Alexis Sanchez: The Brilliance Without The Biting


The signing of Alexis Sanchez has left me elated, but it shouldn’t leave anyone surprised. Looking back at the Read more

2013/14: Arsenal's Season Blogged - Sagas, songs & a cup


As the enthralling World Cup comes to a close and eyes begin to turn towards next season, I thought Read more

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2014


It’s that time again. Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. The results are in. PLAYER OF THE SEASON In a season Read more

A Party 9 years in the Making


A cup nine years in the winning. A party nine years in the making. A blog nine years in Read more

Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish


I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun. Don’t Read more

Examining why Arsene Wenger doesn’t want to buy a striker

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2014-15 Season, Champions League, Match Reports, Premier League |  

Well, here we are. Another season is underway. I initially wrote ‘well and truly underway’, but then deleted it. In truth, this period between the opening fixture and the transfer deadline always feels like an extension of preseason. The window ends, there’s a flurry of late deals, and then club football goes on a two-week break while some dull internationals are played. When we return in mid-September, that’s when it really feels like the campaign has kicked off.

That seems truer this season than most. The fact that a large portion of our squad is still recovering from their exertions in the World Cup means we’ve had an unusually slow start. Our performances have yet to impress, but fortunately the results haven’t suffered too much. We’ve shown fight if not fluency, getting late goals to pick up valuable points against Crystal Palace and Everton.

I’ve been in Edinburgh throughout August, but returned this week to see my first live game of the season. Arsenal got the job done against Besiktas, but it wasn’t easy. Mathieu Debuchy was certainly unlucky to pick up that second booking, but he’d been wobbling uneasily on a disciplinary tight-rope all evening. He must curb his aggressive streak if he’s to avoid more red cards in future.

Watching our side in the flesh, it became apparent to me that we are very much a team in evolution. The midfield, for example, appears to have been slightly restructured over the summer. Last season, Arsenal typically played with two men in a double-pivot, with Mesut Ozil floating ahead. Mikel Arteta would hold with Aaron Ramsey given greater license to break from deep alongside him.

This season, there’s been a slight shift in emphasis. Rather than the customary 4-2-3-1, Arsenal have been employing something more akin to a 4-1-4-1. There is a pure designated holding player, with two dynamic midfielders deployed further ahead.

This system was presumably implemented in part because of the available personnel. Ozil missed the start of the season, and Arsene Wenger had to find a way to accommodate both Jack Wilshere and Ramsey. This formation allows both those players to break forward, secure in the knowledge that an anchor man is on hand at all times to fill in.

However, Ozil’s return has not prompted the expected reversion to last season’s shape. Instead, the German has twice been positioned on the left flank. Against Besiktas, Ozil found himself ousted to the wing, with Santi Cazorla asked to play a busy box-to-box role in the centre. Last season, that deployment would have seemed improbable at best. Throughout 2013-14, Cazorla was routinely used on the flank in order to grant Ozil a free role through the middle.

Perhaps during the international break Arsene will take the opportunity to restructure his midfield once again. However, it’s also possible that he has decided that playing Ozil as a pure number 10 leaves his midfield too exposed. This summer, Ozil played predominantly as a winger for the German national team, and that experiment turned out pretty well for Jogi Low’s side. A hypothetical central midfield three of Arteta, Ramsey and Cazorla certainly has more energy and commitment to the defensive side of the game than one containing Ozil.

The remodelling of the team does not end with the midfield. In the past week, there has been significant evidence that Arsene Wenger plans to renovate his attack too. When Arsenal signed Alexis Sanchez back in July, I said I thought he’d been bought as an alternative to Luis Suarez – the brilliance without the biting. His future, it seemed to me, was as a centre-forward.

However, I did not expect him to be picked there so early on in his Arsenal career. In just Sanchez’s second Premier League game, he was named at the point of the Gunners front-line. That initial experiment failed, but Wenger was forced to repeat it in midweek having lost Giroud to a broken tibia. Against Besiktas, Alexis fared rather better. Not only did he grab the winning goal, but he also showed class and courage to hold the ball up against defenders who towered above him.

With Giroud confirmed as being out until Christmas, many Arsenal fans are incredulous that Arsene Wenger does not deem recruiting a new striker a priority. However, as far as our manager is concerned, he has already bought a £35m striker this window: Alexis.

For more than a year, Wenger has been chasing a mobile forward with a good pressing game. Wenger didn’t buy a striker last summer because he couldn’t get his number one target, Suarez. He didn’t buy a striker in January because a player of the requisite calibre and attributes was not available. This summer, Alexis came on the market, and Wenger moved quickly and efficiently to get his man.

I’m sure that in an ideal world Wenger would like to bed Sanchez in as his centre-forward over a period of several months. Giroud’s injury robs him of that luxury. Alexis’ evolution must be sped up, and the team’s with it. However, Wenger presumably reasons that there’s no point threatening that process by buying the ‘wrong’ type of centre-forward. If he has already decided that Sanchez, rather than Giroud, will be his team’s long-term focal point, why derail things by bringing in another square beg for his newly-carved round hole?

Of course, Alexis can’t play every game. But if our team is being rebuilt to accommodate a slighter, speedier forward, then Arsenal already have an ideal back-up in their ranks. Within a matter of weeks, Theo Walcott will be available for selection. When Alexis needs a rest, he seems the obvious player to step in to the void.

In the meantime, Walcott will flourish on the right flank. Alexis is more of a ‘false nine’ than a true target man. Against Besiktas, it was intriguing how frequently he dropped deep to collect the ball and join up with the midfield. On more than one occasion, I spotted Alexis furiously gesturing at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to dart in behind him. He will find Theo Walcott a far more willing runner. In combination, the pair could be devastating.

The possibility of fielding Walcott as a centre-forward ensures Yaya Sanogo will remain third-choice in the pecking order. What’s more, Wenger has Joel Campbell to consider. Many Arsenal fans spent the summer crying out for Campbell to be given an opportunity at Arsenal. Some of those same fans are now furiously demanding a new striker. You can’t have it both ways.

If it were up to me, I’d bring in an experienced frontman who guarantees 10 goals. Loic Remy, for example, is a proven Premier League finisher with an excellent record. I’d recruit someone of that ilk to add depth and experience to our options. If that meant sending one of Sanogo or Campbell out on loan, so be it.

Arsene doesn’t see it that way. Rightly or wrongly, he believes giving playing time to Campbell and Sanogo is a better investment of resource. What’s more, I suspect he envisages a restyled attack modelled around Sanchez and Walcott. Giroud’s injury robs him of a Plan B, but Plan A is still good to go.

I hope Arsenal will be active between now and the end of the transfer window. They still need another centre-back, and a holding midfielder would be handy too. With Giroud out, the first XI could do with an injection of height and power – if only to help them cope at set-pieces.

However, at this stage I’d be surprised to see another attacker arrive. Giroud’s injury doesn’t derail Arsene’s plans, it merely accelerates them.

Gunnerblog is 10 today

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2014-15 Pre-season |  

To my considerable surprise, Gunnerblog is 10 years old today.

