Thursday, April 30, 2009

1-0 to Man Utd

"That's Arsenal's advantage. They can play Pat Rice at right-back and Arsène Wenger can play centre-forward; it doesn't matter to them."

- Alex Ferguson, commenting about the Premier League, but also valid for the Champions League return fixture next week

He's right, of course. We can play Pat Rice at right-back and Arsene Wenger at centre-forward. That'll free up Sagna to partner Toure in the centre of defense, slide Eboue out to left back, and it'll leave Silvestre out of the team completely. Adebayor could be relegated to the bench, and maybe Wenger's good enough to score from clear-cut chances and not get offside all the time. I'm sure his workrate would be much better, at any rate.

That's the Arsenal advantage - our squad's so thin that sometimes, it doesn't matter who we play.

Wenger says that the positive is that we're only a goal down. He's right; we were very lucky this morning. O'Shea scored a weak goal after he was totally unmarked by the far post. Man Utd peppered our goal, and if Almunia hadn't been up for the game, we would be entering the second leg four or five goals down.

We played terribly. Adebayor was listless. Diaby was useless. Silvestre was worse than useless - we'd be better off getting him red carded at the start of the match. He's at the heart of every goal we've conceded in the past couple of weeks. We didn't press, we didn't attack, we didn't defend, we didn't do anything except stroll around the pitch for 90 minutes and hope it wouldn't be too bad. For the biggest game of our season, it's a pretty poor performance.

It's frustrating that we're playing our best players out of position to compensate for weaker players. Cesc is now an attacking midfielder because he's a good finisher and can score the goals that Adebayor can't. Nasri is now a defensive midfielder becaue Diaby can't tackle, can't press and can't offer a physical presence. Diaby is a left winger because he's a defensive liability and he will do less damage on the wing than in the middle of the park.

There isn't a lot to say. We were outplayed because Man Utd's a better team that's better organised and more hungry for success. They played an outstanding game this morning, and really should've buried us. And next Tuesday, they probably will.

Still, there is a bit of hope. Ferdinand might be out. Djourou and van Persie might be fit, and might take the place of Silvestre and Adebayor. We might play a 4-4-2 and try to attack Man Utd instead of playing a tactical game. We might have learnt to defend in the meanwhile. I wouldn't hold my breath, but hope is all we've got.

My prediction for Tuesday: 3-1 to the Arsenal.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Something to play for

"This is the moment that we've waited for. I'm an optimist and I believe I will win it [the Champions League] and the sooner, the better. That's why I am here with complete belief."

- Arsene Wegner, who's so excited he's about to break out in showtunes

We're playing Man Utd tomorrow morning. Getting really nervous. It's like that feeling you get the afternoon before the school play, as you're walking into the auditorium and it's buzzing with anticipation. There's the fear of the unknown, the quivering stomach and the vague sense of impending doom.

Or maybe it's just because I quit my job this morning and I'm at loose ends.

Whatever the case, I'll be up tomorrow morning whether we're going to do it. Whether we're going to beat Man Utd. I don't have anything intelligent to say about it, so I won't try. Odds are, we're going to lose. But then, we support Arsenal, so we got to think we're going to win it, right? Anyway, there's something to play for. It's in our power to stop this:

It's almost as revolting as seeing Ashley Cole win something. C'mon Arsenal.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Random musings

"It's only worth doing if it's challenging."

- Claire, from a while back

It's the lull before the storm, and we're all getting a bit anxious about the match on Wednesday. Gibbs is a promising left back, but you wonder if he can do the business against Ronaldo. Djourou should be back in centreback, and hopefully Silvestre is back on the physio table where he belongs. We've a bunch of paper tigers at the back, and we're hoping Man Utd don't realise it.

Kolo Toure made the observation that no one expected the Arsenal to be in the semi-final of the Champions League. He's got a point - during January, we were in freefall and doubting if we'd qualify for the Champions League. And now, we're 4th in the Premier League and we've made the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the Champions League. That's a remarkable achievement when you consider it was done with a shallow, callow squad that wallowed in self-pitying mediocrity for half a season.

However, when you step back and reflect on the season, you're left wondering at what might've been: IF we'd bought replacements for Flamini and Hleb; IF we'd bought Arshavin at the beginning of the year instead of midway through; IF we'd bought ready-made players instead of ill-prepared kids the backbone of our side. It gives you a headache if you think about it long enough. The bones of a dominant team are present, we just need some more quality signings to flesh it out. But Arsene Wenger likes to do things the hard way.

After all, it's only worth doing if it's challenging.

It's something that Claire said that night in Dubrovnik. And every now and then, when I'm sunk in the humdrum of everyday life, it hits me square in the face. She was right. There's very little point in staying in your comfort zone. It's only when you're extend yourself that you realise who you are. It's only then that you become alive. 

I'm stuck in the middle of something at the moment, and it's tearing me apart. I can't sleep, I can't eat, I feel nauseous and I've a slight migraine above my left temple. It's much like the symptoms I get after a bucketful of KFC. And it's much like the symptoms I get just before a big game. I'm not sure what's the cause. It could be stress. It could be indigestion. But it could also be the start of something big.

If we topple Man Utd, if we front up to Barcelona in the Champions League final, how great would it be to realise we'd done it with a bunch of kids that everyone had written off just four months previous? It'll be a vindication of everything Wenger's said these past few years. It'll be so sweet. 

It reminds me of something Kennedy once said:

"We choose to go to the moon. We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of hour energies and kills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. "

Okay, it's just Man Utd, not a man on the moon, but still.... c'mon Arsenal.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough

"I believe that what is important on Wednesday night is that we're at our best. When we are at our best we can beat anybody."

- Arsene Wenger, bigging us up for the match against Utd

2-0 to the Arsenal last night, with two goals to Fabregas and some clever link work with Arshavin. The Owl didn't score any goals and only provided one assist, so it was a pretty poor performance by his standards. Still, we won, so I'm sure he's happy and eager to make amends next game.

Nasri played deep in a holding midfielder role. It's an interesting place to put him. Nasri's a chunky little player, with good ball control. It a bit of a waste of his talent, but he can perform as a holding midfielder adequately. Plus, he's the most hideous Arsenal midfielder since Flamini, and we need a bit of ugliness in the centre of the park. Might be an inspired decision by Wenger. It'll be interesting to see whether he gets a similar role against Man Utd, maybe partnering Song in the centre with Fabregas given license to roam. 

However, halfway through the second half, I realised I really didn't care about the game anymore. We were 2-0 up, the field was open, Arsenal were cruising... and it all seemed quite pointless. Sure, we're 6 points behind Chelsea and 3rd place is still very achievable, but it doesn't seem to mean much to me. 

I'm much more anxious about the game on Wednesday night. Man Utd in the semi-final. That'll be a good game. Our season hangs on the semi-final tie, and our semi-final tie hangs on that game. We're starting to get players back (Almunia and Djourou) and Silvestre's injured, which is always a bonus. If we can keep the defence tight, and not concede more than, let's say five goals, then we're in with a chance at the Emirates in a week's time. I know it's asking a lot of our defence, but it's doable. 

It's going to be a couple of nervy days until the match. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Collapse of the pound

"Don’t worry, that time will soon be over because with the new taxation system, with the collapse of sterling, the domination of the Premier League on that front will go, that is for sure”.

- Arsene Wenger, pessimistic about the future of English dominance

Britain's raised the tax rate for their top income bracket from 40p in the pound to 50p in the pound. The pound sterling's collapsed against the euro. And because of these two factors, there will soon be a steady stream of footballers leaving England for the continent.

On one hand, it's worrying because it means Arsenal will be more vulnerable to advances by the big Spanish clubs. Cesc, Adebayor, Arshavin, van Persie... these players will be effected by the drop in sterling and may agitate for either a significant pay rise, or a transfer out. If it's the former, it'll shoot Arsenal's pay structure to pieces, and if it's the latter, we'll find it difficult to find experienced replacements.

On the other hand, the top taxable income bracket is £150,000 a year. Most footballers earn that much in a month. They can afford to lose a little bit. And anyway, it's not like the other top leagues are swimming in euros. Serie A is moribund. La Liga is, apart from Barca and Real Madrid, relatively poor. However weakened the pound will become, Premier League would still be financially dominant due to pay TV rights, stadium price gouging, etc,.

Anyway, if there's a problem, the Arsenal board would just increase the price of hot dogs at Emirates. Match-going gooners can be relied upon to dig deep for our players. And we've all got to contribute for the team.

Still, I think we should set up a protest group against this new tax hike. Struggling footballers need to be subsidized and protected. The Government obviously wasn't thinking about elite football when they hatched up their crazy plan. Footballers need our help in these tough times. Entourages are expensive. Luxury cars and bling are expensive. If we don't act soon, Cristano Ronaldo will soon be reduced to a pauper's lifestyle of one Lamborghini, two floozies and one tonne of hair product a week.

Won't someone PLEASE think about the footballers?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rescheduling the EPL

“But I'm long enough in the game to know that to manage a team that goes into the Semi-Final of the FA Cup and Semi-Final of the Champions League, with a team of that age, and to still have a chance to go back into 3rd position ... OK, we didn't win the championship but it could be worse in the future don't worry.”

- Arsene Wenger, telling us to be thankful of this thin, callow, mediocre, injury-prone, mentally-suspect, ill-disciplined, tactically-inept, defensively-weak, offensively-profligate squad.... because it could be worse next year.

I'm not going to go too deep into that quote because it's alarming and depressing at the same time. Instead, I'm going to go into the schedule of our match against 'boro.

If I remember correctly, the 'boro match is on tomorrow at 1:30pm, GMT. Which means it'll be shown at 10:30pm, AEST. Which means I'll be watching the Arsenal at a sensible hour and I'll be in bed at a sensible time. Which means I won't be waking up tomorrow morning with a pounding headache and a death wish. Which can only be a good thing.

Now, I realise the English Premier League doesn't revolve around me. And it's a bit much to ask them to schedule all their Arsenal fixtures at 1:30pm (or preferably 12:30pm) so that I can watch my team and have a good night's sleep. And I realise the EPL is run by a lot of Peter Hill-Wood types who schedule matches according to tradition, and not according to the wishes to global football fans. However, there is one little question I'd like to ask:

Why not?

It would help with crowd control. The major difference between a 1:30pm game and a 3:00pm game is that the 3:00pm game enables fans to drink for two more hours. Which means that if a match was scheduled at 1:30pm, you'd have less intoxicated hooligans making arses of themselves on the streets. You'd have a more sober crowd who will buy more over-priced beer in the stadium. And you'd have fans released onto the streets at an earlier time in the day, which would help with crowd dispersal.

It would increase global TV ratings. A 1:30pm (GMT) match takes place at 9:30am in New York, 4:30 am in Los Angeles, 10:30pm in Eastern Australia, 9:30pm in Japan, 8:30pm in Hong Kong and Singapore, and 4:30pm in the Middle East. Apart from Los Angeles, these are all prime-time TV times in some of the richest, EPL-watching areas in the world. TV companies can make a killing with these times. However, push the kickoff time back to 3:00pm, and you get less hospitable hours, and less TV revenue. Richard Scudmore wants to bring football to the global fans, but you can go a long, long way if you just schedule matches during more sociable hours.

It would increase the standard of sports journalism. A match that starts at 3:00pm ends at 5:00pm. There's a press conference at probably 5:30pm. There's about 30 minutes for a write up on the match before the 6 o'clock news. Which means that the journalist has to summarise a match, make sense of a manager's ramblings, and stitch this into the grander narrative of a football team's season. It's difficult to come up with insightful, interesting pieces if you're such tight time constraints. I think the standard of journalism would be much higher if they're given that extra 1.5 hours that a 1:30m kickoff time would provide.

That's just my way of thinking, of course. Take it as you will. It's just that I like sleeping about as much as I like watching Arsenal play football, and it's nice to be able to do both.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Liverpool 4, Arshavin 4

He's a god, he's an Owl,
he's a man, he's Arshavin
You're one microscopic cog
in his catastrophic scheme
Designed and directed
by his red Arse team...

- a song for Arshavin that'll never take, mostly because it's not an 80s rock anthem. Sung to the tune of Red Right Hand by Nick Cave
Arshavin scored to put us in the lead. Liverpool scored twice to lead after 60 minutes. Arshavin scored again, a ripping 30 yard effort, and Liverpool pegged us back. Arshavin scored once more, and Liverpool equalised at the death. If we keep playing Arshavin, we're in danger of being a one-man team.

But WHAT a one-man team we'd be...

The rest of the lads were patchy.

Silvestre was a liability and should be dropped, even if it means playing without a centre-half. Fabianksi made some great saves and some hilarious errors. I loved the bit early on where he just kept charging at the attackers; at one stage, I thought he'd follow the ball out of the penalty area and into the corner flag. Sagna crossed the ball across the penalty area and cost us the third goal. Gibbs cleared off the line for the second game in a row, was at fault for the third goal, but overall was okay. He's going to be a good player for us.

Song did well, and showed why he's not the butt of jokes at the Arsenal anymore. The boy does good when he wants to, and he wanted to do good today. After his form of recent weeks, you start to wonder if an experienced defensive midfielder is still necessary. Nasri and Cesc flitted in and out. Bendtner was anonymous. Denilson was absent.

But Arshavin plays like a dream, and at about 6:30am in the morning, with the sun coming up and Arshavin punched his left-footed shot through for goal, I thought I was dreaming. We haven't had a player like him since the Invincibles. He's deadly. He's tough. He's the Alec Guiness of football. He's the Arsenal we once were, and the Arsenal we still hope to become.

We're still shite, though. We let the led slip by twice in the last 20 minutes. It's unforgivable. In the last five minutes, when Liverpool threw everything at us, we couldn't get it out. We don't have a midfielder who can hold onto the ball and take the pressure off the defence. We can't defend set-pieces; actually, with our current back five, we can't defend at all. We're aching for Djouoru and Almunia to return. Up against Man Utd next week, I'm pretty worried. Thank God it's an away leg first up - a 4-4 tie at Old Trafford would actually be a GOOD result.

But this isn't a day for whining. This is a day for celebrating the wonder that is Arshavin.

He scores four goals a game and he's small enough to sit on your hand. What a marvel!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Back on the bandwagon

"Anfield is another game, another competition, a chance for Wenger to show us that he was right to rest Nasri, Song and Arshavin so that he could beat Liverpool and finish third. That's what he did. It was seriously bizarre, but that's what he did."

- Myles Palmer, Arsenal News Review

Myles Palmer made a good point today. 

He said that Wenger rested his form players (Arshavin, Nasri and Song) to keep them fresh for the game against Liverpool. He said that Wenger is prioritising gaining 3rd place in the league over winning the FA Cup. There's a certain logic to it. 4th place will land us a qualifying spot against possibly a very strong side (Bayern Munich, Ajax, Atletico Madrid, etc.). 3rd place will mean automatic qualification. 

