Friday, 23 December 2011
I had my doubts about us bringing him in given his lack of pace but overall I think he has made a valuable contribution to stiffening up the back line since September.
The best thing about Mertesacker is that he looks happiest doing the dirty jobs. Nothing appears to give him more pleasure than making an awkward, off-balance block or sticking his head on the end of a striker’s boot if it means danger is averted.
That is something our other defenders – apart from Vermaelen – don’t offer in abundance. And it would be a shame if people don’t give him a break and it starts to become an issue that affects his game.
Arsenal fans have garnered a reputation in recent years for getting on players’ backs. I understand it is usually through frustration with talented players like Arshavin who do things you would only expect of a semi-professional. But it would be a shame if it becomes a regular habit and we make life uncomfortable for the BFG.
This is a German international with nearly 80 caps for his country – he knows what he’s doing. If nothing else, give him a break because he’s not Sebastien Squillaci. Rather, Mertesacker has an air of no-nonsense dependability about him, something the likes of Adams and Bould used to carry.
As for the game itself, we may look back on it come the end of the season and see it as the biggest bonus points of the season. It would have been palatable to take just one point from a game that featured a reshuffled defence, an absent defensive midfielder and a Villa side that was well up for a challenge. Instead we snatched all three.
It revives the winning momentum we’d gained over the past couple of months and gives us a good foundation for the rest of the Christmas period when we should realistically claim all nine more points available.
Don't Bridge that gap, Arsene
I pray the Wayne Bridge speculation is the work of an agent desperately looking for his next pay day. Why would Wenger take on a washed-up defender on loan, even in a dire emergency? This sounds like I’m leading up to a joke where Sol Campbell’s return a couple of years ago is the punchline. But it’s not, because by the time he came back Sol had slipped to ‘good’ having once been ‘brilliant’. Bridge was only ever been average and, on the evidence of his performance for West Ham against us last season, he’s dropped to ‘liability’.
Liverpool’s own goal
Kenny Dalglish has always loved to foment a sense that Liverpool suffer from some kind of conspiratorial injustice. Usually referees are his biggest target but this time he’s taking on the whole of football – free the Suarez One.
If an Arsenal player had been suspended for eight games, my first instinct – like Liverpool’s players and fans – would be to rally behind him. But then I’d like to think I’d also consider why he has been banned and I’d step back from championing the cause of someone found guilty of racially abusing an opponent.
Yes, Suarez’s case is based on hearsay evidence but, since we’re not talking about a player with an exemplary disciplinary record (as the victims of his proud goal-line handball, shoulder biting and one-finger salute will testify) the context changes.
I definitely wouldn’t Arsenal players and manager to stick up for their player so publicly and prominently by wearing t-shirts with his name and number on the back and taking every opportunity possible to speak out on his behalf. They could do what they want behind closed doors but by bringing their support into the public glare they’ve made a mistake. One that I wouldn’t be disappointed to see lead to more disciplinary action.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
It isn’t often nowadays that I agree with Arsene’s summary of a match but his judgement on the Man City performance was spot on – encouraging, but we needed points as well as encouragement.
The key difference between the two sides was our inability to convert good opportunities into chances.
Too often Gervinho and Ramsey would make a bad choice or fail to execute after making the right decision, leaving Van Persie lacking ammo. From recollection he only had one real chance while Aguero had several – if we could have carved out the same number perhaps we would have got a point or more.
In fairness to Man City I thought they defended well and Kompany and Zabaleta, in particular, locked down their left side and allowed Walcott virtually no room for manoeuvre.
The immediate impact, which again Wenger admitted, is that any faint hope of a title challenge is all but mathematically snuffed out with the defeat.
But there is no reason why the team can’t still draw strength from the performance. Despite fielding a defence which required yet another rejig after Djourou became the latest injury casualty, we hung on in there against a side that has been blowing away other opponents.
At times we almost stretched to snapping point as we chased an equaliser a little too desperately but overall we showed more resilience than we have in other big away games in recent years. It is something we have shown consistently now for a few months – perhaps coaching and organisational changes have been made and are having an effect, though we shouldn’t overlook how big a factor a fit Thomas Vermaelen is.
