Saturday, 19 October 2013

Arsenal End on a High

Well, as finishes go in football that was pretty impressive today but it may overshadow an under below par performance during the middle third of the game but highlights will show goal of the season contenders. 

It all started with a majestic move that involved Wilshere and Giroud. The last two flicks are just sublime, the crowd gasped and Wilshere slotted home as our jaw drew closer. Unbelievable goal and I don't think the ball hit the deck between the pair. Something really special. 

Then a lull, Flamini departed through injury and a gaping hole appear between midfield and defence and Norwich started to take control. We looked lost and Szczęsny did well to palm away a shot from distance. Half time arrived in just the nick of time. 

I was fully expectant that half time would see us address our lack of discipline in midfield but it appeared Arteta failed to adapt, Norwich kept coming but they snatched at half chances and just as it appeared that they might get an equaliser, we broke. Cazorla led the charge forward, he sent it wide to Giroud who put in a Beckham esque cross and Özil threw himself at the ball and headed home. Just what is going? Diving headers. 

So time to sit back and relax? Not quite. We dropped off slightly and got punished. Howson attacked our back four and smashed home, with no midfielder anywhere near him but in a way it spurred us on. We upped our game.

We adopted a shoot on sight policy and Ruddy's hands were warmed by Ramsey and Bendtner. 

Then our in-form Aaron Ramsey stole the show, a goal very reminiscent of Henry v Liverpool. He received the ball in the box, threw one dummy and weaved his way forward with an inevitable shot incoming, but he checked back and fired home. The crowd went crazy, it's only Norwich but sometimes you get carried away with moments of brilliance and this was one of them. 

Then the icing on the cake, a Rosicky cross to the back post, Ramsey unselfishly laid it on a place for Özil who slotted home (nutmegging a Norwich player en route too). It was just football at it's finest. A day when Pires and Bergkamp were (alledgely) in attendance and we played football that they would have been proud of. The movement and interchange was a sight for sore eyes and  it made a lot of fans feel that maybe, just maybe, we might challenge for honours once again.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A New Era Begins

Well, here we are after a very impressive victory at Sunderland in a match that we controlled for all but fifteen minutes. There were lots of positives to take from yesterday, despite Match of the Day's thoughts on the lack of protection offered to our defence by Mathieu Flamini. It was that possibly the worst piece of analysis I've ever seen. So here's my take on yesterday.

Mesut Ozil

Sometimes in football you have to pay for quality and you get what you pay for and the German fits into both of those categories. His first touch is orgasmic, his vision is Bergkamp-esque, as is his final ball. Yesterday, he demonstrated what we have been missing since the likes of Bergkamp and Fabregas left the club. I said in my last blog that I felt Theo Walcott would benefit most from his arrival and that was demonstrated in the first half with two quality through balls that led to chances for Theo but he didn't have his shooting boots on but those chances will keep coming his way for a long time to come. That said those opportunities were missed after Ozil had his first meaning contribution in the famous yellow and blue - an assist for Giroud. There aren't too many players that get 'the picture' in their head but he certainly does. He stole a march on the full back and he was picked out beautifully by Gibbs but the touch to bring down the pass from over his shoulder was straight from the top drawer and the final ball wasn't too bad either and Giroud's finish was beautifully executed. You know when this side used to just go left to right without a purpose, well that is no more. Ozil was that impressive yesterday, that I actually forgot (momentarily) about Santi Cazorla. Our attack is a force to be reckoned with once again and that was demonstrated in both the first and last goal. We've all seen Henry execute moves likes the first and Ramsey's second goal had shades of Patrick Vieira at Anfield, quality, incisive movement. So much so that the Sunderland defenders appealed for offside, they didn't have a clue what day of the week it was. Mesut, I love you.

Aaron Ramsey

You know, I have a friend who thinks Ramsey is absolutely rubbish, I kid you not. The young Welshman really is cranking it up on the pitch and he deserves every bit of praise that comes his way. Here are his stats for the last three seasons in terms of goals to games

After the victory against Sp*rs Graeme Souness was quiet critical of Ramsey's lack of goal scoring ability and to be fair he had a point. Obviously his opinion was relating to Ramsey's poor miss but he stated he has to score more and he has. He has five goals this season and that has matched his goals tally for the last two seasons combined. His volley was a brilliant display of pure power and technique combined. The keeper moved after the ball had hit the back of the net and much like I have gripes with Rosicky, the same would apply to Ramsey. When players have the ability, they must back it up with end product. There is nothing more frustrating that players not realising their potential and Aaron's had a tough time of it, especially during his 'winger' phase but now he has made his position his own and Jack Wilshere may well find himself being the odd one out in the centre of midfield and left wing may well be his home for the next weeks given Cazorla's ankle injury. If Ramsey can score fifteen goals this season that really would be a great return and when you see him finishing moves likes yesterday and his second against Fenerbahce, then there is no reason why he can't achieve that and raise the bar further.
Olivier Giroud
Watching in-form strikers is one of the finest sights in football, as is watching players blossom before your very eyes. Giroud has had critics, plenty of them in fact. He missed chances last season and he will do again between now and the end of the season but he has now settled at the club and the team is really benefiting from his play. He is the axis for which our attacks operate. He wins headers, he holds up the ball, he has vision and most importantly the team has adapted to his strengths and weaknesses. Giroud really has taken it to the next level and his work rate has also noticeably improved. He has improved in the every department and it's worth considering that at this stage last season he had no goals and was in the midst of confidence crisis due to misses against Sunderland and Chelsea. Giroud needs to be aiming for 25 goals (minimum) and I don't have any doubts that he'll be able to achieve that and with such a target, that tells you how far the team has come in such a short period of time.
Other Analysis
The only blot on the copy book was Koscielny's ridiculous foul on Johnson. I said this against Villa and it applies to yesterday as well - do not dive into challenge in the penalty unless it is absolutely necessary and on both occasions he's cost the side a goal. Adam Johnson (one of the most one footed players in the league) is going away from goal and on his weaker foot, why would you lunge into a challenge? It's too high risk. Gardner converted and we could have shot ourselves in the foot. Thankfully for us and Kos, we didn't
There's been a lot of focus on Altidore/Sagna clash, which is probably best summarised as six and one and half a dozen of the other. The key is the ref blew the whistle quite early and some of our players stopped. Altidore slotted home despite last ditch efforts of our defence and Sunderland felt 'robbed'. The point that is being missed is the players played to the whistle, had the ref played an advantage I'm pretty confident, in fact almost certain that our defenders would have cleared it off the line. Therefore, what's the big deal? It gives Di Canio his excuse though, so it will paper over the gaping cracks in the Sunderland side he has formed. They have two threats upfront in Altidore and Flecther but their supply is horrific. Wingers like Adam Johnson are in it for their own good, he's capable of wiping in crosses but elects to be greedy for his own selfish gain. They are in trouble and I fully expect a different manager to be in the technical area when we play them at The Emirates in February.
I'm going to finish the blog with the way we finished the game 5-4-1 to accommodate Vermaelen when he came on for Ozil. I thought he'd just play at DM alongside Flamini but it was a complete reshuffle. It just seemed a bit unnecessary if I'm honest but it didn't really have an impact on the game.
So Giroud has scored outside of London in the league, Ozil is up and running and Ramsey continues to go from strength to strength. Our upcoming fixture list isn't that tough (on paper), so lets hope this team continues onwards and upwards, oh wait, we can't, because we are top of the league....


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Önwards and Upwards - Özil Takes Us to New Heights

It's been nearly 24 hours since we signed Mesut Özil and I still can't believe the magnitude of the signing.





They are some of the headlines I'd attach to this singing and I'll be honest, I've felt somewhat arrogant about our new and improved involvement in the transfer market. We may not hold the record fee paid but we've catapulted ourselves onto the top table. I doubted Gazidis and his statement but he's pretty much, barraged into the room, chucked David Moyes & Manchester Unites out of their chair and said "do one". A club that wanted Cesc Fabregas, would surely be interested in the 24 year old German wouldn't they? We have our place and this isn't just a signal of intent, it's a whole new beginning. Yes, we didn't get all of the players we needed but say we did sign Cabaye, Ba and A.N. Other, come the next transfer window we'd be scrapping the barrel looking for your average joes once more. No the bar has been raised, this deal means we don't have to sell the club, it sells itself. Questions about will we qualify for the Champions League? Foregone conclusion surely? This is a player that creates for fun and chips in with goals too. You've all seen the colossal figures in relation to his assist record, they are extra chances that he brings to us and they are all ours. Which, in turn should equal more points.

There are many factors of this deal that excite me but I think the biggest one is how our club is perceived. I viewed our game on Sunday as our biggest game of the season at home, purely because it's possibly our best chance to win a big game. When the likes of United, Chelsea and City come to town, of late, I've expected us to lose because we get found out. Now I'm not saying we'll suddenly start beating them all but if you look at the Demba Ba no deal, you can't tell me that Chelsea didn't pull the plug because they saw what we were doing? They claimed to not want to sell to a rival and we aren't just talking in terms of a geographical location, they are talking more about league position. Having the likes of Cazorla & Özil weaving their magic will strike fear into the opposition. Imagine us at home to United, Fellaini and Cleverley in the centre of midfield. Oh my. It's an area we have failed in recently but I can't help but feel things have changed in that regard. I expect to win now and yes it's off the back of one signing but one signing was all it took when a certain iconic Dutchman turned up at Arsenal in 1995.

A lot of comparisons have been drawn between the Özil and Bergkamp deals and I see where people are coming from, but I can't help but feel this deal is bigger (and I'm not just talking about the fee). Özil is on top of his game, something Bergkamp had to rebuild, his move was somewhat of a second chance after receiving death threats for poor performances. Has anyone contemplated that Özil might be a failure, of course we haven't because he's one of THE BEST in the game. He's been something of a pipe dream in windows gone by, even when Madrid snapped him up three years ago, it was rumoured we'd had him scouted the usual 105 times but we kept our nerve this time and got it done. 

This deal though has Madridistas fuelled with rage. Whilst Gareth Bale was introduced to his new home, Sid Lowe reported their fans were singing "Don't sell Özil", this is Real Madrid people, the biggest club in the world and we've taken advantage of Daniel Levy's brilliant negotiating. Arguably, if he'd sold for 50m, they probably wouldn't need to sell but they didn't and Real had to expect a star was going to leave. So from me Daniel, thanks.

One of the undervalued aspects of deals is the impact it has on the fan base. Sales of Özil 11 shirts have gone through the roof. As @swegoon pointed out last night (mainly in jest) maybe Adidas could rethink a deal for shirt sales, as Özil is one of their elite clients and the new face of Adidas. It's probably too late to renegotiate but you get the point. Sponsors will flood in wanting their brand associated with our club. The gloom has lifted somewhat on Twitter, joyous people tweeting through the night. I didn't want last night to end, so much so I listened to the @arse2mouse podcast at 00:30 and ploughed through another bottle of wine. Great work by The @arse2mouse crew, as they guide you through the day as if happens, you can listen
here. Sadly the night did draw to a close and I woke up with one very sore head today, well worth it though.

So where does this leave Arsenal? Well, when we go embroiled in the Suarez debacle, I went on record to say the deal was as important as the player. That sign of intent to actual progress to the next level would provide a massive shot in the arm. That transfer obviously fizzled out but the principal remained and the club delivered, namely in the form of Arsène Wenger. A manager I have slagged off and rightly so I feel. If you underachieve you leave yourself open to criticism but when you over perform you deserve the credit and that's what I see a lot of fans doing. Well, except those that want to ram it down your throats. There's a tweet floating around about if you didn't celebrate Sanogo signing then you don't deserve to celebrate Özil. I mean seriously, WTF. This deal has not only given us a world class player but if would appear Arsène has more lives than a cat but I'd widely expect him to get a two year extension and I'm happy for him to remain if this policy proves to be in it's infancy. You see the expectation has risen amongst every gooner and a striker will surely arrive in January, ready for the business end of the season. No more Gervinho deals and more of the higher calibre signings.  New players coming to English football should worry supporters of other clubs. Pretty much like Hazard signing for CFC. I'm not expecting us to pay £40+ for one player in every window but we must not return to our default position. 

This season was our opportunity to catch the teams above us last season and it looked like that passed us by but maybe we resuscitated ourselves just in time. Our time is now and we have to take this opportunity. I expect things, I now feel like a trophy is realistic and not just a big fantasy of mine. Last night felt like the gloom had lifted (summed up brilliantly in
this article by @thugclive, he's a CFC fan who decided to check out The Ems yesterday) and there's a freshness about the place. Even arsenal fans are changing their twitter handles and the umlauts are flowing. It really so refreshing to see.

Then you have his impact with his team-mates. Our forward line must be licking their lips, none more so than Theo Walcott, who I think will benefit massively from Mesut's vision. After all it's not just about what the German does, it will also improve others as well .

In summary, we have a worldie in the form of Real Madrid's previous #10. This is a deal to embrace, drink it in and see where we go. I haven't felt this positive about our club for a long while and I want this feeling to remain for a good while to come. We've 'got by' for far too long and I hope this is us breaking free of the shackles and flexing our financial muscle (ooh-er) and when you see clubs like United struggling to recruit, you can help but laugh and think, that used to be us.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

I'm Tired Physically and Mentally

Well isn't it great to be back? Fuck me, how I haven't missed this feeling. A feeling that can only be summed up in the word 'deflated'

I thought I'd check out deflated on the old thesaurus and it threw up the following:


There you have it, Arsène Wenger's recent reign of the club summed up in five words. Arsène came to these shores as a pioneer, he changed the game for the better but sadly the game caught up with him and passed him by. A manager that ruffled the feathers of the great Alex Ferguson because he was a massive threat, would then go on to negotiate the sale of our star striker. The Bradford game was the final straw for me, I just can't take it anymore. This side has long since ran its course. It needs fresh ideas, it needs new personnel. I have thought for at least the last three seasons that each summer we have needed between seven and eight players to challenge for honours and no, fourth doesn't count. The clubs aim is to compete in a competition that we play approximately eight games in, but in reality we have no chance of winning. 

Anyway, back to today. We were average (at an optimistic best) and Villa played us well. They pissed us off and we got rattled and some lost their heads. Take Jack for example, he won a free kick, the villa player was booked and Jack had to have a pop at the ref and he was duly booked. It was completely unnecessary. There seemed like a few sneaky challenges went in today and don't for a second think we didn't play our part in that Rosicky has two late lunges, once of which seemed horrendous but both went unpunished. The worry for me, that stood out was our lack of strength inand around the field. Too many slight individuals who lost every 50/50, we need players who can dig in and get physical, I would go as far as saying we got bullied today but maybe I'm being a bit knee-jerk in my reaction.  

Then you have the ref, who was inconsistent at best but lets not forget that the game was 1-1 at 62 mins. We weren't the better side despite the refs failings. I've heard Koscielny made a good challenge but here's the thing, the ref had long since pissed our side and the fans off, so why dive into a tackle in the box? Why create a situation? My immediate reaction was penalty. Benteke with his second attempt of the day, showed great confidence and stroked it home. As our players made their way to the positions, nobody tried to motivate each other. We were stumped. The last goal showed the lack of desire. Theo wanted to play a short corner to Jenkinson, who was making his way back and he decided not to turn around, so Theo dinked a ball into the box. It was partly cleared Theo made a half hearted attempt to win possession (which he lost) and Villa broke and made it 3-1. 


The ground turned and chants of 'Spend some fucking money' rang around the ground and they were aimed at one man - the manager. I must also state these weren't half hearted chants either, they were chants fuelled with pent up aggression. The supporters wanted blood and the may soon get it. 

The clubs failings to get anyone of note into the club came back to bite them on the arse today. Let's get this straight, this isn't about fuelling people's agenda anymore, the majority of fans have these concerns. So today, we went into the game with five fit defenders in the squad. Gibbs exited with a 'nasty cut' and it prompted a very swift change. What happened to the old Vaseline and bandage on the head job? Sagna left the game after an awkward fall and he left the field rather gingerly and Koscielny was sent off and will miss next weeks trip to Fulham.  If Sagna fails to recover we will have only one centre half - ONE. How the heck did we end up like this? Also, don't think this is a new situation, it isn't. Since we allowed Djourou to go on loan we have only had three centre halves but thankfully they were all fit. Miquel was still apart of the squad but even when a list minute change was needed at Sunderland, Wenger opted for the unproven Sagna at centre half instead. Not exactly a glowing recommendation for Iggy is it? So we've had the January transfer window and the duration of this summer to get a centre half and so far failed to reinforce.  It's just not good enough, not by a long way. 

I'm sick of the race for fourth shit, we have money but we just don't know how to use it. I was thinking on the way home that when Arsenal did the business plan for The Emirates it was probably perfect at that time but sadly once construction was underway, some clubs stole a march on us. Chelsea got Abramovich and City got the sheikhs, you can't plan for that and immediately clubs have leapfrogged us in the pecking order. The club must improve the playing staff and Wenger should get no say in what price a player is worth. We pay what is necessary, sometimes you strike lucky, sometimes you pay a little over the odds but shit happens. Treat like ripping a bandaid off, a couple seconds of pain but fine in the long run. 

Anyway, back to the team and for the last four seasons we've failed to win on the opening day:

2010 Liverpool 1-1
2011 Newcastle 0-0
2012 Sunderland 0-0
2013 Aston Villa 1-3

I know it's just one game but in all those games we've been off the pace and Koscielny has been sent off twice. Why don't we hit the ground running anymore? Was today down to a lack of sharpness? In 2010 we didn't start Fabregas or RVP because of World Cup commitments, today it was Cazorla  who was busy in ECUADOR. Why aren't we getting a side ready for the start of the season? Am I missing something? Should we all turn up September? Does our season start at Sunderland? Too many questions and not any answers. 

The fact is it all comes back to the manager and in seventeen years he's won three titles and four FA Cups. Is that success? Man Utd would see that as failure over seven seasons, let alone seventeen. His reign is coming to an end and there's a part of me that wishes we'd bite the bullet, get Klopp in, splash the cash and live happily ever after but in reality, days away from a crucial qualifier in Turkey that isn't going to happen. He will see out this window and once it slams shut the attention will turn to Wenger's contract. I don't expect any news and I really believe Wenger will be PSG manager next summer. It just makes sense for both parties, everyone is a winner. Whilst Gazidis must offer his support to Wenger, he has to be scoping out potential replacements on the side. 

Wenger is lost, he's a bit like Szczęsny today when he went into FIFA showboating mode, as he dribbled out from the back four and lost possession. He now has two weeks to save his job and I fear I already know the outcome. Today was embarrassing and we are fast becoming a laughing stock and I can't stomach losing to Villa on any level but today they deserved their three points and this was a team that just avoided relegation last season. The season looks long and it's only a game old.

Friday, 26 April 2013

It's Time for Theo

If you look back over this season/year and I asked if January 18th meant anything to you, would you have any idea? No, we didn't have a game. Yes, it was a Friday but the significance was that Theo Walcott signed a new three year deal. This was the contract signing that stopped the trend and happened within months of his contract expiring, yet he did have the opportunity to discuss a free transfer with clubs abroad. The reason I pinpointed the contract signing was because Theo's form has dipped since he got a nice six figure salary and a fair amount of fans have even suggested he no longer tries, which bring me to this weeks blog.

The Stats

Since Theo re-signed he has started 10 Premier League games, scoring 3 and creating 4 goals. Not massive production from our highest earner and when you put into context that he hasn't scored since his thunderbastard against Liverpool on 30th January, which was a mere 633 Premier League minutes ago. He is in the midst of a full on goal drought. His assists don't fair too much better but then maybe you could point the finger at those who are presented with the chances. Some have resulted in inept finishing but some balls have been from poor passes, look at Lukas Podolski when he smashed home a wonderful effort against Norwich. The question is does this mean he isn't trying because the goals have dried up, much like the ink on his contract? Not at all, we all know that there is rarely a happy medium when it comes to his form. Within twelve days of his new deal he had notched three times, he was on top of his game and probably quite happy with life at that time. Imagine signing such a wealthy deal, you'd be on cloud nine for a while but the novelty can and does wear off. When I look at this side at present, we seem to have moved away from Theo's strengths and the main one in particular, which is running of his full back into the space between the left back and centre half, Theo is summed up perfectly with his goal against Chelsea in January. At present we are much happier building from the back instead of unleashing deadly counter attacks like we did against West Ham.


Theo was hit by injury whilst away with England and he missed games against Reading and Norwich and this meant he missed nearly a months worth of competitive action. Theo is very much a player that needs time and I'm going to put his last three performances down to a lack of match fitness. He looked lively against Norwich but his touch was poor, he was non-existent against Everton and similarly the same against Fulham. However, what we should have is a fresh forward, an aspect that has been sadly lacking recently. Giroud has shouldered virtually all of the responsibility of the forward line and he's been pretty much running on empty for a few games and whilst his ban is badly timed at least we'll get to see him for the last game of the season. So now it is time for Theo to take ownership of his performances and inspire his side to get the results we need in order to play Champions League football again next season.


There's just one problem when it comes to Theo inspiring Arsenal for the rest of the season and in particular this Sunday when he lines up against Patrice Evra. Now I've already touched on the two extremes in Theo's performances and it's summed up perfectly when it comes to match ups against top full backs. On one hand you have Theo v Ashley Cole and Theo wins hands down, in fact I don't think any right winger tortures Cole as much as Theo does. Yet when he plays against Evra he invariably loses out and he's only ever scored once against United to date, you know the only time we managed to net twice in Premier League at Old Trafford, that game. Yet for some reason Aaron Lennon seems to enjoy a lot of joy against Patrice Evra, yet Theo is clearly the better player and he is also more varied in his style of play.


Wenger spent some of his time today discussing the possibility of German success in the Champions League being down to a winter break, as it gives international players a rest, yet ignoring the fact that Spain also have a break. The truth is winter breaks do help players recover and Theo has had his break recently, he's had time to find his touch and now he needs to rediscover his sharpness. Personally I'd have dropped for this match, as I discussed with @goonerdave66 on his blog 1ND2OU this week but the fact is he won't be dropped and it's because Wenger trusts his ability, Walcott has notched eleven times this season, surpassing his tally of eight league form 11/12 and that's with a handful of games remaining. The fact is Theo does care because he could have spoken to foreign clubs but he elected not to and in a week when we question the lack of commitment shown by former players, we can hardly criticise those that have put pen to paper.
I look forwarding to reading your views on Theo. Feel free to leave a comment below or follow me on twitter @mj_afc. If you can, I'd appreciate it if you could share this article via the twitter link below. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Friends Reunited

You can tell we that are at the business end of the season can't you? A range of emotions were on display at both The Hawthorne's and The Emirates. Both games could and should have been straight forward but that's simply not the way we do things around here anymore. Anxiety got the better of me towards the end of our game at West Brom, I was actually shaking as efforts from Long and Lukaku were fired towards our goal. In the end we got there but even in a game we were comfortable in for a good sixty nine minutes resulted in twenty one minutes of chaos. Then Norwich arrive, I wanted to be confident but I didn't feel it. I didn't think we'd lose but there was an air of the unexpected to a degree. Everything began in a clumsy fashion, Giroud's too was anonymous, Gervinho was back to the player we loathe, Jack was playing like John Jenson and we had a centre back paring that had failed to keep a clean sheet in four previous Premier League games this season.

When Norwich were incorrectly awarded a free kick in the 56th minute, you just knew that they were going to score. There was no cohesion throughout the back line, they didn't want to command the area, they wanted to react. In the end - Koscielny was found wanting as Norwich ran a screen like play and Turner had the simplest of tasks but it proved to be a decisive moment for Wenger. Unlike many match days he went with his gut. He made a double substitution. Off went Jack and Gervinho - easily our two worst players on the day and on came Walcott and more importantly Lukas Podolski. The latter  is a player who for whatever reason hasn't started a Premier League game since 31st January in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool. Wenger was quick to quell any rumours of a possible exit in his post match interview

"Look how he played when he came on. As soon as you have a player who doesn't play for three games, the papers get a story like that. But he looks very happy to be here."
Wenger has since added:

"I work a lot with him as a central striker at the moment. He is a quality player and when he comes on you can see that straight away. You don’t get 100 caps by luck. Honestly he has a great attitude. He never moans, he never has a bad phase, he is always positive."
He certainly does look happy. He gave us his guided tour of London, he's been full of smiles on the bench and he seems to have a good rapport with his team mates. That said the most important part of his job is his contribution to the side and he links brilliantly with Giroud. Is it any surprise that the big Frenchman is made to look poor when he gets isolated when he has Gervinho hugging touchlines and Santi desperate to drop a bit deeper in order to get his foot on the ball? When Giroud has Walcott and Podolski either side of him he provides the perfect axis for our wingers to contribute. Just look Podolski's effort that was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Mark Bunn. Giroud does love a one touch lay off and Podolski reads him well and you simply can't defend against that sort of link up. They have that sixth sense upfront and it's no surprise that they all played a part in our comeback as our front three packed a punch once again.

Here's some statistics on "The Front Three"

  • Norwich was our 47th match this season and they have scored in 23 games - 48% of games
  • They have scored a total of 48 goals of our 97 goals this season - 49% of our total goals.
  • They have assisted 19 of their 48 goals - 38% of the goals scored.

Now, I think the above stats above are very impressive (mainly because I researched them myself) but you have to factor in that they haven't always played together. Walcott was benched for the early part of the season, Giroud was dropped for most of December and Podolski has been on the naughty step for about two months. Then you factor in that two of the three are new to this side and they have already have an instant understanding. One of the main reasons behind their success is that they fill the box and that allows the creators led by Santi Cazorla to weave their magic.

Wenger does have some big decisions to make in terms of selection for upcoming games. He accommodated Santi and Jack by moving Cazorla wide, which for me just doesn't work. Jack was dreadful on Saturday and I'm pretty annoyed Wenger risked him (his words)

"I would not have pushed him in, maybe, had Rosicky been available."
Pushing Wilshere isn't acceptable. You simply play Podolski on the left and move Santi to the front of the midfield three. I just don't see the need to risk it but after Tuesday Wenger will have to decide how to reintroduce Wilshere to the side as he will be needed for our game against United on the 28th. The player causing the biggest selection headache at present is Aaron Ramsey. His form has been superb for the last couple of months. His application cannot be faulted, he drove us on yesterday, even at times when we weren't creating. Players just weren't offering themselves for passes but he didn't shy away from the task at hand. The question is, how can you drop him? I know he isn't everyones cup of tea but even the Emirates faithful have warmed to him lately and if wasn't for his endeavour we wouldn't have got the corner that led to the penalty.

Wenger has instilled a never say die attitude throughout the whole squad and I think he needs to keep his team selection simplistic. More often than not we beat ourselves and the real truth is the reason everyone is so anxious about this side is because nobody truly trusts them. I asked myself if I felt such a nervous wreck when were a part of title races and the truth is I wasn't, because I trusted the teams ability and discipline to win a game but this current crop will make even the most comfortable afternoon incredibly difficult and days like those against Reading recently seem few and between. This is who we are but we should have enough to hold onto our much craved 4th place and even 3rd if we play our cards right. Our next two games will shape our run in, if we get six points then Wenger might even be on the verge of his first Manager of the Month award in April in eleven years and we'll all be able to breathe a hell of a lot easier. I certainly need it.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Fight For Full Back

Well, I say fight for full back but the truth is there isn't any fight at all, maybe a bit of hair pulling  just to acknowledged their mere existence but nothing major. That is the current situation facing Carl Jenkinson and it is one the factors that will end up being the undoing of Wenger if he refuses to change his extremely stubborn ways. For years he hasn't recognised key performances and it makes players like Bacary Sagna untouchable.

It doesn't matter which Wenger era you look at, these situations are rife. Go back to 1998 when Alex Manninger was dropped in favour of David Seaman despite several man of the match displays including stand out performances at Old Trafford and Upton Park. Seaman conceded his first game back and Manninger never recovered and arguably hasn't performed to that level ever since. Manninger did get several other opportunities at Arsenal but you got the sense that he began to try too hard and tried to achieve the impossible instead of playing his normal game. You see that's what happens when you get dropped whilst playing well, you doubt yourself. You think there must have been something you could have done differently but sometimes managers just have their favourites and there's nothing you can do about it. Then you can turn your attention to the current crop and focus on their continued failings and the ridiculous amount of trust placed in certain players. Wenger has only recently seen sense regarding Vermaelen but it took too many poor performances,that were easily into double figures (I'm being generous there) before any action was taken. If players play poorly then drop them, they earn the right to play it's not an entitlement.

That brings me nicely onto our current back four and in particular - Bacary Sagna. Whichever way you dress it up this season Sagna played poorly. He's lacked desire, which has led to usual exit talk but ultimately for a player who's health is in question after suffering two leg breaks in the same season, he isn't doing enough to merit a new deal. Our two best defensive displays all season have come away at City and in Munich. Sagna wasn't involved in either game and some will argue that Jenkinson was MOTM in both games. Throughout this season we've craved a solid defensive unit and only over two short periods of time have we looked like we've cracked it. Exhibit A - Sunderland, Stoke & Liverpool. despite the relativity poor opposition, it was still fairly promising and we kept three clean sheets. Exhibit B - Bayern & Swansea. Much better opposition but at a crucial time, we stopped the Germans scoring at the Allianz Arena for the first time in the season and we nullified Swansea on a ground that had seen us conceded five goals over our last two visits. We also went on to show some form of defensive cohesion against Reading but for a momentary lapse from our left back, we'll get to him in a moment. So when it comes to crunch, both Jenkinson and Sagna didn't play during the international break but Jenkinson is the one who makes way for Reading at home. I fear that Wenger thinks he can't upset Sagna, as the exit door looms large and whilst it may appear obvious to us that we need to make Sagna earn his place,Wenger is again expecting loyalty from yet another player that he has turned into a proven international. The truth is Wenger has scouts looking a Feyenoord's Daryl Janmaat - who impressed against PSV, as he kept the much hyped Dries Mertens quiet throughout and you can't help but feel he's getting used to being stabbed in the back.

Then you have left back, which is a position that was strengthened with the arrival of Spanish Monreal but despite his goal at Swansea has struggled to remain focused throughout games. He was a massive culprit in the NLD, he was let off the hook against Swansea and he was at fault for Reading's consolation last weekend. The difference with this position is Wenger loves both of his full backs. In fact he singled both left backs out for praise in his programme notes last week. He said Gibbs was in the top three full backs in the country (I assume he's behind Cole...) and he heaped praise on Monreal for how he has adapted to the league and compared him to Santi Cazorla. Now whilst his selection headache was eased due to Gibbs being injured, it appears he will soon have to make his mind up.The favourite will undoubtedly be Gibbs but shouldn't it be a case of may the best man win? After all it's a team game and the galactico era proved you need balance and a solid foundation before a side can reach the next level and that doesn't always mean you buy the best players in a particular position.

Please let me know your thoughts as I will take time to reply to everyone who leaves a comment. I hope you enjoyed this latest blog, feel free to share via the options below. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Confidence Returns

Sometimes in football its not the defeats that defines you, its your response and since losing the North London Derby we've won all three games. Solid results in Munich (who happened to score nine yesterday) and Swansea meant we had laid the foundations to restore the players confidence and yesterday showed that we appear to be heading in the right direction (for now).

Drop the Negativity

Despite a resounding win against Reading it appeared a lot of supporters refused to give us credit yesterday. I heard one supporter (who was making his way out of the stadium early) comment on how we didn't play well, Reading just got worse as the game wore on. Now, to be brutally honest I've never heard so much nonsense and I heard/read a few people buy in to it as well. The truth is that yesterday was brilliant to watch, it was a nice stress free day - the sort that we used to churn out of a frequent basis. We controlled the game with 70% possession, the one touch passing was first class, the movement was effortless, we looked a threat on every attack, we had 26 attempts on goal and we made more completed passes in the final third (211) than they had in the entire game (199). How can you not give this side any credit? One thing that can't be denied is that we are in a much better place then we were at the start of the month. Games like this should be easier because we are superior but if you don't apply yourself correctly then slip ups happen - see the Fulham game at home for a prime example.

Key to our Success

There were some quality performances yesterday. Ramsey was superb throughout and rarely lost possession. Gervinho looked like a 10m pound footballer, as he was menacing throughout. Giroud provided a good axis for most attacks but the star of the show is our little Spaniard - Santi Cazorla. We've seem some great flair players down the years - Rocastle>Limpar>Bergkamp>Henry>Fabregas and many others but now we have Cazorla. His vision is sublime, his first touch is orgasmic and he certainly knows where the goal is. For a player to come to a different league and adapt as he has done is an achievement in itself, yes he had a mid-season lull but there are only two players that don't suffer that fate and they currently ply their trade in Spain. He's played 40 games this season and its nice to be able to rely on his services week in week out. I had concerns that he'd never managed to score more than nine goals in a season but he's smashed that with eight games to go. His assist yesterday was lucky, it was clearly a shot come cross but his goal was straight out of the top drawer. The view from the Clock End as he strikes the ball shows he has very little, if no room at all to hit the target but as we witnessed with Bergkamp, players get used as shields and before the keeper can see it the ball's already in the back of the net. He's been our best player this season and he's more important to this side than Wilshere, lets just hope he still has some goals and assists up his sleeve.

Cup Finals

Yesterday was the beginning of the old 'every game is a Cup Final cliche'. I didn't envisage us being apart of the race for Champions League qualification after our defeat earlier this month but we find ourselves in a position whereby, if we win every game we will finish at least 4th (due to Chelsea v 5pur2). That is incentive enough but I don't think this side is capable of winning ten games in a row. However due to our inability to stay in cup competitions, we find ourselves having plenty of rest and time to prepare for upcoming opposition. You have to favour Chelsea and 5pur2 to progress in the Europa League and both have already shown that they find it difficult to juggle between competitions.

Upcoming Fixtures:

West Brom v Arsenal  - 6th April
5pur2 v Everton - 7th April
Chelsea v Sunderland - 7th April
Arsenal v Norwich - 13th April
Arsenal v Everton - 16th April
Fulham v Chelsea - 17th April
Fulham v Arsenal - 20th April
5pur2 v City - 21st April
Liverpool v Chelsea 21st April

So we now play three games before 5pur2 even step foot on a Premier League pitch again, this could see us five points clear before the play City on April 21st. We have given ourselves a chance and unlike last season we need to put these opportunities away but you know fine well there will be some tears before bedtime.

Now I can't do a blog on the 31st March without mentioned David Rocastle. Today marks the 12th anniversary of his death and I thought the ovation that he received yesterday was amazing. Thanks to the efforts of RedAction & BlackscarfAFC for spreading the word, once it caught on yesterday it was quite a moment, as we remembered who we were, what we are and who we represented - Rocky, He will never be forgotten and I feel privileged to have seen him in an Arsenal shirt. He really was the real deal but sadly his career and life were tragically cut short. Sometimes there is more to football than winning. RIP Rocky.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

A Bold Approach

For far too long Arsene Wenger has handed far too many players undeserved second chances. This is a partly down to a lack of legitimate competition for places and also recognition of good form over the past few years. You can look at key games where we have failed and you look for accountability in the following game and rarely is anyone made an example of. If you play poorly, you should expect to be dropped but there have been far too many players that have become untouchable. Which is why heading into the tie against Bayern Munich I didn't think it was the time or the place to start changing it up as I thoroughly expected to be on the receiving end of a drubbing. I had a conversation with @modgooner within hours of kick off and we discussed what drubbing scoreline would you take before it got embarrassing. Mod took 3-0 Bayern and I took 4-0. Little did we know that Wenger was going to walk into one of his best tactical, yes tactical performances of the season.

Perfect Timing

Whilst it may have been crazy to suggest that we could drop two regular first teamers in Szczesny and Vermaelen, with hindsight it was the perfect time for change. Why? It was a safe environment to do so, we were expected to lose, so what risk was there? Very little. In a way Wenger had nothing to lose but everything to gain and didn't we gain an awful lot from Wednesday night? Players such as Carl Jenkinson and Lukasz Fabianski must have thought they'd play second fiddle for the rest of the season but after two consecutive clean sheets, how can we consider reintroducing Bacary Sagna? Wenger had to make that call earlier in the season and he didn't hesitate in dropping his newly crowned international defender. I just can't see his decision being that straightforward this time round. Jenkinson worried me earlier this season and it ended with his disaster against Swansea and I still have doubts about whether he can sustain such a lengthy period at right back but he certainly merits being in the starting eleven at present.


We suffered against Sp*rs in the North London derby and what was more frustrating was that you kind of suspected that little would change. Look at Laurent Koscielny, he has been on the outside looking in for the most part and his early season injury really has played a big part in his fall from grace. It was interesting reading Tony Adams'comments on all things Arsenal in his interview (here) with The Independant but more specifically when he discussed our centre halves strengths. He calls Mertesacker 'Zonal' and Koscielny a 'man to man' marker but he thinks that is a bad thing but then he did have partners of the calibre of Bould, Keown and Campbell. He doesn't comment on Vermaelen but he's a jack of trades and master of none, he couldn't read a book let alone an attack at present and his style of play is far too reckless, as demonstrated against Norwich last season. 1-1 with minutes remaining in the first half of a must win game and off he trots upfront, Norwich counter and we are 2-1 down. This side has given far too many stupid goals away and we seem to need to score at least two to win every game. Another big part of our own downfall is the poor form of Szczesny. He was like a breath of fresh air when he made his debut in the Premier League at Old Trafford. A player that wasn't phased by such a daunting task and he was our best player that night despite his inability to kick a ball. He was a keeper that won us games, something which Almunia rarely did. However, that habit has worn off and he has been costing goals, valuable points and places in cup competitions. When you look at the transition between Almunia to Szczesny it was never going to take much for us to upgrade in that area but we still don't have the calibre of keeper we need. I don't for one second think that Fabianski is the answer to our goalkeeping woes but at least Szczesny knows he has to up his game.

The Big Dilemma

There have been times when Wenger's selections have been puzzling to say the least, I put this largely down to the lack of reliable players as he never quite knows what his best side is. This is certainly the case at centre half. If you look back at a situation earlier this season, Per Metesacker was brilliant alongside Koscielny in our league game at The Etihad but then he was dropped in favour of Vermaelen returning for our next league game against Chelsea. That game against Chelsea was the first time Vermaelen/Koscielny would start a game together, so was it really any surprise we were all over the shop?

Here are some facts about our centre half partnerships this season
  • No clean sheets in the five games that Vermealen and Koscielny have played together.
  • Mertesacker and Vermaelen have the best win percentage - 52%
  • Mertesacker and Koscielny have avoided defeat in 92% of the games they have played together.
  • Mertesacker and Koscielny haven't lost a Premier League game in seven attempts
  • All seven defeats in the Premier League have involved Thomas Vermaelen.

Now you can manipulate statistics but one thing is clear is that Mertesacker and Vermaelen have had more than enough opportunities to forge a partnership together (twenty one games in total) and it looks like Wenger has had enoughtoo. It's no coincidence that two of our best displays this season both defensively and as a team were at City and Munich with Mertesacker and Koscielny at the heart of the defence. If you watch our opening goal against Bayern it sums up why they work. Mertesacker challenges in the air, Koscielny picks up the pieces and seven touches later it's in the back of the net.

I doubted Wenger's ability to make such important selection decisions and to be honest I couldn't have been any happier with possibly one of his boldest selections to date. I hope he continues with a unit that works, as it's not always about getting the best players, its about creating the best side. The challenge for us is whether we can sustain having a cohesive unit because inconsistency has haunted us for too long. One thing is for sure though, Wenger knows he has to start delivering and whilst it will be another trophyless season he can at least buy himself another opportunity to rebuild this side.

Sunday, 3 March 2013


It's been a good few weeks since my last blog, mainly because I didn't want to depress myself any further given our recent results. That said after yesterday's effort I just can't bite my tongue any longer. This team just isn't good enough. It doesn't matter which area of the pitch you look at, there are deficiencies galore. This can be down to the individual and most important in partnerships. We have some highly talented players in Wilshere and Cazorla but we've struggled at centre half and striking the right balance across the midfield and sadly they reared their ugly head again yesterday.

The Goals

The game summed us up perfectly. We dominated the game for thirty five minutes but we failed to capitalise. That's primarily why teams down the wrong end of the league lose games. Rarely do goals come out of the blue, then we concede goals in only a way that Arsenal can. A club famed for it's offside trap stood statuesque as Bale runs through unmarked. I didn't think it was offside at the game and had that confirmed via text but certain fans appeared to think there were two players offside. Now whether it was or wasn't offside, one thing doesn't change Bale wasn't tracked. It appeared that Arteta was assigned with knowing the whereabouts of Bale, as at one point in the first half we lost the ball on the edge of their box and Arteta did a full 360 degree turn trying to locate the Welshman. However we got ourselves in a position where Bale was between Arteta and Vermaelen and sadly there was only going to be one outcome. We got caught ball watching and Arteta,Vermaelen and Mertesacker were all undone and we fell behind. Then we commit the same offence but this time we had Monreal as chief culprit but again Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Arteta and Jenkinson all standing focusing on the ball. Then there's Szczesny, who made Lennon's task even easier. Empty net 2-0. I lost it, how naive can one side be? You cannot defend like that in the Championship and expect to get away with it. It smacks of poor players and lazy attitudes. We can't assume others will takeover the responsibility of marking and what Monreal was doing is beyond me, we just can't afford to play high risk offside traps. It appeared that Monreal was wanting to play offside for about five yards, it was obvious what was going to happen and Szczesny clearly wasn't paying that much attention either. Prior to the pass though we can focus on the lack of pressure on Scott Parker? He ran from just inside his own half and ended up threading, yes threading a ball through to Lennon. Did anyone challenge him or apply the slightest amount of pressure? No chance. Where's the tenacity to win the ball back? Who takes responsibility? The answer, nobody. When we concede there's never any accountability, ever. Vermaelen didn't know what day of the week it was when Lennon received that ball. We just turn around feeling sorry for ourselves and see how it goes.

The Selection

I think Wenger got the line up wrong as he has done on too many occasions this season. I think he went too conservative in the centre of midfield. Arteta-Ramsey-Wilshere is a combinations of players probably not playing in the strongest position. I see Ramsey as someone who can do the basics from a DM position and both Arteta and Wilshere should be competing for the lone centre midfield role. Cazorla is wasted on the left, especially against someone as pacey as Walker. My preferred selection would have been Ramsey-Wilshere-Cazorla with Podolski-Giroud-Walcott as our forward line. I'm not sure what Podolski has done wrong since Monreal joined, other than scoring twice but his lack of selection is mystifying. I don't like this chummy Monreal-Cazorla partnership, yes Podolski doesn't track back but that's why you have Wilshere and Ramsey on the cover. We were also happy enough to start Podolski ahead of Vermaelen against Bayern, who will arguably be our toughest opponent all season. After our comeback against Liverpool our front three proved the can turn a game on it's head but sadly since that game they haven't started a game together. We've actually taken apart something that was working. How does that make sense on any level? Yes, Giroud's performances haven't been good enough recently but then we get back to the lack of competition for places argument again. There are too many people that are in the comfort zone at Arsenal. This exists in the first team, on the bench, sat in the stands, sat in America, at the training ground and even at the bank. Who organises the defence? Come on, own up? It's a shambles. The standard of goalkeeping - pathetic. There is someone responsible and they are getting away with coining a living out of our football club.


Really, is there any point? Rosicky on for Jenkinson. Not a bad move, as its certainly more attacking but sadly players like Rosicky aren't good enough now. He gets a nice ride at Arsenal because he looks purposeful but when it comes to the final ball, it just isn't happening. There is always a clamour(on twitter) for Rosicky to start but it's another case of absence makes the heart grow fonder.Then with thirteen minutes remaining we through on Podolski for Arteta and he got a couple of sniffs but nothing significant. We didn't change our formation but we decided it would be a good idea to launch aimless balls to Giroud and hope to feed off the scraps but we didn't get close enough for the second ball. When a side gets away from it's biggest assets, it's often due to panic and a lack of ideas. We are certainly culpable on both counts. However, this isn't the reason why I want to mention our substitutions despite my quite obvious annoyance of the ones so far. We actually had one unused substitution today and that tells me exactly where this squad is. Our remaining attacking options were Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho which by the way is over 20m (combined) worth of subs. Now what ever we think of Gervinho (Yes,I know he's rubbish), Wenger bought him to create and score but in a situation where we need something he's stood warming up. Then there's Ox, who thankfully admitted to being in a period of bad form but surely one was worth a punt? We got ourselves back into a game but never looked like we'd equalise. Waiting seventeen minutes between changes lets the game drift by and doesn't force the oppositions hand.  In a big game, when did one of our substitutions last influence a game? I can't trawl games but I know it wasn't this season and probably not last season either. Giroud at present seems to fit the mould of being someone who can influence a game when he's introduced but I fear he's the next victim of the ever demanding Emirates crowd, despite posting decent numbers for a newcomer to the Premier League.

Just Win

After we squeaked past Aston Villa my phone was awash with texts/tweets saying a win is win etc etc. Which is very true but to be brutally honest, that's all we can hope for. This team isn't capable of delivering a high level of performance on a consistent basis. It's not like we are having a blip we are just managing to get by in each and every game. It seems fine when you do win but its only a matter of time before we slip up. The feeling at full time is more of relief than actual triumph.  Our run in may look easier than others but there are still games that stick out as being problematic - Swansea (A), Fulham (A), QPR (A), Newcastle (A) and that's without mentioning United (H) and I've just ran through half of our remaining games.


This situation has been brewing for a few seasons now and it finally looks like Wenger's going to come up short. We needed to avoid defeat more than we had to win the game yesterday but as usual we end up in the worst possible scenario. This team does not react well in the face adversity but here we are again. The best guide to the future is often the past but sadly last year was probably more down to them than it was us with a few games remaining. We need to get ourselves in a position to capitalise on Chelsea v Tottenham next month (We play Norwich the day before) but I must confess I don't see this becoming a realisation. Last week Wenger said we could catch City, maybe he meant that we would also not be playing European football but his tenure at Arsenal gets put under even more strain with every passing game and it looks more and more likely that we'll be playing on Channel 5 on a regular basis next season. I just wish this season was over so that we can attempt to rebuild this side and more importantly the club.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Andrè Santos - Why The Hate?

Today has been a good day for us as we've been able to move on a player that it surplus to requirements, admittedly only on a loan until the end of the season. The trouble is, I just don't get the level of hatred directed his way. I understand that his shirt swapping was bang out of order and his performance at Old Trafford left a lot to be desired but he wasn't the only one was he? Despite what many fans may think or should I say choose to ignore, is he actually strengthened our squad at a time when were completely flat but I'm going to look at his brief spell at Arsenal.

The Beginning

Off the back of our disastrous 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford the club decided to offload Armand Traore, who's finest action as an Arsenal man came when he walked down Seven Sisters road carrying a knuckleduster. He was shipped to QPR without a moments hesitation and then word starts to spread that we are in for a Brazlian left back from Fenerbahçe, with only Kieran Gibbs the only other left back it looked like we had some competition on our hands. What could go wrong?

It didn't take our new number eleven long to get the supporters on his side. A good overlapping run down the left, a nice pass to Chamakh, which he unsurprisingly didn't score with and the ball ricocheted to Santos, who cut took the ball from the byline, cut back on his right foot and slotted home. Santos only went on to score another two goals for us but they weren't exactly token gestures either, both were crucial equalisers. The first was at Stamford Bridge following fantastic play by Song, Santos kept his composure and slotted home to make it 2-2 and as we all know we went on to win 5-3 that day. His last goal also carried much more importance but more about that later.

The Injury

Due to another set back for Gibbs we found ourselves in a situation where Santos had to play in dead rubber game Champions League game in Greece. Now, if you can, take yourself back to that night and remember your reaction to the team news. We only had one left first team left back fit and he was selected, despite a later reliance on Miquel and Vermaelen at left back. Our worst nightmares were realised and Santos picked up an injury and he was to miss three months. To say twitter was in meltdown was an understatement, how could Wenger be so reckless in his team selection? Nothing was at stake other than a couple of hundred thousand for winning a game. Yet the injury to Santos was a massive blow and a poor run in January seemed to further reinforce the need for a recognised left back.

The Villain

The Emirates seems to crave the need to have a villain amongst our side. I did want to use the term pantomime villain but in truth the level of abuse makes it more serious than just a bit of banter. By the end of Santos' time at Arsenal he had displaced Ramsey at the top of the boo boys most wanted list. Now during his three month spell on the sidelines, we had the Arshavin incident against Manchester United at home. The Emirates was awash with fury and within two weeks the diminutive Russian made his way back to Zenit on loan. After his departure our home crowd had a new lease of life, the realisation of the effect sixty thousand fans can have had finally hit home. We had superb atmospheres in wins at home against Sp*rs, Milan and Newcastle. No preconceptions about any of the side, just a united support and not the murmurings of discontent we can often fall foul of. The point being that as fans seem to be easing off the back of Aaron Ramsey, there is no Santos or Chamakh. Will we see a return of such partisan support or will we have to identify a new player to tear strips off? We certainly have the opportunity to start in a positive way when we face Bayern Munich next week.

The Highlight

It is often forgotten that Santos started our biggest game of the season ahead of Keiran Gibbs. A win at West Brom secured automatic Champions League football. Santos got us level fifteen minutes after we fell behind, thanks to a decent strike from distance. Whatever you may think of the guy (no Santos like typo) he helped us achieve our goal last season and he made a massive contribution in that fixture, unlike many wasters that have at the club.

The Beginning of the End.

Well the RVP shirt swapping incident certainly caused a lot of commotion. I was at the game that day and I wasn't paying attention after the half time had blown and I had to rely on a text from a mate but I couldn't quite believe it had happened. Now having allowed a lot of time for the dust to settle, are we going to allow instances like this to define a players career at our club? Take the two players out of the equation for second (I know it's difficult) it's hardly the end of the world is it? However, I think once our support has made it's mind up there is no turning back, See the cases Adebayor, Eboue, Chamakh for further reinforcements on that viewpoint. Every mistake seems twice as bad and you can feel some of the crowd itching to pounce on every mistake. How does a player recover from that if he isn't given any room to manoeuvre?

The truth is Santos is nowhere near as bad as he has been portrayed by some sections of our support and nor was he good enough for our side but then there's a long list of players that haven't cut the mustard. This is a player who could have easily been given the nod at the start of the season, as the contest between him and Gibbs was extremely close to call. In fact I thought Santos would have edged it based on him being better going forward. He was suspect at defending but Gibbs isn't exactly solid as a rock but now we have Monreal to pin our hopes on. The fact is when it comes to Santos he benefited from prolonged spells in the first team, he always improved after a run of games, mainly because he seemed to look a bit trimmer more than anything else. Santos wasn't exactly afforded time like many others in the past and I just hope that we don't turn on other players that could go onto prove themselves and we couldn't just stick by them through the lows of a football career.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Jacked Up

A lot of talk this week has been about Jack Wilshere and his midweek performance has the media in a bit of a frenzy, especially when you consider England defeated Brazil. However, this isn't all about England, the main beneficiary of Wilshere's ability is Arsenal and I think that after just over three months since returning to our side, we are beginning to see Jack performing to the standard we've come to expect. Now of course Wednesday's performance against Brazil was impressive but if I'm honest,  I've seen him play better for us this season and I just want to focus on how he has improved as he's settled back into the side.

The Return

Jack returned at possibly the lowest point of our season to date. We had suffered consecutive defeats, initially away to Norwich, where Jack was an unused sub (I suspect Arsene intended on using him when we were 3-0 up with ten minutes to play) and then our home game to Schalke, which ultimately cost us top spot in the group. In truth the decision to play Wilshere from the start against QPR was classed as 'high risk' in my eyes. As with many games this was another 'must win' in October. Jack had a quite day, which is to be expected. He found his feet and tested Cesar with a decent effort in the first half and he went on to post some impressive stats for the game, he misplaced only three passes all game and only one misplaced pass out of twenty two attempts in their final third. It proved to be a good game to come back in as it was on open contest and thanks to a late goal mouth scramble and a fortunate non-offside call this result was not only big for the club but important for the reintegration of Wilshere into our suspect midfield.

The Lows
There have been some in Jack's short return to the side. His red card at Old Trafford came as the red mist descended due to weak refereeing and Jack took the law into his own hands. One thing is for sure, he is hot headed at times and we need him to mature quickly because not only can't afford we him to get sent off but miss potentially one to three games. He's also had moments like applauding the Mike Dean for dismissing Vincent Kompany, which is unnecessary but I put that down to a lack of professionalism and I'm sure he'll cut it out as he gets older. He was also apart of the Bradford shambles, let's not forget that whilst he is up there with Cazorla as our most talented player, this doesn't make us a one man team, far from it but it served as a timely reminder that we can't ever take things for granted but the Bradford defeat did provoke a reaction from some players, none more so than Lukas Podolski, who played his worst game in our colours that evening but he been in excellent form since.

The Passion

This is aspect that separates Jack from the rest of the side, his drive and passion to dig in when the chips are down is exactly what this side has been missing for far too long. We need leaders on the pitch, some can be vocal and some can galvanise others with their play on the ball. Wilshere provides both, I've seen him grill Podolski for not tracking back and lots of verbal exchanges with others (usually Gervinho) but he doesn't care who you are, if you aren't pulling your weight he isn't afraid to tell a few home truths. He's also taken the bull by the horns against Liverpool and City and drove at their defence to provide some form of reaction. Another aspect that sums up Wilshere's will to win is non-arsenal supporters hatred for him. Whether he's squaring up to Bale or Owen, he isn't bothered,he just shows fight and commitment and we as fans relate to that. He also has that arrogance that comes with being a top, top player and he's mainly disliked because opposition fans fear him. Much like the invincible side did at Old Trafford, whilst we were bang out of order that day, I felt proud that the team reflected the away ends feelings at full time, I absolutely loved it. We usually see it every season when this sides wilts under the first sign of pressure and you always like to think they care but when it comes to Wilshere it isn't even up for debate.

On The Up
Jack's finest hour since returning was probably the FA Cup replay against Swansea. He did all of the above in terms of grabbing the side by the scruff of the neck and dragging us into the next round. He capped a marvellous display with an absolute thunderbolt and he hasn't looked back since. If you want to analyse his progression from that QPR game then look at his stats against Stoke from last weekend. It was a dreadful game, as Stoke had their usual 'frustration formation' in full flow but Jack's pass completion was high and he had 41 touches in side their final third (compare that to the 22 v QPR). He's creating more and more opportunities as the games go by and with the mood our strike force is in, that can only be another massive positive. A lot of fans see Jack as the unofficial captain of Arsenal and it's difficult to get away from that, especially in games like Man City at home, he wasn't prepared to throw in the towel, when others appeared to have given up. We came up massively short that day but nobody had a bad word to say about him. You can more or less accept defeat if you see that the side have given their all but all too often we know that isn't the case and we can only hope his work ethic can prove to be infectious.

The Future
Well if you are an England supporter I'm sure a combination of Wilshere-Gerrard can go as far as they choose, I'm sure the England skipper sees a good few extra caps coming his way if he has his sidekick in centre midfield. I can't imagine Gerrard would be too impressed having to play centre midfield with Cleverley. Wilshere went up against Gerrard eight or nine days ago and he the Liverpool skipper just couldn't handle him and you can't put that down to an ageing Gerrard because he owned City's midfield on Sunday. Jack can do whatever he sets out to achieve and I hope we give him the resources in order to give him the platform he needs to reach his full potential because once the World Cup has been held in Brazil, we'll be fielding some very high offers. Maybe that's looking too far into the future but for now each game carries with it more and more pressure as the season really begins to hang on every result and we can ill afford anymore blips and an inform Wilshere can only help us kick on.

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