Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Because we're worth it

Some people are getting more than a little tiresome with their endless negativity. Apparently this is the worst Arsenal side ever and it's the worst Arsenal defence ever too. Some people are even seeing Bruce Rioch's Arsenal days as some kind of blissful utopia. It's strange how far from reality one can drift.

I'd just like to point a few things out to the more negative amongst us. When Bruce Rioch managed us and we scraped fifth we were not a great side, the football was invariably pretty dire and we were pretty reliant on Bergkamp or Wright nicking a goal. The grass was most definitely not greener back then.

Currently we sit in fourth place, although Villa may well overtake us tonight, I admit we're not going to win the league, however it's not the bloody end of the world. There have been some poor performances, however there have been some outstanding ones too, certainly our lack of experience and depth of experience may well have been the cause of this lack of consistency.

There's no doubt that some players who have been starting are not good enough if you're going to be challenging for the title, however this does not mean that these players deserve routine abuse and criticism, as if they are the worst players in history to ever pull on an Arsenal shirt. Some people have remarkably short memories, I will just mention the names Kiwomya, Helder, McGoldrick, Morrow and there are many more.

I've watched Manu, Chelsea or Liverpool churn out unspectacular grinding wins this season on a rather frequent basis, just as Manu did against Boro last night. Boro could easily have taken the lead, they had a great spell early in the second half, Manu got the lucky goal and won in the end. It wasn't dissimilar to the way in which we ground out the Pompey win, yet I doubt their supporters will be so very critical and ungrateful in victory with the three points.

The way in which the manager has taken criticism is also beyond belief. Although there's no doubt he is to blame to a degree, he is criticised whatever he does these days. If he doesn't criticise the players he's accused of being overprotective of them, I shudder to think how badly our young experienced squad would have reacted to being slated in the press by their manager.

The inconsistency of this year has been down to mainly our lack of experience in the team, but also slightly down some other factors including unfortunate injuries to the likes of Walcott, Rosicky et al leaving as short in certain areas. I don't think it's been down to a lack of effort, a lack of experience - yes, a lack of quality in certain areas - yes, a lack of effort - no.

It's very easy for Tony Adams to comment on, but one should remember that without the rose tinted spectacles of retrospect Tony did have his problems off and on the pitch and was hardly the perfect role model for a long portion of his career. An interesting question, but would fans now react in the same way and be able to forgive a player for such unprofessional behaviour? I'm betting that the current spoilt breed would want the alcoholic Adams of yesteryear kicked out the club straight away without a chance for any support and a recovery.

If we put eleven forty year olds on the pitch and then they unsurprisingly got hammered on a regular basis, would it then be sensible to question the attitude of these players? I think not, and I think this also applies to our extremely young and inexperienced Arsenal side. Some questions are not so legitimate or clever. The buck does stop to some extent with the manager, although there are still quite a few things well outside of his control, but the lack of experience in our squad appears a very legitimate point to make.

However despite the disappointment of this season so far, let's not become so spoilt and negative then we stop even enjoying the victories, that we stop appreciating the many positives of being an Arsenal fan this season. In fact I remember very clearly being ecstatic when we clinched the UEFA cup spot on the final day of the 95/6 season, I get the distinct feeling that our new spoilt breed of fan would probably be whinging whatever the end result. If you always look for the negative then you shall find it, especially if your memory is so short that you ignore all of recent history and lose a sense of perspective.

The same ungrateful whinging was far too prevalent last season as well, we narrowly missed out on the title, and this was largely down to some shocking refereeing in key games. We punched way above our weight, played some sparking football and only went out of Europe because of some dutch theatrics. True there were no trophies, but it was a good season. We should be very careful for what we wish for, because there are plenty of premiership sides which have spent a lot more money than us and are doing considerably worse. We should be very careful, losing perspective and forgetting the past is dangerous, one can start taking things for granted, for example we all know what happens when people start taking peace for granted.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Pompey chimes drowned out

The starting eleven saw RVP rested for Bendtner, Diaby playing centrally due to Song's absence, wile Silvestre came in for Toure after his shocker against Villa. I have to say that at least two of our starting eleven, possibly three, are no way good enough to be starting games if you have title ambitions, that's the reality of our current situation.

The first half wasn't the most exciting, Pompey predictably got men behind the ball and defended in numbers, we just didn't have the quality to break them down. Eboue is a good right back, however the man is simply not a right midfielder, he looks lost in that position both offensively and defensively. Diaby and Nasri were trying hard, the former in particular got stuck in and was one of the few bright spots of the first half. Crouch had the best effort of the half, he out jumped Gallas and his downward header cannoned off a post, thankfully I may add. Our best chance came when Adebayor rounded James when clean through, Campbell slid in and knocked Ade off balance without touching the ball, it gave Distin enough time to get back and hack the ball clear, technically a foul by big Sol though.

The second half continued in a similar vein. A rare chance came when James flapped at a corner but Silvestre's header lacked the pace to trouble the Pompey defence. The referee had some fun by giving a free kick for a ridiculous dive by Boubadiop when Denilson had hardly touched him. A good Nasri break lead to a corner, following this a good Denilson cross saw James again flapping at thin air, Adebayor was left with just defenders on the line and a reasonable angle, he blasted into the side netting.

The refereeing inconsistency continued, every tiny touch on a Pompey player resulted in a free kick, while Nasri was booted hard from behind every time he held it up and got nothing out of the very same official. Bendtner was terribly disappointing, dropping deeper and deeper to get a touch, whenever in the final third his final ball was dreadful.

Vela came on at around the 66 minute mark, immediately his direct left foot forced a corner, then his second contribution was a great tackle and the release of Adebayor who wasted the opportunity, his third contribution was a great cross that resulted in a corner from which Bendtner should have done better. The pressure mounted on the Pompey defence, James was forced into a good low save from Nasri's low show.

Then the breakthrough, a free kick for a foul on Vela down the left, a nicely lofted Denilson free kick found the head of Gallas with James stranded in no man's land yet again, one nil to the Gunners. This goal had certainly been catalysed by the introduction of Vela and the removal of Emmanuel Eboue, the directness and width added by the young Mexican was a bit of a contrast to the ineffective Ivorian.

