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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Sunderland Preview

So this weekend football returns – Gorgeous, beautiful, adorable football. Such a shame that amongst all that beauty and attractiveness will be the appearance of my old mate Steve ‘Wash my face with a hammer’ Bruce* at the Emirates for the game between his struggling Sunderland side and our own troubled Arsenal on Sunday afternoon**

*Steve and I are not mates, we’ve never met. That is the only fictional part of the above.
**I suspect that this post may serve as both today & tomorrow’s entry because frankly I don’t know or care enough about Sunderland to include them in two days worth of blog posts.

As I said in Arsenal.com’s ‘Talking Heads’ this week (yes that’s a plug and yes I’m happy with my current level of self-publication) an uncomfortable glimpse at the league table suggests that there is little between us and the Mackems right now. in fact in his pre game presser yesterday afternoon Arsene Wenger told reporters “Sunderland are a bit like us. You feel there is potential but they have not found confidence yet“. Well let’s hope Big Steve’s side display all the confidence of a 14 year old with a novelty clip on moustache and a stutter trying to buy a keg of beer from that off licence in Teen Wolf. (If that joke makes no sense to you I suggest you download and watch Teen Wolf right now because quite frankly you have wasted your life up to this point. NB – If you watch the half-assed new TV drama rather than the 1985 Michael J Fox movie you will continue to waste said life)

I’ve just had that uncomfortable glimpse at the league table and it was actually worse than I expected. Mathematically it is possible that we could find ourselves in the bottom three come full time on Sunday but of course that won’t happen because that involves Wigan, WBA and our opponents winning and frankly, as bad we have been at times this season those sides are all worse. Plus I never consider anything mathematically.

The visitors have lost games to the three promoted clubs, Norwich City, Swansea & QPR already this season as well as the Tyne-Wear derby. Asamoah Gyan has naffed off to United Arab Emirates side Al-Ain on a season long loan only a year after joining the Black Cats in a £13m deal from French Club Rennes and whilst anyone vaguely connected to Sunderland will tell you that the Ghanaian has moved purely for the money I think the rest of us are clued up enough to know it’s because he was scared to death of having his legs broken by Lee Cattermole in training.

Pretty Boy Bruce’s side were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Brighton & Hove Albion for goodness sake… Yep that’s right, beaten by a side that last season were plying their trade in League One. I bet it was Bruce and his chairman Ellis Short who made sure the papers were full of guff about us only having a crowd of 46,539 for our League cup victory over League Two Shrewsbury, a cunning ploy to take the heat off of their early exit from a competition which should realistically represent them with a chance of silverwear – even we managed to make the final last year…

Ok so Sunderland did beat Stoke 4-0 so maybe they’re not that bad a bunch up on Wearside. I’ve got time for anyone who can upset Tony Pulis.

In terms of Arsenal news I guess it’s fairly good…

Aside from Jack Wilshere, Tommy Vermaelan, Abu Diaby & Bacary Sagna we have everybody fit which I think may be some kind of club record.

The gaffers biggest decision is who will replace the almost ireplacable Sagna at right back, it seems that the most likely choice is the most obvious one – Right back Carl Jenkinson. I know the young lad has had his critics, I may even have been amongst them, but the truth is he is still learning his trade and whilst this is a massive step up from the level he has been playing at previously he must have been expected to play a decent amount of games this season and rightly so. Sagna, as reliable as he may well be was never going to feature in every game was he? It matters little that Wenger suggests that Koscielny and Djourou have the ability to fill in at right back, as they both have on previous occasions. My own view is that we should be playing players in their best positions (That the squad should be strong enough to ensure we have the ability to replace like for like across the board is another argument all together). Jenkinson has to play because the alternative is he becomes the right sided version of Wayne Bridge, a footballer who gets paid a footballers wages but doesn’t do any of the work. Now whilst the life of Bridge may be appealing to many – Date a Saturday (The girl band not the first day of the weekend) and earn a fortune all whilst holding a massive grudge against John Terry – Jenks is an Arsenal fan and ultimately is living his dream. He hasn’t gotten there by fluke, he is a good young footballer who hopefully will grow into an outstanding footballer at Arsenal.

