We won … but can we win?

February 21, 2010

On the face of it a victory and 3 points gained on manu courtesy of a 3:1 defeat by Everton was just what the doctor ordered – so why was the atmosphere at the game subdued and the walk home to the station characterised by head shaking and hushed tones? The answer is simple; playing like that, we’re not going to win anything.

The team selection was positive, with Almunia back in goal and Ramsey featuring in midfield in place of Denilson. The inclusion of Eboué was greeted with enthusiasm by fans who a year ago would have groaned in disbelief – and he didn’t disappoint.

The pattern of the game was familiar. Sunderland had set their team up with negative intent. Same old boring tactic, pack the defence and try to get lucky on the break – and it almost worked when Kenwyne Jones got through one on one with Almunia and should have equalised but pulled his shot wide. Craig Gordon was timewasting when taking his goal kicks from the start but unsurprisingly managed to execute them much more quickly once they went a goal down. Darren Bent was wasted playing out wide and hardly featured in the game.

We had plenty of possession and created a few chances, but lacked the cutting edge up front. We really need a striker who can spearhead the attack, Chamakh will be most welcome. Players were receiving the ball out wide but crosses seldom found an Arsenal shirt often because there wasn’t one in the danger area.

The exception was Emmanuel Eboué who gave one of his best performances albeit peppered with the occasional sortie into am dram. He was quick, direct and threatening whenever he received the ball. The way he battled to squeeze the pass through to Bendtner for the first goal was typical of his performance throughout the match. The Dane should be very grateful for such an easy tap-in as his first touch had deserted him a few minutes earlier when in front of a virtually open goal and lost vital seconds only succeeding in finding a defender instead of the beckoning net.

The pattern of the second half was much the same as the first up until the all too familiar last 15 minutes when Sunderland actually showed some endeavour and gave us a few  tense moments. At this point, I, like a lot of fans around me thought that 1:1 was the most likely outcome. Thankfully we could relax when late on Cesc ran towards the box and invited a rash challenge by Campbell. It looked like a soft penalty and may have even been outside the box, but we are overdue a touch of generosity from a referee!!! The resultant penalty was dispatched low into the bottom right corner by our captain. Three points secured.

I do not propose to give player ratings but would make the following observations:

Almunia – did OK but does not inspire confidence and once again was indecisive and hesitant when coming for the ball on occasion.

Clichy – had a much better game, kept it simple and concentrated on defending.

Sylvestre – coped for the most part with a poor Sunderland side, but give me Sol any day.

Nasri – he is a very clever and skillful player and provided a lot of the quality on show.

Eboué – my MotM, without his contribution I doubt we would have won.

Cesc – he worries me. He played well but seems to have lost some heart. He needs quality players around him otherwise his talent is wasted and may be lost back to his home country.

Bendtner – he worked hard but often drifted wide and left the middle unattended. He still lacks confidence in front of goal.

Arsène – good team selection, but it was ridiculous to bring on Denilson with a couple of minutes to go. He wasn’t up with the pace of the game and just added an extra nervy 30 seconds to the injury time.

Apologies for this hastily thrown together report, it was going to be written by another author but sadly events have made that impossible. There’s plenty to disagree with – it’s only my opinion. I’m delighted we won, but realistic that we need to improve on this performance if we want to be in contention for the title at the end of the season.

Victory – by Royal Decree!

February 20, 2010

We need a confidence booster and who better to play today than a poor Sunderland side who come into the game missing a number of first teamers ? The Black Cats arrive at the Emirates looking for a double over us this season and not having been beaten by Arsenal for 3 games. Reasons for optimism? Well, Sunderland are in the midst of a dreadful run, not having won in their last 12 games, they have taken 3 points from a possible 36 on the road and have a Gooner as their top scorer.  Darren Bent and his family are massive Arsenal fans, and I am sure Darren will not want to disappoint his Mum by scoring against her beloved Arsenal!

