Category Archives: Tim in London

In which Arsene Wenger points to right field and calls for the homer

When Arsenal hired the former manager of Grampus Eight and Monaco, the Evening Standard replied “Arsene Who?” He showed them who and in his very first full season, this man whom no one knew lead the Arsenal to their first double since 1971.

In that season Arsenal fell on dark days. Losing 3-1 to Blackburn and falling behind Man U by 12 points. The press again said that the deficit was too much to make up and claimed that Arsenal’s title chances were done.

There were reports of dressing room discord and Wenger’s troubled older player, one Ian Wright, had been interviewed by police over allegations of abusing fans. Wenger also reportedly struggled with a “malaise” in the dressing room, underlined by the loss to Blackburn.

But Arsene and Arsenal defied the critics. They blew the doors off the statistics and after an immaculate run of form finished the season double champs.

It took Arsene another four years to repeat the double feat. In the interim the club sold off their star pupil Anelka and lost various other players to bigger clubs with Overmars and Petit leaving. And there were heartbreaking defeats to Galatassary and Liverpool in two cup finals.

People started to question the Arsenal. Were we a selling club? Did Wenger just build off the back line of Graham? What did this nerdy looking manager truly add to the team?

Again, Wenger showed the critics. He brought in Sol Campbel, Ljungberg, Henry, and Pires to pair with an already powerful midfielder in Vieira and a back line which featured Keown and Lauren. This would be his most dominant team of his career.

Ljungberg helped win the FA Cup with his goal over Chelsea. Shucking John Terry to the side in the process. Four days later, Arsenal won the League at Old Trafford, overcoming a cynical performance by Man U who clearly had no interest in playing football and simply went about kicking Arsenal all over the pitch.

The next season looked promising and they were in the midst of a 29 game unbeaten run when Wenger famously declared that his team could go an entire season unbeaten. So many people scoffed at the notion that scoffing became the norm for months on end.

It would eventually be Wayne Rooney who ended that unbeaten run, playing for Everton. And the the team would miss out on the League title late in the season after a loss to Leeds United. Viduka scored Leeds’ late winner and ever since then I hated Mark Viduka.

Little did we all know at the time, but that loss would spark one of the greatest achievements in Arsenal history. The consolation is that Ljungberg backed up his FA Cup winner from the previous season with another goal and gave Wenger his third FA Cup.

After that loss to Leeds, Arsenal would prove the doubters wrong. They went 49 games unbeaten* and fulfilled Wenger’s prediction that his team could go an entire season unbeaten. Such was the achievement that they built Arsenal a gold plated Premier League Trophy.

I say all this not to relive history for history’s sake but rather to point out that for Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, nothing is impossible. Yes, they lost 4-0 in Milan. A terrible night, which all but knocks Arsenal out of the Champions League. But once you get over the fact that Arsenal have nothing to lose then “going for it” makes sense. Which is why Arsenal are going to go for the five goal win and why Wenger is starting Robin van Persie tonight.

Just to underline the magnitude of the task: Arsenal need a 4-0 win to get to extra time and possibly penalties, a 5-1 win for Arsenal means that Milan go through on away goals, which means that if Milan score just a single goal Arsenal need to win 6-1 or better.This is why a 4-0 deficit has never been overcome in the Champions League.

Possibly the most contentious decision that the boss can make today is starting Robin van Persie. Best case scenario; Arsenal start him, he scores a hat trick and Arsenal go through on a 6-1 or 5-0 win. If Wenger starts Robin and Arsenal don’t go through then any injury to the player between now and 10 years from now will probably be blamed on his playing tonight.

Robin has scored 25 of Arsenal’s 55 goals. Robin is a player with a long history of injury and a team who are in the midst of a battle for fourth place which Wenger has said is also crucial for the team to achieve. There will be those who will say “if Robin gets hurt” then he will never play for Arsenal again because Arsenal won’t finish fourth and because Champions League football is that important.

