About Ben Leeder

Arsenal Fan

Benfica easily dismissed.

Now that was a breathe of fresh air. A very refreshed Arsenal performance, and an equally refreshing result. As Arsène said “You can’t draw too many conclusions from a game like that but it was a positive day for us”. No better way to describe the morale boosting experience.

This is how we lined up for day one:

Arsenal: Martinez, Bellerin, Chambers, Monreal, Gibbs, Flamini, Campbell, Ramsey, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanogo

Subs: Szczesny, Debuchy, Koscielny, Arteta, Wilshere, Giroud, Sanchez, Cazorla, Coquelin, Akpom, Miquel

Yaya Sanogo scored four times (YES..FOUR TIMES) as we obliterated the Portuguese champions Benfica, 5-1. The 21-year-old centre forward who was (and is) yet to score a competitive goal. To be honest in previous encounters he looked more likely to do his ACL than actually score a goal. Until Saturday, he claimed a first-half hat-trick and then stole the biscuit by adding the forth goal in the second half.

Sanogo tried his best to upstage
to upstage the arrival Alexis Sanchez, who came on as a late substitute. Our new Chilean got the biggest cheer of the day when he can onto the pitch. Arsène said after the game Alexis is likely to get 45 minutes this afternoon.

Joel Campbell was back at Arsenal after three seasons out on loan, and he appeared very desperate to make an impact. He certainly put on a good show and the Costa Rican scored the second goal. A lovely half volley from a Hector Bellerin assist. Arsène said after the game: “Sanogo and Campbell need to play… but they need to play here. Sanogo has slowly got better”. Looks like we will really get to make a proper judgement on our long lost wonder kid.

Benfica’s Nicolas Gaitan got their only goal. You guessed it, from a set piece. Defensively there were some bright signs. Hard to really comment on the collective, but individually, some very promising stuff.

The game before was a 2-2 draw between Valencia and Monaco. Which leaves the standings like this:

Arsenal – 8 points
Monaco – 3 points
Valencia – 3 points
Benfica – 1 points

Arsène used the day to cast an eye over the new signings and some of the fringe players. Calum Chambers, recently signed from Southampton started alongside Nacho Monreal at Centre Half.

After Joel Campbell had seen an early penalty claim waved away, a fair decision. Nicolas Gaitan rattled the bar, after a glancing half volley took the paintwork off. Campbell then had scuffed a chance wide from Aaron Ramsey’s dinked pass. Campbell was getting into the areas, it was just a matter of time. Then it was Sanogo’s turn to come close, the young Frenchman put his chance the wrong side of the post, after a wonderful Hector Bellerin cross. We really seemed to ignite from that moment on.

Yaya broke the deadlock mid way through the first half with a clever back-heeled (Cruyff turn) finish from Ramsey’s right-wing cross. (Aaron Ramsey is very good at football, that is all). The second can through another Bellerin forward charge. He teed up Campbell to thump his left-footed volley home. Just before halftime there was enough time for Sanogo to complete his hat-trick. A very impressive dinked finish.

The lanky striker bagged his fourth at the beginning of the second half. He rolled the ball into an empty net after Artur Moraes, the Benfica keeper parried from Aaron Ramsey well placed strike.

With half an hour to go Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta all came on for Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini. Nicolas Gaitan headed in from a Rory Delap-esque long throw-in. But that was quickly forgotten as we got to see our new £30 million forward for Barcelona, Alexis Sanchez. He replaced Yaya Sanogo who’s afternoon ended on a sour note as he appeared to tweak a hamstring and limped straight down the tunnel. Meanwhile Sanchez, he looked very good. Our new number 17 almost created a goal for Francis Coquelin in injury time. Santi’s jinking run out foxed two defenders before he slid in Alexis who found Coquelin free in the box. But the young midfielders shot came back off the post. I have no clue how that stayed out.

Ignasi Miquel and Chuba Akpom joined Sanchez on the pitch as Joel Campbell and Nacho Monreal also came off. Gaitan nearly scored from an audacious backheeled effort from close range. Bebe then forced Martinez into a decent save from a dipping free-kick. While Maxi Perreira hit the post, cutting inside as the visitors attempted to lower the score-line.

We play Monaco today (Sunday) before we face Manchester City in the Community Shield next weekend. Very exciting quotes from Jorge Jesus: “The quality of Arsenal’s players exceeded our expectations”.

Enjoy today’s football.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben.

Irrelevant as always

As I’ve been falling into a football-less vortex that is the remained of the summer. I’ve wondered about our squad and what it would actually need to challenge for the title. You know, a proper challenge, one that goes to the last day and ends with us flooding the Islington streets [or insert drinking hole of choice] with joy.

The gist of the summer so far: Arsène said going into it, he would sign “two or three” depending on the departures we had. The first to officially go was Lukasz Fabianski, the re-born again keeper signed for Swansea after his contract was up. I have to say I wasn’t sad to see him go and as he came hurtling out of his goal against Hull, it was a stark reminder of what he was all about. If you close your eyes for a second and just listen, you can hear the Wembley tuff scream “WHAT ARE YOU DOING… ITS BEEN 9 YEARS!”.

Typically I start writing a blog and it quickly becomes irrelevant, so I have to scrabble to change it. I start babbling about rumours and what does Ivan Gazidis do? Makes me look foolish and continues working on his A-game.

‘We’ve signed David Ospina’ *Deletes chunk from blog*

I have to be honest I hadn’t seen Ospina play prior to The World Cup. Something instantly stood out though – his pace. Maybe pace is the wrong word; speed or anticipation might be more relevant. He was very quick off his line. There’s always the risk he could find himself stranded in no-mans-land. He’ll have to learn very quickly about timing his charges.

He pulled off a few ‘impossible’ saves, unsighted, which just seemed out of his reach. He also appeared to have very good control over his box and handled crosses very well. Reading a few articles and seeing some stats, Ospina played behind a defence that was very unpredictable last season. As we saw from Fabianski last year, our improved defence helped him build his confidence.

Next to leave – Manchester City bound Bacary Sagna. Our long-standing fullback has been replaced with his French international counter-part Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle. I think he’s a solid piece of business, with the fee believed to be around £10m. A few other players where mentioned but the Frenchman fits the bill for our current need. I do have to add this caveat though: I think we will quickly realise how important the modern full-back is and how rare quality full-backs are available…

As things stand, Thomas Vermaelen seems to be the only big name that could actually be sold by the club. A few rumours of Cazorla and Monreal to Atletico Madrid, and Podolski to the Bermuda Triangle. But with Madrid looking set to sign Antonne Griezmann I think that would right off their interest in Santi. Anyway, I want my cake and I want to eat every last bit this season (I want everyone to stay). Anyway, Vermaelen seems to have an air of inevitability about his departure from the club and Man United seems like it will be his eventual destination. My Arsenal concern of the week all stems from him and our defence. With the stink possibility of only having two (proper) centre halves at the club. To concern me a little more, Arsène said this at his press conference in New York: “I don’t think our German players will be ready for the first game of the season…” Reporter: “All 3″. Arsène: “All 3″. Erm… *looks blankly around the room* anyone got their boots?

