Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle: Ozil struts his stuff as Arsenal seal North London superiority

In one of the most routine victories ever, Arsenal beat a team comfortably who, by all accounts, came to the Emirates Stadium just for the heck of it.

This was one of those wins where it was hard to find any negatives to balance the positives. There was, however, that drab opening 22 minute spell that sucked the life out of me. Sure, we had possession and we had an Ozil chance that whisked past the post, but other than that, it was dire.

I was worried. If Newcastle would open the scoring - they did come close when Sissoko curled an effort past the far post - then there was the real chance we might lose the support of the crowd. Coming back to win would have been difficult, considering our team's fickle mood-swings.

However, as it stood, Arsenal were just biding their time. We won a free kick around the 25th minute, Santi curled it in and Koscielny (who else?) dived to meet the ball and guide the ball into the far post. That's three goals for him directly responsible for St. Totteringham's Day, all in the same fashion. It's almost like the script was written.

The goal was what Arsenal needed, as we let go of the handbrake and started to impose ourselves. Against a Newcastle side with absolutely nothing to play for and Ozil in the mood, it was pretty easy. Podolski could have made it 3-0, when his low strike, which seemed to be going in was saved by Krul, and later when he was denied a headed goal after another Krul save.

We did get what we deserved just before half-time. Arteta floated a ball on the path of Giroud who was making a rare run behind the defence. The back two of Williamson and Collocini are particularly slow players, which probably helped Giroud put in an improved performance. Imagine how much chaos a quicker striker would have created. Remember Theo Walcott's hattrick against Newcastle in December 2012?

Anyway, Giroud controlled the ball perfectly, but then went for a shot instead of passing it to Ozil. His two strikes, both saved by Krul, kind of highlighted how poor he is in finishing one-on-one situations. There wasn't any clever attempt to curl it past the keeper or round him - instead, Giroud just decided to put his foot through the ball and see where it took him. On this occasion, he was saved by the deflection falling to an offside Ozil who tucked it in, but he won't be saved every day. He needs to be careful.

In the second half, after Gouffran showed evidence that Newcastle were theoretically still in the game, we proceeded to kill the game off. Ozil, who was simply breathtaking after scoring the second goal, took advantage of a Ramsey reverse and bulleted the ball in for Giroud to meet with his head. I don't know many Arsenal players who could have delivered that flat speedy cross like Ozil did, he deserves more credit for that than we give him.

I liked Ozil's performance yesterday. While I thought his performance at Hull was overrated, the Newcastle one wasn't. He was all over them, really, and showed elegance along with end product. Kudos to the guy, for what I think was his best performance in an Arsenal shirt since Napoli at home.

Kudos to Wenger too. He made absolutely the right call by removing the influential and essential trio of Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud, who deserved a rest. Come to think of it, he did the same against Hull, removing Ozil, Giroud and Podolski when the game was practically over. Is this a sign of a newfound positive man management from Arsene?

After the most comfortable win since, well, last week, Wenger said:

"It is a step forward [to fourth], but we need to make another one because we have another home game [on Sunday]. It is another opportunity to win again. What is important is to focus on our performance. Game-by-game, they look strong and convincing now."

Fourth could be sealed if Manchester City defeat Everton on Saturday, as seems increasingly likely. However, I haven't given up hope of third, so I hope Everton defeat City and we defeat West Brom. I know the chances of Arsenal overhauling City are slim to none, but as I said before, it's better to fight for third than stay content with fourth.


Right, time for some FIFA. And if time permits, I might change the layout of the blog or something, you never know.

Till then, Happy St. Totteringham's Day. Have a good one, Gooners.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Monday, 28 April 2014

The fight for fourth, Moyes' sacking, Newcastle preview and CL thoughts

It's been a busy week of football, one I regret missing out on.

A lot has happened in terms of football in general, so please forgive me for turning my attention away from Arsenal in this post. Without further ado, let's get right into the thick of it.

Hull was the performance of the old...
...and by old, i mean six months ago. The 3-0 win against Hull displayed football by Arsenal that we had gotten used to around the September-December period. And there was one man who was at the centre of it, just like he was in the thick of it half a year ago.

Aaron Ramsey was simply... well, Ramsey. I didn't expect much from him because he had just returned from injury, and one assist against West Ham didn't exactly mean he was 'back', as such. Indeed, I tried to downplay his importance to every Gooner I knew, for I didn't want to increase the burden on his tired shoulders.

How wrong was I? Ramsey bossed it. His direct, purposeful running was an acceptable surrogate for Theo Walcott's absence. His all-action midfield play is irreplaceable, really. He immediately got back in his groove with a goal and an assist, not to mention being significantly involved in the third. I had genuinely forgotten how good he was, and didn't want to hype his earlier season form for fear of setting unfair expectations on him.

However, I didn't need to. Ramsey's performance leaked of efficiency and enthusiasm. It's getting impossible to raise the bar on his expectations. Had Wenger not overplayed him and rashly attempted to bring him back to action, we could have been a lot better off than we currently are.

Podolski deserves mention too. Even though I'm increasingly of the opinion that deploying him on the left flank in a 4-3-3 isn't the best idea, I want Podolski to do well at Arsenal. His second goal was one only Aaron Ramsey could have scored in this present Arsenal team, which highlights how much we need him.

Podolski is a rarity at Arsenal. He gives us that cutting edge, the final product and covers his defensive deficiencies by smashing the ball into the net. Goals win football matches, to use the redundant footballing cliche, and Podolski offers that. Which is why, in the absence of Theo, the guy is becoming indispensable.

Work out the math. How many players currently at Arsenal would have scored the goal that Podolski did against Hull, or even West Ham? Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and maybe Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky. With the latter two not exactly in their prime currently, Walcott injured and Ramsey only being one guy, Podolski continues to deliver the goods. And that's why Arsenal need him.

Moyes had to go...
I'm not saying this from an Arsenal perspective. As a Gooner, I think what he was doing was hilarious. Bringing a title winning side to practically mid-table unwittingly is beyond remarkable. United were hopeless and hapless under him.

However, hearing United supporters protesting to Moyes' sacking and trotting out "#InMoyesWeTrust" was almost stupid. Moyes was given time to gel with the players and build on a foundation set by Ferguson, and he failed miserably. He lost the dressing room, pampered Rooney, never found a stable backline and mismanaged van Persie and Kagawa.

However, the reason why he had to go was because of what he did back in last summer. By firing a backroom staff full of winners, he was drilling a box of nails into his grave.

As a football fan, I believe that modern day managers can be successful by living off the information from their backroom staff. By piecing together knowledge from your medical staff, your transfer negotiator, your scouts, your first team coaches, etc., you could make informed decisions and take the club forward. By being a figurehead to experts working behind the scenes, the manager can mould that information to take calculated risks.

Maybe that's what Ferguson saw in Moyes. Maybe Ferguson believed that Moyes could act as a nominal leader, take advice from United's superb backroom staff and carry on business as usual. It is a lesser known fact that Ferguson was an awful tactician, so instead of going around with his own tactics (like Wenger does), he took advice from his coaching staff.

However, Moyes blew it. Inspite of Ferguson's pleas, Moyes made what was his worst decision as Manchester United manager, in my opinion, by hiring Everton's staff and firing Ferguson's staff. Is it really a surprise that their negotiating staff failed to lure Coentrao, Alcantra and Ozil to their team?

As their dog turd of a season wore on, he eventually lost the players, the support and the plot. He panicked into giving Rooney a megadeal, and overpaid for Juan Mata. He made insane decisions like playing Januzaj as central attacking midfield and Valencia at right back. Some legacy.

If the replacement, touted to be Louis van Gaal, does come in, he'll have to sort out the backroom staff. Otherwise, if the new manager's pedigree is modest, I'd expect to see more of the same.

Perhaps this should be a lesson for Wenger. While Moyes took the advice of incompetent ex-Evertonians in the backroom, it is widely known that Wenger acts as a one-man army. He does not heed the advice of his backroom staff at all, a result of his egocentric and dictatorial mindset. Would any medical staff sanction playing Ramsey for 112 minutes, only after two days of full training?

Wenger has to learn. Ferguson took the advice of his coaching staff and became a footballing legend. Moyes ignored it and became a laughing stock. Wenger, for a good decade, is ignoring the advice of behind-the-scenes men and is watching his Arsenal regressing.

For me, the writing is on the wall.

Real Madrid have exposed Bayern's weaknesses...
While I think Bayern are currently the best footballing side in the world, that doesn't mean they're flawless. There were glaring errors in their matches against Arsenal, errors that a better manager would have taken advantage of. Ancelloti did.

After our 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena, I had said:

"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."

