Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Champions League: Arsenal 2-0 Olympiacos

ARSENAL 2-0 olympiacos.

[the arshavin situation]
Is it worth making Arshavin unhappy in this 4-3-3? Only if it's a roaring success. can it be a roaring success with an unhappy Arshavin? No. He is, along with Fabregas, far and away our best player. So, with 4-4-1-1 seemingly consigned to the tactical dustbin, much depends on how this natural number 10 can adapt to being a roving left winger.

There were good signs on Tuesday night, and some bad ones too. He was called man of the match by David Platt. I thought that a bit of a giddy assessment because he disappeared for a long stretch in the second half. It's been noted in a few places that he's had a tendency to do that, and these sources uniformly point to his starting position as a debilatating influence. I wonder if we're all missing the point a bit, if maybe it's just in his nature to flit in and out. Then again, I guess the reasoning these people employ is that if he's in a central area it means he simply MUST be extensively involved, rather than having to go looking for the ball.

But in a way now, all of that is irrelevant. Wenger did not sign a commanding midfield presence in the Summer so playing Arshavin off a front man in a straight 4-4-1-1 is unlikely. And the manager probably feels that playing him as a third midfielder, along with Fabregas and Song, leaves us too lightweight. So it seems the left is his home. I'm not overjoyed about it, mostly because he doesn't seem to be, but he was good lastnight so let's see. (that said, the thought of him and cesc as dual central pivots is mouth-watering).

The team's performance in general against Olympiacos was encouraging, and the first half in particular saw some of the most fluid Arsenal play in a while. One move in particular, involving the aforementioned duo, ended with Fabregas- back on typical form- flicking up the ball with his right, and smashing a shot with his left that cannoned back off the crossbar. Thrilling stuff, with a high tempo despite the defending Greek hordes, and good, controlled passing despite the high pace.

Worrying in a way I suppose that it remained goalless so long, but the great merit of the possession football Arsenal now ply is that the opposition inevitably tire if the ball is kept from them for long stretches, and that seemed to allow our opener when it did arrive about twelve minutes from time. A fairly straightforward move in its way, saw Fabregas play in ub Eduardo to the left of the area and he cut back for Van Persie to end the frustration. A cheeky flick from an offside Arshavin made it 2-0 and that was that.

All in all, encouraging stuff, but Abou Diaby will drive me insane before the season is out.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

fulham 0-1 arsenal.. Fabregas on auto? Wenger lost plot?

Arsenal are often derided because of a perceived inability to grind out a result while playing badly, but that's exactly what they did yesterday at craven cottage. Yet while that suggests a question answered, nagging ones remain, and some new ones may even have been raised.

The main one relates to cesc Fabregas. Now, with all the passionate rhetoric in the world, this guy is our captain and he has to let his performances on the pitch do the talking if he wants to prove his commitment. He did set up Van Persie's goal with a trademark moment of vision, but other than that he looked off the pace, giving the ball away profusely, and often in dangerous areas.

I always complained about the way Steven Gerrard would take the plaudits from a game in which he'd disappeared only to provide one moment of decisive quality. It's an admirable trait of course, to be a matchwinner, but for people to then surmise that he's running games Roy Keane-style is a gross misconception- one that was amazingly widespread. Even last season, with Xabi Alonso pulling the strings in the centre and Gerrard playing an adavanced role just behind Torres, you'd still often hear about how Gerrard apparently "made Liverpool tick", "how everything went through him" and other such lazy, trite statements. We're often patronisingly told by ex-players that you have to have played the game at their level to understand its workings properly- I defy anybody to listen to the rantings of pretty much any Sky Sports pundit and then accept their superiority.

Now, having always been disappointed with the sort of undeserved praise that I thought "Stevie G" was getting, I have to be fair and say that I don't think Fabregas is influencing games the way he can, the way that he once did. And it has been a while.

Optimistic people will call this a loss of form. Football365 suggested that he's feeling the effects of injury, having never got a proper rest. I hope and pray that it's either of those things, but one does worry that he's gotten tired of Wenger's lack of action in the transfer market. We aren't far away from being the real deal, and news today of a record annual turnover finally seems to take away once and for all the excuse that Wenger is working under financial constraints, which in turn begs the question, why did he sit on his hands again all Summer? We clearly have areas that need strengthening, not just in terms of depth but in terms of the actual starting XI. I know I bang on about it, but Abou Diaby is really playing too many games, and putting aside loyalty to Arsenal for a second, who could really blame Fabregas for tiring of playing beside turds like Diaby every week? When he deserves so much better?

