Sunday 28 February 2010

Losing a grip on reality?

I am normally the first person to lay into a bad tackle or a bit of media bias, the few people who read this blog around the time of the Eduardo injury will appreciate this. What I have to say on the Stoke game and the Shawcross tackle may therefore surprise some of you. It would be easy for me to join the others who are calling for Shawcross' guts on a spike, I don't choose easy options, I will give my honest frank opinion objectively whether it annoys people or not.
Firstly I have a bit more knowledge when it comes to injuries and leg breaking, this is my background and training. The picture above tells a lot of the story, also look at the video carefully before commenting or making up your minds. The photo shows that Aaron's tibia broke as a result of a torsional force, a rotational type of force. With medical insight this awful injury was more down to very bad luck than the recklessness of the tackle, look how Cisse sustained a very similar injury just because of the torsional force without a tackle.
I am no Shawcross fan, he has been guilty of some absolute shockers in recent years, however this was not one of them. The video and photographic evidence all show that he went in late and hard, but he was not off the ground, he was not out of control, he didn't have his studs up, it was a bad tackle no doubt, but you see much worse every week that doesn't break tibias, the point is that you cannot judge a tackle based on its consequences because the consequences are more based on random luck than the recklessness of the tackle. Shawcross' tackle on Adebayor last season was far worse, yet it didn't break any bones, the consequences of tackles correlate poorly with their malignancy.
There has been a lot of hysterical over reaction to this tackle from a lot of Arsenal commentators since last night, there has also been a lot of very well reasoned reaction too. In doing this we will not make ourselves look clever or objective. I can forgive Arsene because he had just lost one his best young players to a horrendous injury, but horrendous injuries frequently occur without horrendous tackles. The media have been appalling in the past in condoning some shocking acts of violence, this time I don't think they have covered things too badly at all. Other than Sky's censorship of events, something I strongly disagree with, the tackle has generally been called what it was, a bad tackle but not a horrendous reckless effort.
Saying that the media have blood on their hands is unfair. In fact some of the criticism I have had on this blog already for daring to claim that Shawcross' tackle was not as bad as some have made out has showed that some Arsenal fans are behaving just like the tabloid press in sensationalising something and then refusing to listen to any reasoned criticism of their opinion. I have no problem with people disagree with me, anyone can come here and argue their point just so long as it is done politely, but please don't come here and subject me to irrational sensationalist drivel. The boy who cried wolf was eventually eaten, if Arsenal fans cry wolf too many times about the media then we will be eaten too.
What should come out of yesterday's game is that the Arsenal players showed a lot of commitment, fight and character to come out of a very tricky game with three points. Overall we made it very hard for Stoke to play, we pressed them high up the pitch and forced them to give the ball back to us very rapidly. Bendtner scored a fantastic header, several players had fine games, although the crucial second goal came thanks to a slightly dubious penalty, overall our performance was outstanding, Stoke were completely outplayed and outfought. I am gutted that Aaron has sustained such a nasty injury, but scapegoating Shawcross will not help Ramsey get back to fitness any quicker, likewise slagging off the media will not win us any fans or praise. Anyone who understands the biomechanics of tibia fractures would realise that this injury was more down to terrible fortune than anything else, let's wish Aaron Ramsey a quick recovery and move quickly on.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Poor Aaron Ramsey

There's a kind of numb feeling to today's win at Stoke after the horrific injury sustained by Aaron Ramsey, it puts the importance of winning and losing in context with life and other things that are far more significant.

Ryan Shawcross should not be hounded, it was a late tackle, however on reviewing things it was no more than that, to me it looked like he simply clattered Ramsey late, I don't think it was that reckless by any means, it was more just very very unlucky. It was nothing like the out of control Taylor lunge that nailed Eduardo's ankle, it was mistimed but no more. Shawcross' apology and tears show that he felt genuine remorse and I feel he deserves no vitriol from Gooners as this was a genuine attempt to play the ball.

It was no straight legged out of control lunge, it was no two footed horror show, it was more bad luck than reckless malice. You see much poorer tackles than this week in week out, it's just terribly unfortunate that he caught Aaron at that particular place and at the particular moment that he did. Sometimes the worst tackles cause no serious injury and sometimes the more innocuous one break legs, this was nearer the latter than the former in my opinion. Bone is strong when force is applied in certain directions, but if you get hit at the wrong angle then it can crack a lot more easily than one might think.

Glenn Whelan comes out of this with a lot of credit, he gestured to the medics straight away and stayed with Aaron until he left the field. A lot of credit must also go to the majority of Stoke City fans who clapped Aaron off, this was impressive in the modern climate. However poor old Aaron Ramsey, it's a nasty break of his tibia and fibula, he'll be out for a good six months minimum. It is highly unlikely be a career ending tackle, if his ankle is uninvolved then he'll have an excellent shot at making a very good recovery and we'll hopefully see him back in an Arsenal shirt before the end of the year. Good luck with the surgery and get well soon, winning and losing isn't important anymore, we're thinking of you Aaron.

To the Chelsea fans who booed Wayne Bridge

Dear Chelsea fans,

I have never been particularly impressed with the behaviour of your club or your supporters. Still one should never write off a group of people based on the actions of a minority or Roman Abrahmovich.

However the way in which Wayne Bridge was treated by Chelsea supporters today was an absolute disgrace, and any Chelsea fan who disagrees with this probably doesn't have enough of a brain to process anything more than beating his wife.

Wayne Bridge has done nothing to deserve the abuse he recieved from your supporters. He never let the club down as a Chelsea player and he has never spoken out of turn having left the club.

If it is an offence in the eyes of Chelsea fans to find out that John Terry has had sex with your ex-partner and mother of your children then I really do despair.

Anyone who abused Wayne Bridge today should be deeply ashamed. I'd imagine these are the very same people that idolise Ashley Cole and John Terry, how very very sad indeed.

The 4-2 victory is a justice of sorts, but this will do little to make Waybe Bridge feel much better about any of this.

Sometimes a handshake should be refused, if the person offering his hand has done nothing to apologise or make up for his mistakes then why should the olive branch be accepted, hollow gestures should not be just blindly accepted.

1979 Gooner

Thursday 25 February 2010

Stoke - a litmus test

There's no doubt getting three points at the Britannia stadium would send out a very loud message to our title rivals, on the flip a dropping of points would add weight to the arguments that our squad is not up to it in terms of depth, experience and defensive power.

A lot has been said in the last few days and some of the over reaction to Ted's very fair post Sunderland comments was a more than a little wide of the mark. Shouting loudly and accusing people of not being 'proper supporters' is not big, clever or indicative of someone who actually cares about the club. Being a proper supporter for me involves trying to be objective, not jumping on bandwagons and enjoying what I can, it's different for everybody of course.