The knock-on effects from Sagna’s departure will bring more issues for the squad than first anticipated. His versatility has come in more than handy to say the least. We managed to get away with not needing a fourth choice centre-back last season because Sagna was able to step in when required. What I’m trying to say is: No way, I so no way, it would be crazy, to sell Thomas Vermaelen before the season is underway (unless someone is brought in of course). We have the Community Shield and a Champions League qualifier to contend with. A scary thought for everyone *squeezes whiskey bottle* I think Miquel might just get another lifeline, until January anyway, just because of the circumstances.

So with all the outgoings covered, now the fun bit. The equivalent of football crack, the incomings. If anyone is a French cryptic mind-reader that would be great. Did Arsène mean two or three if Sagna and Fabianski stayed, or was it two or three if they went? I had thoughts and expectations before this all kicked off – I hoped for three. A keeper, a right-back and some sort of forward. Arsène threw a cat amongst the pigeons, by completely blowing our minds and signing Alexis Sanchez very early on. I could wax lyrical about the impact on the club he will have. I went on the stadium tour a few weeks ago and I took my brother-in-law (he’s nine) I bought him a shirt and he wanted Alexis, 17 on the back of it. Standing in the (very tedious) queue and pretty much everyone wanted Alexis. The guy printing said they sold roughly 150 Alexis shirts on the first day The Armoury opened. Never mind all that, he’s very, very good at football and his ability to run really fast and kick the ball in the net is outstanding.

Making two very good additions, very early on. Arsène has opened the gates to the chocolate factory and made me dream. But he has also left the window tittering on the balance of being good, with the strong hint of marvellous-ness.

In the last few days we’ve seen the rumours of Calum Chambers from Southampton escalate very quickly. (By the time you’ve read this we’ve probably signed him) The rumoured fee is being touted at £16m – I imagine that’s bonuses, Games played etc etc. So the initial outlay won’t be that much and don’t take your guff hat off just yet. It’s believed Carl Jenkinson and Serge Gnabry will move in the other direction as a loan for the rest of the season. It’s very promising to see Arsène still using the money wisely. A window wouldn’t be a window unless a promising young-gun was signed up.

So…once a goalie is signed, will that be our lot? More importantly, is that enough?

To be honest, I’ve since had hopes for more. MORE.. Like I said, football crack.

I suppose on the back of last season the obvious places our squad need(ed) improvement was defensive midfield and up front. I suppose I should drop the token gesture of Mikel Arteta and Olivier Giroud ability as they have both really impressive. We were a proper mess before Arteta arrived, he’s been a God send considering our situation. The flip side of that gesture is their limitations. So a shinning new Arteta type midfielder [Insert description of choice, you may have your fingers burnt] would be superb. I feel like Arsène sees that as a luxury signing because we have ‘options’ – Mikel and Flamini. I do believe Arsène will search for players. He always does. I just think he will search high and low for a bargain, therefore making us missing out. Before you say anything. I’ve got the t-shirt, I own the drum, a tattoo and all the cards for a new midfielder. I do feel like that’s the piece we need to be a success at the tip top level. Whether it will happen is a completely different story.

So that’s four positions covered by Arsène: Goalkeeper: Opsina. A right-back: Debuchy. Right-back cover, Centre-back cover, Utility: Chambers. A Forward: Sanchez. So for me the only glaring hole is still centre half. If Arsène can conjure up some kind of midfielder, come centre back option. I.e. Javi Martinez. I’d be laughing haversacks. Versatile players keep the squad to a minimum, which Arsène is always keen to do. He likes a calm, hassle free environment. Versatile players have a much wider skill-set. An ideal example is Daley Blind. Played several roles for the Netherlands at the World Cup and always looked comfortable. More the all round attributes, better the ability to play several positions to a high standard.

I’ve heard, and seen very promising things about Chambers, (I hope he’s bloody marvellous). But i think he will be Jenkinson’s replacement and centre half will be a long-term thing,

Our squad may look something like this.

Szczesny – Opsina

Debuchy – Chambers
Mertesacker – (Chambers?)
Koscielny – Vermaelen
Gibbs – Monreal

Ramsey – Wilshere
Arteta – Flamini

Walcott – Sanchez, Chamberlain
Ozil – Rosicky
Cazorla – Podolski

Giroud – Sanchez, Sanogo, Walcott

**Gnabry and Jenkinson on Loan**

** I left Sanchez out of the starting XI because I don’t what formation Arsène will start with and who will drop out. A simple exercise on numbers and options we have**

Ideally I’d like two more added to the squad, or if he’s clever, just one. If he can do that, I’d feel really comfortable to say we can challenge on all fronts. Something feels really special about this squad. I don’t know if it’s because in revitalised because if the cup win or the signing of Sanchez, but we are on to something here.

Let’s hope Arsène springs another surprise in the coming weeks.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben.

Dirty Sanchez

*Sits up after passing out*

*Rubs face*

Alright everybody? How’s it going?

Well…how the friar tuck did that happen?

If you like it or not, one big transfer can be dismissed as a slice of luck.
“Oi Gazidis!! You’re slowly putting the fun back into it!”

The other ‘reported’ deals previously for players never materialised, clubs would have said we went £30million, or say even £35m million for said player. Arsène would have previously turned down the opportunity, thus leading to our club (or Arsène), being labelled as ‘divery’ [or insert synonym of choice] in the transfer market.

It was no happy coincidence that Sanchez arrived on the same day we unveiled our new kit deal and one of the largest in Europe. I see it as a kick to the chops of World Football, well and truly enhancing the Arsenal name. We want to show everyone we mean business on and off the pitch by adding those players with that ‘extra quality’.

I think the club has grown enormously since the Özil experience (sounds like a rubbish ride at Orlando Studios, doesn’t it?), which really appeared to take the club out of its comfort zone. Not just from the spending money angle, but how the club is viewed world-wide. This quality of player is really starting to signal a new era for The Arsenal and subconsciously tells the players we already have ‘look where we want to go.’

*Continue the process until you feel really good about yourself and The Arsenal*

Santi Cazorla is a prime example and his comments about his position at the club – before Alexis was signed – drastically changed for the better. There is a rumour flying around that he and Mikel Arteta actually cheered when they heard the player was coming into the club.

Arsène Wenger on our new arrival: “Alexis will add power, creativity and much quality to our squad and we are all looking forward to him joining up with us in a few weeks. He has consistently produced top-quality performances at the highest level for a number of seasons now and we are all excited to see him integrate into the Arsenal squad. I’m sure all Arsenal supporters will join me in welcoming Alexis to our club”

I think the most pleasing part about the deal is how efficiently we actually got it done. When I was trawling through the internet like some sort of football pervert, looking at Arsène in his tight, short shorts, I thought (hoped) there would be no way he would have gone to Brazil without any major plans in place and I didn’t expect for one second it would be someone of Sanchez’s quality.

I know this might be a little premature, but I get the feeling the Financial Fair Play rules are actually having an effect. I can’t fathom a reason why Manchester City and Chelsea didn’t bid for Alexis?

