May 2010 – A Team Chasing Shadows

May 4, 2010

Sadly, I remember London saying how difficult it was to write the match report after the 2nd defeat by the chavs earlier this season.  Yesterday’s game is not deserving of a match report – if someone else wrote one I probably wouldn’t read it –  and as a result of that poor display, I’m going to have to wrap my Arsenal heart in cotton wool for a few weeks and probably not talk football as I’m not sure that I can make any sense of the last three defeats we’ve suffered.

In all three games against the spuds, Wigan and Blackburn there was a team wearing the red and white of Arsenal but they didn’t seem to be Arsenal footballers. Obviously they were getting paid to be Arsenal footballers but somehow they didn’t really know what they should be doing. They were, by and large, a collection of not very good footballers who weren’t trying very hard to play the Arsenal way. A couple of exceptions in van Persie and Sol Campbell who seemed to be the only Gooners on the pitch yesterday.

Why is this Arsène? When the Carling Cup team of 1st team elect players comes up against a premiership side they pull out all the stops and play with freedom and no fear. Some will argue that yesterday’s team was part Carling Cup team of old and possibly it was but where was the passion? where was the desire? It was embarrassing to watch.

Arsène complained about the pitch, complained about the treatment that was metered out to Fabianski, complained that we could have had a penalty. Blackburn’s captain Samba stood head and shoulders above  everyone in our penalty area – why was our goal-keeper muscled out of the way, why was he sitting in his goal when Samba headed home the winner? Because he’s not big enough and not strong enough. Arsène, if you think that we can go another campaign without a world class goal keeper then I’m sorry for you because you must have contracted a very strange illness that stops you seeing what thousands of Gooners see.

Most of us accept that a player can have an off day, that players returning from injury are not going to be sharp or match fit but at least if they try, if we can see that they want it, that they’re disappointed for the team when things go badly then on the whole we’ll be forgiving. A defeat is always hard to accept but yesterday’s game wasn’t even two teams competing. We are pale shadows of the Arsenal team that existed 6 years ago and the small nimble players we have now cannot compete against the big lumps of Blackburn or figure in the ranks of most other Premiership sides.

When we come up against a team that wants it more than us we have no answer and no bottle for the fight. Our ‘clever passing football’ appears incapable of penetrating a 10-man defence and no-one seems to have the ability/desire/confidence to shoot from outside the box.

We looked like a team of school boys out there yesterday, no sophistication, no slick passing game and no ideas. Your put these players in Arsenal shirts, you have shown faith in their abilities but when are you going to admit that they aren’t capable of repaying your, or our patience? Sometime soon please Arsène.


Unbeaten This Century

April 14, 2010

When do you think was the last time Spurs beat us in the league? Here’s a clue – they haven’t beaten us this century. When was the last time they beat us at White Hart Lane? Again, not this century. The Spuds have beaten us twice in 15 years! Should we win or draw tonight, we will record a record breaking 21 games without defeat against another team. Does this entitle them to be considered rivals or laughing stocks.

The Spuds sit in 5th place, 4 points behind Man City with a game in hand – this is a vital game for them in their (hopeless) quest for a CL spot. Harry is already “bigging up” his team, talking his usual nonsense about how our North London neighbours ( I hesitate to use the word rivals) are on a par with the Arsenal, and how they have closed the gap on us (13 points and counting). What is in Spurs favour is their home record, they have been very strong at the Lane, unbeaten in 8, and conceding only 10 goals all season – the best in the PL. Add to this our lack of punch upfront, the absence of our top scorer, and a low scoring game is predicted – what price a last minute Bendtner header?

Spurs real hope in this game lies in our desperate injury list. With Fabregas, Gallas, and Arshavin out, we have lost our 3 world class players. There remains the possibility that Song will not be fit which will be another major blow to us. Can we win with half a team? Will the sight of RvP on the bench (I cannot believe he will start) spark us to victory? Can Sol overcome what will undoubtedly be a torrid reception to deny Crouch and Pavlyuchenko? Absolutely – we are the better team, end of!

