Arsenal Preview: The Blackburn Perspective

The start of the season Championship previews all listed Blackburn as clear favourites to walk away with the title, but with Venkys’ still making sporadic decisions based on god knows what, the reality has been very different. There have been many comings and goings this season in the dugout and the dressing room. Venkys’ even recently hired a PR firm to try and restore a tiny iota of creditability.

We are now on our third manager of the season and the fifth person to be in charge of picking the team (taking in account two care taker managers). Steve Kean finally got sacked early in the season to many fans delight but it is worth noting we were then 3rd in the table and we are now 8th. Henning Berg was given the job to appease fans as he was a Club legend. In his two stints at the club he won the league in 94/95 and the Worthington Cup in 2002. Fans who looked at his less than impressive managerial record where not convinced and he eventually was fired when he lost the dressing room and too many games.

In his place came Michael Appleton; a former professional footballer that started at Manchester United but never really had a career of note and retired aged 27 at West Brom. He worked his way up the coaching system there and has had managerial stints at Portsmouth and Blackpool. Like his playing days they have not been hugely successful. In fact Blackpool were below us when we first approached him to be manager.

Despite this Appleton has been a breath of fresh air at the Club. He is plain speaking and seems to have a lot of common sense which has been lacking throughout Venkys’ tenure. Since he has taken over he’s managed to tighten up the defence with three clean sheets in the last four. The squad has also seemed to have some passion and drive again which was lacking under Berg and Kean. This has a lot to do with the trimming of the squad size, making it more balanced and bringing back a healthy competition for starting roles.

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Appleton has mainly been sending out the team in a 4-4-1-1 formation. This has worked well recently winning three of the last five and drawing with Brighton twice. He has admitted ahead of the game that we will concede the majority of possession again, like we did midweek away to Brighton. We will therefore be set up to try and sneak a win, like most inferior teams do against Arsenal.

In goal Paul Robinson (remember him?) has not started under Appleton. In his place is 22 year old Jake Kean who has proven to be a good shot stopper, but this is clearly the biggest game and test of his career.  At the back Hanley and Dann are improving, but I fear pace could be their undoing on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if Appleton throws in new loan signed Karim Rekik from Man City who at 18 will have pace but little experience. In centre midfield Danny Murphy and Jason Lowe have developed a good partnership with Lowe doing the running of two men and Murphy occasionally showing his class with some good long passes.  DJ Campbell made his debut on Tuesday which thankfully saw the most over rated Blackburn player Morten Gamst Pedersen drop to the bench. Up front the lively Kazim-Richards has been playing off Jordan Rhodes.

The latter is a name you will have heard due to his impressive goal tallies in the lower leagues for the last few seasons but you may not have seen him play. The best way to describe him is as a pure finisher. Often you won’t notice him for the whole game but when he gets the chance he clinically takes it. He is on fire at the moment with four goals in the last four games and 19 in total in the league. If we don’t get promoted this year I fully expect him to leave for a Premiership Club.

Jordan Rhodes

Not entirely sure what to expect of Arsenal. In this season’s FA Cup games you’ve picked strong teams as it is clearly your best chance of a trophy this season. Then again you sent out a strong team against Bradford and look what happened. I am not convinced of the wisdom of resting too many players ahead of the Bayern game as they clearly going to destroy you over the two legs. Better to concentrate on a competition you can actually win.

Rovers fans memories of the Emirates are not happy, we have never won there and often are heavily beaten. We did manage a draw in the 5th round in the 2006/7 FA Cup when Mark Hughes sent us out so defensively that the game was atrocious to watch. In that same season I went to the league game but didn’t manage to get a ticket in the away end. We went one nil up early through a Shabani Nonda penalty. Our luck didn’t last and we got outclassed going down 6-2. Despite the eight goals in the game and a Robbie Savage booking, an Arsenal fan behind me wasn’t happy. He complained loudly that he would have preferred to have gone shopping with his wife! This coupled with the quiet atmosphere easily makes Arsenal the worst home fans I have ever experienced.

I was surprised to see that the fixture is sold out. Presume the Cup prices have opened up the game to more ardent fans that are often priced out of games. Will this lead to some sort of atmosphere? We’ve also managed to sell out our 1200 application which is rare for us this far from Lancashire. It clearly shows that many fans are like me starting to feel optimistic about Rovers again under Appleton.

Clearly Arsenal will be going in as favourites and you should win by at least one goal. However I have this nagging feeling in the back of my head that we can possible pull off a draw with a bit of luck so i’ll settle for a 1-1 after a Diaby/Szczesny red card and a Rhodes penalty.


To Go Out With a Gooner: The Girlfriend’s Perspective (Valentine’s Special)

It was the run up to Valentine’s day 2012. I had been planning a nice dinner somewhere, doing my research on good deals. What I didn’t know was that he was also doing his research on good deals – the cheapest way to get to Milan, with the boys. After the initial argument, I asked if I could come – if we could share a room, I could go exploring while they go to a pub (by going to a pub I mean : them standing outside, shouting whilst spilling beer all over themselves). He laughed.

Tell me, did Arsenal lose 4 -0 to AC Milan on 15 February 2012? F*cking serves you right.

It has been over two years since we first got together, and two years since one of his friends first warned me about him being “a massive gooner”. Back then I had no idea what a gooner was, did that mean he hit women? Oh right, he supports Arsenal. OH right, he REALLY supports Arsenal, has a season ticket and will spend most weekends going back to London to watch them.

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Very quickly I realised that if this was going anywhere (and I really wanted it to) I was going to have to share my boyfriend with a football team. In the first few months, I made a huge effort; I listened in to boys conversations about football, watched Sky Sports News wiith them, read up on the BBC football page, and very soon I was able to start impressing people with my knowledge.. Turns out the stereotype that girls know nothing about football is so strong that I could impress by just saying I knew where Robin Van Persie came from. Finally he uttered those sweet words, Would you come to the Emirates with me?

For a new Gooner Girlfriend, this is an honour (in their eyes), but also a test.  Having only been to Easter Road to watch Hibs v Dunfermline, I could have done with few pointers on how to play it. Here are a few things I have learnt when at the Emirates.

1. Dress warmly, god knows why they put the football season in winter but they do.
2. Have a few drinks before – you are more likely to get involved and keep yourself entertained (too many and you’ll need to wee the whole way through the match (see 4) and apparently be annoying  (see 2&3).
2. Don’t sing a long too loudly because apparently it’ is quite cringe.
3. Don’t look at and/or touch your man if Arsenal are losing, apparently they need their space.
4. Respect the people sitting next to them, they are paying a lot to be there every week so you needing to go to the loo half way through the first half  will apparently (did) piss them off.
5. Know a bit about the team they are playing (West Ham is apparently not West Hampstead).
6. Don’t say “it ‘s not that bad”. (It apparently is that bad: A draw can be as bad as a defeat).
7. Find out a bit about the players. eg. Wojciech is both fit and hilarious to watch.
8. And finally – Do not blame yourself if they lose, you are not the bad luck.

I now bring you to August 2011 – He and I were at our most rocky – he was being horribly moody, ignoring me, then, in turn, I ignored him. We hadn’t spoken for a week. I was listening to the news and it said something about Fabregas moving to Barcelona. This whole fight had been about Cesc. Unfortunately a pattern has emerged; When things are good with Arsenal- they are really really good with us. When things at Arsenal are bad things can get messy. I guess I should be thankful that unlike Arsenal we aren’t in a 7 year drought.

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There’s something about the Arsenal, something about the fandom that sucks you in. It’s not glory hunting because they aren’t really winning. And it’s no longer to impress my boyfriend because we are way past that honeymoon stage. It’s been two years and I think I’m ready to make the upgrade from “gooner girlfriend” to “gooner”.

And if the worst happens and we break up? There’s a very good looking guy sitting two rows in front.