Steve Bruce: Another in the long list of ex-Manc managers. All trained by SAF, all promote efficient as opposed to imaginative football, and all are fighters. Bruce is a man one would want in the trenches, a natural leader of men. Were it not for Martin O’Neill I would expect him to be SAF’s successor.  He seems to be a decent chap and despite an incredibly successful career at MU never won an England cap.  Expect to see him as manager of Newcastle within 2 seasons !!  Bruce is not known for playing expansive football so it is highly likely that Sunderland will “park the bus” at the Emirates.

Of course Roy Keane was manager  prior to Bruce, and it is a testament to his management skills that he signed Anthony Stokes from us for  €2m. Thank you Roy, you paid for a 8 months of Theo’s wages.

I am looking forward to watching Lorik Cana. He has said recently that he would have been a Gunner, having been invited to trials when he was 16; Visa problems prevented his arrival. There was much talk on the Blogs of  Arsenal signing him last season, but the fact that he signed for Sunderland must indicate that it wasn’t just Arsenal who doubted his ability to cut it at a top club. That said, he has looked a beast in the middle of Sunderland’s midfield and will give Fab a good challenge (hopefully nothing too violent). It is reported that Lee Cattermole has been Sunderland’s best player this season, but he is suspended for the game. I am sure our delicate players will miss him!

We go into the game missing Diaby, Gallas and Arshavin. Song returns in place of Diaby, and I expect to see Walcott replace Nasri or Rosicky.

My team:

A Goalkeeper

Eboue          Sol         TV       Clichy

Song      Cesc       Nasri       Rosicky

Walcott       Bendtner

Alternatively it could be:

A Goalkeeper

Sagna       Song     TV      Clichy

Denilson    Cesc      Rosicky

Theo      Nik     Vela

Much will depend upon whether Wenger wants to play an attacking team and 4-3-3. Playing Song at CB against a team that will almost certainly play on the counter-attack could be a good ploy; Sol’s lack of pace plus two games in 4 days could count against him.

Last season I had the privilege to attend the Emirates in the company of Peaches to watch a seemingly interminable 0-0 draw. My only memory of the game is that it was very cold!! Sunderland games are like that – forgettable, though I do recall a stunning RvP free kick a couple of years back

The Black Cats have a decent defence but if we really are to challenge this season, we have to beat teams like Sunderland at home and win handsomely. There will be no excuse for losing any points.

Sunderland became a City as recently as 1992 as part of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of The Queen’s accession to the throne.

And as everyone knows. Our Queen is a renowned Gooner ……


February 19, 2010

My good friends will tell you that I’m not very good at comedy, being a girl I almost never remember even the funniest of jokes but I did think we needed a bit of cheering up today.

It occurred to me that Arsene always has a sound-bite and like every good politician he can roll them out for similar situations hoping that no-one will notice ‘hes used that one before’. I did some searching and after an hour and a half of reading through hundreds of quotes a pattern emerged, and the realisation that many of his gems that had been used over the years can still be applied now – why was I surprised?…………

“I really can’t remember having as many injuries as this but it is not a crisis. We have enough good players in the team to win the game.”

“We should not have lost. Our side played with a team spirit showing some great quality, but we were punished for a lack of experience and maturity.”

“I think we have the best defense in the league and you don’t do that with a bad goalkeeper.”

Plus who can this be referring to…………….again?

“It does not stop him from moving or playing. He can play with an anesthetic in his hand but we will monitor him in training tomorrow morning.”

Arsene relishes his battles with the other top teams in the Premiership and there were lots of quotes about Fergie and Mourinho and Arsene’s desire for Arsenal to be successful in winning the title.

The opposition love the fact that he is always ready to declare how positive he is and my spud friends delight in telling me at every opportunity that we aren’t going to win anything.  But there is a way that Arsene worries the others with his sincere belief, his cold grey eyes staring into the camera declaring that even with half a team we have the character and the spirit to win the battles.

“I have got more important things to worry about. We do not even talk about the title. The most important thing I am concerned about is winning our next game.”

“At the moment it does not look likely that we can catch Chelsea. Lets get our injured players back first, but right now Chelsea are not even a worry for me,”

There are times when even he lets his guard slip, shows some humility as he recognises that no team can win everything all of the time. This from the man that predicted his team could go unbeaten for a whole season and then they did.

