Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal – Take it, take it.

Highlights.

I nearly called today’s post ‘A Tale of Two Ties’, as the fact that Barcelona drew in Europe is not one to be hidden down the back of the FIFA score drawer.

While we led the German champions until two minutes form the end of our tie, the Spanish champs went behind, went ahead, and then drew with the Italian champs, conceding one goal from open play (when Pato brushed past Barca’s high line), and a second from a set piece. Barcelona were held at home by champions. Arsenal were held away…by champions. Arsenal are not champions.

Looking at things from that perspective, anyone who thought we could go to the BVB Stadium and bring back three points must have realised they were a touch optimistic. That we nearly did was a superb achievement, the result of some resolute defending, a work ethic that – in the main – was shared by the whole team, but is also testament to a stunning effort from Ivan Perisic that Szczesny had little hope of seeing, let alone stopping.

So we’ll take that, won’t we? On paper, that’s the hardest away tie for us in the group, and that we went ahead and then nearly achieved our first clean sheet in Europe for three years speaks to the attitude of the players playing for us. Speaking of which, what an absolute professional and genuine worker Benayoun is proving to be. The Israeli captain hasn’t looked his 31 years so far, and of the last two games he told the club site:

We beat Swansea the other day and to take a point in the Champions League will build the confidence. There is a lot of quality in this team and I’m sure we will show it from game to game.

Absolutely bang on the money. On Saturday a win was a win, and last night the point was a fine result. That Benayoun – one of the players the less experienced should be turning to  – has his head screwed off the pitch and is putting in shifts on it can only be bonus to the team this season. On being at Arsenal he’s said.

It’s lovely to play for a big club like Arsenal and it’s a big challenge for me. I was happy that I have the chance to play and hopefully, with every chance I get, I will justify myself.

Well, no complaints here Yossi. I felt the boss would choose him ahead of Frimpong to add a bit of experience and attacking nous to the Germans’ equations, and that proved to be how it played out. He may not have had the best attacking game of his life, but there was a moment in the second half where he summed it all up for me: Battling one Dortmund player, and pressured to the ground as another engaged him (while unaware of winning a free kick) he made the effort kick the ball into space for another Arsenal player to take. Such commitment is welcome, and a great example to set.

Also mainly positive are the stats from last night’s game. Arteta had an 86% pass completion rate, continuing in his Swansea vein,  and the team as a whole won 58% of aerial battles. Arteta himself spilled blood for the cause, with a pressure relieving header he needed to win. Dortmund aren’t particularly threatening in the air as far as I know, but with most of or headers won by Mertesacker and/or Koscielny, that bodes well.

Dortmund had six corners and I don’t think we were really troubled with any of those first deliveries in…which is a start. From open play the odd occasion where we were undone, either good tracking back, solid defending or top goalkeeping paid off, and although I’m concentrating on our defence here, there were sparks of promise from the forward play, and RVP’s finish was superb.

But our defence being so resilient after going ahead is the story for me. We nearly defended a one goal lead for about 55 minutes (including stoppage time), and we can be mighty proud of the team for that.

There should be easier ties in Europe this season, and we should improve.

Well done the lads. Keep up the effort.

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Just One Game – And Player Thoughts

Arsenal 1 – 0 Swansea: Thoughts

With the amount that has now been said and blogged about the 8-2 loss to ManU, the psychology of Arsenal after the 8-2 loss to ManU, the way we’d react after the 8-2 loss to ManU, and the fantastic new cut of hair of Rooney during the 8-2 loss to ManU, it’s nice to finally have a result to focus on rather than the 8-2 loss to ManU.

I share Arsene’s comments of the Friday press conference (and post-match comments) that sport is about what comes next. And you can only live in the moment and look forward with optimism. Yes, remember the glory of the past, but to sit and sulk on a past defeat is about as useful as a slug in a salad.

So, today, we should be happy for the 1-0 victory, over a solid and underrated Swansea side who may well feel slightly aggrieved to have returned to South Wales pointless. The win was the most important thing for us, and the clean sheet the second. People who are claiming that we should be hammering newly-promoted sides with a fistful of goals surely can’t have an understanding of manifold elements to any football game or season, and as the ever-excellent Arseblog points out today:

I know we live in a world where reactions are instantaneous and expectations are high but I really think we need to step back and look at where this Arsenal team is.

