Archive for December, 2011

Henry’s pride will not allow him to fail

551 comments December 30th, 2011

And so, Arsene Wenger has taken the unusual step of all but confirming the arrival of Thierry Henry before the paperwork is yet complete:

“For two months it certainly will happen. I don’t take care of the agreement and insurance and that is not completed.

We cannot announce anything [now] because the paperwork is not done.”

Only Arsenal fans could greet the probable return their record goalscorer and arguably greatest ever player with anything approaching dismay.  I remember when Liverpool signed a washed-up, overweight Robbie Fowler in January 2006 and heartily heralded the return of “God”.  Arsenal fans seem comparatively nonplussed.

I understand why.  Whatever state he might be in, Henry can only come in for a maximum of two months, and after February we’ll be back to relying on Park and Chamakh.  Head over to and listen to today’s arsecast, where you’ll hear me discuss my desire for Arsene to bring in someone who can bring in someone who can provide legitimate and long-term support for Robin van Persie.

Let me just briefly collude with the critics and say that given a straight choice, I’d probably rather take Lukasz Podolski for four years than Thierry Henry for two months.  However, the decision to bring in Thierry suggests that Arsene feels his primary targets are not going to be available in January.  There is no point replacing his already substandard attacking options with another substandard player.

However Thierry’s physical condition may have degraded, he is still Thierry Henry.  You have to remember that in electing to come back, the player himself has everything to lose and nothing to gain.  Is that a risk he would take if he felt he was genuinely past it?  I suspect not.  In my time as an Arsenal fan, I have never seen a player so image conscious.  Everything – his interviews, his transfer flirtations, even his celebrations – were expertly stage-managed.  It was as much his intelligence off the pitch, as well as his brilliance on it, that helped make him a living legend at Arsenal.  Over the past few years, he has had many opportunities for the perfect goodbye, including that emotional appearance as a Red Bulls player at the Emirates Cup this summer.  A player so conscious of his own legacy would not dare jeopardise that by coming back only to depart with a whimper.  If he’s coming back, it’s because he believes he can make one last, lasting contribution.

I was fortunate enough to be stood just yards away when Henry broke down in tears at the unveiling of a statue in his honour just a couple of weeks ago.  As he composed himself, the fans around me burst in to song: “Arsene – sign him up”.

Arsene was listening, and he has.  The King is returning.  Fire off the 14-cannon salute, and for God’s sake, smile.

Thoughts on Arsenal’s festive sandwich

43 comments December 28th, 2011

‘Tis the season to be jolly. And then less so.
Arsenal have just completed a festive sandwich of fixtures. On the one side, a wholesome and thoroughly rewarding victory away to Aston Villa. On the other, a rather stale draw at home to Wolves. In the middle, of course, was a big fat Christmas. Hope you had a great one, wherever you are and whatever you might be celebrating.

Alex McCleish is the enemy of football.
Anyone who watched our game against them on Wednesday last will surely concur. This man must be stopped: he seems to suck the joy out of any club he takes over. His Villa are a horrendous side – seemingly as dull on the eye as the Birmingham City team he led to relegation last season. On Boxing Day, Sky sought to outdo Scrooge himself by screening just one game: Stoke vs. Aston Villa. It was apocalyptically bad.

Yossi Benayoun deserves more opportunities.
His headed winner at Villa Park was a rare example of an Arsenal player coming off the bench and making a genuine different to the game. Supporters are tired of seeing the uninspiring sight of Marouane Chamakh or Andrey Arshavin preparing to take to the field. Benayoun guarantees hard work and, of late, real quality. His display at home to Wolves was another example of what he can offer the side.

Arsenal were denied by Hennessey’s brilliance rather than their own incompetence.
A point at home to Wolves is a frustrating result, particularly when the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool have both dropped points in similar circumstances, but on this occasion I think arseblog has it right: we have to offer congratulations to an outstanding performance by the goalkeeper rather than blame ourselves. These freakish results will occasionally occur – it’s only when they become regular that there is genuine cause for concern.

Four points from Villa and Wolves is not a bad return.
If we go on to beat QPR and Fulham, which is not an unrealistic target, 10 points from 12 available will look even healthier.

Whisper it quietly, but Spurs don’t look likely to collapse anytime soon.
Whilst of course we ought to try and pursue and overhaul them, I’m increasingly of the belief that the real battle for Champions League qualification is between us and Chelsea, and for fourth rather than third place. Spurs look very strong indeed, and I don’t perceive Liverpool to have the strength in depth to mount a sustained challenge – particularly in light of Luis Suarez’s ban.

Thierry Henry could be the best available option to strengthen the squad.
Of course there are better strikers out there than a 34-year old who plies his trade in the MLS, but how many of them are available in January? Very few. It’s not worth investing millions of pounds in a substandard player who will make a limited impact – you could argue we’ve already done that with Chu-Young Park. Bringing in Henry would give us a viable option from the bench as well as providing a lift to everyone at the club. If it happens, however, it’d have to be soon. No point waiting to look at other options until the end of January then letting Henry go back to the states after a fortnight.

Right. The next game is QPR at home on New Year’s Eve, after which we’ll be able to put a very rocky 2011 to bed.

City 1 – 0 Arsenal: No points but plenty of pride

905 comments December 19th, 2011

Thomas Vermaelen reacts after another near miss at the Etihad

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Our first trip to Manchester since that fateful day in late August was always going to carry a certain weight.  Back then, a very different-looking Arsenal side had left thrashed, embarrassed, and ashamed.  This time, we might not have brought back any points, but we can at least hold our heads up high on the back of an impressive performance.

It’s indicative of how far we’ve come.  Since Old Trafford, we’ve added experience, steel and belief to the squad.  Arsenal entered yesterday’s game as an unfancied underdog, and ended up trading blows with a the richest club in world football.  It is typical of Arsene Wenger’s relentless ambition that after the game he was disheartened at what he felt was the end of our title challenge.  Personally, I have felt for some time that City will win the league at a canter, and that in any case our bad start was far too big a handicap from which to launch a bid for the championship.  A Champions League spot, however, remains a realistic target.  In August, even that seemed unlikely.

We started somewhat shakily, as it swiftly became evident that City are the strongest side we’ve faced in some time.  The movement and skill of the likes of Silva, Aguero and Balotelli had our defence chasing shadows, and twice we relied upon impressive saves from Wojciech Szczesny to keep the score at 0-0.

Alex Song was yellow-carded for a cynical trip after just ten minutes, and spent the rest of the game walking a precarious tight-rope.  It was a tight-rope that the likes of Micah Richards attempted to topple him off by throwing themselves to the ground every time Song even thought about going in to a challenge.

As the half wore on, we settled and began to offer a threat of our own.  The pace and movement of Gervinho made him a constant menace, but he suffered from the now familiar flaw of failing to convert promising opportunities in to final product.  When he did muster a shot on target, Joe Hart was able to turn it away at the near post.

Having reached half-time at 0-0, there was a growing sense that Arsenal could pull off a major result.  However, our momentum was disrupted when, just two minutes in to the second half, Johan Djourou was withdrawn with an injury problem.  The Swiss had been doing a fine job at right-back, but his withdrawal meant shifting Laurent Koscielny on to the flank.  Vermaelen stepped in to to the centre alongside Mertesacker, and substitute Miquel played at left-back.  It’s odd how injuries seem to strike in one particular area – we’re now without our five first choice full-backs (Sagna, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Santos, Djorou).

The reshuffle worried me.  In an ideal world you’d bring on a like-for-like player, as it’s very difficult for a defender to reorientate himself during the game.  And so it proved just five minutes later, with Koscielny caught out of position, leaving Balotelli free on the left flank.  He skipped inside a cautious Song and fired in a shot with Szczesny parried.  Aguero was first to the ball and his header was poked in by David Silva.

At this stage, Arsenal threw caution to the wind a little earlier than was necessary, and were very nearly punished.  As men poured forward in search of an equaliser, City had several opportunities to extend their lead.  Fortunately, we were spared.  Samir Nasri, who had been afforded a rare start by City, made his major contribution to the game when he overhit a simple pass across goal, preventing Balotelli from tapping in to seal the game.  Bizarrely, the City PA announced him as Man of the Match towards the end of the game – a stupid, inflammatory decision which clearly had nothing to do with what had transpired on the pitch.

It was clear we had them rattled though.  A fierce Walcott drive was tipped over by Hart, and Robin van Persie chipped home, only to be flagged (correctly, but marginally) offside.  On another day Micah Richards’ handball might have been deemed purposeful, or Van Persie might have connected truer with Gervinho’s cut-back.

If you were to fault anything yesterday, it would have been the lack of convincing attacking options from the bench.  City were able to call on the likes of Edin Dzeko.  We, however, were forced to gamble with Arshavin and Chamakh, both of whom are woefully out of form.  There are increasingly fervent whispers that Arsene will look to strengthen the attack in January, with Thierry Henry one of the names most commonly-mentioned.  However, signings aside, one does have to question how long someone under performing as badly as Arshavin can prevent the exciting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from superseding him in the pecking order.

In all honesty, our biggest goal threat after Robin van Persie probably came from Thomas Vermaelen.  The Belgian had headed on target in the first half, and late on he saw one side-footed effort from the edge of the box tipped over by Hart, before bending a thirty yard strike just outside the post.  Hart performed well on the day, but even he would have been unable to keep that effort out.

And so the day ended in defeat.  Arsenal now have to pick themselves up in time for Wednesday’s trip to Aston Villa, who surely can’t be as poor as they were in a lifeless defeat to Liverpool.  Alex Song will be suspended, but fortunately we will be able to rely on the sure-footed Mikel Arteta.  I thought the Spaniard was brilliant in Manchester: disciplined, intelligent, and composed.  The more one sees of him the more one wonders why Arsene waited so long before taking the plunge.

My overriding sense from the City game is that these sorts of occasion need hold no fear for us anymore.  The scars of Old Trafford were entirely invisible: this was an Arsenal side playing with belief and a sense of entitlement that they belong on this stage, at the top table of English football.  Between now and the end of the season, we need to pick up enough points to snatch fourth place and ensure we remain there.

An extraordinary week to be an Arsenal fan

79 comments December 12th, 2011

Every so often an event rolls around that reminds you how lucky you are to be an Arsenal fan.  This week, there were three.

It was a week that got off to an inauspicious start as we lost 3-1 to Olympiakos in a game that already feels further away than the 1500 miles we travelled to get there.  I wasn’t watching live due to alternative commitments, though from what I can gauge the match was notable for two things: the riveting competition between Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone to decide who could be our most flaptacular back-up goalie, and an injury to Andre Santos which, it has just revealed, will keep him out for three months.

It’s big blow to lose the bulky Brazilian full-back, but as bare as we are in both full-back positions we’re fortunate that we have riches in the centre of defence.  We’re now able to field Thomas Vermaelen at full-back, leaving the middle in the hands of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker – two top-class international defenders.  Hopefully the likes of Gibbs, Jenkinson, and even Sagna will soon be back to ease the burden on our versatile centre-halves.

As for Santos – well, he’s been outstanding in the early part of his Arsenal career.  According to, he’s put in more tackles p/game than any other defender in the Premier League.  That said, I’m told we ought to have expected this: it’s a stipulation of his contract that he never plays any games over the Christmas period.  He calls it ‘The Santos Clause’ (I’ll get me coat).

The meaningless result in Greece would prove to be the low-point of my footballing week, which suggests the rest of it was pretty darn good.  The following evening, around 500 Arsenal fans gathered to celebrate the release of Arseblog’s Arsenal Anthology – So Paddy Got Up.  I only arrived late, as the crowds were finally beginning to dissipate, but it remained a tremendous occasion.

I have written a chapter for the book which attempts to depict how the digital world has changed things for Arsenal supporters, and without giving too much away it’s something of a sign of the times that you can put 500 strangers in a room together, with Arsenal as the sole bond between them, and witness such heartwarming results.  I met some lovely folk from the Arsenal blogosphere (including Gingers4Limpar, whose recent piece on the use of the ‘Y’ word is essential reading), as well as several readers of this site, and marvelled at Arseblogger’s achievement in not just compiling and editing the book, but bringing together a community so full of support, goodwill and kindness.

The book, I should add, really would make a tremendous Christmas present for anyone with Arsenal in their height.  Red and white are, after all, the most Christmassy of colours.  You can order your copy here.

As if the cockels of my heart weren’t sufficiently warmed by that evening, by Thursday afternoon they were positively roasted.  I was very grateful to be invited by Arsenal to attend the unveiling of three statues commissioned to commemorate the club’s 125th Anniversary.  It was something of an open secret that the statue’s would be of Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams, and Thierry Henry.  What I didn’t know was that Mr. Henry would be there in person, and that I would be stood just yards from the legendary striker when he broke down upon seeing his statue.

I was stood there alongside the venerable Goonerholic, and I don’t think he’d mind me saying that we too were a little choked by this obvious display of emotion.

Again, there were plenty of friendly and famous faces present.  Special mention is due for Bob Wilson, who took the time to chat to fans and sign countless autographs, and Francis from ArsenalFrance, who is not only charming company but spends a lot of his own time helping Francophonic Gooners get to games.

As for the statues – well, for my money, they look magnificent, and are yet another fitting adornment to the stadium.  A lot has been said about the ‘Arsenalisation’ of the Emirates, but for me the club deserve enormous credit for the way they have sought to make the ground feel like home.  For me, at last, it does.

So by the time Saturday rolled around, everyone was in the mood for a party, and boy did they get it.  The club handled the 125th Anniversary celebrations with the class you would expect, and thanks too are due to the BBC for the special attention we were afforded on Match of the Day:

As for the game itself – well, it wasn’t the most exciting, but as Arsene pointed out there was a certain poignancy in the scoreline: 1-0 to the Arsenal.  And the goal scored was one that will be remembered well in to our next century.

It is a truly stunning volley from a player we are honoured to be watching this season.

This week ends with a trip to league leaders Man City.  A positive result there and it might come close to matching the last seven days.

Wigan 0 – 4 Arsenal: Vermaelen is a defender with a poacher’s instinct

101 comments December 5th, 2011

Gervinho celebrates

Gervinho celebrates his third Arsenal goal

Wigan 0 – 4 Arsenal

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Arsenal are finally sharing the goals around…
Although Robin van Persie did grab his expected goal, he was joined by three other less familiar names on the scoresheet.  Gervinho, Arteta and Vermaelen are all players capable of lessening the burden on the Dutchman, and it’s fantastic to see them finally beginning to do so.  One only wishes that Park and Chamakh were capable of doing the same.

Thomas Vermaelen has a poacher’s instinct…
It’s remarkable that one of the players we’re looking at to take up some of the goalscoring burden is a centre-back.  But then, Thomas Vermaelen is a remarkable footballer.  Over his entire Arsenal career to date, he has a strike rate of almost a goal every four games.  One need only see that when Arteta’s long-range strike hits the net, it is the Belgian who is following up in case of any rebound.  The man simply loves a goal.  As Arsene commented after the game, “I still don’t know if he came to replace Toure or Adebayor”.

Gervinho’s goal was much more than a tap-in…
Admittedly, it was a simply finish – and one which the erratic Ivorian almost miscued – but in some respects this was a spectacular goal.  Excluding Ali Al-Habsi’s parry on Robin van Persie’s shot, this was a move that included a mammoth 33 passes.  Take a look:

WigvArs 33 passes by Vineeta_Nair

Admittedly, Wigan’s defending is poor, but our use of the ball is as good here as it has been all season. Promising indeed.

Theo Walcott is becoming a true team player…
His unselfish square for Van Persie spoke volumes, as did his obvious delight at getting an assist.  Walcott’s good form has been one of the highlights of our season thus far, and one only hopes he and Van Persie can remain fit enough for their fruitful relationship to continue.  Walcott has now assisted 11 goals for RVP – that’s as many as Dennis Bergkamp provided for Thierry Henry in their entire time at Arsenal.

Szczesny is part of a new core…
I expect by now you’ll have seen the clips of Wojciech Szczesny singing Arsenal songs at the top of his voice in the aftermath of Saturday’s game.  His love for the club is palpable, and along with the likes of Vermaelen, Wilshere, and Frimpong, he is helping to forge a new spirit in the squad.  These players seem to take genuine pride in representing Arsenal, as the treatment dished out by Frimpong towards deserter Samir Nasri shows.  It’s heartwarming stuff, but there’s a serious side to it too – it’s a sign of the kind of spirit you find at many trophy-winning teams.

Arsenal fly to Greece later today for their dead rubber tie with Olympiacos.  I won’t be able to watch the game live, but I’ll hopefully provide some thoughts once I’ve caught up on Sky+.

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