“It is a miracle we are still in the competition but we are up for this game and I think we will go through.”

“What’s good about football is that it’s not predictable, … I feel we have the needed cohesion, the belief and the quality to beat them.”

“What’s important for me is that Arsenal are the best team in the country. At the moment we are not. That is the real worry for me.”

“There’s something happening in this team and it’s growing in confidence. It’s young and showed resilience, attitude and not just quality, but character.”

As you could possibly predict there were so many accolades to Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp that I just couldn’t choose which to include but there were also some quotes about players that we can all have a guess who they refer to……….

“You can compare him a little bit to Vieira, who has a similar stature. He is a little bit of a different player but Patrick is a good role model for him. To model himself on Patrick would be a good idea because he has that kind of stature and strength.”

“Unfortunately for us, he has made a good decision. But he has played 14 years for Arsenal, so he could not turn down the opportunity to have two more years playing than he could have had here.”

“Don’t forget, he started out as a centre-forward when he was young and sometimes he reminds people of that.”

“Wayne Rooney has achieved a lot, and I want to be cautious with comparisons. But he has the same ingredients at the same age to be a big prospect for England.”

This has to be my favourite – its such an understatement

“It is a big blow to lose the two players, because our squad is a little short.”

And this was the most topical quote of them all

“We need to be more consistent in the championship, … Hopefully, you will see that against Sunderland on Saturday. We have a good opportunity at home.”

A good opportunity Arsene to keep up the pace on the leaders and ensure we don’t get sucked into the chasing pack.

I shall be there – maybe Sol will play ……………

Schoolboy Errors Cost Us Once Again.

February 18, 2010

Last night’s game was crying out for someone to put their foot on the ball and calm the whole thing down. It made no sense to me and seemed totally unnecessary that we played at such break neck speed. Players look to their captain to dictate the pace but Fabrégas was guilty of repeatedly trying the Hollywood pass when a shorter, calmer pass, guaranteeing that we kept possession, would have been the better option. I’m not trying to suggest that he had it easy it was very obvious that he had been singled out by the Portuguese to systematically have his ankles hacked at. But in between that we really needed a clear headed Captain to take control of the game. Nasri was no better, neither was Rosicky in fact most of the play resembled school children running as fast as they could around the playground. Can you name me one passage of Wengerball that took place between Fabrégas, Rosicky and Nasri? You can’t because it didn’t happen; we have got to be the only club in the world who cannot make the collective talent of those three players work.

For some reason I felt less pain after we lost to Manu and Chelsea I remember consoling myself by saying that on the day we lost to a better team but we do not have that excuse last night; Porto were not better, in fact, although both teams looked liked they had built their defences using the Three Little Pigs guide to construction, and I am not referring to the sensible one who opted for bricks, Fabainski aside we were the one that looked like we had opted for the better building material of sticks rather than theirs of straw. They left do much space at the back we should have crucified them.

I don’t remember a recent game in which I was so nervous before the start perhaps it was because ITV were repeatedly showing Sol’s last goal in the Champions League Final in Paris which brought back all that pre match anxiety.  The kick off helped calm me, although, that lasted two minutes before one of the Porto players went flying towards our goal with Sol, looking way out of his depth, in chase. I feared the worst but he recovered with a tackle as good as any other defender in the game, if not better. In fact this tackle calmed the whole game down for a short while; we established our shape and all looked well until that is Clichy got ripped to shreds once again on the left by one Porto player, I don’t remeber his name, before he sent in a pedestrian cross that somehow Fabianski managed to put in his own net. Our confidence viably dropped and was not recovered until they only good thing to happen last night and that as you know was the goal from Sol, if the game had ended there the world would have been a very enjoyable place to be this morning but it didn’t. The night was marred by Fabianski’s school boy error in the second half; it was a perfectly good goal which in the cold light of the day I am sure Wenger will realise but what worries me more is will he realise that we desperately need a goal keeper.

