Archive for April, 2012

Stoke 1 – 1 Arsenal: Arsenal escape from Mordor with a point

30 comments April 29th, 2012


Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Let me start by declaring a bias: I really dislike Stoke.  I dislike their manager, their players and their fans.  I dislike their ‘style’ of play and their indeterminate evolutionary heritage.  So if anyone who is not an Arsenal fan accidentally stumbles upon this entry, and feels it’s a bit partizan: it is.  I dislike Stoke.

I do, however, have a grudging respect for the effectiveness of their set-piece based game.  With that in mind, I would gladly have taken a point before the game.  The bonus of seeing Newcastle hammered at Wigan makes it an even better result.

It could arguably have been more.  Arsenal outplayed Stoke, and even Tony Pulis was forced to admit we coped better than ever with their aerial assault.  We looked like a side who were focused, determined, and eager to take all three points.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, as we fell behind early on due to our sole lapse in concentration – Bacary Sagna failed to close down Matthew Etherington, and from that point on we were helpless – the cross and Peter Crouch’s header were both inch-perfect.

We recovered in impressive fashion.  The goal we scored was a combination of some great harrying and hustling from Yossi Benayoun to win the ball high up the pitch, an outstanding cross from the rejuvenated Tomas Rosicky, and classic movement from RVP to pull away at the far post to tuck home.

There were moments where we flirted with a second goal.  Gervinho ducked out of a a simple header, Ramsey fired wide from the edge of the box, and Yossi Benayoun took a tumble in the box, asking for a penalty which he’ll know in his heart of hearts would have been a very soft award.  Despite our dominance, Stoke are always a threat when the ball is out of play, and they nearly punished us from a late Rory Delap throw-in; Bacary Sagna redeeming himself with a spectacular clearance from under our crossbar.

And so, a point it was.  Although we haven’t won in our last three league games, this was by far our best performance since the victory over Manchester City.  Particular credit is due to Aaron Ramsey, who put in a committed and industrious display on a ground which must hold some dark memories for him.  As for the Stoke fans who booed him?  Well, it’s a level idiocy beyond comprehension.  I hoped the empathy and compassion between football fans that sprung up off the back of terrible incidents like the Fabrice Muamba collapse might help put an end to such hateful attitudes.  I was wrong.  Arsene speaks with great eloquence about the situation here:

“I don’t think you can be especially proud to boo Aaron Ramsey, I don’t see what he has done wrong. It’s an old story where the fans of Stoke stand behind their player but it shouldn’t go as far as booing Ramsey.

I think sometimes when I go out on the pitch at the end of the game, and people are angry or hateful, I would like a little picture to send home for them to show their son or daughter, and then come back next week and see if they will do it again, see if they are proud of you.”

Beautifully put. We can, however, be proud of Ramsey and his team-mates for a very creditable point. Two games left; two wins required. Play like we did yesterday, and it’s eminently possible.

Three. It’s a magic number.

731 comments April 28th, 2012

Three games left, three wins required, with third place the prize.

As you all know by now, fourth place is a risk we cannot take, rewarding us with only the a fifty-fifty chance of having an opportunity to qualify for the Champions League.  Third place takes you straight in to the group stage, and is currently in our hands.  To lose it now, having been granted so many repreives already, would be simply ungrateful.

Today is undoubtedly the trickiest of our remaining three fixtures.  It is a sad and unsatisfying fact that we have not won at Stoke since the game in which Aaron Ramsey picked up that horror injury.  Whilst Stoke, Norwich and West Brom all ostensibly have nothing to play for, Tony Pulis’ dislike for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal is so strong that he simply won’t allow his side to roll over today in the manner they did at St. James’ Park last week.  Make no mistake, they will be up for this.

Arsenal’s defence will have to be at their very best to cope with the catapulted throw-ins of Rory Delap or Ryan Shotton.  It is just this sort of game, facing the height of Peter Crouch, that 6 ft 6″ Per Mertesacker was bought for.  In the absence of the giant German, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen will have to be at their springy best to keep our Crouch, Shawcross, Huth and more of Stoke’s lumbering orc army.

In midfield, we’ll miss the discipline and steel of Mikel Arteta.  It’s possible Francis Coquelin could be drafted in, but the most likely starter is Aaron Ramsey.  What better place to recover his form than ‘the scene of the crime’, as it were?

Ahead of that, Theo Walcott’s injury means that Yossi Benayoun will come straight back in to the side.  The other wing spot will most likely go to one of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gervinho – although there is always an outside chance that Ramsey or Rosicky will be shunted wide to provide some more defensive stability.  We’ll once again be looking to the newly-crowned Footballer of the Year, Robin van Persie, to score the goals to fire us to victory.

