So I went along to Camp Nou last night to see the Ronaldinho XI take on the Shevchenko XI to raise money for victims of the tsunami. Not much of a game really, Beckham got whistled at every time he got the ball,, there were some nice goals and we saw Thierry Henry for 20 minuntes but apart from that it was pretty lame. Arsene Wenger appeared on the big screen once and seemed to be deep in conversation with Marcello Lippi and not watching the match at all. Can't say I blame him. I won't even comment on the irony of the crowd doing the Mexican wave.
Paul Merson has labelled Arsenal a 'disgrace' for not having any English players in the squad that beat Crystal Palace the other night while former youngster Liam Chilvers says Arsene Wenger played sub-par foreign players ahead of young English players. Without any analysis you might be tempted to think he has a point - he cites Stathis Tavlaridis as an example - but when you look and see Chilvers playing for Northampton whle Tavlaridis plays in the French 1st division then maybe you have to consider the fact that these guys might not have been the best players ever but they were better than the English equivalents at the time. There aren't too many English players who have left Arsenal to go on a have a decent career at the top level - Steve Sidwell is doing very well at Reading but that's first division or championship or whatever that's called now. Upson is at Birmingham along with Jermaine Pennant who did everything he could to banjax his Arsenal career, Jerome Thomas and Julian Gray are at mid-table clubs in Charlton and Birmingham but apart from that who is there? Where's Stephen Hughes or Rohan Ricketts or any of the others? I remember Ricketts being very critical of Arsene Wenger but if he can't get a game for Spurs what makes him think he's good enough for us? It seems to me the main bulk of the criticism is that this will negatively impact on the English national team so it's another storm in a tea-cup from the die-hards who singularly fail to acknowledge that the international game is dying. Club football has overtaken it and is leaving it in its wake. Get used to the idea because a media circus World Cup every four years aside the money is in the club game and that's where it's going to stay despite the half-arsed, semi-legal rules that UEFA and FIFA keep trying to bring in.
Liam Brady, Arsenal's head of youth development, says of UEFA's proposed new regulations "It is trying to make a level playing field when football has never been like that. We are very committed to youth development for all our young players, whether they are from here or abroad."
Chairman Peter H-W says "For me, the nationality of any player who plays for the club is not an issue. If you have good enough players then it does not matter from which country they come. The world of football is changing and there are some people who don't like things to change."
I don't think there's any Arsenal fan who wouldn't like to see more English players in the squad but I doubt there are many Arsenal fans who think English players should be in the squad just because they're English. As for Merson, well as a manager who no doubt has to wheel and deal in players, he should be well aware of the problems of signing English players. Any half-decent player costs way more than they're worth, both in terms of transfer fees and wages. Foreign players are cheaper, technically better, more dilligent in how they live their lives off the pitch - so why wouldn't a manager choose to sign from abroad rather than pay inflated prices for inferior English products?
In other news John Terry says Chelsea don't need to sign Ashley Cole as they already have a top class left-back in Wayne Bridge and Arsene Wenger will wait until May before deciding whether or not to offer Dennis Bergkamp a new contract.
And that's your lot.
There was no repeat of Palace's Selhurst Park heroics last night as the lads romped to a 5-1 victory.
Dennis Bergkamp opened the scoring with a neat finish at the near post before José Antonio Reyes made it 2-0 with a real daisy cutter from outside the area - nice celebrations with the team afterwards as well. Then up stepped Thierry Henry - he got the ball from a short corner, took it into the box and just buried it in the top corner. Totally unsavable and quite brilliant.
3-0 at half-time and you might have forgiven the Gunners for slacking off a bit but they kept creating in the second half. Patrick Vieira added the fourth when hapless keeper Gabor Kiraly was put off by the swishing of his tracksuit and another cracking finish from Henry made it 5-1 after Andy Johnson had notched a consolation from the penalty spot. He could have had a hat-trick but the officials felt sorry for Palace and disallowed a goal for offside when he wasn't offside at all.
Afterwards Henry said "There were some great moves and great goals and it was easier in the second half. Chelsea are doing tremendously well but we have got to try to stay as well as we can." Henry also had some kind words for José Antonio Reyes after his troubled week. TH said "The guy is young and things happen. That is when you have to show we are a team."
The boss was pleased with the performance too, saying "We want to do as well as we can and with the number of good players and young players here the future is very bright."
It is nice to see Edu back in the team. I do love our two new boys in midfield but Edu gives us fantastic experience in the centre of the park and takes the pressure off Vieira a bit. It would be nice if there was some way he might stay with us and sign a new deal. Of course there was a little bit of history made last night as Arsenal didn't have one English player in the squad - although Chelsea became the first team to field a starting 11 without an Englishman a couple of years ago. Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell were absent through injury and a case of the blue flu so it was an entirely foreign first 11 and bench. I think more would have been made of this a few years ago and while it would be nice to see English players in the team you have to pick the best players. You can't choose somebody just because of their nationality. The boss wasn't worried either saying "I don't look at the passport of people, I look at their quality and their attitude."
Yesterday saw us linked with another goalkeeper. The fabulously named Silvio Proto plays for La Louvière in Belgium and according to reports both Arsenal and Manchester United PLC (for sale to highest bidder) both had scouts watching him at the weekend.
There'll be an Arsenal contingent in Barcelona tonight as the game to raise money for the victims of the tsunami takes place at Camp Nou. I might go as tickets are only a tenner - I might even try and jump over the turnstiles. Just joking. Honest. Arsene Wenger is manager of one of the teams and I think Henry and Vieira are supposed to be here. It could be a fun night.
So our FA Cup opponents for Saturday became known yesterday as Sheffield United beat West Ham on penalties and they'll make the trip to Highbury. There's been plenty of history between the two clubs in the past. There was the Kanu - Overmars goal which never should have been and made Steve Bruce call his players off the pitch only for Arsenal to make him look like the twat he is by replaying the match, and we met in the semi-finals at Old Trafford a couple of seasons ago and if you listen to Neil Warnock he'll convince you that Graham Poll scored our winner that day. It should be an interesting game.
Ahead of tonight's game against Palace Arsene Wenger has marked Ian Dowie as a contender for manager of the year saying he's performed 'miracles' at Selhurst Park. Kolo Toure should return to the Arsenal back four tonight, Gael Clichy comes in to replace a sick Ashley Cole and Jens Lehmann will keep his place in goal with the manager praising his professionalism. The boss said “I was very happy because Jens is a big professional and you see the real character of a player when you drop him. He is a good example to young players as it is a good attitude to copy when you are not in the side."
Other than that not much happening. Poor old Citeh couldn't take any points from United as the scouse behemoth was involved in both their goals. So a win tonight is absolutely necessary to keep the pressure on them.
How was your weekend then?
It's a pretty quiet Sunday which is good because loud noise will make my head hurt.
The only bits of news around are the boss rapping Sven for his comments regarding Ashley Cole and him saying that the club are prepared to offer Cole a big increase in his salary to reflect his growing status in the game. Thierry Henry says he wants to stay at Arsenal forever. Sadly Everton couldn't take points away from Chelsea yesterday - having to play most of the game with 10 men didn't help - so we'll keep fingers crossed that City can do the PLC later on.
I need coffee and two more Ibuprofen. Happy Sunday, arse mates.
The José saga rumbles on as you might expect and Arseweb has an excellent take on the whole situation here - clarifying a couple of points which haven't been reported properly in the English press particularly the 'bad people' phrase. Arsene Wenger had to say something about it today during his normal Friday press conference and he didn't appear unduly concerned about what happened, remaining confident about José's future at the club. The boss said "There is no reason why I should sell the player. It does not take away from the challenge that we have, both Reyes and myself, in front of us to make him one of the best players in the world, and I think he can achieve that. We have a good Spanish troop here. He has integrated and is loved by everybody. That will help him to go through periods like that."
A couple of goals against Palace on Monday night wouldn't hurt either. The boss also spoke about Ashley Cole's situation saying he knows the truth about what happened and that's why he hasn't asked Cole if he was at the meeting. I was told yesterday that Arsenal believe there's a sum of money waiting in a bank account for Ashley Cole from Chelsea (part of a deal which has already been agreed with the player and his agent) and that they'd be willing to do business with Chelsea if a figure of £20m is brought to the table by Chelsea. There's a belief that Gael Clichy is a more than adequate replacement and that Arsene could do a lot with the money Cole's sale would bring in. Speaking yesterday the boss was clearly not happy with what's gone on, saying "It's been a big disturbance to us. The moment was especially unpleasant, the day before the Manchester United game. What have we done wrong? If somebody has done anything wrong, it's Chelsea."
It will certainly be interesting to see who plays left back when we take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Anyway, the Palace game is not until Monday so in the meantime we'll have to sit back and watch Chelsea drop points against Everton and see City hammer United on Sunday.
Enjoy your weekend.
We'll start this morning with José Reyes' fine rebuttal of Real Madrid's agently-reported interest in him. Obviously it's nice to know one of the biggest clubs in the world likes the cut of your jib but José's going nowhere. He said "Of course, it's flattering. But not only am I under contract at Arsenal, I am happy here and committed to helping the team win more trophies."
All well and good, you'd think, but no. Last night a story broke about a radio station in Spain making contact with Reyes via his agent. Thing is the DJ was pretending to be Emilio Butragueno, Real Madrid's sporting director. During the conversation José admitted to being 'not great' at Arsenal and when asked if he'd be interested in joining Real Madrid he said that he would be and that it had always been a dream to play there. He also said he was 'going to have to carry on playing with some bad people' at Arsenal. Then the DJ told him he was just pulling his leg and now José is said to be considering legal action against the station.
Regardless of what's been said you have to put this down as a pretty low thing for the radio station to do. Poor José is obviously struggling with life in England at the moment and this is not going to make things any easier for him. When you see the press in action here though nothing surprises you - they love the tabloid culture as much as in England - there are daily TV shows where they follow the wives of matadors around as they bring their kids to school and spy on celebs as they take holidays, visit sick relatives and so on. Nothing, and nobody, is sacred. It shouldn't be a surprise to know that the radio station in question is part of the Cadena group with has close associations with Real Madrid so it wouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility that this is part of a plan to unsettle Reyes even as Butragueno himself rules out any swap deal involving Michael Owen and called the DJ's prank a 'disgrace'.
It's another headache for Arsene Wenger though and it hasn't been the best of times lately. With Ashley Cole's non-commital attitude towards his future at the club and now José being lulled into saying things he really shouldn't have it's going to take some work to put things right. It's hard not to feel sorry for José - the change in lifestyle between Spain and England is proving a very big difficulty for him - and while it's easy for us to get used to the sunshine, late nights and delicious seafood it's a lot more difficult for a Spaniard to grow accustomed to the cold, wet and kippers of England. I really hope he can sort it out and stay with us but nobody should be too harsh with him for the way he's feeling right now. The radio station have picked on him when he's vulberable and they knew it fine well. He doesn't need grief from the fans about this, he needs to know we love him and we'd invite him over for a traditional andalucian dinner like stewed oxtail or beans with clams. We might just watch him eat though, eh?
In other news Manuel Almunia says he accepts Arsene Wenger's decision to bring back Jens Lehmann with 'no fuss' while Lehmann is happy to be back playing for the Gunners again. With Arsenal not playing until Monday night - great Valentines timing you bastards - it'll be a pretty boring weekend. Early team news suggests we'll be without Campbell, Hoyte and van Persie although Kolo returns after his suspension. No doubt we'll hear more about the Reyes thing over the weekend too. Till tomorrow.
What do you need when your club is involved in a tapping-up case which may see us lose one of our best players? Is it:
a) - Agents of other players to shut the fuck up or b) - The agent of your most expensive purchase talking about how the player would love to go to Real Madrid. Of course the answer is a) but that didn't stop José Reyes' agent talking up a move to the Bernebeu for our fleet footed gitano. "If the clubs can reach an agreement there will be no problem."
I'd imagine the problem would be reaching an agreement. There have been reports that José is finding it difficult in England and although he has family and friends here with him you shouldn't underestimate how difficult it is for a young lad from the south of Spain to settle into life in England. Talk about chalk and cheese. If he is a bit homesick then there's not much anyone can do about it - but hopefully he'll be all right. Anyway, the main point is that José's agent, along with all the other agents, would do well to keep their mouths shut just at the moment. Or else (that's my Madchester Education Committee impression).
At this point it looks like Arsenal's international contingent have come through last night's pointless games unscathed. Freddie Ljungberg was on the scoresheet for Sweden, Paddy and Thierry played for France, Jens was in goal for Germany and Ashley Cole played the full
£90,000 90 minutes for England - possibly the most tedious 90 minutes of football ever as well.
So there you go.
Phone calls 4 - 0 ADSL. Although they have promised to reconnect me within 4 days. So that means any time between now and March. 2007. To those of you who have sent mails and so on I'll try and reply once I get reconnected. Dial-up is just such a pain.
The latest in the Ashley Cole scandal is a report that he couldn't possibly have been in the meeting because he was somewhere else and we know he was somewhere else because he apparently dropped something on the ground and then had his picture taken with somebody and Big Ben was in the background and 73 witnesses saw him picking up the thing he dropped and having his picture taken. So it's all cleared up then.
To make Ashley even more popular he's got the full support of Sven Goran Erikkson, England's most sexful manager of all time. Sven says "Loyalty is important but contracts end and that is life in football." Except Ashley's contract doesn't end for two more years, Sven, you shitbag. And let us not forget this is the same bloke who broke his contract with Lazio to become England manager and who was quite prepared to ditch England for Chelsea - as his meetings with Peter Kenyon showed - so for him to lecture anybody on loyalty is like David Beckham giving a seminar on fidelity.
And speaking of Peter Kenyon he was supposed to attend a UEFA seminar this week but mysteriously pulled out at the last minute (unlike Sven who blah blah blah, you know yourself). No doubt the idea of facing David Dein was too much and not even a slimeball like Kenyon could have kept a straight face during the lecture on the role of agents in football. At the UEFA meeting Double-D has called on FIFA and UEFA to bring in worldwide guidelines with regard the role and acceptable behaviour of agents. I would imagine one of the things they'd like to outlaw would be a club tapping up a player from a title rival, offering him a huge increase in salary and then offering to back-date that salary so that player is effectively being paid by two clubs at the same time creating a massive conflict of interest especially as those two clubs still have to meet in the run-in. Luckily for us there just isn't a club or pig-ugly bald chief executive named Peter scummy enough to do that. Oh.
In other news Jens Lehmann reveals he was close to leaving Arsenal after losing his place to Manuel Almunia, Emmanuel Petit says we need Shaun Wright-Phillips and today being the first day of lent I'm giving up not stalking and killing Chelsea players for the next 40 days and 40 nights. What are you giving up? Fingers crossed our players come back from international duty in one piece.
Despite numerous phone calls and the threat of tears I still have no ADSL. The only comfort I draw from this is that it's not just me experiencing situations like this. They happen all the time here, not just with ADSL either. As long as I'm waiting here for my fast internet connection I know there's a small child waiting for a bone marrow transplant or a patient requiring life-saving treatment that gets the same rigmarole of misinformation and inaction. I guess it's slightly worse for them. Slightly.
As it's dull as dishwater international friendlies this week news is fairly thin on the ground. We're told that Ashley Cole might be called as a witness to the FA inquiry into his meeting with Chelsea. That should be interesting. 'Anything you say might be used as evidence against
your new employers Chelsea.'
Seriously though, what do they expect him to say? If he says 'Yes, Chelsea tapped me up' then bang goes his big-money move. It'll be 'no comment' all round I'd imagine and I'd be interested in knowing whether or not he has to be appear at this inquiry or if he can refuse. Anyone know?
Arsenal's reserves beat their Ipswich counterparts 2-1 last night with both goals coming from prolific young Italian Arturo Lupoli. That makes 981 goals this season for him so far. Not much else going right now. Once again I shall spend all day telling the same fucking story to customer service people. I might start adding in some bits now like '...and when I rang yesterday the girl told me to go and fuck myself because I was a stupid Irish bastard. I demand compensation.'
We'll see if that helps speed things along. Doubt it though.
Again thanks to Tom for filling in. A combination of 90 minutes of football on Saturday evening, lack of proper internet and the flu - ok, and some carnival Saturday night drinks - left me the worse for wear. I am lucky my good wife discovered these fantastic pain killers. Two of these fuckers is like drinking a pint of Solpadeine mixed with some delicious morphine so I spent all day yesterday on the sofa and wondering if I could feel my toes. I couldn't.
The internet situation is particularly vexing. I have discovered it's a mix-up between Telefonica and Terra, two supposedly different companies even though Telefonica own Terra and you get your Terra bill on Telefonica paper. Confused? Not as much as I was when I found out what had happened. Of course when I phoned Telefonica they told me to talk to Terra and when I spoke to Terra they said I had to speak to Telefonica. Trying to figure out exactly where the problem lies and who is now providing my ADSL has been probably the most frustrating experience of my adult life. What's worse is I still don't have a fucking clue. Hopefully today will bring some clarification but I'm not holding my breath.
