Archive for September, 2011

Stan breaks silence as Arsene hits 15 years

27 comments September 30th, 2011

Until now, the most we’ve heard from Stan Kroenke was a fictitious rap rant at Arsene Wenger.  Finally, he has broken his silence to give an exclusive interview to The Telegraph.  It is a fascinating and essential read.  What’s immediately clear is that Stan comes across as undeserving of his “silent” epithet – he seems warm, conversational and good-humoured.  I think his silence until now has been down to two things: a desire not to disrupt those who run the club day-to-day, and a geographical distance.

The headlines have been made by his declared support for Arsene Wenger.  Kroenke says:

“You know something: Arsène is one of my favourite people I have met in the last 20 years. He is a great person and I love the way he handles himself. I love his focus. He is a very intelligent guy. You can talk to him about anything and, when he starts talking to people, I really love to listen to him. He should hold seminars he is so good at it.

I have tremendous confidence in him. He is one of the great managers in the world.”

That vote of confidence, very much along the lines of Ivan Gazidis’ words to the press last week, won’t surprise anyone.  And as a businessman, his admiration for Arsene’s ability to “spend money and extract value” is clear.

Whilst he would clearly prefer to marry economic stability with success on the pitch (“It’s much more fun when you win”), after the sales of Cesc and Nasri – both deals, apparently, were Arsene’s decision – the new owner seems to be admitting that we may be in a period of transition.

“Maybe it is one of those times when we have to work our way through, maybe with some young players. Arsène has been really good at developing these guys, people like Alex Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere.There are some really good players that Arsène thinks can be special.

Sometimes you go through periods like that. Arsène’s our man. As an owner, that’s who we put our confidence in.”

Anyone hoping for a quick-fix injection of cash is going to be disappointed.  Kroenke is not about to play the generous benefactor, and hopes to continue with the club’s current model of self-sufficiency:

“Some people want their private benefactor. I don’t think it is sustainable. Maybe it is, maybe it [football] will always be the one place where there will be guys coming who are willing to pour money in. I don’t know. We have a self-sustaining model. We are committed to that model.”

In the meantime, he’ll be working alongside Gazidis to try and increase commercial revenue and increase our spending power in line with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations.

All in all, I think Kroenke comes across well.  He’s got a huge track record in sport, which is more than can be said for the majority of foreign owners, and is clearly passionate about the club and its values.  I look forward to his presence at Arsenal’s forthcoming AGM.

The quotes emerge on a significant anniversary for Arsenal Football Club.  It is 15 years to the day since Arsene Wenger officially took the reins as Arsenal manager.  It’s an extraordinary legacy, comprising an enormous contribution to English football in terms of both entertainment and education.  At this auspicious date falls, Arsene finds himself under great scrutiny than ever.  As Kroenke puts it:

“There are always going to be people with a point of view, particularly in this internet-laden 24-hour news cycle with the ability for anyone to say anything. That’s just part of the game. Sure it is a challenging start to the season. I know everyone thinks it is always going to be like that [pointing upwards], but it’s not. We would all love it if it did.

If you look at the Arsenal’s history, it has not always been that way. To finish in the top four 14 times in a row is just unbelievable.”

Unbelievable indeed.  We will look back on Arsene’s reign in awe.  Win on Sunday, and we might even start enjoying it in the present again.

Arsenal 2 – 1 Olympiacos: Arsenal Avoid Greek Tragedy

238 comments September 29th, 2011

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wheels away after opening the scoring against Olympiacos

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s Pat’s reaction

Arsenal picked up their first win of the Champions League group stage last night, meaning we were the only English side to win in Europe’s premier competition this week.  We also now have more Champions League points than Manchester City and Manchester United combined.

Arsene gambled a little with his team selection, and got away with it.  I support his decision, and would have done even if it had backfired.  We have a huge squad now, as the fact that even with the amount of injuries we’re carrying we were able to rest players demonstrates.  The XI he picked was plenty strong enough to win this game at home.

