The acid test.

February 27, 2011

Hello from a very excited blogger here in Yokohama. Not that I need to tell you, but today sees us take on Birmingham at Wembley in the Carling Cup final. Regardless of whether or not the cup itself has any kind of real prestige value (because it doesn’t really) it still feels good to be involved in a final again. I don’t care that it is our fourth choice trophy, I want to win it.

 

Gone are the days when it is an exclusively uber youth team that takes to the field in the Carling Cup. Project youth started out initially due to the building of the Emirates and the need to bring through and develop young players in order to avoid the need for spending vast sums of money to sign players, because that money wasn’t going to be there for a while. It then became as much about financial prudence as about the manager’s self-imposed crusade to make project youth work. It was the footballing equivalent of Magnus Magnussen on Mastermind, he’d started so he’d finish. Today’s game could well be the pot of gold at the end of the project youth rainbow. If the team wins today, then the manager will feel that he has proven that he was right to stick with these players.

 

This game is going to be huge for this squad. Winning it could give the team the belief and confidence that it so badly needs in order to go on and achieve greater glory. This team needs to taste the glory of picking up a bit of silverware. Winning today could do the same for this team as it did for George Graham’s team over twenty years ago. It’s important that they get over the psychological hurdle of winning that first trophy. They already have the trophy girlfriends, now they need the one that counts.

 

The flipside of that is that if they lose…well, let’s just try and not think about that nightmare scenario. Losing a final would be bad enough but, losing a final to Birmingham would surely do untold psychological damage to the squad and would, inevitably, lead to questions being asked. No doubt there would be the Twitter equivalent of an apocalypse, too. To those of you in Ireland, you will have to have a look around for those iodine tablets that the government gave every citizen a few years back (when they thought that Sellafield was going to go bang-wallop) should the unthinkable happen.

 

Team news for today is that Cesc has been ruled out with a hamstring injury that will probably keep him out until after the Sunderland game, but that he should be okay for the trip to Barcelona. It is very sad for the player himself as he has longed to lead this team out in a final and for that chance to be snatched away from him just four days before the big day is cruel. The player himself is dying to be involved in the game, but the manager has to look at the bigger picture and do what is best for the team and its chances of success this season.

 

Koscielny and RvP are both set to be involved having shaken off minor injuries, the latter being given the honour of leading the team out as captain. As sad as it is for Cesc to miss out, it is in many ways the culmination of RvP’s journey back to redemption. From his early days when he used to lose the plot a bit, get sent off, through to his numerous periods of injury hell, finally he gets the chance to show how much he has grown both as a man and a player. I’m delighted that he will get the chance to lead the team out as captain.

 

In defence, we should line up with Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou and Clichy. Midfield will, hopefully, be Nasri, Song and Wilshere in the middle with Bendtner wide right and Arshavin wide left and RvP up front.

Szczesny

Sagna        Koscielny        Djourou        Clichy

Nasri        Song        Wilshere

Bendtner                                        Arshavin

Van Persie

That said, we could well see Bendtner on the bench, with Diaby in the middle and Nasri wide right.

 

The game is a 01:00 JST kick-off and is not being screened on TV, so it will have to be a stream for those of us living in Japan.

 

Here’s to a win, any kind of win, and a trophy.

 

Take it easy. Come on you Reds!!

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FA Cup 5th round preview – Leyton Orient.

February 20, 2011

Hello from a mildly hungover blogger in Yokohama. I’m sure that you all enjoyed the game on Wednesday night just as much as I did. Unfortunately, as the game kicked off at 04:45 on Thursday morning here, I had to leave my post game celebrations until last night as I also had a meeting to attend yesterday afternoon. Hence, the Sunday hangover.

 

Today sees us traveling to Brisbane Road to take on Leyton Orient in the fifth round of the FA Cup and it is a game that, whilst being a totally different beast to the one against Barcelona, could well be a test for our team. Orient have lost just once in their last twenty games, so Arsenal will need to be focused if they are to overcome a team that will be really up for it. This game should also help Orient to break even, financially, for the first time in Barry Hearn’s reign at the club.

 

I think that in defence we will see Almunia, Squillaci, Koscielny and Gibbs. In midfield, we are likely to see Rosicky, Song, Denilson, Bendtner and Arshavin, with Chamakh up front.

Almunia

Eboue       Squillaci       Koscielny       Gibbs

Rosicky       Song       Denilson

Bendtner                               Arshavin

Chamakh

I think that the bench will be very strong, with the likes of Szczesny, Djourou, Fabregas, Wilshere, Nasri, Walcott and RvP ready to come on if needed.

 

Though, to be honest, it is anyone’s guess as to who will be selected in the domestic cup competitions this season. Wenger has said that he will pick a strong team for today’s game and he would probably argue that the above team I have selected is a strong team. So, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will see the likes of Nasri, Cesc etc. starting, especially as Nasri is just back from injury. I would like to see some of our more important players rested for this one, if possible, as there is the Carling Cup final coming up next weekend. On top of that, there is also the fact that Leyton Orient are probably going to try and do a Tony Pulis (Mark Hughes, Sam Allardyce…) on us and try to ‘get in our faces.’ Unfortunately, the phrase ‘get in their/our faces’ is code for ‘kick them off the field’ rather than pressuring and hassling the opposition, making them rush their passes and therein make mistakes. That said, Orient’s captain Stephen Dawson has said:

“It’s not about kicking them around, it’s about getting in their faces – we’re going to be right on top of them.”

Let’s hope that they can stick to that idea and not resort to simply trying to kick lumps out of us, which is the acceptable version of ‘getting in their faces’ by the managers mentioned above. We don’t need any fresh injuries at this stage of the season.

 

There are quotes in the papers from some Orient players intimating that Arsenal won’t be up for the 50/50 challenges, which is a load of nonsense. What Arsenal won’t be up for is being maimed by a bunch of lower league cloggers looking to make a name for themselves. Rightly so. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with it being a physical game with plenty of tackling, as long as the tackling is fair and well intentioned.

 

The game will also see us coming up against two former Arsenal youth players; Jason Crowe and Ben Chorley. The latter has an interview up on ATVO talking about his time at Arsenal. Hopefully, seeing two former youth players playing for Orient will serve as a reminder to our current crop of youth players that they really have to focus and work hard if they are going to have any chance of making it into the Arsenal first team. It also shows them that even if they don’t make it with us, there is still a good chance that they can have a career in football, albeit at a lower level club.

 

If we do beat Orient today, we will be looking to overturn our record in the FA Cup wherein on the previous three occasions that we have knocked them out (1952, 1972and 1978), we have gone on to lose the final. With regard to clean sheets, Orient have kept just one in their last ten FA Cup games and should Arsenal keep one today it will be their 150th clean sheet in the competition.

 

Kick-off is at 01:30 JST, 16:30 GMT. The FA Cup isn’t being shown on TV in Japan this season, so it’ll be a night of stream chasing followed by a sleepy day at work tomorrow. According to the official website, it is being shown on ESPN back in the UK and Ireland. Basically, any kick-off time after 15:00 GMT is a ballache when you live in Japan, especially when the time difference in winter is +9hrs.

 

Away from today’s game and newspapers are continuing to report Twitter messages exchanged between Arsenal players as news. I’m glad that The Sun’s website is still free because there is NO WAY that I would ever subscribe to a site that reports Twitter messages as news. The same goes for the Daily Mail.

 

One thing that needs to be addressed by the club is the official website which has been going downhill in terms of the quality of its content for some time now. It is bad enough that there is still a ‘transfer linked’ section on the site and that the spelling isn’t always up to scratch. But, more recently, it has also endorsed fake player Twitter accounts. A bit more research and care by those that run the site wouldn’t go astray. Is that too much to ask?

 

You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/colm_smyth or @colm_smyth, if you are interested in that sort of thing, . Not be be confused with the other (forthcoming) North Bank themed blog and Twitter account, which is not connected with this site.

 

Right, that’ll do for today. Take it easy.

 


Is there a game today?

February 16, 2011

Today sees us take on Barcelona at the Emirates in the first leg of our Champions League last 16 tie. If nothing else it should at least be a great game of football played by two teams whose greatest strength lies in attack. There won’t be any clean sheets in either leg, I,don’t think, especially not in the homes of Arsenal fans.

 

It would seem that Nasri will at least be named on the bench and possibly even in the starting line-up. I think that it is more important that we have Nasri fully fit for the away leg and it wouldn’t be a good idea to risk his fitness this Wednesday, though we may see him come on in the 67th or 68th minute in order to ease him back into things after his injury. One worrying thing the boss said in yesterday’s press conference was that the ‘would take no risk’ with Nasri but then corrected himself to saying that he would take ‘no medical risk.’ I have a feeling I have heard him saying this before (with Cesc before Braga?) only for it to backfire. But, I hope that he will err on the side of caution with Nasri tonight.

