Should He Stay Or Should He Go? (Part Three – Attack)

Sorry for the delay Gooners – attempting to watch every single match of Euro 2012 certainly has taken it’s toll! Here is my final part of who I think should stay and who should get their coat.

Forwards

9. Park Chu-Young: I’m sure I’m not the only one that was baffled by this one. However I’m probably the only one that’s actually seen him score a goal for Arsenal, in the Carling Cup v Bolton. I hoped this was the beginning, that he could potentially become a valuable player for the end-of-season run-in. Instead there were sporadic pointless ‘appearances’ on the bench and a classic example was the 7-1 against Blackburn. We’re 6-1 up with 30 minutes left, you’d have thought this would have been a perfect opportunity to bring him on, boost the confidence against a side praying for the end but instead on comes Benayoun and Henry. There are lots of cynical theories regarding him going around, but for me the bottom line is if he isn’t good enough ship him out to get on with his National Service. Go

10. Robin van Persie: What can be said about RvP that hasn’t already been said? An outstanding season, capped off with 30 goals and a glut of awards its frightening to imagine how our season would have gone without him, he was rightly the first name on the teamsheet. The last 18 months have shown just how good van Persie can be when his fitness is uninterrupted by injury, treating us to some of the most sublime goals we’ve been deprived of since Messers Bergkamp and Henry left. Even when he tired towards the very end of the season he still pulled out that cheeky penalty against Wolves. A world-class talent, it remains to be seen whether he’ll sign a new contract (and lets hope he does), but if we can get at least 2 of the other players to play with the same clinical intensity as him just imagine what we could be capable of? Stay

14. Theo Walcott: Another frustrating season punctuated with criticisms, some warranted and some not. Can show so much at times and deliver so little that he is another player who divides Gooners. In terms of combined goals and assists this was one of Walcott’s more productive seasons, and when you compare him to a player like Stewart Downing (and our own Andrei Arshavin – more on him later), he is actually a very valuable player. Of all the quick players I’ve seen down the years though he seems to be the only one where his pace looks like a curse rather than an asset at times. Confidence is everything, and it is disheartening to hear the crowd getting on his case. So it certainly was a highlight when he transformed from shrinking violet to clinical finisher in the 5-2. More of the same please Theo, you’re getting better. Stay

15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Was quietly frustrated at being held back earlier in the season, but what a decision that was by Arsene as like Benayoun he was fresh for the run-in. I remember seeing him against Shrewsbury and he was strong and had an eye for a long shot, very exciting to watch. Capped that performance with a great goal and has rarely disappointed in his gradually increasing appearances since then. His big moment came in the United game at the Emirates, when the crowd were incensed at his removal for Arshavin. He’s become someone that fans look to change the game – I admit regularly found myself watching the touchline nearest the Arsenal bench in the second half to see if Pat Rice was about to call him back to strip down and come on. The worry is that this is a lot of pressure on young shoulders, but the signs are that he is coping well with it. Another upshot of his good form is that it seems to coincide with Theo’s fine end of season end – perhaps The Ox’s direct nature is pushing Theo? An explosive start to his Arsenal career. Stay

23. Andrei Arshavin: Another underwhelming season. The 4-goal spree at  Anfield is now a very distant memory. It’s a real shame, as many fans hark after those sort of performances, and for the longest time I always hoped they were just around the corner. At least with the 2010-11 season his goals/assists stats were actually quite good even with his ‘relaxed’ demeanour. Fans can almost forgive a lazy disposition if a player is coming up with the goods – but 1 league goal between August and February is just not good enough for a man of his talent.  A low-point for me was 60-odd minutes into a match (I forget which one) the subs board went up and he appeared to run to the touchline, perhaps believing the number 23 was up when actually it was 29. All too often it would seem like he would run out of steam after the hour mark. Against United at home, I suspect the crowd weren’t just angry at The Ox’s removal – Arshavin replacing him also had something to do with it probably. A crying shame, as like many others I loved him when he first arrived – I’ve felt for a while that he needs a change of scenery, a theory backed-up by his more fruitful form at Zenit. Thanks for those times when you couldn’t stop scoring at Anfield, the screamer at Old Trafford, the winning goal against Barça Andrei, all the best. Go

27. Gervinho: For me a decent first season. After a Premier League baptism of fire (I’m pretty sure he’d never faced a player like Joey Barton before) he was playing well, there was a period where he couldn’t stop finding RvP in the box. Went off the boil a little bit but the killer was the African Nations Cup – that missed penalty shot down his confidence and he never equaled his early season form after that. The only attacking player at the club who almost appeared to travelling backwards when he was bringing the ball forward, he seemed afraid to shoot at crucial moments. Some of our greatest players have had worse first-seasons and a great start is no guarantee of a fruitful Arsenal career (see below) but if he can recapture his early form and eradicate his bashfulness in front of goal he will be an asset. Stay

29. Marouane Chamakh: The 2011-12 season not being a terribly good one for Chamakh would be an understatement. In fairness opportunities to start have not been plentiful such was the extraordinary form of Robin van Persie. However, he was on the bench a lot and when Arsene did send him on, there was always something lacking. Towards the end of the season it certainly wasn’t effort, preferring to help out in midfield when he could see he wasn’t being effective up front. Some people forget that when RvP was injured early in 2010-11 Chamakh lead the line very well, and I had hoped this was on it’s way back after the consolation goal in 4-3 defeat at Blackburn. Sadly I feel that, like Arshavin, he needs a change of scenery. Go

12. Thierry Henry: Even though it was a very brief loan period I’ve added him in to end on a high note, such was his impact. Despite the apprehension in some quarters as to whether or not it was a good idea to come back he proved to be the decisive element in two matches and topped off the 7-1 against Blackburn (although that has since been awarded to Scott Dann – bet he’s pleased about that). His winning goals produced fantastic moments of euphoria, the returning king’s goals-to-games ratio put the then-misfiring Fernando Torres to shame. His excellent start to the MLS season was the product of a great ‘pre-season’ at the Emirates. In fact, he was so good my Henry DVD is now missing some great goals!


That’s it for my look at the squad, probably lots to agree/disagree with there. From an attacking point of view it looks like some of my suggestions can come to fruition with the arrivals of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Generally speaking though, I don’t think an awful lot needs to change. A few new players, clearing of the deadwood and a continuation of that winning mentality from the 5-2 onwards and I feel we can certainly push on next season.

CDrive77

Should He Stay Or Should He Go? (Part One – The Back)

We’re well into the close season, with the Euros imminent West Brom is but a distant memory. But who should we keep and who should be we saying “thanks for everything” whilst pointing to the door? Here are my thoughts on the 2011/12 squad, with a view to who should stay/go.

 

Goalkeeper

1. Manuel Almunia: Not a single appearance for the Arsenal this season, only one spot on the bench. Had some decent games, quite liked him for the reason that he was someone everyone could relate to. A man who ousted the better player through sheer hard work and a positive attitude. However, his errors were high profile and well-documented – he just wasn’t good enough to be a No. 1, none of the top sides would have had him. He goes with good wishes, but not before time. Go (already released.)

13. Wojciech Szczęsny: A solid second season, he has grown in terms of the authority and stature he possesses. And we’ve needed it, given the problems we’ve had in defence this season. I would say though that in the last few games his focus has been a bit lacking, his kicking a little suspect and he’s nearly come unstuck, booting the ball at onrushing attackers. That said, his shot-stopping has been immense and always good for a quote (see his post-match interview regarding his save against Lee Cattermole against Sunderland (H) for my personal favourite).  We’ve still got the real deal between the sticks, and I fully expect him to right-fully assume the no.1 shirt. Stay

21. Łukasz Fabianski: Pretty much whatever has been said about Almunia can also be said for Fabianski. Has made the odd decent save but unfortunately he was far too inconsistent and as a result, he never inspired confidence in his defence. It is said that Fabianski feels that his international chances are being hindered by not playing enough club football. Given that the very same player stands in front of him at both club and international level I think its fair to suggest that he move on, if anything not to see his tormentor on a daily basis. Go

 

Defence

3. Bacary Sagna: One of the most consistent full-backs in the Premier League, I feel he’s back to his best after not the greatest season by his lofty standards. A player who loves the club and always puts in a shift, I never want to see him leave! Stay

4. Per Mertesacker: May have been quite surprised by the pace of the Premier League and it showed as he was exposed a few times. On the flip-side, I’m a big fan of Mertesacker’s no-nonsense tackling and there were certainly instances where he saved our bacon. His untimely injury against Sunderland was unfortunate as I felt he was just getting into his stride. Ok, so he isn’t the fastest but neither was Tony Adams – a good Euros and a better reading of the game to make up that extra yard and I think he’ll turn out to be a great player for us. Stay

5. Thomas Vermaelen: Whilst I must admit defensively he hasn’t covered himself in glory towards the end of the season, it must not be forgotten what a difference he made on his return to the side from injury in 2012. Winning every header, last ditch tackling and just generally settling and organising the defence, it was a pleasure to watch this classy centre-back at work. And that’s before we mention his goals…Stay

6. Laurent Koscielny: What an incredible transformation in the space of 2 seasons. In 2010/11 aside from a couple of games generally he was not strong in the tackle, looked out of his depth and had a lack of confidence. These words do not describe the 2011/12 version. Some of Koscielny’s tackling has been simply outstanding this season, and he just looks fearless. It is a testament to him that he is not just in the side to partner Vermaelen, he is there on equal merit. His metamorphosis has had me gobsmacked at times…it really has been a while since we’ve had a decent no. 6! Stay

11. Andre Santos:  When he first arrived, he was one of those classic Eboué-like full-backs – decent at going forward, just not all that interested in defending. But the 5-3 seemed to be a watershed moment – not a very good defensive performance in the first half, an excellent goal later and it seemed to sort his defensive head out. I quite like his style of defending – text-book it ain’t, but you would not want to run into him. Always seems to have a smile on his face, just reckon he needs to be a bit leaner in his second season. A good start. Stay

18. Sebastien Squillaci: Another player who might as well not have been there. The writing was always on the wall – once Per Mertesacker was brought in, and with Johan Djourou already there, his slip down the pecking order was complete. Even with the injuries to Vermaelen and Mertesacker, Arsène preferred other options. And when his moment came away to Fulham, whilst he could have done more with the Fulham’s first, he gift-wrapped their winner with an inexplicable across-the-box assist to Bobby Zamora. Admittedly he had not had a lot of game time and criticism here is probably a little harsh, but I do think it’s fair to say for his own sake, probably best to move on. Go

20. Johan Djourou: Has actually been a valuable back-up in recent seasons, but unfortunately for him he wasn’t as good at it in 2011/12. In fairness to him he has been played woefully out of position, and it showed, culminating in his removal at half-time due to ‘injury’ filling in at right-back against Man United at the Emirates. To his credit I suspect he never complained about playing there, and you wish for players that just do what they’re told rather than challenge the manager. My gripe with him is even at centre-back I’ve always felt he was what I call ‘big-for-nothing’, easily beaten in the air for a man of his size. A nice enough bloke by all accounts, but if Ottmar Hitzfeld really thinks Djourou should leave and he happens to agree, (provided we have another centre-back) I wouldn’t stand in his way. Go

25. Carl Jenkinson: So you’ve mainly played non-league football, the highest level you’ve ever played at is League One, and now you’re playing at Old Trafford. And we’re not having a great day. Tough situation for any young player. Whilst eyebrows had been raised with his acquisition and immediate placing into the first-team squad, Gooners love a trier and he does give his all. And the positive soundbites and “My whole family are Gooners” stories aside, he is quite the crosser of the ball. He’ll not be replacing Sagna anytime soon, so I’m happy with him as back-up and who knows, could he be next season’s Koscielny? Stay

28. Kieran Gibbs: Continuing the fine tradition of young left-backs we’ve had at the club, always liked him. Yes, his injury record is not great but it’s worth remembering than he is still only 22 and will get stronger. My only concern is like the previous incumbent, when going forward Gibbs does at times leave a lot of space behind him. However, I think he is greatly benefiting from increasing Premier League game-time and will build on a good season. Stay

As for the other younger players, I feel that Ignasi Miquel is quietly building well on previous seasons’ appearances, and I’m certainly keen to see more of Nico Yennaris, whose lively 2nd half substitute performance against United at home certainly caught the eye.

That’s it for the back, stay tuned for my thoughts on our attack.

CDrive77

CDrive’s Season 2011/12 Highlights (yes really): Part Two

Morning Gooners, here is the second part of my season highlights.

 

4. Arsenal 3-0 AC Milan (Champions League 2nd round 2nd leg, 6th March 2012)

After a derisory, meek 1st leg surrender in the San Siro, the second leg was pretty much a formality. No-one really believed we could make the tie competitive, but it was an opportunity to restore some sort of pride, and perhaps give Milan a little fright along the way. And Arsenal certainly did, going 2-0 up inside the half hour. Once Robin van Persie had converted that penalty before the break the stadium was delirious. I was so out of breath I nearly passed out, and it was only half-time! We dared to dream of a historic reverse in the tie, and though it was not to be, at least Arsenal could leave the pitch with their heads held high.

 

3. Robin van Persie v Everton (Arsenal 1-0 Everton, Premier League, 10th December 2011)

What a goal this was. One of the early examples of that brilliant Song-van Persie connection. I was lucky enough that my seat offered me a great view of RvP’s volley, right on line with its direction. The long floated pass, the sweet connection with that wand of a left foot, even the way it cannoned in off the post, I was completely dumbfounded. Quite simply, world class brilliance.

 

2. Thierry Henry v Leeds (Arsenal 1-0 Leeds, FA Cup 3rd round, 09th January 2012)

It’s approaching the 70th minute mark and it’s not looking good. Arsenal cannot find a way through and Leeds are already thinking about a potential replay, always a game we can do without.  Thierry Henry, the returning hero, comes on. Was this a good idea to come back? Would he be way off the pace in English football? Would he ruin his legacy? If there was a doubt about Henry’s prowess someone forgot to tell Leeds, who looked immediately intimidated by his presence. Then on 78 minutes Alex Song hits another one of those hot-knife-through-butter passes, Thierry reacts the quickest and rolls back the years with a classic trademark side-foot shot to send the Emirates Stadium absolutely crazy. When it was announced that he was on the bench everyone wanted him and only him to score. Henry did not disappoint and provided me with one of the greatest moments I’ve ever witnessed in the stadium. TH14 may have long left his throne, but with his subsequent performances, TH12 had come back to reclaim it.

 

1. Arsenal 5-2 Spurs (Premier League, 26th February 2012)

For me probably just goes ahead of Henry’s winner, simply because of the desolation I was feeling after half an hour.  2-nil down to a rampantly confident Spurs, typified by Adebayor’s ultimately premature post-penalty jig in front of us at the North Bank. At that point it was looking like this could be worse than the 4-4, and even surpass the 3-2 defeat last season when we’d thrown away a 2 goal half-time lead. Just before half-time Bacary Sagna and Robin van Persie drag Arsenal back into the game with a force-of-nature header and a sublime curled shot respectively. The North Bank had gone hysterical at this point, as instead of Tottenham running away with it, we were now in the box-seat. What followed was a complete destruction. Tomas Rosicky completes his rejuvenation with a deserved goal and Theo Walcott punishes them to hit the 4th. Typically, everyone around me wants a 5th to quash any memories of the 4-4 and Theo responds with another fantastic finish. We then had 20 minutes to bask in the glory and eyeball the Spurs fans in the away end (those that actually remained). This is the match where Arsenal woke up – had Spurs have gone on to win comfortably I’m convinced we would not have finished 3rd. This was The Turning Point, and a highlight not just of this season, but of the entire time I’ve supported the Arsenal.

 

So those are my highlights. Admittedly I may have missed out a couple that might have been on your lists (Mikel Arteta‘s strike against Manchester City, RvP’s late winner vs Liverpool to name two), but it just goes to prove that despite a having frustrating season we can still have the pick of some truly exhilarating moments. Thank God we aren’t Wolves, thank God even more that we’re not Tottenham.

Ooh to be a Gooner indeed.

CDrive’s Season 2011/12 Highlights (Yes Really): Part One

Yes we lost to United 8-2, got beaten 4-3 by Blackburn, got taught a lesson by Swansea, didn’t turn up at the San Siro etc. Apart from that we actually had some extraordinary highlights, ones that on occasion left me almost completely breathless. Here’s a list of 10 of my personal favourites in some kind of order.

 

10. Arsène Wenger hugging Pat Rice (WBA 2-3 Arsenal, Premier League, 13th May 2012)

The Boss had been apoplectic with rage for most of the second half, but what we saw towards the end was something altogether different. With Arsenal hanging on by the fingernails Arsène mimics the nervousness every fan was feeling and clambers onto Pat Rice. This is great for two reasons: Arsène, despite being the manager shows he feels what we feel; and secondly that he is hugging Pat on his last day at work demonstrated an unusual poignancy rarely ever seen in the dug-out.

 

9. Robin van Persie v Tim Krul,  (Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle, Premier League, 12th March 2012)

It’s 1-1 at the Emirates, and Newcastle are time-wasting. Tim Krul is particularly enjoying himself, doing that thing I hate, unnecessarily moving goal-kicks to the opposite corner of the goal area.  However, all that time-wasting was in vain, as Thomas Vermaelen scores a 95th minute winner. Robin van Persie helpfully suggests to his international team-mate that he might now relent from wasting any more time. Krul, incensed with what was massively astute statement decides to produce his handbag. In fairness, it was handbags on both sides but seeing RvP not back down and giving Krul a bit of verbal roused an already-electrified crowd. It was also the first time I agreed with Gary Neville, to my absolute horror, when I watched it back at home.

 

8. Bacary Sagna on “The Enemy” (26th February 2012)

Not the band, but on Spurs in his post-5-2 interview: “…In our own stadium, against the enemy we could not lose”. And if anyone thinks these are just words, you only need to see the sheer voracity of his opening goal against Spurs. He had clearly had enough of being 2-nil down, and he was certainly not going to be on the losing side that day.

 

7. The Poznan,  (Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City, Premier League, 8th April 2012)

I hate the Poznan. I can never understand why, upon your team scoring, you would turn your back on them. Don’t you want to see the team celebrating, the scorer showing you what it means to do what the humble fan has always wanted to? I must admit I did put my hatred for this moronic celebration to one side after Mikel Arteta put Manchester City to the sword at the Emirates. Whilst the players celebrated, the Poznan reverberated around that North Bank and yes, I did join in to stick it to the City fans. Even The Grumpy Sh*thead was enjoying himself. And the funnies continued, as at the end Mario Balotelli finally completed his match-long mission to get sent off.

 

6. Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal (Premier League, 29th October 2011)

This was a match that was much more important than it usually is. Having been a team that was becoming accustomed to losing the big matches (Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs up to this point), we’d clawed our way back a little bit by recording a series of almost under-the-radar victories. So this was a game we had to win, as I felt the somewhat fragile confidence that was finding it’s way back to the side would have been completely shattered again. And despite going behind twice, Arsenal produced a resilient performance, a Santos strike, Theo Walcott battling with gravity to stay upright and score, and an RvP hatrick.

And it was my birthday.

 

5. John Terry on his backside (Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal, Premier League, 29th October 2011)

Although it’s technically about a Chelsea player I feel this deserves a separate mention as it was Arsenal-inspired. Aside from the odious off-field stuff he gets involved in (don’t get me started on that), for the longest time I’ve felt that from a purely footballing perspective Terry’s best days were long behind him. Saw him play for England v Ukraine at Wembley 4/5 years ago and I was in shock as to how slow an international defender is allowed to be. So after all his lack of humility and badge-kissing it warmed my cockles immensely to see him flat on his a*se as Robin sped away to score his second.  It is even funnier looking back when you realise that a) even if Terry had stayed on his feet he would have been too slow to catch RvP anyway, and b) this is becoming something of a trademark of his.

 

To be continued Gooners…

Sleeping is for wimps, Arsenal are playing – AFC

The big day is here, our cup final in a way. So much hinges on one game. The guarantee of champion’s league football if we get third, the future of Robin Van Persie as an Arsenal player, the pulling power of higher calibre players, the pressure back on Arsene.

We as football fans are a very fickle bunch, we go through so many highs and lows throughout a season. Silverware or a strong finish at the end of the season and we dismiss all the lows. Failure at the end and all highlights are quickly forgotten. Taking into account how badly we started the season even the most diehard fans would never have envisaged us ending up in third place. We went on such an amazing run during the final third of the season to put us in this position but lately have somewhat stumbled to some less than satisfactory results.

If we had a crystal ball back during the darks days of the early part of the season we would take the position we are in ‘3rd place with a win at west brom to secure it’ we would literally bite your hand off for that.

Being in this position now and with so much to lose as well as gain; the sense is if we do not pull off the result today there will be a massive feeling of disappointment amongst all gooners. The Wenger out backlash may resurface, well actually not may it will most definitely resurface. Every aspect of what happened this season will be examined with a microscope and the overall assessment of this season will be a massive failure. Pat Rice is gone so I wonder if his last days will be viewed with celebration of his commitment to the Arsenal or will the cyber rotten tomatoes be thrown his way.

I mean every season without a trophy can be deemed as failure but on this occasion to see the turnaround from where we were at the early part of the season 3rd place would be a pretty acceptable outcome in my books.

There is such a fine line between absolute doom and absolute joy today that all gooners are very nervous today. We believe but we also have doubt.

I mean, I didn’t even expect to blog today due to the fact that I took part in the London Moonwalk across London in the name of breast cancer. I donned a bra and walked the streets with 15,000 women (not quite the men’s fantasy you would think) from midnight. I arrived home at 4.30am and went to sleep. I woke up 8.30 and although a little sore I could not get back to sleep. I am up wide awake and blogging.

Like back in the day when you had a big exam and the night before it was one of the most uncomfortable and sleepless nights

I have Arsenal on my mind. I love my club and cannot stop thinking about today’s game. Let’s hope Arsenal pass their test today.

Come on you Gunners!!

Sleeping is for wimpszzzz…..