Thursday, 29 April 2010

Silly season already and one player

The silly season is already upon us, given that our chances of silverware are gone and the last two games are pretty much meaningless, I am sure the speculation will be here to stay for a few months. Arsene has been speaking of transfers and he has said that a maximum of three players will come in.

The player who will arrive before the world cup will be Chamakh, I don't think many people have doubts about this news. I hope the other two will be a centre back and a goalkeeper. We will see, and I reckon we will be linked to a record number of theoretical signings, it gets more stupid by the year, Arseweb used to record the player links, nowadays it is almost impossible to keep up with the sheer quantity of bullshit.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

It's a funny old game

With our realistic title chances ending after that bizarre ten minute spell in Wigan, yesterday's game against City was never going to set the world on fire, especially given Mancini's love for a defensive line up and Tottenham's loss at Old Trafford making a point a very decent result for City.

There is always a strange satisfaction in a clean sheet for me, maybe it's because we don't get them that frequently these days. There were certainly a few positives to take from the game. Fabianski didn't fumble one into his own net, Silvestre didn't do half bad, big Sol was solid again and looked as quick as a whippet on speed, Samir Nasri was again inventive and involved, RVP is back and gave Emmanuel Adebayor a good tickle with his legs. One thing that was certainly confirmed by the game was the fact that Adebayor is a total prat and we did very well to get so much money for a rather limited footballer.

There was a real end of season feel to the game, City never really came out of their shell, content to sit with men behind the ball and time wasting from the off. There were only a few half chances, most of them falling to us, RVP narrowly missing with a decent curling free kick, Nasri testing Given with a firm effort in the first half, probably the best effort was Diaby's low crackerjack that looked to dislocate Shay Given's left shoulder as he tipped it wide for a corner.

So another season without silverware, but there's no doubt that we have made some real progress in some departments and with the right additions we will be a real force next year. Although some people think Arsene's time has come, these people would do well to appreciate just what he has established here, we are in a solid third position and will be in the Champions League yet again, this continued success means that our financial position is sound and now we can begin to invest some of our revenues in the new talent that can push us on to the next level.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Why did we capitulate? Calmer thoughts

There was a mixture of disbelief, anger and pure frustration in my veins on Sunday. Having had some time to reflect I feel we have learnt a lot about our players in recent weeks, some things learnt have been good, others not, what is clear is that we do seem to have a clearer picture of what we lack and what we need for next season.

Some of the reaction has been way over the top, some calls for Arsene's head on a platter are embarrassing. However when the most moderate and sensible commentators such as Goodplaya are saying some rather worrying things, I think now is definitely a make or break time for the manager and this is with good reason.

Mentality. Some players are leaders and fighters, Sol Campbell, Thomas Vermaelen and RVP strike me as such men, you need a core of these kind of characters in your side to fight through the tough times, the tough games and the tough challenges. Whatever the reasons for the surrender of certain players, it just occurs to me that maybe we need more fighters and less shirkers. Are all our players sufficiently motivated and determined to carry our club to the next level. One man who has shown a lot of recent fight has been Samir Nasri, he hasn't always played superbly but he has invariably run his socks off for the cause. When your team is playing badly you need your work rate and fight to pull you through, without this capitulation is much more likely. I wonder which players you feel lack these vital mental attributes to succeed at the highest level?

Experience. Personally I don't think experience is our biggest problem, we just lack the right balance in the squad in terms of playing attributes, we have a lot of experienced seasoned internationals. Experience may be a bit of a red herring I feel.

The Personnel. There is no doubt that in certain areas (GK, CB, DCM) we do not have the quality. We lack a first choice centre back pairing that complement each other, the quality cover is also not there, this is also the case in defensive midfield.

Coaching/Organisation. There are undoubtedly some things that we are brilliant at, for example our fitness and technical levels are top notch. One thing that can definitely be pointed out is the lack of cohesion we have as a team, whether this is more down to the personnel than the coaching is difficult to work out as an outsider, but something is certainly amiss.

