Sunday 26 February 2012

Mashed spuds for tea

Sometimes it is hard to turn one's thoughts and emotions into words, and today's game has overwhelmed me in this manner.  The media had written us off, some sections of our own support had done the same, Tottenham were many peoples' favourites and the general media love in was becoming quite sickening.  One certain journalists, Henry Winter, had dared to suggest that only one Arsenal player would get in a combined North London XI.

We learnt today that the hype over Tottenham is just hype, the reality of their team and players does not match the hot air.  We also learnt that we are not nearly as bad as some sections of our own support would have us believe.  In fact the convincing nature of this stirring comeback to victory has firmly rammed a lot of things back down certain peoples' throats in a rather enjoyable manner, it was majestic.

So many players stood up to be counted today, Rosicky and Benayoun being two prime examples of players who worked their socks off and played Tottenham off the park in the midfield for large portions of the game.  Even though we looked a bit dodgy defensively early on in the first half, we grew into the game and Tottenham continued to lose the midfield battle after about the first ten minutes.

Our movement and passing was excellent, there was plenty of give and go, lots of one twos, lots of hassling and pressing the opposition when we didn't have the ball.  Song and Arteta were the defensive midfield engine room, Benayoun and Rosicky were the bustling attacking midfield force, while RVP brilliance up front was summed up with his ridiculously perfect equalising goal, Theo had a poor first half, but became a threat as the space appeared, and his finishing was top notch for his brace.

Tottenham were dangerous early on, mainly down to some rather cavalier defending, Saha's movement was useful and Bale's pacey running is tough to defend against.  It cannot be denied that Bale cheated to win Tottenham's dodgy first half penalty, no contact whatsoever from Szczesny but he threw himself down and Dean obliged.  Parker showed he is only good enough to polish Song's boots, while the lack of Lennon was a pleasant surprise for many of us I suspect.

5-2 and so thoroughly deserved, and how sweet given the amount of hype that has surrounded this Tottenham side.  The team had proper full backs, it had eleven players all fighting hard for the cause, and these two things have not always been there this season.  It is games and results like these that one has to savour as a football fan, it does not get any better for me.  5-2.  Just keep saying it, 5-2, 5-2.......

Saturday 25 February 2012

Spuds on Sunday after a week of silliness

A lot of hot air has been spouted over the last couple of weeks, admittedly some of of the chat has hit the nail on the head, unfortunately the sensible intelligent comment has been in the minority.  The talk of sacking the manager mid season is utterly ludicrous, it would be a sure fire way of destabilising the squad further and finishing as low down the table as possible.

Certainly the board and manager have combined in recent years to inadequately invest in our squad to keep that core of experienced top drawer talent at the club.  For a variety of complex reasons we have lost too many top players and we have brought in too many average players, both young and not so young.

There have been tactical problems, the way we play our 4-3-3 system continues to be a cause of our own pain in my opinion, we frequently lack enough players doing the job of defending for the team, sometimes playing 4 or 5 out and out attacking players.  Lee Dixon's comments on this week's Arsecast echo my long standing sentiment that we are just not good enough defensively as a team, without the ball we are not good enough.  This defensive weakness is more down to not having the right players in the squad than anything tactical for me, we just lack the all round beasts that we used to have, the Petits/Vieiras/Gilbertos, the kind of players who can get up and down while competing for every single loose ball.

The board clearly have major issues, we seem to lack footballing nous and this is having its effects in terms of negotiating/finalising the right transfers for the club.  It does appear that new personnel are needed in this regard, while a lot of money is being paid in salaries and bonuses to people who do not appear to be cutting the mustard.  The concern is that those with power at the club are perfectly happy with the current Status Quo, we shall simply have to watch this space to uncover the answer to this.

"Whether it’s blind support of the manager or furious contempt, it’s pathetic. "

Tim Stillman's column is well worth a read from earlier in the week on Arseblog and the quote above is one I agree with wholeheartedly.  Some people are always moaning and always criticising, take the recent departure of the lazy Arshavin for example.  Arshavin was booed and nailed by the very same people who now claim it is an error to let him go to loan on Zenit for the rest of the season, these hypocrites want it both ways, they sum up the idiocy of some of our own support.  Things are not right, who would argue with this, but there is a way of pointing this out with respect, intelligence and consistency. 

