Sunday 31 January 2010

Arsene must look in the mirror

Firstly I am not going to dissect the details of our depressing 3-1 defeat to Manu today. It was a Manu side there for the taking, they had a very weak back four on show and an unconvincing keeper. We did create a lot of very decent chances and on a better finishing day we could have easily had four or five goals. The referee was woeful, allowing numerous tackles from behind to go without punishment, but this was not the reason for our capitulation.

The defensive naivety on show today was truly flabbergasting. The first United goal was awful defensively, Nasri didn't cover Clichy properly, Denilson's attempted defensive effort was truly pitiful, I don't blame Almunia as Nani's ball was almost impossible to defend. The problem was that when we went behind we threw men forward in the most suicidal of manners, we were frequently outnumbered on the counter attack, it made it easy for United to dismantle. There was simply no need to throw caution to the wind like this, we were only one goal down for God's sake. The second goal showed our rank defensive naivety as Nani broke, Vermaelen tried hard to cover, Denilson's casual strolling while Rooney motored past him was typical of his pathetic performance, Rooney finished well but it was far far too easy for him in so much space. Gallas was regularly going missing up the field, seemingly forgetting that his primary job is to prevent the conceding of goals.

The frustrating thing was that this is no great United side. Arshavin could have had a hat trick, as could Song, we opened them up easily without even having a proper centre forward up there. With RVP up there we could have cut them to ribbons. Song was the only midfielder really defending for the team, Denilson was wasteful in possession and as useful as a traffic cone in defensive positions. Overall in our front six we only have one player (Song) carrying a decent portion of water, that is simply not enough to get by in this league.

The third goal saw Gallas nowhere again, Clichy was left on his own and failed to close down Park quickly enough, it was another calamity of errors, conceding a third so early in the second half meant that game was over. There was just no need to leave ourselves so outnumbered at the back, serious questions need to be asked of the management as this defensive naivety has seen us attempt suicide in several games of late, the Everton game included in this and the Pienaar goal a classic example of this idiocy.

I do not mind us defending naively in the 89th minute when we are going for a key goal, but throwing men forward recklessly so early in the game is nothing but plain stupid. The lack of defensive players in the squad compounds this obvious problem, Song cannot lift planets alone. Denilson was awful yet again and does not have what it takes to make the grade at Arsenal in my opinion. The lack of strikers in the squad is also obvious, even if Bendtner and Eduardo were fully fit it would not leave us enough depth to cope with our fixtures for the rest of the season, a striker is badly needed in my opinion. Ignore the referee, ignore the great chances we squandered, the defensive naivety that we are playing with at the moment will never win us a league title, this was no great United side and we made them look rather good as a result. If Arsene does not look in the mirror soon then I really fear for our future.

Saturday 30 January 2010

O'Neill a sad and bitter man, Manure preview and Smalling's error

So Martin O'Neill continues his very inappropriate and personal attack on Arsene Wenger, his comments do nothing but make himself look rather reactionary and foolish:

"I believe we dropped two points [rather than gained one] because we had clear chances. On the other hand it was a very difficult game because they stopped us from playing when we had the ball and when they had it they played a very long-ball game and closed us down. We couldn't find our passing game."

Wenger added: "We know what you get when you come here and we weren't disappointed. It's a very efficient English game with long balls, and very physical. They did that very well and are a good side on counter-attacking, so when we took the gamble to go forward and they won the ball they are quick. That's why it was always us managing to create chances and them catching us on counter-attack or playing on [Gabriel] Agbonlahor and [Emile] Heskey with long balls.
"I wish them to have a good run now because they are quality. They are well-organised and have a strong spirit. They are very strong physically and the four in midfield do not stop running and all these players can score goals, so they have a chance. I think they have a very good chance but you have seven teams for four places."

The reaction from O'Neill and players like Collins is embarrassing. These people would rather react like children without thinking and without examining what has actually been said in context, O'Neill is having a kind of verbal epileptic seizure. Arsene has said nothing offensive, he has just stated a few things as a he saw them, of note he has also been very complimentary to Villa in a number of ways. There is no 'appalling insult' amongst Arsene's words, I can only think that the media have tricked the naive O'Neill into giving them a story that he should have been sharp enough to side step. Andrei Arshavin is typically honest in his assessment of this mountain out of a molehill. O'Neill is showing himself to be a very bitter and resentful man, actually rather unpleasant as well, strange that the media let him get away with such a vitriolic and personal attack on another manager in response to such mild comments from Arsene, shame on you Mr O'Neill.

Alex Ferguson does not miss the opportunity to have a dig at Arsene as well, Fergie seems to think that the sun shines out of Darren Fletcher's arsehole, obviously Darren the cherub would never set out to foul another fellow professional, would he? He also wouldn't dive either, let's just ignore that booking he got for a blatant dive in the CL earlier this year, maybe Wayne taught him but obviously not well enough.

What a huge game it is. Manu will have been boosted by their win against City in midweek, Ferdinand's suspension for his vicious elbow on Fagan is thoroughly deserved and is a blow to them, I was rather amused by the FA's description of Manures appeal as 'frivolous' and by Fergie banning Sky from his press conferences, surely Fergie should be directing his rage at Ferdinand's nasty violent actions. Rooney will be their key man, he is on great form at the moment, it will be important that he is not given the room to do us damage. Fletcher is their key man in midfield and it would be nice to see him punished for any cynical indiscretions early by the referee, this can have a big impact on games.

Thomas Vermaelen will probably not be risked, meaning that it's a big one for big Sol, he's looked decent in his outings thus far, but facing Rooney and co would be a stern test of anyone's abilities. I'd hope to see Bendtner starting with Eduardo out, Arshavin leading the line would be playing into Manure's hands in my eyes. I'd be very surprised if Song didn't start in the holding role, Cesc will be alongside him in the midfield, Denilson may make up the trio but Nasri would be a good option for me. Then again Nasri may come into the front three with Bendtner and Arshavin, although Rosicky has been very useful in our last couple of games there. I really don't know how Arsene will play this one, all I know is that we will have to get in and amongst them, we will need to play with a real drive and tempo to unsettle the mancs.

Finally I'd like to say that Chris Smalling has probably made an error in joining Manure. Not only does he have to live up north near or in Manchester away from his friends and family, but he also is taking much more of a gamble with his career by trusting Ferguson to nurture him. Ferguson's record with developing young players has been good, but very erratic in recent years, I would argue that Arsene's ability in this area is second to none. Arsenal also have more space in which Smalling can develop, we have only one young top class centre back in his prime, Manure have Ferdinand and Vidic, as well as some good young prospects like Evans. The fee of around ten million pounds is a hell of a price for a kid who has barely played at the top level, it is a gamble in anyone's book, it remains to be seen whether he has the temperament to survive at the top level. Bringing in young players for huge money is always a massive gamble, for every Rooney there are more than a dozen Jeffers, Djemba Djembas and Bellions. Arsene is sorry to have missed out and wishes the player well, but how Smalling may come to regret his decision in time.

Thursday 28 January 2010

A point gained but inability to strengthen will cost us

A point at Villa park is nothing to be sniffed at, just can't help but think how sweet three points would have been, then again what's the point in wondering about all the ifs and buts, reality must be dealt with. It certainly leaves a lot of pressure on the home game against the mancs this weekend. It was an interesting game last night, slightly contrasting styles and some decent football, a mixture of poor finishing and some excellent defending meant that the deadlock was never broken.

It could all have been very different had Manuel Almunia not got down extremely well to a very firm Agoblahor shot in the first few minutes, he tipped it wide and this was a top notch bit of goalkeeping. Friedel was forced into a slightly less tricky save when Denilson cracked in a decent left footed effort from the edge of the box. The game was fairly rapid from one end to the other, Villa preferring to play on the counter than investing too many bodies forward at any one time. Thomas Vermaelen, in landing seemingly innocuously having jumped for a header, then hobbled off injured. Hopefully it's nothing too serious, he did try to play on for a few minutes on it which must be a good sign, fingers crossed. Defensively we coped reasonably well with everything that Villa threw at us, Gallas was particularly good, Almunia too, Young did catch Clichy out a few times.

The best chance of the game came when Cesc drifted past a couple of defenders towards the end of the first half, he shot low and hard against the base of Freidel's right hand post, Rosicky looked set to fire it home on the rebound, alas Ramsey got in his way. Dunne saved Villa with a vital last ditch clearance at the feet of Villa, Downing then headed wide with what was probably Villa's best opening of the game, Arshavin nipped clean through to be blocked by Friedel, Rosicky was terribly unlucky to see his effort crack back off the underside of the bar.

Overall we were a tad unlucky to only get the point, Villa never really opened us up, they put in some dangerous crosses which we defended well, but we looked the far more likely to score. The game was slightly cagey, Villa were never going to leave themselves open by playing like the traditional home side, on another day Rosicky's effort would have bounced the other side of the goal line or Ramsey would have moved out the way to allow Rosicky to side foot home. The spat between Wenger and O'Neill was nothing but a bit of media spin, in reality Arsene said nothing offensive, he just stated some pretty basic stuff that appears to have been twisted before being played back to O'Neill by some disingenuous hack

I am a great fan of Arsene Wenger, so what I say now must be seen in context, I really do fear if we do not strengthen by the end of the window then we will be jeopardising our chances of success this season. If Vermaelen is out for a few weeks then there is no doubt that we need another centre back on board, it is not good enough to have only Gallas, Campbell and Silvestre for the next couple of months, it's a simple as that in my eyes. The apparent collapse of the Smalling deal is a blow because he appears the exact kind of player we need to have floating around in reserve. We have both the Champions league and Premier League to fight for, we need more depth in the squad, it's getting beyond a joke. Even if Eduardo was not injured I would say we need another striker for the rest of the season, three strikers is a minimum number for me, so with Eduardo injured for who knows how long, Bendtner just back from a long lay off, it is absurd to not be lining up someone to fill this short term gap for a few months.

It really would be such a crying shame if were to leave such gaps in our squad before such an important run in. Buying in a couple of experienced pros in these positions would guarantee nothing, we may well end up with nothing even with them, but if we do not it will be so frustrating to be thinking 'what if we had strengthened' those blatant deficiencies in our squad. I agree with Arseblogger when he talks of the nonsensical arguments of stifling the development of the Velas and Walcotts of this world. All I am asking for is a couple of short term signings that will plug the gaps until the end of the season when RVP will be fit and when we can bring in another young centre back who can be groomed for a the future.

ps Great news that Thomas Vermaelen has no break and will be back fairly soon, also good news that Eduardo is only out for a few days with his hammy. Eboue and Song are also back in training and will surely be available for selection at the weekend.

Monday 25 January 2010

Great result for Cameroon and other random rambling

At last Cameroon are out of the African Cup of Nations, Egypt beat them 3-1, and we all know what that means, Alex Song is coming home. Hopefully he'll be available for selection against Manu at the weekend. The Ivory Coast are also out, it will be useful to have the versatility of Emmanuel Eboue back in the squad too.

Apparently Jay-Z is a Gooner and his favourite player is Cesc Fabregas, I'm not sure if the lure of backstage passes for a Jay-Z gig will help motivate our players towards title success, but there you go. The Galindo deal is not as done as some would 'exclusively' have us beleive, while there are some more baseless rumours linking us with a French striker. Phil Senderos has gone out on loan to Everton for the remainder of the season, I have never understood how big Phil has never got a run out while the hapless Silvestre seems to be ahead of him in the pecking order, bizarre, something funny must have gone on behind the scenes.

Arsene has revealed that quite a few of the players that were rested could not have played against Stoke even if had wanted them to. Clichy, Vermaelen and Sagna were not fully fit, and could well have missed the Villa game if it had not been for the weekend off. Having had another 24hrs to calm down, it was a tight game overall and we weren't far off getting a result, Sol did well, Eastmond impressed me again.

The one thing we really lacked was a cutting edge up front, JET is not a leader of the line and Theo had an absolute shocker. I really think that if we are to challenge on two fronts in the Premiership and Champions League then we need three strikers, Eduardo and a fit Bendtner is not enough. I don't think Fabianski was that bad but he doesn't look like a future world beater to me, the only young keeper on our books who looks to have this potential is the young Szczesny. Mannone has just signed a new deal and wants to push for the no1 slot, fat chance in my opinion, he doesn't look good enough to me, maybe he'll prove me wrong with time. At least we're going to have a strong back four back for the visit of Villa, maybe Diaby will be fit, then we can bring in a whole fresh front three, come on you Gunners.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Stoke bullying overcomes Arsenal second string

A few rather unexpected names are on the team sheet today. As expected Fabianski in goal and the back four of Coquelin-Sol-Silvestre-Traore, not a defense that will have ever played together before and that will be properly tested against a very physical Stoke assault. Eastmond is holding in midfield with Cesc and Denilson alongside him. Then a front three of Walcott-Vela-JET, I reckon Vela will be given the more central role but it may well be a more fluid system allowing the three to swap around a bit. Stoke line up with a robust 4-4-2 formation and the power of Fuller and Sidibe up top. A big test for Sol in his return, no doubt, but some real quality is on the bench if we need it in form of Rosicky, Ramsey, Arshavin and Eduardo.

Coquelin - Sol - Silvestre - Traore
Denilson - Cesc
Walcott - Vela - JET

Unfortunately the game did not start well, a long throw from Delap on the right wing saw a very pacey ball hurled in at a a low trajectory, Fuller nipped in and head it in at the near post, one nil to Stoke. Some people will blame Fabianski but it was a very tricky ball for him to attack given its height, it was more disappointing that none of our defenders managed to attack the ball or block Fuller's run.

There was little flow to the game early on, Stoke relying on some rather ugly direct football as usual. Sol made a few good interceptions, Eastmond was tidying things up nicely in front of the back four and winning a fair few aerial challenges. Our moves broke down too frequently from some rather loose touches and casual passes. Silvestre was lucky not to give away a penalty when Silvestre took his leg away in the box, we then broke excellently but it was wasted by a very poor final delivery from Walcott on the right, it was typical of much we had done over the half.

Typically the referee was letting far too much go. Cesc was chopped down at least three times well after he had moved the ball on, the ref played on, did nothing about the dangerous fouls and then never brought the play back for the fouls as no advantage had come. I simply cannot understand how a referee can allow players to slide in very late, get nothing of the ball and then escape without even a warning. As we grew into the game and our passing looked a tad crisper, another dangerous tackle was left unpunished by the referee Martin Atkinson. The rather uncultured Shawcross went in very late on Cesc with his studs dangerously raised, not much different in nature to the Gallas tackle in midweek which resulted in the hysterical media reaction. Atkinson's reaction? Not even a verbal warning for Shawcross, truly pathetic. The time being wasted by Delap taking thirty seconds before every throw in was also something the referee should have done more about.

We became more dominant as the half wore on, Stoke could not keep up their high pressing game and we were allowed a bit more time to knock the ball around. Just as the half had almost drawn to a close, a goal came when it did not appear that likely. A dubious free kick was given, although the arm was hanging away to the side of the body as it blocked Cesc's flick on, and Denilson took full advantage, it was cut back to him, his low right footed effort was heading low into the bottom corner, it was deflected but this didn't affect its direction much, into the bottom corner it went. A bit of pressure now built, a series of corners ensued in between another couple of late Stoke tackles from behind. Strangely only two minutes of injury time were played, even though Delap had wasted about five minutes all on his own. One one at half time it was, fair on the balance of the game but more sharpness was needed for the second half.

The aerial bombardment continued in the second half, it was certainly not an easy game for a goalkeeper to come in for, on the whole Fabianski dealt well with some very tricky situations. It was a pretty even contest, Atkinson continued to let some Stoke filth go unpunished, one thigh high lunge from Huth's studs on Vela somehow escaped a booking, numerous sliding tackles from behind continued to go unpunished. Cesc and Denilson were trying to get things going, a bit of joy came down the left, Vela and Traore gave us some pace and width which did cause some trouble at times. Walcott was having a stinker, ineffective, sloppy in possession and not probing the right channels. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas had a pretty solid game, of note he helped out in a few tricky defensive situations to good effect. Little was created, the only goal threat a belting Cesc thirty yarder that forced a Sorensen tip over.

A triple substitution came with twenty minutes to play, Walcott, Coquelin and JET were replaced by Arshavin, Ramsey and Eduardo. Coquelin had done well after a nervy first twenty minutes, especially given he was playing out of position. It looked worrying when Silvestre was hacked late (what a surprise) by Delap and went down holding his knee, luckily he recovered quickly. Vela was almost played in, just denied by a well times Higginbotham sliding tackle. Against the run of play Stoke went ahead again, the defensively dodgy Denilson was left on his heels by Sidibe, his excellent cross found Fuller's head which did the rest, to be fair this was a very well worked goal. A deflected Cesc free kick flashed wide, Ramsey's left footed drive blazed well over. Then Stoke scored again, Eastmond was wrestled over with some shirt tugging, Etherington broke and crossed expertly for the marginally offside Whitehead to slot home. Then a what would have been a fourth was disallowed for a clear Tuncay handball. Another cynical Stoke lunge from behind saw another dangerous freekick given, Cesc's effort hit the wall. Three one and the game was over, no FA Cup glory for at least another year.

