Arsène’s Date With Destiny

March 31, 2010

In 2006, Arsène Wenger stared transfixed across the lush green turf of the Stade de France focused only on the most prestigious and coveted club trophy in world football. Make no mistake, the Champions League is the trophy that Arsène and Arsenal know is required to put the official stamp of success on the Wenger years.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006 was not to be our night. We had fought our way through the group stages and somehow sneaked almost unnoticed into the final courtesy of an 89th minute penalty save from mad Jens in the semi-final against Villareal. If we are to reach the final this year, we will have to beat the best teams on the way starting with FC Barcelona at The Emirates Stadium tonight.

In 2006, we had a team about to go into transition.  Our talismanic captain Cesc Fàbregas, Manuel Almunia, the resurgent Emmanuel Eboué and unbelievably, a rejuvenated Sol Campbell are the only survivors of that game.

Since 2006 the team has gone through a gradual and sometimes painful metamorphosis. The inspirational brilliance of Thierry Henry, the gallic artistry of Robert Pires and the gutsy determination of Freddie Ljunberg have been lost in the sands of time. TH14 may play for Barcelona, but his heart and more significantly his best years are with Arsenal forever. Those players have been replaced with a new generation of Wenger protégés.

Whether you believe the development of these players was part of a brilliant master plan by Arsène or a consequence of having to make the most of limited finances, it has to be admitted that they have finally moulded into an outfit that looks capable of winning the highest honours, and they can only get better. Tonight we will see if we have reached and surpassed the achievement of the team of 2006.

This season has been full of the ups and downs we’ve become accustomed to over recent years. We’ve lost our best striker, relived the horror of seeing one of our players receive a devastating injury, been written off by the pundits and fought back to be in contention for the league and still are perceived by most ‘experts’ to have little chance of reaching this year’s Champions League final.

David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle died this day in 2001. He was an exceptional player and a true gentleman of the game. What more fitting tribute to this Arsenal legend than to dedicate a victory tonight to his memory.

I could have written about many aspects of tonight’s game, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised just how much it meant to me and to every gooner across the globe. The details of player selection and tactics seemed almost immaterial. It’s our chance to prove everyone wrong. The pundits, the experts, the armchair critics, the green eyed followers of other teams, they have no idea how it feels to be an Arsenal fan who has lived through these years looking forward to this game, this special night.

COME ON ARSENAL…. COME ON ARSENAL….COME ON ARSENAL……


European Nights to Remember

March 30, 2010

As one who for many reasons no longer goes to live matches, it is the European nights I miss the most.

Special nights these, wonderful nights. Even the approach to the floodlit ground is different, the excitement is palpable. “Champions league”, the name says it all. Only the best get here. Groups of visiting fans converge on the stadium, conversing in foreign languages, chanting and singing unintelligible songs with familiar tunes.

They push unashamedly at burger bars and in that holy of holies, the Highbury fish bar, not having been raised in the British habit of orderly queuing. Street traders rip off our guests wholesale, as they grapple with an unfamiliar currency, whilst collecting the promised souvenir for kids back home. Extra police, many mounted, ignore the touts moving through the crush asking for spare tickets to resell.

Into the ground, up to your seat, looking down on that magnificent pitch, the centrepiece, a beautiful lush green stage, waiting for the players and the drama that will surely unfold. The glare of the lights emphasising and enhancing the myriad colours that assault the senses.

Gooners of all shapes and sizes stand restless, unable to sit or relax, thumbing through programmes, glossy pictorial reminders of triumphs past on nights like this and featuring the cast list for the upcoming performance.

A special buzz circulates the ground fuelled by excitement and apprehension. The tension can be felt, the familiar somehow becomes unfamiliar. Yes the same seat and view, but still it’s different, an unknown quantity. These are not regular visitors, a familiar adversary, but foes from across the water, foreigner’s playing the game we invented and now here to try and show us how it’s done.

