Big Match, Big Players, Big Performance!

October 31, 2009

In the preview I had a simple question. Will the Arsenal players raise their game? Important football matches are often decided by individual moments. That is exactly what we got.

How often have we seen United play poorly and sneak a 1-0 with a quality moment from their big players? How often have we seen Arsenal dominate the game for the best part of ninety minutes and drop points to a moment of madness? It is games like this one that tell you how far the team has come. We will always dominate majority of the games that we play. But when the opposition asks some questions like the tots did in the first 40 minutes, the stars have to shine.

It was a little disappointing to hear pundits talk about mistakes by the Spuds defence for the twin goals. The Flying Dutchman showed great control with his chocolate leg at an awkward height and there was little Gomes could have done about it. He has a thing going with Sagna there and it just might be something they have worked on in training.

The second goal is easily the goal of the season so far. It will take an extra special effort to dislodge it from that spot. We normally don’t associate a dribbling run with Fabregas. It just highlights the wonders of footballing intelligence. Every single touch in that run was perfect. Some might think I am getting carried away, but I am sure El Capitan is the best player in the league by a mile and right up there with the likes of Messi on the world stage. The change in position has made a staggering difference and I can bet my life on him getting better as the season progresses.

The ref didn’t have a great game but he did a good job allowing play to continue for our third goal. With someone like Gomes in goal, a mistake was bound to happen at some point. It’s good to see Van Persie collecting some center forwardish goals. He was a bit edgy to start with, but played a great role when he dropped deep and let Eduardo play up front.

Alex Song is now up there with all the big players we have. Duracell, Energizer, etc. can change all their advertisements and just show a picture of Song instead. If anyone still questions the quality of the Cameroonian, that person is just saying, “I am an idiot, please ignore me.”

We all knew the second ball was going to be important today and Song did an excellent job of tracking the runners. He also had a commanding presence in the center and put in some important tackles. The 22-year-old hard man formed a great link between the defenders and the attacking players. What more can you ask for from a player in his position!?

Even Almunia had a decent game and collected most of the good balls played into the area. The back four dealt with Crouch and Co effectively. These are the kind of games that tell you why Harry Redknapp can never be a great manager. He might be a great man manager and motivator. He might put his team out for a physical battle. But the Spuds manager has no clue about the beauty of the game. The visitors didn’t have a plan B and hardly drew a decent save from our No 1. I just loved the look on his face, especially after all the talk about how weak our defence is. Arsene must have enjoyed stuffing a clean sheet up his arse!

You could see how badly Wenger wanted it. It’s not everyday that you see a manager hurl his coat when his team are leading by three goals! I think he was agitated because there was a little bit of panic in our game. We are at our worst when we stop passing the ball and lose control of the tempo of the game. That little outburst brought the players back to their senses and the door was firmly shut.

I hate to talk about anything negative on such a day, but someone has to hang Diaby upside down for a few minutes every day. His brain cells are dying and there is an urgent need for some blood flow in his head. Even by his standards the lanky Frenchman had a horrible day.  The end result was achieved in spite of Diaby. Arsene has to give someone like Ramsey a chance.

We have seen two different rivals dispatched with different kinds of performances as this young squad grows in confidence. Now can we do something about our away form please!

Arsenal Vs Tottenham: Will The Arsenal Players Raise Their Game?

October 31, 2009

I believe the single biggest deciding factor for today’s derby will be the level at which our players perform. Will the players raise the tempo and the quality of their game to the best they can do? Will they maintain that for the whole game? If they do we will thump the tots numb. There is no doubt about that. But recent performances have left these questions hanging in my mind.

After the last two first team games you would feel its time for the big three to deliver. Arshavin, Cesc and RvP need to be fully focused and motivated for the whole match. It is imperative that they understand we have to outscore the opposition and there is no point relying on our ability to defend any lead. The only time we look stable in defence is when we dominate possession in the opposition half.

This game must be a special one for Arshavin. He might not have experienced such an atmosphere before. As Arsene said in his press conference, the little Russian can change any game, any time, anywhere. This season hasn’t been as explosive for Arshavin as the last was. He has had some good moments in matches but he hasn’t really stamped his class on a game, something that we have often seen from other players of his ilk.

This is an interesting article from Redknapp. He knows how tough the task is

It’s been pointed out to me that in my entire managerial career I have managed just a single win against Arsene Wenger’s side and I have a better record against Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

I bet you there are plenty of other managers who have yet to gain even one win over the Gunners with Wenger in charge but it’s not a stat I’m going to lose sleep over.

In fact everyone at Spuds knows how big and tough this game is for them. Hence, we have had all those comments from the likes of Crouch and Keane. Their task has been made tougher by the fact that they are missing three of their biggest players in Defoe, Lennon and Modric.

In a way the absentees can be a blessing in disguise for them. If Defoe had been available, Redknapp would have had a problem with fitting Crouch into the starting line up. Now it’s easier for him. Similarly Bentley might just be very motivated for this game and he is the best person in their squad to provide the ammunition for Crouch and deliver on set-pieces.

We are going to face another big test of our weakness in the air. Totnumb will try and cross the ball into our box at every given opportunity. Have we learned enough to win the second ball or do we need more punishment before we finally get a hang of it? The score line will depend a lot on that question.

The other big threat will come from long distance efforts. The visitors have enough players in their team who can have a good crack from distance. Will our defensive players close them down often enough and soon enough? Will the goalkeeper do his job well? Once again these are important questions that will decide the fate of the game.

It brings me to the choice of the goalkeeper. Honestly, I have no clue about how a manager can make such a decision. We all understand that Wenger is a highly objective person. But what objective criteria can you apply to a quandary of this sort. He must have a lot more statistics than are available to us and he also has the advantage of seeing the players in training every day. This is going to be a big day for the keeper and I am hoping that first the boss and then the person he puts his faith in do a near perfect job.

The lily-whites are close to us in one interesting aspect. We have twelve different goal scorers this season and they have eleven. So it will not be down to keeping one or two people quiet. Interestingly, they are also a team that has conceded more goals than us. So our offence is where the key lies. We have to exploit their defensive fragility and keep them pinned back.

I am also interested in the referee. I haven’t observed how Clattenburg officiates. Most officials are no good anyway but leaving that aside, it will be important to see if he allows persistent fouling without taking any action. I expect someone like Palacios will end up committing a number of fouls and if the ref makes the right decisions in the first few minutes we can have a very open game to our advantage.

Finally, we come down to our team selection. Most of the squad picks itself but I am hoping that Wenger will go for Bendtner or Eduardo ahead of Eboue. We need to go into this game with a more positive mindset and focus on maintaining our home scoring record. The return of Nasri to the bench will give us a good option to switch tactics later, if necessary.

Hopefully the line up will be:

?; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Cesc, Diaby; Bendtner, RvP, Arshavin

Ideally we should have a 4-1 result, but I have a feeling this game will be decided by the odd goal in five. Here’s to an memorable game and a smashing result.

How Can Anyone Hate Spuds!?

October 30, 2009

I have been watching Arsenal for about a decade now and have never quite understood this rivalry and the hatred that our fans have towards the neighbours. I can understand that there is some history and the old timers might have seen a great rivalry develop but it was all a long time ago. Shouldn’t we just leave them and their misery alone?

I think our fans do Spuds a great honour by even considering this a rivalry. The single biggest point on their CV must be “Arsenal’s Greatest Rivals” because they hardly have anything else. A rivalry IMHO can only exist if there is competition. Otherwise it’s meaningless.

Here is what the dictionary says:

Rivalry — A person or thing that is in a position to dispute another’s preeminence or superiority.

Till this day I had never bothered much about the lilywhites. I had to give them some thought today because I had to write something about them. But it wasn’t making any sense. So, I ended up looking up their history. In the last two decades they have got a FA cup and have managed some League Cup success. I didn’t bother going farther back in time. Does it even merit a comparison?

In a way they are the antithesis of Arsenal. Our manager has been around for a record number of years. They might soon make a record for sacking managers. We are the most envied club in terms of youth development. Do you remember the last one from their academy? We make a profit on transfers almost every year and they spend insane amounts by selling players and buying them back at a higher rate!

When was the last time they beat us in the league? Nearly a decade ago, wasn’t it? They dream about the Champions League and we have been participating in the tournament for twelve straight years. When we have a disaster we finish fourth. When they have a great year they finish fifth. Does anyone talk about the beautiful football played by Spuds? Does anyone talk about “The Totnumb Way” in any context at all!?

Seriously, with due respect to the old timers, can someone tell me why we shouldn’t take on someone our own size and leave the Tiny Tots in their league.  How can we all waste our emotions on a club that hardly merits a thought? Think whatever you want of me, I refuse to hate the lilywhites.

Merida Shines, Nasri Delights And Eastmond Catches The Eye

October 29, 2009

I have to say the starting line up surprised me a lot. I couldn’t believe Wenger was starting with so many senior players. In a way, it was more of an Arsenal second eleven rather than a youth team that we have come to expect in the League Cup. Craig Eastmond was probably the only real youngster (by our standards) and it was an even bigger surprise to see him being chosen over Coquelin.

I think Arsene remembers the defeat to Spuds in the Cup a couple of years back and was wise enough to avoid the same mistake. Liverpool put out a very strong side themselves and if we had gone in with most of the youngsters the result might have been embarrassing and deflating. A simple example of this was seen late in the day when Skrtel brushed off Watt inside the Liverpool penalty area. Well, the wise man made the right decisions once again and we had a fantastic game.

My man of the match in this game was Nasri. I think he was everywhere and played a role similar to that performed by our captain. His touch looked good and so did his dribble. He also had enough stamina to last the duration of the game without dropping the pace. As Arsene said, we now have to wait and see how he feels over the next couple of days. If he doesn’t feel any physical strain after today’s exertions, he could come straight into the starting line up for the big derby.

Merida has always been easy on the eye. He has that Zidanesque presence in the field. One never gets tired of watching him even if he makes a mistake or two. Tonight, he added a lot of pressing and tackling to his skillful display. His passes and goals didn’t impress me too much as I expect him to be at that level. But Arsene always spoke of him as a late developer, physically, and it was his physical strength and presence that impressed me most. If he wants to be a big player in the premier league he will need all that hard work to support his natural skills on a day to day basis. He might even find a place on the bench ahead of Wilshere.

The third name on my list is Eastmond. To be honest, I have seen a little bit of him in the U-18’s and the reserves, just not enough to have noticed him as a top performer. But I don’t doubt Arsene and his staff for one moment. They have done a fantastic job in identifying this boy’s talent and moving him from right back to the center of midfield. He looked well composed and read the game really well. He also showed the never say die spirit that is so essential for a defensive midfielder. Plessis and Spearing are much better known than Eastmond but he easily out classed them.

The back four also had a decent game. We made a few mistakes but they covered well for each other. Fabianski also had a good game and might find himself between the poles at the weekend. Ramsey and Eduardo had an average outing. They have established themselves and my expectations with them are a little high.

The only disappointing player was Bendtner. I don’t know if the opposition goal keeper had an effect on him or not but his attitude was very cavalier and wasteful. He took his goal well and the finish with the left foot was heart-warming but overall he could have done much more.

We also saw some of the first team problems seeping down to this team. At times the players switched off and some of the midfield and full back runs were not tracked. An obvious example is the goal we conceded. If you look closely, at the time when Babel heads the ball back to Insua, we only have our back four and Bendtner in the picture. No one from the midfield was anywhere close the ball and the young Dane didn’t do enough either. The problem is likely to be much more deep rooted rather than being individual errors.

In the post match press conference someone asked Arsene how many of these players will make it to the first team. Le Boss said all of them. He also mentioned that quite a few have already played at that level. It also explains the quality of the game being so high and Wenger rightly likened it to a European tie.

Later in the day when I checked the other scores and reports it emerged that most other top teams had played their big names. No wonder the cream of English football reached the quarter finals.  I am not sure why the top clubs are fielding such strong teams in this competition. It might have something to do with the competition being very tight at the top and everyone hoping to win at least one trophy. From our point of view, I think we also have to consider the fact that we have a larger number of fit players this year compared to the last two seasons. Wenger has to give them some game time and it is understandable that the youngsters would have to miss out.

The squad must be high on confidence before the Spuds game and we can just start another winning streak.

Arsenal Vs Liverpool: Which Way Will The Momentum Swing?

October 28, 2009

This game, whilst only a Carling Cup time, comes at an important time for both the teams. Liverpool have just managed a massive win after four successive losses. It is important for them to generate some momentum and ensure that the win over United was not a one-off.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have put themselves under pressure. We should have been looking at a nine match winning run right now, but we have managed to draw the last two games and that means another adverse result could put further pressure on the team before the big month end fixture.

Both managers have to balance their injury hit squads and we are likely to see most of the fringe players and some exciting youngsters in action. It will be a tricky to start with a team capable of winning and still rest some key players. It becomes even more complex as both managers will have to guess the squads their counterparts will put out.

Arsene has revealed some team news making life a little easier for Benitez. Unfortunately, the most talented youngster is out and we will not get a chance to watch Wilshere in action. This must be a blow for the young man as he is not getting too many games. He isn’t playing at the junior level, nor is he playing for the reserves. So any opportunity to get match practice must be golden. Thankfully, the injury is not serious and we should have him back soon.

We still have plenty of highly talented kids in the squad and I am quite keen to have a look at the likes of Merida, Coquelin, Watt and Bartley. The game will also give some of the senior youngsters like Vela, Ramsey and Gibbs a chance to test themselves against a big team.

We will also see two key players turn up for the first time this season. Nasri has proven his quality in the league and all of us are eager to see him get back to full fitness. He is a very versatile player and can play centrally in place of either Diaby or Denilson. He also has enough talent to replace the likes of Rosicky in the front three. I am very interested in the role he will play today. We might get an insight into how Arsene intends to use him in the first team.

Mugsmashers are likely to hand a debut to their big summer signing. Aquilani was often connected with us and is undoubtedy very talented. Ironically, his last game for Roma was also against Arsenal. Benitez has said that he is not ready to start so we might only see a late cameo from the Italian.

In a way, I don’t really know what to expect from Rafa’s team selection. Certainly, players like Torres and Gerrard won’t play. But Torres might be on the bench. Mascherano is out and Benitez might rest Benayoun and Kuyt. We might also see a different back four in the form of Degen, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos and Dossena. One thing is for sure, the visitors will put out a strong line up and they will play a hard tactical game relying on set pieces and counter attacks.

The Arsenal website claims that Eduardo and Bendtner will start. But I am not sure about that at all. Arsene’s full pre-match interview is not available on the site at the time of writing, but in the brief version that is available, Le Boss only mentions that two strikers are available. I think both of them will be on the bench at best.

Surprisingly, Arsene mentions that Fabianski will start this game. I am not sure if this is a test run for the Pole before the derby game on Saturday. It is likely that Wenger just wants to see how Fabianski performs before deciding on his choice for the league.

My guess is that the starting line up will look like this:

Fabianski; Bartley, Senderos, Silvestre, Gibbs; Ramsey, Nasri, Coquelin; Watt, Vela, Merida

I believe this team is good enough to beat any second string Liverpool squad as long as we don’t repeat the mistakes of the first team. It is important to note that quite a few of these players are still developing physically. How they cope with the physical nature of the game, especially on set pieces, will go some way in determining where their futures lie.

In related news, here is an interesting interview of Liam Brady. He likens watching these games to a parent attending his/her child’s audition. Our reserves coach also talks about the work being done by the club at youth level. At a conservative estimate, he reckons, youth development has generated ₤50 million for the club. Not a bad achievement by any means.

Let me end on a lighter note. Have you ever seen an Arsenal player run a long way and hug a United player to celebrate a goal. Is it even conceivable!? Have a look at these highlights. These are from the Watford – Sheffield Wednesday game.

Right at the end, Lansbury scores a goal after great work from Cleverly. He then runs from the six yard box to the corner flag and jumps onto the United youngster. Both of them are talented players and could easily be involved in some cracking matches between the clubs in the years to come. This video will be a collectors item then! Can you imagine a young Vieira celebrating that way with a young Keane 🙂

Hope you have a good laugh and enjoy the game.

Can Arsenal Improve Without Buying Any Big Name Players?

October 27, 2009

Sunday’s result brought back some doubts in the minds of the supporters. There are some who continue to have faith and there will always be those who question the quality of the squad after every adverse result. I am of the opinion that our squad is good enough and this can be seen in the comparison of the squads that I had done. But I also agree that our present performances are not those of a title-winning squad.

The important bit is to see the difference between the two i.e. the squad being good enough and the performances not being good enough. If our squad was not good enough, we would not be dominating as many games as we do. Anyone who doubts our squad should take a long look at any other squad across Europe and see if it can cope with injuries to 4-5 key players. Have a look at how Citeh are performing in spite of the money they have spent or see how Real Madrid have struggled in the last two games without Ronaldo. Teams will have problems even after spending big.

I am convinced our squad is one of the most talented and well balanced in the whole of Europe. We can perform much better if we work on a few essential aspects of our game. I am not trying to claim that I understand the game better than Wenger or his staff. But I have been following our matches closely and there are a few general observations that most fans would agree with.

Here are some improvements that can help us win the league

Crosses/Delivery on Set Pieces and Corners

At Upton Park, we didn’t really create too many clear chances. But we got our first goal from a lovely cross by Sagna. We also got a great chance late in the game through the same route. This only proves the importance of getting the ball in dangerous areas. It adds a different headache for the defending team. It also gives us a completely different dimension in attack.

But how often do we get our crosses right? My guess is less than 20 percent. In the early part of the 07-08 season, our fullbacks were doing a good job with the crosses. I don’t really know what happened and when, but over the last year and a half, we have completely lost the plot when it comes to putting the ball across the penalty area.

Similarly, look at our set pieces. RvP has a fantastic delivery from corners and free kicks and gets it right more often than not. But ask yourself if anyone else has been that convincing?

I love Cesc and Arshavin and they are among the world’s greatest players. But do they get their set piece delivery right? Don’t we normally see them floating the ball in and often missing the target area or putting it too close to the goal keeper or hitting the first defender?

Vermaelen and Gallas have scored a number of goals from headers this season. Doesn’t that just highlight the goal scoring potential of a dangerous delivery? I have a feeling we take our set pieces lightly. There is no real evidence for this but it’s a thought that developed from seeing us waste many good opportunities.

Good delivery also has the effect of putting the opposition defence under pressure. Right now, most teams seem comfortable in conceding a free kick or corner against us. They are also comfortable in allowing us width and an opportunity to cross. This gives them the chance to pack the center and make it difficult for us to play our game. So, improving on this aspect will not only help us in getting more goals, but will also help us in our normal passing game. Most importantly, how difficult can it be?

Defending Corners/Free Kicks

Clearly our Achilles’ heel, isn’t it? I don’t think any Arsenal fan would disagree that we are amongst the worst when it comes to defending set pieces and corners. It does make me wonder if it’s directly connected to our inability to deliver from these situations.

There are two important questions here. How much time do we spend on practicing our delivery and defence in set piece situations? Have we made any real effort to improve in this area? We are not likely to get any answers to these questions, but I do believe that we would have seen the improvements on the field of play if any serious effort had been put in.

Some of us like to blame the goalkeepers for our problems. But I have a feeling that any goalkeeper in the world would struggle in our team because of the lack of communication and understanding that is palpable in our game. Our goalkeepers have to come out to deal with situations that most other keepers would leave to their defence to sort out. And once the responsibilities are blurred, the confusion only complicates the issue.

I am not really qualified to say how we should improve in this area. We can certainly do with more commitment from the players. How often have we seen Chelsea defenders throw themselves in front of a shot? How often do we see their midfielders diligently track the opponents? Why do our players shy away from this responsibility?

As things stand, we are under pressure every time someone gets a chance to put the ball into our box. We can see the tension and the pressure even in the players’ body language and I am sure the opponents can sense that as well. It must give them renewed belief even if they are down by a couple of goals. This has to change. The players must feel more confident in these situations and Arsene has to do whatever it takes to reach that state.

Rotations and Substitutions

Let’s consider the game against West Ham. We were up by two goals and it was clear to most people watching the game that Arshavin and Cesc were not having a good game.

Could we have reverted to a more conventional 4-4-2 by bringing on Ramsey for either of the two? Could we have introduced either Eduardo or Bendtner to support Van Persie? I am not the type who would say that we should sit back on a two goal lead. But our attack wasn’t flourishing anyway. Shouldn’t we have tweaked with it a bit to see if we can do any better? Were the players on the bench not fit?

I think Arsene needs to seriously rethink the timing and the tactical aspect of his substitutions. What is the point of putting Bendtner on the field in the last few minutes and then having him play wide? Shouldn’t he, straight away, get into the opponents’ penalty area and stay there or thereabouts? Shouldn’t the players be instructed to get the ball forward with urgency instead of the usual pass and move?

I don’t want to come across as someone who thinks he can do better than Wenger. I have no delusions of that sort. But all of us, who follow the team so passionately, have a right to question the decisions, don’t we? We also have a right to our opinions. Mine says that we can do much better if we rotate our squad more efficiently. In a way, that is a stamp of faith in the whole squad that Wenger has accumulated and developed.


We are making basic mistakes that are obvious even to commoners like me. Unless we improve in these areas, we will continue to put ourselves under undue pressure while giving a glimpse of hope to all the opponents. The areas I have mentioned are not difficult to address and they can certainly help us in being more ruthless and crushing the smaller teams.

The confidence of the players and the fans will also improve greatly if we can deliver on these fronts. It’s down to the manager and his staff to identify how they can work on it. It’s down to the players to put in the extra shift. After all they must want to win more than any of us.

The trophies are there for the taking this year. How badly do we want them!?

Arsenal Zombie Mode Starting To Bite

October 25, 2009

I am amazed people can say we dominated this game. There wasn’t a five minute spell in the whole game where we had complete control and created a couple of clear chances. West Ham kept finding their front man and getting the ball into our box right from the first minute. Just because they lacked a little quality in the final third and didn’t trouble the goalkeeper more does not mean we dominated or controlled the game.

This was the first time my wife was watching an Arsenal game. At half time she said that it must be difficult for an opponent to come back from such a score line. I said West Ham can easily come back in this one as we are having a bad game. It’s a pity there are some laws that prevent American residents from betting online on such games. In the past I have made a good amount of money by noticing when Arsenal are going to crumble. It’s not rocket science really and at a late stage in the game with a two goal lead one can get fantastic odds. But more importantly it’s emotional hedging.

I don’t know how many people have observed this but I believe we have two distinct types of games. One is when players like Cesc, Arshavin and RvP dominate the game and the possession and we look like we can score any minute. The other is when players like Diaby, Eboue and Denilson dominate the play and we hardly create a clear chance in the whole game.

Today’s game was obviously in the second category. It’s easy to say that Arshavin had an off day. So did Cesc. But why did they have such a bad game? Did anyone even see Cesc on the pitch in the first half an hour or so? I don’t know if they are tired or there is some other reason but I do have some observations.

Firstly, how can Eboue have a free role in the final third? I don’t think Wenger selects him over Eduardo and Bendtner because he is a better attacking player than the strikers. So the logical thought would be that Eboue is chosen to give the team some balance in defence and some width on the right. It kills me every time I see Eboue all over the final third and people like Arshavin having to come back to defend.

Secondly, Song is a fantastic player, but either we are relying too much on him or he is taking the liberty of moving into the final third too often. He had a good assist the other day but in this game, I felt, he spent too much time in the attacking third instead of just bringing other players into the game. He has a phenomenal engine and ran tirelessly all day long, but when he moves into the business end so often it affects the shape and balance of the team.

Finally, the last ten minutes were extremely disappointing. I have seen all the other big teams throw the kitchen sink at the opposition in the final few minutes if they need a result. Most often, against smaller teams, they tend to succeed and convert a defeat into a draw or a draw into a win. We managed only one decent chance. The tempo of the game was still too slow. If the players were tired, Arsene is at fault as he has not been rotating the squad. If the players were not tired, it is an even bigger concern. It completely shakes the faith in their desire to win and a spirit to fight till the end.

I think our performance was extremely poor and we are fortunate to come away with a point. Zola made a tactical mistake by starting with Franco. If he had started with Diamanti we might have had more problems in the final third. There is no point speculating whether that would have sparked some of our players to life. If we look at the game after the scores were leveled, there is no reason to believe we would have done any better.

Sadly, Mannone has made a mistake that can cost him his place in the starting line up. I will be surprised if he can keep his place after this one. His hand was not strong enough and he might not have kept his eye on the ball till the last minute. But there is no point being critical of a young man when most of the senior players put in a worse shift.

Fortunately for us, most of the other big teams dropped points. This weekend was probably the best for Benitez and Ancelotti. We have now dropped points in two successive away games that we should have won comfortably. But the worrying part is not that we haven’t won. The concern is that nobody really knows why we keep repeating the mistakes. If Arsene knew why this is happening he would have found a solution and if Wenger doesn’t know, then nobody does.

I still have a lot of faith in our squad. But we have to improve tactically if we have to make the best use of the personnel available to us. The team also has to show a lot more belief and desire. This appetizer has certainly left a very bad taste in my mouth. The question is how soon can we recover?

West Ham Preview: Zola The Connoisseur

October 24, 2009

We have three very exciting matches lined up in the next seven days. All open games with three good teams. West Ham fixture is like an appetizer and is quite likely to whet our desire for more. We are also in the month where our season slipped last year. It adds a different and somewhat suspenseful flavor to the delicacy that the games will be.

I enjoyed listening to Wenger in his interview with ATVO and the pre-match press conference. There were too many questions about his birthday and his future plans and the boss was in a mood for some fun. But the most interesting bit came in the ATVO interview when he was asked about the Italian contingent at West Ham.

I know them because I have seen them on television. They were good talents but it takes some time to adapt to the premier league. But if Zola has bought them, he is a connoisseur in our game you know, that means they have the talent

I like the players Zola has assembled. They have a talented squad capable of troubling all the top teams. But all teams that attempt to play open football leave themselves vulnerable when facing a more tactical opponent. Given their injury worries and the relative inexperience of the manager it is not surprising that they have struggled this season. I am very keen to see how the season unfolds for them now that they have a number of players returning to fitness. Kieron Dyer is a player I used to admire and if he can regain his quality and fitness the Hammers will entertain and move up the table.

Our game is likely to be an open game played at a slow tempo akin to our second or third gear. West Ham have used set plays well this season and it will be very interesting to see how we cope with that challenge.  I would consider a clean sheet tomorrow to be a very big achievement for our fragile defence. Apart from set pieces and the occasional aerial ball to Carlton Cole, the hosts don’t have any attacking threat that should trouble us. But Zola is in a positive mood

It`s just the kind of game we need.

We are the underdogs. Nobody is expecting us to do well against Arsenal. But we are very close. You can smell it, you can sense it is very close.

We just need the victory that would guarantee a little more comfort t the players and a little bit of confidence.

The Irons don’t have a promising home record against Arsenal with just two wins out of the last fourteen encounters and their present form is even worse. I believe we can secure a big win if we can start at a high tempo and control the speed of the game. Will we see a flying start or another lazy Arsenal performance? That is the key question and could easily decide how the points are shared.

Team news says that Rosicky is out and that means either Eduardo or Bendtner will come into the team in place of Eboue. I don’t expect any other changes to the squad that started against AZ

Mannone, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Song, Cesc, Diaby, Arshavin, Van Persie, Eduardo.

Let’s hope the appetizer doesn’t leave a bad taste in the mouth.

An Attempt To Classify Our Premier League Fixtures

October 23, 2009

Yesterday I had some thoughts about Arsenal winning every game they play. Even Arsene has often said that he tries to win every game. Most top managers say that. But it has never happened and I don’t think it ever will. So, in their heart of hearts, the managers must know that they will drop points in some games during the season.

I wonder whether the managers would start off with some number in mind. There are a total of 114 points on offer. Considering Liverpool’s 86 points as the highest total for a second placed team, I would say 87 points win you the league. That means a manager would have a buffer of 27 points. In other words, a team can drop 27 points and win the league.

We can have a team winning the league after 9 defeats if they don’t draw any game. Not a realistic scenario but a baseline for losses perhaps. On the other hand a team can have 13 draws and win the league if they don’t lose any game. During our unbeaten season we had 12. The actual results may lie somewhere in between these two extremes with a combination of draws and losses.

The point is top managers would know what the worst they can afford is. I am not saying they would go into a game thinking they can lose it or be happy with a draw. But they must be mentally prepared for some bad results during the season. So I began wondering what approach would make sense. This led to the following classification of our fixture list.

Big Games

The games against the other top 4 clubs would fall into this category. I know how much every fan and manager wants to win these fixtures but you cannot realistically expect to win all of them in a season. United won the title last year even when Liverpool did the double over them and they got only 1/6 against us. If I were the manager, I would find it acceptable to drop points in 3 out of these 6 fixtures.

Difficult Games

This season I would include the games against Spuds, Villa and Citeh in this category. Partly due to the kind of money that has been invested, partly due to the quality of the managers and partly due to the form they have displayed, which proves that the first two parts are gelling together. I would expect the home and away fixtures to be equally tough. Spuds did trouble us last year in both and so did Villa. Citeh have already defeated us at home. If I were the manager, I wouldn’t want to drop points in more than 2 of these 6 games but 3 would also be acceptable. Last year we dropped points in 5 of these.

Tricky Games

From an Arsenal point of view, trips to Sunderland, Stoke, Bolton and both the games against Everton and Fulham would fall in this category. Given the squads of these teams, these fixtures are not as tough as the ones in the previous two categories. But these teams are no pushovers. I would expect us to drop points in 2 out of these 7 games.

Must Win Games

I tend to consider the rest of the fixtures as must win games while acknowledging the cliché “there are no easy games in the premier league”. So out of the 19 fixtures, I would expect us to drop points in 2. These would truly be upsets in my opinion but without upsets football loses some of its charm.

I have racked up 9-10 games where we can lose points. Assuming all of them are not defeats it will give us a buffer of a few more games. It does not mean we should go into games looking to drop points or take a poor result casually. Nor am I saying that this is the perfect way to classify our fixtures. It is just one way of looking at them.

Someone else can say that we can forget all about the big four or big five and win all the other games. Another person might want to win all home games and do the best away from home. I am sure everyone has some thoughts on this and would certainly love to hear a different approach. All thoughts and criticisms are most welcome.

Happy Boss Day To All

October 22, 2009

Sometimes the romantic in me takes over. It doesn’t happen often, but just once in a few blue moons. On such days, I think about Arsenal winning everything, going unbeaten in all competitions and even winning every single game. I imagine the proud face of Le Boss, the celebrations of the players and the joy every single Arsenal fan and followers of football would feel.

I know it’s not going to happen. Well, dreams have no obligation to turn real. That is the beauty and power of dreams, isn’t it? But this vision makes me very happy no matter what the other circumstances in my life are. And this happiness lasts a while even after I snap back into the drudgery of reality. I guess I have to thank Wenger for giving me this dream.

I don’t know how many other people feel so strongly about Arsene and the work that he does. But I, for one, sure would love to see 22nd October celebrated as World Football Day. Some might argue that there are other luminaries who would deserve such an honor or perhaps there are quite a few of them so it can’t be given to any one. I really don’t have a rational argument against any such statement. But in my limited knowledge and experience Arsene Wenger has defined football like no one else. And football is the lifeblood for so many ordinary mortals like me.

Last year, after the defeat to Citeh, I was so despondent that I felt Arsenal were never going to win anything with Wenger in charge. That was probably the opposite extreme of my dream. Never before had I felt anything cripple hope to such an extent. But dear old hope managed to cling on somehow. And now, it’s in full flight again. I am sorry Arsene, for letting the doubts creep in, but it was a difficult time and I am sure you, of all people, understand that.

I don’t know why I am writing such an emotional piece. I guess it’s one of those days. Here’s wishing the great man and all his fans a very happy boss day and hope we all have many happy returns.