Overall the performance was decent, but I can't help but feel that our problems in breaking down Pompey were due to our lack of attacking quality in certain areas. On the plus the midfield pairing of Diaby and Denilson worked to good effect, while Nasri made much more of a contribution. It's still blatantly obvious that Eboue is not good enough to be starting games in midfield, while Bendtner needs to do a hell of a lot more to justify the faith that Arsene has shown in him. William Gallas also deserves a special mention for a great ninety minutes, no nonsense defending with some rapier like forward runs and a goal to cap it all, if William wants to stay in January then I think we'd be foolish to let him go.

For me though the final word should go to a young Mexican whose quality changed the game, obviously my amateur prediction that we should have started with Vela on the left and Nasri on the right might have resulted in us breaking down Pompey a little sooner, you never know though do you.

Pompey preview and transfer latest

So it's Pompey today and there is no room for any more slip ups today, three points really are a must against an out of form struggling Pompey side. Cesc obviously remains out, while Eduardo will be another few weeks, doubts also remain over Djourou and Song who have picked up mild muscular injuries recently.

The welcome news is the return of Ade to partner RVP up front, Gael Clichy will hopefully return to the fray to replace the tired and lethargic Silvestre whose best days are clearly behind him. The midfield is the problem area with the injuries mounting, as well as the lack of cover in central and wide areas. Ramsey is likely to play if Song does not, however the thought of Emmanuel Eboue starting another game in the midfield doesn't fill me with joy. I'd be tempted to stick young Carlos Vela on the left side, then switch Samir Nasri to the right.

The defence is a big problem area, not only are they getting precious little help from the midfield, but we have too many players struggling for form. Gallas' tired error for the penalty appeared the act of a player who didn't really care, while Toure's woeful performance was sad to see, he is but a shadow of his former self. Silvestre hasn't looked like an answer, Djourou has been our only shining light, however it was his error which allowed Keane a free run to score from the long ball for Liverpool. I remember saying at the time that it was strange to be letting big Phil go to Milan and bringing in Silvestre, certainly big Phil would probably walk into our side at the moment.

It's almost silly season time, the January transfer window opens on the 1st for 30 days in total, while we're on the subject I just cannot understand why we have a window, it's so very pointless and stupid. The rumours are starting to fly, some more bizarre than others. There's no doubt in my mind that if we are to bring players in in January then they must be already adapted for premiership duty, there really is little point in bringing in a new player from a vastly different league who then has to get used to a new club, new team mates and a completely different style of football.

Olivier Dacourt is one player rumoured to be available, and he has shown some sense in falling out with Jose Mourinho at Inter, at 33 years he might not be the most stupid piece of short term business as long as he's fully fit. The Newcastle trio of Given, Taylor and N'Zogbia is also doing the rounds. Personally Given is no improvement on Almunia who's had a good season, while Taylor is not the most mobile, I do however like N'Zogbia who is a hard working talented left sided midfielder who could add a bit of bite to our left side, possibly freeing up Nasri to play centrally or on the right.

The speedy Portsmouth centre back Sylvin Distin is also being linked, he is big, strong and quick but I haven't really see enough of him to judge his consistency. One player I know is out of contract in the summer is Jimmy Bullard, he would fit the bill, he's an up and down midfielder with great ability on the ball who isn't afraid to get stuck in. The rumours will continue to flow, and frankly I've no idea who we'll sign, if anyone; we could certainly do with a bit more bite in our midfield though, and I don't think we're lacking in the technical ball playing department.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Spinning in the media

Last week we heard numerous bizarre justifications for Emmanuel Adebayor's pathetic red card decision from Howard Webb, I just watched the recording of MOTD again and heard the commentator's illogical explanation for it being that Adebayor raised his foot, tell me how you move your foot with boots on without lifting your foot into the air and I'll be impressed, do these morons want players to scrape their boots along the turf in order to move? The media's deathly silence after Rooney's vicious elbowing speaks volumes.

Again the media are spinning things this week, Arsene had the nerve to point out the (undisputed I may add) fact that the Villa No 2 spoke to the referee at half time. Strangely the media have spun Arsene's comments as him blaming the referee for the second half capitulation, here are his actual words and you can make your own minds up:

"At half-time the referee gets stick and in the second half, every 50-50 decision went to them. I decided to wait and see what happened after half-time and I was not disappointed. It is not only at Villa where it happens. I don't feel the need to elaborate any more."

All Arsene did was remark upon the events of half time as he is perfectly entitled to do, the talk of the FA asking him to explain himself is ridiculous when they routinely allow other managers to get away with the clear intimidation of officials. Is it appropriate that a club's assistant manager is speaking to a referee during a half time break? O'Neill claims it was just to seek an explanation, this doesn't cut the mustard for me, it's simply inappropriate for words to be had with a referee at half time like this, it is applying pressure of sorts no matter what is said. If words need to be had then they can be had after the game so that the referee is not further biased.

Certainly the bias of the media is rather clear, instead of admitting their error in predicting a Villa win, they would prefer to unfairly label Arsene a 'whinger' for pointing out an undisputed fact. O'Neill felt there was a foul in the build up to one of our goals, Arsene felt there was a foul on Gallas before the penalty decision. Both managers are entitled to their points of view, so how on earth can one be labelled a whinger while the other escapes criticism completely? The media's biased reaction is giving the game away.

On the transfer front Arsene is bound to say that there will be no signings, whether he has plans for any or not. It would simply be foolish to admit he had lots of money to spend, price would be further inflated and his transfer raids would be less well disguised. We should wait and see what he does, then judge him by his actions and our results, launching into criticism before he's had time to act is neither big nor clever.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Gallas blues and a game of two halves

What a game of football, we rode our luck to go in one nil up at half time, but then we played at outstanding second half of football and were undone by a stupid Gallas tackle and one piece of poor defending at the death. Bollocks, but in reality a draw was a fair result despite it feeling rather frustrating when we were so very close to a win.

The second goal was breathtaking. Diaby tricked his way past his man on the half way and moved the ball to Eboue, he held it and moved towards the box, he committed Davies and then slotted Diaby in, he then clipped it over the keeper, what a counter.