After further evidence yesterday and communication from Arsenal that we want to take the matter further the Premier League are to launch an investigation in the fact that Chelsea illegaly tapped up Ashley Cole. A statement said "The board is finally able to establish a clear position from Arsenal and is grateful for chairman Peter Hill-Wood's confirmation that his club want the Premier League to investigate the matter and that they will co-operate fully with any inquiry."
Chelsea have also promised their full co-operation - not that they have much choice after being caught so red-handed - but Jose Mourinho is not bothered at all. Given previous similar offences I'm sure the worst that will happen is a fine and a reprimand for Chelsea who no doubt took that into consideration when bending the rules in meeting Cole. Any fine is meaningless to a club with such resources and a reprimand means nothing in the greater scheme of things. I don't like the idea of Chelsea being docked points - unless they get docked 20 or so (joking-ish) - and I don't think previous cases would allow the Premier League to take such a harsh line on Chelsea when others have been guilty of similar charges and only been fined.
The most worrying thing about it all is the possibility of Ashley Cole leaving, as reported by The Sunday Mirror yesterday. They say he wants to move and considers Arsenal's offers of contract improvements as 'derisory'. Yes, it's tabloid talk - 'a close friend of Ashley says' stuff, for that read 'his agent' - but Cole's presence at this meeting suggests this is not the first contact. Chelsea could have gone through his agent to tell him what's on offer but the fact he was there to meet Mourinho says a lot, in my opinion. No doubt there's plenty more to come with regard to this story so we'll just have to see how it pans out.
And that's as much as I can piece together with my crappy dial-up connection. Off I go to battle with the faceless customer support people once again. How was your weekend then?
It looks like Arseblogger has called the wrong person at Telefonica a cunt, so I get to write today's blog. Fortunately it's a bit easier than the last one I wrote, after we beat Villa 1-3 at their place.
Freddie, Thierry and Ashley Cole all scored in the first half and it was pretty much over after 14 minutes when Thierry got the second. If you wanted to be picky, you could say it should've been more as well with a couple of glaring misses from Vieira and Henry.
We played very well though and it was a fine response to Tuesday's disappointment. In particular, Senderos and Cygan were solid at the back, Vieira was excellent and Thierry ended his mini-drought, scoring his first in seven games. Edu started his first game in ages and played very well. He's either got himself in the shop window or he's trying to prove to the boss he's committed for the rest of the season. I prefer to believe the latter and hope an agreement can still be found to keep him at the club.
The Ashley Cole saga rumbles on and on with the News of the World's 'dossier of shame' that 'proves' Cole met Mourinho and some other cunts at some hotel in London. It's getting a bit boring now - I don't really care whether he met them. Everyone knows it goes on. No doubt part of the reason the media is so interested is because the title race is already over. All the talk of docking points seems rather dramatic - the precedent for this sort of thing is a fine and even though that would be largely meaningless to Chelsea, it seems pretty unlikely that a points reduction would be a likely sanction. Arsene Wenger has already said he doesn't want to win in an 'artificial way', which is presumably a pre-emptive wind-up in case they are docked points and United have a chance to win it.
In any case, Ashley showed his worth on the pitch against Villa, scoring an excellent goal, and if by meeting Chelsea his intention was to show Arsenal his worth, he went about it in a much better way yesterday.
That's it for today. Enjoy your Sunday.
We had the normal glut of Friday stories as Arsenal's regular pre-match press conference took place. Arsene Wenger had lots to say. He's concerned that Ashely Cole's meeting with Chelsea will affect the morale of the squad, saying "I must say at the moment our worry is to get Ashley concentrated on the next game and not on this story. I just feel this whole story didn't help us."
No doubt the morale he's talking about comes from his colleagues' unhappiness at their team-mate going to meet the enemy before a big game against a bigger enemy. The boss says the whole thing will be discussed at board level and they'll take it from there although he is confident of Ashley signing a new contract - as is Double-D who says Ashley is commited to Arsenal whether he likes it or not. Cole himself has pledged him immediate, if not his long term, future to the club, saying "I'm under contract here for another two years so I just want to get back to playing football and trying to win the league."
The boss also unhappy with UEFA's new ruling about 'homegrown' players saying "It's a very bad rule; a rule without thought and with negative effects, especially on the market of young players. It is an artificial rule. The perverse effects of this rule are not in the spirit of the top level of competition and the education [process]. It is just a narrow look at how we can protect the national teams in completely the wrong way."
I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with him. Back in the squad today are Edu, who is now being considered after a long time absent despite being fit, and Philippe Senderos who passed a fitness test yesterday and could well line up alongside Pascal Cygan in the centre of defence.
Manuel Almunia talks to the Independent while goalkeeping target Timo Hildebrand will not be available on a free transfer this summer as reports in Germany say he's signed a new deal with Stuttgart. Whoever wants him is going to have to pay for him now. Manchester United show that good discipline runs right to the very core of the club as Villa's new signing Eric DumbandDumba reveals "I still have some very good friends at Manchester United and they will be on the phone telling me to 'kick him or kick him'.
And that's about the size of it. Late kick-off today because the game is on PPV. Let's hope the lads can get back to winning ways.
Calm after the storm before the next storm yesterday. A pretty slow day with the main story being UEFA's new ruling that teams have to have a certain number of 'homegrown' players in their squads for European competitions. From 2006 the plan is that each squad must contain 4 of these players, 6 in 2007 and finally 8 in 2008. Uefa defines a club-trained player as one who has been registered for a minimum of three seasons with the club between the age of 15 and 21.
I can sort of see where they're coming from with this - there are lots of Arsenal fans who would like to see young English players getting a chance in the squad but I think this move is being made to try and improve the standard of the fast-declining international game and not out of any great desire to see young players make it at their local clubs. Clubs should have the right to choose the best players no matter where they're from and to my mind it's short-changing the fans who pay a lot of money to watch their teams if players are only included in the squad because of their nationality. In April the 52 UEFA associations will vote on whether or not this ruling should apply to domestic competitions too - and if they do then you can be assured that there will be all manner of legal repercussions especially given the EU's rulings on the free movement of workers withing the community. While clubs may have no legal grounds for appeal when it comes to European competitions trying to apply it to domestic leagues is going to be very difficult. According to Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein "It's misguided and it will almost certainly now be challenged."
Arsene Wenger yesterday confirmed Sol Campbell would be out for two weeks having picked up an ankle injury on Tuesday. That means a likely pairing of Hoyte and Cygan against Aston Villa as Kolo is still suspended and Philippe Senderos is injured.
More on the Ashley Cole - Chelsea story - there's further evidence that it happened. Not that any of us were in much doubt about it to be begin with while Jose Mourinho has fuelled speculation about a move by saying that Chelsea will be buying a 'left sided defender'. On the other hand Chelsea could face a points deduction if it's proved they did tap up Cole and quite why Ashley should get away without some form of reprimand from Arsenal is beyond me. How focussed is a player on one of the biggest games of the season if he's thinking about the filthy lucre on offer from West London? As Tuesday night showed the answer is 'not very'.
Edu meanwhile wants to take part in the rest of the season saying "I don't want people to think I am just going to run down my contract, steer clear of injury and get a nice signing-on fee. Some players are like that, I know that - but I am not one of them. During a game I don't care about the future. I am just thinking about the match."
I wish I had more to tell you but less than incredibly my ADSL connection has gone down again and I'm just using dial-up to upload today's page. Those of you on the mailing list will have to wait until I get it sorted again. I am now going to spend my morning hunting down the cunts responsible for this and then I'm going to set them on fire, drench them in piss, set them on fire again then have them spend their last painful hours listening Phil Collins LPs played at 45rpm so the baldy cunt sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Have a good weekend, arse chums.
Well the internet drought didn't last as long as I thought it was going to. I could write a lengthy rant about Telefonica, Terra and how long it takes to get anything done in this country but there are more important things to rant talk about just at the moment. Again thanks to Tom for writing yesterday's blog - it's never easy to write when you're sick to your stomach after a game like that.
I'm not going to go over the game again or look at individual performances. That's been done a hundred times over on all the Arsenal websites and forums - although I did like Goodplaya's analysis of United's disciplinary record. What we can do now is draw some conclusions as to the rest of our season and the summer coming up.
With the best will in the world there's no chance of us catching Chelsea at this stage. That means we have two trophies still to play for and while the league will remain the bread and butter - and we have to ensure we keep fighting for second place - perhaps a bit more focus can be put on the two cup competitions, especially the Champions League. It's been an ambition for the manager, the club, the players and the fans for a number of seasons now and if there was ever a time to really go for it then this is it. What have we got to lose?
The manager has some big decisions to make now. I think the first one has to be whether or not to bring back Jens Lehmann. Obviously he doesn't see him as the long term occupant of the number one shirt - that's something I'll look at later - but in the here and now he's the best goalkeeper we have at the club. Almunia seems like a nice guy and maybe some of the players prefer when he plays because he won't shout and scream at them like Jens does but if we really want to have a crack at the CL then we need an experienced keeper and that's Jens.
Manuel looked scared out of his shit in the tunnel before the game last night and with the greatest of respect to him his top-flight experience is pretty limited. Yes Lehmann made a couple of mistakes but show me a keeper who hasn't. He certainly wouldn't have gone scuttling out of his goal like Almunia did to hand United their third goal last night. Obviously something went on between him and Arsene Wenger but it's time that either, or both, of them swallowed their pride and concentrated on making us more solid at the back for the rest of the season.
Now the back, that's where we've had a lot of problems this season. Arsene Wenger has said as much himself. We've conceded 29 goals in 25 Premiership games, already 3 more than we conceded in the whole of last season's league campaign. I think last season most of us did a little dance or sacrificed small animals because for the most part our back four picked itself and was ever-present. Certainly in the centre of defence we were lucky with injuries. Sol and Kolo were a brilliant partnership and I have no doubt they were a major factor in going unbeaten. This season we haven't been so lucky. Sol's season has been stop-start (his rustiness was quite apparent on a couple of occasions last night), Lauren has been injured, Senderos has been unlucky and picked up injuries at the times he might have got games, Cygan has been injured and we just haven't had the solidity of last time round.
But it wouldn't be fair to blame it all on the defence. We've also missed to extremely good players in central midfield for most of the season. Edu and Gilberto are both top class players, vastly experienced and as good as Cesc and Flamini are, and they are both very good indeed, any team would miss Edu and Gilberto for as long as we've missed them. They protect the back four, they give us composure and decision making in midfield and being without both of them has made life more difficult for us, without question. Obviously you can't legislate for Gilberto's injury but Edu's contract situation could have been sorted out in the summer if the club really wanted to. I'm not apportioning any blame but we could have done with Edu in the last 4 or 5 weeks and he has been fully fit for quite some time. As well as that I feel we've lacked leadership in the middle of the park and while some of Vieira's performances lately have been a vast improvement on previous he still doesn't strike me as being happy where he is. Where are the crunching tackles? Where's the bite and commitment we've seen from him since he made his debut? I wish I had the answer and I wish I knew why he was supposed to have flown to Madrid the morning after the Manchester United game.
Thierry Henry feels the squad doesn't have enough depth and I would tend to agree with him. There's no question we have some exceptional young players at the club and I've argued myself that signing established players in their positions would hinder their progress but this summer is going to be a very interesting one for us and for Arsene Wenger. He's simply got to improve the squad in key positions. In my opinion we need a goalkeeper, a centre-half, a central midfielder and possibly a striker. As well as he played last night Dennis doesn't have 90 minutes in him week in, week out. If this season is to be his last at the club then it leaves Henry, van Persie, Reyes (maybe as a forward), Bentley and Aliadiere as the forward line. With respect to the last two I don't think they'll make it at Arsenal so a signing becomes necessary. In injury to Henry and we're shafted.
We need to sign a goalkeeper in his mid-20s who will be part of the club for the next 10 years. A long-term quality nvestment is what's needed here. I don't know enough about the world goalkeeping scene but it strikes me that Hildeogdenbrand of Stuttgart looks about right. Hotly tipped to be next German number one, he's free and he's the right age. With regards the other positions we can all speculate until the cows come home. Throw out all the names you like - van Bommell, Mascherano, Essien, Dellas and so on - and we'll be linked to them, no doubt. What absolutely has to happen in the summer though is that if Arsene Wenger wants money to spend on top quality players then that money has to be made available to him. No arguments. Forget about urinal cakes at the Grove if needs be but give him the fucking cash. According to PHW the cash is there already but the boss didn't want to spend for the sake of spending in January - I assume this means he has some very definite targets for the summer and wants to wait until then.
So what has to happen between now and the end of the season? Some bonding for a start. There was a very obvious unity and comradery between the players last season that's not so obvious now. Petty differences between players have to be put aside for the good of the team. The experienced players have to stand up and be counted. Nobody can shirk the physical side of the game. If there's a ball to be won but it might hurt win the ball first and worry about the pain afterwards. There are still 13 games to go and even if we can't finish first it would be lovely to finish above United. Without sounding like a management consultant the team need common goals and they need to focus on those goals with 100% commitment. That means no secret meetings with other teams and managers a couple of days before crunch games, it means no more squabbling about who's better than who, no flying off here there and everywhere, it means helping each other, it means doing things the way Arsenal players should always do things.
This is our squad until the end of the season. There's nothing we can do to change it or improve it now. If they can get it together and show the kind of spirit and desire we know they're capable of then I'm sure every single Arsenal fan will get behind them all the way and give them the help and encouragement they'll need to achieve the things they'll now set out to achieve. Remember this team was 'unbeatable', 'invincible' and 'all-conquering' as recently as October. Football pundits who over-exaggerated our performances back then are the ficklest bunch you'll ever meet, just dying to replace the superlatives with their old favourites 'crisis', 'shambles' and 'defeat'. Yes we've got some problems but there's still enough quality in this team that if everyone does their job the way they should then winning something is not out of the question this season. It's hard to cope with losing when you haven't lost for such a long time but it's not the end of the world provided you learn from it. There's still lots to play for. Let's go for it.
And finally in a quick round-up of stories: Sol Campbell is out for 10 days with an ankle ligament problem, Freddie didn't like being loafed by Silvestre, Arturo Lupoli bags two more as Arsenal reserves beat Crystal Palace reserves 2-0 and who the hell is that with Dennis after his goal the other night (thanks to Oliver for that one)?
Arseblogger's internet connection is fucked so I (Tom) have the dubious pleasure of writing today's entry. Still, at least it's an easy one after the team won 11-0 at Highbury against the cunts from Surrey!
Well, at least we played well in the first half. Patrick Vieira's goal - a header from a corner no less - gave us the early lead before Ryan Giggs' got a deflected equaliser ten minutes later. Dennis Bergkamp nutmegged Roy Carrol with his shot from a tight angle to re-take the lead ten minutes before half time and we should've had a penalty after Bob was obviously brought down. We'd played well and deserved to be ahead, if not by more.
Then, in the second half, we stopped playing. Ronaldo equalised again and we seemed shell-shocked, before the same cunt scored again from a Giggs cross after Alumnia came charging out to the edge of his area and Lauren stopped tracking his man. That was pretty much game over; we lost all momentum and seemed out of ideas. Not even Silvestre's sending off with 20 minutes to go could spark us and John O'Shea chipped in late on to give them a 4-2 win.
It was a tense game and there were some shennanigans in the tunnel even before the match when Roy Keane accused Vieira of having a go at Gary Neville. Whatever the truth of it, Vieira said the right thing: "I had a talk with Roy Keane and that's it. Gary Neville is a big lad, he can handle himself. They just played better than us and deserved to win."
And that's about the size of it.
It's difficult to know how we'll react to this loss. The game had been talked up for a long time with Sol Campbell admitting this week "it's personal" with United, so losing 4-2 is going to be tough to take. If anyone was in any doubt before the game, the league is well and truly gone now. Barring a massive collapse Chelsea will win it. Deciding whether you'd rather they or United won it is a bit like asking whether you'd like to be deep-fried to death or cut into very tiny pieces bit by bit. I hope they both lose.
Arsene Wenger has to have a serious think about how to strengthen the squad in the summer, starting with the goalie because Almunia showed last night he's not up to it. Christ knows what he was thinking for one of Ronaldo's goals and he was in a strange position when O'Shea lobbed him. We need someone proven too. The defence in general needs strengthened - you only have to look at how many goals we've conceeded this season to see that.
Positives? Cygan played well, Flamini was good in midfield and Dennis had a good game and scored an excellent goal. We scored from a corner - when was the last time that happened? We contributed to an extremely entertaining game for the neutral? Okay, scraping the barrel a bit with that last one.
Anyway, hopefully Arseblogger can come up with something more meaningful when he gets his internet sorted. My head hurts and I know I'm going to have to deal with some cunt at work talking shit. I hope your day is better than mine!
Update: I've just checked my email and regular arser and forumer Jawsh kindly sent me his thoughts on the game after I was complaining last night that today's blog was going to be hard to write.