Left-Back Worries Me

It’s a strange world that we live in. We can get a man on the moon but can’t get one on Rosie O’Donnell. Last night, we were told that Vermaelen had broken his leg thus ending his season. Today he’s OK.

It’s a strange world.

So Arsenal drew 0-0 away to Aston Villa. This has caused some Arsenal fans to have heart attacks. Two reasons why: Last night Chelsea won and on Sunday Arsenal were knocked out of the FA Cup – by playing a bunch of rookie teenagers.

Throw-in Stoke now play away to Man City in the 5th round. They’re out and will now play the rest of the season trying to stay in the Premiership.

If Arsenal were still in the FA Cup then I think yesterday’s 0-0 draw at Villa would have been deemed a decent result. But Arsenal have now gone two games without a win and for some Gooners that’s a crisis. Villa have beaten Chelsea, Man United, Liverpool and drawn with Man City. They’ve only conceded seven goals at home in the Premiership.

With the injury scare to Vermaelen and the disappointment by some Arsenal fans in losing out to Man United in the signature of Chris Smalling, calls have been made for Arsene Wenger to sign someone – anyone.

The striker position is the number one area that Arsenal fans want a signing made – even though Arsenal already score a ton of goals. And what striker should Wenger sign? Eduardo is now injured but while Bendtner is back, expecting him to play twice a week for four months is asking too much.

The other alternatives are Vela and Walcott who seem to do better on the wings and are not yet the answer.

The positions that concern me the most are goalkeeper and left-back. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Almunia will not be replaced this season. I therefore hope that he rediscovers the form that got him the man of the match award against Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final 1st leg last season.

The left-back spot is more of a worry. Traore has shown that he is not a left-back. His positioning is poor and his marking is even worse. Clichy had a poor game last night and has not been the same player of two seasons ago. He’s only just got back from injury so maybe with a run of games, he will find his form.

The plus side for the defence is the return of Song and Eboue. Song in particular will provide defensive cover and muscle – something that we lacked against Stoke.

Rio Ferdinand is banned for Sunday’s game for deliberately elbowing a Hull City player in the face. Until the FA had charged him for his cowardly act, nothing was mentioned in the media or by Hull City boss Phil Brown. During that game, Man United scored a goal while a Hull player was down injured. Again, nothing was mentioned of this incident by Phil Brown or the media.

Sky Sports have been banned by Alex Ferguson from attending any post match interviews because of their continual coverage of the Tevez/Gary Neville spat. Ferguson did a similar thing to the BBC. Therein lies your reason behind the silence of Phil Brown and the media towards Manchester United. Ferguson holds too much power.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Lord Acton 1887

Keep it Arsenal

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Time Waits For Nobody

The trophy pictured above is from the 03-04 Invincibles triumph. Red and White ribbons haven’t been attached to the trophy since.

In that miraculous season, we had wrapped up the league with four games to spare. At that moment, with the FA Cup and Europe no longer possibilities, the team could have relaxed and taken it easy. To an extent, they did, but they had a bigger target in mind, immortality. Their names would already be in the history books, but here was an opportunity to write an entire chapter of English football, something that will probably never be achieved in England again. With that pursuit in mind, Arsenal pressed on and completed the Invincible season. They defined themselves as legends.

As Wenger’s new experiment is rapidly approaching the maturation date, we currently stand level with Chelsea (albeit with one more game played) and two points behind United (but we have a game on them). We have an opportunity to score a resounding victory for football by wresting the Premier League trophy from the clutches of Manchester United.

These next four games will not decide the season, but they very well might define the season. Wenger has placed his faith in these players over and over again, refusing to sign players both out of principle and belief. They are the players who will be responsible for Wenger signing off in a blaze of glory or trailing off like a failed idealist.

In life and in sports, you are sometimes fortunate enough to get a small window where you can either succeed or fail. Of course, it’s somewhat foolish to define things in those terms. There are many players who never get to play in a Champions League game. There are athletes whose careers have been destroyed by injury. There are wonderful players, like George Weah, who have never played in a World Cup. Circumstances decide what situations can be defined as successes and failures.

And in that regard, we can already regard Wenger’s experiment to be a success. They have thrilled neutrals and played with a style that Wenger refuses to abandon. They have proven that a team can compete without being financially irresponsible. Others see it differently. Others see a defiantly stubborn man who has thrown away opportunities to win real trophies, charges that were leveled at Arsene as recently as Sunday when we lost to Stoke in the FA Cup. Wenger has shown the courage to laugh in the face of his critics and believe in this team.