Anyone? …Seriously? …Speak now or forever hold your peace…no? Well then, I’ll continue…

I’ve always believed the power has been (and will always be) in the wealthy owners hands. Let’s be honest for a second. They will always find a way of slipping one under the radar and what is for certain is that the money bag teams won’t be able to ‘SIGN ALL THE PLAYERS!’ if they don’t ‘need’ them.

We all knew we have plenty of coppers in the bank and that had been recently topped up by our new buddy’s from PUMA (Love the kits by the way, the away strip reminds me of the ’89 shirt and wouldn’t it be good to replicate that this season) it’s still very pleasant to see Arsenal slap their money on the table – without even blinking. I really hope that Ivan strutted into Barca’s office, dropped the money on the desk (that he just withdrew from a cash machine on the way from the airport because he doesn’t give a SHIT about the exchange rate) and started throwing gang signs at Zubizetta.

It’s long been said 2014/15 would be the time for us ‘to go’. With Arsenal in recent times there has always been an air of uncertainty and as fans we’ve been through times when Mark Schwarzer was actually a thing, an actual thing that could have happened and we would of been happy with it.

Compare that to right now – we’ve spent £80m(?) on TWO players and we’re a club now looking at the top end of the transfer market. Bravo Arsenal, bravo.

We spent all of last season talking about the lack of runners, pace, power and what does Arsène do? Solve it in one transfer. Sanchez fits the bill perfectly his combination of technique, incredible work rate and electric pace make him ideal for the rigours of the Premier League. He was also one of top (entertainment factor) performers at the World Cup. He also comes off the back of a his best (end product wise) season at Barcelona. I saw Graham Hunter recently compared him to Gervinho, in terms of his sporadicness, which I’d say his a fair shout for his earlier Barca career but last season, I’d completely disagree.

At times last season when our passing game became very predictable and add that to one of the slowest Arsenal sides I’ve ever seen, ponderous comes to mind. It was all down to the absences of our runners – Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil. The idea of Alexis and Walcott darting passed Giroud will completely revitalise the frontman. It will give Özil more options which will definitely bring more balance to our attack.

Put all that gibberish together, it appears we are moving towards that new era. What happens on the pitch will be down to the performances of the manager, staff and inevitably the players but things are looking very bright. In a very perverse way, even the naysayers will be happy,
their main excuse evaporated quicker than a puddle in the Sahara. One thing for sure though is that only time will tell us if all these plans will be a success, but hey, I’m going to love the ride.

*rides off into the sunset*

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben.

Can the real football philosophy please stand up

Hello! Me again…How’s it going? Lots of strange, when I say strange I mean frustrating, things have happened to Arsenal in recent weeks and Chris has covered them perfectly. I wouldn’t expect anything less. We’ve finally got nothing to really fight for, so we decide to turn up in typical Arsenal style.

I’ve finally got something to write about, so…It’s okay, you don’t need to say anything. But let’s not pretend you haven’t missed me either (Ed: I missed you Ben, I missed you. Chris)

We witnessed the recurring ‘evolution’ in footballing styles debate after the Champions League semi finals this week and the overreaction that comes with it. You can almost set your alarm clock to it. It’s that regular.

Football goes in cycles and unfortunately for Bayern theirs at the tip top level came to an end – In such emphatic style.

It was interesting what Carlo Ancelotti said after the heavyweight bout:

“Tiki-Taka isn’t dead, football doesn’t die”

– when a different style comes out on top the media decide to slaughter said manager and the style. I remember watching a World Cup finals when I was younger. David Beckham spent the majority of it on his arse, hypothetically speaking. It was claimed all wide-men needed pace, and without it, they are as useful as a chocolate teapot. Poppycock.

Gary Neville optimised the irrational debate Tuesday night on Twitter. To be quite honest I thought he’d had a few extra large sherbets. He came out with something along the lines of “we don’t need any of this tippy tappy stuff…Pace, power, that’s what we [Untied] are all about”.

To be honest, I think he’s just pining for Ronaldo. Get an early night next week Gary…

The downfall to these cycles comes down to a combination of things; A team stamping their mark/philosophy on a game better than the opposition; Also, if either team are in transition. At the highest level it’s all about fine margins. If a certain players quality, or an officiating decision positively or negatively effects the game, it gets the cogs moving and the magic begins.

We saw how the finest margin completely swings a game. Firstly poor defending led to the flood gates opening at the Alianz Arena. Then a ‘Strikers Challenge’ cost Chelsea late on in the second half. I wanted to say just, regarding Bayern and Madrid but Real tore Bayern a new one. Chelsea’s downfall was self inflicted in my opinion. Jose went far too defensive in the both legs and that backed them into a corner. Eventually costing them a route to the final. Mourinho gets a lot of praise for his tactical prowess, but he got that drastically wrong.

I say transition because Jupp Heynckes had Bayern playing absolutely monstrous football last term. The same football that beat Barcelona, the previous champions 7-0 on aggregate. *cough cough* end of a cycle.

Taking a step back and looking at it – it seems strange that Bayern hired a manager who played a style of football they completely destroyed a year before?

I’m not even going to dare to say it was a mistake hiring Pep Guardiola, because it’s PEP GUARDIOLA. The man is a marvel, an innovator. They went unbeaten on route to the title. He has them playing scintillating football blowing teams off the park. What is clear though, he has tried to change them too quickly, which has cost them at the top level.

I imagine when he manages to get all the pieces of his puzzle SHIT WILL GO DOWN. Lewandoski being the first piece. We’ll see a more clinical, complete, Bayern.

The Polish international strengths are his versatility and ability to score goals in a number of ways. You could argue he possess key attributes of Muller, Mandukic and Gotze – that special element Pep’s football needs too really make it purr. Lewandoski can run into channels, slip past defenders. Beat players one-on-one or hold up play in the attacking build-up. He can also score from distance and poach goals inside the box. Also very comfortable in cramped areas.

There’s no way to get away from the fact that Pep hasn’t achieved the same things Heynckes did. But even the most marvellous managers can take time to achieve their goals. That’s the risk you get when hiring a new manager. The task Isn’t as easy as it seems and a bedding in time needs to granted. We’ve seen closer to home with Manchester United, they [SAF] hired a manager who was similar to Sir Alex, rather than a manager who fits the style of football they believed in.

Only time will tell if Guardiola will achieve Über success with Bayern, and if United will turn things around. *whispers* they will…

Granted we are dealing with different variables but Arsenal, please take note and learn from the mistakes of others.

Focusing on Arsenal and carrying on the theme of transition. Looking at the transfer window ahead – Do we (A) fix a style and get players to enhance it, or (B) get players who you can & decide style around them.

It’s something I struggle to decide with. I can see the positives in both concepts. But in the same swing of my preverbal bat It’s something completely out of my control so why bother? BECAUSE I LOVE IT dear reader, so come be hyperthecial with me.

We have a summer of firefighting ahead. I.e. backup goalkeeper, a right-back and possibly a centre half assuming all of the rumours are true. That’s even before we begin the hunt for STRIKER2014 2.0.

I think what’s key this summer is for Arsène to sign the players he thinks will balance the squad, rather than just appeasing the fans making it rain with large sums of money.

He’s in a tricky situation, does he throw money at 2 magnificent players. Or does he fill the squad adequately?

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben.

