Sunday, 30 March 2014

Finally, some hope.

No, you're wrong.

This match is not a description of the creditable 1-1 draw we gained against City. Of course I agree that we were good money for our draw, and that second place is possible if we win all of our remaining games. My speculations on Arsenal suffering a collapse may prove to be wrong, looking at this performance more than the result. I'm still not sure that we can continue these performances and convert them into wins, but I'm more hopeful than I was two days ago.

Arsenal needed performances like these. The last six league games of the season read Everton, West Ham, Hull, Newcastle, West Brom and Norwich, all winnable games, and games for which Ramsey, Ozil and Wilshere may play a part. Such is the topsy-turvy nature of the EPL that we can win the title if we win all these games (82 points) and can certainly finish second with these results.

Yes, Arsenal gave me reasons to be hopeful about our league finish. However, as I initially said, there are a lot of things that can go wrong about it, which does not fill me with confidence and bravado going into the most important part of the season.The performance was encouraging, yes, but not entirely convincing. It'll take more performances to convince me that we've recovered.

But as I said above, this post is not a review on the City game. In reality, it is about knowing that a bright future awaits for Arsenal FC.

If you must know, prior to Wenger's pre-match conference yesterday I felt drained. Devoid of hope, devoid of optimism, Filled, instead, with emotionless dread and silent despair. The reasons for my current predicament were a lot - personal life, pressures and recent frustrations. However, Arsenal had a large part to play in it as well.'

As you know, after the Swansea game I lost what every human craves - hope. As far as I was concerned, Arsenal were ruled by a cowardly dictatorial manager with a clueless board, collapsing players and lifeless fans. There really seemed like no way out of this descent into mediocrity, there wasn't anything that any Gooner could believe in in this club.

Personally, I felt horrible. The days from Wednesday to Saturday were the most saddening and sickening I had ever felt. It's amazing how emotionless and silent one can go after being devoid of faith and belief.

For the following days, I had hardly paid attention to daily happenings and tasks. Instead of living, I just existed, a sense of emptiness creeping in my tin chest. I won't say that my current state was completely down to Arsenal, but our collapse sure was a decisive factor.

So what happened in the pre-match conference that changed my mood? Well, believe it or not, it was Arsene Wenger. A particularly interesting quote in his press-conference perked up my mood. When asked about his contract, he had said:

“Yes [I will sign it], unless I decide otherwise. I have told you many times we have had no time to sit down and do it. Nothing, not going anywhere, don’t worry for that. But I want to have a feeling coming out of the season that that I have done the maximum for the club.”

Yes, unless I decide otherwise? That makes it clear his contract is unsigned and his future is dependent on the outcome of the season.

That, in turn, makes it clear that his future rests solely on the FA Cup. While I have heard many people saying that finishing fourth and winning the FA Cup will be a successful season (I'm not one of them), let's be honest, it's only winning the cup that will glorify coming in the top four yet again. I don't think anyone would say that losing the FA Cup and even finishing second would be a successful season.

It's almost ironic that a competition Wenger does not give preference to is the one that potentially saves his neck. While winning the league was never a possibility since 1st February, the cup dream is very much alive. Win it, and in all likelihood Wenger stays.

However, if we lose it, Wenger almost definitely leaves the club. Note how he says that he wants to come out with the feeling that he has done his maximum - I'm sure that feeling won't be there if we lose to Wigan in two weeks.

It's a win-win. Lose the FA Cup, and Wenger leaves the club for good. Win the FA Cup, and we can end the trophy drought and instill happiness among millions around the globe. And for people who are worried that Wenger might choose Arsenal's successor and control his moves from above as a board member, he's clarified that as well.

“I always said, and you can check that, everybody [has] his job My job is to do well for the team, not to do anything else [not to choose Arsenal's next manager].”

A clear indication that he isn't going to select Arsenal's next manager, which is a relief for me. I always feared that even if Wenger left, he'd occupy a board position and control the next manager from above. He'd probably handpick a 'yes sir' manager with no backbone and run the club like he never left, continuing the reign of Arsene FC. I cannot express my joy knowing that such a scenario is not happening.

I'm happy with both situations. What I wasn't happy with was Wenger signing on after losing the FA Cup, which is something almost ruled out. I say "almost", because I don't trust the manager to keep his promise. I think he will, though, there's too much pressure on him to get away with this.

Finally, some hope.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Arsenal vs Man City: Match Preview


I've lost the thrill for Premier League matches.

After we failed to buy a striker (and invariably lost the EPL), my primary objective quickly became second place. I still think, if we play our cards right, we can do that, because on paper we are better than Liverpool and as good as Chelsea.

However, I don't believe we will anymore. Swansea proved that this team is crashing and no longer has the confidence and determination to beat anyone. My optimistic target of second remains as it is, but I don't think I'll feel anything when this team eventually fails to get there. For now, all that matters to me is the FA Cup.

I'm certain that we'll make the Champions League next season. Everton, Tottenham and United are too weak to overtake us to fourth. However, finishing fourth and winning the FA Cup is not a successful season for me. It's a decent one and certainly better than the previous 8, but it's hardly a blueprint for future seasons.

At the beginning of February, we were 8 points ahead of Liverpool. Today, we're 5 points below them. That's not progress, that's swift regress. And to fall behind a team that have less money and (supposedly) an inferior manager in the space of 2 months is downright unforgivable. If the players want to restore some pride (not the manager, he lost it years ago), they'd better start today.

I know we can win this match. Two months ago, I'd have actually backed Arsenal to nick this. If the team is cautious, ruthless on the counter and uses home ground to their advantage, then I genuinely reckon we stand a chance of winning this, even today. But that's the thing, you see - would Wenger set a cautious line up? Would he play his tactics right? Would he keep the team mentality as focused and determined going into this game?

No. I am certain he won't. If he did, we could win the match, but why speculate over something that isn't going to happen? Why give yourselves false hopes? The only way Arsenal win this match is if the players themselves impose cautiousness and have a level headed, rational approach to the game.

I don't think Arsenal will get pulverized, though. There is a huge chance that we'll lose by one goal or even two, but a repeat of the 6-0 or 5-1? I doubt it.

Anyway, onto team news. No one is close to fitness and no one is injured. So, well, yeah. That escalated quickly.

Ramsey, who was supposed to return to action by the end of January, won't be returning till after the FA Cup semis. I've already given my views on this - it seems that Wenger's incompetent medical staff and his tendency to rush players into action are at it again. It's no coincidence that our key players find themselves on a prolonged sideline spell. If Wenger leaves, our key players won't be that injury prone, I promise you.

I've lost any tingling senses of excitement, any renewed impulses of hope and relishing anticipation going into this game. Wenger has killed the Arsenal side of me. Even if we pull off the odd surprising result, I won't feel particularly excited because I know that in time, we will revert to Wenger's loser mentality one-dimensional tactical set up.

The only thing that carries me as an Arsenal supporter is reluctance and loyalty. I'm not going to be watching the match in hope that Arsenal pull off a surprising victory, but only because as a Gooner, I made a lifelong commitment. No matter how much Wenger continues killing the club, I will always be an Arsenal man. Not an Arsene man, but an Arsenal man.

Let's see what happens.

P.S. There is the real possibility that this will be my last post until 8th April. If I get time I will post my thoughts in between that period, but I don't think I will be able to.

Until then, up The Arsenal. #COYG

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Arsenal 2-2 Swansea: There is no hope


I've always refuted claims that Arsenal were in a midst of a collapse. Stats spoke against me, for prior to this game we had won 3 out of our last 8 league games. However, I noted that the setbacks in question were against teams like United, Liverpool, Chelsea and reasonably tough matches like Southampton and Stoke away. That gave me hope.

I felt that this side was capable of finishing second. After Manchester City and Everton, the last games of the season become remarkably easy for Arsenal, and I always assumed that they would win all of them and stay in the hunt for runners-up. That gave me hope.

Sure, we have an inept manager, but we have fantastic players. Players who won nine on the trot after losing to Aston Villa, players who came out stronger after setbacks at the Etihad and Old Trafford, and players who overperformed and got the club to the top of the table despite being outsiders for top four. That gave me hope.

Hope is everything one needs in life. There should at least be something to believe in that would egg one on to optimism, to belief, to success, to glory. At Arsenal, after witnessing the manager's ineptitude rub off on the players, I must concede. There is no hope.

I felt a strange sense of nothingness as I watched Arsenal play yesterday. No anger when Bony scored, no fillip of excitement when a Podolski-inspired Arsenal snatched the lead in a minute, and no surges of disbelief when Flamini bottled it (not that I blame him for that). Heck, even our bleak league standing hasn't made me feel scared that we might miss out on our beloved fourth place.

Drawing against Swansea at home is beyond unacceptable. However, more than that, it's a clear sign that the roof is starting to fall in the house.

If this side has lost so much confidence and belief that they had only 3 presentable chances throughout, then it's not unreasonable to suggest that the last games of the season could be along the same lines.