Overall we're not far off, but there are clear deficiencies in several key elements that are needed for success at the highest level. I think massive changes to the squad would be too much and huge shifts in players can create new problems, but minimal change would be too little. I think we need to send out a message to those who have not shown the fight or passion for the club, at least a couple of players must be jettisoned to send out a stark warning to the remaining squad members. Those players that we do recruit in the summer must be cut from the right wood, they must be battlers, they must be willing to fight for the club, we need to unearth the Sols of the future if we are to recreate another golden generation.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

An absolute shambles

In a strangely optimistic way, the fact that we threw away three points today against Wigan may actually be a kind of blessing in disguise. Let me explain.

We have been on contention for the title in the last few weeks, yet our Achilles heel has been exposed time and time again, against Chelsea, Birmingham and Tottenham for just three examples, the shambolic defending on show has been nothing but shocking.

We can make excuses, injuries, luck, et cetera, but frankly many of the defensive problems are down to the fact that we have not defended solidly all season and our squad is weak in certain areas. Arsene cannot hide from this now, it is out there in the open and he must do something in the summer, there is no room for any more excuses.

Certain players are simply not Arsenal quality, Silvestre and Fabianski are two clear examples of this, their careers at the club should be over and if not, then serious questions should be asked regarding the manager's judgement. Fabianski has made error after error this season, while Silvestre is clearly well past it.

In all honesty we are not good enough defensively and have not been all season, I don't think the recent dropped points have been particularly surprising, it's been going on all season, we have conceded almost forty goals this season. Our defense needs proper surgery this summer, I think there's no hiding from this now, the money is there and it must be spent.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Lacking 'maturity' and the close season predictions

Our lack in certain areas of the squad is obvious and has been for some time. In my opinion a degree of blame must be positioned outside Arsene's door, he has had the opportunities to strengthen and he has not done so. To keep this in context there has definitely been some progress from last season, however this could have been considerably greater if the right purchases had been made at the right time, obviously this is much easier to say 'Championship Manager' style than to do in practice, nonetheless there is now no doubt in the majority of Gooners' minds that some significant changes must be made to the squad this summer by the manager.

Stasis and maintaining the status quo will result in the same failings next season if nothing is done. The fact that Arsene openly admitted that we lack 'maturity' against Spurs is a sad indictment on his own decision not to buy some solid experienced players for the squad over the past couple of seasons. He is now pointing out our clear lack of defensive strength in depth, another thing that has been blatant for some time.

Take out first team squad and analyse it. Realistically you need one top keeper, one solid deputy and a decent third choice, two full backs for each side, arguably four quality centre backs, two decent defensive midfielders, four other all roundish midfielders, four decent wide players and four strikers. This analysis takes a bit of guessing and a few assumptions. I shall assume that the only youngsters ready for contention are Wilshere/Wojciech Szczęsny and I will assume that Gallas/Silvestre/Campbell are off.

Goalkeepers. We need a top notch stopper, Almunia has not been good enough. Wojciech Szczęsny may be good enough in the long term but if not ready yet then we need to invest in an experienced stopper.

Fullbacks. Here we are ok. Sagna/Eboue at right back and the latter may well be about to displace the former given their recent form. Gibbs/Clichy is enough at left back.

Centre backs. Here we are woefully short. Vermaelen is on the team sheet but we need a top notch commanding partner for him. If Djourou gets fit then he can be a decent squad player, Campbell can stay on for a year maybe, but we still need one more, whether Bartley is up to the Premiership will be key, if not then we need two centre backs for sure.

Defensive midfield. We are very weak here, Song is our only midfielder who can defend, we need at least one more player who can play this role, I would also argue that we need to replace one or two of our technical ball players with more physical and robust all round combative midfielders. The balance of the squad is way off, we need more Parlour type players. JET, Lansbury, et al should not be forgotten as well but they are arguably more attacking players.

Midfield. We have enough technical ball players, of this there is no doubt. We have Cesc, Diaby, Denilson, Rosicky, Nasri, Merida and Ramsey.

Wide forwards/Wingers. We have plenty of attacking midfielders but not many are genuine wide men, maybe this isn't neccessary given the 4-3-3 system. I would count Arshavin, Walcott, Wilshere as these players, obviously the likes of Merida, Nasri and Rosicky give us a flexibility in this department.

Strikers. We have RVP/Bendtner/Eduardo. Eduardo is running out of time to prove himself, as is Vela. It looks like at least one of these two will leave in the summer, Chamakh appears a done deal.

