Arsenal TV Online free this Friday night, I’m in there

Friday Nights are Back!

Arsenal TV Online are giving away a free preview of their Friday night lineup this week and yours truly will be one of the guests!

Programming starts at 7pm GMT (Noon PST) with Arsenal Live where Dan Roebuck and Stewart Robson will give a preview of the Birmingham match along with some exclusive interviews of Arsene Wenger and some of the players. This is followed by a segment called Spotlight at 8pm and this week’s guest is Thomas Vermaelen. And finally, there’s the Fan’s Forum which runs from 8:15 to 10pm where you all can call in, text, or email your thoughts directly to the studio and have them answered by Tom Watt and his guests.

Tom will be calling meĀ  some time around 9pm GMT so make sure you stick around to hear whether I sound anything like Alan Davies’ impersonation from last week.

In the mean time…

Win a subscription to Arsenal TV Online!

If you’re not already a subscriber to Arsenal TV Online I highly recommend it: there is just so much great content there from exclusive pre- and post-match interviews with the Boss and the players, to video highlights from the games, to fun stuff like Games Night and the aforementioned Friday Night programming.

While you’re contemplating buying a subscription, Arsenal are offering several, 6 month subscriptions to Arsenal TV Online for me to give away. To enter all you need to do is send an email with the subject “ATVO CONTEST” to 7amkickoff@gmail.com with the answer to the following question in the body of the message:

How many goals has Thomas Vermaelen scored for Arsenal this season in all competitions?

All entries with the correct subject heading and answer will be numbered and put into the random number generator where several of you will win! So, get cracking.

Messi Hat-trick or Sloppi Defending?

I have some things brewing with the official dot com and there might be an announcement (plus a competition) later today. In the mean-time here’s the video of Lionel Messi scoring another league hat-trick and setting up the fourth with a foul in the box.

The last hat-trick was against Villareal and was by all measures an amazing display. This time he scores three against what looks like a pub team in nice uniforms. I mean, that first goal is just poor defending, the second goal is a flat-footed header by a guy who is 5’7″ (generous), and the third, ok, that third goal is frighteningly good but my point is that I’m not terrified by his latest goal scoring outburst (8 in 3 games) and especially not this one because the competition he’s playing against just isn’t that good.

Real Zaragosa is relegation fodder in a league where the gulf in class between the top two and everyone else is just plain crazy. Just look at goal differential; Real Madrid and Barcelona have combined for an amazing +102 goal differential. Barcelona’s goal differential alone (+50) is better than every other team in the league, combined. So, yes, he’s an amazing player, in top form, but when I see him score a flat-footed header after some schoolboy defending I’m hardly terrified.

Moreover, Barcelona let Zaragosa score on them, twice. If I’m a Barcelona supporter I would be happy that Messi turned them inside out but I’d be terrified that Arsenal have 16 different players who have scored for them this term in a League which is far, far superior.

Arsenal 2-0 West Ham; Redemption

Match Reports

Daily Fail: Gunners have the look of champions as they move into top gear

Independent: Denilson puts 10 men Arsenal top of the pile

The Fall

I’ve been complaining about the referees all season and frankly I’d grown tired of getting on them in the blog. In my match preview I intentionally left off the following rant about Atkinson:

Martin Atkinson is in charge of the match tomorrow and I’m very concerned. I don’t think he has an anti-Arsenal bias but I do have to question his overall ability after watching him in charge of the last Merseyside derby. This is the referee who somehow missed Fellaini’s stamp on Kyrgiakos despite the defender showing him the bloody stud marks and being close enough to judge that the Greek defender deserved a red card for a rash challenge. He also missed Pienaar’s retaliation on Mascherano’s knee which saw the midfielder’s shin guard torn off and proceeded to allow both players to kick everyone around them for the next 40 minutes until he finally sent Pienaar off after what seemed like his 20th foul or so.

I don’t think he’s a dirty ref and I know that the FA check their eyesight so that leaves me wondering if this referee is basically competent to be in charge of a Premier League? Let’s hope he proves me wrong.

He didn’t, he proved me completely right. He somehow handed out a red card for an offense which he didn’t see and didn’t consult with the linesman about (who called the foul). And then he just as amazingly managed to see Upson handle the ball, judged it to be deliberate, gave a penalty, and yet didn’t even show Upson a yellow card. To be clear, Upson handled the ball as it was on its way to Cesc who had a clear opportunity. That’s a stone cold yellow card.

I can’t think he’s a dirty ref and he can clearly see since he was able to see the hand ball so that leaves only one option; he’s a fucking nincompoop and shouldn’t be in charge of Premier League matches.