It’s not an exact science of prediction, but last night I dreamt about the game in some detail.  Arsenal came from 2-1 behind to draw 2-2.  We scored a third, from a set-piece, that was wrongly disallowed.  In the end, I was fairly happy with a point, and I think I would be today too – seven points form our final nine should – SHOULD – be enough.  Crucially, it’d be enough to guarantee we finish above Spurs, regardless of what happens with Newcastle and Chelsea.

You can hear me discuss Stoke, the race for fourth, and our potential new kits in my first appearance on the Arsenal America Podcast.  Have a listen.

Is Tony Adams ready to return to Arsenal?

315 comments April 26th, 2012

I should preface this article by warning that it’s speculative.  I can’t claim to have any inside track on this matter. But here are the facts as we know them:

  • After defying expectations by deciding to remain on for a further twelve months last year, Pat Rice is due to retire this summer.
  • Arsene will therefore be looking to appoint a new assistant
  • Tony Adams is more of a presence at Arsenal than he has been in years

That last point perhaps requires some expansion.  I’m not referring to the very public appearances Tony has made, both in bronze and in the flesh.  Instead, he’s been attending games, sitting in the executive areas, and crucially has been spotted at the London Colney training ground on several occasions.  A friend of mine has been up to Colney twice in recent months – on both visits they spotted Adams.  This, of course, could be coincidence.  Or it could indicate that an Arsenal legend is preparing to return to the fold.

It’s not unusual to find a former player at the training ground.  At various points this season, Colney has been graced by the likes of Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, and Jens Lehmann, who is currently undertaking his coaching badges.  Arsene’s door is always open to his former players, whether they simply need a place to keep fit, or want to pick his brains about a problem.  Adams’ appearance, however, is surprising.  He’s been somewhat resistant to the idea of returning to Arsenal in any capacity other than as manager.  It’s clear that for ‘Mr. Arsenal’, playing second fiddle to anyone – even Arsene Wenger – would be difficult.

So what’s changed?  Well, perhaps Adams has learnt some humility.  His early years as a manager were, frankly, disastrous.  Spells with Wycombe and Portsmouth did little to convince anyone that he had a future as a number 1.  He has now resigned from his role as manager of FC Gabala in Azerbaijan, instead taking up an ‘ambassadorial’ role.  Perhaps he has accepted the need to learn his trade from more a better, more experienced man.  And perhaps the backwaters of European football have instilled in him a desire to come home.

Is he the right man to take over from Rice?  Well that’s another question entirely.  Certainly, his managerial career to date has been far from convincing.  His record as an assistant, however, is far better – working under Harry Redknapp, he drilled an effective and mean Portsmouth defence.  Internal candidates like Steve Bould and Neil Banfield would doubtless feel they were able to do the same, and might provide less of a challenge to Arsene’s authority.

My thoughts about Adams are in part influenced by proceedings at Stamford Bridge where Roberto Di Matteo and Eddie Newton, a pairing unceremoniously sacked from lowly West Brom little over a year ago, have just led Chelsea to a Champions League Final.  Sometimes, it seems, there is a value in having an inherent understanding of the culture of the club.  Pat Rice, of course, has that in spades.

And so does Tony Adams.  He is Mr. Arsenal.  And that sums it all up.  I’d welcome him back with arms as open as those with which he celebrated that famous goal.


Fourth is now a risk we simply can’t take

378 comments April 25th, 2012

Not having the hardiest constitution, or the deepest pockets, I’m not really one for football betting.  Even if I was, I’m not sure I would put money on Bayern Munich in the forthcoming Champions League final.  All of which means…

Fourth is now a risk we simply can’t take

We should have known something was up. A day that began with portents as ominous as Denilson returning to Arsenal could never end well. As it turned out, the return of the crab-like midfielder was the first sign of the apocalypse. The second was Chelsea eliminating Barcelona to reach the Champions League Final.

There are big implications for Arsenal. Roberto Di Matteo’s side are now just one game from snatching the Champions League Qualification spot normally awarded to the side who finishes fourth. Fourth would always have been a risk – our tie with Udinese this season showed just how treacherous the obligatory qualifying round can be. Now, with the possibility that even that opportunity to qualify might be whisked from under our feet in Munich, it’s a risk we simply cannot take.

