No Hammer Blow Tonight

I was delighted when Arsene Wenger took the trouble to write me an email yesterday about the win over Wigan, the remaining Premier League fixtures and the battle for fourth place. He ended by saying: “We have been in this situation before and I think we have the focus, the quality, the spirit and the desire to achieve what we want.” It seemed somehow typical of him to take time out of his busy schedule to find such reassuring words for me, and it all contributed to the rosy glow that had enfolded me ever since Santi slotted that final penalty late on Saturday afternoon. However, his sentiments didn’t seem to have such a positive effect on Le Grove’s apostles, who were positively apoplectic this morning about the situation that The Arsenal find themselves in: indeed, the manager was openly mocked for his letter, and I guess the sad thing is that he always will be now by certain sections of the fan base, no matter what he achieves between now and whenever he decides it’s time to call it a day. What I did find interesting was the scorn that was poured on the Untold lot, and in particular the link made between those who support Arsene Wenger and those who hold any kind of religious faith: both positions were laughed loudly out of court as being quite ridiculous, it somehow not quite occurring that it was they themselves that had made the comparison.

But strangely their leaps of logic made me think of the following lines from Melville’s Moby Dick (and I wish I was mature enough not to find that funny).

“There, then, he sat, the sign and symbol of a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope in the midst of despair.”

If, as I suspect, we have all felt like like that from time to time in our Arsenal journey, then how much more must the manager have felt like it in the aftermath of crushing defeats and unwanted embarrassments. But what else is there to do when all seems lost? You can’t just give up, so you might as well light your lantern and provide something for the crew to fix their gaze on in the hope that things might somehow seem better in the morning. However, right now I don’t find the Manager’s words at all empty: we are in a good position and are very far from despair – we have been here before, and if anyone doubted the spirit and desire then they should have had all doubts removed by the Wembley performance. There seems to be a common perception that 120 minutes and penalties will have left us spent, exhausted and not at all ready to take on West Ham. But the bookies don’t think that: we are 4/9 to beat them with as big as 7/2 the draw and any price you like on a real hammer blow to our Champion League credentials. And you can bet the manager and players don’t, and nor do I. I reckon that the burden of expectation pre-Wigan has been pretty intense for the team, and that has now been gloriously lifted. Expect to see us quick out of the blocks this evening, with Podolski, Rosicky and Giroud all particularly keen to stake their Cup Final claims. Jenkinson too, and Gibbs will provide fresh legs, while Kalstrom may also play, which will be interesting. I expect we won’t see quite see so much of Ramsey, Oxlade, Santi and Sanogo (my new favourite player), but they will be waiting in the wings, and I also expect that the manager will make at least one tactical decision that will surprise us all a little bit. For the first time for quite some time I am really looking forward to the game, and although I am sad that the Box Office wouldn’t let me purchase two tickets for it last week (you’re only a Red Member, Sir: more than my job’s worth to let you buy both), I shall be very much there, right in front of the TV, ready to do serious battle with anyone who says that this is a poor squad managed by a man who no longer knows what he is doing. I don’t need to believe in him: the stadium we are playing in is proof enough of his genius.


Once again this post was brought to us by @foreverheady .





Wigan Warriors-Arsenal,Not Them !