In the next four games, the players at Arsenal FC will be given the choice to be regarded as championship material or pretty pretenders. Make no mistake, this team will challenge for the next few years, but there is no moment like the present. We do not know what will happen in the future. Cesc Fabregas may be swayed by Spanish riches. William Gallas may seek a different challenge. Tomas Rosicky might suffer a career ending injury. Arsene may lose his passion in the game. None of these scenarios are likely, but we cannot predict the future.

Teams and athletes often come to a crossroads. They are greeted with challenges that will define their careers. Great players can break through and become legends, while “just good enough” players enjoy their time being some kid’s fifth favorite player on a team before they ride out their mediocre careers.

As it stands, this Arsenal team of the past few years have given us personal memories that will never be forgotten. What they have not done is write themselves into the history books so that everyone else can remember as well. I believe that Wenger’s experiment will be remembered forever, but I do not want to read an epilogue in a book that tells us that it ultimately failed. The onus is on the players. The chance to play for Arsene Wenger comes but once in life. The difference between immortality and mere greatness is definitive success.

It is time for this team to make a clear statement. That begins against Villa.

Post Match View – Aston Villa F.C.

‘From now on until March in this championship the consistent team will get it.’ – Arsene Wenger

Cesc played less than 30 minutes. Nevertheless his quality was clear to see. Two chances, two chances taken. Thank you very much!

Earlier in the year, I called for him to regain proper form, to show consistency. He has done that and more. Unless my count is wrong, he’s on 12 goals and seven assists in 22 appearances so far. His cameo today showed what he means to this team. We might have beaten Villa anyway but Cesc’s contribution ruined Martin O’Neill’s day. For me, that was special.

Beating Villa has sent them a message of intent and perhaps also to those above us. Considering our injury situation, Almunia’s mistakes, Eduardo and Theo being off form, we’ve made a point about our quality. Real consistency however is shown over time so let’s watch and see how things develop.

Abou Diaby has played another good game. The way he shut the door with that excellent run through Villa’s midfield exposed their soft center. I’d be very concerned about how easily that happened if I were a Villa fan. I’d be looking for answers if I were Martin O’Neill, but considering he didn’t mind conceding the last two goals because they “were chasing the game,” maybe he won’t be.

No matter what the score, when a player runs through you like Cesc did against Tottenham earlier this season and how Diaby has done versus Villa, questions must be asked. O’Neill also stated that “even at 1-0 the game could have gone either way.” Maybe! But what he failed to admit is that if Eduardo had taken his chance in the opening minutes, his side would have had a mountain to climb right from the start.

We’ll pay a price for Cesc’s heroics. How long he’s out for is up in the air – a week, ten days, 3 weeks. Given the result, the risk might turn out to be a chance that was well worth taking.

Aston Villa – I Can Hardly Wait

Yesterday, today, tomorrow, forever, it doesn’t matter when. The anticipation leading up to kick off is almost indescribable. I won’t waste time trying to find words. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you know just what I’m feeling. The difference today is that this particular fixture has taken on an entirely new meaning since 15 November, 2008.

When I took my seat at the Emirates that night – wicked seat by the way, thanks to fellow Gooner Rich – I felt no different to any other time I’d been to an Arsenal match. I was excited, pumped up and ready to go. I was equally confident, even if quietly so. My view of the opponent is always the same. I never think of losing.

I’d never seen Arsenal lose a match before, not reserves, not first team, never. We’d drawn here and there but never lost. It was a record in which I took as much pride as a non-playing participant could do.

Aston Villa were never a club that gave me much angst. I even pulled for them to win it all back in ’93 when they finished second to United. We were not even close that season, finishing 16 and 18 points behind third placed Norwich and second placed Villa, respectively. The Champions finished 28 points ahead of us. I desperately wanted someone to catch them. As long as it wasn’t Spurs, I didn’t care who did.

I’ve dealt with last season’s defeat to Martin O’Neill but let’s be clear, the bitter taste lingers even if the pain has subsided. The fact that there was a significant amount of turmoil going on inside our club at the time, some of which we’d learn more about after the fact, hasn’t helped me accept that we were soundly beaten that day.

I remember the mass hysteria amongst a large section of Arsenal fans last season as much as I do the humiliating defeats to Chelsea and United. I remember the cries for Arsene to step down. After Agbonlohor scored the second Villa goal, a guy seated near me stood up and shouted, “WHAT NOW WENGER?” The look on his face was representative of how a lot of Gooners felt. I remember having to accept another season without a trophy. It all hurt. Walking back to the tube station that night was awful.

There are a few new faces in both sides this time around. Most notably, Villa have a resurgent Richard Dunne. We have Andrey Arshavin. Alex Song was an unused sub last season. Oh how things have changed where he’s concerned.

Gareth Barry was very good for Villa that night. Agbonlohor was at his Formula 1 best. Gael Clichy and William Gallas were not. Alex Song’s and Andrey Arshavin’s presence will make a significant difference tomorrow. I also feel that Friedel is not the same keeper who kept out Thierry Henry efforts for fun over the years. He pulled off one of the best saves I’ve ever seen in this fixture last season when he palmed away a superb header by Togo. The big keeper has still got loads to offer but we’ve also seen some erosion of that ability.

There’s the pride factor on our side. Villa came into our homes and spanked us good. That needs to be addressed. We were all pretty bad that day.

I’ve called for more urgency, more heart, more commitment from our boys in recent weeks. They’ve responded but the consistency of a champion is still missing. Villa is a must, must win tomorrow. It’s a fantastic opportunity to put some distance between us and a team that can boast victories over Liverpool, Chelsea, and United.

They’ve also lost to Wigan, Blackburn, and West Ham so they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And after all, they are managed by Martin O’Neill. Nuff said!

COME ON ARSENAL!!!

Confidence Returns

“Cunt” is a misunderstood word. When I think of a “cunt” I don’t think of a female vagina. Instead, I think of Phil Brown, Wayne Rooney, Nick Barmby, David Bentley or Gary Neville. The list is endless.

On Sunday, Gabby Agbonlahor – a man who looks like an abortion that survived – will try and replicate his goal at The Emirates last season. Villa beat Arsenal 2-0 that day with Agbonlahor’s pace causing all sorts of problems. Villa also missed a penalty and deserved their victory. This time it’s revenge.

I’ve never liked Villa. In the Christmas game of 1998, I watched Arsenal lose 3-2 away at Villa Park after leading 2-0 at half-time. At half-time, Villa had hired a team of skydiving Santa’s to parachute onto the Villa pitch. One of the Santa’s on his approach hit the roof of one of the stands and dropped to floor like a dead stone. He was hospitalized with half-time being extended by an extra 30 minutes. This worked well for Villa who came out flying with Stan Cuntymore scoring twice in a game Arsenal should have won. In the away section, we Arsenal fans were pelted with coins by Villa fans in the seats above us. They also sang England songs all afternoon as well chants about Arsenal being a bunch dirty foreigners. To add insult to injury, we were kept behind by stewards and police who treated us like concentration camp prisoners.

Villa are a team of divers. If you breathe on Heskey, Agbonlahor, or Ashley Young, they will fall to the floor like that skydiving Santa did back in 1998. Especially the latter two. Petrov also likes to take a tumble but usually outside of the penalty area. From the resulting free-kick by Milner or Young, Villa will try and score from a header by Carew.

Defensively, Villa are good. Brad Freidel is better than Almunia and Richard Dunne seems to be having some sort of revival.

But I feel Arsenal have turned a corner with their victory over Hull City. The ruck seems to have galvanized the lads and confidence seems to have returned to certain players. Almunia played better after his penalty save. He looked more confident on crosses and started to command his area with authority. Eduardo needed a goal. As a striker, doubt creeps in when you have a scoreless streak. His goal will bring back his self-belief which should lead to the Brazilian/Croatian going on a scoring spree.

Diaby last Saturday won the free-kick that led to Arsenal’s first goal. He then assisted in the second goal and scored the third. Not bad for a man coming back from injury. I always feel that Diaby plays better when Cesc is not playing. His best position is the one that Cesc plays in. He seems to be a player that does well in a more attacking role.

Many Gooners are looking at the January transfer like a man on death row looks at a pair of perfect breasts. They are drooling over signings in the striker department.

I’m not. We are covered in that area.

But in the center-back area we are not. If Gallas or Vermaelen get injured, Arsenal are fucked. We only have emergency cover. I hope that Wenger signs a center-back otherwise Arsenal will be like a man who has just been diagnosed with cancer but who has no medical insurance.

It worries me.

Last word: Tomas Rosicky is stalling on signing a new contract. Fucking unbelievable! The man should be begging Arsenal for a new contract not the other way around.

Keep it Arsenal

2009/10 Season Preview Part One

The new season starts on Saturday. Instead of looking at the current Arsenal squad, I am going to concentrate on the so-called Battle For 4th Spot. Starting with:

ASTON VILLA
Martin O’Neill is another Phil Brown but slightly tamer. Remember his gay celebrations when Villa scored against us? I do. What about when he fronted Wenger on the touchline at Villa Park? Acting hard and talking up his team is what Martin O’Neill is all about. He sounds just like Phil Brown.

Villa deserved to beat us at The Emirates 2-0 back in December, but the 2-2 draw at Villa Park was my lowest point of last season.

I want revenge.

I want James Milner and Ashley Young to suffer pain. Remember Villa were shocking in the second half of last season. So why believe the hype surrounding them? After all, they have a 40 year old keeper, lost their captain, signed an expensive crock and a teenager who has only played Division 1 football. Delph has been bought to replace Ashley Young who will join one of the big four next summer – and that big four does not include Villa.

Villa won’t be the surprise that they were last season. Wankers.

EVERTON
Tough first game of the season. But Everton away is always a tough fixture. I would rather play Everton now, when the weather is still nice and the pitches are in good condition, than in the winter. Last season, van Persie scored a last minute equalizer in the January fog after that Aussie, Cunthill scored from a corner. Everton are another team tipped to take 4th spot from Arsenal. This is because they finished 5th in the Premiership and reached the FA cup final after knocking Man United’s reserves out in a semi-final penalty shoot out.

I’m not a big Everton fan. They play long ball and rely on crosses and set pieces for goals. David Moyes seems like a drill Sargeant and Phil Neville is scum. Jo is their only signing and Lescott looks as though he’s off to Man City, only to be replaced by Senderos. Hardly an improvement. 4th spot – fuck off.

SPURS
Palacios is a good signing but Bassong will be another Dawson. After all, he played for Newcastle and helped them get relegated. Peter Crouch is awkward and a threat in the air, but he’s not Luis Fabiano. The Scum also signed two unknows from Sheffield United who will turn out be the new Bale and Bostock – nobody’s in other words. Spurs will not have the terrible start to the season that they had last year. However, they will never make the top four either.

Carling Cup finals provide The Scum with a false sense of superiority. Harry Redknapp is now expected to provide Scum fans with the 4th spot that they so badly crave. If he can’t deliver, he will join his thicko son Jamie as a pundit and quit coaching. Last season, The Scum got a lucky 4-4 draw. That chav Bentley went mental. Clichy fucked up that day. I want revenge badly. Good to see Bentley get arrested for drink driving.

Cont.

MANCHESTER CITY
Spending money on big transfer fees has never guaranteed you anything. Teams need time to gel. City fans are expectant. A mediocre start and Mark Hughes will get the sack. And that’s what will happen to City. 4th spot is still a pipe dream for them.

LIVERPOOL
Alonso is a big loss. Arbeloa will be too. Mascherano would love to join them. Carragher is getting on. Aquilani is injured and Glen Johnson is way overpriced.

Pundits believe Liverpool will be champions.

I think otherwise.

Liverpool are in the fight for fourth spot. They are too reliant on Torres and Gerrard. Kuyt and Benayoun are underated and more dangerous than people give them credit for but who else have they got?

Voronin? Lucas? Ngog? Babel?

Please!

People need to realize that Liverpool will not do the double over Man United and Chelsea, like they did last season. They will also lose to Arsenal at The Emirates.

Liverpool fans are in for a shock.

So are Arsenal fans.

Arsenal are going to surprise you.

A Season of High Expectation

“People say we are young players but we’ve had a lot of experience and we’ve had ups and downs…we can learn from that. Getting into Semi-Finals will spur us onto greater things and we know not to make the same mistakes again. We will certainly learn from last season.” Theo Walcott

Many other factors (not just lack of experience) have stopped us doing better, but I feel this group can and is ready to produce. A lot rests on them of course, but the experience Theo talks about is there.

Starting with the League Cup final defeat to Chelsea, they’ve endured disappointment after disappointment – the terrible refereeing decisions that helped Liverpool get by us in the CL (Kolo and Phil didn’t help matters), the Eduardo injury, the defection of key players (only to regret leaving), the Gallas witch hunt. We’ve seen changes at Board level. We’ve seen fans turn against their own players, fans call for Arsene’s dismissal, fans have shown their impatience and true colors. It’s been a traumatic recent past for Arsenal Football Club. Arsene doesn’t get enough credit for his thick skin or for his focus.

Despite the doom and gloom that lingers from recent seasons we have to be thankful. Unlike Chelsea we have an effective youth program. Unlike United we don’t pretend that our large debt is less important than winning. Imagine what that club’s fans would be like if Rooney had to miss an entire season, if Ferdinand was missing for the final third of the season, causing them to fall short of their targets. The debt would suddenly be important again.

