Monthly Archives: March 2012

Previewing A Week And A Half

Good morning and welcome to a slightly peculiar blog. It’s a bit peculiar because its got quite a bit of ground to cover, not necessarily because there’s so much going on at the moment but because, well, it’s going to have to last a while. 

Basically I have reached what might be referred to as “that” time of year in my studies where there is simply so much to do that I know what I’m doing with every single hour of every single day until the end of next week. Although there are times during the year when it gets hectic between my full time degree, my full time job and everything else, this is the time of year when frankly it all hits the fan.

Fortunately, I have a plan. I have holiday from work coming up in the crucial final week next week and I have my other commitments down to a minimum. However the fact is that I have to find more time particularly this week to get stuff done, and as a result I’ve decided to take the longest break that I will have taken from writing this blog since I started a couple of years ago.

Now, by no means is this an end to regular publishing of the blog, it is very much a temporary and necessary measure based on the fact that the hour or so that I spend writing it in a day simply has to be reallocated to getting the crucial work done. Ironically, next term at university I have two exams that won’t be as much hassle as the work that I’m presently facing. So, as long as we’re clear that this is a temporary and necessary break I guess we can go on to Arsenal related stuff.

Now, I’ll be returning next weekend, just before we play Manchester City in what has to be regarded as something of a big match but in the meantime we’ve got a less daunting but no less crucial task to fulfil against QPR at Loftus Road. Of course its that time of year when the worst teams in the league can become unpredictable to play as they resist the tentacles of relegation.

Being a club which contains both Joey Barton and Mark Hughes, it cannot be understated that QPR are tossers of the highest order. Unlike Norwich and Swansea they’ve come up to the Premier League and added precisely nothing to it but another dull and shit team. Relegation would be a richly deserved fate for them, but to be honest as long as we beat them on Saturday I can’t say their ultimate fate bothers me.

We’re on our best league from for almost five years, which if you’re QPR is not really what you want to be facing at this point in their situation. We carry the momentum, the confidence and the quality going into this game as well as a need for points just as great as QPR’s. It’s been good to see since we arrived in third place in the league that nobody from the team that’s spoken publicly from the team has seemed to treat what has been accomplished as “job done” as it were. Staying third will be an even bigger task then getting there in the first place and there are tough tasks to come.

Nigel Winterburn believes that the confidence that now exists in Arsenal’s squad is the crucial factor in our much improved form. The former defender said,

“I think it is sometimes hard for the supporters to understand how big a part confidence plays in a player. You need great mental strength as well and I think the team has showed that.

“After AC Milan the players were low and they would have had to dig deep because they had some severe criticism. But recently they have shown great desire to get back into that top four and put a run of results together.

Much as the term “mental strength” has come to be regarded with a degree of suspicion by Arsenal fans, it is the term that fits here. The squad has shown, repeatedly, great mental strength in the last few weeks to come back from difficult situations and that’s been great to see. The question is, how will they respond now if a result does not go our way? To me the prospect of a setback is a crucial factor in whether we deliver the strong finish to our league campaign that it looks like we might.

This weekend throws up some interesting situations. After their exertions in Portugal last night, Chelsea will have to rally themselves for a trip to Villa Park, although our recent experience with Aston Villa seems to suggest they might have nothing to worry about, whilst Spurs will play Swansea at home but not until Sunday which means we have the opportunity to put six points between them and us, if only for 24 hours. As we all know, Spurs’ ability to deal with pressure is hardly renowned. Swansea’s away record is a bit dire but we know that they’re a hard working, talented team with a good manager and should Spurs not be at it on Sunday then they could easily come unstuck.

So those are the permutations this weekend, I’m now taking myself off to a shocking essay on the economic history of Britain which is exactly the sort of crap I’m going to buried under for the next little while. Apologies for the forthcoming interruption in service, but it really is necessary, in the meantime have a good one and I will return in all my glory (or something) before the Man City game.

Villa Vanquished. Thoughts on Progress

Good morning, I don’t know how it is for you but here in Canterbury it’s a morning of glorious sunshine and pleasant temperatures. I have no doubt it will remain thus over the next two weeks or so whilst I slave away on the busiest part of the academic year. Of course, once my tasks are complete the fine weather will undoubtedly abruptly terminate and return to conning me on a daily basis. Do I need a coat? Do I not need a coat? It seems the weather is responsive to my personal decisions on this subject and punishes me accordingly.

In the world of Arsenal however, it’s all sunshine and lollipops or something. I missed being able to do a triumphant blog yesterday on the various things that went right for us on Saturday but if you think that means that I’m going to meekly accept that that ship has sailed then you can think again. Frankly its always seemed to me in the years I’ve been writing this blog that victory has a very short shelf life with fans. Apart from the really big ones over the times we dislike the most, victory tends to be forgotten about by the time we play our next game whereas defeat continues to make its slimy presence felt for far longer.

So, to cover the bases of why things are rosy after the weekend it goes like this:

1) We beat Aston Villa.

2) We beat Aston Villa very well.

3) Our team is playing football with a confidence and a security we haven’t seen for a long time.

