Rocastle remembered; ticketing shambles

I don’t know who angered the gods yesterday, but Britain seems to have woken up to an angry Mother Nature, hell-bent on ruining haircuts and spraying plastic bags across roads today. It’s got more bluster than Jose himself. Scary indeed.

It was probably another Chelski fan sacrificing an innocent animals life, then eating the remains raw, to ensure they can continue to scrape over the line in the league having had a virtually injury-free season with their core squad of players.

As for the fraternity of Arsenal fans, we are in rememberance of an Arsenal legend, David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle. He was quite some player, I must say, one who should have been at Arsenal a little while longer and a player who I can legitimately say was my first ‘favourite’ player in the Arsenal team when I was growing up. 

I wish I still had my ’92 for 92, the story of Arsenal’s season’ DVD, in which Rocky was featured belting in that wonder strike against an out-gunned Schmeichel, flapping vainly towards the directly of the ball as it sailed over his head, off the bar and in off his back. 

Cancer is an evil thing and Rocky was a man taken too early in life. He is gone but will always be remembered by me.

I’ve said it before but will reiterate; I don’t have favourite players any more. A combination of the fabric of the game (i.e. It’s a business and players are commodities), plus the fact that squad rotation and injury means you just don’t see as much of players these days (or at least it feels it with Arsenal sometimes), just doesn’t allow me to have that choice. I suspect Thierry will have been my last ‘favourite’ player ever. I don’t know whether I’m sad or happy about that.

Anyway, our modern day players will soon all be returning and if the news I read from Twitter turns out to be true – because it’s a well documented fact that 98.7% of everything on Twitter is true – then Welbeck will be back for Saturday’s game against Liverpool. Which is just as well because he’s had some good performances of late. There are rumours of a Ramsey injury sustained on international duty, but I’ve been too lazy to look that up this morning, so you’ll have t do your own research there.

The important thing is that we have at least 11 players that are available for Saturday and I think we’ll be alright in that regard. As for the others, well for Gibbs and Walcott tonight is an opportunity for game time and Theo has another chance to show his value once again as he hunts for a shiny new deal to call his own. The only way he’s going to do that is by adding to his reportoire, so it will be interesting to see how much he will be the Theo that likes to drift on to the shoulders of the last man, or whether he’ll try for a more all-rounded game in an attempt to prove to all and sundry that he’s not just a rapid finisher. 

Can a leopard change its spots at 26 and with over a decade in the Arsenal team under his belt? Not sure. But at least he’ll get more minutes on the pitch which, for a change as an international friendly, will be no real problem from an Arsenal perspective.

One final bit of a rant from me today, before I clock off, such is to bemoan the ridiculous situation that the FA have put the club in with the ticket allocation for the semi final. Yesterday, the official Reading Twitter account was delighted to announce that Reading season ticket holders could now purchase an additional two tickets for the semi final. So for an important cup semi game in which there are Arsenal season ticket holders who go to every game at home all season and have been ruled out of attending through not getting a ticket in the ballot, there are Reading fans who can invite whoever they choose to watch. Perhaps a Manchester United supporting neighbour? Or a Tottenham supporting cousin? They are deemed more worthy than an actual Arsenal fan wanting to go and see an Arsenal game at Wembley. It is appalling and the FA should be ashamed of themselves for once again not providing a solution that shows real fans benefitting and able to watch their own team play. Wigan could not sell their allocation, so had to give the tickets back. Why are Reading allowed to do things differently. This is going to be a touts wet dream and it is a disgrace. 

I’ll also point out that this isn’t sour grapes because I don’t have a ticket- I have been to enough away games that I was able to secure my ticket without going in to the ballot.

I don’t really know what else is happening in the world of football, so I’ll be back this time tomorrow with something no doubt. Gawd I hate these international breaks.

fanciful Walcott hypothesising

With one more pointless set of internationals to play, we’re still knee-deep in the thick of it, footballistically speaking. 

