Sunday, 30 January 2011

Doubt, defending and destiny

We are through to face Orient, but it was again not the most convincing of wins and some rather big doubts remain over certain elements of our squad. Huddersfield are a very good League one side and they put up a good fight, much like Ipswich in the Carling Cup, but really an eleven of such highly paid internationals should have been able to put the result beyond doubt far earlier in the afternoon, it took a late penalty to save us again in the FA Cup and the injury to Samir Nasri is not good news.

The red card for Squillaci certainly changed the game, Bendtner's slightly fortunate deflected effort saw us one up and many of us thought we may well have coasted from then on, alas some sloppy defensive work from Denilson with a slack missed tackle saw Hunt burst through, Squallaci and Koscielny were not perfectly positioned, the former obstructing Hunt when he may well have been through on goal, 'may' because he did look like he might have lost control of the ball, anyway the useless Clattenberg gave Squillaci no benefit of the doubt and sent him for an early bath.

Huddersfield did knock at our door for a while before they did actually equalise, Almunia producing one particularly fine save from a downward header that seemed destined for the corner of the net. Almunia had no chance when Lee met Pilkington's corner with his head to power home in unstoppable fashion, one one and our nerves were jangling. The winner came courtesy of a clear penalty after a foul on Bendtner as he was about to tap in from six yards out, the Huddersfield defender was all over Bendtner's back and the Dane had to go down. The calls of this being 'soft' from certain predictable quarters of the media were poor in my opinion, the defender was wrong side and knew exactly what he was doing, how Clattenberg forgot to red card the defender I will never know. Cesc was convincing with his spot kick.

There were some positives but there were more negatives for me. I don't expect some players to come back from injuries and be brilliant straight away, therefore we should be slightly lenient with Squillaci, Diaby and Gibbs for example. Denilson was woeful again, he just isn't good enough at anything, his defending is poor, his attacking isn't great, I struggle to think of anything which he does really well. Chamakh looks a forlorn figure, a shadow of the player who started his Arsenal career with such a confident goalscoring start.

Without Song and Wilshere in the centre of the park there simply wasn't enough meat or fight there, without these two our midfield cupboard is rather bare in terms of getting properly stuck into a game. Denilson looks like he'll never be up to it, while Diaby simply doesn't have the game to play deeper and reliably put in a solid shift. There is talk of calling back some of our loanees, and I have to say Henri Lansbury would provide a great option ahead of the likes of Denilson and Diaby.

I know Arsene isn't likely to bring anyone else in before the window closes, hopefully I'll be surprised but I'm not counting my chickens just yet. I really think we could do with some more cover at centre back and in the deeper defensive midfield area. It is a big big gamble to be approaching such a dense fixture list with so many important crunch games with only three fit centre backs and only two scrapping midfielders. If I were Arsene I'd be sorely tempted to recall Bartley and Lansbury from their loan spells, they could have a valuable role to play.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Transfer exclusive/AW/Huddersfield/FA - Future Game

I can exclusively reveal that the vast majority of the transfer rumours flying around at the moment are untrue, I can also reveal that of those that are true, the vast majority will not end up materialising as this is the way of the transfer market. Arsene is coy as always in his press conference today, if he was after someone he wouldn't tell us and if he wasn't he wouldn't either, there's simply no real way of knowing what he really wants to do transfer wise.

I think we would be mad not to try to bring in at least one player. If Song is going to be our fourth choice centre back then we need more defensive cover in the centre of midfield, if he is not then we need a fourth centre back, having three is just a little risky with so many big games coming up and Vermaelen a few weeks away from a return to action. I agree with Le Grove on this one.

Big changes are expected for the Huddersfield game. I'd expect to see the likes of Squillaci, Gibbs, Chamakh, Eboue, Denilson, Arshavin, Bendtner starting, with the likes of Sagna, Clichy, Song, Cesc, Nasri, Theo rested. With three big league games coming up between the FA Cup and CL game vs Barca, rotating effectively will be key.

Interestingly it seems the FA are actually doing something about the lack of quality technical footballers being produced on these shores, they have a long way to go but the Future Game sounds promising as a start, the problem with these kind of schemes is that some good ideas can easily become overwhelmed by a lot of bureaucracy.

Elsewhere the Goon Blog has a very interesting interview with the new Arsenal comms chief Mark Gonnella, he seems keen to engage with fans via different means such as the Blogs and Twitter. Personally I think there are limits to how far the club should go in this regard, the club needs to keep a certain distance, while I think certain independent sites would lose a bit of credibility and perspective if they became too closely allied to the club in a formal manner. The best interview of the weekend is ClockEnd 5's with Howard Webb on the complex topic of Quantum Theory, should Mr Webb be so certain?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Keys apologises, but is the reaction too much?

For anyone who hasn't kept up to speed with this whole affair, Richard Keys has now spoken on Talksport and apologised for his behaviour. I have to say he comes across very well, makes some eloquent points and rightly points out the rank hypocrisy of the media. He has now resigned from his post at sky, possibly jumping before being pushed one would imagine.

