The Party Before The Storm

Yesterday the playing staff held the annual End of Season party, at which they’re invited to bring their families and socialise.  This was a particularly poignant occasion, as it marked the forthcoming departure of Pat Rice, after 44 years of service to Arsenal.  Several players tweeted their thanks, and whilst the club have yet to officially confirm his retirement, it seems that there’ll be no last-minute change of heart.

Pat Rice is embraced by the playing staff

Pat Rice is embraced by the playing staff at yesterday's party

He’s set to be replaced by Steve Bould, current boss of the U-18s, with Reserve team manager Neil Banfield stepping in to a new role as first-team coach.  It’s the first major shake-up of Arsene’s backroom team in his entire reign, so it’ll be interesting to see what impact, if any, it has upon the squad.

Pat Rice obviously deserves an enormous amount of gratitude and respect for a quite incredible spell at the club.  The term ‘legend’ gets banded around rather freely these days, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a man who has given more to a single club. I’m sure you all join me in wishing him all the best for his retirement.

Of course, he still has one more game to go.  Although it seems that the players made him a lovely big card, the best possible send-off would surely be three points at West Brom.  It’s a day that will be laced with a potent jumble of emotions for a number of squad members.  As well as Pat, it could well be a final game with the squad for the likes of Yossi Benayoun and forgotten man Manuel Almunia, who remains a popular squad member.  Hopefully their Arsenal careers, and our season, can end on a high.

It’s worth noting that yesterday’s little do was not a ‘welcoming party’ for Yann M’vila.  Indeed, the indications are that several journalists have severely jumped the gun on that particular deal.  From what I hear, this deal is far from done, and everyone at the club is far more focused on the upcoming match than any potential transfers.

Oh, and a little party for Pat.

Is Tony Adams ready to return to Arsenal?

I should preface this article by warning that it’s speculative.  I can’t claim to have any inside track on this matter. But here are the facts as we know them:

  • After defying expectations by deciding to remain on for a further twelve months last year, Pat Rice is due to retire this summer.
  • Arsene will therefore be looking to appoint a new assistant
  • Tony Adams is more of a presence at Arsenal than he has been in years

That last point perhaps requires some expansion.  I’m not referring to the very public appearances Tony has made, both in bronze and in the flesh.  Instead, he’s been attending games, sitting in the executive areas, and crucially has been spotted at the London Colney training ground on several occasions.  A friend of mine has been up to Colney twice in recent months – on both visits they spotted Adams.  This, of course, could be coincidence.  Or it could indicate that an Arsenal legend is preparing to return to the fold.

It’s not unusual to find a former player at the training ground.  At various points this season, Colney has been graced by the likes of Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, and Jens Lehmann, who is currently undertaking his coaching badges.  Arsene’s door is always open to his former players, whether they simply need a place to keep fit, or want to pick his brains about a problem.  Adams’ appearance, however, is surprising.  He’s been somewhat resistant to the idea of returning to Arsenal in any capacity other than as manager.  It’s clear that for ‘Mr. Arsenal’, playing second fiddle to anyone – even Arsene Wenger – would be difficult.

So what’s changed?  Well, perhaps Adams has learnt some humility.  His early years as a manager were, frankly, disastrous.  Spells with Wycombe and Portsmouth did little to convince anyone that he had a future as a number 1.  He has now resigned from his role as manager of FC Gabala in Azerbaijan, instead taking up an ‘ambassadorial’ role.  Perhaps he has accepted the need to learn his trade from more a better, more experienced man.  And perhaps the backwaters of European football have instilled in him a desire to come home.

Is he the right man to take over from Rice?  Well that’s another question entirely.  Certainly, his managerial career to date has been far from convincing.  His record as an assistant, however, is far better – working under Harry Redknapp, he drilled an effective and mean Portsmouth defence.  Internal candidates like Steve Bould and Neil Banfield would doubtless feel they were able to do the same, and might provide less of a challenge to Arsene’s authority.

My thoughts about Adams are in part influenced by proceedings at Stamford Bridge where Roberto Di Matteo and Eddie Newton, a pairing unceremoniously sacked from lowly West Brom little over a year ago, have just led Chelsea to a Champions League Final.  Sometimes, it seems, there is a value in having an inherent understanding of the culture of the club.  Pat Rice, of course, has that in spades.

And so does Tony Adams.  He is Mr. Arsenal.  And that sums it all up.  I’d welcome him back with arms as open as those with which he celebrated that famous goal.

 

Arsenal 2 – 1 Olympiacos: Arsenal Avoid Greek Tragedy

santoswide

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wheels away after opening the scoring against Olympiacos

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s Pat’s reaction

Arsenal picked up their first win of the Champions League group stage last night, meaning we were the only English side to win in Europe’s premier competition this week.  We also now have more Champions League points than Manchester City and Manchester United combined.

Arsene gambled a little with his team selection, and got away with it.  I support his decision, and would have done even if it had backfired.  We have a huge squad now, as the fact that even with the amount of injuries we’re carrying we were able to rest players demonstrates.  The XI he picked was plenty strong enough to win this game at home.

With that said, I think we all may have been guilty of underestimating Olympiacos a little.  Granted, we don’t see much of them in England, but I thought they were great last night – all technically capable, and organised too.  They were smart in their tactical play, looking to break against our attacking midfield, and closing down Mikel Arteta whenever he got the ball.  Their goal was the result of some intelligent thinking: recognising that we’re adapting to a new zonal marking system, they threw a spanner in the works by taking short corners.  Frankly, we looked as if he hadn’t covered that situation in training yet.

They looked the more dangerous side for long periods of the game, but fortunately we were already two goals ahead thanks to strikes from two recent signings.  First, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his impression adaptation to top-level football by dribbling inside from the right and firing left-footed across the goalkeeper to become the youngest ever English goalscorer in the Champions League.  The second and third youngest, in case you’re wondering, are Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere.

Andre Santos’ goal also came off his wrong foot.  He galloped forward to meet a Tomas Rosicky through-ball, but his cross for Chamakh was cut out.  When the ball rebounded back to the cavalier left-back, he skipped in side his man and knocked a right-footed effort in at the keeper’s near post.

We did struggle to retain possession at times – Emmanuel Frimpong looking particularly raw in midfield – and Olympiacos gave us the fright of our lives by striking the crossbar from range in the second-half with an effort that probably deserved better – but we held out for the win.

There were plenty of positives for me, particularly with the makeshift centre-half pairing of Song and Mertesacker.  Song was tenacious and calm on the ball, and the German had his best game in an Arsenal shirt.  I’ve noticed an interesting trend in his play: unlike most Arsenal centre-halves, he doesn’t charge straight towards the ball.  At times he backs away or runs in to an area which seems to make no sense – only to be perfectly positioned to clear when the cross comes in.  He’s economical and efficient – at times last night he knew when his best option was just to boot the thing away.

I also felt Santos played well, and the battle between he and Kieran Gibbs looks set to run and run.  Santos has a remarkable upright dribbling style – his touch is immaculate and last night he showed some steel to match the flair.

It’d be impossible not to mention Chamberlain.  Although I felt he faded before being withdrawn on the hour mark, it’s clear we’ve got a huge talent here.  The most obvious comparisons to make are with Theo Walcott – not just because of their Southampton heritage, but because they’re competing for the same spot in the team.  Last night Pat Rice said:

“From Arsenal supporters’ point of view, they are going to be seeing a lot of this boy. Whenever he breaks in permanently he has a big, big challenge to now get in front of Theo. I know that Theo is a very strong-willed guy as well and he won’t give in easy. It all bodes well for England anyway.”

For England – and, more to the point, for Arsenal.

In summary: we won.  United’s home draw with Basel shows how treacherous these games against ‘lesser’ opposition can be.  The Greek league is significantly stronger than the Swiss, and we came out on top.  I’m happy with that and you ought to be too.