It’s a chance for us to build on our home form, aside from the blip against Liverpool we’ve looked pretty solid at the grove so far this season and I can’t see why that shouldn’t continue against Sunderland. The Mackems may have signed something like nine players in the summer but their squad of former Manchester United players looks pretty threadbare to me. With Gyan enjoying the warmth of the sun again & the worlds greatest striker ineligible to play the biggest threat will no doubt come from former Gunner Seb Larsson (unless Titus Bramble is hanging around somewhere)

Both Arsene Wenger and Captain Robin Van Persie have been talking about the Swede’s quality over the past few days and the skipper got a first hand refresher course in facing Larsson as the pair squared up during the international break. Robin has told the official Arsenal match day programme “Seb worked really hard on Tuesday, we were up against each other the whole game. I Was playing at right midfield and he was at left wing. But he was tracking back the whole game, so I was playing against two men basically”

Now I’m pretty sure that when Larsson was at Arsenal he was only one man so if he has now gained the ability to be two men then that is incredibly impressive although I do wonder how that fit’s in to the rules of the game? Do Sunderland only name ten men now or do they have a player over?

The midfielder was mooted with a return to London upon leaving Birmingham in the summer, how true it all was I don’t know but the suggestion is the player felt he was more likely to get regular football elsewhere. Given the unexpected and devastating loss of Jack Wilshere for the lions share of the season maybe Seb could have found himself as a regular in this Arsenal side but why am I bothering to blather on with this futile conjecture?

Reading back you may suggest that this whole post has been little more than a written exercise in blathering, and I wouldn’t be overly quick to dismiss that view myself. I guess if the truth be told I’m a little nervous about the game. Say that out loud and consider we’re talking about a home game against an absmyl Sunderland side and it sounds farcical but that is what our showing so far this campaign has led us to.

I honestly think we’ll win the game, and I would normally expect us to win it comfortably even now, but you just can’t take anything for granted with this Arsenal side can you.

So let’s hope that Seb Larsson forgets how to tie his laces and spends the ninety minutes falling over, that Andrey Arshavin can start meeting expectations, that whoever plays in front of Jenkinson makes an effort to give him some support and that the lad himself has the kind of game that will fill him with confidence going forward. Let’s also hope that after saying something along the lines of “I’ve never felt so great” Van Persie doesn’t get crumpled by John O’Shea or indeed Lee Cattermole (or both).

I know that’s a lot of hope to be doing but while we’re at it let’s also hope for a glut of Arsenal goals, a clean sheet and three lovely points.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Olympiacos Preview

Tonight we see the return of European football to the grove as Greek Super League champions Olympiacos are the first of our group F opponents to visit London.

The last time we faced Ernesto Valverde’s side was during the 2009/10 season – Valverde wasn’t at the helm of Erythrolefki at the time, having lead the side to the Greek double the previous season, his first at the club, his contract was not renewed after he found himself on the wrong side of a financial dispute at board level. The Spaniard moved to Villareal where he replaced Real Madrid bound Manuel Pellegrini on a one year deal, however Valverde could not replicate the success the Chilean had enjoyed at El Madrigal and after suffering an embarrassing 0-2 home defeat at the hands of Osasuna he was torpedoed by the yellow submarines. By August of the same year he was back in Piraeus and once again led Greece’s most successful club side to yet another league championship.

Valverde

During that last encounter between the two sides Olympiacos enjoyed a rare victory over English opposition winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Leonardo. It was our final group fixture of that seasons competition and with qualification to the next round already secured, after the Gunners had won group H, Arsene Wenger fielded a side made up of reserve and youth team players. Mikael Silvestre captained the side out in Greece that night in a back four that also included Kerra Gilbert, Kyle Bartley and Thomas Cruise.

