Saturday, 17 May 2014

My Cup Final Experience

Today was a fantastic day for me, as it was for all Gooners. I wrote an article a few weeks ago after the defeat at Everton when all seemed gloomy saying that this could still be a successful season. And it has turned out that way; the long sustained title challenge, securing Champions League qualification and, most satisfying of all, winning the FA Cup all making it a successful season for us.

But rather than write in my usual topical way I just want to blab on about my day and my own personal experience of the cup final. It was probably the biggest emotional rollercoaster of a football match I've ever experienced.

It actually started off with me playing in my own football match. A Santi Cazorla- esque performance in a well-spirited friendly was followed by me returning home to watch the FA Cup build-up from 3pm. My nerves grew the closer it got to kick-off time and I then watched the first 9 minutes with utter shock.

After we went 1-0 down I was disappointed but felt enough enthusiasm to cajole my team from my sofa. But after 2-0 I stormed out of the room in utter panic and anger, kicked over the bin, grabbed my shoes and walked off down the street. I know it's childish but it's cup final day and emotions were running high.

When I got back my Dad told me 2 things. 1 was that Santi Cazorla had scored a belter of a free-kick to make it 2-1 and that Mum was annoyed with me for the bin. Apparently it cost £70. Oops. I then sat down after apologizing and carried on watching the game with a bit more hope and optimism.

I think I screamed like a girl when Koscielny equalized and jumped so high I was concerned about my head hitting the ceiling. It was shear emotion in the house- the dogs not knowing where to look, me probably annoying the hell out of my Dad next to me. But for now all that mattered was the cup. From agony and frustration an hour ago to hope, excitement, joy and relief.

I watched us miss a few chances, getting more anxious with each chance we missed. The more the game went on the more we were dominating and penning Hull back. It was more exciting that way. Bemused at Lee Probert's staggering inability to point to the penalty spot, I sat so much on the edge of my seat that I was close to falling off.

Then extra-time came. I was starting to become anxious about the possibility of a penalty shootout. And worried that it might give me a heart-attack. We missed more opportunities but then the moment came. One of my favourite moments as an Arsenal fan so far, if not, my most favourite. Giroud beautifully back-heeled the ball back to the on-rushing Ramsey who magnificently guided the ball into the inside of the post to cue pandemonium in the Arsenal end of Wembley and make me jump around and scream like a nutter.

Even after that we had chances to get the 4th to settle but my heart was in my mouth when Aluko got in after BFG's slip. Thankfully we weren't punished and minutes later I was ecstatic. The cup had been won. The trophy I, we, had been desperate for for seasons on end. The nerves this week and in particular on the day had been worth it. I watched the celebrations on the pitch at the end with huge pride in my club. The fans and players connecting again and feeling appreciated by one another on the pitch was great to see. Wenger being soaked with champagne by Podolski and then Mertesacker and then being thrown up and down in the air by the players, the trophy being presented and lifted- which I celebrated like a goal, them all celebrating on the pitch, the interviews, the holding hands and saluting the crowd Dortmund-style to cheers. It was truly magical and such a fantastic feeling.

Just seeing Vermaelen, Arteta and co. lifting that trophy is a wonderful sight and something I've been longing to see for such a long time. It puts the demons of Birmingham and Chelsea at Wembley behind us. What was the icing on the cake as well was doing it by going 2-0 down first and then coming back. Like the 1st 5-2 win against Tottenham it just makes it that bit more special; there's more relief and ecstasy. And the cherry on the afore-mentioned cake was my 3 favourite players getting the goals. It's hard to put into words the change in emotion from the 9th minute to the 120th. From despair to utter joy and pride; an incredible, emotional day.


After all that I immediately went upstairs, wrote a cheque for the bin and gave it to my Mum.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

This could still be a successful season

This season could still be a successful one for Arsenal. Despite our mutual frustrations with our mind-numbing manager, some of our players, tactical faults, and our late season crumble, we could end the season celebrating.

We “should” win the FA Cup, which would be massive in itself. To lift that monkey of the club’s back would be huge, that pressure from the media in particular would go away and more positivity would surge through the club. The general mindset at Arsenal Football Club these days seems to be anxiety about having not won a trophy for X amount of years. It is talked about constantly. Whereas if we won one that would turn into a more positive, optimistic for the future mood without that huge sense of pressure and actually giving us a springboard to win other trophies. More of a hungry, winning mentality should be created. Plus this would feed into players of other clubs that we’re trying to sign, hence making us more attractive.

Additionally, we still have a decent chance of finishing fourth. I think it’s going to be a case of who handles the pressure best to be honest. Everton’s fixture schedule is a bit tougher than ours, Man City at home especially looks daunting, so even though it’s in Everton’s hands, Arsenal still have a good chance.

Therefore if we can secure the top 4 and win the FA Cup, then of course it’s a season of progression. It’s a reasonably sized “if” right now but it’s a perfectly reasonable possibility as well.

1.       Winning the FA Cup

2.       Finishing in the top 4 with a higher points total than last season

3.       Being in the title race (which we weren’t in the last 2 seasons) for so long and being top for a long time

That would all be healthy progress and reason for optimism for the future. Those experiences will help us move forward further as well.

Momentum is a powerful thing in football and Everton have it in the race for fourth, but given Arsenal’s fixtures and experience of top 4 battles it’s going to be very tight in that race for Champions League qualification. Let’s not give up or be too negative yet. It could still be a successful season.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Milestone should mark end of an era

It is my view that at the end of the season Arsene Wenger should go. The regularity of these humiliations isn't good enough, it's actually embarrassing. The fact that 3 have happened in one season is beyond a joke. He's never learnt from his mistakes, it's always been my biggest problem with him. Whether he doesn't learn out of arrogance I don't know, but you can be a manager of a club trying to win titles when you're so tactically inept in big away games and you never even learn from your mistakes. He doesn't deserve a new contract. He's tactically inept + costing us year after year.
Yes he's done a decent job under financial restrictions over the last few seasons and I respect a lot about him as a manager. But unfortunately nowadays he's costing us. There's no financial excuse for his amazing lack of tactics, wisdom, evidence of experience and a game plan in these big away games.

The reason we go battered today wasn't because of a big gulf in quality of players between us and Chelsea, it's because of the manager's lack of tactics + game plan. We're about level with Chelsea's squad in my opinion, and let's bare in mind we had a few key players missing today. But our manager just doesn't have the tactical nouse that all the other managers of top teams do, and that's why we fall short where others don't.

I think he's got too comfortable and his incredible mistakes in the big games in terms of selection + tactics are baffling and embarrassing. Not playing your only proper and experienced leader of a defensive midfielder in the big games away from home is just astounding. It's basic. Why wouldn't you play Flamini in these games? It's no coincidence we've lost all 3 conceding 17 goals in the process when Flamini hasn't started any of them.
You need someone protecting the back four and we didn't have that again today. Chelsea had 2 players doing it, and look how good they do in the big games overall. Why? Because of their ability to instill tactics, a wise team selection and a carefully prepared game plan.
Wenger's preparation for these games isn't like that at all, it's like a 6 year old kid has done them on FIFA.
It's not us getting beaten in these games so much as the way we're getting beaten, and the not learning from mistakes- not just from games this season but from years gone by. It's the same stuff every year.

You aren't a top class manager capable of winning big titles if you're so tactically inept in big away games + don't learn from mistakes. How can you say someone like this deserves to be paid a new contract of £100k or so a week? We all know he will unfortunately, but let's hope the powers that be see sense and replace him with a winner, and a tactically astute one at that.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The weirdest fixture ever...

Saturday’s FA Cup tie between Arsenal and Everton is somewhat of a predicament for me. Naturally, as an Arsenal fan I want Arsenal to win. But on the flip side, with me having a season ticket at Everton and therefore being able to qualify for Wembley tickets when Everton get there, there is the possibility of a glamorous looking trip to Wembley and a weekend in London enticing me- but only if Everton progress.

So either Arsenal go through and no Wembley/London trip OR Everton win and no Arsenal in the cup semis and probably another trophy-less season. Arsenal and Everton getting each other has often been a nightmare of mine in recent years when the cup draws are made. And it’s always been avoided until now. And of all rounds, the quarter finals- the final step before Wembley.

Emotionally it’s an absolute killer for me- it’s win/win but it’s also lose/lose- something great will be lost on Saturday. Either my hopes of an Arsenal cup win or an exciting weekend in London and a trip to the spiritual home of English football.

I want Arsenal to win, but still even then I’d be walking my dogs late Saturday afternoon thinking about how there’s no Wembley trip to look forward to. But I think seeing Arsenal play (and win) there on TV would be good enough for me.

The game itself is interestingly poised- both sides are on indifferent form and their league ambitions are starting to fade a little bit. Arsenal have been stuttering in recent weeks and Everton have been slipping further away from 4th spot. Arsenal also look highly likely to exit the Champions League in a matter of days so for both clubs it’s their biggest chance for success this season.

It’ll be interesting to see what team Arsenal pick- Wenger will have one eye on Bayern on Tuesday but I think he’ll know he can’t afford to rest too many without getting pelters from the fans if we subsequently get knocked out. He surely can’t seriously rest a lot of players for a tie where we look very unlikely to go through. Putting all his eggs in the Bayern basket would be very risky to put it mildly.

Everton however have no midweek distraction and will return to the venue of one of their most tactically astute performances of recent years. A performance which prompted many Arsenal players and fans to claim Everton are the best side we’ve played at the Emirates this season. They also, Jagielka impending, have their strongest lineup available (typically), including a seemingly refreshed and raring to rediscover his early season form Lukaku.

It’s quite finely balanced, a lot depends on how similar Everton’s approach is to the league clash in December and what team Arsenal pick. My prediction is 2-1 to the Arsenal.

Image source:

Saturday, 22 February 2014

My Day at the Bridge

Well, where to start?

How about the plastic nature of the club? As if listening to irritating Chelsea fans discussing football on the tube on the way to the game wasn’t bad enough (I nearly intervened) I walked around part of the ground where I had to pass a picture of a piece of Chelsea’s history every 2 yards. So, basically pictures of them winning trophies, post-2005. This was around bizarrely castle-like surroundings, those of you’ve been in the away end at Chelsea will know what I mean.

Then when we got into the ground some hyped up, weird bald guy is stood on the pitch with a microphone cheerleading the crowd. “Let’s hear it from the Shed End” etc. etc. I don’t think he realised he had a microphone either, shouting like he didn’t indeed have one. He’s then reading out the names: “John Teeeeeeeeryyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” and “Fernando *holds mike up to the crowd*…”. Ugh, pratt.

Then there’s the cringeworthy banners: “John Terry, captain, leader, legend”. How about “John Terry, racist, cheater, ref intimidator” instead Chelsea fans? Others include “John Terry’s blue army”, “One love, one life, carefree since 1905”. What the heck is this carefree nonsense all about anyway?

And then finally there’s the half-time tribute to Alexei Smertin of all people, who basically was taken for a lap of honour by Mr. Match Announcer himself (as he holds the microphone up towards the largely unresponsive crowd).

But in all seriousness, I had a largely enjoyable day. The last minute Chelsea winner aside it was a good afternoon, the game was entertaining and tense. I didn’t think Everton deserved to lose, they restricted Chelsea to very few opportunities- Hazard was quiet in the second half and Oscar and Lampard were anonymous. But they kept possession well, harassed Chelsea well to win the ball back and created a fair amount of chances and chance opportunities.

In the first half Mirallas had a couple of good chances, Osman came close and Pienaar and Baines were causing havoc down the left-hand side. Jagielka had a good headed chance and there were a couple of chances in the box where a shot wasn’t taken. Whereas Chelsea only really had one chance.

In the second half they came close again 2 or 3 times until they faded a bit and started sitting too deep. It was odd for Martinez, particularly when you consider Chelsea weren’t actually looking that dangerous to start playing deeper in the last 15 minutes. It was Moyes-esque.

Everton should still take the positives from this, basically they came to Chelsea’s backyard and matched them at the very least, I’d argue they were the better side. Thy just lacked the finish up front, who knows what the score had been had Lukaku been playing. Counter-attacks started breaking down more in the second half but mainly when it went to Naismith- I thought it was odd Mirallas was taken off rather than him. He looked their biggest threat and had pace on the counter. Naismith slowed the attacks down and it halted Everton. However, overall they need to take the positives from this and move on. They showed again today what enormous potential they have.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

So, so close

Yaya Sanogo did well tonight. He exceeded my expectations. His movement was good, at times he linked up well and also showed glimpses of what a big potential he has. But tonight wasn't the time for that. Tonight we were playing the best team in Europe and needed to get a positive result. We shouldn't have been in the position where we're playing a Champions League debutant who's hardly kicked a ball in top flight football.

You don't see any other big team across Europe playing such an inexperienced lad who isn't up to that level yet. Yes, Sanogo did well but he did well in terms of our expectations for him. If Giroud had done some of the touches in the box tonight that Sanogo did he'd be criticized. I'm not blaming him, I'm saying we should have a better striker to be playing in this game.

Imagine if we had Suarez tonight? If the ball had fallen to him in the box the 3 or 4 times it fell to Sanogo we'd have probably scored at some point; he'd have known what to do- when to lay it off, when to turn, when to shoot etc. I'm not saying the club should have got Suarez, because it's easier said than done- perhaps it was a impossible transfer to pull off in reality.

But we should have a really good striker. Man City have managed to find 4, Liverpool (who haven't qualified for the Champions League since 2009) have 2, Man Utd have 2, Barcelona have 2, Real Madrid have 2, Dortmund have 1, Juventus and PSG have them, arguably Napoli too. We should be in that group of teams. We shouldn't have to be playing Sanogo in a game like tonight's. He's a good looking player for the future but for the here and now he's not ready yet to spearhead this team to European glory. And that's what we're looking for at the end of the day, that's why we play in this competition- to try and win it. But we can't with the striking options we have.

I've done an Arsenal/Liverpool XI. And only 3 Liverpool players are in it. Mignolet, Suarez and Sturridge. Yet Liverpool are only 3 points behind us in the league, which suggests they're around the same level as us and there isn't much between the two sides. But the 8 on 3 suggests otherwise. So what balances this contradiction?

The power and influence of having two deadly strikers, one of whom is absolutely top class. That's how much of an impact they have, through creating chances and goals out of nothing, scoring for fun despite having the likes of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen behind them. Imagine what a striker of Suarez's caliber would be capable of with the likes of Walcott, Cazorla, Ramsey and Ozil around him.

I firmly believe we have a very good side and that we are very close to greatness. We are a top class striker away from winning the league (we might win it without one even, you could argue if we had one now we'd be about 10 points clear) and being genuinely strong contenders for the Champions League.

Getting a top class striker is, of course, a lot easier said than done. But that's what we have to go out and get, no matter how much it costs us. We need to make a real statement of intent by going out and attracting a Suarez/Lewandowski/Aguero level player.

I don't think we'll win the title, and for that very reason. Our four striking options at the moment are Giroud, Sanogo, Podolski and Bendtner. Whereas Man City's are Aguero, Negredo, Dzeko and Jovetic. I think ultimately that'll be the difference, even though we have a better defence than them.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Giroud- a title winning striker?

I like Olivier Giroud; he's strong, good in the air, a real team player, has a very good left foot and his link-up play has improved a lot this season. And he has indeed improved his overall play this season, the early part of the season saw such a dramatic rise in form from last season. He was scoring goals left, right and centre and setting a lot of chances up.

However that direct contribution to goals and chances has somewhat dried up over the last couple of months. Despite a low tally of goals since the start of November his goals have still earned wins against Southampton and Newcastle, but shouldn't the main striker of a top of the league club be scoring more often? Or does it even matter?

You could argue it doesn't matter because we are top of the league anyway, irrespective of Giroud not banging them in to the extent he was in August and September. I do think he's improved a lot this season and I admire his work rate and how much of a team player he is. But his lack of regular goal-scoring and clinical finishing concerns me a bit. He has missed big chances in big games, such as Chelsea and Everton, of late (and those aren't the first occasions). So my question is, is he good enough over the course of a season to be a champion?

There aren't many "big" games he's scored in so far in an Arsenal shirt; he's yet to score against Man Utd, Man City, Everton and Chelsea but does have two goals (one winning goal) against Tottenham and one goal against Liverpool. He's not a 30 goals a season man but his contribution stretches way beyond just goal-scoring.

I will always give a striker a credit for being in the right place to get goal-scoring chances and he's always done that. "You've got to be there to miss them" has been a phrase I've come across a lot in football, and it's true. The really worrying sign is if a striker is going a few games without even having a chance.

Giroud does get chances but they're virtually all from crosses or passes inside the box. He's rarely clean through one on one or creating one on the edge of the box for himself. The lack of variation is in his goals concerns me a bit, it makes him perhaps more predictable and therefore easier to mark than the likes of Suarez and Rooney. When you think about it his goals are often similar- headers or shots from crosses.

But he is a very good player nonetheless, I just think we should be looking for a better option as well. You should always be looking to improve anyway and I do believe we can win the title without a new striker in our team. Because, hey, we're top of the league after 20 games with him as our usual striker and he's done well. So why can't we still be top after 38 games with him as our main striker? Why change a winning formula?

He's not at Suarez or Aguero level but would players like that bring the best out of Ozil, Walcott, Cazorla and Ramsey etc. as well as he does? Should we be looking beyond the "direct" contributions (goals and assists) and actually be looking deeper into his game and appreciating the "indirect" contributions that go unvalued at times?

I think so, I'm not saying Suarez or Aguero wouldn't be as good as Giroud in our system, I'm suggesting that Giroud is very valuable to us. And isn't that far off Suarez and Aguero in terms of value to our team.

Bayern Munich look a great side and have won the Champions League and the Bundesliga without, in my opinion, having a top class striker. They share the goals around much like Arsenal do and have a good, not top class, (again, like Arsenal) striker who is extremely valuable to the team. Both teams share a similar way of playing in this respect, a lot of creative and skillful midfielders feeding off the team ethic, hard work, hold-up play and strength of their front man. It's a good teamwork mode of playing and it suits us well.

In conclusion, because of the variety of contributions Giroud makes to our team all over the pitch and the fact that he offers a different dimension to our team that our other, smaller players don't, I think he is good enough to be the number one striker in a title winning Arsenal side. Plus if he had an early season purple patch goals-wise, there's a good chance he'll have another one before the season's up. But that's not to say we shouldn't be looking to improve further by adding another really good striker. After all, he could get jaded and we don't want to be too reliant on him up front. I'm not we should change the winning formula, I just think we should add to it to improve.