We then had two cracking chances to put the game beyond Villa, who looked like they were running out of steam. RVP really should have scored from six yards but struck the post after good build up again from Diaby. Ramsey then floated in a lovely cross to find RVP's head, again six yards out, it was mistimed and well wide.

Then a moment of madness from Gallas, he slid in from behind when there really wasn't a great deal of danger and it looked a penalty to me, Barry made no mistake. Villa didn't really look like scoring, we didn't have a great deal to do defensively other then an exceptional blocking tackle from Sagna on Young. Then in stoppage time, we were somehow outnumbered at the back, a tame cross broke to Knight, who took his chance well to be fair.

Gutting to concede so late when we had been by far the better side in the second half. Ramsey and Denilson had excelled in the middle, Diaby had done the business in his favourite position, Eboue had been solid, Nasri had been the weak link. The defense did not have a good day, Sagna was the exception, the central pairing of Gallas and Toure had looked ropey all day long, too many poor clearances and not enough domination, Silvestre did ok for Silvestre.

So despite it feeling bloody negative, there are a lot of positives as well as negatives from today's game. Denilson, Ramsey and Song look the business while Eboue can take heart from his performance, as can the outstanding Sagna. Things are not right at the back, the injury to Djourou did not help by any means, but we simply don't look like holding onto decent leads this season and that's a big big worry. I hope Johan is back for the weekend, but maybe Arsene also has some ideas for the January window.

Half time update vs Villa

The line-up was typically unpredictable, especially given an injury to Johan Djourou in the warm up. It meant that Toure came in to partner Gallas, Silvestre replaced Clichy, while Eboue played on the right of midfield, Diaby slotted in behind a lone striking RVP.

Villa started the stronger and dominated the first half hour, we rode our luck and somehow the score remained nil nil. Sidwell rattled the woodwork from a corner, Young's deflected effort forced a magnificent Almunia save, Davies hit the cross bar with a great chip despite being offside, then Milner forced another outstanding save from Almunia.

Toure was looking decidedly shaky in his first game back for a while, every clearance was weak and went straight to a Villa player. Young's pace and trickery was causing us problems, as well as his excellent whipped deliveries from the left wing. We were also guilty of fat too many loose passes and being too weak when holding the ball up.

It was appropriate that our bright spark of the half, Denilson, was the man to break the deadlock. He won a loose ball on the edge of the box and calmly slotted the ball low with his left foot pass the bald Friedel. There was still time for another Villa chance, as Sagna did brilliantly to clear a goal bound Villa header off the line after Almunia had flapped.

If we are to bring anything away from this game we'll need to defend a hell of a lot better than we did in the first half. Losing Song with an injury is also a blow, time for young Aaron Ramsey to step up on his 18th birthday.

Compare and contrast

The sad thing about the FA's 'respect' campaign and the intimidation of officials by certain players and managers is that their bullying and intimidation works. Until something is done to put an end to the bullies and cheats prospering, then it will simply go on and on and on.
The recent Adebayor red card was the tip of the iceberg for me, and it's been an iceberg that has consistently seen Arsenal players carded for trivial offences while the opposition get away with murder at the other end of the field. One wonders how much comments like Alex Fergusons's on Howard Webb come into play in affecting the decisions in later games:
"It is very difficult for the referee. I think Howard Webb has a great chance to be the top referee but today was a big game for him and, at times, he favoured Arsenal. Their second goal came from him not giving a free-kick for a foul on Louis Saha on the far side. It should have been a foul for us."
Ferguson should have had the book thrown at him for these disgraceful comments, it's become a cynical tactic to try to intimidate officials before and after games with these kind of comments, how many times have the likes of Allardyce and Ferguson done this to try to make an official see things their way?
Watching the Manu - Stoke game today I was amazed to see how much intimidation of the referee Manu were indulging in. Neville argued every decision, Rooney threw his arms down in disgust every time he didn't win a free kick and routinely told the officials to 'f*ck off', while Ronaldo fell down and appealed every time the wind got up above 5mph.
The referee and linesman ignored the worst foul of the game, committed by the despicable Rooney as he threw a violent and malicious elbow at an opponent when in clear view of the linesman. They also ignored Ronaldo as he petulantly kicked an opponent completely off the ball, incidentally that's about the fifth time I've seen him do that this season and he's escaped punishment on each occasion. Amusingly the chief hypocrite Ferguson claimed Gallas should have been sent off for a little kick out at Old Trafford a couple of years back:
"I thought Gallas should have been sent off," he said. "The referee must have a look at that again. He kicked Nani from behind and the referee called both over because they sized up to each other."
There really is one rule for Manu and another rule for the rest of us, I'm sure that the systematic intimidation of referees by their manager and players is a big reason for this case of blatant double standards. There's certainly something badly wrong with a system that doesn't allow Emmanuel Adebayor to appeal a yellow card that was not even a foul, while Wayne Rooney is allowed to get away with yet more violent play and the routine intimidation of officials.
Players often mirror their managers, no better example of this can be Rooney mirroring Ferguson in the rude aggressive bullying tactics that he employs on a regular basis. Ferguson's refusal to be interviewed by the BBC is yet another blatant example of how the dour Scot tries to bully people into seeing things exactly as he wants them to. It's just a shame we don't have referees with spines in this country who could stand up to them, instead we have a cohort of spineless weasels who are afraid to upset the bullies. As a result of this we will unfairly miss Emmanuel Adebayor today for the big game away to Villa, let's hope we can do it without him. Come on you Gunners.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas one and all

So it's that time of year again, some people will join to worship a bearded man who lived (or not as the case may be) many hundreds of years ago and others will not, they will get drunk and watch the football. I know which one I'll be doing and it won't have anything to do with beardy men.

So Cesc is out for four months, that's a big blow even if he isn't in the form of his life. We have reasonable cover in the centre of the park, however we are thread bare on the flanks with Theo out for another month or two, Rosicky out forever and Nasri rarely fit for more than a couple of games at a time.

What do you want for christmas? Well with so many fixtures in the league, FA cup and champions league coming up we need at least one or two new faces to provide support to our already weary cohorts. I'd say the midfield is where we need the supplies shipped it, we certainly could do with another wide man and another central midfielder, certainly one of whom should have a bit of experience.