Overall it seems obvious that we need to strengthen ourselves up defensively. We do not need any more young players either. Arsene needs to go out and buy an experienced goalkeeper, at least one experienced centre back and a defensive midfielder. This is a minimum. We need more defensive strength in the first team and on the bench, there is also an argument that we need to sort out the way that our defense is coached to cut out the basic errors we have been making far too frequently of late. It is the manager's job to address these problems with our squad and if he does not then he should take the blame, sometimes enough is enough.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Fight, defending and our failings, plus ratings

It's hard to disagree with much Arsene said after the game, many of us can also empathise with Arsene's feelings of frustration and disappointment. As Arsene says we were never really under threat, we didn't use the large amounts of possession we had well enough, we lacked sharpness in the final third on the whole.

For me it has been our ability to leak soft goals that has cost us this season, this has been for several key reasons. None of our goalkeepers have been on top form, we have not got the strength in depth in terms of centre backs, Sagna and Clichy have not had the best of seasons, while there has been no defensive midfield cover for Song, our inability to press as a team has also meant we can be a bit easy to cut through at times.

Some of our players were magnificent last night, while some were not. Sol Campbell was awesome, the fight and determination he showed was not apparent in the whole side, Nasri was excellent, Clichy worked hard as well. There were too many under performers, Sagna has not been at his best for a while, Almunia is just not quite good enough, Silvestre is way short of being good enough, Denilson and Diaby seemed to miss Song, Rosicky and Eboue were ineffective in the final third, while Bendtner was too isolated. RVP came on and was magnificent, he had the fight of Campbell combined with the cutting edge of Bergkamp, a truly electrifying performance, Theo gave us more of a cutting edge on the right as well.

Almunia - 3 - Erratic and a poor punch out for the goal.
Sagna - 3 - Off the pace and badly out of position for the second goal.
Campbell - 10 - Terrific fight and some tremendous tackling. Has he another year in him?
Vermaelen - Injured early on.
Clichy - 7 - fought hard and was one of our better players.
Denilson - 5 - Average.
Diaby - 6 - Frustrating given his ability.
Nasri - 8 - Always looking for the ball, inventive and hard working. Our best midfielder.
Rosicky - 5 - Ineffective.
Eboue - 5 - Tried hard but no end product.
Bendtner - 6 - Isolated.

Silvestre - 1 - Not up to it. His pass near the end summed up his season's contribution.
RVP - 10 - Fantastic.
Walcott - 7 - Gave us a cutting edge out wide.

Overall we have definitely made progress this season, unfortunately we have come up short when it matters and this is really symptomatic of how we are just not quite good enough in a few areas. We need a better goalkeeper. We need to defend better as a team and this also includes having a bit more depth in the squad in certain defensive positions. We need more luck with injuries, the number of key players we have lost this season for long periods has been quite ridiculous.

One thing I have particularly noticed this season has been how our defensive weakness has seen us unable to soak up pressure and kill teams on the counter attack, this has been a hallmark of our previous double winning sides under Arsene. Other teams have beaten us with our own old game, we have often conceded a cheap early goal which then enables the opposition to sit back, defend in numbers and then kill us on the break, this has happened so many times, Everton, Chelsea and Spurs are just three recent examples. We need to rediscover this footballing dimension for next season, possession does not win you titles, defending solidly does. It is a bit of a vicious cycle, our defensive weakness means we can only really play one way, we need to learn to defend better and we may need to change a few personnel to do this, this will then mean that we could soak up pressure when we need to, we need this dimension to our game back.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Too many schoolboy mistakes cost us dear

Firstly one must give some credit to Spurs for their first win against us in the league for some time, but frankly we shot ourselves up the arse today. It may be a cliche, but you will never win the league with the defensive howlers that were exhibited tonight.

The first goal for the spuds was a nice hit, but Almunia should have caught the corner, he was under no pressure, he was then a bit slow to react to Rose's volley. From that moment on we were always chasing the game, and this suited our inferior opposition, they could sit back and defend in numbers and then hit us on the counter.

It could all have been so different if Campbell's early effort had crossed the line, we could then have picked the spuds off on the break. For the rest of the first half we huffed and puffed, we lacked a real cutting edge offensively, Bendtner was isolated, Rosicky and Eboue weren't doing the job.

