Tuesday, October 21, 2014

To Hull And Back (reposted)

To Hull And Back

Best Seat In The House
             It’s either feast or famine with the footie nowadays. Either we’ve the sort of wall-to-wall coverage almost every night of the week of club football that leaves me forsaking my missus and the soaps on the box in the living room, to slip off to watch yet another big game in the bedroom, to the point when it’s almost a relief to be able to spend a rare evening together. Or I end up so starved after a fortnight of the sort of tofu for the tastebuds, anodyne International dross that I’m left positively salivating for some proper round-ball nourishment.

             Obviously, as an adopted son of Ireland, I was up out of my seat roaring in exultation with every other Fenian, after the Boys in Green took the “Welt Meisters” down another peg or two, with O’Shea’s glorious injury-time equalizer in Gelsenkirchen. But it’s a damning indictment of the paucity of the protracted Euro qualifiers product that this was about the only match amongst the sixteen Internationals available to view last week, which held sufficient intrigue to be worth sacrificing Coronation Street for.

             Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. It was only a few minutes into the enthralling coverage of Saturday’s comparative fillet steak of an appetizer, in the early KO at the Etihad that I was reminded quite how much I’d missed the real McCoy. Much like when Suarez was weaving his own enchanting spells for the Scousers, Aguero had me so engrossed that it was hard to drag myself away from the telly to wander around to the Arsenal, while listening to the denouement of Spurs demise on the radio.

             In the past I’d have watched the entire match, before charging around to our ground in time for KO. But much like the old bull, in that even more ancient joke, with the wisdom of my advancing years (and increasing decrepitude!), I prefer instead to stroll around and save sufficient energy to savour all the pleasures on offer. 

             So far this season we haven’t lost a home game and superstition decrees that I dare not alter my pre-match pie ritual. Piebury Corner came close to losing my custom with our premature Capital One Cup exit, until I came to the conclusion that it was all my mistake, after adding some mash to my regular order.

             I began to fret about having to forego a stop at my favourite eaterie in future as the final whistle beckoned on Saturday. I also cast a glance up at Kroenke, Gazides and co. in the directors’ box. With it looking as if we were about to lose at home to lowly Hull at that point, I imagined that they must’ve been feeling mightily relieved that the AGM had taken place prior to such an infuriating defeat.

AW promises us one more In Jan, let's hope it's not too little too late!
             For all the media’s effort to make a meal out of what has become a perfunctory and typically banal corporate affair in recent times, last Thursday’s AGM did at least witness the most welcome return of the shareholder’s ritual of having ones photo taken with our long overdue tin-pot. With Usmanov’s minions rumoured to be offering up to £20k per share, for the extremely limited number remaining in the hands of individual Gooners, I felt quite privileged to be able to attend courtesy of an Aussie pal, who somehow managed to resist the temptation to cash-in his small piece of the Arsenal to the billionaire usurpers.

             As Fabregas continues to rub salt in our “buy back option” wound so frequently with each fateful contribution to Chelsea’s goal tally and with what’s increasingly looking like outright negligence, not to have included a fail-safe option enabling us to terminate Jenkinson’s loan deal, I take no satisfaction in expressing my fears as far back as August, about the potential implications of Koscielny’s niggling Achilles injury only a couple of games in. Instead of making excuses and gambling on waiting until January when it’s likely to be too late, why didn’t Arsène react by squeezing any available experienced defensive cover through the transfer window before it slammed shut? 

             Sanchez would get the cold shoulder from the rest of the crew if he worked with me in the theatre. They wouldn’t countenance being constantly shown up by his incessant work rate. If it wasn’t for the Chilean setting up our last gasp equalizer with his “never say die” intensity, after suffering two goals from the only two times the Tigers managed to get the ball down our end, their well-crafted second completely catching us with our pants down while we were still sucking on our half-time oranges, the board might’ve endured a whole heap more dissent at an AGM scheduled for this week

Apparently our seats are "cheap as Chips"
             As it was our bumbling chairman, Sir Chips (you really couldn’t make it up!), Gazides and le Gaffer were all primed to play a customarily plausible straight bat to the inevitable complaints about ticket prices, assets in the bank instead of on the pitch and the millions seemingly being leeched from our coffers by the corporate legions of Silent Stan. 

Where did I put my "Gentlemen's Fun Crisis" paddle?

             With nearly as many hacks in the Woolwich Suite as shareholders, the only hint of dissonance came in a token gesture of rebellion from the few brave souls who raised their hands to contend the blatant nepotism of appointing Stan’s somewhat vacant-looking offspring to the board.  This followed Sir Chips feeble attempt to convince us of Josh Kroenke’s suitability with his experience in dad’s Septic sporting empire but which left many of us thinking the lad was about as fit to run a football club as our charmain’s three replacement hips.

             Never mind fit for purpose, if I was involved in the running of a club that could seriously send a team out to face Premiership opposition with Monreal at centre-back, I’d be cashing in my nachos out of downright embarrassment!

Dressing Room Noticeboard &Player Instructions

Objective Achieved


--
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Twitter: @thedogsbollock

Monday, October 20, 2014

Amy Lawrence's "Invincible"

Just back from bit of ligging at a launch party for Amy Lawrence's new book "Invincible" with a large bunch of Gooner royalty at San Danielli on Blackstock Road. It was quite a nostalgic evening as I don't think I've been back to this Italian gaff since we left Highbury, back in the days when one could look up from a post-match meal and see Vieira, Wiltord, Wenger wandering through the door to a hearty round of applause.

No such chances to rub shoulders with our heroes nowadays and sadly none of the stars names in Amy's book were there this evening. Perhaps they were having their own little celebration somewhere of the ten year anniversary of this incredible achievement?

Even from my most biased point of view, the book is a blinding read and despite plenty of literary competition at present, it must be top of every Gooners' Xmas wish list. There can't be many hard-core Arsenal fans who'd be better placed to produce a such a marvelous retrospective of what, in hindsight,  has to rank as one of the greatest seasons ever.

I always remind Amy of The Gooner's tenth anniversary celebration of Anfield '89, which was held in the old Clock End complex at Highbury, on a night when Man Utd somewhat pooped our party, by winning the Champions League. Surrounded by more Gooner anoraks than one could shake a stick at, we all partook in a quiz that night, where Amy promised to celebrate victory with a fitting Micky Thomas roll. As someone who's capable of forgetting who scored, before even leaving the stadium on matchdays most weeks, I didn't have a hope and I was duly stunned by her incredible depth of knowledge of Arsenal minutae as she won the quiz and duly fulfilled her obligation for a Mickey Thomas style tribute.

While Amy achieves the miraculous feat of producing balanced pieces in all her work for the Guardian and the Observer over so many years, there's absolutely no mistaking where her heart lies in her latest tome.

To Hull And Back

Hi folks,


I've already been pulled up for knocking Monreal and Bellerin below. I've watched Hector play for the U21s and the twinkletoed French youngster appears to be an extremely promising product off of the Arsenal production line. In fact I got the distinct impression that he was somewhat starved of the opportunity to show what he can do against Hull, with his team mates perhaps not yet having enough trust in his talents to feed him the ball regularly. It seemed to me that they persistently ignored him out on the flank, preferring to cut back inside. Which for me was part of the problem on Saturday, with the Gunners perennial instinct to try to pick the most intricate path through the massed ranks of the Tigers defence in the middle of the park, instead of attempting to spread the play wide and to try and stretch the opposition.

Then again, our lack of height is always apparent against most Premiership opposition and as evidenced from our inability to get our head on the ball from an endless succession of corners, this suggests that there would be little point in whipping crosses in from out wide, other than the hope that the "meat and drink" headed clearances of the likes of Dawson and Davies might fall to the feet of someone in red and white.

Additionally Nacho comes across as an honest enough player and I'm always loathe to criticise anyone in Arsenal colours, so long as they are willing to put themselves on the line and work their socks off for the Gunners' cause. I've heard others say that the two of them didn't do a lot wrong on Saturday, but that is hardly the point, as with Hull's extremely limited attacking ambitions, it wasn't as if this was much of a work out for any of them!

I've also heard Gooners question why the BFG doesn't have more success at corners, but IMHO for someone as tall as Per, he really doesn't manage to achieve much vertical lift and we often see him being outjumped by far smaller opponents. Moreover, Monreal is definitely no Bakari Sagna, who used to be one of the best headers of the ball in the team and who could therefore be more relied upon to get the job done on the rare occasion he was obliged to play at the heart of our defence.

Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, while somewhat of a liability, Monreal is just about adequate as a left-back but against stiffer opposition, his limited abilities are bound to be exposed playing in the centre and with so many diminutive players in our midfield, it's inevitable that we're likely to end up being bullied by bigger opposition who demonstrate more attacking intent than we witnessed from Hull on Saturday.

Misogynist, who me!
Watching AW's post-match interview with Jacqui Oatley, where le Gaffer has hardly covered himself in glory with his somewhat patronising and arrogant comments, it seems evident to me from Arsène's tetchy replies that these are the remarks of a manager who knows he has got it wrong, in as much as having tried and failed to secure his desired defensive option, it would appear that he has gambled on Koscielny's fitness and we've ended up coming a cropper as a result.

Even if Kos is able to play in the weeks ahead, it's highly unlikely that his Achilles problem is going to settle down completely without a long period of rest or surgery even and if I was in the opposition dugout, I might be inclined to remind my players of this potential weakness, as a rake down the back of Kos' heel is likely to prove increasingly painful.

With this in mind, I really can't understand why Arsène didn't react in the last couple of weeks of the transfer window to bring in some emergency cover at centre-back, whether this be a loan deal or whatever, just to ensure that we didn't end up in the position we found ourselves on Saturday. What's more having publicly announced his intention to address the problem in January, with every selling club now aware of our predicament, we're bound to end up being that much more shafted and paying well over the odds for a solution.

Meanwhile, Southampton really didn't do us any favours at the weekend as we'll be travelling to Wearside with Gus Poyet's team absolutely desperate to try and redeem themselves in front of their home fans and unless we manage to break the deadlock and get on top early on, I fancy Sunderland could prove a far more testing proposition than the form book suggests!

Finally (phew!), a shout out to Mezut Özil, as on the face of it, I wouldn't have assumed he'd be the sort of player willing to risk all for the Gunners' cause but according to AW's remarks, he wanted to play on in the second half at Stamford Bridge, despite the niggle in his knee that has subsequently resulted in him being left on the sidelines for several weeks. This does perhaps explain Mezut's lack of contribution in the game, but in an age where we're constantly bemoaning players who take to their sick beds at the slightest injury, any evidence of a more selfless approach must be commended.

Keep the faith
COYG
Bernard

PS. After the AGM last week, I took advantage of the opportunity for a free tour of the stadium (having invested so much in the club over the years, I'm never one to refuse a chance to get anything back!). I've included some of my pics, including the obligatory photo with some long awaited silverware and the noticeboard from the dressing room, just because I thought it interesting
_________________________________________

To Hull And Back

Best Seat In The House
             It’s either feast or famine with the footie nowadays. Either we’ve the sort of wall-to-wall coverage almost every night of the week of club football that leaves me forsaking my missus and the soaps on the box in the living room, to slip off to watch yet another big game in the bedroom, to the point when it’s almost a relief to be able to spend a rare evening together. Or I end up so starved after a fortnight of the sort of tofu for the tastebuds, anodyne International dross that I’m left positively salivating for some proper round-ball nourishment.

             Obviously, as an adopted son of Ireland, I was up out of my seat roaring in exultation with every other Fenian, after the Boys in Green took the “Welt Meisters” down another peg or two, with O’Shea’s glorious injury-time equalizer in Gelsenkirchen. But it’s a damning indictment of the paucity of the protracted Euro qualifiers product that this was about the only match amongst the sixteen Internationals available to view last week, which held sufficient intrigue to be worth sacrificing Coronation Street for.

             Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. It was only a few minutes into the enthralling coverage of Saturday’s comparative fillet steak of an appetizer, in the early KO at the Etihad that I was reminded quite how much I’d missed the real McCoy. Much like when Suarez was weaving his own enchanting spells for the Scousers, Aguero had me so engrossed that it was hard to drag myself away from the telly to wander around to the Arsenal, while listening to the denouement of Spurs demise on the radio.

             In the past I’d have watched the entire match, before charging around to our ground in time for KO. But much like the old bull, in that even more ancient joke, with the wisdom of my advancing years (and increasing decrepitude!), I prefer instead to stroll around and save sufficient energy to savour all the pleasures on offer. 

             So far this season we haven’t lost a home game and superstition decrees that I dare not alter my pre-match pie ritual. Piebury Corner came close to losing my custom with our premature Capital One Cup exit, until I came to the conclusion that it was all my mistake, after adding some mash to my regular order.

             I began to fret about having to forego a stop at my favourite eaterie in future as the final whistle beckoned on Saturday. I also cast a glance up at Kroenke, Gazides and co. in the directors’ box. With it looking as if we were about to lose at home to lowly Hull at that point, I imagined that they must’ve been feeling mightily relieved that the AGM had taken place prior to such an infuriating defeat.

AW promises us one more In Jan, let's hope it's not too little too late!
             For all the media’s effort to make a meal out of what has become a perfunctory and typically banal corporate affair in recent times, last Thursday’s AGM did at least witness the most welcome return of the shareholder’s ritual of having ones photo taken with our long overdue tin-pot. With Usmanov’s minions rumoured to be offering up to £20k per share, for the extremely limited number remaining in the hands of individual Gooners, I felt quite privileged to be able to attend courtesy of an Aussie pal, who somehow managed to resist the temptation to cash-in his small piece of the Arsenal to the billionaire usurpers.

             As Fabregas continues to rub salt in our “buy back option” wound so frequently with each fateful contribution to Chelsea’s goal tally and with what’s increasingly looking like outright negligence, not to have included a fail-safe option enabling us to terminate Jenkinson’s loan deal, I take no satisfaction in expressing my fears as far back as August, about the potential implications of Koscielny’s niggling Achilles injury only a couple of games in. Instead of making excuses and gambling on waiting until January when it’s likely to be too late, why didn’t Arsène react by squeezing any available experienced defensive cover through the transfer window before it slammed shut? 

             Sanchez would get the cold shoulder from the rest of the crew if he worked with me in the theatre. They wouldn’t countenance being constantly shown up by his incessant work rate. If it wasn’t for the Chilean setting up our last gasp equalizer with his “never say die” intensity, after suffering two goals from the only two times the Tigers managed to get the ball down our end, their well-crafted second completely catching us with our pants down while we were still sucking on our half-time oranges, the board might’ve endured a whole heap more dissent at an AGM scheduled for this week

Apparently our seats are "cheap as Chips"
             As it was our bumbling chairman, Sir Chips (you really couldn’t make it up!), Gazides and le Gaffer were all primed to play a customarily plausible straight bat to the inevitable complaints about ticket prices, assets in the bank instead of on the pitch and the millions seemingly being leeched from our coffers by the corporate legions of Silent Stan. 

Where did I put my "Gentlemen's Fun Crisis" paddle?

             With nearly as many hacks in the Woolwich Suite as shareholders, the only hint of dissonance came in a token gesture of rebellion from the few brave souls who raised their hands to contend the blatant nepotism of appointing Stan’s somewhat vacant-looking offspring to the board.  This followed Sir Chips feeble attempt to convince us of Josh Kroenke’s suitability with his experience in dad’s Septic sporting empire but which left many of us thinking the lad was about as fit to run a football club as our charmain’s three replacement hips.

             Never mind fit for purpose, if I was involved in the running of a club that could seriously send a team out to face Premiership opposition with Monreal at centre-back, I’d be cashing in my nachos out of downright embarrassment!

Dressing Room Noticeboard &Player Instructions

Objective Achieved


--
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Twitter: @thedogsbollock

Monday, October 06, 2014

Welcome To Chel

I sat there on Sunday afternoon wondering what a shrink would make of the masochism involved in stumping up sixty quid to rock up to the Fulham Road every season, only to suffer the ignominy of being herded like sheep into the comparative sh*thole of Stamford Bridge, for the purpose of suffering the repeated agony of having sand kicked in our face!

The only straw to clutch at after yet another soul destroying defeat to Mourinho's mob was the thought of how much sweeter an eventual triumph over Chelsea will taste, when it does eventually occur.

Yet as it stands at present, for us to beat the Blues we need all XI players to produce their very best on the day and what bothers me most about Sunday's loss was that the home side really didn't have to do that much to beat us.

Inevitably everyone will pick on Özil as once again, Mezut hardly covered himself in glory. When you see the likes of Di Maria and David Silva imposing themselves on matches for the Mancunian sides, it's hard not to criticise the minimal contribution of our own midfield playmaker, especially as we're likely to have to endure the "if only" influential exploits of Cesc Fabregas for the forseeable future.

From day one I always feared that Mezut might prove to be a bit of a luxury player, but frankly we didn't pay that obscene amount of money for him to be doing all the donkey work. Along with everyone else, I would like to see Özil putting in a far more industrious shift and I was amongst those bellowing for him to be replaced on Sunday. But I really think we must avoid making Mezut a scapegoat because rest assured, he's truly a class act and he will come good, when all his team mates begin to click and are all playing on song.¨

I also adore Sanchez and I absolutely love the fact that his appreciation of how far he's travelled from the torment of his poverty-stricken childhood is evident every time he take to the pitch. His enthusiasm for the game and his willingness to work his socks off in every single performance makes Alexis a most welcome addition to the squad. Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder whether the Chilean will offer us as influential a contribution over the course of the season as Fabregas is undoubtedly likely to offer Chelsea?

Both Özil and Alexis played on Saturday in front of a midfield comprised of Flamini, Wilshere and Cazorla and from my most humble point of view, with their diminutive stature, the issue here is not with individual players, but the age old problem of the lack of balance that much to my chagrin, continues to exist in this Arsenal side.

Bless his cotton socks. Flamini couldn't possibly be more committed to the Arsenal's cause, but he's hardly that imposing, physical midfield presence who's capable of dominating the centre of the park and inflicting the same muscular attentions on Chelsea, as highlighted by Martin Keown on MOTD2 with his reference to the frequent use of the "reducer" by Mourinho's mob.

An Aussie Gooner pal of mine kindly forwarded his proxy for me to attend the AGM next week in his stead and this turned up in the post on Saturday. It has to be a good few years since an Arsenal AGM took place with our beloved club being in the embarrassing position of being the lowest place London side in the league (aside from lowly QPR)!

The resulting fusillade awaiting Arsène might prove interesting?

COYG
Big Love
Bernard

_________________________________________

As if a trip to Stamford Bridge wasn't stressful enough after last season's embarrassing six-goal humiliation, some idiot Gooner had to go and let a flare off in the Shed Upper before kick-off on Sunday. This was “the incident” which resulted in the temporary closure of the turnstiles, leaving all the late arrivals panicking about missing the start and getting seriously aerated outside the ground, up until the announcement of a delayed start.

Wednesday night’s 4-1 win and Welbeck’s hat-trick against Galatasary ensured that we turned up at the Bridge feeling somewhat less pessimistic. Yet after our pristine playing surface was left smouldering following the Turkish fans’ barrage of flares just before half-time, you would’ve thought we’d have had more sense than to repeat this misdemeanour.

It meant that even with a fifteen-minute delay, many Gooners missed the start. But at least we weren’t already 0-2 down with the game all but over by the time they took their seats, as was the case with my tardy arrival, only seven minutes into our previous traumatic encounter.

In fact, while we might have offered very little by way of tangible goal-mouth threat, much to our relief, the Gunners appeared to be holding our own. At least until Hazard took maximum advantage of the gift presented to him, in the form of Koscielny’s ponderous leg.

However, in contrast to our previous meeting, where Chelsea put us to the sword by starting the game at 90mph and pressurizing us into making mistakes all over the park, with the confidence engendered by Mourinho having the Indian Eye over Arsène, there was some sense of the Blues being able to patiently sit back, safe in the knowledge that our attacking credo would eventually present them with an opportunity to punish us on the counter.

In spite of the substantial changes to both squads since we left the Bridge with our tails between our legs last March, I’m sure the psychological damage was no less apparent in the dressing room than it was on the terraces. So truth be told, if offered it in advance, most Gooners would’ve gladly accepted reaching the break, with only a one-goal deficit and the game being still in the balance.

Nevertheless, no matter how delighted I might’ve been to see an Arsenal side compete with Chelsea for the first time in far too long, there was no denying the fact that Matic and Fabregas held sway in the middle of the park.

All our earnest first-half efforts amounted to a single opportunity, where if it wasn’t for Wilshere’s heavy first touch perhaps he would’ve conjured up the opening goal, which might’ve resulted in an entirely different story. But all our hard work was undone with Laurent's gift-wrapped penalty just before the break. Any remaining optimism evaporated, in the certain knowledge that this would inevitably leave us even more exposed to a second-half sucker punch.

It was perhaps fitting that when this eventually came, it was a combination of a perfectly weighted pass from Fabregas and Costa’s clinical finishing that opened us up like a tin of beans. There’s little doubt that with the arrival of Sanchez, Welbeck and Chambers, this is a stronger Arsenal squad than the one that rolled over back in March. But ultimately our first defeat of the season demonstrated that on current form, we continue to be some way short of both the personel and the personality, to mount a credible title challenge.

I don’t know about anyone else, but frankly I quite enjoyed the irresponsible bit of touchline argy-bargy. This did at least prove quite how painfully le Prof suffers this lengthy run of South London domination (let it not be forgotten quite how long Chelsea suffered in our shadow before that!).

Fingers will obviously point at Ozil because you simply cannot afford any passengers in this sort of contest. Yet Mezut was far from the only Arsenal player who might’ve benefited from the same sort of fire in his belly that was all too evident from our manager. As is so often the case with far too many of our top four clashes in recent times, I was left baying for someone in red and white to take responsibility and try to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, by imposing themselves on the occasion.

Sadly our inability to manufacture a single shot on target is pretty damming and the fact that we came away consoling ourselves that “it could’ve been a lot worse” is indicative of most Gooners fateful acceptance of chasm that continues to exist between us and the league leaders.


--
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Twitter: @thedogsbollock

Welcome To CHel

I sat there on Sunday afternoon wondering what a shrink would make of the masochism involved in stumping up sixty quid to rock up to the Fulham Road every season, only to suffer the ignominy of being herded like sheep into the comparative sh*thole of Stamford Bridge, for the purpose of suffering the repeated agony of having sand kicked in our face!

The only straw to clutch at after yet another soul destroying defeat to Mourinho's mob was the thought of how much sweeter an eventual triumph over Chelsea will taste, when it does eventually occur.

Yet as it stands at present, for us to beat the Blues we need all XI players to produce their very best on the day and what bothers me most about Sunday's loss was that the home side really didn't have to do that much to beat us.

Inevitably everyone will pick on Özil as once again, Mezut hardly covered himself in glory. When you see the likes of Di Maria and David Silva imposing themselves on matches for the Mancunian sides, it's hard not to criticise the minimal contribution of our own midfield playmaker, especially as we're likely to have to endure the "if only" influential exploits of Cesc Fabregas for the forseeable future.

From day one I always feared that Mezut might prove to be a bit of a luxury player, but frankly we didn't pay that obscene amount of money for him to be doing all the donkey work. Along with everyone else, I would like to see Özil putting in a far more industrious shift and I was amongst those bellowing for him to be replaced on Sunday. But I really think we must avoid making Mezut a scapegoat because rest assured, he's truly a class act and he will come good, when all his team mates begin to click and are all playing on song.¨

I also adore Sanchez and I absolutely love the fact that his appreciation of how far he's travelled from the torment of his poverty-stricken childhood is evident every time he take to the pitch. His enthusiasm for the game and his willingness to work his socks off in every single performance makes Alexis a most welcome addition to the squad. Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder whether the Chilean will offer us as influential a contribution over the course of the season as Fabregas is undoubtedly likely to offer Chelsea?

Both Özil and Alexis played on Saturday in front of a midfield comprised of Flamini, Wilshere and Cazorla and from my most humble point of view, with their diminutive stature, the issue here is not with individual players, but the age old problem of the lack of balance that much to my chagrin, continues to exist in this Arsenal side.

Bless his cotton socks. Flamini couldn't possibly be more committed to the Arsenal's cause, but he's hardly that imposing, physical midfield presence who's capable of dominating the centre of the park and inflicting the same muscular attentions on Chelsea, as highlighted by Martin Keown on MOTD2 with his reference to the frequent use of the "reducer" by Mourinho's mob.

An Aussie Gooner pal of mine kindly forwarded his proxy for me to attend the AGM next week in his stead and this turned up in the post on Saturday. It has to be a good few years since an Arsenal AGM took place with our beloved club being in the embarrassing position of being the lowest place London side in the league (aside from lowly QPR)!

The resulting fusillade awaiting Arsène might prove interesting?

COYG
Big Love
Bernard

_________________________________________

As if a trip to Stamford Bridge wasn't stressful enough after last season's embarrassing six-goal humiliation, some idiot Gooner had to go and let a flare off in the Shed Upper before kick-off on Sunday. This was “the incident” which resulted in the temporary closure of the turnstiles, leaving all the late arrivals panicking about missing the start and getting seriously aerated outside the ground, up until the announcement of a delayed start.

Wednesday night’s 4-1 win and Welbeck’s hat-trick against Galatasary ensured that we turned up at the Bridge feeling somewhat less pessimistic. Yet after our pristine playing surface was left smouldering following the Turkish fans’ barrage of flares just before half-time, you would’ve thought we’d have had more sense than to repeat this misdemeanour.

It meant that even with a fifteen-minute delay, many Gooners missed the start. But at least we weren’t already 0-2 down with the game all but over by the time they took their seats, as was the case with my tardy arrival, only seven minutes into our previous traumatic encounter.

In fact, while we might have offered very little by way of tangible goal-mouth threat, much to our relief, the Gunners appeared to be holding our own. At least until Hazard took maximum advantage of the gift presented to him, in the form of Koscielny’s ponderous leg.

However, in contrast to our previous meeting, where Chelsea put us to the sword by starting the game at 90mph and pressurizing us into making mistakes all over the park, with the confidence engendered by Mourinho having the Indian Eye over Arsène, there was some sense of the Blues being able to patiently sit back, safe in the knowledge that our attacking credo would eventually present them with an opportunity to punish us on the counter.

In spite of the substantial changes to both squads since we left the Bridge with our tails between our legs last March, I’m sure the psychological damage was no less apparent in the dressing room than it was on the terraces. So truth be told, if offered it in advance, most Gooners would’ve gladly accepted reaching the break, with only a one-goal deficit and the game being still in the balance.

Nevertheless, no matter how delighted I might’ve been to see an Arsenal side compete with Chelsea for the first time in far too long, there was no denying the fact that Matic and Fabregas held sway in the middle of the park.

All our earnest first-half efforts amounted to a single opportunity, where if it wasn’t for Wilshere’s heavy first touch perhaps he would’ve conjured up the opening goal, which might’ve resulted in an entirely different story. But all our hard work was undone with Laurent's gift-wrapped penalty just before the break. Any remaining optimism evaporated, in the certain knowledge that this would inevitably leave us even more exposed to a second-half sucker punch.

It was perhaps fitting that when this eventually came, it was a combination of a perfectly weighted pass from Fabregas and Costa’s clinical finishing that opened us up like a tin of beans. There’s little doubt that with the arrival of Sanchez, Welbeck and Chambers, this is a stronger Arsenal squad than the one that rolled over back in March. But ultimately our first defeat of the season demonstrated that on current form, we continue to be some way short of both the personel and the personality, to mount a credible title challenge.

I don’t know about anyone else, but frankly I quite enjoyed the irresponsible bit of touchline argy-bargy. This did at least prove quite how painfully le Prof suffers this lengthy run of South London domination (let it not be forgotten quite how long Chelsea suffered in our shadow before that!).

Fingers will obviously point at Ozil because you simply cannot afford any passengers in this sort of contest. Yet Mezut was far from the only Arsenal player who might’ve benefited from the same sort of fire in his belly that was all too evident from our manager. As is so often the case with far too many of our top four clashes in recent times, I was left baying for someone in red and white to take responsibility and try to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, by imposing themselves on the occasion.

Sadly our inability to manufacture a single shot on target is pretty damming and the fact that we came away consoling ourselves that “it could’ve been a lot worse” is indicative of most Gooners fateful acceptance of chasm that continues to exist between us and the league leaders.


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Friday, October 03, 2014

Oh Danny Boy

It wasn't until I saw a mate's photo on Facebook of the Hat-Trick Heroes board on the lower tier concourse that it suddenly dawned on me quite how long it's been since we were privileged to be savouring the pleasure of a prolific striker, banging in goals on such a regular basis.

In fact the board is on the wall near to the entrance of our own Block 18, but it's been so long since I had any cause to look at it and I only hope I remember to take a gander at the next home game, to check if it's been updated.

It wasn't until I saw the replay on the big screens at the ground that I realised Welbeck had found the net for the first goal, via the gaping hole between the Galatasary keeper's legs. I initially thought it was a great finish, but on the basis that I find it unlikely that Danny did this intentionally, then I guess there was more than a little good fortune involved in the first of his glorious three goals on Weds night.

However there was no luck involved in goals number two and three and having seen how calmly and composed Danny was, in curling the second around the keeper into the far corner of the net (positively Titi like!) and then waiting for the keeper to go to ground and chipping it over him to complete his hat-trick (now if only he'd done likewise against Joe Hart!), I can't help but feel that this is prima fascia evidence of the significant impact upon Welbeck's confidence,

It seems to me that the coolness he displayed in his finishing for the 2nd and 3rd goals were a direct result of the fact that in finding the net for the first, this totally alleviated the amount of pressure he felt, enabling him to subsequently relax in front of goal instead of him trying to take the skin off the ball by merely attempting to welly it in.

Welbeck's hat-trick ensured that he was all anyone wanted to talk to me about on Thursday, as I did  my morning rounds of the grocers & Cinnamon Village in Blackstock Road, for my nicotine & caffeine hits. Albeit hardly the breakfast of champions before heading to my pulmonary rehab class in Hornsey Street (in a building that I assume was part of the development paid for by the club when they were obliged to install the adjacent waste disposal facility)!!

Thus I fast developed the stock one-line response of "I'll be far more impressed should he manage to repeat such feats at Stamford Bridge on Sunday!"

Welbeck's goal fest on Wednesday raises the question that if Giroud was fit right now, which of the two would one want starting up front?

Personally speaking, in a home game against the likes of Hull, or Anderlecht, I would love to see Arsène go for it, by playing two strikers (but then who would he leave out?). However with Wenger having seemingly binned 4-4-2, previously his preferred method of playing, as being completely outdated nowadays, this just ain't gonna happen.

But when it comes to a choice between the two, the most crucial asset Welbeck has compared to Giroud is his pace. This sort of blistering speed positively terrifies lumbering centre-backs, whereas I have the distinct sense that our opponents are likely to feel far more comfortable defending against the far less mobile Frenchman.

Also while Giroud has never shirked hard graft, when operating on his own up front and can usually be relied on to work his socks off, operating across the width of the park, I was particularly impressed on Wednesday night to see Welbeck track back on more than one occasion, to retrieve possession with a tackle in the middle of the park.

In fact I seem to recall that it was one such instance, where Danny stuck out a timely leg in our half of the pitch, which resulted in a turnover and the subsequent counter-attack that eventually led to our second (??) goal.

So when you combine Welbeck's zest with his tireless running, it seems to me this is likely to prove considerably more effective, compared with Monsieur Merveilleux's inability to match the speed of pacier opposition.

The only real question is whether Welbeck can contribute as many goals as Olivier has up until now and if he can gain sufficient confidence from his Champions League performance, to go on and prove that his hat-trick wasn't a flash in the pan. Then there can be little doubt that Danny's bristling speed and intent are far better suited to making the most of his team mate's skills and likely to bring the best out of Özil's technique and quick-wittedness.

Still sadly we won't need to confront this particular dilemma for a couple more months and prior to that, with Walcott's imminent return (I thought I heard them suggest on the radio that Theo's target is the Hull game?), Arsėne has a more immediate quandary.

Before all that, we badly need to eradicate last season's positively embarrassing humiliation when we travel to the Bridge on Sunday. As hard as I've tried to forget, if I recall correctly we were already 0-2 down by the time I took my tardy seat, as Chelsea well and truly pooped on the celebrations for AW's landmark match last time around!

In order to prove that Wednesday's scintillating first-half display was the real deal, rather than merely being down to some woeful defending by our guests, it will be necessary for a somewhat diminutive looking Arsenal side to overcome the perennial "men v boys" protestations of seasons past, by casting off this unwanted baggage and approaching this encounter with some genuine belief.

Considering we've already looked small in both physical and mental stature against the likes of Southampton, this is likely to prove the most significant feat to pull off on Sunday. Time for Wenger to rediscover the art of instilling a large dose of the sort of "unbelievable belief" that we often used to hear Merse recalling, in his own inimically eloquent fashion!

And in the event that we should be fortunate enough to witness an encore of the sort of scintillating form that we glimpsed from the Gunners during the first forty-five in midweek, when Theo does eventually return, would he demand automatic consideration for the starting XI and if so, in whose stead?

Come on you rip roaring Reds
Big Love

Bernard


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Twitter: @thedogsbollock

Sunday, September 28, 2014

You Sold Bale We Signed Mezut Özil


Although in recent seasons our derby encounters with Chelsea have become a far more significant litmus test of the Arsenal’s aspirations (or lack thereof!), for me personally this match is strictly business, compared to the more sentimental connotations of our dates with the whipping boys from White Hart Lane.

Living as I do on the manor and with the vast majority of my kith and kin worshiping on one side or t’other of the North London divide, the hype surrounding Derby Day and the implications of the subsequent result impinge on every aspect of my daily life. 

We might not have lost at home to Spurs since 2010 (and that was the first defeat in seventeen years!), but after beating them three times last season, our neighbours were due some good fortune. So as eagerly as I was looking forward to Saturday’s game, with all the stress involved, much like a trip to the dentist for an extraction, I invariably end up much relieved to have got it over and done with.

Considering our historic domination and our control of possession on the day, doubtless Spurs fans will feel far happier to have come away from our place with a hard-earned draw. But after all the pre-match banter this “honours even” result failed to settle any of the arguments and left most Gooners feeling an anti-climactic sense of dissatisfaction. 

Mind you, this was far better than the horror of going a goal behind, facing the prospect of having to go home, turn my phone off and hide under the covers for the next couple of weeks. Nevertheless, in view of the cost, in terms of the further loss to injury of Arteta, Ramsey and possibly Wilshere, after the palpable explosion of roof-raising relief following the Ox’s equalizer, it was most disappointing that we lacked the firepower to kick on and secure the much needed three points over the course of the last fifteen minutes.

Truth be told, with a wage bill that’s allegedly higher than Chelsea’s and around double that of Spurs’, on paper the Gunners should have more than enough in the tank to overcome our local rivals. But derby games rarely respect circumstances and although we exercised our authority with our control of the game, between Pochettino’s tactically astute approach and Arsène’s seemingly stubborn refusal to maximize our assets, we struggled to impose our supremacy in the only place that really matters, in front of goal.

With Chelsea and Man City in such prolific goal-scoring form, if the Gunners continue to fail to convert draws into victories, it won’t be long before the league leaders disappear out of sight. Yet I remain optimistic that our cogs will fall into place and that this team will begin to click. Nevertheless, it’s hard to disagree at present, with all those who contend that Welbeck can’t spearhead our campaign with a 25-goal contribution. 

Danny ‘s energetic efforts could make a difference, if we get sufficient bodies in the box to feed off his industry. Yet all too often on Saturday he was a lone target, which also left Özil floundering, struggling to have some impact, with our somewhat static midfield failing to make the sort of advanced runs that enable our German star to shine. 

Hopefully Walcott’s imminent return will improve matters, but after witnessing Diaby’s first-half appearance in our Cup defeat to Southampton in midweek, this rare sighting of our lanky French midfielder only highlighted quite how short of stature the Gunners are compared to the majority of our opponents. The “men v boys” analogy is bad enough when it regularly raises it’s head against the likes of Chelsea, but it’s downright embarrassing to be cast as the proverbial six-stone weakling in a contest with Koeman’s impressively powerful South coast outfit.

Although the Ox and young Callum Chambers came away with the most credit on Saturday (along with Kabul’s resolute efforts for the opposition), amidst all our injury woes, I’m sure I’m not alone in casting covetous glances in the direction of East London, angered by our negligent failure to include a call-back option in Carl Jenkinson’s loan deal. And having failed to sign Carvalho to bolster the blatant deficiencies of Arteta’s aging limbs, I can’t help think that Wenger could’ve done worse than to sanction the return of Alex Song.

But any further debate on this particular subject is futile, until the transfer junket begins all over again in January. Meanwhile, here’s hoping we can make do and mend to get our Champions League campaign off the ground in midweek and to ensure our esteemed manager doesn’t again end up with egg on his face at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, courtesy of his former favourite disciple, Cesc Fabregas?


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Twitter: @thedogsbollock

Monday, September 22, 2014

£200m And They Still Don't Win

As it turned out, Saturday’s outing to Villa Park couldn’t have possibly proved a more timely antidote to our abysmal midweek performance in Dortmund. This was just what the doctor ordered, both to erase the utterly indefensible memory of the referee tracking back faster than our emasculated midfield, as Immobile set the tone for a somewhat humiliating victory for the German side and to serve as a much needed confidence boost, inspiring a far more optimistic mood in advance of difficult derbies against Spurs and Chelsea.

My mates were intent on arriving in the Midlands in plenty of time to sink a pre-match pint or two. But at a poignant moment to be spouting bon mots from Scotland’s favourite son, best laid schemes “aft gang agley” and Saturday’s fairly typical stramash on the roads turned a relatively short trip, into a tortuous four-hour schlep. Motorway gridlock soon silenced my complaints about being forced to forsake the comforts of my pit prematurely and our early start proved fortuitous, as doubtless if left to my own devices I’d have struggled to reach Birmingham before the second-half.

The delays left us with more time in the motor than any of us wanted, to mull over our anti-climactic Champions League opener. You didn’t need to be Einstein to know that le Gaffer should’ve set out a more conservative stall in midweek. The four of us were all fuming over the apparent arrogance of Arsène’s blatant failure to pay heed to the opposition’s customary high-octane approach.

Based on the famous German physicist’s definition of lunacy as someone who repeats the same thing over and over again and expects a different outcome, Arsène should've substituted a straightjacket for his default duvet coat by now. But aside from fearing that a changing of the Gunners’ guard might result in the same sort of period of instability that’s been evident elsewhere, my habitual retort to the AMG (Arsène Must Go) mob has always been who would I want in Wenger’s stead

On Tuesday night, perhaps for the first time, I found myself casting covetous glances in the direction of Jurgen Klopp, upon witnessing the stark contrast in the two sides respective motivation. This was epitomized by the hearty hug given to the Dortmund manager by his half-time sub, as compared with Podolski’s apparent urgency to impact upon the game, when he wasted the best part of ten minutes, phaffing around on the bench searching for some shin-pads.

Oh for the building of some of the “unbelievable belief” articulated so eloquently in Paul Merson’s eulogies of yesteryear. If David Dein was still on the scene, I wonder whether the Arsenal’s former Machievallian fixer would’ve long since recognized the writing on this particular wall and already engineered the accession of the likes of an energized Klopp to the N5 throne?

Yet such is the fickle nature of the beautiful game that all such negative deliberations disappeared, during a scintillating three-minute spell of football against Villa. It was perhaps fortunate that Mezut found himself up against the hapless Senderos, as even I would appear quick compared to the oil-tanker like pace of the well travelled Swiss defender.

With Welbeck setting up Özil for the first and then Mezut returning the compliment for the second, it was marvelous to see a rare smile spread across the face of our midfield playmaker, as his boots concocted the perfect response to all those non-believers complaining about his failure to produce an away goal to date. While in contrast to disparaging Mancunian mocking, as the travelling Gooner faithful exhorted our new striker, Welbeck seemed to grow in stature right before our eyes.

One had to feel some sympathy for the home fans, as the confidence borne of early season success ensured that our hosts were on top for the opening twenty minutes and if Shez hadn’t stuck out a goal saving paw, moments before our brief onslaught, it might’ve been an entirely different story.

Yet it was Cissokho’s own goal for our third, which seemed to knock any remaining stuffing out of Lambert’s side, leaving the Villa fans dumbstruck, wondering what had just hit them. While we were in seventh-heaven, savouring a stress-free, thoroughly dominant second half, where those in Claret and Blue couldn’t even muster a response.

Despite our criminal defensive negligence, in repeatedly leaving the opposition unmarked at the far post, Villa proved sufficiently impotent for us to come away with our first clean sheet. Hopefully we can build on this, so that we don’t look quite so fragile at the back by the time we head to the Bridge,

Before our date with the Blues and next weekend’s North London derby, we've Tuesday's Carling Cup encounter against Koeman’s in-form outfit. I'm eagerly looking forward to an opportunity to gauge the progress of the likes of Akpom and the impressive talents of Dan Crowley, the latest prodigy from the Gunners’ teenage production line.






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Sunday, September 14, 2014

It Was Christmas Day In The Workhouse

After an interminably tedious International break, where two years worth of tortuous European qualifiers appear designed merely to eliminate the mighty footballing powers such as Gibraltar, Andorra, Luxembourg and the like, it was marvelous to find myself strolling around to the Man City game on Saturday, positively bristling with anticipation, at the prospect of witnessing the potential of this season’s Arsenal squad.

With Danny Welbeck’s arrival on deadline day in such debatable circumstances, while le Prof was playing peacemaker for the pontiff in Rome, when the majority of Wenger’s peers were seemingly pulling what remains of their hair out, in their efforts to squeeze a signing or two through the door before the transfer window slams shut, this weekend’s game was akin to Christmas morning.

Thousands of eager kiddies rushing down to the glamorous environs of the Arsenal to unwrap our new pressie and discover whether we’ve been gifted the footballing equivalent of a lush new gaming console, praying that le Gaffer wasn’t instead left picking up the last battered striker toy box on the shelves of Woolies (if Woolworths was still in existence!).

While at the same time hoping not to have to endure the Xmas Day equivalent of being told “you’ll have to wait until after lunch to open your gifts”. Most excitingly, we found that an unusually generous Father Arsène had left all our Gooner goodies under the tree, in Saturday’s swank starting XI.

Welbeck’s brace against the Swiss gave us plenty of cause for optimism and he was only the width of the post away from producing the perfect start to his Arsenal career against City. His similar price-tag to Balotelli (albeit perhaps with widely different wage demands?) resulted in much deliberation. While I previously suspected that opposition defenders might find the Italian striker more psychologically and physically intimidating, their contrasting work-ethic was evident from this weekend’s displays and Balotelli’s apparently limited overall contribution brooks no comparison with Welbeck’s selfless graft.

It would’ve been great if we could’ve managed to put one over on Man City, in the absence of Yaya Toure. Lampard is a wily and seemingly fortuitous (!!)addition to Pellegrini’s squad. He and his colleagues were able to stifle us from gaining momentum, with all the niggling (and more blatant!) midfield fouls that broke up our flowing attacks and at the same time, saved his 36-year old legs. But Frank no longer has the energy for his trademark box-to-box efforts and City were deprived of Toure's driving runs.

However, Alexis couldn’t have returned any earlier than Thurs, from his no less arduous midweek exploits for Chile v Haiti in Miami at 1am on Weds. I sincerely hope we don’t end up paying a hefty price, with a lactic-acid levy in Dortmund tomorrow night, but instead of sitting out Saturday’s game, Sanchez impressed yet again with his tireless industry. It was ironic that it was Alexis’ mazy (one man too many!) assault on City’s goal that resulted in the counter-attack, which led to the Sky Blues taking the lead.

From where we sit on the opposite side, it felt as if the Gunners had made the unforgiveable mistake of assuming that the ball was going into touch. Between them, Navas and Aguero made us pay a hefty price for this seemingly indolent presumption. City’s goal knocked all the stuffing out of us, just as we’d begun to acquire the sort of swagger that’s been so sorely lacking in top four clashes of late.

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Mercifully Wilshere soon repaired the dent in our confidence with his wonderful equalizer. The chutzpah he demonstrated in selling Clichy a dummy, along with the composure necessary to wait for Hart to commit, before clipping the ball over the keeper with his wrong foot, from such a tight-angle, suggests Jack remains entirely unaffected by all the recent criticism.

Yet where we’ve grown accustomed to the sight of Wilshere sitting on his backside, pleading for restitution, I cannot repeat too often quite how refreshing it is to witness the unflinching determination Sanchez shows, in riding the incessant efforts to thwart his unstinting passion to impose himself.

In one of Özil’s more inept performances to date, the ensuing castigation of our most expensive star wasn’t exactly surprising. Especially when the impressive work-rate of his team mates only highlights Mezut’s languid style and when we are subsequently left enviously watching Fabregas doing exactly the sort of slicing and dicing for Mourinho that’s expected from our man. I can only assume it’s some sort of personal vendetta that’s resulted in the apparent ricket of presenting the title favourites with their principal midfield string puller!


Whether or not Welbeck can do for us what Costa is doing for Chelsea, remains to be seen but with Walcott fast on the mend, I would love to see Mezut prompting all this pace from the middle of the park. Although the gossamer thin depth of the squad, as far as the Gunners’ defensive cover is concerned, remains a massive concern, should the enthralling array of attacking facets in our armoury, begin to fall into place, this holds the promise of a scintillating assault on the Premiership promised land.



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