Archive for December, 2006

Sheff Utd 1 – 0 Arsenal: Four things that annoyed me

135 comments December 30th, 2006

Well, that was absolutely awful. I’m so annoyed about the game that I can’t be bothered to run through what happened in detail. You can get that here. I’ve just got four points I have to make. Four things that annoyed me more than any other:

  • The use of Julio Baptista
  • Why would Arsene Wenger spend yesterday talking up Julio Baptista, and about how today was his “big chance”, only to play him wildly out of position at left-midfield? Baptista didn’t have a great game – on two seperate occasions the ball fell to him in the box and he took a touch when shooting first-time would’ve been far more profitable. His confidence is clearly completely shot, and more often than not he played a simple ball instead of embarking on any sort of attacking drive (except, crucially, when he played the wrong pass, resulting in the loss of the ball and Sheffield United’s goal). But that doesn’t excuse the criminal mis-use of the lad. If you’re going to put pressure on him by saying it’s his “big chance”, you could at least do him the service of putting him in approximately the right position. Why did Baptista fail at Real Madrid? Simple. They wasted his talents by playing him primarily from left-wing.

  • The tactics
  • Believe it or not, I’m not talking about our refusal to shoot once Sheff Utd had Phil Jagielka between the sticks. The game was already lost by then. We lost it long before. Hats off to Sheffield United. They defended extremely well, and they played the game right. How? They adapted their style to the conditions. The pitch was soaking wet, and starting to become a bit of a bog, but still we persisted with trying to play in neat triangles. Sheffield United, however, played early balls into corners and in behind defenders. They left out the excellent Rob Hulse, instead playing two pacey livewires who chased everything and encouraged mistakes. If you want to see this tactic working perfectly, just look at their goal. With Emmanuel Adebayor both injured and otherwise indisposed, we desperately missed someone who would cover ground, hare after lost causes and generally cause panic in the opposition defence. Instead, we had two players who wanted to recieve the ball into feet, beat two men and play a clever slide-rule pass. It just won’t work on a pitch like that.

  • The selection of Jeremie Aliadiere
  • It’s a fairly open secret that Aliadiere is leaving next month. So why start him upfront instead of giving Baptista a chance in a position where he can make an impact? Why have more faith in Aliadiere, a player who has repeatedly failed to make an impression at the highest level, than Baptista, who has 50 La Liga goals to his name? Ridiculous.

  • The conduct of Chris Morgan
  • How did he get away with punching Van Persie in the stomach? Can you imagine the inquest if it was the other way around? The fact is, because Morgan is English and stereotypically “hard”, refs and pundits let him get away with it. He later appeared to do the same thing again. Now, the other week, Morgan got a fist in the face and was very good about it. Of course he was: he’s at it himself. The signs were there against Watford, and the ref continued the same trend today: smaller teams are allowed to get away with worse tackles and conduct against us because it’s “part of the way they play”. The fact that Andy Gray said about the clear punch on Van Persie, “it happens all the time”, is no excuse. Still, I suppose many people will say: if we can’t beat ’em (and we can’t), join ’em.

    I’m very, very disappointed tonight, so if any of this is a little over-the-top, I apologise. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll have a more balanced view.

    Emmanuel Adebayor has been arrested

    46 comments December 30th, 2006

    Just thought you should know.

    Bit of a downer, to be honest.

    Sheff Utd Preview: No lasagna, but we’re dropping like flies

    16 comments December 30th, 2006

    With Thierry Henry, Abou Diaby, William Gallas, Emmanuel Eboue and Freddie Ljungberg all long-term absentees, it was expected that Emmanuel Adebayor would be the only addition to a growing injury list. Well, you can add Johan Djourou, Aleksandr Hleb, and Theo Walcott to that list. What’s more, Cesc Fabregas, Julio Baptista, Alex Song, and Jeremie Aliadiere are all suffering from colds.

    Whilst the last four have all travelled and will be expected to be active members of the squad, Denilson and Lauren are both likely to be involved (almost certainly from the bench) for the first time this season. For both, it’s a real landmark – after the Carling Cup tie with Liverpool was cancelled, this game could represent Lauren’s return to football after a year out. Denilson, meanwhile, has been impressing in training and in previous rounds of the Carling Cup. Just to be on the bench will give him real encouragement.

    And finally, Julio Baptista will probably start only his third Premiership game. He’s like to be deployed as a striker, and Arsene has been speaking frankly about the Brazilian’s need to prove himself:

    “Julio has a lot to prove in the next six months. I am leaning more one way than the other about taking him [permanently]. But I will not give you the way I am leaning. Still, I think he is ready to play now. Just when he was looking very sharp we played against Charlton Reserves here at the Training Ground and he got a big injury. He was out for six or seven weeks. On that day he looked really convincing in the game and it was sad to lose him. Yet I have not seen one minute when he has not been completely dedicated. He has a great attitude and is very strong mentally. I like him as a player but I agree he has not got the opportunities to show how good he is.”

    There is a direct relationship between Baptista’s lack of opportunities and Arsene’s unwillingness to buy in January:

    “The problem he has is for me to give him the number of opportunities he deserves.All the players need a run but what can you do? That’s why I don’t understand when people ask ‘will you buy in January?’. Where do I put the players?”

    You have to say it’s a fair point. For the first time in a long time, the squad isn’t full of dead-wood you’d look to move on. The only player I can think of whose future at the club is in any real doubt is Freddie Ljungberg. And with the likes of Niklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, and Anthony Stokes (who may join Charlton on loan) still to come, it’s going to be hard enough just to find room for the players we already have.

    Back to today, we can take some comfort from the fact that Sheffield United’s injury problems are probably as bad, if not worse, than ours. They certainly have less depth to cope with losses, and today they’re coming up against Gilberto, the man Neil Warnock believes to be the best player in the Premiership this season. They’ll give us a good, physical game however, and we’ll need to be extremely competetive to win there. Nobody has really turned them over at Bramall Lane, and however well we play, that won’t change tomorrow.

    Adebayor: “I’m scared of nobody”

    497 comments December 29th, 2006

    So here we are. After a significant amount of pestering, I’ve brought you the highlights of the Emmanuel Adebayor interview. Enjoy.

    On joining Arsenal:

    The boss, Arsene Wenger, called me, and when he called me I was pleased. I signed for Arsenal – there was a good atmosphere, I had signed for one of the big teams of the world, and I was going to play in the team that my hero had played for for a long time: Nwankwo Kanu. I was a relieved man – before, in Monaco, I was in prison – after this contract I felt like I was at home. Everyone who saw me said, “We are happy to get you as a player”, “We are happy to get you to replace Kanu”.

    On his first goal:

    In February I came back to Arsenal from the African Cup of Nations, where I had a difficult time. I scored in my first game, 21st minute against Birmingham away, which was very important. After scoring, Thierry Henry told me, “Welcome to London”, and I was very pleased about that. For me, it was a moment that I will never forget in my life. I was like a released man. I’d just come back from the African Cup, where all my country said that all of our problems where because of me, and when I came back to London I just wanted to show that I wasn’t wrong. All I had said, all I had done, was for the country, and when I scored they were proud of me.

    On the World Cup, and Togo’s problems there:

    I think it was difficult to understand. We were the smallest country in the World Cup, and we had a lot of problems. When we arrived, we just felt like a lot of things had to change. The world needed to know that we had a lot of problems… our president, our team management. And I am proud to say a lot of that has changed. This is because of me, because of my friends, because of the team. I know the image that we gave was not too good, but that’s part of life: sometimes you have to do some bad things to become good. And I think we did that. Today we are together, we are like a family, and all the Togolese people know that we are not the ones who brought in the problems – the problems came before us. We know that we have a small team, but we were just pleased to qualify and to play in the World Cup once in our lives. As a player, you have to dream about that, and I have the experience: I have played one World Cup in my life, with a small country, with Togo, and I can just say I am very pleased and happy about that.

    On the perception that he is a trouble-maker:

    That’s what a lot of people think about me, they think I don’t have a good character. They think I talk a lot. But anyway, as a player, you have to accept critics, and I accept that.

    On his problems at Monaco:

    The problem that I had in Monaco was that when Didier Deschamps, the person who brought me to Monaco, the manger who really liked me, who had confidence in me… when he left, the new coach, Francesco Guidolin… OK,you know: a new manager came to the team. And I was in the last qualification game in Congo. When I came back from Congo, we were qualified, I was proud (of course), I was happy like a baby. When I arrived at the dressing room, he asked for me. I went to see him, and the first thing that this “boss” or “coach” said to me was, “I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you play football”. I had played for Monaco for two years, they bought me from Metz, where I scored a lot of goals, and a new manager just arrived and told me that he’d never seen me play football. This is when I knew he would never pick me to play. I would never be in his plans, and so the important thing for me was to leave. When I went to the President he said “No, we have confidence in you”, so I said, “OK. But you are going to see”. And in the first three games, I was still on the bench. And I told him, “I know I’m still young, but I want to play football. My life is on the pitch – I don’t want to sit on the bench”. And in France, a lot of people were talking about that: “Adebayor doesn’t have a good character”, “Adebayor has done this”, “Adebayor has done that”, but today, everything that’s been written about me is behind me. Today I’m just enjoying playing football for Arsenal. I’m good over here: all the people like me over here, for me there is nothing more important than that. I’m like a newborn child. My life is football, all I know how to do in my life is football… at school I was not good – I could never do anything but football!

    On his relationship with Arsene Wenger:

    During the summer, the boss called me and said “Emmanuel Adebayor, I have a lot of confidence in you. Be ready. When we come back, you will play a lot, and show everyone that you are not wrong – you are always right.”

    On criticism of Thierry Henry:

    Off the pitch, people will always talk, whether you score ten goals, or fifteen goals. You can see today: Thierry Henry, the man who qualified France, who took them to all these World Cups, took them to the Final – the french people don’t like him. That’s part of life. He’s scored a lot of goals for Arsenal, and still today I can hear some critics saying Thierry has done this and that, but I have confidence in Thierry, and I know he will be back. He told me yesterday he will answer those people on the pitch.

    On how he answers his own critics:

    As a player, it’s better to speak on the pitch than off it. For all the people who say I have a bad character, for all those you say I have a good character, the answer is on the pitch.

    On his status within the squad:

    It’s important to have the confidence of your team-mates, and all my team-mates… Kolo, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb told me “We have confidence in you”, “You can do the job”, “We know that you can do everything”, and that’s very important to me. There’s a lot of responsibility as a lone forward, and if I see something not going well in the team, I have to talk, because I’m scared of nobody. I’m never scared in my life, and if I see something wrong, I have to say it. People think that’s bad about me… they can think what they want to think, but the important thing for me is my team, my club: Arsenal. And if I think I can help the team, why not? I do it with pleasure.

    On the African group at Arsenal, and the role of Kolo Toure:

    Yeah, we all listen to the same music, from the Ivory Coast. We are always together, we go to restaurants, we like joking aswell… like Emmanuel Eboue, he’s the comic man of the team. We are all happy to have someone like Eboue, and at the same time like Kolo, who is the big brother – he likes talking aswell, he’s the leader: “Don’t do this”, “Don’t do that”! He’s a man, he wants to be our father. That’s very good. That’s part of his life – he wants to take a lot of responsibility. We listen to him because he’s been here for about four or five years now, and he knows what Arsenal is. He tells us what to do or not do, on and off the pitch.

    And finally, on the madness of Emmanuel Eboue:

    I don’t know how I can explain this. Emmanuel… I’ve never… I’ve played a lot with mad people in my life: I’ve played in Metz, in Monaco, now at Arsenal. But mad like Eboue? I’ve never seen that in my life. This is the first time I’ve seen somebody mad as mad, you know? I can’t explain it, but he’s really mad. If you see him outside, you could just think that he’s a serious guy, he’s cool, he never talks, but that’s what he hides behind. He is very, very mad.

    So there you have it. A fascinating defence from a player who has overcome all his critics with some sterling and stirring performances on the pitch. He comes across as an extremely confident young man, with the spirit of a leader. And just when you thought he couldn’t recieve higher accolades, he’s gone and won the Togolese Overseas Player of the Year. Astonishing.

    It is partly because of his form that Arsene has decided that Niklas Bendtner will spend the remainder of the season at Birmingham, before joining up with the first team. No news yet for Anthony Stokes, with Celtic and Sunderland sniffing around the young Irishman.

    More tomorrow.

    Is Captain Fantastic The Real Deal?

    49 comments December 28th, 2006

    When Patrick Vieira left, Thierry Henry was the obvious choice to replace him as captain. Like Vieira, he had become an iconic figure; a living emblem of Arsenal football club.

    But even more so than that, there was no other option. Sol Campbell was a reserved figure, Ashley Cole was too young (dodged a bullet there, eh?), and Dennis Bergkamp was not playing regularly. And there was one final factor: when Patrick Vieira took over the captaincy, it had applied extra pressure on the midfielder to say at Arsenal. Wenger clearly hoped the same would be true of Henry: that the lure of responsibility would keep him at the club.

    And so it did. But even as Henry became the club’s greatest ever goalscorer, even as the club reached their first Champions League Final, doubts were being raised over Henry’s captaincy credentials. Some said the team lacked leadership, that Henry’s own performances were being affected, that centre-forwards (if you can call Henry that) make bad captains, and that the weight of responsibility was too heavy on the striker’s shoulders.

    But Henry was Arsene’s Golden Boy. After the difficulties with keeping him at the club, he was hardly going to strip him of the armband, rightly or wrongly. And what’s more, with Kolo Toure still lacking in organisational qualities, there was no obvious alternative.

    And then came Gilberto. With Henry injured/(dropped?), Gilberto has taken over the armband, and not only have the teams performances improved, but his own individual displays have been nothing short of superb. Take a look at the goals he’s scored recently at the bottom of this article, for one: the man has as many Premiership goals as Andy Johnson and Obafemi Martins. Watford on Tuesday was a perfect example. In one minute he produced an unbelievable tackle to deny Ashley Young, and shortly afterwards nodded home the opening goal.

    Arsene has moved to praise the Brazilian, saying:

    “He is unbelievable. He dictated the game in the middle of the park and now he is slowly getting the credit he deserves. He is a guy who is intelligent and always plays one or two touch. When he does not have the armband you don’t see that. Our first alert came when he was out injured for some months. We had a problem to win games but when he came back we won again. Now everybody is realising how important he is for us.”

    At the moment, the team are very popular with the fans – nobody can fault the effort and desire that Gilberto has typified in recent weeks. And therefore, it is not a surprise that some people want to maintain the status quo, and keep Gilberto as captain.

    But are we being simplistic? Does the armband really harbour supernatural powers that turn Gilberto into a goalscoring machine? Of course not. What is possible, however, is that when handed responsibility, he steps up to the plate and performs according to the pressure. Perhaps Henry does not share those characteristics, but at the end of the day, should it matter who is wearing the little black bit of cloth? As a senior member of the team, Gilberto should step up to the plate in every game. Admittedly, the same goes for Henry.

    For reasons I’ve outlined, the captaincy won’t be taken of Henry. And I would be extremely surprised if he were to relinquish it of his own free will. But we should celebrate the possibility of having more than one leader on the pitch. At one time we had Seaman, Adams, Vieira etc. all in the same side. Now it is the time for Lehmann, Toure, Gilberto, and Henry to take up the reigns.

    The man of the moment, Gilberto, has told the press that we’re beginning to get to grips with the physical side of the Premiership:

    “Last season we would have struggled in these kind of games but now we are showing great character and we are doing what is needed to cope with these tactics. In my opinion we have been perfect in our last couple of away games because we have coped well with high balls and still played our own game when we have been in possession.”

    This Arsenal side are bit like a new foreign signing. Exciting to watch, obviously very talented, but still learning the ropes in the hurly-burly Premiership… except that Arsenal have been in this league since it’s inception, and probably shouldn’t have to be going through that process. Never mind.

    Speaking of foreign signings yet to adapt, Julio Baptista should start at Sheffield United on Saturday, with Emmanuel Adebayor missing with a thigh strain. And speaking of Adebayor, anyone with ArsenalTVonline should check out this 15 minute interview with the striker. Imagine how many words he can fit into 15 minutes. Talk about value for money. In it, he talks about how he got his bad reputation at Monaco, and why Emmanuel Eboue is the craziest man he has ever met. If you pester me enough, I may type up the highlights of it for you tomorrow.

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