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Anthony Stokes the International vs League fire where Arsenal blew and hot

May 27, 2011

“It’s a 11 month holiday” was Trapattoni’s damning verdict after Anthony Stokes pulled out of Ireland’s squad for the Carling Nations Cup. Gio couldn’t understand Stokes’ reason for not playing and for him ‘fatigue’ didn’t count as a valid reason.

Much the same way, England and more specifically Stuart Pearce couldn’t understand that Wilshere playing his first full season as a top flight footballer in the Premiership could also be tired. There were the stats that revealed that he was on the verge of sustaining an injury. I’m glad we have these stats because they have been so useful in preventing injuries for us in the past…

Side stepping that last jibe, I can see where both sides are coming from. Living in the UK, I’m used to around 22 days of paid holiday. And as much as I appreciate the benefits of full time working now which also explains the long hiatus, absence of my musings on here, working is not a 11 month holiday – give or take-. I also know that even though I suck at playing football myself and I can’t do the amazing things that professional footballers do I do not consider playing a laborious, unenjoyable task. So if I was any good at it, I’d want to play and milk every opportunity I could. Or so is the thought held in certain quarters of the football echelon. Besides it’s just a game or two so how much harm could it do when they do have a few weeks off, basically putting their feet up so to speak.

However, what these old school thinkers fail to realize is that although professional footballers can put aside physical fatigue, mental fatigue is a much more complex. Jack for instance, has had enormous responsibility, a lot of it unwanted in his first season. That he excelled for last parts of it, is a blessing and we’re all glad for it. But towards the end of the season it was clear to see that his performances were a reflection of the toll his body took mentally and physically. The same could be said of Stokes, whose side was involved in a last day title battle with Rangers. Stokes also had to work for a manager who received constant threats to his safety, something which should have no place for football.

As much as I love International football (not too keen on the glorified friendlies today though, if ever) Wilshere not featuring this summer for the England under 21 represents a small success for us. Too often we have let our players go freely without making too much of a fuss about it. Too often have they come back from international duty, injured. Van Persie injured playing a ‘friendly’ against Italy? How often have we seen Giggs time after time pull out of numerous friendlies for Wales? Indeed if you look at Utd’s squad, Giggs, Scholes, Van der Sar, Berbatov, Park-ji-Sung – retired. That doesn’t include a few others who haven’t featured prominently at International level. These players benefit from being able to switch off football temporarily – physically and mentally.

I’m not asking for our players to reject playing for their national countries, but they have to think deeper about these things. I’m also asking for managers to think about the footballers in not so black and white terms. As for our club, like I said a small victory and one that we should build on, but perhaps given the season just gone it doesn’t appear too likely that will.

Win the midfield, win the game and more? Believe

August 14, 2010

Like you I can’t wait for the season to begin. Is it because I miss not watching Arsenal every weekend? No, not so much that but because at least we won’t have to read/discuss transfer speculation as much.
So we don’t have a new goalkeeper. Almunia or Fabianski will start at Anfield. Oh but they’re shit. They can’t catch, they can’t throw, they can’t save, they fall over, spit at people and sometimes even threaten people with plastic knives. We won’t win anything with them. Oh Really? Not even a game?
We need a central defender because we’ve let 4 go and brought just one. Ah yes, that makes sense. So, I dunno how about Spahic? Yeah, but I’ve never heard of him and he’s only the Bosnian captain. And to be honest I’d much rather have a player who I’ve actually heard of that can be our 4th choice defender.
A close friend of mine said to me “I wished we signed Joe Cole. He would have been a nice understudy for Nasri and Walcott.” What the fuck? Since when did we start thinking like the Man City owners?
And in case you’re wondering, I was being sarcastic in my analysis of Spahic. Just because we’ve never heard of Spahic as much doesn’t mean he’d be shit.
I mean England had all these big name players and how did they do in the World Cup? Exactly.
A supposedly better goalkeeper, strong reserves in defence could help. But what will really help is if our midfield manages to keep working hard until the last minute. Against Celtic in the Emirates Cup, we lost our way in midfield and Celtic took the initiative scoring twice. Once our midfield regained the ability to keep possession we were able to shut out Celtic. Of course there are defensive lapses but who doesn’t? Chelsea conceded more goals off set pieces than us didn’t they last season? Utd’s defence was suspect at times too. Liverpool’s defence was not so bad but where did they get them?
Carrying on with the analysis of our squad on paper then yes our team or squad if you will isn’t as strong as some of our rivals. But weren’t we saying the same last year? The fact is, even without our most astute forward Robin missing a large chunk of the season, we were STILL in touch with Utd and Chelsea. It was only when our midfield fell apart i.e. Song, Denilson, Cesc missing games (Remember the collapse at Wigan?) that we really lost our way.
Even if our team isn’t strong on paper, why should we be so overly negative? Burnley had a shit team but they got their act together to beat Utd. Wigan were woeful for most parts of the season but had enough to beat Liverpool, Chelsea and us. So if these teams are capable of beating the top teams why can’t we?
Believe. And a bit of luck. In a recent interview by Edu, he revealed how the invincibles almost defeated the opposition before they even kicked the ball. We were that intimidating. Times have changed. The Premiership is going to be more competitive this season. We can’t intimidate opposition as much as before. But we can go with this ‘We know we might not be the best but we will give our best’. For me, that is enough.
Forget all this transfer talk, get behind the team. We have a tough one on Sunday. Discard the fact that Liverpool finished 7th last season. New management and all that. They are going to be fierce. And our team needs our support. We might start with Frimpong. What a debut that would be for him. Wilshere could feature. Cesc and RVP might not. Theo needs all the love after a forgetful summer largely spent in the end laughing at the team that was England. It means supporting whoever is in Goal.
Basically each one of them needs our support. Who knows, we might even get a positive result.

5 things observed from WC2010 & TOTD (team of the day)

June 17, 2010
Having watched 45 minutes of every game except the Cameroon – Japan game, here are a few thoughts on the matches played so far..It is brief and each can be expanded upon as a separate post but here goes..
Tippy tappy passing hits a brickwall.
In fear of utter humiliation, both North Korea and Switzerland used pragmatic tactics that Mourinho would have been proud off. What is the point of having 67% of the ball when you are unable to convert the chances you create? Spain were slow in their passing and Switzerland kept their shape forcing the Spaniards to use the flanks to cross it in. Sounds familiar? Without Torres, this tactic would be ineffective.  North Korea did the same albeit with a 5 man defence that you won’t see that often. Brazil passed and passed but North Korea always had someone to cover as the passing wasn’t swift and/or it was too congested in those areas. Even so when North Korea managed to break Brazil’s attack they ran with purpose and looked at times ready to land the decisive blow. Crisp one touch passing works well when the ball is played out wide. This was effective for Chile, Germany and Brazil (2nd half) in breaking defensive strategies.
Pragmatism is really the name of the game
Generally speaking this tournament has been a bit too defensive. Only Germany and now Uruguay have scored more than 2 goals in one game. In the 17 matches so far, 14 teams have failed to score . 6 teams have won with 1 -0 scoreline. Uruguay have kept two clean sheets without too much trouble. Nothing to do with the Jabulani ball, just teams who insist on safety first policy. Perhaps that will change as the tournament goes on.
Play your fittest players.
As in those who can run back and forth with the energy and purpose required. Spain omitted Cesc and Torres presumably because they were not fully fit. However they still fielded Iniesta who looked a little jaded at times.  Kaka struggled against North Korea as well and his lack of match practice showed. Denmark picked Bendtner and our Dane’s impact on the game vs Holland was minimal if not lacking fluency. He tried but the Nick I know would show much more determination when playing for the red and white of Denmark. (It helps knowing you’re pretty much a cert in the team).
North Korea are good. Portugal better watch out.
If Brazil are the South American team unable to break down defensive sides, then Portugal is the European equivalent. I mean they were held to a draw by Cape Verde, 117 in the FIFA rankings at the time. Not only did Korea defend well but as I said before they were comitted to causing damage on the counter. Jong Tae-se was impressive as a lone frontman and I believe it was his knockdown that led to their goal. There was some really pleasing skill on the ball and unlike some really established teams (I’m looking at you France and England) were more enjoyable to watch. Portugal will need to use the flanks a bit more to break down Korea.
Van Persie is world class.
Possibly the worst kept secret in football. Holland didn’t really live up to the hype in their first match but then really maybe they’re going the Italian route. Slow and Steady wins the race and all that. But whenever Van Persie received the ball he always strived to create an opportunity for him or for the team. Arsene mentioned last season how the role of the striker has changed. The midfielders used to bring the strikers into play but now the strikers have to bring the midfielders into play. Barely a minute into the second half, Van Persie chased a long ball he shouldn’t have. He promptly crossed it in for two Dutch players and although they didn’t really contest it, there was enough hara-kiri from Denmark which led to the first goal.
Finally, I did a team of the day feature on my twitter account.
11/06 – South Africa
12/06 – South Korea
13/06-Germany
14/06- Holland
15/06- North Korea
16/06- Chile
That is all I have to say for the first week of World Cup 2010. ..

The Gooner who should inspire Theo and Nasri to come back stronger

June 2, 2010
When the World Cup is taking place, Theo and Nasri could do a lot worse than meeting up and having a chat. Two exceptional talents in World football but both now are resigned to watching the biggest competition in football. Both Capello and Domenech have not said why they excluded Theo and Nasri respectively but hey can we try.
Back in January I hinted towards Theo’s anger at not having the opportunities to make his England place certain. Here was a man who I believe infuriated Wenger to such an extent that he suggested some players think about club football only before anything else. There are some players now who don’t find the idea of playing for their national country that appealing. Theo wasn’t one of them. There is a passion which is hurt but can be nurtured.
Where did it go wrong for him? It is a puzzler. I do not buy the whole Theo is a one trick pony opinion. I thought he was one of our better players in the last 2 months although we are talking of a squad that was missing about 5-6 of its key personnel. He single handedly won us the game against Burnley – if only Nik had his scoring boots on – it would have been a hiding. After that he scored at Wigan and also was one of the better players in the two matches against Barcelona.
Theo could have been excluded because he is vulnerable to injuries. However Capello has picked players who still aren’t fully fit. In the two friendlies, Theo certainly didn’t look like a man physically unfit. I also don’t think Capello did any favours by picking a side with 2 wingers against Japan that were meant to bring create chances, retain ball possession and maintain a defensive discipline. 8 of the 11 players that started for England were attack minded. Against Mexico, England couldn’t even keep the ball well so Theo’s duty was restricted. He would have to run at defenders and create chances on the counter. Hardly the sort of tactics to bring the best out of a mercurial talent?
Could it be because of attitude issues? Theo’s statement after the Squad was selected reveals that at least with the media he is able to communicate the right sentiments.
Nasri’s exclusion is equally baffling. Having missed the first few months, he was by far the best player in his first match back in Arsenal colours. He went on to make 26 more appearances scoring 5 and setting up 4. It isn’t an impressive return but we mustn’t forget that he is very much a player in the Hleb mode. If anything he is a bit too much like him sometimes with his reluctance to shoot. Two of his best moments was his chip pass for Cesc vs Burnley and THAT goal against Porto. Unfortunately once Cesc was finished for the season, Samir’s presence didn’t illuminate a team that badly needed his creativity.
However there are suggestions that Nasri didn’t make it because he was possibly seen as a disruptive influence on and off the pitch. We know about the now famous incident that took place on the French team bus. We also saw how Nasri showed petulance in a match against Hull. It is possible that Domenech didn’t want a repeat of 2006 final when Zidane lost it in a matter of seconds.
So for different reasons and it is all speculation, Theo and Nasri haven’t made it. However they are still young and quite capable of being part of 2014 and 2018. For now they could learn from one Gooner who did make it. I could choose Eboue who took a lot of abuse from Gooners, RVP for his fighting spirit to come back from injury. But I choose Abou Diaby.
On May 1st 2006, Diaby picked up the first serious injury in his young career courtesy of a mistimed tackle from Dan Smith. Abou had made a steady start at Arsenal but the form he showed was never world class at the time. But he was highly rated and it seemed only a matter of when not if, he would make it. How often has Mourinho tried to sign a 19 year old?
Since then Diaby showed moments of brilliance but his development was also halted because of several injuries. These as we’ve seen with Eduardo, Rosicky and possibly soon with Ramsey are inevitable for footballers who’ve been out of the game for a while. But last season, Diaby started 34 games for us which I believe was his best return for us. He managed to score 7 goals and set up 5, more than Nasri and Theo did. While he had the afro, inexplicably his defensive work also improved, apart from a few mad moments here and there. That includes ironically Diaby’s mistimed tackle on Nasri which ruled him out for the first few months of last season.
Some may query his selection for France ahead of Nasri but not me. Diaby deserves his selection and he doesn’t come across as a man with attitude issues, something that will suit Domenech. Of course at 23 he isn’t the finished article but it just goes to show that with hard work and a bit of luck what can happen.
Now Theo and Nasri have really ought to have a chat. Who knows possibly in the next season we may have two footballers who know how to be part of a team in every way possible.

Time to make friends with a northern club?

May 24, 2010
Even before they were promoted Holloway mentioned how Premier League football would be beneficial not only for the football club, but for the town itself. Having holidayed there twice, I’ve witnessed myself how some parts of the town needed a facelift.
For us fans, there is now the unique opportunity of come across the unique sights, smells, sounds of Blackpool and watch a football match in what will be the smallest ground to cater for Premiership football. And if you’re lucky you’ll witness some of the craziest shenanigans that come with the stag night/bachelor parties. It certainly promises to be an adventure.
For our club itself, there is a huge opportunity to gain some much needed positive PR up north (west-ish). Much has been said how woeful we are when we visit the northern clubs. Much of this is pure exaggeration. A team that has issues with playing in a certain area cannot brush aside a side 6-1. Moreover 3 of our defeats came after we threw away the minimum of a goal advantage. This I think is unlikely to happen in the forthcoming season.
Could it be a case of where the matter takes over the mind instead of it being the other way around? I then saw myself watching Reginald D Hunter’s performance at the Apollo via youtube. Fast-forward to the bit where starts talking about Americans loving catchphrases. He uses the famous one used for Batman to make this point.
To conquer fear you must become fear…
As the act progresses, he questions the validity of such a catchphrase in certain cases. You have to watch the rest of it to hear the sheer absurdity of it. But the concept behind the catchphrase could be relevant for us couldn’t it?
To conquer northern clubs, you must become a northern player/club?
Or think like one. This is where our new friend Blackpool can help us and be helped. Holloway will not have a huge transfer kitty and will rely on loan signings. We have arguably the best youth academy now in England. Some of these players perhaps are not ready to play in the league for us.
Kyle Bartley has suggested that he was happy to go back to Sheff Utd just so that he could get more games. So instead of going there, wouldn’t it be better if he went to Blackpool instead? Not only does he get to test himself against higher class opposition, he also knows he will have to show more competitiveness.
We talk about the great era of Adams, Keown, Dixon etc. Something that we don’t hear much is that 4 of our defenders that played in the George Graham era had spells in the north. Winterburn never played a game for Birmingham but began his career there. Dixon started off at Burnley and had a couple of years at Stoke. Steve Bould was another who donned the colours of Stoke. Keown played for the blue half of Merseyside for 4 years.
It isn’t just young defenders who stand to benefit. Can you imagine for example the technically gifted Vela being demanded to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in? Community service for footballers but on the pitch. They’d be much stronger for the experience.The other reason why a loan spell at Blackpool would be good is because Holloway also uses a 4-3-3 formation like us. Then again so does Roberto Martinez at Wigan. Two northern clubs that will strive to play attractive football in a formation that we use ourselves.
Just a few thoughts…

Guess which EPL manager loves a bargain?

May 22, 2010

I’ll give you a clue. In the last 6 months he has signed two players with Champions League experience on free transfers.

Forget all that bullshit about Harry Redknapp loving bargain signings, Arsene has done it yet again. He could have signed Chamakh before that but coulda woulda shoulda. If you could, for example have an xbox for free, you’d wait 6 months as well wouldn’t you?

After months and months of speculation, Chamakh is now officially a Gooner. If he is just as successful, (if not more) as the last Bordeaux player to sign for us I’ll be happy. I kinda liked the last dude from their club. He loved scoring against Utd, particularly on their turf. The players who relish the big games, not get stuck in the expecations and ‘what if we lose’ mentality. And I’ve just checked the free vid where Arsene has called Chamakh a fighter. Maybe we could have the first couscous gate at Old Trafford. On a serious note, it is nice to see that Arsene has signed a player not just for his technical qualities. Then again it isn’t the first time he has done that.

I’m in awe of Chamakh and a skeptic at the same time. Getting Sol was relatively straightforward. He trained and trained well with us. No one else really wanted him. We needed a defender and he wanted to sign for us.

With Chamakh, there were probably a lot of other clubs interested. It helps that we got in the Champions League directly but for some players money is more important isn’t it? Sorry, Sorry they sign for “the project”. The Moroccan knew he would get anything near as what he could have earned had he opted to call the likes of Man City, Chelsea etc. But he chose us.

I’m a skeptic at the same time because he says he has been a Gooner fan since he was a child. Marouane’s  what 26 now? I find it hard to believe he was going crazy when the Gooners did it in 89, 91, 93 etc. Basically when we won stuff in the George Graham era. But Arsene joined in 97 didn’t he? Chamakh would have been what, 13? It is possible that the child in him then brought himself to support the Gooners. I’ve been a Gooner since late 1999 and I’m only twenteenthree. Then again I was brought up in a country where domestic league football came a distant second to the World Cup. More on that another time.

With Marouane  now at the club, you can’t help thinking one striker is going to leave. Then again knowing Arsene, he’ll probably use Chamakh, Bendtner, Eduardo and Vela to replace each other as the second striker who plays on either flank. That’s our rotational injury policy. It isn’t voluntary.

Anyway, I digress. Welcome Marouane Chamakh. Here’s hoping you shut up off the pitch and score a lot of goals on it. Then again, reading the tweets last night about how cute his accent is, you wouldn’t want him to shut up completely would you?

How Billy G could command 80k* p/w

May 13, 2010

You know what I don’t get sometimes? How newspapers are confident enough to throw a figure to a wind up story. Arsene has £40 million to spend. He will buy buy buy. Here is the list *100 players linked to Arsenal, Arsenal Youth, Arsenal kids but none to Arsenal Ladies*.

I mean Arsenal could have offered Gallas just 80k but they could have also offered him 80k and a bag of Werthers Originals per week couldn’t they? On. a. one. year. deal.

Back in January I was slightly worried that Gallas’ name didn’t feature in the list of 15 players who renewed their contracts with Arsenal. Indeed it says a lot about our club that none of the 15 who signed on were defenders. Unless you count Song, JET and Lansbury (he can play at right back). Back in January, Arsene revealed he had preliminary talks with Gallas. At that time I was thinking “preliminary”? Sign him up boss. Vermaelen was loving his partnership with Gallas.

Billy G was the perfect player according to Arsene wasn’t he? He does his job and shuts up. Two months later and it all caught up. Gallas would be ruled out for the reason yet again. That is 2 seasons in a row where he didn’t play the last 6 weeks.

Last year without him, Utd outplayed us in the CL semi’s. This year we lost our way in the Premiership and the CL. It helps to put in perspective why contract talks still haven’t reached a definite conclusion yet. 80k a week is good value if

1) He spoke a little more. You know, being senior defender and all. Lack of communication contributed to our defensive lapses and it is no surprise that the one game where Clichy spoke we kept a clean sheet. Billy G could definitely do that.

2) a clause was inserted whereby he would forfeit about 50% wages if he missed a month or so, especially the last 6 weeks.

Come to think of it, maybe we should do this for all our players. Except Cesc. All men are equal, some more so than others and all that.

No Billy G deserves a new deal but IF we are to believe what the papers say, he has to show a bit more common sense. After all, he is the one who left Chelsea to join us. And he could have earned a lot more if he was still there. Perhaps he ought to remember why he joined Arsenal and then everything else will follow. If after that he thinks circumstances including the money isn’t right for him to stay then fair enough, he should go wherever he wants.

Trouble for us then is that who would be able to replace him and that too at Wenger value? Actually I would like to know names at these point. People who follow other domestic leagues feel free to speculate who Arsene could bring just generally. Not names from football manager or any other SIM games. Years ago Bramble was meant to be the next big thing. Enough said?

Anyway back to the Billy G issue. You can’t expect Sol to play the number of games Gallas did. It could be the Flamini situation all over again. I just hope some sort of compromise comes out and Billy G dances with us rather than moonwalk past Arsenal into a comfortable but not as challenging environment.

PS: In 2008-9 we conceded 37 goals. Too many that year. The season just gone we conceded 41 goals.  Gallas or no Gallas the team must put more effort to prevent a further decline of the defence.

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