Of course, there is a chance that this Swansea draw was a one-off. It is conceivable that we will pick ourselves up and continue our trend of defeating teams this Arsenal should defeat. However, judging on the pure cowardice of this performance, I know better than to bank my hopes on it.

To suggest that Arsenal's crashed form is a direct result of injuries to Walcott, Ramsey, Ozil and Wilshere is incorrect and naive as well. Jack and Ozil weren't performing well for the club for a long time, and Ramsey and Theo were injured in January, a time when Wenger could have strengthened the squad (but refused to).

Arsenal are a team. To say that Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil and Walcott were the difference between a 6-0 mauling at Stamford Bridge and a victory suggests that Arsenal are a four-man side. Without the aforementioned players, do you truly believe we are that toothless?

These injuries weren't unlucky either. A week ago I proved that they were the direct results of Wenger's incompetent man management, something that has injured Koscielny for two weeks (four in reality) with a calf strain.

The point is moot, anyway. Arsenal had the depth (and the January transfer window) to fill the voids left by these players. Chamberlain can replace Theo's pace, Santi can replace Ozil's creativity, Rosicky can replace Wilshere's flair and Giroud and Podolski can replace Ramsey's goals. Yet here we are, crashing into accidents twice a week.

If we don't stop the rot, I seriously doubt our ability to defeat Wigan Athletic. They are a tactically astute side, while Arsene's Arsenal are the polar opposite. Steve Bould's coaching has given Arsenal backbone, but I had laid out my doubts that Wenger began overruling him since the Southampton game and they might just hold true, judging on Arsenal's suicidal and chaotic defending against Swansea, Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool.

Ideally, I'd want Arsenal to win the FA Cup and finish second. Sensing that's impossible now, I only want Arsenal to finish in the top four. I don't care about the FA Cup now. If Wenger doesn't win it and thus leaves us the next season, then it's probably for the best.

All I want is the Champions League and for Wenger to leave, with the FA Cup as bonus. The next manager (hopefully Klopp) should have CL in the bag as incentive to buy top talents, otherwise he might encounter undeserved disaster in his first season in charge.

Yes, I am completely over Arsene Wenger now. His refusal to change his outdated, stubborn and flawed mindset has led me to a breaking point. I have already begun to think about life without Wenger and am no longer afraid of change. On the contrary, I am waiting for it.

If he dares to renew his contract, I, like a lot of Gooners, will snap.

We are ARSENAL, we need to think forward. Wenger hasn't been working out for almost 9 years now, it's about time he's chucked out from the club. The best we can do is ensure he leaves on a high by winning the FA Cup and is then replaced with someone having better plans for Arsenal FC.

A quote from Batman: The Dark Knight summarizes our manager perfectly: "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Monday, 24 March 2014

My dream Arsenal: one bereft of Arsene Wenger

For the first time since the Blackburn and Bayern nightmares, I have seen a remarkable acceptance from the majority that Arsene Wenger needs to leave from Arsenal. Of course, most of those perceptions might just change after we scrap a win against Swansea at home, but it's good to see Wenger at least come under long overdue intense scrutiny.

I felt, (and have done so for a year), that Wenger should have left the club at the end of the 2010/11 season. Losing the Carling Cup and capitulating in such stylish fashion (with a team that had Wilshere, Song, Robin, Cesc, Nasri, Koscielny, Sagna and Szczesny in their ranks) was not only disappointing, it was shameful and a disgrace to the name of the club.

I have maintained that regardless of winning the Premier League and the FA Cup this season, Wenger's position will remain untenable at the club. I don't have any personal agenda against the man, but I don't see why he deserves any more of Arsenal's time and resources. He's arrogant, money-oriented, a tactical joke, averse to changing his outdated mindset, living off past glories and out of touch with the modern world, to name a few faults.

Winning the FA Cup will not change one shred of Wenger's managerial mentality. One of the myths of ending our trophyless run has been that once we do so, an invisible barrier will be broken and Arsenal will evolve into a trophy-hungry team with a rejuvenated manager at the helm. I can guarantee to everyone that that is NOT going to happen as long as Wenger is in charge.

Wenger is extremely arrogant and at 65, will not change his ways. If you tell him to not struggle his way out when stuck in quicksand, he'll shut his eyes tight, clench his teeth and try as hard as he can to fight his way out of it. It doesn't matter if his way is wrong or right. The more you'll tell him to change, the harder he'll dig his heels in the ground and resist it.

Losing against Chelsea was not the final straw for me. Even if Arsenal had defeated Chelsea 0-6 I'd still want Wenger gone, judged on the above reasons. Comprehensively losing against Chelsea was just further proof of what I'd known for over a year - that Wenger has been the root of a plethora of Arsenal's problems. It is not because of bad luck, bad refereeing or the board. It's all Wenger.

I will not waste further time in highlighting Wenger's faults, I already did that in the 6-0 review of Chelsea. However, removing Wenger from Arsenal is not the only solution, although it solves a lot of problems.

We've known for a long, long time that the board has been incapable and inactive since David Dein departed from the club. It wasn't coincidental that Dein's departure led to Wenger's decline - Arsene no longer has anyone to challenge him at an upper level, and he has thus lowered expectations upon himself season after season. Now Wenger's finished, forget about him, he's beyond repair. I don't think that bringing Dein back will bring back the best of Arsene Wenger.

Players need to be brought in as well. We don't need a whole revamp of the squad, we just need a few world class players that can take us to the next level. Le Grove made an interesting point today, I'd like to quote it:

"I’ve read around the web and there are people questioning the players psyche. Sorry, it doesn’t rub with me. Giroud is a league winner, Cazorla is a World Cup / European Championship winner, Ozil is a La Liga winner, Mertesacker is a Bundesliga winner, Podolski has won things. The problem isn’t the players, it’s the man who sets them up. These are top professionals. These are players that boast similar qualities to Chelsea. They boast better qualities than Liverpool. Yet they're collapsing."

I have always stood beside these fantastic group of players and I readily continue to do so even today. However, it doesn't take a genius to see that to flourish, they need reinforcements. I am not one for wanting Giroud, Arteta or Cazorla to leave the club. Instead, I want to augment them with world class players, a much astuter manager, a fresher tactical approach and more sensible approaches to matches. Let's face it, under Wenger, we're going stale and at this rate, backwards.

We need change, I think everyone agrees with that by now. But where? Here's what I think.

Board:

If there is no change in the board, the next manager will not be cleverly appointed.

Currently, there is no one in the Arsenal board who boasts of a footballing brain. Ivan Gazidis may sympathize with the fans, but he is afraid of taking action because he doesn't know if he's doing the right thing. I doubt if he'd know the difference between the offside rule and advantage play; no wonder he just gapes on while Arsene fields a tactically unprepared team.

As for Stan Kroenke, I think he's a clever man. Not clever in football, but clever in making profits. Kroenke knows that Wenger earns profits for him, he knows that Arsenal is currently a financial goldmine. Wenger, according to him, is the only manager who will guarantee (the profits of) Champions League football and keep the business smooth. Why replace him, he'd wonder.

There is no one above Wenger who will judge him based on what he does on the pitch. Look at Liverpool, they have footballing minds in the board (Tom Werner, John Henry, Dalglish), they have a progressive manager, therefore they're doing better than us besides having lesser money.

What we need, in my opinion, are at least two people in the Board of Directors who can think from a footballing perspective. Might I suggest David Dein and Dennis Bergkamp?

Manager:

Well, duh.

Wenger just needs to go once the season ends. He's turned into a money hog and power-hungry after he got too much space since 2006, and is completely beyond repair now. I also don't want him to pick out our next manager or get a position higher up in the board - he'll probably select one of the "yes men" and control them from above. Sorry, but I don't trust him anymore to affiliate in any way with the club.

Who should replace him? Contrary to some opinions, I wouldn't want someone like Roberto Martinez or Mauricio Pochettino at Arsenal. David Moyes at United is proof that average managers don't cut it at the top level, we should learn from that. I'm convinced that a board with Dein and Bergkamp will make a correct, informed decision, but nevertheless, I'd like to offer my suggestion: Jurgen Klopp.

Superb tactician. Charismatic. Passionate. Big name. Winner.

In my eyes, he's perfect.

People suggest that we don't need a big name as manager, we need someone with a revolutionary philosophy. I disagree. Only by getting a manager like Klopp will we attract top talents to Arsenal Football Club. Look at Moyes at United - he only managed to buy Fellaini in August even though he was in charge of a title winning side. Moyes might be a guy with the right ideas, but if he can't attract great players how will he implement them?

Klopp, we all know, is a big man with big ideas. He's ten times the tactician of Wenger - Dortmund's passing and pressing game plan prove that. He possesses a similar ideology of honing young talents and making them greats; Ramsey, Szczesny, Gnabry and the English core would benefit from that.

Contrary to popular belief, Klopp is not afraid to spend. He doesn't spend much at Dortmund because they aren't financially healthy. However, at a club like Arsenal (£140m in reserves), you'd expect him to go all-out on top talents, unlike Wenger. Even if he is reluctant, Bergkamp and Dein can keep him in check.

