Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Video of the week

 
This week's video is brought to you by afcahmed1. A slightly more cheery look at our season. Enjoy... 

Monday, 25 April 2011

My thoughts on the defeat to Bolton

Arsenal lost at Bolton yesterday 2-1 and threw away any slim chance we had left of winning the Premier League. 

We had countless chances to win the match, but we failed to take any of them and in the end were punished by a late Bolton winner. In a way yesterday's performances summed up how the side have been playing since the disappointment of the Carling Cup final. The players seem to have lacked the mental strength to win football matches and have made many errors due to a simple lack of concentration.

It is however very hard to see why the players have really struggled since the Carling Cup Final. In a couple of matches they have proved what great players they can be when they put their minds to it. Take for instance the Barcelona game at the Emirates. Yesterday's starting XI was exactly the same but the performance level was nowhere near as good. Against Barcelona Laurent Koscielny had the game of his life and dealt superbly with the likes of Messi and Iniesta. However yesterday he struggled to cope with Kevin Davies and Daniel Sturridge. They are both good forwards but nowhere near the level of the Barcelona front line.

The eleven players that started yesterday is in most fans opinions our strongest eleven, except of course Vermaelen coming in for Koscielny. The majority of these eleven players have had strong seasons and the likes of Wilshere, Djourou and Szczesny have cemented places in the starting XI and nobody really thought they would before the start of the season. Therefore it is very difficult to see where we can strengthen the side. 

It is clear we need 'leaders' in the squad but apart from maybe a centre half where we can fit a so called leader into our side? Take our midfield for example, do Song,Wilshere or Fabregas really deserve to be replaced? Up front Nasri has had an outstanding season, and Van Persie is the best striker in the Premiership at the moment. Theo has been inconsistent but when he plays well he is unplayable, for example yesterday he should of been awarded a penalty and was unlucky not to score the opening goal.
All in all this season hasn't gone as the fans hoped. However you have to remember many members of the media didn't even believe we would finish in the top 5. Tottenham and Man City were both apparently going to finish above us. Therefore we have exceeded some of the media's expectations, yet still Wenger is being criticised on the back pages daily. What Arsene has done for the club is outstanding. Yes, he has his flaws but who doesn't? 

The fans need to get behind the players and more importantly the manager. There are protests being planned for the final home game of the season, I can't believe this as it could be a very important game in the race for second and it is the last thing the players and the manager need. If we all stay behind the manager, he will make changes in the Summer and I guarantee we will finish in the top four once again and challenge for silverware, unlike Spurs. Spending money is no guarantee of success, look at Andrey Arshavin for example. He cost over £15 million and in all honesty plays well once every three or four games. Is that what some so called 'fans' really want to see? The manager knows what he is doing and eventually the good times will return to the Arsenal. Keep the faith.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

What has happened to this Arsenal team?

Once again we've not taken the chance given to us.

How many times are we given chances, only to not give ourselves any chance? This season it's been more than ever. And the players are more experienced and a year older than last season. Yet nothing's changed.

It seemed like we'd turned a corner in January time. Thrashing teams for fun, keeping clean sheets too. But after the Carling Cup final defeat everything went pearshaped. People talk about our mental strength being poor, and they'd be absolutely right. But the biggest thing about our mental strength is our confidence and belief. That's why we're such an inconsistent team.

Every time we get a bad result, we let it get to us and continue to get bad results. We don't bounce back like Man United always do. We just curl up in a ball and hope the blows don't kill us. I was reading a post on the excellent Gingers For Limpar and came across a line that I felt was particularly significant. It was about the Invincibles. "They knew they were the best team in the league, and by Jupiter, they were going to batter the life out of anyone who dared try to prove otherwise.

That's partly what's missing. We don't believe that we're the best team in the league. And if our players don't believe it, then nobody else will, and we're not going to convince anyone that we're the best. So until we instil a winning mentality - that's belief mainly - we won't win the league.

What we also need to do is either make sure more players take responsibility, or buy players who will. Maybe both. Cesc and van Persie were our leaders, the only ones trying to make things happen on their own. The other plays just thought it would happen, be put on a plate for them. That's not going to happen is it?

Back in the day of the Invincibles, each player would take equal responsibility. Henry would scare the life out of defenders in trying to score. Bergkamp would look for the killer pass, or go for goal. Vieira would lead our counter attacks and help if we needed. Pires and Ljungberg would run their socks off and get into the perfect positions and nine times out of ten, they'd score. 
 
Now, other than Fabregas and van Persie, nobody else does that. They don't realise how big a part they have to play, and how they have to contribute as much as anyone else. They don't think that they can win the game on their own. And it all comes back to that word belief, or confidence or whatever you want to call it.

Nicklas Bendtner is famous for his "arrogance". No commentator will talk about him without mentioning how he thinks he's the best striker in the world. But he never said that. All that was said was something on the lines of believing at his best, he's a good player and should start. Nothing wrong with that.

In fact, it's a good thing. That's a sign of him wanting more responsibility, not shying away from it like many players currently do. I'd rather players had his attitude than the ones they do now, mostly. He knows he has something to prove, and he wants to prove it. A lot of people think he should be sold. In my opinion, he should be given more chances to show what he can do.

It was just a poor performance and nobody stepped up to win the match for us. Nobody could make the difference that we needed in attack, nobody knew how to stop Bolton from scoring in defence. Another thing we need is to sort out our defence. We may be great occasionally, but there are so many little mistakes and things that should be done that aren't that cost us.

We need some hungry players who can make a difference this summer, and to get rid of those who don't make a difference. We had no excuses today of injuries, only Vermaelen was out. Maybe we should give some different players a chance, like Ramsey, Gibbs and Chamakh. See what they can offer. Show the first team players that they have to earn their right to start week in, week out. Start Arshavin too, he's been working hard while others haven't quite. 

Yet another thing we need is a change in tactics and formation. The 4-3-3 has now failed. We need to change back to 4-4-2 or at least have some variety in our tactics because the 4-3-3 is predictable and stale now. Put Theo up front, draw the opposition towards us and then play him in behind. Play Cesc a bit deeper too.

I've had enough of ranting so that's your lot. Until later...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

What Cesc Fabregas really said

Big thanks to David for the excellent translation, I tidied it up a little but it was a great job.

Hi there, this is my first post in this blog. Just wanted to translate what Cesc really said to Don Balon. Enjoy! 

Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal captain, 23 years old, reflects on his football career.  

Q: What did you think of Arsenal when you were 16 years old? I knew they had a great manager, they tried to give opportunities to the youngsters, and that they had good players such as Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Pires. I wasn't a fan of the English league, I used to watch highlights on Sundays, but that's all. Maybe that made for me more difficult to come here, I didn't even know where I was going to...  

