The Danish pastry or rockin’ Moroccan?

March 3, 2011

Rather than respond to David Hytner’s recent Guardian column with an angry and incoherent e-comment destined to be lost to the realms of internet space, this is how I will pick my bone. From my more lofty position as an irrelevant and unknown internet blogger, there will be no escaping my wrath.

Whilst the outcome of tonight’s encounter with a seemingly awe-struck Leyton Orient side was always going to be a formality, the bearing it had on future team-selections was an interesting selling-point. As the media prod around for any sign of Szczesny or Koscielny crumbling after Sunday’s trauma, could Almunia edge closer to regaining the gloves, or Squillaci the Centre-Half berth? Can Diaby still have a role to play in this tantalsing season? And what could be said for the young trialists, Miquel and Henderson? Above all however was the audition played out between Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner, both aiming to step into the lethal boots of glass-bones, or as his friends call him, Robin Van Persie.

As I said only recently, it is foolish to be lulled into any sense of security, be it false or real, on the back of this man finding a purple patch. His draw to the treatment room is too strong, and even in the act of scoring a beautiful (I have been told) cup final equaliser, he can aspire to become injured. Knee ligament damage is apparently his latest ailment, keeping him out for at least 3 weeks according to the boss, and presenting a very problematic conundrum.

Vying to replace one of the most prolific strikers in world football, I give you a lumbering, paceless, arrogant slouch, and Marouane Chamakh. A key debate amongst fans this year, though one I cannot say is at all riveting, is the enduring question of who is the better of the two. Now, it seems, the decision will at last be made. Starting with Sunderland on Saturday, Arsenal may be forced to contest a minimum of 5 fixtures without one of our most prized assets, including visits to the Nou Camp and Old Trafford. Instead, Bendtner or Chamakh will be called upon to lead an optimistic challenge for the treble. Although Bendtner’s early withdrawal from last night’s proceedings suggest he will get the nod, I’d encourage Arsene to rethink his choice.

If tonight was the audition, then it was no coincidence the audience seemed less than enthralled. A hat-rick has never before been greeted with such muted recognition. Because for each goal Bendtner neatly tucked away, there were far more wayward touches and half-hearted sprints. What is so agonizingly frustrating about Bendtner’s hat-rick is that it will most likely earn him the opportunity to start in the central role against both Sunderland and Barcelona. A role he is not at all worthy of. Yes he scored a hat-rick this evening, yet the opposition, with respect, would have been given a game by the Under 15’s. More importantly, he as ever lacked any energy or finesse and played with far too much unfounded arrogance. The latter was epitomized in a cringe-worthy moment when he cupped his ear to the Orient fans after scoring his second.

One of the many admirable features of Van Persie’s game is his excellent link up play. With Bendtner playing in the central striking position, this is lost. His touch is not good enough and defenders find it very easy to play against him. As against Braga away, and more recently at home to Stoke, the midfield players so often relied on to create danger were anonymous. Walcott, Nasri, Arshavin and Cesc thrive on being able to pick the ball up from the central striker in order to create opportunities when the defense are on the back-foot. With Bendtner charged with providing them with this luxury, Arsenal lose a key dimension to their attacking play as his disinterested and plodding work helps slow down or lose possession.

Whilst Bendtner tends to miscontrol a ball aimed his way, or over-elaborate before wasting an opportunity, Chamakh is exemplary in such a scenario. He is the ideal target man. Knock it up to him, be it feet, chest or head-high, and the ball will stick like glue. Whilst he may not be the most aggressive centre forward, he can certainly hold his own. Far more willing to challenge aerially than the more flowery Bendtner, Chamakh was key to our good early season form, with goals as well as affective link up play. 11 of them to be precise, a not too shabby record from the first 4 or so months of the season. Similarly, whilst Bendtner mopes around the pitch without ever breaking sweat, Chamakh his intent on harrying and hassling oppositions. An important trait.

In his column, Hytner suggests Bendtner’s admirable versatility unfairly hinders his claim for the central-striking role as he is forced to play on the right or behind Chamakh. Paradoxically, it is instead more of an unattainable ambition of Wenger’s and highlights the Dane’s inappropriateness in that role. Bendtner is never going to be a suitable winger for Arsenal, again down to his poor control of a football. Look down the history of Arsenal wingers. Can you see Bendtner slotting in nicely amongst a procession of Pires’, Ljungbergs, Overmars’ and Rixs- I think not. For me he has no place in a title-challenging side, and should be the prime candidate to help raise Arsenal’s net profit with a move elsewhere in the summer. However, whilst many lambast him endlessly, an equal amount are prone to forgetting the hours of Bendtner induced pain, hypothesizing that his presence may one day be vital. It won’t be. It will be as disappointing, clumsy and lackadaisical as ever. He may grab an early goal at the Nou Camp, as he did last year, but his overall contribution won’t be nearly as effective as what Chamakh could offer. Without Van Persie it is necessary to look for alternative ways of unlocking Barcelona, not to turn to a half-adequate understudy in the hope he may have suddenly become as good as he thinks he is. Choose wisely Arsene, lest we concede possession, and then the game.


The Day It All Went Wrong

March 1, 2011

Having this second heard the news that Robin Van Persie is going to be out for “at least 3 weeks”, bringing about the inevitable collapse of a once promising season, I feel the time has come to speak of Sunday 27th February; an unprecedented day of consistent misery. For those of us who have read Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch”, and for those of us who have re-read it again and again and again, the sequence of events I experienced that lead up to and followed that calamitous 88th minute moment will strike a chord. In Hornby’s beautifully observant account of the life of an obsessive Arsenal fan, he often speaks of the paralleled link between Arsenal and ‘real life’. Arsenal win, and everything falls into place. Arsenal lose, and the world around him crumbles, the birds stop tweeting, and instead start flinging shit at him while acid rain thuds down. I’d like to think my experience on Sunday may have merited a chapter in this cult book. Having ended the season unimaginably empty handed, it would later be entitled; “The Day it all went wrong”.

Sunday 27th February 2011 began for me at 5 am, lying in my mate’s bath, my mouth lined with sick and my head throbbing. After haphazardly stumbling to a nearby bed for a few hours of painful sleep, I managed to skulk downstairs, grab a glass of water amidst a massively hungover slice of ‘small-talk’ with said mate’s wider family, and clean my sick from his bathroom. Charming, I know. As far as I was aware, this was as bad as my day was going to get. The sun was now up, the birds were chirping, Birmingham were in the horizon and waiting to get spanked. “What a lovely day for a cup final” I optimistically mumbled to my Spurs supporting mate/enemy. The irony makes me wince.