Exactly. Yesterday we had the uncertainty of new players thrown into the mix for a game which was pencilled in as “Arsenal’s season re-starter.” You restart a season with a win, and you build from there. We sit 11th in the Prem with four points from four, and we’ve a tough game against Dortmund on Tuesday. There’s no doubt we’re walking uphill. The players have their hiking boots on and it’s going to be a trek. For the moment the joy-to-watch, scoring-with-ease, rampant Arsenal we love to see is MIA.

Let’s not expect it to return so quickly, or expect the players that have come in to the squad to immediately pick up where the impact of Cesc/Nasri(/Henry/Bergkamp?) left off. Some people still think we’ve a right to be challenging this season. A right to win games, and at least reach certain stages in certain competitions. We’ve never had a right to challenge for anything, and this season should make that abundantly clear. We need to earn every positive result, and we need to take every positive result as a step.

That breeds confidence, and confidence is a magical, but ultimately helpful beast. Confidence breeds itself, and if it’ll help the “Shit! Shit! Shit!” crew two rows behind me to regain some semblance of composure every time the ball vaguely moves in a direction towards the Arsenal goal, then I hope that Mr and Mrs Confidence hop on the good foot and do the bad thing like no Confidences before them. Speculating on the copulation of non-quantifiable mental states. Time to move on.

COYG!

Some interesting news. I’m trying out a new ‘Player Thoughts’ summary of the players’ performances on game days. The first one is here. Hope you find it a worthy read!

The Twelfth Man

[September 2015 – I’m playing again…]

As another year passes, it strikes me that if I were professional football player I’d be in the prime of my career. Further, if I were a professional footballer at Arsenal I’d be looking ahead to tomorrow with a passion to make an impact, and to – as my father would say – have a say.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter, or who has taken notice of the favicon image that displays near the address bar when you visit this blog, will notice my fondness for the number 12. On the one hand it’s a nod to my belief in the power, joy and community of sporting support. But on the other – more impacting one – it’s a firm point at my days as a club player in SE London/NW Kent. I played in very competitive and then, as the years moved on, less and less competitive leagues.

I played in teams against Liam Ridgewell and Ben May. I won some trophies (the now defunct London Youth FA Cup being the crowning glory), had some great moments, and scored a few smart goals. From the age of five until the age of 16 I pursued my dream of  being a footballer, but in reality the closest I ever got was a failed borough trial and a dead leg.

I was never quite goo..well, determined enough. Often the first name on the bench in the days before squad numbers, I wore number 12. More recently, in Sunday League, I stuck with it as a nostalgic nod to my footballing past. And, should I ever get a number on the back of an Arsenal shirt, that’ll be it.

Of course these days I’m old enough to realise that I didn’t have the bite required to make it anywhere past the amateur level. My father (and others, less biased, believe me) told me I had all the skill (blog names don’t magic themselves up), but not the controlled aggression. Absent in me was the warrior attitude looked for in youth players of the late 80s/early 90s. Then I hit my mid- teens and, already demoralised, had a growth spurt and was well on the way to Mertesacker heights. A winger, over 6ft? No chance. I stopped playing, and only returned years later for what I knew was just the joy of the sport.

Becoming a professional footballer. A young, naive, pipe dream it may have been, but it doesn’t make me care less about football. I’ve realised that I shouldn’t let heavy defeats beat me up. That I have another profession to pursue and can detach a little to safer, sane grounds. And these days, I’m doing just that in the hope I can strike at some quite different goals.

But, Arsenal, all of this doesn’t make me want to be on the pitch at the Emirates very much less. Like Gazza at the end of his career feeling he could “still do a job” when obviously his time had passed, it doesn’t stop me seeing the balls I’d attempt to play when watching games, and it doesn’t stop the irrational hope that somewhere in an alternative universe a version of me may have achieved what I couldn’t.

