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Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Arsenal Transfer Targets Spotted at Airport

In Arsenal, Transfers on August 31, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Totally reliable, honestly!!!  It looks like Arsene is trying to sign a brand new team and they’re flying in as I type……..

Oh the joys of transfer deadline day titter tattle!!

GG

Arsenal: The Transfer Saga Continues

In Arsenal, Transfers on August 30, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Pre-amble:

For the past two seasons there has been one consistent topic of discussion in the footballing fraternity:

“What is Arsene Wenger thinking?”

“Why doesn’t he recognise that he needs a goalkeeper, centre back, additional creative midfield outlets, and a striking foil for RvP?”

It was plain and obvious for many outsiders to see and painful for each Arsenal fan to ensure as Arsenal XI’s continued to fail when needed to push on and win some silverware.

And the most recent response? During the summer we have seen Arsene ship out Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Eboue, Jay Emmanuel Thomas and long-term loan deals for Denilson and Carlos Vela.

The replacements? Gervinho, Carl Jenkinson, Joel Campbell, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all of whom bought the number of Premiership games experience……0 (zero).

Sunday:

Arsenal were given a few home truths regarding the strength and depth of the squad and endure a humiliating defeat at Old Trafford.

Monday:

The morning after the night before. All that could be heard was what changes need to happen and will they happen and if they do, is there enough time.

Monday evening/Tuesday:

It all kicks off and that £100M kitty started to burn a hole in Arsene’s pocket:

Chu Young Park – Monaco striker and South Korean captain was halfway through a medical process at Lille when all of a sudden it was rumoured to be travelling to London to finalise a deal to Arsenal. What this will do for any hope of a future deal with Lille for Eden Hazard is yet to be seen but Park is now an Arsenal player. Chu is 26 years old and has won 53 caps for the South Korean national side (17 goals).

Andre Santos – up to a week ago the Brazilian left back was looking forward to a season of Champions League football until Fenerbache were turfed out of the Champions League for match fixing and now facing potential self-relegation. Arsene has jumped on this opportunity to sure up the left side of his defence having cut loose the eternally under-performing Armand Traore. Santos is 28 and has won 22 caps for the Brazilian national side.

Per Mertesacker – Mertesacker had been linked with Arsenal previously in the summary and it had looked like that was another opportunity lost. That was until Joachim Low confirmed that Per had departed the Germany squad preparation to fly to London to tie up a transfer to the city. Personal terms are said to have been agreed as well as having passed a medical so all that is left is confirmation of a £10M move from Werder Bremen. That and the chance to get away from having to pick up the slack from Mikael Silvestre

If there was one signing that was needed this summer it was a new centre back to compliment Thomas Vermaelen and after all the talk of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka this signing is a real coup given the price, players age and national and international experience. Per is 26 and has won 75 (that’s seventy-five) caps for the German national side.

And who else?

It’s difficult to speculate 24 hours before a transfer window closes because there is going to be so much guff flying about that will never happen.

Will we make another supposed bid to Rennes for Yann M’Vila? Have Bolton now burnt their bridges over the Cahill transfer?

Will Yossi Benayoun or Mario Gotze (don’t google it!) being wearing red and white this season? If not, we’ll certainly get a first-hand look of the latter during the Champions League games against B. Dortmund.

There’s also the potential for a few more exits. The futures of Nicklas Bendtner and Manuel Almunia were supposed to be resolved this summer. There’s been more talk recently regarding Bendtners departure but very little for Alumnia. It will be interesting in a curious way to see what happens but if Bendtner does stay he could still have a role to play this season.

Also of late, if rumours can be beleived,u there has been some interest from Europe with Chamakh going to PSG on loan and Johan Djourou to Lazio. I’m not convinced that we can actually lose Djourou given the track record of injuries to Arsenal centre backs but a loan move for Chamakh could be a no-brainer. He’s not performing at the moment and if he can develop a bit more somewhere else then great. If not, going on loan puts him in the shop window for a potential transfer in the future.

Wednesday?

This is all very promising and there is still another 24 hours for Arsene to continue his spending frenzy before the window shuts. There’s still some work to be done as the weekend result clearly demonstrated that the current squad was severely lacking but there is now hope that there will be some more surprises to come. You can only hope that the relative lull in rumours in the past few hours is down to the Arsenal negotiation team are getting an early night tonight before a big day tomorrow. Let’s hope they’ve got plenty batteries in the phone, paper for the fax machine, ink in the pens to complete all the registration form and the premier league office on speed dial for final minute registrations.

Roll on transfer day, it’s nice when you’re involved but if it turns out to be any anti-climax there’s always other channels.

Manchester United Vs Arsenal: 4 Reasons Why Today Was Inevitable

In Preimeri League 2011/12, Wenger on August 28, 2011 at 10:51 pm

What the hell was that!

Here’s my disclosure for today’s post:  I didn’t go to the game today, I do not subscribe to a TVsports channel owned by Rupert Murdoch, I only listened to the game on the radio and followed certain twitter feeds, I shall not be matching MOTD2 tonight.  I am still proud to be an Arsenal fan no matter how much it hurts…………..but today it bloody hurts!!!

Rather than go into the in’s and outs of a game that I thankfully did not have to view I put forward some reasons as to why the result today was inevitable and, in a painful way, might be the kick up the arse this club has gotten away with in recent time.

1.  Arsene Wenger

Turn on the radio and listen to any post-match phone-in and you’ll hear both sides of the Arsene Wenger.  No matter which side of the fence you sit there are some big areas of concern where Arsene seems to be shooting himself in the foot in his current approach to managing Arsenal.

Unwilling to recognize the teams weaknesses:  Time and time again we hear about this team’s massive potential and mental strengthness, however, this has never actually turned into results.  How many times in recent seasons have Arsenal struggled against the title challenging teams as well as against teams that should have been beaten easily.  Yes, there may have been the odd victory against ManUre and Chelsea but for every one of those there has been a Wigan or a West Brom or a Newcastle or a Bolton.  Teams that should have easily been beaten and would have been beaten by Premiership winning teams that have produced that mental strengthness every week to win games against the run of play.

