The answers

Good morning to you all…

So yesterday we held the inaugral Up The Arsenal Blog Arsenal Quiz – The response was quite litterally amazing. In the sense that no one bothered to take part (You do know that I can tell how many of you visited the site yesterday don’t you?) Undeterred by the apparent lack of interest I’m still going to provide you with the answeres to the questions because A – I’ve got a long train journey to go on today so not much time to write a proper post and B – I wrote this yesterday…

So here we go with the answers –

Q1 – Who scored a hat-trick in Arsenal’s 5-1 opening day victory over Wimbledon on the opening day of the 1988-89 season?

A1 – Alan Smith – Smudger scored 23 league goals to clinch the golden boot as the Gunners wrapped up the league title so famously at Anfield. Smith was the divisions top scorer again during the 1990/91 title winning season and scored the only goal out in Copenhagen as an Arsenal side seen as rank outsiders defeated Italian giants Parma 1-0 to clinch the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1994
Q2 – Which player wore the number 22 during the 2000-01 season?
A2 – Oleg Luzhny – The Ukranian made a total of 110 appearances for the Gunners between 1999 & 2003 never scoring a single goal. The last of those appearances came in the 2003 FA Cup Final at Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium which saw the big defender collect a winners medal before moving to Wolves on a free transfer that summer.
Q3 – Who made their only Arsenal appearance in the League Cup against Everton on the 8th November 2006?
A3 – Mart Poom – Despite not even appearing on the bench in Paris the Estonian shot stopper collected a Champions League runners up medal after being named in Arsene Wenger’s 25 man squad for the final.
Q4 – Which former Arsenal player became manager of Bishops Stortford FC in 1999?
A4 – Martin Hayes – After leaving Highbury in 1990 Hayes turned out for twelve different clubs. The last of those was Bishops Stortford where he became player-manager in 1999 and remained at the helm until 2008.
Q5 – Which former Arsenal defender also played for Cambridge United, Dagenham & Redbridge and Hong Kong Rangers?
A5 – Gus Caesar – Despite making only 51 appearances for the Gunners between 1984 and 1991 Gus Caesar is a player who has become part of Arsenal folk lore mainly for the error which sparked Luton Town’s comeback in the 1998 Littlewoods Cup Final.
Q6 – David Seaman became the oldest player to feature for England in a European Championship qualifying match in 2002 during the three lions 0-0 draw with which side?
A6 – Macedonia – Despite being one of the greatest Goalkeepers this country has ever produced and winning 75 caps for his country the big Yorkshire man is still tainted by the memory Artim Sakiri’s goal directly from a corner kick in a 2-2 Euro 2004 qualifier, ironically also against Macedonia.

