Shrewsbury, Carling Cup and Evolutionary Synthesis at the Grove

September 20, 2011

What could be better than a chance to see our new players added to a sprinkling of youth play a decent footballing side from a lower division in a Cup game? Ok, you are right, lots of things ….. but such a spectacle is interesting, isn’t it? I know that if I had the opportunity I would be meeting up with the splendid AA possee prior to cheering my team to victory. And yet, I expect a low attendance, possibly the lowest ever at the Grove; after all, the vibe around the club is very negative, the season ticket holders have to buy their tickets, and some fans think paying to see the B team is unacceptable (however cheap the seats).

I expect a very entertaining game. There is the opportunity to see the first appearance at the Grove of Park Young and the Ox and  Ryo, the chance to see some goals, and  hopefully the wonder of our other Pole in Goal.

You will not be surprised to read that I know next to nothing about Shrewsbury. They play in Div 2, they have won 6 out of their last 8 games, they will be without their CB pairing and possibly their captain, Ian Sharps, and “Marvellous” Marvin Morgan is the main striker. They are managed by Graham Turner and their home ground used to be Gay Meadows (titter you not) but is now Greenhous Meadow.

Our team:

Fabianski

Jenkinson   Mertesacker  Koscielny   Santos

Frimpong  Coquelin   Benayoun

Ox  Chamakh  Park

I would not be surprised to see Park play out left and Chamakh start upfront, he needs games and this could be ideal for him, in which case, Ryo will come on at 60 mins. I would like to see the CB’s who played at Ewood get another game – they really need as much playing time as possible what with the loss of TV for a couple of months.

Shrewsbury is the birthplace of Charles Darwin (1809-1882),  author of  Origin of the Species in which he espoused the then revolutionary theory of  natural selection, an ideology he later applied to human evolution. Such theory is fitting to the development of this Arsenal team (I think)

For many seasons the CC was a fun diversion from the serious business of the PL and CL and I look forward to a return to this attitude tonight.  Like many I maintain the debacle of losing to relegation fodder at Wembley had a hugely damaging effect upon the remainder of our campaigns, I know others disagree but in my opinion the CC is best left to our reserves –  thankfully our reserves are very good.

COYRRG

Big Raddy


Who put a curse on our team???????

September 19, 2011

Have scum put a curse on the Emirates?

I was told this story some time ago but have never passed it on because, well, frankly, I didn’t give it much credence.

It came from a relative who worked on the demolition of Highbury and the construction of the Emirates.

He is not a football fan and has no axe to grind as far as the Arsenal is concerned.

He told me this:

During the construction of our new stadium many sub contracting companies were used and these firms hired their labour in various ways.

Suffice to say, there was a huge number of casual labourers involved in the new build.

Among these, according to my informant, were two T*ttenham supporters who were, shall we say, of a pikeyish disposition. This ill-favored pair, this brace of base-born bastards, this tickle-brained twosome came up with the idea of laying a gipsy curse in Arsenal’s new home.

They consulted some old witch of their clan and were given a small bottle containing various bits of nefarious nonsense (eye of newt and tail of Sherringham – that kind of thing). The rogues then buried it somewhere in the construction site that would eventually be The Emirates Stadium.

It’s probably balderdash.

But just look at the luck we’ve had since we moved stadium. As the classic Cream track says, if it wasn’t for real bad luck, we wouldn’t have no luck at all.

The defeat at Blackburn was just the latest in a long sequence of games where we have been vanquished by extraordinary circumstances (in this case, two own goals – one of which came from a free kick for a non-foul by Arshavin – and one clearly offside goal, as well as a blatant penalty in our favour ignored by the ref).

I know you skeptics will say the defeat had nothing to do with bad luck.

And you can certainly point a finger at our tendency to panic in defense and our adoption of zonal marking and our use of players who barely know each others’ names…

And yet, and yet… We were bloody unlucky, just as we were in the 4-4 at Newcastle and the away leg at Barca and the CC final and the CL semi against Liverpool a couple of years back and the Liverpool game at the end of last season and the Birmingham game where Eduardo’s leg got smashed and the ridiculous run of long-term injuries to our very best players and and…. well, you can all add your own examples.

Logic would have it that our ambitions have been thwarted by the financial strictures of moving stadium, by the influx of gazillionaires into the EPL, by the waning powers of a once-great manager, by the greed of young players…

But what if there is something more than this? Something from the Twilight Zone (N17) that is also holding us back.

I don’t want to put the willies up you (especially after that incident with the girl in accounts…).

And as a man of logic and science (O Level Biology, 1976) I find it hard to accept that our misfortunes of recent years are the result of mumbo jumbo and witchery.

But sometimes, when the moon slips behind the clouds and the tree branches are tapping on the window, even the sanest of us can find themselves succumbing to the power of the Other.

So, just to be on the safe side, are there any Arsenal supporting Romany types out there who might know what it will take to counteract this curse (if, indeed, it exists)?

Do we need to sneak into the Emirates on a night of the full moon and bury a small vial under the centre circle containing one of Tony Adams’ pubes, a hair from Martin Keown’s head (same thing, really), a Thierry Henry nail clipping and a bit of wee from Dennis Bergkamp?

Do we need to parade 13 times backwards round the pitch at Halloween, invoking the spirit of Herbert Chapman?

Do we need to call in Harry Potter, with an “expelliamus scumcursum” spell?

Please let us know. And if you need any help lifting the curse, count me in.