4) Chelsea and Spurs drew with each other in the worst game of top flight football ever played, ensuring our advantage over both teams in the league is extended. 

I think those are just about the major points. There other positives of course but I think they all fit into those four categories. For example Theo Walcott scoring possibly his best ever goal for the club goes neatly under categories 2) and 3). All reasons to be very cheerful. Not reasons to get carried away, mind, but reasons to be cheerful.

And it deserves noting that whilst this year represented our worst start to a season since the time of the dinosaurs or something, it has now also seen our best league run since the autumn of 2007 which was part of a league campaign which really should have seen us finish as champions. 

The worry of course, is that we’ve seen encouraging signs before. The team has played well and then suddenly a setback has come along and everything went south. Does this Arsenal team have the capability to handle something going wrong, or are we still in a situation where everything will be fine so long there are no setbacks?

The team still has a lot of work to do this season. We’ve given ourselves a great chance of accomplishing our goal of Champions League qualification but there’s enough time and points left for it all to turn around again so we can’t lose our focus or allow doubt to creep in.

Arsene Wenger believes that finishing third would make a massive difference to us due to the bonus of being put straight into the Champions League group stages. The manager said, 

“We have come through a very difficult period. We have learnt from that and must keep our feet on the ground and focus on the next game,” 

“It makes a massive difference because fourth place is a qualifier and third place is really the Champions League.

“I would prefer not [to have to qualify], as would everybody, but if we have to do it, we do it. And don’t forget, it’s after the Euros so we might not have all of our players.”

If you think back to the dark days of August and September, we really could have done without the high pressure tie with Udinese. In fact our progression to the group stage looks quite impressive considering the struggles that we were having at the time. The qualifier as we know has become harder than it was a few years ago with the reorganisation of the Champions League’s early stages. Since the new rules came in we were fairly fortunate to draw the abysmal Celtic and then Tottenham were luckier still to draw Young Boys (and still nearly lost). This season though goes to show the possibility of facing a good team from one of the big leagues and that I think was one reason that we had such a disrupted summer – because our Champions League participation was still in doubt. I’m not saying it was the only factor, but I do think it mattered. After all most of our transfer business was done only after we won the first leg.

As much as some of the manager’s well known lines have gotten a bad press and in some cases rightly so (“Like a new signing” and “fourth is like a trophy” being two obvious examples) , he always talks about the next game being the most important one and I think in our current situation those words have never been more true. It’s been a long time since Arsenal have had a strong finish to the league season but that’s exactly what has to be delivered this time around. The fact that we don’t have external distractions such as the Cup or the Champions League may not be the worst thing (though obviously I’d prefer it if we were still in both) for Arsenal right now.

Of course, football being football we’ve gone from the sky falling in a month or two ago to us being the best thing ever now and expectations are rising amongst fans as to what might be achieved next season. One one level, it’s quite amazing that anyone is thinking in those sorts of terms when our Champions League qualification for next season hasn’t even been secured yet, but as I say on another level it’s not surprising at all because that’s what football fans and football writers are like. Arsene Wenger has talked about this a little, saying

“Lets just see if we have the quality to maintain this consistency until the end of the season and then we can say ‘OK, look’, that is not done yet, there are eight games to go and things can change.

“We are more experienced this season. Last year we were [down] at the end of the season because we went out of the League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League in days – subconsciously we couldn’t win any more.”

It will be an interesting question to ask at the end of the season as to whether this campaign ultimately reflects progress from last season and where we might go from that point, but it is a question for then and not for now. For now the only thing that matters is QPR away on Saturday, and then after that home to Manchester City is all that matters and so on.

The jobs not done yet, but I think we’ve now got every chance of a third place finish, and no that’s not “like a trophy”, but after everything this season it would be a positive. 

That’ll do it for this morning then. Take it easy and I’ll return soon.

Arsenal Vs Aston Villa: No Room For Error

So, no long wait for our next game then, its straight into our first defence of the automatic Champions League qualification place as we face Aston Villa at home. Previously this season we’ve had a flair for the dramatic against Villa, beating them as we have with a late goal at Villa Park and from two goals down at home in the FA Cup. I have to say I’d take something more mundane today, anything which keeps us where we are in the table with three extra points to our name will do just fine.

Aside from our game there’s a vital part of the equation that’s not to be missed in the early kick off as our two Champions League qualification rivals, Spurs and Chelsea face one another at Stamford Bridge. The pressure is bearing down on both sides, Chelsea now some five points off the top four and Spurs really on the slide. Normally when your rivals play each other like this you tend to think a draw would be the most favourable result as that means both sides drop points and don’t get me wrong, that would be good for us but I actually think that provided we can get a result against Villa, a Chelsea win would actually be more beneficial to us.

Chelsea after all are six points behind us, if we win today then they would still be six points behind us (again, provided we beat Villa). Spurs are currently within a single point of us, if they lose today and we win it opens up a four point advantage for us in the automatic Champions League spot. Not only that but overall its better for us if Chelsea are the other team that finishes in the Champions League places rather than Spurs as it removes any chance of Chelsea undoing our hard work if we finish 4th by winning the Champions League (unlikely in the extreme with the likelihood of them facing Barcelona in the semis, but there it is) and of course if after everything Spurs end up playing Europa League football next season it would be absolutely hilarious.

