Thursday 31 December 2009

Job done and pressure maintained

The starting eleven was as expected, Ramsey coming in for the injured Denilson and otherwise unchanged. Pompey started with a rather defensive line up, just the lone striker up front. The game was pretty bitty early on, both sides pressuring the other into errors, but we did gradually look the stronger side and it appeared only a matter of time before a goal came.

Encouragingly Ramsey was very involved early on, there was plenty of give and go as he drove onto support the forwards. Our first decent chance came when Eduardo made a great run, got inside his marker and flicked a cross towards the goal, unfortunately his touch was not strong enough and the ball flicked harmlessly wide. Eduardo was looking lively, he had already made some excellent forward runs, and then just before the twenty minute mark he set up Diaby with an excellent cut back, Diaby forced a great save from the Pompey keeps. Diaby was also finding his passing range with some lovely flighted through balls. Sagna was also having a strong game.

Mokoena was having an impact for all the wrong reasons, off the pace and caught diving in on several occasions. At the other end we were lucky to escape when Boateng sprung our offside trap, only to miscontrol when completely through on Almunia. The playing conditions were rather tricky, the cold pitch was making it very difficult for players to keep their footing when just contemplating a turn. The first goal came after a free kick was given for Mokoena's dive in on Ramsey, Eduardo stepped up, a firm low shot was massively deflected in off Kaboul, how Eduardo deserved this slice of luck though.

Diaby was elegant in possession, Nasri was bright and very involved, Song brushed aside bullets and mortar fire as he got his body between man and ball to hold onto possession, Arshavin wasn't having his greatest game and was a bit slack at times. The crucial second goal came just before half time, Eduardo again involved as he broke into the box and cut the ball back to Samir Nasri via Aaron Ramsey's cut touch, Nasri finished with gusto into the bottom corner. The importance of this second goal at the time it came cannot be understated.

We started the second half well, the neat passing combined with the width given by our full backs looked like opening Pompey up at any time. Arshavin looked bright, the linesman denied him one certain goal, while he almost played in Ramsey moments later. Our high offside line continued to look a tad dangerous at times. Ramsey capped a fine performance with a belter, cutting in from the inside right position and striking the utter belter into the corner of the net with his weaker left foot, an outstanding goal. Pompey got one back with a well worked effort, arguably we could have been tighter but it was a decent goal. Rosicky came on to threaten the Pompey goal with a decent twenty yarder, Song then completed the rout with a very well placed header from a pin point Nasri cross.

One can't really grumble after a 4-1 win like this, Pompey are not as poor as their league position suggests, they do have some decent players and bit of technique/pace that some other lower sides do not. The most encouraging thing was the fact that a few players really stepped up their games yesterday, Nasri, Ramsey and Sagna were my pick of the bunch, Song and Diaby were also outstanding again. We will miss Alex Song big time, his ability to shield and ball and dominate the midfield has been phenomenal of late. If we can keep picking up three points against the weaker sides that we can really challenge for the title, I don't think we should become obsessed with beating all the big boys, simply don't drop points against the lesser sides. Three points against Bolton is as valuable as three points against a top four side.

On the striker issue, I think it is very easy to call for more signings. However when one considers just how few decent players are available in January then it looks rather likely to me that there would be no one around who could improve our squad. Bendtner is about a couple of weeks off, Eduardo is finding some form, Arshavin can do a job up front, Walcott and Vela both give us options. Fine, if the new Drogba was available for 2 million then I'm not going to argue, but what would be the point in bringing in mediocrity when have quite a few options already?

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Diaby to fill the void? And Pompey Preview

Its still one match early, as Song is still available to play tonight against Pompey before flying off to Angola for the ACN, but one issue that is high up the agenda at the moment is who will play in midfield when Song is away?

Song has had a great season and his good result in the blog vote for 2009 player of the year has surprised even me, one of Song's biggest fans. He will be missed, no doubt, and 1979's post on Tuesday neatly poses the problem - there is no one in the squad who is a similar 'like for like' swap with Song, and the risk is that midfield experiments in January could leave us defensively weak.

However, one player who has also surprised a lot of people recently is Abou Diaby. It was almost 12 months ago that Cesc injured his knee against Liverpool and Diaby was given a chance to impress in that creative midfield role. But he failed to do so, and finished the season in pretty abysmal form - widely slated (including by me) for his performances against Manure and Chelsea in the big games at the end of the season.

This season has seen a different Diaby turn up. Or perhaps has seen the good Diaby turn up more often than the bad one. Maybe he is one of the players who suits a 4-3-3 system? Maybe he has simply matured as a player this year? Or maybe he is going to the same doctor as Cesc, because both players look at least a yard quicker this season than last year. Who knows.

But on his day, Abou Diaby is a phenomenal player. And is quite unique in his style - a great runner with the ball, fantastic ball skills, occasionally a good passer, and increasingly strong on the ball and determined to win in back. When not on his day, he is god awful, and those bad games led him to be classed by a lot of fans as "not good enough for Arsenal", but as things stand, if he keeps this form up then he must in with a good shout of making the French squad for next year's World Cup.

With Rosicky almost back to fitness (he might be on the bench tonight), Nasri yet to find his best position in the team, and Rambo also pushing hard for a starting place, there will be fierce competition in Arsenal's midfield to play alongside Denilson and Cesc (who I think are Arsene's automatic first choices) whilst Song is away. And on present form, I have absolutely no doubt that Diaby is ahead in the pecking order at the moment and is good enough to do the job.

So unless Denilson gets injured, I am one Gooner who is not that bothered about Song being away for a month. Its not ideal, but we are coping well with other absences in the team, so I don't see this being the straw that breaks the camel's back. Fingers crossed.

Hopefully Song can give a big performance tonight and help put Pompey to the sword. Its already got to that stage of the season where we have to stick close to the leaders, and dropped points will be hard to recover. I would also love to see a good performance tonight from Eduardo, who has also come in for some stick from some quarters.

Now, its beyond doubt that Eduardo is struggling a bit at the moment. But I don't buy the idea that Eduardo is only good in a 4-4-2 system. Players doing well in certain formations is a real chicken and egg situation, and its impossible to know whether Diaby (for example) would be having a good spell even if we were still 4-4-2 this year. In my opinion, a good player will perform well in virtually any position. Especially in a Wenger side that almost plays the Ajax "Total Football" model anyway. But that also means that a "not so good" player will struggle when out of his preferred position.

Well I think Eduardo is a very good player, but got massively slated during Divegate in August, has struggled for some form since, Croatia did not qualify for the World Cup, his confidence has dropped, and things are just not happening for him. He easily could have scored in the first 5 mins against Villa, but dreadfully scuffed his shot. And that had nothing at all to do with systems and everything about confidence and a bit of bad luck.

Because with the pundits and press circling for Wenger to sign a main striker during January, I think its Eduardo's future that is in the balance.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Come on Tunisia, Zambia and Gabon!

Looking ahead to January's African Cup of Nations, I can't help but hope that Cameroon under perform dismally to ensure the early return of Alex Song, while I would be quite happy to see the Ivory Coast do well to make sure that Drogba is away from Chelsea for as long as possible. In truth Tunisia are the only side unlikely to take points off Cameroon in the group stage, Zambia are pretty poor and Gabon have already been comprehensively beaten by Cameroon in the qualifiers. But we can still dream!

Chelsea really do rely upon Drogba and would be half the team without him, when his goals and drive are taken away from their attack they become a very one dimensional team that is much easier to defend against. Unfortunately Drogba will be back for our trip to the bridge in early February no matter how well the Ivory Coast perform, one can only hope that he is kidnapped and held hostage until he is too old and slow to be a danger on the football field.

Our next four fixtures are games that we must aim to take three points from. Away to Pompey, home to Bolton, home to Everton and away to Bolton. We then have a potentially crucial run of four games that sees us play the four of the strongest sides around. Amazingly away to Villa, home to Manu, away to Chelsea and home to Liverpool all come back to back in late Jan and early Feb. Realistically I think we are going to need at least fifteen points from these eight games to remain in contention for the title.

At least Alex Song is only going to miss a maximum of about five league games, he is still available for tomorrow's trip for Portsmouth. If Cesc is out for two or three weeks which appears very possible, then it will leave a great opportunity for young Aaron Ramsey whose drive from midfield could be key in supporting our forwards. I shall be interested to see what happens to Henri Lansbury who has been progressing solidly at Watford by all accounts.

The great difficulty will be filling the Alex Song void, as no one else at the club has the natural defensive midfield skills to slide into this role. We shall have to fill the gap by playing responsibly and defending as a unit, if the back four are left unprotected then we will be in big trouble. The transfer window comes at a very interesting time, there is an obvious lack of a focus up front, while Arsene may well be tempted to shore things up elsewhere for the run in.
ps I would wholeheartedly advise anyone with a bit of free time on their hands to check out the latest Alan Davies Gooner banter, side splitting at times

Monday 28 December 2009

Lazy Mail on Cesc

"Arsenal expect their worst fears to be confirmed on Tuesday when skipper Cesc Fabregas undergoes a scan to determine the extent of the damage to his injured hamstring."

The Daily Mail is making a story from horse shite. The truth is that Arsenal don't expect anything, they simply don't know whether Cesc will be out for a few days or a few weeks. As Arsene explained after the game we will not know whether it is a minor tear of scar tissue or a bigger muscular tear until Cesc has had his scan, hence Arsenal are expecting nothing, it is simply unknown at the current time. The Mail is making column inches out of rumour and conjecture, this is hardly high brow journalism is it?

Elsewhere I found Goodplaya's match report pretty much spot on, the way in which some people have simply called the Villa game 'the Cesc show' is definitely a little bit short sighted. In the last couple of seasons Villa have come to the Emirates and looked as good a side as us for long periods, they have at times out battled us in the midfield area. Yesterday this did not happen, maybe the loss of Barry made a bit of the difference, certainly the development of Song and Diaby was instrumental, but overall we ran the show in midfield and for most of the game this was without Cesc. Obviously I'm not wishing to denounce the importance of Cesc, he is such a gifted talisman for us, but it was a team performance yesterday, and this was the key, on so many occasions last season we didn't look like a cohesive unit as we did against Villa. We need to keep the old feet on the ground though, three points against Pompey is vital if we are to keep the momentum going.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Mission complete - Villa blown away

Not that I'm some kind of psychic but before the game I knew that if we got things right, we could tear Villa apart and run away with this biggie. Villa are no mugs but looking at the starting elevens there was an obvious class differential in the midfield area, Milner and Petrov are journeyman players, while Song, Diaby and Denilson are players with genuine talent. Having said that it was not plain sailing all the way, Villa had the odd moment of danger but overall it was a deserved and convincing 3-0 win for the side that played football the right way.

The first half was never going to be an open affair, in fact our best couple of chances came very early on when Vermaelen had a low cross shot scrambled clear and when Eduardo shot tamely straight at Friedel with the whole goal pretty much at his mercy. Villa looked dangerous for a fifteen minute spell, they put in a few decent crosses but we defended well, having Thomas Vermaelen attacking the ball made such a difference to the balance of play. As the half wore on our midfield purred, Diaby and Song were outstanding, the former offensively and the latter defensively, while Denilson was just all round efficient. There were mainly only half chances for the remainder of the half, although the pressure was building and Villa were completely overwhelmed in midfield. Not only were we winning the battles but we pressed well as a unit with all of the front three doing a lot of good defensive work.

The introduction of Cesc was obviously pivotal, but not quite as pivotal as some experts would have us believe. The game was turning our way, Villa could not hold onto the ball, Vermaelen and Gallas were not allowing them to hold up the loose bits from the long balls, the ball kept coming back at them and the pressure simply had to tell. Milner and Petrov were lightweight, fouling was their only real imprint on the game, they just couldn't get any time on the ball. A stinging low Arshavin effort was well saved by Fridel just before the opener from Cesc's freekick.

At 1-0 Villa didn't look like getting back into the game, they looked a tired spent force, Cesc killed the game by making it 2-0 with a neat finish as he burst onto Theo's excellent through ball. Unfortunately Cesc's hamstring felt the speed of the sprint and this meant he had to be replaced shortly after his second goal, the game was won by now though. The difference between the Arsenal of this season and that of last was the fact that we didn't look nervous with a 1-0 lead, we knew we could defend it out. Diaby's goal was the icing on the cake, he picked the ball up near the half way line, jinked past a couple of challenges and then curled a lovely finish into the bottom corner, 3-0 and game well and truly over.

This was no one man performance, it was a great team effort and the extra maturity that has developed over recent months was there for all to see. We played this game perfectly, we didn't throw too much at Villa early on, we defended solidly as individuals and as a team, Almunia seems to be playing with more belief which is a real plus. The midfield was where this game was won. Song was a tour de force, outstanding defensively, a rock in possession and even a creative spark at times. Diaby was brilliant, riding past players as if they were stuck in quick sand, dogged and determined in combat and excellent in his decision making. Milner looked like a schoolboy playing with adults, always a yard off the pace, while Petrov was so far off the pace I barely noticed his contribution at all. O'Neill seemed to think Villa were in the game but anyone who saw the vacuum in Villa's midfield would realise that these are the words of a man in denial over his own side's obvious weakness. Although we lacked a striker to lead the line, our forwards were lively and gave Villa's back four no time to rest. This is how we need to play until the end of the season if we are to remain in the mix, it will not be easy by any means but this is one hell of a good way to start.

Villa preview, tactics and happy christmas

Happy Christmas, and on a footballing front it was a pretty good day all round yesterday. Chelsea stuttered to another draw, the spuds could only muster a draw away to Fulham and a very lucky one at that, the only bad result was the cheating scousers beating Wolves, even then they needed the help of a very soft red card before they were able to break down a very resolute Wolves side, and frankly who cares about Man City?

Again the emphasis shifts towards the Emirates. Team news wise it will be good to see the pacey Traore back at left back, while Cesc is not 100% due to a muscular problem. Villa have doubts about the gravity prone beast Emile Heskey, but other than that have been unchanged for the past three games so any major overhaul appears rather unlikely.

Villa are a well organised side who can defend resolutely, they also play some very incisive football on the counter attack aided by the pace of Young and Agbonlahor in particular. In fact I would go as far as to say that they are becoming a bit of a bogey side for us. This is probably because we have lost a bit of our ability to vary our game plan over the past few years, we seem a little bit vulnerable to sides that sit back and then sting in the break. In my humble opinion it would be wise to start very cautiously today, keep the ball, don't worry if we don't create much early doors, simply wait for Villa to come out of their shell and then play them at their own game.

I think the aerial power of Thomas Vermaelen will help in dealing with whoever plays as the target man for Villa. Gallas will have to be on form and keep an eye on the darting runs of Agbonlahor. Sagna will need to defend well, Young loves to cut inside from the left flank and cross with his right foot, I want to see Sagna force Young to use his left foot as this is the lesser threat.

Offensively we can potentially cut Villa to ribbons as I do not think they have the most mobile of back fours. They are organised, disciplined, strong and solid but they are not blessed with the most pace at the back. Hopefully Eduardo can continue to his return to form and cause a nuisance in the box, and he will need to be adequately supported by Arshavin, Nasri, Diaby and Cesc. We will need to see the movement from Diaby that he showed in the second half against Hull, we will need to see that quick direct one touch football. If we are too slow in our build up then Villa will simply gobble it up and get men behind the ball. So overall a patient approach and don't concede first, a lot easier said that done though. Come on you Gunners.