Unwilling to recognise the failings himself:  There was a story of the news the other day about a man who had been sentenced the other day for faking his army career having never served in the army at all.  He had built up such a strong story to convince others that over the course of time he had convinced himself that the lie was in fact truth.  I’m not suggesting that there’s anything untoward in Arsene Wenger’s head but the analogy does hit home and a small dose of humility in that a new course of action may be required with the current squad.  If not delusional, then it would be more concerning that his approaching is complete arrogance and the current situation is entirely deliberate.

Poor morale within the squad:  We’ve heard some concerning stories this week including one in which the club captain sat down with the manager to discuss areas in which the team need immediate improvement.  No progress was be made and RvP was left completely perplexed in the ambitions that his manager has for the current season.  A season it should be noted in which Robin’s contract should be renewed in order to avoid another Nasri situation.  Furthermore, how much should we look into the non-signings of Phil Jones and Juan Mata. After lengthy discussions with both players we now found them playing for two of Arsenal’s main competitors but if money was not the issue then why would they have turned down the chance to play for Arsenal?  See also the “reason” why Nasri and Cesc left, the latter moreso when he in fact took a paycut to join a Barcelona team that still have Xavi and Inesta in their pomp.  It’s not  money but winning ambition.

2.  The Board

Why has the buying power of Arsenal dropped so dramatically?  This has been touched earlier but how much does the current insecurity of the board impact deals?  In the past year we have seen a boardroom tussle between Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov with silent Stan apparently winning the battle.  Yet, what difference have we seen from an outsiders perspective?  By what measures is he deeming successful performance, and by this I mean in terms of investment purposes, because is the slide continues then unrest amongst the fanbase will ultimately result in left money in the coffers on a weekly basis.  Surely success on the pitch equates to success on the balance sheet?  At what point does Stan and the board intervene in either supporting the manager or not?

What role does Ivan Gazidis serve as Chief Executive?  Whilst he was not a direct replacement for David Dein the comparisons in Arsenals emptiness of the trophy cabinet are reasonably tangible and when, in November 2008, Ivan Gazids was bought in to take on a similar role it looked like the rocking ship was being stabilized. In fact, for the MSL power-broker whose crown jewel was brokering the transfer of David Beckham to LA Galaxy.  However, let us look at the signings made at Arsenal since the summer of 2008:

Season 2008/09:  Andrei Arshavin, Mikel Sylvestre, Amaury Bischoff

Season 2009/10:  Thomas Vermaelen, Samuel Galdino, Sol Campbell (2nd time)

Season 2010/11: Sebastien Squillaci, Lauren Koscielny, Ryo Miyachi, Kyle Ebecillo, Maurouane Chamakh

Season 2011/12:  Carl Jenkinson, Gervinho, Joel Campbell, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Of those, only 2 (3 if you include Sol Campbell) would automatically slot into your first team now – Gervinho and Thomas Vermaelen.  Not much return for 4 years work is it.

3.  The Players

The gaps between the players and the fans is becoming really evident now.  It was only 2 years ago when the Arsenal team would join up in the centre circle straight after the final whilstle for a final team talk.  OK, it all feel appart after that fateful game against Birmingham which Eduardo’s horrific injury and Gallas’ final minute tantrum.  However, there was comararde within the team and with the fans.  Nowadays, as soon as the whilstle is blown the players are straight down the tunnel without much recognition for the fans who pay the tickets that fund the wages.  For a club of great history and demand for respect towards the paying crowd this needs reinstilling amongst the current crop of players.  Fine, there are a minority that are still aware of need for a good rapport but the majoirty of players would be found guilty of not giving something back to the fans on matchdays.

Player Indiscipline:  Three premier leagues games into the new season and we have had 3 red cards and 1 retrospective suspension.  I haven’t seen the two yellow cards that Jenkinson received today so cannot comment (and never will) but for the other three suspensions that the team are having to suffer, they could have been avoid.  Song was petulant, Gervinho needed self-constraint and Frimpong’s first yellow could easily have been avoided.  The current Arsenal team need to be more savvy in the way they conduct themselves on the pitch to avoided such penalties because all they do is end up causing harm to the team by making themselves unavailable to play.

Inexeperienced Players:  I said this previously in the Liverpool aftermath, you cannot expect players with little premier league experience to be able to complete with other teams that have built up collective experience of number of seasons.  Add to that the mix of youth and it’s turned into a receipe for disaster.  I have no doubt that given the right football schooling, some of these new recruits will go onto shine for seasons to come but right now it’s like lambs to the slaughter and is coming across as naive management.   Whilst the youngsters should take a lot from the current experience, and (hopefully!!) be safe in the knowledge that it couldn’t get much worse, a club like Arsenal should not be in this position.

4.  Other Teams

Other teams have strengthened and have strengthened early.  ManUre made the majority of their signings at the beginning of the summer and entered their pre-season in the knowledge that their squad was pretty much complete.  Liverpool started in January and have continued throughout the summer.  Chelsea have been slow but this can be put down to Andre Villas-Boas coming in himself part way through the summer.  However, year-on-year Arsenal either leave it very late to make a signing or do nothing at all.  In fact, like the British railway system, Arsenal are now suffering from years of under investment whereas our competitiors having just gotten stronger.  Have a look at the table of net spenders in the past decade.  Arsenal are only trumped by Blackburn in the profit making stakes but the bigger area of concern is the net investment vs winning intent/desire of the club to be able to compete for the best players.  Can you imagine what Arsene might have acheived if he’s kept hold of his most valubale assests and then spent some more money on imporving that squad!!!

Time and again we hear commentators saying that Arsene should be recongised for what he has acheived with the players that he has had.  Fine, but there will not be a asterix next to Arsenal’s permier league standing in the footballing almanacs of 2068 stating *but fair play to Arsenal, they finished fourth but they had to deal with Chamakh up front and Eboue in midfield.

It’s results that count I’m afraid……..

So tonight’s post has been a little bit doom and gloom but reality hurts I’m afraid.  Today has been a time for a little bit of humility and soul searching to find the truth of the matter.  And if the truth hurts then so be it – anything that can make Arsenal stronger should be encouraged.

What reasons are there to be optimistic?  There is a core of players in the squad that are willing to stand up and be counted.  With the current club captain (Lord, let him stay fit) we have the right person to pick up the team and take them on to the next battle.  If Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong could be nominated for World Footballers of the Year on the merit of their twitter accounts then they would be battling amongst themselves to be on the podium:

There is a core of players that do share a desire and have true heart for this club that need to rub off on the others in order to this team to evolve and become stronger.  If not, then I’m afraid they need to be shipped out.

