The weekend passes and we are back to the somewhat disconcerting feeling of comfort after an unspectacular win against the Saints. Entering the week absent of stress is a welcome change to previous campaigns when we would have somehow managed to lose a 2-goal lead to a side down at the bottom. It was a fairly poor game of football all round but coming away with the result highlights the maturing element to the side this year. They are making winning a habit and it is great to see. We were undoubtedly fortunate to be served a goal on a plate and the award of the penalty was a total lack of discipline on Fonte’s part. Regardless the history books will say 2-0 to the Arsenal and that’s all that concerns me.
Other results at the weekend also worked in our favour. I don’t want to speak to soon but a slight roll reversal seems to be in play with Utd. Them stepping up for the big game against us before failing to a team they should comfortable beat (sure Van Persie is enjoying that all too familiar feeling). Tottenham also got well and truly dispatched by Man City. I wonder when 5pur2 will stop pretending to be a big club and concede life outside the top 4 is set to continue. Calls for AVB’s head are madness from fans but I am of the belief that if they were to make such a rash call it really would spell the end of their era close to the top. So by all means let it happen.
Anyways enough smugness as it is bound to come back to haunt me. We host Marseille tonight and it is another huge game (as they all are these days), a win takes us to 12 points and should all but secure us qualification to the next round. This is the sort of game, given what’s on the line, which we would previously have potentially bottled but given my current confidence in this team I think we will get a solid win. Marseille are yet to get a point so far this year and from what I have seen of them there is little they possess that can pose a genuine threat.
Another prospect that is exciting me is the return of Theo Walcott. People who have read this blog before will know that I am not his greatest advocate, but his small introduction on Saturday reminded me of just how quick he is. So far this year our team has been essentially void of it, there were a couple of times on the weekend that highlighted the threat he can create. One moment in particular was when he made one of his signature runs in behind the defence, Ozil played a curling ball from the left flank and although successfully blocked by Fonte it gave us a taste of what we have in stall. Ozil’s ability to pick him out behind the defence adds a whole new dimension to our game and his shear presence means no team can risk the high lines we have seen at times this year. The long awaited presence of the likes of Walcott and Chamberlain (proper wingers) is going to allow further developments to our game and I am intrigued to see how Wenger balances the team following their return.
It feels as though each of the last 10 games has been ‘Arsenal’s biggest game of the season’, but now we can say it like we mean it. Sunday is indeed judgement day, 90 of the most painstaking, excruciating minutes of our lives. The result will define not only this season but probably next season too. Win and we will have snatched victory from a position in which it should never have been possible. Fail to win and it’s the lowest point of many of our Arsenal supporting lives. It’s do or die, sink or swim, in or out, take it or leave it, us or them, yes or no, or whatever particular dualism cliche takes your fancy..
The axe will undoubtedly fall most heavily on Arsene’s head should we fail to win, so here are two journalistic glimpses into Monday morning’s papers to highlight just how fine the margins are!
”As a disconsolate Arsenal left the pitch at White Hart Lane back in March, many thought the 5 point gap that had opened up was too significant a margin to overcome. Yesterday’s victory saw the Gunners once again prove they are indeed the ‘fourth place specialists’ as dubbed by Arsene Wenger only last week. An incredible run of form, winning 8 of their last 10 league games since the 2-1 defeat at the hands of Spurs, sets up a big summer in which we are led to believe Wenger has in the region of £70 million to bolster the squad.
With the best away record in the league, conceding just 14 goals away from home all season (whilst they conceded 8 in one game during the last campaign), it looks as though this newly assembled squad might finally have found their feet. The new contracts signed by the British core of Wilshere, Ramsey, Gibbs, Jenkinson and Chamberlain as well as the probable departure of Gareth Bale surely signify a continuation of the balance of power in North London. The three new signings of Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski have also each reached 20 goals in a debut season riddled with unjust criticism.
Time then to look towards a bright future in the red half of North London? I think so. Mancini and Ferguson has departed, meaning that all 91 English League Clubs have changed their manager since the last time Arsene Wenger last won a trophy! An incredible stat but one which should be seen as an appreciation of the level of consistency Wenger has adhered to rather than a slight on his misfortunes. In a season in which Spurs gained more points than any other 5th placed team, Wenger once again pipped the old enemy at the post, and he deserves a lot of credit for doing so”.
