Continuing Momentum… At a stroll

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It was a mild afternoon for November, but you could tell the winter months were soon to be upon us. I think it will be the last game for a while without my big winter coat.

I must admit, although I consider myself optimistic, I’m never really confident going into games. I think I’ve always been like that, I don’t think it’s due to our relatively recent proneness to losing games we should be winning. That being said, walking up the road to the ground I just couldn’t see anything but an Arsenal win. Obviously we’ve been doing a lot better recently, but there’s still a long way to go. However, I watched West Brom’s game against Liverpool last week, and I just thought they were poorer than most other teams I’ve seen this year. I got the feeling I wasn’t alone in my view; there was a confident buzz around the ground.

The biggest selection question mark was over the central defence partnership. With Thomas Vermaelen back fit and ready for selection, and the good form of Koscielny and Mertesacker, for what feels like the first time in ages, we have options in central defence. Mr Wenger took the decision to play Vermaelen and Koscielny together, which seemed fair as the big German has played almost every game since he got to the club. The other question mark would be over the right back position. Would Johan Djourou get the chance again, or would Arsene show continued faith in young Carl Jenkinson? Jenkinson got the nod.

The Emirates Stadium observed the minute’s silence for next week’s Remembrance Day before the game. I don’t know about you, but a period of reflection before a game always seems to give a sense of perspective.

It was obvious from kick off what West Brom’s game plan was. They were going to stay disciplined with their shape, and not commit much going forward. From watching their game last week, I can’t say I’m surprised. Considering what they did to us last season though, you could rightly accuse them of lack of ambition.

Arsenal took control of the game early on, and were allowed a lion’s share of possession without being able to find the breakthrough. Walcott, Gervinho and Van Persie were interchanging well, making inroads and finding space in amongst the West Brom backline. Santos and Jenkinson, who were not under any pressure defensively at all, had free reign to join in the attacks. You got the impression that it was only a matter of time until we made the breakthrough.

Just over twenty minutes into the game, Arsenal had the ball in the back of the net. It was from a familiar source with our talismanic Dutchman on the score sheet, he won’t get an easier one all season. The architect of the goal was Aaron Ramsey. He played a fantastic defence splitting pass through the inside of West Brom’s left back. Theo was in behind the defence. He bore down on Ben Foster and attempted to put the ball through his legs. The ball caught one of keeper’s legs, but rolled straight into Robin’s stride, and he simply rolled it into the empty net. One-nil to the Arse-a-nal!

I began, although only very briefly, to feel sorry for Simon Cox. He was the only WBA player to have any real attacking responsibility. They just seemed happy to pump the balls into the channels and let him chase them. Even in the rare occasion he made it to the ball ahead of a man in red, there was no one in a striped shirt within 50 yards of him.

Arsenal’s second goal of the game came (indirectly) from a corner. West Brom failed to clear a corner properly. Alex Song put a deep cross into the far post from the left, Robin had timed his run perfectly. Realising the acute angle made it almost impossible to score; he pulled the ball back across goal. Thomas Vermaelen was still up the pitch from the corner side-footed the ball past the flat-footed Ben Foster. Robin who was gifted an easy opportunity for the first goal, did the same for a team mate for the second.

As the whistle blew for half time, I turned round to Darren and said, “Have they had a shot yet?”………they hadn’t!

As the second half got underway, you got the feeling that Arsenal were not going to put West Brom to the sword. Having gone two goals up without getting out of second gear, you got the feeling they were going to finish the game off without getting out of first.

Freed up by West Brom’s reluctance to put Arsenal under any pressure, Jenkinson was making some fantastic runs down the right flank overlapping Theo Walcott. The pleasing aspect with this was the fact that when in the good position, his delivery into the box was fantastic. He was unlucky not to get an assist in the second half.

With only twenty minutes to go, Arsene felt it was time to make a change, and I felt it was right. The game needed some renewed impetus. Arsenal made a double substitution with Benayoun and Rosicky coming on for Ramsey and Gervinho. The change had an immediate impact. Yossi and Tommy Ros were busy and interchanging passing moves.

They were not on the pitch for five minutes when Arsenal added their final goal. Robin Van Persie moved forward with the ball and played it out to Thomas Rosicky, he found Robin in the penalty area. Robin (who obviously has the whereabouts of his team-mates etched in his brain) played the ball out to the edge of the box to the waiting Mikel Arteta. Mikel side footed the ball into the corner of the net to wrap up the game.