I’m writing this now because Arsenal’s season has a chance to kick-start tomorrow. And if, by the slimmest chance, any of the players managed to come across this piece, I’d want them all to know not that I’m unhappy I didn’t make it to a position where I could have a say on the pitch tomorrow. But that I am happy they’re in a position in which they can. I’d want them to know that all of us Gooners, all of us 12th men and women, are behind them. And that this time next year another year will have passed.

Time waits for no man. It won’t be sympathetic to unfulfilled dreams. It won’t ever do you any favours. Yet it will let you “have a say”.

Arsenal, make no mistake, we’ve a massive game tomorrow. So guys, go out on the pitch and do what millions of us that can’t be out there wish they could. Try to have a say. And we will love you for it.

Arsenal vs Man Utd Sun 1st May 2011

Sack Them All

I was in a pub in South London yesterday with a fellow gooner and a Spurs fan. The defeat endured by the latter against City was far from enjoyable, proving that money can – if nothing else – buy you footballing quality. It also proved that facing Man City in any competition this year is a very scary prospect indeed…about as scary as our own prospects in the Premier League apparently.

We were in trouble, is the thing. In a way our injuries, suspensions an lack of quality replacements precluded yesterday’s defeat, but not the scoreline. Who thought it wouldn’t be hard? Really? Still, anyone who has seen the captain’s post-match interview will find it hard to disagree that the result is anything other than “honest”. There were turning points – RVP’s penalty at 1-0 down for one – but you can’t come out of  an 8-2 game and make excuses.

At the same time hammerings happen in football. It’s something those who’ve been around the game for more than five minutes, or just around Arsenal since before the Invincibles, will know. OneArseneWenger made this comment on Twitter after the game:

In 2001 we got thumped 6-1 by Utd at OT… the following year 75% of that same team won the Double… Never Say Never.

It’s true. So to anyone like the Gooner sat behind me during the game who called for Wenger’s head and then, when I questioned him, proclaimed “Sack them all”, I think a dose of perspective is needed, along with a big heavy stick of rationality.

If you want me to break down the scoreline, let’s not forget that the two goals Rooney scored from free kicks were absolutely, undoubtedly, world class. As were the two that Ashley Young scored. You can argue that inexperience might have conceded the fouls, or far too much space, but in any game fouls happen and in any game shots are made. Theo gave away a penalty, Park wasn’t closed down, Nani beat an offside flap (sic), and Welbeck simply out-muscled Djourou as the big Swiss and Koscielny proved once again our reliance on Vermaelen for defensive grit.

We were hammered, we can’t complain, we can’t make excuses, but it’s also imperative that we don’t self-combust as fans. I love Arsenal, but supporting a team is as much accepting the heavy losses when they happen as it is about accepting the moments of brilliance when they shine through. I don’t believe that anyone in or around the club took any joy from yesterday, and it’s a reminder to anyone thinking that we have a right to win games and be successful that the reality is distinctly otherwise.

The squad needs a shot in the arm, and I refuse to make any comment about our aspirations this season until the transfer window closes. A heavy defeat occurred and we’re all unhappy about it. But it happened. We need to deal with it, and we need to move forward.

COYG

We Don’t Know / What We’re Singing

A Post of Two Parts

Nasri

I very nearly posted this piece straight after the game yesterday, such were the strength of my feelings. But I felt a bit of time to reflect, some clarity of thought and – hopefully – a bit more official news might aid in clearing my sentiments. I’m talking about the Nasri ‘situation’, and while I’ve had the benefit of reflection and a bit of clarity, nothing official has been said. Oh well, on with it.

Here’s a question: Does a man with an imminent move to another club tend to play for his current club? Not really. The chance of injury, and that injury scuppering a deal, isn’t worth the risk if the selling club is intent on claiming the agreed fee. A fee reported to be around £23m is not to be sniffed at, and so why would the selling club’s manager, Arséne Wenger, risk losing that money by naming Nasri in the stating XI yesterday?

Wénger said:

“The fans will want Arsenal to play well and win the game. They do not make an individual case of each player in each position. They want good players and to win the football game.

And while that was met with head-shaking in some quarters, I can’t help but think that Arséne and Nasri both knew far more about the situation heading into the game than both the supporters who called the player a c*nt at Newcastle, and the minority of fans idiots who booed him at the Emirates yesterday as his name was announced.

Indeed I don’t think there was one fan booing Nasri at the end of the game, and that could well point to the fact that Le Boss knows the club fanbase better than the individual fans, and that some of the people in the ground are perhaps fickle. We want our team to do well, yes, but we don’t really know what’s going on with deals or non-deals, and we should mainly react to what we see on the pitch.

Yesterday what I saw was a player trying to do his bit for the team, angered when he played a poor pass and missed a rasping effort (apologies for the ad). You can see the drive, and you can see the reaction of Nasri, and though that might be a reaction of purely personal frustration and not one of failing to put his team ahead, that he tries to make something happen in an Arsenal shirt should be taken at face value. He obviously cares about the club, about the team, and about making a difference when he’s on a football pitch. That has added weight this morning, with this fine piece in The Independent, but also because of this quote from Wénger:

“I have already said I try to keep Nasri and I have never changed my mind. He loves the club and he wants to stay here. If we decided to sell him, we would have to live with that.”

Now we all know that Arsenal is pretty much as financially sound as any top-flight club could realistically be, and so if the decision to sell the player isn’t AW’s – i.e, it is the board’s – that would hint that it is not Nasri that wants to go (not this season anyway, as he’s failed to sign a new contract which would signal his commitment), nor is it Wénger who wants to sell him. Does this allow us to look at Nasri’s tweet about fans being disrespectful in a new light? Perhaps, but it should also make it clear to us that even as fans we don’t know everything that’s going on, and should deal more in facts when support is required.

For example: It is a fact that if Nasri plays on Wednesday then he won’t be eligible to go to another CL qualified club, and it is pretty likely that he’ll play more football at Arsenal this season than he would at Man City.

“Spend Some F*cking Money”

This was a chant that arrived in fits and starts  yesterday (and was quickly/mercifully drowned out in reply by “Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal”), but only once the ten men we had left on the pitch went down by two goals did it rear it’s ugly head. Apparently those who are so frustrated as to call our boss a “wanker” and sing that particular line, were quite happy up until about the 78th minute when Miguel cleared onto Rambo’s chest and the ball looped over Szczesny.

Of course I agree that the squad needs strengthening. I’ve said it, like every other Arsenal fan has, since the end of last season. If Nasri does say we need to buy less, but it’s curious that some apparently think that spending money could prevent an own goal or a red card. Perhaps the latter would not have been given to a player of more experience than Frimpong, but who before his second yellow could say that he wasn’t superb on the day, and deserved his place in the starting XI as an understudy for Song – a player of markedly more experience who knowingly aided in getting himself sent off against Newcastle.

It’s no exaggeration to say that up until the disadvantage of a lost man we were at least the equal of Liverpool, and that had Koscielny not had to go off, and – the quietly adept – Ignasi Miguel (no sign of Squillaci) been thrown somewhat in at the deep end, our defensive stability might have brought another clean sheet. Spending money is what Twitter rumours suggest the boss is trying to do, but the lads on the pitch did well up until the point the numbers game came into effect and Dalglish brought on fresh legs.

In theory we lack similar depth, but it could be argued that the money needs to be spent primarily because we seem to be the most injury-prone club there is in the Premier League. Djourou would most certainly have replaced Koscielny had he been available, Gibbs or Traore would have played LB and Sagna RB had both of Gibb’s and Traore’s injuries not thrown Sagna to the left and placed Carl Jenkinson on the right, and Wishere, Rosícky and Song would no doubt have been involved were it not for injuries or suspension.

I could add Abou Diaby to that, but I think he might actually have been abducted.

Anyway, I’m not claiming that we have a wealth of options for a big club, but I can at least sympathise with Wénger enough not to sing a chant that in my opinion is both disrespectful and lacking in understanding at the complexities we’re obviously not privy to. Call me gullible, or call me ignorant, but call me a Gooner, and one who tries to think before he speaks.

Oh christ, I think my boiled eggs just exploded!

…they did. 

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