Almunia, Eboue, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Gibbs, Song, Nasri, Ramsey, Diaby, Rosicky, Arshavin, RVP, Bendtner, Eduardo- these are the 16 players who did not start this game for various reasons, it shows that this Arsenal side was well below a second string eleven. Overall it was a very even game, the real difference was the fact that we lacked a proper striker to lead the line and that Stoke showed more quality than us in the final third. The referee Marin Atkinson's incompetent leniency made the game much easier for Stoke, they were allowed to tackle from behind all day without even one yellow card being shown, the fact that Shawcross' stamp down Cesc's calf escaped even a verbal warning symptomatic of the way in which Atkinson's incompetence allowed thuggery to prosper. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas worked hard but it was a big ask for him to lead the line, if we had had a recognised striker the outcome could have been very different.
Fair play to Stoke, you can't blame them for playing the dire negative over-physical football that they do, they are a small club and would be killed if they tried to play pretty stuff against us. I can't say I like the way they play but it is effective, especially when catalysed by lenient refereeing that allows their largely illegal pressing game to work. Stoke committed 20 fouls (that Atkinson spotted) to our 8, some of which were rather cynical and/or nasty, they got not one booking. Our squad has not been quite strong enough to maintain the challenge on this front, with the Villa game coming up on Wednesday Arsene obviously didn't want to gamble with the fitness of a few key players, some of whom are fatigued and others only just back from injury. Stoke away is a tough game, most of the youngsters gave a good account of themselves, Eastmond in particular, Sol had a pretty solid afternoon given his recent lack of competitive action. On the negative Theo Walcott had another afternoon to forget, he would do well to take a long hard look at himself rather than being so aggressive towards the officials at times, the manager's patience with Theo should not be infinite. Our eggs appear to be amassing in one basket, whether resting so many key men today was the right decision remains to be seen.

Saturday 23 January 2010

Bolton fallout continues and Stoke 'rough up'

Firstly at least one person from Bolton, Owen Coyle their manager, has seen sense and realised that his initial words were over the top regarding the Gallas tackle. The clear media bias can be seen in this Star article as the tackle is called a 'horror' tackle. In reality it was just a foul with studs up and nothing more sensational, as can be seen on video and from the photo above Gallas had his leg bent when he made contact, he did throw his body weight into the tackle, he quickly changed direction and got on with the game, it was just a mistimed clip with the studs up. It is unfortunate that Davies was injured as a result but we see a lot of yellow cards given every week for tackles that are far worse, Robinson's on Sunday for example. The reaction from certain sections of the media and some Bolton supporters has been both hysterical and inconsistent.
Arsene has acted very objectively whilst many around him have been throwing toys around and wetting the nappies that they should have overgrown by now. The Sun has today picked up on Arsene's words and shown the clear malice that was present in Taylor's off the ball efforts on Cesc Fabregas. If the ref could see this on video then I am sure most would have given Taylor a red card, poetic justice was far away though, Taylor was rather happy when he celebrated his penatly at 2-0 on Wednesday, maybe the thug should have saved his gloating for the final whistle. Arsene has also quite rightly nailed Sky for their gutter standards in 'brainwashing' viewers with their lazy sensationalist journalism.
Sky have a long history of highlighting the innocuous while ignoring the much less innocuous. One example of this I could never forget is a Van Nistelrooy off the ball right hook into Freddy Ljungerg's stomach, it was caught on camera and ignored. Sky's intellectually challenged pundits like Andy Gray and Jamie Redknapp are clearly not objective in their analysis of events, they will ignore leg breaking tackles if carried out on teams and players that they do not like, while if Sir Wayne Rooney or Sir Steven Gerrard jump in two footed then it is nothing but a good firm tackle. The hysteria created over Eduardo's dive was utterly ridiculous and was typical of this media brainwashing, an even more blatant dive by Darren Fletcher which the ref punished with a yellow card a few weeks later was completely ignored by our noble objective media.
The Mail's headline "Angry Arsene Wenger hits out: You are all out to get Arsenal!" gives their agenda away, rather than actually looking at their very own slack journalistic standards and useless sensationalist gutter standards, they try to make a joke out of it by portraying Arsene as a paranoid fool. The Guardian covers things in typically more objective fashion, at least not all papers and TV channels rely upon appealing to the lowest common denominator to sell their wares. Some Bolton fans continue to amuse me with their tear jerking whining, a particularly bright spark thought publishing an article entitled ' a visit to the grubbiest club in football' would not create a few rather angry responses. I think this author would do well to refrain from call Arsenal fans 'cerebrally challenged riff-raff ' and 'mentally disadvantaged', it is obviously not going to encourage a reasoned debate. This author clearly realised he cannot win this argument with objective reason, he would rather stir up hatred with his puerile insults, a bit sad really.
The way the media condone teams deliberately fouling and injuring Arsenal players in order to beat them while criticising Arsenal players for relatively mild foul tackles shows their rank bias and hypocrisy. Ricardo Fuller's words in the Star demonstrate this point very nicely for Arsene. I remember the media were strangely quiet last year when Stoke put three of our players out injured with bad tackles, the one on Adebayor by Shawcross was a clear red card tackle and made Gallas' look like a kiss on the cheek. This was probably just good old 'English play' I'd imagine, if we were to do the same to anyone it would be 'dirty Arsenal' cheating their way to victory.
Anyway away from the hysterical nonsense and onto the business that is Stoke away on Sunday. Stoke are struggling to score goals this season and if we can defend the aerial balls well then I think we will come away with a result. It seems that Eastmond or Coquelin will replace Sagna who has a dodgy shoulder. I'd guess that Fabianski will play in goal, Traore may give Clichy a break as he has only just returned from injury, we may see Silvestre and Bartley at centre back. Injuries and absentees (Song, Diaby, Ramsey, Nasri) may well force Arsene's hand in midfield, Denilson, Eastmond and a.n.other might well make up the three. Then I'd chance my hand that Vela, Eduardo and Walcott will play up top. Given our injuries and the number of key games we have coming up I think Arsene has no choice but to rest the key players, it will be a big test for the young lads though. Elsewhere William Gallas' contract talks are going well, Big Phil is set to join Everton on loan (does anyone know when his contract runs out by the way?) and Bolton fans are still indulging in a lot of hypocritical whining.

Friday 22 January 2010

Unfortunate Gibbs, Smalling and Bolton's war crimes

Kieran Gibbs' run of bad luck has continued with the news that he is to undergo surgery on the first metatarsal fracture that he sustained against Standard Liege in the Champions League back in November. From a medical perspective it is slightly strange that he has a non healing first metatarsal fracture, given that it was operated on initially. If the fracture was bad enough to need surgery initially then one would have expected the fracture to have been fixed at that point to improve the chances of it healing. Either way it is very unlucky for Gibbs as 1st metatarsal fractures rarely have problems healing and the the surgery that he now requires is a much bigger deal involving bone graft and several months waiting for it to heal. There is a small chance that the fracture will in fact have healed when it is opened up for the surgery, this can sometime happen, stranger things have happened.

The above interview with Arsene Wenger is well worth a viewing, his comments about the infamous and rather nothingy Gallas tackle are full of sense and perspective, the exact opposite of Bolton's manager's, players' and supporters' comments since the game. If Gallas' tackle was an assault then I think Bolton should be put on trial in Le Hague for the war crimes that they have committed in previous seasons against us. Rather interestingly Arsene was very coy when asked if he had made enquiries about Chris Smalling, the young and powerful Fulham defender, Arsene said it was important that nothing came out until a player had been signed, he had a rather large grin on his face, so watch this space. There is some good injury news in that Abou Diaby's calf injury is only minor, so he shouldn't be out for too long, Bacary Sagna has a dodgy shoulder so he will also miss at least the Stoke game, who on earth will play at right back against Stoke is anyone's guess?

Finally in Africa Cameroon have drawn their final game against Zambia, while Gabon have lost to Zambia, this leaves three teams on four points: Cameroon, Zambia and Gabon. All these sides have won and drawn one amongst themselves, and all three sides have a balanced goal difference of zero. I presume Gabon will go out based on their lower goals scored, damn that means Cameroon squeeze through to fight another day.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Hysteria exposes media's partiality and Bolton's ridiculous whining

Firstly Mark Davies has not sustained a serious injury, and obviously every Arsenal fan would wish him a quick recovery to footballing action. I am not surprised it is not as serious as some people feared, as it really wasn't that bad a tackle from Gallas. Paul Robinson, a Bolton player who did far worse to Cesc at the weekend, called it 'disgusting', obviously this man doesn't possess a mirror or television, a mirror to look at his own ugly face and a television to see how his tackles are routinely worse than Gallas'. The frenzied Owen Coyle likened the tackle to an 'assault', bizarre words given how mild Gallas' tackle was compared to what we see dished out in the Premiership week in week out.

The way in which Arsene Wenger has behaved has been rather brilliant, he has even apologised 'if it was a foul', something that no Bolton manager has ever done despite some of the quite brutish violent things that their players have done over the years. Various Bolton supporters have been quick to jump on the moral high ground, strange given their team's and players' history of kicking lumps off anything that has a pulse for the past decade or two. Any Bolton fan may wish to remember this game as one of just numerous examples of how their thuggish cloggers got away with numerous red card tackles injuring several of our players in the process, Ljungberg and Lauren were taken out for several weeks on this occasion with far worse tackles that the Gallas one.

The 'Gallas furore' is a creation of the media and Bolton's, it is not based on the reality of Gallas' mildly dangerous tackle, fact and evidence have been ignored, the hysterical reaction based on emotional bias has begun. I have watched the tackle several times today in the cold light of day and it is a yellow card offense at worse. He goes in for the ball, he has his studs up dangerously, however his leg is never straight, he is never out of control with his body weight, it is a definite foul and a yellow card for the studs up, that's it, it is never a red card, it is certainly no 'assault' and it is certainly not 'disgusting'. One of the most objective Arsenal commentators around is firm with his assessment and feels it is a yellow card, no more. Nigel Winterburn has also commented in the media today stating that it is a massive over reaction from Bolton and that it is more of a yellow card tackle.

The media's and Bolton's reaction have been nothing but an embarrassment. The media routinely ignore far worse tackles on players without even commenting, they have just decided to sell a few extra papers by sensationalising a pretty unexciting story. Bolton's reaction has also been an absolute disgrace. They have been hypocritical in the extreme. In the past they have been guilty of numerous offences far worse than Gallas' tackle, they have never apologised for some truly reckless violent play, they have never tried to play football fairly, there has always been an underlying cynical, aggressive and unpleasant edge to their game. Take Matt Taylor's off the ball attack on Cesc last weekend or Knight's manhandling of Carlos Vela as he attacked him by the scruff of the neck.

Bolton had a little bad luck last night but overall the better side won the game, why not get on with things and stop trying to sensationalise the mundane? I am sure the ridiculous whining emanating from up north will continue for a little while yet, I am quite enjoying it though, it shows Bolton in the true colours, a bunch of hypocrites who are very happy to dish it out, but when something relatively little is dished back to them, they go crying for their mummies.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Bolton stun Emirates and Arsenal respond

The line up saw Clichy and Denilson return for Traore and Eastmond. The game started very much a la Everton, there just wasn't the drive and tempo in the Arsenal game that should be present in a side going for the top of the table spot.

Bolton took a shock lead, some hashed defending led to an up in the air Clichy clearance being diverted towards Cahill by Davies, Cahill put it home firmly. We then had a few chances, Eduardo fired just over, Arshavin just wide. A shocking bit of tackling from Denilson that gave Bolton their second via the penalty spot, Denilson getting nowhere near the ball and chopping down Lee in the box, Taylor converted, two nil down with only around half an hour gone.

Thus far it had been a performance that has lacked all the ingredients needed for winning the title. Our defending has been shabby, our attacking play has been too laboured and in front of Bolton's banks of four. There was a real lack of pace in our play and I hate to say it but at at 2-0, the word complacency sprang to mind.

After the second Bolton goal we finally started playing. The tempo was upped, we started playing with more directness and desire. Eduardo missed a great chance twelve yards out with the goal at his mercy after fantastic Fabregas work. Knight almost flicked a header into his own net, it bounced back off the bar and away to Bolton's great relief. Finally the pressure paid off, Rosicky drove towards goal in the inside right position, he then unleashed an unstoppable rasping drive into the top right. Half time couldn't come too soon for Bolton, 2-1 it was at the break and how important it was to get this goal back so that we were within touching distance.

It didn't take long for the scores to become level. Gallas won the ball in midfield, the Bolton man went down and stayed down, the ref played on quite rightly, it broke to Cesc on the edge of the box who took it on and slipped the ball home brilliantly from a tight angle, 2-2 the score. Cesc had been by far our best player on the night, he almost got our third, forcing a fantastic Jaaskelainen top over.

The best goal came third, the ball broke to Thomas Vermaelen who belted it in off a post with the outside of his left peg, a cracking half volley, 3-2 and we led for the first time. Unfortunately Abou Diaby then went down injured and stayed down, the treatment came and he then went off, very worrying indeed given our ever increasing number of midfielder injuries. For the third time this week Fabregas was denied a stone wall penalty as he edged the ball past Jaaskelainen, and he was clearly brought down, the ref bottled it and gave a goal kick. The goal that allowed a little bit of relaxation before the whistle came after an attempted one two between Arshavin and Eduardo, the ball broke to the Russian who slammed it home from six yards out, 4-2. A majestic fifth almost followed as a fabulous dribble from almost half way by Arshavin, he beat Knight and was through on the keeper, a good low save kept him at bay for once.

This was a roller coaster of a football match and we are now top of the league. I don't think we'll stay there that long if we start games as we did tonight though. The man of the match was undoubtedly Cesc Fabregas, inspirational and at the heart of everything good we did, Arshavin was also more involved, Almunia also dealt well with the aerial challenge that Bolton pose. On the negative Diaby's injury is potentially a massive blow, hopefully he'll be back soon, while Denilson is clearly not capable of filling the central defensive midfield slot. If Arsene needs to provide the team with any motivation in future months then he should make the team watch their performance for the first half an hour today over and over again. I shouldn't whinge when we have three points though.

Finally there is a beautiful poetic justice about today's win. I am sure the media will be full of pathetic whinging about Gallas' tackle that led to our equalising goal, it was a yellow card in my eyes, nothing more. Given all the horrendous tackles and injuries that Bolton have inflicted upon us over recent years they have no right to complain. They are a dire footballing side that has been characterised by long balls and cynical thuggery, they deserve no luck from the beautiful game, I feel no sympathy for Bolton.

Speaking manure, common in football

It's really quite amazing how a lot of people open their mouths without engaging the brain. I was just listening to the radio last night and heard fat Sam Allardyce talking ahead of their second leg match against Villa. Obviously fat Sam has an average set of cloggers playing for him at Blackburn and he wants to reduce expectations but he went a little far in his interview. He said that Villa on top form would beat anyone in the Premiership, now it would be reasonable to say that Villa on top form would be a good match for any side, or that Villa on top form would wipe the floor with Blackburn, but to say that Villa on top form are the best around is utter manure. Why the journalist didn't pick him up on this I have no idea.

Then I heard George Gillette, Liverpool's co-owner, on the radio today. Obviously he wants to pretend that all is not quite as bad as it appears at Anfield, however the level to which he stooped with his propaganda was ridiculous. Apparently Liverpool's form is just a 'blip' and this is all the fault of lady luck who has dealt them a 'curved ball' portion of it. Gillette went on to cite Sunderland's beach ball goal as a turning point, ignoring the fact that Sunderland were by far the better side over the ninety that day. He then talked of Torres as the best striker in the world, well that's not a bad claim, then he started taking the michael by claiming Gerrard was the best midfielder in Europe, maybe the best at beating the shit out of people for no decent reason. Liverpool get a couple of injuries to their key players and they are left with a squad of mediocrity. Look at the injuries Arsenal and Manu have had this season, our seasons are not crumbing as Liverpool's is, they have do depth, simple as that.

There have been some good Manu games recently, the Leeds cup game was a good one, Fergie's face a joy to behold at the final whistle, then last night watching them fall at City was a good way to spend an evening. The stories coming out concerning the Glazer's borrowing and Manu's debts make for some very scary reading indeed, personally I don't think they should have been allowed to do what they have done to a football club.

Meanwhile UEFA have felt the need to produce a team of the year, unsurprisingly the strongest league in Europe only has two players in this mighty team. It's a bit like the world player of the year award, it always goes to a glamorous name from a glamorous club, how well they have played comes secondary in terms of importance. UEFA's team contains a right back who can't defend, Alves, a centre back who looks distinctly average against a good striker, Puyol, and a goalkeeper whose side did nothing of note last year, Casillas. The world and European governing bodies have always been biased towards the Italian and Spanish leagues, players like Vidic, Rooney and Torres are far better than some of those in UEFA's side.

Onto Bolton tonight, we need another three points, Walcott and Denilson are back but Nasri, Merida and Ramsey are all out. I'd imagine Denilson will start ahead of Eastmond, while Rosicky may well make way for Walcot and Traore for Clichy. I can't see too many other changes to the side. It will be key that we defend well, as conceding first will play into Bolton's hands, I hope Denilson can up his defensive game and prove me wrong.

Monday 18 January 2010

Briefest of posts

So the dust settles on our 2-0 win and we'll have to get up to do it all over again. The bad news is that Fran Merida sprained an ankle and is out, the good news is that Walcott and Denilson return. This will probably mean that Walcott will start on the right of the front three and Denilson will come in for the impressive Eastmond. Gael Clichy will probably start at left back after his long absence as a result of his recurrent back injury. The only other bit of bad news I've spotted amidst the tons of transfer manure is that Cameroon recovered to beat Zambia 3-2, damn, Alex Song may not be coming home early after all.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Robustly done at the Reebok

It's never pretty away to Bolton, it's inevitable that those Reebok luvvies will do everything in their power to put us off our rhythm, often that includes a lot of below the belt tactics, so it's always a tough test and a win there is always a hard earned three points. The surprise before the game was Nasri's absence with a hamstring injury, further limiting our midfield options. Despite some rather ludicrous banter in certain quarters of Nasri and Cesc being the holding player, Arsene opted to give Craig Eastmond a chance to impress on the big stage, something that had been hinted at here.

The first half saw us place some nice stuff and generally look the better side. Eastmond, who quiet effectiveness reminds me of Gilberto's style of play, was efficient in front the back four, he won a fair few headers, used the ball sensible and did what had been asked of him. Diaby played with discipline and was deep to support Eastmond, this then allowed Cesc the freedom he needed to open up Bolton time and time again. Other than a goal correctly ruled out for offside and a good Almunia save after Klasnic had bustled his way past Gallas, Bolton were generally restricted to half chances from outside the box.

We had two clear penalties denied, one before and one after the opening Fabregas goal, both for fouls on the aforementioned when the defenders got nothing on the football at all. The first goal came when Diaby scrapped for possession on the edge of the box, it broke to Cesc, a neat one two with Eduardo then led to Cesc side footing the ball home very calmly into the bottom corner, lovely stuff. Eastmond went close with a good side footed effort from a corner kick, while Cesc should have scored a second just before the break when he miss hit with the goal at his mercy from only a few yards out.

The usual filth came from Bolton's thugs. Taylor got Cesc's head in a bizarre leg lock in the box, rather than letting Cesc get up after he had been chopped down. Another incident saw a Bolton player, possibly Taylor again, clearly leave their studs in on Diaby as they tried to hurdle him on the half way line. Robinson was very lucky not to receive a second yellow for going through the back of Cesc for the second time with his studs showing. There was also more of his niggling violence in the second half, again there was another cleverly subtle stamp in the box, while Knight's aggressive approach to Carlos Vela showed just how unpleasant this bunch of tattooed neanderthals are.

It was pretty nervy for a good period of the second half. Bolton put some pressure on us and we held firm, with a little bit of help from the linesman and that little bit of luck that you always need. The dangerous Klasnic was incorrectly rules offside when in a very dangerous position through on goal, Taylor also missed a couple of decent chances which was particularly satisfying to watch. Generally though we kept it reasonably tight, Traore was caught out of position all afternoon, but part of this was the fact that he got virtually no support from the midfield in front of him, showing why it's very hard to get away with the 4-3-3 system unless you have superhuman fullbacks. As the half wore on we looked the more likely. Merida added drive from central midfield when he came on for the solid Eastmond, making some excellent jinking runs and forcing Bolton onto the back foot. The second goal appropriately went to Fran Merida, an excellent Eduardo chip cross was flicked on by Zat Knight, Merida brilliantly anticipated this, controlled it with his magic wands and slotted it home into the far corner, game over.

Overall Arsene got things right today and this resulted in a very nice away cleen sheet with three points attached. Bolton always raise their game for our visit and I think we did pretty well defensively in this context, Klasnic is a rather handy player too. People will always see what they want to see in players and if Manuel Almunia was called by another name then I am sure most people would be saying that he had a very decent game today. Traore was a bit suspect positionally and Clichy's return is a very welcome boost. It was excellent to see a young lad, Craig Eastmond, come in and do such a good job, I really hope he gets a few more starts in Song's absence. Cesc was awesome, at the hub of all our best moves, but it was thanks to Diaby and Eastmond's discipline that we could play him in a way that suited his game. Strangely we won 2-0 without any of the front three being fantastic, Eduardo linked up play well but didn't look as threatening as he can do, Rosicky worked very hard for the team, and Arshavin did disappoint me a little, slighty loose with his passing and often a bit peripheral. Still we're right up there and that's what counts.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Midfield crisis and Song hopes

Firstly to the good news, Cameroon have lost their first match at the ACN to the mighty Gabon, meaning that if Cameroon lose to Zambia in their second game and Tunisia draw with Gabon, then Alex Song will be coming home early, that's what I'm hoping anyway.

Song is so important to us, not only because the lad has been playing so well, but also because we have so little defensive cover in the centre of our midfield. This has been emphasised yet again going into the Bolton away game with both Denilson and Ramsey out, leaving us very short of options in the centre of the park. I can't get very excited over signing another teenager, very few of these guys will ever make it through to our first team as regulars, it's more a business of making money from developing them and selling them on at a later date.

We have plenty of attacking options in this area, even with these injuries, the likes of Cesc, Nasri, Arshavin, Vela, Rosicky and Merida can all do a job in a more attacking midfield role. The problem is that other than Diaby, we have no one who can defend, no one with some physical presence, no one with aerial power. We have some talented kids, but they don't appear quite yet ready for big Premiership games like this, the likes of Eastmond, JET, Coquelin, Frimpong et al need more time.

Bolton have the worst defensive record at home in the league, we have the best away scoring record, if only life were that simple. With a new manager at the helm and the fact that we haven't kept an away clean sheet in 10 Premiership games, it is easy to see why this game is far from a guaranteed three points. Bolton will try to press us and give us no time on the ball in the midfield, Muamba and Taylor will be important men for them.

The way to win games like this is to soak up the opposition's pressure and kill them on the counter with pace. The problem is that we are not great at soaking up pressure without conceding, we tend to sit high up the pitch with a lot of possession and then get hit on the break ourselves. I'd play Eduardo up front in the middle as he's our only recognised striker, I'd play Vela on the left of the front three as he can gives us some pace and width, I'd stick Arshavin on the right but he can float to a degree, then I'd have a midfield three of Nasri, Cesc and Diaby holding. Come on you Gunners, it is this kind of game that will test whether we can really challenge this year.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Redknapp charged, Sol's knowledge and other tit bits

It's been a day or two of amusement with an injury hit Liverpool being knocked out of the Cup by Reading and now 'Arry Redknapp being charged with tax evasion. Obviously 'Arry has been fitted up for this little bit of action by the nasty police, even so I can't help but hope he can be officially called a crook after the matter is heard by the courts, maybe his guilty twitching will give the game away, who knows. Liverpool are in big trouble, a torn meniscus for Torres will keep him out for over a month, Gerrard and Bennayoun are also out with more minor complaints. It's amazing how things can turn around, it was just last season that Liverpool pushed Manu hard for the title.

Sol Campbell has been speaking of the role his experience can play in the coming months. There's no doubt that it's useful to have people who have seen and done it all in the dressing room as the pressure mounts towards the season's climax. Sol had a decent 45 minutes against West Ham's reserves the other night. It was 4-2 in the end but both West Ham's goals were from dodgy penalties, the first a soft one for a tackle by Gilbert that took more ball than man and the second a shocking decision when Bartley took the ball very cleanly indeed. JET scored with a neat header, a deflected effort and a crisp ripper into the bottom corner when played through on goal. There is a lot of ability in the midfield area of our reserves, Merida is always inventive and lively, Coquelin is a classy yet solid player who gets the job done, Eastmond plays deep and mops up the danger, while Frimpong is a real box to box player, robust in the tackle but also very dangerous near the opponent's penalty box.

Like many other Arsenal TV subscribers I had hoped to watch this game in full and was more than a smidgen pissed off to find out that the club is not to screen these reserve games live, as had been previously promised. YoungGuns are on the case with this, and I have to agree that as one of the biggest clubs in world football our lack of a TV channel is a bit of a shambles. Obviously there are some things that Arsenal TV has done well, in fact watching live reserve and youth games has been one of their best bits of work. A lot of people would pay good money to watch an Arsenal channel on TV, it is just plain bad business that nothing has happened since Setanta wound up last year. Sort it out please Arsenal, there just isn't enough football on TV these days.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Exclusive: Eastmond signs on and Cesc back for Bolton

Before you read any further there is a deliberate irony in the use of the word exclusive in the title of this thread. 'Exclusive', when referring to a news story, generally means that this story has only been released to one news source. Obviously the story that Craig Eastmond has signed a new long term deal at the club is about as exclusive to anotherarsenalblog as the news that the UK are at war in Afghanistan or that Kevin Davies' elbows are lethal weapons.

Blogging has changed the way the media works, it is a completely unregulated form of information, even less regulated than the wildly inaccurate Wikipedia. This means that anything one reads should be taken with a pinch of salt. It also means that those who write should respect the etiquette of the web, and part of that for me is that anything that is written about is sourced.

For example the completely second hand Craig Eastmond story is from, as is the story about Cesc coming back from the Bolton game is also from the club's site. I know this is a particularly anal point but stories shouldn't just be pinched, then passed off as one's own, and these days the Internet makes it pretty obvious when one tries to do that. Sorry for boring you with my anally retentive ranting, that is something that is rather exclusive to anotherarsenalblog.

Big Sol and the media hype based on foundations of slurry

Starting with some actual news and not something just made up by various Fleet street hacks, the reserves featuring a rejuvenated Sol Campbell for 45 minutes brushed aside West Ham reserves 4-2 last night. A hat trick for JET showed that this young man is knocking hard on the first team's door, he's also been in a few first team squads recently. All the talk has been about Sol Campbell though, some of it has been rather negative, not that I'm surprised, there will always be a subsection of our fan base who are inclined to criticise unless we sign up numerous players for 40 million pounds a piece.

Arsene knows Sol better than we do, the fact that some of our own fans who have not seen him play for months seem to think that they know him better than Arsene emphasises their own stupidity rather than anything more profound. It leaves the way clear for big Phil to leave for pastures new. I can't help but feel a bit sad for the way in which big Phil has been treated, he's a top lad who always gave his all and a very decent centre back, I think he was unfairly scapegoated at times as well. I'm not sure how much big Phil has left on his current contract but I wish him all the best with his future career, there will always be a slightly nagging feeling that he could have been a true Arsenal legend if he had just had a bit of luck.

Now to the woeful stories that pass as journalism these days. Firstly the Mirror's 'exclusive' on Marouane Chamakh. The Mirror claims that Chamakh has agreed a deal with Liverpool, but then it is clearly stated that Liverpool only 'believe they have a deal ' and that they are 'waiting for his signature on a pre-contract deal'. Therefore there is nothing at all to this story, the player has signed nothing, it is based on rumour and speculation, this is not news. What a tremendous amount of hype for a player who has a spectacularly average goalscoring record of a goal every four games and who is not going to improve much being in his late twenties already.

The rumour regarding Mathieu Flamini and the spuds is also based upon nothing but rumour. 'Reports in Italy' suggesting Tottenham have made contact are the basis for this rather weak story, strange that there is nothing on the Gazzatta dello Sport website on these 'rumours'. Flamini is certainly a frustrated man in Milan and has been making rather a lot of substitute appearances, Gattuso and Ambrosini are the first choice defensive midfielders in Milan. It must be remember that Flamini is on 5.6 million Euros as year there and that Tottenham's highest earners are on around 4 million Euros a year, so any deal would either require a massive pay cut for Flamini or a massive pay hike for a lot of Tottenham's bigger players.

Flamini just won't go to the spuds for a lot of reasons, one of the being this financial problem. It's no surprise that the media churn out this rumour and peddle it as news, I am just disappointed and surprised that more of us don't learn to realise that there is very little concrete behind a lot of this rubbish. Flamini would be a great signing for Arsenal on purely footballing grounds, it's just a shame that the man is an arrogant fool who should never have left us in the first place; the only reason he left was because his poor ego was a little bruised from playing at full back for a year, no club needs this kind of character around, players should have more respect for their club and manager than that.

ps It appears that one rumour with some truth to it is about the Bolivian youngster Samuel Galindo signings up, he looks to be a very rangy central midfielder of good technique, another one for the future. It is strange how some Arsenal sites have claimed this story as their 'exclusive' when it had been kicking around for some time elsewhere.