Klopp is my dream Arsenal manager. I'm utterly convinced he'll be a great long-term boss. Even if he isn't, he'd sure be better than Wenger. Klopp would change the medical staff, change the hectic training schedule, change tactics and keep the club classy. And I like that.

Players:

The next step - after making necessary changes in the organization of the club - would be to sort out the futures of the players in the summer. Vermaelen, Sagna, Podolski and Giroud are quality players that have uncertain futures, and I'd want to keep every one of those.

Forget Fabianski (and Bendtner) - these players will leave and there's nothing we can do about it, they've said as much. However, we need to build a good foundation by winning the Cup and finishing in the top four (why does it always fall down to this?). In the summer, we SHOULD strengthen the side. Here's how, in my opinion:

  • Buy Julio Cesar [to replace Fabianski]
  • Buy a young, promising goalkeeper [to replace Viviano]
  • Buy Piszczek [if Sagna leaves]
  • Keep Semi Ajayi [I watched him, he seems good and we need depth in CB]
  • Buy a decent center back [Bould's choice, whoever is compatible with Ajayi (Ashley Williams?)]
  • Convince Vermaelen to stay and make him a defensive midfielder [He'll get more game time in a more suitable position]
  • Buy Draxler [If Podolski leaves]
  • Buy Balotelli [We need a striker, and he has power and pace].
  • Keep Joel Campbell and send Sanogo on loan
  • Get Diaby, Kallstrom and Bendtner off the books

Irrespective of managerial changes or board additions, the fact remains that we're in for a very busy summer. And if we handle it the way I suggested, we could have a title-winning side at the end of August.

Main squad (potentially): Cesar - Sagna/Piszczek - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Gibbs - Vermaelen - Ramsey - Ozil - Walcott - Cazorla - Balotelli


Substitute squad (potentially): Szczesny - Jenkinson - Ajayi - *able CB picked out by Bould* - Monreal - Flamini - Wilshere - Rosicky - Chamberlain - Podolski/Draxler - Giroud


Notable reserves (potentially): *promising goalie* , Miquel, Arteta, Zelalem, Gnabry, Joel Campbell

--

Imagine that. Getting rid of a regressive manager. Adding dedicated Arsenal servants to the pinnacle of the club. Appointing a revolutionary person as head of the club. Building a team of greats. Making the Emirates feel like home. Winning trophies.

It's every football fan's fantasy. And to top it all - it is possible.

We are very close to rebuilding a team of legends. It will take work, it will take bold decisions, but we have the resources and should have the guts to do it. And if you care about Arsenal FC, you better hope we do.

Wenger's given us a fantastic foundation, and I thank him for that. However, he has consistently failed to build on that and propel Arsenal into one of the greats. Just wonder what would happen if we got hold of a manager (and a board) that can do just that.

Will this ever happen? I am almost certain it will not.

But what if it does?




P.S. I don't know why Wenger hid from the press and ordered a complete shutdown of Arsenal media. However, if he thinks that people will forget about the Chelsea annihilation due to this, he could not be more wrong. Either there is something huge happening, or the manager is just too scared to face the world. Personally, I think it's a bit of both.

Oh yeah, and preview of Swansea will not be available.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal: Expected disaster


How abysmal. How appalling. How humbling. And more strikingly - how predictable.

"I reckon Mourinho is football's enemy, but I also fear his ruthless winning mentality. And if Wenger makes it too easy for him by failing to motivate the team and with redundant tactics, I suspect we'll see a repeat of the Liverpool hammering. If Wenger doesn't change the system and doesn't set the mentality straight, I think Chelsea will batter us."

Same tactics, same mistakes, same result. Only worse.

I had completely prepared myself for failure and made my peace with it. But that's the thing - at a club like Arsenal, supporters shouldn't be allowed to make such assumptions. It's Arsene Wenger's job to curb those feelings of dread. Once again, he failed miserably, just like at Old Trafford, the Etihad and Anfield.

For the past 31 months, there have been clear signs that Wenger is no longer the right man to lead the club forward. Today just adds to that huge list.



20th August 2011 | Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool: Unresolved Nasri issues, no Cesc replacements, unwelcome injury crisis. And an Aaron Ramsey own goal.

28th August 2011 | United 8-2 Arsenal: Ridiculous. Even a Conference side wouldn't have lost that badly.

17th September 2011 | Blackburn 4-3 Arsenal: At 57 minutes, Arsenal were 4-2 down at Ewood Park. Since then till the 90, Wenger doesn't get off his chair once to cajole his troops.

22nd January 2012 | Arsenal 1-2 United: Was this the first time that Gooners booed Arsene Wenger? I remember hostile scenes after Oxlade-Chamberlain was taken off for (sigh) Arshavin, shortly after he had provided a superb assist for Robin's equalizer. Arshavin later lost the game for Arsenal.

15th February 2012 | Milan 4-0 Arsenal: Humiliation on Europe's stage. Wenger's fault.

20th October 2012 | Norwich 1-0 Arsenal: I still remember this match. Absolutely pedestrian performance by a distinctly average side.

24th October 2012 | Arsenal 0-2 Schalke: Boos rung out at the final whistle and rightly so - Arsenal were terrible once again. Gone were the days when we blew teams apart; the team had deservedly lost to Norwich and managed only one shot on target at home in the space of four days.

24th November 2012 | Villa 0-0 Arsenal: A match I particularly remember because Wenger decided to take Giroud off and brought Coquelin on when the team were drawing to relegation fodder ASTON VILLA. It was the first time the away support (one of the best in the world) booed Wenger for that and rightly so - how low does a team have to get if they're scared to lose against Villa?

1st December 2012 | Arsenal 0-2 Swansea: Two Michu goals at the death were followed by a cacophony of boos after full time. I remember feeling so defeated, disappointed and hopeless after the game that I actually turned and said to my brother, "You know what? I reckon Arsene Wenger will resign tomorrow."

11th December 2012 | Bradford (3-2) Arsenal: That was the worst I had ever felt as an Arsenal fan. Of course, then Blackburn, Bayern, Aston Villa, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea followed.

13th January 2013 | Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City: I recall that Arsenal had set ridiculously high prices for this match and City were protesting against it. It felt particularly expensive for us as Koscielny's stupid challenge on Dzeko killed the tie inside 10 minutes. Is this why Gooners pay the highest prices in the land?

16th February 2013 | Arsenal 0-1 Blackburn: Rock bottom.

19th February 2013 | Arsenal 1-3 Bayern: Oh wait. Stand by.

17th August 2013 | Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa: A direct result of complete stinginess from Wenger in the transfer market. Painfully deserved, something not acceptable at Arsenal.

14th December 2013 | Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal: FFS. No concentration in a winnable game. Wenger fucks up again.

8th February 2014 | Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal: No excuses at all. Shameful performance on a big day. Wenger's fault again.

12th February 2014 | Arsenal 0-0 United: Booed again and rightly so. Wenger was too afraid to beat the worst Manchester United side in two decades.

1st March 2014 | Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: No signings in January, overplaying and injuring key players, not motivating the side, and this is what happens.



Do you know how many negative implying results those are? A massive EIGHTEEN in the space of 31 months - which averages to 1.72 months per bad performance. I don't think that anyone would argue that the aforementioned scorelines were anything short of nightmares and nadirs for Arsenal. The statistics don't lie - under Wenger, they're happening all too frequently. We've just added Chelsea to that collection.

At any other club, I don't think that any other manager has overseen so many disasters, yet managed to stay at the club. Yet there seems to be a soft spot for the once invincible Wenger, only because he offers Champions League football and decade-old memories.

Am I being too harsh by checking Wenger's record only over the last 31 months? I don't think so. Even if I push the number to 37, I'd cover the Villa and Bolton losses, the Barcelona and United cup crashes, the Birmingham Wembley disaster as well as the 4-4 Newcastle collapse.

At any other club, even at Manchester United, the manager would have been shown the door a long time ago. And for good reason; the past 2 and a half years (forget the past 8) just don't cut it. And after another predictable humiliation at Stamford Bridge, it's about time the words "not good enough" are quickly replaced with "sacked".

I said it before - Wenger's milestone is not a testament to how brilliant a manager he is. Far from it, it just shows how lucky he is to not be sacked yet. Personally, if I were Wenger I'd be embarrassed to sign a new contract, but I guess deluded supporters, clueless board and top four spots would always absolve him of any shame.

