A Conversation With My Flat Mate…

Being a Gooner and living with a Gooner means there is many a discussion about the world of Arsenal, the life of being a Gooner, the frustrations of the season so far and the possible transfers. Last night, down at our local, a conversation happened which was heated to a degree and it went something like this:

Amo (my flat mate): Dev mate. It’s time for a change. It’s time to get rid of Wenger. Look at what Mourinho has done, look at the defending that they did. We should have done that against Barce.

Dev (me): Wenger out? Are you having a laugh? Football, especially at the Arsenal is not about short-term-ism. Look at what Wenger has done since his arrival, he’s changed the club completely from a team challenging for the UEFA cup to a team that has consistently finished in the top four. A team that has won many titles and FA Cups.

But when was the last time we won anything? Five years ago! Come on, surely it’s time to get someone else in.

You’re right, it’s been five years, but you’ve got to look at the bigger picture – in the last five years, we’ve been in our new stadium. And in this day and age, what we have done by moving to a new 60,000 seater stadium in the heart of London – one of the best in the world, with no external investment is no mean feat whatsoever. For the long term future of the club, we’ve invested £400m of money that we’ve financed ourselves – built a stadium which will allow us to become the richest club in the world.

Mourinho could have done a job with the squad we’ve got.

You look at Mourinho and it’s all about him. Yes, if he wins something for the club he’s managing then great. But he’s not in it for the long term. He will be out of Inter before you can say Jose. Is he the type of person who could have built a club up, improved players like Wenger? Is he the type of manager who could have identified world superstars at young such ages as Cesc Fabregas or even the likes of Patrick Vieira?

But he’s a winner.

With the right club, the right players, he’s a good motivator and yes a good coach. But don’t underestimate the difference between a manager and a coach.

I don’t know. We used to win so much, I can’t remember when we last won something.

Mate – we’re not far off being very competitive. In fact, this season and the season before last, we have still been challenging for the title. We’ve suffered injuries and our strength in depth hasn’t been good enough. This summer may be the year when we spend a bit more to plug the gaps in our squad. With the players we have, the talent of the likes like Cesc, Arshavin, Nasri and Van Persie as well and the defensive qualities of our back line and Alex Song, all we have to do is add a quality goalkeeper, potentially a world class winger and another centre back and bingo. Bingo, as long as Chamakh comes in too!

The conversation went on a bit longer, but it’s clear that there is some disgruntlement with some of the fans. I am a little more patient perhaps – or maybe I’ve got more experience in the breadth of the the club’s finer details – who knows. I certainly will be one of those who renews my season ticket quicker than you can say Woa!

In transfer news, Arsene did reveal that a player will be announced before the World Cup and personally, I believe that player will be Maroune Chamakh. He also revealed that there are a few more players coming in, or possibly coming in…

“We have a basic squad and I believe in the squad I have. But if I can make an addition – two or three maximum – then we will do it. I will try to do what I want to do as quickly as possible but I am not the only decider. It doesn’t only depend on me. Ideally, you would want to do the job before the World Cup. It is difficult to give yourself the right timing. Certainly, we will announce one player before the World Cup. After that we will see.”

So, Chamakh comes in as a striker… a player comes in as a goalkeeper, one centre back to replace Silvestre… that the two or three maximum – anyone think another DM wouldn’t be the worst signing ever? Arsene also mentioned that Eduardo will still be here next season and that he’s only been recently tied down to a long term contract, so of course he will be here next season:

“In the last two months he looked sharp to me. It was the first full season after the surgery at the end of last season. He was a bit disturbed. I think next season should be better for him. He is very important, but I will assess that situation before the end of the season to see how he feels. He is 25/26-years-old and wants to play. We extended his contract because we believe in him.”

So, as they say patience is a virtue. And down at the Emirates, patience may reward us with the biggest prize of all, very, very soon…

Let’s Talk Money… Let’s Talk Transfers… Let’s Talk Home Grown Rule…

Three things that we don’t know the truth about. Money, transfers and the home grown rule. I’m going to go a little way to explaining what the truth is behind all those three things – or at least give my version of what I think the truth is… I’ll start with the home grown rule and take a look at how it effects us, then I’ll look at the money side of things and then finally take a look at the likely transfers…

I’ve been scouring the official UEFA documentation regarding the home grown rule and in contraction to the newspapers and additionally what Arsene said recently about it being unfairly limited to 25 members in the squad, the rule itself doesn’t really harm us whatsoever… Let’s take a look at it:

“A home-grown player will be defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the Season during which he turns 21).‬

Clubs will be able to supplement their squads with unlimited additional players under the age of 21 on 1st January in the year in which the season commences.Changes to the squad list of 25 may be made during the period of a transfer window.‬ ”

The squad size of 25 is basically the number of players over the age of 21 we can have in our main first team squad. A quick scan through the first team squad (okay, it wasn’t quick), allows me to group players into three categories. Just a quick reminder – from next season, 8 of the 25 players must be home grown (as per definition)… although the details below are aimed at the current crop of players rather than the ones next season (simply because I don’t know who will be here!)… but at next year’s ages

Category 1: Players over 21 and not home grown (max 17)

  1. Manuel Almunia
  2. Lukasz Fabianski
  3. Bacary Sagna
  4. Thomas Vermaelen
  5. William Gallas
  6. Mikael Silvestre
  7. Sol Campbell
  8. Abou Diaby
  9. Tomas Rosicky
  10. Samir Nasri
  11. Andrei Arshavin
  12. Emmanuel Eboue
  13. Eduardo
  14. Van Persie

Category 2: Players over 21 but are defined as home grown (min 8 )

  1. Vito Mannone
  2. Philippe Senderos
  3. Alex Song
  4. John Djourou
  5. Gael Clichy
  6. Cesc Fabregas
  7. Denilson
  8. Carlos Vela
  9. Niklas Bendtner

Category 3: Players under 21 (unlimited)

  1. Wojciech Szczesny
  2. Kieran Gibbs
  3. Armand Traore
  4. Craig Eastmond
  5. Aaron Ramsey
  6. Jack Wilshere
  7. Fran Merida
  8. Theo Walcott

So, by my count, we only have 14 players who are over 21 whom are not home grown. That means, providing we don’t sell any of them, we can still buy three players aged over 21 and include them in our squad without having to leave anyone out. We’ve actually got 9 home grown players but have been trained by the club for a minimum of three seasons. But in reality, the home grown rule doesn’t depict age, so we actually have many more – players like Szczesny, Gibbs, Traore, Merida etc etc are technically categorised as home grown even though they are so young.

