Archive for February, 2012

Midweek musings: RVP, Podolski, Andre Santos

32 comments February 29th, 2012

Greetings, one and all.  I’ve been so busy of late that a midweek blog has become something of an unaffordable luxury.  However, with the horrors of Internationals upon us, I reckon it’s probably best that we huddle together and warm ourselves by a reassuring, Arsenal-flavoured fire.

I don’t know what percentage of the readers of this blog follow me on twitter.  If you don’t yet and are considering it, abandon that plan:  I will only stress you out, as I seem to have devolved in to the football fan equivalent of Chicken Licken.  In the last  48 hours I have stated, on separate occasions and with a worrying degree of certainty, that Robin van Persie and Mikel Arteta were both suspended for the game at Anfield, and that Van Persie had picked up an injury in training with Holland.  On each occasion, I was incorrect: the fact that Arteta and RVP have reached five yellow cards ceased to be relevant after December 31st, and the decision to let Van Persie sit out training with Holland last night was predominantly precautionary.  The sky, it seems, is not falling after all.  Apologies: I shall endeavour to be more thorough in the future.

Of course, we’ll still all be praying that RVP and others come through tonight’s internationals unscathed.  We have a massive game at Anfield on Saturday morning, and to be without the Dutchman in particular would be an enormous blow.  There’s rather a nice piece by Henry Winter here which makes clear his importance to the club.  Some papers have attempted to attach some drama to the fact that Van Persie will not enter in to discussions about a contract renewal until the end of the season.  To most Arsenal fans, however, it comes as no surprise.  Van Persie will want to know whether or not Arsenal will be competing in the Champions League, and in the interim one cannot question his absolute commitment to making that happen.  When those talks do happen, I don’t doubt that Arsene and Ivan will attempt to throw money at the problem by offering Robin a very competitive contract.  In some respects, they’d be better throwing it elsewhere: what’s most likely to keep him is a competitive Arsenal team.

Perhaps one of the summer recruits will be Lukasz Podolski.  German tabloid Bild claims the player has decided that his future lies with Arsenal – the sole obstacle is for the two clubs to agree a fee.  Knowing us, that remains rather a big obstacle, and the article itself seems speculative at best.  Let’s wait and see on this one.

A bit of good news to end with: Andre Santos has said on Twitter that he expects to be back playing in the next fortnight.  That’s a huge boost for us – prior to his injury, his form was outstanding.  Although Kieran Gibbs recovered from a shaky start to have a strong second half against Spurs, for me Santos is a superior player, and certainly provides a more experienced option at left-back.  When Santos returns, we’ll discover if Arsene sees it the same way – if, that is, Gibbs can stay fit long enough to make Arsene have to choose.

Right, that’s all from me. Enjoy your Wednesday.

5 Reasons 2 Believe

112 comments February 27th, 2012

Arsenal pile on top of Theo Walcott after he sets the seal on Arsenal's derby victory

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

“Arsenal are alive more than anybody thought before the game.”
Arsene Wenger 

As we all know, Arsenal vs Tottenham is more than a game. And yesterday, with an Arsenal side on the verge of crisis hosting a rampant Spurs, it looked to be more than a derby. Fitting then, that what we got in the end was more than a victory. It was a hammering.

With 34 minutes gone, it wasn’t looking so clever. Spurs had glided in to a two goal lead; first Louis Saha broke beyond an Arsenal backline more jagged and ugly than one of Aaron Lennon’s eyebrow designs, and his shot deflected off Thomas Vermaelen and over Wojciech Szczesny. Then Gareth Bale fought his way past Kieran Gibbs, and took a self-inflicted tumble over the advancing Szczesny. The referee pointed to the spot, more out of habit than anything else, and Emmanuel Adebayor stroked home his inevitable goal.

