Thankfully, the season is over.

May 25, 2011

Greetings from a warm and sunny Yokohama. The weather is now well on its way towards the horrid heat and humidity of summer, but right now is hovering around the mid-20s.

 

Thankfully, the season has finally come to an end, put out of it’s misery like a sack of malnutritioned kittens chucked over the side of a bridge. What should have been a title run-in turned into an absolutely atrocious run of results and inept performances from a group of players that didn’t (and don’t) appear to have the fight, the guts, the ability, the professionalism and the much vaunted (but clearly nonexistent) mental strength to maintain a competitive edge right until the final game.

 

If this season was like the movie Pulp Fiction, I would be advocating that Gazidis, Kroenke or someone get some blow torches and get medieval on some of our players. It just hasn’t been good enough. Sporadic good results against the likes of Barcelona merely papered over the cracks, no, gaping crevices that are the problems with this squad. It has been a cuntastically bad end to the season. I have never been so consistently frustrated and angered by an Arsenal squad as I have this season. Anyone who has read this blog over the past two years will know that I have always been a firm supporter of Wenger. I’m not an apologist for him, I’m a supporter of him. I recognise and greatly respect everything that he has done for this club. His contribution has been immense.

 

However, my patience is almost at an end and my support for him is now largely dependent on what kind of business he does in the transfer market, and changes he makes to the coaching set-up, this summer. Rumour is that this summer could see an emphasis placed on recruiting young players, but I think that if we sign a raft of young players in the summer then we are right back at square one and the old ‘we are young and lack experience’ excuse will be trotted out again next season. In fact, the re-emergence of that excuse will be like a new signing to the manager’s repertoire of excuses. The manager said judge him at the end of the season but I will wait until the end of the summer’s transfer window. His latest line being something along the lines of ‘It’s not like we were in a relegation battle.’ Well, the collapse that we have managed to somehow pull off must be pretty close to relegation form. We went from being in a great position to actually win the league to finishing 4th (FOURTH!!) 12pts adrift of ManUre.

 

I know that we were just 3pts off finishing 2nd, but that isn’t the point. The league was there for the taking this season and our squad choked. The Carling Cup was there for the taking and guess what? We blew it by not taking the opposition seriously enough. We thought that we just had to turn up and the trophy would be ours.

 

There was a firestorm on Sunday after Cesc tweeted a picture while at the Spanish GP. I didn’t see said tweet or picture myself, but I don’t really see why it has been turned into such a huge, cataclysmic event. Yes, as captain he really ought to have been at the final game of the season supporting his teammates. However, he is currently injured and injured players are not required to attend away games. The tweet by the player may have been ill-judged, but it is not the end of the world and didn’t warrant the player receiving a torrent of abuse or people generally going batshit about it on Twitter.

 

I think that the levels of abuse we are seeing on Twitter are a combination of people’s dissatisfaction with how the team is playing and the overall lack of investment & player effort, coupled with people’s misguided belief that the anonymity of the internet allows you to say whatever you like, to whoever you like, without any kind of repercussions. If I worked in the human resources department of a company I would make sure to check Facebook and Twitter before hiring someone, just to see if they have left a trail of batshit. Sending abuse is one of the lowest forms of ‘intelligent’ communicative interaction that you can get. It’s also, by and large, the most pointless. If your opening gambit is abuse then it instantly closes the door on any kind of intelligent and meaningful debate.

 

Anyway, yesterday it was revealed that the club has signed 19yr old Carl Jenkinson from Charlton after a compensation package of around £1m was agreed between the two clubs. I don’t know much about the player’s quality, to be honest. All I know is that he is a right-back that can also play in the middle, if needed. He is English-born, but plays his international football for Finland as his mother is Finnish. As a squad player he will surely be a better back-up for Sagna than Eboue is. Welcome to the club, Carl.

 

John Cross is reporting in today’s Mirror that a move for Karim Benzema could be on the cards. If so, he would be a great replacement to get for the soon to be departing Bendtner. In the article, Wenger is quoted as saying:

“Viewed from the outside, it doesn’t seem impossible today. He’s a player that I like. I think he’s intelligent in his movement, I think he is capable of combining well and making a difference, and of doing individual moves as well. So, for me, he’s a player who’s at the top level in the world.”

Cost-wise, it would be a move that goes against the manager’s previous transfer dealings, but at 23 the player is the right age for a Wenger signing. He also has plenty of experience and would bring more to the table than Bendtner ever did. However, for now, I will file this particular rumour under ‘pipe dream.’