Player ratings:

Fabianski: isn’t there a building site that this man should be on. A career in plumbing or carpentry might be a more appropriate line of work because it sure as hell is not goal keeping. 0

Sagna: the Frenchman is one of those players who so obviously benefits from a break, ran tirelessly tonight but as we are have all come to realise we are never going to get anything from him in the final third of the pitch. 6

Campbell: I felt really sorry for him at the end; he gave everything he possibly could and deserved so much better than to be playing with that idiot in goal. Man of the Match. 8

Vermaelen: not his usual composed self, obviously missed the pace of Gallas but did every thing that was needed well enough. 6

Clichy: am I going mad or do I remember this player being able to patrol the left back position with authority and composure? I must be going mad because he now leaves me worried every time a player runs at him. In fairness he did have a better second half but now as far as I am concerned, he is only keeping the jersey warm until Gibbs returns. 5

Diaby: I was very impressed with his performance in the first half and was getting excited about writing this report as I really felt the comparison with a younger Vieira was justified, his tracking back was superb, his tackling sharp and his driving runs forward were inspirational, unfortunately, he faded in the second half and by the end he was guilty of his most characteristic error: not getting rid of the ball quick enough which lead to us loosing possession. 6

Fabregas: please, please, please walk into Wenger’s office tomorrow and tell him that if he doesn’t get rid of these clowns, your off. Ran his heart out, but compared to his normally high standard of passing he was sloppy. 6

Denilson: I completely disagree with ITV’s half time criticism of him, he put in a decent performance, improving as the game went on, it is worth remembering he was simply cover for Song and he will no longer get in the team ahead of Diaby so he is what he should be at his age and stage of development – squad cover. 6

Rosicky: a few good runs but by now he should having a far greater say on games like this he is the Czech Captain but he has all the authority of Bounced Cheque. 5

Bendtner: he is not a number 9 and I cannot ever see him becoming a number 9, but compared to Arshavin’s recent contribution his height helped as did his presence, that said, unless an opportunity arrives on a plate he aint going to score because he does not have what it takes to create a goal out of nothing. 5

Nasri: the Frenchman ran a lot, gave sneaky little digs in the ribs of the Porto players when the referee wasn’t looking but was ineffectual, in fact, I would say that Eboue contributed more in the five minutes he was on than Nasri did for the whole game. 5

Arsène’s Depleted Armada Sets Sail for Porto

February 17, 2010

After the seemingly endless winter break we finally have the chance to get back to the hunt for European glory. I will start today’s post with some stats about our opposition.

After 10 home games in Liga Sagres, Porto have yet to lose, averaging 2.4 goals per game. They lie 3rd, 9 points behind Benfica. With an 87% win rate in 19  games, they have conceded just 14 goals.

Captained by Bruno Alves, the tough tackling central defender is the current La Liga Player of the Year. Porto have two strong frontmen; Hulk, a 23 y.o. Brazilian who is reported to be a €20m target for Man Utd (and us!). Top scorer is Columbian Radamel Falcao, who has scored 20 goals in 26 games since signing for Porto in the summer.

Five years ago led by Mourinho, Porto became World Club Champions. In 2009 they won the Portugese League and Cup double and went out of the Champions League in the Quarter Finals to Man Utd, having drawn 2-2 at OT and very unluckily losing 1-0 at home.

Porto are a different club to the team that lost to MU having sold 7 of their 2008/9 first team squad including the sale of CF Lisandro Lopez to Lyon for a staggering €24m rising to €30m !

We played them in last season CL group stages losing 2-0 away and winning 4-0 at home in what was one of our best performaces of the season. However our away defeat should be put into perspective as we had already qualified and played a weakened team including Ramsey, Silvestre, Djourou and Vela.

