Always Behind The Game

‘Always ahead of the game’

These words are printed on the key ring from my members’ pack from a couple of years ago. Motto’s such as ‘Forward’ and ‘Victory Through Harmony’ also spring to mind when thinking about how the club tries to define itself. Let’s analyse.

‘Victory through harmony’: I have never seen so much disunity among Gooners as in recent years

‘Forward’: We have released a record number of players from the squad this summer without replacing them. That’s not forward movement.

‘Always ahead of the game’: The first game of the season is on Saturday and we haven’t signed anybody. Plans A-Z have fallen through. Others around us have strengthened.

We are not ahead of the game. We are a long way behind it.

Where did it all go wrong?

You could answer this question by going back many years. Dein’s departure, the refusal to spend the going rate on world class players, gambling on unproven prospects from the continent and the world over and the inability to retain the few top class players we had actually produced. I am going to spare you the stories you already know and focus on this summer in particular.

A few months ago the CEO came out and publicly stated that we have a lot of cash at our disposal, and that we will be spending it. The game that we are supposedly ahead of was over right there and then. We were doomed from that point on. In a market where clubs continue to demand outrageous fees for players, we immediately put ourselves in a weak bargaining position for negotiating transfers.

Liverpool’s valuation of Suarez is the easiest example to use. A player who is undoubtedly one of the top three in the league, Liverpool’s valuation of him in their negotiations with Arsenal reflect both the market and our openly admitting we have great sums of money to spend. If we want the player, we will have to use most of the kitty to get him.

It would also mean we can’t buy as many players as we want, let alone need. Most will agree that we need at least three signings, not one or two.

That calamity of a PR exercise proved to be our downfall this summer. Designed to ensure season ticket renewals, we are left in the uncomfortable (to put it lightly) position of having to wait until the brink of the transfer window’s closure to obtain the best possible price for players. Well, those who are left to buy anyway.

We have been duped. Again.

The problem we have is we are so addicted to this great club, that we submit to the promises made because our love for the team outweighs our hatred for the PR game played by the club. And so the cycle continues.

So where do we go from here?

There will be mutiny if no signings are made. The crowd will let that be known at the Emirates on Saturday, of that I am sure. However, we should give it until the end of the window before passing final judgement. Today on Arsenal.com Arsene Wenger is quoted as saying:

“There are 18 days to go in the window. We are active. We will be active until the end, that is for sure.”

He goes on to say:

“We are in a situation like Manchester United, like Chelsea, where everybody expects signings and at the moment not a lot has happened.”

Manchester United and Chelsea have won the Premier League and Champions league between them over the last eighteen months. Arsenal have won nothing. It is disproportionate therefore to compare ourselves with teams who already have squads that can and will challenge for major honours regardless of what transfers they may or may not make in the coming eighteen days.

Nonetheless, the intent to do business is there. Everyone at the club will be fully aware of the consequences should nothing significant be done. So we wait. Judgement day takes place on September 2nd and until then there’s not much we can do about it other than hope something happens.

In the meantime, there’s a game on Saturday against Aston Villa which everybody is excited about. Ultimately, and quoting a tweet by @fkhanage on Twitter, it boils down to this:

“Whatever your opinion on the owner, the manager or CEO, don’t let it ruin your support for the eleven boys wearing the shirt on Saturday”.

Regardless of what happens between now and September 2nd, our love for the team won’t change. The trauma and anxiety of another new season as an Arsenal fan beckons. Bring it on.

JAT (@j1mm7t)

Season Preview

With one week to go until the Premiership kicks off, it’s time to take a look at the squad, the summer and the season ahead…

As every Gooner (well, every footballing fan) knows, this Summer was meant to be a big statement. We were expecting signings, world class signings and in every department. We were expecting a goalkeeper, a central defender, a warhorse midfielder, a winger and a striker… The summer started well with interest in the likes of Bernard, Higuain, Juilo Cesar and Ashley Williams looking real. But as every day passed, those transfers passed and now we’re a week away from the start of the season, and sampling a thread-bare squad.

The “Deep Cull of 2013″ has been amazing to witness and we’ve shredded the squad of some dead-weight, but at the same time, we’ve also lost some first teamers in Gervinho, Coquelin and Mannone without replacement. Mannone was third choice, but we’re getting lighter in that department, and no matter what you think about the qualities of some of those players, you cannot deny that we do need a squad. Let’s take a look at who’s gone:

  1. Gervinho
  2. Arshavin
  3. Denilson
  4. Aneke
  5. Joel Campbell
  6. Santos
  7. Coquelin
  8. Meade
  9. Mannone
  10. Djourou
  11. Chamakh
  12. Park
  13. Squillaci
  14. Miquel

That’s 14 players who were in and around the first team, not to mention Bendtner and not to mention about 10 younger players who’ve also left the team. The worrying area for me is centre back, with Vermaelen injured, we only have 2 centre backs. That’s it… nothing else. No Djourou, no Squillaci and now no Miquel!

Let’s take a look at the players we have left…

Goalkeepers: Szcznesy, Fabianski

Left Backs: Gibbs, Monreal

Central Defenders: Mertersacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen (injured)

Right Backs: Sagna, Jenkinson

Central Midfielders: Wilshere, Ramsey, Rosicky, Cazorla, Arteta, Diaby (injured)

Wingers: Oxlade, Walcott, Podolski

Strikers: Giroud, Sanogo

That’s if you think Sanogo will be a first teamer… which he may well be…! Is that the smallest premiership team in the league? In fact it’s so small, you can fit the whole squad on one tweet!!

