Monday, 5 June 2017

Stay Strong London

Good morning/afternoon/evening/night or whatever time of the day it might be in whatever part of the world you are in. I'm writing this after cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and planning my trip to Alcatraz tomorrow before heading off to Las Vegas the day after. I cannot believe how lucky I am to be on what can only be described as the holiday of a lifetime with Chicago and New York still to follow.

The events of Saturday night in London have only made me feel even luckier and my heart goes out to the victims of such mindless violence. This is not a political forum and I'm not going to discuss my views on politics on it ever as it's about football and that should be an escape from not only the humdrum, but also the more serious aspects of our lives. The fact it happened in London made it all the more relevant and closer to home for me as I travel there every season to see my beloved Arsenal play.

It is never right or justified to kill innocent people in the name of any so called cause and I cannot believe any religion condones it. The horrors of Saturday night won't be easily forgotten for those who were caught up in them and I cannot imagine what all of those people had to go through on what should have been a normal night out. A good friend of mine had gone there for the weekend with his wife and I know how worried I was as I searched social media for news on the two of them.

Thankfully they were a good distance away from what happened, but they were still very scared and I was glad to hear they were safe. Those who carried out the attack want to scare us, but I will not let it stop me from going to see Arsenal as soon as I can next season and I have no doubt I will meet the same mix of people from every race, creed and persuasion that I always meet at Arsenal games. London is a fantastic city and one I have visited as often as I can for over 30 years now through good times and bad and that will not change.

I had hoped to write this post about all the latest transfer rumours surrounding Arsenal players and what I thought our chances were of signing any or all of them. With the transfer silly season here again there is plenty to report on, but it doesn't seem appropriate at the moment and maybe I'll get back to it in a few days. For the moment I'm going to leave it there and just reiterate how sad all of this has made me feel and how my thoughts are with all the people and their families who suffered so awfully on Saturday night.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Wenger Stays As Arsenal Move On

In the end it didn't really come as a shock when Arsene Wenger signed up for another two years as Arsenal manager. Despite everything we heard for the past few months it's difficult to believe the outcome of the FA Cup Final didn't have a bearing on Stan Kroenke's decision to keep him. Whatever you might feel about him and his failings as fans we have little choice other than to back him.

I was never behind the people protesting about him and I really thought it would be best if he decided that his time at the club was up and he should walk away. With a record haul of FA Cups for both him and the club it wouldn't have been the worst time to go, but I have no doubt he believes he is still the man for the job. He's got at least another two years to prove himself and I can only hope the fan base isn't torn further apart during that time, but I will be very surprised if it isn't.

I know there's the argument that there were no real alternatives to Wenger, but it's one I just don't buy. Of course other clubs have changed managers in recent seasons and seen it all go wrong, but I would argue that it has already gone wrong at Arsenal under Wenger. The familiar pattern of season after season of collapse has been repeated for too long now and it's hard to believe it won't happen again next season.

He has the backing of the board and he needs to go out and add the genuine quality the squad needs and he needs to do it quickly. Past experiences have taught us that the players we chase are highly unlikely to come though whether it's a case of deciding to go elsewhere or Arsenal deciding they are overvalued by their clubs. The chances are we will get a good signing early on and then rummage around in the bargain bin in the final days of the transfer window.

His biggest job is trying to convince Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to stay and extend their contracts and it's looking less likely with each passing day. If both of them leave we not only have to add the quality we are already short of, but we also have to find players who are at least equal to them. Their departures would be a huge blow to the club and the manager and it's hard to see how we could change the team so much this summer and improve if they do go.

Having said all of that I will still support the team and I won't resort to abusing the manager even if things go wrong. I sincerely hope I'm completely wrong and he makes a huge success of the next few years and develops a team who can genuinely challenge the top teams for the most important trophies again. It's been far too long since Arsenal last actually challenged for the league and our Champions League record for the past seven seasons has been a joke once we got to the knockout stages.

We won't have to worry about Europe 's top competition this season though as we have Thursday night Europa League football to look forward to. United showed it can be an important competition this season by using it to qualify for the Champions League despite finishing sixth in the Premier League. All of those Thursday night games will take a lot of getting used to and the new mix of opponents too.

The thing about Arsenal under Wenger is their continual collapses and his inability to find an answer. When the same mistakes and shortcomings happen season after season it's difficult to believe he isn't the problem when he's the only constant in the equation. We had the switch to a back three for the first time in almost 20 years this season and it certainly improved things at the end of the season.

The record away from home to the other top teams has been dreadful, but maybe the switch to three at the back might help to cure that ailment. The crunch for me will come when things go wrong next season, as they do for any club, and how the manager copes. If the team fall to pieces and he yet again cannot find a quick solution then we will know we are in for more of the same.

