Friday, April 30, 2010

The 358th last day of my 20s

"We have a basic squad and I believe in the squad I have. But if I can make an addition - two or three maximum - then we will do it.... Ideally, you would want to do the job before the World Cup. It is difficult to give yourself the right timing. Certainly, we will announce one player before the World Cup. After that we will see."

- Arsene Wenger, talking about signings

Blackburn vs Arsenal next up and really, who gives a fuck? The season's over, we're fairly certain of 3rd, we're playing crap players and up against a crap side, so I'm not enthusiastic about this match. It's just the penultimate match of a season in which we didn't measure up.

Wenger's talking about signing someone before the World Cup. I suppose that's Chamakh. He's also talking about bringing in one or two more players. That's the replacement for Gallas, if he's leaving, and someone else. My money is on the replacement for Almunia, but Wenger "believes" in the squad, so maybe not.

I think 3 signings in the right areas could strengthen us to the point where we can challenge for the league. But would it happen? Let's see. We've been here before, been excited at the end of a season and wishing for signings we feel are surely about to happen. This time around, I'd rather wait to see what happens.

So on the 358th last day of my 20s, nothing went according to plan. Yesterday, my mate told his wife that I fancy her sister; all she said in reply was "I feel sorry for him". Fucking hell, after the night I've had, I feel sorry for me too. I realise this is supposed to be an accurate daily account of my 29th year, but some spots will have to be left intentionally blank. I'm sure that even in my 40s, I will have no wish to relive this night.

What shits me off is that, on the 361st last day of my 20s, I was bouncing off the walls looking forward to this night. But I should know the drill by now - expectation, delusion, reality, disappointment.

Watched Iron Man 2 with some mates, though. So at least there was something nice about the day. Good film, although they could've improved it by cutting out the tedious father-son relationship theme, and incorporating more robots, lasers and iron suits into the plot.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lachter Wants Arshavin Out of Arsenal (part 2)

Dennis Lachter's been talking to the press again:

Lachter builds on the "disappointment" theme introduced in yesterday's comment. Now, according to Lachter, it's the "manager, players and fans" who are unhappy and disappointed with the poor season. Lachter is knitting our disappointment (as fans) with Arshavin's disappointment (as a player). So the more we can emphasise with Arshavin, the more we weil start to sympathise with his desire to join Barcelona.

Lachter then backtracks somewhat on the Arshavin to Barcelona theme. He says that Arshavin is happy to play for Arsenal, it's just that Barcelona is his dream. But the key phrase in this comment is the line "unless something extraordinarily dramatic happens, he (Arshavin) will finish his career at Arsenal". It manages to convey the impression that Arshavin is loyal (unless something extraordinarily dramatic happens), and yet leaves the way open for a move to Barcelona, if it eventuates.

So what's been happening so far?

I'm starting to think Lachter's playing this one from both sides. He wants to put Arshavin's availability on general notice, but he's also keen to emphasise Arshavin's loyalty. I don't think there's an actual buyer for Arshavin at the moment. Lachter is just testing the waters before the transfer window opens. This year, it's a short window before the World Cup, and Lachter would want clubs to be ready to bid as soon as possible.

So on the 359th last day of my 20s, I ran 2 kilometres before my shin splints played up again; was told my by GP that I don't have Hep C or AIDS; ate a whole roast chicken for lunch; went to work for 4 hours; got my first ever speeding ticket; and then showered and started blogging.

Might get an early night tonight - working 4 hours a day really takes it out on you.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lachter Wants Arshavin Out of Arsenal

- Dennis Lachter, a pot calling a kettle black

Dennis Lachter is the king of football agents. He will lie, cheat and steal to get his player from Club A to Club B. And a year later, he will lie again, cheat again and steal again in order to get extract that player from the Club B to Club C. About a year ago during the Zenit to Arsenal transfer, we saw a true master of the Machiavellian arts at work. And after Arshavin said that playing for Barcelona would be the pinnacle of his career, it looks like we're seeing the opening salvos of the next campaign.

It'll be a shame to lose Arshavin over the summer, but it's a real pleasure to see Dennis Lachter at work. Here's what he said:

Here, Lachter claims that responsibility for Arshavin leaving Arsenal belongs to Arsene Wenger. Wenger has such a large influence on the club that he alone decides whether a player stays or leaves. By inference, if Arshavin agitates for a move this summer, it's Wenger's fault. Arshavin is not responsible for his own actions.

Arshavin is absolved of blame for wanting to leave Arsenal because even Wenger is upset at Arsenal's poor close to the season. Lachter also slips a reference to Wenger's age, thus subtly reminding us that time is running out, and the Wenger days must surely end one day.

