The cavalry are coming and the managers are going

It’s been a mad old 24 hours in the Premier League, with two managers dismissed: one a former stalwart of ours, and one a close rival.  I can’t possibly let those pass without comment, but first the news more directly related to Arsenal:

We need a savior.  No pressure, lads...

There is rather a lot of pressure on the two men pictured above.  Both, to a degree, remain unknown quantities.  Whilst Eduardo looked like a natural goalscorer in his first eight months at the club, we do not know what long-term effects the horrendous injury he suffered at St. Andrews may have had.  He has also undoubtedly seen subject to the gross exaggeration of a player’s ability that seems to occur when they are on the sidelines for a prolonged spell.  I remember the anticipation ahead of Gilberto Silva’s return from a spinal injury: Gilberto was undoubtedly a fine player, but you would’ve thought his compatriot Pele was about to make a long-awaited comeback.  Eduardo’s return will undoubtedly provide a boost to both morale and our striking options, but when last available he was only first-choice because of Van Pesie’s injuries, and was occasionally a peripheral figure.  The most important thing is to show patience with the Crozilian’s rehabilitation.

Eduardo himself seems fully aware of the psychological hurdles he is yet to clear.  When asked if his mind was clear of the fear of a crunching tackle, he replied honestly:

“I do not know yet. I would like to have the right match to test it, just like this in Bucharest.”

The “Bucharest” game Eduardo is referring to is a friendly with the Croatian national teams, where he is expected to get at least half-an-hour as a substitute.  I can also envisage an appearance from the bench in the cup game against Cardiff, particularly if the tie is going in our favour. 

One can understand the expectation that surrounds Andrey Arshavin, if only because he is (in all probability) our record signing.  When a player arrives with that kind of price-tag, their performances will undoubtedly face close scrutiny, and some commentators, such as Stan Collymore (who knows a thing or two about being a flop) are doubting the Russian’s capacity before he has even taken the field.

Arshavin himself, however, is determined to live up to the supporters’ hopes:

“My whole future is linked to Arsenal now. My contract is until 2012.  I’ll do my very best to be useful for the club and hope they will never regret buying me.”

It looks increasingly like the Russian will make his debut on the 21st Feb in the game at home to Sunderland, and whilst I would urge patience with him too, I have a hunch he will begin to justify his signing between now and the end of the season.

Robin van Persie is certainly looking forward to having these two available, saying:

“Eduardo has been working really hard and everyone is just really happy that he is back.  He has been out for 12 months now. Hopefully he can play, the sooner the better. And Arshavin has looked good in training – they both have. I really believe in their qualities so there is more to come.”

For the sake of our Champions League place, I hope he is right.

And so to the sackings.  First Tony Adams: I have to say I feel very sorry for him.  The Portsmouth job looked ideal on paper – he had done good work on their coaching staff, had been to university to study sports science and had spells working out in Holland – he seemed ready.  But he took over a team and a club in turmoil.  The owner has stopped bank-rolling the side, he lost his two best players in the transfer window, and the senior players were obviously still reeling from Redknapp’s exit.  Whoever took over at Portsmouth was going to have a hell of a job on their hands, and I can’t help but feel that Adams was the fall-guy.  In recent days, I have read countless pundits saying “it’s amazing that he couldn’t coach their defence”.  Well, who do you think was coaching it for the past two years when it was one of the best in the league?  It certainly wasn’t Harry “Just-get-out-there-and-run-about-a-bit” Redknapp.  I think he’ll certainly struggle to climb back onto the managerial ladder now, but if we know anything about Adams it’s that he’s a fighter.  I can only wish him the best of luck.

Oddly enough, there are parrallels with Scolari’s situation at Chelsea: a squad still mourning the loss of a former manager, and an owner who has stopped throwing millions at the club.  But whilst Adams has no track-record to fall back upon, Scolari is one of the great managers of the modern era.  He has Brazilian Championships, Copa Libertadores medals – hell, even a World Cup – to his name. Granted, results haven’t been good of late, but it’s clear to me the fault lies more with the players who have so blatantly underperformed – Didier Drogba, to name but one – and the club’s failure to back the manager and bring in the creative players he so patently requires.  The short-termism in football is spiralling out of control.  I, for one, have always had a lot of time for Scolari, and am in some ways pleased to see him no longer associated with one of our rivals.

Just how it affects our season, if at all, will depend largely on who Chelsea appoint in his place.

Let’s see how long I can go without mentioning Eb*ue…

Tottenham 0 – 0 Arsenal
here; Arsene’s reaction here

Apologies for the tardiness and potential brevity of today’s blog.  I have spent the last twenty-four hours convinced I am dying.  Yes, that’s right: I have a cold.

In an attempt to rouse my spirits, perhaps I ought to start with the positives.  I got a real lift when the teams were submitted yesterday – not because Andrey Arshavin, our new record signing, had been included in the squad – but because after almost a year out, Eduardo was back.  Whatever happened in yesterday’s match oughtn’t overshadow just how good it was to see the Croatian striker involved in the matchday goings-on once again.

Although he didn’t get on (for reasons of which I’m sure you’re already aware), it’s a huge boost to have Eduardo back, especially with Adebayor picking up a hamstring injury that could keep him out for anywhere between three and six weeks.  With the Togolese putting in another fairly ineffective performance yesterday, one can only hope that by the time he is fit again he is forced to raise his game and fight for his place in the side.

I suppose the other positive is that in the circumstances, a point wasn’t a bad result.

Ah.  ‘The circumstances’.  I’ve managed to avoid it for a few paragraphs, but now The Idiocy of Emmanuel Eboue is finally casting its horrific shadow over this blog…

I have no sympathy with Eboue.  Arsene suggested his first booking for dissent was harsh, and I’m not sure I even agree with that.  But having got that booking, to do anything as stupid as to kick out at Modric really shows an unbelievable lack of professionalism – arguably, the ref would’ve been entitled to give him a straight red for that offence (Shaun Wright-Phillips has just picked up a three match ban for something very similar).  It’s clear Eboue was frustrated after he had a goal disallowed (and it was undoubtedly a close call), but that is no excuse.  Some have said he is “trying too hard” after coming in for stick from the fans earlier in the season.  I would understand that explanation if he had been dismissed for lungeing committedly into a tackle he stood only a small chance of winning, but that simply isn’t the case: he got himself sent off for an act of pure petulance.

After the game Eboue attempted some sort of apology, but it’s one in which he completely fails to take responsibility for his actions.  I could sit here and say, “I hope he never plays for us again”, but I know that’s not realistic.  However, with Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin, Rosicky, and Wilshere all as potential wide options next season, I do think it’d be best for everyone if Eboue was moved on in the Summer.  Meantime, his suspension will see him miss the FA Cup game against Cardiff – a match for which Arshavin is unfortunately ineligible

Having gone down to ten men in the first-half, it was always going to be tricky, but I thought we defended very well, with William Gallas and Alex Song particularly impressive.  Manuel Almunia was also solid throughout, and made one tremendous save to deny Luka Modric when the Croatian was one-on-one in the games dying moments.

Unsurprisingly, we struggled to create, but still had a couple of chances to nick it ourselves: Alex Song stabbed wide from a corner, and Nicklas Bendtner’s fierce drive was tipped over by Carlo Cudicini.

But neither side was able to find a way to goal, and the game finished as a draw – not a poor result in isolation, but it means we now have no wins and one goal from our last four games.  Yesterday’s rear-guard action was indicative of the increasing defensive stability in the side, but we’re desperately lacking in attacking verve.  Hopefully the impending presence of Eduardo and Arshavin in the side will soon put an end to that.

Till tomorrow, when I will feel better (crosses fingers/toes/eyes).

“Relegation looks like a real possibility”: A Spurs fan speaks to Gunnerblog (again)

The good thing about playing on a Sunday is that the papers have hefty sports supplements to fill, usually with interviews with participants in the day’s games.

