Win a 1955 shirt signed by 4 Arsenal players!

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I get bombarded by a lot of potential giveaways at Gunnerblog, but this one is genuinely cool.

Arsenal partner Citroen are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the launch of their DS brand, and have managed to get some Arsenal players in on the celebration.

Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Flamini, David Ospina and Theo Walcott recently took part in an exclusive photo shoot, posing in an Arsenal shirt from 1955 — the same year the DS was born. 

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Now, Citroen have kindly given Gunnerblog one of those retro shirts to give away, signed by all four players.

Winning couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is tweet me including ‘#DSis60′ and providing the answer to the following question:

In what position did Arsenal finish the 1954/55 league campaign?

I’ll announce a winner at midday UK-time on Friday. Good luck!

Thoughts on Sanogo, Sunderland + Win a Bergkamp Canvas Print

I’ve been away…
…in Amsterdam. Working. No, not like that. I did manage to catch all our games while I was there, but given the demands of the job I was doing the Liverpool, Bayern and Sunderland matches had to remain blogless. I’d apologise, but I know that in this day and age you’re spoilt for choice. I’m sure you all got your fix elsewhere.

The Yaya Sanogo thing…
…caught me somewhat off-guard. I was mildly surprised to see him start against Liverpool, and truly shocked that he played against Bayern. It’s clear his opportunity has come about primarily due to non-footballing issues. Giroud’s off-field misdemeanours are well-documented, while Nicklas Bendtner is finally beginning to be frozen out.

Having been thrown in at the deep-end, Sanogo did enough to stay afloat. However, to continue the swimming analogy, I’m not yet convinced he’s the next Ian Thorpe. Nor Eric The Eel. Basically, he’s quite good at swimming. And football.

The criticism of Mesut Ozil…
…was way over the top. Anyone can miss a penalty.

That said, some people are more likely to miss than others. I have to say, I would never choose Ozil as a penalty taker. He simply doesn’t have the requisite ruthlessness in front of goal. He’s now missed two out of two for Arsenal. I’d be surprised if we see him take another.

Nevertheless, you can read about my hopes for his return over at ESPN.

Arsenal were excellent against Sunderland…
…and Tomas Rosicky rightly took plenty of the plaudits. Some argue we look better with just one of Ozil or Santi Cazorla in the team. I’d suggest the truth is that we simply look better because Rosicky is invariably the replacement for either player. We’re better with the Little Mozart in the team. It’s just a shame he’s not ten years younger.

Stoke away doesn’t hold as much fear as it used to…
Given the fixture list we face, this is actually one of our easier games. Three points is a must.

Competition time…
As you’ll know, last weekend Dennis Bergkamp’s statue was unveiled outside the Emirates Stadium. Obviously I can’t start giving away full-size bronze replicas of the non-flying Dutchman. However, thanks to the guys at Canvasartrocks.com, we have got one of these excellent Canvas Prints to give away.

Winning one is pretty simple. All you need to do is Tweet the answer to the following question, including the hashtag #DB10canvas.

Q. Against which club did Dennis Bergkamp score his last Arsenal goal?

The winner will be chosen at random and announced in the weekend’s post-Stoke blog. If you don’t fancy your chances in the competition, you can buy this and many other Arsenal-themed canvases here – use the discount code ‘GUNNERBLOG’ to get yourself  10% off any purchase.

Good luck!

Meeting Thierry + Win Free Warrior boots (It’s Christmas!)

On Tuesday afternoon, I was stood in the Emirates Stadium’s rather swanky Diamond Club, waiting for the screening of the new ‘Arsenal Legends: Thierry Henry‘ film.

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.”

I’ll be honest: I was starstruck. I muttered something about my name being James, as if it remotely mattered to Him, and just about managed a handshake. He might have felt me tremble. I was in the presence of a genuine hero of mine. I suspect Henry will be the greatest player I ever see in an Arsenal shirt. At his best, he was truly electrifying.

When Arsenal invited me down to the screening, I was flattered. When they mentioned Thierry would be there, I was excited but thought little of it. I imagined a crowded press junket with plenty of red rope and red tape.

What was most extraordinary about this event was the intimacy. As this video on Arsenal.com shows, there can’t have been more than 30 people there to watch the film. Among them were Thierry and his family, and a selection of other Arsenal legends.