You’ll note that there are 9 players in the home grown category, so they contribute towards the overall quota – but I consider Senderos already gone – hence the note about the ability to buy three non home grown players. If one or two of Gallas or Silvestre or Campbell were to leave, you’re looking at the possibility of bringing in four or even five players if needs must. But one thing to be aware of is that players under 21 will grow up end up in the over 21 quota, so bringing in 5 over 21′s this summer would mean a full quota next.

In fact, we have the highest number of home grown players in the Premiership. You may see other teams able to name 8 home grown players – but many of them will have to add people in from their youth teams and promote normally unused players, whereas our squad is complimented by this age bracket and ruling. In addition, the players under 21 are all of extremely high quality comparably.

So, what does mean this summer? Well I think it’s clear that we can bring in 3 players of a decent experienced age group without any worry of the home grown rule. At the moment, we have 23 players over 21 (9 classified as home grown) and with Senderos, Silvestre and possibly Gallas and Almunia off this summer, we will have 19 players, with 6 places up for grabs.

The transfers which seem most probable are a new goalkeeper, a new centre back, a new striker – I would expect all three of these players to be over 21 and not home grown. Who – well who is a different story altogether and only one player – in Maroune Chamakh is on the radar for us fans. Of course, Arsene feels that he has already identified the players and hopes to sign them up before the world cup, so it’s currently a waiting game.

For those of you unaware of Arsene’s comments ready the money situation, here’s a brief reminder:

“Due to the construction of the Emirates Stadium, for many years we could not spend a lot,” said Wenger. “Our financial situation has greatly improved. We are finally able to buy the players we think we need.”

And having sold Adebayor and Toure for a combined fee of £41m last summer and sales in previous seasons too, Hleb, Gilberto, Hoyte, £20m, Thierry Henry, Ljungberg, Diarra, Reyes, Aliaidiere, £35m – you’re looking at roughly £100m through the door (including the Bentley sell on fee), with Nasri, Vermaelen, Eduardo and Arshavin denting about £40m, leaving a £60m surplus… add to that the increasing revenues and prize money, and of course, sales of the Highbury flats, we’re now the third richest club in the world and it goes without doubt that Arsene can spend this summer.

Well, my fellow Gooners, we know a little bit more about the money available, a little more about the transfers and a whole load more about the home grown rule. That, as they say when eating a tortilla…. is a wrap… time to digest… Adios for now…

Round Up: Man City, Transfers, Sol and Van Persie

Afternoon Fellow Gooners… It’s been a weird weekend in the wonderful world of Arsenal, and it certainly was a weird game on Saturday – completely overshadowed by the returns of Adebayor, Patrick Vieira and Kolo Toure to the Emirates. The game itself felt like a typical end of season game where both teams had nothing to play for, and both teams looking for a draw… But in actual fact, the away team did have something to play for – the challenge for the fourth spot… which makes it very strange to me that City went for the 0-0 draw. Their tactic was to pack the midfield and get men behind the ball – they started with Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry and Patrick Vieira in midfield – that’s 3 defensive midfielders. Bearing in mind the up coming games and bearing in mind that Sp*rs lost earlier in the day, I was shocked that they would come to the Emirates to get a point. Many people including myself thought it was going to be an open game but it was anything but.

To be honest, we didn’t really help the matter either, which our formation, which I believe was pretty negative. The players involved could have easily played a 4-4-2 with Diaby and Song in the middle and Walcott up front. I don’t want to bash our players too much, but I really do feel that Nasri and Rosicky are very similar players in what they contribute to the team and if one plays, the other shouldn’t. Just imagine if we played Bendtner and Van Persie up top (VP slightly behind the big Dane), Walcott on the right and Nasri on the left – kind of what we did later on, we would be much more effective. Simply put – if Cesc is not available, then we can’t play 4-3-3.

Back to Man City, and having beaten us at their ground and knowing that a win against us would have meant they would have gone into fourth, you really do have to question the negativity of the game. Man City have to beat Sp*rs now if they were to come fourth, and although it’s none of my business, I would have been well annoyed as a City fan when I saw my team stack everyone behind the ball. For us though, it was important not to lose and our third place is pretty much assured now, so that’s ultimately good news and a step up from last year.

Transfers

Arsene has mentioned this several times, and this summer could be the summer that we spend a little bit more and don’t sell any players – i.e. finally add to the squad. Arsene has been in the press recently saying how the stadium was the main factor in our transfer policy in the last 5 years, but now we have cash available to spend and he intends to do so in the summer.

Arsene did reveal in his programme notes on Saturday that he has targets that he hopes to acquire very soon.

“With the season drawing to a close, people are inevitably looking to discuss our transfer targets. I do have targets and have been talking to people, but I cannot mention any names at the moment. What I can say is that the World Cup will not affect our recruitment, unless there is an exception that nobody could foretell. In my view it is dangerous to buy on the back of a World Cup – for one thing the prices afterwards are always artificial, and for another you have to bear in mind that anyone can have three weeks of glory on a football field. All told, I believe that the earlier you settle your teams for the next season, the better it is and the less anxiety you have.”

You have to think, bearing in mind that Arsene normally says he doesn’t have anyone on the radar and that no one is available who can increase the quality of his squad – that considering he has come out and said this now, he actually does have people lined up to come in. I think Maroune Chamakh is one of those players (does it spell the end for Eduardo?) and a new goalkeeper and a new centre back would no doubt be on the agenda. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but I genuinely believe we’re going to have a compliment of players join the squad to really push us on a level.

Sol

Would you give the big man another year? I certainly would. Personally, I believe he has come back a better player than when he left – crazy isn’t it?

