February 28th

It's the last day of the month and after the celebrations of yesterday it's back into the real world again. In their wisdom the cunts that be have organised a round of international friendlies this week. Not really what we need when we should be knuckling down in training but what can you do?

Early yesterday Ashley Cole was talking about how his injury has given young players a chance in the team and how much he was looking forward to getting back on the pitch and into the team. Last night he took to the field as Arsenal reserves took on Sp*rs reserves and he lasted all of 7 minutes as a challenge from a Sp*rs player left him with an injured ankle. Just what we needed. This season has been an absolute nightmare for injuries and whilst you can't use it as an excuse you have to wonder if we'd have struggled as badly with a fully fit Cole, van Persie, Lauren and Henry in team all season long. Let's hope the injury isn't as bad as we all fear it probably will be. Arsenal.con are saying it's a sprain in the reserves report. The Sun has more. One of the lads on my team sprained his ankle in November. He still hasn't played since. The game finished 2-1 to the scummers as well.

Like the rest of us the manager is 'worried' by our poor league form. Whilst people might put that down to bad defending away from home that's not really the issue. The main problem is just 9 goals in 14 away games. There are days when we look like we couldn't score in a room full of Paris Hiltons. Again for me the problem boils down to midfield. No league goals all season for Freddie Ljungberg, only four league goals from Robert Pires, a weak central partnership due to Gilberto's reluctance to get involved in anything vaguely physical and only one player to try and link defence and attack. Rejuvenate the midfield and we might start playing as a team again. I know it's ridiculous to pin hopes on a 16 year old but I'd like to see Walcott get a game. The others must know they're underperforming and maybe they feel pressure and can't cope with it. As much as we're all excited by his talent I think we're all realistic enough not to expect fireworks from a player so young but that might just the be the best reason to give him a shot. He's under no pressure, he's got no fear and even if things don't go too well for him he won't be written off despite some of our fans being rather too quick to write off young players who have shown they have talent but are struggling due to a lack of experience and support. Anyway, maybe it's just a desperate clutch at about the only straw we have left but it can't hurt, especially with Freddie likely to be out injured for another week or so.

Safety is Confused. Arsene Wenger must stick to his guns says FM on blogfc.com

José - "We’ve got six or seven players who speak Spanish and even more that speak French — there’s very little English. It’s difficult for me to learn English because in the dressing room we speak more French and Spanish than English."

Right, not much time for anything else this morning. Have a good one.


February 27th

Today is a momentus day, my good old friends. It's a celebration. Today Arseblog is 4 years old. On this day back in 2002 the very first Arseblog was inflicted upon the world. You can see what it looked like here and how very exciting it all was. I think it was the very first club specific blog, now you can't move for Arsenal blogs let alone those for other teams.

Four is a good birthday for a blog especially when you consider Arseblog is updated almost every single day and how many other Arsenal blogs have come and gone in that time. Of course if you had said to me in Feb 2002 that four years later I would still be spending massive amounts of my time I would have thought you quite mad, I have to say, but lots of stuff has happened in that time.

I've gotten married. I've retired (from teaching English). Arsenal have won the league twice and the FA Cup three times. I've moved house. I've started playing football again. I've expanded my blogging empire (don't ask, I won't tell). I've seen Arseblog grow from a fairly small site to something much bigger. I remember when I'd look at my stats counter and see that 250 people had visited the site in one day and being ever so chuffed. Now there's somewhere between 10 and 12,000 unique visitors (that's just to the front page, not including archives, forums, arses, columnists or any other pages) every single day. Last year the site did over 14,000,000 page views. In 2002 the site did a little under 300,000 page views which shows how much it's grown.

Arseblog is, as I've always said, a labour of love. In the early days the posts were not infrequent but there was no fixed schedule so I might post early in the day or late in the evening. I can't quite remember how it happened, something to do with work no doubt, but it became the norm to post first thing in the morning making the site almost like a daily newspaper for people getting to work - except you couldn't really pick it up and read it while having a crap (although there is something in the pipeline which would enable you do that). Arseblog and a poo, what could be better?

With the morning edition popular there then grew the race to get first arse. For those of you who still wonder what the Arses are it's a comment system that was enabled on the site in around July 2002. Most conventional blogging software had a comment system built-in but because Arseblog is wonderfully hand-crafted for you each morning I had to use a system called YACCS. Which was great, if a little slow at times. It certainly wasn't as busy back then. Check out this for example:

YACCS COMMENTS

27!! Now between the time I post the blog and get to work there's usually double that. The first arse thing is really funny though. It's just one of those things that grew with the site. A little tradition that came from you lot who visit and not something that I implemented. Naturally a weekday first arse is much more valuable than a weekend one.

Then disaster struck. YACCS had a total server crash and in the end I think it was out of action for more than a week. It was then the comments system that's in place now came about. Long time Arser Tom, who has deputised very ably for me on the occassions I haven't been able to post, is a complete and utter nerd tech wizard and as people felt their very life slip away from them, having to actually do some work, he wrote the new Arses system. At one point there was even a league table of the top 100 Arsers but after a while we realised that every time someone tried to look at it made the server crash. Cheers, Tom!

The forums were launched in October 2002. For quite some time it was a free for all, anyone could register and join. After a while though I wanted to control the numbers. Now registration opens every once in a while and you have to go through an application process to enter before brin, the world famous Decidinator, gives you the Roman thumbs up or thumbs down. Keep your eyes open for the next opening.

I don't do all the writing though. I've been lucky to have had fantastic contributions from some very talented Arsenal fans. If you haven't visited the columnists section you're missing out on some good stuff. And then there's the magical Leopold Mendacious over on the Arseblog News Review. Obviously most net savvy Arsenal fans know where the joke lies in that and it's just part of the peculiar little world of Arsenal websites. It always makes me laugh but unless you know Arsenal or ANR then it's just going to seem really bizarre. I haven't heard from Leopold for a little while now. He's probably exploring or stalking Jennifer Jason Leigh. Or Judge Reinhold.

Back in the day as well I used to have more time to make funny... well I thought they were funny, most of them, a few then, ok there's at least a couple... funny pictures which you can find by looking at the 'fun' part of the other section. For some reason this one is my favourite. There were also a couple of articles where I spoofed James Lawton who seemed to have a very big bee in his bonnet with Arsenal for a long time. He's calmed down a bit now. When the first one was published I had just saved the Independent's webpage with all the contact details on it. Then people clicked on the Newsnow headline and read the article. A day afterwards I got an email from the Sport's ed of the paper asking me to remove the ©Independent Newspapers at the bottom because his email had been inundated with Arsenal fans complaining most vigorously about the 'Lawton' article. More than one person complained specifically about the phrase 'Arsenal's players are menstruating all over football at the moment and something has to be done about it.'

heh. Most of all though what has grown out of a curiosity about blogging and a passion for Arsenal is a real community, both online and in the real world. Arsebloggers meet up before games, after games and they all share a genuine love of Arsenal with a genuine love of booze and talking shite. When I went to Madrid it was via another Arseblogger that I got the ticket. Friendships have been made that now go beyond the 'just some bloke I talk to online at work' stage. Not just for me but for the people who read the forums and the arses.

Arseblog is theraputic. A lot has happened in 4 years, like I mentioned above. Without going into specifics some bad stuff has happened in my life as well, the same way it does to everybody, and even though there have been mornings when I just could not be arsed getting up early and writing before I go to work I always do it because there have been times when it has been a welcome distraction. I feel like I owe it for the times it's kept me (relatively) sane.

At the end of the day it is what it was 4 years ago. An Irish Arsenal fan in Barcelona writing about the team he loves. Maybe it's not N5 authentic but then the internet has allowed Arsenal fans from all over the world to follow the team more closely and to have their say. Some years ago I was a subscriber to the Arsenal Mailing List (Hi Mick W!) and that was really the only way of venting your spleen or praising the boys or just waffling about Arsenal to other fans. Now there are websites and forums all over the place. Some good, some bad, but you can say the same about footballers. For me what makes Arseblog so enjoyable is the feedback, the comments, the emails (even though I try I don't always get time to answer all of them - so if you have ever emailed me and not gotten an answer I am sorry. I love you though!), the discussion, the banter. It's like being with your mates down the pub and spouting crap. And you can swear all you want too, just like in real life.

So, I would like to say thank you to all of you who read every day, who contribute and who have helped to make Arseblog what it is today. A four year old blog. Sorry there's no review of the stories today but I think we can live without the depression for 24 hours. If you're really desperate click on Newsnow and fill your Arses.

Raise your glases, down the hatch. Here's to another 4 years and don't forget to make your wish. If we all go for that 4th Champions League spot maybe we can make it happen. Can't hurt, can it?!


February 26th

*boilk*

So after the joy of Madrid comes the pain of yet another away defeat, although we should be used to them by now. Such is the way of the Arsenal this season. I didn't see any of it so I'll leave the comment to others. All I can say it's a pain in the cunt to beaten like cunts by those cunts.

In a quick round-up of the Sunday stories Sol Campbell has promised Sven that he won't lose it and walk out on England during the World Cup which is obviously great for England as havig Campbell at the back would be a big boost. Even the quickest player would take at least half an hour to go around his enormous girth. Nice to see he has his priorities in order too. No going nuts on England but fuck the Arsenal who pay your exorbitant wages.

Mathieu Flamini believes Arsenal could have scored more against Madrid, Jens Lehmann faces an FA censure for insinuating that referee Howard Webb was in favour of Bolton, Cesc is cool, while David Beckham says Thierry Henry wants to stay with Arsenal but possibly not if he has a pain in his cunt being beaten like cunts by cunts like the cunts we lost to yesterday although he could possibly do something like score a goal against those cunts to make us not lose to the cunts to begin with. The News of the World say Real Madrid have offered a swap deal for Thierry Henry which includes Ronaldo. Great. It'd be like Kylie being your wife and swapping her for Kathy Bates. MMmmmmm.

Anyway, that's all I can manage. I have the hangover of all hangovers, no Ibuprofen and little or no hair of the dog en casa. Till tomorrow cunnies.


February 25th

A quick Saturday round-up as I have to catch a train to go and play football.

We'll start with some injury news. Gael Clichy has had a setback with his foot injury and is now unlikely to play before April, Sol Campbell is out of the Real Madrid return leg (no tears here, let me tell you) despite being fit enough to fanny around at the BAFTAs, Dennis Bergkamp is out of today's game against Blackburn despite being back in training, while Robin van Persie is also still out with his toe injury which means Arturo Lupoli gets a place on the bench. Ashley Cole is working his way back to fitness and after reports yesterday suggested a £15m summer move to Real Madrid was as good as done the manager is confident he'll stay and commit long-term to the club.

Congratulations to Cesc Fabregas who has received his first call up to the Spanish senior squad. Our old friend Luis Aragones said "Although Cesc is young, after a year and a half in the Arsenal team he has emerged as a very important player. He's performed well for the under-21s and he's also got an eye for goal."

Jens Lehmann looks set to sign a new one year deal with the club. The boss also revealed he's offered Robert Pires one more year while he told people to 'use their imagination' when discussing the state of the Thierry Henry contract situation.

Arsneal Holdings PLC released their interim financial results yesterday which you can read here and get Keith Edelman's view on here.

Ok, that's about it. Let's hope that the Real Madrid performance was not just a once off. We need the same commitment and energy against a Blackburn team that will play a different type of football from Madrid, that's for sure.

Come on you goooooooners...


February 24th

After yesterday's epic I'll try and keep today as brief and to the point as possible.

Ashley Cole is on his way back having had a reserve outing this week. He's unlikely to be fit to face Blackburn this weekend though. Arsene Wenger says "He responded to the reserve game with a lot of fatigue because he has hardly played in over four months. The plan with him is to play him on Monday night in the reserves against Tottenham and assess him after that."

And despite the News of the World claiming Gael Clichy's injury could be career threatening he's nearly there too and he said via some website you have to register for that he thought he'd be back for Madrid game but suffered a small setback. His surgeon reckons it's nothing serious though and he could be back in about three weeks.

Silvinho says Barcelona must buy Thierry Henry if they get the chance which is a bit like saying any red blooded male should have sex with Angelina Jolie if they get the chance.

Jurgen Klinnsman is going to alternate his goalkeepers in the run up to the World Cup but as Jens is playing so well and Oliver Kahn looks like an albino baboon I hope our man gets the nod for the tournament. Sky Sports is reporting we're chasing yet another wonderkid, this time it's 18 year old Milan midfielder Federico Piazza. He's yet to sign a professional contract so chances are we'd be one of the teams sniffing around if there is any real interest in him.

Real Madrid want Cesc. Well, they can want in one hand and shit in other and see which gets full first.

Thierry Henry - "We are dead in the Premiership and the FA Cup. So we only have the Champions League left. We are a team hanging on to its last chance of winning a trophy. As for the Premiership, we must at least manage to qualify for the preliminary round of the Champions League. That is vital."

Do I need to comment? Nah. Right, it's Friday. I'm off to work then I might just have a beer or two.


February 23rd

Dear readers, please find below a full report of the trip to Madrid. Bill Bryson watch out. Or not.

GETTING THERE

Arrived at Barcelona airport, checked in and had the couple gin and tonics that I must drink before I fly. Every time. No exceptions. Same bar. Same table if possible. I'm not superstitious at all, oh no.

Went through the the boarding section and had to put my bag and jacket on the little tray to go through the security check. Jacket off means the home shirt with 'REYES 9' on the back is clearly visible. The metal plate in my arm sets the beeper off so I get a frisking. The security guard sees the shirt and smiles. "Good luck tonight!", he says.

Sit down on the plane and the seat next to me is taken by a bloke who says "Hello mate!". He and his mate are Arsenal fans and he'd flown from Dublin to Bournmouth to Barcelona and then onto Madrid. So we chat all the way to Madrid and on the metro into the city centre. They're going a different way so we shake hands and wish each other luck. We're going to need it of course, the way we've been playing and the injuries we have.

PRE-GAME

I meet my Swedish friend Chris with whom I'm staying and we take a train to his flat where he has beers chilling. So it would be rude not to drink them. So we do. Then head off into the city centre to meet Arseblogger Liam who has my precious ticket. We lunch, drink some beers, go to an Irish bar called the Dubliner, drink some beer, go to another bar to meet a group of ruffians, drink some beer, then take a taxi around 6 o'clock up towards the Bernebeu.

We find a bar called 'The Irish Rover' which Chris informs us is normally a favourite of Real Madrid fans before games. Unfortunately for them the place is packed full of singing Gooners. We have a beer, then another beer. We meet a bloke who has come all the way from Basel and who paid €350 for a ticket at the airport. The touts were around the bars offering them for £200 each. The Arsenal fans are in great spirits, some of the lads were end-of-night drunk at 7pm though. I can't imagine they remembered much of the game but there you go.

At around 8pm we were in our seats in the stadium. There was no trouble that I saw and we had a fantastic view. We were just to the left of the goal at the front of the very top tier. The net they hung was a little bit distracting at first but after a while it was invisible. The place started filling up very quickly, the Arsenal fans were singing and maybe it was the beer but there was an air of, if not confidence, of believing we weren't going to get stuffed.

THE GAME

Before the game and with the previous results and our form clearly on everybody's mind most fans just wanted the team to perform, to show up, to fight and not to look as lifeless and careless as we have seen too often this season. The first 10 minutes made us think that maybe we could expect more.

Reyes had a chance which was well saved by Casillas, Henry put a header just wide and Freddie nearly got through. They didn't look at all threatening and we had a good laugh at Woodgate going off so early. They had a chance with Beckham after a mistake by Senderos but Jens made a great save.

At half-time the consensus amongst all of us queueing to have a piss was that we really could get something from the game.

"We can take these cunts", said one.

"Are you going to piss forever?", said another.

"Some cunt's had a shit on the floor in there", said another.

The half-time high jinks over and done with it was back to the stands to the Arsenal fans who were making so much noise. Then Cesc gave it to Thierry who skipped past that fat cunt Ronaldo, that massive ponce Guti, and skipped into the area and just as it looked like he was going to lose it he clipped it past Casillas.

Cue mentalness of the highest order. It was only yesterday when I saw replays that I realised how good a goal it was. There were hugs and jumping and singing of 1-0 to the Arsenal. I can't really describe the rest of it, Henry had another chance, Pires had a half-chance when he came on, Reyes was running rings around Cicinho who was lucky to stay on the pitch.

Time, Arsechums, was as slow as you can possibly imagine. There was a big clock at the other end of the stadium. 20 minutes of the second half gone it said. I watched the match for another 15 minutes. 22 minutes of the game gone it said. The linesman and the referee were both cunts. They brought on Raul and Baptista ("You'll never play for Arsenal") but they still didn't look dangerous. In the last minute of the 17 minutes of injury time Raul won his only header and Ronaldo couldn't get near it because he is a big fat cunt who Real Madrid fans said should be 'thrown in the bin' after his performance.

There was a rousing chorus of 'Adios, Adios, Adios' (Cheerio en enspañol) for the hundreds of Madrid fans who streamed out early. Eventually the final whistle went. Pandemonium. Mayhem. Maydemonium. Pandehem. The players came over to applaud. Kolo and Phil were first, fists clenched. They all came, they clapped, we clapped, they left. We were kept in the stadium for about 25 minutes afterwards and kept ourselves amused by singing songs to the other Gooners who had tickets in other parts of the ground and sang and danced along with us.

When they let us out they made us all go through one exit which was strange because there were about 4 or 5 other sets of stairs leading down to that exit. At one point all of us had to channel into a very narrow corridor with steps down and steps up at the far end. Potentially it was quite dangerous. I told one of the police guys blocking the other stairs that it was dangerous and he just stared at me. Not fancying a cracked skull from his very heavy looking truncheon I left it at that. We got out in the end and made our way to a bar near the stadium where the Real fan behind the bar charged us far too much for the beers, but it didn't matter.

We had some banter with some Madrid fans, who in general were very friendly. Apart from one 'Ultra' who walked past the window and gave us the finger as we raised our glasses to him. We then made our way back into town for some more beers and some tapas. Chris wanted Patatas Bravas but they didn't have any so he had more beer instead. There were lots of Arsenal fans around and all in very good form for some reason! Then onto the Dubliner where some G&Ts made a nice change. The night ended without ridiculous drunkeness, for most of us, and it was brilliant.

THE PLAYERS

Being the first English team to ever win the Bernebeu was fantastic. Thierry Henry's goal was fantastic. The support and the crack we had in the stadium was fantasitic. But the best thing about the night was that the players played the way we've all known they can. The potential that the young players have came right to the fore and they were well supported, at last, by the experience in the team.

Freddie had his best game of the season, he was everywhere, busy. Gilberto shielded the back four well and did the simple things well - and most of the time that involved giving the ball to Cesc. Flamini got stuck in at left back and considering it's really not his position he did a good job. Kolo and Phil, his one mistake apart, we really solid at the back. Ronaldo hardly got a kick and Raul the same when he came on.

Eboue had his best game for us. He defended brilliantly, keeping an in-form Robinho as quiet as a mouse, and got forwarded a lot too. José was lively and really enjoyed himself. He did Cicinho time and time again and the Brazilian was very lucky not pick up a second yellow. José also provided the comedy moment of the match when having taken a kick he found himself off the pitch so play continued. That obviously didn't suit him so he rolled onto to the pitch in agony prompting some angry Madrid players to surround him and Casillas got a yellow for his troubles. Hilarious because it wasn't some cunt doing it to us.

Hleb started badly, gave the ball away a couple of times - one time in particular a good ball could have seen José clean through on goal - but really grew into the game. I haven't been convinced by him at all but I thought he had a pretty good game, certainly the best I've seen him have for Arsenal. Jens Lehmann put in another top class game, he's been the best keeper in the Premiership and such a good night in Europe can only do his World Cup chances the power of good. He was commanding, confident and made some good saves.

Thierry Henry - what can you say? From where I was watching he could have gotten forward more, could have looked a bit more lively and certainly some fans were suggesting he do that and more, but then he pops up with a moment of brilliance which ultimately won us the game. He's splendidly frustrating.

Then onto my man of the match. It was hard to believe that Cesc Fabregas is only 18. I think this game is the one people will talk about as the one where he came of age. In a midfield battle against Zidane, Guti, Robinho and Beckham at the Bernebeu he shone. He was calm, composed, creative. He dictated the play. He showed moments of great skill - one turn near the touchline towards the end of the game was a perfect showcase for his talents.

Every single Spanish paper I read yesterday was literally creaming themselves over how good he was. And they were right. He was amazing. The papers also reported that he was applauded off the pitch by the Madrid fans. I really can't confirm that as he was too busy getting the ovation he deserved from the Arsenal fans but I wouldn't be surprised if it was true. He was that good. His passing, his vision, his workrate, his totally inability to be fazed by any occassion or opposition is just wonderful. This boy is going to be a true star and I'm so glad he plays for the Arsenal. I saw him interviewed on Spanish TV yesterday and you could see how much it meant to him.

He told the reporter he just didn't have the words to describe how he felt as a grin the size of Jennifer Lopez's arse covered his face. I love that little guy!

As I said at the start it was just brilliant to see the players play the way we know they can play. The manager has always had faith in them and maybe they doubted their abilities but this result and this performance should prove to them they are capable of winning difficult games. That's not to say we should get carried away by it but what it does is suggest that if they can perform like this against Real Madrid at home then they can do it anywhere. Perhaps it's a question of motivation - who couldn't raise their game against Real Madrid in a fantastic stadium like the Bernebeu? - but now they've raised the bar. They've shown us what they can do and between now and end of the season they need to do it home and away as the fight for the Champions League place really hots up.

Overall though it was just a brilliant night. The players were great, the manager got it spot on, the Arsenal fans were brilliant all night long, the Bernebeu was a great place to watch football and it's a night that will live a long time in the memory. Even one was bad as mine.

HOME AGAIN

Uneventful until I reached Barcelona airport. I went for a badly needed wee as the two gin and tonics I'd had in Madrid airport had worked there way through. After that I went out to catch the bus into the city centre. It pulled up. The door opened. The bus driver saw my Arsenal scarf then did that two fists in the air motion like he had just scored a goal.

"Grande, tío! Grande!", he said. To translate that to Dublin English, think "Deadly, man! Deadly!"

As I got on the bus he came out from behind the wheel and gave me a big hug while the rest of the people on the bus looked on slightly bemused. He still charged me the fare though, the cunt.

So there you go. Report over. A jolly good time was had by all. A night to be proud to be a Gooner no matter how long your website has been running. Let's hope we can do it in the return leg at Highbury then we draw Barcelona. That, my friends, would be some fun.


February 22nd

Well, I dunno about you lot but I could hardly watch the last five minutes of that game! What a result!

Our best in Europe? Perhaps not as spectacular as against Inter a couple of seasons ago, but to have gone to Madrid, written off by absolutely everybody, with the number of players out that we did, it's certainly up there. Of course it's only half time, and we mustn't get too carried away - a single away goal doesn't count for too much since Madrid still have to score, but you'd certainly rather have it than not.

We played very well - everyone played very well. Thierry beat five players to score another very special goal, Fabregas was absolutely sensational (how he must've loved that win!), Gilberto kept Zidane quiet, Reyes was all over Cicinho (who should've got at least three yellow cards), Eboue got forward well (and looks excellent to me), Flamini did well to keep Beckham relatively quiet and was full of running, playing well out of position, Hleb had a few nice touches and I remember him making at least a couple of excellent tackles. Freddie played as well as he has this season and he even made one of those runs into the box we've not seen for a while and was unlucky he was so close to the keeper when he got the ball. Lehmann saved well from Beckham twice and a Carlos screamer, and despite one error from Big Phil, him and Kolo were solid (Sol who?) and Madrid rarely threatened seriously, despite the ref trying to give Zidane a free kick every time one of our players got anywhere near him. Was Ronaldo even playing?

And the tactics. I hate 4-5-1 as much as Blogger, and there were a few times we were just humping it forward for someone to chase, but we got it just right in the end - credit to the manager for giving the players the belief they could do it. I thought we struggled to keep possession at times with Madrid having a lot of the ball, and we sat a bit too deep for my liking, but we got the result and that's all that matters - and in truth, we should've scored more. I think it helped that we were playing a team that actually likes to play football (unlike those horrible, horrible cunts from Bolton, for example), and that Real weren't exactly amazing (which of course was partly down to how we played), but it matters not. We're the first English team to win at the Bernabeu, and it was a proud night for Arsenal. What a game it's going to be at Highbury!

And a word for all the away support - you made lots of noise, supported the team brilliantly and did the team proud. Hope all the Arsebloggers that went out to Madrid enjoyed their evening and got horribly drunk. I know of at least one Arseblogger that'll be *boiking* it today. ;-)


February 21st

Ok, it's a quick one this morning before I head for the airport. Hopefully Tom will be here with tomorrow´s update as I don't get back till late afternoon.

We got the squad news yesterday, as expected, and despite an erroneous exclusive about Ashley Cole the only player we welcome back is José Antonio Reyes who will have 'muchas ganas' (as they say here) to play in this one. There's also a place on the bench for Theo Walcott. You can find the full squad list here.

Arsene Wenger has called for a big performance from Thierry Henry tonight, saying "You need a big Thierry Henry tomorrow night. If you look at the record of the Champions League goalscorers, Thierry is in the top three of all time. The problem is that the expectation level on Thierry Henry is so high that if he does not make the difference, of course people quickly come to the conclusion that he did not make the difference."

That does make sense but it's not just Thierry that we need a stand-out performance from. If we do go with the 5 man midfield then we need them to perform. We need performances of the season from Ljungberg, Pires and Gilberto and we need the relatively makeshift back 4 to stand firm against a Real side capable of plenty of goals. Flamini needs to make sure Beckham gets no time on the ball to whip in those crosses. Eboue needs to be limpit like whenever Robinho gets the ball. We need Kolo's energy and Senderos to play like he played against Bayern at home last season. Gilberto needs to tackle. Pires and Ljungberg need to move and not always play square balls. Most of all we need the manager to have the balls to change things if it's not going well. If Gilberto fannys around get Diaby on. If Ljungberg can't do anything let's throw Walcott on to run at thunder-thighs Carlos, he won't be afraid.

If we perform we can get something from this game. We've more or less been written off beforehand. I can't remember the last time we were so much the underdogs. There was a time when the Arsenal used to thrive on that. Maybe we can see that again.

To those of you going I hope to see you there for a beer before and plenty after as we celebrate the 6-1 win. We're as good as Zaragoza, surely? I'm wearing a home shirt with Reyes 9 on the back. I'll be the devestatingly handsome one.

Somos el Arsenal. ¡Vámanos cañoneros!


February 20th

Quiet again this morning. It's all very boring considering the game we've got tomorrow. The problem is the news will start breaking during the day but it's too early for very much to be happening now. I should probably ease the tedium with something creative but it's too early for very much to be happening now. In my brain that is.

There have been calls for the officials on Tuesday to be strong should there be any repeat of the racist chanting that was seen in previous games in Madrid. There was the England game when Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips got a hard time then a week or so later there was a Champions League game against Leverkeusen when some of their players got stick from the crowd simply because of the colour of their skin. While I do understand where the campaigners are coming from I do wonder if it does any good to bring it up again after it had been forgotten. Certainly the people who would abuse somebody for being black are not going to stop just because some bloke from the Kick it Out campaign says so.

This wouldn't even have been an issue had UEFA been strong the last time it happened in Madrid. As it turned out they got a measly fine which is no deterrent. Had they been made play a game or two behind closed doors you can be quite sure the chances of a repeat would be very slim indeed. Anyway, let's hope nothing like that is even an issue on Wednesday morning when we're celebrating our most excellent victory.

Hopefully we'll get a proper squad list today. There was an article in yesterday's Sunday Times in which Robin van Persie said he was still hopeful of making the squad for the game at the Bernebeu but his broken toe has been causing him big problems and I suppose the best we can hope for is that he makes the bench. With Reyes also struggling and Bergkamp unlikely to travel at this late stage we could be forced into playing the 4-5-1 we all love so much.

In other news: Alan Hansen says Arsenal need to buy English players again, David Beckham says Real Madrid could be devestating if they play well and Sven says Sol will go to the World Cup (provided anyone can find him, that is).

Right, I'm off to work. Till tomorrow.


February 19th

Good morning, Arsefans. Not a lot going on except my grumbling stomach. I found a Uruguayan restaurant last night which serves steak. And by steak I mean the side of cow. Add a few beers on top of that and you're all set.

In Arsenal news there's little going on as we didn't have a game this weekend. All eyes can now turn to Madrid on Tuesday and despite our lengthy absentee list the boss is confident. He says "Ideally you would like everyone to be available but on the other hand I don't look for excuses before the game starts. We are strong enough to deal with that. We have no cup game beforehand. That means I am convinced that everyone can do their best. I feel their best will be good enough."

It does beg the question would they not do their best if there was a cup game beforehand but I know what he means. I think.

Nothing else happening. If I like my arm I taste of meat. Mmmmmmm.


February 18th

No Arsenal game today so it's a bit slow. A quick Saturday round-up for you though.

After having some quotes taken out of context yesterday Cesc was quick to put the record straight about Thierry Henry saying "Further to a story in a newspaper today, I would like to stress that I have never said that it would be 'spectacular' or 'incredible' if Thierry Henry would join Barcelona. Thierry is our leader and we are so proud of having him as our Captain at Arsenal."

He also spoke about the upcoming Real Madrid game and how his friends in Barcelona have been urging him on. He says "When they talk to me on MSN Messenger they are just saying, 'Come on, beat them, beat them'. They are going mad about it."

Jonathan Woodgate says Real Madrid will 'destroy' Arsenal. With the injury news not good yesterday we're going to have to work hard to ensure that doesn't happen. Having had both Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy on the point of being fit again it seems both of them have had setbacks and will miss the Madrid game. Robin van Persie is also out with his broken toe. According to Arsene Wenger the only one who has a 'small chance' of making it is José Antonio Reyes. We'll also be without Emmanuel Adebayor who is not eligible to play in the Champions League this season.

We're certainly going to be up against it. Even with a full squad of players in form it's a big challenge. Without so many players and with our form as patchy as anyone has ever seen it it's going to mean every single player has to turn up on the night. No wimps. Still, I'm looking forward to it as I'm going to Madrid to see it. Being Irish, being 2'3" and dressed all in green I could be the Lucky Charm the team needs.

My team has a cup game this weekend after winning our first cup game of the season 6-1 last Saturday. Enjoy your weekend.


February 17th

Too much writing this week. Writing = thinking and thinking hurts so early in the morning. A Friday news round-up is just the easy tonic I need.

We'll start with the behind closed doors friendly against Reading yesterday. We won 3-1 with two goals from Arturo Lupoli and one for Fabrice Muamba. It was widely thought that Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy would play but neither of them did. However, I think both of them are over their injuries and ready to come back. It seems almost certain Cole will play against Real Madrid. We had a triallist play with the team as well, widely thought to be ex-Fulham man Martin Djetou and Theo Walcott and Alexander Hleb both played.

Freddie Ljungberg has claimed he was misquoted when he said Arsenal were scared and he feels that the new stadium could be the key to keeping Thierry Henry, saying "We are going to be in a new stadium so I hope he is going to stay. I think we can win things and is why we should all stay."

Erm, not all. We made another impact signing yesterday. Cannes defender Carl Parisio should go straight into the under 17s team. He was yet to sign a professional deal and Arsenal have made a payment to Cannes even though we didn't necessarily have to. I suppose trying to avoid another Flamini situation is a good idea.

Dennis Bergkamp says he's ready to travel to Madrid by road if the club need him. Can't see it happening though.

Cesc on Chelsea - "If you watch Chelsea they play such boring football you could doze off. I watch Barca on TV quite regularly and it’s easy to enjoy — Chelsea may be effective but they play boring football.”

And that's all I can manage. Thankfully it's Friday, the weather here is beginning to get a bit warmer and we can leave work an hour early today. Hurrah!


February 16th

Yesterday was a day of intense reflection amongst Arsenal fans. Arseblog had one of it's busiest days ever in terms of visits and it's natural that people want to talk and vent some spleen. When things are going well how many times can you say "Well, aren't we great. Wasn't that a fantastic 4-0 win?"

When things aren't going well everybody has their own opinions as to why that might be and what we can do to make things better. Some people have extreme views, some people don't. That's why football sites like this one can have people talking all day about the same thing. It's why Arseblog exists, I suppose. Two of the other important Arsenal blogs, both generally very measured in their writing, couldn't hold back any more after the Liverpool game. Goodplaya (please sort out some proper hosting, sir!) labelled the performance and some of the players a disgrace while Eastlower was 'very glum' and glum is a really horrible thing to be. It does sum things up though. Generally I would see myself as someone who will always try to find the positive side of things and I prefer to keep the site running in that manner. Those two other blogs are much the same but all of us were fairly scathing about a defeat which was probably the straw that broke the camels back.

Arsene Wenger spoke yesterday about a lack of confidence while Freddie Ljungberg said the team was 'devestated' and too scared to play football. I wonder though if some of them are devestated for different reasons. For the ones who put in 100% effort, for the ones who fought and tried their hardest - like Lehmann, Senderos, Toure, Flamini, Fabregas - I'm sure they were gutted at the result. Maybe they didn't all play well but they tried. Then you have the ones like Gilberto and Pires who didn't give everything. Are they devestated because they lost or because they couldn't nick a point or even a goal allowing them to coast through a game and have their insipid performances glossed over? Are they devestated because they've been found wanting yet again and this time it's one time too far for a lot of us?

I'm sure the players are not immune from the fall-out of a defeat. I'm sure, at least I hope, that some of them realise they have come in for heavy criticism. What kind of reaction we get from them is hard to guess though. If Robert Pires is thinking about going to Valencia in the sun for two years then really, despite the fact he's a professional and undoubtedly wants to win every game he plays in, he's not going to go that extra mile to ensure the three points come home with us. I'm not suggesting that it's deliberate but if he sees his future away from Arsenal his performances don't have to be top class. He's no longer fighting for his place in the team. What about Gilberto? How many times have we asked for more from him physically? Not just this season either. We rarely get it. What has been amazing this season is how poor his passing game has become and how often he gives the ball away. Our game has always been based on possession but it's no wonder we struggle when we have much less of the ball than we used to. Can he improve? Can he teach himself a whole new way of playing at his age? No, I don't think he can.

As for Freddie, he says "It’s not our way of playing and not our strength, if we’re honest. It’s not a good thing for us to end up playing like that. If people say we’re not the team we were, it’s a valid point."

No doubt about it but then given the injuries we've had this season coupled with the marked decline of some players it's no surprise. I think the manager really thought this summer that the young players were good enough and that playing alongside senior pros who had performed at a high level season after season would bring them along enough for us to challenge. I'm sure he thought it was a gamble and that if it was going to fail it was going to be because of the youngsters not quite having the experience to cope. I suppose that's true to a certain extent but the spate of injuries has been unprecedented - we really have missed what Cole and Clichy (who both play in a behind closed doors friendly against Reading today) bring to the team at left back in spite of how well the stand ins have done. He couldn't possibly have forseen Sol Campbell's histrionics, Robert Pires and Freddie's lack of goals, Gilberto's lack of anything (although to a man we were all afraid that midfield was too weak at the start of the season and so it has been - and to me more than anything that's the root of our problems), and Thierry's reluctance to sign a new deal and the effect that's had.

People might criticise him for placing too much stock in the young players but it's the other way around. He's put too much faith in the senior players, they have let him down and he must be feeling pretty bad about that. It's a vicious circle almost because he needs experience to get him out of this mess but the experience keeps letting him down.

Hopefully in the next week or two we'll get Reyes, Cole, Clichy and van Persie back. Hopefully we'll see what Diaby can do alongside Cesc and hopefully we'll see Walcott push for a first team place. With that quality back and the drive and energy of new players I truly think we have the quality to get fourth place. The manager has the decisions to make though about who's going to play and who merits a place in the team. No matter how badly the players perform at the end of the day the buck stops with Arsene Wenger.


February 15th

This season really is fucking sickening. Another away defeat, another limp away performance and another late, late goal sealing the points for Liverpool. I'm not really going to go into a blow by blow account of the match as there's not much point in me relating to you all the things Liverpool did. In the first half we really didn't do anything but Jens Lehmann made two fantastic saves. One from a Senderos clearance which was looping in and the second from a penalty which our old friend Graham Poll decided to give to Liverpool for precisely fuck all.

There was one nice little interchance which saw Emmanuel Adebayor go through but he was given offside. I'm not convinced though but Sky fairly much glossed over it. From the replays they did show at the time I think we were unlucky as he looked just about level. In the second half Dudek made a save from Henry and Lehmann made another great save from Fowler. He saved from Kewell late on before making another fantastic save from Hamann but Luis Garcia was on hand to score even though again Lehmann nearly got to it. To my mind he's been the best keeper in the Premiership all season and he certainly deserves the new contract that's on offer. We had a late corner and that was it. Another away loss and another vital three points down the toilet.

Now, before I get to the next part let me just say that, despite harsh words sometimes, I love all our players. I love them because they're Arsenal players. They're wearing our shirt and I desperately want each one of them to do well in every game. No matter how badly they've played previously I want them to do well because they're Arsenal players. It makes me feel bad when they don't do well. Unfortunately some of players went missing, yet again, last night.

I realise we have injuries to players who can make a difference. That would certainly have been a different game if we'd have Lauren, Cole, van Persie, Reyes and even a fit and in form Sol Campbell available. That's beside the point though. When we have those players missing there's a bigger responsibility on the players who are there to perform and to give a little bit extra. For me the game was lost in midfield. Basically we only played with two midfielders and I'm being a bit generous there.

First we had Cesc who always wants the ball, who is always looking for a pass, always looking to keep the play moving. He worked hard, tackled and tried to create but suffered for the sins of the others. Then there was Freddie who, in the second half, worked hard, won some headers and put himself about after being a bit sloppy and lazy first half. There just doesn't seem to be any end product to him anymore though and it's mid February and he still hasn't scored a goal in the league. For a player who was never the most creative that's making life hard for us. You take the goals out of his game and he becomes a very average player.

The other two though were just horrible to watch. It makes me sad to see Robert Pires now. As poor as he was in the first half he was totally anonymous in the second and if all he can do when he gets the ball now is cut inside and play a square pass then we really have to question his worth to the team. I know he misses Cole bombing on ahead of him but there was one time last night he could have knocked the ball past Finnan, use the element of surprise as the Liverpool player - like us - certainly wouldn't have been expecting it. Instead he cut inside, played it square and we lost the ball. I think the one year deal he's been offered is about 12 months too long. It says so much about how bad he was that Hleb, who hasn't exactly set the world on fire himself, looked far, far better in the short time he was on the pitch after replacing him.

Then we come to Gilberto again. So much of our play breaks down with him. He wasn't as spectacularly bad as he has been but when we need performances, when we need someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck he's hiding behind the sofa with a pillow over his eyes. He is a huge weakness in our team now. He gives the ball away so often I'm beginning to wonder if he isn't some kind of double-agent. He can talk all he wants about stepping up and helping the young players and how we have to play to win in Madrid but his mouth does all the talking and his feet, which should be doing the talking, are wearing ballet shoes and he's Swan Laking around the pitch. I know Diaby isn't experienced but I'd love to see what he and Cesc could do in the middle. With two players so totally anonymous against such an experienced Liverpool midfield it was always going to be difficult. In this league you cannot afford to carry passengers. You'll get found out and you'll get beaten. Midfield has been weak all season long, it's cost us games and it will continue to do so as long as the manager plays players whose contribution to the game is always minimal at best. It's worth repeating that all of us can deal with a player playing badly when we know they've given their all for the cause. It's when the play badly with such an obvious lack of fight that it becomes frustrating. And when they do it more than once it makes me want to pull what's left of my hair out.

Then we come to the captain. Can you call it an off night? Once he was put through by Cesc but couldn't control it. Once by Freddie but he couldn't control it. There was another time a ball came from our left (can't remember who played it) and he sidefooted it out of the ground nearly. I love Thierry. I love what he's done for the club. I love the goals he's scored, the way he's scored them and the way he's loved scoring them for Arsenal but as long as the contract remains unsigned there's a nagging doubt that his heart isn't in it and when you're like that you can't perform and he isn't performing. Maybe the captaincy doesn't suit him but how do you take it off him now? I want him to stay and I want him to sign a new deal because I think that will make a difference to his game. He's not 100% focussed. I don't want to say he's not 100% committed because, although that's partly true, it can be interpreted the wrong way. What I do think though is that at a time when we're looking for leadership from our captain he's dilly-dallying over whether or not to sign a new deal with us. When things are going well and the team is performing maybe that's not such a big deal but when things are going as badly as they are at the moment I think it's fairly obvious that it's having a negative impact on things.

And even amongst all this hard to take stuff there's some positives to be taken from the defeats and the late goals. I've said all season the young players will learn from this and I'm still convinced they will. This is going to hurt them, certainly more than a player who is deciding whether or not to go play in the sun for a year or two like Bobby, and that hurt creates desire and a hunger to win. They're suffering from not being supported properly by the experienced players but they - and we - will see the benefits of it soon. Maybe not soon enough though.

Afterwards the manager trotted out the usual public phrases about the lads giving everything and sticking together but also said "We lost the ball tonight in some locations where we should not lose the ball and put ourselves in trouble because of that."

Let's hope he sees the reasons behind that and does something about it. Our next match is in 7 days. Against Real Madrid.



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