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

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.

This is a low – Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal

Regular readers of this blog will know that, for the most part, I’m always positive when it comes to the Arsenal, I like to think that I can be pragmatic in defeat and always back the team to bounce back from any adversity, but after the defeat at Ewood Park today I’m finding it hard to pick myself up off the floor and focus on anything positive.

Blackburn Rovers – a side who are owned by a poultry company, a side who before today had managed to win just five of their last twenty-five Premier League matches since boss Steve Kean replaced Sam Allerdyce – started the day with a protest against their much maligned manager and ended it above us in the Premier League standings (albeit on the same points tally of 4)

We can point to the fact that Rovers were gifted two own goals by the Gunners and that they should have had another chalked off for off-side, you can say that Olsson should have been dismissed for diving, especially as it came only moments after he’d had his name taken by the ref. You can say we should have had a penalty right at the death when Theo Walcott was taken out by Paul Robinson, but frankly what would be the point? Come the arse end of the season there will be clubs fighting for survival all with stories of hardship & woe – how decisions had gone against them, how luck had cheated them and how they had been professional and given their all. The truth is that at the seasons end the table won’t lie, teams will finish where they deserve to finish. For the most part score lines don’t lie either. This one didn’t & if you want to talk about relegation form then ours is rife with the stench if we go back to last season *Before you throw your toys out the pram, I am not suggesting we’ll be relegated. Merely pointing out that we’re currently going the right way about it.

The Blackburn goals came from our own slack defending, negligent as the lino may have been for Yakubu’s second (Rovers third) and unlucky as it may seem to concede two own goals against a side with all the fire power of a wet lettuce leaf, we’ve only ourselves to blame.

We started so brightly and at points we looked a little like the Arsenal of old, knocking the ball about, rampaging down the right hand side and seemingly prepared to waste a decent chance rather than tee up a team mate. Indeed if you want to point fingers at anyone then Gervinho’s wastefulness when he could have played in Van Persie, who surely would have put us 1-3 up, just before the half time whistle, then that is the kind of mistake we should be looking at along with the sides inability to defend.

After the game Arsene Wenger suggested that we are still “defensively fragile” after Old Trafford, but three of the back four who started today’s game didn’t even step foot on the turf up in Manchester. In fact Mertesacker & Andy Santos were both employees of other clubs at the time of the United crushing after which we were told reinforcements such as the German & Brazilian would improve our defensive capabilities.

Well we may have dug in and scrapped it out in Dortmund earlier in the week and we may have hung on to a clean sheet against Swansea at the Emirates last Saturday but if evidence was needed to conclusively prove it is the coaching and tactical instructions being given to the players as much as any shortcomings on their part then this result is it.

Our defensive line for the first Blackburn goal was as wonky as a DIY haircut and replays showed that it was Andy Santos, making his full debut, who played Yakubu onside. I mentioned in yesterday’s blog the need for stability in our back line, seeing a group of players play week in week out rather than than the personnel carousel we’re used to. Ironic then that it was Santos, the only change to our back four from our last two games, who played the Nigerian on side, especially as Kieran Gibbs had started to find some form thanks to a run of games.

When the sides went in at half time I honestly felt that we would see the Gunners come out and dominate the second half, Rovers looked for all the world a team there for the taking and you would have laid money that Steve Kean would have been visiting the local job centre come Monday morning. But, as the second half got underway there seemed to have been a shift in belief, Rovers suddenly seemed to have a bit more fight and determination in them. Indeed it took them only four minutes to get back on level terms.

Yes it was a total fluke and no portion of blame should befall Alex Song, but this was yet another goal conceded from a set-piece, when will we learn to defend them?

I don’t know about you but from then on it looked to me like only one side would go on to win the game, and in the pouring rain Blackburn Rovers did just that.

The massacre of Old Trafford was hard to take and hurt like hell, but in many ways it wasn’t unexpected especially given the side and indeed the bench we had that afternoon. This, this is much harder to take in my opinion.