More importantly, for England right now, would you take him to the World Cup? Arsene certainly thinks so…

“I see that many centre backs are injured so why not?  He’s got the experience and it’s up to Capello to decide. He was at the game today so ask him! Of course [Ferdinand and Terry] have an advantage because they are younger but if they have a problem in numbers he’s always there. I do not select the team and I do not say Capello has to take him, I just say you compare him today in the Premier League with the other centre backs then he doesn’t suffer in the comparison.”

With Ferdinand dogged by injuries and mixed form and with Terry going through the world form of his career, wouldn’t it be wise to have him in the squad in case. Ten minutes to go, Terry or Ferdinand pull up with cramp or something, who would you want to come on, Wes Bown, Matthew Upson or Sol Campbell?

Van Persie

Van Persie is a true Arsenal player. The tackle on Adebayor was retribution for himself and for the fans. We love Robin, don’t we? Arsene recently compared him to Messi and today, the Dutchman mentioned what he thought:

‘I still have to prove it [that Wenger is right]. Those are big words, because players like Messi are unbelievable. It is a bit early to say. It is not really pressure on me, but I hope to be in that place one day. I think I have the qualities to do so, but you need time, you need games and you need to be fit. I hope there is more to come from me. I just want to have a season without injuries and be happy.’

And finally, I’ve just watched the replay of Craig Bellamy’s punch at Alex Song and how that offence went unpunished, I’ll never know. It was a clear breach of conduct, a clear swing by Bellamy and it was astonishing that the referee didn’t do anything about it. I really do hope the FA do something about it as you can’t believe that someone can get away with something like that.

Until later my friends, have fun, keep it Goonerish.

Arsenal 0-0 Manchester City. You’ll be forgiven if you fell asleep!

So with last week’s surprise defeat at Wigan all but ending our title challenge, there isn’t much left to play for this season. But with third place not yet safe, it’s important not to lose any games. And as luck would have it, we were playing a team in Manchester City, who are chasing fourth and who’d be in a position to take third from us, were we to slip-up. Very important not to lose to them. And with the return of 3 of our ex-players- Toure, Vieira, Ade- adding extra spice, losing wasn’t an option.

Team news for the game saw Fabianski retain his place in goal, RvP come in for Bendtner, and the returning Song for Eastmond. With Robin and Song back in, the team seemed much stronger! As for City, Vieira and Toure were in the starting XI, with Ade unsurprisingly only on the bench.

As for the game, in all honesty it was nothing to write home about. I thought it was going to be open, or that at least there’d be a couple of goals in it. As you probably know, it finished 0-0. Not the interesting type of 0-0 with loads of chances, but the boring type, with very very few chances. The goal-keepers were hardly troubled. Manchester City were ultra-defensive, it was surprising. They had no attacking intent, except to hit us on the break, but we never let them, really. They defended really well, and so did we.

We had a few half-chances in the first half, but nothing of note. The first shot on target came in the second half, a weak Rosicky shot which Given gathered easily. The match only livened up in the second half, when Ade came on and obviously not for football reasons. He came on as a replacement for Vieira, and the contrast in reception was unbelievable. Vieira was cheered by the whole stadium (although a few of his tackles weren’t impressive), whereas Ade was booed, ofcourse. His every touch was. That was the only bit of excitement in the game, unfortunately. But at least, there was something to remember the game by!

Arsene took off Theo and Rosicky for Eboue and Bendtner and although there was a slight improvement, it wasn’t a lot. It was a bit ironic that the closest we got to scoring, led to an injury to the goal-keeper! Diaby hit a shot from outside the box and looked like it was headed for the low right corner, but for Shay Given’s out-stetched arm. He dislocated his shoulder the process, unfortunately. He was treated on the pitch for about 6-7 minutes before he was stretchered off. Sad sight, and crefit to our fans, as everyone gave him a round of applause as he left. He was replaced by Gunnar Nielsen, making his first team debut. It was hilarious, his name being ‘Gunnar’ (Gunner) and what would have capped it off would have been an own-goal or a Flap-ianski moment! Well, that didn’t happen, ofcourse.

Robin had a good chance with a free-kick in his type of territory, but his chipped effort was just wide. The ‘keeper was nowhere near it! A few more half-chances here and there, and it was full-time. Watching th highlights on ATVO and Match of the Day, it’s nothing short of a miracle that they were able to find 10-15minutes worth of highlights.

So it was a poor game, but the atmosphere at the game was brilliant. The referee was a bit rubbish to be honest. I thought  City fouled us more, but they only got 2 bookings, whereas we got 4! Our attack might have been blunted, but we defended really well. I thought City would have offered more attack-wise, but we defended resolutely and the likes of Tevez and Bellamy were hardly in the game. Song was brillaint, as usual. So was Sol. The big surprise was Silvestre, as he was excellent. Someone made the point that maybe it was his United loyalties coming to the fore, but either way, it worked for us! Fabianski didn’t have much to do, but the little he had to do, he did well. That would have helped his confidence immensely. Robin got 90 minutes under his belt and although he was a bit rusty, those were valuable minutes.

There were a couple of interesting tussles in the first half between Diaby v Vieira and Song v Vieira. Song and Diaby ofcourse came out on top which was great to see, but sad at the same time, it being Vieira! Im really struggling with what else to say about the game, as there isn’t much. It had an end-of-the-season feel to it which in our case, it really was. Incidentally, a draw mathematically ends our title challenge. It was fun when it lasted. Don’t really care who wins it now, to be honest!

Here’s Arsene’s reaction to the game:

“It was an afternoon I am not used to because we created very few chances and Man City didn’t create anything. They were highly focussed on defending well. They didn’t give us any space and we could not find the opener. For as long as we couldn’t do that it was a locked game basically. There were very few chances. It was two teams who played well defensively, had very good discipline but created very few chances.”

On Robin:

“He was sharp for 60 minutes, 70 minutes. After he dropped physically, I left him on because I thought we can only win on set pieces today and that he could score a free kick or give a corner that could allow us to score. But overall he was very sharp, in the first half especially. But for having been out for such a long time it is quite positive.”

