Archive for March, 2010

Porto Preview: In Cesc’s absence, Nasri and Campbell must shine

8 comments March 9th, 2010

It won’t surprise many of you to know that Arsene Wenger has deemed fielding Cesc Fabregas against Porto too great a risk.  The logic is simple: if Fabregas does any further damage to his hamstring tonight, it could rule him out of our Premier League run-in – and what a run-in that looks to be.  As the end of the season creeps closer, our title chances seem to improve.  With fourteen league goals and fifteen assists to his name, it’s clear the skipper is vital to maintaining our domestic hopes.

Team to face PortoNot that he wouldn’t have been useful tonight. In his absence Samir Nasri will continue in the central role in which he excelled against Burnley, with Abou Diaby and Alex Song book-ending him like a pair of totemic body-guards. They’ll need to be at their most vigilant tonight – conceding would leave us needing to go through without the trauma of a penalty shoot-out.

Nasri was outstanding at the weekend, showing close control and awareness reminiscent of his Catalan team-mate.  With his hefty price-tag and significant reputation, it’s easy to forget that he is only 22, and several years from his peak.

Hoping to keep Porto at bay will be Sol Campbell, fit again and likely to step in for Mikael Silvestre.  The back four looks more balanced with Campbell in it, partially because he’s right-footed, but largely because he’s not Mikael Silvestre.  Manuel Almunia will be wearing the armband tonight, but in Cesc’s absence it is Campbell who the side will look to for leadership and, crucially, a calming influence.

There is no need to panic tonight.  A 1-0 win will see us through.  Go 1-0 down, and we suddenly need three goals.  So we can afford to keep it fairly tight.  With mercurial talents like Arshavin and Walcott to call upon we will always offer an attacking threat.  We can’t afford to be gung-ho and get caught by the pace of Varela and Hulk.

Have patience.  Porto will attempt to frustrate us, but I am convinced that the goal(s) will come.  And after his travails at the weekend, what price a Nicklas Bendtner winner?

Come On You Gunners.

Arsenal 3 – 1 Burnley: Walcott spares Bendtner’s blushes

767 comments March 8th, 2010

Bendtner thanks Walcott for bailing him out

Arsenal 3 – 1 Burnley (Fabregas 34, Nugent 51, Walcott 61, Arshavin 90)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

As Nicklas Bendtner left the pitch, he afforded himself a wry smile.  It had not been his day.  Fortunately, by the time the full-time whistle went, his grin was matched by those of his team-mates.  It could have been very different.

Arsene was questioned about Bendtner’s bemusing reaction to his own performance after the game.  The striker had missed a succession of simple chances before being withdrawn for Eduardo da Silva – thankfully to applause, rather than the jeering that occasionally accompanied Bendtner last season.  The manager’s  response was emphatic:

“I believe at the surface he looks like ‘okay, I missed the chances’, but underneath he is really disappointed. Everybody has a different way to show his emotions, and he hides well, but he cares.”

Bendtner is right to care.  The time between now and the end of the season is a huge opportunity for him.  He needs to show the form that saw him score that outstanding header at Stoke rather than the careless finishing which allowed Burnley to creep back in to a game that should have been beyond them.  However cool his exterior, no-one will have been more relieved at the moment when Theo Walcott swerved in-field to bend home the crucial winner.

Walcott, who has come in for criticism from Arsenal fans and mindless pundits alike, was outstanding.  Arsene had reassured the press in midweek that the winger would have a point to make, and so it proved.  Burnley left-back Danny Fox was out-thought, out-manoeuvred, and most of the time, out of breath.

It was a more consistent source of inspiration who gave us the lead, however.  Cesc Fabregas knocked the ball to Samir Nasri, before darting in to the penalty area.  Nasri then flicked an impudent pass over the opposition backline which Fabregas met with a precise half-volley between Brian Jensen’s legs.  An outstanding goal, and the captain’s 17th of the season.

Unfortunately, it was to be his last significant contribution to the game.  A hamstring tweak saw him replaced by Abou Diaby, and we subsequently lost our way.  It was around this time that Bendtner embarked on his own private Miss of the Season competition.  Most of the set-ups were provided by Walcott, with Bendtner applying the rib-tickling punch-lines.  It’s funny in the light of victory, but had a defender made a similar succession of mistakes, they’d be castigated.  We had better hope, as seems likely, that this was simply a dreadful day at the office.

