Hanging On In There…

If this blog was a football manager’s career, it would one heading back up the tunnel at half time in a tricky FA Cup tie 2 nil down surrounded by a murk of doom, the crowd baying for blood and the media vultures looking forward to feasting on the carcass of a spent man…

However miracles do happen, both in football, and in football blogging. After preparing to kick the can on Come on the Arsenal once and for all, there’s been a last minute change of heart. Web hosts have been changed (sorry if you called by when we down), photos have been lost and a lot of fannying around remains to be done, but COTA survives!!! Hurrah.

The reality is that our bloggin’ trio are up to our tiny nuts in paper chasing, nappy changing, drinking beer and we’ve barely got a second to spare for scribbling about our beloved Arse. But once in a blue moon, I at least am going to try. (Whether I’m able to ever bribe my cohorts out of retirement is another matter).  And who knows, it we ever make it rich doing our normal jobs, it may be our cue to get back to business again.

The better news is that both Andre the Giant and SmartArse like to Tweet their hearts out, so if a bit of a verbal cut and jib on the old social media are your cup of Earl Grey then shimmy on over to our account…

http://twitter.com/arsenal_blog

In the meantime Arse lovers keep the faith. I have a sneaky feeling this season might not turn out so bad after all…

 

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Great Expectations

We asked for new signings… and despite a summer of grumbling, pessimism, over-reaction and even despairing cries of “let’s all start supporting Man City” (don’t worry I had a pistol in my pocket and was ready to fake my fellow bloggers’ handwriting in a suicide-pact note should they have suggested it), we did finally get some fresh faces into the club. Nine of them to be precise!

Whilst five were dramatically signed in between The Old Trafford Massacre and deadline day, people seem to have forgotten already that four were signed before that. So, just as a recap, here’s our Graham with a quick reminder of the INs and OUTs… starting with a farewell to those who have moved on:

OUT: Cesc Fabregas (we’ll miss you buddy!) [for not enough million], Samir Nasri (stop checking Viera out in the showers, you Gallic two-faced ponce) [24 million], Gael Clichy (let’s remember the good times) [7 million], Emmanuel Eboue (it was entertaining… if little else) [4 million], Armand Traore (can’t believe we got some money for you!) [2 million], Gilles Sunu (who?) [Undisclosed Fee] and Jay Emmanuel Thomas (so long) [Undisclosed Fee]. We’ve also loaned out a tonne of players including first team squad members, Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner and Carlos Vela… and whilst I’ve got fond feelings towards all three my ruthless streak says we’ve got rid of some, if not dead, slightly moldy and lichen-eaten wood.

As for the cavalry, they arrive in the form of…

IN: Gervinho [10 million], Carl Jenkinson [1 million] Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain [15 million], Joel Campbell [1 million, on loan due to work permit problems], Chu Young Park [3 million], Andre Dos Santos [6.2 million], Per Mertesacker [8 million], Yossi Benayoun [loan] and Mikel Arteta [10 million].

(NB: All fees are approximate, made up, or cribbed from other sources who approximated or made them up).

So now for the fun part… what can we expect from the new boys? Or, more precisely, since I can’t answer that question, what am I expecting from the new boys? And why?

Gervinho

A classic example of what Wenger would consider a big name signing in that he only cost 10 million and was pilfered out of the much better value for money Ligue 1. The fact that Wenger had targeted him early in the transfer window is reassuring and you have to think that Le Prof knows what he is doing on this one. In 53 appearances for Lille last season he garnered 18 goals and 10 assists, which is not bad going. So far for Arsenal he whet our appetite in pre-season with two well taken goals on his debut, but then managed to stupidly get himself sent off against Newcastle. Some redemption came from an assist against Udinese, presenting RVP with a tap in for what was obviously a crucial goal for our ambitions this season. He’s definitely going to be a great addition to our squad, my one concern is that he’s another Theo or Arshavin. Moments of brilliance, with a fair bit of wastefulness or bad decision making, tripping over the ball etc. He looks like he’s got the right attitude though and it would only take some awareness of his defensive duties to potentially oust either of the aforementioned for a regular starting role.

Carl Jenkinson

Hmmm, bit early to tell on this one. Pressed into action way too early in the campaign bearing in mind his inexperience, and although he’s shown some admirable qualities hard to say if he’s going to inherit the number 1 spot as right back even after Sagna’s gone. Eboue was becoming a bit of liability as back up though, so hopefully CJ’s introduction will put paid to 107th minute penalties at least.

AOC

Wenger’s spent big money on this boy and the fact that Man U were sniffing around has to be a good sign. He’s got the right attitude, and with his Dad, a former England man, keeping him on focused, I’m expecting big things. AW seems to think he can make an impact this season, but I don’t see that too be honest.

Chu Young Park

This is a man worth getting excited about I feel. Captain of South Korea the former Monaco man netted 12 times in 33 appearances last season – not too shabby bearing in mind they got relegated. Having watched the video of his international exploits at the weekend, where he scored a great hat trick against Lebanon, he seems to be a versatile goal scorer who can net with his head or feet, and his first touch looks fantastic.

Per Mertesacker

Of all the new signings Per is the one that most has been written about… much of it negative. Many have questioned his pace, some have said he only thrives in a certain environment, and others have said he was all over the place during Germany’s poor outing against Poland last weekend (read here for damning analysis on his limitations). I have my concerns too. The way we defend, half way up the field, could be a problem if he really is as slow as people say, whilst his upper body is bit more David de Gea than Drogba. However as Captain of Werder Bremen, an international with 75 caps to his name who’s played in the Euro 2008 final and World Cup semi finals and with a great reputation in Germany it’s hard to see him being a failure at Arsenal. At 6’6″ he should help with the set piece problem that has been dogging us for a while and he’ll have plenty of defenders with pace, plus Alex Song, around to help him. You get the feeling that certain quarters of the press want to see him fail because AW opted for an 8 million German instead of a 17 million Englishman… but on paper he looks like a better player than Cahill.