Q7 – Which former Arsenal legend was the first to make tournament appearances for England in three separate decades?
A7 – Tony Adams – The legendary skipper represented his country at Euro ’88, Euro ’96 and the 1998 World Cup in France (as well as Euro 2000). He was also the last England International to score at the old Wembley Stadium…
Q8 – Who was the Arsenal’s sole member of England’s 1966 World Cup Squad?
A8 – George Eastham – The former Newcastle inside forward, who went on an eight month strike in 1960 when the Magpies blocked his move to London despite the players contract having expired, was named in the England World Cup squad by Sir Alf Ramsey. Despite scoring in a pre tournament friendly against Denmark Eastham didn’t make it onto the pitch at any point during the three lions historic triumph meaning he didn’t collect a winners medal (He did retrospectively collect a medal in 2007 along with all the other non playing members of the squad) 1966 was also the year Eastham left Highbury, moving on to end his career with Stoke City.
Q9 – Which former Gunner is the only player to receive a medal before an FA Cup Final?
A9 – Steve Morrow – After scoring the winning goal in the League Cup Final victory over Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 Steve was unable to collect his winners medal after being dropped on the hallowed turf by skipper Tony Adams during the teams celebrations at the final whistle and subsequently being rushed to hospital. Steve was presented with his winners medal before the FA Cup Final, also against the Owls, a month later.
Q10 – Which Maidstone United & Arsenal player was the youngest player on the pitch in the 1994 UEFA Cup Winners Cup Final?
A10 – Ian Selley – The midfielder made a total of 51 starts during his Arsenal career and may have added even more had he not suffered the agony of a shattered left leg in a game against Leicester City in 1995. Selley spent more than a year recovering from the dreadful injury but after a loan spell with Southend United midway through the 1996/97 season he was sold to Fulham where he suffered another broken leg shortly after arriving at Craven Cottage. After his spell with the cottagers Selley moved Wimbledon before taking on a tour of the lower leagues of English football which included stints at Woking, Lewes, Maidestone & Dorchester Town. Ian is still playing and is currently on the books of Isthman LEAGUE Premier Division side Kingstonian. I wonder how many players with European winners medals the K’s have had?
Q11 – Who was in goal for Arsenal when John Jensen scored his only goal for the club against QPR on New Years Day 1994?
A11 – Vince Bartram – Bartram moved to Highbury in August 1994 from AFC Bournemouth in a £400,000 deal. Understudy to David Seaman during his four years with the club the most famous of the keepers eleven starts between the sticks for the Arsenal must surely be that game on New Years Day, I wonder if he has one of those ‘I was there when Jensen scored’ t-shirts?
Q12 – Which former player of Malaysian side Sabah and Arsenal legend was capped 14 times for England?
A12 – David Rocastle – The man they called Rocky was an Arsenal legend in every sense of the word. An Arsenal fan, the Lewisham lad rose through the clubs academy ranks to become one of the finest footballers to ever wear the famous red & white. During his time at the club Rocastle made 277 appearances, 260 of them starts, and was an integral part of every Arsenal team he played in helping those sides to the 86/87 League Cup as well as the 88/89 & 90/91 league championships. In the summer of 1992 the midfielder was devastated when George Graham told him he had accepted an offer from Leeds United for his services. Begrudgingly Rocky moved on but his time at Eland Road and subsequently Man City, Chelsea, Norwich and Hull he was unable to capture the form he had shown at Arsenal and the player ended his career out in Malaysia with Sabah. Rocky was always held in high esteem by all Gooners and it was with great sadness that the news came in March 2001 that aged just 33 David lost his battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The memory of the man will never be forgotten he was as true a Gooner as anyone has ever been.

So there we have it, all the answers and maybe a few other facts as well. Maybe I should have made the questions slightly easier and along the lines of ‘Who is Arsenal’s all time leading goal scorer’…

Well either way I quite enjoyed thinking back on some of the players mentioned above, the part they played in our great clubs history and their football lives outside the Arsenal. I hope that you also found that enjoyable at least?

Tomorrow morning the will be a full match preview of the West Brom game rather than me sodding about and I hope you’ll join me for that…

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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Super Swede

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

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

Unbelievable Tekkers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He scored two of my favourite ever Arsenal goals –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Paul

It’s New Start Eve…

Morning all,

Well it’s new start eve and I understand the club are busy pimping out the Emirates ready for tomorrows festivities when we’ll finally get to unwrap our presents before spending the afternoon feasting upon Swan.

I know it’s a cliché but all I really want from the day is three points and a bit of harmony, everyone to just get along (I’m looking in the direction of our cousins who insist upon wearing those black scarves) – Oh and also if it could be drummed into our players that nobody needs to receive any cards tomorrow, especially those that come with vouchers for a three match spa break.

Gunnersauraus is often accompanied by a helper imp

One rumour I can dismiss right now is that Peter Hill-Wood will be dressing up as Gunnersauraus and handing out presents to Junior Gunners. There are two reasons for this – A – PHW will be asleep in his chair by the time kick off comes after helping himself to three bottles of Sherry & B – The Gunnersaurus is of course real so there is no need for anyone to dress up…

"Where's the brandy?"

I’m assuming that by now you’ve all realised that there is little Arsenal news doing the rounds today and until Arsene has completed his pre match press conference that is pretty much the way it’s going to stay. Yeah I could go in to possible permutations of time line up and the like for tomorrow but then that would really kind of defeat the object of tomorrows post.

What we do have today are some good bits of player PR and some awful club PR and as I don’t want to end today’s post on a sour note, because frankly I’m too excited about tomorrow and don’t want to dampen that, so lets start with the bad PR.

