Monday, 28 April 2014

Team News - Arsenal vs Newcastle Preview

Evening all,

An exciting night of football awaits us with a fresh sense of promise displacing the doom and gloom of just a few weeks ago. With Everton slipping up and crumbling under pressure at the first time of asking, we find ourselves with our Champions League hopes very much in our own hands.

I wouldn’t say a win tonight confirms our Champions League place but it certainly cements our position as red hot favourites. We could find ourselves in a position where our position of 4th place is even confirmed before we play next Sunday. A win tonight would take us four points clear with two games to play. Everton host Manchester City on the Saturday; meaning a defeat for Everton would confirm our place in the top four.
It is therefore crucial that, despite the Everton slip up, we are absolutely fired up for this one tonight. No room for complacency. None what so ever. The players have had a long rest and as a result should be fresh and ready to rip apart a Newcastle team in dire form. The worry for me is we seem a team that, this season in particular, allows the opposition far more of the ball than ever before. We invite and almost welcome pressure, choosing to sit deep instead of pressing higher up the pitch. It has worked when our defence has been solid and has failed, spectacularly, when the defence has been fragile.

For that reason, as important as Ozil and Ramsey are, it is imperative that the Mertesacker and Koscienly axis are at the top of their game and provide that solid platform for Arsenal to build their game. This season has seen us start games slowly and I hope I am wrong but I expect us to do very much the same tonight. We will grow and allow Newcastle to play but pick our opportunities and use Ozil to create space for Ramsey to exploit.

Team news is generally good with our only absentees being Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, both of whom are nearing returns, and Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott. Considering these injuries I would assume that the team that played very well against Hull last weekend will be the exact same team we see tonight.

Sagna                   Mertesacker                                      Koscienly                                             Monreal

                                                Arteta                                                   Ramsey

Cazorla                                                    Ozil                                                                         Podolski

I expect this to be the team and I expect a win but this is Arsenal and we never like to make things easy.

Enjoy the game and hopefully a delightful win.

Come on you Gunners.


Sunday, 27 April 2014

Arsene staying, Sagna going?

Morning all,

Before the match preview tomorrow I thought we could delve a little deeper into two of the pressing issues at the club at present. It seems as though both Sagna’s and Wenger’s future are beginning to look clearer and I am not overly comfortable with how things are looking.

Let’s start with Sagna. His situation is one that is hard not to get angry at but easy to see from his point of view. His contract is running down into the final months and we are at an impasse. We are no closer to an agreement as Wenger confirmed:

Talks are not progressing. The ball is not in our court anymore and he has to come back to us.

It is becoming more and more clear that he has no intention of renewing his contract which is sad because he has been a brilliant servant for the club but mostly because there is a sense of frustration that we shouldn’t be in this position. He really has given his all in a red and white shirt and as such should be rewarded with a contract which reflects his position in the team. I say this not as an advocate of player power and some of their ridiculous demands but more as a fan fearful that we will be unable to replace him. Surely giving him a large contract to ensure he stays must be cheaper than replacing him with like for like quality.

I guess we don't see him train and have all the information but it strikes me as a less than ideal situation and one which, unfortunately, we have been in before. There are many contract situations which have been handled in a strange way in my opinion. I read a recent Nasri article, perhaps not the greatest example, which highlights our handling of such situations are not of the highest order.

What happened is this: it was my best season with Arsenal (15 goals). We were in October (2010) and the manager asked me whether I wanted to stay at Arsenal. ‘Yes I want to stay at Arsenal,’ I said. Then they offered me a contract. It was far from what I wanted. With my agent, we were saying: if I stay at Arsenal, I know I’m going to win less money, but it’s fine, I’m only 23. I have time to win money. If I’m good I will always win money.
 We were still in four competitions with Arsenal. We were playing really well. The manager wanted to be focused on what happened on the pitch. It’s normal. We wait, we wait, we wait.

Regardless of my hate for him, he does highlight a significant problem which could explain why these situations continually reappear. Now I know this is spun to make him look closer to human but it is a revealing insight into our transfer negotiations. It appears to highlight a lack of killer instinct in our ability to close a deal. By allowing things to get to such a late stage gives the players an opportunity to seek pastures new. We almost encourage it.

I could be completely wrong and do understand it takes the players willingness to make things happen but I can’t help but feel that we could have done more to ensure it never got to this stage.

Wenger seems more likely to stay though. Given his previous indication that he wants to stay coupled with the fact that a top four finish now looks increasingly likely, the smart money would be on him to stay.

On that note, enjoy you’re day and thank you very much Everton.


Saturday, 26 April 2014

GoonerVerse Reboot: An All Too Familiar Battle

Morning all,

To say it has been a while would be an understatement. It has been close to a year since I last blogged. A lot has changed in the world of Arsenal but at the same time, things eerily are so familiar; erratic and volatile. While the season promised much in the way of a Championship challenge, it has petered out into a familiar battle. One which, unfortunately, all of us have become accustomed to all too well these past few years.

We find ourselves in a scrap for fourth place and as ever, something that should have been simple has been contorted into a turbulent ride. What started off as a season of dread following a dry summer, the arrival of a truly world class player changed the outlook of the season. Could we dare to dream? Judging by what followed; we could dare. And dream we did.

What followed was a series of fantastic results if not always fantastic displays. This team finally demonstrated some of the qualities that we have missed so emphatically in seasons gone by. There was a new sense of determination, grit and perhaps even a winning mentality. Grinding out results became the norm and we became the pace setters for much of the season.

And then it happened. Despite being 8 points clear of Liverpool and top of the League in February, the Gooonerverse was rocked by a battering at the hands of Liverpool and things have never quite looked the same since. Our league form following that defeat was D-W-L-W-L-D-D-L which meant not only had we relinquished our position at the summit of the League. We had somehow managed to drop out of the top four entirely, if only temporarily. 9 points from a possible 27 available. Take that in for a moment.

There was an air of inevitability about our fall if truth be told. There had to be. All the “experts” had predicted it all season. It was coming. After every match we were told it has to happen. Any day now… Shit! It’s happening. The so-called pundits revelled in our misery with claims of “I told you so”.

Oh how simple must life be for these experts. They just know everything. So they return to the “lack of winning mentality” rhetoric that often gets spewed so viciously it hurts the core of my being. Mainly because it is stupid and I am offended by stupidity; especially under the guise of expertise.

Well what went wrong? Winning mentality is just one small component of the larger picture and I am afraid this picture is large and pretty ugly. There are many issues that have contributed to our drop in form but the largest component for me is of course the wealth of injuries that we have had to cope with in that part of the season. To my mind this is the single biggest factor in our drop in performances and results. It became more abundantly clear as the return to early season form coincided with the return of Ramsey. He has been immense all season.

I recently read at Arseblog that losing Ramsey would be akin to Liverpool losing Suarez. Sounds a bit bizarre but I would go one step further. Losing Ozil, Walcott and Ramsey would be like them losing Suarez, Sturridge and Gerrard. If you take those players out of the Liverpool team how do you think they would cope? Probably not quite the form that has seen them, deservedly, surge up the league table.

Now believe me, I am not looking for excuses because even without the players that were out injured our performances, and in turn results have been far below expectation. We should have done better. We could have done better. We must in future do better. There were factors including tactical ineptness and bizarre team selections which further contributed to our downturn in form but I unequivocally believe that losing the number of players that we have has, unfortunately, shattered dreams once again.

This in itself is a huge problem that should raise questions. Why are we continually unable to rehabilitate players in a timely fashion? Why are there so many strains and tears? Is this a failure in management or medical staff? Probably both.

The outlook is not overly bleak though, we have after all returned to a position where our top four credentials are in our hands. If you asked anyone before the season started if we would take a top four finish and win a trophy I would imagine they not have bitten your hand off so much as devoured you whole. My point? I guess some perspective is in order.

The season has in many ways been successful but perhaps that’s why this season hurts even more than seasons before it in many ways. It seems almost depressing to say (mainly because we have been here before) but we have a strong foundation which if built on in the right way we can create something very special. The question for me is; is Arsene Wenger the right man to do that?

Until next time.