The magic of the cup and other nonsense

The magic of the cup and other nonsense

Morning all,

and what a weekend of FA Cup action it was. Chelsea nearly lost to Brentford, the Mugsmashers went out to Oldham and Sp*rs got beaten by dirty, filthy Leeds. It just shows you that the cup can still spring surprises, and for all the cynicism we have about modern football and the disillusionment there is about the game these days, it was great to see fans of these clubs (apart from Leeds fans) enjoy the performances and results of their team.

I thought Brentford were particularly unlucky not to hang on against Chelsea. Having gone ahead twice I was hoping they’d do it, but I don’t suppose any team can legislate for the fluke occurrence of a Fernando Torres goal. Still, they’ll get a nice payday at the Racist Captain Child Kicking Reserve Player Shooting Manager Hating Arena and good luck to them.

Our win over Brighton means we get a 5th round game at home against Blackburn. We last played them in the cup in the 2006-7 season and after a 0-0 draw, in which they played with 11 men behind the ball, I wrote at the time:

Arsenal looked tired and a bit toothless after 120 minutes in midweek while Blackburn looked like a bag of steaming shite.

It was after that game that Cesc made remarks about Mark Hughes being a twat and not playing like Barcelona or something, and it’s fair to say he was right. A replay took us to Ewood Park and we were beaten by a late Benni McCarthy goal:

A painful cup defeat last night made especially painful by the knowledge that it was a game we should have won. Not for the first time this season though our lack of goals cost. Of course we weren’t helped by Graham Poll who must be the biggest prick on earth.

And here, this morning, nearly 6 years later, with much water under the bridge and many other things to occupy our minds, it is worth remembering that Graham Poll, despite the fact he no longer troubles us or appears before us, is still, probably, the biggest prick on earth. He has a Daily Mail column, for goodness sake. Is there further evidence of a man’s prickery than that? I think not.

Anyway, we’ll hope for a more positive result in the cup, like when we played Blackburn in the semi-finals in the 2004-5 season, and a young Dutchling came off the bench to score two fantastic goals to put us through to the final. He also nearly had his head taken off by Andy Todd who, with the benefit of hindsight, clearly saw something none of us could back then.

Back to the future now and Doc Brown Arsene Wenger has been talking up the qualities of Olivier Giroud, saying:

When he gets into the fighting mode it is difficult to handle him. This guy is tall, strong and quicker than people think he is. He has good finishing as well.

He could have played in England 20 years ago, 10 years ago and today. He is all you need to play as a centre forward; a physical presence.

And here’s where Saturday’s performance against Brighton was interesting for me. Aside from the two goals he scored, it was the first game where he’s really thrown his weight around. It might be just because it was Brighton, but it was good to see. He is big and strong and really should be using that more in the Premier League.

When you look at how forwards like Drogba, Shearer and even old elbowy Davies at Bolton have operated down the years, they used their size and strength to their advantage. I’d like to see him bully defenders a bit more, he seems a bit too nice at times, but there was a moment early in the Brighton game when he had a little run-in with their centre-half who tried to shake his hand/pat him on the back, and Giroud completely and utterly blanked him like he was something he’d find on the bottom of his shoe.

I’m all for sportsmanship and what have you, but that kind of stuff can wait until after the game and hopefully it’s something he can continue. He’ll be facing more difficult opponents on Wednesday when Liverpool come calling. They’ve got one of the monsters from Will Smith’s I Am Legend and maybe Carragher at the back, so he’ll find a bit more niggle in there than he did in the cup on Saturday. He’s got to start doing it against these kinds of teams too, but his progress is promising.

Other than that it seems quiet enough as we head into the final days of the transfer window. I still think it’d be a surprise to see anyone come in, but I guess you never know. Que sera, sera, and all that, but I’m sure Arsene Wenger knows that every single result between now and the end of the season will be put in context of what we do, or don’t, before Thursday night.

Each time we drop points people will ask ‘What if?’ and ‘Why didn’t we?’ and that is something he’s going to have to contend with. I’m not going to hold my breath over signings, but I may just make a small sacrifice to KIWOMYA – GOD OF THE TRANSFER WINDOW, and see what happens.

Right, that’s yer lot. Have a good Monday.

Brighton 2-3 Arsenal: difficult, but job done

Brighton 2-3 Arsenal: difficult, but job done

Match reportWenger reactionPlayer ratingsVideo

So, we’re through to the 5th round of the cup after a difficult game against Brighton yesterday. There were changes to the team that played on Wednesday against West Ham, with Diaby, Santos, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Koscielny all coming in.

The game took a little while to get going but once it did we found ourselves up against a good passing team, who looked comfortable on the ball (knocking it around at the back is not that normal when a Championship team plays Premier League opposition), and the home side created the first good chance of the game. Ashley Barnes was clean through, with just Szczesny to beat, but the keeper made a great save, and just a few seconds later a rapid Arsenal break saw us take the lead.

