Auld Lang Syne: Match Preview.

December 31, 2011

With the warm glow of a trip to the Emirates still pervading the senses I am back at the pre-match keyboard though having read the excellent work done by my substitutes I have much to live up to.

Before discussing today’s Derby, I would like to look back to the Wolves game. I feel we dropped two points through a mixture of bad luck and poor management. The bad luck is symptomatic of this season (4 FB’s out for min. 3 months??), a deflected shot hits an unknowing Fletcher who diverts it into the only part of the goal not covered by Wn1; he couldn’t repeat that header in a month of Sundays. The poor management is another matter; it was a mistake to rest Ramsey because we were already missing Theo on the right which resulted in having no balance in the team. JD is no RB, a decent defender perhaps, but as an attacking force he is useless. Switching The Gerv from wing to wing just caused him to fade from the game. It was no co-incidence that we looked so much better once AA and AR came on.

Onto today: QPR are one of my favourite teams, always have been, BUT this season they have plummeted in my estimation because any team that employs Joey Barton deserves relegation at the very least. And to make him Captain –  The Lunatics have taken over the asylum! I know Evonne likes him (which is beyond understanding) and as such I shall stop here except to say I hope Gervinho tears him a new one.

On the plus side SWP is an exciting but hugely frustrating player who is a bullet dodged. I have to admit I was hopeful he would sign for us prior to his Chelsea stint and even when he went to The Oilers, in fact I was furious with his Dad who encouraged him to go up North. In retrospect I am deeply grateful Wrighty!

Islington lad and huge Gooner Jay Bothroyd should start upfront for Rangers, I was there the day he threw his shirt at Don Howe and was one of those who gave him serious abuse for such a disrespectful act, but fairplay to him, he has worked hard and created a fine career.

Another ex-Gunner is Armand Traore who is best remembered for taking a knuckle duster to WHL which is evidence of his intelligence – a yoyo career at AFC ended following our blip at OT. Had he stayed he would undoubtedly be playing in red and white this afternoon.

Managed by Warnock, QPR have done well. He is the right manager to get a team into the Prem and keep them up. Warnock’s tactics will be predictable and we can expect a very large bus to be brought onto the perfect Emirates bus for the duration of the game but he has some creative players capable of turning a game in seconds – they even have their own Nik Bendtner in Taraabt, a player who believes he is World Class and very (very) occasionally proves it. We will have to be on our guard this afternoon.

As to our lads. I was shocked to see both TR and Benayoun start against Wolves and would be surprised to see a repeat. The ARS has worked very well for us and unless there is an injury we should play them every time until the return of Wilshere. Theo is fit, The Gerv has at last scored, RvP is a cert and the defence, though creaky, picks itself. I would like to see everyone shift across one place to the left and play Kos at RB with TV back at CB and Miquel continue his development at LB, but I expect Mr Wenger to take no risks.

My team:

We have such an experienced bench and yet no-one who can really threaten in attack a problem solved with the arrival of Thierry. I have to say that unlike some of our bloggers I am very, very excited by his return – my man love for TH holds no bounds, to have him back at THOF is my  best Xmas gift.

In a year when Royalty has been so much to the fore it is fitting to end the year with a Royal Gooner. Not surprisingly there are many to choose from but I have chosen a man who started the Royal Gooner tradition, King George V. A fine man who regularly attended games between the wars.

KGV wearing the Home Kit @ 1930

This is the final Arsenal Arsenal post of the year. 2011 has brought us both joy and pain, from the beating of Barca to that awful Wembley afternoon but above all it has been a year of great banter, heated discussion, abundant laughter and heart-warming camaraderie on this the best blogsite on the web. Thank you all who have joined in the fun and thank you all for reading.

Big Raddy wishes you a very Happy New Year and a 2012 filled with adventure and silverware.



Arsenal vintage, 2011: Gunshot memories (or oxidised cordite clouds)

December 30, 2011

In looking back at 2011, in my capacity as a particularly grizzled campaigner of many seasons, I’ve decided to pick out some highs and lows that have stuck in my Peroni-soaked mind, Arsenalistically speaking.

We started 2011 very much in the title race and in contention for all four trophies and early on that year my favourite goal of the season was scored.

The winning goal against the Catalan Diving Association at Ashburton Grove scored by my favourite player, set up by my least favourite player/bench-warmer, was my highlight of the year. The flowing counter attack that led to this goal was a sensational end to the first leg of the game shown on ITV, although they had to spoil it by damming us with faint praise from Clive I-love-ManU Tyldesley, thusly:

“A Barcelona goal scored against Barcelona.”