At this point, I feared the worst. In the short-term, I was worried we would be on the end of a humiliating result. Although we hadn’t played particularly poorly, Spurs looked deadly on the break with the pace of Bale and Walker, and Saha and Adebayor were proving a real handful. It was inevitable we would pour forward in search of a goal, and I feared we’d be picked off on the counter-attack, much like Manchester United were in their 6-1 drubbing at home to City.

In the longer term, I wondered if this match might prove to be another nail in the coffin of Arsene Wenger’s tenure. A hefty home defeat to Spurs, off the back of exits from the Champions League and FA Cup, could have turned the tide against him irreparably.

The players, it seems, had other ideas. Before the game Arsene said he didn’t feel they’d let him down at Sunderland. I disagree. On that day they weren’t up for a battle; they didn’t fancy a fight. Yesterday was different.

Their combative spirit was typified by the goal that got us back in to the game. After Robin van Persie struck a post with a right-footed effort, the ball was kept in play and knocked back to Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard floated a clipped pass to the far post, where Gareth Bale seemed certain to nod the ball away. Instead, he was beaten to it by Bacary Sagna, who launched himself at the ball and headed powerfully beyond Brad Friedel and in to the far corner.

It is said that great headed goals depend on two components: delivery and desire. All too often our attempts to score from crosses lack either. This was a rare example of both. In recent years, I haven’t seen too many Arsenal players throw themselves at the ball the way Sagna did yesterday. He didn’t care if he got hurt. He knew what a goal back before half-time would mean, and he wanted it more than every single Tottenham defender.

Even he could not possibly have known the avalanche that goal would inspire. Before half-time, we were able to grab the equaliser that turned the game on its head. Of course, it fell to Robin van Persie to turn this way and that on the edge of the box before arcing a beautiful shot around Brad Friedel and in to the back of the net. It was a moment of sheer class. It had struck me before the game that since his evolution in to a penalty-box poacher, RVP has not often found himself with the time and space required to score the wonder goals for which he made his name. Yesterday, in his desperation to drop deep and make things happen, he inadvertently created an opportunity for one of his patented long-range strikes. And what a strike it was.

As the second half kicked off, the momentum was firmly with Arsenal. Harry Redknapp made a double change, introducing Sandro and Van der Vaart and switching to 4-3-3 in an effort to stem the time. It served only to weaken Spurs’ attacking threat, and a creaking Tottenham backline found itself coming under wave after wave of Arsenal attacks.

In this most unpredictable of games, Arsenal’s third goal had the most unpredictable scorer. Tomas Rosicky picked up the ball about thirty yards out, slid it wide to the onrushing Sagna, and sprinted in to the box to meet the full-back’s cross with a deft finish off the outside of his left boot. Wojciech Szczesny celebrated with a backflip. The Emirates was delirious, and Rosicky relieved. It was his fiftieth game since his last league goal.

If Rosicky scoring was a surprise, then so too was what followed: a brace from Theo Walcott. Walcott had been dreadful in the first-half – he seems destined to inherit Andrey Arshavin’s role as the fans’ designated scapegoat – and was probably considered for the hook at the interval. However, he showed tremendous persistence and self-belief to put in a considerably improved second half display.

At the heart of his performance were two fantastic goals. First he raced almost the length of the pitch to support Robin van Persie, and lifted the ball neatly over Brad Friedel. Then he beat the offside trap to meet a remarkable lofted pass from Alex Song, and finish expertly across the American. Big goals from a player who has not been a fan favourite of late.

Late on, a headless chicken who goes by the name of Scott Parker was sent off for a second bookable offence, and Arsenal were able to see out the game with a bit of keep-ball against ten men whilst ‘Oles’ rang around the Emirates. A remarkable turnaround, and a contender for the most entertaining game in our new stadium’s short history.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Amidst the Arsenal fans’ gloating, one song was conspicuous by its absence. Quick though we were to ask Adebayor what the score was, or to remind Spurs they had been two up before collapsing, there was no chant for the man who had masterminded the victory: Arsene Wenger.

He got his XI spot on, starting Yossi Benayoun ahead of the more fancied Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. His recent faith in Tomas Rosicky was vindicated with the Czech’s finest performance in years, and his decision to retain Walcott rewarded with two excellent goals. And yet the 60,000-strong crowd did not see fit to salute Le Boss individually. Perhaps we were too busy taunting our rivals. Or perhaps there’s more to it.

Grateful though we all are for yesterday, there is a strong and accurate feeling that redemption is about more than one game. This was the first of three hugely significant league games, which will also take in clashes with Liverpool and Newcastle. The performance yesterday has to be a blueprint for those games, and beyond. If we are to qualify for the Champions League we need to consistently find that level of desire, that degree of determination, and that quality in our play.

Each of our goals was expertly taken, and each demonstrated a player prepared to go that extra mile for his team.  Each of those five goals gave rise to joy and, crucially, belief.  Belief that this is a side who are capable of taking fourth place, ensuring Champions League qualification, and (with the right reinforcements) pushing on beyond that in the year to come.

Today marks a year to the day since the Carling Cup Final defeat by Birmingham – a game which signified the beginning of something on an annus horribilis for Arsene’s Arsenal. Let’s hope yesterday’s victory can signify the start of a more enjoyable twelve months.

Oh, and Tottenham fans: Mind the gap.

Arshavin leaves memories, misgivings, & mystification

552 comments February 24th, 2012

Those sneaky Russians.  Just when we thought transfer activity for the season was done and dusted, Andrey Arshavin and Zenit St Petersburg have colluded to smuggle the diminutive attacker back to his hometown club on loan.  As the Russian transfer window slammed shut, Arshavin rolled Indiana Jones-style through the ever-decreasing gap.  If he’d been a foot taller, he might not have made it.

At the time I’m writing this, full details of the move have not emerged, but it seems Zenit will pay a £1m fee as well as taking over Arshavin’s £80,000 p/week pay packet. Presumably they’ll also have first refusal when Andrey makes his exit permanent in the summer.

I have to say, I’m disappointed to see him go. On a personal level, I had a lot of time for him as a player and a bloke, even as his form declined. But even I had accepted that his time at the club was hurtling towards its conclusion. What rankles more than his departure itself is the unusual timing.

Why are Arsenal voluntarily letting a squad member leave at a point in the season when it is impossible to replace them? I accept that we have Gervinho, Walcott, Benayoun and Oxlade-Chamberlain to fight for space on the wings, but with the exception of The Ox none of them are in particularly convincing form. Arshavin, for all his flaws, had shown an ability to come off the bench and make a difference – see his exceptional cross for Thierry Henry’s winner at Sunderland.

That was to be his last contribution to the first-team. He was an unused substitute at Milan and back at the Stadium of Light, before scoring two goals in a humbling outing for the Reserves. Arshavin saw his place in pecking order, and decided to bolt. He’s Russia’s captain for EURO 2012, and needs match practise ahead of what could be his final major tournament.

Of course, it could be argued that the departure of the Arshavin of 2012 is no great loss. He is a shadow of the man we signed, in every respect apart from his waistline. Back in February 2009, Arshavin’s signing was the most exciting since the arrival of Jose Reyes – possibly even Dennis Bergkamp. It’s easy to forget, but as the venerable Goonerholic pointed out on Twitter last night, at the time of his arrival Arshavin was a far more established name than either Mario Goetze or Eden Hazard are now. This was the man who had lit up Euro 2008 and inspired a resurgent Zenit to silverware. Arsenal were struggling and in danger of losing their Champions League spot – a now familiar scenario – and Arshavin was the man charged with saving our season.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that he did it. People talk about the four goal haul at Liverpool as if it was an isolated night of brilliance, but it wasn’t. For those few months between February and May, he was electrifying, playing with a roaming brief from the left of a 4-4-2. He scored one particularly remarkable goal against Blackburn, skipping along the byline before lifting the ball over Paul Robinson from the most acute of angels. The laziness that would later blight his game was still there; it was just tempered by the player’s sheer brilliance. He was a magician with motivation. Arshavin had made his big career move and it was paying dividends, for everyone.

At the start of the 2009/10 season, several seasoned pundits tipped Arshavin as a potential Footballer of the Year. Arsene Wenger, not one given to hyperbole over individuals, said of his star player:

“The Premier League needs a star like Arshavin now that Cristiano Ronaldo has gone. Arshavin stands for all that we love in football.

He is not only a great player but he has an honest, refreshing attitude. When there’s no penalty, he never complains. He’s not a drama queen. He’s fantastic for the Premier League.

Four or five years ago, the likes of Messi or Kaka would have come to England [rather than Spain] so it is important we have great players like Arshavin.”

However, after a bright start to the season, including a thirty yard thunderbolt at Old Trafford, Arshavin began to fade. He was played out of position as a lone striker for long period, and his form suffered. Then began the decline that would lead to him becoming more Carling Cup than Cristiano Ronaldo; more Michelin man than Messi.

Quite how and why it went wrong is hard to say. Certainly lack of application was a factor, but as stated before, even in his heyday at Zenit Arshavin was lazy. Strangely, the 4-3-3 that you would imagine to be so perfect for his talents never provided him with the same space as our more liberal 4-4-2. His roaming role evolved in to that of a conventional winger. And defending a full-back was never high on his list of priorities.

At times it was sad to watch him. He couldn’t trap a ball, let alone beat a man. Confidence was certainly an issue, and it often felt like he didn’t have the desire and drive required to come back. The talent was never, ever in question.

Even those dark days had their moments. Arshavin has provided more memories in three years than Tomas Rosicky has in six. Nothing, surely, topped this – that magical winner against Barcelona at the Emirates:

I’m not ashamed to say I shed a tear as that goal went in. And I wasn’t alone. It was a remarkable night, one on which we beat the world’s greatest football team, and it was Arshavin’s goal that did it.

That moment felt like the start of something. Looking back at that goal now, it was more the end. Watch that goal – Cesc, to Nasri, to Arshavin. All three players have since departed, in the space of 12 months. Whilst we’ve made some good signings, I wouldn’t say any have the raw natural talent that trio possess. There is now a gaping creative void in the squad – something you never thought you’d say about an Arsene Wenger team.

There will be plenty who will say ‘Good riddance’ to Arshavin, and I understand why. I don’t feel that way myself. I loved his style, his character, his portly gait. I empathise with the aesthete in him – a fashion design graduate who loved a beautiful goal and loathed a jog around cones. A luxury player who was doomed to fail in a side that became less luxurious with every passing season.

Goodbye, Andrey. And thanks for the memories.

This is not the time for Arshavin to go

43 comments February 24th, 2012

Andrey Arshavin’s Arsenal career is clearly approaching its end.  It does not take a genius to see that.  Look at the diminishing percentage of Premier League starts he has made over the course of his Arsenal career:

08/09 – 100%
09/10 – 83%
10/11 – 68%
11/12 – 42%

As his work-rate and productivity have declined, so have Arsene Wenger’s faith in his mercurial talent.  His nadir came this week, when he was dropped down to the Reserves for their game with Norwich.

Against the odds, he actually turned in a decent display, combining well with Yossi Benayoun and scoring twice.  One wondered if Arsene might consider handing him a return to the first team, particularly with Theo Walcott out of form and Aaron Ramsey injured.

Instead, it seems to have prompted interest in his homeland.  Zenit St. Petersburg, his former club, are trying to negotiate a loan deal until the end of the season before tonight’s deadline.  They have lost their playmaker, the Portugese midfielder Danny, to injury, and Arshavin is still viewed as a talismanic figure in the city of his birth.  Arsenal were known to be resistant to any deal, but James Olley of the Evening Standard reports that the offer of a £1m loan fee has forced a breakthrough in talks.

I know Arshavin has been a major disappointment.  I know that the end of his Arsenal career is inevitable.  But why let him go now?  With the number of injuries our squad picks up, it’s almost certain he would have been used between now and May.  And for all his flaws, he is very occasionally capable of important, match-winning contributions.

For the sake of a few months wages, I cannot see the sense in selling at this point.  But then, that’s rather in-keeping with most of our transfer business of late.

Fourth place is everything now

121 comments February 19th, 2012

Shell-shocked Arsenal players after the defeat at Sunderland

Sunderland 2 – 0 Arsenal

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

It’s been a bad week for Arsenal fans. A crushing defeat in Milan, followed by a comprehensive loss at Sunderland, and the evaporation of any remaining hopes of bringing home silverware. Arsene clearly broke a mirror in 2005, and good behaviour has not granted him any time off fortune’s sentence: it will now be seven long years without a trophy.

Yesterday Arsenal were beaten on a ground where just one week earlier they had been victorious. The matchwinner on that occasion, Thierry Henry, was conspicuous by his absence, and a succession of defensive injuries stacked the odds against us. Nevertheless we were outrun, outfought, and occasionally outplayed by a fresher and patently more motivated Sunderland side.

There is no point masking our disappointment. The FA Cup represented our most realistic chance of glory this season, and the draw could certainly have been more cruel, but this is an Arsenal side showing early yet familiar symptoms of the annual end-of-season collapse. We have played ten games since January 1st, losing five. Injuries are mounting fast and belief is fading faster.

There were some fans declaring that yesterday marked the end of our season. They could not be more wrong. To be out of the cup is tremendous blow, but Arsenal still have their biggest prize to play for: fourth place.

I have never subscribed to Arsene’s view that a top four finish is equivalent to claiming silverware. It’s nonsense. There is no explosion of joy, no entry in the record books, no trophy. But it remains absolutely vital. As bad as things are, falling out of the top four would be disastrous. It’s not a prize – it’s a necessity.

I’m gutted about the defeats to Milan and Sunderland, but if I had to choose between going out of the cups or suffering two league defeats, I think I’d choose the former. To win the FA Cup would be fantastic, but I’m not sure it’d be enough to keep Robin van Persie, or attract major talent to augment (or indeed replace) him. Fourth place might.

I don’t see the point in discussing the future of Arsene Wenger now – whatever your opinion, everyone is surely unanimous in their agreement that, for better or worse, he will be here until the end of the season. If he and the club decide to part ways then, I’d far rather we were able to offer a new a manager a brief to rebuild with the economic support and talent-tempting allure that Champions League brings.

In the light of recent results, some supporters have declared that we have “no chance” of achieving a top four spot. They are, of course, wrong. Take a glance at the league table – we’re the present incumbents. Arsenal have been incredibly fortunate that in a year when we’ve spent much of the time in disarray, our closest rivals (Liverpool and Chelsea) have conspired to be similarly calamitous.

Our next three league games see us face Tottenham, Liverpool, and Newcastle. As painful as our experiences at Milan and Sunderland were, I’d happily accept those defeats if fate were able to trade them for nine points from those forthcoming fixtures.

If, however, we lose, to Spurs next week, all hell could break lose. The day before, Chelsea and Newcastle both have relatively easy home games, and defeat to our rivals could leave us in sixth place and coming off the back of three consecutive defeats.

There have been big London derbies before. For Arsene Wenger, there has never been one quite as big as this.

Previous Posts

Search Gunnerblog

Get your Gunnerblog t-shirts now!

get regular updates from GS with twitter

Top Gunn

Cesc Fabregas
The man in form.

    Retro Arsenal T-Shirts from - Bringing Back The Good Old Days!: Click Here!

Latest Posts

Sponsored Links


February 2012
« Jan   Mar »

Posts by Month

Most Recent Posts

Posts by Category


Powered By

eXTReMe Tracker