Arsenal have three games remaining. Win them and we will be third. It is in our own hands, and letting it slip through them at this point would be criminal. We travel to Stoke on Saturday, before hosting Norwich, then going to West Brom on the final day. None of those three sides have anything in particular to play for. There is no reason we should not take nine points.

Even seven would probably be enough. The big concern is the forthcoming game at Stoke, where we traditionally struggle. Now is surely the time to try and put that hoodoo to bed; and what better place for Aaron Ramsey to recover his form than on the ground that nearly ended his career?

Transfer News

As I mentioned, it seems Denilson is on his way back to England this summer. If I were him, I wouldn’t bother unpacking – I don’t imagine it’ll be a long stay. Sao Paulo have been unable to agree an extension to his loan deal, primarily because Arsenal are looking for a permanent buyer. Denilson is one of a crop of players that also includes Manuel Almunia, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela and Andrey Arshavin who will be shunted off the wage bill in an attempt to fund new contracts for the likes of Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott.

Congratulations to Chelsea

Despite the fact it’s something of a disastrous result for Arsenal fans, I can only offer my congratulations to Chelsea on an extraordinary performance at the Nou Camp. There is a lesson to be learnt there: whilst Chelsea aren’t your traditional underdog, they showed that no side is unbeatable, no contest pre-determined. With the exception of the idiotic John Terry, they were a credit to themselves and the Premier League.

Right. Off to wash my mouth out.

Arsenal 0 – 0 Chelsea: Dreadful game, disappointing result, good weekend

27 comments April 22nd, 2012

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

I was furious at how Arsenal allowed the game to pass them by…
Chelsea are already in one major cup final, and could make it two.  This was, in many respects, our equivalent.  After defeat against Wigan, a win was required to restore momentum and build a protective cushion between us and the chasing pack.  I was bang up for this game, and had been excited all week.  However, from the first five minutes I couldn’t help but think that the players didn’t feel the same.  The game opened with a prolonged period of possession from the Arsenal back four, knocking it back and forth across the width of the pitch – there was no pressure from Chelsea’s attack, and little intent of driving forward from Arsenal.

It made for an incredibly dull game…
It burst briefly in to life at the latter end of each half, with Arsenal making most of the running, but it was more the most part an uninspiring affair.  It had the feel of an end-of-season game in which nothing was at stake.  And yet, bizarrely, there was a huge opportunity for both sides to secure a vital three points.  Neither team was at the races, and the game was there to be won for anyone who could find an extra gear.  However both sides seem to play with, as the Arsene Wenger might say, the “handbrake on”.

Arsenal’s midfield lacked shape and authority…
Mikel Arteta was a huge miss.  He is disciplined in his positioning, and intelligent in his use of the ball.  At the best of times, Aaron Ramsey isn’t really either of those things, and out of form and out of position he fell well shot of the Spaniards standards.  Alex Song was also poor alongside him, and Chelsea looked relatively comfortable in the middle of the park.

Abou Diaby could have a big part to play…
I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him taking the field with half an hour or so to play, but I was impressed in flashes.  With Arteta out for the rest of the season, Diaby (and indeed Francis Coquelin, who is also fit again) could be a key figure between now and the end of May.

That said, we did have chances…
With a fresher Robin van Persie, we’d probably have won the game.  Laurent Koscielny also struck the bar with a free header, and if any side was going to win it I was sure it’d be us – partly because of the inexplicable selfishness of Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge, who ruined several counter-attacks by failing to make obvious passes to team-mates.

I was possibly a little harsh on the team…
I’m sure they were up for it.  I’m sure they wanted to win.  We’re probably just a little jaded.  Due to injuries and lack of quality options, we have not been able to rotate the side much all season long.  Inevitably, we’re suffering a little for that in the final straight.

Spurs’ defeat made it a better weekend…
Every time I expect Tottenham’s form to pick up, they confound me with yet another disastrous result.  Their form is so patchy that Newcastle are arguably now the greatest threat to our third-placed position.  Arsenal have three games to go – our next, a trip to Stoke, is arguably the toughest.  That said, none of the three sides we face (Stoke, Norwich, WBA) have much to play for.  We should aim for nothing less than nine points, though I suspect six will be enough to claim third spot.

RVP is a deserving Player of the Year…
Despite his recent ill-fortune in front of goal, he has been a cut above everyone else in the Premier League this season, and is richly deserving of following in the foot-steps of the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp by being voted the PFA Player of the Year.  There can be few greater honours than being recognised by your fellow professionals, and I hope this individual gong will be followed by the trophies his class richly deserves – with Arsenal, of course.

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