Sunday, 6 May 2018

Thank you, Per Mertesacker

It’s been slightly forgotten but Sunday marks the final time we’ll see Per Mertesacker in the first team squad at the Emirates Stadium (barring injury) and remembering what Arsene did with Mikel Arteta, I have a feeling we may get a final chance to see Per on the pitch playing in the red and white for the final time.

Let’s go back a few years to when he signed for the club – we were in complete disarray, we had just been destroyed at Old Trafford 8-2 having already lost at home to Liverpool. We had just sold one of our better players in Samir Nasri, having already lost our captain Cesc Fabregas earlier in the summer so there was a major rebuilding process on.

Robin Van Persie was entering his last two years of his contact and there were doubts about Theo Walcott at the time. Arsenal needed some leadership and they needed players who WANTED to play for The Arsenal.

Up stepped, Per Mertesacker. A self-proclaimed Arsenal fan that was honoured to come and represent the Arsenal. He was a player linked with the club for a while and when it happened, it was ‘a wish come true’ for the player.

He brought leadership and calmness to the club and quickly developed the role of ‘debt collector’ when players received fines and was made captain after Mikel Arteta retired.

His first goal was in the North London Derby – not a bad place to start and you get the feeling he knew what it felt to be an Arsenal player.

The ‘big f*cking German’ quickly become a cult hero and was always quick to come over to the away fans , win or lose, playing in the game or not playing in the game and that got instant respect.

Arguably, his finest hour was one of his last starts in a big game for the club and that was at Wembley in the FA Cup final last May. He hadn’t played all season aside from a few minutes on the final day of the PL  but was forced to start after injuries and suspensions to others meant there literally was no one else but big Per was there to step in. He told Martin Keown at the end of the game ‘not to write him off’ and anyone that was there at Wembley understood what he meant.

Arsenal fans were nervous that we would be facing the likes of Hazard and Costa with Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker in the backline but neither of them let us down but it was Per who impressed with a man of the match type performance – he really was a hero, a leader and a real Arsenal man.

I think he has been forgotten a little with the news of the boss but keeping him around the club in his new role in the Academy is fantastic news and let’s hope he has a long and successful career of the field for the Arsenal because he has so much to offer.

Per Mertesacker – Thank you.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

For Years, It Was The Elephant In The Room

I’ve often try to explain what football means. I’ve often tried to explain what Arsenal mean to me, but the majority of the time, I’ve failed. Even to those close to me.

People often put match going fans into a different bracket to non-match going fans in terms of their passion for a club because of the money they spend but I generally reject that idea but think the amount of ‘time’ someone puts in is the key indicator to how much  they can be affected by their club. 

If you invest time into something, in particular, a football club, whether that’s attending matches, being active in a supporters club / trust, running a blog or podcast, producing content around football in form of social media and invest time in Arsenal then you will probably be hurting recently.

Due to personal reasons, I had to miss the Bayern trip, and I watched it in the comfort of my own home which is rare (I really should cancel my sports subscription – but I won’t because of the ‘time’ I put in). If I’m not at a game, I tend to experience different feelings / emotions.  I have more time to think and more time, sadly, to be affected in a negative way after a loss for longer. When you are at a game, you tend to have to travel, you tend to have discussions and often rant to get things out your system (perhaps why phone ins / fan tv channels get so many viewers) but when  you are not at the game, you may lose all that.

The other additional experience you get is to watch the post-match interviews including an interview with the managers involved – this was really the moment, where my feelings came out. I'm told no players stopped in the mix zones and Arsene Wenger limited his media commitments.

There has always been an elephant in the room when it comes to Arsene Wenger, I’ve been in many conversations when people, due to their respect (rightly so respect) they tend to avoid the subject. I was probably one of them for years, certainly up till about a year or two ago. But that interview, seemed like a pivotal moment.

He sounded like a broken man, who knows his time here, is over.

When you see pundits who have been going for him, take a step back and actually feel sorry for him, you know the end is near.

Arsene Wenger has been a fantastic manager, leader, CEO, bank manager and even project manager for this football club. In years to come, people that love Arsenal will look at the Wenger era as ten years of trophies and the other ten years successfully negotiated the stadium move (with a few FA Cups). He should have a statue outside the ground, he should have his name sung every so often (and I’m convinced he will, once the dust settles in a few years) and go out proud of his achievements.

The legacy may only remain, if Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal this summer. Staying on has a major risk, if the ‘same old’ continues then that legacy may be in serious danger of vanishing. Some will argue it already has and off course they are entitled to their opinion and I respect them; football is about opinions, after all.  But I would HATE for the legacy of our most successful manager in our history to be tarnished especially when he contributed to the transition of the stadium move that puts us in a position to hopefully compete at the top of the game for years to come.

For what it’s worth, I thought there was a game plan in Munich to sit deep, counter with pace and that actually brought us a couple of good chances plus two free kicks and a few corners in the game and at half time, I was quite comfortable. After we rode the storm of the first 30mins and got a goal, we had a bright 10-15mins. We even came out in the second half quite bright for a few minutes but it all just wrong from the 50th minute. I don’t particularly blame Arsene Wenger for last night, I think he influenced the loss at home to Watford much more with his starting line-up then he did yesterday. I would have preferred Danny Welbeck to play but I can’t believe Arsene wouldn’t pick him if he was 100% fit – perhaps returning from injury and getting another injury last season has impacted on the decision to limit his game time so far.

But the problem isn’t about one game, it’s about the mentality, it’s about folding when the going gets tough, it’s about not being able to keep up a sustainable challenge and it’s about the same things repeating itself for several years.

On a personal level, I’ve found the criticism that Arsene Wenger has had to take, very tough to hear. He has been here such a long time, and majority of my ‘Arsenal supporting’ life and therefore some of his principles and philosophies have really grown on me. I’ve met him several times, even got a wedding card from the club which he personally signed and has always acted with class every time I’ve interacted with him. I’ve the upmost respect for the man – but like everything in life, nothing lasts for ever.

I’ve had jobs that I’ve absolutely enjoyed and loved and been very passionate about and continued to be an advocate even when I’ve left – but the key thing there is, I have left when I felt the time was right and many would argue the time was right after winning the FA Cup at Wembley against Hull a few years ago but I think even more would agree the time is right now.

The club in general is in great shape, the level of consistency Arsene Wenger has brought to the club has been tremendous and everything is in place for Arsenal Football Club to continue to grow and be a major player for the next 100 or 200 years and Arsene Wenger has played his part as much as anyone – for that he should walk away with his head held high.

He deserves the big farewell – if he announced it now, I’m not convinced all fans would rally because some may want him gone earlier but I think it would give those, like me, the opportunity to enjoy the rest of the season which hopefully would conclude with an FA Cup and a good run in the league, with a win at White Hart Lane being the highlight.

Arsene has have been absolutely wonderful for this club and for that, I'll always be grateful but nothing lasts for ever, but he will always be a huge part of this club and is a true Arsenal legend.

There is only one Arsene Wenger.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Time To Give Giroud Some Credit?

This has a nice feeling about it – so often I’m writing about ‘my’ players like Mesut, Theo or Lolo and often having to defend them (certainly Theo!). It’s nice to write about a player, who I have no deep weird man love for, despite his charming good looks! But, please, Olivier Giroud, take a bow. You deserve it, son.  

He is a player I’ve always liked and thought he was a valuable member of the squad and has taken some stick in his time.

 I tweeted about the big man in November, after his leveller at Old Trafford:

…And I firmly believe this is still the case.
 For years, Giroud was a scape goat and one of them reasons, in my opinion was because he was seen as the replacement to Robin Van Persie. In reality, Robin Van Persie was replaced by Giroud and Poldolski to share the workload and goals. It was a mighty difficult talk but as we look back, we should be praising him and the club and manager deserve credit in signing a player for 12m who is about to reach 100 goals.

He, up till this season, has been playing up front for as long as I can remember, on his own, with no real support. Poldi came and tried, as did Theo but no one ever was in the same bracket as Giroud in that role.
Alexis has now shown himself to being a striker, or at least been giving the opportunity to shine there which is actually helping Giroud. He now has competition and some real competition, he needs to perform, unlike before, when he was the ‘ONLY’ option, he is now ‘A’ option.

I also don’t think it’s a role Giroud minds – when Arsenal were linked with Luis Suarez, Giroud said this:

"When the name of Suarez was circulating, I honestly thought it was a good thing for the team. We could have complemented each other," Giroud told  L'Equipe .
"Suarez would have been a cannon... and he can also play out wide."
However, Giroud didn't look quite so fondly upon the chase for Real Madrid forward Gonzalo Higuain.
"It would have been difficult for me with a different player. "We (Giroud and Higuain) would have been in direct competition because he is a pure central striker. Of course, at the time, it would have bothered me a bit. But I was not afraid of competition."
It’s clear that Giroud wasn’t keen on being replaced (naturally) but was keen to get a ‘different’ type of player and that player didn’t end up being Suarez (due to Arsenal’s stupidity) but has become Alexis (due to Arsenal shrewd top summer signing)
 Once Walcott and Ozil are back (which they should be on Saturday) it means more depth and options up top. Giroud may, like he has over the Xmas period, be expected to lead the line and perform or at times be expected to come on and make a difference like he did at Sunderland or in Manchester.

When you look at rating signings, you look at the quality of the player, the length of service, the price, the wages and make a judgement and in all those aspects, Giroud has been a fantastic signing.

Let’s give him the credit he deserves.

Up The Arsenal

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