The media can be so far up another team’s sphincter at times that all rationality is lost.

Another so called defining moment a lazy media decided to pick up on was the late defeat at Wembley at the hands of Brum FC, then managed by the purple nosed alchy mini-me, McLeish, one of many of the evil Glaswegians acolytes plying their trade in the Premier League.

Who can forget (actually who is trying to forget?) Ferguson cuffing Kozzer on the head after his clanger allowed old man Martins to hand Brum FC their first trophy in an age?

Classy stuff from another Ferguson (surely must be related to the dark overlord of Govan?).

A painful moment and one I was reminded of when a group of Brum FC fans began to goad my younger son, who was wearing his Arsenal 2010-11 home shirt, while on holiday in the south west the following month.

Brum FC’s subsequent relegation and the arrest of their owner on money laundering charges proved that football isn’t always a justice free zone.

The agony didn’t stop as the next day Bolton scored a 90th minute winner to finish off our title hopes at the Reebok as apparently in the hotel lobby all the other holidayers(deep in the Bolton territory of Burnham-on-sea) were Trotters as they celebrated our demise with glee.

The path of a Gooner is, as we all know, strewn with strife and scorn from jealous unknowing rival supporters.

A case in point being Tony Pu(gil)lis’s team of hoofers and hyperthyroid Carlton Palmer type players who compounded our misery with a 3-1 trouncing at the S*itannia a fortnight later.

By then our season had petered out (culminating in the last home game featuring a protest march before a defeat to Aston Villa) and only the good start to that season prevented our loss of a top 4 spot.
The manner of our late season collapse was cause enough for gooner melancholy yet the summer transfer window continued the travails.

The late(ish) exit of the homesick Spaniard left a gaping creative hole in the first team which has either not been filled or was filled late depending whether Arteta is seen as a direct replacement or not, an argument for another day however of the new arrivals he is my favourite.

In the way that a new girlfriend may have something about her that reminds you of a previous girlfriend you have good memories of, Arteta was like a reprise of the homesick Spaniard that made moving on from our ex number 4 a bit easier.

The acrimonious departure of the world class bench warmer referred to earlier was less a cause for sadness and more a sign of the times, in my opinion.

The late flurry of arrivals into London Colney was preceded by the slaughter at Old Toilet(a week after a painful home defeat at the hands of the ‘dippers) where a decimated Arsenal team travelled north west and lost 8-2, a coincidence that many of the phone hackers (journalists) proved Wenger was panic buying. An example of lazy, simplistic thinking from writers with an agenda to adhere to, regardless of facts or the application of intelligence.

By then our year had well and truly bottomed out and while the subsequent recovery has given cause for optimism it is tinged with the caveat of recent draws against lower ranked teams. The leadership style and sensational form of our present Captain Robin and our improved resilience will need to serve us well at the business end of the season as the days begin to lengthen and things hot up on and off the pitch.

A highlight of the season has to be the elimination of the teams from the so called power house of English football, Manchester, from the elite European competition, and the subsequent schadenfreude. Whilst most supporters of other teams would be ecstatic at this being gooners I sensed we then indulged in a bout of, if I may borrow from the Rose the Sage-Stalker from Two and a Half Men, “Glaukenschtoken” – guilt at enjoying the schadenfreude.

The sight of Fergie of Red Nose flouncing out of a Champions League press conference where a rogue member of the Press pack suggested maybe the Old Toilet crew were struggling in Europe was comedy gold when viewed in the context of their subsequent exit into the teams that populate the Channel 5 trophy.

Due to results for Abu Dhabi FC preceding the last group game their exit was more expected yet the Old Toilet team’s departure was the cherry on the top of a tasty Mancunian cake.

The Robin hatrick at the bus top in Fulham is also something to cheer us up in the bleak midwinter we find ourselves in now, especially the swerve and arc which Robin imparted onto his third goal.
The image of him kneeling in front of the always magnificent away support, arms perpendicular in supplication it seemed, was a memorable and vivid image encapsulating our slow and painful recuperation from the early season traumas.

As 2011 draws to a close I’ll not be too sorry to see it go, from an Arsenal point of view, and I look ahead to 2012 for better times.


Thierry Henry – The Gunner Galactico

December 29, 2011

Written by Jamie

When Thierry Henry scored in Madrid in 2005, the ITV commentator, Peter Drury, I think, called him “the gunner galactico” and since we have now given our record scorer a statue, it seems a fair representation of his greatness.

In April 2004 I stood in the lower east stand, just over an hour before kickoff. The gates were open for a morning kick off against Liverpool. A game which after losing and FA Cup Semi Final to Manchester United and a Champions League quarter final to Chelsea only days before had taken on increased significance.

If Arsenal were to fail now, that would surely be the end.

There were probably only a hundred gooners in the ground. Henry was making a joke of the fitness test Gary Lewin was asking him to perform.

Jogging round cones with all the enthusiasm of a teenage boy doing the washing up. Gary Lewin shakes his head with a wry smile. As the five/ ten minute session ends on the sundrenched Highbury pitch both Lewin and Henry walk for the tunnel, Henry seeming to plead like a kid who had not done enough to earn his pocket money.

Henry started the game with a back injury and had an awful first half but did manage to lob Dudek. Arsenal ended the half 1-2 down.

Months later the players were asked what Wenger said at half time and they replied that the only instruction was to keep passing.

Suddenly Ljungberg and Pires where everywhere and pretty soon Pires had levelled the score from close range.

Then it happened, Thierry Henry picked the ball up just inside the Liverpool half. Faced with a wall of white shirts he first jogged then sprinted, faced with Carragher a change of feet was enough. Each row in the East and West stands rising as Henry went passed.

Then faced with Dudek, Henry side footed the ball to the corner of the net. You often hear the phrase, that lifted the roof, well that doesn’t do it justice.

After a week of torture, everybody convinced we would blow it, we came back from the dead and blew Liverpool away.

Henry often recalls this to be his favourite goal, largely I assume because of the significance to the team. You see, that is what great players do, they take a bad day, they take fear and panic and they blow it away in the blink of an eye.

Henry went on to score a lucky third and Arsenal went on to win the League and become the first English team since football became a serious game to go a season unbeaten.

That moment changed the course of football history.

Arsenal had other great players, gladiators like Campbell and Vieira, the extraordinary Bergkamp, First goal Freddie and Thierry Henry’s delightful sidekick Robert Pires.

As Bergkamp was in his earlier career, Thierry Henry was now Prima Ballerina, the star turn, and elegant mix of dexterity and finesse. The perfect first touch, pace, poise and technique.

Henry had his moments though, he sat in tears after the 2001 FA Cup Final defeat against Liverpool. Henry among others missed a hatful in a game that Arsenal dominated and lost. He was out of sorts in Copenhagen 12 months earlier as Arsenal lost the UEFA cup final to Galatasaray.

Henry would lead the Arsenal’s scoring charts again in 2001/2 as the Gunners went on to lift the double. Henry and Pires were telepathic by now and the first two thirds of the season swept all before them.

The following year Arsenal were to throw away the league title after having held a big lead over Manchester United.

Henry had been incredible at times including a stunning hat-trick in Rome and a monumental performance against Spurs at Highbury in a game where for the last ten minutes Henry and Pires continually humiliated Spurs’ Stephen Carr after Carr had flattened Pires in the first few minutes of the game.

From 2001-5 he and Arsenal got there rewards for the work the team had put in since Henry’s arrival in 1999 as a replacement for Nicolas Anelka. The trophies flooded in.

Dennis Bergkamp played a role in Henry’s development, Henry spent the first two years of his Arsenal career trying to bend shots around the keeper. The Bergkamp-esque curler, something which he eventually mastered and made his own.

Bergkamp taught him where to run. Pires taught him how to hang out on the left and let the game come to him. Like Cruyff’s theory of creating space by standing still.

Late in a game Henry would stand, hands on hip on the half way line, usually on the left. Arsenal defending a lead, only to spring to lightning paced action should the ball be fed to him on the counter attack.

  • The trademark dummy and drag back,
  • the blind runs to the by-line only for him to wriggle a way out,
  • the explosive one on one finisher,
  • the frustrated whack from outside the box,
  • the corner flag showman in the dying minutes,
  • the pumped match winner in Madrid.

Whatever you remember King Henry for I am sure you will be recalling it now with a smile on your face.

It is also time to dispel a few myths about the great man.

Idiots might tell you that Henry didn’t score in the big games, He scored great goals against Manchester United, Real Madrid, Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Roma, Inter Milan and Juventus.

He didn’t score against Barcelona in Arsenal’s the 2006 Champions League final defeat.

He did go on to play for them though.

Henry scored his final Arsenal home goal to win a tight game with Manchester United.  As Sky’s Martin Tyler remarked, “a great moment from the great man”.

Henry was excellent for Barcelona and won everything he hadn’t already won with England and France. He might not of recaptured his Arsenal form but he did edge Ronaldinho out of the left side of Barcelona’s attack.

My favourite memory of the great man is probably this.

In 2003 I travelled to Milan to see the second group stage game against Inter. The first a 3-0 home defeat fell like an axe.

In the San Siro, minus key players Arsenal won 5-1. Late in the game Henry picked up a ball on the break and sprinted towards the box. He stopped, waited for the Inter defender to catch up, teasing,  only to shift the ball past him and smash a left for shot in to the bottom corner. The away end went bananas and I got very drunk in one of Milan’s Irish bars.

Arsenal had been slated for the first Inter game and the Old Trafford brawl which followed but as Henry’s shot smashed the net it was all consigned to history.

Thierry Henry, The Gunner Galactico.

Arsenal – Wolves: Let’s Keep Things in Perspective

December 28, 2011

So we lost two valuable home-points today against lowly placed Wolves, and now we are all feeling down?

Man City drew against West Brom and Liverpool could not kill off Blackburn yesterday, and neither could Chelsea see-off Fulham. I am as disappointed as anybody for dropping two points against Wolves at home. But the boys gave everything yesterday and it was not to be: 23 attempts on goal, 17 on target and only one goal showing for it (according to the BBC website). When Arsenal play at home and  concede such an unfortunate equaliser the most important thing is to find a balance between a calm/focussed approach to find good scoring opportunities on the one hand, and to develop a real sense of urgency on the other hand. The longer the game took the more we lost that balance, as our sense of urgency took more and more control, at the cost of quality.

This can happen. At least our players never gave up but kept believing. I am absolutely convinced that playing 5 games in the space of 15 days will mean that the teams who are closely competing against each other will, more or less, end up with the same points tally at the end of that period.

There are just too many games in succession for any team to make a bigger leap forward than its direct competitors. At the moment, our direct competitors are Liverpool, Newcastle United, The Spuds and the Chavs. Don’t be totally surprised if by the 4th of January all these teams, as well as Arsenal, will have gathered a similar number of points over the five PL games during the Christmas/New Year period.

Last year, most of us leaped to big conclusions when Arsenal did not manage to beat Wigan away at this stage. We had just beaten the Chavs at home and expectations were sky-high. Arsene was criticised for resting too many players back then, and he will probably now be criticised for not making enough changes, or making the wrong changes in yesterday’s game. The masters of hindsight will now start discussing all the things Wenger should have done, and criticising the choices he made before and during the game. But, I say it again: 17 shots on target and only one went in. Wolves scored a fortuitous goal and we just missed a bit of composure and a bit of luck to win this game. We totally deserved it, but it just was not to be. Did we deserve three points against Aston Villa, a few days ago? Possibly not, but we got them anyway. It’s swings and roundabouts.

In a busy footie-fixtures period like this, we need to move on to the next game and try to win that one. And then move on again and try to win the next one. This is a period of getting as many points as possible and to not have too high expectations of catching up with our most direct competitors. We made great progress in the last few months, and we are now consolidating this. Over the next few months, Arsenal will start working towards 3rd and 4th spot in the PL, and to do well in the CL and FA cup rounds. If we can manage our expectations a bit, and I am talking to myself as well here, the second part of the season can become a very enjoyable one.

Let’s keep the faith: the New Arsenal has all the ingredients for success – it just might take a bit longer than we want it to take.


Huff and Puff Protection

December 26, 2011

The visit of Wolves over the last two seasons has produced two wins for the boys in red and white keeping clean sheets on both occasions. Although Wolves have some robust players McCarthy tries to get them to play football.

He is one of the few managers who I like listening to in post match interviews as he rarely complains about decisions and outcomes of games, choosing instead to inject some humour in his “call a spade a spade” approach to cross examination.

Having read the BBC head to head I am slightly concerned about today’s game as there are too many statistics in our favour. Here are a selection (you can read the rest here):

  1. Wolves are yet to take a point off Arsenal in six previous Premier League matches.
  2. Arsenal have kept clean sheets in each of the last three contests between the sides. Wolves’ last goal was JodyCraddock’s 89th-minute consolation in a 4-1 home defeat in November 2009.
  3. It’s now 13 top-flight matches since Wolves beat Arsenal. That win was at Highbury in 1979 under the management of John Barnwell.
  4. Wolves’ only away win this term came in their season-opener at Blackburn. They are winless in seven subsequent matches.

In addition to the probability that these stats have to be upset sometime there is the added pressure of elevating ourselves to fourth today. On numerous occasions last year United performed poorly in a game and gave us the chance to leapfrog them, nearly every time we failed to maximise on the opportunity.

Today we find out whether most of us are correct to believe that this is indeed a New Arsenal and that they actually have a mental toughness that matters, one that can be used on a football pitch to grind out results rather than the kind that allows one to turn a blind eye to the cry of man overboard.

McCarthy has rarely sent his team out to face us with bus firmly parked, but they will almost certainly be up for the battle. The team need to be prepared to win the battle of midfield first and the right to pass and play.

For me there is not much to figure out in team selection. I fully expect the same line up for Villa except Song will return. There is also a hint that Djourou could be fit, so he could return at right back.

Team for me should be:

We could see Coquelin at right back again but Jarvis offers a threat down the left flank and I think a more experienced defender in Koscielny will stop any early tail lifting danger.

All in all another game where result is more important than the performance which earns it, although perhaps I’ll be greedy and ask for at least two of the three goals Robin needs to surpass Shearer’s calendar year record.

I am struggling with inventors but have managed to come up with Sunbeam – a company founded in 1912 by John Marston and based in Wolverhampton which produced popular bikes, motor bikes and later cars (or at least it did according to wiki).

For those going to the Tavern I’ll see you there.


Written by Gooner In Exile

For AA Regulars Only

December 26, 2011

First of all, apologies to anyone hoping to find the usual daily helping of wit, wisdom and footballing insight you have come to expect from Arsenal Arsenal.

As it’s Boxing Day and there’s bugger all happening from an Arsenal point of view, I’m afraid this is a bit of a quirky Post aimed at the regular AA contributors.

But don’t worry, normal service will resume tomorrow with a fine pre-match report for the Wolves game.

For today, however, I am delighted to present…

The Arsenal Arsenal Dictionary

(A guide to new words formed as a result of cross-generation of individuals via the medium of this blogular site).


(verb) to compel an individual to write a headline Post for AA ostensibly through charm, but with the underlying threat of physical violence.


(adjective) award-winning.


(abbreviation) measurement of weight equivalent to 16 ounces (for example: “That thong full of Arsenal badges must weight about 3 lbs…  and must be highly dangerous to wear.”


(adverb) taking pleasure in the misfortunes of Manchester United.


(noun) a tool for abrading the rough edges of a disputatious blog.


(acronym) postal district of North London, located somewhere in the vicinity of the Great Lakes.


(adjective) feeling a degree of ire when something dear to oneself is insulted (for example: “I was feeling decidedly irish at the suggestion that, if Lady Gaga supported a Premier League team, she would choose Chelsea.”


(adjective) a new paint colour from upmarket suppliers Farrah & Ball. Strikingly red and ideal for virgin walls.

Big Raddiator

(noun) a device for giving one a warm feeling on the morning of an Arsenal game.


(proper noun) a mysterious land far away, favoured by Friends of Dorothy but occasionally producing wizard insights into all things Arsenal.

Red Arse

(proper noun) a medical condition that induces in sufferers an enhanced vocabulary cortex. No cure has yet been found.


(noun) being completely Dutch.


(noun) a rare mineral noted for its solidness and stability. Billions of years old.

Chas Longue

(noun) poncey French sofa thing – perfect for watching funny videos from.


(noun) slang term for a type of marijuana which produces in users the strong sensation that Arsenal’s best manager lived 75 years ago.


(proper noun) popular Cockney seaside resort in the south of Spain.


(abbreviation) short for Veritable Cornucopia of Comedy.


(proper noun) annual public holiday for the legal profession.


(noun) the removal of all the hair from an individual’s head.


(proper noun) the capital of Bennigoonarmy.


(proper noun) popular television chef who moonlights as a contributor on Arsenal Arsenal.


(proper noun) Polish enclave of North London, inhabited by a race of fierce, blonde-haired Amazon beauties.


(noun) making fun of fellow bloggers (particularly residents of Evonia) in such a charming way that they can never take offence.

Carlito’s Way

(noun) out of an aeroplane door and straight downwards.


(verb) to harass or annoy (in particular, to harass or annoy blog visitors making stupid points).


(proper noun) a beautiful group of islands set in a turquoise sea of Peroni.

In Exile

(adjective) living in Norfolk.


(proper noun) unusual form of porter ale, with a full red body and a clear white head.


(adjective) pertaining to a female blogger; someone who posts comments about 10 times a year.


(verb) to exhort somebody in a foreign language. Homonyms include “AvantiNigel” and “ComeOnNwankwo.”


(noun) a painful growth in the foot. Hurts when you step on it.

(verb) Gesture of affection in New Zealand. Often involving sheep.

(noun) usually required after undergoing a mancineration.

(adjective) pronounced loo-chee: carrying too much ‘junk in the trunk’. For example “Blimey, Arshavin’s looking a bit lucci today.”

And apologies to any regulars I may have omitted. I’d had about a bottle and a half of good red wine when I wrote it.


Seasons Greetings

December 25, 2011

In the past year we’ve been joined by Arsenal supporters from Africa,  Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America – only Antarctica to go. Whatever your beliefs, it is a good time to remember and be thankful for what unites us.

We are united by our love of The Arsenal and have forged friendships with people most of whom we are unlikely ever to meet; all made possible by the magic of the internet.

A big thank you has to go to Arsène Wenger, the players and all the backroom staff for giving us a team of which we can all be proud.

Merry Christmas and best wishes for the festive season to Arsenal supporters everywhere from all at Arsenal Arsenal


Robin van Persie – 2011- My Favourite Year

December 24, 2011

Robin van Persie is the son of a sculptor and a painter and his inherited creative genius shines through on the football pitch. Beginning his career at Excelsior Rotterdam, he moved on to Feyenoord and earned caps for the Dutch u19 and u21 teams.

Robin always dreamed of playing for his hometown club and then moving on to Arsenal or a small club in Catalonia to further his career.

Robin has always loved the red and white.

The highlight of Robin’s Feyenoord career was winning the UEFA cup in 2002 with a 3-2 victory and being named Dutch football talent of the year for the 2001/2 season.

van Persie’s early Arsenal career began fairly slowly largely due to injuries. From the 2004/5 season to 2009/10 he scored 5, 5, 11, 7, 11 and 9 league goals respectively. 2010/11 saw his total leap to 18, many of which were scored in the second half of the season when Arsenal’s unravelling was taking place.

This season he has scored 16 goals in 17 appearances, including 2 goals against Bolton on 24th September to take his Arsenal tally to 100. Of these one hundred goals, 71 were scored with his left foot, 23 right foot and 6 were headers which goes some way to dispel the myth of the van Persie ‘chocolate’ leg. His current tally for 2011 stands at 34 goals in a staggering 34 games. This draws level with Thierry Henry’s 34 but these were scored in 39 games and puts him two goals away from Alan Shearer’s all-time record of 36 scored in 42 matches.

Here are a few illustrations of Robin’s prowess in front of goal which has taken him to 115 goals, currently level with Alan Smith.

RVP with his right foot versus Wolves home 12th Feb 2011

The next goal versus Fulham on 22nd May 2011 illustrates a magnificent first touch.

A hat-trick of very different goals at 55secs, 3min 5 secs and 6 mins versus Wigan on 22nd January.

Robin’s goal against Everton encapsulated his self-professed desire to take risks by taking the volley on, resulting in his best goal of 2011.

RVP is now a world class striker who scores goals from all angles as the following illustrates

Robin’s son looks a prospect, too, so let’s hope he grows up with the Arsenal gene and follows in his father’s footsteps.

What’s your favourite RVP goal?

Robin would probably say, ‘the next one’.

Written by chas

Who is Arsenal’s Best Centre Back? (Poll)

December 23, 2011

When was the last time you heard the words “Wenger must buy” followed by any of the following: Jagielka, Cahill, Samba, Hangeland?

It seems only weeks ago that were as many headlines linking us with other clubs’  defenders as there are stars in the sky or skeletons in John Terry’s closet.

Now… nothing. They are as a rare as a Howard Webb follicle or an Alan Hutton brain cell.

The manager who was “past it” and “can’t pick defenders” suddenly seems to have made the centre back position one of the strongest at the club. You certainly don’t hear anyone now crying out for a Jagielka or Cahill.

Although injuries to our four leading full backs have played havoc with team selection of late, there is no question that we currently have three excellent centre halves at the club, with several strong back-ups behind them.

What’s interesting is how different the three of them are.

I’m expecting to get shot down for this, but when we had that amazing threesome of Adams, Bould and Keown, they were all (to my eyes) fairly similar players.

They had different strengths and qualities to some degree, but overall their approach was broadly the same: they were big, hard men who bossed the opposition forwards, enjoyed putting themselves in where it hurt, were dominant in the air and strong in the tackle. They were defenders first, footballers second.

But our first choice CBs this year are far less homogenous. Let’s look at their individual styles:

Thomas Vermaelen (the Lion of Flanders)

TV’s absence for most of last season was a huge blow. We’ll never know whether his presence would have steadied the ship enough to enable us to have a real tilt at the title or win the Carling Cup – but it might have done.

He is an out-and-out warrior and, in his style of play, is the closest to the Adams/Bould/Keown mould. He repeatedly wins aerial duels against taller opponents purely on the basis of power, determination and technique. When we’re on the back foot, he’ll be the one throwing his body in the line of fire and encouraging those around him by example. As he showed against Manchester City, he can also be a real handful when he marauds into the opposition half and already has a decent goal haul since joining us.

Per Mertesacker (the Big FOOTBALLING German)

A lot of assumptions were made about big Per when he joined us. With the height of a small office block, it seemed a no-brainer (aka a “Hutton”) that he would add a previously undreamt-of level of aerial dominance to our defending and would be a huge attacking threat at set pieces.

By those lights he has somewhat disappointed. Although tall, he does not have a big jump and, whether paired with Koscielny or Vermaelen, is often the one less likely to be making the aerial challenges. He also made a few costly blunders as he adjusted to the pace of the Premier League and has seemed slow on the turn.

However, from a footballing point of view the BFG is the best central defender we have had for a very, very long time. In fact I would say you have to go back to David O’Leary at his best to find someone who was as good.

Mertesacker’s reading of the game is second to none, which means he often snuffs out moves before they become perilous. It’s less spectacular than the last ditch tackle, but a lot easier on the old ticker.

Further, he is just SO comfortable on the ball. I watched him very carefully in the Villa game – a game in which we came under a great deal of pressure at times. Whenever Per got possession at the back he was able to find space and time and play really intelligent balls to the midfield or attack. He never loses possession and always chooses the right out ball. I don’t want to go over the top, but his time on the ball and his distribution are reminiscent of Bobby Moore.

You would not want two Mertesackers as your CB pairing, but one BFG paired with a more combative and mobile CB is a match made in N5 (Heaven).

Laurent Koscielny (The Limo*)

I don’t want to seem clever after the fact, but I have been trumpeting Kozzer’s qualities since he first joined us.

He can man mark as well as Martin Keown, but he’s as nippy as a winger and has the turning circle of a London taxi on ice. Famously, he had a 100% tackle success rate in his last season in the French Ligue 1. You’re never going to win all your tackles in the EPL, but he is an astonishingly good tackler – technically almost perfect.

Added to that he is ludicrously brave. Last season he seemed to get brutally clobbered in every single game – sometimes by an opponent, but often by the head, boot or fist of one of his own team mates. He would lie pole-axed for a while, shake his head, then enter the fray. Despite this, he never pulls out of a challenge with leg or head, which must mean he is staggeringly courageous or staggeringly stupid. Hopefully the former. Like Vermaelen he regularly triumphs in aerial battles he has no right to win.

Finally, he is also a pretty decent ball player. In fact one thing all three of our first choice CBs have is a footballing ability that puts them a level above Adams/Bould/Keown.

In Conclusion

The obvious point to make is that we are fortunate to have three such excellent CBs (and fortunate to have a manager capable of seeing their qualities and signing them).

But, when our full backs have returned, it does raise the question as to which two should be in our starting line-up. Obviously all three will get games, but when it comes down to that big, big match-up against either of the Manchesters or the Spuds, which two should get the call-up?

When Rasp did an overview of selection issues in various areas of the team in early November, he ran a poll on this very subject. Over 70% of respondents thought that Vermaelen/Koscielny should be our first choice pairing. Vermaelen and Mertesacker scored just over 25% and Koscielny/Mertesacker just under 4%.

I want to frame this poll somewhat differently.

I’m starting with the idea that we choose an out and out first choice CB, with whom either of the other two can play. Is it Vermaelen with one of the other two? Or Mertesacker? Or Koscielny?

I’ll admit to a bias in doing this. Although I love Vermaelen and Koscielny, I feel that Mertesacker has to start in our strongest line-up because of the immense calmness and control he brings to our back line and our ability to transition out of defence. So for me it would the BFG plus either of the others.

What do you think?

*Koscielny hails from the Limousin region of France.



Violently Happy, KOZ We Love You!

December 22, 2011

Aston Villa 1 – 2 Arsenal Match Report

1st half observations from a bad stream

The first 45 minutes were pretty different from what I expected. Aston Villa did not close us down frantically and allowed Arsenal plenty of space. Especially Gervinho and Theo saw plenty of the ball, as Villa sat deep in the beginning, allowing our wingers to attack them from the sides. Arsenal also allowed Villa a lot of space and there were plenty of chances for each team during the entire first half. The game was surprisingly open and yet the tempo did not appear to be very high.

