April 21, 2014

Hull Tigers: Part 1

The question of what the season would have been like with Aaron Ramsey fit for it's entirety came up multiple times before, during and after the Hull Tigers game Sunday. My first reaction was that one man doesn't make the team, and I still stand by that. However, it's hard not to feel like we may have missed an opportunity by not having Ramsey for that rather long period after Christmas. 

Without sounding too cliché, he really was pulling the strings against Hull on Easter Sunday, and did the same in the nearly two hours he played against Wigan too. A fully fit campaign next season could be his year to shine, and that makes the hairs on my arm stand up just thinking about it. 

Mr. Podolski had another cracker against Hull, and even put in a defensive shift or two, which is all bonus at this point. He didn't seem quite as pissed off when Wenger brought him off this time, even if he was on a hat trick. I'd call four goals in two games a pretty good return, and perhaps he's stepped it up a notch in training to convince the boss that he deserves a  spot in the starting eleven? He's someone I love to watch, a player who makes you shift forward on you seat whenever he gets the ball outside the box. He took a good shot on his right yesterday to sting the Hull 'keeper, but Podo's left foot is something that should be patented and preserved after he retires. 

With the final score of 3-0 against our fellow FA Cup finalists, Hull City Tigers, you have to feel like we got more than just three points for Easter. Hull may have tested us during the first 20 minutes or so, but after Ramsey's goal we took full control of the game and it felt, to me, like a phycological win over them too. Meeting them at Wembley on May 17th, and being able to boast a goal difference of 5-0 in our two meetings will surely give our players a confidence boost. 

The word complacency has been thrown around quite a bit, and without being complacent myself, I feel like if Wenger can't get his very, very highly paid players to be focused for an FA Cup Final after almost 9 years without a trophy, then he's most likely been kidnapped by aliens and been replaced with David Moyes. Same goes for the players - if they need a motivational speech or someone to remind them of the occasion on May 17th, then they're on the wrong team. 

A solid week before our next game when we welcome the struggling Newcastle to The Emirates. It's been said that we need to win all our remaining games to secure 4th place, and after Everton easily disposed of the second best team in Manchester, that goal is even more clear. 

Perhaps a topic for a different blog, but I'm not sure how I feel about Liverpool getting their greasy fingers on the Premiership title. Sure, Gerrard might deserve it for all the bar brawls he's been in and all the easy penalties he's had handed to him, but doesn't it feel like Liverpool have done in three years with Roger's what Arsenal have been trying to do for the last decade? Meh.... At least they still have to play in Jersey Shore Liverpool.

April 15, 2014

Bursting Bubbles

Is it just me or has Sam Allardyce lost some weight? Still looks like a giant walrus to me though. He's also been rather generous in his pre match smack talking too. You have to feel for the guy because he tries to come across as this well spoken guy that knows a lot about football, tactics and all that jazz, but we all know he's only interested in what the players' mum's are bringing for the half-time snack.

I honestly don't mind West Ham, but they have never really seemed like a Premiership club to me, yet have somehow managed to bounce back and forth over the years. It seems like a perfect match I suppose, as old Sammy doesn't come across as a Premiership manager either. They did do us a favor by beating Sp*rs on the last day of the season back in 2006, resulting in our 4th place finish. That's as far as the affection goes, however.

We certainly didn't do ourselves any favors for most of the first half against them Tuesday night, allowing them plenty of room down the flanks, especially down their left which was surprising considering Sagna is usually pretty solid down there. They managed to scramble one in a couple of minutes before halftime, and you could say it was the kick in the arse our boys needed. Within 3 minutes Podolski got one back for us, saving himself and his team mates from a bollocking from the boss at half time.

We definitely looked more lively in the second half, with Giroud bringing down a long pass beautifully on his left at the six yard box before calmly slotting it into the net with his right. Watch the replay and you'll see how special that first touch was. Hopefully a sign that he's looking to finish the season strong. Podo Baggins got his brace with a classic Podolski left footed rocket into the roof of the net. He gets a lot of criticism for his effort on the pitch, but when he gets a glimpse of goal he's virtually unstoppable. A tough call for the boss, I'm sure, as his defensive work can be detrimental to the teams' performance, but you can't fault his offensive ability.

Vermaelen looked better too, which is nice to see. I've always liked the Verminator, and while it's never nice to see an Arsenal players form fall so dramatically, his drop from the first team last season was particularly brutal because of his heart and effort he put in for the club. I hope this late season run of games will see him get picked for Belgium this summer, he deserves it. If nothing else it will get him some more valuable playing time and hopefully improve his confidence in time for pre season training with Arsenal. There is talk of him leaving this summer, but I genuinely hope he stays. I still prefer the Mertesacker/Koscielny partnership at the back, but the chances of both of them staying healthy for 50+ games are slim, so to have a solid, motivated backup of his quality is priceless. Quite whether he wants to be a backup is another thing.

Another stand out performer, for me, was Ramsey. Granted he only played a handful of minutes, but as soon as his studs hit the turf you could see the difference on the field - chasing every ball, constant movement to get himself open and exciting creativity on the ball. Yes, he was fresh off the bench, but he always plays like that. He played that way for 110 minutes against Wigan, and it's fantastic to see that his latest injury didn't destroy the boys momentum he gained at the beginning of the season. 

So, with Everton still to play Crystal Palace Wednesday, we slid back into 4th place... for now. Chamakh to score a hatrick? Let's hope so. 

April 12, 2014

When Do We Celebrate?

First of all, let's get the obligatory circumspection out of the way;
Let's not get ahead of ourselves people, there are still 5 league games left and a tricky FA Cup Final to come.

Right, now that's done. We're on our way to Wembley (again)! I suggest you go and look at the match reviews from various different sources, as you'll find a completely different opinion of the game from each source. It's quite funny actually, as you can tell which journalists are either Sp*rs fans or just complete idiots just by reading the first couple of paragraphs. 

You don't have to be blind to realize that Arsenal didn't play their best football against Wigan, but you do have to be a complete knob end to suggest that we were poor and didn't deserve the win. The classic "It's just Wigan" is being thrown around, along with the "If Arsenal were any good they would have won by 3 or 4 goals". 

I love that stuff. The fact that Wigan won this particular trophy  a year ago, and just got finished disposing of potential Premier League champions, Manchester Citeh in the quarter final doesn't mean anything to these apparent football 'fans'. I thought, with a number of players lacking proper playing time and experience we came out of this one looking OK. Not great, but good. Wigan got exactly what they wanted when the 13 year old referee, Michael Oliver awarded them (quite rightly) a penalty which they converted at 62 minutes. This allowed them to execute their 'sit back and wait for it' tactic perfectly, and credit to them for keeping us at bay.

Granted, the first half our efforts were tame, but we clearly stepped it up a notch in the second half and made multiple chances, hitting the woodwork twice before the BFG equalized. Then in extra time the Ox (Man of the Match for me) hit the upper 90 with a lovely shot, leaving the match to be decided on penalties.

As an England fan, I'm not particularly fond of penalty shoot-outs, but when I think back to all the Arsenal penalty shoot-outs I've seen I don't think the Gunners have the same bad luck as the Three Lions usually do. Perhaps this particular shoot out was a bit more convincing and enjoyable than most. As my sister, and perhaps the biggest Gooner on the planet pointed out, this was a great 'farewell' performance from Fabianski. I must admit that I was a touch puzzled by Wenger's 'keeper selection before the game, but clearly he's made old Flappyhandski his 'Cup Keeper'. I think it's only appropriate that the older Pole-in-goal gets the nod for the Final now, and I think he's earned it to be honest. What a farewell that would be, and it's too bad his time at Arsenal didn't pan out differently, but he's a stand up guy, a quality goalkeeper and perhaps too good to be a back-up.

Without rating every player on the field today, I still want to mention a couple of encouraging performances. Sanogo was another surprise start today, and although he might not quite be good enough to play for The Arsenal week-in week-out, you can tell there's some talent there, but it's the effort that won me over. Same goes for Ramsey - the two of them haven't played much this calendar year (Ramsey got just a few minutes in the last three months) and they ran their arses off for the fans at Wembley and if we hadn't got the result we wanted at least the effort was there. That's often all we ask for as Arsenal fans.

Being in a loud bar setting I wasn't able to hear the atmosphere that well, but when the camera showed the halfway line divide between the blue shirts and the red shirts in the stands, it was clear that the Arsenal players had more to play for today. Touché to the traveling fans this season, seriously. How motivating it must be to have that undying support when playing away from home. Class act.

Speaking of traveling - Arsenal travel to New Jersey to play Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls on July 26th as part of their pre-season build up. I shall be there, along with good friends and great Gooners, so please, if you can make it I implore you to get in contact with me so we can share a pint and a march to the Red Bull Arena this summer.

In closing, it's obvious why people are bringing up our current League position, but can we just have a couple of days to basque in the glory of an FA Cup semi-final win? I recall, back in 1993 when we were in both the League Cup and FA Cup finals, I couldn't have cared less where we were in the league (We finished 10th that season). Let's allow Everton fans to enjoy this week in 4th place, because once they get bossed by the Manchester teams, they'll be right back where they belong.

I wonder what our FA Cup song will be this year? Perhaps a re-make of Hot Stuff??

April 6, 2014

Stop The Bleeding

I like to think that I'm somewhat of an optimist when it comes to Arsenal's bad results. What I mean is that I at least attempt to find some of the positives when we lose and don't jump off the deep end immediately after games. But this shit is really starting to piss me off. I think everyone that has anything to do with football knew that this was a huge game for both Arsenal and Everton today.... except Arsene Wenger and the players he picked to play.

We were out-played, out-classed and most importantly out-hustled by Everton and deserved every bit of our 3-0 loss on Merseyside (again). Every single game this season that's had any sort of importance attached to it has seen us come out like a bunch of whimpering children. Before I get too carried away I'd like to show a couple of interesting stats I found;

- February 7th: Arsenal top of the Premiership by two points.... 9 games later... April 6th: 1 point away from 5th.

- Half of our goals conceded this season have come against Liverpool, Man City, Chelski and Everton.

-Arsenal have not won against any of the top six teams in the Premiership this season, while only recording three wins against the top ten.

I think we, as fans, have more class than to have a plane fly over the Emirates with a banner reading; "Wenger out!" but you've really got to start asking, (if you haven't been already) is the epic Arsenal/Wenger relationship working any more? Sure, we've got a great chance to win a trophy this year, albeit the FA Cup, but it's more than that now.

Most Arsenal fans perhaps gave Arsene Wenger the benefit of the doubt over the last few seasons, citing that financially we were a team that didn't have the resources of our rivals. However, now it's not about money, we've re-worked sponsorship deals, paid off some debt and Gazidis has publicly stated that Arsenal Football Club can now compete financially with the Manchester United's of the footballing world. So what does Wenger hide behind now? 

I have a hard time writing these words and calling out Wenger because of what he's done for our club over the past 20 years, but when is enough enough? At what point does a man realize that he's not getting the best out of himself and his players? It's becoming quite a sad state of affairs I'm afraid. Perhaps, if we get our hands on the FA Cup (clearly not a given at this point) he'll take a seat upstairs, overseeing the inner workings of the club and finish his coaching career on somewhat of a high. That would honestly be best case scenario at this point. I don't want to see Wenger in charge at Barcelona or Real Madrid. For all his recent failings, he's Arsenal through and through, more so than a large percentage of Arsenal fans that were either born after he took charge or jumped on board when we began our success under the Frenchman.

That Arsenal fan base that have been supporting this great club for less than 20 years haven't seen anything other than a Wenger-ran Arsenal, so to an extent they've been spoiled. Nine years without a trophy, in the big picture of Arsenal Football Club history is not devastating. But, I understand the frustration and can't help but feel it myself at the moment. 

We have the resources to bring in top quality players, and to compete financially with our top rivals. So when will we start to see the results? Everything is peachy when we're top of the league for three months, but I think we were all nervous about how thin our squad was and now it's starting to show. Not only that, but it's clear that Wenger is having a problem motivating his players and applying the appropriate tactics when we face top teams.

Our schedule in the Premier League is, on paper a relatively 'easy' run in to the end of the season, but our backs really are up against the wall if we are to secure Arsene Wenger's favorite "trophy" of fourth place. Perhaps too much focus was on the FA Cup, but without Champions League football it needed to be on both the FA and the Premiership.

Unfortunately this entire blog was about Wenger, instead of our performance, but I'd rather avoid ripping players apart for their lame attempts today. It seemed, for most of the game, as if we were running in molasses. An exhausted squad, clearly, but once again the blame must be placed firmly on Wenger's shoulders for not strengthening when it was blatantly obvious we needed squad depth. If we had got past Bayern by some magical force, I shudder to think how our squad would have coped in three competitions instead of two. 

So now the attention will be split between the FA Cup and Wenger's contract situation. Wigan next weekend in the semi-final, and a still un-signed contract sitting on Wenger's desk. As I said in a recent blog, if the boss is going to leave, how about a little notice so we can start looking for a replacement? Let's get our Arsenal back to winning ways, with or without Arsene Wenger.

Let's hope our trip to Wembley on Saturday and the chance at a cup final will spark a little bit more interest form the team than they showed at Everton. All credit goes to Martinez and his lads today, and all Arsenal will get over the next week is questions. Let's just hope we get some answers before Wigan.

March 30, 2014

I'll Take It

I think we all knew Man City would not longer pose a threat when they brought on James Milner on Saturday. Either Pellegrini has never met Milner and knows little about his lack of talent or he just plain thought he was someone else. Perhaps he saw The Flamster bossing the midfield from top to bottom and thought by putting on the chubby Englishman would remedy the situation? 

The little French energizer bunny is proving to be the gem of Wenger's summer signings this season and what a bargain at £0. I can't help but think AC Milan misjudged Flamini's form slightly when they released him from his contract and that Arsenal have benefitted fully. I'll take that, and I'll take a point against Man City.

I doubt whether any Arsenal fan is ecstatic about the 1-1 draw against Manchester City at the Emirates, but it's far better than most of us imagined. We were taking bets on how many Citeh would get past us, all in jest of course.... But the Gunners proved us all wrong with their constant harassing whenever City had the ball and belief in themselves. It may sound a little cliché, but after 6-3 at Man City, 5-1 against Liverpool and the most recent 6-0 defeat at the bus stop in Fulham, belief could have been hard to find in the home teams' locker room on Saturday. 

I've criticized Wenger's inability to motivate his players appropriately in the past, and I still question the mentality the players have when walking out onto the pitch sometimes, but against the best team in Manchester he must have said something to light a fire under his players. An encouraging performance, for sure, and hopefully a performance that will give us the injection of motivation we needed going into the last six games. 

On paper, six games we should get maximum points from, so although I don't see the Premier League title within our reach, I still think a lot of things could happen over the next few weeks. Perhaps the team (and fans) can be accused of focusing too heavily on the upcoming FA Cup semi final, seeing it as our most realistic chance at a trophy, and perhaps losing sight of what was right in front of us at the time; Chelski, Swansea, City. We now have 7 (or 8) games left in our season, so it's time to buckle down, perhaps get a couple of players back in the next week, and fight for every single point available. It's not impossible, far from it. 

The other thing that is constantly on my mind is Wenger's contract situation. All the signs are there that he's going to sign, and he's notorious for waiting to sign a new contract, but it's a little over a month before the end of the season and he's still in no mans land. I can't be the only one concerned? Not just concerned that we might lose our manager of the last 19 years, but if he is going to leave, let us know so we can get moving on trying to find a replacement. Something needs to happen, whatever it is, but it needs to happen soon before it becomes too distracting.

Everton up next, and they're a team that is currently looking right up our skirts and poses the only real threat for 4th place competition. A win would go a long way to ensuring we get Champions League football next season.
Come on you Gunners!

March 23, 2014

At Least We're Not Chelsea Fans

Well, when Arsenal lose, we really do it emphatically. And I don't mean emphatically like any sort of exciting thrill ride or anything like that. Somehow, even with the manager's 1,000th game on the line, the Arsenal players on the field Saturday managed to all simultaneously squat and take a massive shit on all Arsenal fans across the planet. 

I genuinely thought the players would be well up for this game, for several reasons. First of all, as we all know and as I mentioned, it was Arsene Wenger's 1,000th game as manager of Arsenal Football Club. A massive feat whichever way you look at it, and something the player's have to respect. Secondly, this may not have been a title deciding game so to speak, but it would have gone a long way to putting us right back into the thick of things for the last 8 games of the season. Thirdly, if a player wearing the famous Arsenal cannon on his chest doesn't want to go out there and kick the scummy, lousy, racist, filthy life out of John Terry and ensure he goes home to his wife teammates wives without three points then there's something wrong. 

There was an awful lot wrong with the game at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and there is absolutely no way we deserve to go on and win the League with performances like that. The people I was lucky enough to watch the game with had the same sense of belief I had, that this Arsenal team can fight with the best of 'em when they're at their best. So the only question you can ask, really, is what the shit happened? 

I have a slightly different outlook of the infamous mistaken identity red card situation. Obviously Chamberlain was the one who handled the ball (would have been a great save if it was anywhere near going in...), but then the referee shows the red card to a seemingly innocent Gibbs. I say seemingly because it may have looked as if the referee just forgot who  had just handled the ball a moment earlier, but if you go back and look at the first two goals Chelski scored I think the ref got it absolutely right. 

Kieren Gibbs was absolutely nowhere to be seen when Eto'o got the first, and I'm still not sure the young Englishman had even come out of the dressing room when the Russian's got their second. Chamberlain (all be it unsuccessfully) tracked back to defend on both occasions to try and fill in at left-back, but the actual left back was present in neither the failed Arsenal attack or the Chelsea counter. So you've got to ask where the hell he actually was? So the red card, I believe was shown to Gibbs for one simple reason; he was just too crap on the day. I believe referee's should do more of this. I mean, think about it for a moment - the quality of football matches would improve dramatically if the ref just sent off any underperforming players. Far more important than a TV for the fourth official if you ask me. I give it a couple of seasons before it's properly implemented. Stoke wouldn't have a player on the field after 35 minutes.

We can, however, draw one positive from the utter failure at the bus-stop in Fulham. We all know that Chelski fans are hideously stupid and only show up to games because of the bright lights and pretty colours, but it strikes me as amazing how quiet a fan base is when their team is up 6-0 against potential title rivals. If you're not going to sing when your team is 2, 3, 4 or 5 goals up, then why are you there? The loyal and fantastic Gooners that travel to every away game were borderline heroic for their constant support of a clearly struggling Arsenal team. I may not have felt proud, but I'll always be proud to be a Gooner, and I will always be proud NOT to be a Chelski fan. 

Being a Chelski fan means a couple of things; The little blue knob-ends don't have souls or personalities, they've just been replaced by mucous and dog shit. You think I'm just trying to be funny, but it's true. I've been forcibly surrounded by Chelsea fans my whole life, and all it did was show me how not to act. I've even got a theory on the original purpose of Stamford Bridge and how we should actually support it's use. Pigs have pig-pens, rats have cages, and even sloth's stay in trees away from everyday life. If these wonderful animals are kept away in cages, then why are filthy Chelsea fans allowed to roam around the streets un-supervised? Well, that's why Stamford Bridge was erected. Wave some flags to attract the dizzy idiots in, then slam the doors shut behind them, problem solved. I believe it was the residents of Fulham that came up with that idea.

I think we all need a little pick-me-up after the farce yesterday, so here is a nice little vid I found to cheers us all up, and remember that as much as we looked like 11 legless schoolgirls on Saturday, this is Arsenal Football Club after all, and we've seen some epic times to shadow the not so good times. Let's allow this one to fade away into those shadows so we can concentrate on the FA Cup and perhaps end our faithful managers' Arsenal career on a high. 

March 16, 2014

Special Day For A 'Special' Guy

Apparently Sp*rs have implemented a plan where their current manager (and life-long Arsenal fan) Tim Sherwood deflects any and all attention away from the poor performance of the Tottenham players and squarely onto himself. The fact that Arsenal just completed the triple against our North London rivals isn't as headline worthy as how mean and shouty Tim Sherwood is. Who does he think he is, expressing frustration and hurting their feelings? Unbelievable, managers these days.

It really must have been a special day for him, however, when he got the chance to make a childhood dream come true and shake the Arsenal managers hand. You could tell Sherwood wanted an Arsenal win today, otherwise why would he have fielded Rose and Adebayor? Ohh to be a Gooner, eh?

The game itself was a nervous affair, even though we got the earliest of leads through a Rosicky wonder-strike. I think a really early goal like that come sometimes make things a bit difficult for the team that scores it. At first you think, great, let's get some more. But it's not quite that simple, not against proper opposition. Perhaps it's about how we handle ourselves going into the lead that early - sitting back somewhat and making the odd (impressive) counter attack. Arsene Wenger has never been a particularly defensive manager, but I felt we were just that - defensive. As I said, we looked great on the counter attack, although not making the most of our chances, but it just felt as if we were waiting for them to come at us in a way. I know for a fact we can out-run, out-pass these over rated dip shits, but we let them control possession and get far too many chances on goal.

When I say 'chances' I mean more like open-net, Szczesny's-gone-AWOL-just-tap-it-in sort of chances. The flappy wankers couldn't even score when we literally laid down and presented them with the ball on the 6 yard box. Amazing, yet awful all at the same time. Our excitable Pole in goal had a game to forget for the most part, but the two handsome gentlemen in front of him gave us all performances to remember. Koscienly was as consistent as ever, and showed his true commitment to the club by throwing his body in front of shots multiple times. The BFG, or the Big German Ball Magnet, as commentator Arlo White referred to him, was rewarded for his stellar performance by being named Man of the Match. 

Three points that Arsenal had to really grind out, but a very valuable three points evidetly, as our Russian friends in Fulham dropped all the points against Aston Villa on Saturday. If we can get a win against them on March 22nd, still with a game-in-hand over them, then all of a sudden things look rather more competitive at the top. Of course, Man City have about twelve games in hand over everyone, so I expect them to be leading the pack. The dirty scousers are only ahead of us on goal difference, so this could turn out to be one of the best finishes to a Premier League season in the competitions history. 

St. Totteringham's Day is coming early this year, I can just smell it. It smells of old lasagna, Manichewitz concorde wine and Adebayor's shriveling ego. First we've got the small (very small) matter of Mourinho and his League of Extraordinarily Ugly Henchmen to deal with in a week. Bring it on. Stand up if you hate Tottenham!