3 points are all that matters for Arsenal

Sitting in the premier league table above Tottenham Hotspur is a good feeling, one that has been taken for granted over the years by Arsenal fans but the general importance of the feat has never been underestimated. They have slowly chipped away at their north London rivals and with the win over Norwich have now climbed above their rivals.

poldi celebrates

Getting back above Spurs was the easy part; it’s now ensuring they stay there that becomes hard. It’s in their hands so there can be no complaints if at the end of the season fortunes change.

The game yesterday was one of high interest to me; based on my experience last year in the 3-3 draw with the Canaries I was quite desperate to get some sort of redemption with a victory.

Seated close to the Norwich fans it was a chance to go back and forth with the banter; despite a first half of wasted chances and no shots on goal for the visitors they still made a vocal presence in the stadium. The game last season was similar to yesterdays in the sense that top four and champion’s league qualification was very much undecided and Norwich had a chance to throw a spanner in the works.

The Norwich fans were not shy in ribbing the Arsenal faithful with chants of Thursday Night Channel five. Quite outdated considering the Europa football is screened on the ITV channels however it was nice to get the opportunity to throw those chants right back down their throats.

Based on yesterday’s game here are some points of note:

Wilshere was rusty.

The loss of Jack Wilshere was a big blow to the Arsenal team; he returned from his long term injury and eventually found his rhythm to become a key cog of the Arsenal midfield. Despite the team’s good record during his recent absence his return to first team duty can definitely be seen as a psychological boost to the team. Eyebrows may have been raised that he returned straight back into the starting eleven but considering last week’s two goal hero Tomas Rosicky was unavailable Arsene Wenger’s hand had been forced. Wilshere displayed rustiness in his game, although not awful he was way off his influential best, the Arsenal game was becoming stale as Norwich were relishing their backs to the wall defending and so Jack was sacrificed to inject new impetus into the Arsenal play.

Gervinho had one of those days.

It is inevitable that Gervinho will never convince all Arsenal fans of his worth. You never know which performance you will get from the forward and until consistency is added to his game he will split fans opinion. One thing he is even when at his most frustrating worst is he is a threat, his pace stretches teams and especially with the loss of Theo Walcott to injury he has played a part in the recent run of form for the team. We may have a laugh and a joke or moan at the times he messes up but he has pace and a box of tricks (that all be it has a success rate of 1 in 10) that when it comes off is a great tool. Yesterday wasn’t his day but his starting place was earned by his contribution in the previous two games, he may still play a big part in Arsenals quest for fourth place.

Defence was well despite conceding.

Yes a goal was conceded against the run of play but the partnership of Koscielny and the returning Tomas Vermaelen played well. That Norwich’s first shot on goal wasn’t until they actually scored was testament to how the Canaries attack was kept under control. As is the Arsenal default game plan they prefer to concede when under complete control however the goal was from a set play. I’m not sure who exactly was picking up Turner but that set play required a team effort to ensure all men were picked up and unlike the goal conceded against Blackburn in the FA Cup which was a complete cock-up there was fault but not entirely attributed to the centre back pairing.

I believe Vermaelen had a good game, he was determined in the tackle and dealt with the threat of Grant Holt. Although Per Mertesacker is likely to return to the starting line up after serving his suspension it was encouraging that the Arsenal captain had an event free performance. He has set a platform he needs to build on to win back the confidence of the fans and the manager.

It was a penalty.

"it's not fair, they are time-wasting..."

“it’s not fair, they are time-wasting…”

I don’t think I need to elaborate on this non topic, the Norwich fans are bitter as you would expect from any opposition team who concedes a penalty but it was a clear pull on the shirt of Giroud from the Norwich player. Doesn’t matter who saw it a foul is a foul end of.

Enjoy your day people.

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Arsenal win as Rocastle is remembered.

At last the proper football is back, the international break is finally behind us for the season and now the chase for top four can continue uninterrupted. Reading came to town yesterday, in normal circumstances a home banker but so was Blackburn. So nothing was to be taken for granted, we have fallen to way smaller teams this season and it was important to keep up the recent momentum in order to maintain the pressure on Spurs and Chelsea.

Equally important was the opportunity to honour the twelfth anniversary of David Rocastle’s passing. His family was invited as special guests as the club paid homage to the man who is so close to many gooners’ hearts.

This was my first game back at Emirates since the embarrassment which was the Blackburn game in the F.A. Cup so I was quite eager for the team to put things right on a personal level and remove any possibility that my attendance was evolving into a fully fledged  jinx.

Here are some of my thoughts on the game yesterday:

Rocky will never be forgotten.

His name gets sung from the stands, many a fan buy shirts with his name on the back. David Rocastle is one of those players that the fans remember fondly. He was taken from the world way too soon and despite being not being on the clubs books at the time of his passing he was an Arsenal man through and through. The club doesn’t have to dedicate days to the man, no one is holding a gun to their head however it is a nice touch that the club recognizes his contribution to its history. He came through the ranks at the club, he represented England when with the club, he was part of one of our greatest nights in our history playing in that game at Anfield 1989 and was genuinely a talented player.

rocky

The club paid tribute to Rocky yesterday prior to kick off, a picture was also displayed on the big screen and the fans sang his name. A rare occurrence happened yesterday when the game was going on; the fans started sing the Rocastle song to the point where the whole stadium was in sync. What was a nice touch by the club was the decision to remove the game stats from the jumbotrons and re-display the picture of Rocastle. The singing went on for at least 5 minutes all while the game was still playing. It was a lovely gesture and I am sure everyone connected with David Rocastle will have appreciated the experience.

The curious case of Gervinho.

Only Gervinho could score one goal, set up a further two, leave the pitch to a standing ovation and still not convince the fans of his worth. He had a good game by his standards, he provided end product and along with Santi Cazorla was in contention for man of the match. Gervinho is a confidence player and the fact that he grabbed the opener did him a world of good, the only problem in his case is the trademark misses were still there. In the first half plenty of chances and opportunities were wasted, although we were winning the longer the game stayed at 1-0 the more the opposition could grow in confidence.

gervinho santi

Gervinho was at the heart of most of the attacking moves in the half and it is a question of do you blame him for wasting opportunities or do you applaud him for being dangerous enough to be on the end of and create the chances? The fans in the stand were divided and I’m sure many a fan watching on TV were the same. Most importantly in our run for top four we need to get behind every player. Gervinho offers an alternative and on his day can be devastating; maybe with the crowd 100% behind him his devastating best can become more frequent.

Loss of clean sheet run

After the two previous games resulted in clean sheets the Arsenal defence didn’t manage a third as they conceded a goal against Reading. The defence in general played well and the trademark shakiness when on top was not there yesterday. The goal conceded may have been avoided but this was a much focused performance from the back five overall. Arsene made a change to the defence by drafting in Bacary Sagna at the expense of Carl Jenkinson. It could be deemed unfair to drop Jenkinson as soon as Sagna returns but I suppose a home game vs. Reading would be deemed a good opportunity to test Sagna’s legs on his return.  Sagna’s experience will be vital in the run in and I’m sure Jenkinson will still get opportunities on the pitch before the season is over. Should Arsene have changed a defence that achieved the last 2 clean sheets? Normally you would say no but I guess he had to change it already due to the cup tied situation of Nacho Monreal, so the left back position has been shared and Arsene took the opportunity to do the same with the right back position. The important core has to be the centre-back partnership, there’s no need to tinker there unless forced and I’m happy the manager is keeping the two together as yesterday may have been  classed as an easy enough game to swap things around.

Happy Easter people.

