Bolton 2 Arsenal 1 Review and some soul-searching

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Apr 252011
 

It’s hard to know exactly where to begin; how to summarise a game that cruelly ended our title hopes. From 4 possible trophies a month or so ago to zero is a massive disappointment.

And it’s not the first time. For the third season in a row we have been fighting on all possible fronts, in with a shout of all possible trophies, only to slip away at the end of the season. AW mentions mental strength and mental fragility more than any other manager I know of; why is it then that we seem to lack the fight, the resilience, the edge – the mental strength, if you will, Arsene – to see the season through to the end?

I can’t be bothered, frankly, to go through all the games we’ve come close to winning but failed. Some just stick in the memory. That ridiculous game at St James’s Park, the recent game against Spurs. We just cannot seem to get through the last few minutes of a game without conceding a goal. And just taking the Bolton game as an example, can a side that concedes two goals from two corners compete for the title?

I’m a big AW fan (as you may be aware!) but reading this on the official site really p*ssed me off:

The facts are the facts. I feel the players [have] had an outstanding attitude [during] the whole season and they are not to blame. If there is someone to blame, it is me. I pick the team and I choose the players. For me, the players [have] had an outstanding attitude all season.
Yes, it is very unsatisfactory because that is one of the easiest run-ins we have had for a long time. We didn’t take our chances many times during the season and that is frustrating because you feel that the potential is there. But we live in a job where you have to take your chances and be realistic. We still lack something that is called maturity, experience or calmness in important situations.

Firstly, I’m not so sure that the attitude has been right. Attitude and the inability to keep a clean sheet for the last ten minutes are closely linked. The right attitude should mean that we do not, ever, concede such goals. And all too often some players – Arshavin, Bendtner, Clichy, I’m looking at you – have been respectively completely anonymous, unbelievably useless, and on a different planet.

Secondly, in terms of “something that is called maturity, experience or calmness in important situations”, that just can’t be used as an excuse any more. Let’s not forget it was Eboue who gave away the penalty to Sp*rs. An experienced international, not someone who can be marked down as young and inexperienced. The rest of the Arsenal ‘youngsters’ – Jack Wilshere excluded – all have years of Premiership experience and international tournaments behind them. It’s about time that youth stopped being an excuse. It never was a good excuse anyway, and for one thing, they’re just not that young any more.

So what is the future for this Arsenal team. I’m not going to join the ranks of those who campaign for an end to AW’s tenure, but I am going to suggest that this team requires some major surgery to turn it from a group of promising also-rans to a team of winners.

The problem is, will AW and our new owner countenance such changes? Do we need to change the philosophy of the club and buy experienced players? Do we need to change the way we play? These are difficult questions, and the answers requires more thought than a simple knee-jerk reaction to an awful performance, even it is a performance that relegates us to third, and puts an end to any hopes of silverware this season.

In my opinion, it’s certainly a good thing to be able to laugh at oneself, and a necessary ability in any gooner. Have a look at this from the Daily Mash.

Arsenally and unhappily yours,

Will

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4 Review

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Feb 062011
 

Worrying news from Twitter. Stade 2 – the French equivalent of MoTD has accused Rosicky of throwing the game. See here if you speak French. Unbelievable. He played pretty badly, but that’s nothing new. They claim he had a hand two of the goals, and that Interpol are opening an enquiry. They can’t, Interpol is just the means by which police forces communicate and they don’t have a ‘police force’. Complete rubbish. I hope Arsenal lawyers are onto them sharpish.

On a lighter note, this is far more likely 😉 Phil Dowd’s betting slip, courtesy of twooner @darylbooth.

Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4 Review

Never has the tired cliché “a game of two halves” been more depressingly appropriate. Last night I couldn’t find the words to express the feelings of disappointment in our team and anger at the culprits – Dowd, Diaby, and the criminal Barton. And it must be added, fresh frustration in our transfer non-activity after the injury to Johan Djourou leaves us with two fit centre halfs.

It started so well, didn’t it? We were two up while some fans were still finding their seats. And the goals were so easy. Arshavin found Walcott after 43 seconds, and my fellow Hemelite found the back of the net. Next Djourou scored his first league goal for the club, heading in Arshavin’s free kick. Another good performance from the bonkers little Russian became irrelevant in the farce that was to follow.

Before half an hour we had four, and I was considering my 7-0 and 7-1 bets at 500-1 were a sound investment. There were signs, however, that the men in black hadn’t been to Specsavers. V Persie got crunched by two toon players, and was penalised for it. He took his revenge by getting the third and fourth goals, a cut back from Walcott and a totally free header from a Sagna cross.

There did turn out to be 8 goals as I’d predicted, but who’d have thought that the next four would be all Newcastle? Certainly not me. Even if you’d told me we’d have to play the second half with 10 men I’d have been confident that we’d have seen out the rest of the game with ease.

No doubt Pardew said something in the dressing room about commitment. No doubt he complained that they’d hardly put a challenge in. He’d have been right to say that, Newcastle in the first half were as dire as we were excellent. A different team emerged from the Toon dressing room, and it was one that craved blood.

They didn’t waste any time trying to get it. The convicted violent criminal that is Joey Barton went in hard and two footed on Diaby, in precisely the kind of challenge that breaks legs. The Frenchman’s reaction was one of fury, he grabbed Barton by the scruff of the neck and was rightly sent off. Given our number 2’s injury history, such a reaction was on some level understandable, but for the most part just plain idiotic. There was no way that Phil Dowd could allow him to stay on the pitch after that, and he knew it. Stupid.

All Arsenal players are routinely given more hard tackles than other teams receive, because of the view that “Arsenal don’t like it up them.” Some players, like Vieira was in his early playing days and Fabregas is now, are rountinely kicked around the park, in the view that it will disrupt our style of play. But both those players learnt that the only way to deal with it is not to react. To get one over their opponents by a goal and a hard tackle, not by getting themselves sent off.

I have no doubt that Barton got what he was after from Diaby, which just tells you all you need to know about the scouse git. How Phil Dowd let him stay on the pitch is just beyond me. But by reacting in such a way, Diaby’s just making the situation worse, and no doubt more teams will now act in the same way. We’ve got Wolves after the midweek international. Great!

Another decision that baffled me, was how Nolan could stay on the pitch. He did exactly the same thing as Diaby, if not worse. Szczesny clung on the ball after Barton had scored their first, a deserved penalty which Koscielny gave away. Nolan had him in a headlock and who got carded? You guessed it, Szczesny.

After they scored a lucky second, they got their third thanks to another refereeing blunder. I have no idea why a penalty was given. Koscielny jumped with Rosicky and a Toon player and the linesman waved his arm frantically. It wasn’t a soft penalty it was a ridiculous decision.

Tioté’s equaliser in the dying minutes of the game was a fine goal, to be fair. But my head had been in my hands long before then, as gooners everywhere could sense the goal coming. There was a brief moment of hope before the final whistle when v Persie scored, but it was disallowed for offside. He was level apart from his arm, which as I understand it makes him onside. But at least the decisions had a degree of consistency to them – they all went against us.

Game over, we’d managed to lose a four nil advantage. We could have been two points behind ManUre after they lost at Molineaux.

But that’s not the whole story. Yes, Diaby was an idiot, Barton’s a violent criminal, and Phil Dowd is as blind as a bat, but still. We showed a worrying lack of heart, muscle, leadership, and crucially mental strength to throw away the lead in that manner.

It’s often noticeable that a team’s performance drops when a key player is injured. Given how well he’s performed for us all this season, Johan Djourou has turned into such a player, and his loss is worrying. Fingers crossed it’s not serious. But such a drop in form – think England v Brasil in Japan when Rooney’s foot went – may be understandable, but it’s certainly avoidable.

It must also be difficult to stay focussed on discipline as a team when one of your own loses the plot in the manner that Diaby did. But you’d expect a team whose manager is constantly banging on about mental stength to have that focus, concentration and desire. They were not helped by the cauldron of St James’ Park, but they were also not helped in the second half by their captain, who as I saw it did little to raise his voice or the players’ spirits. Whether or not Cesc is captain, we need a vocal player on the pitch, and I don’t think we had one in Newcastle.

You also have to question the wisdom of bringing off two of our potent attacking weapons. It seemed as though the players on the pitch suffered a drop in confidence with the arrival of Eboue and Rosicky. Bringing them on said to Newcastle – we’re worried, and we’re not going to attack. Compound this with the fact that the Ivorian and the Czech were totally anonymous, and you have all the ingredients for the surrender of a four goal advantage. Shocking.

I hope the players are ashamed of how poorly they reacted to the adverse situation, to rubbish refereeing, and to rough tackling from the opposition. I’ve never seen such a bad half of a game from Arsenal in a long time, and I hope it’s a good while before we see the like again.

Newcastle vs Arsenal Preview and Odds

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Feb 052011
 

A mate of mine asked me today what my prediction would be for our game at St James’ Park tomorrow. He suggested that I could expect a romp, a mauling, a stroll in the park; that Newcastle have lost their best player, haven’t replaced him and have a long injury list. He also pointed out that the fat idiot in charge has replaced a successful manager with, well, Alan Pardew.

All valid ponits, and I agree with them all. However, I’m nervous about the game tomorrow. I read today that Arsenal have scored the fewest, and conceded the most goals from set-pieces this season in the Premier League. I had a think about Newcastle’s midfield and names like Nolan, Barton, and Tioté fill me with unease not just for the safety of our players’ tendons, bones, and muscles, but for the nature of the contest. Those are three players you could describe as ‘battling’ midfielders. Without Alex Song, who’s out for this game with a dead leg, I fear that our midfield will become overwhelmed by their strength as we were at the Grove.

Song’s likely replacement is Diaby, though Denilson is certainly a possibility. When we signed the former he was announced as our new Vieira. He hasn;t quite lived up to that billing, and I for one don’t feel that the defensive side of our midfield game is strengthened much when he’s on the pitch. Another thing about Vassiriki Abou Diaby (love the first name!) is that he blows hot and cold. Some days he’s strong in the tackle, accurate with his passing, and makes good driving runs. But other days he’s anonymous. I hope he starts in place of Denilson, but I’ll qualify that by saying that I’d rather an average Denilson performance against a poor game for Diaby. Come on Vassiriki!

I was surprised to see Rosicky start against Everton. I know Nasri’s form would make comparison with any teammate difficult, but for me the little Czech hasn’t had a single game this season – nor a substitute appearance – where you could say that he played well. He’s a great player to have to come on and add a measure of control to midfield passing when we’re ahead, and when he is on form his creative forward passing can be excellent. But he’s hardly on fire at the moment, and I’d rather see him warm the bench, with a midfield three of Wilshere, Fabregas and Diaby.

As I mentioned in my review of the Everton game I was happy to see Arshavin get on the scoresheet. Some say when he has off days that he’s supremely lazy, and doesn’t seem to care. It’s a classic example of the psychological phenomenon called the fundamental attribution error. It’s easy to assign character- and personality-based motives to someone for behaviour that is more likely caused by physical and situational factors. In other words, if he looks lazy and not interested it’s more likely that he’s just having an off day, and just not playing as well as he can, than that he’s actually lazy and not interested. Fickle fans are always quick to slag off a player they perceive as underperforming by labelling him lazy. I don’t think he is, simples as that. He’s now back among the goals, and I hope to see him get another to wipe the idiotic grin off that fat tw*t Ashley.

We’ll have the same back 5 that faced Everton, so I’m expecting:

Szczesny; Clichy – Koscielny – Djourou – Sagna; Wishere – Fabregas – Diaby; Arshavin – v Persie – Walcott.

Odds

In making my predictions and putting my money where my keyboard is, I’m bearing in mind what I said above about the the strength of their midfield, no Alex Song, and their performance at the Grove. It’s reassuring to hear AW say:

They had a fantastic game against us at the Emirates, where they did very well collectively…But they are still a good side, Newcastle. We expect [them] to be up for it against us and so we prepare ourselves to meet a good team.

I should think so too. I just hope that this message is passed on, inwardly digested, and borne out on the pitch by the players, and that we don’t have any complacency drifting into the back of any player’s mind. That would be fatal.

In the face of such pessimism, I’ve plumped for 2-1 at 15/2 with SkyBet. My long shot is the complete opposite of such negativity. When I saw both 7-0 and 7-1 at the very tempting 500/1 with Paddy Power, I couldn’t decide between the two. With the best odds of 6-0 a comparatively measly 175/1 I had to place a few pennies on both those scores, didn’t I!

As for goalscorers, I went for Cesc to score first at 13/2 with Bet365. Never forget he usually takes the pens. Having defended Arshavin in this post, I feel obliged to back him with the odd quid to score first at 7s with Bet365.  If you’re feeling bold then how about Clichy getting his name on the scoresheet first at 66/1 with Coral? Having gone for two polar opposite scoreline wagers, I thought I’d better back that with some spare change. Money down the drain you say? I say “Come on Gaël”.

With ManUre a shoe-in to beat Wolves, let’s hope that Liverpool continue their resurgence, Suarez gets a hat-trick against Chelski and Torres breaks several bones and does both cruciates. But on a more serious note, only 3 points will keep us close on ManUre’s heels. Let’s take ’em from the Toon.

COME ON THE ARSENAL!

Arsenally Yours,

Will