Sorry Thierry. You’re wrong.

On Sunday it appears that, post the 0-0 stalemate between the forces of good and evil, Thierry Henry took the time to make suggestions that:

A) Arsenal could never win the league with Olivier Giroud

B) Arsenal would need to bring at least another goalkeeper, central defender, central defensive midfielder, before they would be able to realistically compete with Chelski or Moneychester City.

Having not seen the post match ‘analysis’, I am perhaps not 100% appropriate to fully comment, but as this is my blog and you’re somewhat of a captive audience I thought I’d give you some musings anyway.

First and foremost, to Thierry, who has been my hero and still remains one to this day. That status will oat likely not change and although he may say things I disagree with, I cannot help but smile when I hear that chocolatey smooth voice, so please don’t think that any Sky Sports conditioning will put me off the great man.

Having said that, it was surely clear to everybody that he’s been told to crank up his controversy gauge, by perpetuating the standard stock phrases when it comes to Arsenal. Common phrasings that include “they need more leaders”, “they need to be stronger and not be bullied in the middle of the park” and my personal favourite “they need a whole new spine in the team”. I love that phrase because it is symptomatic of the English media and the need for root and branch change every time a team like ours has any kind of set back – no matter how small.

Oh, hello and Smith, how are you? You’re backs still aching? Hmm. And the herbal teas I suggested didn’t work? Ok, let’s put you down on the waiting list for a new back, for that’s the only real option I think we can offer now. Chiropractor? No, no, no, it’s a spinal transplant for you I’m afraid.

I simply can’t abide comments when they are clearly made to drum up some interest down a clearly trodden path and were it not from Thierry, I probably wouldn’t have given the comments a second thought, because I am acutely aware that I am adding fuel to the fire by talking about it – giving Sky exactly want they want.

His points are, as you’ll probably have guessed by now, incorrect by my reckoning. Olivier Giroud, for example, has an excellent scoring record this season and we have suffered the most in the three months out in which he had broken his leg. I’m not going to suggest that his scoring record this season will have continued throughout if he’d have stayed fit, but I think we’d be in a stronger position if he’d have been available for three quarters of the season, as opposed to two thirds of it. 

It’s not all about scoring goals Thierry, you know that, right? That being the case, surely you and everyone else can see what Giroud brings to the team in addition to his goals, no? He’s an excellent link up man and can provide a perfect attacking pivot point to bring others – like Alexis – in to play. His impact during the FA Cup semi final was very obvious in the second half and he has been providing that focal point for two years now.

Can we win the league with him leading the line? Absolutely. Can we win it with him alone like we tried to do last season? Certainly not. We tried it and our lack of squad depth made for painful viewing as we hit March 2014. I hope that was what Thierry was getting at; that we need another like-for-like for when Giroud isn’t available.

Squad depth. That’s what we need in order to win a league. Have we had that for the whole of the season? Nope. Do we have it now? You betcha. Gabriel, Chambers, Bellerin, Coquelin. All players who were not really in contention or in any of our thoughts at the beginning of the season. Chambers, the only player who was in the first team squad in August, was supposed to be our right back cover! But all of those players have kicked on a gear or two and each one has ensured that the Arsenal team that finishes the season is a darn sight stronger than the one that started it.

Do we need a bit more fine-tuning? Of course. But let’s not forget that without the above mentioned players I the side and playing as well as they have done, we suffered an autumnal injury crisis that during one week we had no fewer than 15 first team players injured.

So no, I can’t be having the comments that we need a complete overhaul, because as a fan I feel we’re closer to the best team in the league than we’ve ever been before.

Sorry Thierry, you’re wrong fella.

Coquelin’s importance and ticket supply/demand vs PR

It’s Thursday, the countdown to the top of the table clash between us and Chelski is now rolling in to full-on ‘countdown’, the players are starting to trickle out little tit-bits of information and Arsène will no doubt give us an injury update later on today before addressing the press tomorrow (unless his pressed is pulled forward to today). 

Francis Coquelin is on the official site talking up the challenge of Fabregas and Hazard. For me, this represents one of the most intriguing duels, because both Chelski players have impressive offensive stats (if you take into account the whole season you can excuse Cesc’s supposed dip in form into 2015 to date) and they come up against a guy who has as equally impressive stats since he established himself in the first team as our number one ball-winning defensive midfielder. 

