Old wine, or new bottle, or old wine in new bottle?

December 31, 2013

End of the year, and part of the ritual is to take stock, and look forward towards the future with glorious plans and renewed expectations. And what a fantastic year this has been for Arsenal fans! At the midway stage in the Premier League last year, Arsenal was lying 7th, well off the pace for Champions League qualification, and even off Spursday football places. Qualifying second in their group, Arsenal faced a tough round of 16 encounter against Bayern Munich, one of the best teams in Europe at that stage. With significant changes to the Board, a new owner in tow, there were uncertain times for the club management. The fans were up in arms, with substantial ammunition provided by a negative press, dubious pundits and even the Arsenal Supporters Trust. Difficult times indeed!

But Arsenal managed to make a fantastic turnaround. Attaining qualification for CL was nothing short of a miracle! Yes, Arsenal lost out in a two leg epic battle against eventual winners Bayern, but before that showed their mettle in an amazing 2-0 away victory. Despite all the negativity, good progress was made in the summer transfer window. The progress continued in the current season, and Arsenal is sitting at the Top of the Premier League at the halfway stage. Qualification to the Champions League was gained from the aptly termed “Group of Death”. Grudging acknowledgement of Arsenal’s strength and mettle is gently arising from beneath the rubble of disdain and the green fumes of envy. Indeed, if the league was played over the calendar year, Arsenal would have been Champions of 2013. Oh, what a year this has been!!!

 

per and kosser

All in all, a good year in prospect. There are plenty of challenges yet to be met. Plenty of time still before we even begin to celebrate the achievements of this team. But, also plenty of positive vibes and expectation in tow. So AA ers, looking towards the future, what did we learn new about Arsenal this year, and what were we reminded of afresh, that we did not know with so much certainty one year back? Let us discuss. Here are a few of my tentative suggestions. It was not all rosy, though. Injuries continued through the year. The squad seems a bit thin. Progression to the round of 16 in the Champions League was gained, but only in second place. Like last year, we have drawn Bayern Munich. Lovely games in prospect, but significant challenges as well. And if the vitriol from the fans is a bit subdued due to the sustained run of fine results and resilience in the field of play, the negativity from the press and pundits continues unabated. Perhaps most importantly, whether by luck or design, Arsenal continues to be at the receiving end of poor refereeing decisions. Alas, some things never seem to change!

First, same time last year we did not know what a fantastic central defensive partnership, together with a very competent goalkeeper, we were developing. Indeed a large part of our success this year owes itself to the fantastic defensive pairing of Per and Kos. What a duo!!! And what a great leader in our beloved BFG! When Verms got injured, who would have thought we would have such a strong defence where even a fit squad captain cannot find a place?

Per and kossser 2

Second, one of the best revelations of the year was the discovery that Ramsey had developed into such a fantastic player. He was the subject of much of the blame and vitriol during our indifferent showing in 2012. Perhaps somewhat undeservedly. But our beloved Rambo rubbed all these adversities off his shirt, returned in style from his long standing injury, and has grown to the stature of one of the best midfielders in the League, perhaps in Europe as well.

Ramsey

He has shown a very mature head as well, leading for his country at a very young age. In tow, Jack Wilshere is developing into a fine player, if somewhat idiosyncratic on occasions. Together with Theo, the Ox, Gibbs and Jenks, they also form a British core to the team which had been somewhat deficient for a while. Who would have thought a year back that Rambo would develop into such a fantastic and dependable player, and Jack’s game will be coming along so nicely as well?

The English players

Third, one of the most encouraging developments of the year, at least for me, was the maturity with which the owner Kroenke, Gazidis and the Board conducted themselves. Perhaps the best development was that the Board did not interfere in footballing matters, leaving team and signing decisions to the people who know best, led by one Arsene Wenger. If you think that this is not a surprise, look around at other clubs. Several clubs have met with significant disasters as a result of owner power, such as the Spuds, Cardiff and even the Chavs, and in some others the environment is not very nice even if the performance has not been equally devastating.

The principles of the club, that a fantastic team can be developed without wasting money on the wasteful purchase of overpriced bench idols, was not compromised by a new owner and a new look Board. Surely, this was not a given at the start of the year, after the club had gone through a rather aggressive ownership contest and change of hands.

Fourth, amid the mantra of financial fairplay and traditional hesitancy to spend big money, and the recovery from an expensive move to the Emirates, who would have thought that Arsenal would spend their money where it mattered most?

Ozil

In the procurement of one Mesut Ozil, who despite his tentative adjustment to English football and the Arsenal way of playing the game, has given the team something really special, Arsenal showed purpose and ambition, and real ability to deliver trophies. This came together with the free transfer of one Mathieu Flamini – ah, what a fantastic transfer move!

flamini

Fifth, against the backdrop of significant unrest and disquiet among good-weather fans, ably supported by the press and pundits, who would have thought that the positive outlook of a sane fan-base would shine through? The struggle against the doubters and doomday-usherers still continues in earnest, in ArsenalArsenal and elsewhere, but The Home of Football still reverberates with the positive chants and outlook towards the new dawn awaiting in the New Year!!!!

AA ers, what do you think? My final thoughts are:

COYG! Onwards and Upwards!! A fantastic year 2014 awaits!!!!

Written by arnie

Arsenal Record 2013 Calendar Year

P W D L F A GD Pts
38 25 7 6 70 34 36 82

Where would 82 points put us in seasons past?

