Why is Almunia still at Arsenal?

A sad sight yesterday was watching Manuel Almunia lift the Emirates Cup for Arsenal. Sad because another season beckons with this back-up keeper starting as Arsenal’s number one.

To win anything, a team needs a strong spine. The goalkeeper is the starting point of that spine. If you have an average goalkeeper, you’re defence will not be filled with confidence. A back four that lacks confidence will leak goals.

With Fabianski as Arsenal’s number two, away games to Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers will turn into a crossing fest, leaving Arsenal with no points because they have goalkeepers who can’t punch or catch a cross.

Fabianski is the worst goalkeeper in the Premiership. Almunia is not far behind. With less than two weeks away until Arsenal travel to Liverpool for the season opener, there is no sign of any goalkeeper being signed by Wenger.

That’s disturbing.

Mark Schwarzer says he wants to play for Arsenal – well so do I and millions of other Gooners. The fact is Mark, you’re not good enough. You’re no better than what Arsenal already have. And at 38 you’re the “cougar” of goalies.

A lot of Gooners are more concerned about Cesc Fabregas joining Barcelona than a world class goalkeeper joining Arsenal. When I mention Almunia being Arsenal’s number one, they shrug their shoulders and say: “He’ll do.”

Having a goalkeeper who last season cost Arsenal 18 points, will not do. In fact, both Fabianski and Almunia need to be sold or loaned out.

Neither one belongs at Arsenal.

Other pieces of deadwood should also leave – Johan Djourou and Theo Walcott in other words.

Walcott hasn’t changed. He’s fast but has no end product. Someone said that he got two assists yesterday. His first assist was a shot that was so crap that it turned into a cross – if Vela didn’t have great instincts then Gooners would have been moaning about how shit Walcott is instead of celebrating a goal.

It’s been four and a half years since Walcott joined Arsenal and the man still can’t cross. He also has no moves to get past a player – other than speed – and his shots are off target most of the time.

Ryan Smith for Kansas City Wizards is just as good as Theo Walcott.

Johan Djourou is fast becoming Arsenal’s Titus Bramble. He’s been at Arsenal since 2002. Yet in eight years, he’s only played 46 times. True, he’s been on loan to Birmingham City and was injured for all of last season. So fans are willing to give him time. I, however, think that it’s time to sell him. The man will become a liability.

Wenger says that he’s looking for two more signings.

Let’s hope that a goalkeeper is one of them.

Keep It Arsenal

El Cunto

Nasri Is Ready

– Nasri’s World Cup omission worked out for the best. He wasn’t involved with the French debacle, which also means he’s a guarantee to be called up after Blanc axed the entire squad for one match. He took the omission personally, and he’s bulked up quite a bit.

– When we signed Samir Nasri, I was honestly shocked. It wasn’t cause I doubted his natural ability or thought he was a bad signing. It’s just that Arsenal are linked with young prospects so frequently that it was quite surprising that we actually signed one. Think about all the names that Arsenal are loosely linked with, mainly for the fact that we’re viewed as a club that gives young players opportunities.

– Nasri’s first season showed promise, but shunted out to the left wing, it was mostly a season of adjustment.

– Nasri’s next season started on a bad note when he broke his fibula during training. He sparkled sometimes (against Porto) and inconsistent at other times. When Cesc went down with the injury that finished his season, he was handed the keys to our midfield and didn’t do enough in my opinion.

– In this preseason, he’s been Arsenal’s best performer. He has a chip on his shoulder, and he better. I believe Nasri’s best position would be to play foil to Cesc Fabregas in the centre of midfield. This will be a big season, and he looks to be up for it.

– One can only hope that Theo has that same burning desire. To be fair, I’ve seen more from Theo, but it’s still not enough. But preseason has just started, it’s time to crank things up a bit.

Protests by Liverpool Fans Go Into Overdrive

Night time protest marches through the streets. The burning of the American flag. Liverpool fans are angry and they blame Liverpool’s American owners for their woe.

Liverpool are currently $516 million in debt.

Hicks and Gillett bought Liverpool for $293 million making false promises on building a new stadium and providing a big transfer fund.

With Benitez stepping down, after agreeing a severance payment, Liverpool will now have to find a manger that will provide stability to a club that is on the verge of a crisis. The new manager will have to persuade stars like Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard to stay, otherwise Liverpool’s hopes of finishing in the top four will again fade.

Taking on the Liverpool job is not as attractive as it was when Benitez agreed to be their manager back in 2004. Today, the football world is a lot more ruthless. The gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” has widened. You can’t stay out of the Champions League for too long, otherwise you will be left behind with the Europa League hyenas – desperate to break into the top four.

A couple of years ago, Jose Mourinho would have taken the Liverpool job. Not now. A manager like Mourinho demands a lot money to buy players, otherwise he won’t sign. Liverpool cannot guarantee a big transfer fund.

Instead of being a buying club, this summer Liverpool will probably start being a selling club – a major problem but understandable if you’re in the amount of debt that Liverpool are in.

Unless a new mega-rich owner arrives soon – paying off Liverpool’s massive debt and also pumping millions into building a new team and stadium – then I can only see decline.

Usmanov and his Red & White Holdings now have a 27% share of Arsenal. Let’s hope that they don’t borrow money in order to wrestle control of Arsenal. Saddling a club with your own private debt is criminal. You only have to witness the protests by Liverpool and Manchester United fans on that subject to make you realize what a good job Arsenal have done financially. Let’s pray that Kroenke and Usmanov don’t do a Glazer or Hicks/Gillett and put Arsenal into mega debt.

Last Word:
Chris Waddle has heavily criticized Theo Walcott. True, Walcott hasn’t progressed in the way that many thought he would. Injuries haven’t helped but Theo hasn’t blamed injuries for his poor season. Walcott though can walk with his head held high on one thing though – his England hat-trick against Croatia in Zagreb. What did Chris Waddle do in his career at aged 20? He certainly didn’t score a hat-trick in Croatia for his country. People forget how old Walcott is. Perhaps his England rejection will do him good. I think it will.

Keep It Arsenal

Theo Axed by Capello – So What?

I don’t feel sorry for Theo Walcott. I support him as an Arsenal player but indifference is probably the best description for how I feel about him. His exclusion from the England team makes no difference to me. I only care about him living up to the hype that once made signing him seem like a good move.

A guy once told me that I want Theo to fail. Silly! I wanted Senderos to do well for Arsenal, no matter how much I disapproved of him. I want anyone who wears the Arsenal shirt to do well. Theo is no exception.

William Gallas was vilified when he made true statements about Walcott. Chris Waddle has stated that Theo doesn’t have a football brain. Fabio Capello has done what any sensible coach would do.

If Theo ever becomes the player we thought we paid for, splendid! But really, would you bet your house on it? Risky at best at this point.

If he learns the things he was supposed to learn from being deployed wide right, tremendous! Maybe then we’ll see more consistency from him. That would be magnificent.

In the meantime, he can work on improving his strength. The decision making part is kinda tricky though. I wish I had an answer.

And if all else fails, he can continue writing children’s books. Come to think of it, Theo looks like the type who has never been late returning library books. That said, here’s some recommended summer reading for our no. 14:

-Bambi by Siegmund Salzmann
-Fox In Socks by Dr. Seuss and Theodore Geisel
-The Good Lion by Don Brown
-The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man by Lloyd Alexander
-My Inner Child Wrote a Best Seller by Joseph Digangi
-Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
-Coaching for Character by Craig Clifford and Randolph Feezell
-The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller
-The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald and Mercer Mayer
-Tell Me What It’s Like to Be Big by Joyce Dunbar and Debi Gliori
-Lift Every Voice: Expecting the Most and Getting the Best From All of God’s Children by Walter Turnbull and Howard Manly
-Go for the Goal: Techniques and Strategies for the Complete Soccer Player by Stuart Murray

Keep the Faith

Walcott Alarm Clock

– In a huge surprise, Theo Walcott was omitted from the England National Team. Four years ago, he was taken to the World Cup after making zero appearances for Arsenal. Now, after being a staple of Capello’s team, he was brutally axed from the National Team. Was he performing at a high level? Undisputedly not. Did Shaun Wright-Phillips or Michael Carrick do enough to impress anybody at all? Not really. Walcott’s apparently failure to listen to orders is what did him in. Regardless, Theo thought an elaborate prank was being pulled on him when he was told he was being left off the final roster. This is Theo’s make or break moment.

