When the moderates start turning…

I don’t think I’ve seen the tide of support for the manager so quickly dissipate as I’ve seen these last few days. There’s always been a hardcore following of people who have been firmly entrenched in the now well known “Wenger Out” school of thought, but this weekend just gone by seems to have pulled many moderate Arsenal fans into a school of thought which is pondering life after Arsene and also questioning his ability to motivate the team.

Those moderate Gooners questioning – and I include myself in this – do so with a heavy heart as it’s uncomfortable to see a man with which we thought could do no went at some stage, seemingly void of the spark needed to drive the team forward. You only had to look at the limp way in which the team approached the game to see that there didn’t seem to be the heart there.

For me, what makes it worse, is that it feels as if Arsene is clutching at straws a bit, trying frantically to find a reason as to why his team has seriously under-performed this season. He’s trying to find reasons that don’t lead back to him and I think, in his heart of hearts, he knows that they are not there.

What’s more worrying for me is what lies ahead. If the players cannot be motivated for a massive game like Sunday’s, then a tricky run-in over the next month may turn out to be calamitous. Yesterday I read Arsene’s comments about the FA Cup being a different competition and therefore maybe that is a good thing and it really worried me. He’s like the alcoholic saying to himself that one more drink won’t affect his rehab. How on earth does the type of competition affect how a team should set up? How does it affect the mentality of the players? Is he saying that perhaps the players are a little worn down by the Premier League? Because that doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence if you ignore the opportunity of an FA Cup trophy and just look at our fourth place trophy. His comments on the official site sounded to me like a man very much clutching at straws.

This saddens me. I never thought I would not have enough faith in Arsene to deliver what’s needed as I do now. I want to extract those negative thoughts out of my brain and put them in a compost bin round the side of my grandmothers house where I will never realistically go to. But I can’t and the net effect is that I see the end looking like it is in sight for someone who is undoubtedly one of our greatest ever managers. Nobody can deny that, nor can they take it away, but right now it feels like a chapter is closing.

My wife has family up in the North East and I speak to her uncle all the time about football. He’s a mad passionate Newcastle fan and I remember talking to him about Bobby Robson when he left Newcastle. His response was to tell me that all Newcastle fans love him, but he went on a few too many years, as football evolved and he couldn’t cope. I see a repeat happening at the moment.

It’s all been a bit doom and gloom so far on today’s blog, so I’ll try to scratch around for some positives, to see if I can’t end today’s ramblings feeling a bit better.

We’ve got a semi final to look forward to. As terrifying as it might be on Saturday, we’re two wins in the FA Cup away from ending ‘Wenger: The trophyless Years’ and that would be amazing. We’ve also got five Premier League games (three at home) against opposition that you’d hope we can get the better of and if we do, with the tricky games Everton have got, you’d hope that we could secure fourth place.

Heck, in two weeks time we could be looking at an FA Cup final on the horizon and an Arsenal team that has wrestled the initiative from Everton in the Premier League to give us the chance to end the season successfully. If we achieve both of those aims this season, I will still see it as a success and we should still view 2013/14 as one in which we moved forward.

I think I’ll leave it there for one day. Have a good one peeps.

Twinges, switcharoo’s and Everton

See Arsenal? See what happens when you leave me to my own devices on a Saturday? I head into the City to engage in a bit of beer-swillingey Monopoly-inspired goodness. I hold you fully accountable for what transpires on this Saturday afternoon.

Mind you, at least Arsene has managed to plug a boredom gap by giving me something to write about whilst I wait for this horrific monstrosity of public transportation (London Double-Decker – I have a deep-seated detestation of all buses going back to my university days reliance on the horrible things) to take me to my destination. Rail replacements…pffffhhhhh.

Anyway, you don’t care about that, so I’ll move my mutterings squarely into the Arsenal topic corner. Arsene took on the press yesterday and was able to talk up the positivity that Rambo’s return (sounds like a film that Sly would make when he realises he’s probably too old to get any other gig) would have on the team. It is a timely boost to the squad, but much like Gnabry and as I mentioned yesterday, Arsene confirmed that he didn’t expect him to be firing on all cylinders for at least another two to three weeks. That’s fine by me. I can handle the ‘he’ll improve on the pitch’ stuff, it’s the seemingly never-ending dreaded ‘three-weeks’ when players are out, that I find difficult to stomach.