RockyLives


Bruised and Battered, but not Down and Out

September 18, 2011

 

Blackburn – Arsenal: 4-3

 Match Report

Written by Total Arsenal

 

Today we saw once again the two Arsenals we got to know so well in recent years: the one that dominates proceedings and scores great goals through wonderful football, and the one that cannot defend properly. Arsenal scored five away goals and won a penalty in the last two games on the road: against Manchester United and Blackburn. Yet, we did not take home any points from those games and conceded an unbelievable 12 goals in 180 minutes of football. Between the two away games we bought new defenders, midfielders and attackers, and whether we like it or not it will take time before these players are settled in and start making a real difference. I hear you say, why oh why did we not buy them all in June/July so they could have settled in better. The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.

First half

Arsenal started so brightly. There was pressing, crisp passing, good movement upfront and especially Gervinho looked sharp. The midfield trio of Song-Arteta-Ramsey were combining well and bossed the midfield with ease and style. Arshavin did his bit on the left, but we were most dangerous on the right, where Gervinho and the always impressive Sagna combined very well to create chance after chance. Our first goal came from a simple and incisive attack: Song gets the ball in midfield, he moves with ease past a player, after which he delivers a beautifully weighted pass into the box: it quite resembled the one Theo made for Arsenal’s first goal against Dortmund on Tuesday. Gervinho makes a good run into the box and lets Song’s ball run past his body to then cleverly hit a reverse diagonal shot under the outstretched leg of Samba and past Robinson: 1-0.

Then we get the first warning sign of what was to come: a free-kick is simply aimed at – the throughout the game very impressive – Samba in the box, who is allowed an unhindered header from which he should have done better. A few minutes later, (despite Samba’s earlier chance) against the run of play, we concede the equaliser: a simple, low ball is placed past Mertesacker into the box and there is Yakubu to elegantly sight-foot the ball past Szczesny, with the outside of his foot: 1-1, and we have to start all over again.

Samba misses another chance, but it is Arsenal who score the best goal of the game, next. A beautifully worked combination between our three central midfielders: Song passes to Ramsey just outside the Blackburn box, the latter plays a clever cutback towards the D, where just in time, Arteta arrives with a clean and beautifully hit shot, high into the net: 2-1 to Arsenal! Football at its best, and surely, this time we are not going to give it away again…. The Away Fans sing their hearts out and life feels great. Just before the end of the first half we get another great chance. Arshavin uses his body strength and speed very well and makes a fabulous run on the left hand side – he passes to Gervinho who moves himself to a decent shooting position, but his shot is blocked. He could have passed to RvP who seemed in a better position to score, but Gervinho was totally entitled to take a shot himself. RvP could not have looked more Dutch if he tried, when he showed Gervinho his unfiltered dismay about not being played in by him.

Second half

Blackburn started brightly and pressed straightaway high up the pitch – with a high defensive line – putting us under pressure, to which we were slow to react. It only took five minutes in the second half before the defensive horror show to start. The lively Rosina ‘floats in’ – by a lack of better word – a free kick towards the first post: RvP gets outmuscled and cannot get to the ball, it then drops – very unluckily – on the thigh of Song, after which it disappears into Szczesny left-hand corner: 2-2.

Arsenal were still very much in the game and more than capable of winning it, but only three minutes after the equaliser Sagna had to come off and Johan Djourou came on. This turned out to be the turning point for Arsenal. It does not take long before JD gets his first yellow card and it is clear that his confidence is low.

Szczesny, despite finding the ball four times in his net, had hardly anything to do. However, in the 54th minute, a long kick from Robinson reaches Rochina, who plays the ball cleverly to the lively Formica who takes a shot inside the box, only to be denied by a great safe from you know who. Five minutes later, another defensive howler: a corner-kick reaches Nzonzi – who before he brings the ball down with his foot was able to send a text message to all his friends – he is not closed down quickly enough, and is able to put in a clever cross towards Szczesny’s right post: a simple tap-in by Yakubu: 3-2. The new Blackburn signing is just offside, but it is not spotted by the linesman and here you go, from being 1-0 and 2-1 up, we are now trailing 3-2 against the bottom PL club. Unbelievably, and oh so cruelly, another nightmare is unfolding right before our eyes.

Gervinho has not given up though and another clever run enables him to release the ball well to the ‘hammer’ left foot of RvP. The normally prolific Dutchman hesitates for an instance and his shot gets blocked. The following corner-kick is well met by RvP’s head but the ball disappears on the wrong side of Robinson’s right post.

Then the final blow is delivered. From another corner Blackburn can break. The ball reaches Yakubu around the halfway line who passes to Olsson. Djourou is quickly there to block him, but he is already on a yellow card and seems to hesitate as to what to do: he tries to win the ball cleanly but Olsson gets away from him, and Song is also not able to block him off: he ‘passes’ the ball to Koscielny, who inadvertently puts the ball past the flabbergasted Szczesny: 4-2 – game over, so it seems. Desperately unlucky: two own goals and a slightly offside goal all in one game.

However it is not over yet. Chamakh who came on for Song for the last 15 minutes, rises well inside the box between Givet and Dann to reach a peach of a cross by RvP with some power: 4-3 with five minutes to go. A number of chances follow: a great, super-cross by Santos for the revived, and towards the end of the game real leadership showing, Mertesackter – who misses a good chance; RvP’s shot in the box gets blocked by Robinson; Chamakh misses a good header-opportunity; and Theo should have had a penalty when Robinson took him down without touching the ball. It was not to be, and despite 57% of possession and 16 attempts on target (BBC), AND scoring three goals, Arsenal go home with no points at all, once again.

