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Friday 4 January 2013

Interpreting Arsène.....?

Although AW is much respected by the media ratpack in general because of the erudite way in which he's often willing to spout forth in response to their largely inane questions, when it comes to matters of a more delicate nature, we've grown accustomed to Arsène's habitual tendency to play his cards very close to his chest.

As a result, after 16 years of AW's tenure, we Gooners are left trying to deduce what little we can from small snippets of information. For example, are we to intimate from Arsène's reported quote in response to the ongoing Theo Walcott contract saga "I don't think he is only interested in money" that despite increasing their original offer, our skinflint club is doing its utmost to leverage Theo's desire to remain in North London to the maximum, by continuing to offer him less than the wages he's being promised elsewhere?

If this is the case, we can only speculate upon the difference, but you can bet that at the same time, Walcott's agent is hyping up any potential for a Dutch auction and taking advantage of the Gunner's customary reluctance to keep everything behind closed doors, by going back to any other willing bidders and encouraging them to up their offer, in order to maintain the size of any wage increase that's likely to be sufficient to lure Theo away.

I've never been Walcott's no. 1 fan and won't be until I witness him having an influential impact upon games on a more consistent basis. Nevertheless, even on a bad day at the office, just the threat of Theo's blistering pace up front is sufficient to put the willies up most opposition defences and thereby hopefully affording more opportunities to his team mates and quite frankly we've lacked the threat of any such pace at the spearhead of our attack since TH14 made his initial exit (prior to his second and somewhat more sedate coming).

However, if Walcott should end up taking his leave of the Arsenal for the sake of an additional £10k, £20k, or even £30k per week, our club's perennial stinginess could prove far more costly, not only because the likes of Gervinho makes Walcott look world class by comparison and the sort of price we might have to pay to replace him, but more crucially, following the ceaseless, season upon season, drain of talent from the Gunners squad in recent times, what it says about the Arsenal that we can no longer hang on to the likes of Theo and the fact that this not only confirms our status as a selling club, but also the overall lack of ambition of the board.

Losing Van Persie was heartbreaking. Losing him to Man Utd was positively an outrage but Robin was amongst an extremely scarce supply of the sort of world's best strikers that in the absence of success returning to North London, I guess it was always only a matter of time before a club with a seemingly limitless bankroll made him an offer that he simply couldn't refuse.

However sadly Theo doesn't quite rank in the same category as Robin and to find ourselves outbid for his somewhat more limited talents, well quite frankly this would not only be embarrassing, but probably a mistake in pure economic terms, as imagine how much extra the Arsenal might have to pay to attract additional talent to North London in future, when prospective players are considering their options and thinking that they would require a whole lot more persuasion, to come to a club that can't even be guaranteed to retain their minor stars?

Talking of Man Utd, Arsène's efforts to silence the constant stream of questions about Nani the other day might also offer some interpretation. Myself I really don't understand our interest in Man Utd rejects, as Fergie hasn't lost anywhere near enough of his marbles to be flogging his rivals (sadly, not that we count as one of these nowadays!) anything but a complete and utter pup - see Mikael Silvestre! But to my mind Wenger's firm denial in stating that "we don't look at anyone from Man Utd" suggested to me that perhaps enquiries had been made and the Gunners had received short shrift from the Mancunians, responding in the sort of fashion that we should've done when receiving an offer for RvP.

Sure I appreciate that you simply cannot hang on to a player if he's absolutely determined to leave, but even if it had cost us a few million quid in the transfer sum, we should've remained masters of the situation and sold him to a club of our choosing, expressly not one of our competitors. Having set such a precedent at the Gunners, surely we've left ourselves prone to suffering a repeat performance of the tail wagging the dog, whereby players in future might be able to dictate where and when they choose to go!

Here's hoping Walcott chooses to continue enduring the current experience of chasing his tail, rather than wagging it

Keep the faith

Arsène Finds Himself Looking Down Walcott's Three-Goal Barrel, Hoping Theo Doesn't Pull That Trigger

Apologies but I forgot to hit the "publish" button after finishing my weekly missive below on Sunday and following the utterly demoralising schlep to St Mary's on New Year's Day, where the Gunners failed miserably to turn up (to such an extent that I even overheard several Saints' fans commenting on their way out about how crap we were), I thought it best to save any further comment until after the weekend's outing to Swansea, where hopefully a drastically improved display will ensure that I don't end up feeling quite so obliged to go off on a furious tirade, about how an undeservedly arrogant Arsenal side needs to take a serious look at themselves!