What a jigsaw of a day ! 
It has take me a little while to put the jigsaw together – but I have it at last.  
Waking up this morning (eventually) the events of all of yesterday, from waking up in the early hours with the fan’s usual nightmare of leaving my match tickets at home, a potter in the garden, the uneventful trip to London, early to the stadium, the gradual slow rise in tension as the kick off approached, the slight tick of adrenaline, nothing more  …………………………………… no inkling at all really ……………none …..
Then two and a half hours of emotional, mind bending, throat wrenching, expletive exhausting football. YES FOOTBALL! 
And what a semi final it was – by no means anyone’s idea of a classic football encounter. No football connoisseur or coaching guru will have marked yesterday in their book of notable landmarks. 
The Pie Eaters controlled, resolute, unimaginative but, as they had proved in their two most recent FAC games against Citeh, never a side to be under-estimated. Don’t ever try to tell lightning how many times it has struck or will strike – lightning is not interested in your opinion or even your statistics.
For Arsenal that bit of hesitation in our passing, a degree of rust in our flow across the park with the ball, the back of the players’ minds exercised by the certainty that for us to win was expected, but to lose would be calamity.   
And so the game unfolded. From my eyrie might above the goal I watched, as you all did, the efforts we made to push Wigan, to look for holes, to chase and harry, to find that opening that would bring the goal and settle our collective nerves.
Sanogo worked and worked and worked, then ran some more.  The Ox was by far our most effective performer. Aaron tried to bring his energy and some intelligence into the contest, to differentiate between a side who play as we can, and he Championship scufflers.
But it was not to be. An error –or a freak injury – I do not even know now having watched it again on the box last night handed the penalty to Gomez and suddenly the challenge before us took on a steeper tilt, and the  clock which had measured the afternoon as a neutral custodian of time now began to menace us. 
Cometh the hour, cometh the man – as so often the BFG showed why he has earned 100+ German caps and, having watched the headed finish again on TV, is a much finer footballer than many credit him for.
The final minutes and extra time, flashed by. By then my voice had gone, my mind was going, I had words with a pair behind me who had pressed my button on Sanogo’s alleged shortcomings once too often ( the looks of horror at the row on the fans around us were fair to behold). The players were shot, both sides running on empty tanks, legs barely able to sustain a run over ten yards much less a decent shot.
And so to penalties – my personal horror – I hate penalties – hate them – stemming perhaps from my first ever penalty shoot out in the Heysel. I peered into the abyss, and the abyss peered back.  
Fabianski – an individual triumph but a triumph that embodied the collective effort of a team that gave its all on a day when it mattered.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
But go to the FA Cup final
Thanks to Andrew( @anicoll5 ) for today’s wonderful post

Come On Arsenal -Come On Arsenal Fans !

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Mark Twain.

In my more optimistic moments I like to think this is the crux of the matter with regard to the Arsene doubters, and there’s more than a little ageism around when it comes to some of the Twitter comments. Indeed, many of the Tweets and the Tweeters remind me of the child who is forever telling his parents how much better and cooler all of his friends’ parents are. All week I have been promised “Twitter meltdown” should The Arsenal come up short against Wigan, and have even seen pictures of nuclear explosions posted as a warning of the least that AW can expect should he fail to deliver on the Wembley stage. In fairness, that’s not such a bad metaphor: it’s clear that the nucleus of Arsenal support was split some time ago, and I can only hope that a top performance today, and then a string of good results in the League, will allow that energy to be harnessed in a positive manner.

There was a time in the Everton game last weekend when such positive hope seemed futile. As we moved the ball laboriously back and sideways we looked a far cry from the side that carried all before it through much of 2013, our defensive frailties and toothless attacks making me wonder if I would ever get my Arsenal back. It hardly seemed possible that this was the same team that had swept Napoli so imperiously aside back in October, but of course, the point is that it wasn’t the same team at all. It was a team that had been decimated by cruel fortune, and for a moment it seemed to have no answer when Sagna was cynically dispossessed deep in the Everton half before our defence conceded its second comedy own goal in little more than a week. It all seemed too much, it simply wasn’t fair, and no wonder than more than a few shoulders slumped.


But then something rather special happened as Ramsey and Oxlade entered the fray. Although both were on the injury comeback trail, and hence were never going to be risked for the full 90 minutes, they made a significant difference: the game had already gone, but they brought more than fresh legs to the side. Suddenly there was forward momentum, vision and pace. Even more importantly there was belief. Belief that this side was good enough, belief that individuals could make a difference, belief that the season wasn’t going to implode. More players are returning too: Gibbs is back, and Kos, Mesut and Jack are on the horizon. Their return could well see us back to something near our best, and remind us why this squad is on the verge of something special. Today is a big day for us all. For the manager, for the players, and for the fans. We all have a stake in it, and we have been looking forward to it ever since Santi scored that wonderful goal against Spurs at the very start of this cup run. Aaron Ramsey reminded us all last weekend that we do indeed have a reason to believe, and I for one can’t wait to see The Arsenal back at Wembley again.


So put away your doubts, and remember that we are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen.


Today’s post was brought to us by The Gnabster   @foreverheady


Just Read This -Please.

I have never done this before, and I doubt it will ever happen again, I haven’t asked our friend Mean Lean permissions so I hope he is not upset.

Everyone must read this  http://www.arsenalvision.co.uk/articles/4605-its-time-for-a-change.html   its by @The _Beck and its the  “Citizen Kane ” of blogs supporting the Club.



Arsenal Cut To Pieces

Is this as bad as it can be? Let us hope so, because if we are honest, it’s dire.

How did it come to this?

This was supposed to be a thing of the past, but sometimes you get the feeling that you are in some weird Matrix thing, on a torturous loop.

It feels like death by a thousand cuts. So let’s try to analyse the cuts.

Theo has started less than 10 PL games and yet despite never being fully up to speed, he has scored 5 goals and had a similar amount of assists. That’s a goal or assist in every game. Just imagine what a fully fit Theo would have done with Ozil feeding him through balls. That’s what we lost when Theo was stretchered off on the 4th of January. We didn’t know it at the time, but they were actually carrying off our title challenge on that stretcher.

Of course you could say we should have cover for him. Well ok, name me one player in the league with his skill set that we could have as a back up? No team has a Theo, let alone a back up Theo.

Our natural replacement/cover for Theo is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but he was out for the first half of the season and it’s a little more than hopeful to expect a returning 20 year old, with a career total of 5 PL goals, to fill the void.

Up until Xmas, we got away with it because we had a little bit of Theo, but we had a lot of Aaron Ramsey. In 18 PL games he had 8 goals and 6 assists. That though only tells a fraction of the story. He was the stand out player in the country, the best midfielder by a country mile. He was giving us a balance that we have not seen in the team for years. Tackles, interceptions, incredible distances covered and an almost unbelievable pass completion %. He seemed to understand Ozil better than anyone and it appeared that no matter who he played along side, it worked. Player of the month became no more than a formality for him, collecting it 5 times on the bounce.

BANG – 26th of December he limps off with a slight thigh strain and was not seen again for over 3 months. I can’t remember us playing to that standard since.

Jack Wilshere has had an in-and-out season. It’s been a struggle for him with more downs than ups. His fitness has been suspect which has affected his game. Anyway, when we needed him the most, BANG – out he goes.

Mesut Ozil, the finest number 10 in world football – he is an assist machine – but he needs runners to assist. Since Xmas he’s had none. Anyway BANG – out he goes.

Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky (32 and 33 respectively) should be used sparingly, but due to injuries, they’re being asked to play every game and it’s showing on them. Particularly on Mikel.

Abou Diaby was due back before Xmas – hello, hello HELLO, Abou???? Nope no sign.

Flamini, he was to be cover for Mikel in the lesser games. Instead he has had to play with Arteta. Needs must, but the least said about that particular double pivot, the better.

So basically, since Xmas we have been left with an unbalanced team that’s shot at physically.

But there is worse to come.

It looks like they are mentally shot, too.

Back to the thousand cuts.

United away. Half the team struck down with some illness or other on the way to the match. Some sent home, others having to play half fit. We lost to a RVP shoulder loop in a game that the very least we deserved was a draw.

Ouch, that stung a little.

Manchester City away, we have to play with only two day’s rest following a European away game. Studies show that you have 50% less chance of beating anyone, let alone a fully rested City team on their own midden. Even then we had 2 goals incorrectly ruled off-side and a clear penalty denied. 6-3.

Ouch, quite a cut that one!

Liverpool away. Early goal conceded (off-side btw) and a goal from a corner.  Start chasing the game, holes everywhere, look foolish.

Ouch, that stung a lot.

So here we are now, stripped of confidence and knackered. Having to play with 6 first choice players missing and the rest running on empty.

Sort of explaining the present dismal run of form.

Of course along the way the manager and individual players will also have made mistakes, inflicting more little painful nicks.

People do, you know ?

Fortunately for Arsenal, the fan base has rallied around the team and will carry them to the end of the season on a wave a love and support.







Big (Insert Cliché) For Arsenal.

Partly cloudy, 13°C, light showers, expected around kick off time. That is the extent of the useful factual information I can impart – and so to the pre match review.  
Formidable hoopla in the media and Twitterworld this morning preceding our trip to Goodison. Barely a mention of the return of Ramsey. Ah well – you know how it is.
An important game certainly, and a game that both clubs will be looked forward to with a keen appetite.
A “season defining”, prove “a corner has been turned”,  or “it will decide 4th place” kind of game  ? I am assured by those much wiser than me, and who get up earlier on a grey Sunday morning to commit themselves digitally, it is in that rank. I think not.
Three points for us will provide a more comfortable margin for a CL place and keep us in touching distance of a higher PL finish than fourth. Three points for the home side and they will be right up on our shoulder, with their own bit of glory achievable and a chance to put right the shambles of 2005 when they crashed out in the qualifiers.
But this is just one game in six in the final phase of the season. Win five of the six and I would be very surprised if we were not in the CL draw in August irrespective of the outcome today. Win today but drop points in one or more of the other contests and we shall be in the soup. 
Beyond a hoped for run out for Ramsey I have always reckoned Goodison a ground where Tommy V has enjoyed his football. Scored a couple on his debut and never had a poor game. I can see Tommy as an important player again today at both front and back. Bizarrely Sunderland the only club to win at Goodison this season so I predict a goal from an unexpected source.
Everton have enjoyed a good season, and some of that success has relied upon their borrowed players Lukaku, Barry and Deulofeu. To be fair to Everton their stand out player when I have watched them this season has been Barkley.  What intrigues me is how Distin, 36 years old still manages to turn in decent performances week after week. Does the player not realise at that age he is past it ?
It will be for Everton to come out and take the win from us and I do not think my crystal ball will be required to predict a vigorous opening and test of our midfield and defensive credentials. In the two previous meetings this season they have not managed to overcome us despite creditable performances. The storms we have weathered and I have no doubt shall sail through today with no hint of panic.
Off to breakfast now and enjoy the game. 
So at 3.25 today join with me;
“Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:— do I wake or sleep?”
Today’s post is brought to you by @anicoll5

Arsenal And The Ever Shifting Sands

I lost my innocence in the summer of ‘77, the year that Elvis died. It wasn’t Elvis’s fault and it wasn’t that sort of innocence either. For that I’d have to take you to a seedy back-street in Singapore a few years earlier, but the less remembered about that the better, and it isn’t that sort of a blog anyhow: I’m told there are better sites that cater for those sorts of tastes anyhow. It rained a lot in ‘77, and there was a big storm in London on the 16th August, the night the self-styled King of Rock and Roll passed away. I remember that because we were en-route from Chelmsford to West Drayton: we’d just played Essex, and were about to take on Middlesex. Oh the giddy heights of the County Second XI circuit, but we stopped to pay homage at the Hard Rock Café anyway, although as we were young we didn’t properly understand why grown men cried that night, the late summer storm mimicking their desperate tears as the last relic of teenage years washed away.

But it was some storm, and although the next day dawned fresh and clear, the ground we were playing at was almost underwater: no chance of play on the first day (and little chance for all three days, to be honest, but we persuaded the umpires that there might be) and so we turned to what we normally turned to, which that summer was Three-card Brag. We’d played for matchsticks and pennies most of the season, but that day one of our players Dad’s had turned up to watch, and rather than go straight home again he joined our card school. Brag’s a kind of boiled-down Poker, relying heavily on bluff and nerve: we’d had a lot of fun with it on rainy days, but it was never the same again after Barry joined in. He watched our small-stakes bravado for a few hands, and then suddenly went a Pound blind, dramatically raising the stakes and putting the game out of most of our reach. We couldn’t double our stakes to see him for long, and despite sitting on good hands, we knew it was time to fold. Self-made man that he was he couldn’t see the point of playing for fun or skill, even against us kids: winning was everything to him, and as with so much in his life, he bragged and bought his way to the prize. I remember thinking that there was another sort of game going on, not one that I understood or cared for, but somehow important to those that played it. It wasn’t cards, and it certainly wasn’t cricket, but it was money – and that playing the game of money seemed to trump everything for those that played it.

I saw the same thing happen with wine and horses too. Racing had always been a rich man’s pastime, but first Robert Sangster, then the Arabs and latterly the Coolmore gang soon saw that it didn’t need to be a game at all. Invest heavily enough in the right blood lines, and the glittering prizes would inevitably follow: what splutterings of righteous indignation there were as the former aristocrats of the Turf found themselves priced out of their own favourite game, reduced to mere bit-players and onlookers at Ascot, Epsom and Longchamp. They couldn’t even drown their sorrows properly either: heavy investment in Bordeaux and Burgundy had now left Fine Wine the preserve of the Far-Eastern super-rich, seduced by the glamour of the famous name labels. Only the best will do for them, apparently, which is why Chateau Petrus retails at over a Grand a bottle in the Hong Kong restaurants: that it is then openly diluted with Coca-Cola somehow only adding insult to injury, and causing my mate in the Wine Trade serious problems as he smiles through gritted teeth while all the time laughing on his way to the bank.

And it was only a matter of time before cricket and football went the same way down the money road. Kerry Packer and Tony Greig saw that a long time before the cricket establishment ever did, and their World Series altered the face of cricket and the way it was played once and for all. All changed, changed utterly, the terrible beauty of the T20 game and its offshoot leagues born the moment Channel 9 saw that stay at home Aussie punters would pay to watch great sport from the comfort of their sprawling suburban homes. Sky and the bookies followed hot on their heels, just as they did when they saw that football was ripe for a rebrand, and it is essentially the TV money that explains why a few gifted lads, barely out of their teens, boast Hampstead homes and toothsome cars. But something else and more exciting happened with football as it moved away from its working-class origins and lost its automatic association with violent thuggery. The clubs themselves became the latest must have fashion accessory for the uber-rich and what better way to parade your success than to own one. The likes of Jack Walker showed what could happen when you suddenly take over and throw money at an under-achieving club: the Leeds and Portsmouths of the world showing the dangers of such an approach.

Because that is the danger for the high-rollers: you might raise the stakes, but you can never be quite sure if someone with more money might one day join the game and trump you by going “an oil-well blind”. Abramovich saw the possibilities, and for a while his spending made all the difference: indeed, he turned the game on its head for a while, partly to posture, but also perhaps to launder a reputation. But what a transformation in no time at all for that club: the greatest players in the world flocked to his side, and it seemed as if his dominance would be absolute. Except for three reasons, and they are worth looking at for a moment. Sport is unpredictable, and although friendly officials might influence a game, results can never be guaranteed: luck will play its part, and that capricious madam can never be wholly owned. Players, though dearly bought, still need to play, to be organised, to be motivated – and sometimes if they have already had great success elsewhere, their new huge salaries can take the edge of their hunger. It is not every manager that can cope with the combination of ego and slight lethargy, nor perhaps with the potential for interference from the wealthy owner. How irritating it would be if you felt obliged to play an out of form striker in a vital tie, for instance. And thirdly, and Arsene Wenger noted this many months ago now, there is an increasing pool of high quality players due partly to the success of new European coaching initiatives and partly to the shrinking of the world, leading to African and South American players more readily available. However many players you might buy to send out on loan, you can’t own them all, and the properly competitive nature of this year’s Premiership is proof of that.

There will be few who didn’t enjoy the delicious irony of Chelsea moaning about PSG’s expenditure earlier this week, and even fewer true Arsenal supporters who didn’t see the home draw against the City oil-slickers (achieved by our virtual second team) as a cause for due rejoicing. Make no mistake, the events of the last week show the footballing landscape shifting yet again. For a while, it did seem that the game was indeed all about the money, and that like those poor cricketers back in the 70s, there would be little point in trying to compete against brash new cash. But Barry had a heart attack not long after, and I suspect Jose is already uncomfortably aware of his owner’s displeasure. Barca are in trouble, and it’s a china orange to the whole of Lombard Street that a legion irregularities will be exposed elsewhere. More bankruptcies will follow as owners withdraw their support (you’d worry about Cardiff, Fulham and QPR right now), and as night follows day well run clubs like The Arsenal will continue to thrive as the post-cash injection football world becomes all shook-up. They say that cynics know the price of everything but the value of nothing – but Arsene knows that without holding on to proper values everyone will have to pay a terrible price. We were lucky to have him at the helm for the first few years of his managership – but truly blessed to have had him steer the ship for the last few when it got really difficult. And as Elvis might have said to him, our success, our stadium and our future prospects are all down to the wonder of you


Today’s post came from The Gnabster @foreverheady, give him a follow, you wont regret it.


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