It really doesn't matter what Wenger achieves from now till May. Even if he wins the double I'd still want him out, and here's why:


  • He's tactically incompetent
  • He constantly overplays key players leading to injuries
  • He is an incompetent man manager
  • He's too proud to admit his mistakes
  • He repeats the same mistakes
  • He fails to motivate the team in crunch clashes
  • He oversaw 3 collapses in 6 years
  • He underachieved with brilliant teams
  • He cannot take readymade world class players to the next level (Reyes, Arshavin, Podolski, Cazorla, Ozil)
  • He made the fans suffer humiliating avoidable losses
  • He lost his winning mentality 5 years ago
  • He makes lofty promises but doesn't fulfill them
  • He refuses to spend money
  • He's a master procrastinator
  • He sold top class players for profits
  • He started 'Project Youth', a colossal failure that cost the club hundreds of millions in a time of financial debt
  • He influenced the board to serve his own needs
  • He took advantage of the added power entrusted to him (exclusive contractual freedom, transfer freedom, etc)
  • He's completely delusional and out of touch with the real world
  • He treats supporters like garbage
  • He consistently blames everyone but himself

[If anyone feels that there is any lack of proof in any of the faults that I have described of Wenger, you could ask me about it on Twitter or in the 'Comments' section below. I'll be happy to lay out the proof to you.]

Oh, and I've missed out something. What was it? That's right - no trophies in 9 years.

On second thoughts, probably mentioning that Wenger never blames himself is wrong. After the Chelsea nightmare (how many of those have we endured already?), he said:

"It was a nightmare and I take full responsibility for it. What is important is to give a response on Tuesday night and that is it."

Fair enough, you took the blame for once. However, after accepting the fault, the second step is to rectify it. And I don't think that Wenger will do that, he's too old and too stubborn to genuinely change fundamentally. I have included "He repeats the same mistakes" in his faults list for good reason, you see.

For years we've seen the same dithering in the transfer market. We've seen predictable collapses at crunch games and one-dimensional tactics regardless of the opposition. We've seen Arsene plunge us into injury crisis after injury crisis. We've seen deadwood not fit to wear the jersey play for Arsenal year after year (although there has not been much of that this season) Of course, and we've seen barren runs.

Under Arsene Wenger, I'm certain this circle of never-ending hopeless madness will continue. Winning the FA Cup will NOT change that.

Which is why he just needs to go this season. I don't want him to be in the Board of Directors, nor do I want him selecting our next manager. Arsene Wenger is not Arsenal's Alex Ferguson and never will be, because he, unlike Ferguson, never understood the deficiencies he had and never worked on it.

For years I've watched Arsenal holed up in a house in Mumbai, and for years I've felt helpless watching Wenger kill the club from season to season. I don't live in England - I can hardly cancel my season ticket or join anti-Wenger protests to directly put pressure on the club and the board. I can hardly chant in the stadium or influence minds by sitting in a different continent. However, the least I can do to save this club from the dictatorial reign of Arsene Wenger is start a blog highlighting his flaws and adding media pressure, which is exactly what I'm doing.

Ever since I discovered the shocking reasons of Arsenal's decline under Arsene (credit to Arsenal Truth for that) I have been doing all I can to convince Gooners to put pressure on Wenger. However, with his contract running down and a real possibility of him leaving the club after 3 months, all that effort might well be futile. Not that I'd care.

For the first time in years, I wouldn't mind if Arsenal fail if it means the end of Arsene Wenger. He built a wonderful legacy but is slowly destroying it, and I can see no way back now. I pray that other Arsenal supporters have realized that as well, so they can join the real Arsenal fanbase and show Wenger the door before 5th place starts to become the next trophy.

Happy 1000th, Arsene.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Chelsea vs Arsenal: Match Preview + Wenger's millennium thoughts


I am not looking forward to this match.

The fact that this is Wenger's thousandth eclipses that Chelsea could well batter us today. Mourinho trouncing Wenger in every match is not a jinx or coincidence - Jose's a tactical genius while Wenger's a tactical imbecile.

To assume that Arsenal will break two well-documented records today just because it's Wenger's millennium is madness. Nothing magical is going to happen at Stamford Bridge just because Wenger's hit a milestone. On the contrary, the sense of occasion might distract the players from their real objective - getting a positive result.

We need our defence to be at their best today. I for one was not convinced by their performance at White Hart Lane, irrespective of the plaudits they got after the match. If we want to sneak a draw (best we can hope for), then the back four needs to be like they were against Dortmund or Newcastle.

This is one of the weakest Mourinho teams I've known, yet I'm frightened of them. While I believe that Arsenal are not far away from them in terms of talent in the team, I'm frightened because they have Mourinho at the helm.

I hate the guy, I reckon Mourinho is football's enemy, but I also fear his ruthless winning mentality. And if Wenger makes it too easy for him by failing to motivate the team and with redundant tactics, I suspect we'll see a repeat of the Liverpool hammering.

My primary target for the season, as I've always said, is finishing 2nd and winning the FA Cup. Anything below that wouldn't necessary be failure, but it would be a huge disappointment. If we want that second place trophy (much better than a fourth placed one), then we should be getting at least a draw at Stamford Bridge.

Forget winning at Mourinho's backyard, that ain't gonna happen with this tired team which is average up front. We should instead be grateful that every match starts at 0-0 and look to keep it that way until the end. Drawing at the Bridge will look like a much more positive result in hindsight, trust me.

Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium is winnable. However, defeating Mourinho's Chelsea is unlikely. The only way Arsenal can win (with this team) is if they keep it ultra-tight at the back and be clinically ruthless on the counter. To counter, we need pace, and for that Olivier Giroud needs to be dropped.

Personally, my lineup would consist of Szczesny - Sagna - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Gibbs - Flamini - Chamberlain - Cazorla - Rosicky (if he makes it) - Gnabry - Podolski. However, under Wenger, I'm almost certain that he'll pay no heed to necessary changes and only make man-to-man replacements.

I suspect we'll see the standard back five, Flamenta in the center, the forward trio of Santi, Ox and Poldi with Giroud up front. It won't be a bad attacking lineup, but I don't trust Giroud to do anything spectacular today if this is the case. He's clearly tired, his workrate is absent, his concentration is lost and personal life and fan pressure is getting to him. I'd rather have Yaya Sanogo up front.

I feel that it would be foolish and unfair to ask of Arsenal to win this game. A tired, injury ravaged squad led by tactically crippled Arsene Wenger is hardly ideal to falter Chelsea's title bid. I'm sure that the players are motivated and eager to win this match, but their efforts would be pointless if guided in the wrong direction.

If Wenger doesn't change the system and doesn't set the mentality straight, I think Chelsea will batter us.

--

I'm not going to overrate Wenger's milestone any further. In my opinion, it wasn't consistently excellent performances that earned him the feat of being at Arsenal for 999 games, it was a frightened board and deluded supporters.

No other manager would have lasted at their clubs after finishing third and fourth with Cesc, Nasri, van Persie, Wilshere, Song, Flamini, Hleb, Eduardo, Adebayor and Thierry in their ranks. No other manager would have lasted at their clubs after replacing Vieira with Diaby and van Persie with Giroud. No other manager would have lasted at their clubs after getting comprehensively humiliated by Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.

Wenger slowly lost my respect over this season, especially when he clearly indicated that he didn't want to win the league after refusing to buy in January. It is his fault that winning the EPL has become a pipe dream now, it is his fault that a season which showed so much promise is now looking like 'FA Cup or bust'. Wenger's responsible for lowering my expectations from 1st to 2nd, and I will never forgive him for that.

If he wants my respect (and the respect of like-minded Gooners), then he'd better work out a plan at Stamford Bridge, for starters. He should face facts and let pragmatism take hold from now till May. In the summer, he should replace potential departures (Fabianski, Viviano, Sagna, Vermaelen, Podolski) with genuine quality and not youth products. It is only then will he regain his status as 'legend' in my eyes.

Let's start from today.

P.S. For the past two weeks, I was at work making a website which was finally launched a few days ago. Give it a whirl, it's called 'Brangled Minds' and has a football section as well, on which I already wrote an article.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Contract updates + dissecting Wenger's injury comments


On Ramsey's and Cazorla's deals...
Once again, it shows the club's willingness to retain their star players (as well as youth players like Zelalem, but let's face it, he isn't the elephant in the room). While renewing the contracts of Ramsey and Santi were not exactly necessary, it nevertheless comes as welcome good news to the Arsenal community. Renewing the deals of this season's best player and last season's best player has shown foresight from the board, boosted the positive atmosphere around Ashburton Grove and also been a positive by-product of Ozil's signing.

I hardly need to emphasize how important these players are. Especially Ramsey, who was one of the league's best midfielders (at 23!) before injury struck. Cazorla's renewal might not be as exciting (or perhaps, as wise), mainly because he hasn't really lived up to his expectations and is approaching the dreaded 30. However, he still remains a vital component of Arsenal's creative hub and is far from a liability yet.

While he may not be out-and-out world class, one would rarely find a player who is gifted with such a variety of traits. Two footed dribbler, passer, long striker, goal getter... the list is endless, and possibly more than Ozil's merits. These are really important players to Arsenal, so it's good to see them tied down for long-term.

Having said that, we still might witness an exodus...
Bacary Sagna has remained stubbornly quiet on his Arsenal future. I have already said that I reckon his future at Arsenal depends on whether we win a trophy the FA Cup or not; yesterday's events don't change that. The solution is literally simple - defeat Wigan and Sheffield/Hull, and in all likelihood Sagna stays. At least that's what I think.