The team has been strengthened, we all know it could have been stronger still but a certain Frenchman decided he would rather have £50m in the bank then players on the pitch who can actually contribute something other than trite smiles and self congratulations for having a healthy bank balance, so we can’t put it down to a one off as we’ve done with the United result. Bar Jack Wilshere & Tommy Vermaelan this was the strongest possible squad we’ll have to work with this season unless signings are made in January, but as I’m attempting to point out it’s not just the playing staff who are to blame.

I said after Old Trafford, and it certainly wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, that I felt that Arsene Wenger has taken our club as far as he is able. No one should ever doubt just how far that is or level any form of abuse at the Frenchman’s door – he deserves nothing but utter respect from anyone who calls themselves a Gooner. But sadly the man who revolutionised football in this country is in danger of looking for all the world lost in a game he helped create. Someone mentioned on Twitter that Wenger no longer looks as if he enjoys it and it got me to wondering when he last did?

I’ll never call for his dismissal or demand he resigns, I’ve far too much respect for the man and what he has done at our club but what he does need to do is relinquish some of the power he holds. Firstly he needs to hand over the coaching of the first team to someone else or at least bring new people in and allow them to have an input and offer fresh direction. Many people ask why Steve Bould hasn’t been promoted from the wonderful work he has been doing with our under 18’s, well if rumours are to be believed, and I’m led to believe that in this case they are, our former defensive stalwart was offered Pat Rice’s position when old Pat wanted to call time on the illustrious years of servitude he has given to the club. Bould supposedly turned the offer down because he was told he would have little to no tactical input or the ability to coach so opted to stay in the role he is in which led to Wenger begging his old bench buddy to give him one last season (much like he did Cesc last summer, look how that turned out)

Many voices, mine included, have called for Martin Keown to be given a defensive coaching role but that won’t happen for the same reasons Bouldy isn’t higher up the food chain at London Colney. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that Keown has the capabilities and knowhow to fill that role and excel in it but there is a reason he is still sitting working for the beeb and not us. In fact, it’s just been pointed out to me that when we set a Champions League record for clean sheets Keown was working as a defensive coach at the club…

Rapid improvement is needed and if fresh ideas and instruction is what it takes to achieve those improvements then Wenger needs to swallow some of that pride and make these changes happen.

Since the final whistle blew I’ve seen a few Arsenal fans suggest that our expectations should have changed and this defeat shouldn’t be a surprise. Well I’ve never been the kind of fan who has high expectations, I think doing so only sets you up for a fall and a nose bag of disappointment. So my deflation and disappointment at this result, this performance, this start to the season and even towards the gaffer, are nothing to do with a delusional sense of expectation it’s just pure hurt. I’ve been a Gooner all my life, I grew up a stones throw from Highbury and I’ve seen us struggle in the past, but right now the ship is starting to look rudderless and when this has been the case in the past there has always been someone in a position of power at the club to take control and steer us in the right direction. Sadly at this moment in time, I’ve no idea who is there to do that right now and defeats like Old Trafford & defeats like today only serve to ram that home.

Thanks for reading

Paul

Super Swede

Back in the summer of 1990 I was a mere 10 year old caught up in the hysteria of England’s march to the Semi-Finals of the World Cup out in Italy.

There are four things that have lingered in my memory from that summer (aside from Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun Dorma’, Gazza crying & Chris Waddle attempting to take out a Russian Satellite with his “Pelanty“) –

Unbelievable Tekkers

  • David Platt’s volley against Belgium in the last-minute of extra time that put us into the Quarter finals.
  • Spending hours in the garden trying to replicate Platt’s technique (Sadly no video footage exists)
  • My Dad falling through an old garden chair while being forced to photograph me doing the above.
  • Arsenal signing Anders Limpar from Cremonese.

Upon hearing of the signing (There was no Sky Sports News or Internet in them days) my first question was “We’ve signed who from where?”.