I expect Spurs to start with Defoe and Crouch and bring on Pav in the second half. They are missing Palacios which is a big plus for us. Also missing will be Krankjar and Lennon. Back for the NLD is our old friend David Bentley, who is sure to be desperate for a big game. I am still smarting from his fluke last season at the Emirates and his celebration which relegated (or elevated) him high into the Gooners hate list. I wish him a frustrating night, and a long dejected walk back down the tunnel when he is subbed after an hour.

This game is a season breaker for Spurs. The loss to a dire Portsmouth will have sapped not only their enthusiasm but also their physical strength – 120 minutes on the dire Wembley pitch will exhaust any team, and they will wilt in the last 20 minutes, which is when we are at our most dangerous. I expect us to line up as follows, though I am rarely correct…..

GK

Sagna  Sol  TV   Clichy

Song/Eboue  Denilson  Diaby  Rosicky

Theo  NB

Eboue could well start ahead of Theo, it depends upon how brave AW is feeling and if Song is fit.

I have many WHL memories dating back to Black and White days, most involve escaping their neanderthal fans, but despite the annual avoidance of flying bottles and coins in Paxton Road, it is a ground with positive memories. One of my faves was a 0-0 draw (1997) when Spurs absolutely battered us and Seaman showed why for a few years he was the World’s best GK (if only we could find another like him). And who can forget the Liam Brady left footer in a 5-0 in ’78?

Those were the days when Spurs were proper rivals. At Highbury when the chant “Stand up if you hate Tottenham” started, virtually the whole ground rose as one, now it is just the hardy few. Is this due to song-fatigue, or because Gooners no longer harbour an intense dislike of our neighbours? I applaud Harry’s attempts to bring Spurs to the top table. I want them to challenge us, it is good for North London, good for both clubs and good for the fans. It seems wrong that we “hate” MU and the Chavs, they are not the traditional enemy – it is the blue bellies from the Lane. Think of the songs …… The W***y Tottenham Hotspur went to Rome to see the Pope”, “My Old man said be a Tottenham fan, I said FO etc” “We hate Totteham”, “You won the League, In Black and White”. These are proper Arsenal songs, fashioned in the heat of the ’70’s and earlier. We don’t have songs for Chelsea, and those we have for MU are borrowed from other grounds. Football needs the comedy villain and Spurs over the past decade have just been the comedy  –  who can forget the commemorative mugs when they beat our youth team at WHL in the Carling!!

I fear that when we beat  Spurs tonight they will roll over in their games at MU and home to the Chavs. It is important to us that they do well in both but which would the Spurs fans prefer – Chelsea or Arsenal to win the title? No brainer is it!

The North London Derby is always a feisty affair and a draw in this game effectively ends the prospects of both teams (can anyone really expect the Chavs to drop 6 points?). We need the victory and that is what I expect.


Sol …. Man of Steel….

April 5, 2010

I admit it, when Wenger announced in January that he had signed Sulzeer Jeremiah Cambell, I was less than elated. I would go as far as to say that I thought Mr. Wenger had lost his senses. At that time we had a fine first choice centre back partnership of Gallas and Vermaelen, with Silvestre and Senderos as back up. Wenger clearly mistrusted Swiss Phil to take an active role in the run-in, and Silvestre had shown that despite being a fine player, the years were taking their toll. But a 35 year old has-been?

Wenger had stated that the reason he didn’t sign the much needed Anelka in Jan 2009 was because he did not like to re-sign players, so to sign a 35 year old Sol was a major surprise. When we first heard reports that Sol was training with the team in order to regain fitness, I assumed he would be trying to get a berth at, say Charlton, with a view to becoming player-coach, and then go into management. But I was shocked when Wenger gave him a contract. A contract to a man who had walked of the pitch at half-time claiming emotional problems – an act never repeated before or since, a contract to a man who left to go to….. Portsmouth!

In my eyes Sol was finished, a washed-up a relic of a past and glorious time. Sol had the turning circle of a supertanker, he had an arse the size of France, he was too heavy to jump, was slower over 10 yards than Pat Rice and slower over 30 yards than Peter Hill-Wood. Sol was too old, heavy and unfit to play 45 minutes, let alone 90+.

And yet, and yet ……. the Campbell signing has proved to be one of Wenger’s masterstrokes.

Sol returned in the FA Cup defeat at Stoke and was probably old enough to father most of his Arsenal teammates. Yet, he held the backline and looked good. Next up an excellent performance at Aston Villa –  an away clean sheet. With this appearance Sol became only the third player to play in all 18 PL seasons (alongside Giggs and David James). Sol was settling into the team.

The goal against Porto will be long remembered as the phoenix rising from the ashes. When was the last time he scored like that in Europe (another 2-1 defeat)…… that’s right, the last time he played for us before leaving in 2006.

Then Stoke away. His reaction after the Ramsey injury showed us just why Wenger signed him. He was not just solid but inspirational. Lifting heads, getting fired up, geeing up his team. When the third goal went in, who was pumped up, fists clenched, celebrating with the away fans?  It REALLY matters to him.

Almunia has grown in confidence since the arrival of Sol because he can rely on him to organise the defence at set pieces. The Spaniard actually looks a decent GK again! Whether this is solely down to Campbell’s arrival is a moot point, but is the timing of his improvement only co-incidence?

We now know that Sol will be there in the trenches, giving everything to the Arsenal cause.  Should we win the title, Sol will become an even greater figure in Arsenal folklore than he already is. The man who caused the most virulent outpouring of hate and aggression ever seen at White Hart Lane, will be a true Arsenal Great 🙂

It must be said that some on here completely disagreed with my despair at the Campbell signing, and in deference to them I eat a huge slice of humble pie. Opinions are divided as to whether Sol should play against Barcelona. One thing is for sure, whether he’s on the pitch or sitting on the bench, his mere presence will be felt,  instilling a strength of purpose and steely determination through those deep dark eyes that will be urging the team on with every inch of his being.

As to those, like our very own peachesgooner, whose heart goes aflutter and weak at the knees at the sight of the hunk in the  XXXL shorts….   “Sol’s a Gooner … De de de duh”

By BigRaddy


Gunners Must Send Wolves Packing……

April 3, 2010

Now the full extent of our latest glut of injuries is clear (Cesc out for at least six weeks, Gallas at least three and Arshavin possibly back for the Man Shitty game, on April 24) our beleaguered team entertain Wolves at the Grove today.

Were I a hopeless romantic, I would interpret the fact that the last time the Wanderers made their only previous foray into the Premier League we were Champions, as a portent of our crowning as Champions this season. However, not only have recent setbacks on the injury front and crucially, two dropped points at Ginger McLeish’s ploughed field, soured my view of our chances, but as an engineer by education, I’m fairly unromantic (as many ex-girlfriends will confirm).

Wolves, as original founders of the football league, were formed nine years before us and therefore their glory days are well behind them; a League Cup win in 1980 being their last silverware. Having been promoted this season as Championship winners, it would seem they are safe from joining Pompey, and hopefully Hull, in the Championship next year, lying as they do in fourteenth place, five points above the drop zone. Their form has been indifferent, three losses, two draws and two wins in the last seven games points to a home win for us however one of those two wins was away at West Ham.

The Wolves manager, Mick McCarthy, will no doubt be quietly confident of  catching us on an off day, with an “after the Lord Mayor’s show” kind of lethargy he will hope to exploit.

The press will portray McCarthy as an honest, blunt-speaking type – a typical product of a Barnsley upbringing; his flat, Yorkshire tones would not go amiss on an episode of Emmerdale (farm). I enjoyed him taking down the Mank mad dog Roy Keane a peg or two after he had a pre-pubescent style hissy-fit during Irelands 2002 world Cup campaign.

The danger man will obviously be Kevin Doyle, their top scorer with seven for the season, their next highest scorer being defender Jody “Fanny” Craddock who has chipped in with five strikes– clearly a player to watch out for when the referee awards a free kick against us near the penalty area for the first foul we commit tomorrow.

As for us, we know in all likelihood we won’t see Cesc till the World Cup at the earliest, however I harbour a secret hope he’ll be back for the last league game and the Champions League final – so maybe I am a tiny bit romantic! Wenger has bluntly denied rumours circulated by the mischief-making press that Cesc was played with a leg already broken by one of McLeish’s muggers last Saturday.

Nasri would be the shoe in to take Cesc’s place but the centre back partner for the Verminator is a conundrum I am glad I don’t have to solve. The question is Campbell or Song? Assuming Sol is only good for one game a week, and then if he plays today he is out for Tuesday’s return leg at the Camp Nou.

The problem is, do we risk a less mobile Sol on Tuesday or save him for League games only? If we play Song at centre back on Tuesday, we’ll lose his midfield drive against the Catalans and that could be crucial as only a win (or an unlikely a score draw of 3-3, or above) will suffice. Being radical, one could argue for Song to be at centre back today as Wolves do not have the midfield brilliance of Iniesta, Xavi and Keita, add to that the fact that we don’t play next Saturday then conceivably Sol could play on Tuesday and be able to return for the NLD (where the assembled masses of cro-magnon Spuds will give him a sporting welcome back to the Lane, of that I’m sure), on the fourteenth of April. The caveat there would be that we would then have the away game at Wigan on the Sunday after the NLD and that would surely test Sol’s fitness.

Assuming the minor strains attributed to Clichy and Denilson clear up, I would guess Wenger will select the following 4-3-3:

Almunia
Sagna Sol Verminator Clichy
Nasri Song Denilson
Eboue Bendtner Diaby

My own selection would be with an eye to Tuesday:

Almunia
Eboue Song Verminator Clichy
Denilson Nasri Diaby
Walcott Bendtner Rosicky

One thing’s for sure, if we see a draw at Old Toilet before we kick off, then it’s game on for our title chances and a much jollier pre match Peroni (or four) at the Arsenal Tavern.

So to all of you going today, crank up the volume to 11 for our Wednesday night heroes – “Come on you rip roaring Gunners!”

By our guest writer charybdis1966



Who needs Cesc Fabregas?

April 2, 2010

Wednesday night was a night that may define our season in many ways. Time will tell whether Arsène’s gambles with the fitness of Fabregas and Gallas will prove inspired or disastrous.

What is certain is that the squad have to prove that we are a great team, not just a handful of great players led by Cesc. Glancing at the back of the programme before the match, I noticed a very obvious difference between the squads. The Barcelona squad is 2/3rds the size of ours, yet they seem able to ride out injuries to key players. We can do the same and still be four points better than Man U and Chelsea in the next six league matches.

Fabregas – Nasri is surely the key here. His recent creative performances have shown signs of the playmaker we expected him to become. Can he perform in the away matches, especially at City? My bet is that the maturity he has shown recently will help him make the most of Cesc’s absence. With Denilson showing against Barça that he can keep his head against top teams after all, and Song and Diaby turning into the new Vieira and Petit, we have the stable platform to let Samir shine.

Arshavin – The Anfield heroics seem a long time ago to most fans. Some say he has become selfish and dispirited – I think they are wrong, but he is certainly playing well within himself. As a result, his absence for 3 weeks probably won’t be too damaging to us. It may be a chance for Vela to get the run in the side he has deserved for a long time and we aren’t short of goals.

Gallas – This could be a bigger problem than Cesc. We’ve all enjoyed Sol’s return but against pace even his reading of the game isn’t enough and that’s why he couldn’t be risked against Pedro et al. Against Spurs and City he could get turned inside out. Silvestre has never really convinced me but he is going to be the critical factor in turning 2 points into 6 in our two biggest games.

RvP – We’ve played without our main striker since November and even during that time Bendtner was injured. We clearly haven’t struggled to score goals but there have been times that we  know that van Persie would have brought some extra skill and guile to the team. Eduardo hasn’t managed to impress so far but without Arshavin for three weeks maybe he can find his goal poaching boots. How fit will van Persie be when he returns to the squad and will he have an eye on the World Cup and be protecting himself?

All the injured players are important components of our team.  Are their deputies good enough to carry us over the line? Who will be captain? The latest news is that Denilson and Clichy also picked up injuries on Wednesday night taking the tally to five players from that game alone. Our fearless captain possibly played with an already broken leg  if reports are to be believed – who else in our team has the mental strength, the guts and the determination of Cesc Fabregas?

Nasri, Diaby, Denilson, Eduardo, Walcott, Almunia – your team needs you to be consistent, to be focussed every minute of every game from  now until the end of the season. Cesc Fabregas is just one man, but boy what a man, what a captain.

Can we patch up the side, and crawl over the finishing line without him?

By Alfa and others


Think Brum ….. Barça can wait ….

March 27, 2010

We’ve had a weeks break after The Hammers and enter a huge week in our trophy hunt. Birmingham are a decent team, 9th in the PL,  and under the stewardship of Alex McLeish easily capable of upsetting our plans. Home draws against Man U, Chelsea and the Spuds show they are no pushovers at St Andrews. We beat them 3-1 at the Emirates despite a feisty showing from Birmingham in the second half.

The centre of defence is the conundrum for this encounter. As TV is banned for this game we are left with 3 choices of centre back – Sol, Silvestre and Song. Wenger has said that neither Silvestre or Campbell are fit enough to play two games in a week, and after Birmingham we have the big midweek game against Barcelona. As such, we will be forced to play Song at centre back. My guess is that AW trusts Sol more than Silvestre and therefore Sol will play midweek. Song was superb alongside Sol during the second half last Saturday, and I have no qualms at seeing him there, however he will be sorely missed as our midfield enforcer against a team who have already shown a battling disposition. Of course the news of Gallas’s “miraculous” recovery gives AW the chance to play both Sol and Silvestre , hence even more permutations

The CB’s can expect a busy afternoon. Cameron Jerome has scored 4 in his last 3 games and looks a fine player, and Chucho is a player with Tevez like energy (thankfully not the skill!). Plus the Blues have a super-sub in the ancient Kevin Phillips. Birmingham have a decent midfield led by Barry Ferguson, and the Spaniard Michel, a creative MF signed from Gijon in January. They also have McFadden and Lee Bowyer, who in recent games have been on the bench.

I see this as a key game in the run in. As we have seen, Chelsea underestimated a Blackburn team that wouldn’t lie down, and they are similar to Birmingham insomuch as they have only lost twice at home all season. Some inspiration from any of our attacking players is a must. Our forwards cannot afford to be profligate with our chances (are you reading AA and NB?) as we cannot continue to rely on our midfield, and in particular, Cesc to keep scoring. I believe this is a good game to start Walcott as his pace could upset an ageing Blues defence (Stephen Carr?) Apparently Nik will not be fit for the match and Arsène has been bigging up Eduardo for the main strike role. Obviously it is his return to the scene of that horrific injury, so the boss is right to focus on the positives rather than dwell on that day.

I envisage a team of:-

Almunia

Sagna  Silvestre  Song   Clichy

Eboue Denilson Cesc  Nasri/TR

Walcott  Eduardo

I see Cesc coming off after 60 minutes to be replaced by Nasri/TR/Diaby – we need to keep our team fresh for Wednesday. Arshavin on the bench as he is a vital player for us in Europe, and needs a rest. An  cameo appearance from Eduardo late in the game.

Clearly Wenger will have one eye on the Barcelona fixture, whilst at the same time focussing on what could be a banana skin. Three points at St Andrews and the world will start to believe this could be our year.


Danish Nick Saves Our Bacon.

March 14, 2010

This supporting a football team and watching them play malarkey is supposed to be an enjoyable experience.  Well, I don’t know about you, but with ten minutes to go the description of nerve racking nightmare struck me as being more appropriate. Stress, tension, anxiety, nervousness — the rollercoaster ride that is called our season was plummeting down towards destruction when just at the last minute Nicky scored sending our hopes flying back up. Suddenly, with adrenalin pumping like a steam train and Phil Brown’s priceless look utter despair; the world was, once again, a wonderful place to be.

Arsenal took to the field full of confidence picking up from where they left off against Porto, their fast, free flowing football left Hull chasing shadows. I liked the team selection it struck me that Wenger has done away with favouritism and is making his decisions on merit alone. There was a time when Walcott would have been a banker to start today but Eboue was far more worthy of a starting place. Sol seemed the perfect choice to deal with Hull’s slow lumbering attackers with their potential aerial threat and so it proved. The rest of the back line picked itself as did the midfield. There was only one choice for the number nine spot and then there was Arshavin.

It took our Russian box of tricks precisely fourteen minutes to not only highlight the gulf in class between Arsenal and Hull but fourteen minutes to show the gulf between himself and every other player on the pitch. Picking the ball up he weaved his way through the Hull defence, his low sense of gravity coming into its own, leaving two defenders in his wake, the ball sat up perfectly, crying out to be stroked into the net; the Russian maestro obliged and we were one up.

It was time to sit back with a cold beer from the fridge and that was exactly what Arsenal did, the result being that their level of concentration started to dip. Hull were still having rings run round them and realising that playing football wasn’t going to get them anywhere they started, oh so predictably, to try and kick us into the air. This in itself did not look like it was going to trouble us but when they were wrongly awarded a penalty, subsequently scoring, Hull’s renewed hope was tangible the result being that we knew we were going to have a game on our hands.

Relief came in the form of Hull’s captain, who after having picked up a yellow for trying to gouge Bendtner’s eye out, he then, only five minutes later, tried to break Sagna’s leg which fortunately he failed to do but was given a second yellow and off he went on the stroke of half time.

It has been said many times that every game from now to the end of the season is a cup final and I take that to mean that if we lose just one game our title hopes are over. We had forty five minutes to stay in the race.

Diaby, Nasri and Arshavin’s hearts may have been in the right place but they were now playing like strangers, casual, sloppy passing increased the growing tension. Hull predictably started time wasting succeeding in creating further frustration.

The game cried out for changes and Wenger obliged, on Walcott came who immediately added urgency to our attack: within one minute he had carved the Hull defence apart and set up Bendtner for an excellent opportunity which just like last week with all Theo’s offerings Nick had too much time to think and fluffed the chance.  Walcott continued ripping Hull apart, setting up Arshavin with a glorious opportunity that he sent flying over the bar. It remained level and time was running out. Eduardo came on the perfect sub when the area is crowded; he added decisiveness to the attack: every pass found its man and importantly he took the pressure off of Bendtner.

The added impetus from the substitutes worked to a point but it still didn’t look like it was going to be out day. I was mentally writing the obituary at this point when the forth official lifted his board indicating six minutes of added on  time……….and then, in the distance a trumpet was heard, there was no mistaking it, our lives were saved, the cavalry had arrived: Denilson fired in a speculative shot from twenty five yards which their goalkeeper spilled; Bendtner in the right place at the right time, yet again, had no time to think about htis one  and instinctively put it into the back of the net giving us all three precious points and dispelling any doubts that may have crept into my head as to why I love football and more importantly why I love Arsenal.

Player ratings:

Almunia: it has to be said that he is doing a lot better, looked a tad more decisive which has helped to dampen the screams for a new keeper. 7

Sagna: a quality defender, yet again he did his job well.7

Campbell: Hull should never have been awarded a penalty it was off side but then lucky to stay on the pitch after it was given. 7

Vermaelen: he is such a winner, must surely be made vice captain next season. 7.5

Clichy: another commanding performance from our Gael. 8

Denilson: the 21 year old filled in for Song to the best of his ability, if Eboue can turn it around so can he, it was his shot that led to the goal. 6

Nasri: wow this man does not travel, I am going to give him the benefit and say he was tired after his magnificent midweek display. 6

Diaby: although, he has earned his starting place and had a perfectly good game I now want more, he should be totally dominating the midfield. 7

Eboue: another perfectly respectful game, some good runs and no star fish. 7

Bendtner: the man of the match and not just because he scored the all important goal, he was focused all the way through, not a single pass went astray which was no mean feat on that meadow they call a football pitch. 9

Arshavin: while this player is on the field we will always have a chance of winning. 8

By London