Archive for December, 2008

A very Happy New Year for three Young Guns

Add comment December 31st, 2008

Jay Simpson, Nacer Barazite, and Gavin Hoyte have all signed long-term contracts with the club.  Not only that, but they’re also set to get the short-term boost of loan moves to West Brom, Derby (extension), and Watford respectively.  Good luck to them all in the new year and hopefully beyond.

And so we wave goodbye to 2008.  Not the best of years – it started with so much promise and ended with so much despair.  Much of 2009 could be dictated within the next month.  It’s an exciting time, at least.

I’m off out now.  Have a good night, wherever you are.

GS x

Three big points in the last game before January

2 comments December 29th, 2008

Arsenal 1 – 0 Portsmouth (Gallas 81)
here; Arsene’s reaction here

Say what you will about William Gallas: he scores some very important goals.  A winner against Portsmouth might not seem the most crucial of his recent efforts, but given the fragile state of our confidence and the fact we hadn’t won in four games, his header was a big moment.

The performance was, as many have been of late, poor.  Robin van Persie was left on the bench, with Nicklas Bendtner starting the game alongside Emmanuel Adebayor.  Kolo Toure was also left out, with Mikael Silvestre slotting in alongside William Gallas.

Early on it became apparent that our central midfield of Diaby and Denilson lacked the neccessary craft to break down a very defensive Portsmouth side.  To counter that, Arsene pushed Bendtner out to the left and granted Nasri a free role behind Adebayor.  Nasri was a rare positive in a stagnant performance, buzzing all over the pitch and, in the absence of Cesc, being the only genuine creative outlet.

The change in system was a response to almost falling behind when Peter Crouch nodded a header against the near post.  Soon after, we ought to have taken the lead when Abou Diaby slipped in Emmanuel Adebayor.  The Togolese striker skipped round David James and looked certain to score, but a combination of Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin somehow prevented the goal.

Adebayor arguably had the best chance of the second half too, volleying into the side-netting after David James had flapped at a corner.  The Portsmouth keeper had been up to his calamity capers all day, and it was no surprise when our goal was eventually the product of a set-piece.

Carlos Vela and Aaron Ramsey had injected a bit of pace into our game, and as the pressure mounted Portsmouth eventually succumbed: James was beaten to Denilson’s free kick by Gallas, and the ball bounced agonisingly into the net.  After the frustrations of the last few weeks, my celebration was a moment of unadulterated joy.  I wasn’t at the ground yesterday, but the passion was still there: tea was split, laptop knocked over, and my dog looked on confused by the provenance of my valedictory dance.

I could spend a long time going over the same old flaws – principally the chronic lack of depth in central midfield – but we (and, we pray, Arsene) know those already.  We have stumbled through to January, and before yesterday we had won only three of our last ten games. However, a new year, new resolutions, and new players beckon. The next league game we play is at home to Bolton in almost two weeks’ time. By January 10th, we might even have a signing…

Well, you never know.

No room for sentiment as Adams returns

38 comments December 28th, 2008

Today is the first time Tony Adams arrives at the Emirates Stadium as a manager.  Sadly for Adams, it’s as manager of Portsmouth.  Nevertheless, he harbours ambition to one day be sat in the home dugout:

“I’d love that job. Arsène is showing no signs of moving at the moment but it is my ambition to manage Arsenal Football Club.”

He’s a long way away from being ready to be Arsenal manager, but it’d be nice to think he might one day be able to be considered for the job.  It’d be fantastic to be in a position like Manchester United, whereby we have several former players performing well as managers and staking a claim to succeed Arsene.

Adams still loves Arsenal dearly, and it’s easy to see why:

“Ken Friar still calls all the old captains every Christmas Day to wish them Happy Christmas. When Portsmouth got to the Cup final last season I had a voice message on my mobile. ‘Hello Tony, it’s Ken Friar. Just want to wish you all the best today. Go and win it, you know Arsenal boys always do’. When I got the job here, it was the same. ‘Congrats, you’ll be a huge success’. Lovely touches.”

That anecdote tells you plenty about not only the esteem in which Adams is still held, but just how classy a club this is.  His take on our current predicament also makes interesting reading:

“Not really. They are in transition. They’ve got a lot of young players but not much experience. I remember when Sol and Ashley were about to go, I said to David Dein, ‘You need to hold on to these guys. Too many seem to be leaving at the same time’. I’d retired, Patrick went, Dennis left, Dicko and Bouldy went. There was a tremendous turnaround in the space of two years — usually it should take about six. There was nobody left to pass on the old standards in the way we used to and the way Manchester United have done.”

The problem with such a problem is that there is no way to fix it.  Those players have gone now.  You can’t buy heritage.  Ask Chelsea.

Anyway, it’s Pompey today, and they’ll be without Glen Johnson – arguably their best player this season.  With Sol Campbell seemingly on his last legs, their defence has looked very shakey of late, and the returning Emmanuel Adebayor will look to take advantage of that.

After three consecutive draws in the league (and no win in four games), victory is both expected and neccessary.  Whatever Pompey’s defensive problems, they’re no worse than our own, and Crouch and Defoe can be a real handful.  As with seemingly every game this season, it’s impossible to call.

Anyhow: win we must.  Come On You Gunners.

