Arsene Speaks

Arsene’s post match comments were telling. He has said what I have been thinking for weeks. Cesc must make it clear that he is at Arsenal and end the madness.

That alone won’t make Barcelona or Barcelona’s players stop making annoying comments about our captain but it will go a long way to help us all move along, even if only temporarily. Arsene has been fed up with all the chatter but what can he do? “There are a lot of things I don’t master in football and the rumours are one of these things.” He went on to address the tapping up question as well, “They [Barcelona] certainly have a case to answer but it is always the same – how can you prove it?”

So the door remains open for the player to set the record straight. “Cesc has five years to go and that is it…Who can stop the speculation? Only Cesc maybe, I don’t know, maybe not even Cesc.” Quite unsettling!

Common sense says that Xavi, Puyol, and Lerch (with his fucking US navy style buzz cut) should realize that they cannot afford the player. Until such time – and even then there’s no guarantee that we’ll sell – you’d think that they’d go about their business. You’d think that they’d be more worried about the upcoming campaign. Jose Mourinho is not an ordinary manager.

I used to have time for Barcelona. Some great players have worn their colors. They are Real Madrid’s bitter, bitter rival, a status that would endear almost any club to me but that doesn’t make up for acting low-rent and classless.

In other news…

Wilshere’s football instincts were glaring yesterday.
The new signings looked comfortable.
Eboue is to be respected – if Sagna goes down with injury, I won’t fret.
There were no injuries, not that I’ve seen reported anyway.
Wilshere/Frimpong got good experience against Seedorf/Gattuso.
Randall may have given Arsene the green light for a permanent loan.

I was exchanging thoughts with Supah Strikah after the match. He felt that Fabianski might have done better on Pato’s goal. He felt that he didn’t take charge. I commented that it might be harsh to blame him yet I understand the sentiment very well. Let’s be clear. When ever a goal is scored against us, as long as those two clowns are in the nets we will always feel that they could/should have done better. That’s the kind of reputation and support they’ve earned.

Interestingly, Arsene made this point about the goal, “You can’t fault him [Fabianski] for the goal and he did everything else well. The only thing is there wasn’t much command on the free kick. From outside it looked like no-one took charge of the organisation and that’s a little bit down to goalkeeper.” I would add that organisation is also a captain’s job. And it was a bit disappointing to see the taller Djourou mis-time his header and then Vermaelen (captain for the day) beaten to the ball by the admitedlly dangerous Alexandre Pato. Vermaelen can and will do better. Djourou? I’m not so sure.

A fellow Gooner reminded me that he predicted Chamakh would “hit the ground running”. He seems to be settling in nicely. I need to see that, as my confidence is beginning to wane after years of supporting this group unequivocally. The addition of an effective striker is a good thing. Big ups Yardie! You’re right so far.

I just had a vision of Chamakh going nuts when we play Scum, making their shit stadium what Arshavin has done with Anfield. Hopefully our new striker will continue where Bob left off and score against _pur_ for fun, where ever we play them. Having ‘almost signed Rivaldo’ once, now they can claim the same about Luis Fabiano. To compensate for losing out on another Brazilian, Harry Redknapp has bought Anapka, which is a bit baffling. Why do you need another donkey when you’ve got Dawson and King?

So we wait on additional signings as time ticks away. All is not doom and gloom but I’d be really happy if Arsene plugged a few gaping holes. El Cunto said he’d take Friedel. I would too.

Celtic today! The Boss says he’ll play his best side. Oxymoronic since Clown No. 1 will be in goal.

Chat later,
Agent 86

Reviewing the Defence

Manuel Almunia – I remember vividly after we had gone up 1-0 against Chelsea two years ago. Bacary Sagna had just scored his first goal for us off a corner. Then, a frequent visitor to the pub I go to said these words, “I feel safe with Almunia.” I’ve never felt safe with Manuel. Ever. At the start of the second half of the Barcelona first leg, he looked like he was going to vomit. Why did he look that way? He had just pulled off a string of saves and the score was incredibly 0-0. Well, soon after, he proved exactly what he is, a shot-stopper and nothing more. He looked the same way before the Roma penalty shootout from last year. Almunia didn’t save any penalties, they just missed. It would be foolish to suggest that Jens was flawless as the Arsenal No. 1, but at least he had the demeanor of a No. 1. Almunia was a project, one with very little hype or potential. Imagine if Amaury Bischoff ended up a member of our first choice XI and that’s essentially what Almunia is. A nightmare, and one that must be terminated soon.

Lukasz Fabianski – It is easy to call him a clown. That is easily justifiable. You might call him a bargain basement keeper as well, but here’s where I disagree a bit. I’ve documented before that Wenger thinks highly of Fabianski. He’s committed enough errors for Wenger to wave goodbye to him, but something tells me that’s not going to happen. The summer we signed Fabianski, we were linked to many keepers and Wenger chose him. He was signed for 3 million euros and a friendly match to be arranged later. At this point, if he turned it around, it would be amongst the most incredible turnarounds in Wenger’s history. I don’t want to see it even attempted next year. If we had a decent goalkeeper, and I stress the word “decent”, we would have won the Premier League. Unfortunately, that is on Arsene nearly as much as it is on Almunia and Fabianski.

Vito Mannone – He delivered a brilliant performance against Fulham and then showed his years in the subsequent performances. He’s raw. He signed a long-term extension, but he doesn’t impress me much. I give him credit for having the hunger, but he’s the most un-Italian goalkeeper I’ve seen. I’ve yet to make a definitive judgment on him.

Bacary Sagna – He’s steady. He’s never tipped as the man of the match. He’s rarely burned by players. He’s an adequate player who hasn’t reached the heights of his first year with us. I thought he might have been our player of the year that first season, but for whatever reason, he’s failed to find that form.

Emmanuel Eboue – Once a figure of hate, now he’s a lovable fixture. Let’s not mistake what he is though, he’s a useful squad player. He can be used to solidify a defense or as a blunt, direct weapon. On his day, he’s very effective at attacking teams with his forward momentum. When he’s left to think about what he should do with the ball though, he struggles. He’s a good guy to have around because the players love being around this guy. He’s a joy. Not essential to the team, but very useful.

Gael Clichy – I think he may be sold over the summer. Arsenal have three left backs waiting in the wings. He’s coming back from a back injury, and those types of injuries never really heal properly. When he came back, he was torched so often that Martin O’Neill called him a joke. Slowly though, he’s steadied out and he has been one of our best performers in the last month (which is not really much of a compliment). I can remember at least a handful of goals where he was the direct contributor to. I used to love this guy, but he no longer looks likely to eclipse Ashley Cole as a player. If we could get 10 million euros for him, that would be a good price.

Kieran Gibbs – Some are unsure of his ability to be our starting left-back. I need to see more, but when he was on the pitch this year, he seemed to neutralize the opposition’s right wing quite frequently. He’s a better crosser of the ball than Clichy. He has mental strength, seeing how the United Champions League fixture could have severely damaged his career. I like this kid.

Armand Traore – I admire his professionalism, but that doesn’t seem to translate to the football pitch. We can deal with errors, as long as we see real improvement and an attempt to get better. He has speed, a strong left foot, and not much else at this point. He’s flimsy and unless he watches some defensive tapes, he’s not going to make it with Arsenal. He could be sold to a French club and turn into the D-grade version of Marcelo.

Mikael Silvestre – I’m sure he’s a positive influence in that locker room. But that is as far as it goes. Every time he scores a goal, something disastrous seems to happen (look at the Tottenham 4-4 draw last year and the Wigan match this year). He needs a string of games to approach anything near his best form, and he doesn’t get that, so when he does play, he’s often exposed. The fact that every back pass he makes is lightly weighted frightens me. This was a gamble that truly did not pay off. He’s gone.

Sol Campbell – I was not a big fan of Sol Campbell after he walked out of our club. He has restored his legacy at Arsenal, but let’s be clear, he cannot be anything more than a 4th choice defender for this club. His mountain frame and surprisingly fast pace helps him out, but near the end of his run this term, I saw the chinks in his armor. One of these days, one of his last ditch tackles is going to result in a red card and a penalty. That’s a sign that a defender is desperate. He’ll be an awesome influence on our squad, and as a 4th choice defender, he’ll be of more value than Silvestre was.

Thomas Vermaelen – Tony Adams was wrong. Vermaelen was in every pundit’s team of the season list. Along with his defensive prowess, he chipped in with some beautiful goals. He’s angry when we concede. He’s professional when a ref approaches him. This is what you get when you pay 10 million euros for a player. This is what you get when you buy a defender who was the captain for Ajax at a young age. This is what you get when you scout a player for two years. Vermaelen could be a future captain for Arsenal.

Johan Djourou – An incomplete grade. It was revealed recently that Wenger told him that he let Kolo go so that Djourou could play. It’s been written that Djourou was a player who was supposed to be kept secret from the entire world, that’s how much Wenger rates him. He has the physical tools (not necessarily the strength), but it’s yet to be seen if Wenger’s faith is justified. He looks like he’ll get an opportunity though. One can only hope he’s not like his Swiss compatriot, Swiss Tony. Senderos looked the part, but he lacked the heart and the intelligence to be an elite defender.

William Gallas – It looks like he’ll no longer be an Arsenal player. That’s a shame because he produced some of his best form this year. At this point though, he is also an injury prone player (the same can easily be said of Robin van Persie though). He does not have any special attachment to Arsenal, and that’s not meant to sound like an insult. I mean this in the best possible way, William Gallas is a professional footballer. That may make it sound like I’m calling him a mercenary, but that’s not what he is. He truly did care about winning more than anything else. For those that suggest he didn’t play because he didn’t want to mess up a potential contract, look no further than the Barcelona first leg. He crocked himself because he wanted to play on the grand stage so badly. His loss was as big a reason in our failure as anybody else. I will miss him, but the team may not miss him. Nasri revealed today that five players at Arsenal don’t talk to Gallas. He didn’t mean to suggest that they hate him, it’s just a generational difference. Whether they know it or not, Gallas was one of the finest defenders to suit up for Arsenal during Wenger’s regime. It’s too bad that too often injuries and petty squabbles came to define much of his spell. I hope he recovers in time to make the World Cup squad and play well for France. I wish him well.

Medals Collect Dust

– I was surprised that Arsenal contested Vermaelen’s red card against West Ham. Sure, I felt it was harsh, but you can’t say there wasn’t contact, however slight it was. I was worried that we’d get another game tacked on the original one match ban if we failed in our appeal. Thankfully, that didn’t occur, even though the red card stood. Perhaps if you appeal against a violent conduct three match ban, the FA will add another game onto the ban. Anyway, we know now, Vermaelen will be out against Birmingham, but just that game.

– Birmingham seem to be slightly off form, but they have a sturdy defense and are capable of springing a surprise. They are lacking in motivation though, as safety is assured and Europe is probably just out of reach. It is an away fixture, and our minds will be on Barcelona (try as they might to ignore it, but that’s just the truth). It will be a difficult match.

– I pay very little attention to articles predicting where the Premier League title will end up, but I read most of them anyway. Lee Dixon predicted Arsenal to finish 2nd behind United. That’s a good man, no need in publicly jinxing our team. Most people expect United to run away with it, and while their fixtures are easier than Chelsea’s, I see matches that will give them a difficult time. There is very real pressure on all three teams to win every single match. This is a real title race.

– I expect Wenger to rest Sol for Birmingham, draft Silvestre into the side, and play Alex Song at CB. Wenger knows that Sol cannot play two matches a week, and he’ll want him ready for Barcelona.

– Sol has made four appearances in the Premier League for us this year. He needs to get to ten in order to get a medal if we win the Premier League. With Gallas due to return (hopefully), the chances of him getting to that number appear slim. Martin Keown famously choked Wenger playfully during the end of the 03-04 season when it seemed as though Wenger was not going to sub him into a game. He knew that those appearances would give him the ten appearances he needed. That year, we had the title in the bag, and such courtesy will not be lent to Sol Campbell. But, who cares about medals? It’s lifting the trophy that’s the most important thing. Medals are locked away in closet and frequently given away by true winners. If we emerge as Champions, Sol will know he’s played a vital part in making that happen. That’s far more important than some medal.

– Likewise, Carlos Vela and Armand Traore are stuck on eight appearances each. The latter has regressed to the point where he might not feature again, and Vela has been in and out of the side. Their hopes for a medal should not be considered, unless perhaps we’re winning by 8 goals against a side.

– On a short note about Barcelona, Lionel Messi was absolutely incredible against Zaragoza the other night. The second goal was stupendous, and if you watch closely, you’ll notice that every dribble was a clean one. He meant every single element of it. He’s astonishing. I have some ideas on how to stop him, and English sides have done okay to nullify his threat to a degree. But on current form, he’s showing why he’s the World Player of the Year, undisputed.

– Despite their position in the league, I believe Portsmouth will give Chelsea a good fight today. We’ll see if it’ll be enough though for Chelsea to drop points.

I’m Waiting for Abou

The finish line is now in sight. Seven games and 21 points. Nevertheless, like the woman above, there is a distraction – it’s called Barcelona. The quarter-final draw last Friday took away the attention of some Arsenal players. Thoughts of the Nou Camp, Messi, and a return home for Cesc were obviously on their minds. After going a goal up after five minutes, Arsenal should have really added to their tally and finished off West Ham in the first half.

But they took their foot off the gas and with the referee’s assistance, allowed West Ham back into it. With only 10 men and the odds against them, Arsenal actually started playing with more purpose – thoughts of Barcelona had now vanished.

It will be interesting how Arsenal shape up at St. Andrews on Saturday. Birmingham City are a decent mid-table team, but their current form is patchy. One week they lose, the next they win or draw. Safe from relegation, but out of the cups with only a slim chance of qualifying for the Europa League next season – Birmingham seem to be in an end of season slump.

Saturday’s game has bad history. Just mention the name Eduardo and every Gooner will be wanting revenge. It was a day where not only did Arsenal lose a striker, who was coming into form, but it was also a day where Birmingham cheated to win a last minute penalty that tied a game Arsenal should have won. It was the beginning of the end for Arsenal’s 2008 title challenge and for William Gallas as the captain.

Looming in the background of the Birmingham game will be the Barcelona match the following Wednesday. It will be interesting to see if Cesc plays on Saturday. He will not want to miss playing against his old club. However, resting him will not affect the team as much as resting Vermaelen.

The two positions that Arsenal are weak in – depth wise – is the center-back and center forward.

Lose Vermaelen for the rest of the season and Arsenal are in trouble.

Campbell and Silvestre can only play one game a week. Song can act as cover but will be missed in midfield, while Gallas is injured with no return date.

As for the center-forward position, if Bendtner gets injured we have no target man or beef. His replacement is still a month away from full fitness.

There are big positives, however. Abou Diaby is showing the kind of form that makes you understand why Wenger has offered him a massive pay rise. Clichy is putting in performances of old. On Saturday, he was outstanding. Eboue is now talked of as a player that must start every game, such has been his rise and response from the depths of the Arsenal boo boys.

Abou Diaby, however, is the player that has really grown in stature the most. When he came on as a sub last Saturday, I felt more assured that Arsenal were going to win. His class, just like the woman above, is beginning to show, making me feel more confident in winning difficult games at places like St Andrews.

Keep It Arsenal

Post Match View – West Ham United F.C.

There’s a movie out with a plot about time travel. The mode of transportation is unconventional to say the least – a hot tub. Yes, a hot tub.

Let’s jump into our own hot tub and go back nine months. What would your reaction have been if I told you then that we’d be playing in a London derby in mid March, with a chance to go top of the table? And what if I added that Alex Song would be the outstanding player in said match, with Eboue being a major headache for the opposition? Here’s a last one; that Almunia would make a HUGE difference in the result.

Chances are that most people would have felt that I’d been out in the sun too long or maybe that I should stop smoking. With the inept Champions League and FA Cup displays behind us, most Gooners were contemplating new signings and demanding a rethink of our transfer policy. The general consensus was that we couldn’t improve on fourth place.

I’ve always felt that we were not far away. My questions about the level of focus and commitment surfaced earlier this season, but I believed that we’d have a chance if we solved those two issues. We’ve seen plenty of focus and commitment lately.

Going top of the league and staying there is what really matters. We’ve reached the summit after defeating West Ham at the Emirates but Liverpool’s defeat at Old Trafford makes that academic. Chelsea have dropped points away to Blackburn however, to add more drama.

With Thomas Vermaelen set to miss a match through suspension, Gooners are fearful that all the good work we’ve done recently will be wasted. The Gallas/Vermaelen axis has been tremendous this season, but we’ll just have to cope without them. The combination of Campbell and Song is solid enough but it weakens our midfield when Song has to fill in at center-half. Mikael Silvestre is very experienced but clearly does not provide enough of what we need.

I cannot stress over it. Winning titles is about overcoming obstacles. Nobody will deny that we haven’t had obstacles.

Cesc and Alex Song returned to the side after injury and suspension. Denilson was retained in place of Diaby. As early as the second minute, Denilson began to grate the nerves by losing the ball and facilitating a West Ham attack.

On 4, Alex Song took the ball off Guillermo Franco as cleanly as you could. The big striker was left on his backside as the man who has quickly become one of the game’s best at his position strode away. It was a slick move that shows how you can be efficient without being a thug about it.

Much has been made of the fact that we don’t score many early goals. Well, Denilson has shown his good and bad sides in the space of five minutes. His one-two with Bendtner at the top of West Ham’s area ended with a very well placed shot inside Robert Green’s left hand post.

1-0 AFC

We would have loved to open the floodgates and put at least few more behind Green but it wasn’t meant to be. I look for Andrey Arshavin to apply his genius in every game but that didn’t happen. There were some very slick Arsenal moves that made spectators of West Ham but no goals resulted.

On 8, Campbell fouled Franco. Diamanti came close with the free kick. One minute later, Song picked up a loose ball from deep and poked it to feed Eboue. After a speedy run down the right side, he lofted a nice ball to Bendtner. Nik nodded it down for Cesc who had moved into a central position inside the D atop West Ham’s area. He touched it back to Denilson who exchanged passes with Nasri before hitting a weak shot.

Shame! That would have been as good a goal as you will see anywhere. The move deserved better.

On 16, Clichy pressured the ball high but failed to get back in position. Diamanti’s excellent pass gave Stanislas space and time where Clichy would normally be. Fortunately, the resulting cross was beyond Mido at the far post.

Cesc was hauled down from behind on 18. The captain has been targeted for a little more than his fair share of attention lately. Kovacs and Behrami continued the trend.

Song was at it again on 20. This time Mido lost out. Again, the ball was taken cleanly, efficiently, with the opponent left on his backside, and without any thuggery. He even won a free kick and a hand slap from the vanquished striker.

On 21, Song picked up another stray pass and played it to Cesc. The captain fed Eboue who used Song as a decoy to get himself a free shot on goal. The shot was free but on goal it was not. The move deserved better.

Another good move came on 22. A thirteen pass build up resulted in a poor layoff by Bendtner to Cesc. It was a terribly lazy pass. The move deserved better.

Nevertheless it was good to watch. Clichy, Cesc, Denilson, Song, Eboue, Nasri, Arshavin, and Bendtner were all involved. It reminded me of when a West Ham supporter said that he doesn’t like all the short passing we do because the football is not direct enough. The man is entitled to feel that way I suppose but when a move involves 8 of the 11 players and ends in the opposition’s penalty area, it is well worth the price of admission. Bendtner made a mess of the final ball but the movement and quick passing was superb.

We were reminded on 23 that our keeper can still have communication problems with his back four. Sol thumped a ball into touch when there was no immediate pressure. The look on his face after a brief discussion with the keeper was noteworthy.

Behrami kicked Cesc on 26. West Ham beat the off-side trap on 28 but failed to punish us. Song cleaned up (again) with ease on 29 to close the first half hour.

Jonathan Spector was not being abused by Arshavin the way I would expect him to be. The gulf in class of the two players is frightening. Nothing less than a demoralizing experience for the West Ham RB will do when those two are matched up.

The remaining 15 minutes saw Eboue cross dangerously but Arshavin was late arriving. Sol got away with a two-footed tackle at the top of our area but then got a yellow at the other end for a rough challenge on Stanislas. The same West Ham man was later allowed to shoot from distance but it caused Almunia little trouble. Song started a move that ended with Cesc crossing dangerously but nobody arrived to finish. The captain had an uncharacteristically bad first touch on a precise and very well weighted ball from Arshavin on 42.

The next significant action happened three minutes later. Alex Song lost the ball in midfield. West Ham played a couple of quick passes before Diamanti sent it long over the top to Franco. Vermaelen raced back with him. As the ball landed, the two crossed the Arsenal 18. Vermaelen’s arm made contact with the striker but it was the contact their legs made that caused Franco to go down. Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot and pulled out a red card.

No arguments from Vermaelen as he walked off. The history of matches played with ten men under Wenger is positive. I don’t have the numbers but I did not feel we would suffer being down a man.

The Second Half started with a spell of pressure from West Ham as a steadier rain began to fall. The referee’s assistant flagged Franco offsides on 54. He was not. Sol played him on. After initially winning the ball near the midfield stripe, Denilson received a pass back from Cesc. He shot from distance to win a deflected corner. The crowd began to make themselves heard.

I felt confident that we could prevent West Ham from scoring. I also felt confident that we could score ourselves. That wouldn’t be helped however by the kind of sloppy, possession gifting kicks Almunia has made in the past and here on 55.

Substitutions were bound to happen. Zola swapped Franco for Cole on 57. Wenger swapped Nik for Abou Diaby. Another good Eboue run was ended by Upson’s foul on 62. Cesc wasted the free kick shooting wide. There was a good spell of pressure from Arsenal. You could see that being down a man hadn’t made them less an attacking force.

Stanislas and Diamanti threatened on 68 and 69 but Sol and Song were equal to their efforts. Sol would threaten Green with a header on 74 but it wasn’t very well struck to be honest. Sagna was introduced for Nasri on 75. A trademark Diaby turn on 77 set him off on a run. His layoff to Arshavin ended with a deflected shot. Carlton Cole could have leveled for West Ham shortly after. His left foot shot beat Almunia but failed to beat the post.

Clichy made a good run on 79 to win a free kick deep in West Ham territory. Would this be the chance? No! Cesc wasted the free kick. On 82, Diamanti played a dangerous square ball to Jonathan Spector with Cesc lurking. The RB failed to control the pass. It got away from him. Cesc beat him to the loose ball and poked it to Eboue. He dribbled forward, changed direction and then squared to the onrushing captain. Cesc’s first touch was handled by Matthew Upson. Penalty!

Francesc Fabregas stepped up to send Green the wrong way and score his 18th goal of the season (15th in the league).

2-0 AFC

A third for Arsenal looked more likely than West Ham getting a consolation goal in the remaining minutes. That makes a run of six league victories since losing to Chelsea. There’s no telling how we’ll do the rest of the way but the belief is strong and continues to get stronger.

Keep the Faith.

Good News Bad News

The much anticipated run of big matches has started with a draw at Villa Park. The 0-0 result was not the worst, but it has moved us down to third place. Still, we weren’t supposed to be here. The “experts” can lick a pig’s crack.

All is not lost. We have United Sunday and can jump above them with a victory. As important as the next three league matches are, we won’t be hurt too badly by draws. Obviously, we want three points every time.

There’s good news in that we had to replace our brilliant signing Thomas Vermaelen yet we still ended up with a clean sheet. The bad news is that reports are suggesting he might have a broken leg. Can we trust Sol for the remainder of the season?

Other good news is that we can call on Nicklas Bendtner again. He’s back from the groin injury. Bad news is Eduardo has a hamstring problem. If I were superstitious I’d swear that we’re cursed.

Depth

Many pundits like to point out that Arsenal have no depth. They say we have too many similar types of players.

This year, the following players have been injured and missed multiple games for us:

Manuel Almunia, Abou Diaby, Cesc Fabregas, Philippe Senderos, Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri, Eduardo, Robin van Persie, Carlos Vela, Theo Walcott, Denilson, Aaron Ramsey, Mikael Silvestre, Jack Wilshere, Johan Djourou, Lukasz Fabianski, Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Eboue, Kieran Gibbs, Fran Merida, and Nicklas Bendtner.

Additionally, William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin clearly is carrying some knocks but playing through the pain and Alex Song has departed for the Africa Cup of Nations.

So what does this tell us?

One, we have depth. We have real depth. If we didn’t, we’d be closer to 8th like Liverpool.

Two, Vermaelen and Gallas have been huge for us. If they get injured, both Sol and Mikael need to step up big time.

Three, Alex Song is one of the best holding players in the Premier League.

We can be frustrated by our injuries, but clearly the team pushes on. That is the mark of a winning side.

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