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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Paul

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Arsenal 0 – 0 Marseille : I’m not complaining

Morning Gooners…

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

Carling Cup: Arsenal 2 -1 Bolton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke City

Morning all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Tommy’s New Deal & L’OM Preview

Morning all,

Well we’ve a fair bit to crack on with this morning which makes a nice change…

That’s start with the most positive – Arsenal announced yesterday that Thomas Vermaelen had signed a new long-term deal with the club. The new deal will keep the Belgian centre half at the club until 2015 and it is without doubt a major boost at a time when we are again being told that players want to leave the club.

Tommy told Arsenal.com

“I am really happy to have signed a new contract with Arsenal. I always had the intention to stay here. I feel there is a big belief in me from the Club, from the boss and from the fans and that is one of the reasons why I stayed. Arsenal is a fantastic Club. We have great supporters, we’re doing well financially and we are playing with some quality young players now and they will develop, which is very good for the future”

It’s great to hear the defender speak in such positive terms about the club, it may seem odd that he has mentioned the clubs financial status but perhaps it shows that it’s an area of the football club that some players are interested in. Who wants to sign a deal to stay on a ship that is sinking into the financial mire?

The boss was equally delighted to have tied down one of his senior players saying: “We are absolutely delighted that Thomas has signed a new long-term contract. Our plan is always to sign top quality players and with Thomas extending his contract, we have done just that. Thomas is a special player, who has always made a huge contribution on the pitch and we are looking forward to him being a part of our future at Arsenal Football Club”

Now some people have been questioning the sense in extending the deal of a player who has made just nine appearances in the last year, clocking up less than six hours of playing time in total, but we all know that with the former Ajax man in the side we look a much better unit. We win more games and concede less goals with him in the side and whilst it may be a gamble due to his fitness record I think it is a minor one and certainly one worth taking. Hopefully he’ll be back from his current spell on the sidelines in the near future, Chelsea away on the 29th is the target, and can go on to have an injury free run in the side – Wenger has suggested that once Tommy comes back he can play 50 games on the spin, I’ve nothing against that kind of optimism but do wonder if the gaffer is including the start of next season in that or is expecting us to have a run in a cup competition?

Hopefully this news can help convince Van Persie to sign a new deal, it can certainly only act as a positive and will go down as a Pro on the skippers list of reasons to put pen to paper.

Tonight the Gunners take on French side Olympique de Marseille in the Champions League.

While L’OM may be struggling in Ligue 1, they currently sit in 15th and have won only once in their last ten games, beating newly promoted Evian, Didier Deschamps side currently lead ‘Group F’ by two points so I don’t think we should be dwelling on league form too much (especially as ours isn’t exactly great)

In terms of European competition Les Phoceens have beaten both Borussia Dortmund and Olympiacos without conceding a goal so it’s likely that they will sit deep and soak up any pressure we put on them and try to catch us on the counter attack which will undoubtedly cause us problems at the back where will need to put in the kind of performance we saw from our defence in the opening group game against Borussia Dortmund (but without conceding a late goal)

A look at the French sides squad shows  they certainly have quality throughout their side but the danger men are expected to be French Striker Loic Remy, who has been likened to Arsenal & France legend Thierry Henry by Arsene Wenger this week, and Argentine Lucho Gonzalez who was reported to have been close to joining Arsenal on loan during the summer. Another Marseille player who has been linked with us in the past is Andre Ayew who could provide young Carl Jenkinson with a torid evening, so whoever plays infront of the young left back is going to have to provide him with some support.

In Arsenal team news it’s disappointing that Kieran Gibbs misses out due to the muscle injury he picked up during Sundays win over Sunderland but it does give Andre Santos another chance to show what he can do. Aaron Ramsey returns to the squad but it is somewhat surprising that both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ju Young Park have been left at home. AOC has scored two goals in his two starts for the Gunners and has been in fine form for England U21’s, at a time when we’ve not been at our attacking best the youngster may have been expected to take a place on the bench this evening. The omission of Ju is even stranger, having been plying his trade in Ligue 1 with Monaco prior to joining us this summer the South Korean forward certainly has experience of playing against our opponents but that said Marouane Chamakh has similar experience of the French top division and has made the trip. With our over reliance on Van Persie’s goals of late it does make you wonder why we’re not attempting to utilise the talents of two proven goal scorers but I guess that as the saying goes ‘Arsene Knows’.

My personal view on our starting XI is that Theo should start from the bench, I think his pace could be better utilised coming up against a tiring defence late on. Arshavin impressed upon coming on against the Mackems and should start on the left of our front three with Gervinho, who is another Gunner with experience of Ligue 1, moving over to the right. So my starting eleven would be –

Szczesny – Jenks – Koscielny – Mertz – Andy Santos – Song – Arteta – Ramsey – Gervinho – RVP – Arshavin.

That said, I suspect that Wenger may keep the Ivorian on the left and Theo on the right. We’ll wait and see if furtehr conclusive proof of why I’m not a top level football manager is produced…

With Dortmund taking on Olympiacos this evening the Germans will be expected to pick up three points, so we really need at least a draw to keep our noses in front of the Bundesliga champions in the race for qualification. Of course Deschamps and his players know that a home victory will put them five points clear at the half way stage of the group phase so we’ll hopefully see an exciting and attacking game.

As a little aside there may well be an unwelcome reception for Boro Primorac. Wenger’s right hand man was in charge of Valenciennes in the early ’90’s when L’OM player Jean-Jacques Eydelie and General Manager Jean-Pierre Bernes attempted to bribe three of his players, Jacques Glassman, Jorge Burruchaga and Christophe Robert to throw a game. Boro blew the whistle and was integral in the fight to bring down Eydelie, Bernes and former OM chairman Bernard Tapie, as was Wenger.

Bernes is something of a super agent now, but is embroiled in a row in France due to his representation of a number of French international players as well as coach Laurent Blanc. You might be interested to know that Bernes had a hand in a certain former Gunners lucrative move to Manchester this summer…

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and thanks for reading.

Paul.

Breaking free from International boredom

This morning there is an awakening happening across the land, millions of men women and children who for the past ten days have appeared little more than listless and dispirited souls are rising up, breaking free from the cocoon of international football, coming out of the coma that only an international break can induce.

And thank goodness, because the football world has been a bleak passionless cesspit with all the Joie de vivre of a night spent discussing the Arsenal defensive frailty with Alan Hansen whilst Gordon Brown massages your feet and the music of Michael Buble plays in the background.

Players will begin to return to London Colney over the next twenty-four hours and as always we’ll all be praying that they do so in full health – no limbs hanging off, strained groins, river blindness, guinea worm disease or monkey pox – I’m specifically thinking of young Aaron Ramsey with that last one, he has after all been in the company of Gareth Bale…

So far the news appears to be good, insomuch as I’ve heard nothing bad, but as we all know that means very little and whilst Robin Van Persie may have completed the full ninety in Holland’s 3-2 defeat at the hands of Sweden last night, and left the pitch unscathed, the Dutchman could quite easily have choked on T-Bone Steak Royster’s at the airport last night causing Dirk Kuyt to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre and consequently break a couple of our skippers ribs.

Andrey Arshavin was on duty for Russia captaining the side in their fake game against made up nation Andorra which saw the home side notch up a six goal to nil score line. To be honest, I could play a pretend footballing nation on my own and win by more goals than that, in fact I did… Last night I single handily thrashed Scothmististan 18-0 and let me tell you, I played a blinder.

I’ve heard a fair bit about Ju Young Park’s hot streak during South Korea’s games against Poland & United Arab Emirates. Three goals in two games is pretty good going I agree but what no one has mentioned is the fact that the two scored in last Fridays 2-2 draw with Poland beat our own Lukasz Fabianski. I’ve probably broken some kind of official Arsenal secrets act now haven’t I?

Per Mertesacker completed 180 minutes for Germany in their duel 3-1 wins over Turkey & Belgium respectively.

Aaron Ramsey captained Wales to two wins on the bounce, surely the first time that has happened since the principality played back to back games against Andorra in a dream back in the mid 1930’s. One of the wins was a 2-0 victory over Switzerland – you look at the nations involved and you look at the score and you assume that Johan Djourou played for the Swiss but in actual fact he didn’t, the centre half is keeping himself fit so he can pick up an injury against Sunderland on Sunday.

