Thursday, November 4, 2010

(I finally saw) Arsenal 1-0 West Ham

At the beginning of the season, I was excited because one of the free-to-air channels was promising to broadcast live Arsenal matches. It turned out it was a Thursday afternoon replay of the previous weekend's Premier League match. Due to the vagaries of work and commuting, I never really got into the habit of switching on at 4:30pm every Thursday to watch the Arsenal play.

Long story short, I managed to catch the last twenty minutes of the Arsenal vs West Ham match this afternoon. And it's quite nice watching the Arsenal on a big screen. In Australia, coverage of the Arsenal can be sketchy. For most matches, I've a choice of either a sterile sports lounge at the local pokies, a stilted internet stream, or sleeping in and catching the highlights on youTube a few days later. And for most matches, I choose to sleep in.

I didn't think we played that badly in those last 20 minutes. I agree with most gooners that: Song's getting ahead of himself, and that he shouldn't indulge in passes that he doesn't have the talent to pull off; Arshavin's a bit lazy, but has a certain something that the majority of our squad doesn't; Theo is a lovely boy who's pretty close to being a good player; Nasri and Fabregas complement each other in the centre of the park; and that a midfield combo of Nasri, Fabregas and Wilshere would be exceptional in about three years' time.

It was one of those games we tend to win when we're on form: West Ham park the bus; Arsenal creative plenty of chances but lack the chutzpah to capitalise; West Ham get tired towards the end of the match; Arsenal sneak a late, late goal through weight in numbers. When we're on a winning streak and we have belief, we tend to play to the whistle and we can sneak late, game-breaking goals. When we're on a poor run, we fade out a bit, and we don't get those goals that convert draws into wins.

It's been like that for a few years now. Liking the proverbial band of travelling supporters, we only sing when we're winning.

I remember thinking it back in the Flamin-Cesc-Hleb days. We had a team then that was on the cusp of a title, but it was a team run on the fumes of momentum. When we thought we were good, Flamini's legs would be pumping like a little gallic Energiser bunny, Cesc would be stringing passes, Hleb would be not shooting, and Adebayor would be scoring the sublime. It looked like we actually could win the league. However, when Eduardo's leg was shattered, and we drew at Birmingham, everything crumbled. We lost confidence, we lost momentum, we lost our way, and we lost the title.

The depressing thing is that we haven't learnt anything in the intervening years.

At present, we have a side which could theoretically challenge for the league. In terms of talent, we're comparable with Chelsea and Man Utd. In terms of experience, we've got a clutch of players with 4-5 years of senior football and who should be hitting their straps now. Okay, we won't because we're tactically naive and defensively stupid, but man-for-man, we're up there with the top two clubs.

But what about in terms of heart? Determination? Stubbornness? A league win sometimes requires 10 stubborn men to run hard into the 90th minute, refusing to concede the inevitability of a 0-0 scoreline. A league title would require 11 stupidly stubborn men to be prepared to do it for 38 matches in a year. I can see Chelsea doing it, and I can see Man Utd doing it, but I can't see the Arsenal doing it. When we've got momentum, I can see us scraping for a match. When we're in the doldrums, I can't.

It'll be interesting to see how we front up against Newcastle on Sunday. After losing to Shaktar, our momentum's been deflated somewhat. Champions League top spot is back in contention. It's the kind of scenario which lends itself to a shock 1-2 loss against a newly-promoted side. I hope the Arsenal prove me wrong, and put in a great performance. I'd love it, just love it if they put on a complete performance.

I might even be bothered to watch the match on Thursday afternoon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jay-Z wants to invest in the Arsenal

I'm not a businessman,
I'm a Business, Man
Let me handle my business, damn

- Jay-Z, a potential investor in Arsenal FC

What does it say about me that I get excited about the idea of Jay-Z becoming an investor in Arsenal FC and having a seat on the board? Am I so besotted by celebrity culture? Are my thoughts so superficial that I think Jay-Z’s genius as a rapper and his talent as a successful Business will automatically translate to the Byzantine world of football politics?

I hope not, but I’m not sure.

I don’t get excited about the prospect of having a fat Uzbek oligarch with alleged criminal links on the board. I don’t get excited about having a skinny American with pretensions of a global sporting empire on the board. I don’t get excited about Danny Fsizman, Peter-Hill Wood, Sir Chips Cheswick or anyone else on the board. I did get excited about foxy Nina Bracewell-Smith on the board, but she’s been kicked off. However, I am genuinely excited by the idea of Jay-Z at the Arsenal.

Here’s what Jay-Z said about it:

Actually, I think Jay-Z would fit well with the Arsenal board, if he ever got on it. It’s a bit cynical of me, but I think that at his heart, Jay-Z’s a businessman. He buys and sells. He likes to make a profit. And in the Arsenal, he’s come across probably the only football club in the world which makes money and which has the ability to expand. It’s a good business opportunity.

And the moment, the Arsenal board are only interested in coasting along and making a profit. It’s been paralysed for the past five years with in-fighting. The old members are just marking time and waiting for the market to pick up again before they can dump their shares. Usmanov and Kroenke don’t have the funds to buy the Arsenal outright, but don’t want to give up their 30%. So we’ve got a board that’s content with the status quo, paying down the loan and earning a tidy profit every year.

It’s a good match-up.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I didn’t see us beating Bolton 4-1

"From the two games against Blackburn and Bolton, two years ago we would not have taken six points.”

- Arsene Wenger, pointing out the improvement in the Arsenal

I'm pleased to say that I was wrong. In the end, we beat Bolton quite comfortably 4-1, with goals to Koscielny, Chamakh, Song and Vela. It wasn’t as comfortable as that scoreline suggests with the last two goals being scored in the last twelve minutes, but still, it’s a good result and one that I’m very pleased with.

Since as I slept through it, I’m not going to comment about it.

However, I am going to comment about Wenger’s aforementioned quote. I actually attended Blackburn away and Bolton away during the 08-09 season. We won both games 4-1 and 3-0, or something similar. I remember we were great going forward, but we were terrible going back. In Blackburn away especially, they played right through our midfield and sliced us open. It was a case of the Arsenal being great at the things that Wenger is passionate about, but terrible at the things he dislikes.

So, have things really changed? We’re still good going forward. We’re probably a lot more effective going forward now that we’ve converted to a 4-3-3. But we’re still unsteady in defence. I remember watching the Blackburn match from a couple of weeks ago, and I was genuinely fearful whenever the opposition had the ball. I don’t trust the defence, I don’t trust Song when he’s roving upfield, and I definitely don’t trust Almunia. There are just too many liabilities for me to ever feel comfortable with this team. Without some sort of defensive tactical discipline, I always think we’re one slip-up away from conceding.

Okay, we showed a bit more resilience. Song and co. are 2 years’ more experienced, and that shows up in their play. They don’t crumple in games “up North” when things go bad. They score more late goals. They try harder when the mood suits them. All these things are a natural consequence of having played 60+ more league games.

But is that enough?

I’d feel more confident in the team if we got ourselves a goalkeeper. And if we could nail Song down in front of the defence. And if I knew we could trust Koscielny and Squillaci with the centre-back positions for the rest of the season. And especially if we could stop conceding weak goals from corners, set-pieces and fast breaks down the flanks.

I’m probably being a bit harsh. We’ve got 10 points from 12, and we’re second on the league. We’ve played two of our bogie teams and got 3 points from each. We’ve played Liverpool away and got a point from that. So we’re not too bad. We could definitely be in a much worse position.

So on the 225th last day of my 20s, I had deep, serious thoughts about buying an iPhone 4. I have an embarrassingly old phone which serves my needs quite well, and which is virtually indestructible. I don't really use it, other than for SMS and the occasional call.

And yet, I was playing Veggie Samurai on a friend's iPhone this afternoon, and I realise I really want a phone which would enable me to dice numerous digital vegetables as fast as manically possible. I want a phone which would enable me to access youTube videos on the go, watch highlights from Premier League matches, check Facebook and email every five seconds. I want something sleek and black and coated in shiny, cool glass.

I realise it's just irrational, but I don't seem to get over Apple-related tech-lust. The last two times I had it, I succumbed to a MacBook and an iMac respectively. There's something so seductive about Apple products. You know that they're expensive, that Steve Jobs is probably evil, and there are cheaper, more effective equivalents out there, but still… there's nothing on the market that's as cool as an Apple product.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I’m going to try to register with newsnow

On the advice from Stewie from a couple of posts ago, I decided to apply for entry to again. I tried once before when this blog was called “Fucking Arsenal”, but they decided to reject me... for reasons unknown. I figured that I might have a better chance this time around, with a new name and more polite language. I’m a bit apprehensive because what I write can only be loosely defined as “news”, and probably more accurately described as "snippy, cowardly insults directed at men I wouldn’t have the guts to insult in real life”, but I’ve never found the website that catalogues those type of blogs.

So wish me luck. It’s going to take a while because I have to register with a website tracker called Alexa first, but I’ll get there. And then, maybe I’ll become famous on newsnow.