And our manager, our apparent messiah, just won't provide it.

We have to act like Alex Song is someone to be excited over. Sure, he's a much-improved player, hell, he might be our best player so far this season. But we shouldn't be relying on such raw talent if the coffers are overflowing. Denilson is now out for two months. So people can be optimistic all they want, Wenger won't pull the wool over my eyes.

We're a couple injuries away from a nightmare scenario now. With Denilson out, an injury to Song or Fabregas for any period will spell absolute disaster. THIS IS THE MANAGER'S FAULT. An injury to Gallas or Vermaelan will bring Senderos or Silvestre into the side. THIS IS THE MANAGER'S FAULT. You can talk about bad luck with injuries, but he knows we have an injury-prone squad. He's either gotta make it bigger- I understand that this would make the wage bill ridiculous, so it's unrealistic- or lose some of the dead wood and replace it with better, more experienced and LESS PHYSIcALLY AND MENTALLY BRITTLE talent!!! BUT NO!! [And on the subject of the wage bill- why do people like Diaby earn as much as they do? Seriously?]

Wenger is telling you that he doesn't want to hinder the development of his young squad, who he now sees as genuine contenders (stop sniggering!). He needs to understand something. His loyalty should not be to Bendtner, to Denilson, to Diaby. Not primarily anyway. His loyalty, and theirs, is supposed to be to something bigger. And if these guys are not good enough for Arsenal, and everyone can see it.... well, I've said it before and I'll say it again, questions have to be asked of this man, who talks and acts like a man who thinks he's untouchable. The unbeaten team, now they were untouchable, for one whole league season. He was a hero then to me, but almost ever since it seems like he's severing all his ties with such success, in the name of some principles that can no longer be applied to this sport. It's admirable in its way of course but fans have more interest in trophies, glory, that type of thing. When did Wenger lose touch with that reality?

Sorry, back to the game for a moment. Two big positives, other than the result, in this sea of mediocrity. Van Persie's goal- world class. I asked a question of him regarding the games where he may miss one big chance. Here he provided a moment of stunning quality with what was really just one half chance. We see him do it a lot in fairness but this was a reallt tight game and he's gotta take a lot of credit. If he can start putting away some of the easier chances he'll hopefully build an impressive tally this season although his position in that still stuttering 4-3-3 may prove a hindrance. Don Vito Mannone in goal- 21 years young, in the fourth professional game of his career- did what Manuel Almunia has NEVER done for Arsenal. He won us a game we should have probably lost with a series of saves. Even if it proves a flash in the pan, it's a reminder of what a difference a decent goalkeeper makes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Arsenal 4-0 Wigan/ city contract kolo-itis

For Arsenal, it was a routine enough win, in the end, against Wigan on Saturday. 4-0 is a handsome scoreline but there was still a lot of the trademark panicky defending, especially with the score at 1-0. I guess though if we continue scoring bagloads at the other end, it won't matter... sorry, that's stupid, we all know we won't score four every week...

But all I can talk about now is this week, this week we could have had eight if Robin Van Persie could familiarise himself with the concept of composure. It might sound harsh but to me the guy's always had a bit of a habit of passing up the more straightforward opportunities he gets. Now, that wasn't such a problem when he played with more prolific partners like Thierry Henry, and later, he whose name shall not be mentioned, back then everyone was happy if he smashed one in from close to the corner flag or scored a volley while jumping seven feet in the air once in a while, but at this point maybe we need less of Van Persie the show stopper and more of a Van Persie who will get into the mundane but necessary habit of just hitting the net. A lot. To be fair, you've got to feel for the guy a little, he's never really been an out-and-out striker, and now Wenger's piled a lot of pressure on him with the formation change. I'm aware it wasn't a problem against Wigan, and loads of his teammates got in scoring positions at different points aswell so that's all positive of course but you would have to worry a little about the tight games where we might just get One Big chance.

