45 Comments

Two Top Teams

Good morning Positivistas and a glowing Summer morning up here in Norfolk.

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A fine game yesterday between what the succession of televised games over the weekend showed were clearly the two superior footballing sides in the EPL at the present time. Both demonstrated a quality of football and of purpose that the Citehs, Yooniteds, and Spuds and Saints are deficient in at the present time. And therefore while the result disappointed me as I would have preferred the flame to flicker a little longer in the season, the football I thought was pretty damn good.

And to the grit of the game itself which I had the opportunity to view from on very high indeed, and again on the TV last night ?

Our starting line up, no significant changes though with Bellerin back into after his Wembley break – it seems Arsene has decided who is our first choice right back and after the young Spaniard’s careful patrol of Hazard all afternoon, and some striking runs forward, who is to argue ?

My first ‘surprise’ was Chelsea’s decision to start with no recognised striker, even allowing for the attraction of them leaving with a point that seemed an odd one. Not so and in the first half I thought the visitors looked more dangerous, their best chances of the game from Oscar and Ramires. When Droggie came on at HT the attacking threat faded, with the poor old Ivorian reduced to shouting, waving and pointing after Michael Oliver in desperation. Should I feel pity to see a former footballing nemesis reduced to a toothless, dribbling old crone ? Probably, but it make take a year or two yet.

Overall though a very good defensive performance from all our back five. And did you see the number of cards we picked up in the last few minutes as we pressed and Chelsea threatened to cause problems with a breakaway ? Does that tell us we have players who have learned ? Yes it does.

Two midfield units worked hard throughout the 90 minutes and effectively battled each other to a standstill. There was very little time for any player to take a touch or look up to choose a pass and even Ozil, generally a man who can find space inside a telephone box, saw his usual poise hustled and harried. Coquelin and Matic tackled the heavy work, Santi and Ramires picked up the scraps and tried to create something with them. Aaron, like Hazard, found it difficult to get anything going on the flank against the capable Azplicueta.

My only criticism of our creative engine was that until the last 15 minutes or so we did not seem to move the ball through midfield fast enough, there was an extra touch, a half turn, that just allowed the defenders to regroup. That change may have had to do with Danny’s introduction, it may have had to do with slightly tiring legs. It did seem to me that last ten minutes that we were at our best, and they, blowing hard, leaning on the ropes.

But we all know it is goals that win matches and we have two of the best goalscorers in the PL.

Sanchez and Ivanovic was a chess match, the Chilean leading the large Balkan on, pushing the ball inside, down the line, at him. But never quite breaking young Branislav, though his late yellow card following a frustrated lunge at Alexis indicated that he understood the game that was in progress. For all his cruel taunting of the Serb however Alexis could not break open the Chelsea lock.

And up front Olivier ran, he hustled, he charged, he darted and flicked but against the double coverage of the ever popular Mr Terry and his sidekick Cahill he was always going to struggle. And Giroud did, but he was game to his final kick, he will have easier afternoons and more profitable ones.

So a good game, a timely reminder we have still work to do, and peaks to attack and conquer.

Enjoy your week.

73 Comments

Arsenal Versus Chelsea: Barbarians At The Gate

XXX CONAN BARBARIAN MOV  05126.JPG A ENT

When all this started for me it was Leeds. The devil, incarnate in eleven all white outfits. Then, for a while, it wasn’t really anybody. Or rather it was everyone and it was no one. It became Liverpool in the eighties and more recently it was Man United. Now it is Chelsea. Of all of them Chelsea have come closest to closing the circle, the nearest thing to my childhood bêtes noires. There was something so hateful about Revie and the way his unquestionably gifted players went about their business which hasn’t applied to the others. The sacrifice of huge talent at the alter of thuggish pragmatism now fully reborn in the Church of Mourinho. Of course Chelsea aren’t so systematically brutal, even they couldn’t get away with the kind of violence which ruined British football in the early seventies and for which so many graceless inarticulate pundits still pine to this day. But the principle is the same.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am well aware that on occasions all teams need to revert to a pragmatic game plan. A bad run of results sees you slip down the table and Aston Villa look like claiming fourth at your expense? You have to start defending a bit deeper and squeezing out draws just to build a platform and to stabilise the ship. The opposition song on any given day is pitch perfect and envelopes you in a perfect storm of attacking football? You need to hang on in there and maybe win the cup on penalties. It can happen to any team, the best managers and players adapt.