Cruise

Francis Coquelin was an unused sub that night and young Franny could find himself in the starting line up for tonight’s clash.

During his press conference yesterday Wenger revealed that Laurent Koscielny, Gervinho and Theo Walcott would all miss the game having joined Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelen, Johan Djourou, Sebastian Squillaci and Yossi Benayoun in the treatment room. Even young centre half Iggy Miquel picked up a knock during the warm up prior to the reserves 1-0 win over Blackburn at Underhill on Monday night. So all in all we’re incredibly thin on the ground when it comes to the centre of our defence.

It’s likely that we’ll see Alex Song step in alongside Per Mertesacker at centre half, it’s a position the Cameroon international is familiar with and whilst we have to hope he won’t be required to play there at White Hart Lane on Sunday I would expect him to cope with any threat the Greeks may pose. I must admit, casting an eye over the Olympiacos squad list there are very few names I recognise. The one that immediately catches the eye is Olof Mellberg, the former Aston Villa defender and first player to score a competitive goal at the Emirates. Aside from the Swede there are very few players I am familiar with, Jean II Makoun is on loan from Villa and may well face his compatriot Alex Song.

That's a quality beard

Wenger will once again have to choose between Kieran Gibbs and Andy Santos at left back, personally I would like to see the Englishman continue from where he left off against Bolton on Saturday. With our back line already disrupted by Koscielny’s absence it would seem somewhat negligent to force another change in that area after Saturdays clean sheet.

So with Song taking up central defensive duties instead of defensive midfield there is yet another decision for le gaffer to take, who deputises for the Cameroonian, Franny Coquelin or Manny Frimpong?

Franny

I think that over the past few weeks the Frenchman may have edged in front of his Ghanaian team-mate in this particular race. He was something of a bright spark when he made his debut in the crushing dark of Old Trafford and was pipped to the man of the match award in last weeks league cup win over Shrewsbury Town by an outstanding second half display from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. So for my money it would be Franny making up a midfield three alongside Mickey Arteta and Aaron Ramsey.

Up top Arsenal goal scoring centurion Robin Van Persie will again lead the line as well as captain the side and along with Andrey Arshavin I would like to see the skipper flanked by AOC ahead of Thomas Rosicky. I think the young Englishman would relish the opportunity to take on the Olympiacos defence and would pose more of a threat than the Czech. Also with Theo & Gervinho both unavailable we’re a little light on pace, again something The Ox has in spades unlike Tommy.

A starting XI of: Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Song – Gibbs – Coquelin – Arteta – Ramsey – Oxlade-Chamberlain – Van Persie – Arshavin would be my choice and should have the ability to see off the Greek champions and claim our first three European points of the season.

Due to our defensive depletion expect to see Daniel Boateng on the bench just 48 hours after completing ninety minutes for the reserves, and he may not be the only one in the dug out to have done so. Of course Arsene won’t be down there with them as he sees out his touchline ban.

Boateng

It should certainly be a good game, the Greeks will try to get at us as much as possible and their support will no doubt make themselves heard across north London. The one big hope I have, aside from three points, is that we don’t suffer any further injuries. This is certainly a game we need to win but with the first NLD of the season barring down on us we can ill afford to lose anyone else.

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and I’ll be back in the morning with a post match report.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Bolton & the mole

Today is Thursday, our last game was on Tuesday and our next game is on Saturday which means that today there is little to talk about…

Michael Bolton

Jack Wilshere announced via his Twitter account last night “Since X-Factor on Sunday I am in love with Michael Bolton’s ‘To love somebody‘. What a tune and what a voice” (Image created by KickarseHD)

Now, I don’t watch X-Factor so I’m assuming that Michael Bolton appeared on the show? If he did then that is just another reason to add to an already long list of reasons I have for not watching the X-Factor (If I want to watch people fail to win anything then I’ll stick with the Arsenal ta)

Jack Wilshere

The truth is the mere mention of Michael Bolton brings back bad memories, for you see I once inadvertently caused the death of a mole via Bolton’s music.

