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Sunday, 12 May 2013

Metal Guru, Is It You?

Hi folks

It would've been brilliant to have been presented with an opportunity to wrap 4th place up against Wigan on Tuesday, as this might've made for a far more celebratory feel to our last home game of the season. But then I suppose it was just too much to hope for Spurs to drop points, in the face of such a poor and sloppy performance by Stoke. If I didn't know any better, I would've said that Charlie Adam just didn't fancy running for the entire 90 minutes and went looking for a second booking at the start of the second half?

What's more I suppose it would be a sorry state of affairs to think that qualification for football's most vaunted competition, actually came down to whether an unappealing character like Adam managed to complete 90 minutes for Stoke. In truth, although many might contend that it doesn't really matter how you get there, just that you do, there is something to be said for the fact that the Gunners are going to be forced to earn our right to qualify for the Champions League by winning both our last two matches, rather than being presented with qualification by default, as the least incompetent of the two contenders.

Moreover, Spurs win at the Britannia does at least dissipate the ominous shadow of what would've been my most dreaded scenario, which would've been the prospect of going to St James Park next Sunday, only needing a draw, as I would've been terrified that this would've resulted in an even more fraught display, whereby the Gunners weren't sure whether to stick, or twist. Knowing that we lack the capability to actually shut up shop and play for a draw, I would've been convinced that this was going to end in disaster.

Although Spurs and somewhat inevitably, Adebayor, have managed to maintain the pressure, there was some solace in Newcastle winning at Loftus Road, knowing that the Toon are not likely to be nearly so motivated as they might've been by the looming spectre of relegation and you can rest assured that Lilywhite hordes would much rather be in our position, having qualification in our own hands.

After seeing what transpired at Vicarage Road this afternoon, where Watford progressed to the play-off final thanks to Almunia's antics in goal and Manuel's dramatic penalty save, I only hope we don't end up facing another blood-curdling encore of last season's dramatic denouement at the Hawthorns, as I'm really not sure my old ticker is up to it!

Come on you Reds
Big Love


Extra-time would’ve been ideal in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, to ensure the Lactics had been sapped of every last bit of energy in advance of Tuesday night’s encounter, but you had to be particularly hard-boiled (or a City fan!), not to enjoy the FA Cup’s fairy-tale climax. The heart-warming realization of Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan’s dream, felt like an increasingly rare triumph for the romance of football, over the seemingly unstoppable force of the modern day game’s mercenary financial muscle.

Moreover, although in his endearingly honest fashion, Martinez freely admitted he was already focusing on extra-time, the timely introduction of Wigan’s match-winner from the bench, proved to be a tactical masterstroke. Not to mention, a long-overdue slice of good fortune, for a manager who’s admirable refusal to forsake his footballing principles, in the face of the Premiership’s overwhelming economic pressures, has earned the affable Spaniard the much-deserved admiration of all aficionados of the beautiful game.

By contrast, shame on the FA for the lamentably negligent way, in which they’ve contrived to dull the lustre of the greatest knockout tournament on the planet. Time was when Wembley could’ve sold out three times over, no matter the allure of the participants involved, in what was once the end of season fiesta of Cup Final weekend.

Not only is it sacrilegious to have the Final shoehorned in, as a distracting Brummagem detour for the precious Premiership charabanc, but when I think of the kudos I enjoyed as a kid, from all those school pals who hadn’t been so privileged to relish the magic of a Wembley final in person, it’s tragic to witness ANY empty seats, let alone the criminally conspicuous absence of so many corporate bums, from such large swathes of the battily-priced best seats in the Bobby Moore suite.

It’s also sad that the Wigan camp and their meager following, from what is and always will be a rugby town, are denied the opportunity of wallowing in the euphoria of their momentous success and are instead forced to immediately focus on the daunting prospect of the Arsenal raining on their relegation-threatened parade. But then you’ll have to forgive me for hoping that the Lactics turn up on Tuesday far too fatigued, both physically and emotionally, to be able to muster a repeat of Saturday’s impressive performance.

