Sunday, January 31, 2010


The Big One

And winning it would make chelsea away, next weekend, an Even Bigger One.

Regardless of league position, these matches always matter a great deal- remember Keane and Vieira's tunnel row in 04/05, with both teams simply eating chelsea's dust in a one horse title race- but this one has a significance beyond itself, as the league table testifies. chelsea are beginning to pull away again but a win for either side today gives them something serious to think about.

Last season, United were never as good as the 'Quintuple' talk suggested; this time around, they're not as bad as the panic-merchants would have you believe.
It's been far from a vintage season for Ferguson, but most of United's problems are a matter for the future. Right now they have an unspectacular but still efficient team, low on flair but still capable of swamping teams. Eamon Dunphy described their midfield earlier this season as impoverished, but while they do lack real creativity in that area, no Arsenal fan will be pleased at the sight of Darren Fletcher today. They may not have a midfield that will always dominate, but United's hallmark has always been a directness, not in the long ball sense but in the sense that they move the ball forward sharply at their best, in something of a contrast to Arsenal's possession-oriented game. They don't need to have all of the ball to be dangerous.

I question Arsenal's character at times. What I would like to see, first and foremost, is no stupid mistakes. Our big-match record is less than impressive in recent years, and these contests hinge on very small matters. For the last two years we have seen individuals spark a collective implosion in some of the most significant games.
People always talk about Eduardo's leg-break in 07/08 as the pivotal moment- I always think about clichy falling asleep later in the same game. Or Kolo giving away a penalty straight after we'd equalised against Liverpool at Anfield weeks later.
How about those semi-finals last season? We saw Fabianski rush out to usher Drogba towards an empty net in the FA cup. Then when we needed to bring our best at the Emirates against United, mistakes by Gibbs and Almunia finished the job for them before they'd had to break sweat.
This season we've already seen own-goals by Diaby and Vermaelen against those same two teams. If there's a mental block there, it's something that Arsenal simply have to overcome to stand even a remote chance of winning something this or next season.

But in what's bound to be a close-fought game, not giving cheap goals away would be a start.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Round up Round 3... and sweeping statement


Andrey Arshavin 6/10
A few people did mention when we were signing Arshavin that it was fairly late for him to be making his big move out of Russia... Was he just a bit of a late developer, or was there some more sinister reason? It was said by some that for every good game he had, he'd have three bad ones. And for all his impact last season, it's tempting now to conclude that he is indeed what I like to term a YouTube Footballer (see also, Abou Diaby, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, if I'm in a contrary mood, Steven Gerrard).
It seems in his nature to flit in and out of games. Even when so impressive last season, he was often, paradoxically, both peripheral and crucial- most obviously with his four-goal salvo in an otherwise perversely quiet game against Liverpool.
But recently the fleeting moments of quality have dried up aswell. Arsenal probably don't need him to be central to every game, but they do need him to make a difference in some of the tighter ones. Then again, he has been apparently playing through some pain, unable to kick the ball properly, so all this might be just a little harsh.
He does look lightweight though, and at times disinterested. A bit of an enigma.

Robin Van Persie 8/10
At the time he got injured, he was well on his way to a 9, in the form of his life. He is so vital to the formation we've been using that I'm still trying to figure out why we haven't signed somebody. In any case, I'm not going to dwell too long on RVP because this season's ship has probably sailed as far as he's concerned. A shame for him and us, but he deserves thanks for an outstanding half a season or so.

Nicklas Bendtner 5/10
The season started with the most inexplicably confident man on the planet labouring on the right wing, and as square pegs in round holes go, it wasn't the worst fit. Much like my pal Theo, he seems most valuable to Arsenal because of what, rather than who, he is. He represents a different challenge from our more technically-minded players. Basically, he's useful to us because he's a big clumsy fucker. At this point I'm going to have to add that last summer we lost a faster, better big clumsy fucker, but it's probably a bit taboo to suggest that we might be on our way to another trophyless season because Adebayor wasn't properly replaced???
Anyway, that's probably a bit simplistic. And Bendtner should be valuable for the rest of the season, having been unlucky with injuries so far. It should be mentioned that we've not been struggling for goals so it would be unfair to hope for him to get 20 in 20 games. But he might well make it easier for the players around him to score, and that is a precious commodity in the game- Emile Heskey's still in the England team for god's sake!

Theo Walcott 4/10
I'm no fan of Walcott. He seems like a lovely fella but I do not rate him as a footballer. He is a sprinter in the wrong sport.
I know it's conventional to talk about the potential of a young player, especially one who's rough around the edges. But I just don't see much footballing talent in Walcott. He doesn't strike a ball well. Is not a natural finisher. His decision-making is poor. And most of all, he seems to have no idea of how to beat his man. You either play him in behind with a pass, or you don't see him in behind at all. And when he does find himself beyond a full-back, his crossing is not reliable.
I always think it instructive to compare him to Aaron Lennon at Spurs. Lennon was for many years seen as a brainless winger with loads of pace but no end product. And look at him now- a nightmare for full-backs. But for me there's a vital difference in the two cases. Aaron Lennon just needed tweaking. He was always able to beat his man. He always looked DANGEROUS. A bit like Ronaldo before he became the player he is today. You'd always know they were on the pitch, worrying defenders, even if it did not end in goals.
With Walcott, I'm not so sure the danger is even there. He is often anonymous. Many a full back has completely negated his influence. Aaron Lennon needed to improve one facet of his game, and did. I just think Walcott has too much to improve on to ever become what Jamie Redknapp would call a top, top player.
It's also a question of character, I think. I look at Theo Walcott and I see someone who's not so sure he belongs in an Arsenal shirt. Maybe we're the wrong team for him. In certain situations, pace will always thrive. But his amazing run against Liverpool and his hat trick for England against croatia strike me more as aberrations than as pointers to the possibility of future consistency.
All that being said, injuries have decreed that this will not be the season to make a decisive judgement on Walcott. But I've seen nothing, in his time on the pitch, to suggest that my current inclination is wrong.

carlos Vela 4/10
All of his Premiership appearances down the middle have suggested that he's the new Jeremie Aliadieire (you find writing about Arsenal that you come up with a lot of euphemisms for SHITE). On the left wing, he looks a little better, like, say, a poor man's Jose Reyes (and I mean Reyes AFTER the Neville sisters got to him at Old Trafford).
He's probably low on confidence, even though it's hard to tell because he's smiling all the time (much like Reyes BEFORE the Neville sisters got to him). I guess a kind conclusion would be the NON-conclusion that "the jury is still out". But if you want a proper conclusion on the basis of this season, it would be that he's not gonna make the grade. Even his previous successes, paradoxically, support his condemnation in this context, because he's only done well in cup games, mostly against lower division sides.

Tomas Rosicky 6/10
Not much to say here. The usual story with injuries but his enduring class means he's good to have around. Probably should play in midfield more often, as in the front three he's not really a natural goal threat. Although wherever he starts he generally has license to roam. Has scored a couple of important goals lately. A fit Tomas Rosicky til season's end would be a great novelty but it's about as likely as me finishing my thesis in the next month.

Samir Nasri 5/10
I almost just wrote "see above". Again, doesn't seem all that suited to a role in the front three. I quite liked him on the left in the 4-4-2 last season but I guess that's a non-runner now. His bad pre-season injury might have shelved whatever plan Wenger had for him, who knows? But now it just seems he's interchangable with Walcott, Bendtner, Rosicky, Eduardo and Arshavin in the front three.
I wondered in an earlier post whether the plan was to use him alongside Fabregas and Song in midfield. Wenger does just seem to love shoehorning playmakers into the team in all kinds of positions. I'm sure both Nasri and Rosicky however feel they could do a superior job to Denilson alongside Fabregas. Maybe they'd just get in his way though. I dunno, I'm rambling now. Hopefully Nasri will come to the fore for the remainder of the season, whatever position he plays. The feeling is that we've yet to see the best of him.

Eduardo 6/10
Has been unfairly written off in some quarters. He is, ultimately, a finisher so his loss of nerve in front of goal is a worry. I think he offers more than people give him credit for, though. He is still getting into good positions so if he does regain the confidence he had before the leg break, he will score plenty. Ideally, he'd like to play alongside a big man- he and Adebayor linked up well in 07/08- so he was never going to look his best in our recent runty forward line.


Fabianski, Eastmond, Mannone and others who have made fleeting appearances- there's no point giving these guys ratings based on that.

So, if you want a sweeping statement to finish, here it is: THE SPINE of a team is paramount in football, and five spinal players have given Arsenal a chance this season. Now, one is out, probably for the remainder. So some of the others have to step up to the plate. Outside of Gallas, Vermaelen, Song, Fabregas and Van Persie, only Sagna has maintained a high standard. The rest have been erratic.
Admittedly, injuries affect form. You can say Arsenal are persistently unlucky in this regard, or you can be realistic and see that Arsene Wenger assembled an injury-prone squad, and he reaps a commensurate reward.
Either way, ultimate success this season looks to me an unlikely outcome. This is not pessimism, it is my measured conclusion from what I've seen and pondered. A team will not win the title with such a poor keeper, with no defensive depth, and without one top-quality striker. It's too much to ask, I think, even in this strange season.

As said many times before, that's the real pity, that the manager has not given his team the best possible chance.

Round up Round 2


cesc Fabregas 9/10
Fabregas now looks likely to do what he threatened for half of 07/08 and add consistent goalscoring to his otherwise perfect game. I was sceptical at first over his shift in position but it's proven a wise move by Wenger. Fabregas can still play deep enough to dictate things, because the wide players play further up the pitch. And of course with one or two midfielders always playing a little behind him, he can get forward to often devastating effects. His goals and assists testify to the success of this gambit.
One worries at the moment that we're over-reliant on him, though. Xavi plays with Iniesta, Henry, Ibrahimovic and Messi. With due respect to Diaby, Nasri, Bendtner and the mercurial Arshavin, none of them threaten to play more than second fiddle. It's a heavy load for a 22 year old to carry.

Alex Song 8/10
Fabregas' influence seems to rise with Song on the pitch. He has become by far our most effective option in the anchor role, and it's great that results have not suffered too much in his absence.
He can still look prone to the odd moment of madness, and plays with a carefree manner that sometimes seems ill-suited to the role he is assigned, but overall he has made me LESS annoyed about the way Diarra, Flamini and Gilberto were allowed to leave, unreplaced, in the space of six months or so.
His improvement shows that Wenger's unflappable belief in his players, while seeming at times his greatest flaw, is also his greatest strength. Not many had faith that Song was the man to solve our midfield problems, but he's developed into a formidable presence. His improvement and Vermaelen's emergence are the two main differences between this league season and the disaster that was last.

Denilson 6/10
A survey of the countless Arsenal blogs reveals Denilson as a player who divides opinion. Some see an unfussy midfielder who will go unnoticed tracking runs, using the ball simplty and effectively, and helping allow Fabregas to dictate. Others think he's rubbish. I think he's a useful player who has failed to live up to his initial promise. I remember first seeing him, and it looked like he could develop into something similar to Fabregas. He doesn't show half the flair now that he seemed to have in abundance then. Going forward, his passing just does not have the incisiveness that comes effortlessly to the Spaniard. And in a defensive sense, he seems to get caught on the ball a lot, and make some silly decisions, like the ine that gave Bolton a penalty recently. Physically, he's hardly the most imposing. With everybody fit, perhaps a Song-Diaby-Fabregas combo is the best option. Denilson does not piss me off as much as Diaby does, and he generally does a good job, but is seldom outstanding, whereas Diaby does seem to provide a certain X Factor, for want of a better term. This is something I've got to give more thought to.

Boo Boo Diaby 6/10
This guy has a boat load of talent but rarely channels it to palpable effect. He seems lazy, dwells too long on the ball, has no discernible position. He has Vieira's physique but you'd struggle to find a more different central midfielder. But even on his bad days, he has the ability to run with the ball through the centre of the pitch and that is something the midfield otherwise lacks. It's just that too much of what he does is average. His passing is often sloppy and he seems to lack interest in the defensive side of the game. If we could only fuse him and Denilson into a mutant footballer with Diaby's stature and running power and Denilson's brain and selflessness... Ah well.
Some people claim that he's come good this season. I think that's a bit of a lazy assumption brought on by his ability to look good in highlights packages. I'd sum him up as a man who can be impossible to play against but is more often difficult to play with.

Aaron Ramsey 6/10
You can't really say he's had a bigger impact than Denilson or Diaby overall, but his contribution is more impressive in that he's not been at the club as long and so the rough edges in his game are forgivable. And there has been the odd game, in the comparative few that he's played, in which he's been outstanding. In the win at Portsomuth he made it look like we didn't miss Fabregas- no mean feat.

I can't sleep so I decided to

do this Half-Term Report type of thing, although it's a little past halfway, I think an honest appraisal of the squad as a whole will show that it's something of a miracle Arsenal can even be considered title contenders at this stage.

Part one... the defenders

Manuel Almunia 4/10
There are not many stand-out keepers in the league. Shay Given is probably the best but even he's got some flaws. But there's not many number ones, in my opinion, who are as suspect as Almunia.
The most damning thing here is the lack of progress. His first breakthrough came in 04/05. Lehmann was still a decent keeper, unfairly dropped to deflect attention from other areas. Almunia was unconvincing in that run, and soon the German returned, but one could have hoped that the Spaniard would develop. He has not done so in any palpable way.
He has decent games but they are rare. Playing for a big team, he is not asked to do much in most matches. Look at Van Der Sar- nobody would call him the most spectacular keeper, but he does a solid, unfussy job. If you look at the goals Arsenal concede, as much as half seem to raise questions about Almunia that he seems ill-equipped to answer.

William Gallas 7/10
Gallas' reaction to losing the captaincy has been admirable. He doesn't strike me as the most likable chap but he's got his head down, returned to something like his best, and that's to his credit. Maybe Kolo didn't suit him. I love Kolo so it's hard to say this, but the months since his departure have confirmed Gallas as the better defender. He's cooler, he uses his pace more cleverly, and with a partner who attacks the ball and thus provides the necessary chemistry, he still looks one of the Premiership's better defenders.
He might remain slightly deficient in the character stakes, still prone to a bit of sulking. It's more of an issue at Arsenal because the squad Wenger has built is low on character generally- being experienced, Gallas with or without the armband is obviously burdened with leadership responsibilities that don't really suit his personality. It's not his fault, but sometimes he could deal with adversity a little better.

Thomas Vermaelen 8/10
Vermaelen has already proved a great signing, and it's a pity this success has not encouraged Wenger to make similar transfers when they are so plainly needed at the moment. It's hard to criticise him. His attitude is always brilliant, he gives us an aerial presence at the back, makes good decisions, has a turn of pace. He's young for a centre back and yet has made very few errors. And then there are the goals, some of which have been pretty important.

Bacary Sagna 7/10
I'm gonna give Sagna a 7 because, at the end of the day, he's a defender. And nobody can deny he does that brilliantly, consistently. But he's specifically a full back. If he was a winger, he'd be a 5. If he was a centre half, he'd be an 8. He does the defensive stuff so well, and yet does not offer enough going forward, as an Arsenal full back has to. He tends to offer good width but his crossing remains erratic at best. Maybe now that he has an actual TARGET, in Bendtner, this aspect of his game will improve.

Gael clichy 5/10
clichy is a frustrating case of a player stuck in a rut. He's the reason nobody was too worried when that cunt Ashley cole left but leave sentiment at the door and you've got to admit that cole remains a far superior player in almost every facet of the game.
Much like Sagna, but more so, clichy's end product is disappointing. His pace and dynamism get him into promising positions in almost every game, but he seems to lack the brain to make the right decision, or even the ability to swing in a passable impression of a cross, on most occasions.
Unlike Sagna, however, clichy has an alarming tendency to fall asleep in defensive situations, something that has dogged him throughout his Arsenal career. He's been on the end of a severe roasting by a few wingers aswell, most recently Ashley Young the other night. While he's a much preferable option to Traore, it's a pity that Gibbs got injured when he did because he looks promising and a bit of serious competition may be what clichy needs.

Mikael Silvestre 2/10
Has looked a liability in every game he's played- THANKFULLY there haven't been too many of them.

Emmanuel Eboue 5/10
While seeming a quite unpleasant man, Eboue has become useful in an annoying sort of way as a utility player who can play anywhere on the right side of the pitch. I suppose he's our version of Kuyt at Liverpool or Jurassic Park at United, lacking in any real talent but will "put in a shift" to reasonable effect. The main difference being that Eboue is a complete bastard.

Gibbs & Traore 5/10 & 5/10
I can't remember how much Gibbs has even played- I know it's not very much- but he does look one for the near future so he gets a 5 despite his lack of games.
The feeling with Traore is that his future lies elsewhere. He did ok for a few games but lately was starting to look exposed. His explolsive pace is useful, and he does know how to cross a ball which is rare at Arsenal, but defensively he looks weak and despite my reservations about clichy's form, it is a good time to have him back.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal...bad night

Tonight's result is not, in itself, that damaging. But Vermaelen's injury could spell trouble. We had been lucky up to this point that neither he nor Gallas missed many games, but it seems that that is about to change at the worst possible time with games against big four rivals fast approaching.

You'd be confident of campbell doing ok for a few games- he was SOLid for another hour or so lastnight- but would an extended run in the team expose him? Maybe. And what about Gallas? Wenger's already said that he's been playing through pain, so does this mean we've got to go for another centre-back? Because a pairing of campbell-Silvestre is now a very real prospect, or, more accurately, DOOMSDAY ScENARIO.....

It makes a grim sort of sense that Vermaelen gets injured now because the imminent returns of Song, Eboue, Bendtner, Nasri had things looking too rosey on the injury front, didn't they? This is Arsenal after all. Eduardo picked up an injury aswell that will keep him out of, at least, the United game. So the strike options are looking bare once again. I say again, it really is taking the piss not signing a forward. It's genuinely got on my nerves. We're reduced to pretending that Bendtner's return should be a real reason for optimism. This is a fella who was jeered by his own fans a lot of last season. I personally don't mind him, he may have an ego that far outstrips his ability but he's a decent OPTION, but to be relying on him to lead the line now (or Vela, or Eduardo) is far from ideal.

Then again I've been saying that since Van Persie got injured and I'm sure those sentiments have been endlessly echoed elsewhere. The truth is that the Arsenal manager lives in a bubble, exempt from criticism. The club is indebted to him for recent successes on the pitch and financial well-being off it. Nobody in the club has the balls to take him on regarding his ineffective policies. He's not used to pressure of any sort because there's no tension there, no character big enough to take him on. He might hear jeers at the end of a poor performance but the fans are too grateful to take their grievances any further than that. He'd rather FAIL, HIS WAY, than bend to circumstance or pragmatism in order to succeed. He's out of touch, and as long as Arsenal are under his stewardship, we'll see the same cycle. He's selling you a future you'll never see, because the best players will move on to find success and money elsewhere, and you'll be left effectively with a team in endless transition.

AT LEAST, that's the way it feels on nights like this. And there might be more disappointment to come. Wenger's fond of talking up our unbeaten run last season (mostly goalless draws against rubbish teams). He's less likely to mention how that run ended with disastrous games against chelsea and United (twice each). And none of this season so far has done much to disprove the "flat track bully" tag. Let's say, seven points from the next three games would leave us in a brilliant position approaching the home stretch. But I just can't see it. It would be very demoralising for this season to take such a similar trajectory to the last but I would not be the least bit surprised. If that makes me less of a fan, so be it. I'll happily give a grovelling apology if we win on Sunday.

*optimistic footnote: Arsenal have not gone three consecutive games this season without winning.

Monday, January 25, 2010

2 Down, 2 to Go.

All that is left now is the customary springtime implosion in the league and succumbing to a stronger side in Europe. As discussed, there was little choice but to put out a weak team against Stoke. I wouldn't criticise Wenger because similar Arsenal sides have beaten better teams than Stoke in the carling cup. And to those who say he deliberately "threw" the game, I'd retort that if he was doing that, he hardly would have had Fabregas playing ninety minutes. The decisive factor was, as the manager said himself, Stoke being a very strong team physically and having too much for Arsenal in that regard. To be fair they were well worth their victory, and maybe deserved to win by more, and certainly we've no reason to look forward to the league game there. They are reminiscent of Bolton under Allardyce. Less flair, but just as obnoxious. Nobody should be too devastated by the result. The FA cup looked winnable this year and so it is disappointing to go out but the true extent of the dmage will only become clear in hindsight. The next couple of weeks go badly, and everybody will point back to this game and suggest that Wenger should have put out the strongest possible team but he's the manager and it's his prerogative to prioritise these things. He obviously believes we can win the league and in fairness, even if we don't win it, I'd probably prefer INVOLVEMENT in a title race to a good FA cup run.

A few worrying aspects to the Arsenal performance though. Fabianski took seventy seconds to show why the clown that is Almunia is still number one. I'd say, without exaggeration, we've the worst set of goalkeepers of any team in the Premiership, and that's unforgivable. Also, it's sad that Stoke's long throw strategy has been found out by pretty much every team except Arsenal. While campbell did ok, Silvestre was a liability again, almost giving away what should have been a daft penalty. Traore is defensively suspect too, hopefully that's the last we'll see of either of them this season but I won't hold my breath. Walcott is rubbish. The thought of him going to the World cup again makes me laugh. Vela doesn't look much better. Never seems to offer much goal threat. For all the talk of it being a weak team, these are two guys we are supposedly relying on for goals, according to Wenger. They've two goals between them. With Eduardo and Bendtner as the only two legitimate striking options, it still beggars belief that Wenger hasn't signed another. I know that we've scored an avalanch of goals but when you look at our front three most games that almost seems like a statistical aberration. I just can't see it continuing.

While Stoke 3-1 Arsenal was bad, Egypt 3-1 cameroon is undoubtedly good because it means that soon we can put out a proper midfield again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


It's getting to that time of the season when a fan can start to dream of the trophy success that may await. But to keep the feelgood factor around the club, Arsenal have to emerge relatively unscathed from a rotten run of fixtures, starting this weekend at Stoke in the FA cup.

It's a problematic tie, not just in a footballing sense. Despite our unexpected rise to the top of the league, it remains that the FA cup is our best chance of silverware. So one would be hoping that Wenger field a pretty strong side, while still being able to rest a few key men.

With the injury list as it is, however, there is no happy medium. It would be foolish to play Fabregas, Arshavin, and others because we have to go to Villa in midweek and play Man Utd after that. But we don't have Song, Nasri, Ramsey, Van Persie, Bendtner, Gibbs, Diaby, Eboue- first teamers and able deputies will be missing. It means that Wenger will either be forced to play a few of the key men when he doesn't want to, or, as is more likely, it will be a very youthful side.

We may see Denilson, Eduardo and perhaps the start of campbell's second stint, alongside Silvestre. Maybe clichy will be given more minutes. Other than that, it will surely be a young side. can Merida, Wilshere, Eastmond and Vela pull through? Or will we be left with two trophies to play for?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Top Dogs but We Need to Buy: Arsenal 4-2 Bolton

What a strange league it has become. Who would have thought after that defeat at the hands of chelsea that Arsenal could be top less than two months later. And even more surprisingly, the pretty passers have accomplished this by grinding out wins without really playing well.

While a comeback from two goals down to hit top spot in January creates a special kind of euphoria, there is trouble afoot. As I've always said, I thought we needed to buy anyway but the injury situation has dictated that to stay in this position, we simply MUST. And since I don't think we will, I'm not going to get carried away.

Diaby went off injured lastnight, and since he's proven to be important in some way that I still can't quite put my finger on, it is a blow. With Nasri, Ramsey and Song unavailable at the moment the injury list is reaching epic proportions again, just in time for a daunting run of games. Ideally, we'd be fielding a strong side against Stoke in the FA cup, because with United and Liverpool out it's probably still our best chance of a trophy. Now, Wenger will probably have to play mostly reserves and hope for the best. But even then our starting eleven for the games against Villa, United, chelsea and Liverpool in the league will be far from full strength.

At the very least, we should be signing a striker. Maybe a midfielder aswell with the injury situation the way it is. I know we've already got Fabregas, Denilson, Diaby, Ramsey, Nasri, Rosicky and Song but only one of those guys is suited to playing that holding role and if you show me someone who thinks Eastmond is going to be adequate against the better teams in the league I'll show you an optimistic fool. Added to that, three or four of those mentioned are injury-prone. I just don't think our luck can hold with the squad already stretched to breaking point.

But let's be honest. The team deserves a mountain of praise for the character they've shown since the chelsea spanking. This run of seven wins and two draws out of nine has been achieved with Eduardo and Arshavin leading the line- one shorn of confidence and snatching at chances, the other playing through pain and unsuited to the role. Abou Diaby, who I constantly deride, has played his part. But the captain must take a huge chunk of the credit. English pundits will tell you that he "now takes games by the scruff of the neck like Gerrard or Lampard" but he's always been a player with the ability to dictate a game that those two actually lack, for all their talent. Now that he's added consistent goalscoring to his arsenal, he is arguably the world's best midfielder. If he's fit and available for at least the majority of the remaining sixteen league games, anything is possible. But I still have the nagging feeling that the manager could be doing more to surround cesc with the teammates he deserves...

A word for Tomas Rosicky aswell. I wouldn't be a big man for fairytales but wouldn't it be something special if this guy was a crucial figure for the rest of the season. He lit the torchpaper tonight, and also got that late equaliser against Everton. I've always been a huge fan, since before we even signed him, and his injury record is such a pity but it already looks like Wenger's faith could be repaid. He's such a class act that even though he's in and out of the team consistently, his contribution on the pitch never wavers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Few Thoughts to Pass the Time of Day

*chelsea 7-2 Sunderland
certainly an eye-catching scoreline but does anyone else think chelsea are getting a disproportionate amount of praise? I didn't see the whole game but the Match of the Day highlights suggested that Sunderland came to the Bridge with no ambition beyond bending over and taking a right rogering. In all of those highlights, I didn't see one tackle. Only for the crowd, you'd have thought you were watching a training match. There's been plenty of talk since about the players Sunderland were missing. Fair enough but that's no excuse for a blatant lack of commitment. Steve Bruce talked rubbish afterwards, about how sometimes you've gotta hold your hands up- the opposition couldn't be touched. To me it looked like he had told his players that BEFORE the game, and they took it literally.

*Flamini to city?
Seems that the one that got away will be making his return to the Premiership, but not, as was my admittedly unrealistic hope, to Arsenal. Still, it does not seem that city's money is the driving force here, as the murmurs are of a loan deal, so I'm very disappointed we're not in the mix. Looking at city's options in midfield, they have De Jong, Barry, Vieira and Kompany who can all play a similar role to Flamini. Sad then that a team with only one recognised defensive midfielder in the squad show no interest. Peculiar also that the talk is of the Flamster filling in at full back for city, seeing as that's what got up his nose at both Meelan and Arsenal at times. If I were city manager, I'd drop all the aforementioned and play Flamini and Stephen Ireland as my midfield duo but this is not championship manager and in fairness to Mancini, although Flamini does seem a strange fit for them, at least he's putting a bit of thought into his transfers and not simply spunking the bottomless pit of cash at his disposal on Robinho mark II.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Logic Takes Another Holiday: Bolton 0-2 Arsenal

A jittery clown in goals. Three-quarters of a functioning defence. One third of a midfield. No attack to speak of. And three more points.

Even by Arsenal standards, the injury situation is ludicrous. No sooner does Song depart for Africa, than Ramsey, Denilson and Nasri are all ruled out, leaving craig Eastmond to make his Premiership debut. Then again, there was a rather large ray of light in the shape of Fabregas' return, and it says a lot about the guy that even though he looked off the pace early on, it was his bit of class that turned a tricky game in our favour.

There were a few chunks of luck enjoyed on the way to what the scoreline suggests was a routine victory. Arsenal looked sloppy early in both halves, the debutant Eastmond and Traore particularly culpable, and Diaby reverting back to his familiar infuriating self. A powder-puff forward line, predictably, lacked presence. In the difficult spells, Bolton pressed and harried with a high tempo, and overall they were worth a goal. But Vermaelen and Gallas, god bless the fuckers, stood firm despite the trademark lack of steel in front of them.

In too many areas, it was a lacklustre performance. The difference was Fabregas. He does not have the physical force to dominate away games the way he can at the Emirates, but he still habitually comes up with match-changing moments. His one-two with Eduardo- who much like Arshavin is largely quiet but sprinkles the game with sporadic moments of quality- and precision finish was exemplary.

For a ten-minute period, Bolton settled for attempting to maim the main man, then Rosicky got booked for a bit of retaliation, and Bolton's fans began to bay for blood. After half-time, they seemed able to channel this aggression into positive play, and Arsenal creaked. Taylor should have equalised on more than one occasion, but when Bolton tired, things settled and sub Merida settled the game with a well-taken second.

Even Sky Sports' bone-headed pundits seem aware that Arsenal are papering over the cracks a little at the moment. We can dream of what may happen if all of our injured players returned and a full squad could be utilised for the last couple of months of the season, but that is to deal in hopeless hypotheticals, and the feeling persists that the season's ultimate success or failure rests on external solutions that the manager still seems reluctant to provide.

Every Game is Massive

from here on in, with chelsea having handed out a 7-2 spanking to Sunderland which should renew their confidence. While I think everyone should be pleasantly surprised that Arsenal are still in the title mix, you've got to wonder if now is the time that chelsea and United may begin to pull away. It's pessimistic I know, but I just think Wenger's taking the piss a bit not being more proactive in response to the striker situation. We've kept picking up points almost in spite of a malfunctioning formation. Arshavin's no centre-forward, that much is clear to everyone and certainly to the manager. And yet when asked about centre-forwards, he'll cite Eduardo, Vela and Walcott as if they're real options. He plays Arshavin there ahead of all of them. To call them options is to TAKE THE PISS. To continue to play Arshavin there til Fucking Bendtner comes back is to TAKE THE PISS. It's disrespectful to the fans. I know he's probably on the lookout for a BARGAIN but that's just so unambitious, in trophy terms. If he wanted a trophy as much as the fans do, wouldn't he have the business done early to give us the best possible chance?

I worry about these two games against Bolton because we all know what a new manager can do for a team's performances. And Bolton is hardly a place you want to be going without a combative midfield player or a recognised centre forward who can at least try to hold the ball up. To entrust a Russian midget with the task is to TAKE THE PISS. In fairness, it's not like these kind of problems are the result of unforseen circumstances. You can look back on my posts from months ago and I was moaning about the same things. While the club is undeniably well-managed on the financial side, sometimes the playing side looks the opposite. That's a real pity.

I know that Wenger is "the motherfucking fucking one who calls the shots", in the words of Tony Soprano. But is that becoming a bit of a problem? Is he drunk on power, too in love with his own idealistic crusade to keep a hold on reality? It might strike some as ungrateful for any Arsenal fan to speak so ill of a man who has brought the club almost unprecedented success. But if those people lack critical capacities, that's their problem. Look where Liverpool fans' fondness for their manager has led them. Just because the Rolling Stones wrote Wild Horses, Jumpin' Jack Flash and Paint it Black does not mean I have to praise the shite they release today. It's not 1998, it's not 2002, and it's not 2004. It's 2010 and it's high time this team delivered again.

Friday, January 15, 2010


QUESTION- what is with Arsenal fans' inexplicable affection for Philippe Senderos???

It's not just that Arseblog guy, I read it all over the internet. People practically weeping over the guy's impending departure. HE'S USELESS!!!

Swiss Tony? Witty nickname and all, but what a fucking insult to the great Adams! How about Swiss Pascal, or Swiss Fucking Igors!? Something more accurate.

Arsenal fans seem, generally, a pretty impatient, intolerant bunch. We've heard the boos, we've seen the half-empty stadium after 60 minutes. So, you'd think it would be cause for celebration when a fairly large group of Gooners show such unyielding faith in a much-maligned player... but why him? Fair enough, he probably doesn't have the all-around unpleasantness of, say, Eboue or the seemingly inherent laziness of Diaby; Senderos' problem, it appears, is just simple rubbishness.

I guess it comes down to this- easier to root for a useless lump who tries than a sometimes useful prick who dives? Maybe so, but I can't help thinking back to that night at Anfield, that Liverpool corner coming in, that lummox literally WATcHING Sami Hyypia, who he was SUPPOSED TO BE MARKING, head the ball goalwards... The nightmares still plague me.

And it's not like that was an isolated incident. Lack of pace can be forgiven- you could say that defending a high line can make a good but slow defender look poor- but slow AND stupid is a lethal combination.

As many a forward has said in the past, see ya later Philly!!!

The Fatal Flaw of the Idealist

There's a lot of smugness amongst Arsenal fans at the moment, what with the doomsday scenarios trotted out over United's malaise, the ongoing crisis at Liverpool, Manchester city probing new depths of classlessness. Arsenal it seems are the sole carriers of the fire, holding to the principle that if football has, sadly but inevitably, become a business, then this club will be run as a responsible one.

And it's admirable. Nobody denies that. It often seems that when clubs get an injection of cash, they see it as a green light to treat that money with wanton disregard, fling it around with impunity. Look at Man city, offering a huge contract to a man who, despite my obvious respect for him, has been washed up for years. The way their pursuit of Kaka last year screamed, "look, we know you have no respect for us as a club, that a few months ago this is the last place you would have wanted to be, but forget all that, come here, and you'll have more money than a sane man could spend". It's sick, and football's glamour has descended to something tacky and, at times, disgusting to behold.

So, hurrah for our holier-than-thou attitude at Arsenal. But wait. Does one not get the sense that Wenger is so disgusted by one extreme, that he lurches needlessly to the other. Does anyone really think, for instance, that we can win the league without perhaps paying over the odds for a good striker this month? Or, for instance, that our midfield would not be strengthened immeasurably if Wenger swallowed his pride and attempted to bring Flamini back from his Milan nightmare?

Maybe all idealists are hampered by that same fatal flaw. Inflexibility will cost us. I can't help thinking that inactivity in the last two weeks of the transfer window will equate to a forfeit in the race for the big titles.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Everton- a point gained?/ campbell return imminent

ARSENAL 2-2 everton
Last Saturday, Everton clearly had the first day of the season on their minds. Maybe Arsenal did too. One side looked hungry to right the wrongs of that day. The other looked, perhaps, complacent.
Maybe it is harsh to paint Arsenal's performance that way; it probably does a disservice to Everton. But if there wasn't an attitude problem, then it only remains to say that we are a mediocre side without Fabregas and Van Persie, because the team failed to put a good move together until stoppage time, were largely outfought and sometimes outplayed.

Hopefully, by May, it will be seen as an off-day that yielded an undeserved but invaluable point. But I'm not so sure that this will be a mere aberration- it could herald a difficult period without the services of Alex Song. I know we have Fabregas back soon, but in his own way Song is just as important. We've countless creative options in midfield, but no deputy destroyer, and it's disappointing that Wenger looks unlikely to address this with his cheque book. Denilson, Diaby and Ramsey took turns looking average both with and without the ball. It's forgivable for the inexperienced Welshman but the other two really need to start delivering on a regular basis. To be fair to Diaby, he set up Rosicky beautifully for the second equaliser.

Defensively, as a team, there are countless problems- that Arsenal can still be mentioned as title contenders testifies to the general weakness of the Premiership. Everton deserve praise for their application and tactical nous. Their goals exemplified two of our most glaring flaws- susceptibility in the air and on the counter attack. But as regards the latter, I can't help thinking that better sides would have given us a hammering with all the space to be exploited. It brought me back to games like the 4-4 against Spurs last season- without Song, this team just looks so easy to open up, and it's a huge worry for this massive month.

ON TO TRANSFER NEWS, and it seems the return of Sol campbell, something I never truly believed possible, is on the cards. Word is he'll line up for the reserves tonight against West Ham in advance of signing a contract for, one assumes, the rest of the season. He's 35, and so hardly fits the profile of a typical Wenger signing. On top of that, he looked past his best in 2006 before he left Arsenal, so it's hard to see how he's worth having now. But maybe it's the quick fix we need in the centre half position. He's been training with the club since September so Wenger has had time to ponder the merits of this deal and obviously Sol has impressed him. And maybe, just maybe, not having to spend money on a centre back makes it more likely that we will in other areas. Either way, I'm just glad to see a player come in. He has ample Premiership experience, and was a colossus in his day, so at least we won't have another cygan, Stepanovs or Senderos on our hands. And while I worry that his lack of pace will prove costly, he will have Gallas or Vermaelan to play alongside him and both of them have a turn of pace, so hopefully any prospective partnership will be mutually beneficial. Maybe most importantly of all, he's a big man and a big character. Our defending of set plays should improve with him in the side, and he's a winner, a leader, someone who won't go missing when the going gets tough.
Except possibly if we find ourselves behind at half time due to his two errors. Then he might, quite literally, go missing.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The FA cup begins, and a round up of recent games..

Things are going alarmingly well, results-wise, at the moment. It's oft been said that Arsenal's fatal flaw was an inability to win while playing poorly... Well, the people who said that better find another fatal flaw. Granted, there are a few prospective ones in this team but let's stay positive for now shall we?

Ok, as aforementioned I didn't really dwell on our defeat of Liverpool at Anfield because I felt it may have had little meaning. But since the draw at Burnley, there have been four wins, there have been goals aplenty, and there have been signs of promise for 2010.

The (eventually) routine Emirates victory over Hull was followed by what looked something of a six-pointer at home to Villa. People had been talking up their strength and our fragility. I fretted over their recent successes against us. And for a while the worries seemed fairly well-founded. But then Fabregas came on.

One free kick and one breakaway classic courtesy of an unexpected moment of quality from Theo, and the captain was limping off with the game won. All that was left was for my worst enemy Diaby, having found form against Hull, to ice the cake with a lovely goal that his performance deserved.

Now with Fabregas out, Arsenal needed handy games and with due respect to Portsmouth and West Ham, they are not opponents to be feared at the moment, even with the benefit of raucous home support. Pompey were brushed aside with Ramsey stepping into the cesc-shaped void. And today West Ham were eventually beaten by a great Eduardo header after Ramsey had cancelled out their opener.

So the team have found reserves of character since the chelsea pasting that I doubted they possessed, and the season is back on track. However, and as ever with me, I see a bad moon rising. Well, maybe that's a bit portentous-sounding but our potential problems are numerous. Song is now away, and we have no obvious replacement for the revelation of the season. Allied to this, Fabregas now has question marks surrounding his fitness. Will Ramsey continue to step up to the plate so effectively, and deputise for perhaps the finest playmaker in the world? It's a tall order. We've been scoring goals, but without a real centre- forward, how long can this keep going? And Gallas and Vermaelen have been playing game-in, game-out with little rest, including today's tie when I expected to see them rested. Surely if Wenger trusts no deputy sufficiently to give either of these guys a rest, he's got to be thinking of defensive reinforcements?

With games starting to come thick and fast, these questions consume my thoughts. There is an opportunity here, to be sure. Ok, we needed Fabregas to come on and beat Villa and injure himself, but we won't face sides as good as Villa every week and matches either side of that have proven that we can at least beat the dregs of the league without him, Van Persie and the rest of the wounded. Hopefully, Fab will be back and in form in time for a tough run around the end of the month, and hopefully he'll have some new team-mates. For now, though, can we keep this run going? There are moments in almost every single game where we are opened up with worrying ease, and I find myself wondering what a PROPER side would do to us... But where are the proper sides this season? Man Utd just got turned over by a LEAGUE ONE team! It's silly season so why not a silly team for the title? If we can keep up our consistency in beating the Premiership's poor sides, of which there are many, who knows?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year, New Arsenal?

December turned into a real success, despite the disappointing setback at Burnley- it's three wins out of three since that and for the team without a frontman, the goals have begun to flow again. The theme of the season continues to be a sort of chaos, with even the expected happenings having a slight sense of surrealism- the United machine rumbles on as if opponents are unaware or unable to take advantage of its rusty wheels; chelsea too look less than well-oiled, and their attempts to clunk back into the relentless rhythm they were threatening a month ago will hardly be aided by the loss of Drogba; and Arsenal, as I've alluded to before, seem to be prospering in the face of glaring flaws and a practically perennial injury crisis. So while in previous seasons results like United 5-0 Wigan and Portsmouth 1-4 Arsenal would not have raised a single eyebrow, now they seem to speak less of the fearsome power of the big boys, more of a collective weakening of the Premiership. That said, this has made the league far more interesting for many teams and Arsenal can be counted among those. My pessimism in the aftermath of the chelsea debacle has proven ill-placed, at least in the short-term, and even if we end up trophyless again at least there is some tangible sense of hope as the season reaches midway.

Whether hope turns to silver or melts into that familiar puddle of disappointment depends hugely, in my view, on the next month. Not just the action on the pitch, but dealings off it. Last season, the January signing of Arshavin proved pivotal in the race for fourth. This year, why couldn't something similar result in a greater chance of the ultimate prize? Of course, the fact remains that this time around, the reinforcements called for are multiple- surely some cover at centre-half- although with Senderos having been injured, rather than frozen out as I'd assumed, maybe this is not a priority for Wenger- as well as solutions for the centre-forward conundrum and the temporary loss of Alex Song. It would be a very optimistic fan that would expect three signings in January, and that's not to speak of our lack of a convincing goalkeeper.

Myles Palmer on arsenalnewsreview increasingly portrays Wenger as a man drunk on power with a "My Way or the Highway" attitude to the running of HIS club. But hopefully the successes with Arshavin and, more recently, Vermaelen have persuaded the Frenchman as to the benefit of action in the transfer market. We'll soon see.