A Pair of DD’s: a Dour Draw and David Dein

Eboue comes down with another of his mystery injuries.

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Arsenal’s title bid suffers fatal blow

Telegraph: Arsenal bereft of ideas as West Ham’s run continues

Quote of the day

We will finish above Aston Villa. I’ve nothing against O’Neill. But you ask me who will be Manager of the Year and you have to wait until the end of the year. Villa have played well until now. But you judge a marathon at the end. No one remembers who was leading after 20 miles. — Arsene Wenger, at the Friday press conference assuring everyone of Arsenal’s quality.

The Valtrex

Glossing over an obviously flawed Arsenal squad, Diaby had his best game in the center of the park. He wasn’t a revelation or anything, but on a day when too few Arsenal players had anything to say about a stolid West Ham squad he did at least look lively in the middle of the park. Of course yesterday’s performance only hides the symptoms of this flailing Arsenal team and his stupid yellow card in the 23rd minute means that he will be suspended for the upcoming Spurs match; leaving a barren midfield bereft of one of their “best” players.

The clean sheet Arsenal kept also sort of glossed over the underlying problems on this team. West Ham was content sitting back the whole game and only foraged forward occasionally. So pardon me if I don’t get too excited by a team that kept a clean sheet off the opposition’s 2 (two) whole shots. Not shots on goal, TOTAL SHOTS.

But since there wasn’t much else to celebrate… yippie! a clean sheet!

The Genital Outbreak

It was hugely frustrating to sit there and watch as Villa get a draw, Wenger’s words about them dropping points ringing in my ears, and see the performance that some of these players put in.  I’m sorry, but far from championship quality (we saw that later in the day as ManU held Everton to a 1-0 win) Arsenal look a lot like their closest rivals, Villa. We’re going to have to hope for them to crack and for us to suddenly warm up if there’s any hope of us taking 4th this season.

Vela got a chance to come on and show what he’s made of when Arsenal’s clown (Eboue) when down with some injury that he’s no doubt already recovered from. Vela started well but I think we saw yesterday why Wenger doesn’t play him more; he’s too easy to nudge off the ball.

When Wenger brought Vela on he sort of pushed Bendtner wide, or at least that’s what everyone is saying. I didn’t see it that way, Bendtner was playing as a third striker since he never tracked back to play defense. In fact, according to his heat map, he basically never left the right corner of the pitch.

Not that Bendtner could have tracked back to play defense –  as the Liverpool supporter watching the game said “he’s garbage.” He’s not garbage, but neither is he a quality starting striker on a team pushing for a trophy.

Which makes me wonder why Bendtner got the start over van Persie? We’re not privy to the fitness tests that happen prior to the game nor am I in anywhere near the same league of intellect as Arsene Wenger, so I must assume that Wenger had a good reason for sitting the only player on this Arsenal team who A) seems to give two f*cks and B) has scored and created every single goal in the month of January for Arsenal.

As long as we start Bendtner and Adebayor as our strikers, we deserve a 0-0 draw.

Man, You Got Herpes on Your Face

In a lot of ways Adebayor epitomizes this Arsenal team. He’s hugely talented, having scored 11 goals and gotten 6 assists in all competitions this season. He’s also very important for the heart of the team, I’ve seen him be the only player on the pitch who even tries to win a game. So, it’s insanely frustrating to see him put in the performances he’s put in this week. In short, he’s inconsistent.

Yesterday he exhibited all the qualities that his detractors love to harp on; he was lazy and wasteful. Maybe he’s tired? I don’t know, I do know that all the goals he’s scored this season have been against bottom clubs. Far from “terrifying defenses” as he did last year, top clubs are handling him very well.

I wonder if a week off might not re-energize him and put some fire in his belly?

Conclusion

After the match, Arsene said

We lacked some creativity in the final third, the final pass and from some set pieces. They were very strong in defence I must say with James Collins and Matthew Upson and that’s why we couldn’t score.

I can’t fault the spirit but I believe as well that we lost a bit of sharpness from playing on Sunday at Cardiff, on Wednesday a very physical game at Everton and maybe that was why we lacked a bit of sharpness to score.

Yes, exactly why Arsenal should have signed 2 players in the break: to give us some sharpness, rest players who need it, and add creativity in the final third.

I am worried though since I think that Arsenal might not sign anyone. Not that we will miss out on 4th place, I think 4th place is well within grasps if Arsenal start ticking over. No, more worried that we might do something stupid, like rush Cesc, Eduardo, Theo, or Rosicky back and see one of them suffer an even more serious injury.

Whether we buy Arshavin or not (or even something more surprising like Alonso or Arteta) by-and-large Arsene needs to get the squad we currently have up for these games against our “lesser” opponents and, judging by the lackluster performance of Adebayor, he’s not doing his job. Come on Arsene, lets get the club back playing beautiful football, scoring goals, and striking terror in the hearts of our opponents, you can do it!

And finally, like a bad case of herpes, we had a David Dein outbreak yesterday as well. He doesn’t actually call for Arsenal to be sold to some billionaire but that’s exactly how all the headlines read and what we’ve all come to expect. Let me put this out before it becomes a house on fire: the reason this team is not buying is not down to lack of funds, it is down to lack of will on the part of the manager.

You might not like to hear that, but that’s the facts as far as I can discern them. With cash reserves currently at £93m (and only set to grow as our current Champions League campaign unfolds) the decision on whether or not to buy a player is not about a lack of funds. Hell, with those cash reserves, with our history, and with Arsene Wenger as boss Arsenal could have any player on the planet right now if they wanted him.

So, no sheik with tons of money, false hopes, and a copy of Football Manager in his back pocket is going to change Arsene Wenger. Well, actually, he would change Arsene Wenger; he’d have to get rid of him in order to build his little dream team. Because from what I can tell, Wenger is committed to this youth team project.

Besides, as I’ve argued here extensively, it’s not like the Chelsea/Liverpool model has produced much of a sustained challenge to Man U’s utter dominance either. Sure, Chelsea spent insane amounts of money to win 4 trophies and now look at them; uncertain about the future of the club as the owner looks to be backing out, stuck with bloated wages, aging stars, no youth prospects, and half a billion pounds of debt. I feel very strongly that this is Chelsea’s last year as an oligarch’s dream team.

So I say no to a sugar daddy: what this team needs is just a little more balance on the pitch, not a bigger balance in the bank.

If the house is burning Song will put it out.

I can't watch

If I ask you ‘what does it mean if your house burns down?’ you will tell me ‘why should my house burn down?’ That is exactly the same for me. — Arsene Wenger on why losing 4th place isn’t a big deal.

I would say it was an incredible presser, but in a season of eye-popping incredulity it was not just simply incredible, it was a ludicrous presser. He actually stunned the press with that statement above and for good reason. Here is a man who has been at the top of everything he’s ever done, brushing off the obvious threat of Aston Villa with a statement that defies logic.

If someone asks me “What does it mean if your house burns down” I respond with “Well hopefully everyone gets out, which is why I have fully functioning smoke alarms in many rooms, and once everyone gets out, I call my insurance agent and make a claim. That’s why we have insurance.”

Insurance.

The one thing Wenger forgot to sign up for this summer while he was hemming and hawing over signing a broken Man U center half and a child king from Wales.

But worse, it’s not a question of IF the house should burn down, it’s a question of “Hey dude, your house, I think it’s on fire. There’s a ton of smoke coming out of the kitchen.” and Wenger saying “Hmm… I don’t think so, besides, the timbers are very good they need some time to mature and they will be able to withstand a little fire. Plus that smoke is probably just William.”

“Well, ok, but where there’s smoke…”

I’m all for standing by your team and that’s no doubt what he’s doing — he could hardly come out in January and say “well, yes, that Summer transfer window was a huge mistake, we took a major gamble on Song and Diaby and they turned out to be just a little bit shit, didn’t they?” slap, huzzah, guffaw — but when the house is 2/3 burning don’t bullshit us all and say that everything is ok.

Especially when the facts all indicate that you know that everything wasn’t all right. Why else would they bid for Alonso? There is no more damning evidence that even Wenger himself knew this was a huge gamble than Arsenal’s failed summer bid for Xavi Alonso. I mean, he made a bid for a central midfielder back when we had Cesc, Theo, Diaby, Denilson, Nasri, Eboue (remember how he played in the center of the park? THAT WAS A HOOT!) and Song was still playing center back.

I find it more likely that he’s passed the rule over a few players in this transfer window, he did admit that they made inquiries, and found either the price too steep or the player not interested. So, he’s making shit up now. Too bad he’s such a poor story teller.

He also made denials about whether we’re on the verge of signing Arshavin from Champion racists Zenit but then said that supposedly we’ll know if Arshavin is signing for Arsenal here in just a few minutes (it’s nearly kickoff of the Arsenal v. Wet Ham match). I can’t wait for this whole transfer window to be closed. Just so that I don’t have to hear another preposterous proclamation fall out of Wenger’s mouth.

Match report tomorrow, see you then, unless you’re with me at Doyle’s today! In which case I’ll see you then.

Double check your smoke detectors will ya?