Laurent Koscielny is surely hated by Laurent Blanc – having chosen to play for Les Blues ahead of Poland the centre back has been forced to hang out with Samir Nasri for the best part of two weeks by the French manager and not even given a run out on the pitch.

Others have been trotting the globe and playing games that I frankly don’t care about (or not in some cases) and as long as they return intact and help us win on Sunday then I’m happy to put this whole miserable period behind us and to mention it no more – that’s what we all want isn’t it?

I hope tomorrow we might have something Arsenal related to discuss that you & I care about…

Before I go let me remind you that the club have picked the home game against Everton on December the 10th to celebrate our 125th birthday and as such a number of fans groups including the Arsenal Supporters Trust and REDaction are asking fans to submit ideas for ways we can show our appreciation and thanks to this wonderful, beautiful, historic club, so be sure to get involved with that…

Until tomorrow dear readers…

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Year of the Ox

Arsenal: Fabianski – Jenkinson – Miquel – Djourou (C) – Gibbs – Oxlade-Chamberlain (Aneke – 90) Coquelin – Frimpong (Ozyakup) – Benayoun – Park (Ryo – 72) – Chamakh

Goals: Gibbs – 33. Oxlade-Chamberlain – 58. Benayoun – 79.

Shrewsbury Town: Smith – Grandison – Jacobson – McAllister (Richards – 72) – Goldson – Wright – Hazell (C) – Wroe – Ainsworth (Taylor – 78) – Collins (Bradshaw – 72) – Morgan.

Goal: Collins – 16

Well there were a couple of collectors items on show at the Emirates last night – Two English goalscorers for the Arsenal for the first time since Sol Campbell & Franny Jeffers scored in the FA Cup victory over Farnborough Town in 2003 and there was a goal scored by an Arsenal player from outside the box, I’ve no idea when we last saw that? Denilson at Goodison Park on the opening day of the 09/10 season?

The first half of this third round Carling Cup tie wasn’t pretty, but I think it’s worth remembering that Shrews keeper Ben Smith pulled off two top quality saves from Marouane Chamakh within the first ten minutes. Had either of those early chances gone in the complexion of the game could have been different but as it was the League Two side made the gulf in league status look miniscule.

While Graham Turners side grew in stature and began to sense an upset may have been on the cards, our players, a decent mix of youth and experience, started to mimic our first choice XI perfectly. The Shrews were knocking it about comfortably and we just couldn’t get a foot hold in the game, allowing our opponents plenty of space which they made the most of. Mark Wright had a shot which Lukas Fabianski seemingly choose to completely ignore as if there was no ball in play and Marvin Morgan had a shot blocked by Kieran Gibbs who was doing his best Gael Clichy impression, pushing high up the pitch and leaving gaping holes on the left side of our half. Buoyed by their early efforts Shrewsbury took the lead after seventeen minutes.

I mentioned Marvin Morgan as the  Shrewsbury danger man yesterday and it was indeed the big forward who whipped a lovely ball in from the right flank, captain for the night Johan Djourou made no attempt to win the ball in the air and James Collins was on hand to head it past Fabianski. I’ve no idea what has happened to Djourou, I can only imagine he has been spending far too much time with Manuel Almunia because the Swiss centre half has seemingly caught the Spaniards penchant for indecision and an indifference to perform even the most basic of tasks expected from him.

I’ve always been a fan of Djourou’s and whilst he has suffered from those mind farts on occasion during his Arsenal career it now seems his brain has completely shat itself.

Shrewsbury seemingly had us on the ropes and pushed on for a second goal which they were unfortunate not to get especially when Fabianski, seemingly inspired by Djourou, stood idly by as McAllister’s effort dribbled along the ground and towards goal. Either the Polish keeper had a vision of the future or was just incredibly lucky not to concede a second as the ball went just inches wide of the far post.

Somehow we rode our luck and got ourselves back into the game as the clock ticked towards half time. Shortly after the half hour mark. Carl Jenkinson, who suffered football mutilation at Old Trafford a few weeks back, crossed in a lovely ball from the right which pinged off Chamakh and onto the head of the unmarked Kieran Gibbs who directed the ball inside the post and past Smith to put us back on level terms.

It was somewhat a relief that half time came, but mainly that was from a personal perspective because I had two pints of cider inside me looking for an exit. As the ref blew to signal the end of the half I made the dash to the gents and there was another of those collectors items, I was in there alone and when I came out there was no snaking queue.