It’s perhaps fitting that Bendtner was involved in Burnley’s equaliser, failing to win a header against Leon Cort that bounced distressingly in to our penalty area.  With Vermaelen and Silvestre too far apart and Manuel Almunia a few yards of his line, David Nugent was left free to lob the ball in to the back of the net.  Arsenal should have been four or five goals to the good, and were suddenly pegged back to one all.

And then Walcott.  He had threatened all game, and finally delivered, slaloming inside his marker and opening his body to bend a ball round the wider-than-most Jensen with his weaker left-foot.  His celebration saw him indicating to his wrist – campaigning for a later bed-time?  More likely, asking his critics to let his season start before writing him off.

Substitute Andrey Arshavin set the seal on the victory in stoppage time, interrupting a keep-ball session to burst inside and arrow a left-footed shot in to the near post.  He celebrated like a man who’s pleased to be back.

Another game, another victory.  The countdown to the coronation of the Premier League champions continues.  We might have to win every game to end up at the top of the pile, but a glance at the fixture lists suggests we’re the most likely of the three title challengers to do so.  A lot will be dependent on the severity of Cesc’s injury and the potential distraction of the Champions League – though if the former is grave, the latter might well disappear.

On which note: Porto Preview tomorrow.

Wenger’s press conference is a masterclass again

60 comments March 6th, 2010

Arsene Wenger is a fantastic man, and a fantastic manager.  There are few personalities in the league whose press conferences are worthwhile events in themselves.  Yesterday, it was clear to all and sundry that he would be pressed on the Aaron Ramsey issue, and under the strongest scrutiny an emotional Arsene delivered some stirring responses.

He stands by his comments at Stoke, 100%.  And so he should.  He never got personal in his criticism of Shawcross, only in his criticism of the tackle.  Some accuse Arsene of having a messianic psychological complex – instead what he is is a man who is entirely true to his principles.  He is a man who believes firmly in trying to win through excellence above all else.  He doesn’t understand why he sees Arsenal criticised in the press for “trying to play football” – is that not, after all, what all teams should be striving to do?

He is not, as some claim, against the physical elements of the game.  Earlier in the week I compared dispossession with dragbacks, and Arsene is much of the same mind:

“I admire a great technical tackle as much as a creative pass. A tackle is an art in itself – that means you always have your eye on the ball, never with a high foot, in your tackle you can already make a pass. Tackling is an art you do not want to get out of the game.”

Nor is he so myopic as to render his Arsenal team exempt from criticism:

“It is not Arsenal against the rest of the world. What I say here is valid for the Arsenal players as well. I want the Arsenal players to go into the tackles like everybody else. To go into the tackles and be committed. What I say is not just for Stoke or Arsenal players, it is for everybody. I defend football. It is not that we are apart from anybody else. We are the same. I am continuing to defend the values that I believe are important for our club and football. That doesn’t mean we are angels and everyone else is the devil. It is for everybody.”

A mischievous journalist mentioned William Gallas’ untidy challenge on Mark Davies of Bolton, stating that it had kept the midfielder out of action for four or five weeks.  Arsene corrected him: Davies was playing again within nine days.  What’s more, Arsene came out at the time and apologised for Gallas’ tackle.

There are clear media agendas and they are, sadly, dictated by people who oughn’t have the right to call themselves ‘journalists’.  I heartily recommend listening to yesterday’s arsecast to hear the thoughts of Philippe Auclair on the matter – or if you’re in a hurry, read’s transcript here.  An excellent analysis of just how the media so often end up clutching not just the wrong end of the stick, but another, altogether less coherent stick entirely.

Aaron Ramsey has released an official statement, full of praise for the support he received from Stoke’s Glenn Whelan -a gentleman whose attempts to comfort Ramsey will not be swiftly forgotten by Arsenal fans.

The injury to Ramsey and the fallout from it provides massive incentive for Arsenal today.  Furthermore, a particularly handsome win could see us topping the table come 5pm.  Sol Campbell misses out with a groin problem, but Abou Diaby is back to replace the suspended Alex Song.  Silvestre will come in to the defence, with a midfield trio of Denilson, Diaby and Fabregas ahead.  Upfront, Andrey Arshavin is available once more, and Arsene may hand a start to Theo Walcott, who will be keen to hit back at those (myself included) who criticised his performance for England in midweek.

