Category Archives: Chary

Man at the match, Chary: Arsenal’s season distilled

Those hoping for a rousing send off by the team for our last home game found themselves sorely disappointed by half time.

Typically, by then, Arsenal had three shots on target and zero goals, while Villa had two shots on target and two goals. Now if that doesn’t sum up our defensive frailties and our lack of striking efficiency in one 45 minutes segment of play nothing will.

A crazy first twenty minutes of defensive tomfoolery let a chipped pass to an unmarked Darren Bent tap in for a goal preceding another where a Vermaelen slip let a pass across the box arrive at his feet again and he duly converted and repeated his rather muted goal celebration, perhaps (and I have this on good authority, an acquaintance of his mother’s) because he is a gooner.  

Wind backwards to a couple of hours before kick-off and your humble scribe wandered to the starting point of the “You are my Arsenal” procession in Blackstock road where a handful of police and a film crew were stationed.

The mood of the assembled crowd there was just like that of any other pre match crowd in the vicinity of the Grove however the occasional chant of “We want our Arsenal back” was proof of simmering discontent as well as a smattering of supporters in their colours of yellow and black.  

Police-Marchers face off


View from the marchers side

View from the marchers side

According to the press release from the organisers the march was due to leave at 3pm however they left ten minutes early, for reasons unclear.

At that point I was at my regular pre match watering hole a few hundred yards up the road and to my dismay I saw the march stream off early and, as far as I could tell, in relative quiet. There were certainly no chants of “Wenger out” from the crowd, which I estimated from my vantage point to be around two or three hundred at least.

As I took my seat in the North Bank lower tier ten minutes before kick off the atmosphere was one of nervousness and as Elvis struck up a red headed girl in front of me held her black scarf above her head to show her allegiance to the demonstrators I’d seen earlier.

Our team started as they normally do with the usual suspects looking good (Jack and Robin) but our defence barely communicating each other even with Vermealen back, who is one of our more vocal defenders. 

Even after the second goal went in our back four hardly spoke, normally when a goal is conceded the back four would at least ask questions amongst themselves as to who was at fault and how to rectify the error, here the space afforded to Darren Bent.

Large gaps between CB's

Large gaps between CB's

The north bank lower tier could see what Bent was asking for “Float the diagonal ball over to me” – a tactic which our back line couldn’t counteract.

Once we went two behind a dose of urgency did enter our play and even from my distant view point the barge on Ramsey in the Villa area was as blatant a penalty as ever yet the referee was happy with the challenge and another recurring feature of Arsenal home games – ”The anti-Homer” referee – showed itself, namely the one who makes a conscious effort to favour the away side.

Sadly on the half time whistle a chorus of boos rang out, although it could be said the crowd were angry at the referee for his decision rather than the lackadaisical performance by our defence and attack, or even a mixture of the two.

One of the weaknesses many have seen in Wenger’s match day tactics is the reluctance to make early, decisive changes when things aren’t working and the half time substitution of Squillaci (who was being jeered by the home support for his granting of space for Bent) for Chamakh was a sign that Wenger thought the efforts made by the team in the first half were wanting.

The second half did see the crowd encouraged by Arsenal’s attacking play having a bit more bite and our forwards being more likely to shoot with the introduction of Bendtner for Arshavin (who tried hard but was having no luck), of course greeted by more jeers. To my eyes Bendtner did seem to drive forward more than our team had been earlier and we all thought Chamakh had pulled a goal back, until the anti-homer effect from the referee of a fair challenge by our number 29 being deemed a foul worthy enough to rule out the goal.

Prior to that Robin hit the post, as he seems contractually bound to in every match. Just to compound the injustice Bendtner was booked for showing frustration at the disallowed goal. 

To further rub salt into the wound Petrov should have been given a second yellow a few minutes before he was subbed and received only a talking to after another foul, on Theo if my memory/sight is correct.

Collision in Villa box

Collision in Villa box

Another cross into Villa box

Another cross into Villa box

From the moment the first goal went in the Villa fans were bouncing all the time, celebrating their lead and when Robin finally got his 20th of the season for a few minutes at least they were motionless.

Luckily for them all it took was a bit more time wasting from their defenders (in feigning injury to use up the time) and Brad Friedel (taking slow motion goal kicks) and the four minutes of injury time soon went and their joy at gaining three points at our expense segued into jeers and cat calls from the home crowd. Numerous calls of “Six per cent, you’re having a laugh” were shouted at the director’s boxes as the Arsenal bench sat motionless and stoney faced.