What has come out of Stamford Bridge, that benighted billionaire’s plaything, has nothing to do with adapting to necessity. This is a deliberate plan. This represents the limits of a man’s imagination, the ultimate expression of his art. What is excusable in Stoke On Trent is not in Fulham. I’m not talking about leg breaking tackles such as that successfully executed by Shawcross and so nearly managed by Cahill on Sanchez – that of course is never acceptable, never excusable. I’m talking about choice. Chelsea have a choice as to how they go about the business of trying to garner as many points as possible in a game which is, lest we forget, entirely a part of the entertainment industry.

If you are managing an unfashionable, relatively under resourced provincial club then perhaps you might feel the need to play lowest common denominator football. Anything to stay afloat in the big pond. If on the other hand you step into the hot seat at a club which moments before extinction has been salvaged by an obscenely wealthy man who then showers you in riches allowing you to buy any player you fancy at any price and others you don’t need but you buy simply to weaken your opposition, then you have no excuse. None. Set out to draw and hope to nick a win. It’s pitiful.

Back in the nineties I used to send my Sunday league boys out to play like that in the lowest reaches of division three of the Mid-Somerset League.  It was because the novelty of losing thirteen one every week had begun to wear a bit thin. We drank and sang long into the night on the occasion of our first nil nil draw. The critical difference between myself, Perry, Pete The Greek, Squid and the rest of our gallant lads and men like Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and their mates is that we were absolutely useless. Exhausted by the time we’d finished putting the nets up and often still stoned from the night before. If we’d been any good we would have tried to play and we only attracted crowds of between three and four.

So this Chelsea team looks like winning the title. They will have deserved it by dint of getting more points than anyone else but that is literally all you will be able to say about their achievement. History will not remember them fondly. Once their benefactor leaves they will return to the obscurity from whence they were plucked. Arsenal under Arsène Wenger, regardless of whether he ever wins another trophy, will occupy a place with the greats. You think of Brazil, of the great Dutch sides from the early seventies, Clough’s Forest, Ajax Amasterdam, Bristol Rovers third division title winning team of 1989–90 or whoever your favourite footballing side may be and Arsènes Arsenal will sit comfortably up there alongside them. And boy that must smart. That must be like a splinter on Mourinho’s office chair. To have everything and yet to have nothing. A shining new bell, empty and silent. A Christmas cracker made from golden thread with no toy inside. A loud, classless boast, boorish and distasteful.

So what can we expect this afternoon? It’s a well rehearsed show isn’t it, the Arsène and Jose show? We come out all guns blazing and attempt to bamboozle them with tricksy fast free flowing footy, they soak it up and hope to get a lucky break away goal. This may not happen today. Football is not a finely calibrated machine it is as much a game of chance as anything else. Too many variables, too many human beings with their frailties and their sudden unexpected strengths. Last season we took a thumping from them when they came at us in a most un-Chelsea like way. Weird shit can happen.

So often though these games come down to whether our early attacks bear fruit or not. If we knock too long at the door without scoring the crowd begin to suspect the usual Mourinho smash and grab and the whole stadium becomes unsettled, the football a little strained. If we get our reward for the early adventure then maybe we’ll see a different script written today. It’s certainly the game I want most to win now that the Old Trafford hoo doo has been laid to rest. More than that I want us to finish as high up the table as possible and we still have to go back to Greater Manchester and repeat the feat achieved in the quarter final. This season is far from over and there is far more than bragging rights at stake today. In any case I don’t have a social life nor a job so I don’t have anyone to brag to, and let’s be honest boasting and bragging in victory are as ungracious as whining in defeat.

It’ll be interesting to see if Arsène continues with his new formation, narrower, more compact without a recognised wide man on the right, whether our flying Spaniard returns at right back or if Debuchy has now reclaimed his place. The only other consideration is Per and his ankle. Many people are sanguine about the potential loss of our lanky number four, a reflection of their confidence in Gabriel rather than any animosity to the German. I’m not so sure. His partnership with Koscielny, his calm and experienced reading of the game are vital components for me and if not able to play today I certainly hope he returns for the remainder of our fixtures.

Like a turd in clean bedsheets today’s visitors will be the least welcome stain on our otherwise perfect pitch, a most odious collection, ambassadors for an ill bred, ugly club. However hard it will be to enjoy watching Arsène having to stand so close to such an odious object as Mourinho I hope you can take some pleasure from the match, whatever its outcome. Regardless of the result I just hope we are allowed to play and that the referee protects us from the worst of their violence and cheating. Let’s just get this job out of the way, pull the flush and try to enjoy the rest of our season.

193 Comments

Arsenal Are Moving On Up.

I made the mistake of listening to Talk Sport radio immediately after the Liverpool – Villa game last night. It was full of irate scousers demanding that Rogers is sacked.

This is the same man that took their team within a Gerrard slip of winning the PL last  season. Now I know their stars aligned with Saurez being on fire, one game a week and few injuries, but still, he took advantage and even with a very poor defence, he almost made a miracle.

Liverpool have the 5th most expensive squad and the 5th largest wages,in all likelihood they will finish 5th, plus they have reached the semi final of both domestic cups. That is at least par or better. What do fans expect ? On top of that they do play, and try to play , expansive entertaining football.

Now I am not saying Rodgers is a great manager, what I am saying is that he is doing a decent job.

There is a proven 85% correlation between money spent and success across all major leagues. Of course that leaves 15% to buck the trend, and teams do. Southampton this year, Everton last. But is just stupid to expect a team to buck the trend every year. It seems though that this is what many fans demand .

The reality is that no team in the history of the PL has won it without having a sustained period of spending more than their rivals. People will point to United and claim they did it , but they didn’t, they just topped up their previous bigger spending on players that were still at the club and in their pomp.

Of course Arsenal did it , and did it three times, but we had Arsene and it was at a time where only United had a clear financial advantage.

People also point to exceptions in other leagues, Like, BVB, Atletico Madrid and Montpellier, but they are not in the PL, and have only one behemoth club (Two in Spain ) to contend with. Also Atletico have won it once in 20 years. That’s 5% of the time, well within the !5% exception rule.

Can managers make the difference? Yes ! But its in the margins.

Until fans accept that money is the overriding factor in modern football they are destined for constant heartbreak.

The “next level” that people want to reach can only follow the next financial level being reached first. That is why Arsene and the board should be praised beyond all others, Their planning and steadfastness have elevated Arsenal to that next level. The squad now reflects that and I believe there are great times ahead,

A final word on Brendan. Its hugely unfair to compare him to previous Liverpool managers who, at the time, were managing the richest club with no financial competitors other than the sleeping United. Look exactly what happened when they woke up.

Pedantic George, AKA @Blackburngeorge

66 Comments

Boring Boring Arsenal – Yeah Right.

So there we have it, Arsenal are in the final of the FA cup. Again.

OK. not the most scintillating performance , but not half as bad as people like to say.

Quite how a team with 71% possession , twice as many efforts on goal, while committing half the number of fouls and hitting the wood work three times, can be seen as lucky. beats me.

When Arsene picks the team he has to consider everything. Players returning from injury have to be reintroduced. Otherwise an injury means they wont play until another injury lets them in. Players battling for a place must be given a chance to shine and keep match fit. Players need rest. Its not as simple as picking the best eleven.

Its fairly clear that the team plays better when Giroud plays, but it really is not as simple as just putting his name on the team sheet every game.

Would Arsene have wanted Debuchy to play 124 minutes in his first game back ? No ! But he is our best right-back, and he is fit and has to be brought back.

Credit has to go to Reading too. Every one of them to a man played like their life depended on it. They were set up to stop us flowing. and it worked. But its not like they offered much going forward. Because Arsenal didn’t win easily and with panache does not mean we played badly. That’s just not the case.

Musut Ozil was once again magnificent. Of course he was less impressive than Sanchez. But only because the pundits see what most fans also see. In the same way they saw Reading’s effort over effectiveness as a reason to think they deserved better.

Personally I’m not sure I like Ramsey on the right. But I don’t know enough to say its not the right thing. He seems to be playing the Ray Parlour role. That worked just fine, so perhaps Aaron will grow into it, like he as to every other possission he has been asked to play in.

Anyway, the final it is then ! Roll on Wembley.

5 Comments

Underdogs muzzled, a Final earned.

Good morning Postivitas and another fine Sunday to be an Arsenal supporter.

A worthy Cup semi final and thoroughly enjoyable, although at times there was anxiety and the occasional squirm of discomfort in the lower intestine. The general expectation was that Reading would be well organised and resolute, and we would have a battle to break them down. That sage of footballing knowledge Shearer even went so far in the run up to the kick off as to suggest Reading might get “physical” if they wished to get a result. Such insight from a man who has not only played the game but managed at the highest level (very, very briefly).

And so largely the template is the way the game went. As Arsene said compared to the films he had seen of their recent performances they stepped up a level. Nevertheless we controlled the first half and went in a deserved 1-0. We started the second half in third gear, a disappointing trait that we displayed with equal negative effect at Burnley and St James’ Park recently, and let them back into the game. I am not quite clear why we have developed this little post half time dip but if I can see it then I have no doubt the man who can deal with the defect is fully focussed. The outcome of course was a soft equalizer, as we all know. As the game progressed with the scores level I felt, and the number of times we hit the post, had good chances saved and possession stats confirm, we restored our control and the inevitable winner came. One surprising but definite improvement was our use of the dead ball at free kicks and corners. I cannot remember another game when we looked so threatening and could have had three goals from corners alone. Most un-Arsenal like !

Did Reading get “physical” as the Gateshead guru opined ? I saw Mesut’s heel get trod on which deliberate and should have been both a foul and a card which Atkinson missed. There was some pushing and shoving and Arsenal players had a ten minute phase of nasal grief. Other than that I thought it was an OK footballing effort from the Championship side, certainly no worse in terms of fouls than I see most weeks in the PL and no diving, face clutching or systematic cheating that I usually do see every week at the higher level. To balance things up it was good to see that the linos erred on the side of caution if a Reading player strayed toward an offside position. Whether Reading did nor not get physical may be academic however, they lost.

The winner itself I see is the subject of endless lamentation in some quarters of the mainstream media this morning on behalf of the Australian keeper Adam Frederici. Simple keeping error and a few moments before he had made another howler from an Aaron shot that hit him and bounced over. For Reading fans I have a smidgeon of sympathy, for the player however my heart is stone. As Mr Benaud used to say “Mourning all”.

Our stand out performances I thought came from Santi, Kosc and from, of course, our double goal scorer. Mesut wasted nothing. I was massively impressed to see Debuchy manage 120 minutes football after three months out and the same could be said for Kieran Gibbs whose energy and running in extra time was important on not allowing Reading to apply steady pressure late on. Gabriel also impressed, fleet of foot and prepared to put his foot in as required.

As I said in opening an enjoyable game, flashes of our ‘A’ game, the odd flutter, but if you think back 12 months a damn sight easier than penalties. And finally and to close a picture of our first Cup final;

http://www.thefa.com/sitecore/shell//~/media/images/thefaportal/pillars/thefa-cup-2014-15/second%20round%20proper/fred-keenorr-shakes-hands-arsenal-captain-1927.ashx

Note the sartorial elegance of the man with the whistle.

Enjoy your Sunday.

142 Comments

Arsenal Versus Reading: Time To Dunk The Biscuitmen

Bill Oddie Bill Oddie,

Rub your beard all over my body,

Geoff Bailey Geoff Bailey,

Rub your beard all over me daily.

I wonder if we’ll get a replay of last year’s FA Cup semi final. I watched it again as a part of my preparation for Saturday afternoon and it was a real nail biter wasn’t it? I’d forgotten just how close that day in April came to being one of our most infamous. Had we lost none of us would have loved the manager and players any less of course but having said that winning through to a Wembley final was infinitely preferable. Imagine the ignominy of being the butt of a semi final joke which would have reverberated around the country and which we would not have been allowed to forget.

Part of me would be delighted with a repeat of the thrills and spills of that match. Football is after all first and foremost about entertainment. Not results, not big names, not money and palatial stadiums. Excitement and entertainment are the reasons we watch and if you take those away then this blog might as well be about knitting. I can’t stand the mantra that the win is the only thing that matters. A win can make up for a poor performance and is the perfect cherry upon the icing of an exciting game, but if I’m going to look forward to a match all week and then sit glued to it for two hours, well, I want to enjoy the experience.

Having said all of that you won’t hear me complain if we blow Reading away. Looking back at the highlights of our last three meetings (or at least the last three available on Arsenal Player) we have scored sixteen goals to Reading’s eight which (at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious) suggests a precedent for high scoring games. I don’t know how closely the current Royal’s side resembles the one of that vintage but ours has seen a few tweaks all of which have improved the squad immeasurably. Which brings us neatly to the team prediction. I expect to see Wojciech Szczęsny in goal with ten players in front of him and a handful of substitutes on the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few regulars rested but wholesale changes are extremely unlikely given the importance of the game, and that’s as much tea leaf gazing as you’ll get from me.

The only connection I have with Reading FC is my mate Johnny Trombone, a Madejski regular who would treat us all to a drunken rendition of the Bill Oddie song every time he’d passed the tequila event horizon. John is a fantastic musician and an all round decent cove and if he is typical of the beard loving Reading supporter then the opposition can be relied upon for some civilised and enjoyable banter this evening. Aldershot Town fans may well disagree, so my apologies to any of you who are closet Shots.

I don’t know if the build up to this weekend’s semi finals has been particularly muted or not. I am aware some people have been saying it has, but as the transfer speculation season kicked off a couple of months earlier this year I’ve had to begin my media and social network embargo earlier than usual. If there has been an absence of the usual hyperbole I wonder if it might have much to do with the assumption that the line up for the final is a foregone conclusion and as such folk regard the semis as mere formalities. If so they are not only doing both Reading and Liverpool a disservice but demeaning the achievements of the other two clubs should they prevail.

We know all too well how a so called lesser side can battle. From where I sit I cannot recall anyone giving us a time quite as hard as that which we endured from Burnley last week and they look very much like they’ll be a Championship side before too long. If Clarke’s players can apply themselves with the same boundless energy and unquenchable enthusiasm then our lads will need to remain focussed for the entire game. I think Burnley’s effort was almost superhuman. They appeared to have three players to our one all over the pitch for large periods of the game. However we not only resisted them, we overcame them and towards the latter part of the match we were taking the fight to them. Aaron in particular grabbed the game by the scruff as the second half progressed and I am quietly confident that whatever the score after seventy minutes we have the players to boss the final twenty once again.

Barring a miraculous Chelsea collapse (for which I am fervently hopeful) the FA Cup, our FA Cup, represents our last chance at another trophy. A trophy which I might add is nothing more than our esteemed manager deserves. He doesn’t deserve it simply because of the the years in which he has had to compete with squillionaires while holding nothing but a broken piggy bank. He doesn’t deserve it merely as an opportunity to put up two fingers to the revolting so called Arsenal fans who have heaped so much scorn and abuse on our greatest ever manager. He doesn’t deserve it just because I love him and wish every possible good thing to happen to him. He especially deserves it this time because just as he has got close to the kind of squad of which he has only been able to dream throughout the austerity years that squad has been ravaged by a variety and number of injuries with which our competitors would simply not have coped.

Only one man had the confidence, the belief and the humility to drag a patched up endlessly changing side back into contention at the top. Can you honestly see a spoilt brat like that graceless oaf in Fulham persevering with the same quiet dignity had he seen players re-injured each time they returned, seen players crocked at the same time as their replacements were out and watched as a player played himself into form only to be injured the moment he looked to be back to his best? Imagine the sympathy he would have received from the entire football establishment and imagine the childish whining and bleating we would all have had to endure from the man himself.

I want to get to the final again, of course I do. I want the team to win the thing again, of course I do. I want the players to do it for all of you who have remained faithful regardless of the result, who have remained positive regardless of the braying from the brain dead and the hateful. Most of all I want the players to do it for the man who has built this club up to where it is today, the man who’s wisdom, knowledge and love of Arsenal dwarfs any passion we may have for the club. More than anything else I want them to do it for Arsène.

221 Comments

WWWWWWWWembley

Good morning Positivistas and a bright and breezy start to the day in Norfolk. The detritus of cans and empty bottles around the premises reminds me it was a good night. I have a slight haze and a strange recollection of a heated argument about the Queen. It will pass.

I have perused the media this morning, social and mainstream. The content is warm in relation to Arsenal Football Club, its manager and players. Seemingly a light has been switched on among the ignorant and the malicious. No doubt a temporary aberration but it is encouraging not to see the usual clichéd trash of commentary concerning midfield “beasts” and “not liking it Oop North” recycled endlessly.

Turning to matters at hand however eight league wins on the bounce and three points hard earned at Turf Moor in the evening game. I say hard earned because the home side were thorough and organised. We know there recent impressive record against the top four. They massed in defence and made few errors. Boyd and Barnes ran and ran. Their central defenders, Duff and Shackle ( great names for centre backs btw) were resolute. Did you see just how many Arsenal players it took for Ramsey finally to whack the ball into the back of the net ? And if you are aiming to get a goal against a bottom three side, make it an early goal. Burnley were rocked on their heels in the 11th minute, the home crowd quietened, from then we had the 3 points to hold on to. Another fairy tale result was not on the menu for the plucky claret and blue battlers.

The match itself? After an opening phase when it looked as though we would blow the home side away with our speed and craft the game became more difficult, much more of a genuine contest. They did not back away from that effort however for the next 80+ minutes of the game. Not at any stage were we hanging on, not at any point were Burnley creating clear scoring chances, but even so there was pressure of a not entirely pleasant type. HOW IMPORTANT that early goal was !

There then followed 60 minutes of hard work from both sides. Alexis fizzed like a firework all over the pitch, we created a few chances, Burnley dabbled around the edge of the box, Ospina made a good save, Hector looked a little off his game once or twice, referee Dean displayed the patience of Job with players on both sides.

And so we moved into the traditionally tricky final fifteen minutes when I assumed that we would come under sustained high level bombardment, as Burnley pressed for the equalizer. That is after all what is supposed to happen, goal line clearances, finger tip saves, breathless finish, me hiding behind sofa etcetera – you know the form. You have suffered as I have often enough.

Not a bit of it. As the game drew toward the 90 we took total control again and our hosts were barely able to get over the half way line let alone put together an equalizer. As impressive an example of “game management” as you could ever see.

And so Deano blew his whistle and the contest was decided. Three points gathered, the Manchester derby to come with points dropped by one or both of the pursuers, and just a notch more pressure applied to Chelsea today. By 6 p.m. our win at Turf Moor may be an even more satisfactory result than on the day itself.

The Premier League now needs to be put aside by us and our full concentration directed toward Reading. A great opportunity for back to back FA Cup finals is open. As Burnley demonstrated yesterday though an organised, fit team can cause you problems.

Enjoy your Sunday wherever you may be.

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