Thursday, October 29, 2009

carling cup: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool

I don't really care that much about the carling cup. I'm as success-starved as the next man, and would like to see Arsenal win it, but there's little chance of that happening. The quarter-finals will feature Man Utd's strong reserves, as well as chelsea, Villa, Spurs and city who will all still play close to full-strength sides. With Wenger's policy of blooding youngsters and giving reserves a run-out, it's hard to see an ultimate Arsenal triumph. Then again, we did get close in 2007, outplaying chelsea's first team in the final, so maybe I'm being pessimistic, we'll see.

Anyway, we all know it's a distant fourth priority, but that often leads to games like lastnight's and that's no bad thing. With the pressure off, there has often been a lot of freedom in Arsenal's play. Liverpool also rested key men, and they played their part. It would have been hard to tell, if you didn't already know, that this was a Benitez side, as the game was largely open. And it was illuminated further by three fine goals. In the first half, Merida and Insua exchanged left-footed screamers to leave the score level. Early in the second, Bendtner, who'd had a stinker to that point, fired in the winner after another flowing move.

The best of these had come earlier when the outstanding Aaron Ramsey started a move around our right back area and a succession of one-twos saw him advance to near Liverpool's area where he played in Merida with a pass that was, dare I say it, Fabregasesque.

I have to say, I hadn't been sure about the Welshman from what I'd seen last season, but there's been a huge improvement this campaign so far culminating in his best performance for the club lastnight (we'll forgive him a couple of sloppy, tired passes towards the end). Between this, and the return of Nasri, I am happy to say that Diaby's first team time SHOULD soon be up.

A word about Senderos aswell. He always looked capable of costing us the game and if Voronin wasn't so bumbling he could have punished us. I have no hatred for the Swiss as a man, he seems genuine and committed despite his difficult situation at the club, but at a team that play on the front foot as we always try to, he is a constant liability. You can see how the move to Everton would have benefitted him. They're less of an attacking side, he wouldn't have to push up to halfway and be at constant risk of getting turned and left for dead... It's a pity for Philly that it fell through, and maybe he can help us if called upon, but I'm praying that Gallas and Vermaelen stay fit somehow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Maybe this could have waited til May but....

.... You know that bit in American History X, when the friendly black school teacher asks Ed Norton, who's just been violated in the most horrendous way in a prison shower, "has anything you've done made your life better?".. And Norton sort of shakes his head and starts to cry, and you really feel for him because you know he knows he's wasted a chunk of his life living by a horribly misguided ideal?

Sometimes I wish there was somebody to confront Wenger with that sort of question. It's probably not the most suitable analogy- Wenger's youth policy is certainly more laudable than Nazism- but I'm gonna run with it. Has anything he's done in the lat few years benefitted Arsenal? Of course, he's had his moments, but overall, he's letting principles rule over pragmatism, profits over glory. He can count the cash all he likes, but when it comes to medals, any fan can count to zero.

And why should we be so chuffed about our record turnover? Seriously? The only investment we seem to see is into inflated wage packets for substandard players. The last couple of major signings have been roaring successes- if he tried that more often, we would, in all probability, win the title. Look at the vulnerability of Man Utd. And the trouble chelsea could be in if not allowed to spend in January.

Instead, it seems, we will suffer another case of "so near, yet so far".

I just can't help seeing and hearing a man who's become obsessed with the future at the expense of the present. When these could be such glorious times.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Indecision is final: the goalkeeping crisis rumbles on

The goalkeeping dilemma has turned into a bit of a farce. Mannone is only 21, that's young for a goalkeeper, so mistakes are inevitable. He should be making those mistakes and learning from them in the reserves or out on loan somewhere.

The fact that he's doing it in the Premiership and the champions league betrays Wenger's loss of faith in Almunia. A lot of people feel he's not good enough to be Arsenal's number one, but it's frustrating that Wenger seems only to have developed that attitude, mid-season and outside of a transfer window, rather than seeing it and addressing it in the summer. Again, a lack of decisiveness, of action, looks to be costing us dearly.

Maybe he sees the returning Fabianski as the answer. Anyone who saw his horrendous error gift chelsea a place in the FA cup final last season will be sceptical.

So all in all more disappointing lack of foresight from Wenger. That was seen in microcosm in the game against West Ham aswell when he didn't replace the awful Eboue with an efficient right-winger to help us kill the game. Instead he fell back on negativity and only reacted when the damage was done at 2-2.

For a man renowned for keeping faith with players- Diaby springs to mind, as do Eboue, Song and a few more- he's never been shy of making a scapegoat of a keeper. Ironically enough, this was how Almunia first got his chance in 04/05, when Lehmann was harshly dropped after the "Untouchables" rediscovered vulnerability. Now Almunia falls victim to this policy. As then, I think it's a bad move by Wenger. I don't rate Almunia but nor do I think we're any better off with either of our current alternatives. Now, if Almunia comes back in and this figurative kick up the hole has forced him into improvement, I'll laud Wenger, but I'm not holding my breath. More likely a mentally fragile and fairly limited goalkeeper has had whatever confidence he held before destroyed. To me, a fit Almunia should have been restored, and proper competition, or indeed an immediate replacement, sought in January.

West Ham 2-2 Arsenal: So That's That Then

With Arsenal two goals up and apparently cruising on Sunday, I saw on my laptop that Man city had thrown away a similar lead to draw at home to Fulham. A feeling of smugness washed over me. With United, Spurs, and Villa also dropping points, it seemed for a few moments that: A. Arsenal would not have to fret over a 4th placed finish this season, and B. Arsenal were genuine title challengers. But I should have known what was coming.

Last season could officially be declared a farce after our team of morons blew a 4-2 lead at home to Spurs in the space of a couple of stoppage time minutes. And so it is now. It seems that in the area of character, of mentality- the areas that define trophy-winning sides- little tangible progress has been made.

What's most galling is that West Ham are at the moment a painfully poor side. They never threatened to really open up our defence, which to be fair has become a lot less shambolic with the addition of Vermaelen. He must troop off at the end of games wondering how he's not racking up more clean sheets. Likewise Gallas. They're both playing pretty well, but it's a team game. There are problems at Arsenal bigger than any individual. Adebayor caused problems, was turfed out, we've seen some benefit. That was a simple problem to solve. But there are bigger battles these guys need to fight with themselves, and about half the team seem to be losing those.

That said, we might have got away with a listless, borderline lazy display but for a couple of the now-familiar individual errors that have peppered this season. First, with about fifteen minutes remaining, West Ham won a free-kick, for absolutely nothing as far as I can tell, on the edge of the area. Diamante curled in a fine effort but Mannone reached it and the rest should be textbook for any keeper. But he's young, he's green, he got it wrong. Palmed the ball into the air for carlton cole to nod it in.

The rest was painful in its predictability. The home fans were now up for it, and their team finally showing some initiative. could Arsenal hold their nerve and establish their superior class? could they fuck. There's that chant you hear at away grounds- "always cheating, same old Arsenal"... if those fans had any wit they'd change it to something more accurate like "always crumbling.."

Song is a much-improved player, no doubt, but one thing that a holding midfielder must possess above all else is intelligence and this seems to desert him at times. When cole received the ball in our area with his back to goal, there was no immediate danger, and certainly no need to kick the back of his legs. Outside the box, he does it a lot, and that's irritating, but inside it's criminal. Now, it was still a harsh decision, cole went down very easily, but Song shouldn't have given the ref the chance to appease the baying home fans who'd just had a passable appeal turned down.

We still should have won it. Van Persie forced a great save from Green in injury time, but it never should have come to that. Fair play to West Ham for taking advantage of Arsenal idiocy, but they are rubbish, and we all know there's teams who would have ran up a cricket score given the advantage we had at half-time. Wanna know who? I'll give you a clue, they'll be the ones fighting for trophies in April and May when our season will be, most probably, long over.

* I should add quick reference to the midweek champions league game against AZ Alkmaar, which held the promise of future capitulation in the shape of the last gasp equaliser conceded. After the warning shots of Birmingham and Holland, Upton Park seemed to conclusively prove that this Arsenal team are incapable of learning lessons.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Progress Report: Arsenal 3-1 Birmingham

I only saw the highlights of Saturday's game, so I can only draw half-justified conclusions, but there were a few to be drawn nonetheless. One thing that stands out is the goalkeeping dilemma. Almunia was back from his "flu", but only returned to the bench. We can surmise then that his number 1 spot is under threat, but Mannone may have blown his big audition, and so the plot thickens. Expect Almunia to be starting midweek, and in need of a performance not just for all us fans who are tired of this debilitating flaw in the side, but more importantly for his own fragile confidence.

All of our home games so far had turned out to be relatively straightforward, in terms of scoreline: 4-1, 4-0, 6-2. Yet in all of these games, before the result was decided, we had moments of worrying fragility. Against Portsmouth, at 2-1, Gallas could easily have been sent off for an APPARENT professional foul (replays proved the referee was right- but I doubt if he was right for the right reasons!). Against Wigan, Mannone was forced into important saves as our defence creaked first half at 1-0. And against Blackburn two weeks ago, we were behind twice and could have been level again at 3-3 if the referee had given the trip on Dunn as a penalty.

Against Birmingham yesterday, again the game ended comfortably but for long stretches it was closer than it should have been. Two early goals seemed to herald a bit of a rout. First, a trademark Van Persie finish. I get annoyed when people compare him to Bergkamp, but one way in which he emulates his fellow Dutchman is in the high ratio of eye-catching goals he grabs. For both men, these are often the result of an accomplished first touch in tight areas. Alex Song's pass was well aimed but awkward for RVP to take in his stride. The way he manouevred it onto his left was fantastic, and the finish, when he's on this kind of form, a formality. He has the potential to be more prolific than his legendary countryman, and one feels we'll need him to be this season. When you think about it, how lucky have we been... Bergkamp, Henry, Van Persie. Not many scruffy goals in there, even for the Frenchman who scored more than two hundred.

Van Persie's strike was quickly followed by a second from Diaby, after great work down the right by Eboue and Rosicky. And how great it is to have the latter back. Because he's not a regular scorer it can be easy to ignore him but he really does oil the gears of the team very well and I think we've looked more fluid from the minute he returned. I believe he played twice for the czechs during the international break aswell, so that can only bode well for his contract prospects. Let's be cautious though, we all know his history...

In any case, after that it should have been plain sailing. But Arsenal wouldn't be Arsenal without a soft goal conceded. In one of the few instances he was called upon, Mannone dropped a cross under a slight bit of pressure and Bowyer smashed it in. This happened not long before half time, and it wasn't til the last few minutes that Arshavin put the game to bed with an Henryesque finish on the break. Admittedly, Bimingham didn't threaten to equalise too often, but it's worrying that we made such hard work of them. Then again, the first game after the international break doesn't often see a vintage attacking performance, so we can be pleased with the three points.

The main worries are the aforementioned goalkeeping dilemma, and the equally ever-running injury crisis. The brittle Walcott was predictably crocked after a (legitimate) clattering from Ridgewell, and replaced by Arshavin. From what Wenger said, he's out of the AZ game, and you get the feeling it could be a few more. Also with Eduardo and Bendtner out of the squad, Robin Van Persie was in the unfamiliar position of being the only FIT striker. I said at the start of the season that while our attacking options are plenty in the sense of having plenty of ATTAcKERS, we don't have enough FORWARDS. Two injury-prone strikers, and Bendtner who seems to be getting into the Arsenal spirit of being oft-crocked, is not enough. I've never seen Vela or Walcott play as the spearhead so Wenger naming them as options was disingenuous, a bit disrespectful towards supporters he's developed a bit of a habit of talking down to. So now we're in the position of praying that RVP's glass legs hold up.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Short Digression

come on you boys in green

Monday, October 5, 2009

The King Stay The King: cesc masterclass

Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn

You come at the King, you best not miss, in the words of the great Omar Little. A few people, including myself, have had a pop at Fabregas lately, and his performance against Blackburn on Saturday was an imperious two-fingered salute to those unworthy plebs.

In attack, it was a wonderful team performance but Fabregas was at the heart of almost everything. He was directly involved in the first five goals, with four assists as well as a fine left-footed strike, and not on the pitch for Bendtner's sixth.

Arshavin is an exciting addition and could make a huge difference for us, but we should be in no doubt as to who is the pivotal figure in this Arsenal side. There was a show of apparent commitment after his goal, let's hope that bout of badge-kissing was genuine. It would be a real shame to lose this guy at only 22, having never really surrounded him with the team mates he deserves.

Yet again, notes of caution must be sounded. Two soft goals conceded first half. The first- Robinson kicks all the way to our penalty area, one header, loops over Mannone and in. Comical stuff. After Vermaelen, who'd been outjumped for that goal, hit back with another belter from the edge of the box, we were caught out by a simple counterattack, ending with Dunn somewhat luckily finding the net off Gallas. It was disturbing to see Blackburn break into our penalty area with such ease. Throughout the game, Song looked to miss the help that Denilson had provided in earlier games. This must be part of Diaby's remit but to be honest I'm close to giving up on this guy showing any professionalism.

Blacknurn were unlucky on a couple of occasions second half aswell- Dunn should have had a penalty at 3-2, and one of their subs had a shot deflected onto the post at 4-2. But let's focus a bit more on the positives.

After going 2-1 behind, the reaction was swift and decisive. Two vintage slide-rule passes by Fabregas set up first Van Persie and then Arshavin to put Arsenal ahead. Second half, two more goals at vital moments ensured that we wouldn't have a similar debacle to the Spurs game last season. Shortly after Dunn's penalty appeal came Fabregas's screamer. Then after a period of Blackburn pressure a swift break saw Arshavin tee up Fab, and again he picked the perfect pass, a subtle touch for the returning Walcott who slid the ball tidily into the far corner. Bendtner added the icing on the cake with a late strike, cutting in from the left to blast home via a post.

The substitutes were another bonus. When Theo came on he showed how he can offer something different, more direct, stretching the opposition defence. After his goal Arshavin and Fabregas were replaced by Ramsey, who showed a fine range of passing, and Bendtner who scored a great goal. I realise they were coming on with the job done and little pressure but hopefully it goes some way to dispelling the idea that we lack strength in reserve.

I just hope Nasri is back soon because Diaby is still unconvincing.