 

I think that the team that starts this game will be similar to the one that started against Wolves on Saturday, with the exception of the suspended Sagna. So we should line up as:

Szczesny

Eboue       Koscielny       Djourou       Clichy

Cesc       Song       Wilshere

Walcott                                     Arshavin

Van Persie

 

That’s a pretty strong starting eleven and the match day squad will only get stronger when the likes of Diaby, Fabianski and Vermaelen return from injury and Sagna from suspension. Diaby just seems to be eternally injured. Frustrating. If it frustrates us fans, God only knows what it must do to the player himself. It must torment him.

 

Start crossing all appendages that we won’t see Squillaci making even a cameo appearance in defence, or the increasingly ineffective Rosicky in midfield. We need players that can make a positive contribution to the game out on the field tonight.

 

It was in the game at the Emirates against Barcelona last year that Walcott caused them all sorts of problems when he came on as a substitute and having him  on from the start will definitely give Barcelona something to think about. His pace on the wing has the potential to cause them real problems, if we can exploit it to full effect. I have a feeling that the much maligned Arshavin will also play a big role over the two legs and if he can click with RvP and Cesc in these two games we will cause Barcelona a lot of problems. If our two wide players are on top of their game tonight, it should limit the ability of Barcelona’s full-backs to get forward.

 

I think that Wilshere’s deeper role that he played for England will also help us out too as we will need Song, primarily, and Wilshere to offer our defence a bit of protection. We especially don’t want Song to go marauding forward trying to create or score. He must show discipline over the two legs. Protect the defence.

 

The biggest thing that must be improved upon from the games against Barcelona last year is how we press Barcelona as a team. We need to press them as vigorously as they pressed us last year. We need to ‘get in their faces’ Arsenal style, by pressing them when they are in possession, much like we did against Chelsea earlier in the season. Every single player will need to give their very best in each leg if we are to progress. (I wrote that paragraph on Monday, then the John Cross stuff appeared with the Wilshere quotes and I deeply regretted not posting this preview a few days ago! You snooze, you lose. That said, it didn’t take a tactical mastermind to figure out that we need to up our game in terms of work rate and pressing.)

 

Despite the absence of Vermaelen, I feel that having Szczesny in goal actually makes us a bit more solid at the back compared to our games against Barcelona last season. Though it is sure to be a big test for Koscielny and it will be very interesting to see how he has progressed this season since his step up from the French league to playing Barcelona in the Champions League. Hopefully he will rise to the challenge and occasion. Key to that will be having Djourou playing alongside him as he has definitely looked much more assured when playing alongside our Swiss centre-half rather than alongside the terror inducing Squillaci. Also, we will have a fully fit Cesc, Arshavin and RvP for this game, too. I don’t think that we can get as unlucky with injuries against Barcelona as we did last year, so we have a real chance.

 

Barcelona are rumoured to just be missing Puyol and Jeffren (via @gunnerblog and @arseblog)

 

The game will be a 04:45 kick-off here in Japan and that means that Thursday at work will be about as much fun as sitting on a chair of razorblades while watching Justin Bieber’s new movie. Coverage in SD will begin at 04:30 on Sky Perfect ch180 and in HD on ch190 from the same time.

 

One final thing, if you are going to the game there are plans afoot (started by Le Grove) to make a special change to the words of the ‘We’ve got Cesc Fabgreas’ song for the two Barcelona games. The wording for the song will change to ‘Hands off Cesc Fabregas’ and it would be great if you could sing this revised version if you go to the game.

 

I’m toying around with the idea of changing my Twitter ID to something more blog specific, but as of now I am still using my personal account: @colm_smyth

 

Right that’ll have to do for today. Enjoy the game and hopefully we come out the other side with a decent result! Jaysus,  I can’t bloody wait for this game! The bad thing about living in Japan is that I must try to get a decent night’s sleep before kick-off and that won’t be easy!

 

Come on you Reds! Take it easy.


Hungry like the Wolves.

February 12, 2011

Hello again from Yokohama. Thankfully the deadly dull international week is over and we can now concentrate on Arsenal for what will be some key games over the coming weeks. But, before we can even think about games against Barcelona and Leyton Orient, there is the not so small matter of a game against Wolves this afternoon. Well, it’s in the afternoon for you folks back in Europe, it will be a midnight kick-off for those of us here in Japan. That said, that last sentence may only apply to myself as I have no idea if anybody based in Japan actually reads the blog.

 

I won’t go into the debacle that was the 2nd half against Newcastle because, well, what can you say? Yet again, Arsenal make history. Unfortunately it wasn’t the kind of history that we would generally like to make, but history nonetheless. That ManUre and Chavski both lost and we ended up actually gaining a point on top spot did help to reduce the pain.

