Goodbye Poldi, Mattie, and who else?

June 9, 2015

Deadwood. We always have them but our current deadwood is quality.

We don’t have a Bendtner or a Denilson (sorry boys I liked you both), instead we have a German International with 123 caps and almost 48 international goals (more than Rooney), a French DM who wowed us on his return from AC Milan but is now well down the pecking order thanks to the excellence of the players in front of him. We have Campbell who had a fantastic WC and is still only 22 but has over 40 International caps. Times have changed.

And who else? No-one in the defence, they are all good enough and young enough. Perhaps Szczesny could go but I for one hope he stays.

Midfield? Apart from Flamster who could go?

Jack? Don’t be silly.

Cazorla? No way.

Ramsey? Are you nuts?

Coquelin? Given his remarkable improvement who is to say that he cannot continue to improve next season?

Arteta? Club captain and the recipient of a contract extension to 2016. Same as Rosicky.

In the forward line there are more possibilities for change. As discussed over that past few days, a new CF would be good  and Sanogo could be sold but why when he has potential and has just turned 22.

Theo? We have done this 🙂

Ozil and Sanchez? To sell them would be completely mad – unless we can get €30m more than we paid for them and even then I hope AW would say Non.

OG? Neigh.neigh and thrice Neigh. Another who is improving every season.

What do you think, who gets the Spanish Archer? (El Bow)

written by Big Raddy


Ramsey – The New Denilson?

April 24, 2013

It was the start of the 2011/12 season. Captain Cesc Fabregas, one of our most talented Arsenal midfielders ever, and the man that the team was built around, had left to join Barcelona. Samir Nasri, coming off an excellent previous season, had gone to Manchester City, Jack Wilshere, England’s great hope, was injured (for what we later discovered would last all season), Abou Diaby was injured. Thomas Rosicky was in an out. Andrey Arshavin had grown fat and unmotivated.

It was a midfield crisis to rival the fullback crisis that hit us later in the season. Wenger was basically left to work with Mikel Arteta, Francis Coquelin, Yossi Benayoun, Alex Song and of course Aaron Ramsey. A midfield triumvirate of creativity and steel from all sides was formed: a creative Song ostensibly as the defensive midfielder, a metronomic Arteta in the middle and poor Aaron Ramsey in the advanced Cesc role. Yes that’s right, less than 10 games back from that horrific, psychologically damaging injury, Ramsey was to replace the great Cesc Fabregas.

ramsey

When I look back in retrospect, I wonder why Arteta and Ramsey’s roles weren’t reversed. Arteta had been a more creative force at Everton and Ramsey spent the 08-09 season playing between Song and Fabregas. It would have taken some pressure off of young Ramsey and onto more experienced shoulders, as well as given Ramsey his preferred role in the team. I guess perhaps, that Wenger was loathe to move Arteta who was preforming his role in the team better than anyone bar RVP. If Arteta had to replace Fabregas, I wonder if he would be receiving the same amount of love and adoration from Arsenal fans that he does today.

And so Ramsey became a source of frustration for many fans. ‘He slows us down’, ‘He’s too often looking for the killer pass rather than keeping it simple’, ‘He just passes backwards and sideways’, ‘He’s simply not good enough for Arsenal’, and of course ‘He’s the new Denilson’. I also wonder whether for some, the painful memory of the collapse during the ‘Do it for Aaron’ title campaign taints their image of the player. I must say at this point that there were some fans who fiercely defended him, and debated for him on the blogosphere, (hands up in the comments if you always believed in Aaron) but they were in the minority. And the more Ramsey was unable to produce the wonders of Cesc, the more criticism he got and the more his confidence and form dropped. A vicious cycle. Ultimately, it was a resurgent Rosicky who saved us in the creative midfield department later in the season.

This season, Ramsey has also frustrated some fans. I think frustrations reached their peak when Wenger was playing him on the wing, in my opinion attempting to achieve the same results as the previous season’s successful experiment with Benayoun on the wing. Some of the abuse of Ramsey that I’ve seen on the internet is staggering. Some have described a seemingly genuine wish that he would again break his leg. This starts to make you lose hope in both Arsenal fans and humanity.

2013 has been much kinder year for Ramsey, and boy is he due a break! He’s hit form, put in some excellent performances and silenced (mostly) his critics. One reason for this, I think, is that Arteta has been made to play defensive midfielder (quite well I think too) freeing up room for Ramsey’s favourite spot especially with Wilshire, who also has a claim to that position (where to play him is another mammoth question entirely), out injured.

This is definitely Ramsey’s most preferred position. But one of the best qualities is his versatility. This season he has played on the left wing, the right wing, as an attacking midfielder, as a defensive midfielder for the injured Arteta (I think playing well here kicked in his excellent form), and even as a full back! He is a very useful player for Wenger to have at his disposal.

Lastly and most importantly, Aaron Ramsey is one of the hardest workers in the Premier League. I am astounded by his running, his Arsenal spirit (beaten only by Jack and Carl and Szszeney) and his determination.

If he is simply a quality squad player who loves to play, can do a job all around the ground and gives everything each time he pulls on the jumper, he is worth his wages. But the great thing about Ramsey is this is his minimum. He is young; there is the potential, with a lot of improvement and hard work, for him to become an exceptional player and a starter. If not, we’ll still have a hard working and high quality squad member, a player every title winning team needs.

Written by Gus


Arsenal Pays The Price For Project Youth …… Twice

June 28, 2011

It is widely acknowledged that the strategy of bringing through young players was the only way for Arsenal to try to maintain their prominence at the top of the Premiership whilst paying for the Emirates Stadium.

It worked brilliantly, mainly due to an exceptional balancing act by Arsène Wenger. We did not flatter to deceive – we deceived, and for 5 years we proved the critics wrong. Managers are often applauded for bring their club up a division; well Wenger’s feat certainly ranks as highly.

I don’t believe the term ‘Project Youth has ever been used by AW or the club and is seen by some as an indictment rather than an accolade, but for the purposes of discussing past and future recruitment, I shall continue to use it here whatever your personal feeling is about it’s efficacy.

Arsène Wenger was the architect of the plan and in truth he was just being pragmatic because he had few other choices. He cites many advantages to bringing through young players together, but it is apparent that his growing frustration in the latter part of last season was due to his disappointment that it had not brought all the rewards he had envisaged.

The sad truth about P.Y. is that there is a sting in the tail. Now that we have established a stable financial model, the team built around Fabregas is beginning to crumble and reinforcements are required.

Herein lies the problem. The wages paid and the erratic performances of some of those players has meant that suitors are not exactly queuing for their services, and when they do, the valuation often falls short of what the club would expect.

From past dealings, it does not appear that Silent Stan is likely to throw 30 million at Arsène for a marquee signing and I doubt the manager would spend it if he did, so the club is in the predicament of either hanging on to players who have disappointed or selling cheaply and therefore reducing the funds available for ‘quality’ replacements.

Arsenal is a top European side who perennially feature in the Champion’s League. We generate vast amounts of money on the pitch and commercially but we play a different game from the other clubs and personally I’d rather buy within our means if SK keeps his promise not to saddle the club with debt. If we had debts like Barca or Manu, I’d be more happy for us to spend money we don’t have – what the hell!!,  but when you’ve trodden one path so successfully for so long, why change?

And so we are in a waiting game. Waiting to see what kind of offers (if any) we will get for the likes of Bendtner, Clichy, Eboue, Almunia and Denilson. Waiting to see who of those we have been scouting are still available if and when we sell. Waiting for Barca to come up with the right offer for Cesc …… which may happen sooner rather than later if  recent reports are to  be believed.

There is a world of difference between selling a player who is no longer wanted in which case the buyer knows he can call the shots; and selling a player who you want to keep. In most cases, you are in the driving seat when you don’t want to sell. Unfortunately, when that player only wants to go to one club, even that advantage is diminished.

I expect Cesc’s departure will trigger the purchase of a replacement midfielder, most likely Ricardo Alvarez, in the same way as Bendtner’s sale will create the funds for the possible signing of Gervinho or A. N. Other striker. Balancing (reducing) the wage bill is every bit as important as finding the money to buy players.

The power lies largely in the hands of others. The clubs we are dealing with know this and it gives them the upper hand. So prepare yourselves fellow Gooners for a frustrating summer. Project Youth was the only choice we had in 2006 and it continues to restrict our choices in 2011.

Written by Rasp


Arsenal’s Smaller Squad in 2011/12?

May 4, 2011

We always say we support any player who dons the prestigious Red & White shirt, but is this really true? In all honesty, what were your thoughts when Mr. Wenger took off Theo on Sunday to replace him with Eboue?  Come on – be honest!

I can tell you my reaction, it was dismay. Not purely as a response to AW’s frustrating habit of trying to defend a lead (more of that another time) but because I really thought I had seen the last of Mr. Eboue in an Arsenal shirt. Following his almost unbelievable gifting of two points to Liverpool and single-handedly derailing our PL chances (OK that is an exaggeration!), I firmly believed his AFC career was over. Clearly Mr Wenger disagrees.

This post is not specifically anti-Eboue, who has given sterling service to the club but sadly is out of his depth, rather it is a glance at why Mr Wenger persists with players who are  not good enough to win us the title.

We have players in the squad who are on huge wages and are clearly not value for money. You know who I mean; there are players on loan who will not make the grade, we have a mass of youngsters who will never earn the kind of wages they are being paid on their current Arsenal contracts and we have established stars who are not earning their daily bread.

Last week Arseblog highlighted the difficulties of selling players who earn wages that lesser clubs cannot match, thus we have to wait until their contracts expire and allow them to leave without a transfer fee – how does this help our situation? All Arsenal’s investment in time, coaching and wages goes to another club for nothing.

Yet this situation has been created by Mr Wenger’s Project Youth and his understandable fear that the quality players will move on if not bound by contract. The Flamini fiasco gave him clear evidence of player power when running down a contract.

Our squad is bottom heavy with too few real world class players and too many players with “potential.” Most AFC fans know the stats, we have one of the cheapest squads yet one of the highest paid. This has to change.

How will AW respond? Will he swallow the losses and sell players in the manner of Man City  i.e. we continue to pay a percentage of their wages. It would stick in the craw but at least they would not be available for selection.

So, will my hopes be dashed by seeing Eboue in our Anniversary shirt or will some kind (and blind) Coach sign him in summer? What has become clear is that AW will not win another PL title with players like Eboue and Denilson in the squad. We need some extensive pruning, and there will be many worried (but rich) players in summer.

Written by BigRaddy


The title race …. will Arsenal wait on amber or go on green?

February 12, 2011

Nothing repeat nothing in football would make me happier than for Arsenal to win the title this season, if one could add the relegation of a Mick McCarthy team life would be even more rosy. Add in  the relegation of a Pulis team and my cup would runneth over (is that a naughty expression?)

Like millions of Gooners I was down-hearted at 5 p.m. last Saturday, despairing of my flimsy team and the imbecility of 3 men in black whom I wouldn’t trust to referee a park 5 -a-side. Who would have thought Wolves would cheer us up? Bottom of the table, managed by a Cro-Magnon man (just check his forehead) and playing a team who were unbeaten – no-one could have envisioned the result (though those with hindsight would point out Wolves fine record against the top sides).

Wolves last 3 victories were against MU, Chelsea and Liverpool – this is going to be no comfortable stroll, but if we are to confirm our pretensions to be Champions this game is a must win. No silly mistakes, no retaliation to what will surely be a very physical battle, and above all no drops in application or vitality. Hopefully last week’s lapse is a thing of the past and not a harbinger of a sad end to our season.

McCarthy is “bigging up” Jamie O ‘Hara saying he will have a major influence upon the game. Get a Grip man! This is a player who couldn’t get into the first team of Harry’s Muppets. That said, I expect us to go into the game with a weakened midfield, so perhaps MM will be right.

Diaby’s reaction last week undid the fine work he put in during the first half (despite the lengthy discussion on AA I still believe he cost us the 2 points). It is a shame as he played well for France midweek and today would certainly have started, instead I expect to see Denilson start. Song is just returning from a muscle injury and with Barca midweek he will surely be rested. Same with Nasri and JD.  Had Sagna not been banned for the midweek game I would have rested him but knowing that Messi will be fearful of playing against a rejuvenated Eboue, Sagna starts.

My Team:

This team will hopefully have enough to get the 3 points on offer. Depending on the fitness of Nasri I would play Arshavin, if there is any chance that Samir will not be fit for Wednesday, I would play Rosicky and rest AA who played a full game midweek.

I guess we willl all be tuned into the midday match. I hope for a draw which should Arseanl win would put us 2 points behind MU and 3 ahead of MC with a game in hand. A loss for MC will surely put them out of the title race. Actually, what I really hope for is an abandoned game due to an 18 man brawl with 5 red cards and a 3 points reduction, but if it is not to be I will take the draw.

England’s first ever automatic traffic lights were erected in Prince’s Square Wolverhampton. This is also the home of the mighty Noddy Holder and Slade. One of my early heroes was the Wolves legend, England Captain and Arsenal manager Billy Wright CBE, whom I once had the privilege of meeting. Another of my football faves was the Tipton Terrier – Steve Bull MBE, they don’t make them like him any more (for which Koscielny will be delighted!).

Let this be the continuation of our 8 match unbeaten PL run.

COYRRG


Goodbye Denilson – written by RockyLives

September 20, 2010

Written  by RockyLives

In a game of many villains for us it may seem odd to pick out one, but I’m sad to say that Denilson does not belong in the Arsenal first team.

Before I elaborate, it’s worth having a quick word for each of the other villains of the piece (and some heroes):

Alex Song: idiot for the first booking (he was carded for the dissent, not for the non-foul). Idiot for the second booking: when you’re in a minefield you don’t start doing Riverdance. Song knew that another booking would mean red yet he kept making niggly fouls. The obstruction that led to his second yellow would be a booking seven times out of ten. Aside from the bookings, he seemed leaden-footed and went marauding forward on too many occasions leaving us vulnerable in midfield, as if his goal against Bolton has made him think he’s Thierry Henry.

Phil Dowd: many people’s hate figure for allowing the Sunderland goal in the fifth out of four stoppage time minutes. But we all know that the official allocation of extra time is a minimum and anything above that is discretionary. After the flak that the ref in the Everton v Man Utd game took last weekend for blowing the whistle during an Everton attacking move it’s not surprising that refs this week were hyper-sensitive to the issue. Anyway, we’ve benefitted in the past from extra-extra time goals ourselves. If I was going to take issue with Dowd (who was generally pretty good) it would be over the fact that Bramble twice scythed down our players on the edge of the box as they bore down on goal and neither foul produced a card.

Rosicky: he had a good game overall, but the penalty miss makes him a villain. However, even the best players fail to convert pens occasionally and there’s no point dwelling on it.

Jack Wilshere:  London made the point on here yesterday that in the first half he was leaking balls like a pair of torn underpants and perhaps should have been rested after the Braga game. He certainly struggled in the first half, but I thought he played very well in the second and, unlike the more experienced Song, was careful not to incur a second yellow.

Andrei Arshavin: will whoever has pinched his shooting boots please return them immediately to Mr A. Arshavin, Ashburton Grove, London N5. No questions will be asked.

Heroes: although Sunderland played really well and made a few half decent chances, Almunia, Kozzer and Squelchy all played well. Up front, Chamakh put in a tireless shift but in the last 15 perhaps he should have been replaced by Vela. Nasri and Rosicky also had good games overall.

And so to Denilson.

Let me start by saying I’m not a Denilson hater and I don’t like scapegoating players. I was at the Wigan game when so-called fans were booing Eboue and I was not one of them.  I was away at Fulham when a 17-year-old Alex Song was shamefully booed by the traveling support and I did not boo then either.

Two seasons ago I thought Denilson was a promising player, tidy on the ball and efficient with his short passing game. He was far from the finished article but, if he continued to progress, he had the potential to end up being a first team regular. What’s more, he was Brazilian and we all know that Brazilians have an extra bit of brain devoted exclusively to footballing skills (it’s in place of the ‘don’t cut down rain forests’ bit of the brain).

Sadly little Den has not progressed and has, in fact, regressed.  Two seasons ago he seemed able to maintain his focus and work rate.  That’s not the case now. He was rightly condemned for some of his woeful performances last year (being overtaken by the ref during a Man Utd break which led to a goal was a particular low point). Looking at his 37 minutes and 15 seconds yesterday it seems he’s learnt nothing from that criticism. In that relatively short space of time I counted three occasions on which the Sunderland player he was challenging did a give-and-go, and Denilson turned to stand and watch the path of the ball instead of going with his man. It was as if he was a spectator while his opponent raced ahead into dangerous positions. Even Sunday League players know that when the man you’re supposedly marking or closing down gives the ball and runs you’re supposed to go with him. On other occasions when Sunderland won the ball in their own half and attacked at pace, you could see most of the Arsenal players sprinting back to cover – apart from one: there was Denilson, jogging gently back as if it was the end-of-game warm down.

To reluctantly steal a quote from Alan Hansen, it’s as if his football brain is not fully developed; as if his awareness of what to do in crucial situations has gone adrift. I feel sorry for him, I really do. I would love nothing more than to see him turn into a world class midfielder. Elements of his game are still good – his short passing in particular – but it’s not enough. He has become a liability and I have no doubt his inattention will lead directly to us conceding goals this year.

I have a sneaky hope that Arsène knows this too, which is why Denilson has slipped down the pecking order behind Wilshere and Diaby (and no doubt behind Ramsey too when he returns).

I will never boo him, I will never barrack him, and when he turns out for Arsenal I will support him, but I fear the time has come to say goodbye to Denilson.

RockyLives


Samba de Denilson

June 11, 2010

If there is one player who divides the Gooners it is Denilson. A young man in whom Mr Wenger continues to have faith in whilst the vast majority see nothing above the ordinary. Why?

Some history. Denilson was born in the poverty stricken favelas of Sao Paolo, raised by his father – his mother dying when he was 10. Footballing ability kept him out of the drug gangs though many of his contempararies died in street gun battles. This is a tough kid. He came to Arsenal on the back of fine performances for Sao Paolo in the Copa Libertadores, as an 18 y.o. reserve team player the fee of £3.4m appears very generous to say the least. Arriving at Arsenal with no English, he must have been terribly homesick and fearful. Denilson seems to be a very shy lad and has consequently struggled to establish his persona on the team.

Denilson has played over 100 games for Arsenal which comes as some surprise. In fact he scored on his 100th appearance – the cracker against Standard Liege. He would seem to be an integral member of Wenger’s squad and as such it is interesting to analyse his input, because many do not see how he improves the team.

AW says of Denilson that he is a cross between Rosicky and Gilberto Silva. He can play “the Invisible Wall”, and be creative. He certainly has a powerful and accurate shot. It is often pointed out that statistically Denilson is one of the most efficient midfielders in the PL, his pass completion is excellent, he is one of the most succesful tacklers and his pitch coverage is also very good – though it is in this area that Denilson has come under the most scrutiny. That the referee beat his trackback for the Rooney goal at THOF last season opened him up to damning condemnation, this was proof of Denilson’s laziness and lack of application. Poppycock. Lack of concentration – certainly, rank poor defending – definitely, but laziness? Not in my opinion. Denilson is one of the hardest working players in the PL ….. and his stats prove it 😉

Of course people say his excellent pass completion is due to him passing sideways and delivering short balls to Cesc or Nasri/Diaby. Well, that is his game and what he is paid to do, Cesc has better vision and part of Denilson’s job is to get the ball to his Captain as often as possible and as quickly as possible.

Our no.15 scored 5 goals in 25 appearances last season and all were from outside the box. Surely this is evidence of his value to the team, for aside from RvP, who else shoots?

What Denilson lacks is the ability to impose himself upon the game, his slight physique is a major negative compared to Song, and he hasn’t huge pace. Nonetheless, he is a fine tackler and it should be recalled that he at just 22 y.o.  he is very young for a DM. Plus he has suffered with back injuries over the past 2 seasons which have hindered his development.

I am not suggesting that Denilson is the answer to our DM problems, but he is a fine back-up and will hopefully continue to develop. He was our 6th highest scorer from only half a season’s games and that from a deep lying position. Furthermore he will surely learn to concentrate for 90+ minutes after his MU humiliation.

As to his future at Arsenal there must be some doubt. The purchase and initial development of Ramsey will caste a shadow upon Denilson’s future. Ramsey (assuming a full return to fitness) is a wonderful prospect and sure to be an integral member of the first 11. He has what Denilson lacks – visibility – you know when Ramsey is on the pitch, whereas Denilson like Silva is “invisible.” Will Denilson accept a bench role?

I see a fine player in the making but a player in the wrong League. Sadly for Denilson, he is too lightweight for his position in the team and Song has proved this. I would keep him for another couple of seasons to see if he bulks up, and to shepherd in the arrival of Ramsey. Then sell him to Spain where I would expect him to have a fine career.


Villains to Heroes ….. it’s been worth the wait!

March 23, 2010

Be honest with yourselves fellow gooners – how many of you at the start of the season would had expected to be in with a real chance of winning the premiership and have the mouth-watering prospect of playing Barça in the quarter finals of the Champions League. Not many I would guess, and if you’re in the mood for confession, how many amongst us have expressed serious doubts (in some cases vitriolic character assassination) over some of our present squad? I have, I’m ashamed to admit.

Song, Eboué, Diaby, Bendtner and Denilson are 5 of the 6 that have come in for the most flak; I shall come to the 6th later.

These 5 players were bought for less than £10m and probably have a combined worth in excess of £50m and rising – not bad business! Let’s look at them one player at a time.

Alex Song: made his debut in September 2005, scored his first goal against pool in January 2007; later that month he went out on loan to Charlton Athletic until the end of the 2006/2007season. From 2008 onwards he has featured in the Carling Cup and been integrated into the first team. He is now first choice holding midfielder. This player has probably caused more disagreement amongst fans than any other, but the quality and consistency of his performances this season have won over even his harshest critics.

My verdict: I can honestly say, I always felt he needed time and would become a great player. I wouldn’t swap him for any player in the world in his position.

Can he get better? – YES

Emmanuel Eboué: joined Arsenal in 2005 for a fee rumoured to be £1.5m. In 2006 he became the first choice right back. In the 2007/2008 season, Arsène announced that he wanted to move EE into right midfield following the signing of Sagna. He has made himself unpopular with some fans due to occassional diving and ‘Drogba-esque’ protest for seemingly innocuous challenges. The low part of his career came when he was booed off the pitch by a section of fans in December 2007.  Since that day, with the sensitive management of AW, he has rebuilt his popularity with the fans (the other players have always loved him) and become a key player at both right back and in the midfield.

My verdict: I had my doubts about his ability to play in midfield but he’s proved me wrong.

Can he get better? – if  he can further reduce his ‘histrionics’ and work on his finishing – YES

Abou Diaby: signed for Arsenal in January 2006 for a fee believed to be in the region of £2m. He had an early setback to his career suffering a broken leg and a dislocated ankle in a match at Sunderland on 1 May 2006. He made his return to first team action as a 74th-minute substitute in Arsenal’s 6–3 victory at Liverpool in the League Cup at Anfield on 9 January 2007. Diaby made progress through the 2008/9 season but lacked consistency and his tendency to dwell on the ball and sloppy passing often let him down.

My verdict: Even at the start of the season I had a few doubts, but he has moved up a level and produced some scintillating performances. His defending is more assured, his reading of the game has improved and he looks very dangerous going forward.

Can he get better? – YES, I expect him to be a world class player in 2 years.

Denilson: errrrr….. next…. No, I jest. He’s come in for some serious abuse at times. If a player is picked for his side and does his best, we should not criticise. He’s not going to say to the manager “sorry boss, I don’t think I’m up to it” His apparently amazing stats have infuriated bloggers who don’t get the same picture watching him on the pitch. He was thrown in at the deep end when injuries gave Arsène few other choices, but he has a great shot and is not afraid to let loose and he works his socks off.

My verdict: with the current crop of players, he’d be a valuable ‘bench player’ for most games. Ramsey would have overtaken him in the pecking order for the midfield slot. He needs to improve his strength in the tackle.

Will he get better? – YES

Nicklas Bendtner: joined in the summer of 2004 and made his debut on 25 October 2005, in a League Cup match against Sunderland. His first prem appearance against Everton on 29 December 2007 was marred when he was sent off for two bookable offences. In the 2007/8 season he was very much 3rd choice striker behind Van Persie and Adebayor who he clearly didn’t get on with as was evident when they had a much publicised dust up in the 5:1 defeat to totnum. This season, he has become something of a cult figure, missing easy chances but never giving up. His work rate and self belief has seen him prove many critics wrong and his goals have come at important times.

My verdict: often has a poor first touch, not always pleasing to watch and obviously needs to improve his strike rate.

Can he get better? – YOU BET, I think he will be a £20m striker by the time he’s 25.

The aforementioned players have all been bought for very little money, had the unwavering support of the manager and battled through adversity, criticism from the media and periods of poor form to become the HEROES who have got us to this unlikely stage of the season………. which brings me to the 6th, and in my opinion most important ‘villain’ – Manuel Almunia.

I am no great fan of the affable Spaniard as a keeper. He lacks the authority to be world class. His poor communication, indecisiveness and propensity to ‘flap’ have made our defence look vulnerable and jittery at times. He is the only one of our regular first teamers not to have played for his national side at some level. But oddly, he has the opportunity to be the greatest hero of them all. He has started with the penalty save against Wham. Can he make up for the howler in conceding the 2nd goal at his near post in the 2006 CL final? Of all the players mentioned, he is the one we need to see step up and prove the detractors wrong (myself included) if we are to pursue the dream of a prem and CL double.

My verdict: I really want to be proved wrong. We need Manuel to play the best football of his life for the next 2 months.

Can he get better ….. can he?