Wednesday, 31 October 2007

If you cast your minds back to a few years back and a match at Bramall Lane in the Fa Cup. We drew the game 0-0 after Extra Time but came through after a penalty shootout. Then cast your minds back to last season on a cold new years eve night and another visit to Sheffield, we lost 1-0 that night. The main thing the Sheffield United teams we played against had in common was their desire and lionheart attitude. Even though Wenger will probably field the youngsters again - beating the leaders of the Premier League will be a major achievement should the United players pull it off. They will be up for it, the crowd will get behind them and our boys will have to stand up and be counted.

The team I expect to see out there tomorrow night is this:

Subs: Lehmann, Eboue, Merida, Adebayor, Rosicky,

The midfield will be the key area at Bramall Lane. If we can dominate this area then we can go thorugh the tie. The game will be scrappy and if we can isolate their wide men and stop balls into the box we can cut off their main source of supply to the front men. Diarra will have to run the game as he did against Newcastle in the 3rd round. I have every confidence he can do this after his fantastic performance at the Emirates last time. He has been craving a start and hopefully Wenger grants him this chance after two appearances on the bench in the last two matches. Diaby will be chosen to add some bite to what will otherwise be a small midfield. He is hard in the tackle but can also be a threat going forward. Denilson has fantastic vision and will make things happen if selected. Hopefully he can show us why Wenger rewarded him with a new 5 year contract. Theo Walcott just needs to be more consistent if he is to get a regular place in the first team side. He has looked sharp of late and his pace can really worry the Sheffield United defence.

The defence is the same as the last tie - why change what works. A key to the Carling Cup side this season will be a solidity at the back and a consistency. If this back four can work up a partnership it will bode well for this competition and the future years to come in the first team most likely. Fabianski I feel will be our Carling Cup keeper this season and showed promise in the last round.

Up front I would like Bendtner to put his awful miss behind him and get a goal tomorrow night. Against a big and awkward defence he is the perfect player to have up front. He is good in the air and can get about people with his pace and close control. Playing off him I would like to see Eduardo get a go to get match practice under his belt. He needs a goal and tomorrow night hopefully he will come good.

The bench will have experience on it as the tie is a tricky one. I would like Cesc, Gallas, Hleb and Flamini to be nowhere near Sheffield tomorrow. They need and deserve the rest before the United game. We need no unnescessary injuries before Saturday and I can see us getting bad luck with certain players. In other news; Hleb is to be rewarded with a new contract if reports are correct and I for one am delighted. His skill is immense and he has a remarkable eye for a pass. His form has been outstanding and this is the least he deserves.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

A draw at Anfield = not bad. Could have been so much more

As Andy Gray said as the final whistle was blown at Anfield; Arsenal answered anyone doubting their title credentials. A point at Anfield is a good result, no, a very good result on the face of it. However today it could have been so much more; with a bit of luck, a solid wall, some composure in front of goal and an accurate final ball we would have stolen the spoils.

The start was fast paced and Liverpool settled early with Gerrard testing Almunia with a low drive. What worried me was that the next ball was picked up by Fabregas who casually lost possession just outside his box and duly committed a silly foul. Gerrard blasted home and woke Arsenal up. This game was not going to be easy, especially after Benitez second guessed Wenger before the game. He packed his midfield similar to ours and kept width with his strikers. This denied lots of space in midfield and isolated Adebayor. This was how it seemed to start with but suddenly Arsenal sprung into action. For the rest of the first half we dominated Liverpool with two shots off the line amongst constant pressure. Any team that achieves 63% possession away at Anfield does not deserve to be 1-0 down at half time. Arsenal were “faultless” according to Gray.

Hleb got a game in central midfield and had the main job of supporting Adebayor and he was fantastic today. His dribbling skills still amaze me; I haven’t seen many other players in world Football with the balance and agility of Hleb. When he looks isolated he can suddenly find his way out of many tight situations. He linked up well with Rosicky and Fabregas and with our full backs bombing forward we looked a real threat. Liverpool could not get the ball off us and all that was lacking was a finishing touch. People doubted whether we could play this Football against teams like Liverpool and mix it up at the same time. Today we did just that with tackles flying in, except from Eboue who needs to toughen up and stop cheating, and we competed well in the air. Cesc ran the show – his passing was 86% completed which is fantastic in such a game. He had one finely taken goal, created by my MOTM Hleb, and one beautiful curling effort that crashed against the post. Yet he is not excused from missing the first open goal. He had so much time to take a touch; for once his footballing brain didn’t obey its master.

At the back Almunia made some crucial saves throughout to keep the score at 1-0. This was so important because a second goal for Liverpool would have killed us off I think. Gallas and Toure were colossal in the defence. Gallas made one goal saving tackle at the end and that is the commitment I love to see from Arsenal players. He bust a gut to get across to Gerrard and blocked Gerrard’s goal bound shot. Toure was so dominant in the tackle and even ran the ball out of defence to start attacks. One particular run led to him trying a one-two with Adebayor the striker was so wasteful and delivered an awful ball when it was not a tricky pass to pull off.

