Season 2014/15 Preview

Welcome to the season 2014/15 preview! Summer has disappeared very quickly and I write, we’re just 35 minutes away from the first Arsenal game of the new season. Hilarity has already ensued in the season’s first game as the Messiah himself, the one they call Louis van Gaal, triumphantly led Manchester United into a new era by losing his first game at home against Swansea. Marvellous.

Overall, summer has been kind to us. We’ve done a lot of business, done it early and we look in good shape going into the new season. All this and more discussed in the podcast, which is below.

This summer seems to have gone very quickly, mainly due to the World Cup, which was absolutely fantastic and a real contrast to the snore fest of 4 years ago. It was such a pleasure to see a good team win it and an added bonus for us was that 3 of our players were part of that squad. The downside, of course, is that those 3 players, two of whom are very important to our team, are unavailable for this first game of the season. However, Palace are sans a manager (news that was breaking as we recorded on Thursday), which gives us even more of an advantage and three points are a must from our first game of the season and they are three points that I fully expect us to get.

Looking at our side, the squad is really taking shape for this season and, if we can add a solid centre half before the close of the window, I think we’re in good shape to tilt for the title. United’s result earlier today, while it’s only one game, does seem to suggest that they are a team in transition and can’t be considered top 4 contenders yet while we await the fall out from Liverpool losing Luis Suarez. I think the Premier League is a 3 horse race this year between us, City and Chelsea and it’s going to be very tight.

Anyway, all of the above and more discussed in this first episode of the podcast for the new season.

Advertisements
Posted in Arsenal, Match Preview, Podcast | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

FA Cup Final Preview: TERROR

I’m terrified.

I’m terrified of a 91st minute Tom Huddlestone winner.

I’m terrified of a 91st minute Tom Huddlestone winner after a mistake by Aaron Ramsey in which he also loses both his legs.

I’m terrified of a 91st minute Tom Huddlestone winner after a mistake by Aaron Ramsey in which he also loses both his legs and in which Wojciech Szczesny also loses both his hands (for some reason).

That’s the kind of thing that’s been running through my head over the last week and it’s not been a lot of fun, truth be told. But why are we so afraid of this game? If it were any other team who’d finished in the top 4, I probably wouldn’t watch the Cup final as I’d think it was a foregone conclusion, so why the fear with us? Maybe other teams get terrified as well but you don’t often witness the same level of teeth gnashing and terror before a big final.

Maybe we’re scarred by Birmingham and Barry cunting Ferguson and Obafemi fucking Martins and all the other times we fucked it up when we didn’t have to. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know. What I do know is that I just want the game to start and for us to get a healthy advantage early on. Not loads, just 6 or 7 goal cushion by half time so I can relax a bit. Is that too much to ask? Then, if we win the thing, I’m going to run naked down the Holloway Road.

Posted in Arsenal, Match Preview | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Norwich preview: Umm… yeah

Good afternoon and welcome to the last day of the league season. Time really has flown by, hasn’t it?

This is probably the most difficult post to write all season as we head into our last game of the season with very little to play for against a team who have very little to play for. It would take freak results either for us to finish 3rd or for Norwich to avoid being relegated so this is, to be honest, the deadest of dead rubbers. It’s kind of boring, I guess, but it makes a nice change from the arse clenching, bowel troubling final days we’ve had to go through over the last couple of seasons.

With one eye on the cup final next weekend and with this game having very little meaning, I would be inclined not to play anyone who has a chance of starting next Saturday, with the exception of those who need some game time. This game means nothing, I know people think that a win would aid our momentum but I just don’t see a defeat doing us any damage if most of the first team don’t play. It’s far more important for us to avoid injuries ahead of next weekend than try to win this game. I’d go with a line up of something like – Martinez – Bellerin (is he a right back?) – Inanimate Carbon Rod – Vermaelen – Gibbs – Källström – Diaby – Wilshere – Anyone who’s fit and not Cazorla, Rosicky, Özil or Podolski behind Sanogo. But I guess we’ll see what the manager does.

Two more bits of news from this week are the wholly predictable news that Bacary Sagna is set to leave the club, after admitting so on French radio, and the new deal for Laurent Koscielny. On the former, it’s hardly a surprise and, as long as he doesn’t end up at somewhere I hate, I think I won’t be the only one who wishes him well and hopes we can give him a great send off next weekend with a win in the Cup final. He’s been so brilliantly consistent across his whole Arsenal career, he’ll be very difficult to replace but you have to think that the club have known about this for a while and plans have been made.

On Koscielny, well, what can we say? It’s great news, he’s a brilliant player who’s been a revelation sine we plucked him from Ligue 2 four seasons back. He’s established himself as one of the best centre backs in the country and his partnership with Per is, for my money, the best in the league. So this new contract for him is very welcome indeed and it’s great to know he’ll be around for a few more seasons to come. We’ve secured the spine of this team to long term deals – now, in the summer, we need to supplement them with a couple more players of high quality.

Posted in Arsenal, Match Preview | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Arsenal vs Newcastle: bloody What Ifs.

As I sit in my garden in (Greater) London enjoying a glass of wine and the fine weather whilst putting together a hasty pre-Newcastle stream of Arsenal-related consciousness I am struck by one particular phrase: What If.

 It seems to be the phrase that will define this season. Sure with an FA Cup and yet another year of Champions League football on the horizon (a feat not attained by a certain club in Manchester this year) this is shaping up to be a good season for Arsenal. However looking at the league table and seeing that the three teams above us have lost six games this season is yet another reminder how unique a season it has been. The fact that Liverpool have leapfrogged us into the title race doesn’t sit well with me either, when you consider they have been cut off from the money pipeline that is the Champions League since 2009.

Back to the What Ifs and let’s cast our mind back to the summer. What if Liverpool would have honoured their contractual obligation to Luis Suarez and accepted our £40m & £1 (in retrospect, really?) bid and we’d signed him? Suarez was yesterday crowned the PFA’s player of the year. He has scored 30 goals despite missing a quarter of the season. Imagine where we’d be if we had 30 extra goals in our goals scored tally this season? Simplistic I know but equally you’d be hard pressed to convince anyone we’d be a worse team with Suarez in it.

When John W Henry revealed that there in fact was the £40m release clause in their contract with Luis Suarez, once I’d gotten over the sense of injustice I couldn’t help but admire that attitude just a little bit. The owners of Liverpool took a stand and said we don’t care what you want, we are Liverpool football club and we will not sell our top players to a direct rival. They ignored the economics of the situation and went with their gut. I can’t help but feel what if (there it is again) we’d have done the same with Van Persie or Fabregas? Arsenal as a club has the image of being quite urbane & sophisticated but I do wonder whether we acquiesce to things too much at times, rather than saying, and do pardon my French: “Fuck That.” Also if anyone is wondering why I’ve not mentioned Samir Nasri, all I say to you is: meh.

One can also look at other factors like injuries and why the club did not strengthen the squad in the wide areas as well but myself and Sam touch on that in the podcast, which you can find on our Sound Cloud page.

Anyway, here’s to three points against Newcastle tonight and maintenance of our place at the top table. And the end to bloody What Ifs.

COYG.

       

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hull Preview: This is not an FA Cup Drill

Afternoon all and a Happy Easter to everyone. The Arsenal are up in Hull today for a vital Premier League clash against Hull Jaguars or whatever the hell they’re called nowadays.

It has been, for the first time in a while, a generally good week, starting with out torturous but ultimately successful FA Cup Semi-Final against Wigan and continuing on Tuesday when West Ham came to town. We looked like a team that had played an emotionally and physically draining 120 minutes just 72 hours previously but we rallied after a slow first half and got the result thanks to two goals from Lukas Podolski and a blinding finish from Olivier Giroud.

I’d like to use some [Ed from the future: that should read ‘most’, as it turned out] of today’s blog to talk about both those players because they both interest me for different reasons. Let’s take Giroud first as I thought he showed great mental fortitude on Tuesday after his shocking first half miss, an error he more than made up for with what was an absolutely exceptional goal. On my recommendations on YouTube, an Arsenal Fan TV video popped up with the title ‘Giroud is the worst striker I’ve seen in 42 years of being an Arsenal fan’. I actually laughed, openly, but there does seem to be this widely held opinion of Giroud that he isn’t a very good player, which is one I simply can’t agree with. I struggle to to understand the source of this – is it his off-field indiscretions or a wider issue about him being a convenient player to criticise because we don’t have any other strikers when we really should have more strikers. Whatever the source of it is, please let’s not forget Kaba Diawara. Or Arturo Lupoli. Or Marouane Chamakh. Yes, I accept that Giroud is not Luis Suarez or 2011/2012 season R*b*n v*n P*rs** but very few players are. He still has 14 league goals and 7 assists this season. He’s scored the best part of a quarter of our league goals this term (24%), a percentage only bettered in the league by Wayne Rooney (27%), Jay Rodriguez (30%), Luis Suarez (31%) and Loic Remy (33%) (I got all those stats from the lovely folks at WhoScored.com). He is, in short, a very good player. Not quite the level of striker than you maybe need to win the league but a very good option to have. He’s strong, he holds up the ball well and let’s not forget his vital role in two of the best goals we’ve scored this season, the one touch wonder goals we scored against Norwich and Sunderland.

If Giroud is a player we all seem unable to afford any patience to, Lukas Podolski is apparently a real fan’s favourite but why, I can’t quite be sure. It certainly can’t have much to do with his output on the pitch, which is exceptionally frustrating a lot of the time. There were loud boos when he was substituted last weekend in the FA Cup semi but I thought it was a perfectly acceptable decision – he had contributed very little all game, apart from slowing down our approach play every single time he got the ball. He wasn’t the right guy to be on the pitch. He responded well to being hooked with a stellar performance on Tuesday night, 2 poacher’s goals helping us to the win but those kind of performances are very rare occurrences. I think the archetypal Lukas Podolski performance was against Swansea a couple of weeks back. He came on, scored on, created the other – great. But then was caught with the ball a lot and wasn’t really helping out defensively when they equalised. I get that he’s a happy-go-lucky scamp on social media, with this thumbs up and his jokes and his smiles but he is an infuriating presence on the pitch and the contrast in treatment between him and Olivier Giroud is an interesting dynamic. If you were to ask me which one I’d want to keep, my answer would always be Giroud as I think he brings so much more to the team. I’d say it with a heavy heart though, as criticising Lukas Podolski is like kicking a really adorable puppy in the face. It’s just a shame the puppy is bit ‘special’ and does loads of really cute stuff then shits on your carpet and breaks all your vases.

Anyway, less puppy metaphors, more Hull stuff and Steve Bruce’s side are our latest chance to secure 3 more points and inch ourselves closer to the warm bosom of the Champions League. A lot of press people have been calling this a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the FA Cup final and, to continue their terrible analogy, it kind of is, except in the FA Cup final, two of the lead actors from their company, Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long, will be replaced by their understudies as they’ve already performed in this play but for a different theatre company. Or something. I don’t know, it’s a shit metaphor. They’ve had a good season, wranglings over the name and direction of the club excepted, but they pose a real test. I think we’re in the best position we’ve been in for a while, we’re not having to bandage up guys with scabies of the legs and get them on the pitch, we have pretty much a full complement of midfielders, the option to pick Nacho Monreal at left back, though I thought Vermaelen played well there on Tuesday and Mesut Özil makes his triumphant return from injury. Cue scenes of rejoicing. The timing of the game means a win will heap even more pressure on Everton ahead of their later kick off against United so three points please.

Finallly for today, we did a new podcast. There isn’t actually much Hull stuff in it, but Steve does have a hangover and I get angry about UEFA and say some potentially libellous things about Michel Platini and his son. Enjoy. Up the Arsenal!

Posted in Arsenal, Match Preview, Podcast | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wigan Preview: We must be up for the cup

We’ll have to start out with an apology. We haven’t posted for nearly two months and in those two months, everything has gone to shit. I don’t think the two are linked but you never know and, as I’m not one to tempt fate, the blog returns as the Arsenal head into an FA Cup Semi-Final with Wigan Athletic.

It’s a game we should win and, not only that, a game we must win. Over the last 8 weeks, we have been battered and bruised, our title challenge has crumbled under the weight of expectation and the Cup represents our last hope of a trophy this year.

And what a hope. As Arseblog points out today (and has pointed out before today), if we were on the outside looking in at a City, Chelsea, United or Liverpool left in the cup with just Wigan, Sheffield United and Hull City for company, we wouldn’t even be giving a second thought to the idea that they might not win. Cup football is never that simple, as we all know, but the reality here is that we are by far the strongest team left in this competition and not to win it would be an abject failure for everyone involved.

The heavy defeats, the ongoing uncertainty over his contract and the nature of our mental capitulation have brought forth questions about the manager’s future and I think they’re probably justified. I have always loved Arsene. He is a man of the utmost integrity, a fantastic gentleman and a superb ambassador for the traditions and values of our brilliant football club. However, as important as those things are, the ultimate judgement is the performance of his team on the pitch and in the last 8 weeks, those performances have not been of the required standard. There are mitigating factors certainly – I don’t doubt that we would be in a better place if we hadn’t been missing Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil, Laurent Koscielny (the list goes on) over the last few weeks, but the real worry has been the lack of mental fortitude shown by the team. The way we were bullied at Chelsea and at Everton and the inability to close out the game against Swansea were of real concern.

So where does it leave the manager? I think this might be time and it really pains me to say it. I will always be one of Arsene’s staunchest defenders – what he has done over the last 18 years is an unbelievable feat. He has remodelled our football club, overseen a transitionary period unprecedented in world football. I genuinely don’t think that there is another manager out there who could have achieved what he has over the last 8 years. The restraints that we imposed on ourselves to secure our long term future and make sure that we could compete at the top table for years to come were almost crippling, yet somehow Arsene has found a way to keep us up at the top. His project, of getting a team together young, developing them, instilling them with the values of the club and hoping they will turn out to be a brilliant side failed, sadly. But it was not an abject failure. We had a good run at the title in 2007/08 and 2010/11 but came up short. However, I just don’t think there was another guy out there who could have done what he did one such a limited budget. That being said, the tail end of this season leaves me doubting whether he is the man to take us forward from this. The question really here is about his adaptability – can he evolve again, to take advantage of the new money we have, to be less parsimonious in his dealings and to bring in the players necessary to allow us to sustain a tilt at the title beyond the end of February? My heart is willing him to be able to do so but my head is saying that a leopard can only change its spots so many times.

Still, we must put all that to the back of our minds today. We need to get out there and win today. I want to see crying Northern children on the big screen in the 87th minute when we break to stroke in our 4th and complete the humiliation. I want to see an overweight, balding Wiganer stand topless, looking utterly inconsolable. I want a massacre.

Up the Arsenal!

Posted in Arsenal, Match Preview | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunderland Preview: Bouncing Back

Hello and happy weekend. Two blogs in a week. We are spoiling you. And there’ll be a new podcast soon, I promise.

I don’t think Wednesday went quite according to our plan. I mean, I’m not certain, I don’t know the plan, but if it included parts about missing a penalty, getting an injury to a key player, getting our ‘keeper sent off and having less than 25% possession in the second half, then it was a pretty shitty plan in the first place and I’d be wanting to have words with whoever it is who formulates our plans because that was not one of his better efforts. Unless it’s a long term plan that involves us then going to Munich and spanking the fuck out of them. But it may not.

The result in midweek leaves us in a position where we need to bounce back better than Alan Partridge after he drove to Dundee without any shoes on, gorging himself on Toblerone. It’s hard not to look at Wednesday in a negative light but, without meaning to engage in football’s worst cliché, there were some positives to take out of the game:

All in all, given the way the media talked Bayern up, it could have been a lot worse. To only concede two, one of which was an absolute wonder strike that no keeper could have saved, even if maybe we should have closed Kroos down better, and the other of which was due to our own stupidity rather than inherent defensive weakness is simultaneously encouraging (they didn’t break us down and create many clear opportunities to score) and frustrating (despite the former point they still scored twice).

But all of that is already history because we’ve got to pick ourselves up, shake the dust off and take on Sunderland at home tomorrow in the league. They’re currently involved in a relegation scrap, sitting 18th but with a game in hand on West Brom and equal with them on 24 points. They’ll come into the game with increased confidence, given that we worked our holes off on Wednesday for no reward and might be suffering from a bit of tiredness/depression. However, this is no time for excuses. We have to win this game, if only to restore our fragile confidence, which has undoubtedly been dented by some bad results in a tough run of games.

We’ve been lucky that both our closest title rivals had to play each other and that City then failed to win after losing to Chelsea because with just 1 point from our last two games, we could have found ourselves massively off the pace. However, we are still in it and a win tomorrow would be the first step on the road to regaining the momentum we had generated after the loss to City and the draw against Chelsea in December.

As we’ve mentioned far more often that we’d like to over the last few weeks, Mesut Özil has come in for a lot of stick, particularly in the wake of the Bayern game, with people accusing him of not trying. First of all, the distance covered stats from Wednesday tend to suggest otherwise, only 2 other players covered more ground then him. Secondly, I think it’s a bit of stretch for him to perform to his highest capability playing as an auxiliary left back for a team with 10 men playing against what must be the most metronomically brilliant/dull passing team in the game right now.

That’s not to say I don’t think we should expect more – Özil has not been anywhere near his best recently but to expect miracles from him is setting yourself up to be disappointed. I know it sounds like excuse making but he doesn’t have the kind of runners in front of him that his game thrives on and it’s also his first season in English football. When you compare the treatment Özil is getting to that of Roberto Soldado, who is a striker and missed an open goal from four yards out on Thursday night, it’s something of a mystery. Maybe it’s because everyone thinks Spurs are shit. I think, though, that people have very high expectations of Mesut, expectations that aren’t being met but patience is key. I have total faith that he will come good in time.

But this isn’t the time for us to sit around moping, complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves. Our recent dip in results seems to have caused some people to lose sight of where we actually are – in the last 16 of the Champions League, in the quarter finals of the FA Cup and one point off the top of the league table. Not bad for a team that most people wrote off as also rans before the start of the season, if you ask me. We can be successful this season – but we won’t achieve that by navel gazing. Onward and upward.

Posted in Arsenal, Match Preview | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment