Na na na na – Giroud!

The season is almost upon us. A tour of Asia, has come and gone. Transfer sagas have, like a lingering parp, failed to dissipate quickly, and the worriers are readying their woe.

But while there’s been some bad news in regards to Jack Wilshere, and some trepidation in regards to the return of Abou Diaby (he’s 26…wow), let us not forget we’ve signed two very capable players.

And you know, every good player deserves a good chant or song. So while I ruminate on a Podolski-based version of Agadoo, there’s been some tuneful suggestions doing the rounds on twitter with regards to Olivier Giroud.

So I thought I’d share a Frankenstein’s monster of a version of that ditty with you. After all, what better way to carry on into the new season than with a spring in our collective Gooner steps and a song in our hearts?

Ladies and gentlemen then, here are two verses and the chorus of a much-improved* McCartney classic (also serving to soothe the pain of never being able to give life to my Wings-inspired JET chant).

Kudos to Briggsy (@AFCHymnSheet) for the first verse, and @KeithTheGooner for constant tweet-based renditions. Let’s hear it! Sing, tweet and RT. You know you like it.

Giroud, don’t be afraid. We take a good player and make ’em better. Remember to let uns into your heart, and then we can start to get better!

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!
Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

Giroud, don’t pass the ball. Have a shot and score a cracker. Remember, if you get into the box, you can outfox, ’cause you’re an attacker.

tacker, tacker, tacker, tacker…

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

Na, na na nana na na. Na na na na Giroud!

COYG!

P.S: For those you of you following me on @alltheskill, thank you. This account will be made defunct in the new season though, and this the last post to tweeted there. To keep following me, you’ll need to head over to @KevinPocock

(*Arsenalising things makes them better).

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Following: The Revolution

This week, what with the new MLS season gearing up for kick-off (it’s called “First Kick”, for the uninitiated), I decided to start following a team.

This was in part due to the fact that a friend of mine lives in Charlotte, USA and works on the YouTube Channel Kick, and also because I’m a sucker for a bit of sporting bia…support. No team will ever match The Arsenal obviously, but it makes things interesting, and affiliation is a wonderful thing – when I was at university I attended more Aberystwyth Town matches than I submitted assignments.

In any case, picking a new team is a task riddled with questions, but I normally follow my standard formula:

  1. Am I draw to a team by something obvious other than glory?
  2. Any friends/family already supporting?
  3. Do I have any geographical or cultural affiliation, no matter how tenuous?
  4. Do I get a clear sense of a club ethos I can relate to?
  5. Do I like the kit?

After asking these questions I opted for a team in the Eastern Conference, but was torn between NY Red Bulls (they of Emirates Cup and Thierry Henry fame), and New England Revolution.

Long story short, and largely influenced by my very loose loyalty toward the NE Patriots NFL team – and the Red Bulls overt relationship with a terrible drink – I opted for the NE Revolution.

Now, what’s the first thing you do when you decide upon a new team? Or even before you decide? You visit the site, familiarise yourselves with the stars, the stats, the history and culture. So I did. But look at what I found upon visiting the New England Revolution player page:

That is a list of players with official twitter accounts noted right there on the page, right there on the official club website.

Now, you don’t even have to know the first think about the MLS, but we all know how annoying it is to follow @TheRealOfficialTOMASROSICKYlol account to then find out that it’s a fake.

We invest our time in twitter, we invest our opinions in contact – however little – with the professional sportspeople we follow and support. So, wouldn’t it be a good idea if, say, Premier League or indeed all professional clubs had a list of official player accounts like above?

Not for the club to keep tabs on the output, or to censor it in anyway. But just so we know we’re not being misled. All it takes is for @AnOfficialClubAccount to tweet that Player X has joined twitter and add the link to the squad list.

We current supporters will all be in a more informed position, and newcomers won’t have to scrabble around and waste time on an already overcrowded medium, where following fake accounts is at least incredibly frustrating.

What I’m saying is this: I’m now following the Revolution, and I suggest clubs start to follow their example.

Crazies On The North Bank

Well, wow. It’s taken me this long to get my sense of perspective back, but you know what? Sod it. I don’t want any perspective.

Yesterday, on my personal twitter account (i.e, not my AllTheSkill one), I posted the following tweet:

Beautiful day for sport, today. A day for beautiful sport, too.

I accept that beauty is subjective, but for the red half of North London, and all those neutrals partial to the occasional goalfest, what a truly epic day at the Emirates. I’d lost my head before leaving the house. Convinced that the KO was 13:00, I forewent the agreed few pints at the Tolington, hotfooting it to a strangely subdued Emirates to find food and reacquaint myself with my seat.

