The Curse of the Left

September 11, 2013

Mrs. Raddy was very impressed the other day when I stared at her with what she believed was loving tenderness , though what I was actually doing was thinking about our left side. *

My reasoning was this …… Gibbs, Monreal, Podolski, Ox, all crocked whilst playing out there. Would I be wrong in thinking that both Santi and Mozart also suffered injuries whilst playing on our port side?

images“Please don’t make me play out there, Boss”

Not only that but players who have been shipped out to larboard have suffered dramatic falls from grace. I refer to Arshavin, Gervinho, Santos, Chamakh  and Bendtner (yes, I know the last two are CF’s but they were forced to play out there).

And looking back to recent history, what of Reyes, Hleb, Nasri and Clichy?  All moved on to lesser clubs – OK, Real Madrid, Barcelona and MC may not be exactly lesser but they didn’t succeed at The Home of Football, did they?

What is going on? We haven’t had a happy leftside since  Bobby and Terry. Many talk about Mr Wenger’s blindness to our defence but i it is remarkable that our attacks from the left have come from FB’s or MF’s for a number of seasons.

Will our shiny new German improve matters? From what I read, he is a traditional inside forward with a licence to roam, much like our other three AM’s (Ramsey, Santi, TR). So, is Mr Wenger’s plan to play Cazorla on the left and restrict his movement? I sincerely hope not because Santi, as we all know, is a genius and should be allowed to do whatever he wants (apart from canoodling with Mrs. Raddy).

Podolski is not a left-winger –  pace is not one of his talents . Nor is The Ox, who is yet another attacking MF. We have one coming through in Myaichi, but he is well down the pecking order. Given that Mr Wenger likes to play 4-3-3, why can’t we have an attacking threat like Theo on the left?

*Looking doe-eyed at one’s partner can have a very positive effect upon one’s relationship (unless you start to dribble)

written by Big Raddy

Second string Arsenal slip to narrow loss in Athens

December 5, 2012

For the third year in four Arsenal found themselves in Athens in December playing against the Greek champions with the chance to top their Champions’ League group.

As qualification had already been secured Arsène Wenger decided to rest a majority of the starting eleven from the weekend defeat to Swansea, with the team being made up of mainly squad players or youngsters.

Chesney was in goal with a back four of Jenkinson, Squillacci, Vermaelen and Meade, possibly the shortest player Arsenal have had in recent years, recalling memories of another short left back, Juan.

The midfield was made up of Coquelin, Ramsey and Rosicky behind a forward line of Gervinho, Chamakh and Oxo, who seemed to tuck inside or play a little further back than the two departees for the African Cup of Nations next month.

Despite the Olympiakos stadium with a capacity of 32,000 being less than full the game got off to a noisy start with Arsenal starting calmly, of not confidently with Chamakh winning a fair number of headers and a pattern emerging of Gervinho dwelling on the ball for too long and slowing many attacking moves. That being said, a Gervinho through ball for Chamakh early on nearly led to a shot, as did a pass from Coquelin that found our resident hookah smoker just offside after he was also involved in some defensive headers.

While the Moroccan seemed to be working hard however his lack of sharpness showed with another through ball being wasted due to a heavy touch when he almost beat the Greeks keeper, Roy Carroll, to the ball.

The first good chance for arsenal found Ramsey running onto a Chamakh pull back and then fluffing his shot rather tamely. As ever Ramsey was always showing for the ball even though some of his passes weren’t coming off and was energetic throughout.

After Arsenal’s first period of possession and attacking threat the Greeks were probing our right flank as Abdoum and Torosidis were combining well to set up scoring opportunities, while our left side was being fairly well looked after by the full debutante Meade.

And as well the centre back pairing of Vermaelen and Squillacci seemed to be working quite well, with the skipper in better form than of later with many vigorous clearing headers.

