Match report …..Viva Ramsey!

September 23, 2013

I make no apologies for saying that I dislike Stoke City. Hardly an original view from an Arsenal fan, but about the only thing I can think that commends them is the time spent in the Potteries by the great Lee Dixon and Steve Bould, before they found their way to the home of football.

That is not nearly enough to outweigh my resentment for the wilfully reckless maiming of the then teenage Aaron Ramsey, and especially the way in which the Stoke fans revelled in that incident in the years since, even baiting the young victim. Stoke’s destructive fear of real football, shown up most effectively by Swansea’s success in combining financial caution with quality football, only underlines why Stoke are a club to wish bad things for. True, Mark Hughes has brought a reintroduction of football at Stoke, but I’m not one to forgive and forget.

Arsenal came to the game on an excellent run: one defeat and two draws in 18 competitive games, two defeats and three draws in 20 PL games, a defence that has got into the habit of almost never conceding more than one goal in a game etc etc. The game was always going to be significant for two things: the Ramsey factor, given the opposition and the Welshman’s form this year; and the home debut of the refined and expensive talent that is Mesut Özil. And on both counts, things went well.

Ramsey v stoke

In the fifth minute, Jack Wilshere’s run at the Stoke defence drew a foul from the busted flush that is Charlie Adam in a perfect area. Adam’s incompetence put Özil in a position to line up a good shot on goal, one that Begovic didn’t handle well, pushing it out in front of goal and into the path of the boy wonder, Aaron Ramsey. Watching him able to lord it over the Stoke fans in his celebrations was exquisite. And that was reflected in the chants of the Arsenal fans, who loved ramming it down the Stoke fans’ throats.

We continued to control the game pretty much throughout the first half, but against the run of play Stoke produced their one moment of quality when Gibbs ceded possession on the flank and the ball broke to Steven N’Zonzi. His floated diagonal ball was perfectly weighted and was despatched early enough to deny the defence a chance to set themselves properly. When Arnautović met the ball first time, he was unlucky to hit the post, but it ricocheted into the path of one of those hardworking American players, Geoff Cameron, whose shot was carefully placed beyond Szczesny’s reach.

Sanity was restored before halftime, once again from a dead ball. The Stoke centre backs, Robert Huth and lovely Ryan Shawcross, players unable to do their jobs without cheating, were so intent on manhandling Giroud and Koscielny in the build-up that Stoke neglected to cover Mertesacker. The BFG was easily able to evade the cover assigned to him, and looped Özil’s perfect corner to the back post. With Koscielny running interference to confuse Begovic, the ball dropped into the net. Hey presto, 2-1 up.

Mert celebrates with Rambo and Ozil

The tempo dropped in the second half, which was perhaps unsurprising after the team’s wonderful efforts in Marseille. But fortunately for us, we weren’t facing a side that had the ability to exploit that. Jones was largely isolated and when Hughes subbed him, for some reason he passed over Peter Crouch, and preferred to put Mark Walters up front, which was an odd decision. But, without another goal, we remained vulnerable. That goal arrived from yet another dead ball, a free kick that was once again won by Wilshere driving at the Stoke defence, who were only able to terminate Jack’s run by taking him out. This wasn’t shooting territory for Özil but he floated a ball across the penalty area, where the goal machine that is Bacary Sagna was able to outjump his two opponents and loop a header over Begovic and into the far corner.

Sagna celebrates

And so it was that we were returned to the top of the early season league table. With Man United’s embarrassing capitulation to City, we are already five points clear of van Persie’s team, but the other good sides are clustered together. It was a shame to see Spurs win in injury time, but I do enjoy seeing the two North London clubs at the top, with the good guys in poll position.

We will see much, much better performances from Mesut Özil than yesterday’s, but, even while he’s adapting to a new team and a new league, he was able to provide three assists. It was a quiet, efficient win yesterday, but, even beyond winning three points in a game against a disliked opponent, there were numerous positive aspects for us: Arteta’s return to the fray, Gnabry’s energetic and fearless performance (which meant we were able to cope without Walcott), the solidity of the defence (after the frayed edges shown against Sunderland), selfless hard-work from Giroud and Flamini and a good performance from Wilshere. But the greatest satisfaction came from seeing Ramsey score and play well against our bêtes noires. Viva Ramsey!

Written by 26may

Player ratings by LB

Szezcney: I have never played goalkeeper and because of that I have never professed to know too much about that position but every part of me shouts that this keeper is the real deal; another good game. 8

Sagna: definitely one of his better games, back to where he plays best with the BFG next to him. Patrolled the line well and scored a goal to boot. 8

Mertasacker: Captain on the day, steered the ship from the back with calmness and authority. 8

Koscielny: these two CBs remind me of Adams and Bould, the BFG being the former. On the rare occasions that Adams didn’t play you got to see the actual ability of Bould and realised then just how good Adams made Bould look. Laurent had a perfectly good game but a BFG he is not. (yet) 7

Gibbs: Ramsey may rightfully be the player who has received all the accolades for being the most improved player this season but there is no doubt that the second most improved is Kieran Gibbs; that said, yesterday was not one of his better days. In the first half he was a bit too slack at times. 6

Ramsey: how is it possible to praise him anymore, he was by some distance the best player on the pitch for the first 45 minutes, scoring yet another goal, and celebrating in front of the Stoke fans. He faded a tad in the second half which is the reason I have not given him the MOTM but still another great day at the office. 8

Flamini: after watching him three times on TV I was close to concluding that our second most important signing was no more than a 2013 version of Giles Grimandi: a jobbing utility player; well, yesterday I saw him in the flesh for the first time and realised I was wrong. His passing, his positioning, his tackling were superb; none of them world class; but, a bit like his career path; he really knows how to make the most out of the limited ability that he has. A very impressive game and a worthy MOTM. 9

Wilshere: one step forward, two steps back; he was not at his best yesterday, I got the feeling that he was filling in because others were injured, had Rosicky or Cazorla been fit, Jack would have certainly been on the bench; still, what he lacked in fitness he made up for in a determination. 7

Gnabry: I was going to tear into the young German but having read a few comments from some of the more esteemed regulars on here, arguing that he is not a winger, maybe I should hold fire. Nevertheless, he was poor in the first half, he slowed the play down almost every time he got the ball, when a simple pass was possible he tried to show off. It is, of course, early days, but this is a match report on yesterday’s game and yesterday, in my opinion, he was not very good. 5

Giroud: his passing is improving, his control is improving and his positioning is improving, he always works like a Trojan and yesterday was no exception. 8

Ozil: Three assists on his home debut. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I went with my Mrs who asked when he ran close to us to take a corner: why are they all standing and clapping before he has even taken the kick, to which I replied — for just being. 8

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Time to forgive, Arsenalistically

September 21, 2013

During the summer, before the last act twist of the transfer window, the sentiments in the picture below were in my mind, as they were in the minds of other gooners. I tweeted this with the question, was it time for me to move on from that view or not?

BTYqyybCEAE4RFp.jpg large

The answers I got were as polarised as you’d expect on twitter with the answers being either: ”of course it is, stop being negative and get behind the club” or “it’s only a one off bit of spending, the club will be soon back to its normal stingy ways in January”.

As ever how I felt falls somewhere between the two stools however it did occur to me that maybe my (not so) private slating of Wenger/the board/Gazidis was a bit unwarranted in hindsight. A bit of perspective between the events and when you look at their context will give you some chance of a less emotional valuation of a situation, even if following a team is, by it’s nature, full of emotive subjectivity. That and being relentlessly bombarded lame media’s need to cause outrage amongst a fanbase by being “less than truthful” with facts in its reporting.

Similarly my reaction to Flamini’s use of our training facilities to get fit a month ago seemed like being overly helpful to someone who left us in the lurch after promising to sign a new contract all season long.

Admittedly it is early days but he has done a job so far that, given Arteta’s absence, cannot be undervalued. Again, was I too quick to turn on the venom? By May next year we’ll know how useful an acquisition of this Marseille man with the Corsican ancestry will turn out to be.

In time I’ve learnt to forgive Cesc, to a degree, for how he left us as he hasn’t denigrated the club and always spoken well of it but his behaviour has seemed better in comparison to that Cutch Dunt who is now residing in Salford playing for a wrinkly faced Gollum who as shown below is out of his depth. Needless to say St Nick will be commuting to work on skis before I forgive that Dutchman.

funny-david-moyes-man-utd-meme

So, how forgiving are you, who of our ex players will get the hate and who will get the adulation that you previously thought you wouldn’t give?

By ChärybdÏß1966


Yes, Arsenal Can Win The Title

September 3, 2013

Dontcha just hate those last minute panic buys :-D?

Now I don’t want to seem parochial, but it’s impossible to separate the closing moments of the transfer window from the North London Derby that took place barely 24 hours earlier.

Before the game against the Shadow People, the cacophony of premature triumphalism from N17 was deafening.

The Spuds’ fans were eager to tell us how they had spent more than £100m on new players while our outlay made Scrooge look profligate. Inevitably (according to their logic) we would be drowned by a tsunami of banknotes when they pitched up at The Emirates.

But character is never eclipsed by cash, nor class outshone by gaudy trinkets: Arsenal 1, Totteringham 0.

Imagine being a Spud this morning.

It’s like you’ve spent the past week going round to your next door neighbour, giving it large:

Spud: “I’ve got a new bicycle. Let’s have a race.”

You: “No thanks.”

Spud, the next day: “I’ve got a new bicycle and now I’ve got a new horse. Let’s have a race.”

You: “No thanks.”

Spud, the next day: “I’ve got a new bicycle and a new horse and a new moped. Let’s have a race.”

You: “No thanks.”

Spud, the next day: “I’ve got a new bicycle and a new horse and a new moped and a new Ford Fiesta. Let’s have a race.

You: “No thanks.”

Spud, the next day: “Er… hello.”

You: “I’ve got a Ferrari. Let’s do it.

Answer me this: would you swap the £109m of New Potatoes that have arrived in N17 this summer for Mesut Ozil?

I wouldn’t.

Ozil is a world class player of a calibre that has not been signed by Arsenal since the arrival of a certain Dutch deity back in 1995 (yes, nearly 20 years ago).

Other Arsenal players have turned into superstars after joining us (Henry, Vieira, Fabregas, Brave Sir Robin) but Ozil is the first player to join as a bona fide genius since Dennis walked across the Caledonian Canal and into the Marble Halls, pausing only to distribute loaves and fishes to the masses.

So now we know the squad we have for the season ahead (notwithstanding the potential for reinforcements in January).

I would not say I’m 100% happy with it. I would have preferred an extra centre back and another centre forward to provide cover for Ollie G. But on balance I feel we’re in a good place.

Here are our main options:

Goalkeeper: Szczesny, Viviano, Fabianski.

Fullback: Sagna, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Monreal (Flamini).

Centre Back: Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen (Sagna).

Midfield: Wilshere, Rosicky, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla, Flamini.

Attack: Giroud, Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Walcott, (Sanogo/Bendtner).

Good enough to win the league?

You bet!

It doesn’t mean we WILL win the league: there are far too many variables for that to be said with any confidence. But I feel convinced that in this campaign, when it comes to the business end of things, we will be in the mix for top three, not for fourth/fifth.

Despite the angst of most Gunners, I would have been feeling modestly confident even if we had signed no-one yesterday.

Even before Ozil’s arrival our first 11 was becoming a match for anyone. The players are on an amazing run (only one defeat since March 3rd) and their belief is starting to become self-reinforcing: they work for one another and they trust one another. They have started to refuse the notion of being defeated. I’m sure our young British core (all re-upped in their contracts during last season) are central to this resurgence, supported by the experience and character of players like Arteta and Mertesacker (and now Flamini).

Of course, we can’t win the league if other teams are better than us. So how have our rivals fared in their summer transfer dealings and how are they shaping up for the challenge ahead?

Let’s consider them all, even the not-really-rivals like the Spuds and Liverpool.

Totteringham: they have lost their best player and replaced him with lots of half-decent players who will take a considerable time to adjust to the EPL and to playing alongside each other. I expect them to come good after Christmas, but by that time they will have dropped too many points to be anything other than outsiders for the Champions League positions. They are still crying out for a top creative central attacking midfielder or number 10.

Liverpuddle: whoop-de-doop! They have won their first three games of the season! This could be their year, right? Wrong. Their manager is a plank and their frailties will become apparent soon enough. Any team that thinks Kolo is the answer has clearly not been listening to the question.

ManUre: this could be a great year for the ManUre-haters (hello Chary). Their inept performance in the transfer window shows that the club has lost any remaining pull since the departure of the aubergine-hootered Jock. To be honest, United’s stock was already on the slide in Europe before Ferguson’s exit because, despite their domestic successes, it was obvious to everyone that they were no longer capable of competing with the top teams from Spain, Germany and Italy. There is nothing about Gollum that suggests he is any way suited to halting the slide. Fellaini is an OK signing – but he’s not what they need (indeed, as I said recently, he’s not as good as Ramsey). They needed Fabregas and he told them to eff off. They needed Ozil but he took a good look at the individuals alongside whom he would be playing and chose Arsenal instead. I expect United to fall out of the top four this year.

Chavski:  the Special Needs One is back and it would be a brave gambler who would bet against Chelsea having a decent season. They will definitely be in contention and will be one of our biggest rivals, even with Will-I-Am playing attacking midfield.

ManCiteh: they have a well respected coach, an embarrassment of riches on the playing side and gazillions of money. I happen to think that they will be neck and neck with Manchester United for the “who can fall out of the top four fastest” contest. As Arsenal showed against the Reprobates – money can’t buy you team spirit.

Conclusion: “It’s up for grabs now.”

And this is where the Mesut Ozil signing comes in: it’s not just about making a brilliant addition to our squad. It’s about providing a huge lift to those amazing Arsenal players who have been doing so well week in and week out for 15 matches.

Arsene Wenger has said to those players: “I trust you – but to enable you to reach the highest heights I am adding a true superstar.  I want to match the ambitions you have for yourselves and for our club.” Ozil will make the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey and Walcott even better.

I am glad there is no Cabaye. My faith is in Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta, Flamini et al.

I am sort-of glad there is no Benzema, whose presence (and no doubt insistence on playing time in a World Cup year) would relegate the ever-improving Giroud to the bench.

Meanwhile, Ozil’s signing also makes a statement to our rivals: no defender will feel comfortable when they see him lining up against them in the EPL. After all, who wants to be next in the Nutmeg Hall of Shame that makes up any Ozil YouTube compilation?

So, has Arsene played the transfer window in a masterful way?

I doubt it. With the thin-ness of our squad and the swathe of early season injuries it doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to think we could have failed to qualify for the Champions League (in which case, no Ozil) and might have struggled against Fulham and the Spuds.

Next season I would be much happier if the major business was done before the start of the season, not before the end of the window.

But somehow our professorial leader has ended up the winner in this summer of frenzied speculation and occasional action.

His late, emphatic move for Ozil makes Villas Boas look like a spendthrift hoarder of cheap tat and makes Moyes look like a boy trying to sit at the men’s table while secretly weeing himself with fear.

I’m not a great one for “I told you so”, but after the general gloom that followed our opening day defeat to Aston Villa I wrote a Post urging people to keep things in perspective. All teams – even the greatest – occasionally lose games that they shouldn’t. I just felt people were reading too much into one defeat that was largely down to dodgy refereeing, and unnecessarily writing off our season before it had begun.

However, I did add: “I am also confident that good players will be brought in (if they are not, I will be singing a different tune).”

Since then, Flamini, Viviano and Ozil have arrived.

For me, the song remains the same.

The title is there to be won. Let’s do it.

RockyLives


Confounding the Critics : Arsenal 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0

September 2, 2013

This is not a match report, its a bunch of ramblings from a very happy Gooner with no real structure.

Lets start as we mean to go on, with a bloody good laugh. Laugh at the media, laugh at Levy’s £109m investment, laugh at AVB sprinting down the touch line to tell Kyle Walker to launch the ball in to the box because he was too thick to realise it was 30 seconds to go, laugh at all those who say Arsene Wenger doesn’t do tactics.

Yesterday our wily old Frenchman won the tactical battle, and the players executed it perfectly. Looking at the line ups it appeared that Spurs had been set up to create a solid defensive unit and to spring counter attacks using the pace of Townsend and Chadli feeding Soldado (I’m glad at this point the teamsheet is there as it indeed shows that they had a centre forward on the pitch £28m worth apparently).

Wenger had a trick up his sleeve, their midfield three lacked mobility, so Wenger set us up not to push too high, their attacking three were isolated and red and white shirts crowded them out and regained possession with relative ease. And when we won possession we had the pace and numbers to look threatening running at the heart of the Tottenham defence.

Wenger was rewarded by his players with a beautifully fashioned goal, at pace the ball was pinged around and players moved with intent, Theo was set free down the right with Spurs defenders not knowing who to mark, Giroud pulled Dawson this way and that before darting towards the near post to produce a deft finish to the bottom corner from Theo’s accurate cross.

giro goal

After the goal we were content to continue the game plan, sitting deep, defending strongly and maximising use of the football when we had it. We were so comfortable that AVB started to change his team pushing Paulinho further forward, which just gave us more room to play forward when we did have the ball.

Despite having very little possession we continued to look threatening on the break, a better pass or a better touch at the crucial moment and we could have had a second.

Just before half time Jack Wilshere was removed feeling unwell and was replaced by Flamini, it wasn’t long before we got to see why it was a “no brainer” for Arsene. Flamini slotted straight in, for the rest of the half and all of the second he was one of the first to press the ball, organising those around him not used to such a battle. Those around him responded, Ramsey, Santi, Rosicky and Theo all prepared to do the more unpleasant side of the game, winning the ball back, fighting for possession.

I haven’t even moved on to the defence yet, they were simply magnificent, Soldado did not get a touch from Koscielny, Chadli and Townsend were kept relatively quiet by Gibbs and Jenkinson and Mertesacker did what he does best, provides calm assurance to those around him and reading the game inside out. And when they did breach the defensive unit Szczesny produced an absolutely top class save.

With players tiring and Spurs throwing more bodies forward it did get a little tense in the last ten minutes. We struggled to clear our lines and hold onto possession further up the pitch, especially once Rosicky and Theo had been replaced by Monreal and Sagna respectively. Giroud had been able to rely on those two for most of the game to be his outlet when trying to hold the ball up, now off the pitch he was looking more isolated but what I think we are all beginning to love about Oli is his work rate, he does not stop competing for his mates. Anyone watch MotD on Saturday night? A certain Mr Berbatov (that player that Arsene should have signed last summer) was sulking around St James’s Park. I know which of the two I’d rather have in my team.

All in all a very good days work, this wasn’t our most fluent display, but it was the kind of performance many of us have been waiting for. So many of my Spurs supporting clients were quick to text me after our defeat by Villa, I’ve kept my powder dry, when should I text, first thing in the morning, or when we’ve announced three super super quality signings?

Ratings:

Szczesny : 9 comfortable handling all game, good distribution especially under pressure and two cracking saves.

Jenkinson : 8 disciplined at right back, considerably helped by Theo occupying Walker

Gibbs : 7 given a bit of a working over by Townsend early on but ordinary service was resumed for the next 70 minutes, not helped by no one occupying Rose.

Koscielny : 9 is he pleased to see us or is that a £28m striker in his pocket.

Mertesacker : 8 leads by example.

Wilshere : 7 not his normal effervescent self but considering illness unsurprising

Ramsey : 9 lead the team in tackles, touches and attempted passes.

Cazorla : 9 the boy is class

Walcott : 8 used his pace to worry Spurs when we had the ball and defended well when we didn’t

Giroud : 9 a great finish, constantly working for his team, goal line block.

Subs:

Flamini : 8 it was indeed a no brainer

Monreal : 7 did what he had to

Sagna : 7 ditto

Wenger : 10 out tacticted the young pretender

Enjoy transfer deadline Gooners bathing in the warm afterglow of a North London Derby win.

Gooner in Exile


Cesc Will Rue The Day He Left Arsenal

July 23, 2011

Not many players leave Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal and thrive.

Look at Alex Hleb.

The ‘new George Best’ sold his soul for a Mr Whippy with extra sprinkles and quickly went from Barcelona to the heady heights of Birmingham FC.

Now, still owned by Barca but not wanted by anyone, he floats in the footballing ether, dribbling in mazy circles to nowhere and declining clear shooting opportunities to his heart’s content.

Matthieu Flamini, after finally having a good season at Arsenal, showed all the loyalty of a two bob hooker and decamped for Milan. One of his main gripes was that he had been forced to play so many games at Arsenal as a left back.

No such problem with the Rossoneri. They played him at right back instead.

Thierry Henry won some gongs when he joined Barcelona, but he was literally a peripheral figure (pushed back out to the wings, from where Arsene had rescued him all those years earlier). A classy, brilliant player, but no-one can doubt that we got the best of him and sold him when his decline had started.

Now he’s some kind of showman in the Americas, wearing a Stetson and juggling footballs on the back of a rodeo bull while toting a Colt 45 or somesuch.

Patrick Vieira? Like Henry he was too good to vanish into obscurity. However, when he moved to Italy he had the bittersweet experience of winning numerous medals – but only as a bit part player. When he stumbled across the ATM that never stops churning out ten pound notes (otherwise known as Man City), who can blame him for retiring to its warm dressing rooms and well varnished benches?

Ljungberg, Pires, Adebayor, Reyes, Petit, Overmars… I could go on, but the point is: Arsene knows when it’s time to let a player go. In most cases it is when he has judged that their performances have crested the zenith. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad, just that they will never quite reach their peak again and will, in fact, decline.

Even those he has been forced to sell reluctantly, like Flamini and Anelka, have never subsequently had the central, starring roles they had at Arsenal.

So what about Cesc?

Have we seen the best of El Capitan? When he leaves us will it be for a few tortured years of bench-sitting at Barcelona, plagued by ever-worsening hamstrings and haunted by the curious longevity of the Xavi-Iniesta partnership, still winning the Primera Liga well into their thirities?

Will we Arsenal fans nod sagely to each other and repeat the mantra that players just never do as well when they leave us?

DON’T BE STUPID.

Cesc Fabregas is one of the best four or five players in the world. I would put Messi and Ronaldo ahead of him, but after that…? The man is a genius. Of course he is going to have a marvelous career at Barcelona. If he is not a regular first team starter by January London will eat his red-and-white socks*.

And yet, you say, your headline referred to him rueing the day he leaves Arsenal. If he goes on to win Spanish title after Copa del Ray after Champions League what will there be to regret? What tears will little Francesc possibly shed?

Let me tell you.

Cesc will rue the day he leaves because when this Arsenal team, whose talisman he has been for so long, finally starts to win the big prizes without him it will pierce his heart with the brilliant sharpness of one of his incredible passes through the Totteringham defence.

If Arsenal win the league this year – and I am one of those who believes it is a real possibility – then Cesc will be disconsolate. It will be a failure for him that will live with him throughout his career and his life.

He will have given eight years of his life to a project – and not just any project, but a glorious, ambitious, eyes-on-the-stars kind of project – and then walked away just before it reached its crowning glory. It would be as if Neil Armstrong got to the Moon’s orbit and said: “You know what, I’m fine, I’ll just stay here in Apollo 11 and look out the window…”

Never mind whether he has a championship medal in Spain, a Champions League title and has been chosen as Miss Catalunia 2013, there will be a hole in Cesc’s soul that will never be filled.

He will rejoice for his erstwhile teammates, but deep down he will know that he should have been with them. And for that, I will grieve with him.

RockyLives

*That’s OK isn’t it London?