Bale's goal was shocking, Sagna was caught playing him onside when he should have been well off, it was elementary stuff. Time and time again this season we have conceded cheap goals like this and in the end it is this which has cost us the title for all our offensive prowess.

The last twenty minutes saw us hammer the spuds, how they only conceded one was a down to a mixture of luck and excellent goalkeeping. RVP and Walcott made a huge difference, the former was looking as sharp as a razor and would have had a hat trick but for Gomez' heroics.

Overall this game summed up our season's failing in a way. We were unlucky with injuries to so many key players yet again, but our squad is far too weak in certain areas to absorb certain absentees, for example at centre back and in central defensive midfield, we need more strength in the squad and this has been obvious for some time. We were unlucky to come up against such inspired goalkeeping, however you create your own luck to a degree and the cheap goals we conceded have been the story of the season.

The first goal often changes the game, and this was perfectly demonstrated today, we started so well, we were knocking the ball around very sweetly and looking by far the better side, then we took the shotgun to our own head. We need to defend better next season if we are to win the title, Arsene should go about addressing this problem before anything else. Spuds fans should enjoy the win because they won't be getting another for some time, what a bunch of dysmorphic cretins they are.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Terry filth: refereeing does not punish the reckless

I can empathise with Aston Villa following their defeat against Chelsea yesterday. These big games can be swung by the big decisions and yesterday Howard Webb, England's World Cup referee, choked for the umpteenth time this season. Firstly a clear penalty was denied as Mikel took Agbonlahor down in the box, secondly John Terry got away with a horrendous reckless lunge on James Milner in the second half.

Webb is a joke, he gets the big decisions wrong, he doesn't have the courage to make the big calls, he also doesn't seem able to enforce any kind of discipline on the football field. Webb is not alone in this, in the Premiership these days a good refereeing performance is very much the exception to the rule. Remember it was Webb who failed to punish Craig Gardner for his truly agricultural challenge on Cesc recently, his run of bad form this season has affected so many teams up and down the country.

If Webb cannot give a red card for such a shocking straight legged lunge at mid calf height which is done right in front of him, then what hope is there for Webb and refereeing in general in this country? As Martin O'Neill says, it is just luck that has saved James Milner from a long spell on the sidelines, this tackle from Terry was an utter disgrace and how he stayed on the pitch is simply beyond belief. Terry seems to get away with tackles like this week in week out, this is a very sad indictment on the way in which violence and intimidation can prosper in the English game. Webb also missed countless cynical fouls during the game from the likes of Deco and Mikel, if a referee does not get his cards out for the cynical filth then it just gives cheats a license to prosper.

Anyway today sees another FA Cup Semi and Manu travel to Blackburn, a couple of big important fixtures. JET scored another cracker for Doncaster as they slipped to a 3-2 defeat to the Baggies, a few other Arsenal loanees were in action, unfortunately Kyle Bartley has not been starting recently for Sheffield United. Big Sol has had some interesting things to say post Barca and it seems that he may be trying to motivate the troops. Sol has a good point, we do need to look at ourselves and realise that we will win nothing unless we put in the work every single week of the season, there is no room for complacency or anything less than one hundred percent as the end to the season draws near. Talent can only get you so far, complete dedication and commitment are often the most vital ingredients of all.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Barca, Fergie the racist and general pondering

The Barca dust has settled and frankly I haven't changed my mind that much about the mechanism of our defeat. Goodplaya summed things up nicely with an article titled 'Neither humiliated or heroic', also the majority of Gooner comments here were pretty sensible and balanced, most people seemed to be fairly pragmatic in defeat. Barca played well, Messi was outstanding, our injuries played a part, the lads who came in did pretty well, it was a pretty tight contest despite the 4-1 scoreline, undoubtedly the Barca theatrics and systematic fouling also played a big part. Having said that we took the lead, surrendered it with some poor defending, and then had some excellent chances to get back in the game at 3-1, if one of these had been taken then Barca would have been made to sweat.