The team showed fight till the end: we never gave up and that at least is an improvement from last season.

Conclusions & Player Ratings

I have decided not to score individual players this time, as this would inevitably lead to discussions about how woeful some of our players have been yesterday, leading to the identification of the next lot of Arsenal players who need kicking out of the door as soon as possible. I am sick to the teeth about our need to single out individual players to blame, if and when we have a sequence of bad games. Clearly, some players have underperformed in this game but this is a new team, in a new post-Cesc era, and for me it is obvious that we are struggling with the system-side of things such as: communication, positioning, holding a defensive line and ‘zonal marking’, ability to find each other and anticipating what fellow players want to do, how to keep possession, how to dominate the midfield, how to create chances for the front players etc, etc.

Individual performances are often significantly influenced by these factors, especially at the start of the season and within a new team. And, although it is easy and gratifying to make one or more of our players into scapegoats – we are all humans in the end – this is not what we should be doing right now. The problem lays in the simple fact that the new players will have to be integrated with the existing players, in a new football system that best suits the quality of all our players, and makes us forget the departure of Fabregas. This is clearly far from ideal, but we are where we are.

I still have full confidence in the quality of our squad and Wenger’s desire and ability to change this round. However, this will take time and there is nothing we can do but hope that we will get back to winning ways soon. Losing to Blackburn hurts badly, and it is highly likely that we will get hurt and embarrassed again in the next few months, but now is the time to stand by our club, players and manager to see this period of transition through: we will need to win this battle by battle, game by game. Next game is Shrewsbury, COYRRG!


Hopefully the final trip to Blackburn – preview.

September 17, 2011

Let me start by stating the views held below are entirely my own and in no way represent the views of the site.

Anyone who has read my pre-matches over the seasons will know that I am not a huge fan of Blackburn, I will go further and say that for many seasons they have represented all that is reprehensible in football – from top to bottom.

Let’s look at their recent record:

Managers: Graham Souness, Paul Ince, Fat Sam, Mark Hughes, Steve Kean.  Only Dalglish brought some respectability to this awful club and he was sacked (by mutual consent).  The last 3 seasons have seen them reach their nadir – from the non-football of the Walrus through to Kean’s  commitment to the “big man.”

Ownership.: Jack Walker (the first man to buy the PL), the Chicken chaps – the chicanery of the promotion of Kean by the Venky’s, whom it is said had no conception there was relegation in football and the PL was based upon the franchise system as in the NFL!

Players: El Hadj Diouf, Robbie Savage, David Bentley, Craig Bellamy (both players of the season!) –  they are united in their awulness.

If you enjoy utilitarian football allied to workmanlike players who are encouraged to “get in their faces,” then Blackburn is the club for you. The management are at best pragmatic.  There is a reason Blackburn are most peoples favourites for relegation.

Detail of Steve Kean’s tactics

What should we expect from a team based around the physical presence of Yakubu, Samba, Jason Roberts? Tactically, I guess they will be very energetic, pack the midfield, look to stifle our creative players, defend in depth to stop the pace merchants,  hit a number of long balls to the isolated front man and look to score from set pieces. They do have quality, Givet and Samba are two fine players, Dunn has been,  and in Hoilett they have the makings of a top player.

To turn to the men in the white hats, we celebrate the return of the violent miscreants: Song, Gervinho and Jenkison, two of whom I expect to play today. Song was outstanding in Germany and I look forward to a more mature performance from him than the idiocy with Barton.

My team:

Gibbs has played twice in a week and being fragile could use the rest, furthermore I would like to see Santos play – he is supposedly a fine attacking LB and despite Holliet being a right winger, should have plenty of opportunities to get forward. Should Benayoun start ahead of Arshavin? In a game which is likely to get physical – yes.

Today’s referee is Andy Marriner (I think). Let us hope he gets early control and that our team can keep 11 players on the pitch.

Blackburn as everyone knows has 400o holes in it  (Lennon was referring to the appalling state of the local roads). What is less known is that Mitchell and Kenyon who were pioneers in the development of cinematography  lived in Blackburn until 1901.

A tough away  game with Blackburn looking to dig themselves out of a hole (sic) having won just one point so far this season but one that Arsenal have reason to be positive about.

N.B. Don’t forget the 12.45 kick-off!

COYRRG

Big Raddy


Sit down and shut up ……

September 16, 2011

The game is underway, the action has reached a point of let’s be honest, boredom. The Emirates crowd is hushed awaiting some excitement, it doesn’t come, a player makes a mistake, groans cascade down towards the pitch, a young man stands up and with arms aloft sings “Arsenal, Arsenal Arsenal” at the top of his voice. What is the usual response? Shut up and sit down”. and then a steward will arrive and threaten him with expulsion.

You may say this is a worst case scenario but we have all seen it –  show some passion and unless it is a big, big game (Barca), few will join in. Why have the grounds (not just the Grove) become so sterile?

Primarily, I blame the seats. Anyone who saw the tragic results of overcrowding, poor policing and violence which led to the need for the Taylor report understands the need for better stewarding and control., but in my opinion the decision to turn grounds all-seater has been a two edged sword; Yes, the days of violence and fear on the terraces have disappeared; Yes, the chance of someone urinating on your leg have been reduced and Yes, it is easier to get back to your mates after a half-time pie, but at what cost? Seating dampens  physical, emotional expression.

