Open top menu
Jack Wilshere - Potential Finally Coming to Fruition? Arsenal - Red and White Laughing Stock Arsenal v Anderlecht - Match Preview Arsenal Blow Hot and Cold, Again
Moving the deckchairs on the Titanic - Wenger stays.

Tony Pulis let the Wenger sized cat out of the bag on Saturday afternoon, the Arsenal manager confirmed to him that he had signed on for a further term at the helm of the good ship Arsenal Football Club. Sadly, this particular crate is holed beneath the plimsoll line and is taking on water at an alarming rate.

The Arsenal manager is a peculiar character, in that his intelligence is matched only by his arrogance and stubbornness. An Alsatian King Canute, he believes implicitly that he alone has the plan to revitalise the club and make it genuinely competitive once more, despite specific and blindingly clear evidence to the contrary. I actually turned off at half time in the West Brom game on Saturday, we were spineless and clueless. This should have been a great opportunity for Welbeck and Walcott to show England what they were missing by not picking them for the two matches this week, Oxlade Chamberlaine was handed his favoured position and provided little. Xhaka and Ramsey played like they'd just been introduced to each other in the tunnel, much of the passing was rank and Arsenal got what they deserved, nothing. Two shots on target in 90 minutes?

The Baggies, on the other hand were disciplined and scored two identical goals from corners - two! Look at the photo beneath, there are two West Brom players virtually on top of Craig Dawson, and not a single Arsenal player within five feet of him, let alone contesting for the header. That's not schoolboy defending, that's an insult to schoolboy football. This particularly galling to supporters of a certain vintage (like me....) who grew up with centre halves like Peter Simpson, Terry Mancini, Tony Adams and Steve Bould.

Steve Bould is an Arsenal legend, but in crisis times, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. I've mentioned this before, and it may not be popular with Arsenal supporters, but one of Alex Ferguson's greatest strengths was his willingness to shuffle his coaching pack. Over the years he worked with Archie Knox, Brian Kidd, Steve McLaren, Jimmy Ryan, Carlos Querioz and Mike Phelan. Although outwardly he was famously combative, Ferguson actively sought and encouraged advice from all quarters. This was a quality also famously attributed to Herbert Chapman, it was said of Chapman that he would listen to a ball boy if he had something to say. Look at Guardiola's bench, he has specialist coaches for defence, midfield (Arteta indeed) and forward players.

Wenger has been at the Arsenal for over 20 years. His front line coaching staff has been Primorac and Rice and then Primorac and Bould. It's stale, it isn't working. In the first seasons after Wenger's arrival, the excellence of the defensive players he inherited, the shrewd purchases he made and the innovations he introduced, gave Arsenal significant marginal gains in English football. That ship sailed a long time ago, of course he should do the decent thing and walk away, whilst offering to assist in the search for his successor, but he won't. The fact of the matter is that the arrogance that runs through his DNA like writing in a stick of rock, convinces him that he is the only one who can save us.

The only way forward is for Wenger to recruit some new coaching ideas onto his staff, sadly, I don't think he will. Compare and contrast the way Chelsea are set up and play to Arsenal, look at the ways in which Mourinho is prepared to change his formations and look at the conditioning work that Tottenham's squad is putting in. Wenger might drop Monreal for Gibbs, or play Giroud up front instead of sulky Sanchez but that's the limit of his thinking.

So, we have another year (at least) of the blinkered one, further proof, if needed, that as far as the Arsenal board are concerned, turkeys do vote for Christmas.

By Ian Byrne

Read more
In Praise of Danny Welbeck - Pick Him - Play Him

My eight year old, Joe, badgered me to write this, but he was pushing a bit of an open door in truth. I'm a big fan of the 26 year old Mancunian and I'm convinced that Arsenal are a better team when he's playing.

I've heard very positive stories, anecdotal admittedly, about the excellent way Danny handles himself around the club. In contrast with the behaviour of some of our other high profile players (two in particular), Danny is polite, respectful, and concerned about the lower profile employees at Arsenal; cleaners, cooks, ground staff etc.. That counts a lot, because more than ever, footballers are role models for young people and the fact that Danny is always good natured despite the fact that he's suffered horrendous injury problems at Arsenal is indicative of his personal qualities.

The injury issue is obviously the elephant in the room, so let's address it. Danny has suffered from a series of knee problems since his arrival on September 2nd 2014. Prior to this he had experienced some concerns, but his lack of game time but was more due to competition for places. In his time at Manchester United he missed 27 games either at United or on loan at Sunderland. Since 2014/2015 season he has missed 79 games in an Arsenal shirt. It seems that every time he comes back he looks great and then that knee gives in again, the crux of the most recent lay off was damage to the hyaline cartilage. The club's medical team are confident that they have addressed and corrected the core problem, so we can only hope that this is the case.

However, rather than criticise a player for a weakness in one part of his body, I prefer to praise Danny for the courage and tenacity he has displayed each time has suffered a setback. Saying it's "frustrating" doesn't get anywhere near the truth, it must be devastating for a young man who knows that his career may only last until his early 30's. However, Danny is only 26, with his best years definitely ahead of him, and that's one of the reasons why Arsenal should seek to utilise his skills and ability. He has time on his side to be an Arsenal legend.

Danny Welbeck is an unusual footballer, in that his mixture of strength, power and pace, enables him to play in any position across a front three, two, or as a sole striker. He has his critics, I wouldn't describe Danny as a graceful player, his first touch can be a tad sharp, but his qualities have made him an automatic selection for his country. He has 34 caps and has scored 14 goals (2.4 per game), that's an excellent return from someone who has usually started in a wide position.

Two further positive aspects to Danny Welbeck are his fantastic will to win, like it or not, they teach that to young players at Manchester United, the other is his ability to complement the work of those around him. He knows how to link play, he reads the game well and has an implicit understanding of where he needs to be on the pitch at certain times. Again, this is unusual in a relatively young man, but look at the goal he scored last season against Leicester City. Danny knew that this was the last scoring opportunity of an excellent game and strained every fibre to get on the header which won the match.

Since his most recent, and again interrupted return, he looked exceptional in the FA Cup against Southampton and scored the only goal at Anfield, a finish of real dexterity. We are a better, more dangerous attacking force when Danny Welbeck starts for Arsenal. Pick him, play him.

By Ian Byrne

Read more
Can Arsenal reach the FA Cup Final? Maybe.

First things first, thank heavens we avoided Chelsea and Tottenham in the semi final draw. At the moment Chelsea look unplayable and I don't think Arsenal's current form would lead supporters to relish a North London derby in the semi final on the 22nd April. Let's face it, our recent form has been rubbish, we've beaten three teams, two of whom don't play in the football league and Hull City, with a disputed handball goal and a spot kick. We were hammered 10-2 over two legs by Bayern and didn't contest at all in matches at the Bridge and Anfield.

However, as is often the case, we've been lucky. We play City on April 2nd in the league at home and therefore have an opportunity to assess how we might line up against them at Wembley. Also, we do have a chance, less than 50/50 maybe, but a chance nevertheless, to beat the northern lottery winners. Why? Well they play open football and for whole sections of matches, simply refuse to defend, they are just like Arsenal, just better financed and just, well, better.

Apparently, the scan on Harry Kane's ankle is booked for tomorrow with the results within 24 hours. With or without Kane, if we played the Spuds this afternoon, they would beat us. Chelsea could and would knock 3 past us, we're that poor at the moment. So apart from drawing City why are we lucky? In a classic supporter's case of clutching at straws, what we have in our locker is the time to get things back on track. Arsenal's next opponents are:

18th March - WBA - Away
2nd April    - City    - Home
5th April     - West Ham - Home
10th April   - Palace - Away
17th April   - Boro - Away

Admittedly, the two away fixtures are against teams right in the relegation mixer and managed in one case by sometime "nemesis", "Fat Sam". Still these matches offer the opportunity for our esteemed manager to settle on a line up and formation that can get us across the line. There are no Champions league games to complicate planning, we average a game a week, whereas City on the other hand could be heading for a bit of a fixture pile up.

If the Citizens get past Monaco this week, which is eminently possible, they will have to factor in a Champions league quarter final first leg on either April 11th or 12th, with the return leg on the 18th or 19th of April, potentially less than three days before playing Arsenal on Saturday 22nd, this second leg, could also be (of course) away from home.

