A change of attitude

 

Morning all,
 
Well these happy Mondays just keep on coming don’t they…
 
I’m still feeling the joy spread by Saturdays performance and result, it may have been the eighth victory from the last nine games but there is something special about smacking five past Chelsea at Stamford Bridge isn’t there. We’re so often told that we’re nowhere near the level of teams like Chelsea and whilst I’m not going to use one game and one result as apparent proof that we are I’ve found it interesting, not to mention enjoyable, to see the amount of TV shows, newspaper columns etc that have skirted above our performance and quickly turned to suggesting that this is a Chelsea side in crisis.
 
Do these so-called “experts” not worry that it’s becoming abundantly clear that every time a team they deem to be a ‘Big Club’ looses a game or two they revert to the default line of ‘Club in crisis’ or ‘Manager under pressure’. Surely they have the capacity to be a little more insightful than that or a I being naïve? Anyway I don’t want to give the impression that I am defending Chelsea so enough of that.
 
Whilst we’re on such a good run and on a high from Saturday it’s quite good that our two games before the next international break are right on top of us, Marseille tomorrow night & West Brom on Saturday. That those fixtures are at home could also be a blessing and keep this run going, I know we won in France a few weeks ago and tasted a first away league victory on Saturday but it’s at home that we’ve been strongest so far this season and just as a way of keeping momentum going two home fixtures can’t be a bad thing.
 
Winning is a habit and at the moment this side has got a real taste for it and I don’t see why that shouldn’t continue this week. I’ve also been having a think about how this Arsenal side might respond to defeat. We know that teams of the last couple of years have often struggled to get back to winning ways after being beaten and that for Arsene’s talk of mental strength we’ve seen a mental weakness in that department but I just wonder if this side might actually have a bit more about them and have the capacity to put a poor result behind them and move on quickly.
 
I’ve got minimal evidence to support this theory but it is far from inadmissible…
 
Exhibit A – In the wake of Old Trafford.
 
Ok so we saw a few new signings coming in between the trouncing by United and the victory against Swansea but it’s not like these players had much time to really impact on the psyche of the side. I’ll also admit that we didn’t really beat the Welsh side convincingly but in recent seasons we may not have held our lead, in fact it’s not unknown for a newly promoted side to come to the grove and beat us. We also went to Germany and were extremely unlucky not to bring home three Champions League points after Ivan Perisic’s late wonder strike.
 
Exhibit B – After Ewood Park.
 
The shambles that was the 4-3 defeat at the hands of a shockingly poor Blackburn Rovers team still gives me more nightmares than the drubbing in Manchester. We caused our own capitulation that afternoon and gifted Rovers the win, we can point to two own goals being bad luck but in all honesty we know that would be a pretty poor excuse. The victory against Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup three days later may not look like much of an achievement on paper but it came at a time when the team, manager and club were under considerable pressure. That pressure was still apparent after the game when the press tried to lambast us for having such a reduced attendance for the game against league two opposition. The reaction to those petty, and inaccurate, reports from the fans and the magnificent PR from the club really kept the spirit and momentum up and played a part in the 3-0 win over Bolton on the following Saturday which was closely followed by victory in Greece against Olympiacos.
 
Exhibit C – The NLD.
 
Back to being the loosing team at White Heart Lane and with two weeks to dwell on it during the last international break it would have been easy for heads to drop. So many of our players were away with their national teams but maybe that was something of a blessing in disguise because when they returned they only had a few days to prepare for the game against Sunderland and whilst the win over the Mackems was far from pretty it was certainly hard fought and was perhaps the axis for the run we have been on since. We went away to France and won, beat Stoke 3-1 and defeated Bolton again, this time the victory came in the league cup and put us into the quarter finals for the ninth consecutive year.
 
Exhibit D – Stamford Bridge.
 
We went 1-0 down early on, we went 2-1 down on the stroke of half time. We were pegged back to 3-3 with just ten minutes to go yet still the team kept going, never gave in and finished the game as the winning side.
 
Sure we can look at a couple of those defeats and say they should never have happened but there is little we can do about that now except push on and not let the adversity drag us down like it so often has.
 
The truth is that unless this side can somehow go on an incredible run and avoid defeat for the remainder of the season we will be beaten again. We will need to get back up again. I’m not looking forward to it happening and I’m worried that we might not respond so well the next time it does but we have to be buoyed by this sides persistence and, if Saturday is now a benchmark, never say die attitude. Plus dare we say it… The teams mental strength?
 
Arsene holds his press conference ahead of tomorrow nights game later his afternoon and I think we can expect to see changes to the side – we’ll have a look at that tomorrow but I’ll keep you as updated as I am via Twitter until then.
 
Thanks for reading and enjoy another happy Monday.
 
Paul.
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Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal

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“But we can win this” – The phrase from ‘Escape to victory’ that I used as a basis of yesterday’s blog. At no point during the ninety-minutes of our game at Stamford Bridge did those words leave my mind but I must admit that as the teams went in at half time with Chelsea leading 2-1, I had no idea how escape-esq the second half would prove to be…

In the opening exchanges it was the home side who saw the lions share of the ball and while their early attacks down the flanks were fair warning that our full backs had been identified as an area of weakness it was the Gunners who in all truth had the better scoring opportunities.

Inside the first two minutes Ashley Cole let Johan Djourou know that he was in for a tough time at right back and had it not been for Laurent Koscielny there is every chance that a cross from the former Arsenal man may have been turned in by Fernando Torres. Moments later Djourou lost Cole again and this time Per Mertsacker was on hand to block the ball and cut out any danger.

Daniel Sturridge had what was perhaps the blues best chance but caught between having a shot and passing to Torres wasted the opportunity.

It was two early chances created by the impressive Theo Walcott that should have put the Gunners in the driving seat. After the winger had first knocked the ball past Cole and left him in his wake as he rushed towards the Chelsea box and flashed across the perfect pass for Gervinho who hit his shot wide with his right foot. Next Theo played a fantastic ball over the top of the Chelsea defence for the on rushing Robin Van Persie who blazed over the bar. You maybe would have backed both men to score given their recent exploits in front of goal so it was typical that having failed to take the lead we went on a conceded the opener.

Mata under no pressure from an almost bemused Andre Santos crossed the ball into the Arsenal box and it should have been cleared by Per Mertesacker but the German was seemingly unable to lift his giant frame off of the ground and the ball fell to Frank Lampard who stooped low to direct the ball into the back of the net and put the home side in front.

The game really opened up and it was as free flowing as we’re likely to see but neither side really created any chances of merit until the Arsenal equaliser came. Aaron Ramsey played a lovely ball to Gervinho which caught out the Chelsea defence. The Ivorian, with Cech diving at his feet unselfishly cut the ball back for Robin Van Persie who tucked it away.

With half time approaching it looked as if the sides would head in on level terms until another defensive mistake from Mertesacker saw the blues store their lead. Aaron Ramsey, providing some much needed support for Djourou gave away a corner which was taken by Frank Lampard.

As the ball floated into the box there seemed to be little danger. Mertesacker should have been able to clear the ball but almost inexplicably missed the ball which allowed John Terry to score despite the Chelsea captain making minimal contact with the ball.

I think that vast majority of us would have expected to see Arsene Wenger make changes during the break, most likely at left back where Andre Santos had looked nothing like a Brazilian international footballer and more like an overweight hod carrier from Gateshead who had been granted on last ‘Fix It’ by Sir Jim before he passed away. So it was something of a surprise when the same red & white clad eleven made their way on to the pitch for the second half.

But what a stroke of tactical genius not making any changes proved to be by the gaffer. Perhaps the Frenchman gave yet another rousing speech in the dressing room? Whatever went on in there during the break certainly produced a very different Arsenal side.

From the restart Arsenal looked more threatening and it took just three minutes for the Gunners to get back on level terms for a second time. Johan Djourou won the ball from Torres on the touchline and laid it of to Alex Song, the Cameroonian played a terrific ball across she park and into the path of Santos who collected the ball whilst continuing his run towards goal and steered his low left foot shot past Cech.

Just moments after Chelsea had restarted the game a little good fortune fell our way when referee Andre Marriner gave Wojciech Szczesny a yellow card when he quite easily could have dismissed the ‘keeper. Mikel played a long ball over the top, with it landing somewhere between the on rushing Ashley Cole and the out coming Szczesny. The Pole, now outside his box, clattered into Cole who went down in a heap.

The game and the Arsenal had really come to life. With just ten minutes of the half gone Theo Walcott put us in front for the first time in the game with a goal that was equally comical as it was brilliant.

Theo won a free kick just inside the Chelsea half after Cole had crashed into him, I didn’t see who took it because the cameras were busy showing Ashley’s usual barracking of officials which seemingly goes unpunished time and again. Anyway I assume it was played short between Theo & Robin because when the picture returned to the action both men were storming down the line, Robin almost shielding Walcott and the ball, as the pair cut inside Theo seemed to slip over and with the Chelsea players stoping Nd complaining about a free kick that was never given he got up just as quickly as he had gone down, skipped past a couple of defenders and struck a wonderful shot from a tight angle which beat Cech and put the Gunners 2-3 up and in the driving seat.

As the game sated to approach the 80th minute both managers made substitutions, in Arsenals case first Carl Jenkinson replaced Djourou and a few minutes later Tomas Rosicky came on in place of Theo Walcott. These substitutions were seemingly made to tighten things up a little and help us hold onto our lead. Of course what happened instead is the blues pulled a goal back to make it three a piece.

It was unsurprising when John Terry got his name on the score sheet in the wake of the racism allegations that have dogged him this week and it was even less surprising when Juan Mata scored because if anyone was going to score against us it was going to be the guy we almost signed in the summer.

Take nothing away from the Spaniards finish, it was fantastic, but the fact that Marriner had missed an obvious fail on Santos in the build up still irks me this morning. Szczesny rolled the ball out to Santos who played a short pass into the path of Raul Meireles, as the Brazilian attempted to move in and intercept the former Liverpool player he was intentionally blocked by Romelu Lukaku. Meanwhile Meireles passed to Mata who struck a sweet left foot shot to make it 3-3.

While Chelsea celebrated the Arsenal players complained, however justice was to come.

With just six minutes remaining Arsenal so often caught out by playing a high defensive line punished Chelsea for doing just that. On the half way line Terry played a short pass to Mikel, who passed to Ramires. The Brazilian played it back to Terry who had no one around him and was under no pressure. The Chelsea skipper turning as the ball passed him slipped to the ground and an on rushing Robin Van Persie was quick to collect it. The Dutchman showed tremendous composure to take the ball around Peter Cech as the Czech dived at his feet as he entered the penalty box and to cooly slot home and make it four goals to three in the Gunners favour.

Whilst Terry falling over and Robin nipping past him was great to see, my favourite shoot was from behind the goal where you see the Chelsea and England skipper get back to his feet and make a futile attempt at giving chase before quickly realising there is no point and giving up just as Robin rounded Cech.

It was incredible but given our defensive vulnerability late on in games the remaining five minutes us stoppages before the final whistle see,ed a life time away.

Wenger replaced Gervinho with Thomas Vermaelen with just a few minutes left in an attempt to make sure we held our lead, he needn’t have worried as Robin made sure we extended it and went home with all three points.

In the second minute of added time Arsenal once more attached the Chelsea goal, at one point it was four against two in the Gunners favour, and passed to Van Persie and the skipper clinched his second hat-trick of the season.

While Robin will take all the plaudits this morning there were some other big performances out there yesterday. Theo Walcott was a constant threat, everything he tried came off and if he could produce that level of performance week in week out he would be up there with the very best. Laurent Koscielny was fantastic at the back once again, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I really can’t see the Frenchman being the player to miss out if and when Vermaelen comes back into the starting XI at centre half. I thought Gervinho, Song and Arteta all had great games and Thomas Rosicky was superb in the fifteen minutes he was on the pitch but Aaron Ramsey was just a cut above everyone else on that pitch yesterday.

The Welshman is now an integral part of this Arsenal side and it was fitting that during the post match interview with Sky when Rambo was asked to present RVP with the man of the match champagne the skipper passed it straight back and told the youngster “You deserve this”.

It’s another great stride in the right direction for the Gunners. Yes we certainly had our moments yesterday and another three goals conceded and the defensive misgivings of Mertz, Santos & Djourou at points can not go unaddressed but the way the team came back from trailing the game twice, came back to win when pegged back to 3-3 with just ten minutes to go and the fact that we’ve managed to score FIVE goals away from home at a ground where goals are hard to come by for any visiting side far outweigh any negative aspect this morning.

The celebration of the players, along with our fantastic away supporters, shows you just how much it all meant to them. That kind of celebration and camaraderie would not have gone a miss had the allied side of POW’s managed to beat their German opponents in Escape to Victory. And as our heroes yesterday displayed just what it meant to them after the final whistle in my head I could hear those Parisian chants once again…

Victoire, Victoire, Victoire, Victoire….

A chance of Victory?

As Big Dave Taylor and I sat in the pub on Thursday afternoon after that mornings AGM the bar staff were busy giving the place a Halloween themed makeover, the TV screen directly in front of us, muted and set to Sky Sports news, was seemingly showing images relating to the same three stories over and over again…

Firstly there was the female hockey player who looked like Zara Phillips, then came footage of Arsene Wenger & Stan Kroenke at the event we had earlier attended, then came something to do with this lunchtime’s opponents and their lack of success in convincing a fans group to sell the Stamford Bridge pitch to Roman Abramovich. In truth we paid little attention to the on-screen footage or the stories they were attempting to tell, we were far too busy discussing how tall Georgie Thompson is and occasionally breaking into song as Motown classics flooded out of the bars speakers.

But then the Barclays Premier League table appeared and showed Arsenal sitting in seventh place six points behind Chelsea up in third and immediately my brain began to calculate how much higher we would be able to climb after defeating the west London club and collecting three points this weekend. Yes that’s right, I was working on the assumption that Arsenal would win the game because that is what I always do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naïve enough to think we can’t be beaten and then surprised when we are. To be honest I can’t really explain to you why I do it? Whoever it is we’re set to face in the league, I always add three points to our current tally when having a pre match look at the current league standings. It’s just one of those things I’ve always done, in the same way I always back one of our strikers to finish as the country’s top goal scorer at the start of every season, always predict we’ll win at least one trophy every season and whilst I don’t always share it (partly so as not to jinx it) in my mind I’m always sure that this is the season Spurs will be relegated. Reality always kicks in and on those occasions when I know we might struggle for the win or gladly take a point I readily accept it.

But since that brief league table maths work out, and it’s almost instant dismissal, I’ve started to hear the voices of the cast of Escape to Victory in my head, you know the bit…

*Spoiler Alert*

At half time in their exhibition match against Ze Germans, John Colby and his team of Allied footballer POW’s, aided by the French Resistance, are escaping into the Paris sewers via the Columbes Stadium baths when suddenly despite freedom being only moments away and trailing the match 4-1 a shout of “But we can win this” comes up from midfielder Doug Clure (Russell Osman)

But we can win this” those five words keep popping into my head and the more I think about it the more possible it seems…

Let’s remember we’re in a rich vein of form, perhaps not in the sense of the football we’ve been playing but certainly in the sense of our recent results and Chelsea are without the suspended Didier Drogba. Since the Ivorian has been at Stamford Bridge we’ve never lost a game against the blues when he hasn’t played.

Ok, we haven’t won away in the league in eight matches and our hosts are unbeaten in their last ten London derbies on home soil but encouragingly Andre Villas-Boas’ side haven’t managed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight games and we’ve got goal scoring sensation Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has bagged 25 goals in 26 Premier League matches in 2011.

When was the last time we won at Stamford Bridge? 2008. Who scored the Gunners goals in that 1-2 victory? Robin Van Persie. Is that a sign? Most likely not, it just me plucking positives from anywhere I can find them.

Would I settle for a point if it were offered to us right now? Perhaps, but then I drift back to 1943, to Paris and the Columbes Stadium. I can hear the cries of the oppressed Parisian crowd as they break through the barriers, storm the German troopers with the sheer size of their number and cover the allied players in coats and hats, moving them towards the gates and streets of the French capital “Victoire” they cheer “Victoire, Victoire, Victoire“…

After his rousing speech at the AGM perhaps our French manager can continue to lead and inspire our own resistance and escape from the early season form that has seen any chance we have of achieving something of merit this season dismissed by many. Perhaps at Stamford Bridge this afternoon Wenger can lead his men to Victoire and those three points…

Thanks for reading – enjoy the game wherever you are watching it.

Paul.

Arsene saves the day at the Arsenal AGM

I’m not really sure what I expected as I headed to the Emirates for the Arsenal AGM yesterday, but once things were over and I shuffled out of the stadium and into the drizzle I realised that what I should have expected is exactly what we got – a reinforcement of the clubs perennial message of self sustainability and determination to continue on it’s current course and precious little else.

Chief executive Ivan Gazidis began the meeting by discussing the change in ownership and Stan Kroenke’s dedication telling the crowd that the owner was not new to Arsenal and that during the three years he had been involved with the club the American had grown to understand it’s key values  and that his vast experience with sports clubs would help sustain security and stability.

Amongst the acknowledgements for the achievements of Laura Harvey and her treble winning Arsenal Ladies team, the success of the summer tour of Asia, the clubs community work, growth of Arsenal player and  global support, Gazidis paid tribute to the club’s ‘sound financial platform’ revealing that all bank loans had been paid off and any outstanding debt was related to the move from Highbury and building of the new stadium. Reassuring us that this debt was set at affordable fixed term rates he went on to speak about the new commercial partnerships with Betsson, Indesit, Carlsberg and Thomas Cook whilst revealing that the relationship with main sponsors Emirates and Nike were strong and that the club will continue to work closely in maintaining and improving its commercial deals.

Ultimately the CEO stuck to script and reiterated the importance of the on field achievements of the football team (being a force in the Premier and Champions Leagues), sticking to the core principals of the club and the role played by Arsene Wenger, saying we should be proud of our style of football and proud of our manager and the fact that he acts with responsibility and vision always putting the best interests of the club first.

He finished his speech by paying homage to the history of the club, that it had been built by extraordinary individuals who had vision, commitment and responsibility. Paying tribute to Ken Friar and Danny Fizsman and the part the two men have played in maintaining the clubs continued growth. Gazidis rounded off by saying that Arsenal Football Club was about more than football, that it is about unity, class and always moving forward and that all staff involved with Arsenal care passionately about the club and are obsessed with seeing its succeed.

It was now time for Stan to break his much reported silence. When PHW had stated in his awkward introduction that Mr Kroenke would be saying a few words there was a murmur that was somewhat akin to a mothers meeting learning a juicy bit of gossip.

The American began his address with an attempt at humour, and perhaps breaking the ice which has formed since he took control of the club, quipping that he was unsure why anyone was interested in hearing him talk.

I’m not sure it went down quite as well as he had intended it, perhaps matters had not been helped by the rumours that circulated whilst we all enjoyed ‘pre match’ tea & biscuits that the major shareholder had only arrived in the country earlier that morning. Personally I quite liked this attempt at humour but I think I may have been in the minority.

The address was kept relatively brief and again there was little said other than that which we would have expected to hear. Revealing that prior to become involved with Arsenal opportunities to invest in football clubs across Europe, including the Premier League, had been presented to him but that none of these opportunities had sparked his interest. It was not until he became involved with Arsenal, initially as a commercial undertaking he told us, that he had any interest in becoming involved with a football club and revealed the key elements of the club which saw his interest grow –

“The club has tremendous management at the top, a wonderful manager on the pitch who makes great decisions in regard to personnel, and a tremendous following with the supporters. With all those things in place, it was an easy decision to get more involved”

Kroenke went on to pay tribute to the late Danny Fizsman and the part he had played in the clubs growth and success in his time at the club before adding –

We are glad to be here, we are happy with the direction of the club and we are here for the long term. We love London and you better get used to seeing us”

So there was no outlined personal vision for the club only the reassurance that he was happy with the structure in place and was committed to the club. That wasn’t at all what the crowd had wanted to hear, the right things to say perhaps but not the impassioned call to arms and watershed moment that many had been waiting for and whilst I share that view to a degree I once again find myself unsurprised and forced to accept that we were never going to get anything more than we were given.

It was the Q&A which followed that really sparked the ire of the crowd. Peter Hill-Wood was to answer the pre submitted and approved questions and to say he did so with muted enthusiasm would be a massive over statement. In truth it was little more than a waste of time, no question was answered with anything more than a blunt and standard response.

Essentially Hill-Wood stated that the focus on self sustainability would continue, there would be no injection of equity capital, the fruits of the new commercial deals would come to fruition in next years financial results and the board will continue to deliberate it’s possible further  support of the Fanshare scheme…

At one point there came a call for PHW to stand down and for David Dein to return as Chairman, this was instantly batted away by Hill-wood who said “I have no intention of standing down, I regard it as an honour and a privilege to be chairman of this club. I am also a fan and I want this club to be successful“. It was at this point that Stan Kroenke stepped in to give Hill-Wood his backing telling the heckling crowd

“We’re all fans. Peter has our support. We’re with you, we’re fans too”

I must admit whilst I do agree that Hill-Wood should no longer be in the position, he is an old school chairman in every sense of the term, I did respect the fact that Stan stepped in. It would have been easy for him to remain silent at this point and let his chairman take the flack. What I don’t agree with is the continued calls for the return of David Dein, I’m not going to dismiss the work he did whilst at the club but we can’t live in the past, after all isn’t that what PHW is being accused of?

By this point things had become uncomfortable and the situation wasn’t helped by Hill-Wood claiming that the vote to see him continue as chairman was unanimous, when in fact it wasn’t, and then completely forgetting to call for the vote for Kroenke’s continued presence on the board and when the chairman refused to give a satisfactory answer to a question asking why Red & White Holdings (Usmanov) were not being invited on to the board there were cries of “Answer the question”

The only positive point to come from Hill-Wood’s time on the mic was the unveiling of a new bust of Ken Friar. Commissioned to commemorate the directors sixty years of involvement at the club the bust is to be placed in the stadium entrance alongside those of Wenger and Herbert Chapman.

It took a rousing speech from Arsene Wenger to bring an air of unity to proceedings. The manager spoke with passion and verve and not from a script. Beginning with a suggestion that the media don’t always give a true report of what he has said the boss spoke of his gratitude for the confidence that had been shown in him during his fifteen years at “This special club“.

He defended the values of the club and asked that despite the difficult start to the season we gave our full support to the team because they are “A group ready to fight for this club“. Admitting that he couldn’t predict where the club would finish this season he said that he hoped that we would be able to look back on the season with pride and that we can still qualify for the Champions League.

Speaking of last season and the disappointing finish he confessed to feeling at points that he was completely at fault because he had convinced his players that they could win all four trophies, but ultimately that progression in every competition meant that in November, December & January of last season the side had to play a total of 27 games. Ultimately he admitted, that level of commitment in conjunction with a difficult spate of injuries meant that by the time March and April came around there was not quite enough left in the tank to take the team over the line but we should look back now and see that the overall performance across the season was much better than the disappointing finish suggested.

The Frenchman spoke of the disappointment of loosing “More than two” world class players during the summer but asked that we celebrate the emergence of another world class star, Jack Wilshere, and that while he was always being put under pressure to sign a goalkeeper we have found a soloution to that problem buy showing faith in the ‘keepers we had and can now appreciate that stance thanks to Wojceich Szczesny.

Wenger urged the fans to be united and suggested that whilst he understood the fear and discontent he can see in the clubs support we must remember that only Manchester United and Real Madrid have been as consistent as Arsenal during the last fifteen years.

The boss ended his passionate address by suggesting that the number of sceptics surrounding the club was too high but the support shown by the fans during the last two games shows that there is trust in this team and that if that continues we have every chance to succeed.

I’m not quite sure what the mood would have been had Arsene not given such a speech, the reception he was given before he spoke was impressive but nothing like the ovation he received once he had finished.

It seems that a little of his spark and belief has returned of late, as well as his passion. Maybe they never went away in the first place? But the change in his demeanour is certainly noticeable, perhaps the disappointing end to last season took more out of him than we have previously appreciated.

We know, as well as Wenger does and yesterday admitted, that he doesn’t get it right all the time but if we want to see our team return to winning trophies then his passion and leadership is integral to our resurrection in that sense.

I’ll freely admit that I, like many others, may have forgotten that of late and while one rousing speech doesn’t fix everything it certainly shows how much the Frenchman still cares and that he still has the desire to compete and most importantly to win.

With concerns still lingering about Kroenke’s long term plans and involvement and the lack of support for the chairman ever growing it is heartening to know that we have a man who cares about Arsenal Football Club, perhaps as much as we do, in charge of our team and continuing to push it forward…

I must say a massive thank you to the Arsenal Supporters Trust for making it possible for me to attend the AGM  and for the huge part they play in making sure that the fans of Arsenal Football Club are represented and given a voice within the club. If you still haven’t joined them you should do so now…

Thanks for reading,

Paul.

Carling Cup: Arsenal 2 -1 Bolton

So here we are in the last eight of the League Cup, a competition we apparently don’t take seriously, for the ninth consecutive year.

I think it’s fair to say we didn’t stroll though last nights game, at times it was hard work, but the experienced players in an all changed starting XI made the difference on the night. They showed their quality and with a few of them making returns from injury lay offs they even helped, along with a few youngsters, to show that our squad is perhaps slightly stronger than it is sometimes given credit for.

The stand out players for me on the night were Ju Young Park, Yossi Benayoun, Thomas Vermaelen and Nico Yennaris. If you’ve read a fair few other match reports this morning you may well be asking why I’ve not mentioned Andrey Arshavin in that list, or you may well have been at the game and decided yourself that the Russian was the best player on the park. Judging by a lot of the tweets I’ve seen that seems to be the general opinion and whilst Arshavin’s quality was certainly a key element in our victory I still can’t help but feel slightly frustrated with him at points.

To be honest it’s not even his actual football so much, apart from those short passes that don’t quite make it to their intended recipients leaving me wondering if the little fella thinks that either some of our players are a little quicker than they actually are or if he sometimes doesn’t calculate the weight of the pass relative to the distance the ball needs to travel? But as I say it’s not just that, what I have a real bugbear with is the amount of time he spends on the floor. I’m not sure if Opta have a stat for it but surely the midfielder must spend more time on the ground after being fouled and/or falling over than any other player in the league. If you’re not hurt, get up and get on with the game.

I’m aware that all sounds a little negative on my part given we won, again, last night and I certainly don’t mean to it’s just I find it hard to fawn over a player who undoubtedly has so much more to give. But credit to him because he was the catalyst for both of our goals and playing behind the striker rather than being stuck on the left flank obvioulsy suits him, but that’s not really a surprise because he isn’t a winger.. 

Drifting out to the right and receiving the ball from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the Russian moved towards goal unopposed by the backtracking Zat Knight before drilling a low shot past Ron Weasley-a-like Adam Bogdan and into the bottom left hand corner and put us back on level terms after former Gunner Fabrice Muamba had put the Trotters in front only six minutes earlier.

It took just three more minutes for the Gunners to get in front and it was Arshavin who set up the winner…

The impressive Park had made a few offside runs and as Arshavin picked up the ball and moved forward the South Korean had once again strayed into an offside position. Arshavin held on to the ball long enough for the Striker to check himself and then released the ball for Park to run onto and curl a lovely shot past Bogdan. It was a great finish and a goal the player’s performance deserved.

I know he has only played two games since his move, both coming in this competition, but on the evidence of last night Ju surely storms ahead of Marouane Chamakh in the pecking order. He was always looking to be involved always wanting the ball and whilst a few of his strikes on goal failed to give the Bolton stopper any real trouble it was heartening to see a striker who is prepared to perform his primary function and as long as your attempting to score goals will surely start to flow.

Yossi Benayoun was outstanding in my view, the Israeli has made only three starts for the Gunners since signing on a season long loan from Chelsea on deadline day and this is certainly his best of those performances so far. The former West Ham man worked tirelessly all night, I would wager he covered more ground than any other Arsenal player. Like Park Yossi has found his first team chances limited and whilst he is ineligible to play against his parent club at the weekend he certainly did enough last night to let the boss know he can play a pivotal role this season.

Another plus was the return of Thomas Vermaelen, the man just exudes class as a footballer and crucially a centre half. It’s such a rare problem for Arsene Wenger to have and whilst it’s one of those so-called good problems the gaffer must be suffering a slight selection headache when considering what his first choice centre back pairing will be. Mertesacker has improved with every game he has played in is starting to look assured at this level whilst forming an impressive partnership with Laurent Koscielny, in my view the ever impressive Laurent Koscielny. So the boss has to make three in to two, but that choice may now not need to be made until we play Marseille next Tuesday after Tommy was withdrawn after eight-five minutes last night and replaced by Daniel Boateng. There was some initial confusion after the game when it was suggested the Belgian had suffered a calf strain but it now seems that he was suffering from a touch of cramp and asked to come of as a precaution. Either way Wenger thinks the defender will be a little short for the trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and after two months on the sidelines that shouldn’t be a surprise. You can’t not play for two months and then play two games in a week. We may see him named amongst the subs on Saturday but I really would be surprised to see him start. *Update – It now seems the club are saying he will be fit, in which case a quick return to the starting XI may not be such a surprise after all. Tommy to partner Mertz, with Koscielny moving to RB?

Iggy Miquel gave an assured performance at left-back and Franny Coquelin went about his work quietly but professionally. AOC had a fairly quiet night in relation to his recent performances and Emmanuel Fimpong was not quite at the races before being replaced by Ryo. The Japanese youngster really got the crowd excited but you can still see just how raw he is and we shouldn’t be expecting to see him make massive inroads to the first team in the near future – but all the youngsters mentioned above are exciting prospects we’ll see much more of.

To finish off I just want to mention a player who I thought was brilliant last night and hasn’t maybe received as much praise as he should have…

Young Nico Yennaris gave a solid performance at right back, it is of course very early days and I’m not suggesting he should be coming into the first team on a regular basis as cover at right back during Sagna and Jenkinson’s lay-off’s. I’m not even 100% sure right back is the lads bet or preferred position but last night he did himself and the side proud and certainly didn’t look out-of-place and I look forward to seeing him develop and improve along with the other lads I’ve mentioned above

So another positive night for the club, we’re still not out of the woods but we may have come to a bit of a clearing which allows us to regroup and get our bearings. We’ve seen again the good work the club does at youth and academy level and had a peak at some of the players who could well be first team regulars in a few years, whilst a few summer accuasitions have maybe shown that their signings were a little shrewder than we may have previously considered.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Debuts, returns and a battle of shorts.‏

 

Tonight see’s Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers return to North London in the Carling Cup a month after going down three nil during their Premier League visit.
 
With the Gunners on a good run of six victories in the last seven matches, a run that stretches back to the 3-1 win over Shrewsbury in the previous round, a win tonight would see Arsene Wenger’s side book a quarter-final place for the ninth consecutive year.
 
Ahead of the game the gaffer has been talking about last seasons League Cup final defeat at the hands of Birmingham City and has suggested that it will be impossible for him to ever overcome the hurt of that defeat telling Arsenal.com
 
“Yes [the Birmingham game] will hurt me forever because we never forget disappointments, that’s part of life at managerial level, you do not only have successes but disappointments too”
 
Whilst it may not completely banish the memory of  Obafemi Martin’s late winner I would imagine that seeing his side once again reach Wembley and go on to finally win the competition would go some way to numbing the pain. It’s quite amazing the amount of grief Wenger has been given for not taking this competition seriously during his time at the club but as I said above, we could reach the last eight for the ninth consecutive year.
 
During that time we’ve also reached two finals, I could be wrong but I can’t imagine any other side has had more success in the countries secondary cup competition during that period. Wenger himself maintains that he always takes the competition seriously saying –
 
“We have always taken the competition seriously” (Well I told you that’s what he said)
 
The Frenchman went on to say – “We use it as an opportunity to give a chance to some young players and people relate that to not taking it seriously but it is the opposite”
 
“Because we take it seriously we want to always offer two things – the desire to win and the opportunity for our fans to see some of the players who represent the future for this club
 
I really don’t think you can argue with that, if we were merely handing out first team debuts to our whole starting eleven and crashing out in our first game then you could criticise but the truth is most of the top sides and even a clutch of smaller clubs have gone on to follow suit and replicate our philosophy. The difference with Arsenal is that the quality of players we field, those ‘kids’ and ‘reserves’, are still a class above what other clubs have to offer when it comes to those categories.
 
Tonight will see that tradition of blending youth and experience continue and on paper we look set to field what I think is an exciting side and one I’m looking forward to seeing.
 
We’ll see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain come back into the team and if he performs anywhere near the level he produced on his full debut against the Shrews that in itself will make for an exciting evening, but alongside AOC we’re also set to see the return of Thomas Vermaelan make his return from a two month injury lay-off.
 
It’s seems as if it will be down to the boss to decide between the Belgian and young Spaniard Iggy Miquel for the left back position. Whilst neither player is a natural in the role, we’re in a position where we need to make do and mend as such and while one of the pair will be an auxiliary fullback for the evening the other looks set to partner another returnee, Seb Squillaci, at centre half. How timely that the man who looks like Skeletor returns from injury as we approach Halloween…
 
We can expect to see young Nico Yennaris make his debut at right back and make up the back four with Skellaci, Tommy and Iggy while Lukasz Fabianski will once again take his place between the sticks. The Pole has recently spoken of his desire to regain a regular starting birth in goal ahead of countryman Wojciech Szczesny in the build up to Euro 2012 and whilst it would take something spectacular from Fabs and something catastrophic from Szcz for that to happen it doesn’t hurt to have one player chomping at anothers heels, it can only boost the performances of both which is good for the club.
 
I expect we’ll see Emmanuel Frimpong and Franny Coquelin start in the middle but I’m not overly sure who’ll make up the midfield trio, I’ve heard suggestions of Thomas Rosicky but the Czech isn’t in the 18 man sqaud so that rules him out. It seems likely then that Yossi Benayoun will come in to add a touch of experience alongside the two youngsters.
 
I’ve already mentioned AOC, he’ll take his place on the right of our front three alongside Ju Young Park in the middle and Andrey Arshavin on the left (I’m guessing)
 
As I said yesterday we could really do with the South Korean replicating his international form and providing a tangible alternative to RVP if and when we should need one. It’s been a little surprising that he, AOC and Benny have seen their first team chances limited considering they are three of our few summer signings so they all have a point to prove tonight and hopefully they’ll all take their chance. It’s also a great chance for Arshavin to try and turn his recent cameo apperances in the league into something a bit more substantial, it’s certainly no good having the Russian replecating his performance in France last week.
 
It’s a strong side (if I’m right that is) and one I’m very much looking forward to watching. As well as the players I’ve mentioned above the squad also includes Ryo, Vito Mannone, Jernade Meade, Oguzahn Ozyakup, Sanchez Watt, Chuks Aneke and Daniel Boateng. Hopefully we can see Ryo & Chuks get a dedent run out at some stage too.
 
I’ve no idea what sort of side Owen Coyle will field this evening, the Trotters are really struggling and the Scot could either send out a strong side in the hope that a cup run will help reinvigorate their league form or he’ll give his senior players a breather and a send out a second string. To be honest I’m not too fussed I think our side should have enough to see off any whatever team they face tonight and if I’m honest I’m more intrigued by the battle of the shorts between Coyle and Pat Rice…
 
It’s bound to be cold tonight, because it’s late October and that’s how things work, and with both men favouring a pair of shorts and proving that they’re real men, real old school football men, I do wonder if one or indeed both will back down or if they’ll stand toe to toe…
 
I most certainly won’t be wearing shorts, I’ll be wrapped up nice and warm and if I get cold I’ll just ask Big Dave to put his arms around me…
 
Ok, I’m going now before this turns weird(er)…
 
Enjoy the game, and if you’ve not got a ticket but fancy getting down to support the Gunners you can do so by clicking here.
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Paul.

Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke City

Morning all,

Last Monday I commented on how Monday’s always seem brighter when the Gooners have had a win at the weekend, but three wins in the space of a week, climbing to the top of our Champions League group and now 7th in the Premier League has given me a real case of the Happy Mondays…

I foolishly suggested yesterday that we all knew what Arsene Wenger’s starting eleven would be. You would think that after fifteen years I would know better than to try and second guess the man.

The back four was as expected, Johan Djourou came in at right back whilst Mertz, Laurent Koscielny and Andy Santos all kept their places *Well obviously they did, the trio may be in fine form but it’s not like we’re blessed with defenders right now, not any who can stand up anyway. Aaron Ramsey came back into midfield in place of Thomas Rosicky to link up with Mickey Arteta and Alex Song while Theo Walcott kept his place on the right and Gervinho started on the left flank. The biggest surprise was the omission of Robin Van Persie. Wenger may have alluded to resting the front man during his pre match press conference on Friday but I’m assuming not many people took that seriously because it certainly wasn’t widely reported. So with Robin amongst the subs Marouane Chamakh was given his first league start of the season.

There were no defensive replacements on the bench (see above comment marked by *). We’ll assume that the boss considered he could sufficiently re-jig if required.

The two goals aside the first half didn’t provide much in the way of talking points, Stoke seemed fairly happy to dwell in their own area, sometimes sending Peter Crouch forward to test the miasma free air. I guess it’s the kind of thing they work on in their training cave.

