Gunners Sign Off Final Home Game With Win

The home schedule is over for another season at the Emirates, with fourth place secured the only motivation for the Gunners were to get three points on the board to send the Arsenal fans home happy one last time. Of course the FA Cup will be the final thank you (if won) to the fans but as we know the majority won’t have the opportunity to support the team at Wembley.

The football wasn’t the greatest yesterday, the pressure was off after Everton conceded fourth place to Arsenal and even though West Brom tried in the back of their mind they see themselves safe from relegation. Norwich did manage to come away from Stamford bridge with a point as Chelsea’s pathetic end to the season spluttered on however the chances of being overtaken by the canaries still are a very long shot.

Both sets of fans were in a good mood, the weather was sunny and kept the mood jolly. West Brom fans came armed with a variety of beach balls which we’re bouncing around the away end until the stewards got their hands on them.

Giroud saluting his winner

Giroud saluting his winner

 

With fourth placed secured many wondered if most the 1st team would be rested for the game, news filtered through before the match that Abou Diaby was on the bench and Aaron Ramsey would not be involved. I suppose the possibility of wholesale changes would be slim since all week the team would have been set out in training to get the win, the bonus of Everton losing came too late in the day to change all preparation for yesterday’s game. Ramsey was afforded the break which was good however a much weakened team would be expected for the Norwich game.

It would have been nice to see Abou Diaby make an appearance in front of the fans but an injury to Nacho Monreal equated to the final substitution of the day being a forced one. Arsenal’s very own ‘Mr Glass’ is likely to still be around next season, hopefully for a lot longer than he managed this season. The same can’t be said for Kim Kallstrom, he will be returning to his parent club once his contract runs out. After all the kerfuffle over his transfer to the Gunners his impact was quite minimal. No fault of the player himself but by the time he was finally ready; our premiership campaign was effective dead and buried.

One person whose future is still uncertain is that of Bacary Sagna, he hasn’t signed a new contract and the chances of him staying are pretty slim now. In the stands we sung his name during the game, letting him know we want him to stay however we have been in this position many a time over the years . To lose the Frenchman would be a big loss however no player is irreplaceable (ahem. Thierry Henry?) in most cases. Those right-back shoes would be big ones to fill but if it happens we just have to get on with it. My only hope is if Bacary does move on it isn’t to a premiership rival, it just doesn’t sit right with me. The Robin van Persie transfer to man united never should have happened and although the club had a say in that transfer it is more or less powerless with Sagna. We can only ask him to think about the fans that have supported him all these years before signing on the dotted line for another premiership club.

 

sagna

farewell?

 

Looking back now on what could have been this season, a top four finish and (hopefully) FA Cup trophy is far from disaster. The important thing is to learn from the mistakes this season and put them right next.

IMG_1916

The Norwich game is meaningless to me now; all I would like from it is some youngsters to play and stake a claim for next season. Victory on May 17th is vital to finish the season right.

Enjoy your day people.
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Time to move on from Santi scandal

We start the week in a slightly better mood compared to last; A win certainly can make things feel a lot better. Swansea last week is far from forgotten, we have merely put a band-aid over the wound but we need the bandages and that secret ointment Mr Miyagi uses to heal up the karate kid to overcome the pain.

I wouldn’t patronise any arsenal fans, I know we are all on the same page when it comes to Saturday’s game, it is only one game and there is a hell of a long way to go to get the confidence back and hit the form we know we are capable of. There seems to be a lot of daylight between Arsenal and the top of the league but that doesn’t mean we have any right to give up, anything is possible and we must fight until the very last game of the season. Finishing above Tottenham should be at the back of our list of priorities, we don’t need to be dragged down to their level of measuring success; the Manchester clubs and Chelsea should be our concern.