Q: How has that thought changed 8 years later? In everything. I have also changed too, physically and as a person I have matured a lot. If I try to analyse it, I have learned a lot in this time, I have also made mistakes and now I'm absolutely more complete than I was 8 years ago.  

Q: Do you think you are prodigy teenager? No. Well, maybe at the beginning yes. Now absolutely not. I have been struck by injuries for a couple of years that have stopped me improving in the way I want to. But being a 17 year old and playing 51 matches, then when I was 18 we won the FA cup, I played in the Champions League Final, and the World Cup when I was 19. I remember perfectly of my beginning as a footballer more than I remember the people. In those first three years everything went so fast. It was the time that I've improved the most, the most drastic change. Since I was 21, after Euro 2008, I've had more injuries, everything has been more difficult and it has been difficult for me to improve.  

Q: Your first season with the first team, you were 17 years old, it wasn't a team that anybody could play in.. Tell us about it. It was such a great team. 'The Invincibles' who just won the league without losing a game. I started there and I was there for between 15 and 18 games that we didn't lose a game (in the next season). That year I played 51 matches and in a lot of them I was a starter. To be honest I feel that I took part in that record, in total we didn't lose for 49 league matches.  

Q: Is that the best team you have played in? Yes, no doubt. Wow, you don't even have to think it. It was a year in which I improved a lot. Even sometimes I wonder if I was better when I was 17 years old than now! When you realize that the answer is no, the thing is that I used to play with a winning team and it was awesome. You felt that if you had a bad game nothing wrong would happen because your teammates would make up for it. Those players made you better. I have always said this: No team is compared to The Invincibles.  

Q: Things have changed a lot now. Do you feel that you have the pressure to be always at your best? Yeah, for sure. I've realized that, when I fail a pass everybody watches me. I don't like to say it but it's the truth. If I play bad l notice the responsibility and the pressure of the fans. It's something that had never happened to me before, but since I'm the captain that's the reality. Van Persie and me are the only ones who have stayed from that generation, and because of that we have a lot of responsibility.  

Q: But you won't deny that you like it... I like it! The thing is that sometimes it's a lot of work. Why? Because football is a team game. Nobody wins games alone. You can win two or three games in the season but you can't win a title alone. Sometimes everything that surrounds me overemphasizes itself but that's the responsibility of leading such a young team. The most important thing for me is not to pick up injuries because if I pick an injury it gets more complicated. And the continuity I've had got me where I am now.  

Q: This Arsenal team is a young team. Don't you think it's a loop? See, I think that the key is to have a good combination. That's why I feel so lucky to have played with the team I began with (The Invincibles). Because that was me alone, also Van Persie and we both were growing up watching our idols play alongside us. We learnt from the best. Now it's so different because we all are youngsters and you don't have people to say: "Wooow" about.  

Q: Well, now youngsters in the team, watch you and want to learn from you...- I don't know that because I'm only 23 years old, and that's important to remember. I started so early that now it seems like I'm 27 or 28 years old. Then you realize and know that I have still a long road to go. That's why I had luck. Youngsters learnt from the best players. Now it's more complicated. If you put Wilshere in the team I used to play before.. it's different. Before, you had good, winning, strong players and you learnt faster playing with them.  

Q: Do you feel bothered to be associated with Wenger's name to yours, someone who guides you, that decides for you? Man, he is the boss, I have a contract and he has all the rights in the world to decide. But the truth is no, it can be seen or interpreted that way from outside but things are not like that. I always speak to him frankly and sincerely and he accepts what I tell him.  

Q: It seems that we have to find a reason why you've stayed at Arsenal... I don't know but it seems that if I don't move another step forward now I won't do it ever. I'm 23 years old and IF I leave this summer I'd be 24; if I leave the next one I'd be 25; the next one 26; and the next one 27! Things must be taken with patience and wait for the ideal moment. The day I leave Arsenal I will do it with certainty, not only because I can. Also, who ensures that you'll play in the next team? Or maybe you won't improve in the next team. Here (at Arsenal) I have the big luck that in a personal level, even if we don't win a lot, I'm feeling so strong. I speak to Puyol and he tells me that until he reached 26 he didn't win anything. Puyol, who has won everything in the football world!! Patience and hard work are the most important things in life.  

Q: How do you explain that a manager like Wenger who has not won anything for 6 years, continues being not much questioned? Man, now it's easier to understand why he has so many years here. But it's clear that if you come from Spain and tell Emery, Guardiola and Mourinho that they'd be three years without winning a trophy, they won't continue for sure. But here it's different, the manager is an intelligent person and the team values other things: that the team is always in the Champions League, that it fights till the end, that it creates new stars, and economic stability. I guess that's important for the board. I imagine that there will come the time in which you will have to make the next step.. To win or not to win.  

Q: That's the point I wanted to reach, Arsenal's tag is 'they don't win nothing but what great football they play'! It's true. When I started we won the FA Cup and then we reached the UEFA Champions League final, which, well, we didn't win but then you say 'damn', you just got beaten by Barca and you had only ten men and goal came in the last minute. You don't say it's a victory but you think: It's the first time this club have reached the UCL final, that millions of players have played in this club and we were the firsts ones to reach it. But since 2007 I started to say the same thig; "We don't win but we play so well". And then you realize that it's nonsense. You enjoy during a part of the tournament, like this year, for example, when we were in 4 different competitions. And you say: "Yes I have it all here!" But then you miss that final point/decision and it's here when you have to take a decision: To go for it or to not go for it.

Tottenham 3-3 Arsenal: Thriller ends in disappointment

I'm not really sure how to start today's post.

A tough result to take against our rivals, especially when we were two goals to the good, but it's worth remembering that the Invincibles lost a two goal cushion in a similar way. A good long-range goal and a stupid penalty. Seeing as we've shot ourselves in the foot several times this season in the same way, people were bound to say we've done it again. In reality, that's just lazy, using the same old stick to hit us with when in this situation it didn't really apply.

I hate to say it but the comeback was more down to Sp*rs playing well than us imploding again. In the first half, our attackers were excellent. If Man United had a "fantastic four" in Tevez, Berbatov, Rooney and Ronaldo, I think it would be fair to say we have one of our own in Fabregas, Walcott, Nasri and van Persie. Three of the four netted, while Cesc pulled the strings and looked closer to his best than in recent games. He tweeted this morning that it was the best he'd felt since the Stoke game, which is of course a good thing.

