Friday, 30 December 2011

2011 Review

So here's a review of 2011. Not the greatest year in Arsenal's history, and one that was overall very disappointing considering what we could have achieved.

A lot of players, key players too, have left, some on good terms and some will never be forgiven. But also there has been a giant influx of new talent too, and as always you sense that there is a very promising, talented bunch of players at the club, and as always you sense that the future is bright.

I'll do it in three parts to save a long read, but I hope you enjoy it. Leave comments and feedback too.

So where to start eh? Well January is probably the best place to start an annual review, and January was a quite happy time to be an Arsenal fan. The year started in just about the most positive way you could hope for. An enormousness 3-1 result against current champions Chelsea, put us into second place, but more importantly, Arsenal looked ready to fight for the title. A positive mood had embodied the Emirates and everyone was looking forward to the new year, and the possibility of an unrivalled quadruple - how wrong we were.

A big blip 2 days later with a disappointing draw at Wigan after seven changes did little to dampen our spirits, although with hindsight, it did forebode our future inability to defend a lead. However on the 1st January Arsenal faced a difficult challenge away at Birmingham. It was a challenge we passed with flying colours as a glorious Arsenal display ended with us being 3-0 winners.

A forgettable 0-0 at home to City was annoying, but there was still an air of confidence among the fans and the squad, even with Arsene ruling out any January signings, despite Vermaelen's continuing injury troubles. We somehow managed to stay in the cup despite drawing at home to Leeds and losing at Ipswich. Arsenal had won 2 games in 7, but were still in four competitions and people were starting to back Wenger's men to end the trophy drought.

This was compounded with two excellent performances at West Ham, where (possible target) Wayne Bridge was torn apart in a 3-0 victory, and Leeds, where Nasri, Sagna and yes you've guessed it Van Persie were scorers in a comprehensive 3-1 win. To end the month, Wigan (PL), Ipswich(CC) and Huddersfield(FA) were dispatched of courtesy of a Van Persie hat-trick, a Bendtner cracker and a Fabregas penalty in each game respectively, and, although all sensible Gooners knew that its was impossible,  the quadruple was still possible.

February was an amazing month for Arsenal, and one that included some of my best and worst moments as a fan. To start the month, after yet another quiet deadline day at the club, we faced Everton. This was one of my favourite games of the season. They took the lead following an abysmal decision to allow Saha to score, when he was about 20 yards offside, well my memory may mean I exaggerate things but it was an easy, clear decision. However, instead of letting our heads drop, we bounced back and started a continuing onslaught on the Everton goal. The fans were fantastic and drove Arsenal on and on, until in the 70th minute Arshavin scored and it was almost inevitable that Arsenal would get the winner, which came from Koscielny 6 minutes later. After the game, I walked away from the stadium very happy, it seemed like one of those moments which defines a season.

Sadly, one of the defining moments of the season came 4 days later. The 4-4. There's not much I can say about this game that hasn't already been said, and to be honest I don't want to remember anything about this match in great detail. But after going 4-0 up in 26 minutes, and still leading 4-0 right up until the 68th minute, I still find it unbelievable how we didn't get the three points. Some abysmal defending, and overall lack of fight and spirit contributed to the downfall and there's probably still some damage left to repair regarding an inability to defend a lead. The tough tie against Barcelona was looming and things looked at their worst.

We bounced back with a 2-0 win at home to Wolves and waited for the visit of the best club side ever in midweek. Noone expected anything from Arsenal. Barcelona had comprehensively beaten us last year and had improved since, whilst Arsenal had just shown their weaknesses against Newcastle. Yet Wenger had a plan, a plan that had secured a draw for being 2 goals down the year before, a plan that worked perfectly this time round. We were battered possession wise by Barcelona and they scored a beautiful goal through Villa and had a (wrongly) disallowed goal through Messi in a one sided first half. Yet Arsenal battled hard, and stuck to their normal game, the young Jack Wilshere was exceptional in midfield next to his Captain who had his best game in a disappointing season. But it was in defence where Koscielny and Djourou were absolutely world class and Szczesny - in his Champions League debut - was just as brilliant.

As the minutes flew by, we grew into the game, and with the introductions of Bendtner and Arshavin, Arsenal had goals in them, and with the fans creating the best atmosphere the Emirates has seen, you sensed something special was about to happen. And it did. Van Persie scored an impossible goal after a dink through by Clichy, before Arshavin applied a finish to a beautiful, counter-attacking move to lift the roof off the (roofless) stadium. Arsenal announced their arrival as a brilliant side to the rest of the world, and we did it in style. When speaking about his 2011 Van Persie said this really stood out:

"It's so difficult to pick a personal highlight from the year, but a couple of events stand out, such as beating Barcelona at the Emirates," he said. "That has become a really nice memory. Everyone who you ask about that game smiles in response. 
"The day after that game, a guy came up to me in the village. He said to me 'All I want to say to you is that I have been an Arsenal fan all my life, and last night's game against Barcelona was the best Arsenal game ever.'

"He said it was the best Arsenal evening of his life, and when you can give people something like that, it really is something special."

We couldn't have asked  for a more different, contrasting game at the weekend but we travelled to Leyton Orient with the confidence of kings. Newcastle was a distant memory and we could look forward to a Cup Final in a few weeks too. It was fate that we didn't beat Orient as Tahoue, scored a late equaliser to earn his squad a trip to Las Vegas as well as a trip to North London in the replay that would follow.

Before the Carling Cup final though, we faced Stoke, in another forgettable game, but a game which had a massive impact on our chances at the weekend. We won 1-0 through a Squillaci, yes Sebastian Squillaci scored and kept a clean sheet for us, header but the game was more about the injuries that two of our most important players picked up. Theo was definitely out of the final. Cesc had a 'slim chance' but, sadly it was slightly too slim.

If Barcelona was one of the best memories for Arsenal fans, Birmingham will probably rank quite high up in terms of disappointment. It was a wet, grey February day, and I still haven't seen the replays so being at the game I can't really remember much. What I do remember is that we didn't play at our best. We were nervous, edgy and Birmingham sensed it. They took the lead through someone I can't remember, and our centre-backs who only a few weeks previously had dealt fantastically against Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and co. just couldn't deal with the Birmingham aerial attack. Van Persie equalised with, what people tell me was a brilliant goal. We were better in the 2nd half but could turn possession and chances into goals and were punished.

A cataclysmic mistake/error by Szczesny and Koscielny presented an open goal to Obafemi Martins who slotted home into the empty net easily. Sitting in the Wembley crowd I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't bring myself to leave, and even though I knew we wouldn't equalise, I was glued to my seat until full time. It was a quiet trip home from Wembley.

That's the end of part one. Stay tuned for the next instalment.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Henry to sign within 2 days.

Welcome back Titi.

It's not often that a player with the calibre and quality of Thierry Henry turns up at your club. Arsenal were lucky to have his during his prime as he became the best player in Arsenal's history during his 9 year stint, scoring 226 goals and laying on 92 assists in his 369 appearances. It is certainly a rare event to have him turn up twice.

Yet, as Sky Sports News report this evening, Arsenal's greatest player Thierry Henry will re-sign with the Gooners on a 2 month loan deal from New York Red Bulls.

The deal was offered in the last few days as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks to add depth to his squad that is set to lose Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh for up to 2 months during the Cup of African Nations. 

He could feature in seven Premier League games — as well as FA Cup ties and the first leg of Arsenal’s Champions League last-16 clash against AC Milan. But it is the Premier League matches against Manchester United and Tottenham coming up where he could make the biggest difference.

Whilst Thierry is not the player that left Arsenal in 2007, and is certainly in the twilight of his career, the 34 year old does have the ability to trouble Premiership defences. You can sense Arsene's reasoning for bringing back his fellow Frenchman as, even in a less advanced role, Henry scored 15 goals in 29 matches for New York this year. Albeit not against the best opposition, it is certainly not a bad return and is very favourable when compared to Chamakh's 2 goals in 12 months.

Since the off season started in the US, Thierry has been training with the Arsenal first and reserve teams and his quality has been there to see. In a recent interview, Per Mertesacker noted how he has impressed the Arsenal squad with his sharpness and attitude. He said:
"Henry has a lot of experience and he is a great opportunity for us, but I am not the manager and I do not know what is possible, for him or for us. In training, Henry shows his class and [it is good] to have him with us. He still has the same attitude he showed in a lot of games at Arsenal."
The big German also hinted at the possible signing of national team mate Lukas Podolski:

"He is a good striker with a very good finish. His left foot is unbelievable and I am a fan of him. This year, he has scored a lot of goals. He is powerful as well."

There are some negatives to Henry's return though. Sure he brings his quality and experience in abundance, but will his surrounding aura have a negative impact on team mates. For every medal he can show, he can now show his statue just outside too, and will he be content to bide with the unused Park for a back up slot? Maybe the old Thierry would not, but the Frenchman has matured as he has reached his mid thirties and, on the short term basis that he will join the club, will surely lift the mood amongst the squad.

His love for the club has always been evident, and he can show the rest of the team what it actually means to play in the famous red and white shirt.

Hopefully we will see more of this.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Silva Strike Seals Win and Sinks Promising Arsenal Side.

Manchester City 1 - 0 Arsenal.

A tense tight affair that, whilst keeping you on the edge of your seat with your heart in your mouth, was strangely enjoyable. It was only fair that a simple, solitary goal separated the two excellent sides in what was possibly the best game of the season so far.

Defeat is not so nice to take. We all hate losing. Especially when we played so well. Especially when we lose to a team with unrivalled resources with many of their players in the form of their lives. We can take positives from today though.

City we definitely first out the blocks and attacked Arsenal from all sides with pace, power with intricate movement. Aguero and Balotelli could have easily scored after a couple of excellent moves, but their finishing was not at it's best, whilst Szczesny continued his marvellous form this season with a couple of world class saves.

Arsenal definitely started slowly, and our passing game was not able to dominate due to the pressure that City plied on us. On numerous occasions Djourou and Walcott gave the ball away quite cheaply, whilst Song was guilty of a few too many cynical fouls and picked up a yellow card that will rule him out of the Villa game.

We slowly grew into the game, and Gervinho was very threatening, with excellent movement across the forward line, whilst Ramsey also troubled Hart before the break after a teasing shot from a short corner. However it was still goalless at half-time, and seemed perfectly poised as we went into the second half. Van Persie was starting to impose himself on the game more and more, Gervinho was having one of his most promising games so far and the makeshift back four was holding up reasonably well.

The second half started in a similar fashion to the first. As the Sky Sports panel pointed out after the match, it seemed to have everything; the power and pace of the Premier League along with a continental twist with perfect passing patterns. But as ever with Arsenal, injuries dissipated our already makeshift back four and Djourou made way for the young Ignasi Miquel. That meant Vermaelen moved to CB, whilst the yellow carded Koscielny went to right back.

He was immediately attacked, and City delivered a knock-out blow. There were no massive errors by the Arsenal defence, but a series of small mistakes were punished by City's world-class millionaire strike force. Koscielny was out of position as a through ball found Balotelli in space. The Italian cut inside Alex Song, maybe slightly too easily, and delivered a powerful shot which was only parried by Szczesny before Aguero, and then Silva pounced on the rebound and slotted into the empty net. 