Anyway, now any dreams of the title are over, the target is clear – fourth place and a Champions League place. We need to start another run of wins quickly, hopefully with the trip to Villa tonight. The absence of the suspended Song, coupled with a depleted defence, makes it tricky but we can’t afford to let the mini-revival go to waste.
Sunday, 18 December 2011
Today, in Man City, we face the best team we’ve come across all season and it will be an acid test for what we should hope for in the rest of the campaign.
Part of me knows this remodelled Arsenal has not faced a team of this quality during our mini resurgence and it could provide a harsh reality check. Part me of me also knows that we are weakened by Santos’ absence and the likely re-shuffling of defenders it will cause.
And yet part of me also has a belief that the maturity now being shown by the team and the desire to keep winning – together with the body blow that Man City took in losing for the first time – may be enough to spring a surprise. There’s been a definite change in the team compared to the gloom I was expecting us to descend into after the Man U, Blackburn and Spurs defeats.
Winning this match would suddenly make a title challenge an outside possibility, closing the gap to top spot to just six points. I can’t convince myself we have enough quality in depth to maintain our form until May but a victory would feel like a salvage job of some of the points thrown away at the start of the season, before our transfer deadline deals were made.
Overhauling Man City would involve turning their blip of the Chelsea defeat into a wobble and watching it grow into a crisis. With the array of talent they possess and their Invincibles-like one-touch passing style, they look certain to claim the title otherwise. At least we don’t have to worry about ensuring the unbeaten record of the Invincibles’ will remain unique in the history books for another year.
All a defeat today would cost us is ground in the race for fourth – you can’t imagine there being any lasting mental damage from losing to the title favourites – and confirm that is the height of our ambitions for the remaining 22 games (at least five losses before Christmas is not the record of champions-elect).
A win followed by a decent Christmas and some January reinforcements would make life much more interesting, though.
Podolski is not the German we need
Talking of the January sales, I was glad Wenger gave short shrift to the possibility of a move for Lukas Podolski when he was asked about it on Friday. Podolski has never really impressed consistently and reminds me of a less skilful Jose Antonio Reyes – very quick and with a powerful shot but lacking in guile and craft. We’ve already got one left foot cannon up front and we don’t need another (unless Van Persie doesn’t sign that contract…).
The Bundesliga striker I’d prefer is Marko Reus of Borussia Moenchengladbach. It is usual for the best of the lesser German clubs to be picked up by Bayern Munich but we’ve been linked with him quietly and from what I’ve seen of him he would be a great addition to the front line. Small, quick, technical and adaptable, he represents the new type of player that is favoured in the modern 4-3-3 formation – not a striker, not a winger, not an ‘in the hole’ man, just an attacker who creates and scores.
If we really do want to make a title push a couple of players of his quality are required, regardless of the outcome today.
Thursday, 8 December 2011
All right, I know I shouldn’t get carried away since the two favourites, Barcelona and Real Madrid, look to be head and shoulders above the rest. Were we to face either of them over two legs I couldn’t predict anything for us except more disappointment.
But with a kind draw and a continued improvement in defence, we look capable of repeating our run to the final in 2005/06, hopefully this time going one step better.
The similarities can be seen in our league performance so far – after 14 games back then we had struggled to adjust to the loss of our captain and collected 26 points, winning eight and losing four, the same as today.
The main difference between the two campaigns was that we had a much meaner defence back then.
But over the last few matches the current unit has looked increasingly solid. Whether it can replicate the string of clean sheets that led us to Paris is doubtful but with the Manchester representatives now plying their trade on Channel 5 on a Thursday night I’m a lot more confident.
Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Where would we be if we’d managed the summer transfers better?
The recent run of positive performances following the Spurs defeat showed that the last minute transfers of Mertesacker and Arteta, and to a lesser extent Santos, have improved the team. The maturity and ‘been there, survived that’ experience they bring to the side has definitely contributed to our wins.
It just reinforces how badly we handled the summer transfer window. As I said at the time, it made no sense to bring in players of their stature – good professionals who see joining Arsenal as a move up the ladder regardless of whether we’re in the Champions League or not – so late in the day. They would have come as the final whistle blew at the end of last season if we’d gone for them with as much conviction as we did Gervinho. And there is no sense that waiting so late saved us a couple of million.
Now we are counting the cost – I would have expected us to put up a far stronger showing in the Old Trafford massacre and the home defeat to Liverpool with those three available. And although they played against Blackburn, the stupid loss there may have been avoided if they’d had time to adapt. Those nine points could be very costly come May.
What happens when Van Persie gets injured?
In short, we slip down the table given the goal-scoring form of Gervinho and Chamakh. At the start of the season I said we were Robin reliant and he needed a ‘player of the season’ year if we were to achieve anything. So far he has delivered exactly that. He is being managed with kid gloves to keep him fit and we can only hope that remains the case. How that can continue up to and during the business end of the season is a mystery to me.
How much do we miss Wilshere?
Even more than I was expecting. Wenger could never have planned to lose Jack for so long – what looked like a pretty innocuous pre-season injury has turned into a five-month absence. With him we would have accrued more points, as simple as that. His reputation has grown as we have struggled without him and you sense he will thrive on that on his return.
What has happened to Arshavin?
Who knows but it’s sad to see him playing so poorly. Last season he began to be sloppy regularly – five yard passes going awry, poor decision-making – but now he just looks completely devoid of confidence and form. It must be pretty embarrassing for him to be continually coming on as a sub with 15 minutes to go and you get the feeling he will be looking to escape in January.
Can Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain play together?
Both have looked good on the wing and AOC looks like a natural playmaking midfielder, while Theo is more of an impact weapon. Theo has improved this year, providing a number of assists but ultimately you sense AOC will be the better player in that position. It’s a good problem but one that has a messy ending if it is a straight choice between the two as a starter. Remember Theo’s contract is up for negotiation in the summer as well.
Why was Yossi Benayoun captain last night?
A minor point, but picking a guy who has played nine games for the club (including six substitute appearances) and is currently on loan from one of our biggest rivals is ridiculous. Wenger has always treated the role of captaincy too lightly – or, to put it differently, he has always underestimated how beneficial picking the right captain could be – and Benayoun taking the armband against Man City reflects that.
Are we going to finish in the top four?
Despite the pretty gloomy tone to this assessment, we are only three points off fourth place and are level with Liverpool. The Scousers and Spurs both appear more dynamic in attack than us and Liverpool have Gerrard to come back while Spurs have weapons from all directions – Bale, Defoe, Adebayor, Lennon. But you wouldn’t bet against them both hitting sticky patches – the question will be whether we will be close enough to take advantage.
What about Europe?
The major plus point to the season so far is going one better than last year and securing top spot in the Champions League group. By avoiding Barcelona and Real Madrid (and Man U, of course) we’ve got a great chance of making the last 16. It will depend on who we draw but the increased assuredness we are playing with thanks to the older heads in the team suggests we might be well placed for making our best fist of Europe for four or five years.
Will Wenger be our manager come the summer?
If the question was ‘should Wenger be our manager’ I would answer with much more conviction: no. I think the time has come for a change regardless of whether we finish fourth or not. Our attacking football is not as free-flowing and exciting as it once was, our defence is still leaky and as many players are getting worse (or at least not getting markedly better) under his watch (Arshavin, Chamakh, Rosicky, Diaby, Squillaci etc) as are improving.
Whether he will be in post depends almost entirely on the fourth spot – make that and he’ll almost certainly still be there. If not, and especially if the challenge in the cups peters out again, I think he will feel his time is up and the board will agree with him. The decision will always be his and the directors will listen to him, as always.
Carlo Ancelotti is going out of his way to remind people of his passion for English football and his devotion to improving his language skills. He is waiting for a chance at, one imagines most realistically, Spurs, Liverpool or Arsenal. I can’t see any reason why having him at the helm would put us in a worse position.
Monday, 31 October 2011
Words: 444. Estimated reading time: 1 minute 35 seconds.
What a crazy game. Between a big club and a small club the basketball-like ebb and flow would be surprising but between two of the traditional big four it was just madness. Ultimately very satisfying madness, but still madness.
Back in November 2004 when we beat Spurs 5-4, Jose Mourinho said - if memory serves me right - he didn't need to see the game to know the defending was dreadful. The result this Saturday was one goal different but you could draw pretty much the same conclusion.
But let's try and forget the 'all or nothing' approach each back line opted for and instead revel in winning one of the big away games of the season, something we've only done three times in the seven seasons since the Invincibles.
The tempo we played at, the effort put in and the attacking technique shown was top class - think of Ramsey's through ball to Gervinho for our opening goal, Song's instant turn and pass to set up Santos for his goal or the number of times Arteta nicked possession and moved the ball in the blink of an eye.
And of course there is RVP. At the start of the season I said we had been left Robin-reliant because of our transfer dealings and so it has proved. Thankfully, at present he is also delivering the kind of performances I was hoping for, ones that will be the difference between us winning and losing and that earn him player of the year plaudits.
He isn't the only player hitting top form, though. Gervinho's movement and pluck is making chances, Walcott made two of his finest ever crosses and scored a wonderful solo goal, Ramsey is keeping possession much more regularly and Koscielny has put in a string of solid performances.
Of course we mustn't get carried away. The defensive co-ordination was non-existent for much of the first half and we continue to look vulnerable.
But taking this game as part of a series that runs from Marseille away, through Stoke at home last weekend and Bolton in midweek, the team has shown all the attributes it needs to turn this season around - a conservative, mature 1-0 away win, deservedly overcoming a physical and well-organised team that is happy to take a point from Ashburton Grove, a comeback win and out-scoring the third-favourites for the title.
When I think back to how depressed I was before that set of games and how pessimistic I felt about the rest of our season, Wenger deserves credit for instilling belief into his players and making sure things should remain interesting for the next couple of months at least.
Friday, 21 October 2011
271 words. Estimated reading time: 1 minute.
One-nil. It has a special resonance; ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’ sounds even better. Winning by the narrowest, meanest margin provides food for the soul. It is proof that you are capable of going on your travels and do literally just enough to claim victory.
The win over Marseille certainly qualified as doing just enough. Neither team covered themselves in glory in what was a dull game which we nicked in injury time.
But dull is exactly what this team needs at the minute. Looking generally solid at the back, keeping clean sheets and grinding victories out will offer far more of a long-term confidence boost than hammering somebody by four or five.
This sort of win has been conspicuous by its absence throughout Wenger’s reign and none more so than the past couple of years.
Our last 1-0 away win came on September 26, 2009, at Fulham which equates to (by my swift calculations) 59 games. By way of comparison, over the same period Chelsea won 1-0 away twice, Spurs three times and Man Utd six times.
Admittedly, you can argue that we’ve done better than them by winning 2-0 or even 3-0 away when those three have earned victory with only a single goal. But I’d maintain that nothing gives the same psychological nourishment as 1-0.
If we are to achieve anything this season it is performances like these that we’ll have to rely on, at least over the next few months. It came after a similarly hard-earned win against Sunderland on Sunday. We need to keep the momentum going and be happy with a reputation for being conservative.
Monday, 3 October 2011
Friday, 30 September 2011
It is timely that our chances of re-signing ‘star’ players in the final two years of their contract come into the spotlight with the North London derby looming. Our opponents on Sunday had a wage bill £43m smaller than ours in 2009/10 – but arguably now have a stronger squad.
Wenger said last week, in relation to Vermaelen, Song, Walcott, Arshavin and Van Persie, that he ‘can’t say today that if we go to the maximum we are sure to sign the player’ and that making maximum offers to Fabregas and Nasri did not work.
In essence he was admitting two things – firstly, the days of him convincing players they should stay at the club for job satisfaction reasons rather than money is no longer working and, secondly, that our hope that moving to Ashburton Grove would give us the money to keep up with the finances of other major clubs is dead.
The second point is not too surprising if we compare ourselves to the ‘petro-fuelled’ clubs out there but we have the fifth highest wage bill in the Premiership at £111m.
Our final league standing over the past few seasons has been higher than that 5th position so we have been ‘over-achieving’ in one sense.
But that brings me to Spurs. Their wage bill in the same period was £68m. No doubt it will have risen considerably since then given they took part in the Champions League and signed players like Van Der Vaart and Gallas but it won’t be £43m higher. And yet they now go into Sunday’s game as favourites and have their best chance of finishing above us for years – assessing the quality of the squads, Tottenham are probably stronger on an individual basis but we have more depth.
This summer Spurs managed to keep their two best players – Modric and Bale – while we lost two of ours. Admittedly Modric wanted to go to Chelsea and they will need to give him a massive pay rise to keep hold of him. But what’s to say they won’t be able to do it if they do qualify for the Champions League this season?
Total wages spent compared to results achieved is a fairly basic criteria for assessing success but the sad conclusion to draw is that in the past few years Harry Redknapp has shown better judgement in using his resources than Wenger.
And as a result, I go into Sunday’s game fearful. The wins over Bolton and Olympiakos after the Blackburn farce are hopefully the beginning of a run of performances. But Spurs must still be scenting blood after our recent away displays and they will take delight in killing off our hopes of resurgence.
What we must hope is that the experienced players brought in at the close of the transfer window are up for a fight. Lingering at the back of my mind is one thought: when was the last time we went into a game as underdogs and won?
Saturday, 17 September 2011
Friday, 16 September 2011
Thursday, 8 September 2011
Monday, 29 August 2011
Words: 370. Estimated reading time: 1 minute 20 seconds.
Yes, the scoreline is shockingly dreadful but with the team we had to field yesterday it’s not bringing tears to my eyes.
Friday, 26 August 2011
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Friday, 19 August 2011
Sunday, 14 August 2011
After an uninspiring summer and week of doubts about our top-four credentials, our point at Newcastle was encouraging.
Friday, 12 August 2011
Friday, 22 July 2011
Any hope I had that the dreadful end to last season would give Wenger the push he needed to change his ways has disappeared.
Thursday, 2 June 2011
Saturday, 28 May 2011
As the dust settles on our season, it is time to reflect and see where things went right and wrong – and judge whether Arsene Wenger’s assessment is correct.
Friday, 20 May 2011
Saturday, 14 May 2011
There is a supporter protest planned at Ashburton Grove tomorrow. In my eyes it’s futile but at least shows how close to boiling point everyone’s ire has become, mainly because of a crisis in confidence.
Monday, 2 May 2011
Tuesday, 26 April 2011
In an effort to find out whether we can learn anything about what impact Stan Kroenke will have on Arsenal, I contacted supporters from the other sports clubs he owns. Their responses were interesting, and at least don’t give me any concerns that he’s a tyrant in disguise.
Thursday, 21 April 2011
Words: 552. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes.
A certain amount of pride was restored with a full-blooded performance at Spurs last night but for the third time this season, and the fifth time in the past two campaigns, we’ve let a two-goal advantage slip away.
Monday, 18 April 2011
Words: 396. Estimated reading time: 1 minute 25 secs.
Conceding an equaliser in the 101st minute of a 90th minute game, 240 seconds after taking the lead, would usually be labelled as ‘unbelievable’. But for this current set of Arsenal players, who specialise in giving away bizarre last minute goals, it is just plain believable.
Monday, 11 April 2011
Any change in ownership of Arsenal is a landmark in the club’s history but our - albeit limited - familiarity with Stan Kroenke means his takeover today does not feel that momentous. Not least because it seems to promise more of the same ways the club is run (whether we want it or not).
Friday, 8 April 2011
The current bitterness everyone is feeling about our lack of silverware regularly leads to not only a lack of sympathy from non-Arsenal supporters, but also accusations that fans are acting like spoiled brats. While I don’t deny we are in a better position than 90 per cent of clubs, the moans and groans are not wholly unjustified.
Sunday, 3 April 2011
Words: 584. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 5 seconds
For a team purporting to be still fighting for the title race, Arsenal never looked seriously competitive in a game that just reinforced the growing sense that we are witnessing the end of the Wenger era.
Saturday, 12 March 2011
Reading time: 2 minutes 20 secs
Until very recently this season could be classified as a relative success but after a cup final defeat and another European failure on our travels, I now notice we are one point worse off in the league than this time last year. So how should we view this campaign?