Due to the ban on English clubs competing in European football after the Heysel Stadium Disaster in 1985, which incidentally was lifted in 1990/91, knowledge of foreign players and clubs was, in most cases, limited to the likes of AC Milan & Marco Van Basten. No one that I knew had ever heard of the Swedish footballer of Hungarian decent who had been plying his trade at a small Italian side enjoying a rare sortie into Serie A, so when George Graham splashed out £2m on the diminutive winger there certainly wasn’t cries of jubilation.

That was until we got the first glimpse of Anders in an Arsenal shirt at ‘The Makita International Tournament’, a forerunner to the likes of our own ‘Emirates Cup’ which was hosted initially at Wembley Stadium. Arsenal had won the preceding two tournaments, which were the first two, beating AC Milan and Liverpool respectively.

1990’s competing teams were – Sampdoria, Real Sociedad, Aston Villa and the Arsenal.

Anders made an immediate impact opening his Arsenal account after thirty-four minutes in our opening game against Villa – That was it, I was mesmerised and Paul Merson had lost his place in my affections.

For those of you who are too young to remember the original ‘Super Swede’ then basically he was everything you wanted in a winger. He loved to have the ball at his feet, his touch was light, he had pace to burn and an eye for goal. When he ran he glided even though he was so quick. In my eyes he was footballing perfection.

He scored two of my favourite ever Arsenal goals –

The lob from the half way line against Liverpool at Highbury and his goal from a corner at Old Trafford – Can you imagine that being given now? He also played his part in the dust-up that took place that afternoon and saw both clubs deducted points leading to this fantastic team talk by George Graham.

The little Swede was certainly what you would consider a flair player and ultimately that did for him at Highbury as Double G demanded he increase his defensive duties – like we didn’t have enough players doing that at the time.

It’s often said that the football played by George’s Arsenal was dull and boring and achieved nothing more glamorous than slender one nil victories, this isn’t in fact true. Well not for the most part at least.

Under Arsene Wenger we’ve seen some wonderful attacking teams who have played some of the most expansive and expressive football I have ever seen, but as Matt Law in the Express and Blogs on the Arseblog have stated today that brand of football, at least for the short-term, is being curbed. It was much the same with Arsenal under George, his teams played some of the most exciting football I have ever seen – Being born into a family of Gooners who came from Manor House I was always destined to join the ranks of the red & white army but it was Graham’s teams, starting with the side that won the league in such dramatic style at Anfield in ’89 and those which followed, that hooked me on football.

Anders Limpar epitomizes this era for me as much as Rocky, Michael Thomas, Merse, Tony Adams, Uncle Bouldy, Smudger, Ian Wright, Big Dave Seaman and Dixon & Winterburn.

It was a period when we were blessed with players who have entered the annuls of Arsenal folklore and for me the Super Swede deserves his place amongst them. At times when I’m asked to name my all time Arsenal XI he is still placed out on the right flank and if ever I wanted my love for the Gunners to be embroiled with my love for Back To The Future then it would be to either go back and watch Limpar in his pomp or indeed just stick two fingers up at the space-time continuum, fling him in the back of the DeLorean and drop him off at London Colney so he could take his place in our current side. Theo my old mucker, you would be out on your ear.

I was gutted when Anders moved to Everton in March 1994 and I hated seeing him in any sides colours but those of the Arsenal.

Whether you remember him fondly or you’ve never seen him kick a ball I suggest you stop what you’re doing and jump on YouTube and watch goals like this.

A few years ago whilst on a visit to the Swedish capital I was desperate to visit his aptly named ‘Anders Limp-Bar’, especially as we were there for the stag-do of my best mate who happens to be a Sp*rs fan and as Best Man I was in charge of the itinerary. Sadly it transpired that the bar was no longer open for business so I consoled myself with a rendition of…

“Super, Super Swede, Super, Super Swede, Super, Super Swede, Super Anders Limpar”

Thanks for reading.