As aforementioned the clean sheet was a bit misleading, we shouldn't kid ourselves and better teams than Wigan would have punished us for giving up clear-cut chances. The main points for optimism were Vermaelan's surprising brace, including one lovely curler from the edge of the area, and the fact that we created plenty of chances.

I guess the main areas of interest this weekend were elsewhere, on Sunday, as Spurs went to chelsea after what turned out to be a ludicrous Manchester derby. Three times city hit back after United pushed ahead, but on each occasion their shoddy defence creaked and eventually cracked, decisively so six minutes into stoppage time when the still predatory Michael Owen was granted the freedom of the penalty area to slot the winner.

Mark Hughes has the kind of persecution complex that would give Wenger a run for his money (whingeing about the extra stoppage time) and likewise a hefty dose of myopia (defending Ademanure and this week craig bellamy after that horrible cunt slapped a pitch invader who was BEING HELD back by stewards- classy guy). But I just wonder if he himself may be the man to stop city from breaking into the top four. He looks to be modelling his defence on ours, so that may bode badly for their hopes. I honestly wonder if Richard Dunne would have made a big difference on Sunday, with his old team displaying the aerial ineptitude that now seems inevitable in any defence with Kolo Toure in it. Darren Fletcher, hardly the most obvious goal threat, was twice allowed to head home relatively unchallenged, and if not for the profligacy of Berbatov and the continued brilliance of Given there would have been a few more headed goals for United. Joleon Lescott is fuck all of an improvement on Dunne, in fact he might be the most overrated defender the world has ever seen. His and Toure's partnership looks to be of the headless variety.

And while I thought at first that replacing Dunne with added pace was to allow city to defend higher up the pitch, that now seems strange as they've played predominantly on the counter this season, drawing teams out in order to unleash their own pacey attackers into the space in behind. Surely if they're gonna be defending deep so often they would be as well served keeping Dunne? They were certainly pinned back for a long, long stretch at 2-2, and this is when the cost of the Adebayor ban also really hit home- city were painfully lacking somebody to hold the ball up with Tevez and Bellamy unsuited to that task. The ball just kept coming back at their defence. In fact, United's winner actually stemmed from, and I've not seen this mentioned elsewhere, Tevez cluelessly, aimlessly heading a ball into the air and back to a United player wehen if he was a player with a talent to match his reputation he would have taken it down, laid it off and started a counterattack. Or at least kept the ball for his team. An apt ending perhaps, as city throughout the second half only had the balls or the courage to attack coherently when they trailed. As chelsea found to their cost against Barcelona last season the best way to protect a result is to show some moral courage and try to keep hold of the ball, not to invite the opposition on. counterattacking teams sometimes fall on their sword as happened at Old Trafford and it was probably, let's face it, a good result for us as we've gotta be thinking of 4th place.

United roll on, as do chelsea after a routine enough 3-0 win against Spurs, although the amazingly overrated Howard Webb failed to give Robbie Keane a penalty after he was felled by the serial fouler carvalho with the score at 1-0.

While it looks to be all about those two at the moment, I'm just now getting a sneaky feeling that this will, somehow, be Liverpool's season after they secured a trademark, skin of their teeth 3-2 win at West Ham. That's on the condition that, when Agger is fit, they drop the liability that is Jamie carragher.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I've just realised...

... the fatal flaw of the "ideal" XI I posted below. It would surely be the runtiest team in Premiership history, with, by my reckoning, ONE outfield player over 6 foot (and Van Persie's head has probably made more contact with Adebayor's studs than with a football of late). We already get raped consistently on setplays, and it's suddenly easier to see why Bendtner and Diaby are so often stinking up our starting line-ups. We'll just have to hope we never concede another corner...

The Second Playmaker Situation

The reliance on Fabregas is old news, but he hasn't looked himself lately, and when that's the case the team are bound to struggle.

Another potential facet of the 4-3-3 that must have attracted Wenger is that it allows room for two central playmakers. Playing in a 4-4-2, if Fabregas was closely followed by a man-marker, we would be relying on the creativity of our wide players, something that hasn't really been consistent since the days of Robert Pires.

I guess there were two possibilities that Wenger may have considered in the Summer. One would have been to play Arshavin behind a centre forward, thus giving us added creativity ahead of Fabregas. It's something he tried a fair bit with the inconsistent Hleb in the 07/08 season, and obviously a position that Arsenal fans will forever attach a certain mystique to because of a man with the initials D.B. And no, it's not David Bentley.