Thursday 24 December 2009

2010 - tips for stepping it up

I know it's a popular time of year to tip one's stars for the year ahead and that's why I'm going to bore you with my Arsenal tips for 2010. There is not a massive amount of rhyme or reason behind this selection, some aren't far off being pretty much first team regulars, while others have barely played a first team game, I just reckon from the limited amounts I've seen a few of these lads might have what it takes.

1. Wojciech Szczcesny. Currently on loan at Brentford where he is impressing. This 19 year old Pole has looked the part from day one, he has a natural authority and strength that seems to exude confidence in all around him. He was top notch in our recent Carling Cup win against West Brom. With Manuel's form not 100% and Fabianski having never convinced me, I think if given the chance he may well grab it with both hands.

2. Kieran Gibbs. This young man has a grace and economy of movement that belies his years. If it were not for his unfortunate metatarsal fracture then I feel he would have made the left back slot his own by now. He has all the ingredients necessary for the modern full back, pace, strength, technique and an an excellent timer of tackles. Barring injury 2010 could well be Kieran's year.

3. Kyle Bartley. A naturally imposing central defender who got his first team debut away at Olympiakos in the Champions League recently. Despite being slightly caught out for the goal he did pretty well for such a young player in such a big game, I remember one absolutely bone crunching challenge with which he fairly took man, ball and all. He is a leader, has a big physical presence, comfortable on the ball and relishes the battle. William Gallas will not go on forever and I am sure Kyle will get one or two chances to impress over the next few months.

There are some other obvious players that I have not mentioned such as Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Armand Traore and Fran Merida. The latter three have done particularly well when handed chances in the first team this year. When one looks at the numbers of talented players at our disposal then it becomes rather obvious that a lot of them will not make it with us and that is sad, but that is life. Vela and Walcott are probably starting to feel a bit more pressure to deliver consistently now, promise will not carry one forever. The likes of Mark Randall have definitely run out of time. As to whether there will be space for the likes of Lansbury, Simpson, Hoyte to impress looks very doubtful. Even below these kids is yet another generation of talent that includes the likes of Chuk Aneke and Jernade Meade, God I'm feeling like an old bastard.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Christmas round and general rambling

I am back, I won't go into the details of exactly where the pus was that kept me tied to a hospital bed for almost a week, but needless to say it was not a pleasant week. I still managed to catch the highlights of the Hull game on the morally vulgar patient pay-TV and that did fill me with a bit of winter cheer. It's almost nice to have enemies sometimes, the likes of Phil Brown and his Hull mob are now our pantomime villains, almost comical in their vitriolic jealousy of our greater level of class.

I would have been at the Hull game but unfortunately circumstances put paid to that, having settled down with my online Arsenal-TV account I hope to digest our recent games in spectacularly boring detail. The Nasri incident was certain a classical example of how the English media react with no brain at all. At worst Nasri stood on Garcia's foot, a yellow would have been harsh, Garcia knows that he and Hull are shit, he went down to try to get Nasri sent off as that was probably the only hope that he and his pathetic excuse for a football club had of gaining a result that was better than a defeat. Here is my Daily Mail translation guide for working out what players have actually done based on who they play for, it also works nicely for media outlets such as the BBC and Skysports:

Actual event - Reported for Arsenal player by Mail - Reported for non-Arsenal player

push in face - 'Punched him ruthlessly in the gob' - 'jostled'
two footed tackle - 'Two footed gross bodily harm' - 'a good honest English tackle'
elbow in face - 'reckless attempt to blind the lad' - 'just protecting his family'
stamp - 'violent grinding of the studs to bone' - 'clipped'
dived - 'blatant attempt to con the ref' - 'tried honestly to stay on his feet despite..'
dissent - 'unloaded some despicable french filth' - 'politely remarked in passing'

Barmby then shoved Nasri in the face, something that it always a 'red card' offence when done by an Arsenal player, but frequently ignored if done by anyone else. Bennett actually got it spot on with a couple of yellows, strange that Garcia hasn't been labelled a despicable cheat by the media, something he clearly is. A great free kick by Denilson, an outrageous penalty award from Bennett, then two goals crafted by Diaby saw the game made ours. A great day's work in anyone's book. Overall seven points from trips to Anfield, Turf Moor and the visit of Hull is not a bad return.

Elsewhere it seems that Owen Coyle is keen to take Jack Wilshere on loan for the rest of the season, that would seem like a good move for both clubs and the lad. Arsene has admitted he has his eye on the market this January, obviously he will not rush to bring just any old muppet in for the sake of it, maybe Eduardo's goal can see him reborn while Bendtner's return from injury may see us slightly less stretched for resources in this regard. Maybe I'm a bit optimistic at the moment but I see many more positives from this season so far than negatives. The fight has returned to our play, we are not rolling over as we did last season, we have had our problems and a lot of these have been down to terribly bad luck, there is a unity and togetherness about the lads this year that we never had last season. I think the sales of Toure and Adebayor may turn out to be masterstrokes of the highest order. My high of 2009 was the spanking of 'Arry's Tottenham at the Emirates, while my low was the tactically naive and negative capitulation at Old Trafford in the semi of the champions league.

Finally I'd like to say a bit thanks to all our contributors and readers, the blog has been going for almost two years now, we've had over 1/4 of a million hits and had quite a bit of fun in doing it which is the main thing. My hopes for the new year? Well football wise I'd like to see the young players like Diaby, Denilson, Song, Nasri, Walcott, Gibbs, Wilshere, Bendtner, Ramsey continue to develop. I'd like to see the continued patience from supporters and some nice football, I'd also like to see video technology brought in, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini exiled to Mars, RVP get fit and stay fit. After all is said and done, it is not the winning that actually matters, it is about enjoying the process and doing things the right way, some of you will just think me mad but maybe one day you'll see. In the end it's the likes of David Rocastle that will go down as legends. Happy Christmas one and all.

Monday 21 December 2009

The Green Green Grass of Money

As thoughts turn to the January transfer window, and countless blogs and press stories begin to link us with transfer targets, and link other clubs with our players, I thought I would take a look at 5 recent high profile exits from the club and ask the question whether the grass was, in fact, greener away from the Emirates. And on this basis, its a wonder that anyone thinks spending lots of money on a player is a good idea.

(1) Kolo Toure / Emanuel Adebayor.
A joint entry for Man Citeh's double signings, which saw around £40m being paid to Arsenal in return for their services. Its early days for these two, and perhaps slightly unfair to lump them together like this, since Kolo was a loyal servant who played 225 games for Arsenal, whereas Adebayor was neither loyal nor did he give any air of gratitude towards the Club that put him in the big time. However, in the money rich world of Man Citeh, these two will largely be lumped together, along with the rest of the over-priced dross that Hughes signed. Adebayor had a bright start to the season but has faded fast, and is now relegated to the bench (although who knows what Mancini will think of him), and Kolo is doing his best alongside Lescott, as usual, but the Citeh fans are used to strong defenders who can head the ball, like Richard Dunne. Likewise, after only a few months of watching Tommy V, most Arsenal fans think we look better at center back this year without Kolo. Its been a bit of a struggle for both of them, and as things stand, Arsenal are laughing all the way to the bank with this deal.

(2) Mathieu Flamini
Probably one of the most controversial moves in recent years, the 30 Premiership appearances that Flamini made for Arsenal in the 2007/08 season saw him catapulted into the limelight. Whilst many were shocked at his decision to leave, the money on offer at Milan was apparently two good to refuse. The Flamster's involvement at Milan has been patchy. Whilst 29 appearances in Serie A games last season sounds pretty good, the majority was at sub, or right back. This season is not much better, and his recent outings for Milan are as a late sub in midfield. Similarly, he seems no closer to being a regular player for the France international side. If he had stayed at Arsenal, I would have expected him to make their World Cup side, whereas he must now be an outsider. Arsenal missed the Flamster last year, but Alex Song now looks a more than capable replacement. So if he was still at Arsenal, I am not sure he would be a regular first XI player.