The other thing I'd like for Christmas is for the fans to support the players come what may, as we did against Liverpool on Sunday, there's no point scapegoating individuals when the going gets tough, let's get behind the lads and give them as much backing as possible. If the volume at the Emirates can hit the volumes of Sunday against the lesser sides then it would definitely add a few points to our total come May. I'd also agree with other blogs on the stewarding front, the club really should show more common sense and encourage people to stand, less of the officious stewarding please.

Anyways come on you Gunners, let's get three points against the Villa on Sunday, good news is that Laursen's out. We'll need to defend well, especially against the pace of Young and Agbonlahor, we must not defend too high up the pitch and leave them the room in behind. Finally good luck to Jay Simpson at West Brom and get well soon Cesc.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Pathetic scousers and a big opportunity

The media reaction to Sunday's game has really beggared belief, there is just no logic or coherence to their reaction. Adebayor is sent off for two minor offences, one of these was arguably not even a foul, these were his only two fouls and he was not even given a warning prior to his second yellow. This was in the same game that Howard Webb allowed Carragher and Lucas to foul and foul with virtual impunity. This is simply shit refereeing, how the hell can players be expected to respect such incompetent referees who show no consistency with their decisions?

Brain dead haddock fanciers like Des Kelly make a living from chatting breeze, so I'm not surprise to see the him showing an understanding of football comparable to that of a dead flea. It's simply incredible that so many fat hacks who have never even played the game feel able to compare Adebayor shielding the ball to a straight legged studs up lunge, they really are of the armchair breed. At least Alan Hansen labelled Webb's decision to show a second yellow as a 'massive mistake'.

Emmanuel Adebayor has quite rightly been speaking out on the subject and defending himself as he is perfectly entitled to do. It really does stink that the FA's stupid disciplinary system does not allow a two yellowed red card to be appealed, the rule is just lacking in common sense. It also begs the question as to if John Terry or Wayne Rooney had been sent off for so little, would they get such generally harsh words from the press?

The way in which Arbeloa has escaped criticism for what can only be described as cheating is shameful. If an Arsenal player had cheated in such fashion we would not hear the end of it, as it was he's escaped pretty much scott free. He's even had the cheek to deny his cheating:

Adebayor is player who uses his arms and elbows when playing and that usually means a foul, I had nothing to do with the sending off."

These are the words of a cheat on the defensive. Adebayor has every right to use his body to shield the ball, replays conclusively show that his arm stayed perfectly still next to his body and the arm remained straight and down by his side at all times. The contact was absolutely minimal, if present at all, while Arbeloa's pathetic moaning and rolling around was not the reaction of someone who had been genuinely hurt. A player with a genuine injury does not roll around in agony, they lie still, whereas a cheat who is trying to get his fellow pro sent off will feign injury and roll around to con the ref.

Anyway enough on that incident, the most important thing was that Liverpool showed themselves up to be an average bunch of cloggers, while we showed some real guts with our ten men. Alex Song and Denilson was superb in the middle, while Nasri and RVP really rose to the challenge in the second half, Diaby was not as bad as some suggest but his decision making is slightly foolish to say the least. The only dissappointing thing about the game, other than Arbeloa's thetarics and Webb's vacuous officating, was the lack of concentration at the back for Liverpool's goal. Certainly away to Villa with the pace of Young and Agbonlahor we better not defend so sloppily and high up the pitch, we'd do better to sit back and clog the game up with men behind the ball, then kill them on the break. It would not be sensible to go there and try to control the possession, then let Villa do what they do best, that is play on the counter.

Cesc's injury opens up some big doors for Denilson, and possibly young Aaron Ramsey. Hopefully Cesc won't be out for too long, injuries to the medial collateral ligament are slightly unpredictable in their speed of recover, it really could be anything from three weeks to three months. Adebayor's suspension also leaves a bit of a selection headache, I'd quite like to see young Carlos get a game ahead of the lethargic Bendtner. Anyways the Villa game is massive, I just hope we don't get another cretinous performance from the officials.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Webb you cretin and Arbeloa you cheat

I will keep this short, firstly Howard Webb's decision to send Emmanuel Adebayor for holding off a defender was beyond words, it was not even a foul, while Arbeloa's theatrics were a disgrace, Adebayor's arm stays still next to his body, there is no foul, no intent, nothing, it's just a scandalously bad decision. Secondly to the ten men, fantastic performance when up against it in the second half, we looked the better side, Denilson bustled outstandingly, Song defended hard, Diaby did what only Diaby can do, while RVP was electric up front.

Despite Liverpool's embarrassing gamesmanship which included the shirt tugging of Carragher and the cheating of Arbeloa, the credit must go to our ten men, that must have felt like a win in the dressing room, while Liverpool's players and fans must be thinking just how poor they were with a one man advantage. I feel the Arsenal crowd deserve a lot of credit because the volume went up a notch after the red card, we helped lift our boys through the rest of the game to get a very deserved point despite Webb's pitiful decisions. Babel last season, Arbeloa this, Liverpool are making a bit of a habit of this aren't they.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Arsenal draw Roma

Arsenal have drawn Roma in the next round of the Champions League. The first tie will be at home on 24 February, with the return leg in Rome on 11 March.

Looks a good draw on paper for Arsenal, although Roma did beat Chelsea quite convincingly in the group stages. Liverpool got Real Madrid, Man United face Inter Milan, and Chelsea got Juventus.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Great players illuminate any stage

Morning all. With the transfer window looming in January, a topic doing the rounds on the blogs recently is who Arsenal should buy.

No great surprises there, but one point being made by a number of people is that we need to buy a better midfielder so that Cesc Fabregas will perform to his potential. The logic, I guess, is that the reason that Cesc is not playing at his best this season is because the rest of the midfield around him is not as good as it was last year. It is also suggested by some very high authorities that "great" players of recent years, such as Vieira and Henry, would not have developed into the world class stars they became at Arsenal, if they had to make do playing alongside talentless wasters like Alex Song, Denilson and Diaby.

I find this suggestion quite bewildering. Vieira was total class and could play alongside an old man with a wooden leg in midfield, and would still have still looked awesome. Same goes for Henry. Bergkamp did play with old men with wooden legs for the first couple of years. "World class" players should look the best player on the pitch. Frankly, if a player cannot look better than the alleged dross around him, then he is not "world class".

