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Wednesday 28 August 2013

You've Got To Laugh....

Mikel Arteta came to us from Everton as the Toffees' main creative force, but in the absence of any other viable candidates, the unsung Spaniard has done a seriously impressive and responsible job in the holding role in our midfield. But in Arteta's absence, Manny Frimpong is just about the only remaining player in our squad for whom this is his natural role and sadly all the big-time distractions appear to have stunted Frimpong's progress and he's yet to be deemed responsible enough to take on this crucial job.

And yet no matter how blatantly obvious our need is for a defensive midfielder and for some more cover elsewhere in defence (right-sided CB and FB), we hear it announced on the radio this evening that Juan Mata's dad and his agent were watching tonight's match in the director's box.

Now personally I would take far more pleasure in winding up Chelsea fans, by pinching Juan Mata from under Mourinho's nose (as rumour has it that Jose doesn't rate Mata) than I would in upsetting the Toon Army, by relieving them of their most talented midfielder. Yet like every other Gooner, I can't help but think that if AW is actually to pull a rabbit or two out of his magic hat before the transfer window slides shut, if this should prove to be Mata or Cabaye, just about the last thing our squad needs is another talented attacking midfielder!

Hopefully with Podolski being stretchered off with a hamstring injury this evening and with Wenger immediately reacting by removing Giroud from the fray, before just about our last remaining striking option (if you exclude Theo's centre-forward delusions) ended up limping off, our manager will be left with no choice but to react by adding some more firepower from somewhere (especially with Yaya "Bambi" Sanogo looking such a long way from being a feasible alternative at present, albeit an opinion based only on the briefest of glimpses).

And with Aaron Ramsey publicly admitting to our squad being some way short in his post-match interview, I would assume this means we are entitled to be optimistic about some serious transfer action over the next few days, as otherwise surely the players would still be singing from another songbook, touting Arsene's traditional party line on the strength and quality in the dressing room and about not bringing anyone in, unless they are better than what we already have.

But it would appear that our players are no less eager than all of us Gooners, for AW to do some transfer business and it would certainly be a big boost if this can be achieved in advance of Sunday's derby. I couldn't believe how many empty seats there were in the stadium tonight, as I've rarely seen the upper tier behind the Clock End looking so deserted.

Obviously it will be a different story on Sunday, when the stadium will be rammed full and as I strolled up to the ground this evening, in the late summer sunshine, in such a relaxed mood, with us already being three goals to the good against the Turks, I couldn't help but remark upon the likely contrast between the lack of tension in the air tonight and the anxiety that's bound to be present in advance of our encounter with Spurs this weekend.

With all my Spurs mates in such bullish mood, I will be absolutely dreading the prospect of a bad result and the possibility of having to turn my phone off for several days, to avoid all the resultant piss-taking. But by the same token, with Tottenham fans enjoying their customary early season pipe-dreams and with their fantasies even more inflated than usual, it will be even more satisfying if we're able to prick their balloon, before it even gets off the ground, by making AVB"s £60 million scattergun investment look decidedly ordinary (as they did against Swansea on Sunday, where the sole Spurs player to impress was Townsend, the full-back who was just about the only positive aspect to QPR's season when he was on loan there last year).

Thus, where the lack of tension this evening ensured that I was hardly exultant at having ended Fernebace's brief Champions League experience, the butterflies in the stomach and the nervous tension in the air in advance of Sunday's derby, is guaranteed to result in a seriously heightened air of euphoria (even more than usual) should we manage to send our own increasingly noisy neighbours, back down the Seven Sisters Road with their tails between their legs

Come on you Reds

Sunday 25 August 2013

The Heavens Opened And The Very Pleasing On The Eye Entertainment Poured Forth

It was more than a little ironic to hear Paul Lambert bemoaning bad decisions that contributed to  his side's defeat at Villa Park on Saturday. I didn't hear the Scot complaining quite so vehemently last weekend, after ref Andrew Taylor had such a stinker in our opening game that he was subsequently axed from officiating in the Premiership!

Still, at least we can deduce from Villa's subsequent respectable performances against the Scousers and in midweek against Chelsea that the Gunners didn't play that badly in our depressing curtain-raiser.

After being the butt of so much and somewhat undeserved terrace vitriol, it's great to see Aaron Ramsey's form continue on its upward trajectory, silencing all those detractors who'd opted to make Ramsey the scapegoat for all our ills. Especially when Aaron was still recovering from a career-threatening injury and was so frequently being asked to perform in an unfamiliar, many would say unsuitable role, as an obvious square peg in a round hole, lacking the necessary pace to play out wide on the flank.

Yet while the Welshman might have been afforded sufficient time & space in the middle of the park against Fulham, to deservedly end up with the Man of the Match plaudits, for my money and in such difficult conditions (where despite the amazingly efficient drainage, it must've been dreadfully difficult to judge a pass, with the ball being constantly slowed by all that sitting water), the most obvious class act was Cazorla.

We should have a squad with enough depth to ensure we didn't require Santi's introduction last Saturday, to try and effect a rescue, when the Spaniard was plainly not at his best after an exhausting return trek from South America. But perhaps Cazorla was left feeling somewhat guilty, following the casual lapse in concentration that led to him having his pocket picked in the build up to Villa being awarded the penalty (incorrectly IMHO in spite of all the post-match analysis that proved otherwise) because he was definitely up for it against Fulham.

And although the diminutive Spaniard might've not had such an obvious impact on the outcome, he produced an entertaining array of delicate little touches in such difficult conditions, some directly in front of his adoring faithful filling the entire Putney End behind the goal, which positively screamed of the man's genius and where the little matador left me instinctively hollering "ole", as he made a monkey of his comparatively clumsy opponent.

Better still, I'm so accustomed to us turning up for these dreaded early KOs (first up against the wall, come the revolution, will be the TV execs responsible!), only to fail to pull our finger out until the second half, that it was an extremely pleasant surprise to see the Gunners come out of the traps in such fine and hungry style from the kick-off, as if they truly had something to prove to us and every other bugger.

If I've any criticisms, then it's the fact that we didn't kick on and go for the throat, after taking the lead, but instead sat back and allowed the home team some breathing space, enabling their unfamiliar line-up to grow more comfortable on the ball. But then our inability to put opponents to the sword when we get the scent of blood is an age old failing and under such inclement circumstances and after our midweek exploits in Turkey, I guess I should cut them some slack in this instance.

After taking so much stick for his creditable Bozo the clown impersonation last week, Sczczny deserves plenty of credit. Aside from his contribution in Fulham's consolation goal, our keeper's handling was pretty much perfect, which was no mean feat under the circumstances. Moreover, if it wasn't for Woijech's double save in the first half, this match might've resulted in an entirely different story.

Two-nil up and looking very comfortable at the break, I turned to my neighbour to enquire "can we go home now?", fearful that it might all go tits up second half. Thankfully it didn't and I was glad I didn't because I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on the party atmosphere in our stand behind the goal, as a couple of thousand decidedly damp but joyful Gooners more than made up for last weekend's misery. Fulham's such a friendly ground to visit and with such a large away contingent, it often has the feeling of a home game, albeit with a far improved atmosphere and for some (usually alcohol related) reason, our visits to Craven Cottage often seem to be the inspiration for new terrace ditties.

It's not original and I fancy that you'll probably hear the same tune being sung at grounds up and down the country this season, but in case you heard it on the box and were wondering, this was the catchy chorus that was resonating from the Gooner end on Saturday.

But that's more than enough waffle from me for one week and besides hopefully it will be worth me saving some superlatives in reserve for next Sunday
Keep the faith
Come on you Reds


Fulham has always provided one of my favourite Premiership outings. If tourists were coming to London, wanting to experience our peculiar brand of the beautiful game, before the sterile corporate makeover is complete, the quaint, friendly but “in yer face” ancient environs of Craven Cottage would be my recommended destination. So long might Fulham’s hirsute new custodian ensure that this prime riverside pitch continues to evade the clutches of greedy property developers.

Sadly the weather didn’t put out the welcome mat on Saturday, with a deluge that might have eventually forced the match to be abandoned if it hadn’t abated. However, in view of the fact that Martin Jol has appeared to take a perverse pleasure in putting one over on our manager in the past, I certainly didn’t expect our hosts to hand over the bottle and invite the Gunners to help themselves.

In fact, with our depleted squad forcing Arsène to select pretty much the same side that had been disturbed by a less then friendly firework display in the wee hours, outside the team hotel in Istanbul, prior to well and truly putting Fernebace to the sword, followed by a long schlep back from Turkey, the couple of thousand Gooners who turned up at the Cottage were full of trepidation, in anticipation of a difficult afternoon.

Yet it is styles that make matches and mercifully Fulham’s latest incarnation flattered the Gunners, enabling us to turn on the sort of style that was remarkable under the water-logged circumstances and which was perhaps testament to the fact that it is not entirely soft-soap, when Wenger spouts off like a broken record about the qualities of our existing squad.

But seven days are a very long time in football and as wrong as the over the top reaction was from the not so faithful to our opening day defeat to Villa, by the same token, I’m minded to keep my powder dry after two subsequent, comprehensive victories. After all, with Spurs to come next Sunday and the transfer window inexorably sliding shut, for all we know, we could be back in the same depressing boat by Monday week.