As is typical with football when one side starts to dominate they concede a goal on the counter as was the case here. Despite Gervinho constantly frustrating with making so many wrong choices in attack he cut the ball back for Tomáš Rosický onto and place into the net, 1 nil to Arsenal on 38 minutes.

rosicky scores

With Schalke only drawing at that stage it looked like the unlikely scenario of Arsenal topping the group was on at half time, when it remained 1 nil to the away side, despite a few more forward forays from the Torosidis/Abdoum axis in the last 5 minutes of the first half.

The second half started with Rosický being replaced by Arshavin, and a few early half chances for Arsenal to extend their lead with goal ward headers from Squillacci and Chamakh.

A Chamakh cross after another Arsenal counter attack was too high for Arshavin to do much about; the Russians ariel threat being virtually non-existent.

Olympiakos got more into the game as the half wore on and Coquelin found himself getting stretched to the extent he was given a yellow card for one lunging/grappling tackle too many on Abdoum, who was a menace.

Chamakh’s hard work almost paid off after he stole possession from an opposition midfielder and threaded a ball through to Arshavin who drew a good shot from Carroll.

Then a cross from the Olympiakos led to a headed shot on the Arsenal goal that appeared to come off the post but was called a corner, to the dismay of the furious Chesney, who was booked for his protestations. To rub the salt in the equaliser came from the resulting corner as a ball back into the danger area bounced off the chest of the unfortunate Ramsey into the path of Maniatis to bundle home, one one on 64 minutes.

Sensing a chance for victory Olympiakos brought on their star striker, Mitroglou, who soon worked some space in the area to curl home a snot that put the home side in front and complete a miserable turnaround as far as Arsenal were concerned.

Aside from another Arshavin run and shot and Oxo finding a second wind with some darting runs the home side held onto the ball and ran down the clock to record a win which, in terms of the final group table, meant nothing.


A serious win – Arsenal 6 Coventry 1

September 27, 2012

On Sunday, we faced a side called City that played in sky-blue. And last night, it happened again. Except the City from Coventry is very different to the one from Manchester in one key respect: Sheikh Mansour did not decide to take his country’s cash to the Midlands.

Coventry City were once a proud and persistent member of the top division, ranking only behind Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton for their unbroken run at the top. They managed a couple of sixth place finishes and an FA Cup that every Arsenal fan loved seeing them lift, when they beat Spurs 3-2 in 1987. All of that seems a long time ago now. While the coaching staff includes some familiar faces from Coventry’s happier days, like Richard Shaw and Steve Ogrizovic, Coventry provided pretty weak opposition yesterday.

That being the case, it was a little underwhelming to see our team of youngsters and older guys with something to prove fail to get to grips with Coventry in the first half. Santos aside, no-one played badly, but there was little evidence of dominance against an honest but ordinary lower division opponent, which has a league record of W0, D3, L5 this season and lies joint bottom of League One.

The only moment of satisfaction in the first half was seeing Olivier Giroud break his duck. It was clear from his expression that it was a relief for him too. Once again, he had been given precious little service in terms of viable opportunities to score, before Arshavin and Coquelin combined with first-time passes to send the ball through for Giroud to go one-on-one with the Coventry keeper. Giroud took his chance with a deft chip.

Yennaris (surprisingly playing in central midfield), Oxlade-Chamberlain and Coquelin began to assert themselves before the end of the first half. Arshavin (who was finally being played in his proper position, as a number 10) and Walcott were both pretty low-key in the first half, but stepped things up in the second half. Whereas crosses and through balls were generally over-hit or inaccurate in the first half, the ball was knocked around with more confidence and more effect in the second half, with openings being created against a pedestrian defence.

Giroud was given a chance to get a second, when the referee harshly punished Coventry by awarding us a penalty when Arshavin appeared to have run into a defender more than been bundled over. But before Giroud could take the penalty, there was an amusing interlude, when two streakers got onto the pitch. For one horrendous moment, it seemed the first one was going to go traditional and manage to get all his clothes off, but he had to make do with running around the pitch in boxers and socks. Our stewards tried to look nonchalant about it all, you could almost see them say “Really? You want me to run after him? Bloody hell….” But in the end, the intruders were nabbed and Giroud was allowed to take his penalty. Which he promptly missed.

A second goal came not long after, when Oxlade-Chamberlain cut in from the left, exchanged passes with Arshavin and then sent a powerful shot towards the top right-hand corner and it flew past the keeper’s flailing hand. In truth, the keeper should have saved it, but it was powerfully hit, and the ball’s path may have deviated slightly.

The Chelsea match substitutions were made on the 72nd minute, when Giroud, Coquelin and Oxlade-Chamberlain came off for Gnabry, Chamakh and Frimpong, a folk hero who was welcomed back with gusto.

Arshavin had become increasingly influential through the game, and managed to get his first goal for Arsenal in almost a year to make it 3-0. The little Russian quickly controlled a clever chipped cross from Giroud, who had received the ball from Yennaris, and despatched a little half-volley into the goal. Ten minutes later, after Djourou had failed to convert a good chance from a corner, the very tidy Nico Yennaris played a beautifully weighted ball for Walcott to run onto – it was perfect for Theo; the ball in front of him, the centre-backs behind him. The Wannabe Striker had been gagging for a goal, and had been hogging the ball at times when he should have passed the ball. This time, however, in his optimum position, he sent the ball past the keeper and into the far corner. 4-0.

Then Coventry had their moment. Their captain, Carl Baker, had been the only Sky Blue suggesting he had had something to offer creatively, and on 79th minute he sent across an absolutely beautiful cross from the right-hand side. Carl Jenkinson would have been proud of it. It took out the defenders and gave Damian Martinez no chance, with Callum Ball doing the easy bit by converting to give the Coventry fans something to celebrate. If Giroud had been given more service like that since he joined us, I feel sure he would have more than one goal to his name.

A minute later, Serge Gnabry was played in by Arshavin. The young German went for a shot, which hit a defender and went for a corner. Arshavin and Yennaris exchanged passes form the short corner before Arsahvin sent over a pin-point cross, which the always impressive and smooth Ignassi Miquel headed back inside the near post for his first goal for the club. 5-1.

And the best goal of the night was the last one. Theo picked the ball up around the centre circle with a lovely first touch, went past a defender on the outside (yes, he really did), cut back in and across the defender, and once he reached the penalty box, he sent a curling shot inside the far post for 6-1. In truth, he had more time than he would usually get, with the Coventry defenders visibly tiring, but it was a lovely one-man goal nonetheless.

All in all, it was a fun evening. There were good performances from Yennaris, Coquelin, and Miquel; good first team debuts for Martinez, Angha (a centre-back playing at right-back) and Gnabry; a return from injury for Frimpong; good run-outs for Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arshavin, Djourou and Walcott; a goal for Giroud; and no injuries before the weekend. Chamakh was anonymous for most of his 20 minutes. The only really bad performance was from Santos, who looked way off the pace, and whose use of the ball was distinctly un-Brazilian. But hopefully, he was blowing away some cobwebs, he can play a lot better.

And next up is an away trip to Brian McDermott’s Reading.

More significantly, there is Saturday’s game against the suddenly creative Chelsea. Last night’s game does not tell us much about how well placed we will be for that game, but it can’t hurt to have just won 6-1.

Here are my ratings for the evening’s performances:

Martinez: 7

Angha: 7

Djourou: 7

Miquel: 8

Santos: 4

Yennaris: 8

Coquelin: 7

Walcott: 7

Arshavin: 8 MOTM

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8

Giroud: 7

Frimpong: 7

Chamakh: 6

Gnabry: 7

Written by 26may1989

And this match report from LB who was also at the game

Goal Fest at the Emirates

Arsenal cruised past Coventry on an entertaining night to secure our place in the forth round of the League Cup. Fifty eight thousand people turned up for this third round tie, incredible when you think of what a drab fixture this looks at first sight. Of that number, forty five thousand were Arsenal supporters; it was great to see so many fathers having a chance to take their young sons or daughters, more and more a rarity nowadays which is obviously a great shame.

When we whoop the opposition so convincingly I feel comfortable speaking well of the opposition fans and it has to be said that Coventry turned up in numbers, eighteen thousand to be exact. No doubt many a father took his son or daughter regaling stories as they made their way down of the day when they beat Arsenal 3-0 on the opening day of the season all that time ago. It was after all their cup final and they played a huge part in making the atmosphere as good as it was.

The team selection made sense; giving the captaincy to Djourou was inspired, I am sure it is not easy keeping someone as talented as he happy playing the role of forth choice CB. Wenger included three players who needed to prove something: Giroud, Arshavin and Thierry Walcott, these three drove the show forward. The Ox has nothing to prove so does not fit into that category; he just played for fun and was a joy to watch.

The back line was as expected apart from the inclusion of Anger who I am afraid was poor. Santos came to life in the second half leaving only Miguel who was my man of the match. I should explain how I make my choice of MOTM, on Sunday for example The BFG was described as “imperious” (Chas) I agree, but I expect that from him, what I didn’t expect was Ramsey to raise his game as much as he did and because of that I would have given the MOTM to him. Against Coventry Arshavin ran the show he shone above all else, but once again I expect that from him, it was only Coventry after all but Miquel played over and above what I expected, scoring a well placed header to boot.

If I had one little complaint I think Wenger was a bit too cautious playing Coquelin and Yannaris, both defensive minded players, in front of the back line. I would have preferred to see Eisfeld who is more attack minded rather than Yannaris who was average on the night, a description far less glowing than the reports he receives when he plays right back.

Arsenal were in charge from the outset, the only surprise was that it took so long to get off the mark, half chances fell here and there until Coquelin stabbed the ball past the Coventry back line for Giroud to run onto with his left foot; the conditions were so perfect that the rarest of rare orchids would have flowered and unsurprisingly Giroud chipped the goal keeper and a huge black monkey leapt off his back as he turned to celebrate his first goal for Arsenal not long before the break.

Wenger was obviously taking this game seriously by his team selection but I am sure he would have liked a cushion as quick as possible so that he could get key players off ready for Saturday. The opportunity to put some distance came when Arshavin was brought down in the box and the referee correctly awarded us a penalty. The Ox ran to pick up the ball and then protectively went to the spot in hope of taking it himself only to be met by Giroud who pulled rank or something like that and insisted on taking it.
Goal number two looked a certainty but the conditions were not right, orchids did not flower and Giroud missed, the monkey that had flown off was only circling and came flying down to resume his place on the Frenchman’s back. Giroud mopped for the rest of the game.

This minor irritation was quickly put behind us as the Ox showed everyone how to do it, launching an exocet of a shot that flew past the Coventry keeper to make it 2-0. Arshavin scored the third with a sublime take and tap in. This opened the flood gates and even Thierry Walcott scored a brace.

This all bodes well for the next round in which we play Reading on the last day of October

Written by LB

Heroes and Villains: Match preview.

March 24, 2012

Imagine this: 2010. You support a club which has won the European Cup, your team has a wealthy American owner , they are Wembley regulars and are usually in contact with the League leaders, they are managed by one of the best PL managers (O’Neill)  and have some decent players in the squad.

Move forward a couple of years to 2012. Suddenly your club is owned by a  man whose personal fortune has diminished from 1.5 billion to less than the cost of your new striker. They have taken on a manager from your hated rivals with a football policy that harks back to the ’50’s, your club is over 50 million in debt, and sit 15th in the PL with little hope of improvement.

A Face like the Smell of Gas

Just think …. there are Gooners who think Arsenal have problems!!!

Aston Villa are one of those clubs almost everyone has a soft spot for. A family club with good traditions. Decent ground, decent supporters, no real challenge for The Arsenal (we have lost to them twice since 1999) – what is there not to like? OK, they beat us at The Emirates last season but we were awful that day, with Darren Bent scoring twice in the process of relegating poor Squllaci to the reserves

This season we beat Villa in a tight game with Benayoun scoring in the 87th minute. Can’t see Bennie getting a bench seat today. With the return of our first choice MF’s (bar JW) his days are numbered.

 Bennie and Arshavin. Will we see them again

I know many are extolling our fantastic run as a return to the Arsenal of Old but I am yet to be convinced. We were definitely second best at Anfield with the woodwork and Szczesny’s brilliance saving us, and at Goodison we were hardly outstanding. I have said previously  the difference is that we are getting the breaks which we certainly didn’t get earlier in the season when we hit the woodwork over and over again, and got beaten by teams who had 2 0r 3 shots on target all game. Luck matters, it is often the difference in a tight game.

My Team:

Having an almost full squad to choose from is a luxury we have not had for some time (1982?). Mr Wenger has options in almost every position which makes guessing the team considerably more difficult. The back 5 pick themselves though I expect to see Santos get some pitch time – he will be important in the run-in. The Gerv/Ox position is difficult. Ox plays deeper and can help the midfield more consistently than Gerv, but Gervinho is better on the break and we can win this game with pace.

Unlike the Everton game I do not expect an 8 man midfield battle. I expect AV to park the bus and look to hit us with the ball over the top to Agbonlahor (Bent is injured). In N’zogbia, Ireland and Petrov they have players who can hurt us with clever through balls.

This week’s Gooner. How about another Old Timer?  The writer George Orwell was a Gooner. Born in India he became a fan during the late 1920’s. Orwell then moved to Hampstead and later Kentish Town where he witnessed the great Arsenal team of the 30’s winning absolutely everything. In his Collected Essays he writes of the pride he felt when 7 Arsenal players represented England in a game at Highbury. After WW2, he moved to Canonbury Sq.Islington where he lived until bad health forced him to leave the borough of his beloved team.

Real Man

Another important game today. Whatever the result at the Bridge we have to win. There are tough games ahead and Villa, despite being a decent side, are just the type of team we have to dispatch in what will be a tight contest for the CL places.


written by Big Raddy

Tutto L’Amore che Ho: Forza Arsenal

February 15, 2012

What an exciting and challenging game we can anticipate tonight. A return to the scene of the European recognition  of Fabregas’s genius (sorry GM!). That night is etched in the memory alongside so many other astonishing and unexpected Arsenal victories – win this and we may get a repeat of the TH inspired win in the Bernabeu!

Having won our group we could have drawn an easier opponent because let us be clear, this is not going to be easy. Milan are a much better and younger side than the one vanquished by our heroes in 2008; they are top of Serie A. Unfortunately, their injury crisis  (13 players out in their recent win at Udinese) is rapidly improving, Nesta, Pato, Flamini, Prince-Boateng and Van Bommel return to the squad. Style of play? Allegri has said this of AC Milan’s approach “You can’t always dine on lobster and caviar, sometimes you have to have a ham sandwich”.  Cantona-esque!

I would like to concentrate on just two of Milan’s pantheon of superstars, Ibrahimovic and Van Bommel.

Van Bommel is one hard Dutchman. I remember a Highbury night watching him kick lumps out of our lads when playing for PSV (2004 1-0). He was without doubt the dirtiest player I had seen and it was a miracle he stayed on the pitch. After that night I followed his career with interest because I felt he would be a fine replacement for PV4. Sadly, he moved to Barca where he won a CL winners medal and later moved  on to become the first non-German captain of Bayern Munich. At 32 he moved to Milan and has been an integral part of Max Allegri’s squad.  70 Dutch caps, a league winner in 4 countries, WC finalist, CL winner – one could say he has had a successful career.  Should he play tonight I hope Aaron is wearing extra shin and ankle protection!

Zlatan Ibrahimovich is one of the world’s great players. A man who has never received the respect he deserves from the British press. Scorer of some of the most spectacular goals ever scored (check out Youtube) the Swede has a phenomenal record – at the moment, Ibra is on a run of 8 successive League title wins in 3 countries with 5 different clubs! I think it would be prudent to have a little wager on AC winning the Scudetto this season. During his time at Barca he was the world’s highest paid footballer on €28m a year. Barca paid €70m for him and sold him 18 months later for €24m – which makes the Torres deal look sweet.

“you’ll never play for Arsenal”

In 2001 Mr Wenger tried to sign Zlatan from Malmo but he chose Ajax for a then record Swedish transfer fee. It beggers the question  – who would have been sacrificed for him? Not Henry, so it must have been Wiltord who was going to be shipped out. Ibra has attitude and may have clashed with Thierry but what a forward line that would have been.

My Team:

The loss of BFG is a major disappointment; he is made for games like tonight against a clever but not particularly pacy forward line. Fortunately, we have super replacements and TV is finally back in his natural position. It is ages since we have seen Gibbs get a run of games but he is a super player and a full International, he will not be embarrassed. I would start Arshavin ahead of the Ox, his experience and precision of passing will be important in what is likely to be a tight game.  Expect a big game from Ramsey.

Inventor from Milan: Step forward Enrico Forlanini (if he were still alive). Born in 1847 he developed the world’s first helicopter (powered by steam!) and went on to pioneer the hydrofoil. Milan City Airport is dedicated to Forlanini.

Here’s Looking at You, Kid

Thierry Henry has scored in his final FA Cup game, his final PL  home game, his final PL away game and tonight ……  you would bet against it.  Thierry, whatever happens tonight and in the future, You are The Man.


Written by Big Raddy

Our Bench Is Rubbish! Sunderland Report & Player Ratings

February 12, 2012

There was a point yesterday – just before Sunderland scored their freak goal – when I was thinking: we need to change this game from the bench, but who can we bring on? We have no quality on the bench!

Silly me.

All it took was one Ramsey pot shot, one sublime cross from Arshavin and one trademark Henry finish to prove that Arsène Wenger still knows what he’s doing.

All three had come on as substitutes and they undoubtedly secured the three points for us.

This was a very important win against an obdurate and well organised Sunderland who were the form team in the Premier League going into this fixture.

The performance was even better when you take into account the state of the pitch. It looked as if the Riders of Rohan had just charged over it (perhaps on their way to Stoke to find some Orcs).

We started with arguably our strongest available 11 (I say arguably because it’s a toss-up between Rosicky and Ramsey for the third midfield role) and right from the off we set a pattern that changed little throughout the game: we controlled the ball, Sunderland largely conceded the middle of the park and drew back to just outside their penalty area, we passed and probed but struggled to find a way through, Sunderland relied on occasional breaks and set pieces.

No doubt some will damn the team for our inability to conjure a way through the massed Black Cat ranks. Perhaps we missed a bit of Fabregas magic – expelliamus parkbussimus – but I prefer to credit the Sunderland defending.

They gave no space at all to Prince Robin, nor to our two wide men, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Every time any of those three got the ball there were at least two men on them.

Chances were few and far between, although Theo did manage to get away from his markers on one occasion and fire a low shot across goal, but it went past the far post.

Despite the lack of goal scoring opportunities our defence was looking solid (even from set pieces), while Song and Arteta were doing a great job of providing an extra shield in midfield and Tomas Rosicky was as busy as he was against Blackburn last weekend.

The one big scare was when Mertesacker slipped in the box while dealing with a speculative through ball.

For most players the ball would have bounced over their head and out for a goal kick, but for the BFG it arrived at chest height, so naturally he chested it down. But, as he did so, he caught his foot in one of the horse divots and stumbled.

The ball bounced up and onto his arm. It was certainly not deliberate and certainly not ‘hand to ball’ but you do see them given – particularly when the penalty would favour the home team. Full credit to the referee, Neil Swarbrick, for not being swayed by the Mackem hysteria.

By half time it was pretty obvious that this was going to be a tight affair and that one goal might nick it.

The second half started much the same as the first. Sunderland had a couple of decent low shots from around the edge of our area. Szczensy did well to save both (one down to his left, then a more difficult one down to his right that hit a mole hill just in front of him).

It was a credit to the lad that he was sharp and focused when called into action, having had little to do up to that point.

Up front we were still probing with all the effectiveness of a blind gynaecologist. Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain were becoming even more peripheral than they had been in the first half, and, on 66 minutes, Arsene decided to make a change, bringing off Oxo for Thierry Henry.

Within four minutes we were behind. A rare Sunderland attack was tidied up down our right flank with Sagna shepherding the ball back to Mertesacker, who was running towards his own goal and had the simple task of rolling the ball back to Szczesny or across the park to the unmarked Koscielny.

Unfortunately the BFG injured his ankle as he turned and went down as if shot.

McClean, for Sunderland, showed brightness to keep on running past the fallen German before shooting low across Szczensy into the far corner of the net. I have seen comments questioning whether Chezzer might have done better, but the shot was hit very hard and from close range. Not his fault.

However, it was a freak goal and I was cursing our terrible luck. From a completely innocuous situation, suddenly, we’re a goal down. I really do think it’s time Arsene started going to church.

Given how tight the Sunderland defence was, I was doubtful as to whether we could rescue a point, let alone all three.

Ramsey came on for Mertesacker (let’s wish him well and hope for a speedy recovery), with Song dropping back into the centre of defence. And it didn’t take long for young Aaron to make a mark. Just three minutes after the re-start Arteta had a shot from outside the area blocked, the ball cannoned to Ramsey and his low first time shot went in off both posts. Ramsey has his critics, but he never hides and never stops taking shots at goal. It was always only a matter of time before his luck turned for the better.

So, one-all with 15 minutes to go. Would we sit back or push on for all three?

This is Arsenal – of course we would push on for all three. Arshavin came on for Walcott on 86 and immediately looked more dangerous than had either Theo or Oxo (perhaps because the Mackems were tiring after there exertions all afternoon and following their extra time FA cup win on Wednesday night).

As the clock passed the 90 minute mark, our pocket Russian found himself on our left wing with two Sunderland defenders in front of him. He jinked one way then the other, then dinked in a beautiful cross with his right boot. Jinky-dinky loveliness.

And who was there to meet it in the six yard box? Cometh the hour, cometh the legend.

Thierry Henry, who up til that point had had very little influence in the game, ghosted between the Sunderland centre backs to volley the ball past Mignolet in the Black Cats goal.

You can take away the speed, you can take away the stamina, you can take away some of the strength, but you can’t take away the class. A striker’s goal from a born winner. The celebrations among the Arsenal players were a joy to watch. Henry clearly means a lot to these lads, and they to him.

We never looked in trouble after that and at the end it was three points well earned and well deserved.

Player Ratings

Szczesny: Not too much to do but made two very good saves in the second half. 7.5

Sagna: Great to have him back. Unflappable and unbeatable at the back, and contributed a lot going forward. 8.5

Koscielny: He got caught in possession a couple of times but was generally the strong, reliable defender we have come to know and love. 7.5

Mertesacker: Was having a superb game until his unfortunate injury. We need him back quickly because, in my opinion at least, our strongest pairing at the back will be the BFG with one of Koscielny and Vermaelen. 8.5

Vermaelen: Didn’t put a foot wrong but is not able to support the attack as well as an orthodox left back would. 8

Arteta: Another fine game, controlling the ball from deep, covering our defence and instigating forward moves. He is our metronome. 8

Song: A real warrior’s performance from Alex. He misplaced a few through balls when looking for defence-splitters, but after his success against Blackburn last week you can’t blame him for trying. And his all round work breaking up Sunderland moves and powering us forward was exemplary. Can’t be blamed at all for Sunderland’s goal (sorry Peaches). 8.5

Rosicky: Finding some form at last. Was very combative, if a little wasteful with his passing at times. 7

Oxlade-Chamberlain: It’s not going to be a fairy tale every week at this stage of his career.  Had a couple of decent runs but was effectively marked out of the game. 6

Walcott: He saw more of the ball than Oxo but did little with it. Games like this, with banked lines of defenders sitting deep, are not the forum for him to shine. 6

Robin van Persie: Didn’t get much of a look-in. One second half header could have been dangerous but looped straight into Mignolet’s arms. Nevertheless, the fact that he had two or three players marking him at all times undoubtedly helped other players to find space at times. 7


Henry: Did nothing for 25 minutes then scored the winning goal. I’m making him man of the match partly for sentimental reasons and partly because he made the most valuable single contribution on the day. 9 MoTM

Ramsey: A brilliant cameo from Aaron. He was everywhere in his 22 minutes and scored the goal that brought us back into the game. The many critics will, in time, have enough egg on their face to make an omelet the size of Wales. 8

Arshavin: Little Andrei looked energetic and direct when he came on and provided a beautiful cross for Thierry’s winner. Perhaps he has reached rock bottom (in the Man Utd game) and is coming out the other side. I really hope so. 8


Arshavin is Gone

January 24, 2012

This comment about Andrey Arshavin, made to Sky Sports by Nigel Winterburn (apparently), speaks volumes about his future at Arsenal:

“It does look at times that he doesn’t want to be in this country and I think the way that the winning goal was set up for Manchester United – you expect a player in that position to have focus and make it hard for the winger.”

For the manager to (a) effectively blame Arshavin for Manchester United’s winner and (b) speculate that he is not happy in England is a clear statement that the pocket Russki’s time at the Emirates is up.

It is unlikely he will go before the end of January (although I would not be completely surprised if that happened). But there is no way he will be here for the start of next season.

And when you factor in the damaging psychological impact of the booing that accompanied his appearance in Sunday’s game, his departure may be best for all concerned.

It’s bad timing for little Andrey, what with panto season coming to an end and all that, but no doubt we’ll make a few bob on him when he goes (or a few roubles, more likely).

It’s sad, really.

I know that the majority of the booing was directed at the boss and his decision to remove our most dynamic attacking player rather than at Andrey himself, but it still must have felt to Arshavin like a knife in the guts.

Or as if someone had stolen his plate of borscht.

For a man whose confidence was already lower than John Terry’s morals, it just served to push him further into the rut he’s been in for the best part of a year.

In the past I have written posts speculating that Andrey was about to rediscover the form that saw him put four goals past Liverpool at Anfield; that he would fire into life and be the secret weapon to catapult us to silverware; that the departure of Fabregas and the Fat French Benchwarmer would provide the perfect opportunity for him to step up and fill the “class” gap.

I was wrong.

As secret weapons go, Andrey has proved to be as deadly as a sawn-off bath bun. And there’s been no firing into life – just more and more damp squibbery (not to be confused with damp squillacery, which is a whole other category of offence).

However, I don’t think that Arshavin’s poor form is solely down to lack of confidence and/or homesickness.

For some reason a lot of Russian players seem to peak early (around the age of 30). Andrei Shevchenko was the best striker in the world when he joined Chelsea, but quickly became an also-ran.

Sergei Rebrov was also a very good player before he went to the Theatre of Screams, but never achieved a high level there or afterwards. Pavlyuchenko remains a bit part player.

And even though Arshavin is captain of Russia, his performances for the national side have attracted a lot of criticism in his homeland over the last two years.

In other words, I think he is over the hill; he will be 31 in May and his powers are waning. Some top players can stay at a high level well into their 30s, but not many Russians do.

Arsène Wenger, with all his statistics and record-keeping, must know this and will surely offload him while we still might get some money for him.

He was a great signing when he arrived and he has given us some fantastic moments (that goal against Barcelona will live for ever in the memory) but it is time to say “do svidaniya”*.


*Russian for “goodbye”.