Therefore, eight matches as opposed to our five, including league fixtures against Liverpool and away at Chelsea. See what I mean? Lucky Arsenal. So my advice, is get in front of the box tomorrow night and cheer on the lads from Manchester, a win might be crucial for the Arsenal.

By Ian Byrne

Read more
Wenger's finished - Step forward Marco Silva?

Let's face it, when ultra loyal old guards like Ian Wright and Martin Keown start shrugging their shoulders rather than defend their old gaffer, the writing is on the wall.

I didn't expect Arsenal to get much out of the away game at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but the teams inability to beat a sturdy, well organised Watford side at home was far worse. Watford are well managed and competitive, but highly beatable for a team with the depth and breadth of 2017 Arsenal.

Ken Early, writing in the Irish Times, sums up the Wenger dichotomy with far more elan and panache than I can summon:, but this is a manager who was telling club supporters, days after beating Southampton's 2nd string 5-0, that this current squad was not the equal of, but better than the Invincibles.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Hull City grab a point at The Emirates on Saturday lunchtime and were that to happen, the clamour for a change at the top may just permeate the inner sanctum of the director's lounge. Apparently, there is a two year extension on the table for Wenger who has gone on record as saying that he would walk away if the team performance was beneath his exacting standards.

Are these the exacting standards that allow the board to reward the manager for coming fourth, because fourth is a trophy? If that is the case, Wenger's pen may as well be hovering over the dotted line today, as only by his own measure, does he continue to make the grade. Therefore, unless pushed, the Frenchman is not for turning.

This prompts three questions. When, what and who? When does the board make the decision to replace Wenger (they have to, as he won't walk)? What are the terms and critically the timing of the replacement? Most important of course - who do Arsenal appoint?

There is every chance of course, that none of the above will happen, but just because the odious owner, Kroenke, is perfectly happy with excellent match receipts, huge cash piles in the bank and continuous Champions League football qualification, it doesn't alter the fact that a change is required and every day becomes more overdue.

Firstly, Wenger shouldn't be sacked, although things have been allowed to go stale, his contribution to Arsenal has been huge and deserves respect. He should be allowed to see out the current contract, but he must not be involved in choosing his replacement. The decision needs to be made sooner rather than later, which gives the CEO as much time as possible to approach and appoint the right man for the job.

There has been some interesting paper talk connecting Juve boss, Max Allegri to Arsenal. I don't buy it. Frankly, years of under investment in the playing squad (with two notable exceptions) have led to an under performance on the pitch, which places London's biggest club well behind Italy's biggest club in the European pecking order. Allegri may well be interested in the riches of the premier league but is likely to pass on a club that stubbornly sits on £200 million every season, "led" by an absent and complacent owner.

Wenger is 67 years old. Guardiola - 46, Klopp is 49, Mourinho - 54. One of the factors that kept Alex Ferguson at the peak of his powers, was his willingness to shuffle his coaching pack and despite appearances to the contrary, actively sought and encouraged questions and challenges to the status quo. Wenger does not do this and never has.

A new Arsenal manager, needs to be young enough to understand modern tactics, the phasing of pressing and counter-attacking football, diet, training regimes, player and competitor analysis, data analytics. But in taking the job of Arsenal manager, they must see it as a personal step up and a massive opportunity. I'm sure that the board will look to existing Champions League experience as a factor on a candidate's CV, but I wouldn't insist on it if other qualities outweighed this.

I've seen a few Arsenal bloggers covet Thomas Tuchel with good reason, great coach, but you would have to question whether he would leave Dortmund for Arsenal.

Which leads me to a suggestion. Our solution may well be pacing around the technical area at Arsenal on Saturday. A 39 year old Portuguese, citizen of Lisbon with a 56% win record, despite three of the four clubs he's managed being behind the curve in terms of size and/or investment. He's currently getting more than a good tune out of Hull City, despite the owners choosing to sell their two best players. He's unified the team, selected a playing style which fits the group and that they can get behind and beaten Manchester United for the first time in over 40 years.

