Thursday, January 28, 2010

Arsenal 0-0 Aston Villa

"Any game you have to win at the moment."

- Arsene Wenger, about a game we didn't win

As a glory-hunting, plastic, doom-and-gloomer, I'm not sure what to make of this result.

As a doom-and-gloomer, my automatic response is that we've dropped 2 points, Vermaelen's out for the season, Arsenal are fucked, and that Wenger has pissed it down the drain again by not buying in the transfer window. If Vermaelen's out of the season, we're down to Gallas, Campbell and Silvestre, and that's pretty desperate. If we lose the league and it's all down to van Persie being out for the season, and Vermaelen being out for half the season, I'll be upset at Wenger for not adding to our squad.

But as a glory-hunting plastic fan, I see that we're 3rd on the ladder, still have to play the other leaders in the next few weeks, and that if we get lucky, we can be top of the league again by March. We need to hold our own during our run of Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd. If we get 6-8 points, I'd be happy. We've a fairly weak run after next month, and we play better when we've been written off and we're chasing a league leader.

Also coming to a pub near you, Arsenal vs Man Utd in 3D. Apparently, once you can see the depth and the contours of 3D TV, it opens up a whole new world of TV sport viewing. It's exciting. I wonder how 3D football translates on a jerky, postage-stamp sized internet stream?

And Jack Wilshere, say it ain't so. Don't go to Bolton on loan. What could they possibly teach you? They're dirty, lying, cheating bully-boys. It's not a good idea to play with them. They might be contagious. Why not go to a nice Spanish or French club?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jay-Z's a gooner

"I'm glad Arsenal now know it's them I support. It would be good to chat with Cesc and some of the other guys over lunch. The next time I'm playing in England I would like the Arsenal playesr to come and watch my gig and then come backstage afterwards."

- Jay-Z, as gushy as a kid in a No.4 shirt

Apparently, Jay-Z supports Arsenal and his favourite player is Cesc Fabregas. He has a wish to meet the Arsenal players one day, and organise a time when they can come backstage with him one time when he does a gig in England. I find it quite remarkable that a guy like Jay-Z, who has everything the world can give, can come off sounding like a fan-boy when talking about the Arsenal.

It clarifies a few things, though. I always wondered why Adebayor was so pissed-off and regretful about leaving the Arsenal. It couldn't be because of the money. It couldn't be because of the trophies. And it couldn't be because of missing the opportunity to head-butt a team-mate on the pitch - with Craig Bellamy on the team, they're bound to start fighting one day.

I think Adebayor's regretful because he's going to miss the opportunity to meet Beyonce. If Jay-Z wants to meet the team, they would've met her one day. Didn't he once compare the chance to play for Barca or Milan to the chance of dating Beyonce? At the Arsenal, he would have had an opportunity to meet her, and maybe even impress her with the reflected glory of the Arsenal. But now at Man City? Fat chance. No one thinks playing for Man City is impressive.

I wonder how Jay-Z would react if an Arsenal Adebayor was to chat up Beyonce? I wonder if he'd be chuffed like a fan-boy that Adebayor was chatting up his wife?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Stoke 3-1 Arsenal

"We have four very important games now in a short space of time, that is what we are focusing on.

- Arsene Wenger, like me, has other priorities than the FA Cup

I didn't sleep well last night and spent a few hours lying in bed, playing Snake on my phone and listening to my iPod. The thought came to me that, since I couldn't sleep anyway, I might as well get up and watch Arsenal play Stoke. But then I thought, fuck it, it's only the FA Cup.

Seems like I wasn't the only one who thought that. Wenger put out an inexperienced team, and we played like an inexperienced team would play. 3-1 to Stoke on the night, and I must say that it's a bit of a shock first thing in the morning. It's like pouring sour milk over your cereal, or waking up in a puddle of your own drool.