SEASON Winners P W D L F A GD Pts AFC on 82 points
2008-09 Utd 38 28 6 4 68 24 44 90 4th
2009-10 Chavs 38 27 5 6 103 32 71 86 3rd
2010-11 Utd 38 23 11 4 78 37 41 80 1st
2011-12 Oilers 38 28 5 5 94 29 65 89 3rd
2012-13 Utd 38 28 5 5 86 43 43 89 2nd

Chart by MickyDidIt

2013 Calendar Year League Table

P W D L F A GD Points vs Top 7 Total Home Total Away
Arsenal 38 25 7 6 70 33 37 82 10 19 19
Shitty 38 25 5 8 86 39 47 80 10 19 19
Chavs 38 23 8 7 71 40 31 77 10 20 18
ManUre 38 23 8 7 70 37 33 77 11 19 19
Spuds 38 21 10 7 55 46 9 73 10 19 19
Dippers 38 21 9 8 87 39 48 72 9 18 20
Everton 38 18 13 7 54 35 19 67 11 20 18
Toon 38 16 6 16 51 62 -11 54 13 19 19
Southampton 38 12 15 11 49 43 6 51 13 19 19
Villa 38 11 10 17 50 58 -8 43 11 20 18
Swansea 38 10 12 16 44 54 -10 42 12 18 20
Norwich 38 9 11 18 37 62 -25 38 12 20 18
Fulham 38 11 5 22 39 67 -28 38 12 19 19
West Ham 38 9 11 18 41 57 -16 38 12 19 19
Stokies 38 8 11 19 34 60 -26 35 11 19 19
WBA 38 7 13 18 45 61 -16 34 12 18 20
Sunderland 38 7 10 21 36 62 -26 31 12 19 19

Stat Overkill by GiE


How many Man City players would get into the Arsenal team? + Match preview.

December 14, 2013

Should be a superb game this afternoon. The best away side in the PL against the best home team.  If the world was a just and fair place we would leave with the 3 points but sadly, it isn’t.

And why do I say that? Because the recent history of the Northern Oilers has besmirched their past. I guess for their supporters all they care about is that City have been re-born, but to those teams who have chosen to take another route it is galling to say the least. But enough of that, this is the status quo and we must live with it. Actually, No, before leaving this subject I need to say one thing – Arsenal are a team with tradition who have found a way to compete without selling it’s soul. Hurray for us!!

In summer when asked who would win the title this season I replied City. To me they have the best squad, the most complete first team and the greatest resources. They disappointed last season, primarily because of a manger who had little empathy with his players.

Let’s look at their squad. Hart remains a terrific player and without question the best English keeper yet he is on the bench. Is it a similar situation to Szczesny’s benching last season ? Only City fans know whether they have more faith in Big Pants.

Across defence their only “weak” spot seems to be who partners Kompany. Any team which can bench Lescott, Richards, etc etc is strong. Same in midfield …. when one has limitless purchasing power a team can take a punt with big money – Rodwell? Here is a lad who looked as though he would be an England regular by now but instead he hardly gets to ride the pine! We know the other chaps, Yaya, Samir, Fernandinho (over €30m!!), Garcia – all fine players and yet in this area we can match them.

Where we are nowhere near as good is in attack. Aguero is the best forward in the PL. Suarez is good but this fellow is tops. No silly stuff just does his job with startling efficiency. We should have bid €50m (plus one) for him. Then there is Dzeko, a player who would be an automatic starter at THOF and yet struggles to get a start thanks to the fine start from Negredo. Negredo cost €20m (ish), Soldado cost €27m (:-D :-D), both Spanish , one has flourished the other looks like a complete waste of money . Another City signing who impresses is Jesus Nava – a Spanish Theo.

Then there is Jovetic, and here I have to apologise because I have to go back to the subject I said I wouldn’t in the second para ….. money. The media stated categorically that we were trying to sign this lad to play alongside Giroud (who knows if it was true) but City signed him specifically to stop him improving our side – no other reason. (they did the same when they cherry-picked Samir, Ade, Gael and Kolo). How many times has Jovetic played?  Three.  22 million of her majesty’s for what?  Perhaps we can buy him in January at a discount. I know Chelsea did the same with Willian but I do not expect a quality club like Man City to stoop to Chav-dom. Do you?

You may be a little concerned having read the above BUT …. we are TOTL and despite a bit a silliness in Naples are in good form. We drew at the Etihad last season in a dour 0-0, and we have much more attacking threat this time round. We are just the sort of team to trouble City due to the pace and intelligence of our attacking midfield.  Much has been made of the absence of Walcott and we must hope he has been rested to be fully fit this afternoon. There is little doubt MC will have the bulk of possession and a counter-attack seems the most likely weapon.

My Team:

city v arse

I have benched Wilshire but the fact he was rested in Italy points to him starting, perhaps with Flamster being rested. Ozil looks tired but has to play, or does he? Santi is so much better playing in the hole. We are starting to have a seriously strong bench and can actually improve the side with substitutions – it has been some time since we could say that.

Just for fun I thought I would see what a combined MC/AFC team might look like. What do you think?

arsecity

So…. in my team there are 7 Gooners and just 4 Blues. Surprising but then I might be biased :-D

Is Negredo better than Giroud? I don’t think so and a frontline of OG and Aguero would be very potent. I do not know enough about the City full-backs to make a fair comparison so I went with my heart and a bit of logic – Gibbs is better than Clichy, and Sagna is top quality. The CB pairing would be the best in the PL  and though Koscielny is not far off Kompany, the Belgian is the best CB and Captain in the league. Goalkeeper is also an area of doubt, all three in contention are fine keepers but TPIG takes it thanks to his form this season. Ozil or Silva/Nasri? Come on …..   DM’s – Yaya is a monster and it was a sad day when he decided to sign for MC instead of us, he is almost as good as PV4. Fernandinho has youth, agility and being Brazilian on his side, as much as I admire Arteta and Flamini they are simply not as good. No place in the team for Jack or Santi or Theo but none are automatic first choice for AFC let alone this team.

So, for the first time this season we go into a game as under-dogs. Can we win? Of course we can, we won in Dortmund. The betting is very much in favour of a home win which given MC’s 100% home record is understandable. Pre-game I would be delighted to take a point.

COYRRG

written by Big Raddy


Now We Can See How Much Damage Van Persie, Cesc and Nasri Did

December 2, 2013

I hope all those who’ve made a career out of knocking the Mighty Arsenal are taking a good look at the Premier League Table.

