Thursday, 17 March 2011

St Partick's Day special - Magic Moments with David O'Leary

As it's St Patrick's Day, I thought I would share this Magic Moments video of David O'Leary, who holds the record for the greatest number of appearances for Arsenal.

Not many people know that David was actually born in Stoke Newington. However, he moved to Ireland at the age of three to escape the jellied eel famine of the early sixties and is considered by most people to be as Irish as a leprechaun drinking a pint of Guinness whilst simultaneously eating a potato and playing the fiddle.

As I grew up in the seventies and eighties when David was in his prime, he was one of my early heroes. He was a calm and collected centre-half, known for his elegant style of play and great positional sense, but he was also a big strong lad who wasn't scared to mix it up a bit.

As mentioned, David holds Arsenal's all-time record for appearances, with 722 first-team games, and over 1000 games at all levels, in a twenty-year long association with the club.  He made his Arsenal debut against Burnley on 16 August 1975, aged just 17, and went on to make 30 appearances that season. For the next ten years he was ever-present.

Despite playing for such a long time, he won relatively few trophies because he played at a time when Arsenal were going through a bit of a barren patch. He won his first major trophy when he played in the 3–2 win over Manchester United in the 1979 FA Cup Final. He also played in the 1978 and 1980 Cup finals, and the 1980 Cup Winners' Cup final, all of which Arsenal lost. He won another League title in 1991 and an FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993.

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Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Reports of the death of Arsenal's season are greatly exaggerated

Picture courtesy Rob(TM)

The apparent news that Johan Djourou could be back in a couple of weeks could save Arsenal's season, if it proves to be true.

Arsenal have very quickly cleared their fixture list for the rest of the season in the worst possible way. The players' confidence will undoubtedly have been knocked by the unfortunate events of the last couple of weeks, but if they can recover they can go on to win the league.

First we lost the Carling Cup final in disappointing circumstances after a calamitous mix-up between Djourou and Szczesny in the last minute gifted Birmingham a lead with not enough time for Arsenal to come back.

Then we lost to Barca in the Champions League. A lot of opinions have been expressed about this, to put it mildly. What is not in doubt is that van Persie's sending off was at the very least extremely harsh. Everyone and his Labrador seem to have expressed an opinion on this, but the truth is that no-one (including the referee) could have known for certain whether RvP heard the whistle and he therefore deserved the benefit of the doubt.

I wonder whether we are still feeling the backlash from the referees' old boys club network since Fabregas allegedly called the referee a cheat in the match against Everton back in November. Certainly we have not had very much luck with officials' decisions since. Apart from the Barca match, the matches against Newcastle and Sunderland also saw some incredibly bad decision-making which went against us.

Whether we would have beaten Barca had van Persie not been sent off is something we'll never no, but we were in the lead at that point and Barca needed to score two goals to go through, so I would have fancied our chances. But it was not to be.

Then there was the FA Cup match against ManUre last week. I really can't work out how we lost that match. We don't ever seem to get the run of the ball against them. We always seem to outplay them and end up loosing. On the surface it just seems to be bad luck, but it's happened so many times that you wonder if there might be some fundamental reason such as tactics or some kind of mental block on the players' part. If there is a reason though I'll be blowed if I can work it out. The fact that Van Der Sar was man of the match probably says something. (I'm just not quite sure what.)

However, if we can get enough of the walking wounded into action we are still in with a chance of the title. Alex Song should hopefully be fit for the next match against West Brom, which would be a massive boost.

Unfortunately I don't think anyone would be surprised if Vermaelen is out for the rest of the season, which is why Djourou is so crucial. Squillaci is not as bad as some people seem to think. A lot of players struggle in their first season in the Premier League and I have seen enough from him to make me think that he could yet be a good squad player in the longer term. He should be good enough to get us through the match against the Baggies, but I would be much more confident if we had JD back to play against Liverpool (17 April), Spuds (20 April) and ManUre (1 May).

Fabianski and Frimpong we know are out for the rest of the season, so we can forget about them. We have been given emergency dispensation to sign another keeper till the end of the season (possibly Jens Lehmann), so that's the back-up keeper sorted.

However long Szczesny is out for, we will miss him, but Almunia has done well since coming in and we can only keep our fingers crossed that he continues to do so, and that Chesney is back before the end of the season.

For Emmanual Frimpong we'll just have to make do with Denilson and a half-fit Aaron Ramsey, but we've missed him for the whole season anyway, so it's not like it will make any difference.

That leaves Fabregas and Walcott that we don't know about, and these two are likely to be key. Fabregas looks as if he will be out for a few weeks and Arsene Wenger has been very quiet about Theo for some reason. Doubtless he has been concentrating on the players that are fit to play, which is fair enough.

We look to have so many more options when they are playing, with Theo's pace and finishing and Fab's movement and passing ability. If those two can get back playing soon, our season will not be over.

Bring it on!

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Monday, 14 March 2011

Man Utd v Arsenal - match highlights video

Click on the link above to watch the hightlights.

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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Barcelona v Arsenal - video highlights and some thoughts

I'm still gutted about last night's match. If you have the stomach for it, you can view the highlights above.

Technically, the referee was probably right to send off van Persie, but really he needs to show some common sense. The fact that two different Barca players grabbed two different Arsenal players around the throat prior to this with no action being taken against them (van Persie being one of the Arsenal players involved) puts things into perspective.

