Archive for January, 2011

Captain Fabtastic saves the second string

6 comments January 31st, 2011

Arsenal 2 – 1 Huddersfield (Bendtner 21, Lee 66, Fabregas (pen) 86)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

We ought to begin with crediting Huddersfield…
They were outstanding at the Emirates, and can rightly feel aggrieved to have lost.  There was a period in the second half when we were as under the cosh as we’ve looked this season, and when they equalised there appeared to be only one probable winner.  But then we introduced Cesc Fabregas – and the rest is (admittedly very recent) history.

There is a chasm emerging with the squad…
…between those that are first choice, and those that are not.  The eleven players who were picked to face Chelsea around a month ago have gone from strength-to-strength, boosted by the catalytic effect of that crucial victory.  However, their excellence means that when we do rotate, we suffer by comparison.  Yesterday the ‘squad players’ failed to impress yet again.

We look particularly weak in defence…
That won’t be a surprise to anyone, but whilst our attacking options remains fairly interchangeable, it is imperative that our first choice back four stays fit.  Sebastien Squillaci’s return ended in a red card, and he hardly put a foot right before that.

There are problems at full-back too.  Emmanuel Eboue may play to the crowd by giving his shirt and shorts away at the end of every appearance, but it doesn’t hide his deficiencies – he isn’t even close to challenging Sagna as first-choice.  Worryingly, I believe a suspension to Sagna means Eboue will start the first leg against Barca.  Brace yourselves, readers.

Kieran Gibbs, meanwhile, is in an awkward position – it’s hard to see how he can develop without getting regular games, yet we’re too reliant on him as back-up for Clichy to let him go out on loan.

Marouane Chamakh needs a goal…
In the first third of the season he was absolutely outstanding.  Now, he suddenly finds himself getting less game time than Nicklas Bendtner.  Being withdrawn at half-time to cover for Squillaci’s sending off won’t have helped his confidence – he needs to add to his tally of 10 for the season as soon as possible.

Nicklas Bendtner has the confidence every striker needs…
I understand some of the criticism of our Danish dumpling.  His first touch is occasionally heavier than the weight of expectation his own words emburden him with.  However, his confidence – arrogance even – is essential for a player in his position.

I spent some time last week with former Liverpool and Wales striker Ian Rush.  On the subject of goalscoring, he stressed the most important thing was never to let a miss bother you – you just move on to the next chance.  Michael Owen, he said, was such a great striker because he didn’t give a you-know-what about missing chances.  He just got up, and waited for the next one.  And so it was for Bendtner yesterday: when Nasri found him with a beautifully clipped pass about six yards out, he completely missed the ball.  Within moments, he was celebrating.  Such is football.  Such is Bendtner.

It was nice to see Almunia back…
He might not play many games between now and the season, but it’s good to have a senior member of the squad involved with the first-team once more.  It’s important to remember that whilst you might doubt his capabilities as keeper, he is a well-liked and ultimately very loyal member of the squad.  Alienating him entirely would not be a smart move on Arsene’s part.  What’s more, he did make one outstanding save.

Cesc was just brilliant…
When Huddersfield got their equaliser, I looked at the ten men in red and white.  Every single one of their heads were down.  There was no communication, no rallying, no urgency.  Then Cesc came on, and the whole dynamic of the game changed.  Huddersfield were terrified of him, and rightly so – within moments he had provided Bendtner with a couple of opportunities to run at their defence with beautifully-placed through-balls.  The penalty was calmness personified.  The man (for he is no longer a boy) is a winner, through-and-through.

The goal was followed by a fitting tribute to a much loved Arsenal man, Pat Boyle…
After tucking the penalty away, Cesc grabbed the ball, said a silent prayer, kissed the corner flag and pointed to the sky in honour of a man who carried out his duties at Arsenal with humility and class, right until the end.  RIP to a true Gooner.

Losing Nasri is a huge blow, but…
…there’s no point criticising Arsene for the decision to play him. It could have happened at any point, in any game. There is an onus now on Andrey Arshavin to step up and replace him. Fortunately, his performance yesterday had some signs of a return to form – including one hugely surprising last-ditch tackle inside our own penalty area.