Andre Santos

The joker in the pack! As far as we knew Wenger wasn’t even looking for a Clichy replacement, happily leaving Jose Enrique to drift off to Liverpool and not following up purported interest in Leighton Baines. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, we’ve snapped up Brazil’s left back. With Gibbs as brittle as egg shells and Traore taking his year’s supply of Wrigleys off to QPR, thankfully AW saw some sense. Ok, I know, I know I shouldn’t get excited by one Youtube clip. But this guy has got technique by the bagful. And he follows up every trick with a laser accurate pass with the outside of his boot. I’m seriously excited about this boy. When we’ve struggled against teams it’s usually because we can’t play our way out of the left and right back positions. Even if he is a bit dodgy in defense (he plays for Brazil so he can’t be that bad!) I think the virtues of having someone as comfortable on the ball as he seems will help us get back to our possession hoarding, chance creating ways. With 10 goals in 52 appearances from Fenerbache as well it’s safe to say he is going to open up whole new worlds of attacking intent, unknown in the Clichy era.

Mikel Arteta

This is the boy that got all the fans purring. A big money (for AW) signing, a creative midfielder, with age and experience in the Premier League – ie. we’ve actually heard of him! I have to say that I can’t remember ever having seen him play so I’m going to have to reserve judgment. Overall I’m a bit less excited than most, as the general consensus is he hasn’t been quite the same since coming back from his serious injury (3 goals and 4 assists last year only!) and personally I still find it a bit strange that David Moyes left him go on deadline day, just because the player said he wanted to go… His career stats aren’t mind blowing either. In 208 appearances for Everton he scored 33 goals (many from penalties I believe) and got 41 assists. In 303 appearances for Arsenal Cesc managed 57 goals and a whopping 100 assists. Anyhow let’s not be pessimistic… by ordinary standards his stats are ok and put him in a good team, with the likes of RVP on the end of his passes, and there’s every chance the assists will start flowing. By all accounts he’s a good technical player and strong in the tackle, and let’s face it, he has to be an improvement on Rosicky in his current form. I’m sure he’s be a valuable addition who can take some pressure of Ramsey for a season or two.

Yossi Benayoun

A classic Wenger gamble! A rival reject, aging, signed with no medical…. but dirt cheap. Fans would have been furious if he was the only midfielder Arsenal signed on deadline day, but luckily for him Arteta put pen to paper too, meaning that he has been perceived as a shrewd bit of cover. Personally I think he could be much more than that. Having watched him several times with Liverpool I feel he’s a really dynamic player who can come on, make things happen and change the game. In fact, he was one of the only ‘Pool players in recent years they could look too to win games when Gerrard and Torres were making one of their frequent visits to the treatment table. My prediction is that he could make himself a cult hero at the Emirates… and may even nail down a starting spot.

So enough talk already… the Swansea game is nigh! Hopefully we’ll get a glimpse of some of the new boys at least, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see starts for Mertesacker and Arteta in particular, what with Vermaelen and Jack out and Song and Frimpong suspended. It promises to be an interesting game. Let’s hope that the new signings gel pretty quick as this is one we definitely can’t afford to lose if we’re finally going to get the 2011-12 season on track… If we’re able to put a few past the newbies so much the better, as I think we all agree putting a bit of pride back in the shirt would be a wonderful thing right now!

Come on the Arsenal!!!!!!!!!

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Six Years And Counting

Posted by Andre The Giant

On Sunday, Mo Farah, celebrity Arsenal fan and customised running show wearer, won a gold at the World Athletics Championship. After the Sun somehow linked his narrow loss in the 10,000m to Arsenal 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, the Radio 5 presenter quipped that Arsenal had finally won a trophy. Despite the utter stupidity that an Arsenal fan winning a sporting event somehow equated to Arsenal winning a trophy it still egged me up enough to curse loudly at the car radio. It has become the stock comment of the uneducated football commenter (sic).

“Oh, you support Arsenal do you? That must be annoying, they haven’t won anything for ages”

Unfortunately, it is an indefensible fact that Arsenal are the only team out of the current ‘top 6’ who have not won a major trophy since the 2004/05 season. But hold on a second. The FA Cup and League Cup have become second rate trophies in recent years so is it fair to include these in the list of major trophies? If you exclude them and consider only Premier League and Champions League trophies then only two English teams, Man Utd and Chelsea, have won a major trophy in the past six seasons. I was interested, therefore, to devise a more intelligent and sensible measure of how teams have performed since 2005 and also to relate this to the club’s available resources.

So we at COTA have devised a (hopefully) reasonably objective measure of performance summarised in the following tables. The tables show the league positioning for each team in the past 6 seasons then tallies trophy wins and allocates points to performances in the following manner:

Champions League or Premier League Title 10 points
FA Cup 5 points
League Cup 4 points
Champions League Qualification 3 points

I did consider including a differential between automatic qualification (top 3 in the league) and reaching the qualifying rounds (fourth) but as every team that has finished fourth has qualified for the final group stages I decided against it.