From an attacking point of view, the goals we scored were great. For the first, Theo did exactly what we want from him. He came central, beat the offside trap having been played through perfectly by Fabregas, and when the finish came he was clinical. A cool finish slotted past Gomes, one-nil after just five minutes. After van der Vaart had levelled things up, more on that goal later, Samir Nasri fired in after just twelve minutes. It was the kind of goal we need to score more often - we have the ability to do so. Nasri and Cesc linked up well on the left, before the former came inside. He was fouled, but Martin Atkinson played a good advantage, and Nasri played a one-two with Diaby before smashing a shot past Gomes. It's exactly what our players should be doing in that situation, we have the quality to score from range, why not try more often? Even if we don't score, the goalkeeper could push it out and we could score from a rebound. It was great to see Nasri score again, having hit a dry patch since New Year, hopefully he can continue to score from now until the end of the season.

The third goal came from a decent cross by Sagna that caused problems for Agent Gallas. He was caught in two minds, as the ball was at a troublesome height to deal with, so he tried chesting it down. It fell to Walcott, who squared perfectly for van Persie. His header was saved, but he smashed it in at the second bite of the cherry. Gallas' confusion reminded me of Ricardo Rocha at the Emirates in the Carling Cup. It was extra time, and the ball was low and he tried heading it. It fell to Aliadiere, who scored. Despite the defensive error though, van Persie's goal was good. That's 16 goals in 16 games for him now, and in the league he's been involved in a goal a game in the last 20 I think. Superb stats - maybe he can be an out and out striker, with good enough support from the rest of the forwards.

Now, onto the goals we conceded. We couldn't calm the game down after Theo's goal, and it was poor from us defensively. The ball played in behind the defence caught us out, and van der Vaart was too good for Diaby, holding him off to fire a superb shot past Szczesny, albeit at his near post. The celebration was infuriating but I won't go into that. It was poor defensively because we were caught out by a pass that we should have dealt with. Szczesny has been criticised but the shot was admittedly played to perfection and it would have been difficult to save, even at the near post.

The second goal was a super hit from Huddlestone. It began when Szczesny and Bale both went for the ball, Szczesny got it and Bale clattered into him. There were appeals for a penalty, when really it should have gone the other way. If Bale had got the ball first in the 50-50, and they had collided and both gone down, it's a penalty. But oh well. A throw-in was given, and we cleared it only as far as Huddlestone who rifled it in. Again, little chance for Szczesny as it flew past him through a flurry of bodies.

As for the third goal, we could have prevented it. Sagna was caught out by a ball played in behind him, Lennon was always going to get the ball first and did, and you know the rest. A nailed on penalty, and of course it was scored by probably the most selfish player on the pitch. I said it during the World Cup (Sneijder and Robben were guilty of the same, which was a big difference between Holland and Spain in the final), van der Vaart is a selfish player who's in it for himself first and the team second. But what can you expect for someone who plays for a club as classless as Tottenham?

Going back to what I said earlier, it wasn't your typical Arsenal collapse. As was said pre-game, in a derby game, form goes out of the window. Anything can happen in a derby, especially when you're away from home. We were powerless to stop our opponents from storming back, and couldn't control the tempo of the game. That's maybe missing a bit from our play, we struggle to change the speed of the game, we used to be able to control it but that wasn't evident yesterday evening.

What we needed to do after that was score again, but we just didn't have it in us. Well, to be fair we did have the ball in the net in the second half, but it was ruled offside. Ray Wilkins agreed; quite how he could tell at the time, seeing as the only replay available to him was obstructed by a stupidly-placed pole, I don't know. Word from after the game from Arsenal fans was that van Persie was actually clearly onside. We would have been two goals in front again, but it's in the past.

The attacking changes were made far too late in my opinion; Bendtner and Arshavin having only 10 minutes to change the game. Even worse was seeing Bendtner on the right flank; if you're going to put him on a wing, put him on the left so he can cut in on his right, like against Ipswich. We should have done what we did against Everton, gone to a 4-4-2 which became a 4-2-4 in attack. We also did that vs West Brom. Both times we came back to win points. We needed a goal, but we didn't push hard enough tactically I think.

You can't fault the efforts of the players, they showed passion and spirit and they were up for it, they turned up on the night and played a good game. Unfortunately the opposition did too. It's difficult to assess whether we're still in the title race after that result; we're 6 points behind with I think 5 games left. All we can do is win all of our games, hope that Chelsea beat United and that we can overhaul the gap in goal difference. Then we're in with a great shout.

It's interesting how according to the media, we're out of the title race and Chelsea are back in it, just because they've gone above us into second. The only thing separating us is goal difference, so if one of us is in the race, then we both must be. 


That's all for today, I'm planning an article on players that haven't lived up to their potential at Arsenal, but I've got a busy schedule over the next few days (honest) so it might not appear for a while, if I do decide to go ahead with it. Let's hope we can get 3 points at Bolton. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Just under two hours to go

It's time to show this league we mean business.

It's time to show Man United that the title is not theirs.

It's time to show all the critics that we can overcome the toughest of challenges.

Most of all, it's time to show ourselves that we actually can do it. So many near misses, so many late collapses over the course of this season and in seasons previous. But Newcastle handed us a lifeline yesterday, and we can take it with both hands with a win tonight. And against the noisy neighbours no less...

So much has been made of our spectacular failings, including our recent self-destruction while leading Liverpool at the Emirates. After that game, it seemed like the title dreams were over. But Newcastle ground out a draw with United, and our hopes are still alive.

It's a similar situation to the NLD at WHL last season. We'd seemed to be out of the race but after a result surprisingly went our way we were still in it, just. While our opponents were chasing Champions League qualification. We went 1-0 down to a miracle goal (Almunia could have done better) early on, before shocking defending saw us concede another.

The introduction of a returning RVP inspired us, and we nearly pulled two back, but we only got one thanks to an also inspired Heurelho Gomes (ha!) and it finished 2-1.

In that game, we were missing loads of players; Vermaelen, Gallas, Song, Fabregas, Arshavin and van Persie for most of it. Now we have an almost full-strength squad, so no excuses there. Bendtner insists the players know what the derby means, and I think he's right. We showed passion and determination to go 2-0 up earlier in the season at the Emirates. What happened next was a disaster, but hopefully once in a lifetime, a complete freak, just like Rose's goal. Hopefully the performance we see will be more like the first half of that game, and not the second.

There's been a lot of talk about Cesc's comments, but I feel the criticism he's had is unfair. Guillem Balague summed it up nicely on SSN, saying that Cesc just wants the best for the team he's at. I agree, and I hope he'll be able to lead us towards that. Starting tonight.

It's a massive, massive game. It's a must win, just like the rest of our games. Let's pray the team don't let us down. Up the Arsenal!