And on the forever-impressive Sol:

“Maybe you should take him to South Africa!”

…Since he has been in the team he has been outstanding. I never expected that from him and that is great credit to him. You can compare him with any centre-back in the League. He has been very, very good.”

On Fabianski:

“I believe it was important that he can play a game without having a lack of concentration. Today he was spot on from the first to the last minute. He read all the situations very well and that is what you want from him. I always said he is one of the most talented goalkeepers and when he gets the concentration right he will get there.”

He’s spot-on about Fabianski; he just needs to work on his concentration levels. I do hope Sol gets a new contract though, as he’s been brilliant for us since he joined and his experience will always be valuable.

But yeah, 2 games to go until the end of the season- one away at Blackburn (a toughie) and the last, home to Fulham. It’d be great if we got 6 points from both, but whatever happens, it’s not been a disastrous season even though it’s seemed that way a few times, not least last week! It can only get better!

Onwards and upwards…

Arsenal vs Man City, Match Day Live…

Afternoon Fellow Gooners,

It’s match day live and time for us to knock Man City for 6… We need to exact revenge and we need to silence Adebayor… We wouldn’t mind solifying third in the mean time… none of this Sp*rs for 3rd place nonsense…! I write this just before the United vs Sp*rs game, so by the time you read it, it might be a little bit more interesting at the top…

Song is back and he’s in the squad, we’re not sure if Arsene will draft him in at centre back or midfield, but in the press conference yesterday, Arsene did say that he thought he wasn’t quite ready…

“He has not the reflexes at the moment. He has the capacity to play there but we have seen against Barcelona and once or twice that he has not the reflexes yet.  He needs to practise two or three weeks in there to have all the knowledge of the game.”

There is another decision that Arsene has to make and that’s over the goalkeeping position – we all know that Almunia won’t play again this season, but will Fabiasnski or Mannone will get the nod. I’d love to see Mannone get the nod personally. Arsene did touch on the position saying – obviously, he’s not a goalkeeping coach but puts his faith in the goalkeeping coaches. One thing I know Arsene will do this summer is get in a quality keeper. Even at 40, Edwin Van Der Sar has proved that he can gain points for this team and the same cannot be said for either Almunia or Mannone.

For those of you who follow the youth, you’ll be aware of prospect Wojciech Szczesny, who is in fine form at Brentford and surely next season, both Mannone and Szczesny should be in and around the first team. I was impressed with Mannone’s cameo earlier this season. Back to Szczesny and Arsene has highlighted his potential:

“It is reasonable to have the ambition to be No 1 here next season. I believe he is doing extremely well.  I believe one day he will be the No 1 at Arsenal certainly. But we will see next season. It is down to his performances. But you want as well some experience at our level. You cannot only go with young goalkeepers.”

Today sees the return of three players in Adebayor, Toure and Vieira. Arsene has called for all of us to respect all of them and yes, they have all had a good history at the club. Patrick Vieira, no doubt, will get a very warm reception, he’s a living legend, a great player – someone who had always given 100% when he played for us and someone who has always spoken well of the club. Arsene took time out to talk about the return of Vieira:

“I remember the fierce fighter he was and what remains in my memory when I arrived here is when we played at Wimbledon, who at the time were [a traditional] Wimbledon [team]. People tried to impress Patrick and they hit the wall. That was the most impressive thing. England 1996 was not England 2010, there were not many foreign players. When people saw him handling the physical game like he did and adding the quality he had and being afraid of nobody, that remains forever in your head. Straight away it was amazing how quickly he gained respect here.”

Kolo Toure is a player that I always did have a lot of respect for – at one point, I called him Mr Arsenal, as his passion for the game was outstanding. His passion for the team was always brilliant. He seemed to love Arsenal so much. When he went to City, I was upset at the decision, but having seen his form dip at City, it’s proved a wise decision. When Toure and Gallas were at the club, there was a rift between them, they didn’t speak and that’s not the way the a centre back partnership works. Although I don’t know the full history of the feud, Toure did touch on it pre-game:

“As a player I had great respect for him because he was older than me and, in Africa, when someone is older than you, you have to respect them. But I think sometimes he took advantage of that in some ways. It reached a point where me and Gallas didn’t talk to each other at all. Arsene Wenger understood my position and I have huge respect for him. He realised that the two of us couldn’t stay together. One of us had to go. You can’t play two central defenders who don’t communicate. I didn’t want to make trouble for Arsenal because they had given me my chance in English football and I really enjoyed most of my time there. I didn’t want to put the team in a difficult position, so I was the one who said, ‘I want to leave’. I was with Arsenal for six years, but the last two years there were difficult and I had problems with a few people. I was not feeling happy in the team and I was looking for a new challenge somewhere else. It was the right thing for me and Arsenal.”

You have to feel for Kolo – as even though technically, you’d feel Gallas is a better defender, you know deep down that Kolo is such a genuine guy – I know he’s defended Ade in respect to earlier this season, but he has to – he has to play with him!

So today has much more riding it than just the three points. It’s got the revenge factor – the third place vs second vs fourth enigma [please cross off the correct enigma based on the United / Sp*rs result earlier today]…

So over to team news, and you’ve got to feel Van Persie will start and noise is that so will Niklas Bendtner is a more conventional 4-4-2 and I would love it if that happened. So, line up for today could well be:

Mannone

Sagna – Campbell – Song – Clichy

Walcott – Diaby – Eastmond – Nasri

Van Persie – Bendtner

But if Arsene reverts to a 4-5-1, we’ll then probably see:

Mannone

Sagna – Campbell – Silvestre – Cichy

Walcott – Nasri – Song – Diaby – Bendtner

Van Persie

And that’s the most probable line up when you think about it.

Alrighty, I’m off to the game, so will be tweeting match side a bit later… til then, adios… and of course… Come on you Gooners……..!