Game 1000th part 2

Welcome back!

Today being Arsene’s 1000th game, we’ve decided to treat you with some more stories of joy that Arsene has brought to us over his reign. Some fellow bloggers have kindly shared their stories. Strap yourself in, and enjoy…

Michael – @Block_5_Gooner – Congratulations to Michael who has just joined the 89th Minute team

When Suburban Chris asked whether I’d like to write about “Your favourite Arsene Wenger match” I was like a rabbit in the headlights when I first heard. There’s been so many great victories over the last 18 years where do I start?

I think you tend to instantly think of success either cup or League titles victories, such as the 4 FA Cup trophies he’s won. Thinking about them they were/are great moments but none I could say were my favourite match. Likewise with the 3 League titles Wengers won but it’s hard to pick out an individual match but you remember Everton, White Hart lane (twice) & Old Trafford.

There have been pivotal games like the 4-2 win versus Liverpool during the ‘The Invincibles’ year. We almost lost that game after being 2-0 down and that game was off the back of going out both of the Champions league and to Man Utd in the FA Cup. Big game to turn around but not my favourite.

There have been big Champions league victories too like 5-1 at away at the San Siro versus Inter Milan, 1-0 away to Real Madrid, 2-1 at home to Barcelona. Great games, great memories.

However if I’m to choose a favourite it has to involve going atleast goal down and coming back. I hate it at the time but it’s the roller coaster of emotions during a 90 minutes you sometimes just can’t be beat it. That Liverpool game is certainly up there but there’s a game that beats it for me. Spurs 5-2. The first one.

Beating Spurs can be a real joy. Another favourite match, aside from the other 5-2, was the 2-0 the year before that. Still celebrating the Van Persie’s opener, Cesc nicks the ball from the re-start and beats most of the Spurs team to make it 2-0. I’d only just recovered celebrating the first when absolute pandemonium broke out!

Back to my favourite game.
Within 4 minutes we go down to a soft goal from Saha. Then on the 34th minute things go from bad to worst. Bale runs into the box and overruns the ball falls over Szczesny Mike Dean (typical!) awards the penalty! Who steps up? Adebayor to score. 2-0.
I never leave early, but that day I really really considered going and not returning after the break. I’d been pondering it for a while but just then Van Persie hit the post, Arteta returned and chipped the ball for Sagna to head in to make it 2-1.

Then 2 minutes to the end of the half Van Persie scores a ‘worldy’. He turns and makes space for himself back to goal before curling a sublime shot top corner around Friedel. Game on.

Quickly after the break on the 50th minute a goal from Rosicky.
Then some breathing space for all, Theo on 65 from lightening break.
Another moment I like is quick session goals and 3 minutes later Theo yet scores again beating the offside trap.

By then the games over and the banter really begins and all that’s left is a dismissal to Scott Parker to add insult to injury a couple minutes from time.
It’s a warm Sunday lunchtime victory and the rest of the day…and the week will be joyous wonderful.

My Wenger XI
Seaman
Cole Adams Campbell Dixon
Pires Vieira Petit Ljungberg
Bergkamp Henry
( Note: I only choose Ljungberg for balance in the team, otherwise I’d pick Overmars.

Subs: Lehman, Bould, Gilberto, Cesc, Overmars, Parlour, Wright

Also from 89th minute, Jeremy Lebor (@JeremyLebor)  has very kindly shared his favourite Arsene XI with us; Seaman,Lauren,Cole,Adams,Campbell, Vieira, Petit, Pires, Ljunberg,DB10,Henry

Jeremy wrote a marvellous article this week on Arsene and his Arsenal career, a must read – Arsene1000

Daniel Cowan – @thedanielcowan – You can find Daniel at NorthLondonIsRed.co.uk and The Goonersphere Podcast

Ray had a knack for having an impact on big games, mainly cup finals and it was that knack that probably gave me my favourite ever moment in football. I was watching the 2002 cup final with a Chelsea mate who laughed when Tim Lovejoy had his infamous “It’s only Ray Parlour” moment. I don’t know who cheered more when “Only Ray Parlour” smashed the ball into the net, Bradley Walsh or me. I don’t have a video of myself on youtube to compare but I know that after that final I never spoke to the Chelsea lad again.

Favourite Arsène XI: Seaman – Dixon Adams Campbell Cole – Parlour Vieira
Ramsey (say something) Pires -
God – Henry

Lehmann, Keown, Cesc, Freddie, Wright

Ben – @BenLeeder

Champions League football captures my sole, my mind, and makes me dream. Lots of my favourite games with Arsène at the helm, have been evening games under the Lights at Highbury and The Emirates. The glow, the atmosphere is something to behold. It seems to make our football even more scintillating and helps build a fantastic narrative.

Wednesday 26 April, 2006. We played Villerreal in the return leg of the Champions League semi final at the Estadio El Madrigal. A Kolo Toure goal at home, gave us a led we so desperately needed and longed for. Confidence was obviously high coming into the second leg and there seemed to be some real belief.

We started with a back four consisting of Eboue, Toure, Campbell, Flamini. We had Hleb, Fabregas, Silva, Ljungberg, and Reyes in midfield and Thierry Henry up front. Initially, the game didn’t pan out like I hoped. Flamini pulled his hamstring 9 minutes into the game. Clichy came on for the versatile Frenchman. It seemed maybe things were going to go from bad to worse. Franco and Riquleme were putting us under immense pressure. We definitely rod our luck for the entire game.

Villarreal continually tried to beat down the door, time appeared to be running out. The Spaniards were handed a lifeline, Clichy was judged to have fouled Jose Mari in the area.

Let the drama begin….

As Riquleme picked up the ball and walked towards the penalty spot he looked nervous. The TV camera panned from his face back to Lehmann’s very quickly. I was sitting very close to my dad, I asked him, ‘will he score?’. He couldn’t give me an answer, and looked as nervous as Riquleme. The only person who seemed confident was our imposing German goalkeeper. His body language was full, and his typical manic-esque boldness.

Riquelme buckled under the pressure. LEHMANN SAVE!

Raptures in the Leeder household. What turned out to be a largely forgettable evening, it eventually was our most momentous European night in history, thus far. For that reason, my favourite game.

Thank you Arsène for some marvellous nights of European football and equally marvellous football.

Favourite Arśene XI Seaman – Lauren Adams Campbell Cole – Vieira Fabregas – Overmars Bergkamp Pires – Henry

Thank you for reading,

Be happy,

The Suburban Gooners

Arsene reaches a landmark – 1000!

This Saturday will see Arsene Wenger take control of his 1000th Arsenal game. Throughout 18 years in charge we have seen momentous games and jaw dropping displays, but we have also had our hearts broken. In this blog we pay homage to Le Professor by asking fellow blogger to take us through their favorite Arsenal game as well as their all time Wenger XI.

Alex – @The_Beck_

Nothing captures your mind quite like a win against United in their prime, a United with Ronaldo, an in-form Rooney & Berbatov and a later subbed in Tevez.

On November 8th, 2008, we played United after losing and drawing quite a few games early on in the season, setting doubts deep within fans that our style of play was no longer worth watching, that it was a luxury with no end product and no Plan B.

