Friday on My Mind

January 24, 2014

FA Cup on a Friday night? What is the world coming to?

Actually I like it. Mrs. Raddy likes it and therefore the local retailers are delighted.  Do you think this is the future or will too much football on television lead to a mass turn-off? We shall see how this experiment works, but an evening kick-off at the end of the working week ticks all the boxes for me. Especially a game in which Mr Wenger will have the opportunity to experiment – though not too much because the FA Cup remains a valuable trophy.

And what of Coventry? Gone are the days of fat Micky Quinn ruining my day at Highbury on a sunny August afternoon in the season Quinn scored 4 times against us (1993). No Sirree,  We are top of the PL and Coventry languish in the dark depths of League One and we don’t have a midfield of Morrow, Hillier, Jensen, Selley or McGoldrick,

Unknown

Micky, old Style Player. Beer gut, moustache, short shorts and dreadful kit

Coventry no longer play in their hometown. Blues fans have been boycotting  “home” games which are played at Northampton, as such they will be in their thousands at THOF tonight. Their team is made up of mainly local young chaps who are doing well despite a 10 point deduction for financial irregularities.

Last season in the CC Cup we beat Coventry 6-1, they will do better tonight. Coming to THOF with just one loss in their last 12 away games Coventry will be quietly confident of  creating an upset. They have a fully fit squad which I would like to tell you all about, giving detailed assessments of their strengths and weakness, a short description of their significant players, a tactical analysis of Coventry’s recent games and an interview with their manager, Steve Pressley.

Sadly, that will have to wait for another day …..

Arsenal: Who plays? Well we know who won’t play – Ramsey, Rosicky, Arteta and the rest of the long-term sick.

Given the opposition I expect Mr Wenger to play an experienced defence and then some of the younger fellows further up the field. Nik is sure to start with Gnabry on his right.

Fabianski is the cup GK  and with Koscielny and Podolski in the team we will be “Poled Up” which will make Evonne happy! Thinking of which, did you know that Mertesacker’s nickname in Germany is “Die Abwehrlatte” which means The Defensive Pole 😀

My Team:

arse v cov

Ox and Gnabry make very young and inexperienced “inside forwards” but I think they are our future and it will be interesting to see how they cope.  Perhaps we will see another outing for Myachi who has been on the sidelines this season, or maybe a cameo from Park. I expect Mr Wenger to have OG and Ozil on the bench in case it all goes tits up (sorry, Peaches Mum).

Coventry. The name comes from a Bronze age tribe who lived in the area, the Corieltauvi, who lived all over the Midlands before the Romans arrived and gave them a severe spanking. The Romans gave way to the Saxons who had their trousers removed by the Danish Vikings in 1016. They founded a Benedectine monastery which was run by the famous stripper Lady Godiva. By the middle ages Coventry was the biggest town in the Midlands. During the English Civil war Royalists were imprisoned in the city which gave rise to the expression “Sent to Coventry” (which means to be ostracised)

Fascinating. Well, it is to me!!

Back to football.  As we approach the end of the transfer window is anyone confident of a signing? Do we need one? Tonight will be an indicator. It is an important night for Bendtner, a man who has fluffed his lines so often. Play well this evening and who knows, he may earn another contract – if not at Arsenal then another high profile club; play a stinker without effort and a massive reduction of wages plus a gig at some sorry ignominious club like THFC awaits ……….. It happened to Adebayor.

Losses in last season’s cup competitions to Bradford and Blackburn are proof that lower league teams can and do beat us if the attitude and team selection is wrong.

Mr Wenger says he would love the club to win the FA Cup again.  So would I.

written by Big Raddy

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Blast from the Past – 1930 FA Cup Final – How The Arsenal Won The Cup

January 23, 2014

The year is 1930 three years after the pain of losing the 1927 FA Cup Final to Cardiff, Herbert Chapman took Arsenal back to Wembley to make amends, and bring the Club its first major trophy. Ironically the opposition were Huddersfield Town, the club Chapman left to join Arsenal in 1925. He had guided Huddersfield to two league titles in the 1920s and the Yorkshire side bore all the hallmarks of Chapman’s tactical innovations, lining up in a W-M formation with wing-halves and inside-forwards. Arsenal did likewise but, with Chapman now at their helm, they did it better.

The 1930 Cup Final was the first time before a major game that the two teams came out side by side in honour of Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman having managed both clubs. Arsenal came into the game following a 6-6 draw at Leicester City, just five days prior, the highest score draw in English top-flight history, however four goal hero Dave Halliday was omitted from the Cup Final squad.

Tom Wilson led Huddersfield Town onto the pitch while Tom Parker led out Arsenal. The former knew all about winning trophies; the latter Captained a side which had never tasted glory and had survived numerous close shaves en-route to the Final. In the commentary box, that day for only the fifth live radio broadcast was the future Arsenal manager George Allison.

King George V was introduced to the players in front of a crowd of 92,486 at Wembley after recovering from illness. The two clubs were meeting for the first time in a FA Cup Final and they produced a match of high and absorbing quality, observed by the silver Graf Zepplein. The deafening roar from its engines disconcerted both players and spectators. The giant aircraft, at 775 ft. in length, was a symbol of a rising Germany, it dipped its nose in salute to King George V as it passed by.

An Arsenal Blast from the Past Zep

Arsenal won their first major trophy with a goal in each half; the first was created and scored by Alex James, the second was a product of a long run by Jack Lambert. Huddersfield Town, on the day, were worthy opponents but it transpired that their day had passed and they have never since won another major trophy. But 1930, and more specifically April 26, was when Arsenal began their transformation from also-rans to the richest and most successful club in the World. When Chapman arrived at Highbury in 1925 he said it would take him five years to build a winning team. He was as good as his word.

It is also interesting to note that the two sides dined together after the match, an innovation from Herbert Chapman that never took hold. Given the enmity between modern protaganists, such bonhomie might be well absent in the modern game.

An Arsenal Blast from the Past FAC Highbury

The victorious Arsenal team consisted of Charlie Preedy, Tom Parker, Eddie Hapgood, Alf Baker, Bill Seddon, Bob John, Joe Hulme, David Jack, Jack Lambert, Alex James and Cliff Bastin.
In this picture the Arsenal team, looking rather dapper, are posing at Wembley after winning the Cup. Herbert Chapman is on the far left, David Jack (who had joined Arsenal from Bolton Wanderers for a record 10,890 pounds – but that’s another story) has his hands in his light-coloured plus fours; Captain Jack Lambert is holding the FA Cup and Alex James is on the far right, Arsenal’s Bill Seddon, who died in January 1993 at the age of 91, was the last surviving player who appeared in the Final;.

An Arsenal Blast from the Past no 2 001

Now for a real BLAST from the PAST the game report from 1930.

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GunnerN5


The Podolski Puzzle.

January 22, 2014

Let’s start with a basic premise – we all love our Lukas. Top bloke, committed to the club, and a fine player.

I cannot recall a similar player in the Arsenal shirt; immensely strong, a lethal finisher who possesses phenomenal shooting power and in the prime of his career at 28 y.o.. Yet despite having over 100 caps for the German National team he cannot find a set place in the Arsenal side. Why?

More to the point, why  is everyone calling for another striker when we have statistically one of the best strikers in world football in our Polish/German (born in Poland, left as a two year old)?

It is perplexing.

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A few Pod stats: 111 caps, 3rd highest appearances for Germany. 46 international goals, 5th highest for Germany. In 2013 he scored after just 9 seconds vs Ecuador, the second fastest goal of all time (first is a San Marino gaol against England!!.). Winner of the German League and Cup Double.  Since 2010 he has played 115 games and scored 51 times.

Mr Wenger says he is the most lethal finisher at the club. Yet ….

Write down your Arsenal first XI (when all are fit!), is Poldi in it? Why not?

For Germany Prinz Poldi plays on the left with licence to drift towards the centre, just the same as he does for Arsenal but with one major difference, his fullback is Philip Lahm and his defensive MF Schweinsteiger! He doesn’t have the defensive responsibility which a left sided attacker has at Arsenal.

It seems that Poldi plays deeper on the left than he does for his country, he is regularly seen on the edge of our box tracking back. Unlike Theo, he doesn’t have the pace to join Giroud upfront on the breakaways and therefore if he is to be involved the play has to be slower from the back. I would like to see him played much further forward in the Pires role – I don’t recall Bobby crunching into tackles too often – and I think this is what Mr Wenger bought him for. Poldi may not have the artistry and guile of Pires but he is certainly as dangerous.

Then there is the question of his combination play with Giroud. Can they function as an attacking duo? We have yet to see evidence of an understanding between the two (apart from one thunderous volley from a cheeky OG pass) though this will hopefully develop as the season progresses. The lightning fast interplay between JW, Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey and Giroud is wonderful to behold, can Poldolski combine in the same vein? Perhaps – he can certainly finish off the moves.

When we signed Poldi much was made of his failure at Bayern Munich, critics said it was easy to be Jack the Peanut at FC Koln but quite different at The Arsenal or Bayern. At FC Koln he was loved like no other and remains so, at Arsenal he is admired rather than loved and I think this is because he has yet to cement a place for himself.

Unknown

The early season injury came at the wrong time because he was looking as though he had finally found his position in the team. I recall seeing him pull up as his oak-like thigh twitched and twanged, it was poor timing.

I stated recently that I believe Lukas will leave in summer. Why? For two reasons: Firstly, he is too  good a player to sit on the bench, especially at a time when goal scorers are in such shortage therefore he will be much in demand all over Europe. Secondly, the rumours of Draxler; a left sided MF who is likely to be groomed as a TH14 type player. Mr Wenger will not pay €40m+ to see him sit on the bench, so who loses his place?

That said, it could be Giroud who gets dropped. If Drexler can play in the middle an attack of Podolski, Drexler, Ozil and Walcott is frighteningly good, or drop Theo for Gnabry and have an all-German frontline!

But Drexler may just be paper talk and Podolski may well become an essential member of the team. I certainly hope so but it is clear Mr Wenger is looking for another striker.

Another cloud on his horizon is the return of Oxlade-Chamberlain who is certain to be a fixture in the team (though given the unfortunate timing of his injury,  next season is more likely), plus  the rise of Gnabry and Mr Wenger’s penchant for developing young players by putting them out on the wings.

If one looks at the current squad and the marvellous form of Cazorla and Rosicky plus the return of Ramsey, I just cannot see how Podolski will get a run in the team

It is interesting that Mr Wenger picked 18 y.o. Gnabry to start the last three games when Podolski was fit and on the bench. What must Lukas think about that, especially in a World Cup year? (yes, I know SG plays on the right).

Having Podolski on the bench is a major asset, he is a game changer when he comes on for the final 20 minutes but do you think that is satisfactory to an established German International?

Judging from his activity on social media Podolski seems to be really enjoying his time in London. It is time for us to find out whether he has a future as an Arsenal player. Poldi’s time is now – or is it?.

BigRaddy


2014 Predictions Part 3 : And the winner is ……

January 21, 2014

People from 35 countries around the globe have chosen a winner!

survey_map

To be exact, 126 people, about two thirds of whom live outside of the UK, have chosen (*). Thank you, everyone who completed the survey. The number of respondents really took me by surprise because I expected to get only ten to fifteen, at most twenty, responses. The participants helped to predict the results of the 17 remaining matches (at survey time) for each of the current top three teams: Chelsea, Man City, and our Arsenal. On debate is the question, “Will Arsenal remain ToTL at the end of the season?”

Yes, We Can

Without further delays lest I incur the wrath of evonne, the survey says: Chelsea third with 85 pts, City second with 87 pts, and Arsenal comfortably Top of The League with a two-win gap at 93 pts! Surprised?

survey_standings

Plotting out the predictions and point totals each week, the graph below shows how people see the rest of the season to play out for the three teams.

graph

Perhaps the final position predictions are not a surprise to AA readers, but there are some interesting match forecasts hidden beneath the overall totals.

Chelsea vs Newcastle: I had this down as a sure win for Chelsea, but almost half of you predict otherwise, with 40% of the people seeing a draw. A possible two point drop for Chelsea here, although that alone would not affect the final three-team ranking.

Spurs vs City and ManU vs City: Can Arsenal’s neighbors help them out next week? Almost 50% of the people expect Spurs will get a point from this fixture. More importantly for Arsenal, that would mean two points dropped by City. Similarly later on in the season, City face an away derby with Arsenal other historical rival, Man Utd. Would we wish BSR and that gang success on the day? 50% of the people pine for a draw out of this match as well.

Arsenal vs City and Spurs vs Arsenal: In the City home fixture, almost 60% of the people predicted a win for Arsenal, with almost 40% thinking draw. Only a small percentage were pessimistic. However, if it turns out to be a draw instead, suddenly the point prediction would become Arsenal 91 pts, City 88 pts, and that final fixture becomes important again. The percentages and prediction in the Spur away match are similar. Again, a draw instead would see Arsenal dropping to 91 pts, but in this case there is no gain for City.

Chelsea vs Arsenal: Close to 50% of the people see this as a draw. 35% predict a win for Arsenal, and 15% predict a loss. The uncertainly is high for this match.

Arsenal to go undefeated the rest of the way? People seem to think so. They predict clear wins for many matches. The most uncertain fixture in the minds of the respondents is Chelsea away, but even for this, only about 15% of the people expect a loss. In the other high profile matches, 6% see a loss to Liverpool, 4% to City, 4% to Everton, and 2% to Spur and Man Utd. The rest are all 1% or less!

How does the survey compare to other opinions out there? After all, in predicting a draw for Chelsea vs Man Utd, it already got one wrong.

Experts Disagree

The well known pundits have not been shy to opine about Arsenal. And how can they avoid it, really? Arsenal’s performances so far have forced them to speak up.

  • Expert 1, Alan Hansen 27 Oct 2013: “[Arsenal] will not end the season as champions.”
  • Expert 2, Michael Owen 18 Dec 2013: “Arsenal don’t have the class of player to go toe to toe with the main title contenders.”
  • Expert 3, Gary Neville 14 Jan 2014: “I do think Arsenal will get hauled back by those two teams.” He meant Chelsea and Man City of course.
  • Expert 4, Robbie Savage 14 Jan 2014: “But will they [Arsenal] win the title? I still say no.”
  • Expert 5, Alan Shearer 18 Jan 2014: “I didn’t think they will [win the title], and I don’t see any reason why I should change my mind.”

And so on… You get the idea. Although recently the pundits have begun—some of them begrudgingly—to compliment Arsenal’s good performances to date, they are still firm in their belief: Arsenal ain’t gonna to make it.

Confidence or Bias?

A few years ago, a book titled The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki, came out. In it, the author shows that, in certain situations, an unbiased sampling of the collective judgement can be very accurate, even more accurate than that of experts. Will it happen here? Now, it is hard to claim that readers of AA, although level headed for the most part, are unbiased when it comes to Arsenal (*). In fact, I was quite surprised at the level of confidence the respondents have in the Arsenal.

For me, this is a significant, and unexpected, revelation of the survey, that this global group of fans believe so strongly in the Arsenal. In three quarters of the remaining Arsenal fixtures, about 1% the predictions foresee a loss. In only two games are the loss predictions more than 5%, for a measly overall loss percentage of 2%. Confidence or bias? To contrast, this same group of people sees the loss percentages of Chelsea and City to be about 10%, neither of whom is predicted to go undefeated the rest of the way (which, as others have pointed out on AA, feel more realistic).

Furthermore, has this confidence/bias always been so strong? Unfortunately I don’t have data for other years, but judging by the various views expressed on AA and elsewhere, I doubt it. It feels like emergent confidence when 80% of the people expect a win in the upcoming home game against Man United, and only 2% seeing a loss. People seem more comfortable that the Arsenal this year can overcome the challenges that tripped them up in the last few years. From the survey, I cannot detect the doom-and-gloom mood amongst the fans, which appeared even as recently as the opening match this season. One can of course still hear or read the public grumble and negative comments, but this survey indicates that a strong counterview exists.

We have to wait to the end of the season to know who got it right, the fans or the experts. Until then, keep believing; it can happen again this year.

champions 2004

Move On! Nothing More To See Here…

Norfolk, look away! For the rest, who like numbers, tables, and charts, have fun with the information below.

These columns show the game-by-game predictions of win/draw/lose by percentage of respondents.

survey_percent

The next set of columns are the game-by-game point averages and the corresponding predictions. The circles are the translation of the survey tallies into W/D/L (†). The error bars are the standard deviation of any individual prediction from the point average of the corresponding match (‡).

survey_predict

If the above doesn’t provide you enough to analyze, pls write me via AA, and I can give you more info.

Notes

(*) There were actually a few more than 126 participants; however these additional people were clearly over-enthusiastic—they selected all wins for Arsenal and all losses for the other two teams—that I had to drop their responses.

(†) For each match, we have the tallies of win, draw, and lose choices. If the win tally is greater than the sum of draws and losses, then this is considered a win. Likewise, if the loss tally is greater than the sum of draw and win, then it is a loss. Otherwise it is a draw. For example, the tallies of 51 W, 40D, 9 L would translate to a win, while the tallies of 25 W, 35 D, 40 L would map into a draw. This mapping seems to serve the purpose in this instance, but one can imagine it not working if the opinions were polarized.

(‡) Point average is done by weighing the points from a win, with the percent of people predicting a win, and so on. For example, if 55% of the people expect a win, 40% a draw, and 5% a loss, then the point average would be (0.55 * 3 + 0.40 * 1 + 0.10 * 0) = 1.93. If we have 25% W, 35% D, and 40% L, this would give a point average of 1.1.

Written by TT


Giroud Is The Key To Wengerball Mk 3

January 20, 2014

Few Arsenal players from the current squad are more discussed and debated than Olivier Giroud.

Our hunky Frenchman is something of an enigma.

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To some he is a selfless workhorse giving his all for the team and making the most of (relatively) limited talents.

To others he is a top quality centre forward who will be a 20+ goals per season man in time.

And to his harshest critics he is no more than a stop-gap: the guy who’s filling in until we can buy a “proper” striker.

My own opinion of him has fluctuated but, just recently, I have had something of a revelation. I now believe that Olivier has possibly been the most significant factor in Arsenal’s success during 2013 and 2014.

Key to this theory is the concept – touched on occasionally in comments here on AA – that this Arsenal team is playing a different game to its predecessors.

Broadly speaking we have had three styles of play during the Arsene Wenger years (including the current approach).

Wengerball Mark 1 was the style that brought us such success in his early years at the club. We played a fast-breaking, highly technical form of 4-4-2, with a lot of height and power in the team. Arsene took on the formation that was then prevalent in the English league but improved on it through his choice of players (highly technical Continentals) and through his coaching, training and health methods. Mk 1 culminated with the Invincibles, the best team in Premier League history, and came to an end shortly afterwards.

Wengerball Mk 2 was a combination of necessity and enlightened thinking: the gradual switch to an Arsenal version of tiki-taka. Necessity – because the move to a new stadium meant we would have to go years without any real money to spend and would have to build a team around our one emerging superstar, Cesc Fabregas; enlightened thinking because from around 2006 tiki-taka started to become the dominant style in European and world football and Wenger was an “early adopter” of the new approach. In Mk 2 we swapped out the powerful athletes of the Mk 1 era for small, fast-moving players who were even more technical than their predecessors. The second era of Wengerball came closest to working in 2008 but, overall, cannot be deemed to have been a success. Our lack of spending power meant we could not surround Cesc with enough world class players and our version of tiki-taka too often resulted in playing the ball from side to side in front of packed defences without breaking through. Meanwhile we were regularly out-muscled by the physically bigger and stronger players of Manchester United and Chelsea.

So what is Wengerball Mk 3?

To me it’s a style that borrows much from tiki-taka, but with a Velcro-covered battering ram bolted to the front. Those masters of the tiki-taka game, Barcelona and the Spanish national side, invariably build their moves from the back with a focus on keeping possession. The striker  generally only comes into play at the pointy end of matters, as his slick-passing midfield colleagues tap-dance their way into the opposition penalty area.

Arsenal tried this approach but it would often break against our opponents’ defence like waves against a sea wall. When we had had enough of the sideways passing and tried to penetrate we often lost possession very quickly and found ourselves caught on the break.

But Olivier Giroud changed all that.

Suddenly we had someone up front who could retain the ball; who was not bundled off it by lumpen defenders; who could bring midfielders into play and who could give us a plan B if we wanted to try just crossing into the box or if we were under pressure.

It meant we could persevere with the tiki-taka elements of our midfield (triangles, changing position, give-and-go) but also have a much safer outlet when we wanted to play the ball forward.

And that’s the way we play today. Now when our midfielders play the ball into our striker they do so knowing that they will not be forced back on the defensive immediately, as was too often the case in the past.

Mk 3 gives us the flexibility to play from the back tiki-taka style, and also to occasionally put an early ball out of defence up to Giroud who can then hold it up until our other attackers and midfielders come into play.

Why do we have the best scoring midfield in the EPL? Because of Ollie.

I know many will argue with the idea that Giroud is the biggest factor in the revival of our fortunes. I can imagine some will say it’s down to our new-found defensive discipline.

But to me, that defensive discipline is also down to Ollie in large part. Apart from the actual defending he does (defending from the front when the opposition are playing out from the back and contributing massively to our defence at set pieces), Ollie’s hold-up play also allows the rest of our team to defend better.

In the pre-Ollie days, remember, we were punished on the break so often that it was like a recurring nightmare: all those games where we would lay siege to the opposition without seriously threatening their goal, then concede on their first attack.

Part of the reason was that we were losing possession too frequently when we attacked.

Now that happens less often and when it does happen our players are more likely to have had time to get back into position and to nullify the counter-attacks.

Wengerball Mk 3 is probably the only way of making a partly tiki-taka based game work effectively in the blood-and-thunder of the Premier League and it’s to Arsene Wenger’s great credit that he has figured out how to do it.

I’m even inclined to think that that’s what he had in mind when he signed Chamakh. As we know, the Moroccan did not turn out to be the man capable of playing that hold-up role and we also got side-tracked by Robin van Persie finally hitting a purple patch, but the way we now play is what Arsene has been working towards for a few years.

Olivier Giroud has finally made it possible.

RockyLives


Business as usual! The march at the top continues

January 19, 2014

The bottom line is simple. Despite the green fumes of envy from the clueless pundits and money spinning ignorable others, we stay Top of the League.

This was a historic day in the English Premier League, when goal line technology was used for the first time to the benefit of the Northern Oilers and the disappintment of the new boys from Cardiff. This was also a day when Arsenal had a job to do at home against Fulham. Fulham has had quite a Mauleen from all and sundry, and at The Home of Football they were clearly expected to receive a battering. Arsenal were Top of the League before the game. Despite the accumulation of injuries including a rather serious one to Theo Walcott, and despite the disappointment of fans from a typically unimpressive transfer window, we were not expected to drop points at home against an unfancied opposition.

However, Fulham came out with purpose, with a revamped central defence sporting the fit-again captain Brede Hangeland and “recalled from loan” six-and-half-footer Burn. The midfield sported the hacker mercenary duo of Parker and Sidwell, and ahead of them a frontline sporting one evergreen Dimitar Berbatov. At goal was the World Cup finalist “Mr Dictionary” Dutchman Stekelenburg, with 10 distinct letters in his surname (I kid you not!!!!!).

Arsenal came out with an unchanged starting lineup, which had only one omission from Raddy’s carefully considered choice. The little master Santi Cazorla was chosen over the little Mozart Tomáš Rosický. The “masked Czech” was left on the bench to nurse a delicate nose flattened in a previous brawl. Other than Monreal on the left, the backline was familiar – Mert, Kos and Sagna. The defensive midfield positions were manned by Flamini and Wilshere. Özil, Santi and Gnabry together with front-man Ollie completed the attacking line up.

For me, the starting line up made good sense. The left and right backs had freedom to roam upwards along the flanks. Flamini and Jack were positioned to start the cleanup operations and link forward. For me, the movement through the centre is perhaps the best way to use Jack’s speed and youthful exuberance. The wing play of Sagna and Monreal allows the attacking midfield freedom to move laterally through interchanging positions. This is perhaps the most natural movement for both Santi and Gnabry, and it offers the opportunity to use any lack of tightness in the opposition back four.

Arsenal fans everywhere, including the venerable Arsenal Arsenal family, have been clamouring for the addition of a striker in January, and that wish of a post-Christmas present has so far been steadfastly ignored by “Mr Santa” Le Boss. Giroud had unfortunately misplaced his shooting shoes during his nocturnal escapades on one fateful night in Kiev last November. Hence, the forty million and one pound question was: where would the goals come from? Despair not. The answer came later during the game.

Anyway, the game commenced in earnest. The initial exchanges were tasty. 5 minutes on, Gnabry moved inwards deftly from the right, and found a gap to send the ball forward, Jack met this with aplomb and fed on to Özil on the right end of the 6-yard box. Instead of shooting himself, the German wizard tried to pass to Giroud, but Hangeland deftly hacked away. Again, 20 minutes on, Gnabry cut in from the right and fed Olivier Giroud at the edge of the 18-yard box, but he fired the ball high and wide. In between, Arsenal continued to boss the game, Wilshere being particularly enterprising, but failed to create clear chances.

Something was amiss. I thought there was lack of coordination between the attacking midfielders at the centre. The way Arsenal plays, all three of them have liberty to move and exchange places. On the day, this exchange was not working quite right. When Gnabry moved in from the right and released the ball, he continued to move to the centre, but the gap on the right was not seamlessly filled in by the other guys. The same happened when Santi moved in from the left. There was crowding in the centre and the game could not be spread wide. As a result, the Fulham defence was able to close their gaps easily.

At the same time, Fulham were somewhat potent on their rare saunters upfront. On 27 minutes, Berbatov’s cross was cleared out of the box and fell to Steve Sidwell, who launched an audacious 20 yard stunner that Szczesny had to deftly fist over. The Pole made two other crucial interceptions in one on one situations, diving to the feet of Dejagah first, and taking the ball off the feet of Kacaniklic the second time. In both cases he superbly avoided a touch with the rushing shooters. Fantastic stuff.

Together, the robust rebuttal of Arsenal’s advances continued, through a combination of skillful defence, agricultural mercenary action and sheer luck. Some freekicks were conceded but no bookings – surprise, surprise!! From one of these freekicks, the good guys produced their first clear chance. From about 20 yards out, Santi drilled his kick into the wall and the rebound fell to Sagna on the edge of the box. His first timer glided through the crowd towards the bottom right corner, but Stekelenburg brought off an amazing reflex save, and immediately after from Giroud’s follow-up. Giroud was flagged offside, but the Dutch goalkeeper would not have known. Brilliant play.

In between, nothing much had worked for the Arsenal attack. Wilshere and Gnabry were enthusiastic without much success, Serge attempting three wayward and juvenile long rangers, and Jack trying fancy one-twos with Giroud that, unlike the Norwich game, did not quite work out. Flamini had a quiet game, doing his basic job without producing any moment of inspiration, but almost contributed to a disaster. Almost at the end of the half, Per Mertesacker ran in to head a ball, bending himself low to the ball, and Flamini lent his arm in support. Per dashed into Flamini, hurt his neck and stayed down for an anxious few minutes. To the relief of Arsenal fans, no serious damage was done. The teams went in at halftime all square. Fulham were competent in defence, and Arsenal attacked all half without much conviction. It seemed they could go up another gear, though.

At half time, there were plenty of nerves, and some disagreement among the faithful followers on Arsenal Arsenal who were unlucky not to be at THOF. Clearly, the shape and formation of the team was not quite right. The game was not spread wide. Raddy felt Gnabry should stick to the wing and not fight for space with Santi. Arnie thought, dare I say so, that being the central guy, Özil had the responsibility of moving over when either of Santi or Gnabry moved to the centre. In any case, a job needed to be done. Raddy moved over from lager to wine, Arnie continued to provide bloopers, and Rocky sat down with pen and paper to record Plobert’s errors of commission and omission.

As the second half commenced, Arsenal came out in earnest, trying to use the flanks better and upping the pace of the game. But Fulham continued to provide some potency on the counter, Berbatov holding the ball up well until support arrived from the other players. These attacks were clinically thwarted by the Mertesacker-Koscielny duo, with able support from Sagna and Monreal mainly, and everyone else in the team as well.

10 minutes into the half, Arsenal produced their first significant action. Gnabry provided a moment of individual brilliance, moving in from the right side-stepping three defenders before firing in a low shot which was spectacularly saved by Maarten Stekelenburg. Then, Monreal whipped the ball in from the left, Sagna’s effort was cleared off the goal line. Gnabry poked it rebound forward and somehow Fulham again cleared off the line. The stalemate continued. Nervy times.

The first moment of the Santi magic came on 57 minutes. Santi picked a ball from the left, passed through to Ollie on the top of the box and continued his run in. Giroud took a ball with his back to goal, flicked out a one-touch lay-off into the path of Wilshere, who picked up Santi on his run. Santi, oh beauty, slided in and with his right foot fired into the goal from close-rage. Absolutely lovely team goal. The Emirates erupted in unison, well, except the hapless away fans I suppose. Celebrations ensued. Giroud wrapped his arms around Santi and made some strange arm gestures that I found hard to interpret. Beyond, of course, the unimaginable!!

santi v fulham

Within 5 minutes, there was the second piece of Santi brilliance. This time, with his left foot. Monreal crossed the ball in from the left, and as it was hacked out from the box, Santi rushed in from the right, and fired in from the edge of the box into the corner of the net. 2-0 to The Arsenal.

The march continued, the fans sang loud and clear. Poldi replaced Gnabry, and launched a superb rasper from 20 yards out that was somehow fingered on to the upright by the Dutch goalkeeper. The Ox came on very late and almost got his head to a cross from the left, but not quite.

Still some nervy moments at the end. Mert sauntered on one of his escapades and failed to intercept a loopy cross which Szczesny failed to reach as well. Bent stepped around him and somehow missed from close range. Under pressure from Koscielny of course, who had an absolutely brilliant game. In the final minute, The Ox launched into an agricultural heave at the edge of the box, and off the resulting freekick, the Pole in goal spilled the ball in the first attempt and somehow grabbed for dear life in the second. Szczesny the Savior, on his 100th game for Arsenal as well. Absolutely fantastic performance from him.

Thus the game ended after a nervy extended injury time. Job well done. We are Top of the League. This was a thorough team performance, and the tentative scores reflect this.

Szczesny 8. Superb saves. His was a very crucial performance. Coming out and not reaching the ball in injury time the only major blip.

Mertesacker 6. Good composed performance. Missed a loopy ball towards the end that led to the Bent chance. A couple of other similar errors in judgment that could have proved costly on another day.

Koscielny 8. Superb. One of the true stars on the day. What a great performance, what a big heart!

Sagna 7. Good performance in attack and defence. Two good shots on goal.

Monreal 7. Like Sagna, good in defence and in overlapping. His cross led to the second goal.

Flamini 6. Decent composed performance without being inspirational.

Wilshere 8. Good enterprising and credible performance. Assist for the first goal. Fantastic.

Özil 7. Good performance. Nice interchanges and distribution. Would perhaps be more proactive in organisation of shape and formation on another day.

Cazorla 8. What can you say, except for Wow! Superb. Two goals. The star on the day. Man of the Match! The little master is back.

Gnabry 7. Very good performance. A future star. The development continues.

Giroud 6. A decent day in office. Missed a few chances. Tried a lot of fancy lay-offs that did not work. But one of these did, and it led to the first goal.

Podolski 7. Came on for the final 20 minutes. A superb effort on goal. The rehab continues.

The Ox. Too short to have a score. But nice to have him back. Almost at the end of a cross on the right post, but not quite. However, a terrible tackle in the end that on another day could have proved costly. The rehab has begun in earnest.

What lessons did we learn? Plenty of positives to take. Yes, this is work in progress, yes the loss of Theo is costly, but this is a team where everyone does his bit and steps up on the day. And yes, the conviction that we are resilient in defence and attack, and are not going to give away easy points. The defence and goalkeeping performance was superb. 10th clean sheet in the league, 8 clean sheets out of 9 games at home. Santi coming back to his best, the rehab of Poldi and The Ox continues. Onwards and upwards!

Arnie.


Easier than Spurs?

January 18, 2014

Fulham, should be a stroll but will it?

BR spends much of the day with his head in the clouds pondering upon imponderables and when I sat to start this post it was the name Fulham which interested me. Why are so many places  named …. ham or Ham …..?  Obvious really to a Danish speaker, Ham originates from the Anglo-Saxon “hjem” meaning home or homestead.  ‘Ful’ (in danish *fugl*-silent g) means bird or fowl, so home of the fowls. If one adds another *m* (hamm) it means water-meadow.  As Fulham is on the low lying banks of the Thames shouldn’t it be Fulhamm? I will write to the new owners.

Onto the football. Fulham appear to be in free-fall. Jol couldn’t inspire them and this new fellow is struggling. Will they go down? Much depends upon the form of those around them but with Pulis and Poyet beginning to influence their teams it is highly likely.

Who do you think will be relegated? It is usually a couple of the promoted teams but this season it is almost impossible to predict – at the moment there are just 6 points separating the bottom 11 clubs! My guess – West Ham,  Fulham and Palace (I dislike Pulis and Allardyce and less London derbies).

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Cone-Man and The Barbarian

What can Meulensteen do to stop the rot? Well, the return of Hangeland to his porous defence will be hugely beneficial, the Norwegian may be ponderous ( 😀 ) but he is experienced and Fulham’s defensive leader. We welcome back an old boy who has made a fine career for himself – Steve Sidwell who will line up alongside the deeply distasteful Scott Parker (watch him kick lumps out of our lads), possibly TMHT’s fellow countryman and national captain, Karagounis and some fellows called Kasami and Degajah (sound like types of sushi) or perhaps the old but good loanee Dempsey can add some guile. Taarabt is also available but despite his undoubted talent he remains erratic.

Upfront. Darren Bent likes a goal against the club he supports (AFC) – a few years back I saw him as the successor to TH14 – how wrong was I! Will Fulham play two strikers with Berbs and Bent? Highly unlikely, my guess is they will pack the midfield, play deep, look for a set-piece goal and pray to escape a hammering. If we score a couple early it could turn nasty for the Cottagers.

I don’t want to put a bok on us but Fulham have never won away at Arsenal.

Arsenal:  Still lots of injuries but we continue to put out an excellent team, perhaps Mr Wenger is right when he states this is his best ever squad. Is it? We certainly have depth throughout the squad, particularly if Bendtner improves as cover for Giroud.

Can Cazorla and Podolksi start in the same team given Ozil’s automatic start? It assumes Santi will play centrally with Podolski coming in from the left. Is Podolski clever enough to play the great one touch football Ozil, Jack, Santi and OG play? I believe he is but I also expect him to leave in summer (a topic for another day).

My Team:

arse v ful

I know ……. no Pod and no Cazorla but given the balance of the frontline we have to play Gnabry out right with a licence to cut inside his fullback.

Or Cazorla plays left and Gnabry rides the pine. Or Podolski plays in place of Tomas and Santi plays alongside him. Who knows, we could see a few minutes from Park ! Any injury to a CB will result in Sagna playing CB and Jenks getting a run. Let’s hope that with TV out we can keep both Kos and BFG fit.

This may seem presumptuous but if we do not take 3 points today then we can forget the title. Why? Because this is probably our easiest game of the season apart from Spurs away.

Let’s finish with a story of pride coming before a fall but with a considerable silver lining.

There was a young player who learned his trade in the Arsenal youth team and was hailed as the next Liam Brady. He scored for AFC before his 19th birthday but after  just 9 games he was loaned out to Norwich and Blackburn to “beef up”. Returning to Arsenal he put in a transfer request saying he was being denied a first team place ( as attacking MF’s we had Cesc, Bobby, Freddie, Hleb, Reyes & Diaby). His “reward” was a transfer to Blackburn. Two seasons later and in one of the most bizarre signings of modern times he was sold to a team of North London no-hopers for a massive fee and a 6 year contract worth over £50k a week!! His career highlight was to come at THOF in the skinny cock shirt when he scored an outrageous and incredibly lucky goal in a 4-4 draw. He played a total of 44 games for the first team and that was it for him. A number of seasons in the reserves, a couple of loan deals, including one to Championship Birmingham who refused to sign him permanently and finally the spanish archer from Spurs.

So, why do I bring up David Bentley? Because it fascinates me how someone who has totally screwed up his career (he earned 7 full England caps as a 23 y.o) can earn  over 15 million quid in the last 6 years AND get a £1m loyalty bonus because no-one would sign him – an average wage of £360k+ a game for a very average player!! And what now for a man who is still younger than RVP and Mertesacker? I will tell you …. nothing; no team has offered him a contract.

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“What sin have I committed to deserve wearing this awful shirt?

The moral of the story: Sign for Spurs and become mega-wealthy whilst sitting in your Essex home playing with yourself (I mean playing computer games you mucky people!)

Another big game for Arsenal and Mr Wenger. The bookies have us as 2/9 favourites and they are seldom wrong.

Big Raddy