Andy Gray has been sacked, and we are still not sure what precisely for. The fact that he is also suing the NOTW muddies the waters somewhat. 'Dark forces' may well be at work here.

I do not for one minute condone the behaviour of Gray and Keys, but I strangely have a bit of sympathy for them. They were out of order and have admitted this, a short suspension should suffice for what was some sexist behaviour in the workplace.

I do not believe that what Gray did deserved a sacking, the reaction seems wholly disproportionate to me. My gut feeling is that this has been ballooned out of all proportion.

Nerves jangled before floodgates opened

To say it was never in doubt would be unfair on Ipswich, the Championship side put everything into last night's game and held out for a long period. However once the first goal had come, that was it, they collapsed under the tide of pressure, but it could have been very different had Bendtner not put his finishing boots on for the excellent opener, it was the catalyst. A lot of credit must go to Ipswich for their battling performance, they made this semi final a really tough contest.

This was not a vintage Arsenal performance in my opinion, it was decent and even in the first half we created chances that were missed, the best by Cesc and RVP. There wasn't enough width and pace to us, Bendtner didn't look at home on the right flank whilst Arshavin had a poor half, giving the ball away time and time again. Cesc and Jack did well in the midfield, providing the cut and thrust, but Denilson was again not offering enough defensively or offensively.

The second half saw our dominance pay off, Bendtner looking more dangerous down the left and so it proved, his excellent opener, that lovely bent finish into the bottom corner after a great touch and a good piece of movement, started things off. The second came soon after when Arshavin pressed an error for a corner, Koscielny's firm header with Fulop stranded made it two. Cesc then calmed our nerves with an excellent third, Arshavin doing very well to play him through with a delightfully weighted through ball, Cesc's nutmeg finish was neat.

It's fantastic to reach a final, even if it is the Carling cup, and we must now win it. The positives last night were the continued resurgence of Johan Djourou and his excellent partnership with Koscielny, the midfield partnership of Cesc and Jack, while Bendtner's finish can hopefully be a platform for him to build on, likewise Arshavin's assist work. The concerns remain Denilson's deeply average play and Arshavin's ability to find the form we know he is capable of. Anyway I'm not going to dwell on negatives when we have just made it through to a cup final, well done lads, a good result in the end.

Monday, 24 January 2011

More Gray footage digs the hole deeper

The Andy Gray/Richard Keys scandal has been impossible to miss in the last couple of days. While some have made light of their remarks, I have to say listening/watching them again, one is struck by the fact that these two men seem to believe all their own hype, they are obviously not used to listening to criticism, they have lived in Ivory towers for far too long as Paul Hayward makes clear in his Guardian piece:

"Television does this to people. It raises them to a plane of imagined grandeur."

Andy Gray and Richard Keys are idiots. Their comments were not jokes or banter, they were unpleasant and disparaging. This is clear when you listen to it all again, and even more apparent when one sees it in context of Gray's expletive comments concerning the very same female official from earlier on in the very same day.

I am no fan of Gray and Keys as you might have guessed, and this is partly down to their rank lack of objectivity when covering football related matters, their tabloid style coverage encourages stupidity and bias, rather than an intelligent and impartial understanding of affairs. Gray is always happy to condone certain players diving, but not others, certain players being reckless, but not others et cetera.

The point about all this for me is that these comments were not jokey, they are not light hearted banter, the tone of them is beneath that, they are offensive and significantly below the belt. People would probably have had more sympathy for them if they weren't such arrogant obnoxious twits at the best of times. Sexism of this kind is simply not acceptable. Andy Gray and Richard Keys need to come out in the open and start eating some large portions of humble pie, delaying the inevitable will certainly not make their portions smaller.

Talksport: talking utter sh*te again

I was unfortunate enough to stumble upon this particularly foolish piece of journalism today on the Talksport website. The article is rather dishonest and misleading, typical of Talksport really, it starts off by asking 'How English is your Premier League Team' and then proceeds to base this all on some rather dubious statistics relating to Premier League 'squads'. The most stupid bit of the whole thing is the following:

"But just how proud can you Englishmen be of how well your team represents its home country?"

Firstly Talksport are assuming that all people reading are 100% English, in fact a lot of readers will be from outside the UK, and even those from England itself will most likely have a bit of non-English in them in the form of Welsh, Scottish and Irish, or even something else.

Secondly even if one assumes that everyone reading is 100% English, whatever that is, then one has to assume that those of us who are 100% English would be proud to have a squad with more English players in it. This is another faulty assumption. Most club supporters couldn't give a monkeys for the sheer number of homegrown English players they have. Most supporters want a good team first of all, then it's a bonus if they can produce some top drawer English talent for the national team, but the number of average English players making up the numbers in the squad is completely immaterial to most of us.