You could argue that Arteta or Miquel should have been closer to Silva, but its hard to "blame" any of them out right, and Koscielny, Song and even Szczesny all could have done better. 

We did react positively to their goal, and our heads didn't drop as they possibly would have in recent years. The Arsenal approach was probably too gung-ho, considering there was aver a third of the match remaining, and City probably should have had a second with Arsenal committing players forward at will.

The attacking approach did cause City problems and you had a feeling we could knick something. After-all, City aren't the best at keeping clean sheets. Arshavin skewed an effort wide, that an in form Arshavin probably would have slotted in with ease, but when was the last time we saw an in form Arshavin? Towards the end Vermaelen and Van Persie showed their desire to rescue a point, and the Belgian defender threatened with two brilliant efforts form outside the box, which genuinely frightened Hart in the City goal.

However, Wenger just doesn't have the quality on the bench that his counterpart Mancini has. Arshavin entered the fray for the disappointing Walcott, and later on Chamakh replaced Mertesacker. But both of them have done nothing this season to warrant a place in the Arsenal line up. Chamberlain would have offered pace, and a bit of the unknown factor, but he wasn't even on the bench.

In comparison, City brought on Milner, Dzeko and De Jong, who are proven quality players who cost a combined total of nearly 70 million pounds. They didn't even have to bring on Johnson or Lescott - both players who would walk into most Premier League line ups.

The players ratings were:
Szczesny 7 Vermaelen 8 Koscielny 6 Mertesacker 6 Djourou 6 Arteta 8 Song 6 Ramsey 6.5 Gervinho 7 Van Persie 7 Walcott 5
Subs: Miquel 6 Arshavin 5 Chamakh 5.5

Overall, whilst it was disappointing to lose, compounded by the fact that all the teams around us picked up some points. But considering the last time we went up to Manchester we lost 8-2, we don't need to show how much we have improved since.

People may go on about the ref having a poor game. But the Richards penalty decision could have gone either way to be honest, and whilst he is not a ref that I usually rate, I have to admit he had a decent game today, using his experience to calm the game down and retain 22 players on the pitch.

the main change since the United debacle in August is that our passing game is back. And today was supported expertly by the excellent Arteta who seemed to continuously remain calm and retain possession. He has been a quality signing by Wenger and was definitely unlucky to be on the losing side today.

Just like the other game against Manchester City, one goal was enough to do the damage and you could say we were unlucky in both games. Today's encounter could have ended in any scoreline by the end, with both sides taking turns to attack and the result was probably fair, even if it's hard to take.

We definitely need to strengthen in attacking areas, especially with Chamakh and Gervinho off to the African Nations Cup. After the match Arsene said:
"We have numbers in midfield, but with Gervinho + Chamakh going to ACN, we are short upfront."

Hopefully that means a return to the transfer market in January, and the names of Jovetic, Reus, Podolski and even Dempsey are players I would like to see. Henry remains a likely candidate but is only short term.

We need to go on another unbeaten run like we've just enjoyed if we have any dreams of finishing in the Top Four or above. The response starts against Villa and even with our squad starting to look frail we need to get all we can from the busy Christmas period.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

David Seaman - Arsenal's greatest number 1

This is the first in a series of blogs conducting Arsenal's greatest eleven of all time using the results of polls of Arsenal fans.

There was only one place to start here, and despite Szczesny's best efforts in these recent matches, there was a clear winner, he is a long way behind Arsenal's tremendous list of Goalkeeping greats. 

The poll included Pat Jennings, who appeared in 3 consecutive FA Cup finals - winning one in 1979, John Lukic, the goalkeeper during the 1989 Championship winning side, Bob Wilson, the double winning 'keeper from 1971, and the invincible Lehmann.

Yet the winner of the poll, with a massive 66% and 271 votes out of 406, was Arsenal's most successful ever man behind the sticks, David Seaman. The popularity of Seaman was so much that he managed 68 more votes than the rest of the challengers combined, which was truly amazing.

Seaman was a world class quality and the final line of defence behind that back four in the 90's. If anyone ever got past Adams and co even then they probably had their hardest task of all, putting the ball past Seaman. His agility was amazing for someone so big, and David would continuously throw himself around the goal, saving almost impossible shots.

He was signed in 1990 for a then record British fee for a goalkeeper of 1.3 million pounds, having been a target of Arsenal and Manchester United for the last few years. In his first season, he was behind one of the most successful title winning teams of all time in 1990/1, where Arsenal went through the season losing one game, and only conceding 18 goals.

David carried on winning trophies at Arsenal, and soon became first choice for England when Terry Venables was appointed manager in 1994. During the early 90's, Arsenal lost the consistency to challenge week in, week out for the league, and became cup specialists, winning  both the FA Cup and the League Cup in 1993 and supplemented this a year later with the European Cup Winners' Cup.

With the arrival of Wenger in September 1996, Seaman continued to be number one. In the Frenchman's first full season, David helped guide the Arsenal to their first "double" triumph in 21 years. A year later, Seaman played all 38 league matches, conceded only 17 league goals as Arsenal came agonizingly close to retaining the Premier League and lost in the FA Cup semi-finals to Manchester United.

In another remarkable year, with a new squad assembled including the likes of Robert Pires, Sol Campbell and Thierry Henry, they managed to repeat the "double" achievement four years later in 2002.

In his last year at the club, David enjoyed one of his proudest moments where, as captain due to Vieira's absence, he held aloft the FA Cup trophy. This came after his unbelievable save in the semi final from a Paul Peschisolido's header, one which Peter Schmeichel dubbed "the best save I've ever seen". That would be his 12 trophy with the Arsenal.

In the summer of 2003 he was transferred to Manchester City, yet had to retire after more injury problems. In his amazing career, he made 75 appearances for England, and made 564 appearances for the Arsenal. He was our greatest number one.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Arsene hints at January purchase

Whilst the result in the Chelsea match last night was not perfect for Arsenal, despite it condemning any comparisons between this good City team and our incredible invincible team, it has certainly done one thing, and that is opened up the possibility of one of the most exciting, intriguing title races in years.

With a good result on Sunday we could really open things up, although getting anything against that side, especially at their place, where they are unbeaten in 2 matches will be one of the hardest tasks we face this season. And to put things into perspective, the last time we played a match against a side of similar stature we lost. 8-2.

Monday included some very bad news that we will be without any fullbacks for the foreseeable future with Jenkinson, Sagna, Gibbs and now Santos all injured. That means that we are very short in defence, and are likely to see the continuation of the Djourou, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen back four over the congested christmas holiday period - bar any more injuries (touch-wood). That is not the best news, especially with the importance of those games, yet in an optimistic thought, Newcastle showed just how much teams can benefit from having the same back four week in, week out.

This could also mean an entrance to the transfer market for Wenger, but any defensive purchase is likely to be short term, as even with the players we have out Squillaci, Miquel and other promising young defenders can't get a look in.

Today, Arsene hinted at a possible foray into the market, something that he dismissed a few weeks back, so something must have changed. The Frenchman said:

"We lose players like Chamakh and Gervinho to the Africa Cup of Nations so hopefully, we do not get any injuries to our strikers, But if an opportunity turns up in that department then we will buy."

 However, he only said that we will look for bargain deals, as the current economic environment has changed...blah blah blah. There are quality players available on the cheap though, without taking wages into account, so we may be able to bring in some quality to help bolster our squad.

The names of Argentinean holding midfielder Lucas Biglia, a player we were heavily linked to in August, and the frequently linked to Gary Cahil have been mentioned in the press, along with the other usual names (Eduardo Vargas and Lukas Podolski). Todays comments hint at other striking options and hopefully we will be working like we did at the end of August to secure players, rather than how we acted in the rest of the window.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Dortmund Preview

So tonight is a big game, against very tough opposition. In Europe there are no easy games, and Dortmund are practically flying at the moment, with 5 wins in 6 including a confidence boosting win over Bayern last weekend.

At their place, the atmosphere was booming, and we looked shaky to the swift attacking movements of 'the German messi' Gotze. We took the lead though, and defended well in the second half until a marvelous goal snatched the 3 points from us.

Tonight, both teams will have improved greatly. We have slowly been putting together a decent run of form, whilst they have been adapting to Champions League football. 

Arsene says:
"I believe that both teams have improved since. We have grown, they have grown. They had a difficult start, we had a difficult start and both teams have improved since. But we feel strong enough to be at home and finish the job."

So tonight will be a tough, tight game and will have a big outcome on how the group is decided. A win would guarantee progression to the knock-out stages, and hopefully give us a chance to rest some key players (ie Van Persie) when we go to Greece in a few weeks. But before we can even consider that we need to get the job done tonight - and today will be one of our trickiest games we've played in a while.

The team will probably be full strength:
Szczesny Koscielny Vermaelen Mertesacker Santos Song Arteta Ramsey Walcott Van Persie Gervinho

Rosicky has picked up a small thigh strain, but is replaced on the bench by Abou Diaby who hasn't featured in a football match since god knows when. There are small hints that Arshavin may be given a run-out, but I think he'll stick with the current winning side for now.

Let's hope things go to plan.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Mikel Arteta - Efficient,Effective

In this international break, and what a boring one it has been to be honest, a lot has been said on Arteta, the player who plays for that country which is so good that he'll probably never even get in their squad and the country that will probably demolish England at Wembley on Saturday causing all the papers declaring them "best ever" blah blah blah. But back to Mikel.

Since arriving at the end of the summer, the silky Spaniard has nestled straight into the first team, and scored his second goal of the season with an excellent finish on Saturday. 

 After his first 8 games it is probably fair to say that he is as neat and tidy on the pitch as he is off it, and he has already become a vital cog in the team with Wilshere's injury.

His desire and attitude is excellent to see as well (not everyone can become captain in a David Moyes side) and sharply contrasts previous limp, 'unbothered' attitudes of players previously at the club. 

The story of him and Mert getting all the players to eat together at the training ground is exactly the thing we want to hear, and it is already apparent that team morale is quite high at the moment. At least while we're winning. 

He was signed for 10 million, with everyone thought he was a direct replacement for Cesc. Yet on assessment, this could not be further from the truth. Mikel has setteled into the deeper role in midfield, tucked next to song and slightly behind Ramsey. The 'Wilshere role' effectively.

Like young Jack, the 29 year old has boundless energy and never stops working for the team. 

Whilst we are frustrated at not signing the more glamorous Hazard or Gotze etc. Arteta is doing a sound job at the moment and is keeping together the young midfield. He has even averaged 10 more touches per game than our previous Spaniard did last season and his goals/game ratio is a lot better. Although again we must reiterate that you cannot compare the two. Arteta is bringing a lot to the team though, and he has more in him too. Now it feels like we have a lot of potential goals form midfield, with Ramsey and Arteta being accomplished finishers and even Song chipping in the the occasional goal.

He is not a "perfect" player either, and can drift from games, or not make a telling contribution for a whole 90 minutes. Something Wilshere/Cesc or even Ramsey never fail to do. Arteta has even made key errors such as needless free-kicks around our box and failing to follow his man from a throw-in against Tottenham. However, Mikel is the archetype of the "new Arsenal" that Wenger is creating this season. Hardworking, experienced, hungry and quietly effective.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Back to Basics - Arsenal 0-0 Marseille

Another quite boring game for Arsenal, and just 2 weeks after the last Marseille game. Yet this time we didn't finish on the winning side. A clean sheet, with a possible new cb partnership - although I think the Verm/Kos pairing has some potential - will be something to build on, and the chances we made could have easily been enough to win the game. We had 7 shots on target to their 1, and maybe if Robin had started the game things would have been different.

