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Friday, 23 December 2011

Benayoun supplies the perfect Christmas present-Villa away, 21/12/11

Well, what a start to the Christmas programme! Another 3 points, making it 25 out of the last 30. Not too shabby at all. My journey up was fairly simple; a friend and I were driven by my personal chauffeur (also known as my father) which took around 3 hours. En route, we stopped off at a service station and satisfied my unrelenting desire for a KFC. As we were leaving, I bumped into the legendary supporter, Bully, whose middle name is Arsenal. A nod of respect ensued. I nodded too.

Upon arrival at Villa Park, I had to meet a friend to collect my tickets. Echoes of 'he scores when he wants' guided me to the away end, and when we got in, it was almost kick off.

At times, the game was very frustrating. We found it difficult to keep possession, with one too many misplaced passes-Frimpong a major culprit. One can't ignore the role Villa had to play in this. After their abject performance against Liverpool last week, they had a point to prove and the Villa Park faithful were right behind them. In contrast, Arsenal, brilliant against Man City, were distinctly average against the Midlands club. Just shows the unpredictable nature of football; we play well and lose one day, but win playing poorly the next!

Me and my dad
Those of you who were not at the game will not have seen the two glorious chances we squandered soon after we got our first, as Match of the Day did not show them. A sublime RVP pass sent Walcott clear but his lofted attempt failed to beat the onrushing keeper. Then Ramsay was put through in the middle but sliced horribly wide. A real lack of composure from the Welshman, who you feel is due a goal sooner or later. After that you thought 'here we go, we're going to rue those misses'. Despite this, the Arsenal section were making all the noise in the first half, resulting in the chant, 'you're supposed to be at home!' directed at the Villa fans.

When Albrighton capitalised on some indecisive defending by Mertesacker to equalise, I was very worried we'd concede another and lose the game. The atmosphere had swayed and the home crowd were in full voice. An amusing chant from the home section nearest to us was, 'we scored a goal, we scored a goal, how sh*t must you be, we scored a goal!'
Laughing Gooners acknowledged this with a brief moment of applause. However, as against Chelsea, we pulled through-in dramatic circumstances.

As Arshavin's shot deflected off the defender for a corner, I said to my dad that surely, by the law of averages, we are going to score from one of our umpteen corners - of which we had 15 in total. Then something bizarre occurred. I got my iPhone out, ready to video the 87th minute corner, when a steward aggressively points at me, stating I'm not allowed to video. Yes - I kid you not. I put it down and Yossi Benayoun promptly scored, sparking scenes of delirium among the travelling Gooners. Choruses of 'Nananananana, Yossi Benayoun, Benayoun, Yossi Benayoun!' rang out from the ecstatic fans, who were jumping up and down, going mental. 

However, this is Arsenal, so with 3 minutes plus stoppage time remaining, I was pretty anxious. Thankfully Villa's 'final push', so to speak, was fairly weak, and we held on. What a relief it was when the final whistle went, and the party atmosphere resumed! 

Gooners got in the festive spirit with, 'Jingle bells jingle bells jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to see, the Arsenal win away, eh!' which was sung throughout, but most enjoyably and comfortably at full time! Villa Park also had the honour of being the birthplace of the new John Terry carol: 'Away in a police cell, no WAG in his bed, the little John Terry regrets what he said!' Kudos to whoever made that one up - beats the original! 

From the 6 away games I've been to this season, we've won 4 and lost 2. I think it's fair to say there's nothing in between so far for me this year! I've no qualms with that, it's what makes following Arsenal so enjoyable for me, especially as we win more than we lose! Villa was great fun, as you'd predict after an 87th minute winner, and with our next two away games at Fulham and Swansea, a further six points are certainly achievable.

Celebrating at full time

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Manchester City away- 18/12/11

On the morning of the game, I woke up at around 8am, buzzing with anticipation. 'Hopefully it'll be better than my last trip to Manchester', I thought. As my father, my friend and I drove to Euston station, I could feel a sense of excitement in the car-we were quietly confident of leaving Manchester with all three points. We agreed that 4 points from City and Villa would be very good, whilst 3 wouldn't be the end of the world. We parked the car and headed to the station, where we saw as many City fans as we did Arsenal. Walking along the train carriages, I saw many familiar faces- it seems each away game adds more nameless faces into the Arsenal album in my memory.

 The journey up was easy, unlike my last trip to Manchester, where it seemed Virgin trains were conspiring against us to make our journey as complicated and stressful as possible. Upon arrival, everyone headed to the balcony bar in the station. All those who looked remotely under 21 and had no ID were kicked out, and it got a bit rowdy. Eventually the police came and the situation diffused.

The three of us had no real desire to stand around drinking for 3 hours and found ourselves walking around the city centre a bit aimlessly. We wanted to find somewhere that was showing the Villa vs Liverpool game and eventually just took a cab to the Etihad stadium. Once we arrived at the stadium, I bumped into Gary Neville, of all people! I said hello, to which his response was: "is that a yanited scarf?!" in his nasal Mancunian accent. I said no, it's Arsenal obviously, and he laughed and walked away, after accepting the irresistible offer of my hand shake. So that was an interesting start to proceedings! We headed round to the away block, only to be told we couldn't go in (something to do with the stewards/police not being ready). Consequently, we ambled along the outside of the stadium and had a quick look round the club store, mainly to escape the freezing weather! When inside, our red and white scarfs resulted in a few glaring looks from the locals, making us feel we'd overstayed our welcome. It wasn't too long before we left, and headed towards the away end again.

This time there were a fair few Gooners lingering outside, as kick off became increasingly near. Adding to our encounter with Mr Neville, a Sky Sports cameraman and reporter approached us and  interviewed my father and I individually. We were both asked the same question, 'can Arsenal come here and win today?' After a quick adjustment of my hair, I replied with something along the lines of: 'of course, we can beat anyone, especially with van Persie on fire. City are certainly not unbeatable, so why not?' After realising that was all I was going to be asked, I was slightly underwhelmed. Guess my TV career won't be kicking off any time soon. However I was still pretty chuffed with my 20 seconds of fame on Sky Sports! With around an hour till kick off, choruses of Arsenal songs echoed from the concourse. I couldn't wait to get in there.

We entered the concourse to the crescendo of 'we love you Arsenal, we do', however it didn't take long for the anti-Nasri chants to start! When his name and picture were displayed on the TV screen in the concourse, carnage ensued! Dozens threw their beer and other objects towards the screen, with great accuracy may I add. Shame our finishing wasn't as accurate! Everyone was just going mental - it was pretty hilarious! I haven't seen a player hated by Gooners with such vociferousness since the charming Ashley Cole.

There were some hilarious songs, most notably one addressing City's Europa League adventure. It went by the tune of Jessie J's Price Tag: "You've got the money money money, you got the money money money, but you're playing on a thuuursday, you're playing on a thuuuursday!" Kudos to whoever made one that up!

During the game, we generated great vocal support, as per usual. I was feeling pretty nervous during the first 20 minutes or so, as we were looking defensively vulnerable against the pace and movement of City's attack. They could have been 3 up at half time, so with the score at 0-0 I was more than happy. Before the start of the 2nd half, Kolo Toure ran over to the away end and applauded us, which was a very nice gesture. What a contrast he is to Nasri. Kolo left for all the right reasons and is a gentleman. Don't need to say much about $amir. When City scored, I can't say I got that sinking feeling, as I, along with most, pretty much expected them to score sooner or later, it was just a matter of how many we'd score. After seeing several late challenges go unpunished and a clear penalty denied, we sung 'how much they paying you?' to Mr Dowd, who gave penalties against us for fun during the 4-4 in Newcastle. One thing I was delighted about was the volume of the 'one Arsene Wenger' chants. I’ve always had faith in him, but how fickle can some football fans be, eh?