Football has always been a sport for all ages and in the past as one got older one moved to the East or West Stands, there was seating aplenty but the passionate singing remained on the terraces.

An example from elsewhere. Go to a rock concert, feel the difference in emotion between sitting and standing – and it is not just about dancing.  For the performer it is the same, try sitting and singing on stage – almost impossible. Standing makes the expression of an emotion simpler.

Whilst accepting that something had to be done to prevent the violence on the terraces, the solutions found in the ’80’s should not be rigidly enforced today. Apart from the usual miscreants (Leeds, Cardiff, Millwall etc) football fans do not fight each other. Those that do, do so away from the ground which has nothing to do with football.

If clubs want atmosphere at the grounds then there has to be a standing section behind the goals. With the advent of CCTV and better stewarding, the grounds will remain safe.

A direct result of seating was an increase in the cost of attending a match, which has led to change in the social demographics . No longer can a family man on a less than average income take his children to all the matches. The game has become a wealthier man’s sport. And along with that comes different behavioural patterns, amongst which are  a heightened sense of individualism and a reluctance to enter into “mob” behaviour i.e. rather than joining in the lad standing singing, he is told to “sit down and shut up”.

A few other causes …

1. The Bloody DJ. Where did the idea come from that we need a DJ’s inanities to create an atmosphere? Do I need to hear Status bloody Quo singing Rocking all over the World after a victory to be able to celebrate?

2. Mobile phones. All grounds should be phone free. I am sick of hearing the man sitting next to me discussing work issues/women problems/ what is for dinner during a game. I am also sick of people on the bloody phone looking askant when someone tries to start a chant, as if to say “Can’t you see I am making an important phone call?”

3. The inabilty of friends to sit/stand together.

4. The loss of connection between the players and the fans. Can you remember those halcyon Highbury days when during warm up we sang all the players names and they all responded? What happened?  Today there is absolutely no contact apart from when a sub warms up and he may clap his hands above his head. All clubs should enforce their players to go to all sides of the ground and wave to the fans prior to or/& post the game, especially at away fixtures.

5. Allow alcohol onto the terraces (contentious I know). It is possible at all other sporting events, why not football?. Are football fans to be treated like children because of a few lads who cannot handle their booze?

6. Find a better transport solution. Perhaps then fans would stay to the end of the 90 minutes  – it shames me to see a half empty stadium at the final whistle.

Rant over.

Written by Big Raddy


Arsenal’s Dark Knight

September 15, 2011

A recent blog on the AA website called ‘Project Youth-fact or fiction?’ (great write Illybongani) got me thinking about the direction that Arsenal has been heading in the last 6 trophyless years and also the grief that Arsène Wenger has had to endure. Fans seem to be divided into 2 opinions. Some believe that Arsène has failed with his stubborn attitude and lack of trophies, whilst others think that Arsène’s ability to keep the club competitive whilst overseeing our stadium move, has been nothing short of a miracle. I have to say that I fall into the second group.

Personally, I believe that ‘PY’ was used by Wenger to steer us through the stadium move. Arsène knew that buying young, athletic and technically gifted players would save the club money but also allow the team to play a possesion game that could keep the team competitive. However, i dont think that AW intended ‘PY’ to be as drastic as it was. If players like Gallas, Flamini, Hleb, Henry, Adebayor etc had all decided to carry on at Arsenal, then the side would have had much more experience over the last 5 years than had been at AW’s disposal. These players all left for various reasons, but, for the majority, it was down to contract length and size.

Wenger has been critisized massively by some sections of supporters for his inability to keep hold of certain players over the trophyless years, but lets not forget that it was the BoD who were now holding the purse strings (no matter what they may say) and they were looking to save pennies wherever they could. Unfortunately, this cost Wenger a lot of his experienced players.

I think ‘PY’ started shortly after the Invincible season. Now this will sound daft, but for me, the invincible season was as much a hinderence as it was a huge, huge achievement (are you crazy you fat ginger fool, I hear you type!? let me explain). The club decided it had to move in a new direction to make the most of its growing fanbase, but they took their eye off the ball, literally. Too much focus was moved away from the field and into the boardroom. Wenger was expected to sort out not only the team, but with the loss of his right hand man David Dein, he was also expected to deal with transfers. This multi-tasking led to a lack of focus which has been missing for 6 years now, and resulted in a drop of quality on the field.

People outside of the club always praise our style of play, but anyone who watches the team regularly knows we have lacked tempo and the ability to be direct for years now. We no longer hit teams on the break and take far too long building attacks. This is something that I believe AW has seen, and now that the purse strings have been opened and his eye is back on the team, it is something that he has been able to rectify with the new additions to the squad. Players such as Ryo, Walcott, Oxo and Gervinho add the ability to be quick and direct. The addition of quality defenders like Vermaelen, Mertersacker and Santos will give us the ability to soak up pressure so that we can get back to the counter attacking style of old. The squad has depth again, and the future looks bright.

Wenger has been put upon far too much by the BoD in recent years and it’s now time for the board to repay him. He has held this club on his shoulders for the last 6 years, deflecting criticism away from his young, vulnerable players. He has allowed the board to make him look the villain with their claims that funds have been available all this time (will we ever know the truth?). He has continued to keep the side competitive on the field whilst keeping the bank balance healthy, something that only 3 or 4 managers in the world could have done.