So here it is:

performance 1

performance 2

Clearly there are other appropriate methods that will throw up slightly different results but it seems a fair conclusion that Man Utd are far and away the most successful English team of the past 6 years with Chelsea following a fair way behind. Arsenal and Liverpool are pretty much on a par having underperformed relative to their previous accolades. Man City have made impressive headway in the past two seasons considering their fairly abject performances up to 2008-09 (but there’s an obvious reason for that, see later) and Tottenham are given far more credit than they deserve having achieved top 4 status only once in the period and a majority of their points coming from what was ultimately a reserve team cup competition.

This is all good and well. There’s nothing really to write home about as an Arsenal fan, other than the fact that it does seem unfair to be continually taunted with the ‘no trophies for 6 years’ when their overall performance has been relatively consistent over the period. To bring some more detail into the analysis we need to consider the resources available to each club. Only one team of the six (Arsenal, obviously) built a new £470m stadium, financed by a £260m bond issue (a first for a European football club). As much as every Arsenal fan wants Arsenal to spend big money on players, with this level of debt commitment and without an open pursed financier, it is simply not possible. That has been the cross that Arsene Wenger has had to bear pretty much single handidly over the period.

So here’s a summary of transfer spending courtesy of www.transferleague.co.uk. It’s not an exact science as it relies on the information that clubs chose to make public. It doesn’t include sell on fees, bonuses or any other special terms and also doesn’t consider a club’s wage bills (a player obtained on a free transfer could cost a club astronomical amounts of money over the period of their contract due to high wage demands). However, this is high level stuff and I don’t have the time to do that research myself so this is the best resource we’re going to get.

performance 3

How does this improve the picture? Man Utd, despite being helped by the sale of Christiano Ronaldo, have still performed incredibly well given their transfer budget. Ferguson’s ability to remain at the top of the game clearly shows him to be one of the greatest football managers of all time (I know he’s a red nosed, rambling tosser, but credit where it’s due).

Man City’s spending is just not funny. £343,000,000 in the last three seasons and God knows what in wage bills. If they don’t win everything very soon then it will be the most outrageously ill advised investment since the Titanic’s insurance underwriter said ‘no problems here’.

Chelsea, the original billionaire’s play thing, have continued to spend themselves into contention. Despite their managerial problems they still remain United’s most viable challengers.

Liverpool spent considerable in the first three years of the period and it nearly paid off in 2008-09. Since then the spending has dropped off and they have suffered as a result.

Tottenham are the only team of the six not to have made a transfer profit during the period. If you consider the kudos that Redknapp is given by the English press both for his transfer wheeling and dealing and their one season of Champions League football, their performances against spending is frankly astonishing. How the Tottenham board can allow him to continue with such a lack of success relative to his reckless spending is completely beyond me. Yet, do we ever hear anyone comment on their lack of league wins in the past 50 years? Do we heck!

Finally, Arsenal. Due to the constraints of the bond issue, the club has achieved a net profit of £24.5m in the six seasons since their last trophy win. Note that I have not included this season’s transfer activity so the figure does not include the net £17,500,000 profit as a result of the sales of Fabregas and Nasri. To put this in perspective this doesn’t only put them at the foot of the table in terms of spend of the six biggest clubs, it puts them at the bottom of the entire current premier league. Maintaining a top four position under these financial conditions is quite frankly a phenomenal achievement. Fans and media who do not recognise this are naïve. Questions about Arsene Wenger’s credentials are mere insults.

So there we have it. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary in this analysis but it does put a bit more meat on the bones of the argument that, despite not winning anything in the last six years, Arsenal remain a successful football club. The results of the season will be incredibly interesting. If Arsenal achieve another top four placing then I hope they receive the credit they deserve instead of a chorus of “7 years without a trophy”.

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I Am Arsene Wenger

Posted by Andre The Giant

I am not Arsene Wenger. I share very little in common with the great man. I have never, to my knowledge, managed a premier league football team, I am not a millionaire and I am most certainly not French. I do, however, share two things in common with le prof. I have an economics degree for starters and I am tight as a duck’s arse for seconds. It is these two attributes that allow me to have some perspective on the lack of action that has occurred this summer during the transfer window and potentially put Arsenal in it’s most vulnerable position since George Graham slipped that brown envelope in to his coat pocket.

Let me elaborate. For the past year I have been trying to buy a house. I understand the theory of markets and I believe that, primarily, an equilibrium market price exists for a good. This is the point at which the supply curve crosses the demand curve. Yes, there are other competing theories that involve themselves in different ways but this is the primary driver. So, to my mind, when there is no one buying houses because they can’t get credit and have no cash reserves because, ultimately, they can’t actually afford to buy a house, the market price should be driven down. For some reason, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Sellers persist with outrageously inflated prices and houses sit on the market for months without being sold. It is against my personal nature to just bite the bullet and pay what is being asked because I don’t feel like I will be getting value for money. And, I believe, it is this concept that overwhelms Arsene in the transfer market and has prevented him making the signings that everyone thinks we so desperately need and I’m sure he agrees with.

To transpose the concept to the football transfer market, you have a handful of clubs able to pay top dollar for players. I don’t need to name them but they’re the clubs who had their deals done early because money was no object and they cared little what the market price should be (how much did Citeh pay for Nasri when they could have him for free in 12 months is the perfect example). But these teams don’t want to buy every player available so do not dictate the market. But the selling clubs think they do. They’re all massively in debt because no one is able to run a football club in profit these days (well almost no one) so they want what they think Citeh or Chelsea will pay, even if these clubs don’t want the player. Rightfully, Arsene offers what he thinks the player is worth and the selling club tells him to do one because they want twice that amount. So we have two options, pay the going rate like everyone else or try and be clever and play the market a bit, find a bargain and prove everyone else to be idiots.

So the situation that you’re in is, you have a bunch of people continuing to pay over the odds for something (the idiots) driving the market higher and higher and creating a new economic theory in the process (dumb ass price theory I like to call it). This is what happens in the property market and it is the reason I don’t want to be involved in it. The consequence is that people tend to tell you again and again, “you just have to get on the ladder, pay the asking price like everyone else does”. If you don’t do that then people actually wish failure on you. They’re jealous that you haven’t bowed to peer pressure like they have and therefore hope you get bitten in the arse. The same goes for football. For years now, people have been jealous of Arsenal and their ability to create a competitive team whilst maintaining a positive bank balance and playing attractive football. 15 years of Champions League qualification whilst making nearly £80m profit on transfers. It’s certainly a big fuck you to teams like Tottenham who have spent something like £350m for one lucky season of Champions League football. So people have been desperate for a crisis at Arsenal. If you can’t see that from the tabloid coverage then you are mole eyed bat. And finally, they have what they want, or what they assume to be what they want. I don’t buy it myself but there you go.

I didn’t see yesterday’s game due to being on a very lovely holiday in Italy. I tell you what, it does wonders for the stress levels and your ability to care about the transfer window. Anyway, I gather it was a shambles, players not deserving to wear the shirt, complete capitulation. But that’s nothing new, it happened last season several times before we sold our two best players. The fact that, this time, we were without our next 7 best players should really shed some light on to the problem. It was a Carling Cup team, with a Carling Cup result. The fact that we could have been 3-3 had RVP scored his pelanty and Arshavin scored his one on one shows that it wasn’t the second to worst game in our history even if it was the second to worst result.

So where do we go from here? If the consequence is that Arsene is sacked (and that could well be the case as I haven’t checked the news yet today) then I will find it deeply hard to watch Arsenal for a long time. If it means that we can wait a few games until we get out first team fit and win a few games and realise that we’re not in crisis after all that would suit me. I don’t think we’ll buy any more expensive players though, much like I won’t go out tomorrow and buy a house for a million quid that I think is worth half that. Me and Arsene know what’s what you see.

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Adeu Fabregas, Au Revoir Nasri… Hallo Schweinsteiger (bitte!)?

Posted by Sonuvagun

So no prizes for guessing why we at COTA have been a bit slack of late. In case you hadn’t noticed the Arsenal world is so depressing it’s hard to summon up the required amount of calories to pen even a piffling post about how deep into the abyss our hopes have sunk. Captain Fab has gone, Nasri is 99.9% out as we speak, our usual injury crisis has set in right from the offset of the season (compounded by a three stupid and unnecessary suspensions) and Wenger is wheeling out the same old trite cliches regarding his lack of spending… it’s undeniably gloomy, and even the most optimistic fan is facing this season with a heart of dread. Put your hands up if you wouldn’t take 4th place in the League right now if it was offered? And group qualification in the CL and maybe an FA Cup semi-final. If these are our targets/hopes it’s sad to see how far we’ve slipped…

Naturally the Le Boss has come under a lot of stick, and whilst I am still of the opinion he is by far the best man in the job, at some point (he’s got about 7 days) he is going to have to pull his head of the sand and deliver an honest appraisal of the players he has at his disposal. And he’s got to start counting the cost of blooding youngsters in in the first team, where experience is needed in every position if you want to be in with a shout at a title. For a long time we (the fans) were maybe happy to pitch up in second or third position on the basis that this was a team growing up together… a crack group of youth players about to peak and dominate the footballing universe. But the selling of Fabregas at 24 and Nasri at 23 has just blown that ideology out of the water. A big team needs to be competitive every year if it is to retain its star players, and – much as it pains me to say it – you only have to look at Manchester United to see how much better they are at blooding in talented youngsters with seen-it-all-before-veterans, whilst winning a heap of trophies along the way.

How much is Wenger to blame? Who knows. How many deals has he tried to strike that have been hijacked? What limitations has the board set? To what extent has player/agent greed forced his hand? His refusal to acknowledge his mistakes, or change his line (at least publicly) hardly bodes well though. Nor does it keep the fans on his side.

So what about Fabregas? Well my view is he gave everything for 8 years and that’s enough. We all knew he wanted to go back to Barca. In some ways its surprising he stayed as long as he did. There’s nothing much to do but wish him well. As for Nasri… he’s deservedly come in for some abuse. But he’s hardly the devil. He was ready to honour his contract. He never sulked or demanded a move, and if you compare his demeanour to say Luka Modric right now, you have to say he hasn’t been that bad. Modric with 5 years left to run on his contract is all but refusing to play for Spurs in order to force a move, Nasri with one year left kept a low profile and we’ve at least managed to get a huge fee for him. Personally I feel we should have just given him the wages he asked for when he asked for them. Even if you can’t compete on transfer fees you have to compete on wages if you want to get/keep the top players… whether that was down to the board or AW drawing the line I don’t know. We’ll survive without him, and he’s an arrogant little shite for sure, but he was an exciting player and losing him in the same year as Fab is going to hurt us technically and psychologically.

What now? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? It all depends on who we can bring in. Our defense may be creaky, but with TV back in the squad and Koscielny fully blooded in it should be stronger than last year, even if AW doesn’t buy. What we’re really desperately missing now is one or two star quality play makers. Fabregas and Nasri were both key to our high possession style of play and creativity/goals. The likes of Walcott and Arshavin, whilst dangerous, simply give the ball away too cheaply too often. (and I get the impression, from what we’ve seen so far, that Gervinho is of the same mold). They’re danger men held together by the passing prowess of our midfield maestros. Who have we got who can dictate the game in the middle of the park and keep us ticking… Rosicky – too crap. Diaby – too injured/sloppy. Song – limited passing range. Wilshere or Ramsey – maybe, but they are both unfinished products. We’ve just lost arguably the best passer of the ball in football, and one of the most dangerous on the ball players, both of whom hardly ever gave away possession. Wenger is going to have to pull something special out of the bag to replace them and I for one am very worried it’s not even possible… Nonetheless, and whilst we rightly acknowledge it’s partly his fault that he’s left it to the 11th hour (although Barca, Man City and Chelsea – for hijacking the Mata deal – are all also to blame), if you were to charge one man with bringing an outrageously good signing to the Emirates with 7 days before the transfer window closed, who would it be?