I’d expect him to play some part in the latter stages of the game tomorrow, but let’s hope the victory is secured with 20 minutes to go when we can ease him back in, rather than us desperately chasing something against an in-form Everton.

What he will eventually bring to the team is a much needed shot of adrenalin to the team. His all-action energetic style brings feels to me like it brings us a bit more urgency and in addition to his goals, it’s not surprising to see that he’s a fighter in defence as well. We may have to wait a couple of weeks before we see the lung-busting Aaron, but he’ll get there and we’ll profit from it as a team as a result.

The return of Monreal is quite fortuitous too, as it appears Gibbs has a slight ankle twinge (love that word!), so I think Arsene will be happy to give it the old ‘switcharoo’ (that one too!) in at left back. Anyway, more on team squad line up tomorrow, with maybe even some thoughts on Everton too.

I always find the headline grabbers in the press quite amusing at these press conference thingamabobs. After he had his usual presser yesterday, I saw headlines about Arsene talking about ‘six pointers’, little horses and the like, but it was only when I actually watched the press conference that I realised that he didn’t actually say those things at all. He was asked a question by a hack which included the word ‘six pointer’, to which he could either respond ‘yes’ (WENGER SAYS CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GAME A SIX POINTER), or ‘no’ (WENGER DISMISSES EVERTON GAME IMPORTANCE). I know I’m big enough and ugly enough to realise that it’s all part of life’s eclectic and rich tapestry, but it still doesn’t make it any less irksome.

Arsene was also asked about whether the morale of the team had been dented by recent displays, to which he admitted we were a little ‘flat’ against Swansea, but that a corner had turned with the City result. I’m sure that did restore a little belief, but the only worry I have is that our belief seems permanently balanced on a knife-edge. We’ve take. Quite a few batterings this season compared to our so-called rivals, so I’m always wary when you hear comments like ‘we’ve turned a corner’. It’s fine to turn a corner, just don’t turn four corners on the same side in quick succession lads, because you’ll end up standing exactly where you were and be doomed to repeat your mistakes. For me, the only time I’ll truly believe that we have ‘turned the corner’ is when a very large milestone has been achieved. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but for me it’s all about getting that monkey off our back; delivering silverware.

We have a very real chance to turn a very big corner. I hope Arsene and his team takes it. We all do.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Nobody fancies us

Well here we are. At the end of a long week that was made positively Jack Bauerian after defeat to Chelski and then a sucker-punch at home against a very average Swansea team. Yep, it’s just me and you chilling, waiting for tomorrow to arrive, trying to deflect the cruel retorts of rival fans who have decided to further stick the knife in on our title chances.

Nobody seems to fancy us tomorrow either. I’ve seen plenty of glum tweets on my timeline to suggest we’re facing an impenetrable wall and, whilst I’m not one to be blowing carbon monoxide into your back passage, I’m not sure whether the ‘we’ll lose 3-0′ is coming from if I’m completely honest. In fact, the one thing I’ve learnt from this topsy-turvy ol’ season, is that you can’t rule anything out. For example, we were sitting pretty at the top of the league and in-form when we went to Liverpool, yet they served us a metric tonnes worth of humble pie, so who’s to say we can’t do the same tomorrow? It’s a funny old game and all that…

Arsene was certainly taking that approach when he spoke to the official site yesterday and I think he made another good point: everyone is looking at Everton catching us at the moment, so why shouldn’t we look at doing the same to those above us?

Of course, the stark reality is that all of the teams around us appear to be bang in form at the moment, where as the only thing we’re ‘bang in’ on right now is an injury crisis coupled with a crisis of confidence. I’m not naive enough to believe that we’ll catch the teams above us, but on the eve of another big match at home I am full of that thing that all fans have in varying stages during the season: hope.

I hope that the players that haven’t had as much chance to prove themselves can step up to the plate and show that this team is capable of big results. I hope that we see the best of Thomas Vermaelen, The Ox, Santi and Giroud. But most of all I hope we can ditch the ‘big game bottlers’ tag that seems to be tightly affixed to our collective necks at the moment.

It’s hard to work out whether Arsene believes his own rhetoric when he speaks about taking positives from what was by and large a pretty poor performance against Swansea, so when he talks about Vermaelen ‘taking his chance’ you do have to wonder if it is more for the Belgian’s own confidence than actual belief that Thomas can usurp Koscienly for a starting spot. Against Swansea he did ok, but was still outmuscled for the Bony goal and when you’re up against an in-form Dzeko, who’s to say he won’t suffer the same fate? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s also the fact that Swansea didn’t really venture forward too much during most of the game, which meant that defensively we had little to do anyway, so you could question how well any of the back four did.

Arsene will take to the scrummage of mic’s this morning in his first proper duel with the press since the debacle at Stamford Bridge and, whilst I’m sure many will think he’ll go a bit prickly on the assembled hacks, I think he’ll make it one of the most all-time boring pressers there is to be had. After all, what more is there to say, that hasn’t already been said? How much more can they dig the knife in more than he probably has dug in himself at this point? I’d wager not too much, so Arsene will be as vanilla as possible and hope that his team responds on the pitch which if we’re all honest, is all we want to see as well.

The team news will reflect the boredom of today’s presser in that there isn’t really any of note to report. Kos begins the second week of his ‘three-weeks-then-setback-leading-to-another-three-weeks’ time on the sidelines and Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil will be mentioned in dispatches as playing for Arsenal at some stage between now and the end of 2020, so it will be on the players who’s form is as indifferent as Wenger’s opinion of ‘out-tacticing’ whoever his teams are up against on any given week, to put in the effort to nab us three points against a Moneychester City team that are back to being ‘a little bit scary’ again.

I know I’m being a bit flippant with my remarks today, but I really do hope that Arsene can turn it around, because I hate to see a well-regarded man have his legacy tarnished by the latter part of his tenure. I want us to go on a seven game unbeaten run, win the FA Cup and have the manager declare that he’s ‘going big’ in the summer to make us a title challenging side (right to the end). I’m not sure that will happen, but I want it nonetheless.


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
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

Robben to be ‘Flaminiarised’? Let’s hope so.

Matthieu Flamini is ace. He’s like an angry little hobbit-type character that would happily bite at your ankles if it got him what he needed.

This week, he needs to take a scalp and he’s hankering for Bayern, so watch out Robben, that’s all I’m gonna say. The Dutchman is one of those players that everyone wants to see ‘Flaminarised’ and I fancy he’ll be one of the first to find himself on the deck with his arms above his prematurely bald head in frustration.

Flamini has been speaking about the confidence of the side at the moment, the belief and the ‘self-help’ that is being administered amongst the players. He’s been talking up the unity and it’s an interesting angle to take actually, because we heard a lot of talk of that ilk at the start of the season, but it’s all gone a little quieter since then. Perhaps that’s because the focus is more on the fact that we’re at the business end of the season and talk is cheap, for the currency we’re all dealing in now is victories.

Arsene will take to the stage of microphones today to give his view on Bayern, much like Ben, Steve and Kris (our guest for the evening) did on last nights pod (use the menu bar at the top and hit the ‘SG Podcast’ page for download instructions) and I suspect they’ll be one or two of the regular gutter press who will be keen to Stoke the fires of Mourhino and Arsene’s current public exchange. Mercifully, there will be other European Journalists and so the tabloid drivel can be cut short and we can focus on the football. In that respect, the timing of a big Champions League night is probably quite welcome and hopefully by the time the Sunderland game comes around, we can ignore Mourhino. He’s a bit like Superman you see, only he doesn’t get his power from the sun, he gets it from The Sun, The Mirror and other organisations that will pander to his enormously large ego.

Back on more important topics, in other words The Arsenal, and The Ox has hilariously stoked some of the post-Liverpool fire by stating that he ‘wasn’t worried’ about the penalty call. Well, you could have fooled us Alex, but it’s fun to be on the right side of a player digging the knife in. For so many years we’ve had opposition players – Evra is particularly irksome in that respect – talking down at our players after a game and rubbing some sodium into the wound and, although The Ox’s comments aren’t a barb aimed at the scousers, those that read it will be quite irritated given their bleating on Sunday night. So that can only be a good thing.

More to come tomorrow with a pre-game blog, but I think I’ll clock off for the day to leave you to enjoy yours.

Peace out.

Jose wants his ball back; we need club solidarity

That Jose Mourhino’s a funny fella, isn’t he? He reminds me of the kid back in primary school that thought he was popular, but everyone really hated him because he was a total hypocrite and couldn’t take it when somebody dished it back to him. Or in secondary school when there was this small kid who was playing for Charlton’s youth team who, when he had the ball would dance around you and you couldn’t tackle him because he’d get the hump and want to start a fight, yet when he didn’t have the ball in the playground he always went in a little to late and a little too hard.

Yesterday, Arsene did the Premier League equivalent of rob him of the ball on the playground and start dribbling with it, as he tried on a bit of the mind games for size and yes, unsurprisingly Jose didn’t like it and accused Arsene of being a ‘specialist in failure’. I’ve got no problem with the Portuguese running his mouth off, much like I have no problem with Arsene spicing it up a bit, although yesterday was another classic example of Le Boss being asked a question and giving his opinion. As opposed to the Irritating One who will venture an opinion that suits his agenda whether or not he’s been asked a question designed to illicit a spicy response or not.

I do have a problem with his hypocrisy though. ‘If you can’t take it, don’t dish it’ my mum used to say and the Chelsea manager should probably have his wife tattoo that motto on his forearm to remind him every day.

I’ve got to say though, I hope that the war of words doesn’t offer any kind of distraction, or that we end up falling foul of those annoying Chavs by seeing them win the league. We don’t normally have football karma falling on our side like they do, so I don’t like tempting fate by hearing that Arsene is having a bit of a poke at some of the other playground kids, because we usually end up with the bloodied nose that, in this instance, would be a trophyless campaign.

Anyway, Arsene extols the virtues of focusing only on ourselves and I should take his lead for the rest of today’s blog, focusing on Arsene related news, because that’s all we ever want to talk about, right? The man himself had his press conference yesterday and spoke about the return of the Flamster, who I think will play against the scousers tomorrow, as well as the fact that Santi was ill in bed and might be a doubt for Sunday. If that does turn out to be true it will be a blow, but hopefully it will give Podolski an opportunity to get some game time in a big match. To my mind he’s a big game player and, whatever Arsene’s reasons for not favoring him any more, you can’t help but think that if he plays he’ll have an impact at some stage. With every passing game it appears obvious that the manager doesn’t fancy him and he’ll be shipped out in the summer, but when you have such a clinical weapon in your team, you’d be foolish not to use him.

His press conference also brought a little bit of information about Sagna too. And when I mean ‘little’ I really mean ‘little, because all Arsene said was ‘no he’s not close to signing. IT’s an ongoing process’. I think it’s fair to say that ‘ongoing process’ includes some succession planning for next season, because we’ve seen this before and the story only ends one way: an exit from the club. I just hope that Sagna doesn’t get a call from United, City, Liverpool or any other English based club, because I think we all still believe that Sagna has a good couple of years in front of him and it would be very difficult to watch him play for an opponent week-in, week-out in the Premier League next season.

I also thought the rhetoric from Arteta was interesting yesterday, as it appeared on the official site, with Mr Lego-hair calling for all players, management, directors and fans to stick together at this time. It was interesting because, off the back of the United draw, there was some booing that took place inside the stadium – reaction to the frustration of not turning over an average United team of course – but when senior players like tricky Mickey are making comments like that on the site it shows that the reaction of the crowd clearly plays a big part in the mentality and response of the team. Indeed, I saw some people on Twitter state that Big Per looked visibly disappointed when the game finished and he was clapping the home support, yet getting that reaction. Hey, I’m not going to pretend that I’m ‘holier than thou’ and that I’ve never booed – I have and it’s always in the heat of the moment to which I usually regret a few hours afterwards – but I think our Spaniard is right and we need to show solidarity if we’re going to get through this season with silverware.

Arsene also made comments about the importance of the fans too, but did temper his comments by saying that the players need to justify the faith that the fans put in. I don’t know why, but I’ve said a few times now that the atmosphere has changed over the last year. It was as if the Bayern home game left us all so deflated, so rock bottom, that we all took a long hard look at ourselves and said ‘well, it can’t get any worse, we might as well cheer our hearts out even when the team is playing shocking’. Thankfully, that mentality seems to have remained over the last year (with the help of some remarkable consistency too, mind) and was recognised by Le Boss when he admitted that the fans were behind the team even at 4-0 down against Liverpool last weekend. I think those kind of moments have a big impact on the players and I suspect they’ll want to repay the faith on Sunday afternoon.

Let’s just wait and see.

Player maturity key, plus why Wenger’s wrong about the loan system

Morning you wonderful people. With no Arsenal on today I’m hitting full on Wham, Christmas Jumper, crazy Kate Bush song listening Christmas mode today and getting myself a tree and a ‘little bit turkey and stuffing’ to have a pre-Christmas dress rehearsal with a couple of mates and The Management.

As for The Arsenal, we heard from Arsene yesterday who spoke after visiting the Teenage Cancer Trust HQ with The Ox, with the players having donated a days wages. We all know that its small fry for millionaires, but you cannot argue that it isn’t anything short of a great gesture. Arsenal have always been very good with their charity work and in an age where football is often pelted with abuse about the materialistic and money-driven ethos that emanates from all corners of the professional game, it’s good to see some positivity can be gained from clubs like Arsenal.

Such is the continuity of the side at the moment and lack of back page headlines the media can pick up on, that even the team news isn’t very exciting these days. You won’t find this Gooner complaining though. Let’s continue to be as low-key as possible, keep knocking out results week-in, week-out and then emerge in May with a trophy tucked safely under our arms. Or somewhere within Arsene’s mobile sleeping bag unit he calls a coat. Jenkinson will continue to deputize until Man City with Sagna out and it’s a chance for him to build more confidence against Everton. He’ll no doubt have a tougher game than Wednesday night, but the hope is that the lack of Baines at left back will ensure that it’s not as tough as it could have been.

Arsene also spoke about the ‘big warnings’ that we’ve been getting from some of the defeats of the bigger teams just before we play the smaller teams in the division, citing the Hull victory over Liverpool and the Everton victory over United as an example to his players to be on their guard, and I think he’s right to some extent. Those two victories against Liverpool and United will serve as a stark reminder to the players that you can’t take anything for granted, least of all this season, so it’s important that each match is approached in the right attitude. It’s that kind of maturity from the players that I think is one of the major changes this season in comparison to seasons past. The players seem to have – to date anyway – approached the game not just with confidence, because too much of that can lead to your own downfall, but with an understanding and knowledge of the potential damage each opponent can do. There’s been a sense at times this season that whilst we could probably go ‘hell for leather’ and try to rack up a big score against teams like Hull, for example, we have just held back a little bit and be contented to first ensure the defensive stability and clean sheet and make sure that the game is well and truly won by snuffing out any opposition threat. I think that’s the best way to play against any of the teams from 8th in the division downwards; suffocating them of any belief they can get from a game by being very scrooge-like in defence and building our victories on that stability.

This is the first of a series of really tough games, and thankfully Arsene and the team knows it, having praised the work that Martinez has achieved so far this season with Everton. He was very complimentary about Everton and spoke about their consistency of players but also adding some good players in other positions. Again he’s right and without wanting to sound patronising to Everton, I wonder if there is an element of ‘Arsenal-Lite’ about them i.e. building from a solid and stable team, adding good players and developing a fantastic team attitude to add to the mix. That’s where we’re at right now and so the game on Sunday should be a really good one to watch (with an Arsenal win at the end of it, obviously!).

Arsene talked about the loan system too, particularly when you have a ridiculous situation with Lukaku playing on loan whilst still contracted to Chelski, putting his support behind allowing the loaned player to play against his parent club. Personally whilst I can see where Arsene is coming from, I don’t agree that a player should be playing against his parent club, as I think it creates too much controversy, particularly for the player. Imagine if Lukaku could play against Chelski and scored a goal on the last game of the season against them that sees the club lose the league title. Hilarious for us, I know, but imagine it was Sanogo on loan to Norwich this season and he scores against us? He could have had an amazing season, be a great prospect and one that up until that game is banging in goals, looking like being a main player next year. How could he come back to Arsenal and not get stick from the fans if our own player cost us the Premier League title? The next argument there would be to say ‘ok, well in that case, if that circumstance happened, the club would agree that he wouldn’t play’. So what would happen if Norwich have to get a point or a win to stay up and the only guy banging in goals every game is Sanogo? There would undoubtedly be a club vs club row about his eligibility. It’s for reasons like that for which I think the current loan system in terms of playing against parent clubs is right. What is wrong with the system is players like Lukaku playing for Everton for a season, but I suppose I shouldn’t really be complaining too much, because Jack Wilshere was able to develop into the player he is today with the help of a loan to a Premier League club, so you can’t have one rule of one club and another rule for another just because the loaning team is being so competitive at the top of the division.

Anyway, not much more to say on that so I think I’ll call it a day for now and come back to you tomorrow with a match preview.

Will Arsene ever consistently play two up top again?

The title of today’s blog is designed to stimulate debate. There’s precisely the square root of bugger all going on in the Arsenal world that I haven’t already squeezed from the proverbial content water pouch (you know, the ones you used to see in cowboy movies, that were made of leather and were always empty when the lead character was in the middle of a desert) and so I thought I’d try and engage with you directly and pose a question that I know has been discussed amongst Arsenal fans throughout Goonerdom.

There are many of us Arsenal fans that advocate playing two up front, to which I’m sure it could work given the personnel we have, but what I want to know is whether anybody feels we will ever see two up front from Arsene Wenger again. And I’ve added in ‘consistently’ to the question because I know there will be a few clever clogs’ who will tell me that we sometimes play more than two up top if we’re chasing a game. I’m talking of course of the fabled 4-4-2, or even variations on a 3-5-2 similar to what Liverpool play. This blog is about me trying to understand Wenger’s logic, not giving my personal preference. The reason I am not writing a blog about my personal beliefs is that I’m pretty sure that Arsene doesn’t read my blogs (I know! That would solve EVERYTHING, right?), so hoping for a change when I have no power to make that change leaves me wholly unsatisfied. Anyway, I personally don’t think we will see a tactical or formation change during Arsene’s reign. And here’s for why…

1. Arsene Wenger is a stubborn, stubborn man
We all know this. It’s more obvious than an Alan Hansen Arsenal defence-bashing monologue. Arsene is a man that sticks to his philosophy through thick and thin. He is unwavering in his demand to see his style be successful. He rarely changes position on anything (signing older players and resigning former players duly noted as one change, but I’m focusing on formation today) and when he does, he’s hardly going to change it back unless he feels he is all out of options. For over ten years he played a 4-4-2 formation which saw us garnish success through some amazing players as well as our footballing style. Ten years. We’ve been operating this current 4-2-3-1 (or 4-3-3 depending on how you see it) for what, four years now? For Arsene to change his style of play to the system we now use took a lot in my opinion. Just think about the fact that the whole club – all youth teams too – have had to change their style as well to accommodate the change, shows you the effort that is needed to embed a certain way of playing into a clubs mentality. To change again, I think something drastic would have to happen e.g. Giroud becomes injured, Walcott and Podolski fail to bang in goals for a prolonged period of time as the focal point up top, so Arsene tries a ‘little and large’ combination with Bendtner and Walcott up top, a lá Adebayor and Eduardo. Even then I think Arsene would try everything to keep continuity in the team (just think of that horrific time a few years ago when we played the worlds smallest target man – Arshavin – up top in our formations) before he allows that formation change. I just don’t see it.

2. Arsene doesn’t believe we have the players to operate in a formation with two strikers
Obviously this is a speculative one, because I don’t have that massive lightbulb type contraption that Doc Emmet Brown had in Back to the Future. But I do believe that we won’t see two up front with the squad we have. I’m not convinced in the slightest that Wenger truly believes – despite public comments to the contrary – that Walcott is a centre forward. I think that’s lip service designed to help Theo save face from the fact that his contractual situation became so drawn out last year. Yes, I know Walcott had made comments that he sees himself as a striker before then, but I think Arsene has his formation, won’t change it, so as a result Theo will not get many chances to play centrally.

Our formation requires a strong link man to retain the ball up top, which allows the three creative midfielders to rotate around him. We have plenty of players who can play in that three, but if you changed formation to a 4-4-2 for example, where would they play? We don’t have enough players in certain positions to change our formation for a prolonged period of time. We have players that could ‘do a job’, but you can only bang square pegs in round holes for so long before you get found out. We all recognise that the modern game needs bigger squads to compete on multiple fronts. That means that teams need multiple players that can play in all positions. But how many truly natural left/right midfielders/wingers do we have? Not enough for a whole season I’m afraid. So I can’t see us changing formation any time soon in that regard. It has taken Arsenal long enough to build a squad that looks capable of competing (one more striker light of course, but you get my point), so I don’t think Le Boss will dismantle a team to change a formation any time soon.

3. Arsene won’t be around forever
He’s been our manager for over 16 years. He’s seen a transition at the club the likes of which can only be matched by someone like Herbert Chapman. I suspect that if Arsene does sign another deal with Arsenal, it will probably be his last, as he’ll be approaching 70. That means we’ve probably got only a few years left of his time in charge. As I mentioned above, I just can’t see him dismantling a team and rebuilding one within a year – it would take two or three I suspect, so I think that as long as Arsene is at the club then it’s the ‘one up top’ formation for us.

