Monday, 28 February 2011

Moving Forward or Backwards?

To be honest yesterdays game can wait until the end of the season to be examined, we don’t have time to dwell on this result. The bigger issue ahead is our ability to be the masters of feeling sorry for ourselves after crucial defeats and putting up little resistance in the face of adversity, which has ultimately ended our season.
We were hit by injuries last season but after the 4-1 demolition in Barcelona, we went on to take 4 points from 16.
We were crushed at home to Manchester United in the Champions League Semi Final. Then we faced Chelsea, who were on the end of a much crueller (exit than us. Did that affect them? Not at all, we were stuffed 4-1 at home before travelling back to Old Trafford with United getting the point they needed to lift the title.
After a very harsh (by harsh I mean cheated) exit in the champions league at Anfield, we went to Old Trafford  in a game that would decide our season, we took the lead but then finally succumb to United’s strength and lost 2-1.
After Champions League elimination to PSV, we followed that up by beating Villa but then losing to Everton, Liverpool, West Ham and drawing at Newcastle.
I could elaborate further but you get the point. Our team does not respond to adversity well. In fact in some of the above seasons we have put some wins together and finished the season strong but that coincides with the lack of pressure the team has had to perform under.  Now nothing has changed in our set up this season to suggest this won’t be the case this season. At some point though, the penny will eventually drop and we might just learn from our mistakes. Wenger said that some of the players were ‘destroyed’ yesterday. That is extremely worrying and it is his job to motivate them again and that doesn’t come any tougher than against lowly Leyton Orient. Some players even apologised via twitter. Now it is good to see that they care but in a cup final, you give your all and if your best isn’t good enough after 90 minutes and you’ve lost, well there isn’t much else you can do.  I don’t think we did that yesterday and I think there are a few who have regrets and some who felt the need to apologise. However, those players have an opportunity to show us what they are made of now. If they lead us to being crowned Premier League Champions then all will be forgiven and this experience will be a distant memory.
It is also important that the fans will back the side, a classic example being our support at Old Trafford 2009. We need to back this side again, even after the bitter pill we had to swallow yesterday. We are in a serious title race, we have a lead in a tie against the best side in the world and we are on the verge of the 6th round of the FA Cup.  It’s not disastrous, even though it may feel like that at present. I have a feeling though that there will be a mass of empty seats on Wednesday even though we’ve sold out v Orient (due to the 7th credit). Now is not the time for criticism, which can wait until May (if indeed it has to come at all) but let’s see how the rest pans out before we judge the players and the manager. Not sure if you are aware that in 1999 a team that won the treble that season and they happened to lose  the League Cup Final. Now where are those straws...

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The sign of Champions....

It goes without saying that last night was a big result for us. It not only pulled us within a point of the Manchester United but it also confirmed that this is officially a two horse race for the title (for now). Beating Stoke last night will be by no means our biggest result of the season but it was crucial and it allowed us to keep some momentum going in the league. At the end of last night’s game I thought about a game very similar to that and then I also found a few good omens as a result.
On the 21st February 1998 we played Crystal Palace, our side was hit by injury and we won the game 1-0. It came as the result of a corner and it fell for Gilles Grimandi who scored with a fabulous strike which you can view by here. We weren’t exactly hit by injuries prior to the game but we did win 1-0 via an unlikely goal from a frenchman. Then I thought I'd delve into that season a bit deeper. 
That season we played Manchester United on 14th March. This year we’ll play them on that same Saturday but it’ll be the 12th March at Old Trafford in the FA Cup (hopefully). We also had many games in hand on United that season and that looks like it’ll be the case this year. Not to the extent of the 3 games we needed to win to surpass United that time but enough for Manchester United to play with a little less pressure going into their fixtures. Speaking of United, our last defeat before being crowned as Champions in 1998 was at home to Blackburn on 13th December, our last defeat at present was for 10/11 was at United on... 13th December. When we played Newcastle and Barton scored to make it 4-1 and I turned to a friend and said it would be nothing more than a consolation goal, a bit like when Kevin Gallagher pulling one back for Blackburn in a game that ended 4-1 after a scintillating first 45 minutes. Positive negatives from that season though, we didn’t beat t@tt£nh@m and Dennis Bergkamp missed the FA Cup Final because of a hamstring injury
My point
Just like that game against Palace, last night hasn’t got me convinced we’ll win the league yet but it certainly keeps us up there. However, there comes a time when every game becomes unbearably huge and your stomach is in knots for days prior to the next game and you wake up at random times wondering if we’ll actually become champions (well I did). When will that time come? Probably once United have played their game sat Wigan and Chelsea. We’ll play Sunderland and then United will travel to Liverpool. So brace yourselves but remember we won the double that year....this time around our quadruple starts on Sunday.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

How we can beat Barcelona.....