But anyway, the job in hand is what matters and that’s the match against Villa today. No new injury concerns are arising from the victory over Everton in midweek so it could well be an unchanged side, complete with the unexpected deployment of Aaron Ramsey in the forward three. I suppose that decision has much to do with the recent good form of Tomas Rosicky which has compelled the manager to leave Ramsey out of the starting eleven. It worked well against fairly similar opponents on Wednesday, perhaps it might prove something that we’ll stick with as Arsene Wenger continues to take things slowly regarding the introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to regular first team action.

As I mentioned before, our encounters with Villa this season have been anything but smooth rides. I think we largely made things more difficult for ourselves than they have needed to be in those games. The concession of an equaliser at Villa Park which necessitate our late winner was thoroughly avoidable whilst we just weren’t at it in the first half of the FA Cup game and that enabled Villa to get themselves into a two goal lead. When the team did finally get its act together, we overhauled the deficit in double quick time.

This time around we’ve been in rich form going into the game (although we’ve still been making things difficult for ourselves in some matches), and Robin Van Persie believes that momentum is now with us. The captain says,

“In the battle for third place the momentum is ours now, we are winning games and the other teams are dropping points,”

“They have tough fixtures coming up too because Chelsea meet Spurs this Saturday. From our point of view, for those two to play each other at this moment is fantastic because we know one of them – or even both of them – will definitely drop points.

“So we have to win against Villa to take advantage of that. If we have to win ugly, then let’s do that. It’s part of our job too. We have shown great character in the last few weeks, so why not do it every week now?”

Robin spoke of ‘winning ugly’ before the Everton game as well and you know what he means – its the result that matters at the end of the day and there’s still very little room for error despite the progress we’ve made. If we have to win with a goal deflected off the arse of an unfortunate Villa defender then so be it. By hook or by crook, we have must have the three points tonight.

If you read Arseblog during the week you’ll know he gave a glowing review to the performance of our back four at Everton, their function as a unit and their determination to keep a clean sheet, aided by some robust protection from midfield. This current combination of defenders has yet to lose in the league and seem to be forging a crucial understanding that could help us build a solid foundation to progress from.

Theo Walcott has paid tribute to the leader of that defence, Thomas Vermaelen, a man who has been simply indispensable as always this season and in the last two league games has provided the winning goals. Walcott said,

“[They were] brilliant – really important goals as well,

“The Newcastle win was massive and he showed that desire to get from defence to attack and latch onto things. He’s an absolute soldier, someone you’d always want in front of you, a real leader who just wants to win.

“To see him banging in another big goal at Everton was great. I’m happy for him – he had his injury problems last season but he’s one of the best defenders in the world without a doubt.”

I think next to Vidic and Kompany, there’s a good case for considering Vermaelen one of the best centre-halves in the league at the moment. His goalscoring has been a bonus but to me it’s how much stronger our defence looks when he’s in it that matters. His qualities have contributed massively to our improvement in defence and I would say its just as vital for us that he doesn’t pick up an injury before the end of the season as it is for Robin Van Persie.

That’s going to round things off for today. Enjoy the game whatever you’re doing and I’ll return soon.

Everton 0-1 Arsenal: Gunners Go Third As Spurs Blow It Again

Not a bad night’s work all around it has to be said. A win for us, defeat for Chelsea and a very poor result for Spurs in the form of their draw with Spurs sees Arsenal go third in the table, overtaking Spurs who held a twelve point lead over us at one point.

I actually didn’t see the game last night and even now have only seen a brief clip of Vermaelen’s goal, so I’m in no position to serve up a detailed match report but I think the result is the only thing that ever mattered last night. I gather we were wasteful with chances throughout the game and another day that might cost us, but last night we got away with it and took the points.

It puts us in a very interesting position ahead of the weekend. Little did I know until one of the customers at work, a Spurs fan, told me yesterday but Spurs and Chelsea face each other this weekend at Stamford Bridge in what is a huge game for this three-way battle we have going for Champions League qualification and the pressure will well and truly be on both times and since they can’t both win the chance will be there for us to extend our advantage over one or both teams.

In a reversal of the situation before kick off last night, we now sit a point above Tottenham, but we’re now also six points clear of Chelsea. It’s not a decisive gap by any means but at this stage of the season it is a considerable one. Much as the talk is of Spurs’ season unravelling this morning, they have a five point advantage over Chelsea which leaves Bob Matthews’ side clinging onto this battle for Champions League football by their very fingernails. They do of course have one more trick up their sleeve in so much as they’re still in the Champions League with a fairly kind quarter-final draw. I don’t think they can beat Barcelona though, which is who they are likely to face in the semi-finals. Testing times at the Bridge for certain.

I can’t help but have a little chuckle at Liverpool this morning as well. Much as they keep trying to claim its not over for them so far as Champions League football goes, their results just don’t match their rhetoric. Two goals up on one of the worst teams in the league last night, and they contrived to somehow lose the match. They remain twelve points off the pace for the top four despite a golden opportunity to close the gap to Chelsea and Spurs last night.

So, this all makes this weekend’s match against Aston Villa rather interesting for us. Having worked hard and gotten, realistically as high as we can reach this season (and automatic Champions League qualifications after all the trials of the last twelve months may not be a “trophy”, but it would be a fantastic testament to our manager that even in the worst period of his management he could still guide us to a position that is the envy of the rest of the league bar two teams), we now need to make sure that we stay there. We’ve got nine games to hold on and some big matches in there. As I mentioned already, Spurs and Chelsea face each other this weekend. Opportunities that golden do not come along every week. We mustn’t go out against Villa and think that our job is done. As Spurs have aptly shown us, six point leads can disappear very quickly.

We still have to face Chelsea in what will be a massive game for this qualification fight, we still have to face a Manchester side fighting for the title. It’s not over yet, but at the moment we’re the ones with the advantage and the momentum. What we’ve got to do now is hold on to it.

And I think much as it was a functional result I think we can allow ourselves a moment to enjoy victory over Everton. Goodison Park is not an easy place to win, David Moyes’ Everton not an easy team to beat. It was another test that we’ve passed as this Arsenal team seems to continue to grow in character and resolve. It’s really important for this team and the club as a whole that we do not fade away this season. It’s been a long time since we’ve finished a season strongly and it would bode well for the future for us if we could hold on to this third spot and not let the campaign blow up in our faces as we have done before.

That’ll do it for this morning. Have a good day, and I’ll be back soon.

Everton Vs Arsenal: The Show Must Go On

So then, a tough one tonight. Everton away is never a comfortable trip. Well, ok we won 6-1 there a couple of years ago but I think the point is that it’s not one that we look forward to. It’s not really one that we look at as a nailed on three points and that’s because in ten years of David Moyes’ management they’ve become a team that is hard to beat first and foremost.

It’s impossible to look at the job Moyes has done at Everton and not be impressed. Every year his job has gotten harder as the club has had to sell top players without really replacing them and yet they’ve been kept clear of trouble and indeed reached for the European places on more than one occasion. There’s been an FA Cup final and real stability at the club in Moyes’ tenure and that takes a manager of real calibre at a club where funds are clearly restricted.

We saw in the game earlier this season that they’re more than capable of frustrating skillful opponents, of keeping flair at bay. In the end it took a goal so good it has been rightly hailed as Robin Van Persie’s best of the season to break them down. On their own pitch tonight we will surely find things just as difficult. They recently beat Spurs there through something of a rearguard action, and though our form says that we’re on a roll and Spurs weren’t, we can’t expect this to be anything other than a big test.

Everton will be smarting of course from a heavy defeat in the derby against Liverpool last week. It’s certainly not the way that they wanted to mark David Moyes’ ten year anniversary in charge of the club. They’ll be looking for a response in a big game to wipe away that memory and I don’t see them suffering too much of a hangover from that match.

For our part though, we’ve done sterling work in the league over the last month or so. Consecutive victories have seen us rise clear of Chelsea and to within a point of Spurs. Chelsea will be facing a massive test this evening as they go away to Manchester City and we have to be right there to punish them if they can’t get it done, or indeed if they can then we need to make them look at the league table and see that such an effort still availed them nothing. In short, three points are vital tonight. One poor result is all it would take for the good feeling around the club to be jeopardised once more.

Arsene Wenger talks about how the feeling around the club is different this year to the way things were after the disappointments of last spring. This year, we’ve responded to disappointment rather than rolling over and accepting it and we are playing some of the best stuff of our season. We’ve come from behind to win our last four league games, we’ve won twice in injury times in those matches. At the moment, this is an Arsenal team that doesn’t give up, and perhaps more importantly it’s a team worthy of a top three finish. That’s not something we can afford to let slip. There’s still a long way to go and time for the nightmares of last season to become the nightmares of this one as well. That’s a healthy fear to have, one that should stop it from becoming a reality.

Of course tonight sees the return to Goodison Park of Mikel Arteta. Our midfielder has had an understated but I think quite crucial role in our season. At Everton he was far more of a creative hub than I think he is at Arsenal. He’s had to adapt his game a little bit but he gives the side a good balance and he’s a calming influence in the middle of the park. When he was out injured I think we badly missed him, it upset the rhytmn of the team and we looked less assured in possession. Where some criticism of Arteta seems to have come in is around the slightly obvious fact that he’s not Cesc Fabregas, but then nor is he supposed to be. I think some people are guilty of looking at him and thinking “Spanish” + “central midfielder” = “Fabregas replacement”. But he isn’t the one who has been playing in that position. Generally its been Aaron Ramsey who has filled that role and Arteta has had a less advanced, less creative part to play.

So then, its a big game tonight and one that I finally feel able to enjoy after the events of the week. I am very relieved that it’s not taking place in the shadow of the death of a young man, but rather that Fabrice Muamba is doing well in hospital and if there’s one thing that we should keep in mind as we watch on tonight, it’s that win, lose or draw we watch this game because we enjoy it, it’s not life and death.

That said, winning is always fun, so I’ll take a bit of that. Enjoy the game.

Muamba On The Road To Recovery

Good morning, after a couple of fraught days for football there was some degree of relief yesterday as it emerged that Fabrice Muamba is improving in hospital. Though his recovery still can’t be taken for granted, these signs look very positive and that’s fantastic news.

The last couple of days have seen the best and the worst of the footballing world, but personally I choose to focus on the best. The support that has flooded in for Muamba from every corner of the world has been a wonderful testament to the power of football to be a uniting force for good. Fans, clubs and organisations have spoken out to convey messages of comfort and support to Fabrice Muamba and his family and I think we should all, as fans, be proud of the respect that has been shown.

Arsene Wenger has spoken of Muamba’s time at Arsenal and his connection to the club. As has been comprehensively noted, Muamba started his career with us and still has a lot of friends at the club. The manager said,

This is of course a massive shock to us all and we just hope that Fabrice will pull through safely. You pray that the damage will be repaired and that Fabrice will come out healthy and we will see his smile again. That is all you wish for.

“As a man, Fabrice has a positive attitude towards life, he is full of determination and has a great desire. Everyone at Arsenal has huge respect for Fabrice. Even after he left us, he often passed by to say hello and speak about how it was going for him. We feel very deeply attached to him. 

“He is what you would call a committed player. His hunger and determination was so big. When he was younger, he had massive players in front of him at Arsenal, but I felt he had reached the level to play in the Premier League, so we let him go and he has proved his quality.

“A football player always remains attached to where he was educated. Fabrice had his friends from childhood here and they remain your friends forever.

“We are all thinking of Fabrice, his family and everyone close to him.”

In many ways Muamba was a little unfortunate not to have been a couple of years younger because if he had been I think he wouldn’t have had so much quality in front of him at Arsenal. His career at Bolton has shown that he’s more than got the quality for the top level and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him go on to play for a team further up the table than Bolton (provided of course, that he makes a full recovery). It seems like he’s been around forever because he emerged into first team football at the age of 17. In fact he is now only 23, and I sincerely hope that in time he’ll be able to return to what is a very promising career.

Over the last few days, thinking about Arsenal news has seemed a little trivial. Rightly I think our focus has been elsewhere as football fans but now, with the signs being that Muamba is improving and hopefully on his way to a recovery I think we can take a glance at the important game at Everton tomorrow.

The situation in the battle for Champions League qualification is such: Tottenham sit in third place, only a single point ahead of us in fourth. Beneath us in fifth, Chelsea are three points behind. Although we’re presently in line to qualify the situation is precarious with ten games left to play. Among those games is a huge match with Chelsea at home and a tough clash with Manchester City, also at home.

Tomorrow sees tests of varying severity for the three clubs. Chelsea will be travelling to Manchester City in what will be a big test for their supposed resurgence under Bob Matthews. Having slipped behind Manchester United in the table, Manchester City will be very eager for a result and for Chelsea to take three points in those circumstances would be an amazing result. Consequently we have to view our own game as an opportunity to put some space between ourselves and Chelsea. Everton are, as will be discussed tomorrow, a tough side, especially at home but they will be smarting from a heavy defeat in the derby against Liverpool last week. They did beat Spurs recently but whilst Spurs have been slipping in recent weeks, we’ve been on a major roll. I think we’ll be able to ask some better questions of them and I feel, though this may be the kiss of death, quietly confident that we’ll take the points. 

Spurs for their part face Stoke at home tomorrow. It’s not the match we’d hope for them to face, Stoke’s ability to take points from big teams on the road is not exactly well documented. However with Spurs continuing to feel the pressure, you never know what their bottling tendencies might make them do. My hopes aren’t high, I have to say but if Stoke could get something then potentially we could be third tomorrow night.

Further discussion of Everton can wait for tomorrow I think but in the meantime I’m going to go search for some breakfast. Have a good Tuesday!

Fabrice Muamba Critically Ill In Hospital After Collapsing On The Pitch

There’s only one place to start this morning and that’s with Fabrice Muamba. The Bolton Wanderers midfielder and former Arsenal trainee suddenly collapsed on the pitch a few minutes before half time in the club’s FA Cup tie with Tottenham at White Hart Lane. He was immediately in obvious distress and was attended by the medical staff of both clubs as well as paramedics, who after several minutes of attempting to resuscitate him then transferred him by stretcher to an ambulance which took him to the London Chest Hospital where he remains critically ill and facing a vital 24 hours

The medical staff of Bolton and Tottenham are to be copiously praised for their swift action which surely saved the players life in the short term, and hopefully it will prove, in the long term as well. Bolton Wanderers manager Owen Coyle says,

“It’s very serious. There’s no getting away from that. God willing, he makes it through.”

Obviously, that’s the most important thing. Reports are understandably coming through quite slowly and really one has to assume that no news is good news at this stage. Muamba is only 23 years old, has a young son and a fiancé and along with everyone else my fingers are crossed that he comes through this.

Much was said of the class shown by the Tottenham fans as Muamba was attended to on the pitch and rightly so. I think the severity of the situation was obvious from an early stage and the fans reacted quite properly, not only in terms of their support for the injured player but the lack of any upset or hassle over the necessary abandonment of the fixture. Beyond the ground, it’s one of those rare occasions when football is united and club or country allegiances go out of the window, we are all, at the end of the day, human beings and what matters is the young man who collapsed on the pitch and is now fighting for his life.

Arsenal have released a short but effective statement about Muamba which I think speaks quite clearly and quite rightly for all of us. The club said,

Bolton Wanderers have confirmed that Fabrice Muamba is in a critically ill condition in intensive care after collapsing during his side’s FA Cup match against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.

The thoughts and prayers of his many friends at Arsenal Football Club are with Fabrice and his family at this time.

And of course Muamba does have many friends at the club, starting his career as he did at Arsenal. Our former defender Justin Hoyte paid emotional tribute to his friend, as did our centre-half Johan Djourou. Other members of our squad have, like other footballers around Europe, taken the time to send messages of support. Fans have done so in their thousands. Fabrice Muamba has the support of the entire sport and its fans as he faces this struggle.

There is more I could say about Muamba but frankly I don’t want to seem like I’m writing an obituary. Instead I think we’ll end here rather than going on to Arsenal news that was really never that important in the first place and certainly looks nothing but trivial now.

I will simply reiterate my own best wishes to Muamba and his family, if you look around on the net you won’t go far before you come across the story of how he came to be a success in this country against the odds, and that’s the spirit that will hopefully see him to recovery.

Let’s hope for better news tomorrow. In the meantime, get well soon Fabrice.

The Missing Weekend

Good morning and welcome to a strangely Arsenal-less weekend. With it being the FA Cup quarter-finals there are only a smattering of Premier League games taking place this weekend and I assume that we were supposed to be playing one of the quarter finalists thus leaving us to twiddle our thumbs and hum annoyingly to ourselves in the corner in the vague hope someone might give us something to do.

All four quarter finals are quite horrendously dull looking fixtures as well, so we can’t even sit here and speculate on the outcome of exciting cup ties. And one thing that strikes me is that although everyone tends to look at Manchester City as the nefarious wielders of an unlimited wallet in football these days, when it comes to cup draws the Chelsea coin very rarely lets them down.

Maybe it’s pure chance but somehow I find that a bit far fetched. It seems that when it comes to the FA Cup particularly they draw Championship teams at home like there’s no tomorrow. Their somewhat generous Champions League draw also stands as testament to the infallibility of the Abramovich Rouble. I note a few concerns around Arsenal fans on the net that this might be the year Chelsea manage to win the Champions League and should the league positions finish as they are that would of course mean Chelsea would replace us in the Champions League due to their status as the holders. Personally, I don’t think there’s any way that Chelsea are getting past Barcelona in the semi-final but I’m quite content from them to have that little dream if it means that they take their eye off the ball in the league. In the meantime we can use it as one more inspiration to usurp Spurs and get ourselves into third/

Trivial concerns like that aside its fair to say that the mood inside the Arsenal camp at the moment is quite positive. Although as Tim Stillman pointed out this week, the close nature of the scrap for Champions League places – us being a point from Spurs and being only three points ahead of Chelsea – means,

“…we’re one dodgy result away from the sky falling in, everything being shit and everyone being a cunt again.”

True words indeed. A bad result at Everton in only a few days could reverse every last trace of positivity that some fans have found in the light of our efforts against Spurs, Liverpool, AC Milan and Newcastle. Such is the nature of football these days I guess. I wish fans could have a little more patience at times but equally we’re now at a point in the season where the pressure is really on.

Inside the camp, morale appears to be high. Arseblog News reports on comments from Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson who both have a lot of praise for the solidarity of the club at the present time. Jenkinson said,

“Everyone gets on, which is quite rare in football. Often you have cliques of people or people who argue all the time, but we all get on well here.

“That is a big thing and it boosts the morale of the team. We are all friends, which helps on the pitch because you have that faith and trust in one another.”

It’s certainly been the case with Arsenal under Arsene Wenger that our players haven’t always been the best of mates. At the end of the day everyone is a professional and those players found a way to make it work which is fine but at the end of the day in any job it’s so much easier to go in and get stuff done when your colleagues are also your mates. We get a glimpse from time to time through the magic of twitter that this is a squad of players who enjoy having a laugh with each other, and it just naturally makes a team more willing to fight hard for each other on the pitch. Don’t get me wrong, the best players can do that anyway, but the bottom line is that a good atmosphere in the dressing room is a good thing.

Gibbs talks a little about the atmosphere in the stands which has obviously been a lot better these last few weeks. He said,

“You can see how much it means to the fans and we need to continue that now to keep the atmosphere going,”

“When the Emirates is like that, other teams can’t play because it is too difficult. We feel like we have a lot more power when the atmosphere is kicking like that.

“It’s just been a great turnaround. We took a lot of stick a few weeks back, especially after the defeats in Milan and the FA Cup, but everyone has come together and shown a real [resolve] to turn the season around.”]

It’s fair to say that the Grove has not been noted for its intimidating atmosphere in its short history, but occasionally, when the crowd are right behind the team it’s quite an incredible stadium to be in. We don’t really get enough of that unfortunately and you do sense that when you do its all a bit fragile – once again one bad result and once again the world is coming to an end. Still, I would hope our fans will stay as they are until the end of the season, our team needs all the support it can get as it seeks to achieve this Champions League place.

And beyond that, I have to say there’s not a lot happening so I will leave it there. A happy Saturday to you, and I’ll return soon.

Friday Waffle

Good morning, I’m back from a couple of days off from the world of blogging to deal with trifling details such as the ever increasing pressure of my workload at university. This being the second of four years of study that will lead me to teacher training, I’ve come to appreciate that Spring is just “that time of year” when the work piles up and you just have to get down to it.

When I was still at school some eight years ago I always seemed to find the way to avoid knuckling down to the serious business. I wish my eighteen year old self were here to give me a few pointers, but in retrospect that young man’s avoidance of hard work may have much to do with the fact that I am only now at the age of 26 studying for my degree.

I hadn’t really consulted the football news over the last couple of days before this morning and it would seem not much has been missed. It’s a bit of a strange one this weekend because there are a couple of Premier League games and of course the FA Cup quarter finals are taking place but some teams like ourselves just don’t have a fixture (I assume we were earmarked to face one of the quarter-finalists this weekend). This leaves us with a lengthy wait for our next game which isn’t until Wednesday next week when we face the always tricky trip to Goodison Park to play Everton.

Last week we had nearly a week’s break between our efforts against AC Milan and the game with Newcastle and that was good for us, the break was needed after our Champions League exertions. This time I have to say I find it quite annoying. We have momentum and really this is where you want to see us get into our next game and get the next big result (hopefully). A week’s break is nice and all but I’m not sure its as needed as the one before the Newcastle game.

Still at least we’re not in the Europa League, eh? Both Manchester clubs were eliminated last night but I have to say I’m not wheeling out much mockery because I don’t think either team was enthralled with the competition and their elimination comes as something of a relief for a lot of their fans I would think. One of my mates is a United fan and his interest in football has generally waned over the years but still he found United’s presence in the Europa League deeply embarrassing and was a strong advocate for them playing a reserve team that would get beaten as quickly as possible. As it transpired their first team was more than capable of playing with the lack of application that their eager opponents were quick to exploit. In the end, I can’t really make much fun of United or City because like them, I’d much rather our club was out of the Europa League than in it. For me that competition is less meaningful even than the Carling Cup.

In our own news, there’s good and bad news on the injury front. Arseblog News reports that there’s encouraging signs that Jack Wilshere will finally play a game this season, whilst on the other side of the coin the season is over for Per Mertesacker. Mertesacker has been the target of sustained criticism this season and in fairness he has struggled to adapt to a league where pace is very important. However I felt he was making progress and he’s clearly an intelligent footballer and a good reader of the game. I think in time he would be the same player for us that he was/is for Bremen and Germany. He has been a calming influence at times and we’d have been better off with him for the run-in than without certainly.

As for Wilshere, as I said the signs are good. Arsene Wenger says,

“Jack’s scan was positive. There is no problem, it is normal evolution and he is continuing his progression. It’s too early to fix a date though, we go day by day with him.”

When a player has missed so much of a season, conventional wisdom seems to be that we should write them off for the rest of the campaign and give them the summer to prepare for the new season. With Wilshere I would have to disagree. If he can play even a couple of games before the end of the season then we need that quality on the pitch. Whatever else you can say on the battle between ourselves, Chelsea and Spurs for Champions League qualification, it seems a safe bet to say it’s going to go down to the wire. We need our best players, even the ones that have missed large parts of the season.

Another such man is Andre Santos who is also close to playing after months out. The badly needed backup to Kieran Gibbs (because of Gibbs’ injury problems, not because Gibbs lacks quality because he clearly doesn’t, England would do well to take him to Euro 2012) is fit for action and it will be interesting to see what the manager does with the two left backs now. Santos started off at the club looking a little unfit and a little off the pace of the game but as time went on he started to look inspired, hard work in the gym clearly paid off and I think we’ve got a good player on our hands. Since Gibbs returned I think we’ve been nursing him through games a bit, and with Santos also coming back from a bad injury perhaps we’ll see a little rotation from the manager to keep both players fit. I think it’s going to be an interesting battle between the two for the starting place, and one which can only benefit us as a team.

Arseblog News carries an interesting piece on the club’s approach to dealing with young players using social media sites like twitter and facebook. I’d encourage you to give it a read rather than me rehashing the quotes here. Personally I wonder who the club would encourage youngsters to follow the example of. I can’t imagine they’d hold up Emmanuel Frimpong as an example of getting it right! Still, I’m glad the club are generally positive and not seeking to stop players using twitter and such because it is good fun to see a little glimpse of the players when they’re not in front of an interviewers cameras. I’ve never been one for celebrity news or gossip, I have no interest in pictures of our players looking annoyed because a photographer is following them around Tescos, but I do like seeing that they have fun at work and that they are a group of mates as well as colleagues. It’s a nice little insight is all.

Anyway, that’s all from me for this morning, have yourselves a good Friday and I’ll be back soon.

Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle United: Barcodes Zapped

There really is nothing quite like a last minute winner is there? Of all the ways to win a football match nothing beats it for the sheer exhilaration and spontaneous outpouring of joy, and when your team has scored it at the expense of a pox-ridden scumbag like Alan Pardew, well frankly it doesn’t get any better than that.

It was a memorable way to finish an unmemorable match, but nonetheless also a match that told us a lot about what this Arsenal team can do when their confidence is up. Last night was our fifth consecutive victory in the league, and our fourth consecutive win after going behind – a Premier League record. Whilst I’d rather have a record of winning all five games comfortably what that shows you is that this is a team that can play with character and determination. At times (recent times at that) that quality has been in question, but the team have responded with class and though Newcastle might rue conceding a winner in injury time, the truth is that these were three points that we thoroughly deserved.

The game was hardly the most electric or fast paced, especially compared to some of our recent outings but it was good to see us dominate possession and keep Newcastle penned in. I felt in the first half particularly that we pressed them really well and they were denied time and space even within their own half. Newcastle struggled to find answers to that throughout the game really, and aside from their goal its tough to suggest they carried much of a threat.

Nonetheless it was they who struck first after they found life unusually easy in our half on about the quarter hour. An interception from Tiote saw them on their way and when Obertan fed in Ben Arfa the Frenchman made it look far too easy as he cut in and lashed the ball past Szczesny at the near post. A very disappointing goal to concede, but we didn’t have time to dwell on it. From the kick off, the owner of a brand new contract with the club, the deserving Tomas Rosicky released Walcott down the flank, his ball into the box found the feet of Robin Van Persie who did well to keep his balance and despatched the ball into the net to equalise some 14 seconds after the restart.

The pace of the match dropped noticeably, but as I said earlier we controlled the ball and the game well. Newcastle spent much of the half chasing shadows and at half time the only regrets we could feasibly have were the ease with which Newcastle had scored their goal and that we did not find ourselves ahead.

The second half for the longest time was a frustrating affair. Tim Krul in the Newcastle goal had already begun time wasting tactics in the first half and consequently gotten himself into a row with Robin Van Persie that was to boil over toward the final whistle. However in the course of the second half he also made smart saves, a Rosicky header coming to mind foremostly. Later, Rosicky missed what has be regarded as a golden opportunity, the only blemish on another fine performance.

So with the clock running down and Newcastle within sight of a creditable result, only drama would do and we got in added time. Five minutes were given by the officials, a delicious irony that Krul’s time-wasting gave us the very minutes that won us the game. From our own half it was a sharp break forward that Thomas Vermaelen made up a huge amount of ground to be on the end of, when it dropped kindly for him he made no mistake and the points were ours.

Afterwards there were handbags as Robin Van Persie gave Krul some stick which the goalkeeper reacted to. It took several minutes for the game to be restarted and the formality of the final whistle to be heard. In terms of what was seen between Krul and Van Persie I don’t see a huge issue to be made of it – Krul wasted time as a player in his situation would have, Van Persie took exception and gave him some grief when we won the game, Krul reacted, Van Persie laughed at him, there was some pushing and then I think some afters in the tunnel. Not really anything to get in a hissy fit over for either group of fans really. Personally its the three points that concern me,

So our three point advantage over Chelsea is restored whilst the gap to Tottenham is down to a single point and the chase is now very much on. We’ve got to keep this good form going when we face Everton (anybody know why we’re not playing again until next Wednesday?) There’s a huge game coming up soon between Spurs and Chelsea and we need to be primed to take advantage of one or both teams when they drop points in that one.

For now though, let’s content ourselves with another win and another demonstration of this Arsenal side’s ability to fight to the very end for this Champions League place. Arsene Wenger had every right to hail his team’s character (something he’s faced plenty of stick for in the past) after the game when he said,

“That [coming from behind to win] is the best response to something that has been questioned sometimes this season. I believe that shows we have quality, we have spirit, which I have never questioned. It was a relentless effort again tonight from the first to the last minute. The tempo was absolutely top level tonight. We kept going until the last second and just managed to win the game.

Certainly the fact we have done it before helped us. Even when we were 1-0 down we just kept going and we feel now at the moment in the team we just have that complete and total commitment to do as well as we can and give absolutely everything. That gets the crowd behind the team and you saw a very entertaining game tonight against a very good Newcastle side.”

I’m not sure I’d agree with the manager’s comments about the tempo of the game, and how he has the gall to say “even when we were 1-0 down…” when that constituted 14 seconds of open play I don’t know. But he has every right to talk about total commitment and quality. I’m also glad to see him mention the crowd’s efforts as they were behind the team all the way last night and in a season where relations between the club and the fans have been a little fraught at times it was good to see everyone on the same page again.

Going forward, if our effort in every game is the same then I have no doubt we’ll be in the Champions League next season (something else the manager said post-match). That consistency is now the question mark – can we produce it for another ten games because that is realistically what we need. Not necessarily ten wins but certainly ten determined and top draw performances. The bottom line is that it’s in our hands. We’ve done well to change the landscape of this qualification battle but as quickly as we’ve turned it to our favour it could turn right back around again. There’s a long, long way to go.

But for now that’s going to be all. Have yourselves a good Tuesday and I’ll be back tomorrow.