I will be shocked if we aren't in for more of the same and I don't think we will put in a genuine title challenge next season. We obviously can't challenge for the Champions League as we're not in it, but don't worry there's always the FA Cup to fall back on. It's the only trophy we have won in the last 13 seasons even if we have won three of the last four and for me that simply isn't good enough and should have cost the manager his job. It didn't though and us fans have to live with that and hope it improves no matter what misgivings we might have.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Lucky 13 For Arsenal

Saturday was a very good day for Arsenal when they beat Chelsea 2-0 to win the FA Cup for the 13th time. It was good in so many ways after such a disappointing season and not least because it stopped Chelsea from doing the double. As well as that it meant Arsenal had bagged themselves a trophy while Spurs, despite having their best season in living memory, ended up with their trophy cabinet bare yet again.

Of course Spurs did manage to finish above us for the first time in 22 seasons and that was one of the major disappointments of the season as well as missing out on the Champions League for the first time in 20 seasons. We will miss out on the extra revenue generated by playing in Europe's premier competition and the secondary prize of a Europa League place is little reward. It can't be changed though and we will have to deal with the prospect of trying to attract the players we need to strengthen the team without being able to offer them Champions League football.

Despite those negatives it was still a hugely enjoyable day on Saturday and I can't imagine there were too many Arsenal fans who weren't hugely satisfied with the result and the performance too. We went into the game as second favourites with a defence badly hit by injury and suspension while Chelsea had a full strength squad to choose from. They had breezed to the league title in the end with a record number of wins too and it was all set up for them to complete the double against an Arsenal side who were given little hope.

From the first minute it was Arsenal who were on the front foot though as they took the game to Chelsea. They won the second balls, got their tackles in, pressed Chelsea on the ball while continuing to play good football themselves. Unusually for Arsenal this season they got their breakthrough early when Alexis Sanchez got what can only be described as a controversial goal.

There's no disputing that Aaron Ramsey was in an offside position when Alexis put the ball away and he probably should have been given offside after he looked to play the ball. The referee and his assistant debated the decision for a while and we got the sort of decision which we usually feel goes against us. On seeing the replays I realised how lucky we had been as Alexis had blocked the ball with both hands above his head before going through to score.

They're the type of decisions you need sometimes in football and Chelsea have had them go in their favour against us in the last two seasons. Who can forget the opening goal in the league game at Stamford Bridge this season when Marcos Alonso knocked Hector Bellerin out to score and the goal was allowed to stand or Diego Costa's antics in that game the previous season which got Gabriel Paulista sent off while he somehow or other managed to stay on the pitch.

Anyway we continued to press after we took the lead which was another unusual thing to see this season as we looked to add to that goal. How the lead stayed at only one goal still mystifies me with the Chelsea goal living a charmed life and some poor finishing from Arsemal too. We hit the woodwork three times as well as Gary Cahill managing to twice clear the ball of the line and I just hoped we wouldn't pay a price later in the game.

Chelsea came into it more after the break, but we rode the storm and continued to make our own chances and the game went even more in our favour when Victor Moses received his marching orders. He had already got a yellow card for taking the impressive Danny Welbeck down when he stupidly took a pretty obvious dive in the Arsenal box and the referee had no choice other than to give him a second yellow card. It looked like there would be no way back for Chelsea, but in true Arsenal style they equalised through that man Costa not long afterwards.

I worried for Arsenal and where the game might go for them, but those worries didn't last long when substitute Olivier Giroud put in a cross which Ramsey nodded home to restore the lead. I celebrated louder than anyone in a pub with a lot of neutrals and a few Arsenal fans and patted myself on the back for backing Ramsey to score at any time in the game. Chelsea tried in vain to get back into the game and Arsenal really should have increased their lead before the end.

David Ospina was called upon to make one good save from Costa which made up for how he inexplicably let the goal go past him. He played well enough on the day and the team as a whole were exceptional from start to finish with an extra mention for Per Mertesacker. He had hardly kicked a ball in over a year and he was a brick in defence from first minute to last and an absolute inspiration to the rest of the team.

Alexis and Mesut Ozil both played their parts too and showed how much we need them and how we have to do all we can to get them on new contracts. There aren't too many players as good as them in the league and trying to replace them would be a very difficult task. If we can bring in other players to get the best out of them they are the players most likely to make us challenge at the very top next season.

While the cup win doesn't disguise the failings of our season it is still something that has to be celebrated and revelled in. We have won the cup three times in the last four seasons and more times than any other team and Arsene Wenger has also won it more times than any manager. Our worst season ever under Wenger still brought us a trophy and we won it at Spurs new home too.

There are plenty of challenges ahead and not least of them is whether Wenger will keep his job and if he does can he really get this team to progress. If he goes who knows what the future holds and it looks like we might get our answer to that question very soon. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Arsenal v Chelsea: FA Cup Final Preview

With the Premier League season ending in disappointment for Arsenal, despite winning their last five games, they still have a chance of some silverware when they take on Chelsea in the FA Cup Final this evening. It was the first time under Arsene Wenger that they had failed to finish in the top four and they set a Premier League record for the most points of any team finishing fifth. On the surface it looks like things aren't as bad as some would have you believe with that points haul, a cup final today and a blip in their Champions League qualification record.

However that's only scratching the surface of what has happened at Arsenal over the last few years and in this season in particular. The club is being run in a manner which defies belief at times with nobody seemingly responsible for a team which has proven season after season that it just cannot progress under the manager. His influence at the club is so vast that he controls almost every aspect of it and when it all goes wrong the blame has to lay with him.

Of course Stan Kroenke had to take his share of the blame too as his complete lack of ambition as an owner has led to the standards which are so unacceptable. It's no surprise that all of his other sports franchises are in a similar position when it comes to delivering everything except the one thing which seems to matter most to him. If he was to sell his shares in Arsenal he would make an enormous profit, but he seems to have no interest in doing so or in the team actually winning anything either.

The fans of the manager will tell you he has us in our third cup final in four seasons and we have the chance of winning the cup for the third time out of four. They will point to our points haul and tell you how close we came to a top four finish, but that hides so much of the truth. We were told that the club had exited from the tight financial restrictions of the stadium building years, but we have actually become less competitive than we were in those years.

We exited the Champions League at the round of 16 for the seventh season in a row and we suffered an embarrassing record 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich. Once we hit our first bump in our league campaign we crumbled for months and only recovered when it was too late as we have done so often in the past 10 years. We have reached the FA Cup final, but the luck of the draw played a part with home games against non league clubs in the fifth and sixth rounds.

I don't mean to be all doom and gloom on the day of the cup final, but it's hard to see our season any other way. Our squad is in turmoil ahead of the opening of the transfer window with our two best players going into the last year of their contracts and there is nothing we can do to keep them if they choose to go. Even the manager's contract is up this summer and we still don't know if he will be our manager or not next season.

It's time to look at today's game though and the chance to put some cheer into a season which has delivered so little of it. As an added incentive we have the chance to win the cup for the 13th time which is one more than any other club has won it and we can stop Chelsea from doing the double too. They might have strolled to their league victory, but I still think they're a team who can be made to suffer on their day.

It was only after Arsenal beat them 3-0 that they switched to the formation which won them the league and Arsenal have now adopted that approach too. Antonio Conte has a lot more belief in the formation though and our manager is a lot more likely to switch to a flat back four if things aren't going our way. It's the players who will make up the defensive part of that formation which are causing the most concern for Arsenal ahead of the game. 

It seems Petr Cech has picked up a knock and David Ospina will play in goal which doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. Ospina has been our FA Cup and Champions League keeper this season, but Cech's recent form should have made him the choice for today and I can only hope he is actually injured rather than reverting to the ridiculous tactic of playing Ospina in cup games. There is a trophy to play for today and sentiment cannot play any part in the team selection. I would be very surprised if Ospina was at Arsenal next season and playing or not today would hardly be what he bases any decision to leave on.

We have our injury and suspension worries elsewhere too with Laurent Koscielny out after his rash tackle last week got him a red card and he lost his midweek appeal. Gabriel Paulista went off injured in that win against Everton too and he will play no part today either. There are concerns over both Shkodran Mustafi and Kieran Gibbs too and it seems they will both have late tests before the game.

Right now it looks like our central defensive trio will be Rob Holding, Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal and that has to be a little worrying up against the piece of scum that is Diego Costa. If Mustafi makes it we will probably see Mertesacker drop out as he has hardly kicked a ball this season through injury. If Gibbs isn't up to it then we could either see Mertesacker back in and Monreal go to left wing back or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain play on that side.

There's a lot of ifs and buts there, but Chamberlain playing on that side would mean Hector Bellerin would play on the right and it would solve one selection problem for the manager. Outside of the defensive unit there aren't too many worries for the manager, but the wing backs ability to make something happen in the attacking part of the pitch is crucial and he needs to get them right. He also needs to make sure they are up to their defensive duties because Chelsea know how to utilise this formation to it's best.

The rest of the team almost picks itself with the only real headache being who plays as the central striker and I would prefer Danny Welbeck over Olivier Giroud because he offers the pace which can hurt Chelsea. Giroud has proved to be a real asset off the bench so many times this season and he might just be needed in that role today. Despite the perception that we struggle to score goals we have already managed 119 goals this season and that's more than any other season under Wenger.

I don't want Alexis Sanchez to leave this summer, but if he wants out there's little we can do to stop him. If he is to leave surely it would be fitting if he helped us to a trophy in his last game and he's the player most likely to cause Chelsea problems. I have a feeling he will get on the scoresheet today and I just hope it's the goal that makes the difference.

We're going to need the referee to be strong to keep up with the antics we know we will get from Costa and it's about time the officials actually caught up with him during a game. Granit Xhaka has to curb his urge to kick anything that goes past him and both him and Aaron Ramsey have to form a shield for what could be a makeshift defence. If everybody does their job from first minute to last we can win the game, but we will have to do just that. I'm not exactly optimistic about the game, but somehow or other I can't see Chelsea with the trophy and I just hope I'm right.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.