Adebayor looked off the pace a bit to me. He took some knocks but was not dominant in the air, his passing was very inaccurate and his decision making is very poor. Many times he was one on one with a centre back but he allowed to more people to get there first. His strike partner for the last 15 minutes was not much better. His hold up play was not good and he missed an open goal at the end and rightly got a bollocking from Toure for doing so. I know he was playing at left midfield which amazed me but apart from one very skilful pass he didn’t stamp any authority on the game.
We stroked the ball around with ease and put passages together between Liverpool’s dangerous counters and constant fouling. The only thing was the final ball. At times it was needle-in-a-haystack stuff and it was never going to work. At times the simple ball was there but badly executed. When we played the ball using one and two touches the home team were chasing shadows and if we can do that against Manchester United with a bit more assurance in front of goal we can grab the three points.

One thing that needs looking at is defenders backing off. Too many times Gallas mainly allowed the striker to run towards out goal unopposed. By the time he went to challenge the man a shot had already been sent towards Almunia. Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez will exploit this freedom and punish us from similar positions. Set pieces need to better. I know we lack height but we have good headers of the ball but there needs to be a bit more talking for me so players don’t lose their men as easily as Adebayor lost Crouch at one point. For their goal I was very disappointed with the defensive wall. It split right down the middle and Gerrard drive the ball right through the gap. This needs analysing so we don’t concede silly goals.

We are still top of the League with a game in hand. One of the hardest away tests is out of the way and a draw is not too bad. Next weekend is crucial and hopefully with the crowd behind us we can continue our unbeaten run further and open up another gap at the top.
I woke up early this morning with great excitement. We have played two three tough away games, travelling to Ewood Park, Upton Park and White Hart Lane. However none of these are tastier than going to Anfield. Yes Liverpool are in a bit of a rut, yes we are in good form – but tomorrow this counts for nothing. I for one cannot wait. Don’t get me wrong getting 7 points from these games is very good and if it wasn’t for a goalkeeping howler we would have a 100% away record. However away to Liverpool IS the first real test of our season; the pundits know it, the players know it and we the fans know it. Win this game and we really our on our way to a strong title challenge. Many are excited about welcoming Manchester United to the Emirates. For me this is most exciting. Not many teams go to Anfield hoping for a win but this year our squad is confident of doing just this.

There are many questions to answer: do we go five in midfield? Do we give Theo Walcott another game up front alongside Adebayor? Do we recall Jens Lehmann? I will try and give my view on things, whether I am right waits to be seen. I will state the line up I would go for now and explain why:


Almunia deserves his place in goal once more. His ability to come for and claim crosses will be crucial against the set pieces and long balls of Liverpool. The defence has built up a relationship and added solidity to our team and continuity is so important. I would pack the midfield simply due to the strength of Liverpool’s. It is very likely Mascherano will start to try and keep Fabregas quiet. Therefore I would ply Rosicky in centre midfield with Cesc to try and overload the opposing defensive midfielder. If Steven Gerrard partners Mascherano then he will be isolated against two attacking minded midfielders. The centre of the park is where it will be won and having one man extra in this area could give us the advantage. Hleb was fantastic on the left in midweek and he can give Finnan a real hard time. The same goes with Theo on the other flank. If he can produce the same performance as midweek he will torment any full back. We all know he can play up front so if needed we can switch to a basic 4-4-2 whenever Wenger sees fit. We all know however that Adebayor can lead the line brilliantly on his own, as demonstrated at Old Trafford last season. Liverpool’s defence has been shaky of late and Adebayor is the man to take advantage. His hassling, pace and strength will give Hyypia in particular problems and his hold up play will allow us to break quickly.

The way we are playing I would love us to put Liverpool under serious pressure early on and try and silence the Anfield crowd. Yet I can see Wenger issuing more cautious tactics for this game. Counter attacking football will be a major part of this game with both sides looking to use this option whenever they can. The main thing I need to mention is Benitez’s team selection. Should he play Alonso and Mascherano in the centre of the park, this can easily be dominated by a 5 man Arsenal midfield. It will stem attacks through the middle and leave Gerrard on the right where he is far less of a threat. Personally I hope to see Gerrard starting at right midfield. Up front I hope Crouch doesn’t start. He tore us apart last year and his height will cause our small defence difficulty all game.

The game will not be easy by any shape or measure but if we can play the football we have been playing I have every confidence in this squad. Although we have won ‘dirty’ this season, if the match becomes a feisty, long ball affair I would not be so confident in getting anything from this game. The players have to ready for a battle from the first minute till the last. This game is huge and I know its early could shape our season going into the United mat

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

A masterclass in Football - Arsenal 7 - 0 Slavia Prague

One quote summed up this evening's performance: "Football from another planet". I was confident we would get three points from tonight's game but never expected anything along the lines of what I saw tonight. Everything the players tried seemed to come off and it was a true masterclass in how to play Football the beautfiul way. The defence was calm in bringing the ball out, the midfield was simply fantastic and the forwards, in particular Theo Walcott, were a real handful. I remember the 7-0 victories over Everton and Middlesborough in recent seasons, but for me those had nothing on what we witnessed tonight. Bar the own goal, each strike was an instance of absolute class, from beginning to end we stroked the ball around with ease while finding penetration whenever we wanted.