In truth the absence of Gallas and Song was probably key, Silvestre is past it and struggled throughout, it also meant that Vermaelen had to play out of position on the right of the centre backs which didn't play to his strengths. The lack of defensive cover in the midfield meant Song was badly missed, Diaby played well, as did Denilson, but neither are defensive midfielders and never will be. Even with a full strength defensive line up, it would have been tough, Messi appears unplayable at times, his pace and close control are something to admire. Overall it was perverse that we lost this game 4-1, the team performance was far better than in the first leg. We should learn from our defensive failings in this game, if we can then with a stronger side I could see us beating Barca next year, we really weren't that far off.

Alex Ferguson's recent comments in defeat have been truly pathetic and demonstrative of what an unpleasant bully this man is. Firstly he chose to blame the Chelsea defeat on the referee when in truth the big decisions went both ways and the offside goal was balanced out by Manu's clear hand ball goal. Then after losing to a very average Bayern side he chose to blame this on the 'Germans' in a unacceptably xenophobic manner which was very close to being overtly racist. The reason Manu lost was because Rafael is a stupid temperamental fool, his second booking had to be given, it was a cynical shirt tug when Ribery was breaking in a dangerous area of the pitch. The silence from the mainstream media has been deafening, Ferguson has sunk to new depths with his inability to take defeat, while his comments about Germans are beneath contempt. Has Sir Alex ever seen Manu players surround the referee or dive on the football field? Strange how he seems to encourage some things from his team but criticise it when it happens against his side.

Finally it seems that a few long term absentees are close to returns, Gibbs, Djourou and RVP may have vital roles to play in the final weeks of the season. This clip highlighted to me by a reader shows that the scum who goes by the name of Karl Henry was lucky not be sent off much earlier in last week's game against Wolves. Interestingly it's funny how some people seem so incensed by Arsenal's reaction to Karl 'clogger' Henry's appalling tackle on Tomas Rosicky, certain teams such as Manu and Chelsea have made a habit of intimidating and surrounding referees. It's fine to call for some consistency but Tony Pulis' words are nothing but stupid, there's a big difference between intimidating referees and complaining to the ref that yet another of your players has almost had his leg broken.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Stop rolling around please Messi et al

Fine, Barca are a very fine side, Messi is a fantastic player, but the way in which the eleven men of Barca have cheated in the first half has been beyond a joke. The Barca training routine probably involves a few forward rolls every time that one of their players feels the air of an opponent brush in their general direction. I can now empathise with Chelsea, it is that bad.

Wedid far better than in last week's first half, we took the lead when Walcott broke clear, he elected to sqaure to Bendtner whose inital effort was well saved, the young Dane reacted speadily and poked home the rebound, one nil to the Arsenal. It didn't last long and this may well be the massive regret for tonight's game, Messi pounded a brilliant twenty yarder past Almunia into the top corner. Messi then scored twice more and the defence was caught napping, Abidal looked a marginal offside for the second, there was no excuse for the third, we were caught badly out of position and Messi took full advantage.

What can you say about Messi? Well he's shown why he's such a great talent and such a cheating little piece of shit in one half. His goals were phenomenal, but his rolling when Denilson tackled him fairly was embarrassing to say the least. The theatrics of several other Barca players really took the piss, even their centre backs were diving to get our players booked. Rosicky and Denilson were booked very very hasrhly, while Milito was allowed a reckless over the top leg breaker on Nasri and Marquez was allowed a leg breaker on Rosicky, the ref also inexplicably kept his cards in his pocket as Busquets cynically chopped down Walcott on the break.

Given the number of players we've got out tonight, we've generally done all right, the frustration is that you simply cannot give the ball away in such dangerous aweas as we have done tonight, some of it has been too naive by far. Barca are a good side, but they are eminently beatable, as has been shown by the fact that we look like scoring whenever we break on them, I just hope we can give ourselves a small chance in the second half. There's no doubt that a lot of Barca's success is down to their persistent crowding and fouling in the midfield, combined with their cheating to win free kicks whenever an opposition player dares to try to win the ball back. I will never respect Barca as a great side because of this, they make Chelsea appear an ethical and moral team.

The second half saw a very even game and some good moments pass. Bendtner miscontrolled when the goal was at his mercy, Rosicky and Clichy fired high and wide from good positions, a couple of close offsides went against us. The Barca cheating continued, the worst being Eboue's booking as he was tugged back by Busquets who then feigned a non existent facial injury. Messi rubbed salt into our wounds with a calamitous fourth, the 4-1 score flattering Barca as the 2-2 score from the first leg had flattered us.