Paul

How we compare – Vol 3: Centre Backs

 

Big Tone

For a lifelong Arsenal fan in his early thirties, it’s a strange position to be in to have your defence ridiculed by your rival fans. I’ve grown up with the fact that our defence was so good; it was almost a standing joke. My first ever game at Highbury was on Tony Adams 21st birthday (we won 2-0 against Oxford United with goals from Steve Williams & Steve Davis). Adams, David O’Leary, Steve Bould, Martin Keown and later Sol Campbell wre defenders of great quality. More importantly, and especially in the George Graham era, they all worked incredibly hard at defending. Just as personal techniques were worked upon, much time on the training pitch was devoted to the art of defending as a unit. 

With our current offering of Vermaelen, Koscielny, Djourou, Squillaci and Bartley coming through the ranks (I put them in that order for good reason), I wouldn’t say many forwards are shaking in their boots. Individually I have no problem with them as players (although Squillaci just doesn’t seem to have got going), but the whole ‘defending as a unit’ idea seems to be slightly alien to them. In their defence, Thomas Vermaelen was injured for, pretty much, the whole of last year (something that was not lost on the away support at Craven Cottage on the last day of the season back in May).

Organised?

In Wenger’s defence, I think he has a point when he said that our defending from open play was not as bad as people made out. However (and Arsene seems to be in agreement on this) our defending from set-pieces was shocking, and has been for several years. There have been whispers that we have devoted a lot of time to rectifying this during the close season. This makes the fact that we haven’t signed a new centre back yet all the more surprising. Wenger has admitted that he would like to bolster the back line. It would’ve made sense to bring the recruit in so he can be a part of the effort into improving our defensive organisation. Still this article hasn’t been written around transfers. It’s about how we measure up to our rivals:

No knees Leders

Spurs’ defensive personnel must be so frustrating. Ledley King has an injury history that would make Darren Anderton feel like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. When fit he’s one of the best defenders around, but that doesn’t happen often enough for him to be considered as such. When combined with Johnahan Woodgate last year, they become very expensive luxuries. With Woodgate now at Stoke, I’m surprised ‘arry hasn’t strengthened. Gallas (as we all know) is a defender of high quality, although can prove to be disruptive behind the scenes. I think, after last year’s honeymoon period, Spurs might see a bit of Mr Hyde this year. Matt Dawson has been their most consistent defensive performer in recent years, and was well worth his England call-up. Sebastian Bassong is still at the club, although there have been rumours that he’s on his way. Corluka & Kaboul can also fill in at either Centre Back or Full Back, with the latter of the two definitely being the stronger. As a whole, I would have to say Spurs are stronger than us in this position. Even with King injured the majority of the time, Dawson and Gallas are a very capable pairing at the back.

Mr Happy

I’m sure Kenny Dalgleish is very aware that Liverpool need to strengthen in this department, if Liverpool fans’ deluded expectations are going to come anywhere near being realised. Jamie Carragher, who I have a lot of respect for as a professional, is often left in the wake of anyone with real pace. His reading of the game and desire, although admirable, simply won’t bridge the gap anymore. Daniel Agger is a decent defender and footballer in general, but struggles with injury and (subsequently) consistency. Martin Skrtel is a player I once thought could be a good defender, but cannot seem to expel glaring mistakes from his game. Kyrgiakos is as much a liability in his own area, as he is a threat in the oppositions. A balance I’m afraid that isn’t good enough to justify your spot in a Premier League team. I’m aware that Liverpool have a few prospects coming through at the back, but the jury will still be out on them for at least another season. I think, even without strengthening, Arsenal are stronger in this position.

It must be said, that for all their frivolous yet unbalanced spending throughout the side, Manchester City have built a solid defensive unit (although I suppose it helps when you have 2 defensive midfielders sitting in front of you). We all know Kolo Toure well, and although he needs to play alongside a defensive leader, he is a proven Premier League centre back. The real strength to City’s back line though, is Vincent Kompany. He’s a player who has been touted as being a potential superstar since he was a teenager at Anderlecht, but (after a spell in Germany) he showed last season what a quality defender he is. He is the leader any aspiring Premier League club need in their defensive line. As a back-up, City have Joleon Lescott, Derek Boyata and new arrival Savic. The Englishman is solid, not worth what they paid, but solid all the same. The other two are young and yet to fully prove themselves, although apparently we were after Savic but rejected him (after a trial) a few years back. I would have to say City are stronger than us in this area of the pitch.

Chelsea’s success over recent years has been built on a solid defensive unit. As much as I hate the man, John Terry leads his line well. I think his athletic abilities will begin to be brought further into question. I’ve lost count on how many times he is turned by a forward – done for pace, commits a cynical foul, and gets away with it. Surely that can only go on indefinitely! David Luiz was bought in January, and made a big impression. He is, without doubt, one of the best defenders in world football….. if it was based solely on technical ability. Defending, however, isn’t as simple as that. After some bright initial performances, and evidence of his undoubted skill, we saw just as many examples of his positional naivety and mind farts! Chelsea have Brazilian Alex (although there are reports he could be going back to Brazil) and Ivanovic as cover. There are rumours they are waiting on a work permit for Slobodan Rajkovic. If they cannot get one for him for this year, I think Chelsea will be looking for an additional defender. One of the things that has made Chelsea so defensively strong in recent seasons is the work they do as a unit. This includes Petr Cech and the full backs. It remains to be seen whether Andre Villas-Boas will do anything to disrupt this. I would be surprised, as he seems fairly astute, but as it stands we just don’t know. At the moment I would probably put Chelsea slightly above Arsenal in this area of the pitch…….. but not by much!

You just wait Wayne, you just wait

So, finally, to the Champions, and there is a reason for that. Their options in the centre of defence have to be the most impressive for me. Even though the amount of games Rio Ferdinand is going to be able to play is going to become less and less (as his physical condition continues to deteriorate), they are still in good shape. Having the Vidic – Ferdinand option at the back has been a massive part of United’s success. Granted, they have lost squad stalwarts in O’Shea and Brown who have moved to Sunderland, but with new acquisition Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and (to a lesser extent) Johnny Evans, they have great depth. Of course Fergie is famous for getting replacements in before he needs them, so there is an overlap. I must admit, it’s a practice that I don’t think Arsene’s been particularly good at in recent years. I still think it’s a back four that can be got at with pace, but it’s definitely not a weakness for them. My view is United are stronger.

Perfect Partners

I know I said this wasn’t going to be a transfer piece, but I thought I’d briefly discuss our recruitment in this area, bearing in mind the speculation. It looks like (in the whole ‘no smoke without fire’ rationale) that it’s a choice of three, Gary Cahill, Chris Samba and Phil Jagielka. To be brutally honest, I’d be happy enough with any of those three. In preference I’d rather it be in the order above. Seemingly we have had an offer £10M rejected from Everton for Jagielka and will have to stump up between £15-20M if we wanted him. I personally would rather (if we were going to spend that amount) get Gary Cahill. He’s a bit younger and taller, and has more room for improvement; saying that, we’ve got defenders with room for improvement in Djourou and Koscielny. Anyway it doesn’t matter what I think as it looks like we’ve gone back in with an improved offer for Jagielka & if rumours are to be believed we’re set to sign the former Sheffield United man & Gary Cahill in a double swoop. In fairness, I’d be happy with that!

Thanks for reading.

Big Dave.

 

 

Back to playing football

*Originally posted 10th April 2011

Yesterday morning whilst we were all discussing & dissecting the tabloids transcript of their press conference with Arsesene Wenger on Friday afternoon it came to light that long serving chairman Peter Hill-Wood had appeared to make an angry criticism of Arsenal fans and the AST. Later in the day the club issued a statement in order to attempt to defuse the situation and put us all back on a purely footballing course from now until the end of the season.

“Emotions can run high in football many times throughout a season. It’s because we all care about our club. Our fans are at the heart of what we do, and that will always be the case.”

I was pleased that the club chose to highlight the part that the fans play, hopefully it will give further enthusiasm to our already wonderful away supporters up at Bloomfield Road today as well as all fans at all games from now until the end of the season. That can only buoy on the players.

Regardless of any ones view of players, manager, transfer activity, fans or just the club as a whole we all need to get behind those who will represent the club on the pitch between now until the seasons end.
So with that in mind lets talk football…
 
Unsurprisingly Manchester United picked up another three points yesterday and as we stand they currently have a ten point lead at the top of the table, however we of course now have two games in hand and have to play United. So from our perspective nothing at all has changed, we need three points today.
 
Of course we would all love to see the team come out onto the park and really turn it on today, bag half a dozen goals and go some way to making up for last weekends disappointment as well as putting the in-fighting of the last few days well and truly behind us. That said three points are all that really matter, anything on top of that is a bonus as far as I’m concerned.
 
Cesc, we’re told is fit and ready to come back into the starting line-up but these are question marks over Theo Walcott & Bacary Sagna whilst Alex Song is out.
 
I’m long past attempting to second guess Wenger but I would maybe expect to see a line-up something like this: Almunia. Eboue (Sagna). Squillaci. Koscielny. Clichy. Wilshere. Diaby. Fabregas. Nasri. Arshavin (Walcott). van Persie.

We have, or could have I should say, a few players who do really need to step up, playing today and in particular I’m looking at Diaby.

I know he has had alot of bad luck with injuries over the last few years but I can not remember the last time I watched him play and felt he was anywhere near the player he looked he could be when he first arrived at the club.

I think it could be a big game for Arshavin, he has been improving gradually in the last few weeks when it had looked like we would never see that flash of genius from the little fella again. He was clearly disappointed to be subbed against Blackburn last week when he was arguably our best player. Those 70th minute substitutions are becoming a real regularity for him and I would like to see him bring that re-discovered guile along with his considerable talent and cause Blackpool big problems this afternoon and maybe just complete 90 minutes.

I seem to tip him every week but I do fancy Jack Wilshere to grab a goal today. Apparently Manchester City are preparing to make a £40m bid for the youngster. I think that deal is as likely to happen as George Graham coming back to manage the Gunners.

It would also make the last few days look like pure serenity if the club were to even entertain any bid for a player that the fans see as truly one of their own.

Gael Clichy has said he wants to stay at the club but I have my suspicions that he’ll be off in the summer and as some of you may know, he is a player who frustrates me – That said we don’t have a ready made replacement, sadly Kieran Gibbs injury situation has restricted what looked likely to be a natural progression.

Niklas Bendtner has been linked again with a move to the Bundasliga, apparently Hamburg are prepared to pay £8m for the big Dane. I have to say that I still believe that Bendtner will come good at Arsenal, but not as a winger, and would be disappointed to see him leave.

I think that pretty much wraps up all the news, unless Hill-Wood has kicked off again whilst I’ve been writing this, so all there is to do now is wait for kick off and hope that three points are added to our tally and we still retain a chance of winning the league.

One final note, thanks to all of you who have been taking the time to read this blog, it really is much appreciated. It would be great to hear some feedback or even just to get a bit of discussion going via the comments section of the blog. Thanks.

Up The Arsenal!

 

Arsene pressed by the Press – Hill-Wood attacks supporters

*Originally posted 9th April 2011

The Arsenal wall of silence has come crashing down and this morning we’ve been woken by the cacophony of what has almost been a trial of Arsene Wenger.
 
A transcript has been produced by the press of the questions put by them to the boss and the answers he gave as his defence.
 
I don’t think that the answers, to the questions, Arsene gave or the statements he made are going to galvanize the fans and put us all on a firm footing of complete backing and faith. I’m not going to suggest that it should…
 
I think it is for each fan to judge this themselves, to take into consideration what Wenger has said, the points that he is trying to make & the reason he defends both his team and his actions so vehemently.

I do not agee with the Daily Star headline – Wenger decalers war on fans – so I won’t link to it.

 
I don’t necessarily agree with everything he said but my thoughts are these –
I have considerable pride & gratitude for what has been achieved by the club and the manager especially perhaps since the move from our beloved Highbury.
 
