Our path has been laid out. January – May.

June 18, 2011

If you managed to make it through the August-December look at the season’s fixtures, here is part two. Enjoy. (If that’s the right word to use.)

January.

January has the potential to be a very busy month for the club, should the team to make it to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup and win the FA Cup third round tie they will have to play eight games in thirty days. The month starts with an away trip to Fulham on the 2nd. So, following the away trip to Villa on December 21st, the team will be playing in London until at least the FA Cup 3rd round tie on the weekend of the 7th & 8th. Should we make it to the Carling Cup semis, the first leg will be played on the 11th. The Premier League will then resume with an away trip to Swansea on the 14th ahead of the visit of ManU to the Emirates on the 21st. With the two cup games and Swansea trip coming before this game, it is a chance to rest some of the more senior players to ensure they are 100% for the ManU game. The Carling Cup semi-final second leg is schedule for the 25th with the FA Cup 4th round on the weekend of the 28th & 29th. The final game of the month sees us travel to Bolton on the 31st.

League prediction: WWDW (10pts)

February.

February sees us take on Blackburn at home on the 4th. We then have a week to rest before travelling to Sunderland on the 11th. The 5th round of the FA Cup will take place on the weekend of the 18th & 19th. Spurs visit the Emirates on the 25th, though that game will be moved should the team reach the Carling Cup final, which is scheduled to be played on the 26th. Will the team be able to right the wrongs of last season and bring home the Carling Cup as its first piece of silverware? Time will tell. One thing seems certain, if they do reach the final their opponent is unlikely to be as favourable as Birmingham should have been last season, which may be no bad thing as it would help avoid complacency.

League prediction: WDW (7pts)

March.

This is when the men really start to be separated from the boys and the run-in begins in earnest. The team faces a trip to Anfield on the 3rd followed by the visit of Newcastle to the Emirates on the 10th. There are no easy games at this point of the season and the team will be hoping to be in good form and injury free as each game becomes more crucial than the last. An away trip to Everton is scheduled for the 17th but this is subject to change should either team reach the quarter finals of the FA Cup. There is then a week of rest ahead of a home game against Aston Villa on the 24th and an away game against QPR on the 31st.

League prediction: LWDWW (10pts)

April.

The first league game of the month comes on the 7th with a home game against Man City and is followed by an away trip to Wolves on the 9th. The boss will need to think carefully about which players he rotates for these two games as clearly he won’t be able to play the same starting eleven in such a short space of time. On the 14th, Wigan are set to visit the Emirates, however this game is subject to change should either team reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup. A week later, on the 21st, Chelsea visit the Emirates in what will hopefully be a pivotal game in the title race. The final game of the month comes a week later, on the 28th, with an away game against Stoke.

League prediction: DWWDD (9pts)

May.

Our final home game of the season will be on May 5th, against Norwich. However, this is subject to change should either team reach the FA Cup final. You would have to look at that as a guaranteed three points at home. Our final game of the league season is on Sunday 13th, when we will travel to play WBA. If the team is level on points, or ahead, with two games to go you would have to fancy our chances of lifting the title with Norwich and WBA as our final two games.

League prediction: WW (6pts)

The second half of the season will see us playing nine home games and 10 away games.

Final league points tally prediction: 82 points. P38 W24 D10 L4.

That final points tally may seem overly optimistic as it would be a 14pt improvement over last season and involve just four defeats, four less than last season. But, if you can’t be optimistic ahead of a new season then you may as well just stop following football. It’s also based on the assumption that we will have strengthened the squad and sufficiently addressed the defensive frailties that plagued us last season.

That’ll have to do for my outline of the season’s fixtures as they currently stand. Of course, some of these may change depending on results in the various cup competitions.

 

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

Take it easy.


Our path has been laid out. August – December.

June 18, 2011

Yesterday saw the announcement of the fixture list for the 2011/2012 season and it hasn’t given us an easy opening month by any stretch of the imagination. I will take a look at the fixtures month by month, as the Premier League gets uppity if you print a list-style fixture list and would have their goons send me a message ordering it to be taken down.

 

August.

August sees us kick off the season with an away trip to Newcastle on the 13th. Not the easiest of opening day games. This is then followed by the first leg of our Champions League qualifier in midweek. On Saturday 20th, we have a home game against Liverpool. The following midweek sees us play the Champions League qualifier 2nd leg followed by an away trip to ManU on the 27th.

That, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a tough run of games and the team will have to really hit the ground running if they are to avoid suffering a string of morale crushing defeats in the opening month of the season. Perhaps it will prompt the manager to finish his transfer business early so that that the squad is settled and the new players have had a chance to integrate before the season starts, rather than waiting until August 31st in order to try and save a few pounds in the transfer market, as has been his modus operandi in the last few years.

League prediction: DWL (4pts)

September.

September will offer the chance to get some decent points on the board with a home game to Swansea on the 10th, away to Blackburn on the 17th and home to Bolton on the 24th. All of those games are very winnable with the Bolton game likely to be the toughest of those fixtures. But, if last season taught us anything, it’s that this team is most often at its poorest against the  so-called lesser teams, so it will be a good early indicator of whether or not they have learned anything from their previous plethora of mistakes.  The Blackburn and Bolton games sandwich the 3rd round Carling Cup tie on the 21st.

There’s no point mentioning the potential Champions League group stage dates as we haven’t qualified for that yet and I don’t want to tempt fate.

League prediction: WWW (9pts)

October.

October looks like it could be a tricky month and it kicks off on the 1st with an away trip to Spurs. This is followed by a two week break which must be for a depressingly dull international break. Normal service is resumed on the 15th with a home game against Sunderland which, given the players they have offloaded this year, we really ought to be winning. Stoke visit the Emirates on the 22nd in what will be a good aerial test for whatever form our revamped defence will take. Will we be able to deal with Delap’s throws? The Carling Cup 4th round, should we still be in it, is on the 26th. The final game of the month sees us travel to Stamford Bridge on the 29th. That game will be a good test of the team’s mettle. If the team can get good results in the games against Spurs and Stoke we could be heading into that game with a good level of confidence, increasing our chances of getting a good result, as this team relies heavily on being confident in order to perform. However, I have a feeling that October won’t be too kind to us this year.

League prediction: DWDL (5pts)

November.

Unusually, November looks set to offer another chance for the team to get some points on the board and in a month that generally treats us very badly both in terms of results and injuries, we just might be able to have a decent November, for a change.

The month opens with a home game to WBA on the 5th. This is a game that we really ought to be winning. This is followed by an away trip to Norwich on the 19th and then a home game against Fulham on the 26th. All three of those games are games that we really ought to be winning if we are to have any kind of serious title aspirations. By mid-November, any kind of buzz felt by Norwich following their promotion should have dissipated and the harsh realities of a Premier League season will have set in. The month ends with a possible Carling Cup quarter final tie on the 30th.

League prediction: WWW (9pts)

December.

December will provide more of a test for the team. The month starts with an away trip to Wigan on the 3rd. On the face of it, this should be a very winnable game, but we all remember being 2-0 up there a year or two ago only to blow the game and lose 3-2. Everton visit the Emirates on the 10th, followed by away trips to Man City on the 17th and Aston Villa on the 21st. That’s a run of three tricky games as we head into the Christmas period. On the 26th we have a home game against Wolves and on the 29th we are home to QPR. I will be hoping to get myself to the QPR game while I am home in Ireland for Christmas. While it won’t be an easy month, it could have been a lot worse as we only have to face one team that is set to challenge for a top four position. Apart from Man City, those other teams will probably finish lower than 8th.

League prediction: WWLDWW (13pts)

 

The first half of the season will see us playing ten home games and nine away games. Hopefully our home form will be better than it was last season. It will have to be if we want to pick up some silverware.

 

Okay, that’ll do for part one of my look at the fixtures for the coming season. Part two will be up about an hour after this one, should you be arsed reading it having read this. I will update this post accordingly should the team successfully navigate its way through the Champions League qualifier in August.

 

As always, you can find me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/colm_smyth Also, thanks to all who have given me an #FF on Twitter. I never expected to reach the number one spot in Japan, let alone spend seven weeks there. Thanks very much!

Take it easy.


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.


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.


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.

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!!