Will they fear us if we get Arshavin?

yawn

A West Ham team that is brimming with confidence  having dispatched 6 of their last 7 opponents comes in to the Emirates stadium to face an Arsenal team brimming with false hope after eeking out a 9 game unbeaten run.

It’s almost amazing to think that the team have remained unbeaten for 9 matches and on its face it’s a pretty good run of form and should see Arsenal gaining confidence. But these aren’t the awe inspiring games that we’re seeing from our rivals for the Champions League spot; a 0-0 draw to Cardiff is hardly the stuff of legends. In fact, closer inspection sees that Manchester United haven’t conceded a goal since Arsenal beat them 2-1 in November and Villa have taken all 12 points in their last 4 matches. So, you’ll forgive me if I have to have a laugh when Diaby proclaims the title race is within grasp or Nasri says that all we have to do is “keep winning without leaking goals” and we’ll be right back in it. No. You have to make opponents like West Ham tremble at the thought of traveling to your stadium, then you can start talking about winning the title.

West Ham, for their part, are playing some very good football and pundits are claiming they won’t have anything to fear from Arsenal tomorrow. No one is saying that Arsenal aren’t a talented side, or that there isn’t a threat that Arsenal will start clicking and destroy teams like West Ham; rather that right now, every team in the EPL looks at our past performances and has to be licking their chops to come here and “pull a Hull.”

Ultimately, I’m not going to say it’s a crucial game because, frankly, it looks like the board and the team have thrown in the towel on even achieving 4th place. When you see the board sitting on £90m in cash reserves and not strengthening the squad when it is plain for everyone to see that the squad needs strengthening there’s a disconnect and Peter Hill-Wood revealed exactly what that disconnect is yesterday. As it turns out, the club (payroll, transfers, etc.) is being run as if we didn’t earn £30m a year in Champions League money.

There is no denying that it would be a real financial drain on the club if we didn’t qualify for the Champions League next season. Even if we were in the Uefa Cup and enjoyed a long run in Europe, that would not come close to making up the shortfall.

But although missing out on the Champions League for one year would be a big disappointment, it would not mean financial Armageddon for Arsenal. When we worked out the budget, and did our fund-raising calculations in respect of the new stadium, we did not assume we were going to be in the Champions League every season. That may be an assumption at other clubs, and it’s not for me to comment on the way they are run, but we did not want to get out of our depth in terms of paying our bills. So although it would certainly hurt us in the pocket to finish outside the top four, it would not be a huge shock to the club’s finances. (Emphasis added.)

Suddenly everything makes sense. We’re running the club as if we are West Ham, not as if we are a top four club. No wonder no one fears Arsenal: they are fielding a team, with but maybe three exceptions, is a mid-level squad. You could say that in a sense, we’re punching above our weight, up there in 5th place. We bought a mid-table squad and are nearly up in the Champions League, impressive.

What isn’t impressive is that we’re already seeing some fallout from Arsenal’s failure to re-invest in the team with Robin van Persie reportedly refusing to sign a contract extension unless Arsenal win 4th place. You need look no further than that fact to see why the Arsenal business plan was severely flawed. Because, while it’s a good idea to practice fiscal austerity and Arsenal seem to have that down pat, hell, they could probably last 10 years as a mid-level team in the EPL with the £90m (which will probably be like £110m after this season is done) they have stashed under the mattress, it’s a terrible idea not to re-invest in your company while all of your competitors are growing around you. Already the Arsenal brand has seen some of the shine come off which means less shirt sales and even though they may “sell out” every game due to counting ticket sales rather than the turnstiles, people are already not attending matches, which means less concessions, etc. I’m not suggesting that Arsenal should have spent all £90m on transfers, but some prudent re-investment was clearly necessary as our slump in sales, and slump in performance on the pitch certainly shows.

Where would Arsenal be right now without Robin van Persie? Shudder to think, eh? The thought of losing van Persie might explain why the team seems to be increasing their price in the Zenit deal to get Arshavin on the pitch — going so far as landing the Russian a work permit already. With Wenger stating that the club are going to know before kickoff tomorrow we should finally have an end to this saga one way or another.

The problem is that Arshavin is, in my mind, too little, too late. While undoubtedly a quality player, and certain to add some goals, he’s lacking match fitness right now and still doesn’t solve the problem of Arsenal’s porous defense. In the end, Arshavin won’t be the man to make teams like West Ham fear us again. That’s going to take a whole lot more than just one wing player can deliver, which means prying open the coffers. Unless, of course, they have thrown in the towel on this season.

It sure looks like it to me. Which is a real shame.

Right, so a 7am kickoff tomorrow, the match is live on Setanta, and I will be at Doyle’s. See you there?