We have all had to put our faith in the future, the future as Arsene has seen it. The problem is you cannot predict the future, you cannot make the future exactly what you want it to be and most importantly you cannot sell the same vision of the future again and again and again without producing it.  After a while people just stop buying into it.
 
It’s almost like a bad timeshare scheme – ‘Yes, I appreciate that the complex is being built to perfection and the money I have invested has gone on all the finest fixtures & fittings, but I would quite like to have my time in the sun each year as promised now please’.
 
I think that is where most fans are now – they want their time in the sun, to bask in the glory as was foretold.
 
So there has to be changes to the blueprint and the vision – those changes have to happen this summer. These are not major changes, there does not have to be a complete overhaul of the club just some minor tweaks and adjustments here and there.
 
I think we all know what they are and I think that Wenger does too – he has faith, strong faith, yes but I do not think it is blind faith.
 
A friend of mine said the other day that it doesn’t matter what Wenger does now, he is damned either way.
 
I think this is true but I’m backing Arsene Wenger, I still believe that he is the right man and the only man to be manager of Arsenal Football Club.
 
The words he used during his time with the written press yesterday prove to me what the job, players and most importantly the club means to him.
 
He spoke of fight, belief & even love – love for Arsenal.
 
Wenger knows what we want, he wants it too.
 
It’s true what he says, look at sides lower down the league and the admiration and praise they receive for their perceived success which in relation to our own relative achievements is far from where we want to see our club. Aren’t they?
The measure of the disappointments so far this season,as pointed out to the board via the Arsenal Supporters Trust, are hard to take. It is only a matter of weeks since the season still had so much to offer and now we have maybe at best an outside chance of winning the league.
 
It is considerably frustrating but is it reason enough to want to pull down everything that has got us to the level we are, even if that level isn’t quite where we want to be?
 
As I said there are issues that need to be addressed within the squad and maybe some issues with Wenger himself. I believe that he will do he’s best during the summer to address these issues and improve things.
Maybe I’m being naive and that won’t happen, maybe this time next year we’ll be in this position again and I’ll be trying to make the same defense of the club and maybe so too will Arsene Wenger – but I don’t see a better option out there for Arsenal Football Club.
 
The fight that Arsene talks about has to be produced, it has to be shown in every game from now until the end of the season.
 
That determination and fight has to be shown by us the fans as much as the players – they need our support. They need to know we believe that they can achieve, that they can bring us what we want, what we crave, what we need.
In the words of George Graham – We are second top not second bottom.
 
Maybe the situation wasn’t quite as bad as this one seems to be when George said that, but we went on to win the league that season.
 
The players didn’t give up, the manager didn’t give up and the fans didn’t give up.
We are supporters, it’s what we are there for – to support.
 
I think the press have been a little unfair with Wenger – this could have waited until the end of the season, this should have waited until the end of the season.
 
Who knows, the stick with which to beat him may be even bigger by then…

Whilst I have been writing this post our chairman Peter Hill-Wood has aspparently come out and called Arsenal fans criticism of the club ‘Stupid’. Hill-Wood has also threatened to limit the relationship that the Arsenal Supporters Trust has with the club.
 
I’ll follow this story closely today and report more on it tomorrow. But needless to say this is not going to help the current situation between club and fans at all.
 
Usmanov must be rubbing his hands in glee right now!

We play Blackpool tomorrow and the indications are that Cesc will be back in the side, Ramsey is back in the squad but Theo & Sagna are doubts, with the latter undergoing a scan on his knee yesterday.

 
Wenger also confirmed that Almunia will continue in goal – which for me is the right call.
 
He may have only just achieved it but the much derided Spaniard did keep a clean sheet last week. That surely has to be some kind of positive…
 
The only other news I have is that this is supposedly the new kit for next season.
 
 
A lot of the players were doing promotional shoots yesterday apparently and I guess we’ll have to wait and see if this is what they were wearing.
 
So here’s hoping that United drop points today and we give Blackpool a pasting tomorrow.
 
Up The Arsenal!
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