 

onetweet

 

Now, I’ve got no inside knowledge of anything at the club, but doesn’t this strike you as a little bit strange and almost alarmingly. What would happen if Sagna and Mertersacker pick up knocks… we literally do not have the players to fill in. Scary times. Whatever is going on at the club, I wish we knew the truth, because all this guess work and hoping and wanting is killing us. If we have cash, and the people in power insist we do (and lots of it), then why haven’t we planned for this summer. You may think there is a plan. Last summer we brought in Giroud and Podolski (meh) before we sold Van Persie… now that’s a plan. But 6 transfers in on deadline day? Now that’s not a plan… Judge for yourself, but we all know where this summer is going.

I worry that the management have lost sight of the actual way to win things and really don’t know. I feel like they are very amateurish in the transfer market, literally refusing to spend a penny over what they think a player worth. If you think Higuain is a £25m player and you’re happy at that level, then why not shelve out the extra £5m and get the player. Was Torres worth £50m… no, but they paid that because they wanted the player. Is Real Madrid reject Soldado worth £26m… hell no, but they paid that because they wanted the player… the story continues.

Suarez – great player but massive baggage. Is he an Arsenal type player – no! He is above board, good image, a team player? No. Has he had a dispute with every single club he’s played for? Yes. And for some reason, Arsene only target this summer has been the Uruguayan. Utter madness in my opinion. Unbelievable. And what about the other positions? Is the boss simply not looking for a centre-back?

We play Man City today and in reality, this will be a huge test for us… let’s hope all the existing players have an extra 50% in their locker, and let’s hope we have absolutely no injuries, let’s hope Giroud finishes top scorer and Bendtner signs for Galatasaray for £10m. Hope is all we have!

Make or Break 2013

Firstly, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a happy new year. The blog has had a quiet few days after a busy start to the year for all our writers. My first post of 2013 may not be pretty reading for many. Eleven days into the new year we find ourselves discussing two serious concerns on the forums and twitter. One affects football as a whole, the other is a common problem that Arsenal fans have been pulling their hair out over in recent seasons.

The first concern is over ticket pricing and it has reared its ugly head again after Man City returned 800 tickets from their allocation for this weekend’s game, with some of their fans refusing to travel to away games in London due to the prices being charged from clubs in the capital. Good on them, I say. However as one blogger pointed out recently some 20,000 Arsenal fans have bought tickets in the same price category (£62) for this fixture. Football supporters as a whole are suffering from overpriced tickets. Arsenal fans in particular are feeling less and less convinced that such prices represent value for money. The quality of football on display at the Emirates has deteriorated in the last few seasons, and many feel that the money the club is receiving from ticket sales is not duly being reinvested into strengthening the squad.

The quality of football certainly is not what is expected. Gone are the days where we routinely break away from a corner with pace and devastation to score a goal of our own. The counter attacks of old just don’t seem to happen anymore. Also gone, are the frightening passes in between the lines, carving defences open in the Barcelona-esque dismantlement that used to see us create goals out of nowhere. Now it seems as though most of the game we play the backwards/sideways passing game, waiting for an opening to appear. With most Premier League teams now able to play a disciplined defensive game, we find ourselves frustrated at a lack of creative openings and opportunity.

The bottom line is that we have suffered immensely from not being able to fill the void left by Cesc. His ability to find the pass through the eye of a needle is missing in midfield. Arteta is a great footballer, but he doesn’t seem able to add those passes to his game. Santi Cazorla has shown he can be capable, but he lacks the consistency that we had with Cesc in the side. Jack Wilshere is undoubtedly going to become an important component in our midfield. But he is not there yet, he is still young and learning the game. We rely on him too much to perform a task he is not quite ready to perform.

Which leads me to the second concern – transfers. As stated above, many if not all of us are fed up with a lack of activity in the transfer market, especially given the amount of money we spend to support the team. The manager has come out with the predictable ‘we only buy top, top quality’ line once again and us fans are left scratching our heads. He has said this for the past few seasons, and the signings we made include Gervinho, Squillaci, Bischoff, Chamakh and so on. Top, top quality? The bottom line is we refuse to spend on players at market value. Yes, £20 million is an absurd amount to fork out on a transfer fee. But ambitious clubs at the top of the league spend that kind of money on players, and if they are willing to spend that money then it must be considered ‘market value’.

I am a supporter who is prepared to stay quiet and see what happens when FFP comes in. Gazidis promises a brighter future in and around 2014, when FFP takes full force and when the club can realise its true commercial potential, something it has been unable to do since moving to the new stadium. I am prepared to offer my support to this cause because, on the face of it, it seems like a feasible objective. However, the club needs to go into that new phase in a healthy position. Not just financially, but ‘footballistically’ too. We need to, at the very least, be a champions league team going into this phase. It would be a shame to spoil the chances of things going to plan because we dropped into the Europa League just before we head into this new era. A Europa League team does not attract the type of player needed to challenge at the top, and it would be a bad idea to start the age of FFP in a worse position than the one we are in now.

However, if we do not strengthen the squad now, we are playing with fire when it comes to finishing in a top-4 berth come May. We have been here before in January. The season has shown familiar inconsistencies.  Moments of attacking brilliance overshadowed by inadequate defensive frailty. In the past, we had the players to pull us through. Henry, Cesc, Nasri, RVP. Now we look at a squad where a contract rebel is being tasked with the job and we wonder if, finally, the task at hand is too much for the players we have at our disposal. It’s too much of a risk to rely on this squad without reinforcements.

Please Arsene, for the love of God, make a couple of big signings.

JAT

@j1mm7t

Crossroads

Morning Gooners,

A Saturday afternoon blog from yours truly as Dev is away for the weekend. The good thing is that Arsenal do not play until Monday so we can enjoy a weekend without having to go through the recent match day trials and tribulations. However the bad thing is Arsenal don’t play until Monday, so after what has been an extremely trying week, we need to wait until Monday to ‘move on’.