I can’t believe I was in a room with the likes of Thierry, Ian Wright, David Seaman, Martin Keown, Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell and Ray Parlour – and it wasn’t Heaven. I have lived to tell the tale. Truly, it was an honour to be there.

Being present allowed me to get an extra degree of insight in to Henry, the man. There were touching moments, such as when he pointed out the ‘T’ celebration to his young daughter, explaining that it was devised in celebration of her birth. It was also wonderful to witness the obvious close friendship that exists between Henry and the rest of the players. Being part of a winning team clearly creates a strong bond.

During the documentary, Henry speaks at length about wanting to write his own legacy. When he arrived at Arsenal, the club were still reliving the glory of the double-winning 1997-98 campaign. He wanted a glory all of his own.

Let’s hope that drive exists within the current squad. They have a chance to do something special this season, and begin to build legends to match those of the figures I was fortunate enough to encounter this week. A nice anecdotal addendum: after the film, Ian Wright came up and explained that his favourite thing about Henry is his palpable dislike of Tottenham.

As for the film itself, I heartily recommend it. UK-based readers can catch it on iTunes (details here), and I believe a DVD release is on the way for those who are based abroad. The film also inspired me to write this piece for Bleacher Report, which you might enjoy: ‘The Invincible who became Immortal’.

Right, enough name-dropping. You’re probably all here for the free goodies alluded to in the headline.

Thanks to the nice guys at Warrior, we’ve got a pair of their brand new ‘Superheat’ boots to give away. They’ve focused on making the boots great for control as well as extremely lightweight.

The techno-babble says:

A revolutionary Tri-fusion construction provides you with limitless touch and speed no matter the conditions, with separate layers for water resistance, support and touch.

The neoweb base layer moulds to your foot, providing freedom of movement, comfort and breathability, complete with a water resistant mesh construction.

The nanocradle sits above and offers support and optimum agility, along with a lightweight, internal membrane heel shield to guarantee protection without sacrificing weight. Finally, the super thin organitouch outer layer gives you the touch you need for close control at high speed.

They sound a bit like they were made by aliens. However, I’ve had a kick around in them myself, and can confirm that they actually managed to make slightly less terrible at football. They’re comfortable and seem to make a nice contact with the ball.

Now, to win these beautiful booties, all you need to do is answering the following Henry-based question:

Q. Against which team did Thierry Henry score his last Arsenal goal?

Simply tweet me your answer including the hash-tag “#superheat” by 6pm (UK-time) tomorrow. A winner will be selected at random.

Good luck, guys.

Finally, keep your eyes peeled tomorrow for a very special Christmas duet…

Q&A with Philippe Auclair: “I hope Thierry doesn’t return this year”

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The love affair between Arsenal fans and Thierry Henry will surely come to be remembered as one of the defining narratives of this period of the club’s history. He was brightest of the galaxy of stars that have become known as ‘The Invincibles’, and in the increasingly nomadic world of modern football it is hard to imagine how his Arsenal goalscoring record will ever be beaten.

However, the affair between fans and player, between club and captain, was occasionally a complicated one. Thierry was not without his flaws, and his idiosyncratic personality is an ideal subject for discussion in a book. Who better to tell Henry’s story than Philippe Auclair: an authoritative voice on French and English football alike, and particularly Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. The result, ‘Thierry Henry: Lonely At The Top‘, is a fantastic read. I would heartily recommend it to any Gooner.

I was delighted that as part of his promotional work for the book, Philippe agreed to speak to Gunnerblog. When I originally posed these questions to him I had intended to publish a select few within a feature piece. However, his answers were so full and so detailed that I think it’d be a shame to condense them. Go and make a cup of tea, and come back and enjoy the thoughts of one of the most informed Arsenal commentator’s around – and don’t forget to read on to the end of the blog, where you’ll have the chance to a copy of ‘Lonely At The Top’ for yourself.

·         What inspired you to write this book about Thierry?

Two things. First, I was puzzled by the fact that, despite the wealth, if that’s the word, of football biographies and autobiographies which are published in this country, there was none of one of the greatest players to have ever played in this country – apart from a purely factual account of his career which had been written in the wake of the Invincibles season. It’s not as if there was no story to tell, even if Thierry wasn’t the sort of footballer, or person, who jumped at you as an obvious subject as a Cantona, whose every action or pronouncement, it seems, produced drama of one kind or the other.

Second, most people seemed unaware of the dichotomy between the troubled image of Henry in his own country, and his status as a genuine hero for Arsenal fans (and many English neutrals). How could these two perceptions co-exist? What explained them? Could they be reconciled? It was also a superb opportunity to reflect on France’s love affair with its national team, and the subsequent unravelling of that romance. Thierry had been there all along. That made the idea a difficult one to resist .

·         He certainly captured the imagination of Arsenal fans during his time in England.  Did the artistry of his game – and the Arsenal team he excelled in – make him easier to write about?

At times, yes, because I could just let the pen flow guided by my own emotions. He’d given us so much joy. It’s far easier (or it is easier for me) to write about someone you love. I also felt that neither he, nor the Arsenal teams he was part of, were given their proper due when they were at the top of their game. I still think the greatness of the player and of these teams isn’t recognised as it should be – it would’ve been different if Chelsea hadn’t won 2-1 at Highbury in 2004, of course. That missing Champions League trophy throws an unidissipable shadow over other achievements.

·         Thierry Henry has always managed his public image very carefully.  In spite of that, do you feel his professed love for Arsenal to be genuine?

Absolutely, despite the fact that he sometimes expresses this love in a very awkward fashion – again, that’s my own perception of it, based on seeing him, and talking to him, quite regularly over the eight seasons he spent at the club. I have no doubt his love for the club is that of a genuine fan, albeit a unique kind of fan. I should add that others, such as Robert Pires, feel as strong a connection to the club, but find it easier to wear. It is a question of personality, not of depth of feeling.

·         Is there a moment, or a goal, that you think sums Thierry up?

I hope the goal against Leeds United at the Emirates last season will come to be the defining image of his relationships with Wenger, the club, and the club’s fans, as it encapsulated all that is best in them, whilst being a fine example of ‘the’ Henry goal, coming from the left, finding the opposite corner of the net, etc. But this isn’t quite your question. Summing Thierry up is quite a different thing. The Carragher-on-his-backside goal against Liverpool in 2004 is probably Thierry’s own favourite (that game certainly is), but it doesn’t sum him up. There was also the Thierry of that wretched game at Fulham – after which Song was slaughtered by Arsenal fans, as you’ll remember -, all anger and frustration. You can’t have one without the other; the thing was that what we saw 90% of the time was the Henry who left Carragher, well, on his arse. So the answer is ‘not quite’.

·         Arsenal lost another great striker, Robin van Persie, this summer.  Historically, Arsene has always been able to secure the succession of his centre forwards – from Wright to Anelka, Anelka to Henry, Henry to Adebayor, and finally Adebayor to Van Persie.  Do you think Olivier Giroud is able to take on the mantle?

I’ve spent a lot of time ‘defending’ Giroud in the early weeks and months of the season, when a missed chance against Sunderland (comparable to dozen of such missed chances of which Henry and van Persie were culpable, and seemingly hundreds in Adebayor’s case) made him an easy scapegoat for genuine problems which affected the team as a whole.

Some strikers adapt immediately: Aguero, for example. Others take time to settle in: Henry is the most relevant example in Arsenal’s case. Giroud belongs to the second category. He runs on diesel, not unleaded. He’s not a ‘supersub’ a la Solskjaer, who can immediately feel the pulse of a game; almost all of his goals for Montpellier were scored when he’d been part of the starting line-up. Now that he’s established himself as first-choice striker, you can see the difference. He’s become a bit more greedy, which is good for a centre-forward. Even when his finishing is not quite up to his usual standard, he’ll provide others with chances.

I sincerely believe that he’s the best back-to-the-goal number 9 in the league –  far superior to Andy Carroll, to name a centre-forward who is always mentioned when the talk is of ‘target men’ who win ‘the first ball’. He’s much cleverer in his use of the ball, in his runs off it as well. He’s also got a fierce shot on him. But he’s no Robin van Persie who, in terms of sheer technique, belongs to the elite of world football. Giroud doesn’t, yet, and until he’s become a two-footed footballer (which van Persie did), if he can, won’t be able to aspire to such a status. We should remember Giroud was a very late starter in professional football, and that his margin of progression is huge. He’ll still score over twenty goals for Arsenal this season if he stays injury-free. Not too bad, no?