Here, Lachter is using the repetition of the word "disappointment" to encourage players to associate Arshavin with Wenger. Since they are both "disappointed" at the season's results, we're encouraged to think they both are "disappointed" in the same way. We are accepting of Wenger's disappointment because we know Wenger truly loves the club and does his best to ensure our long-term success, and we're encouraged to think that Arshavin does likewise.

Moreover, there's the subtle criticism that Arshavin's discontent is the club's fault. It is NOT that Arshavin wants to move for a bigger pay-check or to a more glamour club. It's because Arsenal do not have the results to satisfy Arshavin's needs.

So which club DOES have the results that attract Arshavin?

Here, Lachter is subtly letting us know that Arsenal was lucky to sign Arshavin in the first place, since the club he really wanted to go to was Barcelona. That deal was so far advanced that a deal had been put in place 6 months before his move to Arsenal. Therefore, Arsenal have no right to demand him to stay. We've had him for a year, when by rights he should be at Barcelona.

There's nothing really over-the-top about this, but it's just an opening salvo. It sets the scene for the campaign to come. So far, Lachter has established that:

1. Wenger is ultimately responsible for Arshavin's transfer to Barcelona
2. Like Wenger, Arshavin is disappointed with the results this season
3. Like Wenger, Arshavin is running out of time
4. Arshavin has always wanted Barcelona, and had a contract with them once
5. Arsenal should be grateful for the time we've had with Arshavin

It's a solid platform from which Lachter can launch his persuasive pyrotechnics. I'm interested about Wenger's potential new signings, but I'm more eager to see Lachter's performance in the off-season. It's going to be special.

So on the 360th last day of my 20s, I went to work and asked my mate about the girl of my dreams. I've asked about her before, and he's still puzzled why I fancy her. He's married to her sister, though, so I suppose his predilections run in another direction. I realise I'm writing about her excessively, but in my defence, I'm thinking about her excessively as well. Besides, it may help my 40 year old self to know just how angst-ridden I could be in my 20s.

I'm watching Poh's Kitchen at the moment. She's cooking at Margaret River, and it's a lovely looking place. I'm kind of regretful I didn't take a trip down the coast when I was in Perth. There was an offer from a hostel down there for free accommodation in exchange for cleaning the loos. It's exactly the kind of thing a man in his 20s would do.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The 361st last day of my 20s

I don't really have anything to say about the Arsenal. What's there that's new? People have been discussing the impending arrival of the home-grown rule, and what effects that will have on the Arsenal team. Every EPL side will have a squad of 25, with 8 home-grown players. From what I gather, we'll have to make room for new players by selling existing members of our squad. So what's new about that? We've been doing that for years.

Personally, I think we should wait until the transfer window opens before we start thinking about what will happen. If there's one thing I've learnt about Arsene Wenger, it's that he doesn't think like me. Arsene Wenger is one of the most respected football thinkers in the world, and has been for the past 10+ years. I'm a guy in Australia typing on my laptop in my flannel pyjamas. It's fair to say that we come to football from different levels of understanding.

Anyway, I need a break from talking about Arsenal.

So on the 361st last day of my 20s, I wandered around David Jones, looking for a jacket that's equally suited to indoors and outdoors. I came across a few in the $100-$150 range, but they looked a bit too flashy. Had a discussion at work about the necessity of hoodies in a wardrobe, and am partially convinced of their virtue. I might have to consider throwing in the whole second jacket idea, and get five sets of hoodies instead.

I also bought a copy of Northanger Abbey because it features the girl of my dream's favourite Austen male character, and I was somewhat curious. I'm a few chapters in and so far it's been a pleasant read; it lacks the polish of a Pride and Prejudice or an Emma, but there's a certain youthful exuberance about it that's fascinating. Reading Austen in her youth is like watching a teenaged kid emerging from a toxic accident and discovering he/she has developed superpowers.

I'd still pick Persuasion as my favourite frocks and fops book, though. If the typical Austen book is like a university ball with drinking, dancing and various pairings-off, then Persuasion is the hour after everyone's gone to the after-party, and you're left alone a messy hall with a hundred or so empty chairs. It's a book that seethes with temperance, reflection and wistful, quiet regret. It's Jane Austen exposed, caught in an extended moment of wish fulfilment, mulling over things that could have been.

But Austen being Austen, it still has balls, bodices and chaps from the country militia.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Song as a centre-back?

"He has not the reflexes at the moment. He has the capacity to play there but we have seen against Barcelona and once or twice that he has not the reflexes yet. He needs to practise two or three weeks in there to have all the knowledge of the game."

- Arsene Wenger, contemplating Alex Song as a central defender

Arsene Wenger doesn't believe Alex Song is a centre-back. I tend to agree. We saw in the Barcelona game that he's a bit tactically naive when he's confronted with a withdrawn striker; he tends to get sucked upfield and make us vulnerable to the long ball down the middle. Personally, I think it's a waste to turn him into a proper centre-back. I think he has the potential to be great as a deep-seating defensive midfielder who covers for the marauding runs of our centre backs. If we need another centre-back, I'd like us to buy another one.

I read an article from Zonal Marking the other day, about how the popularisation of the 4-3-3 will eventually lead to a 3-man defence, with the full backs pushed up to wing-back positions, the two centre-backs pushing wide to cover the flanks, and a central defensive midfielder dropping deeper to act as a sweeper/third centre back.

The interesting point the author made was that each of the top 3 English teams already have a prototype defensive midfielder/sweeper/centre-back. Chelsea have Jon Obi Mikel. Man Utd have Michael Carrick. And the Arsenal have Alexandre Song Billong. Each of these teams already play a variation of 4-3-3 (okay Chelsea's got a diamond 4-4-2, but the way they run it makes it almost 4-3-3). So it looks like the top English managers have all started preparing for this tactical switch.

The other interesting thing is that we've two possible Song back-ups in Havard Nordtveit and Johann Djourou. They're both ball-playing centre-backs with a tasete for playing in midfield. Djourou even fancies himself as a defensive midfielder first, and a centre-back second. Of course it might just be coincidence. Arsene Wenger likes his ball-playing defenders, after all. But still if you consider the Arsenal back line 5 years' from now could be Gibbs - Vermaelen - Djouoru - Sagna, with Song or Nordtveit as our deep-lying DM, you can definitely see the potential for that line-up morphing into a back 3 with wing-backs.

It means we'll need a centre-midfield pairing with more defensive discipline than the one we have now. It may mean that Diaby and Denilson make way for Ramsey and Eastmond, with Cesc or Nasri deployed as the attacking midfielder. Our current wingers would tuck into the middle, so maybe the conversion of Theo Walcott to a striker will come to fruition with this formation. Arshavin will be long gone by then, but maybe Vela or Wellington will be able to replace him. And Nicky "Best Player In The World" Bendtner will lead the line, of course.

So it's an interesting idea, the gradual conversion of our 4-3-3 into a 3-4-3. Of course, it's only speculation, and much will depend on the success of Barca's 4-2-4 and Brazil's 4-2-3-1, with their reliance on withdrawn strikers and players rushing forward from deep. But it may happen, and if it happens, it's interesting that we already have the players at Arsenal to make the transition.

Of course, it could be that Wenger wants to turn Song into a centre-back purely to avoid spending money to buy another centre-back. If so, he can jump off a bridge. I want better players at Arsenal, not another season of Silvestre and the annual disintegration of our defence through injuries.

Oh, and the really alarming thing about Wenger's quote is that he seems to think that 2 or 3 weeks' practice will give Song all the knowledge he needs in the game. If everything Arsenal can teaches about defence can be taught in 2 or 3 weeks, we're seriously fucked. It's quite a disturbing insight into Wenger's attitudes towards the science of defending. What happened to the Arsene Wenger who appreciated defence and said:

Anyway, on my 362nd last day of my 20s, I attended a barbecue (with the watermelon and BBQ sauce), was made to dance like a chump with another guy for 10 seconds, was given fashion advice by our ex-fashion model pastor (straight-cut jeans, hair product and fitted tops or shirts), and learnt a few more fun facts about the dating preferences of the girl of my dreams (make her laugh, be direct, take it slow). Damn, she's gorgeous. Makes me wish that the 358th last day of my 20s would come around ASAP.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

(I didn't watch) Arsenal 0-0 Man City

I'm not watching Arsenal matches now, so I don't think it's right to comment on a match I haven't seen. Still, Arsenal and Man City drew nil-all at the Emirates last night, and I'm not sure what to think about it. Considering the number of players out injured, and considering the disappointment of the past few weeks, I think it's a good result. However, it's kind of sad that the day has come when a 0-0 at home against Man City can be considered a good result.

The report seem to suggest that we played badly. There are very few scintillating 0-0 games, but on this occasion, I don't think it matters. It's another point to toss onto the pile, and it helps keep 3rd spot a little more secure. At this stage, while we're limping through the season and each game is a potential humiliating defeat, that's as much as we can hope for.

In other news, Nicky Bendtner thinks he's one of the best strikers in the world:

I think it's worrying that Bendy thinks that goals are the last thing he needs to add. I'd worry if the Arsenal coaches are telling him that goals aren't important. Call me a traditionalist, but I would've thought that goals were one of the first things you need to add. Scoring goals certainly seems like a more important priority than sporting lime-green boots and a boy-band haircut. But I don't believe Bendtner's one of the best strikers in the world either, so maybe I'm just wrong about this one.

So, on the 363rd last day of my 20s, I woke up, watched the last ten minutes of "Wolverine and the X-Men", went to church, spent most of the day talking to the girl of my dreams (and really, the rest of the day's been just a blur), bought a watermelon and barbecue sauce, and downloaded "Uptown Saturday Night" by Camp Lo from iTunes.

I quite like this album. I'm listening to it now. It's blaxplotation hip-hop. I've no idea what they're saying, but they say in a really mellow, laid-back manner. It's so cool that I feel out of place listening to it. Well worth $16.99 to fund the Apple empire.

In Steve Jobs We Trust.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

364 days of my 20s left....

"You realise it's the last year of your 20s? When you turn 30, you start to have to grow up."

- Siew Yee, scaring the shit out of me on my 29th birthday

I'm paraphrasing. Truth be told, I can't remember what she said on Friday. All I can remember from that conversation was the wave of cold horror sinking down my spine as I realised she was right. My 20s are nearly over. In 364 days' time, an unspent lifetime of misspent youth will have to be quietly folded up and stowed away - not to be touched until I'm in my 40s and able to indulge in a bad mid-life crisis.

I'm 29, and life is rushing past me.

I'm 29, and I'm about the same age as Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin. I'm a couple years older than Robin van Persie and Bakary Sagna. I'm about three years older than Emmanuel Eboue. I'm saying this is illustrate that there's a whole generation of Arsenal players slowly creeping towards their 30s, with nothing to show for their time at this club. This team of ours, which we see as young, naive and immature, has as spine made up of guys who are at the peak of their careers. They've all spent years marking time at the Arsenal, waiting for the chemistry to be right for success. And what do they have to show for it?

In ten years' time, when these guys are long retired and sleeping on top of a pile of money with many beautiful ladies, I wonder if they'll regret not spending their 20s at a club that's aggressively pursing trophies? I wonder if at 40, they'll join a veterans' league and try to win those titles that eluded them in their 20s. There comes a time when money and material stuff can't drown out that nagging disappointment that you've never had the guts to try and be all that you can be.

It's already cheesing a few of our players off. Andrei Arshavin's in the press every other day agitating for better players. Arshavin realises that without a major European trophy, he'll never be considered in the elite bracket. Interestingly, Robin van Persie loves the club and he'll probably resolved to spend the rest of his career with us. He's decided he belongs at the Arsenal, and come what may, he'll stay. So what if he's never going to win a major European league title? At least he'll always be known as an Arsenal legend.

I admire van Persie's stance, but admit I feel a bit like Arshavin sometimes. There's a part of me which wants to act out. There's 364 days left to pack in as much reckless, stupid 20-something behaviour as possible. But I doubt I will. There's a time and a place for that kind of stuff, and it's called backpacking through Europe. I've had my chance to relive my youth, and maybe it is time to put it aside and just let go. As St Paul once said, "when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."

I thought I should try and document every day of the last year of my 20s. My reasoning is that an accurate account of my 29th year will help stave off a mid-life crisis. In the future, whenever I get the urge to get a comb-over and buy a Harley, I can look up this year's posts and realise that: my 20s truly sucked; I'm better off in my 40s; and there's no need to go back and try to relive my youth.

So on the 364th last day of my 20s, I woke up, went to work in the morning, had lunch and spent ten minutes trying to wedge a prawn-shell out of the space between my teeth, took a nap, and had dinner. I'm probably going to spend the rest of the night reading theology.

Way to burn out my 20s, hey?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Arshavin's Problem

This post goes off on a couple of tangents, so please bear with me.

We're 3rd and our season's fizzling out. We're playing Campbell and Silvestre in defence, and Fabianksi in goal. We've got 3 more games to go, and for the rest of this season I'll be watching the Arsenal with a certain grotesque fascination. Watching the Arsenal is like slowing down on the road to witness the aftermath of a car accident. You know it's wrong, and it'll make you feel sick, but you just want to see it unfold.

Arshavin doesn't share my taste for the macabre. Instead of revelling in the horror of it all, he's calling for changes:

There's a certain philosophical bent to this statement that I find interesting. It (the problem) exists, so therefore something (a solution) must be done about it. Arshavin's been out injured for a while, so he's obviously thought hard about it. Arshavin's Problem states that we're hoping for more than third place, and we're not going to achieve it. However, there are two possible interpretations of this problem; either we're hoping for too much and should scale down our expectations for this team; or, we've under-performed this season and we should do whatever is needed to make ourselves competitive for the title.

Over the past few years in the Arsenal blogosphere, fans having be coalescing into two distinct camps of optimists (who believe we should be happy about a 3rd or 4th place) and pessimists (who believe nothing short of titles can be considered a genuine achievement). The interesting thing is that Arshavin's Problem sums up the divide between the two camps precisely.

I think a lot of gooners are confused about this situation. Are we able to spend money on experienced recruits? Are there hidden financial restraints on our transfer policy? Is the short-term focus of Arsenal FC to reduce our debt, or is it to challenge for the league? The statements we get from the board and management contradicts our actions in the transfer market, and in the absence of information, speculation grows and confusion reigns.

I don't know the answer. I've been thinking about it for a few years now, and while the money's in the till, it's not being spent. I don't think anyone outside of Arsene FC would know the reason. If I was to hazard a guess, I'd say that Arsenal's on the side of caution - they're happy to cruise along in 3rd or 4th as long as the Champions League spot isn't at risk, and if it is, then they'll spend as much as needed to preserve it. Wenger's still a great manager who can provide a challenge every few years or so, so why bother rocking the boat?

Of course, the answer to that is that it's a bit gutless.

There's a real life application in Arshavin's Problem as well. Is it better to stay content with what you have and play it safe, or do you risk everything you've got in order to get your heart's desire? It brings to mind something Shakepeare wrote once in Julius Caesar:

I'm saying this because I'm thinking long and hard about Arshavin's Problem. Pretty soon, I'm going to have to figure out what it means for me. Like Arsenal, I'm going to have to figure out whether I should be content with 3rd or 4th, or to take an chance and make a genuine bid for 1st.

For what it's worth, I think Arshavin's in no doubt about Arshavin's Problem. He wants trophies, titles, everlasting glory. He's 28, and at the peak of his powers. He wants to take the flood onto fortune. He doesn't want to be left stranded in the shallows and miseries of regret. From what I'm read about him, he seems like a thoroughly pragmatic fellow. He'll stay with us if we can provide him a genuine shot at success. He'll leave us if we can't.

After all, isn't this the look of a man with destiny in his eye?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fabianski's a SNAG

"I think it would have had long-term consequences for Lukasz if we had gone out against Porto. Mental consequences, because he is a conscientious guy, very intelligent but, as well, sensitive."

- Arsene Wenger, on Lukasz Fabianski

I don't know what to think about Fabianski. His performances this season has been atrocious. He's made terrible mistakes, let in some horribly funny goals, and had some truly nightmarish games. Every time I see Fabianski on the team sheet I make sure that my brown corduroy trousers have been freshly laundered, because I know that every minute he's in goal is a minute I spend crapping my pants in expectation.

And yet, he's not THAT bad a 'keeper, surely? He's a full Polish international. He was rated the best 'keeper in the Polish league. He's got an outstanding collection of youTube clips. He's amazing with reflex saves. He's only 23 and has time on his hands to improve.

So what's the problem?

Wenger thinks that Fabianski is too sensitive. I can sympathise with that. I, too, am a sensitive guy. I like to walk along beaches at sunset, pick wildflowers in sun-kissed mountain meadows and cuddle puppies and kittens and junk in my spare time. I cry at weddings and enjoy the odd chick flick. And incidentally, I'd be a terrible 'keeper because I'd flinch when someone's kicking a leather ball at me at 100km/hour. For some reason, I think it would hurt.

I'm a bit sensitive that way.

So I can understand how sensitivity can get in the way of being an outstanding 'keeper. You need a mad-nutter, thou-shalt-not-pass mentality when you're a 'keeper. Let's look at the last two good 'keepers at Arsenal:

1. Jens Lehmann was a mad-nutter. Remember that bit when he crashed into a Chelsea(?) player and they both rolled on the ground in apparent agony? Remember that bit when he took a piss in a water-bottle while the ball was still in play? Jens Lehmann was mad as a march hare, and he commanded the defence with a combination of erratic brilliance and perpetual insanity.

2. David Seaman wasn't as mad as Jens Lehmann. Mr Safe Hands was an institution at the Arsenal, so I doubt anyone called him Mad Dog David, but then again, he did sport a 70s porn-star moustache and pony-tail right up into the 2000s. So even if his madness didn't show on the field of play, he was definitely a bit unhinged.

So where does this leave Fabianski? Lukasz doesn't piss in a water-bottle behind play, and he doesn't have a porn-star moustache. He's got a shag mullet and a healthy prostate. He's a SNAG who thinks deep thoughts about how badly he fucks up when he lines up for the Arsenal, and he broods about his performances. Instead of having an ego the size of mountain (a la Jens Lehmann), he's got a mountain of self-doubt and recrimination on his shoulders.

To be honest, I think Fabianski has the talent to be an Arsenal goalkeeper. You don't get to be a full international without having talent. I think the problem is that he spends too much time sitting on the bench, thinking about his next chance to impress. And when he gets that opportunity, he blows it spectacularly in a monumental brain-freeze. Unlike a mad-nutter like Lehmann, Fabianski can't turn his thoughts off and just live in the moment. Fabianski wants it so badly that when the moment comes, he can't perform. And after each bad performance, the anxiety builds.

I think Wenger should bite the bullet and send him off on loan. Get him to a Championship club, give him 38 games of opposition strikers firing shots at him, and his confidence will build. He'll start remembering that he's a good 'keeper. He'll start to command his area. He'll stop making those mind-numbingly bad decisions. And maybe, just maybe, he'll come back and be good enough to step into the shoes of Mad Dog Lehmann and Porn Star Seaman.

However, we still need a new 'keeper at Arsenal. ASAFP.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

3 thoughts about the Arsenal

The 1-2 loss against Tottenham has ended our title hopes. Our season's over. It's probably as good a time as any to reflect on the year. I had three thoughts about the Arsenal:

1. Wenger's still got a great eye for talent

When he's in the mood, Wenger still has the best eye for an outfield player in the world. I grumble that we should've bought in more players, but you can't deny the effectiveness of the players he's brought in this year. Off the top of my head, we've bought three players this season - Thomas Vermaelen, Sol Campbell and Wellington.

He swapped Toure for Vermaelen, made a £5m profit, and gained a future Arsenal captain. Vermaelen's not perfect - his tendency to wander upfield can lead to us getting caught out in defence - but his toughness, tackling, heading and leadership qualities have been a welcome addition to the Arsenal. Admittedly, we're still leaking goals like a sieve, but with Vermaelen in the side, we're doing it in style!

He brought in Sol Campbell on a free, and the effect was evident in every game he played in - we seemed so much more continent, almost like we were a team that practiced defence. It's extraordinary how great an impact a defensive defender can have on a side.

He bought Wellington, who won't be able to join us until he turns 18. Apparently he's one of the best 16 year olds in the world. I've only seen youTube videos of him, but he's the best youTube footballer I've seen - notwithstanding the dog who can bounce a ball off his nose. And I can see Kroenke releasing a range of Wellington gumboots in his Walmart stores in the near future, so it's a win-win for the Arsenal.

2. We're still working out how to play 4-3-3

In the beginning of the season, we switched from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3. Immediately, the goals started pouring in, from the midfield, from Vermaelen, and eventually from the strikers. At one point, we were on track to score 100 league goals in the season. Of course, the 4-3-3- has lead to a weaker defence and a worrying ability to concede goals at any time.

However, let's not overlook how important our new-found attacking prowess has been. In the previous 4 years, we've been caught out because opponents realised they could defend deep and narrow, concede the flanks, and we wouldn't be able to penetrate their defence. We would dominate possession, waste scoring opportunities, and concede weak goals. This season, we've been keeping possession, creating opportunities, and scoring regularly. The midfield's been chipping in with goals (Cesc in particular) and the link between midfield and attack is fairly strong. It's allowed us to play three central midfielders, which allows Song to sit back as our designated DM, frees Cesc to roam forward, and allows another link-up player like Denilson or Ramsey to keep possession. Going forward, the 4-3-3 has been good for us.

At the back, we keep getting caught out. Good sides know to wait for a counter-attack opportunity, hit us fast down the flanks, and watch our jittery defence fall apart. We field four attacking, ball-playing defenders, and we have a DM with an increasing fondness to roam forward to join the attack. The addition of Sol Campbell has showed how much improvement can be made if we just had more defensive discipline.

If we're modelling ourselves on the Barca 4-3-3, we're not there yet. It looks like Wenger's been concentrating on copying Barcelona's attacking style, but hasn't been bothered studying their defensive plans. Barcelona are probably the hardest working side in Europe. Guardiola said once that they're rubbish without the ball, so once they lose it, they've got to work hard to get it back. They press from the front to force a turnover. They press relentlessly until they get the ball. That match at the Emirates, where they choked us in the first 20 minutes, was an awesome display of intimidation without playing dirty.

We played like that in the first few matches this season. I remember being impressed by the way we kept pressure off the ball. We couldn't keep it up all season, but if we're going to keep playing a Barcelona-style 4-3-3, we're going to employ pressing into our game plan. Otherwise, we're going get caught out committing too many players forward.

However, we've been playing 4-4-2 for the past 13 or 14 years. It's difficult to switch to a new formation and have it click into place. And we don't have the personnel for a 4-3-3, either. For the past 4 or 5 years, we've been buying for a 4-4-2. It's sobering, but it's going to take a few years to adapt to the new formation. But we'll get there in the end.

3. We've got to get new medical staff

van Persie's injury-prone. Rosicky is injury-prone. Gallas keeps getting soft-tissue injuries that rule him out for months on end. Diaby and Eduardo are still suffering from injuries as a result of broken legs and subsequent long layoffs. At some point, you stop saying that this is all just bad luck, and start wondering why we always get these injury problems.

I don't think our medical staff is pulling its weight. They misdiagnosed van Persie and allowed him to see a Serbian quack physio. They allowed a match-unfit Gallas to rule himself available for the Barcelona game, only to see him limp off with a recurrence of his hamstring injury. It's negligence, and it's costing us points. If van Persie could've been diagnosed properly, he could've got back sooner and scored vital goals in the title run-in. If they'd put their foot down with Gallas, we would've had a competent defender against Tottenham last night.

You've got to wonder why we get these injuries. Is it a failure of conditioning? Is it a failure of diagnosis? Is it a failure of rehabilitation? Whatever it is, we've got to take a good, hard look at our approach to physical conditioning.

It didn't use to be like this. In the good old days, we had a thin squad, but our players lasted the whole season. Ljungberg, Pires, Vieira, Gilberto, Henry, Campbell, Toure, Cole…. these players could be counted upon to last a season, and not disappear for a few months each season with an injury.

I'm not sure, but I think it started going downhill once Gary Lewin left to work with the England squad full-time. We just never replaced his expertise. Instead, we probably recruited a promising 16 year-old kid with loads of talent and who just needs a little experience to be a world-class physio.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How far would you go for a 15.9% share of Arsenal?

Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith has contacted a few investment bankers to ask around for potential buyers for her 15.9% stake of the Arsenal. Kroenke won't be interested because he's just bought out the rest of the St Louis Rams, and even a billionaire like Kroenke can be put under financial constraints. Usmanov won't be interested yet, because he's intent on scooping up random shares until he gets to the mandatory 30% takeover figure. So Bracewell-Smith is hawking her shares around to rich oil-sheiks, Asian businessmen and American snake-oil merchants.

However, it'll be difficult to find buyers, considering the Arsenal don't pay dividends, Bracewell-Smith's stake is a minority stake, and the two majority owners are likely to fight it out for full ownership in the near future. If Bracewell-Smith is holding out for £10,500 a share, and Kroenke's been buying for around £8,500, I can't see how a potential buyer would accept her valuation and pay £100m in the hope that Kroenke or Usmanov will be willing to pay £11,000+ a share in the near future. The only people who would even contemplate this deal would be those with more money than sense, and who are a bit too much in love with the Arsenal.

In other words, it's a golden opportunity for the Arsenal Shareholders Trust.

I'm not certain what percentage stake they have, but it can't be more than 5%. It's a token amount. Bracewell-Smith is offering a 15.9% stake. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance for them to get a significant stake in the club, and a seat on the board. They're not worried about dividends, or returns on investment. They're only interested in the best interests of Arsenal and of the Arsene Wenger Footballing Academy. Maybe I'm inspired by the altruism (hah!) of the Red Knights of Man Utd, but I'm daring to dream the dream of a significant fan-holding at Arsenal Inc.

The only problem is money. Where is the AST going to find £100m? In this current financial climate, unless they can round up 1000 investment banking gooners, they're not going to raise that kind of money. Or unless AST somehow acquire Cesc Fabregas' contract, and flog him to Man City. Or unless they scrape together £1m and go to Vegas.

Then again, there is another way:

As you can see, Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith is a bit of a looker for an older woman. I'm not sure what her status is at the moment, but surely there are a few enterprising, immoral gooners out there with a hankering for GMILFs and who are unscrupulous enough to seduce a woman for her Arsenal shares. After all, it's for the good of the club.

How far would you go for a 15.9% share of the Arsenal?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Time for Plan B to step up

"When people tell us "you have no Plan B' he gives us a little bit. We always want to play football be he gives us an option in the air that we don't have without him."

- Arsene Wenger, who believes Bendtner is Plan B for every scenario

About this time last year, I had the thought that Wenger took the whole "Plan B" idea a bit too literally. The press had criticised the Arsenal for always wanting to pass the ball into the net, and for not having alternatives when the opposition defended narrow and deep. They criticised Wengerball for lacking a Plan B.

Last year, it seemed that Wenger had found that Plan B - Nicky Bendtner. He's good in the air, holds up the ball and provides a bit of directness. Perplexingly, though, Wenger used him as Plan B for every situation. If we were one goal up and needed to keep possession, we'd send on Bendtner. If we were a goal down and needed an equaliser, we'd send on Bendtner. If we were three goals up and lording it up, we'd send on Bendtner. It got to the point where I was worried that Wenger thought a Plan B had to involve a player with a "B" in his name.

Anyway, it turns out I was right - Wenger uses players with a "B" as his Plan B. Eboue's the other one; Wenger always brings him on if he takes off one of the wingers. I still think Wenger's taking it too literally, but it seems to be working. Bendtner's really coming along as a centre-forward, and Eboue's playing out of his skin.

Up against Barcelona tomorrow night, and we're up against it. Gallas, Cesc, Song and Arshavin are all out. It's time for Plan B to step up. Bendy up front to occupy the centre-backs. Eboue on the left to mark out Alves. Theo Balcott on the right to offer pace. And we need Diaby in the middle to have the game of his life and actually put in a defensive shift.

I think we can do it. I don't think it's likely, but I think we have a chance of beating Barca tomorrow. We're at our best when we're written off and the odds are stacked against us. We play without the handbrake then. Remember that game against Chelsea last season, when we were written off and trailing at half time? That could be us again come tomorrow night.

One-nil to the Arsenal will do me nicely.

Considering the injuries we've had this year, it wouldn't surprise me if Wenger's going after a Plan C next season. He's already signed Chamakh on a Bosman. Rosicky (when fit) deputises for Arshavin. Walcott should get more playing time next season. Campbell can be resigned for another year. And with Plans A, B and C in motion next year, there's no way we'll be caught out by injuries.

But spare a thought for poor Carlos Vela. He won't get a look in unless Wenger goes all the way down to "Plan V". Maybe he should think about changing his name to Carlos Bela?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Why are Arsenal players always injured?

"I am 100% confident that, medically, everything was done properly and I checked that with our medical team.... We got two independent doctors who looked at the x-ray post-Birmingham. If they had felt it needed a deeper investigation, they would have told us."

- Arsene Wenger, about Cesc's injury

I'm wondering what's happening in the Arsenal medical rooms. After Barcelona, we have Cesc out for the season, Gallas out for the season, Arshavin out for a while. Freak injuries happen, but Cesc and Arshavin were both nursing injuries, and yet were cleared to be play. Gallas had come out off a long lay-off and wasn't match-fit, and yet was cleared to play.

Gallas was declared fit after going to rehab for 10 days, and then training with the team for 4 days. He was so fit that he was "jumping, running up and down stairs in France and he had very hard sessions." Gallas declared himself fit, and so Wenger thought it was worthwhile to risk him.

I don't get Wenger's rationale. "Hard sessions" aren't game-time. Running up and down stairs aren't game-time. Jumping isn't game-time. The only thing that simulates the demands placed on a body during a game of football is a game of football. I'm sorry, but it's really dumb to throw an unfit 32 year old with history of recurring soft-tissue injuries into a high-pressure, high-intensity football match, especially if that 32 year old hasn't played in a few months.

We should not have risked Gallas in this game. We should've played our reserve centre-back, paired him with Vermaelen, and told our defence to help him out. That's what a reserve is for - to cover for a first-teamer who's injured. If we're forced to risk an unfit Gallas because our alternatives are an unfit Sol Campbell or a liability in Silvestre, all it means is that our squad is too thin and we really urgently need recruits. And if Silvestre isn't good enough to play against Barcelona, what is his purpose?

Cesc Fabregas had a bone bruise injury during the Birmingham game, got his shin tangled between Puyol's legs in the Barcelona game, and broke his fibula. Arsenal's two independent doctors said that Cesc was fine, but he clearly wasn't - bruised bone, led to weakened bone placed under stress during a game, led to shin between chopped between two meaty Catalonian thighs, led to cracked shin on our young captain. Who are we hiring to do our medical consultations?

Was it worthwhile to play Cesc Fabregas in this match? In the context of the match, it probably was. I think Cesc's been playing injured for a lot of the season. There is no replacement for him. And there was no way he'd want to miss this match. If Cesc hadn't tried to kick the ball through Puyol's thigh, he probably would've pulled up sore the next day, recovered by Sunday, and nursed that leg back to health in the subsequent weeks. Freakish bad luck that he's out for the season, but sometimes that's the way it goes.

I think we're in danger of running Cesc into the ground, but that's another story.

So what's next? I find it strange that in the week Man Utd lost Rooney, we lost Cesc. We're got Cesc, Gallas, Arshavin and van Persie out for the first team. We're in 3rd spot, and with a chance of getting within 3 points (?) of the leaders tonight. I think it's remarkable that we're so close, considering our injuries. But I also think it's remarkable that we keep getting these injuries every season, and no one thinks that we need to change our approach to player rehabilitation.

Incidentally, Craig Gardner, the guy who tackled Cesc in the Birmingham game, had this to say:

Plus, Gardiner is a nice boy who cries to his mum, helps old ladies across the street, has no malice in his bones and besides, it isn't his fault that weak foreigners don't like it up 'em. I hope Gardiner realises that the only people who try to hurt people deliberately are psychopaths. The vast majority of people who hurt people are just stupid, crass, selfish idiots who lose momentary sight of the consequences of reckless actions. And being in the latter group isn't something to be proud of - even if you're an English clod-hoofer who can run hard and kick hard and like a bit of rough stuff in a game of footy.