The Daily Mail kicked us offer yesterday with a terrific piece on Robin van Persie.  He seems to have really matured somewhat of late, and with negotiations on a new contract underway, he makes several politically savvy remarks:

“I appreciate we have to first catch Villa. But it’s not my ambition to finish ahead of Villa. That’s not how I started the season. For the moment this is not good enough. It’s not our aim to be fifth. But we are working hard to change that.”

A player as talented as Van Persie deserves to be challenging for the top prizes, and if the club want him to stay, they have to show that their ambition matches his – otherwise, one of his many other suitors could tempt him away from a club he undoubtedly has a lot of affection for.

The Times, meanwhile, have spoken to Gael Clichy, who is honest about the mistakes he has made this season, particularly in the game with Spurs at the Emirates:

“I gave them their third goal at a time when we were playing fantastically well. If we’d won 4-2, as we should have done, everybody would have said we were good enough to win the title. Unfortunately, because of my mistake we dropped two points and the next day people started to talk about Arsenal not being strong enough to do it.”

It’s true that had we won that game, things may have turned out a little differently.  As it was, we went straight from that match to defeat to Stoke, and then a little later we tumbled at the hands of Villa and Man City.  We now seem to have stabilised a little, with a nine-game unbeaten run in the league.  Add that to an eighteen league game run without defeat to Spurs, and we ought to be in a psychologically strong position going into this match.

Throughout the week, I thought I’d seen every silly headline about Andrey Arshavin imaginable.  And then the News of the World did this:

What the...?!

There are literally no words.

Just before the 4-4 game, I interviewed a Spurs-supporting chum (if you can imagine such a thing) called Adam, to get a viewpoint from their side of the North London divide.  Since then Tottenham’s season has risen and plummeted like a log flume.  Having spent heavily during the January transfer window, it remains to be seen what the final twist in their Premier League campain will hold.  Never one to fail to enquire about another man’s misery, I caught up with Adam ahead of today’s game to check on morale in the enemy camp.  Enjoy:

Painful picture, I know

Adam, we last spoke before the 4-4 game, which seemed to spark a mini-revival from Spurs. How far would you say that game went to turning your season around?

To be honest, I don’t really think it can be seen as the game that turned our season around, if that has even happened yet. Any side that has changed their manager this year has seemingly been handed a ‘free ten point card’ – as soon as a new guy has been brought in to any club, their results in the immediate aftermath have had a bit of a surge. That seemed to happen to us and typically had us fans dreaming of success. In reality however, after a slight improvement at the back end of 2008, the performances in 2009 have been as awful as ever, with the threat of relegation looking like a real possibility at this stage.

Are the problems with the team the same ones that Ramos faced?

Well, the problems are that we are playing poorly, do not look up for the fight whatsoever and look horribly unbalanced. Ramos had these problems and Redknapp is experiencing them too. The frustrating this is that when we win, Redknapp proclaims himself to be a genius. When we lose, the fault lies with the players and the previous regimes. Oh, by the way, you may have heard that we were on 2 points from our first 8 games? Redknapp has pointed out that stat in 90% of his interviews since coming into the club. Unfortunately, if we stay up, it will be made out as a massive success, and Redknapp will of course shower himself in glory. In truth, we were out of the relegation zone in November but have since been sucked back into it. THowever, that isn’t something that a journalist will ever probe Redknapp about as that would ruin the ‘special relationship’ shared by the two parties. If you cut through the bullshit, it’s pretty clear that we are still a club in crisis, and positives like reaching the Carling Cup final are merely pieces of tracing paper covering the Grand Canyon sized cracks running through us.

Nice analogy. Speaking of papering over cracks, we have to discuss the transfer dealings at the club: Defoe, Chimbonda, and now Keane have all come back – do those buys make sense to you? Are you happy to see them return?

This is probably an easier one to talk about as individual cases:

Defoe… well, seemingly like Adebayor does with Arsenal supporters, Defoe really splits the opinions of Spurs fans. Some love him and see him as the answer to all of our problems. Others, like myself, see him as a decent player but are not quite so pleased to see him back. The guy clearly has ability but very rarely does it manifest itself in the big games, or when we play away. Of course, he looks brilliant already with his three goals, however all Spurs fans know that he can score against Portsmouth and Stoke at home – he always has done and he will continue to score against rubbish teams on his own patch. To win the rest of us over he will have to start doing it against the bigger clubs as well as putting more of a shift when we play away. His injury may work in our favour as we will have the chance to make a partnership out of Keane and Pavlyuchenko, quite comfortably our two best strikers in my humble opinion.

As far as Chimbonda goes – is it possible to be happy at signing a reserve left back? He certainly has got ability and will improve the squad, but there is still a bitter taste in the mouth of many Spurs fans after his departure in July and poor conduct in the second half of last season -you may remember him strolling off the pitch at Wembley with us one-nil down against Chelsea, an act for which he was fined two weeks wages. Overall, he is a good player to have in the squad, but I wont be too happy to see him in the starting XI on too many occasions.

Keane – Wow. Who would have imagined him pulling on a Spurs shirt again when he left so acrimoniously back in July. I was particularly vocal is my disgust at his conduct; I didn’t buy the claims that he was a Liverpool fan as a boy as he had previously turned them down at the age of 17 and has been seen and filmed partying with Celtic fans after many a Celtic win in Old Firm games. However, I am a firm believer that he has shown a great deal of guts in swallowing his pride and coming back home. Some will argue that he shouldn’t have been made captain straight away but I see that as a pretty good decision due to King’s well-documented injury problems. At the end of the day, he was a leader when he was last here and there is nothing to suggest that he wont be a leader for us again. Hopefully he can hit the ground running with a goal in the derby on Sunday. Now all we need is to get Berbatov back and we’ll be laughing!

Good luck with that! A lot of money has been spent, with those three players joining Carlo Cudicini and the £14m former Arsenal triallist Wilson Palacios in coming in. You’ve talked about the possibility of relegation, but surely a squad assembled at that degree of expense ought to be able to withstand that threat?

The squad is more than strong enough to compete for a European spot if they try hard enough – setting aside the Big Four, the Premier League is a competition where the grafters do well, and a bit of hard work and guts would do wonders for our league position. If you’d asked me before the re-signing of Keane if we would say up then I would have confidently predicted that we would be playing Championship football next year. However, with the addition of Keane, I am now backing us to stay up – but it could be far too close for comfort…

The fact we’re even talking about it underlines how far Spurs have fallen, and how quickly too. How do you feel when you see a side like Aston Villa (and perhaps Everton too) competing for the top european places, when so recently it was Tottenham in their position?

Its a bit depressing really. A lot of fans still rue the loss of Martin Jol but I think his time had run out-he was a great guy and didn’t deserve to be treated in the way that he was but unfortunately it’s a results business and at Sevilla, Ramos was doing brilliantly whilst we were really struggling. Ever since then, we have been in transition really which has stunted any potential progress quite dramatically. Add to that the Berbatov and Keane sagas and it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that we are struggling. We are arguably a club in shock from three incredibly tumultuous years since lasagne-gate. As I stated earlier, the Premier League is primarily a grafters league and in David Moyes and Martin O’Neill, Everton and Aston Villa have young managers who understand how to succeed in this League outside the top four: pack your team with workers then throw in a bit of creativity and pace. That is a winning combination and is one that we do not have – the creation and pace is there, but as is becoming a recurring theme to these answers, we simply don’t have the graft to succeed at the minute. Maybe Palacios can add something to that but I just want to hear someone mention Spurs in a list of teams that are ‘hard to beat’ – when that happens I’ll know that we are on the right track.

Arshavin greets his new fans and fellow Gooners

Andrey Arshavin is a player who Spurs chased for much of last summer – while he is unlikely to be involved this weekend, is it disappointing to see him a self-proclaimed “Gooner”?

It is desperately disappointing to see him at any other club than us to be honest. If you think your saga was long-running, you have no idea what the summer was like for us… If we had him in the team then I’d fancy us to be challenging for the top six –  he is that good in my opinion.  I find it difficult to be specifically disappointed that he has signed for you as he is (or at least was) one of my favourite players in world football, so in truth I’m just gutted that he is pulling on any other shirt than ours.  It will be great to have him in England however and, if you can sort out your defence and add a bit of bite in midfield then I’d see you as more likely to win the Champions League next year (provided you get there) than ever before, given the lottery-style, English-based competition that it has become recently. Apart from Barcelona, I don’t see anyone outside England having their name etched on the trophy anytime soon.

Finally Adam, do you have a prediction for this weeknd’s game?

Haha… Well, last time I gave you two predictions, one based on actual logic and the other based on ‘football logic’. On that occasion, football logic prevailed, but in this instance, both real and football logic point to a one-one draw for me, with the inevitable opener from Robbie Keane being cancelled out by a late Adebayor (typical) goal to extend our winless streak in the league over you.

Thanks to Adam for that, and hopefully we’ll speak again.  Unless, of course, we lose today, which would make that possibility fairly unlikely.

It’s a massive game – the above demonstrates how big it is for Spurs, but it’s huge for us too.  With Villa nabbing yet another away win yesterday, they’re now eight points clear of us in the table.  Some fans are even suggesting we’re more likely to catch Chelsea, who would be just three points ahead if we could pick up a win today.  I have to say that I feel we shouldn’t look to overtake Villa or Chelsea specifically – we should just worry about winning enough of our own games.  If we do so, then we still have a very good chance of making the top four.  In the Clichy interview he reveals Arsene is still telling the players they can win the title – personally I believe that to be unrealistic, but if saying that motivates the squad to get the results we need to clinch a Champions League spot, then that’s fine by me.

The team almost picks itself, with the only real debate being about who will start at centre-back.  My guess would be Djourou and Gallas with Kolo dropping to the bench, though Arsene can always surprise you – especially with his defensive selections.

In midfield it’ll be Nasri and Eboue wide with Song and Denilson in the middle.  It’s not the strongest-looking midfield, and I think we’ll need a big performance from Denilson today.  In recent months he has shown a steady improvement, and he’ll need to be at his absolute best if we’re to get a result this lunch-time.

Upfront, it’ll be Van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor, who’ll be looking to continue his stunning strike-rate against Spurs.  Andrey Arshavin might make the bench, but I’d be a little surprised if he took the field at any point.

A win would do wonders for our morale, aswell as our hopes of Champions League qualification.  It’s important to remember how fragile Spurs’s confidence is: if (and it’s a fairly big if with our recent form infront of goal) we could get an early goal or two, they may well fall apart.  Above all, we ought to put right the farce that was the 4-4, and take some points off a side we treated far more charitably earlier in the season.

Christmas has been and gone.  This is no time for giving.

Come on you Gunners.

He might just be involved, you know…

All week, Arsenal fans bitten their nails, wondering about the availability of a certain midfielder.  Even if he wasn’t able to start, just the sight of him on the bench would surely be enough to strike fear into the heart of the opposition.  Well folks, it’s good news:


B-dum.  Having led you all through that lexical labyrinth to what was undoubtedly a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion, let’s give you some properly exciting news:  Andrey Arshavin arrived back in London last night clutching his VISA, and Arsene will consider his fitness in training today before deciding whether or not he’s able to take his place on the bench.  With seven substitutes available, I think it’s worth including him in the matchday squad even if he’s not entirely ready, purely to fast-track his adaptation.

Regarding the Arshavin deal, Arsene was keen to point out we have “nothing to hide”.  With the Premier League clubs now satisfied, and only a mouthy Championship manager still protesting, I really do hope this story can go away now.  I was certainly led to believe by the Premier League that several transfers which had been announced on Monday night were not officially completed until Tuesday – it’s only our decision to be absolutely correct in our declarations that has led to criticism, which is absurd.

Arsene has implied that when the Russian is fully fit, he intends to use he and Samir Nasri as interchangeable creative wide-men – “non-axial playmakers”, as Nasri himself would say.  Le Boss says:

“If you ask Arshavin or Nasri where they want to play, they will say the middle because all the technically gifted players want to play in the centre.  I believe Arshavin can play on the right, behind the strikers or on the left – and Nasri as well.”

When you think that next season we’ll have those two, plus Theo Walcott and potentially Tomas Rosicky, with Jack Wilshere coming up behind them, it’s a mouthwatering prospect not only for the fans, but also for the strikers who’ll be looking to gobble up the chances laid on.

One of those players is Emmanuel Adebayor, who has thus far failed to replicate his stunning form of last season.  Arsene Wenger suggests he was unsettled by Summer’s transfer talk, but expects the goals to flow again soon.  Adebayor has certainly been reliable against Tottenham in recent seasons, racking up eight goals in eight games, and scoring on Sunday would certainly go some way towards setting him back on track.  However, a hard-working committed performance would arguably do even more for his standing among the fanbase.

The Sun links us to a French midfielder I have never heard of, which means he’s almost certain to arrive.

In recent days, I’ve been running a competition over on twitter to find the best A.R.S.H.A.V.I.N. acronym.  There’ve been a tonne of entries, all rather ingenious, but below are some of my favourites.  Some are witty, some poetic, some include scientific classifications of owls, and some are just plain weird:

  • Already Ratified Signings Have Absolutely Verified Immunity Now by KevinPocock
  • Arshavin’s Real Skill Has Average Villa Incredibly Nervous by mexicanpaddy
  • A Russian Savior Handing Arsenal Victories Indispensable and Necessary by nunemach
  • Arsenal Really Should Have Avoided Veering Into Nothingness by toypadlock
  • Arsenal’s Russian Strigiformic Hero Avenges Veritable Incompetence Narrowly by jfwhelan
  • Arsenal’s Russian Savior Hooked After Vacillated Intercontinental Negotiation by IsolatedGooner

Honourable mention to all of the above, but the winner, and my favourite for it’s pure surrealist nonsencial nature, is:

  • All Randy Swans Have A Very Introverted Nature by imotay

Something about shamefully sexually swans tickles me.  Not literally.  I’ll be tweeting him to let him know how to collect his prize in the next day or two.

Tomorrow I’ll be talking to a Spurs fan about Redknapp, Robbie Keane, and Relegation.  Don’t miss it.

Arshavin on life + Competition Winners

To Arsenal fans around the world, Andrey Arshavin is a new hero.  Perhaps, in that case, they’ll consider following the Owl’s own code of conduct, which contains some of the following gems:

  • Andrey would ban all women from driving and remove their licenses
  • Would stop women from smoking and lying
  • Would design all women as “tall, slim girls with narrow thighs and tiny bums”

Arshavin also reveals his fears of darkness, and deep water:

“I won’t jump into water from a tenmetre diving board. I’m generally scared of it. Not even of how deep it is — but the creatures that are maybe hiding in it.”

If, like me, you’re a true Arshavin fan, you’ll already have dumped your drinking, lying, driving, full-thighed girlfriend and declared an intention to never dip so much as a toe into deep water again – after all, you never know what what creatures may be hiding in it.

Thanks to all those that entered the Arshavin owlskin-tshirt competition. The correct answerers were all put on little pieces of paper and inserted into my washing machine. The one name that survived and remained legible was that of Martin Wade in Kent. Congratulations to him. To those of you who missed out, you’ve still got today to enter the #arshavin competition over on twitter.

If you still haven’t had you fill of Gunnerbloggy goodness this morning (or afternoon, now – whoops) then head over to arseblog and listen to this morning’s arsecast.

Till tomorrow, when we should have some tidbits from Arsene’s press conference.