Monday, 28 March 2011

Jack Wilshere

Since the England game on Saturday there has been a lot of attention on Jack and his eligibility for the Euro U21 Championships in Denmark. It would appear Fabio Capello is not prepared to learn from mistakes made in previous tournaments and allow the buffoon that is Stuart Pearce make the decision on whether or not to select him. Arsene Wenger will no doubt have his say on this but the fact remains that if selected there is nothing he can do to stop Wilshere attending.

Deja Vu

Now I've heard a lot of valid points about why Wilshire should go,, most being that he wants to go to Denmark, he's young so this will have little impact on his fitness and ability to recover from playing in a highly competitive tournament and that it will be invaluable experience. Jack only needs to look at his centre midfield partner Cesc Fabregas. Cesc has been through what awaits Jack in the next 2 seasons. In 2009 Cesc had to go to the much overhyped and irrelevant Confederations Cup, the following season he played 36 games for Arsenal. Needless to say Spain picked him for the World Cup and so far this season he's been involved in 31 games but 6 have been as a sub. That's not a good return for someone aged 23. Then we move onto his fellow England colleague Theo Walcott. Stuart Pearce decided he would take Theo to Sweden in 2009 to gain crucial experience and England got spanked by Germany 4-0 in the final and in truth Theo never lived up to the hype surrounding him. The following season Theo started 15 games for Arsenal and missed out on the World Cup. This is not a case of Arsenal paranoia but merely learning from past experiences. If England get to the Final of the U21's that means Jacks first full season will have lasted over 10 months. He'll then have 4 weeks off and probably start the new season as a sub due to other players being sharper. He'll then go through it all again and head to EURO 2012 ending July 1st (hopefully) and the possibility of The Olympics starting 25th July. It's just riduclous. We wonder why can't develop talent in this country, it's not a case of development but drilling them into the ground. I work it out that from August 2009 to May 2012 that Jack will have 8 weeks rest away from football and that's rounding it up. Other successful nations like Germany (holders) have a winter break, play 34 league games and have 1 domestic cup. A far more senisbile approach and it's no surprise that many of whom have gone onto represent their country and some even got transferred to Real Madrid.

The Problem

Then we get to the real matter, Stuart Pearce. I have a lot of time for Pearce the footballer but the manager is an incompetent fool. He is a very poor manager who was rewarded with a job far beyond his capabilities. Let's not forget he has played David James upfront in an attempt to secure European Qualification and used to think his daughters cuddly toy as a lucky omen as it sat in the technical area. Pearce knows he's sub standard, as Germany showed in 2009 when we got humiliated. I don't blame him for wanting Wilshere, Carroll and co but truthfully he wants them for the wrong reasons. He will say that it's for experience, which in Carroll's case maybe so but Wilshere has played in several Champions League games including Barcelona away. The truth is that Pearce wants them to boost his CV and by securing the services of Carroll, Wilshere and possibly Walcott he may just have the players to achieve his main goal of becoming European Champions. Whilst I have no problem with the desire to win a tournament the fact remains that this is only a stepping stone to becoming a full international. There is nothing else to it than that and if you look at the side we fielded in the last 2 championships you will see that he obviously hasn't done a very good job.

2007 Carson - Hoyte, Rosenior, S. Taylor, Ferdinand - Reo-Coker, Noble, Milner, Young - Lita, Nugent.
2009 Loach (Hart)- Cranie, Richards, Onuoha, Gibbs - Muamba, Cattermole, Noble, Milner, Johnson - Walcott.

Now Hart is England's number one and rightly so but in truth it was largely down to the inability of the competition to handle the pressure that comes with being England's number 1. As for the rest Milner has played 17 times for England but he has failed to hold down a place mainly due to his lack of ability which is reflected in his staggering 46 U21 caps. Adam Johnson has already shown he has the ability to to be a full international but it remains to be seen whether he can sustain that. Theo obviously was axed prior to the World Cup but reinstated due to a disastrous 4 games in South Africa and prior to Saturday Ashley Young can hardly be considered a success yet. So what about that experience? Where has it got Cattermole, Noble, Muamba and co? 6 of that starting lineup In 2009 haven't received a full international cap, whilst the the same amount of Germans have gone on to gain recognition at senior level. What will Jack gain from this that he didn't experience in Barcelona or Cardiff? The truth is the u21 championships is the best it will ever get for some players but the better players spend little time in this set up. Wayne Rooney is a classic example, he never represented England at u21 level but there was no clamour for him to playreproach tournaments but then Stuart Pearce was manager back then. The fact Capello is allowing Pearce to make this call may prove to be naive if he has to use players such as the hapless Gareth Barry. The fact is this probably just a story in progress and one of those many excuses to be used when England fail but surely Jack having a good few months rest before a very hectic 2011/2012 season is best for all parties? The fact is we know who will suffer and it won't be England. We've seen it all before but it would appear that it isn't just Wenger who doesn't learn from mistakes.

Friday, 25 March 2011


There's nothing better in sport than a good old bit of healthy competition. No matter what level you play the game at, it's always satisfying to take the field as one of the named XI knowing that it is your place to lose. If that moment comes when you happen to lose your place, you get a nice reality check and a spell on the sidelines. That cycle will repeat itself time after time.


I know high level football is different but the philosophy should remain the same. Play well and you should keep your place and often that does happen but play poorly and chances to prove your worth will be limited. That's where we come in. Time after time we reward poor and sometimes pathetic performances with game time. What sort of message is that sending out? Pay particular attention the next time you see the likes of Eboue, Denilson or Diaby get subbed. I can guarantee they won't look particularly bothered and they'll accept their inevitable fate. That is reflected in their performances, they never look to stamp their authority on the game. The lack of drive to retain their jersey has to be questioned.

Rewarding Poor Performance

Given all of that there's also inconsistency from Wenger. It is no secret that since Tomas Rosicky suffered an innocuous injury against Newcastle United in The FA Cup that since his return he hasn't merited a place in the side. Obviously he has played and even skippered on some ocassions but did Rosicky deserve to start over Arshavin in the Camp Nou? Did he deserve to start a Cup Final v Birmingham? Of course he didn't. I think this highlights the problems we have within our squad. I've said on a couple of occasions that prior to kicking off v Leeds this season, that I was very confident in the sides ability to do the job but they failed to live up to expectations. Players have wised up to the fact that poor performance doesn't mean being exiled from the squad. Emmanuel Eboue said just after Christmas

"I have this team in my heart, in fact it does not matter if I don't play. I still want us to win from the bottom of my heart".

Now I admire his love for Arsenal but most of what he said is what a fan brings to the club. Eboue as a professional footballer should want to play every minute but he is yet another example of being comfortable in his position at the club.


This brings me to the controversial figure of Nicklas. For a long time he waited in the wings and got on with his Carling Cup role before being introduced to the 1st team. NB52 is slaughtered for his effort and ability most weeks. I'm actually a big fan of his and I don't think his attitude is likely to change but if it does it will be away from The Emirates. NB knows at present he is our 2nd choice striker and he also knows that even if he scores in the next 3 games he won't start ahead of RVP. Is that competitive? No. Make players earn the position and Arsene is close to letting his blind faith in some of these players get the better of him.

We need to play our in form players and get players working against each other to earn their position. A classic example of this not happening was when Johan Djourou was inexplicably dropped for the NLD after to solid performances away to Wolves and Everton. Wenger must learn from these mistakes and get the squad players out of the comfort zone and fighting for first team action. We might disagree on this but Bendtner, Rosicky, Denilson, Diaby and Eboue all have ability, as they have demonstrated at some point in their Arsenal career but they desire is lacking an I think Wenger will opt for the easy route of off loading than rectifying.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Getting back on the horse......

Well it’s back to basics this weekend as we see the return of the Premier League action and it’s a bit of a relief to be honest. We’ve been dumped out of The FA Cup and Champions League in quick succession but now comes the real test. We have 10 games left this season and that starts at West Brom.

Mental Strength
I’ve commented before about this side’s ability to crumble in the face of adversity and it’s been apparent in the last couple of weeks but unusually for us that hasn’t seen us hinder our title chances to a great extent. The draw against Sunderland was very disappointing but we remain within touching distance. The team has had long enough to think about their attitude and desire to win silverware this week and I expect a response from them tomorrow. The players should be raring to go and they have something to prove to themselves, Wenger and most importantly us.
One thing is for certain tomorrow, Samir Nasri needs to be in centre midfield. He has been wasted (protected?) on the wing since his return from injury and we need him on the ball as much as possible.  Samir’s performances of late have dedicated our form somewhat. Games v Birmingham, Barcelona and United have seen him on the edge of the things for too long. The wingers in our 4-3-3 become very isolated and we have a massive tendency to play through the middle and if we do elect to play it wide it’s when the opposition have the entire defence back and Nasri can’t beat everyone, although he has done that before. So let’s get him on the ball and hand him the freedom Cesc is given and surely we are onto a winner? That frees up room for the much loved Nicklas Bendtner to come into the side and he can cause WBA more than enough problems and he's notched a couple at The Hawthornes too. Tomorrow will also be a good barometer of where AW sees Ramsey’s progress since returning to the club. He’s going to have to start a game sooner or later due to the fragility of Cesc’s hamstrings and Diaby’s heart. I do think Wenger will opt for Denilson though and we’ll see where that leads us but we should see Aaron at some stage tomorrow.
West Brom
Although I think we’ll do quite well in this game, I think The Baggies will be quietly confident going into this match. There’s not a team in the land that fears our defence (well execpt for ourselves) and it looks like we are going to roll out the same back 5 that we did in the 3-2 loss. Odemwingie and Thomas were very dangerous at The Emirates and they will no doubt cause us problems with their pace. My concern is the likes of Morrison and Brunt who can provide quality balls. Our marking is poor and we frequently let players run off each other, only to realise we haven’t passed them onto anyone else. That mainly happens in open play, so hopefully we can concentrate for most of the game. Oh and  they will also miss the goal scoring machine of late in the form of Carlos Vela. Ha.
I expect a win and an impressive one at that. We won’t get caught by surprise this time and we’ll get plenty of opportunities to put them to the sword, that is as long as the side has been prepared in the right way.  So I’m going for a 3-1 win. In other games, United play Bolton at OT and we need to go blow for blow with them and after tomorrow we play after United do on each matchday until 7th May (Sky/ESPN have yet to intervene). We can't be going into games 8 points behind them. I can see Bolton possibly sneaking a point tomorrow, United have as much disruption as us when it comes to injuries and the last people you want to face are the likes of Davies and Elmander, won't get a better chance to pick up points there.
To finish on, let's not forget that after Man Utd lost to Liverpool we were all getting slightly excited about the reality of winning this league. That hasn't change and the charge for the line starts now.

Friday, 11 March 2011

A night with the reserves...

Less than 24 hours after our Champions League exit and I had the chance to re-visit a recent nightmare. Our reserves were playing at St James’ Park and seeing as I work in Newcastle City Centre it would have been foolish to pass up such an opportunity.
I set off from work just after 6 o’clock (7pm Kickoff) in hunt for a space somewhere near to the ground. I ended up parking right outside of the East Stand just before 6:30 and thanks to Newcastle Councils promotion, I parked for free. Nice start to the evening given most premiership away days can carry a charge of up to £10 to park. So I had time to grab a cheeky pint before the game with a couple of the lads and obviosuly they wanted to talk about Barcelona, that conversation didn't last too long. We decided to leave the bar 2 minutes before kickoff and we made it to our seats just as the game got underway. No level 7 nonsense today, I was larging it in a seat where I could see every players shirt number, hear them speak and most of all not get distracted by aeroplanes.
The Game
Newcastle lined up with 3 members of the 1st team squad in their line up. Tim Krul, Danny Guthrie (Captain) and Shefki Kuqi. For Arsenal I had half hoped Aaron Ramsey would play, given his lack of match practice but it wasn’t to be. Instead Conor Henderson and Ignasi Miquel who had played at The Emirates 7 days earlier were the most notable of names in our side. Newcastle started well and had us on the back foot from the off and their efforts were rewarded when they got a dubious penalty for a foul on Kuqi. A ball was floated into the box and both Boateng and Kuqi went for it and the ref spotted a foul and pointed to the spot, a major case of deja vu. Kuqi imposed his seniority on the side and placed the ball 12 yards from goal. He took a slow run up and nonchalantly tried to place the ball along the floor to Sean McDermotts right. Unfortunately for Kuqi, McDermott guessed right and made him look like a bit of a fool. Newcastle weren’t to be denied though, as our defence were at 6’s and 7’s moments later and Greg McDermott received the ball in tons of space in the box and neatly finished giving the keeper no chance. 1-0 Newcastle. At this moment a fan approx. 10 rows in front of me, decided to take his jacket off and reveal the Arsenal shirt. To say he was given some abuse doesn’t do it justice. Constant choruses of 4-0 and you fucked it up aired regularly from there on in. Apparently there’s a DVD of it on sale somewhere. Thankfully our players bucked their ideas up, probably fearing the hairdryer treatment from Neil Banfield.  Rhys Murphy raced clear but the angle worked against him and Krul saved well with his feet. Miquel then had a chance from a corner, Newcastle failed to clear and Miquel flicked the ball over his head (Pele Esq.) and struck a volley straight at Krul from 6 yards. This was beginning to feel like watching the 1st team.  HT 1-0.
2nd Half
We restarted the game extremely poorly, McDermott came to claim a cross only for Kuqi to beat him to it, his header looped high in the air and thankfully bounced 3 yards wide of the goal. A huge let off. We then began to impose ourselves on the game again. We were starting to find space but frequently chose the wrong option until Tom Cruise whipped in a ball from the byline and Josh Rees scrambled home from close range. 1-1. Soon after Luke Freeman weaved his way into the box and with options galore in terms of team mates queuing up to tap in, he lashed the ball well wide. Then the save of the game, Rhys Murphy was through and this time he had a more favourable angle. He opted to go for the top corner and as he hit it across Krul, he spectacularly tipped the ball over the bar. We had another couple of half chances but failed to turn possession into goals. Newcastle then got a sight of goal again, Richardson rounded the advancing McDermott and with the goal gapping he shot at goal only for Miquel to race back and clear off the line. Then disaster, a huge mix up at right back saw Rees and Hajrovic collide deep inside our own half, Richardson whipped in a brilliant ball right across the 6 yard line and Philip Airey headed home in the 91st minute winner. 2-1 FT. How on earth had we managed to lose this game?
Ignasi Miquel
I was hugely impressed with Miquel. Not only was he first class on the night, he showed leadership qualities and the team responded to them. Another note is that he had played in both 1st team games versus Leyton Orient, it would be quite easy to think that you are above reserve fixtures but he applied himself well and he was our MOTM by a mile. It’s no surprise AW doesn’t want to dive into the transfer market because this kid might be the real deal. We could soon see a Bartley and Miquel partnership.
Conor Henderson
I was looking forward to seeing Henderson play. He was steady against Orient but he played within himself due to the occasion and where Miquel excelled, Conor lacked. He never influenced the game as much he would have liked. Maybe the instant reintroduction to the reserves had hindered his confidence. He tried difficult passes which often went astray and he was lucky not to get subbed.
Josh Rees
Not only was he our goal scorer but he was a constant threat throughout. His finishing seemed assured and but for Krul making a couple of good saves he would have had more. I think our midfielders need to have an eye for goal and this lad seems to have it.
Danny Guthrie
According to the local papers the following day he wants to compete for a 1st team place. Well I think Newcastle might want to let this one go. He was dreadful. Aneke had him constantly chasing shadows and Guthrie seemed intent on taking every set piece, corner and throw in. Newcastle improved dramatically when he left the field.
All in all this was a quality night out. 2500 attended the game, thanks to the free admission. There were no ego pumped officials or overpaid players, it was just a good honest match.  It felt a bit like I hadn’t seen a real game of football in a while. Where were the rants towards players calling questioning their commitment and ability. Where were the demands that wenger buys immediately and most of all where the fans fleeing for the exits with 5 minutes to go? Usually things like that annoy me at the game but they weren’t evident today. However, one thing that couldn't be denied, we had lacked the killer instinct again. It seems like the 1st team mentality may have filtered throughout the club.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Our route to the Quarter Finals.....

Well here we are, less than 24 hours to our match up in the Camp Nou and it’s quite bizarre that we go into this game 2/1 to qualify. Now I know Barcelona are the best side in world football but it’s not like we are an average side, we are one of the top 5 in Europe. Even though the bookies tend to get it right more often than not but I’m quite positive we can qualify tomorrow night and that was before the fantastic news that Robin Van Persie has made a truly remarkable comeback to be included in the squad that travelled to Spain. We are coming off the back of a 2-1 win and for once questions have been asked of Barcelona.
Previous Meeting
It seems like a lifetime ago but there are a lot of positives to take from our last game.  The main positive being the belief it has created amongst the squad. They know this side can be beaten and that is huge confidence boost to take into this game. Sometimes in football you can tell a side they are better than the opposition but sometimes they may not necessarily believe that to be the case. Look at last season when we played Barcelona, you can’t tell me any of the players actually believed we’d qualify going into the 2nd leg. That is definitely not the case and we go into this tie a lot stronger than last season. Another positive was Wenger showing ruthlessness with his subs, Arshavin for Song was fantastic tactical change and it swung the tie in our favour. That may have to happen again tomorrow but in the form of Robin Van Persie. Wenger also ensured Barcelona had minimal space to work in. They got chances but we got bodies between the ball and our goal and restricted them to 7 shots on goal. Wenger isn’t a master tactician but he’s definitely showing a willingness to adapt against quality opposition.
This fixture seems steeped in injuries and for the first time it may have impacted Barcelona more than us. We will obviously miss the pace of Walcott and defensive ability of Song but the news that RVP is fit is a huge boost. Our bench would have been lacking in creativity but RVP solves a lot of possible outcomes. Firstly, if we are to need a goal with 20 or 30 minutes to go his ability is there for all to see. If we are still ahead in the tie, then he can come on and hold the ball up better than Bendtner or Chamakh and give our attack a different dimension, much in the same way Arshavin influenced the first leg, it’s a win/win situation. Barcelona are missing the suspended Pique and injured Puyol.  The heart of their defence is blown wide apart. Which should mean the likes of Maxwell and Alves may need to be a bit more apprehensive about when deciding to bomb forward. When you have changes enforced upon you like that it can upset a team’s rhythm and Barcelona are as fluent as they come and they are extremely solid. However their defence will have had limited time to practice together ahead of tomorrow’s game and that should see us create more than people believe. Wenger said before travelling "It will be very important for us to defend well because when you go to the most effective attacking team in the world, you want to have your bes defenders available". The same applies to Barcelona.
Wojciech Szczesny
What a night this could be for WS53. He can put to bed any issues created a week last Sunday and this will be the true test of his character. A lot of people still think we need a top class but he seems to have a big future ahead of him and he will need to be on top form between the sticks tomorrow. Another big aspect of his game tomorrow that needs to be on form tomorrow will be his distribution. When we are under pressure and he gets the ball it’s imperative we don’t concede possession cheaply. At Newcastle recently, whilst under pressure for most of the half he kicked long balls towards Van Persie, who didn’t have a team mate within 30 yards most of the time and Newcastle regained possession. Against Barcelona we simply can’t afford to do that, so it’s important we make them work for possession. Getting Sagna and Clichy involved from the back is a must.
Cesc Fabregas
Our key player without a shadow of a doubt, Wenger says he’s 90% certain he’ll play, so that’s as good as an assurance as you’ll get from him that Cesc is starting. We are a totally different proposition with our skipper in the side. The bloke is a genius and a suspected midfield of Diaby, Wilshere and Fabregas is a lot better than the one of Rosicky, Denilson and Diaby that went there last season. Diaby and Wilshere will sit for most of the game if things stay in our favour and the roaming trio of Fabregas, Arshavin and Nasri will cause more than a few problems for Barcelona’s make shift defence.
I truly believe we’ll qualify tomorrow. In fact I’m convinced. That’s not to say I’m expecting and easy night because it’ll be edge of your seat stuff to the very end. As with all Champions League away games you need to score and it could be Barcelona’s undoing that they only managed to score 1 goal when they were massively on top in the 1st leg. Dare I say if we score 2 they need 4, which considering how Barcelona rip teams apart week after week, it’s something they haven’t achieved in 9 games and they were playing Almeria not Arsenal. I’m going for a 1-1 draw. If it is to be that close late on we need to ensure we’ve learnt from our appalling experiences in the past and close the game out and who knows we might even grab a very late winner!
So there you have it. Here’s to a great night and a team that finally learns from it's mistakes and comes of age before our very eyes. A place in the last 8 awaits and the confidence from progressing would be a great step forward for the rest of the campaign. Remember we got a draw there before, with 10 men too. Here’s a clip of the goal scorer that night, it’s bizarre to think he’s still playing.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

February Review

Well it’s certainly been a month of some very good highs and incredibly low low’s. We came off the back of a unrelenting January, some of which was self inflicted. There was a midweek international break which allowed a couple of players to rest and some gain International experience.

Premier League

We took 10 points from the 12 available. As we all know that should have been 12 from 12 but for one of the biggest capitulations in Premier League history. The true extent of that horrendous 45 minutes will not be known until May. However, as we are only 4 points behind United with a game in hand at present, the severity of that is very apparent.  We did show some mental strength against Wolves and we comfortably won 2-0. We also saw the 1st appearance of Ryan Sh@wcross since his malicious tackle put Aaron Ramsey on the sidelines. It was a bizarre game which didn’t see us create many chances, largely down to the injury suffered by Fabregas. We scored early through the unlikely source of Squillaci and managed to survive the late bombardment/missile throw ins. All in all a good month and it was very nearly perfect.

Champions League

It was one of the best, if not the best night at our new home. Wenger threw caution to the wind midway through the 2nd half at 1-0 down. He replaced Song with Arshavin and the rest is history. Van Persie fired past Valdes to level late on and within minutes Arshavin made it 2-1. Unlike last season we will take a lead to the Camp Nou but very much in keeping with last season’s meeting we look to be set to field a very under strength side. However a lead is a lead and this game always takes me back to our Cup Winners Cup match up with Sampdoria at home. A great night but we conceded 2 away goals and people wrote us off in the same we they are doing now purely because Sampdoria just had to score..

FA Cup

Our back up team should their inconsistency again, this time away to Leyton Orient. We struggled to create and some players missed the opportunity to take their chance to impress. Rosicky got his name on the score sheet but we conceded late to Tehoue and Orient enjoyed their moment and we couldn’t really begrudge them of it. They’ve secured financial security for years to come and also matched the Football Club that had just beaten the best team in world football.

League Cup.


Overall, Wenger seems to be leaning more towards the Premier League as his main priority. Whether that changes if we manage to dispose of Barcelona remains to be seen. The gap is closing though and we are very much a part of a 2 horse race. That’s a 2 horse race with a lot of leverage from officials by the way.

Worst Player of the Month

3. Chamakh
2. Squillaci
1. Diaby

I know it’s harsh that Diaby only actually played in 2 of our 7 games but his conduct at Newcastle had catastrophic consequences. He has a point to prove. I don’t remember being so furious with a red card since Robin Van Persie was needlessly sent off away at Southampton in 2005. If Diaby can respond like RVP did and lead this side forward then all will be forgiven.

Player of the Month

3rd . Johan Djourou

JD has been immense. It is no coincidence that his injury at Newcastle led to mass panic in our defensive ranks. He makes Koscielny seem at ease compared to when he plays with Squillaci. He’s gone from strength to strength and after his early season form we haven’t seen him inexplicably dropped from the line up.

2nd. Robin Van Persie

It has been another cracking month for Robin, 5 games 6 goals. He scored goals in big games too v Barcelona and in the League Cup final. Unfortunately Robin is now certain to miss the entire month of March which Premier League wise isn’t a disaster as we only have 2 league games. It is apparent though that we will never be able to rely on his contribution throughout an entire league season.

1st. Jack Wilshire

Jack didn’t race out the block at the beginning of the month but after he got his start for England in Denmark he’s never looked back. Huge performances against Barcelona, Stoke and Birmingham have seen him reach new heights in his short career. One thing Jack has done is in the absence of Cesc he has stepped up and not looked lost unlike Mr Song. Long may his great form continue!

Goal of the Month

One of the best team moves you’ll see. I guess this is why neutrals love watching us play.