Talksport's hatred of Arsenal is obvious from the large picture of our 'non-English' players celebrating a goal at the top of the article but it may disappoint them to learn that their analysis of things is deeply flawed. For one thing they ignore the players in our squad who are out on loan, this is downright nonsensical. Their table also makes no mention of whether a club's English players have been home produced or purchased in for big money, should Manu and Tottenham fans be proud of buying in all their expensive English talent?

Fundamentally it is irrelevant how many English players each club in their squads, the overall numbers are a crude statistic which give no insight into the quality of these players. What is important is how good the English players in the squad are, how good a club's youth development is and how many players that club is producing for England teams of the future. Look around the Premier League and you can see how many have come through the Arsenal system, there are countless examples such as Bolton's Fabrice Muamba and West Brom's Jerome Thomas. While the current homegrown English lads in the squad, such as Wilshere and Gibbs, are top top drawer.

It is interesting to see that whatever Arsenal do they are criticised in certain quarters of the media. When we had a defensively solid English side, it was 'boring boring' Arsenal. Now we have a creative and attractive side we are criticised for not being English enough, despite the fact that our youth system is producing some of the best young English players around. I bet Talksport won't be mentioning the paucity of homegrown English talent in the Spurs side, just think when the last England national team player who actually came through their ranks? Was it as long ago as Ledley King?

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Wigan obliterated/Martinez+Pulis/Gray+Keys

As convincing a win as you will see all season, without some terrific goalkeeping from Al-Habsi Wigan could have been looking at rather embarrassing scoreline, and frankly I could write paragraphs detailed the superb passing and movement which opened up Wigan time and time again, but that would be boring, it was simply a scintillating display of football.

Wigan have a terrible away record against us and it showed, they couldn't get out of their own half such was our dominance. The territorial statistics made dismal reading for Mr Martinez. We simply had too much for them all over the pitch and RVP's finishing (other than his overly exuberant penalty) was unstoppable. It was pretty much our first eleven and it showed, the midfield trio of Song/Wilshere/Cesc has the balance, while the front three of Nasri/RVP/Theo gives us a very nice mix of pace/aggression/movement and trickery.

The fact that we are now keeping clean sheets on a more regular basis should not be forgotten. There are several reasons for this in my opinion; the goalkeeper, the centre back pairing, the full backs' improved form and the defensive balance from the rest of the side. We have conceded just three goals in seven games in January, maintaining this run of defensive form is going to be key in challenging on all fronts. The trick for Arsene is going to be rotating things with two games a week without disrupting the flow of the team, the eleven that he selects for Ipswich will be interesting.

The Martinez comments on Cesc and the Pulis comments on Dempsey, both from yesterday, can be lumped in the same box of stupidity. Both Cesc and Dempsey were clean through, both challenges had no chance of winning the ball cleanly without taking the man first, both challenges made clear contact that brought the attacking player down. They were both clear fouls and the attempts from both these managers to pin the blame away from their own cumbersome and stupid defenders is not only dishonest, but also rather malicious.

Have a listen to these blatantly sexist comments from the comedy duo of Gray and Keys, not only do they slag off female officials, but they have a dig at Karren Brady too. Even if the lineslady from yesterday's Wolves-Liverpool game had made an error, then it shouldn't be insinuated that it's down to her sex, because when a male linesman has a shocker we don't hear people going on about it being because they're male! If officials are shite then they should be criticised for being shite, their sex simply shouldn't come into it. Personally I think Gray and Keys should have been ousted from their positions a long time ago, their short sighted and partisan tabloid style approach has been beneath contempt for some time now.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Bye for now Leeds, maybe see you again next season

Solid, that's the word to describe that performance. Despite the odd moment at 2-1 the result was never really in doubt, a convincing and thoroughly deserved victory. There were also some decent performances from a few of those who had not impressed against Ipswich in the Carling Cup. The Leeds goal was an unstoppable thirty yarder but it had come after a clear shirt tug on Andrei Arahvin, still great strike from Bradley Johnson. Mike Dean was generally shite as he always is.

The back five were solid. Szczesny didn't have a great deal to do, he certainly had no chance with the goal. Gibbs and Sagna are as rapid a pair of full backs as you will ever see, they had excellent games yesterday, Sagna's rocket for the second was impressive just for its sheer velocity. The robust physical presence of Johan Djourou combined with the eagerly intercepting Kosclielny is looking a complementary pairing.

In midfield Alex Song was a rock, he nipped in fantastically for the third RVP goal. Denilson was the weak link once again, slow to spot danger and not incisive with the ball at his feet, too average to be starting games for us I feel. Nasri showed his class with a coolly taken first goal, he was a constant threat to the Leeds back line.

Two of our much maligned forwards worked very hard for the team, Nic Bendtner and Andrei Arshavin. They chased back and never stopped toiling, key stuff if you are not on top form. Although Arshavin missed a few half chances, I thought he was vastly better than in previous games, the same was true for Bendtner but he did come up with a top notch cross for RVPs perfectly timed far post header that sealed the win making it 3-1.