It was the mid 90’s and I was younger than Jack is now (depressing), I’d been helping my Uncle cultivate his garden and after a days hard graft we sat back to admire the fruits of our labour when suddenly we saw a small section of earth move. Then another, and another and you can see how this is going to go… We had a mole in our midst’s.

Our efforts to disperse the little critter were like a real life version of Jasper Carrot’s ‘I’ve got this Mole’ animation, well maybe not quite so slap-stick in comedic value. Now it came as a surprise to me that moles are quite small creatures, I had always imagined that they would be similar in size to badgers, but no, our little moley was small enough to be captured in an ice cream tub. I can’t remember how we managed to capture the blind little fella but not wanting to cause him any harm we made sure the tub had plenty of air holes and we jumped into the car to take him a mile or so up the road so he could dig his boots off in a field.

"Hullo"

At this stage my uncle was a bit of a Michael Bolton fan, which was fine because he wasn’t a young professional footballer who would be better served keeping such passions hidden, and as soon as the engine started the long haired crooners voice came blasting out of the speakers. Mr Mole in his temporary transportation tub was placed on the dashboard.

A minute later we had reached our destination and as I opened the tub I expected Mole to come bounding out singing ‘Born Free’ at the top of his voice. Sadly the mole was dead. Foolishly I had placed the ice cream tub a top a speaker failing to consider that the earth dweller with bad eyesight was of course blessed with the exceptional hearing talents of, well a mole, and Michael Bolton warbling on at 10db may as well have been a spade taken to his tiny little head. Considering moles are sensitive to sound waves (which I didn’t), then this was nothing short of the kind of torture inmates at Guantanamo Bay are used to.

Now of course, you’ll be sitting there now thinking “Why the chuff am I reading about a sodding mole?” – I’ll tell you why..

A – I want this to act as a lesson to Jack, who is already suffering injury, that no good can come from listening to Michael Bolton. If Joey Barton has seen that tweet he’ll be rubbing his thighs in delight and praying that Jack will be fit to face him on New Years Day so he can snap the youngster in half having presumed that our Jack is soft in the head.

2 – I told you there was little going on today…

Tomorrow there will be a proper football based post.

Steve had been listening to Michael Bolton in the dressing room and Big Tone didn't like that

So until the Steve (Morrow), thanks for reading.

Paul.

Do they play football on Endor?

Good morning,

Thank goodness it’s Friday at last, it means two great things shall be happening tomorrow. Firstly I’ll be staying in bed until an hour that is far more reasonable than the stupid o’clock of Monday to Friday and the second is of course the Arsenals lunchtime visit to Ewood Park to face bottom of the table Blackburn Rovers (I say bottom of the table but lets face it, they’re only three points behind us)

I always want to make some wisecrack about the home ground of the Lancashire club being called Ewok Park and seeing their stands full of the fluffy little four footers – but as yet I’ve not thought of a suitable pun. If you have one then send it on a post card.

 The early team news from our perspective is pretty much how we were prior to the Dortmund game

Aaron Ramsey has a small chance to play according to le gaffer, but I can’t see him taking any risks with the Welshman’s fitness not at this stage of the season or, with all due respect, against Rovers. Give the lad a little extra time to recharge his batteries and bring him back in for the Home game against Bolton.

There was no mention of the fitness of Tommy Rosicky or Abou Diaby during Wengers presser but frankly why would there be? The pair may as well be scrapped for parts.

Obviously Tommy Vermaelan & Jack Wilshere are still out but the boss hopes the Belgian will return after the international break in early October.

I would imagine we’ll see the same eleven start as did in Germany Tuesday night, especially as the majority of them are unlikely to feature in the Carling Cup tie with Shrewsbury on Tuesday so they’ll get a weeks rest. We’ll look at it in a bit more detail tomorrow morning but I certainly think that having a level of consistency in our side could only be a positive.