Seeing the Gunners drop points is water off a duck's back to me, so long as I can go home feeling that we've given a decent enough account of ourselves and done justice to whatever ability there is in the Arsenal side concerned. However it was such a frustratingly limp and unspirited performance on Tuesday that a stranger could've been forgiven for thinking that it was Southampton who were the team supposedly challenging for Champions League qualification and the Gunners struggling to avoid the relegation quagmire. 

We will seriously end up kicking ourselves, if the two points we so casually dropped at St Mary's end up being the points that cost us 4th place. Albeit that sadly, based on that miserable showing, we are more likely to be needing the points to prevent ourselves being dragged down towards the relegation dogfight than we are to be needing them to challenge for a fourth-placed finish.

Based on Bakari Sagna's admirable and often unsung consistency up until now (which has been all the more remarkable considering the imperfections of those playing alongside him in defence), if Baks appeared to have gone off the boil against Newcastle, lamentably he was a walking disaster against Southampton. It was suggested to me that his dip in form might have something to do with the anniversary of the death of his brother, but I've checked that since and this tragedy happened in Feb 2008. So as I've intimated below, perhaps the dramatic dip in form of the Gunner's own Mr Reliable is indicative that, contrary to what AW would have us believe, something is well and truly rotten and that unfortunately it's definitely not in the state of Denmark (either that or sadly, Sagna is about to make his exit)!

There were more than a few ironic chuckles on the terraces at St Mary's on Tuesday, as AW sent on Gervinho and Ramsey, as we couldn't possibly have wished for two more unlikely saviours. While Gervinho was so devoid of any confidence and his customary headless chicken impersonation left us all thinking that the African Nations Cup couldn't possibly come soon enough, for me it was Aaron Ramsey who highlighted the principle problem with our squad and the complete absence of the sort of stalwart characters, capable of inspiring and cajoling the best out of those around them.

It's true that Aaron was only given a fifteen minute run out at the end of Tuesday's game, but instead of injecting some last-minute energy into the team with his fresh legs, he had only been on the pitch for a few minutes and rather than offering himself as a recipient for the ball, as one might've expected, he was already pointing towards his team mates, suggesting the ball be passed to someone who'd been out there for the entire 90.

To my mind I always find it infuriating when those in red & white begin pointing at one another, to suggest that their team mates are better placed to receive the ball. As far as I'm concerned, forget any potential improvements resulting from any minor tinkering with individual elements in our team, this is indicative of one of the major weaknesses in the very foundations at the Arsenal for far too long now and which badly needs to be addressed before we can ever expect to achieve anything.

Quite frankly, it's this pointing at one another which suggests to me that far too many of our players are happy to collect their obscene wage packets each week without ever sticking their heads above the parapets. The pointing indicates a player who would rather his team mate be given the responsibility for possession of the ball than him, when instead he should be busy finding space to make himself available.

I would've much preferred to have seen Carl Jenkinson playing against Southampton on Tuesday, as even if he had been guilty of naive errors, I could've at least gone home with the satisfaction of seeing at least one true Gooner, willing to put everything on the line to achieve a result. 

Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh on the potential of Jack Wilshere, but this pointing malarkey always seems to highlight the age old problem of an Arsenal squad devoid of leaders, prepared to take responsibility and to offer themselves up, as the player blessed with sufficient belief and ability, either to grab a game by the scruff of the neck themselves, or to inspire their team mates around them to do so with their commitment to the cause. Worse still, so long as they continue pointing at one another, this only serves to perpetuate a "jobs worth" attitude throughout the squad, as they look at one another and think "well if he doesn't want the ball, why should I bother"!

Watching Match Of the Day on Tuesday night and enduring the agony of RvP notching another brace, I couldn't help but be reminded of Robin's exceptional ability and the fact that he could've been relied on to have produced the sort of one-off goods necessary to have nicked all three points against Southampton. I have to admit that I was left feeling that without Robin's peerless talent and in the absence of the sort of leadership to lend this Arsenal side some genuine character, we are doomed.

Then again, I bumped into my mate Miles outside St Mary's, who I've known since he was the landlord of the Alexandra pub in Finchley, where his tour operations begun many moons back by running coach trips to away games for his Gooner maters. Miles was handing out flyers for the Sport Options trip to Bayern in March (£255 one day, £329 overnight - and no I'm not on commission :-) Deluded perhaps, or doubtless still drunk from the previous night's revelries but Miles assured me that it was our destiny to win the big-eared prize this season.