”It looked as though Arsenal had once again scraped a fourth place finish but Arsene Wenger’s luck seems to have finally run out, and so may his time as a Premier League manager. Ever since Patrick Vieira scored the winning penalty in Cardiff against Utd with his last kick for the Club, Arsenal have been in demise. Europa League football presents an all time low as far as the Wenger era is concerned and this may prove a step too far for an Arsenal board who have been his most ardent supporters in years gone by.
Only last week Arsenal fans were criticising Chelsea for taking such pride in winning the Europa League but in a years time Arsenal themselves will be vying to match Chelsea’s feat. Although they went into the final day as favourites to claim fourth place, failure from the jaws of success should come as no great surprise. Wenger’s stubbornness and refusal to listen to the demands of seemingly everyone around him lead to similar ‘oh so close’ scenarios including the Champions League final in 2006, the defeat to Birmingham in the League Cup final in 2011, this season’s defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and now the failure to beat Newcastle Utd on the final day of the 2012/13 season.
The sad truth is that Tottenham have been the better team all season and are deserving of their fourth place finish. The writing has been on the wall for Wenger for a number of years and you can only think, at least in the short term, his legacy will be a regretful one rather than a memorable one. This particular failure will have huge financial implications and many of the apparent transfer targets are likely to head elsewhere seeking European football of the highest order. Wenger may be on his way to PSG, but it may not be a decision of his choosing as we always thought it would be”.
Wow writing that second one was painful.. Hope you all enjoy Sunday as much as it’s emotionally possible. I suggest you have a heavy supply of alcohol at the ready and avoid sharp objects. See you on the other side.
A post from Hamish who reckons their laid back Bulgarian is the man to upset us this afternoon….
As I’m sure you Gooners will agree, Fulham’s last outing at the Emirates was an absolute belter. The game was poised at 3-3 when a questionable extra-time penalty was awarded to Arsenal. The reliable Arteta stepped up, only for Mark Schwarzer to make a great save and give Fulham a share of the spoils. We ended that November afternoon equal on points, at 5th and 6th in the table. Things were good, and the squad seemed optimistic: Rodellaga was even telling the press he wanted a top four finish.
As per usual though, the Premier League has balanced out. Arsenal’s dismissal from the Champions league has resulted in a flourish of form, and most would fancy them to claim top four ahead of Spurs. Fulham on the other hand, have been fighting off the bottom. Various injuries and Hangeland’s suspension saw us drop vital points in some key winter games, as Jol was continually forced to change his XI. However, the transfer window bought some loan reinforcements (notably Arsenal’s DENCH Frimpong), and as other key players returned from injury we began to poke our heads out off the bottom-half dogfight. Sitting at 10th with a comfortable 40 points, it seems Fulham have all but secured another season in the top flight. So, what can you expect on Saturday?
Well, Fulham need a quick turn around from the midweek drumming by Chelsea. The 3-0 loss was a bit harsh, since we created some good chances, but the David Luiz wonder goal lead to a change of momentum, and we were fairly beaten. Apart from the return of suspended ex-gooner Steve Sidwell and on-loan winger Alex Kacaniklic, the team is unlikely to change that much, as we obviously aren’t the sort of club who can afford to ‘rotate’.
Our chances of a result on Saturday will inevitably lie in Dimitar Berbatov. The mercurial forward has struck up a tally of 13 goals this season. In fact, Fulham are yet to loose a game in which he scores. The man is treated like a prince by fans and coach a like: our shape is flexible, but will always be set up to play through him. Of course, the on-pitch signs of frustration are common. Expect to see his arms in the air with dismay at the inadequacies of his ‘mediocre’ teammates. Regardless of his demeanour, he claims to be enjoying his time at the cottage. The notion of cigars and vodka after training with old pal Jol, probably seemed like just the kind of retirement package he was after. It is fair to say that the attitudes and attractiveness of the Dimitar way of football have taken the cottage by storm. We keep calm and wait for him to be passed the ball.
Ultimately though, I think Arsenal’s form should be enough for you to edge past Fulham on Saturday. You have a much stronger midfield and all strikers seem to be scoring. Fulham are unlikely to hold tight if you pepper the box like you did Everton’s. I can only hope that when Giroud does all the hard work and beats our defence, he fails to hit the target, only for Ruiz to construct a counter-attack from which Berba poaches one at the other end. I just hope that two big games for the 20-a-day 32 year old isn’t too much. Prediction 1-2.
The vast majority of Arsenal fans, even those who have season tickets, won’t get the opportunity to go to a North London Derby at Sh*te Hart Lane. The closing of the now famous ‘gap’ between the two sides means this particular matchday was an even bigger deal than most visits to one of the most disgusting parts of the world it’s possible to step foot in. Make no mistake, this is more than just a game of football, this is an experience unlike any other away day or even a Cup final (yes I can remember what they’re like).
The beginning of the day felt much like a Cup final actually. With kick off at 4pm we met at 1 o’clock at the 12 Pins pub in Finsbury Park. The sun was shining on the hoards of lubricated Gooners, unified in their terrified excitement. One thing us Arsenal fans are starting to really appreciate is the build up to a big game. Safe in the knowledge we’ll probably not be celebrating afterwards, the build up has now become a celebration out of necessity. The pub was rammed and full of song. We had one round of ‘there were 10 Tottenham points in the gap’ before taking up our position outside in the sunshine.
Familiar faces began converging on the street corner. Some choosing to share their predictions and concerns with the game only hours away. Others already jumping up and down hurling beers in the air. With each police van that drives past comes a rendition of ‘are you Tottenham in disguise?’. Another round of drinks and suddenly hundreds of laughing Gooners are positioning themselves on the floor as ‘sit down if you hate Tottenham’ brings smiles from puzzled residents. It’s a carnival atmosphere based largely around the hatred of that lot only a few miles down the Seven Sisters Road.
With about an hour to kick off the whole area suddenly empties within about 5 minutes. This is our cue to have a quick piss and get on the Victoria line for the short journey to Seven Sisters. This is unlike any other tube journey however. It lasts only a few minutes but it’s absolute hell if you’re an innocent bi-stander. About 200 pissed Arsenal fans in each carriage are going completely mental. The chants reverberate around the walls, the ceiling and doors are being banged so forcefully everyone gets covered in the black grime that falls from behind the panels and adverts. Most are unaware of the fact their face is covered in soot, there are far more important things to worry about.
As you emerge from the train you’re greeted by a wall of policemen. At this point all is still in good spirit but not for too much longer. You’re now behind enemy lines. As soon as you’re outside the station it’s you and them. The closer you get to White Hart Lane the more adrenaline is pumping. We’re in a group of about 500 Arsenal fans surrounded by a thin line of policemen and some terrifying looking alsatians. Further out are the local residents of Tottenham who get a barrage of abuse and a chorus of ‘Tottenham’s a sh*thole, you burnt your own town’ and ‘youuu live in a sh*thole’.
Further down the road come the pubs full of Spurs fans. This is an opportunity for another rendition of ‘sit down if you hate Tottenham’. The sight of hundreds of Arsenal fans sitting on the doorstep of the most hardened Spurs pubs is quite something. The police get tense as abuse is hurled both ways. Horses step in to keep things moving.
As you reach the ground the police have no choice to but to subside to let you queue to enter. This is where it really kicks off. As you get closer to the ground increasing numbers of incensed Spurs fans follow you in the knowledge that the opportunity for conflict will present itself eventually. As we turn the last corner of the walk objects are hurled our way. Coins come raining down and the odd bottle smashes nearby. Some choose to retaliate whilst others duck and get inside as quickly as possible.
Obviously the atmosphere inside is electric. Unfortunately, after such an eventful and dramatic build up, being 2 goals down at half time brings the worst out of many. People pissing in the sinks at half time, someone smashing the toilet to pieces and people tearing their setas apart as they leave the ground at the end. I must also mention the racist nature of the fandom. Clearly there are going to be the usual songs aimed at Spurs fans but this was much much worse than the norm. The three blokes standing behind us chanting ‘Adolf Hitler is our friend’ and calling Adebayor a ‘f***ing ni**er’ was disgusting and left a sour taste. I’m pleased to say it’s not something I’m used to hearing at the Arsenal.
The ‘Wenger-out’ brigade occasionally tried to make their presence felt but they were quashed quickly by the majority who sensibly suggested supporting the team during the biggest game of the season. This wasn’t our day but there’ll be plenty more to come. North London is red and the tide is most certainly not turning. Forever in our shadow.
Although it doesn’t have a reputation for being a particularly enthralling fixture, Liverpool v Arsenal has consistently been the source of some absolute classic matches in recent years. The Owen FA Cup final, Thierry Henry toying with Carragher for 90 minutes, Arshavin sticking four past us to pretty much end our title hopes in the one year we’ve really challenged for it in my lifetime, Neil Mellor’s thirty yard stoppage time winner and the Champions league quarter final at Anfield amongst others. And with both teams looking more likely than not to concede goals we could be in for another one.
Liverpool’s form going in to the game is OK (fifth in the league form table based on the last six matches) while Arsenal are down in 10th, but that’s slightly misleading because that block of six included Fulham, QPR, Sunderland and Norwich and we have yet to beat a team in the top ten. The loss to Oldham also piles on a bit more pressure for Rodgers. At times we look very cohesive, pass the ball well and move fluidly, but at others we looked shocked that teams have the nerve to tackle us and disrupt our passing game. When we concede we don’t just concede one, but two or three. But it’s as good a time as any to play Arsenal. There’s a lot of negativity in and around the Club at the moment and the anti Wenger minority appears to be growing. Add to that the lack of a top class striker and a thinner squad in comparison to previous years and it’s the weakest I’ve seen Arsenal in years, though still very capable of scraping the fourth Champions League spot.
But I was confident going in to the last meeting between the two when Arsenal controlled the game and tactically outclassed us at Anfield. Arteta, Diaby and Cazorla bossed the Liverpool trio in the midfield battle and our full backs left far too much space down the channels, which is where both Arsenal goals came from. It will be interesting to see if and how Rodgers will react to the fairly dismal performance last time round, because more and more people are starting to question his pre game tactical planning.
He likes to keep his team the same for each match but at the same time hasn’t settled on an eleven he feels entirely comfortable with, so players get a short run before being replaced and not to be seen for a while (just ask Suso). The back four and ‘keeper are automatic choices when fit (Johnson and Enrique are expected to be back for the game) though Carragher seems to have worked his way back in to the fold ahead of Skrtel The middle of the park has seen Allen, Gerrard, Lucas, Shelvey, Sahin and Henderson all get a regular run of games at various times with Lucas, Gerrard and Henderson currently being the favoured three.
The arrival of Sturridge has had a pretty big effect on the way we set up, and we look much more dangerous for it. Suarez has been playing behind him at the tip of the midfield in a 4-2-3-1 (as opposed to roaming all over as the centre forward where he was absolutely outstanding for the first half of the season). Henderson has been playing a recycling role from the left with Downing finally producing something resembling good form from the right. Sturridge has instantly clicked with and taken the work load off Suarez meaning El Pistolero is no longer attacking teams all on his own, while their constant movement creates space for others to exploit.
Liverpool are still horrific at defending the counter attack. Any team who puts us under any sort of pressure on the ball, and works their counter attack well is likely to get points. With the pace Arsenal have up front I could easily see it happening. Liverpool will look to do what they always do – get control of possession and slowly build up our passing game from the back. That Arsenal have a similar style and are at home however means we’re likely to see less of the ball, something we’re not at all used to, so it will be interesting to see how we react. Despite Rodgers’ much vaunted pressing style when defending, we have yet to actually see any pressing for a prolonged period of time suggesting we may sit deep without possession and look to counter.
I think Arsenal’s key threats are Wilshere and Cazorla. I would have confidently backed a pre injury Lucas to deal with Cazorla in the 10 role but he’s been a bit patchy since he’s returned from his year out (understandably) so that could be a key factor in the outcome. Likewise Wilshere. He can dominate a game given the time and space so it’ll be fascinating to see who comes out on top between him and Gerrard. As I mentioned earlier I think Arsenal look fragile at the back but their pace in the front three does worry me, particularly if Carragher starts.
Whatever happens I would be surprised if it’s not an entertaining game. There’s decent enough attacking talent on display and neither team looks well drilled yet, meaning lots of gaps for the front men to exploit. For me though the key battle comes down to the midfield trios. Whoever controls the middle should go on to win the game. With Lucas back and Gerrard in good form we look fairly strong. But whatever trio Arsenal pick will always be good with the ball, and the creativity of Cazorla and Wilshere could really hurt us.
Prediction: I think Arsenal are there for the taking but we just can’t seem to get a win against the top sides. Away from home will be tough as well but I’m going for a 2-2 draw. I can see goals being scored at both ends and I think Liverpool will manage to come away with a point.
The score is all that matters to me at this moment. Yes I do concede that we were unlucky in the build up to both goals but who cares. Modern football is a game now where almost every decision is contentious and bluntly I am bored of talking about them. I also believe (to use an Areseneism) that despite Chelsea’s misconduct, both goals were very defendable and once again we saw Arsenal switch off.