Fabianski is departing as well, not to mention possible follow-ups from Vermaelen and Podolski. If Tommy and Poldi do leave, then I shall solely lay the blame on Arsene Wenger's door. Even though he had talented players in reserves to call upon (read Fabianski, Vermaelen, Podolski) he chose not to rotate.

Instead, he overplayed his first team members until they got injured (read Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott) and then sent out his reserves to cover their absences. It truly is frightening to imagine what happens if the reserves fall prey to overplaying as well, especially young legs like Gibbs' or Chamberlain's.

I think Arsene can convince Podolski to stay if he tries. However, if he wants to keep Vermaelen, he must rotate him in place of Koscielny and Gibbs much more often than he is currently. I don't think Wenger would handle the situation well though, another reason why I want him gone.

And that's become a real possibility now.

There really couldn't be a better time for Arsenal to announce Wenger's renewal...
Yet here we are. The club is wise enough to know that the coming fixtures (Chelsea, Swansea, Manchester City, Everton, Wigan) have a lot of potential to destroy the club's current upbeat mood. However, they have strangely chosen to announce Aaron's and Santi's deals instead. Wenger's contract remains unresolved, three months from expiration.

It's getting clear now that the board are rightly stalling over Wenger's contract. I have no doubt that Wenger wants to stay at Arsenal, but I'm having doubts that the board want to keep him. Either the board want to see how the season ends before making hasty decisions, or Wenger's holding the club to ransom (for a better deal) or there already is a mutual agreement in place regardless of how the season ends... I really don't know what's happening behind the scenes.

I'm oddly hopeful that he will depart, though. The below example is one of many that illustrates why I want him out.

--

Talking about Arsenal's injury crisis, Wenger said:

[P.S. I know that the below comments were last week in the pre-Bayern press conference and that it's a bit outdated to dissect now, but I wanted to do this for a long time and work prevented me from typing this out.]

"I am concerned that this happens. If you look at our overall injury list going into such a decisive part of the season, we have no Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey and we went to Bayern without Gibbs and Monreal. It's very difficult to find an obvious reason why."

I'd like to congratulate Wenger on noting that there were regular injury crises even though it was apparent for five years. It's shocking and almost laughable for one of the world's supposed best managers to bear half a decade of injury crises and then make the startling conclusion that maybe, maybe it isn't coincidence that Arsenal top the injury list every season.

Wenger not blaming himself for Arsenal's injury woes is yet another instance (of many) of how out of touch he is with the real world and why he's long overdue a departure from Arsenal. Getting players injured has been purely Wenger's fault (most of them, at least). Keeping them injured for more than the required time is perhaps the fault of the meds - who are hired by Wenger, by the way.

Let's analyze Arsenal's currently injured players, shall we?

Abou Diaby: A special case, but we don't need any special cases at Arsenal. Even if he makes an indispensable contribution for Arsenal towards the season-end (a tall order), the fact remains that he has still cost a bomb for Arsenal in wages. He is injury prone and always will be, and I can't believe that Wenger rejected a £10 million bid for him in 2011.

I don't hate Diaby, but I feel that his plight is a perfect symbolism to show how far the board have cluelessly allowed Wenger to carry on his flop 'Project Youth', and how much he has cost the club financially (like thousands of other duds). At Manchester United, Liverpool or Everton, Diaby would not be paid more than £15,000. At Arsenal, he's paid £50,000. 

Aaron Ramsey: Injured against West Ham in December 2013. Wenger overplayed him even when he had the chance to play Flamini. Here's an extract of my blog about that match:

"As it happened, it was Ramsey who fell prey to Wenger's incompetent man management, suffering a thigh strain which would rule him out of the Christmas schedule. I still don't know why Wenger decided to field him ahead of Mathieu Flamini, who had 12 days of rest going into this match."

Relevant much?

Jack Wilshere: Injured on international duty, which wasn't Wenger's fault, it was Agger's. However, most of his niggling ankle injuries have been a direct effect of Wenger overplaying him towards the end of the 2010/11 season, pushing him to the red zone. After he recovered (after 17 months!), Wenger threw him back on the field instead of easing him back in. Wilshere promptly got injured again.

Wenger doesn't seem to understand that young legs - while fresh - are also quite tender. He's overplayed countless amounts of youth talents who were around their twenties (Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cesc, Nasri, Theo), so much so that they succumbed to regular injuries and/or became permanently injury prone.

There were some who survived this gross mismanagement - tougher players like Adebayor, Song - but on the whole, Wenger has been key in ruining key players.

Mesut Ozil: The number of minutes for which he's been thrown on the field by Wenger is frightening. Mourinho (at Real Madrid) always took Ozil off around the 70th minute because he knew that Ozil didn't have the legs and the workrate for it. However, Wenger threw Ozil in the English game for 90 minutes straight; flu or no flu.

Add to that the fact that the EPL does not have any winter break, and it's actually surprising that Ozil survived until March before falling prey to Wenger's man management.

Again, buck stops with Arsene Wenger.

Theo Walcott: Returned from injury in the end of November. Encouragingly eased into the game by Wenger. However, is then forced to play 90 minutes for five straight matches until he injured his anterior cruciate ligament (as pointed out by Raymond Verheijen). Enough said really.

--

Clearly, Wenger is the problem. While his medical staff might be incompetent enough as well (Ramsey's injury stretched from four weeks to three months; Diaby's injury stretched from eight months to more than a year), the fact stays that they are Arsene Wenger's medical staff. In the end, he hires them and he fires them.

If Wenger is too polite/blind/stubborn to fire his staff (if they are at fault, mind you), then they can kindly sod off from Arsenal Football Club and help Moyes destroy United instead. We don't want you at Arsenal, we'd rather have progress, thanks.

Imagine if that happens, though.

P.S. Once again, I apologize for not being that active on Arsenal-related stuff recently. For two weeks, I was at work making a website which was finally launched yesterday. Give it a whirl, it's called 'Brangled Minds' and has a football section as well.

Would love to hear your feedback at brangledminds@gmail.com or the comments sections. Until then, stay safe and stay a Gooner.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Monday, 17 March 2014

Spurs 0-1 Arsenal: Scrappy, but I'll take it... for now


It might be a bit smash-and-grab ish, it may be nervy. Heck, it could also be undeserved, and yet I couldn't care less.

I lie. I do care.

I would be lying if I said that the performance didn't worry me. Yes, we won, but we had 41% possession and looked flawed in defence. Assumptions that our back four were solid in the game are completely unfounded - we were caught from time to time again by Emmanuel Adebayor and could have lost were it not for presentable chances missed by them.

As nervy as we were, Tottenham were much worse. However, not every team we face are going to be as shit as the Spuds. Look at the next two fixtures - Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and potential league leaders Manchester City at home. If we dare to repeat the same performance against Mourinho, I promise you we'll get hammered worse than Manchester United did against Liverpool.

Winning ugly is a trait of champions. However, making a habit of it is not. Winning ugly is what Manchester City did against Hull, or what we did against Southampton (H) and Crystal Palace (A). Barely going past one of the worst Tottenham sides in half a decade is not a sign of champions, I'm sorry.

We aren't winning the title; I think I made that clear 14 hours after the January transfer slammed shut. We do, however, have a remote chance at second place. If we really want that, we need to perform much better than we did.

We've been too lackluster, too scared to shoot and too reliant on our defence for too long this season. Today, the euphoria of doing the double over Tottenham cleverly hid that. However, if you care about Arsenal, you must ask more of your team, for if we see more of the same we'll get battered against Chelsea and struggle to create a chance against City and Everton.

Ever since that Bendtner-infected 2-0 win over Cardiff City, Arsenal have been struggling to dominate games, carry on their freeflow passes and win matches convincingly in almost every single match. This has been going on for a long, long time (it's almost 3 months now), and it's about time a solution is found. If we don't, we can forget about second.

I hope the club learns from this game. Instead of carrying out the same tactics and getting mixed results, Wenger needs to be grateful and work on solutions quickly. My solution was buying a pacy striker and man managing Ozil well, which is truly out of the question now. With 11 games to play in the Premier League, I think our only option is pragmatism.

Ugly and Stoke City-ish as it may sound, but I think we need to be much more ruthless in attack and stern in defence than we are. The clean sheet we got today was fortunate - Spurs had three presentable chances to score and tanked it. However, one can be sure that better clubs won't.

Steve Bould should be getting complete control of defence. Arteta, a leggy player, has to be used sparingly and Flamini needs to be given much more game time. Ramsey should be eased into action and not forced, then we won't see any more setbacks in his rehab. Abou Diaby needs to be brought in and used cleverly, so that Flamini doesn't pick up a knock.

In attack, the players must be urged to continue making runs. Podolski is doing that, Oxlade-Chamberlain is doing that as well. Santi Cazorla should be more focused on the pitch; he seems to disappear in big games and/or away encounters. Tomas Rosicky shouldn't be overplayed or we'll see him injured, and Olivier Giroud should be benched for anyone. He's looking jaded, his focus is lost and he isn't willing to give much for the club anymore.

