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.

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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.

When I grow up…. I want to be a Football Agent

John-Marc Bosman has a lot to answer for doesn’t he?

With a bit of hindsight, I wish I’d found out what qualifications a Football Agent needed when I was at school. I would have done it, because now (at age 31) I think I could have retired – Let’s face it; I was never good enough to be a professional footballer, so surely becoming a rich man on the back of them is the next best thing.

The Bosman ruling came into force in 1995, I don’t think anyone could have imagined the effect it (plus the increase in TV and Champions League money) would have on the value of a player’s contract.

We have seen this summer (with Samir Nasri) that when you get to a certain stage of your contract, the player holds all the cards. I won’t bleat about this! Let’s face it; we have been the beneficiaries of such situations in the past. Obviously most people won’t be too overjoyed how we benefited from Bordeaux with Marouane Chamakh, but let’s not forget our ultimate scoop in getting Big Sol from behind enemy lines. We have also made the most of this country having a differing employment law to that of the continent, being able to offer players full-time contracts before the country of their origin (you know who I’m talking about).

The issue we have now, is that a few of our first team squad will be in the same position as Nasri was this summer unless they sign a new deal in the next 6 months. More importantly, our captain and vice-captain are included in their numbers.

Overall, I don’t criticise players for wanting to get the best deal for themselves, but there is definitely a limit to where my empathy will go. What a lot of us fan’s struggle to come to terms with, is that everyone in the first team squad is on more money a year then we will earn in a lifetime (*if this doesn’t apply to you then congratulations). Therefore, why are they being so greedy? The thing is, it’s all relative. We may consider £30,000 pa a decent wage. For a footballer, that’s the weekly for their first decent contract. I don’t like it, but the money’s in the game, where else is it going to go?

Before I discuss the players in question, let me first admit that I have no links with the players and the club. My knowledge of their contracts comes purely from what I think is common knowledge, and what a basic internet search tells me. If I’m wrong, then please feel free to put me right in the comments section.

From what I can make out, Thomas Rosicky’s contract is due to expire at the end of this season. I think many people will reluctantly say, ‘thank you and goodbye’ to the Czech. From a move that promised so much when he signed just before the 2006 World Cup, he has disappointed in the last few years. Granted, injury’s have taken their toll, and robbed him of some of the prime years of his career, but it’s time to say goodbye.

The players that are more interesting are those who contracts expire at the end of 2012. There may be more, but Robin Van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen, Theo Walcott and Andre Arshavin are the focus of this article. I put them in this order intentionally too, as it is (in my opinion) their order of importance to the club but.. I’m going to look at them in reverse order starting with Andre Arshavin.

The diminutive Russian has flattered to deceive for many Arsenal fans in the last three years. We have been treated to moments of brilliance, but they have been too few and far between. After his heroics at Anfield in 2009, we all thought we had signed a world beater, but that would prove to be a flash in the pan. My main problem with him is his work rate. The formation we play means that it leaves our full-backs extremely exposed, and this is amplified when the person playing in front of you doesn’t work hard enough. He would argue he should have been given more of a chance playing centrally (in the midfield), but I don’t think Wenger can trust him in there due to his lack of physicality. With respect to his contract, he is going to be 31 at the end of this season. How much money would we get for a 31-year-old player with only a year to go in his contract? The answer should be not much, but with some of the silly money rolling around in Russia at the moment, we can’t be too sure. If both Zenit St. Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala are interested in the Russian captain, there is a chance we might get a few quid for him. If that’s the case, I definitely think we should cash in. If they are not too interested, then I would be inclined to hold onto him and let his contract run down.

Theo is a totally different kettle of fish to Andre. Firstly, he will only be 23 at the end of this season. Secondly, he is English! Theo is a very frustrating player for Arsenal. He is capable of turning a game on its head with his pace, but just as capable of looking like he has never seen a football before let alone kicked or controlled one. We understand, however, that Chelsea made an inquiry for him this summer. Reports out in the continent suggest that Juventus are also interested in the speedster. His pace is such a threat that it scares teams to death, they defend deeper, and that creates more space on the pitch. We need to hold onto Theo in my opinion. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is looking for some element of assurance that he’s going to be given a chance as a central striker – For this to happen on a regular basis, I think we need to change our formation. I can’t see our manager doing that, so Wenger’s silver tongue will be needed to convince Walcott of his future. This isn’t as so when the manager’s own future is being brought into question. My initial inclination is that Theo will sign a new deal, even if there is a clause in it that he can leave for X amount of money for a Champions League club (presuming we do not make it).

The missing link for us last season, and the start of this one, could arguably be Thomas Vermaelen. He has been fantastic since he signed for us two years ago. The partnership he built with William Gallas looked as solid as we’ve had here for a long time. As the song went at Craven Cottage at the end of last season, ‘we missed him all year’ last year. He has also been the most quiet about his future, and so it is hard to gauge what his stand point is. There have been no rumblings from other clubs, and hopefully that is because is agent isn’t agitating for movement. That fact is though, teams throughout Europe will be interested. There is a massive linchpin in Thomas’s situation though, and that’s how he returns from his latest injury. All parties (Arsenal, Thomas, his agent & prospective buyers) will be looking to see if he can regain his form of 18 months ago. If he gets a few good months under his belt, you will start to hear noises from other clubs. My view is, we should try to tie him down before he looks the finished article again. Then, hope our faith and loyalty will be reciprocated by the player. It’s a very difficult one to gauge but I’m hoping he will stay, and provide what we’ve been missing for the last year or so.

Finally, and most importantly we have our captain – Robin van Persie. For obvious reasons, he has been the most talked about player. All reports (the validity of them could be questioned though) suggest that Robin is looking for assurances that we are going to compete on the pitch. Unfortunately, on this season’s evidence, we haven’t really put much weight behind our argument. Maybe he is waiting to see what Ivan and Arsene have up their sleeves for the January transfer window? Many Gooners would argue (me being one of them) that the amount of time he’s spent in the treatment rooms in the last 8 years warrants a little bit more loyalty than his current posture is perhaps suggesting. I know loyalty is becoming rarer and rarer in football, but I’m a romantic and think there could still be a place for it the modern game. Saying that, I don’t really blame our club captain for asking questions about where the club is going. Let’s face it; we’ve been doing the same thing recently. We will be asking him to sign a (minimum) four-year contract. Who knows what sort of position we will be in then? I don’t think you can underestimate how important Robin’s commitment is to the short to mid-term future of the club. What message does it send out to the current squad, and prospective imports, if your captain and talisman’s future is uncertain? One of the worrying factors is Robin has moved to Darren Dein for his agent services, a man who has previous for engineering players moves away from North London. I hope it doesn’t set a precedent. I’m going to lead with my heart rather than my head on this one, and predict that we convince Robin that his future lays at the Gunners. Fingers crossed.

You will notice that I haven’t talked about wages for the four players in question. It may sound ridiculous, but I don’t think that money will be the ultimate motivation for their departure or stay. I think Thomas, Theo and Robin will be given their desired pay deal (even if it involves breaking the current wage structure).

These are pivotal months for the current playing squad. You cannot replace players like this very easily. That said, we are Arsenal, we will continue to be a big club even if they do all go. This is not going to be a rarity in the future. Every season we will have similar battles to retain our top stars. It’s not just an Arsenal issue; every team around the world will have the same problem. Thanks a lot John-Marc Bosman…

Thanks for reading.

Dave (Follow me on Twitter @bigdavetaylor)

Arsenal 2 -1 Olympiacos

Afternoon Gooners,

Well that was a somewhat scrappy win last night all in all but the important thing is, it was a win. That’s three on the spin now.

The last time we put together a run like this was the six game period between January 15th and February 1st when we beat West Ham, Leeds, Wigan, Ipswich, Huddersfield & Everton.  So in some ways you could say that we are starting to find a little form, but given the fact that defensively we look as suspicious as David Pleat on a walk through Soho so you also expect that form to dissipate at any time.

There were a couple of surprises in the starting eleven, Robin Van Persie and Aaron Ramsey were named on the bench and replaced by Marouane Chamakh and Tommy Rosicky respectively as even from his place up in the directors box Arsene Wenger had one eye on Sundays trip to arse end of North London (I obviously don’t mean ‘arse’ in an Arsenal sense)

Judging by the sides he has put out in our last two games against the Greek Champions you have to wonder if Wenger rates them very much, in fact by the time we travel to Piraeus in early December we could see a second string fielded, if qualification to the knock out round has been secured.

The game started well with Arsenal taking an early lead thanks to Oxlade-Chamberlain. The youngster was making his European bow last night and it took him a mere eight minutes to over take Theo Walcott as not only the clubs youngest ever scorer in European club footballs glamour competition but also the youngest ever Englishman.

AOC took a pas from Alex Song on his chest, he cut inside and managed to keep possession before cutting back in and firing a low shot through a defenders legs and into the back of the onion bag. Quite what Theo Walcott would have made of seeing someone cut inside with the ball and unleashing a shoot we just don’t know, but hopefully he’ll have made a mental note of trying to replicate the technique upon his return from injury.

It may have been all the excitement or it may have just been typical Arsenal but within minutes Olympiacos had a great chance to Pegg us back but thanks to a Mickey Arteta goal line clearance we kept our lead. What was pleasing about it was seeing the Spaniard following the traction of the ball, he moved along the goal line following the play thus meaning he was in the right place at the right time. All to often have we seen players stand static as if glued to the post at times like that.

Arsenal regained their composure and started to take look as if they would get a foot hold in the game. With just twenty minutes on the clock Andy Santos put us two goals to the good. Rosicky played the ball to the Brazilian who sprinted with it at his feet down the line before squaring for Chamakh. The Morroccan saw the ball blocked by an Oly defender and ping back towards Santos who stepped over the obstacle of an opponent who had gone to ground and fired in with his weaker right foot. 2-0 and we were maybe all preparing ourselves to see the Greek side collapse like their national economy.

Well the Greeks are obviously able to spot disorganisation from a mile away thanks to their country’s financial turmoil and rather than sporting ly bailing us out and letting us off the hook they decided to take advantage of our ramshackled attempts of defending from a set piece. From a corner David Fuster was left totally unmarked and whilst his leap and header were certainly impressive, the fact that no one was on hand to even attempt to pick him up was not so.  Two goals to one and you got the impression that the Greek side sensed a come back was not impossible. We held out until half time, but it was far from pretty.

The second half saw a marked improvement in our performance, especially at the back. Pat Rice, once again deputising for the suspended Arsene Wenger, must have given them a kick up the arse at half time. That said, Olympiacos certainly had chances to level the scoring. Our centre back pairing of Mertesacker & Song looked as impressive as any of the pairings we have seen this season at the back, neither made any false moves or suffered any mind farts. I’m not sure I’ll be too pleased to have to start with the pair alongside each other on Sunday but if that is the case then their second half performance should give them a morale boost.

Fairly late on RVP replaced Chamakh and I have to say that I thought that the much maligned Moroccan had his best game in an Arsenal shirt for a long while. Much of what he tried didn’t come off but he kept trying, his head didn’t drop and you at least knew he was taking part in the game. If he continues like that goals will come, he is looking sharper and just needs the shot in the arm finding the back of the net would be.

So we held out for our first three points of this Champions League campaign and we;ve now got a few days to rest and work on our defending from set pieces before the derby on Sunday.

With that game in mind let me tease you with the news that we have a fantastic guest writer tomorrow who has put together something that will really whet our appetites ahead of that game against our local rivals. Do not miss it.

Thanks for reading – I’ll next be posting on Sunday morning due to a stag weekend in Edinburgh. I’m already envisioning that I’ll be doing so from the comfort of my bed in some Scottish hotel room whilst in a very alcohol educed fragile state, so apologies in advance if all it consists of is the ramblings and complaints of a drunkard.

Paul.

 

 

 

 

Shrewsbury Town Preview

So tonight see’s our reintroduction to the Carling Cup. Whilst this seasons competition is now at the third round stage this is our first participation since last years final and we all know what happened there don’t we.

Since our late capitulation against Birmingham City, who this season are gracing the Championship, our form has resembled that of a side destined to partake in a relegation scrap. Remember that as we kicked off at Wembley we were still right in the title race, still in the FA Cup and despite facing a trip to the Nou Camp still in with a chance of progressing to the quarter finals of the Champions League thanks to an outstanding 2-1 victory over Barcelona in our first leg tie. Our form in ALL competitions since that final has looked like this –

P – 22. W – 6. D – 8. L – 8. F – 31. A – 38. – WDLLDDWDDLWLLDDWLWLWDL

It’s certainly not pretty is it.

So yesterday saw a lot of discussion about the kind of side we should field against League Two opponents Shrewsbury Town in this evenings game.

Many Gooners have been calling for the side that was beaten by Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on Saturday to be utilised again tonight for seemingly two reasons – A) Some kind of punishment for the woeful second half performance up in Lancashire & 2) Giving the side a taste of victory which will help them kick on in the league.

To be honest I can see the merits in both these arguments but have to say that ultimately I disagree with both. Firstly, putting a team out in what would be the footballing equivalent of the village stocks surely gains no real purpose. The players will not respond to what would be perceived as public shaming and I can’t imagine it would make le gaffer very popular. Also it just isn’t the Fenchman’s way of doing things is it, in fact I was pretty surprised that he has come out and spoken in, what is for him, critical terms in the wake of Saturdays shambles. It isn’t very often that Wenger speaks in this way publically and maybe it’s something we should welcome? He certainly hasn’t hung anyone out to dry or pointed fingers at individuals but maybe a sharp little poke of the stick like this can help focus the players a little more, the opposite hasn’t seemed to achieved that. It certainly isn’t the answer to the problems, far from it, but it’s maybe a form of accountability?

With option two, giving the side a taste of victory, again it doesn’t really float my boat. No disrespect to Shrewsbury Town but if it takes a victory over the side from the fourth tier of English Football to inspire our best players then we’ve got serious problems, also why should we should we allow back slapping and self-congratulation for something that we would expect to see? Imagine we send out the strongest possible eleven players we have available and they struggle against the Shrews, never mind how the media et al would react, how would we react? I imagine we would soon be hearing about protests before Saturdays home game against Bolton and the sale of black scarves would sky-rocket.

On the whole I think it’s the perfect time to play a mix of players who are considered ‘first team’ and some of those who are on the fringes of being such.

I said yesterday that I would like to see a line up of – Fabianski – Jenks – Djourou – Mertz – Andy Santos – Frimmers – Benny – AOC – Ryo – Chamakh – Ju.

I would include our most recent defensive signings because whilst they may both be international footballers there is no doubt they are still adapting to English football and personally I think it would be more beneficial for the German & Brazilian then Kozzer & Gibbs. The XI named above is made up of players who have and/or will make first team appearances this term, be it due to injuries, suspensions or form and whilst some of the younger lads should certainly be included in the match day squad for games like this and indeed on the bench I think we need to be giving game time to those who are going to need it most.

I’m not ruling my select XI out but according to Jamie Sanderson at Young Guns Blog Wenger is set to name the following line up – Fabianski – Jenkinson – Djourou – Miquel – Gibbs – Oxlade-Chamberlain – Frimpong – Coquelin – Benayoun – Chamakh – Park.

So not too dissimilar to my projected line up and certainly a side I would be happy to see take the field tonight as those players who differ from my selection are equally as deserving of a run out and equally as likely to make in roads on the first team this season.

Jamie Suggests that we’ll see the likes of Daniel Boateng, Nico Yennaris, Chuks Aneke, Oguzhan Ozyakup, Sanchez Watt & Emi Martinez on the bench tonight with Ryo joinig them due to his lack of fitness.

I have to say I’m hugely excited about seeing Ryo and AOC this evening, I know that over the past fifteen years we’ve seen many exciting prospects come through our ranks, often through this competition, some have disappeared into the football wilderness, some have moved on to other clubs and some have become first choice players but these two have such a buzz about them. We certainly shouldn’t be heaping too much pressure on the youngsters at this stage but if they can hit the heights as many are predicting then we could be in for a treat.

I won’t lie, I know little about Shrewsbury Town aside from Joe Hart played there. Apparently they’re flying in league two and their danger man is Marvin Morgan who has bagged seven goals so far this season, so he may well be one to watch.

I know there will be many empty seats tonight and the crowd will have a lot of families and young supporters but despite all the negativity currently surrounding the club and the disappointment we’re dealing with this is still a great chance to get behind a group of players who cold be pivotal to us in the longterm and I hope we can get behind them and give them the support they need and see the Gunners march through to the fourth round.

Thanks for reading.

Paul. (Follow @Up_TheArsenal on Twitter)

This is a low – Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading

Paul

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