But enough about that, because he took the alternative option, that is, a 4-3-3. Firstly, this adds a body in the central area we often find ourselves overrun in. But there's the added bonus that, when fit, one of Nasri or Rosicky can step in beside Fabregas with Song sweeping up behind. This is something that we'll hopefully see in home games in which we face ultra-defensive sides.

Nasri had a mixed season on the left last time out, but one that was fairly impressive for a new signing. He has a good work-rate and isn't scared of a tackle, and he probably looked most comfortable in those fleeting instances during which he was given a central prompting role while Fabregas was out injured. All of this, and Arshavin's role on the left of the front three, suggests that Nasri will be fighting it out with Denilson when he returns from injury.

We've already seen, in the last two games, a half-fit Rosicky play a prominent role in the same position. This for me is the great positive from a difficult period. As mentioned before, Denilson seems to come up short often in his attempts to lessen the captain's burden while we're in possession. We've seen how the Xavi-Iniesta axis has been so thrillingly effective in Barcelona's 4-3-3, and in Rosicky and Nasri we have two players who could in a sense play Iniesta to Fabregas' Xavi.

Indeed, Arshavin could be added to that list, but Wenger seems keen to play him as high up the pitch as possible. I still worry a bit that having him out on the left may negate some of his potentially huge influence, but I guess the reasoning is that he's already proven himself a potent goal threat for us and Wenger wants to make the most of that. Marc Overmars came to Arsenal in 97 with a big reputation as a provider from the flank, and was transformed into a free-scoring wide striker, almost. I think that's the blueprint for Arshavin (albeit that he has a different positional origin and playing style). Both small in stature, both good dribblers (Overmars faster, Arshavin trickier, but with an ability to be equally direct), both two-footed... you can see the parrallels, and if Arshavin proves himself as adept a finisher as Overmars, we might be onto a winner.

IF, and with Arsenal, it's a huuuuuuge if, we got everyone fit, this could be the line-up:
It admittedly looks like it could be got at, and there are question marks over a couple of the players- Almunia's a clown, Van Persie looks isolated at times in the centre forward position, and Walcott is yet to convince me- but even in the latter two areas we have potential alternatives (Eduardo, Bendtner, Wilshere, Vela, etc). Why I'd have Theo in the ideal first XI is that his amazing pace is something we otherwise lack- it would allow us to stretch the opposition, and whatever my criticisms of the guy, he does provide something different in the front three.

Now, it should again be pointed out that talking of Arsenal line-ups as a matter of such ample choice is really a total flight of fantasy, and will remain so until our horrible run of injuries ends, whatever the reasons for it (one suspects it could not simply be bad luck).

Anyway, I'll be brought back down to reality, in all likelihood, by a long ninety minutes trying to break Wigan down tomorrow. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Comedy Week Continues


After all my questioning of the team's character, it might seem a bit churlish to criticise them after they salvaged a win from two goals down, but I'm gonna do it anyway.

As with all fundamentally flawed sides, Arsenal's problems are not far from the surface even in victory. Standard Liege are a fairly limited team who were missing a couple of important players of their own, so the fact that they were 2-0 up after four minutes set those familiar alarm bells ringing again. And in what is becoming the theme of the season, THEY DIDN'T EVEN HAVE TO DO ANYTHING!!!

First, we gave away a soft corner, from which the clearance reached Eduardo on the edge of the box. He could and should have vollyed the dropping ball away, instead played an extravagant flick that missed its intended target, and the recipient Mangala fired one inside debutant Mannone's near post. Dire stuff. At real, professional clubs, players don't do what Eduardo did in matches because if they tried it in training, they'd get an almighty bollocking. But at Arsenal, it seems, bollockings are off the agenda.

My smirk turned into laughter a minute later when Gallas gave away a soft penalty as one of their players ran into the box (straight towards Alex Song). I think we can now forget this idea that Gallas' decline was all down to the non-partnership with Toure, and that he'd now be consistent. He's been great at times, shit at others. The story of his Arsenal career.

Arsenal faffed about for the remainder of the first half, never really threatening until Bendtner scored from a tight angle right on half-time. Diaby's assist was impressive, I suppose. He continues to be merely a YouTube footballer, at best.

After that you always got the sense that we'd win it. Liege looked like they didn't know what the hell to do in the position they found themselves in, almost by default. They sat back deep, didn't really press, but then we never really managed to open them up. Rosicky was again probably our best player in the attacking third, til his substitution. It's good to have him back.

The equaliser was an almighty fluke, possibly offside, definitely a handball by Song, before Vermaelan tapped it in. He was impressive again but he must be wondering what kind of braindead planks he's surrounded by in this team.

Up to that point we hadn't looked much like scoring, but after it the winner seemed inevitable. Inevitable too perhaps that Eduardo would score it after his ban was revoked and indeed after his error early in the game. He scored a fine poacher's goal, deliberately deflecting Fabregas' corner into the net with his knee.

So, conclusions.. It was another poor performance. Obviously the beginning of the game was shambolic, inept. We STILL look so vulnerable every time the opposition has the ball. After a promising start, the formation change seems only to be making us more toothless upfront while doing little to alter our defensive frailty.

To come back and win from a start like that always seems impressive but I don't know that we really deserved it. It was more a case of Standard not making the most of the further damage they could have done us, sitting back and allowing us back in. Even then it took two late, jammy goals to seal it. I guess we shouldn't complain; in truth it was exactly the kind of winning performance we're often accused of being incapable of. The feeling remains that if we were up against a better side we would have had to do much, much more to turn that deficit around. Against a better side we may have lost heavily.

Our problems when the other side attack need to be remedied and fast. Why didn't it happen in the summer though? The formation change suggets that it's been on Wenger's mind. So maybe it's more a question of personnel- in which case I ask again, for the 34,759th time, why have Mathieu Flamini, Lassana Diarra and Gilberto Silva gone unreplaced??????????????????????

I'm not gonna talk about the rest of the European games, as we all know that the group stages have become a pointless, predictable prelude to the real business of the knockout rounds.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Identity Crisis: Man City 4-2 Arsenal

Something's been bothering me about my team lately, and the other day, it hit me: we've become Spurs.

Seriously, think about it for a second. All those things we liked to think separated us from them- trophies, professionalism, efficiency- all those distinctions have more or less disappeared. Now they're just two "attractive sides", both flakey as can be. I guess some would say champions league football is the remaining difference, but anyone who's gonna say that is not now under threat after the last two games needs to take off those rose-tinted glasses and get themselves down to Specsavers.

Alan Hansen is not a man I often find myself agreeing with, but I nodded my head watching MOTD when he stated that he'd never seen a team so susceptible to conceding while dominating a game. Similar points have been made elsewhere. United and chelsea, these are teams who win while playing badly. Arsenal often lose while playing well.

I stated my reservations after the Everton win and it gives me no satisfaction to say I think I've been proven right: this team lacks character. It's perhaps the single most difficult problem to remedy in a team. We've seen outlined already some decent tactical changes made to the side, that had appeared to lead to improvement. But every time the stakes are raised, these guys seem to shrink in stature. Perhaps it is as Myles Palmer often suggests, that these players have been overly-pampered by Wenger. Perhaps it is that they simply need to win something, anything, to start to build that character. I'm not optimistic. This is a team that Wenger has been building for some time- albeit having lost some crucial players at times- and a side that Mark Fucking Hughes has had together for all of a few weeks gave them the runaround.

There are players in the Arsenal team who have stalled worryingly in their development. That is a potentially fatal factor in the progress or otherwise of this football club. If Wenger can not, for another few years at least, spend money, then we are relying completely on his semi-mythic talent for nurturing players. If that has deserted him, we really are in trouble.

Gael clichy is certainly Exhibit A. I distinctly remember a game in his breakthrough season, 03/04, when celta Vigo's right winger at the time gave him an almighty roasting. It was one of those things where you just thought, that's fine, he'll iron out those defensive deficiencies in time. But you know what? It still looks like, and on a fairly regular basis, that same clichy is making the same elementary errors. Allied to this, there's his inability to provide any kind of service when he gets forward- much like Sagna. I don't know is it that they haven't got a target, because in 07/08, when Adebayor was on fire, I seem to remember them both providing some good crosses. Whatever, the bottom line is, those two look to have stoppede dead in their progress.

