Sunday, 6 April 2014

Arsene About Again

So, here we are once again contemplating how utterly dreadful we've been in yet another 'big game'. The only surprise is that I keep getting surprised by how incredibly inept we perform.

So before I rip in to the side today let me take you back to Friday. Wenger commented on our result against City.

But at least [we had] to come out with a strong performance. We feel we have done that so I think we have turned the corner and we have an opportunity to show that against Everton.

turned the corner, turned the bloody corner he said.

Now what he didn't say was what was standing around the corner. I knew fine well that far too many people (fans and staff included) were clutching to the fact we played so well against City. I even saw some on twitter describe our performance against city as our best performance of the season. That despite the fact we were completely hopeless in the first half. We were kidding ourselves into believing we could compete.

So to Everton...

The thing with Everton is they aren't actually that good. Yet we made them look like Bayern Munich. They are a tough nut to crack at home but I thought we were more than capable of beating them. However, our hapless players had other ideas.

The first area of focus is our formation. There are a lot of 4-4-2 believers out there but lets just focus on 4-3-3. It has been nearly 5 years since we adopted our current formation (coincidentally against Everton) and you know what, it's done absolutely nothing to help us. It has more weaknesses than strengths and we simply don't have the players or the tactical discipline to pull it off. This formation has killed our full backs for years. They get exposed and yet nobody alters their game. Now surely we don't set up with in the knowledge that we are going to leave Sagna 2v1 for the duration of a half. I couldn't work out who was supposed to be right wing for the first half. Was it Super Tom, was it Cazorla or was it someone completely different. I couldn't really tell. The fact is though that nobody defended the right hand side with Sagna and it was one of our many weaknesses. Despite the lack of support Sagna he was probably one of, if not our best player in the half. The side lacks rhythm and the personnel to take charge of a situation. In terms of formation we tried to copy the Barcelona blueprint but we've failed. We've had our moments over the years but overall this formation has been nothing but a disaster, especially considering we lost our best player two season ago. Now, we have Giroud. Teams are reverting to 4-4-2 and yet here we are stilling getting our arse handed to us on a plate.

The second is our tactics? Do they exist? I'm not sure. From what I could see we wanted to stand off them, allow Baines plenty of time and room and Arteta must at all times suck the life out of any potential counter attack. If Wenger believes that if all his players play to their potential that we'll win the game then he's incredibly naive. Even if this side plays to it's full potential it doesn't mean we'll win. We aren't that side anymore. We don't have Bergkamp, Pires, Henry etc anymore. We can't go on with this arrogant attitude.

The last issue is a particular position that is really infuriating me - Defensive Midfield. Now the clue is in the first word, or maybe it is an ironic title. We can go back to selling Song and not acquiring a replacement but when the chips are down the players need to offer protection and see out periods when we are under the cosh. Arteta has gone from a promising centre midfielder (in front of Song) to someone who quite frankly is no better than Denilson ever was. Did Arteta kill Denilson? He doesn't have the pace nor the discipline required to play DM. He wants too many touches, sucking the life out of counter attacks, which lack pace anyway. I also found his last minute strop a touch embarrassing. He's supposed to be our vice-captain. He is our second in command behind Vermaelen and people say we lack leadership...

So back to the game and the second goal. Oh the second goal. If you were within about 15 metres of me at the game, I was the one shouting.

HE WANTS TO CUT INSIDE, DON'T LET HIM CUT INSIDE. DON'T LET HIM... 2-0.

Absolutely dreadful. Lukaku is a handful but could we have made it any easier for him? Monreal (Spanish International) got too square and basically showed him inside and in turn passing him onto Vermaelen. Now surely, his international team mate would wise up but no, on he goes. Then he pulls the trigger and it's 2-0. Pathetic. Why couldn't anyone show him outside? I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was embarrassing. It was another Arsenal Sunday League Special. From that point nobody on the field believed we could get back into it. We reverted to potshots from distance but barely threatened.

2-0 Half Time.