With that said, I think we all may have been guilty of underestimating Olympiacos a little.  Granted, we don’t see much of them in England, but I thought they were great last night – all technically capable, and organised too.  They were smart in their tactical play, looking to break against our attacking midfield, and closing down Mikel Arteta whenever he got the ball.  Their goal was the result of some intelligent thinking: recognising that we’re adapting to a new zonal marking system, they threw a spanner in the works by taking short corners.  Frankly, we looked as if he hadn’t covered that situation in training yet.

They looked the more dangerous side for long periods of the game, but fortunately we were already two goals ahead thanks to strikes from two recent signings.  First, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his impression adaptation to top-level football by dribbling inside from the right and firing left-footed across the goalkeeper to become the youngest ever English goalscorer in the Champions League.  The second and third youngest, in case you’re wondering, are Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere.

Andre Santos’ goal also came off his wrong foot.  He galloped forward to meet a Tomas Rosicky through-ball, but his cross for Chamakh was cut out.  When the ball rebounded back to the cavalier left-back, he skipped in side his man and knocked a right-footed effort in at the keeper’s near post.

We did struggle to retain possession at times – Emmanuel Frimpong looking particularly raw in midfield – and Olympiacos gave us the fright of our lives by striking the crossbar from range in the second-half with an effort that probably deserved better – but we held out for the win.

There were plenty of positives for me, particularly with the makeshift centre-half pairing of Song and Mertesacker.  Song was tenacious and calm on the ball, and the German had his best game in an Arsenal shirt.  I’ve noticed an interesting trend in his play: unlike most Arsenal centre-halves, he doesn’t charge straight towards the ball.  At times he backs away or runs in to an area which seems to make no sense – only to be perfectly positioned to clear when the cross comes in.  He’s economical and efficient – at times last night he knew when his best option was just to boot the thing away.

I also felt Santos played well, and the battle between he and Kieran Gibbs looks set to run and run.  Santos has a remarkable upright dribbling style – his touch is immaculate and last night he showed some steel to match the flair.

It’d be impossible not to mention Chamberlain.  Although I felt he faded before being withdrawn on the hour mark, it’s clear we’ve got a huge talent here.  The most obvious comparisons to make are with Theo Walcott – not just because of their Southampton heritage, but because they’re competing for the same spot in the team.  Last night Pat Rice said:

“From Arsenal supporters’ point of view, they are going to be seeing a lot of this boy. Whenever he breaks in permanently he has a big, big challenge to now get in front of Theo. I know that Theo is a very strong-willed guy as well and he won’t give in easy. It all bodes well for England anyway.”

For England – and, more to the point, for Arsenal.

In summary: we won.  United’s home draw with Basel shows how treacherous these games against ‘lesser’ opposition can be.  The Greek league is significantly stronger than the Swiss, and we came out on top.  I’m happy with that and you ought to be too.

Olympiacos Preview: Song on defensive duty

92 comments September 28th, 2011

Hide the women, children, and Ryo Miyaichi. The Olympiakons are coming. Arsenal’s second match of the group stage sees us play host to the Greek Champions, who come to London on the back of a 100% start to the season to face what they’ll doubtless consider a vulnerable Arsenal side. For our part, we’ll be looking to put together a run of three straight wins in all competitions ahead of Spurs on Sunday.

I confess to not knowing a vast amount about our opponents tonight. I’m told they’ll mirror Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and there’ll be a familiar face at centre-half in the furry shape of former Aston Villa skipper Olof Mellberg. A few insightful tweeters have tipped me off about tricksy Algerian winger Djamel Abdoun, who will try to cause Kieran Gibbs problems on the right-flank.

