Archive for June, 2010

Rob Green successfully auditions for Arsenal goalkeeping role

Add comment June 13th, 2010

Arsene will have loved this.  It has all the hallmarks of Fabianski’s best moments.

Manuel Almunia says he isn’t worried about his place.  I’m not surprised.

Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama looks as if he might be a far better bet after his man of the match-winning display against Argentina.  Today you can watch Arsene’s number one target, Mark Schwarzer, in action against Germany.

Barcelona say they want to sign Cesc Fabregas by negotiating with Arsene in South Africa, which sounds a bit like being pestered by fundraisers on your holiday sunbed.

The Sunday Star has another exclusive saying Joe Cole will sign for Arsenal.  Which is pretty much the same story they led with two weeks ago.

That’s all for now.  It is Sunday, after all.

Arsenal fan Tshabalala sparks Bafanarama + Diaby impresses

161 comments June 12th, 2010

Siphiwe Tshabalala hammers in the first goal of the World Cup

The World Cup got underway yesterday, replete with giant dung beetles, R-Kelly, and a wonder goal that will be remembered in emotive montages for years to come.

Siphiwe Tshabalala hammered in the first goal of the tournament with a great left-footed strike, igniting wild celebratory scenes, particularly in my living room.  The moment was made all the better by the confirmation that soon followed: Tshabalala is an Arsenal fan.

Carlos Vela had started for Mexico and almost set up a goal for Franco with a lovely clipped pass.  However, he didn’t pose a consistent threat and was eventually substituted with twenty minutes to go.  With lots of pretty movement and little end product, he floated like a butterfly and stung like a camp aside.  Five years ago Vela was the top scorer at the U-17 World Cup.  The chances of replicating that at senior level seem slim.

France’s team against Uruguay contained a veritable bevy of Arsenal players past and present.  William Gallas played at centre-back – he is reportedly about to receive an offer from Juventus to join the existing bid from Panathanaikos – with Bacary Sagna and Abou Diaby also in the starting XI.  France were turgid, but Diaby came off best, receiving praise from the Uruguay manager and being awarded the Man of the Match award by L’Equipe.

Diaby playing well, eh?  Expect an injury imminently…

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2010

248 comments June 11th, 2010

And so, before the World Cup kicks off and Arsenal’s 09/10 season fades in to nothing more than a distant memory and an overpriced End of Season DVD, I’d better hand out some prizes.

Last season ended with such a slump that it didn’t feel appropriate to hold any kind of Award ceremony – even a meaningless online one. However, enough time has passed that rewarding this squad no longer makes me feel quite so uneasy.  Plus, y’know, it’s tradition.

Player of the Season
To contend for this award in your first season is quite an achievement, but that’s exactly what Thomas Vermaelen did.  He arrived with a transfer fee bigger than his reputation, and the likes of Tony Adams casting doubts over his height and stomach for the fight.  At Ajax he’d spent a lot of time playing left-back, and I wondered aloud whether he might even be converted to a holding midfielder.

From the first time I saw him play, in a pre-season friendly at Barnet, I realised how wrong I’d been.  Vermaelen was a combative ball-winner; a leader as well as a technician.  His first few games for the club won him a reputation as a goalscorer, but his form across the season earnt him a place in the PFA Team of the Year.  Vermaelen already looks to be one of Arsene’s best signings, and a potential Arsenal captain.

Alex Song has won both the Worst Player and Best Young Player awards over the past few seasons, which gives you some idea of the trajectory of his improvement.  Impressively, he continued that trend again this season, stepping up to become an integral part of the side.  The 4-3-3 formation allowed him to develop in to the country’s best holding midfield player.  As his confidence grew his technique emerged, whilst his strength and determination are an example that several team-mates ought to follow next season.

The winner, however painful it might be to acknowledge it, has to be Cesc Fabregas.  19 goals from 36 appearances, with as many assists.  If indeed he does bow out this summer then it will be on a personal high.  Like Song, he flourished in the new formation, liberated of his defensive responsibilities and free to wreak havoc in the final third.

His technical ability was never in question.  But this year he seemed to mature as a man.  It was his first full season as captain, and he embraced the responsibility, dragging his team-mates back from the brink on more than one occasion.  His final contribution of an epic campaign, a broken-legged penalty against his hometown club, had a poignant symbolism reminiscent of the previous incumbent of the number 4 shirt’s goodbye kick.  One sensed then that Vieira knew his time was up.  Fabregas still has so much more to give.  My God I hope he stays.

Young Player of the Season
Incredibly in an Arsenal side stereotyped as being full of talented youngsters, there aren’t many obvious contenders for this award. Aaron Ramsey’s promising season was interrupted by a broken leg, Jack Wilshere made more appearances for Bolton than for Arsenal, whilst Theo Walcott’s poor season recently hit its nadir with World Cup exclusion.

The winner, for the second consecutive year, is going to be Alex Song. He began the season as a 21 year-old and finished it aged 22, which I think is young enough to be termed a ‘Young Player’ – James Milner take note.

I’ve already eulogised his performances – he’s finally replaced Gilberto Silva as the defensive fulcrum of our midfield, and is still young enough to improve the areas where he’s occasionally lacking – positional awareness and the like.  I’m genuinely delighted to admit that he is now showing what made Arsene persist with him for so long.

Worst Player of the Season
Deciding upon this award is always creates a dual feeling of cruelty and catharsis.  When the winner is so clear, however, it’s a less difficult process.

If someone had told me about the string of mistakes made by Lukasz Fabianski, I would find it hard to believe a goalkeeper couple be quite so consistently bad.  But the Pole managed it.  It all went wrong that night in Porto, and his confidence and credibility never recovered.  He became a target, and a vulnerable one.  Incredibly, Arsene seems set to keep him at the club – maybe just because convincing anyone to buy would be nigh-on impossible.  Drastic improvement required.

Game of the Season
If you enjoy a big win, the 6-1 opening day hammering of Everton or the sparkling 5-0 victory over Porto might take your fancy.  Those were perhaps the most effective demonstration of the attacking threat this team can provide.

There were other games where we showed a mental steel that’d make any fan proud: a stirring victory at Stoke in the wake of Aaron Ramsey’s injury springs to mind.  However, it doesn’t feel representational of our season to choose one of these gritty victories when our run-in was typified by losing our nerve.

I’m going to go for the home leg with Barcelona: possibly the most glamorous tie held at the Emirates Stadium thus far.  Barca were brilliant, giving a football exhibition of the highest quality, but we would not be beaten, and that aforementioned Cesc penalty was a brilliant way to round off the night.  The second leg didn’t go quite as we planned, but for that night at least hope was preserved.

Worst Game of the Season
It’s never fun trawling through traumatic memories.  There are painful flashbacks to a celebrating Emmanuel Adebayor during our thrashing at City, the thumping defeats we suffered to United and Chelsea across the season, and I still dream about replacing Manuel Almunia in goal and stopping that Danny Rose volley from rocketing in to the net.

However, one game is head and shoulders above all others for its sheer nightmarish improbability.  2-0 up away at Wigan with ten minutes to go and a chance of staying in the title race, we managed, against all odds, to lose 3-2.  Even mentioning it again makes me feel a wee bit sick.  I hope we never have cause to speak of it again.  Certainly not in a, “Hey, this is just like when we lost at Wigan” kind of way.

Highlight of the Season
With no trophies to hold aloft – with the shameful exception of the Emirates Cup – this is a tricky one.  I’m gonna go with my gut and say the return of Sol Campbell: not only because it was very heart-warming to see a once-revered Gooner given the chance to arrest his decline and fix his legacy, but because he reminded the players, the manager and the fans what it takes to be a winner.  He may now move on to pastures green-and-white, but he’ll be remembered for all the right reasons now.  We need more like him.

Disappointment of the Season
Where to start?  There are some players whose contributions represent a disappointment – and I don’t just mean Fabianski.  It was gutting to yet again see Robin van Persie suffer a serious injury, whilst Theo Walcott spent the year alternating between the medical room and poor form.

The injury to Aaron Ramsey was a gut-wrenching blow – not only because you fear for his massive potential, but because he was starting to push on and become an important part of the team.

In the end, however, the disappointment of our season was what went some way towards defining it: our failure to compete in matches against the biggest teams.  We were beaten four times in the league by United and Chelsea.  Only once was it close, and on that occasion our own defensive naivety is what cost us.  If anyone doubts that the top two belong above us, I suggest they watch one of these games again.  It was a cold, painful, clinical lesson.

So there we have it.  At least there’s room for improvement, eh?

For those of you who are interested in a bit of a broader perspective, the not-even-nearly-patented Gunnerblog 09/10 Month-by-Month Review is still available here.

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Club speaks out on Cesc, Cole & Schwarzer

Add comment June 10th, 2010

Arsenal had followed their rejection of Barcelona’s bid for Cesc with a steadfast, silent stare.  Until this morning, when an Arsene Wenger press conference and Peter Hill-Wood chat with his mates at The Star has prompted a flurry of transfer stories.

First, on Cesc, both Arsene and the chairman have been adamant that the captain is going nowhere.  The manager said:

“We want to keep our best players, that is my huge determination. I have built this team for years, from 16-17 years of age with most of the players, and we want to continue to work with them because we feel they are very close and the team has many strengths in many ways.”

Which to me says that he feels, with just one year remaining on his contract and no guarantee of a renewal, that he wants every resource available – Cesc included – to have another crack at the Premier League title.  Barcelona will continue to tap away (pun intended), but it will take one of two things to see Cesc leave: a remarkably big bid, or a strop from the player.  Increasingly it seems like Fabregas may be staying – for a year at least.

After he was released by Chelsea, the press seem to be pretty split on where Joe Cole will end up.  Some are convinced it’s Spurs, others United – and several still Arsenal.  The truth, I suspect, is that no-one has a clue – not even that bald bloke who turns up on Sky’s Sunday Supplement, calling all the Chelsea players by their first name in a garish attempt at affecting intimacy.  Even Arsenal seem a bit confused themselves, with Peter Hill-Wood saying that “his name never came up at all”, whilst Arsene Wenger openly states his admiration for the player:

“I like him (Joe Cole) as a player because when he played against us he always did a lot of damage.  He can create impact through his creative play. He can dribble, he can pass, he can score goals.”

Wait and see on this one.  Cole has always played in London, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

One player we’ve definitely been after is Fulham’s Australian goalie Mark Schwarzer.  It’s good news on two fronts: 1) Arsene recognises we need a keeper, 2) he’s proactively pursuing it.  Some fans seem a bit unimpressed by the potential arrival of Schwarzer, but I’m a big fan.  After the disastrous performance of Lukasz Fabianski at Blackburn, I said:

“There’s a reason goalkeepers don’t peak until their mid-thirties. There’s a reason United pick the ageing Van der Sar over promising Ben Foster. It’s a position where experience is key, and vulnerability all too debilitating. Arsene would be wise to look at getting a year or two from someone like Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer. The frustrating thing is we know he’d probably rather discover some francophonic unknown.”

It’s good to know Arsene reads the blog.  Anyway, as things stand, Fulham have told us Schwarzer is not available for sale, and with a year remaining on his deal we have to respect that.  However, if they can find a suitable replacement, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were suddenly keen to sell and turn a profit on a 37-year old Bosman signing.

One player who has moved in the opposite direction is Philippe Senderos.  Although he had an occasionally torrid time at Arsenal, he’s still very young for a centre-back, and if Roy Hodgson stays at Fulham will be working with a manager far better suited to make the most of his potential.  Good luck to him.

Bye for now.

Groundblog Day

Add comment June 7th, 2010

I have, you probably won’t have noticed, been a little quiet over the last few days.  Well, frankly, I’ve had little to say: I wake up every morning to variations upon the same headlines.  It goes pretty much as follows:





It really is all getting pretty dull now.

The Fabregas situation shows no signs of ending.  Baseless reports this morning suggest we’d be willing to see for around £50m, but it strikes me that Barca are a long way off producing such a figure.  Xavi is continuing to attempt to seduce Cesc with all the subtlety of the Yorkshire Ripper, whilst Joan Laporta now has only a week or so to conclude the deal under his presidency.  A change of regime could conclude the Catalan club’s interest, but that is probably just wishful thinking.

Laurent Koscielny might be a very good footballer.  He’s regarded as one of the best centre-halves in Ligue 1 – a division notable for its dearth of goals.  I, for one, have never heard of him.  If he does arrive, I hope it’s to replace Silvestre rather than Gallas, if you catch my drift.  We need some experience in our backline.

As for Joe Cole, I will only say the following: if he is signing for Arsenal, I suspect the deal will already be done.  This summer of all summers we can ill afford to let a player ponder a decision for over a month, forcing us to put other potential signings on the back-burner.  The situation reminds me of a story I heard on the radio the other day: a somewhat geeky man was told by a stunning girl he believed to be out of his league that she liked him.  In his attempt to play it cool, he fumbled and said, “I’ll mull it over”.  Don’t mull it over, Joe.  Just sign, be done with it, and enjoy the World Cup.

Which, frankly, is exactly what I’m looking forward to doing.  It’s pretty close now.

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