Arsenal vs Man City: Preview

With all the transfer talk that has consumed us this week, and of course, the distraction of the Champions League midweek games (which saw Inter go 3-1 up at Barcelona and Munich go 1-0 against Lyon – more on that later)… we’ve totally forgotten about the big game this weekend against, none other than Champions League contenders, Man City. Time to look ahead to this weekend’s game…

Earlier this season, we lost 4-2 to our new rivals, and it was a highly charged affair, with Emmanuel Adebayor exactly some physicality on our players, injuries to Cesc and Van Persie, not for the faint hearted. We let our emotion get the better of us that day and in our desire to equalise, and then win, we lacked defensive discipline.

This weekend has to be a different game, we have to start with intention and try our best to control and force the issue. The worries of course, going into this game have been the lack of defensive strength in both the central defensive area and the defensive midfield area. Our first choice triangle would normally be Song ahead of Gallas and Vermaelen, but now we’re looking at having Eastmond or Diaby ahead of Campbell and Silvestre – it’s just not the same.

Going into the end part of the season, with Almunia dropped for the remaining three games, we’ll most likely have Fabianski in goal and he really doesn’t look the piece, despite what pundits and our goal keeping experts say – and despite what Arsene says of him. We have seen him 18 times last season and another 7 this term and he’s failed to impress and instead done the opposite, and even been nicknamed Flapianski… I’m sure he’ll get another chance to impress or unimpress this weekend.

Earlier this week, there was story about Arshavin possibly returning for this weekend, but he revealed yesterday that he won’t make it:

‘Alas, the latest data says I should fully recover within a week, so on Saturday I won’t be able to enter the pitch,’ he said on Wednesday night.

‘I hope to play in the remaining matches of the season – against Blackburn and Fulham.’

Which brings me onto the rest of the team news. Rumours are that Robin Van Persie will start up front, and we’ll continue with the 4-5-1 approach that we’ve regressed into, thus fielding only 1 striker, and 5 midfielders… here’s the potential line up…

Fabianski

Sagna – Campbell – Silvestre – Clichy

Eastmond – Diaby

Walcott – Nasri – Rosicky

Van Persie

With a bench of Mannone, Eboue, Merida, Henderson, Bendtner, Vela and Eduardo

With big games, sometimes, I take a look at the opposition, and today is one of those games…

Given

Richards – Toure – Kompany – Bridge

De Jong – Barry

Johnson – Tevez – Bellamy

Adebayor

After seeing Henry return to the Emirates not that long ago, we now have another two players back at ground in Kolo Toure, the captain of Man City and Adebayor, the striker whose has netted 13 times this season… compared to Niklas Bendtner’s 12… Kolo Toure has asked for Ade to remain calm, so hopefully he’ll listen and not go crazy again…

With us just 7 points ahead of Sp*rs and 10 ahead of Man City, who both have a game in hand on us, it’s more than vital that we win our remaining games. We have to start this weekend by disposing of Man City and I’d love to see Van Persie get back on the scoresheet after his prolonged absence from the team!

Come on you Gooners!!

The Jury’s Out: Eduardo…

As the speculation of who will play and who won’t play this Saturday is not the thing on people’s mind, and of course, being Wednesday, there is a lot more time to think about the game on the weekend… In the meantime, we can spend a bit of time examining our squad, and for the players who haven’t performed at the level expected of them, we’ll be doing a new section called “The Jury’s Out”…

Today’s “Jury’s Out” is on Eduardo Da Silva, the Crozilian who was bought as Thierry Henry’s replacement. It pains me so much to see the decline of such a good player, as when Eduardo joined us, his first touch, his vision and his finishing were outstanding.

I remember that every time the player had a chance, he used to score – his accuracy was so high that when he missed the target, we were all in shock. I remember one quote from Arsene, let me share:

“He is growing towards that [fox in the box role]. I must say he has deservedly got rewarded because he had an outstanding December. If you look at the numbers he has 14 starts, 11 goals. That is top, top numbers for any striker anywhere in the world. It is exceptional. And what struck me on Sunday at Burnley was not the goal he did score, but the one he didn’t score. That shows you how big an improvement he has made in our minds because every time he is in front of the keeper you expect him to score now.”

That statement was said in January 2008, just a month before his horrific injury, and it was a statement hat we all believed in. His immediate impact was notable and when he was injured, it was hard to take for the player, the manager and the fans. He returned from his lengthy lay off with a bang scored against Burnley (including a wonder goal) and showing the rest of us that he wasn’t fazed and had come back. But then, the niggling injuries started – something we thought would only last until the end of last season, but in fact, has lasted most of this season.

It’s hard to understand whether or not Arsene has lost faith or trust in the striker, as even when fit, he’s had more bench time than most of the other players in the squad and when we have been stretched for firepower, it’s been players like Rosicky, Diaby and Eboue who have been chosen ahead of him. About a month ago, Arsene did say that he was returning to his best, but since that statement, we’ve not really seen any of him:

“I believe he is still on his way back. He is not completely yet where he was before but the signs are positive. He is getting better and better but I knew that it would take a long time.  Don’t forget that he had a second surgery at the end of last season and that was decisive in getting him back to where he was before because the injury had affected his pace.  After that he had a few muscle problems but now I feel him coming back. For a while he had not found his sharpness completely. However for the last two or three weeks in training he has been showing that he is back where he was before. But it took him a long time.”

Whether or not we will see any more of him before the season is out remains to be seen, but with Van Persie back and our formation leaning to having only one striker, it’s doubtful. If you’ve been reading the news lately, you’ll probably have come across the rumour that Lyon are interested in the player and are preparing an £8m bid. This time last year, we would have laughed at that offer, but this time around, what should we do?

With Van Persie coming back and Chamakh likely to be signed, with Bendtner one of the manager’s favourite and Vela probably more suited to he left attacking role (the jury’s still out on him too), then how does Eduardo fit into the long term plans of the manager?

Has Eduardo lost his touch? Will he ever recover from his injury…?

The jury is out.

I know it’s a little early… but 5 players who could make a difference…

One thing that has struck me in last couple of weeks is the quality and quantity of our squad and the real reasons why we’ve been unable to sustain our challenges for trophies this season.  I’ve often thought that we needed a player here or needed a player there and it’s easy to say that we need to buy, buy, buy. But with more reflection, it is apparent that we have a significant amount of players in various different positions – all with varying skills. The question comes down to the quality of the players we have rather than the quantity and we’ve got to look at the squad, player by player and think about whether they’re good enough or not.