Gibbs will form part of a makeshift back four. An ankle problem for Laurent Koscielny means that we’re now without Thomas Vermaelen, Koscielny, Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci. Had we not signed Per Mertesacker on deadline day, we’d now be without a recognised senior centre-half. Unsurprisingly, Ignasi Miquel is out too, so the German international is likely to be partnered by Alex Song.

Song’s place in the midfield will be taken by one of Frimpong or Coquelin, with Ramsey and Arteta fulfilling the more creative roles. Knee and hamstring problems mean Gervinho and Walcott are absent on the flanks, so Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky are the men most likely to provide support for centurion skipper Van Persie. The boss has yet again stepped forward to defend Arshavin, and I have to say I think he’s started this season significantly better than last. The Champions League has been the stage for some of his best Arsenal performances, and hopefully can prove so again tonight.

There is an outside chance that the 18-year old Alex Chamberlain will get a chance on the wing ahead of Rosicky. Even if he doesn’t start, he could well make his European debut from the bench.

Of tonight’s absentees Koscielny, Walcott, Gervinho, Djourou and Benayoun all have a chance to be in the squad for Spurs. One man who doesn’t is Jack Wilshere, with Arsene confirming he’s expected to miss 22 weeks as he recovers from ankle surgery. As frustrating as it is in the short term, we ought to be buoyed by the news that the operation was successful, and recognise that rest now will benefit both player and club in the long-term.

One final thing: it is a sad indictment of the lack of faith in the current squad that after his refusal to come on as substitute for Man City last night, I received several emails from Arsenal fans suggesting we should sign Carlos Tevez. Never, never, never. Whilst the player’s conduct makes him a disgrace to his profession, City in part brought it on themselves by entering in to a deal with the devil and his familiar – Joorabchian and Tevez. I feel confident that Arsenal will never make the same mistake.

We picked up a valuable point in Dortmund, but qualification is almost always decided by home form. Three points tonight will put us in a good position in the group ahead of the international break. Come On You Gunners…

RVP contract story is something we’ll have to get used to

43 comments September 26th, 2011

You might think a 3-0 win and a century of Robin van Persie goals would be enough to earn Arsenal some positive headlines this Monday morning.  If you did, you’d be wrong.  And very very naive.  Arsenal are a side “in crisis”, and so tradition dictates that even a positive result will be spun in the most unfavourable manner possible.

The Sun joins the fun

In this instance, the chosen stick to beat us with is that of Robin van Persie’s contractual situation.  As you’ll all know by now, he has less than two years to run on his existing deal, and is hardly in a rush to discuss a new one:

“I still have almost two years left, so for the moment that’s fine. I’m happy with my contract. I can’t look into the future. I can’t see us talking now because we are so busy.”

And who can blame him?  This is an Arsenal side beginning yet another period of transition.  Van Persie held a meeting with Arsene Wenger this summer in which he asked for reassurances about investment in the squad following the sales of Fabregas and Nasri.  That process has begun, and he’ll want to see if and how it continues in January.  More importantly, he’ll want to know if he has a chance of playing Champions League football next season.

RVP’s next contract is likely to be the last major deal of his career.  With the early part of his development so stunted by injuries, it could cover the period in which stands as the peak of his powers.  He’ll want to make sure he gives himself a chance of winning the trophies befitting of his talent before it’s too late – ideally at Arsenal, but potentially elsewhere.

I sympathise with his position.  It’s not like Samir Nasri, who left aged 24 and yet to achieve his full potential at Arsenal. Van Persie has given good service, and 100 goals in to the bargain.  If he goes, it will be with a heavy heart.  It’s up to the club and the manager to give one of the remaining jewels in our crown a reason to stay.

I don’t expect any major negotiations to take place until after Christmas, and there may not be a decision until next summer.  There were some stories circulating that City could come in for RVP in January, but those are most likely the work of RVP’s representative Darren Dein, who will be doing his utmost to stir the proverbial pot and make sure wherever RVP signs his new deal, it’s more as much cash as is humanly possible.

There’s plenty of other, less disconcerting stuff to read about Van Persie today.  In this piece Arsene compares his positional play to that of Messi, whilst here RVP talks through some of his favourite goals.

Finally, a nod to arseblogger, who turns 40 today.  On the day of his birth, back in 1971, Maltese outfit Sliema Wanderers beat Icelandic side IA Akranes by four goals to nil in the UEFA European Cup first round first leg.  In every sense, a momentous day for football.

Centurion RVP helps Arsenal vanquish Bolton

126 comments September 25th, 2011

RVP celebrates his 100th Arsenal goal

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

In the circumstances, this was just the result we needed.  Three goals, three points, a clean sheet, and a landmark moment for the talismanic Robin van Persie.

At half-time, the result was still very much in the balance.  It was 0-0, and Wojciech Szczesny had produced an outstanding early save to keep his sheet clean.  Arsenal should have gone ahead when Mikel Arteta played in Gervinho, but the Ivorian’s touch was too heavy and the ball ran through to Jussi Jääskeläinen.

Bolton were marking very tight in midfield and Arteta seemed to be carrying all the creative responsibility.  Aaron Ramsey was having little impact, and Walcott and Gervinho struggled for space on the flanks.  Despite missing Gary Cahill through illness, Bolton looked secure at the back and a threat on the break.

Occasionally, Arsene Wenger’s critics accuse him of lacking tactical acumen.  However, his post-match explanation of his half-time team-talk instantly dispels that myth:

“I felt that in the first half we were a bit impatient sometimes, that we didn’t move the ball quickly enough, that our midfielders came a bit deep because we were man-marked. That exposed us a bit to counter-attacking and we had less support up front. In the second half, maybe because they were fatigued as well, our midfielders played higher up and we became straight away more dangerous.”

Our second half display was also helped by two things that settled our obvious nerves: an early goal, and a sending off for Bolton.  First, Van Persie finished superbly from a narrow angle after the referee waived play on when Gervinho was brought down in midfield.  Then David Wheater was dismissed for tugging back Theo Walcott after he’d been played in by an improving Ramsey.

It was a game in which we saw the good and the bad of Walcott.  He showcased his electrifying pace, racing behind the defence to leave Wheater fatally training, and reaching a Ramsey pass to cross for RVP to nudge home his second goal of the game and 100th for Arsenal.  He also showed just why he frustrates, missing a couple of glaring opportunities – one when set clean through by the impressive Alex Song.  On balance it was an effective display, and Arsene will hoping that the knee injury which forced him to limp off is not too serious.

It was that second goal, created by Walcott, that killed the game, and made for a fantastic landmark for Van Persie.  He joins sixteen other Arsenal centurions in passing the milestone, and his pride in doing so will only be tempered by the thought of how many he might have were it not for a succession of injuries.

Alex Song gabbed a deserved late third, stepping inside his man to curl in to the top corner.  The three points mean that a win at White Hart Lane next weekend would take us above them in the league – as if any more incentive for a North London Derby were needed.

I thought there were plenty of positives to take from today’s game, albeit against ten men.  Mikel Arteta continues to look every inch the class act we hoped he would be, and Alex Song appears to be stepping up to the midfield mantle with some incisive passing to match his essential physical presence.

At the back we coped well with the supposed threat of Kevin Davies, on as an early sub for the injured N’Gog.  Mertesacker and Koscielny were happy to let Davies win the majority of long-balls; they got tight enough to him to prevent him bringing the ball down, and were able to intercept the second ball every time.  For all the headers Davies won, barely a single one reached a team-mate.

Our concentration at set-pieces was better too.  It was heartening that when defending a corner in stoppage time, at 3-0 up, Wojciech Szczesny was bellowing at his team-mates to concentrate.  A clean sheet will do the defence a world of good.

Next up it’s Olympiakos in the Champions League.  Another home game, and a chance to maintain that momentum ahead of that crucial derby game a week today.

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