Archive for May, 2012

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2012

272 comments May 30th, 2012

I thought I had better squeeze these in before May is out, otherwise they’ll begin to feel outdated and irritating, like Noel Edmonds or woolen trousers. So, amidst muffled fanfare and the half-hearted applause of a fanatical few, let us begin.


Remarkably, in a season which will be remembered as much for calamity as class, there are several credible contenders for this award – three of whom are arguably surprise candidates.

At the start of the campaign, both Laurent Koscielny and Mikel Arteta were expected to play supporting roles to the men playing directly next to them. However, a combination of injuries and poor form meant that Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere never hit the heights expected of them – or, in Jack’s case, never even hit the pitch. In their stead, both Koscielny and Arteta stepped up to the mark with some outstanding performances. Laurent eradicated the silly errors that marred his first season to become the model of consistency, whilst Mikel’s importance to the team was underlined most pointedly by how desperately he was missed when absent. The contribution of both players did much to make up for the aberrations and absence of more illustrious team-mates.

It may seem unfathomable now, but the winner of last year’s ‘Worst Player of the Season’ Award was one Tomas Rosicky, who “made 34 appearances without doing anything of note”. For the first half of this season, that ineffective form continued, until he suddenly sparked in to life – and what life. Against the odds, Rosicky has found the best form of his Arsenal career, supplanting Aaron Ramsey and bringing verve and vision to the Arsenal midfield. He rightly earnt himself a new deal, and will be hoping to carry his tremendous end-of-season displays in to next season.

However, despite the various claims from these three pretenders, there can surely be no arguments about the fact that the crown ultimately goes to one Robin van Persie. His quality has long been undoubted, but this year he finally managed to shed the concerns over his fragility. Taking on the armband has seen him flourish both as a player and a man, and it’s hardly worth imagining how 2011/12 might have panned out without him. Saying that, depending on how the summer plays out, we might just get a pretty good idea in 2012/13. Let’s enjoy him and raise a glass to him while we can – Robin Van Persie: the best footballer in the country.


This is always a hotly-contested award in this Arsenal squad, and I certainly found it hard to call.

I haven’t been entirely convinced by Kieran Gibbs’ first full season at left-back, and to be fair to him he suffered a fairly hefty injury which ruled him out for the middle third of the season. So that was him off the list.

I toyed with the idea of giving to Francis Coquelin – a young man who returned from a loan spell at Lorient fairly unheralded, and showed his mettle as a midfielder, full-back, and invaluable squad member.

And then I plumped for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: a teenager who in twelve months has gone from League One to Champions League and on to the European Championships. The thought of what he could achieve with such an impressive first campaign behind him is mouthwatering.

And then I remembered: there was one candidate I was overlooking, simply because I had forgotten that he was even young. I simply accepted him as an essential part of the team.

Wojciech Szczesny only turned 22 last month. In goalkeeping terms, he is a baby – fully three years younger than Joe Hart. To play almost fifty games, with only the odd dip in form, is an outstanding achievement for Szczesny. Next season he will inherit the number one shirt, and I can’t see him letting go of it any time soon.


It’s never nice handing this out, but it is tradition, so we may aswell get on with it. Perrennial contenders Almunia and Fabianski didn’t really get enough game-time to bungle themselves into consideration. I thought long and hard about awarding it to Park Chu-Young, but decided he was more guilty of invisibility than ineptitude – although perhaps that’s because his greatest crimes came on the training pitch.

In the end, however, I’ve plumped for Marouane Chamakh. The Morroccan ventured on to the field 13 times more than Park, without managing to beat the Korean’s goal tally of ‘one’. He simply has not lived up to either his generous pay-packet, or his performances in the early part of his Arsenal career- and unlike Tomas Rosicky, I don’t think he’ll get the chance to prove me wrong next season.


It’s been a thrilling season, so it’s no surprise there are plenty of contenders here. It won’t live as long in the memory as others, but I for one enjoyed our workmanlike display to beat the eventual Champions, Manchester City, thanks to Mikel Arteta’s late strike.

Our entire season felt like a comeback, and it was full of microcosmic comeback games. Highlights include the 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge, Thomas Vermaelen’s late late winner against Newcastle, and the incredible attempt to reign in AC Milan.

The undoubted winner, however, has to be Arsenal 5 – 2 Spurs. Bacary Sagna’s thumping header turned a season on its head, and set us up for a late run that would ultimately see us pip Spurs to third and the Champions League. It was a fantastic day, and a quite outstanding match.

North London Is Red on Vimeo by merskamp


I won’t pore over the details. It was painful enough the first time. Suffice to say that in my time as an Arsenal fan I cannot remember a game in which we were so comprehensively humiliated by a rival.

I will now consign this game to the same part of my brain that stores the image of John Terry lifting the Champions League trophy, and attempt not to mention it unless absolutely necessary.


RVP’s wonder-volleys?
Hammering Chelsea?
Overhauling Spurs?

Afraid not. The highlight of my season was the magical moment when Thierry Henry not only deigned to return to the Emirates turf, but dared to grace it with a goal so transporting we all felt that Arsenal, briefly, were Invincible again.

Like Martin Tyler once said, the man is simply electrifying.


I think it tells you something about the topsy-turvy nature of the season that there were as many crushing disappointments as uplifting highs. I’m going to go in, the end, for a rather abstract winner: our dreadful start. Although our poor run in January was arguably more damaging to our final standing in terms of the points we dropped, our poor start was so frustrating simply because it felt so avoidable. Our failure to sort out the future of major stars early in the summer, and enable us to focus on completing our transfer activity ahead of the deadline cost us not only points but morale, momentum, and belief. I still believe it very nearly cost Arsene Wenger his job.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that next season’s fortune’s are largely dependent on learning from our mistakes last time round. Over to you, Arsenal.

Twitter & Transfers

517 comments May 26th, 2012

I really love Twitter. I use it every day. It’s an amazing way of interacting with folks the likes of which I would never encounter in day-to-day existence. That ranges all the way from the far-flung readers of this blog, to the wife of Bacary Sagna.

It’s also an incredible source of news. The sheer breadth of contributors means it is inevitably faster than any newspaper or television channel. If something happens, anywhere in the world, you can be pretty sure that someone, somewhere has tweeted about it.

I must confess, however, it is rather trying my patience at present. The winds of change have blown the transfer window wide open, and suddenly every @Tom, @Dick and @Harry is telling you who is going where, when, and for how much.

Transfer windows have always been testing times for those who value the truth. Journalists play fast and loose with facts, turning whispers and nudges in to concrete stories to sell papers and attract hits. With the rise of self-publication, millions of individuals are now doing just the same.

It’s a fairly easy game to play. I make an informed guess that Jan Vertonghen will end up at Spurs; I tweet something to that effect, and when it comes off I am proclaimed as being ‘ITK’ – an acronym which supposedly anoints those who are ‘in the know’. If it doesn’t come off, I can always claim the deal fell down at the last minute due to some minor technicality – the kind of insider knowledge that only reaffirms my ITK status.

The big boys are just as bad. Take Sky Sports News, who have developed a habit of ‘understanding’ something about twenty minutes after every newspaper journalist, blogger and fan has heard it via the online grapevine. Twitter poses a threat to their position as the sport’s most prominent newsbreaker, and they need to up their game and do some proper investigative journalism on a day other than transfer deadline day.

Sky have fallen behind because the whispers and rumours that used to be exclusively theirs are now public long before they reach them. A true ‘exclusive’ is almost impossible to maintain – the risk of someone getting to it before you is simply too great. It’s the same old pyramid of murky untruths and occasional scoops. It’s just a bigger, noisier and possibly more irritating pyramid than ever before.

It takes a little of the joy out of it aswell. The ‘surprise signing’ may become a thing of the past. Whoever your club signs, there’s a chance someone’s claimed a deal is in the offing somewhere, so you’re probably bored of the idea before it even happens.

I’m guilty too. I pass on the small bits of information I get here and there, when permitted, in order to try and keep fans in the loop. I’m feeding the machine. The distinction, I hope, is that I’m not fabricating anything. Maybe none of these people are, but I find it hard to believe that there as many ‘ITK’ people as Twitter would have you believe. There simply aren’t enough people working in football to have that many friends/associates to pass information on to. Something, frankly, doesn’t add up.

There is, of course, a very simple solution: switch Twitter off, cancel my Sky subscription, and wait till everything is announced and confirmed on But I’m hardly going to manage that now, am I?

Let The Longest Summer commence.

The summer of the long knives begins

25 comments May 24th, 2012

Have you ever tried eating with a long knife? It is very awkward, particularly when the knife is disproportionately large when compared with the fork. It is probably relatively easy, however, when compared to the task of offloading Arsenal’s glut of overpaid squad members.

The list, by now, is familiar: Fabianski, Squillaci, Denilson, Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner and Vela are all very much available. The problem is finding someone who will a) pay a reasonable fee, and b) match their current salary. One can’t help but think that we will end up sacrificing a) in order to facilitate b). From the little I know about the murky world of transfers, I can tell you this: no player will lose out financially.

It has become common practise in the Premier League for clubs to pay up the remainder of players contracts using transfer fees. Take for example, one transfer between two Premier League clubs last season. A player at a top six club was being moved on by the Chairman to make room for a new signing. A mid-table club wanted to take him, and made a reasonable offer, but could not match his wages. The player refused to take a pay-cut and move, and on transfer deadline day the selling club’s desperation to get the player off the wage bill saw them pay him a fee which would make up the difference in his earnings for the duration of his remaining contract. In doing so, they essentially halved the fee they received. This happens all the time, so anyone expecting us to rake in a huge warchest by selling of our fringe players is barking up the wrong tree. Getting them off the books and distributing our salary budget more sensibly remains undoubtedly worthwhile.

That process began in earnest on Monday with the release of seven players, including Manuel Almunia. I’ve always been somewhat fond of Manuel, despite his much-publicised flaws. For a brief time, when he first ousted Jens Lehmann, he looked like a reasonable number one, although he was always distressingly vulnerable at his near post. In the end, old foibles crept back in, and he ended up being taken out of the firing line. His departure comes as no surprise, and his shirt number will surely join his spot in the team in falling in to the safer hands of Wojciech Szczesny.

We all hope the clear-out will make room for a few new signings, but it’s worth remembering we have some good prospects returning to the squad from loan spells last year. Yesterday Ryo Miyaichi became Japan’s second youngest ever player when he made his international debut as a substitute. Bolton seem keen to take him next season, but I suspect Arsene may want Ryo to test himself at Premier League level again. We shall see: he’ll certainly accompany us on our pre-season tour. If he performs well he may make a case to remain with the squad next season.

The same is true of Joel Campbell, although his situation is dependent on him being granted a work permit. If he does, I can foresee him being kept around as a third or fourth choice striker. It’s worth noting that he’s played a lot of his football at Lorient as a right-winger cutting in on his left-foot, so he does bring a degree of versatility.

Right, that’s all from me today.  Time to enjoy the freshly-arrived sun and the silliness of summer.

Latest on M’Vila + Thoughts on Champions League

693 comments May 21st, 2012

Apologies for a bit of radio silence. I’ve been on the continent, scouting, sunbathing and trying to get my head around the craziest season since the Premier League’s inception.  I need a bit more time before putting a lid on it once and for all, so here are some little bits of news in the mean-time.

I’ll start with Yann M’Vila.  There were reports a few weeks back that this deal was done and dusted.  I’ve urged caution all along, and that was confirmed to me on Friday from a source very close to the deal.  Contrary what you may have read elsewhere, this transfer is a long way from being imminent.  This won’t be news to any of you that follow me on Twitter, but for those who don’t, here is the situation as it stands:

1) Arsenal have a long-standing interest in the player, and bid last summer.

2) The player would obviously like to join Arsenal.  We are a massive step up from Rennes.  The presence of Arsene Wenger is also a huge factor.

3) Arsenal need a player like M’Vila: a strong, disciplined defensive midfielder as a foil for Alex Song.

4) In spite of the above, there has been no formal contact since last summer.  The player does not expect his future to be resolved until after EURO 2012.

You may have read a story last week suggesting that M’Vila would be announcing his destination last night.  This was a misinterpretation: he meant after the end of the season – ie. at some unspecified point in the summer.  The idea that he was going to walk off the pitch and say, “Yes, it’s Arsenal, surprise!” was never realistic.  Especially considering how far away any potential deal clearly is.

I’m not saying it won’t happen at a later date.  Nor am I criticising those journalists whose sources say a deal is close.  I’m just saying my sources say different.

Personally, I’d like it to happen.  On paper it looks like a great signing.  We know there’s long-standing interest, so we may just have to be a bit more patient than we would like.  International camps are kicking off all over the place, and signing any player involved in this summer’s Championships is going to be difficult.

Also while I was away, many were forced to witness the apocalyptic vision of John Terry with the Champions League trophy.  All I can say is thank God for Jose Bosingwa, whose celebratory antics obscured the sight of Terry actually lifting the trophy.  Chelsea rode their luck, and as Gary Neville insisted, their victory seemed to be “written in the stars”.  It’s painful for Arsenal fans.  I think we all harboured an ambition to be the first London side to bring home the European Cup, and having some so close in 2006, it’s galling to see our rivals manage it.  That said, I don’t think it’s the disaster that it’s been made out to be.

I think it’s important to remember that despite Chelsea’s status as underdogs in the final, Roman Abramovich has thrown hundreds of millions of pounds at them to get them to the point where they’re even competing on that stage.  Much like Man City winning the league, the amount of money involved meant victory was eventually inevitable.  Truth be told, only bits of bad luck (a ‘Ghost goal’, or missed penalty) have stopped this from happening long before now.

It’s also worth pointing out that it doesn’t change all that much.  It’s a cup competition, not a barometer of greatness.  Nottingham Forest have got one.  Arsenal can and will do it in time, and hopefully when we do it will be on secure, billionaire-less foundations.  Imagine what that will be worth.

Some Arsenal players, like Jack Wilshere, took a lot of stick for congratulating Chelsea on their victory.  I think that’s unfair: you have to realise that these guys are professionals and see it differently to us fans.  Wilshere has friends in that Chelsea team, and is happy for them.  He knows what it means to an athlete to reach that pinnacle.  And it’s worth noting that he followed up his praise by saying, “Arsenal fans how good would it be of we won something next year?”.  If Chelsea’s victory acts as a spur to drive Arsenal on to bigger and better things, then so be it.  And speaking of Spurs, let’s not forget that as a little consolation, Chelsea’s victory puts them back where they belong: Thursday nights, Channel 5ive.

I draw inspiration for the future form last night’s enthralling climax to the French Ligue 1 season, where Oil-rich PSG were beaten to the title by little Montpellier.  One of PSG’s goals on the night was scored by €45m Argentine superstar Javier Pastore; both of Montpellier’s were scored by John Utaka, released from Championship Portsmouth.  At the start of the season, Montpellier were 80/1 to win the league.  It is an extraordinary tale.  Football is a game with a financial handicap, but it can be overcome.  Take note, Arsenal.

Thoughts on RVP’s future + This morning’s meeting: LIVE

452 comments May 16th, 2012

As you probably all know by now, Robin van Persie will meet with Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis this morning to discuss his future.  The get together will take place in Arsene Wenger’s house, of all places, at 10.30am.  It’s been splashed all over the web and papers for the last two days as if its big news.  In reality, it’s not news at all.  For six months now Arsenal and Robin have made it clear talks would take place between the end of the season and Robin joining up with the Dutch squad for the Euros.  That time has now arrived.

It’s hard to see what can be accomplished in just one day.  Robin leaves for Holland tomorrow, and it’s unlikely anything concrete could be sorted and signed so swiftly.  Perhaps Van Persie already knows what we’re offering, has been mulling it over, and this is his opportunity to give us his answer.  Perhaps this is genuinely the first time they’ve talked any kind of terms.  Either way, I can’t see us having a definitive resolution until much later in the summer.

RVP was pretty cagey after the West Brom game, but that’s understandable.  It wouldn’t be much of a negotiation tactic for him to say “I’ll definitely be signing a new deal”.  Even if he does decide his future is with Arsenal, he’ll want to squeeze us for as much money as possible – this is, after all, his last major contract.  And after his performances this season, who could begrudge him a big payday?

If I had to make a prediction – and it remains a hard one to call – I’d say he’ll stay and sign a new deal making him Arsenal’s highest paid player.  The reason being is that I can only see him really being tempted by a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid, and he doesn’t seem to be on either club’s radar this summer.  If he was, they’d have made their move by now, and we’d be reading a lot more quotes about his “DNA”.  I think he’ll be impressed by the arrival of Podolski, by Arsene and Ivan’s plans, and by the money we offer him.  And you know what?  If things don’t work out, he can always hand in a transfer request at a later date and leave for a decent fee.  He’ll still have plenty of suitors in twelve months time.

The stories this morning say that even if he doesn’t want to sign a new deal we’ll hold him to his existing contract.  That’s all well and good, but it does present some conflicts: do you want a player who you know is leaving to be the captain of your club?  Seems to happen to us all the time, but it’s hardly ideal.

Anyway, for a bit of fun, I’m live-tweeting this morning’s meeting over at @Gunnerblog, covering the conversation, the croissants, and the contract.  Follow me, it might be a laugh.

In other news, Euro 2012 is just around the corner, and at 1pm today we’ll find out if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joins Theo Walcott in the England squad.  Personally, I hope he does: if he’s not at the Euros, he’ll be at the Olympics, which is far more disruptive.  A host of other players are already ‘on the plane’ with their respective nations, and if you do me a little favour I could be too. I’ve written this piece on 5 Rising Stars at Euro 2012 (which includes a profile of reported Arsenal target Yann M’Vila).  If you could give it a read and click the ‘Like‘ or ‘Tweet‘ button I might just win a competition which takes me all the way to Poland.  Would enjoy blogging to you from there.

Whilst we’re on the subject of doing me favours: if anyone out there has a company that would like to sponsor Gunnerblog for next season, do let me know. Traffic is particularly high during the transfer window so it’s a good time to get on board. Apologies for being so public about it but I’ve got to find a way to pay for my season ticket somehow!  I can be contacted here.

Right. By tomorrow, we might know a good deal more about the future of RVP, and quite how painful this summer might be.  Don’t forget you can follow all that and more @gunnerblog.

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