Initially after the break no players appeared until Ramsey came out and trained on his own for several minutes before being joined by the others. Then it got me thinking, what could Wenger be saying to his players. Whatever it was would it motivate them? Surely it's all be said before. In the last couple of months he's been faced with the half time team talks at Liverpool and Chelsea, so would his words today strike any chords? I don't see how they could have. Surely Wenger delivered the heavy artillery in those games? You can see it in the players, they don't believe in themselves or their team mates.

I'm led to believe that Arteta scored the 3rd despite the PA announcer claiming Miralles got the final touch. Altogether another fine chapter in our calamitous defender, which has returned with a vengeance.

3-0 Full time

So where from here? How many back to basic strategies can one side go through? I haven't heard any apology yet, maybe that will come tomorrow. We'll be promised that the side will work harder, like Arteta said after Chelsea. Since we've drawn two and lost one. Quite the response Mikel. We just can't hack the bigger games. Take a quick look at the games amongst the top 5. The mini-table looks like this:

Chelsea 16 points
City 10 points
Everton 8 points
Liverpool 7 points
Arsenal 5 points

We've played a full complement of 8 games as well and have a nice tasty goal difference of -14. It is worth noting that despite not picking up so much as a point in any of those away games, City, Everton and Liverpool have only picked up one point in total from those same games. Moral of the story - Win your home games.

So here's the question. Imagine the headline "Arsene Wenger parts ways with Arsenal", what's your first reaction? Mine is relief. He took us to a new level, which I am wholly appreciative of but now coaches like Martinez and Rodgers are running rings around him. When it comes to the big games we are nowhere to be seen. It can only be resolved with new ideas and different methods. The FA Cup allows us to part ways on a high, this needs to end on a high but if he stays we'll face the same issues next season because the belief has gone. Even if we blazed a trail at the start of next season, you know what would happen and if you don't think I can possibly make such an outlandish assumption just look at previous seasons. We are stuck competing for 4th and I don't want 4th, I want to compete. Instead the best of the rest is good enough for us, we're just very lucky that the best of the rest = 4th.

So I'm off to wait for yet another apology from the players. I fear I may be some time. If only they cared as much as all of us eh?



Thursday, 27 March 2014

Wenger Misses a Chance to Send a Message

It has always irked me somewhat that whenever we seem to have an 'accident' there seems to be little desire to change personnel. Mainly because there has always been a lack of:

ACCOUNTABILITY

the state of being accountable, liable, or unanswerable.

Now when we lose a game 6-0 I expect a few home truths to be told and players to be dropped. I want players made an example of. I want them to live with the fear that sub-standard performances aren't good enough and it means that you'll be adopting the Alex Song position (on the bench). The lack of accountability has always annoyed me, sometimes it offers an insight into where you went wrong and who the manager holds responsible for poor performances. Think of some of the worst Arsenal performances (not including last Saturday), got one? Good. I'm selecting Newcastle away. The line-up that dark day in 2011:


Szczesny
Sagna
Koscielny
Djourou
Clichy
Diaby
Fabregas
Walcott
Wilshere
Arshavin
Van Persie

Well all know the situation right? So fast forward one week later and we play Wolves at The Emirates. The line-up:

Szczesny
Sagna
Djourou 
Koscielny
Clichy
Wilshere 
Song 
Fabregas 
Walcott
Arshavin
Van Persie

So only the one change and that was enforced, as About Diaby was sent off at St James' Park. Now what sort of message does that send out? If harsh words are had is the meaning lost? It appears Wenger may pander to his players too much. Yet last season when Szczesny was dropped he came back a new player. Dropping players does work. Who'd have thought it. Interestingly I read an article pointed out to me by @durhamgooner that Lee Dixon did with Amy Lawrence for the Guardian and he said

"I like Arsène a lot. He's got a really cool sense of humour, he can be really funny, he laughs at himself. He can be difficult at times – he is not very good at confrontation which you would expect him to be. He finds it very difficult to front you up and tell you why he's dropped you because he cares about you, so it is very difficult for him to look you in the eye."

Now forgive me questioning a manager that doesn't like confrontation. But what is that all about? A startling revelation from one of our former legends. You could speculate as a result of this apparent weakness that it's a reason why we struggle when the chips are down. His philosophy will work brilliantly when everything is going to plan but when your ship sails off track you need to take action and if that means dropping players, then so be it. 

