Posts Tagged ‘Pires’

The Trouble With… Arsene Wenger


After a season in which Arsene Wenger spent much time telling the press, the fans and indeed his own players that they were good enough, the past few weeks have shown that they are not. The Champions League semi finals saw them completely outplayed by Man Utd in the first leg but somehow get away with just a 1-0 defeat. All the talk was of a majestic comeback in the second leg where they could score two goals with no trouble and keep the clean sheet that would get them through. That talk lasted all of about 7 minutes before Ji Sung Park scored after a defensive mistake. Not impossible you thought, Arsenal are more than capable of scoring three goals and they still have 80 odd minutes to do it in.

Wrong. Four minutes later, Ronaldo won a cheap free kick 40 yards out, blasted it at goal, Almunia did one of his infuriating camera dives where he doesn’t actually dive properly and just flops instead, and suddenly it’s 2-0 Man Utd and the tie is dead. The rest of the game was a lesson in how to control a game. Arsenal couldn’t get anywhere near Man Utd, with only a debatable penalty to show for their efforts, having already conceded another. This was followed by the biggest home defeat in years last weekend, Chelsea destroying them 4-1 at the Emirates. If anything this match brought home even greater truths as for much of the first half Arsenal were the better side but as has been usual over the Wenger era, missed a hatful of chances before succumbing to a well flighted free kick that Alex headed in. Anelka, Toure (og) and Malouda all added goals which could have been prevented by a proper defence. Some semblance of pride was salvaged with a creditable 0-0 draw yesterday against United but the game mattered little.

As frustrated as we are.

As frustrated as we are.


I have never seen Wenger so down after a game as he was after that second leg. Most of his answers were one or two words and he was visibly upset at what had happened that night. We saw for the first time some admission that attempting to build a team completely with young players may not be the best way to go. He acknowledged that in the games that mattered there was something lacking, and that some ‘distance’ would be needed to assess what changes were required at the end of the season.

The January signing of Russian superstar Andrey Arshavin showed what playing for ready-made quality can do. He has been a revelation, seamlessly slotting in despite being played out of position and has yet to taste defeat. I do admire the fact Wenger is trying to win it all with kids but I feel at some point he lost track of the fact that for young players to improve, they need older players to learn from. When we previewed the semi finals last month, it was noted that from the side which reached the Champions League final in 2006, only three players remained. Campbell, Lehmann, Flamini, Hleb, Cole, Henry, Pires, Reyes, Ljungberg, and Gilberto all gone.  The number of players released or sold on has been phenomenal and it seems as if even late 20s is now too old let alone thirties. Last summer, Hleb, Flamini and Gilberto left. That was half the first choice midfield and a World Cup winner. Only Nasri and Ramsey came in (I refuse to count Silvestre as a replacement for anyone).

You have to pay for quality

You have to pay for quality.


The belief that by signing a top midfielder like Alonso you would be ‘killing’ Diaby, Song and Denilson is misguided. I would say that it’s actually the opposite. By not signing him, they have no one to push them in training, no one to push their automatic place in the first team, no one who can tell them what it takes to win major trophies. I realise that a lot of improvement is done by playing first team football against top opposition, but at the same time that goes hand in hand with improvement on the training pitch, something Wenger is an expert at. If you have no competition within your colleagues, you’re less likely to try harder and subsequently get found out when playing against the big clubs in league and Europe.

Compare Man Utd’s central options to Arsenal’s. Fergie can pick from Anderson (21), Carrick (27), Hargreaves (28), Scholes (34) and Fletcher (25). Throw in Giggs and Gibson and you have a nice blend of youth and experience which has seen the previously unheralded Fletcher improve to an extent where he is a first choice pick. In north London you have Fabregas as the senior figure at the grand age of 22. He is joined by Denilson (21), Diaby (23), Song (21), Ramsey (18) and a few others. All very young and inexperienced, despite many already being internationals.

Not the new Cesc, and not the new Vieira.

Not the new Cesc, and not the new Vieira.