For me, he is our Dark Knight. He is willing to take all the heat, all the booing, all the flak, because in the end, he knows he can handle it. He has been, and still is, the best manager this club has ever had, and I for one, hope that this new look team bring him the success he deserves. Something that the much loved Fabregas never could.

Written by Fatgingergooner


A Perisickening End

September 14, 2011

Written by Gooner in Exile

A trip to the German Champions in their mighty fortress was always going to be a difficult game. We went with a team that is still getting to know each other’s first names so the writing was on the wall and every pundit pre match was predicting we would be lucky to escape with a draw.

Dortmund started brightly dominating possession and exploiting our high line and Per’s lack of pace, they were full of running and the little wizard Goetze was at the heart of most things good from them. Through poor finishing and committed defending we managed to keep them at bay and slowly get ourselves in to the match. The best chance during this spell came from a poor touch by Gibbs seized upon by Goetze who played a lovely reverse pass to Lewandowski who rounded Szczesny but Sagna had covered well and cleared off the line.

Arsenal were creating problems for themselves, the ball was sticking in the midfield when pressure needed to be relieved, a number of players (one of the main culprits Gibbs) were pushing the ball backwards and sideways rather than looking forward and Dortmund were swarming in numbers to win back possession in the defensive third. At times I would just like to see us punt the ball out of defence and into the other half of the pitch.

The period was not without its chances for Arsenal though, Gervinho denied by a last second tackle by Hummels whilst waiting for the ball to drop, after switching wings Gevinho released Theo but unfortunately his first touch took the ball too far and towards Hummels, a better first touch and he would have had options to play in Van Persie or play for the penalty with his second touch.

Benayoun looked to set Gervinho away, the ball was cleared straight back to the Israeli who reacted to push another pass to Van Persie who forced the keeper into a save at his near post.

Finally the deadlock was broken, Dortmund were guilty of slowly playing out from the back, Van Persie hassled for the ball and touched it to Theo, Theo seized on the opportunity to push forward and played a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Van Persie who composed himself picked his spot and put us one nil up with two or three minutes of the half remaining.

The second half started in much the same way as the first with Dortmund pressing with and without the ball but Arsenal seemed to withstand the pressure better, the ball was being played longer from midfield to attack and between Theo, Gervinho and Van Persie the ball was staying up the pitch for longer which meant the defence was given a much needed rest to regroup and reorganise.

During this spell we forced a couple of free kicks but unfortunately neither Arteta or Walcott could produce a telling strike.

Dortmund slowly got themselves back on the front foot and were mounting large periods of possession in the Arsenal defensive third. For the most part the team stood firm, Koscielny, Song, and Sagna all getting involved in good blocks or tackles, Mertesacker winning high balls and when the ball did break through the defence Szczesny was there to provide the final barrier.

During this period the two of the new signings, Arteta and Benayoun, provided good work-rate they covered runs made tackles and won free kicks when they could easily have lost possession. Their commitment to the harder parts of the game was good to see from players who some would possibly regard as flair players. Their energy meant that Song could stay more central and provide a screen to the centre backs.

Trying to steady the ship young Frimpong replaced Walcott and Benayoun went out to left midfield, soon after Benayoun was moved on to the right as Gervinho was replaced by Santos and Chamakh came on for the tiring Van Persie.

These changes restricted any forward movement so it was going to be backs to the wall for the last ten minutes or so. The Dortmund pressure was calmly dealt with by our defence and the clean sheet was looking good.

Unfortunately it couldn’t last from a passage of triangle passing between Benayoun, Arteta and Frimpong who had no forward outlet the ball was lost resulting in Song conceding a free kick to stop a breakway. Gibbs rose well to head away the firmly delivered set piece but the ball looped out to Perisic who struck an unstoppable volley into the top right corner. There was simply no legislating for that strike, the harshest critic will say that too many red shirts had got sucked into the area and the Dortmund players on the edge of the box were left unattended.

There was still time for Szczesny to be called into action once more as he spread himself at the feet of Lewandowski to prevent a Dortmund winner.

So a point away from home in the Champions League in the bag and some valuable lessons learned about our strengths and weaknesses.

For me the team still has some gelling to do, hopefully three days training together before the visit to Blackburn will give the players the chance to at least learn each others names and maybe even how each other likes to play, that presently is our weakness.

As for strength, well tonight there seemed to be something that I haven’t seen for a while certainly not in the latter stages of last season, players were taking responsibility, Szczesny was grabbing bodies at corners and telling them where to stand, Benayoun and Arteta were working hard tracking back to win the ball back and put themselves where it hurts. Spurred on by this Van Persie was tracking back deep into his own half. From the ashes I think a team is rising, a slightly different team, one with a different mentality, one prepared to fight, one prepared to do what it takes to win. The future is looking brighter every game.

Ratings:

I don’t normally like ratings but today I thought I would give some as I thought a few players deserved mention that I could not put fit in the report.

Szczesny – 8 Solid start to finish, calm and composed, confident claiming high balls and some important saves.

Gibbs – 6 For me our weakest player tonight, too often turning back inside with nowhere to go when in possession, and dereliction of defensive duties for most of the first half allowing runners to get away too easily

Sagna – 7 Mr Dependable, as ever, solid in the tackle careful with possession, but did not offer as much going forward as he normally does.

