Monthly Archives: February 2012

Deadline poem: Robin pulls a Chelsea

Sosa sneezed and strained his back
Stepney yelled, his jaw did crack.
Zumaya a Heroes strain,
Canizares’ World Cup pain.

Perry Groves knocked himself out*
Vassell drilled too deep no doubt.
Morrow fell from Adams’ perch
Plaxico his name besmirched.

Injuries both real and strange
But naught compare to Chelsea’s range.
Terry, Lampard, Cole, Essien
When country calls, they go a missin’.

So Arsenal must be praying
Robin’s groin is not fraying.
For their season they need him healthy,
He’s not hurt, just “pullin’ a Chelsea.”

Qq

*The Swedish Chef proclaims his love for Milli Vanilli at 2:35.

Arsenal Summer Clearance On Sale NOW

Before I start I want to make some things very clear: I’m not asking for anyone to leave, I’m not saying that I know there will be a clear out, and I’m not saying that I hate anyone. I’m also not publishing this article in order to say “so and so is shit” or that I know better than anyone else what is going on behind the scenes at Arsenal. What else will I be accused of… Oh yeah, I’m not “going negative” or joining the “Wenger out” brigade or whatever end of whatever other dualism I get accused of week in and week out.*

The intent of this article is simply to provide information and to give some context to discussions that Arsenal supporters have been having in various places on the internet.

As some of you may know I am scheduled to appear on the next episode of the  Arsenal Review USA Podcast. What you don’t know is that in that episode I fielded a question of whether or not I felt like a clear out of players was imminent this Summer and my answer was “sort of”. Listen to the podcast and you’ll see why I’m publishing this as a back-up to that appearance.

Another bit of information that ties into what I want to say about player transfers is in The Swiss Ramble’s excellent piece on Arsenal’s mid-year profit report. In that piece he outlines two problem areas for Arsenal in terms of finances: commercial deals and player salaries.

Commercial deals are not my specialty and I don’t want to get too detailed into that because it’s really something that Gazidis should have been working on for his entire tenure at Arsenal. That he has failed so spectacularly is a combination of his hands being tied and possibly a lack of creativity, though a real assessment of his job performance is up to the board. From my end, I have offered Arsenal the idea of selling the naming rights to London Colney, which is about all I can do.

I also don’t have any control over player movement and as stated earlier in my preamble, I’m not suggesting who should move rather suggesting who could be moved. To that end, what I wanted to do was provide a list of all the players under contract to Arsenal (including loanees) and then list the ones who are out of contract this Summer, the ones who I feel are “on the bubble” in terms of their playing careers at Arsenal, and the ones who are almost certainly going to stay.

Here’s the official list of all the players at Arsenal, submitted to the Premier League on February 1, 2012:

Clarindo Dos Santos, Andre
Arshavin, Andrey
Arteta Amatriain, Mikel
Benayoun, Yossi
Chamakh, Maroune
Diaby, Vassiriki Abou
Djourou-Gbadjere, Johan Danon
Fabianski, Lukasz
Yao, Gervais Kouassi
Gibbs, Kieran James Ricardo
Koscielny, Laurent
Mannone, Vito
Mertesacker, Per
Park, Chu Young
Rosicky, Tomas
Sagna, Bacary
Henry, Thierry
Song Bilong, Alexandre Dimitri
Squillaci, Sebastien
Van Persie, Robin
Vermaelen, Thomas
Walcott, Theo James

(First team players, not listed above, and on loan)
Bendtner
Denilson
Vela

(Players not listed above but still under contract)
Almunia

Unlimited U-21 Players

Afobe, Benik
Alves da Silva, Wellington
Aneke, Chukwuemeka Ademola Amachi
Angha, Martin Yves
Ansah, Zak Andy
Bartley, Kyle
Bellerin, Hector
Bihmoutine, Samir
Boateng, Daniel
Brislen-Hall, George
Bunjaku, Alban
Campbell, James Andrew
Campbell, Joel
Charles-Cook, Reice Jordan
Coquelin, Francis
Eastmond, Craig Leon
Ebecilio, Kyle Stephen Joel
Eisfeld, Thomas
Fagan, Zachari Freddy Casey
Frimpong, Emmanuel Yan
Galindo, Samuel
Glasgow, Benjamin Luke
Gnabry, Serge David
Hajrovic, Sead
Hayden, Isaac Scot
Henderson, Conor Alan
Hoyte, Gavin Andrew
Jeffrey, Anthony Lamar Malcolm
Jenkinson, Carl Daniel
Lansbury, Henri George
Martinez, Damain Emiliano
McDermott, Sean
Meade, Jernade Ronnel
Miquel-Pons, Ignasi
Miyaichi, Ryo
Monakana, Jeffrey
Monteiro, Elton Almada
Murphy, Rhys Philip Elliot
Oldfield Spence-Neita, Nigel Paul
Olsson, Mats Kristoffer
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander Mark David
Ozyakup, Oguzhan
Ramsey, Aaron James
Rees, Joshua David
Roberts, Philip James
Shea, James
Szczesny, Wojciech Tomasz
Toral, Jon-Miquel
Watt, Herschel Oulio Sanchez
Wilshere, Jack Andrew
Wynter, Jordan James Cecil
Yennaris, Nicholas

Several notes about this list. First, you will see that players like Vito Mannone are included in the first team list but are on loan. Arsenal do this because he is Home Grown and they have open spots in that category. That allows them to recall him from loan and slot him right back into the first team in an emergency.

You will also see a similar thing in the U-21 players. Since Arsenal can have an unlimited number of U-21 players on the official team there’s no harm in listing loanees like Kyle Bartley.

Second, I highlighted in bold any of the first team players who are either on loan out, in the last year of their contract, or have returned to their main team (Henry).

And third, you should notice that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has what could possibly be the longest name in footballing history: Alexander Mark David Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Finally, I don’t really want to dip into the U-21 players list too much, simply because if there is uncertainty about the first team that uncertainty is magnified when it comes to U-21 players. Still I can’t see Arsenal pulling several of the players on that list back into the first team side when they have struggled to get games at teams like West Ham (Lansbury). Yes, I know this will anger many of you because he scored that one goal in the Carling Cup North London Derby and jumped REALLY high. But even die-hard fans of players like Bartley have to admit that it’s not looking like he’ll be back with the team when the club hand Djourou a £50,000/wk contract and he’s still languishing in Scotland. I have highlighted in bold the players above who I am certain will be promoted to the first list when they are over 21.

Defining “out of contract” is simple, these are players whom I am factually certain (as of publication) will be out of contract in Summer of 2012.

“On the Bubble” means players whom I feel like have an uncertain future at Arsenal. This could be because they are following the Senderos path out of the club via multiple extensive loans or because chronic injury has hampered their career. I suspect this is where I will get the most complaints/discussion.

“Certainly staying” are the guys who have just renegotiated a contract with the club or whom I deem too valuable to leave just yet. It’s basically all the rest of the players who aren’t in the first two categories, so I’m not going to list that.

With that out of the way, here are my three lists:

Out of contract Summer 2012

Almunia
Benayoun
Rosicky
Squillaci

Players “On the Bubble”

Arshavin
Bendtner
Chamakh
Denilson
Diaby
Fabianski
Mannone
Park
Squillaci
Vela

U-21 Players “On the Bubble”

Bartley
Eastmond
Hoyte
Lansbury

For my count, that is 17 players who Arsenal could realistically clear out this Summer. Given Wenger’s history I can see him throwing a life-line to Diaby (who is under contract until 2014, just like Theo and RvP, though no one mentions it) and offering Rosicky a one-year deal.

But the rest of those players have to be wondering about their future at Arsenal. Bartley has been in Scotberia his entire career. Lansbury can’t get a look in at West Ham. Eastmond dropped out of Milwall. Wenger’s most memorable statement about Vela was that he “always forgets about Vela”. Park and Chamakh can’t even get on the bench for games. Arshavin is back in Russia. Despite being a winner, Denilson has struggled in Brazil. Bendtner burned the bridge, pissed on it, then planted the Bendtner coat of arms on the other side. I think we saw the last of Squillaci when he huffed off down the tunnel after just 43 minutes against Sunderland with an “injury”. And Almunia is so far down the list of players, that he doesn’t even make the 25 man squad — in his place? Loanee/legend Thierry Henry.

I don’t know what you call it, but that looks like the makings of a good ole fashioned clear-out to me.

Qq

*It’s always hilarious to me to be accused of one side of a dualism one day and the next the next. It’s almost as if people can’t see that the problem is not with me but with the definitions they are carrying around in their heads.

P.S. I don’t know why I thought Squillaci was out of contract this Summer but I did. The dot.com indicates that he signed a “long term contract” with the club in 2010. Judging by other players who have signed “long term contracts” with Arsenal, this could be as long as six years, though is more likely closer to five years. That means he might not be out of contract until 2015/2016, which would, I suspect, solidify him as Arsene Wenger’s worst ever signing.

That's me, right behind Walcott, reaching to touch the feet of the gods.

Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham: this is what football is all about

This is what it means to be a real supporter. That nervous energy, that giddy laughter, those moments when you’re sitting on the train to work and you break out into a giant grin as you recall the thumping sound of Sagna’s header… It was a crazy game, at the end of a crazy week, and in advance of an even crazier week ahead but this is what football is all about.

Arsenal started the game in what we have come to call “typical fashion.” Meaning that the Arsenal defense was carved open like a turducken, revealing our succulent stuffing, wrapped in duck fat, inside a chicken, wrapped in a turkey. Or, ummm, something.

I had barely had time to tweet my first joke after kickoff when Adebayor collected the ball deep, saw that he was covered by three Arsenal players and simply half-turns and plays the ball into Louis Saha who is free in the middle of the park. Saha drives at Vermaelen, who actually recovers well enough to get a block in, and in typical Arsenal fashion the flubbed shot loops over Szczesny for the goal. I looked around the room for a place to escape and finally just buried my head in my hands because it was yet another example of Arsenal’s penchant to marry terrible luck with schoolboy defending.

Four minutes into the match, one-nil down, London Derby, and Arsenal still didn’t look like they were quite in the game. Still, the team started to pick up the pace a little, started pressing the ball better, and while everyone slams Theo for his touch in the first half (it was terrible) the young Englishman should be applauded for helping to keep Bale quiet by pressing Assou-Ekotto any time the ball even came near him.

Harry must have seen Wenger’s tactic because he switched Bale to the right and it immediately paid dividends. Bale burst through between Gibbs and Koz, Modric slotted in the perfect ball and as Bale saw Szczesny coming to claim, it was clear he would only ever have one thing on his mind: going down. Dean, who had oddly jumped for joy when Tottenham scored their first did what he loves to do, and awarded the spot kick. There was a moment of consultation between himself and the linesman but apparently that was about technical difficulties and not over whether or not to award the penalty.

I’ve seen the penalty in three different ways: in real time, I thought it was a stone cold penalty; on first replay, I saw that Bale kicked Szczesny with his left foot and it looks like a stone cold dive; but on second replay, it’s pretty clear that Gibbs took Bale’s Right leg and the penalty call, plus the no card, is actually the correct call. I know that might sicken you to read, I know that I will get flack for it, and I really want to say that Dean got that call wrong, but I can’t.

And of course, Harry has Adebayor take the penalty. Which says all you need to know about Redknapp, Adebayor, Tottenham and their whole organization. Put in the liner notes about how you want the fans to respect Adebayor and then show up Arsenal by having him take the penalty.

Down 2-0, I sat there thinking that the game was going to become a rout. Arsenal’s supposed “mental strength” had been severely test the week before against both Sunderland and Milan and by my estimation, they had failed that test. But maybe we should thank Tottenham for letting Adebayor score  because after Adebayor took the penalty something extraordinary happened. Arsenal ignored the referee and started playing the way that I think many of us have been begging for them to play every match for the last 5 years: they pressed every Tottenham possession, they closed down every inch of space, they kicked, they moved without the ball, and the older players all banded together to push Arsenal to get back into the game.

Arsenal were passing wonderfully when Song saw a chance to set up Robin van Persie for a shot. The Arsenal captain rounded his marker on his right, but ensuing shot simply caromed off the post. Gibbs was up there to collect, passed to Arteta on the corner of the penalty box, Arteta quickly shared a look with Sagna and chipped the ball to the spot. Sagna then slipped inside of Bale and thumped home the header.

Despite having not scored a League goal in two years, Sagna immediately collected the ball out of the net, let out a little yell and fist pump, gave Theo one high five, and rushed back to the center circle.

From that point forward, the game was on.

The next moment of brilliance came from Robin himself. This time collecting a weak clearance, dancing around three Tottenham defenders and curling home a wonderful goal from the top of the D.

From two-nil down to two-two. Two goals for them of utter shit, two goals for us of utter brilliance. Half-time couldn’t come soon enough for Spurs.

Theo had struggled quite a bit in that first half and many were calling for him to be replaced but where Theo struggles is when teams close space on him. He’s not a natural dribbler and his close control and touch will sometimes betray him so teams that play him close and limit space behind can neutralize him as a threat. But as it turns out, the boss was right to keep Theo on for the second half because Tottenham opened the game up looking to take the win and that created space for Theo to run.

According to Robin, Wenger had made a good speech at half time and you could see right away to start the second half what both teams’ tactics were. Harry brought on Sandro to run around kicking people and van der Vaart to ugly up the pitch with his gormless horse-face while Arsenal doubled-down on pressing the woeful Tottenham midfield. Even with the Greatest English Midfielder of All Time in Scott Parker, Tottenham struggled both in terms of holding on to possession and in terms of winning the ball back. Arsenal’s midfield outclassed Tottenham from start to finish in that second half. A finish which ended in Scott Parker getting a red card for a frustrated tackle on Vermaelen’s foot.

Because I know someone will say something, and not because I’m truly magnanimous, I will say “good job Scott Parker for making a huge show of repeatedly trying to shake Vermaelen’s hand after you tried to break his foot, sorry but I still can’t stand you and your WWI British Captain’s haircut.”

It’s no coincidence that Theo’s two goals essentially came from the same move: play the ball in behind the defenders and let the thoroughbred run. In fact, all of Arsenal’s last three goals came from that type of move. Even Tomas Rosicky’s goal was set up from the right as he blazed through and latched on to a cross.

I don’t want to pick on any one midfielder because it’s the way that they played as a unit that was really impressive yesterday. They weren’t just closing space, they closed space as two or three players at a time and forced Tottenham into poor pass after poor pass. This was the “Barcelona” way of defending that folks on here have been calling for for years and that, unfortunately, we don’t see too often.

Arsenal finished the game with a flurry. Two quick-fire goals by Theo Walcott ended any hopes of even Mike Dean getting Tottenham back into the game and Arsenal rode the wave of exultation for the last 30 minutes as every Gooner in the building lifted their voices in praise of the greatest team the world has ever seen.

In the end, it’s difficult to be objective about a win like this and maybe I shouldn’t be. After the difficulties of the season it’s tempting to see the news that some players came up injured and get down. Or to wonder why the team doesn’t play the pressing game for 50 games a year instead of maybe 5.

But on Thursday night I take a 9 hour flight to London, spend Friday night at my friend’s house, get up Saturday morning and drive 6 hours to Liverpool on a party bus full Arsenal fanatics. There I will be surrounded by 5,000 people who I will feel like are my closest friends in the world and we will all watch, cheer, shout, and moan as Arsenal play Liverpool.

And Arsenal just beat Tottenham.

A Tottenham team that are the darlings of the press right now, despite the fact that they are wholly subsidized by Manchester City, and will certainly lose Modric and Adebayor in the Summer no matter where they finish on the table.

And Arsenal just took fourth place from Chelsea because they scored five goals and have a superior goals scored record than Chelsea.

A Chelsea team that buys luxury players like Fernando Torres for £50m and then sets him on the bench.

I honestly can’t think of a better send off to London than yesterday’s match. So while I’d love to be objective and talk about Theo’s first half or use the phrase “papering over the cacks” I just can’t. Maybe you’re the guy in all grey in this picture and you just can’t get too excited by what happened yesterday.  Me? I simply can’t hear you over the sound of how awesome my football team is right now.

Because this game? This 5-2 win over our old rivals?

This is what football is all about.

Qq