I can’t believe that it was fully a decade ago when I took my first faltering steps in to the world of blogging. Although I have neither the time nor inventiveness to blog on a daily basis, the site (and its accompanying Twitter feed) has been a pretty consistent presence in my adult life. It’s brought me huge satisfaction, and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has looked in along the way. Without the support, the debate and the encouragement I almost certainly wouldn’t have made it this far. Thankyou. It continues to be a pleasure.

Writing about Arsenal is a particular joy this summer, with the club conducting it’s transfer business in an unfamiliarly efficient manner. Today, the club added David Ospina to a growing list of signings alongside Mathieu Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez.

Ospina looks to be a fantastic acquisition, especially at the bargain price of around £3m. His signing follows the growing trend for every elite club to have two top class goalkeepers. With Ospina around, Wojciech Szczesny faces a real battle to keep hold of the No. 1 shirt.

Another announcement could be just around the corner. Arsenal are also on the verge of declaring a deal over Southampton’s England U-19 captain Calum Chambers.

I have to say, I’m enormously excited about this one. I watched Chambers play right-back against Arsenal back in January, and was struck by his athleticism, technical ability and poise on the ball. The youngster obviously made a similar impression on Arsene Wenger, who is prepared to spend in excess of £10 million to get his man.

Speaking to The Daily Mail, Wenger admitted that Chambers’ versatility was one of the main attractions:

“He hasn’t played many games but the English players on the market in England are very expensive. At the end of the day I was ready to take a gamble because he is a one for the future.  

He is a player I wanted because I rated his quality and intelligence. He is only 19 and can play at centre-back, right-back and central midfield. I hope he will give us competition for the players in those three positions.”

Wenger was disappointed to miss out on Phil Jones a couple of years back, but now it seems he has the promising, powerful, adaptable English defensive player he’s been craving.

On that note, I’d better depart. Thanks again, and here’s to the next decade of drivel.

Alexis Sanchez: The Brilliance Without The Biting

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, 2014-15 Pre-season, Featured |  

The signing of Alexis Sanchez has left me elated, but it shouldn’t leave anyone surprised. Looking back at the last 12 months, we should all be kicking ourselves for not calling it sooner. The clues were there all along.

The trail begins last summer, when Arsene Wenger gave us the clearest indication as to the sort of striker he was interested in signing. He abandoned negotiations over Gonzalo Higuain to focus all his energies on Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. He even went as far to claim he was never “especially” interested in the Argentine. At the time I dismissed it as mere rhetoric; now I wonder.

In Suarez, he found almost everything he was looking for. A striker with pace, mobility and versatility. Someone who could play alongside Olivier Giroud as well as instead of him. Someone with the desire to hound defenders as well as the skill to baffle them.

There was no point adding another hulking number nine. For better or worse, the Suarez deal collapsed. Months passed and rumours linked us with the likes of Marios Mandzukic and Balotelli. I remained dubious. Like Higuain, they’re principally target men in the Giroud mould. They’re nothing like Suarez, the player Wenger was prepared to break both the bank and an unspoken ethical code to get.

There was another clue, too. In November of 2013, the manager told the assembled journalists.

I have said many times that Europe still produces many fantastic football players, but if you look well we do not produce strikers well. Very few, all of the big strikers come from South America.

The criteria were clear. Quick, nimble, tigrish and mobile – and possibly, given Wenger’s comments, South American. You didn’t need to be Sherlock. Hell, you didn’t even need to be Sherwood.

Enter Alexis Sanchez. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet (I haven’t the flexibility, for one thing) I first mentioned his name back in April. Even then, I should’ve arrived at it sooner. I watched Sanchez produce a masterclass at Wembley for the Chilean national team in the very same month Arsene Wenger heralded South American strikers. That came halfway through an outstanding season for Barcelona, in which he scored 20-odd goals and made nearly as many assists.

The World Cup confirmed that this was a player whose star was very much on the rise. He was superb for Chile, playing a crucial role in their victory over Spain and almost knocking out Brazil long before the Germans humiliated them on home soil.

While the rest of the world woke up to Sanchez this summer, I suspect Arsene was on the case long before. The World Cup’s not what will have brought him in to Wenger’s sights. It will, however, have brought up the price considerably. Those who know best say the deal could total £35m. Even as a huge fan of the player I’d say that’s a bit steep.

But we paid it. And sometimes, that’s what you have to do. We bullied Liverpool and Juventus out of the reckoning because we wanted the player enough. We were bullish, we were bold and we got the deal done. I like that. I’ve missed that.

For Barcelona, Sanchez has played predominantly on the right-hand side of the attack. I expect him to start his Arsenal career there too, covering for the injured Theo Walcott. However, it’s my firm belief that when Walcott returns it will be Sanchez, not Theo, who gets a run as a centre-forward.

He’s much more suited to it than the Englishman. He has the touch required to receive passes fizzed in to him from a distance. He has the desire to chase down lost causes, and the dribbling ability to squeeze between markers. In recent months, he has added a coolness in front of goal to his game. Some may question his size, but there is not an ounce of fat on Sanchez’s stocky frame. There’s not an ounce of cowardice in his character either. I watched the likes of Gary Cahill and Phil Jones bounce off him at Wembley. I saw Thiago Silva chasing shadows in Belo Horizonte.

If Luis Suarez can thrive as a centre-forward in the Premier League, so too can Sanchez. Our man has much of the brilliance, without the biting. He has the tenacity, without the teeth. For all those times when off-field issues intervened with on-field matters, I never wanted Suarez. In Sanchez, I feel like we’ve got the next best thing.

Arsene does too. It’s taken 12 months, but in Alexis Sanchez he’s finally found the man to fit the mould. I can’t wait to see him in action.

Alexis Sanchez is wearing the new Arsenal Puma kit, which is available from JD Sports.

Mikel Arteta on Alexis Sanchez, contract talks, & more transfers

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2014-15 Pre-season |  

Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited down to the kit launch by Puma, and was one of several bloggers able to grab a few words with Mikel Arteta. Here’s what he had to say.

On his reaction to the Alexis Sanchez news…

I was really happy. Everyone was waiting for a big signing like this. It’s a proper player – he’s got the experience, the technique, the pace. I met him this morning and he looked very excited. I think he’s going to be a good fit.

On Alexis’ English…

His English isn’t great as with 99% of the South Americans! But I think he will try. He was a bit worried about it but he will be fine. We have a very humble squad and the players will look after him. We have plenty of Spanish speakers too.

On beating stiff competition to land the player…

He had many options and he decided to join us which makes us really proud. I think he likes the style of Arsenal because it’s very similar to what he was used to in Barcelona. I’m excited to watch him play.

On the significance of the deal…

I think it’s a big statement from the club to say early on in the transfer window, “Ok, let’s go and get one of the best strikers in the world at the moment”. They have convinced him to come and we got him. I think we’ve been lacking that pace and that creativity that he can probably bring to the club, so I can’t wait.

On what Sanchez brings…

I think we were missing pace last season with Theo & Chambo injured. At some point we were playing with Cazorla, Wilshere & Giroud, all three coming in, you know? Arsenal was always a team who could play on the break and upfront had the speed to break people down. Now, I think we’re going to be more powerful and much harder to deal with.