Before the game I had called for Theo Walcott to be given a start. I was hoping Wenger would oblige but assumed it would be on the wing where he would get his chance. Therefore I was delighted to hear Theo's name read out alongside Emmanuel Adebayor. Theo has shown glimpses of his talent as a striker but today he really repaid his manager's faith. He started slowly but once he got his first goal he was a breath of fresh air. He was simply brilliant to watch. From behind the goal we were attacking during the first half it was awesome to see him getting his speed up and simply heading towards the Slavia defence. His confidence has been high recently and seeing his delight at getting his first goal since February made the whole stadium erupt. The Arsenal fans have been behind Theo from day one and hopefully now we will see much more from him. His second goal was a real depiction of the quality he possesses: speed, intelligence and a cool head in front of goal. These are all the ingredients for him to become a world class striker.

One other player who seems to have higher confidence of late is Alexander Hleb. Tonight he was simply majestic. The ball sticks to his boots like glue and the ease with which he glides away from markers is remarkable. His goal was much deserved and, like Theo, perfectly showed what Hleb is all about. He was calm where others might have panicked and went for precision rather than power. These were demonstrated earlier in his key contribution to the opening goal. Finding himself in the corner most people would not blame him for taking the safe option and use his full back. Not Hleb; he held the ball and dug out a perfect pass to Fabregas who duely lifted the ball over the Slavia keeper - cue a goal rush!

Fabregas had been out of sorts on Saturday but was back to his best against Slavia. He sprayed the ball around as though only he was allowed to play with it. He simply was running this game from the centre of the park, trying some ridiculous passes that many would not dare attempt; with many coming off. It is amazing to believe he is still only 20, how can a boy with such maturity on the pitch, such conviction in his own game be so young and still control such a high standard of Football? Simple: the guy just loves playing football and more specifically for this current Arsenal team. Alongside him Flamini went aobut his business and Eboue made an improvement from Saturday. I hate Eboue's antics and called for him to be dropped from the team for this game but was glad he went some way to proving me wrong. Although he was not always as direct and purposeful as I would have maybe liked, he showed some flashes of brilliance, no more than with he final goal. An imputent backheel was perfectly weighted and led to the end of Slavia's misery.

On the subject of midfielders I will quickly draw attention from the match. Flamini has merited his starting position this season with World Cup winner Gilberto still on the bench. Abou Diaby has had to make do with a slot at left midfield with Denilson restricted to small amounts of performanes. Therefore Lassana Diarra's comments will interest many Arsenal fans:

"I want to play. If I’m not playing by Christmas I may have to go somewhere else."

He found himself on the bench this evening but doesn't look too close to the starting line-up. I for one think Diarra has great quality and should get his chance but I don't know in favour of who. Fabregas is undroppable and right now, on current form, Flamini is exactly the same.Competetion for places can be healthy but I feel we have too many. Wenger cannot change his first team right now and however hard certain players work, they do not have much chance of ousting those starting right now.

Tonight was simply fantastic, not much more I can say on it all except pick out certain players for praise as I have done. Yet every player performed well tonight, some just topped the night off and enabled such a victory. I cannot wait till Sunday as the squad heads for Anfield; confidence is up and the team is playing well, bring on those Scousers!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

We want the Champions League - no excuses

As William Gallas said, it does not matter which major trophy we go for, the goal is simple - we must win something. Waking up this morning I saw our skipper on Sky Sports News explaining that he wants either to be League Champions or European Champions. He knows we can succeed in each of these competitons but also knows another barren year is unacceptable. This is the attitude that made Wenger opt for Gallas ahead of Gilberto and Toure as captain of this team. We have seen his passion ever since he came here and my fondest memory of Gallas so far is walking over to the away fans at Old Trafford and showing his pure delight after coming through such a difficult match. Gallas is a winner and the simple joy on his face that day really warmed me to the Frenchman. Arsenal needs winners and Gallas is definitely one of those. He hates to lose, he came to Arsenal to win trophies and that is what he wants to do as skipper this season.
Tonight brings another fixture in the Champions League and the visit to the Emirates of Slavia Prague. On the face of it we should expect 3 points and I would bet this will happen. However for me personally I would like to see something different from Wenger. He selected Eboue to slot in at right midfield against Bolton and for me this was a strange decision. Eboue has been out injured and had one game in this position in recent games whereas Theo Walcott had changed the last league game he had played in and looked hungry. Walcott is more of a natural winger to me and this theory was proved correct as Eboue had a very poor game. He frustrates me with his antics and his lack of composure in front of goal scares me if he is to become our right wing option. I want Wenger to show faith in Walcott who deserves a start more than anyone and show him his hard work is paying off.

I would give Rosicky another game so start him on the other flank or even play him more centrally giving Fabregas a rest. He is sorely needed for the next two games and I would hope we could out away this opposition without him. Hleb could fill in on the left with Gilberto also coming in to give Flamini a break. The back 5 should remain the same to get up whatever understanding they can before the Liverpool game. Up front I would stick with Eduardo as he also needs to get some match practice before next weekend. His partner will likely be Adebayor. This is the safe bet as we need to make sure we get a victory but I would like to see Bendtner get a game. This is the stage the boy is craving and sooner or later Wenger has to give it to him if he wants to keep him at the Emirates. The boy has talent and for me personally he should be given the opportunity to show his ability, especially with Van Persie out injured.

Therefore my team would be this:

Subs: Fabianski, Song, Diaby, Denilson, Adebayor, Fabregas, Eboue

In other news - Ashley Cole looks likely to be fit to retun to the Emirates (a year late for all Gooners) and I am sure abuse will be hurled his way as anti-Cole chants have been sung at games having no link to him whatsoever. Therefore should he make an appearance, prepare for bedlam! Spurs are 18th with 7 points from 10 games and Darren Bent has been relegated with every club hes been at - things are rosey if you are an Arsenal fan right now. Hopefully we get three points tonight and go into Sunday's crunch game on a high.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Yet another hard working performance kills off Bolton

This season has been a fantastic one so far with 11 wins in a row in all competitions. During this run there have been two main types of performance; one of beauty and one of grit and determination. Each type of victory is equally satisfying but I think I am doing certain performances a disjustice. Beating Derby County by 5 goals was a brilliant performance but although we had to dig deep against West Ham, we were able to play some excellent football at times. My main point here is that we have been able to dig out results when it is needed, while being able to kill off teams with some wonderful football at the same time, something we could not do so well last season. The Bolton match was definitely a scrappy affair but in no way was it our fault. The way Bolton set up, the game was never going to be a free flowing encounter as they denied us any real room to play. We got the result once more and in the end we were comfortable but there were a few things that worried me and a few things that really pleased me. The negatives first.

Cesc Fabregas has been in scintillating form of late but yesterday it seemed he was wound up very easily. Having been booked Cesc made a challenge that could easily have led to his second yellow card and an early bath. The main problem was that he was not able to dictate the play. I hope this was not an example of what is to come when he is played out of the game. He seemed to lose his flow and was limited to flashes of brilliance. I know we expect so much from him but my qualm is not to do with his play but his temper. All players have games where they are not able to stamp their authority but it is how they deal with it. I dont mind Fabregas getting stuck into challenges but when it borders on the reckless side of things I see he still has growing up to do. I would much prefer he did the simple things while allowing his team mates to do the pressing. If a team looks to isolate Fabregas it will leave space for others and it is important Fabregas uses his movement and quick thinking to help the team.

My next worry is about Eduardo. He started well in his first games and got a few goals off the bench. He has not yet transformed his International form into his Arsenal form as yet and right now seems like he has a bit more work than expected to settle into the English League. I know he needs time but yesterday he was pushed off the ball too easily and seemed a little off the pace at times. I understand he is working back from injury and will get used to the pace with minutes on the pitch but our next games in the League are as big as they come and Edaurdo will have to be in top of his game if we are to get something out of this. I am sure Wenger was planning to go into these games with Van Persie alongside Adebayor but as this is no longer possible we have to trust Eduardo to come good. Hopefully Slavia Prague in midweek will act as a confidence booster!

On the subject of players back from injury I will go easy on Gallas. Yesterday he was clearly lacking in match fitness but worryingly he lost every header against Kevin Davies. I know Davies will win headers against most centre backs but I have always been worried about Toure and Gallas as a partnership. Neither is particularly good in the air and although they attack the ball well, when under intense aerial pressure we are never comfortable. Liverpool will definitely test us in this area and they will have to stand up and be counted. Manchester United will be a threat at corners but hopefully we will deal with that as we have done all season.

I feel like I'm dwelling on too many negatives considering we won the game but I felt there are always things that can be addressed. However I will now move onto the positives. Wenger made changes on 60 minutes and both the players introduced showed the depth in our squad. Rosicky is back from injury and in my opinion he is so important to our team, for many reasons. Him and Hleb have a great understanding and when they play together their link up play really springs us forward. He also takes pressure off Fabregas as the main playmaker. Fabregas likes to sit and dictate play whereas Rosicky is much more direct. He likes to drive with the ball and draws defenders, leaving space for Cesc to move into and weave his magic. I also mentioned Hleb in relation to Rosicky but I feel he deserves recognition for his own play. The ease with which he can dribble past players and get out of tight corners is so useful. He can make something happen in a split second and has looked a very different player this season compared to last. He has a bit more purpose in his play and has been far more consistent.

The other substitute finally showed what he can do on a regular basis. Theo Walcott has blown hot and cold with Arsenal but recently he has been more consistent. For the second game running he has come off the bench to change the game. His pace worried Bolton and the way he glided past defenders was brilliant to see. He wanted to get behind players, dribble passed them and was always looking to make a scoring chance. This was all perfectly shown with the second goal. His run was timed to perfection to get him in on goal. A great first touch was followed by calm footwork and a perfect cross for Rosicky to sweep home. He replaced the very poor Eboue and showed why he does deserve a start very soon. Wednesday would be a perfect match for him to show his credentials once more.

I know I have picked out small things in what is a great result. Bolton were once our 'bogey' team but we have won the last 3 encounters and seem to know how to beat such opposition now. It took a great strike from Toure before Walcott's moment of magic to kill of Bolton. However we kept going and never changed the way we played. We didn't look too uncomfortable at the back as Davies had noone to head the ball down to. Liverpool and Manchester United will be a far different prospect and I for one cannot wait for next Sunday. However one game at a time and 3 points in midweek will almost guarantee our place in the knockout phase of the Champions League.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

What's Going on in the World of Arsenal???

Arsenal’s last game was over a week ago – 8 days to be precise – and I cannot wait for the Bolton match on Saturday. Top of the table fever has hit me. Don’t get me wrong last season I looked forward to every match but this season there is something new; there is an expectation, a real belief that we will win matches. Last season such confidence was not so visible around Arsenal FC. We went behind so many times in games and this coupled with our indifferent form in front of goal meant fans were never sure whether 3 points were a guarantee. Now with 10 wins in a row the self-belief that was present during the “Invincibles” season has returned. Not for one minute am I saying this team can or will re produce this feat, I am not sure if we will even win the title but right now we are winning, and doing it in style and I’m loving it.

