Gillespie Guest Post – The Southampton perspective

What a difference a year makes! This last time I wrote for this site ahead of a trip to the Emirates both ourselves and the Arsenal were shite!

Look at us now, mocking those tin pot clubs like United and City who can’t keep up with us. Yes I am getting carried away but who can blame me!? This is the best football I have ever seen being played by my beloved Southampton FC, and for this reason, much like my trip to Old Trafford a few weeks ago, I genuinely look at Saturday’s game without any of the fear or dread that usually bestows a Saints fan for these types of occasions.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Arsenal v Southampton - Emirates Stadium

The season so far has been great for us. Particular highlights include a win at Liverpool and a last minute equaliser at United, but my own personal highlights have been our last two home games. Both first half performances against Fulham and Hull have been outstanding. The team is really working hard and for each other, and the feel good factor around St Marys is like nothing I’ve experienced before.

It’s great to see three of the big performers rewarded for their fine form with England call ups. Although I was slightly surprised with Jay Rod’s call up, I certainly wasn’t about Adam Lallana’s. His form last season was a bit patchy, mainly due to injuries and niggles that plagued him all season, but this season he has excelled and become one of the best creative players in the Premiership.

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Probably the most impressive part of our game at the moment is how tight our defence has become. In my eyes our player of the season so far, Dejan Lovren has been a major reason for this. He’s a natural leader, something we were crying out for last season, and with two quality wing backs in Shaw and Clyne, a very good goalkeeper in Boruc and an ever improving Jose Fonte playing alongside him, Arsenal will have to work hard to break them down. Another new signing who’s done well after a slow start is Victor Wanyama. Although his passing is pretty poor, his ability to break up play is exceptional and he’s got a massive role to play if we are going to get something from the game on Saturday. I’m rather surprised Arsenal didn’t go in for him in the summer to be honest as he’s the type of player that I feel you guys could do with.

The less we talk about last year’s game at the Emirates the better. It was one of those games where you wish you weren’t there, 6-1 and it honestly could have been ten. I remember the best player on the pitch for a lot of the game was old boy Gervinho! I don’t remember much else. I tend to block those kind of games out of my memory. 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.

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I’ve been very impressed with Arsenal so far this year, Aaron Ramsey especially. The boy has almost come from nowhere this season and his volume of goals already is incredible. I have a lot of admiration for Oliver Giroud as well, his movement is superb and he works his socks off. Mertesaker coming back is a huge plus for you guys ahead of the game as I quite fancied Lambert up against Vermaelen. I think that the January transfer window is huge for Arsenal if they want to seriously challenge for the title this year, the squad is a little thin compared to title rivals and I think a centre forward and a defensive midfielder are must buys.
Do I think Arsenal will win the league? no. Do I think Saints will finish in the top four? no, but I think Saturday is going to be a belter.

Probable Saints line-up:
Boruc

Clyne Fonte Lovren Shaw

Wanyama

Ward-Prowse Schneiderlin Rodriguez Lallana

Lambert

Prediction 1-1 Ramsey and Lambert to score.

James Callen

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The Fulham Perspective: A Gillespie Guest Post

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.

Arteta Penalty miss

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.

Berbatov GRR

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.

Hamish


Sp**s Away; enter the warzone, reflecting on a unique fan experience

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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Nick


Arsenal 1 – Chelsea 2: Worrying Times…..

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.

diaby

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.

Will


Gillespie Guest Post: The Aston Villa Perspective

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.


The 5pur2 Effect

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3 days on and it still sounds so very sweet. Every time I happen to glance at the time and see the score line etched on the face of my watch I can’t help but laugh. The North London Derby is arguably my favorite fixture of the season. It’s a constant reminder to us and Spurs fans that despite what they think at the beginning of every season, they will never ever ever ever rule North London.

I won’t go into too much detail in terms of the game as I am sure that you have all, like me, read about a thousands articles all saying roughly the same thing and loved every minute of it. I will though mention the joy of watching Adebayor, the worst professional the game has ever seen make headlines, once again, for all the wrong reasons, and how handy the red season tickets are for moments like that.

After Adebayor’s dismissal the thundering header from Per set us on our way and the rest is history. The usually placid German showing in his celebration the kind of passion that we all love to see. An indication, for me, of how he feels about the Club and his understanding of not just the derby but also the position we are in. It was reminiscent of Sagna’s header is the corresponding fixture last year and was the catalyst to our domination.

I disagree with those who say that without the red card Arsenal may not have triumphed. It may not have been quite so easy but it’s rare for teams to concede five goals even when down to ten men. We dominated all over the park, particularly in the centre of midfield. Much has been said about Carzola’s influence on the game and it cannot be denied. The growing understanding between him and Jack is encouraging and in the two of them I believe we have two of the most talented midfielders in the division. Walcott was also instrumental but my praise of him will remain muted until he signs on the dotted line.