In other news, many Gooners are up in arms because Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas has said that Arsenal won’t win either the league or Champions league this season in an interview with Sport Magazine. So….

I don’t have a problem with that really. A – We won’t and I don’t expect us too & B – I’m never fussed about the things players of other clubs have to say about ours.

Let it go people, he isn’t a Gooner any longer and there is no reason to claim that in his heart he still is, none of us liked it when Barca were doing the same. By all means respect Cesc as a former player of the club, which means don’t send him abuse for airing his views.

I know the Spaniard is claiming he didn’t say some of the stuff in the interview, but to be honest it’s a fairly long piece and I can’t imagine they made it all up. Sure the gutter press will twist it and use it as another example of our demise but so bloody what. I couldn’t give a fiddlers fart for what the red tops think or print, I don’t read their papers I don’t read their tripe, I don’t get wound up by it. Lets not forget that Cesc has form for this after his Don Balon interview.

There is no point in snivelling and crying because someone said something about our team that we don’t like, the best way to deal with it is to go out and support our team starting tomorrow and if you’ve not yet got a ticket for the game against Shrewsbury then what are you waiting for go to the online box office and snap one up for as little as a tenner now.

Right that’s me done for the day. Now to count down the hours until I can go home.

 Thanks for reading.

 Paul (You can follow me on Twitter)

Swansea City Preview

So here we are then, our first game since the crushing defeat at the hands of Manchester United and a chance to get back onto that splendid animal – the three point pony.

Bigger than Arshavin

Since the Old Trafford trashing we’ve seen the make up of our side change significantly thanks to the crop of new signings and the batch of further departures – by now you all know the players who make up those two groups so I won’t attempt to cover old ground.

Today is the first chance we’ve have to see some of the new guys, and that anticipation has certainly helped to whet the appetite of Gooners and make the brain numbingly dull international break just about bearable. It’s been a very odd few weeks, almost like a mini close season, signing players but having to wait for the chance to see them play. In some ways it’s almost like the season stopped and is about to burst back in to life. Well that’s brilliant because we could certainly do with a fresh start and fresh impetus, although it’s slightly disappointing that we can’t wipe out everything that has happened in our previous three league games and start from scratch for real but this is real life and not the work of science fiction, the league table is still as depressing to look at as a bus timetable in a remote town that doesn’t have any buses – until you spot Tottenham right at the foot of the table.

Skeletor

The really great news is that Sebastian Squillaci is ruled out of the game – the Frenchman has a calf injury and whilst I have provided the clubs medical team with my thoughts on amputation as treatment, they seem unprepared to go down that route. I must admit I do feel slightly sorry for Skellaci, he really has become the target for all our ire since the departures of Clichy, Eboue, Traore, Denilson & Bendtner. The fact that old skull face can come in for such criticism when he hasn’t even set foot on a football pitch this season doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for our frustrations however.

Squillaci

Other absentees include perma-crock Abou Diaby (I’ve included a picture of the Frenchman just in case you’ve no idea who he is). It’s interesting that during the past week I’ve bemoaned Diaby’s permanently injured state of being to four Gooners on four separate occasions and in each case they’ve all said “I think he could still be a quality player for us”. I don’t necessarily disagree with that outlook, he is undoubtedly a talented footballer but when he has been able to literally stand on his own two feet it often appears to have an adverse effect on his brain and he begins to play football like a jellyfish trapped in a Pringles tube.

Print & Frame

Jack Wilshere and Tommy Vermaelen are also missing through injury and we’re unlikely to see either player return to the side until we’re all cursing the sun for setting at four in the afternoon. I’ve seen a couple of rumours that Tommy’s injury and subsequent operation are thanks to him tripping over a mop bucket whilst showing Jack around out medical facilities with which the Belgian became so familiar with himself last year, these rumours are not true and neither are those that suggest Tommy Rosicky will be missing this weekend because he is busy making sure neither Jack nor TV use his favourite treatment table, but sadly the rumours that the Czech midfielder will miss the game after suffering a knock whilst on international duty are true.