The focus on Le Coq will be to shield the back four, but his pace and discipline will be called into question more than anything else this weekend, because I suspect Chelski will try the old ‘rope-a-dope’ style formation to try to catch us with too many bodies pushing forward and on the counter. As shoddy as United were at The Emirates, I expect Chelski to employ the same tactics. So the role of Le Coq will be to ensure he doesn’t go all ‘Alex Song’ on us and try his hand at a number ten-esque playmaker style of play when we will have plenty of those on the pitch already. 

I’m pleased that he’s readily available to talk to the official site now. He seems to be becoming the modern day Johan Djourou – a PR teams wet dream – but he’s showing that he’s got the minerals to back up the talk with the walk. Or tackle. It is funny though. We all rolled our eyes whenever another player took to the official site to talk up the team, the mental strength, the belief, four years ago, but these days you kind of believe it. We seem to be able to dig out results more frequently, which adds to ones own sense of happiness and wellbeing, the net effect of which being that we are quite happy to see players talk up the team on the official site. It’s amazing what winning a few – nay, a lot – of football games can do. Us football fans really are quite docile when our teams are winning you know.

When matters turn to off-field issues however, sometimes nothing can prevent exasperation, with the latest hot topic is once again the price of match day tickets. West Ham have played the ultimo PR card this week by announcing their reduction in tickets for the first season of their new life in the Olympic Stadium. It has – rightly so – been lauded by fan groups, the Premier League and various other bodies and individuals with an interest in the game, as a great move. 

It is a good move and with all of the increasing TV money tumbling in to each team almost every season, it does feel like the right thing to do that match day goers can experience the live game at a reduced price to the norm, but I don’t think anybody is truly believing that this is the crack in the damn that will see all other Premier League clubs follow suit, are they? 

This is very much an isolate instance. West Ham are in a position where they have a stadium that they simply have to fill. I pick up copies of The Metro and Evening Standard and over the last six months I think I’ve seen a full page ad taken out by the Hammers offering people the chance to watch “The last season at the Boleyn Ground” next season. That’s West Ham’s 32,000-odd seater stadium in which season tickets haven’t been sold. Supply is simply outstripping demand.

West Ham know this, so their plan is clearly to create the same amount of cash in the new stadium, but bringing the price down by half means they need to sell double the amount of tickets. It’s fairly simply economics and shows a unique position the Hammers are in.

What they’ve cleverly done however, is to spin this as much as possible as a club that has listened to the plight of fans everywhere and has reacted, by reducing ticket prices as a way of showing that they are listening. I’ve seen Karen Brady interviewed in print and on TV no less than six times in the last week. She’s no mug; she has realised the awesome PR opportunity and is milking it for all its worth. You can’t really blame her, or West Ham, because if free PR is there to be taken you have to grab it with both hands. But let’s not pretend that this charm offensive is anything other than a fortunate coincidence of the fact demand outstripping supply here.

For Arsenal the reverse is clearly true. We have a waiting list that, in theory, will see my wife (The Management) get a season ticket in about 20 years time. Supply is well and truly dwarfed by demand. Would West Ham have taken this step of reducing tickets if that was the case for them? Would they have said “doubling Matchday ticket revenue is one thing, but think of all the great PR we’ll get if we half the price of tickets instead”? Doubtful. Great PR isn’t worth an extra million quid per Matchday to football clubs and so I don’t expect any of the big ones to reduce ticket prices any time soon. As much as we’d like to see it. In fact, why would any team reduce prices? The teams towards the bottom end of the league are already in a different financial league to those at the top, so by reducing their tickets if the big teams don’t, would only increase the fiscal gap further.

So I think we’re stuck with the situation we’re in for quite some time. 

Anyway, there’s enough negativity online without me adding to the energy like that pink ooze in Ghostbusters II, so I’ll end on a humorous note that we can all chuckle about: Michael Owen still believes Raheem Sterling is better than Mesut Özil this season. Oh Michael, you are funny.

Competition stifles the national game in Europe

I tried to watch the Champions League last night, but soon got bored after the two favoured teams to go through pretty much made light work of their opponents, with Porto discovering that beating a Bayern team in the first leg only makes them angry. They should have taken a leaf from our book and had their bellies tickled so they can have a go in the Allianz last night. 

Diego Simeone can’t work out – with all the money we have in our national game – why our teams can’t perform in the latter stages of the competitions. There’s probably not one single factor that contributes towards it, if we’re all honest, no silver bullet or anything else. Arsène has spoken of the fact that there’s only three domestic cups teams can win and so it’s not easy to be one of the three in the whole country, but the odds become even harder when you think about Europe, with greater teams playing in a competition. 

Some people have put it down to mentality, to English teams not being strong enough to cope with multiple competitions, or even to the fact that teams on the continent play a different brand to us over here. I think that has something to do with it. We play at a higher intensity, more physicality and referees who are happy to have the game as robust as it is. But I think more than anything else it’s the competition that the English teams face that makes it harder for them to progress.

If Arsenal play Monaco on a Wednesday night, you can be damn sure that Monaco have had an easy couple of fixtures sitting either side of them, because their league isn’t as competitive. Or, they’d have played one of the big teams before/after a tie, but not two with a Champions League game wedged in between them. You just don’t get that in the Premier League. You have competition all of the time and that’s the reason we have the most marketable and profitable league in the world. 

By the way, as an aside, I don’t want you thinking we lost our two legged tie against Monaco solely because of the fixtures we had before and after it. There were a multitude of problems with that first leg that have already been analysed so I won’t scratch at a wound that appears to be scabbing and healing over.

Spain, Germany and France are so elitist when it comes to football, that the league is nowhere near as competitive, which allows for teams to – if not fully rotate – certainly mentality wind down before and/or after a Champions League Matchday. So I don’t think there’s anything we can really do. It’s all a bit ‘ying’ and ‘yang’ you see: you want the best league, you might not have the best teams then, because competition will dictate that the elitism of the other leagues will see the top two – possibly three – clubs of the other major leagues having their pick of the best players, as well as the bigger TV rights, ensuring the other clubs remain also-fans in a division where the top two are already decided.

But what about Arsenal news, eh? Well we’re still on slim pickings I’m afraid. There’s talk of a Per Mertesacker minor sprained ankle which will keep him out of Chelski, but as I said yesterday, the ability for Gabriel to slot in as well as he already has means that we should be covered well enough. Let’s just hope it’s not a longer term injury, because despite what people have said about Per this season, I still think our best defensive pairing right now is him and Koscienly. They’ve played together for longer and so have a better understanding of each other’s game, they compliment each other well and Gabriel is still adjusting to the pace and physicality of the league. I think he can still perform well for us this weekend, I just think Per has a lot to offer and isn’t as exposed when he has Koscienly beside him.

John Moss will be the FA Cup final referee, in an I humane level of trolling by the FA, so expect there to be much missing of penalties, obvious fouls and for him to take an age to waddle up to where the ball is after a quick counter attack. Still, it could have been worse, Villa could have been gifted Antony Taylor.

Ha, as I type this, I’ve just past Wembley. See you soon old friend, I am getting used to it being a regular occurrence and I like it.

There’s not really a lot else going on that I fancy talking about to be honest with you. Transfer rumours about Palermo strikers just feel draining. We’ve got a whole summer of this ahead so why start now? I don’t want to click bait anybody, this is just my Arsenal world where I can brain dump whatever’s on my mind, so transfer speculation just wears me thin. 

I’m sure Jose will have plenty to say that will wind me up enough for tomorrow, so I’ll take my leave, wishing you and yours a good day.

Football life is too short. Enjoy the now.

If ever you needed an example of how unfortunately, some Arsenal fans are more concerned with off the field matters than on, you only  needed to see some of the ridiculous comments on social media yesterday after it was announced that Klopp would be leaving Dortmund at the end of the season.

Rather than express surprise and then a shrug of the shoulders, the announcement was greeted by some corners of the fanbase (admittedly a small one) as an excuse to say that Arsenal should look to replace Arsène Wenger immediately, with Klopp installed as the main man. Now, I’m no Arsène Wenger lovechild, with fear of what life is like after he has gone – I’ve seen life before Wenger and I know there were good times too – but given where we are at right now, why on earth would ousting Arsène be something worth considering? What would that achieve? He’s built himself a squad in which the general consensus amongst Arsenal fans I speak to, is that it doesn’t really need that much tinkering with. We’re a different team to the one that started the season, with some unexpected gems unearthed and if we started the season again tomorrow, do you not think we’d be within touching distance of winning the league in nine months time? I do.

To those that wish his hasty exit from the club: are you not happy now? Do you not enjoy the run that we are on? If – and I realise that speculating on the future is often folly – we were to win the FA Cup and finish second, would you not be pleased that progress has been made?