In the wake of the defeat Arsene said in his press conference:
‘The start was similar to the Manchester City game last week. We didn’t really go for it, didn’t defend well and gave too much room to Chelsea’
So this begs the question as to why, in the biggest game of the season for us so far, we didn’t ‘go for it’. For me the principle blame has to be with the Manager and his coaching staff on this one. Not solely in the build up to the game but also with the personnel he has employed. Jack Wilshere aside, there was no one on that pitch to take the game by the scruff of the neck. It is not all the fault of the players, some personalities just aren’t suited to that role and currently we do not have enough of them in the squad. Arsene denied a lack of on-pitch leadership last night, but I am afraid that is exactly what we are missing.
I hate to bring him up but in his pre match interview with Sky yesterday Van Per$ie spoke about Manchester United and it being a club of Champions, of winners. It was sickening to watch as he smirked with delight at his love for his new teammates. But the sad fact is that he is right, Manchester Utd are winners and the ethos in that squad breeds it.
Man U have 4 strikers all of which I would have starting at Arsenal (Van Per$ie, Welbeck, Rooney and Hernandez). The reason they can have these players is because Man U win and people don’t mind sitting on the bench when they are winning things.
So when Arsene says he doesn’t want to sign Demba Ba as he is ‘too similar to Giroud’, his logic is frankly floored, he would make the world of difference at Arsenal and could easily be the difference between us and Chelsea come the end of the season.
Yesterday Wenger addressed the subject of signings by claiming we are:
‘Not close to signing anyone tonight or tomorrow morning’
From that you have to conclude that he had not planned to purchase in this window and that any buying that goes on now will be in reaction to the poor results. If we had 9 points out of 9 in the league this month then I believe Wenger would not be thinking of adding to the squad. For a sane individual that is hard to rationalise, the lack of depth in our squad is blindingly obvious. The fact that Diaby, who has been out for 3 months, has to come back and play 3 games in a row tells you all you need to know about our squad depth.
We now have 1 point out of 9 this month and 1 point from 12 against our supposed big 4 rivals. That is not good enough for a club of Arsenal’s stature and without a couple of additions in the next 2 weeks we will not make the top 4. That will signal the end of an era for Arsenal Football Club and leave us in a position we will likely find ourselves in for years to come.
The renewed optimism we have before every game is becoming harder and harder to conjure. No one likes losing but currently the way we are losing is the hardest pill to swallow. Gone are the times when we would lose but have 20 shots on goal, these days we don’t even create that many chances.
@WillOBrien4 tweeted us yesterday evening:
‘Remember the days when we wanted spurs to beat united…. I’m sad’
Will, I couldn’t put it better myself.
Apologies for the downbeat article, but facts are facts and currently Arsenal Football Club is in serious danger of losing its top club status for a long time to come.
January is a month that brings, for most Arsenal fans, a great deal of expectation. By the beginning of February we’re usually left with a host of different emotions. Of these emotions joy is rarely one.
So far this January has been no different. We entered the month with Spain’s most prolific striker, David Villa, being touted as our main target. For me this seems highly unlikely and news earlier today has confirmed Barcelona want him till the end of the season. A move for him in the summer may be feasible but at 31 you might say he is past his peak and there is the added concern that he’s returning from injury. I can’t speak for Barcelona but I can only imagine that if he had returned and was looking as good as ever that Barca would be keeping hold of him long-term. As we have seen recently with the contract extension of both Puyol and Xavi, if the quality is there age is not an issue.
Looking elsewhere, many will point to Chelsea’s signing of Demba Ba. He would have been a fantastic addition to the squad and worth the risk given his supposed injury record (his knee that’s so terrible he’s barely missed and game since his arrival to the Premier League…). Watching him against Newcastle, his movement and hold up play was excellent and he grabbed a brace for his efforts. In this case, however, the sad fact is that even if we had come in for him I am convinced he would still have gone to Chelsea. They are likely to have given him a nice big wage, one that Arsenal couldn’t rival, and though it pains me to say it Chelsea are looking far more likely to make top four than us this season.
Now we move onto our internal solution, Theo Walcott. Looking at statistics this season (14 goals in 20 appearances) coupled with individual moments of brilliance like his first and third goals against Newcastle you might say he is a pretty good option. But when you step back from that and you point to his flaws (indecisiveness, final ball, lack of strength) they are issues we all know too well and ones that we’ve been accepting for years because he’s ‘young’ and English. Given these problems I think its pretty clear he is not a long-term solution.