Chamakh wasn't good or bad, he just looks a little lost to me at the moment, he tries hard but sometimes you just want him to gamble or be a bit more aggressive, maybe it's a combination of fatigue and his slightly brittle confidence. I hope he gets a goal soon, it could be a spring board for him.

Overall job done and despite resting a few players we are through to face Huddersfield in round 4. A much more encouraging team performance, something like that next week against Ipswich would be unlikely to see us fail, but we must also guard against complacency. It will probably be a fairly strong eleven to play Wigan this weekend, RVP, Theo and Cesc are likely to return. Come on you Gunners.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Vermaelen - Plantaris tendon the problem?

From Arseblog this morning, things are not quite as they first appeared:

"According to the specialist who will operate on me it’s a small tendon that runs next to the achilles tendon and is irritating it, and it needs to be taken out. It is a small tendon that doesn’t do very much. Hopefully that will solve it."

It appears that this problem tendon may be the Plantaris tendon. It has been implicated in Achilled tendinopathy. It may also be related to another muscles' tendon, an accessory soleus muscle has been implicated as well! The more likely is plantaris and as you can see above, it is closely related to the Achilles.

Certainly this operation is less drastic than what I had initially envisaged. Maybe he can be back in six weeks if this cures his problem, the problem is that it might not and then the can of worms opens. Fingers crossed anyway.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Vermaelen and his Achilles heel

It appears that Thomas Vermaelen is having surgery on his troublesome Achilles tendon in an attempt to rid him of the pain that has blighted his season thus far. I am sure there will be much comment in the media and many people will claim to know when Vermaelen will return. Sadly the truth about Achilles tendon problems is that no one really understands them and their treatment is also far from reliable. Anyone pretending to understand the Achilles is lying and ironically those who make it clear how unknown this area is are probably far nearer to the truth.

This piece by a Physio was far more accurate than most and the best thing about it was the fact that the author got across the unknown of the whole subject, he made it clear that we simply do not understand what goes wrong when people get pain in the Achilles tendons and consequently the treatments for it are erratic at best, if rest doesn't work then the surgery isn't the most reliable. I shall try to explain precisely what I mean in all this.

The most reliable term for the diagnosis is 'Achilles tendinopathy', essentially 'tendinitis' is inaccurate as 'inflammatory changes' are not found in problem tendons. Achilles tendinopathy is common in athletes but the mechanisms behind its development are poorly understood. The classical clinical features of the condition are pain and swelling in the region. In the acute phase there may be no abnormalities in the tissue and on imaging, however as the condition becomes chronic degeneration and scarring of the tendon will become more prominent. Of note Thomas Vermaelen's scan was normal, further muddying the water as it were.

Typically the initial treatment is conservative and involves resting, then hoping that things just do away. This works in about a third of patients or so. Surgery is then the next treatment if the conservative 'wait and see' strategy has failed after a period of months. The surgical techniques vary from surgeon to surgeon and the word 'witch craft' does spring to mind when talking about it, generally most of them involved cleaning away unhealthy tissue ('debriding') and trying to stimulate the body's natural processes of healing.

The results of surgery are pretty good overall with a majority of patients getting back to a pretty good level of function, however there is a significant complication rate (approximately 5-10%) and a lot of time is needed for full recovery. Realistically it is unlikely that a professional footballer will be back in full training for 2-3 months following surgery, meaning that Thomas Vermaelen's season may well be over. There is also a chance in the untroubled Achilles becoming troublesome at a later date, this has been reported to occur in up to around 50% of cases.

I am not trying to be deliberately gloomy but the talk of a March return for Thomas Vermaelen looks more than just a tad optimistic. Have a read of the above paper if you are scientifically inclined, it will help you realise that a lot in medicine is not black and white, this is most definitely the case for Achilles tendinopathy. If any of you have any questions about this condition then please feel free to ask away, my fingers are currently crossed for TV, let's hope he can finally get lucky.

More post Hammers thoughts and player ratings

The fact that we have such a clear first eleven is a good thing, I know it wasn't quite the first XI yesterday with Sagna's suspension and Fabianski's injury, although I do hope the former returns, the latter is not as good as Szczesny in my book and should remain firmly rooted to the bench. The balance in the current side looks right, this is partly from the physical presence of Djourou, the bite of Jack Wilshere and the width provided by Theo Walcott. Szczesny looks a dominant force in goal, he has the aura of a no1, he believes in himself, even if he makes the odd error it doesn't seem to rattle him and this seems to be passed on to the whole side defensively.

Injuries prevailing we have a chance. If Arsene can keep Mr Szczesny in goal, bring in a centre back for cover, realise that Denilson is deeply average and resurrect a certain Russian's confidence then there is hope. The way Wilshere has come in has been quite remarkable, he looks part of the furniture and he hasn't even played a full season in our first team, Samir Nasri has developed to a new level, as had Theo Walcott in my opinion, the return of RVP has been a catalyst for it all coming together. Here are my player ratings from yesterday:

Szczesny 7: The odd shakey moment but generally assured, one top save in first half.

