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16.3.15
3-1 down, 3-0 up? Monaco V Arsenal & Arsenal V Anderlecht

Almost 45 yeas ago, in April 1970, Arsenal ended a 17 year trophy drought by reversing a 3-1 first leg defeat, what are the chances of achieving a positive outcome tomorrow? 

An encouraging league win against West Ham on Saturday and a tub thumping FA Cup victory at Old Trafford have helped to banish the feelings of recrimination that followed the debacle of the home leg against Monaco. But how confident can Arsenal supporters really feel?



Those of us lucky enough to have been at the San Siro in 2003 when Arsenal humiliated Internazionale 5-1, can testify to Arsenal's ability as a club to reverse difficult situations (Inter had beaten us 3-0 in the group fixture at Highbury), but this was a team that was to go unbeaten the next season and included Henry, Pires, Ljundberg, Cole etc....

However, I feel that there are closer parallels with the Inter Cities Fairs Cup Final of 1970. Bertie Mee had inherited the mantle of manager from Billy Wright in 1966. Arsenal had lost two successive Wembley finals against Leeds United and amazingly, Swindon Town in 1968 and 1969 respectively. This was an unloved and under-rated Arsenal side, made up of journeymen and home products. They had beaten an excellent Ajax team 3-0 in the first leg of the semi final, that included the Rudi Krol, Pier Keizer and the great Johann Cruyff. The programme on that day suggested that the Dutchman would represent good value for any club able to "find the £200,000" sufficient to buy him.



The Anderlecht team also outmatched the Arsenal players on paper with another Dutchman, Jan Mulder their stand-out footballer. True to form Anderlecht were winning 3-0 with ten minutes to go, when Mee replaced 19 year old Charlie George with the 19 year old Ray Kennedy. Kennedy's header kept Arsenal in the tie, just. 

Apparently this was one of those moments when cometh the hour cometh the man as Frank McLintock's rallying speech in the dressing room afterwards raised both the players and staff's spirits. Bob Wilson said later that "you could say that the second leg was won at that point".

The second leg was played at Highbury on the 28th April. There was a similarity between the Arsenal of then and now, as the 1970 team was consistently compared (unfavourably) to the great teams of the past, in the same way that this side is compared to the Invincibles. This was used by Mee as a call to arms and the Arsenal men were super-charged from the off.

Eddie Kelly scored a thunderbolt (YouTube it) on 25 minutes, but despite dominating proceedings Arsenal left it late before scoring two quick goals from Radford and Sammels on 72 and 76 minutes. Victory was secured and the drought broken. This trophy success is often over-looked, it was played in April to make way for England's defence of the World Cup and is over-shadowed by the double of 1970-1971.



The lessons of football history teach us that hope is the one characteristic common to all teams. Why shouldn't we feel that we can beat Monaco? 3-0 might be a stretch, but 3-1 takes us to extra time. One thing is certain, Arsenal can't play as badly as they did in the first half. Walcott was obviously given a start on Saturday to see if his pace could trouble the French team's defenders. Giroud is bang in form and signs are that even Ozil might be willing to play a significant part.

So keep your fingers crossed, you never know.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me at @RightAtTheEnd
































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12.3.15
Arsenal V United - 2 Games That Defined a Rivalry

I was at Old Trafford the last time we beat Manchester United, just over 12 years ago, 17th September 2006. This was eighteen months before the 2008 global financial meltdown, Tony Blair was PM, and the Scissor Sisters were number 1. 

Failure to win at the Theatre of Muppets in multiple previous visits has meat that the fabled rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United has faded considerably. However, United's inability to replace Alex Ferguson, has led to the preferred choice of the under-40 glory hunter, finding themselves in the territory of the "fight for fourth", Arsenal's chosen stomping ground, since, well about 2006, the last time we had won at Old Trafford.

This is a real shame, Arsenal and Manchester United are two of England's greatest teams and although at the moment, it seems that City and Chelsea, the southern and northern lottery winners have things their own way, there are signs, from north London at least, that momentum is starting to build, albeit at a stealthy pace.

In a spirit of nostalgia, however, let's consider two games, from a time long ago, which would define a 20 year rivalry between two giants. I went to both, and paid £5 and £6 respectively to stand throughout both matches. 

20th February 1988 - Arsenal 2 Manchester United 1 - FA Cup 5th Round

It's easy to forget that George Graham had been in situ at Highbury for six months before Ferguson took over the reigns at Old Trafford. United had beaten Arsenal in the league a fortnight before this FA Cup tie and the score was 2-1 to Arsenal when the referee awarded the visitors a penalty, warranted as well, Micky Thomas clipped Norman Whiteside. Before this, an Alan Smith header and an own goal courtesy of Gordon Strachan had given Arsenal a two goal lead. United had got back into the game via a Brian McClair volley.



Three minutes before the final whistle, who should step up to take the penalty, but goal scorer Choccy McClair. McClair composed himself, took a five pace run up and blasted the ball over the bar, well over the bar, it actually sailed just feet under the gantries of the North Bank. Arsenal's left back, Nigel Winterburn (Nutty) decided to console McClair with a few kind words:

"You're shit you are..."

There were further words exchanged, but a fuse was lit, with the inevitable explosion occurring two years later.

20th October 1990 - Manchester United 0 Arsenal 1 - League Division One

At this point in the journey of both clubs, Arsenal had won the league less than 18 months before at Anfield, but United's long wait for the elusive league title went on. By the time Alex Ferguson would get his hands on the trophy, two and a half years later, it had changed shape, and name.

This match is remembered exclusively for the 21 man brawl in the 2nd half, but the winner that day was scored by Anders Limpar. A fabulous solo goal where he brought the ball in along the goal line and beat the keeper at the near post from a tight angle, right in front of the away supporters. In those days, we used to be squeezed in behind the goal with the home supporters directly behind us, so they could throw sharpened coins at our backs and necks for 90 minutes.



The "infamous" brawl was ignited by Winterburn, going in late on Denis Irwin - to be fair, these days the challenge could have resulted in a red card, unless your name is Oscar, or Gary Cahill. As Winterburn and Irwin tried to disentangle themselves, admittedly while screaming and goading each other, who should arrive, but emotionally bruised Choccy McClair. This time his aim was deadly accurate, as a succession of kicks connected perfectly with the prone figure of Nigel Winterburn, In fact, he was doing so well, it was probably unnecessary for Irwin to join in, but he did.

Players piled in from all over the pitch and the referee Keith Hackett battled to restore order. The pushing and shoving (which is actually what it was), went on for about half a minute. Hackett then booked Winterburn and bizarrely, Limpar. Arsenal were docked two points, United one. Work that out if you can.

An interesting footnote, this was the "almost" invincible season and sadly the fact that Arsenal lost only one game that year, 2-1 away at Chelsea, is often overlooked. Arsenal's error was to come within 90 minutes of an unbeaten season two years before the creation of The Premiership and the arrival of BSkyB, who would have us believe that football before 1993 was as popular as floodlit competitive hopscotch.

After our thumping win against our real rivals on Sunday, I can't wait for Wednesday. Let's hope Unai picks the right mix of players (probably the team from the 2nd half against the tots) and shows the same canniness he's displayed in terms of tactical change and substitutions. 2-1 Arsenal.

By Ian Byrne

Follow me @RightAtTheEnd







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3.3.15
Mesut Özil - He pisses me right off!

Perceived wisdom dictates that it may take a season for a footballer used to playing in leagues other than the premiership to get to terms with English football. After all, it took Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and even the God-like Dennis Bergkamp, a significant time to settle and demonstrate their best for the club. Even so, there are exceptions to the rule, Alexis Sanchez seemed to adapt very quickly and almost from the off, his performances were excellent (although he's been under par lately).

Mesut Özil, cost £42.5 million, shattering Arsenal's previous record. This has direct implications for club and supporter. Firstly, it's a sack load of cash, even for an organisation with Arsenal's enviable cash reserves. From our perspective, it weakens our moral high horse - it makes it more difficult when discussing football with supporters of Chelsea, and the two Manchester clubs, where we point out the difference between them and us, you know the one; principally that they are cheque book clubs, whereas we develop teams rather than taking the easy but expensive route of success through substantial player investment, in short you buy success.



At Real Madrid, Özil was a superstar, never quite a Glactico, but he was the assist king of La Liga. He burst onto the scene at World Cup of 2010, when he was considered one of the top three performers at the tournament. However, we all know how good he was before he came to Arsenal, it's his performances since his arrival that matter to me and hopefully to him.

Let's get the nonsense out of the way first, you can read a lot from a player's body language, but your stuck with the boat race God gave you. Mesut's pinched, forlorn, exasperated features don't do him any favours. His body language is another issue however. Sky are running an excellent series of half hour portraits on greats of the premiership (as Sky believe that football didn't exist in any serious form before 1993). Miss the Tony Adams episode at your peril. Tony's on pitch actions and reactions to events are on another planet to the tepid mewlings of Özil. How many times have you seen him lose the ball and then shrug his shoulders and point to where the first ball should have been played. Contrast that to Alexis Sanchez. He loses the ball an then sprints full pelt to get it back - that's what an Arsenal player should do.



Since returning from injury, Özil has been okay. He's scored a couple of goals and he's taken some corners that have resulted in goals - big deal, he cost 42 and a half million quid. Remember:

The cost of a footballer both sets the expectation for his performances and exaggerates the paucity of performances.

Furthermore, my sympathies are in short supply for an individual who earns £130,000 per week for playing association football.

I would like nothing more than for Özil to revive his fortunes to 2010 levels (therefore creating higher expectations of course). But his lackluster showings, despite reasonable "stats", are down to personal attitude and choices he makes on the pitch. In most games I've seen, he's been peripheral to say the least. He was very good against Villa away this season and he was superb against Napoli at home last season. That's it for games when he was a match winner.

So when you see young Francis Coquelin, who has a smidgen of Mesut's talent, throwing himself into every game and Tomas Rosicky (aged 34) busting a gut to get on the end of through balls, it makes you wonder how Özil gets away with it? Perhaps having spent 42.5 million, the manager has to play him, in the assumption that at some point the real Mesut will miraculously appear. Regardless, I feel that most supporters judge a player by what they see over 90 minutes, as opposed to a snippet of OPTA statistics and I don't like what I see.

By Ian Byrne













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