I didn't see the match, so I don't know the tactics Real employed. I did hear people say that Real should have had a bigger lead going into the second leg, so it seems like Carlo got his tactics right. Either way, the second leg at the Allianz promises to be a cracker. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Anyone but Chelsea...
Since the season began, I had predicted Chelsea to win the Premier League. It wasn't a pleasant thought, and I wasn't supporting them in any way. And even though Jose somehow managed to get his buses past Anfield, it's unlikely they'll win the title.

However, I have this nagging feeling that they are going to win the Champions League. I don't know why, because they certainly are underdogs against the might of Real and Bayern. They may even be too weak to get past Atletico.

Looking at Mourinho thumping his Chelsea badge against the sea of Anfield incensed me a bit. It was then, when I realized that I want Chelsea to suffer as much hurt as possible this season. I hate the club, the plastic fans, the mafia owner and the anti-football manager. Why the fuck do you spend billions and then play like Stoke City?

I think I hate Chelsea more than Tottenham Hotspur, which really is saying something. And that is why I find the nagging feeling, that they might win the CL uncomfortable. Should they perform that feat, the niggling thought might eat me up.

Anyone but Chelsea.

Everton did us a massive favour...
I didn't expect them to lose against Southampton, be it at St. Mary's. However, to lose like they did - by scoring two own goals - was as surprising as it was delighting. Needless to say, fourth is well and truly in our hands now, and looking at City's win over Crystal Palace, we're forced to be happy with what we have.

Today could be St. Totteringham's day...
With Newcastle United coming up in a few hours, three points would seal Arsenal's superiority over Tottenham for the 19th season running. Remarkable, really.

On comparison to the previous two seasons, where we had to wait till the last game of the season to establish North London superiority, it shows how much we have progressed and how much Tottenham have regressed. St. Totteringham's Day has almost gone under the radar due to the prospect of going four clear of Everton.

I find it surprising how little I care over St. Totteringham's. I barely even care about top four, really. Bar the FA Cup, this season is over for me. All I care about is Wenger's possible departure and decisive additions in the summer.

Until then, it's just getting through another Matchday.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Arsenal 3-1 West Ham: Fourth place trophy recovered

So, despite the majority of problems surrounding Arsenal Football Club, we're in control of fourth place. A scary first half performance turned into a much more controlled, composed second half display as we dispatched Allardyce's side away, quite comfortably in the end. Thoughts: 

Podolski was, is and always will be inconsistent in a 4-3-3...
I know that Podolski is a fan favourite. I know that people are in disbelief that Wenger doesn't play him more often. I know that he had a cracker of a performance against West Ham. But I, unlike a lot of Arsenal supporters, am not convinced.

Despite his goals and assists, Podolski strikes to me as a player who is the jack of being a winger and a striker, yet the master of none. At times he'll convince you that he's capable of playing as a striker/winger, but at times he'll demonstrate that he's not capable of playing in both positions. I firmly believe that Podolski is not a pure winger, neither is he a pure centre forward.

If we want to bring out the best of Lukas consistently, it's not going to happen in a 4-4-3. To me Podolski always performs better in the space between a right back and a centre back down the left channel. While I used to say that Podolski has the potential to be lethal in our 4-3-3 system as a left winger, I really don't believe it now.

If we want Podolski to thrive, I'm convinced that the answer is playing him as a second striker in a 4-4-2. Alongside Giroud, an expert in laying off balls to people beside him, I think Podolski will perform well consistently.

However, I don't think we should employ a 4-4-2 now, especially after building a team suited to adjust a 4-4-3. I'm not sure that it would be the best idea for our creative midfielders to thrive, and if we look to play a diamond midfield, it would put undue pressure on the lone holding midfielder, especially seeing that our holding midfielders (Flamini, Arteta, Kallstrom) don't have a Yaya Toure physique.

Giroud's goal deserves praise...
I have been one of the rare people who support Giroud, yet want him dropped for a lot of matches. My answer is logical; while I'm sure that Giroud has a place in the team for Arsenal for future years to come, his mental and physical condition has been shot to pieces by Arsene Wenger.

Wenger has got it all wrong with Giroud. Ever since he's come to Arsenal (in 2012), Giroud has been thrown in the foray continuously by Wenger and expected to replace Robin van Persie. With utter disregard to his fatigued mindset and his tiring legs, Wenger has horribly mismanaged Giroud, so much so that I thought he was beyond repair now.

Don't get me wrong - I still want Giroud in the club. He's shown enough qualities in the first half of the season (when he wasn't tired) that has convinced me to think he'd be a strong backup option. We need Kanus and Wiltords on the bench to make a difference in turbulent times, and I think Olivier can be one of them.

However, Giroud's goal (and his performance afterwards) has led me to believe that he can still finish this campaign strongly. My earlier mentality of "Aargh, Wenger's killed the guy, best for him to limp towards the finish line and start afresh" has changed now. To me, Giroud seems like one of those guys with a fickle mind. With confidence, Ollie looks reborn.

As soon as he got the crucial goal that gave us the lead, Giroud immediately looked rejuvenated. With adrenaline coursing through his veins, stamina returned from nowhere as Giroud put in a remarkable shift after scoring a goal Messi would be proud of.

For me, this changes nothing. Giroud will still be fit as backup in a club like Arsenal, but he'd be a significant upgrade over the likes of Chamakh, Park and Sanogo. Perhaps we'd see a much more potent strikeforce under a new manager in the next season. That is, if Wenger leaves of course.

Ramsey makes us tiki-taka... 
When the Welshman was brought on, I didn't have high hopes. Indeed, I actually tried as hard as I could through social media to downplay his return, as I felt that undue pressure might affect his performances. Instead, the complete opposite happened.

I really had forgotten how good Ramsey was. Perhaps it's conceivable I was trying to downgrade his quality over the months to not get my hopes up like I had with Jack Wilshere. Perhaps I didn't want to believe that he's our saviour of the season.

Be as it may, Ramsey had an absolute screamer. As soon as he came on the team felt alive, reminiscent of how we were in the first half of the season. His mere presence just changed everything, including the scoreline, where he gave a sublime assist to Podolski's clincher. I'd feel much more comfortable about the FA Cup Final if Ramsey were properly fit.

Kallstrom's debut was overrated...
Personally, I didn't see the fuss in Kallstrom. While other people applauded him for a "fantastic" full Premier League debut, I thought he was completely average. Had a handy scapegoat like Arteta or Denilson played like how Kallstrom did, they would have been roundly criticized for an "anonymous performance."

Of course, I don't want Kallstrom to seem appalling just so I could berate Wenger for buying him. I already have the Denilsons, the Diabys, the Frimpongs and the Meridas to do that. However, it seems like the Arsene fan club are desperately trying to hype Kallstrom's performance in the hope of believing that their beloved Wenger had a grand master plan in place when he loaned in Kallstrom. Believe me, he didn't.

Even if Kallstrom surprises the whole world and bags more assists than Ozil in the coming month, there is no denying the fact that he was signed by Wenger just for the sake of signing somebody.

Santi Cazorla thoughts... 
Of course, he was brilliant. Completely deserving of the MOTM award. However, don't expect him to consistently perform like he did. Ozil's imminent return means that he'll be shifted to the left flank again, where we'll be mixed results from him. Again.

Obviously I want Cazorla to perform well for Arsenal. He's the most cheerful-cum-talented Arsenal footballer in the team. However, I won't for one second believe that him shifting to the left would flourish his form. He will have his good games, but would never find consistency.

Ozil's return will be a psychological boost...
 I expect the team's performance to raise a level once Ozil takes to the field. And that's not because he'd be providing assists all over the place. It'd be because his mere presence would lift the team.

I don't think we are set to see any superb comeback from Ozil. I think we'll be in for more of the same. However, it is impossible to shake off entirely the possibility that his return could provide a huge fillip to Arsenal. Let's see.

Token of gratitude to Tony...
After Crystal Palace beat Everton, fourth is completely in our hands.Yes, it's not where (m)any would like to be right now considering how many days we were topping the pile, but I am relieved to see that at least we're now on course to getting the consolation that seemed to be slipping from our grasps. Even though I loathe the coconuts out of Pulis, he has earned my gratitude.

Having said that, we might move a step further as well.

Third might be a possibility...
After City slipped up against Sunderland, they're now only 4 points ahead of us, albeit with a game in hand. However, it's interesting to note that their end-of fixtures include the aforementioned Palace and Everton, games where they are likely to drop points. Plus, you know, it's the Premier League. Anything can happen.

I'm not saying that City's slip-up means snatching third is a plausible option. I'm just saying that fighting for third is much better than fighting to stay at fourth. However weird it may sound, we must play the rest of the season with an objective of overhauling City rather than fending off Everton. It's what football (and our motto) is all about - moving forward.


Right, that's that. I'll be out of town for a good couple of weeks and might not get the Wi-Fi to post any other blogs. It may well be the end of this month before I start posting again.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Arsenal vs West Ham: Match Preview

You know what's embarrassing? That we're looking at this game as a potential banana skin.