Dev has covered and reviewed the Bradford game so I won’t recover that old cold ground but I will say one thing, it has become the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Eleven internationals ended that game against a league 2 team. We had players that have captained their countries on the pitch but no one could inspire or lead the team to a routine victory that needed just little bit of graft. For me, this summarises the current problem from the board through to the players on the pitch.

I’ve purposely avoided the paper’s this week because the press have enjoyed jumping on the ‘sinking ship’ bandwagon that is currently Arsenal FC. The press have gone out of their way to get interviews and sound bites from those ready to criticise the team, the sacked Stewart Robson, now rich former board member Nina Bracewell and gobby Ian Wright just to name three.

Nina Bracewell Smith:

“If making money was the motivating factor, surely there are better ways?”

“”[Kroenke] shows he cares very little. Why he wanted to be part of AFC I do not know””

“Football is a business of passion. SK (Kroenke) has no passion for AFC.”

Didn’t Lady Nina sell her shares to Kroenke for a healthy lump sum? Odd to then critise him for looking to generate cash when you forget your own stake and passion at Arsenal.

Stewart Robson, who is a bitter ex-Arsenal player who was sacked by the club for his analytical work on .com, couldn’t wait to have his say:

“No structure, no disciple, they’re petulant”- factors which Robson blames on Wenger, as “[the players] take their lead from their manager”.

“ Wenger doesn’t coach [the players] and doesn’t allow anybody else to coach.”

“Arsene Wenger has put too many players on such big money that they won’t be able to get rid of the players they don’t want.”

 

Ian Wright, who always ready have his say to get his name in the paper:

 ”I wouldn’t say ‘surely he has to go’, but it is a unique position he’s in because I think any manager in any country in any world with a record like this and no prospects of light at the end of the tunnel, they would’ve been gone.

“People are holding onto the fact to what Arsene has done, and people are saying he is going to tarnish what he has done, but I don’t think that will ever happen.

“I feel there are a lot of deluded Arsenal fans who are out in the wilderness still saying ‘in Arsene we trust’ and stuff like that.”

There is a saying that I think fits in well here;

‘When the grass is cut, the snakes will show’

However, Martin Keown bucked the trend of former’s at the club and offered his support to the manager and called for patience.

“Now is not the time to judge this team, and it would be unfair to pin all of the blame on this current squad. There is this feeling that the defeat to Bradford leaves them at this crossroads, but I don’t subscribe to that.

“They should be given the chance to prove they have the ingredients to overcome their current difficulties.

“This is a new team, let’s see how they can cope. Wenger is hugely loyal to his players. He will stick by them through thick and thin.

“But trust me, you will only get so long under Wenger. Once that belief gets switched to another player then it is very difficult to regain it.”

Over the course of this week many of you would have had friends and colleagues very keen to talk about the state of the club and what happens next. Some will have been telling you Wenger’s going to get the sack, with a big smile on their face. Wenger is one of the biggest names in the history of the premier league, sadistic fans would see it their benefit to watch one of the elite managers get the chop. Others have said ‘it’s time to spend now’ as if that’s will be the solution to all our issues. I can’t totally agree.

I completely agree that this squad needs some fresh faces to boost morale and also fresh legs to allow effective rotation, there’s more to the current issues than splashing the cash will fix.

The club through the board, the manager and the players need to create a single direction, a single message that the fans fully buy into and back. The board are on one hand telling the high paying fans that ‘Arsenal are not only about winning’ and how healthy our bank balance is but then we see the manager skimping and buying budget players who aren’t good enough for the club. The result is that that players give limp and uninspiring performances due to poor personnel and fans vent their frustration.

A united message can go a long way to rememdy the frustrated feeling in the club. For example at Everton, a club I have a lot of respect for, have a message from life long bluenose Kenwright that money is tight so any buys will be funded from sales, the manager then goes out and picks up shrewd signings (like Jelavic, how good is he!) and the fans fully commit to getting behind the team regardless of if they are fighting relegation or Europe. The difference in the mentality of the players at Everton is that they fight with their every being to ensure they attempt to with the game for the club, manager and fans. A united message and the fight for a common goal.

Arsenal can sign players that are needed but if the board and manager do not have a unified message about their direction, then the problems will continue and the frustrated voices will just become louder.

Enjoy your weekend, bring on Monday.

~ Tottz

Feel free to follow my ramblings on twitter @Tottz82

 

Forward?

Morning Gooners

 

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to blog due a holiday, work and illness. However, during that time the dark clouds have once again gathered over Arsenal FC. The worst thing about writing that sentence is the need to insert the word ‘again’ in to it. The fact is the dark clouds have never been far away over the last 3 seasons.

 

Last season the club made the decision to use the word ‘forward’ to create a motto for the 125th anniversary of our club. In some ways they were right, historically Arsenal have always been an innovative and forward thinking club. In the 1930′s Herbert Chapman pioneered the use of numbers on shirts, flood light games, revolutionary tactics and the naming of ‘Arsenal’ station.

 

Arsene Wenger has changed the mentality of the modern footballer through nutritional knowledge, a clubs use of their scouting networks, his footballing beliefs, creating success without spending millions and finally successfully moving Arsenal into a bigger and more lucrative stadium without suffering the same fate as other clubs who have move to new stadiums. (See Coventry, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Sunderland and others).

That was 2006, in 2012 is this club still moving ‘forward’???

Financially, most definitely. There isn’t another club in the Premier League or Europe in a better financial position that us. You can look at all the Forbes rich lists you want but the likes of United and Barca have debt levels they can not sustain. When we secured the cash to fund the move to the Emirates stadium, we locked into some pretty awful commercial deals as we needed money upfront to finance the big move. Fast forward to 2014 and many of these deals are now coming to an end. Emirates have already acted but committing £150million across 5 years to the club and from what I’ve read, I expect Adidas to complete a circa £25million per season a deal to be Arsenal’s new kit manufacturers from 2014. (Bringing us in line with Man United.)

If the financial fair play league is implemented with any vigour by UEFA or the Premier League, Arsenal will be in a very strong position indeed. However, if UEFA struggle to implant FFP, Arsenal will have ‘wasted’ years of direction and dedication to a policy that was never implemented. A massive risk.

What about where it matters, on the football pitch?

Well unfortunately, the ‘forward’ motto can not truly be applied. Since 2006, Arsenal have gradually moved ‘backwards’. Arsenal have always sold players who were close but past their prime; Vieira, Henry, Wiltord, Sol and more. However since 2006 we have unwillingly be ‘forced’ to sell players reaching their prime as their ambitions have outweighed our potential. The likes of Nasri, Cashley,Clichy, Cesc and recently RVP have all been tarnished with the brush of greedy footballers but deep down we all know they left chasing success along with a higher wage. Everyone of the players mentioned above have gone on to win trophies while Arsenal watch on with nothing.

Not everyone can win something every season but those that have ambitions will compete right? Unfortunately Arsenal are no longer truly competing for the top English and European honours. We are a tough challenge for teams at the top of the league but they do not fear us like they once did.

Our standards have horrendously slipped, from watching talents like Anelka, Vieira and RVP burst on the scene and create a devastating impact on the league, we now watch Gervinho, Ramsey and Walcott struggle to create any sort of impression on the first team let alone the league.

On Saturday 1st December 2012, Arsenal lost 2-0 at home toSwanseaCity.Swansea restricted Arsenal to 44% possession and simply outfootballed Wenger’s Arsenal in their own backyard. Saturday was a humbling with a large slice of humiliating served up on the side. When Arsenal previously dropped points through missed chances, I always said ‘as long as we keep create chances we’ll be fine’. Unfortunately we create little to nothing these days, see games against Villa,Norwich,Swansea and more for recent examples. We lack players willing to fight of the cause and the only one who I truly believe hurts like fans do, made the mistake that led to the second Swansea goal; Jenkinson.

I really could go on but something has to give soon. If the players are ‘jaded’ and ‘tired’ well we need a bigger squad, it’s only bloody December! We need to sign personnel in January.

If players don’t want to fight for the cause, move them on and bring in players that do.

Finally, if the manager is struggling to attract the players that could make a difference, motivate the squad to win simple games and tactically set us up to win games; then maybe we really are watching the end of Wenger’s reign.

Personally, I hope it doesn’t end like this.

~ Tottz

 

Feel free to follow me on twitter @Tottz82

Man U 2-1 Arsenal. Inevitable loss? I don’t know.

So after the high of Reading (after an incredible low, of course), the question was whether we could build on that. But that was always going to difficult, not only because we were at Old Trafford- our record there has been awful of late- but because e starting line-up was always going to be different.

JAT’s line-up in the pre-match blog was spot in. A few people were disappointed Theo wasn’t starting, but after 120 minutes midweek, was there any doubt as to him bing on the bench? I don’t think so.

Mannone

Sagna Mertesacker Vermaelen Santos

Ramsey Cazorla Wilshere Arteta Podolski

Giroud

But anyways, having said all that, we started the match pretty much the same way we did against Reading. Nervy, edgy, sloppy, and any other negative words ending in y you can think of. United on the other hand, were anything but.

And unsurprisingly, they took the lead early on. Disappointing to concede, especially so early on, but even more disappointing was the fact that it came from a mistake from our Captain, Tommy V.  A cross came in from the right, an air kick from Tommy V, unfortunately, and who was there to fire it in, if not runaway boy, Robin van Persie? All I can say and will say about it and him, is well done for not celebrating. 1-0 Man U.

You’d think there’d be a reaction, but in my opinion, there wasn’t much of one. United looked the more likely to score, and in all honesty, they probably should and could have scored more, but a combo of poor finishing and a few good saves from Mannone saved our blushes. Real fears from a few that we’d get a hammering, but I won’t mention the 8-2 from last year, because to me, that was a one-off. Oh damn, I just did!

United bossed the first half from start to finish, and I don’t think we even managed a shot on target. Poor poor half, and we could count ourselves lucky thinkwell were only 1-0. “Theo! Theo! Theo!” was the cry from the away fans, and there was no doubting that we needed something different. Oh, I almost forgot United’s penalty! Towards the end of the first half, Cazorla was adjudged to have handled on the edge from a cross, but I think he was unlucky. Bit of a moot point in the end, as Rooney’s effort hit the left hand side of the post and went being for a goal kick. Mannone guessed the right way, but I don’t know if he’d have stopped that, was it on target. Massive let off for us.

We started the second half a little bit better- well, we couldn’t have started it any worse than the first! United were threatening, as usual, but at least we could string more passes together. Not so much in the final third, however. Vermaelen slipped again, and Man U almost punished us. We really struggled to create chances, and Arsene had no choice but to bring Theo on, earlier than the usual 75 minutes in. He did make a difference, but not terribly much.

The second goal, which had been coming, eventually came. This time from Evra. Annoying that the two goals we conceded were from two players who we’d rather not to have scored against us, but hey ho, that’s life! Would have said that was the final nail in the coffin, but given the Reading match, and indeed the way the season has gone, with 2-0 seemingly not a safe result. But then again, it’s Arsenal we’re talking about. You just never know. Not that we were threatening or anything.