As someone who has watched a lot of Serie A, I can confirm that Milan will target Robin van Persie with fascist precision. Van Bommel will kick van Persie tirelessly but watch also for the other midfielders to drop deep and deny the Arsenal captain any space. And by “deny space” I mean “kick ruthlessly”

Arsenal are also missing quite a number of central midfielders with just Song confirmed as 100% fit. I would expect then a change of shape for this Arsenal side.

One way to beat an Italian diamond midfield is… (dramatic pause, because I know how much some of you are going to be excited to hear this) is with a four-four-two. And Arsenal actually have the personnel to play a four-four-two!

With only two fit central mids, that’s exactly what I expect they will do. The defense is set, no tinkering there. But, in midfield you have options: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right wing and Gervinho on the left. That’s two tricky dribblers who attack well down the wings. In the striker role again you have options: Chamakh could play the number 9 with Robin right behind him in the 10 role. This would serve several purposes but mainly Chamakh would just be there to hold the ball up (taking kicks from the Milan midfield) with Robin the main play maker. Theo could also start on the right or be brought on late to help wear them down.

Stuart MacFarlane put a photo of the boss talking tactics to his team during training this week and that makes me think that the old dog has a trick up his sleeve. That and the fact that Wenger said that he could play “six strikers” today.

I guess in the end you could day that when Wenger says he’s going for it, he goes for it and I have no reason to not have faith. After all, this is the guy who once said that the impossible was possible and took a team to 49 games unbeaten.

Just like the apocryphal Babe Ruth pointing to right field, there’s Wenger up to bat, saying one last time. “It’s ok, I got this one.”

I’m just hoping for a cracking game. Anything more will be a dream of dreams.

*Until Wayne Rooney dived and Mike Riley awarded the dubious penalty

paddy

In which your intrepid reporter reverts to being a school girl

You would think that the virus I caught in Liverpool would have knocked me out but all totaled I got about 6 hours of sleep last night. Which wouldn’t be that bad, except it was sleep of the 30 minutes here, 2 hours there variety.

So now I’m jet-lagged, sleepy, and sick but at least I’m not hung over!

I did get a chance to meet up with my friend Les and get a pint at the Tollington last night. We watched the Tottenham v. Man U match which was hilarious. HILARIOUS. Those Spurs fans must be going absolutely ape-shit right on their blog(s) right now. They have gone from 10 points up on Arsenal to just 4 and… I’m going to save the gloating for a while… except the gloating I already have done.

You won’t believe me but on the way to the Tollington I did bump into Alex Song. He was taking a big bin-bag of stuff out of his Range Rover, right there on Holloway Road next to the tube station. I was kinda nervous and so all I could do was say “Alex Song!” and wave at him like a school girl. Then I asked him for a handshake and he kind of looked at me like I’m crazy.

I started feeling self-conscious about taking up his time and the two people he was with were staring at me so instead of taking his picture or something I just walked away.

DAMNIT. I’m such a blouse. Why didn’t I get him to let me take his picture? I just hope I didn’t give him this Liverpool flu ahead of the match tomorrow.

Anyway, I have to go somewhere and buy something for my daughter, whom I miss considerably at this point.

Check out the By the Numbers post over at Arseblog news. Match preview in the morning. Cheers!

Qq

Serenity now: insanity later

I was searching through Shakespeare’s concordance today for the term “destiny” or “destined” and something struck me: the word as used in his day was not some glorious outcome that people looked forward to but instead was a burden — something cosmic that crushed the aspirations of mortals.

Destiny was a tragic term.

In modern parlance destiny is something wonderful. “It’s our destiny to win the Champions League!” you will hear people say with glee in their voice. As if the gods give two fucks about the games we humans play.

And perhaps that’s just it. I will spare you the thousand word essay on how and when man decided that he was a god and instead will simply say that most folks who read my blog probably believe that we make our own destiny. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we believe we make our own destiny, with a smile from the gods.

Arsenal’s destiny, I’m guessing you feel, is something that they control. Sitting in fourth place they have but to win all 12 remaining games and fourth place is a lock. I would go a step further and say that if Arsenal win all of their remaining matches, then third place is a near lock, second place not impossible, and they even have a 4% chance of winning the League.

But it starts with a win on Saturday or more technically, it started with a win against Blackburn three matches ago. See, amid all the negativity, the worry about the FA Cup, the loss to AC Milan (whose pitch looks much better suddenly), Arsenal have quietly built a little head of steam in the Premier League with a three game win streak. Touch wood if you must, but the club seems to be in a decent run of League form at the moment.

Fourteen goals in three game and a 5-2 demolition of Tottenham is nothing to sneeze at.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have an unbeaten home record and are going to be buzzing from their League Cup win at Wembley last week. In fact, given our recent conquests and theirs, our away record and their home record, this is shaping up to be one hell of a contest.

We know that Kenny Dalglish is a throwback to the caveman days when football was football. Up until now, his philosophy has been defense first and that shows in Liverpool’s Anfield record which while unbeaten is a poor 4-8-0. Boos even rained down on King Kenny when Tottenham came to town and battled to a 0-0 draw.  It was the second consecutive 0-0 draw at home and the natives were restless.

I don’t think 0-0 is in the cards but I do expect that Kenny will be very conservative against Arsenal — especially if he’s missing Gerrard as the papers seem to think he will. He will have seen what Theo Walcott does when teams give him space and will no doubt roll out the two banks of four, sit deep, and hope that Suarez can scoop another offiside goal on a counter attack.

Charlie Adam and Craig Bellamy are two of the most despicable characters in football. I expect them to start and to kick Arsenal’s midfield all over the place. Adam in particular is a dirty player who has miraculously managed to avoid several red cards this season. He will target Ramsey or Rosicky in the attacking midfield role with late tackles which will be followed by “hey, I’m not that kind of guy” gestures.

Who Arsenal will start in midfield is anyone’s guess but I’d be tempted to play the exact same team that beat Tottenham. They hunted in packs in the midfield and pressed very well when Tottenham had the ball deep which limited Tottenham’s ability to lump the ball forward to Adebayor. Liverpool will be looking to do the same with Mandy Carroll up front and their long ball specialists at the back so that same type of pressing effort is a must for all 90 minutes if Arsenal want a result.

Which is a major theme this season. Can Arsenal follow up an emotional, gut-busting performance with another emotional, gut-busting performance or will we have another Arsenal 0-0 Marseille? Remember, that performance followed Arsenal’s triumph over Chelsea and to say that we looked lackluster is an understatement. We don’t have the luxury of home field advantage this time, giving their all for the full 90 is the least us away fans deserve.*

It’s our destiny!

My destiny is to get on a plane tonight. That plane will land in London tomorrow. I will meet up with a pack of insane Gooners and have dinner and drinks. Then I will sleep on a man’s couch.

I will awake at 5am GMT and we will embark on our Anfield adventure. I will get in a coach and will be driven to Liverpool with madness wafting from every window. Six hours later, we will disembark and watch a football match, in the away end of Anfield. The return trip will be another six hours: this time of either drowning our sorrows or insane jubilation. There will be no in-between.

More drinks, more food, possibly vomiting all the while I am simply hoping I  survive this Scouser safari.

Somewhere in there, I have to find the time to write. If nothing more than a few words.

So, if sentences arrive that describe scenes of mugwumps, talking assholes, and typewriters as secret agents you know that I’ve either gone off the deep end or that Naked Lunch wasn’t a piece of fiction, but rather a documentary.

Strange things are happening at the club. Not quite talking typewriters but Lady Nina has been crowned “honorary vice-president”. A role which holds no authority, doesn’t change the structure of the board, and was awarded to recognize her contributions to the club but only in the context of her Father in-law’s contributions and his father’s contributions.

Given that news, anything is possible. Even my computer turning into a mugwump.

Tomorrow morning’s post will be by Grimbo. I hope to have a pictures post later today as the flickr group is really doing well and I want to build on that momentum as well. Then I hope to have something to say on Friday or perhaps Saturday, when I am insanely drunk.

Right now, I have to eat breakfast and see a man about a suitcase. Hopefully the suitcase doesn’t have legs in it.

That is my destiny.

Qq

*heh.