This season Porto easily qualified for the CLQF’s coming second in their group, despite losing home and away to Chelsea (aggregate 2-0)

We go into the game with injuries to Song, Gallas, Almunia and Arshavin. Song will be a big miss as will Gallas. Both have been immense this season. The injury (finger?) to Almunia should allow Fabianski to get a run of games, develop some confidence and unity within the defence, and finally take the shirt from Coco. I am sure Almunia is a great chap, but he doesn’t inspire confidence, something we have seriously lacked since Mad Jens left. My guess is that Sol will partner TV, and it is here we may have problems. Porto do not play with one big striker to hold up play, Hulk and Falcao being pacy, skillful forwards, not the best style of striker for the ageing Sol. However, Campbell has enormous experience and looks very sharp. plus he is brilliant at marshalling his defence.

I expect Denilson to play ahead of Ramsey. Diaby is a central figure for us, he has started to impose himself upon the team, and with Porto’s stated intention of double marking Cesc, we will be looking to Diaby to create the space for Cesc. Wenger usually plays 4-5-1 away in the CL, so Bendtner will be asked to play the holding CF role, with Walcott joining him for the last 20 minutes.

We will undoubtedly struggle for goals and will look to our midfielders to link with Nik. We don’t have a TH14 to score the breakaway solo goal (who can forget that amazing goal against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu?) and as much as I like Bendtner, he doesn’t have it in his game. That said, we will attack, it is the Arsenal way, and of course we need the vital away goal.

My team would be:

Sagna Campbell Vermaelen Clichy
Denilson Cesc Diaby Rosicky
Nasri Bendtner

It is exactly 200 years (and 6 months) since the Duke of Wellington went over to Portugal and defeated a combined French and Portugese force at the battle of Duoro, just outside Porto. Porto was the beginning of his successful Peninsular campaign which ended with the vanquishing of Napoleon’s armies. Wellington’s rewards were the gold and silver plate that one can see at Apsley House , 1 Marble Arch. This time the French are on our side, and Wengers ultimate reward may be silver as well.

And as everyone knows The Duke was a renowned Gunner …..

By Big Raddy

Arsenal — Going Broke: London’s Rebuttal.

February 16, 2010

Yesterday was very entertaining, one of our co-writers, my good friend Alfa, who is also one of my Emirates buddies, put up a post looking to discuss certain questions about Arsenal’s current financial situation.  A very lively debate ensued which included us being branded a spud site! So today, I would like to put my views forward for what they’re worth.

Ever since the Man. U and Chelsea matches, the big question for all Gooners has resurfaced again. Why aren’t we buying the 2-3 big players we need to cement our place back at the top of the league?

Arsene points to the dearth of available players and even less of a higher quality than we already have at the club. As Arsenal supporters we have a choice: you either believe this or you think that Wenger is lying. Personally I believe that Wenger did make inquiries about David Villa in the recent window but was unsuccessful and so now with the unlikelihood of securing the signature of David Villa, Wenger has turned to Chamakh who I fully expect to see playing at the Home Of Football next season.

More to the point, can we really not afford to compete on transfer fees and wages, or is it stubborn old Arsene still just trying to prove that he can win with kids?

We haven’t been able to compete since the arrival of Abramovich so we have had to adapt; this doesn’t make Wenger stubborn it makes him pragmatic and by that I mean we now buy players like Arshavin and Vermaelen; which, under the circumstances is no bad thing. As for the youth project, people miss how wide this is and often forget that the fruits of “Project Youth” include Fabrégas.

Only last Wednesday he talked about Arsenal having to live in a ‘realistic world’. So what is the reality for Arsenal?

Wenger could have said we have to live in a realistic world ten years ago as easy as it is to imagine that he will say it in ten years time. I read this as a negotiating ploy; a simple method of trying to keep transfer fees down. And the reality is that we are still in the chase for the EPL and the CL.

Arsenal’s earnings (leaving out interest payments etc.) are probably falling, mainly because existing player wages are going up to compensate them for tax changes.

To my recollection there have only been three contract renegotiations since the summer, Rosicky, Eduardo and Van Persie. The first two are probably so grateful to still be at Arsenal and have accepted a rise of somewhere in the region of £10 a week. RVP is different but his increased salary would have easily been compensated for by the removal of Adebayor’s wage.

The new flats development at Highbury isn’t likely to make any money to help pay off the £242m we borrowed for the Emirates.

Building the Emirates and paying off the cost of it was never dependant of the financial success of Highbury Square. The £242m has been structured in such a way (bond issue) so that it can comfortably be paid back over 25 years.

So whatever money we make is having to go first to existing players to keep their take home pay the same, even though taxes are going up and up.

Rosicky and Eduardo would have got nominal wage increases and taxes will be going up in Spain and Italy to the same level as the UK if not beyond.

Then we have to pay more for the loan on the Emirates than we planned to.

There is no reason to assume this or evidence to support it.

If we didn’t qualify for the Champions League.

We have qualified for the CL in the last thirteen seasons and I see no reason to think that we will not be involved in that competition next season.

Uzmanov wanted to issue new shares and bring an extra £150m into the club. It would pay off a fair bit of debt, get the interest payments down and give some breathing space.

The repayment of the cost of building the Emirates is very much under control so there is nothing that we need breathing space from. That being the case there is no need for a share issue and if there was the current board are just as capable of organising one.

Even £150m wouldn’t put us back in the big league though, just get the bankers off our backs.

We do not have bankers on our backs so this assumption is flawed.

Second option – sell players, starting with Cesc.

This is based on the premise that Arsenal are cash strapped….they are not and therefore there is absolutely no reason to sell our most important asset.

Thanks for being a good sport Alfa and to everyone else, have a good day in AA.

Arsenal – going broke?

February 15, 2010

Ever since the Man. U and Chelsea matches, the big question for all Gooners has resurfaced again. Why aren’t we buying the 2-3 big players we need to cement our place back at the top of the league? More to the point, can we really not afford to compete on transfer fees and wages, or is it stubborn old Arsene still just trying to prove that he can win with kids? Only last Wednesday he talked about Arsenal having to live in a ‘realistic world’. So what is the reality for Arsenal? Does ‘realistic’ mean ‘skint’? I think the answer might be YES.

Digging into Arsenal’s finances is about as exciting as waiting for Rory Delap to dry his balls. Fortunately Robert Peston, BBC Business reporter and long time Gooner, did a lot of the work last summer. Aided by a convenient leak of an investment report, he put some fascinating facts together, including:

1. Arsenal’s earnings (leaving out interest payments etc.) are probably falling, mainly because existing player wages are going up to compensate them for tax changes.

2. Our season tickets are 24% higher than other big four clubs and our other tickets 40% higher. So no more money is coming in from the fans.

3. The new flats development at Highbury  isn’t likely to make any money to help pay off the £242m we borrowed for the Emirates.

So whatever money we make is having to go first to existing players to keep their take home pay the same, even though taxes are going up and up. Then we have to pay more for the loan on the Emirates than we planned to.  Whatever is left over could be used to buy players and pay their wages. How much could that be? It could be as little as £5m-£10m. Now it makes sense why our big new signings are coming in on frees. When Chamakh arrives, his wages alone will use up quite a bit of that.  If we didn’t qualify for the Champions League, even that £5m to £10m could disappear. Now you know why we played the second string against Stoke.

So far from being prudent Arsenal, the board seem to have got us to the point that we are strapped for cash. Emirates or not, we have bitten off more than we can chew, and we are paying for it.

So what can we do?

Uzmanov wanted to issue new shares and bring an extra £150m into the club. It would pay off a fair bit of debt, get the interest payments down and give some breathing space. Even £150m wouldn’t put us back in the big league though, just get the bankers off our backs and let Arsene buy quality. The board don’t like it because it means giving up some control. I think it’s a bit late to worry about that now.

Second option – sell players, starting with Cesc. £40m in the bank and another maybe £5m off the wage bill. Not what we pay higher season ticket prices for than anyone else, but no different from Man. U. selling Ronaldo.

I never thought I’d say this, but I pick Usmanov over selling Cesc. The board have done their best within our proud traditions but this time they’ve blown it and unless we want to start moving with the Evertons and Aston Villas of this world, it’s time we faced up to the state we are in, before it is too late.