Astonishingly Arsenal have unleashed a team of lawyers and pointed them in the direction of a hat shop in the Spanish city of Seville. Alicia Simon is being forced to change the name of her business after Arsenal took objection to the name ‘Arsenale’.

Now this shop sells hats, not silly hats related to Arsenal Football Club, not cheap imitations of hats sold officially by the club with a rogue ‘e’ tacked onto the end of the word ‘Arsenal’ just to try and slip under the radar like those Ralph Lauren shirts and their three legged horses. No, It just sells regular normal hats, the types of which they all wear in Spain I imagine…

I bet Eboue has one of these

You know, great big things that resemble fruit bowls and those little black ones that matadors wear and maybe a few sombreros for the tourists,  but none of them having any connotations with Arsenal Football Club.

It is an absolute PR disaster, and the fact the club have been pursuing this for four years does little but make it all the more lamentable. The reasons for the shops name are clear & as I said there is absolutely no suggestion that Alicia has been trying to surreptitiously make a living from the clubs recent on field successes or indeed lack of them.

One word sums it all up – Pathetic

I dream of Tony

Now to a bit of PR that has us all giddy as kippers (I’ve never understood that phrase but my wife uses it a lot) – Per Mertesacker, or ‘Mertz’ as I’m going to be referring to him as, has been speaking about his admiration for an Arsenal legend… Tony Adams.

In an interview with the Arsenal Player the German Centre half speaks of the admiration he has for our former captain and how, despite a lack of television broadcasts of the Gunners in Germany, Mr Arsenal was for him “The One”.

When I watched the interview yesterday and heard Mertz utter those words of affection I think for a brief moment I understood how women must feel when they watch films about two people who meet, don’t like each other, continue to bump into each other in a series of highly unlikely situations before settling down with other people then realising that they actually love each other after all, get together but then just when you think it’s all going to be ok they fall out before being reconciled right at the end. Those kind of films go on for hours and hours, this interview goes on for under two minutes.

Another bit of great PR from Mertz is the revelation, in the same interview, that he wasn’t given an Arsenal shirt by an aunt. No it’s better than that, he choose it himself. He walked into a sports store as a gangly ginger German child with visions of Tony Adams in his eyes, saw his (clearly less intelligent) brother foolishly pick the jersey of a much lesser side and with a heart full of pride selected the red & white of Arsenal as his choice.

I think I actually might love him a little bit!

Right that is your lot for today, head back this way tomorrow morning for an actual preview of tomorrows game.

Oh, ok ok – You can have one present now, but that’s your lot! Theo & Gibbs should be fit for tomorrows game & Frimpong is back from suspension… well that’s what it says here

Yes I know it’s only a little thing, I’m saving your big present until the morning. Now go on, the sooner you go to sleep the sooner it’ll be time to have it. You little scamps…

The Rooney Rule

Continuing with Monday’s theme of discussing something different on this blog I want to take a look at the ‘Rooney Rule’ this morning –

If you are unaware of the ‘Rooney Rule’ then in a nut shell it is this – A requirement in American Football for teams to interview at least one black candidate when a managerial vacancy arises.

Now I would like to make it clear from the outset that I have no objection to this rule being implemented in English football , if indeed it is,but at the same time I am certainly not a lobbyist for its inclusion and in this post I hope to explain my reasons why.

Having grown up in North London multiculturalism is very much the norm within the communities I have lived in, if I’m totally honest then I can say that there has been a sea change in attitudes down the years in terms of the integration of ethnicities and the mindless racism that would sadly sometimes accompany it, but it’s been a change for the better.

Mickey & Rocky

Throughout my life time we have always had a large proportion of black footballers on the books at the Arsenal, those that instantly come to mind include Viv Anderson, Gus Caeser, Paul Davis, David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry, Paddy Vieira… There are many many more…

Batson at Highbury
 

The first black player to pull on the red & white was Grenada born Brendon Batson who after making a total of ten appearances for the Arsenal moved to Cambridge United where he first linked up with Ron Atkinson. Batson followed ‘Big Ron’ to West Bromwich Albion where he Cyril Regis & Laurie Cunningham were dubbed ‘The Three Degrees’ as it was the first time that an English side had fielded a trio of black players.  After having his career cut short by injury Batson, who was capped three times by the England ‘B’ team became an integral member of the Professional Footballers Association and was awarded the MBE for ‘Services to Football’ in 2000. Batson is himself in favour of the rule being introduced and was  in attendance with representatives of the PFA, LMA, FA, Football League & Premier League at Wembley yesterday to hear the views of American civil rights lawyer Cyrus Mehri who was instamental in the rules introduction to Gridiron.

In more than twenty years of watching football at Highbury and the Emirates I have never encountered any racism directed from our fans towards players, I’m not saying it has never happened but I have certainly never been witness to it. We Gooners as a whole are made up of a real myriad of nationalities

United Nations

                                                                                                                                                                                           

In more recent times we have seen players from every corner of the globe represent our club and in an era of globalisation we’ve witnessed the rise of Arsenal supporters clubs across the world as our fan base has expanded far beyond the streets of Islington.

Far Flung Fans

My point, with all this talk of cultural diversity and our acceptance of it, is I can’t see that we as a collective would have any problem with the appointment of a black manager should it ever happen – indeed were we not one of the first clubs to put our faith in a foreign manager back when it was anything but fashionable to do so?

Arsene Who?

Were we not chastised for it as we have been in the media and the wider footballing community in this country for having the audacity to field a side made up of eleven ‘Johnny Foreigners’?

We, and Wenger in particular, have been accused of killing English football so many times that we must surely be undertaking the worlds most drawn out assassination attempt.

Yet look at the amount of England internationals our club has produced during this same era, or at least how many of them have represented both our club and the country that plays home to it. Indeed Emmanuel Frimpong, a black footballer born in Ghana but raised in England, has represented this country at various schoolboy levels and was recently selected by the England U21 side after making sufficient inroads to the Arsenal first team. Frimmers didn’t accept the call, due to an alleged injury, and has before and after made it clear the he wishes to represent the country of his birth at international level.

As far as I’m concerned the colour of your skin and/or your country of birth matter not a jot as long as your footballing CV suggests you are the best candidate for the job of Arsenal manager and I would hope that is the belief of all Gooners.

But… if, hypothetically, Arsene Wenger were to leave the club at the end of this season who would be on the shortlists complied by fans, bookies, journalists and Sky Sport news to replace him?

 Names in the hat would perhaps be Owen Coyle & David Moyes, Dragan Stojkovic supposedly mooted by Wenger himself as his eventual successor. I’m sure there would be whispers of former players who are currently working within the game – Adams, Bergkamp, Bould, Garde and of course those of the long odds Mourinho & Guardiola.

Rijkaard

I wouldn’t expect to hear names such as Frank Rijkaard, Piso Mosimane or Chris Houghton…

But that isn’t because they are black men, it’s because they simply aren’t good enough to replace Wenger. Rijkaard was the man in charge of Barcelona when the Catalan club beat us in the 2006 Champions League Final. He won two La Liga titles back to back & steered his native Netherlands to the Semi-Finals of Euro 2000, he clearly has a pedigree but he would still be unlikely to be considered a likely replacement for the man who came in and revolutionised English football.

To make it compulsory for our board to interview at least one black manager for the role would be wrong in my opinion. As with any job the candidates interviewed should be those who best match the requirements as laid out by the employer, skin colour should never come in to it.

The inclusion of the rule would suggest that there is a racist undertone drifting through English football and in particular at the very top-level where money men and executives pull the strings. If that is indeed true then how does the inclusion of the ‘Rooney Rule’ eradicate this? (Please note that it certainly would need eradicating) If clubs were forced to interview one black candidate then what mechanism would be in place to stop it being anything more than a token gesture? Boardrooms full of faux smiles and handshakes, thanks but no thanks. Would that then go on for two, five, ten years until someone says “Hold on, they’re interviewing black guys but  still not enough of them are getting the jobs” – What would happen then?