The International Break has been very boring. England dealt with mediocre opposition and with Football overshadowed by Rugby last weekend – rightly so – I can’t wait to get back into the thrill that is a Saturday afternoon 3pm kick off in the Premier League. Like many Arsenal fans I will hope for a home win coupled with an English victory across the channel in the stadium Arsenal fans spent a night of highs and lows not so long ago. Hopefully Saturday’s final will have less controversy and England will win a fantastic and clean match of Rugby.

That’s enough of rugby on a Football Blog; so what of Arsenal players during the last set of matches. I will concentrate solely on the ones with an interest attached to them. First of all, Jens Lehmann played a full match for the Germans and looked in good form. IT seems being dropped has hurt him and he is determined to get his place back. This can only be good for the squad; two keepers fighting it out for the no.1 jersey spells healthy competition. William Gallas did not turn out for France on Saturday but is on the road to recovery. It is unlikely he will be fit for their match midweek but may be required for Arsenal’s next match with Senderos injuring himself with Switzerland. The Arsenal injury curse seems to be hitting home again with Tomas Rosicky still nursing a knock. On a positive note Eduardo scored once again for Croatia. His record of 10 goals in 10 qualifiers is fantastic and hopefully soon he will recreate this for the Gunners. He is pushing for a start and may get it on Saturday.

That leads me onto the subject of strikers: Adebayor will not be leaving us in January after Togo failed to reach the African Cup of Nations. Although I am gutted for Adebayor as he does love his native country, as an Arsenal fan I am delighted. His form this season has been outstanding and the partnership with Van Persie is really developing. Once Eduardo fully settles these 3 can be a real handful this season. As for Nicklas Bendtner, well his chances will have decreased after the news of Togo’s failure to qualify. He would have been counting on having a run of games during this period. Now he may have to settle for a starting place in the Carling and FA Cup. He has recently come out and said:

“It's obvious that I don't want to sit on the bench for two years"

Many Arsenal fans have slated the young striker for these comments. However this needs closer inspection. Any player would be disgruntled should they be on the bench for 2-3 years. The guy is rated highly by Wenger and this was proved with a 5 year contract. I am sure within this time Bendtner will get more chances and once Wenger has had time to help his game then his fears now will be unfounded. Critically with Bendtner he is a full international and it is hard to come back and be on the bench. However if he wants to be in a top team he will have to bide his time. His coach has called for him to play more but right now it is best he gets the odd chance while Wenger tries to mould him like he has done so many others. Before you slate him look at exactly what he is saying and not judge solely based on previous, ill advised outbursts.

A contrast which will not help Bendtner’s case is the example set by Armand Traore:

“I think I am going to stay at Arsenal and still try to keep improving every day in training. I wanted to do that rather than go on loan, but when I speak to the manager and if he tells me that it has to be done, then of course it will be done.”

This is the kind of attitude Arsenal fans love, one of hard work and dedication. Like Bendtner he is young but he is arguably more humble than and not as arrogant as Bendtner. He knows he is not first choice right now but with a lot of effort can push Clichy for the left back slot. Traore has skill, pace, a good final ball and powerful shot. In my opinion it would be interesting to try him on the left of midfield. We have no natural winger in the first team squad and with Rosicky injured it would be interesting to see how he does. Eboue was given a chance out on the right, could it work on the left aswell? He is one of the best prospects I personally have seen in a while and will watch his development very closely.

I couldn’t write this update without looking at the transfer rumours of the last week. Ever since we released our new profits we have been linked with lots more players than is usual during October. Wenger stated he would have preferred to label Arsenal “poor” just so we are not held to ransom. In one week we have been linked with Miguel Veloso and a price of £20million has been quoted. If Veloso was to come in it would surely spell the end for Gilberto. Wenger has already added to his vast array of central midfielders and with Veloso playing the natural defensive midfield role the trusted Brazilian would surely have to move on to get frequent first team football. The versatility of the young Portuguese man is the main attraction. He has the ability to play all across the back four and in midfield. Hatem Ben Arfa has been rumoured to be on his way. A £10million fee is supposed to have been agreed already by Arsenal and Lyon. A winger is needed in the squad for me and Ben Arfa fits the bill. He is young, adaptable, if you like a typical Wenger signing. One problem is that he and Abou Diaby do NOT get on one bit. A winger would however be welcome in January.

Oh yeah before I forget, Yohan Mollo has been linked also. No surprise Spurs are rumoured to be interested aswell, they always are when Arsenal supposedly want a young player.

Now all that is left to do is wait for Saturday, pray there are no fresh injuries after Wednesday night and wait for more transfer rumours that will more than likely never ever happen.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

We can sign big players – lets get out of the mindset that we can’t!

During the last few days I have seen us linked with a few players; Micah Richards, Robert Green, Martin Caceres and Kaka. There are some things I would like to analyse following these rumours. Having visited a few forums to get the lo-down on what Gooners think about these perspective signings (?) I noticed a few things; the first one being their views on possible transfer fees. Many value Richards around the £20 million mark and to me this is a fair price. The guy is young and the level of quality he has now can only improve. He will be a fantastic defender for years to come and class comes at a price. Rio Ferdinand moved to Manchester United for just over £30 million and this emphasises the money required to improve teams right now. I know Wenger has a great track record with finding young talents. However he would be hard picked to find one with the same ability of Richards at such a tender age. Wenger said he would sign a player if he wanted him and he had the right quality and the board had his backing money wise. No wonder with cash turnover of around £70 million!

The Kaka rumour is more of a small statement that he likes Arsenal. Quoted as saying: “I like Arsenal” should he ever consider a move from the San Siro. Not for one minute am I saying we will get Kaka but this rumour leads me onto my next point. I quote here from one forum:

“Kaka wouldn't come to us anyway; it’s a pipedream if you think we'll be in the race to sign him should he ever leave AC Milan”
“Barcelona, Real Madrid - They are the stumbling blocks of any English team that has wet dreams of Kaka”

This mindset is present in quite a few Arsenal fans’ minds and it annoys me to boiling point. 4 years ago kaka would not have joined us because we could not afford the transfer fee. Now we can afford such a figure and that is the first problem out of the way. Kaka said “Chelsea and Liverpool are more tactically-oriented; they base themselves on solidity and organisation. They are maybe less creative.” Kaka is a fantastic footballer and is currently in a brilliant team that knows how to play Football. Arsenal knows how to play better than anyone on their day and this would appeal to Kaka. He would fit perfectly into our slick passing and fast moving side and it seems he knows it. Again this is another reason Arsenal stands out. If he wants to come to the Premiership that rules out these supposed “stumbling blocks” and with Arsenal’s new found wealth we are very much near if not at the front of the running to sign him. Again I don’t want to sound like I think we will sign Kaka but I am trying to put the point across that we are able to sign such players. We have the resources, talented players are already in place, and a great manager who is settled at the club; what makes other clubs more viable options?

When Arsenal released their economic statistics for the past year I wasn’t surprised we were suddenly linked with more players than normal during September and October. I decided to look at who is out there that could improve our team and why we would sign them. With Jens Lehmann seemingly discontent at the club he may well leave during the next transfer window. Who is out there as a possible signing? Again I emphasise this is not who I think we will sign but who I personally wouldn’t mind seeing at the club:

Robert Green – The News of the World linked us to Green with a fee of £6million pounds quoted. This is not a bad price for a decent keeper. His last two appearances against Arsenal have been outstanding; he was the sole reason they grabbed a 1-0 victory at the Emirates last season and kept the game alive recently at Upton Park. Green has always had potential and is a good shot stopper but he is prone to an error and his ability at crosses can be brought into question.

Gianluigi Buffon – The Italian keeper stayed loyal to Juventus when they were relegated but it seems they have been struggling this season and are not in Europe. For a keeper of Buffon’s standards not playing in Europe is something very strange. The price would not be too high for these reasons. He may want a new challenge and to go to a team in Europe would be a necessity. Arsenal are on the look out for a keeper until Fabianski has got to the high standards the club expect, Buffon is the perfect age and his quality is unquestionable.

Jussi Jaaskelainen – out of contract in the summer, adapted to the Premier League and a quality shot stopper. He has been a key part of Bolton over the years but is rumoured to be looking for a new challenge at a bigger club. With Bolton struggling it is unlikely he will remain at the Reebok. He could be a clever signing, either in January for a small fee or in the summer for nothing

At the back the jury is still out on whether Senderos has enough to cope in the Premiership. Many times his lack of pace has been exploited and I will look here at possible signings who are maybe more adept to the English league: Micah Richards I have mentioned above

Micah Richards – I have mentioned him above but will reinforce his attributes – pace, strength, power, aerial ability and amazing work rate.

Vincent Kompany – Playing his football at Hamburg he has done the sensible thing in taking his career slowly. He has moved up the ladder gradually and soon will want to move to a bigger club. Like Richards he has pace and strength and good timing in the tackle. He has the attributes to fit the English game.

We are full in the central midfield department but out wide we may lack something. There is sometimes a lack of balance on the left as we have no natural left footed winger who will get to the byline and whip crosses in to the box. The way Wenger likes to play with an attacking midfield player playing out there and cutting in works well but sometimes I feel we need another option. So who’s out there?

Morten Gamst Pedersen – Blackburn are out of Europe and are never likely to break in to the top four. Pedersen is their main creator, with his crossing and dead ball skills. He can go past his man and pass the ball around with ease. He has adapted to the Premier League already and should he want a bigger challenge the fee would not be as high as possible other targets.

Mancini – The Brazilian has shined in Roma’s team over the last year or two. He has brilliant skill on the ball and is playing in a good football playing side. He would fit our style and isn’t afraid to take a knock, so it seems in the few games I’ve seen of him.

Up front we have four strikers; five if you include Walcott. If Bendtner decides to move on (as reports suggest) then Wenger will probably look to bring another player in:

Diego Milito – Signed permanently by Zaragoza because of his fantastic record in La Liga last season. He scores goals for fun and is a poacher. He can score headers, scrappy goals and beautiful goals.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar – The Ajax forward will surely jump at the chance to move to a top European side and test himself in a league of a higher standard. His record in Holland is second to none and the guy has done it at International level aswell. He could have the same affect Van Nistelrooy had on the goal scoring charts over here. As a Gooner I hate to say this impact was a very good one!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

"One game at a time" - So important

Today’s game highlighted the importance of “one game at a time”. Many Arsenal fans are already talking about the upcoming fixtures against Manchester United and Liverpool. They mention going into this games full of confidence with a gap on the two teams. They are assuming we will win the two games previous to this. We have won the first one today but my god was it close. Yes, we are still top of the league and have now won 10 games in a row in all competitions but it could have been so different. Having raced into a two goal lead the players seem to take their foot of the pedal a bit and let Sunderland back into it. I would like to hope this was not arrogance on our part but it did seem the players maybe thought they had done enough. As a player Roy Keane never gave up and as a manager he has instilled the same attitude in his players. They got one back before half time rather fortuitously but then threatened a few times before getting the equaliser just after the re-start. From then the game was on a knife edge and could have gone either way but Arsenal ground out another result and could have had more goals with a bit more luck.

The game began in blistering fashion with Adebayor hitting a shot just over after just 25 seconds and this set the tone for the match. Fabregas was brought down just outside the box when threatening to shoot. Had the ref waited a few seconds he would have seen Diaby come onto the ball and rifle it into the net but the free kick had already been given. The Arsenal fans complained about the lack of advantage but it did not matter. Van Persie jogged up and blasted the ball past Gordon and in off the bar. The shot had so much power that, even though very close to Gordon – the keeper had no chance whatsoever as the ball cannoned in off the bar. That goal was a perfect example of perfect technique and power but the second goal shortly after was very much the opposite. Adebayor collected the ball after it was cleared from the corner and knocked it back into the box. Diaby attempted a back heel that was never going to work and Senderos stuck out his left leg. He managed to divert the ball goal-bound and caught Gordon flat footed as the ball simply rolled agonisingly into the bottom corner. When this goal came it seemed it could be a real hammering. This theory seemed correct when Diaby finished emphatically at the back post after a Hleb pull back only for the linesman to raise his flag. The decision had to be against Flamini who was running into the middle but this was a very close decision that could have gone either way.

This decision changed the game. Minutes later Sunderland scored a goal very much against the run of play and it was an Arsenal mistake that let them in. Clichy misjudged a ball over the top towards Jones. The striker took it down well and raced in on goal but his effort was well blocked by Almunia. However the ball fell kindly to Wallace who went passed one defender to slot into the net as Almunia attempted to recover his position. Arsenal seemed to put this behind them and Van Persie was denied by Gordon. His blistering 30-yard drive was tipped over brilliantly just before Senderos headed wide from the resulting corner when he should have done better. With the game balanced at 2-1 at half time there were two ways the game could have gone: Arsenal could go on to win comfortably or Sunderland would make it tricky. Unfortunately it was the second outcome that materialised. Kenwyne Jones equalised 3 minutes into the second half when Arsenal seemed half asleep. This is the arrogance I mentioned. The Arsenal players did not seem like they came out for the second half ready for the fight that was to come. Eventually they settled and the game became very tense with both teams having chances; Arsenal far more than the visitors.

Fabregas was closed down well but was also quite wasteful with possession and very unlike his current form. Flamini looked tired and Diaby did not look at the races after his two disallowed goals. Hleb was always threatening aswell as Robin Van Persie. He threatened once more and saw a deflected shot roll infuriatingly wide of the post. Kolo Toure then ambled into the Sunderland half and from what seemed like 35 yards he rifled in a shot at goal. The ball rose all the way and had Gordon beaten all ends up but rattled the post and the rebound just evaded an incoming Adebayor and went to safety. This propelled Wenger into action as he replaced Diaby and Sagna with Walcott and Eboue respectively. This added pace to our game and Walcott in particular changed the game. Sunderland were stretched and chances started to come and a glorious chance fell to Fabregas but he chose to pass when s shot was by far the better option. Van Persie and Walcott screwed decent chances wide. They were both to redeem themselves minutes later though as they combined for Arsenal’s winner.

With ten minutes left Eboue fed Walcott who skipped past his marker superbly before playing in Van Persie. His first touch was perfect and he finished off the flowing move. Both of Van Persie’s goals were exemplars of perfect skill and technique with both power and finesse. Like against Steaua Van Persie was our match winner and showed why Wenger had faith in him to sell Thierry Henry. Wenger withdrew the match winner and he received a standing ovation. The most pleasing thing however was to see Walcott’s performance however short. There is no doubt he changed the game as he went passed players with ease and used his pace to great effect. The only thing left for Theo to do is get some consistency in his game and try and nail down a starting place.

The game was not over by any means. As Sunderland had shown before their attitude is spot on and respect to them for this. Most teams would crumble after going 2-0 down away at Arsenal after only 15 minutes. Many opposing players would drop their heads after Van Persie’s second but not Sunderland. They broke straight from the kick off and Almunia had to be alert to tip over a dipping effort from Miller. Almunia had taken two knocks to the head and admirably carried on to save us towards the end; his second knock coming from one very good and brave save. The game was end to end and Arsenal could put it to bed as Adebayor broke after a fine Walcott pass saw him attacking the defender one on one. He beat his man and rolled the ball just wide when looking for the far corner. Walcott then hit the post after what was yet another fluid move from Arsenal. A goal for Theo would have put the icing on the cake for what was a buzzing substitute’s appearance.

Just before the final whistle Sunderland were down to ten men after what seemed a kick on Hleb and the ref did not hesitate to send McShane off right in front of his manager which led Arsenal fans to aim a chant towards Keane; “Just like your manager!” This was the first real time the home fans reminded Keane of his past antics on the pitch. As the final whistle arrived “We are top of the League” rang out around the Emirates as we went back to the top with a two point gap once again. This game did show that every game is important and the matches against our rivals are still a long way off yet. We go into the small international break and hopefully won’t pick up any injuries. Changes may be made for the next game as there were some players who did not perform and others that deserve a chance. I would expect us to beat Bolton at home in two weeks but it will not be an easy game. If we play to our best throughout the game however Bolton will not have enough to stop us.

Arsenal vs Sunderland - Match Preview

When asked who he could face if Roy Keane could come back for one match, he answered Arsenal. The battles he had with members of our past midfield were always anticipated. Roy Keane and Patrick Vieria did not get on but respected each other on the pitch. I doubt we will see similar antics between “Keano” and our current midfield but the game could get tasty. Sunderland will try to frustrate us and stop us at all costs, whatever the method. Abou Diaby is also out to get revenge for the horror tackle of a year ago! Roy Keane also raised a good point. Why are there only 2 games at 3pm on a Saturday? The match tomorrow is at noon which is far too early; we should still be in bed at this time. It just shows the affect television is having.

As for the team line up I think it will line up similar to the Steaua game. We are playing well and will the team chosen for Chigwell by Wenger be chosen at random. Gallas and Rosicky have returned to training which is good news as they are both very important to the team/squad. Lehmann has also come back but right now is not needed with Almunia doing well. None of these will probably start on Saturday. Fabregas and Flamini are a combination that should not be altered as it is working brilliantly now. Hleb is coming into some form but Wenger has to decide whether to play with Walcott, Eboue or Diaby on the other flank. Walcott needs some match practice and confidence and he will get that by match practice.

Up front Adebayor and Van Persie are working very well so again why change it? There is no good reason. I would like to see Bendtner and Eduardo get some time tomorrow if fit and selected. They have shown potential and need time to turn this into some good form. The strikers will be key; they will have to work hard but if they do this and link up well then they will have chances to get goals and dominate the centre backs. They will be tough players and will look to frustrate us. If we just stick to the principles and keep concentration at the back then there’s no reason why we cant win.
To sum up: a kick off too early, a possibly frustrating game and hopefully three points.
I’m sure many Gooners will want to get one over old “Keano”

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Not a pretty performance but 3 points all the same

As one commentator said, Saturday’s visit to Upton Park was a “man’s game” and tonight was exactly the same. Like that game we also won 1-0 and I for one am delighted. It shows once more we can win dirty when we need to. Tonight was not a pretty performance in any sense but it was never going to be. Arsenal’s record in Eastern Europe read: P 6 L 5 D 1 W 0 F 3 A 14 and this game would always be scrappy. We kept the ball quite well even though we lacked something in the final third. The defence stood firm except for a few instances where they attempted to contrive against one another. The game was pretty uneventful. The first half produced one real attempt on target and that was from Flamini but was well saved. Fabregas should have scored but blasted high from 6 yards. The goal itself came after good work from Adebayor who put the ball in the danger area where Van Persie pounced like all good strikers should to fire the ball into the roof of the net – job done!

I won’t concentrate on match highlights as they weren’t many but will look at specific things. In defence Senderos was excellent. He was part of our back four in the run to the Champions League final. Tonight he brought back memories of the quality of his play back then. His positioning was excellent and he won everything in the air. He does seem more suited to the European game and this was highlighted when he was exposed due to lack of pace. This happens a lot in the Premiership and Toure bailed him out counteless times. Toure headed off the line to rescue Almunia after the goalkeeper left his post to clear. He is Arsenal’s “Mr Reliable” and was consistent as ever.

Sagna and Eboue worked quite well on the right and covered for the other when necessary. Eboue is still settling into his new positon but has the attributes to succeed there. Hleb on the other wing was our biggest threat. His passing was accurate as ever and his tight ball control gave him so much more room to look for openings. Arsenal's best moments came from Hleb. Fabregas was not his usual self but we expect so much from him that when he doesnt stand out it seems he hasn't played that well. He did his work efficiently and didnt put a foot wrong except for his glaring miss. Like Fabregas, Adebayor and Van Persie have taken the plaudits this season but they were also a bit lethargic tonight. Their movement was quite poor and Adebayor especially did not seem to be completely awake. He had chances to get in behind but didn't seem to be up for the chase at times. He was offside too many times but he was ready when it mattered and set up Van Persie for the winner. Van Persie showed flashes of his talent but he must stamp his auhtority a bit more when others are failing to do so.

One man that deserves a mention is Flamini. He nearly left the vclub in the summer and many fans would not have looked twice. However he stayed to try and take his chance and he has done so to full effect. He does the dirty work and adds grit to our midfield. He has kept a World Cup Winner out of the team and given Fabregas license to attack with the security behind him. He is un-droppable right now and Wenger for one must be delighted.

We didn't play amazingly tonight but the result was what mattered. There were a few shaky moments at the back, mainly self inflicted but they can be ironed out. Before this game we have looked lively up front so I am sure tonight's sluggishness is simply a one off. We have now won 9 games in a row and go into Sunday's game full of confidence.