We had the worry of Welbeck’s injury that still looms on the horizon but, with Arsène probably not going to speak to the press until Thursday at the earliest, there’s still plenty of time for us to lose men to rogue challenges or loose tackles. 

I haven’t really been paying much attention to the games themselves, so I’ve no idea whether Alexis or Gabriel played or even starred at The Emirates, nor can I tell whether Giroud’s performance and goal was a great one. But given that there are no major stories about players breaking down, I am hopeful that we will have a relatively full compliment to choose from, come Saturday lunchtime.

Most of the chatter I’ve been seeing online has seemingly revolved around Theo Walcott’s current contractual wranglings, which appear to be mirrored to those of Raheem Sterling, also currently deadlocked it appears. But much like the last time we had to deal with Theo and his advisers demands, it appears the scousers are having trouble convincing the 20 year old that a £100k+ per week deal is acceptable, the poor diddums. 

As we will be all too painfully aware, the situation at a club can influence these types of negotiations quite a lot and with Gerrard offski, Suarez departed and Torres before him, Sterling and his ‘people’ have probably seen how strong their hand is and are poker-facing it all the way to the last.

So naturally the speculation from an Arsenal perspective is whether or not we should be giving a ‘heads up’ to Camp Sterling to say we’re interested, as well as Liverpool to talk all things exchange between their contract rebel and ours, perhaps with a bit of cash going the scousers way in addition. 

Now I’m no expert on transfer negotiations, or deals, but this appears to me to be some fanciful stuff from Arsenal fans talking about the possibilities of it happening. Firstly, it would appear to be too good to be true, because Sterling is younger, with more potential and Liverpool will be desperate to avoid any kind of action that strengthens a rival. Whether or not it does actually do that to such an extreme extent also appears to be very dubious to me. Not least because those advocating a move seem to have forgotten the impact that Walcott has made when fit over the last two seasons. Sure, he’s been a peripheral player since the turn of the year (and most of this season), but remember how long – and how many games – it took Ramsey to get to before his form exploded last season? Players need game time to be at their best and right now Theo just isn’t being given a chance.

But that doesn’t mean we should all mentally ship him out and look to the North West for a solution. It also doesn’t mean it will happen. In fact, when was the last time you saw a player exchange between two high-profile players take place? It’s early in the morning for me writing this so I can’t exactly reel off any recent ones (unless there aren’t any?), but the last one I remember was Gallas/Cole. Before that I remember Anelka/Suker. But I’m running out of any other ideas after that. 

We should probably also take note that Sterling appears to want megabucks. We’ve shown that we’re not averse to going down that route, but with a club as fiscally conscious as we are, would we really break the bank for a player that has shown brilliant patches but like Theo, also had his inconsistencies? 

And with players wanting megabucks, there’s usually an oil-whoring club sniffing around too, so we should probably recognise that any move would probably be scuppered by one of the oligarch-funded teams.

So often in football transfer negotiations are complex and fraught with difficulties, which is why player swap deals are so rare, so that leaves me to question: would a deal between those two players ever actually be possible? Highly unlikely. Both players’ representatives find it challenging to negotiate with their existing clubs, so how would a deal be done that included them both?

We should probably also not discount the fact that Liverpool will have been pretty cheesed off after the Suarez incident and, if we’re honest, Arsenal were probably equally cheesed off when Liverpool made it public.

So all of this hypothesising is probably worthless. But I guess it keeps us all busy until the football starts. 

Which is why I’ve just spent most of the blog doing the same. Oh well, back to normality soon, so hang in there kids.

Catch you tomorrow.

Walcott PR machine underway, but club just as culpable if he doesn’t sign

So here we are, at the precipice of the week and about to jump lovingly into the weekend, the only real negative being that there is no Arsenal to embrace us warmly like a parent seeing their child come home from university for good. Still, let’s not let that get us down, eh? After all, if you’re a pen pusher like myself, the likelihood is that you’ve got two days off work with which to sleep in and enjoying doing the square root of naff all. Maybe. 