4. It’s working
Right now, you have to say that the players we have, the squad we’ve got and the position we currently occupy in the league suggests that the formation we currently adopt is working and so why should we change? Sure, there are times when a change of tact may allow us to surprise opposition and catch teams cold, but all of the players know their current roles well and, until we start haemorrhaging points left right and centre (which I hope – and don’t think – will happen this season), then there’s no reason to want change for changes sake.

This of course doesn’t mean I don’t think Arsenal will ever play 4-4-2 again, however, as forever is a long time. As like all things in life, football is as much a victim to fashion as the fashion industry is, and right now the fashion is this lone striker formation that so many teams operate. We’ll see 4-4-2 again I’m sure, just not under Arsene’s tenure.

Let me know what you think.

Enjoy your Monday.

You can’t teach concentration

I do wonder why so many people get worked up with the invoice of that lot along the Seven Sisters Road. Seeing the Spuds to to a penalty shoot-out and then squeeze through against newly promoted Hull, I couldn’t help but feel a bit ‘oh well, never mind’ about it all. Yet I read some people who genuinely seemed a bit cut up about it. Let’s look on the positives, the first team players that played for them last night will have gone through 120 minutes so there will be an inevitable tiredness for players like Vertonghen. And, without attempting to jinx the future, if the Spuds lost or drew this coming weekend, wouldn’t you see it as a more preferable result? Of course they’ll probably end up winning and you can blame me, but hey-ho.

In the Arsenal world there’s a few interviews knocking around the official site. Thomas Vermaelen talk about how close the two sides were – bar a couple of individual errors – and whilst my red and white tinted eyes agree with our Belgian Captain, it is scant consolation for the fact that we got knocked out to that lot. In some respect I’d have preferred us going out to a ‘lesser’ team, as it saves the blushes of having to deal with the ‘Johnny-come-lately’s of the football world, but C’est la vie and all that.

We have to look forward and to a weekend where the top two clash. Arsene has promised a response and certainly I hope we get one. I still haven’t heard any news about the Flamster yet, which probably isn’t a good thing, but I would hope that the players that take to the field on Saturday evening will want to atone for the midweek display and get all three points. It won’t be easy, but they are capable, providing the basic errors that have cost us so far are ironed out. I think it was on a couple of Podcasts and Blogs that I read last season, but I vaguely recall hearing about how our team conceded more goals due to ‘individual error’ than any other team in the Premier League last season. That’s quite sobering when you think that teams like Reading and a QPR team that included Armand Traore and Jose Bosingwa were in the division. When you look at the defeats this season (and some of the victories) you can point to the same flaw in our game. Whether you think it was a second penalty for Villa on the first game of the season (I happen to think it wasn’t), Koscienly didn’t need to make the challenge on Agbonlahor. Bacary Sagna was nowhere to be seen for Lewandowski’s match-winning goal. And let’s not even run back over the mistake poor old Corporal Carl made in midweek.

With situations like the above described, I’ve always though it was just a bit ‘unlucky’ or ‘could happen to anyone’. Indeed, just look at the Hart/Nasastic mix up from the weekend that Chelski profited on. But the more it keeps happening, the more you start to wonder if it’s endemic in the squad, concentration is often lost in games. Perhaps in every game, but it just depends whether or not we are punished by a team that is quality enough, or not. The scary thing about that is that you can’t work on concentration levels on the training pitch. I don’t know how you can eradicate that at all actually. Maybe some sort of electric shock treatment? I’m sure there’s probably something human rights activists would have to say about that.

The players are only human and humans make mistakes. Some humans make more mistakes than others, but you hope that they learn from those mistakes. With a ball over the top like that one on Tuesday, perhaps next time Carl will take an extra glance to see where the opposing player is, or perhaps he’ll just head out for a throw-in? There’s no way of telling unless we have some sort of super-awesome mind-penetrating device that can get into players brains. We just have to hope that they don’t make those types of mistakes too often, or when they do, it doesn’t prove costly. The positive I take from Jenkinson is that he doesn’t want to hide. He’s happy to face up to the media, the fans, the world and to admit his mistake and show a desire to learn and get better. Arsene Wenger will show faith in that kind of attitude. If Carl shows that determination and learns from his mistakes, he’ll only get better and that can only benefit Arsenal as well. We have to remember as well that he is being asked to do a job on a sporadic basis, which means building your own personal momentum is difficult. Where he has been successful last season was where he had a run of games to play himself into form. It is true that at the top of the tree you don’t get that kind of time to find form, but I still hope that there is a player in there that can emulate Lee Dixon and be at The Arsenal for years to come. The next 18 months or so will tell us whether he’s a Dixon or an Eboue I think.

We should find out a bit more about the availability of players from the cheeky Arsene interview he does with the official site, so let’s hope for some good news on Flamini, or at least no more bad news on players. We’ve got enough injuries as it is so could do without the existing ones getting any longer. I doubt we’ll see the Flamster this weekend, but I’d see it as a massive bonus if he’s back for the United game.

Anyway, I’m offski to the Big Smoke, so I’ll catch you later.

Four fronts? Why not?

Morning friends of the noble red and white (and sometimes yellow and blue….and sometimes yellow and blue and white…) I hope you are well. In my world today it’s more windy than my household after a day of beans, eggy bread and full roast dinner, of which I sampled yesterday I hasten to add. Of course, it makes for a long, drawn-out train journey as Transport For London try to work out what to do with leaves and other such debris.

But do you know what? After another away win stuffed comfortably in The Arsenal’s back pocket, it’s not so bad. I can tolerate this right now because I’m in a happy place, footballistically speaking, that is. We now go into a challenging set of games in the right position and form and can take confidence from the fact that all of our rivals are still finding their feet. The Spuds relied on another (dubious) penalty, Chelski had the largest slice of luck you could hope for (clearly football karma doesn’t apply to them and they bought that too when they inherited the oil money) and United stuttered against a Stoke team that can’t seem to score too many goals.

If my opening remarks in today’s blog appear over-confident then please forgive me, it is not intended to be so, but a team on a good vein of form going into a difficult October/November is exactly what we needed. Confidence breeds confidence and we are a confidence team so need bags of it to sprinkle across the next few matches. The team certainly feel that way; Szczesny’s comments on BT Sport post match, Mertesacker’s thoughts on the official site, plus Arsene’s assertion of the advantage that our away form has given us so far. Big Per has been speaking about surprising a few people and the team has certainly done that to date. We’re now practically at the quarter point in the season and we’re still in with a good shout, regardless of how many pieces of stock footage Alan Hansen wants to wheel out from five years ago. It’s pleasing to see that all of the players interviewed however, are urging caution and concentration at this crucial stage in the season. Big Per talks of it and he is 100% right. We will need to be at our best to continue our form over the next few weeks. The fact that we’re at home in the next two games gives us a 10% advantage in my opinion, but the rest has to come from the team being ‘up for it’ twice a week until Christmas more or less.

Can we fight on all four fronts? Why not? We have a tough encounter against Chelski tomorrow night, in which Arsene will most certainly rotate, but the Chavs had a tough encounter yesterday, so Mourhino will almost certainly be forced into rotating his team too. People talk about the ‘strength in depth’ of Chelski, but forget to mention our squad players who aren’t too shabby, if I say so myself. More on team line-ups tomorrow, but it is feasible to suggest that eight or nine of the players that played on Saturday will be rested against that lot, which will keep those players fresh for Saturday and give us a better chance against an in-form Liverpool team. Yes, we then have Dortmund away followed by United away, but our rivals also play in European competition, so are affected by fatigue as much as we are. Why does that mean that they are more capable of challenging on all four fronts?

I don’t think we will win four trophies this season. Hell, I’d settle for one (ideally the Premier League), but sooner or later pundits like Hansen will have to admit that this Arsenal team are contenders – if only because the league is so open this season.

Just finally from me today, Arsene spoke of the support the fans have given Giroud since signing, putting it down to his effort and determination on the pitch. I have to say it’s great to see a player like Giroud grow in confidence every week and I’d certainly echo the superlatives that Arsene has thrown the Frenchman’s way. I’ve read a few articles suggesting that he is a player that needs an arm around him and a little bit of love. If that truly be the case, then he’s certainly at the right club, because he’ll get that from both Arsene and us. It also helps that he is effectively a lone striker in amongst a sea of creative and excellent attacking midfielders, which means his light shines even brighter when he is on form, something that is driving him to succeed even more at the moment. I still think we need another option when he’s having an off day – happens to the best of us – but for now let’s all bask in his reflective goalscoring loveliness.

Catch you tomorrow.