As Wenger explained:

I hope it doesn't mean anything. People have said that we're a confidence team, and we play best when we have wind in our sails. This is a bit of a puncture in that sail, but hopefully we'll get by. We're a bit more mature than two years ago, when throwing a Man Utd FA Cup tie really knocked the stuffing out of us. We've got a few hardened pros who can prop up the spirits. I think that's the difference between this side and the 2007 side. That one was fuelled by adrenaline and enthusiasm, and it was held together by Flamini's little pumping legs. This one is fuelled by an all-out commitment to attack because we've a crap goalkeeper, and it's stabilised by experienced players like Gallas, Vermaelen, Arshavin and Rosicky. There's a subtle difference between the two.

I really fucking hope that's true because as Wenger mentioned, we have a really fucking difficult programme coming up, and we really need to be on top of our game. Oh, and I really, really hope we get a new goalkeeper soon - someone starting with "A" and ending in "kinfeev" would be nice.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Do we care about the FA Cup?

Stoke City tomorrow night(?), and I'm wondering if the FA Cup is a worthwhile competition. I realise English people regard it with a certain affection, but why? It's an unseeded, one-legged cup competition that offer little little prize-money and a UEFA Cup place for the winner. For a club of Arsenal's stature, it's not much more important than the League Cup.

So why not throw the match?

It'll be nice to see the kids up against Stoke. The Guardian preview has Coquelin at right-back with Eastmond as DM. I'm thinking it'll be advantageous to have Eastmond as right-back (he's played there before), but mainly out of curiosity to see how Coquelin will do in the midfield. Heard great things about him.

We don't need to win the FA Cup this year. Especially not with the run of league games we've got coming up. I'd rather lose this and pick up points in subsequent games, rather than have a bunch of exhausted players fronting up against Chelsea and Man Utd in a month's time.

After all, it's just the FA Cup

In other news, 87.3% of Guardian readers think that Gary Neville is a "boot-licking moron". I'm not sure about the other 12.3%, but they're probably thinking something lot worse. Whatever the case, it's bad form to bag an ex-teammate, especially one who's playing for your cross-city rival and who plays better when "fired up". Carlos Tevez was right, and Alex Ferguson and Gary Neville were wrong.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm A Transfer Muppet

Myles Palmer knows a guy who knows a guy who has a friend who saw Edin Dzeko at the ground last night. Myles also knows that Wenger wasn't at training yesterday. And Myles put two and two together and reasoned that Dzeko is coming to Arsenal.

I think he's jumping the gun, personally.

I think we're getting a bit jittery because the transfer window is closing. Ten days to go, and we've only signed a 35 year old and a couple of boys. Ten days left to buy the two or three player would could make a real difference in our title run. Ten days of waiting, and watching, and hoping that Wenger has been foxing with us and has been frantically scouring the transfer market for all this time.

Dzeko to Arsenal would be really neat. We get a bit of Bundesliga on TV in Australia, and I've been impressed with Dzeko. He's big, strong, fast, good with his feet, can hold up the ball. He can act as a traditional centre-forward and free up Arshavin. I'd like him at the club, but you never know what Wenger's going to do. Buying Dzeko would probably kill a fair number of Arsenal kiddies, and I'm not sure Wenger's got the stomach to do that.

One of the kiddies that Dzeko would indirectly kill would be Fran Merida. Merida's a schemer on the flanks, and if Dzeko is bought, we'd put Bendtner on the flanks permanently and squeeze Merida out of the first team squad. In that case, Merida's probably going to do something stupid, like join Atletico Madrid.

I hope Merida doesn't join Atletico Madrid. They're mad. They're what Tottenham would be like if they'd been run by fascists and managed by a succession of Harry Redknapps. Reyes joined them a few years back, and his career has since flat-lined. If Merida joined them, there's no telling what will happen to him.

I hope he stays at the Arsenal. He's got Arsenal written all over him, as evidenced by quote from Cesc Fabregas:

With injuries every three games, he's a perfect replacement for Rosicky.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

We're Contenders

Moe: Okay, punching isn't your thing. But that's okay. You're not that kind of fighter. What you're gonna do is stand there while the opponent gets exhausted from over-punching.
Homer: Then I can just push him over
Moe: That's right, and if the ref's not looking, you can kick him a couple of times

- The Simpsons, from "The Homer They Fall" episode

It's the 21st of January, 2010, and as of last night, Arsenal are the greatest football side in England. After last night's 4-2 win against Bolton, we're level on points with Chelsea (who have a game in hand), and ahead on goal difference. Sixteen matches to go, and we've every chance of winning the league. It's very, very strange considering the amount of shit we've been hanging on the team, but it turns out that we're contenders after all.

It's strange because it seems our position is due more to the weakness of other sides, rather than to any inherent strength of our own side. Liverpool are staring into financial oblivion. Man Utd are starting to feel the effects of the Glazers' blood-sucking ways. Chelsea is finally getting serious about acheiving a degree of financial continence. Like Homer Simpson, all we have to is wait for our opponents to get exhausted from over-punching, and then push them over.... and maybe kick them a couple of times.

I'm wondering if I was wrong for bagging the team when things were looking bad. We've had our usual spate of injuries, and we're 1st in January. We've relied on our reserves team to provide our backup, and you've got to say that they're delivering. Vermaelen's doing well. 4-3-3 is going well. Song has become a major player for us, and Diaby's showing his potential. If we had a decent replacement for Almunia, we'd be excellent.

Anyway, we've 16 games to go. We were in this position two years ago, but we faded to 3rd by season's close. I think this time we can do it. We've got a couple of tough bastards in Vermaelen and Arshavin. Everyone's a couple of years older. I still think we're lacking about three players, but then, what do I know? I wouldn't have thought we'd be 1st in January.

We've got that run of Aston Villa, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool coming up, though. If we break even with that lot, I reckon we'll be it in until the close. If we don't, we'll fade again, maybe finish 3rd again and break my fucking heart.

Will it be a false dawn this time around? I'm not sure. Even if we falter this season, I think the tide's turning. Liverpool and Man Utd's problems aren't going to go away. Chelsea's transfer embargo is going to stick. Man City's going to struggle to find elite players unless they snag that Champions League place. And UEFA's proposal to restrict European competition to clubs that are financially self-sufficient will curb the spending of Chelsea and Man City. Meanwhile, the Arsenal are going to get better as long as we keep the side together.

Only, I wish we got a new goalkeeper.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Can Wenger sign someone, please?

"I am not conservative. I am realistic. It is different. We spend only the money we get. We have nobody who comes out when you lose £250million and says 'Listen, I make you a cheque' and life goes on. We live in a realistic world."

- Arsene Wenger, who has a very conservative view of reality

It'd been said that one of the conditions of the stadium finance deal was that Wenger is obliged to spend 70% of all his transfer takings, on either transfer fees or wages. This means that Wenger is obliged to spend 70% of that £41m that we got from Man City. That's £28.7m, which in my opinion, is sufficient buy someone of quality.

The problem is that we've probably got less than £28.7m to spend. We've spent a lot of money improving the contracts of our squad. I disapprove of that. We have the 3rd highest wage bill in the Premier League, and we have a thin squad with inexperienced backups. What's the point of improving Diaby's contract when we don't have a replacement for Song? What's the point of extending Rosicky's contract when he's injured half the time? And what's the point of giving all our kids large contracts when we still need a defensive midfielder, a centre-back and a goalkeeper?

The issue of the moment is the impeding financial ruin of Liverpool and Man Utd. Liverpool's drowning in debt, and will probably go into meltdown if they don't qualify for the Champions League. Man Utd are hocked to the eyeballs in debt, and may need to sell their training grounds and their stadium to keep themselves solvent. The consensus seems to be that cheque-book managerialism doesn't pay in the long-run.

I disagree.

The reason Liverpool are failing as a business is that their owners borrowed to buy the club, and are using the club's income to pay off the debt. They don't have a stadium big enough to generate the revenue of an elite club. However, they have the player roster and wages of an elite club. They're being squeezed from both ends. They need a new stadium to increase their revenue, but the owners have spent all their borrowed money on players and wages. There's nothing left to fund the stadium.

The reason Man Utd are failing is because the Glazers' are leeches. Man Utd are a remarkably profitable club - it's just the club's profit is being used to pay off the Glazers' borrowings. No business saddled with £700m in bad debt is healthy. If it wasn't for the Glazers, Man Utd would be generating profit every year, instead of going into debt because of interest payments. The Glazers are just the blood out of Mad Utd.

So where does that leave us? We're in a good positio; we have a large debt but it's on long-term low interest rate. The debt's being used to pay off our stadium. And the banks have actually made it a condition that we must invest in the squad, through that 70% investment rule.

So why the hell are we resigning our players on over-the-top wages, signing stop-gap solutions like Sol Campbell, and fielding sub-standard players like Almunia? We've got the money. It's stipulated that we spend it. So why can't we spend on players who can make us stronger?

C'mon Wenger, buy us someone exciting.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Return of the Sol

It's been a muted transfer window so far.

I remember last year, waiting on tenterhooks for the Arshavin deal to come through. We were going through a horrid patch, and Wenger and Gazidis were equivocating over £2-3 million. There was a tension in that transfer window, and there was a real sense that our season was on the line. There was a lot of relief when we finally got Arshavin.

We don't have that kind of pressure this season. We need a defensive midfielder to cover for Song. We need a centre-back as backup for Gallas and Vermaelen. We need a goalkeeper to replace Almunia. But then again, we're 3-4 points off the lead and we've got players coming back in the next few weeks. It's not that big a deal if we don't sign anyone of note. We don't have a team that can win the league, but we've got one that can finish in the top 3. And considering how depressing things looked in July, that's excellent.

One thing I don't understand is why we're keen on signing Sol Campbell. He's 35 and he left Portsmouth last season because he was past it. He's obviously a short-term placement to cover for Djourou, but I still don't get it. We've got the money to go for a real signing. We're not bankrupt like Liverpool or Man Utd - we can afford to spend £15 million on a good defender. I don't know who we could buy, but it beggars belief that Wenger thinks that Sol Campbell is the best defender available.

And in any case, we've still got Senderos. Why can't we play him? Senderos isn't that bad; he's just a bit slow and has confidence issues against Drogba. Give him a few games and he'll be alright as a back-up defender. He was part of the defence that got us into the Champions League final, after all. He's a decent player. I'd go as far to say that he's probably better than Sol Campbell.

And we've got Silvestre on a 2 year contract, don't we? Didn't we extend his contract? Why the hell did we do that, if we don't think he's better than an over-the-hill, 35 year old who's only been training with us to keep fit? Why did we sign him in the first place?

The only reason I can come up with is that Wenger's feeling nostalgic for the Invincibles. Wenger's not the kind of guy to keep mementoes - he's been quoted as saying that he doesn't even know where his Premier League medals are. But as he gets older and he looks around the dressing room and sees a bunch of kids in puffy parkas with bum-fluff on their faces, I imagine he starts pining for past glories. So it's probably comforting for him to see Sol Capmbell, pull him aside every now and then, and reminisce about a time when they were the kings of the Premier League.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fabregas to Barcelona would complete the set

""Barcelona boos Pep Guardiola is stalling on signing a new contract with the club - until they can guarantee the £50m signing of Cesc Fabregas."

It wouldn't surprise me if Guardiola walked into the boardroom and demanded a full-blooded assault on Fabregas. Guardiola has a liking for Barcelona youth players. He promoted Sergio Busquets last year, Pedro this year, and Bojan Krkic's been around for a couple of years. He paid big money to lure Gerard Pique back from Man Utd. There's no reason to believe he won't do the same to try and get Cesc Fabregas back as well. I'm just surprised that he didn't try to resign Fran Merida when he was available.

It's like Guardiola is trying to turn Barcelona into an old boy's club for La Masia graduates. Incidentally, I tried to do that on Football Manager once. I picked up Pique for £25 million and Merida for £3 million. I cheated by making Busquets awesome, and promoted him to the first team. I improved Oleguer's stats until he was a viable right-back. I can't remember what I did at left-back and left-forward, but whatever the case, it was an excellent team and won everything. The only problem was that I couldn't get Arsenal to sell Fabregas. I bid £55 million, tapped him up like crazy, and Arsenal still wouldn't budge. It was incredibly frustrating to be so close to completing the set.

In real life, Guardiola's almost there - Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Krkic.... apart from a lack of fullbacks, that's a team with serious ability. It would probably win the Premier League. But it's still not complete; Barcelona are a Fabregas away from having a full house. I hope Guardiola has the same (bad) luck in getting him as I did on FM08.

I think this large cohort of Barcelona ex-youth players one of Guardiola's greatest strengths. He knows these players intimately, since he helped develop most of them. They're all drilled to play the same sort of football. And they've grown up playing for him, so they'd be incredibly loyal. You can't underestimate that sort of rapport.

As luck would have it, we've got our own potential Guardiola in Steve Bould. Bould has done great things at the Academy, especially with last year's double-winning youngsters. I'm not sure he's got the experience or the tactical nous for the role, but it'll be a really interesting choice in four or five years' time. Bould would be as committed to the aesthetic sides of things as Wenger, and would be just as interested in promoting (his) youth players. He'd have a clutch of youngsters who've been with him for a long, long time, alongside relative veterans like Ramsey, Song, Bendtner and Walcott.

If he does get the gig, I just hope Steve Bould doesn't get carried away and try and resign players like Ashley Cole or David Bentley. I don't want the set that badly.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Vieira to Man City

"I wanted to go to the World Cup and I need playing time... What's important for me is to go to Manchester City, to show the coach that I am the same as I was during the period when he was at Inter. All this will help me get into the France team."

- Patrick Vieira, explaining why he'll be playing for City before long

I'm feeling a bit underwhelmed by Vieira moving to City. I understand the reasons behind the move - the chance to play under Domenech in a World Cup is too good to pass up - but I can't help but think that he's moving to the wrong club. It's going to be strange seeing him in a sky-blue shirt.

It's a pity that he's not going to spend the last few years of his career at the Arsenal. We could do with a tough-tackling midfielder who can provide genuine leadership and instil a winning attitude upon our impressionable young naifs. And we could do with one that would retire in a couple of years, and make room for Messrs Coquelin, Frimpong, Eastmond and JET. And we could really do with someone who could cover for Song over January.

Some people would say that he wouldn't fit into the Arsenal because doesn't have the legs for our game anymore. They'd point to the crazy levels of fitness that Wenger demands. They'd point to Vieira injury record. They'd argue that since Wenger judged him too old five years ago, it stands to reason that he'd still be too old to play the Arsenal way.

But I don't know about that. We've a bunch of young whipper-snappers who can run around like crazy and compensate. And a 4-3-3 seems tailor-made for a DM who can't run a lot but who can direct traffic and shield the defence. I'm not expecting the Vieira of old after all. I'm expecting old Vieira - a vastly experienced 33 year old who can do the water-carrying and stiffen our resolve when things get tough.

It's going to be an interesting looking Man City side. Toure, Adebayor, Sylvinho, Taylor, and now Vieira... if the Abu Dhabi sheikhs wanted our players that badly, they should've saved their money and just bought the club.

Oh, and this is a classic from Wenger, about Gallas's great recent form:

Probably the first time in his career that Gallas has been praised for not talking.