So we fast forward to the comparison between Chelsea and Swansea line ups.

Szczesny>Szczesny
Sagna>Sagna
Gibbs>Gibbs
Mertesacker>Mertesacker
Koscielny>Vermaelen
Arteta>Arteta
Ox>Ox
Rosicky>Rosicky
Podolski>Flamini
Giroud>Giroud
Cazorla>Caozrla

So much like at St James' Park we had one enforced change, the other was to offer another DM against Swansea at home. So are we saying here that Podolski was the scapegoat for Saturday? Surely not. First of all, the bloke got subbed 23 minutes. His inclusion away from The Emirates is always risky but you know that level of inconsistentcy is always possible with the PR wonder machine. There's no need to speculate that Arsenal went into media lock down on Sunday but far what purpose did it serve. I agreed entirely with Wenger that his time was definitely best spent with his team but what can he say to a side that probably has 6/7 undroppable players. Is he still afraid to have that difficult conversation? Despite his faith there was obviously a lack of confidence. So if you play players after a mauling they suffer a lack of confidence. If you drop them, the sulk but are then motivated when they are introduced back in to the side. Sadly we don't have the squad to drop them all. 

Going into last night I would have dropped 4/5 players with the view to reintroducing them on Saturday. Why isn't Gnabry considered a variable option? It was only in January that Wenger spoke about Gnabry's chances of going to the World Cup, he said 

"There is more than a small chance. There's a big chance. We are looking at a guy who has good individual talent, he can go past people, is a good finisher and has a very good football brain with good vision."

Maybe Wenger has forgotten these words of praise but Gnabry has fallen off the proverbial cliff in terms of game time. We also had TWO right backs (by trade) on the bench, couldn't one of them play instead of Sagna? How is Sanogo good enough for Bayern and Liverpool but not Swansea. At least three players in addition to Flamini could and should have played. 

I just cannot fathom how we make the same mistakes every single season and maybe this is something that contributes towards our own downfall. This is one of a cluster of reasons why I think a new manager would improve our side. Wenger is not getting the best out of them and we carry passengers for far too long and then they get injured.

Maybe at the grand old age of 32 I'm a bit old fashioned but surely dropping players and making them accountable for their actions means that they will take more responsibility on a football field or is it just wishful thinking? Or am I just being naive?

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Big Game Bottlers

On Saturday I travelled in hope that we could pull off a result that would either see us catapulted right into the mix of the main contenders or back into our rightful battle #raceforfourth. Reality was that we'd lose because of how formidable Chelsea are at home. My main thoughts ahead of game were that Mourinho was plotting our downfall and he was planning some scheme to stifle us, as only he does. However what I didn't consider, not for one second, was that we would be absolutely gutless/spineless/weak (delete as appropriate). In what could have been a weekend of mass celebration, has turned into a complete and utter nightmare.

Whilst many ponder Wenger's biggest achievements and best XI's, I can safely say this was the worst performance under Wenger. Don't even attempt to compare against the 8-2. That side contained a back four of Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny and Traore and there was Coquelin at DM. Yes, we missed Ozil, Walcott and Ramsey on Saturday but all of those also appeared at Man City in an equally inept defensive display. We had our starting back five out on Saturday but our biggest downfall was that we didn't play as a team, instead we played like a bunch of selfish Sunday morning footballers. Its often a comparison used to take a point to the extreme but I'm sure many Sunday league sides would play a lot more intelligently than we've be doing in games against Liverpool and Chelsea. Seriously what are they advised to do?  We seemed to deploy a gung-ho right from the off. Surely we weren't trying to bury Chelsea in the first ten minutes? Given our record in first halves this season it certainly doesn't even form the basis of a logical plan.

So let's play a game (not of the Saw variety) spot the difference.













So what similarities have we here? Five Arsenal 'defenders'. Three Chelsea forwards. Sagna in practically in the exact same position. Both resulted in a goal. Hardly any difference in them at all. Gibbs is woefully out of position. We are the masters of plotting our own downfall. You always wonder if they'll finally begin to learn?