West Ham are 11th in the table. We're 5th in the table and playing them at home, which has become a real fortress. Despite injuries and fatigue, we should we walking over this team.

We won't, though. That's how low Wenger has got us.

Granted, we have just played a physically and emotionally draining 120 minutes against Wigan. Players like Ramsey and Chamberlain who were just back from injury aren't fit to play this game, especially because they also played an awful lot against Wigan. Mertesacker and Sagna deserve a breather too.

But here's the thing - isn't it purely our fault that we are in this position? No one told us to drag the game on to extra time, we were the one's who created the mess. We had Wigan in the FA Cup semi final - that's as easy as it gets. Yet we made hot water out of it.

We knew Ramsey and Walcott were out in January. Arsenal bloggers everywhere have been saying that our medical staff is one of the crappiest in the league. Yet, instead of adding much needed depth, we've signed Kim Kallstrom.

Kallstrom has been proving to be useful in these times. With Ramsey, Flamini, Ozil and Wilshere out, he's almost guaranteed a start today. But consider this - had we bought more players in January (say a striker and a centre back), wouldn't they have been useful as well? I, for one, have been crying out loud for a striker and a centre back. Both of them would have been mighty useful today. In addition, I'm firmly of the opinion that had we got these players, they would have helped us today in keeping our title hopes alive, rather than our top four hopes.

I had said that the performance rather than the result was what terrified me against Wigan. I am utterly convinced that we're going to see a similar performance today. Whether it's enough to grab three points (or even one point) remains to be seen.

I expect we'll line up with Szczesny - Sagna - Mertesacker - Koscielny (if he makes it) - Gibbs - Kallstrom - Arteta - Rosicky (if he makes it) - Cazorla - Podolski - Giroud. I also expect us to come out with a 0-0 draw if we play anything like we did on Saturday.

In a broader sense, I genuinely think we'll finish fifth this season. We actually are fortunate that we have an easy run-in while Everton have Southampton, United and City, but I don't think Wenger will take advantage of that luck.

Martinez looks possessed to get fourth. Wenger, on the other hand, looks beaten. While I don't think in any way that finishing fourth is good for the club (the board needs a bigger jolt than that to change things around), I honestly am worried that Everton will overtake us for good this season.

The players need to prove me wrong, starting today. I'm not very hopeful though.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Monday, 14 April 2014

Arsenal 1-1 Wigan [4-2 on penalties]: Worrying performance, wonderful result

I know that many Arsenal supporters are in paradise at the moment. I know that with Hull coming up in the finals, they'll be relishing their chances. I know that Fabianski's heroics kept us in firm control of a penalty shootout which everyone expected to be nervy.

However, I was downright alarmed by the reactions of this game. I went into it hoping, almost knowing that we'll trash the living shit out of Wigan, irrespective of how uncertain the Arsenal fanbase was. Yesterday I saw why.

Spoiler alert: If you want to know the real truth of what happened yesterday, carry on. I didn't post this article yesterday because I was sure that the joy of reaching the final would taint my analysis of the game. In addition, I also did not want to dent the happiness of Gooners by posting a hugely negative review in the immediate aftermath of our penalty shootout victory.

However, now that the dust has settled, here I go.

Our performance...
Clearly, we had learnt nothing from previous games. Upon slight pressing by a better Wigan, Arsenal became completely pedestrian. Let's not forget that we were playing a Championship side with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Podolski and Cazorla in our ranks.

It's worrying when teams like Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool press you into submission. However, it really is beyond alarming when Wigan Athletic manages to outplay Wenger tactically. Based on this performance, if Wenger learns nothing I seriously doubt his capability of snatching fourth from Everton.

A fellow Gooner argued that Wigan had defeated Manchester City, which meant that the game would always be difficult. Sorry, it doesn't rub with me. An in-crisis United trashed Wigan 4-0 in the very same stadium. Moreover, equating Wigan with City really is beyond ridiculous. Bradford defeated Arsenal and Arsenal defeated Bayern in the same season - does that mean Bradford would put up a fight against Bayern?

I'm surprised at everyone's relaxed attitude on the prospect of losing out on Champions League. I honestly reckon Everton will defeat Manchester United as well as Southampton. The only genuine banana skin, for them, remains Manchester City. In order for us to gain fourth, we HAVE to win all games starting tomorrow. Based on our performance against Wigan, I'm almost certain we won't.

I think we'll finish the season in fifth.

Podolski's substitution...
Was well deserved, in my opinion. Lukas looked far off the pace and was barely in the game.