 At the final whistle I felt proud of the team - we narrowly lost to a club who have spent obscene amounts of money, and had it not been for the ref, would have got a more than deserved draw against the league leaders. Choruses of "we love you Arsenal" continued with passion and pride after the final whistle - showing it wasnt just me who appreciated the team's effort. We walked to the station in icy and slippery conditions. A bit of banter, edging on hostility, followed as Gooners pouring out the stadium sung 'Thursday nights, channel 5'. Some City fans took it with a pinch of salt, however some were less than happy. 'We're top of the league you mug' said one home fan. Fair enough. You'd hope so after £500m of investment! Speaking to a City fan on the way to the station, he said we were the first team this season to come to the Etihad and have a real go, adding it was one of the best games he'd seen in a long time. On the train home everyone seemed to be in good spirits, which was good to see. Despite the result, I had a lot of fun in Manchester, as the above shows, and hopefully Villa will provide the Christmas present we all want - 3 points. 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Wake up-Arsene-

Another week, and still no firm evidence of any changes to last year's starting 11, excepting Gervinho-worrying considering August is just around the corner. Our lack of spending, as of yet, has been painfully emphasised as we watch teams around us buying players left right and centre. Affordable players who in my view would strengthen the squad are being snapped up by others who are acting faster in the transfer market. Two that stood out in particular were Shay Given, 35, and Maarten Stekelenburg, 29, both goalkeepers. Given, someone who I've admired for years and should have been signed long ago (he was available at one point when Joe Hart took his place at City), went to Villa for a snippet at £3.5 m, and Stekelenburg, was signed by Roma from Ajax for a fee of just €6 million-a bargain for the Dutch World Cup finalist.    

Stekelenburg in action during World Cup final
These are two highly experienced, proven goalkeepers. Now, are you telling me that our team would not be improved had we signed either one? Age is not an issue here-Brad Friedel has shown that  keepers can perform at the highest level until 40 ish, so Given, 35, would have been perfect: someone Szczesny could learn and improve from as a result tough competition, whilst adding real quality to the team. At the moment, we only have Flapianski Fabianski as competition as Almunia's departure seems imminent, and as we saw last season, we need to have good back-up.

Another player who would have been a very good addition to the current squad is Axel Witsel, the Belgian international recently signed by Benfica for €8m from Standard Liege. This is a player with huge potential and would certainly fit into this Arsenal side. He is a central midfielder and has many defensive qualities; he is robust, tenacious and doesn't duck out of challenges-perhaps taken too far when 2 years ago his horror tackle sidelined an opponent for 9 months with a broken leg-however he would certainly add something to Arsenal's often fragile midfield. Despite his defensive attributes, he is also technically gifted, and chips in with a fair few goals; 10 last season with 4 assists, and a total 41 goals in 179 appearances for Standard-not bad for a central midfielder. Witsel would definitely have added depth to the squad and given Song some perhaps needed competition-which unfortunately Diaby cannot do as a result of constant injuries.
Axel Witsel-a missed opportunity

I am also dreading the ever-growing reality that Clichy will not be replaced. There is absolutely no way we can rely on the highly injury-prone and as of yet unconvincing Gibbs to be a sufficient replacement, let alone Traore, who somehow is still an Arsenal player after one loan move after another. Letting go of Clichy at the time did not seem to be such a big loss, particularly as many were comparing losing him with losing Cesc. Yet as the season draws ever-closer, and the fact there has been no news of any concrete offers for Baines or any other left-backs, his move feels dangerously significant. Some suggest Barca should add Eric Abidal to the Cesc deal, however that is unlikely. Baines, proven and vastly experienced, would be the ideal replacement. Having said that, as long as we buy a left back who would be an improvement from Gibbs, I'm not too bothered. A player apart from Baines that stands out is Benoit Tremoulinas at Bordeaux; an attacking left back with good defensive attributes- a great replacement for Gael. Anyway, time will tell. 

Benoit Tremoulinas in action for Bordeaux

Moving on to the Cesc/Nasri situation; a matter subject to plenty of debate of which I have seen many contrasting opinions from. In my eyes, Cesc will go for €35-40m, and that's that-thankyou and goodbye- however Na$ri will stay, for one more year, yet I do not see how either party will benefit from this; The player will not be 100% committed to the cause as his unprofessional behaviour this summer suggests, and the fans, who sung his name passionately last year, will put him under scrutiny after every average performance-affecting his morale.

