Monday 10 November 2014

Knee-Jerk or are you really worried?

The final whistle went and the red half of Wembley all celebrated the first silverware in years, the atmosphere was brilliant and everyone was getting on!

I still remember leaving Wembley and heading back to the Arsenal area for one of the best football related pub nights in years – it was a real party then went on well into the early hours.

It was supposed to be a spring board for success – it signalled the end of the Emirates project (near enough) and the start of a new era. It started well, we all knew Fabianski and Sagna were leaving and were replaced and we recruited a world class star in Alexis Sanchez. The future looked bright…..

…Then the season began and safe to say; it hasn’t quite set off yet – we haven’t played very well and been rescued by Alexis Sanchez.

The signing of Alexis has been stunning and many thought we had turned the corner – Ozil last summer, Sanchez this and ‘if we can add that holding midfielder we require and some cover in defence, we can challenge again’ – a few months on and we are still saying the same thing.

The frustration comes because we feel we are quite close – if you look at Man Utd, Liverpool, Everton and Spurs all struggling, this was perhaps our chance to progress and maybe challenge Chelsea for the Premier League but it feels like we have missed our chance.

Last season, despite us falling away in the league post February, the first half of the season was truly beautiful at times in the League. Despite losing against City and Utd away from home, we went to places like Swansea, Cardiff, West Ham, Palace and Newcastle and got the three points and we were flying at times. This season, every game has been a struggle bar Villa away (for three minutes anyway!).

It would be too simplistic to say a holding midfielder or an additional centre back would have solved all our problems because they may not have but our squad would have been more complete and injuries at the back may have affected us far less. Even not allowing Carl Jenkinson to go out on loan would have helped the situation – I know I would rather have Jenkinson on the right and Chambers in the middle rather then Chambers on the right and Monreal in the middle.

It’s also all too simplistic to say all our tactics are wrong because we saw Flamini stay tight to Sigurdsson and we kept him out the game quite well – a direct free kick is impossible, even for the best holding midfielders in the world! But overall, we seem to make the same mistakes over and over and when leading a game, our approach remains the same and this week has shown us that.

I absolutely love Arsene Wenger and really believe that in years to come, keeping Arsenal in Europe and at the top of the League (top four) while moving stadiums will be considered one of the best footballing achievements ever.

The problem is, I don’t see where the current team is going – injuries, loss of form, confidence & inability to defend (leads or at all sometimes!) are all problems that have not been rectified.

Arsene will never buy a player for the sake of it or a player who he believes is not good enough to play for Arsenal and has often tried to ‘get by’ and hope we do not get injuries in key positions – that may be the problem. Even by getting an average centre back in this summer would have meant they would be playing ahead of Nacho Monreal (who is doing the best he can playing out of position). You cannot predict injuries and therefore even getting someone in or keeping Vermaelen (been injured most the season so far) may have meant we would still be in the position but that would be plain bad luck rather then plain bad planning.

Let’s be honest, not many can see a change of manager to occur mid season so there ‘MUST’ be some short term measures taken to improve our form. We can pray for our best centre back to return but there seems to be more needed. Confidence needs to increase – a win against a Manchester Utd team who are not playing at the level they would want to be at too will help and just get the season back on track. Despite how even the most positive supporters are dreading the next game, if with a bit of a luck and quality, we could win a big game, we may finally put together a consistent run which is essential if we want to remain and get in to the top four/three/two.

I love Arsene philosophy in terms of attacking football and despite our football not being there at the moment, we saw a glimpse when Sanchez rolled the ball to Welbeck who played a one two with Chamberlain in the box and forced a save from Fabianski at the end of the first half – that is what we want to see more.

Surely the time has come to let Steve Bould really work with the defence and manage them a little – he deserves more responsibility and he may be able to work with the patched up defence and perhaps improve their performance by 10% which at the top of the game, can be the difference between winning and losing.

It seems like we need to get through to January and try and remain near the top of the table then add to our squad and get injured players back and push in the second half of the season and see where we end up – even a quarter final in the Champions League would be nice for all supporters and especially those who like a good old European trip.

Then in the summer, serious questions need to asked and as much as I love Arsene Wenger (and believe me, I really do) – he needs to decide what his own future holds, if to delegate more & allowing others to influence the team or go out and buy the world class players we need (potentially could happen in January but less likely) and we may finally see our great club playing and competing with the lights of Chelsea for the league. 

