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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.

123 Comments

Arsenal Versus Burnley: Arsène Versus The Reptiles

Like many of us I was deeply saddened to wake yesterday to the news of the death of Richie Benaud. Sport lost another of the good guys and in the world of sports media that leaves a very short list indeed. Among the tributes being paid many people, myself included, shared Richie’s tips for commentators, which could translate as guidelines for life in general. As I looked down the list so many pearls jumped out all of which are routinely ignored by the swine who usually pollute the airwaves during a football match. ‘Avoid clichés and banalities’ is probably the most often transgressed and ‘The Titanic was a tragedy the Ethiopian drought a disaster, and neither bears any relation to a dropped catch’ is a lesson in the dangers of of being sucked into melodramatic hyperbole which the likes of Savage and Pearce probably haven’t the wit to even understand.

My personal favourite however, was the most succinct of them all. ‘Never ask a statement’. I couldn’t help thinking of this perfect and obvious piece of journalistic advice as I watched a repeat of Arsène and his weekly duel with the reptiles. Count how many times they fall foul of the statement as question mistake and it is genuinely depressing how Mr Benaud’s wisdom has been entirely ignored by these odious people. I got to wondering why they do it quite so often. Why make a long rambling statement expressing nothing more than their own opinion and then end either by encouraging Arsène to agree with them or not even bothering to ask a question at all? If I were in the manager’s position I simply wouldn’t answer until they actually asked me something.

But again I wondered why. They can’t all just be stupid. Owen and Savage aside you need a modicum of intelligence to get into the industry in first place, surely. Then it dawned on me. They’re not really asking anything are they? They are simply trying to write the headline in advance. They have no interest in Arsène’s ideas or opinions. One of the single most intelligent and fascinating men in the history of this or any other sport and they don’t even want to know what he thinks. When they say something like ‘Hector Bellerin has been in great form this season, it looks like you have another fine young player on your hands, but you must fear that one day he might want to return to his home country, perhaps following Cesc Fabregas in returning to Barcelona’ all they are waiting for is any hint of a ‘yes’ in Arsène’s response so they can publish ‘Wenger Dreads Barca Exodus’ with the subheading of ‘Arsenal boss says Bellerin could follow in Cesc’s footseps’ or ‘Want Away Catalan Kid Eyes Camp Nou Return’ and then print some guff about his blood cells or some such twaddle. I believe this is why Arsène always begins answers to these minefield questions with the word ‘look’. It avoids a positive or a negative and buys him the second he needs to marshal a politician’s answer. Which is why press conferences are such a waste of time. Like political interviews they are merely jousts between journalists desperate for a slip and interviewees desperate to say as little as possible.

So we didn’t really learn anything from Arsène about today’s opponents nor today’s game. Nothing we didn’t know already. Burnley’s home form is better than their away from, their latter season form is better than their early season form and they are fighting for their lives in the relegation zone. They were unlucky not to beat Spurs in their last game, have recently beaten Man City and drawn with Chelsea so anyone out there who believes this is a simple guaranteed three points for Arsenal needs their head read. You won’t be surprised to hear me say that I think we can win and that we ought to win, it should go without saying that we need to win. While the opposition has admirable qualities and has achieved the creditable results mentioned above we have more than a few advantages ourselves. For one the greatest manager in world football, the most experienced in guiding his team through the rocky road of a season’s end. For another a collection of truly astonishing footballing talent epitomised by the peerless Mesut Özil. With the likes of Jack Wilshere coming back into contention the side will only be stronger still and at long last the manager has genuine options throughout the team.

Having said that will he change a winning line up? He might just do that. He is above all a master tactician, more capable than his peers at changing the balance of the side so that the innate qualities of the players he chooses alters the way in which the team performs. That is his real genius. He doesn’t just ask the same players to play in a different way as many lesser coaches will. He drops one player who posses one set of qualities and picks replacement possessed of a subtly different style. Bellerin for Chambers, say, or Gibbs for Monreal. Thus the way the team plays alters because you have a quicker or taller or more attack minded player in the position. The style of play, the manager’s philosophy remains unchanged but the emphasis alters. We might need a more offensive, faster or more tricksy right side with a more solid left side. Or we could be facing a goalkeeper with an identified weakness so we might need players adept at exploiting that weakness. How Blackburn must rue shooting low to Mignolet’s left every time. Did they learn nothing from us? Perhaps the midfielder Arsène wishes to play on the left covers his fullback better than the one he chose the previous week and so he picks the fullback best suited to the changes that implies. There seems to me much more going on than just not changing a winning side or simply picking the players we like best or who you and I might think are in the best form.

