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.

Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal

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“But we can win this” – The phrase from ‘Escape to victory’ that I used as a basis of yesterday’s blog. At no point during the ninety-minutes of our game at Stamford Bridge did those words leave my mind but I must admit that as the teams went in at half time with Chelsea leading 2-1, I had no idea how escape-esq the second half would prove to be…

In the opening exchanges it was the home side who saw the lions share of the ball and while their early attacks down the flanks were fair warning that our full backs had been identified as an area of weakness it was the Gunners who in all truth had the better scoring opportunities.

Inside the first two minutes Ashley Cole let Johan Djourou know that he was in for a tough time at right back and had it not been for Laurent Koscielny there is every chance that a cross from the former Arsenal man may have been turned in by Fernando Torres. Moments later Djourou lost Cole again and this time Per Mertsacker was on hand to block the ball and cut out any danger.

Daniel Sturridge had what was perhaps the blues best chance but caught between having a shot and passing to Torres wasted the opportunity.

It was two early chances created by the impressive Theo Walcott that should have put the Gunners in the driving seat. After the winger had first knocked the ball past Cole and left him in his wake as he rushed towards the Chelsea box and flashed across the perfect pass for Gervinho who hit his shot wide with his right foot. Next Theo played a fantastic ball over the top of the Chelsea defence for the on rushing Robin Van Persie who blazed over the bar. You maybe would have backed both men to score given their recent exploits in front of goal so it was typical that having failed to take the lead we went on a conceded the opener.

Mata under no pressure from an almost bemused Andre Santos crossed the ball into the Arsenal box and it should have been cleared by Per Mertesacker but the German was seemingly unable to lift his giant frame off of the ground and the ball fell to Frank Lampard who stooped low to direct the ball into the back of the net and put the home side in front.

The game really opened up and it was as free flowing as we’re likely to see but neither side really created any chances of merit until the Arsenal equaliser came. Aaron Ramsey played a lovely ball to Gervinho which caught out the Chelsea defence. The Ivorian, with Cech diving at his feet unselfishly cut the ball back for Robin Van Persie who tucked it away.

With half time approaching it looked as if the sides would head in on level terms until another defensive mistake from Mertesacker saw the blues store their lead. Aaron Ramsey, providing some much needed support for Djourou gave away a corner which was taken by Frank Lampard.

As the ball floated into the box there seemed to be little danger. Mertesacker should have been able to clear the ball but almost inexplicably missed the ball which allowed John Terry to score despite the Chelsea captain making minimal contact with the ball.

I think that vast majority of us would have expected to see Arsene Wenger make changes during the break, most likely at left back where Andre Santos had looked nothing like a Brazilian international footballer and more like an overweight hod carrier from Gateshead who had been granted on last ‘Fix It’ by Sir Jim before he passed away. So it was something of a surprise when the same red & white clad eleven made their way on to the pitch for the second half.

But what a stroke of tactical genius not making any changes proved to be by the gaffer. Perhaps the Frenchman gave yet another rousing speech in the dressing room? Whatever went on in there during the break certainly produced a very different Arsenal side.

From the restart Arsenal looked more threatening and it took just three minutes for the Gunners to get back on level terms for a second time. Johan Djourou won the ball from Torres on the touchline and laid it of to Alex Song, the Cameroonian played a terrific ball across she park and into the path of Santos who collected the ball whilst continuing his run towards goal and steered his low left foot shot past Cech.

Just moments after Chelsea had restarted the game a little good fortune fell our way when referee Andre Marriner gave Wojciech Szczesny a yellow card when he quite easily could have dismissed the ‘keeper. Mikel played a long ball over the top, with it landing somewhere between the on rushing Ashley Cole and the out coming Szczesny. The Pole, now outside his box, clattered into Cole who went down in a heap.

The game and the Arsenal had really come to life. With just ten minutes of the half gone Theo Walcott put us in front for the first time in the game with a goal that was equally comical as it was brilliant.

Theo won a free kick just inside the Chelsea half after Cole had crashed into him, I didn’t see who took it because the cameras were busy showing Ashley’s usual barracking of officials which seemingly goes unpunished time and again. Anyway I assume it was played short between Theo & Robin because when the picture returned to the action both men were storming down the line, Robin almost shielding Walcott and the ball, as the pair cut inside Theo seemed to slip over and with the Chelsea players stoping Nd complaining about a free kick that was never given he got up just as quickly as he had gone down, skipped past a couple of defenders and struck a wonderful shot from a tight angle which beat Cech and put the Gunners 2-3 up and in the driving seat.

As the game sated to approach the 80th minute both managers made substitutions, in Arsenals case first Carl Jenkinson replaced Djourou and a few minutes later Tomas Rosicky came on in place of Theo Walcott. These substitutions were seemingly made to tighten things up a little and help us hold onto our lead. Of course what happened instead is the blues pulled a goal back to make it three a piece.

It was unsurprising when John Terry got his name on the score sheet in the wake of the racism allegations that have dogged him this week and it was even less surprising when Juan Mata scored because if anyone was going to score against us it was going to be the guy we almost signed in the summer.

Take nothing away from the Spaniards finish, it was fantastic, but the fact that Marriner had missed an obvious fail on Santos in the build up still irks me this morning. Szczesny rolled the ball out to Santos who played a short pass into the path of Raul Meireles, as the Brazilian attempted to move in and intercept the former Liverpool player he was intentionally blocked by Romelu Lukaku. Meanwhile Meireles passed to Mata who struck a sweet left foot shot to make it 3-3.

While Chelsea celebrated the Arsenal players complained, however justice was to come.

With just six minutes remaining Arsenal so often caught out by playing a high defensive line punished Chelsea for doing just that. On the half way line Terry played a short pass to Mikel, who passed to Ramires. The Brazilian played it back to Terry who had no one around him and was under no pressure. The Chelsea skipper turning as the ball passed him slipped to the ground and an on rushing Robin Van Persie was quick to collect it. The Dutchman showed tremendous composure to take the ball around Peter Cech as the Czech dived at his feet as he entered the penalty box and to cooly slot home and make it four goals to three in the Gunners favour.

Whilst Terry falling over and Robin nipping past him was great to see, my favourite shoot was from behind the goal where you see the Chelsea and England skipper get back to his feet and make a futile attempt at giving chase before quickly realising there is no point and giving up just as Robin rounded Cech.

It was incredible but given our defensive vulnerability late on in games the remaining five minutes us stoppages before the final whistle see,ed a life time away.

Wenger replaced Gervinho with Thomas Vermaelen with just a few minutes left in an attempt to make sure we held our lead, he needn’t have worried as Robin made sure we extended it and went home with all three points.

In the second minute of added time Arsenal once more attached the Chelsea goal, at one point it was four against two in the Gunners favour, and passed to Van Persie and the skipper clinched his second hat-trick of the season.

While Robin will take all the plaudits this morning there were some other big performances out there yesterday. Theo Walcott was a constant threat, everything he tried came off and if he could produce that level of performance week in week out he would be up there with the very best. Laurent Koscielny was fantastic at the back once again, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I really can’t see the Frenchman being the player to miss out if and when Vermaelen comes back into the starting XI at centre half. I thought Gervinho, Song and Arteta all had great games and Thomas Rosicky was superb in the fifteen minutes he was on the pitch but Aaron Ramsey was just a cut above everyone else on that pitch yesterday.

The Welshman is now an integral part of this Arsenal side and it was fitting that during the post match interview with Sky when Rambo was asked to present RVP with the man of the match champagne the skipper passed it straight back and told the youngster “You deserve this”.

It’s another great stride in the right direction for the Gunners. Yes we certainly had our moments yesterday and another three goals conceded and the defensive misgivings of Mertz, Santos & Djourou at points can not go unaddressed but the way the team came back from trailing the game twice, came back to win when pegged back to 3-3 with just ten minutes to go and the fact that we’ve managed to score FIVE goals away from home at a ground where goals are hard to come by for any visiting side far outweigh any negative aspect this morning.

The celebration of the players, along with our fantastic away supporters, shows you just how much it all meant to them. That kind of celebration and camaraderie would not have gone a miss had the allied side of POW’s managed to beat their German opponents in Escape to Victory. And as our heroes yesterday displayed just what it meant to them after the final whistle in my head I could hear those Parisian chants once again…

Victoire, Victoire, Victoire, Victoire….

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.

It’s Saturday, there should be football

Morning all,

Remember when football used to be played at three o’clock on a Saturday… Well because the skull smashers are involved in the ACME Europa League which has something to do with Thursday nights and Channel Five (Much like Spursdays) our game this weekend is taking place on Sunday lunchtime.
In terms of news it’s all much the same as it was yesterday morning, Jenkinson is out along with Kieran Gibbs and long-term absentees Thomas Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Bacary Sagna. In his Friday lunchtime press conference the gaffer said he had yet to decide who would deputise at right back but that it would be one of Djourou and Koscielny. I mean obviously it will only be one of those two, it would be ridiculous for both of them to play there, they would just keep running into each others space, knocking each other, giving the opposition chances and generally getting in a right pickle – you just don’t ever see that from Arsenal defenders so why start now…
For my money it has to be the Swiss, with the back four all change once again there is no point in breaking up the ever improving centre back pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker.
With regards to continued lay off Wenger says Jenkinson will be out for between ten days and two weeks, Vermaelan should be with us at some point in the same time frame as should Gibbs. Diaby is apparently a little further behind in his rehabilitation which frankly surprises no one and ‘ve only mentioned it here just in case we all forget who the hell he is.
It will be interesting to see who Wenger picks to start in the midfield, Alex Song is a certainty and I would be surprised to see Mickey Arteta lose his place. We’ll need the Spaniard to be every bit as scrappy and tenacious as he was in midweek but hopefully he’ll also be able to provide a bit more of a creative element to our play because there is little point in keeping the ball from Stoke’s evil clutches if we don’t do anything with it.
It would be a massive surprise to see Tommy Rosicky start his third game in a week so expect Aaron Ramsey to come back into the starting line up after his match winning exploits in Marseille to face the man responsible for stealing a hugely important slice of his career.
So actually, it seems fairly obvious doesn’t it…
Ok, so it’ll be interesting to see who makes up the front three… Please let it be interesting…
Robin Van Persie is a given, so let’s not cock about in a futile debate, but surely neither Theo Walcott nor Andrey Arshavin can be guaranteed a starting birth? They’ve done precious little to merit automatic inclusion but then the question is, who comes in for the pair?
Gervinho on the left in place of the Russian seems sensible. I still think the Ivorian’s decision-making is letting him down a bit, he does fantastically well when we gets possession of the ball making mazy runs, beating defenders and getting in and around the box but then he seemingly panics and fails to pick out the best option. To be fair to him, I’m not suggesting that happens on every occasion but it does appear to be a more regular occurrence then we would like to see.
While Wenger told the assembled media yesterday that he likes Arshavin and that the player has a great attitude he must surely be aware that the Russian isn’t bringing enough to the table at the moment and doesn’t warrant a start.
So who replaces Theo? Seemingly nobody…
We’re not going to see AOC thrown in, Shawcross would try and tear him to pieces. like a Yorkshire Terrier with an envelope freshly dropped through the letterbox but in a much more vicious, brutal, malevolent and barbarous manner. So I guess Theo starts on the right again, I just hope he does himself some justice this time around.
I do feel a certain degree of frustration on the lads behalf, he isn’t a winger yet he continues to be stuck out on the flank and expected to pull it out the bag. Sadly it just never really happens and the poor lad gets criticised by people like me.
That said I don’t really know which position would suit him better, we all know he wants to play through the middle but his finishing doesn’t justify it. Also I do think that if Wenger was ever going to give him the chance to prove himself as a striker it would have happened by now wouldn’t it?
I really do want to see Theo push on and become the player we’ve thought he would be and whilst I am not at all suggesting we cash in on the lad I do sometimes wonder if it’s one of those cases where a fresh start in a new environment would benefit the player. But could you imagine how frustrated we would all be if he left and started to turn it on game in game out at another club – I think I would have to peel my own face off and force myself to watch as a one-legged festering pigeon feasted upon it such would be my devastation.
We’ll look ahead to the game in a tad more detail tomorrow so for now the only other piece of interesting news is that I’m delighted to be lucky enough to be attending the Arsenal AGM at the Emirates next Thursday.
If it wasn’t for Fanshare and the Arsenal Supporters Trust I wouldn’t have a cat in hell’s chance so this goes to prove that if you want the opportunity to be involved with the club there is no better way then signing up to either/both FanShare and the AST. Hit the Arsenal Supporters Trust tab at the top of this page for more info on how to join. From as little as £2 a month it’s more than worth it.
I would also like to direct your attention to a new Arsenal based site – The Arsenal Collective a website designed to commemorate why we as football fans have chosen to become supporters of The Arsenal. You even find a little something written by yours truly if you hit this link
Right enjoy your Saturday and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.
Paul.

Rambo Strikes Late

A late winner away from home, three points and climbing to the top of our group – what more could we have asked for last night?

The match itself, whilst not a total doozy, wasn’t a shining example of European football at it’s best so I’m not going to try to force anyone to re-live it through written word. Instead lets focus on the Television coverage and a few of our players…

Saving the savage ‘slagging-off’ for last lets start with the players –

Aaron Ramsey – The young Welshman has come in for a little criticism of late which I think has been harsh, but not totally without merit. At no point has Rambo lifted up Andrey Arshavin’s blanket and asked ‘Can I hide under here with you?‘. The Welsh skipper keeps going and gives his all in every game he plays for club and country. I know I keep saying it but with the Spaniard gone and Jack out injured  a lot is being asked of Ramsey this season. I was thrilled that he got the winner right at the death after coming on in place of Andrey Arshavin in the 78th minute (The Russian had given another outstanding impression of the invisible character portrayed by Kevin Bacon in the film Hollow Man) Given that the chance came so late on Ramsey showed great composure to put the ball past Steve Mandanda and win the game, had the chance fallen to someone else we may have been cursing at the final whistle rather than celebrating. That brings me on nicely to…

Theo Walcott – It’s not happening is it? At times it happens, but then for the majority of the time it fails to happen and we all forget those rare occasions when it does happen. There were few clear-cut openings in front of the L’OM goal aside from the one that produced the winner, but the best of the rest fell to Theo and he chocked. For someone who repeatedly states a desire to be played down the middle he really doesn’t do his chances of being picked to play there much good when he wastes the kind of opportunities like last nights or  the one against Bolton last month. I saw some people were asking yesterday why there was so much surprise around AOC’s omission form the 18 man squad, well in my view it’s because the Ox should be there putting pressure on Theo because no one else is. I suggested in yesterday’s post that he should have been replaced by Gervinho and may have been more effective coming from the bench late on but it seems the Arsene still won’t listen to me. At the moment it’s almost taken for granted that Walcott will start out on the right, I’m not sure how much of a fight he is having to put up in order to keep his place – seemingly none. I think the biggest problem is he either has it in him and shows that on a regular basis or the times when he has looked mustard will just start to look like a fluke. It’s all a little similar to Ashavin really and at a time when we’re maybe lacking a bit of creativity from midfield and we’re failing to provide sufficient support for Van Persie up front we can hardly afford to carry one player let alone two.  But it’s not impossible for a player to take the bull by the horns and show a marked improvement, look at…

Carl Jankinson – I was delighted by Jenk’s performance at right back last night. There were suggestions prior to the game that the youngster should be dropped to the bench and a centre half take his place on the right but you’ve got to play players in their best positions and not only that but you could clearly see that after completing the game against Sunderland on Sunday, and admirably so, Jenkinson grew in strength as the game went on last night and it was a real disappointment to see him leave the field with a knee injury in the 62nd minute. We’ll wait to see what the reports are on the extent of that injury today but I really do hope he’ll be fit to face Stoke on Sunday, the more he plays the better he’ll become. He is improving as a defender but you’ve also got to applaud his crossing, we saw it out in Asia in pre season and he delivered again in that department last night – as Arse2Mouse Tweeted last night why not see if he can be as prolific with his delivery from corners? Fair play to Johan Djourou also, he did well when he came on in place of Jenks. If the former Charlton lad is out of this weekends clash with SCRFC then the Swiss would be my choice to deputise because frankly…

Laurent Koscielny is far too good a centre half to be fannying about as a makeshift right back. The Frenchman was absolutely outstanding last night, our best player by a country mile and certainly the Man of the Match. Again he is a player who has come in for criticism at times and again I’ve considered that criticism to be harsh and in the main totally unfounded. The £10m we paid Lorient in 2010 looks an absolute bargain, especially when you consider that from before we signed him and up until this summer we were being urged by many to spend £15m and upwards on Jagielka or Cahill. I know which player I would rather have and as I said in a post a while back, I believe that Kozzer and Vermaelen can forge an outstanding partnership at the heart of our defence. Last night was Koscielny’s 54th game for the Gunners and in truth not even Arsene could have envisioned that a guy who just three seasons ago was playing in the French second division would have clocked up so many Arsenal appearances in such a short time. He has formed a solid partnership with Per Mertesacker, who was also on fine form again last night, and it will be harsh on the big German if he is relegated to the bench once Vermaelen returns but it would be even harsher on Koscielny. The level of performance he produced last night should come as no surprise to anyone, yes he is prone to the odd mistake but which player isn’t? It reminds me a bit of Martin Keown, rightly regarded as an Arsenal legend now it took a while for the defender to be given the plaudits he deserved upon his return to Highbury.

I’m not going to go into so much detail with every player, I thought they all performed well last night so I’ll just say briefly that…

Mickey Arteta put in another dogged shift in midfield, I know he has always had that in his locker but you have to give credit to him, he may have thought, as many did, that he was going to shoulder the creative burden this season but he is yet to be afforded much of an opportunity for that in the short time he has been at the club but has dug in and performed the task assigned to him as well as you could ask. Tommy Rosicky continued his renaissance, it’ll be interesting to see where he starts Sundays game and despite the early and needless booking Alex Song had another good game in the heart of our midfield. RVP gave his usual committed skippers performance but in truth didn’t get much support up front, Szszesny was rarely called into action but was ready and alert when he was and lastly Andy Santos blew hot and cold in my opinion. The Brazilian in him comes out during those surging sorties into the opposition half but as a defender he has yet to float my boat and at this moment in time Kieran Gibbs, when fit obviously, would be my choice for that birth.

So in summary we got what you want from a Champions League away game – three points. The bonus is another clean sheet, topping the group (for now) and keeping our good run going. Despite our flaws five wins out of six is good going by any standards and if we can take advantage of our extra days rest and put Stoke to the sword on Sunday then things will continue to look brighter.

So finally I’ll say a quick word about ITV’s coverage last night – Shocking.

Actually that is maybe a little unfair, it’s the hosting, the punditry and the commentary that are shocking.

About thirty seconds in Martin O’Neill took the opportunity to reaffirm the fact he doesn’t like Arsene Wenger. Clive Tyldesley told us it was the first time Wenger had managed an Arsenal side on native soil since 2002 thus clearly neglecting the 2006 Champions League final, which he no doubt commented on, was held in Paris before Adrian Chiles rounded things off by suggesting that after a last gasp one nil win Arsenal fans will start to think our team is better than it is…

Great stuff ITV Sport you have once again proved to the nation why you are the television equivalent of John Terry…

Thanks for reading.

 Paul.

Sunderland Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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)

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