Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Arsenal 3 Newcastle 0 - back to the top after a pretty easy game

Same opposition, same result and it was nice to see our form improving once again. The Tottenham result seems to have helped us a bit and we are finally playing the football we played at the start of the season. We are dominating games again and have our ruthless streak back. It is perfect timing with Man Utd and Milan coming up soon and the run in starts now.

Once more one man stood out. Whereas Adebayor was the main man on Saturday, tonight Mathieu Flamini was awesome. We associate Flamini's game with hard tackling and platforms for the more attacking players to do their thing. Tonight Flamini combined both of these aspects of midfield play to great effect. Sign him up now!

Even before his galloping run through the Newcastle ranks, he had been getting into the box and into dangerous positions. However, his drive and positivity to get beyond the defence of Newcastle to create the first goal was fantastic to see; something Theo could learn! He added skill with power and delivered the perfect cross for any striker. It left Ade two yards out with the easy job of just connecting with the ball. He did not have to generate any power on the ball and could not miss. There was a reason Fabregas went straight to Flamini rather than Adebayor, the scorer had been given a present.

Flamini basically outshone Fabregas and Hleb in the midfield but they both linked up well. Cesc pushed on further as many fans have wanted him to and came so close to opening Newcastle up with some delightful passes. It was nice to see him on the scoresheet again, the first time since the Man Utd game on November 3rd. Hleb showed some great skill and passing but he does need to shoot sometimes, especially when it's teed up on a plate 12 yards out.

Hleb started on the right as expected but what I picked out was how well Fabregas played from the right. He had the same role towards the end on Saturday and had plenty more freedom to dictate play in a less congested area. Today he did the same and got into two great scoring opportunities within minutes of moving out there. I remember his early first team career and in a lot of those games similar things happened. With injuries to Rosicky and maybe Diaby, it is a thought for Wenger if he wants to start Gilberto (god forbid!) but towards the end of games when we need control it could be an interesting tactic.

Diaby is getting better as he gets games. He passed the ball far quicker today and used his strength to great effect. He is due to sign a new contract according to arsenal.com and I would like to see him infield at some point, maybe with Cesc on the right? Would be a change worth looking at in my opinion.

The back four were largely untroubled, a few dodgy and unnecessary moments aside, Newcastle posed little threat until the last 5 minutes and Senderos again had a dominant game. The full backs were especially good. Given the freedom to get forward, they did not disappoint and put in some tasty crosses, especially Sagna. Almunia was untested for most of the game but held on well when Ameobi finally tested him. His positioning for the freekick on the edge of the box bemused me a bit, he was so far across towards his left post, any lower and the ball was in. No matter, the game was won I guess.

Although he did not light up the game like Saturday, Adebayor still led the line brilliantly and was a menace throughout. He has now scored in 7 games in a row and long may it continue. Eduardo was not on his best form but showed glimpses of his best play. It will be interesting when Van Persie returns (2-3 weeks apparently - that means 2 months probably). Nicklas Bendtner also did well when he came on, setting up Cesc perfectly for the goal and winning the ball in the air a few times. It seems Adebayor and Bendtner have made up; head butts were not the order of service at the Emirates.

We are back to the top of the league for 24 hours at least but we have to keep trying to close down the goal difference. Roll on City on Saturday and nice to see the team playing well again

Monday, 28 January 2008

Man Utd - FA Cup (a) and Milan (h) - two key games (Newcastle Preview)

The FA Cup draw has been completed and we have been dealt the worst possible draw. Before the game I thought we would get either Manchester United or Chelsea, however I had a feeling it would be at the Emirates. It is just our luck we would draw the team playing brilliant football in their own backyard. We have had rotten draws this season with AC Milan in the Champions League and having to play Spurs at home in the first leg (I still feel that was a major disadvantage).

Man Utd have only lost once at home this season and that was against Coventry in the Carling Cup. Apart from that game they have been pretty lethal at home and having to go up there so close to the Milan game is a real disappointment. I tell you now; bringing them back to the Emirates with a draw could be a fantastic result.
Many will look to March and April as our most important months of the season; however I want to point out something else to you.

First of all, here are the most important fixtures during March and April:

Tuesday, 04 March 2008
UEFA Champions League
AC Milan v Arsenal, R1, L2, 19:45

Sunday, 23 March 2008
Barclays Premier League
Chelsea v Arsenal, 16:00

Saturday, 05 April 2008
Barclays Premier League
Arsenal v Liverpool, 15:00

Saturday, 12 April 2008
Barclays Premier League
Man Utd v Arsenal, 15:00

It is clear why this will be a critical period. It will determine our future in the Champions League and also give an obvious indication whether we can challenge for the Premier League and take the title race to the wire. It is perfectly understandable then that this period sticks out like a bad smell. However I point out to you these two fixtures, within one week of each other:

They are both cup games but the bearing they may have on the season as a whole is massive.

Saturday, 16 February 2008
The FA Cup sponsored by E.ON
Man Utd v Arsenal, R5,

Wednesday, 20 February 2008
UEFA Champions League
Arsenal v AC Milan, R1, L1, 19:45

The Cup game could not have come at a worse time. Before the Milan game an easier tie would have made such a difference. Wenger would have had the opportunity to rotate his team slightly and prepare the team that was due to play in midweek. Now, Wenger will have to play his best available team for both if he is serious about winning these trophies. The players will have a gruelling trip up North with only 3 days until the next game. I am positive both clubs will fight for a Saturday kick-off seeing as both are in action on the Wednesday. A Sunday fixture will affect preparation for these massive games.

I have not really got to my main point yet and that is if we lose both of these games. We will be out of the FA Cup and likely to be heading out of Europe as well. This would leave one sole trophy to fight for and there is no assumption we can win that. Going out of both competitions could see the season derail completely. It has happened before to many teams and one would solely hope that this team could bounce back. They have done it before but it would knock confidence massively.

The games in March were key games but the two fixtures above play a massive part going into these. I guess you can turn the argument around and say that should we lose both of these, the focus would be on one sole piece of silverware and there would be no distractions when pursuing this trophy. Every game would be put towards winning the League and there would be no place for a lack of focus. It may not affect us as much as I fear.

Reading back over what I have just written, it does sound like I’ve admitted defeat and the ties are next month. That must show the enormity of these matches but also the confidence boost we could get from winning them both. If we win at Old Trafford it could prove to be a catalyst for a good run of results with confidence sky high. We would go into the Milan game fearing no team and we would go to the San Siro in March and back to Old Trafford in April with a massive psychological boost over Manchester United and Milan.

This just shows the balance Football can have. A victory here can change a season for the good, a defeat there can derail a team in their title pursuit.

We do however need to be in the running for the title come February and March. That means that every game counts from here on in and that starts tomorrow evening with the visit of Newcastle for the second game running. The 3-0 win on Saturday will no doubt give the players an advantage over Keegan's side but it could still be a tricky tie. Newcastle showed some good moments of play in the Cup and could have taken the lead on two occasions.

We did see however that when we attack them with pace and power we can brush them aside. The more we got our fast passing game going we looked a far more threatening side. Two of our goals were brilliantly taken by Adebayor but Eduardo played a big part in two of the three and is fast settling into the side. His partnership is developing well with Adebayor and they could be crucial in the coming months. He will start the game tomorrow night as opposed to being on the bench like Saturday.

Tomas Rosicky's injury is not serious according to Arsene Wenger. I would not rely on him being back soon as Wenger has often been wrong regarding injury lay offs. Hleb will come in for Rosicky and it depends if Theo keeps faith with Diaby or Walcott. Wenger has said he will play Theo on the wing if needed - a quick backtrack from last week's comments. He could play him on the right with Hleb left. Personally, Hleb is better on the left for me than the right but it depends if Diaby is going to play or not. He does struggle on the left but would be even worse on the right.

He has no left foot so cuts in more centrally when on the left. To cut inside from the right he would need a left foot so if Wenger refuses to play him in the centre, the left is the only option. I think Diaby will be the man to start tomorrow with Hleb on the right. Fabregas came into the game more in the second half as he pushed into more advanced and more dangerous positions. I would like him to do this from the off tomorrow.

Mathieu Flamini was brilliant in his role. He got in some crunching tackles and refused to let Newcastle get out of their half as the game drew on. I just hope he signs his new contract soon as it could be a massive blow to lose him in the summer.

Clichy, Senderos and Gallas will keep their place but Bakary Sagna will return replacing Justin Hoyte. Duff played well in the first half on Saturday and will be a threat. Sagna is a better defender than Hoyte and will added extra security to the back. The other three just need to play the way they did in the last game and we should be ok at the back. Philippe Senderos especially impressed me. We will also see Manuel Almunia returning to the side in place of Jens Lehmann.


In other news: Robin Van Persie has returned to training. I am not that excited right now as he has done this three times already this season, only to be laid off again very soon afterwards. We will see soon if he has put his injury behind him. Right now though, he is third choice striker.

