Archive for October, 2011

Vermaelen signs on as Arsenal head to the Velodrome

726 comments October 19th, 2011

On the eve of their tie with Marseille, Arsenal announced some fantastic news: Thomas Vermaelen has signed a long-term deal with the club.  Perhaps mindful of the debt he owes the club after missing the best part of a year with an assortment of injuries, he has become the first of a group of players involved in negotiations – Song, Walcott, Van Persie, Arshavin – to actually put pen to paper.

Vermaelen said:

“I am really happy to have signed a new contract with Arsenal. I always had the intention to stay here. I feel there is a big belief in me from the Club, from the boss and from the fans and that is one of the reasons why I stayed. Arsenal is a fantastic Club. We have great supporters, we’re doing well financially and we are playing with some quality young players now and they will develop, which is very good for the future.”

The vice-captain signing on will hopefully encourage some of the others to do the same, though Van Persie’s age and status mean he will want to delay any decision as long as possible.

Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, called Vermaelen a “special player” and insists the defensive side of our squad is in healthier shape than ever before:

“For me, we have a strong central defence now. Mertesacker is an outstanding player, Koscielny will be an outstanding player – he is slowly getting there – and there is Djourou, Squillaci and Vermaelen.

So this is good news for us. It closes speculation about centre back positions, we have four or five now and that should be enough.”

I can’t be alone in being eager to get Vermaelen back and alongside Per Mertesacker.  They seem to me to be a natural partnership, and one that could provide us with a solid base for years to come.  Assuming, that is, that they stay fit…

From what I understand Vermaelen has a chance of being fit in time for our game at Stamford Bridge next weekend.  Tonight, it will be Laurent Koscielny who continues alongside the big German.  Arsene has said no players will be rested tonight, so the rest of the team picks itself.  Carl Jenkinson will continue at right-back, whilst Andre Santos will come in for the injured Kieran Gibbs.  Santos made a good impact as a substitute on Sunday, so I’m not worried about bringing him in to the team.

The central trio of Song, Arteta and Ramsey should be restored with the Welshman available once again.  Ahead of that, their could be a little rotation.  Van Persie will play through the middle, but it’s possible Andrey Arshavin or Tomas Rosicky could be deployed in one of the wide roles ahead of Gervinho or Walcott.  There’s been a fair bit of talk in the French press about how Gervinho has not yet looked the player he did at Lille; hopefully returning to French soil will encourage him to accelerate his adaptation.

Marseille have had a similarly slow start to their season as us, but they’ve got some exciting players – including playmaker Lucho Gonzalez, who was the subject of a bid from Arsenal shortly before the transfer deadline.  Our group seems to be taking shape with three major players – ourselves, Marseille and Dortmund – so the outcome of tonight’s game will be crucial in determining final league positions.

You can read more of my thoughts on the Marseille game over on  Oooooh, get me.

Right, better get back to work. Come On You Gunners.

5 things we learnt from the Sunderland game

239 comments October 17th, 2011

Robin van Persie celebrates the winning goal

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal are more reliant on Robin van Persie than ever…
There are two reasons we have relied quite as much on one Robin van Persie.  The first is that it hasn’t been possible, simply because he hasn’t been fit.  The second is that it hasn’t been necessary, because we’ve had a more even distribution of talent.  At the moment, especially with Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna injured, he is the sole world class performer in our team.  He’d grace any team in the world, and finds himself as the talisman of a struggling side.  Fortunately, he is seizing responsibility with relish, as his match-winning display yesterday demonstrated.  This Robin is, unlike his comic-book name-same, no ‘boy wonder’: he’s all grown-up.  And we desperately, desperately need him.

Robin is swiftly becoming too good for this side…
The sad truth is that as Robin’s shooting star is looking lonely in a darkening Arsenal constellation.   He has less than two years to run on his current deal, and Arsene didn’t exactly sound confident of him signing an extension any time soon:

“The ideal situation is that he extends his contract but if he doesn’t you have to respect that. You know what is important is that he plays like he plays because we are all here to see special football players and he is a special football player.”

In other words: enjoy it while you can.  As I said above, Van Persie would not look out of place at Real Madrid or Barcelona.  If he keeps playing like this, he’ll have his pick.  Perhaps his future will depend on our Champions League status.

Carl Jenkinson has one oustanding quality…
There may be question marks over his defensive positioning, but you can’t argue with the fact that he is quite possibly the finest crosser of the ball at Arsenal Football Club.  For anyone who has spent years watching our corners hit the first man that won’t be a huge surprise, but yesterday Jenkinson’s delivery of the ball was consistently excellent.  It was a solid performance from the young lad, and hopefully he’ll grow in confidence and stature as the games go by.

Andrey Arshavin can be a great impact sub…
Yesterday he was introduced for the patchy Gervinho, and made a real impact, drifting infield and showing a willingness to run at defenders and try to make things happen.  I know I have a reputation as something of an ‘Arshavin apologist’, but when you witness cameos like he produced yesterday it’s easy to see why I can be seduced by his talent before being appalled by his attitude.

Arsene does not trust Park…
Had Van Persie not spared our blushes with that sumptuous free-kick, surely questions would have been asked of his Arsene’s continued unwillingness to make use of his new striker.  Against both Spurs and Sunderland, Arsene chose to introduce Yossi Benayoun ahead of our number nine.  Perhaps it comes from an unwillingness to change our shape, but with only two years in which to make his mark at Arsenal, Park will surely be conscious of the early lack of opportunities.

Sunderland Preview: The long uphill climb begins

38 comments October 16th, 2011

Arsenal play host to Sunderland today.  It’s a meeting between two teams at the wrong end of the table, desperate to get their respective seasons back on track.  According to rumours in the media, Sunderland boss Steve Bruce is on the verge of the sack.  It is a measure of how poor our start has been that at kick-off we have just one more point and a significantly worse goal difference.

Like us, Sunderland underwent major rebuilding in the summer, bringing in a host of new players and losing a couple of key stars in Jordan Henderson and Asamoah Gyan.  Unlike us, they do not expect to be challenging for honours at the end of the season.  A few wins on the bounce will take them up in to mid-table and back in line with their expectations.  Arsenal have a far greater hill to climb.   We have an obligation not only to pull ourselves clear of the relegation zone, but towards the distant goal of the top four.

At the moment, this feels like a relegation six-pointer.  It ought to feel like a home banker.  Although Sunderland’s away form has been surprisingly decent (only one defeat for their first three games), Arsenal have to win today.  Our next league fixtures are home ties against the Mackems and then Stoke.  Six points would make a tremendous difference to our confidence, and almost double our total for the season.

There are, however, new problems to overcome.  We have lost our most consistent and reliable defender, Bacary Sagna, for a period of several months.  There are serious doubts over the ability of the obvious deputy, Carl Jenkinson, who has played most of his football in the non-league and still carries the scars of an Old Trafford mauling.  Nevertheless, he’ll start today, and Arsene has unsurprisingly declared his confidence in the young man:

“He has top qualities. His fitness is outstanding, he’s quick, he has good crosses and he is good going forward. He needs to adjust a little bit his defensive game. But we are working with him and he is improving.”

Per Mertesacker, Laurent Kosicelny and Kieran Gibbs attempting to help him acclimatise, and they’ll be pleased not to have to deal with Nicklas Bendtner, who is prevented from playing for Sunderland by the conditions of his loan deal.

Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey will most likely patrol the midfield, with Gervinho and Theo Walcott flanking Robin van Persie.

On paper, Arsenal should win this.  In reality, one can’t help but have doubts.  This side has betrayed our faith so many times already this season.  Arsene often speaks about the length of time it takes for the team to regain confidence.  Arguably, it will take even longer for the fans to regain confidence in the team.  Only once that happens, and the healing process is complete, will the Emirates become the fortress it ought to be.

Let’s hope that process starts today.

Red, white, and relieved

9 comments October 14th, 2011

I’m mildly surprised I still remember how to do this.  Blogging, it seems, is a bit like riding a bike: painful and disaster-prone at first, but when you return to it after an absence muscle memory takes over and eases you through.  I’ve been reading the comments since my last blog – frankly, ages ago – and there is speculation as to whether I’m “dead” or merely “a disgrace”.  I’m afraid it’s merely the latter – this blog does not come from beyond the grave.  Instead, I’ve been in hibernation whilst the internationals have bored the living daylights out of anyone foolish enough to watch them.

The major Arsenal story of the international break – the one that almost tempted me in to actually writing a blog – was the outstanding form of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.  After notching four assists in his previous game for the England U-21s, Chamberlain went as far as to score a hatrick in the game against Iceland.  His last competitive match had been his Champions League debut, in which he also scored, after which he was left out of the matchday squad for the North London derby.  Arsene Wenger is clearly determined not to rush his development, and says:

“He is ahead of schedule.  Overall I think he has to add some ingredients to his game that will be absolutely necessary at the top but he has the basic talent – nobody can dispute that.

I am very happy for bringing him here. But of course now we want from him the commitment and the urgency that is requested in the Premier League.

One second of lacking attention defensively can cost you a game. That has changed in the modern game and that is why he is ahead of schedule. I think in the next few months he can add that to his game.”

That’s the second or third time Arsene has mentioned the defensive weaknesses in Alex’s game – though how he can say that whilst continually picking Andrey Arshavin in a similar position baffles me.  Perhaps he’ll be involved in some way this weekend.

The other good news is that our boys managed to come through the games unscathed.  Tomas Rosicky picked up a minor problem, as is his wont, but should be fine for Sunday’s game with Sunderland.  An extra days preparation is a real bonus for those players who’ve traveled to far-flung corners of the world, and should enable us to stave off any post-international fatigue.

Abou Diaby and Thomas Vermaelen, you may recall, were supposed to be fit to return after the international break.  Predictably, they’re not.  Both players are expected to be fit to return in around two weeks, with Diaby pencilled in to make his comeback in the Carling Cup clash with Bolton.

Arsenal have a new absence to contend with – that of Bacary Sagna, who is sidelined for several months with a broken leg.  Arsene Wenger has suggested that Carl Jenkinson will fill the void this weekend, but once Vermaelen returns to action I wonder if Laurent Koscielny might be shunted wide, with Mertesacker and the Belgian in the middle.  I suppose much will depend on how Jenkinson acquits himself over the next few games.

Jinx-hungry Robin van Persie, meanwhile, says he’s never felt fitter.  Oh dear.

As I type this, stories from Arsene’s afternoon press conference are beginning to emerge.  They essentially seem to be the same as the ones I’ve written up above, only with slightly different wording.  Nevertheless, I’ll update you on those and preview the Sunderland match properly over the weekend.  Because Gunnerblog is back.  And football is back.  Sweet, sweet relief.

International break ramblings

99 comments October 6th, 2011

Hello all.  I’m not dead.  It may appear so from the lack of activity on the site, but instead I’ve entered a kind of stasis,  cryogenically freezing the Arsenal-obsessed part of my brain to protect it from the onslaught of boredom provided by the international break.  Now I’ve temporarily awakened it, and the ennui is already flooding through the window.

In the past few days I’ve taken time to reflect on the events of the weekend.  I certainly feel more positive about it now than I did on Monday morning – even though I am mercifully spared the gloom of trudging in to an office job to be faced with gloating colleagues.  Losing to your local rivals is always painful, but the Spurs and Arsenal squads are about on a level pegging at the moment.  Losing to a team who are about as good as you, at their stadium, is no great shame.  Objectively, it doesn’t appear a disaster on par with Old Trafford, Ewood Park, or the home defeat to Liverpool.

Of course, it will matter more, because it’s Spurs.  I had a fascinating and at times terse conversation with a good friend of mine last night, who is not a football fan.  That is to say: he doesn’t mind playing, he’ll even watch as a neutral, but he doesn’t support a team.  He described a scenario where he walked through Kensal Rise, and saw a crowd of Fulham fans singing about their hatred for Chelsea.  He simply doesn’t understand the tribalism, and asked me to explain or justify it.  Why, he asked, do I say “we” won when I had almost nothing to do with it?  And why ‘hate’ other teams?

I have to say I didn’t find his questions easy to answer.  Explaining it away as a geographical loyalty to your local area becomes impossible with the number of fans who have no history or heritage in the city where their team is based.  Let’s not forget a fan in Africa recently committed suicide on the back of an Arsenal defeat.

I think it’s certainly tied to some sort of tribal instinct – an inherent “us against them” mentality.  We live in a world with a decreasing number of foot-soldiers.  Football provides an outlet for that aggressive instinct, and occasionally I’m glad that the vitriol I witness inside a football ground is contained within that relatively controlled environment, rather than being unleashed out on the streets somewhere.  When it spills over, however, as with the unacceptable chanting from both fans on Sunday, it’s a very ugly sight and sound indeed.

I suspect one of the main reason people invest in the fortunes of their team is as a form of vicarious living.  As lovers of sport, we are imbued with a competitive spirit, though not necessarily the ability to actually compete on the great stages of the world game.  Pinning our colours to a club’s mast allows us to share in the glory of victory and the catharsis of defeat.

Above all else, I suspect that in an increasingly blurred, globalised world, people are more willing than ever to ‘belong’ or cling to whatever they can use to construct an identity.  In this relatively secular country, football is the obvious way to do so.

This is a real ramble, straight from my brain to the page via a pounded and punished keyboard – a stream of consciousness splashing all over your unsuspecting face.  If you have more considered opinions, I’d love to hear them.  We need to fill the time somehow.

Right.  Back in to the stasis tank.

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