The ball came to Olivier Giroud in the D, and he curled a quite beautiful shot into the top corner to make it 1-0. But if Szczesny was the hero for that goal, questions have to be asked of him for Brighton’s equaliser. Arsenal’s defending was far too static and when Barnes arrived to head home from a corner I felt the keeper could have been stronger, particularly in his 6 yard area, but nobody covered themselves in glory there.

Lukas Podolski hit the bar with a free kick before Giroud put Arsenal ahead again in the second half, showing strength and a nice touch to take down Diaby’s dink over the top of the defence before swiping home a fine finish. But once again our defensive weakness allowed Brighton back into it. When the ball was played down their right, both Podolski Diaby and Santos stood off the man on the ball. Bizarrely, Diaby seemed to be signalling to Santos to cover the run of a player who wasn’t there, and when the cross came in Mertesacker was the wrong side of Ulloa who stooped to head home from close range.

When Steve Bould took over as assistant manager in the summer, and the first three games of the season brought three clean sheets, there was genuine optimism that more focus was being put on our defending. Yet as the season has gone on, the same problems, the same weaknesses, continue to manifest themselves and cost us goals.

Whether that’s down to not enough being done on the training ground, the quality of our defenders or the fact that the team as a whole don’t work hard enough to prevent chances, is anyone’s guess. I’d suggest a combination of all of those things, really, but it’s a worry that we don’t seem to be getting any better.

With a short squad the last thing we needed was a replay but it was looming until Theo Walcott grabbed Arsenal’s winner. There was a touch of good fortune about it, Ankergren’s punch was weak, as was Theo’s side-footed effort but it took a deflection off a defender, looped over the guy on the line and in to put us ahead for the final time. Sometimes you need a bit of luck, we got it and as shaky as we were I never really feared them getting another equaliser.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

In the end, we’ve got that extra bit of quality that got us through. It’s a cup game – you need to go through and that’s what we did. We did our job but we needed to fight until the end.

And on rotating his squad:

With the number of games we play, you cannot only play the same 11 in every single game. We play against Liverpool on Wednesday, Stoke on Saturday and then the players go away for international games. You have to rotate knowing that if it doesn’t work, you will be accused of having made the wrong decision.

It would be easy to focus on the negatives this morning. There were some distinctly dodgy performances, but ultimately we’re through to the next round after a typically difficult cup tie. It’s not as if we haven’t had them before, with better players than we’ve got at the moment too, so I’m not going to get bogged down in all that.

Instead, I’d rather focus on the performance of Olivier Giroud who got his second brace of the week, both of them goals that would have people creaming if it were a certain badger-headed wankblaster who scored them. The finish for the first was just perfect, and the movement, touch and finish for the second of the highest quality too.

I know it can be qualified by saying ‘It’s just Brighton’, and we do need to see more of it from him against the better opponents, but it would be churlish in the extreme to dismiss the performance simply because of the opposition. He could easily have scored more, there was a brilliant scissors kick that I’m sure was going in before it hit a defender who knew nothing about it, a free kick which wasn’t too far over the bar, and had Theo Walcott been a little more giving late on a simple ball inside to Giroud would have given him an easy chance for his third.

There’s a chance for him to show he can do it against higher quality opposition on Wednesday night when we face the Mugsmashers, but it’s been an encouraging week for the Frenchman and hopefully he can continue his progress and score more goals. A word too for Aaron Ramsey, who had another fine game in the deep lying midfield position. He looks infinitely more comfortable there than when deployed as a wide attacker (as you’d expect) and the guy gets so much grief when he doesn’t play well it’s only right to give him props when he does. Like Giroud it’s encouraging, rather than definitive, but it’s good to see.

Finally, a word on Tomas Rosicky who looked a bit rusty on the ball at times having been out for so long, but he’s such a positive player. When others look for a safe pass, he’ll drive forward, pushing the team on from midfield, and his defensive discipline, closing down and harrying all over the pitch makes a big difference. Fingers crossed he can stay fit.

Right, that’s your lot, have a good Sunday, back tomorrow as we start to prepare for a tough midweek game.

Brighton v Arsenal – live blog

Brighton v Arsenal – live blog

Join us this evening for live blogging of Brighton v Arsenal in the FA Cup, kick off 3pm.

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Brighton preview + quick Saturday round-up

Brighton preview + quick Saturday round-up

A quick one this morning because my head feels like there are evil little creatures in it banging away on the pipes with hammers. Ugh.

It’s the FA Cup today and a trip to Brighton. Obviously it’s a big game, given the importance of this competition to our season, but I’d still expect a little bit in terms of rotation. There’s still no Arteta or Coquelin, while skipper Thomas Vermaelen misses out after picking up an ankle injury in midweek against West Ham.

Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky are back though [insert Walking Dead joke here] and both could start, with the manager looking to the latter to have the same impact on the team as he did last season. I don’t doubt his quality at all, I think he’s almost unique in this team in terms of what he brings to it, but his injury problems have stopped him achieving what he should have in the game.

I don’t think there’ll be too many changes up front, simply because we don’t have that many options anyway, but seeing Jenkinson get a run at right back wouldn’t be a big surprise. As for our opponents, I don’t know a great deal about them other than they’re doing well enough in the league and they beat Nouveauchâteau in the last round. But that hardly makes them unique this season as Alain P’arjuif’s men have been, you know, shit.

Arsene Wenger says:

There is a long way to go in the FA Cup and, of course, we will give our best. We will not neglect the game if that is what you want to know; we will be completely focused on winning the game but football is football remember. You have seen that with Bradford and Aston Villa this week.

We take this competition seriously.

In the absence of Arteta and Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere could captain the side today, if he plays. And it was interesting to hear the manager talk about how it was Thomas Vermaelen who handed over the captain’s armband on Wednesday night when he went off:

Honestly, Vermaelen made that choice and I let him make it. It is always interesting to see when Vermaelen is out who he feels spontaneously should be the captain.

I think there’s sometimes too much emphasis put on who wears a little bit of cloth on their arm, but it’s part and parcel of the English game. Captain is a ceremonial position, more than anything, but it’s a role which has been carried out with distinction by great players down the years, and sooner or later Wilshere will be that man for Arsenal. At the moment though it’s nice that his importance to the team is recognised, and he seems to take something from it. He is a natural leader, as the manager says, and not just because of the way he plays.

He’s only back in the side after injury but he’s not slow to tell people what he expects of them on the pitch and I think that’s a really good thing, especially for an Arsenal side where conflict isn’t something you see often. It can be positive, having someone demand more from you won’t make you curl up in a ball and cry. It’s top level sport.

Anyway, it’s a big game today, cup football against lower league opposition can be the slipperiest of banana skins at times, but let’s keep fingers crossed that we’re up for it today and that we pick up where we left off against West Ham on Wednesday.

In other news, Emmanuel Frimpong has joined Fulham on loan until the end of the season. It’s a big move for him and one which you have to feel provides his last chance to show that he’s got a future at this club. The recent spell at Charlton wasn’t particularly impressive by all accounts but this is a chance to show he can do it in the Premier League. Good luck to him.

Wojciech Szczesny tells Amy Lawrence how much the cup means to the players.

And, of course, there were comments yesterday from the manager about transfers, his squad and how he has two good players in each position etc. The conclusion I drew from it is that we’re unlikely to see any new faces before the window closes. It’s possible that he might surprise us but he really doesn’t like doing business in January as the list of recent arrivals shows:

2006 – Emmanuel Adebayor, Theo Walcott, Abou Diaby : 2007 – nobody : 2008 – nobody : 2009 – Andrei Arshavin : 2010 – Sol Campbell : 2011 – Ryo Miyaichi : 2012 – Thierry Henry (loan), Thomas Eisfeld.

So the last time we did any ‘significant’ business in January was Andrei Arshavin, coming up on four years ago at this stage. That was a signing which obviously had a positive effect in the short-term but can hardly be deemed a success given where we are now with him. Last season, when we were in a similarly difficult position in the league, Arsene Wenger packed him off to Russia on loan, and that was, essentially, the end of his Arsenal career. He wasn’t trusted or relied upon when the going was tough.

But when you look at the list it just shows you how reluctant he is to make signings in this window. His comments about unfairness and how the number of players can buy should be limited are almost indecipherable. It’s an open market, anyone can do whatever they want, it’s not unfair. And where frustration grows from is the endless changing of message from the manager. One day he’s going to be very active, the next he’s got a ‘complete squad’. We’re busy, then the whole idea of the January transfer window is anathema to him.

There’s an interesting piece on Wenger and Arsenal’s financial outlook by in today’s Financial Times, and it there’s a quote from Ivan Gazidis who told Simon Kuper:

We don’t spend more than we have.

And while that, I think, is the only way to properly run a business, that’s not the problem with Arsenal. It’s that we don’t spend what we do have. If we had no money, or extremely limited resources, then the clamour to improve the team and the frustration when we don’t would be much less. Yet figures show us that there is money for the manager to spend, he simply chooses not to.

So far this month the lack of squad depth has contributed to poor results and the over the course of the season it’s been a factor in us falling 19 points behind the league leaders. The idea that any manager wouldn’t want to improve their team, given the opportunity and resources to do so, is inexplicable to me, so I’ve basically given up trying to make any sense of it.