After Gervinho had tried but failed to reach the by-line on a number of occasions – not being able to beat the ex-Spud Hutton – Theo was successful at the first attempt. He skinned the inexperienced Carian Clark just inside the box of Villa with a brilliant, ballet-like pirouette, after which he had acres of space to pick a pass. The young Villa defender pulled Theo back and the referee Jon Moss blew his whistle, even though Theo had not fallen down as a result of the pull-back. Penalty. RvP lined himself up to reach an incredible milestone: if he scores he will have equalled TH14 calendar year goal scoring tally. Is he nervous though? No, just BOOM in the roof of the net: 1-0 to The Arsenal.

After that, the game remained open, and after quick moves, both Theo and Ramsey got decent opportunities to score from just outside the box. Both missed the deadly accuracy and calmness of Boy Wonder and, as a result, two half-decent opportunities were wasted. Villa had their own chances, predominantly as a result of playing balls quickly into the box from Arsenal’s LB area to their ‘fox in the box’: the man with the warrior-like name of Agbonlahor (for a while, I dreamed of an attacking combination for Arsenal of Arshavin, Adebayor and Agbonlahor: it just sounded like the ultimate warrior-machine: the tree terrible A’s). I thought Vermaelen struggled a few times to put himself in the right positions in the first half, and as a result Aston Villa had a few opportunities to put the ball into the box from our LB area which led  to some half-decent opportunities for them. Luckily, AV were not sharp enough to pounce on these half-chances.

2nd half observations from another bad stream

Aston Villa started well. They allowed us less space and pressed us earlier in our own half. In the 54th minute, an opportunistic, high ball by Villa is defended by Vermaelen, who heads horizontally to Merkesacker. The latter is already on a yellow card and Vermaelen’s header is too short. Albrighton seizes his opportunity by taking the ball past the indecisive Mertesacker, and slots the ball calmly and professionally past the onrushing Szczesny. Quite an impressive finish.

Theo Walcott experiences an almost déjà-vu moment when, just as in the game against Citeh, he gets a decent opportunity to score a goal straight after our kick-off. The impressive again Richard Dunne makes a superb slide-tackle in the box to deny Walcott. Mertesacker seemed desperate to make amends for his and Vermaelen’s defensive error earlier. He was close to scoring a goal from inside the box, not with his head but with his foot, from one of the many Arsenal corners in the second half.

During this half, there is no more space for either Walcott or Gervinho to produce some effective wing-play. Wenger makes three changes in the last 25 minutes: Rosicky, Arshavin and Benayoun for respectively Frimmpong, Gervinho and Ramsey. Arshavin and Benayoun are only given ten minutes to make a difference which is not ideal of course. Frimmpong started to give away unnecessary fouls and both Gervinho and Ramsey looked exhausted.

The changes had an immediate positive impact as Arsenal was able to retake the initiative. We started to control the game and were desperately looking for holes in the middle of AV’s defence. We were awarded corner after corner, and from the 11th corner-kick in the second half – just as every single Gooner had given up hope we would ever score from a corner again – RvP reaches a free Yossi Benayoun (Agbonlahor had not bothered to stay with him in the box), and a late, and no longer expected, Christmas present was delivered to all who love the Arsenal: most probably the lightest man on the pitch, our man on loan from the Chavs, scores with a close-range header: 1-2 with only three minutes to go!

Some conclusions:

A scrappy win: no doubt about that. Our passing was under-par and we seemed to be missing our FB’s a lot more in this game than against the Mancs. We really lacked a strong/effective shape to the team tonight. There were a lot of tired legs out there, but the same goes for Aston Villa; and that was our saving grace.

A few players were brilliant today: Arteta, RvP, and especially Koz: with their energy and never-say-die attitude they made a major contribution to us winning three points tonight. I also thought Coquelin, after a slightly difficult start, had a good game. I was especially impressed with his ability to play long-range passes towards Theo, or diagonally towards the other winger. This boy has style and, judging on these early signs, will go far at Arsenal. It was also good to see Rosicky back. He really gave us a better shape to the team, almost as soon as he was on the pitch.

And well done to Robin for reaching this incredible milestone. We all know how special Thierry Henry was: one of the best strikers I have ever seen. For Robin to equal his calendar-year goals tally is incredible, and with a bit of luck he will surpass Alan Shearer’s by scoring three more goals in the next two home games.

Three points are three points. It is a game best to forget quickly and for us now to concentrate on our next two home games: Wolves and QPR. The boys will now have a rest till at least Monday and Alex Song will be back. Hopefully there will be no further injuries coming from this game, so we can put out a good team against Wolves. Liverpool and Newcastle dropped points again, and today either the Chavs or Spuds, or both, will drop points. The race for third and fourth place is on and we are now very well positioned; just behind the Chavs and the Spuds. Before Big Ben strikes 12 times on New Year’s Eve, we could be snug as a bug in a rug in third place.