I know nothing about Burnley’s strengths or weaknesses but you can bet the man who matters does and whichever team he selects will be the one he believes is best able to counter and exploit those qualities and frailties. It would be fascinating to hear his thoughts on these kind of subjects but sadly he won’t be asked a proper question any time soon. We can only dream of a world wherein the weekly presser features Arsène and somebody of Richie Benaud’s capacity sitting in pleasant surroundings and discussing in patient depth the art of football management. Instead of which we have something far more closely resembling Cantona’s flock of screeching gulls diving and screaming hoping for a bite of something they can shit out onto the pages of their sordid, demeaning rags.

82 Comments

Sell Wilshere And Buy ……….

Twitter is basically a forum for idle gossip, unsubstantiated speculation and general nonsense. I spend a lot of time on there doing just those things and make no apologies for it. Its fun. it gives me an idea of what people think, expect and how little thought many people put into forming their opinions.

Yesterday there was much talk about who might be sold, to whom, and why.

Three names mentioned were those of Theo, Jack and Wojciech. So I am going to give my tuppence worth here.

Theo

Theo isn’t getting first team starts now. That much we know.

Why ?

That we certainly don’t know.

Some people are quick to point out that its because of us now having better players in his position.

Do we?

We have players with different skill-sets, but does that make them better? They have to be better for the team to constitute being “better” . Teams are about balance.Theo offers balance. He brings skills to the table that others don’t. He is faster than the others and he seems to me a better finisher than them.

So do we ignore what is good about him and just look at the negatives?

And what are the negatives anyway?

The old “he doesn’t track back” chestnut ? Perhaps ? That is/might be a weakness. But every player has those.

Does Theo have to start every game ? Have people not been crying out for years that we should start players that suit the game? Well I believe there will be occasions that Theo is perfectly suited to the circumstances.

His contract situation might be a consideration for the club, so he might be sold.But don’t tell me there is a better player with his particular skill set.

Jack

The talk is that City are sniffing around him !

Well why wouldn’t they ?

He is, by some margin, the best English midfielder . He is 23 years old, and only because of injuries, is behind in his development.

His talent is staggering.

His spirit is just what we love..

Right now I feel there are 2 or 3 positions Jack can play in and do a very good job, the problem is there are specialists in those positions that at this moment are better than him in those positions. I’m not sure though that any of them could be as good in as many positions. With time, he could easily settle into what is his best position and go on to be truly world class.

So why sell him ?

Why even consider selling him ?

I don’t believe Arsene will or should.

Wojciech

Currently our second choice goalkeeper. Also currently the holder of the Golden Glove award jointly with Cech.

Cech – the keeper who many see as his replacement,

32 year old Cech, who had arguably a better defence in front of him .

Wojciech can improve, can Cech ?

Arsenal are now in a position that simply because a player is not an automatic first choice, it doesn’t mean thay are not very good and valuable players. There is a 25 man squad, they all can’t start.

Theo had us over a barrel for his last contract, but lets not forget, he did “sign da ting”. He did. He is a lovely young man that has been with us almost 10 years. Who doesn’t remember him being stretchered of against Spurs and holding in up two fingers in one hand and a 0 in the other, without smiling ?

Jack and Wojciech are massive Arsenal fans, I have invested emotionally in them. I like them. I want them to succeed.

I am not suggesting that loyalty and emotional attachment should be the overriding factor in any decision making process Arsene and the club make, but I am saying it should be a consideration.

If your thirst for success blinds you to a value like loyalty, then its a sorry state you are in.

Surly seeing the players we have invested in, both financially and emotionally.succeed at Arsenal is part  supporting ?

If its not. it should be.

Simples.

A

130 Comments

Arsene’s Way

I woke this morning fully intending to pen an article about where the spanking of Liverpool leaves us in terms of this season and more pointedly, going forward into next season.

Then I read an article written by Tim Stillman for Goonersphere, and I thought to my self “why bother ? “.No matter what I write it will be totally insignificant on a day that this has been published.

So here it is  

I hope Tim and the site don’t object .

133 Comments

Arsenal Versus Liverpool: Real Football Returns

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I feel, even more than is usual after an international break, like something small and furry testing the warming air with twitching whiskers after a particularly inhospitable winter. That is not to say that the pointless, tedious, and above all dire international matches were any worse than usual. On the contrary they were every bit as third rate as they always are and on the few occasions I attempted to pass a little time watching one I ended up switching off long before the half time oranges were sliced. The reason this past fortnight has limped along on leaden feet has as much to do with a stinking head cold as the lack of any palliative Arsenal action, but as I sniffed and coughed and crunched paracetamol there was another thorn thrust deep into my abdominal external oblique. The moronic drone of the transfer tattle started up almost the moment the real football stopped.

I won’t dignify any of the baseless gibberish by discussing it here. Suffice to say I was appalled by the way some of my twitter contacts and fellow Positively Arsenal regulars joined in with the nonsense. Is not the ruination of every summer enough for you people? Why pollute decent conversation by stooping to this level? Why debase yourself by giving credence to the wholly mischievous, entirely invented tales of what is going to transpire once the season is ended? Even if you only join in to say I shan’t hate player x until he actually leaves, or I’ll support player y as long as he wears the shirt, that is still a step too far. Can’t you see the reasons behind the fantasy transfer speculation? Isn’t it so blatantly obvious to you? This is another attempt to distract from the real battles being fought on the pitch, to turn supporters away from the excitement of the seasons end and the team’s tilt at glory. This is another weapon in the armoury of those who despise our club which they use to divide and rule, to separate us from the players and cause us either to cast longing glances at those wearing the colours of other teams or worse to plant seeds of doubt against the loyalty of our own. I despise those who propagate this filth and despair of every one of you who enters into such a devil’s bargain with them.

Now, I trust that issue has been put to bed once and for all, so let us glance forward towards today’s fixture. Not too far forward as it happens given that we face the mixed blessing of a lunchtime kick off. I say mixed because while I know many people are superstitious of these games they do come with certain fringe benefits. For one thing, should we win we get to lay down a marker and say to the rest of the teams in the scrap there’s the bar now see if you can jump it. Better to have the result in the bag than to go into our game under pressure from an earlier scoreline. The other advantage is that we get the rest of the weekend off. A late Sunday afternoon kick off would leave us pacing up and down, distracted from Friday evening onwards, unable to concentrate, preoccupied, distant from family and friends. Once this early kick off is out of the way we can actually function like normal human beings and pay full attention to our partners on that all important trip to B&Q.

The question is, will we be whistling through the grass seed or scowling in the screwdrivers? I am shy of making predictions, they seem a little pointless and I’m patient enough to wait and allow events to unfold but I’m quite happy to share a couple of wild guesses. I’m guessing for instance that Liverpool, although desperate not to lose will not set out to defend against us. Under Brendan Rodgers they have often displayed a proactive, gung-ho approach and have, on a notable occasion not that long ago, profited from coming at us, guns blazing, straight out of the blocks. I think they’ll treat today as a cup final, an all or nothing, caution to the wind affair. If so it’ll be a hell of a game.

I alluded to last season’s encounter at Anfield in the previous paragraph and while we’re on that subject I’d like to set straight another piece of wayward thinking. There have been a number of people suggesting that today is about revenge for the home team. That in some way we have an unpaid bill hanging over us from last year and this game will be the time of reckoning. Strange how distorted and fickle memory can be, the tricks it can play. How exactly did we come up short against Liverpool last season, pray tell? Unless I have been misinformed we beat them at the Emirates, they beat us at Anfield which by any calculation would have left us even-stevens. At least it would have had we not then also taken their little ball from the sack for the sixth round of the FA Cup. I make that played three won two. We don’t owe anybody anything.

The simple fact is that until their last match they were the in form team in the premier league, now they are joint second with Man United, and our record over the last six matches is better than anybody else’s. The other interesting statistic is that they have the best away form over the last six and we have the best home form. It is set up to be a real humdinger. Two teams that love to attack both needing a win, both with one eye on an FA Cup semi final and both wondering if this might be the dress rehearsal for their fourth climactic Wembley meeting in that venerable competition. I think that on their day they keep the ball and move it around as well as anyone and I think that on our day we do too. It could be a game of tight margins. Which players are best able to shake off the dust from the dreaded international death march, which side benefits from the hapless and often surreal decisions of one of the most raggedly unpredictable referees ever to blight the game. I just hope that for once the side playing the best football, and creating the most chances comes out on top and whatever the result today I hope that Man United lose their remaining fixtures so that both sides can finish in the top four.

Reading back over my opening remarks I wonder if the influenza which has so cruelly afflicted my already weak and ageing mind might have made me a little more grumpy than is usually the case. Of course if you wish to to be led by the nose by scurrilous journalists and do as they tell you rather than have your own thoughts and ideas then by all means talk about prospective transfers, it is, after all, a free country. I don’t need to read it and I don’t need to join in, do I? So I apologise unreservedly if my remarks have offended those of you who think media inventions, gossip and lies are so worthy of discussion. Now where is the Vicks, and more to the point who’s going to rub some onto my chest?

20 Comments

Fit Players And Thick Experts

Last season, before Arsenal were devastated by injuries, they we top of the league and looked to be the best team.

Theo, the pace in the team was crocked , AOC had been out for the first half of the season and we were left with Gnabry .The super star of the season, Aaron Ramsey got injured and missed 3 months ,then Ozil went out also. We now know Koscielny was playing though conic tendinitis and several other players also suffered the “normal” knocks and injuries.The team wasn’t the same, and results showed just that. A disappointing end to the campaign brightened by us winning the FA cup.

Lets be fair though. for two thirds of the season we had the hope of winning the league. It was a real title contention.

Sadly, this season started with us being absolutely devastated by injuries. Long term injuries to Giroud, Ozil, Ramsey, Arteta. Debuchy, Theo and Koscielny saw us fall far enough behind Chelsea to mean the hopes of a title challenge was realistically over by October.

Despite the addition of players. that once bedded in.would prove major upgrades to the first team, this was hugely disappointing.

However. since the return of these key long term injuries we have accumulated more points than any other team. Also we have progressed to the semi final of the FA cup.

So what does this tell us?

Well I don’t know what you conclude from this, but I take it that with a squad that includes most of our most important players we take more points than any other team. That sort of makes us at least as good as anyone else.

Now, I know detractors will say that injuries are part of the game, and they are. but no other team could cope with this volume and the of length of injuries to as many key players .

As far as I can see, when Arsene has the players that he has signed and nurtured available he cant pick a team that wins more than others in a style that is more pleasing on the eye than others, with tactics that work because the players are good enough to execute them.

I mean who would have thought that the best players, play the best football and win more often?

For years I have been reading blogs from laymen who spout absolute bollocks about tactics and formations while pointing out how inept Arsene is in these areas. But we see time and again, Arsene using different formations and tactics, all of which work when the best players in the squad play and execute them.

Of the top of my head, here is a list of players that have been labeled “not good enough for Arsenal” by these expert bloggers, tweeters and worst of all, pretentious Podcasters.- Giroud. , Welbeck, Koscielny, Walcott, Gibbs. Monreal, Mertesacker, Cazorla, Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere, Famini, Rosicky, Diaby, Ozil, Coquelin, Chambers and Szczesny !

I shit you not. I have argued with people and seen so called knowable fans have a go at each and every one of these players.

Given that our squad cost a fraction of MCFC, MUFC and Chelsea, yet when we have a reasonable amount of fit players, gather more points than them, surely it time to accept that our manager is simply better than theirs?

So my advice is understand you are nothing more than a layman fan, let the experts do their jobs, and support the fecking team.

You might even enjoy watching football that way !

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