Take for example Alex Song. He is someone who has actually become pretty good this season (though considering how poor he was, any improvement would have been significant) but surely if you’re a developing defensive midfielder, it would be quite useful to have some like Gilberto around to give you handy pointers. Brazil perhaps aren’t noted for their defensive players but at the same time you don’t win a World Cup if you’re rubbish (though I suppose Roque Junior was in that squad too). Anyway the point is that Song could have learnt from him and if good enough over the course of the season, usurped him on merit. The ideal turnover is a young player replacing an older one over the course of the season and then you can get rid of the older player in the summer. You can’t dump a bunch of experience and go into a campaign blind and hope that a youngster proves himself – the Fabregas’ of this world are the exception not the rule.

You'll get found out against the best.

You'll get found out against the best.


Also, I don’t see how it’s one rule for the midfielders and one rule for the attackers. Why can the chances of Diaby, Denilson and Song not be harmed by signing an experienced central player but signing Arshavin doesn’t block the young wingers/strikers. Is it not suddenly infinitely more difficult for the likes of Bendtner, Vela and others to grab one of the four wide/striking slots? He has always been very clinical in getting rid of players he feels can no longer offer anything and to be fair you can count on one hand the players who have more success once leaving the Gunners. Here’s hoping the underachievement (or playing to their level depending on your viewpoint) of this season’s squad means Wenger ends his policy of youth only and realises it’s time to be clinical with some of the current players too. I feel Arsenal are not far off challenging properly and the signing of a quality centre back and defensive midfielder would go a long way. The likes of Denilson can still become good players, but not without a helping hand. Ultimately, Wenger’s priority should be the welfare of Arsenal Football Club not individual players and this summer will be the time to re-address that.



Champions League Quarter Final, Second Leg Preview – Arsenal vs Villarreal


We meet again

Just as with the 2006 semi final between these clubs, both sides still had all to play for after a tight first leg. Last time out Arsenal took a 1-0 lead to El Madrigal and had Jens Lehmann to thank for a last minute penalty save from Juan Riquelme (just look at the fear in his eyes below) which put Arsenal through to the final by that solitary first leg goal. Three years on, things are are still close even if the teams are rather different. The first leg finished 1-1 but Villarreal will not be overawed by trying to get a result at the Emirates. 


A week ago

The first leg was the proverbial game of two halves, with Villarreal dominating Arsenal in the first half before the Gunners gradually took control in the second. Two equally brilliant but quite contrasting goals were scored; a thirty yard rocket into the top corner by Marcos Senna was answered in style by Adebayor in the second half, who chested a long ball in the area before expertly volleying a scissor kick into the corner. Sadly for the neutrals Senna is apparently injured and will miss the match (I’m still not convinced it isn’t Spanish mind games however) while the Gunners have their own worries with Gallas and Djourou being out for weeks, leaving Toure and Silvestre the pussycat as the only fit centre backs. 

As mentioned both teams have had massive player turnover since meeting three years ago. If we take a look at the second leg lineups from that 2006 semi final we can see that only Senna, Venta and striker Franco remain from that Villarreal starting XI. Arsenal meanwhile, only have Toure, Eboue, Fabregas and sub Clichy still on the books at the Emirates. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the second leg is the return of the bald defensive legend Pascal ‘turns like an oil tanker’ Cygan to play against Arsenal for the first time since leaving. Oh and some guy called Robert Pires too.


Super, super Bob

Yes, I was jesting slightly earlier, this match is all about the mercurial Frenchman’s first return to Arsenal since leaving them in the summer of 2006. Following all the buildup in the first leg he ended up being on the bench before coming on. This may well be the story this evening as well but I imagine at some point he will be on the pitch.The reception for him when he does come on should be something very special. Should Cygan somehow make the bench and subsequently the pitch, I’m sure he’ll be well received too. He was a legend in his own special way too… Going back to Pires, he spent six glorious seasons at Highbury in which he won two titles, two FA Cups and a Footballer of the Year award. He pretty much single-handedly led Arsenal to the title in 2004 and scored 84 goals in 284 games. One of the best left wingers Arsenal ever had, he was for a while one of the best players in Europe. His Gunners career came to a slightly subdued end after he was the one to make way for Almunia in the Champions League final when Lehmann got sent off. It proved to be his last game for the club and also meant he was never afforded a proper goodbye. That will change tonight. Besides, this bit is a basically an excuse to post this video.