Koscielny – 8 Despite some wayward passing in the early stages I thought he stood firm against a very talented Dortmund attack, made many good interceptions and tackles, was strong in the air, took a mighty thump to the head from Sagna and Subotic combined but just gets on with little complaint.

Mertesacker – 6.5 His pace was exposed on occasion when they played around him on the floor, but when they resorted to high balls he came into his own, will suit the bigger teams in the Premier League but we will need Vermaelen and Koscielny when it comes to the trickier attackers of City and the like.

Song – 7.5 Provided the screen as needed (especially in the second half) also retained possession well in both halves, took time to settle in the first half alongside the two new lads.

Arteta – 7 For me he gets a 6 for his first half display and 8 for the second, felt the game passed him by in the first half, but when he started to get hold of the ball and pick the longer passes he provided a good outlet and used it well, second half he put himself on the line in defence and got a nice cut on the head for his trouble.

Benayoun – 7.5 Slightly out performed Arteta, with a better display first half going forward, but most impressed and surprised by his work rate defensively.

Gervinho – 6.5 Too many blind alleys run down, needs to get his head up and use his teammates more, had the chance to lay in Theo when one on one.

Walcott – 6.5 Up until he pushed the assist through he had hardly been in the game, and had been guilty of losing possession too easily. Second half was better but should have used his pace better when he had the opportunity to.

Van Persie – 7.5 The half point is for the goal, otherwise a quiet first half, again much better second half and upped his work rate, I’d prefer him to come off every match on 75 minutes shattered than conserve himself to get through ninety minutes.

Subs, Frimpong, Chamakh and Santos not enough time to rate.

Man of the Match – Koscielny


You’ll Never Walk Alone

September 13, 2011

You’ll never Walk Alone has always been my favourite football anthem, it reminds me of the wonderful Liverpool teams of the 60’s/70’s and Bill Shankly and the Kop and black and white TV and my first visit to Anfield. It is THE football anthem. Why am I writing about YNWA?  Well, because it is Borussia Dortmund’s anthem, and I have a feeling that with 80,000 Germans singing and cheering on their young and extremely talented side our boys in Red are going to be feeling very alone. Alone but hopefully not afraid.

Like most fans I was hoping that we would not draw BD in the final group of the CL draw, and  am sure I was not alone in using a 4 letter word when we drew them. Borussia are  a top, top team and despite losing Sahin to Real Madrid (he was voted Bundesliga player of the Year) they have (unlike us) retained their squad, even rebuffing a reported €40m bid from Arsenal the 19.y.o Mario Gotze.

Gotze is just one of the exciting talents in this Dortmund team, but let us focus upon him for a moment. Just 19, already touted as the future of German football and hailed by German Football Association’s technical director Matthias Sammer who called him “one of the best talents that we’ve ever had” –  high praise indeed. Remind you of anyone in our squad?  How we miss our Little Jack.

Barrios, a Paraguayan, plays upfront for BD and last season was top scorer in the Bundesliga in 2010 and scored heavily last season. Kagawa an attacking MF is one of Japans most talked about young talents, at 22 he already has 25 International caps. Subotic is a monster Serbian CB whom Chelsea  (and supposedly AFC) tried to sign in summer,  just 22 and a class player. I could continue but you will just get as depressed and anxious as I am.

BD’s stadium holds 81,000 fans and is the largest in Germany, they have an average attendance of  over 77k a game, the highest in Europe. Interestingly, BD are quoted on the German Stock Exchange – the only publicly owned club in the Bundesliga

Arsenal go into this difficult game missing Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky and Diaby in midfield. We have an untried defensive unit and are missing our best defender (apart from Chesney). And yet, we have cause for optimism: We have a terrific frontline, we have a midfield with PL experience  (if not CL), a defence that has a good mix of pace and height, and we are at our best playing away in Europe (OK – that might be an exaggeration)

My team:

World’s No.1.

Sagna Mertesacker  Koscielny  Gibbs

Song  Arteta  Frimpong

Walcott  Van Persie  Gervinho

Tough call on whom to play alongside Song and Arteta in midfield, but Frimpong adds some defensive steel and energy which will hopefully allow Song to get forward and be creative.  The front three have pace aplenty which will be important in what is sure to be an open, attacking game.

Most pundits have written off our chances of getting even a point from tonight. They cite our current lack of form and Dortmund’s undoubted home strengths (their loss this weekend was the first in over a year), but these pundits are always writing us off. We have reason to be confident, Dortmund have only 7 points from 15 this season, they are stuttering upfront and have an ageing defence. Their team has little Champions League experience and winning the Bundesliga is nowhere near the achievement it once was, I firmly believe Arsenal would win it with our current squad.

A win is a tough ask, but why not?

COYRRG

Written by Big Raddy


Whatever Happened to Abou Diaby?

September 12, 2011

Amidst all the fun of making up our fantasy teams for the new look Arsenal, one name has been conspicuous by its absence: Abou Diaby.

It’s understandable in a way: we have lots of shiny new names to play with in our hypothetical formations.

Do Artex and Benny Yoon displace Li’l Jack and Aaron when all are fit? If teams come to park the bus, do we bust out the Park to knock them down? Should we add height by playing Arshavin on Wilshere’s shoulders? And if we did, would they still be shorter than our new GG (Giant German)?

Such fun.

But no-one, as far as I can see, has been jumping up and down and frothing at the mouth about how we have to include Abou Diaby in our up-coming advance on four trophies.

