Fighting Back

It’s difficult to believe that any club fighting its way to wining the league championship would ever take the opinion that everyone is against them but during the 1990/91 old Division One season that is exactly what George Graham instilled in his players – A solid belief that no one wanted to see the Arsenal crowned league champions for the second time in three seasons, that the national press were against them because “Nothing ever comes out of Highbury“, the Football Association were against them having fined the club £50,00 and two precious points for their part in the brawl that took place at Old Trafford in the October of that campaign. George even went so far as to suggest that the fans were not fully behind the team and in his famous teamtalk at London Colney he reiterated to his players the importance of getting the fans on their side, he even assured the squad that he would play his part in this, that he would get the fans backing the team during their title run in.

Having been at an age where the politics of football held little to no interest for me I can’t honestly say I vividly remember a feeling that we were coming under attack from all sides back then but from the ten thousand times I watched my VHS copy of the season review aptly titled ‘Champions‘ that defiance and felling that it was ‘us against them’ has always stuck with me.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re unlikely to be crowned Premier League Champions this season and while the club have certainly helped stir the fans current irritation with price increases, transfer impotence, the teams poor form etc in recent months (I don’t want to go into too much detail less I defeat my own purpose here) and as a collective we do certainly have a belief that the written press and outlets such as Sky Sports News are against us. That they’re ready and willing to pick up the tiniest of sticks and prod poke and beat us with them. But more often than not we’re assured by our perceived detractors that this simply isn’t true and we’re paranoid (Usually at the foot of an article laying into our inability to do anything but the opposite of all they implore us as a club to do).

This week I’ve enjoyed what to me looks like the clubs attempts at a resistance…

It began with CEO Ivan Gazidis speaking at a Sports Industry Group breakfast at the start of the week.Ivan spoke not only of owner Stan Kroenke’s full involvement with club matters and the muted Americans apparent plans to share his thoughts with fans and media alike when next on English soil, he also spoke of his backing for the boss in the wake of last weekends defeat at Ewood Park. The South African/British chief exec rounded on Wenger’s critics assuring them that the Frenchman is – “As focused on delivering success as ever. He didn’t suddenly become a bad manager, that’s nonsense

We all know that as a public speaker Ivan is somewhat silver-tongued, it’s a natural environment for the former Deputy commissioner of the MLS. W also know that behind the scenes he is frustrated by the hammering the club is getting from all directions and whilst he may have similar views to the rest of us when it comes to expenditure on playing staff and some of Wenger’s methods he is, professionally at least, a company man and wouldn’t be earning his crust if he didn’t attempt to dampen the fire and get the clubs PR reputation back on track. It may have been an odd thing to say but I quite liked his defence of Wenger when he said – “He’s not broken. To see him portrayed as some kind of idiot is damaging to the game“.

Maybe it’s not what Ivan meant but for us all to now round on Wenger and portray him as some kind of fool in the way that Steve Howard would (and does) after all he achieved in the game is somewhat shortsighted and in an age where anyone and everyone in a position of responsibility at football clubs is only a poor performance away from the dole queue it is important for the game that those with the reputation and longevity of Wenger, Ferguson and the like is giving lesser mortals less than a cat in hells chance of getting anywhere near the types of career those two have had.

Ivan’s backing seemed to stiffen the lips and harden the resolve of our boss and our players. After the clubs Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night Arsene himself came out with some of the old fighting talk, dismissing suggestions that he had received a so-called vote of confidence and that speculation surrounding his longterm future at the helm of the Gunners was foolhardy, he told his inquisitors: “My record? I have just managed 14 years at this club and I have kept them 14 years in the Champions League and I wish it lasts another 14 years

Maybe it was the heat of the interview battle and the line of enquiry from those who talk a good game of club management without ever have come any closer to doing so then a game of Championship Manager, but Arsene did himself a kind of disservice forgetting that he has now been manager of this great club for fifteen years. However he knew how long he had been schooling footballers, when asked if he had plans to add a defensive coach to his staff the gaffer quipped “I’ve just completed 32 years of coaching – I don’t want to answer this kind of question

Then is now doubt that the club was going on the defensive in the media at a time when we’ve been unable to do so on the pitch. It was all very batten down the hatches and keep the enemy at the gates, but it wasn’t overly doing much to win over the fans.That coup de grace came yesterday.

