Gillespie Guest Post: The Chelsea Perspective

On Saturday the Arsenal welcome London rivals Chelsea to the Emirates. Here Marco Gilmour offers some insight into the mood amongst the Chelsea fans. It seems the recent history between the sides, added to their excellent start to the season means Chelsea arrive in confident mood. Potentially controversial is the theory that Mertesacker could be our weak link even though he’s been a rock thus far this season. Make your own minds up..

Chelsea vs Arsenal has produced some fantastic games over recent years. Arsenal were the team I probably hated most growing up, this may be purely down to the fact than one day as a young boy I sat in the West Stand at the Bridge, rain thrashing into my face. We were 2-0 up with 10 minutes to go; I was about to watch Chelsea’s first ever victory over the Gooners, only for a certain Nwankwo Kanu to come on and score a ridiculous hatrick….

Arsenal’s period of dominance continued over Chelsea with some freak contributions from Winterburn and Sylvinho along the way. However the balance of power began to change in London and one would have to identify Wayne Bridge’s neat finish in the last minute of the Champions League quarter final at Highbury, which sent Chelsea through, as a major turning point. This swing in power was further consolidated by the man whose name will cause Arsenal fans and players (in particular Philipe Senderos) to shudder, the one and only, Didier Yves Drogba.

However, Saturday’s game may be the most evenly matched Chelsea and Arsenal have had in recent memory. Both have lost their best strikers, although Arsenal in far more controversial circumstances. Both have also made some great signings. Chelsea’s signings have been high quality however they’ve slightly surprised me. We seem to have bought a lot of talent but they all play in the same position. Hazard should be tracked carefully by Arsenal, although comparisons to Ronaldo are surely premature. Oscar’s goals against Juventus has shown he should be a big worry for Arsenal, prompting the question- who will start? Hazard? Oscar? Mata? All 3? Not to mention Moses and Marin. A nice situation to be in, but what troubles me is who do all these great midfield maestros assist? Torres? Chelsea lack a “Plan B” and a below par Fernando Torres is not a particularly good Plan A.

However, it seems Arsenal have a similar problem, which is what makes this game fascinating. Friends who support Arsenal are already comparing Giroud to Chamakh, maybe a bit unfairly but worrying nevertheless. After breaking his duck against Coventry, is Saturday the time for Giroud to prove himself? I hope not. As he did at the Etihad, Wenger may start Gervinho in a central position, but he is not a centre forward. Both Arsenal and Chelsea lack a quality centre forward which means that it’ll have to be up to the wingers and attacking midfielders to penetrate. Hopefully, resultantly it will make a very open game.

Looking at the Arsenal line up I cant help but think that Per Mertesacker is the weak link. If I were Di Matteo I would tell my small skilful attackers to target him, it seems like he could give away a penalty at any minute. However this is slightly hypocritical as Chelsea possess David Luiz at the heart of their defence. Put David Luiz in any other team he’d be my favourite player, he’s refreshing to watch and makes any game far more enjoyable. However as his injury time
tackle against Stoke further proves, he is verging on being a lunatic. He’s erratic and I pray Di Matteo pairs Terry with Cahill.

There’s been a lot of praise heaped on Chelsea’s new signings , however Arsenal’s new boys can’t be ignored either. The man we should be most scared of is Santi Cazorla, he’s wonderful and will need to be marked at all times. This will most likely be the job of John Obi Mikel or perhaps Ramires. Podolski too is a shrewd signing, and probably the man I’d least like a chance to fall to on Saturday. Apart form those two signings the Ox, if deployed, could be a threat. I feel that Chelsea’s defence with the likes of JT and Ashley Cole can deal with him. However with Ivanovic marauding forward there would be a clear opportunity for Podolski to exploit us by getting in behind.

The bookies have a Chelsea win as the most unlikely result; unfortunately I’d have to agree. I think that it will be a close game and as I can’t predict an Arsenal win I’d have to go for a 2-2 draw, however with both teams playing quite free flowing football any result is possible. Ivanovic announced Saturday’s game is our biggest test so far and it certainly is. The balance of power continues to shift.


#socialmediaischangingthefootballinglandscape

As much as I endorse the role of social media in strengthening the bridge between football Clubs and football fans, the Arsenal twitter takeover on Thursday afternoon didn’t promise a huge amount. The line up of Arshavin, Don Vito Mannone, Sagna and Mertesacker are not a motley crew you’d expect to squeeze much humour out of. Nevertheless, the ability of twitter to to transform the simplest of formulas into a genuinely intriguing and slightly hilarious scenario got the better of me. I was chuckling away at my desk.