Additionally I pray that our players are not taken in, by all those pundits who’ve seem to believe that the Gunners need only turn up to win a game that’s being touted as such a home banker. Otherwise the customary “lap of appreciation” following our last appearance on home turf, of a largely disappointing campaign, could end up a seriously depressing affair!

And any celebrations following a win against Wigan will be somewhat subdued, knowing that we’ve still got to go to St. James Park and spoil the Geordies’ end of season party. Nevertheless Wenger deserves a show of respect for mounting a minor resurrection, considering we were languishing in 10th back in December, when few Gooners envisaged that this squad was capable of maintaining our manager’s astonishingly consistent run in Europe after our worst start to a season in 18 years.

With Arsène’s old sparring partner having suddenly opted for the sanctuary of his pipe & slippers, you have to wonder if this might influence le Prof’s plans at the expiry of his contract next year. Swapping one dour Scotsman for another at Man Utd has left Wenger as the last of the top-flight’s long serving managers (with Tony Penis lagging ten years behind le Gaffer's 17-year tenure, or at least until he's handed his P45 by Stoke). Perhaps it’s me who’s struggling to come to terms with my own advancing years, but it’s hard to accept that a man who arrived in this country as an unprecedented innovator, is now perceived as a Premiership dinosaur.

Here’s hoping our very own T-Rex can still “Get It On” sufficiently that it’s us and not Spurs banging our gongs Sunday week.

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Monday, 6 May 2013

By Far The Greatest Team?

My Spurs mate contends that Fergie's team selection against Chelsea yesterday (with the inclusion of the positively anonymous Anderson, Valencia and Cleverly) was contrived to ensure the defeat that might end up denying Spurs Champions League qualification and allow old Red Nose to feast on the spoils with the purchase of Gareth Bale this summer. Far-fetched perhaps, but I do love a conspiracy theory!

Meanwhile it was excruciating sitting here praying for RvP to do us a favour, with one of those 'Fergie time' late winners that have spoilt the mood on so many Sunday afternoons in the past, only for Mata to come up trumps and steal the points for Chelsea.

And thus all eyes will be turning to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, hoping Benitez's side can get themselves back up sufficiently to do the business again and as I understand it, thereby ensure that a four point return from our last two games will be sufficient to get the Gunners over the Champions League qualification line, even if only on goal difference.

However while all my Spurs pals are just desperate to secure themselves an invite to the big boys party, I can't help but feel slightly more ambivalent, after 15 successive years of schlepping around Europe, in a vain search for that elusive big-eared prize. When I contrast our snoozefests against Fulham and QPR, to the high-octane Champions League semifinals in midweek, it's hard to look at this Gunners squad as one being capable of exactly lighting up Europe's greatest competition.

Then again, as it's said, if you are not there, you are nowhere, but there's also the argument that our failure to qualify might be the only outcome that might sufficiently stir the suits at the club from the current status-quo and that by scrabbling to fourth place this will only offer further encouragement merely to carry on as you were, in our current, highly profitable, but disappointingly unambitious fashion.

Still, until we witness the outcome of Wednesday encounter, all such debate is moot, while our future rests in the hands of the footballing gods

Keep the faith


Much like Fulham, QPR ranks as one of the friendliest London derbies nowadays. Having arrived in West London early, to plot up and listen to the radio comms of all the thrills & spills in the 3pm KOs across the country, I was sat in the Spring sunshine, outside a local cafe, shooting the breeze with a couple of QPR pensioners. As I sat there bemoaning the fact that despite our somewhat deceptive undefeated run of recent weeks, the Gunners ponderous performances have been the source of increasing disillusionment, with so many of our players seemingly having long since been far more focused on the idyllic location of their tropical summer getaway, instead of their football.

These two old geezers soon set me straight, reminding me to count my Gooner blessings because they’ve suffered an entire season watching a Hoops side who’ve seemingly had their feet up since last August!  So I know I really shouldn’t be whinging after a “job done” weekend, in which we’ve kept up our end of our current consistent run, but you only had to watch Wenger jumping up and down on the Loftus Road touchline, like a five-year old having a temper tantrum, to appreciate quite how painfully frustrating it is to endure such ponderously impotent performances.

One of my pals described the battle for a top four finish as being akin to “three tired old nags, running out of steam in the finishing straight at Aintree”. If there’s some scant solace to this “end-of-seasonitis” that’s afflicted our agonizing struggle to scrabble over the finishing line, it’s that the Arsenal and almost every other Premiership outfit appears to be plagued by similar complacency.

I was very fortunate to secure the unexpected golddust of two face value tickets amongst us Gooners, in the School End behind the goal, for a couple who’d travelled all the way from Singapore on their annual holyers. They’d been expecting nothing more than their midweek trip to the Arsenal museum and were thus chuffed to bits, not only to be able to experience the far more vociferous and enthralling away match atmosphere amongst the travelling faithful, but to find themselves only one row from the front, amidst the tight but severely cramped confines of one of the few remaining traditional football grounds in the Premiership (for a couple more weeks at least!).

According to our obligatory “we’ll never play here again” taunts and my Asian Gooner pals customarily remote matchday experience from several thousand miles away, they were understandably blown away, by what might’ve been a last opportunity to savour live Premiership football in such close proximity to be able to smell the grass and to almost be able to reach out and touch the participants.

Mind you, I nearly ended up blaming them for missing all twenty significant seconds of this match. No matter that it’s the entirely innocent act of reimbursing a kindly soul for face value match tickets, with the ever-present paranoia of being pinched outside a ground, I’d long since taken the readies to pass on once inside the ground. As a result, I ended up sending a text as the game commenced, in my efforts to pass on the cash before my blinkered focus on the football resulted in me forgetting all about it. Mercifully I just managed to look up in time to see Arteta assist Walcott in stunning the entire stadium with the swiftest goal of the season.

Naturally the assumption was that we’d subsequently be able to relax, as the Gunners swiftly put this game to bed, by rolling over a woeful, already relegated Rangers side who struggled even to display some last vestiges of pride. We should’ve been able to avoid all the tension endured in the dramatic League 1 denouement the previous weekend and the madcap Championship mayhem prior to our late KO that’s left travelling Gooners facing an arduous trek to Hull, instead of the short hop to Watford (that’s almost like a home game for North-West London Gooners).

Yet while we spend the remaining couple of matches chewing our finger nails to the quick and the pundits endlessly prognosticate on the various permutations, sadly it would appear as if the only disinterested parties are the players themselves. On paper only Chelsea’s squad appears to possess sufficient quality to actually qualify for a return to the big stage, with any realistic hope of mounting a challenge. But as the saying goes, I fancy that “this race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong” and that somewhat undeservedly, the spoils will end up with the two least complacent of the three sides.

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Sunday, 5 May 2013

Loics Can Be Deceiving

"I like the Loic of that: QPR striker Remy wants to complete dream move to the Arsenal"

I'd definitely take the money and run for Podolski. Perhaps Lukas would come good in a team where he had some leaders around him, who could inspire him, but he lacks the self-motivation and the sort of appetite necessary to be a sufficiently consistent threat in this Arsenal side

He actually didn't do too badly playing up front at QPR and did at least stop me moaning every time Sczczny hoofed the ball forward because we did at least have someone up front capable of winning the ball in the air. But then Podolski is over 6ft tall and so winning aerial challenges is little more than one would expect from a tall muscular striker, but sadly I struggle to recall a single header that Lukas won in the air from a punt up field, falling to the feet of someone in red & white and virtually every ball that he won in the air seemed to result in the Hoops ending up in possession.

Some might say that the German front man needs more time to adapt to the peculiarities of Premiership football, but for my money the man just lacks the necessary hunger and mental drive to be an effective threat, week in, week out and at the Arsenal he's destined to produce the scant reward of a handful of goals each season, from those rare opportunities when he's presented with a chance to beast the ball into the back of the net.

Contrast Podolski's performance for the Gunners with those we've seen this season of Reus while playing for Dortmund and it soon becomes patently obvious why Lukas is playing second fiddle to the Dortmund player in the German national team. OK so perhaps a Champions League semifinal offers a little more motivation, but against Madrid, Reus looked so much more mobile and so much more hungry than Podolski.

Unfortunately complacency and insufficient passion and enthusiasm is not an affliction that's limited to the Gunners and sadly seems to increasingly plague the entire Premiership, the closer the players come to putting their feet up on a tropical sun lounger. Although while I was bemoaning the fact that the Gunners seem to have long since been more focused on their idyllic holidays than their football these past couple of months, as I was shooting the breeze with a couple of QPR pensioners, outside a cafe before this evening's game a Loftus Road, they soon set me straight and suggested that I count our blessings, as apparently their players did likewise, as long ago as last August!

But there are two specific disturbing idiosyncrasies that I've noticed about Podolski. When he's been called back to the bench to be introduced to a game as a sub, with some 15 or 20 minutes left on the clock (according to AW's immutable routine?), I've watched through my binoculars, while Lukas has seemingly spent an eternity phaffing with his boot laces, shin pad ties (tape), removing his tracksuit and I've noted the inordinate amount of time taken between him getting the nod from Bouldie and Lukas eventually appearing on the touchline ready to be introduced. When I contrast this, say for example, with Ian Wright and the rare occasion when WWW was left on the bench, Wrightie would be positively chomping at the bit and straining at the leash to get involved and might perhaps be more likely to strain a muscle, having been too anxious to enter the fray to have stretched his limbs sufficiently. Whereas with Podolski being limited to a brief cameo, in the dying throes of those games when he's come on as sub, his lack of urgency hardly screams of a player with sort of hunger & desire that suggest he's desperate to make his mark and influence the outcome.

Then on those rare occasions when AW has played Lukas in a central role, as in the past couple of games, there's been many an occasion when I, along with every other Gooner, has felt that he's been hard done by and that the ref has blindly ignored the fact that Lukas has been man-handled from behind by the opposing centre-back and that he should've been awarded a free-kick. Yet on many of these occasions, I find myself having to bite my tongue, as my first instinct has been to scream at him not to be such a complete and utter cissy and to use some of his obvious strength, to resist such muscular attentions and to stand up to the sort of physical challenge that is inevitable when performing as a centre-forward. 

He's going to have his shirt-pulled, have arms mauling him and to be generally put-off, in every conceivable manner 99 times out of a 100, when playing with his back to goal, with a centre-back right up his jacksey. Occasionally this will result in the award of a free-kick, but it's his duty to dish out just as much stick as he receives, so while the ref ignores most of these misdemeanours, occasionally he'll concede the odd free-kick.

Instead of which Podolski winds me up with his tendency to hit the deck, crumpling in a heap every single time he comes into contact with the opposing centre-back, as if he's somehow surprised by the assault. To compound my frustration, even though it's obvious that the ref hasn't taken a blind bit of notice, instead of jumping to his feet and perhaps battling back to retrieve the ball, Lukas tends to remain seated, perhaps beating the turf with both fists, like an indignant baby, bawling in his pram after having his dummy stolen!

In fact, sadly Podolski's performances to date have suggested few redeeming qualities to me. I really shouldn't get on his back, as he was no more culpable than anyone else for the thoroughly uninspiring dawdle around the park at Loftus Rd this evening. But he's certainly no Santi Cazorla, who can get away with his tendency to hide in plain sight for large periods of matches because you just know that if the diminutive Spaniard gets a yen to be more involved and take some responsibility in a game, instead of laying the ball off to a teammate at the earliest opportunity, Santi's more than capable of dropping his shoulder and caressing one into the top corner, with all the artistic finesse of a painter like Goya.

By contrast we were awarded a free-kick in the second half in the middle of the D, in front of Rangers penalty area, which appeared to be both a little too close and a little too straight for Cazorla to be able to curl the ball over the wall and get it up and down in time to have us whooping and a hollering in the School End as the ball slid under the crossbar in front of all of us Gooners. I watched through my binoculars to see what transpired between the triumvirate of Podolski, Walcott and Cazorla as they stood over this set-piece.

Perhaps due to his limited command of the language, Santi lingered in the background, just in case no one else in red & white was eager to step up. But Cazorla wasn't exactly pressing his case and his apparent reticence hardly suggested someone who was desperate to nail down a win bonus, 3 pts and potentially all that additional dosh that I assume they stand to earn by way of bonuses for qualification into the Champions Lg. Theo wasn't exactly grabbing for the ball either, but then apart from an instinctive snap shot in the penalty area mid way through the first half, resulting in a smart near post save by the QPR keeper, I got the distinct impression from Walcott (and the rest of our "highly motivated" team) that he'd done his job in the first 20 seconds of this game and beyond that, it was going to take a QPR equaliser to motivate him and his colleagues to pull their collective finger out.

As it became obvious that Podolski was the only player with any particular interest in assuming responsibility for this free-kick, I turned to my neighbour and prophetically predicted that he'd blast the ball straight into the defensive wall and sadly Lukas duly obliged. Not that I claim to have any special predictive powers, otherwise I would've mortgaged the flat last Tuesday and dashed around to the bookies, to bung the lot on a bet, taking the 1/4 odds that my brother-out-of-law in Dublin informed me were still being offered on an all German Champions League final. Mind you it didn't take a seer to take advantage of stick-on 25 per cent return on one's money!

But Podolski's not exactly capable of an artistic set piece and his technique relies solely on using sufficient brute force, to transfer the sort of power into his shot that might trouble the keeper, either due to the ball travelling too fast for him to react, or merely as a result of unpredictable flight of the modern day spheres when struck with sufficient strength.

Having tried to make my argument for biting off the hand that's foolish enough to offer us a profit on Podolski (who knows , perhaps Pod will prosper amidst the slower tempo game played in Turkey?), I'm really not sure it would be wise to reinvest the readies in Loic Remy. Then again, any such debate is probably specious because with the limits of our utterly soulless "sustainable business model" and with AW being so obsessed with VFM (value for money), if there's any other club looking to take advantage of Remy's relegation buy out clause, with Liverpool being most desperate for a goalscorer, having been deprived of their overly voracious front man for a quarter of the season, then the Gunners are always going to end up being outbid, whether this be the amount of the transfer fee, or the wages offered.

In truth I haven't seen enough of Remy to feel confident about passing judgement (then again, nor have the Rangers fans and they've been watching him every week!!) and perhaps the French striker has more to offer than he demonstrated against us this evening, playing amidst such a piss-poor QPR outfit. But based solely on what I've seen of Rangers in recent weeks, there's only one player in that woeful team capable of putting bums on seats (and there was a surprising number of absent arses for a London derby at such a pint-sized stadium) and that's Andros Townsend, who I presume will be returning to the mob at the wrong end of the Seven Sister Road come the end of the season.

The long-standing rumours about Jovetic also make me laugh. I've no idea how good the Montenegrin is, apart from his impressive goal tally stats in a mediocre Fiorentina side. The only time I've actually watched Jovetic play, was for his country against England and I seem to recall that his teammate, Vucinic was more impressive on the night. But surely it's an entirely moot point, to be debating the possible purchase of a player with as high a profile across the continent as Jovetic because even if he is the answer to our need for a 20 plus goals per season striker, we know full well that there is no one at our club who's capable of convincing Wenger to throw an additional £10 or £20 million and to simply stump up whatever it takes to outbid the opposition and make a statement of serious intent by securing the signature of a genuine marquee signing.

Sadly it seems to me, that unless there remains some remote tribe blessed with an abundance of superlative footballing talent, who continue to hold faith with the now long-forgotten illusion that there's some inexplicable allure to playing for Arsène Wenger and the Arsenal, that merits them earning far less, or accepting a considerably reduced sum in transfer remuneration than they might receive from a club with serious ambition, as opposed to an Arsenal where all decisions are strictly governed by their commercial viability, according to the business principles of small-minded, bean-counting economists with absolutely zero sense of football's soul, then I can't help but believe that we're destined for continued disappointment each summer!

Keep the faith