But then again, the same could be said of Yaya Sanogo. While the Frenchman did look lively and had his chances, I didn't for one second think that he was going to get on the scoresheet. At least Podolski has the knack of scoring goals and providing assists regardless of his performance, kind of like Theo Walcott. Sanogo doesn't.

Wenger did what I wanted; employ a 4-4-2. However, he did it with the wrong personnel. Why put two target men up front in a 4-4-2? Wouldn't Giroud and Podolski as the two strikers make more sense?

I could deduce two conclusions from this. One, that Wenger's French favouritism enabled him to substitute Podolski rather than Sanogo. Two, that his change to a 4-4-2 formation was more out of desperation than tactical genius.

Nine out of ten managers would tell you that playing two similar strikers up front in a 4-4-2 is stupidity, and the tenth would be Arsene Wenger.

Could have been the villain, but instead became the saviour. His tackle in the box, let's face it, was reckless and deserving of a pen.

However, kudos to him for getting the equalizer at the death. At a time when I was genuinely wondering where the goals were going to come from, it was a centre back that gave me the answer.

I hope that the manager learns from this. Arsenal seem unable to get a goal from anywhere at the moment. While we used to be a one-man team with RVP, we now look like a zero man team. There needs to be a short-term change in the system - he needs to employ formations conducive to attackers like Podolski, Cazorla or Chamberlain. That's one of the reasons he's paid 6.5 million every season.

As it stands, we really look toothless in front of goal.

Fabianski should be our first-choice keeper...
I like Szczesny, but he's too cocky and arrogant for my liking. While in terms of ability I think the both of them are similar, Szczesny is known to take unnecessary risks and mess up in important games.

Fabianski doesn't. He's matured, composed and delivers, especially at times when it really matters. He saved us against Liverpool, and did the same against Wigan. While Fabianski was earlier used as a tool to threaten Szczesny's position in the starting lineup, I think it's time we promote him to our regular keeper.

If I were Wenger, Fabianski would have been on a bumper contract with a promise of regular first-team football.

In conclusion...
I agree with the supporters, celebrating at the end was completely justifiable. It wasn't because we had barely scrapped past Wigan, it was because we managed to get into the final when it really seemed like we wouldn't.

However, that's the trouble. Barely scrapping past Wigan is not a sign of a progressive team. In all honesty, we really were lucky to have gotten into the final. If we want to fulfill our objective of finishing fourth and winning the FA Cup, big short-term changes are needed.

Knowing Wenger, I don't think we'll see any changes. If we do get fourth, it would be down to scrappy victories against mediocre opposition. At a time when we were supposed to be challenging for the title, we're looking uncertain over fourth. What a mess.

It's times like these, irrespective of FA Cup joy, that makes me pray Wenger leaves in June.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Arsenal vs Wigan: Match Preview

I'm not nervous.

A fellow Gooner WhatsApped me today, "If Arsenal don't win the FA Cup, I'll dedicate my Facebook page to Phil Collins and become a John Terry fan for a week."

Poor guy. Imagine dedicating your Facebook page to Phil Collins. Actually, don't, our mind's our corrupted enough already.

It's symbolic of how desperate Arsenal supporters have gone for a trophy that they wouldn't want anything to go wrong today. And judging our 'performance' at Goodison Park, there's plenty that could go wrong. The supporters, the players, the manager, the backroom staff, heck, even that ridiculous dinosaur mascot of ours - everyone related to Arsenal has gone (pardon my language) fucking paranoid today.

Not me, though. Surprisingly, on the cusp of our most important game of the season, I feel no heartbeat in my ribs. I feel no sweaty palms, no mood swings and no shaky hands, even though I've run out of my supply of Tic Tacs.

It's odd, isn't it? I go completely berserk while watching Arsenal trying to defend a narrow 1-0 lead at the Westfalenstadion, yet my mind's the most colourless I could ever imagine going into a make-or-break game for Arsenal and for Wenger. And while my mentality is downright peculiar for even myself, I know that there is a perfectly logical explanation for it.

Deep down I know that irrespective of what happens, I'll leave the game with a positive mentality. There is no way, absolutely no way that I'll feel like shite after the match. The moment Wigan defeated Manchester City I knew that the FA Cup would decide Wenger's future at Arsenal. Today, it seems, is judgement day.

If you think rationally, the FA Cup does much more for Arsenal than just provide something tangible for this season:

CASE 1: We win the FA Cup, get the trophyless run off our backs and provide consolation to a season that admittedly should have provided much more. We finish in the top four, and the manager stays on.