 

Details of the club’s pre-season tour of Asia have been confirmed and will see the club travel first to Malaysia where they will play a Malaysia XI at the Bukit Jalil Stadiu, in Kuala Lumpur, on July 13th and then on to China where they will play Chinese Super League side Hangzhou Greentown, in Hangzhou, on July 16.

 

Finally, the club are allowing Barcelona to train at Colney ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final against ManUre. Hopefully the staff will give the place a good going over afterwards in order to root out all of Xavi’s love letters to Cesc, pleading with him to join Barca in the summer.

 

Right, I think that will do for today. My venting is done, hopefully things can get back to being more positive from here on. The boss has said that this will be his busiest summer in the transfer market for quite some time, let’s hope that the signing of some proven quality will be part of what keeps him busy.

Take it easy.

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Wenger to strengthen squad. Blogger, his resolve.

May 14, 2011

Greetings from a beautiful hot and sunny Yokohama. Well, I say beautiful but who knows who much cesium and radioactive iodine I am absorbing as I sit here writing this. My guess is I am absorbing just as much as you are, wherever you are, but you just never know. Radiation levels here in Yokohama are normal. At the height of the initial scare a Geiger counter reading taken in Tokyo was lower than a reading taken in Rome, apparently.

 

Anyway, since my last post the team have put in what just may have been their worst performance of the season. I say may because there are an awful lot of performances that would give the Stoke performance a good run for its money. We were rubbish. Too many players just either not interested enough or not good enough. That is probably a 50/50 either/or split. Our squad has too many players that aren’t good enough and don’t seem to have the hunger and drive to actually put in a shift. That is something that must be addressed over the summer. Players that aren’t cutting it need to be ruthlessly shipped out in order to make space for new, better, blood.

 

Trying to offload some of these players won’t be easy as they are all on good salaries and that may put them out of the price range of clubs whose stature their skill set may be more suitable to. Even if Wenger chooses to offload a selection of players from Almunia, Squillaci, Eboue, Denilson, Rosicky, Vela, Bendtner and Chamakh, will he be able to? There have been people speculating that as many as nine players could be moved out, but I would be amazed if that happened. Honestly, I think the absolute maximum that may leave would be five and, more than likely, it will only be three or four. I think we can assume that Almunia is a certainty to leave, but exactly who joins him is harder to pinpoint as there are so many players that could easily be shown the door. Personally, I hope that we keep Arshavin because as frustrating as he has been at times this season, over the last few weeks he has been working a lot harder and even putting in some decent challenges, not to mention having a pretty decent stats record.

 

The manager said yesterday that we will be looking to strengthen the squad in the summer but then immediately shot down that balloon of joy by adding the caveat that we do that ‘every year.’ Brilliant, just the caveat that I didn’t want to hear because for the last few years we have done sod all of any great note on the transfer front. But, we may as well try to be positive and hope that this summer will actually be a busy one on the transfer front, both in and out.

 

One thing that did annoy me about what he said was that ‘We don’t target any special position before the transfer market.’ Taken at face value, that is just basic mismanagement.  I know he is probably playing his cards close to his chest but surely he knows which positions need to be strengthened and has an idea of who he would like to sign for those positions? I know that things are complicated by the 25-man squad rule and the need to move players out first in order to make space, but you should still have your targets identified. If not, then why have such a massive scouting network? I think that we will see Man Shitty, Chavski and Liverpool spending a hefty amount of money this summer and we will need to hit the ground running in the transfer market if we are to keep up.

 

In yesterday’s press conference, the manager revealed that the team news for this weekend’s game is that both Fabregas and Nasri will have fitness tests today, Diaby is out (maybe I should just start writing that as DIO, as it happens so often. Though that may lead some metal fans to my blog.) Koscielny and Rosicky are both out with thigh problems. Vermaelen has a chance to start but given the injury to Koscielny you would think that Vermaelen is a certainty to start alongside Djourou.

 

Assuming that one of Nasri/Cesc will be fit to start, that would probably (hopefully) see us line up as:

Szczesny

Sagna          Djourou          Vermaelen          Clichy

Nasri          Song          Wilshere

Walcott                                                Arshavin

Van Persie

 

I am looking forward to seeing how Djourou and Vermaelen play together. Hopefully it will give us a bit of stability at the back and make us better at defending set pieces and crosses. Time will tell.

 

Yesterday, the manager also commented on the allegations by Paul Merson that the club gives the players unknown substances. He was very strong in his insistence that anything that the players are given are only supplements such as vitamins, not anything illegal. He even went as far as saying that if such a thing had happened he would resign tomorrow. No doubt that final part delighted the more hardcore ‘Wenger out’ brigade. I was at Highbury the day that Merson scored his first goal following his ‘comeback’ from rehab, but now I couldn’t care less about anything that he says, and neither should you.

 

Right that’s about that for today. We have two games left and we need to take all six points to guarantee third place.

 

Remember, you can follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/colm_smyth

 

Take it easy.


Back in the mid-nuclear crisis blogging saddle.

May 4, 2011

Greetings from a warm and sunny Yokohama. It’s been a long, long time since my last post. Since that post, there have been 1,130+ earthquakes, tsunami, an ongoing nuclear crisis, a drunken week in Osaka, 2 wins, 3 losses, 5 draws and I have finally finished and submitted my MA dissertation on racism and xenophobia in the English football press. So, I’m sure you will understand that it hasn’t exactly been a time where blogging was high on my list of priorities!

 

Anyway, where to start? I don’t think I will talk about any of the games over that time as there isn’t really any point at this stage, is there? So, I’ll talk a bit about off the field matters today.

 

There is the whole takeover situation. I am glad that it is Kroenke that gained control of the club rather than Usmanov. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t want someone that has served time in a Russian prison controlling our club. I know that some people would like to see Usmanov come in as there is the perception that, because he is loaded, he would spunk mountains of cash on transfers. However, there is no guarantee he would have done that. Also, you can be sure that any money he would have given the club would have been in the form of loans which, while probably interest free, would still need to be repaid at some stage.

 

The silence of Kroenke Tonk Stan (KTS) is a little frustrating, but I would take his silence over the likes of a Hicks & Gillette or a Freddie Sheppard style owner who tended to not do themselves any favours when they did speak. Of course, it would be nice to hear the exact intentions that KTS has for the club, will he invest any money and will he work together with small shareholders and groups such as the AST? However, we can assume that things will basically continue as normal until we hear otherwise. To be honest, we don’t really need him to invest any money as there is plenty of money available for the manager to spend, he has just chosen not to spend it. We are not skint. Hopefully the manager will spend some of that money this coming summer on some proven quality. I don’t care how much or little the players cost, I just want them to be good, and experienced.

 

However, I don’t want to get into any transfer speculation today as there will be endless opportunities to speculate on that between the end of the season and the closing of the transfer window at the end of August.

 

The club is pressing ahead with its plans to raise ticket prices by 6.5% and you can’t help but feel that KTS has missed a great chance to get the fans on his side and garner some good PR. I hope that the money gained by this rise will go towards strengthening the squad rather than towards our largely ineffective commercial department. As someone that lives in Japan, the ticket increase won’t really have any impact on me at all. But, it will almost certainly mean that some current season ticket holders and club level fans won’t be able to afford to renew.

 

The club really ought to take the current economic situation into consideration as raising the prices will surely result in a big reduction in the season ticket waiting list and we will likely see plenty of empty seats in the stadium next year as people just won’t be able to afford to go. It’s all well and good raising the ticket prices, but the club also have to consider the other costs that fans incur on match days. Planes, trains, boats, buses, food, programmes, fanzines, drinks and some merchandise all add up to an expensive day out. While the club may feel that the 6.5% is reasonable, when you consider all the additional costs, you are probably looking at somewhere between 100-150 for each home game. That just isn’t sustainable for the average fan. Even if the club sells all its allocated season tickets, if those fans start skipping attending some games, then the match day revenue inside the stadium will drop.

 

I think that this ticket price increase will lead to an even greater than usual outpouring of rage in the summer should the club again fail to sign experienced players of proven quality.

 

According to AST’s Tim Payton, on Twitter (www.twitter.com/timpayton), the club is committed to undertaking a full ticket pricing review for the 2012/2013 season.

 

Finally, the club revealed its new kit for next season and at first I had decided that I was going to buy it. Then, I discovered yesterday that the crest is not going to be embroidered onto the shirt, instead it is just going to be a sticker that is applied through some form of heat treatment. Personally, I have no interest in blowing about 50 on a shirt if I have to worry about whether or not the crest will still be on the it after each and every washing. To opt for a sticker style crest over an embroidered one, especially in the club’s 125th anniversary year, just smacks of penny pinching. Though I suppose there is the possibility that it may be too complex to embroider the crest and leaf design. Still, a sticker crest just looks cheap.

 

Right, that’ll have to do for today. It’s good to be back in the saddle again.

 

You can follow me on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/colm_smyth

 

Take it easy.