Who knows, stranger things have happened and if we needed any further demonstration, QPR beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was a reminder that it does indeed remain "a funny old game"

There you go, that's what passes for "no further comment" in my book. Here's wishing everyone a very happy & healthy New Year

Keep the faith
Come on you Reds


Having our Boxing Day game cancelled again because of another tube strike was a real gutter. If we’d known sooner, I could’ve joined my missus in spending Xmas with her folks in Dublin. Instead I ended up stopping at home and missing out on both the turkey and the football. I’m not sure the Arsenal would’ve been quite so quick to postpone our encounter with West Ham, if we hadn’t been humbled by Bradford, since there might not have been such a convenient window for this fixture, if we still had a two-legged semi-final to play in January.
For me Xmas isn’t Xmas without the excuse to get out of the house after gorging oneself, to watch others working off their excesses. I’m sure that in the opinion of most fans, they would’ve much preferred for the game to have gone ahead and to have endured a little aggro getting there, than for it to have been cancelled.
As a result and after listening to all the spills & thrills of Saturday’s earlier matches, come 5.30pm, I was absolutely gagging for my fix of festive football. Boy was my patience rewarded in spades by a thrilling, extravaganza of a roller-coaster ride against the Toon.
Ultimately, the Gunners benefitted from their break and the margin of the 7-3 scoreline reflected the fact that Alan Pardew’s over-stretched squad eventually ran out of steam after their midweek exertions in Manchester. Yet for much of this match it was the Gunners who looked lethargic and somewhat leaden-footed.
Curling the ball into the bottom corner, from the left-hand edge of the penalty area was so notably reminiscent of Thierry Henry that it was as if Walcott’s first goal was a tribute to his mentor, who was watching on from his own executive box in the stands. However, much to everyone’s frustration, instead of capitalising on having taken the lead and taking advantage of our fresh-legs, by putting Newcastle to the sword, the Gunners set the pattern for this game, by sitting back and inviting the opposition to do their worst.
Being between the age of 40 and 74, I’ve just been invited to undergo an NHS medical check up. But who needs it, when watching the Arsenal tends to be far more strenuous than any cardiovascular stress test. There must’ve been more than a few bloods vessels at bursting point amongst the 60,000 odd spectators, until Olivier Giroud appeared and enabled us to relax and enjoy the electrifying finale to Saturday’s spectacle, after eventually securing a two-goal cushion in the 86th minute.
In fact sadly it has been a fairly constant theme of the season so far that the Gunners either fail to pull their finger out until after having gone a goal behind, or, having taken a lead in games, we rest on our laurels to the point where an equaliser is almost inevitable.
Bakari Sagna performs at such a commendably consistent level that a bad defensive day at the office for the French full-back was fairly indicative of the overall lack of focus, which was responsible for allowing Demba Ba and co. to muscle themselves back into the match three times. Never mind a lack of focus, Kieran Gibbs was so switched off that he looked as if he was off somewhere else, perhaps performing for the fairies first XI. But it seems somewhat churlish of me to be moaning, after this mixture of farcical defending and fabulous football contributed to the Gunners seeing out 2012 on a high, following an afternoon of such magical entertainment.
We were fortunate to scrape a result at Wigan and to meet a Newcastle side deprived of its most creative forces, in the absence of Ben Arfa and Cabaye. But having managed to gain a little momentum, the trick now will be to maintain this into the New Year. To do so, Arsène needs to breakout the chequebook, to bring the Walcott saga to a swift resolution and to bolster our squad with some fresh blood.
With his waning influence in recent matches, Santi Cazorla already appears to be suffering under the burden of his relentless responsibility. Although it pains me to say it, when I look at Spurs, with Scott Parker returning to fitness, our squad appears flimsy by comparison and we could badly do with the psychological boost of adding some strength in depth. Marouanne Chamakh isn’t even rated good enough for the Moroccan national team and there was me hoping that he and Gervinho would both get lost in South Africa!

As Walcott lingered on the pitch to soak up the plaudits on Saturday, I wasn’t sure if he was showing his appreciation for the “sign him up” chants that will have helped to secure him an additional £30k per week on his new contract, or bidding us all a fond farewell?

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