CASE 2: We lose today, yet make the top four. Wenger leaves regardless.

CASE 3: We win today but lose the final. However, we still make the top four. In this case, I reckon the manager will stay.

CASE 4: We win today but lose the final. To add to that, we miss out on the Champions League. Heartbreak, but Wenger definitely leaves.

CASE 5: We lose today and screw up top four. Let's not think about that.


I'm betting most Arsenal fans, if not all, would go for Case 1 here. At this point, there's seems to be simply no other option but to cut our losses and win a Champions League spot along with the FA Cup. Plus, it would offer Wenger a chance to make amends for a terrible campaign.

While I too would be happy with Case 1, I'm making Case 2 my preference. Believe me when I say that losing the FA Cup is better for us in the long-term, because well, it is. We'd finally get rid of Wenger, we'd have a top four foundation for the next manager and we'd have genuine hope instead of this "fourth place is a trophy" nonsense. I know as a fact that Wenger will leave if we don't win today, and I don't need to emphasize how good it would be if Wenger does go.

What fears me the most is Case 3. No trophies (please don't say fourth place) and more of Wenger for two years? I think I'd do drugs.

However, I actually am okay with the other four cases. In the end, all I want (all we want) is for Arsenal Football Club to do better. Yes, I have a strange method for wanting that, but there you go. If wanting Wenger out of the club has gotten me to the level of wanting us to lose today, then so be it.

The team news, as you'd expect, is disastrous. To add to the already expanding list of Koscielny, Wilshere, Ozil and Walcott, we're potentially deprived of Chamberlain, Rosicky and Gibbs as well, forcing Ramsey a start. I'd suggest Arsene to field a starting line up of Fabianski - Jenkinson - Mertesacker - Sagna - Monreal - Kallstrom/Vermaelen - Arteta - Ramsey - Cazorla - Podolski - Sanogo, but I guess Wenger will instead choose to overplay Rosicky and Chamberlain regardless of injuries or overplaying. That's one of the million reasons of why I want him out, by the way.

I won't exactly be rooting for Arsenal to fail, just to clarify. I wouldn't go all crazy if Wigan take the lead, nor would I be depressed if Arsenal go to the final. I'm just saying that regardless of what happens, there always will be a silver lining.

This really isn't an "all or nothing" situation, as the mainstream media have wrongly made it out to be. In reality, regardless of what happens it'll definitely be a bittersweet moment, for me at least. My head - which wants Wenger out - and my heart, which badly wants Arsenal to win a trophy; either one of them will be satisfied at the end of the match.

Which will it be? Well, that's down to Arsenal now, isn't it?

P.S. Don't know if anyone noticed, but this was blog no. 100. How fitting was it that it came today, on undoubtedly Arsenal's most important game of the season so far.

Oh, and spare a thought for the guy who is on the verge of supporting Phil Collins and John Terry. Bad times indeed.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

Thursday, 10 April 2014

As the days go by, Klopp seems more and more perfect for Arsenal

What a performance by Dortmund; with their backs to the wall and marred by injuries, they nearly pulled off the impossible and shocked Real 2-0. Even as an Arsenal supporter, it's difficult not to feel for them.

Have Arsenal ever done something like that? The last time they did so, I recall, was when they defeated AC Milan 3-0 at the Emirates, a game where Chamberlain had a screamer in central attacking midfield. Today, under the excuse of injuries, Wenger's Arsenal seem dubious of beating even Wigan Athletic.

Could you ever imagine Klopp getting hammered 6-0 at Stamford Bridge and insisting that Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott and Wilshere were the reasons? Let's not forget that he had Subotic, Schmelzer, Gundogan, Bender and Sahin out for this match, yet managed to scare the coconuts out of one of the best teams in the world. And had Mkhitaryan not played like Nicky B, they could well have pulled off the impossible.

I know that many people worry that Dortmund's present injury crisis might be passed on to Arsenal once Klopp arrives. However, under Wenger, isn't there a guarantee that we WILL suffer injury crises and we WILL collapse? At least under Jurgen we know for a fact that the team will give its all regardless of injury hamperings.

And it's not like Dortmund's injury crisis was Klopp's fault. Upon close insight of Dortmund's squad, it's obvious that less funds are the root cause of their injury woes. Due to less money there's less players, due to less players there's overplaying, and due to overplaying there are injuries. Sounds similar to Arsenal of six years ago?