Poor Abou has just disappeared from the Arsenal narrative.

Danny Baker, in his amusing Radio 5 show, would describe it as an example of “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome.”

For readers of a younger disposition, I should explain that this refers to an American 1970s sitcom called Happy Days, whose lead characters were Richie Cunningham and his super-cool friend The Fonz.

The show ran for 11 seasons (which, in US television, means well over 100 episodes).

In the first season Richie had an older brother, Chuck. In episode 10 he went upstairs, saying something like “OK, catch you later guys.” Then he was never seen nor heard from again. No mention. Nothing. Not even a name check in any of the remaining 90-plus episodes. Just written out of the show.

At the moment, Abou is our Chuck Cunningham.

The last mention of him from anyone connected with Arsenal was a comment from Arsene Wenger a month ago, when he revealed that the player had had surgery on his ankle over the summer and would miss the start of the new Premier League season. “Diaby is not back before the end of August or the beginning of September,” he said.

So Abou was last spotted hobbling into the operating theatre saying “OK, catch you later guys,” and has since vanished.

Despite the fact that he is theoretically on his way back from injury, no-one at the club has seen fit to give him even a passing mention when describing the range of options open to us this season.

He has been well and truly Chuck Cunninghamed.

I raise the point because it came up when I was playing my own game of Fantasy Arsenal (no, it bears no relation to Peaches’ version of the game, which involves Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky and a large tub of whipped cream).

I was just doing the regular “who would I play where” when it popped into my head that our own Disappeared One, Mr Abou Diaby, could have a very positive impact on our season.

He has undoubtedly been one of the most frustrating of Arsene’s crop of young players, but when he’s good he’s very very good. He can pass, tackle, dribble and score; he is big and athletic and, on his day, can provide excellent forward momentum.

Consistency has been his problem, but that is partly due to him never really having had a run of games in any one position – and certainly not in his favoured one of attacking central midfield. Often he has been played wide because more senior players (like Cesc and, er, Denilson) were occupying the central positions.

Obviously his regular injury problems have played a factor too. He has been so unlucky on that front that I now think of him as a sort-of cartoon character. If he’s not walking underneath a plummeting piano he’s falling down an open manhole cover; if he’s not slipping on a banana skin he’s left holding the big round bomb just as the fuse fizzles down to nothing.

His appearance stats of 108 games in five and a half seasons tells its own story (about 20 games a season, including appearances as a substitute, is not good enough, although it’s important to acknowledge the impact of Dan Smith’s horrific leg-breaking tackle on Abou’s record).

So I offer this thought as another sliver of optimism for us Arsenal supporters, following on from the encouragement most of us felt at the late rush of new signings:

If (and I know it’s a big IF) Abou can fully recover from his ankle operation and IF he can put his niggling injury record behind him and IF he can find his best form on a consistent basis, he may just be able to show us all the form that once had many in the France coaching set-up viewing him as being the best of a talented group of young French midfielders (including Na$ri).

We might then be able to look at midfield options that include Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Benayoun, Rosicky, Song, Frimpong and Diaby and feel we truly have the strength in depth to upset some apple carts this season.

RockyLives


A R-ight close SHAV IN-creases tension as the Vorm Turns? And Ratings…..

September 11, 2011

Arteta – Bright Start but faded…..

Its September 10th, a New dawn, new beginnings, from the ashes of Project Y’sssh and the dishevelled remains of a team that faced the Old Trafford onslaught, it was  Wengers regrouped band of footballers with a significant number of new recruits, grabbed on the supermarket trolley dash on 31st August, who took to the field, ready to drag Arsenal back to the upper echelons of the premier league………

Per – Slow Steady Start

There was an air of anticipation around the ground, as we all took our seats, Arteta and Mertz were in the Line up and the other new boys all on the bench…..A team selection rightly predicted by many, but from now on perhaps not so easy to predict, so the depth is there…

Little time to get the know the new players as our team returned from around the globe after their international endeavours with goals aplenty scored by our boys…….so they do know where the ball should go………?

Anyway, a bright start to the game saw a Spaniard look composed and assured on the ball, with deft touches and slide passes, he was playing with a smile and a zest about his play.  And the fans had their early voices heard…..

The first chance saw Arteta put Aaron through on goal, but he lost balance and smashed it high and wide. Arsenal continued to press and knock the  ball around. But the next best chance was seized by the Swans…….

A delightful cross in from the right from agustien, as Danny Graham attacked the six yard box (please note this arsenal), got in front of Per and stabbed it to the bottom corner, wrong footed, off balance and his eyes closed, ok that bit was made up, Szczesny somehow got down to his left to produce a stunning save…….

Arsenal kept up the initial pace of the game with the lively Arshavin releasing the ball through the middle to Theo who came from the right, Theo managed to squeeze the ball goal bound under Vorm, as it edged towards the goal, Caulker cleared the ball away…

Arsenal continued to move the ball around, but it lacked real zip and the movement in the final third was poor, as chances were few and far between. Frimpong back from suspension showed heart and the fight for a battle, had a dig from range, but it was dragged wide.

Gradually Swansea became more dangerous as their confidence grew with Dyer and Sinclair causing problems with their pace and directness, arsenal struggled to gel as a team. Another cross flashed across the 6 yard area, Graham nearly getting his head on it, with arsenal defence static Gibbs nearly steering in his own net as the ball came at him.

