Monday, 29 August 2011

Not Even Gonna Go There

Not even worth discussing. An utter disgrace. Very interesting to see where we go from here however. Surely this is rock-bottom?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

No Need For Nasri

What an eventful Wednesday for the Arsenal. Nasri finally left for Manchester City and then the team had a tough game against Udinese in the evening. And the young Gunners passed with flying colours.

In an intimidating atmosphere with the pressure on, Arsenal got the job done with a 2-1 win against the Italian side, winning 3-1 on aggregate to progress to the Champions League group stage (for the 14th year running). After falling behind to an Antonio Di Natale header just before half time, Arsenal rallied in the second half with two goals, one each from captain Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott. It was an incredibly open game, perhaps not the tight and tense match many were expecting given that the stakes were so high, but it was always entertaining.

After a really positive start Arsenal dominated most of the first half, especially in terms of possession but Udinese were always dangerous and threatened to open the scoring a few times. The Italians hit the post twice, Di Natale in particular coming very close to sneaking the ball past Szczesny at the near-post but was denied by the woodwork. Udinese continued to grow in confidence and they made it count six minutes from half time. Giampiero Pinzi lofted a cross into the unmarked Di Natale who used every muscle in his body to steer his header over Szczesny and into the goal to take the lead. 1-0 on the night and 1-1 on aggregate and Arsenal were dangerously close to missing out on the Champions League for the first time in 14 years. After Udinese took the lead the Gunners couldn't wait for the half time whistle to blow as they really needed to regroup and sort themselves out.

Whatever Wenger said at the break must have worked because the team came flying out the blocks in the second half and look re-energised and focused on clawing their way back into the game. Frimpong, who I thought played well in the first half, was replaced by Rosicky for the second half and it really worked as he was really hungry for the ball and always harassing Udinese players. And it wasn't long until Arsenal got back into the game; after a shot by Rosicky was deflected out to Gervinho on the left wing, the Ivory Coast international attacked the Udinese fullback, glided past him to the byline before expertly crossing for van Persie to tap home through defenders to make it 1-1 and 2-1 on aggregate. Arsenal had finally gotten that crucial goal and now Udinese had to score twice to win the tie because of the Gunner's away goal. After van Persie's goal I thought the pressure and nerves might go away but there was barely enough time to relax before Udinese were threatening again. Pretty soon the unthinkable happened and the referee pointed for penalty to Udinese. At the time nobody knew how or why the spot-kick was awarded but replays showed the ball bounced up into Vermaelen's arm/shoulder. It was very harsh but there was nothing we could do but pray Di Natale missed. The confident Italian striker looked set to make the game interesting again and his powerful shot looked destined to hit the net. But Szczesny dove to his right, stretched his left arm high and palmed the shot over the crossbar and onto the roof of the net. It was an incredible save and was the turning point for the match. Szczesny was excellent all night and the penalty save was the icing on the cake, an outstanding piece of athleticism.

Udinese were floored after the missed spot-kick, especially Di Natale; it seemed to knock all his energy from him. The momentum quickly swung in Arsenal's favour and they killed off the game with an excellent goal with 20 minutes left in the game. After some neat work between Theo and Sagna down the left wing, Sagna released Walcott whose pace was too much for the Udinese defence and the young Englishman slotted the ball past keeper Handanovic to make it 2-1 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate. Game over and now I could finally relax. Even with 20 minutes left, Udinese needed 3 goals to win but all the energy had left them and Arsenal kept the ball well until the final whistle was blown.

It was a fantastic game and really nice to see Arsenal on the right end of the scoreline this season. Credit must go to the whole squad, it was a terrific performance from them all, but particular praise must go to Gervinho, who was menacing all night and mesmerising on the ball, and of course Szczesny for keeping us in it and being solid over both legs. They were both outstanding.

So Gooners across the country can breath a bit easier today, hold their heads up high and proudly claim that yes, we are still a big European club, despite all this nonsense of a "crisis". Later today we'll find out who our opponents will be in our group. With any luck (and we are definitely due some of that) we'll get an easier group this year. Hopefully last night's win against Udinese can inspire some confidence in the squad and give us a fighting chance against Man United at the weekend.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Crunch Time

