Monday, 31 March 2014

A GOAL A GOAL MY KINGDOM FOR A GOAL

 
The value of goals has never been more clearly emphasised than this season in the Premier league. There has been a virtual frenzy of goal scoring this time around and it is goal power that has placed Liverpool in pole position and goal power that has kept Manchester City in a great position to pounce. While City and Liverpool have legitimately world class strikers obduracy has been Chelsea’s main weapon for the most part but they have also had an ability to share the goals and in E’To they have a player who is in his twilight but still has that killer instinct and Torres can still show touches of his former goal machine self. To compete in this league you need a cutting edge in front of goal and the Arsenal had that with Ramsey’s sparkling early season form, but for the long haul all the eggs seemed to be in the Giroud basket, with Bendtner; who can be unpredictable and an unknown in Sanogo the only other pure strikers, most thought that this lack of real quality would cost us and it turns out that it has. That the situation may possibly have been rectified in the January transfer window is all conjecture but still one wonders “what if?” Even a Ferguson like temporary purchase similar to those he made when he bought in Larson and Owen may have made a difference. That would have called for expansive thinking and risk taking though.

The whole summer Suarez situation has vindicated Brendan Rodger’s determination to retain his prize asset and shows that our offer was unlikely to see Suarez in the Arsenal shirt. One suspects that had we upped the ante we may have acquired him and if Suarez had led the Arsenal line I would bargain that we may have all but clinched the title by next month: but that’s conjecture. We didn’t get him but didn’t bring in a striker of his calibre either.

The squad has simply not been good enough to cope with our injuries. Were we a club that had a good injury record you could write this season off as an anomaly and therefore not expect to have to dig deep into the ranks, but everyone knows that for some years now Arsenal’s injury record has been  appalling: ergo a strong squad was needed. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is essential.

Ramsey, Ozil, Wilshere, Koscielny, Monreal should all feature at some point in our remaining games and give us a glimpse of what might have been but going forward  there needs to be an evaluation as to why injuries hamper us time and time again. There are too many squad members that simply can’t last a season and don’t look like they’ll ever be able to. If it’s not luck, if it’s not that we have possession so much that our players receive more challenges then it must be methods that lead to our perennially packed treatment room. Has this been addressed or even thought of one wonders.

The purchase of Ozil was clearly a step in the right direction and, as I’ve said before, the young nucleus of Gibbs, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlaine, Jenkinson, Ramsey, Gnabry, Szcezny and Wilshere are cause for optimism about the future but we have to be able to have them actually on the pitch for a sustained period. There is always the fear with our club that there are other ‘Diabys’ just around the corner.

The irony is that Giroud has pretty much been fit all season and while he is certainly a good striker he is not a Championship winning striker, he doesn’t rise to the occasion often enough but he does carry the weight of that expectation: an expectation placed upon him by the Manager in the first instance.

 If we secure Champions League football again that gives us a strong hand in the ability to attract players and with the world cup ahead the shop window will be well and truly open. Most vital is that we do what we failed to do last summer, and that is to go into that ultra-competitive market for a world class striker and bring our money to the table rather than leave it sitting in the bank; whoever our manager might be.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

A QUESTION OF CHANGE


It’s not easy losing to a direct rival, its not easy being annihilated by a team as loathsome as Chelsea and its not easy taking a beating from a team managed by an obsequies popinjay like Mourinho but the truth is that the Portuguese loudmouth has got the measure of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. It seems that we are consistently failing to beat the teams with whom we purport to challenge when it comes to the crunch. Time was that a gifted XI with a strong mental attitude went to Old Trafford, The Bernabue, Anfield, Milan and Stamford Bridge expecting to get something out of the game: and they usually did. The team of which I speak was one that needed little instruction and could often beat their opponents in the tunnel before kick off. An extraordinary set of players and a thing of the past that some might argue it is futile to measure Arsenal 2014 against except that the question of the assurances made of replicating that golden era are unanswered.
The move to the Emirates came with assurances that the Arsenal would be competing home and abroad, that there would be funds available to spend on players and that if we were patient we would reap the rewards. That patience has, for many, come to an end. If yesterdays result is seen as merely an aberration then I contend that this is a false statement: it happens too often now as reverses against Manchester City and Liverpool showed before yesterday’s debacle. Our record against the other title contenders is awful: away from home it is diabolical.
What is frustrating for me is that for a ha’porth of tar the ship need not go down. To think that we could honestly compete without vital additions to the squad in the transfer window seems somewhat delusional. If it’s not delusional then questions, hard and forthright questions, need to be asked. Why do we have such a poor injury record? Something is not quite right is it? Let’s be honest it can’t just be a case of bad luck again and again. Why the 70 minute substitutions? If there was a pattern of these changes making significant impact on results I would understand but they seldom do. Why do we not adopt a tactical approach in key games? This squad of players show genuine heart on occasion and I feel that they have more of a connection with the club and supporters than previously more talented players but they are not at the level where they can just play their game without adapting to the strengths of superior opposition.
Learning from defeat is something that Arsene spoke about in Friday's Metro yet can we honestly say we've seen enough in the last few years to suggest that any learning has taken place?
The answers to these questions can only really be answered by one man: the Manager. Like it or not I think he makes decisions that he feels are in the best interests of the club, but what if he’s wrong? What if his belief judgement and methods are no longer effective? Some are bogged down with hurling insult and invective at fellow supporters whose views on Wenger differ, but the thing is that in the Football world, especially at the highest level the manager is ultimately held accountable. I think that by and large Arsenal supporters have shown great patience given the cost of watching the team, the loss of our better players and Arsene’s failure on 34 consecutive occasions to win a trophy and perhaps this 1000th game malarkey meant that some took their eye off the ball.
The manager should not be above criticism: constructive criticism, yet some dare not raise their head above the parapet to raise concern.
The revival of Arsenal that changed us from a fair to middling outfit into a club that won titles, competed at the top of the table, appeared in European finals and won cup competitions along the way along the way probably started in 1989 under George Graham then, after a pause for Bruce Rioch, continued with Arsene Wenger until our move to Ashburton Grove. Yes none foresaw the rise of the Billionaire plaything clubs (why I don’t know: financial analysts and all that) but is it a case that other managers and Clubs have taken Wenger’s innovations and marched forward or could it be that Arsene is a man out of step?
I’ll have no talk of not wanting to win the FA cup: we have to, it’s as simple as that. Our patience deserves that.

A lot of questions in this post, the reason being that I really don’t know what ails our club meaning I can’t diagnose a cure. But whatever acronym camp you choose to fall into it seems to me that our Manager has to make some changes in order to learn from defeat and move forward. Whether he is capable of that or even thinks he needs to is anyone’s guess. Wanting Wenger, who after all is a decent bloke, to change and learn from adversity is what most want but I fear that deep down he won’t or can’t.


Friday, 14 March 2014

THE WOLVES OF FLEET STREET


Often we have perceptions and expectations that need to be realigned, one such perspective can be that of injustice, lack of fairness or bias. An expectation could be that equality, reasonableness and morals are to be held as sacrosanct.
I’m talking about how the radio stations listened to, the newspapers read and the social media sites perused fail to align with our perceptions of accuracy and intellect and how they fail to meet our expectations.

Any talk of unfavourable and unreasonable criticism is dismissed as paranoia, outrage at generalisation and systematic courting of criticism is seen as petulance.
Fact is that when the gentlemen of the sports press (and it is mostly still a male bastion let’s not forget: save for the excellent Amy Lawrence) draw their weapons and take aim at The Arsenal there seems to be a degree of relish at writing epitaphs and glee at reporting any perceived failing.
Is it in the blood one wonders: we all should know that in the 30’s when Arsenal, who represented all that was brash about London and the South in general, had the temerity to gate crash the Northern based world of successful football vitriol soon followed. And what’s more we did it with the finest manager of his time who hailed from that sacred land of clogs and whippets.

I am under no illusion that Liverpool and Manchester United have been feted for decades and it’s absolutely right to say that they have achieved great things over the years but London, what to do about London. Even though most sports writers gather in the heart of the capital they uniformly take against London’s most successful club.

The other capital clubs receive somewhat different treatment. The press love Chelsea: all those tales on the Kings Road in the swinging sixties and sexy seventies and now with the Portuguese media darling at the helm. West ham with the echoes of 66 ringing in many a Fleet Street ear and the references to the academy and Bobby Moore. Spurs, oh how the press love the Spurs; not sure why. But they do.
And then theirs us, messing up things at Anfield in ‘89 providing a Yin to Manchester United’s yang in the golden era of the Premiership, winning obdurately and winning flamboyantly but too many red cards, too many foreign players and a manager who won’t play the game with the boys with the biros.

Thing is I’m used to it. I don’t listen to Talksport; why listen to invective that is designed to boost ratings, I don’t read the tabloids; you’ve seen one broken cannon you’ve seen them all but most worrying is that the same sort of sloppy journalistic tropes have crept into the ‘serious’ writer’s repertoire.

The sad truth seems to be that supporters of the Arsenal need to impose upon themselves a media blackout to avoid bouts of anger, frustration and irritation.

I don’t like it when the Arsenal are being liked by this lot because I always get the feeling that, like the dodgy salesman that they have become ever closer to resembling, they get on your good side only to show their true colours when you let your guard down.


Sunday, 2 March 2014

IS ARSENE UP FOR THE CUPS?


Discussion continues and appears to be divisive, regarding Arsene Wenger’s ability to lead the team to success when the chips are down. Players that don’t perform are one thing and injuries seem to plague us but you have to look at who is responsible for acquiring players in the first place and who is responsible for managing and motivating them: in effect is it not the Manager’s job to buy players that he thinks are going to strengthen the squad, within his available budget, and then get the best from them? With this in mind getting the best from the team should really manifest itself in the big occasions. Winners step up to the plate when they need to and when looking to write a page in history a cup final is as good a place as any to make that mark.

Wenger may not be the big game manager that we once thought he was. When looking at the big cup games we see some worrying statistics.

On a positive note his FA cup final stats are good: FA Cup Final record- P5 W4 L1.

However, when looking at the record in other Cup competitions,at the business end, it makes for rather sober reading.

League Cup Final Record-P2 W0 L2
ECL Final Record-P1 W0 L1
EUFA Cup FinaL-P1 W0 L1
ECL Semi Final-P2 W1 L1

ECL Quarter Finals-P5 W1 L4

Of course the biggest game of all was the ECL Final of 2006. Not withstanding that we lost to a very good Barça team I think that Wenger made 4 critical errors in the 2006 Champions League Final.

1. Breaking up the best defensive unit in the history of the Champions League to accommodate a soon to depart Ashley Cole.

2. Withdrawing the experienced and predatory Robert Pires rather than Reyes when Lehman was dismissed.

3. At 2-1 not bringing on Bergkamp/Van Persie and going for broke.

4. The quality of Lehman's replacement: both Barça goals conceded by Almunia at the near post.

It seems that cometh the hour Wenger's choices were found wanting. Which brings me back to the here and now.
 

The FA Cup is a realistic aspiration this season and a home draw is all you can ask at this stage of the competition. The forthcoming game against Everton is, to an extent, our biggest game of the season. With the press eagerly awaiting our implosion: knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern, receiving fatal blows in the title race from Man City and Chelsea. The Arsenal need to deliver in the FA Cup to keep momentum going in what has by and large been a better than expected season given the squad we started it with. Arsene Wenger needs to produce a showpiece victory and wembley is a great place for that in a competition he has had success in as
 even if we qualify for the ECL(again) the media will be unflinching in their opprobrium towards our club and our manager.
 

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