Eboue 6: Decent, slightly suspect defensively but good going forward.

Djourou 6: Not his best game, a couple of errors which could have cost goals.

Koscielny 7: Solid, unspectacularly effective.

Clichy 6.5: Decent, some poor crossing though.

Song 7: Solid as a rock.

Wilshere 8: Great work rate and overall contribution.

Cesc 7: Far better game than in midweek.

Theo 8: Incisive and deadly.

RVP 8: Incisive and equally deadly, great finish for the first goal.

Nasri 7: Dangerous and very close to getting on the score sheet.

The big problem now comes with the flurry of fixtures that we face, we have potentially 12 games before the end of February. The tricky thing will be rotating the squad in such a way that results are not compromised, and as we have seen against Wigan, Leeds and Ipswich, this is far from easy.

The big question is who should Arsene bring in. A centre back is pretty much essential given Vermaelen's woes and Squillaci's hamstring. I just wonder whether another combative midfielder would be useful, someone who could come in for Wilshere or Song and do a job. Denilson just doesn't do it for me in this regard. What do you all think?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Clinical from the first eleven

As many of us have started to realise, there is very little wrong with our first eleven, and this was again evident in our comfortable 3-0 win away at West Ham. We controlled the game and although West Ham had the odd chance, they never really got into the game, the absence of Scott Parker playing a role in this of course.

Robin Van Persie is looking sharp, his movement and aggression contrasted with Bendtner's lethargy in midweek, Nasri and Walcott sparkled on the flanks, Cesc purred in midfield. Wilshere was instrumental, controlling things with some slide rule left footed passing and never resting, always harrying the opposition as it is so important to do. Song was solid as ever. Djourou didn't have his best game, a tad sloppy at times, Szczesny's immense presence having to rescue him from a poor back pass in the first half, Koscielny was steady, Clichy decent, Eboue good offensively but a little suspect defensively.

This eleven is now picking itself, our main problem will be getting some of the players outside this group to come in and add a bit of extra when needed, the Bendtners, the Arshavins, the Denilsons need to start doing more than they currently are. The goals today were excellent, summing up the incisiveness of our general play, RVP's deadly right footed finish from Theo's perfect centre, RVP returned the favour for Theo who was alive and finished neatly having reacted quicker than the defender, then RVP's clinical penalty after Theo had been chopped down by Wayne Bridge. It was the Theo and Robin show today, and I cannot grumble, I enjoyed virtually every minute.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Poor Arsenal allow time wasting Ipswich to prosper

It was a strong eleven and frankly too many of the starting eleven did not perform to the level we needed tonight. Eboue was sloppy, although the rest of the defence played reasonably well, of the midfield three only Wilshere had a decent game, Denilson was his mediocre best and Cesc was markedly loose with his passing. Theo was the only one of the front three to come away with any credit, he kept working hard and chances did fall his way only to be thwarted twice by the excellent Ipswich keeper Fulop. Arshavin had a poor game but at least there was some movement, on the other hand Bendtner was terrible, numerous sloppy touches and some very tired and predictable movement off the ball, far far too static to keep the Ipswich defence on their toes.

The first half saw us create a couple of great openings in the first minute which we wasted, for the rest of the half we got worse as Ipswich were allowed to grow into the game. They created little though, Szczesny had a twenty yarder covered which flew wide and the only other chance was a header which went well over. The second half saw no improvement in our loose passing and the repeated donation of possession to Ipswich continued. There were far too many attempts at ridiculously tricky eye of the needle passes which gave the ball back to Ipswich time and time again.

The alarm bells should have rung when Priskin almost scored not long before the opener came, Djourou doing well to nip in and toe the ball away from him at the last. Priskin was the played through, the linesman missing the fact he was definitely half a yard offside, and he finished expertly leaving Koscielny with no chance at all. We created a few great chances, Walcott was twice unlucky with those saves from the alert Fulop, while Cesc missed s sitter from an excellent Gibbs cross, he also forced another good Fulop save with a well hit effort from the edge of the box.

Overall well done Ipswich, I would give them more credit than I am if they had not done so much cynical time wasting from as early on as the beginning of the second half. Maybe more of the fault should lie with the hopeless Martin Atkinson who allowed them to take the ball away and delay virtually every single free kick that we were awarded, he should have got the yellow card out early for this blatant cheating, and as he did not, Ipswich kept doing it and wasting a lot of valuable time than we could have done with at the end. A couple of shameful dives from their defenders were also rather notable, embarrassing stuff from any team, no matter how desperate they were. Wickham looked sharp, agile and handy, a stark contrast to the hapless Dane at the other end of the field.