West Brom made a final throw of the dice to salvage some pride, but it came to nothing. It was as comfortable a victory as you can ask for.

I was pleased with the performance in general, although I haven’t seen a team as poor as West Brom this season (well…. apart from a certain performance at Old Trafford in August). Along with Wigan, they are looking in serious trouble to me.

Robin continued to look like a world beater with a goal and two assists. Ramsey’s recent good form continued, and he seems to be growing as a player with every performance. I was also particularly pleased for Carl Jenkinson. He’s had a fair amount of criticism this year. He’s definitely not the finished article yet, but his improvement is particularly encouraging. Let’s face it; the lad’s a Gooner….. he’s living the dream, and I for one wish him all the best.

We now enter another teeth pulling International break. I, for one, will just be praying we don’t pick up any injuries. Then it’s Norwich away! I’ve never been to Carrow Road, and I’m really looking forward to it. Still, another weekend…….. another win! What Crisis?

Thanks for reading,

Dave (Follow me on Twitter @bigdavetaylor)

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Marseille Preview: All to play for

 

Tonight we face Marseille in the Champions League – A win will up our points tally to 10 and open a clear gap between us and the other three sides in the group regardless of the result in the Dortmund – Olympiacos game. However, should we beat OM and Die Schwarzgelben pick up their first three group points we’ll see our qualification to the last sixteen secured.
 
At the moment the group is pretty tight and all four sides currently have at least a mathematical chance to progress to the knock out stage so we’re set to see a fairly open game at the grove this evening. While we’ve been busy swatting aside all comers of late L’OM have been busy putting together a little run of their own since our win at the Stade Velodrome beating AC Ajaccio, Lens & Dijon in the three games. So we can expect the French side to be reinvigorated and with the chance to take our place at the top of the group on offer it all has the makings of a great game because I think we can all agree that we won’t be sitting back and looking to take a point or hold onto a lead – we just don’t do that.
 
What is important is winning the group, taking our foot of the gas and finishing second last season presented us with a two leg knock out tie with Barcelona. Now I’ve always been of the opinion that if you want to win a competition you’ve got to play and beat the best sides at some point, but at the same time I understand that facing ‘lesser sides’ as such is an advantage and you also hope that the further you go in a knock out competition the more confidence and belief you build. I’m not suggesting we’ll go on and win the Champions League this season but if you’re not going to aim to win then why bother taking part (aside from the masses and masses of millions it earns you) ? Also we’re the Arsenal, we should never ever settle for a quarter final place (or fourth place in the league) at least not while it is still possible to achieve much more.
 
In terms of team news, we’ve suffered no fresh injuries from Saturday. Yossi Benayoun returns to the squad after impressing in the Carling Cup win last week and being ineligible to face his parent club Chelsea. Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson are pushing for starting births. While their injuries are not related to Saturdays win Marouane Chamakh and Abu Diaby miss out again with knee and hamstring injuries respectively. The Moroccan (That is a country nowhere near Iraq so if you’re a singer of that ridiculous song just stop it right now. There is almost three thousand miles between the countries) has a knee injury, but there has been no time frame put on his absence and Ab-Who is set for another three weeks on the sidelines, Wenger says he is worried for his country man but not as worried as he was three months ago when he was worried
 
The boss said yesterday that he hasn’t decided on his line-up yet but I think we may well see a few changes from the weekend but with qualification and top stop still in the balance I’m not sure this is the best time to go resting too many players – I’m thinking of Robin & Rambo in particular here.
 
If the Dutchman is rested then the only replacement we have is Ju and in I think it would benefit the South Korean if he does get some game time, but my choice would be to see him come from the bench.
 
I know that Stan Kroenke has been talking and that is something I’ll be taking a bit more of a look at during the international break. I know it will be old news by then but we’ve got two big games before we have to spend two weeks being bored to tears and frankly I would rather concentrate on those games. But if you want to know what our Stanley has been saying then you can have a read of the Mirror’s full transcript here.
 
Sadly I have to do the job that pays me now, rather then just do parts of it like I have been since I got into the office just after half past seven…
 
I’m really looking forward to the game tonight, I think it will be another big test for this team but one we can overcome so here’s to another Arsenal victory.
 