The second half was far more enjoyable and the difference in class began to show. I had spent most of yesterday looking forward to seeing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain make his full debut and in the second half his quality really began to shine through. In tandem with Franny Coquelin, who I thought was outstanding and is maybe starting to edge his nose in front of Frimmers in the pecking order, the former Southampton youngster began to torment the opposition and excite the home crowd in equal measure.

Frimpong, himself an obvious crowd pleaser, encouraged by the fans to shoot whenever he had the ball at his feet did just that but Smith was equal to it. I’m not sure if the players had been told to test the keeper from distance or if they were just taking a punt but AOC soon joined in. His shot from twenty-five yards out sneaked underneath Smith into the back of the net and put us in front for the first time in the match. The Ox had the bit between his teeth now and was suddenly everywhere looking for the ball and trying to do something with it. In fact he had another decent effort on goal but this time Smith got his gloves to it. AOC certainly deserved the standing ovation he was given when he was replaced by Chuks Aneke late on, it was a fantastic home debut and hopefully has gone some way in proving that Wner was right to spend big in order to secure the midfielders signature.

By now Arsenal were well and truly in the driving seat but whilst Shrewsbury began to tire they certainly didn’t show any less commitment.

With just over ten minutes of the game remaining Yossi Benayoun bagged his first Arsenal goal, although for a brief moment it looked as if the Israeli had taken too long to get his shot off. Substitute Ozzy Ozyakup cut back from the by line and after what felt like an eternity (in football terms) Benny prodded the ball home to finish off the Shrews and put us into the fourth round.

Ryo got a twenty-minute run out and somewhat disappointingly he didn’t get too involved, but it certainly wasn’t for the want of trying. The Japanese winger was making some decent runs and looking to be involved and I think we were all hoping to see something spectacular from the lad. He’ll get more chances and during his brief time on the pitch did enough to make us all want to be there when he does.

As I said, Chuks Aneke also made his debut replacing the Ox with just a minute plus stoppages left on the clock and while the game had all but petered out by then the front man was everywhere on the pitch looking to get as many touches of the ball as possible which was really heartening to see. The youngster certainly is a big old unit and watching him tower over guys much older than himself I began to wonder if Wenger is attempting to put together a new breed of big powerful players?

Whilst Chuks is surely the offspring of NFL legend William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry it’s worth noting that both Frimmers & AOC are big lads for their age. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with that, could well be nothing.

Flicking on Sky Sports news when I got home last night I was appalled (but not at all surprised) to see them running with the strap line “Wenger told he won’t be sacked“. This is so far removed from the truth I wonder if it might actually be slanderous (it isn’t), Ivan Gazidas nor anyone else has given the Frenchman the so-called ‘vote of confidence’ or any thing like it. Our Chief Exec was asked if Wenger’s tenure was in danger at an event and responded that it certainly isn’t. That does not constitute Wenger being given assurances over his future, it isn’t as if Ivan said ” I called him in, we had a chat and I let him know he was safe for now but we’re keeping a close eye on things“. Knowing the power Arsene has at the club I wouldn’t be surprised if the person clearing their desk after a conversation like that was Ivan.

I’ve made my feelings about Wenger’s future beyond this season known and I stand by that but as I’ve said I will never abuse le gaffer or call for his head. He has done far too much for this club and whilst I’m not totally sure he can I certainly wouldn’t put it past him pulling something out of the bag. I just hope that both the boss and the players use this criticism as a springboard, close ranks and stick it to every doubter out there. It was fantastic when towards the end of the game last night the home supporters gave a rousing rendition of “There’s only one Arsene Wenger“.

Lastly, I just want to touch on last nights attendance. There were 46,539 inside the grove last night and for a third round league cup tie against a side who are in what is effectively the fourth division that is incredible. I posted a picture of the number of empty seats around Dave and I in the top-tier last night and there were a fair few sections like that but lets put this into context –

Arsenal v’s Shrewsbury Town – Carling Cup Third Round – 46,539

Man City V’s Napoli – UEFA Champions League* – 44,026 *This was big spending City’s first ever Champions League game an they couldn’t fill the United Stadium.

So which attendance figure is embarrassing? Which group of fans has more passion Samir?

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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