Some of the questions were amazing in their simplicity. Credit to the comedians who posed them. We have become so used to hearing the same questions from the likes of Geoff Shreeves, and the same cliched answers. It was refreshing to hear something a bit different this time around. On the face of it these are meaningless questions provoking meaningless responses, but actually this misses the point. All of the media training goes out the window when Mertesacker is asked ‘hey Per, do you like pears?’ or ‘Per, what’s the weather like up there?’ If only Geoff Shreeves asked these kind of questions after a bore draw at the Britannia.

Twitter has revolutionised the way in which we consume football. Over 30 million people follow the official pages of football Clubs on twitter. Fans opinions are no longer defined merely by the press, twitter has given fans from all over the world a voice. It also provides a chance for Clubs to listen to their fans. Of course at times, especially when the team is struggling, this can become damaging. Football fans can be ill-informed, opinionated and fickle. A Club like the Arsenal, accused so frequently of failing to communicate with and listen to the desires of their fanbase, need to harness this passion and democratise the fan experience.

Getting to know the players, or at least feeling like you are, is a major part of this process. It’s not about questions like ‘how important were the three points today?’ or ‘did you think the second goal was offside?’ I think I speak for lots of people when I admit I’d much rather watch Mannone answer questions like ‘who would win a fight, a camel or a donkey?’ Even better, ‘have you ever thought of acting in an Italian movie as a Don after football?’ This one’s perhaps a little harsh based on his incredibly large and disfigured nose but ‘hey Vito, do you smile when you look in the mirror?’ Genius Gooners, pure genius. Here are some highlights:

Andrey Arshavin

‘What’s the worst thing you did as a child?’
‘I told my mummy I did not love her?’

‘Andre, do you own a horse?’
‘No, I never had any horses. Even though I used to ride one in the past. It was very dangerous’

‘Who is the funniest player in the squad?’
‘I would say at the moment, Lukas Podolski. He brings something to the team – and he jokes a lot’

Don Vito

‘Who would win a fight, a donkey or a camel?’
‘I think a camel. I don’t have a reason really! It has water in its hump!’

‘Have you ever thought of acting in an Italian movie as a Don after football?’
‘That’s a great question. I have been reading a few fans calling me Don! My origins are from Sicily. I like it’.

‘Vito, do u smile when you look in the mirror?’
‘No, not really! If you want me to be a Don, the Don never smiles! But I am quite a happy guy’.

‘What’s the nightlife like in Hull, Vito?’
‘I think it’s better in London but Hull is a chilled town. You can relax in the villages but no nightlife!’

Bac Sagna

‘Describe the Boss in 3 words?’
‘Protective, positive and kind. He likes to protect his players as a father figure’.
‘How did it feel scoring that header against tottenham!?’
‘Oh, great! It was a derby, it was important and it was against our rivals. That was amazing’
‘Do you Like LaSagna?’
‘Yeah, I do! It’s a nice Italian dish and it looks like my name’.
‘Bacary, have ever cut your hair?’
‘I did! But every time I had to change my hair. Last time somebody noticed was Sunderland four years ago’.

Per Mertesacker

‘Per! What will you do if you get a billion dollar?’
‘I would try to save the world! I would care about all the guys who have nothing to eat’.
‘Did you enjoy the dancing in Nigeria? You had some serious moves’
‘Yes of course! It was real fun because we didn’t know we were going to do it. It was a big surprise – and fun’
‘Who’s the loudest and quietest in the dressing room?’
‘The loudest has left the club – Alex Song. Now it is Podolski! The quietest I would say is Andrey Arshavin’.
Hey Per, how’s the weather up there?’
‘It smells of little people! That is my usual response to that question!’
‘Per, do you like Pears?’
‘Yeah. In the beginning people didn’t know how to pronounce my name so I said ‘it’s like pair of shoes or pears’.

Perhaps the only upsetting thing about the twitter takeover was that Mo Farah’s grammatically incorrect question of ‘was times low for you been injured? And missing out what you do best..!! We miss you…!!’ for Saga wasn’t picked up by the organisers. Oh well.

Those of you who don’t use twitter as a source of news, links, quotes and general entertainment really are missing out. It’s fast becoming an essential part of the football fan’s repertoire. Get involved y’all.


Alternative XI & Montpellier preview

The Highbury Barn was the source of much pre-match entertainment on Saturday lunchtime. James Callen, responsible for last weeks guest article, was the recipient of some horrendous but nonetheless hilarious abuse. Walking to the stadium we were slightly more anxious we than we might have been, having received the news that Giroud was on the bench and Gervinho would be taking up something of a central role. Yes, Gervinho is a man in form, but he is also one of the worst finishers I have ever seen in an Arsenal shirt (at least thus far).