The remaining December fixtures (Reading a, Wigan a, West Ham h and Newcastle h) are ones the old Arsenal would expect to win; I understand we are not the Arsenal of old but we do have quality in this squad who can achieve so much more than we have so far. Optimism from the fans has weakened over the years but we still cheer on the boys and still believe in them despite the odd moan and grumble from the stands.

One of the main points from the game against West Brom was the dive from Santi Cazorla that led to the opening penalty. It was a dive, I don’t deny it and I certainly do not welcome diving in the game however this is not a common trait from the player in all the games we have witnessed from him this season. The overreaction to the incident has been quite hypocritical from some quarters of the press and I feel deep down they know he is not a serial diver.

santi

There are some players who are known for their diving so much that it becomes something that is laughed off and dismissed when they produce simulation in games. Whenever there is a new kid on the block who gets exposed by the cameras those same people want the book thrown at them. The level of disgust should apply to everyone who does it, to pick and choose relevance is not the way forward. The media favourites such as Suarez and Bale need to be pulled up for their misdemeanours and until such is done the problem will not be solved. I will not condone an arsenal player who seeks to cheat in every game and I’m sure many fans would agree with me, it is an embarrassment to be forced to defend cheating performed by your own players. But we don’t have players who seek to cheat in every game and so I do not believe there is any issue to deal with. It was a one-off incident and people (mainly rival fans) now need to get over it and move on.

Bradford game this week for a place in the semi finals of the Capital One Cup, really hope we don’t end up with egg on our faces. A nice mix of experience and youth is required, we are still away from home and need to stem the potential pressure caused from a crowd who will be bang up for it. I’m not saying it will be our only chance for silverware this season but it certainly is the chance for the first silverware of the season. If we go all the way the final will be nice and early in the season (24th Feb), we can get it out of the way and focus on all the other competitions we are in. It’s still a long way away but we need the job done this week, fingers crossed guys.

Enjoy your day people.

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Walcott and Podolski out of game. Can Coquelin help Arteta?

Can a bad week get even worse on Saturday? That is the question we would all like to know, we don’t want it to come to fruition, not at all but these days we don’t know which Arsenal will turn up against West Brom. The loss to Olympiacos was shrugged off by the manager, he played a weakened team against the Greeks and in all reality a defeat was far from a shock. On one side of the coin the first team were afforded a rest and a chance to recharge their batteries ready for the battle at the weekend on the other side of the coin the players that underperformed against Swansea were given a chance to pamper their egos rather than prove themselves at the earliest opportunity in the next game.

The stats men will be rubbing their hands throwing out all sorts of statistics highlighting how long it has been since we last won and how many games in a row we have lost etc. They don’t care about the relevance of the games just what looks good in their tables and pie charts. Now we receive the news that 1st team players Theo Walcott and Lukasz Podolski are out of the game at the weekend. Surely more ammo to back up crisis talk; all they need to do now is claim Aaron Ramsey will take up the role on the right side of the front three and there will be riots in the streets of North London.

The loss of Walcott and Podolski are massive losses to the team, they do bring goals to the team and goals are required until we purchase a striker to share the goal burden with Olivier Giroud. One thing Arsenal has always been good at over the years is pulling off results when we are at our lowest. It doesn’t have to be against a title rival for us to raise our game; we have received the wakeup call last Saturday, the slap in the face to bring us to our senses, refocus and overcome the pain.

I wasn’t happy with Arsene rushing back Rosicky into the team on Saturday after he only just returned to training within the past couple weeks. He will be vital to our fortunes for the rest of the season and his cameo on Tuesday gave a reminder to those who may have forgotten his importance to the Arsenal midfield. It was good that the manager saw sense and only played him for one half of the game. I want him back, badly but I don’t want him broken within 2 weeks like what has happened to Abou Diaby. Just ease him back a bit Arsene, not too much too soon.

coquelin

One thing I would like to see is for Francis Coquelin to step it up to the next level. He has settled in and established himself in the first team squad, he has been called upon when required but to me he needs a breakout performance in his preferred position to show us Arsenal fans we can rely on him as the holding midfielder.

