Will

Apr 072011
 

Hi folks, I’m back after a bit of a bloliday. The agent and the Arsenally little one needed a bit of attention, and work had been piling up around me.

Another reason I haven’t posted recently was that I was scared I’d produce something so vitriolic, so bilious that servers would crash and burn through the fury of it all.

It’s been a bit of a frustrating time, hasn’t it? Out of all competitions, some might say. Until Blackburn, we had control over our own destiny in that successive victories would have seen us win the title. Now, it’s out of our hands.

What gets me the most is the apathy of our non-performance against Blackburn. AW gave a very honest summary of the game:

We had a bad performance today. You don’t get away with that kind of performance against a Blackburn side who defended well. We had no change of pace, no penetration, our rhythm of passing was too slow – exactly how we don’t want to play. It’s disappointing, and I’m really concerned about the level of our performance today. Players have come back from international duty and they’re not sharp – half of the team has not recovered.

I wouldn’t argue with a word of that, but I will add two points which frustrated me more than any lack of pace or penetration.

Firstly, almost all of the Premier League teams had players playing in internationals in midweek. What kind of excuse is that? Everyone else had the same problem, but didn’t let it affect them. For AW to use that as an excuse struck me as desperation.

Secondly, where was the enthusiasm, drive to win, burning desire to win? It wasn’t there. And that has two causes. Teams need to be inspired by the manager, and it worries me that that didn’t seem to happen.

And, was there a vocal presence on the pitch? Was one player chivvying the others along, encouraging them, motivating them? No. We desperately need a player, or players who make their voices heard. Who inspire the others when the pace drops. Who finds motivation in the result that all the players heard that weekend – West Ham 2 ManUre 4.

Yes, it would have been dispiriting to have thought that United would lose, only for them to come back from 2-0 down and win against the Hammers with four unanswered goals.

But seriously, could no-one lift the players? Could no-one point out that a ManUre victory meant that winning was the only option for us? I don’t see any other teams who seem to suffer so disproportionately when things don’t go well for them.

Another thing that seemed to knock us off our stride was the injury to Samir Nasri. It looked nasty, and knocked the wind out of our sails after a good start. Kudos to Nasri for coming back on, but I did get the feeling that he wasn’t functioning at 100%.

With Wilshere also the target of some hefty Blackburn tackling, we needed someone to step up and urge the players on. We just didn’t have that.

And that wasn’t simply because Cesc Fabregas started from the bench. even with him playing we lack a vocal presence on the pitch. I think Cesc does inspire others to play well, but when we’ve been battered around and lost our flow, he’s just not the type of person to be vocal.

Fingers crossed, and we will have some more leadership when Vermaelen returns next season. I hope that we’ll sign someone who can inspire others and lift the team’s spirits in situations like Blackburn’s visit to the Grove.

In the meantime all we can do is play to the best of our ability, starting against Blackpool on Sunday. Can a team that hasn’t won since the end of February still go on to lift the title? It’s possinle, so I’ll keep on dreaming.

Arsenally despondent,

Will

Mar 182011
 

There’s a strange mix of good and bad news before this West Brom game. Some bookies have us favourites to lift the title, with ManUre preoccupied in other competitions. We have a better run in to the end of the season than that Northern lot. We have a game in hand, albeit against Sp*rs.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that we’ll miss two defenders and two goalkeepers until the end of the season. Szczesny may return right at the end, but it’s unlikely. Djourou is out till September, despite the best attempts of the Swiss FA to defy reason.

The really bad bit of all that really bad news is that Thomas Vermaelen will not feature for us until next season. And even that, by the sound of it, is not certain at all:

I relapsed six times. Every time I had a goal to come back, but that was then broken again and again. At first they said I would need four or six weeks after the operation. But it soon became apparent that it would last longer.
I feel no trouble in the Achilles tendon itself, but the muscles around it still need to be made stronger. I do not know when I will be back.

That’s bad news. Really bad news. He suffers from the same problem that Owen Hargreaves has. Need I say more? There’s a real possibility that he will not play for us again in any meaningful way.

That terrible news is made even worse by the fact that the player who has stepped into the breach, showed his qualities and begun to perform at the level we all hoped for, Johann Djourou, is also out for the season with a dislocated shoulder. Our season now rests squarely on Squillaci’s shoulders. And that does not fill me with confidence.

But before we can even consider thinking about the end of the season and titles, there are some baby steps to take in the form of West Brom away. Baby steps? Hardly. I respect Roy Hodgson hugely, and I reckon we’ll be in for a tough afternoon at the Hawthorns. Apart from the back five, we’ll be without Song, Fabregas, and Walcott.

Regular readers will know that I’m not a big fan of Rosicky, certainly not this season anyway. We’ll need him to put in a big performance alongside Diaby and Wilshere in midfield. Up front we have Bendtner back – err… hooray? – but much more importantly, v Persie will be leading the line. I expect:

Almunia; Clichy – Koscielny – Squillaci – Sagna; Diaby – Wilshere – Rosicky; Arshavin – v Persie – Nasri.

As long as Diaby and Rosicky have fair-to-middling games, then the combination of our front three and Wilshere should ensure that we create and convert chances. We must prevail. Our season depends on it.

The emergency goal-keeper signing was a bit of a surprise. At 41, no one can say that Lehmann doesn’t have experience. I can only speculate about how the dressing room will be affected by his relationship with Almunia, which we all know was about as sour as it can get in football.

The German is a complete nutter, but in his prime, a great keeper. He’d make sure that the opposition strikeres knew he was there, all right, usually by standing on the toes, if not, with the occasional karate kick.

I hope he turns out to be a positive influence on the squad. They could learn a thing or two about getting underneath an opponent’s skin. To celebrate his return, here’s a video of his finest moments:

Odds
The bookies seem to think that we’ll recover our form and beat the Baggies, with us at 17/20 and them at 4/1 for the win. I’m aware that I’m well down for the season, and so I’ve plumped for 2-0 to the Arsenal at 9/1 with Unibet. BoyleSport had 4-3 to us at 150/1 so that got a few pennies.

As for goalscorers, v Persie to hit the net first at 4/1 with Coral was too good to miss, as was Squillaci to get one anytime at 14/1 with Bet365.

Tomorrow, ManUre are at home but without several key players against Bolton. I’ll have my fingers crossed that Owen Coyle does us a favour.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this game defines our season. If we play to our potential, then we should walk it, and send a message out to United that we’ll be chasing them all the way. We need confidence, and we need it now. A good win, even a scrappy win on the back of a good performance, and we’re in with a chance at the only title that matters.

Arsenally yours,

Will

Mar 132011
 

In my preview I wrote of what impact of a win would have on our confidence, the rest of our season, and the race to the Premiership title. I also wrote that a draw would also give us belief, and that we’d likely beat ManUre at the Grove to progress in the cup.

Well, we lost, going out of the third cup competition in the space of just two weeks. We didn’t collapse at Old Trafford; we didn’t play terribly badly. We had much more possession than United; we had several shots on target. We just didn’t have enough composure in front of goal, and United were able to catch us on the break.

The team looked jaded. In fact, they didn’t look much like a team at all. There didn’t seem to be a lot of mental strength, and the injury to Djourou robbed us of whatever resilience and fighting spirit we had at the start of the game.

Diappointed Wenger at Old Trafford

Not again!

The manager attributed our lack of oomph to the crushing defeat at the Nou Camp:

Subconsciously I feel the disappointment of Tuesday [against Barcelona] played a part in the game. You could see something has gone, not in our effort or attitude, but confidence-wise.
But I don’t feel like the season is slipping away. I believe we can do it. It is a good test for us now to show we can regroup and show the mental strength and togetherness quickly.
We will have to answer this kind of question in the next two or three weeks. We have to show we have an answer.

Whether or not we do find an answer, whether or not we fight for the title, and whether or not this season ends up like the previous five – trophyless and disappointing – depends very much on our back five.

According to the official site
, Djourou will miss the rest of the season after suffering a dislocated shoulder against ManUre. He will be sorely missed. His performances this season have shown that he has come a long way, and has become the defender that we’d previously only seen in glimpses in seasons past. He’s been solid, and formed a great partnership with Koscielny at the back in Vermaelen’s absence.

Speaking of whom, where is he? I’d been given the impression here on the official site that he’d play for the reserves before the end of February. That hasn’t happened.

Even if Cesc and Robin stay fit, they still need support in the form of a good reliable keeper, a strong defence, and good defensive players in the middle of the park. Assuming Song returns, that’s the latter sorted. But if Vermaelen doesn’t return soon, we’ll be relying on the services of Ignasi Miquel. With the greatest respect to him, I don’t know that he’s up to the job at such a tender age, and with so little first team experience.

Although Almunia played well against Barcelona, he flapped when Rooney scored, and I don’t think he has the confidence and backing of either the team or the manager. Our goalkeeping Poles, both threatening to establish themselves with the No. 1 jersey when they got themselves injured, will be missed. Will James Shea stay on the bench till the end of the season? That doesn’t inspire me with confidence.

Wenger now has a chance to really earn his wages. He must motivate a deeply disappointed squad. He must find an emergency keeper. In short, he must inspire his team to fight for what remains of the season.

We were in a good position at the end of last season. We could have won the title, but defeats to Sp*rs and Wigan allowed Chelski to lift the title as we collapsed with a distinct lack of confidence. It may not feel like we’re doing well, but in terms of the most important competition, we certainly are. Wenger must make the players realise how much we can still achieve. Only 3 points separate us from the league leaders, and we have a game in hand.

We can still win something this season. The title, the most important prize of all.

Arsenally still believing,

Will