We’re as high as Nigella and as happy as Wayne Rooney in a bingo hall.

02

Not that I’m gloating… oh no… there’s a long way to go yet, it’s a marathon not a snickers etc etc.

But at the moment I think it’s fair to say that the squad is exceeding what most of us expected for this year.

The optimists among us hoped for a steady build on the defensive tightness and greater togetherness that steered us to fourth place in the second half of last season.

When we signed Mesut Ozil, maybe we dared to hope for a bit more.

But to be comfortably top of the table as we enter December? And to be nine points ahead of ManUre? And 10 ahead of the Tinies? I doubt any of us (apart from Terry Mancini Hair Transplant) would have wagered much on us doing so well.

Which raises the question of WHY?

Why have we shown not just incremental improvement on last season, but a genuine step change in confidence, quality and – most important of all – results?

There are many individual factors we can point to: the emergence of the Welsh Messi as the best player in the Premeirship; the exceptional form of our Pole In Goal; the precision of Ozil’s assist-making; the superb organization of our back four…

But I think Arsene Wenger gave us the real answer last week when he pointed out that this year, unlike the two previous years, we have not taken the Good Ship Arsenal on a new footballing voyage with a big hole below the waterline.

Le Boss said the clear difference this time round was that we did not lose a star player on the eve of the new campaign.

It meant we started out with the same group of players who had done so well from January to May – and threw a genuine superstar into the mix for good measure.

Contrast that with the two previous years.

The summer of 2012 was spent with Brave Sir Robin trying to pretend he was undecided about leaving but finally walking out on the club that paid his wages through so many interminable injury periods. The little boy inside him turned out to be an ungrateful little twunt.

Twelve months earlier we lost Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona (a move, admittedly, that came as a surprise to no-one); but then the unlikeable little Frenchman Samir Na$ri decided he wanted to line his wallet and started touting himself round  clubs with deep pockets, ending up at Petrodollar City.

Both those disrupted summers led directly to disjointed and disappointing starts to the new season. While other teams went off at a sprint, we set off on those season-long races with an open parachute strapped to our back.

We were forced to try and bed in new signings who, in most cases, were completely new to the Premier League; we had to work out new formations to suit the new personnel; we had to turn players from strangers into team mates and heaven only knows what psychological damage was done to the rest of the squad by the fact that our best players had made it clear they wanted out.

Somehow, miraculously, Arsene managed to maintain our membership of the Top Four club by the end of both seasons – but it was certainly no thanks to the Dear Departed.

And looking at how we’re doing now it makes me really angry about those players who left us in the lurch – yes, even Cesc (although BSR and Na$ri were more selfish, disloyal and narcissistic).

Van Persie and Nasri could have made their intentions clear to the club at the end of their last seasons with us. Their leavings would still have been a loss but at least the fans would not have been led a merry dance all summer long and the club and squad could have started rebuilding sooner.

I’m not suggesting we would have had glorious seasons if they had not left but – like Arsene – I feel we would have done a LOT better. We might have fallen short of winning the league, but we might well have been in the mix for longer instead of having to play catch-up with the skinny cock brigade.

The Arsenal revival we’re witnessing this year might have happened 12 months earlier. It’s the very success we’re enjoying now that highlights just what those players who left really cost us.

It’s naïve to expect players to show loyalty and I’m sure many fans take the view that if they want to go somewhere else for more money or a better chance of glory, who can blame them?

I can’t share that laissez faire view. I remain a dinosaur. I expect the adulation and support I give to the players to mean something, even in an age when the youth squad are driving Porsches and earning more in a month than most people do in a year.

And so Van Persie, Nasri, Fabregas: je t’accuse! YOU caused us to have disastrous starts to the past two seasons; YOU gave ammunition to the silly Wenger Out campaigners; YOU stopped us being in a position to fight for the big prizes; YOU hurt us. And WE won’t forget.

Although Cesc can come back if he wants :)

RockyLives


An Arsenal Performance Worthy of Winning the League

December 1, 2013

How good was that? It is getting more and more difficult to find sufficient superlatives to describe the Arsenal performances these days. As the first half rolled on and the Good Guys were spraying the ball around with consummate ease the term “thoroughly professional performance” came to mind. But we have used this a few times recently and somehow it didn’t seem enough to describe what I was watching, intensifying the search was the first goal and the brilliance in its simplicity: a tidy pass to Özil who sent over an inch perfect cross for Ramsey to head home and put us in the lead. As he walked away avoiding celebration out of respect for his fellow country men I thought to myself I am going to need something far more complimentary to describe this.

Racking my brains, playing cards came to mind and the hierarchy that exists: a pair is beaten by three of a kind which is beaten by a straight, which I believe is beaten by flush and then it came to me: the next up from a “thoroughly professional performance” has got to be “A performance worthy of winning the league” and that is what is was, a full house of a performance, not to be confused with a “Winning the league at White Heart Lane performance” that is obviously a royal flush and although rare it does seem to happen with more regularity than many might imagine.

Wenger foxed us all again with his team selection, it made sense to all who considered it to play Flamini alongside Arteta but no, Le Boss had plans for the Frenchman and opted to start with Wilshere and within one and a half minutes we all understood why: an arrow of a shot released from the edge of the box had all the makings of goal number five for our non attacking midfielder lol but alas at the last moment it swerved away and hit the bar.

As it turned out, as far as Arsenal taking the game to Cardiff was concerned, this was only the start, the Good Guys were brimming with confidence, chances weren’t coming as often as London buses do when you don’t need them but they were coming; the next fell to Giroud who, clean through one on one with the goal keeper, decided to “walk” before the umpire had given him out, it might be the honourable thing to do as Özil clearly touched the ball but in this day and age — really?

We had to suffer five uncomfortable minutes when Mertasacker hit the deck with the force of a felled giant redwood having clashed heads with Sagna; I defy anyone who didn’t worry about the possible down side of this potential calamity but all was well with our Big Friendly Giant.