Enjoy the game wherever you are watching it and lets get together about this time tomorrow and discuss it shall we?
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Paul.

Carling Cup: Arsenal 2 -1 Bolton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Radio Wenger

Good morning Gooners.

There seems to be one real point of interest to discuss this morning – Arsene Wenger’s interview on French radio station RTL
 
During the summer and at the start of this season it has seemed that the relationship between the Frenchman and the English media was not quite as cordial as it has been during the past fifteen years. The men from the press have always reiterated how the man they once dubbed ‘Arsene Who?’ is always willing to talk and to answer any question, but the suggestion in recent months has been that that level of open communication was no longer being provided and that Wenger was keeping a much tighter hold on his multilingual tongue.
 
So whilst relations have seemingly improved recently, apparently the gaffer was very open and chatty in his pre game presser last week – even cracking jokes, maybe it isn’t a surprise that Arsene has seen fit to provide his most frank interview and to open up on the issues that have surrounded the club since the close season whilst in the company of his native media and in this case former French international Bixente Lizarazu.
 
The boss admitted that a summer which saw the departures of key players Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy plus Emmanuel Eboue and the loan departures of Nik Bendtner, Denilson & Carlos Vela was the most difficult of his time in charge of the club admitting –
 
“This summer was the most agitated I’ve ever known. I had half the players in the dressing room who wanted to leave”
 
“You prepare a season, we go to Asia, we don’t know who is coming, the players who are still there are asking themselves what is happening and if an earthquake is hitting the club. It’s extraordinarily difficult”
 
“I think that what saved us is that we are a club which is extremely solid and united. There are many other clubs who would have exploded”
 
I certainly appreciate what he is saying but the truth is he was pretty much in a minority of one who believed that one of, or indeed both, Fabregas & Nasri would stay. It was also the common view of most of us that the likes of Eboue and our loan departures should be off loaded, so whilst I’m sure it was difficult it certainly shouldn’t have been surprising.
 
Asked if players had left to win titles in the face of Arsenal’s continued inability to add to the three league championships and four FA Cups won during his reign the manager took a swipe at the abhorrent spending power of the likes of Man City and the reasons players such as Samir Nasri move to the United Stadium telling Lizarazu –
 
“No, it’s not that [players have to leave to win titles], the problem isn’t that. Frankly, if you compare what Manchester City have won in the past and what Arsenal have won, then you don’t go to Manchester City to win titles. Players go to Manchester City because they pay much better than Arsenal”
 
That comment immediately brings to mind Clichy’s comments in 2009 after Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure had moved to Eastlands –
 
“I really believe if you are a player who thinks only about money then you could end up at Manchester City. You have to think if you want to play for a big club and have your image or if you want to play for a good club and earn big money”
 
Obviously the French left back had a change of heart over the summer when he joined Roberto Mancini’s side in a £7m deal.
 
Pressed on the Manchester clubs spending power the boss added –
 
“They are a force clearly, because they have exceptional financial clout, so it’s not surprising what they’ve done. Look at Paris Saint-Germain. They have more money than anyone else in France and they’re top of the league. There’s always a financial logic behind who ends up being successful in any league. If Barcelona or Real Madrid paid three times less than Malaga, players would go to Malaga. That’s always the case. It’s as simple as that. So when a player has the choice between two clubs who have the same ambitions, if he can earn three times as much at one club, he’ll go there. That’s logical”
 
What can you really add to that? We are not going to match the spending power of clubs like City, regardless of funds being available or not it just isn’t a path our club are willing to go down, especially the manager. In reality while we may wish we would part with £20m, £40m, £50M without thought and pay players the kind of wage each week that could sustain the economy of Greece, it just isn’t good for the game and ultimately wouldn’t be good for the club. It'[s more a case of those with cash on tap being reigned in then the rest of us trying to keep up, that’s difficult to swallow because who the hell stops them UEFA? If every club starts paying that game then the ante is constantly upped and we’ll soon see clubs begin to go bust – I don’t want that for Arsenal.
 