We all know what happened next. I can’t remember the last time I went to the Arsenal and 60,000 people were certain of the three points within 25 minutes. It made a welcome change from the heart-wrenching stuff of seasons past. Podolski was excellent again, completing 100% of his passes. Gervinho’s movement was confusing everyone, me included, whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain put in another fantastic shift.

The consensus leading into the Southampton game seemed to be that we are strong all over the pitch but a world class striker is all that’s missing. If Giroud gets injured then Podolski, more of a wide man in my eyes, is all we have left. Perhaps Wenger’s deployment of Gervinho in an unpredictable kamikaze front three is one reason why he didn’t attempt to buy another last minute striker.

Arsene said after the game: ‘You know we transform all wingers into central strikers and all strikers into wingers’.

Words that brought home nightmarish memories of Bendtner flailing around on the right hand side.

‘I decided that during the tour of Asia when I tried playing Gervinho there against man City in that position. I liked what he did and it was in the back of my mind’.

‘He is such a great mover and he is so quick so when he is central, once he gets ahead of the central defender it is difficult to catch him’.

In other news the official squad photo was taken last week. I was assessing it and I got all excited at the depth we seem to have this year.

If you compare it to the squad from 2009/10, just three years ago, it looks a completely different group.

Clearly the losses of RVP, Nasri, Clichy, Cesc and Song are huge, but the additions of Gervinho, Arteta, Mertesacker, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud will, for me, more than replace them.

Players like Wilshere, Diaby, Gibbs, Rosicky and Walcott are still around but have all made significant improvements over the last three years.Perhaps most significant is the amount of dead-wood we’ve managed to offload. Thank God the squad isn’t clogged up with the likes of Traore, Eboue, Senderos, Silvestre, Vela, Merida, Denilson, Bendtner, Gallas and even Eduardo (post injury).

Before Saturday’s match I was thinking about the players we were missing and the potential alternative Arsenal XI. Here’s what I came up with.

Mannone
Sagna Koscielny Djourou Santos
Diaby Wilshere Rosicky
Walcott Giroud Arshavin

Not bad for a second string eh? Maybe we’ll have a chance in the Capital One Cup!

So, looking forward to Tuesday’s clash in Montpellier. Arsene begins his period on the sidelines having been banned last season. Big Steve Bould will get his first, and much deserved chance to take charge of the squad. Good luck to him and anyone on the receiving end of his hairdryer. Incidentally it’ll be the first time he gets to use that too (oh dear…).

The rumours are that Giroud and Walcott will start and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that at all. Walcott’s pace has caused problems away from home in Europe before, whilst Giroud will enjoy going back to his old Club. The Mail is reporting that Ramsey will play as well. He made a good cameo on Saturday so let’s hope he can push on this year. I think I’d rest Diaby, even if he’s fully fit, and save him for the City game. His personal battle with Yaya Toure could prove pivotal.

Enjoy, Nick


Gillespie Guest Post – The Southampton Perspective

Every now and then we’ll be having writers and fans from the following game’s opposition team giving us an interesting insight into their current situation, their expectations and their Arsenal related memories. Up first a few words from Saints fan James Callen.

After what seems like an eternity in the lower divisions I’m finally starting to feel like a fan of a Premier League Club once again. After getting back to back promotions, the away trip to Arsenal was a game that I was probably most excited about. We’ve never played at the Emirates and from what I’ve seen on TV the stadium looks sensational.

From our point of view if we can get anything from the game then that will be a massive result. We’ve had a very strange start to the season, sitting at the bottom pointless. The general consensus, not just Saints fans but fans of other teams and the media, is that we are playing really well. I’m hoping that the manner in which we lost to United wont have a lasting effect on the players, and if we can perform like that for the remainder of the season we should be fine.

The positives so far this season have to be how well our young players have stepped up, 17 year old James Ward-Prowse has slotted into the centre of midfield and been brilliant. Against United he had Cleverly firmly in his back pocket. He plays alongside 22-year-old Morgan Schniederlin who has a wonderful touch and passing range. On the wings we will have Adam Lallana who is from the same youth team that had Walcott and Bale in it. He decided to stay with us through all the hard times (Spurs tried to sign him about 5 times) and is now a quality quality player who has deservedly been made Club captain and been called up to the England squad.