There was still booing when the players came out for the lap of appreciation and they first came over to where I was; luckily the “We love you Arsenal, we do” singing drowned out the booing and the lap went ahead without any of the ugliness I thought may have happened after a home defeat. 

Lap after full time

Lap after full time

Both Cesc and Wenger had faces that showed their disappointment however I take it as a good sign that Cesc did NOT wave (as in goodbye) to the crowd but Bendtner threw his shirt into the crowd, perhaps good news for his detractors if they read that as a sign of his imminent departure.

Cesc and others applaud crowd

Cesc and others applaud crowd

B52 sans shirt

B52 sans shirt

At the moment the dissenting voices, while in the minority, are vociferous and if the significant changes which virtually every other supporter you talk to says are needed don’t happen, then these dissenters will become more numerous and, it may be argued, they have good reason to gather other supporters into their fold.

A chilling thought as I hurried into the underground station on Gillespie Road a few hours after the final whistle and felt a similarly chilling wind whip up. 

Charybdis1966.

Man at the match, Chary: Ah nuts, another home nil nil

As the sun set over North London at full time the Arsenal supporters still in Ashburton Grove at the final whistle had a moment to ponder if the sun had set on Arsenal’s title aspirations also.

The optimism of having four first choice players available again (Cesc, Robin, Theo and Song) to play against a distinctly ordinary Blackburn team, that had lost nine out of their last ten away games, suggested there should have been an upbeat atmosphere in the ground, despite (yet) another referee assisted ManUre comeback earlier in the day.

Following an emotional tribute to Rocky Rocastle the match kicked off and as ever Arsenal started brightly with Arshavin exposing Salgado on our left flank and getting a rousing cheer when he tracked back to block a cross on one of the rare times Blackburn were not pinned back on that side. Where I was sitting, at the corner of the North Bank and the East Stand, the Russian’s efforts going forward and in defence were well appreciated.

First half action near dug outs

First half action near dug outs

In a similar vein Kozzer made a number of headed clearances that went down well with the crowd, our aerial defensive capabilities were one area we expected to be tested on however that didn’t seem to occur to the extent that was anticipated.

The chicken-sponsored away team’s tactics were little changed from the days of Fat Sam and we had the expected banks of defensive players sitting very deep and with the attacking tactics limited to the ex-Spud Robinson being the chief goal assister (and time waster – but rest assured you’re humble scribe was in a position to scream expletive laden abuse at him whenever he came near my corner to take his slo-mo goal kicks) with his goal kicks and free kicks being Blackburn’s sole hope of scoring.

Robust tackles were the order of the day as were elbows leaning into headers as Wilshere and Nasri could attest to, Samir’s Terry Butcher sized head bandage masking a huge bump on the head, as was customary the in-stadium big screens didn’t show the replay leading to the head injury as it was deemed too controversial.

It would be unfair to say that Blackburn didn’t threaten at all, in fact a shot exposed Almunia who misjudged the flight of the ball and appeared to scoop it past the post when he was trying to gather it. They would have moments of possession in our half, however these were fleeting and the lack of quality in their final ball showed just how poorly they operate as an attacking unit.

Jack is by now used to being kicked from pillar to post, be it playing in friendly internationals as he was earlier this week, or when donning the red and white.

When play was stopped for an injury to Jack the drop ball restart was very unsportingly contested by Blackburn, can you imagine the outrage were the situations reversed?

From my vantage point I could see that no matter how many crosses or balls in wide came from either side we seemed to lack a presence in the box to either get on the end of the crosses and convert/make chances to shoot.

Theo was being double teamed pretty much all of the time, Nasri became slightly subdued after his head injury, Alex Dmitri looked decidedly rusty and Robin was isolated; Cesc was clearly not fit enough to start.

One wag a few rows back from me had brought an Arsenal min-flag (a memento of that ill-fated Champions League quarter final with ManUre a few seasons back) which he pointed like a linesman would do on one of those rare occasions Blackburn passed forward and found one of their outfield players actually in our half; “I’m here to help” he shouted when the lino raised his flag in the same way a few seconds after he did.

The end of the first half approached and we continued to bombard the Blackburn penalty area but could find no way past the 8-1-1 formation that Fat Sam’s successor was employing and for that we should look at our team for not being able to breach the oppositions defences as the opposition are fully entitled to use whatever formation and strategy they like.

At half time Bob Wilson cycled round the perimeter of the pitch to publicise his sponsored bike ride in aid of his cancer charity for young Adults – “The Willow Foundation.”

Bob Wilson half time lap

Bob Wilson half time lap

With Arsenal now attacking my end I got to see a lot more of Sagna’s charges up field and a number of times he would cross and no one would be in the danger zone to latch onto them however a flurry of corners would result, sadly a lot of these were before our two best players in the air (Bendy and Chamakh) were brought on.

Robin prepares to take a corner

Robin prepares to take a corner

Robin-Nasri set up corner

Robin-Nasri set up corner

The introduction of Cesc for Arshavin should have allowed us to find more probing passes and hence carve out more openings; again it seemed Cesc’s lack of match fitness meant our attacks were more deliberate and ponderous than usual by which time the Chicken farmer’s team 8-1-1 could come into play.

This 8-1-1 became 8-1-0 when N’zonzi was given a straight red for what I later found out to be a two footed lunge on Kozzer, being at pitch level I couldn’t really gauge the severity of the challenge and those around me were slightly surprised to see a red being brandished, especially considering who the referee was.

Sagna continued to run past me and put in crosses, when one cannoned off a defender and failed to reach Bendy he admonished the full back and an unseemly little episode of bickering ensued, “Come on lads, don’t fight amongst yourselves” I thought at the time.

Sagna sends in another cross

Sagna sends in another cross

Cesc was then stupidly called for a foul when a defender was trying to keep the ball in the corner flag and yet all our number four was trying to do was to get back possession, he walked away with his head bowed as he realised time was almost up.

Cesc after time's almost up

Cesc after time's almost up

I saw only two players bother to applaud the home support on the final whistle, Bendy and Jack; gestures like this mean a lot to the fans who stay till the end however the booing heard elsewhere in the ground then was less than edifying.

Man at the match, Chary: Arsenal suffocated by Wearsiders

Would a well-established top 4 club celebrate a draw as if they had won the Premier League Championship, Champions League and FA Cup all rolled into one?

If proof were ever needed of the relative sizes of the two clubs playing in front of me today, it was provided by the jubilant celebrations of the Sunderland fans at the opposite end of the ground on the final whistle. As I was behind the goal at the North Bank, thankfully, little of their singing could be made out due to their distance from me and the unintelligibility of the northern dialect of the Sunderland fans.

The match preparation for your humble scribe could have been better, for one reason and another the was no time for the leisurely imbibing of a number of “pre match lager relaxers,” more like a frantic necking of a couple of bottles to settle the nerves. The defeat at the bus stop in Fulham on Wednesday meant we had a chance to apply pressure on the evil empire of Old Cow Paddock, hence the slightly tense atmosphere around the stands from the start.

The jumbo Arsenal flag pre kick off

The jumbo Arsenal flag pre kick off

The skies were a gun-metal grey above Ashburton Grove and the temperature slightly cooler than is expected for early March with a drizzle threatening to break out at any moment.

The loudest cheer when the team was being read out was naturally reserved for young Aaron and rightly so, many were hoping for an appearance from him at some stage.

With the standard back five, sans Vermaelen, the midfield gave me a little cause for concern – not just because of the inclusion of Denilson, but the deployment of Nasri, the closest thing we have to a midfield creator in Cesc’s absence, on the wings. Jack, Denilson and Diaby made up the trio in the middle three, with the front three being Bendy (up top), Arshavin (wide left) and the aforementioned Nasri (wide right) seeming a tad lopsided and reliant on Diaby having one of those days where he has a good game. Fairly quickly it became obvious today was not “one of those days” as he misplaced several passes and seemed to lack the confidence to drive forward or take the initiative in attacking, preferring to pass the responsibility onto a team mate.

While the north bank can have the best atmosphere when the team is on top, a natural adjunct of the fervour in support there is the tendency to carp at players when attacking moves break down. Not only was Diaby singled out for treatment but the hostility shown towards Denilson, admittedly not one of my favourite players, was undermining not just to him but the team as a whole – for example when Arshavin had cleared out a ball from defence after a rare Sunderland corner Denilson was being tracked by a Sunderland midfielder as he ran towards our goal to receive it so he had to pass to Clichy, who failed to anticipate it and a corner was conceded.

The crowd reaction could not have been more hostile if it was Adebayor defending a corner at that point and I could see Denilson visibly shrink. If he was having a bad game at that point the only way was down from then onwards. Just what the team need.

Nasri was also clearly unhappy with his position on the wings as there seemed a lot of off the ball annoyance at the way the game was passing the Arsenal midfield by coming from the skipper on the day.

According to this humble scribe Jack was carrying Diaby (and Denilson to an extent), as without his efforts the Arsenal midfield was being pulled apart, his defensive abilities were badly needed today in the absence of Song.

It would be fair to say also that while some may view Bendtner as a legend in his own underpants, in the first half he led the line well.

Diaby showed just how little he resembled Vieira in his style of midfield play and without Cesc to orchestrate the play it appeared that Jack was having to do it all on his own.

After Sunderland had started with attacking intent, pressing and harrying us in a robust but largely fair way, the game drifted into a pattern of Arsenal having possession and Sunderland falling back into the role of nullifiers and as time wore on they decided to find out at what point energetic challenges could be deemed fouls.

During the first half the referee was unnoticed by many. However, as the second half started it became obvious as the tackles were flying in that the Ex-ManUre Sunderland manager (S Bruce) had obviously decided to target Jack, who became the target of numerous niggly and painful fouls.

At one point he had been taken out by Bramble and whilst clutching his ankle and lying on the floor Arsenal kept possession and had to wait for him to hobble back onside before continuing the attack.

Another message that must have been transmitted at half time was to the referee and that was he was not going to be the League Referees winner of the most unpopular referee at Ashburton Grove for the 2010-2011 season (sponsored by Lord Fergie) so he’d better be the type of referee I’ve seen for almost every match I’d ever witnessed. The type who will allow lots of free kick worthy fouls by the away team to go unpunished by while lesser first time fouls are deemed worthy of yellow cards for Arsenal. After being kicked from pillar to post Jacks first show of dissent produced a yellow card as it did for Nasri, who merely stood his ground, again a first infringement.

How Jordan Henderson escaped a yellow till almost an hour was up I’ll never know or their goalie who’s blatant time wasting from 70 minutes onwards was not even disguised.

To my eyes the only Arsenal player likely to produce a goal, at least until Nasri moved more central once Denilson was substituted (to ironic cheering as he went off – way to support your team guys), was Andrey who as usual sowed his superior ball retention skills and ability to drive the attack forward.

The change in attitude by the officials most visibly showed when Arshavin had the ball in the net, a neat one two and Arshavin rounded the keeper and slotted home, and it was called off side.

The ecstasy that was cut short by the offside call was replaced by murmurings of outrage when news went round the stands that it was a yard onside, according to supporters in the stand following the match by text commentary.

Similarly, when Arshavin ran towards the goal in front of me, whilst being barged by Bramble all the time as he went into penalty area it seemed to me he was knocked off the ball.

Cue the outrage at a denied penalty. Arshavin never removes doubt in a referees mind by making the most of contact in the penalty area, in fact he tries to minimise his chances for a penalty by trying to stay on his feet.
Now can you imagine the Shrek freak of Old Toilet doing that? The same one who falls down BEFORE contact is made in order to win Lord Fergie’s team a penalty?

You can almost imagine the stupid looking grin stretched over his Shrek face as he picks himself up, as if he’s just been given relief by his sex worker of pensionable age for the day, having got exactly the sort of PK Lord Fergie is used to getting, but hates being on the receiving end of.

Bendy and Titus Bumble

Bendy and Titus Bumble

Is that really 10 yards back?

Is that really 10 yards back?

Despite a late Chamakh inspired spell of pressure the final whistle spelt two points dropped and the team trooped off disconsolately although it was good to see Jack clap all four corners of the ground before he was the last to leave the pitch.

Dejection at the final whistle

Dejection at the final whistle

I didn’t notice any other players acknowledge the crowd much, apart from Chamakh (albeit briefly) and all eyes are on Anfield tomorrow to see just how costly today’s failure to win will turn out to be.

Expect the title race to take a few more unexpected turns but, for now, gird your loins for the remaining games fellow gooners and get behind your team.