Monday 3 November 2014

Arsene Wenger's Jacket

Let's face it, you are looking elsewhere, try to zip your jacket up and it gets stuck - I mean that is natural.

It may happen once, or maybe twice or at worst, three times - UNLESS you are Arsene Wenger.

Every man and their dog has had a laugh at Arsene Wenger's jacket.

It started when the TV camera's got wind of it and the jokes began.  Even Ivan Gazidis had a laugh about it at one of his question and answer sessions with supporters.

Club legends have all had a laugh and so have us, the fans. Many of which have gone to the club shop, just to try the jacket and take a photo.

...and now Arsene Wenger himself has got involved and has seen the funny side.

Long live Arsene Wenger's jacket!

See the new Puma advert here

Sunday 21 September 2014

Lack Of Pre-Season Is Telling Now…..But Mesut Ozil Looks Like He Is Ready To Join The Party

What formation do we play?
How do we fit in Ramsey, Ozil and Wilshere along with Sanchez in one team?
How can we find a way of playing in big games?

All questions that are usually answered in pre season when a manager can experiment with his players, formations and try new things.

The problem was, the chance never presented itself due to the World Cup – Mesut Ozil didn’t play a pre season game and that in itself was a problem.

I think and have always thought that Mesut Ozil will come good and I was absolutely delighted to see him run the game yesterday at Villa park – he was outstanding. He passed the ball well, created a chance and scored a goal. He was always available and often got in between the lines but also dropped back to get the ball from our defence to start attacks – it was a master class.

It was obvious to see that playing slightly more centrally (but still being able to drift wide, as he did when creating Welbeck’s goal) is his best position and we saw as the game went on, his confidence increased and long may it continue.

But in all honestly, who can blame Wenger for trying to fit in Ozil, Ramsey and Wilshere in the same team by playing Ozil out wide – Wenger being in Brazil during the summer would have seen a lot of Ozil playing out wide and with the amount of pressure that Jack Wilshere has been under all summer and probably all year, who can really blame the manager for trying to fit them all in? It is just a shame that pre-season was non existent and we were not given the chance to test a few systems out then.

It’s a great problem to have, and with injuries, having several players who can play across the midfield and attacking positions can only be a good thing but it will be very interesting to see who starts against Spurs next week and away at Chelsea the week after – Ozil had his best game in ages yesterday afternoon but Jack Wilshere had his best game in ages at home against City the week before – could it be Aaron Ramsey to miss out? Surely Sanchez has to come back in? Where does Theo fit in?

So many questions……this is why I’m not a football manager and a supporter on twitter!

Up the Arsenal


Saturday 9 August 2014

New Season And A Different Feel

The day Robin Van Persie signed for Manchester United from Arsenal, we all probably felt as low as we ever thought we could.

Our captain, our top scorer and best player had just left for our biggest rivals over the Wenger era.

Fast forward a couple of years and Mesut Ozil was bought followed by Alexis Sanchez -  to be fair, the summer Van Persie was sold, Arsenal did some good business in terms of players coming in. Santi Cazorla arrived for a fee of 11m which in truth was genius as did Podolski, a German internationally nearing 100 caps and Oliver Giroud, a champion in France. However, the loss of the captain was the most talked about move that summer.

This year, we have lost Bacary Sagna who in my opinion, was a tremendous player who I would have loved to stay – but again, a three year contract on 90k means paying a 34 year old 90k in his final year which does not make good business sense. Seeing Bacary go was tough but seeing what we have done give me as much pleasure as the signings of Alexis or Ozil. We recruited a ready made right back who knows the country, is experienced and number one choice for his national team. In addition, we have got Calum Chambers who can play in a wide range of positions, including right back. Many had a fear that Carl Jenkinson would be thrown in but he now gets a year on loan where he will have a better chance to actually do what he is paid for – play!

The buzz of having our new signings (along with the return of Joel Campbell) and having a ft again Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain gives us plenty of optimism. The return of Theo Walcott is what excites me the most – having Theo and Alexis in the same team SHOULD frighten most teams and in my opinion, will bring out the very best in Mesut Ozil.

