Arsenal: From Bolton to the Bridge

October 27, 2011 — by Rob Kirby2


Arsenal travels to West London for the early match on Saturday to face off against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (7:30AM EST on ESPN2). It’s the sternest test since the desperately needed improvement of late, and the result will reveal whether the team has finally shaken the pernicious monkey off its back or if the Red and Whites really are a defensive shambles with only one dependable goalscorer.

Van Persie has scored six goals in the last four league games. Perhaps a few left in the tank for Stamford Bridge?

It’s not a make-or-break match, per se, but the result carries more weight than simply three points. Arsenal has finally cobbled together a string of results in the league, in Europe and most recently in the Carling Cup, but all that could soon come to a screeching halt. Most people are expecting to hear that ear-splitting screech. However, if Arsenal can emerge with a draw or perhaps lose but put in a convincing performance, things really could be looking up. A win would cause half of North London to flip out, undoubtedly, but at some point one needs to be realistic.

To start with the positives, Arsenal top their Champions League group at the midway point and have only Olympiakos away, with Dortmund and Marseille set to travel to the Emirates, where Arsenal has racked up the majority of its wins. The team has clawed its way to seventh place after an abysmal start to the season (1-1-3). Robin van Persie is still far and away to go-to man for goals, but Gervinho, Aaron Ramsey and Andrey Arshavin have started scoring a few themselves, in addition to some excellent assists. Gervinho played an outstanding match against Stoke, involved in all three goals, scoring the first off an incredible chip from Ramsey. Meanwhile, many positives emerged in the 2-1 Carling Cup win over Bolton on Tuesday. Of which more right now.

For starters, Thomas Vermaelen captained the side on his long-awaited return. Steely-eyed and solid as ever, he commanded his area as if he never left. His recovery means that all the center halves are again fit. It’s surreal to even write that. As any statistician knows, the last time Arsenal had all its center halves fit is a month and year that does not translate in modern alphanumerics. Heady times. Even backup center halves Ignasi Miquel and Sébastien Squillaci are fit (both of whom played Tuesday, and Squillaci wasn’t even half bad for once).

After the match, news broke that Vermaelen may have suffered a calf injury. Cue Bacary Sagna leg-break despair. But then he declared himself fit again (rejoice!), which could put him in the frame for Chelsea. One would forecast the bench as his most likely destination, with the Mertesacker-Koscielny axis in good working order at present, and rested. But Vermaelen is our best defender, and Chelsea away is when you’d like to have your best defenders. It would also free up Laurent Koscielny for right back. Wenger definitely has some decisions to make.


Arsenal’s Word of the Day: Pivotal

August 24, 2011 — by Rob Kirby

The French professor..introducing new training techniques to bring Arsenal back from the brink?

Some thoughts from Arsenal observer Rob Kirby ahead of their pivotal Champions League playoff match against Udinese later today:

Apparently, the last chance saloon is in Udine, Italy. I always wondered as to the exact location. Despite the fact that it would have scuppered the Man City deal, if Nasri played today it would have made sense both financially and sporting-wise. Arsenal will lose £20 million minimum (some say £25m) in TV revenue if they fail to qualify for the CL. Assuming the Nasri deal is £25m, that justifies hanging onto Nasri to my mind, since we seem to be incapable of finding anyone to replace him, anyway. Any hopes of attracting someone of Eden Hazard’s calibre hinges on playing in the European top flight. But all this assumes Nasri’s heart would be in it, and that is debatable. If we lose, according to CL rules, he wouldn’t be cup-tied, so no harm in having him on the bench. But at this point it’s water under the bridge, or water that passed beneath the bridge weeks ago.

Arsenal are like lepers currently. Prospective targets keep rejecting offers, right and left. That will change if the Udinese match goes North London’s direction, but it still leaves little or no time for squad reinforcements. Fortunately, all the teens did well against Liverpool, despite the loss. Fans seem to have cottoned to Frimpong’s energy instantly, red card notwithstanding. And though the Ramsey-Ignasi own goal combo was regrettably unlucky, I don’t think anyone would have preferred to see Squillaci in the young Spanish defender’s place. They got thrown in the deep end, but stayed afloat. It’s the senior players who dropped the ball. And there never should have been 3 teenage EPL debuts in such an important game, with a fourth coming on as a sub.

I will always be optimistic about Arsenal and Arsene’s abilities, but it’s getting tougher. Arsenal have now racked up 3 suspensions (almost 4, with Wenger awaiting the UEFA verdict) and until yesterday 6 injuries (Wilshere, Koscielny, Gibbs, Djourou, Rosický, Diaby, Traoré). Djourou, Rosický and Traoré have been deemed fit to travel, but they’ve got to be feeling on the iffy side of fitness. At least Gervinho and Song can play this week and have been rested.

But as demoralizing as it is, if Arsenal win, it could change the trajectory of the entire season. Much hangs in the balance tonight. There aren’t enough fingers to cross.

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Arsenal News Review Reviewed

August 15, 2011 — by Rob Kirby

Where's the News Review, Myles?

Nonstop bitching about one’s team evokes the sentiment: If you hate the team so much, don’t watch them. Of course, if you’re from North London and have been a lifetime supporter of Arsenal, for example, you’re not just going to up and change allegiances to Tottenham or Manchester United. But once you’ve griped once, twice, three times, you’re out. Move on and shut the hell up.

But even more annoying are people who do not support the team, yet decide to tee off at every opportunity.

Myles Palmer runs a site called Arsenal News Review. He is a very intelligent writer, clearly knows the ins and outs of the sport and has written professionally about the game for many years. He wrote a book on Arsene Wenger that is always one of featured links on the homepage. He admits openly that he does not support Arsenal. Fair enough. However, he posts near-daily entries pointing out the many atrocities of Wenger and his “failed youth project.” He writes extensively about La Liga teams, often launches into diatribes on Arsenal as the 21st Ligue 1 side and is fixated on the English national team. He constantly beats Wenger with the stick of how the manager refuses to develop English talent, despite all evidence to the contrary.

If you despise Arsenal, why do you run a site called Arsenal News Review?

I wrote Palmer once and posed that question. I also suggested alternative, more accurate names for the site:

More Bitching About Wenger (subtitle: Don’t Forget to Buy the Book!)
Non-Arsenal News Review From a Non-Arsenal Fan

I have read the site for a few years, as a way to gauge the most negative possible sentiment of the team (counting my letter, this is I guess my second gripe—I get one more…). Now, however, I have decided to no longer put myself through the torture. The perspective is not only biased, but deeply flawed.

Palmer bashes Arsenal but religiously praises Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Why not forget about awful Arsenal and blog about one of the other teams?

Oh right, the book.

The site also contains music reviews and big-ups to other cultural phenomena. Because that’s what a site dedicated to Arsenal news review is all about.

But let’s address the issues:

Development of English talent. Wenger gave young Academy player Ashley Cole his early first team break, as he now has Kieran Gibbs in the same position. Wenger last year gave Wilshere, a product of the Academy, a huge opportunity at 18, putting him into the first team as he has done previously with young talents such as Fabregas and others. A teenage Theo Walcott went straight into the first team, as may Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom Wenger brought in from Southampton at considerable cost. If I’m not mistaken, Southampton still lies squarely on English soil. I will check again. Aaron Ramsey spent his final years schooling years at the Colney grounds and now claims a starting XI spot (but he’s Welsh, totally different kettle of fish). The half-English Carl Jenkinson has mooted the possibility of playing for the English side (currently plays for Finland, his “better” half). And Ghanaian-born Emmanuel Frimpong now plays for England—don’t let the name fool you.

Wenger is French and has connections in France that enable him to spot and secure talent at reasonable non-inflated prices. A few intelligent signings: Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera, Nicolas Anelka, Bacary Sagna, Emmanuel Petit, Robert Pires, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri…the list is too long. The business success of it, quite profitable, and they happened to be quite good on the pitch. Many an astute French African signing, as well.

At present, Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Abou Diaby and Sebastien Squillaci are Arsenal’s French players on the senior squad (I think we can omit Nasri by now, and Squillaci might well get relegated to the reserves whenever a new defender arrives). Two played at Newcastle. Compare with Chelsea, who also played two on Sunday (Malouda and Anelka). That would make them as French as Arsenal. Chelsea are bucking to overtake Arsenal as the new 21st Ligue 1 side. Not only do they have also have a French 20-year old (Kakuta) and as many African Francophones (Drogba, Kalou, Essien) in the senior squad, they just signed a young Belgian goalkeeper. Mon Dieu!

Chelsea also had one Portuguese starter, two Portuguese on the bench and a Portuguese manager, who recently defected from Porto. They’re the 15th top-flight club of Portugal! Add three regular Brazilian starters (Luiz, Alex, Ramires), and there’s a whole lotta Portufrancophonics going on at Stamford Bridge.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, Wilshere, Ramsey, Gibbs and Walcott have broken into the current starting XI and as go-to subs. Frimpong came on as a sub on Saturday, likely soon to be joined by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jenkinson, who both sat on the bench against Newcastle. Other Britishers given first team Premier League and Champions League playing time in the last year? Henri Lansbury, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Craig Eastmond and Thomas Cruise, as well as Mark Randall, Kyle Bartley and Gavin Hoyte in previous years.

By the way, if you don’t like non-Arsenal-bashing posts, don’t read ‘em.

Move along, nothing to see here.