As we moved close to half time, no player really was standing out for Arsenal, Arshavin was certainly been more involved than of late and couldn’t have been lambasted for his usual laziness, as he chased and harried every ball, soon he got his reward.

Frimpong, passed into Theo with his back to goal, who turned inside to his right and done two men on the edge of the area, but flashed his shot high and wide with his left, a deflection looped the ball up high and as it edged towards the corner, Vorm collected the ball and rolled it out, but it hit the heels of the swan defender Rangel, Arshavin turned and with his left peg, curled a sweet shot into the empty and inviting net……..

Second half started lively with both sides knocking the ball about, but both lacked penetration. Sinclair raced towards goal; he tried to evade Kosceinly who scythed him down, yellow card. Sinclair’s free kick hit the bar and over.

Moments later, Arsenal moved forward down the left, Arshavin played into RVP, who took the ball with two players in close quarters, he shrugged them off and turned to his left and across the goal and unleashed a curler to the far right post which he clipped.

Arshavin came off for Benayoun on 63, which considering it was his best performance for a while was unfortunate.

Arteta, played the ball out wide to Sagna, who moved forward and curled the ball across the goal, just nobody attacking the box, Van Persie just too late……

Frimpong was replaced by Coquelin on 75; quickly he got into the game, he reads the game well, and he worked hard to close down players. On 81 Van Persie was taken off for Chamakh, which was a strange one, but later at the end, RVP limped as he walked on the pitch to applaud the fans, so maybe a precautionary move?.

Chamakh almost had an immediate impact; a long ball from Koscielny was headed back to Ramsey, who fed Gibbs on the left, who crossed perfectly first time, Chamakh rose, good contact but straight at Vorm.

In the last few minutes, Swansea pressed and won some corners and from one of them, the ball broke for Graham, who turned and couldn’t keep his shot down and fired over from 5yards…..

Overall:

So we end with 11 men, no bad ref decisions against us and we get a little bit of luck for a change, so has the Vorm turned?

Well it’s a win, a clean sheet and 3points. Important not to drop points, especially with the pressure at the end of the match, nervous but we didn’t concede a sloppy goal which was a trade mark last season.

Fair play to Swansea, they played well and looked good at times, need to find the scoring touch soon to stay in this league, but we are not prolific!!! My only gripe was way too many players went to ground holding their heads………

Ratings:

Wenger: 7:

Picked a team, most of us picked beforehand but 3 points so cannot mark down too harsh. I would love to know what instructions he sends Theo out with, his play no way as effective as against Udinese. Standard substitutions, didn’t improve the game, as we lost our shape, allowing and inviting pressure.

Szczesny: 8: Just for that save, which truly was world class, Number 1?, commands the box and is more considered with his distribution now.

Sagna: 7: Not spectacular but dependable and solid, Sinclair will cause problems for who ever he faces. Got forward well.

Koscienly: 7: Reads the game well, under rated for me, I’ll say as always, he just lacks aggression for me. Rightly booked

Mertesacker: 6: Steady and slow start, little time to acclimatise to premier league so will mention a couple of good tackles he made.  My big concern was he didn’t attack the ball enough and use his height effectively

Gibbs: 6.5: offensively was probably better with some good crosses, but again he failed at times to attack the ball in defence, one very notably near the end that could hav cost us. Positionally naïve or still learning? Needs to up his game or Santos will be coming early this year……..

Frimpong: 6: Heart and fight, plenty of drive, his effort alone endears him to the crowd, a favourite of mine already. But his passing was poor. Although when he gets it wrong he chases till he gets it back…..Young and will be a stalwart for years…….Tired towards the end, before been subbed.

Ramsey: 7: Heard some comments knocking his performance, thought he did well, looked for the ball and moved us forward. Had an early chance that he blasted wide. Never hid and worked tirelessly. Heard someone say he isn’t good enough for Arsenal, balderdash…….have a word…….

Arteta: 7: Really lively start, probing and laying off deft touches, a Spaniard orchestrating the midfield, he is his own man and he will do well for us. Hacked down several times, showed that he was seen as dangerous by the swans. Dropped off in the 2nd half as our shape went apples and pears……

Arshavin: 8:  A much better performance, worked hard and close down defenders, always looking and probing. Definitely not a lazy boy today…….Took his goal well, it might have been an open net, but most would have missed that from that angle. Went off before 65 as usual….Just gets my MotM for his goal and work rate.

Walcott: 7:   A crowd splitter, he tends to frustrate more than he excites, but just what he instructions does he get? The team doesn’t aid him and he is not suited to balls in tight areas to his feet. I will defend him, but I agree without pace he wouldn’t be as useful, but he has pace so that statement is pointless, he does give us an outlet, he needs to become consistent to realise his full potential. But I would say, he has an Ox breathing down his neck…… I know quite a few will disagree with me but for all his knockers, he did more than Van Persie.

Van Persie: 6: Didn’t get involved enough, if he plays point, he needs to attack the area with more vigour. Great shot in the 2nd half that hit the post. Subbed late on, took a knock? Play him in the hole…….

Subs:

Benayoun: 6: Lively

Coquelin: 6: Tenacious

Chamakh: 6: Had a header, but little time.

Next up:  Dortmund……….Champions league, we need a better shape and more movement in the final 3rd. Defenders need to attack the ball and not let it bounce. With Gervinho and Song back in the team, we will step it up again……..

End Note: Condolences to Brendon Rodgers, Swansea Manager, whose father died on Friday.

Written by Harry