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Another year without a trophy for the Gunners

So that’s it then, another season without a trophy for the Arsenal. In a season that is going on record to consolidate our decline we now find ourselves in the position where our only hope of silverware now is to win the Champions League. Every team has ups and downs in a season, only a select few has a rosy ride throughout but the reality is as a football fan you will have your highs and your lows. The problem here is the lows for Arsenal this season have been so low that it can be measurable in comparison to previous years, previous regimes even.

The exit from the capital one cup to Bradford should have been the freak result we look back on with embarrassment and use to realign the reality check of today’s team. That result should have been the motivation to never experience such feeling again. To think back to similar levels of embarrassment you have to recall the defeat to Wrexham many moons ago or that York City result. Freak results in pure isolation, the players at the time felt the shame and made damn sure they would not see something like that happen again on their watch.

We fast forward to this season and it seems the result with Bradford is not even powerful enough to motivate the team to put things right. We manage to let Blackburn Rovers, a team now in the Championship come to our ground and leave with a win. When they were a premiership team a home defeat to them would be deemed unforgivable and yet we managed to outdo ourselves yesterday.

all too common pose

This defeat is bad, real bad; these defeats are now becoming the norm and it seems the rot is well and truly setting in. yes, the team we put out should well and truly be good enough to dispatch the likes of Blackburn at home but like I mentioned in yesterday’s post the mental focus and never say die attitude should be there for these types of games rather than being reserved for when a big club comes to visit.

Ability is not in question, it is that extra determination and ruthlessness that is lacking. That is what separates the top teams from the pretenders. Right now we are losing the right to even use the name ‘Arsenal’ and ‘Big Team’ in the same sentence. We have watched over the last few years how Liverpool have been in decline and had a little chuckle at their misfortunes. Right now it feels like we have slipped to their same level of decline, no longer challenging for league titles and only managing to raise our game for the big teams.

To put all our eggs now in the Champion’s League basket is insane, whilst finishing in the top four does not compare to winning a trophy. Am I being a negative fan when I say I cannot see us winning the Champions League this year or just realistic?  I would love to be wrong in this case but it’s a tough ask for even the most biased Arsenal fan. We seem to be our most vulnerable when we believe our own hype, it has happened countless times this season. We string together a couple good wins then the arrogance rears its ugly head, we don’t try as hard because we believe we have a right to win a game without pure grit and determination and we end up back at square one much like yesterday.

blackburn goal

Even the teams that make the game look easy put in the work, you watch the likes of Barcelona and you see they do not take their foot off the gas. They work for their wins and they show pure ruthlessness. Being 3-0 up they don’t close out the game; they go in search of more goals. They maintain their focus throughout and it’s something we need to learn.

Arsene when he joined the club was big on mental focus of the players and we reaped the benefits from that. What has changed now? Does he use a different approach to what was used during his early years or are the current crop just not getting it? You need a winning mentality with your players and the longer we go without winning trophies the harder it is to attract players who are used to winning and have that hunger to join our club. And when I say attract these players I mean attract the players that are used to winning in top leagues who can bring the level of quality required to improve the team. I say this because when you look at the stats of say someone like Gervinho; on paper he was a monster in France for that Lille team. We signed him for our club and it is quite clear despite some good qualities he is not good enough to really improve our team.

gervinho another miss

When our scouts were running the rule over Gervinho and Hazard I am sure they identified the greater talent would be found in the boots of Hazard; yet we stumped up for the cheaper option. I’m not a scout so I did not watch Gervinho extensively prior to him joining the club but surely all the bad points from his game must have been there when he was playing for Lille? Did the good points outweigh the bad points or was the price compared to Hazard the main motivation.

Anyway I didn’t plan to single out Gervinho from yesterday the whole team is culpable for the result. No player yesterday deserves to slip under the radar. Much like how every player on the pitch last week deserved praise against Sunderland every player yesterday should hang their head in shame. The fans deserve an apology, complacency is never acceptable.

I certainly would not like to cut off my nose to spite my face and by that I mean I want us to fight to our last breath to win the Champions League. Regardless of if I think we can win it or not I would never wish we go out of a competition to prove a point.

I was at the game yesterday and left the stadium so angry; I do not want to feel that way again. The team can start to repay the fans that paid their hard-earned cash to attend by getting a result on Tuesday.

Stay strong people. More for our own sanity than anything else.

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Newcastle victory helps to highlight Gunner’s issues

Last game of 2012 is signed off with a win, a bit of a crazy victory but three much-needed points to continue the slow recovery back to the level we know we should be at. 7-3 is a flattering score-line and I suppose did its best to sugar-coat the evident frailties within the team. On three occasions we were pegged back by a Newcastle team low on confidence with the kind of goals that are becoming our trademark. The individual errors and soft goals keep on coming to the point where seven goals may be needed every game to ensure victory. That’s never going to happen so the next best thing is to address the defending and tighten it up at the back.

To be honest I’m not sure how that can be addressed with the current personnel, our defending has been highlighted all season and I am sure the backroom staff are doing something about it; problem is it is not transpiring through to the first team on match days.

I am not trying to put a dampener on a victory where we scored seven goals but the defeats to Bradford and Swansea are still pretty fresh and despite stretching our winning run to four games all it will take is for another defeat for all the gloom and negativity to return amongst Gooners.

This game served as the perfect evidence to present to Arsene Wenger and put forward the case for signings.

Defensively we need third wheel to shake things up.

At the back we are leaking too many goals to mount a serious challenge up the table; without a solid base all the good work upfront is for nothing. When you have a reputation for soft goals then the opposition are always confident they can get something against you. Mertesacker was missing yesterday through illness but on paper Koscielny is able cover at the back.

ba v verm

The problem we have is individually our defence are popular with the fans. When on fire Vermaelen is the darling of the Arsenal fans, Koscielny has proven himself now, Mertesacker has won plaudits this season, Sagna will always be regarded one of the finest right backs in the country and Gibbs has grown to the point where we feel we have replaced Clichy. So why the poor goals conceded every other game? Collectively it doesn’t seem to be working, we never seem solid enough and there are always clear-cut chances against us. We ride our luck a few times but eventually we pay for it.

My suggestion is that the timing is right for a top quality centre half to be purchased in the January window to keep the current personnel on their toes. Johan Djourou is clearly not regarded reliable enough, this is evident from his sparse appearances this season. In the summer I claimed he would be a good quality 4th choice centre back going into the season but in reality we need a player signed not as fourth choice but immediate competition for the starting role.

I can only put down the poor goals to complacency and with no competition for the starting role beyond the three core centre halves there is a little less pressure to maintain the highest standard. I know players don’t make individual errors on purpose but at the same time another (top quality) defender in the mix should let everyone know they need to their job and do it very well.

It may be deemed better to have a good balance of competition in certain positions and three top centre halves should normally be enough but a bit of unhealthy competition may do us some good.

Up front we need recruits

The game threw up many points regarding our options up front. We have Theo Walcott who is doing his best to prove he could fill that central striking role; his three goals yesterday again highlighted his promise and gave Arsene food for thought over his use in that position. The problem with Theo’s goal scoring form is until he signs a contract with the club he cannot be considered as the answer to anything. We are none the wiser if he will be signing a new contract and until he does we have to contend with the possibility of him moving on.

theo newc

That leaves us with Olivier Giroud as the only option as specialist centre forward at the club; indeed he has won over the fans after an initial slow start to his Arsenal career but we need an alternative to just playing to his strengths. Marouane Chamakh is as good as gone in the next transfer window after failing to prove himself at the club and Gervinho has shown no consistency in any position of late that he cannot be considered in any capacity.

Not forgetting the ACN in January when we lose the services of Gervinho; Chamakh was not called up for the Moroccan squad but that is not enough to suggest we have options now.

The player touted as a possible acquisition in January is Demba Ba; he still has that clause in his contract making him available at £7.5m. He has been touted as talking up a move to Arsenal recently and he did his chances of being snapped up no harm by exhibiting his attacking threat with two goals against us right in front of Arsene in the flesh.

Arsene was quite coy on the potential signing of the striker in his pre match press conference but that would be expected given the fact the two teams were meeting.

The question is whether the delay on Theo’s contract is in relation to Arsene signing such a player? Would that end his chances of playing up front or will Demba only be signed as a replacement for Theo if he decides to definitely leave.

It’s a tough one to call, ideally I want Theo to stay and Ba to come in; much like I mentioned with the defence that competition is required to keep players on their toes. Theo would need to be prepared to fight for a chance up front and take his chances when they come in the midst of the competition from players like Ba. It’s all very well playing up front knowing you only have Chamakh and Gervinho to compete with but to improve and be the best you need to take on the best (or at least a better standard of competition).

January will be an interesting month and we will need a lot of open books closed. Players need to be signed, I’m not talking signings for the sake of signings but we need quality to improve the squad and increase competition for places. We have too much dead wood making it easier for the starting players to let their standards slip. I hope yesterdays win despite the high score-line doesn’t help deflect from what is really required.

Enjoy your day people.

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Arsenal to sign Thierry Henry on loan?

Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry, may very well return to Arsenal once more this January.

Henry, who happens to be the all-time leading scorer for Arsenal, returned to his old club on loan last January during the Major League Soccer break. According to Arsene Wenger, Henry has trained with Arsenal three times now. When asked whether Wenger would sign Henry on loan again, he responded that he did not know yet, although he had not ruled it out. Wenger did add that the 35-year old striker was still looking sharp.

Henry scored twice in his seven appearances during last season’s loan. He scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win over Leeds United in the FA Cup as well as scoring a classic extra time winner against Sunderland in the Premier League. Wenger signed Henry on loan last January due to winger Gervinho’s call up to international duty at the African Cup of Nations. Arsenal will be losing Gervinho once more, as they have decided to hold the African Cup of Nations two years in a row. Should Marouane Chamakh leave, Arsenal will find themselves short of strikers up top.

Henry has scored a total of 228 goals during his time at Arsenal and was recently honoured during Arsenal’s 125th anniversary celebration with a statue outside of the Emirates Stadium. The only other Arsenal player to have a statue erected in his honour was former captain, Tony Adams. During his time at Arsenal, Henry led the team to two Premier League titles and three FA Cups.

Wenger had nothing but good things to say about his former player, saying Henry’s return to the team would not only bring incredible skill to the field but invaluable experience to the squad. Wenger praised Henry’s communication and leadership qualities, claiming that he is a very intelligent person who would provide valuable advice to the team’s younger players.

Although Arsenal were recently in a slump, they seem to have rebounded with an emphatic 5-2 win over London rival, Tottenham, as well as securing Championship qualification with a 2-0 win over Montpellier. Although striker Olivier Giroud was not able to score against his former team, he did provide two assists and has finally come into form, having scored five goals in his last six games.

Wenger attributes Giroud’s late start due to the difficulty that new players have adjusting to the Premier League and the fact that he had to develop an understanding and comfort with his teammates. It took Giroud seven games to finally see the back of the net, and it is finally looking like he is regaining the confidence that saw him lead the French League in scoring last year with 21 goals. Per Mertesacker had similar problems adjusting last year, and has now become Arsenal’s most dependable defender. Mertesacker agreed that it took some time for him to settle at his new team, but he is now much more comfortable with the style with which Arsenal play.

After a string of poor performances, the last two wins should instil some confidence into the club going forward. They are currently sitting in sixth place with 19 points, nine points behind league leaders, Manchester City. Their next game is on November 24th against Aston Villa. If you want to see the outcome, be sure to purchase your Arsenal tickets today. Support your favourite team on the field.

Today’s guest post was brought to you by Matt Milstead.

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