Overall we were too many men short against a very efficient Barca side. Our defence never looked right with Silvestre's inclusion meaning Vermaelen had to play on the right side where he never looked at home. There were just too many absentees to make up for, even so if we could have just taken one of those key chances it could have all been so different. Van Persie, Gallas, Campbell, Song, Cesc, Van Persie would have all added something tonight but it was not to be. We can learn from this in many ways, we need a bit more depth in certain areas, we must work a bit harder off the ball, we must be more clinical in the final third. Perversely tonight the players fought hard and didn't deserve to go down 4-1, at least they can look in the mirror and see faces not as ugly and cheating as that of Messi.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Karl Henry: you are the disgrace

Having read certain comments in the media from the Wolves captain Karl Henry, I can't help but feel that this is yet another example of just what is wrong with the English game and what is holding back English football from developing technically. Henry seems to want to deflect attention away from his own lack of skill and his appalling tackle on Tomas Rosicky:

“We love Arsenal’s great football but when they are rolling around, getting people sent off, it makes you not want to see them do so well......I’ve nicked the ball, and Vermaelen and whoever else has come flying in, trying to get me sent off."

Karl Henry should watch the video above and have a long hard think about his own lack of self control. Karl Henry got himself sent off, he has no one else to blame but himself, it was an extremely reckless and dangerous challenge from behind. Rosicky had a decent gash to his calf as a result of the tackle, to accuse him of play acting is beyond a joke, Marriner's decision to give a red was no 'joke' as Henry claims, it was a decision that has been vindicated by the video replays. You simply cannot tackle from behind in the modern game, when you tackle from behind in a sliding out of control manner with studs up then you leave yourself open to being dismissed from the field of play.

The way in which the media have given Henry's comments such uncritical exposure basically condones violence, as a result the media have blood on their hands again in my opinion. It is not long since the media made Shawcross the victim after he brutally and violently ended Ramsey's season, Ramsey's sensible comments since have been spun by the media in a way which makes him appear unreasonable for daring to suggest that Shawcross was at all to blame for breaking his leg.

Imagine if William Gallas did a Karl Henry tackle on Wayne Rooney, would we get the same reaction from the media suggesting that Rooney was faking injury despite a decent bloody gash in his calf? Would we see Manu players criticised for surrounding the referee to protest against the violence of the tackle? I very much doubt it, our media are a disgrace and so is Karl Henry. One only has to cast one's mind back to Gallas' tackle on Mark Davies against Bolton, a very mild foul compared to Henry's, yet the media hounded Gallas, strange how Henry gets such a free ride. Double standards by the media, never.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Domenech the joke, Ramsey and pre-Barca return

Firstly to comments from the moron that is known by the name of Raymond Domenech. The buffoon had the nerve to call Arsene Wenger and Arsenal 'irresponsible and outrageous', what utter hogwash from this man who couldn't manage his way out of a paper bag. Arsene has quite rightly responded and pointed out the ludicrous nature of Domenech's logic.

Arsenal pay William Gallas' wages, William Gallas had declared himself fit, the medical staff had declared him fit. Even taking all this into account there is always a chance that an injury can recur, as it did in Gallas' case, so for Domenech to criticise Arsene or Arsenal is completely out of line. When Domenech's criticism is seen in the context of Arsenal players repeatedly returning from French international duty with injuries sustained in meaningless friendlies then this criticism appears even more stupid, when one also realises that the National Federations pay nothing for the players to turn up for their countries then Domenech appears a moron of the highest order. Add in to this equation the fact that Domenech is a very poor football manager who has consistently manager to make the French national team add up to less than the sum of their parts, then this makes Domenech nothing other than an ignorant c*nt.

Aaron Ramsey has had some very fair and sensible things to say about Ryan Shawcross' violent tackle:

"I don't believe he [Shawcross] wanted to break my leg, but I think he wanted to go through both the ball and me - to take me out and make sure I felt the tackle. "He was caught out of position a little, but he could definitely have changed his mind before making the tackle, realising that he wasn't going to get there and so not committing. If I was tackling and I saw that there wasn't a chance of getting to the ball cleanly I wouldn't make the tackle - and I don't think there was a chance of him getting there."

And who of sound mind could disagree with that? Obviously there are certain cloggers in the media who think that what Shawcross did was part of the game, these cloggers need to wake up to the reality of what violent play can result in on the pitch, needless serious injury is the result and it must be stamped out of the game. As Ramsey says Shawcross deliberately went it very hard and aggressively when he knew he wasn't going to get the ball, he could have pulled out of the tackle, but he did not, this makes Shawcross' actions violent and reckless. The media may try to justify what Shawcross did, but really there is no justification for this kind of thuggery. Henry's tackle yesterday was symptomatic of this kind of thuggery, hard, late and dangerous with no intention of playing the ball.

Elsewhere it has been reported that Zlatan Ibrahimovich is out of Tuesday's game with a torn calf muscle. There will therefore be no Pique, Puyol, Iniesta (I think) or Ibrahimoich. Still we are hardly devoid of injuries, Gallas, Arshavin and Cesc are all out for a few weeks. Rosicky must have made a strong case for a start aftr an excellent performance against Wolves, whether Walcott starts will be an interesting poser, is he more effective to have on the bench, or should be stretch Barca with his pace from the first minute. I'd be inclined to line up with Almunia; Sagna, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Diaby, Song, Nasri; Walcott, Bendtner, Rosicky. I don't think you can go to the Camp Nou and try to defend, we need to attack them from the off, if this means we may get hammered then so be it, I think our best chance is to take the game to Barca and stretch their patched up defense.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Just when you thought..............

Crikey. I am sure that a lot of us had given up any hope of the title by the time Nic Bendtner powered home that header with just over a minute of injury time left. It is that kind of moment that can change a season, after having two points stolen at the death last week, we stole all three at the death from Wolves.

Chelsea taking all three points at Old Trafford was not ideal, a draw would have been better, although a Manu win would have been worse. Fergie and the arrogant Manu fans pinned all the blame on the linesman for Drogba's offside second, they would do better to realise that Cec barely had a save to make and that their solitary goal was a clear deliberate handball.

Arsene made several changes to the side that had drawn against Barca. Wolves rode their luck in the first half hour, some excellent chances came and went, Eduardo was particularly culpable with some poor finishing. The first half seemed to die a bit of a premature death with Wolves looking more and more comfortable as the half wore on.

The second half saw more and more Arsenal domination, more chances came and went, Wolves picked up several cards for some rather cynical stuff including a red for an overly aggressive tackle by Henry. Then just as our hopes were fading, just as we contemplated being cut adrift from the top two, Bendtner's thunderous late header kept our hopes alive. It's still a slightly outside shot, but if we can win our last five games then that might just make us top of the pile.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Cesc probably broke his leg against Birmingham

There have been reports in the media since Wednesday's game claiming that Cesc's leg was broken by Craig Gardner against Birmingham, the weekend before the Barca game. Arsene has now come out to deny these claims that Cesc's leg was broken before the Barca game. I have to say that in my opinion Arsene is likely to be wrong and it is highly probable that the media rumours are right.

Craig Gardner's appalling tackle was violent and aggressive, despite what the clogger says himself, it was clear that there was no need for him to follow through with his non tackling leg, this aspect of the tackle was vindictive and malicious. Arsene said in his statement:
"The injury is in exactly the place where he got kicked against Birmingham and he has a crack on his bone."

This makes it likely that Cesc's leg was actually broken by Gardner, it was simply that it was such a subtle break that it was not detectable on the X-Rays, as some fractures are. He has been in a lot of pain since the Birmingham game and was only 40% to start, he then never looked fit against Barca and was labouring throughout, it is unlikely that bruising would have done this. Cesc probably had a small crack in his fibula that was more obvious on the X-Rays after the Barca game. The Puyol tackle was innocuous and low energy, I find it hard to believe that this cracked the bone.

The fact that this break was probably missed doesn't matter to Cesc, it is a stable injury that won't affect him in the future, it will simply be too painful to play on with the pain. It also doesn't reflect badly upon the medical staff, these things happen in medicine, X-Rays aren't perfect, nothing in medicine is, that's life, unavoidable error is everywhere. This 'missed leg break' story shouldn't be hyped up into something it is not, the fact that the injury was missed is really not a particularly interesting story if one has a bit of an understanding of legs.

Too artisan, unfit and not as good as Barca

Having had a couple of days to reflect upon the performance against Barca I am somewhat depressed. There was no doubt that the final result of 2-2 flattered us. Overall the biggest frustration for me was that we did not do ourselves justice, the fact that we did not have eleven fit players on the pitch meant we were never going to be able to press and compete with Barca as we should have, the whole of Europe were watching and we did not show them what we can do.

Cesc must have fractured his fibula against Birmingham thanks to that appalling Gardner tackle, and although he papered over the cracks with the late penalty, he was clearly not fit enough to be starting the game, he wasn't moving freely from the first whistle and given Barca's work rate and pressing game you need to have all hands at the pump. The gamble to start with Gallas was also wrong, he hasn't played a game for weeks, this backfired badly and resulted in Alex Song, who was having a decent game in midfield, being played out of position at centre back. It was no coincidence that Song was caught well out of position for both Barca goals in the second half, he is no centre back and will be caught out like this when playing out of position.

Fundamentally we didn't have eleven fit players on the pitch and even the fit ones didn't work hard enough to close down Barca, the way Barca hunted in packs and pressed in groups was the way we needed to play but didn't. Arshavin hasn't looked himself for a few weeks, I suspect he's been carrying injuries, for whatever reason he didn't track back enough before his calf injury ended his game prematurely. Starting the game with two players of dubious fitness was not clever and Arsene must surely regret this decision in retrospect.

The first half hour or so was as one sided a game as you will ever see, we couldn't keep the ball and Barca tore us apart time and time again, luckily Manuel was on fire and thanks to some truly outstanding saves we somehow managed to stay in the game. Barca had far too much time and space on the ball, only Song was closing people down, our full backs were left exposed as our wide players failed to track back, it was poor for the first half hour.

After this first half hour we did come into the game and for the rest of the match Barca never looked as dangerous as they did for the first thirty minutes. We cut them open several times with some nice moves, Bendtner almost scored when offside, Nasri beat the keeper but was narrowly wide, while a couple of dangerous cut backs were only thwarted by last ditch defensive lunges. It was perverse that Barca scored twice in the second half, as they didn't really threaten all that much, twice long balls saw Song far too far away from Ibrahimovich, the big nosed tosser finished well to be fair to the cockhead.

The referee was utter gash, he made it very easy for Barca by giving them free kicks whenever they dived to ground after minimal contact, while he let them shirt tug and trip with impunity to win the ball back, Messi was constantly fouling but the ugly little bastard was allowed to do what he wanted because he is the golden boy of world football at the moment. The ref booked several of our players for nothing and Cesc's booking for a clean tackle beggared belief. One decision to give Barca a free kick when Song toed the ball away from Ibrahimovich cleanly as the Swede backed into him was demonstrative of just how incompetent this wanker of a referee actually was.

Strangely several of our much maligned players were our best players against Barca. Almunia kept us in the match, Clichy was excellent in my opinion, Nasri did well offensively, Bendtner worked hard up front, then there was Theo. It was a great moment for the young man, his brilliant cameo for the final twenty minutes or so will do his confidence no end of good, his goal was well taken and his pace gave Barca so much trouble that they were panicked into a defensive substitution in order to hand on to the 2-2 draw.

So my overall summary would be that we were not fit enough or good enough on the day, Barca were great and the ref was useless. However somehow we are still in this tie and Barca have both their centre backs out of the second leg, stranger things have happened, but we will have to score at the Camp Nou. Generally I think the match showed up a few problems that have been evident in our squad all season, our squad is not strong enough in certain positions, we do not have enough battling midfielders and we do not work hard enough as a team in pressing the opposition. Quite simply if you are going to line up as a 4-3-3 against Barca then you need all eleven players to be fully fit, you need both wide front players to work extremely hard defensively in complementing the midfield, and then you may well still be outplayed, if you don't do the aforementioned then you do not have a chance of competing.

Cesc is now out for the season, Gallas probably too, while Arshavin will miss a few weeks. Attention turns to Wolves and this will be no walk in the park, we need to turn up and fight for every point between now and the end of the season, we cannot afford any more first halves like Wednesday's against Barca.