I couldn’t believe how quiet it was, until it was revealed I’d got the ground a full, 90 minutes before the game was due to start. Rather early than late, I sat brooding over the recent results. It wasn’t good, it really wasn’t. With the lads about me arriving in ones and twos we greeted each other with a knowing look. This was a big day.

A habitual look over my left shoulder revealed the North Bank Boomer was absent. Dear, dear, where would the chants spark from? And a stand-in Emirates announcer? Oh my word, do I not like change. Not on days like this. Le Boss went with Rosícky and Yossi from the start, and although I’m a huge fan of both I dreaded a turn of luck that would see them befall a calamitous OG. Each. In both halves.

By five past two, I was crumpled, bitter and cursing in an upper tier awash with anger. We were wallowing in self-pity, painted a pale shade of dismay. We looked decent going forward but were all at sea at the back. At one point Gareth Bale had enough room to stand 100 clones of himself on the flank, and still manage a free run at Wojciech. Groans seemed to eek from the very seats as we all shuffled uneasily.

A shot deflected wide from RVP, Super Tom was close with a glanced header from a corner and RVP hit the post. It was just then that despite the great sound the Emirates faithful continued to produce in the Boomer’s absence (on days like that, it seems many to take up song), I was readying myself for resignation. And it was at that moment Mr Consistent, Bacary Sagna, caught a left-footed cross plum on his head and fizzed it past Friedel.

Pumped fists, and shouts of “COME ON LADS” abound. Sagna, seeminlgly similarly encouraged grabbed the ball, allowed himself an outpouring and ran back down the pitch. A flash of football and between the bobbing heads of half-standers in the row in front of me RVP had the ball on the edge of the box. Twisting and turning, I waited to see the net ripple and then went absolutely barmy!

The Bear, sat next to me rather than but one as usual, grabbed me in joint celebration. We butted heads in the madness, but spoke nothing of it. This was sheer, unadulterated joy and we, The Arsenal, had pulled ourselves back from the brink. We were back in it and chants rang out.

Some had already left their seats for half-time sustenance, but they needn’t have feared they’d missed the best action (just the best goal). Still, the perceived wisdom was that Theo was having a shocker. AOC might be preferred for the second half.

Three more goals to come, and three more completely crazy sets of scenes. Rosicky, having an absolute stormer for me picked the ball up and proceeded to run at the Spurs defence. Sagna overlapped, the ball came back, and I had to double check the goalscorer. But before I had the chance all around was jumping men, women and children.

The Bear slapped me on the back, but he and his guest celebrated so hard they both fell into the aisle at the exact time I launched a jumping fist pump. Magic unfolding before us, except it wasn’t. It was very real, and the very Arsenal team was turning Spurs over. SuperTom, I was told, had scored it, and as one of my favourite Arsenal players, I thought to myself, “You deserved that, sir. You bloody deserved it.

The celebrations for Theo’s first I can’t recall, but for after a breathless, jigging bliss, I said rather louder than I meant to:

“Wenger! Get Chamberlain on!” and the few about me that weren’t deaf with joy laughed.

When the fifth went in I’d jumped to my feet, but stood dumb at what had come before us. We were in party mode and the the blues had well and truly vanished to the clear sky above. A beautiful day for those who enjoyed it, and five goals without reply…

Just. Wow.

 

Still For a far better visualisation of the days events than my humble words can muster, check out this vid. A special day, and deserving on a slot in the long-term memeory banks methinks!

OOH TO, OOH TO BE!

Q: When Is A Penalty Not A Penalty? (Or, ‘How To Judge A Ref And The Role Of The Flops’)

Q: When is a penalty not a penalty? A: When it doesn’t look like one.

In these crazy, mixed-up times, even Joey Barton is calling for video technology to be introduced into the English top flight. I agree {shudder}, I’m all for it. But in its absence officials still need to make decisions based upon what they see.

Used to be that what was a freekick outside the box was a penalty inside it. But a combination of the heightened importance of such a decision in providing an unchallenged attempt on goal, changing a game and/or reducing the number of players on a team has completely altered that. These days officials seem unwilling to give penalties unless there is little doubt in their minds. But even when they do, and even with the backing of second, third, fourth (and perhaps not) fifth or sixth match officials they still get things wrong.

Human error has a part to play, but there’s another thing going on here. A cold, hard, case of The Flops. That is attempting to make and official give a penalty by overacting, going down too lightly or just absolutely cheating.

Now I don’t wish to call into question the integrity of many of the football players I watch and some of whom I dearly support, but it’s hardly a revelation to suggest that sometimes some players go down a bit easy. Afterall, if the Lehmann vs Drogba pantomime spectacular told us anything, it was that our professional players have more than an inkling of how to make the most of a bit of contact. They’re not alone either. A couple of years ago, when I still actively played Saturday League, some players actively practised (albeit in jest) dives in training. Equally, type “Gerrard/Rooney/Walcott/Lampard dive” into YouTube and see what you get.

It might be suggested that The Flops goes on quite a lot. And it might be equally refuted. Sitting at home, and even in the stands, it can be hard to have a full appreciation of the sheer speed, and therefore, colliding forces, impact, centres of balance and  – even – the intentions to fall to the ground of our top, top players. Be that as it may, our officials still need to make decisions. Even when not in the best position, and at times further from the incident in question than some fans.

After the defeat against Fulham on Monday, Arsene Wenger responded to whether he agreed if the claim by Gervinho of being fouled by Phillipe Senderos was a penalty:

200%…anyway, we know we don’t get penalties. We had one against…err, at home in the last game against QPR, we had one today and [they’re] never given anyway.

But we (Arsenal) do get penalties. Walcott earned and van Persie converted one against Aston Villa on 21st December. But it was obvious Theo was fouled. Tugged back plain as day, and he didn’t need to hit the deck to make his point. Gervinho was clipped by Senderos, yes. And van Persie was bundled by Senderos…yes. But while in the second situation it’s feasible the referee Lee Probert was unsighted, in the first he may have been “turned off” by Gervinho’s fall.

And can we blame him, his officials or colleagues if that’s ever the case? Surely it’s far easier to forgive them for such missed decisions if  they’re not 100% certain a player is impeded or an indiscretion occurred. Even if a foul is committed, overacting it might achieve the reverse of what was hoped for. And even when decisions are given it’s not always clean cut.

Just last night, Man City won 3-0 against Liverpool and were awarded a penalty. Have a look. Can you tell me with 100% certainty that it is or isn’t one? You could argue that a 6’2″ man of about 14st (I’m estimating here, as City’s player page omits Toure’s weight) shouldn’t go down that easy. This might also be called “The Drogba Offence”. You may even speculate that having sprinted the length of the half to get there, Yaya felt it better to go down under any contact and get a penalty to potentially kill off Liverpool.

The alternative is to stay up and shoot from an awkward angle under pressure. With 17 minutes left to play, and his team just down to 10 men. You might equally argue that there was enough – even untintentional – contact from Skrtel at the speed Yaya Toure was travelling to send him tumbling. But you’d have to have a higher grasp of the physics behind such collisions than I.

What you can’t possibly argue is that the referee (who is nowhere near as quick as Yaya Toure, and so further down the pitch), or even the nearest assistant referee, can say with absolute certainty that it was or wasn’t the correct decision. But at full speed, and from a bit of a distance it looks like one. Doesn’t it?

And this is the point. For I think the tide should be changing in Premier League football: In the absence of absolute certainty, or even the degrees of certainty to which video technology would allow us to reach (and which I hope very quickly makes my following comment irrelevant) penalty decisions are all down to whether they appear to be one. In the past players could play to this a little with The Flops: ‘making the best of it’, exaggerating and ‘simulation’. But these days it might be best to try something slightly different. You know, players may actually benefit – like Theo did – from attempting to stay on their feet. And as a result we may lose the terror of The Flops, while maintaining a modicum of sanity.

Mother Hen

Quick blog as the day’s got a bit away from me. Still, as long as it’s longer than a tweet I can justify writing this here, I suppose. So:

But for some resolute defending and an international-worthy display by Wayne Hen(nessey) refusing to let us count goal(den egg)s pinched from his much guarded ne(s)t, we’d have taken the three points yesterday. Frustrating as it is we didn’t. But hay.

What we did do was pretty much dominate possession, but fail to get any reward from plenty of shots and fistfuls of corn(ers). Okay I’ll stop.

In all seriousness though it’s hard to be too critical. Against eleven men we created chances and against ten we just couldn’t find the second. I can’t say too much about Fletcher’s equaliser. It was lucky. From a deflected assist, he was onside and he put it in the only place Szczesny couldn’t have got to it.  I feel a bit silly because before the goal I was about to bemoan the Nervous Ned in front of me who was cursing every mistake (and player making one) like he’d a made a pact to piss me off. But it turns out he was right. That time.

Still, him calling Mertesacker a “pussy” was hard to swallow.

The positives are that Yossi did well in Theo’s position (and was probably knackered when he came off), while Rosicky, The Little Mozart, conducted himself well and hardly played a bum note.

It was his driving run, cut back and pass to Benayoun which enabled Gervinho to look the most assured he did all afternoon and put us one up. It was also Rosicky who – a couple of times – used his trademark feint turn (keep an eye out for that one) to get away form markers in the midfield before driving forward. And he also played some midfield and defence splitting passes before almost, almost, setting up the big German for a headed goal with a beautiful out side of the right boot flicked cross.

Super Tom could be on his way back, and I think Rambo’s got a fight on.

Having said that, the Welsh captain did well when he came on, and added that enthusiasm from the bench that I’ve mentioned we certainly need. More starting with effective, older and more experienced players would be a good thing I think. Let’s make the younger guns work to impress.

Random thoughts on a couple of other players:

Chamakh – I think that was Mauro’s eighth appearance of the season. Scoring one in every four, he now owes us a goal…

Arshavin – Was a pass, pass, passer when he appeared lacking the edge and guile we needed…although his little backlift, snap-shot was a reminder of the ability in those feet. Oh, how I wish it had gone in.

Anyway, what with all the teams around us (bar Spurs) dropping two points, we’ve missed a chance to sneak up the table. But it’s done. Onto QPR, and here’s hoping Paddock Kenny is unable to keep our ball game off of his grass.

COYG!

 
 

The Benefit Of Older Heads

The glorious thing about last night’s 2-1 win over Villa is that Benayoun proved what some of us have thought for some time. Experience can deliver. After the Man City game, Yossi tweeted:

Very disappointing result today and also not to play at all but I’m sure better days will come soon..have a nice evening everyone

Now the thing about Yossi, the thing I’ve always admired about him (even in the Chelsea kit), and the thing I looked forward to when he joined us is his genuine desire to play well and help his team. He’s one of the most experienced players in this Arsenal squad, he’s a national captain, and he’s a bit of a player.

But he genuinely works, and keeps on working. He replaced a disappointing Aaron Ramsey, scored to grab the three points, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be giving Wenger something to think about in terms of team selection. “Should Benayoun start?” was the question on the lips of a few. Perhaps, Ramsey’s off days have been rare considering the amount of games he’s played this season, and after all he is still 21. He won’t play a blinder every game, his consistency is improving, and he’d surely be the first to admit his game last night was below par. But there might be a case.

Frimpong too played indifferently. As much as I love the young Ghanaian, he looked slow on the ball an somewhat indecisive. But again he’s 19. We shouldn’t expect too much of him, and while some people might think that the quality of Jack Wilshere at such a young age is something we should be getting used to from Arsenal’s youngsters, they’d be very wrong. Wilshere’s a standout talent – we’re talking “top, top quality” at a young age. Not quite world class just yet, but if he stays on course then he might just be.

Frimpong was replaced by Tomas Rosicky, who had an immediate impact in playing direct passes forward and between Villa players. The Czech captain looked alert and full of energy, at one point losing the ball and then sprinting back after his man and performing a quality sliding tackle to regain possession.

It had me thinking that it’s players like this we need to bring off the bench, but usually it would be the young upstarts replacing the experience, and eager to impress. Perhaps we’ve got it a bit back to front at Arsenal, but if that’s the case last night should have Arsene wondering if he needs to reverse the trend.

Of course if everyone is fit and firing it’s a tough question of who starts. Song would have played against Villa were it not for suspension, and we can think on  Wilshere challenging Ramsey, Rosicky and Benayoun in the near future, but at the moment Jack’s not available and the question of either Rosicky or Benayoun getting a run over the Welshman is something I think needs consideration.

Rather haphazardly, this talk of experience brings me to AA23, Shava, Sharky, Mr Arshavin. A player I rate very highly but a player who doesn’t look the £15m Russian dynamo it seemed we’d acquired. He actually won the corner from which Benayoun scored the winner, but he wasn’t brought to Arsenal to win corners. Although if he only did that and we always scored from them then I’d crown him a football wizard and have nothing to say.

Alas, I do. Perhaps it’s unfair of us to expect Arshavin to track back 40 yards and to win tackles, but he’s surely in the squad to provide drive and guile going forward. Composure on the ball, a bit of creativity, some assured play (he is, after all, another national captain). But he’s doing very little of that currently.

I’m right behind him like I am with any Arsenal player every time he takes to the field, but when his first touch is a mis-control and he then plays a blind pass straight to an opposition player it’s hard to be encouraged. When he does that regularly, even more so.

There’s talk that he might be off in January, but I can’t see it. What I can see is that he needs some of whatever is in Benayoun and Rosicky’s pre-game meals, and perhaps a little bit of support and encouragement from thefans as much as his teammates. I can also see that we’ve a decent amount of competition in midfield. Last night proved that, and Arshavin should be a bigger part of it. Well, hopefully Rosicky and – perhaps, particularly – Benayoun should inspire him to be just that.

We Need To Talk About Chamakh

Hands up if you’ve ever been involved in a football club where you know you’re good enough to help the team, but can’t really get a look in? Keep them up if you’ve played second fiddle to a world class player and you really understood why you were playing second fiddle to them? And leave them air-borne still if your playing stats suggest you can score one in every four games…at professional and international level?

I think I might have lost one or two of you, so this is my point and I’m saying it loud and clear:

Marouane Chamakh’s getting a rough deal.

Certainly not from the club; because when he signed almost 18 months ago and got a good run in the absence of an injured RVP, he knew he was fortunate. No, it’s the fans who are growing irritable. It’s obvious on Twitter during games when people suggest he should go in January. It’s obvious from the buffoon who sat behind me during the City Carling Cup tie and yelled “you Morroccan c**t!” (no fan is he, to me), and it’s obvious from the fact that he puts the work in even when things aren’t going for him. But many seemingly forget it all when he makes a mistake, mis-controls, makes an incomplete pass or goes an appearance without scoring.

Yes he makes mistakes – his confidence might be low – and he doesn’t score as frequently as we might like. But each time he pulls on the red and white he sticks to his game: he works his engine,  makes himself available, and still closes defenders down, regardless of the fact that he might struggle to find the net.

"A Thunderous Header!"

But it’s not as if he can’t do that too. Remember the goal against Blackburn earlier in the season? A “thunderous header” that clawed us back  to 4 – 3, and we hoped might help us push for a fourth? A header won in the middle of two Blackburn defenders, from an RVP cross. Name me another forward in the Arsenal squad who might be able to do that.

“But he  doesn’t score regularly…” you might say. Err, well:

  • 17 goals in 59 appearance for Morocco (a goal every 3.47 games)
  • 76 goals in 301 appearances for Bordeaux (a goal every 3.96 games)
  • 11 goals in 44 appearances for Arsenal in 2010/2011(a goal every 4 games)

Okay he’s not a 20 goal a season striker, but he’s a very effective forward and the distinction between the two roles needs to be clear.

So far this season he’s made six appearances and scored just once, but when he’s essentially Arsenal’s attacking Plan B (through injury or scoreline) is it any wonder that when our Plan A is working fine, he finds it hard not only to make appearances, but even then to score goals? I mean, I know I’ve quoted the statistics, but they don’t magic themselves up. Chamakh just being on the pitch doesn’t mean he’ll find a goal every four games.

After all for most forwards to score regularly, it stands to reason that they need to benefit from a regular service that will tend to play to their own advantages. We do that for Van Persie fairly naturally for sure, but if Chamakh replaces him in a game you really don’t need me to tell you that’s not a like for like substitution.

Here’s another interesting point: When a team is being – in the main – successful in executing its Van Persie-based Plan A, how easy is it really to switch when Plan B is a necessity? And how easy is it to effectively play both simultaneously when (like against Fulham) your Plan A and Plan B figureheads are both on the pitch…being that your forward line should directly influence your style of play towards them?

Perhaps how effective the Arsenal squad is at switching style is a whole other post. But what I’m really saying is, you can put Chamakh on the park but unless he’s getting the kind of service that plays to his strengths, then he’s not going to score regularly – and probably not at all. And if a forward isn’t scoring, it normally seems he’s not performing regardless of the fact he’s running himself silly.

Finally, in an acutely odd twist of logic, do you know who provided the cross for Chamakh’s only goal this season? Our Captain Vantastic – the very player he’s playing second fiddle to. Chamakh himself might see some unfortunate cruelty in that, because what chance has he to score when the man keeping him out is the only one to effectively assist him so far this season? But probably not. Because as he recently told Arsenal Player, he understands he needs to wait, and his focus looking forward is:

To play more, to score more goals, and to help Arsenal win something.

So, you know what, I’m going to keep on supporting him in all of that. Because even if he’s doing only two of the three, and he’s putting a shift in, then he’s alright by me.