 

Today’s game is massive and three points are needed if we are to continue a serious challenge for the title while also giving ourselves some much needed extra confidence ahead of the massive mid-week game against Barcelona.

 

I haven’t seen or heard it just yet, but I am steeling myself to seeing the words ‘Cesc’ and ‘DNA’ being mentioned umpteen times between now and the week of the second leg against Barcelona.

 

Anyway, back to today’s game and both Song and Djourou should be involved in the squad. However, I think that the latter will be on the bench for this one as the manager may want to protect him ahead of the Barcelona game. It’s Wolves, they are bottom of the league although they are playing decent football, but if you can’t beat the team that is bottom of the table without Djourou then there are serious issues with the central defensive element of the team. That serious issue takes the form of Squillaci and we will have to hope that if he does play that he will suddenly find a bit of form and play well.

 

If the past twelve months have taught us anything about this team it’s that no lead, no matter how great, is good enough and that this team is more than capable of blowing even the most unassailable of leads. This team doesn’t do easy. It doesn’t shut up shop. It can’t shut up shop because it doesn’t know how to. Here’s hoping that Vermaelen returns sooner rather than later to help shore things up a bit.

 

I have a feeling that the defence today will be Szczesny, Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny and Clichy. Not a massive amount of speculation there as the only position that is really up for debate is whether or not Djourou or Squillaci will start and as I said above, I think Djourou will be protected ahead of Barcelona.

 

In midfield we will be without Rosicky due to a groin problem and Diaby due to his suspension, though Denilson and Song return. So, we should line up with Cesc, Song and Wilshere in the middle with Walcott and Arshavin ahead of them and RvP leading the line.

 

If we start with that team, we should be more than strong enough to beat Wolves, regardless of whether or not Djourou starts. That said, Wolves will be up for this game, as they are fighting for their lives, and we will have to match their hunger in order to secure the 3pts. The manager has himself hinted that it will be a strong team as there is no need for rotation due to the Barcelona game being on Wednesday evening and today’s game being at 15:00. He was quoted in The Guardian as saying:

 

"The best way to be in a good position to beat Barça is to beat Wolves. That game is, in my opinion, more important by far. We started in August to fight for every single ball to be in a position to fight for the Premier League and now is the time of truth. We are in a strong position. It would be absolutely stupid now not to prioritise the Premier League."

 

Wolves have the worst away record in the league. Of the twelve games they have played so far, they have lost ten, drawn one and won one. Our game at Molineux earlier in the season finished with a 2-0 win for Arsenal following goals by Chamakh in the 1st and 89th minutes. Another 2-0 today would do nicely. We haven’t lost to Wolves since September 1979, though I am not really sure how a stat like that has any real relevance today what with Wolves having been out of the top flight for much of that time.

 

A more interesting statistic is that Arsenal have taken 37pts from a possible 42pts against the teams currently sitting in the bottom half of the table. The dropped points coming in the 3-2 home defeat to West Brom and the 2-2 draw away to Wigan. We’re also unbeaten in seven games in all competitions now, irrespective of how much like a defeat last week’s result felt.

 

Today’s stats came from a variety of sources: the Soccerbase & Statto websites and also via @Orbinho on Twitter.

 

In other news, Vermaelen is reported to be doing better and is possibly two or three weeks away from a return. Diaby has some kind of injury following the Barton tackle last week and would perhaps have been a doubt for today even if he wasn’t suspended. Nasri revealed on Twitter yesterday that he has started running again and is feeling good. There are rumours that he may well be involved in the squad for the Barcelona game.

 

UPDATE: Almost forgot, our game is live on J-Sports 2 and coverage begins at 23:54, followed by Sunderland vs Spuds from 02:24. The Manchester derby is on J-Sports Plus from 21:39 and is followed by Liverpool vs. Wigan at 23:54. Plenty of games on the box today! All of those times are JST.

 

That will have to do for today. I will be crossing my fingers that Karl Henry doesn’t break any legs today.

Take it easy.


Fishing rods, six packs and a Twitter rant.

February 5, 2011

Greeting Gooners. This week has been quite a week in terms of what other club’s have spent and the resolve that our own manager has with regard to his belief that the squad he has is good enough to challenge on all four fronts. As frustrating as it is to see another transfer window go by and see no quality central defender or defensive midfielder being signed, when you see the crazy money being splashed around, like jizz on an adult film actress’s face, it makes you glad that our club stayed away from that madness. There wasn’t a whole lot of value to be had.

 

It says a lot that both Arsenal and ManUre didn’t get involved, yet you see a club like Spuds try for basically every striker that plays in La Liga and fail miserably on all counts, therein making themselves look like amateur bellends.

 

Speaking of bellends, David Moyes has been busy taking away the focus from his own team’s capitulation at the Emirates by trying to manufacture an incident wherein he initially zzzzzzzz. The fact that he referred to himself in the third person tells you all that you need to know.The North Bank blogger doesn’t like that kind of third person self referencing, not at all, no siree.

 

Anyway, getting away from bellends and on to today’s game which sees us travel to Newcastle to take on a team shorn of first team strikers, through both the transfer of Carroll for a ludicrous sum of money and Ameobi to a fractured(?) cheekbone. Given this mini crisis up front there have been rumours that they may turn to former Gunner and the man that makes goalkeepers look prolific in front of goal, Jeremie Aliadiere. An interesting move if it happens and although he was never the prolific striker we would have liked him to be, having him there would be better than nowt. It would be nice to see him get another shot at a big club and see if he can get his career back on track. If they don’t sign him up, we may just see Gazza swing by with his fishing rod and a six pack to see if he can help out.

 

As for team news, Szczesny is set to continue in goal as Fabianski is out for the season after it was confirmed that he must have surgery on his shoulder. In front of him, the defence will most likely be Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou and Clichy. As we have been hearing pretty much since his injury occurred way back in early Autumn, Vermaelen remains three to four weeks away from a return. Sometimes it feels like Arsenal have found some way to break the rules of the physics of time. We should get Stephen Hawking in to have a gander at the state of the space time continuum around Colney.

 

In midfield, we will be without Song and Nasri. So, in the middle we should see Cesc, Diaby and Wilshere with AA23 and Bendtner playing ahead of them and RvP up front. Though there is a fair chance that Walcott may start ahead of Bendtner, I think that the boss may be a bit cautious with him given his injury record and the fact that he is recovering from a knock. If Diaby does start ahead of Denilson, hopefully he will put in a good shift and not just amble about the pitch.

 

Starting with Bendtner out right and RvP up front would allow the two of them to interchange positions fairly easily and give the defenders something more to think about.

 

Although AA23 hasn’t put in his best performances away from home, he is showing signs of coming back into some good form and his stats don’t lie. He deserves a starting place, especially as we will lack the creativity of Nasri who is out until after the first leg against Barcelona.

 

Away from today’s game, I think that the massive overreaction by some people towards journalists on Twitter following the Cesc thing was a bit out of order. I’m not saying that you need to agree with their views or suck up to them or anything of the sort. However, if you disagree with them, there are other ways to voice your dissatisfaction aside from sending them a message calling them a ‘cnut.’ Having a good disagreement is part of what makes the interaction on Twitter interesting. But, when you turn that anger or disagreement into some kind of slanging match, well, it doesn’t really reflect well on yourself and the club you support. It also gets all Arsenal fans tarred with the same brush.

 

If anyone has read my blog for any period of time, you will know that I am not averse to using a plethora of swear words, but the readership of my blog is quite small compared to the number of people that will see your Tweet as journalists tend to re-Tweet the abusive messages that they have been sent. By all means disagree with someone, have an argument with someone if you like, but try to at least keep it respectful. I don’t mind Arsenal fans complaining amongst themselves about incidents or what has been said, but when that gets directed in a disrespectful way at people outside of the Arsenal family, then it gives us a bad name. Just because Twitter is not face to face doesn’t mean that what you say has no ramifications. I suppose what I am basically trying to say is be aware of just how public an arena Twitter is.

 

While I am on my Twitter rant, please stop messaging players and asking them to re-Tweet your message. That is neither smart nor cool and it is more likely to get you added to someone’s blocked list than for them to follow you. Crikey, that rant makes me feel a bit old, but it’s something that I just wanted to get off my chest.

 

Today will be the first game ever that I will be able to watch at home in HD, can’t wait! Hopefully the lads will reward me with a few goals, but more importantly the three points. My upgrade to HD came through yesterday, just in time to discover a bikini bowling show on TV. It gave a whole new angle to the idea of a one-ten split.

 

Finally, check out Szczesny’s interview on ATVO and also in The Guardian. He comes across as a really nice bloke. Also, if you don’t already, follow him on Twitter at @53Szczesny53 as he is pretty funny.

 

You can also follow me on Twitter at @colm_smyth.

 

Right, that’ll have to do for today. Take it easy.