Still goalless, but in today’s script only one person was going to be first on the score sheet and our humble Welshman rose to the occasion and headed us into the lead that took us into the break.

Ramsey v cardiff

Cardiff started the second half well and created a couple of chances that were a bit closer than I for one would have liked, notably a header from Campbell that brought a brilliant save from Szczesny. TPIG was looking as commanding as ever, we could have and should have made more of the breaks that were frequently arising but our interplay was not quite as good as it should have been, it seemed like Theo time but Jack was tiring and they were coming onto us with a tad more purpose than was good for the blood pressure so Wenger opted to shore things up and bring on Monreal and then Flamini.

As the Frenchman took off his track suit all eyes were on the sleeves – tradition won out and rightly so; someone had clearly whispered into his ear that he had, perhaps without realising, upset a few fundamentalists and today was not the right time to go desecrating sacred objects – best solution: roll your sleeves up and go and score a thumping second goal — and that is exactly what he did, yet another sublime assist from Özil who rolled the ball into the Frenchman’s path to powerfully hit home and put us all at ease.

Flamini scores v cardiff

Was this going to be Flamini’s day, no it wasn’t, this was Aaron Ramsey’s day; a second goal for him and with it he rightly picks up pretty much everyone’s Man of the Match award.

Ramsey applauds

Somebody remind me, where are we in the League?

Enjoy your Sunday.

Written by LB


Vote for Arsenal’s most improved player

November 19, 2013

To make this as even-handed as possible the time-frame is from January 2013.

Let’s look at the runners and riders:

Goalkeeper: The man has come on leaps and bounds and Rocky made him his player of the season. Do you agree? Personally I don’t, TPIG started his career with such aplomb that many called him a potential world No 1. He had a dip in form and then a return to the quality we all know he has. Is a return to form an improvement? You decide.

Defence:  Kos, BFG and Gibbs have surprised many with their cohesion and developing understanding which is based upon fine individual form.

In my opinion, Kos’s lapses have cost us points this year and although he was superb in the run up to our excellent 4th spot, he remains just a tad below the immensity that is Mertesacker.

BFG has become my favourite AFC player. His humour, his calmness under pressure  - even if he is not blessed with Sprezzatura, BFG has galvanised the team. Is he better than this time last season? Certainly, but has his improvement been to the level of ….

Keiron Gibbs? At last the lad is having a relatively injury-free run and his qualities are becoming evident. He is keeping Spain’s LB out of the team which gives an indication of how highly AW thinks of him. IMO he is already better than Cole and Baines and should be England’s first choice LB for the World Cup. Improved? Massively

Midfield: Arteta sets such a high standard he cannot improve. Cazorla the same. Jack has yet to find form and fitness. Ozil  and Flamini are too shiny and new to include which leaves Tomas and Aaron.

Rosicky has been wonderful this season and his absence at Old Trafford could well have cost us the points. Given that he was written off by many (including BR) just a few months ago his rehabilitation has been neigh on miraculous, as has been the form of ….

Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh Messi is playing at a level none could have imagined a season ago. I wonder if even Mr Wenger envisaged such a transformation – quite simply, he is the best player in the entire Premier League this season. And if you disagree, name me another?

Attack. Only Giroud to look at but OG must be carefully considered because his improvement has been immense. Developing from a French journeyman who had many a Gooner in serious doubt as to his signing to a man who every game has all Gooners singing his anthem, he has had a fine year. Loads of goals, loads of assists but more importantly a focus for the attack, he has improved immensely . But is he good enough? You decide.

written by Big Raddy


Character, Desire and Strategy: Symphony drowns Heavy Metal!

November 7, 2013

Notwithstanding the fantastic results that Arsenal have been producing most weeks and in midweek games since the beginning of the year, and the consistency with which the team have been turning whinging disbelievers and useless pundits into muppets, if there was ever a moment when the good guys proudly donning their red and whites on the field had to prove a point, this was it.

Playing away from home at the home of the formidable Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund, having succumbed to the ignominy of an embarrassing loss to the same club at The Home of Football, and knowing that their dreams of progressing from the Group of Death lay in their own hands (erm, feet and heads), this was the moment of destiny.

Would they remain a bunch of kids led by a handful of immature generals trying to play a game meant for men, or would they show the strength of character, desire and strategy that separates the sublime from the ordinary? On a rain-drenched evening in Dortmund, in front of formidable opposition and a vociferous crowd, they fought valiantly with heart and mind to achieve a memorable victory that dreams are made of.

The stage for the show was set up well. The set was immaculately chosen in advance, and the background music was perfect for the occasion – perhaps the tune of the Pomp and Circumstance Marches. At the disappointing loss at home to Dortmund a fortnight earlier, Arsène Wenger, a man known for his economy of words and measured temperament, rather uncharacteristically chose to criticise the team in public for their alleged ‘naivety’. Adding salt to injury, Jurgen Klopp, the respected Dortmund manager tried to take the art of mind games to the level of Symphony Fantastique.

“[Wenger] likes having the ball, playing football, passes” he said,”It’s like an orchestra, but it’s a silent song, yeah? And I like Heavy Metal more. I always want it loud! I want to have this: ‘BOOM!’ “.

It was time for the true mettle to shine through the din of Heavy Metal, and it did! The good guys of Arsenal fought their heart out, played with their minds sharp, and manufactured a fantastic away win!

It was a very tough test against the skill, aggression and hard work put in by a truly fantastic team, Borussia Dortmund, and in front of their home crowd as well. On the night, the entire team was fantastic. In the first half, both teams played a measured game, Arsenal sitting deep in defiant defence, and Dortmund piling on attacks without creating that many chances. Mkhitaryan squandered the best chance curling his shot wide of the post, but that apart, the central defence of Mertesacker and Koscielny nullified every chance that Dortmund created, with the able support of Sagna and Gibbs.