It has been quite evident lately that the strain of keeping the Arsenal midfield ticking over is taking its toll on Mikel Arteta. He has done an admiral job stepping into the void vacated by Alex Song however it seems he is in need of a break, the problem is who comes in to replace him? Coquelin is young and has potential but for a player whose main position is as a defensive midfielder he has only really been played in that role in cup games. His appearances in the league has been more to close out games in the dying minutes, his defensive mentality is called upon to add protection to the defence/midfield. Yet Wenger has never taken the decision to rest Arteta and replace him with the young Frenchman.

arteta

Coquelin did impress last season when played in emergency positions like at fullback when we had terrible luck with injuries in that position. His versatility was essential and a welcome assistance to the team however in his preferred role we are yet to witness that standout performance, the kind of performance that makes you sit back and think he could make that spot his own within time. Even Emmanuel Frimpong last season at that terrible point at the start of last season managed to pull off an encouraging performance against Liverpool which had many neutral observers predicting big things. Yes he got sent off in the game but he did enough while on the pitch against top opposition to show he has a big game performance in him. The injury has set Frimpong back but if he works hard and gets over the injuries he could get back to that level. Coquelin needs to take advantage of any chance he gets and puts in the kind of performance that makes the neutrals take notice. At the moment he is caught in that void where he is just a squad player, he needs to step up to the level where he is talked about as the future successor to the defensive midfield role.

I’m not attacking Coquelin, I believe in him as a player and as a fan I want him to grow and improve to the level that the fans feel the team is weakened when he is not around. He is still young as I said but given the current state of the team patience is in short supply with the fans. We need cover in all positions in the team; like for like cover that leaves each position in good hands.

Arteta needs a break; Coquelin needs to give Arsene a reminder that he has someone to share the load.

Enjoy your day people.

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Positive vibes as Wilshere and Frimpong continue recovery – AFC

Great to have Jack Wilshere back. Given the lows felt by the home defeat by Chelsea at the weekend it is a welcomed change to have some positive news to kick-start the week. Jack was able to turn out for the reserves in the u-21 premier league yesterday to move to the next stage of his rehabilitation. After so many false dawns and the desperation to have him in our side last season the sight of jack doing his thing in the arsenal midfield was the biggest indication yet that his return will be a reality.

Although it’s slightly early to even think of him gracing the first team it’s great for all arsenal fans to see him making a return to the field. Although given the time he has been out there’s the possibility of minor reactions to the run out. Things will be clearer by today as to how his legs reacted to the appearance against West Brom. It’s not often an arsenal result takes second billing but in yesterdays case it was all about jack coming through the game in one piece. The fact we lost pales in significance to jacks development; those 63 minutes he spent on the pitch could be one of the most important moments in arsenal’s season.

The best thing for jack this season is the fact that we are well stocked in midfield, the fans are not screaming out for his return. Arsene can wrap cotton wool around him and nurture his rehabilitation without the added pressure of needing to be rushed into the first team. The vultures from the England H.Q may cast a glancing eye on his development salivating in the anticipation of his return to the England midfield but I fully expect Arsene to ensure there is no return before he is ready.

I’m happy for jack as a person more than anything that he is close to getting his career back on track. It has no doubt been a long road to recovery and now he is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a shame that the fans couldn’t be there to cheer on our no.10 but a 2pm kick off on a Monday is a tough ask for the arsenal faithful (and being an away game), after all we need to work to be able to buy our competitively priced tickets at emirates. Maybe the added pressure of a big crowd was not called for and a lower key run out was more beneficial. To see jack not quite pulling off what we have come accustomed to seeing from him may take some getting used to. He will be rusty for sure, he needs time to get his groove back and some more games will definitely help him shake off the rust and the class return.

Emmanuel Frimpong’s first start was probably slightly overshadowed by his close friends return. Frimpong managed to last 70 minutes of the game and is clearly ahead of Wilshere in the recovery stages. His possible return is probably not soon enough to cover the void left by Abou Diaby’s current injury but he will relish more opportunities in the Carling Capital One cup and forge his way back into first team reckoning. His knees have held up and I hope that after suffering two long term knee related injuries in recent years his competitive edge doesn’t subside. It will surely play on his mind but I hope in between all the TV appearances and Dench promotion Frimpong has taken the time away from football to reflect and focus on what he can achieve in his arsenal career and how he can achieve it. Strong mental attitude is a trait Wenger likes in his players and that is exactly what our midfield general will need to call upon to get over the understandable psychological limitations that could hinder his game.

Enough of putting a dampener on Frimpong; it’s great to have him and Jack back on reserve level duty and getting past their injuries. The fans are 100% behind you guys, take your time, don’t rush back too soon, we want you both 100% ready. Dench…

Enjoy your day people

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Sleepless In Holloway – AFC

Sunday had begun with a profound sense of foreboding. You see after our stay of execution last week (Spurs inexplicably drawing at Villa last week) I was quite enjoying a week without football, not having to worry about injuries/if we’ll ever win without Mikel Arteta/whether we’ve scored too early etc.  Now however it was back to business, so with a quiet sense of fear I made my way to The Quays pub on Holloway Road, a trusty venue which always shows the Arsenal, with a good red-and-white atmosphere. My brother, a fellow nutty Gooner, could not bear to put himself through the wringer and decided to stay at home. I couldn’t really blame him after the way things have gone lately, especially after the Norwich result last week. That said, although I knew he’d be keeping up with the scores, somehow I wasn’t wholly convinced by his insistence on not watching it…

Some forced changes and a surprise or two in there, with Francis Coquelin, Santos and Carl Jenkinson coming into the side.  With the injury to Bacary Sagna, Jenkinson was always going to start but a little surprised to see the other two. Given our receding midfield options I guess we’re always going to see something relatively new. At least if the game goes south we can bring on Theo and The Ox to change things.

The pub fills up and we’re underway. A minute in and I notice a beachball had been thrown from the stand and was rolling precariously onto the pitch – did I need these bad omens? How about Nayim warming up for West Brom maybe? Pascal Cygan warming up for us?!

3 minutes in and the little bit of help I was looking for came in the shape of Marton Fulop. And what a big piece of help this ‘little bit of help’ was. The ball is fired back to him from a West Brom interception deep in midfield and for some inexplicable reason instead of picking it up (there’s no way it would have been considered a back-pass) he decides to dilly-dally, allowing Yossi Benayoun (sign him up) to steam in there for a smash-and-grab tap-in. Yes! One-nil to the Arsenal, and whilst I was relieved that we were ahead, it certainly wasn’t lost on me that this was almost an action replay of the Norwich match. And it wasn’t long before West Brom pulled one back, almost as if the getting the first goal meant the hard work was done. Shane Long capitalises on some slack-jawed defending and scores. Subsequent pundits have claimed that he was onside – having seen it a number of times afterwards I feel my initial diagnosis on that was correct, that he was marginally off. Still, the goal stands and you’d think this would have been a warning but only 4 minutes later Graham Dorrans puts them ahead, taking advantage of yet more lax defending.

My worries of the Norwich game repeating itself was now coming to fruition. Thankfully there was more industry from Arsenal after this and along came Santos doing I think we should do more often, when the passing isn’t working just have a dig. He duly obliged, with a great low long-range drive. Not quite Winterburn/Silvinho, but relieved to see that nestle in the net. Fulop could have done better I guess, but it was nowhere near as bad as his other errors.

Even though we were currently 4th as Spurs were winning, I was pleased to get to half-time level after going behind – we can almost disregard the first half and start anew in the second. Arsène was clearly also thinking this and has made a change – Theo’s in for Tomas Rosicky. Sorry to see him come off to be honest as I love his industry, but I admit he hadn’t had the greatest game by his lofty recent standards. Hopefully Theo can run them ragged and soften them up for The Ox. And as with so many games where we’ve behind before, there was a renewed focus as we turned up the heat. My brother walks in to the pub, stating that his wife had sent him packing because his nervousness was doing her head in. And that, in all honesty, he couldn’t keep away. I knew it! Then Fulop, fast becoming Arsenal’s man of the match, punches the ball from the resulting corner behind him to a grateful Laurent Koscielny who makes no mistake.

3-2 now, and that familiar worry of “have we scored too soon?”/” we need a 4th!” comes back, as we have nearly 40 minutes go. And West Brom are coming at us, corner after corner, it almost feels like they’re trying qualify for the Champions League. Gervinho, my next candidate for a substitution, is taken off for Kieran Gibbs, and although he wasn’t The Ox, I was pleased to see a defender come on. I’m struggling to watch this now as what I call The Spectre Of Defensive Lapses, who seemed to be ever-present in the first-team squad in the first third of the season, had returned to haunt us in recent weeks and was certainly hanging around The Hawthorns. To make things worse, I realised that Peter Odemwingie wasn’t actually on the pitch and is now coming on – I could just imagine him scoring.

Aaron Ramsey comes on, which was a surprise given his recent form. Where I stand at the North Bank he has been receiving some serious vitriol, particularly from a moronic ‘fan’ whom I will refer to as The Grumpy Sh*thead behind me. I feel Ramsey is an honest and fair player who doesn’t deserve the derision he has been getting. I’m sure Ramsey knows he isn’t playing well – berating him will not reverse his slump, so I was hoping he’d end up scoring the 4th, for both his confidence and the two proud fingers he’d stick up at the boo-boys.

Into the last 10 and I’m beginning to become frustrated as West Brom were seeing far too much of the ball. Wojciech Szczesny kept launching the ball instead of holding onto it and slowing the pace of the game down. Someone else who was getting a bit of stick during the Norwich game was Gibbs, so I was pleased with his match-saving tackle at the end of the game. It’s been said it’s the £30million tackle, and boy it really did look like one, absolutely perfectly-timed, a tackle any of the Back Four would have been proud to make. I hope The Grumpy Sh*thead saw that one.

After 5 minutes of hands-on-head, nervous-gaspy, I-need-a-wee, Arsène-Pat Rice-hugging injury time we complete the job (and without needing The Ox or an RvP goal I might add). We now know that there is nothing Spurs can do that can change our 3rd place position. As The Quays celebrates the victory the big screen switches to the Etihad Stadium, almost as if to cut short our cheers. I couldn’t stand for that and defiantly started an “Ooh To Be A Gooner” chant, which drowned out the Sky commentary. The Spectre inspired no more errors, it felt like we won through the sheer force of Arsène’s anger at times. The end of the season could not come soon enough as with the injuries to Arteta, Sagna and Theo, the tiredness of Ramsey, Gervinho and to a certain extent RvP I feel we’ve been running on petrol fumes just to get over the line. I’m not alone in being glad to see the back of this season although I feel a little strange saying that when I really think about it. Curiously there have actually been some extraordinary highlights (the 5-2, the 5-3 against Chelsea, TH12’s winner against Leeds to name a few), it’s just unfortunate that these were countered by some truly shocking results. But as every Gooner knows Arsenal rarely ever do things the easy way, so we really shouldn’t be too surprised by season-ends like this. All the worry about whether RvP will stay/who should we bring in/who should we get rid of could wait for another day, just wanted to enjoy this victory (with a lot of post-match beers, unusual for me on a Sunday). If there is one thing that is to be learned, especially by that horrible mob up the road, is that is never ever over until that final whistle.  (It is probably advisable that any ‘Mind The Gap’ pictures should wait until after this.) Now I can relax, safe in the knowledge that Spurs have come up short again and this time, there’s not a lasagne in sight.