On the possibility of more signings…

One of them is almost done I think – but we have to see. I don’t think it’s going to stop here, I think they’ve got more targets. I don’t think the players should get involved in that at all. They’re doing their work well. Let’s just be patient.

On this summer feeling different…

Yeah, when you win something it’s a different summer. I think it took a lot of the pressure off our shoulders. This has to be the start. It’s nowhere near good enough for Arsenal FC, we need to aim for much bigger things. We have the capacity to win things and we need to start showing that consistency in the next few years.

On a new contract…

I had my conversation with the manager – he knows my opinion, I know his opinion, and we are all good. That’s all I can say.

I can’t stop the rumours [about leaving] but I can be certain that I feel really happy here. I feel valued. I am given lots of responsibility here and I like it. Until the club thinks something different about me, I’m happy here.

On Arsene Wenger…

He’s a very demanding manager. He’s a very straightforward manager as well. You know what you’re getting with him, you know exactly what he wants from you. If you’re fair, you’re right and you’re honest then you’re never going to have a problem with him.

On Arsene’s beach football…

Yeah I was surprised. He looked younger than what he is! He is a very fit man though. He’s one of the few who would look OK in the new kit.

He’s coming back from Brazil on Monday. It shows you how much he loves football: even when he has a break he’s watching football.

On if Aaron Ramsey can still progress…

Yes. This year’s going to be very demanding for him because everyone’s going to expect something big from him, and those seasons are not easy. But Aaron has the character and the ability to go and do it again. The way he trains and prepares himself is top drawer. He knows that now he is one of the main guys, and he needs to stand firm on it and deal with it because now it’s going to be demanded from him.

On Diaby’s return…

Abou’s one of the players that I like most and I feel so sorry for him – he’s been very unlucky with injuries throughout his career. When you look at him when he’s had a month of training, some of the stuff he does is amazing. If we can add Abou to the squad I think he’ll be a great addition.

On his favourite World Cup moment…

Well being Spanish I haven’t had a favourite moment yet! Tim Cahill’s goal was fabulous, that’s the best so far. But hopefully the German’s lift the cup. It’ll be a nice moment and I’ll be very happy for them.

On Brazil’s heavy defeat…

I felt so sorry for them. Unfortunately last season we had some disappointing results against big teams. When I was watching that I was really feeling sorry for them because that was also in front of their home crowd which makes it even harder. I think it’s going to be tough to digest that one.

On how he digested Arsenal’s heavy defeats last season…

I don’t think you do digest it. As soon as you talk about those games I feel something in my stomach. In that moment you just want the ground to open up and swallow you because you’re not honouring your club, your shirt. It’s very frustrating but these things happen in football. You have to accept them and you have to learn, and it can not happen again.

On if he’s confident for next season…

Yes I am. Because I know the quality we have, the character, the desire. All the players have shown a good mentality when things aren’t going well. When everything’s going well it’s easy, but when people are criticising you and asking questions of you you need to see how people deal with that, and I’m telling you these guys are top drawer.

As ever, Mikel came across as a thoughtful and articulate guy. My take on the wonderful Alexis Sanchez news should be with you soon. Thanks again to Puma for a lovely evening.

The new kit is available from JD Sports.

2013/14: Arsenal’s Season Blogged – Sagas, songs & a cup

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Champions League, FA Cup, Featured, Premier League |  

As the enthralling World Cup comes to a close and eyes begin to turn towards next season, I thought it’d be worth a bit of a retrospective of the saga that was 2013/14. And so, without further ado…

—-

Please, Arsene: Don’t sign Luis Suarez | July 17th 2013
I cannot understand why a manager as ethical and principled as Arsene would go near a player like Suarez. I cannot fathom why our great club would seek to harbour a footballing fugitive. The situation is made all the more bizarre by the apparent availability of the talented and seemingly decent Gonzalo Higuain, who is now edging towards a move to Napoli.

It’s genuinely baffling. Arsenal paying £40m for a player is something I hoped I’d see one day. However, the sight of Luis Suarez in an Arsenal shirt is something I still hope I’ll never see.

Blowing that sum on a player who will be dogged by suspension and controversy is lunacy. What’s more, Suarez has a proven track record of forcing transfers every couple of seasons. If he joins us, he’ll view us merely as an escape raft until he can leverage a move to Real Madrid.

Opening Day Preview: New season – No new faces | August 17th 2013
A new season ought to feel fresh. It ought to be a new start. The manager ought to enter the new campaign free of the pressures of the last. However, Arsenal’s disastrous summer has put Arsene Wenger under considerable strain before a ball has even been kicked in anger.

If Arsenal fail to beat Aston Villa today, the Emirates will resound with the boos from fans who will understandably feel they have been misled. They were promised statements of intent and a change in policy. Instead they’ve suffered more of the same penny-pinching and indecision.

Arsenal 1 – 3 Aston Villa: It was just a mirage | August 19th 2013
I had a vision of a better Arsenal. It was a vision sold to me by Ivan Gazidis, who promised me that after a decade of harsh desert we were approaching an oasis of plenty. It was a vision that sustained me through a summer starved of football.

It was a vision that I, somewhat foolishly, believed in. And it was just a mirage.

The dream evaporated and condensed in to the cold wet reality of a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa. Some dream. Some start.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Fenerbahce: Thoughts on Ramsey, Mata & more | August 28th 2013
Aaron Ramsey has been outstanding…
It’s amazing what a difference confidence can make. The way he took his second goal was the mark of a player who has absolute faith in his ability at the moment. Having gone through a process of simplifying his game and bringing it back to basics, Ramsey is now supplementing his hard work with the flair he patently possesses. His progress is exciting.

The Real Madrid trio would all be incredible signings…
Arsenal are being linked with moves for Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria. All three would add a huge amount to the Arsenal squad, but only the latter seems remotely probable. Madrid seem unlikely to sell Benzema and Higuain in the same window, while Ozil is likely to also be a target for Manchester United. That is not a tug of war I’d fancy us to win.

Thoughts on the Derby & Deadline Day | September 2nd 2013
Ozil would be a game-changing signing. Assuming it goes ahead, it’s massive. I would never have believed that we’d be capable of recruiting a marquee talent of this level.

However, while I hate to gripe on what is a undoubtedly momentous day for the club, I’m staggered that Arsenal are going to go in to the season with Olivier Giroud as the only senior centre-forward. Giroud was superb against Spurs, but by the end of the game was exhausted. It’s a feeling he’ll have to get used to in the coming months.

Mesut Ozil: A perfect signing in a far from perfect window | September 3rd 2013
There’s no doubt it’s a transformative signing, and the most significant since the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp in 1995. When it was announced half an hour before the window’s close last night, Sky’s Geraint Hughes noted that the Arsenal fans’ jubilation was due to the fact they’d waited all day for a signing like this. The reporter were wrong: we’ve waited for more than a decade.

Just a few hundred yards separate Highbury and the Emirates, yet the Ozil deal feels like the completion of an arduous ten-year journey. However, it must be not only an ending, but also a new beginning. This has to be the start of something.