The truth is we don't learn and that's why Wenger should and will be questioned. Our record against other top sides is pathetic. Ultimately it isn't the be all and end of all of the league but it's six games of the season and it ruins us time after time. 17 goals conceded against City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Absolutely embarrassing. The only comfort I can take is I didn't get a ticket to go to Man City. That's my only positive.  The best part of £100 spent on Liverpool and Chelsea and didn't show up in either. Good value for money.

The ever insightful stats from @orbinho threw out a stat that before this season we'd only ever conceded more than 5 goals in two Premier League games. So the three batterings really do tell their own story.

Whilst I still search for answers I can't help but look at how Wenger has neglected this side. We sold Song (rightly so) and replaced him by moving Mikel Arteta into DM. An opportunity to upgrade the side was missed. Don't get me wrong Arteta has had his good games but when the going gets tough, he isn't up to it. If you ever wanted stats to hide your deficiencies, then he had a 93% completion percentage on Saturday. Yet, in truth, he was awful. Ill-disciplined (like Song) and too negative in possession. He really is Denilson 2.0. Then you have Giroud. He was bought (if Wenger is to be believed) to complement RVP, not replace him. So we've gone two seasons awaiting a replacement for our last great striker. Don't get me wrong, I'll stick up for Giroud because he gives us options and he offers a plan b but in the toughest of matches, he's found wanting. If you watch his shot on Saturday (yes, I watched MOTD), he doesn't connect with his foot but his lower shin. That's just poor.

What this all says to me is we are going backwards. These high level results are showing that we are regressing. Did we get lucky because Ferguson called it a day? Much of the focus is on Wenger's possible deal but instead of asking yourself is he worthy of a new deal, ask yourself if he is capable of building a new side. My answer - he isn't. Mentally the damage that lies within the players can only be fixed with a new ethos and leadership. We have too many weaknesses. We used to throw away leads, now we just get humped. We used to get bullied, now we get pressured. That's how these Arsenal sides are evolving. You can tell the players don't believe in themselves. As soon as we went 1-0 down on Saturday, it was like they relived their own personal nightmare from Anfield. They had already accepted their fate. That's where the manager gets on their case but wait a moment, who is that sat on the bench, it's the manager. Not once did I see him offer instruction, attempt to change tactics or influence the game. How can you sit there and watch your team fall apart at the seems? I'm not saying standing up resolves our issues but at least try to influence the game. Mourinho has always out-foxed Wenger and he knows exactly how to beat us. No doubt the money argument will rear it's head but Chelsea have a lot of players we could have afforded but maybe it comes down to ambition. If prospective players are given the chance to sign for Arsenal or Chelsea, who do you think they'll sign for?

At the end of the days players want to win and we will win the FA Cup but is that not the perfect opportunity for Wenger to leave? I listened to the +Tim Clark (Arse2Mouse) podcast and Dave discussed this scenario brilliantly. Win and leave on a high, as Wenger should be remembered. Why not? Sounds perfect to me. Wenger has led us through this period/decade of transition and maybe it is time to hand over the reigns to another world class manager. Whilst fans will point towards Man Utd's ongoing decline, all you have to do to avoid such calamity is to not hire David Moyes. I want the Wenger era to end on a high but it appears the same mistakes are being repeated over and over again. Even the contract scenario of a few years ago seems to be regurgitating itself right now.  The players look comfortable and seem to get in based on reputation or by default. I can't be bothered with all of the AKB or WOB but when you talk about loyalty remember that we, the fans, have also been loyal. We've shown patience and believed in a project that many others would not have. Just look at the rats fleeing the United season ticket ship. Win the FA Cup Arsene and then let us embrace the legacy you've left behind and allow someone to take us to the next level, as you did back in 1996.

P.S Thanks for the apology today Mikel but sadly we've heard it all before.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Best (and Worst) of Wenger's Reign

In celebration of Arsene reaching 1000 games it seems to be trendy to pick his best XI of his time at Arsenal. So in keeping with that theme why don't we branch out? So I've prepared a few different XI's and see what you think.