Not cut out for it

There are black footballers like John Barnes & Paul Ince who were wonderful, fantastic players who served this countries national side with distinction but they seem not to be cut out for football management much in the way Paul Merson isn’t. They aren’t unsuccessful in their management careers because they’re black – you can argue that given his relative inexperience Ince has actually managed to achieve a high level of success when compared to the managerial highlights of contemporaries such as Merson & Barnes, it all depends on the yard stick by which you determine success.

Merse man

Barnes & Ince shouldn’t be given job interviews  simply because they’re black just as Merse shouldn’t be given job interviews just because he is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Puzzled by a lack of job opportunities

I understand the argument that says black bosses should be given an advantage so as to build their experience because without that experience how do they get ahead or build a career, but what top manager has walked into a top job?

Often the best bosses haven’t had much of a playing career but no one hands interviews to them because they were mediocre players no one had ever heard of but believed were more deserving than household names.

It is incredibly disappointing that from the talent pool of black footballers this country has produced over the years we’re yet to see more than a handful of managerial careers. As Oliver Holt Tweeted yesterday, there were two black managers at the top end of English football ten years ago and there are only two now. But look at how many black footballers we have playing here now compared to just thirty years ago, many were born on these shores and there are many who not so long ago would have been lumped in with any footballer from an other country as a ‘Johnny Foreigner’ or could have been racially abused every time they stepped on the pitch.

I’ve no doubt that many of the players plying their trade in our leagues today will become football managers, some will be successful others won’t be but it will be due to their ability not the colour of their skin.

It is also important to consider that there may be those who don’t wish to be given a foot in the door via the ‘Rooney Rule’ and it could be seen as tokenistic, patronising and divisive.

If we truly believe that there is an underlying reluctance within English football to employ black managers and coaches, at all levels not just Premier League, then we need to really get to the root cause of this and eradicate that way of thinking just as we should with any form of institutionalised racism. We also shouldn’t just assume that any racial disadvantage exists only at the coaching level of the game. When did you last see a black football journalist sitting around Brian Woolnough’s kitchen table on Sky’s Sunday supplement?

I’m all for the increase of minority groups within football just as I’m eager to see the complete eradication of racial discord in this country – disharmony and unbalance between race groups is not confined to sport in general let alone football, it sadly exists in many walks of life and businesses and that kind of imbalance must be addressed and realigned from the education system upwards if we are to see a real welcome increase in the numbers of black football managers, policeman, politicians, fireman and indeed all professions.

I just want to end this post by enforcing the point that no one, whatever their colour or creed, should be discouraged from achieving all they dream of achieving be it in football or any other walk of life. And if discrimination has been encountered it should be used as a tool for motivation not discouragement. Natural ability, determination & self belief will always win through – they have to because that is all that any of us really have.

It would be great to know your thoughts on this…

Thanks for reading,

Paul.

United Preview

So after our European exploits earlier in the week it’s back to Premier League duty today and it’s not a home game against lowly relegation threatened canon fodder (a bit early in the season for that anyway to be fair) it’s a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United.

We’ve not won at OT in seven years and with the perilous state our squad is currently in you have to say that the signs are ominous, but hey Liverpool had not beaten us in our own back yard for eleven years until last Saturday so let’s not be too dismissive just yet (There’s that positivity again)

The team news as I have it is fairly mixed – of course we know that due to suspension we are without Alex Song, Gervinho & Emmanuel Frimpong and due to injury we’ll be unable to call upon Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Seb Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner & of course Abou Diaby. And there were rumours circulating last night that Bacary Sagna was suffering an illness but at the time of writing I’m going to assume (somewhat due to hopeful desperation) that it is little more than a rumour or at least not anything bad enough to keep the French international out of the game.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, after limping off during the defeat to Liverpool Laurent Koscielny returns to the side and whilst he was set for a fitness test yesterday the signs are positive that Thomas Vermaelen will be fit to face the champions. Having our first choice centre back pairing available is certainly a boost, let’s hope they’re able to see the game out and even more importantly let’s hope that they’ll be paired together in the heart of our defence. I guess that with Gibbs once again missing from the side and Wenger seemingly uninterested in playing Armand Traore (who has been heavily linked with another loan move), although we may have no choice than to field him tomorrow, we could again see Bacary Sagna (illness permitting) moved over to fill the left back void with Carl Jenkinson once again having to step into the breach as it were and complete our back line.

Now that is not a slight on young Jenks what so ever, the lad has come in and performed admirably in quite testing circumstances and you have to say that each performance has seen a marked improvement from the last. But you have to consider that given the enormity of the step up he had taken and the amount of playing time he has so far undertaken in his short Arsenal career that tiredness will catch up with him. He looks to be a fit guy & I’m sure that pure adrenaline is playing it’s part when it comes to his match fitness but we can’t and shouldn’t expect that to last long term. Again, I don’t wish to do him an injustice but this is Mancheter United we’re playing this afternoon and they will exploit every and any chink in our armoury no matter how big or small that may be.

But if Jenks, who I must add does remind me of a young Rodney Trotter for some reason and must surely take on Tony Adams old nickname ‘Rodders’, starts the game on the bench and Sagna shifts flanks then it may be possible that with Johan Djourou fit we could see the Swiss partner Kozzer and Vermaelen switched to left back. That would most certainly be the obvious option were you looking to field a back four with the most experience but maybe not my prefered choice as I think TV is too good a centre half to be plotted out on the left.

The problem is that you also have to consider that Djourou maybe be required to plug the gap left by the twin suspensions of Song & Frimpong (or Frimpsong if you will) I’m quite sure that Johan has played a few games in that position before and it would certainly add a touch more stability and strength to our defensive area. I can’t really see who else could fill that role this afternoon so I would be amazed if it wasn’t Djourou, I guess he at least has the same haircut as Song if that counts for anything at all? Having said all this Francis Coquelin is in the squad and rumoured to be set for a start (Yep another Arsenal rumour)

If Vermaelen hasn’t passed that fitness test & Sagna is forced to miss out we could see a back four of Jenkinson – Koscielny – Miquel – Traore and that is frightening to be honest so let’s hope he has.

Although it seems that he can’t manage two games in succession these days Tomas Rosicky is likely to be given a midfield birth after his performance in the second half out in Italy on Wednesday night. Not only will that experience be vital we’ll need his creativity as well, it could be the key to unlocking United, if we stand any chance of unlocking United.

So if two of the midfield three are Djourou & Rosicky then I guess Aaron Ramsey will make up the trio. It was of course the Welshman who scored the winner in the defeat of Ferguson’s men at the grove towards the end of last season and at the moment he must be one of the first names on the team sheet.

I must admit that if that is our midfield line up, and it’s the strongest I can think of, then on paper it looks pretty weak if I’m honest and it could potentially be even weaker and inexperienced.

Surprisingly it’s up front that we could maybe be at our strongest, unless they’ve been maimed in the night (you wouldn’t rule it out at the moment) then Van Persie and Walcott will start and I would hazard a guess either Andrey Arshavin will make up the three although we shouldn’t rule out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making his debut or indeed Ryo.

So after all of that I think that, as I tweeted last night, trying to pick our starting XI for the game is like trying to name the successors to the thrown if you removed every royal you’ve heard of but I’m going to push my neck out, ignore anything which at this stage is just a rumour and suggest – Szczesny – Jenkinson – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Sagna – Djourou – Rosicky – Ramsey – Walcott – Van Persie – Arshavin.

The bench is anyone’s guess at this stage but young Dutch midfielder Ohuzhan Ozyakup looks set to take up his place on it alongside Fabianski & probably Henri Lansbury. The rest of the substitutes could be made up of youngsters, and maybe Manuel Almuina doing a turn as an emergency striker. Which reminds me that I have neither mentioned or indeed though of Marouane Chamakh – I wonder why that is?

It’s a shame we won’t be seeing Bendtner, I think he would have been up for a game like this given the circumstances. I wonder if at any point in the summer Wenger has made the Dane any promises of regular football which have fallen on deaf ears? Either Nik just wants out or the gaffer has lost faith in him too, either way I still think it’s a shame and think the lad will develop into a quality centre forward.

One player who’ll most certainly be starting is Wojicech Szczesny and he is undoubtedly going to have a busy afternoon but we know that he is pretty much fearless right now and we’ll be putting a lot of our hopes on the Polish keepers shoulders.

We’ll hopefully be buoyed by Wednesdays victory, that seems like clutching at straws I know but we don’t have much else right now.

We all know that SAF believes he knows how to beat us and recent history backs that up, his side have started the season like a whirlwind and after pulling Spurs apart on Monday night they’ll have been chomping at the bit to get at us over the past week. I would expect to see Ji Sung Park start the game, the Korean always seems to play against us and play well at that.

I’ll be honest our chances of victory are considerably slim but I’m sure the players will go out with a positive attitude and will give all they have. We just have to hope that if we are beaten then it won’t be a mauling.

All that this really does is highlight, again, how thin our squad is. I know that we have players to come back from injury and suspension but even if they were all available tomorrow it would in truth be little more than papering over the cracks.

As I’ve said I expect players to come in before the window closes, we know that the club are working on it and the boss has said he wants to bring in three or four including a striker. That striker could be Park Chu Young the Korean who after suffering relegation with Monaco last season was set to to move to Lille. It seems like Arsenal have swooped in to nab the player.

I’m not going to lie, I know nothing about Park so I can’t really give a critique but those who are in the know seem to be giving this the thumbs up. It certainly has all the hall marks of a Wenger signing, unbeknown to most and coming in for a small fee – in this case reported to be £3m.

What is quite confusing is that Park is due to serve two years national service & there were suggestions that Lille we’re set to pay an extra £2m in order for him to miss this. I’ve no idea if that is true or if indeed that would even be possible, who does the money go to the South Korean government?

Well I’m not going to worry about that now, I’m too busy worrying about this afternoon.

Apparently Gary Cahill had a bit of a mare against Liverpool yesterday, I’ve not seen the game nor any highlights. It’s hilarious that Bolton boss Owen Coyle has blamed the poor performance on our failed “bid” for the centre half saying -“I do think it had an effect on him today. It’s the first time I’ve seen him not be the normal outstanding lad that he is”.

Well that’s just not fair now is it, why did we have to come out and make details of our discussions with Bolton public knowledge? Oh yes that’s right, we didn’t it was the trotters boss and that fat little munchkin of a chairman who went around telling all and sundry that we had mooted an interest in doing a deal and had attempted to start the ball rolling with a somewhat low offer. I wonder why they did that, could it be due to the fact they’re desperate to plug their near £100m debt and want to get top whack for their prize asset who could walk away for free next summer? We’ll I’m not sure that opening your fat yaps and pissing off the most likely buyer and indeed the player himself is the best course of action to take in that case.

Reports today suggest we’ll return with a £12m bid and that Bolton will do business for £15m – we wait to see.

We’re linked with Arteta of Everton again. Long suggested as the player we would go for once Cesc had departed it seems the press forgot that (once Cesc had actually departed) until a couple of days ago. There is speculation of a cash plus NB52 loan bid, and as I’ve said before I think Nik heading to Goodison for a season of regular football would do him good but would we have to pay either all or at least a large share of his wages for that to happen, if indeed the picky bugger were to accept the move. Anyway what is the point of the Toffee’s getting a new striker in if they loose their most creative midfield player – oh hold in that all seems quite familiar, maybe I’ll stop there.

I’m persisting with the positive thinking today but it may not be enough, everyone please cross everything and anything you are able to and hope it is. Another defeat this early in the season could be critical. If it helps anyone, Vidic & Rafael miss out for United…

Oh yeah we’ve drawn Shrewsbury at home in the Carling Cup – Ha, the team that plays today could be similar to the team we put out in that tie. Funny right? Oh.

Thanks for reading – sorry for the lack of pictures today, due to the need of eating fried pig and taking a brisk walk while the rain holds off I just don’t have the time (Yes ok, I’m just being a bit lazy too)

Paul.

How we compare – Vol 3: Centre Backs

 

Big Tone

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

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

Organised?

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

No knees Leders

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

Mr Happy

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

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

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

You just wait Wayne, you just wait

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

Perfect Partners

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

Thanks for reading.

Big Dave.

 

 

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