We started the game with a French back four, Sagna, Gallas, Silvestre and Clichy, with Nasri. Cesc and Denilson in the middle. Bendtner started upfront and Walcott and Diaby were on the wings. The ferocious Almunia occupying the place between the sticks.

Our bench consisted of Ramsey, Wilshere, Vela, Djourou, Song, all of them were around 20 or under, all of them felt like products of our policy, as were most of those who were playing.

We dominated them from start until finish, tired them out and made them look average on the day, it was a flash of Wengerball at its finest, a flash of what its been like over the last 9 years, no illustrious trophy but memories that remind us that whilst we’ve been the underdog, we’ve still made memories to remind the world that we’re The Arsenal. We’ve taken our game to the biggest of the bunch even when we didn’t have the quality/squad to be consistent enough.

We earned so much respect that day from all over the world, playing our way, reminding the world once again that underneath the politics of the board room, the spending policies and sales, Wengerball will always find its way to shine eventually and in the future, I am confident it will shine again.

Favourite Arsene XI – Lehmann – Cole – Adams – Campbell – Sagna – Vieira – Cesc – Ozil – Henry – Bergkamp – Pires – 4-1-3-2

Dave – @goonerdave66 You can find Dave over at – 1nildown2oneup.net

When asked to pick highlights from the Wenger era it would be easy to select Cup Finals or matched at which titles were clinched but oddly these are not the games to came to the fore of my mind. The matches that are so often special for the fans are so often the last home games of a season for me and in the Wenger era so many of these have been memorable but I will select 3 in succession.

In 2004 there was understandable tension on the 15th May as Leicester came to Highbury. The title had been secured weeks earlier but history , real history, was just 90 minutes away. Arsenal were one last performance away from an unbeaten domestic season in the league. An Arsenal old boy Paul Dickow had the nerve to opening the scoring for the Foxes and we all had to endure the half time interval still behind. Appropriatley perhaps it was Henry from the spot and then Captain Marvel, Paddy,who scored. The party began and a day to say I was there when Wenger and his team made history.

In 2005 with a Cup Final waiting the visitors in the penultimate match and last home fixture were Everton. A crazy game in which we scored 7 to no response and bid a fond farewell to Edu, allowing him a penalty to sign off. However the day for me was all about one man and how we felt about him. Amid rumours at 36 Dennis Bergkamp might be ready to hang up his magic boots, he made 3 scored one and the whole of Highbury rocked to 35000 Gunners singing ‘One more year!’ again and again and again. The Iceman did put pen to paper on one last year and I am sure all of us there that May day helped his decision.

In 2006 the last every game at Highbury saw the visit of Wigan and they were never going to spoil our party and nor did they want to. To their eternal credit in fact they stayed after the match and joined in. To be there 30 years after my first visit with my 10 years old son was special. To win with an Henry hatrick, to see Thierry kiss the hallowed turf, to hear Spurs had fluffed their lines at Upton Park and to be in the North Bank upper and feel it actually vibrate, all will live with me forever. Even the post match players parade and Roger Daltry’s one off rendition of an anthem, he had written just for the occasion were fabulous but of course there was the sadness mixed with the celebratory mood of Champions League qualification. My son probably did not quite grasp the magnitude of the occasion or why when the party was dying I shed a tear of two. If it is possible to have a private moment in amongst 38000 I had mine and then my thoughts turned to a trip to Paris……

I am awaiting for the truly memorable moments at the Emirates under Wenger but up until now the 2-1 victory over Barca and the Thierry Henry come back goal against Leeds sit glistening a top a small pile of gems.

Favourite Arsene XI – Seaman, Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn, Gilberto, Vieira, Pires, Overmars, Bergkamp, Henry

Steve – @oaf12

Oh there are so many memories!! Press conferences, arms up to the crowd, etc. but my best memory has to be a recent one that nobody knew was coming.

The troll face that Wenger has when he obviously knew we were going to land Mesut Ozil. it’s up there with Sol Campbell turning up when everyone was expecting Richard Wright.

In terms of games, my favourite moment was when Henry returned to score that goal against Leeds. The Emirates erupted. It was just about the game, the cup or the the result, it was about the man. That moment will live with me forever and I feel privileged to have been there, so many people (mainly other supporters) doubted that bringing Thierry back was a good move, but Arsene knows!

Favourite Arsene XI – Seaman – Sagna Adams Campbell Cole – Pires Vieira Fabregas Ozil – Bergkamp Henry

Chris – @SuburbanGooner

When choosing my favourite game of all time, I’ve plumped for a match in which I was there live in the flesh, able to soak up the atmosphere and live the noises, smell the smells and savour the victory.

Of course, it has to be in that glorious old stadium with which we used to reside – Highbury – and it has to be a victory of which at the time was our hammer blow towards a fellow Premier League juggernaught.

I didn’t go to many games at Highbury, simply because I wasn’t a season ticket holder and my only source of getting tickets back in those days was through my Godfather, who had two. When he took me to The Arsenal I’d spend all week thinking about it, so when he told me one afternoon that he couldn’t make the upcoming game against none other than United, I was beside myself with glee.

It was the game in which Thierry, with the deftest of touches, flicked up the ball with his back to goal and swivelled to lift the ball over his touch-tight marker and above Barthez’s head. A majestic finish from a majestic player and do you know what made it all the more amazing? I was there, in a direct line of site in the East Upper watching it float into the corner. I knew it was in before it hit the net and that memory of seeing him wheel away and us getting the result will stay with me forever.

Whatever anyone thinks of Arsene now, however you feel about his current situation and the greyness that surrounds the contractual situation, we should all not forget that he has been instrumental in so many happy and successful memories bought to the club. I thank him for it.

Favourite Arsene XI – Seaman – Dixon Adams Campbell Cole – Ljungberg Vieria Fabregas Pires – Henry Bergkamp

Gareth – @Gareth_Stringer You can also find Gareth at 89th Minute.

Pick your favourite game, they said. That’ll be easy, I said.

Maybe not. The 4-4 at Anfield, the win over Bacelona at The Emirates, any number of games from The Invincibles campaign, especially Liverpool at home, winning the title at Old Trafford, winning the title at White Hart Lane….it’s not easy at all, it’s almost impossible.

Wenger’s Arsenal has given us so much, surely no one would disagree with that? Highs, lows, elation and heartbreak, the full scope of emotions and never a dull moment. It’s certainly never been boring and, as we approach his 1000th landmark in charge, it’s only right that we are challenging for the title and favourites for the FA Cup.

Thanks Arsène.

Favourite Arsene XI – Seaman, Sagna, Campbell, Koscielny, Cole, Vieira, Fabregas, Overmars, Pires, Bergkamp, Henry.

Mean Lean – @Arsenalvision You can find Mean over at Arsenalvision.co.uk

So you are asking me to choose my favourite Arsène, Arsenal match? How is that even fair? It’s like asking me to choose which one of my kids I prefer the most. I love them all. Well apart from that 8-2 kid who I am looking forward to the day when he moves out.