Finally, and saving the best to the last, the best performance of the day would go to the away fans.  It’s not the first time that Arsenal fans have done their best to urge on the team midst the face of adversity and woeful defending  but the audible performance would have been heard around the world as 3,000 away fans out sang 73,000 ManUre supporters whilst they were 7-2 up.  To hear “I’m Arsenal ’till I die” was heart warming on a cold day for all Gooners and the club should recongise this.  And this is the point, this club is more than the players on the pitch, the state of the art stadium and the fancy merchandising and branding.  It’s about the soul of what it means to be an Arsenal fan to enjoy the good times and regroup and be strong during the bad and kudos to those who made every Gooner proud to know what it takes to be a fan.  The players who wanted to go off straight at the final whistle should take note.

Jack and Frimpong send their best!

*Jack seems to have deleted his posted so I’ve only got his retweet

So as this post comes to end we shall shortly see the transfer window close too.  Will these 3 days define Arsene Wenger’s career?  There’s only one person that can answer that, isn’t there Arsene…………

Keep the faith Gooners,

GG

Au Reviour Samir – Watershed Moment for ‘Big Club’ Arsenal; Udinese Preview; Frimpong New Cult Hero?

In Campions League, Nasri, Transfers, Udinese, Wenger on August 23, 2011 at 9:53 pm

 

Samir Nasri Leaving Is a Watershed Moment?

 

There has been talk over the weekend that the Liverpool defeat was a watershed moment in Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal.  Well, the goalpost have just moved again as it was confirmed today that Samir Nasri was being sold to Manchester City and Roberto Mancini could stop his little temper tantrums about whether or not Nasri was going to play tomorrow against Udinese.

There will be no fond farewell as the lure of money and a rainy climate was too much for Samir and when fans ask for committment and loyalty from players that wear the beloved shirt then Nasri leaves under a cloud called Adebayor.  It will be interesting to see whether he follows a similar route in signing for the Spuds on loan in 3 years time. 

So au revoir Samir, I think you had your farewell chant on Saturday when you still showed a bit of spirit but obviously the rain washed that small flicker away.  Man City at home will be another interesting fixture this year.

 

Are Arsenal A “Big Club”?

 

This is actually not as provocative as the tag line might suggest and for the following reasons.

I’ve never known a summer like it but the bare facts are that we have now sold our two most creative outlets in Cesc and Nasri and there must be great concern as to how suitable replacements can be identified with only 8 days left in the transfer window.   At the moment, we are left with very limited midfield options with both Theo Walcott and Andrei Arshavin completely out of form, Jack Wilshire, Abu Diaby and Thomas Rosicky carrying injuries; and our two midfield ball winners suspended for the next game away at Old Trafford.

There needs to be movement in the transfer market very quickly and you would like to think that Arsene has an ace or two up his sleeve.  However, everyone seems to be playing Arsene at his own game by where he has famously insisted that targets will not be leaving in the near future and now we’re seeing a little payback.  With so little time left to make any deals someone has to blink first but the closer we get to the deadline the greater the prices are likely to go up.  Why else would Andy Carroll have cost £35 million.

So the fans are optimistic that Arsene is going to pull out a couple of rabbits out of the hat, but what optimism can we have.  In an interview with the BBC today Arsene tells a sad tale:

The summer was very difficult because we had [Cesc] Fabregas and Nasri on permanent transfer negotiations and that is draining in the end. We lost two great players and that’s a sad side of the story but at some stage it has to be over, because you want to focus on the future

Yet it’s the future that is the concern.  In some ways you can understand why a footballer wants success.  They do have short careers and only so many teams can win the cups.  For every Barcelona (of which there are not many), there are plenty of teams that will fail and players do not want to look back on their careers with an empty trophy cabinet at home.  This is what has hit home amongst the senior players in recent time, Nasri cannot necessarily complain of poverty if he’d signed his contract extension and with Cesc having to take a pay cut in order to facilitate his move to Barcelona it is clear that the chance to be a winner far outweighed the salary to stay at Arsenal.  There is also the risk that the ripple effect will reach other key members of the squad whose contracts will be expiring in the next year or two.

This sends out a clear message to the rest of the footballing fraternity that Arsenal may not have the same ambitions as everyone else and they run the risk of turning into a training academy for young players to make a name for themselves before moving to the first club with a gizzillionaire owner offering dream team set-ups.  If this is the expectation then Arsenal have suddenly degraded their buying power for new and exciting talent – in fact, Wenger has admitted this already and his prophecy may be coming true:

 “Imagine the worst situation – we lose Fabregas and Nasri – you cannot convince people you are ambitious after that.

“And even if you lose Nasri, to find the same quality player, you have to spend again the same amount of money. Because you cannot say that you lose the player and you do not replace him.

“I believe for us it is important that the message we give out – for example you see about Fabregas leaving, Nasri leaving – if you give that message out you cannot pretend you are a big club.

“Because a big club first of all holds onto its big players and gives a message out to all the other big clubs that they just cannot come in and take [players] away from you.”

So enough now of the transfer situation, things need to happen and happen quickly and when those transfers do happen will hear from them first on Arsenal.com.  There’s too much speculation on the newswires to be able to make sense of what might actually happen and my blood pressure will not last the next 7 days.

 

Udinese – Arsenal Preview

 

The headlines will say that this is the biggest games of the season so far.  Hard to argue really but as mentioned earlier, tomorrow’s game could define the future of this club over the coming seasons.  It sends a shiver down my spine to think that we may not have Champions League football this season.  I know this sounds very pessimistic considering that Arsenal are taking a 1-0 lead into the second leg but you cannot help but feel that Udinese will fancy their chances in front of a home ground and with better finishing they could well have taken an away goal too. 

The squad benefits from a lack of suspensions that impact the games in the Premiership so we can certainly expect to see Alex Song and Gervinho make a return. 

I would expect the starting line-up to look something like this:

Szczesny

Sagna  –  Djourou  –  Vermaelen  –  Jenkinson

Ramsey  –  Song  –  Rosicky

Walcott  –  RvP  –  Gervinho

I have stuck with Jenkinson in defence with the full-back line up being the same as the weekend.  I thought they both did well and they would be far more assuring than Traore at left back. 

It will be important for Arsenal to get an away goal early on as the team seems to have started this seasons games far stronger in the first half than they do in the second.  Let’s hope it they can manage it but we all know what it’s like to be an Arsenal fan, the team always seem to have a knack of doing things the hard way.  May need a few beers to get me through tomorrow evening – maybe a night of London Pride vs Peroni but will obviously be knocking back more London Pride in order to do my bit for karma.

 

Frimpong – A new cult hero?

 

On a final note, after his excellent starting debut (sending off aside) on Saturday, Emmanuel Frimpong should be applauded for his recent antics on twitter.  Not only does he have a profile header that you wish every Arsenal player would declare, as well as putting Piers Morgan truly in his place, Emmanuel was quick to remind his friend, Jack Wilshire, that the future can still be bright without Nasri being at the Emirates.  He obviously needs to keep reminding him at the training ground:

 

 

Can’t wait to see what other pearls will be posted in the future but with the performances and desire shown so far I can see Emmanuel quickly becoming a firm favourite (let’s hope the big money offer doesn’t come soon).

 

So, fingers crossed for tomorrow – the team are capable of completing the task at Udinese.  Time to out in a performance that will show we’re still in the running.

Come on you reds!

GG

Arsenal 0 – 2 Liverpool: The Aftermath

In Arsenal, Nasri, Preimeri League 2011/12, Uncategorized, Wenger on August 21, 2011 at 8:11 am

Pre-match feelings on Saturday were very much a mixed bag.  Anticipation, trepidation, caution and hope.  When you have hope you enter dangerous world and hope breeds contempt and we all know about that at the moment.  This does stem from the fact there is so much uncertainty at Arsenal at the moment:

Why does Arsene believe that the current crop of fit and non-suspended squad players are capable enough to challenge for the Premiership crown, let alone qualify for the Champions League group stage?

What has happened to Samir Nasri’s supposed and very public move to Manchester City?

How many more games do Arsenal need to lose before fundamental changes are made?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions yet at the moment it would seem that our manager is not close to providing answers himself. 

Yesterdays game was a watershed moment for the club and for the fans in attendance the realisation that this season is going to be a very hard season, this for a club that has very much become accustomed to recent success and flowing football.  Both were obvious by the absence yesterday.

The starting line-up was certainly the best that could be put out in terms of those currently available.

Szezesney

Jenkinson  –  Koscielney  –  Vermaelen  – Sagna

Walcott  –  Ramsey  –  Frimpong  –  Nasri  –  Arshavin

RvP

Whilst the line-up looked very raw and untested in previous games, this deflected from the big talking point as the crowds were taking their seats, what reaction was Samir Nasri going to receive when announced to the crowd?  Inevitably, he received a mixture of boos and mild encouragement but there certainly wasn’t the same warm welcome afforded to the rest of the team.  Unsurprsing though for someone who has either personally or had his agent’s team court a move away from Arsenal.  If he loves the club as much as Arsene claims he does then my has a new contract not been signed yet.

If you compare the two line-ups though, regardless of potential and mental strengthness there was a clear difference in the Premiership experience of the two line-ups and this may have provided a few clues to the final outcome of yesterdays match:

 There were some bright moments to talk about but not enough to ensure a win.  In the opening encounters it was clear that Liverpool were looking to leverage Andy Carroll’s aerial ability but this was well countered by the two centre backs and this summed up their first half.  Not too many chances to talk about and if Arsenal had been stronger with the final ball on the break then they could have gone into the half-time break one up as the Liverpool defence was not at its strongest, or fastest.  A failing on the day from our wide men.  However,  the best two chances came from Nasri and Frimpong who both took runs to set up shots from outside the box that challenged the Liverpool goal.  The former’s run started from outside Arsenal box and ended with the ball zipping just past the post and the latter forcing a fine save from Reina who tipped the ball behind.

Emmanuel Frimpong was extremely lively from the outset and was clearly relishing his starting debut on home turf.  However, if you were look for a surrogate marker within the team for the current climate at Arsenal, Frimmers would be a prime example.  After today’s performance Frimmers was clearly the best player throughout his time on the pitch and within 3 minutes a Liverpool player, Carroll maybe, felt the full force of his hard tackling style.  Shortly after, Frimmers earnt himself his first yellow card for trying to delay a throw in and one that he would go onto to rue when receiving his second yellow for a strong and slightly high challenge on Lucas which any midfielder enforcer should expect to receive every now and then.  This is why you need to protect your yellow card status in matches and earn a card when you deserve them but we now have three midfielders currently under suspension and between them only one deserved yellow card.  Some discipline needs to be instilled across the team as these absences are being felt.  The sending off of Frimpong was a turning point in the game and one from which the young team could not recover from.

In the final quarter of the game the inexperience of the squad was harshly evident and whilst this is not their fault, the team, club and fans continue to suffer as a consequence.  Arsenal lost their shape completely in the second half, the flow of passing was absent and the defence were unable to get the ball up the field.  Both Arshavin and Theo had poor games and if your outlets are ineffective then chances are not going to be created.  Theo was worryingly poor yesterday and seem to be very one tracked in his approach and the Liverpool defence soon learnt and read every intent.  If Ronaldinho opened up a magic and trick shop then Theo should pay him a visit.

Unusually, the substitutes warmed up at the opposite end to the normal warm up area and for those of us in the bottom left hand cornered we were shown the difference in squad depth with Mai Rodriguez, Mierieles and Suarez ready to come on.  The latter two did come on and Arsenal were unable to adapt to the change in style.  Yes, the first goal was unfortunate and there may have been a suggestion that both were offside but this is football and you have to play in the moment as results have never been changed in retrospect.  There is no point moaning about what could have been, the scoresheet at the end of the game reads a 0-2 defeat for Arsenal.

So what can be taken from the game?  There were a few bright spots but not enough to grind out a point or 3 for the homing home game of the season.  I’ve already touched on Frimmers performance but this was soured by his sending off.  Thomas Vermaelen was very strong in defence and it’s great to see him back.  If anyone knows if thee are an cloning factories out there then can we get a fast-track pass for Vermaelen?  Can you imagine a defence made exclusively of Thomas Vermaelen quadruplets!  

Hats off to the crowd today.  It’s really hard at the moment being an Arsenal fan with all this ongoing uncertainty.  The crowd played their part today, they appreciated Nasri’s contribution through the game, advised a weak referee on what decisions he was missing and made the point that no matter was turmoil the team is going through the club and fanbase are bigger than that and they will give undeterred support.  If you could convert that passion and desire from the stands to the scoreline then the game would have finished 2-2 at least!  There were certainly very audible chants for the manager and board to spend some money but this is because the fans want to see success and not to struggle but the lack of financial investment.

In terms of poor performances, as mentioned our wingers were poor.  Neither Theo or Arshavin were unable to get hold of the ball and take players on.  If this was down to the defensive prowess of the Liverpool fullbacks then fine but there was too many deadend runs and poor ball control to be able to give any credit.  Samir Nasri was bright in moments and his turns and runs were lively but as with the back end of last season Nasri drifted out of the game when needed and if he were every to replace Cesc then this was what was needed.  Another sign that £25M could have been another astute bit of business BUT ONLY if replacements were found.

The potential is certainly there and when you see how Frimpong, Miquel, Jenkinson and Lansbury (for a shorter period) were willing to step up to the challenge then you have optimism for the future.  But not now, not against Liverpool where every point counts.  I know it’s early but at this rate we run the risk of entering September in the Europa League which only 1 point from 9 in the Premiership.

As discussed in Friday’s blog, the concern was going to be how well will this squad acquit themselves against the big spending Liverpool.  Liverpool certainly have a different squad to last years they have strengthened as a unit which is important if success is to be achieved at the end of a long and challenging season.

So there are 10 days left of the transfer window.  How the team will change over that time we cannot predict.  One thing is sure – the next two games, away versus Udinese and Manchester United, will define where this season will end and what the future for the team is.  I’m nervy but still have the faith.  It’s tough this blind faith thing isn’t it!

Arsenal vs Liverpool Preview

In Arsenal, Campions League, Liverpool, Uncategorized, Wenger on August 19, 2011 at 11:38 pm

The second game of Arsene’s pre-season takes place tomorrow against the scousers at lunchtime. This is where reality hits home and the team get the opportunity to prove that they are ready to handle the gauntlet that Arsene has thrown down. If not, then the temperature inside the Emirates is going to go up a few notches.

So what can we expect? One thing that I was not anticipating is that Nasri might actually make an appearance tomorrow seeing that he is still under contract with Arsenal. As far Arsene is concerned that’s the way it should be :

“Everywhere I have worked in my life I have made sure that until the last second of where I was I did the job properly. He is paid this month by Arsenal Football Club so why should he not play?”

The problem here is that the way Nasri has conducted himself in the public has exactly been appeasing to the fanbase. Even if Nasri does start and performs well it will be interesting to see how the fans respond. I have a feeling that they might give him an initial chance as it would be quite vitriolic to boo from the off but you never know.

Taking this into consideration the start line-up should look something like this:

Szszceny

Sanga – Koscienly – Vermaelen – Jenkinson

Arshavin – Frimpong – Ramsey – Nasri

Walcott – RvP

The bench has been strengthed with the additional of Djourou to the bench. Whilst he may have receovered from his hamsting twinge I am not convinced that he will be risked unless necessary.

In complete contrast to Arsenal, Liverpool have been flashing the cash on players who are well known to the Premiership. Not that it means they have suddenly into a super fantastic world beating team overnight but they have certainly strengthed since last year. Of the players in their team that have the potential to cause us problems it’s likely to be the two upfront, Suarez and Carroll. Let’s hope that the back four continue their current run of form and keep another clean sheet.

This then leaves us to consider the likely outcome for Saturday’s match and given the current public goings on at the clubs the bookies are still making Arsenal the very slight favourites:

Paddy Power: Home Win – 6/4; Away Win – 15/8

William Hill: Home Win – 13/8; Away Win – 7/4

Ladbrokes: Home Win – 11/8; Away Win – 2/1

These odds are taking into consideration current squads and potential starting XI’s but it’s worth considering more previous clashes and determining the likehood of teams scoring from past performance. Castrol football has a great prediction tool that encompasses all these factors and they suggest a greater likelihood of an Arsenal victory. I’ll take that any day and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be pleasantly suprised with Saturday’s performance:

Arsenal Win 59%; Draw 22% and Liverpool Win19%

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In other news, Wenger has been charged by UEFA for his attempts to remain in managerial control during the first leg of the CL qualifier against Udinese. Another case of the footballing authorities of being over zealous in the interpretation of their own rules and it’s not as if he tried to smuggle himself into in dressing room by hiding in the linen basket. It’s unlikely he’ll escape further punishment but to what extent we are yet to see.

Also, there has been confirmation that Joel Campbell’s move to Arsenal has been confirmed. His shirt number is yet to be confirmed as is a work permit, but you would like to hope that the work permit department at Arsenal have completed their homework this time and the application will be agreed first time around.

Roll on Saturday’s match and in a voyeuristic sense that the reaction between the fans and the team/manager will be interesting to say the least. Let’s hope that all the talking is left to the pitch and here’s to an Arsenal win.

Come on you reds!

GG

When it rains, it pours………..of nothingness

In Arsenal, Liverpool, Transfers, Wenger on August 18, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Been a quiet day today really.

Rained a bit this morning.  Any new signings?  Nope.

Rained a bit more this afternoon.  Nasri gone yet?  Nah

P*ssed it down this evening.  Anything interesting at all?  Anything? Please!  Not a chance

Having a constant in life gives reassurance that the world is still normal.  It proves that there is order in life and reaffirms that British summers are simply lousy.   Yet it’s on days like today the only way to pass away the hours and minutes of monotony is to continually click the refresh button on your browser in the insane hope that your personalised NewsNow feed might have breaking news on the new super, smashing, great, out of this world quality signing, along with his technicolour dream coat.

Alas no, the sky just continues to open its big bulbous belly and rinse away any remnants of the summer that so could have been the one we’d once dreamed of.

In fact, you can tell that the news is a bit light on the ground when the best Arsenal.com can churn out that Theo has been taking part in a book signing at the club shop.

If it were a midweek break for a pointless International friendly then you would be accustomed to some of the fringe players being interviewed on how they are looking forward to proving they can fulfill that under developed ability to break into the first team squad.  Oh……..they’re going to do it this weekend you say?  Really?  There’s no one else who can start?  Wow!

Big responsibility actually and we’ll have a look at what Arsenals starting lin-up might be compared to Liverpool’s tomorrow.

Seeing that Arsene continues to treat August like it’s a pre-season training camp with no new signings coming in so far our pre-season squad will continue to carry on through to the end of the month.

The August pre-season schedule is as follows:

13 August:  Newcastle 0 – 0 Arsenal

16 August:  Arsenal 1 – 0 Udinese

20 August:  Arsenal – Liverpool

24 August:  Udinese – Arsenal

28 August:  Manchester United – Arsenal.

Here’s hoping that Arsenals pre-season continues with its current run of lucky good form so that when the first proper game takes place against Swansea on the 10th September, the team will finally know who will be playing where and also for real points……….ermmmm.

Tomorrow we shall see the pre-match press conference which is bound to include questioning on the lack of a first team squad for Saturday; how much interest does the club accrue on a daily basis from the transfer fund currently being underspent; and will Arsene get his own phone rather than having to borrow from his mate Boro P?

So many questions but not enough answers!

GG

Arsenal could be short on players at the weekend

In Arsenal, Liverpool, Nasri, Wenger on August 17, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Wouldn’t it be nice for just one day to feel confident that your team is going into the big game this weekend with a strong squad following a busy summer of transfer activities.  As we know, the Chief Executive Officer had promised:

“It is very clear we had some shortcomings and in this close season we are going to see some turnover of players. Some new signings will be coming in and some of our existing squad will be going out. As Arsène has said, it will be a busy close season for the club.”

It’s certainly been busy but not in the way you would like to see.  So far we have seen the exits of Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Eboue, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and by tomorrow the likely departure of Samir Nasri.  In addition to this, some first teamers from last year have gone out on season long loan with Carlos Vela and Denilson taking time out in warmer climates. 

On top of this, the hard long season is already starting to take its toll on the playing staff with Wilshire, Rosicky, Djoruou, Gibbs, Traore, Diaby all carrying knocks and are unlikely to start on Saturday against Liverpool.  Off these, maybe Rosicky could recover in time.  This is now making both Gervinhos and Songs 3 game suspension even more critical that it may have appeared at the time.

So where does this leave the first team selection?  Tricky!  It could look something like this:

Defence:

Szczseny

Sagna  – Koscienly   –  Vermaelen  – Jenkinson

This was the back four that finished the game at Udinese on Tuesday and maybe Jenkinson is yet not adaptable enough to take the unfamiliar berth on the left.  The only other formation I can see at the back is that Squillaci goes into the centre of defence which TV taking the left back position

Midfield:

Arshavin  –  Frimpong/Rosicky  –  Ramsey – ?Walcott

This does very much depend on whether Rosicky can shake off the knock that he received on Tuesday night.  If not, then I can only see that Frimpong will start and play in Songs holding role but for someone who only made his Premiership debut as a replacement on Saturday against Newcastle this is asking a bit much.  Another consideration would be for Walcott to drop deeper into a 4-4-2 formation leaving our options for……….

Attack:

?Walcott  –  RvP  –  Chamakh

On paper it looks like a weak First XI can be put together but things start to get shaky when you consider who might be on the bench:

Substitutes:

Fabianski  –  Squillaci/Jenkinson  –  Lansbury –  Miyaichi  –  Oxlade-Chamberlain  –  Bendtner – A.N. OTHER

We actually only have 6 substitutes and with greatest respect to the youn lads in the team is a big-spending Liverpool and Manchester United the types of teams that you want to start cutting your cloth against?  It’s also highly unlikely that 2 substitute goalkeepers will be named on the bench.  This is highly embarrassing for a club that claims that it wants to challenge for the title this season.  To have a squad that it so threadbare is really difficult to comprehend and needs to be addressed immediately following another season of hot air and postulating about potential targets that disappointingly never seem come to fruition.

We’re still awaiting for the super quality signing Arsene and on this form maybe two or three before the weekend would be helpful.

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In other news we heard on Friday that Arsenal have agreed terms with Deportivo Saprissa for the signing of Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell we still awaiting final confirmation of signature with the player.  Earlier today, Joel was listed on the Arsenal.com First Team drop down list but this seems to have disappeared.  Apparently, he has desires on the number 12 shirt which is certainly free at the moment and it will certainly be good to see Campbell on the back of an Arsenal shirt once more.  However, fans should still be cautious about Campbell’s ability to adapt to the Premiership considering he age and experience.  Even the boss went as far to say in last nights programme notes:

“Joel is a young prospect, he has talent and he can play right, left or centrally,”

“We took a gamble on him but, from what we have seen, it is worth taking.”

Interesting note for fact facts:  There has now been a Campbell in an Arsenal shirt in the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s and now the 10’s.

With tomorrow being another day of not escaping the Arsenal merry-go-round that will included more transfer confirmation, speculations and likely frustrations it’s all becoming a little bit tedious.  It’s just the beginning and is unlikely to slow down until the close of the transfer window at the end of the month.  Maybe then, we can really have a look at the squad Arsene will have in order to mount a challenge for the league title. 

Let’s just hope we’re still in the running!

GG

 

 

 

Arsenal 1-0 Udinese: Great Result, Considering. Much More to Be Done

In Arsenal, Campions League, Cesc, Nasri, Transfers, Udinese, Walcott, Wenger on August 17, 2011 at 12:39 am

Since the game against Newcastle on Saturday the world is starting to look very different.  Whilst there has been much anticipation and little surprise, Cesc Fabregas now dons the colours of his beloved FC Barcelona.  There has been a lot of debate as who got the best out of the deal and at face value it would seem that Barcelona are rubbing there hands with glee.  They have finally signed one of the world most talented midfielders  and somehow they have even managed to persuade him to forgo a £4M sell-on clause which means that Cesc has also been forced to contribute to his transfer fee.

On top of this Samir Nasri has firmly driven a wedge between himself and the Arsenal fans by publicly expressing his dismay at some of the chanting from Arsenal fans at St. James Park.  The fact that the travelling support were so open regarding their feeling on the Nasri contract saga just goes to show how low his stock currently is with the fans whose expectations, by default, are very high in terms of player allegiance and committment to the club whilst under contract.  To have publically tweeted the two texts below can be perceived by many as a sign of contempt not just for his own position but also to congratulate Cesc on achieving his departure.

For everyone’s sake now it’s time for Arsenal to help manoeuvre Nasri’s departure from the club and we can only hope that the recent actions have not limited the choices for an exit and, as such, reduced the value in a similar way to Cesc’s with a one and only departure to Barcelona being possible.

So with Cesc gone and Nasri unlikely to be in Arsene’s immediate plans who is going to step up to the plate and take on the role of as the engine of the midfield.  Well, it’s certainly not going to be Emmanuel Eboue and the club have today agree terms with Galatasary in what is officially an undisclosed fee but rumour suggest that a figure of about €3.5 million.  Again, this move was not unexpected and it’s the right decision for both parties following some cataclysmic displays towards the end of last season which was epitomised by the penalty conceded at the death against Liverpool.

The changing room will be a quieter place without Eboue as he was a larger than life character which was open for all to see when he stood on the otuchline and greeted each and every place as the left the pitch at both half-time and end of match.  His turn around in character following his substitution against Wigan at the Emirates was amazing and whilst he still had his faults on the pitch his ability to deal with that personal adversity mae him into a cult with some sections of the crowd.  Even during the last general election there was a campaign to vote for Eboue instead of the other candidates.  Whilst this may have been tongue his cheek it helped manifest the cult status.

But the deep down, Eboue was his own undoing as he alway tried to do that little bit too much.

Good luck with the move to Galatasary, Emmanuel, you conducted yourself with great decorum (which some others could take a lesson in) and here are some of your finer moments.

And so onto tonight’s games against Udinese and I must admit that I knew little about their team other than that they have Italy’s top scorer for the past two seasons in De Natale

Tonight’s starting line-up was:

Szczesny

Sanga, Koscienly, Vermaelen, Gibbs

Song, Rosicky, Ramsey

Walcott, Chamakh, Gervinho

Subs: Fabianski, Ox-Chamberlain, Arshavin, Frimpong, Bendtner, Jenksinson

On the day that he was announced as vice-captain, Thomas Vermaelen lead the team out due to RvPs suspension from last seasons encounter at the Nou Camp.

The game started at a high tempo and this suited Arsenal who were passing the ball crisply and making good movements across the pitch.  In their first true foray into the Udinese box a sharp cross from Aaron Ramsey was met decisively by Theo Walcott and it was One-Nil to The Arsenal within 4 minutes.

Following this no team really got a stranglehold on the game and barring a couple of chances for Udinese with Szczesny saving well in the first half from Di Natale, the first half passed by with plenty of movement but no real chances to speak of.  At half-time, Gibbs was replaced by Djourou with the former suffering from a hamstring injury.

In the second half you could sense that Udinese fancied their chances of an away goal and continued to pressurize the Arsenal defence.  Just after 9 minutes on the pitch, Johan Djourou was himself replaced by Carl Jenkinson due to the second hamstring injury of the evening.  Is it me or does the Arsenal squad not seem to have had a problem with hamstring injuries over recent time?

Therefore, Vermaelen switched back into the central defence and there were now two right backs on the pitch and Jenkinson played out of his natural position and took the left berth for the rest of the game.

Udinese continues to press forward but were unable to convert their chances and possesion.  By the end of the game, Udinese has 12 shots at goal by only 3 on target.  By comparison, the home team only managed half as many shots with an equal 3 on target.

Theo Walcott has one great chance after being put through by Aaron Ramsey and whilst one on one with the goalkeeper Theo contrived to completely scuff an attempted chip and the chance ended as a damp squib.

Szczesny pulled off an excellent save from a Di Natale free kick just outside the box with the Arsenal No. 1 diving across the length of the goal to turning a curling ball around the post for a corner.

Walcott had the final chance of the evening when put through following on of Gervinho’s dazzling runs only to not put the far enough away from keeper, Handanovic, who made a good save but it could have be made harder for him.

What can we take from the game?  There were certainly some areas of promise.  Our defence managed to keep a clean sheet; we take a lead, albeit a rather slim one to the second leg; and the fans were vocal and supportive of the team’s performance.  Note: there was no announcement of attendance as previously informed by Ivan Gazdis but official numbers state that just over 58,000 were present tonight – there seems to be many more empty seats that this suggests……

As for areas of concern, unfortunately these outweigh the positives:

  • the central midfield seemed to tire in the second half and suffered from a lack of concentration in passing movements Read the rest of this entry »

Arsenal vs Newcastle: The Pantomime Villan Strikes Again

In Arsenal, Barton, Uncategorized, Wenger on August 14, 2011 at 12:17 am

Here we go again, another August, another new season complete with new levels of expectations.  Unfortunately for Arsenal fans the expectations aren’t as high as they should be and when you talk to fellow Gooners there certainly a great deal of apprehension in the air as to how high the team will finish come May next year.

The new opening fixture of the 2011/12 season was a tricky trip up to St. James park where the demons of one of the Premierships greatest ever giveaways need to be put to rest from last year.  Last years capitulation could be put down to the team being reduced down to 10 men following a petulant reaction by Abu Diaby to Joey Barton and you would like to think that it was impossible for lightening to strike twice(!).

The build up to today’s game had not been ideal, the pre-season outings had mixed fortunes with reasonably uninspiring performance against mediocre opposition, turbulent transfer speculation regarding the teams two most talented players as well as injuries to key players.  For a team of Arsenal’s calibre it can be perceived as being negligent to not be able to field a midfield with Nasri, Fabragas and Wilshire when only one of the three was legitimately injured.

In his pre-match interview with the ESPN dolly he admitted that he was nervy for the start of the season.  So are most of the fans!

The starting line up was as follows:

Szczesny,

 Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Gibbs,

Ramsey, Song, Rosicky,

Arshavin, Gervinho, Van Persie

In fact, ESPN had the line-up as 4-3-3 but it most probably due to their technical inefficiency for displaying anything other than 4-3-3 or 4-4-2.  The line-up was more 4-5-1 with Arshavin and Gervinho acting as rotating wide men attacking from the midfield areas.

Whilst the starting line-up looked reasonable given the current situation, what will have concerned many fans was the lack of depth from the bench.   

Fabianski, Chamakh, Djourou, Frimpong, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott

 There is very little strength across all the potential replacements who sat on the bench with 3 players potentially making their Premiership debuts if chosen.  If this truly the sign of a squad that has the intent of winning the Premiership and if not, who else other than Nasri and Fabreagas is willing to forego their season career for the development of younger team members to try to demonstrate their potential and “mental strength”?

And so onto the game……….oh yes, that!  All the build and my word neither of these teams were willing to take a strangle on the game.  In fact, the first half was a game of stereotypes with Arsenal having the lions share of the procession and Newcastle happy just to play a chasing game, sit back and absorb the pressure.  In fact, isn’t that the tactics most teams employ against us and hope to frustrate for 60 minutes and then hit on the break, score and then tried an defend for the remaining half hour?  Arsenal pretty much dominated most of the intial play and after 35 minutes that stats were showing that Arsenal has completed 201 passes versus just 69 for Newcastle.

In order to summarise the first half then half chances would be the best phrase.  Gervinho started comparatively brighter than anyone else on the pitch with some neat footwork and mazy runs but no end product.  On at least 3 occasions Gervinho managed to get past his nearest defender, attack the goal line but was unable to provide the final ball for that much-needed goal.  Whilst we may have a player who may actually be able to beyond the defensive line of the opposition the next killer ball/pass needs to be there in order to deliver the results that the teams play deserves.

So the first half passed with minor incidents with a lot of niggly play of which Song was booked for an alleged series of fouls culminating in Demba Ba diving and twisting like Tom Daley when hardly touched. 

Just prior to half-time, Arshavin could have done better with a poor pass to Gervinho that was intercepted by Colocinni when we had a 2 on 1 situation.  Just before half-time the little Russian maestro was nearly rewarded for a little bit a magic when he scooped the ball over the Newcastle defence into the path of RvP who was hustled off the ball by Stephen Taylor.

And it was in the second half that the game got a little more tasty. 

Despite a slow start that was similar to the first half things picked up following the first of two incident involving the pantomime villan, Joey Barton.  This time he played the part of the innocent victim of a rather cynical stamp from Alex Song.  In fact, Song does have a tendency for doing some silly things and he was extremely fortunate to remain on the pitch after stamping on Bartons achilles after play had stopped.  Song should be thankful that Theo was preparing to come on as a substitute as replays indicate that the stamp could not be seen directly by the referee and the fourth official was otherwise occupied by the number board in preparation for the imminent substitution. 

What was of interest was Barton’s response.  A precursor for things to come perhaps, where he initially went to the referee to try to force a decision that wasn’t seen by the official and then to the touch line to complain to someone who was playing away with buttons and numbers.  If it had been seen then Song would have been off and if there is nothing in the referees report then the incident is likely to be subject to review by the F.A. on Monday and in a likely act of having to look forceful at the beginning of the season a ban should be expected by Song.  Stupid considering our current plight.

However, it was the second incident involving Barton that will hit the headlines in the morning.  Gervinho attacked the Newcastle penalty box from the far left touchline and was clipped on the foot by one of their defenders.  As any experienced striker would do, Gervinho went down.  The referee didn’t take the bait and the game went on.  However, in his own intelligent way, Barton felt the need to haul Gervinho off the ground via the neck of his shirt and snarl his opinion of Gervinho’s actions.  Obviously, the expectations of the masses are that any grown man should just stand there and be shouted at and shaken by a small-minded fool and Gervinho, who most probably hadn’t been briefed on J. Barton upon arrival to the UK, reacted.

What has been interesting to see is that both Sir Alan of Shearer and Robbie Savage (who both love to play devils advocate against Arsenal) thought that the challenge on Gervinho was worthy of a penalty.  I do wonder what Kevin Keegan was watching at the time as he always seemed to site on the fence on ESPN and could not commit beyond “probably” to hint that Gervinho put his leg in the way to earn the foul.  How ridiculous as the foot that was caught was his standing foot!

However, the problem is that the reaction was actually quite trivial, handbags at five paces, a little argy bargie between players and a mild slap to the side of the head for Barton.  What was hysterical was the reaction.  The reaction was exaggerated beyond belief and if you watch the replay of the incident and keep an eye on the clock in the corner you’ll see that nearly as much as a full second passes between impact and reaction.  In the technical world this is known as Temporal Contiguity which was followed up by Ballistic Continuity (see link for more definition on how to spot a dive).

In terms of the referees action, for the first time in a while I have to agree with Arsene:

If he’s seen the incident, then why were there not two red cards?

As I’ve already alluded to, the referee was actually happy to let the initial incident pass but due to Barton’s intervention and Stephen Taylors blatant exaggeration of the truth the result was a red card for Gervinho.  There is slight confusion as to whether this was a straight red or two yellows (one for the dive, which would be odd, and the other for the altercation) but a ban is to be expected and if it’s for three full games then that covers Liverpool, Man Utd and Swansea. 

As I was mentioning the other day, Arsenal actually have a very important start to this season and to potentially lose Gervinho and Song along with Nasri, Cesc and Wilshire the heart of the squad has been completely ripped out.  It’s no wonder that the Arsenal fans told Arsene what they thought of the current situation.  To be honest this hasn’t changed since the final game of last season but we’re now 3 months on and nothing has changed.

After this, the game pretty much fizzled out to a stalemate conclusion with a final chance toward the end falling to RvP but he was too far out and too hasty with his shot for it to be meaningful.

So…………what can we tell from our first game of the season?  One things for sure, without any new signing or adequate replacement for obvious absentees it would seem that Arsene thinks that we are still in pre-season mode and we can coast to some early victories with the current squad.  Yes, the transfer window closes at the end of the month but before we reach that milestone we will have played two of our Premiership contenders having only bagged 1 point out of 3 to date.  Something need to happen desperately, some injection of enthusiasm and encouragement need to occur not within the fan base but also across the team and the club.  It was starkly evident that the current first XI were not quite ready yet and need something to help them click, it was as if the trauma of this week had rubbed off on their playing style and this need early correction.

What was confusing at the end was how the Arsenal players seemed to thing that it was appropriate for laughing and hug with Barton after the final whistle.  If I was Gervinho how would that make me feel?  Yes, these are all professional individuals playing a game week in and week out plying their trade.  But what has happened to team solidarity and fighting for the cause regardless of who the perpetrator might be.  That was disappointing to see.

Welcome back the first day of the Premier League.  It’s contentious, passionate and even entertaining despite a dull game.  This is why we love it, this is why we support our teams.  There’s a long way to go and stay tuned throughout!

GG