If you’re at the Emirates today, you might spot this banner, designed by Tres Rapide – the man/myth who did all the visual work for Gunnerblog:

Do it for Aaron

The message is simple: Do it for Aaron.

Do it for him, certainly.  But also do it for every manager who thinks that kicking Arsenal will bring about their demise.  Do it for every Collymore, Parker and Macari.  Let them see how we respond and force them to confront their cowardice, hypocrisy, and stupidity.

Come On You Reds.

Walcott outshone by Wright-Phillips – start panicking?

25 comments March 4th, 2010

One couldn’t help but feel that last night had the potential to be a turning point in Theo Walcott’s season: an international friendly on home turf, wearing his treasured number seven shirt. He may not be first-choice at Arsenal but in the absence of Aaron Lennon, Fabio Capello’s loyalty is unwavering. The autumn of 2008 saw Walcott net the hatrick which cemented the Italian’s reputation, and Don Fabio doesn’t forget such favours in a hurry.

Walcott is one of few England squad members spared the ire of the press and the fans. The closest he comes to off-field shenanigans is staying up past his bed-time for a dust-up on Tekken. As a consequence, the feeling among 80,000 fans at Wembley was unusually generous. There were ironic cheers when John Terry misplaced his first pass of the night, but each time Walcott received the ball the crowd rose in hope and expectation that the young tyro might once again demonstrate his potential on the international stage.

Sadly, it was not to be. Walcott’s career thus far has had elements of fairy-tale, but an immediate and accomplished return to the International fold after six months of niggling injuries and spurned chances was a narrative leap too far. With 57 minutes gone he was replaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips, who not long ago seemed to have been cast to the International scrap-heap by Capello. Wright-Phillips offered penetration where Walcott had offered pace alone. The Man City winger is a flawed player, but his spatial awareness and focus on providing a cross put Walcott’s contribution in unflattering relief.

No-one will have been more disappointed than Arsene Wenger, watching at home. Whilst Walcott’s England form is of little concern to him, a good showing might have proved the catalyst for a decent run of club form. As it is, Walcott is probably behind Arshavin, Nasri, Rosicky and maybe even Eboue in the queue for a first-team place.

That said, I’ve no time for Chris Waddle, who has accused Theo of having “no football brain” on the most spurious of evidence:

“I keep thinking, ‘Fabregas has learnt and he’s young, Rooney has learnt… they all read the game so well’. I just don’t think he’s got a football brain and he’s going to have problems.”

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Walcott is in the same bracket as Fabregas or Rooney. He’s not. He’s not Messi or Ronaldo either. He is, it seems, just a gifted twenty-year old who may or may not turn in to a top-class footballer. There are worse things to be.

A glance at the other internationals sees Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner on the scoresheet. Whilst Vela is behind even Theo in the pecking order, Bendtner looks to be hitting form at just the right time. If he can put together some semblance of a goalscoring run, he could become incredibly important between now and the end of the season.

Ramseygate rumbles on. Tomorrow it’ll have fresh life injected in to it by Arsene’s press conference. My hope is that the conversation becomes less about Ryan Shawcross and Aaron Ramsey, but more about the institutional problem of dangerous tackling.

Let’s wait and see.

March of The Idiots: Collymore, Parker & Macari

2,175 comments March 2nd, 2010

Yesterday’s date was the 1st of march.  Sadly, it was neither the first nor the last march of football’s imbecilic pundits brigade. You’d think the injury to Aaron Ramsey would be the sort of incident to unite football fans: a young player with a burgeoning career all-too-literally cut down by over-zealous tackling.  However, there are a fleet of individuals determined to stand out from the crowd.

Take Stan Collymore, the lady-hitting dogger and tip-top football pundit.  He’s always stood apart from the crowd, largely by the crowd’s choice.  In the aftermath of Saturday’s game, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was understandably upset by Ryan Shawcross’s tackle.  Understandable to most, but not to Collymore, a man who is pathologically contrary.  He began:

“Wenger was completely out of order with his post-match comments about Shawcross.  Despite the belief that Wenger is the professor, he has a real bitter and nasty streak.”

I like Collymore’s assertion that being a professor and having a nasty streak are somehow mutually exclusive.  Perhaps he had a really bad experience at university.


Stan The Man (Who Has Sex In A Van) wasn’t finished.  Where others saw a deeply upset but articulate man voicing his concern over the treatment Ramsey had received, Collymore saw a French conspiracy:

“It is blatantly obvious the Frenchman wants to buck the trend and traditions of English football.  If Wenger wants to make football almost a non-contact that is up to him but it won’t happen in England.”

Collymore is right.  That pesky Wenger is always trying to buck the trend and traditions of English football.  Like in the mid-90s, when he almost single-handedly transformed our game from one consumed by drinking culture and ugly football in to the world’s leading league.

It’s odd that Collymore is so bitter.  It’s almost as if he was one of those players whose lifestyle was so incompatible with the demands of top-level sport that Wenger’s revolution caused him to be left on the scrap-heap, shouting-down punters on talk radio in a desperate attempt to remain relevant.

Merlin Premier League 94 Sticker albumWhen I was a young lad, I collected the sticker album to my right. Every time I popped in to the newsagent I’d pick up a packet of stickers, and tear them open, excitedly hoping I might catch sight of the Ian Wright shiny that I so craved.

It was never to be.  I spent countless pennies chasing that simplest of dreams, and was disappointed.  And at every turn, every time I opened one of the small packets, whose face was staring back at me, a malicious grin strapped across his inanimate face?  Paul Parker.

I had more Paul Parkers than the rest of my stickers put together.  I couldn’t shift them.  I actually wrote to Merlin to ask if there was some sort of Paul Parker-laundering scheme going on.  Imagine my horror, then, when I saw Parker’s aged but still recognisable features in the byline of an article on

If that shock alone was bad enough, the opening sentence floored me:

“Arsene Wenger was wrong to criticise Ryan Shawcross for the challenge which broke Aaron Ramsey’s leg and should apologise to him.”

Apologise for what?  For criticizing what was an irresponsible and dangerous challenge?  Nowhere has Arsene made any kind of remark on Shawcross’s character, other than to say that it’s no defence.  Being a nice bloke doesn’t mean you didn’t do it.

Parker rambled on:

“When something like this happens, [Wenger] should count to 2,025 before he opens his mouth.”

At first glance, 2,025 seems like an arbitrary choice.  Perhaps Parker can’t conceive of a higher number?  In fact, no: it is the exact number of Paul Parker stickers that I had spare.  The plot thickens.

In the end, I destroyed my countless Paul Parker swaps in a ritualistic ceremony involving some Fairy Liquid and a bucket.  Sadly, the real Paul Parker would never fit in a bucket.

Finally, bringing up the rear, Lou Macari.  The following really needs no introduction:

“What got my goat about events at Stoke on Saturday was not the tackle, but Arsene Wenger’s ridiculous reaction to it.”

Not the hideous challenge.  Not the bone-crunching effect on young Aaron Ramsey.  Not the fact that one of Britain’s brightest young talents has endured an injury he may never recover from.  No, Macari’s not bothered about those.  But Wenger’s reaction?  Disgraceful.  Wenger’s reaction has got Lou Macari’s goat and is holding it at gunpoint – and furthermore, he’s demanding the soul of English football as ransom.

He continues:

“I’ve got to say I felt sorry for Shawcross.”

“…as well as Ramsey”?  Go on Lou, at least show a bit of balance.  No?  Ok, then, carry on.

“Not just because of all the hoo-ha over the challenge, but the fact it overshadowed one of the greatest moments in his life after being called up by England for the first time.

I suppose the furore over the Ramsey injury is a bit of a spanner in the works, but the call-up is still a feather in his cap and he should go there and enjoy the experience as much as possible.”

It is a bit of a spanner in the works, isn’t it, that Welsh fella’s leg falling off.  Bit of a bummer for poor Ryan.  Sort of remiss of Ramsey to let his leg break on Shawcross’s big day.  Selfish, even.

Macari crosses the boundary from stupidity in to just plain scary.  He doesn’t even show empathy for the player who has been hurt.

The problem with Idiots is that to compensate for the lack of weight behind their opinion, they often talk very loudly. Collymore & Co have struck up their marching band, and are on parade.  Johnny Foreigner comes over to this country, takes our contracts, then complains when his leg comes off.

Fortunately, there are a few sensible folk out there who are making constructive and intelligent contributions to the “furore” that Macari deplores.  Martin Samuel and Patrick Barclay, among others.  Hopefully their voices will be distinguished above the rabble that so often dictate football conversation.

Till tomorrow.

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