There is some football, but it’s not really football is it? Because cheering on players who were born in the same country as you, but play for domestic teams you want to fail miserably during most weeks, just ain’t natural in my book. But England play tonight and the middle of next week and I suppose I’ll have to endure the usual drivel if I want my footballing fix.

The only other stuff to talk about is Theo Walcott’s contract situation. Firstly he’s denied that any arguments have taking place on the training ground with Arsène – of which a public denial is usually tantamount to an admission that it did happen – then in today’s papers he’s been quoted as saying he hasn’t even been spoken to about a new contract by the club yet. 

I can see that as true, actually, because even Arsène has said that the process is long-winded and drawn out, so whilst a contract may not be freshly penned and on the table, I’m sure they’ve already had preliminary discussions. After all, given how long it took Theo and his representatives to draw out the deal a couple of years ago, it’s hardly surprising that the club are taking their time. They are probably expecting a war of attrition with Camp Walcott, so as Arsène already said in a press conference, negotiations with “the embassy” have to start first before they talk contract.

This time around it’s the club holding all the cards and as much as we’d all like to believe that they are without fault when it comes to player recruitment and retention – operating on a morally appropriate footing where it’s always the greedy player that is the cause of much anguish to the fans – I think we all know that the club is probably as culpable half of the time as well.

I must say though, Team Walcott are ramping up the PR activity well enough this time, with John Cross putting a piece together today that says Walcott just wants game time to sign rather than guarantees that he will play through the middle. I am not going to believe that in two years Walcott will have changed his mind and suddenly is happy with his lot, if only he was played more rather than through the middle, so I’m inclined to believe that this latest round of public gesturing from his camp is just there to curry favour with the fanbase. 

I wonder if Arsenal slapped a new contract in front of him for the same money, if he would sign it, regardless of whether he was playing regularly or not? I suppose that’s hypothesising on a scenario which would have a totally different outcome though. Because if Walcott was playing every week, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’d be stalling on a newly penned deal, so that he could maximise his return. It’s all ‘what if’ and ‘maybe’, but the reality we find ourselves in as fans, is that we’re safe in the knowledge that we have a squad who is not so reliant on Theo like we once were, that the club have been building a very good squad of players that are showing that when fit there is genuine competition and that there is every chance they could make this season very successful indeed.

For the record, I don’t think we should offload Theo. I think he adds something different to our approach and that despite his limitations, he probably should warrant more game time than he’s getting at the moment, but I suspect he won’t be an Arsenal player in a year’s time. If the club can get a premium price for an England international, I think they’d take it, so I think we are unfortunately drawing to a close in Walcott’s Arsenal chapter. 

On that somewhat sad note – and it is a sad note because he’s been good for the club in the main I think – I think I’ll call it a day for today’s blog thoughts. Have a good Friday and hopefully you haven’t been sent mad by boredom by this time tomorrow.

Byesie-bye.

Mother Nature hates FIFA

Meanwhile, over in Blighty…even Mother Nature is sad at the fact it’s an international break. She’s been up since about 5am crying and has soaked me through on my two minute walk to the tube station.

You know how sugar is really bad for you and how you shouldn’t eat anything other than natural sugars? Or too much salt is really bad for your body? Or how harmful CFC gases – or something like that – are killing the ozone layer? Well all of that pales into insignificance in comparison to the international break, which is killing Mother Nature’s soul.

Well done FIFA, if summer is sh*t because of you, I’m going to write a letter of complaint and mail it straight to Geneva. You see if I don’t. I don’t even care about paying the extra cash for international postage. Just as long as I get through to Sepp that he’s ruining everything. Even the weather.

All of this hum-drum because there isn’t any Arsenal related stuff to talk about in great detail. We could try and talk about the international Arsenal players that have played, but given that it’s just Mesut Özil and (technically still an Arsenal player) Lukas Podolski, there isn’t really much to go on. Poldi came on and scored and Özil spent thirty minutes as captain, but overseas I believe the captains armband is about as useful as a chocolate teapot, the players that get it probably just see it as an annoying bit of elastic that restricts the blood flow to their arm. Who knows though, perhaps it will give him more confidence as he heads back to Arsenal after the weekend?