I think if players were going to be bought they’d have been bought by now and as such I’d be very surprised if we got the chequebook out before Thursday night. Maybe he’s got something up his sleeve but if I had to guess what it is at the moment I’d say it’s a snot dampened hankie.

All going well there should be live blog coverage of the game later on, check back later for a post with all the details or bookmark the default live blog page.

Until then, have a good Saturday.

Delicious quietness + Arsecast 264

Delicious quietness + Arsecast 264

Morning all.

I slept it in a bit this morning. I was dreaming I was playing in the Champions League final for Arsenal against Bayern Munich but 85 minutes of the game was taken up by an extended version of the Champions League music while Michel Platini was carried around on a throne like a Roman emperor. By the time the game kicked off I was so furious I got sent off within 10 seconds.

It’s pretty quiet from an Arsenal point of view and I have to say it’s quite welcome. Winning games, and winning them in the style we did on Wednesday night, means less discourse. There’s only so many times you can say Podolski was fantastic or that Giroud’s goals were great or how cheeky Cazorla’s finish was. There are, as most of you will well know by now, endless ways in which players, manager, board, club, the colour red, the colour white, cannons, all the letters of the word ‘Arsenal’ and pretty much everything else to do with us can be criticised after a defeat.

It is Critical Infinity. Just when you think there’s no way somebody can come up with something new … well, they don’t, they just re-hash a catchphrase or a theory and it all kicks off again. None of which is to say there isn’t merit to criticism when we don’t play well, when squad weaknesses are exposed and results are poor, I just prefer it when we win. The same way I prefer a pie filled with steak and Guinness to one which contains the worm-infested poo of sickly hippo and gravy made from the dirt found under the talon-like fingernails of hobos.

For those interested in transfers and what have you, there’s nothing doing. There’s a bit about the guy Diame at West Ham but it is the classic story of how Arsenal have ‘missed out’ on a player that we probably had no interest in whatsoever. It’s curious that all these stories emerged about his release clause, almost as if an agent were feeding that information into the public domain just in case it might spark some interest. Although that would suggest that the whole transfer market is nothing but a cynical merry-go-round of people trying to make as much money as possible and, frankly, I’m not in the mood to besmirch our beautiful game like that.

Ahead of the game against Brighton tomorrow, a couple of the new boys have been talking about their roles in the team. Firstly, Lukas Podolski says he’s got no problem playing on the left:

I played on the left for Cologne sometimes and also for the national team. It is not something special. When I play as a No 10 or a striker, I am in the position to score more goals and I can shoot more. But with the style of game at Arsenal, I do well on the left side and I am happy to play there.

What’s interesting to me is that you can see how he could do it down the middle. He’s quick enough and he’s got a left foot like Thor’s hammer, but the quality of his delivery from the left hand side is fantastic. The ball all the way across to Walcott on Wednesday night could not have been more perfect, and with someone like Giroud in the middle, who looks as good a 6 yard box poacher as we’ve had for some time, then it makes a lot of sense to play him out there.

And speaking of Giroud, he’s happy with what he’s done so far but is looking for more:

It is good thing to reach this number, but I want to keep going and score more goals. I know my team-mates very well, so I feel really good in games. I have scored 11 goals and I have nine assists but I know I can do more.

I think he’s a decent player, one who seems to be finding his feet in English football now, and while people will always compare him with the Dutch Skunk (just because he’s the one who replaced him), I think that’s a bit unfair. It was obvious the jazz-handed, traitorous gleet-hound had something special underneath the layers of bandages and knee braces, and Giroud is a bit more conventional. But he was brought in with Podolski to replace those goals and they’ve done ok.

The bigger issue, of course, is that he’s the only central striker we have, and thus becomes a lightning rod for criticism when we don’t play well or drop points. It’s not his fault he’s the only option. Still, I think there’s more to come from him, and Podolski, and if by magic we actually bring in another forward then perhaps it’ll be good for all concerned.

Right then, onto this week’s Arsecast and I’m joined by @thegoonerholic to shoot the breeze about West Ham, Chelsea, Theo Walcott and a trip to the seaside.

You can subscribe to the Arsecast on iTunes by clicking here. Or if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (this is a much better way to do it as you don’t experience the delays from iTunes). To download this week’s Arsecast directly – click here 24mb MP3) or you can listen directly below without leaving this very page.

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Right, there’s a press conference this morning, we’ll have news and updates on Arseblog News (and on the Twitter account), so check there for all the info you need.

Finally for for today, the winner of our Dennis Bergkamp print competition is Amelia Chan. Well done to you, I’ll be in touch to get all the details – and don’t forget to check out Dan’s store where you can buy your own or one of his other Arsenal related prints.

More here tomorrow with an FA Cup preview. Till then.