Arteta and Rosicky worked tirelessly to organise the midfield, and together with Ramsey, Santi and Özil maintained the threat of counter attacks. Giroud was left a bit isolated up front, but it was really that kind of a game. For me, our attacking threat in the first half was captured in the one occasion when Özil beautifully controlled a pass at the top of the Dortmund box, made the turn towards goal, but the moment the ball was pushed less than a foot forward, along came two defenders to snatch it away. Such was the tireless industry of the Dortmund defence, it was a treat to watch and admire! Anyway, the half ended a relatively event-less all-square.

There was all to play for in the second 45. But along came Dortmund with renewed vigour, and piled on attack upon attack. Most of these were repelled by the resolute Arsenal defence led by the fantastic Mert-Kos duo. For a nervous few minutes, the relentless pressure appeared to work. The nightmares of the Emirates appeared close. Once, Reus got through unmarked, and just a few minutes later Blaszczykowski had a low shot on goal. On both occasions, Szczęsny brought off fantastic saves. And that was it. No more serious attempts on the Arsenal goal followed.

Aaron Ramsey

Instead, it was a moment of magic at the other end. Rosicky, an ex-Dortmund player, latched on to a ball at the left flank and tried to move towards the centre, lost the ball, won it back and spread it wide to the right. Özil held on to it and sent a cross into the box, Giroud towered above his marker and used all his strength to nod the ball back towards the centre, and Ramsey lurked in with a great heart and headed the ball home almost right from the Subotic’s raised boot.

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The goal opened the floodgates somewhat, no not from Dortmund attacks, but Arsenal’s threats on goal. From a Giroud cross, Ramsey forced Weidenfeller into a smart save. From a Santi corner, Giroud saw a shot somehow cleared off the line. Per came along into attack with great vigour and came close to scoring twice, the second time sending a loopy header to the top of the net.

The mighty Dortmund, worthy finalists of last year’s Champions League, undefeated in the Bundesliga so far this season, did not know what hit them. Perhaps they were not used to losing. They were completely rattled and disheveled. Apart from a muffled attempt from Reus, they offered hardly any threat. The 11 brave men of Arsenal defended resolutely and saw the game through.

In the middle of all this, one man stood tall in midfield, led from the front, and for me captured like no other player the spirit that Arsenal stood for. It was Mikel Arteta. He manned the centre of the field like a fighter, defending and winning balls throughout the 90 minutes, earned a yellow card for his troubles, somewhat unfairly, for tugging Blaszczykowski’s shirt, and came disastrously close to a second as well. But he kept fighting. At the other end, Reus tugged back Rosicky but was not booked, and neither was there a penalty for bundling valiant Kos over. Injustices galore. But the brave and good guys stood tall amongst the ruins, and came out valiant winners. What a night of Champions League football! Lucky Micky and Raddy who represented AA in the ground!

How did we manage to win this game against all odds? Hard work, perhaps even more than skill, but what was most important was strategy. The strategy of sitting back and defending resolutely, the strategy of going all out in counter attack, but only when the opposition had got somewhat tired and demoralised, and most importantly the strategy of knowing how to get the best efforts out of the players. Going even to the extreme of publicly criticising the team for naivety. In a game characterised by character, desire and strategy, STRATEGY came out tops for me. In a game between symphony and Heavy Metal, the mettle displayed by the team was beautiful SYMPHONY. In a game of strategy between two great managers, Arsene Wenger came out on top! Arsène Wenger is my Man of the Match!
Arsene
Every player did his bit on the night. Here are some tentative scores.

Szczesny: 8 Had little to do on the night, except to make two fantastic saves. And they were crucial.

Sagna: 7 Measured performance in defence and attack. 

Mertesacker: Excelled at the heart of defence, went out in counter attack, almost scored as well. What a performance! 

Koscielny: Fantastic in defence, great combination with Mert, played with a big heart.

 Gibbs 7 Measured performance focusing on defence, cricial interventions when Mert and Kos had moved up and Dortmund attacked on the counter.

Arteta: 9 A true leader on the day, leading from the front. Valiently marshalled the midfield all evening. Outstanding.

Ramsey: 9 What can you say! The “Welsh Messi” Aaron Ramsey did what he does best – deliver the sucker punch.

Cazorla: 7 Good, solid, if somewhat underwhelming performance on the night.

Ozil: 8 Good performance, great cross that led to the goal.

Rosicky: 8 Fantastic performance. Together with Arteta, maintained the midfield, fighting for every ball, moving forward on every occasion possible.

Giroud: 7Assist for the goal, tireless performance as the lone striker, holding up, running tirelessly after the ball. Almost scored as well.

Arsene Wenger: 10 Le Manager, what fantastic strategy, what a man, what a team. This performance was surely for him.

Monreal: 7 Came on 75 mins for Santi, reliable as ever.

Vermaelen: No time to make an impact.

Bendtner: No time to make an impact, but ran after the ball continuously for the 5 mins he was on.

Written by arnie

Our on the spot photographers have provided these pics of a view from the away end:

D1

D2

D3


Arsenal Serge to the Top.

September 29, 2013

Who would have guessed that not so long ago this game would have been thought of as one for the purists? Not me. But that was how it was billed and rightly so as Swansea are a fine footballing team, this generous complement only works, of course, because Arsenal are an even better footballing team.

That said, we had to go through the ringer to prove it because that was one of the most nail biting games I have had to suffer in a while, but win we did, and three valuable points were brought back to North London and if that wasn’t good enough, results around us couldn’t have gone better if we had fixed them the night before: Manu and City losing, spuds and chavs drawing, what, somebody pinch me?

Onto the game, we were poor, well more precisely the attacking part of our game in the first half was poor; Swansea looked far more threatening going forward and I will stick my neck out and say that they had better quality attackers than we did. Michu, Dyer and Routledge are better than Giroud, Wilshere and Gnabry. Fortunately our defensive unit was in superb form and dealt with everything that Swansea threw at us.