Kieren Gibbs has given a somewhat interesting interview to the official site, in which he talks about the ‘hidden battles’ that the players have in training, when they do matches against each other. I found it interesting because I actually only found the time to sit down and watch the Invincible’s programme a couple of days ago (the scheduling of the original showing didn’t work out as well as Sky had hoped – after the Monaco game, so I thought I’d just Sky+ it so I could watch without exploding into a ball of anger, despair and sadness meshed together), and I think it was Ray Parlour who said something similar about that group of players.

Parlour said that everybody (except Vieira) worked exceptionally hard in training and although they all got on, you could tell that there was the drive to win, even when it was just versus matches in training. Now we have a similar scenario on the training ground with so many players coming back to full fitness. Players are coming up against those who would take their own place in the Matchday XI, so they are fighting that little harder to impress the manager. This, in turn, creates more desire, more hunger and psychologically more will to be better in every match. It’s what we as fans have longed for. It’s all dry well having a squad, but unless the manager gives the players – all of them – belief that they will play and can win their place back, they will try their darnest to do so. 

Rotation, rotation, rotation people. It’s what is a necessity in the modern game. I just hope that when Arsène has a full compliment to choose from next season, he rotates right from the start, to keep people happy, fresh and competing hard to retain or win back a place in the starting XI on matchdays.

Anyway, not really a lot more to talk about, so let us depart for the day, reconvening tomorrow for Le Boss’ press conf….err…..more silence with which to miss Arsenal all the more for.

Cheerie-bye!

Ramsey likes Coq, Mesut likes DJ Luck and MC Neat

Aaron Ramsey has a confession to make: he loves a bit of Coq behind him. 

Speaking to the official site, I think this was the second or third time that he has specifically referenced Francis Coquelin for singled out praise, talking about how much ground he covers and how many tackles he wins. It’s no surprise that Le Coq has won over the players as much as the fans: he’s been tenacious in the tackle ever since he got back from Charlton on loan. I’ve no idea what they did to him there. Probably just sent him out into deepest, darkest South London with a stab vest and a smile, but there you go. 

It is amazing Arsène seems to have stumbled upon the exact player we needed to add more balance to our midfield. Let’s not pretend that this was all part of an Arsène Wenger’s master plan here though; he literally ran out of midfield options and started firing off telegrams left, right and centre to clubs to see if we had any loaned out midfielders that he could pull back in to the team.

But it does go to show you how important it is to have that enforcer sitting at the base of the midfield. Now I have much respect for Arsène Wenger and there’s no doubt that he’s infinitely more qualified to lead the team that you and I support, but whilst 90% of the time we all suggest changes in personnel/type of players that don’t work out, 10% of the time we cry out for a certain type of player and it’s the general consensus that is proved right. 

I think that’s happened in the Coquelin instance. We’ve all cried out for a tough tackling enforced and now that we’ve got one we’re more solid defensively and players like Ramsey have admitted that it gives them more confidence when they’re venturing forward. Let’s not pretend that it is that type of player that has always been on Arsène’s mind, because if that were true we’d have gone for a shinier diamond than Flamini two seasons ago.

But hey, we have the positive formula now, we’re winning games and as far as I’m concerned that’s all that matters. Whether by fortune or design, it is Arsène Wenger’s formula he has found and it’s concocting a fabulous brew at the moment.

Speaking of the partaking of fabulous brews, who’s been a naughty boy by being pictured in a German nightclub living it up just after declaring that he had a sniff or two?

BAD MESUT! YOU’VE BEEN A VERY NAUGHTY BOY!!!

Hey, I’ve no doubt that he would have had some sort of illness, because he’s a man in form and he looks to be enjoying himself at the moment. But even so, it was just a little bit silly to be snapped in a nightclub just after being declared unfit to travel up to Newcastle. I know this is a story that is classic ‘nothing else to talk about’ tabloid trash, which is why I’m taking such a light-hearted approach, but I bet Arsène gets wind of this information and roles his eyes on a regular basis with his players when they do silly things like that. Actually, Arsène’s probably just pleased it wasn’t Jack again, because there’s only so many times he can put someone in detention before calling the parents.

I know they are only young fellas and Lord knows I’d probably succumb to a bit of nightclubbing and a boogie if I had time and money on my hands, but I’d like to think I’d be wary of the desire of others to make stories like this out of nothing, so giving it an extra 24 hours before going out would have been more prudent.

Having said that, if it was a ‘one night only old skool garage classics’ featuring DJ Luck and MC Neat, that would probably explain the desire of the German. Maybe I should research the acts on at the club before I judge. 

Anyway, there seems to be little else on at the moment bar an analysis of Arsenal’s best tackles this season, which appears far too rife for euphemism for my liking and subsequently too easy a challenge for me to even start. So I shall once more descend into the depths of the London Underground for a day of proverbial pen pushing and see you tomorrow.

Unwelcome interruptions and welcome opponents

Well folks, here we are, we’ve wandered knowingly into an international break and there’s no Arsenal until Easter. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. It’s bloody hard going at times like this. Especially when it feels like it’s been so long since one of these inconveniences has come around. 

From August to December there seemed to be one of these a month, which felt like every ten days, making for an unwelcome frequency of boredom. Plus usually, the added kick in the knickers of losing one, two or a handful of your first team squad. We’d also had to contend with Alexis coming back from a NASA mission to Endor to play their select XI, so fatigue was always the worry, so all in all it made for an irritating part of the season.

Thankfully at least Alexis And Gabriel don’t  have to travel too far, what with Chile playing Brazil on their home turf in North London, but the others will be posted out here, there and everywhere, so we just have to clasp our hands together and look up to the sky muttering incantations. I think they call it ‘praying’.

In this country we have to deal with seeing players like Daniel Sturridge fall down with a ‘knock’ that will most likely miraculously see him fit for our game Saturday after next, but the news that Lallana has pulled out of the England squad could mean it’s a bit more serious for him, because unlike Sturridge Lallana needs to grasp every opportunity possible to play for his national side. There is plenty more competition for him than Sturridge, so I won’t be surprised at all to see Sturridge return and Lallana out when we play them next week. 

The other blow for the Scousers was the charging of Martin Skyrtel which, if confirmed as expected that Liverpool have accepted the charge, would be a big blow to their team and massive positive for us. He’s scored at Anfield for the last two years running against us and is undoubtedly their best defender. So losing him, as well as Gerrard and possibly Lallana, will cause Rodgers a bit of a selection headache I suspect. And not the kind of selection headache that Arsène has had with fitting his players in, either.

When you look at our form in March, actually since Christmas is you funk about it, this international break has come at the worst possible time. We are in such a rich vein of form and these breaks inevitably cause a disruption to the ryhthm that we could do without. If I’m looking on the positive side, at least our opponents over Easter will also face disruption. When you’re up against another team from the top of the division, they also have plenty of internationals heading out to their national teams, as opposed to when you’re playing teams towards the bottom of the league. Those teams will still have one or two internationals, but take Burnley for example, who will have a host of English players not in the squad. They get a week of training and probably get some time together to work as a group at how their going to overcome their next opponents. It gives them an advantage and at this stage of the season, when there are tired legs and minds, the last thing you want to see is a group of players who have had a week off and have the full intention of catching you cold.

So in a way it’s a good time to be playing another team fighting at the top. 

That’s it from me. Have a good’un and stay safe in these barron times.

The psychology of football and grinding those wins

It’s funny how important the psychology of a football game can change so quickly, almost minute-by-minute, which then affects the dynamics of every single football match. I guess that’s why it’s a sport that demands so much attention from so many people across the globe.

Take yesterday’s game for us against Newcastle, for example, in which we literally saw the clichéd ‘game of two halves’. In the first we had absolutely dominated everything Newcastle. Possession of the ball was ours. Territory in the opposition’s half was almost exclusively Arsenal’s. We found time and space to pick out our players and there was more than one occasion in which we got in behind the Newcastle back four, even before Giroud’s somewhat fortunate opening goal. The big Frenchman said that he anticipated Danny’s flick, which is true, but the fact it scrambled in off his knee didn’t exactly reek of extreme composure. Hey, there’s no way I’m going to do it down any more though, because here is a fine footballer in the purplest of purple patches, which we are profiting on so much right now.

After that first goal and for the rest of that first half we walked all over Newcastle and although I could only listen via the radio, when I watched the full match highlights again afterwards, it was easy to see how dominant we were. The second goal only helped to emphasise the gulf in class and the way in which Giroud held off his man to nod the ball in from a set piece was classic old-skool centre forward stuff. He’s so strong, a real focal point for our team and if he hadn’t have picked up that broken leg, I’m convinced he’d be on 25 goals already this season. He’s up to 17 now and is sure to hit 20 with the way he’s playing, so let’s hope that he stays fit between now and the end of May.

But psychology, oh psychology, how you seem to permeate the minds of Arsenal players more than any other team. Because the second that Newcastle scored, you knew we were in for a bumpy second half. I’d like to say that it was the fact the goal was scored so early that caused us the mental shift we seemed to have, but we conceded against QPR and Crystal Palace in the post 80 minute mark and it had the same effect, so it doesn’t seem to matter when that opponent goal is scored, we seem to become immediately inhibited as a result.

Perhaps I’m doing the team an injustice though, as inevitably we would tire in the second half after a tough trip to the south of France and all the travelling. Arsenal will probably have played about 12 games more than Newcastle this season and when you get to this time of the year it’s always going to show when you have players that are more fatigued than others. When you add to the fact that Newcastle left the pitch to a chorus of boo’s at halftime, there was always going to be a reaction, which is how the game transpired. Sissoko’s finish was decent enough and perhaps there should be questions asked as to why he was given the freedom of the penalty box, because his volleyed shot could have been put under a bit more pressure. It’s interesting because from almost that same position in the first half, Welbeck had drilled a ball wide in a similar build up, so it just shows you how important those fine margins are in football.

So with the deficit halved, the home fans finally finding their voices, we began to rock and it was strange how our confident passing suddenly seemed to go awry. We were the ones that suddenly wanted to give Newcastle time and space. Corners, balls into the box and saves from Ospina seemed to be the order of the day and we just couldn’t find any rhythm. Ball retention became almost negligible and to my mind there was only going to be one result come the end of the game and it wouldn’t be positive for us.

But do you know what, We’re getting good at grinding out these away day wins, aren’t we? Digging in, winning tackles, and with combative players like Coquelin – who took another smash in the face yesterday- we’re looking a lot more like we can hold on to leads. Le Coq wasn’t at his best yesterday, but the back four overall looked good even with the rotation of Chambers and Gabriel in to the team.

I said yesterday that a win would be massive given that United and Liverpool play each other today. So it has transpired, as the Spuds and Southampton both won too, so it means we can watch today’s lunchtime kick off with the comfort of knowing that someone will be dropping points. Strangely, I want it to be Liverpool, because if they lose and we can beat Liverpool at Easter, it will put serious daylight between us and the other top four positions. I know we should dare to dream above us, but to be honest with you, if we could just secure top four as quickly as possible I’d be happy. Let’s get daylight between us and the other teams fighting for it and then hopefully look to wins against Reading and then a possible cup final too. If we get that, then I’d be a happy bunny. But to do that, I think we need to be beating Liverpool in a couple of weeks time – our next match after the international break.

For now, let’s just enjoy the fact we’re comfortably third, the sun is shining in Blighty and our form is magnificent at the moment.