Overall, 4 points from both Marseille games is what we wanted, but having had a good win away it would have put us in an excellent position had we won tonight.
We started poorly and the Verm/Mertesacker combination was tested straight away. However as the game progressed we quickly became the better team and Ramsey in particular looked very dangerous.

Theo looked bright after an excellent performance at Chelsea and shot just wide after 15 minutes. Gervinho was full of running and looked our best chance of a goal, however (and this is something we talked about when he first joined the club) he lacked a quality final ball which made some attacks very infuriating.

The only slight negatives were from Park, who tried to mirror a Chamakh performance by being as ineffective as possible, and Santos, who was targeted by Marseille after his continuous attacking efforts. The Brazilian was leaving wide gaps behind him, but after half time I think he adressed this problem and he didn't have a terrible game against their best player.

The introduction of Robin probably led many to believe we were in the ascendancy after a very dull start to the second half. On the other hand, it was the French side who grew into the game, and were it not for some excellent defensive reading by Vermaelen and Mertesacker we may have been in trouble.

Ramsey, who squandered the best chance of the match, was replaced by Rosicky who set up Vanp Perise, but the Dutchman's chip was a few inches from avoiding the keepers grasp. Arshavin also came on for Gervinho, but failed to really get on the ball and make an influence, so when the game petered out into a draw noone was very surprised.

Szczesny 6 Jenkinson 6 Mertesacker 7 Vermaelen 7.5 Santos 5.5 Song 6.5 Arteta 6 Ramsey 7 Walcott 6.5 Park 5 Gervinho 6

Subs: Van Persie 6 Rosicky 6 Arshavin 5.5

That result gives us some food for thought. We cannot rest the majority of our players in the remaining games, and Dortmund (home) as well as a trip to Olympiakos cannot be underestimated. We are still in pole position in the group though, so cannot get too down hearted. 

After the game Theo Walcott said:
"Saturday (the 5-3 win over Chelsea) did take a lot out of us but yet again we were solid at the back. We need to be winning our home matches, but we know what to expect in the Champions League."

The unglamourousness of a 0-0 may have taken away some of the hype surrounding the squad after Saturday's exploits, however it also keeps the players grounded and we can focus on another very important 3 points at the weekend. The main thing to realise is that, whilst the 5-3 was an excellent result and performance, we still have a lot of work to be done this season. Whilst Arsene said last week that we had two cup finals approaching (the Chelsea and Marseille games) in fact we have to treat every league game as a cup final for at least the next few months as we simply can't afford to slip up.

Here's to 3 points at the weekend, Come on you Gunners!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Arsenal Review - Pre Chelsea

What a start of the season we've had. You know that the season is going badly when you've been welcoming the international break with open arms. 

However, with 7 wins in 8, we are very slowly starting to turn things around, but those games have arguably not been against strong opposition, and in every big league game so far we simply haven't turned up. The game on Saturday, against a Drogba-less Chelsea, will tell us how far we have come these few weeks, and what we can expect to achieve in the rest of the season.

From my view, only in goal have be performed to an acceptable level, and Szczesny has been showing what we've missed in not having a quality, world class goalkeeper for the last 5 years. Personally I think Szczesny is one of the best keepers in the league and can only get better with experience.

In defence, we have been our usual selves when Vermaelen isn't playing, looking vulnerable every time the opposition attack and conceding easy goals in all different ways. The change in man to zonal and back to man marking at set pieces shows just how clueless we seem defensively and the lack of confidence at being able to defend in a suitable way. Also, with Sagna out for 3 months, we could get worse. Jenkinson seems like he is not ready to play against top class opposition and even he is injured for the foreseeable future. So far Djourou has played Right Back, but you only have to look back to the Blackburn game to see how that wont work against top wingers.

With Vermaelen still edging his way back to first team action, we are down to the bare bones across the back four with only 5 fit defenders. And that's including Gibbs who is about as reliable to stay fit as Almunia to keep a clean sheet.

All that said though, the Koscielny - Mertesacker partnership is starting to settle down and even look quite comfortable at times. In Marseille they halted any attacking threat that the French team posed with ease. After Saturday, we can really judge how successful their partnership can be, but the signs are quite promising so far.

In midfield we've lacked strength, and with Song having to deputise occasionally in defence, we have seen a lot of the young, but very impressive Coquelin or Frimpong. Ramsey has not been a shining star that we were wishing he would be, but he is steadily improving and learning his trade. It's just a shame he didn't have the chance to play next to Cesc more. In fact, since the Tottenham game, where he was easily nullified by Parker, Ramsey has got a lot better, and has shown that he can create and score goals for us this year.

Our new signing, Arteta has been decent. Not great, not rubbish, but decent. He can be praised for settling into the team quite quickly after signing on such short notice, but you cannot forgive an experienced player turning off at a key moment in a match of great magnitude, which is exactly what he (and Ramsey) did against Tottenham in the build up to their second goal. Like the other new signings, he seems to have a brilliant attitude and is solely focused on improving the teams position and qualifying for the Champions League.

Even up front, we've not been that great. Van Persie aside, who has been in his phenomenal form throughout 2011, and has completely upped his game in recent weeks, we have struggled to have the same impact that we did last season attacking wise. Walcott has been his usual self. Sometimes amazing and unstoppable, sometimes completely average and ineffective. His performance - or lack of one - against Stoke was very disappointing, but don't bet against him to play a key role against Chelsea, last season he was a major thorn in their side as we beat them at the Emirates.

Arshavin has struggled for form, although he has looked hungrier recently. Chamakh's lack of form for a year now is depressing and Park has not even feature din the league yet. Gervinho looked brilliant on Sunday with 2 assists and one goal. His turn of pace and dribbling skills are a joy to behold and if he can continue to produce an end product to his game, then we have a real gem on our hands.

We are not the Arsenal of 2004, we are not the Arsenal of 2010 even, we are a new Arsenal side. We are not playing to the level of old Arsenal side just yet, and are in a much worse predicament than we have been for years. But things are starting to look better than we thought they would be, and we are now only 2 points of Liverpool and 6 off Chelsea in 3rd. If we could get a result at the bridge, that gap could be only 3 points. Undoubtedly, it will be a long struggle for the rest of the season. And considering we have lost 4 times compared to Newcastle who are unbeaten shows just how far we have to go.

But a good performance and result on Saturday will go a long way to helping our recovery.

Take the Carling Cup More Seriously

Having cut short my holiday to come back and watch The Arsenal take on Bolton, travelling for hours across England and enjoying the numerous delays of Virgin Trains in the process, I was pleased with the overall result. A Win, against a reasonably strong Bolton side.

The second string we put out on Tuesday can be pleased that they got the job done, although there were some shaky moments, with Yennaris having a good debut up against the experienced Tuncay and Miquel not looking too phased by moving to Left-back. But the fact that none of these players - bar the quite impressive Arshavin and possibly Park & Yossi - will feature against Chelsea at the weekend shows just how weak our line up was. And, unless Vermaelen is fit, we will almost certainly make 11 changes for Saturdays game.

But should we be expecting more from Arsenal in the Carling Cup this season? After all, isn't it our best chance of a trophy this season. A trophy that will end our long standing, much publicised drought. And winning a trophy will give us something to celebrate after the depressing summer and start to the season, as well as the players a strong platform to build on.

We may have won the game on Tuesday, but overall we were very unimpressive, and things could have easily gone differently. Imagine if we had gone out. We would only have 4th place to fight for until we reach January and the FA Cup, but even that is a sought after trophy, with Chelsea, City and United needing to gain some silverware for their season not to be deemed a complete failure.

And before any mentions the Champions League, that is not a trophy we can expect to challenge for. If we cant even beat any top teams in England, what chance do we have against Real Madrid and Barcelona?

I agree that the Chelsea game has a lot of importance, but certainly in the next round I'd like to see a stronger team. Maybe resting Van Persie and other players we cannot afford to lose, and playing players like Park and Fabainski who need the game time, but if the rest of the team can't be trusted to play an win us games in the league, why should they be playing in the cup?

I've never even been the biggest fan of the Carling Cup, and last season found it slightly embarrassing how much importance we had given to such a measly competition that only Tottenham take seriously. But now, when the league is out of reach, and we only have to think of a tricky battle for 4th place, maybe we should re-think our approach to the Carling Cup.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Boring Boring Arsenal - Arsenal 1-0 Marseille

Good Win.

As the minutes and seconds slowly ticked by, I was planning on summing up this game and there was only one explanation. What a bloody boring match?

And anyone who has watch Arsenal over the last few years knows that we are not usually a boring team. We attack attack and attack and our defence in frankly rubbish. I have to admit today though, that had I been a neutral I probably would have turned off. But after coming into the game, a game which would have benefited from his slick passing, Ramsey turned in an excellent finish in the last minute to give us a great win.

The main stories from the first half were two handball shouts, one for each side. The first one was on Jenkinson which could have easily been given as he let it hit him on the arm in the box. Jenkinson does try hard, and the ITV commentators were forever going on about his work-rate up and down the right flank. However, he just isn't good enough. Time after time I see him as a fan who has won the chance to play for Arsenal for a year. Sure he tries his hardest, but there's a reason he's not a footballer. He can't play football.

That is harsh on Jenkinson, who I am sure will develop into an excellent player and has achieved so much already during the past year, and is clearly a lot better than any other right back option we have. Hopefully he is not out for too long.

The other shout, or murmur considering the Arsenal players' reaction was a clear handball by a Marseille player after a corner. Watching the replay and seeing his gloved hand punch the ball you cant help wondering why noone appealed for it. My only explanation for this is that all of our players shut their eyes and hope for the best at most set play situations, and this would go on to explain a lot of our problems at defending set pieces too.

On to the second half, which had less action than the first. Arsenal had all the ball and Marseille did nothing. Remy was isolated, and Valbuena did a lot of running, but on the whole not a lot happened. I was expecting the worst when Djourou came on for the injured Jenkinson, but Marseille didn't even exploit this weakness once.

In fact, it was a good Djourou cross which, after being miscontrolled by Gervinho - another sub on for Walcott - was well turned in by the Welsh captain. 

Overall it was a clam, composed performance, with very patient build up play which was well rewarded. In fact I can't remember Szczesny making a save. Much of that is owed to Koscielny, who was excellent - he looks a different player in the Champion League - and was there to clear things up whenever this got passed the rest of our defence.

Alex Song had a good game as well, and did well to keep his tackles under control after an early booking. Arteta battled quite well too, but offered little on the ball as the attack looked very average. Walcott's crossing was not at it's best, and Van Persie just didn't seem to have the classy touch that he did on Sunday. I'm sure we can forgive him though.

Here are the ratings: Szczesny 5.5 Jenkinson 6 Mertesacker 5.5 Koscielny 8 A.Santos 5.5 Song 7.5 Arteta 7 Rosicky 6.5 Walcott 6 Arshavin 5.5 Van Persie 6.5

Subs: Djourou 6.5 Gervinho 6 Ramsey 7.5

The 3 points are very happily taken and put us in an excellent position to win the group at the halfway stage. It was gives us our 5th win in 6 games, which has gone under a lot of people noses, and hopefully will be furthered at the weekend. We are not passed any corners, and we are still in a shit position in the league. But things are not as bad as people are making out. Come on you Gunners.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Marseille Preview

The main news of a quiet start to the week, mainly quiet because we had actually won a game instead of losing and having to face all the boring monotonous drivel that come with every bad Arsenal result, is that our best defender Thomas Vermaelen has signed a new contract. This is pretty much perfect news, and now we can focus on getting Vermaelen back and fit in the first team - preferably in time for the trip to the bridge that is looming ahead of us.

The main reason this is good news though is that Vermaelen was one of many key players - including the irreplaceable Van Persie - which was stuck in the tricky situation of only having 2 years left on their contract, and his signing will hopefully encourage the others to follow suit. On signing, the Belgian said:
"I am really happy to have signed a new contract with Arsenal. I always had the intention to stay here. Arsenal is a fantastic club. We have great supporters, we're doing well financially and we are playing with some quality young players now and they will develop, which is very good for the future."

Hopefully the future will be bright over the next few years.

The other news came after Arsene's pre-match interview with the French press where he revealed more about our terrible summer. Le Boss said:
 "This summer was the most agitated I've ever known. I had half the players in the dressing room who wanted to leave."
This sums up the ridiculous summer we had, and the negative affect it had on the team as a whole. No wonder we have started the season so badly when no-one really wanted to be here. Frankly lessons must have been learnt from last summer, and if we make the same mistakes again then there is something wrong with the people in charge of the club.

On to tomorrow's team news and Keiran Gibbs, who picked up yet another injury against Sunderland, is out of the tricky trip along with the other injured players, Wilshere, Vermaelen, Sagna . The good news is that Ramsey travels, and Djourou and Koscielny are back.

Like all of our away European games this year, this game will be hard, possibly the hardest we will face. Marseille have an array of attacking talent with Remy, Valbuena, Ayew and Lucho Gonzalez standing out in particular. At the Stade Velodrome, with the sixty thousand passionate fans behind the team, they will cause us a lot of problems, but we have already showed that we can deal with tough atmospheres this year after coming away with two great performances at Udinese and Dortmund.

The team should probably be something like this: Szczesny Jenkinson Mertesacker Koscielny Santos Arteta Song Rosicky Walcott Van Persie Gervinho

However, with the experience of Arshavin and Benayoun to call on, as well as the return of Ramsey, there could be more than the one change after Sunday. Like us, the French giants have not enjoyed their best start to the season and are lumbering in 15th, but Europe will be a welcome distraction, and they cannot be underestimated. Overall, A draw would not be a bad result, but if we do manage to scrape a win it will go a long way to rebuilding the teams confidence and regaining some kind of form. You never know with this Arsenal side though.

Monday, 17 October 2011

It Feels Good To Win

What a difference a win makes. 

All the stuttering, shaky football we have enjoyed over the last few weeks can finally be forgotten as we relish in the beauty of van ps class. We can't make any claims of us turning the corner - and let's face it, beating a weak sunderland team with an amazing late strike isn't a perfect result - but at least we left the Grove with the points. And that feels good enough for me.

We started the game brilliantly, with sharp incisive passing - Rosicky in particular looked in great from - cutting open the sunderland defence before Robin does what Robin does best and took his chance with infinite ease.

The goal banished any nerves we may have had and the players played with a freedom that we haven't had in months. At one stage the motd commentator said thisistherealarsenal/arsenal are back. We actually looked good for a while. Arteta, Song and the aforementioned Rosicky were running the game from the middle of the park and the link up play with the forwards was top class.

In particular though one player stood out. Van Persie backed up his comments about his commitment to the club by putting in a great, captains display. He oozed class whenever he touched the ball and the United Sunderland defence couldn't get near him. His turn and chip was straight out of the Bergkamp/Cantona mould and had it bounced in we may have gone on to win by a number of goals and Robin may have been looking at a goal of the season.

However it just bounced down onto the line and, whilst Sunderland were being battered, there was still only one goal in it.

The shaky signs were still present though, and after an Almunia moment from Szczesny when he charged out like a madman but luckily survived. Then came a petty freekick given for handball or something stupid. And frankly an experienced played like Arteta should know better than giving away those free kicks. As always, we were punished by what an inch perfect free kick. Ex-Gooner Larrson is known for his dead ball skills but this was right out of the top draw.

Shortly after it could have been worse. The team was shaky and all over the place, and the defensive errors started to creep in again. Luckily though, Szczesny was on hand to give us one of the saves of the season throwing himself in front of cattermoles header from 3 yards out. In previous seasons we've had gks that lose us points, but now we have one that's gaining us points and saving us time and time again.

In the second half things looked like they would drift into a bore draw. Rosicky was trying but sunderland stopped any attacking movements with constant fouls.

On came Arshavin and Benayoun and the russian in particular looked back on form. One run involved his skipping past 3/4 players before slipping the snapshot just wide.  Sunderland really didn't offer much going forward and the possession was more than 1 sided.

The spotlight eventually fell back on the man who played so well in 1st half. He lacked service at times in 2nd but after letting everyone else have their chance at dangerous freekicks the dutchman finally picked up the ball for himself.

Personally I wasny too confident in his even hitting the target, but then what do I know? Instead Robin struck an equally perfect fk into the right hand side of the net. A goal worthy of winning any game.

Despite an immidiate scare straight after the goal when sland scored an offside goal, we managed to look calm and composed and kept the ball well to close out the game.