Alex Song & Gervinho see out their suspensions and Andre Santos may not be fully match fit. Other than that we have a full squad too choose from, so in Arsenal terms it’s pretty much a full squad. Incredible scenes.

And so we turn to who may make up the starting eleven for the visit of the newly promoted Welsh side…

I’m sure Arsene is sat there now alongside Pat Rice, photos of Szczesny, Fabianski, Mannone & Almunia spread out in front of them and dramatic music playing in the back ground. Don’t let any video footage of that situation fool you, it’s all for dramatic effect – Wojciech must be the first name on the team sheet these days.

Woj

In front of the Pole, and slightly to the right will be the returning Bacary Sagna from illness and what a welcome return it is. On the opposite flank Kieran Gibbs can expect to start the game as Andre Santos while included in the squad is short of match fitness. It’s still no clear which man will become the regular left back, on the one hand Wenger has often noted his reluctance to “kill” a players career whilst on the other hand you are unlikely to see the Frenchman splash millions of pounds on a Brazilian international to then just leave him sat on the bench.

Get up Gibbo, you're playing!

What is good is that Gibbs has competition for the spot, he was never going to get that from Armand Traore after Clichy joined City and whilst we’re all disappointed with Vermaelen suffering another injury it’s a blessing in disguise when you consider that the signings of Santos would have been unlikely to happen had Tommy been fit at the close of the transfer window.

Of course we would all love to see Vermaelen at the heart of our defence tomorrow but as that isn’t going to happen we’re set to see yet another centre back pairing for the third game in a row. New Arsenal ‘Wunderverteidiger’ Per Mertesacker will undoubtedly be paired with Laurent Koscielny and I think that the two could work very well alongside each other. They’re both readers of the play who like to watch and intercept the ball rather than defend by pushing people over and closing out space but I think it could be a successful combination at least in the short term. I should make it clear that while I consider Mertesacker to be more of a cultured defender than a John Terry type of player I certainly think the German has the fierceness and battling qualities required at this level, and don’t expect him to give much away to opponents less they want to receive a good kicking.

Mertz won’t be the only Arsenal debutant tomorrow as Mickey Arteta is certain to line up in midfield with Aaron Ramsey and the returning Emmanuel Frimpong against the swans. Our new Spanish heartthrob has been wowing youngsters and first teamers alike during training this week and I think he’ll provide that creative guile we’ve so obviously lacked more much of the season so far but as we know he is quite a combative player too so he’ll be offering a bit more of a defensive element to our midfield which will be a benefit to Frimmers.

Dreamboat

Mickey’s introduction also elevates some of the pressure from Rambo – those who, unlike me, saw the Welshman against England on Tuesday night will know that he was sensational but as I’ve said before we can not expect that level of performance from the lad every game, it just isn’t fair to put that on him at this stage in his Career. We all know that the time will, hopefully, come when alongside Jack, the Welsh captain will be considered the lynchpin of our side but we can’t have that level of expectation now.

It’ll be good for Frimpong to get back in the fold after his dismissal in our previous home game, and without doing Swansea a disservice it’s maybe an easier ride then the Ghanaian received against Liverpool. It’s great that the mystery ankle injury that kept him out of Stuart Pearce’s clutches seems to have cleared up without any medical intervention. You may even say that it is DEEEENCH!?

DEENCH

Up top I’m expecting to see the trio of Theo, Robin & Andrei. There have been suggestions that we could see Banayoun make his debut but personally I think that, again no offence to Swansea, after the restricted side he fielded against United Wenger will want to play as strong as an experienced side as possible. Whilst Yosi certainly has plenty in the way of experience, particularly of this league, I just think that le boss will err on the side of caution and stick with the little Russian who by all accounts gave a great account of himself in his countries recent internationals.