Lets start with some good old facts. Patrick Vieira joined Arsenal in the Summer of 1996, the year after Bergkamp and Platt arrived. However, the rest of the early Wenger signings (Marc Overmars, Petit, Grimandi etc) did not arrive until the next summer. The truth of the matter is that Patrick Veira joined a distinctly average Arsenal team, that had scraped to 5th place the season before and qualified for the UEFA cup on the least day of the season. Thats a bit of perspective for you.

Vieira made his debut on September 16 1996 against Sheffield Wednesday. He was on the subs bench and came on for an injured Ray Parlour after about 30 mins. The starting xi was Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Linighan, Bould, Winterburn, Platt, Parlour, Merson, Wright, Hartson. An experiment in 3-5-2 that did not last long. Now there are some great names there, some legends of Arsenal's past, and without wishing to do them a disservice, I don't think any of the outfield players apart from Keown and Ian Wright can claim to be real international class talents. Platt might have a shout on paper, but he was shite most of the time for us.

Now, the Sheffield Wednesday game still burns in the memory some 12 years later for the shock impact that Vieira made. I only listened to it on the radio, but the commentators were gobsmacked by the way Vieira played. There is a fantastic match report here from Arseweb - go and read it.

PV4 did things in midfield that I had never seen from an Arsenal player before. He galvanised the team, and the fans, and led Arsenal to the double in 1997/98 that was unthinkable to even dream about in September 1996.

Its a common misconception that Vieira was a defensive midfielder, I guess generated by the fact that he was 100% committed in every challenge he made. Vieira did not compete for the ball. He won it. But he was also the expansive player in Wenger's midfield (pre-Fabregas) and almost always had a more defensive partner playing alongside him.
The best of bunch was Petit, who occassionally even outshone Paddy, but Petit was not a big star before joining Arsenal and struggled at Barcelona and Chelsea when he left. Petit was a good player no doubt, but not a "true great" and being in Vieira's aura made Petit raise his game to its very best. Other than Petit, Vieira made do with Van Bronkhorst (who never really performed for us truth be told), Ray Parlour (awesome in 2001/02), Giles Grimandi for quite a bit (my hero but not objectively a great player) and then Gilberto, and Edu (who was probably the most creative player Paddy played alongside). I expect the highlight of all of those players careers will be their time at Arsenal alongside PV4.

Now, I could wax lyrical about Bergkamp as well, who made a massive contribution to the first double season. Overmars probably deserves a mention as well. But this is not the time. The point here is that I think Vieira would have have had no problems playing alongside Song or Denilson. Vieira would have made them look world beaters.
So having spouted on a bit, I return to the crucial question. Do we need to buy someone better in midfield so that Cesc Fabregas will play better? No, we don't. We need to be patient and give this group of players time to gel. The team is switching line-ups almost constantly at the moment and Cesc is struggling for a bit of form.
I think we also need to face up to the fact that as things stand, Cesc is having a poor season and thats not the fault of Alex Song or Denilson. Cesc is a mercurial player with very little in common with Paddy Vieira, and like all mercurial players, they will have a bad patch - Henry, Bergkamp and Pires all had them. But they come through smiling on the other side eventually.
But make no mistake, Arsenal will not be a force to be reckoned with until Cesc rediscovers his mojo. If he was at Barcelona, he would be warming the bench with his mate Alex Hleb. He might not even make the bench looking at Barca's squad. Wenger, however, will be 100% loyal to Cesc and will allow him to play through this bad spell. There are signs that the old Cesc is returning, but things may yet get worse before they get better. We, as fans, must not be blinded by our loyalty to Cesc and start blaming everyone else around him.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Thinking positively, where from here?

So another couple of points dropped, our title hopes are faint and the knives are out. It's easy to criticise where things are going wrong, the list gets longer by the week, but can anyone out there actually come out with any constructive suggestions as to where we should be heading next?

Firstly I think a few people in our side are most certainly good enough to stay where they are. There's no doubt that Johan Djourou has looked hugely impressive in his last few games, this is a really welcome turnaround for a player whose days looked numbered a few months ago. The next question is who should partner him, Gallas is still a good player but who knows what has really gone on behind the scenes, people in the know will be privy to information that would determine whether Gallas has a long term future at the club. If Gallas leaves then Toure has to be the man. Silvestre is a squad player at best.

The goalkeeper and full backs are up to the task in my opinion. Manuel Almunia has had a solid season despite some misguided criticism from certain quarters, I think these critics would do well to name a keeper who has performed better this season and who would be available to come to Arsenal, I don't think this keeper exists. Cesc Fabregas is a key man, there's no doubt we're not the same side without him pulling the strings, the question is how can we best construct a midfield around him?

Flamini is such a loss, Gilberto was a fading giant and could not have filled this role if kept on at the club, while Diarra was not the right partner for Cesc, he is not disciplined or defensive enough. Song has developed well, but not yet at the level to win titles, he's still raw and inconsistent from his inexperience. Denilson is a bright talent and has sparkled at times, however he is no wide man and does not complement Cesc's game if alongside him. Diaby is also not the answer, he's no defensive player, he best role appears a free role behind a striker. The answer is obvious, we need a clone of PV4, get the stem cells at the ready Arsene.

The injury to Theo was unfortunate to say the least, just as he was finding his form it came and with Nasri's intermittent injury woes we are left awfully short of width in the squad, poor Thomas Rosicky appears likely to never play again. The other options are generally gambles, Wilshere needs protecting but is looking an increasingly viable option, Vela has played at left midfield but prefers to roam in the centre, Ramsey again prefers the centre, Eboue is a decent right back and not a midfielder.

Given our squad's obvious weaknesses, we could do with someone to grind up and down the touch line in a Parlour like manner, someone who would get the work done, get the boot in and give us another type of midfield to call on. We have so many cute technical players in the midfield, but one can't help but feel that we need just a bit more size and bite in the squad to be able to deal with the varied challenges that the premiership provides.

With Eduardo due to return we look full of options up front. Adebayor is our focus and lynch pin, while the floodgates may soon open for RVP if he keeps up the work rate. Nic Bendtner has been a disappointment, lethargic and terribly inconsistent, his time is running out. Young Carlos Vela and Jay Simpson could have big futures and both have time on their side.