The teams enter the arena, the roar grows to a crescendo; strong men go weak at the knees, older men weak in the bowels. Anthems play, sound reverberates from side to side, round and round the home of football.

Triumph or disaster it’s now in the lap of the football gods. Foreign referees, dressed in yellow with arms like windmills as befits their need to be noticed and love of a show, book the tacklers, but welcome the wrestlers as part of the game.

Italian and Argentinean hard men compete alongside Spanish maestros and Latino divers, who throw themselves to the ground at the least suggestion of a touch, convulse acrobatically in simulated death throes, prior to a heroic recovery on the stretcher. Each act carefully choreographed, orchestrated and designed simply to break up the flow of the game and waste playing time. Presenting unfamiliar challenges and frustrations to home based fans and players alike, reared on a diet of frantic, high-speed premiership football.

The next hour and three quarters will not only decide which team progresses, but also make or ruin thousands of supporter’s, night, week, or year depending on the result and degree of obsession.

Oh yes, I miss those nights. If you’re fortunate enough to be going, shout for me too. Win or lose, hang on to the moment, for they are extra special nights, an experience to be treasured and stored safe in the memory for when the years have passed and age catches up with you.

My favourite European memory? Easy. Jon Sammels, a class act, oft derided like Bendy and Theo, scoring against Anderlecht, to bring not only the first ever-European trophy to Highbury, but also the first trophy of any kind for 17 years and start the rise of the Modern Arsenal.

By our Guest Writer dandan




Support the Enemy…….come on you spurs

March 29, 2010

Yesterday was the weirdest of days in blogland. Some serious ranting took place on a  few blogs but here it seemed we were mostly stunned into silence, except for one or two who clearly wear their hearts on their sleeves.

As ever, with all things Arsenal, the camps were divided. Are we still in the race for the title or did the draw at Birmingham bring an end to our chance of winning the Premiership? Obviously, mathematically, we are still in the race as there is the possibility that the teams above us will drop points against sides that have their own goals to achieve.

In this important week, when we play Barcelona at home in the Champions Leaugue, those three points would have given us the security of knowing we are still in with a  realistic chance of landing the Premiership title. If only Almunia had pushed  harder and that ball had sailed over the bar …. as it is, we all need to push in the same direction…… or as the club motto puts it Victoria Concordia Crescit ” victory comes from harmony”

Undoubtedly, the pendulum has swung against us and in favour of the other two. Ironically we may well have to wish success on totnum, citeh and fat sam’s blackburn when they play our rivals even though they collectively represent everything we detest about the Premier League – delusions of grandeur, obscene money without class and blatant organised thuggery. For these games only, we will support the enemy.

We’re all gearing up to roast the spuds at ‘The Lame’. They think they deserve Champions League football and while they have been annoyingly persistent in holding on to 4th place thus far, I really don’t want them to get the idea that they are in any way deserving of a place in the top four.  They play the three title aspirants in succession, starting with us at the Lane followed by the chavs and then a trip to Old Trafford. Whilst I don’t want to us to drop any points against them, it would be useful if they drew the other games and take points off of the mancs and the chavs even if it meant their chances of finishing fourth were helped in the process.

Citeh will also play us and the mancs. They believe they should be playing Champions League football and when you consider the money thats been lavished on that squad – including the seriously overpriced Lazybayour – they probably have  a point. We must exact revenge for the game at Eastlands earlier in the season, but we should hope they triumph against the red mancs.  They’ll want to stamp their authority on the City of Manchester, and we’ll be the winners in terms of the title race. Are they more deserving of a top four place? I would prefer anyone but the spuds.

The chavs were held to a draw last week at Blackburn. Arsenal and the mancs will travel there in the coming weeks. Blackburn are nestled safely in 10th place so, who would Fat Sam be more likely to want to help out? Not us I reckon so we should expect a tough game from them. How important will the points be to us by then? – only time will tell

There are still a lot of twists and turns to come. This title race is destined to be one of the most exciting yet.  Arsène was clearly rattled after the game on Saturday and uncharacteristically gave the press a mouthful of very flowery language.

If only he’d bought a world class goalkeeper in the summer, he would probably have been smiling all the way home.

Think how bitter sweet it will be for spud supporters to beat the chavs and manure and in doing so help us win the title. So through gritted teeth, everything crossed, for those two games only  ………… come on you spurs…

By Rasputin and peachesgooner


An Even Bigger Miracle Please.

March 28, 2010

We needed a miracle before Birmingham we still need a miracle now the only thing that has changed is that we need an even bigger one.

I would like to try and put a positive spin on the match but I can’t, the nausea in the pit of my stomach won’t let me. It feels like I have woken up with the mother of all hangovers and no matter how hard I try and remind myself what a good time I had at the party we call our season, enjoying exquisite football of the highest calibre — it doesn’t help, I still feel absolutely awful.

Wenger’s gamble failed, I am not about to launch into an anti Wenger tirade, I am fully aware just how easy it is to get things right with hindsight but Wenger stressed the importance of ignoring the Barcelona game and being fully focussed on Birmingham which surely included playing our strongest team – well he didn’t, and it cost us.

Playing Theo on a bowling green of a surface such as the Emirates when the play is tight is usually unproductive but playing him on a bobblely pitch like St Andrews and he is more than likely to go AWOL, which is exactly what happened, for seventy minutes he was anonymous — it was equivalent of playing with 10 men.

In normal circumstances playing with ten men against eleven does not deter the spirit of this team as they showed so admirably last week against West Ham but with Howard Webb so blatantly making it twelve against ten, things were tough, throw in an injury that reduced Fabrégas to a passenger and the odds were really stacked against us.

Still the nine men battled on with Rosicky mustering all the enthusiasm he possessed, Diaby was putting on a magic show in the middle, while Denilson albeit light weight was doing what he could but no matter how much they tried this midfield triumvirate just could not get the game under control and it remained deadlocked.

Then on seventy minutes Wenger decided to unwrap the big guns from Wednesday’s cotton wool; Arshavin and Nasri replaced Walcott and Rosicky, the difference was immediate, for the first time in the match there was eleven against eleven, well almost, they still had Webb but it certainly helped.

The two late arrivals were cutting through the Birmingham defence like a hot knife through butter, this galvanised the back line, lifted Denilson’s confidence and gave even more impetus to the Diaby show. It seemed like only a question of time before we scored and so it proved: our saviour was Nasri, a low drive through a sea of legs found its way into the far corner leaving Heart stranded — cue unbridled joy in the 12 Pins pub, Finsbury Park the place went absolutely mental.

Arsenal immediately took their foot off of the paddle and dropped a gear but with only ten minutes to go all seemed fine — wrong — out of the blue in injury time someone thrust their hand down my throat, ripped out my beating heart, throw it into the air and Almunia, instead of catching it, tried to push it over the bar which he pathetically failed to do — it hurts, it really hurts.

By London


Think Brum ….. Barça can wait ….

March 27, 2010

We’ve had a weeks break after The Hammers and enter a huge week in our trophy hunt. Birmingham are a decent team, 9th in the PL,  and under the stewardship of Alex McLeish easily capable of upsetting our plans. Home draws against Man U, Chelsea and the Spuds show they are no pushovers at St Andrews. We beat them 3-1 at the Emirates despite a feisty showing from Birmingham in the second half.

The centre of defence is the conundrum for this encounter. As TV is banned for this game we are left with 3 choices of centre back – Sol, Silvestre and Song. Wenger has said that neither Silvestre or Campbell are fit enough to play two games in a week, and after Birmingham we have the big midweek game against Barcelona. As such, we will be forced to play Song at centre back. My guess is that AW trusts Sol more than Silvestre and therefore Sol will play midweek. Song was superb alongside Sol during the second half last Saturday, and I have no qualms at seeing him there, however he will be sorely missed as our midfield enforcer against a team who have already shown a battling disposition. Of course the news of Gallas’s “miraculous” recovery gives AW the chance to play both Sol and Silvestre , hence even more permutations

The CB’s can expect a busy afternoon. Cameron Jerome has scored 4 in his last 3 games and looks a fine player, and Chucho is a player with Tevez like energy (thankfully not the skill!). Plus the Blues have a super-sub in the ancient Kevin Phillips. Birmingham have a decent midfield led by Barry Ferguson, and the Spaniard Michel, a creative MF signed from Gijon in January. They also have McFadden and Lee Bowyer, who in recent games have been on the bench.

I see this as a key game in the run in. As we have seen, Chelsea underestimated a Blackburn team that wouldn’t lie down, and they are similar to Birmingham insomuch as they have only lost twice at home all season. Some inspiration from any of our attacking players is a must. Our forwards cannot afford to be profligate with our chances (are you reading AA and NB?) as we cannot continue to rely on our midfield, and in particular, Cesc to keep scoring. I believe this is a good game to start Walcott as his pace could upset an ageing Blues defence (Stephen Carr?) Apparently Nik will not be fit for the match and Arsène has been bigging up Eduardo for the main strike role. Obviously it is his return to the scene of that horrific injury, so the boss is right to focus on the positives rather than dwell on that day.

I envisage a team of:-

Almunia

Sagna  Silvestre  Song   Clichy

Eboue Denilson Cesc  Nasri/TR

Walcott  Eduardo

I see Cesc coming off after 60 minutes to be replaced by Nasri/TR/Diaby – we need to keep our team fresh for Wednesday. Arshavin on the bench as he is a vital player for us in Europe, and needs a rest. An  cameo appearance from Eduardo late in the game.

Clearly Wenger will have one eye on the Barcelona fixture, whilst at the same time focussing on what could be a banana skin. Three points at St Andrews and the world will start to believe this could be our year.


Ban Scoring Goals…. it’s against Health and Safety …..

March 26, 2010

Rasputin’s rant

I know other bloggers have moaned about this before, but last weekend’s game against Wham was the first time I’ve experienced at first hand, the ‘over-zealous’ behaviour of some of our stewards. We were unable to get our usual seats and found oursleves high up, one row from the top of the stadium. As I took my seat, I surveyed the ‘regulars’ around me and joked that “I hoped I was in the singing section”. They seemed a really good bunch of hardcore supporters and I felt at home in their company – and the singing was pretty good too.

I was aware in my peripheral vision of a steward fidgeting about at the end of the row and apparently conversing with the guy behind me. I turned and asked him what it was all about and he explained that he was being asked to sit down. Since he was in the uppermost row and there was nothing behind him except concrete, I was curious as to why the steward thought he needed to stay in his seat “Health and Safety” was the answer he spat out with a grimace.

“But what happens when we stand up to celebrate a goal” I asked, a resigned shrug of the shoulders was his only response. This sparked a debate at half time and the consensus was that in areas like the new North Bank and Clock End (= behind the goals), everyone stands whenever they feel like it because the strength in numbers means that the stewards are powerless to do anything about it. I don’t want to stand throughout games, but I also don’t want to be treated like a kid if I do take to my feet.

I have some sympathy with the stewards because they are only doing what they are told, but surely the club can ‘adjust’ its policy to accommodate supporters who wish to stand at important points during the game or where there is no risk to life and limb and no impairment to the enjoyment of other supporters. We have been criticised this season for not getting behind the players enough, well then don’t stop us expressing our feelings by telling us to sit down when it’s not necessary.

peachesgooner’s rant
I’m thoroughly fed with how the club take our money for seats but really offer so little service to the buyer. Yesterday’s attempt to buy tickets for the Barcelona tie next Wednesday caused the usual crashing of the web-site and lack of information about the state of play. Having logged in and been held in a queue for what seemed an eternity, I was finally able to buy my tickets (although it was already too late to get adjacent seats) but when I tried to log-in again to buy more for a friend on his number, the site was blocked. Having checked that tickets were still available I logged in again and waited to gain entry to the box office. I waited for an hour and a half before the thin burgundy line had filled its space only to find that the game was now sold out.

I know of several other silver members who also waited for over an hour only to be disappointed – where did the tickets go? I thought the idea of silver membership was that you should be able to get a ticket. I must have been one of thousands of supporters trying to get through.  Surely it’s  possible to put out a STOP PRESS – TICKETS SOLD OUT so at least supporters don’t waste their time waiting online.

Another problem I think the club have not addressed sufficiently well is the problem season ticket holders face if they can’t go to the game. The Ticket Exchange is a very good idea but shuts 48 hours before a game. From the number of empty seats I see at games every week its clearly not possible to always find someone  to take a spare ticket.

Now that the ticketing system is electronic it must be possible to action changes even up to a couple of hours before a game. Season ticket holders should be able to call a number and give their details, their card gets blocked for that game (which is what happens with the ticket exchange anyway) and silver and red members have their cards turned on for the game.

Come on Arsenal FC  lets make sure we fill the stadium for every game.


“I’d just love it if we beat them”

March 25, 2010

Alex Ferguson – Lord of the Sith or Rab. C Nesbitt?

We all know “Sir” Alex is supposedly the master of mind games and at the level of a Jedi master if you were to believe the entirety of the Man IOU worshipping media and pretty much all of TV sports channels.

The most obvious example often quoted to back this assertion being when Kevin Keegan famously lost his cool and let rip with the “I’d just love it…” tirade, which terminally branded him as a “bottler” in the 1995-96 season.

Take a more recent example of how ole 65% proof nose used his dazzling psychological dexterity to become a winner on Sunday against the Dippers. It was another “Old Traffordish” decision given to the Salford reprobates that resulted in an undeserving penalty duly converted by everyone’s favourite Dreamworks character, via the rebound, to gain his team three valuable points.

The referee was Howard Webb, another referee that Govan’s finest has previously criticised publicly and none too subtly. Take your minds back to the season before last when we met Glazers Gimps at our place when we twice came from behind to salvage a draw while allegedly benefiting from being favoured by Howard the Coward. Not only did the whiskey infested sour puss moan about the refereeing but he deemed the atmosphere at our place hostile – a few quips of “siddown Taggart!” enough to offend Fergie’s tender and fragile persona.  Incidentally you may compare Fergie’s whinge about nothing to the treatment handed out to our manager during the league visit to Old Toilet this season; sent to the stands for the heinous crime of kicking an empty water bottle so he could spend time amongst the slavering hordes of mono brain-celled mank glory-hunting numb nuts.

So, having publicly undermined Howard Webb our Whiskey enthusiast, who in common with all managers assesses the referees in his post-match report, let his displeasure be known in that public way.

OK, if a few FA disrepute charges come his way it’s a fair price for the later benefits (benefits such as the soft penalty for Valencia’s act of simulation that had more ham than Dewhursts) that arise from pressurising referees pre match. Of course every referee will say he is not effected by anything managers say, yet subconsciously Webb, and the likes of Riley before him, the need to get Sir Alex of Govan’s approval hangs heavily on them.

Earlier this season the FA finally attempted to reign in Fergie’s one man crusade against the “Respect” campaign when he said referee Alan Wiley “just wasn’t fit enough” to officiate the Salford Red Sox’s game against Sunderland.

It is significant that part of the judgement made by the FA committee on the disrepute charge subsequently brought contained this proviso “ Each member of the commission recognised Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievements and stature within the game.”

This implies that some degree of leniency was applied because of who the person being judged was – a clear and blatant example of footballing authorities falling over themselves to appease the mad old Scotsman’s rantings; what on earth has his achievements in the game got to do with what the appropriate punishment should be for bringing the game into disrepute? Furthermore, it suggests that managers who have not won trophies will get harsher judgements – what next, a sliding scale of penalties for managers based on how many trophies they have won?

by guest writer charybdis 1966


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