Of course, he wouldn't be a fashionable choice, but neither was Wenger and for the first six years at Arsenal, he was, let's face it, fantastic. I see in Silva, similarities with Pochettinho and of course, Mourinho. Would Arsenal go for him? First things first, someone needs to tell the current manager that the clock has run out.

By Ian Byrne

Read more
Arsenal - Time to try three at the back?

Losing Hector Bellerin has had a significant impact on Arsenal's dynamism and attacking play. The young Spaniard has quickly cemented the right full back berth as his own, elbowing aside Mathieu Debuchy, a full French international with 27 caps, although he is just 21 years old.

Although young Hector is returning to light training, in Arsenal terms this could mean his return could be days or weeks away. Given the availability of two excellent centre halves in Kosielny and Mustafi, augmented by the erratic, but talented Gabriel, is it time for Mr Wenger to try playing three centre backs? I believe that a switch to this approach can reap genuine benefits to the team, especially when Bellerin returns.

Antonio Conte's return to his preferred defensive formation has seen Chelsea flourish, in fact they are yet to lose a point since moving to three at the back. Ironically, it was the 3-0 drubbing handed to the West London by Arsenal that convinced Conte to switch and since then they have won seven league matches on the bounce, conceding a single goal.

Conte used the system throughout his tenure at Juventus and as national coach of Italy. He was able to do this as he was blessed to have three centre halves in Barzagli, Chiellini and Bonucci, that provided an immensely solid platform, understanding implicitly that their primary function is to defend. The three at the back system also propelled a talented, resourceful Welsh team to the semi finals of the Euros, Chris Coleman exploiting the balance of his team to pack midfield whilst also being able to play two up front.

The critical hinge on which the system succeeds or fails, is the availability of fast wing backs, preferably natural full backs, but the system also opens up the possibility of playing wide players with defensive nous. Bellerin is certainly in that category, Monreal can play the role and it would definitely play to Kieran Gibbs' strengths. The other direct benefit is that the manager can play two forwards with a number 10 playing directly behind and in a central position. Therefore, when fit, Arsenal could play Sanchez, Giroud and Ozil. Furthermore, you can also play with one or two holding midfielders, Arsenal's first eleven could line up as follows:

Cech: Koscielny, Mustafi, Gabriel: Bellerin, Xhaka, Cazorla, Ozil, Monreal: Sanchez, Giroud.

Arsenal have used the system before, in the utter delirium of May 26th 1989, it is often overlooked that George Graham used all three of his centre halves, admittedly in more of a back five!

By Ian Byrne

Read more
Wenger Bottles his Last Chance - Timidity in the market to cost Arsenal dear

Brian Clough famously said that: "Every player is available - for the right price". Clough regularly infuriated chairmen at Derby County, Leeds and Forest, by signing footballers for prices deemed over the odds, but justified this because the players he bought would often fundamentally improve the quality of his squad. When he signed Dave McKay then aged 32, McKay's £16,000 a year salary, was the highest in all four football leagues, at this point Derby County were 18th in the old division 2. That's risk taking for you.

Arsene Wenger has re-written the rule book at Arsenal. Initially in a constructive, positive manner through the introduction of new training techniques, scouting new territories, diet etc... Latterly however, it is clear that the internal constitution that governs Arsenal as of 2016, has one principle architect, author and guardian. The club is made in Wenger's image and no manager in history, has enjoyed the exclusive control he does. He has a supplicant board and an indulgent owner, content to allow the Frenchman free reign, as long as the key financial criteria that define the club's ambitions are met. 

What puzzles me, is why this all powerful polyglot, and self absorbed leader, is so willing to abide by the rules laid down by others is the transfer market. One of the more irritating quotes in the Wenger self-justification canon is "we didn't know that he was available". Every transfer window, Wenger and his team under-perform in the market, as whereas other clubs target the very best, players who are the most prized members or teams and squads, Arsenal target the "available". 

Although the summer window has concluded in a broadly satisfactory manner, you can't help think that this is a chance missed.

The summer started brightly and early, Granit Xhaka signing for £35 million in May was a positive declaration of intent, especially as our sharpest competitors often conclude their transfer business swiftly. Xhaka gives Arsenal more midfield presence, he likes a tackle and is combative with controlled aggression and a fine passer of the ball. Furthermore, he looked a player in the Euros, an effective demonstration of his value to the club.