– Chris Waddle’s comments have been thrown around again. Of more interest is Martin Keown’s comments:

“Under Capello it seemed as if he has been getting it right in the main, under Wenger, no, there has been a problem, whether or not that is the coaches’ fault, it has to be the players, he has just not played enough games.”

That in itself is an alarming comment. Theo is in the best possible environment for a young player’s development. The idea that he’s not improving at all is the worst possible picture of Walcott.

– Before the season started, Walcott was engaged in a tug of war between Arsenal and Stuart Pearce. To enhance his profile, Pearce desperately sought for Walcott’s involvement in the U-21 World Cup. The point of the youth internationals is not necessarily to win a trophy, although that is a fine thing as well. It is to produce players for the senior squad, just as it is at Arsenal. Instead, Walcott was taken, he did nothing of note, was benched for a game, and he came back with zero rest. Wenger gave him an extended break, but his body broke down against Valencia and he hasn’t been the same since. Theo didn’t complain when he was called up, he volunteered like the good soldier he thinks he is. What Theo needs to recognize is that the people who care about him the most is Arsenal Football Club. Why? Because we pay his wages.

– I don’t care if Walcott wasn’t good enough for the England National Team. I only care about his involvement with Arsenal. Regardless, he has been patchy and ineffective this year. Everybody knows that to be true. But why did Capello decide to play a ruse on Walcott? Almost everybody in the media believed that Walcott was a guarantee for the National Team, despite his obvious lack of form. Capello recently said that nothing in the past few fixtures changed his mind about who was his first 23 players were. Theo clearly thought he was going to make the squad, and instead, he’s probably devastated. Meanwhile, players who have not shone for England at an international level (Carrick and Wright-Phillips), players who are out of form (Heskey, Carrick, Upson, and more), and a player who has only played six minutes for England in total (Warnock) were picked. What is Capello doing? People can praise his ruthlessness, but he’s doing a terrible job in public relations. Tactically, Capello is one of the best. In the last few weeks, the England curse has descended upon Capello.

– I don’t care if Walcott is out of form; I wouldn’t take Wright-Phillips over him. What made Capello decide that Walcott couldn’t be an impact sub? Who are the players who can change a game for England on the bench? This team is destined to fail.

– Let’s bring it all back to what we actually care about. Theo and Arsenal FC. This is the defining moment in Walcott’s career. He’s hardly done anything of note for Arsenal. He’s been abandoned by Capello and England in the harshest way. It’s time to wake the fuck up or make a career for himself on a team like Aston Villa. He has the best environment around him. He has Arsene Wenger. He will still have Fabio Capello. He has good parents. In the last year, whether it’s because of injuries or something else, he’s not improved at all. His electric cameo against Barcelona lets people see a glimpse into what is possible, but every other appearance shows you just how far he has to go. When a moment like this smacks you in the face, players of the highest caliber decide to run through brick walls. I don’t know if Theo has what it takes, but if this doesn’t wake him up, nothing will.

– I have pity for the boy, but it’s a rude reminder. Time waits for nobody. Theo, next season is your senior year.

Reviewing the Midfield

Cesc Fabregas – Our captain. He apparently wants out of Arsenal, and the last month of the season is probably the reason why. The 4-3-3 formation was installed to get the best out of our Catalan. That’s precisely what it did. Cesc delivered with goals and assists. His injury situation meant that he missed crucial stretches, but nobody can forget his thrilling cameo against Aston Villa and inspirational 2nd half against pompous Barcelona. I can understand why he wants out. In all of his years, he’s only won an FA Cup and a Community Shield. Meanwhile, everybody whispering in his ear are winning trophies. I think he should stay, but if he really wants out and Barcelona are willing to pay more than they’re willing to, then he’ll depart. He’ll be fondly remembered by me when he does, but his Arsenal career will remain slightly lacking (even if that’s not his fault).

Aaron Ramsey – It seemed as though whenever Ramsey was gifted an appearance with the first choice XI, he failed to impress. He was alright in patches, but he failed to impose himself in any way. He started to deliver on his promise in Carling Cup matches and international appearances with Wales. With Denilson regressing, he was given the opportunity to start alongside Cesc and started to come into his own. He remains very young and is one of the most promising prospects in British football. It’s a great tragedy that Shawcross broke his leg and derailed his career for six to eight months. If Cesc leaves, I could see Ramsey becoming an important player for Arsenal in the next two to three years.

Abou Diaby – This guy is an enigma to me. At times, he’s a dominating midfielder who has silky control of the ball. Other times, he’s injured, ineffective, or absent. He’s made the France World Cup squad though, so this season will be seen as a positive one by some. I would strongly suggest that he faded during the close of the season in a way that was extremely disconcerting. I thought that he could make a vital difference against Barcelona. I was dead wrong. We know all about Diaby’s strengths; I’m not sure we know anything about his heart. He should punish the opposition by dribbling forward with power and tackling with precision. I have the distinct feeling that he can only do that against weaker opposition. He has the talent; does he have the willpower?

Samir Nasri – He missed the early part of the season through injury and has just missed out on a spot in the France national team. Does he belong on the squad more than Diaby does? If you start from scratch, yes. If you look at the needs of the France team, maybe not. Regardless, if the decision was made before the Barcelona match, he would have made the squad. Again, another player who came up short in the period that mattered the most. Often shunted to the wing, his play there has often suggested that we may actually need to sign more offensive players, namely strikers and wingers. He plays better centrally (as every gifted player does due to a wider space to play in), but when he was handed the keys after Cesc’s injury, the machine did not run smoothly enough. He may be given that role permanently if Cesc departs, but he’s more of a foil player. To be fair, he hasn’t been played in a central midfield role alongside a player like Cesc, and that is where he might perform best. On the wing, I’m not certain he provides anything more than good link-up play.

Theo Walcott – On the plus side, it looks like he’ll make a nice living as a writer of children’s books. On the negative, he hasn’t improved at all. He’s brittle, doesn’t cross particularly well, and fades during matches. Despite all this, I still feel as though we could fetch 15 million pounds for him if we sold him. I might be delusional, but if he’s effective in the World Cup, somebody may take that chance. That would result in a 6 million pound profit. He still retains electric pace and can make decent enough runs. The problem is, there are large stretches where you don’t see him on the pitch at all. He’s not like Ivica Olic, where he doesn’t have to touch the ball as much to be effective. He needs to learn how to stay in games, be alert, distribute efficiently, and be spontaneous. A good World Cup can only help, but he has a long way to go before doing the number on his back any justice.

Alex Song – He’s a favorite of ours and a reminder that you should never completely write off a player that Wenger has faith in. Before the season, Wenger suggested he didn’t have the stamina to play in central midfield. Clearly, that was just a motivational jab at Song. Alex Song never backs down, either from Craig Bellamy or Adebayor. He is one of the few players, alongside Nasri, who will stand up for players on our team. He was just as good after the ACN as well. He’s one of the first names on Wenger’s starting XI. He’s two more consistent seasons away from being legitimately world class.

Denilson – Unlike Song, Denilson has regressed. He was one of the most underrated players two seasons ago; he never looked comfortable during this season. For one, he was playing in a 4-3-3 system in which his old self might have been better suited to. He should have had the opportunity to be creative and tidy. What it resulted in was goals from distance and a lot of sideways passing. For Denilson to play alongside Song and Cesc effectively, he needs to be more of an offensive threat. If he’s not doing that, he’ll just be embarrassed when trying to track back against Wayne Rooney. Like the others, he is still young, but his star no longer burns as bright. He can be an intelligent distributor, but with his back being a problem as well, he’s a question mark.

Tomas Rosicky – The fact that he played as much as he did should be considered a victory. That being said, he approached nowhere near his old form. When dribbling forward with the ball, Rosicky is a thing of beauty. His willingness to take shots from outside is a plus. Despite the fact that we don’t shoot from outside of the box too often, we’ve actually scored the most goals from distance. Does that mean we take an appropriate amount or that we should take more? Rosicky was earmarked as a No. 10 type player. Because of his frequent injuries, teams should not be built around him. He can pass, he has a decent shot, and he’s intelligent. But too often, he’s also a non-factor. To be fair, he’s just come off from a lengthy injury, so anything we get out of him is a bonus.

Jack Wilshere – He didn’t get many games for the Arsenal First Team. When playing with us, he still seemed a bit frail, but he has some bite to him. A loan move to Bolton under Owen Coyle was probably the best thing for his development. After a few games, Bolton bloggers wondered whether he was actually any good. Now, Coyle is begging us to let him stay. I’m not certain that he’ll be ready for the first team, so if a loan gives us a discount on Gary Cahill, then I think another year with Bolton might get him very close to earning a spot near the First Team.

Fran Merida – He’s officially off the Atletico Madrid. The new “Cesc” leaves just as the real Cesc looks to leave. He’s had flashes here and there, but we can’t make any definitive judgments about this guy. He has a good left foot and is a good signing for Atletico Madrid. Wenger wanted to tie him down to a five year contract. That means he rated him very highly.

Craig Eastmond – A surprise addition to our midfield this year. It’s interesting that he’s usurped Coquelin in the queue (Francis is being groomed at RB now), and he’s shown promise. For now though, he’s not strong enough and can’t really last a full 90. His hard work has resulted in Premier League and Champions League appearances. He’s being brought up in the right way.

Only the Top Players Can Hang

Theo Walcott has two assists and three goals this season. Not good enough for a man that played 23 times as an attacking midfielder and cost Arsenal 9 million pounds. For that amount of money, Arsenal could have bought a top keeper.

Then, we have Harvard Nordtveit. He cost Arsenal over two million pounds back in January 2007 and was meant to be the best young centre-back in Europe. Well, he’s not.

Nordtveit has just spent a season on loan at German Bundesliga side Nurnberg – the German equivalent to Burnley. For the past three months he has failed to get into their first team and has only started 14 games out of 34.

Before his loan spell at Nurnberg, Nordtveit played at U.D. Salamanca in Spain’s Segunda Division. After three appearances, they released him.

Nordtveit did have a successful loan spell last summer playing for Lillestrom in the Norwegian Tippeligaen, which indicates that he’s more comfortable playing in his home country than abroad.

Apparently, Nordtveit started well at Nurnberg. Under then head coach Michael Oenning, he started every game. However, Oenning was fired last Christmas and his replacement Dieter Hecking has not played Nordtveit except for the odd appearance as a substitute.

According to reports from Germany, Nordtveit has been poor. This could be due to the fact that he’s been played out of position while at Nurnberg. Instead of playing as a centre-back, the young Norweigan has been used as a defensive midfielder, a position that he’s struggled with. Nordtveit doesn’t read the game well as a defensive midfielder, his positioning is also poor and he fails to break up attacks by the opposition.

Nordveit was also voted one of the 10 worst players in the Bundesliga in the first half of the German season. I watched him play against FC Freiburg a game that Nurnberg lost 1-0 and he was really poor. His passing was off, he looked lightweight and he didn’t seem to want the ball.

I will be very surprised if Havard Nordtveit plays for Arsenal next season.

Then there’s the left-back Pedro Botelho who was signed by Arsenal at the same time as Nordtveit. Due to work permit restrictions, Botelho was immediately loaned out to Spanish side U.D. Salamanca where he enjoyed a relatively successful season making 37 appearances. He was due to play another season for the Segunda Division side when he was caught having sex with the Chairman’s daughter so instead he was loaned out to Celta Vigo.

Arsenal had high hopes for the Brazilian Botelho. The attacking full-back was seen as the next Roberto Carlos. However, recent reports from Spain say that he has fallen out with head coach Eusebio Sacristan after he was substituted and acted in a very petulant manner. Celta Vigo don’t want him back next season and Arsenal cannot obtain a work permit for him until he has completed three seasons on loan in Spain. Besides his poor attitude, his form seems to have dipped as his party lifestyle takes a front seat. His defending has been average to poor and scouts say that he’s not as good as Gibbs or Traore.

So much for potential.

Keep It Arsenal