Orient away is a fantastic draw…
A London derby at League One Orient’s Brisbane Road (capacity: 9,271) should be a fantastic occasion and a thrilling cup-tie.  What’s more, all things being even, we should win it.

I don’t expect any transfer activity today…
Ryo Miyachi’s loan move to Feyenoord could be confirmed, but other than that I expect it to be a quiet day on this side of North London – unlike on the other side, where Harry Redknapp appears to have found the cheat on Championship Manager and is throwing money around like a monkey playing monopoly.

I failed to mention the other day that Carlos Vela had joined West Bromin slightly shady circumstances, mind.  Hopefully he’s able to make an impact there and returns a better player.

Arsene says he’s still interested in securing a centre-back on loan, but if he hasn’t found one so far he’s unlikely to suddenly discover one today.  As for Alex Chamberlain, who looked tidy enough against Manchester United at the weekend, I think that one might wait until the summer.

Of course, if anything DOES happen, you know where you’ll hear about it: follow Gunnerblog on Twitter.

Squelchy and Diabolical are back!

12 comments January 28th, 2011

At last: we have more than two centre-backs

Don’t get overexcited: we haven’t signed anyone. Instead, Sebastien Squillaci is back from injury. It ought to be good news, but memories of some of his timid displays prior to succumbing to hamstring knack mean it fills me more with trepidation than triumphalism.

Abou Diaby will also make his customary ‘comeback appearance’, look quite good, then limp off clutching a random part of his leg.

In seriousness, it’s good to have them back. I hope we don’t need to see Squillaci out there too often, but Diaby could have an important role to play and give Jack Wilshere a vital breather every now and again.

Arshavin: It’s All In My Head

Various quotes from Andrey Arshavin have been floating about the internet over the past couple of days, like those bits of cellular debris you sometimes see in the corner of your eye. The diminutive Russian has spoke out about his form, which has been at best about as patchy as John Terry’s strange unfinished haircut.

The first thing to say is that it’s apparent in the Russian original article that the comment about “getting old” is intended as a joke. Though he may have mistakenly hit the nail on the head – in the attacking third of the field, that half-yard of pace is absolutely crucial.

I think, however, that this decline has been too swift for it to be physiological. It’s all in his head. His confidence is shot and he needs something to kickstart him. Perhaps his two assists in the week could provide something of a fillip. It’s no secret that I am in love with a big fan of the little Russian, as is Arsene. I think he’ll get more playing time at the weekend – Arsene did talk about using ‘shorter rotation’, after all…

More Loan Rangers

With the serious business approaching, Arsene has let several more fringe members of the squad go out on loan. Craig Eastmond has joined Millwall – if that doesn’t toughed him up nothing will – whilst Benik Afobe has extended his spell with Huddersfield Town. According to this article on, he hasn’t been given permission to play in this weekend’s FA Cup tie, which is odd because Sanchez Watt was allowed to do so when we faced Leeds. A suggestion, perhaps, that we rate Afobe as a brighter prospect than Sanchez.

Young Guns has a story about Ryo Miyachi joining Feyenoord on loan. That’d be a good move for him, assuming he got any game-time. We’re still waiting for Carlos Vela to choose between Bolton and sunny Spain. I’ll repeat: if he leaves England now, he’s probably gone for good.

Arsenal’s Twitterati

What with it being 2011, which is basically The Future, more and more Arsenal players are now over on Twitter. In recent weeks, Bacary Sagna, Robin van Persie, and Samir Nasri have all joined the mass ranks of chattering.

However, one man is conspicuous by his absence: Emmanuel Eboue. Reportedly the dressing room’s most natural entertainer, the public should not be denied the presence of this man in their social media landscape. Yesterday I gave birth to the hashtag: #eboueontwitter. Let the campaign begin.

Cesc You Can

Hop on over to Gunnerblog’s elder, swearier brother arseblog and you can have a crack at winning one of the new Cesc We Can t-shirts. Watch out though: the questions a real head-scratcher.  Alternatively, if you are a) impatient, or b) famously unlikely to win anything ever, then why not just buy one by clicking the fancy banner below?

That’s yer lot for today. Happy Friday, Gooners.

Time to end the wait. Cesc We Can.

308 comments January 26th, 2011

Arsenal 3 – 0 Ipswich (3-1 agg) (Bendtner 61, Koscielny 64, Fabregas 77)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

A change is afoot. Beating Ipswich was expected – necessary, even – but this feels bigger than that. Arsenal are on the verge of something they haven’t done in more than five years – lifting a trophy – and possibly at the edge of something even more significant.

As things stand, we’re still in contention for all four competitions on offer. It’s a feat unmatched anywhere else in England. We have tough competitors in each, particularly the Premier League and Champions League, but you get the sense that for the first time, Arsenal are not afraid.

Take last night. In years past a nervy Arsenal would doubtless have thrown men forward early on, leaving them vulnerable to Ipswich’s counter-attack. But last night, the team showed remarkable patience, waiting until the 61st minute for the goal which leveled the tie up and began to turn the tide to an onslaught of red and white.

When the breakthrough came, it showed something else: class. Wilshere’s lofted pass, Bendtner’s dragback and curled finish all spoke silently of the quality that underlines this current Arsenal squad.

If the second goal was unusual – a Koscielny header from Arshavin’s corner – then the third was even more quintessentially Arsenal. Cesc Fabregas broke from the halfway line before finding Andrey Arshavin in space. The Russian had had yet another one of ‘those’ games, but showed the intelligence and awareness to drive elegantly inside before slipping a reverse ball back in to Cesc’s path. The finish was inevitable.

If the goals brought relief, full-time brought jubilation. The critics will say, “it’s only the League Cup Final”. Tell that to the players. The relative ranking of this competition among our priorities hasn’t changed, but our attitude fundamentally has. The second we decided we wanted to win this competition – really wanted to win it – the stakes were raised.

There’s just no such thing as “only Wembley”. Whether it’s West Ham or Birmingham that we face, we’re all guaranteed a grand day out on February 27th. It’ll be our first final in the new stadium. It goes without saying that it’s been too long coming.

Arsenal need this. Pundits keep saying Arsenal need to win a trophy to get over their fear of losing. They’re wrong. Arsenal need to win a trophy to understood how good winning feels.

Winning is an addiction. Ask the 37-year old Ryan Giggs. Once you experience the elation of victory you just keep coming back for it. Win the Carling Cup and its yours for a year. But the long-term effects on the likes of Djourou, Song, Wilshere and Walcott could be beneficial well in to this decade.

Leading them out that day will Cesc Fabregas, and there won’t have been many prouder moments in his young career. After the same, Arsene picked him out for special praise:

“You could see in Cesc’s attitude that he’s hungry for it and overall I still believe that Cesc is a winner, a born winner who wants to win every day on the training pitch. It has a lot of meaning for him.”

For a man who is a “born winner” to have just one major club honour (the 2005 FA Cup) to his name simply isn’t right.

Between now and the end of the season, Fabregas and his cohorts have a chance to set that right. The Wembley Final falls bang in the middle of two titanic clashes with Barcelona. Get a decent result in the first leg, and what better fillip for the second could their be than raising some silverware above your head?

The team, club, and fans are united now under one banner. Hope. Believe. Achieve? Cesc We Can.

Oh, and there’s a t-shirt too.

It’s a new variation on an old design that proved particularly popular. Get yours now so you can be wearing it at Wembley. Or on your sofa, watching Andy Gray and Richard Keys Jamie Redknapp and some other mug on Sky.

I hope you like it. And enjoy today: bit by bit, this club is getting back where it belongs.


518 comments January 25th, 2011

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling, 1895

Come On You Gunners. Time to end the wait.

Ready Or Not: Alex Chamberlain

988 comments January 24th, 2011

In pre-season, we looked at a selection of some of our finest young talent to determine whether they were Ready Or Not for the step up to the big time.  Today, we’re casting our eye over a player who doesn’t even play for Arsenal.  Not yet, anyway.

In the light of Arsene Wenger’s recent comments, it seems that Alex Chamberlain (as I’m assured he prefers to be known) could soon be following Theo Walcott on the path from St. Mary’s to the Emirates.

After Arseblog thrust this informative piece under my eye, I sought out football writer and Southampton fan Simon Peach for a quick chat about the latest bright young thing of English football.  Enjoy.

Firstly Simon, are Southampton fans resigned to losing Chamberlain?
I guess so but that’s part and parcel of being a League One club and, more pertinently, a Saints fan as a whole. Even when we were in the Premier League our squad was being snaffled by supposedly bigger clubs. Saying that, we got £8million for Dean Richards so it’s not all bad.

What sort of impact has he made at Southampton this season?

Chamberlain has given us an added spark down the flanks, with an innate mixture of skill and speed that is unparalleled in our league. The lad is confident on the ball and has the ability to both score goals and assists others, which is clear to see through his stats. Yes, it may only be League One football but his rise to prominence forced established Football League winger Jason Puncheon out of the side. Puncheon subsequently went onto have an incredibly successful loan spell with Millwall in the Championship, which should show how good Chamberlain is already.

At what moment did his potential become obvious?
For me, it was the match against Oldham in October where he scored a superb winner. It was already clear by then that he was a precocious talent but that was the watershed moment.

You saw Theo Walcott emerge at a similar age: how does Chamberlain compare?
I was at Theo’s first-team debut and I don’t think I had ever been more excited by a player at the time. Despite the fact he was facing an experienced side in Wolves, he ran at their players, turned them inside out & produced chances. Theo had a certain swagger about him and that was clear in his fleeting appearances for Saints. Chamberlain also has that same kind of ability to run at players and innate fleet-footedness. It’s hard to say how important the pair were to the team as they were in vastly different circumstances, but both have burst onto the scene in an equally impressive manner. Only Gareth Bale’s impact has been similar in recent times.

What are his strengths?
Skill, control, vision, off the ball movement, teamwork and composure in front of goal. His athleticism and pace are also thoroughly impressive. However, I understand it is off the field where he really shines. I spoke to Rickie Lambert last week and he was incredibly positive about the lad, saying he is one of the most down to earth lads he has met. Rickie also said he was the best young talent he has seen in his 10 year career. Some recommendation.

Which current Premier League player would you compare him to?
Walcott would be the easiest comparison because they are similar in terms of background, progress & skillset. However, while I hate to draw on footballing cliches, Chamberlain’s brain seems a bit more switched on than Theo’s at the same age, although I guess that should come as no surprise given the stock he comes from. In addition, Alex shares a similar ability to stretch full backs to Bale.

Is he good enough to be considered for Arsenal’s first-team this season, or would he be better served by staying with Southampton until the summer?
He is good enough but should definitely remain at Saints. I know I am biased but surely Arsenal fans wouldn’t want another Walcott situation where an obviously talented youngster doesn’t progress as quickly as they should? With us he has the perfect place to both hone his skills and develop a taste for success, something I know Arsenal fans will be longing for. As good as he is, Alex has played professional football for six months. That’s it. Yes, his progress has been rapid but he will gain far more from playing League One football than sitting in Arsenal’s reserves.
Arsene obviously knows the benefits of loaning players from the hoards of youngsters he currently has farmed out up and down the English football pyramid and across Europe. Chamberlain could have an immediate impact as a super-sub at Arsenal but I believe his long-term impact will be greater if he can help Saints get promotion. We would be happy to have him next season as well, if it helps Arsenal…

It must be painful losing so many talented players so young. When you see Walcott playing in the Champions League or for England, do you feel pride in their Southampton roots?
I can’t speak on behalf of all Saints fans but for me it is frustration more than anything else. Few academy structures have produced such a conveyor belt of talent over the past decade. Even before that we had the likes of Alan Shearer, Matthew Le Tissier and so on. It is painful that our decline has been matched by an upsurge in fortunes for so many Saints alumni. If it wasn’t for mismanagement of the highest order then Saints could have pushed on from our FA Cup final appearance eight years ago and be regularly challenging for European places. Then again, there is some pride as Theo & Bale rightly get the headlines on behalf of Saints.

What would Saints fans consider a fair price for the lad?
If there is any truth in the £10million price being bandied about then I would be happy with that, especially if there are some add-ons involved. I would also like him to be loaned back to Saints and some kind of relationship built with Arsenal to take players on loan to help our rise back to the Premier League. For a player with just more than half a year’s experience in the third tier I don’t think we could ask for much more.

Thanks a lot to Simon for taking the time to answer those questions.  Some glowing praise there.  And if you’re not convinced, just take a look at the evidence yourself:

Ready or not?  Between now and the end of the transfer window, we could get an answer.

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