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Cometh the hour, cometh Podolski

When Arsenal signed Mesut Özil, the expectation level was huge, justifiably so, he’d cost the club £42,500,000. Lukas Podolski cost Arsenal less than a quarter of the Özil fee, but in many ways, he should be just as important to Arsenal’s fortunes.

A quick glance at Podolski’s career statistics and you can be forgiven to wondering why Arsenal didn’t pay £25 million + for him, after all, we sold Adebayor for that figure to the pale blue shirted lottery winners. In a nutshell, you’re looking at a wide playing forward who, when fit, scores a goal every other game, with 111 international appearances for Germany (46 goals) by the age of 28. He also turns up for the big games for his (adopted) country as well, he was the most promising young player of the 2006 World Cup, beating Ronaldo and Messi and the second highest scorer in 2010.

Lukas was injured in scoring against Fenerbache in late August and it’s taken a long time for him to return, but now he’s back I think he’s going to be vital for a few reasons:
  • Giroud badly needs a rest
  • Podolski could and should be in the top three strikers in the premier league
  • He’s at his peak, 28 years old is exactly when a top quality player knows what to do to win games
  • What can we expect from a partnership of Podolski and Özil? I’d love to know the number of assists Özil has provided for Podolski’s 46 goals?
I am slightly surprised that he’s been held back until yesterday, but, and this is an over-used phrase, he really is like a new signing.

Always lovely to win local derbies and although we huffed and puffed against West Ham, once we had equalised I thought it was going to be a question of how many we’d score. Nevertheless, it’s crucial that Arsenal don’t make silly mistakes and it’s clear that the frequency of games and the limitations of the depth of the squad are starting to take its toll. When Arsenal were on the great run, a feature was the way the whole of the team was defending by pressing the opposition and putting huge pressure on the ball. This hasn’t been quite as evident and it’s not down to desire but tired legs, Mr Wenger will know this, but he needs to be bold enough to risk rotating. Giroud, Özil, Matersacker, Gibbs and Szczęsny all need a break.

We have three games in just over a week, obviously home to Cardiff is an opportunity to rest a few, but I’d suggest giving Giroud, Özil and Mertesacker a break until Spurs at home in the FA Cup on the 4th January. We have Wilshere back for the trip to the north east and Koscielny should be fit as well. Start Podolski and Walcott up front and play Flamini.

Arsenal have been top of the league for longer than at any time since the 2007 – 2008 season and I think we’re right in the mix. We still have Oxlade Chamberlain to come back and the window opens in five days. I know that we’d love to see a recognised “big name” striker, but that isn’t going to happen, these rumours about Diego Costa are ridiculous, but it is a good opportunity to buy a central defender, who can cover one of the full back roles.

By Ian Byrne
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Ashley Cole - 100% Villain?

Ashley Cole made his 100th appearance for England in a friendly game against Brazil, he currently has 106 caps – level with Bobby Charlton. This is a fantastic achievement for any professional footballer and Cole is only the seventh English player to hit 100 caps. However, did reaching this pinnacle do anything to alter the way he is viewed by Arsenal supporters? I doubt it, but I think it’s worth considering the bigger picture on this, and I also feel that if Cole is capable of quiet reflection, he should thank his lucky stars he was fortunate enough to begin his career at Arsenal.

I know that I’m supposed to automatically insert a “c” in front of Cole’s Christian name in any Arsenal blog, but I’d like to consider whether there is a case for acknowledging his contribution to Arsenal’s second most successful period in history? I’m not suggesting that the slate be wiped clean, but at the same time, I believe that the situation is more complex and there’s a greater degree of context required to explain this complicated individual. After all, up until 2005, Cole’s commitment to the Arsenal cause was unquestionable. He genuinely loved the club, the supporters and the team he was a vital part of. He won 3 FA Cups, 2 titles and is an Invincible. My contention is that, Arsenal’s penny pinching also contributed to the breakdown of relations between club and player and there are lessons we should learn from this.

Cole wasn’t the first (and definitely won’t be the last), to leave Arsenal to earn more money. A big difference between Cole’s generation and that of older footballers is that they were allowed a private life and contract negotiations in particular were conducted in secret, usually without the interference of agents. Of course many current players actively court attention only to bitterly complain when the tabloids start to report the unwanted negative stories.

However, compare and contrast the way that Frank Stapleton and Liam Brady are viewed by Arsenal supporters in retrospect, compared to Cole, and more recently, Nasri and Van Persie. I’m sure that Liam was impeccable in his dealings with the club when he was managing his exit from Arsenal to join Juventus, but Stapleton? Allegedly, the nature of his attitude to meetings when he was lobbying to join Manchester United left a bad taste in several mouths at N5, but details about the meetings weren’t leaked and Stapleton never splashed the details all over an autobiography. But wanting to leave Arsenal for more money is nothing new; it’s just that players are under the microscope more these days.

I’m convinced that Cole is his own worst enemy and there’s rightly no way back for anyone, who when offered £55,000 per week to play the game they love, reacts by saying that “I almost crashed my car in disgust”. But Cole is a central figure in the “Entitled Generation” of footballers who believe that they must be treated fundamentally differently than the rest of us. So to what respect can some of his behaviour be explained by his membership of this exclusive club and the prevalent hegemony in place amongst its inner circle? At the time of the events Cole was 24 years old, and to say he could have been advised better is something of an understatement.

By the way, it’s also important to remember that he was after £60,000, Arsenal’s refusal to push the financial envelope (seemingly a constant factor) was the final piece in the jigsaw that set in play the events that created the major reason for Arsenal supporters dislike of Cole. The meeting at the Royal Park Hotel on Sunday 30th January, 2005.

Cole finally burnt his bridges with Arsenal and its supporters by taking part in this high profile and very public meeting with among others, Mourinho and Peter Kenyon. This meeting led to an 18 month ban for Cole’s agent and initially, cumulative fines of more than £700,000. Cole had committed a dreadful act of disloyalty, irrespective of whether or not the club reneged on an agreement to pay a certain weekly wage, Arsenal deserved better. But over time, Cole seems to have carried the entire can, Chelsea’s behaviour was worse; they’re supposed to know better and the agents as usual, just saw the pound signs and beggared the consequences. Also Arsenal, 5 grand a week....

I’m conscious that the one truth here is that Arsenal’s supporters were the only ones completely devoid of blame. Cole behaved very, very badly, but he was a young man and I think it’s fair to say that he may not be the most analytical of individuals. In the aftermath, forced into a corner (by his own actions) he did what most footballers would do, he came out fighting, players these days have a very simple logic – you are either 100% for them or against them. Cole’s spiky personality made things worse; he now seemed to look for opportunities to demonstrate his newly found anti-Arsenal credentials. But should this erase the fact that, up until this point, he had been very committed to and focused on winning trophies with Arsenal?

It’s natural to want to verbally abuse a player who leaves in the circumstances Cole did, my contention is that sometimes, after a reasonable period of time, it’s important to take into account the 360 degree view. Cole’s been gone for over six years, I remain glad to see the back of him, but Arsenal isn’t 1984. Just because a player acts selfishly, crudely and shows poor judgement, there’s no automatic reason to airbrush him out of our history and don’t forget that although Cole may have won more caps as a Chelsea player, his status as the best left back in the world (which he was until very recently) is more down to his time in N5 than SW6.

By Ian Byrne

Originally published on
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Italian Police take Arsenal fans back to the 1980’s

I’ve been watching Arsenal since the 1970’s and remember vividly how travelling supporters were treated during that and the following decade – no better than cattle, but of the psychotic, knife wielding variety. The police believed that every game was destined to dissolve into bloodshed and matches were “bathed in the half light of violence” (Nick Hornby – Fever Pitch).However, over the years the attitude of the police has improved dramatically, as the behaviour of the fans has improved. Sadly, last Wednesday the Italian authorities and their unarmed and armed police thought it best to go back to the old days.

Sir William Garrow was the first to coin the phrase “the presumption of innocence” in the 19th century. It is a fundamental and critical aspect of our society and the basis of our legal system. However, it’s obviously been lost on the Police and Carabinieri of southern Italy.

I found Naples a great place. It’s a lively, bustling city that’s seen better days (haven’t we all?) but you can get a fantastic seafood lunch with a bottle of house wine for ten euros, and the local people are generous, spirited and very friendly. Before the game last Wednesday we came across Napoli supporters who were on the excitable end of the “lively spectrum”, but there was no issue or confrontation. They simply get on with their pre-match preparations, which appears to be winding themselves into a lather by shouting “Napoli” at great volume whilst waving blue and white scarves round their heads – knife wielding nutters? No. Let’s not forget that the only man convicted of the attack preceding the home game against Napoli, came from the charming Amalfi hamlet of Portsmouth.

Therefore the precautions taken by the local police, presumably with the complete support of Arsenal Football Club are extraordinary. We were told that to attempt to travel to the San Paolo would be suicidal, so therefore to use the buses laid on for supporters from the sea front.

These were due to leave in two trenches at 6.30pm and 7.30pm; the game was to kick off at 8.45pm. When Arsenal sent out the tickets we were told that rigid security checks were in place and each ticket would be uniquely printed to the identity of the purchaser. We would have to be able to provide photo ID to support the complex procedures put in place. When the tickets arrived, Arsenal had written our names on the front in biro, that must be what they meant by “rigid security checks”.

On arrival at the bus assembly point, a line of tooled up Carabinieri shouted “tickets”, we showed them whichever piece of paper came to hand first and they let us on the buses. That was it, no ID required, I could have held up a ticket for the 43 bus and they would have let me on (quite apt…)

After going nowhere quickly initially, we set off at 7.45pm. The “authorities” and I suspect that this includes Arsenal, decided that we could only arrive at the San Paolo after every single Napoli fan was inside. So we went round the city, and then we went round the city again and again. Stadio San Paolo is eight miles from the port (25 minutes top); we eventually arrived at 8.55pm, the game had kicked off at 8.45pm untroubled by our non-attendance. Thus far, this could be described as poorly planned and shoddily executed, but we had arrived, late, pissed off admittedly but we’d got there.

The next five minutes could be described as ridiculous, were it not for the very real chance that things could have turned genuinely ugly, very quickly. This was principally down to the Arsenal supporters exercising mature restraint and keeping calm despite severe provocation to the contrary from the Italian police. They had decided to form a barricade across the road leading to the entry gate, with a small opening in the centre whereby one or two supporters could get through at a time. Hard to tell, as there were some supporters already in the ground, but I would estimate that between two and three hundred supporters got off the buses at the same time, having been taken on a wild goose chase for 80 minutes  and were then herded towards a line of police who had decided to create a bottle neck.

It was preposterous as it was exactly tactics like these that have created disasters in the past. As Arsenal supporters (quite understandably) started shouting their frustration, the local commander decided to call in police clad in riot gear. Everyone, I think, got through in one piece, but had we been, how can I say this? A different “type” of supporter, it could have been carnage. After getting through the barricade and while queueing to get into the stadium, I saw a collection of Arsenal stewards, completely conspicuous in their absence up to this point.

At half time, I found them keeping a low profile sitting together. I had the following exchange with one of them:
“Did you see what happened on the way in?”
“Yes, it was dreadful; they treated you like high security prisoners”
“What action are you planning to take?”
“Our manager is going to write a strongly worded letter to UEFA”.
So, there you go, a strongly worded letter, I bet UEFA will be quaking in their boots about that. As for the game, we played well enough for the first half, but we’re starting to look a bit jaded and I think the lack of depth in the squad will cost us this year.

As for the Napoli supporters? Fantastic, noisy, committed and whole hearted their coppers on the other hand…..

By Ian Byrne

Originally published on
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