There have been murmurings in the press over the last day or so that a contract is close to being signed. This is great news, he may be a flawed player but he is highly effective for us a times. I do hope, however, that Arsene and the board have not bowed to his original contract demands. What he was asking for was ridiculous for a player of his quality and bluntly the way he has gone about this whole situation has really pissed me off. If it hadn’t been for the loss of Van PerSie and Na$ri in a similar way I feel he would have quite rightly received a lot more stick from the Arsenal faithful. He stands next to Jack in interviews saying how these processes take a long time when Jack has wrapped it up in a matter of weeks. Is Walcott a better player than Wilshire? No. Work harder on the pitch? No. A better bloke? No. I could go on. The point that I am trying to make is Walcott has been taking us for a ride and as fans we have accepted that because of the mistakes made previously by the club. For me he is not a striker and he certainly does not deserve to be anywhere near the highest paid player at the club. Sign the contract and that’s great but until then I will certainly not be chanting ‘Theo’ as he laps up the applause at the end of home games.
Onto the footballing side of the month and with the draw at Swansea we have landed ourselves with an extra fixture leaving us with 5/6 games depending on the FA cup result. Four are premier league games, three coming against Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool. This is a worrying schedule, our key players have started to look tired recently and given Arsene’s refusal to rotate the central three midfielders, our engine may not be running at full throttle. The supposed return of Abou Diaby to full training could theoretically help ease the burden but we all know how unreliable his fitness is.
I feel a signing or two is essential to maintaining our top four ambitions and a high quality central striker must be the priority. Either way this is a make or break month for Arsenal Football Club. I think by the end we will have a very good indication of where we will be come the end of May.
This Arsenal-Newcastle fixture has thrown up numerous dramas and enthralling spectacles over the past few years. Who can forget the Joey Barton-inspired comeback of two years ago, capped by that Tiote volley or his central role in the Gervinho sending off last season? Delving further back into the annals of Premier League history, my fondest memories of this fixture remain Newcastle’s 3-1 victory at Highbury in December 2001 sending us top at Christmas (this is quite an enjoyable read http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2001/dec/19/match.sport1). Who could forget Dennis Bergkamp in 2002 scoring what remains one of the greatest goals of all time.
Presently, neither team finds themselves in the rudest of health. Arsenal’s 3 consecutive victories have papered over increasingly widening cracks on the footballing front. Arsenal’s inability to replace Van Persie (in my considered opinion) with a comparative world-class striker has hit the club hard. This being the case, as a Newcastle fan, I will still always approach this fixture with a degree of trepidation, as Arsenal retains the ability to tear apart any team on their day.
Newcastle’s season has been hit by an avalanche of injury problems, contractual wrangling with our star striker (am not going to mention the possibility of his turning up at Arsenal) and rumblings of discontent over the lack of transfer activity in the summer. The signings of 19-year-old Curtis Good, Gael Bigirimana, Romain Amalfitano and Vurnon Anita have failed to placate the Geordie faithful. Our form has failed to reach the stunning heights of 2011/12. Cisse has failed to fire, and cannot form any semblance of an understanding with Ba, who has continued to lead the way with his goals. Injuries to Steven Taylor and suspension to our captain, have torn apart the defensive solidity that proved to be the bedrock of our success last season. Creatively, the loss of Ben Arfa and Cabaye has contributed to a marked drop in goal-scoring chances for our front two. Enough of the excuses…
Wednesday’s performance at Old Trafford, coupled with our recent win against QPR, do point to brighter times for the Toon. The signing of Gael Bigirimana has looked to be an inspired piece of business by Alan Pardew. His performances have steadily improved and he looked at home against an admittingly ageing Paul Scholes and unpredictable Michael Carrick. With Anita crocked for the tie on Saturday, along with Ben Arfa and Cabaye remaining on the sidelines, Bigirimana’s importance cannot be overestimated against the likes of Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere. Sadly, reliance on a 19-year-old, illustrates the primary reason as to Newcastle’s failings this season. The paucity of options for Pardew has meant that we’ve had to throw in too many inexperienced youngsters to plug ever-expanding gaps in our squad.
The somewhat surprising success of Pardew last season has led to understandably raised expectations this term. He has been found tactically wanting, with Newcastle at the top of the long-ball table, with 18% of their passes constituted as ‘long-passes’, 2% ahead of Stoke. Only in the past few weeks has Pardew been persuaded to instill a bit of width into our play, putting the pace of Marveaux on the wings, to replace the more defensively minded Gutierrez. His partnership with the rapidly improving Santon has lead to a much-increased threat from our left side, Santon’s rampaging runs becoming a key part of our attacking ‘arsenal.’ If Pardew can find a centre-back able to stand up to the physicality of English football in the January transfer window, then hopefully the fallible Mike Williamson can be pushed down the pecking order. Another striker to complement (or replace) Ba, and Cisse, along with a full-back and centre-back are musts this coming window.
Moving towards Saturday, though Newcastle are yet to score from a set-piece this season, Pardew will feel that Arsenal’s weak link remains their lack of physicality and susceptibility against bullying centre-forwards (read Andy Carroll in 2010). Cazorla seems to be Arsenal’s dangerman, giving Tiote the job of shackling him and disabling his ability in becoming the epicenter of Arsenal fluidity. The disruption of Arsenal’s passing game is vital in attaining a result at the Emirates. Luckily Williamson is now suspended for this game, so it looks as if Perch will partner Coloccini at the back with Simpson and Santon as full-backs (Krul in goal of course). It’s anyone’s guess as to who we can patch together in midfield. Fortunately, Tiote is able to return to join Bigirimana and Marveaux, with possibly Obertan to replace Anita in midfield. Cisse, stuck out on the right, will play behind Ba. With Newcastle’s recent form, a heavy defeat looks to be on the cards, but knowing our club, anything can happen, and hopefully we can repeat the success of 2010 and come away with the 3 points. Prediction: 3-1 to the Gunners.
Key battle: Ba against Vermaelen.
Monday’s victory over Reading and 5 promising young players agreeing new deals feels like a great week to me. Such a great week in fact, i’ve plucked up the courage to reflect on all things Arsenal and write a post. So rarely these days do we have the opportunity to soak up a convincing victory, that Monday night at the Madejski left thousands of Arsenal fans wondering why, if we’re capable of performing like that, we’re usually left regretting what might have been. I must say it was an incredible atmosphere. The pent up frustrations of our fans were finally outpoured for all the right reasons. I understand the concerns that still remain, but why not enjoy a great victory against an appalling team whilst we can.
On Wednesday morning an agent who represents a few Arsenal players, decided he wanted to grab a bit of the limelight by suggesting Arsenal fans had a ‘feel good’ announcement from the Club due at 3pm. Obviously a twitter meltdown followed as everyone suddenly knew someone who had the inside scoop. By 3pm, much like the Mayan Calendar bollocks, there was a sudden realisation that nothing had happened. Excitement was slowly turning to anger until around 3.05pm when we were informed that our ‘young British core’ had all re-signed. The future was bright. Once more however it took all of about 5 minutes for people to clock the absence of one particular youthful British player. Where was Theo Walcott? Delight turned once more to disappointment. It looks to all as if Theo is off, but frankly the loyalty of Jack and the thought of him captaining the team at the age of 25 is far more important than the future of Theo.
All 5 players signing at the same time is a great PR move by the Club at a difficult time. Arsene, the man under so much pressure, standing over them like a proud father. It certainly draws some patience from the fanbase, but it also shows a drastic change of tact from Wenger. This a man who, in February 2005, fielded the first ever 16 man Premier League squad consisting of no English players. At the time he was slated by the media, told he was showing a lack of respect to English football and the victim would be the national team. He explained that his priority was the quality of the Arsenal team. He explained that it would take 10 years until Arsenal and some other English Clubs could produce youth players with enough technical quality to compete with the best in the world.
Surely the most important thing we’ve learned from all of this is that Jack Wilshere is left footed but right handed..
Jenkinson, Gibbs, Ramsey, Chamberlain and Wilshere are great players, all of varying quality, but I think Wenger’s British core is evidence of an appreciation of the importance of players who understand the Club, understand English football, who grow up together and understand each other more than simply technical ability. The turnover of players over the last few seasons has been ridiculous. My dad doesn’t go to many games but he came to Sunderland at home, the first game of the season. He didn’t have a clue who most of the players were. Almost all of them had been at the Club for under 3 years. How can we expect the current squad to know how to win consistently in this league when most of them are new to it and new to each other?
I know everyone, including myself, has been critical of Ramsey but this contract confirms to me that Arsene sees him as his little project. We know somewhere deep inside him, Aaron has quality. He suffered a horrendous injury and he hasn’t played at all well since. Nevertheless, every time I’m reminded of his age I’m pleasantly surprised. The bloke is still only 21. What I don’t understand is why, in order to make great players, we have to hold the rest of the team up in the process. As Phillip Auclair has said many times, Arsene plays the likes of Ramsey and Bendtner wide to test them in more compact spaces. His intention is always to move them back to the middle at which point they will find it easier. Surely this is the point of the reserves or the U21s though. Can he not learn his trade in the 2nd team or out on loan and then, once he’s good enough, come back in and look the part? If he’s not good enough to play in his own position, how is he ever going to be good enough to play out of position!
Interestingly the BBC were running the headline ‘Wilshere and four others get new deals’. The way we’ve been going lately I think we’re all surprised when anyone signs a new contract. You get the feeling he’s offering them all new deals and just hoping some of them want to stay. The headline should have been ‘Wilshere and four others agree to sign new deals’.
It’s an early start at Wigan tomorrow so let’s pray we can go into the Christmas break with a bit of joy. No West Ham on boxing day means if it goes wrong tomorrow we’ll have to wait a while to put it right. Let’s hope it doesn’t come top that..
This weeks Guest Post is from Villa fan Will Thornton, who isn’t feeling too confident about Villa’s chances but certainly isn’t ruling out the upset quite yet. Apparently we should see Benteke, the man who signed for Villa thinking they were in London, as the main danger-man….
Being a Villa fan in recent years has become more and more stressful as we have cemented ourselves as the ‘stepping stone’ team, buying players young and turning them into potential stars before then bending over as soon as the big clubs come knocking. Examples include Ashley Young going to Man Utd, Gareth Barry & James Milner going to Man City and also the laughable Stewart Downing going to the Scousers. Unfortunately the pinnacle moment for this downfall was 4 days before the 2010/2011 season began when Martin O’Neill quit and left us to feel the 2 year effects. O’Neill felt that the chairman wasn’t giving him enough funds despite having already spent about 100 million or so in 4 years.
Anyway before I start to ramble on about the bad things that have happened to Villa fans recently I should focus more on the task at hand….the Arsenal. Actually, the Arsenal fixture for me has been quite an enjoyable one in the past 5 years with Villa enjoying 2 fine victories against the Gunners at the Emirates, once in 2008 with a 2-0 win and second in 2011 with a 2-1 win thanks to a quick early double from new signing Darren Bent. Unfortunately our past 5 meetings at Villa Park have either ended in draws or losses and have continued a poor run without clocking a win against them at home since ’98. Clearly we are the underdogs but everyone loves a good underdog challenge.
This season we have a new manager in Paul Lambert and even though it has been a tough start for us I still feel more hopeful than I did last season when we had the ginger in charge. Alex McLeish had us playing very negative and defensive football, which no fan wants to see, and it became harder and harder to watch as he insisted in starting possibly the worst back four I’ve ever seen in Warnock, Hutton, Collins and Dunne. This season Lambert came straight in and removed all the idiots from the defence by loaning them out and selling them and started to rebuild from scratch. Now we have a new look defence with our new captain Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark, both looking very strong in the centre of defence.
Another move by Lambert was to target the lower leagues to find our new wingbacks, purchasing Matt Lowton from Sheffield United and Joe Bennett from Middlesbrough who both looked to have a lot of potential but are a long way from being stars. Shay Given has lost his place to the young American keeper Brad Guzan, who after 5 years at Villa has seemed to come into his own and has put in a run of good performances. Our midfield options are actually not too bad as we have players like Ireland, El Ahmadi, Bannan, Albrighton, Holman, Westwood and Delph ready to fit into various positions. As usual however, we are plagued with injuries with players like N’Zogbia, Herd, Bennett and Dunne still out, but that is nothing new. We welcome back Darren Bent from a month on the sidelines but whether he’ll start against Arsenal is another question because the attacking options of Agbonlahor, Weimann and Benteke seem to all be paying off at the moment with all 3 getting on the score sheet as of late.
I believe the best bit of business that Villa have done for a while is bringing in the 21 year old Christian Benteke from the Belgium side Genk. He came straight in and scored on his debut against Swansea and has not stopped since. He’s scored 5 for Villa in 9 appearances and also has managed to hold his own in the very talented Belgium side as the loan striker and has also managed to score 3 times in his last 3 for them. Not only that but he seems to get his head onto everything and is skilful and strong. So he, depending on how both teams line up on Saturday, could cause the Arsenal defence some serious trouble.
What will be the outcome of this classic English football fixture? For most it is an easy answer and they’re probably right, but with the way football is and the current trend of everyone beating everyone you never know.
You can never write the Villa off.