I was looking at the the editorial standards, and came across something funny:

I’m left wondering why they decided to single out Liverpool supporters? Is there an abundance of poorly-written Liverpudlian blogs out there, or are they just the more dire? Or is there some sort of English snobbishness at play, something too nuanced for me to pick up?

Oh, and we’re playing Bolton tonight. I don’t think I’ll watch the match because I would like to sleep. It’s going to be a difficult match. Vermaelen’s out, which means we’re sending two unprepared Frenchie centre-backs up against one of the standard bearers of clod-hoofing Ingerland. And van Persie and Walcott are both out as well, which means we’re left with Chamakh as our lone striker and Arshavin and... (blank) as supporting wide players. So goals will be hard to come by and our defence will be shaky.

It’s going to be a tough match. I’m wondering why, in only the 4th match of the season, we’re suddenly down to our last centre-back pairing and our last genuine centre-forward? Why do we always get injuries to the same players, at the same time, for the same reasons? Has the curse of the Arsenal Medical Team struck again?

Arsene Wenger thinks that we can do it, though. He said:

But then again, he’s hardly going to say that we’re fielding two inexperienced centre-backs, one inexperienced centre-forward, and a liability in front of goal, and we’ll be lucky if we can get away with a win, is he?

Let’s go Arsenal. Let’s win this one for the injury list.

Friday, September 10, 2010

van der Vaart is trash-talking Arsenal

"Arsenal have a great team also, a lot of great young players. But I think our squad is not worse than Arsenal's so I think we have a good chance to win against them. And not only win the game against them but also, over the whole season, we can aspire to beat them.”

- Rafael van der Vaart, dissing the Arsenal before he’s even played for Tottenham

The above is an example of a dumb footballer quote.

Somewhere in the nether-regions of cyberspace, there’s got to a website dedicated to stupid things said by footballers. A lot of footballers say a lot of stupid things. Actually, a lot of people say a lot of stupid things. It’s not surprising - if you stick a microphone in front of anyone, chances are you’ll catch a nugget of gold at least once a week. For every Barack Obama, there’s always a George W. Bush.

It makes me feel sorry for van der Vaart. Here’s a guy who’s played for Ajax, Hamburg and Real Madrid. He’s been dumped at Tottenham, and before he’s played a single game for them, he’s been pushed out in front of the media and told to make a disparaging remark about the Arsenal. He’s got no idea what he’s talking about. He’s probably heard a lot about the Arsenal from van Persie, and he knows that we’ve got a squad of highly promising youngsters. And he knows Tottenham wear white and... well, that’s probably it, actually.

So van der Vaart is pushed out in front of a media throng, eyes blinded by flash-photography, and made to tell the world that Tottenham are just as good as the Arsenal. I’m a bit angry about it, actually. van der Vaart is feeling a bit insecure about his place at the club, and he’s prompted by PR people that the best way to ingratiate himself with the Spuds is to diss the Arsenal. It’s a cynical exercise by the Spuds, and designed to exploit van der Vaart’s naiveness. It’s a remark designed to rally the troops, stir up the opposition (us), make the Spuds feel like big men... but the only long-term effect is that it’s going to make van der Vaart look a bit foolish in twelve months’ time.

Dissing the local rival is a time-honoured initiation for new players. But there are better ways to ingratiate yourself with fans. There are smarter ways, classier ways, and funnier ways. Two in recently memory involve Arsenal players dissing Tottenham: firstly, Arshavin saying “Pavlyuchenko is not my friend"; and secondly, Vela saying that he’s pleased for dos Santos for joining Tottenham, but that after he establishes himself, he should “then move on to a better team”.

Now, I’m not trying to say that Tottenham lack the intelligence and class of the Arsenal, but you know, if all the evidence points that way...

So on the 227th last day of my 20s, I did my tax, picked up my passport, and lost a little bit of my sanity. The GOMD flew out sometime in the morning, and she’s been on my mind the whole day. I keep seeing her face everywhere I go. I keep wishing I could’ve said something more. It reminds me of the Freedy Johnston song, Bad Reputation:

Suddenly I’m down in Harold’s Square
Looking in the crowd, your face is everywhere
Just turning around
Do you want me now?
Do you want me now?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fabianski wants to start against Spuds

Lukasz Fabianski wants to challenge for a place in the first team. For this to happen, I think he's got to do two things: firstly, displace Almunia as Arsenal's no.1 keeper; and secondly, limit his fuck-ups to one or less a game. It's a bit of a nightmare that it's very possible to achieve the former without necessarily achieving the latter.

He's setting the Tottenham Carling Cup tie as his breakthrough game. It's turning into a bit of a red-letter day for us. Tottenham are starting to emerge as a serious rival to us. There's been talk about Tottenham having a better squad than ours. It's a chance to gauge the strength of our Academy youngsters against "top 4" opposition. And now, it seems like it's another chance to witness the comic stylings of Lukasz Fabianski.

Fabianski said:

Let's hope Fabianski doesn't really mean it when he says he'll treat the Carling Cup match in the same way as his other matches. If so, he'll: give the ball to the referee to allow the Spuds to shoot without him being ready; run out of the box and keep chasing opposition players; flap hopelessly, helplessly and haplessly; add to his growing collection of youTube memories. If so, we're probably going to score four and concede even more. Yes, it'll be exciting, but I'd rather we be boring and progress.

I quite like Arsenal in the Carling Cup. It's a nice chance to see our youngsters have a chance. I'd like to see Wellington strut his stuff come January 1st, so I hope we'll still be in the Carling Cup next year. And for that to happen, we need Fabianksi to approach the Tottenham tie in a different manner to which he is accustomed to - we need Fabianski to play like a fucking goalkeeper.

All in all, though, I'd rather Wojciech Szczesny in goal.

So on the 228th last day of my 20s, I had a one and half hour gap in the afternoon. Had a nap in the staff room and felt very refreshed afterwards. Might have to schedule one into every day from now on.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Arsenal Medical Team has it in for our players

"Arsenal's medical team will today assess the extent of the ankle injury Theo Walcott picked up during England's 3-1 win over Switzerland in Basle."

- the Guardian, reporting about Theo’s rolled ankle

Theo Walcott rolled his ankle when England played Switzerland last night. He’s going to be taken to the Arsenal Medical Team to be assessed. The consensus seems to be that it’s a two week lay-off. However, that’s before the Arsenal Medical Team get their hands on him...

I’m beginning to suspect that the Arsenal Medical Team are suffering from some weird sort of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. Our medical team must be doing something to sabotage our players. There’s no other explanation for the serial mis-diagnoses, ineffective treatment, poor rehabilitation and recurring injuries. There’s no other way that Gallas could’ve been out for four months for a hamstring tear. There’s no other way that van Persie can keep getting the same sort of injuries for the past five years and not have any sort of treatment (other than have his wisdom teeth removed) to strengthen his legs or protect his body. And there’s no way that Theo Walcott would need two weeks or more to recover from a rolled ankle.

Then again, I suppose two weeks isn’t that bad. Knowing the history of the Arsenal medical team, it could very well be something that stretches off into the new year. And that’ll be a real shame, because Theo’s just beginning to come good.

In related new, Robin van Persie will be out until October. With Walcott out, and Bendtner out, it’s down to Chamakh to lead the line. Turns out out nicely-padded squad on paper is paper-thin in real life. Isn’t it interesting that the players who have been with us most (i.e. the ones with the most contact with the Arsenal Medical Team) are the ones who are the most injury-prone? van Persie’s been with us since he was 21. Bendy and Theo have been with us since their teens. Chamakh has been with us a couple of months. And who’s the only striker left standing?

Someone, please investigate the Arsenal Medical Team!

In unrelated news, Rafael van der Vaart is “despondent” that he was taken off during the Netherland’s qualifying game. He has the novel thought that a player who is playing well should be allowed to play out the game. He forgot the rule of thumb when it comes to picking international sides - anyone who plays for Spurs is shite. Sorry Rafa, but you’ve got to get used to it. You’re a talented player and deserve a spot, but this is what happens when you become a Spud.

So on the 229th last day of my 20s, I had dinner with a mate. I’d invited the GOMD to come along as a way of sending her off before her trip, but... she was busy. This time around, I think she was genuinely busy, but I don’t know. I’m getting to the point where it doesn’t really matter one way or another. But the restaurant’s on a hill, with a view of the city. And I spent most of the night looking out at the city, wondering if I could see her in her office building if I squinted hard enough. And when we left, I glanced back at the city and wondered if she was still slaving away at 9:30pm, or whether she’d given up and had taken the train home. She’s apt to very long workdays, is the GOMD.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Martin Keown thinks that Ashley Cole had a soul... once

"Contrary to what many people think, I found Ashley very likeable and willing to learn when he came on the scene at Arsenal. He had a great deal of respect for senior players because he was an Arsenal fan living the dream just training with us."