Dear Mr. Wenger this is your chance for redemption. And if he comes in the form of Bastian Schweinsteiger so much the better… With him and Song in midfield our defence could be Squillaci, Silvestre, a blindfolded Gael Clichy and me, with David de Gea in goal, and we’d still keep a clean sheet every game.

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What Now For Arsenal?

Posted by Sonuvagun

With the dust finally settled on the 2010/11 season (but sadly not in such a thick layer as to be able to entirely obscure it from view) and the interminable nonsense and fabrications of the summer transfer season winding up through the gears, maybe now is a good time for reflection. A licking of the wounds and sound appraisal of the situation.

Obviously, given the extension of our much talked about trophy drought, pretty much any Arse-related emotions are doomed to be negative and a couple of weeks distance haven’t changed that as far as I’m concerned. As disasters go that second half of the season would take some beating… even with Manure shipping a generous amount of points in the closing stages of the season we still ended up 12 points behind them, winning an absolutely pathetic 3 games in 3 months (and two of those were against Leyton Orient and Blackpool), and deservedly slipping into 4th place. It was truly torturous stuff and a finale that would have seen any other manager sacked without reprieve, that did have fans laying into everyone from the gaffer, to the players, to each other, and will almost certainly see the breaking up of this group of players… who promised so much for so long but never delivered.

For me the season really was a crying shame. At the half way point it seemed Wenger and his boys were finally going to stuff it to the critics and lay the foundation of several successive years of domestic and possibly European dominance – and they were going to do it their way, with players that had been growing up and playing together for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 years. Instead a cruel error, a ridiculous yellow card, a stupid penalty (I’m thinking of Eboue’s push in the 109th minute against Liverpool) all turned out to be key turning points in our season… they all seemed to reinforce the belief within the team that Arsenal was a losing side. Trophies? Not us Sir!

The truth is more complex of course. In recent years, but especially this season, the team has just seemed too frail. Take out just a couple of big names for a game or two and there’s been consistent under-performing. This year the problem seemed particularly acute, and for one reason or another supposedly decent squad players turned into hamfooted liabilities and our best players – Nasri, Fabregas, Arshavin weren’t able to supply the goods often enough either. Factor in our usual injury woes and maybe the writing was on the wall all along… certainly that’s what our critics, and even a large number of Arsenal fans, said all along. The smug twats.

I love Wenger. He’s the whole reason I support Arsenal, but he’s really made a rod for his own back in this case. I believe that all of his principles are, generally speaking, correct, but his inability to bend them to the occasion, the reality of the situation, have cost us dearly. Look at how much more successful Ferguson has been in overhauling his teams and still challenging every year for titles: there’s two things he does very differently to Wenger. 1) Keep his veterans at the club for as long as possible and 2) spend big where he has too. We know why Arsene hasn’t done so, but at what point does saving a few quid become a false economy? How much more money would we have received if we’d only won a few trophies and got a few points in the PL every year in the last few years? How many more shirts would we sell? How much more would sponsorship be worth?

If you could have had one more player at the club this year who would it have been? How about an outstanding centre back, a die-hard tough-tackling no nonsense winner, plenty of Premiership experience, excellent in the air and capable of scoring crucial goals? And available on a free transfer! Ladies and gentleman, I give you William Gallas. And yet we let him go over a crappy fucking pay dispute. If we genuinely couldn’t afford him that would be one thing, but we replace him with someone significantly less successful nearing the same age, who we have to cough up 3-6 million quid for (depending who you believe). Whatever you think about Gallas he was our best defender for pretty much every season he played with us, we missed him badly whenever he was gone, and whereas he may have an ego the size of an elephant, with elephantiasis, he was exactly what we needed this season.

The season before, what did we really really need? A proven goalscorer to deputize for our beloved sicknote RVP. It was of course the same season Wenger sold Adebayor, failed to replace him, and then – even when our need was so desperate and apparent – refused to cough up a paltry 2 million to get Chamakh to North London early. Yes we saved 2 million pounds in transfer fees, but how much did we lose financially indirectly, not to mention trophically (look it up, it’s there) because our squad was underequipped?

I’m not surprised people are calling for Wenger’s resignation/dismissal. If those were two of his bigger mistakes there’s been plenty more, and now the failures these mistakes have led to may see us lose the likes of Nasri and Fabregas… which will obviously be an enormous double body blow to the team. Whatever you think of Nasri’s behaviour of late (and I think he’s being a complete cuntface!) and Fabregas’ increasingly frequent homeward glances, the fact remains that they are two world class players that are both likely to be wearing different coloured shirts next season. If success breeds success then equally failure breeds failure and there’s a real danger Wenger has done some irreparable damage taking, what from the outside at least, look like unnecessary or downright stupid gambles.

Wenger needs to stop planning for the future, which I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed never arrives – that is after all the nature of the future – and think about what he needs right now to win the title. Hopefully he won’t see all his best players fuck off before he has the chance to rectify his mistakes…

But anyway, before we get too doom-and-gloomy there have been some positives to dwell on this season as well. Firstly our goalkeeping crisis seems to have solved itself. No one has mentioned Fabianski since the Bronze age ended but he was doing at least as well as Szczesny did subsequently and that’s a huge positive for the club. The emergence of Jack Wilshere as the best thing since sliced bread, covered with a 2mm thick layer of chocolate spread, right up the very edges of the crusts, is of course the biggest positive of all and I don’t think I really need to go on at this point about why that is (esp. if you read SmartArse’s recent excellent post). Personally I’m a big fan of Koscielny’s too, and Robin Van P’s late season form would have been enough to cement a title in any other Arsenal team except the one that turned up between February to May 2011. Let’s not forget that we also won huge games against Barcelona, Man U and Chelsea, which I feel were important psychologically (it had been a while!) and also of course hugely enjoyable at the time, even if they seem a bit hollow now.

So, I guess all of this was a preamble to the question “what now for Arsenal?”.We know Bendtner and Denilson are set to leave (not many tears there, although I have a feeling Big Nick will go on to do well), Nasri and Fabregas are walking on a tightrope (I am hoping Fab holidaying with Van Persie is a good sign), meanwhile Eboue, Clichy and Arshavin are all being linked with moves away from the Emirates, and you hope that Rosicky and Almunia are on their way out too. That means a busy summer indeed, as the vast majority of those – you hope Wenger realises – need replacing from the outside. Promising as the likes of Gibbs, Frimpong and Lansbury are they are not ready. Gibbs in particular looked like a liability at times at left back.

Wenger may be infuriating at times, and some of his penny-pinching, rose-tinted squad selection and obstinate refusal to court anything so base as tactics (he’s all about a football philosophy, man) undoubtedly cost the team, but he is a manager of great strengths too. One of those is his skill in the transfer market and fabled ability to pluck world class players from everywhere from African shanty towns to Belgian sunday leagues, or wherever else they might be hiding. There’s really nothing else to do this summer for Arsenal fans except put our faith in La Prof and hope that for every French-avaricious-egotistical-wannabe-Zidane-twat-sized problem there’s one of Wenger’s magical solutions. That and remember, that whatever else happens, we’ve got Jack Wilshere.

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Jack the Lad? He's already a man

Posted by SmartArse

Buried somewhere in what sounds rather like a bad chat up line of a title is a rather serious point. Because while it’s been a tad grouchy around the Emirates of late, one of few things we’ve all been unwaveringly positive about is Jack Wilshere. Jack is, obviously, a magnificent talent; but of all the things that have impressed, it’s been those expected least that have been most outstanding.

Jack has displayed a remarkable maturity this season, beyond not only his years, but more importantly his own reputation. He was supposed to be impetuous, wild, oh-my-god-someone-fetch-this-nutter-a-straight-jacket Jack. Instead he’s largely measured, balanced and grounded.

Take for example, his conduct surrounding the whole ludicrous under 21s debacle. Jack really wanted to play, but when shown (or as is likely, shoved strongly in the direction of) the statistical evidence of his own fatigue he didn’t whine, didn’t throw a strop. Instead he took it all in and explained to Pearce himself than he had to miss out. He shouldered the load as if it were his own choice, when really, he was probably just doing what he was told.

It’s been a transformative year off the pitch almost as much as on. In August he was arrested after a ‘fracas’ (I love that word). Almost a year later, he’s all over the back pages again, but as a statesman, the press pack’s go-to guy. He’s no longer just the darling of the media as !!THE NEXT BIG THING!?!! Journalists love him. He gives a good interview because he’s open and frank. It took Rio Ferdinand a decade to make the jump from idiot to icon, Jack Wilshere just a year. If anything he probably spends too much time apologising on Twitter.

Rio Ferdinand: mature, apparently

Rio Ferdinand: mature, apparently

Not that all work and no play has made Jack a dull boy. Today’s retirement of the similarly brilliant Paul Scholes serves as ample reminder that Jack still has a lot to learn in the tackle and a touch in keeping his cool when frustrated, but at 19 I can live with the odd lapse in self-control.

He’s quoted today as saying Arsenal should surround the ref more, but so what? It’s not some Neanderthal Joey Barton-esque outburst. What he means is that Arsenal need to develop the sort of collective spirit that dragged United to the title. Can you really say he’s wrong? This is exactly the sort of leadership and drive that Arsenal fans have been crying out for since the dawn of time. Or maybe that’s just twitter, I forget.

Of course, we have to be careful. The press (and probably this sycophantic shit you’re reading now) would probably have him captain of En-ger-land and Arsenal quicker than you can say ‘hyperbole’, but he’s already shedding the baggage that threatened to drag him down.

Oh, and apparently he’s not bad at football either.

God, I miss it already. Bring on next year.

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Tottenham 3 – 3 Arsenal: Better Performance But Same Old Story

Posted by Andre The Giant

One of the lovely things about Come On The Arsenal is that we have three bloggers, of which our only shared view is a passion for Arsenal. Often our thoughts regarding the current state of affairs of the club are wildly different. Monday being a perfect example, I pretty much didn’t agree with a word that SmartArse said. I thought Arsenal had their most convincingly positive performance in weeks and were terribly unlucky to drop points to a soft penalty 4 minutes after extra time should have ended. I was certain that United would drop points yesterday and I hadn’t written us out of the title race like a majority of fans and pundits. But then I am considered to be the overly optimistic one of us. So it was with a great deal of positivity that I approached this evening’s North London Derby. But optimism is no match for luck on the day and, for the gazillionth time running, Arsenal had none.

The game started incredibly well. Cesc Fabregas, who had his most effective game for Arsenal in months, threaded Theo Walcott through who finished with aplomb after just 4 minutes. Rafael Van De Cwnt scored a cracker just minutes later at the near post on his wrong foot. It would be harsh in my opinion to blame either the defence or our young polish goal keeper. Then another five minutes later, Samir Nasri exchanged passes on the edge of the area with Diaby and shot firmly passed Gomez to make it 2-1. How many times have you heard the press go on about how Tottenham need a new keeper this season? Gomez was terrible for most of the game, apart from the two outstanding saves he made against Fabregas in the last 15 minutes of the game.

The next 30 minutes or so were frantic but produced no further goals. Tottenham continued with their tactic of putting high balls in to Crouch to knock back into the middle but nothing came of that. Cesc put Theo through again and his first time shot was only inches wide. As the game neared the half time marker, the ball bounced around in the Tottenham penalty area and Theo managed to knock it back into the 6 yard area for RVP to head at Gomez. Gomez saved well but only managed to parry back to Robin who leather it into the top of the net. 3-1 and Arsenal were in control. Minutes later that control was relinquished. Bale, who had been anonymous for the whole half, clattered into Sczezny for the second time. Replays showed that Sczezny cleared the ball away only for the ape man to take a swing at him with his left leg causing an injury that would see him subbed at half time. For some unknown reason (well, Bale lying in a heap I suppose) the referee opted for a throw-in which pinged about a bit until it reached Huddlestone on the edge of the area who hit a once in a lifetime shot (yes, distinct déjà vu, I know) straight through the encroaching defensive wall, through VdV’s legs, narrowly missing his tiny nut sack, and into the bottom corner. It’s fair to say that there was jack all any defence could have done about that. Half time, Arsenal 3, Tottenham 2. The game was very much in the balance.

The second half featured more of the same end-to-end stuff, which must have been amazing for a neutral but nerve racking for an Arsenal fan. Van Persie scored a cracking fourth for Arsenal (in part due to Gomez flapping at it) but was ruled off side. Replays showed the decision to be incorrect by a matter of feet. Luck 2, Arsenal 0. Tottenham pressed and the goal was on the cards. Annoyingly it came from an unnecessary penalty. Lennon came storming on to a through ball on the left hand side, Scszezny tried to close down but Lennon touched the ball and went down under the advancing keeper. It was a penalty, no doubt, but the touch from Lennon was terrible and there’s no chance he would have scored. Frustrating to say the least. Van Der Vaart scored and it was 3-3. Beyond that, Sczezny made 3 excellent saves, one from a clearly offside VdV, and Fabregas had an excellent effort tipped passed the post. But the game ended in stalemate.

It was a frustrating result and potentially the end of our title challenge although I think the comments that we’ve typically given away a two goal lead, again, are way off the mark. This was a scintillating London derby and the win was never secured even at 3-1. The game was wide open and Tottenham scored an amazing goal to make it 3-2. Clearly at that stage anything could happen and to my mind it doesn’t seem fair to blame it on our defence, as none of the goals were particularly poor to concede. It’s just the way it goes sometimes, unfortunately. Personally, I think we showed a lot of spirit and were unlucky not to get the win. Cesc had his best game for months, Song looked somewhere near fit and Jack didn’t look that tired. It bodes well for the final 5 games which could be crucial.

In terms of the title race, we’re now six points behind with 5 games to play. Chelsea beat Birmingham 3-1 at home and go second on goal difference. Ironically, the fact that Chelsea are back in it could possibly work in our favour, although I am clutching at straws obviously, as they are still to play Man Utd and now have a massive incentive. If Chelsea and Arsenal win their remaining five games and United win their other three (having lost to Arsenal and Chelsea), all teams will be on the same number of points and it will go down to goal difference. Excluding the Man Utd game at home, the other 4 games are completely winnable. Bolton, Stoke and Fulham away, and Villa at home. Personally, I think it would be pretty silly to give up hope at this stage because we can certainly take it to the last game of the season. Who knows, we might actually get the bit of luck we’ve been waiting for all season. Let’s all be positive for a change, at least we didn’t lose.

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Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool: Sluggish Arsenal Get Exactly What They Deserve

As Robin Van Persie slotted home an immensely late penalty and the Emirates erupted I had a headline all ready to go for today’s blog; ‘Still Alive, But So, So Lucky’. And lucky is exactly what we would have been had a ridiculous set of circumstances not unfolded three minutes later. Anybody who still finds Emmanuel Eboue funny deserves a clobbering with a large bat covered in glass shards.

Excruciating stupidity. Not, as the manager would have you believe, the fault of the referee, Lucas, Kenny Dalglish’s dog or the quality of the air on offer in North London. Part of me couldn’t believe it was given, but that was the part of me completely ignoring Eboue running straight into the back of Lucas with mere seconds left. Forget the excuses, Arsene. You’d think a man so well educated would remember that the words ‘8 minutes stoppage time’ are preceded by ‘a minimum of’. I managed to narrowly avoid being that prat on TV trying to decapitate Eboue from the Upper Tier using nothing but a season ticket.

It would be nice, just for a change to hear an honest assessment from Arsene. No excuses, just an acknowledgment that we were rubbish and an apology for fans paying through the roof for tickets. It’s shit like this that makes us into a figure of ridicule. That and games like yesterday, Newcastle and Spurs. Plastic Mancs all over the country are rofling into their keyboards as we donate them the title.

Honesty would be nice because it was clear from where I was sitting that we deserved little more than we got. Perhaps it’s a stretch to say we were actually bad, we just never looked like scoring. After a promising start culminating in the surprisingly threatening Laurent Koscielny hitting the bar we produced nothing of note, aside from one admittedly excellent chance for Robin Van Persie that he would usually have buried.

With your season on the line, that simply isn’t good enough. There was no verve, no spark, our passing was sluggish and our movement static, non-existent. This against a team with two kids at fullback, their stand-in captain knocked out, their actual captain out for the season and their monstrous centre forward coming off with a knee injury. A glance at the giant Emirates scoreboard showed a side we should really have had the beating of.

Certain players were especially culpable, for most of the game not actually Eboue, but our best players. Cesc Fabregas has had rare off days before, but never have I seen him so despondent. His chin seemed strapped to his chest, his shoulders slumped and it seemed to affect others. Samir Nasri, so often our spark this year looked frustrated, there was no drive, no iron will to drag us through. Van Persie seemed to want either one touch too many or couldn’t bring it down at all.

You could forgive a draw against Liverpool, a side on the up who despite a bunch of absentees, can clearly defend. Yet this performance was not a one-off, but the season in microcosm. We’ve looked this sluggish repeatedly at home. A last ditch penalty was our first home goal in more than 300 minutes of football. Cast your minds back to home fixtures against Blackburn, Sunderland, Man City; all stolid draws, devoid of flowing football. That’s not to mention the disasters against Newcastle (twice), Spurs, Braga (remember why we had to play Barca), Leeds, Ipswich (!) and oh yes, the Carling Cup final.

Somehow we overcame a lot of this to be a superb position just two months ago; the league title in our hands, the Carling Cup up for grabs and real hope in the Champions League and the F.A Cup. Yet the reasons why we squandered the lot are obvious. We’re predictable and we lack the will to win. I’ve deliberately avoided all media today, but if I hear any mention of ‘mental strength’ from Arsene or any of the players I’ll spontaneously combust in disbelief. Do we have talent? Indubitably. Mental strength? You must be having a laugh.

Despite the tone of this post I wasn’t as angry as at other times this season, because despite Liverpool equalising being utterly ridiculous it didn’t surprise me that much. I’m sad to report I predicted a depressing 1-1 draw before the game. We’re predictable and in part living off our own reputation, which we justify now only in flashes, like the win over Chelsea or second half of the first leg against Barcelona.

If we’re predictable and carrying deadwood, the only logical conclusion is that we need change. I wish to God that Arsene could, but history suggests he won’t. But he’s as unlikely to be forcibly removed as he is to buy Lionel Messi and for that I’m glad. It would be an inglorious end to a glorious reign. The question is whether or not he will crack, lose the faith. It’s taken quite a lot for someone as positive as me to be so bitter, it will take a whole lot more to shatter Arsene’s resolve, but if we lose to Tottenham on Wednesday he’s going to be under more pressure than ever.

If United have any decency they’ll finish this season off and stop conning us into thinking we have a chance. We need time to refresh, reboot and hopefully remodel.

Wednesday’s game remains massive, bizzarely it now feels more so despite the fact that the result probably won’t make a great deal of difference. If Tottenham do the double over us the outright despondency felt en masse on Sunday will break into outright fury.

No pressure then.

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Man United 2 – Arsenal 0: History Repeating

Posted by Sonuvagun

Being an Arsenal fan is beginning to feel like being a follower of Opus Dei. A great deal of fervour and blind faith is needed, as is a love of pain.

I don’t know about you, but it took me quite some time before I could muster up the strength to read today’s papers. A loss to Man U is always hard to swallow, despite the regular practice we get at it, but on top of the Birmingham fiasco and the Barcelona controversy it was a bit like we had replaced the barbs in the whips we use for self flagellation with acid-tipped spikes – and then applied them to our b@ll@cks.

And if cynics scorn Opus Dei followers for thinking that they will eventually be rewarded for their self-inflicted pain, then God knows what those cynics think of us right now… masochists without hope you’d have to presume. Apart from the crushing psychological blows that the last fortnight has dealt us, there will be the additional media pressure on an already over-scrutinised team, questions in the dressing room, questions about the manager’s policies and a mounting injury list to contend with before we have any chance to lifting the sole piece of silverware still available to us this season. I don’t know what the odds are of Arsenal winning the Premier League but, despite our great points position, it’s hard to feel optimistic. (Although gamblers out there can always try their hand at some online sports betting if they are able to put their money where there heart is).

I could continue this post by reconstructing the events of the Manchester United defeat, but then again why would I? There are a couple of points I would love to make to Arsene Wenger though (but, since he’s not listening, I’m going to direct them to you instead). They are:

1) Stop tinkering! Please! Just fucking stop! Every match he has to take a little gamble. Almost obsessively. What’s wrong with just playing your best eleven, and making everyone work their arses off to take their place? Right now players are not getting picked on merit. Rather Arsene sees a chance to give someone a game. Yesterday it was Gibbs. Clichy was one of our best players against Barcelona and has upped his game – so keep him in the team! Gibbs was awful and his inclusion really hurt our chances. Similarly there is absolutely no place for Rosicky in the first eleven right now, and he should not be brought on for Arshavin when we desperately need to conjure something up.

2) Learn from your mistakes. That’s the one millionth time we’ve lost to United in exactly the same fashion. Fashioning a hundred half chances around their box is no good when they only have to break – whilst half of our defence and our entire midfield has been sucked into a hopeless attack – to have a great two on two or three on three situation. History has repeated itself far too many times and a man of Wenger’s intellect should have a solution by now.

Ok that’s about it for now. I fully understand if you’ve burned your Bergkamp shirt and smashed your 2002 commemorative mug by now, however for better or worse we’ll be here with a few more Arse-related thoughts until the end of season. Until then I’m off to get some TCP for my b@ll@cks.

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