Good morning and welcome to a brand new week, one that is going to be dominated by one event and one event only: Arsenal v Barcelona in the Champions League.
Wolves is already forgotten but it has provided us with an excellent platform going into this game. Newcastle was a blip, and a very large, painful blip at that, but it wasn’t really representative of the current form this team is enjoying. Since the 1-0 defeat at Natalie Portman Road Arsenal’s record is: W – W – W – W – W – W – D – W. Not too shabby at all.
Despite near constant complaints from some fans we’re 2nd in the league, just four points behind United, and right in this title race. We’re in the Carling Cup final. Still in Europe, still in the FA Cup, and for once our injury record isn’t as horrendous as normal. There’s plenty to be positive about and while the idea of Barcelona is a worry to any team I think we’re in much better shape going into these games than we were last season.
I think the confidence that winning games and producing positive results brings is evident in what some of the players are saying before the game. Cesc wants his team to stand up and be counted:
We don’t have to worry too much about them – we just have to play with no fear and play our game. We respected them too much last season.
While Jack Wilshere talks about Arsenal’s approach:
We’ve got to change our game a bit. We need to get in their faces and win the ball back, if you like, be a bit nasty with them. We have to press them as a team.
Which isn’t really changing our game. Think back to Chelsea and the relentless way Arsenal pressed the champions, forcing mistakes and capitalising on them. We have to do the same on Wednesday. If you think back to the game at the Grove last season at least one of the goals came about when Arsenal stood off when Barcelona had the ball, allowing a pass over the top to Ibrahimovic. There’s no need to talk about the quality they have but allowing them time and space when they have the ball will let them show it.
There also appears to be good news regarding Samir Nasri. The manager has been talking about his availabilty:
I will not take a crazy gamble, but physically he is ready. There is just a risk of him suffering a setback, so we will test him medically and physically. There are other important games coming up – we have Leyton Orient in the FA Cup, and the Carling Cup final, and the return game in Barcelona in three weeks. So it is important not to be stupid.
I suppose he has a big decision to make all the same. Arshavin’s form has improved considerably over the last few weeks but when one of the big tasks of the evening will be to provide cover for Clichy as he tries to cope with the twin threat of Messi and the marauding Alves you can’t help but have some doubts. To be fair to him he’s shown a much greater willingness, and ability, to get back and help out defensively, but a fit Nasri would do that more naturally as well as provide an attacking threat.
As the boss says though, it’s about weighing up what’s best for the rest of the season. If he throws in Nasri and he has a setback it’ll be a big blow. If the medical reports say he’s 100% then go for it, but anything that involves a gamble should be avoided. Arsene could play roulette with a wheel made up entirely of red and still lose.
There’s still so much to talk about ahead of this game. I haven’t felt this kind of anticipation for a long time and I know some people would have preferred an ‘easier’ draw in the Champions League but this really is what it’s all about. Barcelona are the best team in the world right now and to pitch ourselves against them is truly the essence of football. Which sounds like a dodgy fragrance, and one I wouldn’t choose to wear personally, but there you go. As I said, more to come on this over the next couple of days.
In other news the FA have reacted, eventually, to the ubiquity of social media and the fact that players are using it willy-nilly. In a statement they said:
Participants should be aware that comments made on such sites may be considered public comment, and that further to FA Rule E3, any comments which are deemed improper, bring the game into disrepute, or are threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting may lead to disciplinary action.
I found the fact they referred to Facebook, Twitter and ‘Internet blogs’ quite amusing, and probably representative of their knowledge. Can we assume all other kinds of blogs are fair game then? When I posted this on Twitter yesterday there was quite the reaction from people who felt the FA were being heavy-handed, Stasi-esque hardliners who were cracking down, but I think all they’re doing is reminding players of the rules already in existence.
While I have no great love for officialdom I also happen to think Arsenal players taking to Twitter to have a pop is counter-productive. The players have to realise that what they say on Twitter etc is in the public domain so its going to fall under the same scrutiny as a post-match interview, for example. They know better than to criticise refs when the cameras are on so the same should apply to social media.
Now, don’t take it for a second that I think referees are beyond reproach and are exempt from criticism but there’s an issue that’s relevant to the game in general, not just the Premier League. Ok, Phil Dowd is annoying and Mike Dean a twat, but if players’ Twitter accounts became free game for them to castigate officials I think it would have a knock-on effect that would make the lives of refs up and down the country much more difficult. And not just in the professional game. If Johnny Twelvepints sees his favourite player criticising a top official without control what hope does the Sunday league ref have? Their job is is hard enough already – and I speak from personal experience … of calling Sunday League refs names.
So nothing has changed, no new rules have been introduced, and while it’s frequently frustrating that the feedback procedure regarding referees is so weighted in their favour, players and managers know the rules already. There’s still scope for fans, pundits, media etc to make an issue of poor officiating. Players have a different relationship to them than we do and like it or not that should be respected.
Now, I’ve got to wrap up this internet blog for today, then send some online emails before hitting up some world wide web Twitter.