Nevertheless, even if it should prove only temporary, I’m hugely thankful for the two impressive results that have lifted the black mood hereabouts and left us looking forward to this weekend’s Derby, feeling far more optimistic. As talented a footballer as he might be, I have my doubts as to whether Cabaye is likely to solve all our woes and I pray Wenger surprises us all with a somewhat more significant addition to the squad in the days ahead.

If the past week has demonstrated anything, it is the possibility that there exists a core spirit in the current Arsenal squad, amongst a group of players who’ve been together for a considerable amount of time and who’ve shared the anguish of successive failure. As a result, one can’t help but sense the sort of hunger for success that might only require the encouragement of a couple of fresh, but well respected faces, for this to flourish.

It’s always “crunch time” in football, but as far as the Arsenal is concerned, I can’t help but feel that le Prof is verging on a precipice. Where either he's successful in providing his young charges with the additional ammunition this squad requires, for them to push on and fulfill all our dreams, or where more of the same “make do and mend” will be the beginning of the end, as it all begins to fall apart.

But to misquote an ancient TV title (and to show my age), it’s a case of “never mind the width, feel the quality” and I fear that Wenger’s focus on talent might prove to be the stumbling block. As demonstrated by the likes of Cazorla and Ramsey on Saturday, this Arsenal side is not lacking when it comes to skill. It’s personality and character that we’ve often been found wanting for in recent times and I’m uncertain Wenger’s expertise extends to recognizing traits that can’t be measured on a spreadsheet. Only time and tide will tell?

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Sunday 18 August 2013

Dunno About The Glass, But The Dressing Room's Certainly Half Empty

            Strolling around to Saturday’s curtain-raiser, I pondered on whether the Arsenal might have increased matchday programme prices to £3.50, which was a sad reflection on where our club is at present, with us arriving at the opening game of a new season, with nothing more exciting awaiting us upon arrival than the introduction of goal-line technology!

            Perhaps it’s an inevitable result of the waning enthusiasm of my advancing years, but where in the past I’ve always looked forward to the first game of the season with spine-tingling anticipation, in shooting the breeze with some of my Gooner pals, it seemed evident to me that I was far from alone in my unenthused feeling that the club’s apparent failure to stimulate our excitement with our apparent transfer-window inertia, had resulted in a disappointingly downbeat “are we really back here already” mood. Let’s face it, you know you’re not properly firing on all four Gooner cylinders, when instead of walking around to the Arsenal to watch the Premiership’s spoilt, greedy brats perform for the first time in a couple of months, you’re half tempted to stop indoors and watch seriously dedicated and humble sportsmen perform in the athletics.

            But then unlike in years gone by, where absence made the heart grow fonder, part of the problem nowadays is that the not so beautiful game never truly shuts shop. Thus we arrived at the ground to watch a game involving an Arsenal side that we know full well is currently no closer to battling for honours than we’ve been in recent seasons.

            Mind you, it all looked very promising for the first five minutes, with an opening goal that resulted from the sort of slick footballing entertainment, which was the trademark of the Arsenal of old. But it didn’t take long for us to be brought back down to earth with a bump, as Sczczny did likewise to Agbonlahor after he’d glided through the final third of the park unchallenged.

            No matter any grievances with subsequent decisions, the truth of the matter is that the Gunners lack the necessary firepower to ensure that incompetent officiating is a minor insignificance. Moreover if our squad appeared painfully shallow prior to the weekend, unfortunately the patently dysfunctional failure of the Arsenal’s suits to do their obscenely well-rewarded job, has ensured that these particular chickens have well and truly limped home to roost.

            The problem now, is that much like after our early season humbling at Old Trafford a couple of seasons back, after keeping his hands in his pockets all summer, Arsène will probably be forced to panic buy our way out of trouble, with a last minute, haphazard supermarket sweep. And even if we do witness a Wenger spending spree, with Champions League qualification and the North London derby only around the corner, it might well prove to be too little, too late.

            While I appreciate that there might be any number of undisclosed problems purchasing certain star players, what I simply cannot fathom is why the Gunners are incapable of buying absolutely any players, before the clock starts ticking down every single summer. If I were responsible for the Arsenal’s transfer business, I would’ve long since handed in my notice, in utter embarrassment at my own incompetence!

            Just about the only minor positive note of a thoroughly depressing afternoon was the positive performance of Rosicky. Yet in the absence of Arteta, we’ve absolutely no midfielders with sufficient nous and responsibility to sit at home and ensure that we don’t end up embarrassed by a swift counter, when pressing for some redemption.

            And don’t get me started on our lack of defensive cover. I know that the embarrassment of riches available to the likes of Man City does not necessarily make them contenders, but you don’t need any coaching badges to know that you are going to come unstuck going into a campaign without four viable centre-backs and four full-backs.

            Still as everyone keeps reassuring me, it’s only the first game of many and who knows, perhaps le Prof will pull several rabbits out of the hat in the weeks ahead and everything will be hunky-dory. Only time will tell and if Wenger can silence all those bullish Spurs fans in two weeks time, I will forgive him anything.
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Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.

(Somewhat outdated by yesterday's anti-climactic opener but thought I might as well post it before going into depressed, rant mode!)

After successive summers of frustrating transfer window torment I’ve grown increasingly cynical, to the point where I’ve spent the past couple of months doing my utmost to ignore the entire media merry-go-round of groundless rumours.
And yet like every other footie fan, I increasingly crave the slightest opportunity to grasp at those few crumbs of encouragement, which might proffer a brief sojourn in that Premiership fool’s paradise, where anything is possible, before this perennial bout of intoxicating optimism is invariably quashed by the sobering ravages of our first dodgy result.
To avoid the disappointment of being wound up (and subsequently let down!) by the wall-to-wall media canards, I tend to hold in contempt all the close season coverage of the beautiful game, in the belief that it's nothing but “white noise”, until such time as we are privy to the incontrovertible evidence of the press conference, with the player standing there wearing the shirt. But it’s impossible to maintain such stoicism, the moment one succumbs to the incessant barrage of social media.
So as the new season draws ever more nigh, my insouciance goes out the window and as ever, I find myself being sucked in. Along with every other Gooner, I've ended up anxiously wringing out every snippet of transfer gossip for the vaguest hint of some Arsenal relevance. 
Some of my Twitter addicted mates remain so certain of the credibility of their “insider” info that they refuse to waver in their conviction regarding the imminent arrival of Suarez and/or Rooney. But then it was only a few weekends back that their bogus informants left my naïve mates glued to their laptops all day Monday, eagerly awaiting an implausible scoop concerning the signing of a unlikely triumvirate of both these two and Cesc Fabregas to boot!
Previously we’ve suffered Arsène’s transfer window inertia and (in contrast to Man Utd’s supposed point blank refusal to do likewise, at any price) the sale of our best player to our rivals, albeit hardly in good grace. However with Gazides having put paid to Gooner patience and raising expectation levels beyond anything we’ve known in the recent past, by having made such a major hoo-ha about the Gunners long-awaited arrival in the financial Promised Land, there are bound to be serious terrace tantrums, should we fail to manage a single marquee signing this time around. Then again, based on the anecdotal evidence of his lieutenant, Dick Law’s laughable incompetence, I wouldn’t put money on this nincompoop’s ability to sign his own name!
Despite all the ugly baggage that has so many high-minded fans cringing at the prospect of this cretin darkening Highbury's doors, I certainly wouldn’t kick Luis Suarez out of the Gooner bed. Aside from the prolific Uruguayan goalscorer's impressive strike rate (in such a mediocre Scouse side), I fancy that our somewhat pacific squad might profit, should they be forced to rally around the unseemly antics of such a nasty creature, thereby fostering the sort of "us against the world" spirit evident in so many successful squads.
            Moreover there can be no argument that an additional 20+ goals per season would assist us in outscoring our opponents and that judging by pre-season performances, the threat of some serious competition appears to have had a positive impact on the likes of Giroud. Yet from my point of view, it’s not so important who we sign, but that the Gunners go out and invest the sort of sums, which might reassure those such as Jack Wilshere that the Arsenal are no longer content merely to tread water and count the wonga.

             Although as thrilled as I'd be by the arrival of a proven Premiership goalscorer and as delighted as I might be that we’ve somehow managed to offload so much deadwood, I remain concerned about Wenger’s failure to deal with our obvious defensive inadequacies. Our backline is beginning to look quite settled and solid, but the limitations of our shallow squad are likely to be shown up, as soon as injuries and suspension begin to bite.

            My worry is that Arsene’s obsession with value for money and his fear of clubs attempting to take advantage of the fact that we are cash rich, has le Gaffer waiting for the likes of Liverpool to blink first. But the risk being that the top shelves will end up bare, with the Gunners left signing “bubkas” (that well know Russian striker) yet again!

            Not for the first time we’ll be kicking off a new season with a relatively unknown French youngster as our only new addition, in the hope that he and some promising youngsters (eg. Zelalem) might make a name for themselves. But such trifles won’t prevent me from bowling around to my Highbury temple this weekend, in the customary buoyant mood that is every fan’s prerogative on football’s high holy day.
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