Comparing the Invincibles with our current crop

The timing of this article may seem a little strange, but I've been waiting to post this article for a while. There should still be a preview for the Sp*rs game. For now, enjoy my analysis of the Invincibles compared to the current crop, and how we could bring back the glory days. As seen on twofootedtackle

In the 2003/04 Premier League season, Arsenal made history by going an entire league campaign undefeated, lifting the title with a superb record of 26 games won, 12 games drawn and exactly 0 lost.

The side was a brilliant fusion of speed and strength, attack and defence, flair and steel. Throughout the team, there were experienced players with a will to win. Lehmann, Lauren, Campbell, Touré, Cole, Ljungberg, Vieira, Gilberto, Pires, Bergkamp and of course the majestic Thierry Henry.

Fast forward seven years, and Arsenal have just seen their faltering title ambitions take another devastating blow, conceding a last-minute equaliser to Liverpool having already scored what had seemed to be a winner of their own in the dying seconds. The Invincibles seem like a completely different side to this current Arsenal team. But are they?

Obviously the tactics and formation are different, but I think with a little tweaking, Arsene Wenger could have a team that resembles that brilliant side he once had.

It’s difficult to slot Arsenal’s current set of players into the system that the Invincibles deployed without leaving out current captain Cesc Fabregas. He’s a wonderful player, but for comparison’s sake let’s just imagine he wasn’t at Arsenal.

The Invincibles played a 4-4-2 that was solid in defence but free-flowing in attack. For example, you’d often see Thierry Henry drifting out on the left flank, with Robert Pires taking up his position in the centre of attack. The players were all so versatile that swift changes of position to confuse the opposition’s defence were commonplace.

Below is a graphic of the team that the Invincibles played. Each circle represents a player, with the numbers representing the numbers worn by the players. If you hover over the image, it shows you how the players would be replaced in the same system by the current players. I picked the current players that are most similar to their Invincibles counterparts, but there would be one or two positional changes. For example, I thought Kolo Toure and Johan Djourou were most similar for their athleticism, and Thomas Vermaelen and Sol Campbell were most similar because of their defensive excellence. However, Toure played on the left side of defence, while Vermaelen is left footed, so would play in that position.


Here’s the player by player comparison:

Goalkeeper
Jens Lehmann/Wojciech Szczesny
Two self-confessed “crazy” goalkeepers, both have their strengths. They’re both excellent at commanding their box, and constantly scream orders at their players. On top of those attributes, they’re terrific shot stoppers, and love to punch the ball. The 03/04 season was Lehmann’s first at Arsenal, while next season will be Szczesny’s first full campaign as number 1; he’s expected to retain his position as Arsenal’s first choice goalkeeper.

Right back
Lauren/Bacary Sagna
These two committed full backs are powerful, athletic and skilled – three traits that are vital if you’re to become successful in this position in football. Lauren would occasionally overlap Freddie Ljungberg and cross the ball into the box; Sagna probably does this more often, sometimes to good effect. He’s a great crosser of the ball, and gets his fair share of assists. In fact, he’s just been named in the PFA Team of the Year for 2010/11. Both players share a powerful shot, and have great upper body strength as well as speed.

Centre back
Sol Campbell/Thomas Vermaelen
Campbell and Vermaelen are both tough, old fashioned centre halves who strike fear into opposing strikers, and they also have an eye for goal. They’re reliable players who are strong aerially and on the deck, who are comfortable on the ball as well. Campbell would often mop up after partner Kolo Toure when he slipped up, and the two complemented each other perfectly – Campbell’s excellent knowledge and reading of the game combined with Toure’s power and speed helped the Gunners to many a cleansheet.

Kolo Toure/Johan Djourou
As mentioned above, Campbell would often have to clear up after Toure made a mistake, and Djourou has similar errors of judgement at times. While he remains a good defender, also comfortable on the ball, his reading of the game could be better, a key characteristic also present in the game of Kolo Toure. Both players were previously uninspiring defensive midfielders who Arsene Wenger transformed into excellent central defenders.

Left back
Ashley Cole/Gael Clichy
Both of these left sided defenders are good in attack whilst remaining sound defensively, even if Clichy does have momentarily lapses of concentration every now and then. Cole was a key part of Arsenal’s left sided triumvirate of himself, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry – more on that later – who would rip teams to shreds on the attack. Like Clichy, he’s an athletic player who has the ability and stamina to work tirelessly up and down the wing.

Right midfield
Freddie Ljungberg/Andrey Arshavin
Perhaps the most difficult of the comparisons to make, these players are similar nonetheless. Both are fairly diminutive, Arshavin more so maybe, and excellent dribblers. They’re dynamic players who are extremely effective in attack, and demonstrate superb link-up play, making clever runs in behind the defence – these darts into space help them achieve impressive goal-scoring records. Arshavin maybe has more of an eye for the killer pass than Ljungberg, a theory supported by quotes from Wenger and a great number of assists. Still, they’re fairly similar.

Centre midfield
Patrick Vieira/Jack Wilshere
Another tricky resemblance to explain, I do feel these players are comparable. Both of them epitomise what the team is about – attack and defence working in sync. Vieira and Jack are the types of dynamic, box-to-box midfielders who work their socks off in midfield, helping the defence by breaking down play then charging forwards in attack to support the forwards, chipping in with a few goals themselves. They’re both leaders of their teams and wear their hearts on their sleeves, often getting into scuffles, partly explaining questionable disciplinary records (although Jack’s is still fairly good, it may get worse in the future).

Gilberto Silva/Alex Song
The unsung heroes of their respective sides – although both received recognition from some – these combative midfielders are less reserved in attack, preferring to sit deep and protect the defence, although this is much less obvious in Song’s play. They both chip in with vital goals, and aren’t afraid to have a pop at goal. Gilberto was a tidy player who always cleared up at the back; this isn’t present as much in Song’s game, seeing as he often gives away cheap fouls, but this will change as he becomes more experienced.

Left midfield
Robert Pires/Samir Nasri
Both plucked from French side Marseille, these are players that might feel more comfortable in a central role, but find themselves shifted onto the wing by Wenger; perhaps this is a feature more present in Nasri’s profile. As well as Ljungberg, Pires was said to have revolutionised the modern winger. Often found lurking around the box instead of bombing down the wing and putting in crosses, he was a key member of the Invincibles. He, Cole and Henry had a brilliant understanding, combining superbly to tear teams apart down the left hand side. Nasri and Pires are both excellent on the ball, and are great passers, long and short. They both have great long range shots, and are deadly from inside the box as well.