Tonight’s game

I think the match will be quite tight again but Villarreal will certainly miss Senna and Cazorla in the middle of the pitch. I imagine they won’t control possession as much as they did in the first leg but they’ll still be a threat through neat play and patience. They’re capable of getting the away goal they need to make things interesting but at home the Gunners should have a bit too much firepower to not score themselves. Walcott’s pace will once again be important down the right hand side, while Fabregas should have a bit more freedom to operate in the middle in the absence of Villarreal’s top men. The key question lies over who Wenger will pick at left back, after Kieran Gibbs had a somewhat rocky game on Saturday. It has been suggested that Sagna could fill in there while Eboue plays right back, but I reckon Wenger will keep faith with the youngster and offer a bit more defensive protection by picking Denilson and Song in midfield. Though a goalless draw is good enough, Arsenal have to be positive and go for goals. I think it may take till the second half to break Villarreal down but as long as Silvestre and Gibbs aren’t too threatened on the left of defence, superior options going forward should see Wenger’s men go through. 



Champions League Quarter Final Preview – Villarreal vs Arsenal



Sportboy 2 is usually very good about getting his Champions League previews done but this round Sportboy 2 has been very bad. In fact, I have left it to the day of the match for this one. While that means hardly anyone will read this before the match has been played, it also means I am incredibly excited and will transpose this into blog excellence.


The boys are back in town

Yes, like the song you only hear being played pre-kick off in football grounds… the boys are back in town. Not any old boys but Emmanuel Ade-bayor, Ade-bayor and Cesc ‘let’s talk about Cesc baby’ Fabregas. Having been at the match on Saturday, it was nice to see both of them look sharp and productive in their first game back.

Both players will be massive tonight, particularly because Arsenal are suffering new injuries and ineligible Russian play-makers who can’t open their eyes very well.


Arsenal Lineup

With aforementioned returning players and aforementioned absences, the lineup is likely to be one we haven’t seen this season. Wenger seems to have a new found fondness for a Liverpool-esque 4-1-4-1 formation, with Fabregas playing the ‘Gerrard’ role. Alex Song has impressed me recently, looking like he has finally found a sense of positioning and using his strengths well – literally… the man is a brute. Theo is looking very lively and will give us some much needed pace and width. Hopefully we have Nasri back but Eboue can fill in with a slight more defensive midfield role, especially as we  are away from home.

Predicted lineup:


Sagna   Toure   Gallas   Clichy


Walcott   Denilson   Nasri/Eboue




Return of Le Bob

Le Bob

Le Bob

Tonight Arsenal fans will be reacquainted with the legend that is Bobby Pires. He may have possibly the weirdest way of running but man do we miss his goal-scoring feats and finger wagging. He may have been a diver but god do we miss his sexy strip beard thing.

Tonight he will be a 35 year old former shadow of himself that can barely play 60 minutes but he still has the quality and Los Submarinos Amarillos love him too. He even got himself sent off during Villarreal’s 3-0 defeat at Almeria at the weekend, partly because he wanted to rest himself for tonight and partly because he was so psyched up with that part Basque blood of revenge for Wenger’s withdrawal of him during the Champions League final of 2006.


Return of Psi-bubba

Pascal Cygan

Pascal Cygan

Oh his bald head, how shiny it is… let’s not forget that for it we got 3 and a half million squids.


Oh yeah, and a bit about Villarreal

Most Arsenal fans seem to have this one down as a foregone conclusion but I think Villarreal are a dangerous team to play, even if they are susceptible to the same kind of crap performances that see them in fourth place, same as Arsenal. Manual Pelligrini is a very astute manager, who has a shockingly similar hairstyle to our very own Arsene.

They undoubtedly have better strength in depth this season than in 2006, even without the mercurial Riquelme and Scouse teaser, Diego Forlan. Particularly in midfield they have some real talent – Cani, Ibagaza, Cazorla, Pires and Senna. They may not be household names in England but then again, I doubt Gareth Barry is in Spain.

Lucky for us then that Santi Cazorla, the play-maker of the side is injured for the rest of the season. Nevertheless, Villarreal are a team comfortable in possession and have the ability to restrict Arsenal’s ability to play the game they like.



While I think that Arsenal are more than capable of going away and winning this tie, especially in light of their recent good form, the likely outcome will be a draw. Villarreal are strong at home and I think chances for both sides will be restricted to a minimum despite both sides attacking instincts. I will go for a 1-1 draw – although if Pascal Cygan plays I will go for an Arsenal win.



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