Rickie Lambert is showing what almost all Saints fans already knew, he can score goals at this level, and last week he gave Vidic and Ferdinand a torrid time. He obviously will continue to get comparisons with Grant Holt, but I think if you’ve watch him play you can see that he has a lot more to his game then your standard ‘big centre forward’. Hopefully our new record signing Gaston Ramirez will make his debut at the Emirates, 12 Million quid spent on one player is just unheard of for a team like us.

Although all the buzz is about Ramirez, I think that a much more important signing for us was that of Japanese international Maya Yoshida. A tall centre back who can play a bit is just what we needed because to be honest our defence is shocking. If it isn’t sorted out soon we’re going to really struggle. We also signed ‘the new Drogba’ Emmanual Mayuka, a young Zambian forward. His C.V is good, top scorer at this year’s African Cup of Nations, he led Zambia to victory and has a decent record playing in Switzerland. He’s only 21, but I’m going to have to see something pretty special to believe all the hype surrounding him.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Ox and Walcott play again. Arsenal’s usage of Walcott has really frustrated me. Theo was always a much stronger player when playing up front through the middle. His pace and movement can rip defenses apart. Unlike the Ox, Walcott’s final ball has never really been very good It’s a shame to see so many Arsenal and football fans in general writing him off as failed potential. Santi Carzola looks like a serious player. I’m guessing we will pack the midfield like we did against United and City, which has seemed to work to an extent.

I’ve been to some great games away at Arsenal. A couple that stick out are when we nicked a 1-1 draw at Highbury. Wiltord scored and then late in the game a very average midfielder of ours Jo Tessem scored a header. Another that sticks out is a 2-2 draw when some kid called Robin Van Persie scored a 95th minute equalizer after Rory Delap had scored two identical headers from corners late on. A game that still haunts me now is when Arsenal were 5-0 up against us after about 25 minutes, I’ve never been to a game and seen supporters walking out after half an hour. I remember Robert Pires was near un-playable.

So as you can tell I’m really looking forward to the game on Saturday. I know there are a lot of disgruntled Saints fans out there because we’ve only been given 2900 tickets that sold out in less than an hour. My heart says it’ll be 1-1 but my head says it’ll be a 3-1 defeat.

James Callen


Are Theo Walcott’s Days Numbered? I Kinda Hope So…

This time last year Theo Walcott held an automatic starting berth in the Arsenal team, lining up and scoring in the 8-2 defeat to Utd. It was on that day that a 19 yr old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made his debut for the Club. Fast forward one year exactly and Walcott was left to warm the bench by both Arsene Wenger at Liverpool and Roy Hodgson in Moldova, both at the behest of Oxlade-Chamberlain.

After an uncertain summer of transfer rumours surrounding Walcott, a player running into the last year of his contract, is this the changing of the guard and potentially the beginning of the end for Walcott at Arsenal?

Comparisons between these two players is inevitable. Both coming through the famed Southampton youth system, the Ox made his debut at 16 yrs and 199 days, coming off the bench during a 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town to become the Club’s second youngest appearance maker, behind Theo Walcott. Both have blistering pace and both play on the wing, at least for the time being. Both also have aspirations of playing through the middle. Arsene has hinted during pre-season that the Ox will be considered as one of the 3 central midfielders more frequently this year. Meanwhile Walcott’s desire to play as a striker is well documented but unrealistic in the current system.

In many ways, The Ox’s rise to prominence couldn’t have been timed any better. Walcott’s contact negotiations dragged on throughout the summer, and still no agreement has been found. However critical you want to be about our transfer policy, rarely does Wenger allow a player to see out the last year of his contract with the risk of them leaving on a bosman the following summer, rendering the Walcott situation bizarre. Wenger has spoken of his confidence that Theo will stay, but you get the feeling that, after the disrespectful and ungrateful way Arsene has been treated by former players over the past few summers, and with the rise of the Ox, Walcott may have damaged his relationship with Arsene and the Club. I would have been very tempted to sell him for a reasonable price this summer with Liverpool and City supposedly lingering (why I’m not sure).

Apparently Theo has demanded £100,000 a week which would see him enter the very top bracket of earners at the Club, something I’m just not sure he deserves judging by his performances on the pitch. Last season was Walcott’s best statistically with 11 goals and 12 assists in all competitions (46 matches). Clearly when analysing a player, stats are a good place to start, but Walcott is no normal player. Ever since Sven took him to the world cup, a huge amount has been expected of him. Ever since Theo scored that hatrick against Croatia and went on that incredible run against Liverpool, we knew that he was capable of great things. This perhaps is his downfall. He has rare qualities that no other player possesses, namely ridiculous pace, however he also lacks the technical capabilities necessary to harness these qualities. The Ox shares crazy speed but he has strength, power, vision, aggression, incredible touch, accurate passing and crossing and a ferocious shot with either foot. He has all the raw materials necessary, Theo doesn’t.

Telling also was the lack of concern from Arsenal fans when rumours of a Walcott transfer emerged a few weeks ago. Similarly to Alex Dmitri Song Billong, the feeling seemed to be that he was replaceable, with Jesus Navas even being suggested as a possible replacement.

Meanwhile the Ox is going from strength to strength. Roy Hodgson singled out both Cleverly and Chamberlain after the game on Friday. He’s even gone and followed Wilshere’s lead and got himself on the cover of FIFA 13.

Yes Walcott is more experienced and more of a natural wide-man, but he really hasn’t developed in the way that I expected him to over the last six and a half years. Yes, six and a half years!! I still think Walcott is a useful man to have around but not if he wants silly money, and only if he is used shrewdly against teams playing high up the pitch.

Arsene I urge you to keep playing the Ox on the right hand side. As a great footballing philosopher once said about the 18 year old Michael Owen, ‘if you’re good enough then you’re old enough’.. (Glenn Hoddle 1997)
Nick


Majestic Diaby really does feel like a new signing

So the previous post was centred around my optimism surrounding two potential new central midfield players added to the already outstanding addition of Santi Cazorla. As happens all too often since the advent of twitter, the Sahn deal was all but confirmed by many supposedly reputable media sources. Like many of you I’m sure, I was pretty pissed off when he ended up on Merseyside because of difficulties surrounding personal terms and an option to buy clause. Shortly afterwards, in a rare moment of supposed honesty, Arsene told us he intended to sign a defensive midfield player to replace Song. So there we were at 11.00pm on Friday in disbelief as yet again we failed to end up in the red. But should we really have been surprised? and can we really challenge for trophies with the current squad?

My outlook continues to be hopeful even without foreign investment. My previous assessment suggested that a squad with more depth and more creativity in the middle of the park would unify and stabilise the team as a whole. Arsene seems to be of the opinion that the return of Wilshere and Diaby will provide this, and on the basis of the performance against Liverpool, It looks like he could be right. I’m sure no-one enjoyed watching Diaby bullying Sahin on Sunday more than Wenger himself. He really does have something of a Vieira about him and it’s great to see him playing at all after the injury ravaged few years. Interestingly Guillem Balague has been speaking about Real Madrid’s interest in Cazorla 3 years ago highlighting the quality of the little man.

“Real Madrid tried to sign Cazorla from Villarreal 3 years ago. Cazorla wanted to go, but Real Madrid’s wage offer wasn’t great. Villarreal offered Cazorla a contract extension with better wages than Real Madrid offered, so Cazorla stayed at Villarreal”

I watched the match on Sunday with a couple of Liverpool fans who, off the back of their draw against City and the introduction of Brendan Rodgers’ style of football, predicted that they would dominate possession and win the midfield battle. How wrong they were.. It was great fun to watch Arteta, Diaby and Cazorla keep the ball so efficiently but crucially also use it so effectively. Something I haven’t seen from an Arsenal midfield for many years. Unbelievably Mikel Arteta has averaged 96 passes per game thus far, more than any Stoke player has made overall!

Podolski and the Ox, whilst still providing pace, work incredibly hard and have the technical ability to penetrate in the final 3rd. The usual frustration with Gervinho and Walcott running into brick walls was absent and I think those two would be better off used as impact subs if we need an injection of pace. As a team we still haven’t conceded a goal, the best defensive record at this stage for 80 odd years. We’ve made more tackles than any other Premier League team. How much of this is down to Steve Bould I’m not sure but everyone seems to understand their role and their responsibility so long may that continue.

Before the Liverpool match the odds on us winning the league were 25-1, straight afterwards they were slashed to 12-1…. Just sayin.

Clearly it’s far too early to make any real judgement. Of the last 5 leading teams going into the first international break, only Chelsea in 09/10 have gone on to win. I’m aware that there is a need to ground my sickening positivity in some realism. Much harder tests lie ahead. We have the international break to look forward to which will give my own XI-a-side season a chance to get under way. The team name this year is ‘Bacardi Sagna’ if you’re interested. Hopefully shortly after the break the real Sagna will be back in training with a certain Jack Wilshere to follow shortly afterwards. Let’s pray for no horror injuries on international weekend. Nick