It's frightening that our options after Giroud fall to Yaya Sanogo and Bendtner, but at the moment they'll have to do. There is a guarantee that Giroud would put in an insipid, leggy and goalless performance against Chelsea next week. However Sanogo, as rusty as he is, might shock Mourinho's back four with his mobility. I don't have much hope though.

I'd seriously consider playing Oxlade-Chamberlain as striker. We need to make the most of the Englishman, he's the only player who has power and pace in the team. With better finishing and more composure, I'm convinced that he can be our next Thierry Henry. I'd feel much more comfortable with seeing Rosicky in central attacking midfield, Cazorla and Podolski beside him and Chamberlain up front, rather than seeing Olivier Giroud take to the field again.

Arsene Wenger should work out a plan. Clearly Giroud is getting worse with each overplayed match, and clearly Arteta's age has caught up with him. He needs to look at stop-gap 2 month solutions and think long-term in the future. With two mammoth fixtures approaching that could propel us forward or push us back, he needs to work out his tactics correctly instead of sending out the same lambs to slaughter every weekend.

Tottenham was an escape and a warning. Listen to it, Wenger.

-Santi (Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz)

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Spurs vs Arsenal: Match Preview

We really should be winning this.

You can’t take anything for granted in football, but if we fail to win this then I think we’ll be more like top four contenders than title challengers. We haven’t won at White Hart Lane since 2007, and there won’t be a better and more important opportunity to break that streak than now.

Tim Sherwood’s Tottenham is a desperately pathetic side. Their players aren’t spearheaded by Gareth Bale anymore, the manager has lost faith and they just lost 3-1 to Benfica. And agent Sherwood is a Gooner who is doing a fantastic job of killing the side so far. You really wouldn’t find a weaker time to catch them, really. And judging on Mourinho’s result at Villa Park, you wouldn’t find a better time.

I know that Chelsea slipping up means that if we win all of our games (and overtake Liverpool on goal difference), we can win the league. However, after 1st February, when Wenger did not buy anyone, my objective had changed to finishing second. I knew that asking these players to win the title was impossible now, and I did not want to heap undue pressure on them. However, second, as impossible as it sounds, is still achievable for our team.

Out of our remaining 10 games, I think 8 of them are winnable. I’d excuse the team for losing against Chelsea and Manchester City, for they are undoubtedly superior. However, out of the remaining 8 games (which includes today’s), if we get 22 points out of 24, we would end up with 80 points. That may not be enough for second place, but that’s the best we can do.

Besides, the Premier League gives you a lot of chances. It isn’t necessary that if we want to win the title we HAVE to defeat both City and Chelsea. Yes, it’s a huge step towards the right direction, but that won’t seal the title.

The point is moot, anyways. My principal target for this season remains 2nd place and winning the FA Cup. Today’s match would decide whether we’re title contenders or top four scrappers, because we seem to be hanging dangerously somewhere in between. As it stands, I still believe we’ll finish 3rd at the expense of Liverpool, but if we replicate last year’s run-in (it's possible - our last six games are against Everton, West Ham, Hull City, Newcastle, West Brom and Norwich), then I’d strongly back us for 2nd. However, the team needs to win today and prove me right for that to happen.

While I’m sure that Kallstrom will play a part in this match, one would be unfair to expect much of him. I saw his matches and performances while I had the time, and he seems decidedly average. A really poor signing, and Wenger needs to be blamed for that. Making Kallstrom a scapegoat is wrong to him and absolving Wenger of blame.

Even with Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil and Walcott injured, we can still field a lineup of Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Gibbs – Flamini – Arteta – Cazorla – Chanberlain – Podolski – Giroud … stronger than Tottenham, definitely.

The run-in begins. And we’d better aim for the stars this time.

P.S. Apologies for the small blog, no links, pictures and lack of Arsenal activity from me on the whole, but I’m busy working on something. Will let you guys know what on Wednesday.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Arsene Wenger hasn't signed a new contract... yet

On 27 January, when Arsenal announced a new financial deal with PUMA, it became clear that Arsenal were no longer a debt-ridden club. The deal meant that there are now £100m+ reserves for Arsenal to spend in the summer, a figure almost every EPL club could only dream of. Yet, Wenger's poor record of buying players meant (for me, at least) that one could not trust him to hold these chunks of fortune.

In addition, my premature feelings of dreading the next season were compounded when Gazidis said:

"We have always supported Arsene, the board has always been completely behind him as has [owner] Stan Kroenke, and Arsene has always been committed to this football club. Arsene will be extending with us. And at the right time we will make that announcement."

I thought that was confirmation. I was all, "There you go, prepare yourselves for a future of top four struggles and mediocrity." And while I expected an official statement of Wenger's contract to be renewed within the next month, the fact remains that the situation hasn't changed. Wenger's contract, as of today, still remains three months from expiration, irrespective of Gazidis' quotes.

I think I've made it very clear that Wenger should not have a future at the club. Winning the FA Cup will not change that - he will still remain the same lying, deluded, power-hungry, egoistical, arrogant, procrastinating, tactically crippled, inept man managing penny-pincher that he is.

Worse, winning the FA Cup might further delude him into thinking that his deeply flawed method of managing was right all along, and we might witness another decade of failed youth projects and struggles for success.

I had resigned myself to the fact that Wenger would stay regardless of trophy droughts or fan mentalities, and I stuck behind the players of the team, for I believe in them. I had known that the board were either too clueless or too frightened to sack a manager who is consistently performing below par, and I was prepared to support the club irrespective of the manager's incompetence or the board's inaction.

Until now. The board have surprised me this season, which could perhaps mean a change in character in the backroom. Gazidis underlined the superb working of the board by saying clearly that the club had and has money to spend, making Wenger 100% accountable to successes/failures in the transfer market. Furthermore, they've (apparently) put Wenger's contract talks on hold with only 3 months remaining, highly unusual of their nature.

I can derive three possible conclusions from this behaviour, namely:

  1. Wenger has already signed a new contract, and the club are waiting for a good time to announce it. If this is the case, then I reckon the contract deal will be announced if Arsenal capitalize on the positive-ish mood around the club by beating the Spuds, and possibly getting a good result against Chelsea. However, if the season continues and ends in misery, then the club will be forced to announce the deal at the end of the season, only increasing the negative mood around the club.
  2. The club were planning to extend Wenger's contract, but are having second thoughts now. Maybe they're unsure how the crowd will react to this deal, or they're waiting to see how the season unfolds before negotiating a new contract with Wenger. Either way, they aren't sure how to proceed and this season would clear a lot for them. If this indeed is the case, then it's safe to say that it's make or break time for Wenger.
  3. The board want to sign a new deal with Wenger, but Wenger is stalling talks with them. Maybe it's because he isn't sure that he is the right man to lead Arsenal anymore, or maybe he's just holding out for a larger and juicier deal; I don't know. In this scenario, I just hope it's the former.

I don't know what's happening behind the scenes, but it's certainly not in sync to the board's activities. I must confess that all of these possibilities are, well, possible, and I can't rule any of them out. I have a hunch that it's the first one - however, I wouldn't put my money on it.

I live in constant hope of Wenger getting the sack at the end of the season, and it seems a real possibility since the disastrous summer of 2011. If, IF Arsene Wenger is to be removed (completely) from the club, I'd consider it a greater achievement than signing Mesut Ozil. Sure, fans would leave the club and the season to follow may be rocky, but I'd gladly compromise that for an Arsenal without Wenger.

Arsene has been holding Arsenal back, I am certain of it. I have my reasons (and boy, are they a lot!), but I feel that it's futile to express them now, when Wenger's job is in doubt. In all likelihood this matter will be sorted in June. If Wenger stays, I'll put in a series of blogs during the summer transfer market saying why it's a bad idea, but if he leaves, all that would be unnecessary.

Do I want the FA Cup more than I want Wenger out? I know I can't get both, because if Arsenal win the FA Cup, Wenger's extended deal would be announced the next hour. So, it's a hard call, and I don't have a response to it, I'm afraid. However, if there ever was a guarantee that a disastrous end would chuck out Wenger, then I'm all for it.

There, I said it. I would torment a sickening end to the campaign, but only if it means that Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal. Yes, I'm also okay with Arsenal wining the FA Cup and Wenger staying for 3 more years, but I don't want Wenger at Arsenal if he doesn't win a trophy. I wouldn't want him at Arsenal either ways (ideally), but I know that a contract to him would be guaranteed if we win a trophy this season.

An end of season disaster will NOT break me, but only if it means the end of Wenger. Let's hope (don't we always?) that the board grow a backbone and stand for what's right.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Bayern 1-1 Arsenal: Good enough?


A forgettable first half turned into a spirited second, as Arsenal drew with Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. Plenty to learn from this game.


Steve Bould's back four can save our season... 
In the first half, our defence was simply superb. While our passing was off (Wenger's fault, it was obvious Guardiola would press Arsenal, and Wenger had no tactics to counter that), the defence was absolutely brilliant. I have no doubt in my head that had Wenger coached the defence instead of Bould, we would have conceded at least three.

I've said it a lot of times that Bould's work and Ozil's signing are two primary reasons of seeing a new-look Arsenal. Ramsey's form, the Mertescielny axis and the cohesive team spirit were byproducts of the impacts created by Bould and Ozil. In the end, it was Wenger's appalling tactics that led to us conceding, when he inexplicably decided to partner Arteta with Santi Cazorla.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is a stud...
In the absences of pace-setter Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has become an absolutely vital cog in our attack. In my opinion he offers much more than Walcott - with all respect to Theo, I doubt he would have taken on Dante like Chamberlain did.

If we want a better attack, we need players with qualities of Oxlade-Chamberlain. He has what Arsenal needs - power and pace. Chamberlain is willing to drive at opponents and make marauding runs off the ball - a trait which a lot of Gunners sadly lack.

Oxlade-Chamberlain's contribution to the team is being highlighted because he is the ONLY ONE who has a mixture of speed and strength at Arsenal. The solution to this problem is clear - we need to buy more of him.

Ozil injured is a good thing...

"Ozil, for instance, isn't 'regenerated', as Wenger says. I want him to do well, but aside 1 goal and 1 assist I didn't see much of him in the match (that wasn't sarcastic). I'm sorry to put a dent on this glorious day, but this match wasn't a sign that Mesut Ozil is back to his best."

Sadly, Ozil confirmed by worries yesterday. Yes, Wenger got his tactics wrong by deciding to play him out wide, but I still didn't see Ozil anywhere in the first half. In many occasions he gave the ball away and on one particular situation, forced an acrobatic clearance from his own teammate.

The thing with Ozil is that everyone assumed that he would be fantastic for Arsenal, and people haven't got off that mindset yet. In reality, he was okayish against Everton as well, but his impressive statistics (1 goal, 1 assist) meant that people wrongly heralded him as a game-changer. Mesut Ozil is proof that statistics alone does not say the whole story.

The same applies to Rosicky, although in contrary context. At the moment, even though Rosicky has around 25 goals lesser than Ozil (and a million assists lesser as well), I am not ashamed to assert that he is comfortably ten times of him. Rosicky is much more mentally tougher, trophy-hungry and Arsenal-material than Ozil, even though Ozil is a better player than Rosicky on his day.

For a long time, there has been a monopoly of the central attacking midfield role. Irrespective of form, Ozil always hogs the starting role because Wenger lets him. Now that Ozil is injured and Wenger can't pick him till May, worthier players like Podolski and Rosicky will finally get game time.

Schweinsteiger's goal was a much needed catalyst...
Until Schweinsteiger's goal it was pretty much the same - Bayern dominating and Arsenal defending competently. However, after Bayern made it 3-0 on aggregate, we finally started to play like a team befitting of the Champions League.

I made it clear that Arsenal should look to use this game as a springboard to future form. It's good that Podolski scored almost immediately, because after we made it 1-1 we did exactly that.

I'd let Podolski go only if we get Draxler...
Seriously, I don't get why Wenger doesn't play Lukas more often. Podolski is one of two pure wingers that we have in this team who is available as well as reliable (Chamberlain being the other). His goal was breathtaking, even though it had mitigating circumstances around it. Podolski is easily our best finisher in the side, and after witnessing Giroud's poor performance again, I strongly suggest we try to integrate Podolski as a striker.

There is a real possibility that this is Podolski's last season at Arsenal. Wenger is making a blunder by not playing him regularly; yesterday proved that. While I know that people say Podolski is a player who tends to go invisible in certain matches, I personally feel that he is simply biding his time for the perfect chance.

When the team is in full sync, Podolski is a person who can merge seamlessly. Yes, Podolski isn't the kind of guy who would instigate moves, but don't we have Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Tomas Rosicky for that?

We desperately need a better striker than Giroud...
Giroud, on Saturday, proved that he is our undisputed best striker. However, today he showed that he isn't good enough, even as our best striker.

In my opinion, Giroud still has a future at Arsenal. However, at a club of Arsenal's stature, Giroud can only play second fiddle to much more clinical finishers. This season has taken its toll over him; Giroud now looks plain unfocused and slow in thought-process, not to mention cheap and unpredictable with the ball.

See the goal Diego Costa scored against AC Milan? Would Giroud do that?

I like Giroud. However, you can't really expect a target man to pump goals regularly after being grossly overplayed for almost 2 seasons. If we are to see the best of Arsenal's attack and Olivier Giroud himself, another striker is a must.

Robben is pathetic, and UEFA are equally spineless...


In the first leg, I felt that the criticism on Robben was a bit harsh. It was apparent that there was a touch from Szczesny, so Robben duly went down. I agree that he made the most out of the contact, but that's become part and parcel of being a professional footballer (witness Chamberlain winning a penalty against Everton). The situation in the first leg was such that a red card would have been too harsh on Arsenal, yet letting Szczesny go unpunished would have been too harsh on Bayern.

However, there is simply no excuse for his disgraceful behaviour yesterday. If I recollect properly, I think he blatantly dived thrice in the game. If I were the referee I'd have booked him straight after he went down upon minimal contact from Cazorla, yet the dickless weasel just let play go on.

It's shameful that the referee fell to his demands when he went down after Koscielny's 'challenge'. It was plainly another attempt at simulation, which the ref inexplicably lapped up. After the game, Wenger spoke of him:

"Robben is very good at getting the maximum of nothing and he is a great player and as well a very good diver. He gets in front of a player and then he slows down and goes down. He gets the free-kicks."

I'm with Wenger on this. However, what particularly stung was the utter predictability of it. Wenger hinted that the ref might not be up to it, and he wasn't. Robben dived thrice and was not only punished, but rewarded at his third attempt. Wenger lashed out at the player and will possibly get fined, and Robben will slip under the radar and be allowed to keep simulating.

Sometimes I feel that the FA and UEFA miss the real point of their existence. Their goal is to keep football a pure, proper sport, but instead they shift focuses from unfair refereeing decisions and broken legs to media quotes and anti-Semitic gestures. A fair football organization would hand strict punishments to incidents including Ryan Shawcross, Alan Pardew and even Joey Barton.

The FA and the UEFA are ruining football by focusing on the wrong issues. 

I'd do anything to keep Fabianski and Vermaelen...
They're the best backups we've had in a while. While it is understandable that Fabianski's save meant that Vermaelen went under the radar, I'd like to doff my hat to the Belgian. Throughout a season of humiliation, speculation and pressure to perform when needed, Vermaelen has been completely professional and respected the integrity of the club, despite not getting the required appreciation.

The same is to be said of Fabianski. Yes, I understand his decision to leave Arsenal, but I still feel that we should do everything in our power to keep him. We will need a goalkeeper like Fabianski in the future for rotation, FA Cup games and Capital One Cup matches.

I'm certain that he'll depart, though. No player would make such a damning and clear statement and still do the opposite (apart from Nicklas Bendtner). All I can say is that the club who will nab him will be a very lucky one indeed.

Bayern Munich are far from perfect...
I still think that Bayern are currently the best football side in the world. However, that doesn't mean their flawless. There were times in the match where a better Arsenal would have scored goals and put them under the cosh, but it was down to our own reasons that we failed. I have no doubt that the Invincibles would have shred this Bayern Munich side to pieces.

I still fancy Bayern to win the Champions League. However, I say that because I don't find any other team that can match their prowess. Real Madrid, maybe, but I'm not so sure.

We could have, should have won....
I know I'm sounding like a bit of a spoilt brat, but I feel that had a couple of things gone our way, we would have won. We had two really good chances to win, where Giroud either missed the target or failed to cut it back quickly to Podolski. Bayern were distracted towards the end, and I feel regret because we failed to capitalize on that.

Having said that, a draw at the Allianz Arena without Szczesny, Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey and Walcott is impressive. However, I don't think that this result would have long-lasting implications on our side; it just wasn't surprising enough. I guess time will tell whether a draw in Munich would revolutionize our form, but I personally wouldn't count on it. Unless... 

A win at White Hart Lane would make this a positive result...
If we win against Tottenham, then this draw against Bayern would be instantly over hyped. The weekend would read as a crucial Everton win, a creditable Munich draw and victory at a North London conquest, which would enable many to think that we've put the setbacks of Stoke and Liverpool behind us.

However, if we lose or draw, the situation would flip towards the other way. The FA Cup win would be described routine, while the draw against Bayern as lucky (because of the missed penalty). For the sake of our confidence, we must defeat Tottenham at all costs on Sunday.

I think we'll batter them.

  -Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bayern vs Arsenal: Match Preview


"What's the virtue in putting so much sweat in a match that won't really help our trophy chances? Yes, we can win the match and the tie, but the chances of doing so are really low. In addition, ambitions like the Premier League and the FA Cup are much more realistic - why risk injuries and stamina in a potential dead rubber?
 

I say we cut our losses, play a fresh, substitute lineup and view this game as a bonus friendly than an obstacle to Champions League glory."

Remember I said this after our 0-2 loss against the best team in the world? Yeah, scrap that. I was blabbering garble.

A lot has changed since that loss. Our title hopes have derailed way off path, while something of a polar opposite has happened in the FA Cup. We enter one of the most glamorous matches of the season in confidence, and while that alone may not be enough to provide us with any hope in the second leg, it gives us a massive opportunity to restore pride on Europe's biggest stage.

I want us to win. There, I said it.

I'm not saying that I want us to qualify for the quarterfinals, for I understand that that isn't really fair to ask of a thin squad, not to mention the added fixtures will take its toll on us. However, I really want Arsenal to defeat Bayern Munich (or at least, achieve a positive result) because I know how morale-boosting a victory at the Allianz Arena can be.

Imagine this scenario. We beat Bayern Munich by a one-goal margin, bowing out of the Champions League in the best possible way. Five days later, we thump Tottenham Hotspur and nearly seal our top four berth, enabling us to push on further. Take a second and wonder at the heights of optimism, belief and positivity that would engulf the team going into a crucial Chelsea clash.

We can use the Bayern game as a catalyst - a positive result there can have Ozilish implications on our team and springboard our form for the better as we enter the crucial run-in period. We don't need to look beyond last season, where after a 0-2 win (against the same side!), we overtook Tottenham by winning 7 of our last 9 games.

However, this season has much higher stakes. We aren't fighting for the top four; we're fighting for the top two. In addition, we're in with a real chance of winning the FA Cup since 2005. If that was not enough, we can afford to play key men for this encounter, contrary to popular opinion.

Olivier Giroud is rested. Lukas Podolski is rested. Tomas Rosicky and Laurent Koscielny are rested. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ozil are in form; benching them would be a shame. Especially Ozil, who would hopefully want to make amends for his penalty miss in front of his German fans. We can safely field a lineup of Fabianski - Sagna - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Vermaelen - (Gibbs and Monreal won't make it) - Flamini - Rosicky - Ozil - Chamberlain - Podolski - Giroud, and yet get a decent result, irrespective of qualification or not.

Players would be tired entering the North London derby? I don't think so. Even though we'll be travelling to England from Germany, we'll have five days of rest going into this game. If we use the lineup that I suggested above, we'll still have Szczesny, Ramsey, Kallstrom, Rosicky, Arteta and Cazorla rested and fit for this match.

Ideally, I wouldn't want us to qualify for the quarterfinals because our squad is too thin and not good enough to win the Champions League. However, the 0-2 loss has put us in a position where a one-niller would not give us qualification, yet skyrocket our confidence (and probably our form).

I'm confident that we'll thump the Spuds. However, if we beat Bayern Munich before that, we can set a fantastic tone going into the final stages of the campaign (which feature important FA Cup games and Chelsea, Man City and Everton encounters). It's almost ironic that a dead rubber has the potential to be the most important match of the season.

We're in the Champions League, roughly equivalent to the club's World Cup. I'd prefer if we actually played like Champions and do justice to the occasion.

Come on You Gunners. Time to restore some more pride.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Monday, 10 March 2014

FA Cup joy, more Everton thoughts and updated season expectations


What a day to be an Arsenal fan - sadness turned to sheer jubilation within 2 hours as Wigan Athletic somehow defeated Manchester City and provided every one of us with genuine optimism. In doing so, they haven't just produced a massive upset in the cup, but they also seem to have got us inch-close to ending our infamous trophyless streak.

There truly can be no excuses now. I'm not saying that the FA Cup is now a given, but it's certainly a task made much, much simpler after Wigan have knocked out City. I wouldn't spare the team any excuse even if fourteen refereeing decisions go against us and we're forced to concede seven own goals because Roberto Martinez has a gun to Arsene Wenger's head.

Such an opportunity is vastly reminiscent of the 2011 Carling Cup competition. Some might argue that we had an even easier task then - it was only Ipswich and Birmingham to beat and ecstasy would undoubtedly follow. Yet Wenger fucked it up.

However, equating 2011 to today's squad is an insult to this Arsenal. Few would disagree that today's Arsenal is vastly more experienced, determined, capable and eager to win than the past. However, the most important trait of these players that distinguish them from past Arsenal sides is that they understand how Arsenal supporters feel, and they're willing as hell to give us what we want: a trophy.

I found some of the reactions to our draw a bit weird. People constantly reminded everyone that Wigan are a side capable of producing massive upsets, and that we shouldn't underestimate them. To them, I say, aren't Manchester City ten times of Wigan Athletic? After all, the last encounter against Manchester City resulted in a 6-3 loss, while the last encounter against Wigan (a game which was arguably as important as the semi final coming up) was a 4-1 victory for us.

I'm not saying that we can allow ourselves to underestimate Wigan. I'm just saying that our team is more than capable of blowing Wigan away and that we should have a little more belief in our team. The game against Everton showcased some qualities that were sorely lacking in previous Arsenal matches, we should learn from them.


1. We should start all games with a sense of urgency: Vital, absolutely vital for victory. It's a long known fact that Arsenal begin all games slowly and struggle to find our feet. However, now as we're entering the season run-in, we must treat every match as a cup final.

I've noticed that we begin home matches quite brilliantly, which is great. However, seen that only 4 out of our 9 Premier League remaining matches are at home, we must replicate our home form on the away turf as well.

2. Oxlade-Chamberlain is indispensable: Without Chamberlain, we're completely flat in attack. The Ox is one of those players who has what the present Arsenal needs (and the Invincibles had) - power and pace. I am firmly of the opinion that in every match Ozil starts, Oxlade-Chamberlain should partner him. With Chambo making dangerous runs off the ball and Ozil finding them, they could form a superb duo in no time.

3. The Flamenta axis can work because of Arteta: I was surprised when I found people surprised at Arteta's performance the day before yesterday. After Wenger wrongly attempted to play him deeper since he came to Arsenal, many Arsenal supporters have deemed him to be a defensive midfielder, which is a bit unfair. Arteta was always a central attacking midfielder, and yesterday proved that. Like Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, Arteta can be a box-to-box midfielder.

That means that the only true defensive midfielders in our team are Mathieu Flamini and Kim Kallstrom. Arsenal cannot afford to overplay Flamini, he's an absolute necessity and needs to be rotated from time to time. Maybe loaning in Kallstrom wasn't a bad idea after all.

4. Mesut Ozil in form is an absolute necessity: Let's face it, Ozil is our best player. Normally, I won't say that a team needs to revolve around one player, but I am now. If Mesut Ozil doesn't play like Mesut Ozil for 2 months, it's going to be really difficult for us to cope without his form. It's good that he seemingly has his confidence back, because we badly need Ozil in form for a successful season.



Speaking of a successful season, I think it's time to define what we should realistically hope for in this campaign. We're approaching the run-in now, the crunch part of the season that will undoubtedly define it. We have a great chance to end our trophy drought and can restore pride in the Barclays Premier League.

What do I feel this team is realistically capable of achieving in these two months? Here we go.



1. Beat Bayern Munich: I know I said before that we should cut our losses in the Champions League, but I have a different thought settling in now. I strongly feel that if we beat Bayern Munich (it's possible) and then thump the Tottshit Spuds (which is almost definite), not to mention Aaron Ramsey returning from injury, our season will take a massive boost for the better.

In addition, Bayern Munich are on a 49 match unbeaten run, and it's almost karma that Arsenal are the only team that can stop them from bettering their own record. I'm not saying that Arsenal should try to qualify for the quarters, I'm saying that we should try to defeat Bayern; even a 0-1 scoreline would be simply fantastic. Let's make it happen tomorrow.

2. Finish 2nd: Winning the Premier League was always impossible with such a thin squad and an incompetent manager. However, I'm starting to believe that we can overtake Manchester City and finish second in the league, at least. Since the beginning of the season I have always felt that Chelsea were going to win the league, and now it seems almost probable.

However, Manchester City's season seems to be falling apart a bit. They look a bit dependent on Aguero, and their freescoring style of winning has dramatically halted. If, IF we beat them at our own fortress, I think we can snatch 2nd from them.

Personally, I'm not worried about Liverpool. Yes, they have only one competition to play in and they're above us in the table, but I firmly believe that they'll slip to fourth as the season progresses. Arsenal seem set for third in the league, but I'll still urge my team to do better because we have the potential to do so. It will take a lot of work, but it can happen.

Let's get behind the team. God knows they need our support.

3. Win the cup: Period. No excuses, no slip-ups. I don't care if we win the Premier League and the Champions League, but if we fail to win the FA Cup, it would be nothing else but disaster. Disaster, I tell you.

We will never get a better chance to make amends for bottling our league lead than this. I don't want to advertise Nike, but I just want to say to Arsenal: Just do it.


Everyone listen up. The end of the season has arrived, and with it comes a lot of promise. The team needs to deliver, but we need to get behind them as well. It's time to shout your lungs out for your beloved Arsenal.

Come on you Gunners. And Gooners.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )