There’s Something About Leicester…

During his speech at our wedding my wife’s father worked in my passion for Arsenal and noted that whilst writing his address he had been looking for a link between the Gunners and his home town club Leicester City. As soon as the words left his mouth I blurted out “First game at Highbury”. My father-in-law said he had asked one of his brothers about a link earlier in the day and had been pointed in the direction of the three all draw of 1954, whilst his own research on the official Arsenal website had led him to the twelve goal thriller that was the 6-6 draw in 1930.

I knew a bit about players who had represented the Gunners and the Foxes, legends like Geordie Armstrong who left London for Leicester in 1977 for a transfer fee of just £15,000 after falling out with manager Terry Neill and was reunited with our great double winning captain Frank McLintock who was by then in charge at Filbert Street, for one solitary season, and had himself moved in the opposite direction as a player when Billy Wright paid £80,000 for his services in October 1964. McLintock had replaced Jimmy Bloomfield as Leicester boss, Bloomfield had spent six years at Arsenal during his playing career. Jon Sammels who took to the pitch in the colours of the Arsenal on no less than 300 occasions scoring the goal that clinched the 1970 Fairs Cup and collecting a league championship winners medal as the Gunners marched towards an historic double the following season. In the week that preceded the cup final win that saw the Arsenal seal their first league and cup double Sammels reluctantly moved to Leicester City in a £100,000 deal, feeling he had become a scapegoat for every Arsenal mistake despite all he had achieved at the club. And amongst others such as Kevin Campbell, Eddie Kelly, Jeff Blockley and Lawrie Madden, who all donned the jersey of both sides at some point in their careers, there was Alan Smith a goal scorer who won the golden boot award in both the 1989 & 1991 Championship winning sides of George Graham. Smudger had been snapped up by Graham for £800,000 in March 1987, however the deal had been finalised after the deadline for transfer completions had passed and Smith was duly loaned back to the side who had just sold him until the season had come to an end and even played against Arsenal when City visited Highbury on April 20th.

Since that day in May 2010 I’ve had a feeling that a vein of history interconnects Arsenal and Leicester City and that an almost unique bond between the two clubs has existed in the background obscured by the more obvious and perhaps ‘Box Office’ links more easily identified. Once I finally got around to really looking into it I found that perhaps this wasn’t a romanticised perception of my mind and that real tangible evidence exists. While they are little more than the first of 129 occasions the clubs have met it all started with the first matches between Leicester Fosse and Woolwich Arsenal in 1895…

This was the Arsenal’s second season in Division Two and while it’s not quite clear if the team had a recognised manager in place at the time whoever took charge of the side on the afternoon of January 7th 1895 was unable to steer the Gunners to victory as they headed back down south having suffered a 3-1 defeat. The return fixture on the 9th March was held at the Lyttelton Cricket Ground, Leyton after Arsenal’s Manor Ground was shut for five weeks by the Football League after crowd trouble had broken out in a game against Burton Wanderers, this second meeting of the clubs finishing in a 3-3 draw.

Fast forward fifteen years to 1910 and the Chairman of Fulham Football Club, Henry Norris, had decided that for him one club was not enough, and after looking into the possibility of taking over either Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspurs it came as something of a surprise when the former mayor of Fulham decided to splash out on Woolwich Arsenal a side rooted to the foot of the Division One table who didn’t have two brass farthings to rub together, a side that played it’s football on the feted bog pit of the manor ground in Plumstead.

Norris’ original plan had been to merge Woolwich Arsenal with Fulham but this proposal was rejected by the football league and Norris was informed that he could only be involved with one club and severed his ties with the Cottagers (According to Arsenal historian Tony Attwood Norris had also been involved with Croydon Common FC but that’s a story for another day). No one really knows why Norris choose to stick with what would have been perceived as the ‘lesser club’ but thankfully he did and in the summer of 1913 began to search out a new site for his club after they had suffered relegation from league one, the only time in the clubs history that it has dropped out of the top flight, amidst dwindling supporter turn out at the manor ground.

With it’s close proximity to Gillespie Road tube station the recreation fields of St John’s College of Divinity was deemed to be almost the perfect location. I say almost because whilst Norris wasn’t worried about moving the club from it’s South East roots to North London he did consider that given the fact one of the main objectives of the operation was to increase the number of paying supporters turning out to watch his side the close proximity of Tottenham Hotspurs and Clapton Orient was something of a concern. However with the ground placed so close to the underground station it was too good an opportunity to turn down and a £20,000 twenty-one year lease was agreed. Objections were raised by Spurs and Orient who felt it unfair that a club from outside the area could encroach upon it’s North London turf, of course Orient would go on to move from their Homerton home to Leyton in 1937 and ninety-eight years after attempting to fend off Norris and Arsenal the O’s would find themselves embroiled in another case of encroachment when Spurs and West Ham United rivalled their own bid for occupancy of the new Olympic Stadium at Stratford.

The local residents of Highbury were also unhappy at the thought of new neighbours and along with the local football clubs they petitioned against the move. However a league management committee turned down all appeals and architect Archibald Leitch was charged by Norris with building a new stadium on the site, his previous experience of designing and building stadiums such as Glasgow Rangers Ibrox Park and Sheffield United’s John Street Stand at Bramall Lane had made him the obvious choice for the job although with just four summer months in which to complete his work time was certainly in short supply.

At a cost of £125,000 Leitch levelled the playing fields, erected a new grandstand on the eastern side of the ground and added three additional banks of basic terracing around the perimeter of the pitch. Although it was far from complete the original Arsenal Stadium which would forever be known as Highbury was ready for the start of the 1913/1914 season during which the club still known as ‘Woolwich Arsenal’ would compete in Division Two and hosted it’s first game on September 6th 1913 when they defeated Leicester Fosse by two goals to one.

Just as Aston Villa’s Olof Mellberg would be the first player to score a competitive goal at the Emirates Stadium, when Arsenal moved again ninety-three years later, it was an opposition player who first had the ball in the back of the net at Highbury. The Fosse’s Tommy Benfield putting the visitors one nil up before George Jobey scored the home sides equaliser and first goal on home soil, nodding home from Tommy Winship’s corner shortly before the half time interval. The game remained locked at one a piece until, with just twelve minutes remaining, the ball was handled by a Leicester player and the gunners were awarded a late penalty. In front of a crowd of 20,000 spectators Andy Devine stepped up to score from the spot and insure that life at the new home got off to a winning start.

The game was not without incident, Jobey received a kick in the back from a Leicester player and was treated by doctors and ambulance men before being taken home on the back of a cart borrowed from a local milkman.

Twenty years on and we reach that game and it’s gluttony of goals my father-in-law had mentioned. Five days before their 2-0 FA Cup final win over Huddersfield, Herbert Chapman took his Arsenal side to Filbert Street for a game that would create football history.

David Jack had the ball in the home sides goal after just two minutes but his effort was ruled out for offside, by the 21st minute David Halliday had given the Gunners the lead but at half time City headed into the dressing room with a 3-1 advantage. The first of the foxes goals was somewhat controversial, Dan Lewis saved a shoot from Hugh Adcock but was unable to hold on to the ball. Arsenal right back Tom Parker had appeared to clear the loose ball off the line but the referee saw fit to allow the equaliser to stand. Two minutes later Leicester took the lead for the first time in the game thanks to a goal by Arthur Lochhead and just before the half time whistle blew Adcock scored his second of the afternoon, this time firing his shoot through Lewis’ hands.

The Arsenal were as quick out of the traps in the second half as they had been in the first but on this occasion the goal within two minutes of the kick-off stood, Cliff Bastin giving the visitors a route back into the game. Sensing that they could perhaps still take something from the match Arsenal went on the attack and in a five minute period between the 58th and 63rd minute, Halliday scored another two goals to complete his hat-trick and added a fourth to his afternoons tally. The gunners were now leading by five goals to three. Leicester replied with a goal from Ernie Hine but with just thirteen minutes left on the clock Jack played in Bastin who dribbled through the Leicester defence and scored to restore Arsenal’s two goal lead but further goals were still to come. Len Barry pulled the score back to 5-6 before Lochhead scored the twelfth and final goal of the game. This remains the highest scoring draw in top flight English football, although it was matched in a game between Charlton Athletic & Middlesbrough in 1960.

David Halliday, scorer of four of the Arsenal goals that afternoon, went on to manage Leicester City between the years 1955 and 1958. Despite being a prolific goal scorer at Dundee (90 goals in 126 appearances) and Sunderland (156 goals in 166 appearances) the forward only spent one season at Highbury making a total of fifteen appearances and scoring nine goals, four of which came in the game against Leicester. Halliday never really found his feet in London and despite that four goal haul just days before the 1930 FA Cup Final he was left out of the Gunners team that beat Huddersfield to claim the clubs first major trophy. After hanging up his boots Halliday spent thirteen years (1937-1955) in charge of Aberdeen during which time he led the Scottish side to their first ever league championship in his final season before moving back south to take the helm at Filbert Street, guiding the foxes to the 1956/57 second division title and promotion to Division One. Although Halliday was only in charge for one top flight season the twelve season period between 1957 and 1969 remains the foxes longest ever spell in the top tier.

Another Leicester City record came against Arsenal in the form of their record attendance for a league game at Filbert Street. On October 2nd 1954 42,486 fans packed into the old ground to watch that three all draw my father-in-laws brother John had alluded to. With fans literally pouring from the terraces before the game kicked off it is little wonder that there were two fatalities that Saturday afternoon. A cloud of red & white balloons were sent into the air as an Arsenal side which included Tommy Lawton, who had briefly played for Leicester as a war time guest 15 years earlier, took to the pitch.

The City side included Arthur Rowley, holder of the record for the most goals in the history of English League Football. What price would a player capable of scoring 434 goals in 619 league games command today? I’ve no idea if any efforts were ever made to bring Rowley to London but with his scoring prowess and nickname ‘The Gunner’ it would certainly seem a good fit on paper at least. Rowley wasn’t the only productive goal scorer in the foxes starting XI that afternoon, Manager Norman Bullock also had Derek Hines at his disposal. Between them Rowley & Hines notched up a combined 382 goals whilst in Leicester colours and it was to nobodies surprise when the duo put the home side 2 – 0 up soon once this game got underway. The Gunners hit back with goals from Lawton & Jimmy Logie before half time and after the interval Rowley struck from the penalty spot to make it 3-2 before Lawton scored again for the visitors. Arsenal had the chance to complete a dramatic turn around with a penalty of their own but the City keeper saved the spot kick to insure the game finished in a draw.

Terms such as ‘letting a two goal lead slip’ and ‘conceding a late equaliser’ could have been plucked from a variety of Arsenal related match reports from recent seasons and they seem to be something of a regular occurrence in games against the foxes and it was no different when Arsene Wenger took his side to Filbert Street in 1997. If ever an individual performance deserved to win a game it was Dennis Bergkamp’s hat-trick on the evening of August 27th, but football is a team game and so it proved as the Gunners let two points slip yet the Dutchman’s treble has been described by some as the greatest hat-trick of all time.

The first was an incredible shot of power and accuracy from the edge of the Leicester penalty area. With almost every other player in the box the Dutchman received the ball direct from a corner, took one touch to control it then hit a curling shot into the right hand corner of Kasey Keller’s goal. The second came from an Arsenal break deep in their own half, after receiving it from Ray Parlour Patrick Vieira played the ball across the park into the path of Bergkamp who touched it on past the Leicester defence. Keller came rushing from his goal as Dennis chassed the ball and as the American keeper slid in with his feet in an attempt to clear it the Netherlands striker pinged the ball into the air and into the open goal mouth.

Leicester found a lifeline thanks to an Emile Heskey goal. A long ball was played into the Arsenal box and as David Seaman came out to collect it Lee Dixon somehow got himself in-between the goalkeeper and Heskey. The ball bounced off of the right backs chest and back into the path of the man the home fans affectionately  called Bruno who steered it into the open goal. The Foxes drew level from a low drive from Matt Elliott which bypassed everyone including Seaman as the game creeped into stoppage time. The goal which completed Bergkamp’s treble came from the restart and it was a goal of absolute majesty, David Platt had spotted the Dutchman’s run into the City box and lofted the perfect ball into his path. Bergkamp took the pace out of the ball with an incredible first touch then flicked it past Elliott with his left foot, while the Leicester defender stood wondering where it had gone Dennis placed the ball past Keller into the top right corner. Yet still the game hadn’t finished, after about six minutes of stoppage time one final chance fell to the homes side. The ball pinging around the Arsenal box fell to Steve Walsh who headed it into the goal to spark scenes of jubilation for the Foxes and their fans and utter outrage from Wenger and his players.

Bergkamp is by no means the only Arsenal player to put three past Leicester in any era let alone during the Wenger reign, Thierry Henry scored a total of 226 goals during his time at Arsenal, including eight hat-tricks, the first of which came against Leicester City in a 6-1 win at Highbury on Boxing day 2000.

We then come to the season of all seasons…

In the last league game of the 2003/04 campaign Arsenal needed to avoid defeat in order to become the first side to complete an unbeaten league season since Preston North End had achieved the feet in 1889. North End had competed in a 22 game season winning 18 and drawing 4 games, PNE also won the FA Cup that year without conceding a goal during their run to the final, becoming the first side to win the league and cup double. Arsenal completed their own Invincible campaign having played a 38 game season, almost double that of North End. The Gunners record stood at an outstanding 25 wins and 12 draws as they took to the pitch for the final time that season and their chances of reaching the incredible land mark were put under pressure in the 25th minute when former Gunner Paul Dickov headed the visitors into the lead. Arsenal hit back from the penalty spot in the 44th minute to put the record attempt back on track after Ashley Cole had been brought down by a clumsy Frank Sinclair challenge.

The Gunners made sure that the landmark season finished with a win when captain Patrick Vieira clinched the winner in the 66th minute but the unbeaten record wasn’t the only celebration at Highbury that day. Of course the Gunners had already clinched the league title at White Hart Lane after a 2-2 draw on April 25th and it was the late substitute appearance of Martin Keown which added to the emotional atmosphere at Highbury.

The stalwart, in his second spell at the club, had been assured a league championship winners medal after coming on to replace Freddie Ljungberg in the 87th minute. This was to be the defenders 449th and final appearance for the club as he left on a free transfer that summer to join Leicester City. Keown would only spend six months with the Foxes making just 17 appearances before an apparent falling out with then boss Mickey Adams saw him move on to Reading in January ’05 in a deal that would take him up to the end of the season. After just five appearances for the Royals Keown hung up his boots at the end of the campaign, twelve months after bringing down the curtain on his Arsenal career.

I’ve been reliably informed that the Arsenal’s 250th League goal came against Leicester Fosse and the Gunners 2000th & 2500th league goals came against the side who had by that time become Leicester City and that Bobby Gould was the first ever Arsenal substitute to score a goal which came in a game against guess who. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if even more of these quirks existed.

Maybe I’m romanticising it all a little for personal reasons and maybe if you started to dig around you’ll find little crotchets of fate scattered everywhere but I can’t think of any other side that has played such a prominent part in Arsenal’s 125 year history without ever getting much of a mention.

*As of 23/11/2011 This article features on acclaimed football  site In Bed With Maradona

WBA Preview: Let’s not have a repeat of last year

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So this afternoon it’s the turn of Roy Hodgson’s West Bromwich Albion to visit the grove and as the title of this post requests lets not have a repeat of last year…

I won’t go into detail on that 2-3 defeat at the hands of a Baggies side that had only just come back up after a spell in the Championship, to find yourselves trailing by three goals at home against a newly promoted side who had seen a first half penalty saved makes for as uncomfortable viewing as any of this seasons defeats doesn’t it?

Chelsea number two Roberto Di Mateo was the man in the West Brom hot seat back then so at least the Italian won’t be able to stage a similar game plan this time around but I’m sure Hodgson will be reminding his players that victory is achievable.

In all honesty I think we’ll be far too strong for the Baggies but then again I said that last season too so what the hell do I know? But given our current form particularly at the Emirates I find it hard to see past a home win, even when I take my Arsenal-tinted glasses off. If I’m honest I don’t really know how Albion are getting on this season, I know that’s fairly lazy of me and usually I would have spent a little time looking at their form and their squad so as to offer you a bit more insight on the fixture, at least I hope that’s what you usually get from my match previews?, but I’ve not really had the time and as I sit writing the first draft of this post I’m upon a train headed for the south coast of England with no form of Internet connectivity. I’ve dredged my brains for some kind of repressed memory I may have that gives an indication of our opponents form but I’ll I’m getting is a vague recollection that West Brom’s “celebrity” fans include Frank Skinner and Adrian Chiles. I don’t particularly like either of those two but if the people in charge at the Hawthorns want to do a swap for Shovel from M People and Piers Morgan I don’t think it’s a deal I could turn down.

Anyway I digress, partially as a distraction technique to cover up the fact I’ve not done my home work but partly because I’m quite adapt at going off on a tangent..

So back to the game and we have no new injury concerns. It’s incredible isn’t it, we seem to have had a real run of our key players staying fit (everybody touch some wood – except you over there, you stop what your doing right now. That call for mass wood touching was not a euphemism you pervert) Kieran Gibbs and Marouane Chamakh remain unavailable but aside from those two and long term absentees Jack Wilshere, Abu Diaby and Bacary Sagna we’re at full strength and I for one think thats pretty flippin’ positive and I’ll be praying that when the players return and we awaken from yet another inter-coma in a couple of weeks time that will still be the case. The boss says that Gibbs and Chamakh should be available again by then so that should strengthen us even further, depending on how you look at it, but the gaffer has made those sorts of predictions before. Take Diaby (some body please take Diaby) the Frenchman has been expected to return after every international break since Euro 2008 or at least that’s how it seems.

With such a wondrous selection of players for Wenger to choose from it’ll be interesting to see the line up this afternoon, I think we’ll see the return of Laurent Koscielny and it could well be Per Mertesacker who makes way. Vermaelen needs game time and Larry had a breather during the week so let Mertz have a break. I know it won’t he the first time we’ve seen Vermaelen and Koscielny paired together but it will be interesting to get a look at the duo marshalling our back line together.

I’ll be surprised if Van Persie dosen’t come back into the side, I don’t think Park was quite as poor against Marseille as some posts have suggested but personally I wouldn’t start the South Korean today. Play Robin from the get go and hopefully with a large chunk of the second half remaining our lead will be comfortable enough that Ju can replace the Dutchman and maybe show the kind of form he did against Bolton in the Carling Cup a few weeks ago. There has been a lot of talk this week of January moves for a striker, it’s something I would welcome especially if it were a player such a Lukas Podolski as some have suggested because I’m a big fan of the German. But for now Wenger is claiming he is quite happy the options he has up front but then again he would wouldn’t he.

Other than Robin & Larry coming back into the starting XI i think the team will stay the same, the boss isn’t going to rest players ahead of their international jaunts so aside from those two I don’t think we’ll see any changes from Tuesday nights European stalemate.

I’ve just remembered something else about WBA – With his hair dyed platinum blonde Peter Odemwingie looks like ’80’s pop star Yazz. That would most likely be more of a benefit to the baggies were they attempting to win promotion from the Championship. Christ, M People & Yazz in one post… I think it’s time for me to wrap this up.

I’m not going to be at the game this afternoon, as you read this I’ll be on a completely separate body of land and the reason for that is related to the fact that I’m 32 years young today – Yep 1979 was a great year for Gooners. All I want in way of a present is an Arsenal win and three more of those precious points.

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and keep me updated on events at the grove via Twitter. Dave will be delivering your post match report tomorrow so be sure to check it out.

Thanks for reading.

Paul

Arsenal 0 – 0 Marseille : I’m not complaining

Morning Gooners…

I’m tired, I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I’m cranky enough at the best of times, when I’m short on shut-eye I’m a real treat…
 
But despite that and despite Arsenal’s inability to beat Marseille and seal qualification from the group last night, I’m not going to be making too many complaints this morning *NB – What follows is likely to contain some complaints but just not too many.
 
Reflecting back on the game without the aid of having watched the game back or read any match reports, I think we had the better chances to win the game – In the first half Rambo spurned a decent opportunity to move closer to his goals target of double figures for the season. Andre Santos’ cross across Mandanda’s goal was perfect but the Welshman was unable to apply the finish and his touch sent the ball high and wide. Theo also had a fantastic opportunity to at least test the French ‘keeper but rather than fire a shoot straight off he delayed, took an extra and unnecessary touch and the chance went begging. After his dazzling performance at the bridge on Saturday it was disappointing to see Theo revert back to the ineffective and indecisive player who causes so much frustration.
 
In all we had seven shots on target compared to Marseilles one, so talk from Deschamps suggesting his side should have won are maybe as far wide of the mark as an Arsenal free-kick (Assuming said free-kick gets over the wall). I will admit that the visitors probably just about shaded it as the better side on the night but it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest they should have won – I’m aware that doesn’t quite make sense but it does give further indication of our attacking impotence last night. I said in yesterdays post that I would have started Van Persie and had Park on the bench, Wenger thought the opposite. I really like the South Korean so I’m not going to rip him apart here but he was largely ineffective. It wasn’t for want of effort and endeavour, he kept going for the sixty-two minutes he was on the park (pun intended) and was always looking to be involved. It was just maybe one of those nights where things don’t quite click. I’ll say one thing for the former Monaco front man, as pointed out by Big Dave, he wins every header he goes for.. I’m not sure what that offers us this morning but on the whole it can be no bad thing, knowing that we’ve a player with the ability to use his height but not become reliant upon. The boss suggested after the game that he had made a mistake and that we may have been better off starting the Dutchman from the off (This is becoming a habit isn’t it Arsene…)
 
Gervinho was another of our front men who wasn’t quite at the races, I think the Ivorian created two or three good chances but on the whole it was another example of his poor decision making. There was a point where Theo was in acres of space but ‘Vinho (I just made that up, kudos to me?) picked out Ramsey instead but the Wales skipper was surrounded by blue shirts and quickly lost possession. To be fair to ‘Vinho (yep I’m sticking with that) he looked dead on his feet in the later stages of the game and it’s not surprise really, he has been working his socks off of late and he wasn’t the only one to suffer in that manner.
 
I thought Alex Song was the only player to pick up where he left off on Saturday. I know the Cameroonian has his critics still but I think that very quietly he is growing with every game and is starting to be a bit of a lynchpin in that midfield trio.
 
I expect that much will be made of the Varmaelen and Mertesacker partnership at centre half, the pair certainly played will together and it was nice to see us keep a clean sheet even when we have a goalkeeper pulling out Cruyff turns in the penalty box. Some might now suggest that Wenger has made his choice and Laurent Koscielny has been the unlucky one, but in truth the manager was surely giving the Frenchman a breather. Larry has played a lot of football so far this season and with Tommy V back this was the right choice by Arsene. I am starting to wonder if rather then the gaffer picking a first choice two from Tommy, Mertz and Larry he may just rotate a little? That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, I think we’ve seen that any permutation of pairing can work well so it could be the way to go.
 
A draw is far from the worst result but Dortmund beating Olympiacos in the other game in the group any two of the four teams can still get through to the knock-out stage so our home game against the Germans later this month is a key game. I think mathematically we can still progress with two more points from the possible six that remain on offer but we all know that we need to win the group and I don’t think two draws will allow us that opportunity.
 
There may be a few reports this morning saying we’ve crashed back down to earth and all that jazz but the level headed amongst us never considered that a run of wins including an away drubbing of Chelsea had cleared away all the early season doubts and fears and that we would hit a bit of a wall at some point. We’re not having to eat humility flavoured porridge this morning. Thoughts now turn to Saturdays game against West Brom and the players have a few days now to catch their breath.
 
My biggest disappointment of last night was seeing that Emmanuel Frimpong doesn’t quite know how to get into the ground. The Ghanaian drove up St Thomas’s Road in his DEEEEENCH Mobile about forty-five minutes before kick off (without stopping to give me a lift) and clearly got to the top of the road to find he had gone the wrong way. Two minutes later he was driving back down the street towards Finsbury Park… Silly Frimmers.
 
Well that is me done for now, so thanks for reading and enjoy your day.
 
Cheers.
 
Paul.

Marseille Preview: All to play for

 

Tonight we face Marseille in the Champions League – A win will up our points tally to 10 and open a clear gap between us and the other three sides in the group regardless of the result in the Dortmund – Olympiacos game. However, should we beat OM and Die Schwarzgelben pick up their first three group points we’ll see our qualification to the last sixteen secured.
 
At the moment the group is pretty tight and all four sides currently have at least a mathematical chance to progress to the knock out stage so we’re set to see a fairly open game at the grove this evening. While we’ve been busy swatting aside all comers of late L’OM have been busy putting together a little run of their own since our win at the Stade Velodrome beating AC Ajaccio, Lens & Dijon in the three games. So we can expect the French side to be reinvigorated and with the chance to take our place at the top of the group on offer it all has the makings of a great game because I think we can all agree that we won’t be sitting back and looking to take a point or hold onto a lead – we just don’t do that.
 
What is important is winning the group, taking our foot of the gas and finishing second last season presented us with a two leg knock out tie with Barcelona. Now I’ve always been of the opinion that if you want to win a competition you’ve got to play and beat the best sides at some point, but at the same time I understand that facing ‘lesser sides’ as such is an advantage and you also hope that the further you go in a knock out competition the more confidence and belief you build. I’m not suggesting we’ll go on and win the Champions League this season but if you’re not going to aim to win then why bother taking part (aside from the masses and masses of millions it earns you) ? Also we’re the Arsenal, we should never ever settle for a quarter final place (or fourth place in the league) at least not while it is still possible to achieve much more.
 
In terms of team news, we’ve suffered no fresh injuries from Saturday. Yossi Benayoun returns to the squad after impressing in the Carling Cup win last week and being ineligible to face his parent club Chelsea. Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson are pushing for starting births. While their injuries are not related to Saturdays win Marouane Chamakh and Abu Diaby miss out again with knee and hamstring injuries respectively. The Moroccan (That is a country nowhere near Iraq so if you’re a singer of that ridiculous song just stop it right now. There is almost three thousand miles between the countries) has a knee injury, but there has been no time frame put on his absence and Ab-Who is set for another three weeks on the sidelines, Wenger says he is worried for his country man but not as worried as he was three months ago when he was worried
 
The boss said yesterday that he hasn’t decided on his line-up yet but I think we may well see a few changes from the weekend but with qualification and top stop still in the balance I’m not sure this is the best time to go resting too many players – I’m thinking of Robin & Rambo in particular here.
 
If the Dutchman is rested then the only replacement we have is Ju and in I think it would benefit the South Korean if he does get some game time, but my choice would be to see him come from the bench.
 
I know that Stan Kroenke has been talking and that is something I’ll be taking a bit more of a look at during the international break. I know it will be old news by then but we’ve got two big games before we have to spend two weeks being bored to tears and frankly I would rather concentrate on those games. But if you want to know what our Stanley has been saying then you can have a read of the Mirror’s full transcript here.
 
Sadly I have to do the job that pays me now, rather then just do parts of it like I have been since I got into the office just after half past seven…
 
I’m really looking forward to the game tonight, I think it will be another big test for this team but one we can overcome so here’s to another Arsenal victory.
 
Enjoy the game wherever you are watching it and lets get together about this time tomorrow and discuss it shall we?
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Paul.

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.

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