Now we can't go and make any assumptions after just one game, and the team will still have a soft core for probably the next few months - especially with Vermaelen, Wilshere and Sagna all out - but getting the win was good, and now we are only 4 points off Liverpool and 3 off Spurs, who have a game in hand. Nothing is impossible, but let's take things one game at a time.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

New Look Arsenal

Over the last 20- 30 years, Arsenal have been at the forefront of English football and as fans we have enjoyed some of the best sides, playing the best (and worst occasionally) football in the world.

Over that period we have won countless trophies under the stewardship of two of our greatest managers in George Graham and Arsene Wenger. Both of them maintained the respected image of the club which has always be renowned for its class and built amazing sides.

The best thing about Graham's sides were the defence though. The back four. The best back four to ever play together arguably. The defence knew so much about each other and Graham coached them for hours and hours so they were ready for anything.

In Tony Adams the club had an amazing defender and a captain who would rather die before letting the other team score. He could partner any number of players at the back, from Bould to Keown to O'Leary to Linighan, who were all great defenders too. At full back, Winterburn and Dixon were as consistent as you like and could read the game perfectly. They always managed to stay just infront of the centrebacks to stop any stupid offside's (Clichy take note) and should have won plenty more caps for England.

Behind them was David Seaman - or John Lukic before him - and he will rightly go down as one of the best goalkeepers Arsenal and England have ever had.

The midfield weren't technically brilliant - although on that front they were very much underrated especially when you consider the qualities of players such as Rocastle, Limpar and Merson - but worked their socks off for the team, and all of the players were proud to wear the Arsenal shirt for a living.

After Graham's exit and Rioch's short spell in charge came Le Professor. Arsene Wenger helped transform the club from "Boring Arsenal" to a team which played some of the best football in the world, whilst being sucessful too. He kept the rock solid back four in shape, but granted them freedom to be more expressive on the pitch. His signings of Vieira and Petit gave us a solid backbone in midfield, and their class and understanding on each other was to play a key part in France's world cup triumph.

Attacking wise, Overmars was in the form of his life whilst Bergkamp was absolutely tremendous and always showed his quality. And Wenger, faced with the seemingly impossible task of replacing the ageing Ian Wright, worked more magic by bringing Nicolas Anelka into the team.

After Anelka's 20 million pound move he was replaced by Henry and as they say, the rest is history. Overmars and Petit were both eventually replaced by Pires and Gilberto, two players that went on to become Arsenal legends themselves. The back four was eventually broken up too with Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure and Lauren making their own amazing defence which only conceded 18 goals as Arsenal went invincible through the 2003/4 season.

But very quickly, that unbeatable team was broken up, and not replaced with the quality we needed. This summer, with Chilchy's exit finalised, none of the squad from that title winning season are left. We came close to having a great team in 07/08 with Hleb, Cesc, Flamini, Rosicky forming an excellent midfield which fed the strikers Adebayor, Eduardo and Van Persie. The defence was OK, and while Gallas and Toure could not form an excellent partnership, they were both excellent players. That team too was broken up with Eduardo's and Rosicky's injuries leaving the out the team for two years and Hleb and Flamini leaving, closely followed by Adebayor and Toure. Since then only Almunia, Sagna, Rosicky remain from that first team which came so close to winning the league.

Last season saw the emergence of another team moulded by Wenger which could challenge for titles. Players started to mature in Nasri, Song and Walcott and even though Cesc did not have his best season, he was still quality in the centre of the pitch. Wilshere's emergence was a joy to behold and Sagna was as consistent as ever at right back. Van Persie's goals in the second half of the season could and should have fired us to the title, but for the misgivings of the defence. The Arsenal defence which used to be renowned across the country and celebrated as the best in the country.

This summer though, Wenger has had to rebuild yet again as the pivotal players in the team have moved on to pastures new. With the new signings as well as having Vermaelen and Ramsey back to full fitness and in the first team, Arsenal can line up a team looking completely different to last season. Good different or bad different we will be looking to find out, but losing the creativity of Cesc and Nasri will be hard to replace.

The team now lacks still lacks the strong defence from the Graham and early Wenger years, even though Mertesacker's experience, height and leadership will help. But the depth of those defences which won the league in 89 and 91 and the doubles in 98 and 02 as well as going invincible in 04 just wont be there. Nevertheless even though the new left back Andre Santos and the forever injured Gibbs will never be Ashley Cole's or have the same reading of the game as Winterburn, but they can improve us in a position which has gone down hill as Clichy's mistakes have become more common.

Song now has competition for his place with Frimpong and so his lapses in concentration should be minimised hopefully. He is still learning the game, but with more experienced players around him he will be helped out. Just in front of Song will be Arteta, Rosicky, Ramsey or Benayoun, with Wilshere tucked in beside them. Ramsey needs to grow into the role, and will take time to dominate the games and create chance after chance which he is capable of. Rosicky has had one good half of football (against Udinese) in the last few years and as one of the most experienced players in the side, he will have to make that performance more often. Arteta and Benayoun will hopefully help with the creative burden and are proven players in the Premier League, but can both be susceptible to injuries.

Gervinho has looked bright, but will take time to settle into the English pace of the game. He does have competition though, with Theo, Arshavin, Miyaichi and Chamberlain all challenging for the two wing positions, and Arteta and Benayoun are comfortable out wide too. Other than the defence, my main worry is up front, where Van Persie has been very isolated this season.

Park will give his all if called upon as back up, but has rarely been prolific during his career. If we don't have him available then Chamakh may have to play, and whilst he may be completely out of form, even when in form I'd prefer Bendtner. But compared to our challengers United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea we are very short in this area. Overall, We can aim for top 3 this season and we really need a trophy now to take the burden off the players' backs. We need to move on quickly though, and gel as a new team with new energy, as the lifeless Arsenal that was on show in the opening three league games was embarrassing. With millions in the bank to (hopefully) spend in January and next summer, we must continue looking forward - as our motto says.

Here's to the Arsenal.