But if that didn’t spell the end, Jack getting sent off 4 minutes later definitely was it. He’d been yellow carded in the first half, and a late tackle on Evra was enough for a second yellow. Welcome back, Jack. Just shows that he’s still rusty and we can’t expect too much from him just yet.

With us frown to 19, it was just a case of avoiding conceding more goals, and maybe getting one for ourselves. And if we could get one back early enough, maybe we could make something of it. Gotta say though, that although United were comfortable in the first half, they definitely didn’t get it as easy in the second half. Of course they created more than us, even before Jack got sent off, but it wasn’t a walk over. But then you could argue that they were two up so didn’t need to do too much, but I still felt that if we could nick one early enough, you never know. Theo had a chance, but he was unlucky. The match wore off and it looked like it’d end a disappointing 2-0, but Cazorla popped up with just injury time to go and curled a superb effort in. I think we deserved that. Of course there wasn’t enough time to get the equaliser, but I think 2-1 was a fair result.

Would it have been different were jack hadn’t been sent off? We’ll never know. There was the sense, at the end of the match, that the result was inevitable, but football isn’t like that, and if we’d shown more fight from the get go, it could well have been a different result. I’m not going to bother looking at where we lie in the table- it’s probably depressing! But if there’s any consolation, I’m sure we were even far back at the same stage last season.  Not ideal, all the same.

Big game coming up on Tuesday in the league, but I hope the team can brush off this defeat and actually pull out the win against Shalke. We definitely need it. Chin up, guys.

Don’t Abuse The Traitor: Man Utd v Arsenal Preview

There’s only one place to begin with a preview of the game against Man Utd. This game is the first time RVP faces Arsenal since his highly controversial move to Manchester in the summer. The manager has openly declared that respect should be shown to Van Persie. He also says that every time we face Ashley Cole, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor, and will no doubt say the same about Walcott when he leaves in the new year (a dead cert for me I’m afraid). I understand he has to say this – he can’t say to our fans that they should go out and abuse the player. However, if he thinks anything BUT vile abuse will be hurled at the dutchman then he is very naive indeed.

I believe that the manager has less reason, on this occasion, to suggest we should respect Van Persie. This is because of the statement he submitted on his personal website, doubting the manager and his ambitions for the club. This is a player who spent 8 seasons at Arsenal, returning perhaps a season and a half of consistent and injury-free brilliance. But what about the other 6 and a half seasons? Those were largely spent in the treatment room, picking up a nice paycheck no doubt. 3 seasons ago who would have bought him? A player with class and loads of potential, but would many clubs have been willing to spend money on a player and pay huge wages only for him to lay on the physio table most of the time? Last season, he was deservedly awarded player of the year. But he owed it to Arsenal and moreover Arsene Wenger to repay the loyalty shown to him for all the seasons beforehand where he had played a bit-part role at best. What hurt about the transfer were two things. The open criticism of the club; completely unnecessary and done to force a transfer against the wishes of the club that he owed so much to. But the salt in the wound was that the transfer was to Man Utd.

I believe that Arsenal fans, if being honest with themselves, accepted that RVP was a player who deserved to win titles that perhaps he may not have succeeded in doing so at Arsenal, given his age. We would have reluctantly accepted a transfer to Italy or Spain where he could be a domestic and european champion with one of the big clubs on the continent. But to publicly question Arsenal in order to agitate a transfer to Man Utd was possibly the most disrespectful act by any player to have played for this club. More so than Adebayor’s celebration at the Etihad a few years ago. Arsenal fans have every right to let him know what they think of him, and I’m sure the travelling contingent on Saturday will duly oblige.

On to the game itself, this is without doubt our biggest test of the season so far. As glorious as the result against Reading was, that first half was unquestionably our worst performance of the season. Yes we showed spirit and determination to come back and win the game, but there is no way Utd will afford us the same luxury should we get off to a similar start. At the start of the season our defence was one of the best in the league. People were talking about ‘the Steve Bould effect’ helping us to keep consecutive clean sheets. To have a chance of getting anything from the game on Saturday we have got to find some of that steel again. Even then, it may not be enough.

It seems as though the players who played on Tuesday will be rested, with a big game away to Schalke coming up next week. So, my predicted line up is:

 

Mannone

Sagna Mertesacker Vermaelen Santos

Ramsey Cazorla Wilshere Arteta Podolski

Giroud

I have been enjoying the buzz off the back of the Reading game for as long as possible, but unfortunately there comes a time when you have to come back down to earth and look ahead. Comparing our recent form against theirs, it is hard to see where a positive result could come from. Our defence has been leaking sloppy goals for quite a few games now and last season’s fixture showed us how ruthless Utd can be when faced with vulnerable opponents. Off the back of a great result against Chelsea, they are going to come flying out of the blocks. As I said earlier, our best chance of a result is to find the defensive discipline we had earlier in the season, and we must take any/every goalscoring opportunity we get.

The game is live on Sky Sports and kicks off at 12:45pm. Debs will be providing us with a review of the game and I hope she has some good stuff to talk about! Come on you Gunners, let’s punish the traitor.

Reading 5-7 Arsenal

Wow! When I wrote yesterday’s match preview I had no idea what an incredible evening I was in for. A rollercoaster of emotions for 120 crazy minutes ended in Arsenal coming back from 4-0 down to win the tie 7-5 and progress to the Quarter Finals. I said to a mate after the game that I didn’t know where to start writing this review. He said to start at the beginning (duh!), so I will.