Actually, it's not. In Dortmund's case, Klopp is forced to overplay his key players due to lack of options. He's forced to keep a small squad. However, at Arsenal, Wenger chooses to overplay his key men regardless of other options. Did you know that Ozil, Chamberlain, Koscielny and Wilshere started the match against Coventry? Lest we forget, options like Zelalem, Vermaelen and Frimpong were available. Why play your key players against the worst team we've faced this season? No wonder they're injured now.

Klopp's present Dortmund are similar to Arsene's Arsenal of 2007ish. Klopp has less funds, and is forced to keep his side in the top-flight. However, upon comparison, Klopp's present Dortmund are doing miles better than Wenger's Arsenal should have been doing 7 years ago, during their financial difficulties. While Arsenal used to scrap fourth place on the last day (and still do), Klopp challenges Bayern year after year and takes his team far into the Champions League.

What's the notable difference that separates Klopp's present Dortmund to Wenger's past Arsenal, you'd ask. The answer lies in the wage budgets.

To see the astonishing cash wastage of Arsenal under Wenger, enlighten yourself by looking at the money spent on some sample deadwoods:

Sr. No.
Transfer fee
Weekly Wage
Annual Wage

Money wasted on transfer fees:  £53,500,000

Wage budget wasted (annual): £39,936,000

Total money wasted (annual):   £93,436,000

All these duds have stayed in the club for at least two years.

Wage budget wasted (2 years): £79,872,000

Total money wasted (2 years):   £133,372,000


Just let that sink in.

We've spent £133m - as mathematically proved - on players like Fabianski, Mannone, Squillaci, Djourou, Andre Santos, Diaby, Frimpong, Denilson, Rosicky, Arshavin, Gervinho, Bendtner and Park Chu Young on 2 seasons alone. Most of these players mentioned have stayed at this club beyond those two years. Arshavin, for example, was four. Mannone was six. Diaby was (and is) eight. Frimpong was around eight. Johan Djourou was TEN.

Okay, you might counter that by saying players like Rosicky and Fabianski have repaid the money invested in them. Fine, then. You could replace them with Almunia. Or Eboue. Or Miyaichi. Or Kallstrom. Or Senderos. Or Cygan. Or Merida. Or Traore. See my point?

The total wastage of cash on these players must be absolutely horrendous. At financially crippled times in Arsenal (2004 - 2009), Wenger must have tossed around approximately half a billion on these players, stubbornly trying in vain to bring 'Project Youth' into fruition. To add to that, he sold the world-class players that he did create from the flop project. Destroying a club's wage budget to such an extent - especially in lean financial periods - is not only a sackable offence. It's a scandal.

How could Wenger have repaired that? Instead of keeping Diaby, Frimpong and Denilson on combined £150,000 wages, he could have bought ONE world-class players on that pay packet. To use an example, Wenger confessed in October 2009 that he had the chance to buy Gareth Barry and Xabi Alonso, but refused to do so because he didn't want to stunt the progress of Song, Denilson and Diaby. How stupid does that sound?

And Wenger has an economics degree?

In all honesty - wouldn't you rather have one world-class player in the team than two average players? Isn't it better to have one van Persie in the team than two Bendtners?

Of course, I wouldn't deny that there would have been side-effects of having one decent player rather than two appalling ones. Due to the length of the squad being downsized, players would be overplayed and stretched to the core. Injuries would doubtless follow as well.

If you haven't deduced yet, the above perfectly describes Dortmund's present state. Dortmund's current injury problems aren't down to Klopp, it's down to being forced to having a thin but talented squad. Due to being hamstrung by money woes, what they've done is absolutely the right thing. As Klopp and Wenger have proved, it's better to have a thin, talented squad than a large, mediocre one.

If Klopp ever was to come to Arsenal, he wouldn't have to worry about a small squad. All he has to do is fire the current medical staff and fill depth in the team. Arsenal are currently lacking five players - 2 goalkeepers (Viviano and Fabianski are to leave), a centre back, a defensive midfielder and a striker. With £140m in the bank to spend (averages £25m per position with £15m to spare), that should be no problem.

Of course, my main objective of wanting Klopp at Arsenal is not because he'd sort out our injury woes. Rather, I want him because he can motivate teams, his pedigree will attract top talents and he can replicate Dortmund's pressing philosophy at Arsenal - a significant upgrade on Wenger's tippy-tappy football. This article was simply to erase fears that Klopp may be too similar to Wenger, when he is actually a whole other animal.

"Animal" is right, innit?

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )