them) ;)

Then, choose your man to make the difference.

Next step, get on the phone, find out how much that particular player is up for sale for.

Then, for just once, offer them the price and secure your deal.

After that, please repeat this at least four times and Arsenal Football Club will be back, back to winning ways, back to the top of the league and back to filling the shiny new Trophy cabinet that sits at The Emirates.

Do that and the players in our current squad can rest during the summer. Finally they will realise you mean business, they will have new inner belief knowing that when the substitutes board comes up, Denilson, Almunia, Squillaci and Eboue will be nowhere in sight.

Do that Arsene and you too will be able to rest this summer, you may even enjoy a fine glass of red wine, knowing full well that next season you will be sharing one with old red nose with a smile on your face …..

We ask for a great performance each week from OUR players – this summer, all we ask Arsene is for a great performance from you.

Please don’t leave your signings until the last few days of the transfer window, the players don’t deserve it but more importantly, OUR fans don’t either and we are the ones who pay to watch OUR club…..

Do that Arsene and every Arsenal fan will enjoy our summer and who knows, we may just enjoy next season….. :)

That’s it for today, have a good one all…..

Is Wenger a Fool?

April 26, 2011

Before all you Arsene Wenger loving fans leave a comment slating the title – read on!

Is he a fool or a highly paid scape goat?

6 million a year buys you an awful lot of silence from a manager to handle all the criticisms while the board ripen to cow, sell and line their pockets…!

For a while I have had my own theory about Arsene Wenger ‘carrying the can’, it’s not one I have just come up with, I have been saying it for a few seasons now.

Then I read an article in one of the daily papers about how the current board (not Stan) haven’t coughed up a penny towards buying new players.

No, they just preferred to sit around on their butts and sting every Arsenal fan in the pocket and use that money to pay for the few odd and sods that Wenger has been allowed to buy over the last few year.

At the same time of course, we have sold a few players for vast amounts of money and I am sure that any of even the worst mathematicians would be able to calculate that the money we have raised through selling players is vastly more that what Arsene Wenger has spent on building a stronger squad and taking our club to the highest level.

The season after we moved to the Emirates,  Arsene Wengers activity in the transfer market changed – as said before, our manager had bought players who left Arsenal fans drooling. Watching us play over the 7/8 seasons after Wenger became manager was just a joy to behold.

We fought tooth and nail with Fergies lot, we wiped the floor with the Chavs sometimes, we battered the Swampies and Man City were never at the races, let alone near the top four!

Oh, those were the days, weren’t they?

Wenger smiled, the players smiled too – they fought hard and seldom switched off until the final whistle blew, fans hardly ever left the stadium early either – all because our side was something special.

Arsene Wenger had fastly become every Arsenal Fan’s ‘friend’ – he got us back to being at the top and in such a short space of time.

Many footballing fans then started to ‘support’ Arsenal because of him – so much so they can see little wrong in him even today, when everything is going belly up at OUR club.

Arsene Wenger showed us what a top manager he really is the day he arrived at Arsenal Football Club.

He has changed though and sadly for the worse.

But – if we could all get to the nitty gritty of Arsenal, is it Arsene Wenger who has changed, or have the Arsenal Board pulled the purse strings in to almost closed over the past 4/5 seasons? Have they told the media one thing about how much money there is for Wenger to spend, but told him different?

Have they been so concentrated on clearing OUR club’s debt they have done it to the detriment of things on the pitch?

If my theory is right, Wenger truly is a fool – why put yourself on the line for them, why leave yourself open to all that comes your way these days?

Just look at what it is doing to the man.

If I am right Arsene, it’s time for you to stop telling us all you still believe in project youth, you know, I know and the true Arsenal fans know it’s had it’s day, it doesn’t work.

Go out there at the end of the season and tell us all you have never had the money to spend since we left Highbury, then tell them you have got some now, then please us all buy telling us:

‘I will be spending it this summer’….

Don’t be a fool Arsene!

You are far too clever and if my theory is right, you don’t deserve to be looked upon as one either……

That’s if for today, have a good one ….

Don’t forget readers, if you have a view, feel free to send it in as a post and let it be discussed among us all….

“We still lack something called maturity, experience, or calmness’…….

April 25, 2011

Before we even discuss Sunday afternoon’s events, may I take the opportunity to wish all readers a Happy Easter.

The weather in Lancashire looked beautiful, and it has been a warm, pretty day here in the Metro DC area.

The task was evident as we lined up at the Reebok – scene of some previous gruesome moments in recent Arsenal history – today. With Man United and Chelsea winning yesterday, we found ourselves nine and three points, respectively, adrift; with only fifteen possible points to make up.

As with recent matches, we found ourselves to be mostly full strength: Nik Bendtner was apparently ruled out through injury this morning, but other than long-term absentees Vermaelen and Fabianski, we had plenty of options to choose from.

Arsene went with Szczesny, Clichy, JD, Kos, Sagna, Song, Cesc, Jack, Theo, Robin, and Samir.

Jens, Gibbs, Squil, Eboue, Ramsey, Arsh and Chamakh made up the bench.

Fit players such as Al, Denilson and Rosicky could not even make the bench.

As down in the dumps as our team have been, Bolton did not exactly come into the match on the back of a positive result. The late, great Nat Lofthouse scored twice in the 1958 FA Cup final, as Bolton beat Manchester United. Lofthouse passed away in January, and this Bolton side hoped to honor his memory by lifting that particular cup once again.

Last Sunday, a few hours before we drew with Liverpool, Bolton were destroyed 5-0 by Stoke City in the FA Cup Semi-Final; not only was the dream killed, it was shattered in the most comprehensive, ruthless fashion. Surely, on the back of that result, we would be able to heap more misery on them and help our faltering title bid out?

If only…As with Wednesday at the Lane, we started quickly through Theo. Just a couple of minutes in, he forced Jaaskelainen to parry a shot, with Cahill blocking again as Samir tried to tuck the rebound home. Bolton, however, gave warning that they were not simply going to capitulate, with Lee floating a cross in which had our defence scrambling.

We made most of the early running, but other than a low Cesc shot which Jaaskelainen had to tip around the post, we failed to really pressure the Bolton defence.

Indeed, Bolton should have taken the lead 25 minutes; Sturridge split our defence, sending Lee through; when the shot was on, however, he tried to feed K. Davies, and Song was able to clear.

We have seen Arsenal players do this plenty – go through and try and set a team-mate up instead of taking the shot themselves – in recent weeks, so it was a bit of a relief to see another team do it. Nevertheless, the move appeared to unsettle our team, with JD looking particularly nervous and sloppy, and we conceded a series of free-kicks.

Bolton duly opened the scoring with just over five minutes remaining in the half. Sturridge once again set Lee up, only for Szczesny to make a fine block from the South Korean’s close range shot, Kos putting the ball out of play for a corner before Bolton could put the rebound away.

Not for the first – or last – time this season, we were undone by a set-piece. Lee took the corner and picked out Cahill, who sent a firm header in. Samir blocked on – or perhaps over – the line, but Sturridge was on hand to head the rebound into the empty net. It was a good delivery from Lee – far; far better than anything we were able to send in from our nine corners; but Cahill should never have been allowed such a good header from it.

As it was, Bolton earned only three corners the entire match. They scored on two of them…

We tried to respond, and with just a minute of regulation left, Cesc hit the post with a low drive, and saw his follow-up blocked – again. Where we continually failed to get enough bodies into position to mop rebounds up, Bolton always had someone on hand to get in front a cross/pass/shot. This has been a hallmark of our recent unbeaten run, and one of many reasons why we haven’t scored that many goals and dropped so.

So we found ourselves 1-0 down at the half, despite dominating possession and large portions of play. Arsene made no changes at the half, and within a minute of the restart, Bolton had the opportunity to double their lead from the spot. Sturridge got the better of JD all too easily and went down under the latter’s challenge in the box. The penalty looked soft, but it was poor, poor defending from JD to get himself into trouble and give Sturridge the opportunity to get a whistle. Fortunately, K. Davies let us off the hook, taking a weak, frankly terrible penalty which Szczesny easily saved.

Could we capitalize on that new lease on the life? It took only a minute, but we finally did. Robin and Cesc played a great one-two on the edge of the area, with Robin firing low into the left hand corner. The sense of relief was evident, and players looked instantly more encouraged as they looked to move in front for the first time. Yet we were unable to fashion any really great chances in the next ten minutes, and Bolton tried to hit us on the break. Song and Jack both received yellows for fouls on Lee, who continued to cause us problems, and JD gave Bolton half-chances with a couple of more clumsy fouls.

I thought Song had a poor game – his form since injury has not been very good – and he was the first to make way, with Arsene bringing Chamakh on in the 65th minute. Robin shot wide from our next move, but Elmander then set Lee up, but the latter couldn’t capitalize. Chamakh then had a glorious chance, but instead of shooting, he chose to pass to Samir, and the chance was lost. Then with 20 minutes remaining, Robin sent Samir clear through, but the latter shot too close to Jaaskelainen, allowing the latter to block – the rebound came out to Samir, but then Cahill blocked the follow-up.

And so it went, Arsenal pressure; Bolton defend. We made chances, but we were either an instant from applying the finish, or a pass too many from creating a real, quality chance. Arsh replaced Theo with 18 remaining and Ramsey replaced Jack with six to go. In between these two subs, we kept the pressure on with a couple of corners and a couple of shots which were – surprise – blocked.

As this pattern continued, Bolton remained dangerous on the break, and we were finally undone in the last-minute of regulation. JD’s errant header put Elmander through and the latter drove in a shot which Szczesny had to tip around the post. Taylor put the corner in and Cohen – literally just on as a sub for Sturridge – got ahead of JD way too easily and headed Bolton back into the lead. This was a poignant moment for Cohen, who revealed a t-shirt paying tribute to his recently departed (former Liverpool player) father, Avi.

For Arsenal, it was much, much worse, heads immediately dropped and the players looked like they knew the game was up. Referee Jones signaled five minutes stoppage time, but we did not create a single quality chance, and slumped tamely to defeat – our first league reverse after a run of sixteen unbeaten league matches – the defeat the almost certainly puts paid to our already-remote title hopes. Our side has not been the same since the Carling Cup Final, and this performance and loss encapsulated the worst of it all in a single match…

Arsene admitted the title is almost certainly off for this season. Visibly deflated in the post-match, he conceded our title chances are “minimal.” While praising the players “outstanding attitude”, he also conceded that “we have not been stable enough defensively” and that “We still lack something called maturity, experience, or calmness in important situations.” These are Arsene’s words, not those of a supporter or media hack…

Encouragingly, he did not harp on the officials, when there were at least a couple of debatable things, such as an early penalty shout for Theo, and referee Jones’ unwillingness to book K. Davies until a minute from time, despite several dirty and late challenges earlier. Nevertheless, the time for pointing the finger at officials is long past – we squandered the chances and we conceded the set-piece goals, not the officials…

When asked directly about the players’ “mental strength”, Arsene chose to give an answer in the context of their “outstanding attitude”. For me, this is telling, because I do not think they are one and the same. I see mental strength as the determination to keep going and turn things around regardless of what obstacles exist. I see “outstanding attitude” as the ability to keep trying hard and persisting – while not necessarily believing in the ability to actually turn things around.

Perhaps the players do have mental strength in abundance, as Arsene has maintained for so long; the problem is that they rarely show it when the chips are down. There seems to be a tacit admission that, seven weeks on, the players are still not over the Carling Cup Final. The recent performances certainly seem to support this, and such an inability to rebound is not something many of us would associate with “mental strength”.

Arsene also said “It there is someone to blame, it is me.” I am not interested in playing the blame game, never have been. The manager and players will be judged on results at the end of the season; that is how it usually works in this business. Once the season is completed, wherever we finish up, all I ask is that Arsene takes a hard, critical, and objective look at things and take action where he sees it is necessary.

As recently as the third week in February, the season promised everything; now we are more or less fighting to hold our current position. There are clearly some major problems, problems that are still holding us back from taking the next step…

While we are on the subject of Arsene, I am more than a bit concerned about him. Previous comments have indicated that he feels the players have been “victimized” throughout the season, and his sideline demeanor this afternoon suggested he still feels that way.

As we huffed and puffed in the second half, there he was, kicking water bottles in frustration, grimacing and stamping his feet when a decision went against us, bending the officials ears…Many of our supporters have blamed a toxic atmosphere – particularly at home matches – amongst a clearly polarized body of supporters for much of our problems. I would suggest that Arsene’s histrionics don’t help our players very much either. They are nervous and scared of losing a lead?

Could Arsene looking like a man who has lost control on the sidelines have something to do with it? Robin had a good overall match – scoring yet again – but his play had an undercurrent of petulance and strop, as he lobbied for bookings, and remonstrated with Bolton players on more than one occasion.

Does he see Arsene do it and feel he needs to do the same on the pitch? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have seen lots and lots of negative energy from Arsene in recent weeks, and I cannot see any way the players can draw positive encouragement from it…

Oh well…If I knew the answers to all these, perhaps I would have a job with Arsenal FC right now.

I don’t and I don’t, so I will continue to support as best as I can. Arsene conceded the title is almost gone; should Man United win at the Ems on Sunday, both slim and none will have left town – we will then be mathematically eliminated.Red Nose has been bragging about doing just that on May Day.

Surely our players have to pick themselves up and not allow that to happen. We have been waiting for a signature win coming into this season – we got two of them, beating both Chelsea and Barcelona at home. Let’s make it a hat trick and make United wait a bit longer for that 19th title. They are ordinary on the road, so beating them is not “mission impossible” in any way, shape or form.

For several weeks, I have been waiting for our players to get pissed off at all the criticism, to do something about how Arsene is hung out to dry again and again after keeping their back, and just decide to make someone else suffer for how our season has gone. I’m still waiting…

Third is still in our hands – it is painful saying that, but it’s the situation that we find ourselves in. Let’s at least not slip any further down the table. It will almost certainly be too little, too late – but if we can win our last four matches in style, then at least we can finish the season on a winning note.

That has to count for something…

Written by Oliver

David Dein is the Missing Link – Five games to show your worth…..

April 24, 2011

Yep, that’s how I see it.

Beat Bolton today and mathematically we are still in with a chance of catching Manchester United, lose and it’s pretty much over in my book.

The Chavs won last night so we need to win to keep up with them for second place.

As for the chasing pack, b*****s to them as we should be looking up, not down!

Today is not a day to worry about head to heads, their last game or ours. The good, bad or ugly we have seen in games gone by, today is about winning and getting three points.

If our side can play like we did against the old enemy in the first half, we will blow Bolton away but play any lesser standard than that and it will be another tough old day.

Five games left!

Five games to show you care about the Red and White which is Arsenal!

Five games to show Wenger why you deserve to stay at Arsenal this summer.

Five games to show all Arsenal Fans you care about the club we all love, support and sometimes all fall out over.

Five games to show exactly why you deserve to be paid each month.

But most importantly,

Five games to show everyone who doubts you, that you care about OUR club, it’s history and just why a club like ours should be winning games like today’s……

Are you up for it Arsenal, I bet your bottom dollar Bolton will be!!

As  Nike, who’s shirt you wear says:

Well Can You????

In other news reported this morning, Keith Edelman, who was managing director at Arsenal between 2000- 2008 believes that David Dein is the missing link in Wenger’s management team.

During the years we were successful there was an alliance of people at the top who made the club successful. That was David Dein, Arsene and myself. I ran the business side and David and Arsene ran the football side. David did a phenomenal job for the club and I think they miss David’s role in encouraging Arsene.

Arsene is naturally cautious and David was always very ambitious for the club. Look at Sol Campbell and how important he was and how expensive he was as an acquisition at a key moment when he won us a lot of trophies. Campbell signed on a free transfer, but his wages and signing-on fees amounted to about £6million a year, at the time an unprecedented commitment. I don’t see that now.

David was also a great networker. Together with Arsene, David would look at players and get into a position where he felt comfortable spending money on them. I used to sit in the boardroom and hear Arsene say, “If you want to win the Premier League, you have to have a world-class goalkeeper”.

Well, if that’s what he believes, has he actually delivered that? David’s importance is probably underestimated as he would make sure we now had a world-class goalkeeper.

The demise of David is probably the reason why Arsenal have not won more trophies, that and the fact that they haven’t made some key signings at some key moments.


That’s all from me for today folks, have a good one….

Happy Easter Everyone

What next for Cesc Fabregas, dropped?? Don’t get too excited about the summer….

April 23, 2011

Yesterday we all learned the truth about the Cesc Fabregas interview – what was printed by Don Balon was for real!

No doubt you have all read the interview by now and I think it’s fair to say that most Arsenal fans and I mean Arsenal fans, not Arsene Wenger fans would agree with what Cesc has had to say.

But, we have seen before that Wenger doesn’t take kindly to players talking to the press in such a way. Look what happened to William Gallas. Dropped from the squad and stripped of the Captain’s armband!

The question is, will Arsene Wenger do the same to his golden boy?

Will he now strip him of the Captaincy?

Will he drop him for the game against Bolton tomorrow?

Will he sell him in the summer?

Or, will Arsene Wenger finally listen to someone, not just anyone either it’s his Captain, the player he has spent the five seasons building his team around. If Arsene Wenger listens and takes on board all that Cesc has said it can only be for the best.

We will then see changes in the summer, we will see the experience we all cry out for in the side and maybe just more importantly for Arsene Wenger, he may get to keep his Golden Boy for another season or two….

Talking of buying experience, don’t get too excited about the up and coming transfer window..

Wenger confirmed yesterday that the club is in a healthy position financially – well, we already knew that didn’t we?

He also said that he will be in a position to spend big this summer if required.

£40 Million has been reported as being at his disposal but sadly he said this:

We have not completely checked out our financial position. The only thing I can say is that the Club is in a healthy financial situation and, if needed, we can make a big transfer.

No I don’t expect a busy summer at all, the team is 23 years-old on average so why should we expect to have a huge turnover at the end of the season?

I don’t believe the last bit for one minute……

That’s it for today, tomorrow we head to Bolton….

Two faces of Arsene Wenger – Adams to Squillaci, Henry to Bendtner says it all….

April 22, 2011

Why has he changed so much over the last six seasons?

My answer is: I haven’t got a Scooby Doo!!

We wondered, just who was he back in 1996....

With the change in his philosophy, came the change in his appearance and all in just a few years. For me though, the frustrations we feel, he does too and it shows.

So, why if he is feeling the pressure, has he not learned before today and the biggest question is, Has he learned now?

Again, I don’t know the answer but I sure hope it is ‘yes’.

Back in 1996, he arrived here at OUR club having been hunted down by David Dein, I think I am not far off the mark if I say most of didn’t really know who he was, hence the ‘Arsene Who’ comments that still get talked about today.

Arsene’s first signings were Gilles Grimandi, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka. We hadn’t really heard of any of them had we, but they came in and were outstanding. Yep, even Grimandi played his part.

He signed a few duffers too but it didn’t seem to matter so much at the time, we were ‘doing it’ on the pitch!

He sold a few too, Paul Merson, John Hartson and Paul Dickov to name just a few – jeez, right now, those three in their day would be great in the current squad.

Over the next few years we signed players like Freddie, Pires, Henry, Suker, Lauren, Edu, Gilberto, Diarra, Flamini, Wiltord, Van Bronkhorst, Campbell, Fabregas, Van Persie, Lehmann, Reyes, Hleb, Adebayor, Rosicky, Walcott, Eduardo, Sagna, Nasri, Ramsey…

I’m sure I have missed a few ;)

Then came what I think was his ‘final’ big transfer window – this didn’t involve who came in so much, it was more about who was allowed to go. We lost Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry and Ashley Cole. The previous season we had lost Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and David Bentley. Also, let’s not forget we also lost our entire defensive unit in Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Adams and Winterburn!

We were losing the heart and soul of our side. We had just been beaten in the Champions League Final, we should be pushing on from there, not stepping backwards…

2011 – The wrinkles have crept up on him!!

The following activity by Wenger in the transfer windows saw us buy players like Silvestre, Bischoff and Arshavin but at the same time we lost Hleb, Silva and Flamini, we had already let go Reyes, Gilberto, Freddie and Diarra. The following year we sold Adebayor and Toure but bought Thomas Vermaelen and signed an ageing Sold Campbell for free. At some stage during his reign we signed Bendtner!

Over the years Wenger, has gone from signing a lot of quality to signing an odd player who really makes a difference.

Off you go Arsene.....

My question is why, it’s taken it’s toll on Arsenal, it’s taken it toll on all us fans……

But also, it’s taken it’s toll on Arsene Wenger, a very intelligent man, a once well respected man’ but I truly wonder if the latter years have been of his own making….

He’s gone from being a feared manager to a manager who is almost laughed at by his peers and that is not right.

Want him out, or just want old Arsene back??

Finally, it’s a holiday here in the UK today so for those who benefit, enjoy the break.

For those who don’t get the holiday, ‘Life’s a beach sometimes’ ;)

That’s it for today, have a good one……

We simply cannot get it done…

April 21, 2011

So it comes to this.

Another North London Derby and another opportunity to claw points back against Manchester United after their draw at Newcastle United.

Getting three points tonight was of paramount importance – second only to beating Spurs and not allowing them to get six league points at our expense.

We beat them 4-1 in the Carling Cup tie here earlier in the season.  While both teams did not field full strength sides in that fixture, the attitude and determination our players showed in winning in extra time was quite commendable.

That is the form we needed to replicate last night.

We started with a lineup of Szczesny, Clichy, JD, Kos, Squil, Diaby, Cesc, Song, Theo, Robin, and Samir.

Our bench was Jens, Gibbs, Squil, Jack, Ramsey, Arsh, and Nik.  In addition to Al and Denilson, there was no room in the squad for Eboue and Chamakh.

Spurs got us underway to a wall of noise and immediately attacked down the left.  Just two minutes in, Modric shot wide from a decent position.  Cesc and Theo had already combined when the latter sprinted through the middle, where Cesc picked him out.  Theo fired emphatically past Gomes to draw first blood just five minutes in.

Unfortunately, the lead was short lived.  Barely a minute later, Spurs were level.  Nothing looked on, but Corluka put a great ball in from the right, and Van Der Vaart finished emphatically past Szczesny.  We barely had time to enjoy the lead, and we were back level – and looking vulnerable.

Spurs had the better of the play for the next few minutes, as they threatened to go ahead.  Crouch first shot wide after a good build up, then Modric picked Diaby’s pocket deep in Spurs’ half and sent Bale away down the left, but we were able to defend it well.

The end-to-end stuff continued as Samir and Robin combined, with the latter forcing a good save out of Gomes.  One thing already evident is that our players were determined to shoot on goal and work the goalkeeper.  It paid off on 12 minutes, when Diaby and Samir combined on the edge of the Spurs box and the latter blasted past Gomes to restore our lead.

For the next few minutes, we threatened to overrun Spurs and extend our lead.  We forced a corner and Robin shot over the bar from another attack.  Spurs gradually began to get more possession and started creating chances of their own.  Van Der Vaart and Corluka both shot over our bar as their pressure mounted.

Gomes looked shaky, he made a mess of a clearance attempt, although he was eventually able to get the ball clear.  He then saved a shot from Robin.

Spurs then ratcheted the pressure up, forcing a couple of corners.  An offside flag ended the attack on the second corner.  JD then gave the ball away to Pavyluchenko, but the latter could not capitalize.  At this point, we were having problems keeping the ball and Spurs were doing most of the attacking.

The pressure continued, as Szczesny saved from Bale, taking the latter out in the process.  After being under the cosh much of the past 15-20 minutes, we suddenly extended our lead.  We put a ball into the box and Gallas could not clear it, Theo put a peach of a cross in for Robin who forced Gomes into a save.  The ball came back to Robin and he lashed it back into the net.  3-1 up with just a few minutes remaining in the half.

We were forewarned, conceding an equalizer just a couple of minutes after opening the scoring.

Yet again, we were quickly cut open and needed Szczesny to save again – cleaning Bale out again, in the process.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Spurs to pull one back, with Huddlestone beating our goalkeeper from 30-plus yards out.

That was as bad a time to concede, with just a minute of regulation remaining in the half.  Early in stoppage time, Modric went down in the box and Spurs claimed a penalty, but Atkinson waved the appeals away.  Just before the half-time whistle, Clichy earned the game’s first booking for a foul on Van Der Vaart.  But we made it to the interval with no further damage.

Harry made two changes at the half, replacing Corluka with Kaboul and Bale with Lennon.  Arsene made no changes.

We kicked the second half off and Song was immediately booked for a foul on Modric.  Less than a minute later, JD was booked for a foul in on the same player in a dangerous area.  Not two full minutes played and two yellows – what was that about a lack of composure?

VDV took the free kick but blasted it high.  We went down the other end and forced a quick corner, Gallas having to put the ball behind.  Robin sent the ball in, but we couldn’t do anything with it.  A Crouch elbow left Sagna down and needing a spell of treatment.  We drew a free kick in a good position shortly after, but Samir shot it straight into the wall.

Five minutes into the half, and Arsene made an early (injury enforced) change, brining Jack on for Diaby.  The latter claimed an assist on Samir’s goal, but I didn’t think he played particularly well, often careless with the ball.  Just a couple of minutes after Jack’s introduction, VDV tried his luck from distance, but Szczesny produced a fine save.

With Jack on, we seemed to have more of an edge and started to win possession in midfield.  We drew a couple of free kicks from fouls, but did nothing with them.  Robin put the ball in the net, but he had already been whistled for offsides.  Replays suggested that he was onside when the ball was played, but this particular call didn’t go our way.

Twenty minutes into the half, Spurs lost the ball and Theo led the counter, playing Cesc in but he couldn’t make it count.   Spurs began to increase the pressure on us, as they had done during the middle portion of the first half.  The pressure eventually told, as Szczesny brought Lennon down in the box, Atkinson pointed to the spot, and VDV buried it to level the scores again.

We had a couple of chances to score a fourth earlier in the half, but unlike the first half, we stopped shooting, and reverted to our pass-pass-pass mode.  Probably a sign of nerves and possibly an emphasis on keeping the ball; what it actually did is invite more Spurs pressure and we inevitably buckled.

With twenty minutes remaining to regain the lead, we almost conceded a fourth, as Szczesny had to block a Modric shot.  Cesc tried to lift us, twice forcing Gomes into difficult saves.  With ten minutes to go, Theo sloppily gave the ball away, allowing Assou-Ekotto to feed Crouch, who forced Szczesny to tip his header over.

Then Song dithered on a clearance, allowing VDV to rob him and shoot, forcing another Szczesny save.  With eight minutes left, Arsene used the last two subs, brining Nik and Arsh on for the Sami and Theo, respectively.

Spurs continued the pressure, with Szczesny by far the busier keeper.  Two minutes from time, Jack picked Robin out in the Spurs box, but the latter screwed his shot across the face of goal.

As we entered the first of three (minimum) minutes of stoppage time, we were on the ball, knowing a draw would accomplish little other than denying Spurs six points against us. We had a sniff of goal right at the end of the stoppage time, but Nik and Clichy combined to muff it.

The final whistle went shortly after – and almost certainly the remaining scrap of hope that we could overhaul Man United.  As it is, Chelsea beat Birmingham 3-1 to move into second place, ahead of us on goal difference.

So our hangover continues, as we follow the win at Blackpool with two more draws – two more squandered leads.

We are still mathematically in the race – we actually reduced the gap on United by a point (to six) – but this was our game in hand.  We are now six behind (and in third place) – with only fifteen remaining points to play for.

That might not even be such a big deal if we were able to consistently pick up more than one point per match.  Since mid-February, we have only been able do that once (Bloomfield Road), and that has hurt us more than anything.  It has allowed Manchester United to continue to get away with dropping points (as they did at St. James Park) last night, and has allowed the chasing pack to make ground up on us.

For those counting the goals allowed numbers, we are no longer officially the “second best defence in the league”, if you go strictly on that criteria.  We are now fourth:  seven more conceded than Chelsea, four more than Man City, and two more than Man United.  Tonight’s panicked, shaky display – with goals conceded within minutes of scoring our first and third – was further evidence that we struggle in this area when the chips are truly down.

A lot has been made of the supposed “lack of leadership” in our squad.  I think we have guys that can lead and are capable of doing so – when we were ripping Spurs to shreds in the first half. We certainly had Cesc, Theo, Samir and Robin all showing the way, taking responsibility and standing up to be counted.  Yet, when we had to defend, we were often a shambles.

Watching events tonight, it struck me that what we could have used out there is a veteran with some trophies on his resume, who could have calmed our players down, got them organized, reminding them he had been through the wars, won things and knew exactly how to get through these situations.  I think, at the moment, that is one thing we really lack.

Arsene probably viewed Billy Gallas for just such a role a couple of season ago.  Gallas certainly has the credentials, but he was such a phony, he lacked the necessary credibility in the end.

That is not to say that we are utterly incapable of doing this – we’re not.  We withstood some severe late pressure in the first leg versus Barcelona, and defended well in keeping both Chelsea and Stoke at bay in league home wins.  But it seems that once our team’s fragile confidence is dented, we struggle in several areas and it takes us seemingly forever to get over it…

Afterwards, Arsene maintained that the title is not yet over, and that we will fight to the end.  He refrained from talking about “mental strength” and focused on the team’s “personality” and “attitude”.

I saw one article which suggested that he blamed fatigue for our relinquishing the lead and having to hang on during the second half; I read his comments a thought he was talking more about the mental blow of conceding such a late penalty/equalizer against Liverpool.

I think we all know that our chances are slim-to-none (and slim just left town), but Arsene is not going to say that openly until it is over – neither would I.

All-in-all, a very disappointing night’s work, from my perspective.

It was a great match for the neutral, but overall frustrating.  To me, it feels more like a loss than a draw.  I can draw the scant consolation that the Spuddies were not able to claim six league points from us this season.  And that while St. Totteringham’s Day did not draw any closer, it did not move any further back either.  But really, that is about it.

We had to win this – had to – for several different reasons.  We couldn’t, and the manner of losing the points – blowing a two goal lead yet again, and playing scared and tentative when losing our lead looked a possibility – simply highlighted some of the weaknesses and fragilities in our club.

The Reebok on Sunday – at least we get away from London.  It seems we do better outside the capital then at home, these days.  Hopefully the guys can pick themselves up and get a win.

I will try and stay positive and encouraging, but at this moment, I have no words of encouragement to offer.

I am sure you understand…

Written by Oliver


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