Now, to add insult to injury, Arsene Wenger and Samir Nasri have been charged with improper conduct after making remarks to the referee. Although this comes as no surprise, it does seem that it's okay for referees to be incompetent but not okay for players or managers to voice their opinions on this. Frankly, I'm surprised that van Persie didn't get charged as well after calling the referee a joke on live TV. Perhaps UEFA just haven't got around to it yet?

I have heard plenty of people (including the pundits on Sky) saying that Barca were the better team and therefore deserved to win, but the truth is that they barely had a shot at goal before van Persie got sent off.

How many times have Arsenal been the better team but failed to win due to a combination of bad luck, bad refereeing decisions, good defending and good keeping? What have the pundits' reactions been to this? They've said that Arsenal play pretty football but lack backbone. Total hypocrisy!

Anyway, we have to make sure we regroup now and try to get something out of the FA Cup match against ManUre and then go on and win the league. It won't be easy though, especially if Szczesny is injured long term.

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Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Barcelona v Arsenal - match preview and line-up

Arsenal line-up:

Subs: Almunia, Squillaci, Eboue, Denilson, Arshavin, Bendtner, Chamakh

After a disappointing result on Saturday (albeit with the aid of some pretty crappy officiating by the referee and linesmen) it is important that Arsenal come back with a good performance against Barca tonight.

It wasn't so much the incorrect offside decision and the not-given penalty against Sunderland that annoyed me as they were both difficult decisions. It was all the other poor decisions that annoyed me most, like the one where Nasri was fouled and referee gave a free-kick to Sunderland and booked Samir, or the so-called 'foul throw'. The ref seemed to have a knack of giving poor decisions in Sunderland's favour at just the right time to break up our momentum. How much longer do we have to keep getting punished by referees for Fabregas allegedly calling one of them a chat? Anyway, I'm over it now, so let's move on. [Deep breath]

The big surprise is that Rosicky starts tonight instead of Arshavin. I guess a tough match (in more ways than one) against Sunderland.

It's great that Fabregas is back - it could be the difference between victory and defeat. It's a shame about Song though. However, I would take Diaby over Denilson as his replacement every time. I'm not one of these people who boos or slags off our own players and Denilson is a decent squad player but Diaby is just so much better than him in my opinion, if he's fully match sharp (which, unfortunately, he rarely seems to be). I'll be a lot more confident if I see his rather than Denilson's name announced on the team sheet. And for those who don't rate Diaby, remember how you used to criticise Song so vociferously? How about now?

The other big question mark over tonight's team was who would play up front, and it's brilliant news that van Persie will start. It will give everyone a big boost and, although both Chamakh and Bendtner are decent players, having RvP up front could make all the difference in a tough match like this.

I think that Arsene Wenger was right in saying that unless van Persie is at least 99.5% fit, he should not be risked. Even if we loose to Barcelona tonight we are still in the hunt for the Premier League and the FA Cup, so it's important that van Persie is able to take part in as many of those as possible. And even if we beat Barca we still have a few tough matches to win before we lift the Champions League trophy, so we shouldn't put all our eggs in one metaphorical trophy basket.

This is one of those big matches that can go either way and it's a fool who tries to predict the outcome, but we are in with a chance after winning the first leg at Ashburton Grove. What's important though is that we put in a good performance even if we are defeated, for the benefit of team morale and confidence. I'm concerned that if we loose this match heavily it might affect our whole season, though I'm not expecting that to happen.

On a final note, I would like to send this message to Barcelona: Barca DNA stands for Barcelona-Do-Not-Approach. So stop tapping up our captain. W***ers!

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Saturday, 5 March 2011

Arsenal v Sunderland - probable line-up and match preview

Fixtures are coming thick and fast at the moment. I worked out that if we play all the possible fixtures we could possibly playbetween now and the end of the season (including a replay against ManUre in the FA Cup and getting to the FA Cup and Champions League finals) we would be playing twice a week every week for the whole of the rest of the season without break.

Despite the upcoming match against Barcelona on Tuesday however, I expect Arsene Wenger to name a strong team against Sunderland. Song, Fabregas, Walcott and van Persie are all out as well as long-term absentees Fabianski and Vermaelen. I'm a lot less worried about Song being out if Diaby is playing in his place than if Denilson is in the team, so hopefully that will be the case today.

Arsene Wenger's most difficult selection decision will be whether to play Nasri on the right and Rosicky in the Fabregas role or play Rosicky in the Fab role and Nasri on the right. I think he will go with the former, but it's a close call. I changed ny mind several times while writing this article. Anyway, we shall see. The good news though is that (like Arshavin) Rosicky, Bendtner and Chamakh seem to be coming back to form as the season reaches the critical squeeky-bum time. Hell, even the Spanish waiter had a good game on Wednesday.

The other good news is that Aaron Ramsey is in the Arsenal squad for the first time since he had his leg broken by Shawcross over a year ago. He is sure to get a great reception if he comes on.

I'm quietly confident ahead of the match. I don't think it will be easy, but if we can't beat Sunderland on our own ground then we don't deserve to win the league. Then again, the same could be said of West Brom.

You're probably sick of hearing it by now, but if we win we will go within a point of ManUre after their defeat at Chelsea (ha, ha). Come on Arsenal!

Incidentally, the tactics board above is a photo of Arsene Wenger's actual tactics board in the home dressing room from when I went on the stadium tour a couple of years ago. I can thoroughly recommend it if you haven't been on it yet.

Probable Arsenal line-up:


Sagna Djourou Koscielny Clichy

              Diaby Wilshere

     Bendtner Nasri Arshavin


Subs: Almunia, Squillaci, Eboue, Gibbs, Denilson, Ramsey, Rosicky

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