A lot has been said prior to the Champions League tie with Barcelona, about how unbelievably good they are and how we have no chance against the greatest side on the planet.  A lot of emphasis will be placed on last season’s matchup and our inability to lose a 4-0 lead last week. However this is Arsenal and we have a tendency to come up trumps when you least expect it. Now there is no need for me to tell you all how good Barcelona are but I can at least shed some positivity on the clash (incase you need some).
Barcelona Full Backs
Their full backs love to attack and also have serious question marks about their defensive abilities. It comes as no surprise that Theo Walcott played an instrumental role in 2 of our 3 goals against them last season. They are frightened of his pace and they have a couple of cynical players who’ll take shots at Theo early on but Theo will get the space he needs to have a big game. On the other side Dani Alves is prone to join the odd attack and that will put a lot of pressure on Arshavin to defend and be disciplined in his approach. When the tables are turned though, Arshavin is improving game by game, he will get change out of Alves and he’s also due a goal...
Remember Chelsea at home just before Christmas? For the first time in a long while we applied pressure on the opposition when they had the ball. Too often we rely solely on our talent/ability to get us through games. Often that strategy comes up trumps but very rarely does it work in the big games. Against Chelsea however we put our ability aside, got in their faces and pressured high up the pitch. We need to do the same against Barcelona. Last season we just sat back and could only admire their passing. We were camped on the edge of our own box for 20 minutes and Barcelona ended the game with 65% possession. That may well be a statistic we have to put up with again but if they are passing it around in less effective areas on the pitch then we’ll put ourselves in a much better situation.  Wenger isn’t a great tactician but he needs to get them to understand their roles and responsibilities more than ever.
Robin Van Persie
Robin is bang in form and he’ll want to make amends for the World Cup against Pique and Puyol. Robin didn’t get a kick in the final, amazingly because Arjen Robben never passed the ball to him once. This time, he’s in a side that thrives with him as centre forward. We lost 6-3 on aggregate last season and we got little sympathy for amount of injuries we had. Our side will be in better shape leading up to this game and with Robin in attack he can certainly swing things our ways. We couldn't possibly have a striker more in form than he is at present. Last season we had Nicklas Bendtner upfront for both games and he played a role in all of the 3 goals last season and if he can do that, Robin can cause a serious amount of damage.
Last season we lost 3 players due to injury because of that game, Gallas, Arshavin and Fabregas. Imagine they lost Pique, Iniesta and Xavi? We had to use enforce changes during the gameand we weren’t blessed with depth on the bench that day. This time around we have more options, all be it not at centre half. This also had a massive influence on our line up away in the Camp Nou but I’ll cover that more in advance of the 2nd leg. Our side has a lot of stability at the moment and there’s an understanding amongst the team as a result, just look at RVP's 2nd v Wolves. This will only benefit us on Tuesday night and Barcelona would be foolish to dismiss that. We also have Jack Wilshere in the line up instead of Diaby but that plus is probably cancelled out by having Eboue in for Sagna.

We can win this game and the fans have a role too. If Barcelona starts well, let’s get more vocal. The side can quickly transmit the feeling in the stands into their performance. If we believe we can win and the players believe it, then what’s there to be afraid of? It’s a 90 minute game of football, 11 v 11 and we are more than a match for any side in the world, including Barcelona.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Officiating - NFL V Premier League

For a while now referees in The Premier League have gotten away with far too much, without having to even explain their decisions. I started writing this up after the Everton game last week which saw us on the wrong end of an awful offside call but what happened after that goal was scored just showed how communication could have quickly resolved such a situation.  So i'm going to start with a look into the a sport where communication is generally excellent.
In the NFL they have 7 officials. They all have their designated positions on the field and if they see a foul or irregularity they throw a flag which may result in play stopping immediately or running its course before seeing what penalty occurred. When the play is stopped the official who flagged the play will explain their call to the referee and he will speak to the stadium to advise of the call. Now there are occasions where multiple fouls occur and complex decisions arise but whatever happens they will discuss and the stadium will be left if no uncertainty about the call made on the field (That’s not to say the fans will agree with it mind.)
After the games, all matches receive a fair amount of coverage and usually broadcasters such as NFL Network. They will get the vice president of officiating on the show to discuss calls and he will justify them if they are correct but he’ll also admit that they are wrong .  This clears up any decisions and fans can begin to move on. FOX also come prepared with Mike Pereira (Former Vice President of Officiating from 2004 to 2009) live at their main game to further clarify decisions and give additional insight.
In the Premier League, we have 4 officials who all communicate via headsets but yet still communicate extremely poorly. I go back to our game v Everton.  Everyone in the stadium knew that Saha was offside, except the man that mattered (the assistant referee). Perfectly demonstrated in this clip , as we all know Lee Mason awarded the goal and everyone was perplexed. During this time, in an NFL game the head coach (manager) would challenge the call and that would see the referee review his decision via TV replays and if he has indisputable evidence, the decision would be overturned. Now I know fans in some quarters are keen on TV replays and others think it would hold the game up for too long, but our game was held up and we didn’t get the right decision. This decision itself would have been rectified in seconds, it wasn’t and we could have lost that game on another day.  There are plenty of sides around the bottom half of the league who will be victim to a poor decision and that could be one of the contributing factors in their relegation from the league, only as recently as Blackburn v West Brom when Mark Clattenburg missed a clear penalty and awarded a free kick outside the box . Another example recently involving Arsenal was the 2nd penalty awarded at St James’ Park. The assistant referee flagged immediately, placing his flag across his chest and awarding a penalty kick. Did Phil Dowd go and speak to the assistant, No. He merely demonstrated arrogance and would probably lay claim to the fact that his assistant had spoken to him via his cheap Xbox headset, although this was all going on with 48000 hysterical Geordies in the background.  Why do officials feel the need to speak to their fellow colleagues at some times and not others? Inconsistent is what it is. After the game players such as Wilshere and Szczesny posted remarks about the referee on twitter but would they do the same thing if they knew that officials would explain themselves?  They probably would in truth.
Now as Sky Sports host the majority of games what do they do? Well you might get Dermot Gallagher on to discuss a decision the following day on SSN but what does that matter to a former referee who no longer has any involvement? You get Graham Poll on a podcast on a Monday and he might just comment if it’s controversial enough. They need to increase their coverage to suit and not give such tasks to Jamie Redknapp. We need the people that matter.

It’s time our officials stood up and took the plaudits for correct decisions and took the flak for those that were incorrect.  The Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOB)  are tasked with developing excellence in officiating and they are responsible for training, development and monitoring of referees. Their words, not mine.  Wouldn’t they get more respect if Mike Riley or one of his minions decided to appear on MNF or SSN and explain their decision making?  Would it really harm their profession if they actually acknowledged their misdemeanours? If they took a look at the NFL they’d see a game ran well (in terms of officiating) and one that adapts to mistakes. Sometimes it even results in rule changes.
If you look at the background to PGMOB you will see that referees attend fortnightly meetings. They are now professionals and yet they can’t discuss performances after every game. Then it mentions that the assess performance via prozone. So in their eyes as long as the referee is in the right position to make a decision it must be right? How naive. So as we know it at present Mike Riley has the tag of The General Manager but what does he actually do? He picks officials for each game every week and people wonder why Howard Webb always gets the Old Trafford games.
Moving forward
Clearly the game is getting too quick for the referees and assistants and they can have all the fitness programmes and prozone analysis they like but they need more help. They need TV replays (for certain calls) and the need additional officials in effective areas, maybe one in the stands. Instead we get the UEFA version with an additional official on the by-line afraid to make a decision. These suggestions are years away but in the mean time just hold your hands up if you got it wrong once in a while. Then maybe the likes of Mike Dean and co wouldn’t be so bloody arrogant.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


Today I witnessed a performance that I’d never witnessed before in my entire life of following Arsenal Football Club. There have been some pretty poor displays over the years (as well as some brilliant ones) but today just takes the piss.
 The 1st half lured me into such a false sense of security that I can’t begin to explain. We were awesome. The good old Champions types of displays were back, demolishing the opposition and having the game won by half time. We were flying; we were 3-0 up by 15:10. Some of the best football we have played since the likes of Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira graced the famous red and white. Unfortunately for us, whilst the away end was lapping up copious amounts of alcohol at HT, Arsene and Co were taking for granted what we had.
Half Time
A lot can be said for manager’s roles in sides but they earn their corn with their HT team talk. We seemed to appear with a blasé attitude. A game plan that now constituted of getting through the next 45 without any injuries. We are 4-0 up, and the game was won with only 45 minutes separating us from its obvious outcome.  Surely we’d take advantage of what was in front of us and we’d boost our goal difference. Unfortunately for us our side decided they weren’t going to give a shit.
2nd Half
 Sadly, the method in the madness was out of the window 2 minutes into the half. Djourou picked up an injury and he was replaced by Squillaci. Then a true moment of madness, Abou Diaby completely lost the plot on 50 minutes, pushing around Barton and Nolan. Now Diaby may lay claim to excessive tackling but after we had literally taken the piss out of the opposition for 45 minutes, you have to expect they will try to rough you up and let you know that you are still in a game (not to the extent Stoke do by the way).  Down to 10 but in all honesty it was not a great concern, he was probably the worst of 11 players we put out there. Newcastle then found a bit of belief and weren’t far away from being rewarded. A goal came duly arrived, all be it via a debateable penalty. Barton coolly slotted home and it was 4-1. No big deal for the fans, we are still cruising to victory. The players however, went completely into their shells.  Denilson said last month that we had no leaders, well he wasn’t their today but his point was well emphasised. Cesc disappeared out of St James’ Park and not one of the remaining players decided to take it upon themselves to sort out the mess that was about unfold.  15 minutes from FT and not only had Newcastle already had a goal chalked off for offside but we were still winning 4-1, when Leon Best (Leon Fucking Best, not Pele)made it 4-2. Suddenly there were a few nervous looks around the travelling faithful but surely we weren’t going to throw this away? I’ve said in the past that throwing leads away at the likes of Wigan, West Ham and in recent North London Derbies, will only become easier to accept if we learn from these bad experiences and learn how to close games out. Well we got tested today and we folded without putting up a fight. The reason the penalty was given is beyond me, the trigger happy linesman didn’t have any doubt. Barton slotted home again and it was well and truly game on. Now whether it was a penalty or not is neither here nor there, we shouldn’t have put ourselves in a position to question this. Then with 3 minutes to go Newcastle got their reward for a terrific test of their resolve and character, Tiote scored an absolutely worldie from 20 yards or so. He ran the length of the pitch and probably in all honest could have sprinted through Eldon Square without our side noticing. 4-4 FT.
Initial Thoughts
I remember losing our lead 4-2 lead against Stratford and feeling inconsolable getting in the house at 03:30 am. Today could have only been worsened if it was against them.  We hung on for a point and to be honest, I never loiter in the ground afterwards but I was still in the ground when most had gone. Asking did that really just happen? Only 60 minutes earlier I was queuing to get a few beers and enjoying a great away day. Now? I wanted to go home and be left alone and wake up 2 minutes before we kick off against Wolves. This was supposed to be a great weekend but thanks to Arsenal I now in an endless world of getting shitty texts off part time Newcastle fans who didn’t even now they existed pre-Keegan. This was also not helped by the masses queuing outside the away and signing 4-0 and you fucked it up? That song is beyond ridiculous on so many levels! How was that song even imaginable?
So where do we go from here?
I have no idea. Arsene’s tactical naivety has again been called into question. We were experts playing with 10 men. No doubt the roll of shame will be exposed tomorrow with Diaby being the 198th (exaggeration) player sent off under Wenger. The players have again caved under pressure. Last season we folded after defeat at SHL. Just when you need them to stand up and be counted they wilt and disappear off the face of the earth. Now this will no doubt be a massive over reaction but I’m livid. Man Utd have gone and lost tonight and I’m not sure if I want to laugh or cry. When are we going to learn? I’m not sure we will. This may be a case that we have to accept such performances and just move on.  Is that acceptable? Not at all! Is this the sort of performances that Championship winning sides dish out? Too right it isn’t. I cannot explain how we go from such fantastic football to such ineptitude in the space of a 15 minute interval. Maybe if there are any AC Milan fans out there, please get in touch. You suffered much worse than I did today. A few fans were blaming the ref as we left the ground but in all honesty the bentest ref at any level of the game couldn’t turn around a 4 goal deficit today.  Yes, he contributed but maybe we are feeling the backlash to Cesc’s fall out on Tuesday? The ref will have some answering to do but we should be above this and he is not the sole reason behind us conceding 4 goals. We rarely got out of our half and at no point did we string 10 passes together in the 2nd half.
We are now 4 points behind United and we are 2nd in the league. We need to learn how to hack the pressure in bigger games than we’ll face today. Birmingham away was a classic example from last season. This team needs to start showing their resolve because I’m beginning to question their bottle and determination to win silverware. Its one thing to say “We want to win trophies” but please prove me wrong Arsenal. Man Utd have bigger games ahead, notably against Chelsea and Liverpool away. We need to get back to winning ways and capitalising on slips ups by other around us. We should be 2 points behind 1st place tonight.  For now though, Chelsea have an opportunity to close the gap. If only they’d have spent 72 million to push their title challenge eh?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Newcastle Preview

Newcastle Preview
So tomorrow we embark on a trip to the North East (well you lot do). A ground that traditional gives us a point but that would be a disappointing if that became a reality at 16:55 tomorrow. I was quite surprised to read that we have only lost 2 in the last 16 games with Newcastle in the Premier League; given that fact it can be a tricky place to go. Tomorrow though, we embark on a ground of uncertainty.
Missing Men
Their real focal point tomorrow is the departure of their talisman Andy Carroll, whilst many of us cannot believe the sum of money paid for him, the Geordies are left wondering if they’ll ever see any of it. It’s a glorious sum of cash but it’s merely a figure if it’s never reinvested. This could lead to their fans to turning against Ashley for the 475th time, especially if they are as blunt in attack as they were against Fulham.

We also are missing our main man in the form of Samir Nasri. We lost our way against Everton until the introduction of Arshavin and then we had a lot more purpose about us. Nasri’s creativity will be a certain miss but this is an opportunity for Arshavin. If he plays tomorrow he’ll go up against Danny Simpson, a definite weak link in the Newcastle defence and he should get change out of him.
Alex Song will also be a loss, we have only played 2 league games without him and I’m not sure we’ll know how to play the midfield 3 without him. It’s a tossup between Diaby and Rosicky and I expect after Diaby’s last performance at SJP that’ll see him get the nod. Who then becomes of the anchor of the midfield? Jack? I can see this leading to some disjointed play but we have more than enough ability to make up for that.
Match up of the Day
Theo Walcott has an intriguing battle on his hands. He was kept relatively quiet at The Emirates against Enrique and he’ll need to be on top form tomorrow if he’s to get any joy. Theo could do with more of the runs that he made in the Carling Cup game ( ) to get at their centre halves (Williamson & Campbell) as they clearly lack pace. Enrique is deceptively quick and Theo needs to use a few tricks if he’s to outplay him tomorrow.
Key Men
Newcastle’s main man for me is Joey Barton. He’s been playing extremely well this season and any set piece we concede we are going to have to defend well. It’s possibly Newcastle’s most likely route to goal, It certainly was in our last match up. His range of passing isn’t bad either; his only trouble tomorrow is who gets on the end of them, without Carroll goals are harder to come by.
Our main man has to be the inform Robin Van Persie. He may have a lone role tomorrow but we must ensure we get the ball to his feet. He’ll win little in the air but he makes the ball stick on the deck and our team isn’t slow in catching up with play. I also think I’m right in saying RVP hasn’t scored at SJP yet, so no time like the present. On Tuesday, we looked far more dangerous when we put Bendtner and Van Persie upfront and I would like to see us use that approach tomorrow. That unfortunately won’t happen but it’s an option that we’ll use without a moment’s hesitation and it certainly seemed to work well.
Prediction (or not)
An early goal would be fantastic tomorrow. However, if that doesn’t come and we stick to our game chances will certainly come our way. Our defence has been quite solid of late and it goes up against Lovenkrands and Best tomorrow, read into that what you will. We’ll have enough on our bench to change it if things aren’t going to plan. I’ll stop shy of giving you a score line but a Newcastle Season Ticket holder of many season prior to Keegan becoming manager told me he expects a 3-0 Arsenal win and who am I to disagree?