I'd be sad if it was true, though. Football isn't supposed to be about sensible options. It's supposed to be about the vainglorious pursuit of everlasting fame and shiny trophies. If Wenger dropped an FA Cup semi-final to pursue something as dry as automatic CL qualification, it's really sad. I'd much rather believe that Wenger is prejudiced against short people. 

Still, maybe it's time to let it go. After the pessimism and woe of the FA Cup, it's time to get back on the bandwagon. We're up against Liverpool, and we're being written off.  The Merse doesn't give us a chance. He thinks we've nothing to play for and Liverpool will be desperate to win the Premier League. He's thinking a 3-1 win to Liverpool. 

I beg to differ. Arshavin, Nasri, Walcott, Fabregas and Song will be playing. No one's going to be rested for this game - we're going to play our strongest team possible. We've picked up a couple more injuries, but Gerrard's still out for Liverpool. Something tells me that we're going to win tomorrow morning. The Liverpool team better wear underwear during the match, because they're heading for a thorough de-pantsing....

C'mon the Arsenal. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why, Wenger?

"It would be unfair to put too much responsibility for this defeat on Fabianski. I just want to see him recover because I firmly believe he will be one of the best goalkeepers in the world."

- Arsene Wenger, passing the buck

The thing is that we don't blame Fabianksi for the goals. Yes, he was beaten at the near post for the first. And yes, he shouldn't have rushed out for the second. But he's our second-string keeper and he's inexperienced. You expect horribly gauche mistakes from inexperienced players. As Wenger once said, you pay for their education in points. We don't blame Fabianski for the loss.

We blame Wenger.

Arsenal vs Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final is a big, big game. It's our best hope for a trophy this year. We've got a team that is enjoying a late-season resurgence. We're facing a team that's leaking goals. If we attack them, there's a fair chance they'll fall over. In fact, with our patched-up defence, attack is our only chance of winning.

And what do we do?

We play a 4-5-1, stock our midfield with tall players who aren't in-form. We rest our in-form players. We leave our best player on the bench. We take an early lead, and then wait for them to equalise and take the lead. In short, we bottle it.

It gets me angry. It makes me sad. It leaves me with a mild headache and in a profound state of melancholy. Playing Chelsea is difficult enough without playing a half-strength side. When we play Chelsea, we need to play our strongest side and hope for the best. If we don't do that, and we throw a match like we did the other night, what's it all for? Why are we following a club which doesn't take a match seriously, which treats its supporters with contempt, which looks Triumph and Disaster in the eye and treats them both impostors as the same? After all, it's not a fucking Rudyard Kipling poem, Wenger - it's football.

What makes it even more galling is that Everton beat Man Utd last night on penalties. If we'd gone into the Chelsea game with our best side, and if we'd won, we would've been odds-on to win the FA Cup. I don't rate the FA Cup personally, but it's still a trophy.

And for a side as callow as ours, the experience of winning a trophy is priceless.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Where was Arshavin?

"The season will only be good if we win something. Otherwise, it will be a failure."

- Didier Drogba, spelling out the truth for both Chelsea and Arsenal

We're not going to win the treble. Drogba put paid to that in the 84th minute when he scored Chelsea's second goal, and sent us out of the FA Cup. You can argue that Fabianski made a hideous mistake rushing out to meet Drogba, and it cost us the game. But truthfully, the match was over a long time before then. It was over the minute the team sheet was released, and Arshavin was on the bench. 

Why Arshavin was left on the bench is a bit of a mystery. We need the Owl to play every game he can. He's probably our best player. He's certainly been the most influential player in in the games he's played. And yet, he was rested for the game. 

I only saw the last twenty minutes of the match. We were getting killed all over the park by that stage, but it was still 1-1. And yet, we had Arshavin,  Nasri and Song on the bench while we had Denilson and Diaby on the field. It beggars belief that in the one competition we had a chance of winning, we'd go in with a weakened side. 

After we lost, I spent most of night wondering why Wenger would do that. Came up with a few ideas:

1. He wanted to rest Arshavin: 
Arshavin hasn't had a pre-season and has played almost every game for almost three months now. He's been playing one or two matches a week. He's not conditioned to this much football. He could be a bit tired. He could have a soft tissue injury. He might need a rest for Tuesday. 

2. Wenger wanted to hide Arshavin from Hiddink:
Arshavin might have some secret weakness that Wenger doesn't want the world to know. And if Arshavin has a weakness, Guud Hiddink will know about it. Hiddink wouldn't want the world to know about it either, but if it was a choice between Chelsea winning and losing, he'd take advantage of it. And Wenger would want to protect that weakness, because Arshavin's mystique is the best thing we've got at the moment. 

3. Wenger overlooked Arshavin, literally:
Arshavin is very short. And Wenger is very tall. Maybe Wenger had all the players in the dressing room, looked around but forgot to look down. He couldn't find Arshavin, panicked, saw Diaby (who is also very tall) and picked him instead. It's happened before - Diaby and Song do play a lot more matches than Nasri, Vela and Walcott. 

Whatever the case, we're in a bit of a bind now. The FA Cup was our best chance of winning something this year. And now, we're out of it. And it's okay, really. We've got two games a week for three weeks, against some of the best sides in the world. We're not going to win every match. But still, it's frustrating that we didn't bring out our best side to a game we really should be winning. 

As Drogba put it, a successful season is determined by the trophies you win. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wenger's Mind Bullets

What powers you ask? I dunno, how about the power of flight?
That do anything for ya? That's levitation holmes.
How about the power to kill a yak, from 200 yards away...
With mind bullets! That's telekinesis, Kyle.
How about the power... to move you?

- Wonderboy, Tenacious D

I was checking the Arsenal site for match details, and I came across a few tidbits from Wenger. Our manager's been busy ahead of the FA Cup match tonight. He's been trying to psyche-out Chelsea. I haven't seen such venom from Wenger since the peak of the Ferguson-Wenger rivalry.

Firstly, he implies Guus Hiddink is doddering old man (who's only four years older than him):

“I rate him highly. When you come to his age and have survived in top level competition then you have quality."

Then he disses Hiddink, Scolari, Grant and Mourinho.... actually the Abramovich era:

“Chelsea is is a little bit of an exception, but only recently. Mourinho stayed two or three years and Ranieri stayed five years. And Ranieri has been the foundation of today's team. It is Ranieri who built this team, not anybody else."

Then he targets Drogba, first by reminding him that he was mediocre for most of his career, and that Arsenal and all the big French clubs rejected him when he was a young player:

“When he was in Le Mans we watched him carefully... All the French clubs watched him but nobody took him. It is a mistake but when you are in football everyone can understand it.... We didn't miss him because we didn't want [him]. We had Thierry Henry at the time.”

And then this little gem:

“He is a fighter and I believe that we want to make sure that we combat him... But we have to consider that Adebayor can do the same to them, that Bendtner can do the same too. Also Drogba will play against Silvestre and Kolo Toure, who are strong defenders. So I do not worry about Drogba tomorrow. Not at all.”

He even tries to play mind games with the Wembley groundsmen:

"When I heard they had problems with the pitch that was a big disappointment because you always felt you wanted to play at Wembley as there was something special on the pitch there... I expect a good pitch but the noises I get are not as convincing as the former pitch. But the former pitch was really something special.”

And what did Le Boss have to say about our side?

“But we relish that type of pressure. We want the pressure [of success] and are happy to have it. I don’t expect any weakness from Chelsea, I just expect full strength from our squad."

After all these mental assaults, I expect Chelsea to crawl onto a picture-perfect Wembley pitch with their confidence shattered and their manager hobbling on a zipper frame. I expect our boys to fly in with determination and confidence. Such is the deadly accuracy of Arsene Wenger's mind bullets.

He has the power... to move us.

Friday, April 17, 2009

One day more

Tomorrow we'll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!

- One Day More, Les Miserables

We're up against it tomorrow. Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final. I'm not entirely convinced about the importance of the FA Cup (why doesn't any other country take its domestic cup competition seriously?), but it's against Chelsea, and I want us to win it. We can't let Chelsea win. It's the principle.

We're up against it because Guus Hiddink is amazing, an genius and very, very lucky. He's the luckiest manager I've ever seen. He has great tactical setups and brilliant substitutions. He likes attractive, pressing football, but he's a pragmatist as well. He's willing to win ugly if he has to. He's willing to put a tall striker like Josh Kennedy up front and lump balls at his head, if it gets the results.

We're up against it because Chelsea have the strikers to kill us, and by Saturday, we'll probably be left with Toure as our only fit defender. We seem to lose a defender every game now. It's worrying because we're down to our last four now (Sagna, Eboue, Silvestre, Toure?) and maybe Song. Or maybe Sagna's still out. I'm not sure, and I don't have the courage to find out.

Then again, we've the Owl. The Premiership is scared of the Owl. He's only played in a few league games, but he's been sensational. He's the reason our season's picked up, and he's fit and fresh and ready to be unleashed against Chelsea. Guus Hiddink knows all about him, and he'll impart that respect and fear to his players. He's the seed of doubt in the minds of the Chelsea back four.

We're on an unbeaten streak that's run for ages. We're coming off a 3-0 win. Cech's freaking out and the Chelsea defence are leaking. We've Cesc Fabregas and we've Theo Walcott. I think we should strip our defence and play all our attacking players at once. Might as well let go of the handbrake. Toure and Fabianski can manage on their own. It's all very exciting, anyway.

One day more, fellas.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Offsider

And we're Arsenal
Arsenal FC!
We're by far the greatest team
The world has ever seen!

- Emirates Stadium, on a glorious European night

I've been thinking about it, and maybe Adebayor doesn't understand the definition of offside. He's been offside three or four times now, and he's always just offside by half a body-length. Once or twice, it even looks like he checks and intentionally positions himself offside to receive the ball.

It's not like it's that difficult to get onside. On the 10th minute, Theo received a lovely layoff by Cesc and just ran through the defense. He was marginally onside, and he checked his run to make sure he was. So it's possible to score a goal without being offside for the first four chances.

Then again, maybe Adebayor is fatalistic? Maybe he thinks that he can run wherever he wants, and if it's offside, such is life? It's the infuriating thing about Adebayor. He's got all the prerequisites to become a great striker, but he's really casual. That goal against Villarreal in the first leg was exceptional, but he missed easy chances before that. And yet, he's fast, strong, works like a beast when he wants to, and he scores a lot of goals.

So what the hell is wrong with him?

60th minute, and Adebayor scored. 2-0 to the Arsenal, and the tie's pretty much over. That's the thing about him. He does a lot of bad things in a match, but then he does one decisive thing that secures the game for us. Lovely goal, got the through ball when he was about five metres onside. I think maybe that's the way we've got to play him now - when he's so deep that there's no chance of him getting offside.

And still, you wonder if we'd be better off selling him in the summer and getting someone who's more reliable. Someone who understands what offside means, and who tries in every game. Someone like David Villa.

3-0 to the Arsenal. Walcott was hacked down in the penalty area, Villarreal lost their heads and argued with the ref until they got a man sent off, and van Persie converted the penality.

Semi-final with Man Utd awaits. C'mon the Arsenal.

P.S. You know, I predicted this result. From the post a week ago, Arsenal vs Robert Pires:

"And at least he'll be able to trot out onto Emirates for the first (and last) time next week, and suffer the indignity of a 3-0 thumping."

How good am I?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chelsea 4, Liverpool 4

"chavs vs scums is really entertaining, I mean 8 goals so far over the two matches. lots of shitty goalkeeping we can thank for todays goals. hope pool can grab one more soon for a thrilling finish but I really dont want them to go through the cunts."

- Black John Wayne, from the gunnerblog forum

I woke up at 5:30 wanting to see the last half hour of the Villareal match. I turned on the computer and scratched around for a link, and there was none. I checked gunnerblog and no one was talking about match. And then it hit me - I had the wrong day.

Damn these Europeans and their complicated fixture making.

Watching the Chelsea-Liverpool tie at the moment. Liverpool were 2-0 up after the first half, now 2-2. Good as over, Chelsea versus Barcelona in the semi-final. I'm a bit apprehensive about this one. I want Chelsea to lose about as much as I want Barcelona to win. The one thing I don't want to see is A**Cole winning something. He's odious.

Scrap that. Lampard just scored. 3-2 to Chelsea. The whole Chelsea team is odious. I've got nothing against Lampard, but I hate his guts for some reason. I'm not sure why. And John Terry. Hate him even more than I hate Lampard.

It's an interesting match to watch. Liverpool started the half with the impossible almost tangible. And now they're stuffed. One blunder by Reina. One set-piece rocket by Alex. One tap-in by Lampard. And the best thing is that I've only a half-hearted interest in it, so no one gets hurt.

3-3 now. Lucas with a deflected shot. With ten minutes to play.

4-3 now. Kuyt header from dead-on. With eight minutes to play.

How excitement.

4-4, Lampard from the edge of the area, goal off both posts. It really is over. Meh. Good match, the kind of grinding, technical game that wish Liverpool and Chelsea could play all the time. Worth getting up for. Anyway, Chelsea vs Barcelona in the semis. Let's hope Barca do them good, because I couldn't stand Chelsea winning the Champions League.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Ex-Factor

"Listen, Jose was a great manager and had some great times here. But it's someone else's turn now to kick on. Mourinho is a world class manager, a lot of the players are still in contact with him... But we need stability at the club now.

- John Terry, shitting himself at the prospect of Mourinho's return

John Terry and Jose Mourinho didn't part on good terms. If memory serves me right, Terry wanted a 10 year contract and a clause that gave him the option of managing Chelsea in the future. Jose Mourinho was opposed to it because Terry was getting old, his body was breaking apart, and he'd developed a penchant for getting kicked in the face by opposition players. And when Mourinho stuck his neck out too far, Terry was one of those wielding the axe.

History shows that when Mourinho walked, he spent a year on the sidelines and before accepting the Inter Milan job. Currently, he's facing the sack at the end of the year, with Inter floundering in 1st in the Serie A. Guus Hiddink is odds-on to drop Chelsea at the end of the season. And momentum is gathering to restore Mourinho to his spiritual home, since other high-profile candidates are ruling themselves out.

John Terry's been talking to the papers, wishing for Guus Hiddink to stay on permanently. Guus has done a great job at Chelsea, but I think there's something more to it than that. I think Terry's scared at the prospect of Mourinho coming back. It's one thing to knife your manager in the back as he's walking out the door, it's another thing altogether to welcome him back to the club. It's not going to happen, but I'd love to see Mourinho go to back to Chelsea - if only to see what he'd do to Terry.

Oh, and apparently we're facing some Spanish side in a match tomorrow morning? Winner goes into the semis of the Champions League. Should be a good match. Djourou's out, Gallas' out, Clichy's out, Almunia's out. So it'll be interesting to see how we line up. Hopefully Gibbs will play a blinder, and Song will keep up his good performances.

2-1 to the Arsenal - we should win if we can shoot straight.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pineapple Head

The pineapple head it spins and it spins
Like a number I hold
Don't remember if she was my friend
It was a long time ago

- Pineapple Head, Crowded House (with Santa Claus)

This post is about Alex Song, and it's a bit of a nothing post. It's a nothing day for Arsenal news, so I've been scratching around for something to write. It's written in response to Song's goal against Wigan. I had a look at it yesterday, and it's a remarkably good goal. Admittedly, it was shocking defending by Wigan, but it was a nice little turn and dribble by our young Song Billong. 

He's had a tough trot at the Arsenal. Signed in 2005, booed by the home support when he was 18. Loaned out to Charlton, where he impressed. Played in the African Nations Cup, where he got into the ANC First IX. Broke into the Arsenal first team this season, where he's been mocked, insulted and harangued - especially by gooners like me. 

I always thought the kid had potential, I just didn't think he was ready for a first team spot. And that's not just band-wagon talk. Earlier in the season, when teams were running through our midfield like it was tissue paper, it was Song that steadied the ship. We all lost it a bit towards December, when the Arsenal were a shambles, but he's improved remarkably in recent weeks. He's good in the tackle, passes pretty well and makes some nice attacking runs. A really good complement to Denilson. 

I've been running a poll for a week now, comparing Alex Song to different types of fruit. There's still a day to go, but I think it's safe to call it. Alex Song is most like a pineapple. But have you ever seen a pineapple score a goal like this?

Well done, Alex Song, our very own Pineapple Head. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

4-1 to the Arsenal

"We are Wigan and they are Arsenal... I would not claim that we would have won the game but I do know it is easier to beat Arsenal when they have 10 men."

- Steve Bruce, not claiming Arsenal are dirty, lying cheaters

I considered staying up to watch the match, but decided against it. It's getting painful to stay up past my  bedtime. When you're young, you survive for weeks at a time in an unfocused, sleep-deprived lassitude, but when you're older,  you kind of value an uninterrupted ten hours of sleep.

It sounded like a good one from the match report, though. It's always nice to win 4-1, and it's always nice to do it coming from behind. It shows a bit of character. We're not the same Arsenal that used to kill teams off in the first 20 minutes, but as long as we stick it out to the end, we'll get the points. Two of our goals were scored in the last few minutes, which goes to show that the Arsenal play the full 90 minutes these days. 

But seeing as I didn't see the game, I can't really comment on it. All I've got to go on is the match report, and a couple of highlights that I haven't seen yet. 

What struck me from the match report was Steve Bruce's comment. Firstly, he states that he can't claim that Wigan would've won if Gibbs had been sent off, and then in the next breath, he implies that they would've won, probably. It's a bit of sophistry that's right up there with "If I've given offence, I'm sorry". It's unreasonable, but I'd like to see a manager come out and say that a decision was atrocious and cost their team: a goal; a win; safety from relegation; European qualification; the league title.... 

Sometimes, I just want a bit of emotional honesty from our managers. 

But I suppose managers are PR men these days as well as trainers. They have to talk the talk, pump up their players, placate the sponsors, suck up to the media and spout platitudes to the fans. They've got to appease so many people that it's little wonder that they speak in couched, carefully-worded inanities. 

Which makes this interview from Arsene Wenger a breath of fresh air:

"I think I have been tough because I continued to believe in this team when nobody else did... you can't do a public job in a big club, not win matches and say they are all imbeciles."

I have to admit, I thought Wenger was a bit unhinged. Around December, when he was saying we were 2% away from winning the Premiership and he was calling Eboue his "pass master", I was worrying about his mental well-being. So it's reassuring to hear this admission. Turn outs that Wenger wasn't just a crazy man with way too much faith in his charges - he was just lying to us. Somehow, that's a bit more palatable. 

Anyway, we won 4-1 against Wigan. And if we beat Villareal on Wedneday, we're into the semi-finals of the Champions League, against a team we thrashed 4-0 earlier on in the season. If things keep going well, Wenger won't have to lie again for a long, long time. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Theo's Such A Nice Boy

"We've got Tim who works here, and he asked one of the lads if I'd be all right to sign something. So Dave, the physio, said to me, 'You should go to Tim and when he asks you, just say: 'No, sod off, I'm not going to sign anything,' because they always think you're a nice lad.' So I did it. Tim was like, 'What?!' It was brilliant to see his face. I signed it in the end... I felt bad."

- Theo Walcott, such a nice boy

I love Theo Walcott. I know I keep saying it, but I really do. The story above perfectly illustrates why I love him. He's such a nice boy. In an environment where even sensible, decent lads like Cesc Fabregas can descend into snarling, (allegedly) spitting, puffy-parka wearing hooliganism, it's such a joy to see Theo thrive without having to sacrifice his decency.

The article's a puff piece, and it rehashes a number of old quotes from various articles over the years. There's a bit about Theo preaching moderation and professionalism. There's another about him forgiving Gerrard's "he shouldn't have been at the World Cup" statement. There's a few bobs and ends about Theo being tough-as-nuts and able to withstand everything the English clod-hoffers throw at him.

It's not much of an article, but it's about Theo Walcott so it's still worthwhile. It's the kind of article that makes you think that working as a sport journalist at one of London's flagship newspapers can't be that hard. Makes you even think if it's worthwhile throwing in your old job and trying out for a cadetship at the local paper - because maybe one day, that could be you writing puff pieces about your favourite player.

You gotta have your dreams, I suppose.

Anyway, I started this post wanting to write about David Villa. I got distracted, because stories about Theo Walcott are usually the sporting equilavent of the "Cutest Puppy" competition at the dog show - they're so full of niceness that you can't help but stop by and go "aw...". Stories about Theo are such a joy to read.

But this other article goes the other way. I don't love David Villa, but I wish he was in our team. I'd happily sell Adebayor and van Persie to get him, such is my admiration for the guy. He's lethal. He's a killer. And he's available for the low, low price of.... £45 million. Yep, come July, that's the price at which Chelsea will start bidding.

I felt a bit sick reading that. It's like when you want to buy a house at auction, and the house is everything you want and the price is just within your budget. You can just about imagine yourself moving in. But when the first bids fly in, you're blown out of the water by a jet-setting Russian billionaire and a couple of sneaky Spaniards. And then, you realise with a chilling certainty exactly how far you are from where you need to be.

But it doesn't matter that much. We're the Arsenal, and we'll do alright. We've got Theo Walcott, after all. And he's such a nice boy...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Injured Arsenal

Chim chiminey,
Chim chiminey
Chim chim Djourou.
Who needs William Gallas,
When we've got Djourou?

- something we'll be singing with conviction at season's end

Despite the recession, there won't be any layoffs from Arsenal physio team. There's just too much work to do. William Gallas is out for the rest of the season with a medial knee ligament injury. Gael Clichy is out for two weeks with a back injury. Manuel Almunia is out for three weeks with an ankle injury. Just when we thought we were over our injury problems, we get decimated again. It's a big, big blow to the Arsenal.

If you're a pessimist, our chances for success have been shot to pieces and we're better off giving up on the Arsenal. It's time to start chaining ourself to the cannons outside the stadium, go on a hunger strike, or write angry letters to Peter Hill-Wood, in order to force our board buy players in depth to cope with our inevitable injuries. Because it's irritating to have our chances of success repeatedly curtailed by injuries and a thin squad.

If you're an optimist, however, it's still an exciting time. It gives Fabianski and Djourou a chance to cement first-team places. Djourou has shown that he's capable at centre back, and a Djourou-Toure partnership is probably a better fit for the team than Gallas-Toure anyway. He was reliable when partnering Gallas earlier in the season. Fabianski was fairly impressive when he came on against Villareal, and he's a reasonable replacement for Almunia. Almunia's put together a series of capable performances, but the jury's always been out over whether he's good enough to be first choice. I suspect that if Fabianski is solid, we'll see him as our first-team 'keeper next year. And Clichy's injury will give young Kieran Gibbs some valuable first team experience.

It's easy to be pessimistic. I've spent my whole life doing so. If you expect the worst, then everything good can be seen as a stroke of good luck. It's harder to be positive, though. If you place expectations on anything, you run the risk of being disappointed. But it's something you've got to do. The pay-off is much greater. And you're a bit more cheerful anyway.

It's like walking around the city with your eyes on the pavement to avoid being hit by a cream pie. Sure, the odds of getting a faceful of pie are greatly reduced if you look down and walk quickly past the pie-throwers, but you miss out on so much if you do that. Sometimes, it's worth taking the risk of getting hit by a cream pie. I'm not sure if there's a point to this analogy, but I like cream pies. They're hilariously delicious.

Anyway, the dream of a treble is still alive. Man Utd are imploding on the field. Liverpool are imploding off it. Chelsea are karmatically misaligned (too many jerks) to win. Which leaves the Arsenal as the only possible choice for the Premier League. And the Champions League and the FA Cup?

Piece of cake.... or cream pie.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cesc on Adebayor's goal

"It was an incredible goal. It reminded me of a great goal I saw Rivaldo score once for Barcelona against Valencia, but maybe it was even better because I think the pass I gave him was a little bit more difficult to control."

- Cesc Fabregas, about Adebayor's goal.

I don't really think of footballers as people. They seem so ethereal and untouchable on the pitch that it's a bit strange to think of them as people off the pitch. It's a shock to realise that they were once just kids who loved playing football, who loved a club to madness, and who had pictures of their favourite players on their bedroom walls. So when I come across a quote like the above, it makes me smile.

I remember that goal. Barcelona in the Champions League, I think. Rivaldo, with his back to goal, chested it up, then did a textbook bicycle kick into goal. I was in university at the time, so maybe seven years ago. Which would've made Cesc about twelve or thirteen years old.

It's cool to think of Cesc as just a kid, walking up to the Camp Nou with his mates, climbing the ramps that circle the stadium and entering the stands. It's cool to think of him before all the fame and super stardom, when he was just another guy obsessed about Barcelona, and salivating over Rivaldo and Figo, and revering Pepe Guardiola. It makes him more approachable. It makes me realise that, despite everything, he's just another guy with the same experiences and feelings as me.

Makes him seem more human, I suppose.

Adebayor's goal was pretty damn cool - caught it on the chest, flung himself back, bicycle kick into the corner. A really great goal in a really tight period of the game. It's the kind of brilliance we've been missing since the Henry years. It makes me really enthusiastic about this new Arsenal, about the potential we've got and the games we've still to play. There's a decent chance we can get past Villareal and Porto, and then get absolutely hammered by Barcelona in the final. Wouldn't that be fun?

But what strikes me as really cool is that in a few years' time, some Arsenal starlet will be talking about some great goal from their last game, and then reference it to THAT Adebayor's goal. It's exciting because, if you think about it, that kid's already in the Arsenal academy and training under Liam Brady. He goes to the Emirates with his mates every other Saturday afternoon. He's training at the club he's supported since he first started following football. He loves the Arsenal to madness and his bedroom walls are plastered with pictures of Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor...

I love thinking that at the moment he's another anonymous kid toiling away at the academy, but that one day, he'll be our next superstar. It gives me tingles.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

1-1 at El Madrigal

"In the end there were two Arsenals: the one from London and the one from Spain's east coast. For a long time last night Arsenal appeared to be out-Arsenaled, threatened by a team that plays their game as well as they do."

- Sid Lowe, from the Guardian

I really enjoyed the game this morning. Attacking football, great passing and movement, and a couple of spectacular goals to Senna and Adebayor. We spent the bulk of the match trailing 0-1, and I wasn't that upset because it was a genuinely entertaining match between two very similar teams.

My opinion of Marcos Senna went up a few notches. I'd previously regarded him as just a good defensive midfielder, but the guy has moves. Damn fine midfielder, and I can see why Villareal slapped a £15 million price-tag on him last summer. He bossed Denilson and Song like they were a couple of truant schoolkids, and that goal of his was top-notch.

My opinion of the Arsenal went up as well. We played poorly in the first half and allowed Villareal the bulk of possession. Denilson and Song were largely absent, and Nasri was poor. Apart from Cesc and Walcott, there wasn't much of an attacking threat. But we came back after the break and played well. We scored the goal and bossed Villareal around. Yes, we should've played like that in the first half, but the important thing is that we came back. That shows a bit of character. And a bit of guts.

It's very exciting to be an Arsenal supporter at the moment. The quality is there, and you feel that success is almost tangible. We just need to get more game time into our youngsters. If Denilson and Song learn to tackle and dominate a midfield, if Clichy learns to cross, if Walcott learns to shoot, if Nasri becomes more consistent.... it's very exciting to consider how much improvement there is in our boys.

And what about the goal by Adebayor? He misses sitters by the dozen and then scores freakish goals like that. You would never have thought he'd have it in him, but then again, you would never have thought he was worth 80k a week, either. I suppose Wenger and co. do know what they're doing.

Wigan up next. It's important that we don't slack off against them, that we keep our unbeaten streak going. Arshavin's back in the team, and Cesc, Adebayor and Theo should be fully fit. The games are coming thick and fast, and we need to win them all.

C'mon the Arsenal.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Arsenal vs Robert Pires

And our friends are all aboard,
Many more of them live next door,
And the band begins to play.

- Yellow Submarine, The Beatles

I've been scanning the English papers for news about the Arsenal vs Villareal match, and I'm surprised no one's made a reference to the Beatles' song Yellow Submarine. Then again, Villareal gets in the papers pretty regularly now, so maybe they've done the reference to death. Or maybe the papers just think that psychedelic songs are embarrassing. Drugs and songwriting don't always go hand in hand, and I think Yellow Submarine is a case in point.

Anyway, by now the streets of Barcelona are flooded with semi-drunk, pallid Englishmen all speaking their best Spanish and trying to figure out where the hell Vila-Real is. They're sunning on the fake beach by the quay and rambling down La Rambla and drinking San Miguel by the crateful. I've never seen an English football crowd in all its inebriated glory, and I imagine it must be an awe-inspiring sight, like a flock of passenger pigeons darkening the sky, or a plague of locusts descending upon a wheat field.

Our friends are all abroad, and the band's about to play.

I'm really excited about the Villareal match. It's the next test for our young side. After the horror of our mid-season run, we're starting to see the genesis of a new team. Denilson and Song have made good progress of late. Theo and Cesc are back. Arshavin's an amazing signing, and Nasri and Vela will only get better after a season with the Arsenal. I'm eager to see how much progress we've really made, and how much more there is to go. And our two-legged tie against Villareal will be a good test for our boys.

And of course, we get to see Robert Pires again. He's 35 now and can't play a full game, but he's still an awesome player. I saw him a bit during the Valencia-Villareal match, and it was amazing. He's smoother than dark chocolate that's been dipped in Earl Grey tea, wrapped in silk and varnished with PVC. And that's pretty damn smooth.

We love Pires. Some of the greatest goals I've ever seen have come from his boots. Wenger erred quite a bit by not giving him that 2 year contract and letting him grow old in the pastures of London Colney. We wouldn't have fallen so far in the intervening years if we had his experience in the side. But that's in the past. In the present, Bobby Pires is alive and kicking and eager to play in front of the Arsenal once more. And at least he'll be able to trot out onto Emirates for the first (and last) time next week, and suffer the indignity of a 3-0 thumping.

It's the least we owe him.

Robert Pires had this to say about facing Arsenal:

"When I go out to face Arsenal, there will be a lot of emotion, that's for sure. It was my goal to face Arsenal at least once before retiring and say goodbye to the tremendous fans. If I'm lucky enough to score, I won't celebrate simply as a gesture of respect. But I'm sorry, if I can play well and eliminate Arsenal, then I am going to do it."

We love the Arsenal, but we love Robert Pires as well.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Transfer out?

"I believe it can be distracting. It is a period when you have to be completely in to be successful. You cannot be half in and a little bit out, or 90 per cent in and a bit out, because that 10 per cent you can miss at an important moment of the game."

- Arsene Wenger, banning talks of transfers to focus our remaining games

I'm surprised by this quote from Wenger. We've had a series of transfer rumours about van Persie, Adebayor and Cesc leaving in the summer. We've had responses from the players and the manager about how they're all focused on this season and the necessity of winning something this season, but I don't think I've read any quote by a player stating that they're definitely staying. And now, not even Wenger's saying that our boys are staying beyond this season.

I'm a bit afraid that, if we don't win anything this year, we're headed for an almighty clear-out. I can't seen van Persie signing a new contract, and I can't see us hanging onto Adebayor. I can see Cesc staying for another year or so out of loyalty to Wenger, but even he'll leave if there's no visible sign of improvement.

It's a bit alarmist because you can't judge intentions through media quotes. No one really knows what's going on in the heads of all these guys, and no one knows what their intentions are. If we win the FA Cup or the Champions League (it's doable), then all this is speculation, and we'll probably hang onto our players. But if we don't, then what happens?

It's a bit frightening for the club because we don't need another clearout. While it'll be nice to add superstars like Eto'o or Silva to the side, what we really need is to keep the bulk of the squad together. Losing talented players like Adeabayor and van Persie will be a blow. The way the Arsenal play requires players who are really familiar with each others' games. And if we need replacements, it'll take us a few seasons to adjust. And we're all a bit sick of transition seasons by now.

But perhaps it's inevitable. Wenger's not saying that these are required players and that there's no chance of them leaving. He's just saying that we're postponing these talks until after the season ends. And once we're knocked out of the cups, we'll sit and wait and watch Barcelona and Milan slowly pick our team apart.

So maybe, probably, definitely, some of our boys are leaving next year.

It's pretty frustrating because we were so close last year before we lost Flamini and Hleb. And after a horrible first half of the season, we're starting to see the seeds of the next great Arsenal side in this current team; well, you can see it if you squint and tilt your head. Denilson and Song as DMs and three attacking midfielders are a potent combo. It's going to be really disappointing if we're going to have to start again next season.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Arsenal vs Man City

"phoenix band, north korea missile launch, Phoenix music, we were soldiers, at t strike, cwa, cwa strike, where is villanova university located, att strike, cwa union..."

- the Top 10 hottest Google search terms for 4/4/09, in a bid to get more traffic to this blog. I'm surprised there's nothing about sex, porn or Britney Spears.  

It looks like a lazy spring afternoon in London - the stands are full, the grass is green and the Arsenal are dominating. Beautiful stuff and it makes me wish I was there. In fact, we're going so well we look a bit nonchalant. About ten minutes ago, some dude (Cesc?) crossed it in from the right, Adebayor headed it in. He wasn't marked and didn't even bother jumping for it.

1-0 to the Arsenal.

21st minute, and Toure just drove in from the right, skinned two Man City players and hammered the ball right into the 'keeper's chest. We're playing really, really Arsenalesque at the moment; brilliant football with no goals and a shakey defence. I hope we can get that second goal, I really do.

24th minute. Nice little through ball by Walcott to Adebayor. Adebayor hits it at the keeper, the ball rebounds to Arshavin, who has an open goal.... and Adebayor's called for being offside. I wonder how many games it'll take for Arshavin to get so pissed off at Adebayor that he'll try to headbutt him in the groin?

31st minute, and we're defending like crap. Some bald Man City dude was unmarked on the edge of the penalty area and hit the post. I know Gallas and Toure aren't on speaking terms, but couldn't they at least pay attention to each other on the pitch? It's not enough for them to say "I'll defend my half and you defend yours."

It's almost halftime, and we need that second goal. Man City's brought Elano on the pitch to take advantage of our crappy, slack, and lazy defending. If it wasn't for Almunia and the woodwork, we'd be in a bad, bad place right about now.

48th minute. Adebayor. Second goal. Yay. A hint of offside, a nice little side-step and a calm finish. But still, can't get excited about Adebayor's goals. I wonder why?

2-0 to the Arsenal.

62nd minute, and they've really got to find a way to protect Arshavin. Just got mowed down by Richards(?). The Owl gets hacked up every game he plays, and I'm starting to worry about how he'll take season after season of this treatment. He's only a slight fellow.

70th minute, and Bendnter's coming on for Adebayor, and Eboue coming on for Walcott. Wenger loves bring on these two on the 70th minute. It's traditional. Arsenal's steeped in traditions like that.

78th and Cesc is off for Ramsey. Good performance by Cesc today, especially after three months off. And the 4-2-3-1 worked well with Cesc, Theo and the Owl. It's something we should persevere with.

And we've won. I think 92 minute, and there can't be much left. Nice performance by the boys.

2-0 to the Arsenal.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

8 games in 25 days

"We have to put ourselves in a very strong position because of the hard work we have done but now it's the final part of the season where every game becomes massively important."

- Arsene Wenger, before the Man City game

I don't do previews because I don't analyse football. When I watch, I watch passively. I like seeing pretty triangular passes and well-ordered defences. I like players running off to create space for each other. And I love that moment when the perfect defence-splitting pass breaks through and leaves all the defenders running back in a state of panic.

And to be honest, I don't know enough about it to give meaningful insights.

But we're playing Man City tonight. It's a big game for us. We're at the stage where we need to win every game if we're going to win the treble. Some doubters would say that a 10 point gap with one less game is too far to catch, but they're not thinking positively. And they're not thinking One Game At A Time. Good things happen when you start thinking One Game At A Time.

And it all starts at Man City.

Man City play badly away, they've dropped Robinho, and they should be easy to beat. Arsenal are on a massive unbeaten run that's taken us from the mediocrity of 5th place to the giddy heights of 4th place. We've come very far in the past couple of months, but it's the kind of scenario that makes me very nervous. Struggling mid-table team up against the Mighty Arsenal on a long unbeaten run? It's got Hull and Stoke written all over it.

The Arsenal tend to ease off in games we're expected to win. It's irritating, because if we'd picked up all those dropped points we would still be (seriously) challenging for the title. But that's in the past. In the present, we've got eight games in 25 days, all of which need to be won. And if we concentrate really, really hard, I think we can win them.

After all, we've got Cesc Fabregas!

He's back after his three-month injury spell. And it's the first time he'll play with Arshavin. I'm excited to see how Cesc and the Owl will link up. Opinions are divided about this partnership. Some say the Owl will enjoy playing with a guy who's just as brilliant as him. Some say the Owl will freak out at Cesc's ugly looking jacket and refuse to play with someone with such poor fashion sense. And some just think it'll be noice to see the Arsenal play with intelligence, flair and pace. We haven't seen that for a while.

C'mon the Arsenal. 2-0 with goals to Theo and the Owl.


Oh, and in a bid to make this blog funner and more interactive, I've put up a poll on the right. Vote now!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Shearer and Newcastle United

"My job is to keep Newcastle United in the Premier League. I will be in charge for eight games and eight games only."

- Alan Shearer, who's somehow managed to make the most bizarre managerial appointment of the season seem even odder

I can't sleep anymore. 

Most days I wake up at 5:00am and wonder what the hell I'm going to do until work. Usually, I get on the computer and hack away at my book. When I get bored, I log onto the Internet and look for some football news. And when I come across something bizarre like "Shearer in charge of Newcastle United for eight games only", I wonder if I'm still in bed and still dreaming. 

A lot of us thought the appointment of Shearer as Newcastle United was an April Fool's joke. That was bizarre, but it had a certain crazy logic to it. Shearer's a Toon god, so even if he gets them relegated, the fans won't misbehave too badly. And you never know, he might do okay. He's young, charismatic, passionate about Newcastle, and he can always learn to be a good manager if given time and patience by the fans and the board. Give him an experienced mentor (Bobby Robson, Terry Venables etc,.) to guide him with tactics and training, and it might even work. 

However, appointing Shearer for eight games is just stupid. Newcastle are in the relegation zone. The relegation zone. Newcastle are in a position to get relegated. Newcastle and Relegation are sitting at opposite ends of a dimly-lit bar, their eyes lock and it's fate; from that moment, you know that Newcastle and Relegation are gonna get in on.... 

I know I'm repeating myself, but wilfully negligent stupidity just leaves me... well, stupefied. 

To sum up Newcastle's season, Mike Ashley didn't do due diligence when he bought Newcastle. He hired Keegan when he hadn't even been to a football match in three years. He sacked Keegan to save Dennis Wise. He appointed Kinnear as manager, who's since had heart failure from managing Newcastle. He then sacked Kinnear, sacked the other manager, and sacked Dennis Wise in order to get Shearer.... and Shearer's only going to be there for eight weeks? 

If you're appointing a short-term manager to avoid relegation, you go for someone who knows what they're doing. You don't go for someone who's never managed in their life. You call 'Arry Redknapp and pile dump-trucks full of money at his doorstep until he quits Tottenham. Or Steve Bruce. Or Aidan Boothroyd. Or ANYONE who knows what it's like to manage a relegation battle. What you don't do is hire Alan-f**king-Shearer (at £100,000 a game) and hope he saves the day. 

But whatever. It's Newcastle United, and it's Mike Ashley, and nothing makes sense up on the Toon. It's 7:00am now, and I'm going to try and go back to sleep. Maybe the world will make more sense when the sun's up?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

2-0 to the Socceroos

"We're playing like we did under Hiddink - same passing and movement off the ball - only without the flair, the pace or the dynamism."

- one of my many pearls of wisdom; I should be writing calender quotes.

Pim Verbeek looks unkempt and dishevelled. He's got a permanent frown on his face, like he's just heard that his wife's had her face mauled off by his rabid puppy, which subsequently needed to be put down. He's a sad looking fellow, and he wears the burden of expectation with the sobriety and seriousness of a 17th century Dutch merchant.

I saw Pim last night on Foxtel HD, in all his warts and glory. Not a pretty sight. He'd just guided Australia (almost) through to the World Cup next year, and he STILL looked pissed off. Didn't crack a smile. Didn't say he was pleased. Didn't even rip off his shirt and spirit across Telstra Stadium whooping with unabashed joy.

For Pim, qualification was the target and he achieved it. That's it. Nothing to be fussed about.

I suppose there's not a lot to be cheerful about. We played pretty badly in the first half. Uzbekistan played with a 4-5-1, and their midfield line were so deep that they could reach over and shake hands with their defenders. We lacked the wit to play through-balls, and we lacked the pace to go down the flanks. Consequently, there was a lot of back-passing and side-passing, and a lot of players not knowing how the heck to break down that defence. It was like watching Arsenal in the bad old months of 2008.

I hadn't seen the Socceroos for a long, long time, and it was a bit of a shock to see them play this badly. Bresciano's a gun, but he can't do it on his own. Kewell's lost his pace, and is a shadow of his former self. Culina and Valeri are honest triers, but they're not inventive. It's scary to think how much we rely on Timmy Cahill. Without his runs and his nose for goal, we're pretty blunt.

It got better in the second half, when the Uzbeks started to tire and space opened up for our midfielders. First goal was a header from Josh Kennedy, after Bresciano slipped his marker and crossed from the right. Second goal was a penalty after a Uzbek defender tried to hip-and-shoulder one of our boys. We played pretty decent football in the second half, but I'm worried. In the World Cup, we're not going to be able to rely on teams tiring in the second half. A lot of sides will be tactically continent for the whole 90 minutes, and if we're going to progress past the group stage, we'll need players who can split open a well-marshalled defence. From what I've seen, we don't have that.

Still, we'll let Pim Verbeek worry about that. 2-0 to the Socceroos, and we're going to South Africa! Better start booking those plane tickets....

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools?

"It will be one hell of a battle. It will be one hell of a fight. It will be tough. We have some tough games coming up. I don't think anyone can safely say that we are going to be guaranteed safety."

- Alan Shearer, the fourth Newcastle manager of the season

Five Fun Facts for today, only one of which is likely to be true:

1. I woke up today and on the news, Kevin Rudd had headbutted Nicholas Sarzoky for being French and recalcitrant, assumed command of the New World Order and ordered a new wave of bank bailouts, and rode off into the sunset with an awe-stricken Carla Bruni clasped around his waist.

2. I woke up today and a semi-trailer full of Mars Bars had crashed outside the house and little kids were cavorting around in piles of brightly-wrapped chocolate bars.

3. I woke up today and aliens had landed on the patio and were playing badminton on the back lawn.

4. I woke up today and the dog said "Howdy Weg, would you like some scrambled eggs?"

5. I woke up today and Alan Shearer had been made manager of Newcastle United.

Can anyone guess which one's real?

I'll give you a hint. I lifted Fun Fact No.5 from the Guardian website, so it's most likely to be correct, but... it's April Fool's day. It's got to be false. It's such a ridiculous proposition. Newcastle are 18th, two points adrift of Blackburn. They don't need Shearer. They need someone decent. They need a manager with experience, nous or that je ne nais quoi who'll galvanise the players to eek out enough points to avoid relegation.

They've gone down the Messianic route before by hiring Kevin Keegan, and that failed abysmally. Messiahs don't work in football because romance has been bored to death by statistics, better diets, and lots and lots of professionalism. Newcastle need someone pragmatic and tactically astute. And I don't think Shearer's the guy to do it.

So, this news about Shearer being appointed manager is an April's Fool joke. Isn't it?