Thoughts on Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal: Ozil glides like Pires, passes like Bergkamp | September 17th 2013
Great players elevate those around them…
…and Mesut Ozil is undoubtedly a great player. Seeing him step out on to the pitch in an Arsenal shirt was both surreal and sublime. His touch was immaculate and his passing incisive. Considering he had barely trained with the team, his immediate rapport with the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey and Walcott was remarkable.

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke: A football match, believe it or not | September 22nd 2013
Confidence is an extraordinary thing. It can do incredible things to a footballer. Ramsey is at the crest of a wave, and I hope he can stay there as long as possible. When he inevitably reverts to somewhere approaching the mean, I still think we’ll still have a very fine footballer on our hands.

Arsenal 4 – 1 Norwich: 700 words on THAT goal | October 21st 2013
The ball arrives on Wilshere’s right foot, and he places a perfect volley in to the far corner. No power is needed. The finish, like the rest of the move, is all guile and grace. When he sees the ball hit the net, he allows himself a roar of exhalation.

He knows it’s special. The Arsenal fans do too, reacting with an upwardly-inflected combination of awe and disbelief. And he keeps going, jogging towards the fans before sliding on his knees in celebration.

Wilshere finally rests. 20.34 seconds, five players, nine passes, and 28 touches have come together to create one masterpiece.

Crystal Palace 0 – 2 Arsenal: Gunners slip past greasy Chamakh | October 26th 2013
Caz-ozil is not yet working as anticipated…
Arsenal fans waited for six weeks to see Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil play together. Thus far, the combination has failed to live up to its understandably starry billing.

Arsenal needed a win today…
Our next four fixtures see us face off against Chelsea, Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United. This clash with Palace was all about getting three points – by any means.It’s often said that winning while playing poorly is the mark of a title-challenging side. I’ll hold off from such proclamations until we are able to assess Arsenal’s performance in the difficult games ahead.
Arsenal face a crucial Champions League tie with Dortmund this week, but I’d gladly swap victory in Germany for three points at Old Trafford next Sunday.

The Premier League campaign feels all-encompassing and all-consuming. The irritation felt at dropping out of the League cup was banished by beating Liverpool.

Arsenal are currently five points clear. There is a growing sense that Arsenal can mount their first serious and sustained title challenge since 2007/08. Nothing – not even European progression – would excite me more.

Man United 1 – 0 Arsenal: Anticlimactic end to a good week | November 10th 2013
RVP is welcome to celebrate…
Do you want his respect? His pity? I know I don’t.

There is no love lost between Robin and Arsenal. Why disguise it? Pretending otherwise is just silly.

United are an interesting case study for the theory that “strikers win games”…
It’s my firm belief that Arsenal had the stronger XI going in to this match. Our midfield compares particularly favourably with United’s.

However, the old adage goes that strikers win games, and so it proved. One moment of combination between Rooney and Van Persie was enough for United to secure the three points.

United’s midfield was also weak last season, but Van Persie was able to bail them out time after time, and they ended up as champions. A world class goal-getter can mask many deficiencies.

As good as Olivier Giroud has been this season, I think we’d be getting ahead of ourselves to suggest he’s in the same bracket as United’s front two. However, that’s not a fixed situation. As Wenger often says, you should never put limits on any player’s potential. If Giroud continues to improve at his current rate, that hierarchy might soon change.

What’s preposterous is that we have so little support for Giroud. Introducing Bendtner at Old Trafford, on the day he has made public his displeasure with Arsenal and Arsene, felt absurd.

Strikers win games. And we don’t have enough.

Cardiff 0 – 3 Arsenal: We’ve Got Our Arsene Back | November 30th 2013
In stoppage time, with Arsenal winning this match by three goals to nil, the cameras caught Arsene Wenger bellowing at an Arsenal player. It  may have seemed unnecessary, but I interpreted it as a sign that his focus is greater than ever

Wenger has always been something of a perfectionist. This season, he has shown he is prepared to be a pragmatist too. His perfectionism is no longer confine to Arsenal’s aesthetic dimension, but seems to encompass a broader appreciation of the games. Whereas once he was cavalier, he is increasingly practical. He seems to take pride in the team’s defending once more. He’ll have been just as satisfied by the clean sheet as the three exquisite goals.

Arsenal 1 – 1 Everton: You can’t win them all, annoyingly | December 8th 2013
Mesut Ozil, the man for the big occasion, delivered…
If anyone looked likely to make the breakthrough for Arsenal it was Ozil. His last three performances have all been right out of the top drawer of football’s tallest cabinet. When he smartly lifted the ball over Tim Howard and in to the roof of the net, it really felt like we might be watching a defining goal in the Premier League season.

The equaliser was gutting…

A buoyant stadium was silenced by a smashing strike from Gerard Deulofeu. Some have criticised Szczesny for failing to stop the shot, but it really was an excellent hit. It flashed past the Pole and evaporated our hopes of that seven-point lead. Gutting, but probably fair.

Man City 6-3 Arsenal: Old habits return as Arsenal die hard | December 14th 2013
Having been roundly trounced by City, it’s tempting to wonder just how costly that Gerard Deulofeu goal last week might prove to be. Arsenal’s cushion has disappeared and our seat at the top of the table suddenly feels a lot less comfortable.

The stark truth is that Arsenal have lost to each of Manchester United, City and Chelsea this season. Beating the likes of Spurs and Liverpool is one thing, but that titanic trio provide the real acid test. Arsenal will need to win their home games against their closest rivals if they are to stand a chance of lasting the pace.

Meeting Thierry | December 19th 2013
I was chatting away to Tim Stillman of Arseblog fame - two fish in unfamiliarly opulent waters. Suddenly, Tim’s eyes lit up. Someone was approaching us – someone Tim recognised and, judging by his widening smile, somewhat liked. I felt a hand on my back. I turned around.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Thierry.”

Arsenal 0 – 0 Chelsea: Stalemate sees Mourinho in his element | December 24th 2013
It’s not so much that Wenger can’t beat Mourinho — it’s that Mourinho is expert at finding ways to stop him. Our boss invariably sends his team out play the same way, whereas Mourinho will select a team specifically designed to nullify the opposition. It’s ugly, but it works. The stats back it up.

“If you can’t win the match, don’t lose” is becoming something a mantra for Wenger. It started as a reaction to the defeat to Swansea last season, and was reinforced after Robert Lewandowski’s late winner for Dortmund a couple of months back.

There was a palpable fear of losing in similar circumstances tonight. The fans cried out for changes, but Wenger stuck with XI he started with, anxious that an unnecessary switch might upset the rhythm and, crucially , the defensive balance of his team.

In some ways it’s commendable, and shows Wenger’s growing pragmatism. However, at some stage Arsenal are going to have to gamble, and accept the risk of defeat. Too many draws could prove costly in such a tightly-contested league.

Not 1-1 at Newcastle (again) | 29th December 2013
Big points…
Apart from in the Emirates Cup, all wins are worth three points. Some, however, feel a bit special. Maybe it’s because the win put us back on top, maybe it’s because we were under the cosh for so long, or maybe it’s just because it’s Christmas, but these points feel significant. I’ll dip in to my big bag of cliches to state that these are the sort of games that eventual champions win.