There is still some work to be done (replacing TV5 and perhaps adding another player or two) but the signs are good and the squad looks better then it has in years.

Whatever happens at Wembley tomorrow (without three Germans, two of which will be starting most games), win or lose, I think this team is ready to add to the FA Cup they won last year and this season could just be the one where we look back at and think, the wait was worth it.

Monday 7 April 2014

End of an era? Still seven huge games to go(plan to win the cup!)....

It did feel like the end of an era, like it was coming an end.

It looked like the players had given up, the manager had given up and the fans had given up.

For someone who has never sat on the fence and always given the manager 100% support, the fence seemed a lot closer at about 3.30pm on Sunday.

We were not at the races, couldn’t pass, couldn’t create and certainly couldn’t defend. Roberto Martinez played with a false number nine and played Lakaku out wide to attack Nacho Monreal and it worked beautifully. Carzola and Poldolski had no real interest in tracking back and it left the full backs completely vulnerable to the counter attack.

Quite simply, it was terrible and the squad looked shattered and mentally gone. It was a total contrast from last week’s second half display against Manchester City. Worth noting, we have not lost at home since the opening day defeat to Aston Villa in the league but our away record to the top 7 has been horrid (minus a wonder goal at Spurs and holding on a bit).

For the first time, probably since 1996 was I beginning to think about the post Wenger era. Let’s get one thing straight, he deserves respect and some of what I have read, heard (at games) and even from broadcast and written journalists has been bang out of order.

To put it in simply and in context, he has won more league title titles alone then Spurs have in their entire history. He has won the same amount of league titles as Chelsea have done since Roman took over and spent about a billion pounds (fees / wages / bonuses / sacking managers) and has the same amount of league titles as Manchester city (in their entire history). He is no fool, he may be stubborn and perhaps hasn’t moved with the times but he is a ‘legend’ at Arsenal football club and should always be remembered as a legend.

I am convinced that in years to come, people will look back at the period after the stadium was built and think it really was a great achievement to keep Arsenal in Europe’s elite competition. We have seen Liverpool drop out and perhaps Manchester United dropping out this season (admittedly, it probably wouldn’t have happened under Fergie). It has and will lay the foundations for years to come and when competing with real super clubs financially, it was needed.

I would agree with most that Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal have underachieved in the cups – keeping Arsenal in the top four but winning a cup or two would have helped ease the pain of not competing for the league (however, you can argue, we did compete until February in 2011 and March in 2008).

This season, injuries have broken us. Aaron Ramsey our best player (this season), Theo Walcott our top scorer (last season) and Mesut Ozil, our new star man all injured at the same time has really affected us. Take Silva and Toure out of City, or Hazard and Oscar out of Chelsea or Suarez and Henderson out of Liverpool and they are likely to falter slightly. Injuries are not an excuse, you could argue that injuries come from being over played and that could be down to not having a squad big enough to play in three competitions at a time. Wenger stays or goes someone somewhere has to look at our injury record and find out why they keep happening over and over again.

I’m not afraid to say that I am a massive Arsene Wenger fan and will not apologise for that and something inside really hurts when I hear the abuse he receives but at the end of the day, nothing lasts forever and everyone moves on one day. Perhaps another option is for Arsene to move upstairs; he clearly knows the club better then most and still is a big name in world football, you only have to read what Mesut Ozil said when he joined (Arsene Wenger was one of the main reasons why he joined).

…But he did look like broken man post Everton (and perhaps post Chelsea from those who got to speak to him) – you think back before Bayern Munich last season and the famous ‘Why you look at me?’ press conference where Arsene was clearly rattled but he came back, dropped our captain and goal keeper and ended up getting more points then anyone in the Premier league in the year of 2013. This time round however, I’m not sure if the fight is there.

Looking at the squad, it always seems like we are a few players away – in 2011, when we had Van Persie, Fabregas and Nasri, we thought that one or two additions and we are the finished article, then they left over two years and we have replaced them and again thought we are close but not enough happened last summer and nothing happened in January when we could all see we needed a striker. It was essential to buy a striker who will score us goals – perhaps there was an expectation that Theo will be our ‘goal scorer’ but you still need more. Giroud, clearly isn’t good enough to lead the attack, he is slower then Mertesacker on the turn and has been physically fatigued since January! He is a decent player and as part of a squad can be very useful but every team needs a proper goal scorer.