Arsene, naturally, will have to do the same thing.

Normally, this type of article is reserved for the summer, post season, but with our very saddening collapse at the end of the season and our very emphatic losses to Chelsea, United and Barcelona throughout, my cogs have been rolling and running and I’ll divulge myself now.

I’ll start off with a comment that Arsene made yesterday about the quality of the squad and ambitions for next season… he took time out to mention potentially signing players from Real Madrid, which was a bit random…

“It was surprising that they [Real Madrid] got rid of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, who have both done well in the Champions League. Maybe it’s worth waiting outside their stadium and seeing what players they let go this summer!”

… but he did continue to talk about improvements we’ve made this season…

“I feel we have made huge steps forward this year compared to last year and the year before that.

“We are not far away. We were fighting for the Championship and missed the key moments against Barcelona to knock them out of the Champions League quarter-final.

“I know we have to answer the demands of the people. But this year I feel we have appeased our fans a lot. We have always shown a great attitude, a great response when needed.

“We have convinced people that we are making progress and improvement. When you listened to people at the start of the season they were writing us completely out of the race, so we have improved a lot.”

And he will be the first to rue some of the opportunities we’ve missed this season… before the run in, we knew if we won our remaining games that we be able to challenge for the title, but the draw against Birmingham and the losses to Sp*rs and Wigan were points we never thought we’d lose. It’s amazing what a blessing in disguise exiting the Champions League earlier would have given us.

The problem, I feel is the lack of depth in our squad, but it’s hard to envisage that we’d be without our three first choice defenders at this time of the season in Gallas, Vermaelen and Djourou. Having known that Djourou was out for the season even in January, an extra man in that position would have been very beneficial as a player like Silvestre, making mistakes at the rate of knots may have simply been the downfall for us this season, but of course, it’s not that simple and it’s easy for us to say this in hindsight.

Our goalkeeping situation is officially in crisis and it’s a position that everyone in football knows we’ve got to look at this summer.

My first signing would be Joe Hart, currently at Birmingham, on loan from Man City – young, with experience and English – whether or not he will be available is another story altogether. We could potentially fund this transfer by the sales of both Almunia and Fabianski.

Add in a central defender of the impressive Gary Cahill, the current Bolton centre half – a player who has seriously excelled since joining the lancashire outfit – he looks solid, a no nonsense defender and someone I think would compliment Thomas Vermaelen. With the departing Gallas and Silvestre, his wages would be covered and add in Djourou, Nortvelt and Campbell, who has really proved himself and that’s 3 quality centre halves, a golden oldie and a youth prospect.

In midfield, one player who has impressed me is James Milner and he could do a better job than Denilson or Diaby next to Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas. Milner has been inspired at Villa and I would love to see him in an Arsenal shirt next season. Whether or not players like Denilson or Diaby will be on the way out if we did see him is debatable – there’s no point training them just to let them go. Maybe a bit more competition would make sure that they knew that they would have to play well to get into the side – something you feel they don’t have. I really don’t think Diaby is worried about his position.

The fourth player I’d like to see come in is Frank Ribery – now, he is probably out of our price range – well, if Eduardo does go to Lyon for £8m, we would have a little bit more to spend on him, but Ribery and Arshavin on the wings would be something very exciting. Throw in Walcott who would probably get loads of games considering how many injuries we always suffer every season. Whether Ribery will be priced out by our rivals remains to be seen, but you think if no-one has gone in yet, he may be available.

Finally, up front, it’s clear that the striker pool we have isn’t good enough. Yes, Van Persie is our best striker and can contribute a lot, but Niklas Bendtner is still learning his trade and we can simply not rely on him for large parts of next season if we’re going to try and win something. Eduardo looks like a spent force and God only knows what has happened to Carlos Vela. The striker I’d like to see brought, which links nicely to the Real Madrid exodus this summer, is Gonzalo Higuain – he looks a bit special and has been awesome for Real Madrid. But, as Real Madrid are, they’ll probably try to sign Rooney and get rid of the Argentinian.

You’re probably asking how on earth we could afford these players… well… Arsene has an answer for you:

“For a while we were not investing maybe because we had built the stadium but I think our financial situation is now becoming much stronger and we will be capable to buy the players we need to buy.”

But before you get excited about the prospect of Higuain, we may be close to signing a slightly cheaper alternative in Maroune Chamakh, who has also been very impressive for Bordeaux this season. Arsene said this:

“We will announce the deals after the league [finishes]. He is one of the players who has a good chance to join us.”

And it’s obvious that Arsene knows we need to freshen up and also increase the quality of the squad. If you could sign 5 players, who would they be?

Wigan 3-2 Arsenal. Yeah, really! Don’t you just hate football?

I kind of wish I wrote this match report at the final whistle, or closer to then, because I would have been all angry and scathing. Couldn’t summon the courage, though. But now I’ve calmed down, meaning I’m going to be all reasonable. Massive shame!

Anyways, huge game this was. Let’s set the scene. On Wednesday, we’d effectively blown our title challenge after Sp*rs decided to finally end their winless streak against us in the League, leaving us 6 points off the lead. Then Man United won at Citeh, making second place difficult. Thought it was all done and dusted, then Sp*rs decided to become World-beaters (or whatever it is you need to be to beat Chelsea), throwing us a lifeline. If we took it, we’d be just 3 points off the lead. Would we take it?

Team news for the game:

Fabianski

Sagna – Campbell – Silvestre – Clichy

Eastmond – Diaby

Walcott – Nasri – Rosicky

Bendtner

Almunia was dropped (code-name: wrist injury) for the unquestionably and aptly re-named Flap-ianski, Theo for Eboue, Eastmond for the injured Denilson and Silvestre for the also injured Vermaelen. The question was whether Arsene would start Robin, but he felt a bench-role would be better, especially as he had a bit of ‘muscle reaction’. On the bench too, was ‘new kid on the block’, Conor Henderson- reserve player, ofcourse.

Wigan are no push-overs, espeecially with wins over Chelsea and Liverpool, but one would have thought that our starting XI would be able to do the business.

Wigan started quite decently, but after the first 5-10, we sort of took over. Theo was seeing loads of the ball, but we couldn’t find the net. There wasn’t much to report about the first half really. Few half-chances for Wigan, but they were struggling to hit the target. Clichy then took a free-kick, but his effort was weak and went into Kirkland’s arms comfortably. We actually ought to have had a penalty, Theo’s cross hitting a Wigan player’s hand, but no one, except Theo, made much of a fuss. Bendtner had a sharp chance from the immediate corner, but Kirkland made an equally smart save, low to his right.

The goal finally came through Theo, and it was a great goal. Bendtner with a gorgeous pass sent him on his way, and he did brilliantly to hold off the defender and slot it past Kirkland. One-nil, 5 minutes to go. Lovely. Theo could have had a second one shortly, but his effort at a curler went just wide!

Half-time then. Well-deserved lead, but still a lot of work left to be done.

Couldn’t bear to watch the whole of the second half again, ATVO highlights being more than enough! Either way, the last 10 minutes seem etched in my memory! Hopefully not for long…

Anyways, we started the second half in the best possible way, if you discount the penalty we almost conceded. Didn’t think it was a penalty for all it’s worth. The tug by Nasri on Watson was minimal, more than anything. Very reminiscent of that by Vermaelen which led to him being harshly sent off. The referee rightly ignored the shouts and 90 seconds (apparently) later, we were 2-nil up! Kirkland saved from Diaby, then we forced a corner on the right.  Nasri took it and found Silvestre’s head, directing it into the bottom-left corner!

Points sown up! Erm, I’m pretty sure football’s 90 minutes plus extra-time, not 50 minutes!

N’Zogbia could have made it 2-1 shortly after, but he passed it straight to Fabianski, after being one-on-one! Being 2-0 down seemed to liberate Wigan and they began to pile the pressure and sure enough, 10 minutes from time they equalised through Ben Watson. Good goal. Poor defending. Arsene was about to substitute Theo and Rosicky for Eboue and Merida before the goal, but he made them after the goal. Didn’t matter though, as it was all Wigan.

8 minutes later and they got their (deserved) equaliser through Titus Bramble. You know you’re in trouble when Titus Bramble scores against you and is named Man-of-the-Match! You’re in even more trouble when the goal is a gift! Nasri had earlier cleared off the line from a corner, but another corner later, Flap-ianski ‘catches’ the ball then inexpicably drops it onto Bramble’s head, right in front of goal! He gladly accepted the gift. Like WHAT?! And you thought Almunia was bad, right? A right joke!

Two minutes to go and sure enough, Wigan won it in injury-time! Great great goal by N’Zogbia, but LOOK at the defending! I know defenders are meant to be in a line, but I’m pretty sure they mean horizontally, not vertically! Anyways, N’Zogbia picked the ball on the right near the penalty box, cut inside with no one closing him down, before hitting a beauty in-off the post!

Arsene brought Robin on after that I think, but really, it was game over already! Was expecting our customary goal in the last 10 minutes, but we’d morphed into Wigan, them into us! AMAZING! Full-time, game over, title challenge over, season over.

Unbelievable, but the harsh reality is that Wigan wanted the 3 points more than us. Shocking! Yes, they’re fighting for their survival, but we had an excellent chance to actually push on in the League! After being 2-0 up, we hit the cruise-control button and we just couldn’t get out of it. Kind of like what happened to Barca at the Emirates a few weeks ago, at West Ham earlier in the season, difference being that we, along with West Ham, didn’t find equalisers and Wigan did this time. The number of times we’ve relaxed at the wrongest stage this season, one would think we’d have learnt by now. Very shocking. One could argue injuries or whatever, but there’s NO excuse for blowing a 2-goal lead for the second time this season, even going one better and letting them score the winner. Ridiculous, unforgivable, sickening, disgraceful, humiliating and other such similar thoughts!

Our defence started okay-ish- Sol excellent, Silvestre doing well (shocker), but it all went to pieces at an alarming rate. It’s got to have left Arsene scratching his head! Not only the defence, the whole team went to pieces!

Oh Diaby, you do realise you’re actually on a football pitch? You’re meant to pass the ball to your mates in Red! The past few games have simply passed him by and he’s merely been a passenger. Disappointing, as he was hitting good form but he seems to have hit a brick wall, instead! Sort it please, yeah?

Apart from Diaby, Rosicky’s been slated a bit, but I kind of have sympathy for him. He’s been industrious, so it’s not effort his lacking, just performance. He’s one hell of a player, but he hasn’t been of late. I noticed he was everywhere today, making loads of tackles, but he’d back it up by losing the ball. Hard-work undone.

Theo did really well, shame he came off when he did as he may have had a positive say towards the end. Eastmond was impressive and it’s a real shame we ended up losing as it won’t help his confidence much. Nasri and Bendtner did OK, but we needed more than ‘OK’ from them. Huge room for improvement next game. No one really stood-out, apart from Sol at the start and Eastmond (all things considered) and they’ve all got to take long hard looks at themselves and acknowlegde that the performance was unacceptable.

Credit to Wigan, though. How ironic, that the player who started it all- Ben Watson- is an avid Arsenal fan, his parents even having season tickets at the Emirates. Hang your head in shame, mate! Just messing. But yeah, his goal started it all, and huge credit to Wigan to turning us over like that. A sentence one would have expected never to write! They wanted it more and they got it. They didn’t even have to resort to underhand tactics! Well-played.

Arsene was understandably furious and rumour had it that he ordered the coach to drop the players at the train station, so they could get the train with the fans. Don’t know if it’s true, but I wish it was! They deserved to get some stick from the fans in person! As long as it wasn’t over-the-top, ofcourse.

His reaction:

“I believe that we were not focussed and were not disciplined and we got caught. We were a bit unlucky as well but overall, in football you have to keep focussed for 90 minutes or you risk or a bit much, especially against a team who has nothing to lose and fights not to go down. They will not give up and in the end we were punished.”

“No, I never thought the game was over. I saw that we were having difficulties keeping the ball and creating opportunities. When you do not create chances in football you are in trouble. After we went 2-0 up our game lacked cohesion and discipline and I always felt that we could be punished.”

When asked who he thought would win the League:

“I don’t mind and I don’t care.”

I think we all feel that way, Arsene!

Title gone, but now we’ve got to try and hold on to 3rd. What a massive change of fortune, right? Arsene acknowledged this too, saying:

“Spurs can catch us, Manchester City can catch us. We have to win at least one game.”

We’ve lost 3 games in a row, all away games. Next up is City. Glad it’s at home, as we might as well not turn up! I’m going to the game and in all honesty, I’m not looking forward to it- for now at least. I do hope the lads perform exceptionally well and restore some pride back into the club. I still love you Arsenal, irrespective of an appalling display.

But yeah, onwards and upwards… :)

Wigan vs Arsenal, Match Day Live

It’s official, the team line up is here:

Fabianski

Sagna – Campbell – Silvestre – Clichy

Eastmond – Diaby

Walcott – Nasri – Rosicky

Bendtner

With a bench of: Mannone, van Persie, Vela, Eboue, Traore, Merida, Henderson.

PS, who is Henderson? Where is Eduardo?

Wigan vs Arsenal Preview…

I write this after the Manchester Derby, where United struck a 93rd minute blow to City’s Champions league aspirations. If anything, this result should galvanise Sp*rs into beating Chelsea – as fourth place could well be theirs if they beat the table toppers, although the title could well be Chelsea’s if they beat Sp*rs. If Chelsea do win, the league will look like this: 80,76,71, although we do have a game in hand, and that game is against Wigan at the JJB tomorrow.

For us, the title has gone, the three points that we would have had if we had beaten Sp*rs – well, we didn’t beat then and therefore no three points. When I looked at the run in, it was clear that our arch rivals would have a say in the title race and of course, they have. But for us, it’s a race for second place and despite United’s win over City, the race for second is definitely still on.

Wigan will pose a threat – they can definitely get themselves up for a big game and we will have to put in a performance to gain all the three points. The team at the moment are without their spine, they are without 4 of our most inspirational players in Vermaelen, Gallas, Song and Cesc. The exciting thing tomorrow is that we have Van Persie back in the squad and could be ready to start. With Denilson suffering an injury and Vermaelen out for the season too, there will be some changes from the last game.

It’s a tough one – do you bring in Eastmond, or do you change formation? Does Arsene play a player like Silvestre who has already probably packed his bags or does he blood a youngster and if it’s the latter, who would be available? All in all, he’ll probably go for the former and try and field his strongest XI. Without Song and Denilson and with Van Persie and Bendtner (and Eduardo and Vela both fit) and without Arshavin, a 4-4-2 is crying out – “play me”, but we’ll have wait and see if Arsene could adapt the formation based on the players available.

The line up will most likely be:

Almunia

Eboue – Campbell – Silvestre – Clichy

Diaby – Nasri

Walcott – Rosicky – Van Persie

Bendtner

Of course, I’d prefer to see the same XI players in a 4-4-2, as personally, Van Persie is a better player through the middle. Of course, we may see Bendtner deployed wide left and Van Persie through the middle, but against Wigan, who technically aren’t as good as us, a more attacking formation should be played.

Arsene was in good voice during his last press conference, saying various things about the season and the players. He took considerable time out to talk about the Cesc situation and in lieu of recent information by Peter Hill Wood and a retaliation by Barcelona – the long standing saga of Barcelona wanting to buy Cesc, potentially this summer. Arsene was quite incensed and re-iterated the stance that Cesc is under contract and we don’t want to sell him. We have no intention of selling him, nor do we need the money. But the most interesting part of the message was most likely aimed at Cesc when Arsene said that the kids had a duty to repay back the club who have been training them and given them the chance. A note to Cesc – “you owe us to stay”… there will be a lot more about Cesc in the summer, I’m sure, so I won’t divulge myself too much into that subject right now.

Other key points Arsene made were related to the will and want that the team as a whole showed against Sp*rs – or more specifically, the lack of it – he singled out praise for Campbell and talked about his winning mentality – a realisation that having a goldent oldie in the team may just help – the mix of youth and experience could be re-addressed this summer, and it will be interesting to see if our best player against Sp*rs will remain at the club next season.

Back to the Wigan game and Arsene had some words about the game:

“The curve [for us] is going up for sure. The others are coming down, that is for sure as well. Chelsea have six or seven players over 30-years-old. They will not go up. But of course Roman Abramovich can say in the summer ‘I buy seven players of 24′ and you are in the race again. And Man City, they will be a challenge next season. They have a serious chequebook. But we could make 86 points this season and, in every year, that would give you a chance to win the title. So for me it is not an exceptional season in the Premier League it is just that the competition has been high. The future of our team lies in how well we can respond to big disappointments and that’s a good opportunity on Sunday to show that. Our season will be assessed on how many points we made and how we finish. That of course depends on our result at Wigan.”

We do have a good opportunity tomorrow to win a game (it feels ages since we last won a game in any comfort), and keep us in the race for second. The gap between us and Chelsea could be either 3 points at the end of the weekend or 9 points depending on how results go. It’s impossible to win the title now, but finishing as close as possible to the top will be a signal that as a squad we’re not that far off the top and of course, keep us in good stead for next season. A season where I hope we can have our key players fit for the season, players like Van Persie, Arshavin, Walcott and Cesc as well as a few new faces to help increase the quality of our squad.

Arsene continued:

“That’s one of the aspects that I am keen to see,” said Wenger. “They say it’s better so we will see but Wigan try to play football. It is in their interests as well to have a good pitch. The Premier League has to create a criteria committee where the pitch is part of the requested level. If we want to be the best league in the world then we need the best pitches in the world and the Premier League has to act on that.”

We’ll see this time tomorrow how the pitch has faired for us, but I would like nothing more than a win tomorrow to shake off the doom and gloom… I hope we can finish the season on a high and transfer the momentum to the beginning of next…