Anyway while essentially it didn’t mean much in the end there was something about the AC Milan 0 Arsenal 2 match that sticks with me. I remember half way through the game feeling a wave of pride rush across my body. No English side had beaten Milan in Italy during that time. It was a time when they had real quality. They had players such as Pirlo, Gattuso, Maldini, Nesta, Inzaghi and Kaka before he was Kak etc. They were one of the best teams yet we went there without a care in the world and made Milan look very average.

We played triangles around them from start to finish and they could not get near us. Hleb, Adebayor, Cesc and Flamini were immense that day. I am convinced that it was the reason why Flamini left us. Milan must have been very impressed by what they saw.

I have to say as much as I am enjoying this season, I miss the days when we were less pragmatic, when we would go anywhere and play our game. Yes it stung us badly sometimes but sometimes like at Milan we produced a performance that sticks in the memory and fills you with pride. So that is my match.

Best Wenger Team: Seaman, Sagna, Adams, Koscielny, Cole, Fabregas, Vieira, Pires, Overmars, Bergkamp, Henry

Sorry Patrick mate, you got your work cut out defensively. I couldn’t leave another flair player out. But good luck to the opposition dealing with those going forward though.

Cheers for reading,

be happy,

Suburban Gooners

Fullbacks are key to winning football matches

Morning you wonderful people, Chris here, but taking a back seat today to give Ben the floor. I know you’ll be extra nice to him, for no other reason than he’s an extra nice bloke, which he is.

Since I started watching Arsenal we’ve always had very good fullbacks. I’ve seen a number of formations, setups – from 5-3-2 to the current 4-2-3-1. As time passes football develops and roles progress, which ends up putting more emphasis on tactics. We’ve seen football clubs change and create a new football philosophy – Everton being the prime example. Which brings fresh ideas and leads to upping the performance levels of the given league they are operating in.

We’ve seen a shift in responsibilities in the fullback position from being a more solid, dependable (i.e. Lee Dixon) type, to a player with pace and being a lot more positive with and without the ball (i.e. Kieran Gibbs). Also, we’ve seen the modern day fullback needing the intelligence and ability to read the game, especially the offensive side.

The way the game is developing fullbacks are being used as auxiliary forwards. We’ve seen a lot of the major forces in European football get rid of the so-called ‘traditional winger’. You could argue the winger has lost it’s place in the modern game. Since the current adoption of the inside-forward, and the attacking playmakers, there has been a tendency of a lot of teams narrowing their forward line.

The way Arsenal and the majority of Europe’s top teams play has been transformed – two strikers are rarely used anymore. The second is dropped in between the lines to help link up attacking play and help flood the midfield for possession reasons. Midfield shape has also changed. This has shifted the focus of play onto the fullbacks and a lot of teams play with three in midfield. Barcelona and Ajax are good examples of this, their full-backs are so far up the pitch that the defensive midfielder – Sergio Busquets and Daley Blind respectively – become a third centre back. This leaves the fullbacks as the only players on the pitch with any real space.

If you add that to the wingers playing on opposite wings, i.e. Robben and Bale (when he was at Spurs) and things can become very compact. To ensure width isn’t lost, full-backs are licensed to get forward and support the attack, therefore creating space for others.

As we’ve seen recently, the main benefit of adventurous fullbacks is to allow teams to have two extra players in attack. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and now Bayern Munich utilised this well as have Spain throughout their recent domination.

It’s seen in the way he likes his team to build the play, he overloads and isolates the opposition fullbacks with the ‘winger’ in possession of the ball (or vice versa), and the fullback goes flying round the outside. At times it’s simply impossible to defend against.

Certain players are being instructed with various responsibilities within their standard duties. Some of these are fresh in my mind because I’ve been lucky enough to see them live – Pep Guardiola used Victor Valdez as ball playing option at the back. Javi Martinez at Bayern has a very disciplined role but he needs to be able to play through the lines as a third centre back or in midfield. The level needed for each players is slowly creeping up.

We saw from Thomas Vermaelen in the second leg against Bayern who defensively did very, very well. On the other hand, offensively, he offered little to nothing. The modern fullback has many duties to perform. It is no longer enough to leave an opposition winger battered and bruised on the floor.

A modern fullback must offer a huge attacking threat. He must have the ability to make a pinpoint pass, or deliver a perfect cross. He must possess pace, he must have discipline and most importantly, superb positional sense. This is also needs to be complimented by endless stamina to continually get up and down the pitch.

Steve McManaman famously said the first bit of Spanish he actually learnt when he moved to Real Madrid was ‘cover me’ as Salgado, his fullback, flew past him.

Arsene Wenger has always seen the importance of the fullback. He inherited two of the best in the business – Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. He eventually replaced them with Ashley Cole – who started out as a centre forward in the youth side, and Lauren, a ball-playing midfielder he signed from Spain. From the outside looking in it seems he opted to put more offensive players into those positions, which demonstrates how important the role is.

It will be interesting to see how a team will successfully counter this within culling their attacking threat.

One thing for sure is that the attacking fullback will be a constant but the role is ever evolving. Top sides field their most creative players in wide attacking positions and there is perhaps a need for full-backs to be strong(er) defensively, but only time will tell.

Arsène will have a very tough decision to make in the summer (If Sagna leaves). He has Jenkinson who is a decent player but not near Sagna’s standard. If he can have a good run of games he could be good player. Will he settle for good? He has Bellerin who offensively is very good and, in my opinion, the epitome of the modern fullback. Although question marks will remain over his defensive stability until he gets a run of games in the first team to prove otherwise. If Arsène does go into the market for a new addition, then spending a lot money on one will be completely justified in my opinion. It is a major part of the modern game and needs to be respected.

As things stand, Bacary Sagna seems to be closing the curtain on his Arsenal career. You know how these things work, as soon as I press the publish button, things will change. If he does leave then it’s going to leave a massive hole in our lineup. He’s been marvellous for us and I wouldn’t begrudge him a move after all the wonderful service he has given us. Whatever he decides, all the best Bac. Up The Arsenal!!

Cheers for reading,

be happy,

Ben

Bayern – What a game of football

On Wednesday night last week Ben and Chris frequented the Emirates to watch the Bayern Munich game. Ben said he wanted to write a blog on the evening, but didn’t bank on Chris and his ‘scheduling’, so we’ve had to wait until now to give it to you. Anyway, less chitter-chatter and more Ben. Take it away boyo.

The Bayern fans had great humour and wit. Signing ‘footballs coming home’ after the second goal, did make me chuckle. But a huge thanks and congratulations has to go out to Red Action for the marvellous card display. Proves hard work and endeavour can work wonders – well done.

I’d been excited for this game since the draw but I had my ‘dark thoughts’ about an absolute N5 murdering, who wouldn’t? I wondered how the night might pan out and I’d thought about every possible scenario in my head – How we’d track runners? The dribbling ability of Gotze and Thiago? Lahm in midfield? Martinez at centre back? Funnily enough, I forgot to incorporate ‘football magic’ into my thoughts. A red card and two penalties later, the game was well and truly dead and buried. Not what I hope for at all – I didn’t expect a win but I hoped for a valiant draw.

I have to be honest, I felt frustrated how the loss occurred rather than the loss itself. From an Arsenal perspective, the first 20 minutes went very well and we created a few very dangerous chances and exposed Bayern’s high-line.

Unfortunately for us that quickly changed and as soon as Szczesny saw red, the tie was over. It must be remembered, yes we lost, but it was deservedly so. Bayern are the best possession footballing side on the planet and demonstrated their superiority. That said, I enjoyed to see Guardiola’s take on possession football – He’s bloody good.

After our initial pressure, Bayern regained possession. We almost lined up with a 4-4-1-1. Özil kept drifting to the left and right to try and expose the full backs. At times, Bayern lined up in a 3-5-2 with Robben tucking in next to Mandukic and Martinez becoming a third centre back. This is where Mesut found a lot of joy creating all the early chances. We showed a lot of pace and physicality which is something we’ve missed in recent weeks and the Bayern midfield didn’t know how to cope.

The first 20 minute saw Mesut Özil at his best. Our catalyst, running with the ball, fast flowing possession and variety, simply keep Bayern guessing. The penalty miss threw him completely, and he seemed to become very nervous. He tried to take charge, but Munich completely blocked out our attacking zones of play. Mesut (AND OTHERS) were getting isolated when in possession and Bayern strangled out the tie like a python. We couldn’t even muster an attack, that’s how good Bayern were. You try and put out a chip pan fire with a bucket of water.

Also a side note – Özil was switched to the left because Santi wasn’t tracking Lahm efficiently enough and Pep switched the focus of play. Brought on Rafinha (Who was Dani Alves advanced) to put pressure on Mesut and Monreal. Pep was vindicated in his decision.

As expected, Bayern simply controlled the game and possession. I enjoyed to see Peps take on possession football. They didn’t press as hard to get the ball back as Heynckes Bayern did, but, as Arsene says about Özil, we saw Bayern demonstrate ‘shear quality of passes that just wear the opposition down’, and it did.

Bayern penned us back working the ball in triangles on either wing trying to slide either ‘winger’ to get in and behind our defence. The quality and precision on each pass was magnificent. Bayern really came into their own in the second half as we began to tire. Gotze who was on the left (He started on the right – Part of the switch of focus) tucked in, which encouraged Alaba to get round him. Thiago and Kroos worked the space for Robben and Gotze to try and break us down and It seems Pep sees Gotze as his Iniesta card. It would have been interesting to see how much damage Ribery would have done to us – scary stuff.

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With Bayern camped out in our half, they lined up with an almost 2-1-3-4. We simply couldn’t cope with the number of players Bayern had in advanced positions. Kroos and Thiago had acres of space and time. Late on, Guardiola brought on Pizarro to try and nick another goal. Muller and Pizarro were taking turns dropping between the ‘4’ and the ‘3’leaving Koscienly and Mertesacker guessing which eventually led to a goal. The German forward darted into the huge void of space that was meant to be our defence and killed the game. Another tactically brilliant move.

Lahm and Kroos

Your’re going to have to listen to me wax lyrical about Lahm and Kroos. They were magnificent and to think Bayern haven’t offered the latter a new deal (yet) seems like utter madness. Two technically perfect players. I was utterly in awe of their vision and their ‘football common sense’ – let alone they’re quality on the ball. It’s strange to see a player(s) provide that much penetration but be as equally as efficient. They are both steps ahead of everyone and the epitome of what we all think a German footballer should be.

I think it was very fitting that Lahm set up Kroos for his phenomenal goal. It was so good, It was heading towards Highbury before eventually bending in and behind Fabianski. I could honestly watch it on a loop.

Martinez – a lesson should be learnt Arsene

I found myself staring at the Javi Martinez the entire time. He dictated the tempo of play and made it a Bayern paced affair. His positioning was out of this world and perfectly placed himself between the attack and midfield. He is a piece of the puzzle who has taken Bayern to that uber level.

I was reading Four Four Two on the train on the way to the game. They had an in-depth and very fascinating article on all things Bayern Munich, and a little snippet that caught my eye which was they’re decision to sign Javi Martinez.

The Bayern board (who consist of ex German stars) sat and debated the transfer for what seemed like an eternity. They all deemed Martinez ‘too expensive and overpriced’. But they asked themselves, ‘Would Martinez add that little bit of quality needed?’ and they all agreed he would, so they decided to pushed the transfer through.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the Martinez transfer was fully vindicated for Bayern. The Spaniard played a starring role in their run to Champions League glory – Especially against Barcelona. Top level football is all about small margins and if you can try and help swing those in your favour, football can be made a lot easier.

I really hope Arsene backs his judgment this summer and gets the players he feels can move this Arsenal from a team in transition (Transition maybe a little harsh, slightly further forward that transition I’d say) to the uber force we can be.

I’m very excited for the second leg and hope the football gods sprinkle their ‘Football magic’ on Bayern, instead of our beloved Arsenal. Keep the dream alive…Stranger things have happened…

Up the Arsenal!

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben

Things change so quickly

What a difference a week makes. From having a mental block against the so called big teams, mentioned as some sort of inferiority complex, we’ve beaten a in-form Liverpool side, where tactics, formations, get chucked completely out of the window, then supposedly gone back to square one if you believe the British tabloids. Nah, me either, actually.

What’s interesting about this Arsenal side is that we only seem to evolve when we become confronted with adversity and the so called problem is pushed to one side. Considering Bayern last year was out trigger point, I wonder how the mainstay of the team will see this milestone, or millstone across their neck, if you will. Will they grasp this opportunity with two hands in the face of defeat to Munich?

I love a good football debate. It’s interesting to watch social media and watch people, babble, ramble on about an issue (which I might add, I enjoy) of a so called conventional problem. It then circulates, and funnily enough, usually isn’t the actual problem at all. I think we saw that case and point at the weekend. Giroud has been a talking point in recent weeks. In steps, the young,unproven Yaya Sanogo. In the grand scheme of things, was his performance that much different to what Giroud actually offers? Obviously technical differences are there for all to see, but the role, effort, work rate was very similar. It’s kind of a mute point really, but the issue has been and had always been the midfield. If the service is correct and the midfield functions, we will have success. ‘Feed the goat and he will score’. Or Ox, or sheep, or small gerbil. That last one probably didn’t work.

Midfield issue…

The midfield axis of Flamini and Arteta against Liverpool made for interesting viewing, and food thought. Flamini was deployed as more of the last line of defence, which left Arteta the freedom and ability to press high and very aggressively. I can’t quite remember if that’s what they’ve done in previous games together. Even so, It definitely helped Arteta feel a lot more comfortable and that was evident in his performance. One of his better performances this season as he’s been under par in my opinion. I don’t think Mikel has been as good as he used to be. Whether it’s due to age, injuries or his midfield partners, the Spaniard seems to be less influential than when he first arrived with his perfectly manicured barnet.

More importantly for the team, that cog in the midfield helped it work much better, well, better than in recent weeks, anyway.

With our current environment, well, midfield options, would you continue with it, just for stability reasons, against Sunderland? The first choice in my midfield would be Aaron Ramsey. His development has been simply remarkable. But, as we all know, he isn’t available. You’ve got Jack, he’s had the weight of expectation on his shoulders and arguably struggled since our shift in formation, then before that we had Alex Song and Fabregas, who have now departed. Considering we now have a winning formula, I’d say, stick with it. Jack played against Munich and unfortunately for him and most of the team he never really got the chance to prove himself after the sending off, so it’s difficult to work out the best course of action this weekend. I hope Jack can keep his head straight, and just play the game, if he is selected above Arteta. He needs to stamp his personality on the game. Just not let the opportunity stamp on him.

If we go back to the United game, Arsene wasn’t comfortable with us controlling the midfield. Our passing was off. Hence the hesitant attacking play.

Thinking long term, Arsene needs to find a partnership that’s solid and tactically astute, but doesn’t sacrifice any penetration in attack. Whether that’s Jack, Aaron or Alex in some sort of combination or a new addition (Which I would like) something needs to be done in the summer.

Drastic Özil improvement.. No doubt he’s our number 10

Özil was unplayable at the weekend. I was delighted to see his form slowly but surely return, but again, he struggled in midweek. Again, like Jack, he never really had the chance to shine against the German champions and he suffered on Wednesday by being crowded out every time he picked the ball up I their half. Let’s focus on the positives. The way he reads the game, the opponent, is just sublime. He waits for exactly the correct moment before attempting the daring, yet correct option. His understanding for what the team needs, is hard to explain, he can just feel it. You watch other playmakers in the league just attempt the tricky through ball when the time isn’t right. A lot of the time, the ball is just given away and the opposition regains possession. Thank god for Mesut Özil.

What to do with Lukas Podolski?

I think we can all agree something is going down with Podolski, and as I write this, it seems the writing is on the wall for the German goal scoring machine. We saw glimpses against Liverpool (and as we mentioned on the podcast) of what he should be doing on a regular basis – One-touch passing. Lukas is one of the best we have and up their in the league as one of the best in that skill set. His goal against Liverpool was very reminiscent to his goal against Montpellier – In terms of his sudden burst of pace. The way he goes through the gears, it’s pure brute strength. I hope he gets more opportunities, but more importantly, he grasps the chances he gets.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben

Wibbly, Wobbly Arsenal – Don’t let your knee jerk just yet

Unfortunately, the draw against United wasn’t enough to send us to the top of table but it still keeps us well in the mix up. As a fan, that’s all I wanted from this team this season, glimpses of brilliance. We are on the cusp of something magical.

I have to say I was very disappointed with the result – In truth it wasn’t up to scratch but a draw against Man Utd isn’t a bad thing at all. The issue is how poor we were and how weak United were Wednesday night and it just feels like a massive opportunity missed.

With other teams around us picking up points, could our race for the title suddenly turn into a race for fourth? I don’t really want to start thinking like that, my darker thoughts are always peering over my shoulder, but I won’t jump on the knee-jerk bus just yet (Ed: it’s a rickety old thing that makes you think you’re on a washing machine anyway). The league title is all about how it’s perceived – Opinions are fluid, it’s ok to change your mind.

Our next few fixtures will really map out our season so I wouldn’t worry just yet. I’ll keep my ticket for the ‘Negative Helter Skelter of Doom’ (Ed: Nowhere near as fun as it sounds I can assure you. Ben’s shown me pictures) just in case things actually bomb.

After being blitzed by Liverpool – who started like a chip pan fire with Arsenal only equipped with a bucket of water to put it out – Arsene’s main objective and concern was to not lose the game. I’m sure Dortmund still haunts him and rightly so.

It was clear from Wednesday night that our confidence was shaken. Apart from the tentative passing, the lack of runners was very telling. I can’t really remember anyone getting ahead of Giroud – even when Chamberlain came on, he sat very deep.

Thinking long term and considering our centre forward is still being used as a pivot – Would you have both Cazorla and Özil in your starting XI? Would you sacrifice one? Or maybe not?

Arsene really resisted the chance to go for the jugular. Begrudgingly so, I have to say, very sensibly. I felt like we knew we wouldn’t lose but did we have the courage to go and win the thing?

There came a point were we just went into Denilson mode. Arsenal/Arsene decided to accept the point, shut up shop, and go for a sing and a dance in the Armoury. Very, very frustrating to watch but sometimes you need to have a walk around the horse before you jump back on it, you don’t want to fall off the other side.

Jack Wilshere…

Is Jack ‘Roy of the Rovers’ Wilshere starting to become an issue in midfield? I wonder how Arsene sees this?

*Disclaimer* He is hugely talented. I never (ever) doubt his commitment to the cause. The End.

Jack wants to impact the game and he’s always looking forward. He’s young, and he needs to focus on his progression, his development. I think that’s what his goal should be rather than the teams success.

The two sides of developing a player – Jack is currently playing the transitional role in the team. He doesn’t fully understand his role or the impact he should be having on the game (yet). Saying that though, he does seem to perform better with responsibility on his shoulders – A predicament.

With and without the ball – The choices he is currently making are impacting the team and the players around him – The balance of the whole side is currently off.

He’s being targeted by the opposition. One, just because he is a level above everyone else and two, because he is an easy target. He encourages attention by not releasing the ball quickly enough. Which can be seen as very careless or utterly sublime. What’s scary is, he has the ability to draw in defenders and release the ball at the last second creating space for others. The issue with it currently is
he’s simply opted away from using the easier option when passing the ball which slows down our flow and, obviously, kills our momentum. Because of the lack of runners the space isn’t being created for him to operate correctly.

Jack isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a finished article. The way he often gets spoken about in the media etc, is as if he is. I personally don’t see him (currently) as a great option deeper in midfield especially in tougher fixtures although, he still has a lot of learning to do.

I think his decision making is careless at times. A prime example against United, Arteta lost the ball a few minutes in to the match, which granted RVP a guilt edge chance (Chesney shouldn’t have played it to him in the first place to be honest). Jack was in United’s half closer to Giroud, than Arteta. Just irresponsible in the early stages of such a big game. Yes, Arteta dilly dallied but if he had an option then we wouldn’t be talking about this.

If you compare him to our current injured Welshman, Aaron Ramsey who’s development has been simply remarkable. From scapegoat to hero within (what seems like) a matter of moments. His goals are an easy go to point but it’s intelligence all over the pitch stands out more for me.
His early season form was compared to Frank Lampard (of old) and rightly so. His success has been down to intelligence on the pitch and the timing of his runs – usually ending in a goal or a very good chance.

What’s key, and very reactionary of me to say, is he doesn’t let us get over run and get caught on the break.

To finish, we have two very special midfielders in our ranks, I can’t wait to see how they both develop and the headache Arsène is going to get trying to fit both in the starting XI.

Giroud…

I have to start by saying this – I think he’s confidence has gone. The first sign of it is when a players first touch goes. As well as that his link up play just seems to be a thing of the past. Giroud’s finishing has always left much to be desired but several opportunities he had against United didn’t even make the goal, let alone hit the target. I don’t think it’s too harsh to say it’s not good enough. He’s also a player who works best when others are making runs off him. We are really, really missing that from Theo and Ramsey.

Our overall cautiousness last night meant that players were very unsure how far to push on, so no little wonder that we were ineffective in attack.

Currently everything seems to be conspiring against him and us. Hope the tide will turn and pronto.

Up The Arsenal!!

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben