Almunia, Hoyte out, Wilshere back before next season? AFC

So Arsenal have started their summer clear out. It was announced on the official website yesterday evening that seven players were to be released. Of those seven the most high-profile names released were that of Manuel Almunia and Gavin Hoyte. The other players not offered new contracts were Rhys Murphy, Sean McDermott, George Brislen-Hall, James Campbell and Jeffrey Monankana.

Almunia despite his critics has been at the club for the best part of 8 years, Making over 170 appearances for the club. Biding his time as an understudy to Jens Lehman it is fair to say when his chance came to stake a claim for the no.1 jersey he never quite fulfilled the role to the expectations of the Arsenal faithful.

Not an awful keeper by any means Manuel fell victim to not being the great keeper that was required by a club of Arsenal’s standing at that time. Many pundits and fans alike make the claim that the basis of a great team starts with having a great keeper. A keeper valuable enough to win games for you by presence, organisation, agility and 100% concentration.  Almunia never quite ticked all those boxes convincingly and therefore struggled to win over the fans and pundits.

Jens Lehman’s boots proved quite big ones to fill, mistakes did start to creep into his game towards the tail end of his Arsenal career and it was at this point where Arsene Wenger decided to promote within rather than sign a high-profile replacement.

It’s a shame Almunia never took his chance as first choice and despite putting in 8 years on the books his Arsenal career fizzled out to what seems like a swift exit out of the back door. A keeper that will always be remembered for not doing enough to save THAT shot in the champions league final there is no doubt he will look back himself with regret at what could have been.

Gavin Hoyte the other (sort of) high-profile player released by Arsenal seemed to have been around for an eternity. News of Gavin’s release is less of a surprise since last week he already said his goodbyes to Arsenal via Twitter.  His profile was probably raised more by the fact his brother played for the Arsenal. It was claimed at one point he was a better prospect than his brother when coming through the youth set up so a big career was probably foreseen. I believe at one point he was even made captain of the reserve team however throughout his young career injuries have gotten the better of him. When given the chance to shine out on loan he hadn’t really grasped the opportunities with both hands. Still only 21 he still has plenty chance to carve out a decent career for himself though it may seem more likely in the lower leagues.

Rhys Murphy career definitely has been defined by all his injuries, I believe if it wasn’t for that he may have been given more opportunities in carling cup squads and such like. The injuries however restricted his chances and development. He made a couple of loan moves to Brentford and Preston North End and at one point seemed close to signing for Glasgow Rangers. Nothing concrete materialized but again Rhys is another player that if he can overcome the injuries could carve out a decent career and fulfil the early promise he showed when part of our FA youth cup winning team from 2009.

Best wishes go to Almunia, Hoyte, Murphy and the other players released in their future choices.

We were also hit with the news about Jack Wilshere’s knee. Although the knee surgery received in the Swedish clinic was a success it is rumoured recovery will be 2-3 months. Strictly a rumour as word on the official site is Jack will be on course for a summer return. I suppose we will have to wait and see as Arsenal has a history of getting return dates slightly wrong. We really need Jack back next season and I have my fingers crossed this will be the last of the injuries that require an extended period of time out.

Now that the futures of the end of contract personnel has been decided next on the agenda will be which players that are still under contract will be moving on. How much money was freed up from the release of these players yesterday? Not a great deal I presume. Almunia would have been on a decent wage whilst the other players being on the fringes of the first team squad would never really warrant bumper contracts at that stage of their careers.

Every penny counts with Arsenal and I’m sure they have already planned where the money saved on the release of these players will go. Let’s hope it goes more towards players that will be part of the team next season rather than a bargain purchase that doesn’t quite work out like Park.

Enjoy your day people.

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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.

2 days since final can I turn tv back on now? – AFC

It certainly was a weekend to avoid the news; every channel showing images of Mr Terry front and centre soaking up all the attention. I admit I turned over after the final whistle so missed the glorious moment Terry was stripped down to kit (with shin pads and all) to claim glory for a game he didn’t take part in. sums up his character all round.

Only thing I regret missing out on was the live shots at all the spurs pubs after the final kick, the disappointment on all their faces are priceless moments.  I’m sure there must have been a few kids crying, adults too. Spurs champions league adventure was over before it had even started.

One thing that did raise a question to me was where did all these so-called fans love for Chelsea come from? I suppose I am old school when it comes to supporting your club, you support your local team. Times have changed though and fan bases reach out ever so further than a borough in a city. It is essential for club growth to reach out all over the world.

As a kid you tend to gravitate towards the more successful teams, that’s why many gentlemen from my generation were Liverpool fans. They were the team then and so had a high fan base.  When the premiership kicked in it more or less turned into the Manchester United show. From then every kid loved united.  Arsenals emergence under Wenger led to an increase in awareness which in turn led to many new gooners. 

Don’t get me wrong it’s not like nobody supported anyone unless they were successful I just found it interesting  that growing up I would see so many people proudly wearing the shirts of the teams they supported.  In London for every one Chelsea shirt you saw you would see twenty arsenal or spurs or Liverpool or man united shirts. 