What I find particularly frustrating is the attitude that some supporters have, they seem to think that the club or manager should never be questioned or criticised in any way at all, this is nothing but bizarre. Obviously we should appreciate what we've got, it's always easy to forget what success we've had over recent years, but sensibly pointing out some recent errors can be a very productive thing, you cannot improve if you do not learn from your mistakes, arguably this is where Arsene has gone wrong in recent years, he has live a little in denial and not seen the wood for the trees.

Anyways Stoke will be tired and it's as good as opportunity as any to get a result in their cauldron of hate. It looks like Sol will play with TV at centre back, there must be a good case for Eboue continuing at right back but he may well not. Hopefully Song and Cesc will be joined by Ramsey in the midfield three, while I'd like to see Walcott and Nasri flanking Bendtner. Injuries will keep Arshavin, Gallas and Diaby out of this one. The key will be weathering the early storm and keeping it tight for the first twenty minutes or so, if we can absorb the early bombardment, then you can guarantee that we'll be able to open them up on the break. However if we concede early as we did in the FA Cup then it will be an entirely different game. Come on you Gunners.

Monday 22 February 2010

Take the Walcott Gamble

At the risk of setting light to my own funeral pyre a few years too early, I will (perhaps stupidly) stick my neck above the parapet again.

As 1979 posted in the week, an Arsenal first XI would be a very different looking beast to the team that played against Porto and Sunderland. However, I am not aware of Arsenal putting out the "first XI" at any stage over recent years. There may have been the odd match, but nothing more than that. But the injury prone nature of our team is another topic of conversation. But what is apparent is that a club who wants to challenge at the very top of the game in recent years needs a big squad, and cannot often make the excuse about injuries. Arsenal's record on injuries is bad, but a lot of our competitors have problems as well. Infact, Sunderland were missing a lot of their first XI as well, and Sunderland are shite anyway. So I am not going to talk about injuries today.

Neither am I going to talk about what being a "real fan" means. The topics of discussion on this blog are not simply blind loyalty to the cause. If you are unable to speak in a normal and civilized way about the state of the Arsenal team, its pros and cons, the players who are doing well and those that are not, then look elsewhere. However, whilst we take a relatively circumspect view on how we are doing at the moment, this blog has no particular causes to campaign for. Asking questions like "Should we accept £30m for Cesc?" or "Is Wenger still the man for the job?" does not pre-suppose an answer. The idea is not that everyone will agree with us. Its not a popularity contest. But we would ask that you try and read what we say before launching into purile "you're not proper fan" tirades. However, if that is what you feel, then so be it. The world is full of morons. So congratulations.

Instead, I am going to speak about what we are doing up front at the moment. Because the goals have dried up for Arsenal in recent games - only 6 goals in our last 7 games, which is very different from the start of the season.

There are a number of factors, it was a tough run of games, and the injury to RVP is a massive factor. Nikki B was also missing for 3 months and used sparingly, and Eduardo seems unable to stay fit. But I said I wasn't going to speak about injuries. And fair enough, becuase there are plenty of other 'forwards' in the squad - Arshavin, Nasri, Vela, Rosicky and Theo.

And a lot of the forward play comes through Cesc, who has chiselled himself out a free role in the heart of midfield. Its a role that I don't think Wenger has bestowed on any other player. In many ways, the entire purpose of this 4-3-3 system seems to be to give Cesc that role.

Now whilst Cesc is having a good season, there is not much happening around him at the moment. Cesc played almost as a centre forward against Sunderland in the second half, and I think its great to see him getting in the box so much. But the rest of the forward line is full of potential, but otherwise its ifs, buts and maybes, with not a great deal of final product at the moment.

However, I think it will come. We did a lot of good stuff down the right against Sunderland. The threat of Theo's pace opens the game up in a way that Nasri, Arshavin, Rosicky etc rarely offer. A couple of games with Theo on the right and Nikki B in the middle will lead to more goals, I am quite sure of if. Give them at least 2 or 3 more games before making any judgments. But one of our problems at the moment is that we almost never put the same XI out twice, let alone for 3 or 4 games. I sincerely hope that Theo now gets a run in the team - lets see. Eboue should also keep his place. The Ivorian Mystery Man was terrific on Saturday.

But it will be difficult for Wenger to resist the temptation to rotate the players again, and you would expect a fit Diaby to play ahead of Ramsey, but will he also want to find a spot for Rosicky? I suspect he will, but like Nasri, Rosicky does not like getting much chalk on his boots and loves to come inside. The temptation might therefore be to go for a front line of Nasri, Bendnter and Rosicky, which could work just fine, but I really think Theo Walcott has the ounce of magic that is worth a gamble.

Theo's instinct is to look at the space beyond the back line, whereas Nasri, Rosicky and Bendtner like the ball to their feet, usually in front of the back-line. Now whilst it would help if Nikki B looked to stay on the shoulder of the centre-backs more often, Theo's movement gives an option that the rest don't really offer.

Ljungberg used to move beautifully along the back line waiting for Bergkamp to slide one through. Theo is not as composed on the ball as Freddie, but if Theo continue to make the runs then Cesc can play the passes. With the added trickery that Eboue throws in, its a thought that would scare the daylights out of most back lines.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Sunderland paper over the cracks

There is a serious danger in viewing yesterday's 2-0 win over Sunderland as evidence that Arsenal are moving in the right direction again after the abysmal defensive performance in Porto on Wednesday night.

The stats for the game make for pleasant reading (and we know how much AW loves his stats) - we had an incredible 68% of the possession and a 52% territorial advantage. We had 16 shots (9 on target) to Sunderland's 6 (3 on target) and we completed 81% of our passes to Sunderland's 62%. So on that basis it would seem we thrashed them good and proper. Which just goes to show that few conclusions based entirely on statistics will be reliable.

Large periods of the game were very nervous for Arsenal, especially at the last 15 mins when our solitary goal did not look enough. Steve Bruce, to his credit, set his team up to counter-attack us, starting with both Jones and Bent up front, with some lively players in midfield such as Richardson and ex-striker Campbell. It was a sensible script for pug-face Bruce to follow, and when the highly-rated Kenwyne Jones was put through by Richardson after about 30 mins, it looked the familiar story. Amazingly, however, Alumunia was out quickly and forced Jones to shoot first time and the ball went wide.

Now that little incident summed Arsenal up, and also provides a reminder that you need some luck. Richardson had knicked the ball from Ramsey, who was caught in a daze. If Alumunia had done worse, or if Jones had done better, then Sunderland would have gone in half-time at 1-1 and would have probably deserved it. If Denilson had done the same as Ramsey, he would have been shredded by a pack of rabid dogs.

Anyway, back to more pleasant thoughts. Almost all of Arsenal's good work came down our right side. Eboue was nominally the right-back and was simply out-standing going forwards, the few defensive duties also shouldered comfortably. But this also allowed Theo Walcott to prosper in the wide right position, because unlike Sagna, Eboue can actually read the game further up the field and play a pass into the right areas for Theo to run onto. And boy is he quick. Just don't ask him to change direction or do anything with it other than run and shoot.

This season's chapter in the Mysteries of Emmanuel Eboue is a interersting one. Sporadically used by AW this year, Eboue has rarely figured in the team whereas he played in virtually every position last year. He still likes a dive, he is still a crazy loon and he is clearly not as defensively minded as Sagna, but the Eboue has put in performances from both right-back and right-wing this year that make it very hard to understand why he has not been used more.

Which brings me neatly onto the focus of my current frustration. The Nick Faldo of football that is Samir Nasri. Never have a seen a player who takes fewer risks with what he is trying to do. I know a lot of people like Nasri, and it is certainly harder to find major howlers in his performances than players like Denilson or Fabianski, but I reckon Samir Nasri is the toast of right backs up and down the country - a charming little fellow who never gives them a hard time.

And for the record, I will highlight the two moments of genuine brilliance from Nasri yesterday. In the first half he took a firm pass from Clichy and under pressure from Hutton (the lanky spud), brilliantly flicked it past him, spun on to his own pass, charged down the line and crossed to the back post. Great stuff. In the second half, he drifted in-field onto the edge of the box, looking for all the world like he was going to pass, but deftly flicked it into the box past the defender, charged through and then crossed it when a shot was probably on.

But that is a low return for our left winger against a player like Hutton, who is dreadful. Theo, on the other hand, was tearing up the right wing, involved in at least half a dozen moves that are worthy of note and if he could produce a better final ball, would have led to an impact on the scoreline. And lets not pretend for a minute that Theo is the finished article at this stage. Indeed, he is miles off it.

But the reason why I liked Theo and Eboue yesterday was that they, on several occassions, took their men on and tried to make something happen, rather than always play the percentage ball. Now normally, the percentage ball is the right option, but go back to the stats at the top of this page - we had 68% of the possession and only had 16 shots in the game. That is actually quite poor.

The other thing that infuriates me about Nasri is that he drifts inside almost constantly, thus forcing someone to play wider outside him. And with Nikki B on the pitch, this invariably means that you end up with Bendtner on the touch line crossing for the midget Nasri to try and head it, far more often than the other way round. I counted two crosses from Nasri yesterday in the whole match. Again, that is a low impact from our left winger.

What is also frustrating is that it is so damn simple for everyone to see that Nasri should stay left, and people will regularly criticise Bendtner for thinking he is Henry and trying to play on the wing, but it really is not Nikki's fault. As a striker, he is trying to create some movement for his midfielders to work off, and with Nasri playing so narrow, the space is where Nasri should be on the wing. I hesitate to guess that AW encourages them to do this.

The other point of note that Cesc gave himself an absolutely free role yesterday, playing as far up the field as he could, with Ramsey and Song behind him. And he did not have a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but playing so far up the field he has far less chance to influence the game in midfield, to pick the ball up and do something with it where it actually matters.

Because for 85 minutes of the game yesterday, this was pretty, pretty Arsenal football with very little bite. Take Theo and Eboue out the game and we created very little indeed. And be thankful that Kenwyne Jones missed a sitter.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Porto rage wearing off.....slowly

I was just thinking to myself, imagine in an ideal world if we had no injuries then the line up against Porto could be something like this:

Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Gibbs
Song Cesc Diaby
Bendtner RVP Arshavin
I couldn't see this side losing to last night's Porto side. Porto were there for the taking in my opinion, they looked vulnerable at the back for most of the game, just being able to throw on an orthodox striker for the last fifteen might have made a difference to the scoreline, but we didn't even have the resources for that on the bench. Ignoring the stupid goals we conceded it was far too easy for Porto to get behind us and threaten the goal, they almost got through to score twice in the first couple of minutes for example. Clichy was again worrying poor, so much joy came for Porto down our left, while Denilson's attempts to defend were poor at best.
Denilson. For me Denilson is at best a passenger, not only does he lack the knack to be in the right place at the right time, but he also cannot defend even when he is correctly positioned, his distribution was also weak last night. Diaby can be forgiven the odd slack pass as he does so much good work defensively and offensively, he can hold men off, he wins tackles with his strength and he can dribble when needs be.
Underperformers. Clichy has not looked solid for a long time now, the big worry for me about his form is that it is nothing to do with pace or fitness, it is his basic decision making and positioning. I just haven't see much improvement from Clichy and Denilson in the last couple of years, how much time should they be given? I would argue that they shouldn't get much more, they are hardly lowly paid kids are they. Fabianski has never convinced me he's got what it takes, I can't see him lasting at Arsenal, one error is bad luck, two can be very bad luck, when it becomes a trend maybe it's a sign that you're just not up to it. Another young Pole seems destined for greater things me thinks.
Squad depth or not. The lack of strength in depth at the back is obvious, we are relying on a 36 year old Sol Campbell at the moment who may I add did pretty well overall, without him we are down to Mikel Silvestre and then kids, this is not the sign of strong squad. Kyle Bartley must have a chance when he returns from his loan spell in Sheffield. The lack of depth in terms of defensive midfielders and strikers is a shambles. Song and Diaby are the only experienced players who can defend, meaning that when they get injured we are shafted and having to draft in the hapless Denilson and the youthful Eastmond, this situation should not have been allowed to develop. The same is true for our striker situation, we have only two strikers and one seems to be perpetually injured, Arsene's decision not to bring in a stop gap in the window must be seen as a blatant error.
Overall given our club's wage bill I think there are far too many mediocre players in our squad who provide very little in terms of useful playing output for not insignificant amounts of money. Injuries aside, there are some glaring weaknesses in our squad that have been obvious for ages yet have never been addressed. Wenger needs to wake up and smell the mustard, time is running out, patience must have its bounds.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Porto punish sloppy Arsenal

My mid match comments can be seen below, if ever a ninety minutes summed up our qualities and weaknesses then this was it. Two awful bits of defending cost us two shocking goals. No matter how good we looked at times, no matter that we were in the ascendancy when Porto scored their second, you simply will not win anything defending like complete and utter numpties.

Fabianski must shoulder a lot of the blame but it would be unfair to blame one man. At 2-1 down when Porto stuck men behind the ball we didn't look likely enough to get back into the game, there were a few decent moments but there was not enough clear cut. Denilson is not an awful player by any means, he'd look good at a mediocre Premiership club, but the lad is simply not Arsenal quality. Clichy is also looking rather dodgy, even though he has been out for some time, his lapses have become a trend over the last couple of seasons.

This was no world beating Porto side, they were distinctly average in my opinion, so the way in which they took our defence apart at times was very worrying. Sol did very well but where is the strength in depth in our squad, it just isn't there is it. The fact that we had only one fit striker meant that although Bendtner did well, he didn't get enough support and there was no option to bring another proper striker on later on when we desperately needed a goal.

Maybe the back pass was accidental, maybe Rosicky should have had a penalty, maybe we did lose because of two awful goalkeeping errors, maybe we'll still get pass this rather average Porto side, I don't know. What is clear is the fact that the trends are there for all to see and they point to the fact that we have systemic defensive problems that have not been addressed, the spaces left in front of our defense at times were gargantuan, we also do not have the right balance of talent in our squad. I know this is very negative, it does come as a bit of a knee jerk response, but if we had equalised it really would have just papered over the cracks, we are not good enough in some ways and I think we need to face that.

Arsenal - Porto

So the line up was almost as expected. Fabianski and the expected back four. Denilson in the midfield, with Cesc and Diaby. Then up top Rosicky and Nasri on the flanks of Bendtner. My first thoughts are that we do not have enough pace in the attacking positions and that Denilson needs to do more than he has done in many games of late.

There were a couple of hairy early moments, Hulk missing a particularly good chance from a neat cut back. This heralded a sign of the defensive dodgyness that was to come when Clichy was skinned by Varela, his poor cross was then completely blundered into the net by Fabianski, a truly terrible error. Strangely this seemed to stir us into action, while looking fragile defensively we also looked potent going forward.

Nasri was lively and beating his full back with ease, Cesc was finding some space, Bendtner came very close with a powerful deflected effort. Then from the resultant corner Vermaelen flicked on, Rosicky cleverly headed the ball back square and Sol Campbell was in the right place to react with his bonce from point blank range, one one and an important away goal. This was not going to be a dull game, both teams seemed to be going all out for goals while neither seemed to be able to defend solidly.

The action did slow a little as the half wore on, Fabianski will have taken heart from an excellent low stop from a belting twenty five yarder destined for the corner of the net, Bendtner forced a good save with a flicked header. The pressing and work rate of the midfield and front three was most impressive, Nasri and Rosicky were excellent offensively and defensively, Diaby was the outstanding midfielder, Sol equipped himself well. As the half drew to a close we seemed in the ascendancy, Porto was slightly running out of ideas.

The second goal we conceded was a complete and utter shambolic disgrace. The ref cannot be faulted, Campbell touched it back to Fabianski who stupidly picked it up, free kick and who could argue, well we did and in the meantime Porto took the free kick and slotted home, awful, truly f*cking awful and I can't blame the referee. What I can blame the referee for is a clear penalty we should have had moments earlier as Rosicky was taken down from behind having got past his man with ease.

It was such a bad goal to concede and at the time we were looking the better side, Porto were generally restricted to long range efforts, although Fabianksi did have to make a couple of decent stops. Denilson was frustrating, trying hard but too weak in the tackle, he also took too many touches on several occassions, resulting in the space running out and the ball being given away. Clichy was also erratic, getting caught out of position far too frequently and repeatedly giving the ball away with stupid passes.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Porto test

It will be interesting to see how we line up tomorrow night. Injuries to Almunia, Gallas, Song and Arshavin see Arsene's options severely limited. The real problem for me is the missing Song, as it this area where we really lack quality cover. Obviously Fabianski and Campbell will come in at the back. Now I shall digress

If I were Arsene then I would be tempted to switch to a 4-4-2. I'd play the obvious back four, then Eboue could play a slightly roaming role on the right of midfield, with a license to drift inwards a little to help out the central pair of Diaby and Cesc. I'd then slot Nasri on the left, then a front two of Eduardo and Bendtner would do nicely. I am not Arsene and many of you are very thankful for that, so I suspect he shall stick with 4-3-3, Denilson will come into the midfield, it really is make or break for him now, I would then guess that we would see a front three of Theo, Bendtner and Nasri.

This is a big game in many ways, not only does a lot of our season hinge upon this cup competition but if certain players do not step up then there will be some rather big question marks hanging over their heads in the summer. Porto will make it tough, they will be useful in possession as always, the most important thing in my opinion is that we go there to win, we must have enough men up the pitch so that we do not simply lose the ball because our lone striker is too isolated, we must attack, attack is the best form of defence especially when one isn't that great at defending.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Medical misinformation and a waxwork danger

Being a man of some medical knowledge I always have a little fun, sad I know, it trying to work out what injuries players have sustained from the scanty amounts of information that the clubs feed to the press. Many Gooners will be shedding a tear for young Ashley Cole who has apparently broken his ankle. Chelsea are brief in detail and say he will be out for three months. This strange, I can hear you all saying why is this strange? Well any ankle fracture that doesn't require an operation will generally only keep footballers out for two months or so, and it appears that Ashley Cole hasn't had an operation. I suspect Chelsea are deliberately overestimating the time he'll be out for, I shall wait and see.

It is easy for the average supporter to get scared when long medical words are thrown around when referring to fairly mild injuries that would never have been scanned in the past. It is common sense that the injuries sustained by Alex Song and Arshavin were not that serious, this is because Arshavin ran off the pitch with the mildest of limps and Song finished the match. If Arshavin's hamstring was a bad one then he would have limped off in a much more laboured manner, while if Song's medial collateral ligament tweak had been a bad one he would not have been able to finish the game with it. It is never easy to predict the exact times players will be out for even when one has access to the full information, but it is hard to see Song or Arshavin being out for more than a couple of weeks or so.

I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate Abou Diaby on a great performance last night. He not only provided some flair and creativity, but more importantly he showed the desire, work ethic and determination to be a continual thorn in Liverpool's side. Over the last few months he has really started to deliver consistently, he has had several outstanding performances, there has been more discipline and the stupid errors are far more few and far between. I do like to be a smug git and say I told some people so, but I have always thought Diaby would come good, I now think he really is and he is winning a lot of doubters over. One man who also deserves a bit of credit for last night's win is Manuel Almunia, if one looks for fault in a goalkeeper one will always find it, I think Manuel has been scapegoated at times in the last few months, personally I think he's doing ok and we should get behind him more as supporters, as confidence is so key for playing in this position.

On the week that a waxwork model of Steven Gerrard was unveiled, I kid you not, it is rumoured that the actual one in Madame Tussaud's has been programmed to attack unsuspecting members of the public without provocation with repeated right and left hooks. What this violent convict has done to deserve a place in this hall of fame is beyond me, maybe they'll put him alongside Tony Blair in the c*nts section. While we're on the subject of high order tossers, have a look at 'arry redknapp's comments just before we beat Liverpool and the spuds lost to Wolves, 'back in the pack' are we 'arry?

Liverpool and Gerrard's pathetic antics on the pitch and after the match does nothing but make them look like a bunch of moaning ninnies. Cesc indeed had his hands up, but they were protecting his face, it was outside the box and the free kick was given after two (yet again) dives by Liverpool players. It was even less of a penalty than the one that was blasted into Vermaelen's body at 100mph from point blank range. Gerrard thought it was 'crazy'. Well Steven you uneducated moron, I would call it crazy that a violent thug such as yourself is allowed to get away with routine cheating and leg breaking tackling by the media. Manu fans can see that Gerrard gets away with murder, it is pretty sad that this scumbag is pretty much idolised by our media and is therefore untouchable, it says a lot if people are going to look up to scum like Steven Gerrard.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Justice over scouse team of referees

I was pleased to see Bendtner start, having a focus up front is so important, we had really lacked this in recent games with both Eduardo and Bendtner out. Having Diaby and Song in tandem in the midfield also filled me with confidence, we look a better side with these two breaking things up and getting stuck into the opposition. Liverpool lined up as predicted, two holding players and a lone striker in Ngog.

There was just a real drive to our game that was not there against United, we played with more tempo and pace, there was far more pressure on the ball and despite no breakthrough coming in the fist half, there was just something different in the air, the pressure seemed to be building and the chances started to flow a little more freely. Bendtner came close, Arshavin was finding space off the big Dane, Rosicky was probing the inside channels. When it came, the goal was a thumper, Bendtner held the ball up well and played it to the overlapping Rosicky, a perfect cross then found Diaby storming in at the back stick, his header tumped home, one nil to the Arsenal it was.

Nasri had been replaced by Rosicky, Walcott came on for Arshavin and then finally the excellent Bendtner was off for Bacary Sagna. The game became a touch nervy as one would have expected, Liverpool looked long and direct, Gerrard threw himself to ground expectantly as he loves to do. Cesc almost scored with a majestic volley, it flew rapidly over the bar. Almunia then produced a fantastic tip over from a stinging Babel twenty five yarder.

Liverpool were an utter disgrace in the last few minutes, a ridiculous Gerrard dive was followed by a theatrical Kuyt dive, the compliant referee gave Liverpool the free kick they didn't deserve, they moved the ball forward and forward from where the 'foul' was committed, the weak Webb then booked Cesc as he had been told to do this by the pathetic Liverpool players who seemed to think that they were born to officiate games themselves. The free kick then struck Cesc's uplifted arm, Webb missed it, in the end justice was done.

Overall it's four points out of twelve, not great but not a complete write off. All in all the only game that really disappointed me was the loss to Manu, not just the fact that we lost but the manner of the capitulation. Tonight was so much better, Liverpool fought hard and were worthy opponents but in the end the we deserved the three points, we played the better football, opened up their defence far more freely than they opened ours and created the better chances.

It was a particularly satisfying win given the way the Liverpool players behaved throughout, there is a real niggling undercurrent of cheating in the way that their players were constantly trying to tell the referee what to do at every turn, this was epitomised by their thuggish cheat of a captain, Steven Gerrard, if ever a man deserved to be desribed as a c*nt then he is that man. Their reaction at the final whistle said it all really, embarrassing stuff. I cannot stand teams who appeal for every ball to hand in the box as if it should be a penalty. With Chelsea and Manu dropping points it was a fantastic evening for us, add to that the mighty Wolves sinking 'Arry's hapless spuds. Great stuff Gunners, keep that going and you never know what may happen.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Defending, spinning and hopefully winning

Having been directed to this Lee Dixon piece on the beeb website I felt the burning need to share, it really sums up what a lot of us have been suspecting about our defending or lack of it. There may been some rather systemic problems in our setup as a club, I suspect we play a bit too much mini-football that focuses on close control and passing, while defending is ignored. As Lee ponders, who is coaching our players defensively, are they doing the right stuff in training, is there enough focus on the back four as a unit? I wonder, I really do.

Being the ultra optimist, at least we should be able to learn from these mistakes, Arsene wants the team to unite and show solidarity in the face of this criticism. I could not agree more with Arsene when he spoke about the media's pathetic spinning of his press conferences, they have now dishonestly misrepresented his words following thre Villa and Chelsea games, it is cheap and shallow of the media. At least Ancelotti was wise enough not to react like a hysterical Jack Russell puppie as O'Neill had done the week before. Arsene also spoke of the made up rumour of him wanting to sign Sorensen, what a surprise that was complete and utter horse manure. Elsewhere it will be interesting to see how Kyle Bartley gets on at Sheffield United on loan, if he can get some first team action under his belt then he may force his way into the first team squad for next year. Jack Wilshere is getting a run out for Bolton at the City of Manchester stadium tonight.

Liverpool are going to come and play defensively, that is pretty much guaranteed. They will shield their back four with Macherano and Lucas, they will then have a trio (Maxi, Gerrard, Kuyt) in front of these two defensive players, with probably Ngog up top. I think we have to start with Bendtner even if he can only last 50 or 60 minutes. This would allow Arshavin to drop to his favoured role on the left, Walcott should get a run on the right, despite the criticism I thought he put in an industrious shift against Chelsea. Song, Cesc and Diaby will make up the middle three. Eboue must be pushing Sagna for a starting slot and given Clichy's form, Traore can't be far off the left back slot. Liverpool will love if we play without an orthodox striker, it will play right into their hands, I really hope we don't leave Arshavin up front on his own again.

Monday 8 February 2010

Tedious exchange and how long til things change?

Whatever Arsene said, and frankly most of it was very reasonable, I don't think it merited the response that it has received from Michael Ballack. Although Ballack had a point in that Arsene does look like he is making excuses when pointing out just how dire and negative Chelsea are as a football side, the way he makes the point does make him look rather aggressively defensive of Chelsea's style, does someone protest a bit too much? Certainly the mild mannered Ancelotti hits the spot where the repugnant German fool does not:

"Maybe Arsenal had more possession than us but that is not football. Football is about results."

It is a simple fact that we will not win the big games when defending like a collective of lemons. Chelsea are a rather vile bunch of individuals that have been cobbled together into a very effective football team. They may not be nice, they may not be pretty, they may cheat and dive, they may be boring to watch a lot of the time, but they win matches and are very hard to beat. It must be added that their side was assembled at huge cost, they have numerous twenty million pound players and a monstrous wage bill.

For an excellent game summary check Goodplaya's piece, his words on Mike Dean's performance are perfect, this little weasel had no idea how to impose discipline upon the game, some of the cynical shirt tugs and fouls that Chelsea got away with were a disgrace, it started from the first minute when Ballack hauled back Cesc in a dangerous position, a yellow then would have set the tone.

The general point still stands though, we are too easy to score against, we lack the players and the tactical variation to be able to really challenge a side like Chelsea. If you can't beat them then you should show them the respect they deserve, they are a damn effective bunch of c*nts, that is the most respect either I or Arsene should show them. But we should learn from them just what we lack and then address it.

We have big problems at the back and they have been present all season. We are slack from set pieces, we are naive to the counter attack and we make too many slack errors. The shield to the back four is too reliant on Song and Diaby, it is not good enough to have only two midfielders in your squad who can defend. We have too many midgets and not enough muscle in the squad, we need a balance so that we can defend with our backs to the wall when needed, so that we can use different tactical approaches against different opponents, so that we can change our approach when Plan A is not working. Our lack of strikers is also a very preventable problem, why was someone like Benjani not brought in as short term cover for the rest of the season. Only two injury prone strikers is not enough for a battle on two fronts. I could go on but I think some fairly substantial changes need to be made, not only to change the balance of the squad, but also to send the message to some underperformers that enough is enough.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Defensive frailties wreck a decent performance

Firstly it was a big improvement on last week's showing, there was a lot more hunger and fight from the off, Chelsea were made to look second best in footballing terms for long periods, we pressed them effectively, we were more robust in the tackle and we showed some desire. Unfortunately what I thought was a pretty decent team performance was wrecked by the two very sloppy goals that we conceded early on.

The first saw Terry win a header easily from a corner, he flicked it onto Drogba who tapped home at the far post from about three yards out, Song had lost Drogba and the man on the post was not in evidence. It was a cheap goal to concede. The second was even worse. Chelsea broke, unlike against Manu we had enough men back, strangely Clichy got sucked into the centre of the field and left Drogba in far too much space, Clichy then sprinted across to Drogba and committed to a tackle, when he should have stayed on his feet and showed Drogba to his outside, Drogba cut inside and the rest is history.

In between those goals Arshavin missed our best chance of the game, firing straight at Cech's rather fortuitously placed left leg, anywhere else and I suspect it would have been an equalising goal. A lot of our build up play was pretty, but for long periods our lack of a proper forward meant than we struggled to convert our possession and midfield domination into chances. Diaby and Song were both excellent, muscling Chelsea players off the ball left, right and centre. Cesc had a quietish game, it was tricky for him to find any space with Chelsea having so many men behind the ball after their early goals.

Nasri had a much more effective game, he worked a good opportunity for himself in the second half but delayed at the crucial moment, allowing the last ditch Chelsea tackle to save the day. Theo was decent and put in a good workmanlike shift, actually helping Sagna out defensively on a number of occasions. The little Russian Andrei Arshavin was cruelly left to fend for himself against the big Chelsea centre halves, it was tough for him, he is no centre forward but did his best. Bendtner made an immediate difference when he came on, his physical presence seemed to create a bit of panic and suddenly a few more chances fell our way. Cesc forced a decent Cech save with a hard low shot from a free kick that Bendtner had won, then Bendtner was a bit slow to react to a knock down allowing Cech to nip in.

Overall you simply cannot expect to get anything out of tough games like this making the schoolboy defensive errors that we made today. The defensive errors are especially hard to come back from when we lack a fit recognised centre forward to lead the line, it was far too easy for the Chelsea defense today as a result of this. Whatever the reasons for our defensive frailty, they need to be addressed fast, otherwise we may drift down the league table like a sinking stone. I am still encouraged by the overall way we played though, if we can show that kind of drive and fight for the rest of the season then we will always have a chance. A word should also go to Mike Dean whose refereeing performance was truly shocking, when I can find the energy I shall dismantle his woeful decision making on another day.

Gerrard the thug, Evra, Almunia and Chelsea await

Watching the highlights from yesterday's games I was struck by some blatant cheating and thuggery that was ignored by the mainstream media. Firstly Wayne Rooney's fall in the penalty box at the slightest of touches was completely ignored, it was a blatant dive, it was cheating, but it was lovely classy Wayne Rooney so we shall just ignore that and say no more.

Then Gerrard's antics in the merseyside derby. Firstly he dived just outside the box when barely touched by Cahill, one could see what Cahill thought of this, his knowing smile said more than words. Then his follow through on Pienaar, he won the ball first but then clearly followed through with his straight leg and studs into Pienaar's body, the fact that Pienaar was defenseless on the ground made this Gerrard lunge the most cowardly of violent acts. His final act was to feign a head injury to get Pienaar sent off. Every time I see the man play he tries to break legs with two footed tackles, he dives, he cheats, he moans, his behaviour on the pitch is an absolute embarrassment.

Just remember this man is now the England vice captain following John Terry's sacking. This is the very same thug that brutally attacked a man without provocation in a Southport bar last year. Somehow he escaped prison for his assault, even when his co-defendants had pleaded guilty and when he was caught pulverising the victim on camera. I wonder how many thousands Gerrard slipped to the partisan scouse jury, they should also be ashamed of their ridiculous judgement. Gerrard is an arrogant thug off the pitch and an arrogant cheating thug on it. The man is a disgrace to English football and he is now the England vice captain.

Elsewhere Patrice Evra has revealed himself to be one of the most bitter mouthy tossers around, one wonders why he feels the need to speak about Arsenal so much, is it because Manu are not loved in France as much as Arsenal? I can't think way Patrice, maybe it's because you are such an annoying whinging twat, you may have won a lot in your time, but your arrogant behaviour and endless boasting will not make you a popular figure, it makes you a c*nt.

Onto the Bridge today. I feel a tad sorry for the criticism that Manuel Almunia has received recently, it has become a bandwagon and it is rather mindless. If you look at any goalkeeper negatively, you can find fault, it is a impossible position if people are looking to knock you. I would readily acknowledge he has not been at his best in recent weeks, but he has been ok, he saved us with a magnificent save at Villa, he had a very solid game away to Bolton and when you look at the goals we have conceded of late very very few have been his fault. Fabianski has come in and been no better, far worse in my opinion, while Mannone made a glaring error in virtually every game he played bar the Fulham game. Maybe his position is untenable now because a lot of supporters are on his back, but I do feel he has been unfairly scapegoated for the team's failings when he actually hasn't been that bad. Thomas Sorensen would do nothing better than Manuel, those who can't realise that the grass always appears greener are fools, I think it is rather unlikely that Arsene made any move for the Stoke keeper by the way.

If Arsene had listened to Arsenal supporters all the time then Alex Song would have been sold a long time ago, many rather prominent bloggers thought he was useless, it is remarkable how Alex Song has proved his critics to be completely wrong. One player I cannot see proving the doubters wrong is Denilson, I hope he is dropped today as he has done nothing to justify his position in the starting eleven of late. If Bendtner is fit I'd start him, but it sounds like he isn't, I'd be tempted to start Theo just to give us some pace to scare their defense, then I'd slot Arshavin on the left. If Diaby is fit he will obviously play, otherwise I'd go for Ramsey or Eastmond, or I'd slot Nasri or Rosicky into the midfield three. So assuming the fitness of a couple of players I'd go for:
Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Clichy
Diaby/Nasri Song Cesc
Rosicky Arshavin Theo

I agree with Goodplaya in that we need to see the kind of endevour from Arsenal as Hull gave against City yesterday, we need to see some rampaging hustle and bustle, we cannot see Chelsea left with time and space with which to play. We'll need to give our all, we'll need Mike Dean not to be shit which is rare and we'll need a bit of luck. Here's hoping. Come on you Gunners.

Saturday 6 February 2010

'Tough, persistent and consistent'

Arsene was keen to focus forward and not back as he started off the interview by stating that we were simply 'not at our level' against the mancs last weekend. He reiterated his confidence in the players and strangely stated that the lads 'wanted to do well so much that they didn't do well', not an entirely convincing explanation in anyone's book. The lack of patience shown by the team as we were nailed on the break was acknowledged, it was almost a lack of maturity shown by the side in our wanton attacking from such an early stage in the match, it appears that words have been had on this in private, I would love to know what has been said.

A key point in the interview was the fact that Arsene admitted he was 'very close' to signing someone at the end of the transfer window. The fact that he said this shows that he is not entirely happy with the current squad, the more I think about it the more likely it appears that thus player must have been a striker, the fact that we have been playing with AA up top for so long speaks volumes about our lack of striking strength in depth. AA realises this problem, I'm sure Arsene does too, we really need to hope Bendter and Eduardo can stay fit for the rest of the duration. Benik Afobe, the highly talented England youth striker, has spurned Barca's advances and signed a new Arsenal contract, good news for our striking future.

For Chelsea Campbell is definitely back, it sounds like Diaby may make the bench, while Eduardo is out. Good news in the long term that John Djourou is making a good recovery and will be back in around two months, realistically Van Persie is probably out til April time as well. Nic Bendtner is still a couple of weeks away from full fitness, I'd imagine that this means he's on the bench again. Arsene wants us to fight for every point, he wants us to be 'tough, persistent and consistent', the impression he gives is that last weekend the fight and effort was not there from all eleven players. Arsene sensibly wants to take each game at a time, rather than getting carried away with careless speculation.

Chelsea are going to pack their central midfield area as they did against us at the Emirates, it will mean the selection of who is to play alongside Song and Cesc will be key. Personally I'd stick the young Craig Eastmond in the mix, he is good in the air, he can defend and he will work hard. If not Eastmond they I'd play Ramsey, Denilson should be dropped, his recent performances have been substandard. I don't think Nic is fit enough to start, meaning that it's going to be Arshavin up top again, I'd probably go for Theo and Rosicky alongside him. These three could swap positions fairly freely, Theo could give us a bit of threat over the top which would be useful.

The whole eleven men are going to have to up it if we are to get anything from Sunday, the defence will need to play with some discipline, while all ten outfield players will need to press and work much harder off the ball. I used to look at the Arsenal team and find it hard to improve us by stealing players from the Chelsea and Manu squads, the problem now is that very few of our players would make it into their sides, Sagna, Vermaelen, Cesc, Song and Arshavin are the only five of our fit players that would really have a chance. Our squad is just not good enough to win the league, I can't get my hopes up for Sunday, I think the best we can hope for is third spot and that frustrates me.

Finally I'd like to point out a rather interesting Le Grove post, the point made at the end of this is particularly relevant in an age where the England captain's private life makes the front page for weeks on end, while the important things like political and scientific corruption are routinely ignored. Cheap gossip is easy news, proper intelligent investigative work is being done less and less by the mainstream media as it costs more, with readerships going down the quality of news is going down the toilet with it. The exposure of global warming lies are just one great example of how bloggers are rather important in this age of mainstream media laziness. The recent drive towards 'licenses' for writing on the web and more mainstream control of the web are based about the dying cry of various corrupt and useless figures in big business and government who want to control everything, in reality their own corruption has seen their control wane with the freedom of the Internet. Blogging and the freedom of speech on the internet are so key for our freedom that I would urge anyone reading to sign the following Petition at No10, with a free media the truth always outs, with a controlled media lies with be peddled by those in control.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Fence sitting et al

There has been a fair amount of criticism of the team's performance against Manu and quite rightly so in my opinion, it simply wasn't good enough, especially defensively. I think most Gooners aren't bad at taking defeat on the chin, it was the manner of this defeat that hit home so hard. Ted talked of the fight we had when the likes of Nutty played, saliently Nutty has been commenting on the defending that took place at the weekend (or lack of it).

Obviously despite what one may feel about certain Arsenal issues, we should all get behind the lads, it goes without saying. However this most certainly doesn't mean that we can't say what we think is going wrong and how it should be fixed. Arsene has always been a very patient man and his patience has paid off in the past when persevering with certain players. He has some big decisions to make in the next year or so and one wonders whether all of the current crop will escape unscathed. Gunnerblog talks about Theo Walcott's situation, for me if he stays fit then he has to start delivering in the next couple of years. There are quite a few players in the squad who need to step it up, for example Denilson, Clichy, Almunia, Rosicky and Nasri have got to start performing consistently if they are to justify their wage packets. One wonders just how many seasons without success the squad can go before some of the dead wood is released.

A lot of the criticism of Arsene is way over the top, as it often is, and the calls for him to step down are simply ludicrous. However this frustration from fans is not all without cause, to just blindly carry on and ignore the problems we have is not wise either. The fact that the club has been built on a much more solid financial base than many others is something we should be very grateful in the current financial climate. The revolution in our young player development under Arsene has been simply fantastic, Wellington looks to be another potential star from the production line. The fact that we have lacked a bit of experience in the squad has been undeniable in the last few years and I bet if Arsene could go back in time he would do things a little bit differently in the transfer market in this regard, the retrospectoscope is a wonderful thing.

Overall Arsenal Football Club is heading in the right direction and for that I am glad, I can see recent setbacks in this perspective, I hope I am no reactionary lunatic. However I still reserve the right to point out where I think the club is going wrong, that's only healthy criticism in my eyes. If we were miles off then I wouldn't be so frustrated, but as supporters of one of the biggest clubs around I think we have the right to question some things that have gone on of late. We have one of the biggest turnovers, one of the biggest wage bills in the land, but are the players in our squad really delivering in this context?

Possibly our young players are paid a bit too much before they have actually succeeded, maybe this is partly down to a systematic problem whereby young talent is financially rewarded far too early. Maybe Arsene has got a bit carried away with his fantasy of beautiful football, he has lost sight of the real world in which it is not just pretty passing football than wins points. Whatever happens, Arsene is no fool and I am sure he is also very much aware of the same problems that we are, we are lucky to have such a wise man at the helm. Next up Chelsea at the Bridge, what a chance to answer one's critics.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Where from here???

Having cogitated and deliberated following our defeat to a distinctly average Manure side at the weekend, I have come to a few conclusions as to where we need to go from here. The defensive problems were obvious but for me they were not down to the defenders, it was more a systemic problem. The team did not defend as a unit, there was no adequate communication as to who should cover for defenders when they went on attacking forays up field, there was not enough defensive work done by our midfielders and forwards as well.

Defend from the front. The best example of this are Barca, they might not be the most physical or biggest of sides but every single one of their players works like a beaver for the team in pressing and closing down the opposition, it makes it very difficult to keep the ball against them and forces errors very quickly. If one is to do this it requires a lot of fitness, effort and discipline. Everyone must work hard, players must not dive in and commit themselves to tackles that can be easily side stepped. We have had too many passengers in recent weeks. The lack of defensive work from the likes of Denilson, Cesc, Nasri and Rosicky is obvious. Players who don't give their all for the cause need rockets up their backsides and should be dropped no matter of their reputations.

Communication. How can one or two light weight players be left alone to cope with three or four marauding attackers. The second Manure and the second Everton goal were both examples of this shambolic organisation in the current Arsenal side. Maybe it's fine to leave oneself open in the 90th minute when searching desperately for an equaliser, but doing it in the first half is just plain foolish. If players go up for set pieces or corners then there must be adequate cover left at the back to cope with the potential counter attacks, this is just simple basic defending.

The right squad balance. Song is our only defensive midfielder, while Diaby is the only other midfielder we have who can defend to any degree, obviously Eastmond is a great prospect but I do not include him in this assessment of the squad. The list of attacking players we have is ridiculous: Nasri, Cesc, Denilson, Walcott, Arshavin, Rosicky, Merida, Vela, Ramsey and on and on. The balance is simply not there. All championship winning squads need the right mixture, in the past the likes of Vieira, Petit, Edu and Parlour have given us this. The transfer window is not shut and changing the squad is impossible. I hope that the summer sees a realisation from Arsene that the balance is wrong, and that some players have had their time and failed.

Tactics/4-3-3/4-4-2. The formation matters far less than the players within it. The defensive problems with our 4-3-3 of late have been down to playing five players who don't do much defensive work in the front six, this has been a mistake. The full backs have had precious little support, even the best would have trouble dealing with endless 2 on 1 situations. Maybe Arsene has become carried away with his attacking and free flowing ideology, forgetting that at the end of the day this will count for nothing if it doesn't achieve the results. Our team has become too attacking, too small, not physical enough and weak defensively. This must change.

Monday 1 February 2010

The featherweights will always fail.

The last time Arsenal were thrashed 3-1 at home by United, the result was triggered by an unfortunate slip by Keiran Gibbs, deputising for an injured Gael Clichy. Cristiano Ronaldo then fired in a thunderbolt free kick past Almunia. 2-0 nil down and the game was over after 20 minutes. That result followed an appalling performance at Old Trafford, and an abysmal lack of will in the FA Cup semi final against Chelsea.

Several people have said that there is no comparison between those Utd games and yesterday's encounter. Well I think the similarities are stark. Ronaldo did not beat us by himself last year. Fat Wayne was there last year and he did us again yesterday. Ji Sung Park is now well on the way to being a specialist anti-Arsenal player. He was terrific in both games in terms of workrate and commitment. Fletcher, as well, epitomises everything that is missing in Arsenal's team.

We should also look at the abysmal defending against Chelsea at home in November, against Everton at home in December. The sheer number of times we concede goals due to "individual errors" is quite incredible. So I am going to throw my tuppence into the hat on Arsenal's problems at the back. The answer, I think, is blindingly obvious - we only have one good defender. We just don't want to admit it.

A good back 5 (4 defenders plus keeper) play as a unit. They communicate almost instinctively, a nod of the head, a flick of the hand is all that is required, because they spend the entire game reading the threat posed by the opposition and collectively moving against it. Watch Chelsea's back line next week for guidance.

The only defender Arsenal have who would interest Chelsea or Manure is probably Tommy V. And he is our only "proper defender". But Tommy's clear ability as a defender has led us to believe this season that we are better defensively, which we are clearly not. We have conceded more goals this year.

A defence starts with its keeper. And Manuel Almunia's time is up. Forget the own goal yesterday, just ask the basic question - does Almunia inspire confidence? The answer is a resounding "no". And that applies to the fans as well as his team mates. When was the last time you saw Almunia "high fiving" with another player after a miracle save. Exactly. Its never happened.

Gael Clichy and William Gallas I am going to lump together. They are both potentially very good footballers, potentially world class. But neither is a great defender. Neither is good in the air, neither is particularly physical, but both are excellent on the ground, like to get forwards. We might be able to cope with one player like that in the team, but we struggle with two. Ashley Cole got away with it at Arsenal because he had Sol Campbell and Keown at centre-back. The first thing Mourinho did with Cole was tell him to stay at the back and defend.

Bacary Sagna is a mystery to me. He started off looking like a good player after a season of Eboue mistakes. He seems solid enough defensively, I guess, but somehow seems to make a lot of mistakes as well. For a big strong lad he seems quiet, well behaved and a bit reserved. Which are none of the characteristics that make a good defender. People like Lee Dixon and Lauren knew that occassionally you need to just pole-axe your opposite winger. But the same accusation could probably be said about Clichy and Gallas as well. We are far too polite in our defending.

Those defensive frailities are then compounded by the fact that of the midfield, only Alex Song knows how to defend. Denilson is beyond bad. And Nasri and Cesc seem to treat the 4-3-3 system as a free pass to skip defensive duties. Frankly, I have no idea what Nasri does. Rarely have I seen an Arsenal player who is so anonymous for large parts of the game. Only Rosicky seems to have a clue about getting back to tackle, and he is hardly diligent at it.

So when an opposition team counter-attacks us, if they have a decent runner or two in their team, then you can virtually guarantee them a good scoring chance against Arsenal. Because if they evade Song and Tommy V, then our defensive ability is very, very suspect.

We have all been saying for some time that the balance in the team is completely wrong. The line-ups in our title winning seasons are immensely strong compared to this rag-tag bunch of lightweight midgets. I would swap the technical ability of Clichy, Gallas and Sagna for the blood, sweat and tears of Keown, Dixon and Winterburn at a drop of a hat.