The English refs aren’t the worst in the world, that distinction goes to the MLS, but they are at a very low level of competence at the moment and I blame the Football Association. The FA are more interested in talking about “respect” than in actually earning it by training their referees in basic competence. It’s so obvious that even a caveman like Tony Pulis is publicly stating that they don’t want certain referees in charge of their matches.

The reality is that if Arsenal are going to win anything this year, they are going to have to do it in spite of the shit refereeing that the FA throw our way.

Expiation

Young teams have to overcome adversarial refereeing by just playing their game and taking their chances. I’ve seen this in every sport I have ever been a fan of and the team can either get over the line and win games in spite of the ref or they get blown up and the club starts over. If they start winning games despite the poor refereeing, then this magical thing happens where the refereeing starts going their way. I get the sense that this Arsenal team are on the verge of that.

Last year, the rotational fouling and deliberate targeting of Cesc would have set the team off-kilter and they would have spent the whole match worrying about the referee making the call they want. But this year, players like Eboue just kept driving into the West Ham defense and defied the defenders not to foul and the referee NOT to make the call. Arsenal ended the game with several good chances off that persistence by Eboue and Cesc.

Sometimes the referee isn’t the only opposition on the pitch, sometimes the fans can be just as hard on their own team. Take Eboue, after a series of shaky performances which culminated in a nightmare substitution against Wigan, some Arsenal fans booed him off the pitch. He could have closed up shop and demanded a transfer but instead he put his head down and worked hard, doing everything that the boss and the team asked of him.

Yesterday’s performance earned him plaudits from every corner. His dribbles were incisive, West Ham simply could not keep up with him and pretty much every time he had the ball resorted to simply fouling him.

Similar stories have cropped up all season with Song, for example, the target of the Wenger boo-boys at the start of the season. How many people wanted Wenger to buy Lorik Cana (I’m one!) because “Song just isn’t good enough?” Or Felipe Melo? Or any number of “big, commanding, defensive midfielders?” And how many of us are willing to admit that Song is world class after yesterday’s performance? He was strong in the midfield, hardly made a bad decision with the ball, is supremely confident at the moment, and when asked, played center back with aplomb.

You could say something similar about Denilson. When the lineups were announced everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, wondered why Diaby wasn’t getting the start? But I think that there might be something about Denilson against certain teams that Wenger likes. It’s almost like Denilson is playing a specialist position for Arsene: not quite holding midfielder, not quite box-to-box, not quite attacking midfielder. What the hell does he do? Well, he scored the opener, made a team leading 98% of his 81 passes, had 5 interceptions and worked his ass off when he was forced to take over the holding role for Song. I’ve looked at a lot of player ratings and he’s rated just above Vermaelen in yesterday’s game, which is strange. If Arshavin had scored and done all the work that Denilson did, he would have been man of the match hands down. Hell, if Arshavin had scored and went on the walkabout he was on yesterday many people would still rate him. So, I’m starting to wonder if maybe a lot of us haven’t gotten the Denilson thing a bit wrong. As long as he works hard I don’t know a single person who would get down on him.

And finally, there’s Almunia. You have to admit, he made a good save and his positioning was good for most of the match. I don’t think anyone’s ready to say that he’s “world class” but he has been in good form over these last two weeks and you have to wonder if he can’t turn a corner and be a solid keeper from here on out. At the very least, you all have to admit he helped win that game for us yesterday, something that many Gooners said he’ll never do.

The big question is, how many of these players have to come good before we all start to question whether we’ve got something fundamentally wrong? What happens if Silvestre plays his ass off next week? Will the world implode?

Redemption

No one is counting Arsenal out of the title race now and some are even calling yesterday’s performance “championship material.” Most of you already know that I’ve maintained from the start that this team would push for the title. So, I’m not surprised that we’re contenders. What I am surprised about is the way that we’re winning games and the fact that given our metric assload of injuries we’re still challenging. I think that speaks volumes of the manager, the captain, and all of the personnel in this club. There really is something special building in this team.

Can we win it? Realistically, we need United and Chelsea to drop points. United took care of Liverpool today and as I publish this Chelsea are on top of Blackburn but both teams have some tough fixtures ahead, at the very least when they play each other one of the two (hopefully both) will drop points. But the thing is I’m not worried about the club or our chances in any given game. Normally, the upcoming match against Birmingham would bring about at least a twinge of anxiety but I’m not nervous at all. We’ve won 6 in a row now and I see no reason why we can’t make it 7.