The Best

Seaman - 1.3m
Lauren - 7.2m
Adams - Free
Campbell - Free
Cole - Free
Pires - 6m
Vieira - 3.5m
Fabregas - Free
Ljungberg - 3m
Bergkamp - 7.5m
Henry - 11m

Total Cost = 39.5m

Pretty straight forward for me. There may be some discussion over right back with Lauren v Sagna but I'm a sucker for The Invincibles and that swayed it. Not sure there are many others up for debate? Overmars? Left too soon to be considered for a starting berth.  Worth noting that Wenger didn't sign all of that team though.

The Worst

This is tough, forgive me if I have blocked out some absolute horrors.

Wright - 6m
Luzhny - 1.8m
Squillaci - 4m
Cygan - 2m
Silvestre - 800k
Hleb - 10m
Mendez-Rodriguez - 330k
Gervinho - 10.5m
Vivas - 2m
Jeffers -  8m
Diawara - 2.5m

Many, many players could have made that team but there are some shockers in there. From players from the lower reaches of the German league to the fox in the box.

Total Cost = 47.9m

The Most Expensive

I'm relaying purely on memory so forgive me if there are any errors here. Feel free to correct me

Wright - 6m
Sagna - 7.9m
Vermaelen - 10.5m
Koscielny - 9m
Monreal - 8.3m
Nasri 13.6m
Arshavin 16m
Reyes - 13m
Wiltord - 13m
Cazorla - 16m
Ozil - 42m

Total Cost = 155.9m

I'm sure you could go on and on. but they are just a select few that I have chosen. I'd love to see your best and worst teams, feel free to comment below. One thing is for sure though, 1000 games is a fantastic achievement and each and every club has their skeletons in the closet. You can't always get it right every time.







Wednesday, 19 March 2014

1-0 To The Arsenal

Well wasn't that just an absolute belter of a weekend? I have to say I started the day in a quietly confident mood and I never really contemplated defeat at any point, often that thought process can be my undoing but I genuinely didn't feel that there was anything to fear, not even Mike Dean. My mood was backed up when I got inside White Hart Lane, I'd never seen so many happy and enthusiastic gooners prior to kick, everyone was chomping at the bit. 

Our mood infected the side and it gave Rosicky some super human powers as he destroyed the spurs  goal inside of 2 minutes. What an absolute piledriver. I'm probably his biggest critic when it comes to his end product but that was majestic. That's what he can do, he just needs to do it more often. Not wonder strikes but just more goals please Tomas. 

Then it was time to shut the door on Sp*rs. They were absolutely clueless. Adebayor did his lets look pretty on the wing trick to perfection. Not much danger when he's not in the middle and even when Szczesny had an absolute nightmare for a minute they still couldn't score. They've absolutely shafted themselves with the Bale money. There's nothing more to spend and they've got a hyperactive hamster on the sidelines. It's like the good old days.

Speaking of which, there are few things more satisfying than a 1-0 to The Arsenal scoreline. I've seen lots of talk about how poor we played going forward but how great we were at the back. Why does there always have to be a positive negative within our fan base? We won at Tottenham but you want to hyper analyse things to get your weekly negativity injection. Just bloody enjoy it is what I'd say. For the last few years the gap was closing, they got a bit cocky and got bitten on the arse. The media talked about how there a was a power shift, their manager said we were going into a negative spiral and look at us now. We've played them three times this season and they haven't even managed a single goal to celebrate. Bless them. They continue to outdo themselves as well. Sherwood is talking like a man possessed. Apparently we papered over the cracks yesterday? What cracks and whose paper are we using? Would those be the cracks that saw us win without Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott. He's an absolute idiot. Anyway, Sherwood's taking me off topic. We won in a gritty dogged fashion that I was accustomed to when George Graham was in charge. It's like a thing of defensive beauty. We score, then it's up to you to break us down, lets see what you have. What they had was a long ball and that's just not going to cut it. It was a tactical performance. The subs reinforced our belief that we didn't need a second, they helped the concentration levels and we kept our focus. It's not looking as calamitous at the back as we once were. I have no issues with performances like what I saw yesterday. After all, isn't it what people have been saying we aren't capable of?

A massive factor in yesterdays win was victory against Everton. The fact our season will carry on until mid-April plays a huge part. The pressure is lifted, the players can breathe, relax and believe in themselves. The happiness amongst our support is brilliant to see as well. Everyone was buzzing on Sunday, it felt like it was just one song after another, if it wasn't signing about the invincible side, it was about our upcoming trip to wembley. If we weren't mocking their club motto, we goading their arsenal supporting gaffer. Everyone was on top form. All I ever want from my team is to believe they can compete and challenge for honours. I don't expect there to be silverware at the end of the rainbow but just supplying those better moments later in the season takes you to a new level of enjoyment and satisfaction. 

The last couple of seasons has been turbulent in terms of our ambitions but what has been manifesting itself is the connection between the players and the fans. For too long I've questioned players attitudes and commit to the cause but they loved that as much as we did. They know how important that is to us. I can't say I've felt connections with some of our recent sides but this works. The rapport between the two camps of supporters and players has probably never been as close in my lifetime. Under Graham, we were regimental and in the Emirates Wenger era we've just been littered with players willing to stab us in the back. We've formed a trust with our players, we accept their shortcomings and in return they accept ours. Mertesacker leads the way. The big lumbering hopeless centre half isn't turning out too bad is he? What an absolute colossus that man is and you know his partner in crime (admittedly a little more reckless) isn't too bad either. 

It didn't take too long but you can see the impact Bould has had on the back four. He has recreated the famous back five, admittedly they are head and shoulders about our current defence but the foundations have been set. Mertesacker and Koscielny put it all on the line. They defend as if their very lives depend on it. They defend as is they enjoy the art of defending. Something we haven't had since the days of Adams and co. Instead we've had players like Toure, Gallas and Vermaelen. Players who like to play but all had defensive shortcomings. It's just refreshing and delightful to watch. 


You'll have no doubt seen we are still outsiders in terms of the betting when it comes to winning the league but that's down to fear of schedule we are currently enduring but if we manage to get a draw against Chelsea, I think we'll begin to shorten quite rapidly. That said, I'm happy to fly under the radar.  It suits us best. After the result at the weekend we go into the game against Chelsea in good spirit and form, which is more than can be said about them considering their implosion at Villa Park. We don't have to deal with that little snake Ramires either, the type of player that throws off guard but he won't be available on Saturday. I sense there'll be a lot of bad blood between Wenger and Mourinho, particularly as the latter will no doubt be unaware until the media throw him the "it's Wenger's 1000th game" line. The Portuguese egotistical maniac will probably end up doing Wenger's work for him and  if we could achieve a victory then the other challengers might just start to take us a little bit more seriously. However, until Saturday comes just enjoy what the team have given you on Sunday and pack away your miserable, negative ways and save them for when the time is right because for now the world's so much better once you've beaten Tottenham for the third time in seven months. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Is It Mike Dean Or Is It Us?

Well the first week of death run 2.0 is nearly at a close and it’s been a week in which we’ve taken a battering on the media front. So now really more than ever is time for a bit of perspective.

Out of the FA Cup.
Out of the Champions League. 

Oh wait, the former does not apply to us but instead both apply to Manchester City. It’s all gone a bit a shaky at the Etihad in the last couple of weeks since their League Cup triumph. Their back to back defeats has been very Arsenal esque. The usual week of season ending torture has been endured somewhat by City themselves. Yes, the have a decent chance of the league but Chelsea have the points in the bag. The pressure is well and truly on them. 

So what does that have to do with us? Well, if we had suffered the fate of City we’d have dominated the back pages of the press for the last few days. Oh wait, we did. Then on the day following City’s defeat a different slant was taken. Funny that. Only enough room for one team to be shot at? 

But the question is it it them or is it us?

It’s said that our fans are a paranoid bunch and to an extent I agree, especially when it comes to refs, we are extremely paranoid. You need look no further than Mike Dean’s record when refereeing Arsenal. Do supporters genuinely believe we’ve lost games because he is ref? You don’t need to trawl through all of the games but we lost to Bradford of League Two. I remember on the night that Dean was at his finest theatrical best but a ref shouldn’t ever be the cause of a defeat. Yes, they can contribute towards a teams downfall but on that night in particular our first team couldn’t dispatch a side from three divisions lower. Then you have Dean’s showing in the NLD 5-2 Part One. He allegedly celebrated as Saha’s deflected effort made it 1-0 to Sp*rs. As the ball looped up over Szczesny Dean jumped to see if the ball was going into the net and in true Mike Dean fashion he emphatically pointed towards the centre spot to signal a goal. However it was interpreted as him having celebrated a goal. I mean come on, seriously? If you want a ref celebrating than look no further than Norman Burtenshaw in the 1971. A much bigger prize at stake and one that i’m sure it would have Gooners blaming the epic 2 hour scorching heat and relief of game being over (which was actually the truth in this case) but we can’t just take sides as and when we choose. I hate the ref blaming culture and I try to steer clear of it as best as possible, it just makes you focus on the game with a clearer mind. Mike Dean was ref against Blackburn in the FA Cup last season. Was it his fault, of course it wasn't, we were terrible. For those that do point the finger solely at officials how do you ever get over things like Rooney’s dive over campbell’s leg? You don’t get the closure required to move on. So yes we are paranoid at times but on this occasions it was column filing at it’s very worst. I no doubt believe that there wasn’t much of a story in Bayern eliminating Arsenal as it was widely expected. So an opportunity presented itself for  journalists to steal a march on others. Instead of the late goal match report killer, they were faced with 45 minutes that they could dedicate digging the knife into Ozil. It was cowardly at best and I’m glad our supporters when on a bit of a trollfest. It needed highlighting and the point was made. 

Sadly, the unwanted attention that Ozil has attracted has detracted from the fact we make our first Wembley Semi Final appearance since 2009. It’s something that will no doubt be belittled due to us playing Wigan. Poor old little Wigan, the reigning cup holders, the team who have beaten City twice in 10 months. A team that has earned it’s right to be at this stage as much as we have. You can’t help but feel that a nice feel good factor is around the corner. The opportunity of silverware is on a plate for us. I got a little excited on twitter when City lost to Wigan. I said “WE’RE GOING TO WIN THE CUP”, the notable favourites and no doubt screen shots followed but surely there isn’t anyone out there that doesn’t think we won’t win it? We’re a bloody good side, one that has certainly stepped up a gear in the last 12 months and finally we should be getting a reward in the form of silverware. Has anyone considered an FA Cup and 4th placed trophy double? I’ll get the bus ready. 

In all seriousness though, the Everton win was massive. It has completely taken the edge off this run of games that we have an no matter what happens in the next few weeks. Our season will in some form, still be very much alive. The challenge until our trip to Wembley is to forge our way back into the title race. I said in a blog not so long ago that I don’t think we can claim 9 points from 9 but the club has slotted in Swansea at home between Chelsea and City. That said from trips to SHL, The Bridge and at home to City I haven’t seen anything that has led to think that is now achievable. Our trickiest fixture is away to Chelsea. we can ill afford to lose there but a draw would suffice and it would be Mourinho esque in ensuring that the team ahead of you in the table does open up a gap. The gap is 7 points but we need our game in hand to reduce that to 4. Lets hope we can stick around but first up we play Sp*rs. The one game a season you can guarantee they’ll turn up. Tickets for the game in their end were on stub hub for 1k (which is also the price of our cheapest season ticket incidentally). That’s how big this game is to them and we must match their intensity and tempo from the get-go. Our record at SHL has been pitiful and we haven’t won there since 2007, yep 2007. That’s pretty embarrassing but also reflective of how our stock has fallen since the move to our new stadium. I think last years defeat was a big wake up call and it has certainly breathed new life into our side, so now it’s up to those players to get us 3 very welcome points and claim our first season double of Spurs in 7 years. Lots has been made of Sp*rs recent lull but if they get a lead on Sunday they’ll all thrive on it. It would be great if the Arsenal v Sunderland could turn up and have it done by half time. Of course, it wont be that easy and to be honest it doesn’t matter how we get 3 points, we just have to get the 3 points and if that was to come via a Mike Dean decision that maybe he would be classed as a gooner for the foreseeable future. 



Thursday, 6 March 2014

Give Sagna What He Wants!

It appears that another contract has managed to whittle down. However unlike the usual cheaper sale with 12 months to go, we face losing one of the worlds best right backs for free. 

Now, for me, losing Sagna would be a huge blow to us. It's taken us a number of years to rebuild our defence and we've finally started to see some results. We've chopped and changed over the years trying to find the right combinations since The Invincibles:

Left Back : Cole>Clichy>Gibbs/Monreal

Centre Half:

Campbell/Toure>Gallas/Toure>Gallas/Vermaelen>Vermaelen/Koscielny>Mertesacker/Vermaelen>Koscielny/Mertesacker

Right Back:

Lauren>Eboue>Sagna

That makes Sagna the main stay of our defensive unit. So why risk a change? 

Bosman

I'm not going to be naive here, Sagna can test the market and he has the greatest tournament in the world to showcase his ability BUT Mathieu Debuchy currently occupies that slot. So Sagna could see himself parked on the bench quite a bit in Brazil. I have to admit I'm somewhat puzzled that Debuchy starts ahead of him. Some say the Newcastle man is better going forward but surely the better all round player is the man you select? Look at other Premier League sides though, City aside, they would all upgrade the right back position if they acquired Sagna. Then you consider the cash rich French clubs. They odds are stacked against us. 

This is likely to be Sagna's final contract, so he's right to consider his options but are our own fictitious rules getting in the way again? If we offer him say a 3 or 4 year deal, the club does realise we can sell him on during that time? Right? 

Strengths

Sagna no doubt came to Arsenal to win honours and so far he has won absolutey nothing. So first of all, we've seen loyalty. Shall we reward him off the back of that alone, of course not. 

He is however, absolutely fantastic in the air. He's magnificent. Often when we are forced to kick it long, it's generally in the direction of our number 3, as he always beats wingers in the air. It's also worth considering having aerial presence makes up for our lack of height at times as well. 

His positional sense has really grown in recent years too. That's pivotal when we've had to adapt our back four to compensate for Mertesacker. The back four is perfectly balance and I love seeing Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker & Gibbs line up together. It's worth noting that back four didn't start in the two massive drubbings we've taken so far this season. If there's a weakness it's on the left because our wingers either tuck in too much or shun defensive responsibility. 

Even going forward Sagna has improved. When Adebayor left Sagna's production fell away but he has put in some absolute worldies this season. It's definitely an aspect he has worked on and it's paying off. It's just a shame we lack clinical forwards. 

Man on man - if it comes to individual battles who has his number? Nobody that I can recall since Victor Moses had him on toast nearly 2 years ago. It says a lot about opposition tactics focussing away from him. It's probably the biggest compliment you can a defender. 

Weaknesses

Well Sagna turned 31 on valentines day, so he's in the over 30's club. Our age discrimating contract policy already has that under intense scrutiny. Then there's his repeated leg break. That's definitely a concern but he's played over 30 games this season. Which would highlight he's fully recovered. He could argue it's not a factor, after all Rosicky swindles new deals and he's hardly Mr Durable. 

Cost

The club may refuse to pay Sagna x amount but if he leaves we are going to need to find a replacement. Carl Jenkinson is nowhere near being ready to  even start regularly, let alone replace a proven international. So that means we'll have to buy a replacement (unless one is growing on a tree somewhere) and that means spending cash. Even a simple 5m to replace equates to 96k pw for one year. Does it not make sense to reinvest in a player that has helped us hugely over the years (last years dip aside). I'm fearful that Wenger may split up a solid back line and it's some what contradictory on Wenger's part that whilst he's being seeking the answer the puzzle, he may go and replace an important cog, just when he'd found the missing piece. 

At some stage our contract shenanigans will seriously bite us on the derrière. I sure those pro-Wenger and club will say it's the players fault but if we were winning trophies, he'd have signed already. However, we aren't and players want silverware. It's a risk for Sagna but he probably wants a medal and he's already seen the likes of Nasri and RVP get those  in their first season away from Arsenal. 

It's time to stop playing hardball and just pay the man. After all, if wages are an issue just remember the amount of cash we are wasting on players we have no intention of using and/or have no future at the club.