These players are literally careless

2 comments December 27th, 2008

Aston Villa 2 – 2 Arsenal (Denilson 40, Diaby 48, Barry (pen) 65, Knight 90+1)
Highlights here; Arsene’s reaction here

Of late, Sky ‘pundit’ Jamie Redknapp has become infamous for his misuse of the word “literally”: Wayne Rooney has been “literally” on fire; Fernando Torres has “literally” torn the defence to shreds; Spurs have “literally” come back from the dead.  Like most things that come out of Redknapp’s mouth, this is pure nonsense.  But I’m prepared to go out on a limb, with my own use of “literally”:

This team is literally careless.  They play, seemingly, without care.

Watch our attempts to ‘defend’, and that becomes entirely evident.  Yesterday we had defenders in the team who have won titles and cups at Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea.  And yet, watching the game, you never ever felt that we could hold on to the 2-0 lead we had somehow established.  The past suggests that these players are capable enough – the problem is a footballing culture that does not value the defensive side of the game.

It’s a point that’s been made many times, but what made Arsene’s early sides so successful was the fusion of his gallic attacking flair with a pre-existing set of British defensive values.  The likes of Adams, Keown, Bould, and Campbell have long since departed, and have never been replaced.  Now we’re left with a team and a club where defending is not held in any great esteem.  There is no pride in the art of keeping a clean sheet – at this club, defenders want to dribble their way out of trouble rather than just clearing the ball from danger.  They seem more interested in scoring goals than preventing them.  Hell, some of them even insist on wearing the number 10 shirt.

They have forgotten what they were brought here to do.  And the manager seems incapable of reminding them.

There is an exception.  Bacary Sagna is an outstanding right-back who would make any team in the world.  This stunning clearance off the line, as well as the width of the woodwork, is what kept us from going in three or four goals down at half-time.  But the rest of the side is littered with problems.

We are in a position now whereby after we went 2-0 up yesterday, I recieved a couple of texts from people saying, “Need one more, really”.  That, frankly, is ridiculous.  Arseblogger today pulled up this statistic:

“In 19 league games this season we have conceded in 14 of them, a total of 23 goals. Not good enough.”

It is shocking.  Appalling.  The players need someone who is passionate about defending to sort them out.  To make them feel like it matters.  To make someone step up and pull players into position and tell who to mark who and slap players on the back for making a good block or a good clearance.  We need to create a culture whereby a towering header or a crunching tackle is rewarded as much as a fancy backheel or inch-perfect through-ball.  If no-one in the coaching or playing staff seems capable of that, then those personnel need to be brought in.  Now.

Both goals we conceded yesterday were tragically typical.  First of all, a simple through-ball split Gallas and Toure, and the former got the wrong side of Agbonlahor, who out-muscled him.  Panicking, Gallas stuck out a leg and brought the striker down for an absolute nailed-on penalty.

And then, in injury time, came the equaliser – a catalogue of errors:

  • When the throw-in was taken, Eboue’s back was turned, allowing Petrov to cross
  • Abou Diaby was literally marking no-one, just casually wandering around the centre-circle
  • The back four were too deep
  • No-one was tight to Ashley Young, who had drifted inside from Silvestre entirely untracked
  • Denilson seemingly didn’t notice/care that Zat Knight had gone up front, leaving Villa with three players against our two centre-backs, despite the defender being ‘literally’ yards from him

Crazy errors, in injury time of a game that only a minor miracle had seen us leading.  We were thrown a lifeline by fate, but were careless and fumbled it.  If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny.

I speak of a minor miracle – in fact what had put us infront was a combination of luck and brilliance.  Luck in terms of Villa striking the woodwork three times and the ball breaking for Denilson to slot home, and brilliance with Sagna’s clearance, some Almunia saves, and a wonderful goal from Abou Diaby.  On Diaby: is that goal celebration the first time he’s appeared to care about anything?  The guy is outrageously talented, and seeing a goal like that makes his tenative performances all the more frustrating.

Then, of course, it all came tumbling down.  We weren’t helped by an injury to Alex Song – the only midfielder who takes his defensive responsibilities remotely seriously.  And yet, one can’t help but feel he only does so because he has no choice: he lacks the basic technique to engage in the attacking aspects.

I’ve always thought the top four’s places were assured, but without Cesc I’m no longer certain.  If we are to qualify for the Champions League things need to change.  A proper defensive midfielder needs to come in, who will shield and help-out the back four.  Would Knight have been left alone had we been fielding either Flamini or Gilberto?  The answer is simple: no.

Then the back four have to be organised.  As I said earlier, if we need someone new to do that, either on or off the pitch, so be it.

Portsmouth tomorrow is an early chance to start puttting these things right.

Villa seek to land knock-out blow on Boxing Day

6 comments December 26th, 2008

Hello all.

I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s festivities – thanks to all those you sent seasonal greetings through the site.  I had a great day, and ate twice my own body weight in various roasted meats.  Moving has become difficult.

Boxing Day is always a great day for sport.  Today Arsenal travel to Aston Villa in what has become a massive game.  In the week we lost Cesc Fabregas for almost the rest of the season, we face our closest rivals for a Champions League spot.  After they won at the Emirates, defeat would leave us six points adrift and facing a real uphill struggle.

The long-term absentees (Cesc, Walcott, Rosicky and Eduardo) are all out, with Adebayor suspended, but beyond that the holiday period has meant a slight of absence of up-to-date team news.  We don’t know if Kolo Toure is available for consideration, or if Nicklas Bendnter will be fit to partner Robin van Persie upfront.

Whoever plays, we simply have to put in a performance today.  I don’t need to build it up anymore.  Everybody knows how big a game this is.

I hope the match goes in such a way as to permit your Boxing Day to be enjoyable.  Till tomorrow…

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