We have a few players that we have learned a lot about this season, good and bad. We have figured out that Arteta is probably over the hill and lacks the physical fight to compete in the centre of the midfield. Surely a holding player with a physical presence will be up there along with a striker in the summer as a priority. Nacho Monreal looks suspect at left back (Gibbs is first choice but has had injuries) and we have too many similar players that all want the ball to feet and want to come infield and not track back.

Arsene Wenger’s biggest strength has been sticking by his players.
Arsene Wenger’s biggest weakness is sticking by his players.

Recently, Arsenal have been getting rid of deadwood but some would argue average players are given a year or two too long and that comes from the faith Arsene Wenger shows in them where as, a more ruthless manager would get rid quicker.

At the same time, if many supporters had their way then Aaron Ramsey would not be at Arsenal today. Arsene Wenger showed an incredible amount of faith when he was getting dogs abuse home and away (one clown even used to boo him when his name was read out at home – safe to say, I have had brought this up MANY times the muppet) but supported him and got him through it and Rambo has repaid the faith. The same can be said with Gibbs and even Theo Walcott. A few years ago in the first 5-2, Theo got bashed in the first half and many managers may have been tempted to take him off to save any more humiliation but not Arsene Wenger. Theo was left on and proved his manager right by scoring two terrific goals that only Theo could and in truth, has not looked back since.

I remember speaking to Arsene Wenger at the Arsenal AGM and he was speaking very highly of Abou Diaby – he was the ultimate box to box midfielder with the physical presence that we are crying out for.

The only problem? He is and has been injured for most of his career.

I have no idea what Arsene Wenger will do at the end of the season – I can see an FA Cup victory as a good way to say farewell. I think once the dust settles, even the ‘abusers’ will look at what Arsene Wenger has done at Arsenal and in England and be very grateful (three league titles, four FA Cups, CL final, Thierry Henry, 49 games unbeaten, which we are signing about at every game).

Forgetting about Arsene Wenger for a second, the FA Cup is massive for the players too. They need some sort of silverware in order to believe they can achieve even more (leagues, CLs). Tasting success is what the players need in order to kick on under whoever is the manager.

Taking a step back, if someone offered me a place in the top four and the FA Cup at the start of the season, I would have taken it and insisted it was progress. We have improved against the so called lesser teams and even learned how to win ugly a little, however we have also forgotten how to compete, let alone win at the bigger grounds.

I still think we will finish in the top four purely because our run is easier and we do not have City or United coming to us or have to go to Southampton – three tough games for Everton. Arsenal will be competing against teams fighting for their lives but unlike Everton, we have the experience of a fourth place run in and a manager (despite looking broken) having the experience of a run in along with Ramsey back, Ozil coming back and hopefully Wilshere back at the end of the month too.

I’ve never once considered not having Arsene Wenger as our manager next season but yesterday has certainly put the thought in my head – but football can change very quickly. Fourth place and an FA Cup and I’ll probably back believe he deserves another year or two.

You can call me the confused Gooner this week.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

4th and the FA Cup

A year ago this time, I remember asking people if they think winning the FA Cup and remaining in the top four would be an achievement and represent progression (this was a few weeks after Blackburn had knocked us out the cup) and I was met with nearly every single person telling me that it would represent a good season.

Fast forward a year, when it could become a reality and the same people have forgotten their thoughts from the previous year.

Let’s be honest – the last week has been pretty horrid and the memory of being in that away end at Stamford Bridge will stay with me for a while. What was supposed to be a special day celebrating 1000 games of our most successful manager turned into nightmare!

Our record / performances in big games away from home must change and it must change quickly. I think we can right off the City game because we did score three and had two disallowed but the performances at Anfield and the Bridge were unacceptable. Tactically, we were naïve and our work rate wasn’t up to the standard we expect and we couldn’t play to our strengths which is to keep the ball and build from the back.

I think after a few bad results, it is easy to forget the early part of the season and by that I mean the way we beat Liverpool at home and went five points clear at the top or winning in Dortmund and our impressive run in the FA Cup by beating three of the top seven…..

…Or the development of players like our centre backs or Aaron Ramsey and Chamberlain and the big signing of Mesut Ozil which showed Arsenal are moving forward in terms of competing for the big players with the rest of world football.

The last few seasons, we have been totally out of any title race and battling for fourth by November but this season it was extended until March but more importantly, we progressed in the FA Cup and are now favourites with Wigan and Hull / Sheffield United standing in the way of Arsenal winning their first piece of silverware for several seasons.

I still maintain that the majority of supporters would have taken the deal of 4th and the FA Cup at the start of the season if offered. Winning just one piece of silverware may open the flood gates for future successes and could start some sort of a winning mentality.

The title dream was fantastic and I enjoyed the journey from August till March but the priority is (and maybe always has been) 4th and the FA Cup – and that is still very much on.

4th is no guarantee and we can even write off Saturday’s game with City and still get to where we want to be. Our season really is in the final straight with six league games left and two potential cup games and we must build some momentum like we have done the previous few seasons when we have gone on a run.

For me, we have all to play for.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Magic of the cup

After our victory in the quarter final of the FA CUP against Everton, me and my two pals talk about the game and look ahead to Wembley....while killing time for with our flight to Munich in the morning!

First time for everything....#Munichaway

Sitting in my front room the night before we travel to Munich with two pals.

Light bulb moment - lets talk sh*t and record it....and post it.

Here we go.

Munich away preview.

Enjoy!.....well sort off.

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Sunday 9 February 2014

Please turn up on Wednesday, Arsenal

Liverpool away on Saturday the 8th of February didn’t quite go to plan. We were absolutely hammered – especially in the first 20 minutes when we went down by four goals.

Defensively, we were shambolic, we couldn’t defend set pieces, we couldn’t defend in open play, and we couldn’t even string five passes together (in the first 20 minutes). Our concentration levels were horrific and we created naught. It even P*ssed down with rain as we exited the ground. Overall, it was a terrible day!

This can now go two ways:

  1. We fold against Manchester United on Wednesday night and our season falls apart with an all too familiar February destruction.
  2. We beat Manchester United and the Liverpool result and more importantly performance is forgotten and our confidence level goes up.

Make no mistake about it – the game on Wednesday night is ‘Huge’. For me, it’s one of the biggest games of our season and it’s often said that games can define our season and I really believe this game is one of them.

It is not decisive in terms of, we can lose and still recover but for our mental state and confidence, I fear losing the game could have massive consequences on the rest of our season. We really need to get a result on Wednesday – an offensive and fluent performance will be good but a result is essential.

I know it sounds a bit cliché but this is a time where we really should stick together. Yes, we all wanted a striker in the window but we can either moan about it or just get on with it and back who we have.

I made a promise to myself that if we are in a title race at the turn of the year, I will remain positive, use that annoying voice I have at matches with encouragement and keep backing and supporting this football club and I have no plans to back away from the promise.

I hope the team and manager have the same commitment – it has become a rarity to see a player like Mertesacker looked so shaken as he was at Anfield. He has the mental strength to come back and be a real leader along with Arteta and co to get the spirit up and go again on Wednesday.

We have some really good players, and I mean really good. There was no logical reason as to why we vanished for 20 minutes at Anfield. The manager has come out and taken blame and perhaps the team selection was questionable but when you concede from two set pieces within minutes of the start of the game, you know something has gone wrong.

The loss of Walcott and Ramsey has been huge – Walcott for his pure pace and ability to get in behind and stretch and game and Ramsey for his drive and box to box nature. I tweeted after the Southampton game that one of Ramsey, Wilshere and Rosicky must play in the centre of the park and perhaps we can add Chamberlain to the list if we are really stretched but first choice must be Wilshere or Rosicky (while Ramsey is out) for their drive and ability to change the pace of the game. Wilshere has been struggling for fitness for a few years but gave it a go second half at Anfield but I just wonder if Rosicky, who is having a terrific season, may be in contention to play in the middle of the park on Wednesday.

Whoever plays will know they have a massive job on and if we can lose the mental aspect of not quite playing at the level we know we can in big games and can beat Manchester United with a certain Dutchman in the team then it may just begin another run of results which we desperately need to keep our season on track during a very tough run of fixtures.

I believe, I always believe.

Up the Arsenal.  

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