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:


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.

Time to show mental strength.

March 5, 2011

Hello from a sunny and warm Yokohama. This weekend is a big one for football, for myself anyway. There is the Arsenal vs. Sunderland game tonight, Liverpool vs. ManUre tomorrow and there is the return of the J-League. Tomorrow I will be heading to the J2 season opener of one of my local teams, Shonan Bellmare, who will be taking on Fagiano Okayama.


Last Sunday’s Carling Cup final was gutting and depressing. I know that it was our fourth choice trophy, but I still wanted to win it. The team didn’t perform up to its full potential and there were some odd starting selections and substitutions. But, you can’t really legislate for such a stupid defensive mistake and for it to occur in the final minutes meant that there was no chance to come back. Frustrating, to say the least. But, such is life for us Gooners.


On to today, the team news is that there is no Fabregas, Walcott, Song or RvP. Ramsey and Koscielny are both in the squad and the latter is likely to start alongside Djourou in the centre of defence. I imagine that Ramsey will be a substitute and will hopefully come on in or around the 70th minute. I hope he gets some game time and it would be great to see him in our starting team again after spending a year out of top flight football.


We will probably start with: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy, Diaby, Denilson, Wilshere, Nasri, Arshavin and Bendtner.


It’s time for Diaby and Denilson to show just why Wenger continues to show them so much faith. We need big games from them over the coming weeks. Denilson is a bit of a strange one, he can often appear to just not be up to scratch but when you look at his numbers he rates well. Diaby, on the other hand, is a player that we all know to have a lot of talent, yet he seems to lack the drive, aggression and work-rate that are required if he is to fulfill his potential. However, I would like to be proved wrong on Diaby and perhaps if he can stay injury free for more than three or four games at a time he will have a chance to develop.


The team needs to get a result today, by hook or by crook. I don’t care if the winner is scored in the 93rd minute via a deflection off someone’s arse, but getting the three points is vital given ManUre’s loss to Chavski during the week and their game against Liverpool tomorrow. We need to close the gap and put pressure on the Mancs. The team also needs to banish the ghost of last Sunday’s result.


There is an interview with Ryo Miyaichi on ATVO which is worth checking out. In it he reveals that he doesn’t really mind where he plays in attack. With his pace, he could be a very useful future addition to our match day squad. A player with pace is something that we needed in the latter stages of the game against Birmingham last week.


Sorry for the brevity of today’s post. I’m hip deep in work and am in the final three weeks (in theory, anyway) of my MA dissertation, so blogging time, more than ever, is at an absolute premium this month.


The game is live on J-Sports Plus and coverage will begin at 23:54. I have yet to figure out why coverage generally begins at 23:54 or 21:39. I mean, why not the more obvious 23:55, or 21:40? The oddity that is Japanese broadcasting companies, I suppose. I’m not even sure why I have wasted time thinking about that.


You can follow me on Twitter, where I am much more active, at: www.twitter.com/colm_smyth or just @colm_smyth


That’ll have to do for today. I have to finish cooking dinner and then get back to the grind.


Take it easy folks. Here’s to three points for The Arsenal tonight.

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.


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!!

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.


Eboue       Squillaci       Koscielny       Gibbs

Rosicky       Song       Denilson

Bendtner                               Arshavin


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:


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.

FA Cup 4th round – Arsenal vs. Huddersfield.

January 30, 2011

Hello again from a busy blogger in Yokohama. It’s been a few weeks since my last post because I have been busy trying to make serious headway on my dissertation whilst also working. Whether or not I have managed to ‘smash’ the back of it remains to be seen. It is due in March, so posts will be intermittent between now and then, as you may have already guessed due to the dearth of posts since early December.


I’d like to say thanks to those who #ff me on Twitter (@colm_smyth) even though I haven’t been able to write as many posts here as I would ideally like to. Thanks for keeping the faith. I guess that that’s the beauty of Twitter, even though I don’t have time to write a blog post, I can still stay involved in bite-sized chunks there.


Anyway, since my last post we have played a plethora of games and are now on our way to Wembley for a Carling Cup final against Alex McLeish’s scumback kickers Birmingham. I will talk more about that closer to the actual final, but suffice to say that it will potentially be the making or breaking of this squad. Winning it could give this team the confidence and belief needed to go on to win more trophies. Losing it would raise questions about the team’s mental strength, desire and ability. Playing Birmingham in the final is certainly not going to be as easy as West Ham, however it is a massive chance to bring home a bit of silverware other than the Emirates Cup!


Looking ahead to today’s game against Huddersfield at the Emirates and the manager is set to make a few changes to the team as he will certainly have his eye on the league game against Everton on Tuesday evening. Also, given that today’s game will be our NINTH game this month I think that there would have been plenty of rotation anyway regardless of whether we were playing Everton on Tuesday evening or not.


I suppose it is only fitting that we get a game against Huddersfield as the club approaches its 125th anniversary, given the Hebert Chapman connection between the two clubs.


Word is that Almunia may start as the manager has confirmed that Szczesny is our new no1 and so he is unlikely to be risked. Given that Fabianski is still out with a dicky shoulder, it seems that, whether he likes it or not, Almunia is going to have to suck it up and do a job for us. It will be interesting to see whether Wenger meant that Szczesny is now our full-time no1, or is he just no1 until Fabianski returns and this is an attempt to put Almunia in his box for being such a reluctant no2. If our younger Pole can sort his distribution out he will be a good keeper for us.


At the back, Sagna misses out due to concussion and so we will probably line up with Eboue, Squillaci, Koscielny and Gibbs. Squillaci is available again after recovering from injury.


Midfield is anybody’s guess. However, I think that we may see Denilson, Diaby, Rosicky in the middle with Walcott and Arshavin ahead of them.


Up front, I think that we are likely to see Bendtner get the nod in order to try and get him another goal or two that would further build up his (already massive) confidence as we head into the final few months of the season.


Hopefully we can avoid the dreaded draw today and the troublesome replay that that would bring with it. We have enough games to play between now and the end of the season without adding any needless extra ones.


On the transfer front, well there isn’t really any kind of transfer front for us this month. There is plenty of speculation over whether or not we will sign Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton. It seems that his team are trying to set up a bidding war, so it remains to be seen how that will pan out after this weekend’s FA Cup games. The player would prefer to join Arsenal, so I suppose that it all comes down to how badly the boss wants to sign him. Can’t say that the signing of yet another teenager really excites me anymore.


There were rumours coming out of France during the week that we will try to sign the PSG defender Sakho for around €14m. I don’t know too much about him, to be honest (maybe I could replace Shearer on MotD?) All I know is that I once had him in Football Manager and he was quite good. That last bit of information is about as useless as tits on a bull.


I think that if we don’t sign a central defender during the window it will be a big mistake, especially as the manager revealed yesterday that Vermaelen is at least six weeks away from a return to the team. That means it will be early March at the very earliest before we see him back in the side. Given that he has been out for basically the entire season we can expect him to pick up some small niggling injuries when he does start playing and also that it will take him a good month to get anywhere close to hitting top form even if he doesn’t pick up any niggles. So, to be brutally honest, in terms of seeing the best of Vermaelen (if indeed we see him playing at all), it will be next season.


The other problem with not signing a defender and waiting, in hope, for Vermaelen to play again this season is the fact that Wenger is counting Song as one of the players that can play in central defence in TV’s absence. This just isn’t the way that a top club should be operating. We shouldn’t be having to shoehorn Song into a makeshift centre-half when his best position is as a defensive midfielder and the fact that he is basically our only defensive midfielder makes this more absurd. Signing a quality centre-half can only make the team stronger, not weaker. Squillaci is in his 30s, so the excuse of ‘signing someone now would kill player x’ just doesn’t hold up. Surely the idea is to have players of quality that can spur each other on through a healthy level of competition? Sign a quality defender now and then in the summer show the lesser ones the door.


I also don’t really like the whole ‘most good players are cup-tied for the Champions League’ excuse. The Champions League is just one of four competitions that we are still involved in and the most important one for us should be the Premier League. I know that any team still involved in the Champions League or a title challenge won’t want to sell their best defenders at this stage of the season, but I find it hard to believe that there are no defenders out there that are both available and better than what we already have.


Anyway, regardless of what I think on the matter, I have a feeling that, come February 1st, we will find ourselves in the position of waiting for the return of TV with Song as our makeshift fourth choice centre-half. If the boss does roll the dice, hopefully he will be wearing his lucky suit.


Carlos Vela has gone on loan to West Brom and let’s hope that he can get plenty of playing time under his belt there and that it will help him discover some form and confidence. To be honest, I really don’t see him as being a player that could ever be a regular in our first team. I’m not saying that he is rubbish, I just think that he would be more suited to a team outside of the ‘Big Four.’ Hopefully a decent run of form there would push up his transfer value.


According to @DarrenArsenal1 on Twitter, the club have given a ten day trial to a 16yr old Israeli called Gael Margolis, from Maccabi Tel Aviv. According to Darren, the player has risen quickly from his club’s u16’s to their full youth set-up and arrives in good scoring form.


Right, that’ll have to do for today. Here’s to a win against Huddersfield at lunchtime. Kick-off is at 12pm (9pm JST) and due to the FA Cup not being shown on TV here, I will be chasing the stream.


Take it easy.

Leeds – FA Cup 3rd round preview

January 8, 2011

Once again apologies for a recent lack of posts since the start of December. This is due in part to a wi-fi connection that is on the fritz and also because I have been trying to make some serious headway on my MA dissertation whilst on my winter holidays from work. So, please bear with me for a little while longer as my dissertation is due in March.


Looking at today’s game it is certain that we will see a raft of changes as we see players rested and protected following a tough festive period fixture schedule and also because we have umpteen players that have recently returned from injury. The manager has also said that there will be plenty of changes.


In defence, we should see Szczesny get another chance to impress in goal. Eboue will deputise for the suspended Sagna, Squillaci should step in for Djourou and will likely be partnered by Koscielny with Gibbs starting at left back following his return to fitness.


Midfield is a much harder one to call. I think that both Denilson and Rosicky will start in the middle and perhaps they will be joined by Ramsey who is now back at the club following his loan spell and is in desperate need of some playing time. Ahead of that trio we may see Vela and Arshavin with Bendtner leading the line.


Although the word is that Vela will play, it seems strange to risk his fitness given that the club have openly said that they want him to go out on loan. Vela is a strange one, on the one hand he needs playing time and experience but on the other hand you have to think about how long we can keep sending a player out on loan to get experience before we call a spade a spade and cut our losses on him. He isn’t a kid anymore and either he is good enough to make it with us or he isn’t. You get the feeling that if he was good enough, he’d have played more for us by this stage of his career. Personally, I don’t think he is good enough to ever break into our starting eleven. If the club cuts him loose, it would free up a place in the team for someone like Eden Hazard to be signed in the summer.


According to Young Guns Blog, our young Spanish defender Ignasi Miguel is set to be named on the bench and will wear number 48. Speaking of Young Guns blog, head on over to the App Store and download its brand new and totally FREE app for your iPhone or iPod. It’s the perfect complement to the Arseblog and official Arsenal apps.


This is the first time that I have felt that the Carling Cup is more important than the FA Cup. I know that we have been in the final of the Carling Cup before, but I think that this season more than any other we need to bring home a trophy and the Carling Cup is, by a long way, our best chance of doing that this season. That said, I still hope for a good run in the FA Cup.


Like yourselves, I have been wondering whether or not the club will sign anyone in this transfer window, but I am bracing myself for no players coming in this month. There will probably be a few that go out on loan, Vela and JET spring to mind. The manager himself has said that any signings will depend on the fitness of Vermaelen. I can’t help but feel that the Belgian will be out until March at the earliest and that we should bite the bullet and sign a decent defender sooner rather than later. Even if Vermaelen does recover sooner rather than later, we need to bring in someone that is better than Squillaci and Koscielny. Don’t forget we have already ‘signed’ someone as Ramsey has returned to bolster our midfield options, or at least I am sure that that’s how it will be spun!


Right, that’ll do for today. Here’s to a good performance and a win against Leeds. Fingers crossed it won’t end in a draw.


Take it easy.