Then again, there's worse further up the pitch. I always thought Denilson was a nice, tidy footballer, but that seems to be where it ends. Fabregas was stifled by De Jong on Saturday, so the Brazilian simply HAD TO shoulder some creative responsibility- he failed again to do this. And if he hasn't got that in his locker, it's hard to see where his real strengths lie. Rosicky appeared for ther first time in a year and a half and straight way looked what he is- ten times the player Denilson is, Bendtner is, Diaby is... The latter two are out of place as the flanking strikers in a 4-3-3, so maybe it's a bit harsh to be judging them, but in Diaby's case, a man that lazy can't really have any position. He looks unwilling to ever accept any defensive responsibility, and that next to his pisspoor passing makes an absolute mockery of those Vieira comparisons that we often hear, and are encouraged by Wenger. What Wenger needs to do is give this guy a swift kick up the ass but I guess that's just not his style. But look at it this way- Arshavin is embarrassingly superior in ability to Diaby and when he plays the same position, he puts in a fucking shift. If one is the best players in the world has the humility and professionalism to chase back, you've got to question the attitude of a joker like Diaby. In summation, he can fuck right off. I mean that. I'd be happy to never see him play for Arsenal again. Give Wilshere a chance, for fuck's sake.

Also consigned to the bad books, probably forever, is a goalkeeper we have been saddled with by yet more lack of foresight from Wenger. A goalkeeper who just doesn't make saves, and throws in the odd clanger to boot. He has never, not once, had a sustained run of form in an Arsenal shirt, and it's an insult to the fans that we have to settle for this while Shay Given makes stop after stop for our direct rivals for 4th, and a fair few teams have TWO better keepers in their squad.

I'm finding it hard to be optimistic at the moment. It's been pointed out that we have a handy looking run of fixtures now. I don't think we can view any fixture as particularly handy now that our weaknesses have again been ruthlessly exposed- and by a city side who were missing Robinho and Tevez. Our squad is continually ravaged which means our reliance on shitbags like Diaby will continue. If we had the full squad available, it'd almost look formidable. If my aunt had bollocks she'd be my uncle. Expect more struggles.

I consciously ignore the Adebayor fuss because it would detract from the more worrying problems with the team. But just one footnote- he might not look so clever at the end of the season if his impending suspension derails city's charge. That I am forced to clutch already at such petty straws points to the continued decline in the power of Arsenal.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

city preview...

One feels that this will be the weekend when a clearer picture of the league begins to form. By Monday we should be able to draw some tentative early opinions on the teams at or near the top.

Arsenal go to man city. Firstly, it's a chance to bounce back quickly from the United defeat, although that now seems quite a while ago. Secondly, it provides an opportunity to put the newly moneyed city back in their box. And finally, a related point, we need to show Adebayor that while his move was certainly motivated by something green, it was not necessarily greener pastures. Significant stuff then.

We're missing Arhavin, which is certainly a blow, but Fabregas coming back should soften that. We definitely missed the Spanish magician at Old Trafford. And on the subject of Arshavin, I'd just like to point out some poor journalism. A guy talking on the usually brilliant Guardian podcast, an Arsenal fan whose name escapes me, mentioned Arshavin and the whole pod went into rapturous overpraise mode, someone saying that he's been the player of the season so far. Two quiet games, then another quiet one with an admittedly wonderful goal.. calm down lads. Of course it's ridiculous at this stage to even be talking that way, about best players and suchlike. Most have only played four league games.

Anyway.. I must say I'm a bit worried about this game. I really think it will set the tone for the rest of the season. Win, and we could start to feel justified in talking about a title tilt. Lose, and it could be a long campaign of papering over widening cracks, of fretting over our place in the top four slipping away, and the club quite possibly falling into an abyss of irrelevance. What an overblown phrase that was. Sorry.

And yes, some may say it's ridiculous to speak of ONE game, and so early in a season, having such significance. But I've already made my point about the fragile mentality of the Arsenal team. I'm aware that sport generally is largely a question of confidence, of momentum. But there are those that swiftly regain it after knocks, and those that too readily sink to wallowing in perceived injustice and other excuses. Arsenal under Wenger have too often fallen into the latter group and thus a good run can quickly turn into a wretched one- something in danger of happening in the event of a reverse against city.

If we win, on the other hand, the United game will no longer fester in the memory and there will be a feeling of momentum. The injury list will be a cause for optimism, in a perverse way- "look who we've got to come back!"- rather than an excuse for losses and a reason for the club's continued decline- "look who we're missing!".

It's going to be tough, no doubt about it. But their defence can surely be got at. We get the chance to torment the overrated Lescott again so soon after he allowed us such facile passage at Goodison. I'll stand for no torment of Kolo but would certainly appreciate one of his comical own goals. In front of their fragile-looking defence they have Barry. He's often got the runaround against better midfielders, as far as I've seen. It's time for Denilson and Song to stake a claim for the Better Than Barry group, otherwise we can forget about trophies.

Then, while there is a sense that we can get at city, they'll feel the same about us. They've a multitude of dangerous attacking players, especially Ireland, who Song must keep close tabs on. Wright-Phillips remains erratic but on a good day he will give clichy problems. Tevez is out but Robinho's a better player anyway (if sometimes a lot less commited) and he scored one of those great piss-taking lobs that everybody loves in the corresponding fixture last season.

Then there's Adebayor and much as he's been dismissed by Gooners, the guy is a danger, especially when a. motivated- face it, we've done that bit for him and b. on form, which he clearly is with 3 in 3 so far.

While people may continue to talk about the time it will take for city to gel, if they continue to grind out results as they have to this point then they will have a serious platform to build from if and when they do catch fire. And in fairness, it's not like Arsenal's frontline have looked altogether harmonious yet. Ya know what? I'd give Bendtner a go in the middle- 2 in 2 for Denmark in the international games- and play RVP from the right. can't see those two and Eduardo all starting, especially not away from home, so it could be Diaby or Eboue for the role as the other prong- apt where those two are concerned- of the strikeforce.

In Saturday's other eye-catching fixture, Manchester United will, with comical inevitability, end Spurs' wonderful start to the season. You read it here first. Well, no one actually reads this, but...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mourn the passing of another deadline

Alright, September is here, and since the sales of Toure and Adebayor we have signed precisely nobody. If you told me then that this would be the case, I would have been unsurprised, but exasperated. The fact that I'm not so annoyed now is due, I guess, to the first four results of the season. BUT, the feeling remains, and is heightened by the implosion against United, that those games could turn out the mother of all false dawns.

Firstly it's necessary to point out that ours is a squad that is terribly injury-prone. Think of our first-choice eleven- not many of the players therein have avoided fairly lengthy lay-offs at some point or another. While the squad is, superficially, a fairly large one and in certain areas appears to have a surfeit of quality, this is rendered an illusion by the injury situation. consider, say, that sort of half-striker position that many of our players seem best-suited to. Nasri- injured. Rosicky- just "returning" from injury but to all intents and purposes, perennially injured. Walcott- injured. Vela- injured. This situation leads us to having to play Eboue as part of a front three. I'm not saying Wenger should have signed yet another player of this type, I'm only illustrating the enormity of the injury situation. Rosicky, Nasri, Arshavin, Bendtner, Eduardo, Vela, Walcott, Wilshere- that's EIGHT players that should be in line to play one of those positions, if necessary, and we're still reduced to playing Eboue there (admittedly he was picked ahead of three of those, that's for another argument).

So if this is the case for the seemingly best-stocked position in the squad, then what of central midfield? Are we two more injuries away from seeing the naive and ineffective Ramsey commanding a starting role? Or will Wenger keep messing with Nasri when he comes back, shuffling him from one position to another? As if Bendtner or Eboue on the right of a front three, or RVP in the middle, don't constitute enough square pegs in round holes, why not another? And what happens when Song goes to the African Nations? Diaby gets another chance in the centre to show us why he's NOT the next Patrick Vieira, or even the next carlton Palmer? That's if he's not in the treatment room for that whole month.

And then what about centre-back? Gallas and Vermaelen look great but do we really expect not to be missing one or both for periods of the season? And what then? Senderos? We've been shamelessly trying to flog him all summer. Silvestre? Enough's been said about him elsewhere. Djourou? Injury-prone aswell (but he does have a reputation as a good prospect because, well... for no reason at all as far as I've seen).

And then we've a first choice keeper who wouldn't get into more than half the teams in the Premiership. His understudy handed chelsea an FA cup final place last season.

