Arsenal v. Blackburn; return of the pantomime villains

Pascal Chimbonda counts his IQ. Hey Sam, got any gum? How many roads must a man walk down?

It was once said that Fat Sam had Arsenal’s number. That any Sam Allardyce led team knew exactly where and when to kick every one of Arsenal’s “princesses” and disrupt their game. There was a time when that was true but not any more.

Last season Arsenal dismantled Sam Allardyce’s “defensive” teams 4-0, twice.  The year before that, when Allardyce was manager of relegation bound Newcastle, it was a 2-0 win. In fact, you have to go back to November 2006 to find the last time that any Sam Allardyce led team beat Arsenal, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of an Anelka brace. Look at that match report and you’ll see some strange names like “Lehmann” and “Ljungberg” and some cat named “Gilberto” but there’s one name who has been a constant for any Sam Allardyce led team and his name is there too: El Hadji Douche.

I wrote about this last season, after we beat them 4-0, and given his latest outrages it stands as much today as it ever has, how much longer must the EPL suffer this insufferable prick? If you remember, Diouf tried to break Almunia’s ankle (video link) last year and only gathered a yellow. The year before, Diouf tried to break Arbeloa’s leg, with the same result, a mere yellow card. And of course, Diouf is a convicted spitter and an admitted cheat in pretty much every aspect of the game. What does this guy have to do to get banned from the league?

Given his history with Arsenal, Diouf will get a lot of stick from the home supporters on Sunday and will almost certainly react in the way that he always has: by cheating. My hope is that Sunday’s referee, Peter Walton, who has doled out 12 yellows and no reds in his 4 matches so far, takes a grim view of Diouf and the rest of Blackburn’s antics and gets the cards out early and often.  Lest we forget, Morten Gamst Pederson isn’t above an absolutely disgraceful dive (video) when playing against Arsenal either.

I am taking pains to highlight Blackburn’s disgraceful, cheating, conduct but only in hopes that the word gets back to Peter Walton and he does something about it. The reality is that Arsenal will need to rise above these antics and simply play their game. We all know that a Sam Allardyce led team means a team that will “park the bus.”

The bad news is that this will be the second time in a week that we get to watch a football match where as soon as the ball is kicked off, you can expect all 11 opponents to drop back into their half and start kicking at Arsenal’s ankles. The good news is that Blackburn tried that last year and lost 4-0 and that Arsenal just overcame Olympiacos 2-0 on Tuesday and they did pretty much the exact same thing.

Oddly, last season’s 4-0 win saw the return to Premier League action of young Theo Walcott after a 4 1/2 month absence and he was a terror on the Blackburn defense. The boss is reporting that Theo will be fit (along with Bendtner) for Sunday’s match though I would be very surprised if Theo starts. No, I suspect that we’ll see our “usual” lineup of Arshavin, van Persie, Bendtner up front — Diaby, Cesc, and Song in the middle — and Clichy, Vermaelen, Gallas, and Sagna at the back — with Mannone in goal because Manny Pickledickle is still infected with a chest or something. Maybe it’s the alien from Alien and they are trying to figure out whether to cut it out or let in incubate and turn into a truly terrifying Arsenal keeper.

Arshavin was the key last season and he will once again be the key this season, I suspect. The boss praised him after Tuesday’s win for his close control and thus ability to unlock defensive teams like Olympiacos and Rovers. Many of you similarly praised him after his “Goal of the Year” candidate last season unlocked Rovers (you’ll need to download the video from his file sharing service to watch it). I agree, Arshavin will be the key tomorrow.

As for the rest of the team Arsenal are on a mini streak of 5 wins with 4 consecutive clean sheets and I don’t think it’s uncalled for to expect that both streaks will continue. Blackburn’s leading scorer is David Dunn (another Pantomime villain) and he will need to be closely watched as he has a penchant for long shots. But with this team playing team football the way that they have been over the last two weeks, I expect them to work hard and give as much as they get.

As for viewing options, if you live in London the tickets actually went on general sale (no membership required) and the match is currently sold out. Elsewhere, the match is being carried by Sky Sports 1. Here on the West Coast of the United States, owing to the unusual 1:30 GMT kickoff, the match is being shown live on Setanta USA, but for us it’s a 5:30am kickoff and since bars don’t open that early, the only viewing we get is a replay. Locally, Doyle’s will be replaying the match at 10am (PST) which means no Sunday kickaround for me. Oh well, the things I sacrifice for my team.

Anyway, that’s about it for today. We’ll see you all tomorrow for, erm, well, I don’t actually know yet, but rest assured, there will be something! See you then.

Arsenal’s Ownership (plus the tee shirt follow-up)

Due to popular demand in another thread, I am putting up an entire heading for you all to discuss what you think of the supposed impending ownership takeover of Arsenal Football Club. My feelings are well known and pretty vanilla. Basically, I think that even if we get to one person having 30% of the shares their attempted forced takeover (irregardless who it is) will fail. Just because they have to make a bid doesn’t mean that others have to sell. As for which of the two main candidates I’d rather have as owner, I’m going to say as clear as possible that I like the current ownership and board just the way it is.

However, there seem to be quite a large number of my regular readers who want to debate the finer points of Usmanov v. Kroenke or whether the takeover will happen and that’s fine, have at it.

As for the new tee shirts, the winner of the slogan contest was Cesc’s Mullett with “We score more before 9am than you will day.”  I have modified it a bit to say “your team” but it’s still the winning concept. Congrats and thanks for the submission!

Henry

Tee shirts will be printed on white, 100% cotton, American Apparel shirts and will retail for $20 shipped to the USA and $25 shipped worldwide. Please send an email to 7amkickoff AT gmail DOT com with your size and quantity if you want to pre-order a shirt.

Arsènal

It's a mineral...

Today marks Arsène Wenger’s 13th year at Arsenal, making him the longest serving manager the club has ever had and also the only Arsenal manager that I have ever known. To some folks this last fact is a criticism but I don’t see it that way: when you start following a club, you have to start with some manager and who better to get my addiction off to a really good start than the man whose name is synonymous with the club?

Wenger’s most obvious successes have been well documented: articles about the two doubles, the invincibles season, and the huge sums of money he’s generated in player sales dominate this morning’s journalistic landscape and obviously he deserves all that praise, those are his achievements.  In fact, as I like to point out, Arsene Wenger’s record is so impressive that under his stewardship he has won the same number of league titles as Chelsea has in their entire 104 year history.

But those are the easy stories to write about. What’s often left uncovered is how profoundly Arsène Wenger has changed Arsenal football club, English football, and perhaps even world football in general.

At the club, the change has been dramatic. Arsenal have been transformed from “boring boring Arsenal” who played a defensive brand of football in a 30,000 seat arena (magnificent as it was) to a fluid, attacking, “total” football team which entertains 60,000 people in person and thrills millions worldwide. Moreover, Wenger’s attention to detail and tireless work ethic created a world class youth academy that has produced countless footballing professionals. And those same personal qualities created the London Colney training ground, the envy of every club in the world and the basis from which springs our beautiful football. He even had input on the design of the Emirates Stadium. As Ken Friar points out in his interview on the dot com, Wenger’s fingerprints are all over the permanent parts of this club.

Across the EPL, his training and dietary regimens, scouting and youth academy, and brand of attacking football has inspired changes in the way the game is played, coached, and even the types of players that teams buy. If you want to be in the top four of the English Premier League then you need to have a top class training regimen, you need to have a world-wide scouting troupe, and you need to play (at least somewhat) an attacking brand of football. That’s down, in large part to teams looking at what Wenger is doing and wanting to imitate. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read a story about a club like Tottenham where a new manager comes in and comments on the lazy training, or where a team is lauded for playing “Arsenal-like.” Chelsea’s owner’s wet dream is that his club would be as big as Arsenal, would play the attacking style of football that Arsenal plays, and that the club would be as successful as just one man has been. That, for me, is one of the biggest compliments that Wenger could receive.

And now here he is pushing the boundaries of the whole league’s reserves system and has changed the League Cup from a burdensome tournament to a sparkling showcase for England’s finest youth prospects.  I could go on and on about the ways that he’s changed English football but it’s his world-wide impact that is probably most remarkable. In Scotland, you have Tony Mowbray trying to play like Arsenal, in America Sigi Schmid is saying that they want to play open, attacking football and that’s just two off the top of my head. It seems like every time I turn around I hear a pundit saying that such and such team plays “Arsenal like.”

The thing is, teams aren’t really playing Arsenal-like, Arsenal-like has been dozens of different things since 1886. No, across the globe, teams are playing Arsène-like. It’s just that in 13 years Arsène and Arsenal have become so synonymous that people can’t tell them apart.

So, the club might as well go ahead and add the grave accent over the “e” in Arsenal, because for a long time to come this team and Arsène Wenger will be synonymous.

For a long time to come we will be Arsènal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.