I know I would. But then again, I only have one agenda, which is to see Arsenal winning football matches and eventually trophies. If that is with Arsène Wenger then great, if it is with another manager then fine, but I don’t even want to think about ousting a manager when the going is good. We are The Arsenal, not Real Madrid. 

There’s just no point. Where we are right now as a football club there should be genuine optimism for the future. The only real concern we have going in to this summer is whether one of our English squad players is going to sign a new deal. What would those people say if – again I’m hypothesising here – Klopp joined Arsenal in the summer and finished second and won the FA Cup. Successful first season? You betcha. So if Arsène does the same this season, I’m assuming those same fans would want Klopp gone immediately too, right? 

Doubtful.

People are stubborn. We all know that. I have my things in life that make me stubborn, but maintaining a course of ‘sack the manager’ when there is a possibility that the club appear to be turning a corner and potentially at the start of something special with the current crop of players, doesn’t sound very prudent to me. But for some people they have had enough. They want new blood. They don’t really like the idea that Arsenal and Arsène could potentially do it again. So they continue to perpetuate a line of thinking that would see life without him. I try not to th no of it like that. I’m starting to realise that the joys in life, as far as football is concerned, are so fleeting that you need to appreciate the here and now and worry less about the ‘what if’ in five years time. So if you’re spending all of your time annoyed that Klopp is probably going to get snaffled up by another big club (I know he won’t be available – in theory – for another year, but Arsène’s contract is three years and I don’t think he or the club will break it), I’d say to you that you should forget your worries and enjoy the here and now. Enjoy the run we’re on, love the positivity going around at the moment, hopefully we’ll celebrate getting in to a cup final by Saturday night. 

When the time is right, we will have that new manager that the ‘Wenger Out’s demand and if there really is a manager out there who is a perfect fit and wants to manage Arsenal, we’ll get them. I hope. But I’m not worried about that just yet. 

Besides, Guardiola will be bored of Bayern winning everything in two years time anyway, so we’ll just get him instead.

(Clearly that was a joke).

Sick sense of football gods humour; fitting the most confident players in

With all the hubbub surrounding our win against Burnley, followed by the hope killed by another Chelski scabbing of three points at the hands of a goalkeeper, I haven’t even thought about the defeat of the Spuds to an Aston Villa team managed by Mr Gilet and all-round footballing genius Tim Sherwood. Super Timmy’s charges have – with that victory – bought us to within two wins and a draw of St Totteringham’s Day. It would be nice to celebrate it with a few games to go this year. 

I am of course trying to be positive in light of the fact that Chelski will almost certainly be winning the league now. That’s two weekend’s in a row in which they’ve been gifted points and you just have to accept that sometimes the footballing gods smile down on teams. I can understand it. After all, this is a team that has worked so hard to get in to the position they are in over the years, being self sufficient, having good and honest players, as well as a very likeable manager who everyone appreciates. Oh, no, wait a second, they are none of those things, they are in fact the antithesis of a team who should be granted fortune. Ever. They should have had all of their fortune quota used up when they skanked their way all the way to the Champions League trophy. Thank you very much footballing gods. Thanks a bunch. 

Anyway, it’s probably best if I pretend that the whole ‘Chelski winning the league’ thing isn’t happening, just focusing on our form. Our form in which I hope is being prepared as a prologue to an amazing 2015/16 season. That’s what happened in 2002/3 after the league title had gone. It felt like we had to start again from scratch and rebuild confidence and momentum and it was those games towards the end of that season that begun our fantastic 49 unbeaten game run. I am hoping that this rich vein of form we’re in at the moment is our precursor to glorious things next season. 

It feels that way at the moment, anyway, especially when you look at the squad. Arsène feels it too, you can tell from some of his words. After he was interviewed post-Burnley, he spoke about having to leaving players like Arteta at home and Debuchy not even being given a try yet, so as we draw to the end of this season he must be looking at his squad and thinking that we’re almost there. A few tightening of a couple of loose screws and we’ll be purring like a V8. 

Everything is working well at the moment, even the stuff that people have questioned the manager on historically, like Rambo in the attacking positions. I mentioned it yesterday, but nobody is batting an eyelid at the fact that he is in a position in which Arsène has been chastised for playing him in. I am guilty of said criticism too, so I certainly can’t hold myself exempt from any tutting and shaking of heads, but what it does show is that it doesn’t really matter if some players are played in a position which is not regarded their optimum. There just needs to be enough confidence in the team to play their swaggerific best. Longer term it may not be ideal, but you do get the feeling that Arsène is playing players who are in the purplest of purple patches, in the shape of Cazorla, Özil and Ramsey. None of them deserve any time on the bench and as a result, Arsène is finding a way to accommodate which to be fair, as long as their confidence is as sky high as it is at the moment, I don’t think anyone has a problem with, so I do think he’ll continue with this same XI next weekend. It’s too early to be getting excited about that just yet, so I’ll hold fire on pre-FA Cup semi tickets until later in the week.

So that’ll be it for now. Have at a good Monday. 

Moving backwards? 

Whilst trying to treadmill my consumed daily calories off yesterday lunchtime, I listened to the excellent Arsecast Extra from Monday and aside from the usual humour from the two hosts, there was one interesting question that a listener posed. It was one in which was a toughie to be asked on the spot, asking whether or not Arsenal had gone backwards this season, or words to that effect. Naturally James and Andrew discussed and debated with thoughtful musings, but the question has been going around in my head since yesterday afternoon, so I thought I’d do some ‘out loud’ thinking for you.

I suppose the question on whether we have made any progress depends on your state of mind towards the club and probably more specifically the manager. Those that feel his time has come and he should have abdicated long ago, will tell you that we have stagnated, maybe even moved backwards compared to last year because we haven’t really challenged for the title this year at all. 

In the cold light of day it’s hard not to disagree with the fact we’ve never really looked like challenging, owing in part to Chelski’s form early season and our failure to keep up, labouring to too many draws. But simply dismissing our season because we haven’t competed as closely to the oil whoring clubs is a bit too simplistic a stick with which to conveniently beat the manager with this season, I think. If you flip it around and look at the points tally, as well as the possibility of finishing second or third, there will be those staunch supporters of the manager that will argue that a finish on those grounds represents a slight climb in the league and therefore a positive season. Again, too simplistic to measure one season on a single metric or a couple of metrics based on where your allegiances lie.

Football – as Arsène has pointed out – is about unpredictabilities, emotions and the intangibles, as much as it is about the data. That’s why as a fan, I change my mind so often, veering from “I do wonder if the manager has run his race”, to “maybe Arsène should get one more crack at it”. This season alone has seen me swing from one side to another and in a way 2014/15 has been a concentrated metaphor of Arsène’s second half of his reign at the club. There has been what feels like some quite low ‘lows’, but these have been tempered with some quite high ‘highs’, particularly since Christmas. 

But what does this mean in terms of whether we’ve gone backwards or are treading water? Are we simply stagnating?

I don’t think so. Only this morning I saw a Tweet from a fellow Gooner saying they are less fussed about the upcoming transfer window than they’ve ever been before and I have to say, I am in agreement with them, because I finally feel like we have a squad strong enough for a level of rotation that even Arsène could be happy with. Sure, we’ve ballsed up this season with the pre-Christmas malaise, but the level of injuries we had at one time felt unprecedented to my untrained eyes. I look at Physioroom.com quite a lot to see their Premier League Injury Table  (it goes some way towards feeling that common football ailment of feeling your club is more hard-done-by than others) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen us top the league so much with such a high volume of injuries as we did at the start of the season. At one point we were up to 17. SEVENTEEN! That’s like 75% of a squad!

My point here is not to argue the misfortunes of fate, but merely to point out that I feel that our level of injuries have been greater than ever before this season, or at least it feels it. Yet it could still be seen as a positive season if we win the FA Cup and finish third. As I said above, I am a fan who changes dependent on the circumstance and at this moment in time there is still hope, but it’s also hope for next season too. It’s hope for next season because through the multitude of injuries there have been players who have forced their way into the first team and have, in doing so, strengthened us greatly since that dark start to the season. Bellerin and Coquelin have added squad depth through more game time and maturity in their performances. Do you think the Coquelin from the start of this season will be the one at the end of next season? I don’t. I think that through the injury crisis the green shoots of a very strong team have emerged, so on that basis, I would say that ultimately I don’t think we have gone backwards. Even if there is no FA Cup to show for it. Even if we finish on the same points tally and get the same league position as we’ve become synonymous with. I still think we’ve made progress. 

Perhaps it’s just blind faith, hope and optimism. What do you think?

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.