Realistically even if one assumes that we could sign any player in the premiership, then there are only a small handful of players who would improve our midfield. Possibly Carrick, Mikel and Barry are the players who could add some defensive steel in the centre, while there are very few right sided midfielders around who leap out as being of the highest calibre. So when Arsene talks of transfers, you can see where he is coming from, he is almost damned either way:

"If I say yes and I don't do it people will ask why I haven't done it. If I say no and we lose one game people will say I am crazy because I didn't want to buy. In England every problem is sorted out by buying a player when you lose a football game."

The next couple of games could be rather pivotal, at home to Liverpool and away to Villa, two wins could push up up higher, while two defeats could see us fall precariously. It remains clear that Arsene needs to spend in January, but only proving that the right players in terms of quality and experience are available, there's simply no point filling the squad with average dross, other premiership teams have shown how easy it is to waste millions on mediocrity.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Spluttering frustration

Draws are almost as bad as defeats from a points perspective and it felt like a defeat at the Riverside today for me. Boro worked very hard for their point, but really we need to be going away to sides like them and taking all three points. The rested players were welcomed back into the side meaning that only Almunia, Djourou, Denilson, Song and Diaby kept their places.

Boro started with a full head of steam, but a recurring theme was that despite huffing and puffing frenetically at times they rarely looked like opening our defence up. The best early chance fell to RVP, unfortunately his chocolate foot was found wanting. Our only goal of the game when slack Boro defending left Ade free to head low into the net from our first corner. We then looked a side full of confidence, the second goal appeared on the cards, but alas it was not to be. Diaby shot low and hard after the ball broke for him at a corner.

A Clichy clearance took a wicked deflection and landed perfectly for Tuncay, he took a touch and then gambled by volleying a cross at full pace across the penalty box, the Gods were not with us and it found Aliadiere's head which deflected the ball past Almunia who had no chance at all. It was a great goal, but one has to say that on another day Tuncay's cross would have simply cannoned into touch. The goal shook us and gave Boro hope, it really was the pivotal moment of the game. Having said that RVP missed a great opportunity when Ade squared it to him with just the keeper to beat, unfortunately the ball was just a little bit too too far behind him and the opening was missed.

The second half was a frustrating affair, there were several recurring themes that have been seen at other games this season. Boro huffed but never really broke us down, they had one reasonable effort when Downing broke clear to force a good save from Almunia at his near post. The best chance of the half again fell to RVP, but he scuffed the ball just wide after a lovely little move. However there were just too many sloppy errors, we did not have the sharpness to take advantage of the class advantage. Bendtner typified that lack of ruthlessness in front of goal when he shot near post from a tight angle, another classic demonstration of where not to shoot, it had to go across the goal.

On the positive the defence looks so much more solid with young Johan Djourou at the back, he really is cementing himself in there for the long term. The problem with out side today was mainly in the midfield. Song did ok but was sloppy on occasions with his distribution, he did break up the play well and was strong in the tackle and in the air. Fabregas tried hard but there was little space for him in the middle of the park and he did let himself down at times with some loose touches. Denilson worked hard, but he's never going to give us much in the way of width, likewise Diaby.

Adebayor had a good game, he held the ball up well, and looked direct when he had the chance. RVP is still a bit of en enigma, he has seven goals so far this season but he really should have had at least double that, again today he spurned several great openings.

So it wasn't awful but it wasn't good enough, just a bit middle of the road if we're honest, bit it wouldn't have taken much to turn it into a victory. We created enough to have won the game, even though it was not a vintage performance, we simply have got to be better at taking our chances when they come along. It is a team game, we win and lose together, certainly no one deserves a scapegoating for today's performance. Football is easy to talk, you just need to score more than the opposition, unfortunately that's also what the opposition are thinking.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Big win in the match that counted

Arsenal's youngsters won and lost on a night that saw a weakened senior side fall limply in Porto and a youth cup side win a massive away tie in Birmingham. To start with the positive our youth cup side managed a late winner courtesy of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas which helped defeat a strong Villa side 3-2, however I'm not going to ignore the other game that took place in Portugal.

Firstly to set the scene, Porto are a very strong side, champions of Portugal and undefeated in eleven games at home to English sides in recent years in Europe, this was never going to be an easy game for a severely weakened Arsenal side. Despite what the media say, tonight's line up saw Fabregas, Sagna, Toure, Adebayor, Clichy and RVP all rested, it was closer to our reserve side than our first strength eleven.

Having said that the performance was poor, no one really escaped with much credit other than Manuel Almunia who didn't put a foot wrong, while Gibbs and Wilshere looked tidy as substitutes. It didn't help that Arsene opted for a 4-5-1 formation that so often fails us, leaving the lone striker Bendtner horribly isolated up front. The ball was given away cheaply time and time again by one and all, we just never found our flow, while Porto killed us on the break time and time again.

In the end it doesn't matter much that we finish second, there really isn't a great deal of difference between the winners and the runners up of the groups. The game will have been a great experience for many of our younger players, while we have learnt a bit more about some of our slightly more peripheral players. Diaby appears an enigma, highly talented but frustratingly inconsistent. There's a lot of talent in our young players but they need to realise the level of performance that is required to succeed at the champions league level, this experience will have done them no harm at all. The Boro away game is the one that matters, I just can't get myself too worked up by this defeat, in context it was hardly a surprise. I just wonder if the normal crowd of doom merchants will see it the same way? I doubt it, watch the vitriol fly and the scapegoats burn.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

A campaign of misinformation

It's funny how those who know they are in the wrong will change their story time and time again because there is no logic to their argument, well we've seen this in classical fashion with the bizarre justifications for the booing of Emmanuel Eboue. I know it's all getting rather boring, but this story is running and running in the media and it's getting twisted to resemble nothing close to the reality of the situation. Even tonight I've heard football pundits saying that the Arsenal fans were right to make a stand against diving by booing Eboue, this campaign of misinformation should not continue.

Firstly it is pretty clear that a rather large majority of Gooners feel that the booing was bang out of line, so any talk of this being some kind of majority of opinion is well wide of the mark, it was very un-Arsenal like as Goodplaya puts it. Next the idea that Eboue was booed for his performance is at best only partially true, he was abused by our so called 'supporters' even while he warmed up on saturday, this abuse certainly continued and reached a crescendo later on, so this talk of him being abused for his performance is a manipulation of the facts. Likewise the reasoning that our poor performances have been down to Eboue is not born out by the facts, he was one of our better players against Fulham, didn't play against Stoke, City and Villa, while he by no means stood out as our worst player against Hull.

I've not doubt he's not the answer to our left midfield gap, however he's a very decent back up right back and he has put in a few decent performances in the centre of the park this season, he's a very useful squad player. He has also stopped the theatrics in which he indulged on a regular basis. Anyway that's enough of Eboue, because this isn't about Eboue, it's not about fans making a stand against cheating. It also wasn't a protest against Arsene Wenger, if anyone wants to make a protest then may I suggest they start booing Arsene at our next home game and I hope the people sitting near them tell them where to stick that one. As Alan Hansen writes so eloquently, when has booing ever helped a player, this pathetic behaviour can be amazingly counterproductive and destructive for individuals and for teams.

Eboue was a scapegoat, he was an easy target for the lazy cretins who can't be bothered to engage their solitary neurones on more than a monthly basis, Denilson and Song have been scapegoated to a lesser degree at other times this season. Eboue has been abused at other games this season, for example the Hull game, he wasn't playing that badly and he certainly wasn't diving, but this didn't stop some of our lovely supporters venting their spleens. For example after one game in which Song completed 55 of 58 passes and which we won against very high quality opposition, one expert blogger thought that he would lay into the young man and criticise how many times he gave the ball away. This sums up the level of cretinism we are dealing with here.

As society becomes more materialistic and litigious, people are more and more aware of what they do not have, rather than being appreciative of what they do have. The sad thing is that these people will only realise what they had when it is gone. Like the morons that were calling for Fergie to be sacked a couple of years back, these supporters have lost touch with reality and see success not as a possibility but as a divine right to which they are more entitled than anyone else.

Arseblogger spoke of the Eboue abuse : "This wasn't an orchestrated campaign, it was a spontaneous reaction". No doubt it wasn't orchestrated, however this does not make it ok, far from it, it was a deeply embarrassing moment for many a proper Arsenal fan. Many angry mobs have done some very nasty things in a spontaneous fashion, this doesn't make it ok. The booing of Emmanuel Eboue was a disgrace, he didn't deserve the treatment he got on Saturday and he hasn't deserved the abuse he's received at many other games this season. I know it's controversial and unpopular to say so but some of our fans are idiots of the highest order, it's only a small minority but it's a minority that's getting bigger and that's ruining games for the majority of us who want to support our team. If anyone starts abusing an Arsenal player at any Arsenal game in the future then I suggest you turn to them and tell them to f*ck off and support Tottenham instead.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Toys out of prams

There's been a lot of reaction to yesterday's events and rightly so, however this is no isolated incident, I have read and written a lot about this topic already this season, it appears that there is a lot more whinging and moaning going on within our own supporters than we've seen before, and it seems rather out of perspective with facts, so what is going on?

Well firstly we're fourth in the league, eight points off the leaders, we've lost some games unexpectedly but then again we've beaten Manu and Chelsea already too, we're still going strong in the Champions league and had a decent run with the youth in the joke cup. On top of this the club is in a very strong financial position in times when many clubs are on the rocks. In perspective things could certainly be going a lot worse, certainly it only takes a short memory to remember the days when we were struggling near the bottom of the table with the likes of Helder and Kiwomya in the side, if one goes back a bit further than this then one can easily get to some very very barren times when today's position would be taken without so much as a nanosecond's thought.

I'm sure if some of our rather demanding fans were Manu fans, then they would have been booing and abusing their own players while the score remained at nil nil at home to a poor Sunderland side, however their real fans kept supporting the cause and were grateful for the three points at the end of the game. In fact some have even called yesterday's 1-0 performance against Wigan as 'shit' and claimed that playing with Song was like playing with ten men, I struggle to find words to describe this kind of lunacy, maybe some people's inadequacies make them want to take it out on other people? Who knows. This is a Wigan side that was extremely unlucky not to take one, and maybe three points from Anfield recently. Some of the attempted justification of this kind of childlike behaviour does not cut the mustard.

In some people's eyes when we play well and lose, it's all about the result, but when we don't hit top form and win, it's all about the performance, it's almost as if they want to moan and whinge, they have an unquenchable thirst for the unrealistic, no team wins every week playing well, just look at Liverpool this season, they've been average at best but have ground out the wins, some people are demanding a Utopia that just doesn't exist.

In earlier games I've seen some utterly mindless criticism of our own players from our own supporters even when they're playing well, I just cannot understand what is going through these people's cranial vaults, it certainly isn't the firing of neurones. It's very popular for this brigade to scapegoat one or two individuals despite the fact that it is a team game and that the scapegoats are sometimes amongst our better players. It's easy to see what you want to see, so if you make up your mind that a certain player is useless then it's easy to fit the facts to your own prejudice, this is lazy and dangerous thinking.

Manuel Almunia, Emmanuel Eboue, William Gallas, Alexandre Song and Denilson seem to be some people's favourite targets. In fact this season the bigger and more established names such as Cesc, RVP, Walcott, Clichy and Toure have all had their fair share of stinkers as well. Ironically Almunia has been outstanding despite what some might say, while Song and Denilson have put in some good solid performances of late. It's easy to label Eboue as a lazy waste of space, but yourself in his shoes, would it not get you down to be abused by your own supporters even when you're playing well? We're in danger of alienating more players than just Eboue if this kind of behaviour from our fans continues, also it's hardly going to attract in future signings if they see that our support is as fickle as they come. I also wonder if we could have picked up a few more points if all our supporters got behind the team a bit more, rather than hurling abuse at a few convenient scapegoats.