It is onto the enemy on Sunday, they are having a great season no doubt and this has been helped by their lack of injuries and lack of Champions League football.  Their dishonest hypocritical manager 'Arry Redknapp has been stirring ahead of Sunday's game by rambling on about the abuse dished out to the money grabbing Emmanuel Adebayor, funny that the 'absolute filth' routinely dished out to our manager by the Spuds supporters is never mentioned by this vacuous wheeler dealer.  It is just pathetic that our biased sporting media regularly allow the likes of Redknapp and Ferguson a free shot with their disingenuous propaganda.

As regards the football on Sunday, we shall to need to be on the top of our game, especially with the useless and seemingly far from objective Mike Dean in charge, backed up by the equally useless Dowd.  The way in which match officials are selected is in need of a radical overhaul, the PGMO's system is hidden from our view and potentially corrupt, the mainstream media's complete inability to point this out shows just how systemic the bias has become.  Match fixing could well be going on right under our noses, we simply don't know because the PGMO's workings are completely unknown and hidden.

Tottenham's big strength is their pace out wide and their attacking midfield, this will mean that whoever plays will need to help defend against these strengths, we shall need the Ox and Theo to track back and help out the full backs, this will be absolutely pivotal.  The big call will be who to start with in central midfield, obviously Song and Arteta will be playing but who will join them?  This has been a problem position for us in recent weeks, Ramsey's form has not been good and Rosicky has lacked an end product.  I would probably edge for Rosicky as his recent form has been better.  Come on you Gunners!

Sunday 19 February 2012

Bad but not as bad as some sensationally say

It is strange how different people react to the same events.  Yesterday we had a tricky away fixture against an in form Sunderland side who have a new manager, we lost 2-0 but it was a very tight game, and genuinely could have gone either way.  We had the better of the first half, but Sunderland took the lead with a fortunate deflected goal from a speculative Kieran Richardson shot from the edge of the box.  Much as we had that little bit of fortune with our recent 2-1 win st Sunderland, we didn't get it yesterday and ended up going down 2-0.

I am not claiming we were brilliant or terrible, but many lazy people seem to think our 2-1 win was brilliant and our 2-0 defeat was terrible, the truth is that there wasn't a great deal of difference in the performances, and that lazy shoddy journalists react to scorelines and not the actual performances.  I try not to do this, and maybe in the process I will annoy some people, but frankly I think these people need to take a bit of time to consider their reactions, before sensationally jumping to the easy tabloid conclusions.

We are not good enough, I know this, but also we are nowhere near as bad as some people are currently claiming, we still have a shout for 4th spot in the PL and we need to get behind the manager and players to give ourselves the best chance of achieving this.  The problems we have are complex and multi-factorial, they need addressing in a calm, reasoned and intelligent manner, not in a knee-jerk fashion without a sense of perspective.

The manager is not blame free, I could not argue this, some of his tactical decisions and substitutions have been highly questionable to say the least, for example Theo Walcott's substitute role up front yesterday was not a good idea.  However to me it is clear that the problems at our club extend right to the very top of the hierarchy, the manager has taken a lot of blame that the board should have been taking in recent years, there is no doubt to those in the know that several key board members have not been pulling their weight in keeping Arsenal Football Club at the top of the game.

The squad's quality has been slowly and steadily depleted in recent years, the main reason of this has been the move to the Emirates and the consequent financial implications.  The lack of investment in players of sufficient quality and the acquisition of too much mediocrity has left the manager hamstrung, especially in the context of a remarkably unfortunate run of injuries to key players.

Those at the top of Arsenal Football Club need to stand up and be counted now, there has been a lack of leadership and drive from the boardroom for far too long, it appears that some people have become too complacent and the need to properly invest in the club's future has been ignored, the consequences of this penny pinching short termism are now all too evident on the pitch.  It is the likes of the highly paid Ivan Gazidis who need to start earning their wage and bonus by leading the club out of this mess.

I am sure I will be flamed by a certain brand of brain dead reactionary, the kind that loves to lazily call for the manager's head and ignore the real crux of the problems we have at the heart of the club.  So be it, I can take it, I just feel our manager deserves a lot more respect than he is getting from certain quarters, criticism is fine, but do it with respect and some manners, this man has given so much for our club and he must be respected for this.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0 - clogging overcomes toothless Gunners

That was the kind of performance that just sums up where Arsenal Football Club has been going wrong for the last few months.  The effort was there but there just wasn't enough quality to open up a stubborn Sunderland defence.  It was a very even game, we had plenty of the ball and did knock it around reasonably at times, there just wasn't enough in the final third in terms of incision and end product.

The first goal was key and Richardson's goal owed a lot to lady luck, a deflection off Squillaci and the ball flew into the bottom corner, a couple of Sunderland players in offside positions also seemed to be impeding Fabianski's view.  After this Sunderland could sit back, defend in numbers and make it very tricky for us to break them down.

We dominated the possession and even had more shots than the home side, but we just didn't create enough clear cut chances.  Walcott had come on just after half time and I have to say I barely noticed him on the field, a sad indictment on his lack of a performance, again.  Ramsey had again been poor in his attacking midfield berth.

It was a tight competitive game and Sunderland fought hard, they also had that little bit of luck that we didn't get in the penalty box.  It has to be said that the useless Howard Webb helped Sunderland by letting them get away with numerous cynical deliberate fouls in the midfield, a nasty O'Neill tactic that would have been stopped  by a competent official.

Tactically we just look pathetically naive at times, we keep being destroyed on the counter attack and we really struggle to break teams down that stick a lot of men behind the ball.  There is not enough help for RVP, we have no proper leaders of the line at the club.  However the manager seems to have run of ideas tactically, the same mistakes keep on happening, we used to destroy teams on the counter attack, these days we seem incapable of doing this.

There was effort and heart there today, the majority of our players do not deserve the criticism that will be fired in their direction from certain quarters.  The concern for me is that our squad is woefully short in terms of its attacking options, especially in the centre forward position, it is poor that the board and manager have allowed this to happen.  The lack of ideas and the tactical naivety do concern me, it has been happening for too long and patience can only run son far.

Howard Webb is a poor poor referee

It has been a decent game of football thus far, Sunderland have sneaked ahead but I hope we can show some character and turn things around in the second half.  Very hard luck for Francis Coquelin to pick up another hamstring injury.  I just had to comment on Howard Webb's generally low quality refereeing.

He failed to punish several poor Sunderland fouls in the first half hour, Gardner crunched Ramsey's ankle with his studs, no yellow, Cattermole nailed Song late well after ball had gone, no foul even given, Gardner then nailed Vermaelen late with no intention but to intimidate, add Turner's late cynical foul to this little collection.

Webb basically gave Sunderland a license to continue this tactic of deliberate intimidating fouls, shocking referee from an official I have never rated.  It is these kinds of decisions that can turn games, they give a team an unfair edge which allows them to bully the opposition.  Poor poor officiating.

Friday 17 February 2012

Misplaced fury? and Petit hits nail on head

Arsene has publicly vented his fury at the performance against Milan and he has also apparently stunned the squad with a furious training ground tirade.  It is good to know he still cares but as Arseblogger has said this morning, how effective is this likely to be when a lot of our problems cannot be remedied by the current playing staff.  Many of the problems we currently have are not down to a lack of effort, they are down to the weak squad we have and the tactics that we employ, both of these are in the manager's domain and the former is also down to the board.

All those who turned out against Milan were players the manager has signed or had faith in, all those sitting on the bench such as Park and Chamakh are the same.  Emmanuel Petit is no fool and some of his comments ring very true for me:

"Certain young players haven't done enough to justify the confidence that Arsene has in them. Walcott - somehow he's going to have to reach the next stage. It's been years that he's been at the same level.......Ramsey, against Milan, I got the impression it was his (twin) brother on the pitch. In the way they behave, in their body language, we see they're not there anymore"
"You have to send out a strong signal. You have to say to Arshavin, and to Rosicky: 'Gentlemen, thank you, but goodbye'. And soon.  What's needed is five or six players of real stature, great experience. Players who are 27 - 30 years old at most.  Players with technical qualities, obviously, but also strong character. A group of guys who refuse to accept defeat, who inspire confidence in the rest of the team." 

I could not agree more.  Walcott has not been developing and his performances have been too average of late, Ramsey has also not been at the required level but he deserves patience.  The likes of Arshavin and Rosicky should have been moved on a while back, for various reasons that only those within the boardroom know, many inadequate players have been paid too much money to provide very little quality on the pitch in recent years.  We have numerous players who need to be cleared out including these two and the likes of Squillaci, Almunia, Diaby, Vela, Bendtner, Denilson, Park and Chamakh.  Dennis Bergkamp's comments on the current squad or lack of it also look extremely wise, especially in retrospect of the Milan performance.  

We need a major shake up at the club, not only in terms of the playing staff but also in terms of our management team in my opinion, at the very least we need to think about involving some of our retired players who have that knowledge and winning mentality, the likes of Keown, Dixon and Bergkamp need to be considered as additions to the club's setup.  The board also need to sort their act out and back the manager properly both in terms of funds and in assisting him sort these problems out, it appears that the manager has taken a lot of heat that should have been directed at the board in the first place.  It is simply not good enough to accept mediocrity, we must rediscover the fight that made us great not so long ago, and we need the manager and board to pull in the same direction to get us out of this mess fast.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Terrible result, a terrible performance and terrible officiating

That was poor.  It was not even against a good Milan side in my opinion and that makes it all the more depressing.  It has to be said that 4-0 was in no way a fair reflection of the football game though, we thoroughly deserved to lose but not by that margin.  Nothing really dropped for us tonight and it all combined to see us go down by a heavy scorelines, and surely out of the Champions League, perhaps for the last time in a while.

Leaving the Ox on the bench was not a good decision, we lacked width and pace to support RVP in the first half particularly.  Walcott was unimaginative and ineffective, Ramsey anonymous and Rosicky average, there just wasn't enough quality to back up our leading Dutchman.  Milan looked fairly open to me in the first half, we just didn't have the tools with which to take them apart and everything dropped from them at the other end.

Boateng opened the scoring with a blinder, the new pairing of Koscielny and Vermaelen did not look well drilled, such a shame that our reliable German has picked up such a bad injury at such a key time in the season, Boateng nipped in between the centre backs and blasted home an unstoppable finish in off the bar, one nil.  The second Milan goal was clearly offside, a clear error from the officials.  We created nothing going forward in the first half, despite a decent amount of possession, the build up was too predictable, too slow and too ponderous.

Robinho then added a third in the second half after an unfortunate slip by Vermaelen, a very good finish into the bottom corner too.  Henry had come on for the useless Walcott, and he did add a bit of a presence alongside RVP, his flick set up RVP for a cracking volley which produced the save of the match from a low left Abbiati hand.  Ibrahimovich is a disgrace of a footballer and this was summed up by his embarrassing dive for Milan's penalty which turned out to be their fourth goal, Djourou stood his ground, made no tackle and did nothing, the cheating Swede threw himself over and should have had a yellow for his pathetic acting.  The ref obliged though and made our night even worse. 

A 4-0 defeat it was, we still had time to see another fine Abbiati save, this time from an RVP header.  Overall we were just not good enough and deserved nothing from this game, our attacking play was particularly predictable and toothless, while our defending was pretty shambolic at times, big Per was definitely missed. 

It was particularly hard to take the margin of defeat against such an average Milan side, especially when one goal was clearly offside and another down to a blatant act of cheating.  We were not outplayed in the midfield, we shaded possession, so do not believe the nonsense that will be spouted in certain sections of the media in this regard.  The problem was our toothless attacking play and this was partly down to a lack of quality and partly down to poor tactics from the manager.  Depressing and the worst I have seen us in Europe for a very long time indeed.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

The new England manager

So another Italian has abandoned a sinking ship......But seriously there is but one choice for the job, it simply has to be John Terry as player manager........

Sunday 5 February 2012

The odds are that the Premier League is bent

Some things are just coincidental and some things are not, there is more to them, it is not just luck that has led to a rather unlikely outcome or occurrence.  Today Howard Webb referees yet another big Manchester United game.  Today Martin Atkinson does not referee yet another Manchester United game.  Both are meant to be amongst our best referees, so why is one regularly refereeing Manchester United games and the other not?

Sir Alex Ferguson was completely out of order with his attack on Martin Atkinson after Chelsea beat Manchester United last season, amazingly it is now almost a whole year since Martin Atkinson refereed a Manchester United game.  For anyone who has not read up on the PGMO, Mike Riley and the completely hidden world of Premier League referee selection, I would suggest you read some of my series of articles on this topic 1,2 and 3.

As I write this the Manchester United-friendly Webb has catalysed an unlikely recovery from a 3-0 deficit against Chelsea, and two of these goals were dodgy penalties, one was soft and the other the most blatant of dives.  It is not the first time that Webb has changed games for Manchester United.

It is highly likely that the PGMO's  referee selection process is being influenced by certain clubs and this is having an effect on the outcome of football matches, this is exactly what happened in the Italian match fixing scandal.  The odds that Atkinson's repeated absence from and Webb's repeated presence at Manchester United games is down to pure chance must be one in many many thousand.

It is both sad and depressing that the game in this country is so likely to be so utterly bent.  It is also rather pathetic that the media in this country are so silent on this topic, they seem completely disinterested, they just don't want to investigate and analyse the hidden workings of the PGMO.  It is no coincidence that the PGMO and Premier League have failed to answer any of the simple questions I have asked them about the inner workings of the PGMO, their silence tells the story for me.

Saturday 4 February 2012

The topsy turvy rollercoaster

What an improvement on recent league games, we finally clicked into gear and destroyed the opposition, and frankly thank goodness for that. defeat today would have been an utter disaster.  A mixture of better finishing and some more incisive play in the final third catalysed by some key players returning to fitness helped us win this one so convincingly.

The front three of Ox-RVP-Walcott really purred, but it has to be said that the addition of Rosicky, who has been playing well of late, to a midfield containing the recently returned Arteta was also pivotal in this process.  Ramsey has looked tired and has been on poor form, he needs a rest and it is good that he has got it at last.  Having two excellent players at full back was also another factor, Coquelin is a cracking talent, so sharp and aggressive in all he does, Vermaelen does not need any introduction.

Theo had a productive afternoon and he set up the first for RVP with a well times run and cut back.  Pedersen equalised and I am sure a few people had their doubts at this point, with obvious reason.  Two more incisive moves neatly finished by RVP and the Ox saw us lead 3-1 at half time, the dismissal of Givet just before the break for an appalling two footed lunge confirmed the game was over as a competitive contest.

Blackburn were poor but you can only beat what is put in front of you, and that's what the lads did comprehensively today.  RVP continued his amazing season with a hat-trick, the Ox bagged two and there was another moment of romance for Thierry Henry with the last minute deflected goal, not his most beautiful by any means.

Plenty can still be salvaged from this season and if we can keep our key men fit then we could easily climb further up the league table.  Arsene made some good decisions today, the Ox adds so much more than our lazy fat Russian, Rosicky and Coquelin did really well too.  A cracking win, three points and now a tricky trip to Sunderland awaits, they are on a great run, this is the kind of game we need to win if the climb is to continue.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

This squad is not effing good enough

Frankly we are not good enough and it was shown again today against a deeply average Bolton Wanderers side.  Yes, we could have won it, but we didn't, Bolton could also have won it, they had a few chances too.  Overall we had more of the ball and did have the better chances, but fundamentally we lacked the quality in the final third to finish Bolton off.

I will be positive for a bit.  It was great to see the Bac back, he had a solid game and it is brilliant to have a proper right back in the side again, it's like tasting water again when one has been trekking across an arid desert.  The defence did well on the whole and Arteta is also back.  RVP is class and he almost produced a wonder goal out of nothing today, the Ox is also a great young talent.

Enough of the positivity.  We lack quality going forward and Thierry Henry's addition is a sticky plaster to a gaping wound.  I love Thierry, he loves the club too, but he is so past it, his legs have gone and he is not the answer.  It borders on the criminal how little back up we have to RVP up front.  We are a massive rich club and we have one decent striker, frankly it is utterly pathetic.  The Henry substitution did nothing for us today, Thierry does not have the legs, it is just so plain to see.

Theo Walcott has been playing like a drugged mule for the last few weeks.  His touch is average, his vision non existent, his finishing terrible, his decision making weak, his defensive contribution minimal.  He really has offered very little other than his pace.  It is very depressing to see his career going backwards, one has to question his attitude and application.  I am really starting to have serious doubts about his future at the club.

I feel sorry for Aaron Ramsey, too much has been put on his young shoulders, so soon after a career threatening injury too.  His form has been erratic and poor at times, he does always give his all and I like him as a player.  I do think that out squad has been terribly exposed though this season, Ramsey has played too many games and has been asked to carry too much given where he is in his career.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I am no knee jerk reactionary, I am not a routine moaner, I have reached this assessment and conclusion after a lot of hard thinking and deliberation.  It is just rather sad that our current squad is just nowhere near good enough in too many areas.  We do not have enough top drawer players, we lack the quality on the bench to change games and we have so much overpaid dross it is beyond belief.  This is such an average Arsenal squad.