Googling for hope, lucky pants and the FA Cup final: a Gooners strife

We football fans are a curious breed, aren’t we? 

I find myself today thinking about superstition. I’m not a superstitious person myself. I have no problem walking over three drains, I’ll never salute a magpie, nor will stepping underneath a window cleaners ladder straddling a path cause me to deviate. Yet when it comes to football, I seem to ignore the rational part of my brain and engage what Dr Steve Peters would call my ‘inner chimp’. Last night, for example, upon examining my FA Cup final ticket, I saw that Arsenal supporters are to be situated in the East Side of Wembley, a side for which I have never actually watched Arsenal at. I wasn’t at the Community Shield game against City at the start of the season, so I can’t comment on where we were situated for that match, but all I know of Wembley since I got my season ticket in 2010 is that I’ve watched all cup games in the West Side.

A mild panic set in. I started Googling ‘which side is the lucky side at Wembley?’, hoping not to find that my suspicions were correct and no team in the history of any cup game played at Wembley had ever won with their supporters in the East Side. That of course didn’t really help, as FAQs from Yahoo and other search engines merely brought up witty responses like: “The lucky side of Wembley is the winning side”.

Har-de-effin-Har Lee7294910, this is an emergency here and you’re making jokes? Can’t you see a man’s sanity is at stake here??

Googling answers to questions like the ones I posed rarely return fruitful results, merely more questions as you find other superstitions to terrify you. Like the fact there is a ‘lucky’ dressing room which is the East dressing room. 

Ahh, mild relief, as we’re in that dressing room. But wait a second, this other article from 2012 states that the ‘home’ dressing room, which is where the England players get changed, is the lucky one. Plus, there’s a psychological boost to feeling like you’re at ‘home’, isn’t there? 

This is all getting too much. Then I find out that we’re in our away kit and will play in yellow. YELLOW! WHAT DOES THAT MEAN! WHAT SORT OF SIGN IS THAT!?!?!

I’m going to have to counter all of this negative superstition with a dose of my own personal rituals. 

Lucky socks, you’re getting worn. It doesn’t matter if it’s a nice day and you’re fleeced on the inside, on you go.

Yellow Invincibles replica kit, you’re back for the final, do your stuff.

Three drains? I’ll long jump you bar stewards if I have to. 

Rabbits foot? Well there might be a pet down the street I could use. But I don’t really feel like butchering one, so does it still count if I rub it against me?

And if I see a magpie, I’ll goose step all the way home, just to be doubly sure. Heck, if I see a Newcastle fan, I’ll doff my cap. Even if I haven’t got one. I’ll borrow one from a passing old man. Unless there isn’t an old man near. Perhaps I can hire an old man with a flat cap to walk behind me a few paces until Saturday morning? Then I can borrow the cap if the need arises. Yes, that sounds like a perfectly acceptable and logical thing to do. After all, the FA Cup is at stake here.

Don’t all thank me now, just remember to thank me on Sunday, unless we lose. In which case I had nothing to do with it.

Unless I haven’t gone far enough to counter the luck…

…pants. I need to find some lucky pants.

Fanciful transfer stuff from presser

Happy Saturday to you and your kin. My weekend started early due to some annual leave I’ve been soaking in for the last few days, but at least there’s been some football – albeit some pretty semi-shocking football on Wednesday – to keep me busy. I’ve been through my thoughts on the midweek action and I’m glad we’ve got another game coming up quickly, because the bad taste bought about by three games without scoring at home need to be readdressed, because it’s not exactly condusive to a positive preparation for an FA Cup final if we fizzle out at the end of the season.

Arsène spoke to the press and as we’d all probably expect with the season drawing to a close and our game tomorrow almost a dead rubber, the focus was on all of the millions of billions of players we’re going to sign, but having watched the presser on Arsenal.com it seemed like Arsène was in relatively good form. To be fair to him, he’s probably happy he gets a summer off from press conferences in which stupid questions are asked by the same people each week.

He can spend the summer answering stupid questions from people in other continents when the squad go on tour instead.

The focus was around Sterling and Cech and unsurprisingly Arsène was non-committal in what he was saying. I was actually more interested in his assertion that Tomas Rosicky would be staying at the club and not only that, but he’d be extending his current deal. That seems a bit of a surprise to me because like Flamini, he’s become a bit of a forgotten man since all of the squad has managed to maintain their fitness since the start of the year. It’s a shame because each time he’s got on I’ve seen a good performance by him, so I’d have thought he’d have been given a bit more game time. But competition is so intense at the moment in the middle of  the park, that Arsène is leaving out very good players on match days alone, so it gives us an indication of how hard it is for Rozza to break through.

I’d be surprised if he’s still at the club by the time a ball is kicked in the new season. I suspect Arsène is simply saying those expectations of him staying because he wants to keep everyone happy, but the one man who won’t be happy is Tomas himself.

As for his impact on signing Cech for us, somehow I don’t think that will impact the ‘keepers decision on where he goes, or whether Arsène wants to sign him anyway. I like that Arsène isn’t dismissing the signing of that of Sterling, but I doubt we’ll be signing either this summer. Sterling will want the mega bucks and so Moneychester City will probably throw a big wad of cash at it, so I can’t see that happening, if I’m honest.

As for Cech, I suspect Chelski are simply publicly playing the PR card, because I can’t see why they’d sell to either Arsenal or Man United. Jose is a man who couldn’t countenance selling/loaning us Demba Ba, so why on earth he would change his tune now is beyond me. It also remains to be seen as to whether Arsène even wants another ‘keeper. It’s all very well you and I talking about it, but we thought we needed a striker a year and a half ago, then another defender in the summer, but Arsène didn’t see it that way. So we do have a precedent.

The team news looks fairly samey from Wednesday night, with Arsène needing to decide how he’s going to rotate based on tired legs. It’s the last chance to impress before the cup final so I think we’ll see a few rotated, but whether Arsène goes the whole hog and swaps his entire team around I suspect is unlikely. More on that particular guessing game tomorrow. For now, I think I will enjoy my Saturday and hope that Middlesbrough make it to the Premier League, because I want to see three Notth East teams and three chances of heading up there next season.

Poor tactically and defensively

After the winning streak that we’ve had in the last couple months, I find myself somewhat at a difficult place, because for all the criticism that I want to give the manager for what I believe we’re totally the wrong tactics to deploy against a Swansea team who came for a point and went home with three, the side he picked was the same side that had performed so well over the last month. 

So was Arsène right to pick the same time based on the belief that confidence would see us through against Swansea? Evidently not, but I can see why he thought the confidence of the team would see us over the line.

But herein lies the problem with Arsène. His unwavering belief in the spirit of his players trumps any other kind of reasoning or thought process for selecting any Matchday squad, or so it seems from where I stand, because his inability to look at the opposition and exploit weaknesses feels to me like it’s negated by his belief that the players who feel the most confident will win the game.

It feels a very ‘heart on the sleeve’ kind of management, which I find at odds with the way Arsène is portrayed at times.

Take yesterday’s defeat to Swansea. Knowing that they would look to frustrate and remain compact in the middle of the park, there was no acknowledgement from our manager that we might need to pull them around the pitch a bit to create space. An unchanged squad featuring Ramsey out wide right therefore saw the bulk of play concentrated on trying to wriggle our way through pockets of congested white and red shirts with no real resolution other than a pretty tame half in the first 45.

To Gary Monk’s credit, he executed his game to perfection. You could almost hear the teamtalk reverberating around the Emirates: 

“We’re not playing with a striker today boys, we’re going 4-6-0 and that’ll frustrate Arsenal, but as long as we stay compact we’ll get chances”

It was a perfect plan to play a manager like Arsène on his home turf. We laboured for the entirety of the first half and although we created chances in the second, they were all down the throat of Fabianski, who must have been grateful for the gifts presented to him. Particularly a tame Walcott strike which rolled into his arms as he was practically still on the floor. 

None of our forward line covered themselves in any glory. Ramsey did what he knows is his game and played too centrally throughout. Giroud had an early chance but then faded into anonymity, whilst Alexis too had an off night. Mesut was stifled by the congestion in the middle of the park, whilst Santi couldn’t really stamp any kind of authority on the game. It was a lacklustre performance from an Arsenal team who appear to have nothing to play for on this showing. Quite unappealing indeed.

As for their goal, well, let’s just say that Ospina won’t be winning over any floating voters any time soon. The chance Gomis had shouldn’t have fallen so easily on his head in the first place, but when it’s down to your ‘keepers left hand side and very saveable, you expect him to…well…save it. 

I have no major problem with Ospina. He seems a decent enough ‘keeper, but when you’re going for a Premier League title, you need more than just ‘okay’. When Almunia’s confidence wasn’t completely drained from him he was ‘ok’, but he never made saves you never expected him to make. He never managed to ‘save’ us games. Our two current ‘keepers feel like that. If we really do want to win the league, either one of them needs to be doing that little something more, or we need to find somebody who does, because in a game of fine margins these things matter.

Defensively the two full backs hardly covered themselves in glory either. Both Gomis and Montero are becoming quite a thorn in our side, but I have to admit I thought it was pace that did over Chambers, where as you can’t accuse Bellerin of lacking that can you? 

So there we have it. A disappointing defeat that means we head into the game at Old Trafford knowing another loss will see us drop back down into fourth. Having beaten Swansea just once at home since they came up, I think it’s fair to say that they are well and truly an Arsenal bogey team, which I thought we had managed to shake off those types of sides where we are clearly better but have some sort of psychological block.

Still, when I got home last night a pair of freshly arrived FA Cup final tickets were sitting on the kitchen table, so I guess that enabled me to get some perspective.

See you tomorrow.

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).