·         Arsene’s recruitment record from France seems to have got patchier as his time at Arsenal have worn on.  It was never perfect – for every Thierry there was a Kaba Diawara or Christopher Wreh – but in recent reasons it seems to have become particularly erratic.  There are success stories like Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny, but the likes of Park Chu-Young, Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho have failed to adapt as expected.  Do you think Arsene’s default instinct to use Ligue 1 as a hunting ground has lead to errors of judgement? 

You naturally turn to what you know, and you can’t know everything. Look at Martinez at Wigan. He is one of very few PL managers who, in terms of recruitment, still think of Scotland as a genuine market (and has exploited it remarkably well). Why? Because he was at Motherwell. Mourinho brought Portuguese-speaking players to Chelsea. Ancelotti and Leonardo at PSG raided Milan, yes, but also Palermo and Pescara (Verratti). You could go on like this forever. Foreign managers will, by default, almost always look towards where they come from.

The players you mention have failed to adapt (there were other examples in the past, by the way. Remember David Grondin?), but each of them failed for different reasons. Park was a – supposedly – cheap punt on a guy who captains his national team. Chamakh’s problem is one of temperament rather than talent. Gervinho is infuriating at times – often -, but can have a genuine impact because of the directness of his play. He seemed to represent good value at the time, ‘seemed’ being the important word: L1 has declined, and rather a lot, since the time Wenger was managing there. He’d been a crucial player in Lille’s title-winning season. I’ll confess that I was amongst those who thought that he was a very decent buy, considering the price LOSC was asking for Hazard (who, by the by, is finding it more difficult by the week after a storming start).

But it’s not Wenger you should be focusing on exclusively, it’s the whole scouting network, which is far more active in some regions than in others, a point I’d make about almost any club you’d care to mention. It surprises me, for example, that the huge pool of talent that is Germany is not better exploited by English clubs, when they’d be able to compete, and very easily, against domestic clubs. I fundamentally agree with you, but don’t think it’s a specific Wenger trait, or problem.

·         Arsenal are light on strikers at the moment.  Do you think there’s any chance of Thierry returning one final time in January of this year?

It looks that way, but I hope that’s not the case. The final chapter was written, and beautifully, last year. There’s no way that a Thierry in his 36th year can do better than what he did eleven months ago, especially when the club has more attacking options than was the case in 2011-12. He would in no case represent a ‘solution’; whereas last year, given the van Persie-dependance, he could make a difference at times. Even with Gervinho off to the ACN, you still have Podolski, Giroud, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, young Gnabry, and, whatever you think of him, Andrei Arshavin, whom I know is rumoured to be on his way out, but could still bring an awful lot to the club, should Wenger share that opinion (which he clearly doesn’t – apologies, I’m very partial to the Russian). I genuinely don’t look forward to another ‘return of the King’.

·         Regardless of whether he returns as a player, do you think Arsenal fans could see him in the dugout at the Emirates at some point in the future?

I doubt it. A question of personality, rather than capacities. Thierry has an encyclopaedic knowledge or world football, and an understanding of the game that is exceptional among current players. But he’s never been a natural leader, even when he was captaining his teams (including France at every age level); I’m not sure he could cope with the media attention either; and he’s very prickly when criticised. But – I’ve just realised that I answered a different question, ie ‘would Thierry make a good Arsenal manager?’, which is perhaps the one we’re all asking ourselves. Bergkamp, on the other hand…

A tantalising way to end. Thanks to Philippe for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re keen to hear more, then you’re in luck: we’ve got ourselves a copy of the book to give away. All you have to do is answer the following question:

Q. Against which team did Thierry Henry score the last goal of his first spell of the club?

Send your answers to thierry@gunnerblog.com by midnight Sunday (UK-time). The winner will be announced on Monday.

For those of you who a) don’t know the answer to the question, b) know themselves to be unlucky, or c) disagree with internet competitions on ethical ground, you can get yourself a copy of the book through the conventional route here. I’m off to dream of Thierry.