We were getting nowhere fast, gone were those beautiful passes by Ozil into space for players to run onto when he first arrived; the kind he played week in and week out to Ronaldo at Real, these gems had to be abandoned as none of our attackers were capable of making the runs or in Giroud’s case, capable of controlling the ball well enough, this forced Ozil to have to try and beat more men than I am sure he would have liked which often led to him being tackled and losing possession. Some have criticised him, not realising, in my opinion, that circumstances forced him to play that way.

And then, just before half time, it happened, like a shaft of bright light shining through a thundery sky, Gnabry, clearly fed up being on the wing, answered the question of where he plays by making a powerful run through the middle, passing at least three men before laying of a perfect ball for Giroud — who wasted it. This was it, Gnabry had arrived, he is not a winger he is an Aaron Ramsey; people used to refer to this kind of player as a Steven Gerrard but that seems soooo passé now.

gnabry scores

Gnabry started the second half with a new found confidence; he never got chastised for moving into the middle so he tried it again a few times and it worked, he also impressively started tracking back and then to make his day just about as perfect as it could get he scored his first goal for the Good Guys. It was pretty much the only way we were going to score: a slow build up made up of accurate passes, enabling us to find a way around the Swansea defence to set up someone with a goal scoring chance; on this occasion it fell to the young German .

Serge took his chance well. With a goal to the good it forced Swansea to take more risks in their pursuit of equalising which in turn gave us a lot more space and the possibility of hitting them on the break, which is exactly what we did. Within five minutes of going ahead we had a golden opportunity to score again through Ozil, unfortunately he missed but that just set the scene for Ramsey to save the day again. I have run out of meaningful superlatives and it isn’t even Christmas. The man is a goal scoring machine. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

rambo v swansea

The game looked like it was just going to peter out with Arsenal cruising to the finishing line but a well worked goal from Swansea put pay to that, it was up off the sofa, pacing in front of the telly time.

We got there of course and with hind sight I can now see how well Wenger managed to deploy his limited resources. Wilshere and Gnabry are not wingers and that is why I was so bold above to suggest that Swansea had a better quality attack. But needs must as they say; would this game have been the same with a fit Arteta, Cazorla and Walcott available? No it wouldn’t — we would have crushed them.

Lastly, I would like to show some respect where respect is due: after the Aston Villa opening game debacle, when many Arsenal supporters including some on this site where still questioning such things as the harmony between the management and the board; Wenger’s ability or inability to sign big money players and the most hennas, “spud envy” pointing far too respectfully at all the new signings being made in N17. Well, while this sea of excrement was going on one loyal blogger on this site stood firm and put his money where his mouth was and bet that Arsenal would be top of the League on October 1st.

26 May 1989…….I salute you.

Because we are top of the league, say we are top of the league.

Quick player ratings.

Szczesny: top game, plucked everything out of the air and did well when needed to get down. There was an incident in the first half but look at the back pass and you will see who is really to blame. 8

Sagna: Wenger must have promised him big things as he is playing better than he ever has. 8

Mertesacker: So, so good, so calm, so commanding I really want to give him the MOTM but for their goal. 8

Koscielny: Another solid display from the other half of our amazing centre-back pairing 8

Gibbs: disciplined performance from England’s future LB. 8

Ramsey: I can’t think of anything else to say, MOTM. 10

Flamini: hands up all those who thought he would be able to keep Arteta out of the starting line up when he was re-signed? Not me. He is getting better and better every week. 8

Wilshere: playing wide left is obviously not ideal but he did what he could. 7

Gnabry: I thought he was a waste of space, it was if Arsenal were playing with a man short – and then he made that run. Things will never be the same. 7

Giroud: a difficult day for Ollie, his inability to hold the ball and beat a man will lead to a “Super Quality” signing coming in and ultimately taking his place. 7

Ozil. The honeymoon period is still in full swing. I just can’t wait until Cazorla returns. 7

Written by LB


Marseille 1 Arsenal 2 : Breaking records again

September 19, 2013

M. Wenger must have breathed a sigh of relief that last night we were at least adding to the team that started against Sunderland rather than having another injury/sickness to deal with. For many of us watching it was a great relief to see Mertesacker return to the starting line up, and Sagna moving back to his more familiar full back role, this is nothing against the young man Jenkinson replaced but more to do with the calmness and organisation Mertesacker gives the team. The midfield and attack presently picks itself with so many regulars injured.

The Marseille home following were certainly keen to create an oppressive atmosphere and in the first half their team responded for them, it was uncomfortable viewing for most of it, passes going astray for us, and pressed at every opportunity when we looked to have few options, when we look back at the stats though it becomes clear that this is more about our expectations than the team performing too badly, we were pretty equal with Marseille in terms of possession and passing.

We were allowing them to play rather than stamping our authority on the game and we were giving them encouragement to continue their game plan with some wasteful use of the ball in and around the half way line. Thankfully for us they were not making the most of their pressure in the final third a free header sent wide with Szczesny stranded and later a useful clearance from BFG with the striker behind him, we were equally toothless and apart from Theo’s early effort (when he was probably being fouled) struggled to find a way through the Marseille defensive line.

The second half was a more open affair, Marseille struggled to press us as effectively as they tired and we started to play the channels more and have more of the game, Marseille also kept probing and Szczesny was called upon several times to show good handling and deal with shots from distance.

With fifteen minutes of the second half gone it could have easily been a different story, a hopeful cross from our right had BFG swinging a right leg as Szczesny came to claim, the ball looped over the latter but thankfully Gibbs reacted to head the ball off the line and back into Szczesny’s hands.

Five minutes later saw us take the lead, another overlapping run by Gibbs saw him deliver a good cross into a threatening area, Marseille’s left back made a hash of the clearance and the ball looped up towards Theo, who waited for what seemed an eternity before smashing a volley into the net. This was such a good finish, anyone who has played football will know what it is like waiting for the ball to drop, how many times do you see players snatch at it thinking they have less time and failing to make good contact, Theo set himself kept his eyes on the ball and cracked it home.

Theo like Thierry

Half chances came and went at either end, Szczesny dealing with everything coming his way and us nearly finding a way through for the second.

The second goal came from our man of the moment Aaron Ramsey, receiving the ball from Gibbs and with white shirts in attendance he spun and drove into the box before finishing into the bottom corner (with the aid of a little deflection). Watch this goal again if you don’t believe me but Giroud was key to this goal, his run took two defenders away and Ramsey had the room to burst into.

Gibbs and Rambo v Marseille

Unfortunately we blotted our copybook at the very end by giving away a sloppy penalty, tired legs from Ramsey (its about time he looked a little leggy given the yards he puts in) saw him take a heavy touch and was adjudged to have fouled the forward as he tried to recover. Szczesny could do nothing about the penalty but thankfully there was not long left so we didn’t have to sweat on the result for long.

10 away games won on the trot a new club record and much deserved for this group of players that are really starting to repay the belief the manager has placed in them.

Win the three home games and we will see the knockout round.

Ratings:

Szczesny – 8 A solid display from the young Pole, great handling and comfortable shot stopping all night. Didn’t actually have to make any worldies and you would be disappointed if he had conceded any of the shots on target.

Sagna – 7 Not his most prolific display but did the important stuff well

Mertesacker – 7 Minor blip with the Gibbs goalline clearance, but otherwise the usual reliability we have come to expect.

Koscielny – 8 A solid commanding performance, constantly pressures the forwards high up the pitch gives them little space and competes for everything.

Gibbs – 9 MOTM Two assists, goalline clearance, he has come a long way from the player I used to get frustrated with turning inside whenever he received possession, has grown in stature immeasurably over last two seasons.

Flamini – 7 Bit of a struggle in the first half as the others in midfield left him a little exposed, looked more comfortable when we had better shape in the second half.

Ramsey – 8 Very nearly another man of the match performance. Cracking goal, fantastic tackling back he really is an all action midfielder the kind we haven’t had for a while.

Wilshere – 7 Another game under the belt, he is getting better and is moving more confidently with the ball, unlucky with a half volley at the far post.

Özil – 7 Quiet first half as we struggled to get the ball to him, came into the game in the second half and was unlucky not to have a couple of assists to his name by the end of the night.

Walcott – 8 Exceptional volley to give us the lead, could have had another couple but did well all night to provide a threat.

Giroud – 8 His silent assist for Ramsey’s goal sums up this lad, constantly willing to work for his team mates, could do with a rest soon!

Subs:

Monreal, Miyaichi – No real time to judge.n

Written by

Gööner in Exile


Confounding the Critics : Arsenal 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0

September 2, 2013

This is not a match report, its a bunch of ramblings from a very happy Gooner with no real structure.

Lets start as we mean to go on, with a bloody good laugh. Laugh at the media, laugh at Levy’s £109m investment, laugh at AVB sprinting down the touch line to tell Kyle Walker to launch the ball in to the box because he was too thick to realise it was 30 seconds to go, laugh at all those who say Arsene Wenger doesn’t do tactics.

Yesterday our wily old Frenchman won the tactical battle, and the players executed it perfectly. Looking at the line ups it appeared that Spurs had been set up to create a solid defensive unit and to spring counter attacks using the pace of Townsend and Chadli feeding Soldado (I’m glad at this point the teamsheet is there as it indeed shows that they had a centre forward on the pitch £28m worth apparently).

Wenger had a trick up his sleeve, their midfield three lacked mobility, so Wenger set us up not to push too high, their attacking three were isolated and red and white shirts crowded them out and regained possession with relative ease. And when we won possession we had the pace and numbers to look threatening running at the heart of the Tottenham defence.

Wenger was rewarded by his players with a beautifully fashioned goal, at pace the ball was pinged around and players moved with intent, Theo was set free down the right with Spurs defenders not knowing who to mark, Giroud pulled Dawson this way and that before darting towards the near post to produce a deft finish to the bottom corner from Theo’s accurate cross.

giro goal

After the goal we were content to continue the game plan, sitting deep, defending strongly and maximising use of the football when we had it. We were so comfortable that AVB started to change his team pushing Paulinho further forward, which just gave us more room to play forward when we did have the ball.

Despite having very little possession we continued to look threatening on the break, a better pass or a better touch at the crucial moment and we could have had a second.

Just before half time Jack Wilshere was removed feeling unwell and was replaced by Flamini, it wasn’t long before we got to see why it was a “no brainer” for Arsene. Flamini slotted straight in, for the rest of the half and all of the second he was one of the first to press the ball, organising those around him not used to such a battle. Those around him responded, Ramsey, Santi, Rosicky and Theo all prepared to do the more unpleasant side of the game, winning the ball back, fighting for possession.

I haven’t even moved on to the defence yet, they were simply magnificent, Soldado did not get a touch from Koscielny, Chadli and Townsend were kept relatively quiet by Gibbs and Jenkinson and Mertesacker did what he does best, provides calm assurance to those around him and reading the game inside out. And when they did breach the defensive unit Szczesny produced an absolutely top class save.

With players tiring and Spurs throwing more bodies forward it did get a little tense in the last ten minutes. We struggled to clear our lines and hold onto possession further up the pitch, especially once Rosicky and Theo had been replaced by Monreal and Sagna respectively. Giroud had been able to rely on those two for most of the game to be his outlet when trying to hold the ball up, now off the pitch he was looking more isolated but what I think we are all beginning to love about Oli is his work rate, he does not stop competing for his mates. Anyone watch MotD on Saturday night? A certain Mr Berbatov (that player that Arsene should have signed last summer) was sulking around St James’s Park. I know which of the two I’d rather have in my team.

All in all a very good days work, this wasn’t our most fluent display, but it was the kind of performance many of us have been waiting for. So many of my Spurs supporting clients were quick to text me after our defeat by Villa, I’ve kept my powder dry, when should I text, first thing in the morning, or when we’ve announced three super super quality signings?

Ratings:

Szczesny : 9 comfortable handling all game, good distribution especially under pressure and two cracking saves.

Jenkinson : 8 disciplined at right back, considerably helped by Theo occupying Walker

Gibbs : 7 given a bit of a working over by Townsend early on but ordinary service was resumed for the next 70 minutes, not helped by no one occupying Rose.

Koscielny : 9 is he pleased to see us or is that a £28m striker in his pocket.

Mertesacker : 8 leads by example.

Wilshere : 7 not his normal effervescent self but considering illness unsurprising

Ramsey : 9 lead the team in tackles, touches and attempted passes.

Cazorla : 9 the boy is class

Walcott : 8 used his pace to worry Spurs when we had the ball and defended well when we didn’t

Giroud : 9 a great finish, constantly working for his team, goal line block.

Subs:

Flamini : 8 it was indeed a no brainer

Monreal : 7 did what he had to

Sagna : 7 ditto

Wenger : 10 out tacticted the young pretender

Enjoy transfer deadline Gooners bathing in the warm afterglow of a North London Derby win.

Gooner in Exile


The Bould Supremacy?

May 10, 2013

OK, the thesis I am about to set out is pretty simplistic and I expect it to be the biggest shooting-down-in-flames since the Hindenburg, but here goes:

To start with, cast your mind back to the beginning of the season.

We were nervous, but hopeful as we entered the new campaign. Our captain and lead goal scorer had abandoned us after hearing that Manchester United had a better medical room.

But we had signed Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud with Santi Cazorla to follow, giving us grounds for cautious optimism.

We started with clean sheets at home to Sunderland and away to Stoke. Admittedly, we didn’t trouble the opposition net ourselves, but after our calamitous defending of the previous season it felt good to be tight at the back again (no sniggering please, we’re all adults here).

Then we went to Anfield and beat the Scousers 2-0 with an outstanding performance. Abou Diaby, risen like Lazarus, was a titan in midfield. We followed up with a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton at the Emirates, we beat Monpellier in the Champions League and gained a creditable away draw at the league champions, Manchester City.

In six games we had conceded just three goals and scored 11. Robin van Who?

It was, at the very least, a decent start. Most encouraging of all was our defensive solidity. We had gone from conceding almost 1.3 goals per game in the 2011/12 season to conceding 0.5 this time round. The omens were good.

Then something a bit strange happened.

Steve Bould Summer

The media started to take notice of our improved defensive performances and identified the man they believed to be responsible for them.

Who was that man? I’ll give you a clue: He’s Big, He’s Bald, He’s…. that’s it – you’ve got it – He’s Stevie Stevie Bould.

Bouldie had taken over in the summer from the long-serving Pat Rice as Arsenal’s first team coach.

As a member of George Graham’s famous back six (Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Keown) no-one could dispute that he knew a thing or two about how to shut out the opposition.

And the press were quick to credit his influence for Arsenal’s better defensive start to the season. Journalists started asking Arsene Wenger about it and after initially priaising Bould’s influence, Arsene reacted a little, shall we say, ungraciously.

The BBC correspondent who covers Arsenal, David Ornstein, said recently that at the start of the season Bould was having extra defensive sessions with the team but that Arsene put a stop to them when Bould started getting a lot of praise.

Ornstein said Wenger did not want Bould to take too much credit for Arsenal’s defensive improvement because it might intensify feelings of disenchantment towards him from the fans.

He (Wenger) had already been prickly on the subject of defensive coaching in the previous season. When journalists asked him in September 2011 whether he should get a specialist to coach the back line he said: “I’ve just completed 30 years of coaching. I don’t want to answer this kind of question.”

Steve Bould tight lipped

If Ornstein’s report was accurate (and his contacts within Arsenal are said to be very good) it does not reflect well on Arsene. The same allegation was made by Stewart Robson, who said: “Steve Bould is not allowed to coach the defence. Wenger wants to do everything himself but doesn’t give players any explicit instructions.”

Given what an Arsenal hater Robson is I would normally lend no credence to what he says, but the corroboration from Ornstein adds weight to the story.

Whatever went on, our early defensive solidity tumbled like a Bale in a breeze and we went on to lead the league in goals conceded directly from individual errors. We started to lose touch with the top of the table and we were humiliatingly turfed out of both domestic cups by lower league opposition.

When we lost at the home of the N17 swamp dwellers in early March, the pundits had a field day about our defensive naivety and how it was costing us any chance of success. At that point we looked like no-hopers for the Champions League spots.

But that loss turned out to be a watershed moment. From then until now we appear to have switched focus back to the defensive side of the game. Wenger made (or was persuaded to make?) the significant move of dropping his captain and his “first choice” goalkeeper.

We stopped conceding stupid goals (apart from the Sagna tragi-comedy act against Manchester United) and clawed our way back into contention for the Top Four.

My theory? The stories about Arsene having initially given Bould his head with the defence, but then changed tack are substantially true. Whether it was because Arsene didn’t like someone else getting the praise or whether he felt it was leaving us too short in attack, I don’t know.

But I also believe that after the defeat at the Spuds – and staring non-qualification for the Champions League in the face for the first time in his Arsenal career –  Arsene did another U-turn and allowed Bould to take control of defensive duties once again.

Bouldy smiling

I expect to be duly slaughtered for having my opinion shaped by newspaper tittle-tattle (is the tittle still on Page Three these days?). But it is also based on the evidence of my own eyes: we were much more defensively minded early in the season; something changed; then it changed back again after the defeat in N17. We are now less fun to watch, but we are grinding out results.

The effect has been to leave us with a chance of sneaking into the top four after all.

There has been a cost: we are not creating as many goal scoring chances and the balance of the team is clearly not quite right. But better defending was undoubtedly what was needed to put us back on track for the remainder of the current season. The rest we can work on in the summer.

Steve Bould, it seems, may have won an important battle.

RockyLives


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