Strikers
Dennis Bergkamp/Robin van Persie
An easy comparison to make this time, the two Dutch no.10s demonstrate many similarities between their games. Both drop deep to receive the ball and often set players up to score – a great example of van Persie doing so was against Blackburn early in the season, coming deep to get the ball, sending right winger Theo Walcott free to score. Dennis Bergkamp also had a great understanding with his right winger, Ljungberg, and the two would often combine to assist each other. It’s not a nailed on comparison though; in recent years van Persie has played as a “false 9”, a no.10 playing as a lone striker, despite not being an out-and-out goalscorer. You can’t be sure that van Persie would excel as the support striker, but with his resemblance of Bergkamp it’s hard to imagine it not working.

Thierry Henry/Theo Walcott
A comparison made since the latter was just a youth player at former club Southampton, Walcott has never been able to shake off the Henry tag. It’s easy to see why though – he’s lightning fast, and often demonstrates the cool head in front of goal that made Henry so brilliant. As well as having added the clinical finishing, Walcott has matured a lot this season, getting a lot more goals and assists than in previous years. He’s even shown hints at being deadly from free kicks, just like his predecessor and idol. Walcott still needs to add more skill to his game to be completely like Henry, but that will come with time.

Now, onto the tactics. The basic 4-4-2 formation used by Wenger’s side back then is seen as too rigid and outdated these days, but that’s untrue. In fact, it’s more about the personnel in the side and the tactics used. While England’s version of the 4-4-2 recently has been found out as unimaginative and stiff, teams like Manchester United still use the formation to good effect, thanks to a counter-attacking blueprint not unlike that of the Invincibles.

The Gunners would allow the opposition to have their fair share of possession, and attacks. They would then nick the ball from them and unleash devastating counter attacks, going directly for goal. No slowness on the ball, no beating around the bush, just powerful, attacking play. The speed of thought and movement was brilliant.

At times, players would just be queuing up in the box to score. If a player inside the area didn’t have the angle to shoot, he could simply shift it to a team-mate in a better position who would score. The football was often one-touch, and they carved teams apart. The link-up play was just a joy to watch. A lot of the time it’s the same with this current Arsenal team.

Not only were Arsenal so feared as a team, they also had many players that opponents tried to double mark at times. Thierry Henry would often draw two or three defenders towards him, creating space for others, and it was the same with some of his team-mates; Pires, Ljungberg, Bergkamp and so on.

They would also have a lot of shots on goal – this led to many goals being scored on the rebound. It was a statistical likelihood that if they kept shooting on target, then eventually it would fall for them to score into an open goal. Perhaps Wenger needs to instil this into his own players, as they seem too afraid to shoot.

The current tactics employed by Arsenal mean that many teams set out their stall to defend, especially at the Emirates Stadium, packing many players behind the ball, meaning the Gunners have little space to use. If they changed tactics to those used by the Invincibles, perhaps they wouldn’t have those problems of being frustrated by defensive sides.

Finally, we come to the mentality of the sides. As I mentioned before, every one of the Invincibles had a will to win and knew how to do it. Many if not all of them had done it before – it was a side not too dissimilar to the team which lifted the title two years before. However, this current Arsenal side have been broken so many times. They’ve crashed out of three competitions and have threatened for a long time to drop out of the title race – yet they remain in it by the string of their teeth.

The current crop have shown signs of a winning mentality – see coming behind against Everton and Barcelona – but have fallen apart too many times. Tottenham at home, Wigan away last season, and most horrifically, Newcastle away. They were four goals to the good at half time, before self-destructing and drawing 4-4.

It’s a difficult problem to assess – the players have individually shown plenty of drive and passion. Nasri when he dragged Arsenal over the line against Fulham. Fabregas when he rescues them from defeat. Wilshere in every game that he plays. But they seem to lack something as a unit. There seems to be a strong bond between the players, but sometimes that’s not evident at all – at times the leadership completely evaporates.

However, as Arsene points out, the players are young, and what leadership they lack will come in time. If he can make a few adjustments, soon his team will be playing like the Arsenal of old.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Same old, same old

Only the Arsenal could give us such unconfined joy, before sending us into depression in a matter of minutes.

Only the Arsenal could take the lead with a 98th minute penalty, before conceding another in the 101st, throwing away a title challenge in the process.

The game will be analysed over and over again, with many pointing to different reasons for our draw. Some say bad luck, some say lack of effort, some say poor tactics. Others point to the referee. Some would just argue that our players aren't good enough.

Perhaps, though, it's a combination of those reasons. It was bad luck that Koscielny hit the bar with his perfectly timed leap and header. Bad luck that the referee was conned by Lucas. There seemed to be a lack of effort in the final third, but things just weren't clicking for us. The tactics just weren't working - they rarely do against teams that defend deep and in numbers. The referee should have blown up before Liverpool even got the free kick in the first place. The players weren't good enough on the day, as we didn't create enough chances.

We were pretty close to full strength, so no excuses there really. Song may have been missing, but Diaby put in a pretty decent shift again. There was a massive lack of cutting edge in attack. There was one period of play where it was desperately obvious what it was we were missing. All it took was a one-touch pass from Cesc to Nasri, who immediately flicked it into van Persie, and on another day, the keeper doesn't manage to get a hand to it. That's what we need to be doing - one-touch football that bamboozles the opponent.

But instead, we play an unbelievably slow game. Players spend ages on the ball, there's no movement, and they don't even try to shoot when left with pretty much no other option. The mentality is wrong in attack. We wait, and wait and wait for the space to just magically appear. We can't do that, we need to create the space ourselves with our own speed of thought and movement. My mind drifts back to Samir Nasri's second goal against Manchester United a couple of years ago. It was a multi-pass move that got us in a decent position in the opposition's half. Suddenly Walcott sped across the Manchester United defence, confusing them, and Vidic had to go with him. This opened up the space for Fabregas to find Nasri, who scored. 


Where's that change of pace now? We saw it in van Persie's chance, but other than that, it was non-existent. We're too one paced. But the formation and tactics don't help. The one striker we play isn't an out and out striker. He's done brilliantly to score as many as he has done, but he's more of a Bergkamp player. We really need that Henry to play ahead of him. Can Walcott be that player? Hopefully. Time will tell.

But this team is a shadow of the side that crushed Chelsea 3-1. Cesc had a poor game. Theo couldn't get the better of an inexperienced full back. Robin couldn't get the chances and when he did he didn't take them. Nasri was lacklustre, just like the whole team. But why could we not close the game out? You can say what you want about the (ridiculous) amount of time added on at the end of the added time. But we should have been able to keep the ball away from our goal. But we couldn't.

Arshavin and Bendtner didn't change the game much, but put themselves about which was good to see. It was also good that Arshavin got a huge cheer when he came on, which would have helped him. What wouldn't have helped the team was the incessant groan every time a ball was misplaced. Then the players become afraid of trying the difficult passes - the passes that win you games - because they're worried that the crowd will get on their backs. Maybe that's the reason we're better away from home these days. Because the away fans don't constantly turn on the players.


There seems to be a "them and us" mentality at the Club these days. It seems like the fans and the staff (not just the players) are part of two separate factions. That shouldn't be our attitude at all. Everyone at the Club has one common goal, for Arsenal Football Club to be successful. We should be striving together to reach that goal, everyone pulling in the same direction and doing whatever we can to get that success. But no.

It seems like some people have forgotten this great Club's motto. Victoria Concordia Crescit - Victory Through Harmony. Some people need to read the definition of the word harmony, because they're definitely not showing it right now. There are some really fickle "supporters" who forget that being a football fan is all about the lows as well as the highs. It's the lows that make the highs so thrilling. Remember that amazing top of the world feeling of beating Barcelona, the world's best team? That wouldn't have come around without the low of losing 2-0 to Braga and 2-1 to Shakhtar. Going back a while longer, if hadn't drawn to Wimbledon in the penultimate game of the 1988/89 season, one of the greatest moments in the Club's history would not exist. It wouldn't have been "up for grabs now", as it would have already been clinched.

And it's not as if it's mathematically impossible for us to win the league. It seems silly to hope, given what's happened in the past, but what's the use in giving up? At this Club, we don't give up until the bitter end, until the fat lady is well and truly singing. It may seem hopeless, but as long as there's a chance, we should be getting behind our team and singing at the top of our lungs, to desperately help the team win. If we win our remaining games, and Chelsea beat Man United, regardless of what happens in United's other games (ours excluded, as I'm counting that in our games) we'll be level on points with them. If we can boost our goal difference, we have a good shout of bringing the title to the Emirates. It may be six points, but stranger things have happened.

Now all we can do is focus on a massive North London Derby on Wednesday evening. The players must know how important a game it is. Let's hope we get all three points.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Injured trio back, Vermaelen progressing

It's not often we get good news on the injury front, so let's savour this moment.

Ahhhh. That's nice.

Sorry? Oh right, the news! 

Well you probably already know; three crucial players in Wojciech Szczesny, Johan Djourou and Alex Song are set to return to action in the vital match against Liverpool. It's a massive boost to us, and it'll really give us a helping hand in our efforts to gain another three points at the Emirates. The last time we won there in the league was against Stoke I believe, and that was too long ago.

I'd expect the returning players to slot straight back into the starting line-up, what with cover in those positions being particularly scare in this moment in time. Seeing as our alternatives would be Lehmann, Squillaci and an admittedly improving Diaby, I'd be surprised if Arsene didn't opt to slot Szczesny, Djourou and Song back into the side.

It has to be said, they've been three of our best performers this year. It's strange - last season we had a few players who had great seasons, and the team played really well. This season, we've had loads of great seasons from players, but less success overall.

Perhaps the reason is the players haven't actually been performing as well as we think. Maybe players like Szczesny, Djourou, Wilshere and Nasri all seem to be playing exceptionally well, when in reality what's changed is they've improved hugely from their previous seasons. Don't get me wrong, they've all done really well, but I don't think we've had anyone on the level that Cesc was on last season. 

Anyway, on with things. Thomas Vermaelen is back in full training and is making good progress. Apparently he may play before the end of the season, but I think it would be silly to play him in a match with a lot at stake. What he needs is a proper pre-season to get him back into the swing of things. It's excellent that he's recovering, but rushing him back was exactly how he exacerbated his injury. There's no need to do the same again, especially with Djourou and Koscielny being a fine partnership.

There's also a picture of the apparent away kit for next season on arsenalinsider.com. Here it is in all its... well, glory's not really the word...

 

Most people aren't keen on it. Some really hate it, some just dislike it. I'm not sure about it, I'd probably need to see some of the players lining up in it to make a proper verdict. The badge is nice, I like the "FORWARD" on the wreath, although it might be a little over the top. As I said it's quite difficult to judge without seeing the guys playing in it so I'll reserve proper comment until then. Who knows, it may not even be the real kit! But it seems likely.

Anyway, more will probably follow on here before the Liverpool game - more team news when it comes through maybe. We're still unsure of whether Sagna will be available, but Rosicky is ruled out for sure. Until then. 
 

Friday, 15 April 2011

Video of the Week: 'The Gooner'

From this week onwards I'm going to be searching through the vast realms of Youtube to bring you one inspirational Arsenal video a week. Today's featured video contains a mixture of classic Arsenal clips and recent ones. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

5 reasons to believe


With the season nearing the end, and Arsenal looking unlikely to overhaul Manchester United, I'm going to look at reasons for the fans to maintain hope.

1. It's happened before
Back in 1997/98, we found ourselves in a similar position, but didn't give up and clawed back the points to top the table after the 38 games. It was a remarkable comeback, and we showed spirit and resilience to go on a brilliant run in the new year. The omens are good too - the last time we lost in the league this season was December 13th. That was the last time the title-winning side of 97/98 tasted defeat as well.

2. Fixture advantage
 
Whilst Manchester United are still in three competitions, all of our eggs are in the Premier League basket. Until the end of the season, they'll have a game every three days, which will mean they're more tired and may pick up more injuries. Our game against them at the Emirates on May 1st is sandwiched in between both legs of a Champions League semi final with Schalke (or Inter if they make a miraculous comeback). They also have to face Chelsea again in the league, while our other toughest game would be Liverpool on Sunday.

3. Injured players returning
If the papers are to be believed, the two players above will be back for our crunch tie vs Liverpool. They're so important to our team, and represent an important part of our spine. If they come back, the only player missing should be long-term absentee Thomas Vermaelen. Oh, and Denilson. But we've done just fine without those two over the course of the season, so their absences shouldn't matter too much. I'd expect Alex Song and Bacary Sagna to return to the frame as well, giving us a full compliment of first team players. We've seen how good we are when we have our full strength side available - Chelsea and Barcelona can testify to that.

4. On our day we can beat anyone
Speaking of those victories over Chelsea and Barcelona at the Emirates, if we put our minds to it, get the crowd behind us and give 100%, there's no team we can't beat. It's difficult to put in performances of that intensity when you're in four competitions, but now that we're focussing on the league we'll be able to concentrate all of our energy on hunting down United. This should mean more performances like vs Chelsea and Barcelona, and more consistency.

5. We've added steel to the silk
As well as putting on the usual breathtaking attacking performances this season, we've also demonstrated more mental and physical strength than we've been used to seeing, despite some anomalies on the chart. We've ground out wins against the likes of Birmingham, Blackburn and Everton twice. Furthermore, we've shown more of a clinical touch in front of goal, hitting three (with no reply) against Man City, West Ham, Birmingham and more. 

There's no point in writing us off. There's no point in dismissing this season as another trophyless season. There's a long way to go yet, and there are plenty more twists and turns in store for us. Keep the faith.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

King Carroll crushes City - but what does it mean for the Arsenal? + more


Last night, Andy Carroll scored either side of a Dirk Kuyt goal to help his new side brush past Manchester City 3-0. But what effect does the result have on us?

For starters, it makes our game against Sp*rs even bigger for them; they're just three points behind City with a game in hand, albeit with a far inferior goal difference. This will mean they're even more fired up; not what we want. That's supposedly our game in hand, so it's vital that we win it.

Other than our own interests, it's preferable that they don't get in the Champions League for a second season - if they finish outside of the top four, failing to make it into Europe's elite competition, they'll have to sell big players. Plus, we won't have to face seeing them against the likes of Real Madrid and Inter Milan!

As for Liverpool, they put in a good performance that was perhaps exaggerated by how poor their opponents were on the night. When we faced Man City at home, we ripped them apart early on, and somehow didn't manage to get that goal; if we had, the floodgates would have opened and you would have seen a similar score-line. However, said goal evaded us and we were frustrated - a regular story at the Emirates.

Liverpool will come into the game against us in high spirits. Their new signing has broken his duck, and they have a good chance of getting into Europe. It has to be said, Kenny Dalglish has done an excellent job of turning things around at Anfield. Sunday will be an extremely tough game for us, and we'll do well to get three points.

Johan Djourou and Wojciech Szczesny are both training again, which is a huge boost. We're hopeful that both will return to the frame in time for Sunday, which would seriously increase our chances of victory. The Koscielny-Squillaci partnership struggled to deal with DJ Campbell and Gary Taylor-Fletcher, so them up against Carroll and Luis Suarez is a horrible thought.

Djourou and Koscielny's partnership, however, kept the likes of Drogba, Messi and Villa fairly quiet at the Emirates, so Johan's return is one of a few reasons for Arsenal fans to be cheerful. I'd imagine Djourou will mark Carroll, being the more dominant in the air, while Koscielny, who usually excels when the ball is on the ground, will take Suarez. He's been in excellent form for Liverpool of late, so we'll have to be mindful.

As for the possible return of Szczesny, Mad Jens had a good game against Blackpool on Sunday, but Liverpool are a completely different kettle of fish. I'm sure most Gooners, myself included, would be a lot more calm with Szczesny between the sticks. Johan and Laurent would probably testify. It's thanks to those three being together in the starting line-up that we have such an excellent defensive record since the turn of the year - and also that we've not lost since December, when they began playing together.

Meanwhile, in the Twitterverse, Jack has moved to reassure us that he's staying. Amidst the buzz of rumours linking him to Man City, he Tweeted: "People asking if I'm going to City? I don't kiss the Arsenal badge then leave <3 this club in my heart!" and included a picture of him kissing the badge at the end of the Tweet. It's extremely encouraging and a breath of fresh air to see such loyal talk in a world of Adebayors and Coles. Let's hope he chooses the opposite road to those two when the time comes to take a path. I have every confidence he'll take the right option.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Three points overshadowed as Stan closes in


I was planning on writing a lengthy analysis of yesterday's 3-1 victory over Blackpool, however, news of Stan Kroenke's takeover of the club has cast a shadow over Sunday's win.

If you want to read my thoughts on the game, however, you can click here to be taken to my article on The People's Sports Blog, a site to which I regularly contribute. If not, you'll just have to settle for a short review of the game later in the post.

Before I begin, I just want to say sorry for my prolonged absence. My wireless adapter seems to have broken, so I've been unable to access the internet for a while. Luckily Dan was able to fill in for me the other day, writing a good preview for the game.

Now, onto the big news. Stan Kroenke has agreed a deal to take control of Arsenal. He was obliged to make a formal takeover bid after purchasing the shares of Danny Fiszman and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith. The board are seemingly comfortable with Kroenke taking over, and the Club have issued a statement saying that he will respect the Club's ethos and continue to support our sustainable model.

So there doesn't seem to be much change in the way our Club will be run. The board will remain in place - including Peter Hill-Wood as chairman, which I can't say I'm thrilled about - and Kroenke has moved to reassure fans that Arsene will remain as manager.

The only thing that will change is that we'll be able to compete financially more and pay big money if Wenger feels the need to do so. The decisions in terms of football will remain Arsene's to make - Kroenke is nothing like Roman Abrahimovic, for example. Or Gillett/Hicks, who were at Liverpool for a short and terrible period.

In fact, I'd say he's more like John Henry, the new man at the helm of Liverpool. He brought stability to the club, and made some smart appointments including Kenny Dalglish as manager; the man the fans wanted. I think Kroenke will bring something similar. The AST have said they are optimistic that Stan will want to work with the supporters and the fanshare. You can follow @timpayton on Twitter for more on the AST's future concerning Kroenke and more.

It's important not to forget the reason for the swiftness of this move - the declining health of Danny Fiszman. He's been suffering from cancer in a while, and it seems that his condition has deteriorated. He's always wanted the best for the Arsenal, and was a pioneer in our move to the Emirates. I'm sure he and his family will be in all of our thoughts and prayers.

There's also been a buzz about David Dein returning to the board. Some are pleased about the rumours, while some don't want him back. I was lucky enough to meet him just a few days before he left the board, after our 2-0 win over Bolton a couple of years ago.

He and Fiszman fell out over the proposed move to the Emirates. Dein wanted us to move to Wembley, while Fiszman was firmly against that. However, it must be remembered that Dein was the one to bring in our most successful manager ever, Arsene Wenger.

After some digging I've found an interview with Hill-Wood in which he makes it clear that he and Dein will not do business together if it can be avoided. It all comes down to who Stan wants at the helm - it's one or the other. At the moment it seems like it'll be Hill-Wood, but things could take a twist. You never know with Arsenal.

As for yesterday's victory, it was a terrific victory against a tough Blackpool team. You have to respect the way they play football. They're not like Birmingham and Blackburn, they don't pack their entire team behind the ball. They go out to win football matches and in style. Fair play to Ian Holloway for that. It may not have worked against us, but it's worked before against the likes of Liverpool and Sp*rs.

Jens Lehmann was well and truly thrown in at the deep end, and he did really well. He made some vital saves, and commanded his area well. I thought Abou Diaby also had a good game, the only sour moment being a booking for stupidly booting the ball away in petulance. He did really well for his goal, and played a key part in the third. If he plays like that more often and shows that kind of attitude (the yellow card aside) I'm happy for him to play whenever Song is injured.

That was actually our first victory this season without Song, believe it or not. It not only shows how important he is, but also how we can handle his absences if Diaby pulls his socks up.

Cesc Fabregas returned to the starting eleven, and was marvellous in midfield, spraying balls over the top for fun. Blackpool let him play, and as Thierry Henry once said; if you let Fabregas play, he can kill a team. That's exactly what he did.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Blackpool VS Arsenal Match Preview



Arsenal face Blackpool on Sunday in a very important game for both sides. This is a must win game for the Arsenal, and against an attacking Blackpool side we should be able to win comfortably like we did at the Emirates back in August. We scored 6 against Blackpool at the Emirates but I’m not expecting such a comprehensive result this time. It will be a tough game but we have to win to keep alive our slim chance in the title race. After all we are seven points behind but if we win our game in hand and beat United the gap will be reduced to just a single point.

  As is typical for the Arsenal we have three new injury problems with Bacary Sagna, Alex Song and Theo Walcott all major doubts for Sunday’s match. In other injury news Denilson and Ramsey are very likely to miss out as well as our other long term absentees including Szczesny and Djourou.

Last weekend against Blackburn the team never got out of first gear and we failed to defeat a Blackburn side we are very capable of beating. It is bound to have had a negative effect on the side but the players need to bounce back and if they play close to their best we will beat Blackpool on Sunday.  There were some promising signs last weekend with Andrey Arshavin especially appearing to be returning to the form we all know he is capable of. He shouldn’t have been substituted as he was one of our best players against Blackburn.

 Wenger has confirmed in his press conference today that he will stick with Manuel Almunia in goal. This is a brave decision by Arsene and one that could very easily backfire.  The Spaniard clearly has no confidence and against an attacking Blackpool side he could be found out once again. It is clear he has the talent to be a top class goalkeeper but as an Arsenal fan every time the ball gets near him you fear the worst.  Hopefully Manuel can perform to his best ability at the weekend.

Bacary Sagna has today been confirmed as doubtful for the match, but Koscielny, Squillaci and Clichy will make up the rest of the back four. Arsenal’s forgotten defender Emmanuel Eboue will start at right back if Sagna doesn’t pass his late fitness test.  Cesc Fabregas has been confirmed as fit to start the game and will hopefully be joined by Alex Song and Jack Wilshere. Song however has a knee problem and is facing a late fitness test. If he isn’t fit Abou Diaby will be his likely replacement alongside Wilshere in the heart of the Arsenal midfield.

 Theo Walcott is a doubt for the game and Andrey Arshavin is likely to start on the right hand side in his absence. Robin Van Persie will start through the middle and Samir Nasri will start on the left of Arsenal’s forward trio. Bendtner and Chamakh will both feel hard done by as they’ve hardly got a game recently but Van Persie is in red hot form and is the key to us challenging for the title.

 Sunday’s game is by no means going to be a walkover but the Arsenal faithful should be confident of victory. Blackpool have been struggling recently and are well and truly in a relegation battle. They won’t be expecting to win on Sunday but due to their attacking philosophy they will still attack and this could play into Arsenal’s hands. They will leave plenty of space in the midfield for the likes of Fabregas to exploit. I’m predicting a 3-1 victory for the Arsenal that would keep us in with a chance of winning the title.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Why I think Arsene should stay - as seen on YAMA

"As a teenager, I’ve only ever known Arsenal under the management of Arsene Wenger. I’ve been an Arsenal ‘fan’ all my life, but I became a real ‘supporter’ during our final season at Highbury, when I began going to more and more games. As such, I haven’t truly experienced the glory and emotion of seeing my team winning silverware – when we won our last trophy in 2005, I was playing for my 7-a-side team, and missed most of the game. These days I would never miss an occasion like that – in fact, I went to our most recent cup final. Back then, I didn’t have the same emotional connection and attachment to the Arsenal as I do now."

See the rest of the article here. Thanks to the editor of YouAreMyArsenal for publishing it.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Disappointing performance sees title slip further away


The title is no longer in our hands.

We are now seven points behind Manchester United - albeit with a game in hand - after that lacklustre draw with Blackburn at the Emirates. Even if we win all of our remaining games, we still need United to slip up. And if we're going to continue playing like we did yesterday, not even second place is assured.

It was an average performance, not at all befitting of a team supposedly challenging for the league title. A lot of Gooners have been disagreeing about why we didn't beat Blackburn. Some say the players didn't try hard enough, some say it's Arsene's fault, some say the players just aren't good enough. My opinion is that it was just one of those days. Blackburn packed their half, restricting us, and when we did get chances, they were only half-chances, and we didn't take them. Of course, there was Jack's miss, but other than that we didn't create enough clear-cut opportunities.

It's slightly worrying that AW doesn't seem to know what's wrong. Perhaps it's because our key players are only just returning from injury? Fabregas, Song and Walcott were all back after a while out, plus the players had been on international duty, so maybe they need a little time to gel back together. Nasri wasn't his usual self after receiving a golf ball sized lump on his head, and van Persie definitely didn't play as well as he has been recently. However, there were some positives to take from the game.

Arshavin put in a great shift, even sprinting back in defence to make a crucial sliding tackle. Wilshere was decent, despite his miss, and I thought Clichy had a fairly good game. Cesc seemed a bit rusty though, so hopefully he'll be back ready to start and lead the team on Sunday against Blackpool.

Speaking of leadership, there didn't seem to be an awful lot out there yesterday. Captain on the day was Robin, but he didn't really motivate the players - in fact, he didn't seem to be able to motivate himself, drifting in and out of the game. It's difficult to understand that, since he was in such good form before the international break and his injury. Let's hope he can get back to that.

Almunia was dodgy once again, nearly gifting Blackburn two goals. You really have to wonder how long it will be before Wenger decides enough is enough and throw Lehmann in at the deep end. If that happened, Almunia's Arsenal career would be all but over - his confidence completely gone, if it isn't by now. He made some decent catches and punches under pressure, but the shot that he fumbled was routine stuff that he should have been saving.

I was not happy at all with fans booing at the final whistle. If they think that's going to help the team, they're wrong. They're called supporters for a reason - they're supposed to support the club and try to help them to win. Booing them will only make the players feel worse. Just look what happens when the entire ground is behind the team - we can beat teams like Barcelona! Sadly that kind of atmosphere doesn't happen enough.

Finally, a word on Rocky. I may not have seen him play live, but even I was touched and moved by the tribute to him. His spirit was everything that embodied Arsenal, his passion, and his flair. RIP, Rocky.