- Martin Keown, on his days playing alongside Ashley Cole

Keown’s article about Ashley Cole begins the same way most stories about serial killers or paedophiles tend to begin - Ashley Cole was a lovely boy, and no one would’ve suspected that when he grew up he would’ve: killed people; raped kids; or played for Chelsea.

I suppose everyone starts off as lovely kids. It’s what happens to us in life, and the choices we make, that determines whether we turn out good or bad, likeable or horrible, an Arsenal legend or a conniving Chelski mercenary. Some people are lucky enough to stumble across the right choices, some are wise enough to figure it out from the start. Most of us get it half right and half wrong, and we end up being a mixture of good and bad.

And then, some people end up like Ashley Cole.

There’s a lot to like about Ashley Cole’s game. He’s determined and hardworking. He’s talented, and he makes the most of his talent. He’s one of those rare full-backs who can defend. And he’s a big game player. As Keown says:

As late as 2005, Ashley Cole had it all - a star player for the club he supported, a future captain, a member of the greatest team in the world - and then he threw it away by acting like a dick. He gave up certain legendary status at his boyhood club, just to earn a little bit more at another club. In the history of dumb, unlucky choices, this has to rank pretty high.

Actually, considering he managed to date, marry, then divorce Cheryl Tweedy, I’d imagine Ashley Cole features quite frequently in the complete list of dumb, unlucky life choices.

I wonder if he ever regrets it. I kind of doubt it. A footballer’s life is probably lived in the moment. And at the moment, Ashley Cole is a double-winner with Chelsea, a Champions League finalist from 2008.... and with a wage that probably doubles what he’d be earning at the Arsenal. So the adrenaline’s pumping, and the trophies are gleaming, and there’s not a thought in the world for the price he paid in order to join a club like Chelsea.

I wonder if he’ll think about it when he retires, and the whirl of footballing celebrity grinds to a halt. Maybe he’ll have two cabinets in his study, one with his Arsenal stuff and the other with his Chelsea things. Maybe he’ll take a look at the two combined, and wonder whether winning an identical set of blue-themed medals was worth the dissonance in his career.

Then again, maybe not. He is the kind of guy who gets so upset over a £55,000 a week contract, after all. A guy like that probably isn’t the right guy to think deep introspective thoughts about the nature of loyalty, fidelity and a sense of belonging. Actually, I think it’s more likely that Ashley Cole will spend his retirement hanging out in Miami, snorting cocaine off a hooker’s backside with rolled-up $100 bills.

But that’s just me being presumptuous.

So on the 230th last day of my 20s, I saw a patient who talked incessantly, incoherently, repetitively about the loss of his front bridge and the gaping hole in the front of his mouth. And I sat with him and listened to him ramble for half an hour. I went through all the treatment options several times until he understood and decided what was best for him. And when he left, I felt so sorry for him.

I was just like him two years ago.

It was about another girl then, and another situation. And I liked this girl so much that the gears in my head slipped their chains and I went spinning off into madness. And I know exactly what it feels like to have thoughts spin through your head so fast that you can’t get traction, and you’re propelled helplessly along until your neurones get fried from overwork. It’s not pleasant, and when I was finally over her, I made a pact with myself to never get worked up like that ever again.

But now I’m thinking about the GOMD, and wondering how it’s all going to pan out. She knows I like her, and she knows I like her a bit too much. She likes me, or at least she doesn’t hate me, but still, she doesn’t like me enough to ever think about it. And I’m wondering if making acronyms for unattainable girls is really the best use of the last 230 days of my 20s. Maybe I should just move on. After all, the difference between humans and mammals should be that we learn from our mistakes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ryan Shawcross thinks Wenger doesn’t like him

"He's obviously got something against me. It's just weird. He brings my name into it. He always seems to have a problem with Stoke, our manager and certain players.”

- Ryan Shawcross, a lovely lad who doesn’t understand why Wenger thinks he’s a bit of a thug

A few weeks ago, Wenger made the comment that Stoke played like rugby players and that Ryan Shawcross is a dangerous player (or something like that - I didn’t read the story, so I’m not sure). And now, someone has told Shawcross about this story, and he’s a bit baffled as to why Arsene Wenger is so angry at him. I mean, Ryan’s a lovely lad without a malicious bone in his body, and he’s good to his mum and nan as well, so why does Wenger have it in for him?

It is a bit weird, Ryan. I mean, the only reason I can think of is that you hacked apart Aaron Ramsey’s leg last season. But that was widely acknowledged as an accident. And everyone felt incredibly sorry that breaking Ramsey’s leg made you feel so upset. So for Wenger to bear a grudge against you, and to think that you’re a dangerous player, is a bit much. It’s all ancient history, innit? Water under the bridge, and all that rot.

And anyway, Ramsey’s doing okay, isn’t he? He was only going to be out for several months, and he’s got the rest of his career to look forward to. It might take him a year to get back to match fitness, and a few more season to catch up on lost development time, but he’ll get there in the end. So what’s the big deal that you crippled a promising young footballer when he was on the verge of making a break-through in his game? It was an accident, and accidents happen all the time.

A bit like that incident with Heurelho Gomes, I suppose. Foreigners don’t like it up ‘em, and that’s what Ingerland players do, innit? They stick it up ‘em. If foreigners don’t like, they can always go back to foreign-land.

I like Ryan Shawcross’ attitude, though: criticism doesn't bother me, unless it's a false accusation like this one. Bravo, Ryan. That’s the mental toughness we’ve come to expect from defenders from up north.

So on the 231st last day of my 20s, I went to work, worked, had dinner with a couple of friends from uni, went home. Need to get some sleep. Been listening to Celebration, from MGMT. It doesn’t have a stand-out song like Kids from Oracular Spectacular, but I like it. It’s quite complex, and layered, and strangely catchy. It’s like an electronic version of an Arcade Fire album.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Barca coulda, woulda, shoulda signed Cesc; but didn't

"Barcelona did all they could to sign me but Arsenal told me I had to stay, that there was no way they were going to let me go. In the end I had to stay — but the content of my conversation with Arsene Wenger will remain private."

- Cesc Fabregas, staying at Arsenal

I suppose this is the story of the day. Cesc Fabregas spoke to a paper and told them that Barcelona wanted him but Arsenal refused to let him go. Cesc Fabregas spoke to Arsene Wenger in confidence, and then he went to South Africa and won the World Cup. And then he came back to the Arsenal and played with an ambitionless team bouncing between 3rd and 4th place.

If you drain it of melodrama and concentrated on the facts, it's actually quite a prosaic story. Cesc wants to go home. Barcelona want him, but Arsenal don't want to sell. Cesc has a long-term contract. Cesc is professional enough that he won't go on strike, or refuse to play, or whatever. Cesc will stay at Arsenal until such time that Barcelona stump up enough money to force Arsenal to change their minds. This is a story that gets played out at every club in every league in every country in the world.

On one hand, I don't want to see Cesc leave unless we get proper compensation. Barcelona's final offer (£33m) is insulting. Cesc is a European and World Cup winner, the natural replacement for Xavi, and a symbol of Catalan superiority. He's priceless... or at least so pricey that he's worth much more than £33m.

On the other hand, I don't see the point of keeping hold of Cesc for another season if we don't capitalise on his talent. We have one of the best playmakers in the world on our hands. We could've reinforced the squad with a few choice signings, and had a major tilt at the league this year. But we didn't. We sat on our hands and bought in as many players as we let go. It's clear we don't have serious ambitions for the league. And it's clear that we didn't retain Cesc to help us win the league.

It's pretty disheartening for all concerned if the only reason we kept him was so we could get a better price for him next year.

So on the 232nd last day of my 20s, I talked to the GOMD for what will be the last time in 6 weeks. She's going overseas on the Friday. And I'm going overseas on the day she comes back. I'll miss her. She is very... special.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Miyaichi’s no Inamoto

Arsenal have just signed 17 year old Ryo Miyaichi. He’ll join us in December when his contract with Chukyo University expires. He’s a tricky left winger with speed, dribbling ability and an eye for goal. And from the only photo I’ve seen of him, he has the kind of awesome helmet hair that only an Asian can appreciate:

I think it’s remarkable the change in attitude with Japanese signings. I think the last Japanese player we bought was Junichi Inamoto in 2001. He played one season with us, was cut adrift, lit up the 2002 World Cup, and then spent the next eight years wandering around Europe. He’s currently back in the J-League with Kawasaki Frontale.

Back in 2001, Inamoto was largely seen as a commercial signing, someone who was foisted upon Wenger unwillingly. No one believed he was signed on footballing terms, and it didn’t help that he didn’t feature in many games. He was awesome in the World Cup, but by then, it was too late, and he’d already left the Arsenal.

In 2010, no one is suggesting that Ryo Miyaichi was signed for commercial reasons. Instead, Miyaichi is thought of as just another promising youngster who has been signed by a manager overly obsessed with youth. In the last nine years, Japanese players have earned the right to be considered “real” footballers, rather than commercial investments.

In the 9 years since the 2002 World Cup, we’ve seen a lot of really good Japanese players playing in the top leagues of Europe. From Hidetoshi Nakata at Roma, to Shunsuke Nakamura at Celtic, and now with youngsters like Keisuke Honda at CSKA Moscow, they started and starred at top clubs.

I think it gets easier for each subsequent generation to break through. The first few players are fighting perception and stereotype. It takes a remarkable talent to join a foreign club, in a foreign country, with a foreign culture, and then compete against 24 other professionals for a contact and playing time. And if a player has no frame of reference, no previous example of players who’ve done it, it’s extremely difficult to flourish.

As with the case with Inamoto, who had this to say about his time at Arsenal:

I don’t think Inamoto’s a bad player. He showed his ability in the 2002 World Cup, and he spent 8 years travelling the leagues of Europe. He probably wasn’t Arsenal first-team calibre, but if you look at our side in the early 2000s, it was remarkably strong. Not a lot of players in the world would’ve got into that side. However, Inamoto was awe-struck by the quality of the Arsenal (as was the rest of us) and couldn’t believe that he was worth a place in that side. So, he couldn’t make that leap from young hopeful to established squad player.

I don’t think Miyiachi’s going to have that problem. Firstly, because the players he’d be trying to displace are Nasri and Rosicky, not Pires and Ljungberg. Secondly, because there isn’t that inferiority complex anymore. Nakata and Nakamura have showed that Japanese players compete in the best leagues in the world. Honda showed as much ability as anyone else in the World Cup. Thirdly, no one thinks he’s been signed for anything other than his footballing talent.

It’s pretty amazing to see how far things have come.

So on my 233rd last day of my 20s, I worked, went home, napped, and woke up. Difficult to find stuff to write about in the interlull. Might go back to sleep, and maybe some interesting news will build up in the next few days.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Barcelona don’t really want Cesc

"Both the club and the player did as much as possible. Our second offer was €40 million. From the moment Arsenal said they didn't want to negotiate, we respected their position. We would have liked to have signed him, but we weren't able to negotiate. It wasn't a disappointment - it was simply impossible. Thanks to the conversations, we have re-established contact with Arsenal.”

- Andoni Zubizarreta, about Barcelona’s interest in Cesc Fabregas

So it turns out that Barcelona offered £33m for Cesc Fabregas, but we rejected them. They respected our position and didn’t make another bid. They just held microphones in front of all the Barca players and Cesc’s entire family and got them to ask Cesc to leave. That’s what principle looks like, Barcelona-style.

I’m surprised Arsenal would consider opening up dialogue with Barcelona again. Sure, Cesc is going to go back sooner rather later, but if I was Arsenal, I would’ve ignored Barcelona for a few more months and made them sweat a bit.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen in 12 months time. Barcelona are heavily in debt, but they’ve got the knack of pulling out a big signing every year. Barcelona don’t really need Fabregas at the moment, and Arsenal really need him now. But the frenzy around Cesc-to-Barcelona is so intense that Barcelona are obliged to make a serious bid every season. What’s the bet that Barcelona makes another £33m bid next season, shrug their shoulders when it doesn’t work, and then move on to find a replacement for Puyol?

In other news, The Sun is written by a bunch of idiots. The FA introduce a rule designed to promote home-grown players, and The Sun mistake it to be a rule designed to kick out every dirty, smelly foreigner from the pure fair lands of Ingerland. So they get a bit angry when Arsenal - which had the foresight to prepare for this rule five years ago - has a squad which is tailor-made for the new regulations. The Arsenal have a squad of 70 to chose from while Chelsea only have 19 players? You’re having a laugh, aren’t you?

So on the 234th last day of my 20s, I didn’t have to work. I have Fridays off now. Caught up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a year. He’s got an awesome job, travels all around the world fixing stuff. I realise that there’s more to it than that, but from the outside, seems amazing.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The home-grown rule will help us

I'm thinking about the FA's new home-grown rule. When it was first proposed, Arsenal were one of the only clubs who took notice of it. We planned accordingly, and invested heavily in youth. And now that the home-grown rule is in effect, it looks like it was worth the investment. When you consider the number of good-quality youngsters we can call upon, we've actually got one of the deepest squads in the Premier League.

I don't like it - I'd rather we went out and bought a goalkeeper, to be honest - but the bright side is that we're going to get a chance to see our kids play this season. Considering we're three games in the season and we're down to our last central striker, we're definitely going to see the likes of Chuks Aneke and Sanchez Watt fairly soon. And considering the injury-proneness of the rest of our squad, we're going to see the rest of them soon as well.

So it's kind of exciting.

And we probably have a significant advantage over most other clubs. When the games start piling up and the injuries mount, the rest of the league is going to be scrounging around for spare bodies from their academies. The Arsenal, however, will have the luxury of selecting from a cohort who have already had experience in the Carling Cup and have won youth leagues and FA Cups. So it might compensate for our lack of a quality keeper.

I remember the UEFA home-grown rule was one of the big considerations in Football Manager transfer strategy. It meant that I always scoured the world for the best European u-18s, so that they'd qualify as home-grown players. I derived a perverse pleasure from seeing a bunch of young Frenchies qualify as Arsenal home players. Eventually, I stopped buying experienced players and just stockpiled u-18s every year, hoping that some of them would make the grade. It was amazing to see these youngsters, whom I'd plucked from obscurity, turn into world-beaters. Makes you feel really proud.

I guess Arsene Wenger feels the same way.... only in real life.

So on the 235th last day of my 20s, I need to sleep. Been a long day. Wish it was tomorrow already.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We haven't signed a new keeper

The transfer window's closed and we haven't signed a goalkeeper.

We're in terrible trouble. We were very, very close to signing a great goalkeeper, but we got priced out at the close of the transfer window, and we didn't have the time to look for another one. It's a shame, but what can we do? Arsene Wenger tried the best he can, and we can only applaud his tireless efforts to find someone who's better than Almunia or Fabianski.

It's a crying shame we don't know Superman. It would only take a few days to bid for a good goalkeeper, have the bid accepted, have a medical, and sign and present the new player to the public. Superman can reverse time by flying backwards around the Earth really fast, and give us the time needed to get the goalkeeper we need. It's a no brainer, but then again, if we buy Superman we're going to kill JET or one of our other kids.

It's a bit depressing, but then again, what can we do? We've a season ahead of watching Almunia concede near-post goals, fluff corners, get really anxious in big games and fall apart. And as an encore, when Almunia becomes "injured", we can always watch the comic stylings of Fabianski. We just have to grin and bear it, lay back and think of England.... they're even more of a fucking joke.

So on the 236th last day of my 20s, I went to work, left early, had dinner with my brother's family, and came home. Threw out a dodgy smelling lettuce that had been sitting in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Weighing up between tidying the house and going to sleep.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interesting Transfer rumours

So according to First Post, we're not getting Schwarzer. But we are getting Lloris for £14, and we're also getting rid of Almunia at the same time. We've also rejected an Inter Milan bid for Cesc Fabregas in exchange for Sulley Muntari and £28.7m.

I don't believe any of it. Firstly, Schwarzer for £4m is a steal. He's experienced, better than Almunia, and he's Australian. Secondly, if we're too cheap to pass on Schwarzer, we're not going to pay £14m for Lloris. Thirdly, we're not going to get rid of Almunia if we've made him the vice-captain. Fourthly, if Inter can't afford Mascherano, they sure as hell can't afford Cesc Fabregas.

I'd like it to be true. I'd like Arsenal to bid for Lloris. I'd like to be shot of Almunia. I think Fabregas for Muntari and £28.7m is cheap, but I'd love to see the reaction from Barcelona when they hear about it.

So on the 237th last day of my 20s, I watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World with some friends after work. Laughed my head off. It's the funniest film I've seen in a very, very long time. And it's not just funny. It's charming, and sweet, and intensely romantic in a daggy, nerdy, gamer kind of way. And if a girl's special, if she's the girl of your dreams... why wouldn't you be willing to fight off all her psychopathic exs in order to be with her?

Spent most of the film thinking that the GOMD would love it. She's got a great sense of humour. She's got a daggy streak in her as wide as a scientific calculator. And she's a gamer. Wish I could've taken her to see it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jack The Peacemaker

When I first saw the headline "Jack Wilshere arrested in early hours of morning and released on bail", my immediate thought was that Jack the Lad really was "Jack The Lad". I feared that English Footballer's Disease had spread and claimed the brightest prospect at Arsenal.

I'm glad to say that I was mistaken. The police said:

What a guy! Jack Wilshere made his senior club debut at 16, his international debut at 18, and just a few nights ago, in the early hours of a London night, he has also made his debut as Keeper Of The Peace. Jack is an Arsenal player, an England player and a Peacemaker. It's just staggering to list his accomplishments so far, and mind-boggling to imagine his future deeds.

But seriously, it's impressive to see an 18 year old with the presence of mind to respond appropriately in a crisis, and the conscientiousness to help out. Well done, Jack, whatever it was you did. You're a credit to the Arsenal.

So on the 238th last day of my 20s, I went to work, caught up with a friend for dinner, played pool, came home and started blogging. Missed playing pool; haven't really played regularly since uni. Problem is that I don't see winning as a primary motive in pool - it's really more about physics and appreciation of chaos theory. Not much else happened today. Was too sleepy to get up for a run in the morning, decided to give it a miss. Had baked beans on toast for breakfast.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Arsenal 2, Blackburn 1

So we won 2-1 against Blackburn. It wasn’t a bad effort. We conceded a weak goal, we scored two good goals, and we won despite a lot of scrappy play. We had some good players and some poor players. We were let down on occasion, but mostly, we did alright.

And besides, three points from Ewood Park is always welcome.

I thought Theo had a great game. He was direct and fast, and always offered an option out wide. He’s also started shooting from distance. His goal was indicative of how he’s going to be effective in the years ahead - cutting in from wide, latching onto a through ball, cold-blooded finishing. It’s just a shame that he hasn’t really improved the winger aspects of his game. If he had the option of going out wide and crossing the ball with accuracy, then he’ll be an amazing player.

I’m not sure what happened with the conceded goal. They came down our right flank with speed. Sagna was nowhere to be seen. Koscielny drifted across to mark the winger. Vermaelen and Clichy got too square and no one was marking Mame Diouf. It’s a bit sloppy, and we scored again later, but it’s something that needs to be ironed out. Defensive discipline is important.

I found it funny when Cesc Fabregas got substituted and gave his armband to Song. Song then walked over and gave it to Vermaelen. Vermaelen then gave it to Almunia, who put it on. It just shows the leadership deficit at the club. Why is it that the only player willing to assume a leadership position is the player we’re all hoping will be displaced by a new signing? Why aren’t Song and Vermaelen eager to put on the armband? What does this say about the moral fibre of our side?

Meanwhile, Stoke are going to sue Arsene Wenger for accusing Stoke and Ryan Shawcross "of being like rugby players”. Manager Tony Pullis said:

I would find this funny as well if it wasn’t so sad, and petty and dumb. Ryan Shawcross, (a good lad without a evil bone in his body), broke Ramsey leg last February. Ramsey will be out for nearly a year, and there’s a chance he’ll never be the same again (look at Eduardo and Diaby). I think calling them “rugby players” is mild, to say the least. If I was Arsene Wenger, I wouldn’t just be making disparaging remarks in a national paper.

So on the 239th last day of my 20s, I went to church, had lunch, went home. Had lunch at the same table as the GOMD’s mother, which was a strange experience. I was torn between sucking up to her about Christianity, and taking the piss out of Christianity by being overly sanctimonious. I’m not sure how I came across. It didn’t help that my friend kept rolling her eyes and laughing whenever I said something devout. Hard to appear genuine (or be genuine) when one feels like one’s playing to a crowd.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I think I'll watch Arsenal vs Blackburn tonight

So on the 240th last day of my 20s, I went to work, had lunch with my brother and his family, checked out when the Arsenal are playing Blackburn, and will have a nap when I finish writing this post. I'm terribly tired at the moment, and will have to get up later on to watch the match.

I went to this fixture two years ago. I stayed in a hostel in Manchester, and took two buses to Blackburn. Had curry chips in a greasy chippery opposite the ground. Sat in the third or fourth row around the corner flag. Watched the Arsenal win 4-1 or 3-0. We were amazing going forward, but got scythed through the midfield whenever Blackburn had the ball. We became much more composed when Denilson (?) was replaced with Song in the second half.

That was two years ago. It's strange to think it was that long ago. In that time, Song's improved out of sight. Cesc has become one of the best midfielders in the world. But Almunia's still shite, and Arsenal are still thin in numbers and experience. We're still hovering between 3rd and 4th, and we need something cathartic to happen to make us league contenders... like buying a fucking goalkeeper.

I miss watching live football matches. I watched four Arsenal matches: two at the Ems, one at Blackburn and one at Bolton. The difference between watching the Arsenal in real life and Arsenal on TV is like.... well, it's like the difference between real life and TV. I'm going to have to go back there again to watch the Arsenal again. Maybe I'll do it when we're interested in winning trophies again.

Blackburn away is going to be a tricky fixture, mainly because Blackburn away is the continuation of Fat Sam away, and Fat Sam away is always about how weak continentals don't like it "up norf" and don't like the rough stuff. So I'm kind of worried about this one, especially since we've got Koscielny and Chamakh still getting used to the Premier League, and Almunia still getting used to being a first choice Premier League keeper.

C'mon Arsenal, let's do it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wenger says it's okay to sign 30 year olds now

"It’s not over 30, it’s over 32. So when you have a player 32 he will just get a one-year contract. It depends on the positions as well. If a central defender, then no problem to sign them until 34. But a striker is different. After 32 you go from year to year.”

- Arsene Wenger, transfer theory revisionist

Turns out that 2 + 2 = 5, four legs good but two legs better, and Oceania is at war with Eurasia and Eastasia and has been since the beginning of time. And Arsenal have an over-32-year-old policy, not an over-30-year-old one.

It's something Wenger's done to justify the signing of Squillaci from Sevilla. Squillaci's 30, a journeyman defender, and French. Wenger's done some pretty radical things in his time, but this is up there with the signings of Silvestre and Bischoff. You look at the transfer fee (€4m) and the years on the contract (3) and you wonder if that money could've been better spent on a younger player who could still give the side experience, leadership and support.

I'm getting a bit sick of seeing Wenger buying kids for the attacking positions, and buying "geriatrics" for the defensive positions. Why can't we just buy a bunch of 25-28 year olds for the key positions, and let them provide the leadership and the experience for the kids? Squillaci gets a three-year contract, will probably be okay in the Premier League for a couple of years, and then get released on a free transfer. Why not pay £15m for a Mertesacker or a Zapata and then sell him on for £15m again in four years' time?

But I'm really angry about Wenger changing his transfer policy in such an ad hoc manner. If we're extending the over-30 policy for Squillaci and Silvestre, why didn't we extend it to Pires, Gilbert Silva, Vieira? In his first ten years, Wenger created a successful footballing culture. He then gutted that culture by selling off all the experienced players, and replacing them with kids who didn't know the first thing about being part of a successful football team. And now he's realised his mistake, and he's trying to inject some experience into the side by buying cheap journeymen, washed-up defenders and experienced free transfers.

It just doesn't wash with me. I wish he'd stop trying to cover up his mistakes. He made a gross error of judgement when he let the Invincibles all leave at once. He made a mistake in Transfer Theory, but that's okay, everyone makes mistakes. But I wish he'd stop thinking we're idiots, and I wish he'd just be fucking honest for once and admit he was wrong.

So on the 241st last day of my 20s, finished up at the place in Wandin, bought some tomatoes and mushrooms and had rather too much spaghetti for lunch. Feeling rather full at the moment.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Arshavin and Ben Arfa

"I want to win the Champions League. [When I retire] I want to be remembered as a small Russian guy who did some magic things where people did not understand how he did it."

- Andrei Arshavin, a magician

Andrei Arshavin wants a lot of things. He wants to be a magician. He wants to be remembered as a small Russian guy. And he also wants to win the Champions League. The first is plausible. The second is probable. And the third? If he achieves that with the Arsenal, he'll definitely be remembered as a small Russian guy who does magic things.

It's difficult for Arshavin because he's being played out of position. We should really play him as a withdrawn striker behind the centre-forward, and make him the focal point of our attack. We should keep Cesc level with Song, and give Cesc the Xavi role. We should play van Persie and Walcott on the flanks, and we should have Chamkah as our centre-forward. As for Nasri, Diaby, Denilson, Rosicky, Wilshere and Eboue, we should bench them and only give them games when they show that they can (a) keep fit, and (b) work like hell during matches.

Arshavin has aspirations to do magic. Let's give him the stage to pull rabbits out of his hat.

As a aside, The First Post is linking us with Hatem Ben Arfa, with a bid of £12m being mooted. It's a signing that would kill Jack Wilshere, but I've got to admit that it's a bit tasty. I have a soft spot for fragile, attacking French play-makers. There's a certain je ne sais quoi about them. Like Nasri, who has bundles of talent but no consistency. Or Diaby, who has all the physical attributes of a great midfielder, but none of the application. These guys frustrate with their potential, but they've got so much potential that they hook you in and make you keep faith with them.

My favourite Championship Manager side has a five-man midfield of Ben Arfa, Wilshere, Fabregas and Nasri as the four inter-changing, creative attacking players, and Sankhare as the defensive anchor. It was amazing - my side played like Barcelona, but with French players in Arsenal colours. At times, it was as beautiful as watching youTube highlights from our Invincible season. And if we sign Ben Arfa, we're going to field 80% of my Championship Manager midfield. That side won over ten leagues and ten Champions Leagues in a row, was unbeaten for three years, and made a profit from transfer signings every year. Is it possible that with 80% of my CM midfield, we'll have 80% of my CM success?

I hope so.

Then again, it'll be a weird transfer if it happens. I'm not sure where we could play Ben Arfa. He's a winger / withdrawn striker type of player. He'll be competing with Cesc, Nasri, Rosicky and Arshavin for the same position. If we're buying him as cover for Frimpong, it'll be a strange, strange deal. Unless we're buying him so we can convert him into a goalkeeper....

So on the 243rd last day of my 20s, I went to work, had my hair styled, had dinner with a friend and got a couch and a bedside table. I've got a spiky, twisted kind of hair style at the moment, held together with a combination of wax and gel. It's quite a feat of engineering. I'm not sure about it. The friend who did it for me is quite impressed by her handiwork, but other people shrug their shoulders and say it's alright, but it was alright before as well. I thinking I should think less about my hair.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Financially, Arsenal’s doing well

Thinking about Arsenal’s finances, and we’re remarkably stable. When you consider that Chelsea and Man City are basically printing money to stay afloat, Liverpool is one step away from being nationalised and run by a bank, Man Utd are owned by family who are about to be squeezed by debts from both ends, Aston Villa can’t run a profit and run a proper club, and Tottenham have highly plastic accounts... the fact they we make the Champions League every year and still make a £30m profit every year is highly remarkable.

Just read an article from Swiss Ramble about Internationale. They’re owned by the Moratti family, and while you know that the club is subsidised by the family, it’s shocking to realise that they lose over €100m a year. It’s incredible that wages constitute 104% of revenue. And it’s staggering to think that Massimo Moratti’s lost €1.15 billion in his time as president. They’ve managed to win the Champions League again after 40 years(?) of trying, and they’re top dogs of Italy again after decades of dominance by Milan, but was it really worth €1.15 billion?

I think we’re probably the only big club in the world (except Bayern Munich?) which posts regular profits and stays near the top of the league. The price we’ve had to pay is that we’re not in contention for the major trophies, and we’ve had to rely on kids and journeymen instead of star players. Our financial position is something to be proud of, but I can’t help but think we’ve gone too extreme in our policy.

There’s got to be a middle road we could tread. Maybe there’s a fiscally responsible way to buy a few experienced players of the right age, temperance and ability. We could get a Kjaer or a Zapata and still turn a profit. We could hire a tactical coach to drill our team in set pieces and defensive marking. We could buy a fucking keeper who can do the job. All of these things can be done without breaking the bank.

Of course, we got into the financial position we’re in because we didn’t address our problems by throwing money at them. So maybe glaring, unsolved weaknesses are the price to pay for where we’re at.

So on the 243rd last day of my 20s, I went for a run, went to work, had dinner with a friend. Broke my vegetarian vow by having tuna at breakfast and beef vindaloo at dinner. Never mind, will start again tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Something about Jack Wilshere

"He is strong one against one, he has good commitment and it is important in the development of a player for him to start there. After, you can always push a player higher up but let's start with the difficult work. Once you do that, you can always take the easier job. And I always have many offensive players."

- Arsene Wenger, on starting Jack Wilshere in a holding midfield position

It's an interesting idea to play Jack Wilshere in front of the defence. Wilshere is regarded as one of the brightest young prospects in Europe, and he's earned that reputation as a creative, dribbling, passing, play-making kind of player. It seemed logical to give him exposure in his preferred role, but instead, Wenger's plonked him in a holding midfield position.

I suppose it's part of Wenger's philosophy to have a group of ball-playing, multi-positional footballers who can interchange with each other at will. So Jack Wilshere will learn to be as adept at marking and pressing as he is at passing and creating. And when he finally does get his chance to play in the hole, he'll have all the insights needed to impose himself on a game despite being marked by opposition midfielders.

It's something Wenger's been doing to Walcott for the past three years. He was bought as a striker, and has gained experienced on the right wing. He's got some of the skills to be a striker (pace, finishing) but not the tactical intelligence or the guile. So he's spent three years learning about how to make runs, when to make runs, when to cut inside, when to drift outside... in short, all the things needed to turn him into the next Thierry Henry.

So it's interesting. You follow Arsenal, and you follow the Arsenal in the present. You only see the Arsenal in the present. Wenger manages this team in the present, but views it in the future. He sees Jack Wilshere as a nuggety playmaker with a bit of mongrel about him. He sees Theo Walcott as a pacy striker who like to drift right and cut inside with devastating effect. He sees Alex Song as a behemoth who plays as a hybrid defensive midfielder / third central defender. He sees young players working hard to reach their potential, and he can picture them as the finished article in the future. And from what I can imagine, that's a stunning dream.

So sometimes, I can see why Wenger wants to let his vision play out. If it works, it's going to be a thing of transcendent beauty.

Oh, and we've signed Sebastien Squillaci for £5m. As I've said previously, I'm not sure about this one. For a bit more, we could've got a lot better. Sounds like false economy to me. Oh well, we need experience at the back, and if Squillaci can provide the sort of steadying influence that Sol Campbell did last season, he'll be alright. I guess Wenger's still dreaming that Djourou, Nordtveit and co. can come up trumps.

So on the 244th last day of my 20s, I made a vow to abstain from meat for a week. So I bought KFC for dinner. I'm starting to think that Hot 'n Spicy is better than Original Recipe. It holds its shape better - Original Recipe skin tends to get saturated in fat and oil by the time you start to eat. There's also a mellow heat to the meat, which is a pleasant distraction from the nausea of ingesting all those saturated fats.

Does KFC count as meat? I'm not sure it should.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Almost, nearly, probably, about to sign Squillaci (maybe)

It's increasingly likely that we're going to sign Sebastien Squillaci. Apparently, we've agreed terms with Sevilla, and all that's left is a medical. Squillaci is sure enough of a transfer that he stepped down from Sevilla's Champions League play-off match, to avoid being cup-tied for Arsenal. So it's pretty likely.

I'm not sure about this one. £5m for a 30 year old defender, who isn't a regular for Sevilla, seems to be quite a lot. We're at the point where we just need SOMEONE in the squad, but I'm not sure Squillaci is the best option. When you consider £12m-£15m could probably land you a Mertesacker, a Zapata, a Kjaer, or even a Sahko, then it seems like false economy to spend £5m on a depreciating, mediocre talent like Squillaci.

I suppose I should have more faith in Wenger. He's the guy who bought a right-back (Sagna) when we had arguably one of the brightest young right-backs in Europe at the time (Eboue). He's the guy who let Toure go and brought in another short central-defender (Vermaelen). He's still got an eye for talent, and when he takes a plunge on a player, he's usually right.

Then again, he's also the guy who bought Silvestre from Man Utd for £700,000. So even Arsene Wenger can be wrong. Let's just hope he's not wrong this time around.

And let's hope that this isn't the last signing of the summer. We need a goalkeeper as well. Schwarzer, Given... whoever, I don't care anymore. Get just someone competent in front of goal, stop worrying about killing Fabianski and Almunia, and start worrying about killing us gooners, Wenger!

So on the 245th last day of my 20s, I went to work, worked, and then came home. At the moment, I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to turn 10 oranges, 1 head of broccoli, 1 bag of potatoes, 6 carrots, 1 zucchini, 6 eggs and 1 avocado into a meal. I suppose I could make a gigantic bowl of mashed potatoes / frog-in-a-hole type meal, with orange juice and an omelette. Or I could just go get a pizza.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A 6-0 win, but we're still crap

"He had a good preparation for the first time in a long time. He takes life in a positive way. He sees the glass as half-full so he took it as another challenge. That's what's amazing about Theo."

- Arsene Wenger, on hat-trick hero Theo Walcott

We beat Blackpool 6-0 last night, Walcott got the first hat-trick of his Arsenal career, and we kept a clean sheet. But we're still crap. Let's not go over the top with this result, and start predicting league trophies and European success. We're still crap. We were crap before Blackpool, and we're still crap after Blackpool. The nature of our crapness is such that it'll be the constant in a season of fluctuating form, amazing wins and frustrating losses, horrific injuries, stylish play and the inevitable dreadful goalkeeping errors. If we keep hold of the fact that we're crap, we'll be able to ride the emotional roller-coaster of an Arsenal season a bit better.

Theo was impressive, but remember, it's just Blackpool. Where was Theo against Liverpool? Where was he in the World Cup? Where was he last season? Theo is a flat-track bully who can punish teams who are in awe of him (i.e. Blackpool) but who doesn't have the nous or guile to overcome a disciplined, organised Premiership-level defence. He's a nice boy, for sure, but remember, he's still crap.

Look at Chelsea. They've just beat two sides 6-0, and you don't hear them saying that they're going to win the league, or that they're going to dominate Europe. Chelsea beat Wigan 6-0, and they shrug their shoulders and just get on with it with natural cool.

In fact, I'm furious at Arsenal for wining 6-0. How dare they score so much in a game that didn't require it, and score so few in games that matter, such as against Liverpool? Why do they play with sparkle and invention when they're against crap sides, and why don't they show up against sides that are organised? It's like they're taunting us with their ability.

We still need a central defender and a goalkeeper. Almunia and Fabianski are liabilities. And Song's playing at centre-back in the second game of the season. Think about it - our back-up, back-up centre-back, the one who's our first-choice defensive midfielder, is being drafted in because all available cover has been used up, by the second game of the season. I shudder to think what will happen if we don't sign a defender in the next few weeks.

And I don't know if this post is a wind-up, or sarcasm, or where it's genuine. Got a grinding headache above my left eye, and I'm not feeling straight at the moment. Who knows, I might've morphed into a bitter, disenchanted gooner who cheers when we lose and boos when we win, all because I hate Wenger so much that I'd wish us to lose in order to drive him out.

I hope not, though. I hope it's just the headache talking.

So on the 246th last day of my 20s, I sat opposite the GOMD at lunch, and she didn't make my headache go away. So I'm not sure whether she's got miraculous powers after all. She might just be a special, special girl who lights up my life but who doesn't have the ability to cure physical ailments. Oh well, no one's perfect.

Also dragged four friends along to watch me get a haircut. I wanted us all to get matching haircuts, but I was the only one shaggy at the time. So they just sat around and gave moral support. Really touching, I suppose.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Squillaci and Schwarzer

"It depends how long the road is. We just walked into the road, you know? If the road is very short we will not be very far. At the moment it will be very premature to announce that Squillaci will join us."

- Arsene Wenger, regarding our transfer negotiations with Sevilla about Sebastien Squillaci

In the past few days, we've been increasingly linked to Sebastien Squillaci, a 30 year old French international central defender, currently playing for Sevilla. The deal's supposed to be either £4m or £6. I suppose we should be happy that we're still looking to sign someone, but still, why are we trying to sign an obscure 30 year old Frenchman with no resale value and questionable fitness and speed?

Wenger seems to have got in the habit of buying 30 year old defenders. And strangely enough, there's no talk of Squillaci killing Nordtveit or Djourou. There's no talk about the introduction of a rolling one-year contract. It's a weird transfer, like the Silvestre to Arsenal deal of a few years ago, sans the nausea and discombobulation of seeing a Man Utd player in an Arsenal shirt.
I'm tempted to just go with the flow, and just take it on faith that if Wenger's impressed with this guy, he'll be good enough for us. But that overlooks that Wenger's been trying to artificially inject experience into the team by buying old French geezers in defence. And it overlooks that Squillaci is towards the end of his career, and he hasn't done much in his career to show that he worthy of playing for a big, big club.

Squillaci to Arsenal sounds like a cut-price deal for a cut-price player.

Another cut-price deal that's been mooted is Schwarzer to the Arsenal. Wenger's trying to hush it up and protect his incumbent, saying;

I totally agree with that. The last thing we need is our two goalkeepers get distracted from the game, and play even worse than they can. Let's get the boys into the right frame of mind (the ball is my friend, I want the ball, the nature environment of the ball is in my hands) and keep our frantic transfer dealings on the quiet.

Let's not announce our progress until we've actually signed someone.

So on the 247th last day of my 20s, I woke up tired, went to work, voted, then bought a pair of pants and a jacket. Had spam on toast for lunch. Thinking about the smaller number of federal candidates compared to state ones. I seem to remember that state elections usually have seven or eight candidates, but the federal one today one had four candidates. I suppose the federal nature of it must weed out all the zany independent candidates.

On the 248th last day of my 20s, I stayed up late and pissed off the GOMD. She's not really that pissed off, because she doesn't care enough about me to really get pissed off. Which, really, is much more depressing than if she's purely angry.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Given vs Schwartzer is a club vs country question

If we’re going to get a keeper this year, it increasingly looks like a choice between Shay Given and Mark Schwartzer. It seems like Wenger had his hopes on Joe Hart at first, then tapped up Schwartzer as a consolation target, and then started stalling once it became clear that Given’s available. At the moment, it’s a matter of whether Given wants to leave (he does), Mancini is willing to let him leave (he is) and whether Wenger and the Arsenal can arrange terms with him before another club snaps him up (it’s possible). If not, then we’ll go for Schwartzer.

It leaves me in a bit of a club vs country dilemma. I love the Arsenal, and Given is hands-down the better option. He’s younger, better, and has had more experience with big clubs. But I also love the Socceroos, and it’ll be great to see one of our boys wearing a red shirt with white sleeves. So if Schwartzer gets signed, a part of me will be very happy indeed. It’s not often that an Aussie gets to play with one of the big clubs in world football.

It’s a bit of a fallow period for Australian football. We did alright in the World Cup but we played dourly. We don’t have any really talented players coming through (aside from maybe Tommy Oar). Four years ago, our best players were all in the first and second divisions of European leagues. Now, our best players are scratching around for clubs to take them. So we could do with the boost that a signing to the Arsenal would give.

So is it wrong to want to compromise the Arsenal’s quality in order to give Australian football a chance? Is it wrong to wish that Arsenal would sign Schwartzer (because he’s Aussie) and not Given? My head says that Given is the better deal, but my heart tells me that I’d be prouder to wear an Arsenal shirt with Schwartzer on the back than anything else.

So on the 249th last day of my 20s, I didn’t do a lot. I locked myself out of the house first thing in the morning, and had to get the spare keys off the neighbour. Took some Codral to get me through the day. And for some strange reason, sang “We Love The Arsenal” on the drive to work, in my best Cockney accent. For some reason, I always speak in Cockney when I sing an Arsenal song.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Arsenal Fanshare’s a good idea

"We believe it is fundamentally helpful to the club to have supporters who are active and engaged. The important thing is that supporters are valued and nurtured, not exploited. That is good for the club's soul, and for its all-round health."

- Ivan Gazidis, about the mooted Arsenal Fanshare proposal

For as little as £100, an Arsenal supporter will soon be able to buy 1/100th of an Arsenal share, and gain full shareholder rights: the chance to attend the annual general meeting, ask questions of the directors and vote on policy. It’s due to a proposal called Arsenal Fanshare, organised by the Arsenal Shareholder’s Trust, and it’s supposed to enable a degree of fan representation at the Arsenal governing level. All the major shareholders (Fiszman, Kroenke, Usmanov, Bracewell-Smith) have endorsed it.

In some ways, it’s a good idea.

Firstly, as the major shareholders have endorsed the plan, it puts to bed the idea that we’re on the brink of a takeover. Kroenke and Usmanov can hardly launch a takeover after saying that fan-ownership is a good idea.

Secondly, it gives the club a bit of stability. There’s been a lot of turmoil, intrigue and back-stabbing in the past ten years, our board and major shareholders are in a transitional period, and the issue of our ownership is in a state of flux. If a large block of shares (say 30%) eventually become owned by a fans’ trust, it’ll give our board the kind of stability and continuity that it enjoyed in the years before SkySports.

However, my main concern is that Arsenal fans are being told to cough up even more money to prop up the Arsenal share-price. Gooners put £10 a month into Fanshare, a fund which tries to buy shares at £10,250 a share. Fanshare, by it’s very nature, creates demand for available Arsenal shares and props up the trading price. So for major shareholders looking for an exit strategy (i.e. Fiszman and Bracewell-Smith) it gives them a measure of insurance against a price drop, as well as create a captive buyer for their shares if no other bidders come forward. For major shareholders who are biding their time before a full takeover (i.e. Kroenke and Usmanov) it protects the value of their investment.

So why are gooners being encouraged to spend money to prop up a few shareholders’ portfolio? Don’t get me wrong - I’m still very much in favour for this proposal. It’s a generational thing, and I can see a time in the distant future when the Fanshare (or the Arsenal Shareholders Trust) has a major stake in the club, has a seat on the board, and allows the fans a chance to participate in creating the Arsenal we all wish we had. I look forward to that day. But I’m not about to fall on my knees and praise Gazidis for a proposal that gives the existing shareholders many, many benefits.

If the board really wants to be good guys to the fans, they’d get Wenger to buy a decent keeper, a decent centre-back, a decent defensive midfielder, a tactical defensive coach to assist Wenger, and make it an imperative that Wenger tries to win the Premier League.

So on the 251st last day of my 20s, I drove my parents to the airport, went to work and tried to nap in the staff room, had dinner with a friend, and came home. Pretty tired, been up since 3:30am. It’s the equivalent of 2:00am according to my body clock.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I’d rather sleep than watch the Arsenal

I’m wondering whether I should stay up to watch the replay of Arsenal vs Liverpool. First, I’ve read all the reports and I’ve formed opinions of the match already. Second, I’ve never been able to sit through a replay - there’s something missing when it’s not a live match. Thirdly, I’m still recovering from my headache, I’ve developed tonsillitis, I’m coming down with a cold, and I’ve got to drive my parents to the airport at 3am.

Maybe it’ll be better to get an extra four hours sleep and start my 10-11 season with Arsenal vs Blackpool. At least that one promises to be a good Arsenal win. And who knows, by that stage, we may well have a proper keeper in goal after all....

So on the 252nd last day of my 20s, I got irritated at a patient of mine who kept apologising. I do it myself - the first word on my lips is usually “I’m sorry?” - but it’s incredibly irritating when you’re on the receiving end. I wanted to tell the guy to shut the fuck up, but I was afraid his next words would’ve been... "I’m sorry". Felt a bit guilty about feeling this way because politeness should be encouraged, but still, there’s a definite line between good manners and obsequiousness.

Been thinking about the election. I’ve flipped through the pages whenever I come across it in the newspaper. It doesn’t interest me anymore. Gillard lost me when she decided to victimise asylum seekers to win the bigoted, xenophobic vote. Abbott lost me when... I can’t remember when, but it was a long, long time ago. Both parties have ignored the pressing issue of the day (greenhouse emissions). I’m just waiting for the day when 10 million other Australians see the light of day and start voting for the Greens.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Arsenal 1, Liverpool 1

I haven't actually watched the match yet, but I know we drew against Liverpool. We dominated possession but couldn't score a goal, we went behind through Ngog, Cole and Koscielny both got sent off, and Reina made a mistake in the last few minutes to give us a goal and a draw. So I got the gist of it from the internet, and I suppose I'll make up my own mind tomorrow night when I'll get to watch the replay.

Comments that I read suggest that: Wilshere isn't ready for a first-team place; Koscielny is promising but we're seriously limited in terms of centre-backs (down to Vermaelen and Song after ONE match); Arshavin is lazy and unmotivated; and we desperately need a goalkeeper. All of this is stuff we kind of already know, it's just that it'll still a bit of a shock to see if unfold. This team needs surgery in order to win the Premier League. And all we're getting is a couple of placebos and a lolly-pop.

Almunia is feeling the pressure of the speculation about his position:

Sometimes - okay, most of the time - you forget that footballers are people first and heroes / role-models / celebrity object lessons / communal mythological characters second. They're just guys who happen to be really, really talented at running good and kicking good. So yeah, I kind of feel sorry for all the crap I've been hanging on Almunia. It's not fair to bag a guy who's just trying to be the best keeper he can for the club he loves.

But then again, the sad truth is that we need a better keeper if we want to win the league.

So on the 253rd last day of my 20s, I dealt with the aftermath of a terrible headache. Took two indomethacin and spent as much of the day as I could closeted in the staff room with my eyes closed. Better off going to bed.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Not tonight Arsenal, I have a headache

So the season starts tonight. Arsenal vs Liverpool. I intended to watch it live at the TAB down the road, but I’m going to rain-check. Got the sort of splitting headache which only goes away with a night’s sleep. And if I don’t sleep soon, I’m going vomit.

Arsenal are in a world of trouble. No Song, no Fabregas, no van Persie, no keeper. We’re playing a debutant in Koscielny, and probably two 18 year-olds in Frimpong and Wilshere. We’re playing with either Almunia or Fabianski in goal. It’s not going to be pretty, and the best we can hope for is that we’ll score more than them. Which would be interesting considering it’s the debut for Chamakh as well. Looking forward to that.

There’ll be a replay on one of the digital free-to-air channels on Tuesday. Might wait until then. I hopw we win, I really do, but if we lose and lose badly, maybe it’ll prompt Wenger to try harder in the transfer market. So silver lining do occur.

So on the 254th last day of my 20s, I developed a headache in the afternoon which became monumentally bad. Nausea, dizziness, throbbing grinding pain... it was nearly incapacitating for the whole night. And then the GOMD came over and talked to me, and it went away. But then she went away again, and it resumed. She has miraculous powers, that girl.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Denilson doesn't like Tottenham

"It's true they shocked me last season, they did much better than I thought. So, yes, we have to take them very seriously now. In football, you know anything can happen but I still cannot believe they will achieve more than us."

- Denilson, about hating Tottenham

Denison doesn't like Tottenham. No one associated with Arsenal likes Tottenham. But whereas before we hated Tottenham with the disdain of a superior to the decidedly inferior, this season we hate them as equals... of sorts. Of course, like Denilson, I cannot believe that they are the same as us, but facts don't lie: they have qualified for the Champions League, as we have; they won't win the Premier League. but neither will we; they will be challenging for the last two Champions League spots, as we will be.

For the first time since colour TV was invented, Arsenal and Tottenham go into a season as peers.

Denilson tells us that he "still cannot believe they will achieve more than us", but what does that mean? We don't achieve anything that the moment. We coast along in 3rd or 4th and we don't have the squad to compete seriously for trophies. It might be unbelievable that Tottenham will leapfrog us and win trophies, but it's believable that we're in the same boat as Tottenham. And for a relationship that's as mired in hubris as ours with Tottenham, that's a bit of a concern. We might be in for a major correction in that relationship in the near future.

Denilson is a true believer, though. He thinks we can break through this year and win a trophy. He bases his thinking on the retention of Fabregas, the signing of Chamakh, the abilities of kiddies like Wilshere and Gibbs, and the improvement of players such as himself. I'm hesitant about this. We were close to the title last season, but ultimately failed because we didn't have enough fit players and we fielded liabilities in goal. If squad players like Denilson improve another 10%, would we have the squad to challenge for the title? Maybe. But we'd still need a competent keeper, a manager with defensive nous, and a physio who can keep van Persie fit all season. I don't think that'll happen.

An interesting thing about this article is that it supports Wenger's theory that if you bring a player to a club young enough, you've got his allegiance for life. I don't know how many other players take their local derbies seriously. I can't see Berbatov really understanding the Manchester derby. I can't see Aquilani treating the Merseyside derby as anything other than another game. But Denilson's been at the club for long enough, been steeped into the traditions sufficiently, that he's been indoctrinated with hatred for all things Tottenham. It's nice to know that, despite appearances, our players do genuinely give a fuck about our major rivalry games.

So on the 254th last day of my 20s, I went to work completely drained. Spent the night before at Pancake Parlour playing cards with some friends, and waiting, hoping, wishing that the GOMD would've joined us. Finally left at midnight, spent the night tossing and turning. Really missed her.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Schwartzer to Arsenal?

"I need it to happen. I've had a couple of chats with Mark (Hughes). It's delicately poised. Who wouldn't be keen to go to Arsenal? At this stage in my career it's an amazing opportunity to play at that level and one I want to take."

- Mark Schwartzer, about a possible move to the Arsenal

Schwartzer’s 37, and has been a solid Premier League keeper for most of his career without ever playing for a big club. He’s used to playing for struggling clubs, which means that he’s required to make many saves every match, and is constantly involved in the action. He’s never had a situation where he’s a spectator for 80 minutes out of every match, but is required to make two or three match-winning saves (usually as a result of our defence’s suicidal impulses). I think there’s a substantial difference in the two roles, and I think it’ll take some adjustment.

Is Schwartzer flexible enough to handle the change?

I like Schwartzer because it means he’ll be the first Aussie signing for the Arsenal. We need some Aussie spirit at the Arsenal. Aussie footy players tend to be complete jerks on the field (playing what the Hawks once termed "unsociable football”), and complete tossers off the field. That seems to be the way a lot of successful footballers approach the game (e.g. Cristano Ronaldo, John Terry), so in the long-run, it might be more beneficial that fielding a team of nice boys like Denilson and Walcott.

But for what it’s worth, I’d like to see us make a big, big signing. You can’t go wrong with an expensive, quality goalkeeper. It’s not an area where you can over-pay. The reason the best keepers in the world are priceless is that the mediocre ones have their flaws exposed every week. And I’m sick of seeing Almunia’s flaws exposed.

I realise I’m getting a bit obsessed with the goalkeeping situation, but it’s an area of vital concern. It’s scary to think that we’re a couple days away from the first game of the season, and we STILL haven’t managed to sign a keeper. It’s insane.

Meanwhile, our Theo wants to make the step up:

Walcott’s got a great deal of talent, but he doesn’t have a great feel for football. He’s the kind of guy who needs 100+ games and a lot of time doing drills before he knows it becomes instinctive. Let’s hope he’s spent his pre-season learning how to cross, whether to cross or to cut inside, when to make runs and where to make runs.

I think this will be a better season for Walcott. He’s had a season to get used to the intricacies of playing in a 4-3-3. And in the long-term, I think playing as an outside forward in a 4-3-3 will suit him better than as a winger in a 4-4-2. Walcott plays best high up the pitch, using his pace to get behind his marker. I love the kid to bits, so I hope he’ll make a breakthrough this year. It’ll be heart-breaking if he didn’t make the grade and we had to sell him.

So on the 255th last day of my 20s, I had a day off work and decided to do my tax. Never realised how difficult tax can be. Three hours into it, and my head was spinning, my brain was fried and my stomach was churning. And I’ve still only touched the surface. Still have to do deductions, which should be more fun than calculating taxable income.

It’s going to be a painful few days.