Speaking of the clubs poor start to the current season the boss admitted that things have been difficult but that his side are getting back on track –
 
What people forget is that we lost three key players because we’ve also lost Wilshere (to long-term injury). Three who were important in our midfield. Nasri, Fabregas and Wilshere have all been lost and they were the basis of our midfield last season. We’ve had to reconstruct our midfield entirely because Wilshere won’t be back until January. Still, we’ve disappointed this season so far, given what’s expected of us, but I think we’re on the up again. The problem is you can only climb the table slowly. We’re not too far away in terms of points from fourth place (3 points)”
 
Again, we could have been or even should have been better prepared for the departures of Cesc & Nasri and there are indeed suggestions that we were and whilst Wenger is right when he said in the interview that you don’t find the likes of Fabregas and Nasri on every street corner the signing of players of the calibre of Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla would certainly have softened the blow and kept the side in good health. Deals were seemingly in place for the pair but we delayed and they moved elsewhere leaving us tying up deals right at the close of the transfer window.
Talking about our late purchases and summer spending in general Wenger suggested he was happy with what was done and spoke of how hard he and the club were working –
 
It was a crazy close season because I signed four players in three days. t was a whole night of negotiations and a lot of uncertainty but in the end it worked well.  believe it was a very good summer in terms of signings”
I’m not suggesting he doesn’t believe that but what else can he say? “It was all a bit of a mess and I’ve had to bring in a few players better suited to a less footballalistic side. Do you think I want to see Benayoun’s face every day, c’mon give me some credit”
 
I think we all know that the club could have acted quicker and more decisively during the summer but what can we do about that now. Ultimately it appears that it was Arsene’s reluctance to accept the inevitable departures of certain players which may have held us back a little but I’m sure that all the new signings were players he felt could improve the side.
 
The gaffer once again reiterated his belief that Robin Van Persie will sign a new deal and stay with the Gunners –
 
“Today, two days before we play at Marseille, I’m not asking myself whether Van Persie is going to extend his contract in 18 months’ time. For me what is important is that he plays well for us on Wednesday. After that the next match. That’s how I think. He’s scored 28 goals in 34 games, so they’re exceptional statistics. He’s got a contract for another 18 months and he’s a man who is attached to our club. I’m not especially thinking about losing him”
 
There does seem to be renewed belief that the Dutchman will extend his deal at the Emirates but until pen is put to paper speculation is going to continue and whilst the players scoring form continues he’ll be in the thoughts of every major club. Not that ‘m suggesting it would be good for us if he stopped scoring so the moneyed vultures move on, goodness knows where we would be with Robins goals. I’m almost at the point of praying that his fitness and luck in front of goal long continue. After all the seasons that have been interrupted by injury both the player and the club deserve a (god I was going to say break..) bit of good fortune.
 
Lastly Wenger spoke of the toll the job takes on him and how he’ll justify his time on earth when the big man comes calling for him (I mean god by the way not Mertz) –
 
“I have periods where I am tired, yes. It’s true that the close season makes people think you’re resting but it’s during that period that you work the most. I got in the habit of working all the time. I think I must have been lazy in a previous life and was punished to come back in a very tiring and stressful job”
 
“I’d like to go to Tahiti for a month but I can’t. From time to time I would like to because I’m running out of time. Everyone gets older. en I arrive at the gates of Heaven the Good Lord will ask ‘what did you do in your life?’ and I will respond ‘I tried to win football matches’ He will say ‘Are you certain that’s all?’ But, well, that’s the story of my life”
 
Let’s hope he isn’t dwelling too much on that discussion up in the big press room in the sky and more on winning another football match starting with the match against Marseille tomorrow night…
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Paul.

Bolton Preview

Well there is bad news to start the day off with. Late last night it was revealed by the Arsenal that Jack Wilshere will have to undergo surgery on his right ankle and will be out for a period of “months”. The player himself used his Twitter page to confirm the news and suggest that he hopes to return to action around Christmas time.

This is no doubt a massive blow for the team and young Jack, the bone hasn’t healed whilst in the protective boot he has been wearing for the last month or so and the club have decided that now is the time to take further action in the shape of surgery. It’s very disappointing news but we have to think of Jack’s long term future and this needs to be dealt with correctly and if this operation proves to be just that then it’s surely for the best.

Considering that Jack has only played one full season of first team football with the Gunners, after a brief loan spell at today’s opponents Bolton, we’ve really missed his tenacity in midfield this season. The sooner we can have that desire and drive back in the side the better and I wish Jack well in his continued recovery. At least it gives him more time to listen to the whole Michael Bolton back catalogue.

So, today see’s Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers visit the Emirates.

In league terms the Trotters are having a sorrier time of things then we are at the moment (just), in fact their poor run of form can be traced back to our previous encounter at the Reebok at the end of last season.

Tamir Cohen’s last-minute header, which was celebrated with emotional scenes as the defender revealed a t-shirt commemorating his late father Avi, left the gunners nine points behind leaders and eventual champions Manchester United with four games left to play while Bolton were themselves flying high in eighth place and seemingly pushing to end the season with Europa League football to look forward to. That victory, which all but ended our title chances, was somewhat of a bright spot for Bolton in their end of season darkness. Their previous fixture had seen them go down five goals to zero against Stoke City Rugby Football Club in their FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley and Coyle’s sides final five league games, which followed that win against us, all ended in defeats.

While the opening game of this season saw the Lancashire side get back to winning ways with a 4-0 hammering of newly promoted Queens Park Rangers they have since seen their league form continue in the same vein as it ended last season. Four defeats in four, including a home defeat at the hands of Norwich City last weekend, has seen the sweet taste of victory being confined to the Carling Cup – the second round elimination of Macclesfield and Tuesday nights 0-2 victory at Villa Park.

So in their last fourteen games since, and including, that FA Cup humiliation the Trotters have won only four times and have been beaten in the other ten games scoring eighteen goals and conceding thirty-two in the process. That run looks like this – LWLLLLLWLWLLLW.

At any other time you would look at that and expect Bolton to arrive in London tomorrow and be little more than cannon fodder for the gunners but as we all know our own form is hardly that of a side you would back to win the contest.

Since that late and currently familiar capitulation we’ve managed to win only five of our own fourteen games in all competitions. We’ve picked up four draws and been beaten no less than six times. In this period we’ve found the back of the net on nineteen occasions yet we’ve been forced to pick the ball out of the back of our own goal on no less than twenty-six, meaning our run only appears marginally better than this weeks opposition due to the addition of the letter ‘D’ – LWLLDDWLWLWDLW.

What is clear is that whilst both sides have the ability to score goals we both also have a penchant for letting them in too, so on paper we should maybe expect this to be a high scoring encounter which would make for another great game for the neutral in which we compete.

The team news is pretty much as expected, Yossi Benayoun is out with the ‘strain’ which he alluded to in his Tweet on Thursday (turns out it’s a thigh strain, not an eye strain from reading without sufficient light) and Johan Djourou misses out with a hamstring injury. Arsene Wenger has suggested that they may both be back for the North London Derby on October 2nd but will defiantly miss the Champions League clash with Olympiacos on Wednesday as well as this afternoons fixture.

Tommy Rosicky is back in the squad whilst Bacary Sagna & Aaron Ramsey both came through fitness tests yesterday morning so are likely to start.

It will be interesting to see who takes up the left back position, using our last two fixtures as a barometer I wouldn’t say there is much between Andy Santos and Kieran Gibbs who have each had a game to in which to state their case. I suspect Wenger might go with the Brazilian but I wouldn’t be confidant enough to put money on it.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may have done enough to win himself a place on the bench after his performance in the win over Shrewsbury earlier this week, similarly I think Franny Coquelin’s performance in the same game will see him take us a place amongst the subs ahead of Frimmers.

Other than that I would have thought it will be very much as we were against Blackburn Rovers last weekend but with Theo coming in for Andrey Arshavin.

My line up would be –

Szczesny – Sagna – Mertz – Kozzer – Andy Santos – Song – Mickey – Rambo – Gervinho – Theo – RVP.

Subs: Fabianski – Iggy – Gibbs – Franny – Arshavin – AOC – Chamakh.

I think we’ll see a home win and the collection of three much-needed points, but I’m not sure it’ll be an easy victory. One thing I will guarantee is that Kevin Davies will be booked – the lumbering forward has collected a total of eleven bookings in games against us, that is more than any player against any one side in Premier League history.

I’m really looking forward to the game, it’s a traditional three o’clock kick off and that always sits well with me. Enjoy it wherever you’re watching and if you happen to be up in the North Bank sat next to a guy who clearly needs a shave then chances are it’ll either be me or a tramp who has somehow managed to get into the ground.

Thanks for reading

Paul.

Year of the Ox

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

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

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

Goal: Collins – 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Shrewsbury Town Preview

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

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

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

It’s certainly not pretty is it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Paul. (Follow @Up_TheArsenal on Twitter)

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