In contrast, Cesc has shown no disrespect at all to the supporters or the club ever since the Barca saga arose two years or so ago-he has put 100% into every performance. However the general consensus regarding Nasri is that he won't do the same, which is why I feel very strongly that we should sell him this summer.

'We can't lose Cesc and Nasri!' I hear you cry! But what would you rather; keep a player whose had half a good season with us and watch him leave on a free next summer, or get rid of him, take the £20m, and invest in some top talent elsewhere, such as Juan Mata from Valencia, who, as the papers suggest, is on the verge of joining us regardless. Just think-we would miss out on potentially £25million for Nasri for one more season with us. Do me a favour. For all we know he could be out injured for 6 months.
So with that, and the likelihood he won't be totally committed next year, one could deem it absurd for us not to sell him and invest the money received on a replacement-or two.

Transfers take time, and you can't ignore how successful Mr Wenger has been over the years in scouting young talent, however at the moment, one can't help but feel frustrated and worried by the club's lack of activity in the transfer market, and by the amount of players leaving. Clichy, Bendther, Cesc, Almunia, Eboue, Denilson and maybe Nasri out. Gervinho and Carl Jenkinson, maybe Mata, in. 
I wonder how Arsene sleeps at night-or on second thoughts, maybe he doesn't, and is busy scouring Africa's third division for the next wonderkid...      

Thursday, 7 July 2011

In Arsene we trust?

The collapse of last season epitomized the frailties of this Arsenal side which you and I have painfully witnessed develop over these difficult past 6 years. Our weaknesses are clear for all to see, however the solution is not yet apparent. Something is fundamentally wrong, and it needs fixing, or the team we adore may lose its place in the 'Big 4', my main concern for next season. The squad needs to be drastically improved. But it's easy for you and I to say 'sign Cahill' or 'sign a decent keeper'. The fact of the matter is we are simply not financially strong enough to sign established players with the likes of Manchester City and Chelski as competition. My view is we either remain Arsenal FC, preserving our dignity and class, but at the expense of losing players and trophies, or become Arsenal PLC, and use Usmanov or Kroenke's investments to buy our success-and become something we hate.

*Something is fundamentally wrong*
Since our move to The Grove, Wenger has carried too much of a burden. It's not his responsibility to ensure the club is a stable business. His job is to win things, and in my opinion, he has prioritized the club's financial stability over the club's success in terms of trophies. Don't get me wrong, i am a firm believer in Wenger, however i can understand the critics. When he first took over, his training methods were miles ahead of others, using statistics and technology to improve the team, who eventually became the 'Invincibles'. Now, other teams have caught up, but Wenger's methods are still the same. New ideas need to come in. Simple. Maybe a new assistant manager would do the trick. I get the feeling Pat Rice is all a bit too familiar and friendly with the players. A change in backroom staff is needed. It may provide the current squad with a 'kiss of life'.

6 years is a long time, but look at it perspectively-it really isn't the end of the world. Look at the great Liverpool side of the 80s. How many League titles have they won since then? Exactly. Now I'm not saying we won't win the League for 20 years, but trophy droughts happen to the best.

This summer is pivotal if Arsenal are to be successful this coming season. Players need to come in, and players need to go out, but more importantly, players need to stay put. There is no way we can lose Cesc AND Nasri. If God forbid that does happen, a wise man gave me a very shrewd suggestion; let Barca buy Fabregas, but only if they loan him back to us for this season, allowing Xavi to play his final season. This would be beneficial for all parties; Cesc would be happy to be a Barca player (on paper), Barca would be happy to have finally wrapped him up, and we would have £35 million in the bank + a world class player for another season!

There is no hiding the fact that Wenger's stubbornness in the transfer market can be infuriating. Remember when Xabi Alonso was available. We bid £14 million, they wanted £16 million. Wenger refused. i mean, that extra £2 million would have really damaged the club. Imagine a Fabregas and Alonso midfield partnership. Oh what could have been..

I don't know whether or not we will win a trophy next year, but the fact more players are going out than coming in is certainly worrying. There is a thin line between success and failure, and one has to ask, In Arsene we rust?