I suggested via Twitter earlier in the week that I thought that AOC could be given his full debut this afternoon but with everything I have just said about playing a more experienced side then think it would be remiss of me to suggest that the young Englishman, who made an explosive introduction to the U21’s on Monday night, could be granted a starting spot.

National Treasure

That said we do have to consider that we have a tough game against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday night and whilst our first three points of the season are most certainly the priority first and foremost we should have half an eye on that game and be making sure we can field a strong side at Signal Iduna Park.

Talking of Park’s, see what I did there…? Yesterday afternoon Ju was stranded in Paris due to problems with his visa, so looks unlikely to play any part in the game.

Set for a weekend in Paris

With regard to tomorrow’s opponents I’ll admit that I know little about them and aside from their opening game, and subsequent defeat at the United Stadium I’ve seen nothing at all of them this season. They certainly gave a good account of themselves against City on that Monday night and whilst the Mancunians allowed the Welshmen to play the football they enjoy and which helped them gain promotion last season it was ultimately futile as the score line reflected the one sided nature of the contest.

Could be Mannone's Dad...

Brendan Rodgers side are yet to score a league goal in their opening three fixtures but we certainly shouldn’t be taking their threat lightly especially when we think back to the two home defeats we suffered in the early part of last season at the hands of newly promoted sides. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the swans get of the mark, in terms of goals scored, but this really is a game we should win comfortably and expect us to do so.

Big Dave is here tomorrow with a post match report so be sure to come and have a read of that.

Right here’s to three points and a glut of goals.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Way down in the hole

Morning all,

I’m back in the modern world. I must admit there was something quite comforting about the inability to get a Wi-Fi connection for two days, thus making any submersion into the post Liverpool defeat cyber-void delirium impossible. The fact I was busy drinking more Vodka than is required to blind a rhinoceros also helped ease the pain & disappointment of the news from London.

To be honest with you I’ve not seen the second half of the game, I left home on Friday without setting up to record it & as yet I’ve seen no highlights – although from what I’ve read & been told, from an Arsenal perspective there aren’t any.

So you’ll find no prolonged post match enquiry here today but unfortunately that doesn’t mean there is any good news to discuss really. In fact I’m treating you to another deliberation of squad strength & how & why we’re in a sorry state squad-wise & what if anything is likely to be done about it.

There was an interesting article from Arsenal Times being linked to & talked about by many a Gooner yesterday. I’m not sure the content was necessary ground breaking, there is clearly an impasse at management/board level somewhere which needs to be bridged in order to strengthen our seemingly ever diminishing squad but it was interesting to look at how factions inside the club are supposedly attempting to impose differing routes towards reinforcing the squad.

On the one side you have Wenger who says he wants players who will ‘improve’ the playing staff not just add to it. On the other we seem to have the board who just want to see strengthening achieved by the addition of players, in order to placate fans & detractors, yet not necessarily by shelling out wages that would be required to attract players of a certain calibre.

I don’t know how much truth is in that, Wenger is not & never has been interested in paying big wages – I can’t see how he would be pushing to pay the astronomical sums that the Manchester clubs & Chelsea do.

I'll get you next time He-Man...

A player like Sebastien Squillaci, signed a few days prior to the close of last summers transfer window, fully encapsulates the type of player who can be added in an effort to bolster numbers but is far and away from being an improvement to the ranks.

Frustrated Centre Half?

We had no idea at the time of the Frenchman’s signing that Tommy Vermaelan would miss pretty much the whole season, but we did know that Johan Djourou was just returning after missing the previous campaign & Laurent Koscielny had only played one season of top level French football. We also knew that Sol Campbell had decided to join Newcastle after the Indian summer he had enjoyed at the end of the previous season & that former captain turned pantomime villain William Gallas had switched to the dark side. So the signing of a quality centre half was imperative, we got the man who looks like Skeletor and one year on even young Spaniard Ignasi Miquel seems to be ahead of him in the pecking order whilst our centre half options are depleted by injuries.

My question is – Why was Skellaci signed? We’ve known for about three seasons that our backline options needed reinforcing. You know that I’m a fan of the Vermaelen – Koscielny partnership but we can’t rely on that lasting an entire season on all fronts. I’ve got a lot of time for Djourou too & I’m sure that the time will come when Miquel will truly bolster the ranks as oppossed to being on the fringes of them and being thrown in at the deep end, but we’re already in a position where skull face could be playing regularly again. Was it cheap labour and a token signing?

We’ve played three games this season and in the two most recent of those our backline has resembled a carousel, players switching from one position to another, players playing out of position,players withdrawing with injuries & others coming in unexpectedly. It’s like groundhog day.

I’m not at all suggesting that Centre half is the only position we need to strenghten but it really highlights our inability to address the issues we have.

Szczesny is a quality keeper & at this rate will become world class but look how long it took us to get a player of his quality between the sticks and even that was by default. Manuel Almunia is still an Arsenal player and you’ve got to think that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he’ll play for us again at this rate

RVP will not last a whole season so we can’t be reliant on his goals, but who have we been reliant on for those stats that really count since we lost Henry? Who has bolstered our frontline, Chamakh, Vela? More times than not Nicklas Bendtner and all he has got for his efforts is criticism & abuse.

Wenger is right when he says that the new players that have come in this summer will come good, but who has time on their hands right now? We can’t keep heaping expectation on youth & then criticise it when it lets us down despite giving it a bloody good go.

The problems we are facing now are not new problems, the supposed differing views of Wenger & the board can not be a recent issue if they exist and if they do then one of the two parties has got to move. We’re staring down the barrel of a gun this next week or so…

We could find ourselves out of the Champions League if we don’t get past the obstacle that is Udinese on Wednesday night.

We could find ourselves with one meagre Premier League point from three games when we face reigning champions Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

We could potentially find ourselves with the same depleted squad we have right now come the close of the transfer window & if our current spate of injuries & suspensions continues throughout the season we could find ourselves in serious trouble.

I am not attempting to be dramatic here, if the above is not addressed than I honestly fear for our side this season and also the implication it could have on Wenger’s future.

Like I said these issues have been creeping up on us for a few years now, they haven’t just appeared out of nowhere & taken us by surprise. If everyone is fit & available then yes we still have a squad of players that would be the envy of many teams but the chances of everyone being & staying fit & available throughout the season are marginal. This squad needs refreshing and replenishing and that needs Wenger & the board to come to a compromise if this rift & differing point of view exist.

There are many rumours circulating today about supposed mass bids we’re making but we all know how far rumours have so far gotten us this summer.

It’s all reminding me of The Wire right now – Ivan & Stan are up in City hall attempting to keep the voters sweet with promises of new dawns and reinvestment into failing sytems whilst Wenger is the police chief having to take every kick in the balls on the halls behalf whilst still attempting to get the best out of depleated & deflated troops. PHW is the old campaigner stiring every pot via his line to the press, keeping various irons in various fires waiting to see which will produce the end product whilst all keeping him in the life he has become accustomed to.

The brighter news is that Jack could be back for Wednesday night, we could certainly do with him in midfield right now but considering he has yet to play any competitive football this season we can’t be putting all our hopes on his shoulders.

It’s been such a long time since things Arsenal related have been so worrying & so bleak that I probably didn’t fully appreciate their significance last time around, the naivety of youth can often be a great device for burying your head in the sand.

President of the 'I hate Wenger' club

Oh great! News is just coming through that UEFA have handed Wenger a two game ban & fined him 10,000 euros after deciding that he broke the rules of his previous ban last week during the first leg of the Champions League qualifier.

I’m going back to Ludlow!

Paul.

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