Archive for October, 2010

Arsenal could never buy Wayne Rooney – in real life…

259 comments October 21st, 2010

Arsene Wenger is a self-professed admirer of Wayne Rooney.  Ever since the teenager announced himself to the football world with a stunning goal against us at Goodison Park, the Frenchman has been clear about his enthusiasm for the nation’s brightest footballing talent.  When Rooney left Everton, however, we weren’t in a position to get near either Newcastle or United’s bid.  And what’s more, it wouldn’t have mattered: Rooney is a north-west boy, and United was always destined to be his club.

Well, not always.  The events of recent days have seen the spectacular implosion of Rooney’s status as a United hero.  His fall from grace has been as spectacular as his rise to prominence.  Last night’s match at Old Trafford witnessed the unfurling of banners calling Rooney everything from a “whore” to a “disgrace”.  He’s adamant he wants to leave, and I’m not sure he’d be welcomed back.  The love affair, it seems, is over.

It raises the question of just where Rooney’s footballing future lies.  The obvious candidates are Real Madrid, who carry the bargaining chip of Karim Benzema, and Manchester City, for whom the word ‘bargaining’ is anathema.  However, given our manager’s clear and stated regard for the player, it’s not surprising that he’s been asked if he’d be interested in a potential bid.

I think, realistically, everyone knows it won’t happen.  Rooney’s exorbitant demands rule us out of the running.  It’s become clear he’s more motivated by money than many of us imagined.  What’s more, Arsene insists we have a surplus of forwards, and with the likes of Van Persie, Chamakh, Bendtner, Vela, Walcott and Arshavin all on the books, it’s easy to see his point.

Many fans will be relieved: they wouldn’t want someone of Rooney’s character diminishing our great club.  Others will be disappointed, feeling that his aggression and goalscoring knack are just what we need.  In real life, however, they’ll never be asked to make a choice.

In real life.

The great thing about the Football Manager series is that it’s not real life.  It’s fantasy.  It allows you to play out these scenarios: to sell Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie and launch a big-money bid for Rooney.  To shun Rooney and persevere with youth.  To switch from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, or even to re-sign Robert Pires.

We love football for what happens on the pitch, but we also love it for what doesn’t.  We love it for the fantasy, for the possibility.  Why do you think transfer windows bring the most traffic to this website?  Not because my writing gets better, that’s for sure.  It’s because we are drawn in by the the tantalising prospect of imagining how our club, our team, might look by the end of it.  We’re all armchair managers.  FM allows us to indulge that.

Thanks to Mirror Football you can now download the demo of Football Manager 11 early from the Mirror Football website. It’s a great opportunity to have hands-on go at the best football management game out there.  And despite the fact that this is a ‘Sponsored Post’, I’m under no obligation to say that.  I love this game.

If you prefer to game online, why not check out Mirror Football Goals.

Sponsored Post

In other, less sponsored news, Arsenal today held their AGM.  Whilst a move for Rooney remains mere fantasy – and I can’t say I’m too disappointed about that – Arsene has confirmed he does have money to spend in the January transfer window.

The only circumstances in which I can envisage that happening would be if we were struck by an injury crisis.  Hopefully our concerns there could be about to clear up, with the news that Thomas Vermaelen is only a few weeks away from returning.  He’s a vital player for the team, but it’s a testament to the squad maintenance undertaken this summer that we haven’t missed him all that much.  Squillaci, Koscielny and Djourou provide a reliability and depth that we’ve lacked in recent seasons.

The major headlines generated by today’s meeting have surrounded Cesc Fabregas.  Speaking about the Spaniard’s future, Arsene said:

“Fabregas is a player who deeply loves the Club believe me.

I believe he wants to win with this Club. For how long I don’t know, but I hope for many years. He is part of our potential to win and for how well we will do.

You can understand he has an attraction to the club where he grew up. But I’m confident we will keep him for a few more years.”

It’s a bold statement.  Many sections of the media, myself included (although admittedly I am but an amateur), assumed that Arsenal’s resistance to Barcelona’s interest could only hold them off for twelve months.  It’s a pattern we’ve seen before: Thierry Henry stayed only to leave the following summer.  Cristiano Ronaldo agreed to remain at United but departed after a year.  Even Ashley Cole stayed at Arsenal under similar circumstances before joining Chelsea.

The difference between those situations, and indeed the one United are experiencing with Rooney, has been Cesc’s consummate professionalism.  There haven’t been any strops or any ultimatums: he’s just got on with observing his contract and representing the club in the best way he can.  As long as he continues to do so, he’ll remain in London.  The player can always force a move if he decides to abandon his respect for his current employer.  That just doesn’t feel like a very Cesc thing to do.  When he does go, it will be amicable.

Finally today, Robert Pires has been linked with a move to Crawley Town.  In a brilliantly opaque and hopefully intentionally hilarious Arsenal-esque statement, Crawley have said:

“It is not our policy to comment on transfer speculation.

“We only announce our signings when they are confirmed, which was exactly when we signed Matt Tubbs and Richard Brodie.”

I’m glad to see there’s still a sense of humour in football.

“Wilshere is underused in holding midfield”

300 comments October 20th, 2010

Arsenal 5 – 1 Shakhtar Donetsk (Song 19, Nasri 42, Fabregas 59 (pen), Wilshere 66, Chamakh 69, Eduardo 82)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

I was surprised by how bad Shakhtar were…
All the talk before the game was of an attacking side with a strong South American influence.  Instead, their main tactical ploy seemed to be to knock the ball between goalkeeper and defenders in a desperate attempt to prevent an Arsenal counter-attack.  On a night where our front three were without the pace of Eboue, Walcott and Arshavin, it was a misguided and unsuccessful strategy.

They plotted their own downfall…
…with some Arsenal-esque moments of defensive sloppiness.  First their keeper inexplicably Fabianski’d, allowing Alex Song to score from close range, and then a missed interception from Srna was punished by an outstanding piece of control and finishing from Samir Nasri.  As for the foul on Johan Djourou for the penalty, it was pure stupidity: just moments before, the referee had warned the Shakhtar defenders about the risks of such blatant holding.

Arsenal’s first half performance was strangely subdued.
It sounds odd considering we went in at 2-0 ahead, but in the first period we never really gelled.  The main reason, I expect, was the rusty form of Cesc Fabregas.  Cesc played in the number 10 role, but didn’t have either the magical first touch or tireless energy we’ve become accustomed to.  An hour under his belt will be helpful preparation for the more significant test of Manchester City on Sunday.

Alex Song was the star of the first 45…
… with a goal and an assist to his name.  He did, however, get lucky with both.  His cross for Samir Nasri was deflected, whilst his rabona-style attempt at goal on our opener cannoned off a defender, hit Song again, and bobbled in.  Song’s fancy flick was a little symptomatic of a degree of over-elaboration creeping in to his game: he is at his best when he keeps it simple, and would do well to remember it.

Samir Nasri now has six goals in his last six games.
I think so, anyway.  Either way, that tally takes him and Chamakh clear as our joint top-goalscorers.  Nasri had an outstanding pre-season, and whilst he hasn’t been able to play in the central role he craves as much as he’d like, has been very productive in the final third.  His clipped pass for Chamakh’s goal was a repeat of the impudent flick he produced to allow Cesc Fabregas to stab home a similar goal last season.  That’s the mark of a great technician: the ability to consistently recreate moments that others could only stumble upon through improvisation.

Jack Wilshere is underused in holding midfield.
I understand why he plays there for now: when you’ve got Cesc Fabregas as your playmaker, others will of course have to shuffle in to less-than-deal positions.  However, within minutes of switching to a more advanced role, he had scored his first goal of the season, ending a precision move by dinking the ball over the keeper.  Doubtless Jack has the discipline and intelligence to play deep, but as time moves forward so will he: he can be decisive in and around the penalty area, and those players are rare.

Eduardo’s entrance and goal were touching.
I was slightly curmudgeonly about the whole affair yesterday – it was easier to be sentimental about it all when we were 5-0 up.  His finish was typically astute, but it’s worth pointing out the game was essentially dead by then.  The players’ minds were already looking ahead to a massive game at the weekend: Man City away.

More on that in the coming days.

Shakhtar XI: Why risk Cesc? We’ve got Jack.

6 comments October 19th, 2010

Let’s start with the big news: the captain is back.  Arsene Wenger said in yesterday’s press conference:

“Cesc is available.  He is good and has prepared well.

He had a little setback but got over the hurdle and is ready to play at full fitness.

I do not know yet whether I start him or not but he is available. It will be [determined by] whether I take a gamble or not, because he has been out for a long time.”

Immediately my reaction is to say: why gamble?  It isn’t necessary.  We’re not desperate for Champions League points, and in Jack Wilshere we have a player in good form, perfectly capable of fulfilling the playmaking role.

Cesc’s halting start to the season has seen him begin only four games.  We need to ease him back in, and that means he should start on the bench tonight.  Half an hour against Shakhtar will be good preparation for Sunday’s clash with Man City, where he will be more urgently needed.

Taking that in to consideration, this would be my XI for tonight’s game:

Injuries to Vermaelen, Koscielny and Sagna leave little opportunity for rotation in the back-four, but I would give Kieran Gibbs another chance to impress at left-back.  In midfield, I’d give Wilshere the muscular support of Diaby and Song, though it’s equally possible one of those could drop out in favour of Denilson.

No outfield player has played more games than Andrey Arshavin, and judging by his performance on Saturday, it’s starting to tell.  He could do with a rest, so Tomas Rosicky will probably come in to take up the Russian’s role on he left-flank.  Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott are both in the squad, but I’d be amazed if either was entrusted with a starting spot, either tonight or on Sunday.

Of course, much of the focus tonight will be on the return of Eduardo.  The man himself has been quick to say he won’t celebrate a goal tonight.  Personally, I hope that will be because he doesn’t score.  I’ve got a lot of time for him, both as a player and a man, but I’d rather we kept a clean sheet than sentimentally hope he scores.

One man who won’t be involved tonight is Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who banged in a hatrick in a Reserves League game against West Ham this afternoon.  Perhaps he’ll get his chance in next week’s Carling Cup tie at Newcastle.

Another youngster, Vito Mannone, has been sent to Hull on loan until January.  One can only assume Arsene has chosen Hull as punishment for Mannone’s outburst a few weeks back.

Right, tonight is my first trip to the Emirates in too long.  Work has kept me unreasonably busy, and despite the rain, I can’t wait to head out.  Come On You Gunners.

Tempering Jack’s Temper

173 comments October 18th, 2010

Arsenal 2 – 1 Birmingham (Zigic 33, Nasri 41 (pen), Chamakh 47)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Let me start by making clear that I didn’t see the ninety minutes against Birmingham.  I’ve only seen the Match of the Day Highlights posted above.  I’m assured there were controversial incidents which the BBC, as has become customary, overlooked: an Eboue lunge and a Zigic elbow, among others.

However, they did make room for the two main conversation points: a penalty awarded in our favour, and Jack Wilshere’s red card.

Let me deal first with the dismissal of Wilshere. Indisputably, a red card was the correct punishment for a wild challenge. I think all Arsenal fans have a responsibility to condemn poor challenges made by our own players if we’re going to be so quick to criticise the Shawcross’ and Henrys of this world.

Here’s another look at the challenge in question:

Wilshere’s miscontrol took the ball away from him, and frustration, recklessness, and desperation led him to lunge in. His studs were raised, and although they didn’t make contact with Zigic’s shin, punishment has to handed out according to risk rather than result. It’s a red card.

As Goodplaya pointed out on Saturday evening, this had been coming for a while.  I refer you to Gunnerblog’s Ready Or Not feature on Jack Wilshere, published before the season even kicked off.  Bolton fan Boris warned us this might happen:

“One bad point is his tackling – they obviously don’t practice getting the ball off opponents legally at your training ground. With Arsenal players it’s usually either a horror tackle or a complete miss, and Wilshere’s no exception.”

His dismissal should teach Jack a lesson he needs to learn.  He’s not dirty, but he’s naive and careless in the challenge.  Paul Scholes never made the necessary adjustment to his game, and he’s the fifth most booked player in Premier League history.  If Jack wants to avoid the same fate, he needs to curb his temper whilst retaining his enthusiasm.  His post-match comments suggest he knows as much.

He’ll miss our next three domestic games, and the rest will do him good.  The probable return of Cesc Fabregas will also cushion the blow of losing the player who did most to undo a stubborn Birmingham side.

After falling behind to a headed goal from Nikola Zigic – we struggle to cope with 5ft strikers, let alone ones approaching 7ft – Wilshere and Chamakh were the men at the heart of the recovery.  Their one-two saw the ball break to Chamakh, who nicked it away from Scott Dann and tumbled over his challenge to win a penalty for the fifth time in just eleven games.  It’s a remarkable record, explained in part by the fact that the Moroccan has a tendency to go to ground a little easy.  On this occasion he was tumbling to the floor before the contact with Dann’s outstretched boot.  It was gamesmanship, and an unnecessary exaggeration of a foul that would probably have been given regardless.

Samir Nasri stepped up to take the penalty, suggesting he has superceded Andrey Arshavin in the spot-kick pecking order.  He showed why with a sumptuous finish in to the bottom corner.

The goal took Nasri level with Arshavin on five goals this season.  They were soon joined on that tally by Chamakh, who latched on to Wilshere’s through-ball inside the Birmingham penalty area.  Stephen Carr’s aborted challenge looked like a glitch on a computer game – the ball was there to be won and his tackle never came, allowing Chamakh to saunter past, spin around the goalie and sidefoot home.

Wilshere’s red card and our lack of sharpness in the final third made it a tense finish, but we got the three points we needed.  With Chelsea and United both slumping to draws, it was vital we took advantage with a home victory.

United continued their erratic form by letting a two goal lead slip at home to West Brom.  I know the Baggies beat us only a fortnight ago, but for me United’s result was further proof that this is one of Alex Ferguson’s softest-centred sides.  We might not win the title, but we ought to finish above them this season.  There aren’t really any excuses.

It’s Shakhtar at home on Tuesday: a tie which promises the return of Eduardo, possible starts for Cesc, Bendtner and Theo, and your last chance to see wee Jack in action before the month is out.

Bendtner is back, and he’s bringing proper football with him

25 comments October 15th, 2010

Absence, as we know, makes the heart grow fonder.  The most commonplace things take on a special significance when missed.  It’s this kind of nostalgia that sees horrific eighties shows like ‘Bullseye’ revered as long lost cultural treasures, when in fact they are, and always were, rubbish.

I use this analogy as a preface to my excitement about the return of Nicklas Bendtner.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the big Dane, and yet I don’t doubt we’ve missed him.  After being out with a groin injury since the World Cup, he is preparing to make his first appearance of the season tomorrow against former loan club Birmingham.

Arsene has suggested that injuries severely hampered Bendtner last season, but he did produce some very important goals:

Whilst he’s certainly fallen behind Marouane Chamakh in the pecking order, Bendtner’s versatility and physicality will make him an important part of the squad over the coming months – especially with the news that Robin van Persie could miss another month.

Theo Walcott is also back, although I’d be surprised if either he or Bendtner starts.  The bad news is that Laurent Koscielny joins Thomas Vermaelen on the sidelines, so another former Brum loanee, Johan Djourou, will come in to partner Sebastien Squillaci.

Cesc Fabregas is still out.  A few conspiracy theorists have suggested his absence is related to his recent comments about our lack of a ‘winning mentality’ – whilst Arsene has been unsurprisingly quick to refute such suggestions, the idea that Cesc would be left out for such a mild assessment of our problems is absurd.  A set-back to his hamstring injury is more likely at the root of his failure to take part.

To hear me talk about Cesc, Birmingham, the return of Alex Hleb and more, check out today’s Arsecast.

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