I spoke yesterday about the need to make sure we avoid a blip after the two defeats last week. However we managed to find the self-destruct button and press it time and time again in a dreadful first half. For the first goal, Theo gave the ball away needlessly in midfield, the second was another Koscielny own goal, the third was a poor flap by the goalkeeper and the fourth was a cross not dealt with. 4-0 down and we were out of the competition. That familiar feeling of doom and gloom descended and the fans were chanting ‘We want our Arsenal back!’.

To have a chance of an improbable comeback, we needed a goal before half time. Thankfully we got it, Arshavin threading a perfect pass through to Walcott, who took a nice first touch and dinked it over the keeper to hand us a lifeline. Many will call that the turning point of the game. For me however, it was the introduction of Giroud midway through the second half. A few minutes after coming on, he brilliantly guided a header from a corner into the goal. His fighting spirit and extra bit of quality changed the dynamics of the game in our favour heavily, and we started to dominate. At 4-2 with 25 minutes to go, the comeback seemed more possible, but we all wanted that third goal as soon as possible. In the 89th minute it was still 4-2 and with so little time left, you felt that game was beyond us. Koscielny made amends with his own goal earlier by scoring a tidy header from a corner, and we went into 4 minutes of added time needing another goal to take the game to extra time.

Reading time-wasted most of the 4 minutes, making a substitution, holding the ball in the corners. My friends and I were making our way down the stairs, conceding defeat. It was so typical of Arsenal to bring it back to 4-3 just to tease us. As we were approaching the exit, 5 minutes into stoppage time, a ball was lofted into the box. Chamakh headed it down to Walcott who was suddenly one on one with the goalkeeper. The miracle goal, as it was later referred to by the manager, happened. Walcott struck the ball into the far corner, Chris Gunter on the line handballed it, it rolled over the line, and Gunter kicked it out. At this point we all believed it was a goal. Luckily Carl Jenkinson was there to smash it home and ensure there would be no controversy. At this point, the fans erupted, the place went absolutely mental, and we must have set the world record for the biggest ever mosh pit. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, we had done it, come back from 4-0 down to nick an equaliser in ‘Fergie time’.

We had to make our way back to our seats for another 30 minutes of this madness. Coquelin and Giroud thought it meant a replay, throwing their shirts into the crowd. The look on Giroud’s face when he was told there was another 30 minutes coming was priceless. Having come back from 4-0 down, the psychological edge had shifted entirely over to us. Reading were shattered, emotionally and physically, and our young legs seemed more likely to prevail. Late in the first half of extra time Marouane Chamakh completed a fantastic move with a tidy finish. Chamakh flicked it through to Arshavin, who played a 1-2 with Giroud before laying it into the path of Chamakh who smashed it home at the near post. 5-4 to the Arsenal and the first time we’d had a lead in the game.

It felt like it was all over at this point, but with the way the game had gone we weren’t surprised to see even more drama. 5 minutes before the end Pogrebnyak equalised for Reading and we were bracing ourselves for penalties. 120 minutes were up and two minutes’ stoppage time would be added. Koscielny started a move, playing the ball out to the left and busting a gut to get into the box. The ball ended up out wide with Arshavin, who drove his run into the box and shot into the far corner. The ball was cleared off the line but Theo was on hand to hammer it home. That world record mosh pit was reaffirmed, delirium on the faces of every single one of us. If that didn’t put the nail in the coffin (and this coffin required a few nails), Chamakh finished it a few moments later, running on to a clearance and beautifully lobbing the goalkeeper from 30 yards. Game over.

I have been to some amazing games and my favourites will always be knocking out Milan at the San Siro and beating Barca at the Emirates, but as a football match, this is the greatest by a long way. The neutral must have loved every minute of it, Arsenal and Reading fans will have suffered highs and lows, and the League Cup had just had its most historic game of all time. We left the ground scratching our heads. What just happened? It’s one of those games where, before the match, you want a relaxed 3-0 victory. Afterwards you are happy for things to have gone the way they did.

A few individual performances stood out for me. I think every player had a bad first half, but for the rest of the game I thought Arshavin had a magnificent game. He is a risk-taker, we know this by now. The result is things he tries often do not work out. But he tries and tries, and drives forward with every opportunity. He felt more and more dangerous the longer the game went on and for me the winning 6-5 goal belongs to him, even though Walcott put it in eventually. Olivier Grioud changed the game. He came on and added stability going forward that we were lacking. He was back defending, and fighting at the front. His header was world class and he is doing everything right to become a legend at the club. Marouane Chamakh had a good game for me. He was chasing down balls in their half, he won most of his aerial duels, and both his goals were finished beautifully.

The man of the match award has got to go to Walcott. Three goals, three assists says it all. His first goal was a delightful finish, his second took the game to extra time and his third won it for us. Give the man his contract, he’s our top goalscorer this season and has made less than a handful of starts. Someone pointed out an interesting stat. He must be the first person to have scored a hattrick with all three goals coming in different stoppages (45+2, 90+6, 120+1). That alone shows you how much of a crazy game this was.

A lot of people on the radio after were moaning about the defensive display. It was disastrous in the first half, yes. But I’m not going to dwell on that. This was one of the greatest games in Arsenal and League Cup history. Let’s enjoy it for a few days before worrying about the game at the weekend.

One final point I’d like to make is Sky were showing people leaving, claiming they’d had enough at 4-0 and were on their way home. I’m sure one or two did leave but most people were beating the crowds to get a half time pint in. One guy who was shown on Sky even tweeted himself at the game during extra time. How do Sky know where people are going merely by showing someone walking down a flight of stairs? Anyway, from what I’ve read the away fans got all the credit they deserved.

It was a night to savour. Strange, weird, brilliant. I think I’m going to have to watch the highlights again for the 5th time to try and figure it all out.

 

 

Reading v Arsenal, Capital One Cup 4th Round Preview

Tonight we take on Reading at the Madejski Stadium in a game that was rumoured to be the return of Jack Wilshere. We were all grateful for his early return against QPR at the weekend. After the game the manager confirmed he would be resting Jack in the week, to see how he responds after a long absence, and to (we hope) allow him to recover in time for the game at Old Trafford on Saturday.

It had been a difficult week with defeats against Norwich and Schalke in quick succession. So much so that I was really looking forward to the League Cup match. A game which will feature some fringe and reserve players, and a game in which you expect the commitment and urgency to be miles better than what we saw in those two defeats just mentioned. The QPR victory was, of course, welcomed with open arms, and the hope is that it represents the end of a two-game blip, and the beginning of an unbeaten run in what is looking like a very, very testing November. And November always seems to be a troublesome period for The Arsenal.

The performance against QPR was nowhere near what we were producing before the international break, but it was noticeably better than the utter rubbish we saw last week. When you’re down, the only way is up. Looking ahead to the game tonight, you would expect to see a completely different first XI to the game at the weekend. Here is my guess on what the lineup will be:

Martinez

Jenkinson Koscielny Djourou Miquel

Walcott Gnabry Frimpong Coquelin Arshavin

Giroud

On the official website, Szczesny is seen training with the squad for this game and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start ahead of Martinez, to get him back in the swing of things as quickly as possible.  Walcott played only 10 minutes on Saturday and with The Ox seemingly still injured I reckon Theo will start this one. A team along those lines would certainly cause problems, but our defence is by no means watertight at the moment so it could be a close one.

In the past we have seen some fantastic performances from our League Cup teams and I expect this to be an entertaining game with a few goals. Reading scored, but also shipped, three goals at the weekend and with our pacy youngsters I’m predicting more of the same. The game is the featured match on Sky Sports so it will be available to watch live to viewers in the UK. No need to find a dodgy stream for this one thankfully.

Reading will field their strongest team, but we are more than capable of overcoming them. Last week at the AGM Arsene quite rightly labelled this competition as our lowest priority. Realistically speaking, however, this and the FA Cup appear yet again to be our most likely chances of silverware, so here’s hoping we can progress to the Quarter Finals.

I will be at the game tonight and will be tweeting live from the match with photos and comments. I hope to provide a positive review tomorrow! Until then.

jat85

Twitter: @j1mm7t

 

 

Arsenal 1-0 QPR. Lovely 3 points, thank you very much!

So we just about managed to beat QPR at the Emirates. a lot has been said by all and sundry about how dreadful we were, but do we or should we care? There have been so many matches we’ve played where we’had produced fantastic performances, which chances coming from multiple angles, but have either managed to draw or lose due to poor finishing or lack of concentration at the back. Obviously the ideal scenario would be great performances with wins at the end, but we do not live in an ideal world. Bearing that in mind, what is wrong with the occasional dodgy performance with 3 points at the end of it? We’ve had 2 avoidable losses in a row, and in my view, getting all 3 points was more important than the performance.

Anyways, with my thoughts out of the way, I’ll try to describe what happened. Not that there’ll be much in actual action to talk about…

Mannone

SAGNA – Mertesacker – Vermaelen – Santos

Ramsey – Arteta – Cazorla – WILSHERE

Giroud – Podolski

Did you notice that!? Sagna AND Wilshere in the starting lineup! Amazing! It’s been how many years!? And if anything that’s worth celebrating!
Good start to the match, though, with Julio Ceasar coming to QPR’s rescue, even while having a few moments of his own. Fabulous crosses from Sagna down the right, one of such Ramsey only being able to head over the bar. Good linkup play from our two returnees, too. I guess they must have spent a whole lot of time playing together while trying to get match fit…
We really ought to have taken advantage of Ceasar’s early shakiness, because he only got better as the match went on! Cazorla really ought to have made it one nil to us early in the second half, after finding himself in acres of space on the penalty spot, but our little maestro could only blast high and wide. I didn’t get to watch the match as I was out and about, but twitter wasn’t too impressed with our performance. Not that we didn’t create any chances, but we didn’t create enough, what with us being a team that likes to have many bites at the cherry before scoring.
QPR were defending stoutly and it looked like a draw was on the cards, until a moment of inspiration, sorry madress, came over QPR defender, Stephane M’bia. He was fouled by Vermaelen, and despite having won the free-kick, he thought it’d be nice to have a swipe at Vermaelen in retaliation. Unnecessary. Straight red. Easy decision.
You do tend to worry though, when a team already playing defensively go down to 10 men that they’d be even harder to break down, as they pretty much just camp inside their own half. Something we had with find a way of dealing with. A combination of Ceasar saves and the ball not quite falling right for us made it seem like it be a hard-fought draw for QPR, but alas, we did manage to break the deadlock!
Arshavin, who’d earlier come on from Gervinho, received the ball from Arteta, on the left, and having beat the defender near the byline, swung the ball in for Giroud to meet with a good header. But his effort was saved by Ceasar, and a bit of pinball ensued, with an offside Arteta finally being able to tap it in, after hitting the bar. 1-0. We could have and almost made it two, or even three, but Ceasar was there. And then QPR almost equalised! A dazzling run by Jamie Mackee from just beyond the halfway line, beating Arteta, Santos and Vermaelen in quick succession, and it really looked like he’d score the equaliser, but his effort from just inside the 6-yard box was saved by Mannone. He should have taken a better shot though, but our gain, so no complaints.
And that was  it! 1-0 to us, 3 points to us, thank you very much! Was I happy? Damn well sure I was!  Getting the win was vital, and it didn’t really matter how it came. It could have been on own-goal for all I cared. Getting out of the cycle of defeat was crucial, as Arsene said in his post match comments. We got the win that we can now build on. And hello? Wilshere is back!!! Not expecting miracles from him of course, but he played really well yesterday, and he can only get better! Think on that for a minute… Barring any niggles, of course. Fingers crossed!
I wasn’t feeling optimistic after the two defeats, but I feel much better than I would have if we’d had a storming performance, but somehow allowed QPR to snatch a draw or something. I’ll take this. We have to build on it, of course. We’ve got the Capital One Cup mid-week and then Man United in the league. Let’s see how those go, but honestly guys, let’s not complain much about yesterday. A win’s a win, right?
And come on, Arsenal, let’s go on a good run now!

A Case For Depth.

Morning Gooners,

Another interlull week means even less Arsenal related news.

Last Friday the Ox scored his first goal for the senior team against the might of San Marino.

Away from that Koscielny spoke his mind when asked who the hardest striker he has faced;

“He (Luis Suarez) is tiresome to defend against. He cheats. He pulls your shirt, giving small blows,

Koscielny said of the Uruguay international. “You always want to give him a kick but you have to be careful not to be red-carded.”

“He is a player who likes to dive as soon as there is contact. During a challenge we jostled a bit with each other and he fell. He started to talk to me in English, to say it was a penalty.”

Everyone’s favourite isn’t he.

While the Ox and Kos enjoy starting berths for their respective national teams, they have both struggled to hold down a starting position for the Arsenal.

Now if you listen to the lazy journalist or football pundit they’ll all come to the same conclusion regarding our team’s chances this season;

‘Arsenal lack depth to challenge’.

In previous season I would have struggled to argue this statement, also I would have been wrong but is that really the case this season? I think not and here are myreasons;  

Let’s break it down;

Goalkeepers;

Maybe not the best for me to start my argument really! Szcz has been injured for the majority of the season so far, I have absolutely no idea where Fabianski is but Vito Mannone has stepped up and put in some strong performances. If we had bought an experienced keeper we may not have lost to Chelsea but can you really fault him for any other goal?

Conclusion, Yes we are lacking in depth but I really think Don Vito stepping up will put much needed pressure on a cocky Szcz who has to understand he still needs to earn his right to be number 1 regardless of his talent.

Defenders;

The current back four of Jennkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Gibbs have really improved as a defensive unit since last season. Mertesacker has gone from the fallible fool to rightly being recognised as the calming leader of the back line. I’m not convinced with TV5′s defending still but he acts perfect partner for Per. With this being the case Koscielny, our most improved player from last season is stuck on the bench unless the manager needs him to handle a pacey striker. A nice luxury to have.

At full back, we now have two players for each position on the right and left. Jennkinson has been a revelation. He had made a hand full of appearances for Charlton before being snapped up as a complete unknown for The Arsenal. Fast forward a year and a bit, he was called up by Roy Hodgson to train with the England squad over the weekend. In the background is Sagna rumoured to be playing a game behind closed doors today to help his return to fitness. If Sagna was full fit for Saturday, who would start at right back? Jennkinson deserves to keep his place on his performance during some really tough games. Sagna benched.

Left back Gibbs has also been a star of the season so far. He grown into a stronger character and until a slight niggle at West Ham, he seems fitter than in previous seasons. Santos is a capable, although extremely different, left back and again demonstrates an depth in our full back options.

Conclusion; the defensive personnel is there if the mentality can be maintained throughout the season.

Midfield;

Let me just list the options available to the manager; Arteta, Ramsey, Coquelin, Cazorla, Arshavin and with Wilshere, Rosicky and Frimpong (and Diaby! Thanks @Palerme12 for that) all expecting to return by the beginning of November. The midfield is improving and ‘gelling’ in every game. Cazorla looks like a Premier League veteran when he takes to the pitch. Arteta is really taking to the deep lying midfielder/water carrier role and is the vital pivot the team is built on. Ramsey has much to prove to many but he has already made a positive start to the season.

The steady start to the season made by the midfield men also has a positive impact on the returning Wilshere. In previous campaigns the hopes of our season would have hinged on a player returning from a serious injury but for once we can be patient on Jack’s return as the current set up is performing admirably.

Conclusion; Depth is developing. Injuries to key players will test our resolve but if we can get Jack back and firing by November then the midfield trio of Carzorla, Wilshere and Arteta looks very attractive indeed.

Forwards.

Note I’ve used the ‘forwards’ instead of strikers, it was done for a reason. Giroud is our only recognised centre forward and links to a big move for a centre forward in January is no surprise. I think Giroud will develop into a strong centre forward (Did you know, he has the most assists than anyone else in the team with 4) but further help is needed.

Now let’s look to the wide berths, here are the options; Gervinho, Podolski, Walcott (sign da ting!) and The Ox. That’s four international players to take two postions in the team. Gervinho already has shown more this season then he did last season. Goals, assists and constant movement across the front line that makes him impossible to mark. Poldi needs no introduction, he’s a German master who will frustrate the Ox into improvement. As for Theo, well his positon within the squad is tentative until a contract is signed. Maybe Wenger does want to use him upfront, maybe he should start on the right but why would we give him the opportunity to flaunt himself in the shop window so close to him entering the last 6 months of his deal?

Conclusion; We lack another striker to help Giroud but the options out wide are fantastic. With Cazorla pulling the strings in the middle, creating chances should never be an excuse.

So the next time you here the usual conclusion from a pundit about ‘Arsenal’s lack of depth’, just ask yourself if he’s actually sat back and thought of all the options we have potentially. It may not be as bad as it seems.

Have a good week all, bring on Norwich away!

~ Tottz

Feel free to follow my ramblings on twitter @Tottz82