You'll hear Wenger talk of a huge squad but a squad's not huge if half of it is unavailable. chasing the game against United- Arshavin breaks down injured- is replaced by Aaron Ramsey. He's pulling the wool over everybody's eyes. People will say he's always right in these situations. What made him right not to replace Flamini last summer? Was it our horrendous first half of the season, losing to Hull and Stoke among others? No, it was our whoopdifuckingdoo fourth placed finish. We will NOT get away with the same loss of form this season.

OK, we've looked the second-best team in the league so far, but Saturday showed how just one or two inadequate players can derail our lofty hopes. Our squad has already taken on that familiar decimated look without the players even having got much action. The last two seasons, for me, have ended with questions to be asked over inactivity and bad decisions in the transfer market. It's getting tiresome and if this season ends in a similar fashion then the clamour against the manager will rightly louden. As I've said so often in the last two years, and so often in vain, I hope I'm wrong.

The shit hits the fans: some teams never change

In my last post I referred to an Arsenal- United encounter in 04/05 that was an important moment in a title-winning campaign for chelsea. Having viewed Saturday's game, one could be forgiven for thinking that history is repeating itself. The game was a tour de farce.

There's been ample moaning already from sickened gooners, myself included, and from our notoriously bitter manager, about the referee's performance, but that is something of an irrelevance. The question that Wenger and his team must privately pose is, HOW is such an off-colour United team allowed to escape that game with three points?

Forget the fact that Fletcher clattered through Arhavin in the area- the latter's goal came in the same passage of play. Forget that Rooney's knees were buckling before Almunia made contact with him- the keeper's stupidity was such that there was no choice for the ref except to award a penalty. It was Arsenal's continuously amazing STUPIDITY, and make no mistake, some of these guys are stupid, that gave the game away.

This was summed up best by Diaby's comical own-goal. In fairness, he had one of his best ever games, but is it really worth relying on players whose best games can involve literally gifting the opposition victory? Almunia deserves stick aswell, and Wenger deserves beating with a stick for lumping the team with this liability of a goalkeeper. The best goalies can be seen to be worth a lot of points in a season- Newcastle in the Premiership would be a much more distant memory if they hadn't had Shay Given, for instance- but this guy is LOSING us points. He doesn't make match-winning saves, and he also drops clangers. For a moment, after last season's first leg against United, I believed. I thought he'd finally made it. Then what? He ensures the tie is over with a wretched first ten minutes at the Grove. He's a joker. He showed it again on Saturday, as he had the weekend before against Portsmouth.

I've questioned the big-game character of the players here and I think this game showed I was justified. collectively, Arsenal were good to a point, but individual errors snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. United were wretched, there for the taking. But we gave them a shot of confidence in the shape of two gift-wrapped goals. After that, we were left with that familiar sight in a big game: no bouncebackability from Arsenal. If it was chelsea or Pool, there would have been a siege on United's goal, instead we got sporadic attacks with no real focal point. Probably shouldn't be too critical- we were missing Fabregas, Nari, Walcott, all first choice attacking players. The thing is, with United toothless and lacking fluidity, after Arshavin's wondergoal we should never have been left chasing it. We've looked more solid as a unit in midfield and attack, but the errors of one or two morons can undo a team's good work. Welcome to Arsenal, Vermaelen. No wonder Billy Gallas gets emotional sometimes. He used to be surrounded by pros at chelsea. contrast that with all the times at Arsenal that he's played a blinder and some idiot or another has contrived to render his performance meaningless. Fucking hell.

There SHOULD be optimism, because all in all, we looked superior to United, even without some important players. These must be worrying times for United fans, as Giggs, carrick and others looked rudderless. Again, I ask you, how did we lose that game? Last season, I would have been tempted to say the team lacks character. But now I think that does a disservice to a lot of the players. Most of them did their jobs well and were for an hour or so winning personal duels with their opponents. But it becomes more and more clear that people like Almunia and Diaby can't be carried.

As I've said before, Arsenal teams have had a habit of letting one poor result become a poor run of form. You know what? call it hyperbole, I call it the truth: Saturday September 12th, Manchester city away-one of the biggest games of Wenger's reign. The symbolism involved in ninety minutes of early season football couldn't get much more significant.