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Sunday 20 September 2015

He's Behind You....!!

If only we could've put the Blues in the shade!
As my mum is in the habit of saying, at least it didn’t rain at Stamford Bridge on Saturday! Aside from the pleasant weather and the fact that we didn’t lose more ground on Man City due to the Hammers marvelous win, there wasn’t much else to smile about.

Seemingly along with Paddy Power, who were offering new punters outrageous odds of 10 to 1 on an Arsenal win, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about our chances of success. But then sadly we’ve grown so accustomed to such miserable outings to the Kings Road in recent seasons that a lack of expectation is hardly surprising.

Still, hope continues to spring eternal and much like lemmings, we masochistically traversed the capital to endure the perennial punishment of this particular pantomime, in the belief that surely Mourinho’s hoodoo over Wenger has to be broken one of these days?

Costa literally making his mark on the match...yet again!
Gooners will point to Mike Dean as the person most responsible for pulling the plug on any prospects we might’ve had of hammering another nail into the coffin of Chelsea’s unconvincing start to their campaign, by finally vanquishing Arsène’s nemesis. It’s always incredibly galling when the man in the middle needlessly ruins the spectacle for the watching millions. Yet it was even more infuriating to see Gabby get his matching orders, when it was patently obvious to the entire planet that the principle protagonist was far more deserving of censure.

The "Who Me Guv'" striker comes with retractable fingernails as standard
However for all our bleating about Costa’s culpability, I’d love to have just such an animal playing in red & white. Although our Brazilian centre-half might well possess a streak of much-needed nastiness, we were no less irate at his naivety, in falling hook, line and sinker for Costa’s customary antics. And if Gabriel was going to get himself sent off, he should’ve at least left Diego with a proper dig to remember him by. Should the resulting media brouhaha result in a crack down, sadly it will only be our other competitors who’re likely to profit against the Blues.

As was the case in Zagreb in midweek and on countless more occasions over the past decade, Saturday’s farce only served to highlight the most significant missing link in our squad, which is, as ever, the absence of genuine leadership. Our downfall against Dynamo was down to a comatose Arsenal, arrogantly sauntering around, as if they need have only turned up to secure all three points. A vocal captain might’ve inspired a more concerted and focused effort and his team-mates wouldn’t have dared display such a disrespectful attitude for fear of incurring his wrath. If we’d had a proper leader out on the park on Saturday, he might’ve intervened sooner to prevent Gabriel from becoming Costa’s patsy.

Yet I fear that without a massive stroke of luck, until such time as someone invents a means of measuring character on an Excel spreadsheet, Arsène will never chance upon a player with real personality. Without this vital element, the Gunners might be doomed to remain in our Groundhog Day loop of underachievement. In a week when it was confirmed that we have £200mill in the bank, it feels as if Arsène’s niggardly chickens might be coming home to roost.

Our Stamford Bridge medicine was much easier to swallow, when it was being dispensed by monster opposition, but thus far, this season’s incarnation of Mourinho’s outfit has proved far more mediocre. Consequently we appeared fairly comfortable at the back prior to Gabriel’s early bath, seemingly determined to thwart Chelsea with the sort of composed display, which might provide Petr Cech with the clean sheet that he must’ve been desperate for, on his first return to Stamford Bridge.

Sadly we were far from at our scintillating best going forward. Compared to the way in which we peppered the Potters’ goal last week, we were positively shot-shy on Saturday, with only Walcott’s half-hearted attempt to show for our first-half efforts. Nevertheless, it was an evenly matched contest until Mike Dean took centre stage.

Having firmly established himself as the most essential cog in the Arsenal engine, Coquelin was the very last player any of us expected Arsène to sacrifice at the break and our prospects of grinding out a draw evaporated when Franny was withdrawn.

Seeing Zouma rise unchallenged to head home the opening goal, I had to wonder why Wenger had bothered bringing on Chambers. As porous as Chelsea’s defence has been, at least their centre-backs demonstrated on Saturday that they are sufficiently well-drilled to know better than to leave the opposition’s aerial threat unmarked!

Seemingly unlike Santi, we were definitely not amused!
Santi’s expulsion quashed any remaining vestige of hope and we had to settle for spending the last 10 minutes venting our staunch defiance vocally, in an effort to aid a 9-man Arsenal over the finishing line with our unstinting support, teasing the hushed home crowd with a chorus of “is this the Emirates?”

Normally I wouldn’t be too desperate for success from a second XI in the Mickey Mouse Cup. Yet it would be unconscionable to follow our defeat in the Champions League and against Chelsea with a cup exit at White Hart Lane and I really wouldn’t fancy travelling to Filbert Street with our tails between our legs, to meet a buoyant Leicester. Still a particularly long-shot but I wonder what price one could’ve obtained from the bookies before the season started, for Ranieri to finish the campaign looking down on the Gobby One?

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Thursday 17 September 2015

Caught With Our Pants Down In Croatia & Our Collective Backsides Deservedly Smacked

I was only watching an AFC training ground video this afternoon - 
and thinking that the team spirit looks encouragingly healthy.

However it was evident from our failure to turn up for the first-half and the patently flat-footed and shamefully indolent body-language that our squad continues to lack leadership, as has been the case now for more years than I care to remember.

We remain devoid of the sort of intimidating & forceful personality who is capable of motivating his team mates, to ensure that they dare not kick-off ANY match in such a sluggish and uninspired fashion and who's capable of handing out the sort of bollocking that would leave them all sufficiently motivated to save them from incurring such wrath.

Our lot walk off after such a piss poor first-half with absolutely nothing to fear, knowing full well that our glorious leader doesn't permit any raised voices in the dressing room because it's contrary to his feng shui principles!

I'm always a believer in playing one's strongest team and was convinced that it would've proved far more effective if AW had done so this evening, in the hope of being able to take off the likes of Coquelin, Alexis & Ozil, once we'd done the business & secured a couple of goals.

To my mind this would've left our players having expended a whole lot less energy & nervous exhaustion than was the case with the likes of Coquelin coming on for the last half hour, desperately running their socks off, in an effort to chase a result.

It's not the defeat that bothers me so much, as the manner of our demise, where we've started the game at such a slow tempo and so thoroughly devoid of any intensity that we were simply inviting the home side to take advantage.

To my mind AW's team selection was partially responsible in sending out the sort of message that encouraged them to believe victory would be ours by right and that we need only turn up in Zagreb to pocket all 3 points.

And such defeats only serve a purpose if one learns from the experience, but we know full well that this sort of lacklustre display is bound to be repeated ad infinitum, so long as the ingredients remain the same. 

As is so often the case, once one commences an encounter on the back-foot, it's invariably a difficult task to grind through the gears and garner some real momentum, as we witnessed with our struggle to impose ourselves after the break (not helped by Giroud's idiotic red card, as he should've known he was already walking a tightrope, after foolishly getting booked for giving the ref a peace of his tiny mind!).

If we've learned anything from tonight, it was just further evidence that Arteta is well past his "sell by" date. I know our Spanish captain is an adorable bloke and all that, but sadly he's no longer a viable alternative to Le Coq and if I wasn't certain before this evening's fiasco, I am now convinced that the number of defeats we endure during this season's campaign will be in perfect correlation with the amount of times Coquelin is absent.

If a comparatively piss-poor quality outfit like Dynamo Zagreb are able to overrun us in quite such a comprehensive fashion in Coquelin's absence (to the point where it was only the home side's lack of basic quality with the final ball that prevented them from scoring with almost every attack), then I absolutely dread to think how we will fare if Franny is unavailable against more competent opposition!

Ultimately we should still be able to finish the group above Zagreb & Olympiakos. Assuming there's a reasonable chance of it coming down to a head-to-head comparison, we will have to do better against Dynamo at home than their 2-1 win tonight. But in all honesty, if we can't finish above these two teams, then we really don't deserve to qualify for the knockout stages.

However, on the basis of how far we still look from having the necessary character & personality to overcome the likes of Bayern, in order for us to have some feint hope of CL glory, I will gladly sacrifice the 3 points we blew in Zagreb, in return for finally seeing AW overcome his Mourinho hoodoo at the Bridge on Saturday.

Then again, judging by the continued lack of leadership witnessed tonight, you'll have to forgive me for not feeling particularly optimistic.

Unless Petr Cech's presence is going to guarantee us a clean sheet, we've seen nothing from the exact same bunch of outfield players to suggest they're any more capable of turning out at the Bridge instilled with the sort of confidence & belief to overcome our recent nemesis, than they have been in any of our woeful South West London displays of late?

Still I suppose things could always be a whole lot worse and we could be travelling to Azerbaijan to play the mighty Qarabag


Tuesday 15 September 2015

Less Rugby-like Stoke Should Really Have Suffered A More Rugby-like Scoreline

Hi folks,

It will be interesting to see what starting XI AW selects in Zagreb and whether it reflects the fact that we have such a significant encounter only three days later at Stamford Bridge. It could be argued that Chelsea have exactly the same recovery time, but they are playing at home on Wednesday night and don't have to suffer a long schlep back from the Croatian capital.

Nevertheless, it's absolutely crucial that we get off to a winning start in the Champions League and so in an ideal world, I'd want us to field a strong side, score a couple of early goals to put the result to bed and enable Arsène to rest three of our most influential players at half-time.

With the sort of ground covered by the likes of Alexis and Coquelin, I wouldn't expect them to regularly be able to repeat quite the same level of performance, relentlessly playing three times in seven days. So if they are to be at their most energetic come 12.45 on Saturday, I'd hope they don't need to play the entire 90 minutes in midweek?

I imagine Le Coq will be most Arsenal fans' choice of player of the season thus far. It is great to see him growing in confidence with each passing game, but I hope his success doesn't go to his head. I imagine that playing alongside such cultured ball-players as Santi, Mezut et al, one is bound to start believing one can do likewise. Yet personally I would much prefer to see Franny concentrate on his more artisan defensive duties and to leave the artistic glory passes to his team-mates.

Hopefully, based on Chelsea's woeful form, Coquelin won't be overly busy on Saturday. However the Gobby One is going to be absolutely determined to stem the tide of the Blues recent demise and I sincerely hope Arsène is able to ensure that we are suitably prepared and motivated to best take advantage of the situation, by achieving his first triumph against his nemesis. Frankly I will be devastated by a result that reflects the fact that Chelsea are more desperate to avoid defeat than the Gunners are, to secure a long-awaited victory at the Bridge.

Before I finish, I feel obliged to give a shout out to Nacho Monreal. Considering that I was seriously underwhelmed when Nacho first arrived at the club, in the belief that he appeared to be little more than an above average full-back, I have to admit that the Spaniard appears to have grown into his role in the team. Where in the past I would've been hoping for the return to full fitness of Kieran Gibbs, to my mind Monreal has now nailed down his position as our first choice left-back and must rank as the most impressive of the Gunners more unsung players in this campaign to date.

Wishing everyone who is celebrating the occasion a very happy and healthy New Year

Less Rugby-like Stoke Should Really Have Suffered A More Rugby-like Scoreline

Sitting in the autumnal sunshine at the Arsenal on Saturday, soaking up some rays, whilst watching a supremely dominant display against Stoke, with the Gunners spraying the ball around in such a pleasing-on-the-eye fashion, it’s hard to imagine a more pleasurable way of passing a Saturday afternoon.

By contrast, I couldn’t help but picture the disappointed faces of the couple of youngsters who’d travelled up from the Potteries with their pop and who’d been positively bristling with eager anticipation prior to the match, as we engaged in some friendly banter on the walk up to the ground.

Along with the majority of the Premiership’s lesser lights, Mark Hughes attempted to make use of their increased resources, by introducing a raft of new talent over the course of the summer. Having never seen Stoke win at our place in their lifetimes, these kids were keen to see whether their new look line-up could perhaps prove themselves capable of something slightly more ambitious than their customary “park the bus” attempt to stifle the Arsenal.

However, based on Saturday’s showing, the Potters have yet to profit from the sacrifice of their traditional, more combative, muscular approach, in favour of more skillful footballers. The Gunners were so comfortable in our monopoly of possession that the likes of Shaquiri, Joselu and Van Ginkel barely had a sniff of the ball all afternoon. In fact, it was only the impressive goalkeeping heroics of Jack Butland that were responsible for maintaining a respectable scoreline; suggesting that the sale of Begovic was perhaps the most significant bit of business Stoke achieved this summer.

As has been the case with ineffectual displays from other Premiership debutantes, Stoke’s anaemic performance only served as more grist to the mill for our manager’s assertions about his fruitless efforts to find players capable of improving our squad. Arsène contended that Walcott wouldn’t have started (and scored!) if he’d signed another striker. Yet few Gooners would’ve moaned, at least not for the first thirty minutes, with Theo being the source of mounting frustration amongst those seated around me, as he spurned chance after chance.

Considering we could and really should’ve been “home and hosed” by half-time, with more clinical finishing, it was a massive relief when Walcott finally broke his duck. His confidence would’ve been seriously dented, if he’d failed to notch a single goal from all the opportunities he was gifted with on Saturday. Sterling would’ve scored a hat-trick against Stoke and although Theo continues to struggle to convince anyone that he’s capable of being a prolific goal-poacher, we must be patient. We really can’t afford to be reliant on a solitary centre-forward to carry the twice weekly burden for the entire duration!

With Man City being deprived of Aguero, Sterling and Silva and rarely looking more likely to drop points on their travels, if news of their last gasp winner at Selhurst Park wasn’t galling enough, this wound was well and truly salted by their unknown Nigerian striker and the appearance of City having such infinite options up front.

After having peppered the Potters with thirty odd efforts on their goal, it was no less irritating to return home and watch Man Utd produce a 100 per cent return on a meagre three efforts on target and to finish the day above us in the table on goal difference.

Nevertheless, despite our failure to inflict a rugby type scoreline on a less rugby like Stoke, there was plenty of cause for encouragement on Saturday. After a disconcerting start to his Arsenal career, Cech is beginning to look more like the keeper we were expecting.

Admittedly Petr could’ve put his feet up for most of this match but there was a moment, which stuck in my mind, when he steamed through the opposition to punch the ball clear. It’s been a while since an Arsenal keeper has dominated his area with such physical conviction and hopefully Cech’s reassuring presence will result in an increasingly composed aura throughout our defence.

It appears as if we’re beginning to find some rhythm to our passing and Coquelin’s influence is growing with each passing game. To the point where Franny’s tendency to want to spray a thirty-yard pass, instead of keeping it simple might have one concerned about him developing Franz Beckenbauer delusions. Gabriel is beginning to look like a potential first-choice and it could be that the Brazilian possesses the sort of mean streak that might just lend us the sort of backbone that we’ve lacked for so long.

With Chelsea likely to be stung into a concerted response, next Saturday’s outing to Stamford Bridge might well prove the acid test and an opportunity to demonstrate if we’re capable of casting off the shackles of our former frailties and proving that this squad has finally developed some real character. That is assuming we retain sufficient zest after an arduous midweek outing to Zagreb?
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