Having said that you simply have to have more players on their game if you are going to win these kind of games away from home. Overall we were unlucky to lose it given the chances created by both sides, but even if we had got a draw, the performance was clearly not up to the mark. It always feels a bit harsh to single out certain individuals, but for me Denilson and Bendtner added very very little to our play tonight, although Cesc and Arshavin didn't have great games by any standard, they did threaten and threaten to do things at times. Denilson adds so little both defensively and offensively, while Bendtner doesn't have the strength and power to bully defences, he also doesn't have the pace and movement to open up defences. A far better performance is needed for the return leg, while some big doubts remain over certain players' ability to cut it at the top level playing for Arsenal.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Leeds/Cup draw/Webb signs for Manchester United and general refereeing dodginess

Like many of you I had some rather mixed thoughts after the late equaliser which salvaged a draw against Leeds yesterday. Generally we didn't play badly, but it was a bit mixed, although we dominated for long periods and created way more chances than our opponents, Leeds deserve a lot of credit for creating a few decent chances of their own and defending with their backs to the wall for long periods. There were some good performances and some less good. Szczesny was again excellent, producing a top save on both halves, his save from Becchio's header with the score at 1-0 was truly outstanding. Djourou produced another commanding show, aggressive and dominant throughout. Walcott came on to massive effect, while Gibbs played well and is not injured.

I have to say that some of our problems stem from the fact that some of our backup players are not good enough, a few of them are just temporarily off form and some are more permanently low in the form department. Denilson's mobility and consequently his defensive game are just not up to standard, Arshavin is off the boil, while playing strikers out wide doesn't work with Bendtner/Chamakh. The fact that Song had to play showed that our squad is just not good enough in terms of solid midfielders. Still credit must go to Leeds who fought hard, remained organised as a defensive unit and threatened our goal when they had the opportunity, Simon Grayson has done a great job there.

Dowd wasn't perfect in all he did. He got the Leeds penalty spot on, Denilson showed his defensive incompetence once again. He then missed a clear penalty on Bendtner when the Dane had his legs taken before the ball was influenced. He also wrongly decided that Bendtner's offside position should influence his decision to award a penalty for a 'possible foul' on Theo Walcott, fortunately for him Theo came out to admit there was not enough contact for a penalty, credit to the lad of his remarkable honesty. At least he got the call right for the penalty that Cesc struck home near the end. It will not be easy going to Elland Road on a cold January night for the replay, an attractive home tie against Huddersfield awaits us if we can up our game sufficiently.

Howard Webb has reiterated just how poor an official he is with another typically warped performance officiating a Manchester United game, this time against Liverpool. Firstly he awarded a penalty to Manu for a clear Berbatov dive in the first minute when he was poorly placed about twenty five metres from the incident, he didn't even bother to ask the linesman for his opinion even though he was in a far more advantageous position. Then he sent Gerrard off for what I felt was a definite yellow card offence, but a very harsh red. Of course it is easy to say that Gerrard was reckless and it was a clear red, but in the context of other tackles around and the recklessness we see routinely it simply wasn't bad enough to merit a red. Minutes earlier Rafael had stamped through a tackle dangerously on Meireles, so much so that the Portugese jumped out the way of Rafael's studs, this tackle was arguably more dangerous than Gerrard's but didn't even merit a free kick in Webb's book.

Jeff Winter chooses to defend Howard Webb for another appalling performance, not a surprise given what a poor referee Winter was in his own time. The point about refereeing performances is that one must judge them in context and one has to say that in context Howard Webb's recent performances in the last year or so have been shocking. He regularly loses control of games, he cannot enforce a level of discipline, he allows massive amounts of dissent and intimidation, his decision making is inconsistent and unjustifiable, in simple terms he is just plain crap. Contrast Webb to Michael Jones who refereed our game against City recently, he was outstanding, he controlled the game by showing yellows appropriately, he didn't award soft penalties for nothing and he let things flow appropriately.

In my humble opinion there is something very wrong with the way the Premiership is refereed. Part of the problem is the fact that referees have no backup from technology, but a big part of the problem stems from the system which oversees the selection of officials for certain games. Howard Webb has officiated quite a few Manu games of late and he has given four penalties to Manu in his last six games, most of us will remember the appalling decision to give that penalty against us for Clichy's completely accidental handball. He seems to be the new Mike Riley, the cynic would argue that gifting Manu a few wins is a very good career move for a referee.

The way that the referees are selected for certain games is dodgy, it is the opposite of transparent and political pressures seem to have a big effect on which games are officiated by which official, this cannot be right. Mike Riley is in charge and that cannot be a good thing. It is also clear that the vast majority of referees must be football supporters, and we have no idea which clubs the top referees support. Given that so many of the Premiership's referees are from the North (11 out of 16 Elite refs are from the North), it would not surprise me if a few of them were Manchester United fans, I would also put a few quid on Howard Webb being a Manchester United fan. In my opinion we should all know which clubs the referees support and they should never officiate a game in which their team is playing, the current system leaves things far more open to bias then they need be and that stinks.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Lucky City escape with undeserved point

A total of eight points from twelve over the Christmas period, not a bad haul by any means and many of us would have taken that if offered it in advance. Chelsea were outplayed, a weakened side squandered points against Wigan, Birmingham were hammered and then finally City were outplayed, they escaped with a point thanks to far more luck than judgement.

I can't really fault the performance of the lads tonight. The same eleven started and they started well. Several great chances were created early doors. Wilshere shot across the face of goal and RVP couldn't quite reach it to tap it home, RVP struck the foot of the post with Hart nowhere, Wilshere then forced Hart into an excellent low save with a decently struck side footed effort. Our attacking play was mesmerising at times, Nasri, Cesc, RVP, Wilshere and Theo were combining to almost devastating effect.

Then the moment that summed up City's great fortune, Cesc struck the inside of the post with a firm shot from the edge of the box, Hart was again nowhere near it, Theo then followed it up, from a slightly acute angle he hit a ripper which cannoned off the inner aspect of the post and agonisingly across the goal.

The second half saw City defend resolutely and we created far less than in the first half, our best direct effort was from RVP and his twenty five yarder forced a top notch save from Hart when it seemed destined for the corner of the net. There was some neat build up work and some penetrating crosses, but the ball just didn't quite drop for us when it counted.

Sometimes one can play really well, create a lot, outplay the opposition and come away with just a point, this was one of those nights. We should take a lot of heart from the way that we pressed City so effectively as a team, we restricted them to so little and won so much of the loose scraps in the midfield. Wilshere and Song were the engine room, the work of our more attacking players should not go unnoticed too. The only black mark was Sagna's red card for some heady handbags with Zabaleta near the end that saw both men sent off.

We're only four points off United, we're in touch and they definitely have the harder fixtures to come. If we can keep our key men fit then we have a real chance of being top of the pile come May. The new look defence with Johan Djourou at its helm is starting to look solid and clean sheets on the trot is the end result. Come on you Gunners!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Discipline and a lack of it at City, plus musings on a jealous Manu fan

There isn't really much of interest to say on a playing front. Kieran Gibbs is getting closer to a return, before his next injury that is, and Thomas Vermaelen is continuing his slow recovery from the niggling Achilles injury that he picked up on International duty a good while back. Arsene is going to see how TV does over the next couple of weeks, if he suffers a setback in training then it looks possible that he will dip into the market for a centre back. I expect the same eleven that started against Chelsea and Birmingham to start against City with a weakened team being rolled out at the weekend for the FA Cup tie against Leeds.

There have been a couple of things to laugh at, firstly I thought this bitter and incoherent piece from a Manu fan was definitely worth a read, but not for the reasons that the author intended! The argument just doesn't make sense, he seems to be completely unable to appreciate that neutrals like watching Arsenal's style of football, the media credit Arsenal with playing good football for this very reason, it's not complex. He then goes on to label our style 'foreign' and claim that it is not 'British' like United's. Interesting to note that Arsenal have the better English talent coming through the ranks at the moment.

If the author bothered to do his research before producing such academic 'studies' he may realise that Arsenal's style is a fusion of styles between a technical continental game and the faster British style, this style is based on Arsene's rather unique way of trying to play the game. It may not always be effective, we do acknowledge this openly, but to try and pretend that Man United's current style is the best is nonsensical. Manu are effective but there is not much attractive about the way they play, they struggle to keep the ball and grind out results in an ugly manner. Yes it's effective, but I sense someone is a tad jealous of the aesthetic beauty of the way we play the game and for this very reason he dust protest too much.

The fight between Kolo Toure and Adebayor at Man City's training ground today makes for hilarious viewing, it goes to show that certain leopards can never change their spots. This is the second bust-up that has been caught by the media at their training ground this season, the first being between Boatend and Balotelli. I hope we can exploit the rifts in their camp to full effect on Wednesday. Meanwhile Arsene has quite rightly pointed out that Alex McCleish didn't have much of a point to his argument that the FA's system was baised towards the big sides. McCleish should know that the FA's system is just rubbish, it reacts to things which the media highlight and ignores all else, there is no consistency in it at all. I do see why McCleish is frustrated when he has recently seen Alan Hutton get away with a head butt on a Birmingham players, but the system isn't biased, it's just completely crap.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Dirty brum demolished as referees start 2011 as badly as they finished 2010

It wasn't unexpected but I have to say we could have had a smidgen more protection from the referee yesterday from some Birmingham tactics that definitely crossed the line of what could be deemed to be an acceptable level of aggression. Roger Johnson's early tackle on Cesc Fabregas was a red card tackle, a reckless violent lunge with studs showing that could easily have seen a terrible injury at the end of it, it was more by fortune than anything else that Cesc was able to play on afterwards. The referee bottled it and then later on missed some appalling and vindictive stuff from the scum who calls himself Lee Bowyer. The stamp on Sagna was followed by a malicious stud raking down the same player's Achilles a few minutes later, the referee missed the former and let him get away with the latter.

It is not just the way Birmingham got away with these moments of violence that rankles, it is the way in which certain lame duck sections of the media highlight a 'handball' incident while ignoring the woods for the trees. ESPN are just plain shite, but the BBC should know better, I was appalled by Lawrenson trying to justify Johnson's tackle on Cesc by saying that he went for the ball, this is irrelevant, it is akin to going for the ball with a machete, it is dangerous and unsafe, thus both against the rules and unacceptable, as well as unjustifiable. It is typical of an average team full of cloggers for their manager to try to claim the 'big decisions' went against them, what utter hogwash, their claims that RVP's inadvertent handball was a penalty are weak, while they themselves were very lucky not to have seen at least a couple of men sent off for early baths. Hopefully Bowyer will be punished retrospectively by the FA for his stamp, still this was more petulance and I would prefer to see Johnson's tackle upgraded to a decent ban as this was the violent act that was likely to do the real damage.

Anyway the important thing was that we stood up to this physical challenge and came away with a clean sheet and three very deserved points. The eight changes were for the better this time, Djourou and Koscielny combined terrifically well at the back, Sagna and Clichy were both solid, Birmingham rarely troubled Fabianski. When they did Fabianski saved well from Larsson's free kick which was an extremely soft award in the first place, strange that the media ignored this gamesmanship from Johnson but focused on RVP's fall when clearly yanked back by the arm for our opener, while Johnson fired over from six yards when clearly well offside, the linesman missing this rather obvious fact.

The most positive thing is that a clear first choice eleven is emerging and this is key if we are to grind out some solid momentum for the rest of the season. This eleven has a better balance between defence and attack, there is enough drive and work rate in the midfield with an engine room of Wilshere/Song, there is more dominance at the back, while the creative combination of Nasri/Cesc and RVP with the pace of Walcott wide right gives us so many attacking options. I like a lot.

The only bad thing about yesterday was the wins for Manu and Spurs. Manu were particularly fortunate, with the score at 1-1 Chris Foy bottled a big decision, Neville committed an extremely cynical last man tackle from behind in the box, a penalty and red card should have followed, Foy choked it, still West Brom still went on to miss a penalty with the scores leve. Another flukey win for United, no doubt the regular big decisions going in their favour helps them grind out wins instead of defeats. Hopefully their luck will run out eventually. While we're talking of Manure, check out this pathetic piece of blogging, someone seems a little obsessed with out young keeper's spot on comments, dust someone protest too much because their team has yet again got away with murder? Manure fans have started the year as they mean to continue, spouting ignorant puerile drivel rather looking at their own ugly faces in the mirror.

Man City is another biggie on Wednesday and I would be surprised not to see the same eleven starting again, players can easily be rested for the visit of Leeds in the FA Cup. Things appear to be clicking together just at the right time and barring any injuries to key players, January is the perfect time for this momentum to be building. Come on you Gunners!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy new year Gooners! Here's hoping for 2011

There have been highs and lows in 2010, and despite my negativity at times overall I would definitely say that progress has been made. Probably the best moment of 2010 was spanking Chelsea recently 3-1, while the worst moments must include the dismal recent surrender to the Spuds and the poor home performance against Barca in the CL. We now have an opportunity to put right the Barca defeat with the forthcoming rematch, while we are fighting for trophies on three other fronts in the form the the Premiership, FA Cup and Carling Cup.

Some players have remained key, others have become key while some have not fulfilled our expectations. There are also many highly talented young players waiting to break through into the first team squad and I have high hopes for some of them in 2011. Wilshere is already part of the furniture and Szczesny looks like he should be joining young Jack in this bracket soon, Ramsey, Frimpong and Lansbury have the attributes that we need more of in our midfield, JET shows huge potential, while there are several other youngsters who may well get their chance soon such as Mannone, Bartley, Afobe and Aneke. Time is running out for Vela, Denilson and Diaby in my eyes for a variety of reasons.

The manager continues to divide opinion, personally I find the 'you're either with us or against us' attitude of some to be particularly unproductive and infantile. Arsene has his faults and there are some recent signs that he is learning from some of this recent mistakes. For example Djourou has now forced his way up the pecking order, Szczesny has been given a few more chances, Wilshere has moved ahead of the likes of Denilson, while he also realised we needed a centre back or two to strengthen the squad. It is important that he continues to introspect and possibly the addition of one experienced combative midfielder would help our trophy pust this January transfer window.

The start of new year should be all about one's expectations for the year ahead but one should never stop to take the time out to appreciate just what we have now got. We have a top top manager, we have a great squad of players and arguably the best young players in the land, while we still have much to play for this season in our state of the art stadium.

Winning something will come down to whether we can learn to defend a lead or not. There are many aspects to this but a key one will need to be the manager putting a bit more time and effort into our defensive organisation and setup. Today we face Birmingham away, a ground where some rather unpleasant memories are rekindled, this is precisely the kind of game we need to be taking three points from, before this Christmas run I felt eight or nine points would be a decent haul. The big guns will return and there can be no more excuses. Come on you Gunners!