Luke Freeman made his debut for the reserves yesterday and the move has not received much media. I wonder if this is due to the media coverage when Walcott signed. Wenger will be keen to keep this on the down low so as not to over hype this young footballer.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Arsenal 3 Newcastle 0 - it was well and truly put right with an Ade brace

Everyone knew the players needed to produce a performance far better than the one on Tuesday night. We also knew a win was necessary after such a drubbing. Anything but a victory could begin to set in doubts over a mini collapse and dip in results. We needed to put The Carling Cup firmly behind us and the opportunity to continue a different journey to Wembley was the perfect opportunity to do this. The away fans were happy to remind us of our defeat but it is Newcastle that have no chance of a Wembley final, any final at that matter.

Newcastle had been the first team to fall to the second string in the Carling Cup this season and having had that run abruptly halted, it seemed almost appropriate to start this one with the same team. With Kevin Keegan back the Geordies are aiming for a new start and Arsenal were aiming to kick start a string of victories to get the season moving again; once more a meeting that seemed appropriate at this time.

After rotating his squad for the Spurs game it was interesting to see how Wenger would set up. He could have left the team with similar personnel but after such a humiliation it was a risk with confidence definitely low. Lehmann was always going to start in goal. For me, after his comments he does not deserve to be guaranteed a starting place in such a big cup competition. Hoyte reverted to right back where he is more comfortable and Senderos took his place inside. We welcomed Clichy back into the side with Gallas once more leading the back four.

Jens Lehmann. After his outspoken views he really has something to prove and for me today he did not do anything near enough to show why he should play ahead of Almunia. His kicking was dreadful; aiming the ball towards our smallest player in Theo Walcott or kicking it straight back to Newcastle. His positioning was poor when Taylor was played in by Duff; the centre back had a difficult decision to make but having seen Lehmann come towards him the looping header was the right option. Had the header been accurate Lehmann would have been left embarrassed. His general dominance at set pieces was non-existent and that led to the odd goal mouth scramble.

Gael Clichy made a massive difference today; as our only natural width he got forward on countless occasions and defended very well. His crossing has improved greatly recently and the right footed cross for Adebayor was perfect, pace, accuracy and venom - a defender's nightmare. Justin Hoyte also had a good game; less adventurous going forward but very solid at the back and clearly more suitable to the right back slot as our second choice right full back behind Sagna.

Senderos knows this is his time to shine and in this he was solid and started to show his best form. He has never been that consistent in an Arsenal shirt, mainly due to the fact that any sort of time out of the team sets him back to square one. He won every header in the air and had Owen in his pocket all game. The only time I worry over him is when he is faced with raw pace and/or brute strength; these have been his weaknesses in the past but Owen posed no threat of this kind.

Mathieu Flamini showed us what we missed in midweek. He got stuck into challenges and won the ball an awful lot with some crunching tackles taking ball and man. He gave Newcastle no time on the ball and once more indicated that he has played a part in the team's title bid this season. Sign him up long term now Mr Wenger!

We all know Cesc Fabregas has not been in the best of form lately and in the first half seemed to continue this dip. He had one tame effort on goal that really tested Newcastle but in the second half it was a different Cesc. His passing game got better as he tried more intricate passing as well as producing some amazing long passes. He dictated play as he pushed further up the field to link with the attackers. For me he has dropped too deep recently but against Newcastle he took up far more dangerous positions.

Wenger kept faith with Diaby and Walcott even after poor performances against Spurs. Walcott looked lost once again down the middle but got a chance out wide with Rosicky's injury (more of that later) but just as he has done recently was not at the level we want/expect from Theo. He seemed to lack purpose and often refused to attack his man when one v one. He needs to be more positive and take players on. Second half he came out a different player as he made life difficult for the full back until he was taken off.

Diaby, like Walcott had something to prove but at the start seemed to be on sedatives. He grew into the game and looked threatening when he came inside. He showed once more he is lost when hogging the left touchline and often dribbled into dead ends. When he took up positions infield he was a threat and showed why Wenger should give him a go in the centre. He powered through the midfield on a few occasions and his lovely dipping shot brought a fine save from Given. The one thing Diaby must improve though is his speed of thought; he seems to react slowly to pressure on the ball and often gets caught delaying a pass or simply refusing to pass the ball to a team mate.

So back to Tomas Rosicky - this guy's injury problems are getting ridiculous and worrying. He is so injury prone and rarely gets a run of 5 games without some sort of lay off. He makes a difference to our team with his drive and creativity and that shone through against Fulham but either he did not warm up properly or a worse problem has arisen. I have heard it's just precaution which I hope is true. Our squad is short and we need all the players fit and ready to play.

Eduardo benefited from Rosicky's departure as he was brought on to partner Adebayor. His movement is so clever and although he is not the quickest, this sharp thinking gets him into positions clinical strikers know about. He was so unlucky not to score today with his curling shot in the lead up to Ade's goal, a volley saved by Given and a shot brilliantly blocked by Cacapa. He is coming along really well and we are starting to forget the absence of Van Persie. His partnership with Ade really is blossoming.

Emmanuel Adebayor - is there a better striker in the Premier League right now. He has 18 goals this season for Arsenal and if he can keep this form up he will hit 25+ by the end of all competitions this season. His finishing is awesome right now, his strength and skill on the ball has come on leaps and bounds and he is firmly established as a fan's favourite. His spat with Bendtner has not affected him and today he made the right headlines.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Arsenal vs Newcastle (FA Cup) - Time to put it right

First and foremost, some great news. Having lost so badly to Spurs on Tuesday, the last thing we needed was for the FA to slap a ban on Adebayor after his "misunderstanding" with Bendtner. Adebayor has looked our main threat in goal recently and showed this with a goal within 10 minutes of coming on. If the FA saw enough to ban him it is likely it would be three games he would be unavailable for. This could have been a major hindrance at the current time.

Now to that little bust-up with Bendtner. I have to be honest and say I have not seen exactly what happened. It is clearly not serious enough for the FA to intervene but Wenger must act. The main culpret must be hit with a fine, not so much to affect their bank balance, but to show them it is unacceptable. Both players will have played a part I think and both should be hit with a fine of some sort, a day with the reserves even but what must happen is the fued must be sorted.

It is natural for two players competing for one position to dislike each other at times; the bottom line is that the other is aiming to dislodge his competition from the team sheet. This for me is healthy competition but when it flows onto the pitch as it did the other night, it has gone too far. Adebayor and Bendtner must get together with the manager and talk it through, air their feelings and try and get along. As I said, competition is good and as long as it goes no further ever again, it should be okay.

We all know Bendtner is a confident lad and will not back away from a fight. He believes he is good enough to start games more regularly. I like this confidence and arrogant swagger, it is something young Theo could develop; confidence plays a major part in Football and Bendtner has it in abundance. and it is Adebayor's job to show him why Wenger is not selecting him. However, as the more senior player, if Ade did provoke the squabble then he needs to have a real think. It was thoroughly unprofessional and to be frank, immature. He should know better and hopefully he shows the side of Adebayor we love this Saturday.

After losing 5-1 to Spurs (I know, it still sounds horrible) the lads need to get back to winning ways and put it behind us. The performance the other night was poor and although the team only contained 4 first teamers for the majority of the game, we are a united squad and as a whole we need to show that this defeat will not affect us. Newcastle will be up for this, FA Cup games can go any which way unless the better team is utterly professional. That is the exact performance we need this Saturday.

Considering that we are playing the Newcastle 3 days later in the League, the cup game could play a part for that game too. We need to keep the heat on United and anything less than a victory will give Newcastle a psycholigical advantage for that game. This game could show we can put a defeat behind us and play a part in the first part of our title run in.

Wenger will strengthen the team from Tuesday but I feel one or two of those who played will play again Saturday. Justin Hoyte may well play at right back to give Sagna a break after midweek. Lehmann will play in goal, Senderos at centre back and Clichy at left back. Wenger may go with Traore but with Milner the opponent he may fear a similar result as the one between Lennon and Traore.

Tomas Rosicky will play this Saturday having not featured in midweek. We missed someone with his drive and purpose against Tottenham and I am glad he will return. Flamini and Fabregas are likely to play in central midfield and Flamini will show drive and fight we also lacked on Tuesday. Fabregas did not have the effect Gooners hoped once he came on but to be fair he had little to work with until Adebayor and Eduardo came on.

Alex Hleb may well be rested which leaves a chance for Diaby should Wenger persist with him as a left sided midfield player. THIS DOES NOT WORK and must be scrapped. He is a central player and if Wenger wants to keep him, surely he must be given a chance inside at some point? I would much rather give Gibbs or Randall a game. Gibbs could play on the left with Rosicky right, or Randall can play on the right side of midfield, Rosicky on the left. I have mentioned these youngsters a lot but I feel it is about time Wenger bites the bullet and puts them in with a majority of the first choice line up.

Theo Walcott will not be going out on loan which dissappoints me. He is nowhere near ready for first team football at Arsenal yet but some experience could do him a world of good. He would get playing time as a striker and get regular games in the Premiership. Reports suggested Wenger was looking for a club to provide this; Wigan and Derby come straight to mind yet it seems a no go. He will not play this Saturday after a few pretty shocking performances. His confidence is very low and his technical level needs to rise.

Adebayor and Eduardo will probably start up front; we looked so far more potent with them on. Actually, we only looked like scoring when they were finally on the pitch. Eduardo has that ability to score at any moment and he linked the play with clever movement. Adebayor showed exactly what he is about with his goal, he has done it all season long. It is currently our best partnership with Van Persie seemingly made of glass. Wenger may punish Adebayor with a place on the bench with Bendtner starting with a partner who he can work with in Eduardo rather than a struggling Walcott.

I would not be surprised to see a staged hug whoever starts. Wenger will look to sub off Adebayor/Bendtner should we be in a comfortable position, with the other coming off the bench as the replacement. Wenger will want to put the incident to bed, even if he can only sort the public's view of the incident for now.

Before Tuesday's defeat I would have said we might see a similar team for Saturday but now it will be different I think. Wenger will not risk putting out a shattered team and whatever the club says, that defeat will have affected the players. He is likely to re-think and bring back some of those absent from the other night but it is quite hard to predict exactly who will be selected come Saturday afternoon. I will try and guess and go with this:


Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Spurs 5 Arsenal 1 (6-2) - embarrassing, lacklustre and downright horrible

You will read many a match report and blog tonight and tomorrow morning regarding how bad we were tonight, how humiliating it is to lose to Spurs and maybe the mistake Wenger made before the game. To be honest there is nothing more to say and it is hard to take any pleasure from a brilliant goal from Adebayor.

First thing's first, we did not have our full team out as Poyet suggested. Glberto has been out of the team all season and only Gallas and Sagna started on Saturday. Cesc played 80 minutes yes but the others are not regulars. IF the game mattered more to us than Tottenham, Almunia, Adebayor and Rosicky would have been there; at least those 3. The worst part is not the losing in a semi-final but the scoreline against Spurs of all teams.

Were there mistakes from Wenger? In my opinion yes there were. Hoyte was all at sea at the back and when he was alone at the end Gilberto did well at the back. It was a gamble having Hoyte alongside Gallas and it seemed it did not work. He did not close down Jenas for the first, lost Keane for the second and lost his battles tonight. It was a risk playing a right-back at centre back and for me we went wrong here.

Playing Gilberto at centre back would have provided the opportunity to play Flamini. I think he could have changed the whole complexion of the game. We lacked a man who was going to hassle and close down. They won the midfield battle and there is no way Flamini would have let Jenas get in that shot.

What was Fabianski doing for the 3rd goal? Awful keeping and made it game over.

Walcott was a passenger in his 60 minutes and Eduardo should have started the game. Walcott has a long way to go before he is ready for the big time. He was not strong enough and failed to stretch the Tottenham defence. Bendtner and Theo could not link up and the understanding Bendtner and Eddy had, it was not seen between the two that started tonight.

At 3-0 I feel Wenger should have played his cards. It would have given Eduardo and Adebayor 40 minutes to try and change the game. We saw the difference they made as we looked far more potent. The task of scoring 3 goals in the time they had was far too difficult, even for a man in such good form like Adebayor. Juande Ramos changed his system when Wenger did and I wonder if he would have done the same at 3-0 had Wenger brought on the big Guns.

Alex Hleb did not want to pass the simple ball. So many times he could have laid the ball off to Sagna to get the ball into the box early. Hleb wanted to thread the ball through the eye of the needle and it was not going to happen with Theo lacklustre and Bendtner having to come deep. Hleb caused problems with his sharp movement but took too long when he got on it. Would Rosicky have been a better bet for tonight?

Abou Diaby was exactly the same. He seems allergic to passing the ball. He will dribble into countless dead ends and only when he has no other choice will he make a pass. When he did get his head up and play the early ball he played some fantastic passes. He moved more centrally and looked far more effective there. If Wenger wants to play Diaby then he must play him in the middle. If he will not play Theo out wide then Diaby surely is the exact same?

When Denilson went off I thought the game was about to change with Cesc coming on. However, Fabregas did nothing special. His passing was neat and tidy but lacked penetration. He played some awful passes and was not given enough time. I will mention Spurs now as it seems the best moment. They did not give us any time and played the game of their season tonight. King and Dawson were great for them and Keane, Berbatov and Lennon killed our shaky defence. It was always going to happen, losing to them that it, but tonight was awful and embarrassing. Tottenham did deserve it, no one can even think about denying that.

Having scored two goals from crosses at Fulham, one would think the ball might come into the box quite a lot tonight. We had Sagna and Traore getting forward in support and both can deliver a good centre. I do not recall any cross of note entering the box. We simply refused to get it out there and send it into the box. Getting wide would have stretched their defence, whenever Hleb and Diaby stuck wide, gaps opened. The Arsenal way is brilliant when it works but tonight it fell to pieces; we needed to change it but did not.

I guess there is a point where criticism becomes pointless and we have to move on. When more first teamers came on the game changed as we piled forward. Including Cesc who played pretty much the whole game, we had 3/11 that would play regularly for the first team side. Sagna, Gallas and Cesc are those players and I have heard pundits say it was not the reserves but it was basically that. It was the second string who had played throughout. I do feel the likes of Gibbs and Randall would have been worth a shot. It gives them a learning experience and if we are going to lose at least it is nothing like a normal side for Arsenal.

On Saturday it will be the first team and Wenger will look for a response. The players will be hurt, even if they did not play tonight. We are a whole squad together and Newcastle will fear a backlash. Adebayor will be back and this man looks lethal right now. His goal tonight was top quality and after Togo missed out on the ACON and now Arsenal lost the Carling Cup, he will want to put it right more than anyone.

You all saw the game, we lost 6-2 on aggregate; I guess that's 9 years of hurt all blown out in one game. Now to make it another 9 years till they beat us!

All I can say is smile when you see a Tottenham and humbly admit they were the better team and thoroughly deserved their win. Just tell the truth really. Then add in the odd
"You last won the League in black and white"
"Channel 5, Channel 5, Channel 5"

Monday, 21 January 2008

Spurs vs Arsenal - stakes are massive - Carling Cup Final place for the victor

If you remember last season's Carling Cup Semi-Final, you will recall the tie was poised in pretty much the exact same way. With the score's level at 2-2, the return leg could have gone either way. There is no doubt that last year we had the psycholigical edge going into the second match having come from 2 goals down and drawn a game we could and should have won. This was at the Lane against their first team with the second leg at home, a further advantage. That year we managed to progress after extra time, I'll take the same this year.

Both teams have a few things in their favour this season. Like Arsenal did in the previous season, Tottenham take a draw back for the home tie, an obvious advantage as they did not lose the away leg and have a chance to knock us out with a win on their patch. Playing at home is always going to aid a team. It is the reverse from last season, something which went in our favour last time around.

However, one thing we do have over them is that mental edge as they should have beaten us at the Emirates but still failed to do so during Arsenal's worst performance of the season. They should have taken the victory by a couple of goals but in the end Theo managed to get the victory with a somewhat fortuitous goal. Another thing that I feel will help the team is that we have no pressure on us. The lads did not perform at the Emirates but to beat the Spurs first team away will be a real achievement for the second string. We also have the desire to get to the final and avenge last season's defeat with the opposition looking like it could well be Chelsea once again.

Last season we had two away goals going into the home leg and this year Spurs have one. To be honest, away goals do not count in the same way as they do in the Champions League. In Europe away goals are taken into account at the end of 90 minutes of the second tie. In the Carling Cup, they are only used after 210 minutes of football. We saw last year that despite scoring two away from home and conceding one at the Emirates, we still had to put ourselves through an added 30 minutes of Football with the aggregate score at 3-3. The fact we had scored two at White Hart Lane made no difference.

To the team now. Arsene Wenger has a massive list of injuries for tomorrow night, especially in defence. Kolo Toure, Alex Song and Emmanuel Eboue are all on African Cup of Nations Duty and can all play at the back. Add to that Johan Djourou - out for 2 weeks - and Philippe Senderos - out after injuring his nose at the weekend - and you have a minor defensive crisis. That has caused William Gallas to be drafted into the defence for tomorrow night. This will do the team no harm as his experience will help the team hugely on a massive night.

Alongside Gallas Wenger can either select Justin Hoyte or GIlberto. After his excellent showing in this position during the second half at the Emirates, I think Wenger will go for Justin alongside the skipper. This also enables him to bring in Bakary Sagna at right back, once more adding experience and solidarity to the defence. Armand Traore will continue at left back with Clichy on the bench I think. Fabianski will keep his place in goal.

It will be interesting to see whether Theo Walcott starts tomorrow night and if he does if it is on the wing or through the middle. He played out wide against Spurs two weeks ago and in the same role against Birmingham. In those games he was ominously poor despite his fluke of a goal. Wenger has since stated his worry about Theo's current level, I have to say I agree. However, Wenger will stick with him and has said he will not be used out wide from now on. Intrigued to see what happens tomorrow.

There are a few options available to Wenger. One is to play the same midfield as the home tie. This midfield was passed out of the game and looked lacklustre throughout. Gilberto was a passenger and gave away the ball with nearly every pass. Diaby refused to pass the ball until he had dribbed himself into dead end after dead end. Theo Walcott was running around like a headless chicken on speed. I felt quite sorry for Denilson however, who was always facing his own goal and Gilberto failed to provide a platform for the Brazilian.

You probably have guessed that I would rather we did not see the same combination of players start the game. I would prefer to see Randall and Gibbs start on the right and left. Gibbs will add natural width and provide crosses for the strikers. He will look to go at his man with pace and purpose and provide good cover for Traore against Lennon. I know from personal experience that when you step up to the first team early, you are determined to do your defensive work as well as attack, in order to impress the manager. Randall played well at Blackburn and linked the play very well. His passing and movement are very good and we will need to keep the ball tomorrow as Tottenham will want to harry and get at us for long periods. Walcott just cannot seem to hang onto it for more than 5 seconds. It was as if the ball was a hot potato.

Denilson is going to be our main creative outlet from midfield and will look to dictate play as we have seen Fabregas do so many times in the past. He will look to unlock the Spurs defence and try and free the wingers and full backs. Who to play alongside Denilson? He really only has two options. Gilberto or Diaby.

Neither really fills me with confidence right now. As I mentioned, in the last game they were very poor but both have their advantages. Gilberto, on his day (rare this season), can intercept and break up attacks with sensible and effective play. He likes to sit back and guard the back four, as well as being a big threat from corners. Last game he did none of the above and if Wenger keeps faith with him, he needs to do these to warrant Wenger's trust.

Diaby can add muscle and strong tackling to the side. At times this season he has produced some brilliant challenges and scored some good goals. He does like to get forward but I believe he can also do his fair share of tracking back, if given the chance alongside Denilson. He is lost on the left but has not been given much opportunity in the centre. If Denilson is prepared to control the game from deep it could free Diaby to get from box to box and try and burst into dangerous areas.

I would love to see this tried out but Wenger said the subs from Saturday will play, Gilberto was one and Diaby another. Therefore I am pretty sure Wenger will go with Diaby on the left and Gilberto in the centre, with Theo on the right. They all need big games but for me that is a risk taken by Wenger. Hopefully it pays off.

Le Prof made an error in my eyes in putting Eduardo on the bench in the first leg but I feel he will not make the same mistake twice. He can be lethal if given a sniff and this could be key tomorrow night. Chances may be scarce and we need someone we know can take these chances. Bendtner and him have developed a good understanding and can work together to break the Spurs back line.

Wenger will use some first teamers off the bench if the game needs changing. Like last year he will probably havethe likes of Fabregas, Clichy, Rosicky and Adebayor ready to come on. We do not want to be left short of options should we need to push for a goal or two. They were not there two weeks ago but I feel we will see them at the Lane.


Subs: Mannone, Clichy, Fabregas, Rosicky, Adebayor

Berbatov will be the main threat once more and we must, I mean must not give him any room to play. In the last game he got too much space to bring the ball down. We must get tight as Spurs did to us in the home match and try and stop them playing. Berbatov is the main link man for them and will look to bring Lennon into the game on many occasions. Traore has a big job on his hands and a lot of the responsibility lies with Gallas to marshall the defence. We have the pace at the back to deal with the ball in behind, it is the long ball we must prevent as much as is possible.

All that's left to say is, Come on Arsenal, do us proud, let's get to the Final, once again at the expense of Spurs.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Fulham 0 Arsenal 3 - Job well done

Before the game I called for a victory first and foremost. After the Birmingham it was important to pick up three points again and if we could produce a good performance to boot then that would be an added bonus. In the end, we got both and with the team Fulham had it was always going to go one way. They had no natural striker in the side, a leaky defence and a lack of confidence among those who took the field. If we played at all well, the game would be ours and it duly turned out this way.

We welcomed back the recovered Tomas Rosicky for the ineffective Theo Walcott. Wenger reported he is disappointed at the level Walcott is currently at but thinks he will make it at Arsenal. That is pretty much my view on the matter as I said earlier this week. However, the interesting thing in Wenger's interview was that he mentioned his belief Theo cannot play on the wing. It is true that he has been poor on the wing but it does leave us quite short here. If he becomes a 5th striker for us we currently only have two first team players playing on the right and left in Hleb and Rosicky.

Yesterday, Rosicky made a difference to the side. His link up play with Hleb and Fabregas made the team click. They seem to know exactly where they will be and can interchange position at any time. Both Hleb and Rosicky are comfortable on either side and are not afraid to move about the pitch. Rosicky, in my view offers a far more attacking threat from midfield. He gets into the box far more than the other two and had already hit the post before his clinical strike. All he needs to do now is net some goals on a far more regular basis and try and hit double figures this season.

A very pleasing sight in the last two games was the ability of Alex Hleb to cross the ball. We saw it at West Ham very early on in the season as he swung a cross right onto the head of Van Persie to score the winner. Last Saturday he whipped a great cross at wicked pace but Eduardo managed to fluff his lines. Finally, yesterday he produced a more measured cross perfectly into the path of Adebayor's clever run and Ade did the rest. It shows we can mix our game up and these great crosses have shown the service can be good.

With Theo unlikely to play much on the wing I hope we may get a chance to see another youngster lay his claim for a starting berth. If Theo deserves a place in the side at 18, then the same applies to the likes of Gibbs and Randall. They are at the same age and have shown the same, if not more potential than Walcott. They are at a high technical level and both have impressed most fans when they have played on the odd occasion this season. Gibbs is the only naturally left footed winger in our squad and there is no doubt we never replaced Reyes. I am not saying he was the best player in the world but he added natural balance to the side and was a different option. Gibbs can provide something different as well. At least while Eboue is away it might be worth giving him a shot in the cup games coming up.

And now to the big man up front. Adebayor has 15 goals in 20 league starts this season and that is a brilliant return. For a man who has played alone up front for a lot of the season, to have that many goals at this stage is brilliant. We need someone to break that 20 goal mark on a regular basis and hopefully he can achieve that this season. If he carries on his lethal form from yesterday, he will. Both his goals were of huge quality and both headers.

The power he generated for both goals led Niemi to stand still as Ade placed both headers perfectly. The excellent crosses from Clichy and Hleb both came in with little pace and Ade was able to climb and hang in the air as he put all the pace on the ball on each occasion to put us two up.

Eduardo also played well, especially in the second half. It was great to see him get past three defenders when he was tied to the touchline. Some lovely skill took him away and had Rosicky's shot been an inch the other side of the post, it would have been an assist to match Eddy's skill. Our third goal was actually quite interesting on Eduardo's part. He should have played the ball first time to Hleb as he broke into the box. He delayed the pass too long but some great acceleration meant he could find Rosicky's bursting run into the box. He did very well to recover the situation and it will please Wenger he was willing to run in behind and to see he has adapted even more recently. He needs another goal to kick start another run and then we could be in business.

Last year Senderos was sent off in this fixture and was given a horrid time by the Fulham forwards. Yesterday was the complete opposite. Gallas and Phil were untested and Almunia did not have to make one save of note. The full backs were given the freedom to get forward which gave us width and eventually led to the cross for the first goal after a fantastic overlapping run we are used to seeing from Clichy now.

As many of the papers have said, it was a professional performance but we were not tested by Fulham. The game could have been far more of a test but it still needed winning and three good goals did the job and we move onto the cups. It will be interesting to see the line ups for this week. In the Carling Cup the kids will start the game but Wenger has a choice to make regarding who is on the bench. I hope he puts a few of the first team on the bench, maybe Adebayor, Rosicky and Fabregas and then come Saturday has a largely full strength side out.

Newcastle were poor yesterday but the FA Cup always means a difficult, fast paced game. We will need to be on top form to win that and a victory for either side ill give that team a psychological edge going into the league match three days later. Wenger will use his whole squad over the next week and a half and he must be careful to get it right. I want to see Gibbs and Randall given a game in midweek and maybe Saturday if they impress.

We have been linked with a 15 year-old "prodigy" today in the NOTW. It is hard to sign players who are under-18 years of age from Brazil unless they really are special or have not started their footballing education. How this could/would work we would wait and see but many clubs have been linked. How true it is I do not know. We await news of Dimitriov but Arshavin will not sign according to Wenger.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Fulham vs Arsenal - Let's put the disappointment of last Saturday firmly behind us

Cast your minds back to the 29th November of last year and an away trip to Craven Cottage. A game which Arsenal fans would expect to win went very pear shaped and we were 2-0 down after 20 minutes. We had been susceptible to crosses and both goals came from wide areas, one from a set piece, our Achilles heel. Apart from a brilliant Van Persie free-kick our performance was awful and Fulham even missed a penalty.

Up until then, Fulham had not beaten us for 40 years and recently Craven Cottage had been a stamping ground for Arsenal. The previous season we won 4-0 there and the season before that 3-1. Fulham are languishing in the relegation zone and in 19th place have a tough job on their hands to stay up. Personally I think they will be ok. At the helm they have Roy Hodgson and this guy has been around the block from Norway to Italy. He has managed at Inter Milan and has the right attributes to keep them up. His tactical know how and motivational skills will help the players in their fight for survival.

We all know about Antii Niemi after he had some brilliant games against us for Southampton. On his day he is one of the best keepers in the Premiership and a good goalkeeper is a great base to build on for Hodgson. They have signed a centre back this week and this is undoubtedly their weakest department having shipped 39 goals so far this season. They have only scored 23 goals in the same period but over two thirds have come at home. As the stats read, if matches were only 45 minutes long, Fulham would be in the Champions League places. IF they can start to get more goals and bring in defenders capable of keeping clean sheets then they will go a long way to staying up.

A deal to bring in Marlon King from Watford has been agreed and King is a player that will get goals if given the right supply. Bullard is back from injury which is a major plus. Last season he was their playmaker and he can form a great partnership alongside Danny Murphy. They have Bouazza out wide who is speedy character and he will supply King. They have the ingredients to score goals, it just needs Hodgson to get it out of them.

King may not be available for tomorrow's game which will suit us. King has pace and strength, a combination that has often tested Senderos in the past. Last season he was sent off in this fixture and he needs to have a big game in Toure's continuing absence. He has a real chance to show his worth with Toure away and Djourou injured. We definitely cannot afford another red card for Phil.

After such a poor performance against Birmingham, a strong showing is required tomorrow. Obviously the result comes first and the win is the most important thing. However, if we can couple that with a good performance then that will do the team a world of good. Since the 1st half of the Villa game I cannot recall a performance of a suitable level for title challengers. It is time we sorted that out if we really want to be considered as contenders. Disappointment

Van Persie is out AGAIN and for a few more weeks. We can never be sure it will be that short and it could well be a far longer lay off. This guy has missed more games than he has started and it is starting to get very worrying. He is a brilliant player but needs to sort his fitness out. It is the second season in a row now he has had serious injuries and we may have another Freddie (last 2 years) on our hands. Hopefully Eduardo can start knocking them in on a regular basis for us.

Rosicky, another who has had injury worries, was ill last Saturday and will be back tomorrow. I have hoped to have a midfield including Cesc, Flamini, Hleb and Rosicky in it for a while now and maybe tomorrow I will finally see it. The three attacking players here know each other's game so well and when it clicks, it really does click. Theo has not done enough to stay in the side and Diaby cannot play on the left. It is our best midfield currently and it would be nice to get it flowing once more.

As I mentioned, last season we conceded from a corner at the Cottage and tomorrow we must mark well, attack the ball and win every corner that comes in. We were asleep against Birmingham and it cost us the victory ultimately. We need to sort this area out and concentrate fully if Fulham should get a corner or free kick. If we can break from any of their attacks or set pieces we can punish their lack of pace at the back.

So, a victory is required as number 1, a good performance number 2. Hopefully we get both but I'll take number 1 alone with the League as tight as it is. We will come out of the dip in form and if we can keep results ticking over for now that's fine.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Diarra Off? Flamini To Stay Or Go? Centre Midfield Options…Left Winger In?

Yesterday, for a brief part of coverage time, Sky Sports News broke some breaking news to fans. It disapeared soon after and I have not heard much since but it still disapointed me and it seems he is off. It stated that Arsenal and Portsmouth were in the middle of negotiations regarding the transfer of Lassana Diarra. I have stated many times my views that Diarra must remain an Arsenal player. The guy has shown excellent potential and has the opportunity to have a good career with us.

He is a very able back up to Flamini, who currently has a similar future, one that is up in the air. He can legally speak to any club in Europe and sign a pre contract agreement to join them in the coming summer for the great fee of £0. Flamini has revolutionised our midfield this season. His sudden rise in playing status surprised most Gooners but there is no doubt he has played a large part in Arsenal’s ability to fight it out with the toughest of teams.

Since Vieira left Gilberto has taken up the mantle as the midfield "invisible wall" but right now only the first word of this phrase applies. His form has dropped off alarmingly and right now he seems to breeze through games as he fails to really help the team in a meaningful way. He has given the ball away more times so far this season than he has in the previous two; he has hardly played. His passing accuracy last season was at a very high level but this season it is far closer to the other end of the scale. Until Flamini came into the side, teams found it easy to bully us in matches as our midfield lacked bite. Now we have it with two players but one is now off.

The fee is supposed to be around £5million which means at least a £3million profit. He cannot really be seen as a flop signing, he has simply not been here for long enough. Oh well, move on and get Flamini signed up pronto!
Our central midfield players currently are Fabregas, Flamini, Denilson, GIlberto and Diaby. I cannot see Gilberto being here past the end of the season. It may however mean a chance for Diaby to play inside in his favoured position. We know he can tackle hard and get up and down the pitch. He adds presence to the side and I can see him being a real success in the centre of the park. Many have compared him to Vieira but should we want him to fulfil this belief, then we must move him inside.

Diaby is not a left midfield player and Wenger must see asap that playing him there does not work. He does not have the drive and potency of a player like Rosicky or Hleb, who as attacking midfielders, can adapt to palying out wide rather than in the "Bergkamp role". Diaby can be a suitable deputy to Flamini should he need a rest or get injured. We need a real box to box player in our midfield and if Wenger sees potential in Diaby, he has to start using him in his rightful position.

Another experiment that has not exactly worked is the one where Eboue has been moved to right midfield. He has not set the world alight this season as many hoped after such a promising performance in the Emirates Cup against Inter Milan. His final ball has been largely poor and he has failed to hit the net this season. Our midfield players need to get goals. I have stressed the need to sign a winger in a previous article and a bit more news has developed, well rumours really.

The trialist Nikolai Dimitrov has apparently impressed and one user on an online forum assures fans he will sign within two weeks. That promise will hopefully come to fruit and a left winger will sign soon. Wenger has hopefully seen we lack a left sided player and is addressing this with a potential signing. Whether this guy is an automatic fix I don’t know, I doubt it really as he will need time to settle to the way we play.

Another player linked is Andrei Arsharvin, the Russian captain and playmaker. When I saw him against England in the two matches he was the best player on the Russian team and is similar to Rosicky and Hleb in playing style. If Wenger wanted a player similar to these two to come into the squad, it could be the perfect signing. Tomas and Alex will never get a huge amount of goals and there are questions over their fitness. The guy is a talent and I would be pro this signing should it happen.

Andre Ayew is currently away on international duty for Ghana but the papers believe we will sign him for a fee of around £5million. He would be a player for the future being only 18 but he is also a left winger. At this age we have two players that can play here in Gibbs and Vela. Wenger must be careful who he signs should he plump for a new left sided player. I would prefer someone older with experience before the players mentioned above are ready to get into the team on a regular basis.

I leave you with Newcastle about to kick off against Stoke to see who we meet in the Fa Cup 4th round. Newcastle have Keegan back but he will struggle to better his previous achievements in charge of the Geordies. We will wait to see if it was a wise decision to bring him back. It will mean a tougher match (or two) come the end of January, of that I am sure.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Theo - still got a lot to lean...Randall, Gibbs, Lansbury & Vela waiting in the wings

Theo Walcott has started in the last two first team games and been very disapointing. He may have got the equaliser against Spurs but with the luck he got from this I think Francis Jeffers would have produced the same end result. His shot was off target and only the ricochet saw it roll over the line. Up until this point, Theo had been anonymous and gave the ball away cheaply whenever he did get it. This was the order of play come Saturday's game against Birmingham.

I give to you a few names now: Mark Randall, Henri Lansbury, Kieran Gibbs and Carlos Vela. You have all heard of them I am sure. Theo is far closer to the first team than these three but does he deserve to be? I want to look at these guys and look at what they have in front of them, the tasks facing them and their likely future. But quickly let me sum up that of Theo:

Theo Walcott

He came to us with a big reputation after his large transfer fee from Southampton and having taken part in no matches for our first team, went to the World Cup with the England squad. Wenger may have thought this would help his career and he would learn a lot from the experience. That may be so, he may have learnt a lot in training but it has had opposite consequences as well. Had he played at that level, maybe it would have been worth it. However he did not play and there is only a certain amount he can learn from being around a major competition.

The problem was that he came back with an even bigger reputation as the "next boy wonder" and "next Wayne Rooney". This was the worst thing for Theo and Arsenal. The lad only started playing Football at a serious level at around aged 10 or 11. It is clear to me that he is lacking the know-how that others around him will have developed in their earlier years. He has the pace which undoubtedly made him a promising talent for Wenger.
We know he can finish as we have seen on the odd occasion. Thats the problem, we have not seen it enough. I know he has not played many games on the trot but saying that, he has not impressed enough in those games he has been given a starting place in, to warrant a longer stay in the team. If Theo could show some more consistency, then Wenger might consider him as a first team regular. Right now it seems he still has an awful lot to learn.

Walcott seems to play with excitement and adrenalin rather than his brain. He scurries around at a great speed trying to use his pace to his advantage at every moment but this makes him predictable. Whenever I have seen him mix up his play; dribbling in and out, accelerating away from players and using clever passing, he has impressed. Most of the time though he hopes running straight with his burning pace will automatically get him past the man. It will not work the majority of the time and I think this is why he is learning on the wing. Henry did the same before Wenger could use his talent through the middle.

Don't get me wrong, Wenger has a talented player on his hands and one who is willing to learn. His career up till now has been rushed and we must wait with him. He went to the World Cup way too prematurely and the expectations started to run away with themselves. We must take a deep breath and accept that, like Henry, he needs to develop under Le Prof and then soon we may see the potential come to fruit. Maybe a loan move would be a good idea?

The fact Theo is English will mean the fans take to him more. People might deny this but it definitely means they want him to flourish far more at Arsenal. Diaby has been poor this season and many have been quick to criticise but he is being played out of position. It does not excuse his lack of quality but Theo has been equally poor but many fans will let him off, especially after the goal against Spurs, despite playing in a position he is more comfortable with. However, he does not have a divine right to suceed here and it will take some luck to fulfil the potential he has.

There are other players that deserve a chance right now. They have impressed regularly for the reserves and been very close to the first team squad already. Wenger believes in these guys and they will be involved next season but when other young first teamers are not performing well, I do not see why Wenger doesnt give them a shot.

Mark Randall

We saw what he can do when he stepped in for an ill Theo at Blackburn. He slotted right into the side and passed the ball as well as anyone else in the team. He can play on the right of midfield and the left too. His best position is in central midfield but right now we are full in this department. He is technically ahead of Theo but he needs to get stronger and faster before he is ready for a proper stint in the first team. That is what Wenger will work on over the summer.

He is one example of the work Wenger has done with the academy and finally players are coming through. Wenger mentioned this transformation as a goal of his and he took all the criticism thrown at him regarding the lack of English players in the squad. It seems that Wenger has proved them wrong as Randall is one the first of three to play for our first team this season.

Kieran Gibbs

Yet another reserve player to make the step up. Against Inter Milan he was brilliant on the left of midfield. For a young player to play your debut, in a match against Inter Milan is a big step up. He could have played against PSG the day before but it was an interesting choice from Wenger to put him in with the majority of first teamers in a tougher game. It gave him a closer look at Gibbs in a tough game at a high level. He came off to a standing ovation and was largely unfazed with everything. He passed the ball well, was assured on the ball and showed some great pace.

He showed he can do well at left back as he had a brilliant game at Sheffield United as he set up our second goal and was part of a back four that kept a clean sheet. This squad definitely lacks a left sided player and Gibbs could be the answer. Another English graduate and highly regarded by Liam Brady and Arsene Wenger. Definitely one for next season, at the latest.

Henri Lansbury

The third player to come through the academy around the same time as Gibbs and Randall. He has been likened to Gerrard in his play and I guess that is fair but again slghtly ahead of ourselves. He likes to get into the opposition box but is also prepared to get back and help out facing his own goal. He will find it hard to get into the team in his position but he is arguably the most gifted of the three Englishmen. If he is patient he will do very well at Arsenal and I look forward to seeing him play soon.

Carlos Vela

He does not fit the description of the other three I mentioned but is in a similar boat. He has had to go out on loan to get a work permit but in a way it has done him some good. He has been playing in La Liga which is a very technical type of football and this should help coming to a team like Arsenal. He has good skill on the ball, a good touch and he is quick. He can play on the wing and Wenger will probably use him here to start with, similar to Theo.

Many believe he will come back to us in the summer and go straight into the first team squad. He has the techncial ability but needs to toughen up a bit. He has benefited from a loan spell and I think Theo could get the same experience from a similar move.

My point overall is that we have a few young players coming through and right now they have as much right to a first team chance as young Theo. He has only impressed on odd occasions and needs to learn more before he is ready. He has not been helped by his career path and the media circus but he is under the best coach right now. Wenger will not rush into buying new players with these 3 or 4 players waiting in the wings. He knows he has talented players in his set up but knows he must get the timing right with their introduction to the first team.
We shall see soon enough why people are excited by Wenger's work off the pitch with the youth set up, I certainly cannot wait.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Get the chequebook out...winger needed urgently

When Arsenal won the double in the 97/98 season we had Marc Overmars and Ray Parlour on the wing. Overmars was a "proper" winger who was always looking to get at his man and get to the byline. Parlour was maybe more suited to a central midfield role but he often did the same on the other side. When he came inside he often did with great effect as he popped up with many a great goal. Overmars scored 25 goals in around 100 appearances for the club, 1 goal every 4 games.

During the double winning season of 2001/02, and the unbeaten season of 2003/04 we had Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg and they were key members of the team .

For a midfield player to score 15+ goals in one season is fantastic and as you can see these two did this on many occasions. Together they were lethal and a key part of our successes after the millenium. There is no doubt we miss players similar to those Pires and Ljungberg were for us. Reyes came in but certain events determined his career with us was cut short. Right now we do not have a real natural winger in our side and it makes a key difference.

Wenger has moved Eboue to right midfied this season and for me it has not worked. He blows hot and cold and has not really put two good performances together in a row. He is very predictable and very often his final ball is very poor. He has been converted from a right back where he was not the most convincing defender. Sagna has come in and made our defence far more solid but Eboue has not had a similar effect on our attacking play. He has delivered some good crosses at times and linked up play well but there is one thing he is clearly lacking.

A winger needs to chip in with goals. I have shown the stats of Pires and Ljungberg and their contribution to the side. This season Eboue has started in 19 first team games and scored no goals whatsoever. He scored more goals for us from right back! He has had quite a few shots I can recall, most of which ended up high and wide. I can remember some good moments where he has contributed to our goals: against Newcastle he delivered a good ball to Adebayor who scored. He linked up well with Bendtner as the Dane made it 7 against Slavia Prague. That was against a team that made Theo Walcott look like a world beater!

Cristiano Ronaldo has 20 goals already this season. I know it is rare to find a player who will have this amount of goals by January, especially if they are a winger. It is a major part of any wide player's game and the ability to arrive into the box is key. Mikel Arteta has 12 goals in 87 league games and in a team at the level Everton were that is not bad. Arteta also makes things happen with his direct playing style. Arjen Robben got around 20 goals in 90 games for Chelsea which, on the face of it, is not amazing. However, whenever Robben was on the ball I was scared something was going to happen and often it did. We do not have a player who other teams fear when they are running at them. I can not imagine a full back being too scared when they see Eboue starting on the right.

We have Alex Hleb and Tomas Rosicky in the squad too and when they are both fit (how likely is that?!) they can make a lethal trio with Fabregas. They chip in with the odd goal and give Fabregas room to get forward to get goals as well. If you look yesterday at the performance you will notice we became awfully narrow in the second half and this is a real problem with naturally central players out wide. When teams come at us this works but when they sit deep I feel it causes us trouble. Look at the Pompey game, Spurs and Chelsea games where it was hard to break a team down when they packed the defence whenever we came forward. Many people will point to 16 shots in the game against Birmingham but look at them closely.

I have said so many times that although we may have lots of shots - how many of those were rushed half chances and from distance? If you look at it Bendtner had two speculative shots from outside the box, Cesc had 1, Sagna 1 and even Clichy had 2. They may have been shots on goal but they were often rushed with little space to work.Wingers stretch teams and give strikers space in the middle so these shots are far less pressured, in far less congested areas and someone like eduardo can do well with such. That is why we are far more lethal when teams come at us - because our strikers have more time and space in front of goal. Wingers play a part in dragging the full backs out. Yesterday Kelly and Quedrue/Parnaby were able to hold their positions in the box and therefore create a blockade to goal.

If you have a winger that likes to get chalk on his boots and get past the full backs then room is automatically created in the box. Players are drawn across to cover and the defence is moved about. It is these moments that cause misunderstanding in the defensive ranks and chances open up on a more regular basis. I hate to do it, but really one has to look at Manchester United right now. They have Ronaldo and Giggs on the wings with Nani able to play there also. They get wide and like to beat players. They open up gaps in the middle for Tevez and Rooney to exploit. As soon as a man is beaten it causes havoc. We simply do not have players who do this. Hleb can beat a man but he takes too long on the ball and regularly moves inside as he loses his man. Man Utd look to force and widen the play and did so to great effect as they beat Newcastle 6-0.

What I am saying is that we need a natural winger in the squad. We have not replaced Pires and Ljungberg. There is room for Hleb or Rosicky in the side on the left or right. However I feel it is a risk having them both in the side in a 4-4-2 formation when we are forcing the game against a team who has parked the bus. They both cut inside and we don't get that much width. In our best seasons under Wenger our wingers have got wide and stretched teams and left space for strikers like Henry and Bergkamp to flourish. Reyes was brought in to do this job.
He did not get many goals but he did create many. Eboue has not done anything like this and Reyes had potential to do well for us. One goal in 5 was not brilliant but he did create room for others and liked to keep wide.

Tomas Rosicky has a pretty similar record goals wise but far less assists. A lot more has been expected from Rosicky and I hope he can get 10+ goals this season. 6 last season was poor. The problem with Rosicky is that he has never been a prolific goalscorer, his best being 6 goals in a season for both Arsenal and Dortmund. Another worry is his fitness. And what about Alex Hleb?

Hleb's goal tally for Arsenal is worse with a ratio of 1 in 10. That is not good enough at all. He has 5 goals this season but for a man playing behind the main striker, I would expect more. His assist levels are ok but does he have more in him? He has never scored more than 8 in a season but he gets into good positons for Arsenal and should have more.

It seems that neither of these two players are going to score an awful lot of goals for us and I think we need someone in the midfield who will. I have mentioned him before and Ronaldo has 20 + goals in the last two seasons, with this one only half way through. His overall record is one goal every 3 games which is exactly what we need. I know a player like Ronaldo only comes around once in a blue moon but there are players out there with similar ability and I feel we need to buy one.

Wenger has tried Diaby on the left but his is never going to work. He is a central midfield player and looks lost on the wing. I do not think Eboue can prosper on the wing and Walcott has lots to learn before he is ready. Hleb and Rosicky do not get enough goals right now to warrant a start together all the time. We relied on Fabregas an awful lot this season but now his goals have dried up we rely solely on our strikers. We need more.

Wenger must open up the chequebook said player needs to have pace and the desire to get wide and go at his man. He needs goals in him and Wenger will want someone that can fit into our play as well. Wenger has money to spend, we know that but is he willing to spend it. Is our own Kieran Gibbs the answer. It is a lot to expect of such a young guy so early in his career. Carlos Vela has impressed in this position while in Spain. I would like us to sign Arteta but I doubt this will happen.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Arsenal 1 Birmingham 1 - This result was coming

I can only remember one really good half of Football this Arsenal team has played in the Premier League since we ran out in the second half against Villa. Let me look at the games we have played:

Arsenal vs Villa (2nd half) - we came out 2-1 up but after that held on throughout the half and never looked like scoring. Villa hit the bar and really should have got something from the game.
Arsenal vs Newcastle - after Adebayor scored early many thought a rout was on the cards but after that we sat back all game, failed to create anything of note and ended up holding on for a draw
Arsenal vs Middlesborough - we got exactly what we deserved for our worst performance of the season. We lacked potency and our effort levels were so low I couldn't believe how little the players were trying.
Arsenal vs Chelsea - the winning goal came from a set piece but before that we had not created much. Only in the last 20 minutes did we look dangerous - the period when Chelsea threw caution to the wind.
Arsenal vs Spurs - we were matched by Tottenham for most of the game and had Almunia not saved the penalty, the game could have been so different. We got our first goal from our only move of note all game and the winner from poor defending at a corner by Spurs.
Arsenal vs Portsmouth - again we lacked a cutting edge and did not deserve more than the point we got
Arsenal vs Everton - in the first half we were out fought and out passed. In the second we got the goals and played some better football.
Arsenal vs West Ham - we got the win after 20 minutes and maybe the players cannot be blamed for a lacklustre second half.

If you look at all these games, we may have won a lot of them but we did not play good Football. We won some tricky ties due to resilience and fight but today we got what was coming to us. A team can only win games with average performances up to a point. Today, we had a few chances but were not playing with the same fluidity as we are used to and failed to break Birmingham down.

Do not interpret this as a critiicism of the team during those games, only the Boro game was an awful result considering. We won some tricky games and came through the difficult month to lead in the title race and Wenger rightly won manager of the month. My point is simply that we had not been brilliant and soon enough something was going to give.

It has all really stemmed from the Sevilla game. Before that, we were playing some sublime passing football and beating all teams in our way. Wenger went with a mixture of first team and second string. If he wanted to win the game we should have gone all out and if not, he simply should have given the "reserves" more game time. We ended up losing our unbeaten record with a few first team members in it. There is no doubt the performance level dropped after this game.

In that game, Cesc Fabregas picked up an injury that kept him out of action until the Chelsea game and since then he has not been the same player he was before that. He has sat a lot deeper in games and not had such a big threat going forward. Today summed it up really for Cesc. So many times it was like he was playing the game with a blindfold on his face. He failed to get the ball to its intended target and his shooting was off. So many times he left his team mates short and one pass was just blasted at Flamini. Maybe he needs a game out of the team to reflect, I don't know but hopefully something changes soon.

Alex Hleb had also been out of the team for a while up till recently and today he came back. On the left he was a real threat but when he switched to the right and the game drew on he started to take far too long on the ball. He should have played the quicker, simpler ball at times but was waiting for the killer ball to open up and it was not going to happen with the game so narrow towards the end. Wenger saw how much Hleb was congesting the play and moved Flamini out wide and even more so once Diaby was on.

That substitution was very unnescessary. Sagna and Clichy were our only real width and some of their crosses were dangerous. Clichy was brilliant getting up and down and Sagna the same. To bring Diaby into such a tense game, so late on, was not a wise move in my eyes. After a very poor game in midweek, it was unlikely Diaby would be able to do anything and pretty unfair to expect him to. He should have kept Sagna on and sent Senderos or Gallas forward to aim crosses at. We had Bendtner and Adebayor already up there. I think this would have been a better option.

We should not have been in this position in the first place. If Arsenal were able to defend and attack at set pieces we would have won this game. Birmingham' goal was such poor defending from us and really a free header granted to O'Connor. Even then a lacklustre Cesc deflected it in as he seemed half asleep. This was not our only problem. We had countless corners that Birmingham were happy to give away. Why? Arsenal cannot score from corners. The only times we have this season, poor defending has provided an easy chance for us. Today, Birmingham were able to clear easily or Taylor had catching practice.

Fabregas needs to add some pace and whip to his corners. When he floats them in it gives defenders less chance to attack the ball with surprise movement and when they get there, they must generate their own power on the ball. This can only happen when the keeper decides not to come and collect an easy catch. It has been the same story for two seasons now and Fabregas must not take corners anymore in my view. We all know what Van Persie can do when he takes corners (when he's fit!!!) and Cesc should learn from him. Rosicky takes a better corner, I have even seen Flamini take them better than Fabregas. Something needs to be addressed.

While we have David Beckham with us during training, Wenger really should get him to teach our players how to improve their set pieces.

Theo Walcott had a terrible game today, not much different to Wednesday. Walcott plays with excitement rather than his brain and has a lot to learn about decision making; when to pass, when to dribble and when to shoot. He didnt start playing Football until he was 10 or 11 so he is a bit behind really and a real rough diamond. He has talent but really must learn his strengths and weaknesses. Right now it seems his touch is off and his passing is wayward.

Flamini showed the difference between his game and that of Gilberto. Flamini was in and around their midfield and biting into challenges. He gave them no time on the ball and was a springboard for Cesc and Hleb, something Glberto failed to provide for Denilson.

Other than from set pieces we looked quite solid at the back. Senderos impressed me with his aerial challenges and in particular some of his tackles on the ground. Hopefully he can keep this up until Toure returns. Almunia made one great save when called upon and apart from that was largely untested. He had no chance with the goal after it was deflected in.

Eduardo was not playing at the standard we had expected but to be honest he is only playing well when those around him are creating chances and today they did not. He did not get many one v ones with Taylor and his one chance from a cross he should have done better with. Ade worked hard to get the ball and make things happen but we were not stretching Birmingham enough. It was great to see him run all the way back to our goal to win the ball when a team mate lost it. Bendtner looked good regarding his hold up play but must learn that it is not always best to shoot. Some of his shots were way wide and not the best option. Some of his passing was more threatening than many of his team mates had produced before his introduction.

We did not lose but it is likely we will be 2nd by tonight. Man Utd host Newcaslte now and should they win will be level on points with Arsenal. They have a superior goal difference that will be extended should they win. The title race is hotting up.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Arsenal vs Birmingham - Welcome back Cesc, Tomas, Alex, William etc etc

The first team has been fully rested, many of them have had a full week off having been left out of both the Fa Cup and Carling Cup ties. I had believed some of them would have made an appearance on the bench on Wednesday but it was not to be. One interesting fact is Wenger has said the players were a "bit jaded" from Sunday. It seems, if true, that Wenger under-estimated the toughenss of that tie and did not believe the players would come out of it tired. They were pushed hard for 90 minutes in one cup tie and it was always going to be the same against Spurs' first team. Was it too much?

I, however, do not believe this is the case for one second. The simple fact is that we were well and truly outplayed by Spurs on Wednesday. Granted it was their first choice team right now against our second string, but we had beaten Blackburn beforehand with some scintilating Football, the football we saw barely an incling of at the Emirates the other night. I have displayed my views on Gilberto and Diaby elsewhere and it was really a lacklustre midfield that led to our lack of potency. We could not get on the ball and when we did, we could not pass it. I doubt any of that midfield will start tomorrow against Birmingham

Hleb, Rosicky, Fabregas and Flamini will all return and finally we will see what I believe to be our best midfield. Eboue has been on the right for most of the season, either due to injuries to the squad or Wenger's choice of a 4-4-1-1 formation with Hleb in behind the striker. He has reverted back to 4-4-2 in recent weeks with Eduardo in such good form and I think that will mean Hleb takes up his position on the right. Eboue has been very poor for a lot of the season but now he has gone and the others are back. We know it is not a rigid set-up as Hleb and Rosicky like to roam and create chances for the strikers. With this threat all across the midfield I feel chances will come aplenty for a player like Eduardo who is so calm in front of goal.

Eduardo will start alongside Adebayor. There is not really any chance of it being any different with Van Persie coming down with flu and Bendtner having played in both games for 90 minutes. Van Persie played on Wednesday and it was clearly too early for him but I think he hoped he would show his best and he would not need Eduardo on a full game basis. He hoped to rest Eduardo for some of the game. So Eddy and Ade it is. They are both on form so hopefully goals will be the order of the day tomorrow.

At the back "Djourou is out" and Senderos is doubtful. Along with Toure and Song we have 4 defenders unavailable right now and we only have one choice really and that is Justin Hoyte partnering Gallas. He did very well there against Berbatov and I would like to see him given a shot here on Saturday. Wenger said he can use Sagna, Gilberto or Hoyte there so we will see but right now I do not trust Gilberto anywhere and Sagna is better at right back for me. Clichy will be back in and Sagna/Hoyte at right back depending on Wenger's decision over his centre backs.

Lassana Diarra was left out of both cup ties and for me it might have led to our lack of fight in the midfield. He had provided that steel for our young side and dominated this area. He HAD offered protection for the back four and a springboard for the likes of Denilson. He was "ill" according to Wenger and he does not want to sell him which is exactly my opinion too. I assumed his abesnce was likely to mean he was off but hopefully I was wrong. The guy is a massive talent and we must try and keep him. Surely Wednesday showed he must be kept over Gilberto as our 2nd DM. There is still a risk Flamini can go until his contract is signed.

Regarding Lehmann, we still have varying reports. It is said that he wants the right deal to go there. He wants first team football but he is clearly unsure over leaving the club when we are in the hunt for medals. The Dortmund fans are not so keen on Jens after his years at Schalke and it seems it is being talked up by the Dortmund board rather than being anything concrete right now.

There is no news on the Bulgarian winger Nikolai Dimitrov. Some reports suggest the trial went well and we will take him on. Whether he can make an impact this season I do not know but maybe another for the future. The squad has been lacking a naturally left sided player. Since Reyes left we do not have someone who can go past a man on the left hand side. We dont have someone who will get to the byline and deliever a good cross. We do not have a player like Robben or C.Ronaldo and maybe Wenger hopes this guy can do a similar thing? We shall see.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Arsenal 1 Spurs 1 - Still In It - We Probably Should Not Be!

I asked my mate if he would take a 1-0 defeat with 22 minutes left. It seemed they were more likely to get a second than we were an equaliser. However, my friend summed it up perfectly:

"No way, we are not going to lose to the scum at home, we will pull off some lucky shit here"

He was spot on. I lost count of the chances Spurs missed in both the first and second half. Bendtner had one header well saved and that was the only chance of the game for Arsenal. However, one brilliant pass from sub Eduardo sent Theo clear. His shot was tame but it bounced up and went in off his head. There was the "lucky shit" my mate had talked about. Cue pandemonium, hugging the guy in the row in front, to the side etc. I got a few knocks to the head but who cares.

1-1 is a good result to take to White Hart Lane and when we really should have, we still have not lost to the Tottenham. The atmosphere was awesome with the whole lower tier standing, it was just a shame the club didnt sell the tickets as general sale with 7,000 empty seats in the upper tier. Oh well.

Wenger really surprised me with his team selection. Eduardo had 6 in 4 games yet only started on the bench. We were up against Tottenham’s first team and he had mentioned sticking with the team who got him to this semi final. So why was Van Persie selected ahead of Eddy. Van Persie is just back from injury and clearly not match fit. Eduardo is in lethal form and it showed as Van Persie was almost non existant.

I would have had Gallas in the squad to replace Song. I knew Djourou would start but I questioned this with Berbatov in good form. Again this proved a mistake as Djourou was poor. His positioning was slack and we were opened up so many times down his channel. If he wants to play at the back this month he must improve. Senderos did well at times but Berbatov really caused problems. He found space way too easily and Senderos failed to close him down at times. It was actually Justin Hoyte that impressed as Wenger switched him to the middle.

That was good management from Wenger. We were bad going forward but he knew suring up the defence would mean we would have a springboard to attack. Our defending became no-nonsense and we built from here. We did start to pump it long far too often and at times the long balls were not aimed to anyone. Sagna won more headers against Berbatov and we looked a lot more secure. As we pushed on we were open a bit at the back but on far less occasions than the 1st. We relied on poor finishing from Keane and Defoe to keep us in it.

Gilberto is past it. Simple as that. He was woeful. I would not be surprised if his passing accuracy was around 20% successful. Every ball seemed to go astray and we missed Diarra’s dominance and fight. He was left out which indicates he will be off soon. I heard Wenger has said noone else will leave in the window but it does seem on the cards. He did make one brilliant tackles on King one yard out but he has not shown this enough. Denilson was not given enough freedom due to the poorness of Gilberto. They did not link up and Denilson was having to track back too far. When Denilson got on the ball further forward he looked dangerous.

Walcott did well when he was able to get at his man but again his final ball was poor. He needs to improve this if he wants to start more games. He took too long in front of goal and then failed to pick out his fellow team mates. His goal even came from a miscue and a lucky rebound, but we will take it. Diaby was so worrying at times when he tried to dribble the ball out of dangerous areas and was caught a few times. When he got on with it and played the sensible ball when it was needed, his game improved. I would have liked to see his power in the middle.

He could have moved Sagna to left back, G.Hoyte to right back and push Traore on to left wing to use his pace. His crossing was very poor tonight and what he was doing when he blasted a free kick miles past anyone. He did do ok up against Lennon though; he stuck to his task throughout.

Eduardo should have started and showed his sharpness with the telling ball that keeps us in with a real chance in this tie. He threaded it between two defenders and that was the killer ball we lacked all evening. I felt sorry for Bendtner at times. The ball was lumped up to him and he was asked to try and hold it up or flick it on. No one got close enough to him and he had no runners off him. Van Persie looked short of fitness and only when we pushed forward did we profit from his work. At times he did lack hunger to get the ball and did not harry their players as they did to ours.

The ref was awful in my view. From the moment Dawson lunged in on Bendtner and walked away unpunished I saw what was coming. That tackle was worse than Mikel’s last night and had Bendtner not jumped could have caused serious injury. He bought Tottenham’s antics up everytime. They dropped like flies at the softest of touches and we got nothing from the ref after similar tackles.

We are still in though and in two weeks we have a real game on our hands. Wenger must play those in form next time though.

Player ratings

Fabianski - 6 - very dodgy at times but some good saves
J.Hoyte - 7 - made a difference when he moved inside
Djourou - 5 - poor against Berbatov and Keane - did not get tight enough
Senderos - 7 - made some good tackles and interceptions.
Traore - 6 - dId ok against Lennon but disapointed when he got forward
Walcott - 7 - got the goal and ran at his man with real purpose
Gilberto - 4 - showed why so many fans want him out for Diarra - awful passing
Denilson - 6 - showed gilmpses but couldnt get on the ball enough
Diaby - 4 - needs to learn when to just get rid and move the ball quicker
Bendtner - 6 - hard work at times but sloppy play at others
Van Persie - 5 - too much to ask after injury - lacking in match practice

Subs: Eduardo - 7, Sagna, 7, Randall (no time)