(3) Alex Hleb
This one is much easier. Alex's dribbly no-score routine did not go down that well in Barcelona, and found it difficult to displace some over rated ugly kid from Buenos Aires on the right wing. He made 39 appearances for Barcelona, mostly in the cups, and was an unused sub for the Champions League semi and final, whereas he played both equivalent games in Arsenal's 2006 campaign. The return to Stuttgart in the Summer of 2009 was inevitable to a player who seemed unable to settle elsewhere, although it is technically a loan of the player who Stuttgart sold to Arsenal and can no-longer afford. Would Hleb still be a regular in Arsenal's XI? Almost certainly in my book. Despite being an infurariating dribbly bastard, he was damn good at it. Leaving Arsenal was a bad move for Alex, no doubt about it.

(4) Jose Antionio Reyes
A disaster. Jose left Arsenal for Real Madrid in 2006 ( I can't believe it was that recent) in a doomed for everyone swap deal with Julio Baptista. Never has it been clearer that playing Football Manager was no way to tell Arsene Wenger what to do. Baptista was crap, Reyes did nothing at Real - although he scored some critical goals in their successful 07/08 league campaign, and ended up being signed across town at Atletico Madrid in the Summer of 2007. Jose's first season at Atletico was a disaster and he was sent to Benfica for the 08/09 season, where he also failed to impress. He is now back at Atletico and on the fringes of the team. Jose was a big star at Arsenal and a regular first choice for Spain at the time under Aragones. However, after leaving Arsenal, he did not even get into their Euro 2008 squad and is highly unlikely to be in their World Cup 2010 squad.

(5) Thierry Henry
There can be no doubt that this move went well for TT. I was one of many people who thought that the £17m we took from Barcelona in the Summer of 2007 was too good to be true for a player who had lost his form in a big way since the Champions League Final in Paris in 2006, at which time Henry was one of the best in the world and the subject to several bids reportedly at the £50m mark. However, he proved every one wrong, won his place in the side at Barca ahead of Ronaldinho (who then left in 2008 for Milan) and was a major force in the treble winning Barca side of 2009. Unless Fifa make a mockery of him, he is a shoe-in for the France 2010 side. Handball scandals aside, TT is one of the few examples of a player who has left Arsenal and gone onto bigger and better things. And well done to him.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Tango, what's the score?

Well - I celebrated this most satisfying of wins by drinking 9% stout somewhere in London. I feel as rough as Phil Brown must look before his monthly spray tan session.

Haven't seen any highlights yet, or seen any other match reports than the Beebs but I am assuming most people say the result flattered us? Absolute balls - 5-0 may have flattered us, but given Theo put a lob inches wide and Rambo blazed just over the score could easily have been 5. I checked the stats and we had 70% possession, 18 shots of which 9 were on target and scored 3. To my still hazy mind that is a comfortable and deserved win.

We certainly were not dynamic enough in the first half. Passing was measured and half chances created for Nasri, Song and Diaby but we didn't have much menace to our football. Song & Denilson were highly efficient but we could not get Arsh into the game and Diaby could not find the final ball some of his direct running required.

Then up steps Sammy.....onto some Hull players leg. And we have some good old fashioned hand bags. Looking forward to seeing this again as it happened on the far side of the pitch so couldn't see a thing really. However I was certain at the time that someone clocked Nasri in the face in the melée - given that only Hunt (who is in fact a horrible little shit) got a yellow I assume the ref saw nothing. Video panel - you know if Eboue had been the perpretrator it would have been big news. Maybe not given the crazy world that is Premiership football these days. Anyway, Denilson scored a lovely free kick on the strike of half time (can he take themall from now on?) and we're looking comfortable.

Second half and we look a little more pumped up - I think Nasri should be credited for putting some needle into the game. Eddy worked a great chance from a little swivel into the box but his finish looked so short of confidence - a half-hearted stab with his right peg. Still - looking much better and Hull had no thret to our goa. At all. So Bennett gives them a penalty, and I genuinely do not know what for. It was probably the most undeserved penalty I have ever seen live - not a single player appealed, not a single fan thought there had been a foul but the ref thinks otherwise. Up till this point Almunia had been a worry - his kicking now so bad he passed all goal kicks short to Billy G, and when he kicked from hand it looked more like going out of play. He is a concern as the defenders do not trust him - he made one crazy dash of his line in the first half to botch a situation Billyhad under control. Asa defender that is a real worry.

As I say, Manuel us shit. So to prove how wrong i am (I'm not really he should be dropped) he makes a good save on the penalty. And to make it even more beautiful Diaby bursts through the Hull defence and pulls back a lovely ball for Eddy to tap-in. 2-0 and game over - "sit down you orange c@nt" & "tango - what's the score?" & "not worth spitting on" ring around the stadium. I think Briwn actually enjoyed it though, sick little egotist that he is.

From then on we were great. Diaby turned up as a footballer and not a clown, Denilson put in some meaty looking tackles and Song was awesome again. Arsh worked his little Russian nuts off, including some delightful flicks round defenders. A perfect slide rule pass gave Diaby his well deserved goal - keep playing at this level and Diaby will be a handful.

So to my mind a good 3-0 win, some excellent performances and moments (some classic work from the Verminator winning a throw-on deep in Hulls half by clattering their centre back then just standing there looking hard as nails). Also good to see not many players wearing gloves - I bizarrely think that is important. Don't know why, just feel it reflects a determination to win and fight and I like winning.

And it seems foolhardy not to mention Mark Hughes. So there you go. And also Rafa (please Liverpool do not sack him - it is too glorious to watch at the moment) and Fergie. Imagine how we would feel if we had been battered 3-0 by Fulham and looked in a real mess. Yes they have injuries, but so do we and commendably we are coping better. All we need is for the Hammers to get something from today and it will have been a perfect weekend. Apart from the state my brain is currently in - I now know why tramps look so sad.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Hull preview - Damage Limitation?

On paper, Arsenal should slip quite easily past Hull this afternoon. Its a home game, at fortress Emirates, in front of a passionate crowd of over 60,000 fervent Gooner fanatics. Plus Hull have had a pretty torrid calender year for 2009, they have not won away from home this season, Bullard is injured. So the odds would suggest an easy home win.

But it just isn't like that in the Premiership. Last weekend saw a series of records being broken - Andy Gray waffled on that Liverpool always win at Anfield when they score first. They didn't. Someone else chuntered inanely (probably Andy Gray again) that Aston Villa always lost at Old Trafford, that Martin O'Neil had a terrible record against Fergie etc etc. But nevertheless, undaunted by the stats, Villa won. Similar things could be said about Everton's draw at Stamford Bridge, or Spurs thrashing Citeh 3-0.

In my opinion, this is already proving to be one of the most unpredictable Premiership campaigns for years. Probably not since the debt-fuelled days of the Leeds and Newcastle sides of 10 years ago are there so many teams who "on their day can beat anyone".

Plus when you look at the expected line-up for today's game, it reads like some sort of pre-season experiment. Its frankly a miracle that Arsenal can still manage to put out a decent XI with an injury list that includes Fabregas, RVP, Rosicky, Clichy, Bendnter, Gibbs, Djourou and Traore. Plus Eboue, Theo, Diaby, Denilson, Vela and Eduardo have also all had recent injuries. Only Arshavin seems to be made of the strong stuff.

I also don't think all of the above players actually are 'injured'. Recent press articles about Theo's comeback suggest that Arsene allows the player to have a big part in the decision whether to play or not. And more often that not, it seems the player says 'my nail hurts a bit - maybe next week boss'. Andrey is a Russian Terminator in comparison.

So when you consider that our 4th choice left back will be playing this afternoon, that Eduardo and Vela are so short of confidence that they can't even get in the side at the moment (despite the injury crisis), that Theo and Nasri look like they are going to take some time to come back into match fitness, that we have absolutely no idea what Diaby will do today, then I begin to think that any result that gets us 3 points today would be a fine achievement.

Its therefore no surprise that Wenger has gone into rant mode. It smacks of a classic deflection technique, since the press don't seem to be that bothered about us at the moment - they have Rafa and Hughes to fry. Arsenal have been disappointingly good this season for the press to focus their "Christmas crisis" campaign at us this year.

But Arsenal only need 2 bad results, probably only draws, and we could be down to 6th in the table. The game against Villa at the Emirates on 27 December is already looking very ominous.

So, until we get something approaching a first XI back into action, we just need to hang in there. So long as we are in distance of the leaders by the time it comes to the sprint finish, then we will have a chance. Because just as many other teams in the league, on our day, Arsenal can beat anyone.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Burnley line up, to the wolves?

So there are two changes from Sunday. Silvestre replaces the hamstrung Traore and Denilson is replaced by the temporarily fit Diaby. The line up is Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre; Cesc, Song, Diaby; Walcott, Arshavin, Nasri. No sloppy errors at the back tonight would be nice combined with some incisive counter attacking at pace.

First half update. A good start thanks to a neatly taken Cesc goal, unfortunately Burnley then got it back to 1-1 with a slightly soft penalty. The majority of the clear cut chances fell our way, the post was bruised, the keeper tested on several occasions but Burnley held on. Cesc was taken off with what sounds like a muscle strain, hopefully nothing too serious.

Second half. A very open game of football, chances at both ends and it looks like this is going to go right til the death. Walcott struck the bar, Almunia made a cracking save from Eagles tipping a goalbound effort onto the post, Burnley could have had one if it hadn't been for the linesman. Eduardo came on and looked dangerous, almost scoring when clean through and then being crowded out when trying to get on the end of an Arshavin cut back in the box. This is going to be a tight finish.

We huffed and puffed late on, Eduardo fizzed in a dangerous free kick, a half chance here and there came and went, we looked the more dangerous side in the final stages of the game. Then at the death Gallas had a great chance to win it but headed tamely straight at Jensen. The full time whistle came, bollocks, a chance missed if we're honest. A decent performance but overall a pretty fair result. With our main strikers out, and being down to our four choice left back, we just aren't taking our chances and we look a little too slack at the back. Two points gone, damn damn damn.

Monday 14 December 2009

BBC farce, Rooney disgrace and media blackout

Despite being a Manu player I have to say Ryan Giggs is a great footballer and he has had a fine career, however the decision by the viewing public to vote him as the sporting personality of the year merely demonstrates just how bereft of intelligence so many people are. How can a player whose form last season was decent at best have picked up the PFA player of the year and the BBC sports personality of the year?

I would argue that it shows just how many stupid people believe a lot of what they read and hear, without stopping to think, engage their small number of haphazard grey cells, and come up with a decent bit of rational sense. The PFA award showed just how dense footballers are on the whole, the BBC's shows just how many moronic Manu fans are out there and this explains a lot about the way the media works.

The media is constantly trying to keep this collective of imbeciles happy by refusing to highlight the disgraceful behaviour of certain Manu players such as Rooney's routine cheating and by praising Manu incessantly. You can tell I'm sick of this horse sh*t. Let the facts do the talking. Ryan Giggs started 15 league games last season, in fact he only made 28 starts over the whole season scoring 4 goals. I know it's not bad for a geriatric sheep shagger, but come on, it's hardly the stuff of player of the year is it?

Wayne Rooney's utterly pathetic bit of cheating against Aston Villa was quite remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly it was one of the worst dives I've seen all season, far worse than Eduardo's or Ngog's. Secondly the media appear to have pretty much ignored it. Funny how Thierry Henry was pretty much a paedophile mass murderer rapist carbon dioxide producing member of the Taliban after his handball against Ireland. Saint Wayne the granny-shagging chav who behaves like an estate dwelling ASBO child can do no wrong in the eyes of our lovely media. What hypocrisy and double standards.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Game of Two Halves Sinks Scousers

Well how the hell did that happen? In the most non-sensical game of bad football since the 4-4 mess at Anfield last year, Arsenal went from dreadful, to brilliant, and every shade in between, during a relentless game to beat the Scousers.

And can I start by saying that I have rarely seen such a bunch of diving, cheating, moaning, fouling, toss-pot bastards as this Liverpool side. They really are up there with Van Nistelroy's Man United sides. Although I expect very few will agree with me, Howard Webb did his very best to control a game that could easily have seen penalties and red cards galore. He probably should have booked several Scousers for exaggerating fouls and diving, but that is somewhat wishful thinking. Gerrard and Torres should be on Strictly Come Dancing the way they hit the deck from minimal contact.

Anyway, back to the action, and there was plenty of it. Arsenal lined up basically as expected, with Walcott wide right, Arshavin the lone midget striker, Nasri somewhere on the left, leaving three tight in midfield of Cesc, Denilson and Song. Now, I am not someone who gets too influenced by scorelines, and in plain speaking terms, Arsenal were absolutely shite for most of the first half.

The Scousers started at a massive rate of knots, and Torres was put in after 12 mins in a similar chance to that which fell to Vela in midweek, and like the young bandito, Torres scuffed it tamely to Almunia. But it was a big warning sign.

After about 25 mins, Gerrard drove straight at Gallas at the edge of the box, Billy stuck out a leg that had me rising to my feet shouting "noooooooo" in the deep way that happens in slow motion replays, for sure enough Stevie the ballerina took the invitation and threw himself in a heap. Now, Stevie had probably overrun the ball, but this was a blatant foul on England's Steven Gerrard (who does not dive), at Anfield. But as the sickness in my stomach rose, Howard Webb waved play on. And whilst there are any number of reasons why he did not give the penalty, I like to think that Howard Webb was remembering Dirk Kuyt at the Emirates, or Ryan Babel at Anfield, or Gerrard himself in Istanbul, Goodison or virtually any other ground he has played in, as he gave a goal kick. It was a decision which said "I know Gallas fouled you, got no contact with the ball, and it was surely a penalty, but you are a diving cunt and a don't like you". So thanks for that Howard, a good decision, well done.

As half time approached, it became increasingly clear that the kids had done a much better job in Athens at pissing about in midfield with no threat on the opposition. Cesc seemed to be in a slow daze, Denilson wasteful at best, Nasri, Walcott and Arshavin generally uninvolved and ineffective. But just when I thought we might sneak into half time at 0-0, a nothing sort of straight-at-him free kick was inexplicably flapped by Almunia, which fell to Kuyt to shin home for 1-0.

As Andy Gray droned on about it being the least the Scousers deserved, the whistle blew and the cameras panned to Jamie Rednapp in his stupid thin-tie in the commentary box, grinning from ear to ear in his cheap looking expensive suit, and the resentful tide of hatred began to mount for everything the Scousers have cheated their way to over the last 18 years or so since they last won the league. I still don't know how we lost the 2001 cup final, I really don't.

I expect the truth will never emerge from what happened in the Arsenal dressing room at half time. There will be rumours of course, of old-fashioned bollockings, of sticking Nasri under the hair-dryer until his eyelids blistered. And rumours of older magic still. Of a quiet room, with a tall, thin, grey Frenchman in the corner, who stayed silent for what seemed like hours. The players shifting uncomfortably as they occassionaly caught someone's eye. And then, as the bell rung and they rose to go to the door for the second half, one solitary sentence was said. We'll never know what elvish charm it was, of course, but judging by what happened in the next 15 minutes, it was a bloody miracle.

For suddenly the luck turned, not a little bit here or there, but a massive piece of Glen Johnson sized fuck-up piece of luck that really does not happen that often. The sort of own goal that trickled so slowly over the line that even the Anfield mole would have had time to dig his way from the penalty spot and pop up to nod the ball clear. It was the sort of bad-luck own goal that Vermaelen scored against Chelsea.

And at 1-1 after 50 mins, Liverpool suddenly seemed to re-discover their form as mid-table ball thumpers. Arsenal at last seemed to have a bit of space to breathe, Cesc began to pick some passes, Nasri seemed to actually want to play a bit of footy for his 50k this week. And then, with only 58 mins on the clock, Nasri (i think) floated it over towards Arshavin at the back stick, for Carragher (i think) to slightly miscontrol the interception, leaving Arshavin to collect it beautifully and cut right to find a precious quarter of yard of space, and unleash Sputnik 5 into the top left hand corner of the goal. It was a belter. This bloke really, really does like playing at Anfield.

So, 2-1 then at Anfield. Who's the daddy? Arsenal are right back in this title race. Except there was still 30 mins to play, and countless more times for a Scouser to fling themselves to the ground near the box. Its frankly a miracle that the Scousers did not get a penalty, not that they deserved one, but the tango routine that those cunts put together of foul, foul, then dive, sometimes mixed in with foul, foul, foul, then dive, or just the plain old dive, was a real pleasure for the average "every handball is a penalty" Rednapp type twat.

But Arsenal's back 4 looked very solid. Tommy V was a tower of strength, Gallas made some decent tackles, Traore put in a good shift before getting injured (what is with left backs?) and Sagna had his best 45 mins for a while. There were a couple of hairy moments when Flappy the Spanish Waiter tried to remember how to be a goal keeper, but the Scousers didn't really bother to have a shot on goal second half, which was jolly good news.

Whilst Arshavin will get the plaudit for the way he belted the ball for the winner, the hero of the day, for me, was Alex Song. In circumstances where Lucas and Mascherano were doing their very best to win FA Cunt of the Year, Alex Song put in the sort of strong, dependable performance that was truly noteworthy. I spent a lot of the game wishing that Denilson would simply get out of his way, and I quite like Denilson. Song has that knack when the ball is bobbling around between a couple of jostling players to magically appear through the melee with the ball at his feet. Not even the much lauded Flamini had that knack.

In fact, Song may be the best defensively minded midfielder we have had since Vieira. There you go - I've said it. But who else is there? Apart from a couple of bad experiments with Diaby and Nasri, its really between Song, Gilberto and Flamini for that title. And as things stand, I would pick Song ahead of any of them.

And if we can get through January without Song, we might just be on for a bright second half of the season. Because Lucky Arsenal are back in town.

Saturday 12 December 2009

The intensity builds

What a set of results for us before the biggey at Anfield tomorrow. City only take a point from Bolton, Chelsea draw at home to Everton, Spurs lose at home to Wolves, Manu lose at home to Villa and Wayne Rooney gets booked for diving. It isn't just foreigners that dive you know. Moving onto tomorrow, today's results have focused my attention somewhat.

I remember the 4-4 draw from last season vividly and if we are to take anything tomorrow it would help if we were to admit that we were very lucky to get a draw and that the tactics were all wrong. Arshavin converted all four of four chances to save our blushes, as on the balance of play we were not the better side. I think it will be a tough game for us tomorrow for a number of reasons.

Firstly Liverpool, despite their troubles, have a very good record against as at Anfield and have a good record of rising to the bigger games under Benitez, remember their recent win over Manu in which they really upped the ante despite their generally poor form. Secondly I am a firm believer that the best way to win at Anfield is to defend by attacking, to do this one needs to have enough up front to hold the ball up, thus soaking up pressure by keeping the ball.

With RVP and Bendtner out we have no one who is really expert at leading the line and holding the ball up effectively, plus the back up option of Eduardo is also unavailable due to yet another niggle. Arshavin will play in the central role but we really lack the personnel to select someone to play up with him who can get stuck in physically and hold the ball up, for this reason I am not overly optimistic of our chances. What does make me optimistic is the fact that Liverpool are playing poorly, are struggling for goals, and with two key players in Torres and Gerrard who are not fully fit.

If I were Arsene tomorrow I would stick to a 4-4-2 formation. The danger of a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation is that without an orthodox striker there is the tendency for the ball to keep coming back at you because the front man simply cannot hold the ball up on his own. I would go for the obvious back five of Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen and Traore. I would have Song and Cesc in the middle, with Nasri on the left and Denilson tucked in on the right side of the central two but not out wide.

I would then stick the pace of Walcott up top with the little Russian genius roaming alongside him. I can think of no better option up front, I also think Theo is quite good at making runs beyond the last defender and would benefit from a bit more freedom, rather than being stuck in a rut on one flank where he sometimes seems to lack the craft to get past his man. With RVP and Bendtner fit I think we would win this game, without them it is going to be a tight and stuttering encounter that will be difficult to predict.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Another Brilliant Defeat

Well, the kids did it again. Yet another sterling silver exhibition of passing football, yet another good performance from a team where the entire XI cost less than Darren Bent, and yet another defeat, this time 1-0 to Olympiacos.

Before the game, I was roundly of the opinion that anyone who was eligible and likely to play against Liverpool should not take the flight. And of the starting XI last night, only Alex Song is a genuine first XI player, so that gave games for real fringe players like Tom Cruise (did well and played well), Kerrea Gilbert (did fine), Kyle Bartley (fine again), and some more start time for the more well known kids, like Jack Wilshere (ok but weighed down by expectation), Merida (did well), and Rambo (a top performance).

In fact, the only disappointments for me were Carlos Vela, who could noy buy a goal at the moment for all the donkeys in Mexico. He really should have scored yesterday. And Theo, who probably was involved less in the game than anyone else. Including Fabianski. But Theo is just back from yet another injury, so I'll let him off.

But if you had to guess based on last night's performances who two of the players who were likely to be going to the World Cup, you would not have guessed Vela and Walcott.

But lets dwell on the positives briefly, because in many ways this performance from a bunch of unknown kids was no-worse than the first team. They played some terrific football. Rambo was terrific (Cesc cannot afford to be complacent), Merida looked very solid in midfield, the back 4 played with composure throughout, Fabianski made two or three excellent saves - almost playing as a sweeper at times.

And if Vela had taken either one of his solid gold chances, the kids would have left Athens with a very impressive draw and we would all be crowing about it this morning.

Meanwhile, at Anfield last night, the Scousers again defended badly and went down again to late goals. Whilst that bodes well for us on Sunday, Arsenal are now the team who can't attack, and I am sure that the Scousers will be delighted if we just piss around with the ball in midfield. Three days of shooting practice would not go amiss!

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Injuries, injuries and more injuries

Personally I think there are quite a few reasons for our injuries. Firstly we have a few injury prone players such as Tomas Rosicky, secondly we are not the biggest size wise and thirdly because of the fast passing football we play we are liable to being nailed by late tackles, both RVP and Gibbs were done by bad tackles for example. There is also that thing called lady luck and we haven't had much of that in the past few seasons. Having said that several other clubs such as Manu are struggling with quite a few injuries, maybe the increasingly congested fixture list is partly to blame.

The injury list is impressive, it includes RVP, Bendtner, Djourou, Eboue, Rosicky, Diaby, Eduardo, Gallas, Clichy, Gibbs and Traore. However quite a few of these players are not far away from returning to action, Diaby, Eboue, Gallas, Eduardo and Traore have only minor problems, while Bendtner and Clichy are not a long way off. The problem is that when you have a few injuries, the problem can exponentiate as those players who are fit get too much game time and then themselves get injured.

I agree with all the Arsenal opinion out there that says we should play a very weak side in Greece. There is no point risking anyone key for this meaningless game. Gooner Talk isn't far off with their guess at the line up, it's more of a case of who shouldn't play than who should. Sunday's game against Liverpool at Anfield is massive. Liverpool aren't as many points off us as one might think and with Torres likely to return this will not be an easy game. Three points at Anfield would see us looking very dangerous at the top while nulle point would see us pulled back into the mix. Sunday is key.

ps the club have announced the squad for Wednesday's game and it is very youthful indeed as predicted: Carlos Vela Theo Walcott Aaron Ramsey Alex Song Mikael Silvestre Jack Wilshere Lukasz Fabianski Vito Mannone Fran Merida Kyle Bartley Francis Coquelin Thomas Cruise Craig Eastmond Jay Emmanuel-Thomas Kerrea Gilbert Luke Ayling Mark Randall Gilles Sunu. I would like to see a line up of:

Fabianski; Gilbert, Bartley, Silvestre, Cruise; Coquelin, Eastmond, Merida; Walcott, Vela, Wilshere.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Massive Relief as Stoke crumble

Morning all. And I think its only right that I make it clear from the off that any optimism in this post is largely caused by the news from Eastlands yesterday evening that Mark Hughes' despicable mercenary chavs had beaten Abromovich's moronic neanderthal mercenary chavs. And thats because it gives everyone in the top 6 or 7 spots in the table some hope that this season is not over. Until next week. And despite the sinking feeling that almost all football fans seem to have at the moment.

Manure have their worst side for years, plus an injury list that is about as bad as ours - with barely a recognised defender fit to play at the moment. The Scousers that are still alive are suicidal. As are the Evertonians. Even Chelsea fans are hesitant - the sensible blues (there are some) know they are incredibly reliant on Drogba and worry about January. Plus their second half of the season form has been traditionally poor. Which really only leaves the constantly delusional Spudders, but they are not crowing much at the moment either. I suppose if the Spudders get three points this afternoon then normal service will see Robbie Keane announcing after the match that Spurs are a shoe-in for the title this year. The twat.

Anyway, I digress. So what is there to say about the 2-0 victory against Stoke. Well, compared to recent weeks, with blanks against Sunderland, Chelsea and Man City, this was a drug fuelled sex romp with more cocktail waitresses than Tiger Woods has ever met. Except it really wasn't. This was more like the teenage fumblings of a blind impotent.

The absence of Eduardo from the match squad was apparently due to a late injury/illness, but it meant we had no recognised strikers whatsoever. Arshavin was given the central strikers' role, and to give the little 'un his due, he played a major role in almost everything that Arsenal did well against Stoke. Eboue took the semi-advanced right side role, Rosicky the left, in a very makeshift version of the 4-3-3 system, which with Denilson sitting in from of the back 4, Cesc tucked in behind Arshavin, and everyone else pretty fluid around that, was more like a 4-1-3-1-1.

And Stoke were rightly bamboozled by the bizarre hourglass formation. Tony Pullis ignored Ricardo Fuller's advice in mid-week that you just need to kick Arsenal to beat them, and dropped him to the bench. The 4 Stoke defenders had no-one to mark, because we had no forwards and Arshavin dropped deep, plus we hit nothing over the top at all. But Stoke did not adjust their formation or try and man mark Arshavin or Cesc, were content to mark space and effectively conceded possession of the ball to us and said "do your worst". Which is pretty much what we did.

Now, don't get me wrong. We did create some decent chances in the first half, Arshavin put clean through by Cesc after about 8 mins, Nasri through on the right after about 35 mins. But we barely looked like scoring. There is simply no belief that the ball will go over the line. So when Rory Delap bought Arshavin's dummy and hacked him down for the easiest penalty the Mark Clattenburg will give this season, I had no confidence that Cesc would slot the spot kick home. And so it proved. And by the way, that was not the worst penalty in the world. Sorensen guessed right and made a very good save.

Thankfully though, Arshavin kept plugging away and a semi-neat exchange of passes with Cesc put him through, Andrey kept steady under pressure from two defenders with the ball a little stuck under his feet, put he somehow neatly tucked it away. It was probably the hardest chance he had all day.

The relief was short lived however. A desperately empty Emirates stadium did not think 1-0 was enough, and sat and waited grumpily in the rain for something to go wrong. In a comedy of bad luck, a decent Traore cross took a massive deflection off Abdoulay only to hit Stoke's post rather than going in (no such luck for Vermaelen last week), but the ball fell kindly to Cesc to smash it in, except Eboue managed to block the ball on the goal line. Whilst the official attendance was over 60,000, the 50,000 who had actually bothered to turn up all whimpered a collective tear of frustration.

Rosicky, who did ok but is clearly not flavour of the month with Wenger, was replaced at half time but Carlos Vela down the left. Carlos did very little wrong second half, but also did very little to think that he is ready at this level. Wilkinson, the Stoke right back, is clearly the son of a butcher and was knackered after chasing Traore and Arshavin, but Carlos did not really take him on for pace once. And having seen the little burrito machine do a good impression of out-pacing Jolean Lescott at City, I find that almost unfathomable.

Arshavin continued to plug away, but after about 55 mins the limping Eboue was replaced by Aaron Ramsey (who has slightly disappointed in recent outtings), but Rambo was pretty excellent down the right for 40 mins, and scored our much needed second goal after 78 mins, a blocked pass was collected by the young Welshman, which he trapped nicely into his stride, jinked in between the defenders and shot nice and early from outside the box. It was no thunderbolt, but he used the outside of the right boot to swivel the ball over the wet grass into the bottom right hand corner.

It was a nice goal. But as Rambo celebrated in slightly muted fashion in the corner with Vela, my eyes remained fixed on Cesc, who avoided the celebrations and trudged back to the centre spot with his head down, eyes on the ground at all times. Cesc did not even acknowledge Rambo as he jogged back to position. Maybe its a Spanish thing, but I found that very odd indeed. My impression, at least, is that Cesc was still sulking about missing a penalty and Eboue doing his Tigger impression on the goal line to block his shot. Well, in a week where good sportsmanship has been high up the agenda for Arsenal, I would like to have seen our captain do a lot less sulking yesterday.

I guess, with a bit more luck, Cesc would have scored twice yesterday and we would be basking in the glow of a 4-0 thrashing. Stoke are no mugs and the fact that we produced a relatively decent performance with an injury list that reads like something from the Somme is no bad thing. I just hope that Arshavin manages to find this much space at Anfield next weekend - another four goals please Andrey !!

Thursday 3 December 2009

Hughes the moronic chav leads classless City to victory

Oh dear oh dear and I'm not talking of Arsenal's performance last night, I thought our young side fought hard and gave a decent account of themselves against City's heartless mercenaries. For most of the game you couldn't tell which side was made of young hopefuls and which was made of thirty million pound internationals. The difference between the sides was that class and penetration in the final third.

The behaviour of Mark Hughes and a few of the city players was nothing short of a complete and utter embarrassment. Hughes's pathetic words are beneath contempt, he pretends Arsene is a sore loser and that is the sole reason for the lack of hand shaking at the end, nothing could be further from the truth. Hughes behaved like a caveman on steroids last night, strutting around aggressively and abusing Arsene with some rather below the belt insults. Arseblogger has it spot on, Arsene's actions took a lot of courage, he acted on a matter of principle, there is simply no obligation to offer your hand at the end of game in which your opposition number has shown you less than zero respect for the entirity. The irony of it all is that the bullying Hughes has the audacity to accuse Arsene of not 'knowing how to behave', pot, kettle and all that.

The xenophobia in the English media and a rather large conglomerate of the English football establishment is blatant. This appalling behaviour that Arsene has been subjected to has happened on numerous previous occasions. In particular I recall Alan Pardew, Phil Brown and Brian Horton all getting away with murder and not getting any criticism or punishment for their actions. It seems to me that the FA have no desire at all to clamp down on the bad behaviour that is endemic in certain quarters of the English game, in this I include the appalling dissent that referees are subjected to from certain teams and players, for example Craig Bellamy's consistent barracking of the ref last night. It seems that the game is almost lawless for some people.

Overall I thought that our young side deserved to come out of yesterday's game with a lot of credit. We had Djourou, RVP, Bendtner, Senderos, Clichy, Gibbs, Sagna and Walcott all out injured. So the side played City's first team was in reality a slightly weak second string side. We competed well for most of the game, ironically we played some better stuff in the second half and this was when we conceded the goals. The first saw Eboue let Tevez come inside too easily and then Song went to ground far too easily, Tevez's finish was top notch. The second was a brilliant shot from Wright-Phillips but Silvestre was backing off a little too readily. Vela worked his socks off up front but was mainly limited to half chances, he did have one good break in the first half but he couldn't quite steer it goal wards when played through having outpaced Lescott.

The midfield played some tidy football but there wasn't nearly enough support for Vela, we had three neat small ball players on the field in Merida, Rosicky and Wilshere but no one who could hold the ball up or knock people out the way. With two of our top strikers injured we have been left well short of options up front. Fabianski looked very solid and confident. Silvestre had a strange game, looking good at times, but at others making some rather poor decisions. Traore put in a good shift and I thought Eboue was pretty handy on the whole. The midfield worked hard but were too lightweight, we gave the ball away far too freely at times. Again it was no 3-0 game, but if this trend continues we shall all get fed up with this kind of consolation.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Obsinho in Arseblogger Banner!

As i was looking at Arseblog today, the uber-blog for all Gooners, I couldn't help noticing that one of our very own (very) small time bloggers was grimacing back at me.
For whilst Arsene takes the applause in front of the Clock End (it looks like the last game at Highbury, but not quite sure) Another Arsenal Blog's very own "Obsinho" can be seen gurning back at us - he's far right in the picture and looks like he's clapping. Its about the last time he was nice to Arsene Wenger.
Anyway, with apologies to Arseblogger for borrowing his banner, its also a big shout out to Obsinho - he's had a miserable week, the poor sod, coming third last in the South London Monthly Gurning league, and got his house broken into so missed the Chelsea game. However, I am sure he will be back in Block 6 for the Stoke game.
However, if anyone would like to buy a rather disappointing flat screen TV, please let me know.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Back to Basics

The fact that Arsenal took yet another beating at the hands of Chelsea on Sunday is hard to take, especially coming at home. 1979's match report is spot on, and whilst I tend not to blame the ref for everything, several key moments decided the game. Arsene Wenger has promised to unveil to the media today his statistical analysis that shows the gaps between Chelsea and Arsenal were very slim, and I look forward to seeing what he says, but i think the stats really only tell a fraction of the story of the Chelsea game.

The stats on the Telegraph's website say that we had 55% of possession, 50% of the territory, but only 4 shots to Chelsea's 8. What the stats don't tell you is how many times did Chelsea waste possession when in a good position (very few), how many times did Chelsea get out of position defensively (none)? In contrast, how many times did Arsenal - a number of times on both counts. And narrow margins win these kind of games.

However, what I have found very telling since Sunday is that the Chelsea's first XI has played together a great deal over the last 4 or 5 years. Of the starting XI on Sunday, I think only Ivanovic and Anelka have been at the club for less than 5 years. Their team is not just packed with talent, but its talent that has been playing together for years and years.

In contrast, I would be amazed if Arsenal's starting XI has ever played together before. It simply can't have done. But the only one of them that I would not describe as a "first xi player" is Armand Traore, who put in a respectable shift down the left side.

Its not just that the Arsenal team has not played much before, its that there is such a massive gap. Cesc has made 220 appearances for Arsenal, which is not bad, but then it falls off very fast - Almunia 136, Gallas 127, Sagna 100. Its really not great. Our front three of Arshavin, Eduardo and Nasri have only 106 appearances between them.

However, why does our lack of experience count? Surely if the player is good enough then thats it. No doubt many Gooners will spend most of the next month screaming that Wenger needs to get his chequebook out in January.

Well I don't think so, at least so long as Bendtner comes back to fitness by January. And thats because I don't think splashing the cash on any new players will make the smallest bit of difference to the basic problems in our team.

The first major problem at the moment is that we take a huge amount of time and possession to fashion any sort of chance. Without wishing to pick on Eduardo, he could easily have scored against Sunderland and Chelsea, but he seems utterly reluctant to chance his left foot from less that 6 yards out, especially if there is defender in the way, or a keeper, that he can try and skip round first. The answer is to just fucking shoot. If it flies in then you are a hero. And if it doesn't, then at least you tried. Good strikers are invariably slightly selfish - they want the goals and accoloades. So long as it goes in enough times, then fair enough. Truly great strikers just mix it up with some assists as well. Shite strikers pass to someone else in a worst position when they could have scored.

In addition. Not shooting regularly from distance plays right into the defenders hands. If the attacking player has no intention of shooting, the defender maintains composure, stays up right, stays tight, and waits. Waits some more. And then either tackles or blocks. Arsenal's failure to shoot means that we have to conjure the most ridiculous series of one-touch passing moves to engineer a situation which is now deemed by Arsenal as a "good chance" - usually an open net tap in. Otherwise, we seek to recycle possession and start again.

And its mind bendingly infuriating. Especially when you see Denilson score from nothing from 30 yards against Standard Liege. Especially when you see Manure and Liverpool score from nothing rebounds time and again simply becuase one of their midfielders chanced their arm from 25 yards.

The fear in a defenders' mind as soon as someone like Gerrard or Lampard is 25 yards out, in front of goall, with the ball at his feet, means that every single defender looks to rush in. Which is exactly what Gerrard wants - the defender has just left someone else free, so maybe an easy pass is now on. Its almost an apology if an Arsenal player shoots from distance. A failing of the system. And that is a nonsense.

The second massive difference is that Arsenal leak goals like a sieve. The replays of Chelsea's first two goals on Sunday make me despair at our defending. Yes - Drogba's first was a great finish. But it came from a series of bloody awful bits of defensive play from Arshavin, Sagna and Gallas. The fact that the same trick worked twice in 5 minutes, the second involving Nasri rather than Arshavin, is a complete and utter joke.

William Gallas is a great player on the deck, top class in fact. But not much else. The fact that he is almost useless in the air meant that Drogba knew he was in for an easy afternoon. But make no mistake - the fact that Gallas did not make any contact with either cross from Ashley Cole is the reason why Chelsea scored both times. I would forgive Gallas if he accidently smashed the ball into his own net trying to block the cross - that is bad luck. But to not play either ball with Drogba lurking on your shoulder is a recipe for disaster. The fact that the second went in off Vermaelen is bad luck, but that cross should have been cut out by Gallas or Sagna.

What is worse, is that judging from the replays, Gallas actually backs out of playing the crosses. And these were not the most viscious in-swingers the world has ever seen. He doesn't even miss the first one - he just does nothing. So Chelsea just had to put two decent balls into the mixer on our six yard box. Twice. And yet again, after a decent first spell, its 2-0 down at home to Chelsea.

When we tried the same tactic against Spurs, it worked and RVP scored. But that goal infuriated Harry Rednapp because he knew that the ball should have been dealt with. When we did it against Chelsea in the second half, any one of Ivanovic, Carvalho or Terry made sure they got in the way. On the odd occassion when Arsenal did threaten to shoot, two or three of them made desperate blocking tackles from all angles, not trying to play the ball or man, but just trying to get in the way of the shot. Arsenal just don't defend like that.

Arsene Wenger is basically right that Drogba did not have to do much in the game. We made it so bloody easy for him.