The Arsenal saw plenty of the ball but until the 27th minute didn’t seem overly sure what to do with it. Our front line was incredibly static and devoid of inspiration particularly Walcott and Chamakh. I’m not suggesting neither man tried, in fact I thought the Moroccan worked quite hard but without him starting to put the ball in the back of the net or at least show some sort of creative spark he’ll continue to carry that monkey on his back and I’m pretty sure that it’s not at all easy to play football with a monkey perched on your shoulders. Perhaps had Jenkinson been playing he could have picked the forward out with his crossing? In fact down the right hand side we really could have done with either Jenkinson or Sagna, Djourou doesn’t have the pace nor the nous to bomb on in the way our regular right backs do and without a man running on in front of him Theo looked even more lost then has done of late.

Just before the half hour mark the Gunners jolted into life. An Arsenal move on the edge of the Stoke box broke down and the ball fell to Aaron Ramsey who played a lovely ball over the top of the Potters defence for Gervinho to take it down and slot past Begovic to make it one nil. The pass from Rambo was exquisite and the finish by Gervinho was equal to it.

It seemed that we might go on and apply some pressure on the visitors but just five minutes after the opener Stoke were back on level terms.

Referee Lee Mason, who was as consistently poor as he always is, decided that Laurent Koscielny had fouled Peter Crouch even though the defender had cleary out jumped the beanpole and won the header cleanly. Crouch pulls this trick so often that I can’t believe officials haven’t clocked on to it yet, any time anyone jumps above him he collapses to the ground and claims to have been fouled. From the resulting free kick the Gunners decided to parody recent defensive blunders and once the ball had pinged off of a few heads without ever being in danger of being cleared it dropped to Crouch who continued his good scoring record against us.

We should have had the chance to regain our lead from the penalty spot but as I said, Lee Mason was consistently inconsistent and whilst in his eyes a defender cleanly winning the ball is an illegal manoeuvre, flinging two arms around a players neck and hauling him to the ground within the penalty box is perfectly acceptable. That is just what happened when, I think it was Shawcross, performed the kind of tackle on Chamakh that would be deemed high and illegal in Rugby, not that Stoke are that kind of team or Shawcross is that type of player…

So the half came to an end and it all seemed a little flat about the place and when the second half kicked off we were initially treated to more of the same.

It took the initial introduction of Van Persie, on in place of Chamakh, to add some spark and bring us to life. The Dutchman instantly give the team and the crowd a lift, putting Pulis’s knuckle dragging giants under more pressure in the space of sixty seconds then Chamakh had done in sixty-six minutes, and once Arshavin replaced the ineffective Walcott five minutes later meaning a shift to the right for Gervinho, the Gunners really kicked into life and in the 73rd minute regained their lead.

Gervinho made a bursting run into the Stoke box before pulling the ball back for Van Persie who continued his incredible scoring run squeezing the ball between Begovic and the near post. Nine minutes later the pair combined again, this time Gervinho collected from Arshavin, who just like the game against Sunderland was impressive coming from the bench, the Ivorian again stormed into the box and cut back for Van Persie to add to his ever-growing goal tally.

So amongst all the suggestions this morning of us now being a one man team, Van Persie will take all the plaudits and perhaps rightly so but that does seem a little unfair on Gervinho who undoubtedly had his best game since joining the club. A goal, two assists and a 100% pass completion rate backs that up.

I’m not suggesting we don’t need to see other players chipping in with a few more goals because we certainly do, but it is a bit of a double-edged sword with Van Persie. We’re now being lauded as a one man team, but if the skipper wasn’t in such a rich vein of form, 29 goals in his last 36 outings for the club, we would be drowning in the weight of newspaper columns telling us we need a prolific striker.

Hopefully Gervinho will be boosted after his performance and can now replicate that form week in week out. I would be interested to see him start on the right in place of Theo but the question becomes ‘Who plays on the left?‘ Despite his impressive cameo appearances in our last two league games Ashavin did nothing during his start in Marseille to suggest he would make the most of a regular starting birth.

It seems that Ju will get a chance to slip on his shooting boots against Bolton in the Carling Cup tomorrow night, we could do with him bagging a goal or two and pushing for more first team involvement. He certainly isn’t going to be overtaking RVP but we do need another striker finding the back of the onion bag when called upon.

Koscielny and Mertesacker were once again fantastic at the back, the boss really will have a big decision to make once Tommy Vermaelen returns. Aaron Ramsey impressed me again, the boy has such a fantastic work ethic and it was brilliant to hear his name ring out around the ground a few times yesterday.  Andy Santos continues to improve and whilst Djourou didn’t set the world alight at right back he certainly didn’t let himself or us down.

It’s all very positive at the moment, not perfect but positive. All any football team wants to do is win games and we’re doing that, as fans we can ask for little more. Of course we will ask for more, we’re never content, but let’s enjoy the positive progression of this side.

I’m taking no joy out of the United result because it came at the hands of City, had Fulham or Everton pitched up at Old Trafford and hammered Fergie’s side I would be in raptures but City… Merh! I’m also not fussed about the Chelsea result because I don’t like Warnock and I don’t like Barton. I’m glad Drogba will miss our game against the blues at the weekend but that’s about as much as I care and anyway our most important game is tomorrow night against the Trotters.

Our form, NLD aside, since the Blackburn defeat has been frankly magnificent and whatever the line up, whoever the oppositions and whatever the competition we need that to continue because it keeps spirits high and helps us improve.

I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a look towards that league cup match but for now let us bask in the warm glow of yet another victory and dream of those that are to come.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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