Now in comfortable command of my hangover with water-bottle in hand, I hopped into the car. After confidently explaining to the disbelieving gooners why I wasn’t wearing an Arsenal shirt (because in the previous 7 games in which I had worn ordinary clothes we had won the lot. Beginning after wearing yellow to Portman Road), I then embarked on the journey to Finchley Road. Or as it has since become, the most terrifying 35 minutes of my life. I pleaded with the carefree gooner behind the wheel. “Please mate, this could potentially be the best day of my life…I don’t want to die so can you please roll that when we get to the pub…I’ve been looking forward to this for months…I really want to get to Wembley in one piece, so how about you look at the road not at your lap…Oh don’t smoke that now…Shitting hell, slow down!” I now wish his haphazard steering had driven us off course, and into a lake full of ravenous piranhas.

By this time, predictably, the sun had put his hat away and the day was about to provide a lovely moment of premature pathetic fallacy. I should have taken it as a sign. It pissed down. And not only was it a big piss, it was a freezing cold piss. Naturally I was under-dressed for this massive storm having set out apparently during a heatwave, and consequentially got soaked. Battling through the rain, we arrived outside The Walkabout, only to discover an enormous cue, and the empty void in my wallet where my I.D was meant to be. Great! No bouncing, singing, joyous pre-match experience for me then. Weatherspoons it had to be, alcohol free of course, due to the layer of sick ready to emerge from my oesophagus at the mere thought of boos. It was a damp squib of a prematch drink up. Losing patience at the persistently inefficient barman, the off-license proved to be a more desirable destination from which to begin the train journey to Wembley.

The proceeding journey, it has to be said, did provide a spanner in the works. The one glimmer of light to an otherwise jet black day. Singing, dancing, optimistic gooners usurped each and every carriage of the Metropolitan line’s 14:30 train to Wembley Park. A nice man even hurried over to me to return my £2:50 which had been rejected by the Oyster Card machine. What a marvelous chap. Things were on the up it seemed. “What did she wear”; we sang as 16:00 got closer and so did what was surely going to be the end of the dreaded trophy drought. As I walked out of Wembley Park station and looked over at the hordes of expectant fans circumnavigating there way around that gigantic stadium, I knew this was going to be a mental image I would never forget, for one reason or another.

The 90+ minutes that provided the climax to this woeful outing have since become a blur to myself and presumably a whole host of other Wembley attendees. Destined to remain unwatched on my V+ box, this outing could even have been a distasteful dream such is the lack of vividness it has in my memory. Partly due to me avoiding any form of post-match media, and having extensively trained myself in the art of running away from the truth, the poor performance, Jack’s tears and the numb feeling of despair all exist in a separate world- I have no intention of ever re-visiting that place.

The journey home was arguably worse than the journey there. ‘Kettled’ for what seemed like days by police horses on Wembley way, whilst being stuck next to angry drunks venting their spleen at about 100 fellow fans is not something I plan on experiencing again. A tirade built on frustration and anger took place a foot away from me for the best part of half an hour. Each minute more cumbersome and infuriating than the last. Trapped, fed-up and now verbally abused. All whilst eating the most disgusting £8.50 Burger and Chips imaginable to man, bought from the ironically named ‘Divine Burger’. What a day.

Beauty vs The Beast

February 23, 2011

When I think back to it, it still sends an icy shiver down my spine. It was one of those games that are special, that live long in the memory, and even longer in the heart. Yet whilst it was special, it was also tragic; traumatic; terrifying. How could I be happy about the result, the character, the togetherness, when one of Britain’s brightest prospects had had his leg snapped in two on the way to achieving all this. A confused cocktail of emotions. First there was the cloud. Then there was the silver lining. Then there was the cloud again. Cue pandemonium amongst the gooner nation.

Stoke City v Arsenal was arguably the most talked about Premier League match of the season last year. So much occurred, of which so much was symbolic, that every gooner has fabricated an almost obsessive bond with that match. For not only representing our superiority in the way in which clubs have to resort to brute violence to combat us, but also the way in which the team grew-up that day.

It began just like any other Stoke V Arsenal encounter. A long, bullet-like Rory Delap throw somehow found Danny Pugh on the far post who duly tapped in. Stoke were in front within minutes and apparently Arsenal had learnt nothing. We had seen this before and, it seemed, we were about to see it all over again. The headlines in the next day’s papers were already writing themselves. Talk of Arsenal not being strong enough or gritty enough for the title were bound to arise once more.

Yet when Bendtner leapt to power in a pinpoint header later on in the first-half, everyone seemed to get the feeling that this team were different. More mature? Perhaps. More physical? Possibly. More of a team? Certainly. That goal roused the troops, and was met with unbridled glee. It was a headed goal, from a cross, and thats what made it more special. It proved we had the resources to alter our game plan and turn to a Plan B, if you like.

Though what ever had happened in the match, and whatever else was going to happen, in terms of football, all was soon rendered unimportant. To this day, it’s difficult to talk about it, and I will never forget the reaction from the rest of the pub I was situated in. A collective hush fell over the place, a communal flinch followed by despair as Ryan Shawcross careered into Aaron Ramsey, leaving the young welshman ashen faced, his ankle hanging at a precarious angle. The immediate reaction from the rest of the players was something else. Sol Campbell, a symbol of Arsenal’s character over the last decade, furious. Fabregas, his third experience of an horrific injury to a teammate, distraught. Thomas Vermaelen, an exemplary tackler and classy Centre-Half, aghast. It is rare you catch glimpses into window’s of a player’s soul during their entire career, let alone one match. But in that moment, as Ryan Shawcross wept and Aaron Ramsey was stretchered off, aided by an oxygen mask, something happened to the rest of that team; they evolved. Once feeble, underachieving, often isolated teammates, the group was now united. They had a collective motive. A collective hunger to avenge their companion and do it by facing adversity straight in the face. Where their predecessors, and in some cases, former selves, had shriveled in the wake of Eduardo’s horrific leg-break, this group were different. With Cesc Fabregas now valiantly standing where Gallas once betrayed his troops, the team were hurt, yet determined not to let happen what took place in the months proceeding Eduardo’s injury as our grip on the title was conceded.

I cant move on from this swimmingly without making some comment about the tackle itself. Whilst Martin Taylor’s on Eduardo was a disgusting, studs up lunge, this was less calculated, and to this day many Arsenal despising humans believe it wouldn’t have even merited a red card had Ramsey not broken his leg. This is somehow missing the point. Ramsey did break his leg, and that is simply down to the fact that Shawcross made that challenge with excessive force, at stupid speeds and with a clear lack of intelligence. Amongst all this the challenge was on the half-way line, and miles away from winning the ball. It’s almost farcical that people were even considering to sympathize with this weeping brute, when Ramsey, in the form of his life, was lying crippled on the deck, with his career potentially ruined. Anyone who believes that not to be a shocking tackle needs to think twice about their own grasp on the game, and whether, really, that kind of tackle is acceptable. Alternatively, sit down, shutup and listen to this. Alan Davies’ now notorious tirade after the incident expresses what the entire gooner nation were feeling in a far more succinct and passionate manner than I could ever hope to portray in writing.

It was brutal. It did scar the players. It did make their blood boil and their stomachs shrivel in equal measure, yet all we saw from this group of players was passion, cohesion, desire and togetherness. It was arguably the night that made this team what they are today. It brought them together. It provided a shared motive to destroy the opposition. The Arsenal spirit was there. Lead by Cesc, the troops were invigorated and the newly impassioned group went on to achieve one of the most symbolic victories in Arsenal’s recent history. The celebrations spoke for themselves after Fabregas’ 91st and Vermaelen’s 93rd minute goals. There, in that moment, was a personification of the character and spirit this team can call on when the going gets tough. We have since seen it, and heard it spoken about by Wenger, numerous times. And it was forged on that gray, gray day in Stoke.

Tonight, as the Premier League title race begins to reach its climax, similar levels of energy and hunger will be necessary if we are to close the gap on United. Shawcross will, deservingly, receive a torrid reception. A reception that would have been worse had Arsenal not prevented the fans from supplying 500 whistles in order to bombard the ex-United player with a hellish reception. As we have seen before, the team are far more impressive when the fans are unanimously behind them, and with this collective target, a raucous atmosphere can be expected tonight. The 3 points will hopefully follow.




No time for coffee for Mr. Wenger as the fixtures pile up.

February 21, 2011

Disappointing draw, or the perfect plug, that is the question. For yesterday’s drudgery in Leytonstone not only resulted in yet another fixture added to Mr. Wenger’s calendar, but a complete justification of my work in the latest issue of The Gooner Fanzine. For a more in depth analysis of the overall failings of this Arsenal second string, see my article entitled ‘The B Team’ on pages 23 & 24 of the fanzine. For a general tirade and gesture of exasperation, continue reading.

It wasn’t so much the result which was the disappointing thing yesterday, but as ever, the way in which it occurred. In the immediate aftermath of Tehoue’s late strike, the plaudits gushed Orient’s way. This is apt, as the tag of underdogs has, does and will forever result in their triumph being lauded unabashedly. Though in reality, this was not the valiant performance one would have expected from a perceived ‘inferior’ opposition, playing at home in a London derby. Rather than hassle and harry, Orient stood off our yellow-clad group of idle underachievers, and seemed content with merely sharing the same pitch. Instead of play for set-pieces and bombard a suspect Squllaci, inexperienced Miquel and flappable Almunia, the O’s patiently tried to outwit Arsenal, before agreeing to reassume their role in this pantomime of attack vs defence.

As expected, Arsenal dominated possession, and were able to create a number of useful opportunities, largely down to the wily attacking verve of Andrei Arshavin. Fresh from consigning himself to the Arsenal history books with THAT goal on wednesday eve, Arshavin looked the player who could once have been seen tearing up teams around Europe for Russia, Zenit, and sporadically, Arsenal. Though what has now become a pressing concern for most Gooners, the arrogant disinterest shown by Nicklas Bendtner and complete ineffectiveness of Denilson, helped to nullify any threat created by the more lively members of the team. Not much more can be said about this ailing pair to be honest. Far from pedantically picking the bones in an otherwise impressive squad, the way in which these two, Eboue and anyone of a number of french Centre-halves have been so glaringly suspect for many years is now becoming tiresome rather than concerning. Bendtner, mate, feel free to go skiing. We really couldn’t care less, because for every slow-motion step-over you attempt or pinball touch, you could instead be whizzing down those slopes, the wind in your hair and with my blood-pressure back to normal. Consider it.

Chamakh, back from a lengthy spell in the shadows after allegedly suffering from fatigue, had the best of the first-half chances. First looping a relatively harmless header into the arms of the Orient keeper, then having a low effort comfortably saved, and finally missing a presentable opportunity after good work by an otherwise disappointing Gibbs. Again Arshavin was the catalyst here, releasing the overlapping full-back, before he himself had a couple of decent efforts, two snap shots fired unsuccessfully at the Orient goal. When ESPN wasn’t showing snippets of the ‘lengths’ fans were willing to go to to watch their team, namely standing on their own balcony with a can of Stella, Orient also had a couple of decent half-chances themselves. Although no more than half-chances, as Charlie Daniels claimed the best of the bunch with a fierce drive that narrowly evaded Almunia’s top corner.

As Orient tired, and John Champion’s desire for an upset intensified, Arsenal continued to monopolize possession and the opening goal was inevitable if not a certainty. After a neat period of 20 or so passes from the visitors, Bendtner found Rosicky in his typically languid fashion, and the Czech flashed a header inside the far post. It was his first goal since that stunning come back against Bolton over a year ago. That day he grabbed the 1st of the 4 which overhauled a 2 goal deficit, and his goal yesterday was greeted with smiles all-round, and seemingly a cheeky comment from Arshavin, who received a gloved palm to the face for his troubles.

Despite going a goal down Orient didn’t discard their shackles until much later in the half, and Arsenal continued to dominate, with Rosicky having an excellent chance to grab an unlikely second after good work by Arshavin on the byline. Rosicky had two bites of the cherry, though both were fruitless. Arshavin went close too, rasping a fierce drive off the foot of the post from 20 or so yards. The introduction of french striker Jonathon Tehoue undoubtedly lifted his teammates, so much as to beg the question of why he wasn’t included from the start. The answer possibly lying in the fact that each one of the frenchman’s 8 goals this season have all come in the 85th minute or later. A remarkable stat that was added to with his late equaliser yesterday. His strike came minutes after Arsenal had apparently weathered any potential storm after Revell missed with two late efforts, the first bobbling wide, and the second cannoning off Squillaci’s face from close range. Tehoue made no mistake with his 89th minute shot however, yet it should have been saved by Almunia, and instead squirmed under his body. It reaffirmed the weakness of our once quasi-dependable goalkeeper, and ushered in the scoreline which underlined the overall deficiency’s of a far from capable back up XI. For the prequel to this match report, buy The Gooner on Wednesday evening.

(The Gooner fanzine costs £2 and can be bought at most entrances to the stadium’s concourse)

Chilling with DJ Ourou

February 14, 2011

It is the pinnacle to my week. I look forward to it. I count down the days. I read and listen to every ounce of pre-match speculation. But do I enjoy it? Do I heck! I sit loyally at the Emirates, amongst the masses of fellow Gooners of one degree of loyalty or another, watching The Arsenal, and 99 times out of 100, I am a nervous, angry, tempestuous, high-blood pressured mess. As cult legend Danny Dyer once said, ‘me bum is flapping a bit’ during the majority of Arsenal matches, home or away. Yet on Saturday I experienced an entirely irregular sensation throughout the match. I believe it to be called relaxation. I have not experienced it at Arsenal for years, and presume that I will not experience it again for an equal amount of time. But while it lasted, it really was great.

Allowing yourself to relax at Arsenal, if at all possible, is a risky business. Just as you slump into a delicious haze of calm, watching sublime football tear apart an ailing opposition, then BANG, Almunia dashes 15 yards off his goal line and the moment has gone. I could give you a list of all the potential hazards that can come between you and a relaxing Saturday afternoon, but that would be tedious, so instead I’ll simply state the fact that it is almost impossible. Yet this Saturday I experienced a sensation that is to football as perceptive analysis is to talkSport, an absolute rarity. It brought me back to my childhood during which I watched a prosperous Arsenal destroy all that was before them at Highbury. The joyful arrogance I felt back then, watching the number of titles and FA Cups steadily increase, had returned, albeit presumably just for the afternoon. Perhaps ameliorated by my two pints of pre-match lager, Wolverhampton Wanderers induced in me a reborn ability to relax and watch Arsenal, simultaneously.

After last week’s catastrophe, which incidentally I did not ‘blog’ on for the simple reason that I had no words (and what is an article without words?), I thought I would never extract joy from watching Arsenal ever again. Although at the end of the 26 minute rout I prematurely believed I had rediscovered the ability to gain only pleasure from Arsenal, even when the 1st Newcastle goal went in, let alone the 3rd, I remembered that that was not possible, and metaphorically scolded myself for momentarily believing so. What happened in the interim period between the 26th and 95th minute has since been wiped from my memory and will never be spoken of again, thank you very much.

Back to Saturday, and well my tranquil state certainly had good reason. As much as we were sublime offensively, this aura of peacefulness was built upon the calming presence of Johan Djourou. Not only does Johan individually improve the nature of our defending tenfold, but the way in which he completely transforms Laurent Koscielny is remarkable. Alongside the Swiss, Koscielny is assured, organised and seemingly capably of nullifying even the strongest opponent. Awarded with a call-up to the France squad and lavish praise form manager Laurent Blanc has been in no small part down to his partnership with Djourou. Paradoxically, alongside Sebastian Squillaci, the very un-able deputy, he looks shaky, haphazard and positionally naive. When everyone asks “Why was Koscielny so shite for a while and now good again?”, the answer is simply Johan Djourou. And another exemplary performance from both Centre Back’s on Saturday ostensibly stemmed from the seemingly unerring confidence Djourou’s teammates have in him, expressed by Van Persie in his post-match interview.

Djourou was the nucleus of my sense of relaxation. From this, a fully-functioning multi-celled organism was created, as Arsenal stepped into a beautifully unhindered and fluent performance, or in the more succinct patois of Mick McCarthy, “a murder”. After Fabregas oddly had a goal disallowed so a free-kick could be awarded our way, Van Persie soon opened the scoring with a display in the beneficial utilization of one’s chocolate leg. Fabregas swang over a left-footed cross onto the right-foot of Van Persie, who duly scissor kicked the ball in off the upright. It was like watching football in a mirror- mysterious stuff. As is customary at home matches, Arsenal went on to miss a host of chances, all of which you’ve probably seen by now, but if not head over to and click on one of the various links. The best of the bunch was a tie between Theo’s 3 efforts. Apologies for sitting on the fence there but all 3 were pretty great chances. Though this was a day where criticism went out of the window, so Theo, don’t worry about it mate. Remember, I was relaxed, we are Arsenal, they are Wolves, I knew the 3 points were coming, and this is how it always should be.

My one qualm from the day’s performance was Jack’s desire to avoid scoring at all costs. Arsene suggested he is lacking confidence in front of goal, though confidence has never seemed to be an issue before. The way in which he glides across the pitch with such elegance and, it would seem, arrogance, makes you wonder why he doesn’t smash the ball into the net once he’s ambled into the opposition penalty box. Instead he tried to set up someone else, twice, and both times the chance was squandered. I’m not one of those fans who shouts shoot whenever we get the ball purely to act as devil’s advocat to our way of playing, and this is because I love watching beautiful and precise football. Nevertheless, Jack, next time you’re through on goal, please just have a go. You never know, you might score.

The killer blow came when a scything counter-attack, including a sumptuous pass from Cesc Fabregas, culminated in Van Persie’s 12th goal in 12 games, or 10th in 7. A rich vein of form indeed, though that is all I am going to say on the matter. Getting carried away with Robin Van Persie’s goals is a mistake I’ve made far too many times before. It ended the game as a contest. Though, of course, this day was special. The game never was a contest. Johan Djourou saw to that, and Wolves never posed any threat or did anything to make my heart rate go into overdrive, as is customary. Honestly, I could get used to this.

That’s gotta be one relieved Lino.

February 2, 2011

Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin scores

If not for the chorus of boos directed at Lee Mason and one of his officials come the final whistle, a gentle heaving would have been audible. It would have been the collective sigh emitting from thousands of tar-stained lungs. It proved to be a nerve-wracking encounter, and thus our eventual victory only tells half of the story. In that vain, no sigh of relief would have been quite as heartfelt as Lee Mason’s linesman, the instigator of a vicious undercurrent permeating the entirety of this encounter. Yet whilst in previous seasons such an injustice may have irked and then gazumped a fledgling squad, Arsenal last night thrived from an ‘us against the world’ complex to keep up the pressure on Man United.

The regularity with which United seem to earn three points without playing well is startling, and, as much as it pains me to say it, a testament to the managerial prowess of Sir Alex Ferguson. Often such an eventuality is greeted with compliments. ‘That’s what champions do’ is a popular tag, often rolling nonchalantly from the cliched pallet of either Alan, be it Shearer or Hansen. Without trying to ignite cries of an inferiority complex to our great rivals, a similar victory achieved by the gunners constantly, and frustratingly, leads to further questioning of our title credentials. It is an enduring scenario, going hand in hand with the monopoly United seem to have over the minds of the media, as well as the prime viewing slots. Though however insufficient, our title challenge is still going strong, and the victory over Everton yesterday wrote a new chapter in a season brimming with potential.

Afterwards Arsene laid the victory down more to the team’s work ethic and mental qualities, than a footballing masterclass; “today I would say it was more a victory of a team with fantastic spirit and a never-say-die attitude than our usual game. But that of course is needed in a competition like that.” Certainly the team started off sluggishly, something Wenger later put down to accumulating 10 matches over the course of a month. Yet undoubtedly the unavailability of Samir Nasri was a key factor in this. Everton packed the midfield, a tactical no-brainer against Arsenal, yet whilst Nasri has been so lethal this season in such a scenario, cutting in from the flanks and providing the joker in the pack to upset a balanced midfield, Rosicky was ineffective. A great servant to football, and in his day, a great player, yet one might be forgiven for suggesting his day is coming to an end. Despite starting the season brightly, Rosicky was miles off the pace yesterday. When in possession, a rare occurrence, he was often wasteful, and lacked the speed on the ball shown by Nasri, and indeed Arshavin. I hope as much as anyone this was down to a belated recovery from illness, yet one fears his lack of impact yesterday is an ominous precursor to an inevitable decline.

Without Sam, the third musketeer, Robin and Cesc took a while to get going, and we created little in a first half bereft of many clear openings, largely down to the dominance of Fellaini and Rodwell in the midfield. Walcott blasted an opening at the legs of Howard, following a very questionable two-footed lunge from Song, and both Centre Backs came close from corners. Even with more of an eventful half, an opposition goal scored through such controversial means was always going to dominate half-time chitter chatter. It came after Seamus Coleman, the marauding midfielder, looped a perfectly good pass towards Saha. Perfectly good here is the phrase in question, as by anyone else’s standards, the pass was illegal due to Saha’s offside positioning. The fact that Koscielny got a foot to the pass to divert it towards Saha is irrelevant, seeing as this act was not deliberately intended to have such an outcome. The linesman got it wrong, and when the crowd were vindicated in their disapproval via the replay on the big-screen, the tone for the match had been set. Despite the evidence, Lee Mason gave the goal, and created a rod for his own back in doing so, compounded by a string of ill advised decisions throughout the rest of the evening.

Diaby’s introduction at half-time in place of the injured Song was not a welcome one, due to the quite staggering ability he has to slow down each passage of play tenfold. The comparison between the tempo of the team when he plays compared with when Jack is in that role is, well, incomparable. Unfortunately Jack looked to have played one game too many last night, and was himself substituted in place of Bendtner. Yet a more telling substitution came when Rosicky was replaced for Arshavin. Then: yeh, that’s more like it. Darting runs, incisive passing and an air of unpredictability was exactly what we were looking for, and how it paid off. Minutes after looping over a sumptuous pass, only for Van Persie to scuff the finish, Cesc turned provider for the little Russian himself.

After Rodwell had inadvertently headed the ball towards his own net, Arshavin faced redemption right in the eye. It was an almost poetic moment as the ball dropped and the crowd held their breath. Those who have stuck by him, erhum, saw vindication, whilst the moaners, the lambasting complainers, saw hope. All he had to do was tap the ball in from 6 yards, yet in that instant the ball seemed to freeze in an apocalyptic abyss of a moment. Romance is not the word, yet that is what it was full of, and as the ball nestled in the corner of the net, and the crowd rejoiced, Arshavin simply turned to run back. Weeks, nay months of perceived underperformance. Rumblings of complaint from many fans. Votes of confidence from The Manager. And yet, with 60,000 jubilant Gooners sensing victory, his response was merely to turn, wipe the moisture atop is lip, and engage himself for the battle to win the match. He proceeded to excel in both inventiveness and defending, a performance which merited the rousing rendition of his song from the whole ground. It made goosebumps arise.

The icing was provided with Laurent Koscielny’s 2nd goal in a week, and the cathartic explosion of joy was a welcome climax to a nervy encounter. It was the icing to a stellar performance from the Centre Back too, who excelled both aerially and in the tackle against Louis Saha, and later Victor Anichebe.

Such results delight the fans, the manager more, and the fight shown in this comeback, epitomised by Cesc’s almost crazed desire to win, may be the key to success this season. At last we seem to know how to win. Whether we know how to continuously win awaits to be seen.

Arsenal and Huddersfield Meet Under The Watchful Gaze of Herbert Chapman.

January 28, 2011

Tradition will be the name of the game on Sunday when The Emirates hosts a match between two clubs with an ingrained historical connection. Huddersfield Town visit the Emirates for a lunch time kick off, yet more than just an FA Cup 4th round tie, this match will be an emotional occasion for many at the club. Herbert Chapman will be the name on the lips of most come Sunday lunchtime, and one will hope for a spectacle fitting of the great man.

It is an almost surreal thing to hear a legend talk unreservedly of another legend. Mr. Wenger, in his ever humble manor, was the subject of this spectacle during his press conference this afternoon. When asked of the tradition between the two clubs, and indeed the impact of Herbert Chapman on both, he referred to Chapman as a ‘super-pioneer’, having been deemed a ‘pioneer‘ himself by one of the journalists present. Despite the way in which Wenger solely transformed the modern-day Arsenal, in everything from its playing style to financing methods, the current manager was not slow to insist Chapman is Arsenal’s most influential manager of all time. The contrasts and comparisons between the pair, and their individual impact on Arsenal and indeed the state of English football is a debate for another day, yet in Chapman, Arsenal had a man lightyears ahead of his time.

Chapman was an innovator, and the impact he had at Arsenal Football Club makes for some quite remarkable reading. As well as designing the turnstiles and scoreboard as part of a renovation of the old ground during the early 1930’s, Chapman also helped coin the ‘Clock End’ with the introduction of a clock over the old ‘South Stand’. As well as being the first manager in Britain to use floodlights having seen this revolutionary invention in Belgium, Chapman soon went on to create a heritage for the club in a way no one will do ever again. Chapman was, in effect, the driving force behind the renaming of Gillespie Road tube station to Arsenal station. This was a powerful statement of his intention to put Arsenal literally on the map. Having become one of the first managers to posses almost autonomous control of their club with the arrival of Chairman Samuel Hill-Wood, Chapman went about creating a legacy for Arsenal far beyond the 2 league titles and 1 FA Cup triumph he achieved during his time at the club. Although Arsenal later went on to dominate the remainder of the decade after his sudden death in 1934, his prerogative was to create a lasting legacy for a club bereft of trophies and stature prior to his arrival. He did this not only with the introduction of Arsenal Station, but also by introducing kit numbers, the use of white footballs and the tradition of the two teams walking out together for the FA Cup Final, something he insisted on when Arsenal played his former team, Huddersfield, in the 1930 final. Perhaps most remarkably, it was Chapman who also introduced the white sleeves onto Arsenal’s previously all red kit, now such an emblematic feature of Arsenal’s identity.

Chapman’s innovative ideas unsurprisingly affected the tactical side of the game, arguably the reason behind his unbridled success. Chapman was, incredibly, the man who introduced the notion of planned tactics, introducing a sense of organization and responsibility during his first managerial role at Northampton, prior to which he claimed “no attempt was made to organise victory. The most that I remember was the occasional chat between, say two men playing on the same wing.” His loyalty towards a quick, counter-attacking game based on a strong defensive unit then bread unprecedented success at Arsenal. It was a way of playing that stepped away from the traditional contemporary English game, that which was based on the individual dribbling techniques of certain ‘ball-dwellers’, a la Stanley Matthews. Thus Arsenal had to live with cries of ‘Lucky Arsenal’ and ‘Boring Arsenal’ whilst marching on to a hat-trick of League titles, albeit the third coming after Chapman’s death.

Wiley in the transfer market, a glaring likeness with Wenger, Chapman was the man behind the purchase of George Brown, Huddersfield’s all-time leading goalscorer, and indeed Cliff Bastin, who despite playing as an inside forward, held the same record at Highbury until Ian Wright came along. Of course, Arsenal did well to pries Chapman from Huddersfield. On the back of two consecutive League titles and an FA Cup triumph, Chapman surprisingly chose to move to London, despite Arsenal’s recent history as relegation fighters and the Chairman, Sir Henry Norris’, limits on spending. Ultimately it was increased wages and the lure of larger attendances which enticed the ambitious Chapman. Throughout the proceeding decade, Arsenal became the overwhelming dominant force in British football. Fronted by a man who came up with the notion of a continental competition 20 years before the introduction of the European Cup, Arsenal were privileged to have such an ambitious manager, and such an influential man. It is a testament to the man’s association with Arsenal that a two year stint as a player at Spurs is rarely made note of, let alone bemoaned.

Undoubtedly Arsenal and Huddersfield are still possessing the marks of Chapman, and when the pair meet on Sunday it will be a special occasion. Seemingly, the link between the two clubs is as strong as ever, having been rekindled in recent years. With the presentation from Arsenal to Huddersfield of a replica of Chapman’s bust that for so long sat in the marble halls, and the contesting of the inaugural Herbert Chapman trophy in 2008 as part of Huddersfield’s centenary, the two clubs proved the connection is still strong. The legacy of the great man will be an ever-present feature on Sunday, and beyond that still. For every time I look up at the symbolic time-piece above the ‘Clock End’, or see Van Persie mop his perspiring brow on the white sleeve, I will think fondly of Mr. Herbert Chapman.

What Did She Wear?…

January 26, 2011

 Cesc Fabregas reacts after tucking away Arsenal's third

It was a performance that was worthy of the ultimate prize, in that it was more satisfactory than satisfying. Yet on a night where Ipswich were always going to come and park the proverbial tractor infront of their goal, Arsenal held their nerve and eventually marched on towards the plush pastures of Wembley with a flurry of second-half goals.

After years of mocking Spurs’ emphasis on “The Mickey Mouse Cup”, it has now become the perceived antidote to a quintet of trophyless campaigns. Nevertheless, the overall insignificance of a trophy that has had more sponsors than Lewis Hamilton is not lost on the fans. It’s place on the priority list is still rock bottom, yet the longterm effects it may have for a team yet to experience a trophy may be priceless. As Arsene wisely pointed out,”It is more difficult to get in the top four in the Premier League than to win the Carling Cup but I get much the same question in every press conference that we say ‘OK, we try to win everything we can’. Surrendering to media and fan pressure is not something Mr. Wenger will want to make a habit of, yet undoubtedly he has placed further emphasis on this trophy than in previous years. Again this was demonstrated with the line-up, as Arsene selected 8 of the players conceived to be his strongest team, whilst handing Cesc only his second Carling Cup start since he was a teen, the other coming at Portman Road.

And how it paid off. Yet again, Cesc excelled, not only in his creativity and range of passing, but in the much needed drive we have become accustomed to receiving from our captain. Tenacity is not often a word linked with Arsenal, though last night Cesc personified a collective hunger to remove that suffocating monkey from our backs. Not only was he constantly harrying opponents, but his desire to attack with such a forceful tempo allowed Ipswich no time to come up for air. Although little was created in the first half other than a Van Persie header that cannoned off the crossbar, it was a half in which Arsenal were forced to patiently erode the brick-wall solidity of Ipswich’s defense.

It has become almost common place in recent years for Arsenal to create, and often miss, a plethora of first half chances. Yet Ipswich’s sturdiness prevented any such barrage, and at half-time an uneasiness was starting to creep into the fans, despite the constant expectation that a goal would come. After the game Jack admitted the players were also nervous until that had happened, and this could be sensed throughout, especially from the usual suspects, Denilson in particular. Well i say suspects, but in fact Eboue, on for the injured Sagna, and Nicklas Bendtner, deserve credit for their performances. Aside from momentarily getting the wrong side of his marker just after coming on for the concussed Bacary Sagna, Eboue didn’t put a foot wrong all night. Similarly, Nicklas Bendtner made up for a lack of pace with some clever movement, whilst also providing Van Persie with the chance of the half via a clever chip.

Indeed it was Bendtner who broke the deadlock half an hour from the end. Jack Wilshere, adding a candidate to the list of pass of the season alongside Charlie Adam and Adel Taarabt, represented a midfield player far beyond his years in providing the goal. Spraying the ball 40 yards to the left wing, it honed in impeccably onto the right boot of Bendtner, yet the rest was all Dane. Controlling the ball in an instant, Bendtner cut inside the defender with an audacious maneuver, before bending the ball inside the far post. It was a brilliant goal, and was greeted more with gasps than cheers from the home fans. With the backline breached at last, the sense that the tie was effectively won with that goal was almost palpable. It became more so within minutes, as Koscielny headed in an Arshavin corner after Fulop wrongly left his goaline. Celebrating with a gesture one can only presume was a reference to Andy Gray’s midriff, the frenchman ran over to meet Andrei. This assist was the first of his two on the night, and the 13th of his 14 for the season, not bad eh? I may be becoming somewhat of a staunch supporter of the little man but for me, 2 assists, coupled with an ostensibly tireless workrate showed that Arshavin is getting back to somewhere near his best, an outcome which may prove key to our trophy hunt. Whilst an extra layer of timber can’t help, he did look like he was going to faint when trudging off in place of Samir Nasri eight minutes from time, a testament to his night’s work. Far from spotless, but better from the Russian.

Though prior to being replaced, his and Arsenal’s triumph culminated in a dynamic breakaway goal. After releasing Arshavin down the left, Cesc still found the energy in his seemingly bottomless tank to charge past Andrei on the overlap. The return pass was superbly weighted, and only forced Cesc to touch the ball once before slotting it through the keepers legs. His celebration showed a mixture of passion, pain and relief etched upon the maturing visage of our leader. Being one of three players to have won a trophy in the red and white, Cesc knows what it feels like, and is displaying he has the unstoppable hunger for more. Gathering the players together in the centre circle for a quasi-triumphant wave to all four corners of the ground had the feeling of something greater than a League Cup Final. Ultimately, this is what he has in mind, with victory in late February perhaps providing a catalyst for greater achievements. That’s the plan, anyway.

Every Silver lining…

January 23, 2011

Just like Cesc Fabregas coaxes a pinpoint pass to one of his teammates, finding the cloud to yesterdays silver lining is not difficult. In a match where the result, goal-scorer and attitude of the team were all exemplary, I felt peeved when leaving the Emirates as to why I was not wholeheartedly delighted with a 3-0 victory. Since, I have deduced quite a few more reasons to this despondency than I had anticipated.

Going in to the game, Wenger suggested any victory would be an excellent result, and I could not agree with him more. At this stage in the season, and noting our precarious position at the boundaries of success, a win is all we can hope for from each game, opposition regardless. Nevertheless, entering the break, I had that same feeling of repressed ecstasy I get from most first halves despite being 1-0 up. Chance after chance after chance came our way in that opening 45 minutes, and when I say chance, I mean SITTER of a chance. All but one were missed, and rather than 1-0 being the half-time score, a leverage of perhaps 6 or 7 should have existed. In the aftermath, Wigan’s keeper Ali Al-Habsi was lauded with praise from both managers, yet frankly, I struggle to recall one excellent save he made. If we tediously take a look at each chance, we will come to such a conclusion. Walcott’s blunder- no save necessary; Van Persie’s right foot- straight at Habsi’s hand; Cesc’s toepoke- again, directly at the keeper; Sammy’s two efforts- neither in the corner and comfortably saved. Apologies to any glaring chances if I have missed you, and there are bound to be a couple, but frankly that first half of fruitless bombardment upon the Wigan goal has since become a blur of frustration. Against a slightly better team than Wigan, i.e Leeds or Ipswich, we would have been punished for our outstanding profligacy. Although it is slightly comforting that we avoided the second half stagnation that has become an unwelcome feature of our home form, the fact that an unmistakable feeling of agitation could be sensed among the fans during the first 10 minutes of the second half concerns me. Thankfully, Cesc Fabregas was absolutely World Class yesterday, and his double act with Van Persie helped avoid the crime which would have been the dropping of any points.

A second bug-bear regarding yesterday’s encounter is regarding some of the morons sitting around me. The regulars who sit around me, are, to a man, delightful people. Having sat now in my same seat for what is approaching its fifth year, I have become accustomed to this merry bunch and have made one or two good, half-time chatting and Bendtner lamenting buddies. However, some come from the outskirts of London and thus aren’t able to attend the odd fixture. In this unlikely case, the seats around me are filled with unknowns, anomalies. More often than not, this is an unwelcome scenario, and in yesterday’s case, infuriating. Although sitting near me probably isn’t the most relaxing experience, what with my awful pitch regulation, pessimism and unrelenting nervousness, I like to think my football opinions are well-informed and educated . As for a certain bunch sitting in my proximity yesterday, a barrage of ridiculous moans, groans and bemoans were all I could hear for 90 minutes. These were triggered by the apparently heinous crimes of passing the ball backwards, not immediately passing to Theo or taking more than two touches when in possession. As expected, when Andrei Arshavin entered the fray, this collective group of fools jumped on the bandwagon and rode merrily off into the distance.

Although it goes without saying Arshavin is currently going through a bad patch of form, he is undoubtedly an excellent player. Gee, scoring 4 goals at Anfield doesn’t happen to too many people, and even without that, we all know how his game works. 89 minutes of failed flicks, mistimed passes and defensive laziness will be instantaneously overshadowed by one or two moments of brilliance. There are countless examples of this, but to name a few from this season alone, away fixtures against Villa, Spurs and Wigan saw Arshavin overshadow an average performance with 3 goals and 3 assists. In recent weeks it has pained me to hear the criticism of our enigmatic Russian, and whilst imbeciles have felt compelled to boo his arrival or departure from the field, the more educated and well-respected voices in the Gooner world, i.e  Arseblog and Mr. Wenger, have stuck by him. Unsurprisingly, the mob behind me booed Arshavin’s arrival yesterday, leaving me on the verge of finding a different seat in the ground for the final few moments. It is this sort of behaviour which leaves most fans apoplectic. Booing your own team or players, has never, and will never gain any rewards. It is an unacceptable and self-debilitating response to events on the pitch, period. It leaves me absolutely bemused as to how a certain group of fans feel they should logically sing and applaud for Emmanuel Eboue, and boo Arshavin. A contrast between the two players ability is even too much for Mr. Chalk and Mrs. Cheese. And when monotonous moans of ‘Arshaaaaviiin, oohhhhh you’re rubbish’ can be heard after a miscontrolled aerial ball, I think I have it heard it all.

The one positive that came from the presence of this select group was, well, their presence. Looking around at the glorious stadium that, despite it’s familiarity being akin to my back garden, never fails to take my breath away, I was disappointed to see a plethora of empty seats. This was confirmed on Match Of The Day where they were even more visible. Frankly, if football clubs are going to charge extortionate amounts of money to watch your team, they should do so only if it is having a subsequent beneficial impact on the club as a whole. Financially, it undoubtedly is, yet in terms of attendance and atmosphere at the less glamorous fixtures, it is having a detrimental affect on our progress. Its not so much the atmosphere anymore, because it does have its moments, and having witnessed similarly library-like atmospherics at Old Trafford, Upton and Goodison Park this season, I have come to expect less from our home support. (A home support which, incidentally, is bailed out every fortnight by our unbelievable and very vocal away following) Yet the empty seats do annoy me, and although the official attendance was no more than 1,000 underneath the maximum yesterday, this is clearly a miscalculation based on the assumed attendance of all season-ticket holders. Whilst trying not to sound like a falsely hopeful romantic, I say lower the ticket prices, bring football back to the masses and those who really care. Would a terraced Highbury show bare slabs of concrete in the height of a title challenge, I very much doubt it.

Rant officially over.

Come on you Gunners.

St.Andnews Years Day

December 31, 2010

Kevin Phillips

Due to a last minute flight alteration, I will be returning to the Irish Pub for tomorrow’s game, rather than heading to Birmingham as originally planned. My match tickets will therefore remain resting on my mantle piece at home, feeling unloved and abandoned, and Playwright’s Irish Pub will have to put up with yet more ranting, raving and unruly hand gestures. Although a pity, as I had been very much looking forward to returning to St. Andrews and have now unquestionably wasted 42 of my hard-earned pounds, this may prove to be a blessing in disguise. I say this as that small and ramshackle yet endearing stadium has become for us just as the Reebok once was, a hellish cavern of uncertainty and tragic finales.

First came Eduardo’s leg break and James McFadden’s set-piece brace, the second of which occurred in the final minute after a careless Gael Clichy foul, in 2008. Presiding over this event was not only the surrender of a 2-0 lead and 8 point platform at the Premier League’s summit, but William Gallas’s embarrassing tantrum, as he sat at the opposite end of the pitch, smouldering with an arrogant fury and isolated from his teammates. Then last year, 11 minutes after Samir Nasri’s beautiful 81st minute deadlock breaking strike, Manuel Almunia parried a deflected effort over his own head and into the net, in the process earning himself the nickname of ‘Morris Dancer’. Again it was an equaliser which gravely deflated a late title surge, and ruined my lovely, sun-soaked day out in the Second Capital. Add to this the tackle on Cesc Fabregas which ultimately caused his season-ending leg fracture, and you can see why St. Andrews has long since ceased to be Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp’s playground.

This time around, the memory of not one but two forgettable outings will no doubt be resting on the players mind, yet such recollections will not be the only difficulties facing the side tomorrow. Birmingham are a good side, and boast an impressive home record, having conceded defeat only once this season, to Everton. Alex McLeish has built a very productive team, with an omnipresent and thrifty back four in front of yet another talented English goalkeeper, albeit not as good as Joe Hart. Whilst not scoring many goals, this ability to concede even fewer (averaging 0.78 per game at St. Andrews) has so far helped fend off that second season syndrome, as Birmingham rest optimistically above the relegation zone, just. With the British stalwarts of Lee Bowyer and Barry Ferguson also providing a solid midfield basis, Birmingham will be looking to stride onwards following their last minute equaliser against United in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw.

Nevertheless, there not actually that good, and as Arsene will be prepared to play an almost full strength line up tomorrow, our boys should be more than capable of  causing the Blues some blues. Gael Clichy, Johan Djourou, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott and Robin Van Persie should all return, hopefully still buzzing after Monday night’s impressive victory. As Arsene expressed after the Wigan match, communication amongst the team must improve, and more authority needs to be adopted from set-pieces. With Cesc back in the team one would hope for better organisation in these situations, whilst Johan Djourou’s presence will be as well received as Squallaci’s inevitable omission. With a team such as Birmingham, who will be looking to utilise Sebastian Larsson’s deadball ability and Nikola Zigic’s abnormal height, defending set-pieces will be absolutely vital. Should we do so successfully, it is unlikely Cameron Jerome will succeed where Didier Drogba failed, and facing an ageing midfield, defensive solidity could, and should be the basis for winning this match, and gaining a critical 3 points.

In other news, Arsene today didn’t quite rule out adding to the squad in January, yet you would be foolishly naïve to check the BBC gossip column in anticipation over the next month, at all. Having said that, it is likely Manuel Almunia has played his last game for Arsenal, as he isn’t getting any younger, or any better. If he does end up jetting off to sunny Spain, and Mannone remains in not-so-sunny Hull, Arsene may bring a Mart Poom-esque signing just to make up the numbers. Hardly exciting, but we will have to see. Joining Almunia through the exit door could well be Carlos Vela, as Arsene has admitted he would be open to allowing the Mexican to go out on loan, yet I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that if Carlos does leave, he won’t be coming back. I for one haven’t been too impressed with him over these last few years, and whilst he does have talent, especially in the chipped goals department, Arsene doesn’t seem to see a place for him in the side. The attacking tripod now consistently deployed by Wenger often results in Vela occupying the left berth, yet he has never performed well in this position. When played through the middle, he has shown fleeting moments of excellence, yet remains unable to displace either Van Persie or Chamakh, nor even Nicklas Bendtner.

Finally, this week saw the departure of Havard Nordveidt. After 3 separate loan-spells, the 20 year old Centre Back no doubt caused much disappointment amongst fans by opting to move to Borussia Mochengla….you know the one. Whilst the fee remains undisclosed, one would muse that it is far less than Squillaci or Koscielny cost, and far less than the money this bright prospect could have earned, or saved, the club in the future. Seeing as he is a player who captained the reserves at 18, and of whom Arsene is believed to think very highly, he has presumably left due to his own desire to play more first-team football, something Wenger himself alluded to in his press-conference. We can only speculate what he may or may not have achieved had he stayed at Arsenal, but for every French, number. 18 shirt bearing, OAP Arsene purchases over the coming years, we will look back to this decision.

Anyway Happy New Year, and please let 2011 bring more than an Emirates Cup and an 02 giveaway T-shirt.

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