So after that morale sapping loss to Liverpool on Saturday, Arsenal are in a bit of a pickle. If you didn't know our squad was weak before the weekend, the game against Liverpool highlighted all our shortcomings; The early injury to Koscielny forced Wenger to bring on Spanish youngster Ignasi Miquel, and later on when Arshavin was substituted, it was for English teenager Henri Lansbury. Frimpong and Jenkinson were making their first Premier League starts (both of them under 20) and the bench consisted of Ryo Myaichi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. All these unproven kids forced to plug holes in our crippled and inexperienced squad. Let's say this in the simplest way possible; this is not a team that will challenge for honours this season. No disrespect to the youngsters and I'm all for giving youth a chance but when you're forced to bring on Miquel and Lansbury in a crucial game against a big rival then you know something is wrong. I realise that the team is struggling with injuries and suspensions at the moment but it is ridiculous that we are now two games into the season and Wenger still hasn't addressed the critical problems that he's had all summer to fix. It saddens me when I hear him proclaim that yes, he has made signings, but unfortunately they are not signings that matter Mr Wenger. Buying Jenkinson and Oxlade-Chamberlain is great but where is the powerful centre-back to partner Vermaelen this team so desperately needs? Where is the support for van Persie up front? Where is the backup for Song in midfield and when will we see a replacement for Fabregas or at least some help in case Ramsey and Wilshere get hurt? Only Arsene knows... or when you look closely, apparently doesn't.

There is some positive news for once on the transfer front. According to the Guardian we have opened talks with French club Rennes for their 21 year old defensive midfielder Yann M'Vila, a French international. Apparently he could cost us around £12 million. I've never seen M'Vila play but at this stage I'll take anyone, especially anybody who can help where we need it the most. In other news, it looks like Nasri's move to Man City has hit a major road-block. With his unexpected appearance against Liverpool on Saturday and rumours that he could feature against Udinese Wednesday night, Man City are suddenly very worried that they won't get their man after all, and City boss Roberto Mancini is bricking it. If Nasri gets cup-tied in the Champions League it clearly indicates he's staying with us this season. To be honest, as much as I'd like to get the £25 million for him now, I'd much prefer to see Nasri stay in the red and white this year, even if is just for one more season. Now Fabregas is gone I'd really like Samir to take that position and make it his own.

So the pressure is on for Wednesday night as Arsenal face Udinese in the second leg of the Champions League qualifier. Taking that 1-0 lead to Italy was crucial but I feel we're gonna have a hard time keeping them out, especially with Wenger banned from the touchline again and with added defensive woes since last week's game. Hopefully Jack Wilshere will have recovered from his ankle injury just in time to play, because we could really do with his grit and determination in midfield.

Anyway, let's hope we can get the job done and qualify - it is absolutely crucial we do.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Saying Goodbye To Another Captain

The captain's armband has been cruel to us Arsenal fans in recent times. In the last 7 years we have lost 3 high profile captains, each one of them crucial to the squad, to overseas clubs. With Cesc Fabregas's departure to Barcelona today, thus ends one of the longest transfer sagas in football history. The will-he-won't-he move to the Catalan giants has been going on for years now and I imagine there are quite a few Arsenal fans who are feeling a lot of relief today that the drama is all over.

However we cannot escape the fact we have just lost one of the greatest playmakers this club has ever had, and arguably one of the best players of his generation. I am relieved to see this seemingly endless transfer come to an end but I'm also very sad to see a player of Cesc's quality leave us. It's even more annoying that we let him go at such an early age; Fabregas is still only 24, and probably still has his greatest days ahead of him (that is hard to believe, but I'm not sure he's reached his peak yet). Wow those 8 years went fast huh?

Making his first start on a rainy night in the Carling Cup against Rotherham at a tender 16 years of age, Cesc never looked back. Within 2 years he'd staked his claim in the heart of our midfield and Wenger felt so confident in the Spaniard's abilities that the boss let an Arsenal legend in Patrick Vieira leave without a second thought. And again Cesc thrived, going from strength to strength. My one regret in letting Fabregas leave now is that I wish we'd have had one more good season out of him. Last year he was injured most of the time and even when he was on the pitch you could tell he wasn't fully fit and not match-sharp. It's a real shame that we'll never see Cesc again in the red and white, at the top of his game, pulling the strings in midfield with those incredible defence-splitting passes that only he seems capable of executing.

Now he'll be happy, back home in Barcelona, reunited with friends and family in the country and city of his birth. You can't really blame him for wanting to go back, I'm sure nearly every one of us would jump at the chance return home if you could. Cesc has provided us with plenty of great memories over the years and always gave 100% on the field; you could tell he loved playing for us and had a real connection with the supporters. But you've still gotta think, what if? What if we'd won 1 or 2 more trophies in the last 6 years? What if the club had been a bit harder, categorically stating that Fabregas was off limits and not for sale? It's a shame we'll never find out what could have been if Cesc had stayed with us into his 30's...

Arsenal must now prepare for a future without our gifted Spaniard, and probably without Samir Nasri too. You would think with Cesc out of the picture Nasri would take advantage of this and take control of that central attacking midfield position that has been Fabregas's for so long. But if Samir is more interested in his bank balance than his future as Arsenal's playmaker and midfield general, well... he'll be gone before you know it.

Thanks for reading, hope we get a win against Udinese tomorrow night.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Rejoice, Saint Alex Arrives

Arsenal completed the signing of young English forward Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain today from Southampton for a reported fee of £12 million with a further £3 million in add-ons. The 17 year old winger/striker is Arsene Wenger's third signing this summer, alongside Carl Jenkinson from Charlton and Gervinho from Lille.

This is not exactly the signing many Gooners were hoping for, as Wenger has still yet to address the squad's defensive frailties. However the signing of Oxlade-Chamberlain is positive enough and is an encouraging sign for the future of the club. Alex's signing adds another Englishman to the squad which I could not be more happy about. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a patriotic nutcase nor did I hate it when our team-sheets were dominated with foreigners, but it's just nice to see Englishmen plying their trade at the big clubs in a time when the Premier League is flooded with more foreign players than it has ever had. Realistically I don't expect we'll see much of Oxlade-Chamberlain outside of the Carling Cup this season as he'll have to get up to speed with the demands the Premiership places on players. He is still only 17 (he'll turn 18 this time next week) so there is plenty of time for him to develop and become accustomed to life as an Arsenal player. All in all I'm pretty happy with this signing, a nice piece of business for the club and dynamic, speedy players like Oxlade-Chamberlain always get me excited.

A good signing for Arsenal but Wenger can't put away his cheque book just yet. He must add a strong defensive player to the squad before the end of the month, he simply has to. If he doesn't and things on the pitch don't go our way, the rumblings around the Emirates will begin to build and the boss's neck will really be on the line. The fans are already at breaking point and the relationship between Wenger and the supporters has never been at a lower point. Shore up the defence Arsene, or suffer the wrath of the North London faithful, and if you've been watching the news of late, that is the last thing you want to do. Of course I exaggerate, by no means will the fans riot around the Emirates if our demands (often extreme) aren't met, but the paying supporters expect better and will let you know if the club's performances and actions aren't up to scratch.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Udinese? Who'da They Say?

Today Arsenal found out they will face Italian side Udinese over two legs in the Champions League play-off qualifier round. Like the Gunners, Udinese finished in 4th place last season but unlike Arsenal I have a strong feeling the fans of the Zebrette were not booing their players off the pitch at the end of last season for gaining said position in their league. Anyway I'm pretty pleased with this draw and the first leg is at home as well, so we'll need to make that count and get a good early lead against them at The Emirates on Tuesday August 16th. The return leg in Italy will be played a week later on Tuesday the 23rd, just before we travel to Old Trafford in the Premiership. Things could be worse, we avoided a tricky trip to Russia to play Rubin Kazan, whom Lyon have the pleasure of facing instead - lucky them.

However Udinese will be no pushovers and to make matters more difficult we'll be without Robin van Persie and Samir Nasir for the first leg, both players missing out due to suspension (Robin's ridiculous red card against Barca last season and Nasri for criticising the ref in that game). Still, I expect us to beat the Italian side and take our place in the proper Champions League group stages. It would be a disaster to miss out on European competition at it's highest level - if we are to remain a "big club" then the Champions League is where we must be.

So since my last post on here the Emirates Cup has been and gone, and with mixed emotions. I was at a christening this year and so couldn't attend any of the matches like I did last year but I was glad to see Henry back where he belongs and I was gutted he didn't get the chance to pull on the red and white for a bit. Football takes itself far too seriously sometimes, it was a meaningless pre-season friendly for God's sake. But the real story of the weekend was typically Arsenal; letting leads slip and hapless defending (with another healthy dose of home fans booing the squad - so sad, especially during pre-season). I've watched the games (thank you Arsenal Player) and I've seen those mistakes before - this team has not learnt it's lessons from last season, not at all. It still baffles me that Mr Wenger hasn't addressed the defensive issues yet. A £10 million bid for Phil Jagielka is disgraceful. To be fair I don't rank him being much more than that, not even close to £20 mil but somewhere around £14-15 mil would have been a good start. I understand there is still close to a month left to sign players but a new centre back should have been the first thing on the boss's shopping list this summer, so the new guy could find his feet in North London and gel with the rest of the squad. Now any new players will be forced to learn the ropes when the matches actually account and precious points are at stake. Oh well...

The new season is literally just around the corner now, away at Newcastle next weekend on Saturday the 13th at 5.30pm. However we have our final pre-season game against Benfica tomorrow before the Premier League kicks off, and the friendly is being shown live on Arsenal Player tomorrow evening at 7.45pm, so hopefully I can get home from work in time to watch it. Until then fellow Gooners...