One thing we should remember is that we're primarily Arsenal 'supporters'. There's an ugly streak in society these days that is now manifesting itself more than ever in football, in the week that Liverpool supporters booed their side off as they went top of the league with a draw we have seen some Arsenal fans abuse one of their own like never before. This ugly streak is the group of people who see everything as their 'right', they are people who will never enjoy life because they are never able to see what they have got, they always focus their attention on what they have not. Life is not about the end product of living, for we all end up as rotten corpses in the turf, it us about enjoying the majesty of the process, it's about appreciating what you've got. I think some of us have become too spoilt. I just wonder how much of an effect the abuse dished out to Eboue yesterday will have on keeping other players at the club, players like Cesc, it certainly can't be doing much good.

Ashamed of fellow 'supporters'

I think some people have hit a new low. For once I agreed with Shearer and Hansen on MOTD last night, it is certainly counter productive to boo one's own players. Some 'supporters' are very little people, they seem to want to whinge and moan whatever the circumstances, nothing is ever good enough for them, it is their human right to see arsenal win by a cricket score otherwise they will throw all their toys out their little pram. This is not only arrogant and naive, but it's also deeply disrespectful to our premiership opponents. Other sensible Gooners have deconstructed the behaviour of our resident Arsenal morons very neatly, see Arsenal-mania, the Gooner Forum, the Online Gooner, Arsenal Vision and Gunnerblog for more. Once again those who condone this kind of pathetic behaviour will reveal themselves as the small men that we know them to be.

It's no surprise that this kind of 'supporter' shows no respect to certain Arsenal players or even the manager at times. Emmanuel Eboue is a decent footballer, he's definitely a good right back, maybe he's only an average midfielder at best, and I know he's had his attitude problems over recent seasons, however there's never been a lack of effort on his part. Before yesterday's game he had been out injured for several weeks, he came on early in the game for the injured Nasri, yet again out of position, and had a awful game, who's to know what was going on inside his head in the second half, the boos certainly didn't help. What he did not deserve is the abuse he got from certain 'supporters', when I watch the video I feel ashamed, I wonder if these morons could explain themselves?

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Three points but delusion lives on

Some people seem to live in a fantasy land in which the top four clubs should win every week, dominate their games from start to finish and never look like conceding a goal while playing at their imperious best week in week out. This is fantasy, the reality of the premiership means that there are actually a lot of rather handy sides residing in the bottom half of the table who are no walk over. In just the last few weeks we've seen West Ham draw at Anfield, Newcastle draw at Stamford Bridge and Fulham take a point at Villa. It's a great cliche that there are no easy games in the premiership, but it's bloody well true.

Some supporters should take note, we won the game today, we created a lot more good opportunities that the opposition and we won three points. It doesn't appear that this is enough for some. Wigan came to make a game of it and played with two up front, they were always going to create chances with this attacking line up. We were not at our best I know, however we were certainly not that bad, we created several clear cut chances from which we should have done better in the finishing department. Wigan had a couple of decent chances from crosses in the second half, one forcing a good Almunia save and the other wasted by Heskey, however they never really opened us up, most of their other chances were half chances at best because our defence looked solid enough to shut them out.

Djourou and Toure did well at the back, especially the young Swiss who really adds a bit of size and strength that our defence has so obviously needed this season. The midfield did ok, even if it was a bit unspectacular at times, losing Nasri to an injury in the first half didn't help our flow. Despite never reaching fifth gear we created a lot, RVP had several great openings, Ade hit the post in the first half, as did Denilson in the second. Eboue did not play well, but the morons who routinely abuse him at games need their vacuous heads examining, if they really think that their brainless criticism will help the team then they are even more stupid than they appear.

I don't live in cloud cuckoo land, I know this Arsenal side is not strong enough for the league title this year, however I will continue to get frustrated when I notice that so many people are so unable to appreciate what we have, while they are so keen to criticise the team and manager at the drop of a hat. We got the victory we needed today, it would just make it a lot easier for the players if every supporter got behind the team, there's no doubt that the feeling of the crowd can be sensed by the players and the lack of support of certain fans is definitely of no help to our team. Some victories are brilliant performances, others are more of a grind, others just lucky, but as supporters we should most definitely not become such over expectant wankers that we criticise the less flamboyant victories. Some people do not deserve to be called supporters.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Dust settles on the Carling Cup

The Carling Cup campaign is over for another season. Its a shame, because the kids' performances against Sheffield Utd and Wigan have been some of the highlights of the season.

However, its also much ado about nothing. Progress in the Carling Cup is nice, for what its worth, but it really isn't worth getting that excited about.

It seems to have been assumed before the game that the kids would breeze past an in-form Burnley side, who are sitting 4th in the Championship and have seen off Fulham and Chelsea in the last two rounds of the Carling Cup, which is no mean feat.

This was the first time the kids have been drawn away in this competition and a cold December night in Burnley is a long way from from home for messrs Vela and Merida. The team Wenger picked was relatively weak, at least defensively, compared to the excellent partnership at the back that Djourou and Song formed against Wigan (both of whom are now in the first xi). Paul Rogers was given a starting debut at the back with Silvestre, and he is a player I have quite liked in the couple of games I have seen him in. But this was a tough night and he was switched at half time for Lansbury. The back four in the second half was quite difficult to figure out, but Hoyte seemed to move into the middle, with Lansbury at right back.

Its hardly a surprise that a couple of mistakes were made at the back, and I don't think conceding two goals away from home at Burnley is any great surprise.

However, what was disappointing was the way we attacked the Burnley goal. Vela did ok, but was clearly gagging to score a wonder goal, and Bendtner was just poor. He looked slow, indecisive and wasteful. I lost count of the number of times I shouted at him to get stuck in.

Bendtner is a real mixed bag. His left foot finish against Kiev was top drawer. A real belter under pressure to win the game. He often seems to score goals when he comes on as substitute - he knows he has 20 minutes to make an impression, plays on the shoulder of the last defender and goes straight for goal when he gets a sniff of a chance.

When he starts games, he plays deeper and deeper, trying to link up the play - but he is simply not very good at it. If we could ever get to the situation where Ade, RVP and Eduardo are all fit, then Bendtner is not going to be seeing a lot of first xi action. However, for now at least, lets not be too hard on him and remember how shite the 3rd and 4th strikers are at clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea.

So, lets put the Carling Cup to bed for another year. However, if the first xi can come close to repeating what the kids did to Wigan, then this saturday will be a formality. Unfortunately, that is exactly why I am worried that Nasri & Co won't bother to turn up and get stuck in.....