Chelsea fans were few and far between. It was only after the introduction of Mr Abramovich and some success that the Chelsea fan base grew and grew, only then I started to see little kids donning Chelsea shirts.  Fair play to them they were winning things and so winning the hearts of the next generation. 

As I mentioned earlier football reaches a lot further than these shores and I am happy than I have come in contact with many Arsenal fans from across the world that share my love for the club.  Overseas support may have been looked down on in the past but media has evolved so much to the point you could follow your club from anywhere in the world. 

Gone are the days when I would go on holiday and the only way I could follow what was going on back home with the Arsenal was to receive a day old sun newspaper from the hotel.

I welcome all new Arsenal fans from any part of the world my only problem is Arsenal need to get back to where they were and start attracting the next generation of fans again.  We need to look to putting silverware back in the cabinet and enhancing our global support. We are a club enriched with so much history and not just the past ten years like Chelsea.   I’ve noticed a few Man city shirts on kids in the park lately.  I hope their fate is similar to that of the Blackburn fans that emerged in the mid 90’s.

Reputation as a successful club not only appeals to your average fans but to future football stars.  If a young talented footballer supports the club he is at it only helps consolidate his potential to stay at that club.  If you love your club you do not move on (mitigating circumstances permitting).

I remember seeing an article from an interview from Romelu Lukaku and he stated that Chelsea was the club he always wanted to play for and how he idolised them as a kid. Now that’s a straight up lie! Like he has ever known of Mark Stein, Frank Sinclair or Gordon Durie without clicking on Google.

Let’s see if he will last at his dream club Chelsea for the rest of his career, somehow I don’t think so..

I feel dirty about mentioning Chelsea so much in my blogs past couple days. I apologize to all gooners. 100% focus on Arsenal from now on

Enjoy your day.

Someone won champions league, Spurs cry

So Chelsea did it. I mean gunners fans across the land were divided on the perfect possible outcome last night. On one side of the scale there were those who wanted a Chelsea victory. This would in effect relegate spurs to playing Europa league football having finished 4th in the league, an amazing opportunity to laugh at our North London chokers.  On the other side of the scale there were those who wanted a Bayern victory. A chance for Chelsea to implode and the possibility of them putting all their eggs into one basket then dropping that basket. A defeat would have meant super disappointment and no champion’s league football next year.

I personally swayed towards a Bayern victory; as much as I dislike Tottenham they would only be qualifying for the champion’s league not winning it. I never support another English club to be successful in the champion’s league. It didn’t matter if it was Man Utd, Everton or Reading I do not wish them success. On this occasion it just happened to be Chelsea.

In the general scheme of things either outcome would be bittersweet to gunners fans however not enough to make us distraught. We will leave the crying to all the spurs fans.

I did always stand behind my assumption that karma would bite Chelsea in the arse. I mean any club that employs John Terry would suffer the consequences of his actions. Maybe karma will be throwing its all into his upcoming court case.

Weirdest thing is this has been one of the poorest Chelsea teams in years. At one point in the season things were looking so bad for them it seems dark days were ahead.

The same could be said about Arsenals start of the season yet we turned things around for a respectable finish taking into account our troubles.

Difference is we didn’t have silverware to show for it. The silverware will come, if Chelsea can win with that team why can’t we?

I suppose that question can be answered a lot easier once we get our house in order which means contracts need to be finalised and resolved as soon as possible.

Despite the talks with Skipper Van Persie this week nothing was concluded for us fans to sit back this summer and enjoy the Euros. The fact that nothing will be announced  until after the Euros does allow the doubt to creep in. A sense of déjà vu is upon us, we get this every year and so we know the warning signs when we see them.

The papers have full license to link Robin with every club on the planet which will only serve to antagonise the fans. Although robin hasn’t confirmed he’s staying he hasn’t confirmed he’s going either.

Some fans are quick to take to twitter and directly abuse our skipper. Maybe if they used the few brain cells they have functioning they could use them to consider that maybe Robin isn’t fully decided but the twitter abuse could be the factor that swings it for him to leave.

Twitter is an excellent platform to connect with players of your team and get their thoughts and statements but it also acts as a platform for unwarranted knee jerk reactions from fans to hide behind a computer and abuse.

I suppose if you don’t want the abuse you shouldn’t be on there but at the same time fans need to think about consequences of their tweets.

On a final note Fabianski wants to leave Arsenal, it’s fair to say his career has never taken off whilst at the club. Although promising in his first few appearances he has never been able to recover from some quite high-profile gaffs. Wenger would always stand behind him and try to convince us how amazing a keeper he was in training, we would try to believe him then Fabianski would play his next game and make another gaff making Wenger eat his words.

I think Fabianski moving on is the best thing for him for domestic and international reasons. It doesn’t help that your compatriot is keeping you out for club and country.

Good luck to him wherever he goes, it’s always hard to shake a dodgy keeper tag the best bet is to move on and rebuild your reputation elsewhere.

Enjoy your Sunday people, I know the spurs fans aren’t.

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.