After this however, an activity vacuum. Rob Holding was recruited on July 22nd. Holding was obviously "one for the future", but has ended up playing all three games of the season so far. I like him and I have a funny feeling that he may, ultimately, be the best Arsenal signing of 2016, but he was on loan at Bury last season. For a good while it seemed that these two (I've purposefully discounted the other two fringe signings), would be the totality of Arsenal's business.

Over a month later and right at the end of the window, Arsenal added Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, for £36 million and £17 million respectively. I do feel that Mustafi is the type of pedigree centre half we needed to sign but, and I hope I'm wrong, does a £17 million outlay for a striker engender a feeling of confidence? Again, we can wait and see, but the biggest hole in the Arsenal first 11 last season, was a 20+ goal striker.

Arsenal did spend over £90 million - well done, 6 out of 10, but both the Manchester clubs spent double this amount, Chelsea invested £140 million, for most of the window, Arsenal lagged £5 million behind Watford in money spent. This might be Wenger's last season and as such you might have suspected he would be tempted to aggressively pursue a centre forward that would fundamentally change Arsenal's prospects for the new season. We offer Champions League football, we are based in one of Europe's greatest and most cosmopolitan cities, we have lorry loads of cash in the bank - £17 million for an uncapped 27 year old from Deportivo who has been on the list for months? 

Another opportunity spurned, I fear that our title rivals may be over the hill by Christmas.

Read more
I've started to hate watching Arsenal

Another installment in Arsenal's underwhelming season. Crystal Palace are a decent, competitive team, but 16th in the league before yesterday's kick off, some good players but eminently beatable. But what was so frustrating about yesterday's performance wasn't the result, it was the manner of the display.

Alan Pardew is a competent, shrewd coach, and up until Christmas his South London team were over performing against expectations and our 2-1 victory at Selhurst Park was a good result - it's a hard place to win, but we needed an own goal to do so. We also played the Eagles in August, when the majority of matches go to the form guide. Nevertheless, they should have been there for the taking yesterday, they were pretty much safe from relegation, and with a point from the Emirates, certainly are now.

Before watching the Arsenal V Palace match, I'd seen most of the Old Firm SFA Cup semi final and Leicester V West Ham. These were blood and thunder games, you'd be staggered if Celtic V Rangers wasn't and for Leicester, needing three wins (and still doing so), the fixture against West Ham was huge. Both matches didn't disappoint, thoroughly enjoyable, passionate examples of British football, not necessarily at it's best, but with all the composite values associated with football on this island; passion, energy, tackling, spite, anger, aggression, commitment.

How many of these were really on display yesterday in north London? It's a slight misunderstanding, that Arsenal's footballers aren't passionate about their club. They are very aware of their responsibilities and I'm sure were "gutted" not to beat a team anchored to the bottom of the league at home, the manager seems to receive most of the criticism, but the players have to hold their hands up too. I saw a lot of performances like yesterday in the 1980's at Highbury, mainly in the earlier part of the decade when we were manged by the late Don Howe. 

From 1980 onwards (until 1986) Arsenal never looked like winning anything, we would usually qualify or the UEFA Cup, but that was it. Accordingly, matches were tepid, we were missing quality footballers never replaced and we had become a faded shadow of ourselves, employing a mix of "over the hill" players there for the cash and the prestige and some youths with heart but whose lack of accomplishment pointed to a failing picture within the club. Simply, we were crap and we knew it.

Attendances suffered, looking at programmes from the period, average gates rarely troubled the counter much past the 30,000 mark. So it's very difficult to under estimate the huge change that the arrival of George Graham brought in 1986. There wasn't a revolution as such, George, a real Arsenal man, understood what needed to be done. Standards which had slipped were rigorously tightened, he was even nicknamed Gadaafi due to the extent of his despotic demands. He put in place a clear footballing philosophy, worked closely with the youth set up and started giving those players a chance and bought cannily; Smith, Bould, Dixon etc...players we needed.

Three things happened; Arsenal started winning, attendances went up, the crowd started to enjoy their football again. What we were watching wasn't Ajax 1971, but we could understand what the manager an his players were trying to achieve and correspondingly we got behind our club. Match days in the late 80's were fantastic, the semi final against Everton when there were over 50,000 is one of my favourite games ever,

Thirty years on I can't say the same. I don't look forward to matches with anything apart from trepidation, I'm sick of seeing us lose sloppy goals, like Bolasie's equaliser yesterday and Cart Horse Carroll's hat trick last week, but we don't threaten much either. We don't inspire any more, we flatter to deceive, but in every game there are moments of true excellence and that seems to be sufficient for the manager and his coaching team to believe that "we are still going in the right direction". Well, we're not are we? It's patently clear to anyone watching that this isn't working.

We're a bit crap, we know it and so does everybody else.

By Ian Byrne

Read more
Wenger - Stalin to Mr Bean

Fact - Football supporters have very short memories and very little sense of perspective.

Back in the "dark days" at Arsenal, when the club had sacked George Graham and were pondering whether recruiting Bruce Rioch would be a good idea, I remember saying to a fellow supporter, that I'd be happy with any manager able to pick a team capable of putting a few passes together. I suppose I was demonstrating exactly the lack of perspective that I see in spades on twitter after the latest setback affecting Arsenal Football Club.

Let's not forget that although those days seemed pretty grim, it was only two years after a period when Arsenal had won five trophies (two leagues) in a six year span. My gripe, and that's all it was, a gripe, was that Arsenal were falling behind our competitors in terms of playing style and competitive calibre. To be frank, the football in the last few months under George was poor, his early teams were unfairly criticised for being long ball and gung ho, but in the last days, that criticism was very valid.

Bruce Rioch was appointed, and the football did improve - marginally, that Arsenal had paid £7.5 million to acquire the services of Denis Bergkamp obviously helped, but the manager lasted only one season. In 1996, Arsenal shocked English football by recruiting a largely unknown (I had no clue who he was...) Frenchman, then managing a team in Japan. 

The rest is history, and it really is, Wenger won the double in his first full season, built one of the most exciting sides seen in any league, shattered Manchester United's dominance, fundamentally changed the way football was coached and managed in England, as well as leading the strategy for the building of new training facilities and a brand new 60,000 stadium. Such was Wenger's involvement in the delivery of the new Colney that he had a say on the design of the coffee cups.

20 years on and he's still with us. His salary is reputed to be somewhere between £9 million and £11 million a year, his position at the club seems to be as solid as reinforced granite - in effect,  the Chief Executive reports to him, but after some encouraging results this season, the inability to beat Watford, Swansea, a frankly crap Manchester United side are looking exactly what they are, indications of a manager whose tactics and overall approach aren't cutting the mustard anymore. 

The Stalin - Mr Bean quote was levelled at the former iron Chancellor, Gordon Brown by Vince Cable in the House of Commons (apparently they are good friends....) and perfectly summed up the then PM's demise. Brown, like Wenger, seemed to be the last to realise that his powers had waned and he found himself in the type of negative mode, whereby, the harder he tried to get things right, the more they went wrong.

Sadly, our glorious leader finds himself in the same, leaky boat. Arsenal haven't played well for months, we were proficient against Tottenham, did a "good job" against City at home, but haven't played really well since beating Manchester United 3-0 in October 2015. It's the same every week, we swarm around opposition team's massed defences because they invite us to do so, as they know that's how to play us. Sanchez, a genuine top draw footballer, collects the ball wide and turns inside the full back time and time again - almost always nullified by a centre half, Joel Campbell can't buy a regular starting berth, neither can Danny Welbeck. Match after match we create a host of half chances convert the odd one, here and there and rarely look like winning unless we score first.

We will get hammered in the Nou Camp, and will probably draw, at best at Goodison Park. So in the space of three weeks we will find ourselves out of every competition. Tragically, the nature of corporate management and ownership dictates that we are stuck with our odious, unambitious owner and board of directors. For the record, they are the real problem, but their go-to man, who collects over £27,000 a day, must answer for another season of disappointment.

He's a class act and his done great things for Arsenal, so he deserves a dignified exit and conclusion to his 20 year tenure, but it must end.

By Ian Byrne

Read more