There is obvious disappointment among everyone affiliated with Arsenal that we haven’t won a trophy since Patrick’s last kick for the club. That’s natural, especially as we’d just come from a period of “winning trophies for fun” as Robin has put it. But we’ve got to accept that a host of players in their prime were winning those trophies. Since that final, we’ve developed a group that will win many trophies before they reach their own prime.

Some blame Wenger and his spending habits/transfer policy for the trophy drought. Some believe allegations that the club puts on a face of having cash to spend on players when it really doesn’t. Whichever you believe it’s important to note that these players have reached the Champions League semi-final without their best performers – Gallas, Cesc, Eduardo, Clichy (even if he was a big disappointment last season), and the cup tied Arshavin would have at least made Manchester United work a little harder for the right to go to Rome.

So the new season is upon us. At the time of writing, only ex-Ajax captain Thomas Vermaelen has been added to the squad. The well chronicled departures of Toure and Adebayor may or may not be addressed with replacements but as always, that is Arsene’s decision.

Our first match is a decent test against Everton, one of the clubs that many feel could finish above us – Manchester City, Aston Villa, and maybe another depending on form and who you believe are seen as capable (if not overdue) to crash the gates of The Big Four. As I’ve said before, don’t be surprised if the club that falls first is not Arsenal. Frankly, I find it wishful thinking if not spiteful that so many “experts” continually deem us as less equipped to maintain our standing than the pretenders, the would be gate crashers like Villa who barely won a match in their last 15 last season. Nor am I impressed by Manchester City’s millions. Everton don’t scare me. No team does.

It’s ironic that Everton could be the destination of the next player sold. Philippe Senderos has not lived up to expectation. At the time of writing, reports suggest that he is in talks with Everton and that a move is imminent. It’s been suggested that if Senderos is sold, we’ll be poised to bring in one or two additions. No matter what Arsene chooses to do, we’ll need to be more supportive of the team than we were last season.

Defensively, we haven’t been as impressive as I’d like but I feel that we’re good enough, just. The back four haven’t got any weaker in my view. Of course I’m betting that Vermaelen can’t be worse than Kolo had been in his last two seasons with us. There were times when he was well below average. Clichy bottomed out last season. He was shockingly unlike himself. Gallas is under less pressure (at least for now) and if he can continue the form displayed before season ending injury, we’ll be fine. Djourou has expressed that he feels ready for a breakthrough season. I am looking closely at how that develops. He can become a key player for us if it happens. Sagna has shown stellar form in the past. He approached repeating that form last season but there was still room for improvement. Silvestre has enough left in the tank to provide decent cover but to rely on him for more than that could be risky. Gibbs has a season of responsibility and heartache under his belt. The quality is there. If he plays well enough to push an in form Clichy, we’re sorted. Eboue at RB is not a terrible option if Sagna goes down. Almunia can make a difference, but will he be the difference. Fabianski has to improve on that display in the FA Cup semi-final if he wants to be taken seriously.

In midfield is where we’ve missed replacements from The Invincibles era the most. No Patrick – nearly impossible to replace, mind – no Pires, Ljungberg, Edu, or Parlour. Cesc has been a wonderful player but regaining his proper form is obviously a key. I commented recently that perhaps he, Flamini, Hleb, and Rosicky will never be able to perform consistently at their best level without each other. I hope I am wrong, but they haven’t proven otherwise. Denilson is a very useful player – OPTA proves it – but he’ll have to improve his final ball and his goals tally to complement his fantastic statistics. Alex Song is an under-rated player. His versatility and power make him one of the most important players in our team. I look forward to further improvement on what was a season that shut up a lot of people last term. Diaby is running out of time but if he can stay healthy, perhaps the 4-3-3 will suit him better. Nasri is a very good player from whom we saw flashes last season. Once healthy, he could do even better than just glimpses of his undoubted ability. A full season to build on will help. Ramsey and Wilshere will be used depending on the opponent, tactics, and whether or not Arsene sees a need. I won’t expect too much from either player but they are both capable of helping the cause, especially Lil’ Jack. The kid is special.

We don’t lack forwards. Robin has the most Arsenal appearances among the strikers, but it is Andrey Arshavin whose name will probably be first on the team sheet. I get a rush when I think of how many goals can come from Eduardo, Robin, and Andrey. In Theo, Nicklas Bendtner, and Carlos Vela we have effective options up front. The key will be quick transition going forward much like it was with the last Arsenal team that “won trophies for fun”.

Winning trophies for fun may look unlikely to most people and I understand that, but I expect big things of many players this season. I suspect that they expect big things of themselves.

I expect silverware.