The post game gathering in the Tollington was a world away from the feeling after Fulham. Jack was the first to drive past and as everyone sang ‘what do you think of Tottenham?’ it was quite clear that Jack was mouthing the remainder of the chant back to us. Absolute class. His feelings made quite clear both on and off the pitch.

Jenkinson was a late arrival and we manage to go over and have a proper chat with him. One of us asked him how much he hates Tottenham to which he replied ‘as much as you lot’, an opinion firmly backed up by his dad who was with him. From behind us cries of ‘we hate Tottenham’ were coming from the remaining Gooners and Jenks was banging on the roof of his car to the same tune. Absolutely incredible. That family really is living the dream and is an example of how passion off the pitch can lead to success on it.

On to tomorrow night now and a match against the French champions should be a very winnable game. Since we stole their most potent attacker they’ve struggled in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League.

Just an aside on Giroud, I find it interesting and typical of the English press that as soon as he starts producing some really excellent performances there is nothing to read on him, yet after four Premier League games without a goal he was all over the back pages. Just ridiculous.

Anyway back to Montpellier and they currently lie at the foot of the group with only a miracle granting them qualification. They’ll be playing for their pride though and this is not a game that we should approach half-heartedly. We must build on the momentum gained from the weekend and make sure that the result kick starts a run of wins. We are a better side than them and we must make that very clear on the pitch come Wednesday night.

Our next five fixtures in the league are Villa (A), Everton (A), Swansea (H), W.B.A (H) and Reading (A) all games that we should be looking to get wins in.

Nick highlighted in his last post the growing divide in opinion amongst the Arsenal fan base. Lets hope now that the result at the weekend and some positive results over the coming weeks can change the overall mood to one of optimism.

The game against Tottenham comes as a reminder of why we love this game and this Club so much. Long may the winning feeling continue.

Will


Gillespie Guest Post: The Fulham Perspective

Memories of standing at Craven Cottage in the freezing cold back in January, only with the delicious hot dogs for comfort, still haunt me. To jolt your memories Zamora scored a last minute winner whilst the home game in November 2011 saw Vermaelen snatching a point in the 83rd. This week’s Gillespie Guest Post comes from Fulham fan Hamish who paints a terrifying picture of some confident Cottagers.

Away matches are not something that Fulham fans are used to getting excited about. Our lousy form on the road makes for a dead cert on most people’s weekend accumulators, ever since we joined the League in 2001. But something is happening at the cottage this season, which beggars a touch of optimism.

Despite the recent loses of Dempsey and Dembele, Fulham have had a surprisingly good start to the season, and sit equal on points with Arsenal ahead of Saturday’s tie. Our first away match without the dynamic duo had alarm bells ringing, as West Ham completely outstripped us in the midfield, and we were undone by the vision (yes, vision) of Andy Carroll.

But fortunately, things seem to have moved on. Rather than spending big, Fulham have seen their less noticed squad players step up to the plate. Former Gooner Steve Sidwell has been solid: 3 goals, including the one that clinched a lucky draw with Everton last weekend. Chris “Baird-inho” has also had the fans singing, since his last minute winner against Villa. But Martin Jol remains realistic about where our threat as a team lies in pointing out:

“We need to get the ball to our better players up front”

Blunt, as ever, but very true. Jol has worked some transfer magic in acquiring Rodellaga on a free, and the formidable Dimitar Berbatov for a fee of £4 million. Combined with the talent of Ruiz, Petric and Kacaniklic – This can make for a potent attacking force.

5 points from our last three away games could easily have been 9, were it not for last minute goals against Reading and Southampton. That shakiness away from home seems to have (dare I say it) temporarily disappeared. Nonetheless Arsenal are going to be much tougher opponents. The goals may be coming for Fulham, but it feels like the Gunner’s recent drought is also wearing off. This is a concern since our defence has been worryingly accident-prone of late. The Hangeland-Hughes combination, a hallmark of solidarity in seasons gone by, has been exposed too often. If Theo Walcott starts, and has one of those days when he bothers to be world class, he will no doubt get the better of John Arne. However, defence seems to be a problem that is generic to almost every side in the premiership at the moment. The top three are no exception, and neither are Arsenal. Koscielney’s errors were laughable against Reading, and perhaps their woes were adequately summed up by Santos offering to swap his shirt in the tunnel during half time at Old Trafford.

Fulham will surely be confident based on their last visit to the Emirates, and good recent form, whilst Arsenal should fancy their chances with a (potentially?) reinvigorated frontline, and a leaky Fulham defence. The Emirates is a hard place to travel to, and may be one step too far for Fulham’s away run. Nevertheless, I remain confident that we can poach a couple of goals, and hopefully tighten things up at the other end. Prediction 2-2.

Hamish