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Wednesday 13 January 2010

Gunners Haven't The "Hampsteads" For Chewing Up Toffees

Hi folks,

Me'thinks Santa must need a hearing aid, since I certainly didn't whisper Sol Campbell in his ear when I sat on his knee and told him what I wanted for Xmas. Perhaps I tugged at his beard too hard, as I didn't get a new Macbook, or a world class keeper!

Personally I pray that Gallas and Vermaelen remain fit and that even if we sign him, Sol proves superfluous. At least he didn't do a runner from the dressing room, after his first-half outing for the reserves at Upton Park last night, as he did the last time he played against West Ham in an Arsenal shirt. However I can't help but feel that if Sol is currently looking strong and fit, it's all a bit of a thin veneer and that underneath, psychologically, the man's a little flaky?

In truth, I'd much rather see the likes of Kyle Bartley coming through the ranks and given the opportunity to prove whether he can cut the mustard, instead of us taking a backward step with Campbell. If we end up needing to play Sol, I fancy he's going to look calm and composed, like the world class centre-back we know him to be, so long as everything is hunky-dory, but I worry that if he ends up being exposed for a lack of pace and we concede a couple of goals, we could witness the big man crumbling before our very eyes and it wouldn't be a pretty sight!

With Sol having trained at the club for the past couple of months, I can understand Wenger's "better the devil you know" logic, but if as a result of injury, we're forced to use Sol in any crucial games, against top notch opposition, I am going to be no less terrified about what might transpire than if Senderos was playing. Its bound to be frustrating for the kids, as careers have been made in circumstances where we've been forced to throw a youngster into the fray. Still we can but hope that this situation doesn't arise and Sol spends the remainder of the season bringing an air of calm, composed authority to the Arsenal dressing room, without ever actually taking a step out onto the pitch.

Meanwhile I can't seem to find it on the BBC web site, so as to offer you a link, but there was a great interview with Shava on Football Focus on Saturday. In fact the whole program was well worth watching, as with only two Premiership games on Saturday, the entire show was almost exclusively dedicated to the Gunners.

In the interview with Arshavin, when asked about the problems he has experienced with the move from Russia, Shava told how he has had difficulty with the parking and bank accounts, as he's previously been used to parking his car wherever he wants and that apparently he has only ever dealt with cash in the past!

My respect for the diminutive Ruski has rocketed after subsequently reading an interview in which he tells how he's been struggling with a pain in his right foot in recent weeks, to the extent that he's avoiding using it in training, but has continued to play despite the injury, because he appreciates that his presence is essential at present, with so many other influential players out injured.

In an age where professional footballers tend to cry off at the first sign of the slightest niggle, putting personal interests and their own longevity, before the needs of their club, it is indeed extremely refreshing to hear of a player who's prepared to continue playing, through the pain barrier, out of a sense of duty to the club.

If Arsène is in the mood for taking backward steps, then never mind Sol Campbell, what about Mathieu Flamini? If it is true that Flamini is interested in a return to the Premiership, because he's not getting regular football with AC Milan and is only being used as cover at full-back, he's likely to want to be playing high-profile footie, in order to try and nail down a spot in the French World Cup squad. And if, according to the gossip in the red-tops, it's true that Spurs are sniffing about, surely Mattie would much prefer a return to the right end of the Seven Sisters Road?

Moreover, with Arsène being so seriously deprived of any cover for Alex Song in the holding role in midfield, Flamini would be a welcome addition to a squad that he should've never been allowed to leave in the first place!

While we might have dropped two points against Everton at the weekend, at least we've got one over on David Moyes, with our latest signing (according to reports in the tabloids), having pinched the Bolivian under-21 skipper from under their noses and snapping up Samuel Gallindo. Apparently the Toffees failed to tie up a deal with the youngster after he'd trained with them on Merseyside. He then headed to London and spent the day with the Gunners, where Arsène promptly arranged for him to put pen to paper on a contract before taking him out for a slap up meal to celebrate!

With the wonders of the internet, you can view a somewhat sketchy showreel of the South American wonderkid on YouTube at and but I look forward to seeing what the attacking midfielder can do in the flesh.

At least this means that the Gunners have done some business during the transfer window, even if this has only been to sign an aging has-been as cover at centre-back and a promising youngster who might be one for the future. Over the past couple of days my tickets for the games at Bolton, Villa Park and the FA Cup 4th round match at Stoke have all turned up in the post, providing evidence of the fact that we've got fixtures coming thick and fast over the next few weeks, which are bound to test the resources of the current Arsenal squad to the full.

Still with a supposed £35million hardly burning a hole in le Gaffer's pocket, I'm not exactly holding my breath, waiting for him to splash the cash and strengthen the team in those areas that seem obvious to everyone, but le Prof!

Big Love

Considering we were 1-2 down as the clock ticked past the ninety minute mark and in light of the fact that it’s been a pleasant surprise to be slip, sliding into the New Year, in touching distance of the Premiership summit and with so many significant absentees from Saturday’s encounter with Everton, I suppose we shouldn’t really complain about Thomas Rosicky rescuing a palliative, last gasp point, from the jaws of a demoralising defeat.

Nevertheless, with Man U’s mundane outing at St. Andrews being the only other Premiership match to survive the arctic conditions, I couldn’t escape the sense that we’d been presented with a prime opportunity to steal a march on the competition and we’d blown it, big time.

I’d have absolutely no axe to grind with this two-point setback, if I felt that the Gunners had gone out there and produced a ‘carpe diem’ type display, that abounded with the sort of vim and vigour of a bunch of players who are acutely aware of the hunger, passion and commitment necessary, in grinding out the performances to prove their genuine title challenging credentials.

Perhaps it’s slightly naïve of me to be expecting these sort of ‘eyeballs out’, big-hearted displays that I recall from my heroes of yesteryear, in these far more mercenary times. Much like the grit and the salt required to keep the roads open, there’s certainly been a shortage of this sort of ‘hearts of oak’ fortitude, in the somewhat complacent efforts of the other two main contenders in recent weeks. Still, so long as our mollycoddled modern superstars are more ‘up for it’ than the opposition, we can continue to kid ourselves that it means as much to them, as it does to you and me!

Sadly this wasn’t the case last weekend. Arsène might think he can make it so, merely by intoning his “spirit and belief” mantra enough times, but some of Saturday’s pictures told a different story. Watching the highlights again on the box, when Pienaar left Almunia gormlessly wafting a glove at thin air, as the South African winger lifted the ball over our goalie, for what looked to be the winner, from the camera angle behind the goal, Samir Nasri appeared to be the only player in red & white breaking his neck to get back (probably because Pienaar was his responsibility and Samir was guilty of letting the youngster get goalside of him in the first place!), while all his team mates had given up the ghost. What if Almunia had got something on the ball, or it had rebounded off the post?

Don’t get me started on Denilson collapsing to the ground a few moments later, as if he’d taken a bullet in the belly from a corporate sniper, targeting our Brazilian clay pigeon from Club Level, thereby presenting the Toffees with an opportunity to seal the victory. Mercifully Vaughan lacked the same composure as Pienaar and slammed the ball into Manuel’s midrift. At the time I was cursing the precious seconds ticking away as Denilson was being treated and stretchered off, but this was nothing compared to the sort of abuse he’d have suffered if he’d had gifted Everton a third goal. Perhaps he’s not the brightest spark in the Arsenal squad, but it should take something as debilitating as a bullet, to prevent even the most brain dead footballer from remembering to put the ball into touch, or passing it to a team mate, before dropping to the deck.

For some reason, the Gunners weren’t at the races on Saturday. Surely they must’ve known that Moyes was going to use the six-goal, opening day humiliation as motivation, to inspire the Toffees to try and gain some retribution? Right from the off the visitors were first to every 50/50 and winning every second ball. There seems to be a disconcerting pattern developing, whereby we appear to start matches at a low tempo, as if we’re playing a waiting game, patiently expecting to eventually take advantage when the opposition run out of steam. All too often it takes for us to go a goal behind, before we attempt to stir ourselves from our torpor.

It always seems to come back to the fact that we’re found wanting for big game personalities, the sort of leader out on the park who’s capable of recognising that Saturday’s game was going to be no stroll in the park and turning up the heat on his colleagues, so as to raise our intensity level to match the opposition’s. Gallas will often get a fly in his ear after the damage has been done and charge forward to try and show his team mates how to do it. I appreciate this lead by example expression of Gallas’ desire that the Gunners shouldn’t be undone. Yet it seems to me that without the sort of demonstrative personality who parks themselves centre-stage and shows that you can’t come into my house and take charge of the remote control, sadly we’re often going to struggle to impose our ability in such fervent encounters.

Still it could’ve been a whole lot worse, as I could’ve ended up paying someone a hundred quid to cover me at the theatre, only too watch us get beat and I guess we must be grateful that unlike the vast majority of fans, we had a game to go to! When I awoke Sunday morning to discover that most of the snow and ice had melted, it seemed farcical that the game down the road at Upton Park had been postponed. To my mind the Stoke chairman’s quote about “wanting” to play their game against Fulham spoke volumes about the utterly scandalous lack of will to play the rest of the weekend’s Premiership fixtures, with the weather a decidedly feeble excuse for those clubs with other agendas. Mind you, I guess we should be used to it by now, as there’s no better country for hyping winter snowfall into a dramatic disaster of Tsunami like proportions!

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Perry Grove said...

Well written, as ever.

Disagree RE Campbell though - a clever addition to the squad. Let's hope he doesn't play a game for months though...

Bern said...

Don't get me wrong, I reckon Sol's "been there, done that" composure will make him a reassuring presence in the dressing room and that as such a hulk of a man, psychologically he could well prove a beneficial addition, as everyone likes to feel they've got some physical backing behind them and that just standing in the tunnel prior to coming out onto the pitch, he could well lend our squad a much more imposing feel.

But with his recent history, I can't help but feel a certain amount of trepidation as to how he might react if and when he's actually needed to play and he comes unstuck against quality opposition

As you say, let's hope we don't need to find out :-)

Anonymous said...

great blog again bernard.. i, like you, was at the game on saturday and i couldnt belive how slowly our players started. how can a team that has a chance to go SECOND and only one point behind the leaders not be up for it. i tear my hair out sometimes with this team.

on a more positive note IMO we didnt play a good game in the whole of december and yet we are now unbeaten in 7 league games. whats that they say about winning ugly?.....

not sure what to make of Sol's return but i supposse if the boss thinks he can do a job who am i to argue. dissapointed for senderos though..

keep up the good work bernard xx arsenal tone

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