On Wednesday morning The Sun newspaper ran a story on it’s back page which suggested that the perceived poor attendance at the Emirates on Tuesday night was the fans making it known to Wenger, Gazidis, Kroeke and the world that they were unhappy. Coupled with an almost full page picture of empty Emirates seats “journalist” Charlie Wyett mocked the attendance figure of 46,539 for a league cup third round fixture against a side that is three divisions below us. True it was the lowest attendance the clubs new home has ever seen but the paper seemed unwilling to level this against other attendance figures such as Manchester City’s paltry 44,026 at the United Stadium last week for their first ever UEFA champions League game against Italian side Napoli. They didn’t mention that more fans had attended our fixture on a Tuesday night then were in attendance for Tottenham’s Premier league win over Liverpool on Sunday lunch time.

Now Wyett & Co were content to dismiss our attendance figure as little more than laughable and yesterday the club stuck two fingers up at them with the release of not only a thank you to the fans for their support at the game but also the attendance figures for every Carling Cup game played this week and a selection of last weekends Premier League games to.

This was the clubs best bit of PR in a long time and it was fantastic. It certainly got the backing of the fans and has produced a little of that ‘us against them’ spirit.

Wenger has told his players that it is their responsibility to lead the crowd not the other way home and I hope we see that in our game against Bolton Wanderers tomorrow afternoon and that the fight back starts here.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal

Champions League Group F – Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal.

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller – Subotic – Hummels – Piszczek – Scmelzer – Kehl (Blaszczykowski – 67) – Gotze – Grosskreutz (Perisic – 68) – Bender – Lewandowski – Kagawa (Zidan – 83)

Goal – Perisic – 88

Arsenal: Szczesny – Sagna – Gibbs – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Song – Arteta – Walcott (Frimpong – 76) – Gervinho (Santos – 84) – Benayoun – Van Persie (Chamakh – 84)

Goal – Van Persie – 42

With Arsene Wenger confined to the stands Pat Rice led Arsenal to what should be considered a valid and well deserved point against the Bundesliga champions.

I stated in the Arsenal’s Talking Heads section yesterday that we would have a tough time against Dortmund’s centre back pairing of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic and that certainly proved to be the case. The two international centre halves are absolutely outstanding defenders and it was obvious to see why they’re both highly admired and sought after. But it was the defensive discipline of Arsenal that was the most impressive and in particular the performances of Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Alex Song and Wojciech Szczesny.

I mentioned yesterday that Alex Song would need to be disciplined, shield the back four and curb his enthusiasm for getting forward at inopportune moments and as the went on he grew in stature and did just that. If the Cameroonian can perform like he did last night, and at home against Chelsea last season, week in week out we could be talking about a world-class defensive midfielder – maybe after his in discipline at St James’ on the opening day and subsequent domestic ban and Frimpong now chomping at his heels he’ll buck his ideas up and we’ll see performances of this stature on a regular basis.

The opening minutes of the game were certainly scrappy and either side could have taken an early lead – Gervinho was unfortunate not to get a shoot off after make a smart run into the box, Hummels was on hand to get back and do enough to disrupt the Ivorian. At the other end Shinji Kagawa, for the first but certainly not the last time, raced clear of the Arsenal defence and struck his volley over the bar. It was an early warning from the Japanese midfielder who is in only his second season with the Borussians. I mentioned him in yesterday’s blog as one of the German sides danger men and at just 22 years old the former Cerezo Osaka playmaker signed in 2010 for just £250,000 has a big future ahead of him and it’s no surprise that Arsene Wenger has already been credited with an interest in the youngster.

Another of the German teams young stars, who was reportedly a target of the Gunners this summer, Mario Gotze also started the game brightly and as the minutes ticked by it was Jurgen Klopp’s side who looked increasingly likely to take a lead with Arsenal seemingly getting more jittery with every wave of Dortmund attacks.

When possession of he ball was gained it was striking how inafective our players seemed to be with it and at points seemingly unwilling to receive the ball at all – there seemed to be a growing tendency as the half wore on for players to be left isolated with the ball at their feet and no team-mate moving towards the ball, in fact around about the half hour mark it got so bad that after receiving the ball from Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs was so devoid of options that he passed it back to the goalkeeper.

Theo Walcott and Gervinho were both guilty of running straight into opposition players with a degree of regularity – have to say that I do feel that once Gervinho gets a real run of games under his belt he will be dynamite, at the moment it’s his decision-making which lets him down. He could so often lay the ball off or play a pass for a team-mate but chooses to take his man on every time. *In fairness, he was often devoid of that option last night as I said.

Mickey Arteta and Yossi Benayoun seemed unable to really get into the game for much of the first half and while each showed flashes of their undoubted ability they were unable to provide that creative spark we’re expecting from the pair, until…

Benny found RVP on the edge of the Dortmund penalty box with a delightful through ball, the skipper maybe had slightly more time then he realised and didn’t quite hit the shoot with enough power to trouble Weinedfeller. Ten minutes later the Dutchman made up for it…

Robin himself intercepted a poor pass from Sebastian Kehl and the ball fell to Theo Walcott. The captain continued his run towards goal and Theo played the perfect ball back to him. This time Van Persie did everything right and his finish summed up why he is so important to the side and must be kept fit and signed to a new deal. It was a great goal to give us the lead as the clock ticked towards the end of the half.

As the second half began Arsenal’s attacking threat improved but the home sides own prowess in that department didn’t diminish. Kagawa continued to shine and game started to open up a little more.

Gervinho had another decent chance, and while he battled well to keep pushing forward in the face of German interceptions ultimately he couldn’t get his foot through the ball after recovering well from loosing his footing and momentarily falling to the ground.

What followed from then on was wave after wave of German attacks and it felt like only a matter of time until the equalizer came. Szczesny was once again commanding of both his area and the Arsenal defenders in front of him and Koscielny and Mertesacker were the busiest men on the pitch making interceptions and clearances, along with the ever impressive best right back in world football – Bacary Sagna. I have to say that our German centre back could quite easily come in for some criticism going forward but I don’t really think it would be fair – due to his height he can give the impression that he is gangly and unimposing, much in the same way Peter Crouch often is (actually I think the Soke front man is)

Koscielny just keeps impressing me and I still maintain that when Vermaelen is back it is the Frenchman who should partner the Belgian at the back.

Dortmund had a clutch of spurned opportunities as they continued to threaten us and Pat Rice replaced Theo with Emmanuel Frimpong. The Ghanaian lined up alongside Alex Song to offer more protection and Benayoun switched to the left flank in front of Kieran Gibbs.

Neven Subotic and Mario Gotze had great chances to level the score but the Serbs header was directed straight at Szczesny and the teenage German playmaker hit a shoot just wide of the goal.

It started to look as if we were going to see the game out and take the three points home. Andre Santos made his debut coming on in place of Gervinho and it was another push at shoring things up as the minutes ticked by. Chamakh came on at the same time and replaced our captain and goal scorer, so clearly we had decided not to attempt to extend our lead and put the game beyond the home side.

Despite being only minutes away from a hard-fought victory the equalizer came in the form of the all too familiar wonder goal.

With only two minutes of the regulation ninety remaining Dortmund won a free-kick which was cleared away but subsequently fell to the Dortmund sub Perisic who hit a wonderful volley on the edge of the area and into the top right hand corner of our goal.

It was a real body blow and I felt so disappointed for our players, whilst you can argue that the home team deserved a point (and I’m sure they will) I think we were equally deserving of the victory. But in the end perhaps a draw was a fair result especially as BVB had the chance to nick all the points in added time only for Szczesny to make a fantastic save and secure our point.

We all expected this to be a tough test, and most likely our toughest of the group stage, and were all prepared to accept a draw at the outset so all in all there is no room for complaint or disappointment here.

While we were never really able to play an exciting and attacking game credit must go to all the players for putting a shift in and making sure we didn’t start the campaign with defeat. I’ve already mentioned Szczesny, Sagna, Song and Koscielny but props must also go to Benny and Mickey who showed that they can tough it out and mix it with the best of ’em when it’s needed. Praise also has to go to Robin for yet another vital goal, even if it again highlights our reliance on the fragile Dutchman with the dwindling contract.

And also massive credit to Pat Rice, so often derided and criticised. It was telling that in his post match interview Woj said: “Pat motivates us and shouts at us a lot”

I don’t think the Pole was just talking about last night.

Considering we’re so often criticised for not being able to scrap it out this was a performance to take heart from. It’s another step away from what happened at Old Trafford and the players will take the confidence into Saturdays game at Ewood Park.

My post match thoughts have been added to ‘Talking Heads’ on Arsenal.com where you’ll also see  post match reaction added to yesterdays musings by Dan Roebuck & Martin Hayes.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Travels, Villains & Heroes

Well with Champions League qualification secured, the draw for the group stage complete & a trip to Old Trafford coming up on Sunday it feels like the season has really kicked up a gear after a somewhat whimpering start.

The balls of fate

Lets start with our Champions League group shall we –

It isn’t the easiest group (F) we could have had but it certainly is one that I believe we can qualify from. What immediately strikes you is the fact that we’ll have no marathon travels with our opponents Olympique de Marseille, Olympiacos and Borussia Dortmund being based in France, Greece & Germany respectively. The fact we’ll be playing in local Europe rather than the far off former outposts of the Eastern Block is a real positive as is the fact that we’ll see decent continental opposition visit the grove over the next few months.

You have to look at how our fixture list has worked around these group games and see that as a massive result.

Don't go back to Dortmund... I mean Dalston.

After the home game against Swansea (Sept 10th) we travel to Dortmund to face Tommy Rosicky’s former club on September 13th. The home tie with Olympiacos on September 28th is sandwiched between the visit of Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers to the grove (Sept 24th) and the first NLD in Riotsville on October 2nd. We travel to the south of France on October 19th which is either side of home games against Sunderland (Oct 15th) & Stoke City Rugby Club (Oct 22nd)

Marseille come to London (Nov 1st) just a few days after our annual visit to Stamford Bridge (Oct 29th) & a few days before the trip to the Hawthorns (Nov 5th). We travel to Norwich on November 19th, play host to Borussia Dortmund on the 23rd then have a day out by the river & face Fulham on the 26th. We face Wigan at the DW on December 3rd then travel to Greece for the return against Olympiacos on the 6th before facing David Moyes Everton back at home on the 10th.

So all in all there isn’t a great deal of travelling to be done, even with our away games in the league, which you would like to think will be a real advantage. There is no doubt that the three foreign sides will make life anything but easy, especially when they are on home soil but I think that we can progress from the group and into the knock-out rounds.

Run by Steve Williams

I hope Samir Nasri is disappointed that he has missed the chance of facing his former side, I hope it is eating him up inside, that he didn’t sleep last night and that he’ll have to spend the next six months in a medical room at the United Stadium which is most likely run by someone who was once associated with our club (As that seems to be the way that City operate)

"Yeah, Sky Walker... Like 'im good player, good player"

Speaking of former players & people we don’t like… I see Adebayor has joined that lot down the road for a seasons loan. What a coming together of the forces of darkness that is! I wonder what pop star the Togolese journey man will compare his new club too? I’m guessing if by his reckoning AC Milan are Beyonce then the spuds can’t be anywhere above Susan Boyle? I give it two days until old ball bag face is lauding his new signing as the best striker in Europe & two months before the two of them are slagging each other off in the current bun.

Right enough of horrible bastards we don’t like lets focus on a proper Gooner –

A new hope

Wojciech Szczesny has been talking about the teams self belief & also how his wonder save against Udinese was nothing of the sort. Jeez, he is modest too – what a guy!

The Pole isn’t the only one who has been discussing the sides self belief RVP & Jenks have been at it too whilst Tommy Vermaelen has clearly been reading this blog because he has also started talking about ‘Positive Thinking’.

We’re still being linked with the players we’ve been linked to for months but as yet we’re seemingly no closer to securing signatures, that said it was telling that Ivan Gazidas wasn’t at the Champions League draw yesterday. You can only assume (and hope) that he is busy down in the bat cave attempting to bolster the ranks. In fact David Miles was at the draw and intimated that we are indeed pressing on with trying to get deals done and will be doing so until the transfer window closes.

A foot note to that is that in order for any new player to be eligible for the trip to OT on Sunday deals must be complete in their entirety by mid day today. Doubtful is the word that comes to mind, followed by unlikely…

"Oi! Woolnough, shut it!"

Now apparently Arsene won’t be speaking to the men from the written press today for reasons which are unclear, but on the day that old red nose kissed and made up with aunty  many journos including Matt Law from the Express jumped on Wenger and criticised him for it via Twitter. In fairness to Matt he reigned in his criticism when it was pointed out to him that Wenger was more than willing to talk to him and many others in Italy on the day of the Udinese clash which was incidentally the day we sold Samir Nasri. It’s all something and nothing really but it’s somewhat telling that as soon as Wenger has lifted his reputation out of the gutter, when many said it couldn’t be done, they find a new stick to beat him down with.

Well that’s it for today – we’ll have a bit more of a look towards Sundays clash with United tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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