Per Mertesacker was a true giant…
I love seeing Mertesacker with the captain’s armband. For me, he is the team’s true leader, and he truly led by example at St. James’ Park with a dominating defensive display.
His performance against Newcastle really cemented his transformation from giant mutant bambi to defensive rock.

2013 has been a pretty good year for Arsenal…
No side won more Premier League points than us. Unfortunately, titles are won between August and May rather than January and December, but it’s a great testament to our consistency.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Cardiff: We have forgotten how to play without a target man | January 1st 2013
Arsene Wenger, the man who signed Mark Hateley for Monaco, has renewed his love affair with the powerful centre-forward. Emmanuel Adebayor, Marouane Chamakh and most recently Giroud have heralded a return to playing with a more traditional type of striker.

And now, Arsenal have become dependent on it. We’ve been blessed to have Giroud fit and firing for most of this season and last, but it’s also made us strategically lazy.

The Arsenal team have been fed a steady diet of Olivier Giroud for 18 months, and it appears to have significantly altered their palette. Give them Luis Suarez, and they’d probably he aiming balls at his head and chest, wondering why he couldn’t bring them down.

Giroud is not just integral to our attacking shape. He practically is the attacking shape.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Spurs: I Sher-Woodn’t want to be a Tottenham fan | Jan 4th 2014
Theo Walcott looked impressive as a target man. His finishing was a little off, but he showed great movement and a willingness to take on the physical elements of the role. On the admittedly limited evidence of the past two games, he’s a far better bet for the position than Lukas Podolski.

Arsenal must find a way to replace Theo Walcott’s goals | Jan 5th 2014
I’ve tried to work out whose injury would hit the team harder. I’ve come up with a list of three: Wojciech Szczesny, Per Mertesacker, and Olivier Giroud. As important as players like Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil might be, we have others capable of doing a similar job. Walcott offers something special: goals.

 The season might be over for Theo, but it’s not for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger must act fast to ensure that the rupture of Walcott’s ligament does not also precipitate the tearing up of Arsenal’s title dreams.

Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t see the Draxler deal happening in the January window. A lot of amateur body language experts have come out of the woodwork to analyse Arsene’s various smirks and batting eyelashes, but I don’t think there’s anything in there to suggest we’re on the verge of a swoop for the prodigiously-talented Draxler.

Southampton 2 – 2 Arsenal: Arsenal guilty of cardinal sins against Saints | January 27th 2014
Apart from a seven minute spell at the start of the second half, we were all over the place. The most worrying development was the return of a genuine sense of chaos in our play. On other occasions when we’ve dropped points this season, the machine has simply failed to function efficiently. Against Southampton, the machine went haywire. Nothing really seemed to work. Conceding a goal immediately after taking the lead is particularly concerning: that sort of sloppiness is unlike the Arsenal defence we’ve come to appreciate in 2013/14.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Crystal Palace: Ox in the box sees off Pulis | February 3rd 2014
This is my first opportunity to talk about the Kallstrom deal. Arsenal really needed a striker in this window, yet Arsene insisted there was no-one of the “super quality” required available. I’m not convinced we necessarily needed a midfielder, and yet he brought in one of dubious calibre who is injured.It’s a funny one. But he’s proved me wrong before. I, like many, has my doubts about the acquisition of Mathieu Flamini. I’d love to be similarly wrong again.

 

Arsenal 0 – 0 Man United: We’ve missed the party | February 13th
I had a more emotional reaction to this game than normal. The reason why is simple: I hate United. I loathe them. Their demise this season has made me cackle like the most perfectly played out slapstick comedy.

And I so wanted us to be in on it. I wanted us to join the party, along with West Brom, Newcastle, Sunderland, and all those other teams. When we went to Old Trafford, I had visions of a cathartic victory. I wanted us to batter them, get a bit drunk, piss on the corner flag, and dance disgracefully on the grave of Fergie’s dugout. I thought we’d be the munchkins in Oz, the Ewoks on Endor, gleefully celebrating the destruction of a once feared nemesis.

The Emirates wasn’t much different. We weren’t dominated by United, but nor did we shed our insecurities. We had an opportunity to put them to the sword, but we looked more worried about dropping our shield. We’re as scared of Fergie’s ghost as David Moyes is.

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Gunners fall to familiar foe | March 1st 2014
In isolation, a draw at Stoke is a decent result. However, this game was not played in isolation. It was played in the context of a title race, and all our other results. A draw would not have been good enough, and a defeat is a disaster.I know Stoke’s not an easy place to go. However, when we dropped points at home to United, it effectively narrowed the margin for potential error. Some hailed that as a good result “in isolation”. I wonder if they still think so now.

Thoughts on FA Cup, Bayern & Spurs | March 15th 2014
There is a strange pressure about being FA Cup favourites…
It’s an unpleasantly familiar sensation, much like the one we found ourselves in at this stage 2011’s Carling Cup.Surely, the lessons of that disastrous final have been learnt. We’re more experienced, more determined and more professional. We ought to do it. There are no excuses.

Spurs beaten & 1000 not out for Arsene | March 20th 2014
I don’t think Arsene is perfect. He’s arrogant, occasionally myopic, and infuriatingly stubborn. He’s human. However, as humans go, he’s pretty special.The longer his contract remains unsigned, the greater the chance of him walking away at the end of the season. Arsenal fans are being made to contemplate the daunting prospect of a team without Wenger at the helm.Let’s enjoy him while he’s here, and honour him as he deserves.

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal: Bridge of Sighs | March 22nd 2014
This was a dreadful day…
It was sickening but not surprising. Arsenal have collapsed in each of their three games away to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, conceding a remarkable 17 goals along the way. We’ve only conceded 34 goals this season, meaning half that tally has come in our three most important games.

Each of those games was seen as vital in our bid for the title. Each of those games took place at 12.45 on a Saturday. And each of those games saw us effectively surrender in the first quarter. Across the fixtures, we conspired to concede seven goals in the opening 20 minutes.

It can’t be just coincidence. Something is deeply wrong.

We haven’t looked like champions for a while…
Arsenal have now won just three of their last eight games. Three times this season we’ve faced a supposed “Death Run”, and it’s difficult to argue we’ve come out of any of those periods well.

What next for Arsene?
On Friday, Wenger spoke with confidence about the prospect of signing a new deal at Arsenal. One wonders if a result like this might give him cause for reconsideration. On the biggest stages, his team continue to freeze. The spate of new contracts suggest a full recast is unlikely. To continue the theatrical analogy, the simplest thing might be to change the director.

Wenger is intelligent and self-aware. If we can see his problems, the chances are he can too. His last eight years at Arsenal have been characterised by his selfless sense of duty. Perhaps his final selfless act will be to recognise a new man may be required to fix some of the underlying problems in this team.

Ready, Set, Go: The Race for fourth is underway! | March 26th 2014
With Everton making good ground behind us, all focus is on securing a top four finish. It’s a somewhat depressing reality at the end of an exciting season, but fortunately we still have the carrot of a potential FA Cup win dangling ahead of us. Without that, the fans would be in full-blown meltdown.

Everton 3 – 0 Arsenal: Is it over? | April 6th 2014
The operative *it* in this instance is the reign of Arsene Wenger. After this latest capitulation, serious questions have to be asked about his suitability to take the team in to next season — regardless of what happens between now and May. Truth be told, I happen to think we’ll make the top four. Call me crazy, but I still think we’ll win the FA Cup too. But that doesn’t assuage all my fears about the manager.
If Wenger loses the FA Cup semi-final next week, it’s indisputably over. Even if he wins the competition, it may be more of a celebratory send-off than cause for a new contract. It’s not over yet, but it feels like it’s accelerating towards a gloomy conclusion.

I don’t like it. But I’m not as scared of it as some.

Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish | April 13th 2014
I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun.

Let’s focus on the positives: however shoddily, the job got done. A positive result in the final will vanquish any traumatic memories of the painful semi. In recent weeks, Arsenal have been criticised for a failure to grind out results on the big stage. Yesterday, they managed exactly that.

A penalty shootout is a test of technique. However, it’s also a test of nerve. It was to my considerable surprise that Arsenal passed that particular test with flying colours. Settled by the confidence and competence of Lukasz Fabianski, our takers executed their kicks perfectly.

Red, Yellow & Silver: Gunnerblog’s FA Cup Final Preview | May 17th 2014
We’ve waited nine years for this. Think of what you’ve done in the last nine years. Ponder what’s changed since. 2005 was the year Youtube was launched. Lance Armstrong retired a champion, not a cheat. Twitter didn’t even exist.

A Party 9 years in the Making | May 19th 2014

A cup nine years in the winning. A party nine years in the making. A blog nine years in the writing. The wait is over. Arsenal have a trophy again. And it feels fantastic.

Arsenal is about a lot of things — I’ve already alluded to the amazing community that surrounds our club. However, a look at our story tells you it’s also about glory. It’s about history. It’s about transitory moments of elation that create indelible memories.

That’s what we achieved at Wembley, and it’s what we ought to be constantly chasing. Sometimes, it’s seemed like the board had forgotten what that felt like. Maybe the manager, too. Time — and a shifting of priorities — had dulled their memory of the euphoria victory can invoke. A good deal of the players simply didn’t know any better: it wasn’t a sensation they were familiar with — until now. Now they know what the prize feels like. They know what they’re playing for. They know what it is to be winners.

You can only hope the’ve got the taste for it. I know I have.

So there you have it. Amazing to see how opinion vacillates and optimism waxes and wanes across the season. I’d love to say it’l give me a new sense of dispassionate perspective heading in to 2014/15, but that seems improbable. Bring on another rollercoaster.

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2014

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Featured |  

It’s that time again. Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. The results are in.

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

In a season of progress for Arsenal, there are several contenders for this award. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have been largely outstanding at the back, whilst Wojciech Szczesny has managed to grab plenty more crosses than unwanted headlines during a generally steady campaign.

Up top, Olivier Giroud deserves credit for a strong second season. Although his lack of speed and composure can occasionally infuriate, 22 goals is a decent return. However, it’d be odd to give Player of the Season to the one man in the starting XI we’re consciously looking to replace.

For a long time, I didn’t think I’d be able to give this award to Aaron Ramsey. After picking up a thigh problem on Boxing Day, he missed fully four months of the season. It seemed particularly cruel given the explosive manner in which he’d begun the campaign, firing Arsenal to the top of the Premier League table.

Had he stayed fit, Ramsey might have run Luis Suarez close in the battle for Footballer of the Year. What’s more, Arsenal might run Manchester City close in the battle for the title. As it was, it seemed injury had robbed him of the chance to mark his name inexorably in the ‘2013/14’ chapter of football’s history books.

However, the FA Cup Final presented Ramsey with the opportunity he needed to make this season his own. His extra-time winner capped an extraordinary campaign, and the fact that his form survived a four-month lay-off shows it was far more than just a purple patch. Arsenal have a new hero – and last year’s Young Player of the Season has graduated to senior stardom.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON

For the first time in a long time, there aren’t really any major candidates for this award. The likes of Ramsey and Wilshere are almost too experienced to be nominated, whilst younger players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain missed long spells of the season through injury.

Arsenal’s squad is older and more hardened than it has been for many years. The few teen talents we do have tend to be on the fringes of the squad.

Yaya Sanogo warrants a mention, having emerged from obscurity to finish by taking part in the FA Cup Final. However, he’s still a raw talent, and may require a period on loan to add finesse to his undoubted physical attributes.

Due to a lack of alternatives, I’m going to give this award to Serge Gnabry. Although injury saw Gnabry fade away from the first-team picture in the spring, he was an important member of the squad across the Christmas period. This was the season in which he stepped out of the youth system and in to the first-team. Next year, he will hope to kick on again.

WORST PLAYER OF THE SEASON

After this season, you’d be forgiven for asking: “who is Ryo Miyaichi?” Better yet, where is Ryo Miyaichi? Or why is Ryo Miyaichi? The Japanese winger was once named by Robin van Persie as one of the top three most exciting talents in world football. Now, he looks increasingly like an eager competition winner who has found himself way out of his depth. I would be very surprised if he was an Arsenal player next season.

However, Ryo is spared the indignity of this award by the fact that Park Chu-Young made a solitary appearance for us in this season’s Capital One Cup. In January, he moved to Watford on loan, before returning to Korea complaining of a skin infection. The strangest signing of Arsene Wenger’s reign can at least leave clutching this trophy.

GAME OF THE SEASON

In terms of Arsenal’s performance, I’m not sure we ever surpassed our dominating display in the 2-0 win over Rafa Benitez’s Napoli. We overwhelmed the Italians with our intelligent pressing and penetrative passing. Most satisfyingly of all, once a comfortable lead had been achieved, we showed a hitherto unseen ability to manage the game and keep the opposition at bay.

However, when it comes to pure entertainment, it’s difficult to look past the very last match of our season: 2-0 down, 3-2 up, Arsenal won the FA Cup.

WORST GAME OF THE SEASON

There are a few contenders here. The 5-1 battering away to Liverpool was devastating, whereas the 3-0 defeat away to Everton was plain depressing.

However, neither of those can match the humiliation of losing 6-0 at Chelsea. The tactical naivety Arsenal showed in that game is what makes me a little concerned about the length of Arsene Wenger’s new deal. This was a strange old season in some respects: Wembley brought dizzying highs, but Stamford Bridge saw us hit one of the lowest points since the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford in 2011.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON

The signing of Mesut Ozil was undoubtedly a highlight. It was a transformative moment for the entire club, and allowed the Arsenal fans — who had, until that point, looked on the verge of revolting — to rejoice.

That absurdly good goal by Jack Wilshere against Norwich would also have to figure. I’m not sure I’ll ever see a better team goal than that. It was an honour to be present.

However, nothing can match the FA Cup win for pure elation. I can’t narrow it down to just Ramsey’s goal, Arsene finally clutching the cup, or the Islington celebrations. The whole weekend was fantastic. For years, Arsenal wrote off the FA Cup as a relatively minor competition. Winning it, however, felt pretty major.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON

I wonder why I have this as the final category. Inevitably, it means ending on something of a downer. I might have to look at that in future.

When it comes to identifying the season’s most disappointing element, I’d have to opt for our performances against our major rivals. Getting thrashed by the likes of City, Chelsea and Liverpool was agonising. Almost as painful was twice failing to beat the weakest United team in a generation.

If Arsenal are to improve upon their league placing next season, they’ll probably need to secure better results against elite opposition.

A Party 9 years in the Making

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, FA Cup, Featured, Match Reports |  

A cup nine years in the winning. A party nine years in the making. A blog nine years in the writing. The wait is over. Arsenal have a trophy again. And it feels fantastic.

We didn’t do it the easy way, of course. As soon as the match kicked off, Hull played with an fierce abandon that was in stark contrast to a nervy, brittle Arsenal. Even by our standards, conceding two goals within the opening eight minutes made for a bafflingly inept opening. The decision to start Lukasz Fabianski — one which I still consider sentimental rather than sensible — might have been looked upon rather less kindly had Arsenal not mustered a gripping fight-back. Fabianski was not individually culpable for the goals, but the defence looked unsettled by the absence of the regular No. 1.

It could have got even worse. A Kieran Gibbs clearance on the line prevented Arsenal from going three goals down. A deficit of that size might have proved insurmountable. That clearance will rank alongside Gibbs’ last day, last-ditch tackle at West Brom as one of his finest contributions in an Arsenal shirt.

A goal before half-time was vital to transform the game from a capitulation to at least a contest. Fortunately, Santi Cazorla produced a stunning free-kick to find the top corner from fully 25 yards. As Cup Final goals go, this was special — a strike to rival the Ray Parlours of this world. Quite the honour.

However, crucial though Santi’s strike was, the momentum didn’t really swing in our favour until around the hour mark. Arsene Wenger withdrew Lukas Podolski and put on Yaya Sanogo. I must admit, I wasn’t convinced by the switch at the time, but adding a second striker to supplement Olivier Giroud immediately increased our attacking threat. He’s still more raw than steak tartar — a brute without the ball and Bambi with it. Nevertheless, his physical presence and fearlessness made him an effective sub. The manager has spoken about Sanogo’s enormous reserves of determination and self-belief, and both were evident in this FA Cup Final. After switching to 4-4-2 in both the semi and final of this competition, one wonders if Wenger is toying with the idea of deploying that formation more regularly next season.

The identity of the two scorers who overturned Hull’s lead should come as no real surprise.  Laurent Koscielny has a remarkable knack of scoring vital goals. In each of the past three seasons, he has notched in the games that have seen Arsenal secure fourth place. This weekend, he topped that by finding the net in an FA Cup Final.

And then came extra-time, and the winner. It was always going to be Aaron Ramsey. There should have been no doubt. This was always his season. Even an absence of four months couldn’t prevent him from carving Arsenal’s 2013/14 campaign in his own image. A clever backheel from Giroud, a well-timed run and a nonchalant flick of the right boot saw the bottom corner bulge. Arsenal fans screamed out a decade of frustration. The party had begun.

And what a party. I suppose it was inevitable that, after such a long wait, the club would celebrate in style. The scenes on the pitch were jubilant. Even Arsene Wenger took off his tie and embraced the gleeful atmosphere. Kieran Gibbs shed a couple of tears, Bacary Sagna was locked in prayer, and Sanogo appeared to have taken a particularly exotic collection of hallucinogenic drugs.

This party wasn’t confined to North London either. What has come home in the aftermath of this game is quite how big Arsenal are. This victory united a family that stretches right across the globe. The parade in North London was rivaled by equally raucous scenes in supporters clubs in America, Asia and beyond. Last time we lifted a cup, Twitter didn’t even exist. Now, the ecstasy is indulged and shared with fans flung to the world’s four corners. We’re all Gunners, and this weekend we were all winners.

It means so much to so many. To younger fans who probably don’t remember the last time we touched silverware. To younger players, for whom this was a first major triumph. Gibbs’ tears reflected the culmination of childhood dream.

I thought of Tomas Rosicky, who has waited so long for this moment, and Bacary Sagna, who has punctuated his Arsenal career with a shining silver exclamation mark that ensures his place of history.

And I thought of Arsene Wenger. My opinion on the manager’s future has fluctuated somewhat this season. His stubbornness frequently drives me mad. However, what’s never changed has been my desire to see him crowned a winner again. It’s eminently possible to be frustrated by someone’s obstinate ways, but love them dearly. I know I feel that way about most of my own family. Seeing him sing and dance on the podium gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling that I haven’t experienced for some time. Nine years, probably.

Few could have anticipated quite how good it’d feel. The truth is, you forget. With each passing year, you console yourselves with familiar platitudes: “you can’t win them all”, “we’re doing well given our resources”, even the occasional “fourth is almost like a trophy”. It’s not. There’s nothing like being able to call yourselves Champions of a major competition.

Arsenal is about a lot of things — I’ve already alluded to the amazing community that surrounds our club. However, a look at our story tells you it’s also about glory. It’s about history. It’s about transitory moments of elation that create indelible memories.

That’s what we achieved at Wembley, and it’s what we ought to be constantly chasing. Sometimes, it’s seemed like the board had forgotten what that felt like. Maybe the manager, too. Time — and a shifting of priorities — had dulled their memory of the euphoria victory can invoke. A good deal of the players simply didn’t know any better: it wasn’t a sensation they were familiar with — until now. Now they know what the prize feels like. They know what they’re playing for. They know what it is to be winners.

You can only hope the’ve got the taste for it. I know I have.

Red, Yellow & Silver: Gunnerblog’s FA Cup Final Preview

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, FA Cup, Match Previews |  

We’ve waited nine years for this.

This week, I looked back at the blog I wrote after 2005’s FA Cup win over Manchester United. That was the last time Arsenal touched silverware. Think about that: nine years. In the 125-year lifespan of the club, it’s not a massive stretch. However, us fans are only here for threescore and ten. In the course of our own individual lives, it’s a significant period.

Think of what you’ve done in the last nine years. Ponder what’s changed since. 2005 was the year Youtube was launched. Lance Armstrong retired a champion, not a cheat. Twitter didn’t even exist.

Today, Arsenal have a chance to end the wait. It’s a good chance, too. Hull City are a decent team and will play unshackled by expectation, but we are the overwhelming favourites for a reason. Play as we can, and we ought to win.

The same, of course, was true in 2011. I was at Wembley to see Arsenal lose to Birmingham City in that fateful final. It set our on-pitch progress back by several years. Having clawed our way back to this point, we cannot afford to let a trophy slip through our fingers once again.

I haven’t blogged much in the last few weeks of the season. That’s partly because of the demands of other work. It’s also because I’ve felt a bit underwhelmed by it. As Everton fell away, our games ceased to carry much weight. There was a certain ‘end of term’ vibe about the whole thing. Abou Diaby’s cameo at Norwich felt like the football equivalent of when my history teacher used to let us watch Blackadder in the final lesson of the year.

Today, the stakes are cranked right up again. That’s what sports about. Drama and tension; failure and glory. Arsenal need this. The club have spun a story about enduring a difficult period in order to facilitate future glory. We’re supposedly at the turning point, where prudence begins to pay dividends. A trophy would be proof of concept.

I won’t be there today. Other commitments will keep me from Wembley. But wherever you’re watching the final, I hope the team give you a match and a day to savour.

I leave you with this film. I dare you to watch it without feeling sick with nerves and excitement. The players have a remarkable opportunity to write themselves in to folklore today. Who wants to be the next Charlie George, Alan Sunderland or Ray Parlour?

Don’t make us wait another year.

Extra reading:

My interview with Wojciech Szczesny for Bleacher Report

Looking back at the Hammers, ahead to Hull, and up at Liverpool

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Previews, Match Reports, Premier League |  

The win over West Ham was huge. After being put through the wringer in the semi-final, a physical Allardyce team were hardly the ideal opposition. When we fell behind, the collective intake of breath was almost audible.

However, Lukas Podolski’s instant response settled nerves. Goals from Giroud and Podolski again later settled the game. The German’s record is pretty remarkable. His 10 goals this season have come in about 1197 minutes. That’s roughly 13.3 “games”. The figures aren’t distorted by cup goals either. In the Premier League, he boasts a record of six goals in 9.3 games. He is absolutely lethal.

I understand that he doesn’t quite fit in to our system, but our system is hardly pulling up any trees is it? Podolski’s efficiency in the final third is approaching the point whereby it justifies experimenting with a formation that suits him better. It would be intriguing to see how he would get on in a front two, absolved of a degree of defensive responsibility.

A good week got better when Everton lost to Crystal Palace. As an Arsenal fan, it causes me great pain to credit Tony Pulis with a pretty remarkable job down in South London. A positive result away to Hull will put us firmly in the driving seat as far as fourth place is concerned. With Everton still to face the two Manchester clubs, a four-point lead will feel pretty comfortable.

Never mind a four-point lead over fifth: if Liverpool beat Norwich tomorrow, they’ll open up a five-point advantage over the rest of the Premier League.

I can’t be the only Arsenal fan looking at Liverpool and thinking it ought to have been us. If they do go on to win the title, as looks increasingly likely, it will be confirmation that this league was there for the taking. United, City and Chelsea have all had their problems this season. It was a unique opportunity to snatch the big prize, we were in poll position, and we surrendered it.

Yes, they’ve benefited from a lack of European fixtures. But they’ve also built a truly title-challenging team without the lure and financial boon of the Champions League. We had both of those things at our disposal, and yet we’ve failed to match them.

Yes, we’ve had injuries. But we knew about the problems with both Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott well before the close of the January transfer window, and did nothing.

From the first months of the season, it was clear this season presented a unique opportunity for a dark horse to snatch the league. Arsenal fumbled, and Liverpool seem poised to pick it up. We needed to gamble, but in what would become a recurring theme, we lacked the balls.

It’s like Liverpool have been sent to show us what we ought to have done. They’ve invested ambitiously, fought tooth-and-nail to keep hold of their best players, and played with style and courage.

They also, not too long ago, replaced an ageing legend with an upwardly-mobile young manager. Increasingly, I think Arsenal may have to do the same this summer. Regarding Arsene’s future, it suddenly struck me the other day: have we all missed the obvious?

If Arsene is staying, why hasn’t he signed? He’s had ample opportunity to do so throughout the season. If it was a question of PR timing, surely the optimum time to announce a new deal would have been either side of the Christmas period, when Arsenal topped the table?

I can’t remember when it was now, but after one of his contract renewals Arsene spoke about the importance of offering security and certainty to the team. Surely that would have proved beneficial this season, too. And yet the manager has resisted.

A few years back, he spoke about his intention to quit management before retirement age. He’ll be 65 in October. When Arsene said after the semi-final that the result of the final would have no bearing on his future, I immediately felt his mind was already made up. And then much of the above crystallised in a moment of what felt like clarity.

Bacary Sagna hasn’t signed his new deal, and it’s led many of us to conclude that he’s definitely leaving. Apply the same logic to Arsene, and you can only reach one conclusion.

I’m only speculating, and you’re all entitled to point and laugh when Arsene announces his new deal on Monday morning. I just wonder if our heads have been in the sand all season long, when the obvious has been hammering on the ground desperately trying to get our attention.

Anyway. Hull next. Time to tame the Tigers.

Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, FA Cup, Featured, Match Reports |  

I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m delighted to be there — and being there is undoubtedly what matters — but the journey was as torturous as a coach ride with that Man City fan in the Barclays ad.

Let’s focus on the positives: however shoddily, the job got done. A positive result in the final will vanquish any traumatic memories of the painful semi. In recent weeks, Arsenal have been criticised for a failure to grind out results on the big stage. Yesterday, they managed exactly that.

A penalty shootout is a test of technique. However, it’s also a test of nerve. It was to my considerable surprise that Arsenal passed that particular test with flying colours. Settled by the confidence and competence of Lukasz Fabianski, our takers executed their kicks perfectly.

I was chuffed too for Per Mertesacker, who would have been hugely unfortunate to have been cast as the scapegoat in the event of an Arsenal defeat. A mistimed lunge led to the Wigan penalty, but he eradicated the error with the crucial equalising goal. It was a better finish than it looked: Mertesacker had to twist his body quickly to direct the header in to the near post.

Whatever you might hear or read elsewhere, our celebrations were justified. We’ve reached our first FA Cup Final in nine years, and have a fantastic chance to end a protracted wait for silverware. There was joy, and there was enormous relief. Stranded in the press box, I crumpled over my desk, exhausted. In the cup, results are everything. We had what we needed.

If all you’re interested in is basking in the promise of a return to Wembley on May 17th, I understand entirely. It’s probably best you stop reading now. I won’t begrudge you: I’m about to take a sip from my editorial glass which will take it from just over half-full to a little under half-empty.

The uncomfortable truth is that I saw little yesterday to convince me that that the chasmic flaws in the side are anywhere closer to being fixed.

We were dreadful. The team looked devoid of imagination, robbed of courage and drained of energy. After 120 minutes, we were held 1-1 by a team from the division below. It was hardly encouraging. Reaching the FA Cup Final is undoubtedly a good achievement, but avoiding defeat to a Championship team is primarily a disaster averted.

The decision to start Yaya Sanogo looked questionable before kick-off. By half-time, it looked plain absurd. I felt sorry for a player who is clearly not ready to be playing for a club of our stature. Going by some of the furious gesticulating when Wenger chose to replace Podolski rather than Sanogo, some of his team-mates feel the same way.

By the time the game entered its last 20 minutes of normal time, I was physically shaking with the enormity of what was unfolding before me. Make no mistake: Arsene was within 10 minutes of being forced to leave Arsenal on a sombre note. What’s more, he looked powerless to do much about it. It was grim viewing.

After the game, a journalist joked that I should ask Arsene what the plan was against Wigan. There’s no point answering a question to which there is no discernible answer.

I’m delighted we’ve made it to the final, particularly because it ensures an opportunity for a glorious finish for a manager who has served this club with remarkable distinction. Arsene was asked after the game if the result of the final would have any bearing on his future. His response was curt and immediate: “No”. Increasingly, I feel his mind is made up. Perhaps he, like me, thinks it could be time for a change — regardless of what happens when we return to Wembley.

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